Chapter XV




He reached his rooms overcome by a lassitude that was not, however, quite despair. He had made his effort, failed--but there was still within him the unconquerable hope of the passionate lover. . . . As well try to extinguish in full June the beating of the heart of summer; deny to the flowers their deepening hues, or to winged life its slumbrous buzzing, as stifle in such a lover his conviction of fulfilment. . . .

He lay down on a couch, and there stayed a long time quite still, his forehead pressed against the wall. His will was already beginning to recover for a fresh attempt. It was merciful that she was going away from Cramier, going to where he had in fancy watched her feed her doves. No laws, no fears, not even her commands could stop his fancy from conjuring her up by day and night. He had but to close his eyes, and she was there.

A ring at the bell, repeated several times, roused him at last to go to the door. His caller was Robert Cramier. And at sight of him, all Lennan's lethargy gave place to a steely feeling. What had brought him here? Had he been spying on his wife? The old longing for physical combat came over him. Cramier was perhaps fifteen years his senior, but taller, heavier, thicker. Chances, then, were pretty equal!

"Won't you come in?" he said.

"Thanks."

The voice had in it the same mockery as on Sunday; and it shot through him that Cramier had thought to find his wife here. If so, he did not betray it by any crude look round. He came in with his deliberate step, light and well-poised for so big a man.

"So this," he said, "is where you produce your masterpieces! Anything great since you came back?"

Lennan lifted the cloths from the half-modelled figure of his bull- man. He felt malicious pleasure in doing that. Would Cramier recognize himself in this creature with the horn-like ears, and great bossed forehead? If this man who had her happiness beneath his heel had come here to mock, he should at all events get what he had come to give. And he waited.

"I see. You are giving the poor brute horns!"

If Cramier had seen, he had dared to add a touch of cynical humour, which the sculptor himself had never thought of. And this even evoked in the young man a kind of admiring compunction.

"Those are not horns," he said gently; "only ears."

Cramier lifted a hand and touched the edge of his own ear.

"Not quite like that, are they--human ears? But I suppose you would call this symbolic. What, if I may ask, does it represent?"

All the softness in Lennan vanished.

"If you can't gather that from looking, it must be a failure."

"Not at all. If I am right, you want something for it to tread on, don't you, to get your full effect?"

Lennan touched the base of the clay.

"The broken curve here"--then, with sudden disgust at this fencing, was silent. What had the man come for? He must want something. And, as if answering, Cramier said:

"To pass to another subject--you see a good deal of my wife. I just wanted to tell you that I don't very much care that you should. It is as well to be quite frank, I think."

Lennan bowed.

"Is that not," he said, "perhaps rather a matter for her decision?"

That heavy figure--those threatening eyes! The whole thing was like a dream come true!

"I do not feel it so. I am not one of those who let things drift. Please understand me. You come between us at your peril."

Lennan kept silence for a moment, then he said quietly:

"Can one come between two people who have ceased to have anything in common?"

The veins in Cramier's forehead were swollen, his face and neck had grown crimson. And Lennan thought with strange elation: Now he's going to hit me! He could hardly keep his hands from shooting out and seizing in advance that great strong neck. If he could strangle, and have done with him!

But, quite suddenly, Cramier turned on his heel. "I have warned you," he said, and went.

Lennan took a long breath. So! That was over, and he knew where he was. If Cramier had struck out, he would surely have seized his neck and held on till life was gone. Nothing should have shaken him off. In fancy he could see himself swaying, writhing, reeling, battered about by those heavy fists, but always with his hands on the thick neck, squeezing out its life. He could feel, absolutely feel, the last reel and stagger of that great bulk crashing down, dragging him with it, till it lay upturned, still. He covered his eyes with his hands. . . . Thank God! The fellow had not hit out!

He went to the door, opened it, and stood leaning against the door- post. All was still and drowsy out there in that quiet backwater of a street. Not a soul in sight! How still, for London! Only the birds. In a neighbouring studio someone was playing Chopin. Queer! He had almost forgotten there was such a thing as Chopin. A mazurka! Spinning like some top thing, round and round--weird little tune! . . . Well, and what now? Only one thing certain. Sooner give up life than give her up! Far sooner! Love her, achieve her--or give up everything, and drown to that tune going on and on, that little dancing dirge of summer!



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