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pride and joy in my strength such as a woman feels, I suppose, in her
beauty when she surveys it in the mirror - a wild elation, a sense of
triumph, as she realises in it her power. The thought of the
approaching meeting with Viola danced before my mind, filling it with
superb delight. All my veins seemed filled with fire instead of blood.
My limbs and muscles flew to do the bidding of the eager, impatient
brain.

I drove to Bletchner's Hotel and enquired for Madame Lonsdale, and was
immediately shewn up to her suite of apartments. The salon I entered
was empty. A door faced me at the other end. It was closed. My heart
leapt up as I saw it. Was she there - just on the other side? The salon
was lighted with shaded electric lamps and furnished and hung entirely
in white, so that there was that dazzling effect of light I knew she
always loved. I walked up and down in short quick turns, longing to go
up to that tantalising door and knock, but holding myself back.

After a moment it opened and she came through it towards me. For one
second before I rushed forward to clasp her in my arms, I stood to
gaze at her, and the sweetness, the enchanting glamour of the vision
was borne in upon me and locked itself into my memory for ever. She
was in white, some soft white tissue that fell round her closely,
edged with silver that seemed like moonlight on white clouds, and
there was a little silver on her shoulders and round the breast that
seemed like moonlight upon snow. Her fair hair shone in the blaze of
light, her face raised to mine was pale and smiling, with a wonderful
lustre in the azure eyes.

She seemed, as ever, the dream, the vision, the ideal, the
unattainable divinity man's soul continually strives after.

A moment more and she was in my arms. Her physical semblance was mine,
in which her spirit walked and moved, and I was the owner and
conqueror of that at least.

"Trevor dear, be gentle!" she murmured in laughing remonstrance, but
her white arms did not unlock from my neck nor her soft lips move far
from mine.

"How happy I am now," she said, sinking into my embrace, "and how well
you look, Trevor, how splendid! So strong and gloriously full of
life!"

"I wonder I do," I answered, "after this cruel year you gave me. How
could you leave me as you did while I was asleep beside you, and what
was your reason? You will have to tell me now."

"I believe you would be happier if I did not, if you just trusted me
and never asked to know," she answered, smiling back at me. "Are we
not perfectly happy now? You have me again; look at me, am I just the
same as when we parted?"

I looked at her intently, eagerly, my eyes drinking in all the perfect
vision before me, each slim outline of the body, lying back now on the
couch where we both were sitting, all the delicacy of the transparent
skin, the smooth white forehead with its fine, straight-drawn
eyebrows, the lovely eyes searching mine. Yes, I had lost nothing of
my possession, and there seemed rather something added to that inner
light and that wonderful look of intellect and power that shone
through the face.

"I think you are the same," I said slowly, seeking vainly to express
that indefinable extra light that seemed upon her face.

"Only perhaps more lovely. But tell me what your reason was. I cannot
bear to think there is a dark gap between us."

"You are so happy at this moment it seems a pity," she murmured
softly. "You will not feel so happy when you know, and it's all over
and past and forgotten. It's a thunderstorm that has rolled by and
left us again in the sunlight. We are in Paradise now, are we not?"

I looked at her, and the triumph of delighted joy I had in her rose up
to my brain, filling it, making all else seem obscure and of no
account. Yet something in her words stirred my brain anxiously. Why
should I mind hearing what she had to say? Was it possible that she
had acted on her first letter to me, after all, and, while forcing
freedom on me, taken it also for herself? Was it possible she had lent
my possession, herself, to another? That blind, insensate jealousy of
the male in physical matters instantly flamed up through me. In that
moment of extreme passion for her, of expected triumph and delight, it
burnt at its most furious pitch. I felt I must _know_, must drag the
secret out of her, and if it was what I thought in that unreasoning
moment, I would kill us both.

I threw myself forward on her so that she could not move. "Now tell
me," I said. "You shall tell me, you promised you would."

Viola looked up at me with a regretful gaze but without any shrinking
from my savage look and grasp.

"Certainly I will," she said gently; "but you will regret forcing me
to tell you. Well, I left you, Trevor, because I found I was going to
be the mother of your child."

"Viola!"

Had she stabbed me in the breast as I leant over her, the shock could
not have been more great. To me the words seemed to go straight to my
heart and stop it. I could not speak beyond that one word. For the
moment I was absolutely stunned, paralysed. I took my hands from her
arms which I had been holding, rose from the couch mechanically, and
walked away from her, trying to realise, to understand what she had
said and its meaning.

