The Moon and Sixpence (2024)

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Title: The Moon and Sixpence

Author: W. Somerset Maugham

Release date: February 1, 1995 [eBook #222]
Most recently updated: December 2, 2023

Language: English

Credits: Charles Keller and John Hamm

*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE MOON AND SIXPENCE ***

The Moon and Sixpence (1)

by W. Somerset Maugham

Author of “Of Human Bondage”

Table of Contents

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXVIII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII

The Moon and Sixpence

Chapter I

I confess that when first I made acquaintance with Charles Strickland I neverfor a moment discerned that there was in him anything out of the ordinary. Yetnow few will be found to deny his greatness. I do not speak of that greatnesswhich is achieved by the fortunate politician or the successful soldier; thatis a quality which belongs to the place he occupies rather than to the man; anda change of circ*mstances reduces it to very discreet proportions. The PrimeMinister out of office is seen, too often, to have been but a pompousrhetorician, and the General without an army is but the tame hero of a markettown. The greatness of Charles Strickland was authentic. It may be that you donot like his art, but at all events you can hardly refuse it the tribute ofyour interest. He disturbs and arrests. The time has passed when he was anobject of ridicule, and it is no longer a mark of eccentricity to defend or ofperversity to extol him. His faults are accepted as the necessary complement tohis merits. It is still possible to discuss his place in art, and the adulationof his admirers is perhaps no less capricious than the disparagement of hisdetractors; but one thing can never be doubtful, and that is that he hadgenius. To my mind the most interesting thing in art is the personality of theartist; and if that is singular, I am willing to excuse a thousand faults. Isuppose Velasquez was a better painter than El Greco, but custom stales one’sadmiration for him: the Cretan, sensual and tragic, proffers the mystery of hissoul like a standing sacrifice. The artist, painter, poet, or musician, by hisdecoration, sublime or beautiful, satisfies the aesthetic sense; but that isakin to the sexual instinct, and shares its barbarity: he lays before you alsothe greater gift of himself. To pursue his secret has something of thefascination of a detective story. It is a riddle which shares with the universethe merit of having no answer. The most insignificant of Strickland’s workssuggests a personality which is strange, tormented, and complex; and it is thissurely which prevents even those who do not like his pictures from beingindifferent to them; it is this which has excited so curious an interest in hislife and character.

It was not till four years after Strickland’s death that Maurice Huret wrotethat article in the Mercure de France which rescued the unknown painterfrom oblivion and blazed the trail which succeeding writers, with more or lessdocility, have followed. For a long time no critic has enjoyed in France a moreincontestable authority, and it was impossible not to be impressed by theclaims he made; they seemed extravagant; but later judgments have confirmed hisestimate, and the reputation of Charles Strickland is now firmly established onthe lines which he laid down. The rise of this reputation is one of the mostromantic incidents in the history of art. But I do not propose to deal withCharles Strickland’s work except in so far as it touches upon his character. Icannot agree with the painters who claim superciliously that the layman canunderstand nothing of painting, and that he can best show his appreciation oftheir works by silence and a cheque-book. It is a grotesque misapprehensionwhich sees in art no more than a craft comprehensible perfectly only to thecraftsman: art is a manifestation of emotion, and emotion speaks a languagethat all may understand. But I will allow that the critic who has not apractical knowledge of technique is seldom able to say anything on the subjectof real value, and my ignorance of painting is extreme. Fortunately, there isno need for me to risk the adventure, since my friend, Mr. Edward Leggatt, anable writer as well as an admirable painter, has exhaustively discussed CharlesStrickland’s work in a little book[1] which is a charming example of a style,for the most part, less happily cultivated in England than in France.

[1] “A Modern Artist:Notes on the Work of Charles Strickland,” by Edward Leggatt, A.R.H.A. MartinSecker, 1917.

Maurice Huret in his famous article gave an outline of Charles Strickland’slife which was well calculated to whet the appetites of the inquiring. With hisdisinterested passion for art, he had a real desire to call the attention ofthe wise to a talent which was in the highest degree original; but he was toogood a journalist to be unaware that the “human interest” would enable him moreeasily to effect his purpose. And when such as had come in contact withStrickland in the past, writers who had known him in London, painters who hadmet him in the cafés of Montmartre, discovered to their amazement that wherethey had seen but an unsuccessful artist, like another, authentic genius hadrubbed shoulders with them there began to appear in the magazines of France andAmerica a succession of articles, the reminiscences of one, the appreciation ofanother, which added to Strickland’s notoriety, and fed without satisfying thecuriosity of the public. The subject was grateful, and the industriousWeitbrecht-Rotholz in his imposing monograph[2] has been able to give a remarkable listof authorities.

[2] “Karl Strickland:sein Leben und seine Kunst,” by Hugo Weitbrecht-Rotholz, Ph.D. Schwingel undHanisch. Leipzig, 1914.

The faculty for myth is innate in the human race. It seizes with avidity uponany incidents, surprising or mysterious, in the career of those who have at alldistinguished themselves from their fellows, and invents a legend to which itthen attaches a fanatical belief. It is the protest of romance against thecommonplace of life. The incidents of the legend become the hero’s surestpassport to immortality. The ironic philosopher reflects with a smile that SirWalter Raleigh is more safely inshrined in the memory of mankind because he sethis cloak for the Virgin Queen to walk on than because he carried the Englishname to undiscovered countries. Charles Strickland lived obscurely. He madeenemies rather than friends. It is not strange, then, that those who wrote ofhim should have eked out their scanty recollections with a lively fancy, and itis evident that there was enough in the little that was known of him to giveopportunity to the romantic scribe; there was much in his life which wasstrange and terrible, in his character something outrageous, and in his fatenot a little that was pathetic. In due course a legend arose of suchcirc*mstantiality that the wise historian would hesitate to attack it.

But a wise historian is precisely what the Rev. Robert Strickland is not. Hewrote his biography[3] avowedly to “remove certainmisconceptions which had gained currency” in regard to the later part of hisfather’s life, and which had “caused considerable pain to persons stillliving.” It is obvious that there was much in the commonly received account ofStrickland’s life to embarrass a respectable family. I have read this work witha good deal of amusem*nt, and upon this I congratulate myself, since it iscolourless and dull. Mr. Strickland has drawn the portrait of an excellenthusband and father, a man of kindly temper, industrious habits, and moraldisposition. The modern clergyman has acquired in his study of the sciencewhich I believe is called exegesis an astonishing facility for explainingthings away, but the subtlety with which the Rev. Robert Strickland has“interpreted” all the facts in his father’s life which a dutiful son might findit inconvenient to remember must surely lead him in the fullness of time to thehighest dignities of the Church. I see already his muscular calves encased inthe gaiters episcopal. It was a hazardous, though maybe a gallant thing to do,since it is probable that the legend commonly received has had no small sharein the growth of Strickland’s reputation; for there are many who have beenattracted to his art by the detestation in which they held his character or thecompassion with which they regarded his death; and the son’s well-meaningefforts threw a singular chill upon the father’s admirers. It is due to noaccident that when one of his most important works, The Woman ofSamaria,[4] was sold at Christie’s shortly afterthe discussion which followed the publication of Mr. Strickland’s biography, itfetched £235 less than it had done nine months before when it was bought by thedistinguished collector whose sudden death had brought it once more under thehammer. Perhaps Charles Strickland’s power and originality would scarcely havesufficed to turn the scale if the remarkable mythopoeic faculty of mankind hadnot brushed aside with impatience a story which disappointed all its cravingfor the extraordinary. And presently Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz produced the workwhich finally set at rest the misgivings of all lovers of art.

[3] “Strickland: The Manand His Work,” by his son, Robert Strickland. Wm. Heinemann, 1913.

[4] This was describedin Christie’s catalogue as follows: “A nude woman, a native of the SocietyIslands, is lying on the ground beside a brook. Behind is a tropical Landscapewith palm-trees, bananas, etc. 60 in. x 48 in.”

Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz belongs to that school of historians which believes thathuman nature is not only about as bad as it can be, but a great deal worse; andcertainly the reader is safer of entertainment in their hands than in those ofthe writers who take a malicious pleasure in representing the great figures ofromance as patterns of the domestic virtues. For my part, I should be sorry tothink that there was nothing between Anthony and Cleopatra but an economicsituation; and it will require a great deal more evidence than is ever likelyto be available, thank God, to persuade me that Tiberius was as blameless amonarch as King George V. Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz has dealt in such terms withthe Rev. Robert Strickland’s innocent biography that it is difficult to avoidfeeling a certain sympathy for the unlucky parson. His decent reticence isbranded as hypocrisy, his circumlocutions are roundly called lies, and hissilence is vilified as treachery. And on the strength of peccadillos,reprehensible in an author, but excusable in a son, the Anglo-Saxon race isaccused of prudishness, humbug, pretentiousness, deceit, cunning, and badcooking. Personally I think it was rash of Mr. Strickland, in refuting theaccount which had gained belief of a certain “unpleasantness” between hisfather and mother, to state that Charles Strickland in a letter written fromParis had described her as “an excellent woman,” since Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholzwas able to print the letter in facsimile, and it appears that the passagereferred to ran in fact as follows: God damn my wife. She is an excellentwoman. I wish she was in hell. It is not thus that the Church in its greatdays dealt with evidence that was unwelcome.

Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz was an enthusiastic admirer of Charles Strickland, andthere was no danger that he would whitewash him. He had an unerring eye for thedespicable motive in actions that had all the appearance of innocence. He was apsycho-pathologist, as well as a student of art, and the subconscious had fewsecrets from him. No mystic ever saw deeper meaning in common things. Themystic sees the ineffable, and the psycho-pathologist the unspeakable. There isa singular fascination in watching the eagerness with which the learned authorferrets out every circ*mstance which may throw discredit on his hero. His heartwarms to him when he can bring forward some example of cruelty or meanness, andhe exults like an inquisitor at the auto da fé of an heretic when withsome forgotten story he can confound the filial piety of the Rev. RobertStrickland. His industry has been amazing. Nothing has been too small to escapehim, and you may be sure that if Charles Strickland left a laundry bill unpaidit will be given you in extenso, and if he forebore to return a borrowedhalf-crown no detail of the transaction will be omitted.

Chapter II

When so much has been written about Charles Strickland, it may seem unnecessarythat I should write more. A painter’s monument is his work. It is true I knewhim more intimately than most: I met him first before ever he became a painter,and I saw him not infrequently during the difficult years he spent in Paris;but I do not suppose I should ever have set down my recollections if thehazards of the war had not taken me to Tahiti. There, as is notorious, he spentthe last years of his life; and there I came across persons who were familiarwith him. I find myself in a position to throw light on just that part of histragic career which has remained most obscure. If they who believe inStrickland’s greatness are right, the personal narratives of such as knew himin the flesh can hardly be superfluous. What would we not give for thereminiscences of someone who had been as intimately acquainted with El Greco asI was with Strickland?

But I seek refuge in no such excuses. I forget who it was that recommended menfor their soul’s good to do each day two things they disliked: it was a wiseman, and it is a precept that I have followed scrupulously; for every day Ihave got up and I have gone to bed. But there is in my nature a strain ofasceticism, and I have subjected my flesh each week to a more severemortification. I have never failed to read the Literary Supplement of TheTimes. It is a salutary discipline to consider the vast number of booksthat are written, the fair hopes with which their authors see them published,and the fate which awaits them. What chance is there that any book will makeits way among that multitude? And the successful books are but the successes ofa season. Heaven knows what pains the author has been at, what bitterexperiences he has endured and what heartache suffered, to give some chancereader a few hours’ relaxation or to while away the tedium of a journey. And ifI may judge from the reviews, many of these books are well and carefullywritten; much thought has gone to their composition; to some even has beengiven the anxious labour of a lifetime. The moral I draw is that the writershould seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from theburden of his thought; and, indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praiseor censure, failure or success.

Now the war has come, bringing with it a new attitude. Youth has turned to godswe of an earlier day knew not, and it is possible to see already the directionin which those who come after us will move. The younger generation, consciousof strength and tumultuous, have done with knocking at the door; they haveburst in and seated themselves in our seats. The air is noisy with theirshouts. Of their elders some, by imitating the antics of youth, strive topersuade themselves that their day is not yet over; they shout with thelustiest, but the war cry sounds hollow in their mouth; they are like poorwantons attempting with pencil, paint and powder, with shrill gaiety, torecover the illusion of their spring. The wiser go their way with a decentgrace. In their chastened smile is an indulgent mockery. They remember thatthey too trod down a sated generation, with just such clamor and with just suchscorn, and they foresee that these brave torch-bearers will presently yieldtheir place also. There is no last word. The new evangel was old when Ninevehreared her greatness to the sky. These gallant words which seem so novel tothose that speak them were said in accents scarcely changed a hundred timesbefore. The pendulum swings backwards and forwards. The circle is evertravelled anew.

Sometimes a man survives a considerable time from an era in which he had hisplace into one which is strange to him, and then the curious are offered one ofthe most singular spectacles in the human comedy. Who now, for example, thinksof George Crabbe? He was a famous poet in his day, and the world recognised hisgenius with a unanimity which the greater complexity of modern life hasrendered infrequent. He had learnt his craft at the school of Alexander Pope,and he wrote moral stories in rhymed couplets. Then came the French Revolutionand the Napoleonic Wars, and the poets sang new songs. Mr. Crabbe continued towrite moral stories in rhymed couplets. I think he must have read the verse ofthese young men who were making so great a stir in the world, and I fancy hefound it poor stuff. Of course, much of it was. But the odes of Keats and ofWordsworth, a poem or two by Coleridge, a few more by Shelley, discovered vastrealms of the spirit that none had explored before. Mr. Crabbe was as dead asmutton, but Mr. Crabbe continued to write moral stories in rhymed couplets. Ihave read desultorily the writings of the younger generation. It may be thatamong them a more fervid Keats, a more ethereal Shelley, has already publishednumbers the world will willingly remember. I cannot tell. I admire theirpolish—their youth is already so accomplished that it seems absurd to speak ofpromise—I marvel at the felicity of their style; but with all their copiousness(their vocabulary suggests that they fingered Roget’s Thesaurus in theircradles) they say nothing to me: to my mind they know too much and feel tooobviously; I cannot stomach the heartiness with which they slap me on the backor the emotion with which they hurl themselves on my bosom; their passion seemsto me a little anaemic and their dreams a trifle dull. I do not like them. I amon the shelf. I will continue to write moral stories in rhymed couplets. But Ishould be thrice a fool if I did it for aught but my own entertainment.

Chapter III

But all this is by the way.

I was very young when I wrote my first book. By a lucky chance it excitedattention, and various persons sought my acquaintance.

It is not without melancholy that I wander among my recollections of the worldof letters in London when first, bashful but eager, I was introduced to it. Itis long since I frequented it, and if the novels that describe its presentsingularities are accurate much in it is now changed. The venue is different.Chelsea and Bloomsbury have taken the place of Hampstead, Notting Hill Gate,and High Street, Kensington. Then it was a distinction to be under forty, butnow to be more than twenty-five is absurd. I think in those days we were alittle shy of our emotions, and the fear of ridicule tempered the more obviousforms of pretentiousness. I do not believe that there was in that genteelBohemia an intensive culture of chastity, but I do not remember so crude apromiscuity as seems to be practised in the present day. We did not think ithypocritical to draw over our vagaries the curtain of a decent silence. Thespade was not invariably called a bloody shovel. Woman had not yet altogethercome into her own.

I lived near Victoria Station, and I recall long excursions by bus to thehospitable houses of the literary. In my timidity I wandered up and down thestreet while I screwed up my courage to ring the bell; and then, sick withapprehension, was ushered into an airless room full of people. I was introducedto this celebrated person after that one, and the kind words they said about mybook made me excessively uncomfortable. I felt they expected me to say cleverthings, and I never could think of any till after the party was over. I triedto conceal my embarrassment by handing round cups of tea and rather ill-cutbread-and-butter. I wanted no one to take notice of me, so that I could observethese famous creatures at my ease and listen to the clever things they said.

I have a recollection of large, unbending women with great noses and rapaciouseyes, who wore their clothes as though they were armour; and of little,mouse-like spinsters, with soft voices and a shrewd glance. I never ceased tobe fascinated by their persistence in eating buttered toast with their gloveson, and I observed with admiration the unconcern with which they wiped theirfingers on their chair when they thought no one was looking. It must have beenbad for the furniture, but I suppose the hostess took her revenge on thefurniture of her friends when, in turn, she visited them. Some of them weredressed fashionably, and they said they couldn’t for the life of them see whyyou should be dowdy just because you had written a novel; if you had a neatfigure you might as well make the most of it, and a smart shoe on a small foothad never prevented an editor from taking your “stuff.” But others thought thisfrivolous, and they wore “art fabrics” and barbaric jewelry. The men wereseldom eccentric in appearance. They tried to look as little like authors aspossible. They wished to be taken for men of the world, and could have passedanywhere for the managing clerks of a city firm. They always seemed a littletired. I had never known writers before, and I found them very strange, but Ido not think they ever seemed to me quite real.

I remember that I thought their conversation brilliant, and I used to listenwith astonishment to the stinging humour with which they would tear abrother-author to pieces the moment that his back was turned. The artist hasthis advantage over the rest of the world, that his friends offer not onlytheir appearance and their character to his satire, but also their work. Idespaired of ever expressing myself with such aptness or with such fluency. Inthose days conversation was still cultivated as an art; a neat repartee wasmore highly valued than the crackling of thorns under a pot; and the epigram,not yet a mechanical appliance by which the dull may achieve a semblance ofwit, gave sprightliness to the small talk of the urbane. It is sad that I canremember nothing of all this scintillation. But I think the conversation neversettled down so comfortably as when it turned to the details of the trade whichwas the other side of the art we practised. When we had done discussing themerits of the latest book, it was natural to wonder how many copies had beensold, what advance the author had received, and how much he was likely to makeout of it. Then we would speak of this publisher and of that, comparing thegenerosity of one with the meanness of another; we would argue whether it wasbetter to go to one who gave handsome royalties or to another who “pushed” abook for all it was worth. Some advertised badly and some well. Some weremodern and some were old-fashioned. Then we would talk of agents and the offersthey had obtained for us; of editors and the sort of contributions theywelcomed, how much they paid a thousand, and whether they paid promptly orotherwise. To me it was all very romantic. It gave me an intimate sense ofbeing a member of some mystic brotherhood.

Chapter IV

No one was kinder to me at that time than Rose Waterford. She combined amasculine intelligence with a feminine perversity, and the novels she wrotewere original and disconcerting. It was at her house one day that I met CharlesStrickland’s wife. Miss Waterford was giving a tea-party, and her small roomwas more than usually full. Everyone seemed to be talking, and I, sitting insilence, felt awkward; but I was too shy to break into any of the groups thatseemed absorbed in their own affairs. Miss Waterford was a good hostess, andseeing my embarrassment came up to me.

“I want you to talk to Mrs. Strickland,” she said. “She’s raving about yourbook.”

“What does she do?” I asked.

I was conscious of my ignorance, and if Mrs. Strickland was a well-known writerI thought it as well to ascertain the fact before I spoke to her.

Rose Waterford cast down her eyes demurely to give greater effect to her reply.

“She gives luncheon-parties. You’ve only got to roar a little, and she’ll askyou.”

Rose Waterford was a cynic. She looked upon life as an opportunity for writingnovels and the public as her raw material. Now and then she invited members ofit to her house if they showed an appreciation of her talent and entertainedwith proper lavishness. She held their weakness for lions in good-humouredcontempt, but played to them her part of the distinguished woman of letterswith decorum.

I was led up to Mrs. Strickland, and for ten minutes we talked together. Inoticed nothing about her except that she had a pleasant voice. She had a flatin Westminster, overlooking the unfinished cathedral, and because we lived inthe same neighbourhood we felt friendly disposed to one another. The Army andNavy Stores are a bond of union between all who dwell between the river and St.James’s Park. Mrs. Strickland asked me for my address, and a few days later Ireceived an invitation to luncheon.

My engagements were few, and I was glad to accept. When I arrived, a littlelate, because in my fear of being too early I had walked three times round thecathedral, I found the party already complete. Miss Waterford was there andMrs. Jay, Richard Twining and George Road. We were all writers. It was a fineday, early in spring, and we were in a good humour. We talked about a hundredthings. Miss Waterford, torn between the aestheticism of her early youth, whenshe used to go to parties in sage green, holding a daffodil, and the flippancyof her maturer years, which tended to high heels and Paris frocks, wore a newhat. It put her in high spirits. I had never heard her more malicious about ourcommon friends. Mrs. Jay, aware that impropriety is the soul of wit, madeobservations in tones hardly above a whisper that might well have tinged thesnowy tablecloth with a rosy hue. Richard Twining bubbled over with quaintabsurdities, and George Road, conscious that he need not exhibit a brilliancywhich was almost a by-word, opened his mouth only to put food into it. Mrs.Strickland did not talk much, but she had a pleasant gift for keeping theconversation general; and when there was a pause she threw in just the rightremark to set it going once more. She was a woman of thirty-seven, rather talland plump, without being fat; she was not pretty, but her face was pleasing,chiefly, perhaps, on account of her kind brown eyes. Her skin was rathersallow. Her dark hair was elaborately dressed. She was the only woman of thethree whose face was free of make-up, and by contrast with the others sheseemed simple and unaffected.

The dining-room was in the good taste of the period. It was very severe. Therewas a high dado of white wood and a green paper on which were etchings byWhistler in neat black frames. The green curtains with their peaco*ck design,hung in straight lines, and the green carpet, in the pattern of which palerabbits frolicked among leafy trees, suggested the influence of William Morris.There was blue delft on the chimney-piece. At that time there must have beenfive hundred dining-rooms in London decorated in exactly the same manner. Itwas chaste, artistic, and dull.

When we left I walked away with Miss Waterford, and the fine day and her newhat persuaded us to saunter through the Park.

“That was a very nice party,” I said.

“Did you think the food was good? I told her that if she wanted writers shemust feed them well.”

“Admirable advice,” I answered. “But why does she want them?”

Miss Waterford shrugged her shoulders.

“She finds them amusing. She wants to be in the movement. I fancy she’s rathersimple, poor dear, and she thinks we’re all wonderful. After all, it pleasesher to ask us to luncheon, and it doesn’t hurt us. I like her for it.”

Looking back, I think that Mrs. Strickland was the most harmless of all thelion-hunters that pursue their quarry from the rarefied heights of Hampstead tothe nethermost studios of Cheyne Walk. She had led a very quiet youth in thecountry, and the books that came down from Mudie’s Library brought with themnot only their own romance, but the romance of London. She had a real passionfor reading (rare in her kind, who for the most part are more interested in theauthor than in his book, in the painter than in his pictures), and she inventeda world of the imagination in which she lived with a freedom she never acquiredin the world of every day. When she came to know writers it was likeadventuring upon a stage which till then she had known only from the other sideof the footlights. She saw them dramatically, and really seemed herself to livea larger life because she entertained them and visited them in theirfastnesses. She accepted the rules with which they played the game of life asvalid for them, but never for a moment thought of regulating her own conduct inaccordance with them. Their moral eccentricities, like their oddities of dress,their wild theories and paradoxes, were an entertainment which amused her, buthad not the slightest influence on her convictions.

“Is there a Mr. Strickland?” I asked

“Oh yes; he’s something in the city. I believe he’s a stockbroker. He’s verydull.”

“Are they good friends?”

“They adore one another. You’ll meet him if you dine there. But she doesn’toften have people to dinner. He’s very quiet. He’s not in the least interestedin literature or the arts.”

“Why do nice women marry dull men?”

“Because intelligent men won’t marry nice women.”

I could not think of any retort to this, so I asked if Mrs. Strickland hadchildren.

“Yes; she has a boy and a girl. They’re both at school.”

The subject was exhausted, and we began to talk of other things.

Chapter V

During the summer I met Mrs. Strickland not infrequently. I went now and thento pleasant little luncheons at her flat, and to rather more formidabletea-parties. We took a fancy to one another. I was very young, and perhaps sheliked the idea of guiding my virgin steps on the hard road of letters; whilefor me it was pleasant to have someone I could go to with my small troubles,certain of an attentive ear and reasonable counsel. Mrs. Strickland had thegift of sympathy. It is a charming faculty, but one often abused by those whoare conscious of its possession: for there is something ghoulish in the aviditywith which they will pounce upon the misfortune of their friends so that theymay exercise their dexterity. It gushes forth like an oil-well, and thesympathetic pour out their sympathy with an abandon that is sometimesembarrassing to their victims. There are bosoms on which so many tears havebeen shed that I cannot bedew them with mine. Mrs. Strickland used heradvantage with tact. You felt that you obliged her by accepting her sympathy.When, in the enthusiasm of my youth, I remarked on this to Rose Waterford, shesaid:

“Milk is very nice, especially with a drop of brandy in it, but the domesticcow is only too glad to be rid of it. A swollen udder is very uncomfortable.”

Rose Waterford had a blistering tongue. No one could say such bitter things; onthe other hand, no one could do more charming ones.

There was another thing I liked in Mrs. Strickland. She managed hersurroundings with elegance. Her flat was always neat and cheerful, gay withflowers, and the chintzes in the drawing-room, notwithstanding their severedesign, were bright and pretty. The meals in the artistic little dining-roomwere pleasant; the table looked nice, the two maids were trim and comely; thefood was well cooked. It was impossible not to see that Mrs. Strickland was anexcellent housekeeper. And you felt sure that she was an admirable mother.There were photographs in the drawing-room of her son and daughter. The son—hisname was Robert—was a boy of sixteen at Rugby; and you saw him in flannels anda cricket cap, and again in a tail-coat and a stand-up collar. He had hismother’s candid brow and fine, reflective eyes. He looked clean, healthy, andnormal.

“I don’t know that he’s very clever,” she said one day, when I was looking atthe photograph, “but I know he’s good. He has a charming character.”

The daughter was fourteen. Her hair, thick and dark like her mother’s, fellover her shoulders in fine profusion, and she had the same kindly expressionand sedate, untroubled eyes.

“They’re both of them the image of you,” I said.

“Yes; I think they are more like me than their father.”

“Why have you never let me meet him?” I asked.

“Would you like to?”

She smiled, her smile was really very sweet, and she blushed a little; it wassingular that a woman of that age should flush so readily. Perhaps her naivetewas her greatest charm.

“You know, he’s not at all literary,” she said. “He’s a perfect philistine.”

She said this not disparagingly, but affectionately rather, as though, byacknowledging the worst about him, she wished to protect him from theaspersions of her friends.

“He’s on the Stock Exchange, and he’s a typical broker. I think he’d bore youto death.”

“Does he bore you?” I asked.

“You see, I happen to be his wife. I’m very fond of him.”

She smiled to cover her shyness, and I fancied she had a fear that I would makethe sort of gibe that such a confession could hardly have failed to elicit fromRose Waterford. She hesitated a little. Her eyes grew tender.

“He doesn’t pretend to be a genius. He doesn’t even make much money on theStock Exchange. But he’s awfully good and kind.”

“I think I should like him very much.”

“I’ll ask you to dine with us quietly some time, but mind, you come at your ownrisk; don’t blame me if you have a very dull evening.”

Chapter VI

But when at last I met Charles Strickland, it was under circ*mstances whichallowed me to do no more than just make his acquaintance. One morning Mrs.Strickland sent me round a note to say that she was giving a dinner-party thatevening, and one of her guests had failed her. She asked me to stop the gap.She wrote:

“It’s only decent to warn you that you will be bored to extinction. It was athoroughly dull party from the beginning, but if you will come I shall beuncommonly grateful. And you and I can have a little chat by ourselves.”

It was only neighbourly to accept.

When Mrs. Strickland introduced me to her husband, he gave me a ratherindifferent hand to shake. Turning to him gaily, she attempted a small jest.

“I asked him to show him that I really had a husband. I think he was beginningto doubt it.”

Strickland gave the polite little laugh with which people acknowledge afacetiousness in which they see nothing funny, but did not speak. New arrivalsclaimed my host’s attention, and I was left to myself. When at last we were allassembled, waiting for dinner to be announced, I reflected, while I chattedwith the woman I had been asked to “take in,” that civilised man practises astrange ingenuity in wasting on tedious exercises the brief span of his life.It was the kind of party which makes you wonder why the hostess has troubled tobid her guests, and why the guests have troubled to come. There were tenpeople. They met with indifference, and would part with relief. It was, ofcourse, a purely social function. The Stricklands “owed” dinners to a number ofpersons, whom they took no interest in, and so had asked them; these personshad accepted. Why? To avoid the tedium of dining tête-à-tête, to givetheir servants a rest, because there was no reason to refuse, because they were“owed” a dinner.

The dining-room was inconveniently crowded. There was a K.C. and his wife, aGovernment official and his wife, Mrs. Strickland’s sister and her husband,Colonel MacAndrew, and the wife of a Member of Parliament. It was because theMember of Parliament found that he could not leave the House that I had beeninvited. The respectability of the party was portentous. The women were toonice to be well dressed, and too sure of their position to be amusing. The menwere solid. There was about all of them an air of well-satisfied prosperity.

Everyone talked a little louder than natural in an instinctive desire to makethe party go, and there was a great deal of noise in the room. But there was nogeneral conversation. Each one talked to his neighbour; to his neighbour on theright during the soup, fish, and entree; to his neighbour on the left duringthe roast, sweet, and savoury. They talked of the political situation and ofgolf, of their children and the latest play, of the pictures at the RoyalAcademy, of the weather and their plans for the holidays. There was never apause, and the noise grew louder. Mrs. Strickland might congratulate herselfthat her party was a success. Her husband played his part with decorum. Perhapshe did not talk very much, and I fancied there was towards the end a look offatigue in the faces of the women on either side of him. They were finding himheavy. Once or twice Mrs. Strickland’s eyes rested on him somewhat anxiously.

At last she rose and shepherded the ladies out of one room. Strickland shut thedoor behind her, and, moving to the other end of the table, took his placebetween the K.C. and the Government official. He passed round the port againand handed us cigars. The K.C. remarked on the excellence of the wine, andStrickland told us where he got it. We began to chat about vintages andtobacco. The K.C. told us of a case he was engaged in, and the Colonel talkedabout polo. I had nothing to say and so sat silent, trying politely to showinterest in the conversation; and because I thought no one was in the leastconcerned with me, examined Strickland at my ease. He was bigger than Iexpected: I do not know why I had imagined him slender and of insignificantappearance; in point of fact he was broad and heavy, with large hands and feet,and he wore his evening clothes clumsily. He gave you somewhat the idea of acoachman dressed up for the occasion. He was a man of forty, not good-looking,and yet not ugly, for his features were rather good; but they were all a littlelarger than life-size, and the effect was ungainly. He was clean shaven, andhis large face looked uncomfortably naked. His hair was reddish, cut veryshort, and his eyes were small, blue or grey. He looked commonplace. I nolonger wondered that Mrs. Strickland felt a certain embarrassment about him; hewas scarcely a credit to a woman who wanted to make herself a position in theworld of art and letters. It was obvious that he had no social gifts, but thesea man can do without; he had no eccentricity even, to take him out of thecommon run; he was just a good, dull, honest, plain man. One would admire hisexcellent qualities, but avoid his company. He was null. He was probably aworthy member of society, a good husband and father, an honest broker; butthere was no reason to waste one’s time over him.

Chapter VII

The season was drawing to its dusty end, and everyone I knew was arranging togo away. Mrs. Strickland was taking her family to the coast of Norfolk, so thatthe children might have the sea and her husband golf. We said good-bye to oneanother, and arranged to meet in the autumn. But on my last day in town, comingout of the Stores, I met her with her son and daughter; like myself, she hadbeen making her final purchases before leaving London, and we were both hot andtired. I proposed that we should all go and eat ices in the park.

I think Mrs. Strickland was glad to show me her children, and she accepted myinvitation with alacrity. They were even more attractive than their photographshad suggested, and she was right to be proud of them. I was young enough forthem not to feel shy, and they chattered merrily about one thing and another.They were extraordinarily nice, healthy young children. It was very agreeableunder the trees.

When in an hour they crowded into a cab to go home, I strolled idly to my club.I was perhaps a little lonely, and it was with a touch of envy that I thoughtof the pleasant family life of which I had had a glimpse. They seemed devotedto one another. They had little private jokes of their own which,unintelligible to the outsider, amused them enormously. Perhaps CharlesStrickland was dull judged by a standard that demanded above all things verbalscintillation; but his intelligence was adequate to his surroundings, and thatis a passport, not only to reasonable success, but still more to happiness.Mrs. Strickland was a charming woman, and she loved him. I pictured theirlives, troubled by no untoward adventure, honest, decent, and, by reason ofthose two upstanding, pleasant children, so obviously destined to carry on thenormal traditions of their race and station, not without significance. Theywould grow old insensibly; they would see their son and daughter come to yearsof reason, marry in due course—the one a pretty girl, future mother of healthychildren; the other a handsome, manly fellow, obviously a soldier; and at last,prosperous in their dignified retirement, beloved by their descendants, after ahappy, not unuseful life, in the fullness of their age they would sink into thegrave.

That must be the story of innumerable couples, and the pattern of life itoffers has a homely grace. It reminds you of a placid rivulet, meanderingsmoothly through green pastures and shaded by pleasant trees, till at last itfalls into the vasty sea; but the sea is so calm, so silent, so indifferent,that you are troubled suddenly by a vague uneasiness. Perhaps it is only by akink in my nature, strong in me even in those days, that I felt in such anexistence, the share of the great majority, something amiss. I recognised itssocial values, I saw its ordered happiness, but a fever in my blood asked for awilder course. There seemed to me something alarming in such easy delights. Inmy heart was a desire to live more dangerously. I was not unprepared for jaggedrocks and treacherous shoals if I could only have change—change and theexcitement of the unforeseen.

Chapter VIII

On reading over what I have written of the Stricklands, I am conscious thatthey must seem shadowy. I have been able to invest them with none of thosecharacteristics which make the persons of a book exist with a real life oftheir own; and, wondering if the fault is mine, I rack my brains to rememberidiosyncrasies which might lend them vividness. I feel that by dwelling on sometrick of speech or some queer habit I should be able to give them asignificance peculiar to themselves. As they stand they are like the figures inan old tapestry; they do not separate themselves from the background, and at adistance seem to lose their pattern, so that you have little but a pleasingpiece of colour. My only excuse is that the impression they made on me was noother. There was just that shadowiness about them which you find in peoplewhose lives are part of the social organism, so that they exist in it and by itonly. They are like cells in the body, essential, but, so long as they remainhealthy, engulfed in the momentous whole. The Stricklands were an averagefamily in the middle class. A pleasant, hospitable woman, with a harmless crazefor the small lions of literary society; a rather dull man, doing his duty inthat state of life in which a merciful Providence had placed him; twonice-looking, healthy children. Nothing could be more ordinary. I do not knowthat there was anything about them to excite the attention of the curious.

When I reflect on all that happened later, I ask myself if I was thick-wittednot to see that there was in Charles Strickland at least something out of thecommon. Perhaps. I think that I have gathered in the years that intervenebetween then and now a fair knowledge of mankind, but even if when I first metthe Stricklands I had the experience which I have now, I do not believe that Ishould have judged them differently. But because I have learnt that man isincalculable, I should not at this time of day be so surprised by the news thatreached me when in the early autumn I returned to London.

I had not been back twenty-four hours before I ran across Rose Waterford inJermyn Street.

“You look very gay and sprightly,” I said. “What’s the matter with you?”

She smiled, and her eyes shone with a malice I knew already. It meant that shehad heard some scandal about one of her friends, and the instinct of theliterary woman was all alert.

“You did meet Charles Strickland, didn’t you?”

Not only her face, but her whole body, gave a sense of alacrity. I nodded. Iwondered if the poor devil had been hammered on the Stock Exchange or run overby an omnibus.

“Isn’t it dreadful? He’s run away from his wife.”

Miss Waterford certainly felt that she could not do her subject justice on thecurb of Jermyn Street, and so, like an artist, flung the bare fact at me anddeclared that she knew no details. I could not do her the injustice ofsupposing that so trifling a circ*mstance would have prevented her from givingthem, but she was obstinate.

“I tell you I know nothing,” she said, in reply to my agitated questions, andthen, with an airy shrug of the shoulders: “I believe that a young person in acity tea-shop has left her situation.”

She flashed a smile at me, and, protesting an engagement with her dentist,jauntily walked on. I was more interested than distressed. In those days myexperience of life at first hand was small, and it excited me to come upon anincident among people I knew of the same sort as I had read in books. I confessthat time has now accustomed me to incidents of this character among myacquaintance. But I was a little shocked. Strickland was certainly forty, and Ithought it disgusting that a man of his age should concern himself with affairsof the heart. With the superciliousness of extreme youth, I put thirty-five asthe utmost limit at which a man might fall in love without making a fool ofhimself. And this news was slightly disconcerting to me personally, because Ihad written from the country to Mrs. Strickland, announcing my return, and hadadded that unless I heard from her to the contrary, I would come on a certainday to drink a dish of tea with her. This was the very day, and I had receivedno word from Mrs. Strickland. Did she want to see me or did she not? It waslikely enough that in the agitation of the moment my note had escaped hermemory. Perhaps I should be wiser not to go. On the other hand, she might wishto keep the affair quiet, and it might be highly indiscreet on my part to giveany sign that this strange news had reached me. I was torn between the fear ofhurting a nice woman’s feelings and the fear of being in the way. I felt shemust be suffering, and I did not want to see a pain which I could not help; butin my heart was a desire, that I felt a little ashamed of, to see how she wastaking it. I did not know what to do.

Finally it occurred to me that I would call as though nothing had happened, andsend a message in by the maid asking Mrs. Strickland if it was convenient forher to see me. This would give her the opportunity to send me away. But I wasoverwhelmed with embarrassment when I said to the maid the phrase I hadprepared, and while I waited for the answer in a dark passage I had to call upall my strength of mind not to bolt. The maid came back. Her manner suggestedto my excited fancy a complete knowledge of the domestic calamity.

“Will you come this way, sir?” she said.

I followed her into the drawing-room. The blinds were partly drawn to darkenthe room, and Mrs. Strickland was sitting with her back to the light. Herbrother-in-law, Colonel MacAndrew, stood in front of the fireplace, warming hisback at an unlit fire. To myself my entrance seemed excessively awkward. Iimagined that my arrival had taken them by surprise, and Mrs. Strickland hadlet me come in only because she had forgotten to put me off. I fancied that theColonel resented the interruption.

“I wasn’t quite sure if you expected me,” I said, trying to seem unconcerned.

“Of course I did. Anne will bring the tea in a minute.”

Even in the darkened room, I could not help seeing that Mrs. Strickland’s facewas all swollen with tears. Her skin, never very good, was earthy.

“You remember my brother-in-law, don’t you? You met at dinner, just before theholidays.”

We shook hands. I felt so shy that I could think of nothing to say, but Mrs.Strickland came to my rescue. She asked me what I had been doing with myselfduring the summer, and with this help I managed to make some conversation tilltea was brought in. The Colonel asked for a whisky-and-soda.

“You’d better have one too, Amy,” he said.

“No; I prefer tea.”

This was the first suggestion that anything untoward had happened. I took nonotice, and did my best to engage Mrs. Strickland in talk. The Colonel, stillstanding in front of the fireplace, uttered no word. I wondered how soon Icould decently take my leave, and I asked myself why on earth Mrs. Stricklandhad allowed me to come. There were no flowers, and various knick-knacks, putaway during the summer, had not been replaced; there was something cheerlessand stiff about the room which had always seemed so friendly; it gave you anodd feeling, as though someone were lying dead on the other side of the wall. Ifinished tea.

“Will you have a cigarette?” asked Mrs. Strickland.

She looked about for the box, but it was not to be seen.

“I’m afraid there are none.”

Suddenly she burst into tears, and hurried from the room.

I was startled. I suppose now that the lack of cigarettes, brought as a rule byher husband, forced him back upon her recollection, and the new feeling thatthe small comforts she was used to were missing gave her a sudden pang. Sherealised that the old life was gone and done with. It was impossible to keep upour social pretences any longer.

“I dare say you’d like me to go,” I said to the Colonel, getting up.

“I suppose you’ve heard that blackguard has deserted her,” he criedexplosively.

I hesitated.

“You know how people gossip,” I answered. “I was vaguely told that somethingwas wrong.”

“He’s bolted. He’s gone off to Paris with a woman. He’s left Amy without apenny.”

“I’m awfully sorry,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

The Colonel gulped down his whisky. He was a tall, lean man of fifty, with adrooping moustache and grey hair. He had pale blue eyes and a weak mouth. Iremembered from my previous meeting with him that he had a foolish face, andwas proud of the fact that for the ten years before he left the army he hadplayed polo three days a week.

“I don’t suppose Mrs. Strickland wants to be bothered with me just now,” Isaid. “Will you tell her how sorry I am? If there’s anything I can do. I shallbe delighted to do it.”

He took no notice of me.

“I don’t know what’s to become of her. And then there are the children. Arethey going to live on air? Seventeen years.”

“What about seventeen years?”

“They’ve been married,” he snapped. “I never liked him. Of course he was mybrother-in-law, and I made the best of it. Did you think him a gentleman? Sheought never to have married him.”

“Is it absolutely final?”

“There’s only one thing for her to do, and that’s to divorce him. That’s what Iwas telling her when you came in. ‘Fire in with your petition, my dear Amy,’ Isaid. ‘You owe it to yourself and you owe it to the children.’ He’d better notlet me catch sight of him. I’d thrash him within an inch of his life.”

