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that Viola's fancy had woven in and out to carry the wit of Lawton's
sparkling lines enchanted the audience.

At the end there were calls for both of them to appear before the
curtain, and Viola left the box with him, radiant and smiling. When
they both appeared on the stage the enthusiasm was unbounded. Viola
was in white, and her delicate, rose-like fairness delighted the
audience, and the women clapped Lawton with good-will. Handsome, easy,
dignified, graceful, and debonair as usual, he smiled and bowed his
acknowledgments over and over again beside Viola, into whose face came
the wrapt, glad look that her music always gave, replacing the
expression of pain she had worn now for so many weeks.

I sat in our box watching her, with sore, jealous feelings rising up
like mists over the pride I had in my possession. As the whole scene
and her triumph stirred and roused my passion for her, some voice
seemed interrogating me - "Is she and her love not enough for you? Why
do you wear thin and fray the delicious tie between you?"

They were both up again in the box beside me, directly surrounded by
congratulating friends; and then Lawton gathered together his party
and we all filed off in a stream of hansoms to the supper that he was
giving in Viola's honour. It was already daylight before we reached
home.

The next evening I had to attend an artists' dinner. It was for men
only, so that Viola was not invited. I spent a very busy morning and
afternoon in the studio. The Bacchante was almost finished, and I had
made up my mind to dismiss Veronica as soon as I was sure I was
satisfied with the picture and did not need her again. Full of this
resolve, I was perhaps a little more careless than usual, less on my
guard, and when at the end Veronica came to kiss me, I returned her
caress with more warmth than I was accustomed to do. It did not really
matter, I thought; the girl would be gone in a day or two and I should
have no more to do with her.

Feeling rather pleased with myself for having taken the decided
resolution to dismiss her in order to please Viola I went downstairs,
and was rather vexed when I met her to see her looking particularly
white and ill. She had seemed fairly well at luncheon, and I could not
shake off the extraordinary idea that my conduct with Veronica through
the afternoon was in some way connected with her pallor and expression
now.

I had it on my lips to say - "I have decided to dismiss the model,"
when that feeling of irritation against her for looking so wretched
came uppermost and held the words back.

If she couldn't trust me and would worry about things when I told her
not to, she might worry and I would let her alone.

It really always hurt and alarmed me so much to see Viola look ill or
delicate that it made me angry with her, instead of extra considerate
and kind as I should have been.

She came upstairs to be with me while I dressed, and sat in the
armchair at the foot of the bed.

I asked her if she had a headache, and she said, "No."

"What did you do all this afternoon?" I asked. "Did any one come in to
tea?"

"No, nobody came. I was lying on a sofa in the drawing-room most of
the time, thinking. I didn't feel able to do anything."

I did not ask her what she had been thinking about, but went on
dressing in silence.

Before I left I kissed her, but it was rather a cold kiss, as I felt
she ought to be happy and pink-cheeked as a result of my good
intentions - unreasonably enough, since I had not told her of them.

She accepted it, but seemed to hesitate as if she wished to say
something to me. I saw her grow paler and her lips quiver. She did not
speak, however, and so in rather a strained silence we parted and I
went downstairs.

How I regretted that coldness afterwards! How mad and blind one is
sometimes where one loves most!

I did not enjoy the dinner at all because I could not deny to myself
that I had been unkind to her, with that tacit unkindness that is so
keenly felt and is so difficult to meet or combat. I left the hotel
where the dinner had been held quite early, and drove back to the
house, longing and impatient to be with her again, hold her in my
arms, and tell her all I had resolved and been thinking about, and
kiss the bright colour back into her face again.

I let myself in with my latch-key and ran up the stairs into the
drawing-room.

It was brightly lighted, but empty. I was just going to seek her
upstairs when a note set up before the clock on the mantelpiece caught
my eye.

I crossed the room, took it up, tore it open, and ran my eyes
hurriedly down it, line after line.

"_Dearest,_

"Our relations have entered upon a new phase lately. I suppose it
cannot be helped, it is merely the turning on of the wheel of
time. We cannot stay the wheel, still less turn it back. All we
can do is to adjust ourselves to the new position.

