THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
by W Somerset Maugham
Chapter I I confess that when first I made acquaintance with CharlesStrickland I never for a moment discerned that there was in him anything out ofthe ordinary. Yet now few will be found to deny his greatness. I do not speak ofthat greatness which is achieved by the fortunate politician or the successfulsoldier; that is a quality which belongs to the place he occupies rather than tothe man; and a change of circumstances reduces it to very discreet proportions.The Prime Minister out of office is seentoo oftento have been but a pompousrhetoricianand the General without an army is but the tame hero of a markettown. The greatness of Charles Strickland was authentic. It may be that you donot like his artbut at all events you can hardly refuse it the tribute of yourinterest. He disturbs and arrests. The time has passed when he was an object ofridiculeand it is no longer a mark of eccentricity to defend or of perversityto extol him. His faults are accepted as the necessary complement to his merits.It is still possible to discuss his place in artand the adulation of hisadmirers is perhaps no less capricious than the disparagement of his detractors;but one thing can never be doubtfuland that is that he had genius. To my mindthe most interesting thing in art is the personality of the artist; and if thatis singularI am willing to excuse a thousand faults. I suppose Velasquez was abetter painter than El Grecobut custom stales one's admiration for him: theCretansensual and tragicproffers the mystery of his soul like a standingsacrifice. The artistpainterpoetor musicianby his decorationsublime orbeautifulsatisfies the aesthetic sense; but that is akin to the sexualinstinctand shares its barbarity: he lays before you also the greater gift ofhimself. To pursue his secret has something of the fascination of a detectivestory. It is a riddle which shares with the universe the merit of having noanswer. The most insignificant of Strickland's works suggests a personalitywhich is strangetormentedand complex; and it is this surely which preventseven those who do not like his pictures from being indifferent to them; it isthis which has excited so curious an interest in his life and character. It wasnot till four years after Strickland's death that Maurice Huret wrote thatarticle in the which rescued the unknown painter from oblivion and blazed thetrail which succeeding writerswith more or less docilityhave followed. For along time no critic has enjoyed in France a more incontestable authorityand itwas impossible not to be impressed by the claims he made; they seemedextravagant; but later judgments have confirmed his estimateand the reputationof Charles Strickland is now firmly established on the lines which he laid down.The rise of this reputation is one of the most romantic incidents in the historyof art. But I do not propose to deal with Charles Strickland's work except in sofar as it touches upon his character. I cannot agree with the painters who claimsuperciliously that the layman can understand nothing of paintingand that hecan best show his appreciation of their works by silence and a cheque-book. Itis a grotesque misapprehension which sees in art no more than a craftcomprehensible perfectly only to the craftsman: art is a manifestation ofemotionand emotion speaks a language that all may understand. But I will allowthat the critic who has not a practical knowledge of technique is seldom able tosay anything on the subject of real valueand my ignorance of painting isextreme. Fortunatelythere is no need for me to risk the adventuresince myfriendMr. Edward Leggattan able writer as well as an admirable painterhasexhaustively discussed Charles Strickland's work in a little book which is acharming example of a stylefor the most partless happily cultivated inEngland than in France.  "A Modern Artist: Notes on the Work of CharlesStrickland" by Edward LeggattA.R.H.A. Martin Secker1917. Maurice Huretin his famous article gave an outline of Charles Strickland's life which waswell calculated to whet the appetites of the inquiring. With his disinterestedpassion for arthe had a real desire to call the attention of the wise to atalent which was in the highest degree original; but he was too good ajournalist to be unaware that the "human interest" would enable himmore easily to effect his purpose. And when such as had come in contact withStrickland in the pastwriters who had known him in Londonpainters who hadmet him in the cafes of Montmartrediscovered to their amazement that wherethey had seen but an unsuccessful artistlike anotherauthentic genius hadrubbed shoulders with them there began to appear in the magazines of France andAmerica a succession of articlesthe reminiscences of onethe appreciation ofanotherwhich added to Strickland's notorietyand fed without satisfying thecuriosity of the public. The subject was gratefuland the industriousWeitbrecht-Rotholz in his imposing monograph has been able to give aremarkable list of authorities.  "Karl Strickland: sein Leben und seineKunst" by Hugo Weitbrecht-RotholzPh.D. Schwingel und Hanisch. Leipzig1914.
The faculty for myth is innate in the human race. It seizes with avidity uponany incidentssurprising or mysteriousin the career of those who have at alldistinguished themselves from their fellowsand invents a legend to which itthen attaches a fanatical belief. It is the protest of romance against thecommonplace of life. The incidents of the legend become the hero's surestpassport to immortality. The ironic philosopher reflects with a smile that SirWalter Raleigh is more safely inshrined in the memory of mankind because he sethis cloak for the Virgin Queen to walk on than because he carried the Englishname to undiscovered countries. Charles Strickland lived obscurely. He madeenemies rather than friends. It is not strangethenthat those who wrote ofhim should have eked out their scanty recollections with a lively fancyand itis evident that there was enough in the little that was known of him to giveopportunity to the romantic scribe; there was much in his life which was strangeand terriblein his character something outrageousand in his fate not alittle that was pathetic. In due course a legend arose of such circumstantialitythat the wise historian would hesitate to attack it. But a wise historian isprecisely what the Rev. Robert Strickland is not. He wrote his biographyavowedly to "remove certain misconceptions which had gained currency"in regard to the later part of his father's lifeand which had "causedconsiderable pain to persons still living." It is obvious that there wasmuch in the commonly received account of Strickland's life to embarrass arespectable family. I have read this work with a good deal of amusementandupon this I congratulate myselfsince it is colourless and dull. Mr. Stricklandhas drawn the portrait of an excellent husband and fathera man of kindlytemperindustrious habitsand moral disposition. The modern clergyman hasacquired in his study of the science which I believe is called exegesis anastonishing facility for explaining things awaybut the subtlety with which theRev. Robert Strickland has "interpreted" all the facts in his father'slife which a dutiful son might find it inconvenient to remember must surely leadhim in the fullness of time to the highest dignities of the Church. I seealready his muscular calves encased in the gaiters episcopal. It was a hazardousthough maybe a gallant thing to dosince it is probable that the legendcommonly received has had no small share in the growth of Strickland'sreputation; for there are many who have been attracted to his art by thedetestation in which they held his character or the compassion with which theyregarded his death; and the son's well-meaning efforts threw a singular chillupon the father's admirers. It is due to no accident that when one of his mostimportant works was sold at Christie's shortly after the discussion whichfollowed the publication of Mr. Strickland's biographyit fetched POUNDS 235less than it had done nine months before when it was bought by the distinguishedcollector whose sudden death had brought it once more under the hammer. PerhapsCharles Strickland's power and originality would scarcely have sufficed to turnthe scale if the remarkable mythopoeic faculty of mankind had not brushed asidewith impatience a story which disappointed all its craving for theextraordinary. And presently Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz produced the work whichfinally set at rest the misgivings of all lovers of art.  "Strickland:The Man and His Work" by his sonRobert Strickland. Wm. Heinemann1913. This was described in Christie's catalogue as follows: "A nude womananative of the Society Islandsis lying on the ground beside a brook. Behind isa tropical Landscape with palm-treesbananasetc. 60 in. x 48 in." Dr.Weitbrecht-Rotholz belongs to that school of historians which believes thathuman nature is not only about as bad as it can bebut a great deal worse; andcertainly the reader is safer of entertainment in their hands than in those ofthe writers who take a malicious pleasure in representing the great figures ofromance as patterns of the domestic virtues. For my partI should be sorry tothink that there was nothing between Anthony and Cleopatra but an economicsituation; and it will require a great deal more evidence than is ever likely tobe availablethank Godto persuade me that Tiberius was as blameless a monarchas King George V. Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz has dealt in such terms with the Rev.Robert Strickland's innocent biography that it is difficult to avoid feeling acertain sympathy for the unlucky parson. His decent reticence is branded ashypocrisyhis circumlocutions are roundly called liesand his silence isvilified as treachery. And on the strength of peccadillosreprehensible in anauthorbut excusable in a sonthe Anglo-Saxon race is accused of prudishnesshumbugpretentiousnessdeceitcunningand bad cooking. Personally I think itwas rash of Mr. Stricklandin refuting the account which had gained belief of acertain "unpleasantness" between his father and motherto state thatCharles Strickland in a letter written from Paris had described her as "anexcellent woman" since Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz was able to print the letterin facsimileand it appears that the passage referred to ran in fact as follows:It is not thus that the Church in its great days dealt with evidence that wasunwelcome. Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz was an enthusiastic admirer of CharlesStricklandand there was no danger that he would whitewash him. He had anunerring eye for the despicable motive in actions that had all the appearance ofinnocence. He was a psycho-pathologistas well as a student of artand thesubconscious had few secrets from him. No mystic ever saw deeper meaning incommon things. The mystic sees the ineffableand the psycho-pathologist theunspeakable. There is a singular fascination in watching the eagerness withwhich the learned author ferrets out every circumstance which may throwdiscredit on his hero. His heart warms to him when he can bring forward someexample of cruelty or meannessand he exults like an inquisitor at the of anheretic when with some forgotten story he can confound the filial piety of theRev. Robert Strickland. His industry has been amazing. Nothing has been toosmall to escape himand you may be sure that if Charles Strickland left alaundry bill unpaid it will be given youand if he forebore
to return a borrowed half-crown no detail of the transaction will be omitted.
Chapter II When so much has been written about Charles Stricklandit mayseem unnecessary that I should write more. A painter's monument is his work. Itis true I knew him more intimately than most: I met him first before ever hebecame a painterand I saw him not infrequently during the difficult years hespent in Paris; but I do not suppose I should ever have set down myrecollections if the hazards of the war had not taken me to Tahiti. Thereas isnotorioushe spent the last years of his life; and there I came across personswho were familiar with him. I find myself in a position to throw light on justthat part of his tragic career which has remained most obscure. If they whobelieve in Strickland's greatness are rightthe personal narratives of such asknew him in the flesh can hardly be superfluous. What would we not give for thereminiscences of someone who had been as intimately acquainted with El Greco asI was with Strickland? But I seek refuge in no such excuses. I forget who it wasthat recommended men for their soul's good to do each day two things theydisliked: it was a wise manand it is a precept that I have followedscrupulously; for every day I have got up and I have gone to bed. But there isin my nature a strain of asceticismand I have subjected my flesh each week toa more severe mortification. I have never failed to read the Literary Supplementof . It is a salutary discipline to consider the vast number of books that arewrittenthe fair hopes with which their authors see them publishedand thefate which awaits them. What chance is there that any book will make its wayamong that multitude? And the successful books are but the successes of aseason. Heaven knows what pains the author has been atwhat bitter experienceshe has endured and what heartache sufferedto give some chance reader a fewhours' relaxation or to while away the tedium of a journey. And if I may judgefrom the reviewsmany of these books are well and carefully written; muchthought has gone to their composition; to some even has been given the anxiouslabour of a lifetime. The moral I draw is that the writer should seek his rewardin the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thought; andindifferent to aught elsecare nothing for praise or censurefailure orsuccess. Now the war has comebringing with it a new attitude. Youth has turnedto gods we of an earlier day knew notand it is possible to see already thedirection in which those who come after us will move. The younger generationconscious of strength and tumultuoushave done with knocking at the door; theyhave burst in and seated themselves in our seats. The air is noisy with theirshouts. Of their elders someby imitating the antics of youthstrive topersuade themselves that their day is not yet over; they shout with the lustiestbut the war cry sounds hollow in their mouth; they are like poor wantonsattempting with pencilpaint and powderwith shrill gaietyto recover theillusion of their spring. The wiser go their way with a decent grace. In theirchastened smile is an indulgent mockery. They remember that they too trod down asated generationwith just such clamor and with just such scornand theyforesee that these brave torch-bearers will presently yield their place also.There is no last word. The new evangel was old when Nineveh reared her greatnessto the sky. These gallant words which seem so novel to those that speak themwere said in accents scarcely changed a hundred times before. The pendulumswings backwards and forwards. The circle is ever travelled anew. Sometimes aman survives a considerable time from an era in which he had his place into onewhich is strange to himand then the curious are offered one of the mostsingular spectacles in the human comedy. Who nowfor examplethinks of GeorgeCrabbe? He was a famous poet in his dayand the world recognised his geniuswith a unanimity which the greater complexity of modern life has renderedinfrequent. He had learnt his craft at the school of Alexander Popeand hewrote moral stories in rhymed couplets. Then came the French Revolution and theNapoleonic Warsand the poets sang new songs. Mr. Crabbe continued to writemoral stories in rhymed couplets. I think he must have read the verse of theseyoung men who were making so great a stir in the worldand I fancy he found itpoor stuff. Of coursemuch of it was. But the odes of Keats and of Wordswortha poem or two by Coleridgea few more by Shelleydiscovered vast realms of thespirit that none had explored before. Mr. Crabbe was as dead as muttonbut Mr.Crabbe continued to write moral stories in rhymed couplets. I have readdesultorily the writings of the younger generation. It may be that among them amore fervid Keatsa more ethereal Shelleyhas already published numbers theworld will willingly remember. I cannot tell. I admire their polish- their youthis already so accomplished that it seems absurd to speak of promise- I marvel atthe felicity of their style; but with all their copiousness (their vocabularysuggests that they fingered Roget's in their cradles) they say nothing to me: tomy mind they know too much and feel too obviously; I cannot stomach theheartiness with which they slap me on the back or the emotion with which theyhurl themselves on my bosom; their passion seems to me a little anaemic andtheir dreams a trifle dull. I do not like them. I am on the shelf. I willcontinue to write moral stories in rhymed couplets. But I should be thrice afool if I did it for aught but my own entertainment.
Chapter III But all this is by the way. I was very young when I wrote myfirst book. By a lucky chance it excited attentionand various persons soughtmy acquaintance. It is not without melancholy that I wander among myrecollections of the world of letters in London when firstbashful but eagerIwas introduced to it. It is long since I frequented itand if the novels thatdescribe its present singularities are accurate much in it is now changed. Thevenue is different. Chelsea and Bloomsbury have taken the place of HampsteadNotting Hill Gateand High StreetKensington. Then it was a distinction to beunder fortybut now to be more than twenty-five is absurd. I think in thosedays we were a little shy of our emotionsand the fear of ridicule tempered themore obvious forms of pretentiousness. I do not believe that there was in thatgenteel Bohemia an intensive culture of chastitybut I do not remember so crudea promiscuity as seems to be practised in the present day. We did not think ithypocritical to draw over our vagaries the curtain of a decent silence. Thespade was not invariably called a bloody shovel. Woman had not yet altogethercome into her own. I lived near Victoria Stationand I recall long excursionsby bus to the hospitable houses of the literary. In my timidity I wandered upand down the street while I screwed up my courage to ring the bell; and thensick with apprehensionwas ushered into an airless room full of people. I wasintroduced to this celebrated person after that oneand the kind words theysaid about my book made me excessively uncomfortable. I felt they expected me tosay clever thingsand I never could think of any till after the party was over.I tried to conceal my embarrassment by handing round cups of tea and ratherill-cut bread-and-butter. I wanted no one to take notice of meso that I couldobserve these famous creatures at my ease and listen to the clever things theysaid. I have a recollection of largeunbending women with great noses andrapacious eyeswho wore their clothes as though they were armour; and oflittlemouse-like spinsterswith soft voices and a shrewd glance. I neverceased to be fascinated by their persistence in eating buttered toast with theirgloves onand I observed with admiration the unconcern with which they wipedtheir fingers on their chair when they thought no one was looking. It must havebeen bad for the furniturebut I suppose the hostess took her revenge on thefurniture of her friends whenin turnshe visited them. Some of them weredressed fashionablyand they said they couldn't for the life of them see whyyou should be dowdy just because you had written a novel; if you had a neatfigure you might as well make the most of itand a smart shoe on a small foothad never prevented an editor from taking your "stuff." But othersthought this frivolousand they wore "art fabrics" and barbaricjewelry. The men were seldom eccentric in appearance. They tried to look aslittle like authors as possible. They wished to be taken for men of the worldand could have passed anywhere for the managing clerks of a city firm. Theyalways seemed a little tired. I had never known writers beforeand I found themvery strangebut I do not think they ever seemed to me quite real. I rememberthat I thought their conversation brilliantand I used to listen withastonishment to the stinging humour with which they would tear a brother-authorto pieces the moment that his back was turned. The artist has this advantageover the rest of the worldthat his friends offer not only their appearance andtheir character to his satirebut also their work. I despaired of everexpressing myself with such aptness or with such fluency. In those daysconversation was still cultivated as an art; a neat repartee was more highlyvalued than the crackling of thorns under a pot; and the epigramnot yet amechanical appliance by which the dull may achieve a semblance of witgavesprightliness to the small talk of the urbane. It is sad that I can remembernothing of all this scintillation. But I think the conversation never settleddown so comfortably as when it turned to the details of the trade which was theother side of the art we practised. When we had done discussing the merits ofthe latest bookit was natural to wonder how many copies had been soldwhatadvance the author had receivedand how much he was likely to make out of it.Then we would speak of this publisher and of thatcomparing the generosity ofone with the meanness of another; we would argue whether it was better to go toone who gave handsome royalties or to another who "pushed" a book forall it was worth. Some advertised badly and some well. Some were modern and somewere old-fashioned. Then we would talk of agents and the offers they hadobtained for us; of editors and the sort of contributions they welcomedhowmuch they paid a thousandand whether they paid promptly or otherwise. To me itwas all very romantic. It gave me an intimate sense of being a member of somemystic brotherhood. Chapter IV No one was kinder to me at that time than RoseWaterford. She combined a masculine intelligence with a feminine perversityandthe novels she wrote were original and disconcerting. It was at her house oneday that I met Charles Strickland's wife. Miss Waterford was giving a tea-partyand her small room was more than usually full. Everyone seemed to be talkingand Isitting in silencefelt awkward; but I was too shy to break into any ofthe groups that seemed absorbed in their own affairs. Miss Waterford was a goodhostessand seeing my embarrassment came up to me. "I want you to talk toMrs. Strickland" she said. "She's raving about your book.""What does she do?" I asked. I was conscious of my ignoranceand ifMrs. Strickland was a well-known writer I thought it as well to ascertain thefact before I spoke to her. Rose Waterford cast down her eyes demurely to givegreater effect to her reply. "She gives luncheon-parties. You've only gotto roar a littleand she'll ask you." Rose Waterford was a cynic. Shelooked upon life as an opportunity for writing novels and the public as her rawmaterial. Now and then she invited members of it to her house if they showed anappreciation of her talent and entertained with proper lavishness. She heldtheir weakness for lions in good-humoured contemptbut played to them her partof the distinguished woman of letters with decorum. I was led up to Mrs.Stricklandand for ten minutes we talked together. I noticed nothing about herexcept that she had a pleasant voice. She had a flat in Westminsteroverlookingthe unfinished cathedraland because we lived in the same neighbourhood we feltfriendly disposed to one another. The Army and Navy Stores are a bond of unionbetween all who dwell between the river and St. James's Park. Mrs. Stricklandasked me for my addressand a few days later I received an invitation toluncheon. My engagements were fewand I was glad to accept. When I arrivedalittle latebecause in my fear of being too early I had walked three timesround the cathedralI found the party already complete. Miss Waterford wasthere and Mrs. JayRichard Twining and George Road. We were all writers. It wasa fine dayearly in springand we were in a good humour. We talked about ahundred things. Miss Waterfordtorn between the aestheticism of her early youthwhen she used to go to parties in sage greenholding a daffodiland theflippancy of her maturer yearswhich tended to high heels and Paris frockswore a new hat. It put her in high spirits. I had never heard her more maliciousabout our common friends. Mrs. Jayaware that impropriety is the soul of witmade observations in tones hardly above a whisper that might well have tingedthe snowy tablecloth with a rosy hue. Richard Twining bubbled over with quaintabsurditiesand George Roadconscious that he need not exhibit a brilliancywhich was almost a by-wordopened his mouth only to put food into it. Mrs.Strickland did not talk muchbut she had a pleasant gift for keeping theconversation general; and when there was a pause she threw in just the rightremark to set it going once more. She was a woman of thirty-sevenrather talland plumpwithout being fat; she was not prettybut her face was pleasingchieflyperhapson account of her kind brown eyes. Her skin was rather sallow.Her dark hair was elaborately dressed. She was the only woman of the three whoseface was free of make-upand by contrast with the others she seemed simple andunaffected. The dining-room was in the good taste of the period. It was verysevere. There was a high dado of white wood and a green paper on which wereetchings by Whistler in neat black frames. The green curtains with their peacockdesignhung in straight linesand the green carpetin the pattern of whichpale rabbits frolicked among leafy treessuggested the influence of WilliamMorris. There was blue delft on the chimneypiece. At that time there must havebeen five hundred dining-rooms in London decorated in exactly the same manner.It was chasteartisticand dull. When we left I walked away with MissWaterfordand the fine day and her new hat persuaded us to saunter through thePark. "That was a very nice party" I said. "Did you think thefood was good? I told her that if she wanted writers she must feed them well.""Admirable advice" I answered. "But why does she want them?"Miss Waterford shrugged her shoulders. "She finds them amusing. She wantsto be in the movement. I fancy she's rather simplepoor dearand she thinkswe're all wonderful. After allit pleases her to ask us to luncheonand itdoesn't hurt us. I like her for it." Looking backI think that Mrs.Strickland was the most harmless of all the lion-hunters that pursue theirquarry from the rarefied heights of Hampstead to the nethermost studios ofCheyne Walk. She had led a very quiet youth in the countryand the books thatcame down from Mudie's Library brought with them not only their own romancebutthe romance of London. She had a real passion for reading (rare in her kindwhofor the most part are more interested in the author than in his bookin thepainter than in his pictures)and she invented a world of the imagination inwhich she lived with a freedom she never acquired in the world of every day.When she came to know writers it was like adventuring upon a stage which tillthen she had known only from the other side of the footlights. She saw themdramaticallyand really seemed herself to live a larger life because sheentertained them and visited them in their fastnesses. She accepted the ruleswith which they played the game of life as valid for thembut never for amoment thought of regulating her own conduct in accordance with them. Theirmoral eccentricitieslike their oddities of dresstheir wild theories andparadoxeswere an entertainment which amused herbut had not the slightestinfluence on her convictions. "Is there a Mr. Strickland?" I asked"Oh yes; he's something in the city. I believe he's a stockbroker. He'svery dull." "Are they good friends?" "They adore one another.You'll meet him if you dine there. But she doesn't often have people to dinner.He's very quiet. He's not in the least interested in literature or the arts.""Why do nice women marry dull men?" "Because intelligent menwon't marry nice women." I could not think of any retort to thisso Iasked if Mrs. Strickland had children. "Yes; she has a boy and a girl.They're During the summer I met Mrs. Strickland not infrequently. I went now andthen to pleasant little luncheons at her flatand to rather more formidabletea-parties. We took a fancy to one another. I was very youngand perhaps sheliked the idea of guiding my virgin steps on the hard road of letters; while forme it was pleasant to have someone I could go to with my small troublescertainof an attentive ear and reasonable counsel. Mrs. Strickland had the gift ofsympathy. It is a charming facultybut one often abused by those who areconscious of its possession: for there is something ghoulish in the avidity withwhich they will pounce upon the misfortune of their friends so that they mayexercise their dexterity. It gushes forth like an oil-welland the sympatheticpour out their sympathy with an abandon that is sometimes embarrassing to theirvictims. There are bosoms on which so many tears have been shed that I cannotbedew them with mine. Mrs. Strickland used her advantage with tact. You feltthat you obliged her by accepting her sympathy. Whenin the enthusiasm of myyouthI remarked on this to Rose Waterfordshe said: "Milk is very niceespecially with a drop of brandy in itbut the domestic cow is only too glad tobe rid of it. A swollen udder is very uncomfortable." Rose Waterford had ablistering tongue. No one could say such bitter things; on the other handnoone could do more charming ones. There was another thing I liked in Mrs.Strickland. She managed her surroundings with elegance. Her flat was always neatand cheerfulgay with flowersand the chintzes in the drawing-roomnotwithstanding their severe designwere bright and pretty. The meals in theartistic little dining-room were pleasant; the table looked nicethe two maidswere trim and comely; the food was well cooked. It was impossible not to seethat Mrs. Strickland was an excellent housekeeper. And you felt sure that shewas an admirable mother. There were photographs in the drawing-room of her sonand daughter. The son- his name was Robert- was a boy of sixteen at Rugby; andyou saw him in flannels and a cricket capand again in a tail-coat and astand-up collar. He had his mother's candid brow and finereflective eyes. Helooked cleanhealthyand normal. "I don't know that he's very clever"she said one daywhen I was looking at the photograph"but I know he'sgood. He has a charming character." The daughter was fourteen. Her hairthick and dark like her mother'sfell over her shoulders in fine profusionandshe had the same kindly expression and sedateuntroubled eyes. "They'reboth of them the image of you" I said. "Yes; I think they are morelike me than their father." "Why have you never let me meet him?"I asked. "Would you like to?" She smiledher smile was really verysweetand she blushed a little; it was singular that a woman of that age shouldflush so readily. Perhaps her naivete was her greatest charm. "You knowhe's not at all literary" she said. "He's a perfect philistine."She said this not disparaginglybut affectionately ratheras thoughbyacknowledging the worst about himshe wished to protect him from the aspersionsof her friends. "He's on the Stock Exchangeand he's a typical broker. Ithink he'd bore you to death." "Does he bore you?" I asked."You seeI happen to be his wife. I'm very fond of him." She smiledto cover her shynessand I fancied she had a fear that I would make the sort ofgibe that such a confession could hardly have failed to elicit from RoseWaterford. She hesitated a little. Her eyes grew tender. "He doesn'tpretend to be a genius. He doesn't even make much money on the Stock Exchange.But he's awfully good and kind." "I think I should like him very much.""I'll ask you to dine with us quietly some timebut mindyou come at yourown risk; don't blame me if you have a very dull evening." Chapter VI Butwhen at last I met Charles Stricklandit was under circumstances which allowedme to do no more than just make his acquaintance. One morning Mrs. Stricklandsent me round a note to say that she was giving a dinner-party that eveningandone of her guests had failed her. She asked me to stop the gap. She wrote:"It's only decent to warn you that you will be bored to extinction. It wasa thoroughly dull party from the beginningbut if you will come I shall beuncommonly grateful. And you and I can have a little chat by ourselves." Itwas only neighbourly to accept. When Mrs. Strickland introduced me to herhusbandhe gave me a rather indifferent hand to shake. Turning to him gailyshe attempted a small jest. "I asked him to show him that I really had ahusband. I think he was beginning to doubt it." Strickland gave the politelittle laugh with which people acknowledge a facetiousness in which they seenothing funnybut did not speak. New arrivals claimed my host's attentionandI was left to myself. When at last we were all assembledwaiting for dinner tobe announcedI reflectedwhile I chatted with the woman I had been asked to"take in" that civilised man practises a strange ingenuity in wastingon tedious exercises the brief span of his life. It was the kind of party whichmakes you wonder why the hostess has troubled to bid her guestsand why theguests have troubled to come. There were ten people. They met with indifferenceand would part with relief. It wasof coursea purely social function. TheStricklands "owed" dinners to a number of personswhom they took nointerest inand so had asked them; these persons had accepted. Why? To avoidthe tedium of diningto give their servants a restbecause there was noreason to refusebecause they were "owed" a dinner. The dining-roomwas inconveniently crowded. There was a K.C. and his wifea Government officialand his wifeMrs. Strickland's sister and her husbandColonel MacAndrewandthe wife of a Member of Parliament. It was because the Member of Parliamentfound that he could not leave the House that I had been invited. Therespectability of the party was portentous. The women were too nice to be welldressedand too sure of their position to be amusing. The men were solid. Therewas about all of them an air of well-satisfied prosperity. Everyone talked alittle louder than natural in an instinctive desire to make the party goandthere was a great deal of noise in the room. But there was no generalconversation. Each one talked to his neighbour; to his neighbour on the rightduring the soupfishand entree; to his neighbour on the left during the roastsweetand savoury. They talked of the political situation and of golfof theirchildren and the latest playof the pictures at the Royal Academyof theweather and their plans for the holidays. There was never a pauseand the noisegrew louder. Mrs. Strickland might congratulate herself that her party was asuccess. Her husband played his part with decorum. Perhaps he did not talk verymuchand I fancied there was towards the end a look of fatigue in the faces ofthe women on either side of him. They were finding him heavy. Once or twice Mrs.Strickland's eyes rested on him somewhat anxiously. At last she rose andshepherded the ladies out of one room. Strickland shut the door behind herandmoving to the other end of the tabletook his place between the K.C. and theGovernment official. He passed round the port again and handed us cigars. TheK.C. remarked on the excellence of the wineand Strickland told us where he gotit. We began to chat about vintages and tobacco. The K.C. told us of a case hewas engaged inand the Colonel talked about polo. I had nothing to say and sosat silenttrying politely to show interest in the conversation; and because Ithought no one was in the least concerned with meexamined Strickland at myease. He was bigger than I expected: I do not know why I had imagined himslender and of insignificant appearance; in point of fact he was broad and heavywith large hands and feetand he wore his evening clothes clumsily. He gave yousomewhat the idea of a coachman dressed up for the occasion. He was a man offortynot good-lookingand yet not uglyfor his features were rather good;but they were all a little larger than life-sizeand the effect was ungainly.He was clean shavenand his large face looked uncomfortably naked. His hair wasreddishcut very shortand his eyes were smallblue or grey. He lookedcommonplace. I no longer wondered that Mrs. Strickland felt a certainembarrassment about him; he was scarcely a credit to a woman who wanted to makeherself a position in the world of art and letters. It was obvious that he hadno social giftsbut these a man can do without; he had no eccentricity eventotake him out of the common run; he was just a gooddullhonestplain man. Onewould admire his excellent qualitiesbut avoid his company. He was null. He wasprobably a worthy member of societya good husband and fatheran honestbroker; but there was no reason to waste one's time over him. Chapter VII Theseason was drawing to its dusty endand everyone I knew was arranging to goaway. Mrs. Strickland was taking her family to the coast of Norfolkso that thechildren might have the sea and her husband golf. We said good-bye to oneanotherand arranged to meet in the autumn. But on my last day in towncomingout of the StoresI met her with her son and daughter; like myselfshe hadbeen making her final purchases before leaving Londonand we were both hot andtired. I proposed that we should all go and eat ices in the park. I think Mrs.Strickland was glad to show me her childrenand she accepted my invitation withalacrity. They were even more attractive than their photographs had suggestedand she was right to be proud of them. I was young enough for them not to feelshyand they chattered merrily about one thing and another. They wereextraordinarily nicehealthy young children. It was very agreeable under thetrees. When in an hour they crowded into a cab to go homeI strolled idly to myclub. I was perhaps a little lonelyand it was with a touch of envy that Ithought of the pleasant family life of which I had had a glimpse. They seemeddevoted to one another. They had little private jokes of their own whichunintelligible to the outsideramused them enormously. Perhaps CharlesStrickland was dull judged by a standard that demanded above all things verbalscintillation; but his intelligence was adequate to his surroundingsand thatis a passportnot only to reasonable successbut still more to happiness. Mrs.Strickland was a charming womanand she loved him. I pictured their livestroubled by no untoward adventurehonestdecentandby reason of those twoupstandingpleasant childrenso obviously destined to carry on the normaltraditions of their race and stationnot without significance. They would growold insensibly; they would see their son and daughter come to years of reasonmarry in due course- the one a pretty girlfuture mother of healthy children;the other a handsomemanly fellowobviously a soldier; and at lastprosperousin their dignified retirementbeloved by their descendantsafter a happynotunuseful lifein the fullness of their age they would
sink into the grave. That must be the story of innumerable couplesand thepattern of life it offers has a homely grace. It reminds you of a placidrivuletmeandering smoothly through green pastures and shaded by pleasanttreestill at last it falls into the vasty sea; but the sea is so calmsosilentso indifferentthat you are troubled suddenly by a vague uneasiness.Perhaps it is only by a kink in my naturestrong in me even in those daysthatI felt in such an existencethe share of the great majoritysomething amiss. Irecognised its social valuesI saw its ordered happinessbut a fever in myblood asked for a wilder course. There seemed to me something alarming in sucheasy delights. In my heart was a desire to live more dangerously. I was notunprepared for jagged rocks and treacherous shoals if I could only have change-change and the excitement of the unforeseen. Chapter VIII On reading over what Ihave written of the StricklandsI am conscious that they must seem shadowy. Ihave been able to invest them with none of those characteristics which make thepersons of a book exist with a real life of their own; andwondering if thefault is mineI rack my brains to remember idiosyncrasies which might lend themvividness. I feel that by dwelling on some trick of speech or some queer habit Ishould be able to give them a significance peculiar to themselves. As they standthey are like the figures in an old tapestry; they do not separate themselvesfrom the backgroundand at a distance seem to lose their patternso that youhave little but a pleasing piece of colour. My only excuse is that theimpression they made on me was no other. There was just that shadowiness aboutthem which you find in people whose lives are part of the social organismsothat they exist in it and by it only. They are like cells in the bodyessentialbutso long as they remain healthyengulfed in the momentous whole.The Stricklands were an average family in the middle class. A pleasanthospitable womanwith a harmless craze for the small lions of literary society;a rather dull mandoing his duty in that state of life in which a mercifulProvidence had placed him; two nice-lookinghealthy children. Nothing could bemore ordinary. I do not know that there was anything about them to excite theattention of the curious. When I reflect on all that happened laterI askmyself if I was thick-witted not to see that there was in Charles Strickland atleast something out of the common. Perhaps. I think that I have gathered in theyears that intervene between then and now a fair knowledge of mankindbut evenif when I first met the Stricklands I had the experience which I have nowI donot believe that I should have judged them differently. But because I havelearnt that man is incalculableI should not at this time of day be sosurprised by the news that reached me when in the early autumn I returned toLondon. I had not been back twenty-four hours before I ran across Rose Waterfordin Jermyn Street. "You look very gay and sprightly" I said."What's the matter with you?" She smiledand her eyes shone with amalice I knew already. It meant that she had heard some scandal about one of herfriendsand the instinct of the literary woman was all alert. "You didmeet Charles Stricklanddidn't you?" Not only her facebut her wholebodygave a sense of alacrity. I nodded. I wondered if the poor devil had beenhammered on the Stock Exchange or run over by an omnibus. "Isn't itdreadful? He's run away from his wife." Miss Waterford certainly felt thatshe could not do her subject justice on the curb of Jermyn Streetand solikean artistflung the bare fact at me and declared that she knew no details. Icould not do her the injustice of supposing that so trifling a circumstancewould have prevented her from giving thembut she was obstinate. "I tellyou I know nothing" she saidin reply to my agitated questionsand thenwith an airy shrug of the shoulders: "I believe that a young person in acity tea-shop has left her situation." She flashed a smile at meandprotesting an engagement with her dentistjauntily walked on. I was moreinterested than distressed. In those days my experience of life at first handwas smalland it excited me to come upon an incident among people I knew of thesame sort as I had read in books. I confess that time has now accustomed me toincidents of this character among my acquaintance. But I was a little shocked.Strickland was certainly fortyand I thought it disgusting that a man of hisage should concern himself with affairs of the heart. With the superciliousnessof extreme youthI put thirty-five as the utmost limit at which a man mightfall in love without making a fool of himself. And this news was slightlydisconcerting to me personallybecause I had written from the country to Mrs.Stricklandannouncing my returnand had added that unless I heard from her tothe contraryI would come on a certain day to drink a dish of tea with her.This was the very dayand I had received no word from Mrs. Strickland. Did shewant to see me or did she not? It was likely enough that in the agitation of themoment my note had escaped her memory. Perhaps I should be wiser not to go. Onthe other handshe might wish to keep the affair quietand it might be highlyindiscreet on my part to give any sign that this strange news had reached me. Iwas torn between the fear of hurting a nice woman's feelings and the fear ofbeing in the way. I felt she must be sufferingand I did not want to see a painwhich I could not help; but in my heart was a desirethat I felt a littleashamed ofto see how she was taking it. I did not know what to do. Finally itoccurred to me that I would call as though nothing had happenedand send amessage in by the maid asking Mrs. Strickland if it was convenient for her tosee me. This would give her the opportunity to send me away. But I wasoverwhelmed with embarrassment when I said to the maid the phrase I hadpreparedand while I waited for the answer in a dark passage I had to call upall my strength of mind not to bolt. The maid came back. Her manner suggested tomy excited fancy a complete knowledge of the domestic calamity. "Will youcome this waysir?" she said. I followed her into the drawing-room. Theblinds were partly drawn to darken the roomand Mrs. Strickland was sittingwith her back to the light. Her brother-in-lawColonel MacAndrewstood infront of the fireplacewarming his back at an unlit fire. To myself my entranceseemed excessively awkward. I imagined that my arrival had taken them bysurpriseand Mrs. Strickland had let me come in only because she had forgottento put me off. I fancied that the Colonel resented the interruption. "Iwasn't quite sure if you expected me" I saidtrying to seem unconcerned."Of course I did. Anne will bring the tea in a minute." Even in thedarkened roomI could not help seeing that Mrs. Strickland's face was allswollen with tears. Her skinnever very goodwas earthy. "You remember mybrother-in-lawdon't you? You met at dinnerjust before the holidays." Weshook hands. I felt so shy that I could think of nothing to saybut Mrs.Strickland came to my rescue. She asked me what I had been doing with myselfduring the summerand with this help I managed to make some conversation tilltea was brought in. The Colonel asked for a whisky-and-soda. "You'd betterhave one tooAmy" he said. "No; I prefer tea." This was thefirst suggestion that anything untoward had happened. I took no noticeand didmy best to engage Mrs. Strickland in talk. The Colonelstill standing in frontof the fireplaceuttered no word. I wondered how soon I could decently take myleaveand I asked myself why on earth Mrs. Strickland had allowed me to come.There were no flowersand various knick-knacksput away during the summerhadnot been replaced; there was something cheerless and stiff about the room whichhad always seemed so friendly; it gave you an odd feelingas though someonewere lying dead on the other side of the wall. I finished tea. "Will youhave a cigarette?" asked Mrs. Strickland. She looked about for the boxbutit was not to be seen. "I'm afraid there are none." Suddenly she burstinto tearsand hurried from the room. I was startled. I suppose now that thelack of cigarettesbrought as a rule by her husbandforced him back upon herrecollectionand the new feeling that the small comforts she was used to weremissing gave her a sudden pang. She realised that the old life was gone and donewith. It was impossible to keep up our social pretences any longer. "I daresay you'd like me to go" I said to the Colonelgetting up. "Isuppose you've heard that blackguard has deserted her" he criedexplosively. I hesitated. "You know how people gossip" I answered."I was vaguely told that something was wrong." "He's bolted. He'sgone off to Paris with a woman. He's left Amy without a penny." "I'mawfully sorry" I saidnot knowing what else to say. The Colonel gulpeddown his whisky. He was a talllean man of fiftywith a drooping moustache andgrey hair. He had pale blue eyes and a weak mouth. I remembered from my previousmeeting with him that he had a foolish faceand was proud of the fact that forthe ten years before he left the army he had played polo three days a week."I don't suppose Mrs. Strickland wants to be bothered with me justnow" I said. "Will you tell her how sorry I am? If there's anything Ican do. I shall be delighted to do it." He took no notice of me. "Idon't know what's to become of her. And then there are the children. Are theygoing to live on air? Seventeen years." "What about seventeenyears?" "They've been married" he snapped. "I never likedhim. Of course he was my brother-in-lawand I made the best of it. Did youthink him a gentleman? She ought never to have married him." "Is itabsolutely final?" "There's only one thing for her to doand that'sto divorce him. That's what I was telling her when you came in. 'Fire in withyour petitionmy dear Amy' I said. `You owe it to yourself and you owe it tothe children.' He'd better not let me catch sight of him. I'd thrash him withinan inch of his life." I could not help thinking that Colonel MacAndrewmight have some difficulty in doing thissince Strickland had struck me as ahefty fellowbut I did not say anything. It is always distressing when outragedmorality does not possess the strength of arm to administer direct chastisementon the sinner. I was making up my mind to another attempt at going when Mrs.Strickland came back. She had dried her eyes and powdered her nose. "I'msorry I broke down" she said. "I'm glad you didn't go away." Shesat down. I did not at all know what to say. I felt a certain shyness atreferring to matters which were no concern of mine. I did not then know thebesetting sin of womanthe passion to discuss her private affairs with anyonewho is willing to listen. Mrs. Strickland seemed to make an effort over herself."Are people talking about it?" she asked. I was taken aback by herassumption that I knew all about her domestic misfortune. "I've only justcome back. The only person I've seen is Rose Waterford." Mrs. Stricklandclasped her hands. "Tell me exactly what she said." And when Ihesitatedshe insisted. "I particularly want to know." "You knowthe way people talk. She's not very reliableis she? She said your husband hadleft you." "Is that all?" I did not choose to repeat RoseWaterford's parting reference to a girl from a tea-shop. I lied. "Shedidn't say anything about his going with anyone?" "No.""That's all I wanted to know." I was a little puzzledbut at allevents I understood that I might now take my leave. When I shook hands with Mrs.Strickland I told her that if I could be of any use to her I should be veryglad. She smiled wanly. "Thank you so much. I don't know that anybody cando anything for me." Too shy to express my sympathyI turned to saygood-bye to the Colonel. He did not take my hand. "I'm just coming. Ifyou're walking up Victoria StreetI'll come along with you." "Allright" I said. "Come on." Chapter IX "This is a terriblething" he saidthe moment we got out into the street. I realised that hehad come away with me in order to discuss once more what he had been alreadydiscussing for hours with his sister-in-law. "We don't know who the womanisyou know" he said. "All we know is that the blackguard's gone toParis." "I thought they got on so well." "So they did. Whyjust before you came in Amy said they'd never had a quarrel in the whole oftheir married life. You know Amy. There never was a better woman in theworld." Since these confidences were thrust on meI saw no harm in askinga few questions. "But do you mean to say she suspected nothing?""Nothing. He spent August with her and the children in Norfolk. He was justthe same as he'd always been. We went down for two or three daysmy wife and Iand I played golf with him. He came back to town in September to let his partnergo awayand Amy stayed on in the country. They'd taken a house for six weeksand at the end of her tenancy she wrote to tell him on which day she wasarriving in London. He answered from Paris. He said he'd made up his mind not tolive with her any more." "What explanation did he give?" "Mydear fellowhe gave no explanation. I've seen the letter. It wasn't more thanten lines." "But that's extraordinary." We happened then to crossthe streetand the traffic prevented us from speaking. What Colonel MacAndrewhad told me seemed very improbableand I suspected that Mrs. Stricklandforreasons of her ownhad concealed from him some part of the facts. It was clearthat a man after seventeen years of wedlock did not leave his wife withoutcertain occurrences which must have led her to suspect that all was not wellwith their married life. The Colonel caught me up. "Of coursethere was noexplanation he could give except that he'd gone off with a woman. I suppose hethought she could find that out for herself. That's the sort of chap hewas." "What is Mrs. Strickland going to do?" "Wellthefirst thing is to get our proofs. I'm going over to Paris myself.""And what about his business?" "That's where he's been so artful.He's been drawing in his horns for the last year."
