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it, end it.

Veronica professed to have fallen in love with me. It is rather a
trick of models to do this. They think it can do no harm, and possibly
extra benefits to themselves may accrue. Perhaps she was in love with
me, if a mere covetousness of the senses can be called love. This she
had, and from the first she had determined to subdue me. Her ruse of
the first day had succeeded. Viola had never again come to the studio
while she was there, and so hour after hour we were alone together
undisturbed. I kept hard at work the whole time, hardly exchanging a
word with her, and would go downstairs for tea with Viola; but she
employed her eyes continually to tell her story, and caught my hand
and kissed it whenever she was able.

Just at first I felt only amusement and annoyance. Then gradually I
used to expect the soft look to come into the beautiful eyes, the
touch of the warm lips on my hand began to stir and thrill me. I felt
a vague dislike and distrust of the girl mentally, I thought she was
vain, selfish, mercenary, revengeful, and bad-tempered, but with all
that Nature had nothing to do. Her servants, the senses, submitted to
the youth and beauty of the newcomer, and that was all Nature cared

One afternoon she was posing as usual, and I was painting, deeply
absorbed, on the picture of the "Bacchante" when her voice suddenly
disturbed me.

"May I move just for a minute?"

"Certainly," I exclaimed, looking up and laying down my brush.

The girl laid down her spray of ivy-leaves, walked across the space
intervening between us, and, before I was aware of her intention,
threw her arms round my neck and kissed me.

The kiss seemed to burn my lips, but with the current of passion I
also felt a storm of anger against her. I sprang up and seized her
shoulders, pushing her away from me.

"Don't, Trevor, don't, you are hurting me; you are hurting my
shoulders," she exclaimed, the tears starting to her eyes.

I took my hands from her arms, and saw my grasp had left deep marks of
crimson on them.

"Go and get dressed then, and go," I said furiously; "I'm not going to
paint any more." I pushed my chair away and threw the palette and
brushes on to the table near.

Veronica shrank from me and turned pale. In that moment the intense
beauty of the face and figure was borne in upon me, she clung as if
for support to the easel with one soft hand, all the youthful body
seemed to shrink together in a beautiful dismay, great tears rolled
down the cheeks from the dark reproachful eyes. I saw it all for one
moment, feeling the anger sinking down under that strange influence
that beauty has upon us. But I would not look at her. I turned my back
on her and went over to the window, hardly conscious of what I did. I
stood there for a few moments; then, suddenly, there came a cry and
the sound of a fall behind me. I looked round and saw her lying, a
little crushed heap, by the couch where she usually dressed.

I sprang forward, full of self-reproach. How foolish I had been! So
unnecessarily harsh! I went to her. In obedience to my order, she had
put some of her clothes on, and now lay there senseless apparently and
quite white, her arms, still bare, stretched out on the floor beside
her. She looked so pretty, so small, round, and helpless, that my
heart went out to her. I felt I had been such a brute. As I stooped
over her to raise her I saw the great crimson bruises I had left on
her arms.

I picked her up and put her on the couch. She lay there quite still,
pale, her eyes closed, unconscious.

I pushed the hair off her forehead, and, dipping my handkerchief into
a glass of water on the table, pressed it on to her head. I was
kneeling by the couch. The sweet, little, rounded face, the soft
unconscious body lay just beneath my eyes.

She opened her eyes slowly:

"Trevor, do forgive me," she whispered, and smiled up at me just a
little, opening the curved lips; "do say you forgive me, give me one

In the violent reaction of feeling, in the torrent of self-reproach
for being so hard on a child like this, the senses conquered, I put my
head down, and kissed her passionately, far more passionately from
that great reaction of preceding anger, on her lips.

"Dear, dear little girl, are you better?"

She threw her arms round me.

"Oh, Trevor, I do love you so, I do love you, I do love you."

Full of that great delight, so transient, so baseless, so unreasoning,
yet so great, which the senses give us, of that passion in which the
mind has no part, that passes over us as the wind ruffles the surface
of the lake without moving the depths below, I kissed her over and
over again, and pressed her to me, soft shoulders and undone hair and
wounded arms.