This was the fact that stood out most clearly before my disordered
mental vision: knowing she was going to be in danger, to suffer, she
had fled from me to bear the burden of it alone. And, next, that I had
brought that burden and suffering on her. That spirit, so far above
earthly things, as I always thought her, I had dragged down to know
the common trials, share the common lot of earthly womanhood. The pain
of these two ideas, the agony they brought with them to me in those
moments was something almost unendurable. I felt crushed, absolutely
ground into the dust before it. I sat down by the table and put both
hands across my eyes, shutting out her exquisite vision, trying to
shut out my thoughts. I felt as a religious enthusiast might feel who
in a moment of drunken madness had outraged a sacred shrine.

Viola was to me, had always been, far more than a wife or a mistress
is to a man; she was also the Idea to my brain, and what his Idea is
to an artist an artist alone can know. But it is something he will
live and die for, and count his heart's blood as nothing beside it.
That she was a sacred thing, to be protected and guarded from the
sordid incidents of daily life that she hated, had always been my
thought. She was an artist, and as such had Art's own penalties to
pay - the excessive nervous strain it puts upon the body, the long
weakening tension, the extreme mental and bodily fatigue that
sometimes accompanies or follows an artist's flight into the Elysian
fields, from which he brings back those deathless flowers of music,
verse, song, or colour to plant in the world. It is not fair that such
a one should have to bear the common ills of life as well as pay those
penalties.

That had always been my view. Viola was apart from the world, a
daughter of the gods, not suited for, nor designed for the common
sufferings of the clay. Love she might know, or rather must know, for
love is always the handmaiden to Art, but motherhood, no. For those
thousands and thousands of women who inhabit this world and have no
divine gifts to bestow maternity is a pleasing and natural
occupation; for the one amongst those thousands who has heard the
Divine whisper and walked and conversed with the gods, and who can
repeat those whispers to mortals, it is a waste of divine energy - a
sacrilege. For genius is not handed down. It is given to one alone. It
is not hereditary. For genius accumulated through heredity would at
last produce a god. And that the jealous gods will not allow.
Therefore the child of a genius is rarely a genius itself. It is born
with a veil across its eyes that it may not see divinity and so return
to the common type.

Knowing all this and feeling it keenly to my heart's core, I had given
my promise to Viola. A promise, which indeed was part of a religion to
me, and this was how I had kept it!

The intense humiliation of it all rolled through me, stunning me like
a physical agony.

I heard her voice speaking gently to me, but I could not understand
what she said, could not respond.

In memory, I was listening again to her voice when she had come that
first night to the studio:

"You will not let our love drag us down to earth, will you? Let it
only inspire us more. We will go to the Elysian fields together to
gather the amaranth flowers. You will not try to turn me into the
ordinary married woman. I could not accept those duties and that
life. I want to live in my music, in the heaven of Ideas, as I do now.
And to you I want always to be the vision, the dream, the spirit of
your thoughts: never the wife, the mother, the keeper of the
household, occupied with worldly matters."

And I had promised with all the rapture and the fervour of one who
understood and thought her thoughts, and who had always longed to
escape from the commonplace, the trivial matters of the world, to
whom, as to her, the deathless amaranth flowers of beauty, of art, of
Idea, of inspiration were all.

But the promise had been broken. Through me she had known pain,
suffering, danger, inability to work, anxiety, daily care for months
and months alone. The exquisite, perfect form I had counted so sacred,
had suffered the common earthly lot. And through me. My thoughts
seemed crushing me, grinding me beneath them, but at last her voice
penetrated to my brain, through its anguish of self-reproach.

"I knew you would feel it so much, dear Trevor, that was why I kept it
secret from you and went away, but now it is all over and past, you
must not dwell on it. It is irrevocable. Don't reproach yourself about
it. Let us be glad we are in Heaven now."

I rose and went over to her and knelt by the couch, raising one of her
hands to my lips and holding it against me.

"Dear! Dearest one! You went away to endure all that misery alone, so
that it should not distress me? How wonderfully unselfish you have
always been to me!"

"Oh, no," she answered quickly, a light colour rising all over her
face.

"You must not think that. I went away for myself, too. I could not
bear that you should see me disfigured, spoiled, as you would think. I
had always been the ideal to you. I could not bear to let you see me
as an ordinary woman. I was afraid I should lose your passion for me,
which I value more than anything else in the world. I felt I could
face everything but that. Terrifying and horrible as it all was to
meet quite alone, still it was better than feeling I was losing your
love and desire."

"But you would not have done," I said vehemently; "nothing could make
any difference to my love for you."