"Did he tell his partner he was leaving?" "Not a word."Colonel MacAndrew had a very sketchy knowledge of business mattersand I hadnone at allso I did not quite understand under what conditions Strickland hadleft his affairs. I gathered that the deserted partner was very angry andthreatened proceedings. It appeared that when everything was settled he would befour or five hundred pounds out of pocket. "It's lucky the furniture in theflat is in Amy's name. She'll have that at all events." "Did you meanit when you said she wouldn't have a bob?" "Of course I did. She's gottwo or three hundred pounds and the furniture." "But how is she goingto live?" "God knows." The affair seemed to grow morecomplicatedand the Colonelwith his expletives and his indignationconfusedrather than informed me. I was glad thatcatching sight of the clock at theArmy and Navy Storeshe remembered an engagement to play cards at his clubandso left me to cut across St. James Park. Chapter X A day or two later Mrs.Strickland sent me round a note asking if I could go and see her that eveningafter dinner. I found her alone. Her black dresssimple to austeritysuggestedher bereaved conditionand I was innocently astonished that notwithstanding areal emotion she was able to dress the part she had to play according to hernotions of seemliness. "You said that if I wanted you to do anything youwouldn't mind doing it" she remarked. "It was quite true.""Will you go over to Paris and see Charlie?" "I?" I wastaken aback. I reflected that I had only seen him once. I did not know what shewanted me to do. "Fred is set on going." Fred was Colonel MacAndrew."But I'm sure he's not the man to go. He'll only make things worse. I don'tknow who else to ask." Her voice trembled a littleand I felt a brute evento hesitate. "But I've not spoken ten words to your husband. He doesn'tknow me. He'll probably just tell me to go to the devil." "Thatwouldn't hurt you" said Mrs. Stricklandsmiling. "What is it exactlyyou want me to do?" She did not answer directly. "I think it's ratheran advantage that he doesn't know you. You seehe never really liked Fred; hethought him a fool; he didn't understand soldiers. Fred would fly into apassionand there'd be a quarreland things would be worse instead of better.If you said you came on my behalfhe couldn't refuse to listen to you.""I haven't known you very long" I answered. "I don't see howanyone can be expected to tackle a case like this unless he knows all thedetails. I don't want to pry into what doesn't concern me. Why don't you go andsee him yourself?" "You forget he isn't alone." I held my tongue.I saw myself calling on Charles Strickland and sending in my card; I saw himcome into the roomholding it between finger and thumb: "To what do I owethis honour?" "I've come to see you about your wife.""Really. When you are a little older you will doubtless learn the advantageof minding your own business. If you will be so good as to turn your headslightly to the leftyou will see the door. I wish you good-afternoon." Iforesaw that it would be difficult to make my exit with dignityand I wished togoodness that I had not returned to London till Mrs. Strickland had composed herdifficulties. I stole a glance at her. She was immersed in thought. Presentlyshe looked up at mesighed deeplyand smiled. "It was all sounexpected" she said. "We'd been married seventeen years. I neverdreamed that Charlie was the sort of man to get infatuated with anyone. Wealways got on very well together. Of courseI had a great many interests thathe didn't share." "Have you found out who"- I did not quite knowhow to express myself- "who the personwho it is he's gone awaywith?" "No. No one seems to have an idea. It's so strange. Generallywhen a man falls in love with someone people see them about togetherlunchingor somethingand her friends always come and tell the wife. I had no warning-nothing. His letter came like a thunderbolt. I thought he was perfectlyhappy." She began to crypoor thingand I felt very sorry for her. But ina little while she grew calmer. "It's no good making a fool ofmyself" she saiddrying
her eyes. "The only thing is to decide what is the best thing todo." She went ontalking somewhat at randomnow of the recent pastthenof their first meeting and their marriage; but presently I began to form afairly coherent picture of their lives; and it seemed to me that my surmises hadnot been incorrect. Mrs. Strickland was the daughter of an Indian civilianwhoon his retirement had settled in the depths of the countrybut it was his habitevery August to take his family to Eastbourne for change of air; and it washerewhen she was twentythat she met Charles Strickland. He was twenty-three.They played togetherwalked on the front togetherlistened together to thenigger minstrels; and she had made up her mind to accept him a week before heproposed to her. They lived in Londonfirst in Hampsteadand thenas he grewmore prosperousin town. Two children were born to them. "He always seemedvery fond of them. Even if he was tired of meI wonder that he had the heart toleave them. It's all so incredible. Even now I can hardly believe it'strue." At last she showed me the letter he had written. I was curious tosee itbut had not ventured to ask for it. "MY DEAR AMY"CHARLESSTRICKLAND." "Not a word of explanation or regret. Don't you thinkit's inhuman?" "It's a very strange letter under thecircumstances" I replied. "There's only one explanationand that isthat he's not himself. I don't know who this woman is who's got hold of himbutshe's made him into another man. It's evidently been going on a long time.""What makes you think that?" "Fred found that out. My husbandsaid he went to the club three or four nights a week to play bridge. Fred knowsone of the membersand said something about Charles being a greatbridge-player. The man was surprised. He said he'd never even seen Charles inthe card-room. It's quite clear now that when I thought Charles was at his clubhe was with her." I was silent for a moment. Then I thought of thechildren. "It must have been difficult to explain to Robert" I said."OhI never said a word to either of them. You seewe only came up totown the day before they had to go back to school. I had the presence of mind tosay that their father had been called away on business." It could not havebeen very easy to be bright and careless with that sudden secret in her heartnor to give her attention to all the things that needed doing to get herchildren comfortably packed off. Mrs. Strickland's voice broke again. "Andwhat is to happen to thempoor darlings? How are we going to live?" Shestruggled for self-controland I saw her hands clench and unclenchspasmodically. It was dreadfully painful. "Of course I'll go over to Parisif you think I can do any goodbut you must tell me exactly what you want me todo." "I want him to come back." "I understood from ColonelMacAndrew that you'd made up your mind to divorce him." "I'll neverdivorce him" she answered with a sudden violence. "Tell him that fromme. He'll never be able to marry that woman. I'm as obstinate as he isand I'llnever divorce him. I have to think of my children." I think she added thisto explain her attitude to mebut I thought it was due to a very naturaljealousy rather than to maternal solicitude. "Are you in love with himstill?" "I don't know. I want him to come back. If he'll do that we'lllet bygones be bygones. After allwe've been married for seventeen years. I'm abroadminded woman. I wouldn't have minded what he did as long as I knew nothingabout it. He must know that his infatuation won't last. If he'll come back noweverything can be smoothed overand no one will know anything about it."It chilled me a little that Mrs. Strickland should be concerned with gossipforI did not know then how great a part is played in women's life by the opinion ofothers. It throws a shadow of insincerity over their most deeply felt emotions.It was known where Strickland was staying. His partnerin a violent lettersent to his bankhad taunted him with hiding his whereabouts: and Stricklandin a cynical and humourous replyhad told his partner exactly where to findhim. He was apparently living in an Hotel.
"I've never heard of it" said Mrs. Strickland. "But Fredknows it well. He says it's very expensive." She flushed darkly. I imaginedthat she saw her husband installed in a luxurious suite of roomsdining at onesmart restaurant after anotherand she pictured his days spent at race-meetingsand his evenings at the play. "It can't go on at his age" she said."After allhe's forty. I could understand it in a young manbut I thinkit's horrible in a man of his yearswith children who are nearly grown up. Hishealth will never stand it." Anger struggled in her breast with misery."Tell him that our home cries out for him. Everything is just the sameandyet everything is different. I can't live without him. I'd sooner kill myself.Talk to him about the pastand all we've gone through together. What am I tosay to the children when they ask for him? His room is exactly as it was when heleft it. It's waiting for him. We're all waiting for him." Now she told meexactly what I should say. She gave me elaborate answers to every possibleobservation of his. "You will do everything you can for me?" she saidpitifully. "Tell him what a state I'm in." I saw that she wished me toappeal to his sympathies by every means in my power. She was weeping freely. Iwas extraordinarily touched. I felt indignant at Strickland's cold crueltyandI promised to do all I could to bring him back. I agreed to go over on the nextday but oneand to stay in Paris till I had achieved something. Thenas it wasgrowing late and we were both exhausted by so much emotionI left her. ChapterXI During the journey I thought over my errand with misgiving. Now that I wasfree from the spectacle of Mrs. Strickland's distress I could consider thematter more calmly. I was puzzled by the contradictions that I saw in herbehaviour. She was very unhappybut to excite my sympathy she was able to makea show of her unhappiness. It was evident that she had been prepared to weepfor she had provided herself with a sufficiency of handkerchiefs; I admired herforethoughtbut in retrospect it made her tears perhaps less moving. I couldnot decide whether she desired the return of her husband because she loved himor because she dreaded the tongue of scandal; and I was perturbed by thesuspicion that the anguish of love contemned was alloyed in her broken heartwith the pangssordid to my young mindof wounded vanity. I had not yet learnthow contradictory is human nature; I did not know how much pose there is in thesincerehow much baseness in the noblenor how much goodness in the reprobate.But there was something of an adventure in my tripand my spirits rose as Iapproached Paris. I saw myselftoofrom the dramatic standpointand I waspleased with my role of the trusted friend bringing back the errant husband tohis forgiving wife. I made up my mind to see Strickland the following eveningfor I felt instinctively that the hour must be chosen with delicacy. An appealto the emotions is little likely to be effectual before luncheon. My ownthoughts were then constantly occupied with lovebut I never could imagineconnubial bliss till after tea. I enquired at my hotel for that in which CharlesStrickland was living. It was called the Hotel des Belges. But the conciergesomewhat to my surprisehad never heard of it. I had understood from Mrs.Strickland that it was a large and sumptuous place at the back of the Rue deRivoli. We looked it out in the directory. The only hotel of that name was inthe Rue des Moines. The quarter was not fashionable; it was not evenrespectable. I shook my head. "I'm sure that's not it" I said. Theconcierge shrugged his shoulders. There was no other hotel of that name inParis. It occurred to me that Strickland had concealed his addressafter all.In giving his partner the one I knew he was perhaps playing a trick on him. I donot know why I had an inkling that it would appeal to Strickland's sense ofhumour to bring a furious stockbroker over to Paris on a fool's errand to anill-famed house in a mean street. StillI thought I had better go and see. Nextday about six o'clock I took a cab to the Rue des Moinesbut dismissed it atthe cornersince I preferred to walk to the hotel and look at it before I wentin. It was a street of small shops subservient to the needs of poor peopleandabout the middle of iton the left as I walked downwas the Hotel des Belges.My own hotel was modest enoughbut it was magnificent in comparison with this.It was a tallshabby buildingthat cannot have been painted for yearsand ithad so bedraggled an air that the houses on each side of it looked neat andclean. The dirty windows were all shut. It was not here that Charles Stricklandlived in guilty splendour with the unknown charmer for whose sake he hadabandoned honour and duty. I was vexedfor I felt that I had been made a foolofand I nearly turned away without making an enquiry. I went in only to beable to tell Mrs. Strickland that I had done my best. The door was at the sideof a shop. It stood openand just within was a sign: I walked up narrow stairsand on the landing found a sort of boxglassed inwithin which were a desk anda couple of chairs. There was a bench outsideon which it might be presumed thenight porter passed uneasy nights. There was no one aboutbut under an electricbell was written I rangand presently a waiter appeared. He was a young manwith furtive eyes and a sullen look. He was in shirt-sleeves and carpetslippers. I do not know why I made my enquiry as casual as possible. "DoesMr. Strickland live here by any chance?" I asked.
"Number thirty-two. On the sixth floor." I was so surprised thatfor a moment I did not answer. "Is he in?" The waiter looked at aboard in the "He hasn't left his key. Go up and you'll see." I thoughtit as well to put one more question. The waiter looked at me suspiciously as Imade my way upstairs. They were dark and airless. There was a foul and mustysmell. Three flights up a Woman in a dressing-gownwith touzled hairopened adoor and looked at me silently as I passed. At length I reached the sixth floorand knocked at the door numbered thirty-two. There was a sound withinand thedoor was partly opened. Charles Strickland stood before me. He uttered not aword. He evidently did not know me. I told him my name. I tried my best toassume an airy manner. "You don't remember me. I had the pleasure of diningwith you last July." "Come in" he said cheerily. "I'mdelighted to see you. Take a pew." I entered. It was a very small roomovercrowded with furniture of the style which the French know as Louis Philippe.There was a large wooden bedstead on which was a billowing red eiderdownandthere was a large wardrobea round tablea very small washstandand twostuffed chairs covered with red rep. Everything was dirty and shabby. There wasno sign of the abandoned luxury that Colonel MacAndrew had so confidentlydescribed. Strickland threw on the floor the clothes that burdened one of thechairsand I sat down on it. "What can I do for you?" he asked. Inthat small room he seemed even bigger than I remembered him. He wore an oldNorfolk jacketand he had not shaved for several days. When last I saw him hewas spruce enoughbut he looked ill at ease: nowuntidy and ill-kempthelooked perfectly at home. I did not know how he would take the remark I hadprepared. "I've come to see you on behalf of your wife." "I wasjust going out to have a drink before dinner. You'd better come too. Do you likeabsinthe?" "I can drink it." "Come onthen." He put ona bowler hat much in need of brushing. "We might dine together. You owe mea dinneryou know." "Certainly. Are you alone?" I flatteredmyself that I had got in that important question very naturally. "Oh yes.In point of fact I've not spoken to a soul for three days. My French isn'texactly brilliant." I wondered as I preceded him downstairs what hadhappened to the little lady in the tea-shop. Had they quarrelled alreadyor washis infatuation passed? It seemed hardly likely ifas appearedhe had beentaking steps for a year to make his desperate plunge. We walked to the Avenue deClichyand sat down at one of the tables on the pavement of a large cafe.Chapter XII The Avenue de Clichy was crowded at that hourand a lively fancymight see in the passers-by the personages of many a sordid romance. There wereclerks and shopgirls; old fellows who might have stepped out of the pages ofHonore de Balzac; membersmale and femaleof the professions which make theirprofit of the frailties of mankind. There is in the streets of the poorerquarters of Paris a thronging vitality which excites the blood and prepares thesoul for the unexpected. "Do you know Paris well?" I asked. "No.We came on our honeymoon. I haven't been since." "How on earth did youfind out your hotel?" "It was recommended to me. I wanted somethingcheap." The absinthe cameand with due solemnity we dropped water over themelting sugar. "I thought I'd better tell you at once why I had come to seeyou" I saidnot without embarrassment. His eyes twinkled. "I thoughtsomebody would come along sooner or later. I've had a lot of letters fromAmy." "Then you know pretty well what I've got to say.""I've not read them." I lit a cigarette to give myself a moment'stime. I did not quite know now how to set about my mission. The eloquent phrasesI had arrangedpathetic or indignantseemed out of place on the Avenue deClichy. Suddenly he gave a chuckle. "Beastly job for you thisisn'tit?"
"OhI don't know" I answered. "Welllook hereyou get itoverand then we'll have a jolly evening." I hesitated. "Has itoccurred to you that your wife is frightfully unhappy?" "She'll getover it." I cannot describe the extraordinary callousness with which hemade this reply. It disconcerted mebut I did my best not to show it. I adoptedthe tone used by my Uncle Henrya clergymanwhen he was asking one of hisrelatives for a subscription to the Additional Curates Society. "You don'tmind my talking to you frankly?" He shook his headsmiling. "Has shedeserved that you should treat her like this?" "No." "Haveyou any complaint to make against her?" "None." "Thenisn'tit monstrous to leave her in this fashionafter seventeen years of marriedlifewithout a fault to find with her?" "Monstrous." I glancedat him with surprise. His cordial agreement with all I said cut the ground fromunder my feet. It made my position complicatednot to say ludicrous. I wasprepared to be persuasivetouchingand hortatoryadmonitory andexpostulatingif need be vituperative evenindignant and sarcastic; but whatthe devil does a mentor do when the sinner makes no bones about confessing hissin? I had no experiencesince my own practice has always been to denyeverything. "Whatthen?" asked Strickland. I tried to curl my lip."Wellif you acknowledge thatthere doesn't seem much more to besaid." "I don't think there is." I felt that I was not carryingout my embassy with any great skill. I was distinctly nettled. "Hang itallone can't leave a woman without a bob." "Why not?" "Howis she going to live?" "I've supported her for seventeen years. Whyshouldn't she support herself for a change?" "She can't.""Let her try." Of course there were many things I might have answeredto this. I might have spoken of the economic position of womanof the contracttacit and overtwhich a man accepts by his marriageand of much else; but Ifelt that there was only one point which really signified. "Don't you carefor her any more?" "Not a bit" he replied. The matter wasimmensely serious for all the parties concernedbut there was in the manner ofhis answer such a cheerful effrontery that I had to bite my lips in order not tolaugh. I reminded myself that his behaviour was abominable. I worked myself upinto a state of moral indignation. "Damn it allthere are your children tothink of. They've never done you any harm. They didn't ask to be brought intothe world. If you chuck everything like thisthey'll be thrown on thestreets." "They've had a good many years of comfort. It's much morethan the majority of children have. Besidessomebody will look after them. Whenit comes to the pointthe MacAndrews will pay for their schooling.""But aren't you fond of them? They're such awfully nice kids. Do you meanto say you don't want to have anything more to do with them?" "I likedthem all right when they were kidsbut now they're growing up I haven't got anyparticular feeling for them." "It's just inhuman." "I daresay." "You don't seem in the least ashamed." "I'm not."I tried another tack. "Everyone will think you a perfect swine.""Let them." "Won't it mean anything to you to know that peopleloathe and despise you?"
"No." His brief answer was so scornful that it made my questionnatural though it wasseem absurd. I reflected for a minute or two. "Iwonder if one can live quite comfortably when one's conscious of the disapprovalof one's fellows? Are you sure it won't begin to worry you? Everyone has somesort of a conscienceand sooner or later it will find you out. Supposing yourwife diedwouldn't you be tortured by remorse?" He did not answerand Iwaited for some time for him to speak. At last I had to break the silencemyself. "What have you to say to that?" "Only that you're adamned fool." "At all eventsyou can be forced to support your wifeand children" I retortedsomewhat piqued. "I suppose the law hassome protection to offer them." "Can the law get blood out of a stone?I haven't any money. I've got about a hundred pounds." I began to be morepuzzled than before. It was true that his hotel pointed to the most straitenedcircumstances. "What are you going to do when you've spent that?""Earn some." He was perfectly cooland his eyes kept that mockingsmile which made all I said seem rather foolish. I paused for a little while toconsider what I had better say next. But it was he who spoke first. "Whydoesn't Amy marry again? She's comparatively youngand she's not unattractive.I can recommend her as an excellent wife. If she wants to divorce me I don'tmind giving her the necessary grounds." Now it was my turn to smile. He wasvery cunningbut it was evidently this that he was aiming at. He had somereason to conceal the fact that he had run away with a womanand he was usingevery precaution to hide her whereabouts. I answered with decision. "Yourwife says that nothing you can do will ever induce her to divorce you. She'squite made up her mind. You can put any possibility of that definitely out ofyour head." He looked at me with an astonishment that was certainly notfeigned. The smile abandoned his lipsand he spoke quite seriously. "Butmy dear fellowI don't care. It doesn't matter a twopenny damn to me one way orthe other." I laughed. "Ohcome now; you mustn't think us such foolsas all that. We happen to know that you came away with a woman." He gave alittle startand then suddenly burst into a shout of laughter. He laughed souproariously that people sitting near us looked roundand some of them began tolaugh too. "I don't see anything very amusing in that." "PoorAmy" he grinned. Then his face grew bitterly scornful. "What poorminds women have got! Love. It's always love. They think a man leaves onlybecause he wants others. Do you think I should be such a fool as to do what I'vedone for a woman?" "Do you mean to say you didn't leave your wife foranother woman?" "Of course not." "On your word ofhonour?" I don't know why I asked for that. It was very ingenuous of me."On my word of honour." "Thenwhat in God's name have you lefther for?" "I want to paint." I looked at him for quite a longtime. I did not understand. I thought he was mad. It must be remembered that Iwas very youngand I looked upon him as a middle-aged man. I forgot everythingbut my own amazement. "But you're forty." "That's what made methink it was high time to begin." "Have you ever painted?""I rather wanted to be a painter when I was a boybut my father made me gointo business because he said there was no money in art. I began to paint a bita year ago. For the last year I've been going to some classes at night.""Was that where you went when Mrs. Strickland thought you were playingbridge at your club?" "That's it." "Why didn't you tellher?" "I preferred to keep it to myself." "Can youpaint?"
"Not yet. But I shall. That's why I've come over here. I couldn't getwhat I wanted in London. Perhaps I can here." "Do you think it'slikely that a man will do any good when he starts at your age? Most men beginpainting at eighteen." "I can learn quicker than I could when I waseighteen." "What makes you think you have any talent?" He did notanswer for a minute. His gaze rested on the passing throngbut I do not thinkhe saw it. His answer was no answer. "I've got to paint." "Aren'tyou taking an awful chance?" He looked at me. His eyes had somethingstrange in themso that I felt rather uncomfortable. "How old are you?Twenty-three?" It seemed to me that the question was beside the point. Itwas natural that I should take chances; but he was a man whose youth was pastastockbroker with a position of respectabilitya wife and two children. A coursethat would have been natural for me was absurd for him. I wished to be quitefair. "Of course a miracle may happenand you may be a great painterbutyou must confess the chances are a million to one against it. It'll be an awfulsell if at the end you have to acknowledge you've made a hash of it.""I've got to paint" he repeated. "Supposing you're neveranything more than third-ratedo you think it will have been worth while togive up everything? After allin any other walk in life it doesn't matter ifyou're not very good; you can get along quite comfortably if you're justadequate; but it's different with an artist." "You blasted fool"he said. "I don't see whyunless it's folly to say the obvious.""I tell you I've got to paint. I can't help myself. When a man falls intothe water it doesn't matter how he swimswell or badly: he's got to get out orelse he'll drown." There was real passion in his voiceand in spite ofmyself I was impressed. I seemed to feel in him some vehement power that wasstruggling within him; it gave me the sensation of something very strongovermasteringthat held himas it wereagainst his will. I could notunderstand. He seemed really to be possessed of a deviland I felt that itmight suddenly turn and rend him. Yet he looked ordinary enough. My eyesresting on him curiouslycaused him no embarrassment. I wondered what astranger would have taken him to besitting there in his old Norfolk jacket andhis unbrushed bowler; his trousers were baggyhis hands were not clean; and hisfacewith the red stubble of the unshaved chinthe little eyesand the largeaggressive nosewas uncouth and coarse. His mouth was largehis lips wereheavy and sensual. No; I could not have placed him. "You won't go back toyour wife?" I said at last. "Never." "She's willing toforget everything that's happened and start afresh. She'll never make you asingle reproach." "She can go to hell." "You don't care ifpeople think you an utter blackguard? You don't care if she and your childrenhave to beg their bread?" "Not a damn." I was silent for a momentin order to give greater force to my next remark. I spoke as deliberately as Icould. "You are a most unmitigated cad." "Now that you've gotthat off your chestlet's go and have dinner." Chapter XIII I dare say itwould have been more seemly to decline this proposal. I think perhaps I shouldhave made a show of the indignation I really feltand I am sure that ColonelMacAndrew at least would have thought well of me if I had been able to report mystout refusal to sit at the same table with a man of such character. But thefear of not being able to carry it through effectively has always made me shy ofassuming the moral attitude; and in this case the certainty that my sentimentswould be lost on Strickland made it peculiarly embarrassing to utter them. Onlythe poet or the saint can water an asphalt pavement in the confidentanticipation that lilies will reward his labour. I paid for what we had drunkand we made our way to a cheap restaurantcrowded and gaywhere we dined withpleasure. I had the appetite of youth and he of a hardened conscience. Then wewent to a tavern to have coffee and liqueurs. I had said all I had to say on thesubject that had brought me to Parisand though I felt it in a mannertreacherous to Mrs. Strickland not to pursue itI could not struggle againsthis indifference. It requires the feminine temperament to repeat the same thingthree times with unabated zest. I solaced myself by thinking that it would beuseful for me to find out what I could about Strickland's state of mind. It alsointerested me much more. But this was not an easy thing to do
for Strickland was not a fluent talker. He seemed to express himself withdifficultyas though words were not the medium with which his mind worked; andyou had to guess the intentions of his soul by hackneyed phrasesslangandvagueunfinished gestures. But though he said nothing of any consequencetherewas something in his personality which prevented him from being dull. Perhaps itwas sincerity. He did not seem to care much about the Paris he was now seeingfor the first time (I did not count the visit with his wife)and he acceptedsights which must have been strange to him without any sense of astonishment. Ihave been to Paris a hundred timesand it never fails to give me a thrill ofexcitement; I can never walk its streets without feeling myself on the verge ofadventure. Strickland remained placid. Looking backI think now that he wasblind to everything but to some disturbing vision in his soul. One rather absurdincident took place. There were a number of harlots in the tavern: some weresitting with menothers by themselves; and presently I noticed that one ofthese was looking at us. When she caught Strickland's eye she smiled. I do notthink he saw her. In a little while she went outbut in a minute returned andpassing our tablevery politely asked us to buy her something to drink. She satdown and I began to chat with her; butit was plain that her interest was inStrickland. I explained that he knew no more than two words of French. She triedto talk to himpartly by signspartly in pidgin Frenchwhichfor somereasonshe thought would be more comprehensible to himand she had half adozen phrases of English. She made me translate what she could only express inher own tongueand eagerly asked for the meaning of his replies. He was quitegood-tempereda little amusedbut his indifference was obvious. "I thinkyou've made a conquest" I laughed. "I'm not flattered." In hisplace I should have been more embarrassed and less calm. She had laughing eyesand a most charming mouth. She was young. I wondered what she found soattractive in Strickland. She made no secret of her desiresand I was bidden totranslate. "She wants you to go home with her." "I'm not takingany" he replied. I put his answer as pleasantly as I could. It seemed tome a little ungracious to decline an invitation of that sortand I ascribed hisrefusal to lack of money. "But I like him" she said. "Tell himit's for love." When I translated thisStrickland shrugged his shouldersimpatiently. "Tell her to go to hell" he said. His manner made hisanswer quite plainand the girl threw back her head with a sudden gesture.Perhaps she reddened under her paint. She rose to her feet. she said. She walkedout of the inn. I was slightly vexed. "There wasn't any need to insult herthat I can see" I said. "After allit was rather a compliment shewas paying you." "That sort of thing makes me sick" he saidroughly. I looked at him curiously. There was a real distaste in his faceandyet it was the face of a coarse and sensual man. I suppose the girl had beenattracted by a certain brutality in it. I could have got all the women I wantedin London. I didn't come here for that." Chapter XIV During the journeyback to England I thought much of Strickland. I tried to set in order what I hadto tell his wife. It was unsatisfactoryand I could not imagine that she wouldbe content with me; I was not content with myself. Strickland perplexed me. Icould not understand his motives. When I had asked him what first gave him theidea of being a painterhe was unable or unwilling to tell me. I could makenothing of it. I tried to persuade myself than an obscure feeling of revolt hadbeen gradually coming to a head in his slow mindbut to challenge this was theundoubted fact that he had never shown any impatience with the monotony of hislife. Ifseized by an intolerable boredomhe had determined to be a paintermerely to break with irksome tiesit would have been comprehensibleandcommonplace; but commonplace is precisely what I felt he was not. At lastbecause I was romanticI devised an explanation which I acknowledged to befar-fetchedbut which was the only one that in any way satisfied me. It wasthis: I asked myself whether there was not in his soul some deep-rooted instinctof creationwhich the circumstances of his life had obscuredbut which grewrelentlesslyas a cancer may grow in the living tissuestill at last it tookpossession of his whole being and forced him irresistibly to action. The cuckoolays its egg in the strange bird's nestand when the young one is hatched itshoulders its foster-brothers out and breaks at last the nest that has shelteredit. But how strange it was that the creative instinct should seize upon thisdull stockbrokerto his own ruinperhapsand to the misfortune of such aswere dependent on him; and yet no stranger than the way in which the spirit ofGod has seized menpowerful and richpursuing them with stubborn vigilancetill at lastconqueredthey have abandoned the joy of the world and the loveof women for the painful austerities of the cloister. Conversion may come undermany shapesand it may be brought about in many ways. With some men it needs acataclysmas a stone may be broken to fragments by the fury
of a torrent; but with some it comes graduallyas a stone may be worn awayby the ceaseless fall of a drop of water. Strickland had the directness of thefanatic and the ferocity of the apostle. But to my practical mind it remained tobe seen whether the passion which obsessed him would be justified of its works.When I asked him what his brother-students at the night classes he had attendedin London thought of his paintinghe answered with a grin: "They thoughtit a joke." "Have you begun to go to a studio here?" "Yes.The blighter came round this morning- the masteryou know; when he saw mydrawing he just raised his eyebrows and walked on." Strickland chuckled. Hedid not seem discouraged. He was independent of the opinion of his fellows. Andit was just that which had most disconcerted me in my dealings with him. Whenpeople say they do not care what others think of themfor the most part theydeceive themselves. Generally they mean only that they will do as they choosein the confidence that no one will know their vagaries; and at the utmost onlythat they are willing to act contrary to the opinion of the majority becausethey are supported by the approval of their neighbours. It is not difficult tobe unconventional in the eyes of the world when your unconventionality is butthe convention of your set. It affords you then an inordinate amount ofself-esteem. You have the self-satisfaction of courage without the inconvenienceof danger. But the desire for approbation is perhaps the most deeply seatedinstinct of civilised man. No one runs so hurriedly to the cover ofrespectability as the unconventional woman who has exposed herself to the slingsand arrows of outraged propriety. I do not believe the people who tell me theydo not care a row of pins for the opinion of their fellows. It is the bravado ofignorance. They mean only that they do not fear reproaches for peccadillos whichthey are convinced none will discover. But here was a man who sincerely did notmind what people thought of himand so convention had no hold on him; he waslike a wrestler whose body is oiled; you could not get a grip on him; it gavehim a freedom which was an outrage. I remember saying to him: "Look hereif everyone acted like youthe world couldn't go on." "That's adamned silly thing to say. Everyone doesn't want to act like me. The greatmajority are perfectly content to do the ordinary thing." And once I soughtto be satirical. "You evidently don't believe in the maxim: Act so thatevery one of your actions is capable of being made into a universal rule.""I never heard it beforebut it's rotten nonsense." "Wellitwas Kant who said it." "I don't care; it's rotten nonsense." Norwith such a man could you expect the appeal to conscience to be effective. Youmight as well ask for a rejection without a mirror. I take it that conscience isthe guardian in the individual of the rules which the community has evolved forits own preservation. It is the policeman in all our heartsset there to watchthat we do not break its laws. It is the spy seated in the central stronghold ofthe ego. Man's desire for the approval of his fellows is so stronghis dread oftheir censure so violentthat he himself has brought his enemy within hisgates; and it keeps watch over himvigilant always in the interests of itsmaster to crush any half-formed desire to break away from the herd. It willforce him to place the good of society before his own. It is the very stronglink that attaches the individual to the whole. And mansubservient tointerests he has persuaded himself are greater than his ownmakes himself aslave to his taskmaster. He sits him in a seat of honour. At lastlike acourtier fawning on the royal stick that is laid about his shouldershe prideshimself on the sensitiveness of his conscience. Then he has no words hard enoughfor the man who does not recognise its sway; fora member of society nowherealises accurately enough that against him he is powerless. When I saw thatStrickland was really indifferent to the blame his conduct must exciteI couldonly draw back in horror as from a monster of hardly human shape. The last wordshe said to me when I bade him good-night were: "Tell Amy it's no goodcoming after me. AnyhowI shall change my hotelso she wouldn't be able tofind me." "My own impression is that she's well rid of you" Isaid. "My dear fellowI only hope you'll be able to make her see it. Butwomen are very unintelligent." Chapter XV When I reached London I foundwaiting for me an urgent request that I should go to Mrs. Strickland's as soonafter dinner as I could. I found her with Colonel MacAndrew and his wife. Mrs.Strickland's sister was older than shenot unlike herbut more faded; and shehad the efficient airas though she carried the British Empire in her pocketwhich the wives of senior officers acquire from the consciousness of belongingto a superior caste. Her manner was briskand her good-breeding scarcelyconcealed her conviction that if you were not a soldier you might as well be acounter-jumper. She hated the Guardswhom she thought conceitedand she couldnot trust herself to speak of their ladieswho were so remiss in calling.
Her gown was dowdy and expensive. Mrs. Strickland was plainly nervous."Welltell us your news" she said. "I saw your husband. I'mafraid he's quite made up his mind not to return." I paused a little."He wants to paint." "What do you mean?" cried Mrs.Stricklandwith the utmost astonishment. "Did you never know that he waskeen on that sort of thing." "He must be as mad as a hatter"exclaimed the Colonel. Mrs. Strickland frowned a little. She was searching amongher recollections. "I remember before we were married he used to potterabout with a paint-box. But you never saw such daubs. We used to chaff him. Hehad absolutely no gift for anything like that." "Of course it's onlyan excuse" said Mrs. MacAndrew. Mrs. Strickland pondered deeply for sometime. It was quite clear that she could not make head or tail of myannouncement. She had put some order into the drawing-room by nowherhousewifely instincts having got the better of her dismay; and it no longer borethat deserted looklike a furnished house long to letwhich I had noticed onmy first visit after the catastrophe. But now that I had seen Strickland inParis it was difficult to imagine him in those surroundings. I thought it couldhardly have failed to strike them that there was something incongruous in him."But if he wanted to be an artistwhy didn't he say so?" asked Mrs.Strickland at last. "I should have thought I was the last person to beunsympathetic to- to aspirations of that kind." Mrs. MacAndrew tightenedher lips. I imagine that she had never looked with approval on her sister'sleaning towards persons who cultivated the arts. She spoke of"culchaw" derisively. Mrs. Strickland continued: "After allifhe had any talent I should be the first to encourage it. I wouldn't have mindedsacrifices. I'd much rather be married to a painter than to a stockbroker. If itweren't for the childrenI wouldn't mind anything. I could be just as happy ina shabby studio in Chelsea as in this flat." "My dearI have nopatience with you" cried Mrs. MacAndrew. "You don't mean to say youbelieve a word of this nonsense?" "But I think it's true" I putin mildly. She looked at me with good-humoured contempt. "A man doesn'tthrow up his business and leave his wife and children at the age of forty tobecome a painter unless there's a woman in it. I suppose he met one of your-artistic friendsand she's turned his head." A spot of colour rosesuddenly to Mrs. Strickland's pale cheeks. "What is she like?" Ihesitated a little. I knew that I had a bombshell. "There isn't awoman." Colonel MacAndrew and his wife uttered expressions of incredulityand Mrs. Strickland sprang to her feet. "Do you mean to say you never sawher?" "There's no one to see. He's quite alone." "That'spreposterous" cried Mrs. MacAndrew. "I knew I ought to have gone overmyself" said the Colonel. "You can bet your boots I'd have routed herout fast enough." "I wish you had gone over" I repliedsomewhattartly. "You'd have seen that every one of your suppositions was wrong.He's not at a smart hotel. He's living in one tiny room in the most squalid way.If he's left his homeit's not to live a gay life. He's got hardly anymoney." "Do you think he's done something that we don't know aboutand is lying doggo on account of the police?" The suggestion sent a ray ofhope in all their breastsbut I would have nothing to do with it. "If thatwere sohe would hardly have been such a fool as to give his partner hisaddress" I retorted acidly. "Anyhowthere's one thing I'm positiveofhe didn't go away with anyone. He's not in love. Nothing is farther from histhoughts." There was a pause while they reflected over my words."Wellif what you say is true" said Mrs. MacAndrew at last"things aren't so bad as I thought." Mrs. Strickland glanced at herbut said nothing. She was very pale nowand her fine brow was dark andlowering. I could not understand the expression of her face. Mrs. MacAndrewcontinued: "If it's just a whimhe'll get over it." "Why don'tyou go over to himAmy?" hazarded the Colonel. "There's no reason whyyou shouldn't live with him in Paris for a year. We'll look after the children.I dare say he'd got stale. Sooner or later he'll be quite ready to come back
to Londonand no great harm will have been done." "I wouldn't dothat" said Mrs. MacAndrew. "I'd give him all the rope he wants. He'llcome back with his tail between his legs and settle down again quitecomfortably." Mrs. MacAndrew looked at her sister coolly. "Perhaps youweren't very wise with him sometimes. Men are queer creaturesand one has toknow how to manage them." Mrs. MacAndrew shared the common opinion of hersex that a man is always a brute to leave a woman who is attached to himbutthat a woman is much to blame if he does. Mrs. Strickland looked slowly from oneto another of us. "He'll never come back" she said. "Ohmydearremember what we've just heard. He's been used to comfort and to havingsomeone to look after him. How long do you think it'll be before he gets tiredof a scrubby room in a scrubby hotel? Besideshe hasn't any money. He must comeback." "As long as I thought he'd run away with some woman I thoughtthere was a chance. I don't believe that sort of thing ever answers. He'd havegot sick to death of her in three months. But if he hasn't gone because he's inlovethen it's finished." "OhI think that's awfully subtle"said the Colonelputting into the word all the contempt he felt for a qualityso alien to the traditions of his calling. "Don't you believe it. He'llcome backandas Dorothy saysI dare say he'll be none the worse for havinghad a bit of a fling." "But I don't want him back" she said."Amy!" It was anger that had seized Mrs. Stricklandand her pallorwas the pallor of a cold and sudden rage. She spoke quickly nowwith littlegasps. "I could have forgiven it if he'd fallen desperately in love withsomeone and gone off with her. I should have thought that natural. I shouldn'treally have blamed him. I should have thought he was led away. Men are so weakand women are so unscrupulous. But this is different. I hate him. I'll neverforgive him now." Colonel MacAndrew and his wife began to talk to hertogether. They were astonished. They told her she was mad. They could notunderstand. Mrs. Strickland turned desperately to me. "Don't see?" shecried. "I'm not sure. Do you mean that you could have forgiven him if he'dleft you for a womanbut not if he's left you for an idea? You think you're amatch for the onebut against the other you're helpless?" Mrs. Stricklandgave mt a look in which I read no great friendlinessbut did not answer.Perhaps I had struck home. She went on in a low and trembling voice: "Inever knew it was possible to hate anyone as much as I hate him. Do you knowI've been comforting myself by thinking that however long it lasted he'd want meat the end? I knew when he was dying he'd send for meand I was ready to go;I'd have nursed him like a motherand at the last I'd have told him that itdidn't matterI'd loved him alwaysand I forgave him everything." I havealways been a little disconcerted by the passion women have for behavingbeautifully at the death-bed of those they love. Sometimes it seems as if theygrudge the longevity which postpones their chance of an effective scene."But now- now it's finished. I'm as indifferent to him as if he were astranger. I should like him to die miserablepoorand starvingwithout afriend. I hope he'll rot with some loathsome disease. I've done with him."I thought it as well then to say what Strickland had suggested. "If youwant to divorce himhe's quite willing to do whatever is necessary to make itpossible." "Why should I give him his freedom?" "I don'tthink he wants it. He merely thought it might be more convenient to you."Mrs. Strickland shrugged her shoulders impatiently. I think I was a littledisappointed in her. I expected then people to be more of a piece than I do nowand I was distressed to find so much vindictiveness in so charming a creature. Idid not realise how motley are the qualities that go to make up a human being.Now I am well aware that pettiness and grandeurmalice and charityhatred andlovecan find place side by side in the same human heart. I wondered if therewas anything I could say that would ease the sense of bitter humiliation whichat present tormented Mrs. Strickland. I thought I would try. "You knowI'mnot sure that your husband is quite responsible for his actions. I do not thinkhe is himself. He seems to me to be possessed by some power which is using himfor its own endsand in whose hold he is as helpless as a fly in a spider'sweb. It's as though someone had cast a spell over him. I'm reminded of thosestrange stories one sometimes hears of another personality entering into a manand driving out the old one. The soul lives unstably in the bodyand is capableof mysterious transformations. In the old days they would say Charles Stricklandhad a devil." Mrs. MacAndrew smoothed down the lap of her gownand goldbangles fell over her wrists.
