Chapter IV




In the room below them the subject of their discussion was lying very wide awake. She knew that she had betrayed herself, made plain to Mark Lennan what she had never until now admitted to herself. But the love-look, which for the life of her she could not keep back, had been followed by a feeling of having 'lost caste.' For, hitherto, the world of women had been strictly divided by her into those who did and those who did not do such things; and to be no longer quite sure to which half she belonged was frightening. But what was the good of thinking, of being frightened?--it could not lead to anything. Yesterday she had not known this would come; and now she could not guess at to-morrow! To-night was enough! To-night with its swimming loveliness! Just to feel! To love, and to be loved!

A new sensation for her--as different from those excited by the courtships of her girlhood, or by her marriage, as light from darkness. For she had never been in love, not even with her husband. She knew it now. The sun was shining in a world where she had thought there was none. Nothing could come of it. But the sun was shining; and in that sunshine she must warm herself a little.

Quite simply she began to plan what he and she would do. There were six days left. They had not yet been to Gorbio, nor to Castellar--none of those long walks or rides they had designed to do for the beauty of them. Would he come early to-morrow? What could they do together? No one should know what these six days would be to her--not even he. To be with him, watch his face, hear his voice, and now and then just touch him! She could trust herself to show no one. And then, it would be--over! Though, of course, she would see him again in London.

And, lying there in the dark, she thought of their first meeting, one Sunday morning, in Hyde Park. The Colonel religiously observed Church Parade, and would even come all the way down to Westminster, from his flat near Knightsbridge, in order to fetch his niece up to it. She remembered how, during their stroll, he had stopped suddenly in front of an old gentleman with a puffy yellow face and eyes half open.

"Ah! Mr. Heatherley--you up from Devonshire? How's your nephew-- the--er--sculptor?"

And the old gentleman, glaring a little, as it seemed to her, from under his eyelids and his grey top hat, had answered: "Colonel Ercott, I think? Here's the fellow himself--Mark!" And a young man had taken off his hat. She had only noticed at first that his dark hair grew--not long--but very thick; and that his eyes were very deep-set. Then she saw him smile; it made his face all eager, yet left it shy; and she decided that he was nice. Soon after, she had gone with the Ercotts to see his 'things'; for it was, of course, and especially in those days, quite an event to know a sculptor--rather like having a zebra in your park. The Colonel had been delighted and a little relieved to find that the 'things' were nearly all of beasts and birds. "Very interestin'" to one full of curious lore about such, having in his time killed many of them, and finding himself at the end of it with a curious aversion to killing any more--which he never put into words.

Acquaintanceship had ripened fast after that first visit to his studio, and now it was her turn to be relieved that Mark Lennan devoted himself almost entirely to beasts and birds instead of to the human form, so-called divine. Ah! yes--she would have suffered; now that she loved him, she saw that. At all events she could watch his work and help it with sympathy. That could not be wrong. . . .

She fell asleep at last, and dreamed that she was in a boat alone on the river near her country cottage, drifting along among spiky flowers like asphodels, with birds singing and flying round her. She could move neither face nor limbs, but that helpless feeling was not unpleasant, till she became conscious that she was drawing nearer and nearer to what was neither water nor land, light nor darkness, but simply some unutterable feeling. And then she saw, gazing at her out of the rushes on the banks, a great bull head. It moved as she moved--it was on both sides of her, yet all the time only one head. She tried to raise her hands and cover her eyes, but could not--and woke with a sob. . . . It was light.

Nearly six o'clock already! Her dream made her disinclined to trust again to sleep. Sleep was a robber now--of each minute of these few days! She got up, and looked out. The morning was fine, the air warm already, sweet with dew, and heliotrope nailed to the wall outside her window. She had but to open her shutters and walk into the sun. She dressed, took her sunshade, stealthily slipped the shutters back, and stole forth. Shunning the hotel garden, where the eccentricity of her early wandering might betray the condition of her spirit, she passed through into the road toward the Casino. Without perhaps knowing it, she was making for where she had sat with him yesterday afternoon, listening to the band. Hatless, but defended by her sunshade, she excited the admiration of the few connoisseurs as yet abroad, strolling in blue blouses to their labours; and this simple admiration gave her pleasure. For once she was really conscious of the grace in her own limbs, actually felt the gentle vividness of her own face, with its nearly black hair and eyes, and creamy skin--strange sensation, and very comforting!

In the Casino gardens she walked more slowly, savouring the aromatic trees, and stopping to bend and look at almost every flower; then, on the seat, where she had sat with him yesterday, she rested. A few paces away were the steps that led to the railway-station, trodden upwards eagerly by so many, day after day, night after night, and lightly or sorrowfully descended. Above her, two pines, a pepper-tree, and a palm mingled their shade--so fantastic the jumbling of trees and souls in this strange place! She furled her sunshade and leaned back. Her gaze, free and friendly, passed from bough to bough. Against the bright sky, unbesieged as yet by heat or dust, they had a spiritual look, lying sharp and flat along the air. She plucked a cluster of pinkish berries from the pepper-tree, crushing and rubbing them between her hands to get their fragrance. All these beautiful and sweet things seemed to be a part of her joy at being loved, part of this sudden summer in her heart. The sky, the flowers, that jewel of green- blue sea, the bright acacias, were nothing in the world but love.

And those few who passed, and saw her sitting there under the pepper-tree, wondered no doubt at the stillness of this dame bien mise, who had risen so early.



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