"You have wished for your freedom. It is yours. I have never
wanted to take it away, but I feel I cannot go on dedicating my
life and every thought I have to you as I have done, if you wish
to share with others all that has been mine and all that I value
most in this or any world. I have tried, but it is beyond me. You
cannot think what I have suffered in these last weeks. I have
reasoned with myself, asked myself what did it matter what you did
when you were away from me, why should one rival now matter more
than those the past has held for me? I have argued, reasoned,
fought with myself, but it is useless. These unconquerable
instincts of jealousy have been placed in us and are as strong as
those other instincts of desire that excite them.

"The life of the last few weeks is killing me. I am losing my
health, losing my power to work. It is the concentration of all my
thoughts upon you that is maddening, impossible now that you no
longer belong to me. Even your presence, once the sun of my
existence, is painful to me now; and when you come straight from
another woman to kiss me, it is agony. I cannot bear it.

"You thought I did not know all the kisses and caresses you have
given Veronica. Dear Trevor, a woman always knows - perhaps a man
does, too. Certainly I knew. One does not have to see or hear;
there is a sense, not yet discovered, that is above all the
others, that tells us these things. When you came from her to me
you brought with you an influence that killed. Perhaps it was that
you were surrounded with an electricity from her that was hostile
to my own.

"I have felt lately a longing to be away from you, a longing to
escape from pain and torture, but the music keeps me in town, and
we cannot well separate here without a scandal, which I know you
would not wish. So I am going to try and escape mentally from you,
though our bodies must occupy the same house for a little while
longer.

"I am going to try to interest myself in others, not to think of
you, not to care for you as I have done. We have both been foolish
perhaps, as you say, in limiting our lives to each other, let us
end the idea between us. Let us be like ordinary married people.
You are free to choose whatever paths of pleasure open before you,
I am the same. To-night when you come back you will find this
letter instead of me. I shall dine out with one of these men who
want me and afterwards spend the evening with him. I will come
back early enough to cause no comment, but I will not come to your
room, as I do not suppose you will want me. I have had another
room put ready, and I shall go there.

"Good-bye, dearest one; if you could know all the agony that has
gone before this breaking of the tie between us! Now I seem to
feel nothing; I am dead. I can't cry; can't think any more.

"VIOLA."

* * * * *

I read this letter through with an agonised terror coming over me,
that gripped and wrung my heart, through the cloud of amaze that
filled me. Towards the end the words seemed to stab me. As I came to
the conclusion the truth broke upon me in a blinding, lightning flash.
_I_ had lost her. But it was incredible, unthinkable. She was part of
my life, part of myself. I still lived; therefore, she was mine. I
felt paralysed. I could not grasp fully what she had said, what she
intended me to understand. It was as when one is told a loved one is
dead. It means nothing to us for a moment. Reason goes down under a
flood of sickening fear. I read the last page over again.

Then I sprang to my feet and stared round the empty room as if seeking
an explanation from it. It offered none. All round me was orderly,
placid. Only within me burned a hell, lighted by those written words.
It was very quiet, only an occasional drip of the June rain outside
broke the stillness.

An exquisite picture of Viola laughed joyously back at me from a
little table covered with vases of white flowers, white as she had
been that first night at the studio....

O God in heaven, what _had_ I done to bring this ruin into my own
life? _Had_ I deserved it? Had I? I thought wildly.

What had I done? What did it all mean? Veronica? A few kisses? the
impulse of passion? It was nothing, everything was nothing to me
beside Viola. She must have known that. Then I recalled her appeals to
me. She had asked me to give up Veronica, why had I not done so?
Instead, how had I met Viola; how had I answered her? My own words
were hurled back upon me by memory and fell upon me like blows, so had
they fallen upon her. How could I have been so mad, so blind?

Her favourite chair was pushed a little from the fire; by its side I
noticed something white, and stooped mechanically to pick it up. It
was her handkerchief, crushed together and soaked through and through.
How she must have been crying to wet it like that! At the corner it
was marked with blood, as if she had pressed it to bitten lips.