"All that seems to me very far-fetched" she said acidly. "Idon't deny that perhaps Amy took her husband a little too much for granted. Ifshe hadn't been so busy with her own affairsI can't believe that she wouldn'thave suspected something was the matter. I don't think that Alec could havesomething on his mind for a year or more without my having a pretty shrewd ideaof it." The Colonel stared into vacancyand I wondered whether anyonecould be quite so innocent of guile as he looked. "But that doesn't preventthe fact that Charles Strickland is a heartless beast." She looked at meseverely. "I can tell you why he left his wife- from pure selfishness andnothing else whatever." "That is certainly the simplestexplanation" I said. But I thought it explained nothing. Whensaying Iwas tiredI rose to goMrs. Strickland made no attempt to detain me. ChapterXVI What followed showed that Mrs. Strickland was a woman of character. Whateveranguish she suffered she concealed. She saw shrewdly that the world is quicklybored by the recital of misfortuneand willingly avoids the sight of distress.Whenever she went out- and compassion for her misadventure made her friendseager to entertain her- she bore a demeanour that was perfect. She was bravebut not too obviously; cheerfulbut not brazenly; and she seemed more anxiousto listen to the troubles of others than to discuss her own. Whenever she spokeof her husband it was with pity. Her attitude towards him at first perplexed me.One day she said to me: "You knowI'm convinced you were mistaken aboutCharles being alone. From what I've been able to gather from certain sourcesthat I can't tell youI know that he didn't leave England by himself.""In that case he has a positive genius for covering up his tracks."She looked away and slightly coloured. "What I mean isif anyone talks toyou about itplease don't contradict it if they say he eloped withsomebody." "Of course not." She changed the conversation asthough it were a matter to which she attached no importance. I discoveredpresently that a peculiar story was circulating among her friends. They saidthat Charles Strickland had become infatuated with a French dancerwhom he hadfirst seen in the ballet at the Empireand had accompanied her to Paris. Icould not find out how this had arisenbutsingularly enoughit created muchsympathy for Mrs. Stricklandand at the same time gave her not a littleprestige. This was not without its use in the calling which she had decided tofollow. Colonel MacAndrew had not exaggerated when he said she would bepennilessand it was necessary for her to earn her own living as quickly as shecould. She made up her mind to profit by her acquaintance with so many writersand without loss of time began to learn shorthand and typewriting. Her educationmade it likely that she would be a typist more efficient than the averageandher story made her claims appealing. Her friends promised to send her workandtook care to recommend her to all theirs. The MacAndrewswho were childless andin easy circumstancesarranged to undertake the care of the childrenand Mrs.Strickland had only herself to provide for. She let her flat and sold herfurniture. She settled in two tiny rooms in Westminsterand faced the worldanew. She was so efficient that it was certain she would make a success of theadventure. Chapter XVII It was about five years after this that I decided tolive in Paris for a while. I was growing stale in London. I was tired of doingmuch the same thing every day. My friends pursued their course withuneventfulness; they had no longer any surprises for meand when I met them Iknew pretty well what they would say; even their love-affairs had a tediousbanality. We were like tram-cars running on their lines from terminus toterminusand it was possible to calculate within small limits the number ofpassengers they would carry. Life was ordered too pleasantly. I was seized withpanic. I gave up my small apartmentsold my few belongingsand resolved tostart afresh. I called on Mrs. Strickland before I left. I had not seen her forsome timeand I noticed changes in her; it was not only that she was olderthinnerand more lined; I think her character had altered. She had made asuccess of her businessand now had an office in Chancery Lane; she did littletyping herselfbut spent her time correcting the work of the four girls sheemployed. She had had the idea of giving it a certain daintinessand she mademuch use of blue and red inks; she bound the copy in coarse paperthat lookedvaguely like watered silkin various pale colours; and she had acquired areputation for neatness and accuracy. She was making money. But she could notget over the idea that to earn her living was somewhat undignifiedand she wasinclined to remind you that she was a lady by birth. She could not help bringinginto her conversation the names of people she knew which would satisfy you thatshe had not sunk in the social scale. She was a little ashamed of her courageand business capacitybut delighted that she was going to dine the next nightwith a K.C. who lived in South Kensington. She was pleased to be able to tellyou that her son was at Cambridgeand it was with a little laugh that she spokeof the rush of dances to which her daughterjust outwas invited. I suppose Isaid a very stupid thing.
"Is she going into your business?" I asked. "Oh no; I wouldn'tlet her do that" Mrs. Strickland answered. "She's so pretty. I'm sureshe'll marry well." "I should have thought it would be a help toyou." "Several people have suggested that she should go on the stagebut of course I couldn't consent to thatI know all the chief dramatistsand Icould get her a part to-morrowbut I shouldn't like her to mix with all sortsof people." I was a little chilled by Mrs. Strickland's exclusiveness."Do you ever hear of your husband?" "No; I haven't heard a word.He may be dead for all I know." "I may run across him in Paris. Wouldyou like me to let you know about him?" She hesitated a minute. "Ifhe's in any real want I'm prepared to help him a little. I'd send you a certainsum of moneyand you could give it him graduallyas he needed it.""That's very good of you" I said. But I knew it was not kindness thatprompted the offer. It is not true that suffering ennobles the character;happiness does that sometimesbut sufferingfor the most partmakes men pettyand vindictive. Chapter XVIII In point of factI met Strickland before I hadbeen a fortnight in Paris. I quickly found myself a tiny apartment on the fifthfloor of a house in the Rue des Damesand for a couple of hundred francs boughtat a second-hand dealer's enough furniture to make it habitable. I arranged withthe concierge to make my coffee in the morning and to keep the place clean. ThenI went to see my friend Dirk Stroeve. Dirk Stroeve was one of those personswhomaccording to your characteryou cannot think of without derisive laughteror an embarrassed shrug of the shoulders. Nature had made him a buffoon. He wasa painterbut a very bad onewhom I had met in Romeand I still rememberedhis pictures. He had a genuine enthusiasm for the commonplace. His soulpalpitating with love of arthe painted the models who hung about the stairwayof Bernini in the Piazza de Spagnaundaunted by their obvious picturesqueness;and his studio was full of canvases on which were portrayed moustachioedlarge-eyed peasants in peaked hatsurchins in becoming ragsand women inbright petticoats. Sometimes they lounged at the steps of a churchandsometimes dallied among cypresses against a cloudless sky; sometimes they madelove by a Renaissance well-headand sometimes they wandered through theCampagna by the side of an ox-waggon. They were carefully drawn and carefullypainted. A photograph could not have been more exact. One of the painters at theVilla Medici had called him To look at his pictures you would have thought thatMonetManetand the rest of the Impressionists had never been. "I don'tpretend to be a great painter" he said"I'm not a Michael Angelonobut I have something. I sell. I bring romance into the homes of all sorts ofpeople. Do you knowthey buy my pictures not only in Hollandbut in Norway andSweden and Denmark? It's mostly merchants who buy themand rich tradesmen. Youcan't imagine what the winters are like in those countriesso long and dark andcold. They like to think that Italy is like my pictures. That's what theyexpect. That's what I expected Italy to be before I came here." And I thinkthat was the vision that had remained with him alwaysdazzling his eyes so thathe could not see the truth; and notwithstanding the brutality of facthecontinued to see with the eyes of the spirit an Italy of romantic brigands andpicturesque ruins. It was an ideal that he painted- a poor onecommon andshop-soiledbut still it was an ideal; and it gave his character a peculiarcharm. It was because I felt this that Dirk Stroeve was not to meas to othersmerely an object of ridicule. His fellow-painters made no secret of theircontempt for his workbut he earned a fair amount of moneyand they did nothesitate to make free use of his purse. He was generousand the needylaughingat him because he believed so naively their stories of distressborrowed fromhim with effrontery. He was very emotionalyet his feelingso easily arousedhad in it something absurdso that you accepted his kindnessbut felt nogratitude. To take money from him was like robbing a childand you despised himbecause he was so foolish. I imagine that a pickpocketproud of his lightfingersmust feel a sort of indignation with the careless woman who leaves in acab a vanity-bag with all her jewels in it. Nature had made him a buttbut haddenied him insensibility. He writhed under the jokespractical and otherwisewhich were perpetually made at his expenseand yet never ceasedit seemedwilfullyto expose himself to them. He was constantly woundedand yet hisgood- nature was such that he could not bear malice: the viper might sting himbut he never learned by experienceand had no sooner recovered from his painthan he tenderly placed it once more in his bosom. His life was a tragedywritten in the terms of knockabout farce. Because I did not laugh at him he wasgrateful to meand he used to pour into my sympathetic ear the long list of histroubles. The saddest thing about them was that they were grotesqueand themore pathetic they werethe more you wanted to laugh. But though so bad apainterhe had a very delicate feeling for artand to go with him topicture-galleries was a rare treat. His enthusiasm was sincere and his criticismacute.
He was catholic. He had not only a true appreciation of the old mastersbutsympathy with the moderns. He was quick to discover talentand his praise wasgenerous. I think I have never known a man whose judgment was surer. And he wasbetter educated than most painters. He was notlike most of themignorant ofkindred artsand his taste for music and literature gave depth and variety tohis comprehension of painting. To a young man like myself his advice andguidance were of incomparable value. When I left Rome I corresponded with himand about once in two months received from him long letters in queer Englishwhich brought before me vividly his splutteringenthusiasticgesticulatingconversation. Some time before I went to Paris he had married an Englishwomanand was now settled in a studio in Montmartre. I had not seen him for fouryearsand had never met his wife. Chapter XIX I had not announced my arrival toStroeveand when I rang the bell of his studioon opening the door himselffor a moment he did not know me. Then he gave a cry of delighted surprise anddrew me in. It was charming to be welcomed with so much eagerness. His wife wasseated near the stove at her sewingand she rose as I came in. He introducedme. "Don't you remember?" he said to her. "I've talked to youabout him often." And then to me: "But why didn't you let me know youwere coming? How long have you been here? How long are you going to stay? Whydidn't you come an hour earlierand we would have dined together?" Hebombarded me with questions. He sat me down in a chairpatting me as though Iwere a cushionpressed cigars upon mecakeswine. He could not let me alone.He was heart-broken because he had no whiskywanted to make coffee for meracked his brain for something he could possibly do for meand beamed andlaughedand in the exuberance of his delight sweated at every pore. "Youhaven't changed" I saidsmilingas I looked at him. He had the sameabsurd appearance that I remembered. He was a fat little manwith short legsyoung still- he could not have been more than thirty- but prematurely bald. Hisface was perfectly roundand he had a very high coloura white skinredcheeksand red lips. His eyes were blue and round toohe wore largegold-rimmed spectaclesand his eyebrows were so fair that you could not seethem. He reminded you of those jollyfat merchants that Rubens painted. When Itold him that I meant to live in Paris for a whileand had taken an apartmenthe reproached me bitterly for not having let him know. He would have found me anapartment himselfand lent me furniture- did I really mean that I had gone tothe expense of buying it?- and he would have helped me to move in. He reallylooked upon it as unfriendly that I had not given him the opportunity of makinghimself useful to me. MeanwhileMrs. Stroeve sat quietly mending her stockingswithout talkingand she listened to all he said with a quiet smile on her lips."Soyou seeI'm married" he said suddenly; "what do you thinkof my wife?" He beamed at herand settled his spectacles on the bridge ofhis nose. The sweat made them constantly slip down. "What on earth do youexpect me to say to that?" I laughed. "ReallyDirk" put in Mrs.Stroevesmiling. "But isn't she wonderful? I tell youmy boylose notime; get married as soon as ever you can. I'm the happiest man alive. Look ather sitting there. Doesn't she make a picture? Chardineh? I've seen all themost beautiful women in the world; I've never seen anyone more beautiful thanMadame Dirk Stroeve." "If you don't be quietDirkI shall goaway."he said. She flushed a littleembarrassed by the passion in histone. His letters had told me that he was very much in love with his wifeand Isaw that he could hardly take his eyes off her. I could not tell if she lovedhim. Poor pantaloonhe was not an object to excite lovebut the smile in hereyes was affectionateand it was possible that her reserve concealed a verydeep feeling. She was not the ravishing creature that his love-sick fancy sawbut she had a grave comeliness. She was rather talland her gray dresssimpleand quite well-cutdid not hide the fact that her figure was beautiful. It wasa figure that might have appealed more to the sculptor than to the costumier.Her hairbrown and abundantwas plainly doneher face was very paleand herfeatures were good without being distinguished. She had quiet gray eyes. Shejust missed being beautifuland in missing it was not even pretty. But whenStroeve spoke of Chardin it was not without reasonand she reminded mecuriously of that pleasant housewife in her mob-cap and apron whom the greatpainter has immortalised. I could imagine her sedately busy among her pots andpansmaking a ritual of her household dutiesso that they acquired a moralsignificance; I did not suppose that she was clever or could ever be amusingbut there was something in her grave intentness which excited my interest. Herreserve was not without mystery. I wondered why she had married Dirk Stroeve.Though she was EnglishI could not exactly place herand it was not obviousfrom what rank in society she sprangwhat had been her upbringingor how shehad lived before her marriage. She was very silentbut when she spoke it waswith a pleasant voiceand her manners were natural. I asked Stroeve if he wasworking. "Working? I'm painting better than I've ever painted before."
We sat in the studioand he waved his hand to an unfinished picture on aneasel. I gave a little start. He was painting a group of Italian peasantsinthe costume of the Campagnalounging on the steps of a Roman church. "Isthat what you're doing now?" I asked. "Yes. I can get my models herejust as well as in Rome." "Don't you think it's very beautiful?"said Mrs. Stroeve. "This foolish wife of mine thinks I'm a greatartist" said he. His apologetic laugh did not disguise the pleasure thathe felt. His eyes lingered on his picture. It was strange that his criticalsenseso accurate and unconventional when he dealt with the work of othersshould be satisfied in himself with what was hackneyed and vulgar beyond belief."Show him some more of your pictures" she said. "Shall I?"Though he had suffered so much from the ridicule of his friendsDirk Stroeveeager for praise and naively self-satisfiedcould never resist displaying hiswork. He brought out a picture of two curly-headed Italian urchins playingmarbles. "Aren't they sweet?" said Mrs. Stroeve. And then he showed memore. I discovered that in Paris he had been painting just the same staleobviously picturesque things that he had painted for years in Rome. It was allfalseinsincereshoddy; and yet no one was more honestsincereand frankthan Dirk Stroeve. Who could resolve the contradiction? I do not know what putit into my head to ask: "I sayhave you by any chance run across a paintercalled Charles Strickland?" "You don't mean to say you know him?"cried Stroeve. "Beast" said his wife. Stroeve laughed. He went overto her and kissed both her hands. "She doesn't like him. How strange thatyou should know Strickland!" "I don't like bad manners" saidMrs. Stroeve. Dirklaughing stillturned to me to explain. "You seeIasked him to come here one day and look at my pictures. Wellhe cameand Ishowed him everything I had." Stroeve hesitated a moment withembarrassment. I do not know why he had begun the story against himself; he feltan awkwardness at finishing it. "He looked at- at my picturesand hedidn't say anything. I thought he was reserving his judgment till the end. Andat last I said: `Therethat's the lot!' He said: `I came to ask you to lend metwenty francs.'" "And Dirk actually gave it him" said his wifeindignantly. "I was so taken aback. I didn't like to refuse. He put themoney in his pocketjust noddedsaid 'Thanks' and walked out." DirkStroevetelling the storyhad such a look of blank astonishment on his roundfoolish face that it was almost impossible not to laugh. "I shouldn't haveminded if he'd said my pictures were badbut he said nothing- nothing.""And you tell the storyDirk" Said his wife. It was lamentable thatone was more amused by the ridiculous figure cut by the Dutchman than outragedby Strickland's brutal treatment of him. "I hope I shall never see himagain" said Mrs. Stroeve. Stroeve smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Hehad already recovered his good-humour. "The fact remains that he's a greatartista very great artist." "Strickland?" I exclaimed. "Itcan't be the same man." "A big fellow with a red beard. CharlesStrickland. An Englishman." "He had no beard when I knew himbut ifhe has grown one it might well be red. The man I'm thinking of only beganpainting five years ago." "That's it. He's a great artist.""Impossible." "Have I ever been mistaken?" Dirk asked me."I tell you he has genius. I'm convinced of it. In a hundred yearsif youand I are remembered at allit will be because we knew CharlesStrickland." I was astonishedand at the same time I was very muchexcited. I remembered suddenly my last talk with him. "Where can one seehis work?" I asked. "Is he having any success? Where is heliving?" "No; he has no success. I don't think he's ever sold apicture. When you speak to men about him they only laugh. But I he's a greatartist. After allthey laughed at Manet. Corot never sold a picture. I don'tknow where he livesbut I can take you to see him. He goes to a cafe in theAvenue de Clichy at seven o'clock every evening. If you like we'll go thereto-morrow."
I'm not sure if he'll wish to see me. I think I may remind him of a time heprefers to forget. But I'll come all the same. Is there any chance of seeing anyof his pictures?" "Not from him. He won't show you a thing. There's alittle dealer I know who has two or three. But you mustn't go without me; youwouldn't understand. I must show them to you myself." "Dirkyou makeme impatient" said Mrs. Stroeve. "How can you talk like that abouthis pictures when he treated you as he did?" She turned to me. "Do youknowwhen some Dutch people came here to buy Dirk's pictures he tried topersuade them to buy Strickland's? He insisted on bringing them here toshow." "What did think of them?" I asked hersmiling. "Theywere awful." "Ahsweetheartyou don't understand." "Wellyour Dutch people were furious with you. They thought you were having a jokewith them." Dirk Stroeve took off his spectacles and wiped them. Hisflushed face was shining with excitement. "Why should you think thatbeautywhich is the most precious thing in the worldlies like a stone on thebeach for the careless passer-by to pick up idly? Beauty is something wonderfuland strange that the artist fashions out of the chaos of the world in thetorment of his soul. And when he has made itit is not given to all to know it.To recognize it you must repeat the adventure of the artist. It is a melody thathe sings to youand to hear it again in your own heart you want knowledge andsensitiveness and imagination." "Why did I always think your picturesbeautifulDirk? I admired them the very first time I saw them." Stroeve'slips trembled a little. "Go to bedmy precious. I will walk a few stepswith our friendand then I will come back." Chapter XX Dirk Stroeve agreedto fetch me on the following evening and take me to the cafe at which Stricklandwas most likely to be found. I was interested to learn that it was the same asthat at which Strickland and I had drunk absinthe when I had gone over to Paristo see him. The fact that he had never changed suggested a sluggishness of habitwhich seemed to me characteristic. "There he is" said Stroeveas wereached the cafe. Though it was Octoberthe evening was warmand the tables onthe pavement were crowded. I ran my eyes over thembut did not see Strickland."Look. Over therein the corner. He's playing chess." I noticed a manbending over a chess-boardbut could see only a large felt hat and a red beard.We threaded our way among the tables till we came to him."Strickland." He looked up. "Hulloafatty. What do youwant?" "I've brought an old friend to see you." Strickland gaveme a glanceand evidently did not recognise me. He resumed his scrutiny of thechessboard. "Sit downand don't make a noise" he said. He moved apiece and straightway became absorbed in the game. Poor Stroeve gave me atroubled lookbut I was not disconcerted by so little. I ordered something todrinkand waited quietly till Strickland had finished. I welcomed theopportunity to examine him at my ease. I certainly should never have known him.In the first place his red beardragged and untrimmedhid much of his faceand his hair was long; but the most surprising change in him was his extremethinness. It made his great nose protrude more arrogantly; it emphasized hischeekbones; it made his eyes seem larger. There were deep hollows at histemples. His body was cadaverous. He wore the same suit that I had seen him infive years before; it was torn and stainedthreadbareand it hung upon himlooselyas though it had been made for someone else. I noticed his handsdirtywith long nails; they were merely bone and sinewlarge and strong; but Ihad forgotten that they were so shapely. He gave me an extraordinary impressionas he sat therehis attention riveted on his game- an impression of greatstrength; and I could not understand why it was that his emaciation somehow madeit more striking. Presentlyafter movinghe leaned back and gazed with acurious abstraction at his antagonist. This was a fatbearded Frenchman. TheFrenchman considered the positionthen broke suddenly into jovial expletivesand with an impatient gesturegathering up the piecesflung them into theirbox. He cursed Strickland freelythencalling for the waiterpaid for thedrinksand left. Stroeve drew his chair closer to the table. "Now Isuppose we can talk" he said. Strickland's eyes rested on himand therewas in them a malicious expression. I felt sure he was seeking for some gibecould think of noneand so was forced to silence. "I've brought an oldfriend to see you" repeated Stroevebeaming cheerfully. Strickland lookedat me thoughtfully for nearly a minute. I did not speak. "I've never seenhim in my life" he said. I do not know why he said thisfor I feltcertain I had caught a gleam of recognition in his eyes. I was not so easilyabashed as I had been some years earlier. "I saw your wife the otherday" I said. "I felt sure you'd like to have the latest news ofher." He gave a short laugh. His eyes twinkled. "We had a jollyevening together" he said. "How long ago is it?" "Fiveyears." He called for another absinthe. Stroevewith voluble tongueexplained how he and I had metand by what an accident we discovered that weboth knew Strickland. I do not know if Strickland listened. He glanced at meonce or twice reflectivelybut for the most part seemed occupied with his ownthoughts; and certainly without Stroeve's babble the conversation would havebeen difficult. In half an hour the Dutchmanlooking at his watchannouncedthat he must go. He asked whether I would come too. I thoughtaloneI mightget something out of Stricklandand so answered that I would stay. When the fatman had left I said: "Dirk Stroeve thinks you're a great artist.""What the hell do you suppose I care?" "Will you let me see yourpictures?" "Why should I?" "I might feel inclined to buyone." "I might not feel inclined to sell one." "Are youmaking a good living?" I askedsmiling. He chuckled. "Do I lookit?" "You look half starved." "I am half starved.""Then come and let's have a bit of dinner." "Why do you askme?" "Not out of charity" I answered coolly. "I don'treally care a twopenny damn if you starve or not." His eyes lit up again."Come onthen" he saidgetting up. "I'd like a decentmeal." Chapter XXI I let him take me to a restaurant of his choicebut onthe way I bought a paper. When we had ordered our dinnerI propped it against abottle of St. Galmier and began to read. We ate in silence. I felt him lookingat me now and againbut I took no notice. I meant to force him to conversation."Is there anything in the paper?" he saidas we approached the end ofour silent meal. I fancied there was in his tone a slight note of exasperation."I always like to read the on the drama" I said. I folded the paperand put it down beside me. "I've enjoyed my dinner" he remarked."I think we might have our coffee heredon't you?" "Yes."We lit our cigars. I smoked in silence. I noticed that now and then his eyesrested on me with a faint smile of amusement. I waited patiently. "Whathave you been up to since I saw you last?" he asked at length. I had notvery much to say. It was a record of hard work and of little adventure; ofexperiments in this direction and in that; of the gradual acquisition of theknowledge of books and of men. I took care to ask Strickland nothing about hisown doings. I showed not the least interest in himand at last I was rewarded.He began to talk of himself. But with his poor gift of expression he gave butindications of what he had gone throughand I had to fill up the gaps with myown imagination. It was tantalising to get no more than hints into a characterthat interested me so much. It was like making one's way through a mutilatedmanuscript. I received the impression of a life which was a bitter struggleagainst every sort of difficulty; but I realised that much which would haveseemed horrible to most people did not in the least affect him. Strickland wasdistinguished from most Englishmen by his perfect indifference to comfort; itdid not irk him to live always in one shabby room; he had no need to besurrounded by beautiful things. I do not suppose he had ever noticed how dingywas the paper on the wall of the room in which on my first visit I found him. Hedid not want arm-chairs to sit in; he really felt more at his ease on a kitchenchair. He ate with appetitebut was indifferent to what he ate; to him it wasonly food that he devoured to still the pangs of hunger; and when no food was tobe had he seemed capable of doing without. I learned that for six months he hadlived on a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk a day. He was a sensual manandyet was indifferent to sensual things. He looked upon privation as no hardship.There was something impressive in the manner in which he lived a life wholly ofthe spirit. When the small sum of money which he brought with him from Londoncame to an end he suffered from no dismay. He sold no pictures; I think he madelittle attempt to sell any; he set about finding some way to make a bit ofmoney. He told me with grim humour of the time he had spent acting as guide toCockneys who wanted to see the night side of life in Paris; it was an occupationthat appealed to his sardonic temper and somehow or other he had acquired a wideacquaintance with the more disreputable quarters of the city. He told me of thelong hours he spent walking about the Boulevard de la Madeleine on the look-outfor Englishmenpreferably the worse for liquorwho desired to see things whichthe law forbade. When in luck he was able to make a tidy sum; but the shabbinessof his clothes at last frightened the sight-seersand he could not find peopleadventurous enough to trust themselves to him. Then he happened on a job totranslate the advertisements of patent medicines which were sent broadcast tothe medical profession in England. During a strike he had been employed as ahouse-painter. Meanwhile he had never ceased to work at his art; butsoontiring of the studiosentirely by himself. He had never been so poor that hecould not buy canvas and paintand really he needed nothing else. So far as Icould make outhe painted with great difficultyand in his unwillingness toaccept help from anyone lost much time in finding out for himself the solutionof technical problems which preceding generations had already worked out one byone. He was aiming at somethingI knew not whatand perhaps he hardly knewhimself; and I got again more strongly the impression of a man possessed. He didnot seem quite sane. It seemed to me that he would not show his pictures becausehe was really not interested in them. He lived in a dreamand the reality meantnothing to him. I had the feeling that he worked on a canvas with all the forceof his violent personalityoblivious of everything in his effort to get what hesaw with the mind's eye; and thenhaving finishednot the picture perhapsforI had an idea that he seldom brought anything to completionbut the passionthat fired himhe lost all care for it. He was never satisfied with what he haddone; it seemed to him of no consequence compared with the vision that obsessedhis mind. "Why don't you ever send your work to exhibitions?" I asked."I should have thought you'd like to know what people thought aboutit." "Would you?" I cannot describe the unmeasurable contempt heput into the two words. "Don't you want fame? It's something that mostartists haven't been indifferent to." "Children. How can you care forthe opinion of the crowdwhen you don't care twopence for the opinion of theindividual?" "We're not all reasonable beings" I laughed."Who makes fame? Criticswritersstockbrokerswomen.""Wouldn't it give you a rather pleasing sensation to think of people youdidn't know and had never seen receiving emotionssubtle and passionatefromthe work of your hands? Everyone likes power. I can't imagine a more wonderfulexercise of it than to move the souls of men to pity or terror.""Melodrama." "Why do you mind if you paint well or badly?""I don't. I only want to paint what I see." "I wonder if I couldwrite on a desert islandwith the certainty that no eyes but mine would eversee what I had written." Strickland did not speak for a long timebut hiseyes shone strangelyas though he saw something that kindled his soul toecstasy. "Sometimes I've thought of an island lost in a boundless seawhere I could live in some hidden valleyamong strange treesin silence. ThereI think I could find what I want." He did not express himself quite likethis. He used gestures instead of adjectivesand he halted. I have put into myown words what I think he wanted to say. "Looking back on the last fiveyearsdo you think it was worth it?" I asked. He looked at meand I sawthat he did not know what I meant. I explained. "You gave up a comfortablehome and a life as happy as the average. You were fairly prosperous. You seem tohave had a rotten time in Paris. If you had your time over again would you dowhat you did?" "Rather." "Do you know that you haven't askedanything about your wife and children? Do you never think of them?""No." "I wish you weren't so damned monosyllabic. Have you neverhad a moment's regret for all the unhappiness you caused them?" His lipsbroke into a smileand he shook his head. "I should have thought sometimesyou couldn't help thinking of the past. I don't mean the past of seven or eightyears agobut further back stillwhen you first met your wifeand loved herand married her. Don't you remember the joy with which you first took her inyour arms?" "I don't think of the past. The only thing that matters isthe everlasting present." I thought for a moment over this reply. It wasobscureperhapsbut I thought that I saw dimly his meaning. "Are youhappy?" I asked. "Yes." I was silent. I looked at himreflectively. He held my stareand presently a sardonic twinkle lit up hiseyes. "I'm afraid you disapprove of me?" "Nonsense" Ianswered promptly; "I don't disapprove of the boa-constrictor; on thecontraryI'm interested in his mental processes." "It's a purelyprofessional interest you take in me?" "Purely." "It's onlyright that you shouldn't disapprove of me. You have a despicablecharacter." "Perhaps that's why you feel at home with me" Iretorted. He smiled drylybut said nothing. I wish I knew how to describe hissmile. I do not know that it was attractivebut it lit up his facechangingthe expressionwhich was generally sombreand gave it a look of notill-natured malice. It was a slow smilestarting and sometimes ending in theeyes; it was very sensualneither cruel nor kindlybut suggested rather theinhuman glee of the satyr. It was his smile that made me ask him: "Haven'tyou been in love since you came to Paris?" "I haven't got time forthat sort of nonsense. Life isn't long enough for love and art." "Yourappearance doesn't suggest the anchorite." "All that business fills mewith disgust." "Human nature is a nuisanceisn't it?" I said."Why are you sniggering at me?" "Because I don't believeyou." "Then you're a damned fool." I pausedand I looked at himsearchingly. "What's the good of trying to humbug me?" I said. "Idon't know what you mean." I smiled. "Let me tell you. I imagine thatfor months the matter never comes into your headand you're able to persuadeyourself that you've finished with it for good and all. You rejoice in yourfreedomand you feel that at last you can call your soul your own. You seem towalk with your head among the stars. And thenall of a sudden you can't standit any moreand you notice that all the time your feet have been walking in themud. And you want to roll yourself in it. And you find some womancoarse andlow and vulgarsome beastly creature in whom all the horror of sex is blatantand you fall upon her like a wild animal. You drink till you're blind withrage." He stared at me without the slightest movement. I held his eyes withmine. I spoke very slowly. "I'll tell you what must seem strangethat whenit's over you feel so extraordinarily pure. You feel like a disembodied spiritimmaterial; and you seem to be able to touch beauty as though it were a palpablething; and you feel an intimate communion with the breezeand with the treesbreaking into leafand with the iridescence of the river. You feel like God.Can you explain that to me?" He kept his eyes fixed on mine till I hadfinishedand then he turned away. There was on his face a strange lookand Ithought that so might a man look when he had died under the torture. He wassilent. I knew that our conversation was ended. Chapter XXII I settled down inParis and began to write a play. I led a very regular lifeworking in themorningand in the afternoon lounging about the gardens of the Luxembourg orsauntering through the streets. I spent long hours in the Louvrethe mostfriendly of all galleries and the most convenient for meditation; or idled onthe quaysfingering second-hand books that I never meant to buy. I read a pagehere and thereand made acquaintance with a great many authors whom I wascontent to know thus desultorily. In the evenings I went to see my friends. Ilooked in often on the Stroevesand sometimes shared their modest fare. DirkStroeve flattered himself on his skill in cooking Italian dishesand I confessthat his were very much better than his pictures. It was a dinner for a Kingwhen he brought in a huge dish of itsucculent with tomatoesand we ate ittogether with the good household bread and a bottle of red wine. I grew moreintimate with Blanche Stroeveand I thinkbecause I was English and she knewfew English peopleshe was glad to see me. She was pleasant and simplebut sheremained always rather silentand I knew not whygave me the impression thatshe was concealing something. But I thought that was perhaps no more than anatural reserve accentuated by the verbose frankness of her husband. Dirk neverconcealed anything. He discussed the most intimate matters with a complete lackof self-consciousness. Sometimes he embarrassed his wifeand the only time Isaw her put out of countenance was when he insisted on telling me that he hadtaken a purgeand went into somewhat realistic details on the subject. Theperfect seriousness with which he narrated his misfortunes convulsed me withlaughterand this added to Mrs. Stroeve's irritation. "You seem to likemaking a fool of yourself" she said. His round eyes grew rounder stilland his brow puckered in dismay as he saw that she was angry. "Sweethearthave I vexed you? I'll never take another. It was only because I was bilious. Ilead a sedentary life. I don't take enough exercise. For three days I hadn't..." "For goodness sakehold your tongue" she interruptedtears of annoyance in her eyes. His face felland he pouted his lips like ascolded child. He gave me a look of appealso that I might put things rightbutunable to control myselfI shook with helpless laughter. We went one dayto the picture-dealer in whose shop Stroeve thought he could show me at leasttwo or three of Strickland's picturesbut when we arrived were told thatStrickland himself had taken them away. The dealer did not know why. "Butdon't imagine to yourself that I make myself bad blood on that account. I tookthem to oblige Monsieur Stroeveand I said I would sell them if I could. Butreally- " He shrugged his shoulders. "I'm interested in the young menbutyou yourselfMonsieur Stroeveyou don't think there's any talentthere." "I give you my word of honourthere's no one painting to-dayin whose talent I am more convinced. Take my word for ityou are missing a goodaffair. Some day those pictures will be worth more than all you have in yourshop. Remember Monetwho could not get anyone to buy his pictures for a hundredfrancs. What are they worth now?" "True. But there were a hundred asgood painters as Monet who couldn't sell their pictures at that timeand theirpictures are worth nothing still. How can one tell? Is merit enough to bringsuccess? Don't believe it.it has still to be proved that this friend of yourshas merit. No one claims it for him but Monsieur Stroeve." "And howthenwill you recognise merit?" asked Dirkred in the face with anger."There is only one way- by success." "Philistine" criedDirk. "But think of the great artists of the past- RaphaelMichael AngeloIngresDelacroix- they were all successful." "Let us go" saidStroeve to me"or I shall kill this man." Chapter XXIII I sawStrickland not infrequentlyand now and then played chess with him. He was ofuncertain temper. Sometimes he would sit silent and abstractedtaking no noticeof anyone; and at otherswhen he was in a good humourhe would talk in his ownhalting way. He never said a clever thingbut he had a vein of brutal sarcasmwhich was not ineffectiveand he always said exactly what he thought. He wasindifferent to the susceptibilities of othersand when he wounded them wasamused. He was constantly offending Dirk Stroeve so bitterly that he flung awayvowing he would never speak to him again; but there was a solid force inStrickland that attracted the fat Dutchman against his willso that he camebackfawning like a clumsy dogthough he knew that his only greeting would bethe blow he dreaded. I do not know why Strickland put up with me. Our relationswere peculiar. One day he asked me to lend him fifty francs. "I wouldn'tdream of it" I replied. "Why not?" "It wouldn't amuseme." "I'm frightfully hard upyou know." "I don'tcare." "You don't care if I starve?" "Why on earth shouldI?" I asked in my turn. He looked at me for a minute or twopulling hisuntidy beard. I smiled at him. "What are you amused at?" he saidwitha gleam of anger in his eyes. "You're so simple. You recognise noobligations. No one is under any obligation to you." "Wouldn't it makeyou uncomfortable if I went and hanged myself because I'd been turned out of myroom as I couldn't pay the rent?" "Not a bit." He chuckled."You're bragging. If I really did you'd be overwhelmed with remorse."