I could not help thinking that Colonel MacAndrew might have some difficulty indoing this, since Strickland had struck me as a hefty fellow, but I did not sayanything. It is always distressing when outraged morality does not possess thestrength of arm to administer direct chastisem*nt on the sinner. I was makingup my mind to another attempt at going when Mrs. Strickland came back. She haddried her eyes and powdered her nose.

“I’m sorry I broke down,” she said. “I’m glad you didn’t go away.”

She sat down. I did not at all know what to say. I felt a certain shyness atreferring to matters which were no concern of mine. I did not then know thebesetting sin of woman, the passion to discuss her private affairs with anyonewho is willing to listen. Mrs. Strickland seemed to make an effort overherself.

“Are people talking about it?” she asked.

I was taken aback by her assumption that I knew all about her domesticmisfortune.

“I’ve only just come back. The only person I’ve seen is Rose Waterford.”

Mrs. Strickland clasped her hands.

“Tell me exactly what she said.” And when I hesitated, she insisted. “Iparticularly want to know.”

“You know the way people talk. She’s not very reliable, is she? She said yourhusband had left you.”

“Is that all?”

I did not choose to repeat Rose Waterford’s parting reference to a girl from atea-shop. I lied.

“She didn’t say anything about his going with anyone?”

“No.”

“That’s all I wanted to know.”

I was a little puzzled, but at all events I understood that I might now take myleave. When I shook hands with Mrs. Strickland I told her that if I could be ofany use to her I should be very glad. She smiled wanly.

“Thank you so much. I don’t know that anybody can do anything for me.”

Too shy to express my sympathy, I turned to say good-bye to the Colonel. He didnot take my hand.

“I’m just coming. If you’re walking up Victoria Street, I’ll come along withyou.”

“All right,” I said. “Come on.”

Chapter IX

“This is a terrible thing,” he said, the moment we got out into the street.

I realised that he had come away with me in order to discuss once more what hehad been already discussing for hours with his sister-in-law.

“We don’t know who the woman is, you know,” he said. “All we know is that theblackguard’s gone to Paris.”

“I thought they got on so well.”

“So they did. Why, just before you came in Amy said they’d never had a quarrelin the whole of their married life. You know Amy. There never was a betterwoman in the world.”

Since these confidences were thrust on me, I saw no harm in asking a fewquestions.

“But do you mean to say she suspected nothing?”

“Nothing. He spent August with her and the children in Norfolk. He was just thesame as he’d always been. We went down for two or three days, my wife and I,and I played golf with him. He came back to town in September to let hispartner go away, and Amy stayed on in the country. They’d taken a house for sixweeks, and at the end of her tenancy she wrote to tell him on which day she wasarriving in London. He answered from Paris. He said he’d made up his mind notto live with her any more.”

“What explanation did he give?”

“My dear fellow, he gave no explanation. I’ve seen the letter. It wasn’t morethan ten lines.”

“But that’s extraordinary.”

We happened then to cross the street, and the traffic prevented us fromspeaking. What Colonel MacAndrew had told me seemed very improbable, and Isuspected that Mrs. Strickland, for reasons of her own, had concealed from himsome part of the facts. It was clear that a man after seventeen years ofwedlock did not leave his wife without certain occurrences which must have ledher to suspect that all was not well with their married life. The Colonelcaught me up.

“Of course, there was no explanation he could give except that he’d gone offwith a woman. I suppose he thought she could find that out for herself. That’sthe sort of chap he was.”

“What is Mrs. Strickland going to do?”

“Well, the first thing is to get our proofs. I’m going over to Paris myself.”

“And what about his business?”

“That’s where he’s been so artful. He’s been drawing in his horns for the lastyear.”

“Did he tell his partner he was leaving?”

“Not a word.”

Colonel MacAndrew had a very sketchy knowledge of business matters, and I hadnone at all, so I did not quite understand under what conditions Strickland hadleft his affairs. I gathered that the deserted partner was very angry andthreatened proceedings. It appeared that when everything was settled he wouldbe four or five hundred pounds out of pocket.

“It’s lucky the furniture in the flat is in Amy’s name. She’ll have that at allevents.”

“Did you mean it when you said she wouldn’t have a bob?”

“Of course I did. She’s got two or three hundred pounds and the furniture.”

“But how is she going to live?”

“God knows.”

The affair seemed to grow more complicated, and the Colonel, with hisexpletives and his indignation, confused rather than informed me. I was gladthat, catching sight of the clock at the Army and Navy Stores, he remembered anengagement to play cards at his club, and so left me to cut across St. JamesPark.

Chapter X

A day or two later Mrs. Strickland sent me round a note asking if I could goand see her that evening after dinner. I found her alone. Her black dress,simple to austerity, suggested her bereaved condition, and I was innocentlyastonished that notwithstanding a real emotion she was able to dress the partshe had to play according to her notions of seemliness.

“You said that if I wanted you to do anything you wouldn’t mind doing it,” sheremarked.

“It was quite true.”

“Will you go over to Paris and see Charlie?”

“I?”

I was taken aback. I reflected that I had only seen him once. I did not knowwhat she wanted me to do.

“Fred is set on going.” Fred was Colonel MacAndrew. “But I’m sure he’s not theman to go. He’ll only make things worse. I don’t know who else to ask.”

Her voice trembled a little, and I felt a brute even to hesitate.

“But I’ve not spoken ten words to your husband. He doesn’t know me. He’llprobably just tell me to go to the devil.”

“That wouldn’t hurt you,” said Mrs. Strickland, smiling.

“What is it exactly you want me to do?”

She did not answer directly.

“I think it’s rather an advantage that he doesn’t know you. You see, he neverreally liked Fred; he thought him a fool; he didn’t understand soldiers. Fredwould fly into a passion, and there’d be a quarrel, and things would be worseinstead of better. If you said you came on my behalf, he couldn’t refuse tolisten to you.”

“I haven’t known you very long,” I answered. “I don’t see how anyone can beexpected to tackle a case like this unless he knows all the details. I don’twant to pry into what doesn’t concern me. Why don’t you go and see himyourself?”

“You forget he isn’t alone.”

I held my tongue. I saw myself calling on Charles Strickland and sending in mycard; I saw him come into the room, holding it between finger and thumb:

“To what do I owe this honour?”

“I’ve come to see you about your wife.”

“Really. When you are a little older you will doubtless learn the advantage ofminding your own business. If you will be so good as to turn your head slightlyto the left, you will see the door. I wish you good-afternoon.”

I foresaw that it would be difficult to make my exit with dignity, and I wishedto goodness that I had not returned to London till Mrs. Strickland had composedher difficulties. I stole a glance at her. She was immersed in thought.Presently she looked up at me, sighed deeply, and smiled.

“It was all so unexpected,” she said. “We’d been married seventeen years. Inever dreamed that Charlie was the sort of man to get infatuated with anyone.We always got on very well together. Of course, I had a great many intereststhat he didn’t share.”

“Have you found out who”—I did not quite know how to express myself—“who theperson, who it is he’s gone away with?”

“No. No one seems to have an idea. It’s so strange. Generally when a man fallsin love with someone people see them about together, lunching or something, andher friends always come and tell the wife. I had no warning—nothing. His lettercame like a thunderbolt. I thought he was perfectly happy.”

She began to cry, poor thing, and I felt very sorry for her. But in a littlewhile she grew calmer.

“It’s no good making a fool of myself,” she said, drying her eyes. “The onlything is to decide what is the best thing to do.”

She went on, talking somewhat at random, now of the recent past, then of theirfirst meeting and their marriage; but presently I began to form a fairlycoherent picture of their lives; and it seemed to me that my surmises had notbeen incorrect. Mrs. Strickland was the daughter of an Indian civilian, who onhis retirement had settled in the depths of the country, but it was his habitevery August to take his family to Eastbourne for change of air; and it washere, when she was twenty, that she met Charles Strickland. He wastwenty-three. They played together, walked on the front together, listenedtogether to the nigg*r minstrels; and she had made up her mind to accept him aweek before he proposed to her. They lived in London, first in Hampstead, andthen, as he grew more prosperous, in town. Two children were born to them.

“He always seemed very fond of them. Even if he was tired of me, I wonder thathe had the heart to leave them. It’s all so incredible. Even now I can hardlybelieve it’s true.”

At last she showed me the letter he had written. I was curious to see it, buthad not ventured to ask for it.

“MY DEAR AMY,

“I think you will find everything all right in the flat. I have given Anne yourinstructions, and dinner will be ready for you and the children when you come.I shall not be there to meet you. I have made up my mind to live apart fromyou, and I am going to Paris in the morning. I shall post this letter on myarrival. I shall not come back. My decision is irrevocable.

“Yours always,
“CHARLES STRICKLAND.”

“Not a word of explanation or regret. Don’t you think it’s inhuman?”

“It’s a very strange letter under the circ*mstances,” I replied.

“There’s only one explanation, and that is that he’s not himself. I don’t knowwho this woman is who’s got hold of him, but she’s made him into another man.It’s evidently been going on a long time.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Fred found that out. My husband said he went to the club three or four nightsa week to play bridge. Fred knows one of the members, and said something aboutCharles being a great bridge-player. The man was surprised. He said he’d nevereven seen Charles in the card-room. It’s quite clear now that when I thoughtCharles was at his club he was with her.”

I was silent for a moment. Then I thought of the children.

“It must have been difficult to explain to Robert,” I said.

“Oh, I never said a word to either of them. You see, we only came up to townthe day before they had to go back to school. I had the presence of mind to saythat their father had been called away on business.”

It could not have been very easy to be bright and careless with that suddensecret in her heart, nor to give her attention to all the things that neededdoing to get her children comfortably packed off. Mrs. Strickland’s voice brokeagain.

“And what is to happen to them, poor darlings? How are we going to live?”

She struggled for self-control, and I saw her hands clench and unclenchspasmodically. It was dreadfully painful.

“Of course I’ll go over to Paris if you think I can do any good, but you musttell me exactly what you want me to do.”

“I want him to come back.”

“I understood from Colonel MacAndrew that you’d made up your mind to divorcehim.”

“I’ll never divorce him,” she answered with a sudden violence. “Tell him thatfrom me. He’ll never be able to marry that woman. I’m as obstinate as he is,and I’ll never divorce him. I have to think of my children.”

I think she added this to explain her attitude to me, but I thought it was dueto a very natural jealousy rather than to maternal solicitude.

“Are you in love with him still?”

“I don’t know. I want him to come back. If he’ll do that we’ll let bygones bebygones. After all, we’ve been married for seventeen years. I’m a broadmindedwoman. I wouldn’t have minded what he did as long as I knew nothing about it.He must know that his infatuation won’t last. If he’ll come back now everythingcan be smoothed over, and no one will know anything about it.”

It chilled me a little that Mrs. Strickland should be concerned with gossip,for I did not know then how great a part is played in women’s life by theopinion of others. It throws a shadow of insincerity over their most deeplyfelt emotions.

It was known where Strickland was staying. His partner, in a violent letter,sent to his bank, had taunted him with hiding his whereabouts: and Strickland,in a cynical and humourous reply, had told his partner exactly where to findhim. He was apparently living in an Hôtel.

“I’ve never heard of it,” said Mrs. Strickland. “But Fred knows it well. Hesays it’s very expensive.”

She flushed darkly. I imagined that she saw her husband installed in aluxurious suite of rooms, dining at one smart restaurant after another, and shepictured his days spent at race-meetings and his evenings at the play.

“It can’t go on at his age,” she said. “After all, he’s forty. I couldunderstand it in a young man, but I think it’s horrible in a man of his years,with children who are nearly grown up. His health will never stand it.”

Anger struggled in her breast with misery.

“Tell him that our home cries out for him. Everything is just the same, and yeteverything is different. I can’t live without him. I’d sooner kill myself. Talkto him about the past, and all we’ve gone through together. What am I to say tothe children when they ask for him? His room is exactly as it was when he leftit. It’s waiting for him. We’re all waiting for him.”

Now she told me exactly what I should say. She gave me elaborate answers toevery possible observation of his.

“You will do everything you can for me?” she said pitifully. “Tell him what astate I’m in.”

I saw that she wished me to appeal to his sympathies by every means in mypower. She was weeping freely. I was extraordinarily touched. I felt indignantat Strickland’s cold cruelty, and I promised to do all I could to bring himback. I agreed to go over on the next day but one, and to stay in Paris till Ihad achieved something. Then, as it was growing late and we were both exhaustedby so much emotion, I left her.

Chapter XI

During the journey I thought over my errand with misgiving. Now that I was freefrom the spectacle of Mrs. Strickland’s distress I could consider the mattermore calmly. I was puzzled by the contradictions that I saw in her behaviour.She was very unhappy, but to excite my sympathy she was able to make a show ofher unhappiness. It was evident that she had been prepared to weep, for she hadprovided herself with a sufficiency of handkerchiefs; I admired herforethought, but in retrospect it made her tears perhaps less moving. I couldnot decide whether she desired the return of her husband because she loved him,or because she dreaded the tongue of scandal; and I was perturbed by thesuspicion that the anguish of love contemned was alloyed in her broken heartwith the pangs, sordid to my young mind, of wounded vanity. I had not yetlearnt how contradictory is human nature; I did not know how much pose there isin the sincere, how much baseness in the noble, nor how much goodness in thereprobate.

But there was something of an adventure in my trip, and my spirits rose as Iapproached Paris. I saw myself, too, from the dramatic standpoint, and I waspleased with my role of the trusted friend bringing back the errant husband tohis forgiving wife. I made up my mind to see Strickland the following evening,for I felt instinctively that the hour must be chosen with delicacy. An appealto the emotions is little likely to be effectual before luncheon. My ownthoughts were then constantly occupied with love, but I never could imagineconnubial bliss till after tea.

I enquired at my hotel for that in which Charles Strickland was living. It wascalled the Hôtel des Belges. But the concierge, somewhat to my surprise, hadnever heard of it. I had understood from Mrs. Strickland that it was a largeand sumptuous place at the back of the Rue de Rivoli. We looked it out in thedirectory. The only hotel of that name was in the Rue des Moines. The quarterwas not fashionable; it was not even respectable. I shook my head.

“I’m sure that’s not it,” I said.

The concierge shrugged his shoulders. There was no other hotel of that name inParis. It occurred to me that Strickland had concealed his address, after all.In giving his partner the one I knew he was perhaps playing a trick on him. Ido not know why I had an inkling that it would appeal to Strickland’s sense ofhumour to bring a furious stockbroker over to Paris on a fool’s errand to anill-famed house in a mean street. Still, I thought I had better go and see.Next day about six o’clock I took a cab to the Rue des Moines, but dismissed itat the corner, since I preferred to walk to the hotel and look at it before Iwent in. It was a street of small shops subservient to the needs of poorpeople, and about the middle of it, on the left as I walked down, was the Hôteldes Belges. My own hotel was modest enough, but it was magnificent incomparison with this. It was a tall, shabby building, that cannot have beenpainted for years, and it had so bedraggled an air that the houses on each sideof it looked neat and clean. The dirty windows were all shut. It was not herethat Charles Strickland lived in guilty splendour with the unknown charmer forwhose sake he had abandoned honour and duty. I was vexed, for I felt that I hadbeen made a fool of, and I nearly turned away without making an enquiry. I wentin only to be able to tell Mrs. Strickland that I had done my best.

The door was at the side of a shop. It stood open, and just within was a sign:Bureau au premier. I walked up narrow stairs, and on the landing found asort of box, glassed in, within which were a desk and a couple of chairs. Therewas a bench outside, on which it might be presumed the night porter passeduneasy nights. There was no one about, but under an electric bell was writtenGarcon. I rang, and presently a waiter appeared. He was a young man withfurtive eyes and a sullen look. He was in shirt-sleeves and carpet slippers.

I do not know why I made my enquiry as casual as possible.

“Does Mr. Strickland live here by any chance?” I asked.

“Number thirty-two. On the sixth floor.”

I was so surprised that for a moment I did not answer.

“Is he in?”

The waiter looked at a board in the bureau.

“He hasn’t left his key. Go up and you’ll see.”

I thought it as well to put one more question.

“Madame est là?”

“Monsieur est seul.”

The waiter looked at me suspiciously as I made my way upstairs. They were darkand airless. There was a foul and musty smell. Three flights up a Woman in adressing-gown, with touzled hair, opened a door and looked at me silently as Ipassed. At length I reached the sixth floor, and knocked at the door numberedthirty-two. There was a sound within, and the door was partly opened. CharlesStrickland stood before me. He uttered not a word. He evidently did not knowme.

I told him my name. I tried my best to assume an airy manner.

“You don’t remember me. I had the pleasure of dining with you last July.”

“Come in,” he said cheerily. “I’m delighted to see you. Take a pew.”

I entered. It was a very small room, overcrowded with furniture of the stylewhich the French know as Louis Philippe. There was a large wooden bedstead onwhich was a billowing red eiderdown, and there was a large wardrobe, a roundtable, a very small washstand, and two stuffed chairs covered with red rep.Everything was dirty and shabby. There was no sign of the abandoned luxury thatColonel MacAndrew had so confidently described. Strickland threw on the floorthe clothes that burdened one of the chairs, and I sat down on it.

“What can I do for you?” he asked.

In that small room he seemed even bigger than I remembered him. He wore an oldNorfolk jacket, and he had not shaved for several days. When last I saw him hewas spruce enough, but he looked ill at ease: now, untidy and ill-kempt, helooked perfectly at home. I did not know how he would take the remark I hadprepared.

“I’ve come to see you on behalf of your wife.”

“I was just going out to have a drink before dinner. You’d better come too. Doyou like absinthe?”

“I can drink it.”

“Come on, then.”

He put on a bowler hat much in need of brushing.

“We might dine together. You owe me a dinner, you know.”

“Certainly. Are you alone?”

I flattered myself that I had got in that important question very naturally.

“Oh yes. In point of fact I’ve not spoken to a soul for three days. My Frenchisn’t exactly brilliant.”

I wondered as I preceded him downstairs what had happened to the little lady inthe tea-shop. Had they quarrelled already, or was his infatuation passed? Itseemed hardly likely if, as appeared, he had been taking steps for a year tomake his desperate plunge. We walked to the Avenue de Clichy, and sat down atone of the tables on the pavement of a large café.

Chapter XII

The Avenue de Clichy was crowded at that hour, and a lively fancy might see inthe passers-by the personages of many a sordid romance. There were clerks andshopgirls; old fellows who might have stepped out of the pages of Honore deBalzac; members, male and female, of the professions which make their profit ofthe frailties of mankind. There is in the streets of the poorer quarters ofParis a thronging vitality which excites the blood and prepares the soul forthe unexpected.

“Do you know Paris well?” I asked.

“No. We came on our honeymoon. I haven’t been since.”

“How on earth did you find out your hotel?”

“It was recommended to me. I wanted something cheap.”

The absinthe came, and with due solemnity we dropped water over the meltingsugar.

“I thought I’d better tell you at once why I had come to see you,” I said, notwithout embarrassment.

His eyes twinkled. “I thought somebody would come along sooner or later. I’vehad a lot of letters from Amy.”

“Then you know pretty well what I’ve got to say.”

“I’ve not read them.”

I lit a cigarette to give myself a moment’s time. I did not quite know now howto set about my mission. The eloquent phrases I had arranged, pathetic orindignant, seemed out of place on the Avenue de Clichy. Suddenly he gave achuckle.

“Beastly job for you this, isn’t it?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I answered.

“Well, look here, you get it over, and then we’ll have a jolly evening.”

I hesitated.

“Has it occurred to you that your wife is frightfully unhappy?”

“She’ll get over it.”

I cannot describe the extraordinary callousness with which he made this reply.It disconcerted me, but I did my best not to show it. I adopted the tone usedby my Uncle Henry, a clergyman, when he was asking one of his relatives for asubscription to the Additional Curates Society.

“You don’t mind my talking to you frankly?”

He shook his head, smiling.

“Has she deserved that you should treat her like this?”

“No.”

“Have you any complaint to make against her?”

“None.”

“Then, isn’t it monstrous to leave her in this fashion, after seventeen yearsof married life, without a fault to find with her?”

“Monstrous.”

I glanced at him with surprise. His cordial agreement with all I said cut theground from under my feet. It made my position complicated, not to sayludicrous. I was prepared to be persuasive, touching, and hortatory, admonitoryand expostulating, if need be vituperative even, indignant and sarcastic; butwhat the devil does a mentor do when the sinner makes no bones about confessinghis sin? I had no experience, since my own practice has always been to denyeverything.

“What, then?” asked Strickland.

I tried to curl my lip.

“Well, if you acknowledge that, there doesn’t seem much more to be said.”

“I don’t think there is.”

I felt that I was not carrying out my embassy with any great skill. I wasdistinctly nettled.

“Hang it all, one can’t leave a woman without a bob.”

“Why not?”

“How is she going to live?”

“I’ve supported her for seventeen years. Why shouldn’t she support herself fora change?”

“She can’t.”

“Let her try.”

Of course there were many things I might have answered to this. I might havespoken of the economic position of woman, of the contract, tacit and overt,which a man accepts by his marriage, and of much else; but I felt that therewas only one point which really signified.

“Don’t you care for her any more?”

“Not a bit,” he replied.

The matter was immensely serious for all the parties concerned, but there wasin the manner of his answer such a cheerful effrontery that I had to bite mylips in order not to laugh. I reminded myself that his behaviour wasabominable. I worked myself up into a state of moral indignation.

“Damn it all, there are your children to think of. They’ve never done you anyharm. They didn’t ask to be brought into the world. If you chuck everythinglike this, they’ll be thrown on the streets.

“They’ve had a good many years of comfort. It’s much more than the majority ofchildren have. Besides, somebody will look after them. When it comes to thepoint, the MacAndrews will pay for their schooling.”

“But aren’t you fond of them? They’re such awfully nice kids. Do you mean tosay you don’t want to have anything more to do with them?”

“I liked them all right when they were kids, but now they’re growing up Ihaven’t got any particular feeling for them.”

“It’s just inhuman.”

“I dare say.”

“You don’t seem in the least ashamed.”

“I’m not.”

I tried another tack.

“Everyone will think you a perfect swine.”

“Let them.”

“Won’t it mean anything to you to know that people loathe and despise you?”

“No.”

His brief answer was so scornful that it made my question, natural though itwas, seem absurd. I reflected for a minute or two.

“I wonder if one can live quite comfortably when one’s conscious of thedisapproval of one’s fellows? Are you sure it won’t begin to worry you?Everyone has some sort of a conscience, and sooner or later it will find youout. Supposing your wife died, wouldn’t you be tortured by remorse?”

He did not answer, and I waited for some time for him to speak. At last I hadto break the silence myself.

“What have you to say to that?”

“Only that you’re a damned fool.”

“At all events, you can be forced to support your wife and children,” Iretorted, somewhat piqued. “I suppose the law has some protection to offerthem.”

“Can the law get blood out of a stone? I haven’t any money. I’ve got about ahundred pounds.”

I began to be more puzzled than before. It was true that his hotel pointed tothe most straitened circ*mstances.

“What are you going to do when you’ve spent that?”

“Earn some.”

He was perfectly cool, and his eyes kept that mocking smile which made all Isaid seem rather foolish. I paused for a little while to consider what I hadbetter say next. But it was he who spoke first.

“Why doesn’t Amy marry again? She’s comparatively young, and she’s notunattractive. I can recommend her as an excellent wife. If she wants to divorceme I don’t mind giving her the necessary grounds.”

Now it was my turn to smile. He was very cunning, but it was evidently thisthat he was aiming at. He had some reason to conceal the fact that he had runaway with a woman, and he was using every precaution to hide her whereabouts. Ianswered with decision.

“Your wife says that nothing you can do will ever induce her to divorce you.She’s quite made up her mind. You can put any possibility of that definitelyout of your head.”

He looked at me with an astonishment that was certainly not feigned. The smileabandoned his lips, and he spoke quite seriously.

“But, my dear fellow, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter a twopenny damn to me oneway or the other.”

I laughed.

“Oh, come now; you mustn’t think us such fools as all that. We happen to knowthat you came away with a woman.”

He gave a little start, and then suddenly burst into a shout of laughter. Helaughed so uproariously that people sitting near us looked round, and some ofthem began to laugh too.

“I don’t see anything very amusing in that.”

“Poor Amy,” he grinned.

Then his face grew bitterly scornful.

“What poor minds women have got! Love. It’s always love. They think a manleaves only because he wants others. Do you think I should be such a fool as todo what I’ve done for a woman?”

“Do you mean to say you didn’t leave your wife for another woman?”

“Of course not.”

“On your word of honour?”

I don’t know why I asked for that. It was very ingenuous of me.

“On my word of honour.”

“Then, what in God’s name have you left her for?”

“I want to paint.”

I looked at him for quite a long time. I did not understand. I thought he wasmad. It must be remembered that I was very young, and I looked upon him as amiddle-aged man. I forgot everything but my own amazement.

“But you’re forty.”

“That’s what made me think it was high time to begin.”

“Have you ever painted?”

“I rather wanted to be a painter when I was a boy, but my father made me gointo business because he said there was no money in art. I began to paint a bita year ago. For the last year I’ve been going to some classes at night.”

“Was that where you went when Mrs. Strickland thought you were playing bridgeat your club?”

“That’s it.”

“Why didn’t you tell her?”

“I preferred to keep it to myself.”

“Can you paint?”

“Not yet. But I shall. That’s why I’ve come over here. I couldn’t get what Iwanted in London. Perhaps I can here.”

“Do you think it’s likely that a man will do any good when he starts at yourage? Most men begin painting at eighteen.”

“I can learn quicker than I could when I was eighteen.”

“What makes you think you have any talent?”

He did not answer for a minute. His gaze rested on the passing throng, but I donot think he saw it. His answer was no answer.

“I’ve got to paint.”

“Aren’t you taking an awful chance?”

He looked at me. His eyes had something strange in them, so that I felt ratheruncomfortable.

“How old are you? Twenty-three?”

It seemed to me that the question was beside the point. It was natural that Ishould take chances; but he was a man whose youth was past, a stockbroker witha position of respectability, a wife and two children. A course that would havebeen natural for me was absurd for him. I wished to be quite fair.

“Of course a miracle may happen, and you may be a great painter, but you mustconfess the chances are a million to one against it. It’ll be an awful sell ifat the end you have to acknowledge you’ve made a hash of it.”

“I’ve got to paint,” he repeated.

“Supposing you’re never anything more than third-rate, do you think it willhave been worth while to give up everything? After all, in any other walk inlife it doesn’t matter if you’re not very good; you can get along quitecomfortably if you’re just adequate; but it’s different with an artist.”

“You blasted fool,” he said.

“I don’t see why, unless it’s folly to say the obvious.”

“I tell you I’ve got to paint. I can’t help myself. When a man falls into thewater it doesn’t matter how he swims, well or badly: he’s got to get out orelse he’ll drown.”

There was real passion in his voice, and in spite of myself I was impressed. Iseemed to feel in him some vehement power that was struggling within him; itgave me the sensation of something very strong, overmastering, that held him,as it were, against his will. I could not understand. He seemed really to bepossessed of a devil, and I felt that it might suddenly turn and rend him. Yethe looked ordinary enough. My eyes, resting on him curiously, caused him noembarrassment. I wondered what a stranger would have taken him to be, sittingthere in his old Norfolk jacket and his unbrushed bowler; his trousers werebaggy, his hands were not clean; and his face, with the red stubble of theunshaved chin, the little eyes, and the large, aggressive nose, was uncouth andcoarse. His mouth was large, his lips were heavy and sensual. No; I could nothave placed him.

“You won’t go back to your wife?” I said at last.

“Never.”

“She’s willing to forget everything that’s happened and start afresh. She’llnever make you a single reproach.”

“She can go to hell.”

“You don’t care if people think you an utter blackguard? You don’t care if sheand your children have to beg their bread?”

“Not a damn.”

I was silent for a moment in order to give greater force to my next remark. Ispoke as deliberately as I could.

“You are a most unmitigated cad.”

“Now that you’ve got that off your chest, let’s go and have dinner.”

Chapter XIII

I dare say it would have been more seemly to decline this proposal. I thinkperhaps I should have made a show of the indignation I really felt, and I amsure that Colonel MacAndrew at least would have thought well of me if I hadbeen able to report my stout refusal to sit at the same table with a man ofsuch character. But the fear of not being able to carry it through effectivelyhas always made me shy of assuming the moral attitude; and in this case thecertainty that my sentiments would be lost on Strickland made it peculiarlyembarrassing to utter them. Only the poet or the saint can water an asphaltpavement in the confident anticipation that lilies will reward his labour.

I paid for what we had drunk, and we made our way to a cheap restaurant,crowded and gay, where we dined with pleasure. I had the appetite of youth andhe of a hardened conscience. Then we went to a tavern to have coffee andliqueurs.

I had said all I had to say on the subject that had brought me to Paris, andthough I felt it in a manner treacherous to Mrs. Strickland not to pursue it, Icould not struggle against his indifference. It requires the femininetemperament to repeat the same thing three times with unabated zest. I solacedmyself by thinking that it would be useful for me to find out what I couldabout Strickland’s state of mind. It also interested me much more. But this wasnot an easy thing to do, for Strickland was not a fluent talker. He seemed toexpress himself with difficulty, as though words were not the medium with whichhis mind worked; and you had to guess the intentions of his soul by hackneyedphrases, slang, and vague, unfinished gestures. But though he said nothing ofany consequence, there was something in his personality which prevented himfrom being dull. Perhaps it was sincerity. He did not seem to care much aboutthe Paris he was now seeing for the first time (I did not count the visit withhis wife), and he accepted sights which must have been strange to him withoutany sense of astonishment. I have been to Paris a hundred times, and it neverfails to give me a thrill of excitement; I can never walk its streets withoutfeeling myself on the verge of adventure. Strickland remained placid. Lookingback, I think now that he was blind to everything but to some disturbing visionin his soul.

One rather absurd incident took place. There were a number of harlots in thetavern: some were sitting with men, others by themselves; and presently Inoticed that one of these was looking at us. When she caught Strickland’s eyeshe smiled. I do not think he saw her. In a little while she went out, but in aminute returned and, passing our table, very politely asked us to buy hersomething to drink. She sat down and I began to chat with her; but, it wasplain that her interest was in Strickland. I explained that he knew no morethan two words of French. She tried to talk to him, partly by signs, partly inpidgin French, which, for some reason, she thought would be more comprehensibleto him, and she had half a dozen phrases of English. She made me translate whatshe could only express in her own tongue, and eagerly asked for the meaning ofhis replies. He was quite good-tempered, a little amused, but his indifferencewas obvious.

“I think you’ve made a conquest,” I laughed.

“I’m not flattered.”

In his place I should have been more embarrassed and less calm. She hadlaughing eyes and a most charming mouth. She was young. I wondered what shefound so attractive in Strickland. She made no secret of her desires, and I wasbidden to translate.

“She wants you to go home with her.”

“I’m not taking any,” he replied.

I put his answer as pleasantly as I could. It seemed to me a little ungraciousto decline an invitation of that sort, and I ascribed his refusal to lack ofmoney.

“But I like him,” she said. “Tell him it’s for love.”

When I translated this, Strickland shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

“Tell her to go to hell,” he said.

His manner made his answer quite plain, and the girl threw back her head with asudden gesture. Perhaps she reddened under her paint. She rose to her feet.

“Monsieur n’est pas poli,” she said.

She walked out of the inn. I was slightly vexed.

“There wasn’t any need to insult her that I can see,” I said. “After all, itwas rather a compliment she was paying you.”

“That sort of thing makes me sick,” he said roughly.

I looked at him curiously. There was a real distaste in his face, and yet itwas the face of a coarse and sensual man. I suppose the girl had been attractedby a certain brutality in it.

“I could have got all the women I wanted in London. I didn’t come here forthat.”

Chapter XIV

During the journey back to England I thought much of Strickland. I tried to setin order what I had to tell his wife. It was unsatisfactory, and I could notimagine that she would be content with me; I was not content with myself.Strickland perplexed me. I could not understand his motives. When I had askedhim what first gave him the idea of being a painter, he was unable or unwillingto tell me. I could make nothing of it. I tried to persuade myself than anobscure feeling of revolt had been gradually coming to a head in his slow mind,but to challenge this was the undoubted fact that he had never shown anyimpatience with the monotony of his life. If, seized by an intolerable boredom,he had determined to be a painter merely to break with irksome ties, it wouldhave been comprehensible, and commonplace; but commonplace is precisely what Ifelt he was not. At last, because I was romantic, I devised an explanationwhich I acknowledged to be far-fetched, but which was the only one that in anyway satisfied me. It was this: I asked myself whether there was not in his soulsome deep-rooted instinct of creation, which the circ*mstances of his life hadobscured, but which grew relentlessly, as a cancer may grow in the livingtissues, till at last it took possession of his whole being and forced himirresistibly to action. The cuckoo lays its egg in the strange bird’s nest, andwhen the young one is hatched it shoulders its foster-brothers out and breaksat last the nest that has sheltered it.

But how strange it was that the creative instinct should seize upon this dullstockbroker, to his own ruin, perhaps, and to the misfortune of such as weredependent on him; and yet no stranger than the way in which the spirit of Godhas seized men, powerful and rich, pursuing them with stubborn vigilance tillat last, conquered, they have abandoned the joy of the world and the love ofwomen for the painful austerities of the cloister. Conversion may come undermany shapes, and it may be brought about in many ways. With some men it needs acataclysm, as a stone may be broken to fragments by the fury of a torrent; butwith some it comes gradually, as a stone may be worn away by the ceaseless fallof a drop of water. Strickland had the directness of the fanatic and theferocity of the apostle.

But to my practical mind it remained to be seen whether the passion whichobsessed him would be justified of its works. When I asked him what hisbrother-students at the night classes he had attended in London thought of hispainting, he answered with a grin:

“They thought it a joke.”

“Have you begun to go to a studio here?”

“Yes. The blighter came round this morning—the master, you know; when he saw mydrawing he just raised his eyebrows and walked on.”

Strickland chuckled. He did not seem discouraged. He was independent of theopinion of his fellows.

And it was just that which had most disconcerted me in my dealings with him.When people say they do not care what others think of them, for the most partthey deceive themselves. Generally they mean only that they will do as theychoose, in the confidence that no one will know their vagaries; and at theutmost only that they are willing to act contrary to the opinion of themajority because they are supported by the approval of their neighbours. It isnot difficult to be unconventional in the eyes of the world when yourunconventionality is but the convention of your set. It affords you then aninordinate amount of self-esteem. You have the self-satisfaction of couragewithout the inconvenience of danger. But the desire for approbation is perhapsthe most deeply seated instinct of civilised man. No one runs so hurriedly tothe cover of respectability as the unconventional woman who has exposed herselfto the slings and arrows of outraged propriety. I do not believe the people whotell me they do not care a row of pins for the opinion of their fellows. It isthe bravado of ignorance. They mean only that they do not fear reproaches forpeccadillos which they are convinced none will discover.

But here was a man who sincerely did not mind what people thought of him, andso convention had no hold on him; he was like a wrestler whose body is oiled;you could not get a grip on him; it gave him a freedom which was an outrage. Iremember saying to him:

“Look here, if everyone acted like you, the world couldn’t go on.”

“That’s a damned silly thing to say. Everyone doesn’t want to act like me. Thegreat majority are perfectly content to do the ordinary thing.”

And once I sought to be satirical.

“You evidently don’t believe in the maxim: Act so that every one of youractions is capable of being made into a universal rule.”

“I never heard it before, but it’s rotten nonsense.”

“Well, it was Kant who said it.”

“I don’t care; it’s rotten nonsense.”

Nor with such a man could you expect the appeal to conscience to be effective.You might as well ask for a reflection without a mirror. I take it thatconscience is the guardian in the individual of the rules which the communityhas evolved for its own preservation. It is the policeman in all our hearts,set there to watch that we do not break its laws. It is the spy seated in thecentral stronghold of the ego. Man’s desire for the approval of his fellows isso strong, his dread of their censure so violent, that he himself has broughthis enemy within his gates; and it keeps watch over him, vigilant always in theinterests of its master to crush any half-formed desire to break away from theherd. It will force him to place the good of society before his own. It is thevery strong link that attaches the individual to the whole. And man,subservient to interests he has persuaded himself are greater than his own,makes himself a slave to his taskmaster. He sits him in a seat of honour. Atlast, like a courtier fawning on the royal stick that is laid about hisshoulders, he prides himself on the sensitiveness of his conscience. Then hehas no words hard enough for the man who does not recognise its sway; for, amember of society now, he realises accurately enough that against him he ispowerless. When I saw that Strickland was really indifferent to the blame hisconduct must excite, I could only draw back in horror as from a monster ofhardly human shape.

The last words he said to me when I bade him good-night were:

“Tell Amy it’s no good coming after me. Anyhow, I shall change my hotel, so shewouldn’t be able to find me.”

“My own impression is that she’s well rid of you,” I said.

“My dear fellow, I only hope you’ll be able to make her see it. But women arevery unintelligent.”

Chapter XV

When I reached London I found waiting for me an urgent request that I should goto Mrs. Strickland’s as soon after dinner as I could. I found her with ColonelMacAndrew and his wife. Mrs. Strickland’s sister was older than she, not unlikeher, but more faded; and she had the efficient air, as though she carried theBritish Empire in her pocket, which the wives of senior officers acquire fromthe consciousness of belonging to a superior caste. Her manner was brisk, andher good-breeding scarcely concealed her conviction that if you were not asoldier you might as well be a counter-jumper. She hated the Guards, whom shethought conceited, and she could not trust herself to speak of their ladies,who were so remiss in calling. Her gown was dowdy and expensive.

Mrs. Strickland was plainly nervous.

“Well, tell us your news,” she said.

“I saw your husband. I’m afraid he’s quite made up his mind not to return.” Ipaused a little. “He wants to paint.”

“What do you mean?” cried Mrs. Strickland, with the utmost astonishment.

“Did you never know that he was keen on that sort of thing.”

“He must be as mad as a hatter,” exclaimed the Colonel.

Mrs. Strickland frowned a little. She was searching among her recollections.

“I remember before we were married he used to potter about with a paint-box.But you never saw such daubs. We used to chaff him. He had absolutely no giftfor anything like that.”

“Of course it’s only an excuse,” said Mrs. MacAndrew.

Mrs. Strickland pondered deeply for some time. It was quite clear that shecould not make head or tail of my announcement. She had put some order into thedrawing-room by now, her housewifely instincts having got the better of herdismay; and it no longer bore that deserted look, like a furnished house longto let, which I had noticed on my first visit after the catastrophe. But nowthat I had seen Strickland in Paris it was difficult to imagine him in thosesurroundings. I thought it could hardly have failed to strike them that therewas something incongruous in him.

“But if he wanted to be an artist, why didn’t he say so?” asked Mrs. Stricklandat last. “I should have thought I was the last person to be unsympathetic to—toaspirations of that kind.”

Mrs. MacAndrew tightened her lips. I imagine that she had never looked withapproval on her sister’s leaning towards persons who cultivated the arts. Shespoke of “culchaw” derisively.

Mrs. Strickland continued:

“After all, if he had any talent I should be the first to encourage it. Iwouldn’t have minded sacrifices. I’d much rather be married to a painter thanto a stockbroker. If it weren’t for the children, I wouldn’t mind anything. Icould be just as happy in a shabby studio in Chelsea as in this flat.”

“My dear, I have no patience with you,” cried Mrs. MacAndrew. “You don’t meanto say you believe a word of this nonsense?”

“But I think it’s true,” I put in mildly.

She looked at me with good-humoured contempt.

“A man doesn’t throw up his business and leave his wife and children at the ageof forty to become a painter unless there’s a woman in it. I suppose he met oneof your—artistic friends, and she’s turned his head.”

A spot of colour rose suddenly to Mrs. Strickland’s pale cheeks.

“What is she like?”

I hesitated a little. I knew that I had a bombshell.

“There isn’t a woman.”

Colonel MacAndrew and his wife uttered expressions of incredulity, and Mrs.Strickland sprang to her feet.

“Do you mean to say you never saw her?”

“There’s no one to see. He’s quite alone.”

“That’s preposterous,” cried Mrs. MacAndrew.

“I knew I ought to have gone over myself,” said the Colonel. “You can bet yourboots I’d have routed her out fast enough.”

“I wish you had gone over,” I replied, somewhat tartly. “You’d have seen thatevery one of your suppositions was wrong. He’s not at a smart hotel. He’sliving in one tiny room in the most squalid way. If he’s left his home, it’snot to live a gay life. He’s got hardly any money.”

“Do you think he’s done something that we don’t know about, and is lying doggoon account of the police?”

The suggestion sent a ray of hope in all their breasts, but I would havenothing to do with it.

“If that were so, he would hardly have been such a fool as to give his partnerhis address,” I retorted acidly. “Anyhow, there’s one thing I’m positive of, hedidn’t go away with anyone. He’s not in love. Nothing is farther from histhoughts.”

There was a pause while they reflected over my words.

“Well, if what you say is true,” said Mrs. MacAndrew at last, “things aren’t sobad as I thought.”

Mrs. Strickland glanced at her, but said nothing.

She was very pale now, and her fine brow was dark and lowering. I could notunderstand the expression of her face. Mrs. MacAndrew continued:

“If it’s just a whim, he’ll get over it.”