The next moment the vision of Viola came before my brain, and I rose
to my feet. Veronica caught at my hand, and, raising it to her lips,
kissed it in a tempest of passion. I drew it away -

"Get up and finish your dressing," I said very gently. "This sort of
thing can do you no good, Veronica. It will only mean that I cannot
let you come to the studio at all."

Veronica rose from the couch obediently and resumed her dressing. She
gave me somehow the impression she was satisfied at having broken down
my self-control, and hoped to win me over further by extreme docility.
I walked away to the window, angry with myself, and yet angry again
that that anger should be necessary. I had always been so free till
now, able to gratify the fancy of the moment. This need for
self-restraint was new and irritating.

Veronica came up to me when she was dressed, and asked for a parting
kiss. I gave it, and she went away with a demure and sad little sigh.

When I came down from the studio I went at once to our bedroom to
dress. We were dining early and going out after, and I knew I had not
much time. Viola was not there; she had dressed evidently and gone
down. Sometimes she would be sitting in the armchair at the foot of
the bed waiting for me, but to-night she had gone down.

I walked about the room, quickly collecting my evening things and
thinking. Why did I, now that I had left Veronica, feel self-reproach
and regret at what had passed? What was a kiss? It was ridiculous to
think of it twice.

I ran downstairs and found Viola as I had expected in the
drawing-room. In her white dinner-gown and with a few violet pansies
at her breast, she looked, I thought, particularly charming. She
smiled as I came in, but when I approached to kiss her as was usual
between us after the shortest absences, she got up, almost started up
and moved away from me.

"Don't kiss me! I am so afraid you will crush my flowers."

I stopped disconcerted; she coloured slightly and took a chair further
from me, I flung myself into one close to me.

It was so unlike Viola to resist any advance of mine, and on such a
score, that it astonished me. Often and often I had hesitated when she
had been in some of her magnificent toilettes to clasp her to me for
fear of disturbing the wonderful creations, and had been laughingly
derided for so doing.

"Your kiss is worth a dozen dresses," she would say, and crush me to
her in spite of whatever laces or jewels might lie between; and such
words had been very dear to me.

This phrase now, usual with many women, unheard before from her,
struck me. The blood rushed to my head for a moment as the thought
came - she have seen or heard in any possible way the scene in the
studio? and then I dismissed it as quite impossible. It was
coincidence, merely that. She could know nothing. Then, staring away
from her into the little fire, I thought suddenly - "Is not this the
most despicable, the worst part of all infidelity, this deceit it
must bring with it? The lies, either spoken or tacit, to which it
gives birth?"

There were only a few moments and then the bell called us to dinner.

Viola was just as sweet and charming as usual through the meal and
after, both during the theatre party to which we went, and when we
were driving home together.

The next morning when we were at breakfast alone she said in a very
earnest tone:

"Trevor, you will be careful about that model of yours, won't you?"

I raised my eyebrows.

"How do you mean?"

"Don't let her draw you into anything you don't really want to do. Be
a little on your guard with her. You know how detestable some women
can be. They try to make men compromise themselves, and then worry
them afterwards."

"I should think I ought to be able to take care of myself," I replied.
Of course I was annoyed, and showed it.

"Well," said Viola, getting up from the table, "it is difficult when a
girl is as beautiful as that and you are shut up for hours alone with
her. When do you think the picture will be finished?"

"I don't know at all," I said, feeling more and more annoyed. "I
shall probably keep her on for another after it."

This was a pure invention of my anger at the moment, for I had fully
resolved last night to get rid of Veronica and as soon as possible,
and never see her again; but I objected to what seemed to me

Viola turned paler almost than the cloth before us.

"Do you really wish to do so?" she asked.

"Yes," I said coldly. "Have you any objection?"

"Yes, I think it would be a great pity," she replied quietly. "You
will get so drawn to her, so interested in her, it will come between

I looked at her in amaze and anger. Was this all coincidence? It must
be. How could she possibly know what had occurred?

We are nearly all of us beasts to women when they appeal to us. Had
the position been reversed and had I been speaking to Viola as she was
to me, she would have been all sweetness, accepting my jealous anxiety
as a compliment, recognising how sure a sign of passion it is.