Try itand we'll see" I retorted. A smile flickered in his eyesandhe stirred his absinthe in silence. "Would you like to play chess?" Iasked. "I don't mind." We set up the piecesand when the board wasready he considered it with a comfortable eye. There is a sense of satisfactionin looking at your men all ready for the fray. "Did you really think I'dlend you money?" I asked. "I didn't see why you shouldn't.""You surprise me." "Why?" "It's disappointing to findthat at heart you are sentimental. I should have liked you better if you hadn'tmade that ingenuous appeal to my sympathies." "I should have despisedyou if you'd been moved by it" he answered. "That's better" Ilaughed. We began to play. We were both absorbed in the game. When it wasfinished I said to him: "Look hereif you're hard uplet me see yourpictures. If there's anything I like I'll buy it." "Go to hell"he answered. He got up and was about to go away. I stopped him. "Youhaven't paid for your absinthe" I saidsmiling. He cursed meflung downthe money and left. I did not see him for several days after thatbut oneeveningwhen I was sitting in the cafereading a paperhe came up and satbeside me. "You haven't hanged yourself after all" I remarked."No. I've got a commission. I'm painting the portrait of a retired plumberfor two hundred francs."  This pictureformerly in the possession ofa wealthy manufacturer at Lillewho fled from that city on the approach of theGermansis now in the National Gallery at Stockholm. The Swede is adept at thegentle pastime of fishing in troubled waters. "How did you managethat?" "The woman where I get my bread recommended me. He'd told herhe was looking out for someone to paint him. I've got to give her twentyfrancs." "What's he like?" "Splendid. He's got a great redface like a leg of muttonand on his right cheek there's an enormous mole withlong hairs growing out of it." Strickland was in a good humourand whenDirk Stroeve came up and sat down with us he attacked him with ferocious banter.He showed a skill I should never have credited him with in finding the placeswhere the unhappy Dutchman was most sensitive. Strickland employed not therapier of sarcasm but the bludgeon of invective. The attack was so unprovokedthat Stroevetaken unawareswas defenceless. He reminded you of a frightenedsheep running aimlessly hither and thither. He was startled and amazed. At lastthe tears ran from his eyes. And the worst of it was thatthough you hatedStricklandand the exhibition was horribleit was impossible not to laugh.Dirk Stroeve was one of those unlucky persons whose most sincere emotions areridiculous. But after all when I look back upon that winter in Parismypleasantest recollection is of Dirk Stroeve. There was something very charmingin his little household. He and his wife made a picture which the imaginationgratefully dwelt uponand the simplicity of his love for her had a deliberategrace. He remained absurdbut the sincerity of his passion excited one'ssympathy. I could understand how his wife must feel for himand I was glad thather affection was so tender. If she had any sense of humourit must amuse herthat he should place her on a pedestal and worship her with such an honestidolatrybut even while she laughed she must have been pleased and touched. Hewas the constant loverand though she grew oldlosing her rounded lines andher fair comelinessto him she would certainly never alter. To him she wouldalways be the loveliest woman in the world. There was a pleasing grace in theorderliness of their lives. They had but the studioa bedroomand a tinykitchen. Mrs. Stroeve did all the housework herself; and while Dirk painted badpicturesshe went marketingcooked the luncheonsewedoccupied herself likea busy ant all the day; and in the evening sat in the studiosewing againwhile Dirk played music which I am sure was far beyond her comprehension. Heplayed with tastebut with more feeling than was always justifiedand into hismusic poured all his honestsentimentalexuberant soul. Their life in its ownway was an idyland it managed to achieve a singular beauty. The absurdity thatclung to everything connected with Dirk Stroeve gave it a curious notelike anunresolved discordbut made it somehow more modernmore human; like a roughjoke thrown into a serious sceneit heightened the poignancy which all beautyhas.
Chapter XXIV Shortly before Christmas Dirk Stroeve came to ask me to spendthe holiday with him. He had a characteristic sentimentality about the day andwanted to pass it among his friends with suitable ceremonies. Neither of us hadseen Strickland for two or three weeks- I because I had been busy with friendswho were spending a little while in Parisand Stroeve becausehaving quarreledwith him more violently than usualhe had made up his mind to have nothing moreto do with him. Strickland was impossibleand he swore never to speak to himagain. But the season touched him with gentle feelingand he hated the thoughtof Strickland spending Christmas Day by himself; he ascribed his own emotions tohimand could not bear that on an occasion given up to good-fellowship thelonely painter should be abandoned to his own melancholy. Stroeve had set up aChristmas-tree in his studioand I suspected that we should both find absurdlittle presents hanging on its festive branches; but he was shy about seeingStrickland again; it was a little humiliating to forgive so easily insults sooutrageousand he wished me to be present at the reconciliation on which he wasdetermined. We walked together down the Avenue de Clichybut Strickland was notin the cafe. It was too cold to sit outsideand we took our places on leatherbenches within. It was hot and stuffyand the air was gray with smoke.Strickland did not comebut presently we saw the French painter whooccasionally played chess with him. I had formed a casual acquaintance with himand he sat down at our table. Stroeve asked him if he had seen Strickland."He's ill" he said. "Didn't you know?""Seriously?" "VeryI understand." Stroeve's face grewwhite. "Why didn't he write and tell me? How stupid of me to quarrel withhim. We must go to him at once. He can have no one to look after him. Where doeshe live?" "I have no idea" said the Frenchman. We discoveredthat none of us knew how to find him. Stroeve grew more and more distressed."He might dieand not a soul would know anything about it. It's dreadful.I can't bear the thought. We must find him at once." I tried to makeStroeve understand that it was absurd to hunt vaguely about Paris. We must firstthink of some plan. "Yes; but all this time he may be dyingand when weget there it may be too late to do anything." "Sit still and let usthink" I said impatiently. The only address I knew was the Hotel desBelgesbut Strickland had long left thatand they would have no recollectionof him. With that queer idea of his to keep his whereabouts secretit wasunlikely thaton leavinghe had said where he was going. Besidesit was morethan five years ago. I felt pretty sure that he had not moved far. If hecontinued to frequent the same cafe as when he had stayed at the hotelit wasprobably because it was the most convenient. Suddenly I remembered that he hadgot his commission to paint a portrait through the baker from whom he bought hisbreadand it struck me that there one might find his address. I called for adirectory and looked out the bakers. There were five in the immediateneighbourhoodand the only thing was to go to all of them. Stroeve accompaniedme unwillingly. His own plan was to run up and down the streets that led out ofthe Avenue de Clichy and ask at every house if Strickland lived there. Mycommonplace scheme wasafter alleffectivefor in the second shop we asked atthe woman behind the counter acknowledged that she knew him. She was not certainwhere he livedbut it was in one of the three houses opposite. Luck favouredusand in the first we tried the concierge told us that we should find him onthe top floor. "It appears that he's ill" said Stroeve. "It maybe" answered the concierge indifferently. "I have not seen him forseveral days." Stroeve ran up the stairs ahead of meand when I reachedthe top floor I found him talking to a workman in his shirt-sleeves who hadopened a door at which Stroeve had knocked. He pointed to another door. Hebelieved that the person who lived there was a painter. He had not seen him fora week. Stroeve made as though he were about to knockand then turned to mewith a gesture of helplessness. I saw that he was panic-stricken."Supposing he's dead?" "Not he" I said. I knocked. Therewas no answer. I tried the handleand found the door unlocked. I walked inandStroeve followed me. The room was in darkness. I could only see that it was anatticwith a sloping roof; and a faint glimmerno more than a less profoundobscuritycame from a skylight. "Strickland" I called. There was noanswer. It was really rather mysteriousand it seemed to me that Stroevestanding just behindwas trembling in his shoes. For a moment I hesitated tostrike a light. I dimly perceived a bed in the cornerand I wondered whetherthe light would disclose lying on it a dead body. "Haven't you got a matchyou fool?"
Strickland's voicecoming out of the darknessharshlymade me start.Stroeve cried out. "Ohmy GodI thought you were dead." I struck amatchand looked about for a candle. I had a rapid glimpse of a tiny apartmenthalf roomhalf studioin which was nothing but a bedcanvases with theirfaces to the wallan easela tableand a chair. There was no carpet on thefloor. There was no fire-place. On the tablecrowded with paintspalette-knivesand litter of all kindswas the end of a candle. I lit it.Strickland was lying in the beduncomfortably because it was too small for himand he had put all his clothes over him for warmth. It was obvious at a glancethat he was in a high fever. Stroevehis voice cracking with emotionwent upto him. "Ohmy poor friendwhat is the matter with you? I had no idea youwere ill. Why didn't you let me know? You must know I'd have done anything inthe world for you. Were you thinking of what I said? I didn't mean it. I waswrong. It was stupid of me to take offence." "Go to hell" saidStrickland. "Nowbe reasonable. Let me make you comfortable. Haven't youanyone to look after you?" He looked round the squalid attic in dismay. Hetried to arrange the bed-clothes. Stricklandbreathing laboriouslykept anangry silence. He gave me a resentful glance. I stood quite quietlylooking athim. "If you want to do something for meyou can get me some milk"he said at last. "I haven't been able to get out for two days." Therewas an empty bottle by the side of the bedwhich had contained milkand in apiece of newspaper a few crumbs. "What have you been having?" I asked."Nothing." "For how long?" cried Stroeve. "Do you meanto say you've had nothing to eat or drink for two days? It's horrible.""I've had water." His eyes dwelt for a moment on a large can withinreach of an outstretched arm. "I'll go immediately" said Stroeve."Is there anything you fancy?" I suggested that he should get athermometerand a few grapesand some bread. Stroeveglad to make himselfusefulclattered down the stairs. "Damned fool" muttered Strickland.I felt his pulse. It was beating quickly and feebly. I asked him one or twoquestionsbut he would not answerand when I pressed him he turned his faceirritably to the wall. The only thing was to wait in silence. In ten minutesStroevepantingcame back. Besides what I had suggestedhe brought candlesand meat-juiceand a spirit-lamp. He was a practical little fellowand withoutdelay set about making bread-and-milk. I took Strickland's temperature. It was ahundred and four. He was obviously very ill. Chapter XXV Presently we left him.Dirk was going home to dinnerand I proposed to find a doctor and bring him tosee Strickland; but when we got down into the streetfresh after the stuffyatticthe Dutchman begged me to go immediately to his studio. He had somethingin mind which he would not tell mebut he insisted that it was very necessaryfor me to accompany him. Since I did not think a doctor could at the moment doany more than we had doneI consented. We found Blanche Stroeve laying thetable for dinner. Dirk went up to herand took both her hands. "Dear oneI want you to do something for me" he said. She looked at him with thegrave cheerfulness which was one of her charms. His red face was shining withsweatand he had a look of comic agitationbut there was in his roundsurprised eyes an eager light. "Strickland is very ill. He may be dying. Heis alone in a filthy atticand there is not a soul to look after him. I wantyou to let me bring him here." She withdrew her hands quicklyI had neverseen her make so rapid a movement; and her cheeks flushed. "Oh no.""Ohmy dear onedon't refuse. I couldn't bear to leave him where he is. Ishouldn't sleep a wink for thinking of him." "I have no objection toyour nursing him." Her voice was cold and distant. "But he'lldie." "Let him." Stroeve gave a little gasp. He wiped his face.He turned to me for supportbut I did not know what to say. "He's a greatartist." "What do I care? I hate him."
"Ohmy lovemy preciousyou don't mean that. I beseech you to let mebring him here. We can make him comfortable. Perhaps we can save him. He shallbe no trouble to you. I will do everything. We'll make him up a bed in thestudio. We can't let him die like a dog. It would be inhuman." "Whycan't he go to a hospital?" "A hospital! He needs the care of lovinghands. He must be treated with infinite tact." I was surprised to see howmoved she was. She went on laying the tablebut her hands trembled. "Ihave no patience with you. Do you think if you were ill he would stir a fingerto help you?" "But what does that matter? I should have you to nurseme. It wouldn't be necessary. And besidesI'm different; I'm not of anyimportance." "You have no more spirit than a mongrel cur. You lie downon the ground and ask people to trample on you." Stroeve gave a littlelaugh. He thought he understood the reason of his wife's attitude. "Ohmypoor dearyou're thinking of that day he came here to look at my pictures. Whatdoes it matter if he didn't think them any good? It was stupid of me to showthem to him. I dare say they're not very good." He looked round the studioruefully. On the easel was a half-finished picture of a smiling Italian peasantholding a bunch of grapes over the head of a dark-eyed girl. "Even if hedidn't like them he should have been civil. He needn't have insulted you. Heshowed that he despised youand you lick his hand. OhI hate him.""Dear childhe has genius. You don't think I believe that I have it. Iwish I had; but I know it when I see itand I honour it with all my heart. It'sthe most wonderful thing in the world. It's a great burden to its possessors. Weshould be very tolerant with themand very patient." I stood apartsomewhat embarrassed by the domestic sceneand wondered why Stroeve hadinsisted on my coming with him. I saw that his wife was on the verge of tears."But it's not only because he's a genius that I ask you to let me bring himhere; it's because he's a human beingand he is ill and poor." "Iwill never have him in my house- never." Stroeve turned to me. "Tellher that it's a matter of life and death. It's impossible to leave him in thatwretched hole." "It's quite obvious that it would be much easier tonurse him here" I said"but of course it would be very inconvenient.I have an idea that someone will have to be with him day and night.""My loveit's not you who would shirk a little trouble." "If hecomes hereI shall go" said Mrs. Stroeve violently. "I don'trecognize you. You're so good and kind." "Ohfor goodness sakeletme be. You drive me to distraction." Then at last the tears came. She sankinto a chairand buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders shookconvulsively. In a moment Dirk was on his knees beside herwith his arms roundherkissing hercalling her all sorts of pet namesand the facile tears randown his own cheeks. Presently she released herself and dried her eyes."Leave me alone" she saidnot unkindly; and then to metrying tosmile: "What must you think of me?" Stroevelooking at her withperplexityhesitated. His forehead was all puckeredand his red mouth set in apout. He reminded me oddly of an agitated guinea-pig. "Then it's Nodarling?" he said at last. She gave a gesture of lassitude. She wasexhausted. "The studio is yours. Everything belongs to you. If you want tobring him herehow can I prevent you?" A sudden smile flashed across hisround face. "Then you consent? I knew you would. Ohmy precious."Suddenly she pulled herself together. She looked at him with haggard eyes. Sheclasped her hands over her heart as though its beating were intolerable."OhDirkI've never since we met asked you to do anything for me.""You know there's nothing in the world that I wouldn't do for you.""I beg you not to let Strickland come here. Anyone else you like. Bring athiefa drunkardany outcast off the streetsand I promise you I'll doeverything I can for them gladly. But I beseech you not to bring Stricklandhere." "But why?" "I'm frightened of him. I don't know whybut there's something in him that terrifies me. He'll do us some great harm. Iknow it. I feel it. If you bring him here it can only end badly."
"But how unreasonable!" "Nono. I know I'm right. Somethingterrible will happen to us." "Because we do a good action?" Shewas panting nowand in her face was a terror which was inexplicable. I do notknow what she thought. I felt that she was possessed by some shapeless dreadwhich robbed her of all self-control. As a rule she was so calm; her agitationnow was amazing. Stroeve looked at her for a while with puzzled consternation."You are my wife; you are dearer to me than anyone in the world. No oneshall come here without your entire consent." She closed her eyes for amomentand I thought she was going to faint. I was a little impatient with her;I had not suspected that she was so neurotic a woman. Then I heard Stroeve'svoice again. It seemed to break oddly on the silence. "Haven't you been inbitter distress once when a helping hand was held out to you? You know how muchit means. Couldn't you like to do someone a good turn when you have thechance?" The words were ordinary enoughand to my mind there was in themsomething so hortatory that I almost smiled. I was astonished at the effect theyhad on Blanche Stroeve. She started a littleand gave her husband a long look.His eyes were fixed on the ground. I did not know why he seemed embarrassed. Afaint colour came into her cheeksand then her face became white- more thanwhiteghastly; you felt that the blood had shrunk away from the whole surfaceof her body; and even her hands were pale. A shiver passed through her. Thesilence of the studio seemed to gather bodyso that it became an almostpalpable presence. I was bewildered. "Bring Strickland hereDirk. I'll domy best for him." "My precious" he smiled. He wanted to take herin his armsbut she avoided him. "Don't be affectionate before strangersDirk" she said. "It makes me feel such a fool." Her manner wasquite normal againand no one could have told that so shortly before she hadbeen shaken by such a great emotion. Chapter XXVI Next day we moved Strickland.It needed a good deal of firmness and still more patience to induce him to comebut he was really too ill to offer any effective resistance to Stroeve'sentreaties and to my determination. We dressed himwhile he feebly cursed usgot him downstairsinto a caband eventually to Stroeve's studio. He was soexhausted by the time we arrived that he allowed us to put him to bed without aword. He was ill for six weeks. At one time it looked as though he could notlive more than a few hoursand I am convinced that it was only through theDutchman's doggedness that he pulled through. I have never known a moredifficult patient. It was not that he was exacting and querulous; on thecontraryhe never complainedhe asked for nothinghe was perfectly silent;but he seemed to resent the care that was taken of him; he received allinquiries about his feelings or his needs with a jibea sneeror an oath. Ifound him detestableand as soon as he was out of danger I had no hesitation intelling him so. "Go to hell" he answered briefly. Dirk Stroevegiving up his work entirelynursed Strickland with tenderness and sympathy. Hewas dexterous to make him comfortableand he exercised a cunning of which Ishould never have thought him capable to induce him to take the medicinesprescribed by the doctor. Nothing was too much trouble for him. Though his meanswere adequate to the needs of himself and his wifehe certainly had no money towaste; but now he was wantonly extravagant in the purchase of delicaciesout ofseason and dearwhich might tempt Strickland's capricious appetite. I shallnever forget the tactful patience with which he persuaded him to takenourishment. He was never put out by Strickland's rudeness; if it was merelysullenhe appeared not to notice it; if it was aggressivehe only chuckled.When Stricklandrecovering somewhatwas in a good humour and amused himself bylaughing at himhe deliberately did absurd things to excite his ridicule. Thenhe would give me little happy glancesso that I might notice in how much betterform the patient was. Stroeve was sublime. But it was Blanche who most surprisedme. She proved herself not only a capablebut a devoted nurse. There wasnothing in her to remind you that she had so vehemently struggled against herhusband's wish to bring Strickland to the studio. She insisted on doing hershare of the offices needful to the sick. She arranged his bed so that it waspossible to change the sheet without disturbing him. She washed him. When Iremarked on her competenceshe told me with that pleasant little smile of hersthat for a while she had worked in a hospital. She gave no sign that she hatedStrickland so desperately. She did not speak to him muchbut she was quick toforestall his wants. For a fortnight it was necessary that someone should staywith him all nightand she took turns at watching with her husband. I wonderedwhat she thought during the long darkness as she sat by the bedside. Stricklandwas a weird figure as he lay therethinner than everwith his ragged red beardand his eyes staring feverishly into vacancy; his illness seemed to have madethem largerand they had an unnatural brightness. "Does he ever talk toyou in the night?" I asked her once. "Never."
"Do you dislike him as much as you did?" "Moreifanything." She looked at me with her calm gray eyes. Her expression was soplacidit was hard to believe that she was capable of the violent emotion I hadwitnessed. "Has he ever thanked you for what you do for him?""No" she smiled. "He's inhuman." "He'sabominable." Stroeve wasof coursedelighted with her. He could not doenough to show his gratitude for the whole-hearted devotion with which she hadaccepted the burden he laid on her. But he was a little puzzled by the behaviourof Blanche and Strickland towards one another. "Do you knowI've seen themsit there for hours together without saying a word?" On one occasionwhenStrickland was so much better that in a day or two he was to get upI sat withthem in the studio. Dirk and I were talking. Mrs. Stroeve sewedand I thought Irecognised the shirt she was mending as Strickland's. He lay on his back; he didnot speak. Once I saw that his eyes were fixed on Blanche Stroeveand there wasin them a curious irony. Feeling their gazeshe raised her ownand for amoment they stared at one another. I could not quite understand her expression.Her eyes had in them a strange perplexityand perhaps- but why?- alarm. In amoment Strickland looked away and idly surveyed the ceilingbut she continuedto stare at himand now her look was quite inexplicable. In a few daysStrickland began to get up. He was nothing but skin and bone. His clothes hungupon him like rags on a scarecrow. With his untidy beard and long hairhisfeaturesalways a little larger than lifenow emphasised by illnesshe had anextraordinary aspect; but it was so odd that it was not quite ugly. There wassomething monumental in his ungainliness. I do not know how to express preciselythe impression he made upon me. It was not exactly spirituality that wasobviousthough the screen of the flesh seemed almost transparentbecause therewas in his face an outrageous sensuality; butthough it sounds nonsenseitseemed as though his sensuality were curiously spiritual. There was in himsomething primitive. He seemed to partake of those obscure forces of naturewhich the Greeks personified in shapes part human and part beastthe satyr andthe faun. I thought of Marsyaswhom the god flayed because he had dared torival him in song. Strickland seemed to bear in his heart strange harmonies andunadventured patternsand I foresaw for him an end of torture and despair. Ihad again the feeling that he was possessed of a devil; but you could not saythat it was a devil of evilfor it was a primitive force that existed beforegood and ill. He was still too weak to paintand he sat in the studiosilentoccupied with God knows what dreamsor reading. The books he liked were queer;sometimes I would find him poring over the poems of Mallarmeand he read themas a child readsforming the words with his lipsand I wondered what strangeemotion he got from those subtle cadences and obscure phrases; and again I foundhim absorbed in the detective novels of Gaboriau. I amused myself by thinkingthat in his choice of books he showed pleasantly the irreconcilable sides of hisfantastic nature. It was singular to notice that even in the weak state of hisbody he had no thought for its comfort. Stroeve liked his easeand in hisstudio were a couple of heavily upholstered arm-chairs and a large divan.Strickland would not go near themnot from any affectation of stoicismfor Ifound him seated on a three-legged stool when I went into the studio one day andhe was alonebut because he did not like them. For choice he sat on a kitchenchair without arms. It often exasperated me to see him. I never knew a man soentirely indifferent to his surroundings. Chapter XXVII Two or three weekspassed. One morninghaving come to a pause in my workI thought I would givemyself a holidayand I went to the Louvre. I wandered about looking at thepictures I knew so welland let my fancy play idly with the emotions theysuggested. I sauntered into the long galleryand there suddenly saw Stroeve. Ismiledfor his appearanceso rotund and yet so startledcould never fail toexcite a smileand then as I came nearer I noticed that he seemed singularlydisconsolate. He looked woebegone and yet ridiculouslike a man who has falleninto the water with all his clothes onandbeing rescued from deathfrightened stillfeels that he only looks a fool. Turning roundhe stared atmebut I perceived that he did not see me. His round blue eyes looked harassedbehind his glasses. "Stroeve" I said. He gave a little startandthen smiledbut his smile was rueful. "Why are you idling in thisdisgraceful fashion?" I asked gaily. "It's a long time since I was atthe Louvre. I thought I'd come and see if they had anything new." "Butyou told me you had to get a picture finished this week.""Strickland's painting in my studio." "Well?" "Isuggested it myself. He's not strong enough to go back to his own place yet. Ithought we could both paint there. Lots of fellows in the Quarter share astudio. I thought it would be fun. I've always thought it would be jolly to havesomeone to talk to when one was tired of work."
He said all this slowlydetaching statement from statement with a littleawkward silenceand he kept his kindfoolish eyes fixed on mine. They werefull of tears. "I don't think I understand" I said. "Stricklandcan't work with anyone else in the studio." "Damn it allit's yourstudio. That's his lookout." He looked at me pitifully. His lips weretrembling. "What happened?" I askedrather sharply. He hesitated andflushed. He glanced unhappily at one of the pictures on the wall. "Hewouldn't let me go on painting. He told me to get out." "But whydidn't you tell him to go to hell?" "He turned me out. I couldn't verywell struggle with him. He threw my hat after meand locked the door." Iwas furious with Stricklandand was indignant with myselfbecause Dirk Stroevecut such an absurd figure that I felt inclined to laugh. "But what did yourwife say?" "She'd gone out to do the marketing." "Is hegoing to let her in?" "I don't know." I gazed at Stroeve withperplexity. He stood like a schoolboy with whom a master is finding fault."Shall I get rid of Strickland for you?" I asked. He gave a littlestartand his shining face grew very red. "No. You'd better not doanything." He nodded to me and walked away. It was clear that for somereason he did not want to discuss the matter. I did not understand. ChapterXXVIII The explanation came a week later. It was about ten o' clock at night; Ihad been dining by myself at a restaurantand having returned to my smallapartmentwas sitting in my parlourreading I heard the cracked tinkling ofthe bellandgoing into the corridoropened the door. Stroeve stood beforeme. "Can I come in?" he asked. In the dimness of the landing I couldnot see him very wellbut there was something in his voice that surprised me. Iknew he was of abstemious habit or I should have thought he had been drinking. Iled the way into my sitting room and asked him to sit down. "Thank God I'vefound you" he said. "What's the matter?" I asked in astonishmentat his vehemence. I was able now to see him well. As a rule he was neat in hispersonbut now his clothes were in disorder. He looked suddenly bedraggled. Iwas convinced he had been drinkingand I smiled. I was on the point of chaffinghim on his state. "I didn't know where to go" he burst out. "Icame here earlierbut you weren't in." "I dined late" I said. Ichanged my mind: it was not liquor that had driven him to this obviousdesperation. His faceusually so rosywas now strangely mottled. His handstrembled. "Has anything happened?" I asked. "My wife has leftme." He could hardly get the words out. He gave a little gaspand thetears began to trickle down his round cheeks. I did not know what to say. Myfirst thought was that she had come to the end of her forbearance with hisinfatuation for Stricklandandgoaded by the latter's cynical behaviourhadinsisted that he should be turned out. I knew her capable of temperfor all thecalmness of her manner; and if Stroeve still refusedshe might easily haveflung out of the studio with vows never to return. But the little man was sodistressed that I could not smile. "My dear fellowdon't be unhappy.She'll come back. You mustn't take very seriously what women say when they're ina passion." "You don't understand. She's in love withStrickland." "What!" I was startled at thisbut the idea had nosooner taken possession of me than I saw it was absurd. "How can you be sosilly? You don't mean to say you're jealous of Strickland?" I almostlaughed. "You know very well that she can't bear the sight of him.""You don't understand" he moaned. "You're an hystericalass" I said a little impatiently. "Let me give you a whisky-and-sodaand you'll feel better." I supposed that for some reason or other- andHeaven knows what ingenuity men exercise to torment themselves- Dirk had got itinto his head that his wife cared for Stricklandand with his genius forblundering he might quite well have offended her so thatto anger himperhapsshe had taken pains to foster his suspicion. "Look here" I said"let's go back to your studio. If you've made a fool of yourself you musteat humble pie. Your wife doesn't strike me as the sort of woman to bearmalice." "How can I go back to the studio?" he said wearily."They're there. I've left it to them." "Then it's not your wifewho's left you; it's you who've left your wife." "For God's sake don'ttalk to me like that." Still I could not take him seriously. I did not fora moment believe what he had told me. But he was in very real distress."Wellyou've come here to talk to me about it. You'd better tell me thewhole story." "This afternoon I couldn't stand it any more. I went toStrickland and told him I thought he was quite well enough to go back to his ownplace. I wanted the studio myself." "No one but Strickland would haveneeded telling" I said. "What did he say?" "He laughed alittle; you know how he laughsnot as though he were amusedbut as though youwere a damned fooland said he'd go at once. He began to put his thingstogether. You remember I fetched from his room what I thought he neededand heasked Blanche for a piece of paper and some string to make a parcel."Stroeve stoppedgaspingand I thought he was going to faint. This was not atall the story I had expected him to tell me. "She was very palebut shebrought the paper and the string. He didn't say anything. He made the parcel andhe whistled a tune. He took no notice of either of us. His eyes had an ironicsmile in them. My heart was like lead. I was afraid something was going tohappenand I wished I hadn't spoken. He looked round for his hat. Then shespoke: "`I'm going with StricklandDirk' she said. `I can't live with youany more.' "I tried to speakbut the words wouldn't come. Stricklanddidn't say anything. He went on whistling as though it had nothing to do withhim." Stroeve stopped again and mopped his face. I kept quite still. Ibelieved him nowand I was astounded. But all the same I could not understand.Then he told mein a trembling voicewith the tears pouring down his cheekshow he had gone up to hertrying to take her in his armsbut she had drawnaway and begged him not to touch her. He implored her not to leave him. He toldher how passionately he loved herand reminded her of all the devotion he hadlavished upon her. He spoke to her of the happiness of their life. He was notangry with her. He did not reproach her. "Please let me go quietlyDirk" she said at last. "Don't you understand that I love Strickland?Where he goes I shall go." "But you must know that he'll never makeyou happy. For your own sake don't go. You don't know what you've got to lookforward to." "It's your fault. You insisted on his coming here."He turned to Strickland. "Have mercy on her" he implored him."You can't let her do anything so mad." "She can do as shechooses" said Strickland. "She's not forced to come." "Mychoice is made" she saidin a dull voice. Strickland's injurious calmrobbed Stroeve of the rest of his self-control. Blind rage seized himandwithout knowing what he was doing he flung himself on Strickland. Strickland wastaken by surprise and he staggeredbut he was very strongeven after hisillnessand in a momenthe did not exactly know howStroeve found himself onthe floor. "You funny little man" said Strickland. Stroeve pickedhimself up. He noticed that his wife had remained perfectly stilland to bemade ridiculous before her increased his humiliation. His spectacles had tumbledoff in the struggleand he could not immediately see them. She picked them upand silently handed them to him. He seemed suddenly to realise his unhappinessand though he knew he was making himself still more absurdhe began to cry. Hehid his face in his hands. The others watched him without a word. They did notmove from where they stood. "Ohmy dear" he groaned at last"how can you be so cruel?" "I can't help myselfDirk" sheanswered. "I've worshipped you as no woman was ever worshipped before. Ifin anything I did I displeased youwhy didn't you tell meand I'd havechanged. I've done everything I could for you." She did not answer. Herface was setand he saw that he was only boring her. She put on a coat and herhat. She moved towards the doorand he saw that in a moment she would be gone.He went up to her quickly and fell on his knees before herseizing her hands:he abandoned all self-respect. "Ohdon't gomy darling. I can't livewithout you; I shall kill myself. If I've done anything to offend you I beg youto forgive me. Give me another chance. I'll try harder still to make youhappy." "Get upDirk. You're making yourself a perfect fool." Hestaggered to his feetbut still he would not let her go. "Where are yougoing?" he said hastily. "You don't know what Strickland's place islike. You can't live there. It would be awful." "If I don't careIdon't see why you should." "Stay a minute longer. I must speak. Afterallyou can't grudge me that." "What is the good? I've made up mymind. Nothing that you can say will make me alter it." He gulpedand puthis hand to his heart to ease its painful beating. "I'm not going to askyou to change your mindbut I want you to listen to me for a minute. It's thelast thing I shall ever ask you. Don't refuse me that." She pausedlookingat him with those reflective eyes of herswhich now were so different to him.She came back into the studio and leaned against the table. "Well?"Stroeve made a great effort to collect himself. "You must be a littlereasonable. You can't live on airyou know. Strickland hasn't got apenny." "I know." "You'll suffer the most awful privations.You know why he took so long to get well. He was half starved." "I canearn money for him." "How?" "I don't know. I shall find away." A horrible thought passed through the Dutchman's mindand heshuddered. "I think you must be mad. I don't know what has come overyou." She shrugged her shoulders. "Now may I go?" "Wait onesecond longer." He looked round his studio wearily; he had loved it becauseher presence had made it gay and homelike; he shut his eyes for an instant; thenhe gave her a long look as though to impress on his mind the picture of her. Hegot up and took his hat. "No; I'll go." "You?" She wasstartled. She did not know what he meant. "I can't bear to think of youliving in that horriblefilthy attic. After allthis is your home just as muchas mine. You'll be comfortable here. You'll be spared at least the worstprivations." He went to the drawer in which he kept his money and took outseveral bank-notes. "I would like to give you half what I've gothere." He put them on the table. Neither Strickland nor his wife spoke.Then he recollected something else. "Will you pack up my clothes and leavethem with the concierge? I'll come and fetch them to-morrow." He tried tosmile." Good-byemy dear. I'm grateful for all the happiness you gave mein the past." He walked out and closed the door behind him. With my mind'seye I saw Strickland throw his hat on a tableandsitting downbegin to smokea cigarette. Chapter XXIX I kept silence for a little whilethinking of whatStroeve had told me. I could not stomach his weaknessand he saw mydisapproval. "You know as well as I do how Strickland lived" he saidtremulously. "I couldn't let her live in those circumstances- I simplycouldn't." "That's your business" I answered. "What wouldhave done?" he asked. "She went with her eyes open. If she had to putup with certain inconveniences it was her own lookout." "Yes; butyouseeyou don't love her." "Do you love her still?" "Ohmorethan ever. Strickland isn't the man to make a woman happy. It can't last. I wanther to know that I shall never fail her." "Does that mean that you'reprepared to take her back?"
"I shouldn't hesitate. Whyshe'll want me more than ever then. Whenshe's alone and humiliated and broken it would be dreadful if she had nowhere togo." He seemed to bear no resentment. I suppose it was commonplace in methat I felt slightly outraged at his lack of spirit. Perhaps he guessed what wasin my mindfor he said: "I couldn't expect her to love me as I loved her.I'm a buffoon. I'm not the sort of man that women love. I've always known that.I can't blame her if she's fallen in love with Strickland." "Youcertainly have less vanity than any man I've ever known" I said. "Ilove her so much better than myself. It seems to me that when vanity comes intolove it can only be because really you love yourself best. After allitconstantly happens that a man when he's married falls in love with somebodyelse; when he gets over it he returns to his wifeand she takes him backandeveryone thinks it very natural. Why should it be different with women?""I dare say that's logical" I smiled"but most men are madedifferentlyand they can't." But while I talked to Stroeve I was puzzlingover the suddenness of the whole affair. I could not imagine that he had had nowarning. I remembered the curious look I had seen in Blanche Stroeve's eyes;perhaps its explanation was that she was growing dimly conscious of a feeling inher heart that surprised and alarmed her. "Did you have no suspicion beforeto-day that there was anything between them?" I asked. He did not answerfor a while. There was a pencil on the tableand unconsciously he drew a headon the blotting-paper. "Please say soif you hate my asking youquestions" I said. "It eases me to talk. Ohif you knew thefrightful anguish in my heart." He threw the pencil down. "YesI'veknown it for a fortnight. I knew it before she did." "Why on earthdidn't you send Strickland packing?" "I couldn't believe it. It seemedso improbable. She couldn't bear the sight of him. It was more than improbable;it was incredible. I thought it was merely jealousy. You seeI've always beenjealousbut I trained myself never to show it; I was jealous of every man sheknew; I was jealous of you. I knew she didn't love me as I loved her. That wasonly naturalwasn't it? But she allowed me to love herand that was enough tomake me happy. I forced myself to go out for hours together in order to leavethem by themselves; I wanted to punish myself for suspicions which were unworthyof me; and when I came back I found they didn't want me- not Stricklandhedidn't care if I was there or notbut Blanche. She shuddered when I went tokiss her. When at last I was certain I didn't know what to do; I knew they'donly laugh at me if I made a scene. I thought if I held my tongue and pretendednot to seeeverything would come right. I made up my mind to get him awayquietlywithout quarrelling. Ohif you only knew what I've suffered!"Then he told me again of his asking Strickland to go. He chose his momentcarefullyand tried to make his request sound casual; but he could not masterthe trembling of his voice; and he felt himself that into words that he wishedto seem jovial and friendly there crept the bitterness of his jealousy. He hadnot expected Strickland to take him up on the spot and make his preparations togo there and then; above allhe had not expected his wife's decision to go withhim. I saw that now he wished with all his heart that he had held his tongue. Hepreferred the anguish of jealousy to the anguish of separation. "I wantedto kill himand I only made a fool of myself." He was silent for a longtimeand then he said what I knew was in his mind. "If I'd only waitedperhaps it would have gone all right. I shouldn't have been so impatient. Ohpoor childwhat have I driven her to?" I shrugged my shouldersbut didnot speak. I had no sympathy for Blanche Stroevebut knew that it would onlypain poor Dirk if I told him exactly what I thought of her. He had reached thatstage of exhaustion when he could not stop talking. He went over again everyword of the scene. Now something occurred to him that he had not told me before;now he discussed what he ought to have said instead of what he did say; then helamented his blindness. He regretted that he had done thisand blamed himselfthat he had omitted the other. It grew later and laterand at last I was astired as he. "What are you going to do now?" I said finally."What can I do? I shall wait till she sends for me." "Why don'tyou go away for a bit?" "Nono; I must be at hand when she wantsme." For the present he seemed quite lost. He had made no plans. When Isuggested that he should go to bed he said he could not sleep; he wanted to goout and walk about the streets till day. He was evidently in no state to be leftalone. I persuaded him to stay the night with meand I put him into my own bed.I had a divan in my sitting-roomand could very well sleep on that. He was bynow so worn out that he could not resist my firmness. I gave him a sufficientdose of veronal to insure his unconsciousness for several hours. I thought thatwas the best service I could render him.
Chapter XXX But the bed I made up for myself was sufficiently uncomfortableto give me a wakeful nightand I thought a good deal of what the unluckyDutchman had told me. I was not so much puzzled by Blanche Stroeve's actionforI saw in that merely the result of a physical appeal. I do not suppose she hadever really cared for her husbandand what I had taken for love was no morethan the feminine response to caresses and comfort which in the minds of mostwomen passes for it. It is a passive feeling capable of being roused for anyobjectas the vine can grow on any tree; and the wisdom of the world recognisesits strength when it urges a girl to marry the man who wants her with theassurance that love will follow. It is an emotion made up of the satisfaction insecuritypride of propertythe pleasure of being desiredthe gratification ofa householdand it is only by an amiable vanity that women ascribe to itspiritual value. It is an emotion which is defenceless against passion. Isuspected that Blanche Stroeve's violent dislike of Strickland had in it fromthe beginning a vague element of sexual attraction. Who am I that I should seekto unravel the mysterious intricacies of sex? Perhaps Stroeve's passion excitedwithout satisfying that part of her natureand she hated Strickland because shefelt in him the power to give her what she needed. I think she was quite sincerewhen she struggled against her husband's desire to bring him into the studio; Ithink she was frightened of himthough she knew not why; and I remembered howshe had foreseen disaster. I think in some curious way the horror which she feltfor him was a transference of the horror which she felt for herself because heso strangely troubled her. His appearance was wild and uncouth; there wasaloofness in his eyes and sensuality in his mouth; he was big and strong; hegave the impression of untamed passion; and perhaps she felt in himtoothatsinister element which had made me think of those wild beings of the world'searly history when matterretaining its early connection with the earthseemedto possess yet a spirit of its own. If he affected her at allit was inevitablethat she should love or hate him. She hated him. And then I fancy that the dailyintimacy with the sick man moved her strangely. She raised his head to give himfoodand it was heavy against her hand; when she had fed him she wiped hissensual mouth and his red beard. She washed his limbs; they were covered withthick hair; and when she dried his handseven in his weakness they were strongand sinewy. His fingers were long; they were the capablefashioning fingers ofthe artist; and I know not what troubling thoughts they excited in her. He sleptvery quietlywithout a movementso that he might have been deadand he waslike some wild creature of the woodsresting after a long chase; and shewondered what fancies passed through his dreams. Did he dream of the nymphflying through the woods of Greece with the satyr in hot pursuit? She fledswift of foot and desperatebut he gained on her step by steptill she felthis hot breath on her neck; and still she fled silentlyand silently hepursuedand when at last he seized her was it terror that thrilled her heart orwas it ecstasy? Blanche Stroeve was in the cruel grip of appetite. Perhaps shehated Strickland stillbut she hungered for himand everything that had madeup her life till then became of no account. She ceased to be a womancomplexkind and petulantconsiderate and thoughtless; she was a Maenad. She wasdesire. But perhaps this is very fanciful; and it may be that she was merelybored with her husband and went to Strickland out of a callous curiosity. Shemay have had no particular feeling for himbut succumbed to his wish frompropinquity or idlenessto find then that she was powerless in a snare of herown contriving. How did I know what were the thoughts and emotions behind thatplacid brow and those cool gray eyes? But if one could be certain of nothing indealing with creatures so incalculable as human beingsthere were explanationsof Blanche Stroeve's behaviour which were at all events plausible. On the otherhandI did not understand Strickland at all. I racked my brainbut could in noway account for an action so contrary to my conception of him. It was notstrange that he should so heartlessly have betrayed his friends' confidencenorthat he hesitated not at all to gratify a whim at the cost of another's misery.That was in his character. He was a man without any conception of gratitude. Hehad no compassion. The emotions common to most of us simply did not exist inhimand it was as absurd to blame him for not feeling them as for blaming thetiger because he is fierce and cruel. But it was the whim I could notunderstand. I could not believe that Strickland had fallen in love with BlancheStroeve. I did not believe him capable of love. That is an emotion in whichtenderness is an essential partbut Strickland had no tenderness either forhimself or for others; there is in love a sense of weaknessa desire toprotectan eagerness to do good and to give pleasure- if not unselfishnessatall events a selfishness which marvellously conceals itself; it has in it acertain diffidence. These were not traits which I could imagine in Strickland.Love is absorbing; it takes the lover out of himself; the most clear-sightedthough he may knowcannot realise that his love will cease; it gives body towhat he knows is illusionandknowing it is nothing elsehe loves it betterthan reality. It makes a man a little more than himselfand at the same time alittle less. He ceases to be himself. He is no longer an individualbut athingan instrument to some purpose foreign to his ego. Love is never quitedevoid of sentimentalityand Strickland was the least inclined to thatinfirmity of any man I have known. I could not believe that he would ever sufferthat possession of himself which love is; he could never endure a foreign yoke.I believed him capable of uprooting from his heartthough it might be withagonyso that he was left battered and ensanguinedanything that came betweenhimself and that uncomprehended craving that urged him constantly to he knew notwhat. If I have succeeded at all in giving the complicated impression thatStrickland made on meit will not seem outrageous to say that I felt he was atonce too great and too small for love.