“Why don’t you go over to him, Amy?” hazarded the Colonel. “There’s no reasonwhy you shouldn’t live with him in Paris for a year. We’ll look after thechildren. I dare say he’d got stale. Sooner or later he’ll be quite ready tocome back to London, and no great harm will have been done.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” said Mrs. MacAndrew. “I’d give him all the rope he wants.He’ll come back with his tail between his legs and settle down again quitecomfortably.” Mrs. MacAndrew looked at her sister coolly. “Perhaps you weren’tvery wise with him sometimes. Men are queer creatures, and one has to know howto manage them.”

Mrs. MacAndrew shared the common opinion of her sex that a man is always abrute to leave a woman who is attached to him, but that a woman is much toblame if he does. Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas.

Mrs. Strickland looked slowly from one to another of us.

“He’ll never come back,” she said.

“Oh, my dear, remember what we’ve just heard. He’s been used to comfort and tohaving someone to look after him. How long do you think it’ll be before he getstired of a scrubby room in a scrubby hotel? Besides, he hasn’t any money. Hemust come back.”

“As long as I thought he’d run away with some woman I thought there was achance. I don’t believe that sort of thing ever answers. He’d have got sick todeath of her in three months. But if he hasn’t gone because he’s in love, thenit’s finished.”

“Oh, I think that’s awfully subtle,” said the Colonel, putting into the wordall the contempt he felt for a quality so alien to the traditions of hiscalling. “Don’t you believe it. He’ll come back, and, as Dorothy says, I daresay he’ll be none the worse for having had a bit of a fling.”

“But I don’t want him back,” she said.

“Amy!”

It was anger that had seized Mrs. Strickland, and her pallor was the pallor ofa cold and sudden rage. She spoke quickly now, with little gasps.

“I could have forgiven it if he’d fallen desperately in love with someone andgone off with her. I should have thought that natural. I shouldn’t really haveblamed him. I should have thought he was led away. Men are so weak, and womenare so unscrupulous. But this is different. I hate him. I’ll never forgive himnow.”

Colonel MacAndrew and his wife began to talk to her together. They wereastonished. They told her she was mad. They could not understand. Mrs.Strickland turned desperately to me.

“Don’t you see?” she cried.

“I’m not sure. Do you mean that you could have forgiven him if he’d left youfor a woman, but not if he’s left you for an idea? You think you’re a match forthe one, but against the other you’re helpless?”

Mrs. Strickland gave me a look in which I read no great friendliness, but didnot answer. Perhaps I had struck home. She went on in a low and tremblingvoice:

“I never knew it was possible to hate anyone as much as I hate him. Do youknow, I’ve been comforting myself by thinking that however long it lasted he’dwant me at the end? I knew when he was dying he’d send for me, and I was readyto go; I’d have nursed him like a mother, and at the last I’d have told himthat it didn’t matter, I’d loved him always, and I forgave him everything.”

I have always been a little disconcerted by the passion women have for behavingbeautifully at the death-bed of those they love. Sometimes it seems as if theygrudge the longevity which postpones their chance of an effective scene.

“But now—now it’s finished. I’m as indifferent to him as if he were a stranger.I should like him to die miserable, poor, and starving, without a friend. Ihope he’ll rot with some loathsome disease. I’ve done with him.”

I thought it as well then to say what Strickland had suggested.

“If you want to divorce him, he’s quite willing to do whatever is necessary tomake it possible.”

“Why should I give him his freedom?”

“I don’t think he wants it. He merely thought it might be more convenient toyou.”

Mrs. Strickland shrugged her shoulders impatiently. I think I was a littledisappointed in her. I expected then people to be more of a piece than I donow, and I was distressed to find so much vindictiveness in so charming acreature. I did not realise how motley are the qualities that go to make up ahuman being. Now I am well aware that pettiness and grandeur, malice andcharity, hatred and love, can find place side by side in the same human heart.

I wondered if there was anything I could say that would ease the sense ofbitter humiliation which at present tormented Mrs. Strickland. I thought Iwould try.

“You know, I’m not sure that your husband is quite responsible for his actions.I do not think he is himself. He seems to me to be possessed by some powerwhich is using him for its own ends, and in whose hold he is as helpless as afly in a spider’s web. It’s as though someone had cast a spell over him. I’mreminded of those strange stories one sometimes hears of another personalityentering into a man and driving out the old one. The soul lives unstably in thebody, and is capable of mysterious transformations. In the old days they wouldsay Charles Strickland had a devil.”

Mrs. MacAndrew smoothed down the lap of her gown, and gold bangles fell overher wrists.

“All that seems to me very far-fetched,” she said acidly. “I don’t deny thatperhaps Amy took her husband a little too much for granted. If she hadn’t beenso busy with her own affairs, I can’t believe that she wouldn’t have suspectedsomething was the matter. I don’t think that Alec could have something on hismind for a year or more without my having a pretty shrewd idea of it.”

The Colonel stared into vacancy, and I wondered whether anyone could be quiteso innocent of guile as he looked.

“But that doesn’t prevent the fact that Charles Strickland is a heartlessbeast.” She looked at me severely. “I can tell you why he left his wife—frompure selfishness and nothing else whatever.”

“That is certainly the simplest explanation,” I said. But I thought itexplained nothing. When, saying I was tired, I rose to go, Mrs. Strickland madeno attempt to detain me.

Chapter XVI

What followed showed that Mrs. Strickland was a woman of character. Whateveranguish she suffered she concealed. She saw shrewdly that the world is quicklybored by the recital of misfortune, and willingly avoids the sight of distress.Whenever she went out—and compassion for her misadventure made her friendseager to entertain her—she bore a demeanour that was perfect. She was brave,but not too obviously; cheerful, but not brazenly; and she seemed more anxiousto listen to the troubles of others than to discuss her own. Whenever she spokeof her husband it was with pity. Her attitude towards him at first perplexedme. One day she said to me:

“You know, I’m convinced you were mistaken about Charles being alone. From whatI’ve been able to gather from certain sources that I can’t tell you, I knowthat he didn’t leave England by himself.”

“In that case he has a positive genius for covering up his tracks.”

She looked away and slightly coloured.

“What I mean is, if anyone talks to you about it, please don’t contradict it ifthey say he eloped with somebody.”

“Of course not.”

She changed the conversation as though it were a matter to which she attachedno importance. I discovered presently that a peculiar story was circulatingamong her friends. They said that Charles Strickland had become infatuated witha French dancer, whom he had first seen in the ballet at the Empire, and hadaccompanied her to Paris. I could not find out how this had arisen, but,singularly enough, it created much sympathy for Mrs. Strickland, and at thesame time gave her not a little prestige. This was not without its use in thecalling which she had decided to follow. Colonel MacAndrew had not exaggeratedwhen he said she would be penniless, and it was necessary for her to earn herown living as quickly as she could. She made up her mind to profit by heracquaintance with so many writers, and without loss of time began to learnshorthand and typewriting. Her education made it likely that she would be atypist more efficient than the average, and her story made her claimsappealing. Her friends promised to send her work, and took care to recommendher to all theirs.

The MacAndrews, who were childless and in easy circ*mstances, arranged toundertake the care of the children, and Mrs. Strickland had only herself toprovide for. She let her flat and sold her furniture. She settled in two tinyrooms in Westminster, and faced the world anew. She was so efficient that itwas certain she would make a success of the adventure.

Chapter XVII

It was about five years after this that I decided to live in Paris for a while.I was growing stale in London. I was tired of doing much the same thing everyday. My friends pursued their course with uneventfulness; they had no longerany surprises for me, and when I met them I knew pretty well what they wouldsay; even their love-affairs had a tedious banality. We were like tram-carsrunning on their lines from terminus to terminus, and it was possible tocalculate within small limits the number of passengers they would carry. Lifewas ordered too pleasantly. I was seized with panic. I gave up my smallapartment, sold my few belongings, and resolved to start afresh.

I called on Mrs. Strickland before I left. I had not seen her for some time,and I noticed changes in her; it was not only that she was older, thinner, andmore lined; I think her character had altered. She had made a success of herbusiness, and now had an office in Chancery Lane; she did little typingherself, but spent her time correcting the work of the four girls she employed.She had had the idea of giving it a certain daintiness, and she made much useof blue and red inks; she bound the copy in coarse paper, that looked vaguelylike watered silk, in various pale colours; and she had acquired a reputationfor neatness and accuracy. She was making money. But she could not get over theidea that to earn her living was somewhat undignified, and she was inclined toremind you that she was a lady by birth. She could not help bringing into herconversation the names of people she knew which would satisfy you that she hadnot sunk in the social scale. She was a little ashamed of her courage andbusiness capacity, but delighted that she was going to dine the next night witha K.C. who lived in South Kensington. She was pleased to be able to tell youthat her son was at Cambridge, and it was with a little laugh that she spoke ofthe rush of dances to which her daughter, just out, was invited. I suppose Isaid a very stupid thing.

“Is she going into your business?” I asked.

“Oh no; I wouldn’t let her do that,” Mrs. Strickland answered. “She’s sopretty. I’m sure she’ll marry well.”

“I should have thought it would be a help to you.”

“Several people have suggested that she should go on the stage, but of course Icouldn’t consent to that, I know all the chief dramatists, and I could get hera part to-morrow, but I shouldn’t like her to mix with all sorts of people.”

I was a little chilled by Mrs. Strickland’s exclusiveness.

“Do you ever hear of your husband?”

“No; I haven’t heard a word. He may be dead for all I know.”

“I may run across him in Paris. Would you like me to let you know about him?”

She hesitated a minute.

“If he’s in any real want I’m prepared to help him a little. I’d send you acertain sum of money, and you could give it him gradually, as he needed it.”

“That’s very good of you,” I said.

But I knew it was not kindness that prompted the offer. It is not true thatsuffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering,for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.

Chapter XVIII

In point of fact, I met Strickland before I had been a fortnight in Paris.

I quickly found myself a tiny apartment on the fifth floor of a house in theRue des Dames, and for a couple of hundred francs bought at a second-handdealer’s enough furniture to make it habitable. I arranged with the conciergeto make my coffee in the morning and to keep the place clean. Then I went tosee my friend Dirk Stroeve.

Dirk Stroeve was one of those persons whom, according to your character, youcannot think of without derisive laughter or an embarrassed shrug of theshoulders. Nature had made him a buffoon. He was a painter, but a very bad one,whom I had met in Rome, and I still remembered his pictures. He had a genuineenthusiasm for the commonplace. His soul palpitating with love of art, hepainted the models who hung about the stairway of Bernini in the Piazza deSpagna, undaunted by their obvious picturesqueness; and his studio was full ofcanvases on which were portrayed moustachioed, large-eyed peasants in peakedhats, urchins in becoming rags, and women in bright petticoats. Sometimes theylounged at the steps of a church, and sometimes dallied among cypresses againsta cloudless sky; sometimes they made love by a Renaissance well-head, andsometimes they wandered through the Campagna by the side of an ox-waggon. Theywere carefully drawn and carefully painted. A photograph could not have beenmore exact. One of the painters at the Villa Medici had called him Le Maîtrede la Boîte à Chocolats. To look at his pictures you would have thoughtthat Monet, Manet, and the rest of the Impressionists had never been.

“I don’t pretend to be a great painter,” he said, “I’m not a Michael Angelo,no, but I have something. I sell. I bring romance into the homes of all sortsof people. Do you know, they buy my pictures not only in Holland, but in Norwayand Sweden and Denmark? It’s mostly merchants who buy them, and rich tradesmen.You can’t imagine what the winters are like in those countries, so long anddark and cold. They like to think that Italy is like my pictures. That’s whatthey expect. That’s what I expected Italy to be before I came here.”

And I think that was the vision that had remained with him always, dazzling hiseyes so that he could not see the truth; and notwithstanding the brutality offact, he continued to see with the eyes of the spirit an Italy of romanticbrigands and picturesque ruins. It was an ideal that he painted—a poor one,common and shop-soiled, but still it was an ideal; and it gave his character apeculiar charm.

It was because I felt this that Dirk Stroeve was not to me, as to others,merely an object of ridicule. His fellow-painters made no secret of theircontempt for his work, but he earned a fair amount of money, and they did nothesitate to make free use of his purse. He was generous, and the needy,laughing at him because he believed so naively their stories of distress,borrowed from him with effrontery. He was very emotional, yet his feeling, soeasily aroused, had in it something absurd, so that you accepted his kindness,but felt no gratitude. To take money from him was like robbing a child, and youdespised him because he was so foolish. I imagine that a pickpocket, proud ofhis light fingers, must feel a sort of indignation with the careless woman wholeaves in a cab a vanity-bag with all her jewels in it. Nature had made him abutt, but had denied him insensibility. He writhed under the jokes, practicaland otherwise, which were perpetually made at his expense, and yet neverceased, it seemed wilfully, to expose himself to them. He was constantlywounded, and yet his good-nature was such that he could not bear malice: theviper might sting him, but he never learned by experience, and had no soonerrecovered from his pain than he tenderly placed it once more in his bosom. Hislife was a tragedy written in the terms of knockabout farce. Because I did notlaugh at him he was grateful to me, and he used to pour into my sympathetic earthe long list of his troubles. The saddest thing about them was that they weregrotesque, and the more pathetic they were, the more you wanted to laugh.

But though so bad a painter, he had a very delicate feeling for art, and to gowith him to picture-galleries was a rare treat. His enthusiasm was sincere andhis criticism acute. He was catholic. He had not only a true appreciation ofthe old masters, but sympathy with the moderns. He was quick to discovertalent, and his praise was generous. I think I have never known a man whosejudgment was surer. And he was better educated than most painters. He was not,like most of them, ignorant of kindred arts, and his taste for music andliterature gave depth and variety to his comprehension of painting. To a youngman like myself his advice and guidance were of incomparable value.

When I left Rome I corresponded with him, and about once in two months receivedfrom him long letters in queer English, which brought before me vividly hisspluttering, enthusiastic, gesticulating conversation. Some time before I wentto Paris he had married an Englishwoman, and was now settled in a studio inMontmartre. I had not seen him for four years, and had never met his wife.

Chapter XIX

I had not announced my arrival to Stroeve, and when I rang the bell of hisstudio, on opening the door himself, for a moment he did not know me. Then hegave a cry of delighted surprise and drew me in. It was charming to be welcomedwith so much eagerness. His wife was seated near the stove at her sewing, andshe rose as I came in. He introduced me.

“Don’t you remember?” he said to her. “I’ve talked to you about him often.” Andthen to me: “But why didn’t you let me know you were coming? How long have youbeen here? How long are you going to stay? Why didn’t you come an hour earlier,and we would have dined together?”

He bombarded me with questions. He sat me down in a chair, patting me as thoughI were a cushion, pressed cigars upon me, cakes, wine. He could not let mealone. He was heart-broken because he had no whisky, wanted to make coffee forme, racked his brain for something he could possibly do for me, and beamed andlaughed, and in the exuberance of his delight sweated at every pore.

“You haven’t changed,” I said, smiling, as I looked at him.

He had the same absurd appearance that I remembered. He was a fat little man,with short legs, young still—he could not have been more than thirty—butprematurely bald. His face was perfectly round, and he had a very high colour,a white skin, red cheeks, and red lips. His eyes were blue and round too, hewore large gold-rimmed spectacles, and his eyebrows were so fair that you couldnot see them. He reminded you of those jolly, fat merchants that Rubenspainted.

When I told him that I meant to live in Paris for a while, and had taken anapartment, he reproached me bitterly for not having let him know. He would havefound me an apartment himself, and lent me furniture—did I really mean that Ihad gone to the expense of buying it?—and he would have helped me to move in.He really looked upon it as unfriendly that I had not given him the opportunityof making himself useful to me. Meanwhile, Mrs. Stroeve sat quietly mending herstockings, without talking, and she listened to all he said with a quiet smileon her lips.

“So, you see, I’m married,” he said suddenly; “what do you think of my wife?”

He beamed at her, and settled his spectacles on the bridge of his nose. Thesweat made them constantly slip down.

“What on earth do you expect me to say to that?” I laughed.

“Really, Dirk,” put in Mrs. Stroeve, smiling.

“But isn’t she wonderful? I tell you, my boy, lose no time; get married as soonas ever you can. I’m the happiest man alive. Look at her sitting there. Doesn’tshe make a picture? Chardin, eh? I’ve seen all the most beautiful women in theworld; I’ve never seen anyone more beautiful than Madame Dirk Stroeve.”

“If you don’t be quiet, Dirk, I shall go away.”

“Mon petit chou”, he said.

She flushed a little, embarrassed by the passion in his tone. His letters hadtold me that he was very much in love with his wife, and I saw that he couldhardly take his eyes off her. I could not tell if she loved him. Poorpantaloon, he was not an object to excite love, but the smile in her eyes wasaffectionate, and it was possible that her reserve concealed a very deepfeeling. She was not the ravishing creature that his love-sick fancy saw, butshe had a grave comeliness. She was rather tall, and her gray dress, simple andquite well-cut, did not hide the fact that her figure was beautiful. It was afigure that might have appealed more to the sculptor than to the costumier. Herhair, brown and abundant, was plainly done, her face was very pale, and herfeatures were good without being distinguished. She had quiet gray eyes. Shejust missed being beautiful, and in missing it was not even pretty. But whenStroeve spoke of Chardin it was not without reason, and she reminded mecuriously of that pleasant housewife in her mob-cap and apron whom the greatpainter has immortalised. I could imagine her sedately busy among her pots andpans, making a ritual of her household duties, so that they acquired a moralsignificance; I did not suppose that she was clever or could ever be amusing,but there was something in her grave intentness which excited my interest. Herreserve was not without mystery. I wondered why she had married Dirk Stroeve.Though she was English, I could not exactly place her, and it was not obviousfrom what rank in society she sprang, what had been her upbringing, or how shehad lived before her marriage. She was very silent, but when she spoke it waswith a pleasant voice, and her manners were natural.

I asked Stroeve if he was working.

“Working? I’m painting better than I’ve ever painted before.”

We sat in the studio, and he waved his hand to an unfinished picture on aneasel. I gave a little start. He was painting a group of Italian peasants, inthe costume of the Campagna, lounging on the steps of a Roman church.

“Is that what you’re doing now?” I asked.

“Yes. I can get my models here just as well as in Rome.”

“Don’t you think it’s very beautiful?” said Mrs. Stroeve.

“This foolish wife of mine thinks I’m a great artist,” said he.

His apologetic laugh did not disguise the pleasure that he felt. His eyeslingered on his picture. It was strange that his critical sense, so accurateand unconventional when he dealt with the work of others, should be satisfiedin himself with what was hackneyed and vulgar beyond belief.

“Show him some more of your pictures,” she said.

“Shall I?”

Though he had suffered so much from the ridicule of his friends, Dirk Stroeve,eager for praise and naively self-satisfied, could never resist displaying hiswork. He brought out a picture of two curly-headed Italian urchins playingmarbles.

“Aren’t they sweet?” said Mrs. Stroeve.

And then he showed me more. I discovered that in Paris he had been paintingjust the same stale, obviously picturesque things that he had painted for yearsin Rome. It was all false, insincere, shoddy; and yet no one was more honest,sincere, and frank than Dirk Stroeve. Who could resolve the contradiction?

I do not know what put it into my head to ask:

“I say, have you by any chance run across a painter called Charles Strickland?”

“You don’t mean to say you know him?” cried Stroeve.

“Beast,” said his wife.

Stroeve laughed.

“Ma pauvre chèrie.” He went over to her and kissed both her hands. “Shedoesn’t like him. How strange that you should know Strickland!”

“I don’t like bad manners,” said Mrs. Stroeve.

Dirk, laughing still, turned to me to explain.

“You see, I asked him to come here one day and look at my pictures. Well, hecame, and I showed him everything I had.” Stroeve hesitated a moment withembarrassment. I do not know why he had begun the story against himself; hefelt an awkwardness at finishing it. “He looked at—at my pictures, and hedidn’t say anything. I thought he was reserving his judgment till the end. Andat last I said: ‘There, that’s the lot!’ He said: ‘I came to ask you to lend metwenty francs.’”

“And Dirk actually gave it him,” said his wife indignantly.

“I was so taken aback. I didn’t like to refuse. He put the money in his pocket,just nodded, said ‘Thanks,’ and walked out.”

Dirk Stroeve, telling the story, had such a look of blank astonishment on hisround, foolish face that it was almost impossible not to laugh.

“I shouldn’t have minded if he’d said my pictures were bad, but he saidnothing—nothing.”

“And you will tell the story, Dirk,” Said his wife.

It was lamentable that one was more amused by the ridiculous figure cut by theDutchman than outraged by Strickland’s brutal treatment of him.

“I hope I shall never see him again,” said Mrs. Stroeve.

Stroeve smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He had already recovered hisgood-humour.

“The fact remains that he’s a great artist, a very great artist.”

“Strickland?” I exclaimed. “It can’t be the same man.”

“A big fellow with a red beard. Charles Strickland. An Englishman.”

“He had no beard when I knew him, but if he has grown one it might well be red.The man I’m thinking of only began painting five years ago.”

“That’s it. He’s a great artist.”

“Impossible.”

“Have I ever been mistaken?” Dirk asked me. “I tell you he has genius. I’mconvinced of it. In a hundred years, if you and I are remembered at all, itwill be because we knew Charles Strickland.”

I was astonished, and at the same time I was very much excited. I rememberedsuddenly my last talk with him.

“Where can one see his work?” I asked. “Is he having any success? Where is heliving?”

“No; he has no success. I don’t think he’s ever sold a picture. When you speakto men about him they only laugh. But I know he’s a great artist. Afterall, they laughed at Manet. Corot never sold a picture. I don’t know where helives, but I can take you to see him. He goes to a café in the Avenue de Clichyat seven o’clock every evening. If you like we’ll go there to-morrow.”

“I’m not sure if he’ll wish to see me. I think I may remind him of a time heprefers to forget. But I’ll come all the same. Is there any chance of seeingany of his pictures?”

“Not from him. He won’t show you a thing. There’s a little dealer I know whohas two or three. But you mustn’t go without me; you wouldn’t understand. Imust show them to you myself.”

“Dirk, you make me impatient,” said Mrs. Stroeve. “How can you talk like thatabout his pictures when he treated you as he did?” She turned to me. “Do youknow, when some Dutch people came here to buy Dirk’s pictures he tried topersuade them to buy Strickland’s? He insisted on bringing them here to show.”

“What did you think of them?” I asked her, smiling.

“They were awful.”

“Ah, sweetheart, you don’t understand.”

“Well, your Dutch people were furious with you. They thought you were having ajoke with them.”

Dirk Stroeve took off his spectacles and wiped them. His flushed face wasshining with excitement.

“Why should you think that beauty, which is the most precious thing in theworld, lies like a stone on the beach for the careless passer-by to pick upidly? Beauty is something wonderful and strange that the artist fashions out ofthe chaos of the world in the torment of his soul. And when he has made it, itis not given to all to know it. To recognize it you must repeat the adventureof the artist. It is a melody that he sings to you, and to hear it again inyour own heart you want knowledge and sensitiveness and imagination.”

“Why did I always think your pictures beautiful, Dirk? I admired them the veryfirst time I saw them.”

Stroeve’s lips trembled a little.

“Go to bed, my precious. I will walk a few steps with our friend, and then Iwill come back.”

Chapter XX

Dirk Stroeve agreed to fetch me on the following evening and take me to thecafé at which Strickland was most likely to be found. I was interested to learnthat it was the same as that at which Strickland and I had drunk absinthe whenI had gone over to Paris to see him. The fact that he had never changedsuggested a sluggishness of habit which seemed to me characteristic.

“There he is,” said Stroeve, as we reached the café.

Though it was October, the evening was warm, and the tables on the pavementwere crowded. I ran my eyes over them, but did not see Strickland.

“Look. Over there, in the corner. He’s playing chess.”

I noticed a man bending over a chess-board, but could see only a large felt hatand a red beard. We threaded our way among the tables till we came to him.

“Strickland.”

He looked up.

“Hulloa, fatty. What do you want?”

“I’ve brought an old friend to see you.”

Strickland gave me a glance, and evidently did not recognise me. He resumed hisscrutiny of the chess-board.

“Sit down, and don’t make a noise,” he said.

He moved a piece and straightway became absorbed in the game. Poor Stroeve gaveme a troubled look, but I was not disconcerted by so little. I orderedsomething to drink, and waited quietly till Strickland had finished. I welcomedthe opportunity to examine him at my ease. I certainly should never have knownhim. In the first place his red beard, ragged and untrimmed, hid much of hisface, and his hair was long; but the most surprising change in him was hisextreme thinness. It made his great nose protrude more arrogantly; itemphasized his cheekbones; it made his eyes seem larger. There were deephollows at his temples. His body was cadaverous. He wore the same suit that Ihad seen him in five years before; it was torn and stained, threadbare, and ithung upon him loosely, as though it had been made for someone else. I noticedhis hands, dirty, with long nails; they were merely bone and sinew, large andstrong; but I had forgotten that they were so shapely. He gave me anextraordinary impression as he sat there, his attention riveted on his game—animpression of great strength; and I could not understand why it was that hisemaciation somehow made it more striking.

Presently, after moving, he leaned back and gazed with a curious abstraction athis antagonist. This was a fat, bearded Frenchman. The Frenchman considered theposition, then broke suddenly into jovial expletives, and with an impatientgesture, gathering up the pieces, flung them into their box. He cursedStrickland freely, then, calling for the waiter, paid for the drinks, and left.Stroeve drew his chair closer to the table.

“Now I suppose we can talk,” he said.

Strickland’s eyes rested on him, and there was in them a malicious expression.I felt sure he was seeking for some gibe, could think of none, and so wasforced to silence.

“I’ve brought an old friend to see you,” repeated Stroeve, beaming cheerfully.

Strickland looked at me thoughtfully for nearly a minute. I did not speak.

“I’ve never seen him in my life,” he said.

I do not know why he said this, for I felt certain I had caught a gleam ofrecognition in his eyes. I was not so easily abashed as I had been some yearsearlier.

“I saw your wife the other day,” I said. “I felt sure you’d like to have thelatest news of her.”

He gave a short laugh. His eyes twinkled.

“We had a jolly evening together,” he said. “How long ago is it?”

“Five years.”

He called for another absinthe. Stroeve, with voluble tongue, explained how heand I had met, and by what an accident we discovered that we both knewStrickland. I do not know if Strickland listened. He glanced at me once ortwice reflectively, but for the most part seemed occupied with his ownthoughts; and certainly without Stroeve’s babble the conversation would havebeen difficult. In half an hour the Dutchman, looking at his watch, announcedthat he must go. He asked whether I would come too. I thought, alone, I mightget something out of Strickland, and so answered that I would stay.

When the fat man had left I said:

“Dirk Stroeve thinks you’re a great artist.”

“What the hell do you suppose I care?”

“Will you let me see your pictures?”

“Why should I?”

“I might feel inclined to buy one.”

“I might not feel inclined to sell one.”

“Are you making a good living?” I asked, smiling.

He chuckled.

“Do I look it?”

“You look half starved.”

“I am half starved.”

“Then come and let’s have a bit of dinner.”

“Why do you ask me?”

“Not out of charity,” I answered coolly. “I don’t really care a twopenny damnif you starve or not.”

His eyes lit up again.

“Come on, then,” he said, getting up. “I’d like a decent meal.”

Chapter XXI

I let him take me to a restaurant of his choice, but on the way I bought apaper. When we had ordered our dinner, I propped it against a bottle of St.Galmier and began to read. We ate in silence. I felt him looking at me now andagain, but I took no notice. I meant to force him to conversation.

“Is there anything in the paper?” he said, as we approached the end of oursilent meal.

I fancied there was in his tone a slight note of exasperation.

“I always like to read the feuilleton on the drama,” I said.

I folded the paper and put it down beside me.

“I’ve enjoyed my dinner,” he remarked.

“I think we might have our coffee here, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

We lit our cigars. I smoked in silence. I noticed that now and then his eyesrested on me with a faint smile of amusem*nt. I waited patiently.

“What have you been up to since I saw you last?” he asked at length.

I had not very much to say. It was a record of hard work and of littleadventure; of experiments in this direction and in that; of the gradualacquisition of the knowledge of books and of men. I took care to ask Stricklandnothing about his own doings. I showed not the least interest in him, and atlast I was rewarded. He began to talk of himself. But with his poor gift ofexpression he gave but indications of what he had gone through, and I had tofill up the gaps with my own imagination. It was tantalising to get no morethan hints into a character that interested me so much. It was like makingone’s way through a mutilated manuscript. I received the impression of a lifewhich was a bitter struggle against every sort of difficulty; but I realisedthat much which would have seemed horrible to most people did not in the leastaffect him. Strickland was distinguished from most Englishmen by his perfectindifference to comfort; it did not irk him to live always in one shabby room;he had no need to be surrounded by beautiful things. I do not suppose he hadever noticed how dingy was the paper on the wall of the room in which on myfirst visit I found him. He did not want arm-chairs to sit in; he really feltmore at his ease on a kitchen chair. He ate with appetite, but was indifferentto what he ate; to him it was only food that he devoured to still the pangs ofhunger; and when no food was to be had he seemed capable of doing without. Ilearned that for six months he had lived on a loaf of bread and a bottle ofmilk a day. He was a sensual man, and yet was indifferent to sensual things. Helooked upon privation as no hardship. There was something impressive in themanner in which he lived a life wholly of the spirit.

When the small sum of money which he brought with him from London came to anend he suffered from no dismay. He sold no pictures; I think he made littleattempt to sell any; he set about finding some way to make a bit of money. Hetold me with grim humour of the time he had spent acting as guide to co*ckneyswho wanted to see the night side of life in Paris; it was an occupation thatappealed to his sardonic temper and somehow or other he had acquired a wideacquaintance with the more disreputable quarters of the city. He told me of thelong hours he spent walking about the Boulevard de la Madeleine on the look-outfor Englishmen, preferably the worse for liquor, who desired to see thingswhich the law forbade. When in luck he was able to make a tidy sum; but theshabbiness of his clothes at last frightened the sight-seers, and he could notfind people adventurous enough to trust themselves to him. Then he happened ona job to translate the advertisem*nts of patent medicines which were sentbroadcast to the medical profession in England. During a strike he had beenemployed as a house-painter.

Meanwhile he had never ceased to work at his art; but, soon tiring of thestudios, entirely by himself. He had never been so poor that he could not buycanvas and paint, and really he needed nothing else. So far as I could makeout, he painted with great difficulty, and in his unwillingness to accept helpfrom anyone lost much time in finding out for himself the solution of technicalproblems which preceding generations had already worked out one by one. He wasaiming at something, I knew not what, and perhaps he hardly knew himself; and Igot again more strongly the impression of a man possessed. He did not seemquite sane. It seemed to me that he would not show his pictures because he wasreally not interested in them. He lived in a dream, and the reality meantnothing to him. I had the feeling that he worked on a canvas with all the forceof his violent personality, oblivious of everything in his effort to get whathe saw with the mind’s eye; and then, having finished, not the picture perhaps,for I had an idea that he seldom brought anything to completion, but thepassion that fired him, he lost all care for it. He was never satisfied withwhat he had done; it seemed to him of no consequence compared with the visionthat obsessed his mind.

“Why don’t you ever send your work to exhibitions?” I asked. “I should havethought you’d like to know what people thought about it.”

“Would you?”

I cannot describe the unmeasurable contempt he put into the two words.

“Don’t you want fame? It’s something that most artists haven’t been indifferentto.”

“Children. How can you care for the opinion of the crowd, when you don’t caretwopence for the opinion of the individual?”

“We’re not all reasonable beings,” I laughed.

“Who makes fame? Critics, writers, stockbrokers, women.”

“Wouldn’t it give you a rather pleasing sensation to think of people you didn’tknow and had never seen receiving emotions, subtle and passionate, from thework of your hands? Everyone likes power. I can’t imagine a more wonderfulexercise of it than to move the souls of men to pity or terror.”

“Melodrama.”

“Why do you mind if you paint well or badly?”

“I don’t. I only want to paint what I see.”

“I wonder if I could write on a desert island, with the certainty that no eyesbut mine would ever see what I had written.”

Strickland did not speak for a long time, but his eyes shone strangely, asthough he saw something that kindled his soul to ecstasy.

“Sometimes I’ve thought of an island lost in a boundless sea, where I couldlive in some hidden valley, among strange trees, in silence. There I think Icould find what I want.”

He did not express himself quite like this. He used gestures instead ofadjectives, and he halted. I have put into my own words what I think he wantedto say.

“Looking back on the last five years, do you think it was worth it?” I asked.

He looked at me, and I saw that he did not know what I meant. I explained.

“You gave up a comfortable home and a life as happy as the average. You werefairly prosperous. You seem to have had a rotten time in Paris. If you had yourtime over again would you do what you did?”

“Rather.”

“Do you know that you haven’t asked anything about your wife and children? Doyou never think of them?”

“No.”

“I wish you weren’t so damned monosyllabic. Have you never had a moment’sregret for all the unhappiness you caused them?”

His lips broke into a smile, and he shook his head.

“I should have thought sometimes you couldn’t help thinking of the past. Idon’t mean the past of seven or eight years ago, but further back still, whenyou first met your wife, and loved her, and married her. Don’t you remember thejoy with which you first took her in your arms?”

“I don’t think of the past. The only thing that matters is the everlastingpresent.”

I thought for a moment over this reply. It was obscure, perhaps, but I thoughtthat I saw dimly his meaning.

“Are you happy?” I asked.

“Yes.”

I was silent. I looked at him reflectively. He held my stare, and presently asardonic twinkle lit up his eyes.

“I’m afraid you disapprove of me?”

“Nonsense,” I answered promptly; “I don’t disapprove of the boa-constrictor; onthe contrary, I’m interested in his mental processes.”

“It’s a purely professional interest you take in me?”

“Purely.”

“It’s only right that you shouldn’t disapprove of me. You have a despicablecharacter.”

“Perhaps that’s why you feel at home with me,” I retorted.

He smiled dryly, but said nothing. I wish I knew how to describe his smile. Ido not know that it was attractive, but it lit up his face, changing theexpression, which was generally sombre, and gave it a look of not ill-naturedmalice. It was a slow smile, starting and sometimes ending in the eyes; it wasvery sensual, neither cruel nor kindly, but suggested rather the inhuman gleeof the satyr. It was his smile that made me ask him:

“Haven’t you been in love since you came to Paris?”

“I haven’t got time for that sort of nonsense. Life isn’t long enough for loveand art.”

“Your appearance doesn’t suggest the anchorite.”

“All that business fills me with disgust.”

“Human nature is a nuisance, isn’t it?” I said.

“Why are you snigg*ring at me?”

“Because I don’t believe you.”

“Then you’re a damned fool.”

I paused, and I looked at him searchingly.

“What’s the good of trying to humbug me?” I said.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

I smiled.

“Let me tell you. I imagine that for months the matter never comes into yourhead, and you’re able to persuade yourself that you’ve finished with it forgood and all. You rejoice in your freedom, and you feel that at last you cancall your soul your own. You seem to walk with your head among the stars. Andthen, all of a sudden you can’t stand it any more, and you notice that all thetime your feet have been walking in the mud. And you want to roll yourself init. And you find some woman, coarse and low and vulgar, some beastly creaturein whom all the horror of sex is blatant, and you fall upon her like a wildanimal. You drink till you’re blind with rage.”

He stared at me without the slightest movement. I held his eyes with mine. Ispoke very slowly.

“I’ll tell you what must seem strange, that when it’s over you feel soextraordinarily pure. You feel like a disembodied spirit, immaterial; and youseem to be able to touch beauty as though it were a palpable thing; and youfeel an intimate communion with the breeze, and with the trees breaking intoleaf, and with the iridescence of the river. You feel like God. Can you explainthat to me?”

He kept his eyes fixed on mine till I had finished, and then he turned away.There was on his face a strange look, and I thought that so might a man lookwhen he had died under the torture. He was silent. I knew that our conversationwas ended.

Chapter XXII

I settled down in Paris and began to write a play. I led a very regular life,working in the morning, and in the afternoon lounging about the gardens of theLuxembourg or sauntering through the streets. I spent long hours in the Louvre,the most friendly of all galleries and the most convenient for meditation; oridled on the quays, fingering second-hand books that I never meant to buy. Iread a page here and there, and made acquaintance with a great many authorswhom I was content to know thus desultorily. In the evenings I went to see myfriends. I looked in often on the Stroeves, and sometimes shared their modestfare. Dirk Stroeve flattered himself on his skill in cooking Italian dishes,and I confess that his spaghetti were very much better than hispictures. It was a dinner for a King when he brought in a huge dish of it,succulent with tomatoes, and we ate it together with the good household breadand a bottle of red wine. I grew more intimate with Blanche Stroeve, and Ithink, because I was English and she knew few English people, she was glad tosee me. She was pleasant and simple, but she remained always rather silent, andI knew not why, gave me the impression that she was concealing something. But Ithought that was perhaps no more than a natural reserve accentuated by theverbose frankness of her husband. Dirk never concealed anything. He discussedthe most intimate matters with a complete lack of self-consciousness. Sometimeshe embarrassed his wife, and the only time I saw her put out of countenance waswhen he insisted on telling me that he had taken a purge, and went intosomewhat realistic details on the subject. The perfect seriousness with whichhe narrated his misfortunes convulsed me with laughter, and this added to Mrs.Stroeve’s irritation.

“You seem to like making a fool of yourself,” she said.

His round eyes grew rounder still, and his brow puckered in dismay as he sawthat she was angry.

“Sweetheart, have I vexed you? I’ll never take another. It was only because Iwas bilious. I lead a sedentary life. I don’t take enough exercise. For threedays I hadn’t ...”

“For goodness sake, hold your tongue,” she interrupted, tears of annoyance inher eyes.

His face fell, and he pouted his lips like a scolded child. He gave me a lookof appeal, so that I might put things right, but, unable to control myself, Ishook with helpless laughter.

We went one day to the picture-dealer in whose shop Stroeve thought he couldshow me at least two or three of Strickland’s pictures, but when we arrivedwere told that Strickland himself had taken them away. The dealer did not knowwhy.

“But don’t imagine to yourself that I make myself bad blood on that account. Itook them to oblige Monsieur Stroeve, and I said I would sell them if I could.But really—” He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m interested in the young men, butvoyons, you yourself, Monsieur Stroeve, you don’t think there’s anytalent there.”

“I give you my word of honour, there’s no one painting to-day in whose talent Iam more convinced. Take my word for it, you are missing a good affair. Some daythose pictures will be worth more than all you have in your shop. RememberMonet, who could not get anyone to buy his pictures for a hundred francs. Whatare they worth now?”

“True. But there were a hundred as good painters as Monet who couldn’t selltheir pictures at that time, and their pictures are worth nothing still. Howcan one tell? Is merit enough to bring success? Don’t believe it. Dureste, it has still to be proved that this friend of yours has merit. Noone claims it for him but Monsieur Stroeve.”

“And how, then, will you recognise merit?” asked Dirk, red in the face withanger.

“There is only one way—by success.”

“Philistine,” cried Dirk.

“But think of the great artists of the past—Raphael, Michael Angelo, Ingres,Delacroix—they were all successful.”

“Let us go,” said Stroeve to me, “or I shall kill this man.”

Chapter XXIII

I saw Strickland not infrequently, and now and then played chess with him. Hewas of uncertain temper. Sometimes he would sit silent and abstracted, takingno notice of anyone; and at others, when he was in a good humour, he would talkin his own halting way. He never said a clever thing, but he had a vein ofbrutal sarcasm which was not ineffective, and he always said exactly what hethought. He was indifferent to the susceptibilities of others, and when hewounded them was amused. He was constantly offending Dirk Stroeve so bitterlythat he flung away, vowing he would never speak to him again; but there was asolid force in Strickland that attracted the fat Dutchman against his will, sothat he came back, fawning like a clumsy dog, though he knew that his onlygreeting would be the blow he dreaded.

I do not know why Strickland put up with me. Our relations were peculiar. Oneday he asked me to lend him fifty francs.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” I replied.

“Why not?”

“It wouldn’t amuse me.”

“I’m frightfully hard up, you know.”

“I don’t care.”

“You don’t care if I starve?”

“Why on earth should I?” I asked in my turn.

He looked at me for a minute or two, pulling his untidy beard. I smiled at him.

“What are you amused at?” he said, with a gleam of anger in his eyes.

“You’re so simple. You recognise no obligations. No one is under any obligationto you.”

“Wouldn’t it make you uncomfortable if I went and hanged myself because I’dbeen turned out of my room as I couldn’t pay the rent?”

“Not a bit.”

He chuckled.

“You’re bragging. If I really did you’d be overwhelmed with remorse.”

“Try it, and we’ll see,” I retorted.

A smile flickered in his eyes, and he stirred his absinthe in silence.

“Would you like to play chess?” I asked.

“I don’t mind.”

We set up the pieces, and when the board was ready he considered it with acomfortable eye. There is a sense of satisfaction in looking at your men allready for the fray.

“Did you really think I’d lend you money?” I asked.

“I didn’t see why you shouldn’t.”

“You surprise me.”

“Why?”

“It’s disappointing to find that at heart you are sentimental. I should haveliked you better if you hadn’t made that ingenuous appeal to my sympathies.”

“I should have despised you if you’d been moved by it,” he answered.

“That’s better,” I laughed.

We began to play. We were both absorbed in the game. When it was finished Isaid to him:

“Look here, if you’re hard up, let me see your pictures. If there’s anything Ilike I’ll buy it.”

“Go to hell,” he answered.

He got up and was about to go away. I stopped him.

“You haven’t paid for your absinthe,” I said, smiling.

He cursed me, flung down the money and left.