My own eyes filled with scorching tears as I looked at it.

It was the one sign of the passion and agony that had raged in that
room before I came back.

If I had only returned sooner! I put the handkerchief in my breast,
and took up her letter again. Could I do anything, anything now to
follow, to recall her?

I looked at the clock, and ice seemed to close round my heart and
chill it. It was already eleven. Then the phrase about the other room
struck me. Could she have possibly returned? I opened the door and
went upstairs and through all the rooms in the house. All were empty.
I saw the bedroom farthest from mine had been put ready for occupancy,
and some few trifles of her own taken from our room and put into it.
Then I came back, sick with apprehension, to the drawing-room again,
questioning what I could do.

To whom would she have gone? As the thought came all the blood in my
body seemed to seethe and rage, but the question had to be faced. For
a moment no definite idea would form itself. Then the recollection of
Lawton dashed in upon me. The man's head seemed photographed suddenly
on all the pale walls round me; handsome, brilliant, engaging, well
born, and well bred, he was the man of all others surely to attract
her.

She would go to him, they would dine together, she would return to
his chambers with him.... She had not come back yet.

For a few moments I was mad. I laid my hand on the back of the chair
near me, and it was smashed in my grip. Then the madness passed over,
and I could think again. I went upstairs, took out my revolver, and
loaded it. I thought I would go round to Lawton's place, ... but, when
coming downstairs again, the thought struck me - Suppose it was not
Lawton? What would the latter think of my sudden appearance, my
enquiries? Twelve had now struck.

There was just a possibility that she would not fulfil her letter,
that she would come back to me; but if I by my actions to-night
brought any publicity on what she had done, I should make an injury
where none existed.

I thought for some time over this, and it seemed impossible for me to
do anything but wait for her return - wait till I knew.

The thought of her name, her reputation, and how I might possibly
injure them now held me there motionless.

It seemed incredible that she could be so long away and yet her
absence mean nothing. But the other supposition, the thought of her
passing from me, seemed more incredible still.

I know how great her love for me was, and love like ours is not
easily swept aside and its claims broken down. Still, in a paroxysm of
jealous agony and resentment against me, all might be obscured, and if
Lawton were there persuading....

And this, something of this pain, I now felt, she had suffered, as the
soaked handkerchief told me.

How I loathed the thought of Veronica! Love, even when it has expired,
leaves some tenderness of feeling to us; passion once dead leaves
nothing but loathing.

I got up and wrote a few lines of dismissal. It was something to do,
something to distract my devouring thoughts. I enclosed a cheque for
all, and more than the sum due to her. Then I flung the letter on the
table, and pushed the thought of her out of my mind.

I paced up and down the room, looking constantly at the clock. What
were these fleeting moments taking from me? My brain seemed on fire
and full of light. Picture after picture rose before me, vivid,
brilliant - all pictures of Viola and hours passed with her. What a
wonderful personality she had, and I alone had possessed it. How
utterly and entirely she had given herself to me, me alone of all the
many who coveted her. I had been the first, the only one for her, till
my own hand had foolishly cut the ties that bound us together. If I
lost her, suppose I gained everything else in the world, would it
content me? Could I lose her? Could I let her go? But I _had. I_
glanced at the clock. It was now one. She had not returned. By this
time she had passed from me to another. The pain, the acute pain of
it, of this thought seemed to divide my brain like a two-edged sword.
What had I done?

Why had I not realised that I should feel like this? To have and then
to lose while one still desires, this is the most horrible pain in the
world. The animals feel it to the point of madness, and they are wise,
they do not court it. They will tear their rival, even the female
herself, in pieces rather than yield her up. But I! What had I done? A
mate had nestled to my breast, and I had not been wise enough to hold
it there. And now I suffered; how I suffered! My brain seemed to
writhe in those moments of agony like a body on the rack or in the
flames. Each thought was a torture: sweet recollections came to me
like the breath of flowers, only to turn into a fresh agony of
despair.