But I suppose that everyone's conception of the passion is formed on his ownidiosyncrasiesand it is different with every different person. A man likeStrickland would love in a manner peculiar to himself. It was vain to seek theanalysis of his emotion. Chapter XXXI Next daythough I pressed him to remainStroeve left me. I offered to fetch his things from the studiobut he insistedon going himself; I think he hoped they had not thought of getting themtogetherso that he would have an opportunity of seeing his wife again andperhaps inducing her to come back to him. But he found his traps waiting for himin the porter's lodgeand the concierge told him that Blanche had gone out. Ido not think he resisted the temptation of giving her an account of histroubles. I found that he was telling them to everyone he knew; he expectedsympathybut only excited ridicule. He bore himself most unbecomingly. Knowingat what time his wife did her shoppingone dayunable any longer to bear notseeing herhe waylaid her in the street. She would not speak to himbut heinsisted on speaking to her. He spluttered out words of apology for any wrong hehad committed towards her; he told her he loved her devotedly and begged her toreturn to him. She would not answer; she walked hurriedlywith averted face. Iimagined him with his fat little legs trying to keep up with her. Panting alittle in his hastehe told her how miserable he was; he besought her to havemercy on him; he promisedif she would forgive himto do everything shewanted. He offered to take her for a journey. He told her that Strickland wouldsoon tire of her. When he repeated to me the whole sordid little scene I wasoutraged. He had shown neither sense nor dignity. He had omitted nothing thatcould make his wife despise him. There is no cruelty greater than a woman's to aman who loves her and whom she does not love; she has no kindness thennotolerance evenshe has only an insane irritation. Blanche Stroeve stoppedsuddenlyand as hard as she could slapped her husband's face. She tookadvantage of his confusion to escapeand ran up the stairs to the studio. Noword had passed her lips. When he told me this he put his hand to his cheek asthough he still felt the smart of the blowand in his eyes was a pain that washeartrending and an amazement that was ludicrous. He looked like an overblownschoolboyand though I felt so sorry for himI could hardly help laughing.Then he took to walking along the street which she must pass through to get tothe shopsand he would stand at the corneron the other sideas she wentalong. He dared not speak to her againbut sought to put into his round eyesthe appeal that was in his heart. I suppose he had some idea that the sight ofhis misery would touch her. She never made the smallest sign that she saw him.She never even changed the hour of her errands or sought an alternative route. Ihave an idea that there was some cruelty in her indifference. Perhaps she gotenjoyment out of the torture she inflicted. I wondered why she hated him somuch. I begged Stroeve to behave more wisely. His want of spirit wasexasperating. "You're doing no good at all by going on like this" Isaid. "I think you'd have been wiser if you'd hit her over the head with astick. She wouldn't have despised you as she does now." I suggested that heshould go home for a while. He had often spoken to me of the silent townsomewhere up in the north of Hollandwhere his parents still lived. They werepoor people. His father was a carpenterand they dwelt in a little oldred-brick houseneat and cleanby the side of a sluggish canal. The streetswere wide and empty; for two hundred years the place had been dyingbut thehouses had the homely stateliness of their time. Rich merchantssending theirwares to the distant Indieshad lived in them calm and prosperous livesand intheir decent decay they kept still an aroma of their splendid past. You couldwander along the canal till you came to broad green fieldswith windmills hereand therein which cattleblack and whitegrazed lazily. I thought that amongthose surroundingswith their recollections of his boyhoodDirk Stroeve wouldforget his unhappiness. But he would not go. "I must be here when she needsme" he repeated. "It would be dreadful if something terrible happenedand I were not at hand." "What do you think is going to happen?"I asked. "I don't know. But I'm afraid." I shrugged my shoulders. Forall his painDirk Stroeve remained a ridiculous object. He might have excitedsympathy if he had grown worn and thin. He did nothing of the kind. He remainedfatand his roundred cheeks shone like ripe apples. He had great neatness ofpersonand he continued to wear his spruce black coat and his bowler hatalways a little too small for himin a dapperjaunty manner. He was gettingsomething of a paunchand sorrow had no effect on it. He looked more than everlike a prosperous bagman. It is hard that a man's exterior should tally solittle sometimes with his soul. Dirk Stroeve had the passion of Romeo in thebody of Sir Toby Belch. He had a sweet and generous natureand yet was alwaysblundering; a real feeling for what was beautiful and the capacity to createonly what was commonplace; a peculiar delicacy of sentiment and gross manners.He could exercise tact when dealing with the affairs of othersbut none whendealing with his own. What a cruel practical joke old Nature played when sheflung so many contradictory elements togetherand left the man face to facewith the perplexing callousness of the universe. Chapter XXXII
I did not see Strickland for several weeks. I was disgusted with himand ifI had had an opportunity should have been glad to tell him sobut I saw noobject in seeking him out for the purpose. I am a little shy of any assumptionof moral indignation; there is always in it an element of self-satisfactionwhich makes it awkward to anyone who has a sense of humour. It requires a verylively passion to steel me to my own ridicule. There was a sardonic sincerity inStrickland which made me sensitive to anything that might suggest a pose. Butone evening when I was passing along the Avenue de Clichy in front of the cafewhich Strickland frequented and which I now avoidedI ran straight into him. Hewas accompanied by Blanche Stroeveand they were just going to Strickland'sfavourite corner. "Where the devil have you been all this time?" saidhe. "I thought you must be away." His cordiality was proof that heknew I had no wish to speak to him. He was not a man with whom it was worthwhile wasting politeness. "No" I said; "I haven't beenaway." "Why haven't you been here?" "There are more cafes inParis than oneat which to trifle away an idle hour." Blanche then heldout her hand and bade me good-evening. I do not know why I had expected her tobe somehow changed; she wore the same gray dress that she wore so oftenneatand becomingand her brow was as candidher eyes as untroubledas when I hadbeen used to see her occupied with her household duties in the studio."Come and have a game of chess" said Strickland. I do not know why atthe moment I could think of no excuse. I followed them rather sulkily to thetable at which Strickland always satand he called for the board and thechessmen. They both took the situation so much as a matter of course that I feltit absurd to do otherwise. Mrs. Stroeve watched the game with inscrutable face.She was silentbut she had always been silent. I looked at her mouth for anexpression that could give me a clue to what she felt; I watched her eyes forsome tell-tale flashsome hint of dismay or bitterness; I scanned her brow forany passing line that might indicate a settling emotion. Her face was a maskthat told nothing. Her hands lay on her lap motionlessone in the other looselyclasped. I knew from what I had heard that she was a woman of violent passions;and that injurious blow that she had given Dirkthe man who had loved her sodevotedlybetrayed a sudden temper and a horrid cruelty. She had abandoned thesafe shelter of her husband's protection and the comfortable ease of awell-provided establishment for what she could not but see was an extremehazard. It showed an eagerness for adventurea readiness for the hand-to-mouthwhich the care she took of her home and her love of good housewifery made not alittle remarkable. She must be a woman of complicated characterand there wassomething dramatic in the contrast of that with her demure appearance. I wasexcited by the encounterand my fancy worked busily while I sought toconcentrate myself on the game I was playing. I always tried my best to beatStricklandbecause he was a player who despised the opponent he vanquished; hisexultation in victory made defeat more difficult to bear. On the other handifhe was beaten he took it with complete good-humour. He was a bad winner and agood loser. Those who think that a man betrays his character nowhere moreclearly than when he is playing a game might on this draw subtle inferences.When he had finished I called the waiter to pay for the drinksand left them.The meeting had been devoid of incident. No word had been said to give meanything to think aboutand any surmises I might make were unwarranted. I wasintrigued. I could not tell how they were getting on. I would have given much tobe a disembodied spirit so that I could see them in the privacy of the studioand hear what they talked about. I had not the smallest indication on which tolet my imagination work. Chapter XXXIII Two or three days later Dirk Stroevecalled on me. "I hear you've seen Blanche" he said. "How onearth did you find out?" "I was told by someone who saw you sittingwith them. Why didn't you tell me?" "I thought it would only painyou." "What do I care if it does? You must know that I want to hearthe smallest thing about her." I waited for him to ask me questions."What does she look like?" he said. "Absolutely unchanged.""Does she seem happy?" I shrugged my shoulders. "How can I tell?We were in a cafe; we were playing chess; I had no opportunity to speak toher." "Ohbut couldn't you tell by her face?"
I shook my head. I could only repeat that by no wordby no hinted gesturehad she given an indication of her feelings. He must know better than I howgreat were her powers of self-control. He clasped his hands emotionally."OhI'm so frightened. I know something is going to happensomethingterribleand I can do nothing to stop it." "What sort of thing?"I asked. "OhI don't know" he moanedseizing his head with hishands. "I foresee some terrible catastrophe." Stroeve had always beenexcitablebut now he was beside himself; there was no reasoning with him. Ithought it probable enough that Blanche Stroeve would not continue to find lifewith Strickland tolerablebut one of the falsest of proverbs is that you mustlie on the bed that you have made. The experience of life shows that people areconstantly doing things which must lead to disasterand yet by some chancemanage to evade the result of their folly. When Blanche quarrelled withStrickland she had only to leave himand her husband was waiting humbly toforgive and forget. I was not prepared to feel any great sympathy for her."You seeyou don't love her" said Stroeve. "After allthere'snothing to prove that she is unhappy. For all we know they may have settled downinto a most domestic couple." Stroeve gave me a look with his woeful eyes."Of course it doesn't much matter to youbut to me it's so serioussointensely serious." I was sorry if I had seemed impatient or flippant."Will you do something for me?" asked Stroeve. "Willingly.""Will you write to Blanche for me?" "Why can't you writeyourself?" "I've written over and over again. I didn't expect her toanswer. I don't think she reads the letters." "You make no account offeminine curiosity. Do you think she could resist?" "She could-mine." I looked at him quickly. He lowered his eyes. That answer of hisseemed to me strangely humiliating. He was conscious that she regarded him withan indifference so profound that the sight of his handwriting would have not theslightest effect on her. "Do you really believe that she'll ever come backto you?" I asked. "I want her to know that if the worst comes to theworst she can count on me. That's what I want you to tell her." I took asheet of paper. "What is it exactly you wish me to say?" This is whatI wrote: DEAR MRS. STROEVEChapter XXXIV But though I was no less convincedthan Stroeve that the connection between Strickland and Blanche would enddisastrouslyI did not expect the issue to take the tragic form it did. Thesummer camebreathless and sultryand even at night there was no coolness torest one's jaded nerves. The sun-baked streets seemed to give back the heat thathad beat down on them during the dayand the passers-by dragged their feetalong them wearily. I had not seen Strickland for weeks. Occupied with otherthingsI had ceased to think of him and his affairs. Dirkwith his vainlamentationshad begun to bore meand I avoided his society. It was a sordidbusinessand I was not inclined to trouble myself with it further. One morningI was working. I sat in my Pyjamas. My thoughts wanderedand I thought of thesunny beaches of Brittany and the freshness of the sea. By my side was the emptybowl in which the concierge had brought me my and the fragment of croissantwhich I had not had appetite enough to eat. I heard the concierge in the nextroom emptying my bath. There was a tinkle at my belland I left her to open thedoor. In a moment I heard Stroeve's voice asking if I was in. Without movingIshouted to him to come. He entered the room quicklyand came up to the table atwhich I sat. "She's killed herself" he said hoarsely. "What doyou mean?" I criedstartled. He made movements with his lips as though hewere speakingbut no sound issued from them. He gibbered like an idiot. Myheart thumped against my ribsandI do not know whyI flew into a temper."For God's sakecollect yourselfman" I said. "What on earthare you talking about?" He made despairing gestures with his handsbutstill no words came from his mouth. He might have been struck dumb. I do notknow what came over me; I took him by the shoulders and shook him. Looking backI am vexed that I made such a fool of myself; I suppose the last restless nightshad shaken my nerves more than I knew. "Let me sit down" he gasped atlength. I filled a glass with St. Galmierand gave it to him to drink. I heldit to his mouth as though he were a child. He gulped down a mouthfuland someof it was spilt on his shirt-front. "Who's killed herself?" I do notknow why I askedfor I knew whom he meant. He made an effort to collecthimself. "They had a row last night. He went away." "Is shedead?" "No; they've taken her to the hospital." "Then whatare you talking about?" I cried impatiently. "Why did you say she'dkilled herself?" "Don't be cross with me. I can't tell you anything ifyou talk to me like that." I clenched my handsseeking to control myirritation. I attempted a smile. "I'm sorry. Take your time. Don't hurrythere's a good fellow." His round blue eyes behind the spectacles wereghastly with terror. The magnifying-glasses he wore distorted them. "Whenthe concierge went up this morning to take a letter she could get no answer toher ring. She heard someone groaning. The door wasn't lockedand she went in.Blanche was lying on the bed. She'd been frightfully sick. There was a bottle ofoxalic acid on the table." Stroeve hid his face in his hands and swayedbackwards and forwardsgroaning. "Was she conscious?" "Yes. Ohif you knew how she's suffering! I can't bear it. I can't bear it." Hisvoice rose to a shriek. "Damn it allyou haven't got to bear it" Icried impatiently. "She's got to bear it." "How can you be socruel?" "What have you done?" "They sent for a doctor andfor meand they told the police. I'd given the concierge twenty francsandtold her to send for me if anything happened." He paused a minuteand Isaw that what he had to tell me was very hard to say. "When I went shewouldn't speak to me. She told them to send me away. I swore that I forgave hereverythingbut she wouldn't listen. She tried to beat her head against thewall. The doctor told me that I mustn't remain with her. She kept on saying`Send him away!' I wentand waited in the studio. And when the ambulance cameand they put her on a stretcherthey made me go in the kitchen so that sheshouldn't know I was there." While I dressed- for Stroeve wished me to goat once with him to the hospital- he told me that he had arranged for his wifeto have a private roomso that she might at least be spared the sordidpromiscuity of a ward. On our way he explained to me why he desired my presence;if she still refused to see himperhaps she would see me. He begged me torepeat to her that he loved her still; he would reproach her for nothingbutdesired only to help her; he made no claim on herand on her recovery would notseek to induce her to return to him; she would be perfectly free. But when wearrived at the hospitala gauntcheerless buildingthe mere sight of whichwas enough to make one's heart sickand after being directed from this officialto thatup endless stairs and through longbare corridorsfound the doctor incharge of the casewe were told that the patient was too ill to see anyone thatday. The doctor was a little bearded man in whitewith an offhand manner. Heevidently looked upon a case as a caseand anxious relatives as a nuisancewhich must be treated with firmness. Moreoverto him the affair wascommonplace; it was just an hysterical woman who had quarrelled with her loverand taken poison; it was constantly happening. At first he thought that Dirk wasthe cause of the disasterand he was needlessly brusque with him. When Iexplained that he was the husbandanxious to forgivethe doctor looked at himsuddenlywith curioussearching eyes. I seemed to see in them a hint ofmockery; it was true that Stroeve had the head of the husband who is deceived.The doctor faintly shrugged his shoulders. "There is no immediatedanger" he saidin answer to our questioning. "One doesn't know howmuch she took. It may be that she will get off with a fright. Women areconstantly trying to commit suicide for lovebut generally they take care notto succeed. It's generally a gesture to arouse pity or terror in theirlover." There was in his tone a frigid contempt. It was obvious that to himBlanche Stroeve was only a unit to be added to the statistical list of attemptedsuicides in the city of Paris during the current year. He was busyand couldwaste no more time on us. He told us that if we came at a certain hour next dayshould Blanche be betterit might be possible for her husband to see her.Chapter XXXV I scarcely know how we got through that day. Stroeve could not bearto be aloneand I exhausted myself in efforts to distract him. I took him tothe Louvreand he pretended to look at picturesbut I saw that his thoughtswere constantly with his wife. I forced him to eatand after luncheon I inducedhim to lie downbut he could not sleep. He accepted willingly my invitation toremain for a few days in my apartment. I gave him books to readbut after apage or two he would put the book down and stare miserably into space. Duringthe evening we played innumerable games of piquetand bravelynot todisappoint my effortshe tried to appear interested. Finally I gave him adraughtand he sank into uneasy slumber. When we went again to the hospital wesaw a nursing sister. She told us that Blanche seemed a little betterand shewent in to ask if she would see her husband. We heard voices in the room inwhich she layand presently the nurse returned to say that the patient refusedto see anyone. We had told her that if she refused to see Dirk the nurse was toask if she would see mebut this she refused also. Dirk's lips trembled."I dare not insist" said the nurse. "She is too ill. Perhaps ina day or two she may change her mind." "Is there anyone else she wantsto see?" asked Dirkin a voice so low it was almost a whisper. "Shesays she only wants to be left in peace." Dirk's hands moved strangelyasthough they had nothing to do with his bodywith a movement of their own."Will you tell her that if there is anyone else she wishes to see I willbring him? I only want her to be happy." The nurse looked at him with hercalmkind eyeswhich had seen all the horror and pain of the worldand yetfilled with the vision of a world without sinremained serene. "I willtell her when she is a little calmer." Dirkfilled with compassionbeggedher to take the message at once. "It may cure her. I beseech you to ask hernow." With a faint smile of pitythe nurse went back into the room. Weheard her low voiceand thenin a voice I did not recognise the answer:"No. No. No." The nurse came out again and shook her head. "Wasthat she who spoke then?" I asked. "Her voice sounded sostrange." "It appears that her vocal cords have been burnt by theacid." Dirk gave a low cry of distress. I asked him to go on and wait forme at the entrancefor I wanted to say something to the nurse. He did not askwhat it wasbut went silently. He seemed to have lost all power of will; he waslike an obedient child. "Has she told you why she did it?" I asked."No. She won't speak. She lies on her back quite quietly. She doesn't movefor hours at a time. But she cries always. Her pillow is all wet. She's too weakto use a handkerchiefand the tears just run down her face." It gave me asudden wrench of the heart-strings. I could have killed Strickland thenand Iknew that my voice was trembling when I bade the nurse goodbye. I found Dirkwaiting for me on the steps. He seemed to see nothingand did not notice that Ihad joined him till I touched him on the arm. We walked along in silence. Itried to imagine what had happened to drive the poor creature to that dreadfulstep. I presumed that Strickland knew what had happenedfor someone must havebeen to see him from the policeand he must have made his statement. I did notknow where he was. I supposed he had gone back to the shabby attic which servedhim as a studio. It was curious that she should not wish to see him. Perhaps sherefused to have him sent for because she knew he would refuse to come. Iwondered what an abyss of cruelty she must have looked into that in horror sherefused to live. Chapter XXXVI The next week was dreadful. Stroeve went twice aday to the hospital to enquire after his wifewho still declined to see him;and came away at first relieved and hopeful because he was told that she seemedto be growing betterand then in despair becausethe complication which thedoctor had feared having ensuedrecovery was impossible. The nurse was pitifulto his distressbut she had little to say that could console him. The poorwoman lay quite stillrefusing to speakwith her eyes intentas though shewatched for the coming of death. It could now be only the question of a day ortwo; and whenlate one eveningStroeve came to see me I knew it was to tell meshe was dead. He was absolutely exhausted. His volubility had left him at lastand he sank down wearily on my sofa. I felt that no words of condolence availedand I let him lie there quietly. I feared he would think it heartless if I readso I sat by the windowsmoking a pipetill he felt inclined to speak.
You've been very kind to me" he said at last. "Everyone's beenvery kind." "Nonsense" I saida little embarrassed. "Atthe hospital they told me I might wait. They gave me a chairand I sat outsidethe door. When she became unconscious they said I might go in. Her mouth andchin were all burnt by the acid. It was awful to see her lovely skin allwounded. She died very peacefullyso that I didn't know she was dead till thesister told me." He was too tired to weep. He lay on his back limplyasthough all the strength had gone out of his limbsand presently I saw that hehad fallen asleep. It was the first natural sleep he had had for a week. Naturesometimes so cruelis sometimes merciful. I covered him and turned down thelight. In the morning when I awoke he was still asleep. He had not moved. Hisgold-rimmed spectacles were still on his nose. Chapter XXXVII The circumstancesof Blanche Stroeve's death necessitated all manner of dreadful formalitiesbutat last we were allowed to bury her. Dirk and I alone followed the hearse to thecemetery. We went at a foot-pacebut on the way back we trottedand there wassomething to my mind singularly horrible in the way the driver of the hearsewhipped up his horses. It seemed to dismiss the dead with a shrug of theshoulders. Now and then I caught sight of the swaying hearse in front of usandour own driver urged his pair so that we might not remain behind. I felt inmyselftoothe desire to get the whole thing out of my mind. I was beginningto be bored with a tragedy that did not really concern meand pretending tomyself that I spoke in order to distract StroeveI turned with relief to othersubjects. "Don't you think you'd better go away for a bit?" I said."There can be no object in your staying in Paris now." He did notanswerbut I went on ruthlessly: "Have you made any plans for theimmediate future?" "No." "You must try and gather togetherthe threads again. Why don't you go down to Italy and start working?" Againhe made no replybut the driver of our carriage came to my rescue. Slackeninghis pace for a momenthe leaned over and spoke. I could not hear what he saidso I put my head out of the window. he wanted to know where we wished to be setdown. I told him to wait a minute. "You'd better come and have lunch withme" I said to Dirk. "I'll tell him to drop us in the PlacePigalle." "I'd rather not. I want to go to the studio." Ihesitated a moment. "Would you like me to come with you?" I askedthen. "No; I should prefer to be alone." "All right." I gavethe driver the necessary directionand in renewed silence we drove on. Dirk hadnot been to the studio since the wretched morning on which they had takenBlanche to the hospital. I was glad he did not want me to accompany himandwhen I left him at the door I walked away with relief. I took a new pleasure inthe streets of Parisand I looked with smiling eyes at the people who hurriedto and fro. The day was fine and sunnyand I felt in myself a more acutedelight in life. I could not help it; I put Stroeve and his sorrows out of mymind. I wanted to enjoy. Chapter XXXVIII I did not see him again for nearly aweek. Then he fetched me soon after seven one evening and took me out to dinner.He was dressed in the deepest mourningand on his bowler was a broad blackband. He had even a black border to his handkerchief. His garb of woe suggestedthat he had lost in one catastrophe every relation he had in the worldeven tocousins by marriage twice removed. His plumpness and his redfat cheeks madehis mourning not a little incongruous. It was cruel that his extreme unhappinessshould have in it something of buffoonery. He told me he had made up his mind togo awaythough not to Italyas I had suggestedbut to Holland. "I'mstarting to-morrow. This is perhaps the last time we shall ever meet." Imade an appropriate rejoinderand he smiled wanly. "I haven't been homefor five years. I think I'd forgotten it all; I seemed to have come so far awayfrom my father's house that I was shy at the idea of revisiting it; but now Ifeel it's my only refuge." He was sore and bruisedand his thoughts wentback to the tenderness of his mother's love. The ridicule he had endured foryears seemed now to weigh him downand the final blow of Blanche's treacheryhad robbed him of the resiliency which had made him take it so gaily. He couldno longer laugh with those who laughed at him. He was an outcast. He told me ofhis childhood in the tidy brick houseand of his mother's passionateorderliness. Her kitchen was a miracle of clean brightness. Everything wasalways in its placeand no where could you see a speck of dust. Cleanlinessindeedwas a mania with her. I saw a neat little old womanwith cheeks likeapplestoiling away from morning to nightthrough the long yearsto keep herhouse trim and spruce. His father was a spare old manhis hands gnarled afterthe work of a lifetimesilent and upright; in the evening he read the paperaloudwhile his wife and daughter (now married to the captain of a fishingsmack)unwilling to lose a momentbent over their sewing. Nothing everhappened in that little townleft behind by the advance of civilisationandone year followed the next till death camelike a friendto give rest to thosewho had laboured so diligently. "My father wished me to become a carpenterlike himself. For five generations we've carried on the same tradefrom fatherto son. Perhaps that is the wisdom of lifeto tread in your father's stepsandlook neither to the right nor to the left. When I was a little boy I said Iwould marry the daughter of the harness-maker who lived next door. She was alittle girl with blue eyes and a flaxen pigtail. She would have kept my houselike a new pinand I should have had a son to carry on the business afterme." Stroeve sighed a little and was silent. His thoughts dwelt amongpictures of what might have beenand the safety of the life he had refusedfilled him with longing. "The world is hard and cruel. We are here noneknows whyand we go none knows whither. We must be very humble. We must see thebeauty of quietness. We must go through life so inconspicuously that Fate doesnot notice us. And let us seek the love of simpleignorant people. Theirignorance is better than all our knowledge. Let us be silentcontent in ourlittle cornermeek and gentle like them. That is the wisdom of life." Tome it was his broken spirit that expressed itselfand I rebelled against hisrenunciation. But I kept my own counsel. "What made you think of being apainter?" I asked. He shrugged his shoulders. "It happened that I hada knack for drawing. I got prizes for it at school. My poor mother was veryproud of my giftand she gave me a box of water-colours as a present. Sheshowed my sketches to the pastor and the doctor and the judge. And they sent meto Amsterdam to try for a scholarshipand I won it. Poor soulshe was soproud; and though it nearly broke her heart to part from meshe smiledandwould not show me her grief. She was pleased that her son should be an artist.They pinched and saved so that I should have enough to live onand when myfirst picture was exhibited they came to Amsterdam to see itmy father andmother and my sisterand my mother cried when she looked at it." His kindeyes glistened. "And now on every wall of the old house there is one of mypictures in a beautiful gold frame." He glowed with happy pride. I thoughtof those cold scenes of hiswith their picturesque peasants and cypresses andolive-trees. They must look queer in their garish frames on the walls of thepeasant house. "The dear soul thought she was doing a wonderful thing forme when she made me an artistbut perhapsafter allit would have been betterfor me if my father's will had prevailed and I were now but an honestcarpenter." "Now that you know what art can offerwould you changeyour life? Would you have missed all the delight it has given you?""Art is the greatest thing in the world" he answeredafter a pause.He looked at me for a minute reflectively; he seemed to hesitate; then he said:"Did you know that I had been to see Strickland?" "You?" Iwas astonished. I should have thought he could not bear to set eyes on him.Stroeve smiled faintly. "You know already that I have no properpride." "What do you mean by that?" He told me a singular story.Chapter XXXIX When I left himafter we had buried poor BlancheStroeve walkedinto the house with a heavy heart. Something impelled him to go to the studiosome obscure desire for self-tortureand yet he dreaded the anguish that heforesaw. He dragged himself up the stairs; his feet seemed unwilling to carryhim; and outside the door he lingered for a long timetrying to summon upcourage to go in. He felt horribly sick. He had an impulse to run down thestairs after me and beg me to go in with him; he had a feeling that there wassomebody in the studio. He remembered how often he had waited for a minute ortwo on the landing to get his breath after the ascentand how absurdly hisimpatience to see Blanche had taken it away again. To see her was a delight thatnever staledand even though he had not been out an hour he was as excited atthe prospect as if they had been parted for a month. Suddenly he could notbelieve that she was dead. What had happened could only be a dreama frightfuldream; and when he turned the key and opened the doorhe would see her bendingslightly over the table in the gracious attitude of the woman in Chardin'swhich always seemed to him so exquisite. Hurriedly he took the key out of hispocketopenedand walked in. The apartment had no look of desertion. Hiswife's tidiness was one of the traits which had so much pleased him; his ownupbringing had given him a tender sympathy for the delight in orderliness; andwhen he had seen her instinctive desire to put each thing in its appointed placeit had given him a little warm feeling in his heart. The bedroom looked asthough she had just left it: the brushes were neatly placed on the toilet-tableone on each side of the comb; someone had smoothed down the bed on which she hadspent her last night in the studio; and her nightdress in a little case lay onthe pillow. It was impossible to believe that she would never come into thatroom again. But he felt thirstyand went into the kitchen to get himself somewater. Heretoowas order. On a rack were the plates that she had used fordinner on the night of her quarrel with Stricklandand they had been carefullywashed. The knives and forks were put away in a drawer. Under a cover were theremains of a piece of cheeseand in a tin box was a crust of bread. She haddone her marketing from day to daybuying only what was strictly needfulsothat nothing was left over from one day to the next. Stroeve knew from theenquiries made by the police that Strickland had walked out of the houseimmediately after dinnerand the fact that Blanche had washed up the things asusual gave him a little thrill of horror. Her methodicalness made her suicidemore deliberate. Her self-possession was frightening. A sudden pang seized himand his knees felt so weak that he almost fell. He went back into the bedroomand threw himself on the bed. He cried out her name. "Blanche.Blanche." The thought of her suffering was intolerable. He had a suddenvision of her standing in the kitchen- it was hardly larger than a cupboard-washing the plates and glassesthe forks and spoonsgiving the knives a rapidpolish on the knife-board; and then putting everything awaygiving the sink ascruband hanging the dish-cloth up to dry- it was there stilla gray tornrag; then looking round to see that everything was clean and nice. He saw herroll down her sleeves and remove her apron- the apron hung on a peg behind thedoor- and take the bottle of oxalic acid and go with it into the bedroom. Theagony of it drove him up from the bed and out of the room. He went into thestudio. It was darkfor the curtains had been drawn over the great windowandhe pulled them quickly back; but a sob broke from him as with a rapid glance hetook in the place where he had been so happy. Nothing was changed hereeither.Strickland was indifferent to his surroundingsand he had lived in the other'sstudio without thinking of altering a thing. It was deliberately artistic. Itrepresented Stroeve's idea of the proper environment for an artist. There werebits of old brocade on the wallsand the piano was covered with a piece ofsilkbeautiful and tarnished; in one corner was a copy of the Venus of Miloand in another of the Venus of the Medici. Here and there was an Italian cabinetsurmounted with Delftand here and there a bas-relief. In a handsome gold framewas a copy of Velasquez' Innocent X.that Stroeve had made in Romeand placedso as to make the most of their decorative effect were a number of Stroeve'spicturesall in splendid frames. Stroeve had always been very proud of histaste. He had never lost his appreciation for the romantic atmosphere of astudioand though now the sight of it was like a stab in his heartwithoutthinking what he was athe changed slightly the position of a Louis XV. tablewhich was one of his treasures. Suddenly he caught sight of a canvas with itsface to the wall. It was a much larger one than he himself was in the habit ofusingand he wondered what it did there. He went over to it and leaned ittowards him so that he could see the painting. It was a nude. His heart began tobeat quicklyfor he guessed at once that it was one of Strickland's pictures.He flung it back against the wall angrily- what did he mean by leaving itthere?- but his movement caused it to fallface downwardson the ground. Nomatter whose the picturehe could not leave it there in the dustand he raisedit; but then curiosity got the better of him. He thought he would like to have aproper look at itso he brought it along and set it on the easel. Then he stoodback in order to see it at his ease. He gave a gasp. It was the picture of awoman lying on a sofawith one arm beneath her head and the other along herbody; one knee was raisedand the other leg was stretched out. The pose wasclassic. Stroeve's head swam. It was Blanche. Grief and jealousy and rage seizedhimand he cried out hoarsely; he was inarticulate; he clenched his fists andraised them threateningly at an invisible enemy. He screamed at the top of hisvoice. He was beside himself. He could not bear it. That was too much. He lookedround wildly for some instrument; he wanted to hack the picture to pieces; itshould not exist another minute. He could see nothing that would serve hispurpose; he rummaged about his painting things; somehow he could not find athing; he was frantic. At last he came upon what he soughta large scraperandhe pounced on it with a cry of triumph. He seized it as though it were a daggerand ran to the picture. As Stroeve told me this he became as excited as when theincident occurredand he took hold of a dinner-knife on the table between usand brandished it. He lifted his arm as though to strikeand thenopening hishandlet it fall with a clatter to the ground. He looked at me with a tremuloussmile. He did not speak. "Fire away" I said. "I don't know whathappened to me. I was just going to make a great hole in the pictureI had myarm all ready for the blowwhen suddenly I seemed to see it." "Seewhat?" "The picture. It was a work of art. I couldn't touch it. I wasafraid." Stroeve was silent againand he stared at me with his mouth openand his round blue eyes starting out of his head. "It was a greatawonderful picture. I was seized with awe. I had nearly committed a dreadfulcrime. I moved a little to see it betterand my foot knocked against thescraper. I shuddered." I really felt something of the emotion that hadcaught him. I was strangely impressed. It was as though I were suddenlytransported into a world in which the values were changed. I stood byat alosslike a stranger in a land where the reactions of man to familiar thingsare all different from those he has known. Stroeve tried to talk to me about thepicturebut he was incoherentand I had to guess at what he meant. Stricklandhad burst the bonds that hitherto had held him. He had foundnot himselfasthe phrase goesbut a new soul with unsuspected powers. It was not only thebold simplification of the drawing which showed so rich and so singular apersonality; it was not only the paintingthough the flesh was painted with apassionate sensuality which had in it something miraculous; it was not only thesolidityso that you felt extraordinarily the weight of the body; there wasalso a spiritualitytroubling and newwhich led the imagination alongunsuspected waysand suggested dim empty spaceslit only by the eternal starswhere the soulall nakedadventured fearful to the discovery of new mysteries.If I am rhetorical it is because Stroeve was rhetorical. (Do we not know thatman in moments of emotion expresses himself naturally in the terms of anovelette?) Stroeve was trying to express a feeling which he had never knownbeforeand he did not know how to put it into common terms. He was like themystic seeking to describe the ineffable. But one fact he made clear to me;people talk of beauty lightlyand having no feeling for wordsthey use thatone carelesslyso that it loses its force; and the thing it stands forsharingits name with a hundred trivial objectsis deprived of dignity. They callbeautiful a dressa doga sermon; and when they are face to face with Beautycannot recognise it. The false emphasis with which they try to deck theirworthless thoughts blunts their susceptibilities. Like the charlatan whocounterfeits a spiritual force he has sometimes feltthey lose the power theyhave abused. But Stroevethe unconquerable buffoonhad a love and anunderstanding of beauty which were as honest and sincere as was his own sincereand honest soul. It meant to him what God means to the believerand when he sawit he was afraid. "What did you say to Strickland when you saw him?""I asked him to come with me to Holland." I was dumbfounded. I couldonly look at Stroeve in stupid amazement. "We both loved Blanche. Therewould have been room for him in my mother's house. I think the company of poorsimple people would have done his soul a great good. I think he might havelearnt from them something that would be very useful to him." "Whatdid he say?" "He smiled a little. I suppose he thought me very silly.He said he had other fish to fry." I could have wished that Strickland hadused some other phrase to indicate his refusal. "He gave me the picture ofBlanche." I wondered why Strickland had done that. But I made no remarkand for some time we kept silence. "What have you done with all yourthings?" I said at last. "I got a Jew inand he gave me a round sumfor the lot. I'm taking my pictures home with me. Beside them I own nothing inthe world now but a box of clothes and a few books." "I'm glad you'regoing home" I said. I felt that his chance was to put all the past behindhim. I hoped that the grief which now seemed intolerable would be softened bythe lapse of timeand a merciful forgetfulness would help him to take up oncemore the burden of life. He was young stilland in a few years he would lookback on all his misery with a sadness in which there would be something notunpleasurable. Sooner or later he would marry some honest soul in Hollandand Ifelt sure he would be happy. I smiled at the thought of the vast number of badpictures he would paint before he died. Next day I saw him off for Amsterdam.Chapter XL For the next monthoccupied with my own affairsI saw no oneconnected with this lamentable businessand my mind ceased to be occupied withit. But one daywhen I was walking alongbent on some errandI passed CharlesStrickland. The sight of him brought back to me all the horror which I was notunwilling to forgetand I felt in me a sudden repulsion for the cause of it.Noddingfor it would have been childish to cut himI walked on quickly; but ina minute I felt a hand on my shoulder. "You're in a great hurry" hesaid cordially. It was characteristic of him to display geniality with anyonewho showed a disinclination to meet himand the coolness of my greeting canhave left him in little doubt of that. "I am" I answered briefly."I'll walk along with you" he said. "Why?" I asked."For the pleasure of your society." I did not answerand he walked bymy side silently. We continued thus for perhaps a quarter of a mile. I began tofeel a little ridiculous. At last we passed a stationer'sand it occurred to methat I might as well buy some paper. It would be an excuse to be rid of him."I'm going in here" I said. "Good-bye." "I'll wait foryou." I shrugged my shouldersand went into the shop. I reflected thatFrench paper was badand thatfoiled of my purposeI need not burden myselfwith a purchase that I did not need. I asked for something I knew could not beprovidedand in a minute came out into the street. "Did you get what youwanted?" he asked. "No." We walked on in silenceand then cameto a place where several streets met. I stopped at the curb. "Which way doyou go?" I enquired. "Your way" he smiled. "I'm goinghome." "I'll come along with you and smoke a pipe." "Youmight wait for an invitation" I retorted frigidly. "I would if Ithought there was any chance of getting one." "Do you see that wall infront of you?" I saidpointing. "Yes." "In that case Ishould have thought you could see also that I don't want your company.""I vaguely suspected itI confess." I could not help a chuckle. It isone of the defects of my character that I cannot altogether dislike anyone whomakes me laugh. But I pulled myself together. "I think you're detestable.You're the most loathsome beast that it's ever been my misfortune to meet. Whydo you seek the society of someone who hates and despises you?" "Mydear fellowwhat the hell do you suppose I care what you think of me?""Damn it all" I saidmore violently because I had an inkling mymotive was none too creditable"I don't want to know you." "Areyou afraid I shall corrupt you?" His tone made me feel not a littleridiculous. I knew that he was looking at me sidewayswith a sardonic smile."I suppose you are hard up" I remarked insolently. "I should bea damned fool if I thought I had any chance of borrowing money from you.""You've come down in the world if you can bring yourself to flatter."He grinned. "You'll never really dislike me so long as I give you theopportunity to get off a good thing now and then." I had to bite my lip toprevent myself from laughing. What he said had a hateful truth in itandanother defect of my character is that I enjoy the company of thosehoweverdepravedwho can give me a Roland for my Oliver. I began to feel that myabhorrence for Strickland could only be sustained by an effort on my part. Irecognised my moral weaknessbut saw that my disapprobation had in it alreadysomething of a pose; and I knew that if I felt ithis own keen instinct haddiscovered ittoo. He was certainly laughing at me up his sleeve. I left himthe last wordand sought refuge in a shrug of the shoulders and taciturnity.Chapter XLI We arrived at the house in which I lived. I would not ask him tocome in with mebut walked up the stairs without a word. He followed meandentered the apartment on my heels. He had not been in it beforebut he nevergave a glance at the room I had been at pains to make pleasing to the eye. Therewas a tin of tobacco on the tableandtaking out his pipehe filled it. Hesat down on the only chair that had no arms and tilted himself on the back legs."If you're going to make yourself at homewhy don't you sit in anarm-chair?" I asked irritably. "Why are you concerned about mycomfort?" "I'm not" I retorted"but only about my own. Itmakes me uncomfortable to see someone sit on an uncomfortable chair." Hechuckledbut did not move. He smoked on in silencetaking no further notice ofmeand apparently was absorbed in thought. I wondered why he had come. Untillong habit has blunted the sensibilitythere is something disconcerting to thewriter in the instinct which causes him to take an interest in the singularitiesof human nature so absorbing that his moral sense is powerless against it. Herecognises in himself an artistic satisfaction in the contemplation of evilwhich a little startles him; but sincerity forces him to confess that thedisapproval he feels for certain actions is not nearly so strong as hiscuriosity in their reasons. The character of a scoundrellogical and completehas a fascination for his creator which is an outrage to law and order. I expectthat Shakespeare devised Iago with a gusto which he never knew whenweavingmoonbeams with his fancyhe imagined Desdemona. It may be that in his roguesthe writer gratifies instincts deep-rooted in himwhich the manners and customsof a civilised world have forced back to the mysterious recesses of thesubconscious. In giving to the character of his invention flesh and bones he isgiving life to that part of himself which finds no other means of expression.His satisfaction is a sense of liberation. The writer is more concerned to knowthan to judge. There was in my soul a perfectly genuine