I did not see him for several days after that, but one evening, when I wassitting in the café, reading a paper, he came up and sat beside me.

“You haven’t hanged yourself after all,” I remarked.

“No. I’ve got a commission. I’m painting the portrait of a retired plumber fortwo hundred francs.”[5]

[5] This picture,formerly in the possession of a wealthy manufacturer at Lille, who fled fromthat city on the approach of the Germans, is now in the National Gallery atStockholm. The Swede is adept at the gentle pastime of fishing in troubledwaters.

“How did you manage that?”

“The woman where I get my bread recommended me. He’d told her he was lookingout for someone to paint him. I’ve got to give her twenty francs.”

“What’s he like?”

“Splendid. He’s got a great red face like a leg of mutton, and on his rightcheek there’s an enormous mole with long hairs growing out of it.”

Strickland was in a good humour, and when Dirk Stroeve came up and sat downwith us he attacked him with ferocious banter. He showed a skill I should neverhave credited him with in finding the places where the unhappy Dutchman wasmost sensitive. Strickland employed not the rapier of sarcasm but the bludgeonof invective. The attack was so unprovoked that Stroeve, taken unawares, wasdefenceless. He reminded you of a frightened sheep running aimlessly hither andthither. He was startled and amazed. At last the tears ran from his eyes. Andthe worst of it was that, though you hated Strickland, and the exhibition washorrible, it was impossible not to laugh. Dirk Stroeve was one of those unluckypersons whose most sincere emotions are ridiculous.

But after all when I look back upon that winter in Paris, my pleasantestrecollection is of Dirk Stroeve. There was something very charming in hislittle household. He and his wife made a picture which the imaginationgratefully dwelt upon, and the simplicity of his love for her had a deliberategrace. He remained absurd, but the sincerity of his passion excited one’ssympathy. I could understand how his wife must feel for him, and I was gladthat her affection was so tender. If she had any sense of humour, it must amuseher that he should place her on a pedestal and worship her with such an honestidolatry, but even while she laughed she must have been pleased and touched. Hewas the constant lover, and though she grew old, losing her rounded lines andher fair comeliness, to him she would certainly never alter. To him she wouldalways be the loveliest woman in the world. There was a pleasing grace in theorderliness of their lives. They had but the studio, a bedroom, and a tinykitchen. Mrs. Stroeve did all the housework herself; and while Dirk painted badpictures, she went marketing, cooked the luncheon, sewed, occupied herself likea busy ant all the day; and in the evening sat in the studio, sewing again,while Dirk played music which I am sure was far beyond her comprehension. Heplayed with taste, but with more feeling than was always justified, and intohis music poured all his honest, sentimental, exuberant soul.

Their life in its own way was an idyl, and it managed to achieve a singularbeauty. The absurdity that clung to everything connected with Dirk Stroeve gaveit a curious note, like an unresolved discord, but made it somehow more modern,more human; like a rough joke thrown into a serious scene, it heightened thepoignancy which all beauty has.

Chapter XXIV

Shortly before Christmas Dirk Stroeve came to ask me to spend the holiday withhim. He had a characteristic sentimentality about the day and wanted to pass itamong his friends with suitable ceremonies. Neither of us had seen Stricklandfor two or three weeks—I because I had been busy with friends who were spendinga little while in Paris, and Stroeve because, having quarreled with him moreviolently than usual, he had made up his mind to have nothing more to do withhim. Strickland was impossible, and he swore never to speak to him again. Butthe season touched him with gentle feeling, and he hated the thought ofStrickland spending Christmas Day by himself; he ascribed his own emotions tohim, and could not bear that on an occasion given up to good-fellowship thelonely painter should be abandoned to his own melancholy. Stroeve had set up aChristmas-tree in his studio, and I suspected that we should both find absurdlittle presents hanging on its festive branches; but he was shy about seeingStrickland again; it was a little humiliating to forgive so easily insults sooutrageous, and he wished me to be present at the reconciliation on which hewas determined.

We walked together down the Avenue de Clichy, but Strickland was not in thecafé. It was too cold to sit outside, and we took our places on leather bencheswithin. It was hot and stuffy, and the air was gray with smoke. Strickland didnot come, but presently we saw the French painter who occasionally played chesswith him. I had formed a casual acquaintance with him, and he sat down at ourtable. Stroeve asked him if he had seen Strickland.

“He’s ill,” he said. “Didn’t you know?”

“Seriously?”

“Very, I understand.”

Stroeve’s face grew white.

“Why didn’t he write and tell me? How stupid of me to quarrel with him. We mustgo to him at once. He can have no one to look after him. Where does he live?”

“I have no idea,” said the Frenchman.

We discovered that none of us knew how to find him. Stroeve grew more and moredistressed.

“He might die, and not a soul would know anything about it. It’s dreadful. Ican’t bear the thought. We must find him at once.”

I tried to make Stroeve understand that it was absurd to hunt vaguely aboutParis. We must first think of some plan.

“Yes; but all this time he may be dying, and when we get there it may be toolate to do anything.”

“Sit still and let us think,” I said impatiently.

The only address I knew was the Hôtel des Belges, but Strickland had long leftthat, and they would have no recollection of him. With that queer idea of histo keep his whereabouts secret, it was unlikely that, on leaving, he had saidwhere he was going. Besides, it was more than five years ago. I felt prettysure that he had not moved far. If he continued to frequent the same café aswhen he had stayed at the hotel, it was probably because it was the mostconvenient. Suddenly I remembered that he had got his commission to paint aportrait through the baker from whom he bought his bread, and it struck me thatthere one might find his address. I called for a directory and looked out thebakers. There were five in the immediate neighbourhood, and the only thing wasto go to all of them. Stroeve accompanied me unwillingly. His own plan was torun up and down the streets that led out of the Avenue de Clichy and ask atevery house if Strickland lived there. My commonplace scheme was, after all,effective, for in the second shop we asked at the woman behind the counteracknowledged that she knew him. She was not certain where he lived, but it wasin one of the three houses opposite. Luck favoured us, and in the first wetried the concierge told us that we should find him on the top floor.

“It appears that he’s ill,” said Stroeve.

“It may be,” answered the concierge indifferently. “En effet, I have notseen him for several days.”

Stroeve ran up the stairs ahead of me, and when I reached the top floor I foundhim talking to a workman in his shirt-sleeves who had opened a door at whichStroeve had knocked. He pointed to another door. He believed that the personwho lived there was a painter. He had not seen him for a week. Stroeve made asthough he were about to knock, and then turned to me with a gesture ofhelplessness. I saw that he was panic-stricken.

“Supposing he’s dead?”

“Not he,” I said.

I knocked. There was no answer. I tried the handle, and found the doorunlocked. I walked in, and Stroeve followed me. The room was in darkness. Icould only see that it was an attic, with a sloping roof; and a faint glimmer,no more than a less profound obscurity, came from a skylight.

“Strickland,” I called.

There was no answer. It was really rather mysterious, and it seemed to me thatStroeve, standing just behind, was trembling in his shoes. For a moment Ihesitated to strike a light. I dimly perceived a bed in the corner, and Iwondered whether the light would disclose lying on it a dead body.

“Haven’t you got a match, you fool?”

Strickland’s voice, coming out of the darkness, harshly, made me start.

Stroeve cried out.

“Oh, my God, I thought you were dead.”

I struck a match, and looked about for a candle. I had a rapid glimpse of atiny apartment, half room, half studio, in which was nothing but a bed,canvases with their faces to the wall, an easel, a table, and a chair. Therewas no carpet on the floor. There was no fireplace. On the table, crowded withpaints, palette-knives, and litter of all kinds, was the end of a candle. I litit. Strickland was lying in the bed, uncomfortably because it was too small forhim, and he had put all his clothes over him for warmth. It was obvious at aglance that he was in a high fever. Stroeve, his voice cracking with emotion,went up to him.

“Oh, my poor friend, what is the matter with you? I had no idea you were ill.Why didn’t you let me know? You must know I’d have done anything in the worldfor you. Were you thinking of what I said? I didn’t mean it. I was wrong. Itwas stupid of me to take offence.”

“Go to hell,” said Strickland.

“Now, be reasonable. Let me make you comfortable. Haven’t you anyone to lookafter you?”

He looked round the squalid attic in dismay. He tried to arrange thebed-clothes. Strickland, breathing laboriously, kept an angry silence. He gaveme a resentful glance. I stood quite quietly, looking at him.

“If you want to do something for me, you can get me some milk,” he said atlast. “I haven’t been able to get out for two days.” There was an empty bottleby the side of the bed, which had contained milk, and in a piece of newspaper afew crumbs.

“What have you been having?” I asked.

“Nothing.”

“For how long?” cried Stroeve. “Do you mean to say you’ve had nothing to eat ordrink for two days? It’s horrible.”

“I’ve had water.”

His eyes dwelt for a moment on a large can within reach of an outstretched arm.

“I’ll go immediately,” said Stroeve. “Is there anything you fancy?”

I suggested that he should get a thermometer, and a few grapes, and some bread.Stroeve, glad to make himself useful, clattered down the stairs.

“Damned fool,” muttered Strickland.

I felt his pulse. It was beating quickly and feebly. I asked him one or twoquestions, but he would not answer, and when I pressed him he turned his faceirritably to the wall. The only thing was to wait in silence. In ten minutesStroeve, panting, came back. Besides what I had suggested, he brought candles,and meat-juice, and a spirit-lamp. He was a practical little fellow, andwithout delay set about making bread-and-milk. I took Strickland’s temperature.It was a hundred and four. He was obviously very ill.

Chapter XXV

Presently we left him. Dirk was going home to dinner, and I proposed to find adoctor and bring him to see Strickland; but when we got down into the street,fresh after the stuffy attic, the Dutchman begged me to go immediately to hisstudio. He had something in mind which he would not tell me, but he insistedthat it was very necessary for me to accompany him. Since I did not think adoctor could at the moment do any more than we had done, I consented. We foundBlanche Stroeve laying the table for dinner. Dirk went up to her, and took bothher hands.

“Dear one, I want you to do something for me,” he said.

She looked at him with the grave cheerfulness which was one of her charms. Hisred face was shining with sweat, and he had a look of comic agitation, butthere was in his round, surprised eyes an eager light.

“Strickland is very ill. He may be dying. He is alone in a filthy attic, andthere is not a soul to look after him. I want you to let me bring him here.”

She withdrew her hands quickly, I had never seen her make so rapid a movement;and her cheeks flushed.

“Oh no.”

“Oh, my dear one, don’t refuse. I couldn’t bear to leave him where he is. Ishouldn’t sleep a wink for thinking of him.”

“I have no objection to your nursing him.”

Her voice was cold and distant.

“But he’ll die.”

“Let him.”

Stroeve gave a little gasp. He wiped his face. He turned to me for support, butI did not know what to say.

“He’s a great artist.”

“What do I care? I hate him.”

“Oh, my love, my precious, you don’t mean that. I beseech you to let me bringhim here. We can make him comfortable. Perhaps we can save him. He shall be notrouble to you. I will do everything. We’ll make him up a bed in the studio. Wecan’t let him die like a dog. It would be inhuman.”

“Why can’t he go to a hospital?”

“A hospital! He needs the care of loving hands. He must be treated withinfinite tact.”

I was surprised to see how moved she was. She went on laying the table, but herhands trembled.

“I have no patience with you. Do you think if you were ill he would stir afinger to help you?”

“But what does that matter? I should have you to nurse me. It wouldn’t benecessary. And besides, I’m different; I’m not of any importance.”

“You have no more spirit than a mongrel cur. You lie down on the ground and askpeople to trample on you.”

Stroeve gave a little laugh. He thought he understood the reason of his wife’sattitude.

“Oh, my poor dear, you’re thinking of that day he came here to look at mypictures. What does it matter if he didn’t think them any good? It was stupidof me to show them to him. I dare say they’re not very good.”

He looked round the studio ruefully. On the easel was a half-finished pictureof a smiling Italian peasant, holding a bunch of grapes over the head of adark-eyed girl.

“Even if he didn’t like them he should have been civil. He needn’t haveinsulted you. He showed that he despised you, and you lick his hand. Oh, I hatehim.”

“Dear child, he has genius. You don’t think I believe that I have it. I wish Ihad; but I know it when I see it, and I honour it with all my heart. It’s themost wonderful thing in the world. It’s a great burden to its possessors. Weshould be very tolerant with them, and very patient.”

I stood apart, somewhat embarrassed by the domestic scene, and wondered whyStroeve had insisted on my coming with him. I saw that his wife was on theverge of tears.

“But it’s not only because he’s a genius that I ask you to let me bring himhere; it’s because he’s a human being, and he is ill and poor.”

“I will never have him in my house—never.”

Stroeve turned to me.

“Tell her that it’s a matter of life and death. It’s impossible to leave him inthat wretched hole.”

“It’s quite obvious that it would be much easier to nurse him here,” I said,“but of course it would be very inconvenient. I have an idea that someone willhave to be with him day and night.”

“My love, it’s not you who would shirk a little trouble.”

“If he comes here, I shall go,” said Mrs. Stroeve violently.

“I don’t recognize you. You’re so good and kind.”

“Oh, for goodness sake, let me be. You drive me to distraction.”

Then at last the tears came. She sank into a chair, and buried her face in herhands. Her shoulders shook convulsively. In a moment Dirk was on his kneesbeside her, with his arms round her, kissing her, calling her all sorts of petnames, and the facile tears ran down his own cheeks. Presently she releasedherself and dried her eyes.

“Leave me alone,” she said, not unkindly; and then to me, trying to smile:“What must you think of me?”

Stroeve, looking at her with perplexity, hesitated. His forehead was allpuckered, and his red mouth set in a pout. He reminded me oddly of an agitatedguinea-pig.

“Then it’s No, darling?” he said at last.

She gave a gesture of lassitude. She was exhausted.

“The studio is yours. Everything belongs to you. If you want to bring him here,how can I prevent you?”

A sudden smile flashed across his round face.

“Then you consent? I knew you would. Oh, my precious.”

Suddenly she pulled herself together. She looked at him with haggard eyes. Sheclasped her hands over her heart as though its beating were intolerable.

“Oh, Dirk, I’ve never since we met asked you to do anything for me.”

“You know there’s nothing in the world that I wouldn’t do for you.”

“I beg you not to let Strickland come here. Anyone else you like. Bring athief, a drunkard, any outcast off the streets, and I promise you I’ll doeverything I can for them gladly. But I beseech you not to bring Stricklandhere.”

“But why?”

“I’m frightened of him. I don’t know why, but there’s something in him thatterrifies me. He’ll do us some great harm. I know it. I feel it. If you bringhim here it can only end badly.”

“But how unreasonable!”

“No, no. I know I’m right. Something terrible will happen to us.”

“Because we do a good action?”

She was panting now, and in her face was a terror which was inexplicable. I donot know what she thought. I felt that she was possessed by some shapelessdread which robbed her of all self-control. As a rule she was so calm; heragitation now was amazing. Stroeve looked at her for a while with puzzledconsternation.

“You are my wife; you are dearer to me than anyone in the world. No one shallcome here without your entire consent.”

She closed her eyes for a moment, and I thought she was going to faint. I was alittle impatient with her; I had not suspected that she was so neurotic awoman. Then I heard Stroeve’s voice again. It seemed to break oddly on thesilence.

“Haven’t you been in bitter distress once when a helping hand was held out toyou? You know how much it means. Couldn’t you like to do someone a good turnwhen you have the chance?”

The words were ordinary enough, and to my mind there was in them something sohortatory that I almost smiled. I was astonished at the effect they had onBlanche Stroeve. She started a little, and gave her husband a long look. Hiseyes were fixed on the ground. I did not know why he seemed embarrassed. Afaint colour came into her cheeks, and then her face became white—more thanwhite, ghastly; you felt that the blood had shrunk away from the whole surfaceof her body; and even her hands were pale. A shiver passed through her. Thesilence of the studio seemed to gather body, so that it became an almostpalpable presence. I was bewildered.

“Bring Strickland here, Dirk. I’ll do my best for him.”

“My precious,” he smiled.

He wanted to take her in his arms, but she avoided him.

“Don’t be affectionate before strangers, Dirk,” she said. “It makes me feelsuch a fool.”

Her manner was quite normal again, and no one could have told that so shortlybefore she had been shaken by such a great emotion.

Chapter XXVI

Next day we moved Strickland. It needed a good deal of firmness and still morepatience to induce him to come, but he was really too ill to offer anyeffective resistance to Stroeve’s entreaties and to my determination. Wedressed him, while he feebly cursed us, got him downstairs, into a cab, andeventually to Stroeve’s studio. He was so exhausted by the time we arrived thathe allowed us to put him to bed without a word. He was ill for six weeks. Atone time it looked as though he could not live more than a few hours, and I amconvinced that it was only through the Dutchman’s doggedness that he pulledthrough. I have never known a more difficult patient. It was not that he wasexacting and querulous; on the contrary, he never complained, he asked fornothing, he was perfectly silent; but he seemed to resent the care that wastaken of him; he received all inquiries about his feelings or his needs with ajibe, a sneer, or an oath. I found him detestable, and as soon as he was out ofdanger I had no hesitation in telling him so.

“Go to hell,” he answered briefly.

Dirk Stroeve, giving up his work entirely, nursed Strickland with tendernessand sympathy. He was dexterous to make him comfortable, and he exercised acunning of which I should never have thought him capable to induce him to takethe medicines prescribed by the doctor. Nothing was too much trouble for him.Though his means were adequate to the needs of himself and his wife, hecertainly had no money to waste; but now he was wantonly extravagant in thepurchase of delicacies, out of season and dear, which might tempt Strickland’scapricious appetite. I shall never forget the tactful patience with which hepersuaded him to take nourishment. He was never put out by Strickland’srudeness; if it was merely sullen, he appeared not to notice it; if it wasaggressive, he only chuckled. When Strickland, recovering somewhat, was in agood humour and amused himself by laughing at him, he deliberately did absurdthings to excite his ridicule. Then he would give me little happy glances, sothat I might notice in how much better form the patient was. Stroeve wassublime.

But it was Blanche who most surprised me. She proved herself not only acapable, but a devoted nurse. There was nothing in her to remind you that shehad so vehemently struggled against her husband’s wish to bring Strickland tothe studio. She insisted on doing her share of the offices needful to the sick.She arranged his bed so that it was possible to change the sheet withoutdisturbing him. She washed him. When I remarked on her competence, she told mewith that pleasant little smile of hers that for a while she had worked in ahospital. She gave no sign that she hated Strickland so desperately. She didnot speak to him much, but she was quick to forestall his wants. For afortnight it was necessary that someone should stay with him all night, and shetook turns at watching with her husband. I wondered what she thought during thelong darkness as she sat by the bedside. Strickland was a weird figure as helay there, thinner than ever, with his ragged red beard and his eyes staringfeverishly into vacancy; his illness seemed to have made them larger, and theyhad an unnatural brightness.

“Does he ever talk to you in the night?” I asked her once.

“Never.”

“Do you dislike him as much as you did?”

“More, if anything.”

She looked at me with her calm gray eyes. Her expression was so placid, it washard to believe that she was capable of the violent emotion I had witnessed.

“Has he ever thanked you for what you do for him?”

“No,” she smiled.

“He’s inhuman.”

“He’s abominable.”

Stroeve was, of course, delighted with her. He could not do enough to show hisgratitude for the whole-hearted devotion with which she had accepted the burdenhe laid on her. But he was a little puzzled by the behaviour of Blanche andStrickland towards one another.

“Do you know, I’ve seen them sit there for hours together without saying aword?”

On one occasion, when Strickland was so much better that in a day or two he wasto get up, I sat with them in the studio. Dirk and I were talking. Mrs. Stroevesewed, and I thought I recognised the shirt she was mending as Strickland’s. Helay on his back; he did not speak. Once I saw that his eyes were fixed onBlanche Stroeve, and there was in them a curious irony. Feeling their gaze, sheraised her own, and for a moment they stared at one another. I could not quiteunderstand her expression. Her eyes had in them a strange perplexity, andperhaps—but why?—alarm. In a moment Strickland looked away and idly surveyedthe ceiling, but she continued to stare at him, and now her look was quiteinexplicable.

In a few days Strickland began to get up. He was nothing but skin and bone. Hisclothes hung upon him like rags on a scarecrow. With his untidy beard and longhair, his features, always a little larger than life, now emphasised byillness, he had an extraordinary aspect; but it was so odd that it was notquite ugly. There was something monumental in his ungainliness. I do not knowhow to express precisely the impression he made upon me. It was not exactlyspirituality that was obvious, though the screen of the flesh seemed almosttransparent, because there was in his face an outrageous sensuality; but,though it sounds nonsense, it seemed as though his sensuality were curiouslyspiritual. There was in him something primitive. He seemed to partake of thoseobscure forces of nature which the Greeks personified in shapes part human andpart beast, the satyr and the faun. I thought of Marsyas, whom the god flayedbecause he had dared to rival him in song. Strickland seemed to bear in hisheart strange harmonies and unadventured patterns, and I foresaw for him an endof torture and despair. I had again the feeling that he was possessed of adevil; but you could not say that it was a devil of evil, for it was aprimitive force that existed before good and ill.

He was still too weak to paint, and he sat in the studio, silent, occupied withGod knows what dreams, or reading. The books he liked were queer; sometimes Iwould find him poring over the poems of Mallarme, and he read them as a childreads, forming the words with his lips, and I wondered what strange emotion hegot from those subtle cadences and obscure phrases; and again I found himabsorbed in the detective novels of Gaboriau. I amused myself by thinking thatin his choice of books he showed pleasantly the irreconcilable sides of hisfantastic nature. It was singular to notice that even in the weak state of hisbody he had no thought for its comfort. Stroeve liked his ease, and in hisstudio were a couple of heavily upholstered arm-chairs and a large divan.Strickland would not go near them, not from any affectation of stoicism, for Ifound him seated on a three-legged stool when I went into the studio one dayand he was alone, but because he did not like them. For choice he sat on akitchen chair without arms. It often exasperated me to see him. I never knew aman so entirely indifferent to his surroundings.

Chapter XXVII

Two or three weeks passed. One morning, having come to a pause in my work, Ithought I would give myself a holiday, and I went to the Louvre. I wanderedabout looking at the pictures I knew so well, and let my fancy play idly withthe emotions they suggested. I sauntered into the long gallery, and theresuddenly saw Stroeve. I smiled, for his appearance, so rotund and yet sostartled, could never fail to excite a smile, and then as I came nearer Inoticed that he seemed singularly disconsolate. He looked woebegone and yetridiculous, like a man who has fallen into the water with all his clothes on,and, being rescued from death, frightened still, feels that he only looks afool. Turning round, he stared at me, but I perceived that he did not see me.His round blue eyes looked harassed behind his glasses.

“Stroeve,” I said.

He gave a little start, and then smiled, but his smile was rueful.

“Why are you idling in this disgraceful fashion?” I asked gaily.

“It’s a long time since I was at the Louvre. I thought I’d come and see if theyhad anything new.”

“But you told me you had to get a picture finished this week.”

“Strickland’s painting in my studio.”

“Well?”

“I suggested it myself. He’s not strong enough to go back to his own place yet.I thought we could both paint there. Lots of fellows in the Quarter share astudio. I thought it would be fun. I’ve always thought it would be jolly tohave someone to talk to when one was tired of work.”

He said all this slowly, detaching statement from statement with a littleawkward silence, and he kept his kind, foolish eyes fixed on mine. They werefull of tears.

“I don’t think I understand,” I said.

“Strickland can’t work with anyone else in the studio.”

“Damn it all, it’s your studio. That’s his lookout.”

He looked at me pitifully. His lips were trembling.

“What happened?” I asked, rather sharply.

He hesitated and flushed. He glanced unhappily at one of the pictures on thewall.

“He wouldn’t let me go on painting. He told me to get out.”

“But why didn’t you tell him to go to hell?”

“He turned me out. I couldn’t very well struggle with him. He threw my hatafter me, and locked the door.”

I was furious with Strickland, and was indignant with myself, because DirkStroeve cut such an absurd figure that I felt inclined to laugh.

“But what did your wife say?”

“She’d gone out to do the marketing.”

“Is he going to let her in?”

“I don’t know.”

I gazed at Stroeve with perplexity. He stood like a schoolboy with whom amaster is finding fault.

“Shall I get rid of Strickland for you?” I asked.

He gave a little start, and his shining face grew very red.

“No. You’d better not do anything.”

He nodded to me and walked away. It was clear that for some reason he did notwant to discuss the matter. I did not understand.

Chapter XXVIII

The explanation came a week later. It was about ten o’ clock at night; I hadbeen dining by myself at a restaurant, and having returned to my smallapartment, was sitting in my parlour, reading I heard the cracked tinkling ofthe bell, and, going into the corridor, opened the door. Stroeve stood beforeme.

“Can I come in?” he asked.

In the dimness of the landing I could not see him very well, but there wassomething in his voice that surprised me. I knew he was of abstemious habit orI should have thought he had been drinking. I led the way into my sitting roomand asked him to sit down.

“Thank God I’ve found you,” he said.

“What’s the matter?” I asked in astonishment at his vehemence.

I was able now to see him well. As a rule he was neat in his person, but nowhis clothes were in disorder. He looked suddenly bedraggled. I was convinced hehad been drinking, and I smiled. I was on the point of chaffing him on hisstate.

“I didn’t know where to go,” he burst out. “I came here earlier, but youweren’t in.”

“I dined late,” I said.

I changed my mind: it was not liquor that had driven him to this obviousdesperation. His face, usually so rosy, was now strangely mottled. His handstrembled.

“Has anything happened?” I asked.

“My wife has left me.”

He could hardly get the words out. He gave a little gasp, and the tears beganto trickle down his round cheeks. I did not know what to say. My first thoughtwas that she had come to the end of her forbearance with his infatuation forStrickland, and, goaded by the latter’s cynical behaviour, had insisted that heshould be turned out. I knew her capable of temper, for all the calmness of hermanner; and if Stroeve still refused, she might easily have flung out of thestudio with vows never to return. But the little man was so distressed that Icould not smile.

“My dear fellow, don’t be unhappy. She’ll come back. You mustn’t take veryseriously what women say when they’re in a passion.”

“You don’t understand. She’s in love with Strickland.”

“What!” I was startled at this, but the idea had no sooner taken possession ofme than I saw it was absurd. “How can you be so silly? You don’t mean to sayyou’re jealous of Strickland?” I almost laughed. “You know very well that shecan’t bear the sight of him.”

“You don’t understand,” he moaned.

“You’re an hysterical ass,” I said a little impatiently. “Let me give you awhisky-and-soda, and you’ll feel better.”

I supposed that for some reason or other—and Heaven knows what ingenuity menexercise to torment themselves—Dirk had got it into his head that his wifecared for Strickland, and with his genius for blundering he might quite wellhave offended her so that, to anger him, perhaps, she had taken pains to fosterhis suspicion.

“Look here,” I said, “let’s go back to your studio. If you’ve made a fool ofyourself you must eat humble pie. Your wife doesn’t strike me as the sort ofwoman to bear malice.”

“How can I go back to the studio?” he said wearily. “They’re there. I’ve leftit to them.”

“Then it’s not your wife who’s left you; it’s you who’ve left your wife.”

“For God’s sake don’t talk to me like that.”

Still I could not take him seriously. I did not for a moment believe what hehad told me. But he was in very real distress.

“Well, you’ve come here to talk to me about it. You’d better tell me the wholestory.”

“This afternoon I couldn’t stand it any more. I went to Strickland and told himI thought he was quite well enough to go back to his own place. I wanted thestudio myself.”

“No one but Strickland would have needed telling,” I said. “What did he say?”

“He laughed a little; you know how he laughs, not as though he were amused, butas though you were a damned fool, and said he’d go at once. He began to put histhings together. You remember I fetched from his room what I thought he needed,and he asked Blanche for a piece of paper and some string to make a parcel.”

Stroeve stopped, gasping, and I thought he was going to faint. This was not atall the story I had expected him to tell me.

“She was very pale, but she brought the paper and the string. He didn’t sayanything. He made the parcel and he whistled a tune. He took no notice ofeither of us. His eyes had an ironic smile in them. My heart was like lead. Iwas afraid something was going to happen, and I wished I hadn’t spoken. Helooked round for his hat. Then she spoke:

“‘I’m going with Strickland, Dirk,’ she said. ‘I can’t live with you any more.’

“I tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. Strickland didn’t say anything.He went on whistling as though it had nothing to do with him.”

Stroeve stopped again and mopped his face. I kept quite still. I believed himnow, and I was astounded. But all the same I could not understand.

Then he told me, in a trembling voice, with the tears pouring down his cheeks,how he had gone up to her, trying to take her in his arms, but she had drawnaway and begged him not to touch her. He implored her not to leave him. He toldher how passionately he loved her, and reminded her of all the devotion he hadlavished upon her. He spoke to her of the happiness of their life. He was notangry with her. He did not reproach her.

“Please let me go quietly, Dirk,” she said at last. “Don’t you understand thatI love Strickland? Where he goes I shall go.”

“But you must know that he’ll never make you happy. For your own sake don’t go.You don’t know what you’ve got to look forward to.”

“It’s your fault. You insisted on his coming here.”

He turned to Strickland.

“Have mercy on her,” he implored him. “You can’t let her do anything so mad.”

“She can do as she chooses,” said Strickland. “She’s not forced to come.”

“My choice is made,” she said, in a dull voice.

Strickland’s injurious calm robbed Stroeve of the rest of his self-control.Blind rage seized him, and without knowing what he was doing he flung himselfon Strickland. Strickland was taken by surprise and he staggered, but he wasvery strong, even after his illness, and in a moment, he did not exactly knowhow, Stroeve found himself on the floor.

“You funny little man,” said Strickland.

Stroeve picked himself up. He noticed that his wife had remained perfectlystill, and to be made ridiculous before her increased his humiliation. Hisspectacles had tumbled off in the struggle, and he could not immediately seethem. She picked them up and silently handed them to him. He seemed suddenly torealise his unhappiness, and though he knew he was making himself still moreabsurd, he began to cry. He hid his face in his hands. The others watched himwithout a word. They did not move from where they stood.

“Oh, my dear,” he groaned at last, “how can you be so cruel?”

“I can’t help myself, Dirk,” she answered.

“I’ve worshipped you as no woman was ever worshipped before. If in anything Idid I displeased you, why didn’t you tell me, and I’d have changed. I’ve doneeverything I could for you.”

She did not answer. Her face was set, and he saw that he was only boring her.She put on a coat and her hat. She moved towards the door, and he saw that in amoment she would be gone. He went up to her quickly and fell on his kneesbefore her, seizing her hands: he abandoned all self-respect.

“Oh, don’t go, my darling. I can’t live without you; I shall kill myself. IfI’ve done anything to offend you I beg you to forgive me. Give me anotherchance. I’ll try harder still to make you happy.”

“Get up, Dirk. You’re making yourself a perfect fool.”

He staggered to his feet, but still he would not let her go.

“Where are you going?” he said hastily. “You don’t know what Strickland’s placeis like. You can’t live there. It would be awful.”

“If I don’t care, I don’t see why you should.”

“Stay a minute longer. I must speak. After all, you can’t grudge me that.”

“What is the good? I’ve made up my mind. Nothing that you can say will make mealter it.”

He gulped, and put his hand to his heart to ease its painful beating.

“I’m not going to ask you to change your mind, but I want you to listen to mefor a minute. It’s the last thing I shall ever ask you. Don’t refuse me that.”

She paused, looking at him with those reflective eyes of hers, which now wereso different to him. She came back into the studio and leaned against thetable.

“Well?”

Stroeve made a great effort to collect himself.

“You must be a little reasonable. You can’t live on air, you know. Stricklandhasn’t got a penny.”

“I know.”

“You’ll suffer the most awful privations. You know why he took so long to getwell. He was half starved.”

“I can earn money for him.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. I shall find a way.”

A horrible thought passed through the Dutchman’s mind, and he shuddered.

“I think you must be mad. I don’t know what has come over you.”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“Now may I go?”

“Wait one second longer.”

He looked round his studio wearily; he had loved it because her presence hadmade it gay and homelike; he shut his eyes for an instant; then he gave her along look as though to impress on his mind the picture of her. He got up andtook his hat.

“No; I’ll go.”

“You?”

She was startled. She did not know what he meant.

“I can’t bear to think of you living in that horrible, filthy attic. After all,this is your home just as much as mine. You’ll be comfortable here. You’ll bespared at least the worst privations.”

He went to the drawer in which he kept his money and took out severalbank-notes.

“I would like to give you half what I’ve got here.”

He put them on the table. Neither Strickland nor his wife spoke.

Then he recollected something else.

“Will you pack up my clothes and leave them with the concierge? I’ll come andfetch them to-morrow.” He tried to smile. “Good-bye, my dear. I’m grateful forall the happiness you gave me in the past.”

He walked out and closed the door behind him. With my mind’s eye I sawStrickland throw his hat on a table, and, sitting down, begin to smoke acigarette.

Chapter XXIX

I kept silence for a little while, thinking of what Stroeve had told me. Icould not stomach his weakness, and he saw my disapproval. “You know as well asI do how Strickland lived,” he said tremulously. “I couldn’t let her live inthose circ*mstances—I simply couldn’t.”

“That’s your business,” I answered.

“What would you have done?” he asked.

“She went with her eyes open. If she had to put up with certain inconveniencesit was her own lookout.”

“Yes; but, you see, you don’t love her.”

“Do you love her still?”

“Oh, more than ever. Strickland isn’t the man to make a woman happy. It can’tlast. I want her to know that I shall never fail her.”

“Does that mean that you’re prepared to take her back?”

“I shouldn’t hesitate. Why, she’ll want me more than ever then. When she’salone and humiliated and broken it would be dreadful if she had nowhere to go.”

He seemed to bear no resentment. I suppose it was commonplace in me that I feltslightly outraged at his lack of spirit. Perhaps he guessed what was in mymind, for he said:

“I couldn’t expect her to love me as I loved her. I’m a buffoon. I’m not thesort of man that women love. I’ve always known that. I can’t blame her if she’sfallen in love with Strickland.”

“You certainly have less vanity than any man I’ve ever known,” I said.

“I love her so much better than myself. It seems to me that when vanity comesinto love it can only be because really you love yourself best. After all, itconstantly happens that a man when he’s married falls in love with somebodyelse; when he gets over it he returns to his wife, and she takes him back, andeveryone thinks it very natural. Why should it be different with women?”

“I dare say that’s logical,” I smiled, “but most men are made differently, andthey can’t.”

But while I talked to Stroeve I was puzzling over the suddenness of the wholeaffair. I could not imagine that he had had no warning. I remembered thecurious look I had seen in Blanche Stroeve’s eyes; perhaps its explanation wasthat she was growing dimly conscious of a feeling in her heart that surprisedand alarmed her.

“Did you have no suspicion before to-day that there was anything between them?”I asked.

He did not answer for a while. There was a pencil on the table, andunconsciously he drew a head on the blotting-paper.

“Please say so, if you hate my asking you questions,” I said.

“It eases me to talk. Oh, if you knew the frightful anguish in my heart.” Hethrew the pencil down. “Yes, I’ve known it for a fortnight. I knew it beforeshe did.”

“Why on earth didn’t you send Strickland packing?”

“I couldn’t believe it. It seemed so improbable. She couldn’t bear the sight ofhim. It was more than improbable; it was incredible. I thought it was merelyjealousy. You see, I’ve always been jealous, but I trained myself never to showit; I was jealous of every man she knew; I was jealous of you. I knew shedidn’t love me as I loved her. That was only natural, wasn’t it? But sheallowed me to love her, and that was enough to make me happy. I forced myselfto go out for hours together in order to leave them by themselves; I wanted topunish myself for suspicions which were unworthy of me; and when I came back Ifound they didn’t want me—not Strickland, he didn’t care if I was there or not,but Blanche. She shuddered when I went to kiss her. When at last I was certainI didn’t know what to do; I knew they’d only laugh at me if I made a scene. Ithought if I held my tongue and pretended not to see, everything would comeright. I made up my mind to get him away quietly, without quarrelling. Oh, ifyou only knew what I’ve suffered!”

Then he told me again of his asking Strickland to go. He chose his momentcarefully, and tried to make his request sound casual; but he could not masterthe trembling of his voice; and he felt himself that into words that he wishedto seem jovial and friendly there crept the bitterness of his jealousy. He hadnot expected Strickland to take him up on the spot and make his preparations togo there and then; above all, he had not expected his wife’s decision to gowith him. I saw that now he wished with all his heart that he had held histongue. He preferred the anguish of jealousy to the anguish of separation.

“I wanted to kill him, and I only made a fool of myself.”

He was silent for a long time, and then he said what I knew was in his mind.

“If I’d only waited, perhaps it would have gone all right. I shouldn’t havebeen so impatient. Oh, poor child, what have I driven her to?”

I shrugged my shoulders, but did not speak. I had no sympathy for BlancheStroeve, but knew that it would only pain poor Dirk if I told him exactly whatI thought of her.

He had reached that stage of exhaustion when he could not stop talking. He wentover again every word of the scene. Now something occurred to him that he hadnot told me before; now he discussed what he ought to have said instead of whathe did say; then he lamented his blindness. He regretted that he had done this,and blamed himself that he had omitted the other. It grew later and later, andat last I was as tired as he.

“What are you going to do now?” I said finally.

“What can I do? I shall wait till she sends for me.”

“Why don’t you go away for a bit?”

“No, no; I must be at hand when she wants me.”

For the present he seemed quite lost. He had made no plans. When I suggestedthat he should go to bed he said he could not sleep; he wanted to go out andwalk about the streets till day. He was evidently in no state to be left alone.I persuaded him to stay the night with me, and I put him into my own bed. I hada divan in my sitting-room, and could very well sleep on that. He was by now soworn out that he could not resist my firmness. I gave him a sufficient dose ofveronal to insure his unconsciousness for several hours. I thought that was thebest service I could render him.

Chapter XXX

But the bed I made up for myself was sufficiently uncomfortable to give me awakeful night, and I thought a good deal of what the unlucky Dutchman had toldme. I was not so much puzzled by Blanche Stroeve’s action, for I saw in thatmerely the result of a physical appeal. I do not suppose she had ever reallycared for her husband, and what I had taken for love was no more than thefeminine response to caresses and comfort which in the minds of most womenpasses for it. It is a passive feeling capable of being roused for any object,as the vine can grow on any tree; and the wisdom of the world recognises itsstrength when it urges a girl to marry the man who wants her with the assurancethat love will follow. It is an emotion made up of the satisfaction insecurity, pride of property, the pleasure of being desired, the gratificationof a household, and it is only by an amiable vanity that women ascribe to itspiritual value. It is an emotion which is defenceless against passion. Isuspected that Blanche Stroeve’s violent dislike of Strickland had in it fromthe beginning a vague element of sexual attraction. Who am I that I should seekto unravel the mysterious intricacies of sex? Perhaps Stroeve’s passion excitedwithout satisfying that part of her nature, and she hated Strickland becauseshe felt in him the power to give her what she needed. I think she was quitesincere when she struggled against her husband’s desire to bring him into thestudio; I think she was frightened of him, though she knew not why; and Iremembered how she had foreseen disaster. I think in some curious way thehorror which she felt for him was a transference of the horror which she feltfor herself because he so strangely troubled her. His appearance was wild anduncouth; there was aloofness in his eyes and sensuality in his mouth; he wasbig and strong; he gave the impression of untamed passion; and perhaps she feltin him, too, that sinister element which had made me think of those wild beingsof the world’s early history when matter, retaining its early connection withthe earth, seemed to possess yet a spirit of its own. If he affected her atall, it was inevitable that she should love or hate him. She hated him.

And then I fancy that the daily intimacy with the sick man moved her strangely.She raised his head to give him food, and it was heavy against her hand; whenshe had fed him she wiped his sensual mouth and his red beard. She washed hislimbs; they were covered with thick hair; and when she dried his hands, even inhis weakness they were strong and sinewy. His fingers were long; they were thecapable, fashioning fingers of the artist; and I know not what troublingthoughts they excited in her. He slept very quietly, without a movement, sothat he might have been dead, and he was like some wild creature of the woods,resting after a long chase; and she wondered what fancies passed through hisdreams. Did he dream of the nymph flying through the woods of Greece with thesatyr in hot pursuit? She fled, swift of foot and desperate, but he gained onher step by step, till she felt his hot breath on her neck; and still she fledsilently, and silently he pursued, and when at last he seized her was it terrorthat thrilled her heart or was it ecstasy?

Blanche Stroeve was in the cruel grip of appetite. Perhaps she hated Stricklandstill, but she hungered for him, and everything that had made up her life tillthen became of no account. She ceased to be a woman, complex, kind andpetulant, considerate and thoughtless; she was a Maenad. She was desire.

But perhaps this is very fanciful; and it may be that she was merely bored withher husband and went to Strickland out of a callous curiosity. She may have hadno particular feeling for him, but succumbed to his wish from propinquity oridleness, to find then that she was powerless in a snare of her own contriving.How did I know what were the thoughts and emotions behind that placid brow andthose cool gray eyes?

But if one could be certain of nothing in dealing with creatures soincalculable as human beings, there were explanations of Blanche Stroeve’sbehaviour which were at all events plausible. On the other hand, I did notunderstand Strickland at all. I racked my brain, but could in no way accountfor an action so contrary to my conception of him. It was not strange that heshould so heartlessly have betrayed his friends’ confidence, nor that hehesitated not at all to gratify a whim at the cost of another’s misery. Thatwas in his character. He was a man without any conception of gratitude. He hadno compassion. The emotions common to most of us simply did not exist in him,and it was as absurd to blame him for not feeling them as for blaming the tigerbecause he is fierce and cruel. But it was the whim I could not understand.