"Not to your love, perhaps, but our passions are not in our own
control. They rise under certain influences, sink and decline under
others, and we can do nothing. We must look these things in the face.
See now, if I were suddenly turned to an old, old woman, withered
before your eyes, would you feel as you feel now?"

"No," I answered slowly, "I admit old age...."

"Or hopelessly disfigured - my face rendered hideous by burns or
loathsome with disease? You could not desire me then, I should not
expect it. Love is unchangeable, but passion is a flame that shivers
in every transient breeze. We can't help it. It _is_ so. As I look at
you now I love you for your strength and grace, above all for your
beautiful form. If you hobbled into the room, bent and lame, I should
love you still but not as I do now, quite, quite otherwise. And I was
disfigured, temporarily, I know, but it went on for months and months.
I was no longer your gay, glad spirit with the radiant wings. I was
broken, distorted, hideous."

"Don't tell me," I muttered; "I can't bear it." She put one arm round
my neck and her soft lips on my hair.

"It is over," she whispered. "Do not be sorry, do not reproach
yourself. It was so much better for you not to know, not to see it. It
would all have preyed upon you so from day to day. _I_ felt the long
waiting. It seemed the time would never pass, and each day and night I
felt so glad to know you were not there, to suffer with me, but away,
quite out of reach of it all."

"But suppose you had died ... without me."

"The chances were against that. And if I had, it would have still been
better that you should be away ... for you. I would have come to you
after death, really a spirit then, and lived ever after in your soul."

I put my arms round her, living, warm, beautiful, in the flesh.

"What a lonely, terrible year for you!" I said. "It never occurred to
me ... I never dreamed ... and I can't understand now...."

"You remember the night I came back from Lawton's place to you? ...
You were mad with jealous rage, and I am so little accustomed to
resist you.... Well, it was my punishment for even thinking I could
leave you.... At least, I have always accepted it as such."

"I can never, never forgive myself."

"I knew you would take it like that, and now you see I can make you
soon forget it. If you had felt like this for weeks and months it
would almost have killed you."

She played with my hair and her lips touched my eyebrows.


"Yes," she answered, looking back at me sadly and closely. "Are you
sorry?"

"No, I am not sorry," I answered savagely.

"I thought you would not be."

"Are you?"

She sighed.

"I hardly know. It was so like you, Trevor, such a very, very
beautiful boy, exactly like you in miniature. I loved it, of course; I
could not help it, but it is better as it is, better that it should
die. We could not foresee how it would grow up, and so many men, the
majority, are such monsters, such cruel fiends, it is really a crime
to bring one into the world."

I was silent, thinking over that wonderful devotion and courage she
had shewn me. Of all the solutions to the problem of her flight from
me, this had never presented itself to my mind. We are taught both by
tradition and experience how most women cling to their lover at such a
time. Though indifferent, even faithless to him in their beauty and
health, they come to him then for protection, for assistance. For
their name's sake, to save their conventional honour, they will even
accept marriage with one they no longer love, or force themselves on
one they know has no longer love for them.

But how different this one, as always, had been! To preserve inviolate
the spirit of our love, she had gone forward to meet what must to a
sensitive nature like hers have been a time of horror and terror,
absolutely alone, unsupported except by the thought that I was away,
free, unable to share her misery!

With gifts in both hands she had come to me and laid them all in mine.
Then, when I had broken my trust and brought distress upon her, when
she was in need and I could have been the one to give, she had fled
away from love, from consolation, from any return or reparation.
Proud, courageous, independent, untamable, as she had always been, she
was in comparison with other women as a lioness is to a gazelle.

I folded my arms round her tighter at these thoughts, for the lioness
was mine and I owned her.

Perhaps, after all, it was worth while to suffer that agony of
self-reproach I had just now, and was suffering still, to see put in
such shining light before me her courage and her worth.

This was a white night, surely, as the others had been coloured, for
as white is the blending of all the colours into one, so in this night
all the emotions of those previous nights were blended. Passion,
jealousy, triumph, and an agony like death had all swept over me in
these few short hours, and now from them all, blent together and
burning as metals in a smelter, rose up the extreme white vivid flame
of love for her like the white silken tongue of fire, the last degree
of fiercest heat that the smelter can produce.

I bent over her, looking down into her eyes, deep down into those
living depths where I seemed to see the rays of an eternal heaven,
clasping the smooth breast to me, closely, that its passionate
heart-beats might answer my own, and in our veins burnt that intense
white flame that melts into itself the glory of the immortal Spirit,
the wonder of the hereafter, and all the joys of the world.



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Online LibraryVictoria CrossFive Nights → online text (page 18 of 18)