horror of Stricklandand side by side with it a cold curiosity to discover his motives. I was puzzledby himand I was eager to see how he regarded the tragedy he had caused in thelives of people who had used him with so much kindness. I applied the scalpelboldly. "Stroeve told me that picture you painted of his wife was the bestthing you've ever done." Strickland took his pipe out of his mouthand asmile lit up his eyes. "It was great fun to do." "Why did yougive it him?" "I'd finished it. It wasn't any good to me.""Do you know that Stroeve nearly destroyed it?" "It wasn'taltogether satisfactory." He was quiet for a moment or twothen he tookhis pipe out of his mouth againand chuckled. "Do you know that the littleman came to see me?" "Weren't you rather touched by what he had tosay?" "No; I thought it damned silly and sentimental." "Isuppose it escaped your memory that you'd ruined his life?" I remarked. Herubbed his bearded chin reflectively. "He's a very bad painter.""But a very good man." "And an excellent cook" Stricklandadded derisively. His callousness was inhumanand in my indignation I was notinclined to mince my words. "As a mere matter of curiosity I wish you'dtell mehave you felt the smallest twinge of remorse for Blanche Stroeve'sdeath?" I watched his face for some change of expressionbut it remainedimpassive. "Why should I?" he asked. "Let me put the facts beforeyou. You were dyingand Dirk Stroeve took you into his own house. He nursed youlike a mother. He sacrificed his time and his comfort and his money for you. Hesnatched you from the jaws of death." Strickland shrugged his shoulders."The absurd little man enjoys doing things for other people. That's hislife." "Granting that you owed him no gratitudewere you obliged togo out of your way to take his wife from him? Until you came on the scene theywere happy. Why couldn't you leave them alone?" "What makes you thinkthey were happy?" "It was evident." "You are a discerningfellow. Do you think she could ever have forgiven him for what he did forher?" "What do you mean by that?" "Don't you know why hemarried her?" I shook my head. "She was a governess in the family ofsome Roman princeand the son of the house seduced her. She thought he wasgoing to marry her. They turned her out into the street neck and crop. She wasgoing to have a babyand she tried to commit suicide. Stroeve found her andmarried her." "It was just like him. I never knew anyone with socompassionate a heart." I had often wondered why that ill-assorted pair hadmarriedbut just that explanation had never occurred to me. That was perhapsthe cause of the peculiar quality of Dirk's love for his wife. I had noticed init something more than passion. I remembered also how I had always fancied thather reserve concealed I knew not what; but now I saw in it more than the desireto hide a shameful secret. Her tranquillity was like the sullen calm that broodsover an island which has been swept by a hurricane. Her cheerfulness was thecheerfulness of despair. Strickland interrupted my reflections with anobservation the profound cynicism of which startled me. "A woman canforgive a man for the harm he does her" he said"but she can neverforgive him for the sacrifices he makes on her account." "It must bereassuring to you to know that you certainly run no risk of incurring theresentment of the women you come in contact with" I retorted. A slightsmile broke on his lips. "You are always prepared to sacrifice yourprinciples for a repartee" he answered. "What happened to thechild?" "Ohit was still-bornthree or four months after they weremarried." Then I came to the question which had seemed to me most puzzling."Will you tell me why you bothered about Blanche Stroeve at all?" Hedid not answer for so long that I nearly repeated it. "How do I know?"he said at last. "She couldn't bear the sight of me. It amused me.""I see." He gave a sudden flash of anger. "Damn it allI wantedher." But he recovered his temper immediatelyand looked at me with asmile. "At first she was horrified." "Did you tell her?""There wasn't any need. She knew. I never said a word. She was frightened.At last I took her." I do not know what there was in the way he told methis that extraordinarily suggested the violence of his desire. It wasdisconcerting and rather horrible. His life was strangely divorced from materialthingsand it was as though his body at times wreaked a fearful revenge on hisspirit. The satyr in him suddenly took possessionand he was powerless in thegrip of an instinct which had all the strength of the primitive forces ofnature. It was an obsession so complete that there was no room in his soul forprudence or gratitude. "But why did you want to take her away withyou?" I asked. "I didn't" he answeredfrowning. "When shesaid she was coming I was nearly as surprised as Stroeve. I told her that whenI'd had enough of her she'd have to goand she said she'd risk that." Hepaused a little. "She had a wonderful bodyand I wanted to paint a nude.When I'd finished my picture I took no more interest in her." "And sheloved you with all her heart." He sprang to his feet and walked up and downthe small room. "I don't want love. I haven't time for it. It's weakness. Iam a manand sometimes I want a woman. When I've satisfied my passion I'm readyfor other things. I can't overcome my desirebut I hate it; it imprisons myspirit; I look forward to the time when I shall be free from all desire and cangive myself without hindrance to my work. Because women can do nothing exceptlovethey've given it a ridiculous importance. They want to persuade us thatit's the whole of life. It's an insignificant part. I know lust. That's normaland healthy. Love is a disease. Women are the instruments of my pleasure; I haveno patience with their claim to be helpmatespartnerscompanions." I hadnever heard Strickland speak so much at one time. He spoke with a passion ofindignation. But neither here nor elsewhere do I pretend to give his exactwords; his vocabulary was smalland he had no gift for framing sentencessothat one had to piece his meaning together out of interjectionsthe expressionof his facegestures and hackneyed phrases. "You should have lived at atime when women were chattels and men the masters of slaves" I said."It just happens that I am a completely normal man." I could not helplaughing at this remarkmade in all seriousness; but he went onwalking up anddown the room like a caged beastintent on expressing what he feltbut foundsuch difficulty in putting coherently. "When a woman loves you she's notsatisfied until she possesses your soul. Because she's weakshe has a rage fordominationand nothing less will satisfy her. She has a small mindand sheresents the abstract which she is unable to grasp. She is occupied with materialthingsand she is jealous of the ideal. The soul of man wanders through theuttermost regions of the universeand she seeks to imprison it in the circle ofher account-book. Do you remember my wife? I saw Blanche little by little tryingall her tricks. With infinite patience she prepared to snare me and bind me. Shewanted to bring me down to her level; she cared nothing for meshe only wantedme to be hers. She was willing to do everything in the world for me except theone thing I wanted: to leave me alone." I was silent for a while."What did you expect her to do when you left her?" "She couldhave gone back to Stroeve" he said irritably. "He was ready to takeher." "You're inhuman" I answered. "It's as useless to talkto you about these things as to describe colours to a man who was bornblind." He stopped in front of my chairand stood looking down at me withan expression in which I read a contemptuous amazement. "Do you really carea twopenny damn if Blanche Stroeve is alive or dead?" I thought over hisquestionfor I wanted to answer it truthfullyat all events to my soul."It may be a lack of sympathy in myself if it does not make any greatdifference to me that she is dead. Life had a great deal to offer her. I thinkit's terrible that she should have been deprived of it in that cruel wayand Iam ashamed because I do not really care." "You have not the courage ofyour convictions. Life has no value. Blanche Stroeve didn't commit suicidebecause I left herbut because she was a foolish and unbalanced woman. Butwe've talked about her quite enough; she was an entirely unimportant person.Comeand I'll show you my pictures." He spoke as though I were a childthat needed to be distracted. I was sorebut not with him so much as withmyself. I thought of the happy life that pair had led in the cosy studio inMontmartreStroeve and his wifetheir simplicitykindnessand hospitality;it seemed to me cruel that it should have been broken to pieces by a ruthlesschance; but the cruellest thing of all was that in fact it made no greatdifference. The world went onand no one was a penny the worse for all thatwretchedness. I had an idea that Dirka man of greater emotional reactions thandepth of feelingwould soon forget; and Blanche's lifebegun with who knowswhat bright hopes and what dreamsmight just as well have never been lived. Itall seemed useless and inane. Strickland had found his hatand stood looking atme. "Are you coming?" "Why do you seek my acquaintance?" Iasked him. "You know that I hate and despise you." He chuckledgood-humouredly. "Your only quarrel with me really is that I don't care atwopenny damn what you think about me." I felt my cheeks grow red withsudden anger. It was impossible to make him understand that one might beoutraged by his callous selfishness. I longed to pierce his armour of completeindifference. I knew also that in the end there was truth in what he said.Unconsciouslyperhapswe treasure the power we have over people by theirregard for our opinion of themand we hate those upon whom we have no suchinfluence. I suppose it is the bitterest wound to human pride. But I would notlet him see that I was put out. "Is it possible for any man to disregardothers entirely?" I saidthough more to myself than to him. "You'redependent on others for everything in existence. It's a preposterous attempt totry to live only for yourself and by yourself. Sooner or later you'll be ill andtired and oldand then you'll crawl back into the herd. Won't you be ashamedwhen you feel in your heart the desire for comfort and sympathy? You're tryingan impossible thing. Sooner or later the human being in you will yearn for thecommon bonds of humanity." "Come and look at my pictures.""Have you ever thought of death?" "Why should I? It doesn'tmatter." I stared at him. He stood before memotionlesswith a mockingsmile in his eyes; but for all thatfor a moment I had an inkling of a fierytortured spiritaiming at something greater than could be conceived by anythingthat was bound up with the flesh. I had a fleeting glimpse of a pursuit of theineffable. I looked at the man before me in his shabby clotheswith his greatnose and shining eyeshis red beard and untidy hair; and I had a strangesensation that it was only an envelopeand I was in the presence of adisembodied spirit. "Let us go and look at your pictures" I said.Chapter XLII I did not know why Strickland had suddenly offered to show them tome. I welcomed the opportunity. A man's work reveals him. In social intercoursehe gives you the surface that he wishes the world to acceptand you can onlygain a true knowledge of him by inferences from little actionsof which he isunconsciousand from fleeting expressionswhich cross his face unknown to him.Sometimes people carry to such perfection the mask they have assumed that in duecourse they actually become the person they seem. But in his book or his picturethe real man delivers himself defenceless. His pretentiousness will only exposehis vacuity. The lathe painted to look like iron is seen to be but a lathe. Noaffectation of peculiarity can conceal a commonplace mind. To the acute observerno one can produce the most casual work without disclosing the innermost secretsof his soul. As I walked up the endless stairs of the house in which StricklandlivedI confess that I was a little excited. It seemed to me that I was on thethreshold of a surprising adventure. I looked about the room with curiosity. Itwas even smaller and more bare than I remembered it. I wondered what thosefriends of mine would say who demanded vast studiosand vowed they could notwork unless all the conditions were to their liking. "You'd better standthere" he saidpointing to a spot from whichpresumablyhe fancied Icould see to best advantage what he had to show me. "You don't want me totalkI suppose" I said. "Noblast you; I want you to hold yourtongue." He placed a picture on the easeland let me look at it for aminute or two; then took it down and put another in its place. I think he showedme about thirty canvases. It was the result of the six years during which he hadbeen painting. He had never sold a picture. The canvases were of differentsizes. The smaller were pictures of still-life and the largest were landscapes.There were about half a dozen portraits. "That is the lot" he said atlast. I wish I could say that I recognised at once their beauty and their greatoriginality. Now that I have seen many of them again and the rest are familiarto me in reproductionsI am astonished that at first sight I was bitterlydisappointed. I felt nothing of the peculiar thrill which it is the property ofart to give. The impression that Strickland's pictures gave me wasdisconcerting; and the fact remainsalways to reproach methat I never eventhought of buying any. I missed a wonderful chance. Most of them have foundtheir way into museumsand the rest are the treasured possessions of wealthyamateurs. I try to find excuses for myself. I think that my taste is goodbut Iam conscious that it has no originality. I know very little about paintingandI wander along trails that others have blazed for me. At that time I had thegreatest admiration for the impressionists. I longed to possess a Sisley and aDegasand I worshipped Manet. His seemed to me the greatest picture of moderntimesand moved me profoundly. These works seemed to me the last word inpainting. I will not describe the pictures that Strickland showed me.Descriptions of pictures are always dulland thesebesidesare familiar toall who take an interest in such things. Now that his influence has soenormously affected modern paintingnow that others have charted the countrywhich he was among the first to exploreStrickland's picturesseen for thefirst timewould find the mind more prepared for them; but it must beremembered that I had never seen anything of the sort. First of all I was takenaback by what seemed to me the clumsiness of his technique. Accustomed to thedrawing of the old mastersand convinced that Ingres was the greatestdraughtsman of recent timesI thought that Strickland drew very badly. I knewnothing of the simplification at which he aimed. I remember a still-life oforanges on a plateand I was bothered because the plate was not round and theoranges were lop-sided. The portraits were a little larger than life-sizeandthis gave them an ungainly look. To my eyes the faces looked like caricatures.They were painted in a way that was entirely new to me. The landscapes puzzledme even more. There were two or three pictures of the forest at Fontainebleauand several of streets in Paris: my first feeling was that they might have beenpainted by a drunken cabdriver. I was perfectly bewildered. The colour seemed tome extraordinarily crude. It passed through my mind that the whole thing was astupendousincomprehensible farce. Now that I look back I am more than everimpressed by Stroeve's acuteness. He saw from the first that here was arevolution in artand he recognised in its beginnings the genius which now allthe world allows. But if I was puzzled and disconcertedI was not unimpressed.Even Iin my colossal ignorancecould not but feel that heretrying toexpress itselfwas real power. I was excited and interested. I felt that thesepictures had something to say to me that was very important for me to knowbutI could not tell what it was. They seemed to me uglybut they suggested withoutdisclosing a secret of momentous significance. They were strangely tantalising.They gave me an emotion that I could not analyse. They said something that wordswere powerless to utter. I fancy that Strickland saw vaguely some spiritualmeaning in material things that was so strange that he could only suggest itwith halting symbols. It was as though he found in the chaos of the universe anew patternand were attempting clumsilywith anguish of soulto set it down.I saw a tormented spirit striving for the release of expression. I turned tohim. "I wonder if you haven't mistaken your medium" I said."What the hell do you mean?" "I think you're trying to saysomethingI don't quite know what it isbut I'm not sure that the best way ofsaying it is by means of painting." When I imagined that on seeing hispictures I should get a clue to the understanding of his strange character I wasmistaken. They merely increased the astonishment with which he filled me. I wasmore at sea than ever. The only thing that seemed clear to me- and perhaps eventhis was fanciful -- was that he was passionately striving for liberation fromsome power that held him. But what the power was and what line the liberationwould take remained obscure. Each one of us is alone in the world. He is shut ina tower of brassand can communicate with his fellows only by signsand thesigns have no common valueso that their sense is vague and uncertain. We seekpitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heartbut they have not thepower to accept themand so we go lonelyside by side but not togetherunableto know our fellows and unknown by them. We are like people living in a countrywhose language they know so little thatwith all manner of beautiful andprofound things to saythey are condemned to the banalities of the conversationmanual. Their brain is seething with ideasand they can only tell you that theumbrella of the gardener's aunt is in the house. The final impression I receivedwas of a prodigious effort to express some state of the souland in thiseffortI fanciedmust be sought the explanation of what so utterly perplexedme. It was evident that colours and forms had a significance for Strickland thatwas peculiar to himself. He was under an intolerable necessity to conveysomething that he feltand he created them with that intention alone. He didnot hesitate to simplify or to distort if he could get nearer to that unknownthing he sought. Facts were nothing to himfor beneath the mass of irrelevantincidents he looked for something significant to himself. It was as though hehad become aware of the soul of the universe and were compelled to
express it. Though these pictures confused and puzzled meI could not beunmoved by the emotion that was patent in them; andI knew not whyI felt inmyself a feeling that with regard to Strickland was the last I had ever expectedto experience. I felt an overwhelming compassion. "I think I know now whyyou surrendered to your feeling for Blanche Stroeve" I said to him."Why?" "I think your courage failed. The weakness of your bodycommunicated itself to your soul. I do not know what infinite yearning possessesyouso that you are driven to a perilouslonely search for some goal where youexpect to find a final release from the spirit that torments you. I see you asthe eternal pilgrim to some shrine that perhaps does not exist. I do not know towhat inscrutable Nirvana you aim. Do you know yourself? Perhaps it is Truth andFreedom that you seekand for a moment you thought that you might find releasein Love. I think your tired soul sought rest in a woman's armsand when youfound no rest there you hated her. You had no pity for herbecause you have nopity for yourself. And you killed her out of fearbecause you trembled still atthe danger you had barely escaped." He smiled dryly and pulled his beard."You are a dreadful sentimentalistmy poor friend." A week later Iheard by chance that Strickland had gone to Marseilles. I never saw him again.Chapter XLIII Looking backI realise that what I have written about CharlesStrickland must seem very unsatisfactory. I have given incidents that came to myknowledgebut they remain obscure because I do not know the reasons that led tothem. The strangestStrickland's determination to become a painterseems to bearbitrary; and though it must have had causes in the circumstances of his lifeI am ignorant of them. From his own conversation I was able to glean nothing. IfI were writing a novelrather than narrating such facts as I know of a curiouspersonalityI should have invented much to account for this change of heart. Ithink I should have shown a strong vocation in boyhoodcrushed by the will ofhis father or sacrificed to the necessity of earning a living; I should havepictured him impatient of the restraints of life; and in the struggle betweenhis passion for art and the duties of his station I could have aroused sympathyfor him. I should so have made him a more imposing figure. Perhaps it would havebeen possible to see in him a new Prometheus. There was heremaybetheopportunity for a modern version of the hero who for the good of mankind exposeshimself to the agonies of the damned. It is always a moving subject. On theother handI might have found his motives in the influence of the marriedrelation. There are a dozen ways in which this might be managed. A latent giftmight reveal itself on acquaintance with the painters and writers whose societyhis wife sought; or domestic incompatability might turn him upon himself; a loveaffair might fan into bright flame a fire which I could have shown smoulderingdimly in his heart. I think then I should have drawn Mrs. Strickland quitedifferently. I should have abandoned the facts and made her a naggingtiresomewomanor else a bigoted one with no sympathy for the claims of the spirit. Ishould have made Strickland's marriage a long torment from which escape was theonly possible issue. I think I should have emphasised his patience with theunsuitable mateand the compassion which made him unwilling to throw off theyoke that oppressed him. I should certainly have eliminated the children. Aneffective story might also have been made by bringing him into contact with someold painter whom the pressure of want or the desire for commercial success hadmade false to the genius of his youthand whoseeing in Strickland thepossibilities which himself had wastedinfluenced him to forsake all and followthe divine tyranny of art. I think there would have been something ironic in thepicture of the successful old manrich and honouredliving in another the lifewhich hethough knowing it was the better parthad not had the strength topursue. The facts are much duller. Stricklanda boy fresh from schoolwentinto a broker's office without any feeling of distaste. Until he married he ledthe ordinary life of his fellowsgambling mildly on the Exchangeinterested tothe extent of a sovereign or two on the result of the Derby or the Oxford andCambridge Race. I think he boxed a little in his spare time. On hischimney-piece he had photographs of Mrs. Langtry and Mary Anderson. He read andthe . He went to dances in Hampstead. It matters less that for so long I shouldhave lost sight of him. The years during which he was struggling to acquireproficiency in a difficult art were monotonousand I do not know that there wasanything significant in the shifts to which he was put to earn enough money tokeep him. An account of them would be an account of the things he had seenhappen to other people. I do not think they had any effect on his own character.He must have acquired experiences which would form abundant material for apicaresque novel of modern Parisbut he remained aloofand judging from hisconversation there was nothing in those years that had made a particularimpression on him. Perhaps when he went to Paris he was too old to fall a victimto the glamour of his environment. Strange as it may seemhe always appeared tome not only practicalbut immensely matter-of-fact. I suppose his life duringthis period was romanticbut he certainly saw no romance in it. It may be thatin order to realise the romance of life you must have something of the actor inyou; andcapable of standing outside yourselfyou must be able to watch youractions with an interest at once detached and absorbed. But no one was moresingle-minded than Strickland. I never knew anyone who was less self-conscious.But it is
unfortunate that I can give no description of the arduous steps by which hereached such mastery over his art as he ever acquired; for if I could show himundaunted by failureby an unceasing effort of courage holding despair at baydoggedly persistent in the face of self-doubtwhich is the artist's bitterestenemyI might excite some sympathy for a personality whichI am all tooconsciousmust appear singularly devoid of charm. But I have nothing to go on.I never once saw Strickland at worknor do I know that anyone else did. He keptthe secret of his struggles to himself. If in the loneliness of his studio hewrestled desperately with the Angel of the Lord he never allowed a soul todivine his anguish. When I come to his connection with Blanche Stroeve I amexasperated by the fragmentariness of the facts at my disposal. To give my storycoherence I should describe the progress of their tragic unionbut I knownothing of the three months during which they lived together. I do not know howthey got on or what they talked about. After allthere are twenty-four hours inthe dayand the summits of emotion can only be reached at rare intervals. I canonly imagine how they passed the rest of the time. While the light lasted and solong as Blanche's strength enduredI suppose that Strickland paintedand itmust have irritated her when she saw him absorbed in his work. As a mistress shedid not then exist for himbut only as a model; and then there were long hoursin which they lived side by side in silence. It must have frightened her. WhenStrickland suggested that in her surrender to him there was a sense of triumphover Dirk Stroevebecause he had come to her help in her extremityhe openedthe door to many a dark conjecture. I hope it was not true. It seems to merather horrible. But who can fathom the subtleties of the human heart? Certainlynot those who expect from it only decorous sentiments and normal emotions. WhenBlanche saw thatnotwithstanding his moments of passionStrickland remainedaloofshe must have been filled with dismayand even in those moments Isurmise that she realised that to him she was not an individualbut aninstrument of pleasure; he was a stranger stilland she tried to bind him toherself with pathetic arts. She strove to ensnare him with comfort and would notsee that comfort meant nothing to him. She was at pains to get him the things toeat that he likedand would not see that he was indifferent to food. She wasafraid to leave him alone. She pursued him with attentionsand when his passionwas dormant sought to excite itfor then at least she had the illusion ofholding him. Perhaps she knew with her intelligence that the chains she forgedonly aroused his instinct of destructionas the plate-glass window makes yourfingers itch for half a brick; but her heartincapable of reasonmade hercontinue on a course she knew was fatal. She must have been very unhappy. Butthe blindness of love led her to believe what she wanted to be trueand herlove was so great that it seemed impossible to her that it should not in returnawake an equal love. But my study of Strickland's character suffers from agreater defect than my ignorance of many facts. Because they were obvious andstrikingI have written of his relations to women; and yet they were but aninsignificant part of his life. It is an irony that they should so tragicallyhave affected others. His real life consisted of dreams and of tremendously hardwork. Here lies the unreality of fiction. For in menas a rulelove is but anepisode which takes its place among the other affairs of the dayand theemphasis laid on it in novels gives it an importance which is untrue to life.There are few men to whom it is the most important thing in the worldand theyare not very interesting ones; even womenwith whom the subject is of paramountinteresthave a contempt for them. They are flattered and excited by thembuthave an uneasy feeling that they are poor creatures. But even during the briefintervals in which they are in lovemen do other things which distract theirmind; the trades by which they earn their living engage their attention; theyare absorbed in sport; they can interest themselves in art. For the most partthey keep their various activities in various compartmentsand they can pursueone to the temporary exclusion of the other. They have a faculty ofconcentration on that which occupies them at the momentand it irks them if oneencroaches on the other. As loversthe difference between men and women is thatwomen can love all day longbut men only at times. With Strickland the sexualappetite took a very small place. It was unimportant. It was irksome. His soulaimed elsewhither. He had violent passionsand on occasion desire seized hisbody so that he was driven to an orgy of lustbut he hated the instincts thatrobbed him of his self-possession. I thinkevenhe hated the inevitablepartner in his debauchery. When he had regained command over himselfheshuddered at the sight of the woman he had enjoyed. His thoughts floated thenserenely in the empyreanand he felt towards her the horror that perhaps thepainted butterflyhovering about the flowersfeels to the filthy chrysalisfrom which it has triumphantly emerged. I suppose that art is a manifestation ofthe sexual instinct. It is the same emotion which is excited in the human heartby the sight of a lovely womanthe Bay of Naples under the yellow moonand theof Titian. It is possible that Strickland hated the normal release of sexbecause it seemed to him brutal by comparison with the satisfaction of artisticcreation. It seems strange even to myselfwhen I have described a man who wascruelselfishbrutal and sensualto say that he was a great idealist. Thefact remains. He lived more poorly than an artisan. He worked harder. He carednothing for those things which with most people make life gracious andbeautiful. He was indifferent to money. He cared nothing about fame. You cannotpraise him because he resisted the temptation to make any of those compromiseswith the world which most of us yield to. He had no such temptation. It neverentered his head that compromise was possible. He lived in Paris more lonelythan an anchorite in the deserts of Thebes. He asked nothing his fellows exceptthat they should leave him alone. He was single-hearted in his aimand topursue it he was willing to sacrifice not only himself- many can do that- butothers. He had a vision. Strickland was an odious manbut I still think be wasa great one.
Chapter XLIV A certain importance attaches to the views on art of paintersand this is the natural place for me to set down what I know of Strickland'sopinions of the great artists of the past. I am afraid I have very little worthnoting. Strickland was not a conversationalistand he had no gift for puttingwhat he had to say in the striking phrase that the listener remembers. He had nowit. His humouras will be seen if I have in any way succeeded in reproducingthe manner of his conversationwas sardonic. His repartee was rude. He made onelaugh sometimes by speaking the truthbut this is a form of humour which gainsits force only by its unusualness; it would cease to amuse if it were commonlypractised. Strickland was notI should saya man of great intelligenceandhis views on painting were by no means out of the ordinary. I never heard himspeak of those whose work had a certain analogy with his own- of Cezanneforinstanceor of Van Gogh; and I doubt very much if he had ever seen theirpictures. He was not greatly interested in the Impressionists. Their techniqueimpressed himbut I fancy that he thought their attitude commonplace. WhenStroeve was holding forth at length on the excellence of Monethe said: "Iprefer Winterhalter." But I dare say he said it to annoyand if he did hecertainly succeeded. I am disappointed that I cannot report any extravagances inhis opinions on the old masters. There is so much in his character which isstrange that I feel it would complete the picture if his views were outrageous.I feel the need to ascribe to him fantastic theories about his predecessorsandit is with a certain sense of disillusion that I confess he thought about thempretty much as does everybody else. I do not believe he knew El Greco. He had agreat but somewhat impatient admiration for Velasquez. Chardin delighted himand Rembrandt moved him to ecstasy. He described the impression that Rembrandtmade on him with a coarseness I cannot repeat. The only painter that interestedhim who was at all unexpected was Brueghel the Elder. I knew very little abouthim at that timeand Strickland had no power to explain himself. I rememberwhat he said about him because it was so unsatisfactory. "He's allright" said Strickland. "I bet he found it hell to paint." Whenlaterin ViennaI saw several of Peter Brueghel's picturesI thought Iunderstood why he had attracted Strickland's attention. Heretoowas a manwith a vision of the world peculiar to himself. I made somewhat copious notes atthe timeintending to write something about himbut I have lost themand havenow only the recollection of an emotion. He seemed to see his fellow-creaturesgrotesquelyand he was angry with them because they were grotesque; life was aconfusion of ridiculoussordid happeningsa fit subject for laughterand yetit made him sorrowful to laugh. Brueghel gave me the impression of a manstriving to express in one medium feelings more appropriate to expression inanotherand it may be that it was the obscure consciousness of this thatexcited Strickland's sympathy. Perhaps both were trying to put down in paintideas which were more suitable to literature. Strickland at this time must havebeen nearly forty-seven. Chapter XLV I have said already that but for the hazardof a journey to Tahiti I should doubtless never have written this book. It isthither that after many wanderings Charles Strickland cameand it is there thathe painted the pictures on which his fame most securely rests. I suppose noartist achieves completely the realisation of the dream that obsesses himandStricklandharassed incessantly by his struggle with techniquemanagedperhapsless than others to express the vision that he saw with his mind's eye;but in Tahiti the circumstances were favourable to him; he found in hissurroundings the accidents necessary for his inspiration to become effectiveand his later pictures give at least a suggestion of what he sought. They offerthe imagination something new and strange. It is as though in this far countryhis spiritthat had wandered disembodiedseeking a tenementat last was ableto clothe itself in flesh. To use the hackneyed phrasehere he found himself.It would seem that my visit to this remote island should immediately revive myinterest in Stricklandbut the work I was engaged in occupied my attention tothe exclusion of something that was irrelevantand it was not till I had beenthere some days that I even remembered his connection with it. After allI hadnot seen him for fifteen yearsand it was nine since he died. But I think myarrival at Tahiti would have driven out of my head matters of much moreimmediate importance to meand even after a week I found it not easy to ordermyself soberly. I remember that on my first morning I awoke earlyand when Icame on to the terrace of the hotel no one was stirring. I wandered round to thekitchenbut it was lockedand on a bench outside it a native boy was sleeping.There seemed no chance of breakfast for some timeso I sauntered down to thewater-front. The Chinamen were already busy in their shops. The sky had stillthe pallor of dawnand there was a ghostly silence on the lagoon. Ten milesaway the island of Murealike some high fastness of the Holy Grailguarded itsmystery. I did not altogether believe my eyes. The days that had passed since Ileft Wellington seemed extraordinary and unusual. Wellington is trim and neatand English; it reminds you of a seaport town on the South Coast. And for threedays afterwards the sea was stormy. Gray clouds chased one another across thesky. Then the wind droppedand the sea was calm and blue. The Pacific is moredesolate than other seas; its spaces seem more vastand the most ordinaryjourney upon it has somehow the feeling of an adventure. The air you breathe isan elixir which prepares you for the unexpected. Nor is it vouchsafed to man inthe flesh to know aught that more nearly suggests the approach to the goldenrealms of fancy than the approach to Tahiti. Mureathe sister islecomes intoview in rocky splendourrising from the desert sea mysteriouslylike theunsubstantial fabric of a magic wand. With its jagged outline it is like aMonseratt of the Pacificand you may imagine that there Polynesian knightsguard with strange rites mysteries unholy for men to know. The beauty of theisland is unveiled as diminishing distance shows you in distincter shape itslovely peaksbut it keeps its secret as you sail byanddarkly inviolableseems to fold itself together in a stonyinaccessible grimness. It would notsurprise you ifas you came near seeking for an opening in the reefitvanished suddenly from your viewand nothing met your gaze but the blueloneliness of the Pacific. Tahiti is a lofty green islandwith deep folds of adarker greenin which you divine silent valleys; there is mystery in theirsombre depthsdown which murmur and plash cool streamsand you feel that inthose umbrageous places life from immemorial times has been led according toimmemorial ways. Even here is something sad and terrible. But the impression isfleetingand serves only to give a greater acuteness to the enjoyment of themoment. It is like the sadness which you may see in the jester's eyes when amerry company is laughing at his sallies; his lips smile and his jokes are gayerbecause in the communion of laughter he finds himself more intolerably alone.For Tahiti is smiling and friendly; it is like a lovely woman graciouslyprodigal of her charm and beauty; and nothing can be more conciliatory than theentrance into the harbour at Papeete. The schooners moored to the quay are trimand neatthe little town along the bay is white and urbaneand theflamboyantsscarlet against the blue skyflaunt their colour like a cry ofpassion. They are sensual with an unashamed violence that leaves you breathless.And the crowd that throngs the wharf as the steamer draws alongside is gay anddebonair; it is a noisycheerfulgesticulating crowd. It is a sea of brownfaces. You have an impression of coloured movement against the flaming blue ofthe sky. Everything is done with a great deal of bustlethe unloading of thebaggagethe examination of the customs; and everyone seems to smile at you. Itis very hot. The colour dazzles you. Chapter XLVI I had not been in Tahiti longbefore I met Captain Nichols. He came in one morning when I was having breakfaston the terrace of the hotel and introduced himself. He had heard that I wasinterested in Charles Stricklandand announced that he was [had] come to have atalk about him. They are as fond of gossip in Tahiti as in an English villageand one or two enquiries I had made for pictures by Strickland had been quicklyspread. I asked the stranger if he had breakfasted. "Yes; I have my coffeeearly" he answered"but I don't mind having a drop of whisky."I called the Chinese boy. "You don't think it's too early?" said theCaptain. "You and your liver must decide that between you" I replied."I'm practically a teetotaller" he saidas he poured himself out agood half-tumbler of Canadian Club. When he smiled he showed broken anddiscoloured teeth. He was a very lean manof no more than average heightwithgray hair cut short and a stubbly gray moustache. He had not shaved for a coupleof days. His face was deeply linedburned brown by long exposure to the sunand he had a pair of small blue eyes which were astonishingly shifty. They movedquicklyfollowing my smallest gestureand they gave him the look of a verythorough rogue. But at the moment he was all heartiness and good-fellowship. Hewas dressed in a bedraggled suit of khakiand his hands would have been all thebetter for a wash. "I knew Strickland well" he saidas he leanedback in his chair and lit the cigar I had offered him. "It's through me hecame out to the islands." "Where did you meet him?" I asked."In Marseilles." "What were you doing there?" He gave me aningratiating smile. "WellI guess I was on the beach." My friend'sappearance suggested that he was now in the same predicamentand I preparedmyself to cultivate an agreeable acquaintance. The society of beach-combersalways repays the small pains you need be at to enjoy it. They are easy ofapproach and affable in conversation. They seldom put on airsand the offer ofa drink is a sure way to their hearts. You need no laborious steps to enter uponfamiliarity with themand you can earn not only their confidencebut theirgratitudeby turning an attentive ear to their discourse. They look uponconversation as the great pleasure of lifethereby proving the excellence oftheir civilisationand for the most part they are entertaining talkers. Theextent of their experience is pleasantly balanced by the fertility of theirimagination. It cannot be said that they are without guilebut they have atolerant respect for the lawwhen the law is supported by strength. It ishazardous to play poker with thembut their ingenuity adds a peculiarexcitement to the best game in the world. I came to know Captain Nichols verywell before I left Tahitiand I am the richer for his acquaintance. I do notconsider that the cigars and whisky he consumed at my expense (he always refusedcocktailssince he was practically a teetotaller)and the few dollarsborrowed with a civil air of conferring a favour upon methat passed from mypocket to hiswere in any way equivalent to the entertainment he afforded me. Iremained his debtor. I should be sorry if my conscienceinsisting on a rigidattention to the matter in handforced me to dismiss him in a couple of lines.I do not know why Captain Nichols first left England. It was a matter upon whichhe was reticentand with persons of his kidney a direct question is never verydiscreet. He hinted at undeserved misfortuneand there is no doubt that helooked upon himself as the victim of injustice. My fancy played with the variousforms of fraud and violenceand I agreed with him sympathetically when heremarked that the authorities in the old country were so damned technical. Butit was nice to see that any unpleasantness he had endured in his native land hadnot impaired his ardent patriotism. He frequently declared that England was thefinest country in the worldsirand he felt a lively superiority overAmericansColonialsDagosDutchmenand Kanakas. But I do not think he was ahappy man. He suffered from dyspepsiaand he might often be seen sucking atablet of pepsin; in the morning his appetite was poor; but this afflictionalone would hardly have impaired his spirits. He had a greater cause ofdiscontent with life than this. Eight years before he had rashly married a wife.There are men whom a merciful Providence has undoubtedly ordained to a singlelifebut who from wilfulness or through circumstances they could not cope withhave flown in the face of its decrees. There is no object more deserving of pitythan the married bachelor. Of such was Captain Nichols. I met his wife. She wasa woman of twenty-eightI should thinkthough of a type whose age is alwaysdoubtful; for she cannot have looked different when she was twentyand at fortywould look no older. She gave me an impression of extraordinary tightness. Herplain face with its narrow lips was tighther skin was stretched tightly overher bonesher smile was tighther hair was tighther clothes were tightandthe white drill she wore had all the effect of black bombazine. I could notimagine why Captain Nichols had married herand having married her why he hadnot deserted her. Perhaps he hadoftenand his melancholy arose from the factthat he could never succeed. However far he went and in howsoever secret a placehe hid himselfI felt sure that Mrs. Nicholsinexorable as fate andremorseless as consciencewould presently rejoin him. He could as little escapeher as the cause can escape the effect. The roguelike the artist and perhapsthe gentlemanbelongs to no class. He is not embarrassed by the of the hobonor put out of countenance by the etiquette of the prince. But Mrs. Nicholsbelonged to the well-defined classof late become vocalwhich is known as thelower-middle. Her fatherin factwas a policeman. I am certain that he was anefficient one. I do not know what her hold was on the Captainbut I do notthink it was love. I never heard her speakbut it may be that in private shehad a copious conversation. At any rateCaptain Nichols was frightened to deathof her. Sometimessitting with me on the terrace of the hotelhe would becomeconscious that she was walking in the road outside. She did not call him; shegave no sign that she was aware of his existence; she merely walked up and downcomposedly. Then a strange uneasiness would seize the Captain; he would look athis watch and sigh. "WellI must be off" he said. Neither wit norwhisky could detain him then. Yet he was a man who had faced undaunted hurricaneand typhoonand would not have hesitated to fight a dozen unarmed niggers withnothing but a revolver to help him. Sometimes Mrs. Nichols would send herdaughtera pale-facedsullen child of sevento the hotel. "Mother wantsyou" she saidin a whining tone. "Very wellmy dear" saidCaptain Nichols. He rose to his feet at onceand accompanied his daughter alongthe road. I suppose it was a very pretty example of the triumph of spirit overmatterand so my digression has at least the advantage of a moral. ChapterXLVII I have tried to put some connection into the various things CaptainNichols told me about Stricklandand I here set them down in the best order Ican. They made one another's acquaintance during the latter part of the winterfollowing my last meeting with Strickland in Paris. How he had passed theintervening months I do not knowbut life must have been very hardfor CaptainNichols saw him first in the Asile de Nuit. There was a strike at Marseilles atthe timeand Stricklandhaving come to the end of his resourceshadapparently found it impossible to earn the small sum he needed to keep body andsoul together. The Asile de Nuit is a large stone building where pauper andvagabond may get a bed for a weekprovided their papers are in order and theycan persuade the friars in charge that they are workingmen. Captain Nicholsnoticed Strickland for his size and his singular appearance among the crowd thatwaited for the doors to open; they waited listlesslysome walking to and frosome leaning against the walland others seated on the curb with their feet inthe gutter; and when they filed into the office he heard the monk who read hispapers address him in English. But he did not have a chance to speak to himsinceas he entered the common-rooma monk came in with a huge Bible in hisarmsmounted a pulpit which was at the end of the roomand began the servicewhich the wretched outcasts had to endure as the price of their lodging. He andStrickland were assigned to different roomsand whenthrown out of bed at fivein the morning by a stalwart monkhe had made his bed and washed his faceStrickland had already disappeared. Captain Nichols wandered about the streetsfor an hour of bitter coldand then made his way to the Place Victor Geluwhere the sailor-men are wont to congregate. Dozing against the pedestal of astatuehe saw Strickland again. He gave him a kick to awaken him. "Comeand have breakfastmate" he said. "Go to hell" answeredStrickland.