"All this seems very childish and silly," I answered. "Veronica is
nothing to me but a model and will never be anything than that. I
shall keep her as long as I want her, and dismiss her when I choose. I
don't want to discuss the matter again with you."

Viola waited till I had finished speaking, then when I ceased, she
inclined her head and went out, shutting the door noiselessly behind

In that moment even of anger against her, a great throb of admiration
beat through me. Her attitude as she waited by the door, one hand
clasping the handle, her face turned towards me, was so perfect, the
acquiescence so graceful and dignified; but it was only for a moment,
the anger closed over the impulse of love again, and I walked up and
down the room full of resentment.

"Why should one," I muttered, "just because one loves one woman, never
be supposed to kiss another, why should there be all this hateful,
jealous tyranny? It is better to be free, as one is as a bachelor, and
do what one likes, just take everything as it comes along."

Then it recurred to me suddenly that I was not married, not tied in
any way, I was free, and the remembrance came, too, why it was
so - that Viola herself had refused to take my freedom from me.

"Then when I use it to amuse myself for an hour or two this is the
result," I thought stormily, trying to keep angry with Viola. "It's as
bad as being married."

I tried to feel Viola was quite in the wrong, a tiresome,
unreasonable, jealous person; but irresistibly my thoughts modified
themselves, sobered by that sudden recollection that I was not bound
to her nor she to me. Perhaps I should not have to complain of her
tyranny very long. Waves of memory rolled over me against my will,
memories of the wonderful passion that existed between us, something
that went down to the roots of my being, that shook me to the very
depths, as different as the day from the night from my passing fancy
for Veronica's beauty. My mind went back to the first night at the
studio; I had never felt anything for any other woman that could
approach my feelings for her. She was so different from all the
others. I had known a good many, and they all seemed very much alike,
but Viola stood alone amongst them.

After a few minutes' more reflection, I went to look for her. I
thought I would try to soften the effect of my last words to her, but
I could not find her, and full of a sense of dissatisfaction, I went
on at last upstairs to the studio.

When Veronica came into the room I realised the full extent of my
folly the previous afternoon. Hitherto her manner had been respectful
and demure enough on the surface, though always with a suggestion of
veiled insolent self-confidence. Now the veil was thrown off, she was
assured of herself, and showed it.

She came up to me, kissed me as a matter of course, and when I barely
returned the kiss, she laughed openly and said coolly.

"What's the matter, Trevor? Viola been lecturing you?"

To hear her use Viola's name seemed to freeze me.

"Be quiet," I said sharply.

The girl merely made a grimace and began to take off her hat and let
down her hair.

The morning passed dully. I did not paint well. The impersonal state
of mind in which alone good artistic work can be produced was not with

When I went down to luncheon I found Viola looking very pale and ill.
This made me feel cross. Ill-health very rarely excites pity or
sympathy in men, but nearly always a feeling of vexation and
annoyance. "Why should she worry herself?" I asked myself angrily,
"when there was nothing to worry about."

She had generally a very warm pink colour glowing in her face, which
disappeared if anything worried or grieved her. It was gone now, and I
knew it was my words of the morning that had driven it away.

"I looked for you this morning before I went up to paint," I said;
"but couldn't find you."

"I am so sorry," she answered with a quick smile. "What did you want
me for?"

"To tell you you needn't worry about Veronica. She is absolutely
nothing to me."

"Then, if she is, why will you not send her away, or at least when the
'Bacchante' is finished?"

"Because I don't see any necessity," I answered. "Besides, if I get
any other model you would feel the same, wouldn't you, about her?"

"Any model you kissed and desired. Yes, certainly."

We were both standing now facing each other. Viola was deadly pale, as
she always became in any conflict with me.

I stood silent for a moment.

I could not understand how she knew and could speak so definitely, but
I could not lie and deny it, so I said nothing.

"Do you mean that I am never to kiss another woman as long as I live?"
I asked, a shade of derision coming into my voice.

"No, only as long as we are what we are to each other."

A chill fell upon me. I could not think of a time when she would not
be with me, could not face the idea of change.