I could not believe that Strickland had fallen in love with Blanche Stroeve. Idid not believe him capable of love. That is an emotion in which tenderness isan essential part, but Strickland had no tenderness either for himself or forothers; there is in love a sense of weakness, a desire to protect, an eagernessto do good and to give pleasure—if not unselfishness, at all events aselfishness which marvellously conceals itself; it has in it a certaindiffidence. These were not traits which I could imagine in Strickland. Love isabsorbing; it takes the lover out of himself; the most clear-sighted, though hemay know, cannot realise that his love will cease; it gives body to what heknows is illusion, and, knowing it is nothing else, he loves it better thanreality. It makes a man a little more than himself, and at the same time alittle less. He ceases to be himself. He is no longer an individual, but athing, an instrument to some purpose foreign to his ego. Love is never quitedevoid of sentimentality, and Strickland was the least inclined to thatinfirmity of any man I have known. I could not believe that he would eversuffer that possession of himself which love is; he could never endure aforeign yoke. I believed him capable of uprooting from his heart, though itmight be with agony, so that he was left battered and ensanguined, anythingthat came between himself and that uncomprehended craving that urged himconstantly to he knew not what. If I have succeeded at all in giving thecomplicated impression that Strickland made on me, it will not seem outrageousto say that I felt he was at once too great and too small for love.

But I suppose that everyone’s conception of the passion is formed on his ownidiosyncrasies, and it is different with every different person. A man likeStrickland would love in a manner peculiar to himself. It was vain to seek theanalysis of his emotion.

Chapter XXXI

Next day, though I pressed him to remain, Stroeve left me. I offered to fetchhis things from the studio, but he insisted on going himself; I think he hopedthey had not thought of getting them together, so that he would have anopportunity of seeing his wife again and perhaps inducing her to come back tohim. But he found his traps waiting for him in the porter’s lodge, and theconcierge told him that Blanche had gone out. I do not think he resisted thetemptation of giving her an account of his troubles. I found that he wastelling them to everyone he knew; he expected sympathy, but only excitedridicule.

He bore himself most unbecomingly. Knowing at what time his wife did hershopping, one day, unable any longer to bear not seeing her, he waylaid her inthe street. She would not speak to him, but he insisted on speaking to her. Hespluttered out words of apology for any wrong he had committed towards her; hetold her he loved her devotedly and begged her to return to him. She would notanswer; she walked hurriedly, with averted face. I imagined him with his fatlittle legs trying to keep up with her. Panting a little in his haste, he toldher how miserable he was; he besought her to have mercy on him; he promised, ifshe would forgive him, to do everything she wanted. He offered to take her fora journey. He told her that Strickland would soon tire of her. When he repeatedto me the whole sordid little scene I was outraged. He had shown neither sensenor dignity. He had omitted nothing that could make his wife despise him. Thereis no cruelty greater than a woman’s to a man who loves her and whom she doesnot love; she has no kindness then, no tolerance even, she has only an insaneirritation. Blanche Stroeve stopped suddenly, and as hard as she could slappedher husband’s face. She took advantage of his confusion to escape, and ran upthe stairs to the studio. No word had passed her lips.

When he told me this he put his hand to his cheek as though he still felt thesmart of the blow, and in his eyes was a pain that was heartrending and anamazement that was ludicrous. He looked like an overblown schoolboy, and thoughI felt so sorry for him, I could hardly help laughing.

Then he took to walking along the street which she must pass through to get tothe shops, and he would stand at the corner, on the other side, as she wentalong. He dared not speak to her again, but sought to put into his round eyesthe appeal that was in his heart. I suppose he had some idea that the sight ofhis misery would touch her. She never made the smallest sign that she saw him.She never even changed the hour of her errands or sought an alternative route.I have an idea that there was some cruelty in her indifference. Perhaps she gotenjoyment out of the torture she inflicted. I wondered why she hated him somuch.

I begged Stroeve to behave more wisely. His want of spirit was exasperating.

“You’re doing no good at all by going on like this,” I said. “I think you’dhave been wiser if you’d hit her over the head with a stick. She wouldn’t havedespised you as she does now.”

I suggested that he should go home for a while. He had often spoken to me ofthe silent town, somewhere up in the north of Holland, where his parents stilllived. They were poor people. His father was a carpenter, and they dwelt in alittle old red-brick house, neat and clean, by the side of a sluggish canal.The streets were wide and empty; for two hundred years the place had beendying, but the houses had the homely stateliness of their time. Rich merchants,sending their wares to the distant Indies, had lived in them calm andprosperous lives, and in their decent decay they kept still an aroma of theirsplendid past. You could wander along the canal till you came to broad greenfields, with windmills here and there, in which cattle, black and white, grazedlazily. I thought that among those surroundings, with their recollections ofhis boyhood, Dirk Stroeve would forget his unhappiness. But he would not go.

“I must be here when she needs me,” he repeated. “It would be dreadful ifsomething terrible happened and I were not at hand.”

“What do you think is going to happen?” I asked.

“I don’t know. But I’m afraid.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

For all his pain, Dirk Stroeve remained a ridiculous object. He might haveexcited sympathy if he had grown worn and thin. He did nothing of the kind. Heremained fat, and his round, red cheeks shone like ripe apples. He had greatneatness of person, and he continued to wear his spruce black coat and hisbowler hat, always a little too small for him, in a dapper, jaunty manner. Hewas getting something of a paunch, and sorrow had no effect on it. He lookedmore than ever like a prosperous bagman. It is hard that a man’s exteriorshould tally so little sometimes with his soul. Dirk Stroeve had the passion ofRomeo in the body of Sir Toby Belch. He had a sweet and generous nature, andyet was always blundering; a real feeling for what was beautiful and thecapacity to create only what was commonplace; a peculiar delicacy of sentimentand gross manners. He could exercise tact when dealing with the affairs ofothers, but none when dealing with his own. What a cruel practical joke oldNature played when she flung so many contradictory elements together, and leftthe man face to face with the perplexing callousness of the universe.

Chapter XXXII

I did not see Strickland for several weeks. I was disgusted with him, and if Ihad had an opportunity should have been glad to tell him so, but I saw noobject in seeking him out for the purpose. I am a little shy of any assumptionof moral indignation; there is always in it an element of self-satisfactionwhich makes it awkward to anyone who has a sense of humour. It requires a verylively passion to steel me to my own ridicule. There was a sardonic sincerityin Strickland which made me sensitive to anything that might suggest a pose.

But one evening when I was passing along the Avenue de Clichy in front of thecafé which Strickland frequented and which I now avoided, I ran straight intohim. He was accompanied by Blanche Stroeve, and they were just going toStrickland’s favourite corner.

“Where the devil have you been all this time?” said he. “I thought you must beaway.”

His cordiality was proof that he knew I had no wish to speak to him. He was nota man with whom it was worth while wasting politeness.

“No,” I said; “I haven’t been away.”

“Why haven’t you been here?”

“There are more cafés in Paris than one, at which to trifle away an idle hour.”

Blanche then held out her hand and bade me good-evening. I do not know why Ihad expected her to be somehow changed; she wore the same gray dress that shewore so often, neat and becoming, and her brow was as candid, her eyes asuntroubled, as when I had been used to see her occupied with her householdduties in the studio.

“Come and have a game of chess,” said Strickland.

I do not know why at the moment I could think of no excuse. I followed themrather sulkily to the table at which Strickland always sat, and he called forthe board and the chessmen. They both took the situation so much as a matter ofcourse that I felt it absurd to do otherwise. Mrs. Stroeve watched the gamewith inscrutable face. She was silent, but she had always been silent. I lookedat her mouth for an expression that could give me a clue to what she felt; Iwatched her eyes for some tell-tale flash, some hint of dismay or bitterness; Iscanned her brow for any passing line that might indicate a settling emotion.Her face was a mask that told nothing. Her hands lay on her lap motionless, onein the other loosely clasped. I knew from what I had heard that she was a womanof violent passions; and that injurious blow that she had given Dirk, the manwho had loved her so devotedly, betrayed a sudden temper and a horrid cruelty.She had abandoned the safe shelter of her husband’s protection and thecomfortable ease of a well-provided establishment for what she could not butsee was an extreme hazard. It showed an eagerness for adventure, a readinessfor the hand-to-mouth, which the care she took of her home and her love of goodhousewifery made not a little remarkable. She must be a woman of complicatedcharacter, and there was something dramatic in the contrast of that with herdemure appearance.

I was excited by the encounter, and my fancy worked busily while I sought toconcentrate myself on the game I was playing. I always tried my best to beatStrickland, because he was a player who despised the opponent he vanquished;his exultation in victory made defeat more difficult to bear. On the otherhand, if he was beaten he took it with complete good-humour. He was a badwinner and a good loser. Those who think that a man betrays his characternowhere more clearly than when he is playing a game might on this draw subtleinferences.

When he had finished I called the waiter to pay for the drinks, and left them.The meeting had been devoid of incident. No word had been said to give meanything to think about, and any surmises I might make were unwarranted. I wasintrigued. I could not tell how they were getting on. I would have given muchto be a disembodied spirit so that I could see them in the privacy of thestudio and hear what they talked about. I had not the smallest indication onwhich to let my imagination work.

Chapter XXXIII

Two or three days later Dirk Stroeve called on me.

“I hear you’ve seen Blanche,” he said.

“How on earth did you find out?”

“I was told by someone who saw you sitting with them. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought it would only pain you.”

“What do I care if it does? You must know that I want to hear the smallestthing about her.”

I waited for him to ask me questions.

“What does she look like?” he said.

“Absolutely unchanged.”

“Does she seem happy?”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“How can I tell? We were in a café; we were playing chess; I had no opportunityto speak to her.”

“Oh, but couldn’t you tell by her face?”

I shook my head. I could only repeat that by no word, by no hinted gesture, hadshe given an indication of her feelings. He must know better than I how greatwere her powers of self-control. He clasped his hands emotionally.

“Oh, I’m so frightened. I know something is going to happen, somethingterrible, and I can do nothing to stop it.”

“What sort of thing?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he moaned, seizing his head with his hands. “I foresee someterrible catastrophe.”

Stroeve had always been excitable, but now he was beside himself; there was noreasoning with him. I thought it probable enough that Blanche Stroeve would notcontinue to find life with Strickland tolerable, but one of the falsest ofproverbs is that you must lie on the bed that you have made. The experience oflife shows that people are constantly doing things which must lead to disaster,and yet by some chance manage to evade the result of their folly. When Blanchequarrelled with Strickland she had only to leave him, and her husband waswaiting humbly to forgive and forget. I was not prepared to feel any greatsympathy for her.

“You see, you don’t love her,” said Stroeve.

“After all, there’s nothing to prove that she is unhappy. For all we know theymay have settled down into a most domestic couple.”

Stroeve gave me a look with his woeful eyes.

“Of course it doesn’t much matter to you, but to me it’s so serious, sointensely serious.”

I was sorry if I had seemed impatient or flippant.

“Will you do something for me?” asked Stroeve.

“Willingly.”

“Will you write to Blanche for me?”

“Why can’t you write yourself?”

“I’ve written over and over again. I didn’t expect her to answer. I don’t thinkshe reads the letters.”

“You make no account of feminine curiosity. Do you think she could resist?”

“She could—mine.”

I looked at him quickly. He lowered his eyes. That answer of his seemed to mestrangely humiliating. He was conscious that she regarded him with anindifference so profound that the sight of his handwriting would have not theslightest effect on her.

“Do you really believe that she’ll ever come back to you?” I asked.

“I want her to know that if the worst comes to the worst she can count on me.That’s what I want you to tell her.”

I took a sheet of paper.

“What is it exactly you wish me to say?”

This is what I wrote:

DEAR MRS. STROEVE,

Dirk wishes me to tell you that if at any time you want him he will be gratefulfor the opportunity of being of service to you. He has no ill-feeling towardsyou on account of anything that has happened. His love for you is unaltered.You will always find him at the following address:

Chapter XXXIV

But though I was no less convinced than Stroeve that the connection betweenStrickland and Blanche would end disastrously, I did not expect the issue totake the tragic form it did. The summer came, breathless and sultry, and evenat night there was no coolness to rest one’s jaded nerves. The sun-bakedstreets seemed to give back the heat that had beat down on them during the day,and the passers-by dragged their feet along them wearily. I had not seenStrickland for weeks. Occupied with other things, I had ceased to think of himand his affairs. Dirk, with his vain lamentations, had begun to bore me, and Iavoided his society. It was a sordid business, and I was not inclined totrouble myself with it further.

One morning I was working. I sat in my Pyjamas. My thoughts wandered, and Ithought of the sunny beaches of Brittany and the freshness of the sea. By myside was the empty bowl in which the concierge had brought me my café aulait and the fragment of croissant which I had not had appetite enough toeat. I heard the concierge in the next room emptying my bath. There was atinkle at my bell, and I left her to open the door. In a moment I heardStroeve’s voice asking if I was in. Without moving, I shouted to him to come.He entered the room quickly, and came up to the table at which I sat.

“She’s killed herself,” he said hoarsely.

“What do you mean?” I cried, startled.

He made movements with his lips as though he were speaking, but no sound issuedfrom them. He gibbered like an idiot. My heart thumped against my ribs, and, Ido not know why, I flew into a temper.

“For God’s sake, collect yourself, man,” I said. “What on earth are you talkingabout?”

He made despairing gestures with his hands, but still no words came from hismouth. He might have been struck dumb. I do not know what came over me; I tookhim by the shoulders and shook him. Looking back, I am vexed that I made such afool of myself; I suppose the last restless nights had shaken my nerves morethan I knew.

“Let me sit down,” he gasped at length.

I filled a glass with St. Galmier, and gave it to him to drink. I held it tohis mouth as though he were a child. He gulped down a mouthful, and some of itwas spilt on his shirt-front.

“Who’s killed herself?”

I do not know why I asked, for I knew whom he meant. He made an effort tocollect himself.

“They had a row last night. He went away.”

“Is she dead?”

“No; they’ve taken her to the hospital.”

“Then what are you talking about?” I cried impatiently. “Why did you say she’dkilled herself?”

“Don’t be cross with me. I can’t tell you anything if you talk to me likethat.”

I clenched my hands, seeking to control my irritation. I attempted a smile.

“I’m sorry. Take your time. Don’t hurry, there’s a good fellow.”

His round blue eyes behind the spectacles were ghastly with terror. Themagnifying-glasses he wore distorted them.

“When the concierge went up this morning to take a letter she could get noanswer to her ring. She heard someone groaning. The door wasn’t locked, and shewent in. Blanche was lying on the bed. She’d been frightfully sick. There was abottle of oxalic acid on the table.”

Stroeve hid his face in his hands and swayed backwards and forwards, groaning.

“Was she conscious?”

“Yes. Oh, if you knew how she’s suffering! I can’t bear it. I can’t bear it.”

His voice rose to a shriek.

“Damn it all, you haven’t got to bear it,” I cried impatiently. “She’s got tobear it.”

“How can you be so cruel?”

“What have you done?”

“They sent for a doctor and for me, and they told the police. I’d given theconcierge twenty francs, and told her to send for me if anything happened.”

He paused a minute, and I saw that what he had to tell me was very hard to say.

“When I went she wouldn’t speak to me. She told them to send me away. I sworethat I forgave her everything, but she wouldn’t listen. She tried to beat herhead against the wall. The doctor told me that I mustn’t remain with her. Shekept on saying, ‘Send him away!’ I went, and waited in the studio. And when theambulance came and they put her on a stretcher, they made me go in the kitchenso that she shouldn’t know I was there.”

While I dressed—for Stroeve wished me to go at once with him to the hospital—hetold me that he had arranged for his wife to have a private room, so that shemight at least be spared the sordid promiscuity of a ward. On our way heexplained to me why he desired my presence; if she still refused to see him,perhaps she would see me. He begged me to repeat to her that he loved herstill; he would reproach her for nothing, but desired only to help her; he madeno claim on her, and on her recovery would not seek to induce her to return tohim; she would be perfectly free.

But when we arrived at the hospital, a gaunt, cheerless building, the meresight of which was enough to make one’s heart sick, and after being directedfrom this official to that, up endless stairs and through long, bare corridors,found the doctor in charge of the case, we were told that the patient was tooill to see anyone that day. The doctor was a little bearded man in white, withan offhand manner. He evidently looked upon a case as a case, and anxiousrelatives as a nuisance which must be treated with firmness. Moreover, to himthe affair was commonplace; it was just an hysterical woman who had quarrelledwith her lover and taken poison; it was constantly happening. At first hethought that Dirk was the cause of the disaster, and he was needlessly brusquewith him. When I explained that he was the husband, anxious to forgive, thedoctor looked at him suddenly, with curious, searching eyes. I seemed to see inthem a hint of mockery; it was true that Stroeve had the head of the husbandwho is deceived. The doctor faintly shrugged his shoulders.

“There is no immediate danger,” he said, in answer to our questioning. “Onedoesn’t know how much she took. It may be that she will get off with a fright.Women are constantly trying to commit suicide for love, but generally they takecare not to succeed. It’s generally a gesture to arouse pity or terror in theirlover.”

There was in his tone a frigid contempt. It was obvious that to him BlancheStroeve was only a unit to be added to the statistical list of attemptedsuicides in the city of Paris during the current year. He was busy, and couldwaste no more time on us. He told us that if we came at a certain hour nextday, should Blanche be better, it might be possible for her husband to see her.

Chapter XXXV

I scarcely know how we got through that day. Stroeve could not bear to bealone, and I exhausted myself in efforts to distract him. I took him to theLouvre, and he pretended to look at pictures, but I saw that his thoughts wereconstantly with his wife. I forced him to eat, and after luncheon I induced himto lie down, but he could not sleep. He accepted willingly my invitation toremain for a few days in my apartment. I gave him books to read, but after apage or two he would put the book down and stare miserably into space. Duringthe evening we played innumerable games of piquet, and bravely, not todisappoint my efforts, he tried to appear interested. Finally I gave him adraught, and he sank into uneasy slumber.

When we went again to the hospital we saw a nursing sister. She told us thatBlanche seemed a little better, and she went in to ask if she would see herhusband. We heard voices in the room in which she lay, and presently the nursereturned to say that the patient refused to see anyone. We had told her that ifshe refused to see Dirk the nurse was to ask if she would see me, but this sherefused also. Dirk’s lips trembled.

“I dare not insist,” said the nurse. “She is too ill. Perhaps in a day or twoshe may change her mind.”

“Is there anyone else she wants to see?” asked Dirk, in a voice so low it wasalmost a whisper.

“She says she only wants to be left in peace.”

Dirk’s hands moved strangely, as though they had nothing to do with his body,with a movement of their own.

“Will you tell her that if there is anyone else she wishes to see I will bringhim? I only want her to be happy.”

The nurse looked at him with her calm, kind eyes, which had seen all the horrorand pain of the world, and yet, filled with the vision of a world without sin,remained serene.

“I will tell her when she is a little calmer.”

Dirk, filled with compassion, begged her to take the message at once.

“It may cure her. I beseech you to ask her now.”

With a faint smile of pity, the nurse went back into the room. We heard her lowvoice, and then, in a voice I did not recognise the answer:

“No. No. No.”

The nurse came out again and shook her head.

“Was that she who spoke then?” I asked. “Her voice sounded so strange.”

“It appears that her vocal cords have been burnt by the acid.”

Dirk gave a low cry of distress. I asked him to go on and wait for me at theentrance, for I wanted to say something to the nurse. He did not ask what itwas, but went silently. He seemed to have lost all power of will; he was likean obedient child.

“Has she told you why she did it?” I asked.

“No. She won’t speak. She lies on her back quite quietly. She doesn’t move forhours at a time. But she cries always. Her pillow is all wet. She’s too weak touse a handkerchief, and the tears just run down her face.”

It gave me a sudden wrench of the heart-strings. I could have killed Stricklandthen, and I knew that my voice was trembling when I bade the nurse good-bye.

I found Dirk waiting for me on the steps. He seemed to see nothing, and did notnotice that I had joined him till I touched him on the arm. We walked along insilence. I tried to imagine what had happened to drive the poor creature tothat dreadful step. I presumed that Strickland knew what had happened, forsomeone must have been to see him from the police, and he must have made hisstatement. I did not know where he was. I supposed he had gone back to theshabby attic which served him as a studio. It was curious that she should notwish to see him. Perhaps she refused to have him sent for because she knew hewould refuse to come. I wondered what an abyss of cruelty she must have lookedinto that in horror she refused to live.

Chapter XXXVI

The next week was dreadful. Stroeve went twice a day to the hospital to enquireafter his wife, who still declined to see him; and came away at first relievedand hopeful because he was told that she seemed to be growing better, and thenin despair because, the complication which the doctor had feared having ensued,recovery was impossible. The nurse was pitiful to his distress, but she hadlittle to say that could console him. The poor woman lay quite still, refusingto speak, with her eyes intent, as though she watched for the coming of death.It could now be only the question of a day or two; and when, late one evening,Stroeve came to see me I knew it was to tell me she was dead. He was absolutelyexhausted. His volubility had left him at last, and he sank down wearily on mysofa. I felt that no words of condolence availed, and I let him lie therequietly. I feared he would think it heartless if I read, so I sat by thewindow, smoking a pipe, till he felt inclined to speak.

“You’ve been very kind to me,” he said at last. “Everyone’s been very kind.”

“Nonsense,” I said, a little embarrassed.

“At the hospital they told me I might wait. They gave me a chair, and I satoutside the door. When she became unconscious they said I might go in. Hermouth and chin were all burnt by the acid. It was awful to see her lovely skinall wounded. She died very peacefully, so that I didn’t know she was dead tillthe sister told me.”

He was too tired to weep. He lay on his back limply, as though all the strengthhad gone out of his limbs, and presently I saw that he had fallen asleep. Itwas the first natural sleep he had had for a week. Nature, sometimes so cruel,is sometimes merciful. I covered him and turned down the light. In the morningwhen I awoke he was still asleep. He had not moved. His gold-rimmed spectacleswere still on his nose.

Chapter XXXVII

The circ*mstances of Blanche Stroeve’s death necessitated all manner ofdreadful formalities, but at last we were allowed to bury her. Dirk and I alonefollowed the hearse to the cemetery. We went at a foot-pace, but on the wayback we trotted, and there was something to my mind singularly horrible in theway the driver of the hearse whipped up his horses. It seemed to dismiss thedead with a shrug of the shoulders. Now and then I caught sight of the swayinghearse in front of us, and our own driver urged his pair so that we might notremain behind. I felt in myself, too, the desire to get the whole thing out ofmy mind. I was beginning to be bored with a tragedy that did not really concernme, and pretending to myself that I spoke in order to distract Stroeve, Iturned with relief to other subjects.

“Don’t you think you’d better go away for a bit?” I said. “There can be noobject in your staying in Paris now.”

He did not answer, but I went on ruthlessly:

“Have you made any plans for the immediate future?”

“No.”

“You must try and gather together the threads again. Why don’t you go down toItaly and start working?”

Again he made no reply, but the driver of our carriage came to my rescue.Slackening his pace for a moment, he leaned over and spoke. I could not hearwhat he said, so I put my head out of the window. He wanted to know where wewished to be set down. I told him to wait a minute.

“You’d better come and have lunch with me,” I said to Dirk. “I’ll tell him todrop us in the Place Pigalle.”

“I’d rather not. I want to go to the studio.”

I hesitated a moment.

“Would you like me to come with you?” I asked then.

“No; I should prefer to be alone.”

“All right.”

I gave the driver the necessary direction, and in renewed silence we drove on.Dirk had not been to the studio since the wretched morning on which they hadtaken Blanche to the hospital. I was glad he did not want me to accompany him,and when I left him at the door I walked away with relief. I took a newpleasure in the streets of Paris, and I looked with smiling eyes at the peoplewho hurried to and fro. The day was fine and sunny, and I felt in myself a moreacute delight in life. I could not help it; I put Stroeve and his sorrows outof my mind. I wanted to enjoy.

Chapter XXXVIII

I did not see him again for nearly a week. Then he fetched me soon after sevenone evening and took me out to dinner. He was dressed in the deepest mourning,and on his bowler was a broad black band. He had even a black border to hishandkerchief. His garb of woe suggested that he had lost in one catastropheevery relation he had in the world, even to cousins by marriage twice removed.His plumpness and his red, fat cheeks made his mourning not a littleincongruous. It was cruel that his extreme unhappiness should have in itsomething of buffoonery.

He told me he had made up his mind to go away, though not to Italy, as I hadsuggested, but to Holland.

“I’m starting to-morrow. This is perhaps the last time we shall ever meet.”

I made an appropriate rejoinder, and he smiled wanly.

“I haven’t been home for five years. I think I’d forgotten it all; I seemed tohave come so far away from my father’s house that I was shy at the idea ofrevisiting it; but now I feel it’s my only refuge.”

He was sore and bruised, and his thoughts went back to the tenderness of hismother’s love. The ridicule he had endured for years seemed now to weigh himdown, and the final blow of Blanche’s treachery had robbed him of theresiliency which had made him take it so gaily. He could no longer laugh withthose who laughed at him. He was an outcast. He told me of his childhood in thetidy brick house, and of his mother’s passionate orderliness. Her kitchen was amiracle of clean brightness. Everything was always in its place, and no wherecould you see a speck of dust. Cleanliness, indeed, was a mania with her. I sawa neat little old woman, with cheeks like apples, toiling away from morning tonight, through the long years, to keep her house trim and spruce. His fatherwas a spare old man, his hands gnarled after the work of a lifetime, silent andupright; in the evening he read the paper aloud, while his wife and daughter(now married to the captain of a fishing smack), unwilling to lose a moment,bent over their sewing. Nothing ever happened in that little town, left behindby the advance of civilisation, and one year followed the next till death came,like a friend, to give rest to those who had laboured so diligently.

“My father wished me to become a carpenter like himself. For five generationswe’ve carried on the same trade, from father to son. Perhaps that is the wisdomof life, to tread in your father’s steps, and look neither to the right nor tothe left. When I was a little boy I said I would marry the daughter of theharness-maker who lived next door. She was a little girl with blue eyes and aflaxen pigtail. She would have kept my house like a new pin, and I should havehad a son to carry on the business after me.”

Stroeve sighed a little and was silent. His thoughts dwelt among pictures ofwhat might have been, and the safety of the life he had refused filled him withlonging.

“The world is hard and cruel. We are here none knows why, and we go none knowswhither. We must be very humble. We must see the beauty of quietness. We mustgo through life so inconspicuously that Fate does not notice us. And let usseek the love of simple, ignorant people. Their ignorance is better than allour knowledge. Let us be silent, content in our little corner, meek and gentlelike them. That is the wisdom of life.”

To me it was his broken spirit that expressed itself, and I rebelled againsthis renunciation. But I kept my own counsel.

“What made you think of being a painter?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders.

“It happened that I had a knack for drawing. I got prizes for it at school. Mypoor mother was very proud of my gift, and she gave me a box of water-coloursas a present. She showed my sketches to the pastor and the doctor and thejudge. And they sent me to Amsterdam to try for a scholarship, and I won it.Poor soul, she was so proud; and though it nearly broke her heart to part fromme, she smiled, and would not show me her grief. She was pleased that her sonshould be an artist. They pinched and saved so that I should have enough tolive on, and when my first picture was exhibited they came to Amsterdam to seeit, my father and mother and my sister, and my mother cried when she looked atit.” His kind eyes glistened. “And now on every wall of the old house there isone of my pictures in a beautiful gold frame.”

He glowed with happy pride. I thought of those cold scenes of his, with theirpicturesque peasants and cypresses and olive-trees. They must look queer intheir garish frames on the walls of the peasant house.

“The dear soul thought she was doing a wonderful thing for me when she made mean artist, but perhaps, after all, it would have been better for me if myfather’s will had prevailed and I were now but an honest carpenter.”

“Now that you know what art can offer, would you change your life? Would youhave missed all the delight it has given you?”

“Art is the greatest thing in the world,” he answered, after a pause.

He looked at me for a minute reflectively; he seemed to hesitate; then he said:

“Did you know that I had been to see Strickland?”

“You?”

I was astonished. I should have thought he could not bear to set eyes on him.Stroeve smiled faintly.

“You know already that I have no proper pride.”

“What do you mean by that?”

He told me a singular story.

Chapter XXXIX

When I left him, after we had buried poor Blanche, Stroeve walked into thehouse with a heavy heart. Something impelled him to go to the studio, someobscure desire for self-torture, and yet he dreaded the anguish that heforesaw. He dragged himself up the stairs; his feet seemed unwilling to carryhim; and outside the door he lingered for a long time, trying to summon upcourage to go in. He felt horribly sick. He had an impulse to run down thestairs after me and beg me to go in with him; he had a feeling that there wassomebody in the studio. He remembered how often he had waited for a minute ortwo on the landing to get his breath after the ascent, and how absurdly hisimpatience to see Blanche had taken it away again. To see her was a delightthat never staled, and even though he had not been out an hour he was asexcited at the prospect as if they had been parted for a month. Suddenly hecould not believe that she was dead. What had happened could only be a dream, afrightful dream; and when he turned the key and opened the door, he would seeher bending slightly over the table in the gracious attitude of the woman inChardin’s Benedicite, which always seemed to him so exquisite. Hurriedlyhe took the key out of his pocket, opened, and walked in.

The apartment had no look of desertion. His wife’s tidiness was one of thetraits which had so much pleased him; his own upbringing had given him a tendersympathy for the delight in orderliness; and when he had seen her instinctivedesire to put each thing in its appointed place it had given him a little warmfeeling in his heart. The bedroom looked as though she had just left it: thebrushes were neatly placed on the toilet-table, one on each side of the comb;someone had smoothed down the bed on which she had spent her last night in thestudio; and her nightdress in a little case lay on the pillow. It wasimpossible to believe that she would never come into that room again.

But he felt thirsty, and went into the kitchen to get himself some water. Here,too, was order. On a rack were the plates that she had used for dinner on thenight of her quarrel with Strickland, and they had been carefully washed. Theknives and forks were put away in a drawer. Under a cover were the remains of apiece of cheese, and in a tin box was a crust of bread. She had done hermarketing from day to day, buying only what was strictly needful, so thatnothing was left over from one day to the next. Stroeve knew from the enquiriesmade by the police that Strickland had walked out of the house immediatelyafter dinner, and the fact that Blanche had washed up the things as usual gavehim a little thrill of horror. Her methodicalness made her suicide moredeliberate. Her self-possession was frightening. A sudden pang seized him, andhis knees felt so weak that he almost fell. He went back into the bedroom andthrew himself on the bed. He cried out her name.

“Blanche. Blanche.”

The thought of her suffering was intolerable. He had a sudden vision of herstanding in the kitchen—it was hardly larger than a cupboard—washing the platesand glasses, the forks and spoons, giving the knives a rapid polish on theknife-board; and then putting everything away, giving the sink a scrub, andhanging the dish-cloth up to dry—it was there still, a gray torn rag; thenlooking round to see that everything was clean and nice. He saw her roll downher sleeves and remove her apron—the apron hung on a peg behind the door—andtake the bottle of oxalic acid and go with it into the bedroom.

The agony of it drove him up from the bed and out of the room. He went into thestudio. It was dark, for the curtains had been drawn over the great window, andhe pulled them quickly back; but a sob broke from him as with a rapid glance hetook in the place where he had been so happy. Nothing was changed here, either.Strickland was indifferent to his surroundings, and he had lived in the other’sstudio without thinking of altering a thing. It was deliberately artistic. Itrepresented Stroeve’s idea of the proper environment for an artist. There werebits of old brocade on the walls, and the piano was covered with a piece ofsilk, beautiful and tarnished; in one corner was a copy of the Venus of Milo,and in another of the Venus of the Medici. Here and there was an Italiancabinet surmounted with Delft, and here and there a bas-relief. In a handsomegold frame was a copy of Velasquez’ Innocent X., that Stroeve had made in Rome,and placed so as to make the most of their decorative effect were a number ofStroeve’s pictures, all in splendid frames. Stroeve had always been very proudof his taste. He had never lost his appreciation for the romantic atmosphere ofa studio, and though now the sight of it was like a stab in his heart, withoutthinking what he was at, he changed slightly the position of a Louis XV. tablewhich was one of his treasures. Suddenly he caught sight of a canvas with itsface to the wall. It was a much larger one than he himself was in the habit ofusing, and he wondered what it did there. He went over to it and leaned ittowards him so that he could see the painting. It was a nude. His heart beganto beat quickly, for he guessed at once that it was one of Strickland’spictures. He flung it back against the wall angrily—what did he mean by leavingit there?—but his movement caused it to fall, face downwards, on the ground. Nomater whose the picture, he could not leave it there in the dust, and he raisedit; but then curiosity got the better of him. He thought he would like to havea proper look at it, so he brought it along and set it on the easel. Then hestood back in order to see it at his ease.

He gave a gasp. It was the picture of a woman lying on a sofa, with one armbeneath her head and the other along her body; one knee was raised, and theother leg was stretched out. The pose was classic. Stroeve’s head swam. It wasBlanche. Grief and jealousy and rage seized him, and he cried out hoarsely; hewas inarticulate; he clenched his fists and raised them threateningly at aninvisible enemy. He screamed at the top of his voice. He was beside himself. Hecould not bear it. That was too much. He looked round wildly for someinstrument; he wanted to hack the picture to pieces; it should not existanother minute. He could see nothing that would serve his purpose; he rummagedabout his painting things; somehow he could not find a thing; he was frantic.At last he came upon what he sought, a large scraper, and he pounced on it witha cry of triumph. He seized it as though it were a dagger, and ran to thepicture.

As Stroeve told me this he became as excited as when the incident occurred, andhe took hold of a dinner-knife on the table between us, and brandished it. Helifted his arm as though to strike, and then, opening his hand, let it fallwith a clatter to the ground. He looked at me with a tremulous smile. He didnot speak.

“Fire away,” I said.

“I don’t know what happened to me. I was just going to make a great hole in thepicture, I had my arm all ready for the blow, when suddenly I seemed to seeit.”

“See what?”

“The picture. It was a work of art. I couldn’t touch it. I was afraid.”

Stroeve was silent again, and he stared at me with his mouth open and his roundblue eyes starting out of his head.

“It was a great, a wonderful picture. I was seized with awe. I had nearlycommitted a dreadful crime. I moved a little to see it better, and my footknocked against the scraper. I shuddered.”

I really felt something of the emotion that had caught him. I was strangelyimpressed. It was as though I were suddenly transported into a world in whichthe values were changed. I stood by, at a loss, like a stranger in a land wherethe reactions of man to familiar things are all different from those he hasknown. Stroeve tried to talk to me about the picture, but he was incoherent,and I had to guess at what he meant. Strickland had burst the bonds thathitherto had held him. He had found, not himself, as the phrase goes, but a newsoul with unsuspected powers. It was not only the bold simplification of thedrawing which showed so rich and so singular a personality; it was not only thepainting, though the flesh was painted with a passionate sensuality which hadin it something miraculous; it was not only the solidity, so that you feltextraordinarily the weight of the body; there was also a spirituality,troubling and new, which led the imagination along unsuspected ways, andsuggested dim empty spaces, lit only by the eternal stars, where the soul, allnaked, adventured fearful to the discovery of new mysteries.

If I am rhetorical it is because Stroeve was rhetorical. (Do we not know thatman in moments of emotion expresses himself naturally in the terms of anovelette?) Stroeve was trying to express a feeling which he had never knownbefore, and he did not know how to put it into common terms. He was like themystic seeking to describe the ineffable. But one fact he made clear to me;people talk of beauty lightly, and having no feeling for words, they use thatone carelessly, so that it loses its force; and the thing it stands for,sharing its name with a hundred trivial objects, is deprived of dignity. Theycall beautiful a dress, a dog, a sermon; and when they are face to face withBeauty cannot recognise it. The false emphasis with which they try to decktheir worthless thoughts blunts their susceptibilities. Like the charlatan whocounterfeits a spiritual force he has sometimes felt, they lose the power theyhave abused. But Stroeve, the unconquerable buffoon, had a love and anunderstanding of beauty which were as honest and sincere as was his own sincereand honest soul. It meant to him what God means to the believer, and when hesaw it he was afraid.

“What did you say to Strickland when you saw him?”

“I asked him to come with me to Holland.”

I was dumbfounded. I could only look at Stroeve in stupid amazement.

“We both loved Blanche. There would have been room for him in my mother’shouse. I think the company of poor, simple people would have done his soul agreat good. I think he might have learnt from them something that would be veryuseful to him.”

“What did he say?”

“He smiled a little. I suppose he thought me very silly. He said he had otherfish to fry.”

I could have wished that Strickland had used some other phrase to indicate hisrefusal.

“He gave me the picture of Blanche.”

I wondered why Strickland had done that. But I made no remark, and for sometime we kept silence.

“What have you done with all your things?” I said at last.

“I got a Jew in, and he gave me a round sum for the lot. I’m taking my pictureshome with me. Beside them I own nothing in the world now but a box of clothesand a few books.”

“I’m glad you’re going home,” I said.

I felt that his chance was to put all the past behind him. I hoped that thegrief which now seemed intolerable would be softened by the lapse of time, anda merciful forgetfulness would help him to take up once more the burden oflife. He was young still, and in a few years he would look back on all hismisery with a sadness in which there would be something not unpleasurable.Sooner or later he would marry some honest soul in Holland, and I felt sure hewould be happy. I smiled at the thought of the vast number of bad pictures hewould paint before he died.

Next day I saw him off for Amsterdam.

Chapter XL

For the next month, occupied with my own affairs, I saw no one connected withthis lamentable business, and my mind ceased to be occupied with it. But oneday, when I was walking along, bent on some errand, I passed CharlesStrickland. The sight of him brought back to me all the horror which I was notunwilling to forget, and I felt in me a sudden repulsion for the cause of it.Nodding, for it would have been childish to cut him, I walked on quickly; butin a minute I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“You’re in a great hurry,” he said cordially.

It was characteristic of him to display geniality with anyone who showed adisinclination to meet him, and the coolness of my greeting can have left himin little doubt of that.

“I am,” I answered briefly.

“I’ll walk along with you,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“For the pleasure of your society.”

I did not answer, and he walked by my side silently. We continued thus forperhaps a quarter of a mile. I began to feel a little ridiculous. At last wepassed a stationer’s, and it occurred to me that I might as well buy somepaper. It would be an excuse to be rid of him.

“I’m going in here,” I said. “Good-bye.”

“I’ll wait for you.”

I shrugged my shoulders, and went into the shop. I reflected that French paperwas bad, and that, foiled of my purpose, I need not burden myself with apurchase that I did not need. I asked for something I knew could not beprovided, and in a minute came out into the street.

“Did you get what you wanted?” he asked.

“No.”

We walked on in silence, and then came to a place where several streets met. Istopped at the curb.

“Which way do you go?” I enquired.

“Your way,” he smiled.

“I’m going home.”

“I’ll come along with you and smoke a pipe.”

“You might wait for an invitation,” I retorted frigidly.

“I would if I thought there was any chance of getting one.”

“Do you see that wall in front of you?” I said, pointing.

“Yes.”

“In that case I should have thought you could see also that I don’t want yourcompany.”

“I vaguely suspected it, I confess.”

I could not help a chuckle. It is one of the defects of my character that Icannot altogether dislike anyone who makes me laugh. But I pulled myselftogether.

“I think you’re detestable. You’re the most loathsome beast that it’s ever beenmy misfortune to meet. Why do you seek the society of someone who hates anddespises you?”

“My dear fellow, what the hell do you suppose I care what you think of me?”

“Damn it all,” I said, more violently because I had an inkling my motive wasnone too creditable, “I don’t want to know you.”

“Are you afraid I shall corrupt you?”

His tone made me feel not a little ridiculous. I knew that he was looking at mesideways, with a sardonic smile.

“I suppose you are hard up,” I remarked insolently.

“I should be a damned fool if I thought I had any chance of borrowing moneyfrom you.”

“You’ve come down in the world if you can bring yourself to flatter.”

He grinned.

“You’ll never really dislike me so long as I give you the opportunity to getoff a good thing now and then.”

I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from laughing. What he said had ahateful truth in it, and another defect of my character is that I enjoy thecompany of those, however depraved, who can give me a Roland for my Oliver. Ibegan to feel that my abhorrence for Strickland could only be sustained by aneffort on my part. I recognised my moral weakness, but saw that mydisapprobation had in it already something of a pose; and I knew that if I feltit, his own keen instinct had discovered it, too. He was certainly laughing atme up his sleeve. I left him the last word, and sought refuge in a shrug of theshoulders and taciturnity.

Chapter XLI

We arrived at the house in which I lived. I would not ask him to come in withme, but walked up the stairs without a word. He followed me, and entered theapartment on my heels. He had not been in it before, but he never gave a glanceat the room I had been at pains to make pleasing to the eye. There was a tin oftobacco on the table, and, taking out his pipe, he filled it. He sat down onthe only chair that had no arms and tilted himself on the back legs.

“If you’re going to make yourself at home, why don’t you sit in an arm-chair?”I asked irritably.

“Why are you concerned about my comfort?”

“I’m not,” I retorted, “but only about my own. It makes me uncomfortable to seesomeone sit on an uncomfortable chair.”