I recognised my friend's limited vocabularyand I prepared to regard CaptainNichols as a trustworthy witness. "Busted?" asked the Captain."Blast you" answered Strickland. "Come along with me. I'll getyou some breakfast." After a moment's hesitationStrickland scrambled tohis feetand together they went to the Bouchee de Painwhere the hungry aregiven a wedge of breadwhich they must eat there and thenfor it is forbiddento take it away; and then to the Cuillere de Soupewhere for a weekat elevenand fouryou may get a bowl of thinsalt soup. The two buildings are placedfar apartso that only the starving should be tempted to make use of them. Sothey had breakfastand so began the queer companionship of Charles Stricklandand Captain Nichols. They must have spent something like four months atMarseilles in one another's society. Their career was devoid of adventureif byadventure you mean unexpected or thrilling incidentfor their days wereoccupied in the pursuit of enough money to get a night's lodging and such foodas would stay the pangs of hunger. But I wish I could give here the picturescoloured and racywhich Captain Nichols' vivid narrative offered to theimagination. His account of their discoveries in the low life of a seaport townwould have made a charming bookand in the various characters that came theirway the student might easily have found matter for a very complete dictionary ofrogues. But I must content myself with a few paragraphs. I received theimpression of a life intense and brutalsavagemulticolouredand vivacious.It made the Marseilles that I knewgesticulating and sunnywith itscomfortable hotels and its restaurants crowded with the well-to-dotame andcommonplace. I envied men who had seen with their own eyes the sights thatCaptain Nichols described. When the doors of the Asile de Nuit were closed tothemStrickland and Captain Nichols sought the hospitality of Tough Bill. Thiswas the master of a sailors' boarding-housea huge mulatto with a heavy fistwho gave the stranded mariner food and shelter till he found him a berth. Theylived with him a monthsleeping with a dozen othersSwedesnegroesBrazilianson the floor of the two bare rooms in his house which he assigned tohis charges; and every day they went with him to the Place Victor Geluwhithercame ships' captains in search of a man. He was married to an American womanobese and slatternlyfallen to this pass by Heaven knows what process ofdegradationand every day the boarders took it in turns to help her with thehousework. Captain Nichols looked upon it as a smart piece of work onStrickland's part that he had got out of this by painting a portrait of ToughBill. Tough Bill not only paid for the canvascoloursand brushesbut gaveStrickland a pound of smuggled tobacco into the bargain. For all I knowthispicture may still adorn the parlour of the tumbledown little house somewherenear the Quai de la Jolietteand I suppose it could now be sold for fifteenhundred pounds. Strickland's idea was to ship on some vessel bound for Australiaor New Zealandand from there make his way to Samoa or Tahiti. I do not knowhow he had come upon the notion of going to the South Seasthough I rememberthat his imagination had long been haunted by an islandall green and sunnyencircled by a sea more blue than is found in Northern latitudes. I suppose thathe clung to Captain Nichols because he was acquainted with those partsand itwas Captain Nichols who persuaded him that he would be more comfortable inTahiti. "You seeTahiti's French" he explained to me. "And theFrench aren't so damned technical." I thought I saw his point. Stricklandhad no papersbut that was not a matter to disconcert Tough Bill when he saw aprofit (he took the first month's wages of the sailor for whom he found aberth)and he provided Strickland with those of an English stoker who hadprovidentially died on his hands. But both Captain Nichols and Strickland werebound Eastand it chanced that the only opportunities for signing on were withships sailing West. Twice Strickland refused a berth on tramps sailing for theUnited Statesand once on a collier going to Newcastle. Tough Bill had nopatience with an obstinacy which could only result in loss to himselfand onthe last occasion he flung both Strickland and Captain Nichols out of his housewithout more ado. They found themselves once more adrift. Tough Bill's fare wasseldom extravagantand you rose from his table almost as hungry as you satdownbut for some days they had good reason to regret it. They learned whathunger was. The Cuillere de Soupe and the Asile de Nuit were both closed tothemand their only sustenance was the wedge of bread which the Bouchee de Painprovided. They slept where they couldsometimes in an empty truck on a sidingnear the stationsometimes in a cart behind a warehouse; but it was bitterlycoldand after an hour or two of uneasy dozing they would tramp the streetsagain. What they felt the lack of most bitterly was tobaccoand CaptainNicholsfor his partcould not do without it; he took to hunting the "Cano' Beer" for cigarette-ends and the butt-end of cigars which thepromenaders of the night before had thrown away. "I've tasted worse smokingmixtures in a pipe" he addedwith a philosophic shrug of his shouldersas he took a couple of cigars from the case I offered himputting one in hismouth and the other in his pocket. Now and then they made a bit of money.Sometimes a mail steamer would come inand Captain Nicholshaving scrapedacquaintance with the timekeeperwould succeed in getting the pair of them ajob as stevedores. When it was an English boatthey would dodge into theforecastle and get a hearty breakfast from the crew. They took the risk ofrunning against one of the ship's officers and being hustled down the gangwaywith the toe of a boot to speed their going. "There's no harm in a kick inthe hindquarters when your belly's full" said Captain Nichols"andpersonally I never take it in bad part. An officer's got to think aboutdiscipline." I had a lively picture of Captain Nichols flying headlong downa narrow gangway before the uplifted foot of an angry mateandlike a trueEnglishmanrejoicing in the spirit of the Mercantile Marine. There were oftenodd jobs to be got about the fish-market. Once they each of them earned a francby loading trucks with innumerable boxes of oranges that had been dumped down onthe quay. One day they had a stroke of luck: one of the boarding-masters got acontract to paint a tramp that had come in from Madagascar round the Cape ofGood Hopeand they spent several days on a plank hanging over the sidecovering the rusty hull with paint. It was a situation that must have appealedto Strickland's sardonic humour. I asked Captain Nichols how he bore himselfduring these hardships. "Never knew him say a cross word" answeredthe Captain. "He'd be a bit surly sometimesbut when we hadn't had a bitesince morningand we hadn't even got the price of a lie down at the Chink'she'd be as lively as a cricket." I was not surprised at this. Stricklandwas just the man to rise superior to circumstanceswhen they were such as tooccasion despondency in most; but whether this was due to equanimity of soul orto contradictoriness it would be difficult to say. The Chink's Head was a namethe beach-combers gave to a wretched inn off the Rue Bouteriekept by aone-eyed Chinamanwhere for six sous you could sleep in a cot and for three onthe floor. Here they made friends with others in as desperate condition asthemselvesand when they were penniless and the night was bitter coldtheywere glad to borrow from anyone who had earned a stray franc during the day theprice of a roof over their heads. They were not niggardlythese trampsand hewho had money did not hesitate to share it among the rest. They belonged to allthe countries in the worldbut this was no bar to good-fellowship; for theyfelt themselves freemen of a country whose frontiers include them allthe greatcountry of Cockaine. "But I guess Strickland was an ugly customer when hewas roused" said Captain Nicholsreflectively. "One day we ran intoTough Bill in the Placeand he asked Charlie for the papers he'd givenhim." "`You'd better come and take them if you want them' saysCharlie. "He was a powerful fellowTough Billbut he didn't quite likethe look of Charlieso he began cursing him. He called him pretty near everyname he could lay hands onand when Tough Bill began cursing it was worthlistening to him. WellCharlie stuck it for a bitthen he stepped forward andhe just said: `Get outyou bloody swine.' It wasn't so much what he saidbutthe way he said it. Tough Bill never spoke another word; you could see him goyellowand he walked away as if he'd remembered he had a date."Stricklandaccording to Captain Nicholsdid not use exactly the words I havegivenbut since this book is meant for family reading I have thought it betterat the expense of truthto put into his mouth expressions familiar to thedomestic circle. NowTough Bill was not the man to put up with humiliation atthe hands of a common sailor. His power depended on his prestigeand first onethen anotherof the sailors who lived in his house told them that he had swornto do Strickland in. One night Captain Nichols and Strickland were sitting inone of the bars of the Rue Bouterie. The Rue Bouterie is a narrow street ofone-storeyed houseseach house consisting of but one room; they are like thebooths in a crowded fair or the cages of animals in a circus. At every door yousee a woman. Some lean lazily against the side-postshumming to themselves orcalling to the passer-by in a raucous voiceand some listlessly read. They areFrench. ItalianSpanishJapanesecoloured; some are fat and some are thin;and under the thick paint on their facesthe heavy smears on their eyebrowsand the scarlet of their lipsyou see the lines of age and the scars ofdissipation. Some wear black shifts and flesh-coloured stockings; some withcurly hairdyed yelloware dressed like little girls in short muslin frocks.Through the open door you see a red-tiled floora large wooden bedand on adeal table a ewer and a basin. A motley crowd saunters along the streets-Lascars off a P. and O.blond Northmen from a Swedish barqueJapanese from aman-of-warEnglish sailorsSpaniardspleasant-looking fellows from a Frenchcruisernegroes off an American tramp. By day it is merely sordidbut atnightlit only by the lamps in the little hutsthe street has a sinisterbeauty. The hideous lust that pervades the air is oppressive and horribleandyet there is something mysterious in the sight which haunts and troubles you.You feel I know not what primitive force which repels and yet fascinates you.Here all the decencies of civilisation are swept awayand you feel that men areface to face with a sombre reality. There is an atmosphere that is at onceintense and tragic. In the bar in which Strickland and Nichols sat a mechanicalpiano was loudly grinding out dance music. Round the room people were sitting attablehere half a dozen sailors uproariously drunkthere a group of soldiers;and in the middlecrowded togethercouples were dancing. Bearded sailors withbrown faces and large horny hands clasped their partners in a tight embrace. Thewomen wore nothing but a shift. Now and then two sailors would get up and dancetogether. The noise was deafening. People were singingshoutinglaughing; andwhen a man gave a long kiss to the girl sitting on his kneescat-calls from theEnglish sailors increased the din. The air was heavy with the dust beaten up bythe heavy boots of the menand gray with smoke. It was very hot. Behind the barwas seated a woman nursing her baby. The waiteran undersized youth with aflatspotty facehurried to and fro carrying a tray laden with glasses ofbeer. In a little while Tough Billaccompanied by two huge negroescame inand it was easy to see that he was already three parts drunk. He was looking fortrouble. He lurched against a table at which three soldiers were sitting andknocked over a glass of beer. There was an angry altercationand the owner ofthe bar stepped forward and ordered Tough Bill to go. He was a hefty fellowinthe habit of standing no nonsense from his customersand Tough Bill hesitated.The landlord was not a man he cared to tacklefor the police were on his sideand with an oath he turned on his heel. Suddenly he caught sight of Strickland.He rolled up to him. He did not speak. He gathered the spittle in his mouth andspat full in Strickland's face. Strickland seized his glass and flung it at him.The dancers stopped suddenly still. There was an instant of complete silencebut when Tough Bill threw himself on Strickland the lust of battle seized themalland in a moment there was a confused scrimmage. Tables were overturnedglasses crashed to the ground. There was a hellish row. The women scattered tothe door and behind the bar. Passers-by surged in from the street. You heardcurses in every tongue the sound of blowscries; and in the middle of the rooma dozen men were fighting with all their might. On a sudden the police rushedinand everyone who could made for the door. When the bar was more or lessclearedTough Bill was lying insensible on the floor with a great gash in hishead. Captain Nichols dragged Stricklandbleeding from a wound in his armhisclothes in ragsinto the street. His own face was covered with blood from ablow on the nose. "I guess you'd better get out of Marseilles before ToughBill comes out of hospital" he said to Stricklandwhen they had got backto the Chink's Head and were cleaning themselves. "This beatscock-fighting" said Strickland. I could see his sardonic smile. CaptainNichols was anxious. He knew Tough Bill's vindictiveness. Strickland had downedthe mulatto twiceand the mulattosoberwas a man to be reckoned with. Hewould bide his time stealthily. He would be in no hurrybut one nightStrickland would get a knife-thrust in his backand in a day or two the corpseof a nameless beach-comber would be fished out of the dirty water of theharbour. Nichols went next evening to Tough Bill's house and made enquiries. Hewas in hospital stillbut his wifewho had been to see himsaid he wasswearing hard to kill Strickland when they let him out. A week passed."That's what I always say" reflected Captain Nichols"when youhurt a manhurt him bad. It gives you a bit of time to look about and thinkwhat you'll do next." Then Strickland had a bit of luck. A ship bound forAustralia had sent to the Sailors' Home for a stoker in place of one who hadthrown himself overboard off Gibraltar in an attack of delirium tremens."You double down to the harbourmy lad" said the Captain toStrickland"and sign on. You've got your papers." Strickland set offat onceand that was the last Captain Nichols saw of him. The ship was only inport for six hoursand in the evening Captain Nichols watched the vanishingsmoke from her funnels as she ploughed East through the wintry sea. I havenarrated all this as best I couldbecause I like the contrast of these episodeswith the life that I had seen Strickland live in Ashley Gardens when he wasoccupied with stocks and shares; but I am aware that Captain Nichols was anoutrageous liarand I dare say there is not a word of truth in anything he toldme. I should not be surprised to learn that he had never seen Strickland in hislifeand owed his knowledge of Marseilles to the pages of a magazine. ChapterXLVIII It is here that I purposed to end my book. My first idea was to begin itwith the account of Strickland's last years in Tahiti and with his horribledeathand then to go back and relate what I knew of his beginnings. This Imeant to donot from wilfulnessbut because I wished to leave Stricklandsetting out with I know not what fancies in his lonely soul for the unknownislands which fired his imagination. I liked the picture of him starting at theage of forty-sevenwhen most men have already settled comfortably in a groovefor a new world. I saw himthe sea gray under the mistral and foam-fleckedwatching the vanishing coast of Francewhich he was destined never to seeagain; and I thought there was something gallant in his bearing and dauntless inhis soul. I wished so to end on a note of hope. It seemed to emphasise theunconquerable spirit of man. But I could not manage it. Somehow I could not getinto my storyand after trying once or twice I had to give it up; I startedfrom the beginning in the usual wayand made up my mind I could only tell whatI knew of Strickland's life in the order in which I learnt the facts. Those thatI have now are fragmentary. I am in the position of a biologist who from asingle bone must reconstruct not only the appearance of an extinct animalbutits habits. Strickland made no particular impression on the people who came incontact with him in Tahiti. To them he was no more than a beach-comber inconstant need of moneyremarkable only for the peculiarity that he paintedpictures which seemed to them absurd; and it was not till he had been dead forsome years and agents came from the dealers in Paris and Berlin to look for anypictures which might still remain on the islandthat they had any idea thatamong them had dwelt a man of consequence. They remembered then that they couldhave bought for a song canvases which now were worth large sumsand they couldnot forgive themselves for the opportunity which had escaped them. There was aJewish trader called Cohenwho had come by one of Strickland's pictures in asingular way. He was a little old Frenchmanwith soft kind eyes and a pleasantsmilehalf trader and half seamanwho owned a cutter in which he wanderedboldly among the Paumotus and the Marquesastaking out trade goods and bringingback coprashelland pearls. I went to see him because I was told he had alarge black pearl which he was willing to sell cheaplyand when I discoveredthat it was beyond my means I began to talk to him about Strickland. He hadknown him well. "You seeI was interested in him because he was apainter" he told me. "We don't get many painters in the islandsandI was sorry for him because he was such a bad one. I gave him his first job. Ihad a plantation on the peninsulaand I wanted a white overseer. You never getany work out of the natives unless you have a white man over them. I said tohim: `You'll have plenty of time for paintingand you can earn a bit of money.'I knew he was starvingbut I offered him good wages." "I can'timagine that he was a very satisfactory overseer" I saidsmiling. "Imade allowances. I have always had a sympathy for artists. It is in our bloodyou know. But he only remained a few months. When he had enough money to buypaints and canvases he left me. The place had got hold of him by thenand hewanted to get away into the bush. But I continued to see him now and then. Hewould turn up in Papeete every few months and stay a little while; he'd getmoney out of someone or other and then disappear again. It was on one of thesevisits that he came to me and asked for the loan of two hundred francs. Helooked as if he hadn't had a meal for a weekand I hadn't the heart to refusehim. Of courseI never expected to see my money again. Wella year later hecame to see me once moreand he brought a picture with him. He did not mentionthe money he owed mebut he said: `Here is a picture of your plantation thatI've painted for you.' I looked at it. I did not know what to saybut of courseI thanked himand when he had gone away I showed it to my wife.""What was it like?" I asked. "Do not ask me. I could not makehead or tail of it. I never saw such a thing in my life. `What shall we do withit?' I said to my wife. `We can never hang it up' she said. `People would laughat us.' So she took it into an attic and put it away with all sorts of rubbishfor my wife can never throw anything away. It is her mania. Thenimagine toyourselfjust before the war my brother wrote to me from Parisand said: `Doyou know anything about an English painter who lived in Tahiti? It appears thathe was a geniusand his pictures fetch large prices. See if you can lay yourhands on anything and send it to me. There's money to be made.' So I said to mywife. `What about that picture that Strickland gave me?' Is it possible that itis still in the attic?' `Without doubt' she answered` for you know that Inever throw anything away. It is my mania.' We went up to the atticand thereamong I know not what rubbish that had been gathered during the thirty years wehave inhabited that housewas the picture. I looked at it againand I said:`Who would have thought that the overseer of my plantation on the peninsulatowhom I lent two hundred francshad genius? Do you see anything in the picture?'`No' she said`it does not resemble the plantation and I have never seencocoa-nuts with blue leaves; but they are mad in Parisand it may be that yourbrother will be able to sell it for the two hundred francs you lent Strickland.'Wellwe packed it up and we sent it to my brother. And at last I received aletter from him. What do you think he said? `I received your picture' he said`and I confess I thought it was a joke that you had played on me. I would nothave given the cost of postage for the picture. I was half afraid to show it tothe gentleman who had spoken to me about it. Imagine my surprise when he said itwas a masterpieceand offered me thirty thousand francs. I dare say he wouldhave paid morebut frankly I was so taken aback that I lost my head; I acceptedthe offer before I was able to collect myself.'" Then Monsieur Cohen saidan admirable thing. "I wish that poor Strickland had been still alive. Iwonder what he would have said when I gave him twenty-nine thousand eighthundred francs for his picture." Chapter XLIX I lived at the Hotel de laFleurand Mrs. Johnsonthe proprietresshad a sad story to tell of lostopportunity. After Strickland's death certain of his effects were sold byauction in the market-place at Papeeteand she went to it herself because therewas among the truck an American stove she wanted. She paid twenty-seven francsfor it. "There were a dozen pictures" she told me"but theywere unframedand nobody wanted them. Some of them sold for as much as tenfrancsbut mostly they went for five or six. Just thinkif I had bought them Ishould be a rich woman now." But Tiare Johnson would never under anycircumstances have been rich. She could not keep money. The daughter of a nativeand an English sea-captain settled in Tahitiwhen I knew her she was a woman offiftywho looked olderand of enormous proportions. Tall and extremely stoutshe would have been of imposing presence if the great good-nature of her facehad not made it impossible for her to express anything but kindliness. Her armswere like legs of muttonher breasts like giant cabbages; her facebroad andfleshygave you an impression of almost indecent nakednessand vast chinsucceeded to vast chin. I do not know how many of them there were. They fellaway voluminously into the capaciousness of her bosom. She was dressed usuallyin a pink Mother Hubbardand she wore all day long a large straw hat. But whenshe let down her hairwhich she did now and thenfor she was vain of ityousaw that it was long and dark and curly; and her eyes had remained young andvivacious. Her laughter was the most catching I ever heard; it would beginalow peal in her throatand would grow louder and louder till her whole vastbody shook. She loved three things- a jokea glass of wineand a handsome man.To have known her is a privilege. She was the best cook on the islandand sheadored good food. From morning till night you saw her sitting on a low chair inthe kitchensurrounded by a Chinese cook and two or three native girlsgivingher orderschatting sociably with all and sundryand tasting the savourymesses she devised. When she wished to do honour to a friend she cooked thedinner with her own hands. Hospitality was a passion with herand there was noone on the island who need go without a dinner when there was anything to eat atthe Hotel de la Fleur. She never turned her customers out of her house becausethey did not pay their bills. She always hoped they would pay when they could.There was one man there who had fallen on adversityand to him she had givenboard and lodging for several months. When the Chinese laundryman refused towash for him without payment she had sent his things to be washed with hers. Shecould not allow the poor fellow to go about in a dirty shirtshe saidandsince he was a manand men must smokeshe gave him a franc a day forcigarettes. She used him with the same affability as those of her clients whopaid their bills once a week. Age and obesity had made her inapt for lovebutshe took a keen interest in the amatory affairs of the young. She looked uponvenery as the natural occupation for men and womenand was ever ready withprecept and example from her own wide experience. "I was not fifteen whenmy father found that I had a lover" she said. "He was third mate onthe . A good-looking boy." She sighed a little. They say a woman alwaysremembers her first lover with affection; but perhaps she does not alwaysremember him. "My father was a sensible man." "What did hedo?" I asked. "He thrashed me within an inch of my lifeand then hemade me marry Captain Johnson. I did not mind. He was olderof coursebut hewas good-looking too." Tiare- her father had called her by the name of thewhitescented flower whichthey tell youif you have once smeltwill alwaysdraw you back to Tahiti in the endhowever far you may have roamed- Tiareremembered Strickland very well. "He used to come here sometimesand Iused to see him walking about Papeete. I was sorry for himhe was so thinandhe never had any money. When I heard he was in townI used to send a boy tofind him and make him come to dinner with me. I got him a job once or twicebuthe couldn't stick to anything. After a little while he wanted to get back to thebushand one morning he would be gone." Strickland reached Tahiti aboutsix months after he left Marseilles. He worked his passage on a sailing vesselthat was making the trip from Auckland to San Franciscoand he arrived with abox of paintsan easeland a dozen canvases. He had a few pounds in hispocketfor he had found work in Sydneyand he took a small room in a nativehouse outside the town. I think the moment he reached Tahiti he felt himself athome. Tiare told me that he said to her once: "I'd been scrubbing the deckand all at once a chap said to me: `Whythere it is.' And I looked up and I sawthe outline of the island. I knew right away that there was the place I'd beenlooking for all my life. Then we came nearand I seemed to recognise it.Sometimes when I walk about it all seems familiar. I could swear I've lived herebefore." "Sometimes it takes them like that" said Tiare."I've known men come on shore for a few hours while their ship was takingin cargoand never go back. And I've known men who came here to be in an officefor a yearand they cursed the placeand when they went away they took theirdying oath they'd hang themselves before they came back againand in six monthsyou'd see them land once moreand they'd tell you they couldn't live anywhereelse." Chapter L I have an idea that some men are born out of their dueplace. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundingsbut they have always anostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplaceandthe leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in whichthey have playedremain but a place of passage. They may spend their wholelives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes theyhave ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far andwide in the search for something permanentto which they may attach themselves.Perhaps some deeprooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which hisancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon aplace to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home hesoughtand he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen beforeamong menhe has never knownas though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here atlast he finds rest. I told Tiare the story of a man I had known at St. Thomas'sHospital. He was a Jew named Abrahama blondrather stout young manshy andvery unassuming; but he had remarkable gifts. He entered the hospital with ascholarshipand during the five years of the curriculum gained every prize thatwas open to him. He was made house-physician and house-surgeon. His brilliancewas allowed by all. Finally he was elected to a position on the staffand hiscareer was assured. So far as human things can be predictedit was certain thathe would rise to the greatest heights of his profession. Honours and wealthawaited him. Before he entered upon his new duties he wished to take a holidayandhaving no private meanshe went as surgeon on a tramp steamer to theLevant. It did not generally carry a doctorbut one of the senior surgeons atthe hospital knew a director of the lineand Abraham was taken as a favour. Ina few weeks the authorities received his resignation of the coveted position onthe staff. It created profound astonishmentand wild rumours were current.Whenever a man does anything unexpectedhis fellows ascribe it to the mostdiscreditable motives. But there was a man ready to step into Abraham's shoesand Abraham was forgotten. Nothing more was heard of him. He vanished. It wasperhaps ten years later that one morning on board shipabout to land atAlexandriaI was bidden to line up with the other passengers for the doctor'sexamination. The doctor was a stout man in shabby clothesand when he took offhis hat I noticed that he was very bald. I had an idea that I had seen himbefore. Suddenly I remembered. "Abraham" I said. He turned to me witha puzzled lookand thenrecognizing meseized my hand. After expressions ofsurprise on either sidehearing that I meant to spend the night in Alexandriahe asked me to dine with him at the English Club. When we met again I declaredmy astonishment at finding him there. It was a very modest position that heoccupiedand there was about him an air of straitened circumstance. Then hetold me his story. When he set out on his holiday in the Mediterranean he hadevery intention of returning to London and his appointment at St. Thomas's. Onemorning the tramp docked at Alexandriaand from the deck he looked at the citywhite in the sunlightand the crowd on the wharf; he saw the natives in theirshabby gabardinesthe blacks from the Soudanthe noisy throng of Greeks andItaliansthe grave Turks in tarbooshesthe sunshine and the blue sky; andsomething happened to him. He could not describe it. It was like a thunder-claphe saidand thendissatisfied with thishe said it was like a revelation.Something seemed to twist his heartand suddenly he felt an exultationa senseof wonderful freedom. He felt himself at homeand he made up his mind there andthenin a minutethat he would live the rest of his life in Alexandria. He hadno great difficulty in leaving the shipand in twenty-four hourswith all hisbelongingshe was on shore. "The Captain must have thought you as mad as ahatter" I smiled. "I didn't care what anybody thought. It wasn't Ithat actedbut something stronger within me. I thought I would go to a littleGreek hotelwhile I looked aboutand I felt I knew where to find one. And doyou knowI walked straight thereand when I saw itI recognised it atonce." "Had you been to Alexandria before?" "No; I'd neverbeen out of England in my life." Presently he entered the Governmentserviceand there he had been ever since. "Have you never regrettedit?" "Nevernot for a minute. I earn just enough to live uponandI'm satisfied. I ask nothing more than to remain as I am till I die. I've had awonderful life." I left Alexandria next dayand I forgot about Abrahamtill a little while agowhen I was dining with another old friend in theprofessionAlec Carmichaelwho was in England on short leave. I ran across himin the street and congratulated him on the knighthood with which his eminentservices during the war had been rewarded. We arranged to spend an eveningtogether for old time's sakeand when I agreed to dine with himhe proposedthat he should ask nobody elseso that we could chat without interruption. Hehad a beautiful old house in Queen Anne Streetand being a man of taste he hadfurnished it admirably. On the walls of the diningroom I saw a charmingBellottoand there was a pair of Zoffanys that I envied. When his wifea talllovely creature in cloth of goldhad left usI remarked laughingly on thechange in his present circumstances from those when we had both been medicalstudents. We had looked upon it then as an extravagance to dine in a shabbyItalian restaurant in the Westminster Bridge Road. Now Alec Carmichael was onthe staff of half a dozen hospitals. I should think he earned ten thousand ayearand his knighthood was but the first of the honours which must inevitablyfall to his lot. "I've done pretty well" he said"but thestrange thing is that I owe it all to one piece of luck." "What do youmean by that?" "Welldo you remember Abraham? He was the man who hadthe future. When we were students he beat me all along the line. He got theprizes and the scholarships that I went in for. I always played second fiddle tohim. If he'd kept on he'd be in the position I'm in now. That man had a geniusfor surgery. No one had a look in with him. When he was appointed Registrar atThomas's I hadn't a chance of getting on the staff. I should have had to becomea G.P.and you know what likelihood there is for a G.P. ever to get out of thecommon rut. But Abraham fell outand I got the job. That gave me myopportunity." "I dare say that's true." "It was just luck. Isuppose there was some kink in Abraham. Poor devilhe's gone to the dogsaltogether. He's got some twopenny-halfpenny job in the medical at Alexandria-sanitary officer or something like that. I'm told he lives with an ugly oldGreek woman and has half a dozen scrofulous kids. The fact isI supposethatit's not enough to have brains. The thing that counts is character. Abrahamhadn't got character." Character? I should have thought it needed a gooddeal of character to throw up a career after half an hour's meditationbecauseyou saw in another way of living a more intense significance. And it requiredstill more character never to regret the sudden step. But I said nothingandAlec Carmichael proceeded reflectively: "Of course it would be hypocriticalfor me to pretend that I regret what Abraham did. After allI've scored byit." He puffed luxuriously at the long Corona he was smoking. "But ifI weren't personally concerned I should be sorry at the waste. It seems a rottenthing that a man should make such a hash of life." I wondered if Abrahamreally had made a hash of life. Is to do what you most wantto live under theconditions that please youin peace with yourselfto make a hash of life; andis it success to be an eminent surgeon with ten thousand a year and a beautifulwife? I suppose it depends on what meaning you attach to lifethe claim whichyou acknowledge to societyand the claim of the individual. But again I held mytonguefor who am I to argue with a knight? Chapter LI Tiarewhen I told herthis storypraised my prudenceand for a few minutes we worked in silenceforwe were shelling peas. Then her eyesalways alert for the affairs of herkitchenfell on some action of the Chinese cook which aroused her violentdisapproval. She turned on him with a torrent of abuse. The Chink was notbackward to defend himselfand a very lively quarrel ensued. They spoke in thenative languageof which I had learnt but half a dozen wordsand it sounded asthough the world would shortly come to an end; but presently peace was restoredand Tiare gave the cook a cigarette. They both smoked comfortably. "Do youknowit was I who found him his wife?" said Tiare suddenlywith a smilethat spread all over her immense face. "The cook?" "NoStrickland." "But he had one already." "That is what hesaidbut I told him she was in Englandand England is at the other end of theworld." "True" I replied. "He would come to Papeete everytwo or three monthswhen he wanted paints or tobacco or moneyand then hewould wander about like a lost dog. I was sorry for him. I had a girl here thencalled Ata to do the rooms; she was some sort of a relation of mineand herfather and mother were deadso I had her to live with me. Strickland used tocome here now and then to have a square meal or to play chess with one of theboys. I noticed that she looked at him when he cameand I asked her if sheliked him. She said she liked him well enough. You know what these girls are;they're always pleased to go with a white man." "Was she anative?" I asked. "Yes; she hadn't a drop of white blood in her. Wellafter I'd talked to her I sent for Stricklandand I said to him: `Stricklandit's time for you to settle down. A man of your age shouldn't go playing aboutwith the girls down at the front. They're bad lotsand you'll come to no goodwith them. You've got no moneyand you can never keep a job for more than amonth or two. No one will employ you now. You say you can always live in thebush with one or other of the nativesand they're glad to have you becauseyou're a white manbut it's not decent for a white man. Nowlisten to meStrickland.'" Tiare mingled French with English in her conversationforshe used both languages with equal facility. She spoke them with a singingaccent which was not unpleasing. You felt that a bird would speak in these tonesif it could speak English. "'Nowwhat do you say to marrying Ata? She's agood girl and she's only seventeen. She's never been promiscuous like some ofthese girls- a captain or a first mateyesbut she's never been touched by anative. . The purser of the told me last journey that he hadn't met a nicer girlin the islands. It's time she settled down tooand besidesthe captains andthe first mates like a change now and then. I don't keep my girls too long. Shehas a bit of property down by Taravaojust before you come to the peninsulaand with copra at the price it is now you could live quite comfortably. There'sa houseand you'd have all the time you wanted for your painting. What do yousay to it?" Tiare paused to take breath. "It was then he told me ofhis wife in England. 'My poor Strickland' I said to him'they've all got awife somewhere; that is generally why they come to the islands. Ata is asensible girland she doesn't expect any ceremony before the Mayor. She's aProtestantand you know they don't look upon these things like the Catholics.'"Then he said: `But what does Ata say to it?' `It appears that she has afor you' I said. `She's willing if you are. Shall I call her?' He chuckled in afunnydry way he hadand I called her. She knew what I was talking aboutthehussyand I saw her out of the corner of my eyes listening with all her earswhile she pretended to iron a blouse that she had been washing for me. She came.She was laughingbut I could see that she was a little shyand Stricklandlooked at her without speaking." "Was she pretty?" I asked."Not bad. But you must have seen pictures of her. He painted her over andover againsometimes with a on and sometimes with nothing at all. Yesshe waspretty enough. And she knew how to cook. I taught her myself. I saw Stricklandwas thinking of itso I said to him: 'I've given her good wages and she's savedthemand the captains and the first mates she's known have given her a littlesomething now and then. She's saved several hundred francs.' He pulled his greatred beard and smiled. "`WellAta' he said'do you fancy me for ahusband.' "She did not say anythingbut just giggled. "`But I tellyoumy poor Stricklandthe girl has a for you' I said. "I shall beatyou' he saidlooking at her. "`How else should I know you loved me' sheanswered." Tiare broke off her narrative and addressed herself to mereflectively. "My first husbandCaptain Johnsonused to thrash meregularly. He was a man. He was handsomesix foot threeand when he was drunkthere was no holding him. I would be black and blue all over for days at a time.OhI cried when he died. I thought I should never get over it. But it wasn'ttill I married George Rainey that I knew what I'd lost. You can never tell whata man is like till you live with him. I've never been so deceived in a man as Iwas in George Rainey. He was a fineupstanding fellow too. He was nearly astall as Captain Johnsonand he looked strong enough. But it was all on thesurface. He never drank. He never raised his hand to me. He might have been amissionary. I made love with the officers of every ship that touched the islandand George Rainey never saw anything. At last I was disgusted with himand Igot a divorce. What was the good of a husband like that? It's a terrible thingthe way some men treat women." I condoled with Tiareand remarkedfeelingly that men were deceivers everthen asked her to go on with her storyof Strickland. "`Well' I said to him`there's no hurry about it. Takeyour time and think it over. Ata has a very nice room in the annexe. Live withher for a monthand see how you like her. You can have your meals here. And atthe end of a monthif you decide you want to marry heryou can just go andsettle down on her property.' "Wellhe agreed to that. Ata continued to dothe houseworkand I gave him his meals as I said I would. I taught Ata to makeone or two dishes I knew he was fond of. He did not paint much. He wanderedabout the hills and bathed in the stream. And he sat about the front looking atthe lagoonand at sunset he would go down and look at Murea. He used to gofishing on the reef. He loved to moon about the harbour talking to the natives.He was a nicequiet fellow. And every evening after dinner he would go down tothe annexe with Ata. I saw he was longing to get away to the bushand at theend of the month I asked him what he intended to do. He said if Ata was willingto gohe was willing to go with her. So I gave them a wedding dinner. I cookedit with my own hands. I gave them a pea soup and lobster and a curryand acocoa-nut salad- you've never had one of my cocoa-nut saladshave you? I mustmake you one before you go -- and then I made them an ice. We had all thechampagne we could drink and liqueurs to follow. OhI'd made up my mind to dothings well. And afterwards we danced in the drawing-room. I was not so fatthenand I always loved dancing." The drawing-room at the Hotel de laFleur was a small roomwith a cottage pianoand a suite of mahogany furniturecovered in stamped velvetneatly arranged around the walls. On round tableswere photograph albumsand on the walls enlarged photographs of Tiare and herfirst husbandCaptain Johnson. Stillthough Tiare was old and faton occasionwe rolled back the Brussels carpetbrought in the maids and one or two friendsof Tiare'sand dancedthough now to the wheezy music of a gramaphone. On theverandah the air was scented with the heavy perfume of the tiareand overheadthe Southern Cross shone in a cloudless sky. Tiare smiled indulgently as sheremembered the gaiety of a time long passed. "We kept it up till threeandwhen we went to bed I don't think anyone was very sober. I had told them theycould have my trap to take them as far as the road wentbecause after that theyhad a long walk. Ata's property was right away in a fold of the mountain. Theystarted at dawnand the boy I sent with them didn't come back till next day."Yesthat's how Strickland was married." Chapter LII I suppose thenext three years were the happiest of Strickland's life. Ata's house stood abouteight kilometres from the road that runs round the islandand you went to italong a winding pathway shaded by the luxuriant trees of the tropics. It was abungalow of unpainted woodconsisting of two small roomsand outside was asmall shed that served as a kitchen. There was no furniture except the mats theyused as bedsand a rocking-chairwhich stood on the verandah. Bananas withtheir great ragged leaveslike the tattered habiliments of an empress inadversitygrew close up to the house. There was a tree just behind which borealligator pearsand all about were the cocoa-nuts which gave the land itsrevenue. Ata's father had planted crotons round his propertyand they grew incoloured profusiongay and brilliant; they fenced the land with flame. A mangogrew in front of the houseand at the edge of the clearing were twoflamboyantstwin treesthat challenged the gold of the cocoa-nuts with theirscarlet flowers. Here Strickland livedcoming seldom to Papeeteon the produceof the land. There was a little stream that ran not far awayin which hebathedand down this on occasion would come a shoal of fish. Then the nativeswould assemble with spearsand with much shouting would transfix the greatstartled things as they hurried down to the sea. Sometimes Strickland would godown to the reefand come back with a basket of smallcoloured fish that Atawould fry in cocoa-nut oilor with a lobster; and sometimes she would make asavoury dish of the great land-crabs that scuttled away under your feet. Up themountain were wild-orange treesand now and then Ata would go with two or threewomen from the village and return laden with the greensweetluscious fruit.Then the cocoa-nuts would be ripe for pickingand her cousins (like all thenativesAta had a host of relatives) would swarm up the trees and throw downthe big ripe nuts. They split them open and put them in the sun to dry. Thenthey cut out the copra and put it into sacksand the women would carry it downto the trader at the village by the lagoonand he would give in exchange for itrice and soap and tinned meat and a little money. Sometimes there would be afeast in the neighbourhoodand a pig would be killed. Then they would go andeat themselves sickand danceand sing hymns. But the house was a long wayfrom the villageand the Tahitians are lazy. They love to travel and they loveto gossipbut they do not care to walkand for weeks at a time Strickland andAta lived alone. He painted and he readand in the eveningwhen it was darkthey sat together on the verandahsmoking and looking at the night. Then Atahad a babyand the old woman who came up to help her through her trouble stayedon. Presently the granddaughter of the old woman came to stay with herand thena youth appeared- no one quite knew where from or to whom he belonged- but hesettled down with them in a happy-go-lucky wayand they all lived togetherChapter LIII" said Tiareone day when I was fitting together what shecould tell me of Strickland. "He knew Strickland well; he visited him athis house." I saw a middle-aged Frenchman with a big black beardstreakedwith graya sunburned faceand largeshining eyes. He was dressed in a neatsuit of ducks. I had noticed him at luncheonand Ah Linthe Chinese boytoldme he had come from the Paumotus on the boat that had that day arrived. Tiareintroduced me to himand he handed me his carda large card on which wasprintedand underneathWe were sitting on a little verandah outside thekitchenand Tiare was cutting out a dress that she was making for one of thegirls about the house. He sat down with us. "Yes; I knew Stricklandwell" he said. "I am very fond of chessand he was always glad of agame. I come to Tahiti three or four times a year for my businessand when hewas at Papeete he would come here and we would play. When he married"-Captain Brunot smiled and shrugged his shoulders- "when he went to livewith the girl that Tiare gave himhe asked me to go and see him. I was one ofthe guests at the wedding feast." He looked at Tiareand they bothlaughed. "He did not come much to Papeete after thatand about a yearlater it chanced that I had to go to that part of the island for I forgot whatbusinessand when I had finished it I said to myself: `why should I not goand see that poor Strickland?' I asked one or two natives if they knew anythingabout himand I discovered that he lived not more than five kilometres fromwhere I was. So I went. I shall never forget the impression my visit made on me.I live on an atolla low islandit is a strip of land surrounding a lagoonand its beauty is the beauty of the sea and sky and the varied colour of thelagoon and the grace of the cocoa-nut trees; but the place where Stricklandlived had the beauty of the Garden of Eden. AhI wish I could make you see theenchantment of that spota corner hidden away from all the worldwith the bluesky overhead and the richluxuriant trees. It was a feast of colour. And it wasfragrant and cool. Words cannot describe that paradise. And here he livedunmindful of the world and by the world forgotten. I suppose to European eyes itwould have seemed astonishingly sordid. The house was dilapidated and none tooclean. Three or four natives were lying on the verandah. You know how nativeslove to herd together. There was a young man lying full lengthsmoking acigaretteand he wore nothing but a " The is a long strip of trade cottonred or bluestamped with a white pattern. It is worn round the waist and hangsto the knees. "A girl of fifteenperhapswas plaiting pandanus-leaf tomake a hatand an old woman was sitting on her haunches smoking a pipe. Then Isaw Ata. She was suckling a new-born childand another childstark nakedwasplaying at her feet. When she saw me she called out to Stricklandand he cameto the door. Hetoowore nothing but a . He was an extraordinary figurewithhis red beard and matted hairand his great hairy chest. His feet were hornyand scarredso that I knew he went always bare foot. He had gone native with avengeance. He seemed pleased to see meand told Ata to kill a chicken for ourdinner. He took me into the house to show me the picture he was at work on whenI came in. In one corner of the room was the bedand in the middle was an easelwith the canvas upon it. Because I was sorry for himI had bought a couple ofhis pictures for small sumsand I had sent others to friends of mine in France.And though I had bought them out of compassionafter living with them I beganto like them. IndeedI found a strange beauty in them. Everyone thought I wasmadbut it turns out that I was right. I was his first admirer in theislands." He smiled maliciously at Tiareand with lamentations she told usagain the story of how at the sale of Strickland's effects she had neglected thepicturesbut bought an American stove for twenty-seven francs. "Have youthe pictures still?" I asked. "Yes; I am keeping them till my daughteris of marriageable ageand then I shall sell them. They will be her ."Then he went on with the account of his visit to Strickland. "I shall neverforget the evening I spent with him. I had not
intended to stay more than an hourbut he insisted that I should spend thenight. I hesitatedfor I confess I did not much like the look of the mats onwhich he proposed that I should sleep; but I shrugged my shoulders. When I wasbuilding my house in the Paumotus I had slept out for weeks on a harder bed thanthatwith nothing to shelter me but wild shrubs; and as for verminmy toughskin should be proof against their malice. "We went down to the stream tobathe while Ata was preparing the dinnerand after we had eaten it we sat onthe verandah. We smoked and chatted. The young man had a concertinaand heplayed the tunes popular on the music-halls a dozen years before. They soundedstrangely in the tropical night thousands of miles from civilisation. I askedStrickland if it did not irk him to live in that promiscuity. Nohe said; heliked to have his models under his hand. Presentlyafter loud yawningthenatives went away to sleepand Strickland and I were left alone. I cannotdescribe to you the intense silence of the night. On my island in the Paumotusthere is never at night the complete stillness that there was here. There is therustle of the myriad animals on the beachall the little shelled things thatcrawl about ceaselesslyand there is the noisy scurrying of the land-crabs. Nowand then in the lagoon you hear the leaping of a fishand sometimes a hurriednoisy splashing as a brown shark sends all the other fish scampering for theirlives. And above allceaseless like timeis the dull roar of the breakers onthe reef. But here there was not a soundand the air was scented with the whiteflowers of the night. It was a night so beautiful that your soul seemed hardlyable to bear the prison of the body. You felt that it was ready to be waftedaway on the immaterial airand death bore all the aspect of a belovedfriend." Tiare sighed. "AhI wish I were fifteen again." Thenshe caught sight of a cat trying to get at a dish of prawns on the kitchentableand with a dexterous gesture and a lively volley of abuse flung a book atits scampering tail. "I asked him if he was happy with Ata. "`Sheleaves me alone' he said. 'She cooks my food and looks after her babies. Shedoes what I tell her. She gives me what I want from a woman.' "`And do younever regret Europe? Do you not yearn sometimes for the light of the streets inParis or Londonthe companionship of your friendsand equalsfor theatres andnewspapersand the rumble of omnibuses on the cobbled pavements?' "For along time he was silent. Then he said: "`I shall stay here till I die.'"`But are you never bored or lonely?' I asked. "He chuckled. "`'he said. `It is evident that you do not know what it is to be an artist.'"Capitaine Brunot turned to me with a gentle smileand there was a wonderfullook in his darkkind eyes. "He did me an injusticefor I too know whatit is to have dreams. I have my visions too. In my way I also am anartist." We were all silent for a whileand Tiare fished out of hercapacious pocket a handful of cigarettes. She handed one to each of usand weall three smoked. At last she said: "Since is interested in Stricklandwhydo you not take him to see Dr. Coutras? He can tell him something about hisillness and death." "" said the Captainlooking at me. Ithanked himand he looked at his watch. "It is past six o'clock. We shouldfind him at home if you care to come now." I got up without further adoand we walked along the road that led to the doctor's house. He lived out of thetownbut the Hotel de la Fleur was on the edge of itand we were quickly inthe country. The broad road was shaded by pepper-treesand on each side werethe plantationscocoa-nut and vanilla. The pirate birds were screeching amongthe leaves of the palms. We came to a stone bridge over a shallow riverand westopped for a few minutes to see the native boys bathing. They chased oneanother with shrill cries and laughterand their bodiesbrown and wetgleamedin the sunlight. Chapter LIV As we walked along I reflected on a circumstancewhich all that I had lately heard about Strickland forced on my attention. Hereon this remote islandhe seemed to have aroused none of the detestation withwhich he was regarded at homebut compassion rather; and his vagaries wereaccepted with tolerance. To these peoplenative and Europeanhe was a queerfishbut they were used to queer fishand they took him for granted; the worldwas full of odd personswho did odd things; and perhaps they knew that a man isnot what he wants to bebut what he must be. In England and France he was thesquare peg in the round holebut here the holes were any sort of shapeand nosort of peg was quite amiss. I do not think he was any gentler herelessselfish or less brutalbut the circumstances were more favourable. If he hadspent his life amid these surroundings he might have passed for no worse a manthan another. He received here what he neither expected nor wanted among his ownpeople- sympathy. I tried to tell Captain Brunot something of the astonishmentwith which this filled meand for a little while he did not
answer. "It is not strange that Iat all eventsshould have hadsympathy for him" he said at last"forthough perhaps neither of usknew itwe were both aiming at the same thing." "What on earth can itbe that two people so dissimilar as you and Strickland could aim at?" Iaskedsmiling. "Beauty." "A large order" I murmured."Do you know how men can be so obsessed by love that they are deaf andblind to everything else in the world? They are as little their own masters asthe slaves chained to the benches of a galley. The passion that held Stricklandin bondage was no less tyrannical than love." "How strange that youshould say that!" I answered. "For long ago I had the idea that he waspossessed of a devil." "And the passion that held Strickland was apassion to create beauty. It gave him no peace. It urged him hither and thither.He was eternally a pilgrimhaunted by a divine nostalgiaand the demon withinhim was ruthless. There are men whose desire for truth is so great that toattain it they will shatter the very foundation of their world. Of such wasStricklandonly beauty with him took the place of truth. I could only feel forhim a profound compassion." "That is strange also. A man whom he haddeeply wronged told me that he felt a great pity for him." I was silent fora moment. "I wonder if there you have found the explanation of a characterwhich has always seemed to me inexplicable. How did you hit on it?" Heturned to me with a smile. "Did I not tell you that Itooin my way wasan artist? I realised in myself the same desire as animated him. But whereas hismedium was paintmine has been life." Then Captain Brunot told me a storywhich I must repeatsinceif only by way of contrastit adds something to myimpression of Strickland. It has also to my mind a beauty of its own. CaptainBrunot was a Bretonand had been in the French Navy. He left it on hismarriageand settled down on a small property he had near Quimper to live forthe rest of his days in peace; but the failure of an attorney left him suddenlypennilessand neither he nor his wife was willing to live in penury where theyhad enjoyed consideration. During his sea faring days he had cruised the SouthSeasand he determined now to seek his fortune there. He spent some months inPapeete to make his plans and gain experience; thenon money borrowed from afriend in Francehe bought an island in the Paumotus. It was a ring of landround a deep lagoonuninhabitedand covered only with scrub and wild guava.With the intrepid woman who was his wifeand a few nativeshe landed thereand set about building a houseand clearing the scrub so that he could plantcocoa-nuts. That was twenty years beforeand now what had been a barren islandwas a garden. "It was hard and anxious work at firstand we workedstrenuouslyboth of us. Every day I was up at dawnclearingplantingworkingon my houseand at night when I threw myself on my bed it was to sleep like alog till morning. My wife worked as hard as I did. Then children were born tousfirst a son and then a daughter. My wife and I have taught them all theyknow. We had a piano sent out from Franceand she has taught them to play andto speak Englishand I have taught them Latin and mathematicsand we readhistory together. They can sail a boat. They can swim as well as the natives.There is nothing about the land of which they are ignorant. Our trees haveprosperedand there is shell on my reef. I have come to Tahiti now to buy aschooner. I can get enough shell to make it worth while to fish for itandwhoknows? I may find pearls. I have made something where there was nothing. I toohave made beauty. Ahyou do not know what it is to look at those tallhealthytrees and think that every one I planted myself." "Let me ask you thequestion that you asked Strickland. Do you never regret France and your old homein Brittany?" "Some daywhen my daughter is married and my son has awife and is able to take my place on the islandwe shall go back and finish ourdays in the old house in which I was born." "You will look back on ahappy life" I said. "it is not exciting on my islandand we arevery far from the world- imagineit takes me four days to come to Tahiti- butwe are happy there. It is given to few men to attempt a work and to achieve it.Our life is simple and innocent. We are untouched by ambitionand what pride wehave is due only to our contemplation of the work of our hands. Malice cannottouch usnor envy attack. Ahthey talk of the blessedness of labourand itis a meaningless phrasebut to me it has the most intense significance. I am ahappy man." "I am sure you deserve to be" I smiled. "I wishI could think so. I do not know how I have deserved to have a wife who was theperfect friend and helpmatethe perfect mistress and the perfect mother."I reflected for a while on the life that the Captain suggested to myimagination. "It is obvious that to lead such an existence and make sogreat a success of ityou must both have needed a strong will and a determinedcharacter." "Perhaps; but without one other factor we could haveachieved nothing." "And what was that?"