The light fell across her very bright and waving hair, and caught the
tips of her eyelashes and fell all round her exquisite, girlish
figure, full of that wonderful grace I had never seen in any other.

"It is a pity to make your love, which otherwise would be such a
divine pleasure, a thing of restraint and fetters," I said slowly.

"But it is a mutual obligation in love," she said in a very low tone.
"It must be so. You would not wish me to kiss any of the men who come
here, would you? They often ask me to."

Her words gave me suddenly such a sense of surprise and shock, it was
almost as if she had struck me in the eyes.

"_No_," I said involuntarily, the instinct within me speaking without

"Well, that is what I say," answered Viola gently. "A great passion
has its fetters. I don't see how it can be helped. You can have the
promiscuous loves of all the women you meet, or you can have the
absolute devotion of one; but I don't see how you can have the two."

My heart beat, and the blood seemed going up to my head, confusing my
reason. I felt angry because I knew she was right.

"Well, really it seems that the first might be better if one's life is
to be so limited."

Viola did not answer at all. I turned and walked towards the window
and stood looking out for a few minutes. When I turned round the room
was empty.

I went up to the studio, but again I could not paint. The pale,
unhappy face of Viola came between me and the picture.

To Veronica I hardly spoke. Her beauty neither attracted nor even
pleased me. She was the cause of all this vague cloud rising up in my
life, which had hitherto been intensely happy and allowed me to do
the very best in my art.

Her efforts to attract me and to draw me from my work only annoyed and
irritated me, and when I went down to tea I told her to go, that I
should not paint afterwards.

No one happened to be calling that afternoon, so Viola and I were
alone. There was hardly any constraint between us even after what had
passed at luncheon. We were so much one, so intimate, mentally as well
as physically, that we could not quarrel with each other any more than
one can quarrel with oneself. One can be cross with oneself
occasionally, but not for long.

We neither of us referred to Veronica or anything disagreeable, but
gave ourselves up to the joy of each other's society. When I told her
I was not going back to paint she was delighted, and we planned to
dine early and go to the Empire after.

The ballet seemed to amuse her, and when we returned and went up to
our room she was in the lightest and gayest of spirits. This room was
the only one in the house in the furnishing of which Viola had taken
the slightest interest. In all the others she had allowed things to
stand just as we found them, just as our landlord had thought good to
leave them, but in this one much had been added to the contents
written down in the inventory and so much altered that our landlord
would indeed have been astonished if he had suddenly looked in. The
bed was a triumph of artistic skill, designed and arranged under her
own directions, the curtains enclosing it were delicate in colouring
and so soft in fabric that the bed seemed enveloped in a mass of blue
clouds, gold-lined, and all the sheets and clothing were filmy and
lace-edged, and must have been the despair of the steam laundry; a
blue silk covering, the colour of her own eyes, and embroidered with
pale pink roses, gold-centred, reposed on it, matching the curtains,
and an electric lamp shaded in rose colour depended from the French
crown above the head; a lamp which flooded the bed with light when all
the curtains were drawn and shut out the lights of the room. The
carpet was blue also, and the heavy curtains over all the windows
matched it, edged with, and embroidered in gold.

The toilet-table, though simple enough in its arrangements, for Viola
needed no cosmetics, no lotions, no manicure nor other evil
inventions, was always a lovely object. On its pale rose covering lay
her gold-backed brushes and comb, her gold hand-mirror with cupids
playing on it, her little gold boxes of pins, and always vases of
fresh geraniums, white and rose-pink. Out of the room at one side
opened a smaller one, it was not used as a chapel nor yet as a
dressing-room. We dressed together and took pleasure in so doing, as
we did in everything that threw us into intimate companionship. We had
no need of dressing-rooms since there were no teeth to come in and
out, no wigs to be taken off and put on, no secrets on either side to
be jealously guarded from one another. No, the room opening out of
ours was a supper-room, where, when we came back late from opera or
theatre, we could always count on finding cold supper and champagne. I
went in to-night and turned on all the lights, which were many, while
Viola laid aside her dress and slipped into a dressing-gown, something
as fragile and beautiful as a rose-leaf, suiting her delicate, elusive
beauty. She followed me into the little supper-room, and as I turned
and saw her on the threshold, the delicacy of the whole vision struck
me. A pain shot into my heart suddenly. Supposing I ever lost her? Saw
her fade from me?