He chuckled, but did not move. He smoked on in silence, taking no furthernotice of me, and apparently was absorbed in thought. I wondered why he hadcome.

Until long habit has blunted the sensibility, there is something disconcertingto the writer in the instinct which causes him to take an interest in thesingularities of human nature so absorbing that his moral sense is powerlessagainst it. He recognises in himself an artistic satisfaction in thecontemplation of evil which a little startles him; but sincerity forces him toconfess that the disapproval he feels for certain actions is not nearly sostrong as his curiosity in their reasons. The character of a scoundrel, logicaland complete, has a fascination for his creator which is an outrage to law andorder. I expect that Shakespeare devised Iago with a gusto which he never knewwhen, weaving moonbeams with his fancy, he imagined Desdemona. It may be thatin his rogues the writer gratifies instincts deep-rooted in him, which themanners and customs of a civilised world have forced back to the mysteriousrecesses of the subconscious. In giving to the character of his invention fleshand bones he is giving life to that part of himself which finds no other meansof expression. His satisfaction is a sense of liberation.

The writer is more concerned to know than to judge.

There was in my soul a perfectly genuine horror of Strickland, and side by sidewith it a cold curiosity to discover his motives. I was puzzled by him, and Iwas eager to see how he regarded the tragedy he had caused in the lives ofpeople who had used him with so much kindness. I applied the scalpel boldly.

“Stroeve told me that picture you painted of his wife was the best thing you’veever done.”

Strickland took his pipe out of his mouth, and a smile lit up his eyes.

“It was great fun to do.”

“Why did you give it him?”

“I’d finished it. It wasn’t any good to me.”

“Do you know that Stroeve nearly destroyed it?”

“It wasn’t altogether satisfactory.”

He was quiet for a moment or two, then he took his pipe out of his mouth again,and chuckled.

“Do you know that the little man came to see me?”

“Weren’t you rather touched by what he had to say?”

“No; I thought it damned silly and sentimental.”

“I suppose it escaped your memory that you’d ruined his life?” I remarked.

He rubbed his bearded chin reflectively.

“He’s a very bad painter.”

“But a very good man.”

“And an excellent cook,” Strickland added derisively.

His callousness was inhuman, and in my indignation I was not inclined to mincemy words.

“As a mere matter of curiosity I wish you’d tell me, have you felt the smallesttwinge of remorse for Blanche Stroeve’s death?”

I watched his face for some change of expression, but it remained impassive.

“Why should I?” he asked.

“Let me put the facts before you. You were dying, and Dirk Stroeve took youinto his own house. He nursed you like a mother. He sacrificed his time and hiscomfort and his money for you. He snatched you from the jaws of death.”

Strickland shrugged his shoulders.

“The absurd little man enjoys doing things for other people. That’s his life.”

“Granting that you owed him no gratitude, were you obliged to go out of yourway to take his wife from him? Until you came on the scene they were happy. Whycouldn’t you leave them alone?”

“What makes you think they were happy?”

“It was evident.”

“You are a discerning fellow. Do you think she could ever have forgiven him forwhat he did for her?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Don’t you know why he married her?”

I shook my head.

“She was a governess in the family of some Roman prince, and the son of thehouse seduced her. She thought he was going to marry her. They turned her outinto the street neck and crop. She was going to have a baby, and she tried tocommit suicide. Stroeve found her and married her.”

“It was just like him. I never knew anyone with so compassionate a heart.”

I had often wondered why that ill-assorted pair had married, but just thatexplanation had never occurred to me. That was perhaps the cause of thepeculiar quality of Dirk’s love for his wife. I had noticed in it somethingmore than passion. I remembered also how I had always fancied that her reserveconcealed I knew not what; but now I saw in it more than the desire to hide ashameful secret. Her tranquillity was like the sullen calm that broods over anisland which has been swept by a hurricane. Her cheerfulness was thecheerfulness of despair. Strickland interrupted my reflections with anobservation the profound cynicism of which startled me.

“A woman can forgive a man for the harm he does her,” he said, “but she cannever forgive him for the sacrifices he makes on her account.”

“It must be reassuring to you to know that you certainly run no risk ofincurring the resentment of the women you come in contact with,” I retorted.

A slight smile broke on his lips.

“You are always prepared to sacrifice your principles for a repartee,” heanswered.

“What happened to the child?”

“Oh, it was still-born, three or four months after they were married.”

Then I came to the question which had seemed to me most puzzling.

“Will you tell me why you bothered about Blanche Stroeve at all?”

He did not answer for so long that I nearly repeated it.

“How do I know?” he said at last. “She couldn’t bear the sight of me. It amusedme.”

“I see.”

He gave a sudden flash of anger.

“Damn it all, I wanted her.”

But he recovered his temper immediately, and looked at me with a smile.

“At first she was horrified.”

“Did you tell her?”

“There wasn’t any need. She knew. I never said a word. She was frightened. Atlast I took her.”

I do not know what there was in the way he told me this that extraordinarilysuggested the violence of his desire. It was disconcerting and rather horrible.His life was strangely divorced from material things, and it was as though hisbody at times wreaked a fearful revenge on his spirit. The satyr in himsuddenly took possession, and he was powerless in the grip of an instinct whichhad all the strength of the primitive forces of nature. It was an obsession socomplete that there was no room in his soul for prudence or gratitude.

“But why did you want to take her away with you?” I asked.

“I didn’t,” he answered, frowning. “When she said she was coming I was nearlyas surprised as Stroeve. I told her that when I’d had enough of her she’d haveto go, and she said she’d risk that.” He paused a little. “She had a wonderfulbody, and I wanted to paint a nude. When I’d finished my picture I took no moreinterest in her.”

“And she loved you with all her heart.”

He sprang to his feet and walked up and down the small room.

“I don’t want love. I haven’t time for it. It’s weakness. I am a man, andsometimes I want a woman. When I’ve satisfied my passion I’m ready for otherthings. I can’t overcome my desire, but I hate it; it imprisons my spirit; Ilook forward to the time when I shall be free from all desire and can givemyself without hindrance to my work. Because women can do nothing except love,they’ve given it a ridiculous importance. They want to persuade us that it’sthe whole of life. It’s an insignificant part. I know lust. That’s normal andhealthy. Love is a disease. Women are the instruments of my pleasure; I have nopatience with their claim to be helpmates, partners, companions.”

I had never heard Strickland speak so much at one time. He spoke with a passionof indignation. But neither here nor elsewhere do I pretend to give his exactwords; his vocabulary was small, and he had no gift for framing sentences, sothat one had to piece his meaning together out of interjections, the expressionof his face, gestures and hackneyed phrases.

“You should have lived at a time when women were chattels and men the mastersof slaves,” I said.

“It just happens that I am a completely normal man.”

I could not help laughing at this remark, made in all seriousness; but he wenton, walking up and down the room like a caged beast, intent on expressing whathe felt, but found such difficulty in putting coherently.

“When a woman loves you she’s not satisfied until she possesses your soul.Because she’s weak, she has a rage for domination, and nothing less willsatisfy her. She has a small mind, and she resents the abstract which she isunable to grasp. She is occupied with material things, and she is jealous ofthe ideal. The soul of man wanders through the uttermost regions of theuniverse, and she seeks to imprison it in the circle of her account-book. Doyou remember my wife? I saw Blanche little by little trying all her tricks.With infinite patience she prepared to snare me and bind me. She wanted tobring me down to her level; she cared nothing for me, she only wanted me to behers. She was willing to do everything in the world for me except the one thingI wanted: to leave me alone.”

I was silent for a while.

“What did you expect her to do when you left her?”

“She could have gone back to Stroeve,” he said irritably. “He was ready to takeher.”

“You’re inhuman,” I answered. “It’s as useless to talk to you about thesethings as to describe colours to a man who was born blind.”

He stopped in front of my chair, and stood looking down at me with anexpression in which I read a contemptuous amazement.

“Do you really care a twopenny damn if Blanche Stroeve is alive or dead?”

I thought over his question, for I wanted to answer it truthfully, at allevents to my soul.

“It may be a lack of sympathy in myself if it does not make any greatdifference to me that she is dead. Life had a great deal to offer her. I thinkit’s terrible that she should have been deprived of it in that cruel way, and Iam ashamed because I do not really care.”

“You have not the courage of your convictions. Life has no value. BlancheStroeve didn’t commit suicide because I left her, but because she was a foolishand unbalanced woman. But we’ve talked about her quite enough; she was anentirely unimportant person. Come, and I’ll show you my pictures.”

He spoke as though I were a child that needed to be distracted. I was sore, butnot with him so much as with myself. I thought of the happy life that pair hadled in the cosy studio in Montmartre, Stroeve and his wife, their simplicity,kindness, and hospitality; it seemed to me cruel that it should have beenbroken to pieces by a ruthless chance; but the cruellest thing of all was thatin fact it made no great difference. The world went on, and no one was a pennythe worse for all that wretchedness. I had an idea that Dirk, a man of greateremotional reactions than depth of feeling, would soon forget; and Blanche’slife, begun with who knows what bright hopes and what dreams, might just aswell have never been lived. It all seemed useless and inane.

Strickland had found his hat, and stood looking at me.

“Are you coming?”

“Why do you seek my acquaintance?” I asked him. “You know that I hate anddespise you.”

He chuckled good-humouredly.

“Your only quarrel with me really is that I don’t care a twopenny damn what youthink about me.”

I felt my cheeks grow red with sudden anger. It was impossible to make himunderstand that one might be outraged by his callous selfishness. I longed topierce his armour of complete indifference. I knew also that in the end therewas truth in what he said. Unconsciously, perhaps, we treasure the power wehave over people by their regard for our opinion of them, and we hate thoseupon whom we have no such influence. I suppose it is the bitterest wound tohuman pride. But I would not let him see that I was put out.

“Is it possible for any man to disregard others entirely?” I said, though moreto myself than to him. “You’re dependent on others for everything in existence.It’s a preposterous attempt to try to live only for yourself and by yourself.Sooner or later you’ll be ill and tired and old, and then you’ll crawl backinto the herd. Won’t you be ashamed when you feel in your heart the desire forcomfort and sympathy? You’re trying an impossible thing. Sooner or later thehuman being in you will yearn for the common bonds of humanity.”

“Come and look at my pictures.”

“Have you ever thought of death?”

“Why should I? It doesn’t matter.”

I stared at him. He stood before me, motionless, with a mocking smile in hiseyes; but for all that, for a moment I had an inkling of a fiery, torturedspirit, aiming at something greater than could be conceived by anything thatwas bound up with the flesh. I had a fleeting glimpse of a pursuit of theineffable. I looked at the man before me in his shabby clothes, with his greatnose and shining eyes, his red beard and untidy hair; and I had a strangesensation that it was only an envelope, and I was in the presence of adisembodied spirit.

“Let us go and look at your pictures,” I said.

Chapter XLII

I did not know why Strickland had suddenly offered to show them to me. Iwelcomed the opportunity. A man’s work reveals him. In social intercourse hegives you the surface that he wishes the world to accept, and you can only gaina true knowledge of him by inferences from little actions, of which he isunconscious, and from fleeting expressions, which cross his face unknown tohim. Sometimes people carry to such perfection the mask they have assumed thatin due course they actually become the person they seem. But in his book or hispicture the real man delivers himself defenceless. His pretentiousness willonly expose his vacuity. The lathe painted to look like iron is seen to be buta lathe. No affectation of peculiarity can conceal a commonplace mind. To theacute observer no one can produce the most casual work without disclosing theinnermost secrets of his soul.

As I walked up the endless stairs of the house in which Strickland lived, Iconfess that I was a little excited. It seemed to me that I was on thethreshold of a surprising adventure. I looked about the room with curiosity. Itwas even smaller and more bare than I remembered it. I wondered what thosefriends of mine would say who demanded vast studios, and vowed they could notwork unless all the conditions were to their liking.

“You’d better stand there,” he said, pointing to a spot from which, presumably,he fancied I could see to best advantage what he had to show me.

“You don’t want me to talk, I suppose,” I said.

“No, blast you; I want you to hold your tongue.”

He placed a picture on the easel, and let me look at it for a minute or two;then took it down and put another in its place. I think he showed me aboutthirty canvases. It was the result of the six years during which he had beenpainting. He had never sold a picture. The canvases were of different sizes.The smaller were pictures of still-life and the largest were landscapes. Therewere about half a dozen portraits.

“That is the lot,” he said at last.

I wish I could say that I recognised at once their beauty and their greatoriginality. Now that I have seen many of them again and the rest are familiarto me in reproductions, I am astonished that at first sight I was bitterlydisappointed. I felt nothing of the peculiar thrill which it is the property ofart to give. The impression that Strickland’s pictures gave me wasdisconcerting; and the fact remains, always to reproach me, that I never eventhought of buying any. I missed a wonderful chance. Most of them have foundtheir way into museums, and the rest are the treasured possessions of wealthyamateurs. I try to find excuses for myself. I think that my taste is good, butI am conscious that it has no originality. I know very little about painting,and I wander along trails that others have blazed for me. At that time I hadthe greatest admiration for the impressionists. I longed to possess a Sisleyand a Degas, and I worshipped Manet. His Olympia seemed to me thegreatest picture of modern times, and Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe moved meprofoundly. These works seemed to me the last word in painting.

I will not describe the pictures that Strickland showed me. Descriptions ofpictures are always dull, and these, besides, are familiar to all who take aninterest in such things. Now that his influence has so enormously affectedmodern painting, now that others have charted the country which he was amongthe first to explore, Strickland’s pictures, seen for the first time, wouldfind the mind more prepared for them; but it must be remembered that I hadnever seen anything of the sort. First of all I was taken aback by what seemedto me the clumsiness of his technique. Accustomed to the drawing of the oldmasters, and convinced that Ingres was the greatest draughtsman of recenttimes, I thought that Strickland drew very badly. I knew nothing of thesimplification at which he aimed. I remember a still-life of oranges on aplate, and I was bothered because the plate was not round and the oranges werelop-sided. The portraits were a little larger than life-size, and this gavethem an ungainly look. To my eyes the faces looked like caricatures. They werepainted in a way that was entirely new to me. The landscapes puzzled me evenmore. There were two or three pictures of the forest at Fontainebleau andseveral of streets in Paris: my first feeling was that they might have beenpainted by a drunken cabdriver. I was perfectly bewildered. The colour seemedto me extraordinarily crude. It passed through my mind that the whole thing wasa stupendous, incomprehensible farce. Now that I look back I am more than everimpressed by Stroeve’s acuteness. He saw from the first that here was arevolution in art, and he recognised in its beginnings the genius which now allthe world allows.

But if I was puzzled and disconcerted, I was not unimpressed. Even I, in mycolossal ignorance, could not but feel that here, trying to express itself, wasreal power. I was excited and interested. I felt that these pictures hadsomething to say to me that was very important for me to know, but I could nottell what it was. They seemed to me ugly, but they suggested without disclosinga secret of momentous significance. They were strangely tantalising. They gaveme an emotion that I could not analyse. They said something that words werepowerless to utter. I fancy that Strickland saw vaguely some spiritual meaningin material things that was so strange that he could only suggest it withhalting symbols. It was as though he found in the chaos of the universe a newpattern, and were attempting clumsily, with anguish of soul, to set it down. Isaw a tormented spirit striving for the release of expression.

I turned to him.

“I wonder if you haven’t mistaken your medium,” I said.

“What the hell do you mean?”

“I think you’re trying to say something, I don’t quite know what it is, but I’mnot sure that the best way of saying it is by means of painting.”

When I imagined that on seeing his pictures I should get a clue to theunderstanding of his strange character I was mistaken. They merely increasedthe astonishment with which he filled me. I was more at sea than ever. The onlything that seemed clear to me—and perhaps even this was fanciful—was that hewas passionately striving for liberation from some power that held him. Butwhat the power was and what line the liberation would take remained obscure.Each one of us is alone in the world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and cancommunicate with his fellows only by signs, and the signs have no common value,so that their sense is vague and uncertain. We seek pitifully to convey toothers the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them,and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellowsand unknown by them. We are like people living in a country whose language theyknow so little that, with all manner of beautiful and profound things to say,they are condemned to the banalities of the conversation manual. Their brain isseething with ideas, and they can only tell you that the umbrella of thegardener’s aunt is in the house.

The final impression I received was of a prodigious effort to express somestate of the soul, and in this effort, I fancied, must be sought theexplanation of what so utterly perplexed me. It was evident that colours andforms had a significance for Strickland that was peculiar to himself. He wasunder an intolerable necessity to convey something that he felt, and he createdthem with that intention alone. He did not hesitate to simplify or to distortif he could get nearer to that unknown thing he sought. Facts were nothing tohim, for beneath the mass of irrelevant incidents he looked for somethingsignificant to himself. It was as though he had become aware of the soul of theuniverse and were compelled to express it.

Though these pictures confused and puzzled me, I could not be unmoved by theemotion that was patent in them; and, I knew not why, I felt in myself afeeling that with regard to Strickland was the last I had ever expected toexperience. I felt an overwhelming compassion.

“I think I know now why you surrendered to your feeling for Blanche Stroeve,” Isaid to him.

“Why?”

“I think your courage failed. The weakness of your body communicated itself toyour soul. I do not know what infinite yearning possesses you, so that you aredriven to a perilous, lonely search for some goal where you expect to find afinal release from the spirit that torments you. I see you as the eternalpilgrim to some shrine that perhaps does not exist. I do not know to whatinscrutable Nirvana you aim. Do you know yourself? Perhaps it is Truth andFreedom that you seek, and for a moment you thought that you might find releasein Love. I think your tired soul sought rest in a woman’s arms, and when youfound no rest there you hated her. You had no pity for her, because you have nopity for yourself. And you killed her out of fear, because you trembled stillat the danger you had barely escaped.”

He smiled dryly and pulled his beard.

“You are a dreadful sentimentalist, my poor friend.”

A week later I heard by chance that Strickland had gone to Marseilles. I neversaw him again.

Chapter XLIII

Looking back, I realise that what I have written about Charles Strickland mustseem very unsatisfactory. I have given incidents that came to my knowledge, butthey remain obscure because I do not know the reasons that led to them. Thestrangest, Strickland’s determination to become a painter, seems to bearbitrary; and though it must have had causes in the circ*mstances of his life,I am ignorant of them. From his own conversation I was able to glean nothing.If I were writing a novel, rather than narrating such facts as I know of acurious personality, I should have invented much to account for this change ofheart. I think I should have shown a strong vocation in boyhood, crushed by thewill of his father or sacrificed to the necessity of earning a living; I shouldhave pictured him impatient of the restraints of life; and in the strugglebetween his passion for art and the duties of his station I could have arousedsympathy for him. I should so have made him a more imposing figure. Perhaps itwould have been possible to see in him a new Prometheus. There was here, maybe,the opportunity for a modern version of the hero who for the good of mankindexposes himself to the agonies of the damned. It is always a moving subject.

On the other hand, I might have found his motives in the influence of themarried relation. There are a dozen ways in which this might be managed. Alatent gift might reveal itself on acquaintance with the painters and writerswhose society his wife sought; or domestic incompatability might turn him uponhimself; a love affair might fan into bright flame a fire which I could haveshown smouldering dimly in his heart. I think then I should have drawn Mrs.Strickland quite differently. I should have abandoned the facts and made her anagging, tiresome woman, or else a bigoted one with no sympathy for the claimsof the spirit. I should have made Strickland’s marriage a long torment fromwhich escape was the only possible issue. I think I should have emphasised hispatience with the unsuitable mate, and the compassion which made him unwillingto throw off the yoke that oppressed him. I should certainly have eliminatedthe children.

An effective story might also have been made by bringing him into contact withsome old painter whom the pressure of want or the desire for commercial successhad made false to the genius of his youth, and who, seeing in Strickland thepossibilities which himself had wasted, influenced him to forsake all andfollow the divine tyranny of art. I think there would have been somethingironic in the picture of the successful old man, rich and honoured, living inanother the life which he, though knowing it was the better part, had not hadthe strength to pursue.

The facts are much duller. Strickland, a boy fresh from school, went into abroker’s office without any feeling of distaste. Until he married he led theordinary life of his fellows, gambling mildly on the Exchange, interested tothe extent of a sovereign or two on the result of the Derby or the Oxford andCambridge Race. I think he boxed a little in his spare time. On hischimney-piece he had photographs of Mrs. Langtry and Mary Anderson. He readPunch and the Sporting Times. He went to dances in Hampstead.

It matters less that for so long I should have lost sight of him. The yearsduring which he was struggling to acquire proficiency in a difficult art weremonotonous, and I do not know that there was anything significant in the shiftsto which he was put to earn enough money to keep him. An account of them wouldbe an account of the things he had seen happen to other people. I do not thinkthey had any effect on his own character. He must have acquired experienceswhich would form abundant material for a picaresque novel of modern Paris, buthe remained aloof, and judging from his conversation there was nothing in thoseyears that had made a particular impression on him. Perhaps when he went toParis he was too old to fall a victim to the glamour of his environment.Strange as it may seem, he always appeared to me not only practical, butimmensely matter-of-fact. I suppose his life during this period was romantic,but he certainly saw no romance in it. It may be that in order to realise theromance of life you must have something of the actor in you; and, capable ofstanding outside yourself, you must be able to watch your actions with aninterest at once detached and absorbed. But no one was more single-minded thanStrickland. I never knew anyone who was less self-conscious. But it isunfortunate that I can give no description of the arduous steps by which hereached such mastery over his art as he ever acquired; for if I could show himundaunted by failure, by an unceasing effort of courage holding despair at bay,doggedly persistent in the face of self-doubt, which is the artist’s bitterestenemy, I might excite some sympathy for a personality which, I am all tooconscious, must appear singularly devoid of charm. But I have nothing to go on.I never once saw Strickland at work, nor do I know that anyone else did. Hekept the secret of his struggles to himself. If in the loneliness of his studiohe wrestled desperately with the Angel of the Lord he never allowed a soul todivine his anguish.

When I come to his connection with Blanche Stroeve I am exasperated by thefragmentariness of the facts at my disposal. To give my story coherence Ishould describe the progress of their tragic union, but I know nothing of thethree months during which they lived together. I do not know how they got on orwhat they talked about. After all, there are twenty-four hours in the day, andthe summits of emotion can only be reached at rare intervals. I can onlyimagine how they passed the rest of the time. While the light lasted and solong as Blanche’s strength endured, I suppose that Strickland painted, and itmust have irritated her when she saw him absorbed in his work. As a mistressshe did not then exist for him, but only as a model; and then there were longhours in which they lived side by side in silence. It must have frightened her.When Strickland suggested that in her surrender to him there was a sense oftriumph over Dirk Stroeve, because he had come to her help in her extremity, heopened the door to many a dark conjecture. I hope it was not true. It seems tome rather horrible. But who can fathom the subtleties of the human heart?Certainly not those who expect from it only decorous sentiments and normalemotions. When Blanche saw that, notwithstanding his moments of passion,Strickland remained aloof, she must have been filled with dismay, and even inthose moments I surmise that she realised that to him she was not anindividual, but an instrument of pleasure; he was a stranger still, and shetried to bind him to herself with pathetic arts. She strove to ensnare him withcomfort and would not see that comfort meant nothing to him. She was at painsto get him the things to eat that he liked, and would not see that he wasindifferent to food. She was afraid to leave him alone. She pursued him withattentions, and when his passion was dormant sought to excite it, for then atleast she had the illusion of holding him. Perhaps she knew with herintelligence that the chains she forged only aroused his instinct ofdestruction, as the plate-glass window makes your fingers itch for half abrick; but her heart, incapable of reason, made her continue on a course sheknew was fatal. She must have been very unhappy. But the blindness of love ledher to believe what she wanted to be true, and her love was so great that itseemed impossible to her that it should not in return awake an equal love.

But my study of Strickland’s character suffers from a greater defect than myignorance of many facts. Because they were obvious and striking, I have writtenof his relations to women; and yet they were but an insignificant part of hislife. It is an irony that they should so tragically have affected others. Hisreal life consisted of dreams and of tremendously hard work.

Here lies the unreality of fiction. For in men, as a rule, love is but anepisode which takes its place among the other affairs of the day, and theemphasis laid on it in novels gives it an importance which is untrue to life.There are few men to whom it is the most important thing in the world, and theyare not very interesting ones; even women, with whom the subject is ofparamount interest, have a contempt for them. They are flattered and excited bythem, but have an uneasy feeling that they are poor creatures. But even duringthe brief intervals in which they are in love, men do other things whichdistract their mind; the trades by which they earn their living engage theirattention; they are absorbed in sport; they can interest themselves in art. Forthe most part, they keep their various activities in various compartments, andthey can pursue one to the temporary exclusion of the other. They have afaculty of concentration on that which occupies them at the moment, and it irksthem if one encroaches on the other. As lovers, the difference between men andwomen is that women can love all day long, but men only at times.

With Strickland the sexual appetite took a very small place. It wasunimportant. It was irksome. His soul aimed elsewhither. He had violentpassions, and on occasion desire seized his body so that he was driven to anorgy of lust, but he hated the instincts that robbed him of hisself-possession. I think, even, he hated the inevitable partner in hisdebauchery. When he had regained command over himself, he shuddered at thesight of the woman he had enjoyed. His thoughts floated then serenely in theempyrean, and he felt towards her the horror that perhaps the paintedbutterfly, hovering about the flowers, feels to the filthy chrysalis from whichit has triumphantly emerged. I suppose that art is a manifestation of thesexual instinct. It is the same emotion which is excited in the human heart bythe sight of a lovely woman, the Bay of Naples under the yellow moon, and theEntombment of Titian. It is possible that Strickland hated the normalrelease of sex because it seemed to him brutal by comparison with thesatisfaction of artistic creation. It seems strange even to myself, when I havedescribed a man who was cruel, selfish, brutal and sensual, to say that he wasa great idealist. The fact remains.

He lived more poorly than an artisan. He worked harder. He cared nothing forthose things which with most people make life gracious and beautiful. He wasindifferent to money. He cared nothing about fame. You cannot praise himbecause he resisted the temptation to make any of those compromises with theworld which most of us yield to. He had no such temptation. It never enteredhis head that compromise was possible. He lived in Paris more lonely than ananchorite in the deserts of Thebes. He asked nothing his fellows except thatthey should leave him alone. He was single-hearted in his aim, and to pursue ithe was willing to sacrifice not only himself—many can do that—but others. Hehad a vision.

Strickland was an odious man, but I still think he was a great one.

Chapter XLIV

A certain importance attaches to the views on art of painters, and this is thenatural place for me to set down what I know of Strickland’s opinions of thegreat artists of the past. I am afraid I have very little worth noting.Strickland was not a conversationalist, and he had no gift for putting what hehad to say in the striking phrase that the listener remembers. He had no wit.His humour, as will be seen if I have in any way succeeded in reproducing themanner of his conversation, was sardonic. His repartee was rude. He made onelaugh sometimes by speaking the truth, but this is a form of humour which gainsits force only by its unusualness; it would cease to amuse if it were commonlypractised.

Strickland was not, I should say, a man of great intelligence, and his views onpainting were by no means out of the ordinary. I never heard him speak of thosewhose work had a certain analogy with his own—of Cezanne, for instance, or ofVan Gogh; and I doubt very much if he had ever seen their pictures. He was notgreatly interested in the Impressionists. Their technique impressed him, but Ifancy that he thought their attitude commonplace. When Stroeve was holdingforth at length on the excellence of Monet, he said: “I prefer Winterhalter.”But I dare say he said it to annoy, and if he did he certainly succeeded.

I am disappointed that I cannot report any extravagances in his opinions on theold masters. There is so much in his character which is strange that I feel itwould complete the picture if his views were outrageous. I feel the need toascribe to him fantastic theories about his predecessors, and it is with acertain sense of disillusion that I confess he thought about them pretty muchas does everybody else. I do not believe he knew El Greco. He had a great butsomewhat impatient admiration for Velasquez. Chardin delighted him, andRembrandt moved him to ecstasy. He described the impression that Rembrandt madeon him with a coarseness I cannot repeat. The only painter that interested himwho was at all unexpected was Brueghel the Elder. I knew very little about himat that time, and Strickland had no power to explain himself. I remember whathe said about him because it was so unsatisfactory.

“He’s all right,” said Strickland. “I bet he found it hell to paint.”

When later, in Vienna, I saw several of Peter Brueghel’s pictures, I thought Iunderstood why he had attracted Strickland’s attention. Here, too, was a manwith a vision of the world peculiar to himself. I made somewhat copious notesat the time, intending to write something about him, but I have lost them, andhave now only the recollection of an emotion. He seemed to see hisfellow-creatures grotesquely, and he was angry with them because they weregrotesque; life was a confusion of ridiculous, sordid happenings, a fit subjectfor laughter, and yet it made him sorrowful to laugh. Brueghel gave me theimpression of a man striving to express in one medium feelings more appropriateto expression in another, and it may be that it was the obscure consciousnessof this that excited Strickland’s sympathy. Perhaps both were trying to putdown in paint ideas which were more suitable to literature.

Strickland at this time must have been nearly forty-seven.

Chapter XLV

I have said already that but for the hazard of a journey to Tahiti I shoulddoubtless never have written this book. It is thither that after manywanderings Charles Strickland came, and it is there that he painted thepictures on which his fame most securely rests. I suppose no artist achievescompletely the realisation of the dream that obsesses him, and Strickland,harassed incessantly by his struggle with technique, managed, perhaps, lessthan others to express the vision that he saw with his mind’s eye; but inTahiti the circ*mstances were favourable to him; he found in his surroundingsthe accidents necessary for his inspiration to become effective, and his laterpictures give at least a suggestion of what he sought. They offer theimagination something new and strange. It is as though in this far country hisspirit, that had wandered disembodied, seeking a tenement, at last was able toclothe itself in flesh. To use the hackneyed phrase, here he found himself.

It would seem that my visit to this remote island should immediately revive myinterest in Strickland, but the work I was engaged in occupied my attention tothe exclusion of something that was irrelevant, and it was not till I had beenthere some days that I even remembered his connection with it. After all, I hadnot seen him for fifteen years, and it was nine since he died. But I think myarrival at Tahiti would have driven out of my head matters of much moreimmediate importance to me, and even after a week I found it not easy to ordermyself soberly. I remember that on my first morning I awoke early, and when Icame on to the terrace of the hotel no one was stirring. I wandered round tothe kitchen, but it was locked, and on a bench outside it a native boy wassleeping. There seemed no chance of breakfast for some time, so I sauntereddown to the water-front. The Chinamen were already busy in their shops. The skyhad still the pallor of dawn, and there was a ghostly silence on the lagoon.Ten miles away the island of Murea, like some high fastness of the Holy Grail,guarded its mystery.

I did not altogether believe my eyes. The days that had passed since I leftWellington seemed extraordinary and unusual. Wellington is trim and neat andEnglish; it reminds you of a seaport town on the South Coast. And for threedays afterwards the sea was stormy. Gray clouds chased one another across thesky. Then the wind dropped, and the sea was calm and blue. The Pacific is moredesolate than other seas; its spaces seem more vast, and the most ordinaryjourney upon it has somehow the feeling of an adventure. The air you breathe isan elixir which prepares you for the unexpected. Nor is it vouchsafed to man inthe flesh to know aught that more nearly suggests the approach to the goldenrealms of fancy than the approach to Tahiti. Murea, the sister isle, comes intoview in rocky splendour, rising from the desert sea mysteriously, like theunsubstantial fabric of a magic wand. With its jagged outline it is like aMonseratt of the Pacific, and you may imagine that there Polynesian knightsguard with strange rites mysteries unholy for men to know. The beauty of theisland is unveiled as diminishing distance shows you in distincter shape itslovely peaks, but it keeps its secret as you sail by, and, darkly inviolable,seems to fold itself together in a stony, inaccessible grimness. It would notsurprise you if, as you came near seeking for an opening in the reef, itvanished suddenly from your view, and nothing met your gaze but the blueloneliness of the Pacific.

Tahiti is a lofty green island, with deep folds of a darker green, in which youdivine silent valleys; there is mystery in their sombre depths, down whichmurmur and plash cool streams, and you feel that in those umbrageous placeslife from immemorial times has been led according to immemorial ways. Even hereis something sad and terrible. But the impression is fleeting, and serves onlyto give a greater acuteness to the enjoyment of the moment. It is like thesadness which you may see in the jester’s eyes when a merry company is laughingat his sallies; his lips smile and his jokes are gayer because in the communionof laughter he finds himself more intolerably alone. For Tahiti is smiling andfriendly; it is like a lovely woman graciously prodigal of her charm andbeauty; and nothing can be more conciliatory than the entrance into the harbourat Papeete. The schooners moored to the quay are trim and neat, the little townalong the bay is white and urbane, and the flamboyants, scarlet against theblue sky, flaunt their colour like a cry of passion. They are sensual with anunashamed violence that leaves you breathless. And the crowd that throngs thewharf as the steamer draws alongside is gay and debonair; it is a noisy,cheerful, gesticulating crowd. It is a sea of brown faces. You have animpression of coloured movement against the flaming blue of the sky. Everythingis done with a great deal of bustle, the unloading of the baggage, theexamination of the customs; and everyone seems to smile at you. It is very hot.The colour dazzles you.

Chapter XLVI

HAD not been in Tahiti long before I met Captain Nichols. He came in onemorning when I was having breakfast on the terrace of the hotel and introducedhimself. He had heard that I was interested in Charles Strickland, andannounced that he was come to have a talk about him. They are as fond of gossipin Tahiti as in an English village, and one or two enquiries I had made forpictures by Strickland had been quickly spread. I asked the stranger if he hadbreakfasted.

“Yes; I have my coffee early,” he answered, “but I don’t mind having a drop ofwhisky.”

I called the Chinese boy.

“You don’t think it’s too early?” said the Captain.

“You and your liver must decide that between you,” I replied.

“I’m practically a teetotaller,” he said, as he poured himself out a goodhalf-tumbler of Canadian Club.

When he smiled he showed broken and discoloured teeth. He was a very lean man,of no more than average height, with gray hair cut short and a stubbly graymoustache. He had not shaved for a couple of days. His face was deeply lined,burned brown by long exposure to the sun, and he had a pair of small blue eyeswhich were astonishingly shifty. They moved quickly, following my smallestgesture, and they gave him the look of a very thorough rogue. But at the momenthe was all heartiness and good-fellowship. He was dressed in a bedraggled suitof khaki, and his hands would have been all the better for a wash.

“I knew Strickland well,” he said, as he leaned back in his chair and lit thecigar I had offered him. “It’s through me he came out to the islands.”

“Where did you meet him?” I asked.

“In Marseilles.”

“What were you doing there?”

He gave me an ingratiating smile.

“Well, I guess I was on the beach.”

My friend’s appearance suggested that he was now in the same predicament, and Iprepared myself to cultivate an agreeable acquaintance. The society ofbeach-combers always repays the small pains you need be at to enjoy it. Theyare easy of approach and affable in conversation. They seldom put on airs, andthe offer of a drink is a sure way to their hearts. You need no laborious stepsto enter upon familiarity with them, and you can earn not only theirconfidence, but their gratitude, by turning an attentive ear to theirdiscourse. They look upon conversation as the great pleasure of life, therebyproving the excellence of their civilisation, and for the most part they areentertaining talkers. The extent of their experience is pleasantly balanced bythe fertility of their imagination. It cannot be said that they are withoutguile, but they have a tolerant respect for the law, when the law is supportedby strength. It is hazardous to play poker with them, but their ingenuity addsa peculiar excitement to the best game in the world. I came to know CaptainNichols very well before I left Tahiti, and I am the richer for hisacquaintance. I do not consider that the cigars and whisky he consumed at myexpense (he always refused co*cktails, since he was practically a teetotaller),and the few dollars, borrowed with a civil air of conferring a favour upon me,that passed from my pocket to his, were in any way equivalent to theentertainment he afforded me. I remained his debtor. I should be sorry if myconscience, insisting on a rigid attention to the matter in hand, forced me todismiss him in a couple of lines.

I do not know why Captain Nichols first left England. It was a matter uponwhich he was reticent, and with persons of his kind a direct question is neververy discreet. He hinted at undeserved misfortune, and there is no doubt thathe looked upon himself as the victim of injustice. My fancy played with thevarious forms of fraud and violence, and I agreed with him sympathetically whenhe remarked that the authorities in the old country were so damned technical.But it was nice to see that any unpleasantness he had endured in his nativeland had not impaired his ardent patriotism. He frequently declared thatEngland was the finest country in the world, sir, and he felt a livelysuperiority over Americans, Colonials, Dagos, Dutchmen, and Kanakas.

But I do not think he was a happy man. He suffered from dyspepsia, and he mightoften be seen sucking a tablet of pepsin; in the morning his appetite was poor;but this affliction alone would hardly have impaired his spirits. He had agreater cause of discontent with life than this. Eight years before he hadrashly married a wife. There are men whom a merciful Providence has undoubtedlyordained to a single life, but who from wilfulness or through circ*mstancesthey could not cope with have flown in the face of its decrees. There is noobject more deserving of pity than the married bachelor. Of such was CaptainNichols. I met his wife. She was a woman of twenty-eight, I should think,though of a type whose age is always doubtful; for she cannot have lookeddifferent when she was twenty, and at forty would look no older. She gave me animpression of extraordinary tightness. Her plain face with its narrow lips wastight, her skin was stretched tightly over her bones, her smile was tight, herhair was tight, her clothes were tight, and the white drill she wore had allthe effect of black bombazine. I could not imagine why Captain Nichols hadmarried her, and having married her why he had not deserted her. Perhaps hehad, often, and his melancholy arose from the fact that he could never succeed.However far he went and in howsoever secret a place he hid himself, I felt surethat Mrs. Nichols, inexorable as fate and remorseless as conscience, wouldpresently rejoin him. He could as little escape her as the cause can escape theeffect.

The rogue, like the artist and perhaps the gentleman, belongs to no class. Heis not embarrassed by the sans gene of the hobo, nor put out ofcountenance by the etiquette of the prince. But Mrs. Nichols belonged to thewell-defined class, of late become vocal, which is known as the lower-middle.Her father, in fact, was a policeman. I am certain that he was an efficientone. I do not know what her hold was on the Captain, but I do not think it waslove. I never heard her speak, but it may be that in private she had a copiousconversation. At any rate, Captain Nichols was frightened to death of her.Sometimes, sitting with me on the terrace of the hotel, he would becomeconscious that she was walking in the road outside. She did not call him; shegave no sign that she was aware of his existence; she merely walked up and downcomposedly. Then a strange uneasiness would seize the Captain; he would look athis watch and sigh.

“Well, I must be off,” he said.

Neither wit nor whisky could detain him then. Yet he was a man who had facedundaunted hurricane and typhoon, and would not have hesitated to fight a dozenunarmed nigg*rs with nothing but a revolver to help him. Sometimes Mrs. Nicholswould send her daughter, a pale-faced, sullen child of seven, to the hotel.

“Mother wants you,” she said, in a whining tone.

“Very well, my dear,” said Captain Nichols.

He rose to his feet at once, and accompanied his daughter along the road. Isuppose it was a very pretty example of the triumph of spirit over matter, andso my digression has at least the advantage of a moral.

Chapter XLVII

I have tried to put some connection into the various things Captain Nicholstold me about Strickland, and I here set them down in the best order I can.They made one another’s acquaintance during the latter part of the winterfollowing my last meeting with Strickland in Paris. How he had passed theintervening months I do not know, but life must have been very hard, forCaptain Nichols saw him first in the Asile de Nuit. There was a strike atMarseilles at the time, and Strickland, having come to the end of hisresources, had apparently found it impossible to earn the small sum he neededto keep body and soul together.

The Asile de Nuit is a large stone building where pauper and vagabond may get abed for a week, provided their papers are in order and they can persuade thefriars in charge that they are workingmen. Captain Nichols noticed Stricklandfor his size and his singular appearance among the crowd that waited for thedoors to open; they waited listlessly, some walking to and fro, some leaningagainst the wall, and others seated on the curb with their feet in the gutter;and when they filed into the office he heard the monk who read his papersaddress him in English. But he did not have a chance to speak to him, since, ashe entered the common-room, a monk came in with a huge Bible in his arms,mounted a pulpit which was at the end of the room, and began the service whichthe wretched outcasts had to endure as the price of their lodging. He andStrickland were assigned to different rooms, and when, thrown out of bed atfive in the morning by a stalwart monk, he had made his bed and washed hisface, Strickland had already disappeared. Captain Nichols wandered about thestreets for an hour of bitter cold, and then made his way to the Place VictorGélu, where the sailor-men are wont to congregate. Dozing against the pedestalof a statue, he saw Strickland again. He gave him a kick to awaken him.

“Come and have breakfast, mate,” he said.

“Go to hell,” answered Strickland.

I recognised my friend’s limited vocabulary, and I prepared to regard CaptainNichols as a trustworthy witness.

“Busted?” asked the Captain.

“Blast you,” answered Strickland.

“Come along with me. I’ll get you some breakfast.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Strickland scrambled to his feet, and togetherthey went to the Bouchée de Pain, where the hungry are given a wedge of bread,which they must eat there and then, for it is forbidden to take it away; andthen to the Cuillère de Soupe, where for a week, at eleven and four, you mayget a bowl of thin, salt soup. The two buildings are placed far apart, so thatonly the starving should be tempted to make use of them. So they had breakfast,and so began the queer companionship of Charles Strickland and Captain Nichols.