He stoppedsomewhat dramaticallyand stretched out his arm. "Belief inGod. Without that we should have been lost." Then we arrived at the houseof Dr. Coutras. Chapter LV Mr. Coutras was an old Frenchman of great stature andexceeding bulk. His body was shaped like a huge duck's egg; and his eyessharpblueand good-naturedrested now and then with self-satisfaction on hisenormous paunch. His complexion was florid and his hair white. He was a man toattract immediate sympathy. He received us in a room that might have been in ahouse in a provincial town in Franceand the one or two Polynesian curios hadan odd look. He took my hand in both of his- they were huge- and gave me ahearty lookin whichhoweverwas great shrewdness. When he shook hands withCapitaine Brunot he enquired politely after . For some minutes there was anexchange of courtesies and some local gossip about the islandthe prospects ofcopra and the vanilla crop; then we came to the object of my visit. I shall nottell what Dr. Coutras related to me in his wordsbut in my ownfor I cannothope to give at second hand any impression of his vivacious delivery. He had adeepresonant voicefitted to his massive frameand a keen sense of thedramatic. To listen to him wasas the phrase goesas good as a play; and muchbetter than most. It appears that Dr. Coutras had gone one day to Taravao inorder to see an old chiefess who was illand he gave a vivid picture of theobese old ladylying in a huge bedsmoking cigarettesand surrounded by acrowd of dark-skinned retainers. When he had seen her he was taken into anotherroom and given dinner- raw fishfried bananasand chicken-the typicaldinner of the - and while he was eating it he saw a young girl being driven awayfrom the door in tears. He thought nothing of itbut when he went out to getinto his trap and drive homehe saw her againstanding a little way off; shelooked at him with a woebegone airand tears streamed down her cheeks. He askedsomeone what was wrong with herand was told that she had come down from thehills to ask him to visit a white man who was sick. They had told her that thedoctor could not be disturbed. He called herand himself asked what she wanted.She told him that Ata had sent hershe who used to be at the Hotel de la Fleurand that the Red One was ill. She thrust into his hand a crumpled piece ofnewspaperand when he opened it he found in it a hundred-franc note. "Whois the Red One?" he asked of one of the bystanders. He was told that thatwas what they called the Englishmana painterwho lived with Ata up in thevalley seven kilometres from where they were. He recognised Strickland by thedescription. But it was necessary to walk. It was impossible for him to go; thatwas why they had sent the girl away. "I confess" said the doctorturning to me"that I hesitated. I did not relish fourteen kilometres overa bad pathwayand there was no chance that I could get back to Papeete thatnight. BesidesStrickland was not sympathetic to me. He was an idleuselessscoundrelwho preferred to live with a native woman rather than work for hisliving like the rest of us.how was I to know that one day the world wouldcome to the conclusion that he had genius? I asked the girl if he was not wellenough to have come down to see me. I asked her what she thought was the matterwith him. She would not answer. I pressed herangrily perhapsbut she lookeddown on the ground and began to cry. Then I shrugged my shoulders; after allperhaps it was my duty to goand in a very bad temper I bade her lead theway." His temper was certainly no better when he arrivedperspiring freelyand thirsty. Ata was on the look-out for himand came a little way along thepath to meet him. "Before I see anyone give me something to drink or Ishall die of thirst" he cried out. "get me a cocoa-nut." Shecalled outand a boy came running along. He swarmed up a treeand presentlythrew down a ripe nut. Ata pierced a hole in itand the doctor took a longrefreshing draught. Then he rolled himself a cigarette and felt in a betterhumour. "Nowwhere is the Red One?" he asked. "He is in thehousepainting. I have not told him you were coming. Go in and see him.""But what does he complain of? If he is well enough to painthe is wellenough to have come down to Taravao and save me this confounded walk. I presumemy time is no less valuable than his." Ata did not speakbut with the boyfollowed him to the house. The girl who had brought him was by this time sittingon the verandahand here was lying an old womanwith her back to the wallmaking native cigarettes. Ata pointed to the door. The doctorwonderingirritably why they behaved so strangelyenteredand there found Stricklandcleaning his palette. There was a picture on the easel. Stricklandclad only inawas standing with his back to the doorbut he turned round when he heardthe sound of boots. He gave the doctor a look of vexation. He was surprised tosee himand resented the intrusion. But the doctor gave a gasphe was rootedto the floorand he stared with all his eyes. This was not what he expected. Hewas seized with horror. "You enter without ceremony" said Strickland."What can I do for you?" The doctor recovered himselfbut it requiredquite an effort for him to find his voice. All his irritation was goneand hefelt- - he felt an overwhelming pity. "I am Dr. Coutras. I was down atTaravao to see the chiefessand Ata sent for me to see you." "She's adamned fool. I have had a few aches and pains lately and a little feverbutthat's nothing; it will pass off. Next time anyone went to Papeete I was goingto send for some quinine." "Look at yourself in the glass."Strickland gave him a glancesmiledand went over to a cheap mirror in alittle wooden framethat hung on the wall. "Well?" "Do you notsee a strange change in your face? Do you not see the thickening of yourfeatures and a look- how shall I describe it?- the books call it lion-faced.must I tell you that you have a terrible disease?" "I?""When you look at yourself in the glass you see the typical appearance ofthe leper." "You are jesting" said Strickland. "I wish toGod I were." "Do you intend to tell me that I have leprosy?""Unfortunatelythere can be no doubt of it." Dr. Coutras haddelivered sentence of death on many menand he could never overcome the horrorwith which it filled him. He felt always the furious hatred that must seize aman condemned when he compared himself with the doctorsane and healthywhohad the inestimable privilege of life. Strickland looked at him in silence.Nothing of emotion could be seen on his facedisfigured already by theloathsome disease. "Do they know?" he asked at lastpointing to thepersons on the verandahnow sitting in unusualunaccountable silence."These natives know the signs so well" said the doctor. "Theywere afraid to tell you." Strickland stepped to the door and looked out.There must have been something terrible in his facefor suddenly they all burstout into loud cries and lamentation. They lifted up their voices and they wept.Strickland did not speak. After looking at them for a momenthe came back intothe room. "How long do you think I can last?" "Who knows?Sometimes the disease continues for twenty years. It is a mercy when it runs itscourse quickly." Strickland went to his easel and looked reflectively atthe picture that stood on it. "You have had a long journey. It is fittingthat the bearer of important tidings should be rewarded. Take this picture. Itmeans nothing to you nowbut it may be that one day you will be glad to haveit." Dr. Coutras protested that he needed no payment for his journey; hehad already given back to Ata the hundred-franc notebut Strickland insistedthat he should take the picture. Then together they went out on the verandah.The natives were sobbing violently. "Be quietwoman. Dry thy tears"said Stricklandaddressing Ata. "There is no great harm. I shall leavethee very soon." "They are not going to take thee away?" shecried. At that time there was no rigid sequestration on the islandsand lepersif they chosewere allowed to go free. "I shall go up into themountain" said Strickland. Then Ata stood up and faced him. "Let theothers go if they choosebut I will not leave thee. Thou art my man and I amthy woman. If thou leavest me I shall hang myself on the tree that is behind thehouse. I swear it by God." There was something immensely forcible in theway she spoke. She was no longer the meeksoft native girlbut a determinedwoman. She was extraordinarily transformed. "Why shouldst thou stay withme? Thou canst go back to Papeeteand thou wilt soon find another white man.The old woman can take care of thy childrenand Tiare will be glad to have theeback." "Thou art my man and I am thy woman. Whither thou goest I willgotoo." For a moment Strickland's fortitude was shakenand a tear filledeach of his eyes and trickled slowly down his cheeks. Then he gave the sardonicsmile which was usual with him. "Women are strange little beasts" hesaid to Dr. Coutras. "You can treat them like dogsyou can beat them tillyour arm achesand still they love you." He shrugged his shoulders."Of courseit is one of the most absurd illusions of Christianity thatthey have souls." "What is it that thou art saying to thedoctor?" asked Ata suspiciously. "Thou wilt not go?" "If itplease thee I will staypoor child." Ata flung herself on her knees beforehimand clasped his legs with her arms and kissed them. Strickland looked atDr. Coutras with a faint smile.
In the end they get youand you are helpless in their hands. White or brownthey are all the same." Dr. Coutras felt that it was absurd to offerexpressions of regret in so terrible a disasterand he took his leave.Strickland told Tanethe boyto lead him to the village. Dr. Coutras pausedfor a momentand then he addressed himself to me. "I did not like himIhave told you he was not sympathetic to mebut as I walked slowly down toTaravao I could not prevent an unwilling admiration for the stoical couragewhich enabled him to bear perhaps the most dreadful of human afflictions. WhenTane left me I told him I would send some medicine that might be of service; butmy hope was small that Strickland would consent to take itand even smallerthatif he didit would do him good. I gave the boy a message for Ata that Iwould come whenever she sent for me. Life is hardand Nature takes sometimes aterrible delight in torturing her children. It was with a heavy heart that Idrove back to my comfortable home in Papeete." For a long time none of usspoke. "But Ata did not send for me" the doctor went onat last"and it chanced that I did not go to that part of the island for a longtime. I had no news of Strickland. Once or twice I heard that Ata had been toPapeete to buy painting materialsbut I did not happen to see her. More thantwo years passed before I went to Taravao againand then it was once more tosee the old chiefess. I asked them whether they had heard anything ofStrickland. By now it was known everywhere that he had leprosy. First Tanetheboyhad left the houseand thena little time afterwardsthe old woman andher grandchild. Strickland and Ata were left alone with their babies. No onewent near the plantationforas you knowthe natives have a very livelyhorror of the diseaseand in the old days when it was discovered the suffererwas killed; but sometimeswhen the village boys were scrambling about thehillsthey would catch sight of the white manwith his great red beardwandering about. They fled in terror. Sometimes Ata would come down to thevillage at night and arouse the traderso that he might sell her various thingsof which she stood in need. She knew that the natives looked upon her with thesame horrified aversion as they looked upon Stricklandand she kept out oftheir way. Once some womenventuring nearer than usual to the plantationsawher washing clothes in the brookand they threw stones at her. After that thetrader was told to give her the message that if she used the brook again menwould come and burn down her house." "Brutes" I said. "men are always the same. Fear makes them cruel.... I decided to see Stricklandand when I had finished with the chiefess asked for a boy to show me the way.But none would accompany meand I was forced to find it alone." When Dr.Coutras arrived at the plantation he was seized with a feeling of uneasiness.Though he was hot from walkinghe shivered. There was something hostile in theair which made him hesitateand he felt that invisible forces barred his way.Unseen hands seemed to draw him back. No one would go near now to gather thecocoa-nutsand they lay rotting on the ground. Everywhere was desolation. Thebush was encroachingand it looked as though very soon the primeval forestwould regain possession of that strip of land which had been snatched from it atthe cost of so much labour. He had the sensation that here was the abode ofpain. As he approached the house he was struck by the unearthly silenceand atfirst he thought it was deserted. Then he saw Ata. She was sitting on herhaunches in the lean-to that served her as kitchenwatching some mess cookingin a pot. Near her a small boy was playing silently in the dirt. She did notsmile when she saw him. "I have come to see Strickland" he said."I will go and tell him." She went to the houseascended the fewsteps that led to the verandahand entered. Dr. Coutras followed herbutwaited outside in obedience to her gesture. As she opened the door he smelt thesickly sweet smell which makes the neighbourhood of the leper nauseous. He heardher speakand then he heard Strickland's answerbut he did not recognise thevoice. It had become hoarse and indistinct. Dr. Coutras raised his eyebrows. Hejudged that the disease had already attacked the vocal chords. Then Ata came outagain. "He will not see you. You must go away." Dr. Coutras insistedbut she would not let him pass. Dr. Coutras shrugged his shouldersand after amoment's rejection turned away. She walked with him. He felt that she too wantedto be rid of him. "Is there nothing I can do at all?" he asked."You can send him some paints" she said. "There is nothing elsehe wants." "Can he paint still?" "He is painting the wallsof the house." "This is a terrible life for youmy poor child."Then at last she smiledand there was in her eyes a look of superhuman love.Dr. Coutras was startled by itand amazed. And he was awed. He found nothing tosay. "He is my man" she said. "Where is your other child?"he asked. "When I was here last you had two." "Yes; it died. Weburied it under the mango." When Ata had gone with him a little way shesaid she must turn back. Dr. Coutras surmised she was afraid to go farther incase she met any of the people from the village. He told her again that if shewanted him she had only to send and he would come at once. Chapter LVI Then twoyears more went byor perhaps threefor time passes imperceptibly in Tahitiand it is hard to keep count of it; but at last a message was brought to Dr.Coutras that Strickland was dying. Ata had waylaid the cart that took the mailinto Papeeteand besought the man who drove it to go at once to the doctor. Butthe doctor was out when the summons cameand it was evening when he receivedit. It was impossible to start at so late an hourand so it was not till nextday soon after dawn that he set out. He arrived at Taravaoand for the lasttime tramped the seven kilometres that led to Ata's house. The path wasovergrownand it was clear that for years now it had remained all butuntrodden. It was not easy to find the way. Sometimes he had to stumble alongthe bed of the streamand sometimes he had to push through shrubsdense andthorny; often he was obliged to climb over rocks in order to avoid thehornet-nests that hung on the trees over his head. The silence was intense. Itwas with a sigh of relief that at last he came upon the little unpainted houseextraordinarily bedraggled nowand unkempt; but here too was the sameintolerable silence. He walked upand a little boyplaying unconcernedly inthe sunshinestarted at his approach and fled quickly away: to him the strangerwas the enemy. Dr. Coutras had a sense that the child was stealthily watchinghim from behind a tree. The door was wide open. He called outbut no oneanswered. He stepped in. He knocked at a doorbut again there was no answer. Heturned the handle and entered. The stench that assailed him turned him horriblysick. He put his handkerchief to his nose and forced himself to go in. The lightwas dimand after the brilliant sunshine for a while he could see nothing. Thenhe gave a start. He could not make out where he was. He seemed on a sudden tohave entered a magic world. He had a vague impression of a great primeval forestand of naked people walking beneath the trees. Then he saw that there werepaintings on the walls. "I hope the sun hasn't affected me" hemuttered. A slight movement attracted his attentionand he saw that Ata waslying on the floorsobbing quietly. "Ata" he called."Ata." She took no notice. Again the beastly stench almost made himfaintand he lit a cheroot. His eyes grew accustomed to the darknessand nowhe was seized by an overwhelming sensation as he stared at the painted walls. Heknew nothing of picturesbut there was something about these thatextraordinarily affected him. From floor to ceiling the walls were covered witha strange and elaborate composition. It was indescribably wonderful andmysterious. It took his breath away. It filled him with an emotion which hecould not understand or analyse. He felt the awe and the delight which a manmight feel who watched the beginning of a world. It was tremendoussensualpassionate; and yet there was something horrible theretoosomething whichmade him afraid. It was the work of a man who had delved into the hidden depthsof nature and had discovered secrets which were beautiful and fearful too. Itwas the work of a man who knew things which it is unholy for men to know. Therewas something primeval there and terrible. It was not human. It brought to hismind vague recollections of black magic. It was beautiful and obscene. "this is genius." The words were wrung from himand he did not know he hadspoken. Then his eyes fell on the bed of mats in the cornerand he went upandhe saw the dreadfulmutilatedghastly object which had been Strickland. He wasdead. Dr. Coutras made an effort of will and bent over that battered horror.Then he started violentlyand terror blazed in his heartfor he felt thatsomeone was behind him. It was Ata. He had not heard her get up. She wasstanding at his elbowlooking at what he looked at. "Good Heavensmynerves are all distraught" he said. "You nearly frightened me out ofmy wits." He looked again at the poor dead thing that had been manandthen he started back in dismay. "But he was blind." "Yes; he hadbeen blind for nearly a year." Chapter LVII At that moment we wereinterrupted by the appearance of Madame Coutraswho had been paying visits. Shecame inlike a ship in full sailan imposing creaturetall and stoutwith anample bust and an obesity girthed in alarmingly by straight-fronted corsets. Shehad a bold hooked nose and three chins. She held herself upright. She had notyielded for an instant to the enervating charm of the tropicsbut contrariwisewas more activemore worldlymore decided than anyone in a temperate climewould have thought it possible to be. She was evidently a copious talkerandnow poured forth a breathless stream of anecdote and comment. She made theconversation we had just had seem far away and unreal. Presently Dr. Coutrasturned to me. "I still have in my the picture that Strickland gaveme" he said. "Would you like to see it?" "Willingly."
We got upand he led me on to the verandah which surrounded his house. Wepaused to look at the gay flowers that rioted in his garden. "For a longtime I could not get out of my head the recollection of the extraordinarydecoration with which Strickland had covered the walls of his house" hesaid reflectively. I had been thinking of ittoo. It seemed to me that hereStrickland had finally put the whole expression of himself. Working silentlyknowing that it was his last chanceI fancied that here he must have said allthat he knew of life and all that he divined. And I fancied that perhaps here hehad at last found peace. The demon which possessed him was exorcised at lastand with the completion of the workfor which all his life had been a painfulpreparationrest descended on his remote and tortured soul. He was willing todiefor he had fulfilled his purpose. "What was the subject?" Iasked. "I scarcely know. It was strange and fantastic. It was a vision ofthe beginnings of the worldthe Garden of Edenwith Adam and Eve- - it was ahymn to the beauty of the human formmale and femaleand the praise of Naturesublimeindifferentlovelyand cruel. It gave you an awful sense of theinfinity of space and of the endlessness of time. Because he painted the trees Isee about me every daythe cocoa-nutsthe banyansthe flamboyantsthealligator-pearsI have seen them ever since differentlyas though there werein them a spirit and a mystery which I am ever on the point of seizing and whichforever escapes me. The colours were the colours familiar to meand yet theywere different. They had a significance which was all their own. And those nudemen and women. They were of the earthand yet apart from it. They seemed topossess something of the clay of which they were createdand at the same timesomething divine. You saw man in the nakedness of his primeval instinctsandyou were afraidfor you saw yourself." Dr. Coutras shrugged his shouldersand smiled. "You will laugh at me. I am a materialistand I am a grossfat man- Falstaffeh?- the lyrical mode does not become me. I make myselfridiculous. But I have never seen painting which made so deep an impression uponme.I had just the same feeling as when I went to the Sistine Chapel in Rome.There too I was awed by the greatness of the man who had painted that ceiling.It was geniusand it was stupendous and overwhelming. I felt small andinsignificant. But you are prepared for the greatness of Michael Angelo. Nothinghad prepared me for the immense surprise of these pictures in a native hutfaraway from civilisationin a fold of the mountain above Taravao. And MichaelAngelo is sane and healthy. Those great works of his have the calm of thesublime; but herenotwithstanding beautywas something troubling. I do notknow what it was. It made me uneasy. It gave me the impression you get when youare sitting next door to a room that you know is emptybut in whichyou knownot whyyou have a dreadful consciousness that notwithstanding there issomeone. You scold yourself; you know it is only your nerves- and yetandyet... In a little while it is impossible to resist the terror that seizes youand you are helpless in the clutch of an unseen horror. Yes; I confess I was notaltogether sorry when I heard that those strange masterpieces had beendestroyed." "Destroyed?" I cried. "; did you not know?""How should I know? It is true I had never heard of this work; but Ithought perhaps it had fallen into the hands of a private owner. Even now thereis no certain list of Strickland's paintings." "When he grew blind hewould sit hour after hour in those two rooms that he had paintedlooking at hisworks with sightless eyesand seeingperhapsmore than he had ever seen inhis life before. Ata told me that he never complained of his fatehe never lostcourage. To the end his mind remained serene and undisturbed. But he made herpromise that when she had buried him- did I tell you that I dug his grave withmy own handsfor none of the natives would approach the infected houseand weburied himshe and Isewn up in three joined togetherunder the mango-tree-he made her promise that she would set fire to the house and not leave it tillit was burned to the ground and not a stick remained." I did not speak fora whilefor I was thinking. Then I said: "He remained the same to the endthen." "Do you understand? I must tell you that I thought it my dutyto dissuade her." "Even after what you have just said?""Yes; for I knew that here was a work of geniusand I did not think we hadthe right to deprive the world of it. But Ata would not listen to me. She hadpromised. I would not stay to witness the barbarous deedand it was onlyafterwards that I heard what she had done. She poured paraffin on the dry floorsand on the pandanus-matsand then she set fire. In a little while nothingremained but smouldering embersand a great masterpiece existed no longer."I think Strickland knew it was a masterpiece. He had achieved what hewanted. His life was complete. He had made a world and saw that it was good.Thenin pride and contempthe destroyedit." "But I must show youmy picture" said Dr. Coutrasmoving on. "What happened to Ata andthe child?" They went to the Marquesas. She had relations there. I haveheard that the boy works on one of Cameron's schooners. They say he is very likehis father in appearance."
At the door that led from the verandah to the doctor's consulting-roomhepaused and smiled. "It is a fruit-piece. You would think it not a verysuitable picture for a doctor's consulting-roombut my wife will not have it inthe drawing-room. She says it is frankly obscene." "Afruit-piece!" I exclaimed in surprise. We entered the roomand my eyesfell at once on the picture. I looked at it for a long time. It was a pile ofmangoesbananasorangesand I know not what. And at first sight it was aninnocent picture enough. It would have been passed in an exhibition of the Post-Impressionists by a careless person as an excellent but not very remarkableexample of the school; but perhaps afterwards it would come back to hisrecollectionand he would wonder why. I do not think then he could everentirely forget it. The colours were so strange that words can hardly tell whata troubling emotion they gave. They were sombre bluesopaque like a delicatelycarved bowl in lapis lazuliand yet with a quivering lustre that suggested thepalpitation of mysterious life; there were purpleshorrible like raw and putridfleshand yet with a glowingsensual passion that called up vague memories ofthe Roman Empire of Heliogabalus; there were redsshrill like the berries ofholly- one thought of Christmas in Englandand the snowthe good cheerandthe pleasure of children- and yet by some magic softened till they had theswooning tenderness of a dove's breast; there were deep yellows that died withan unnatural passion into a green as fragrant as the spring and as pure as thesparkling water of a mountain brook. Who can tell what anguished fancy madethese fruits? They belonged to a Polynesian garden of the Hesperides. There wassomething strangely alive in themas though they were created in a stage of theearth's dark history when things were not irrevocably fixed to their forms. Theywere extravagantly luxurious. They were heavy with tropical odours. They seemedto possess a sombre passion of their own. It was enchanted fruitto taste whichmight open the gateway to God knows what secrets of the soul and to mysteriouspalaces of the imagination. They were sullen with unawaited dangersand to eatthem might turn a man to beast or god. All that was healthy and naturalallthat clung to happy relationships and the simple joys of simple menshrunk fromthem in dismay; and yet a fearful attraction was in themandlike the fruit onthe Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they were terrible with thepossibilities of the Unknown. At last I turned away. I felt that Strickland hadkept his secret to the grave. "" came the loudcheerful voice ofMadame Coutras"what are you doing all this time? Here are the . Ask if hewill not drink a little glass of Quinquina Dubonnet." "Madame"I saidgoing out on to the verandah. The spell was broken. Chapter LVIII Thetime came for my departure from Tahiti. According to the gracious custom of theislandpresents were given me by the persons with whom I had been thrown incontact- baskets made of the leaves of the cocoa-nut treemats of pandanusfans; and Tiare gave me three little pearls and three jars of guava-jelly madewith her own plump hands. When the mail-boatstopping for twenty-four hours onits way from Wellington to San Franciscoblew the whistle that warned thepassengers to get on boardTiare clasped me to her vast bosomso that I seemedto sink into a billowy seaand pressed her red lips to mine. Tears glistened inher eyes. And when we steamed slowly out of the lagoonmaking our way gingerlythrough the opening in the reefand then steered for the open seaa certainmelancholy fell upon me. The breeze was laden still with the pleasant odours ofthe land. Tahiti is very far awayand I knew that I should never see it again.A chapter of my life was closedand I felt a little nearer to inevitable death.Not much more than a month later I was in London; and after I had arrangedcertain matters which claimed my immediate attentionthinking Mrs. Stricklandmight like to hear what I knew of her husband's last yearsI wrote to her. Ihad not seen her since long before the warand I had to look out her address inthe telephone-book. She made an appointmentand I went to the trim little houseon Campden Hill which she now inhabited. She was by this time a woman of hard onsixtybut she bore her years welland no one would have taken her for morethan fifty. Her facethin and not much linedwas of the sort that agesgracefullyso that you thought in youth she must have been a much handsomerwoman than in fact she was. Her hairnot yet very graywas becominglyarrangedand her black gown was modish. I remembered having heard that hersisterMrs. MacAndrewoutliving her husband but a couple of yearshad leftmoney to Mrs. Strickland; and by the look of the house and the trim maid whoopened the door I judged that it was a sum adequate to keep the widow in modestcomfort. When I was ushered into the drawing-room I found that Mrs. Stricklandhad a visitorand when I discovered who he wasI guessed that I had been askedto come at just that time not without intention. The caller was Mr. Van BuscheTayloran Americanand Mrs. Strickland gave me particulars with a charmingsmile of apology to him. "You knowwe English are so dreadfully ignorant.You must forgive me if it's necessary to explain." Then she turned to me."Mr. Van Busche Taylor is the distinguished American critic. If you haven'tread his book your education has been shamefully neglectedand you must repairthe omission at once. He's writing something about dear Charlieand he's cometo ask me if I can help him." Mr. Van Busche Taylor was a very thin manwith a largebald headbony and shining; and under the great dome of his skullhis faceyellowwith deep lines in itlooked very small. He was quiet andexceedingly polite. He spoke with the accent of New Englandand there was abouthis demeanour a bloodless frigidity which made me ask myself why on earth he wasbusying himself with Charles Strickland. I had been slightly tickled at thegentleness which Mrs. Strickland put into her mention of her husband's nameandwhile the pair conversed I took stock of the room in which we sat. Mrs.Strickland had moved with the times. Gone were the Morris papers and gone thesevere cretonnesgone were the Arundel prints that had adorned the walls of herdrawingroom in Ashley Gardens; the room blazed with fantastic colourand Iwondered if she knew that those varied hueswhich fashion had imposed upon herwere due to the dreams of a poor painter in a South Sea island. She gave me theanswer herself. "What wonderful cushions you have" said Mr. VanBusche Taylor. "Do you like them?" she saidsmiling. "Bakstyouknow." And yet on the walls were coloured reproductions of several ofStrickland's best picturesdue to the enterprise of a publisher in Berlin."You're looking at my pictures" she saidfollowing my eyes. "Ofcoursethe originals are out of my reachbut it's a comfort to have these. Thepublisher sent them to me himself. They're a great consolation to me.""They must be very pleasant to live with" said Mr. Van Busche Taylor."Yes; they're so essentially decorative." "That is one of myprofoundest convictions" said Mr. Van Busche Taylor. "Great art isalways decorative." Their eyes rested on a nude woman suckling a babywhile a girl was kneeling by their side holding out a flower to the indifferentchild. Looking over them was a wrinkledscraggy hag. It was Strickland'sversion of the Holy Family. I suspected that for the figures had sat hishousehold above Taravaoand the woman and the baby were Ata and his first son.I asked myself if Mrs. Strickland had any inkling of the facts. The conversationproceededand I marvelled at the tact with which Mr. Van Busche Taylor avoidedall subjects that might have been in the least embarrassingand at theingenuity with which Mrs. Stricklandwithout saying a word that was untrueinsinuated that her relations with her husband had always been perfect. At lastMr. Van Busche Taylor rose to go. Holding his hostess' handhe made her agracefulthough perhaps too elaboratespeech of thanksand left us. "Ihope he didn't bore you" she saidwhen the door closed behind him."Of course it's a nuisance sometimesbut I feel it's only right to givepeople any information I can about Charlie. There's a certain responsibilityabout having been the wife of a genius." She looked at me with thosepleasant eyes of herswhich had remained as candid and as sympathetic as theyhad been more than twenty years before. I wondered if she was making a fool ofme. "Of course you've given up your business" I said. "Ohyes" she answered airily. "I ran it more by way of a hobby than forany other reasonand my children persuaded me to sell it. They thought I wasovertaxing my strength." I saw that Mrs. Strickland had forgotten that shehad ever done anything so disgraceful as to work for her living. She had thetrue instinct of the nice woman that it is only really decent for her to live onother people's money. "They're here now" she said. "I thoughtthey'dlike to hear what you had to say about their father. You rememberRobertdon't you? I'm glad to say he's been recommended for the MilitaryCross." She went to the door and called them. There entered a tall man inkhakiwith the parson's collarhandsome in a somewhat heavy fashionbut withthe frank eyes that I remembered in him as a boy. He was followed by his sister.She must have been the same age as was her mother when first I knew herand shewas very like her. She too gave one the impression that as a girl she must havebeen prettier than indeed she was. "I suppose you don't remember them inthe least" said Mrs. Stricklandproud and smiling. "My daughter isnow Mrs. Ronaldson. Her husband's a Major in the Gunners." "He's byway of being a pukka soldieryou know" said Mrs. Ronaldson gaily."That's why he's only a Major." I remembered my anticipation long agothat she would marry a soldier. It was inevitable. She had all the graces of thesoldier's wife. She was civil and affablebut she could hardly conceal herintimate conviction that she was not quite as others were. Robert was breezy."It's a bit of luck that I should be in London when you turned up" hesaid. "I've only got three days' leave." "He's dying to getback" said his mother. "WellI don't mind confessing itI have arattling good time at the front. I've made a lot of good pals. It's a first-ratelife. Of course war's terribleand all that sort of thing; but it does bringout the best qualities in a manthere's no denying that." Then I told themwhat I had learned about Charles Strickland in Tahiti. I thought it unnecessaryto say anything of Ata and her boybut for the rest I was as accurate as Icould be.
When I had narrated his lamentable death I ceased. For a minute or two wewere all silent. Then Robert Strickland struck a match and lit a cigarette."The mills of God grind slowlybut they grind exceeding small" hesaidsomewhat impressively. Mrs. Strickland and Mrs. Ronaldson looked down witha slightly pious expression which indicatedI felt surethat they thought thequotation was from Holy Writ. IndeedI was unconvinced that Robert Stricklanddid not share their illusion. I do not know why I suddenly thought ofStrickland's son by Ata. They had told me he was a merrylight-hearted youth. Isaw himwith my mind's eyeon the schooner on which he workedwearing nothingbut a pair of dungarees; and at nightwhen the boat sailed along easily beforea light breezeand the sailors were gathered on the upper deckwhile thecaptain and the supercargo lolled in deck-chairssmoking their pipesI saw himdance with another laddance wildlyto the wheezy music of the concertina.Above was the blue skyand the starsand all about the desert of the PacificOcean. A quotation from the Bible came to my lipsbut I held my tonguefor Iknow that clergymen think it a little blasphemous when the laity poach upontheir preserves. My Uncle Henryfor twenty-seven years Vicar of Whitstablewason these occasions in the habit of saying that the devil could always quotescripture to his purpose. He remembered the days when you could get thirteenRoyal Natives for a shilling.