There is no pain so absolutely black in its hideous agony as jealousy.
The other mental pains of this life may last longer, but there is none
that cuts down deeper, that possesses such a ravening tooth, while it
lasts, as this.

The vision of Lawton's face was like a brand upon my brain. I saw it
everywhere, as it had looked when she smiled upon him at dinner.

Suddenly, as I paced backwards and forwards, I heard a little noise
outside, a light footfall on the stairs or landing. I stood still, my
heart seeming to knock about inside my chest as if it wanted to leap
out between the ribs. Then I went to the door and threw it wide open.
She stood there just outside. The light from within fell upon her, and
my eyes ran over her, questioning, devouring, while waves of hope and
terror seemed dashing up against my brain like the surf over a rock.

She looked collected, mistress of herself, her dress and hair were
perfect in arrangement as when she had started, on her face was a
curious look of gladness, of relief, of decision, of triumph. What was
its meaning?

I took both her hands and drew her over the threshold. She came
gladly. She must have seen the agony of fear, of questioning in my
face, for after a swift look up at me she said impulsively:

"I am so glad to be back with you, Trevor."

I could not answer her. I stood silent. The sick fatigue of hours of
painful emotion was creeping over me, and the agony of longing to know
everything from her lips seemed to paralyse me.

"I could not, after all, dearest," she said, in a very low tone. "I
could not do anything on my side to sever myself from you, so I have
come back to you."

Her voice seemed to come to me from a long distance, but every word
was clear and distinct. The relief of the loosening of the pressure of
one hideous idea was intense. I took a chair beside her and put my arm
round her shoulders.

"Tell me what has happened, then, since you left me."

She was drawing off her gloves slowly; the flesh of the fingers and
wrist was slightly indented from long pressure of the kid. I saw that
her glove had not been removed for several hours. A great tide of
pleasure and relief broke slowly over me.

"Well, I went straight from here to Lawton's chambers, and he was out;
so I sat down in one of his easy chairs by the fire to wait for him. I
sat and sat there, looking into the fire, and somehow I forgot all
about Lawton and began thinking about you and the pictures and your
wonderful voice and all the delightful times we had had together; and
then I thought of all I had always tried to do for you, and how you
were the first, the very first man I had ever cared for or done
anything for, and how I had always belonged to you; and it seemed a
pity to spoil it all - if you understand. I felt I could not with my
own hands pull down the beautiful fabric of my love for you that I had
built up. I felt I could not give myself to any one else, there seemed
something irresistible holding me from it. You must do what you like,
be faithful or not to me, but I must be faithful to you."

She threw back her head and looked at me. Her elusive loveliness,
lying all in colour and bloom and light, was at its height. She was
intensely excited, and the excitement paled the skin, widened the
lustrous eyes, heightened the extreme delicacy of the face. I bent
over her and kissed her as I had never done yet; it was one of those
moments in life when the soul seems to have wings and fly upwards.

After a moment.

"And then," I said, "did you come back to me?"

"Well, gradually, as I sat there, a horror of Lawton, of everything
came over me. I did not know how long I had sat there. I looked at my
watch: it was two. I was terrified. I only wanted to escape. I got up
to go, and just then I heard Lawton coming in. There was a screen near
me, and it did just occur to me I might conceal myself and pass out as
he went to the inner room; but I did not like the idea of hiding in
any one's rooms, so I stood still, and he came in."

She was silent, and I felt suddenly plunged back into a mist of
questioning horror. What had passed between these two? Had any links
in some new chain been forged?

But she was mine! Mine! and I would never let her go.

"What did you say?" I asked her. My throat was so dry the words were
hardly more than a whisper.

"He started of course on seeing me, and then rushed forwards and
said, 'Darling,' or something of that sort. I hardly heard what he
said. I said simply: 'I was just going when you came in. I can't
stay.' Then, of course, he asked me why I had come and all that and,
oh, heaps and heaps of things. You know all the usual things a man
does say, and I answered if he really cared for me he would let me go
at once. Then he walked to the door, shut and locked it, and put the
key in his pocket."

She paused, and I looked away from her. I was in such a passion of
rage against the man, and almost also with her for putting herself in
such a position, I did not care for her to see my eyes.