They must have spent something like four months at Marseilles in one another’ssociety. Their career was devoid of adventure, if by adventure you meanunexpected or thrilling incident, for their days were occupied in the pursuitof enough money to get a night’s lodging and such food as would stay the pangsof hunger. But I wish I could give here the pictures, coloured and racy, whichCaptain Nichols’ vivid narrative offered to the imagination. His account oftheir discoveries in the low life of a seaport town would have made a charmingbook, and in the various characters that came their way the student mighteasily have found matter for a very complete dictionary of rogues. But I mustcontent myself with a few paragraphs. I received the impression of a lifeintense and brutal, savage, multicoloured, and vivacious. It made theMarseilles that I knew, gesticulating and sunny, with its comfortable hotelsand its restaurants crowded with the well-to-do, tame and commonplace. I enviedmen who had seen with their own eyes the sights that Captain Nichols described.

When the doors of the Asile de Nuit were closed to them, Strickland and CaptainNichols sought the hospitality of Tough Bill. This was the master of a sailors’boarding-house, a huge mulatto with a heavy fist, who gave the stranded marinerfood and shelter till he found him a berth. They lived with him a month,sleeping with a dozen others, Swedes, negroes, Brazilians, on the floor of thetwo bare rooms in his house which he assigned to his charges; and every daythey went with him to the Place Victor Gélu, whither came ships’ captains insearch of a man. He was married to an American woman, obese and slatternly,fallen to this pass by Heaven knows what process of degradation, and every daythe boarders took it in turns to help her with the housework. Captain Nicholslooked upon it as a smart piece of work on Strickland’s part that he had gotout of this by painting a portrait of Tough Bill. Tough Bill not only paid forthe canvas, colours, and brushes, but gave Strickland a pound of smuggledtobacco into the bargain. For all I know, this picture may still adorn theparlour of the tumbledown little house somewhere near the Quai de la Joliette,and I suppose it could now be sold for fifteen hundred pounds. Strickland’sidea was to ship on some vessel bound for Australia or New Zealand, and fromthere make his way to Samoa or Tahiti. I do not know how he had come upon thenotion of going to the South Seas, though I remember that his imagination hadlong been haunted by an island, all green and sunny, encircled by a sea moreblue than is found in Northern latitudes. I suppose that he clung to CaptainNichols because he was acquainted with those parts, and it was Captain Nicholswho persuaded him that he would be more comfortable in Tahiti.

“You see, Tahiti’s French,” he explained to me. “And the French aren’t sodamned technical.”

I thought I saw his point.

Strickland had no papers, but that was not a matter to disconcert Tough Billwhen he saw a profit (he took the first month’s wages of the sailor for whom hefound a berth), and he provided Strickland with those of an English stoker whohad providentially died on his hands. But both Captain Nichols and Stricklandwere bound East, and it chanced that the only opportunities for signing on werewith ships sailing West. Twice Strickland refused a berth on tramps sailing forthe United States, and once on a collier going to Newcastle. Tough Bill had nopatience with an obstinacy which could only result in loss to himself, and onthe last occasion he flung both Strickland and Captain Nichols out of his housewithout more ado. They found themselves once more adrift.

Tough Bill’s fare was seldom extravagant, and you rose from his table almost ashungry as you sat down, but for some days they had good reason to regret it.They learned what hunger was. The Cuillère de Soupe and the Asile de Nuit wereboth closed to them, and their only sustenance was the wedge of bread which theBouchée de Pain provided. They slept where they could, sometimes in an emptytruck on a siding near the station, sometimes in a cart behind a warehouse; butit was bitterly cold, and after an hour or two of uneasy dozing they wouldtramp the streets again. What they felt the lack of most bitterly was tobacco,and Captain Nichols, for his part, could not do without it; he took to huntingthe “Can o’ Beer,” for cigarette-ends and the butt-end of cigars which thepromenaders of the night before had thrown away.

“I’ve tasted worse smoking mixtures in a pipe,” he added, with a philosophicshrug of his shoulders, as he took a couple of cigars from the case I offeredhim, putting one in his mouth and the other in his pocket.

Now and then they made a bit of money. Sometimes a mail steamer would come in,and Captain Nichols, having scraped acquaintance with the timekeeper, wouldsucceed in getting the pair of them a job as stevedores. When it was an Englishboat, they would dodge into the forecastle and get a hearty breakfast from thecrew. They took the risk of running against one of the ship’s officers andbeing hustled down the gangway with the toe of a boot to speed their going.

“There’s no harm in a kick in the hindquarters when your belly’s full,” saidCaptain Nichols, “and personally I never take it in bad part. An officer’s gotto think about discipline.”

I had a lively picture of Captain Nichols flying headlong down a narrow gangwaybefore the uplifted foot of an angry mate, and, like a true Englishman,rejoicing in the spirit of the Mercantile Marine.

There were often odd jobs to be got about the fish-market. Once they each ofthem earned a franc by loading trucks with innumerable boxes of oranges thathad been dumped down on the quay. One day they had a stroke of luck: one of theboarding-masters got a contract to paint a tramp that had come in fromMadagascar round the Cape of Good Hope, and they spent several days on a plankhanging over the side, covering the rusty hull with paint. It was a situationthat must have appealed to Strickland’s sardonic humour. I asked CaptainNichols how he bore himself during these hardships.

“Never knew him say a cross word,” answered the Captain. “He’d be a bit surlysometimes, but when we hadn’t had a bite since morning, and we hadn’t even gotthe price of a lie down at the Chink’s, he’d be as lively as a cricket.”

I was not surprised at this. Strickland was just the man to rise superior tocirc*mstances, when they were such as to occasion despondency in most; butwhether this was due to equanimity of soul or to contradictoriness it would bedifficult to say.

The Chink’s Head was a name the beach-combers gave to a wretched inn off theRue Bouterie, kept by a one-eyed Chinaman, where for six sous you could sleepin a cot and for three on the floor. Here they made friends with others in asdesperate condition as themselves, and when they were penniless and the nightwas bitter cold, they were glad to borrow from anyone who had earned a strayfranc during the day the price of a roof over their heads. They were notnigg*rdly, these tramps, and he who had money did not hesitate to share itamong the rest. They belonged to all the countries in the world, but this wasno bar to good-fellowship; for they felt themselves freemen of a country whosefrontiers include them all, the great country of co*ckaine.

“But I guess Strickland was an ugly customer when he was roused,” said CaptainNichols, reflectively. “One day we ran into Tough Bill in the Place, and heasked Charlie for the papers he’d given him.”

“‘You’d better come and take them if you want them,’ says Charlie.

“He was a powerful fellow, Tough Bill, but he didn’t quite like the look ofCharlie, so he began cursing him. He called him pretty near every name he couldlay hands on, and when Tough Bill began cursing it was worth listening to him.Well, Charlie stuck it for a bit, then he stepped forward and he just said:‘Get out, you bloody swine.’ It wasn’t so much what he said, but the way hesaid it. Tough Bill never spoke another word; you could see him go yellow, andhe walked away as if he’d remembered he had a date.”

Strickland, according to Captain Nichols, did not use exactly the words I havegiven, but since this book is meant for family reading I have thought itbetter, at the expense of truth, to put into his mouth expressions familiar tothe domestic circle.

Now, Tough Bill was not the man to put up with humiliation at the hands of acommon sailor. His power depended on his prestige, and first one, then another,of the sailors who lived in his house told them that he had sworn to doStrickland in.

One night Captain Nichols and Strickland were sitting in one of the bars of theRue Bouterie. The Rue Bouterie is a narrow street of one-storeyed houses, eachhouse consisting of but one room; they are like the booths in a crowded fair orthe cages of animals in a circus. At every door you see a woman. Some leanlazily against the side-posts, humming to themselves or calling to thepasser-by in a raucous voice, and some listlessly read. They are French.Italian, Spanish, Japanese, coloured; some are fat and some are thin; and underthe thick paint on their faces, the heavy smears on their eyebrows, and thescarlet of their lips, you see the lines of age and the scars of dissipation.Some wear black shifts and flesh-coloured stockings; some with curly hair, dyedyellow, are dressed like little girls in short muslin frocks. Through the opendoor you see a red-tiled floor, a large wooden bed, and on a deal table a ewerand a basin. A motley crowd saunters along the streets—Lascars off a P. and O.,blond Northmen from a Swedish barque, Japanese from a man-of-war, Englishsailors, Spaniards, pleasant-looking fellows from a French cruiser, negroes offan American tramp. By day it is merely sordid, but at night, lit only by thelamps in the little huts, the street has a sinister beauty. The hideous lustthat pervades the air is oppressive and horrible, and yet there is somethingmysterious in the sight which haunts and troubles you. You feel I know not whatprimitive force which repels and yet fascinates you. Here all the decencies ofcivilisation are swept away, and you feel that men are face to face with asombre reality. There is an atmosphere that is at once intense and tragic.

In the bar in which Strickland and Nichols sat a mechanical piano was loudlygrinding out dance music. Round the room people were sitting at table, herehalf a dozen sailors uproariously drunk, there a group of soldiers; and in themiddle, crowded together, couples were dancing. Bearded sailors with brownfaces and large horny hands clasped their partners in a tight embrace. Thewomen wore nothing but a shift. Now and then two sailors would get up and dancetogether. The noise was deafening. People were singing, shouting, laughing; andwhen a man gave a long kiss to the girl sitting on his knees, cat-calls fromthe English sailors increased the din. The air was heavy with the dust beatenup by the heavy boots of the men, and gray with smoke. It was very hot. Behindthe bar was seated a woman nursing her baby. The waiter, an undersized youthwith a flat, spotty face, hurried to and fro carrying a tray laden with glassesof beer.

In a little while Tough Bill, accompanied by two huge negroes, came in, and itwas easy to see that he was already three parts drunk. He was looking fortrouble. He lurched against a table at which three soldiers were sitting andknocked over a glass of beer. There was an angry altercation, and the owner ofthe bar stepped forward and ordered Tough Bill to go. He was a hefty fellow, inthe habit of standing no nonsense from his customers, and Tough Bill hesitated.The landlord was not a man he cared to tackle, for the police were on his side,and with an oath he turned on his heel. Suddenly he caught sight of Strickland.He rolled up to him. He did not speak. He gathered the spittle in his mouth andspat full in Strickland’s face. Strickland seized his glass and flung it athim. The dancers stopped suddenly still. There was an instant of completesilence, but when Tough Bill threw himself on Strickland the lust of battleseized them all, and in a moment there was a confused scrimmage. Tables wereoverturned, glasses crashed to the ground. There was a hellish row. The womenscattered to the door and behind the bar. Passers-by surged in from the street.You heard curses in every tongue the sound of blows, cries; and in the middleof the room a dozen men were fighting with all their might. On a sudden thepolice rushed in, and everyone who could made for the door. When the bar wasmore or less cleared, Tough Bill was lying insensible on the floor with a greatgash in his head. Captain Nichols dragged Strickland, bleeding from a wound inhis arm, his clothes in rags, into the street. His own face was covered withblood from a blow on the nose.

“I guess you’d better get out of Marseilles before Tough Bill comes out ofhospital,” he said to Strickland, when they had got back to the Chink’s Headand were cleaning themselves.

“This beats co*ck-fighting,” said Strickland.

I could see his sardonic smile.

Captain Nichols was anxious. He knew Tough Bill’s vindictiveness. Stricklandhad downed the mulatto twice, and the mulatto, sober, was a man to be reckonedwith. He would bide his time stealthily. He would be in no hurry, but one nightStrickland would get a knife-thrust in his back, and in a day or two the corpseof a nameless beach-comber would be fished out of the dirty water of theharbour. Nichols went next evening to Tough Bill’s house and made enquiries. Hewas in hospital still, but his wife, who had been to see him, said he wasswearing hard to kill Strickland when they let him out.

A week passed.

“That’s what I always say,” reflected Captain Nichols, “when you hurt a man,hurt him bad. It gives you a bit of time to look about and think what you’ll donext.”

Then Strickland had a bit of luck. A ship bound for Australia had sent to theSailors’ Home for a stoker in place of one who had thrown himself overboard offGibraltar in an attack of delirium tremens.

“You double down to the harbour, my lad,” said the Captain to Strickland, “andsign on. You’ve got your papers.”

Strickland set off at once, and that was the last Captain Nichols saw of him.The ship was only in port for six hours, and in the evening Captain Nicholswatched the vanishing smoke from her funnels as she ploughed East through thewintry sea.

I have narrated all this as best I could, because I like the contrast of theseepisodes with the life that I had seen Strickland live in Ashley Gardens whenhe was occupied with stocks and shares; but I am aware that Captain Nichols wasan outrageous liar, and I dare say there is not a word of truth in anything hetold me. I should not be surprised to learn that he had never seen Stricklandin his life, and owed his knowledge of Marseilles to the pages of a magazine.

Chapter XLVIII

It is here that I purposed to end my book. My first idea was to begin it withthe account of Strickland’s last years in Tahiti and with his horrible death,and then to go back and relate what I knew of his beginnings. This I meant todo, not from wilfulness, but because I wished to leave Strickland setting outwith I know not what fancies in his lonely soul for the unknown islands whichfired his imagination. I liked the picture of him starting at the age offorty-seven, when most men have already settled comfortably in a groove, for anew world. I saw him, the sea gray under the mistral and foam-flecked, watchingthe vanishing coast of France, which he was destined never to see again; and Ithought there was something gallant in his bearing and dauntless in his soul. Iwished so to end on a note of hope. It seemed to emphasise the unconquerablespirit of man. But I could not manage it. Somehow I could not get into mystory, and after trying once or twice I had to give it up; I started from thebeginning in the usual way, and made up my mind I could only tell what I knewof Strickland’s life in the order in which I learnt the facts.

Those that I have now are fragmentary. I am in the position of a biologist whofrom a single bone must reconstruct not only the appearance of an extinctanimal, but its habits. Strickland made no particular impression on the peoplewho came in contact with him in Tahiti. To them he was no more than abeach-comber in constant need of money, remarkable only for the peculiaritythat he painted pictures which seemed to them absurd; and it was not till hehad been dead for some years and agents came from the dealers in Paris andBerlin to look for any pictures which might still remain on the island, thatthey had any idea that among them had dwelt a man of consequence. Theyremembered then that they could have bought for a song canvases which now wereworth large sums, and they could not forgive themselves for the opportunitywhich had escaped them. There was a Jewish trader called Cohen, who had come byone of Strickland’s pictures in a singular way. He was a little old Frenchman,with soft kind eyes and a pleasant smile, half trader and half seaman, whoowned a cutter in which he wandered boldly among the Paumotus and theMarquesas, taking out trade goods and bringing back copra, shell, and pearls. Iwent to see him because I was told he had a large black pearl which he waswilling to sell cheaply, and when I discovered that it was beyond my means Ibegan to talk to him about Strickland. He had known him well.

“You see, I was interested in him because he was a painter,” he told me. “Wedon’t get many painters in the islands, and I was sorry for him because he wassuch a bad one. I gave him his first job. I had a plantation on the peninsula,and I wanted a white overseer. You never get any work out of the natives unlessyou have a white man over them. I said to him: ‘You’ll have plenty of time forpainting, and you can earn a bit of money.’ I knew he was starving, but Ioffered him good wages.”

“I can’t imagine that he was a very satisfactory overseer,” I said, smiling.

“I made allowances. I have always had a sympathy for artists. It is in ourblood, you know. But he only remained a few months. When he had enough money tobuy paints and canvases he left me. The place had got hold of him by then, andhe wanted to get away into the bush. But I continued to see him now and then.He would turn up in Papeete every few months and stay a little while; he’d getmoney out of someone or other and then disappear again. It was on one of thesevisits that he came to me and asked for the loan of two hundred francs. Helooked as if he hadn’t had a meal for a week, and I hadn’t the heart to refusehim. Of course, I never expected to see my money again. Well, a year later hecame to see me once more, and he brought a picture with him. He did not mentionthe money he owed me, but he said: ‘Here is a picture of your plantation thatI’ve painted for you.’ I looked at it. I did not know what to say, but ofcourse I thanked him, and when he had gone away I showed it to my wife.”

“What was it like?” I asked.

“Do not ask me. I could not make head or tail of it. I never saw such a thingin my life. ‘What shall we do with it?’ I said to my wife. ‘We can never hangit up,’ she said. ‘People would laugh at us.’ So she took it into an attic andput it away with all sorts of rubbish, for my wife can never throw anythingaway. It is her mania. Then, imagine to yourself, just before the war mybrother wrote to me from Paris, and said: ‘Do you know anything about anEnglish painter who lived in Tahiti? It appears that he was a genius, and hispictures fetch large prices. See if you can lay your hands on anything and sendit to me. There’s money to be made.’ So I said to my wife. ‘What about thatpicture that Strickland gave me?’ Is it possible that it is still in theattic?’ ‘Without doubt,’ she answered, ‘for you know that I never throwanything away. It is my mania.’ We went up to the attic, and there, among Iknow not what rubbish that had been gathered during the thirty years we haveinhabited that house, was the picture. I looked at it again, and I said: ‘Whowould have thought that the overseer of my plantation on the peninsula, to whomI lent two hundred francs, had genius? Do you see anything in the picture?’‘No,’ she said, ‘it does not resemble the plantation and I have never seencocoa-nuts with blue leaves; but they are mad in Paris, and it may be that yourbrother will be able to sell it for the two hundred francs you lentStrickland.’ Well, we packed it up and we sent it to my brother. And at last Ireceived a letter from him. What do you think he said? ‘I received yourpicture,’ he said, ‘and I confess I thought it was a joke that you had playedon me. I would not have given the cost of postage for the picture. I was halfafraid to show it to the gentleman who had spoken to me about it. Imagine mysurprise when he said it was a masterpiece, and offered me thirty thousandfrancs. I dare say he would have paid more, but frankly I was so taken abackthat I lost my head; I accepted the offer before I was able to collectmyself.’”

Then Monsieur Cohen said an admirable thing.

“I wish that poor Strickland had been still alive. I wonder what he would havesaid when I gave him twenty-nine thousand eight hundred francs for hispicture.”

Chapter XLIX

I lived at the Hôtel de la Fleur, and Mrs. Johnson, the proprietress, had a sadstory to tell of lost opportunity. After Strickland’s death certain of hiseffects were sold by auction in the market-place at Papeete, and she went to itherself because there was among the truck an American stove she wanted. Shepaid twenty-seven francs for it.

“There were a dozen pictures,” she told me, “but they were unframed, and nobodywanted them. Some of them sold for as much as ten francs, but mostly they wentfor five or six. Just think, if I had bought them I should be a rich womannow.”

But Tiaré Johnson would never under any circ*mstances have been rich. She couldnot keep money. The daughter of a native and an English sea-captain settled inTahiti, when I knew her she was a woman of fifty, who looked older, and ofenormous proportions. Tall and extremely stout, she would have been of imposingpresence if the great good-nature of her face had not made it impossible forher to express anything but kindliness. Her arms were like legs of mutton, herbreasts like giant cabbages; her face, broad and fleshy, gave you an impressionof almost indecent nakedness, and vast chin succeeded to vast chin. I do notknow how many of them there were. They fell away voluminously into thecapaciousness of her bosom. She was dressed usually in a pink Mother Hubbard,and she wore all day long a large straw hat. But when she let down her hair,which she did now and then, for she was vain of it, you saw that it was longand dark and curly; and her eyes had remained young and vivacious. Her laughterwas the most catching I ever heard; it would begin, a low peal in her throat,and would grow louder and louder till her whole vast body shook. She lovedthree things—a joke, a glass of wine, and a handsome man. To have known her isa privilege.

She was the best cook on the island, and she adored good food. From morningtill night you saw her sitting on a low chair in the kitchen, surrounded by aChinese cook and two or three native girls, giving her orders, chattingsociably with all and sundry, and tasting the savoury messes she devised. Whenshe wished to do honour to a friend she cooked the dinner with her own hands.Hospitality was a passion with her, and there was no one on the island who needgo without a dinner when there was anything to eat at the Hôtel de la Fleur.She never turned her customers out of her house because they did not pay theirbills. She always hoped they would pay when they could. There was one man therewho had fallen on adversity, and to him she had given board and lodging forseveral months. When the Chinese laundryman refused to wash for him withoutpayment she had sent his things to be washed with hers. She could not allow thepoor fellow to go about in a dirty shirt, she said, and since he was a man, andmen must smoke, she gave him a franc a day for cigarettes. She used him withthe same affability as those of her clients who paid their bills once a week.

Age and obesity had made her inapt for love, but she took a keen interest inthe amatory affairs of the young. She looked upon venery as the naturaloccupation for men and women, and was ever ready with precept and example fromher own wide experience.

“I was not fifteen when my father found that I had a lover,” she said. “He wasthird mate on the Tropic Bird. A good-looking boy.”

She sighed a little. They say a woman always remembers her first lover withaffection; but perhaps she does not always remember him.

“My father was a sensible man.”

“What did he do?” I asked.

“He thrashed me within an inch of my life, and then he made me marry CaptainJohnson. I did not mind. He was older, of course, but he was good-looking too.”

Tiaré—her father had called her by the name of the white, scented flower which,they tell you, if you have once smelt, will always draw you back to Tahiti inthe end, however far you may have roamed—Tiaré remembered Strickland very well.

“He used to come here sometimes, and I used to see him walking about Papeete. Iwas sorry for him, he was so thin, and he never had any money. When I heard hewas in town, I used to send a boy to find him and make him come to dinner withme. I got him a job once or twice, but he couldn’t stick to anything. After alittle while he wanted to get back to the bush, and one morning he would begone.”

Strickland reached Tahiti about six months after he left Marseilles. He workedhis passage on a sailing vessel that was making the trip from Auckland to SanFrancisco, and he arrived with a box of paints, an easel, and a dozen canvases.He had a few pounds in his pocket, for he had found work in Sydney, and he tooka small room in a native house outside the town. I think the moment he reachedTahiti he felt himself at home. Tiaré told me that he said to her once:

“I’d been scrubbing the deck, and all at once a chap said to me: ‘Why, there itis.’ And I looked up and I saw the outline of the island. I knew right awaythat there was the place I’d been looking for all my life. Then we came near,and I seemed to recognise it. Sometimes when I walk about it all seemsfamiliar. I could swear I’ve lived here before.”

“Sometimes it takes them like that,” said Tiaré. “I’ve known men come on shorefor a few hours while their ship was taking in cargo, and never go back. AndI’ve known men who came here to be in an office for a year, and they cursed theplace, and when they went away they took their dying oath they’d hangthemselves before they came back again, and in six months you’d see them landonce more, and they’d tell you they couldn’t live anywhere else.”

Chapter L

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has castthem amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a homethey know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes theyhave known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played,remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens amongtheir kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known.Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in thesearch for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhapssome deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestorsleft in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place towhich he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and hewill settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has neverknown, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last hefinds rest.

I told Tiaré the story of a man I had known at St. Thomas’s Hospital. He was aJew named Abraham, a blond, rather stout young man, shy and very unassuming;but he had remarkable gifts. He entered the hospital with a scholarship, andduring the five years of the curriculum gained every prize that was open tohim. He was made house-physician and house-surgeon. His brilliance was allowedby all. Finally he was elected to a position on the staff, and his career wasassured. So far as human things can be predicted, it was certain that he wouldrise to the greatest heights of his profession. Honours and wealth awaited him.Before he entered upon his new duties he wished to take a holiday, and, havingno private means, he went as surgeon on a tramp steamer to the Levant. It didnot generally carry a doctor, but one of the senior surgeons at the hospitalknew a director of the line, and Abraham was taken as a favour.

In a few weeks the authorities received his resignation of the coveted positionon the staff. It created profound astonishment, and wild rumours were current.Whenever a man does anything unexpected, his fellows ascribe it to the mostdiscreditable motives. But there was a man ready to step into Abraham’s shoes,and Abraham was forgotten. Nothing more was heard of him. He vanished.

It was perhaps ten years later that one morning on board ship, about to land atAlexandria, I was bidden to line up with the other passengers for the doctor’sexamination. The doctor was a stout man in shabby clothes, and when he took offhis hat I noticed that he was very bald. I had an idea that I had seen himbefore. Suddenly I remembered.

“Abraham,” I said.

He turned to me with a puzzled look, and then, recognizing me, seized my hand.After expressions of surprise on either side, hearing that I meant to spend thenight in Alexandria, he asked me to dine with him at the English Club. When wemet again I declared my astonishment at finding him there. It was a very modestposition that he occupied, and there was about him an air of straitenedcirc*mstance. Then he told me his story. When he set out on his holiday in theMediterranean he had every intention of returning to London and his appointmentat St. Thomas’s. One morning the tramp docked at Alexandria, and from the deckhe looked at the city, white in the sunlight, and the crowd on the wharf; hesaw the natives in their shabby gabardines, the blacks from the Soudan, thenoisy throng of Greeks and Italians, the grave Turks in tarbooshes, thesunshine and the blue sky; and something happened to him. He could not describeit. It was like a thunder-clap, he said, and then, dissatisfied with this, hesaid it was like a revelation. Something seemed to twist his heart, andsuddenly he felt an exultation, a sense of wonderful freedom. He felt himselfat home, and he made up his mind there and then, in a minute, that he wouldlive the rest of his life in Alexandria. He had no great difficulty in leavingthe ship, and in twenty-four hours, with all his belongings, he was on shore.

“The Captain must have thought you as mad as a hatter,” I smiled.

“I didn’t care what anybody thought. It wasn’t I that acted, but somethingstronger within me. I thought I would go to a little Greek hotel, while Ilooked about, and I felt I knew where to find one. And do you know, I walkedstraight there, and when I saw it, I recognised it at once.”

“Had you been to Alexandria before?”

“No; I’d never been out of England in my life.”

Presently he entered the Government service, and there he had been ever since.

“Have you never regretted it?”

“Never, not for a minute. I earn just enough to live upon, and I’m satisfied. Iask nothing more than to remain as I am till I die. I’ve had a wonderful life.”

I left Alexandria next day, and I forgot about Abraham till a little while ago,when I was dining with another old friend in the profession, Alec Carmichael,who was in England on short leave. I ran across him in the street andcongratulated him on the knighthood with which his eminent services during thewar had been rewarded. We arranged to spend an evening together for old time’ssake, and when I agreed to dine with him, he proposed that he should ask nobodyelse, so that we could chat without interruption. He had a beautiful old housein Queen Anne Street, and being a man of taste he had furnished it admirably.On the walls of the dining-room I saw a charming Bellotto, and there was a pairof Zoffanys that I envied. When his wife, a tall, lovely creature in cloth ofgold, had left us, I remarked laughingly on the change in his presentcirc*mstances from those when we had both been medical students. We had lookedupon it then as an extravagance to dine in a shabby Italian restaurant in theWestminster Bridge Road. Now Alec Carmichael was on the staff of half a dozenhospitals. I should think he earned ten thousand a year, and his knighthood wasbut the first of the honours which must inevitably fall to his lot.

“I’ve done pretty well,” he said, “but the strange thing is that I owe it allto one piece of luck.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, do you remember Abraham? He was the man who had the future. When we werestudents he beat me all along the line. He got the prizes and the scholarshipsthat I went in for. I always played second fiddle to him. If he’d kept on he’dbe in the position I’m in now. That man had a genius for surgery. No one had alook in with him. When he was appointed Registrar at Thomas’s I hadn’t a chanceof getting on the staff. I should have had to become a G.P., and you know whatlikelihood there is for a G.P. ever to get out of the common rut. But Abrahamfell out, and I got the job. That gave me my opportunity.”

“I dare say that’s true.”

“It was just luck. I suppose there was some kink in Abraham. Poor devil, he’sgone to the dogs altogether. He’s got some twopenny-halfpenny job in themedical at Alexandria—sanitary officer or something like that. I’m told helives with an ugly old Greek woman and has half a dozen scrofulous kids. Thefact is, I suppose, that it’s not enough to have brains. The thing that countsis character. Abraham hadn’t got character.”

Character? I should have thought it needed a good deal of character to throw upa career after half an hour’s meditation, because you saw in another way ofliving a more intense significance. And it required still more character neverto regret the sudden step. But I said nothing, and Alec Carmichael proceededreflectively:

“Of course it would be hypocritical for me to pretend that I regret whatAbraham did. After all, I’ve scored by it.” He puffed luxuriously at the longCorona he was smoking. “But if I weren’t personally concerned I should be sorryat the waste. It seems a rotten thing that a man should make such a hash oflife.”

I wondered if Abraham really had made a hash of life. Is to do what you mostwant, to live under the conditions that please you, in peace with yourself, tomake a hash of life; and is it success to be an eminent surgeon with tenthousand a year and a beautiful wife? I suppose it depends on what meaning youattach to life, the claim which you acknowledge to society, and the claim ofthe individual. But again I held my tongue, for who am I to argue with aknight?

Chapter LI

Tiaré, when I told her this story, praised my prudence, and for a few minuteswe worked in silence, for we were shelling peas. Then her eyes, always alertfor the affairs of her kitchen, fell on some action of the Chinese cook whicharoused her violent disapproval. She turned on him with a torrent of abuse. TheChink was not backward to defend himself, and a very lively quarrel ensued.They spoke in the native language, of which I had learnt but half a dozenwords, and it sounded as though the world would shortly come to an end; butpresently peace was restored and Tiaré gave the cook a cigarette. They bothsmoked comfortably.

“Do you know, it was I who found him his wife?” said Tiaré suddenly, with asmile that spread all over her immense face.

“The cook?”

“No, Strickland.”

“But he had one already.”

“That is what he said, but I told him she was in England, and England is at theother end of the world.”

“True,” I replied.

“He would come to Papeete every two or three months, when he wanted paints ortobacco or money, and then he would wander about like a lost dog. I was sorryfor him. I had a girl here then called Ata to do the rooms; she was some sortof a relation of mine, and her father and mother were dead, so I had her tolive with me. Strickland used to come here now and then to have a square mealor to play chess with one of the boys. I noticed that she looked at him when hecame, and I asked her if she liked him. She said she liked him well enough. Youknow what these girls are; they’re always pleased to go with a white man.”

“Was she a native?” I asked.

“Yes; she hadn’t a drop of white blood in her. Well, after I’d talked to her Isent for Strickland, and I said to him: ‘Strickland, it’s time for you tosettle down. A man of your age shouldn’t go playing about with the girls downat the front. They’re bad lots, and you’ll come to no good with them. You’vegot no money, and you can never keep a job for more than a month or two. No onewill employ you now. You say you can always live in the bush with one or otherof the natives, and they’re glad to have you because you’re a white man, butit’s not decent for a white man. Now, listen to me, Strickland.’”

Tiaré mingled French with English in her conversation, for she used bothlanguages with equal facility. She spoke them with a singing accent which wasnot unpleasing. You felt that a bird would speak in these tones if it couldspeak English.

“‘Now, what do you say to marrying Ata? She’s a good girl and she’s onlyseventeen. She’s never been promiscuous like some of these girls—a captain or afirst mate, yes, but she’s never been touched by a native. Elle se respecte,vois-tu. The purser of the Oahu told me last journey that he hadn’tmet a nicer girl in the islands. It’s time she settled down too, and besides,the captains and the first mates like a change now and then. I don’t keep mygirls too long. She has a bit of property down by Taravao, just before you cometo the peninsula, and with copra at the price it is now you could live quitecomfortably. There’s a house, and you’d have all the time you wanted for yourpainting. What do you say to it?”

Tiaré paused to take breath.

“It was then he told me of his wife in England. ‘My poor Strickland,’ I said tohim, ‘they’ve all got a wife somewhere; that is generally why they come to theislands. Ata is a sensible girl, and she doesn’t expect any ceremony before theMayor. She’s a Protestant, and you know they don’t look upon these things likethe Catholics.’

“Then he said: ‘But what does Ata say to it?’ ‘It appears that she has abéguin for you,’ I said. ‘She’s willing if you are. Shall I call her?’He chuckled in a funny, dry way he had, and I called her. She knew what I wastalking about, the hussy, and I saw her out of the corner of my eyes listeningwith all her ears, while she pretended to iron a blouse that she had beenwashing for me. She came. She was laughing, but I could see that she was alittle shy, and Strickland looked at her without speaking.”

“Was she pretty?” I asked.

“Not bad. But you must have seen pictures of her. He painted her over and overagain, sometimes with a pareo on and sometimes with nothing at all. Yes,she was pretty enough. And she knew how to cook. I taught her myself. I sawStrickland was thinking of it, so I said to him: ‘I’ve given her good wages andshe’s saved them, and the captains and the first mates she’s known have givenher a little something now and then. She’s saved several hundred francs.’

“He pulled his great red beard and smiled.

“‘Well, Ata,’ he said, ‘do you fancy me for a husband.’

“She did not say anything, but just giggled.

“‘But I tell you, my poor Strickland, the girl has a béguin for you,’ Isaid.

“I shall beat you,’ he said, looking at her.

“‘How else should I know you loved me,’ she answered.”

Tiaré broke off her narrative and addressed herself to me reflectively.

“My first husband, Captain Johnson, used to thrash me regularly. He was a man.He was handsome, six foot three, and when he was drunk there was no holdinghim. I would be black and blue all over for days at a time. Oh, I cried when hedied. I thought I should never get over it. But it wasn’t till I married GeorgeRainey that I knew what I’d lost. You can never tell what a man is like tillyou live with him. I’ve never been so deceived in a man as I was in GeorgeRainey. He was a fine, upstanding fellow too. He was nearly as tall as CaptainJohnson, and he looked strong enough. But it was all on the surface. He neverdrank. He never raised his hand to me. He might have been a missionary. I madelove with the officers of every ship that touched the island, and George Raineynever saw anything. At last I was disgusted with him, and I got a divorce. Whatwas the good of a husband like that? It’s a terrible thing the way some mentreat women.”

I condoled with Tiaré, and remarked feelingly that men were deceivers ever,then asked her to go on with her story of Strickland.

“‘Well,’ I said to him, ‘there’s no hurry about it. Take your time and think itover. Ata has a very nice room in the annexe. Live with her for a month, andsee how you like her. You can have your meals here. And at the end of a month,if you decide you want to marry her, you can just go and settle down on herproperty.’

“Well, he agreed to that. Ata continued to do the housework, and I gave him hismeals as I said I would. I taught Ata to make one or two dishes I knew he wasfond of. He did not paint much. He wandered about the hills and bathed in thestream. And he sat about the front looking at the lagoon, and at sunset hewould go down and look at Murea. He used to go fishing on the reef. He loved tomoon about the harbour talking to the natives. He was a nice, quiet fellow. Andevery evening after dinner he would go down to the annexe with Ata. I saw hewas longing to get away to the bush, and at the end of the month I asked himwhat he intended to do. He said if Ata was willing to go, he was willing to gowith her. So I gave them a wedding dinner. I cooked it with my own hands. Igave them a pea soup and lobster à la portugaise, and a curry, and acocoa-nut salad—you’ve never had one of my cocoa-nut salads, have you? I mustmake you one before you go—and then I made them an ice. We had all thechampagne we could drink and liqueurs to follow. Oh, I’d made up my mind to dothings well. And afterwards we danced in the drawing-room. I was not so fat,then, and I always loved dancing.”

The drawing-room at the Hôtel de la Fleur was a small room, with a cottagepiano, and a suite of mahogany furniture, covered in stamped velvet, neatlyarranged around the walls. On round tables were photograph albums, and on thewalls enlarged photographs of Tiaré and her first husband, Captain Johnson.Still, though Tiaré was old and fat, on occasion we rolled back the Brusselscarpet, brought in the maids and one or two friends of Tiaré’s, and danced,though now to the wheezy music of a gramaphone. On the verandah the air wasscented with the heavy perfume of the tiare, and overhead the Southern Crossshone in a cloudless sky.

Tiaré smiled indulgently as she remembered the gaiety of a time long passed.

“We kept it up till three, and when we went to bed I don’t think anyone wasvery sober. I had told them they could have my trap to take them as far as theroad went, because after that they had a long walk. Ata’s property was rightaway in a fold of the mountain. They started at dawn, and the boy I sent withthem didn’t come back till next day.

“Yes, that’s how Strickland was married.”

Chapter LII

I suppose the next three years were the happiest of Strickland’s life. Ata’shouse stood about eight kilometres from the road that runs round the island,and you went to it along a winding pathway shaded by the luxuriant trees of thetropics. It was a bungalow of unpainted wood, consisting of two small rooms,and outside was a small shed that served as a kitchen. There was no furnitureexcept the mats they used as beds, and a rocking-chair, which stood on theverandah. Bananas with their great ragged leaves, like the tattered habilimentsof an empress in adversity, grew close up to the house. There was a tree justbehind which bore alligator pears, and all about were the cocoa-nuts which gavethe land its revenue. Ata’s father had planted crotons round his property, andthey grew in coloured profusion, gay and brilliant; they fenced the land withflame. A mango grew in front of the house, and at the edge of the clearing weretwo flamboyants, twin trees, that challenged the gold of the cocoa-nuts withtheir scarlet flowers.

Here Strickland lived, coming seldom to Papeete, on the produce of the land.There was a little stream that ran not far away, in which he bathed, and downthis on occasion would come a shoal of fish. Then the natives would assemblewith spears, and with much shouting would transfix the great startled things asthey hurried down to the sea. Sometimes Strickland would go down to the reef,and come back with a basket of small, coloured fish that Ata would fry incocoa-nut oil, or with a lobster; and sometimes she would make a savoury dishof the great land-crabs that scuttled away under your feet. Up the mountainwere wild-orange trees, and now and then Ata would go with two or three womenfrom the village and return laden with the green, sweet, luscious fruit. Thenthe cocoa-nuts would be ripe for picking, and her cousins (like all thenatives, Ata had a host of relatives) would swarm up the trees and throw downthe big ripe nuts. They split them open and put them in the sun to dry. Thenthey cut out the copra and put it into sacks, and the women would carry it downto the trader at the village by the lagoon, and he would give in exchange forit rice and soap and tinned meat and a little money. Sometimes there would be afeast in the neighbourhood, and a pig would be killed. Then they would go andeat themselves sick, and dance, and sing hymns.

But the house was a long way from the village, and the Tahitians are lazy. Theylove to travel and they love to gossip, but they do not care to walk, and forweeks at a time Strickland and Ata lived alone. He painted and he read, and inthe evening, when it was dark, they sat together on the verandah, smoking andlooking at the night. Then Ata had a baby, and the old woman who came up tohelp her through her trouble stayed on. Presently the granddaughter of the oldwoman came to stay with her, and then a youth appeared—no one quite knew wherefrom or to whom he belonged—but he settled down with them in a happy-go-luckyway, and they all lived together.

Chapter LIII

Tenez, voilà le Capitaine Brunot,” said Tiaré, one day when I wasfitting together what she could tell me of Strickland. “He knew Stricklandwell; he visited him at his house.”

I saw a middle-aged Frenchman with a big black beard, streaked with gray, asunburned face, and large, shining eyes. He was dressed in a neat suit ofducks. I had noticed him at luncheon, and Ah Lin, the Chinese boy, told me hehad come from the Paumotus on the boat that had that day arrived. Tiaréintroduced me to him, and he handed me his card, a large card on which wasprinted René Brunot, and underneath, Capitaine au Long Cours. Wewere sitting on a little verandah outside the kitchen, and Tiaré was cuttingout a dress that she was making for one of the girls about the house. He satdown with us.

“Yes; I knew Strickland well,” he said. “I am very fond of chess, and he wasalways glad of a game. I come to Tahiti three or four times a year for mybusiness, and when he was at Papeete he would come here and we would play. Whenhe married”—Captain Brunot smiled and shrugged his shoulders—“enfin,when he went to live with the girl that Tiaré gave him, he asked me to go andsee him. I was one of the guests at the wedding feast.” He looked at Tiaré, andthey both laughed. “He did not come much to Papeete after that, and about ayear later it chanced that I had to go to that part of the island for I forgotwhat business, and when I had finished it I said to myself: ‘Voyons, whyshould I not go and see that poor Strickland?’ I asked one or two natives ifthey knew anything about him, and I discovered that he lived not more than fivekilometres from where I was. So I went. I shall never forget the impression myvisit made on me. I live on an atoll, a low island, it is a strip of landsurrounding a lagoon, and its beauty is the beauty of the sea and sky and thevaried colour of the lagoon and the grace of the cocoa-nut trees; but the placewhere Strickland lived had the beauty of the Garden of Eden. Ah, I wish I couldmake you see the enchantment of that spot, a corner hidden away from all theworld, with the blue sky overhead and the rich, luxuriant trees. It was a feastof colour. And it was fragrant and cool. Words cannot describe that paradise.And here he lived, unmindful of the world and by the world forgotten. I supposeto European eyes it would have seemed astonishingly sordid. The house wasdilapidated and none too clean. Three or four natives were lying on theverandah. You know how natives love to herd together. There was a young manlying full length, smoking a cigarette, and he wore nothing but apareo.”

The pareo is a long strip of trade cotton, red or blue, stamped with awhite pattern. It is worn round the waist and hangs to the knees.

“A girl of fifteen, perhaps, was plaiting pandanus-leaf to make a hat, and anold woman was sitting on her haunches smoking a pipe. Then I saw Ata. She wassuckling a new-born child, and another child, stark naked, was playing at herfeet. When she saw me she called out to Strickland, and he came to the door.He, too, wore nothing but a pareo. He was an extraordinary figure, withhis red beard and matted hair, and his great hairy chest. His feet were hornyand scarred, so that I knew he went always bare foot. He had gone native with avengeance. He seemed pleased to see me, and told Ata to kill a chicken for ourdinner. He took me into the house to show me the picture he was at work on whenI came in. In one corner of the room was the bed, and in the middle was aneasel with the canvas upon it. Because I was sorry for him, I had bought acouple of his pictures for small sums, and I had sent others to friends of minein France. And though I had bought them out of compassion, after living withthem I began to like them. Indeed, I found a strange beauty in them. Everyonethought I was mad, but it turns out that I was right. I was his first admirerin the islands.”