Her eyes were wide-open and laughing, a faint colour glowed in the
white transparent skin, the lips were a light scarlet, parted now from
the milky teeth.

I made two steps forwards and caught her and crushed her up tightly to
my breast and kissed her and made her sit on my knee while I poured
out some champagne.

"Now drink that," I commanded; "you look as if you needed something
material. You look like a vision that may vanish from me into thin

Viola laughed and drank the wine.

"Trevor," she said reflectively, as if following up some train of
thought she had been pursuing already a long time. "What heaps of
wonderfully beautiful girls and women we saw to-night. Wouldn't you
like some of them?"

I laughed.

"Some of them! Supposing you send me up a dozen or two?"

"No, but really I was thinking as I sat there to-night, how pretty
they were, and how varied. I can quite understand how a man would like
to try them all."

"You would object, I am afraid," I said gravely. "You object even to

"I know. I don't think it's possible to do otherwise. I shouldn't love
you if I didn't. But if you gave me up you could have all these

"Well, you see, it is the other way; I have given them all up for

"I know, but is it wise for your own happiness? I thought about it a
great deal to-night."

"Women like that can give one only the simple pleasure of the senses.
It is very much the same with them all; but with you there is some
extraordinary passion created in the brain as well as in the senses,
that makes it a different thing."

"I am so glad," she murmured, leaning her arms on the table and
looking at me with eyes absorbed and abstracted.

"There is no single thing in this world I would not do to give you
pleasure, to delight and satisfy you. I have never refused you
anything, have I?"


And it was true. She never had refused me anything it was in her power
to give. Still she held something that was not yet mine; the inner
spirit of the Soul.

* * * * *

Days passed and things continued in the same way. I had not the
strength of mind to dismiss Veronica, to deprive myself of that
subtle, delicious pleasure that lay in her soft kisses, in the bloom
of her beauty, in her professed devotion to myself. The Bacchante was
not quite finished, so that gave me the outward excuse. The excuse I
put forward to myself was that Viola could not possibly know what I
felt for the girl nor what I did, and so it could not hurt her.

Veronica made no secret of her wishes to tie me more closely to her
still. But, in spite of the clamour of the senses, there was something
within me or round me that held me irresistibly from this.

All that I had done already I knew that Viola would forgive, even
though it grieved and distressed her. If I went further I did not
know that she would ever forgive, and that made an insurmountable
barrier that nothing Veronica could do or say could break down.

The weeks slipped by and brought us to the date when Viola's operetta
was to be produced. On the evening which she had so looked forward to,
now it had come, she seemed tired and spiritless, and we dressed for
dinner almost in silence. Captain Lawton and another man who had
helped in the production of the piece were dining with us, and we were
then going on to our box at the theatre.

At dinner Viola seemed to regain some of her old gay spirits, and the
light rose colour I loved crept back into her cheeks as she laughed
and talked with Lawton seated on her right hand. I had always thought
him a particularly handsome fellow, and to-night it struck me suddenly
what an extremely attractive man he must be in a woman's eyes. He was
dark and a little sunburnt from being in South Africa, and, combined
with really beautiful features and a fine figure, he had that dashing
grace of carriage, that unaffected simple manner of the soldier, which
even by itself has a charm of its own.

I looked at Viola curiously, and wondered how she felt towards this
man who was so obviously in love with her. Whether it moved her at all
to see those dark eyes fill with fire as she smiled at him, to know
that the whole of this engaging personality was hers if she chose to
stretch out her hand and claim it.

The dinner passed off well, thanks principally to the inexhaustible
tide of good spirits and fun that flowed from Lawton. We took a couple
of hansoms afterwards and arrived at the theatre in good time.

The "Lily of Canton" went smoothly from beginning to end. The crowded
house laughed and applauded the whole time. In fact, the humour and
fun of Lawton's libretto were irresistible, and the beautiful airs

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Online LibraryVictoria CrossFive Nights → online text (page 9 of 18)