"Go on," I said; "what did you do?"

"I asked him why he had locked the door, and he said to prevent my
going until I had told him why I had come. I said I had changed my
mind in the hours I had sat there, and he answered: 'Well, you will
change it again if you stay here some more hours,' and he came and sat
on the chair arm beside me. You see, Trevor, it wasn't his fault a
bit, for he guessed I had come with all sorts of nice feelings for
him, and he felt it was only his part, as it were, to play up to the
situation, that it would be impossible to do anything but seem to wish
to keep me when I had come."

"Don't trouble to tell me all that," I said angrily; "I know what
Lawton feels for you. I know he is wild about you. I wonder you are
not murdered. Go on, what did he do?"

"He was awfully good and nice. He tried for an hour to persuade me. He
wanted to kiss me, of course. I said I was in his power, but that he
would kill me before I would kiss him voluntarily. I think that
convinced him, for he walked straight to the door and unlocked it and
threw it open. Then he said he couldn't let me go into the streets at
that hour alone, and so he came with me. He walked all the way here
and left me at this door. That's all."

There was silence. Such a tremendous upheaval of emotions and feelings
seemed surging within me I could not speak. My voice seemed dried dead
in my throat. No words came before my mind that I could use.

Dawn was creeping slowly into the room. The hideous black night was
over. Pale light, very soft and grey, but overpowering, was stealing
in, mingling with the electric gold glare it was so soon to kill. It
seemed to me like that mysterious, impalpable spirit we call love that
is overpowering, dominant over everything, before which the false
glare of the fires of sense pale into nothingness.

"Trevor," she said at last, breaking the silence of the pale, misty
room, "are you glad I decided as I did? You must do just what you
like; I only felt I could not do anything against you."

I turned and drew her wholly into my arms, and at that warm, living
contact my voice came back to me.

"You are my life, my soul, and you ask if I am glad you've come back
to me? There is nothing in the world for me really but you. Everything
else is dust and ashes, that can be swept away by the lightest
transient wind. You are the very life in my veins, and you must be
mine always, as you have been from the very first."

I pressed my lips down on hers with all the force of that fury of
triumph which rose within me. I did not want her answer. I merely
wanted to force my words between her lips, to drive them home to her
heart. She was my regained possession, and the joy of it was like
madness. She put her arms round my neck and lay quite still and
passive, close pressed against my heart, and our souls seemed to meet
and hold communion with each other and there was no need of any more
words.




PART FOUR

THE CRIMSON NIGHT




CHAPTER VIII

LOSS


We had left town and come down to the country. Viola had not seemed
quite so well in the last three months since the night of our
reconciliation, and even here in the country she did not seem to
regain her colour and her usual spirits.

She declared, however, there was nothing the matter with her, and we
had been intensely happy.

One morning when we came down to our rather late breakfast I found a
long, thin, curiously addressed letter lying by my plate.

Viola took it up laughingly, and then I saw her suddenly turn pale,
and she laid it back on the table as if the touch of it hurt her.

"Oh, Trevor, that is a letter from Suzee! I am sure it is! Why should
it come now, just when we are so happy?"

I looked at her in surprise, and took up the letter to cut it open.

"What makes you think it comes from her?" I asked; "it is not at all
likely."

"I know it does," she said simply; "I feel it."

I laughed and opened the letter, not in the least believing she would
be right. The first line, however, my eye fell upon shewed me it was
from Suzee. The queer, stiff, upright characters suggested Chinese
writing, and the first words could be hers alone:

"Dear Mister Treevor,

"Do you remember me? I am in awful trouble. Husband died and also
baby. I sent here to be sold for slave to rich Chinaman. Please
you buy me. Send my price 500 dollars to Mrs. Hackett, address as
per above.

"Dear Treevor, dear Treevor, do come to me. You remember the wood?

"I am yours not sold yet,

"SUZEE."

I read this through with a feeling of amaze. Suzee had for so long
been a forgotten quantity to me, something left in the past of the
Alaskan trip, like the stars of the North, that her memory, thrown


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