He smiled maliciously at Tiaré, and with lamentations she told us again thestory of how at the sale of Strickland’s effects she had neglected thepictures, but bought an American stove for twenty-seven francs.

“Have you the pictures still?” I asked.

“Yes; I am keeping them till my daughter is of marriageable age, and then Ishall sell them. They will be her dot.” Then he went on with the accountof his visit to Strickland.

“I shall never forget the evening I spent with him. I had not intended to staymore than an hour, but he insisted that I should spend the night. I hesitated,for I confess I did not much like the look of the mats on which he proposedthat I should sleep; but I shrugged my shoulders. When I was building my housein the Paumotus I had slept out for weeks on a harder bed than that, withnothing to shelter me but wild shrubs; and as for vermin, my tough skin shouldbe proof against their malice.

“We went down to the stream to bathe while Ata was preparing the dinner, andafter we had eaten it we sat on the verandah. We smoked and chatted. The youngman had a concertina, and he played the tunes popular on the music-halls adozen years before. They sounded strangely in the tropical night thousands ofmiles from civilisation. I asked Strickland if it did not irk him to live inthat promiscuity. No, he said; he liked to have his models under his hand.Presently, after loud yawning, the natives went away to sleep, and Stricklandand I were left alone. I cannot describe to you the intense silence of thenight. On my island in the Paumotus there is never at night the completestillness that there was here. There is the rustle of the myriad animals on thebeach, all the little shelled things that crawl about ceaselessly, and there isthe noisy scurrying of the land-crabs. Now and then in the lagoon you hear theleaping of a fish, and sometimes a hurried noisy splashing as a brown sharksends all the other fish scampering for their lives. And above all, ceaselesslike time, is the dull roar of the breakers on the reef. But here there was nota sound, and the air was scented with the white flowers of the night. It was anight so beautiful that your soul seemed hardly able to bear the prison of thebody. You felt that it was ready to be wafted away on the immaterial air, anddeath bore all the aspect of a beloved friend.”

Tiaré sighed.

“Ah, I wish I were fifteen again.”

Then she caught sight of a cat trying to get at a dish of prawns on the kitchentable, and with a dexterous gesture and a lively volley of abuse flung a bookat its scampering tail.

“I asked him if he was happy with Ata.

“‘She leaves me alone,’ he said. ‘She cooks my food and looks after her babies.She does what I tell her. She gives me what I want from a woman.’

“‘And do you never regret Europe? Do you not yearn sometimes for the light ofthe streets in Paris or London, the companionship of your friends, and equals,que sais-je? for theatres and newspapers, and the rumble of omnibuses onthe cobbled pavements?’

“For a long time he was silent. Then he said:

“‘I shall stay here till I die.’

“‘But are you never bored or lonely?’ I asked.

“He chuckled.

“‘Mon pauvre ami,’ he said. ‘It is evident that you do not know what itis to be an artist.’”

Capitaine Brunot turned to me with a gentle smile, and there was a wonderfullook in his dark, kind eyes.

“He did me an injustice, for I too know what it is to have dreams. I have myvisions too. In my way I also am an artist.”

We were all silent for a while, and Tiaré fished out of her capacious pocket ahandful of cigarettes. She handed one to each of us, and we all three smoked.At last she said:

“Since ce monsieur is interested in Strickland, why do you not take himto see Dr. Coutras? He can tell him something about his illness and death.”

Volontiers,” said the Captain, looking at me.

I thanked him, and he looked at his watch.

“It is past six o’clock. We should find him at home if you care to come now.”

I got up without further ado, and we walked along the road that led to thedoctor’s house. He lived out of the town, but the Hôtel de la Fleur was on theedge of it, and we were quickly in the country. The broad road was shaded bypepper-trees, and on each side were the plantations, cocoa-nut and vanilla. Thepirate birds were screeching among the leaves of the palms. We came to a stonebridge over a shallow river, and we stopped for a few minutes to see the nativeboys bathing. They chased one another with shrill cries and laughter, and theirbodies, brown and wet, gleamed in the sunlight.

Chapter LIV

As we walked along I reflected on a circ*mstance which all that I had latelyheard about Strickland forced on my attention. Here, on this remote island, heseemed to have aroused none of the detestation with which he was regarded athome, but compassion rather; and his vagaries were accepted with tolerance. Tothese people, native and European, he was a queer fish, but they were used toqueer fish, and they took him for granted; the world was full of odd persons,who did odd things; and perhaps they knew that a man is not what he wants tobe, but what he must be. In England and France he was the square peg in theround hole, but here the holes were any sort of shape, and no sort of peg wasquite amiss. I do not think he was any gentler here, less selfish or lessbrutal, but the circ*mstances were more favourable. If he had spent his lifeamid these surroundings he might have passed for no worse a man than another.He received here what he neither expected nor wanted among his ownpeople—sympathy.

I tried to tell Captain Brunot something of the astonishment with which thisfilled me, and for a little while he did not answer.

“It is not strange that I, at all events, should have had sympathy for him,” hesaid at last, “for, though perhaps neither of us knew it, we were both aimingat the same thing.”

“What on earth can it be that two people so dissimilar as you and Stricklandcould aim at?” I asked, smiling.

“Beauty.”

“A large order,” I murmured.

“Do you know how men can be so obsessed by love that they are deaf and blind toeverything else in the world? They are as little their own masters as theslaves chained to the benches of a galley. The passion that held Strickland inbondage was no less tyrannical than love.”

“How strange that you should say that!” I answered. “For long ago I had theidea that he was possessed of a devil.”

“And the passion that held Strickland was a passion to create beauty. It gavehim no peace. It urged him hither and thither. He was eternally a pilgrim,haunted by a divine nostalgia, and the demon within him was ruthless. There aremen whose desire for truth is so great that to attain it they will shatter thevery foundation of their world. Of such was Strickland, only beauty with himtook the place of truth. I could only feel for him a profound compassion.”

“That is strange also. A man whom he had deeply wronged told me that he felt agreat pity for him.” I was silent for a moment. “I wonder if there you havefound the explanation of a character which has always seemed to meinexplicable. How did you hit on it?”

He turned to me with a smile.

“Did I not tell you that I, too, in my way was an artist? I realised in myselfthe same desire as animated him. But whereas his medium was paint, mine hasbeen life.”

Then Captain Brunot told me a story which I must repeat, since, if only by wayof contrast, it adds something to my impression of Strickland. It has also tomy mind a beauty of its own.

Captain Brunot was a Breton, and had been in the French Navy. He left it on hismarriage, and settled down on a small property he had near Quimper to live forthe rest of his days in peace; but the failure of an attorney left him suddenlypenniless, and neither he nor his wife was willing to live in penury where theyhad enjoyed consideration. During his sea faring days he had cruised the SouthSeas, and he determined now to seek his fortune there. He spent some months inPapeete to make his plans and gain experience; then, on money borrowed from afriend in France, he bought an island in the Paumotus. It was a ring of landround a deep lagoon, uninhabited, and covered only with scrub and wild guava.With the intrepid woman who was his wife, and a few natives, he landed there,and set about building a house, and clearing the scrub so that he could plantcocoa-nuts. That was twenty years before, and now what had been a barren islandwas a garden.

“It was hard and anxious work at first, and we worked strenuously, both of us.Every day I was up at dawn, clearing, planting, working on my house, and atnight when I threw myself on my bed it was to sleep like a log till morning. Mywife worked as hard as I did. Then children were born to us, first a son andthen a daughter. My wife and I have taught them all they know. We had a pianosent out from France, and she has taught them to play and to speak English, andI have taught them Latin and mathematics, and we read history together. Theycan sail a boat. They can swim as well as the natives. There is nothing aboutthe land of which they are ignorant. Our trees have prospered, and there isshell on my reef. I have come to Tahiti now to buy a schooner. I can get enoughshell to make it worth while to fish for it, and, who knows? I may find pearls.I have made something where there was nothing. I too have made beauty. Ah, youdo not know what it is to look at those tall, healthy trees and think thatevery one I planted myself.”

“Let me ask you the question that you asked Strickland. Do you never regretFrance and your old home in Brittany?”

“Some day, when my daughter is married and my son has a wife and is able totake my place on the island, we shall go back and finish our days in the oldhouse in which I was born.”

“You will look back on a happy life,” I said.

Evidemment, it is not exciting on my island, and we are very far fromthe world—imagine, it takes me four days to come to Tahiti—but we are happythere. It is given to few men to attempt a work and to achieve it. Our life issimple and innocent. We are untouched by ambition, and what pride we have isdue only to our contemplation of the work of our hands. Malice cannot touch us,nor envy attack. Ah, mon cher monsieur, they talk of the blessedness oflabour, and it is a meaningless phrase, but to me it has the most intensesignificance. I am a happy man.”

“I am sure you deserve to be,” I smiled.

“I wish I could think so. I do not know how I have deserved to have a wife whowas the perfect friend and helpmate, the perfect mistress and the perfectmother.”

I reflected for a while on the life that the Captain suggested to myimagination.

“It is obvious that to lead such an existence and make so great a success ofit, you must both have needed a strong will and a determined character.”

“Perhaps; but without one other factor we could have achieved nothing.”

“And what was that?”

He stopped, somewhat dramatically, and stretched out his arm.

“Belief in God. Without that we should have been lost.”

Then we arrived at the house of Dr. Coutras.

Chapter LV

Mr. Coutras was an old Frenchman of great stature and exceeding bulk. His bodywas shaped like a huge duck’s egg; and his eyes, sharp, blue, and good-natured,rested now and then with self-satisfaction on his enormous paunch. Hiscomplexion was florid and his hair white. He was a man to attract immediatesympathy. He received us in a room that might have been in a house in aprovincial town in France, and the one or two Polynesian curios had an oddlook. He took my hand in both of his—they were huge—and gave me a hearty look,in which, however, was great shrewdness. When he shook hands with CapitaineBrunot he enquired politely after Madame et les enfants. For someminutes there was an exchange of courtesies and some local gossip about theisland, the prospects of copra and the vanilla crop; then we came to the objectof my visit.

I shall not tell what Dr. Coutras related to me in his words, but in my own,for I cannot hope to give at second hand any impression of his vivaciousdelivery. He had a deep, resonant voice, fitted to his massive frame, and akeen sense of the dramatic. To listen to him was, as the phrase goes, as goodas a play; and much better than most.

It appears that Dr. Coutras had gone one day to Taravao in order to see an oldchiefess who was ill, and he gave a vivid picture of the obese old lady, lyingin a huge bed, smoking cigarettes, and surrounded by a crowd of dark-skinnedretainers. When he had seen her he was taken into another room and givendinner—raw fish, fried bananas, and chicken—que sais-je, the typicaldinner of the indigène—and while he was eating it he saw a young girlbeing driven away from the door in tears. He thought nothing of it, but when hewent out to get into his trap and drive home, he saw her again, standing alittle way off; she looked at him with a woebegone air, and tears streamed downher cheeks. He asked someone what was wrong with her, and was told that she hadcome down from the hills to ask him to visit a white man who was sick. They hadtold her that the doctor could not be disturbed. He called her, and himselfasked what she wanted. She told him that Ata had sent her, she who used to beat the Hôtel de la Fleur, and that the Red One was ill. She thrust into hishand a crumpled piece of newspaper, and when he opened it he found in it ahundred-franc note.

“Who is the Red One?” he asked of one of the bystanders.

He was told that that was what they called the Englishman, a painter, who livedwith Ata up in the valley seven kilometres from where they were. He recognisedStrickland by the description. But it was necessary to walk. It was impossiblefor him to go; that was why they had sent the girl away.

“I confess,” said the doctor, turning to me, “that I hesitated. I did notrelish fourteen kilometres over a bad pathway, and there was no chance that Icould get back to Papeete that night. Besides, Strickland was not sympatheticto me. He was an idle, useless scoundrel, who preferred to live with a nativewoman rather than work for his living like the rest of us. Mon Dieu, howwas I to know that one day the world would come to the conclusion that he hadgenius? I asked the girl if he was not well enough to have come down to see me.I asked her what she thought was the matter with him. She would not answer. Ipressed her, angrily perhaps, but she looked down on the ground and began tocry. Then I shrugged my shoulders; after all, perhaps it was my duty to go, andin a very bad temper I bade her lead the way.”

His temper was certainly no better when he arrived, perspiring freely andthirsty. Ata was on the look-out for him, and came a little way along the pathto meet him.

“Before I see anyone give me something to drink or I shall die of thirst,” hecried out. “Pour l’amour de Dieu, get me a cocoa-nut.”

She called out, and a boy came running along. He swarmed up a tree, andpresently threw down a ripe nut. Ata pierced a hole in it, and the doctor tooka long, refreshing draught. Then he rolled himself a cigarette and felt in abetter humour.

“Now, where is the Red One?” he asked.

“He is in the house, painting. I have not told him you were coming. Go in andsee him.”

“But what does he complain of? If he is well enough to paint, he is well enoughto have come down to Taravao and save me this confounded walk. I presume mytime is no less valuable than his.”

Ata did not speak, but with the boy followed him to the house. The girl who hadbrought him was by this time sitting on the verandah, and here was lying an oldwoman, with her back to the wall, making native cigarettes. Ata pointed to thedoor. The doctor, wondering irritably why they behaved so strangely, entered,and there found Strickland cleaning his palette. There was a picture on theeasel. Strickland, clad only in a pareo, was standing with his back tothe door, but he turned round when he heard the sound of boots. He gave thedoctor a look of vexation. He was surprised to see him, and resented theintrusion. But the doctor gave a gasp, he was rooted to the floor, and hestared with all his eyes. This was not what he expected. He was seized withhorror.

“You enter without ceremony,” said Strickland. “What can I do for you?”

The doctor recovered himself, but it required quite an effort for him to findhis voice. All his irritation was gone, and he felt—eh bien, oui, je ne lenie pas—he felt an overwhelming pity.

“I am Dr. Coutras. I was down at Taravao to see the chiefess, and Ata sent forme to see you.”

“She’s a damned fool. I have had a few aches and pains lately and a littlefever, but that’s nothing; it will pass off. Next time anyone went to Papeete Iwas going to send for some quinine.”

“Look at yourself in the glass.”

Strickland gave him a glance, smiled, and went over to a cheap mirror in alittle wooden frame, that hung on the wall.

“Well?”

“Do you not see a strange change in your face? Do you not see the thickening ofyour features and a look—how shall I describe it?—the books call it lion-faced.Mon pauvre ami, must I tell you that you have a terrible disease?”

“I?”

“When you look at yourself in the glass you see the typical appearance of theleper.”

“You are jesting,” said Strickland.

“I wish to God I were.”

“Do you intend to tell me that I have leprosy?”

“Unfortunately, there can be no doubt of it.”

Dr. Coutras had delivered sentence of death on many men, and he could neverovercome the horror with which it filled him. He felt always the furious hatredthat must seize a man condemned when he compared himself with the doctor, saneand healthy, who had the inestimable privilege of life. Strickland looked athim in silence. Nothing of emotion could be seen on his face, disfiguredalready by the loathsome disease.

“Do they know?” he asked at last, pointing to the persons on the verandah, nowsitting in unusual, unaccountable silence.

“These natives know the signs so well,” said the doctor. “They were afraid totell you.”

Strickland stepped to the door and looked out. There must have been somethingterrible in his face, for suddenly they all burst out into loud cries andlamentation. They lifted up their voices and they wept. Strickland did notspeak. After looking at them for a moment, he came back into the room.

“How long do you think I can last?”

“Who knows? Sometimes the disease continues for twenty years. It is a mercywhen it runs its course quickly.”

Strickland went to his easel and looked reflectively at the picture that stoodon it.

“You have had a long journey. It is fitting that the bearer of importanttidings should be rewarded. Take this picture. It means nothing to you now, butit may be that one day you will be glad to have it.”

Dr. Coutras protested that he needed no payment for his journey; he had alreadygiven back to Ata the hundred-franc note, but Strickland insisted that heshould take the picture. Then together they went out on the verandah. Thenatives were sobbing violently. “Be quiet, woman. Dry thy tears,” saidStrickland, addressing Ata. “There is no great harm. I shall leave thee verysoon.”

“They are not going to take thee away?” she cried.

At that time there was no rigid sequestration on the islands, and lepers, ifthey chose, were allowed to go free.

“I shall go up into the mountain,” said Strickland.

Then Ata stood up and faced him.

“Let the others go if they choose, but I will not leave thee. Thou art my manand I am thy woman. If thou leavest me I shall hang myself on the tree that isbehind the house. I swear it by God.”

There was something immensely forcible in the way she spoke. She was no longerthe meek, soft native girl, but a determined woman. She was extraordinarilytransformed.

“Why shouldst thou stay with me? Thou canst go back to Papeete, and thou wiltsoon find another white man. The old woman can take care of thy children, andTiaré will be glad to have thee back.”

“Thou art my man and I am thy woman. Whither thou goest I will go, too.”

For a moment Strickland’s fortitude was shaken, and a tear filled each of hiseyes and trickled slowly down his cheeks. Then he gave the sardonic smile whichwas usual with him.

“Women are strange little beasts,” he said to Dr. Coutras. “You can treat themlike dogs, you can beat them till your arm aches, and still they love you.” Heshrugged his shoulders. “Of course, it is one of the most absurd illusions ofChristianity that they have souls.”

“What is it that thou art saying to the doctor?” asked Ata suspiciously. “Thouwilt not go?”

“If it please thee I will stay, poor child.”

Ata flung herself on her knees before him, and clasped his legs with her armsand kissed them. Strickland looked at Dr. Coutras with a faint smile.

“In the end they get you, and you are helpless in their hands. White or brown,they are all the same.”

Dr. Coutras felt that it was absurd to offer expressions of regret in soterrible a disaster, and he took his leave. Strickland told Tané, the boy, tolead him to the village. Dr. Coutras paused for a moment, and then he addressedhimself to me.

“I did not like him, I have told you he was not sympathetic to me, but as Iwalked slowly down to Taravao I could not prevent an unwilling admiration forthe stoical courage which enabled him to bear perhaps the most dreadful ofhuman afflictions. When Tané left me I told him I would send some medicine thatmight be of service; but my hope was small that Strickland would consent totake it, and even smaller that, if he did, it would do him good. I gave the boya message for Ata that I would come whenever she sent for me. Life is hard, andNature takes sometimes a terrible delight in torturing her children. It waswith a heavy heart that I drove back to my comfortable home in Papeete.”

For a long time none of us spoke.

“But Ata did not send for me,” the doctor went on, at last, “and it chancedthat I did not go to that part of the island for a long time. I had no news ofStrickland. Once or twice I heard that Ata had been to Papeete to buy paintingmaterials, but I did not happen to see her. More than two years passed before Iwent to Taravao again, and then it was once more to see the old chiefess. Iasked them whether they had heard anything of Strickland. By now it was knowneverywhere that he had leprosy. First Tané, the boy, had left the house, andthen, a little time afterwards, the old woman and her grandchild. Stricklandand Ata were left alone with their babies. No one went near the plantation,for, as you know, the natives have a very lively horror of the disease, and inthe old days when it was discovered the sufferer was killed; but sometimes,when the village boys were scrambling about the hills, they would catch sightof the white man, with his great red beard, wandering about. They fled interror. Sometimes Ata would come down to the village at night and arouse thetrader, so that he might sell her various things of which she stood in need.She knew that the natives looked upon her with the same horrified aversion asthey looked upon Strickland, and she kept out of their way. Once some women,venturing nearer than usual to the plantation, saw her washing clothes in thebrook, and they threw stones at her. After that the trader was told to give herthe message that if she used the brook again men would come and burn down herhouse.”

“Brutes,” I said.

Mais non, mon cher monsieur, men are always the same. Fear makes themcruel.... I decided to see Strickland, and when I had finished with thechiefess asked for a boy to show me the way. But none would accompany me, and Iwas forced to find it alone.”

When Dr. Coutras arrived at the plantation he was seized with a feeling ofuneasiness. Though he was hot from walking, he shivered. There was somethinghostile in the air which made him hesitate, and he felt that invisible forcesbarred his way. Unseen hands seemed to draw him back. No one would go near nowto gather the cocoa-nuts, and they lay rotting on the ground. Everywhere wasdesolation. The bush was encroaching, and it looked as though very soon theprimeval forest would regain possession of that strip of land which had beensnatched from it at the cost of so much labour. He had the sensation that herewas the abode of pain. As he approached the house he was struck by theunearthly silence, and at first he thought it was deserted. Then he saw Ata.She was sitting on her haunches in the lean-to that served her as kitchen,watching some mess cooking in a pot. Near her a small boy was playing silentlyin the dirt. She did not smile when she saw him.

“I have come to see Strickland,” he said.

“I will go and tell him.”

She went to the house, ascended the few steps that led to the verandah, andentered. Dr. Coutras followed her, but waited outside in obedience to hergesture. As she opened the door he smelt the sickly sweet smell which makes theneighbourhood of the leper nauseous. He heard her speak, and then he heardStrickland’s answer, but he did not recognise the voice. It had become hoarseand indistinct. Dr. Coutras raised his eyebrows. He judged that the disease hadalready attacked the vocal chords. Then Ata came out again.

“He will not see you. You must go away.”

Dr. Coutras insisted, but she would not let him pass. Dr. Coutras shrugged hisshoulders, and after a moment’s rejection turned away. She walked with him. Hefelt that she too wanted to be rid of him.

“Is there nothing I can do at all?” he asked.

“You can send him some paints,” she said. “There is nothing else he wants.”

“Can he paint still?”

“He is painting the walls of the house.”

“This is a terrible life for you, my poor child.”

Then at last she smiled, and there was in her eyes a look of superhuman love.Dr. Coutras was startled by it, and amazed. And he was awed. He found nothingto say.

“He is my man,” she said.

“Where is your other child?” he asked. “When I was here last you had two.”

“Yes; it died. We buried it under the mango.”

When Ata had gone with him a little way she said she must turn back. Dr.Coutras surmised she was afraid to go farther in case she met any of the peoplefrom the village. He told her again that if she wanted him she had only to sendand he would come at once.

Chapter LVI

Then two years more went by, or perhaps three, for time passes imperceptibly inTahiti, and it is hard to keep count of it; but at last a message was broughtto Dr. Coutras that Strickland was dying. Ata had waylaid the cart that tookthe mail into Papeete, and besought the man who drove it to go at once to thedoctor. But the doctor was out when the summons came, and it was evening whenhe received it. It was impossible to start at so late an hour, and so it wasnot till next day soon after dawn that he set out. He arrived at Taravao, andfor the last time tramped the seven kilometres that led to Ata’s house. Thepath was overgrown, and it was clear that for years now it had remained all butuntrodden. It was not easy to find the way. Sometimes he had to stumble alongthe bed of the stream, and sometimes he had to push through shrubs, dense andthorny; often he was obliged to climb over rocks in order to avoid thehornet-nests that hung on the trees over his head. The silence was intense.

It was with a sigh of relief that at last he came upon the little unpaintedhouse, extraordinarily bedraggled now, and unkempt; but here too was the sameintolerable silence. He walked up, and a little boy, playing unconcernedly inthe sunshine, started at his approach and fled quickly away: to him thestranger was the enemy. Dr. Coutras had a sense that the child was stealthilywatching him from behind a tree. The door was wide open. He called out, but noone answered. He stepped in. He knocked at a door, but again there was noanswer. He turned the handle and entered. The stench that assailed him turnedhim horribly sick. He put his handkerchief to his nose and forced himself to goin. The light was dim, and after the brilliant sunshine for a while he couldsee nothing. Then he gave a start. He could not make out where he was. Heseemed on a sudden to have entered a magic world. He had a vague impression ofa great primeval forest and of naked people walking beneath the trees. Then hesaw that there were paintings on the walls.

Mon Dieu, I hope the sun hasn’t affected me,” he muttered.

A slight movement attracted his attention, and he saw that Ata was lying on thefloor, sobbing quietly.

“Ata,” he called. “Ata.”

She took no notice. Again the beastly stench almost made him faint, and he lita cheroot. His eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, and now he was seized byan overwhelming sensation as he stared at the painted walls. He knew nothing ofpictures, but there was something about these that extraordinarily affectedhim. From floor to ceiling the walls were covered with a strange and elaboratecomposition. It was indescribably wonderful and mysterious. It took his breathaway. It filled him with an emotion which he could not understand or analyse.He felt the awe and the delight which a man might feel who watched thebeginning of a world. It was tremendous, sensual, passionate; and yet there wassomething horrible there, too, something which made him afraid. It was the workof a man who had delved into the hidden depths of nature and had discoveredsecrets which were beautiful and fearful too. It was the work of a man who knewthings which it is unholy for men to know. There was something primeval thereand terrible. It was not human. It brought to his mind vague recollections ofblack magic. It was beautiful and obscene.

Mon Dieu, this is genius.”

The words were wrung from him, and he did not know he had spoken.

Then his eyes fell on the bed of mats in the corner, and he went up, and he sawthe dreadful, mutilated, ghastly object which had been Strickland. He was dead.Dr. Coutras made an effort of will and bent over that battered horror. Then hestarted violently, and terror blazed in his heart, for he felt that someone wasbehind him. It was Ata. He had not heard her get up. She was standing at hiselbow, looking at what he looked at.

“Good Heavens, my nerves are all distraught,” he said. “You nearly frightenedme out of my wits.”

He looked again at the poor dead thing that had been man, and then he startedback in dismay.

“But he was blind.”

“Yes; he had been blind for nearly a year.”

Chapter LVII

AT that moment we were interrupted by the appearance of Madame Coutras, who hadbeen paying visits. She came in, like a ship in full sail, an imposingcreature, tall and stout, with an ample bust and an obesity girthed inalarmingly by straight-fronted corsets. She had a bold hooked nose and threechins. She held herself upright. She had not yielded for an instant to theenervating charm of the tropics, but contrariwise was more active, moreworldly, more decided than anyone in a temperate clime would have thought itpossible to be. She was evidently a copious talker, and now poured forth abreathless stream of anecdote and comment. She made the conversation we hadjust had seem far away and unreal.

Presently Dr. Coutras turned to me.

“I still have in my bureau the picture that Strickland gave me,” hesaid. “Would you like to see it?”

“Willingly.”

We got up, and he led me on to the verandah which surrounded his house. Wepaused to look at the gay flowers that rioted in his garden.

“For a long time I could not get out of my head the recollection of theextraordinary decoration with which Strickland had covered the walls of hishouse,” he said reflectively.

I had been thinking of it, too. It seemed to me that here Strickland hadfinally put the whole expression of himself. Working silently, knowing that itwas his last chance, I fancied that here he must have said all that he knew oflife and all that he divined. And I fancied that perhaps here he had at lastfound peace. The demon which possessed him was exorcised at last, and with thecompletion of the work, for which all his life had been a painful preparation,rest descended on his remote and tortured soul. He was willing to die, for hehad fulfilled his purpose.

“What was the subject?” I asked.

“I scarcely know. It was strange and fantastic. It was a vision of thebeginnings of the world, the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve—quesais-je?—it was a hymn to the beauty of the human form, male and female,and the praise of Nature, sublime, indifferent, lovely, and cruel. It gave youan awful sense of the infinity of space and of the endlessness of time. Becausehe painted the trees I see about me every day, the cocoa-nuts, the banyans, theflamboyants, the alligator-pears, I have seen them ever since differently, asthough there were in them a spirit and a mystery which I am ever on the pointof seizing and which forever escapes me. The colours were the colours familiarto me, and yet they were different. They had a significance which was all theirown. And those nude men and women. They were of the earth, and yet apart fromit. They seemed to possess something of the clay of which they were created,and at the same time something divine. You saw man in the nakedness of hisprimeval instincts, and you were afraid, for you saw yourself.”

Dr. Coutras shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

“You will laugh at me. I am a materialist, and I am a gross, fat man—Falstaff,eh?—the lyrical mode does not become me. I make myself ridiculous. But I havenever seen painting which made so deep an impression upon me. Tenez, Ihad just the same feeling as when I went to the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Theretoo I was awed by the greatness of the man who had painted that ceiling. It wasgenius, and it was stupendous and overwhelming. I felt small and insignificant.But you are prepared for the greatness of Michael Angelo. Nothing had preparedme for the immense surprise of these pictures in a native hut, far away fromcivilisation, in a fold of the mountain above Taravao. And Michael Angelo issane and healthy. Those great works of his have the calm of the sublime; buthere, notwithstanding beauty, was something troubling. I do not know what itwas. It made me uneasy. It gave me the impression you get when you are sittingnext door to a room that you know is empty, but in which, you know not why, youhave a dreadful consciousness that notwithstanding there is someone. You scoldyourself; you know it is only your nerves—and yet, and yet... In a little whileit is impossible to resist the terror that seizes you, and you are helpless inthe clutch of an unseen horror. Yes; I confess I was not altogether sorry whenI heard that those strange masterpieces had been destroyed.”

“Destroyed?” I cried.

Mais oui; did you not know?”

“How should I know? It is true I had never heard of this work; but I thoughtperhaps it had fallen into the hands of a private owner. Even now there is nocertain list of Strickland’s paintings.”

“When he grew blind he would sit hour after hour in those two rooms that he hadpainted, looking at his works with sightless eyes, and seeing, perhaps, morethan he had ever seen in his life before. Ata told me that he never complainedof his fate, he never lost courage. To the end his mind remained serene andundisturbed. But he made her promise that when she had buried him—did I tellyou that I dug his grave with my own hands, for none of the natives wouldapproach the infected house, and we buried him, she and I, sewn up in threepareos joined together, under the mango-tree—he made her promise thatshe would set fire to the house and not leave it till it was burned to theground and not a stick remained.”

I did not speak for a while, for I was thinking. Then I said:

“He remained the same to the end, then.”

“Do you understand? I must tell you that I thought it my duty to dissuade her.”

“Even after what you have just said?”

“Yes; for I knew that here was a work of genius, and I did not think we had theright to deprive the world of it. But Ata would not listen to me. She hadpromised. I would not stay to witness the barbarous deed, and it was onlyafterwards that I heard what she had done. She poured paraffin on the dryfloors and on the pandanus-mats, and then she set fire. In a little whilenothing remained but smouldering embers, and a great masterpiece existed nolonger.

“I think Strickland knew it was a masterpiece. He had achieved what he wanted.His life was complete. He had made a world and saw that it was good. Then, inpride and contempt, he destroyed it.”

“But I must show you my picture,” said Dr. Coutras, moving on.

“What happened to Ata and the child?”

“They went to the Marquesas. She had relations there. I have heard that the boyworks on one of Cameron’s schooners. They say he is very like his father inappearance.”

At the door that led from the verandah to the doctor’s consulting-room, hepaused and smiled.

“It is a fruit-piece. You would think it not a very suitable picture for adoctor’s consulting-room, but my wife will not have it in the drawing-room. Shesays it is frankly obscene.”

“A fruit-piece!” I exclaimed in surprise.

We entered the room, and my eyes fell at once on the picture. I looked at itfor a long time.

It was a pile of mangoes, bananas, oranges, and I know not what and at firstsight it was an innocent picture enough. It would have been passed in anexhibition of the Post-Impressionists by a careless person as an excellent butnot very remarkable example of the school; but perhaps afterwards it would comeback to his recollection, and he would wonder why. I do not think then he couldever entirely forget it.

The colours were so strange that words can hardly tell what a troubling emotionthey gave. They were sombre blues, opaque like a delicately carved bowl inlapis lazuli, and yet with a quivering lustre that suggested the palpitation ofmysterious life; there were purples, horrible like raw and putrid flesh, andyet with a glowing, sensual passion that called up vague memories of the RomanEmpire of Heliogabalus; there were reds, shrill like the berries of holly—onethought of Christmas in England, and the snow, the good cheer, and the pleasureof children—and yet by some magic softened till they had the swooningtenderness of a dove’s breast; there were deep yellows that died with anunnatural passion into a green as fragrant as the spring and as pure as thesparkling water of a mountain brook. Who can tell what anguished fancy madethese fruits? They belonged to a Polynesian garden of the Hesperides. There wassomething strangely alive in them, as though they were created in a stage ofthe earth’s dark history when things were not irrevocably fixed to their forms.They were extravagantly luxurious. They were heavy with tropical odours. Theyseemed to possess a sombre passion of their own. It was enchanted fruit, totaste which might open the gateway to God knows what secrets of the soul and tomysterious palaces of the imagination. They were sullen with unawaited dangers,and to eat them might turn a man to beast or god. All that was healthy andnatural, all that clung to happy relationships and the simple joys of simplemen, shrunk from them in dismay; and yet a fearful attraction was in them, and,like the fruit on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they were terriblewith the possibilities of the Unknown.

At last I turned away. I felt that Strickland had kept his secret to the grave.

Voyons, René, mon ami,” came the loud, cheerful voice of MadameCoutras, “what are you doing all this time? Here are the apéritifs. AskMonsieur if he will not drink a little glass of Quinquina Dubonnet.”

Volontiers, Madame,” I said, going out on to the verandah.

The spell was broken.

Chapter LVIII

The time came for my departure from Tahiti. According to the gracious custom ofthe island, presents were given me by the persons with whom I had been thrownin contact—baskets made of the leaves of the cocoa-nut tree, mats of pandanus,fans; and Tiaré gave me three little pearls and three jars of guava-jelly madewith her own plump hands. When the mail-boat, stopping for twenty-four hours onits way from Wellington to San Francisco, blew the whistle that warned thepassengers to get on board, Tiaré clasped me to her vast bosom, so that Iseemed to sink into a billowy sea, and pressed her red lips to mine. Tearsglistened in her eyes. And when we steamed slowly out of the lagoon, making ourway gingerly through the opening in the reef, and then steered for the opensea, a certain melancholy fell upon me. The breeze was laden still with thepleasant odours of the land. Tahiti is very far away, and I knew that I shouldnever see it again. A chapter of my life was closed, and I felt a little nearerto inevitable death.

Not much more than a month later I was in London; and after I had arrangedcertain matters which claimed my immediate attention, thinking Mrs. Stricklandmight like to hear what I knew of her husband’s last years, I wrote to her. Ihad not seen her since long before the war, and I had to look out her addressin the telephone-book. She made an appointment, and I went to the trim littlehouse on Campden Hill which she now inhabited. She was by this time a woman ofhard on sixty, but she bore her years well, and no one would have taken her formore than fifty. Her face, thin and not much lined, was of the sort that agesgracefully, so that you thought in youth she must have been a much handsomerwoman than in fact she was. Her hair, not yet very gray, was becominglyarranged, and her black gown was modish. I remembered having heard that hersister, Mrs. MacAndrew, outliving her husband but a couple of years, had leftmoney to Mrs. Strickland; and by the look of the house and the trim maid whoopened the door I judged that it was a sum adequate to keep the widow in modestcomfort.

When I was ushered into the drawing-room I found that Mrs. Strickland had avisitor, and when I discovered who he was, I guessed that I had been asked tocome at just that time not without intention. The caller was Mr. Van BuscheTaylor, an American, and Mrs. Strickland gave me particulars with a charmingsmile of apology to him.

“You know, we English are so dreadfully ignorant. You must forgive me if it’snecessary to explain.” Then she turned to me. “Mr. Van Busche Taylor is thedistinguished American critic. If you haven’t read his book your education hasbeen shamefully neglected, and you must repair the omission at once. He’swriting something about dear Charlie, and he’s come to ask me if I can helphim.”

Mr. Van Busche Taylor was a very thin man with a large, bald head, bony andshining; and under the great dome of his skull his face, yellow, with deeplines in it, looked very small. He was quiet and exceedingly polite. He spokewith the accent of New England, and there was about his demeanour a bloodlessfrigidity which made me ask myself why on earth he was busying himself withCharles Strickland. I had been slightly tickled at the gentleness which Mrs.Strickland put into her mention of her husband’s name, and while the pairconversed I took stock of the room in which we sat. Mrs. Strickland had movedwith the times. Gone were the Morris papers and gone the severe cretonnes, gonewere the Arundel prints that had adorned the walls of her drawing-room inAshley Gardens; the room blazed with fantastic colour, and I wondered if sheknew that those varied hues, which fashion had imposed upon her, were due tothe dreams of a poor painter in a South Sea island. She gave me the answerherself.

“What wonderful cushions you have,” said Mr. Van Busche Taylor.

“Do you like them?” she said, smiling. “Bakst, you know.”

And yet on the walls were coloured reproductions of several of Strickland’sbest pictures, due to the enterprise of a publisher in Berlin.

“You’re looking at my pictures,” she said, following my eyes. “Of course, theoriginals are out of my reach, but it’s a comfort to have these. The publishersent them to me himself. They’re a great consolation to me.”

“They must be very pleasant to live with,” said Mr. Van Busche Taylor.

“Yes; they’re so essentially decorative.”

“That is one of my profoundest convictions,” said Mr. Van Busche Taylor. “Greatart is always decorative.”

Their eyes rested on a nude woman suckling a baby, while a girl was kneeling bytheir side holding out a flower to the indifferent child. Looking over them wasa wrinkled, scraggy hag. It was Strickland’s version of the Holy Family. Isuspected that for the figures had sat his household above Taravao, and thewoman and the baby were Ata and his first son. I asked myself if Mrs.Strickland had any inkling of the facts.

The conversation proceeded, and I marvelled at the tact with which Mr. VanBusche Taylor avoided all subjects that might have been in the leastembarrassing, and at the ingenuity with which Mrs. Strickland, without saying aword that was untrue, insinuated that her relations with her husband had alwaysbeen perfect. At last Mr. Van Busche Taylor rose to go. Holding his hostess’hand, he made her a graceful, though perhaps too elaborate, speech of thanks,and left us.

“I hope he didn’t bore you,” she said, when the door closed behind him. “Ofcourse it’s a nuisance sometimes, but I feel it’s only right to give people anyinformation I can about Charlie. There’s a certain responsibility about havingbeen the wife of a genius.”

She looked at me with those pleasant eyes of hers, which had remained as candidand as sympathetic as they had been more than twenty years before. I wonderedif she was making a fool of me.

“Of course you’ve given up your business,” I said.

“Oh, yes,” she answered airily. “I ran it more by way of a hobby than for anyother reason, and my children persuaded me to sell it. They thought I wasovertaxing my strength.”

I saw that Mrs. Strickland had forgotten that she had ever done anything sodisgraceful as to work for her living. She had the true instinct of the nicewoman that it is only really decent for her to live on other people’s money.

“They’re here now,” she said. “I thought they’d, like to hear what you had tosay about their father. You remember Robert, don’t you? I’m glad to say he’sbeen recommended for the Military Cross.”

She went to the door and called them. There entered a tall man in khaki, withthe parson’s collar, handsome in a somewhat heavy fashion, but with the frankeyes that I remembered in him as a boy. He was followed by his sister. She musthave been the same age as was her mother when first I knew her, and she wasvery like her. She too gave one the impression that as a girl she must havebeen prettier than indeed she was.

“I suppose you don’t remember them in the least,” said Mrs. Strickland, proudand smiling. “My daughter is now Mrs. Ronaldson. Her husband’s a Major in theGunners.”

“He’s by way of being a pukka soldier, you know,” said Mrs. Ronaldson gaily.“That’s why he’s only a Major.”

I remembered my anticipation long ago that she would marry a soldier. It wasinevitable. She had all the graces of the soldier’s wife. She was civil andaffable, but she could hardly conceal her intimate conviction that she was notquite as others were. Robert was breezy.

“It’s a bit of luck that I should be in London when you turned up,” he said.“I’ve only got three days’ leave.”

“He’s dying to get back,” said his mother.

“Well, I don’t mind confessing it, I have a rattling good time at the front.I’ve made a lot of good pals. It’s a first-rate life. Of course war’s terrible,and all that sort of thing; but it does bring out the best qualities in a man,there’s no denying that.”

Then I told them what I had learned about Charles Strickland in Tahiti. Ithought it unnecessary to say anything of Ata and her boy, but for the rest Iwas as accurate as I could be. When I had narrated his lamentable death Iceased. For a minute or two we were all silent. Then Robert Strickland struck amatch and lit a cigarette.

“The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small,” he said,somewhat impressively.

Mrs. Strickland and Mrs. Ronaldson looked down with a slightly pious expressionwhich indicated, I felt sure, that they thought the quotation was from HolyWrit. Indeed, I was unconvinced that Robert Strickland did not share theirillusion. I do not know why I suddenly thought of Strickland’s son by Ata. Theyhad told me he was a merry, light-hearted youth. I saw him, with my mind’s eye,on the schooner on which he worked, wearing nothing but a pair of dungarees;and at night, when the boat sailed along easily before a light breeze, and thesailors were gathered on the upper deck, while the captain and the supercargololled in deck-chairs, smoking their pipes, I saw him dance with another lad,dance wildly, to the wheezy music of the concertina. Above was the blue sky,and the stars, and all about the desert of the Pacific Ocean.

A quotation from the Bible came to my lips, but I held my tongue, for I knowthat clergymen think it a little blasphemous when the laity poach upon theirpreserves. My Uncle Henry, for twenty-seven years Vicar of Whitstable, was onthese occasions in the habit of saying that the devil could always quotescripture to his purpose. He remembered the days when you could get thirteenRoyal Natives for a shilling.

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