Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson

Part II

O viva morte, e dilettoso male!

PETRARCH.

I.

The following morning, towards twelve o’clock, a note from Madeleine was handed to Maurice. In it, she begged him to account to Schwarz for her absence from the rehearsal of a trio, which was to have taken place at two.

GO AND EXPLAIN THAT IT IS QUITE IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO COME, she wrote. LOUISE IS VERY ILL; THE DOCTOR IS AFRAID OF BRAIN FEVER. I AM RUSHING, OFF THIS MOMENT TO SEE ABOUT A NURSE— AND SHALL STAY TILL ONE COMES.

He read the words mechanically, without taking in their meaning. From the paper, his eyes roved round the room; he saw the tumbled, unopened bed, from which he had just risen, the traces of his boots on the coverings. He could not remember how he had come there; his last recollection was of being turned out of Krafft’s room, in what seemed to be still the middle of the night. Since getting home, he must have slept a dead sleep.

“Ill? Brain fever?” he repeated to himself, and his mind strove to pierce the significance of the words. What had happened? Why should she be ill? A racking uneasiness seized him and would not let him rest. His inclination was to lay his aching head on the pillow again; but this was out of the question; and so, though he seldom braved Frau Krause, he now boldly went to her with a request to warm up his coffee.

When he had drunk it, and bathed his head, he felt considerably better. But he still could not call to mind what had occurred. The previous evening was blurred in its details; he only had a sense of oppression when he thought of it, as of something that had threatened, and still did. He was glad to have a definite task before him, and went out at once, in order to catch Schwarz before he left the Conservatorium; but it was too late; the master’s door was locked. It was a bright, cold day with strong sunlight; Maurice’s eyes ached, and he shrank from the wind at every corner. Instead of going home, he went to Madeleine’s room and sat down to wait for her. She had evidently been away since early morning; the piano was dusty and unopened; the blind at the head of it had not been drawn up. It was a pleasant dusk; he put his arms on the table, his head on his arms, and, in spite of his anxiety, fell into a sound sleep.

He was wakened by Madeleine’s entrance. It was three o’clock. She came bustling in, took off her hat, laid it on the piano, and at once drew up the blind. She was not surprised. to find him there, but exclaimed at his appearance.

“Good gracious, Maurice, how dreadful you look! Are you ill?”

He hastened to reassure her, and she was a little put out at her wasted sympathy.

“Well, no wonder, I’m sure, after the doings there were last night. A pretty way to behave! And that you should have mixed yourself up in it as you did! — I wouldn’t have believed it of you. How I know? My dear boy, it’s the talk of the place.”

Her words called up to him a more lucid remembrance of the past evening than he had yet been capable of. In his eagerness to recollect everything, he changed colour and looked away. Madeleine put his confusion down to another cause.

“Never mind, it’s over now, and we won’t say any more about it. Sit still, and I’ll make you some tea. That will do your head good — for you have a splitting headache, haven’t you? I shall be glad of some myself, too, after all the running about I’ve had this morning. I’m quite worn out.”

When she heard that he had had no dinner, she sent for bread and sausage, and was so busy and unsettled that only when she sat down, with her cup before her, did he get a chance to say: “What is it, Madeleine? Is she very ill?”

Madeleine shrugged her shoulders. “Yes, she is ill enough. It’s not easy to say what the matter is, though. The doctor is to see her again this evening. And I found a nurse.”

“Then she is not going away?” He did not mean to say the words aloud; they escaped him against his will.

His companion raised her eyebrows, filling her forehead with wrinkles. “Going away?” she echoed. “I should say not. My dear Maurice, what is more, it turns out she hadn’t an idea he was going either. What do you say to that?” She flushed with sincere indignation. “Not an idea — until yesterday. My lord had the intention of sneaking off without a word, and of leaving her to find it out for herself. Oh, it’s an abominable affair altogether! — and has been from beginning to end. There’s much about Louise, as you know, that I don’t approve of, and I think she has behaved weakly — not to call it by a harder name — all through. But now, she has my entire sympathy. The poor girl is in a pitiable state.”

“Is she . . . dangerously ill?”

“Well, I don’t think she’ll die of it, exactly — though it might be better for her if she did. NA! . . . let me fill up your cup. And eat something more. Oh, he is . . . no words are bad enough for him; though honestly speaking, I think we might have been prepared for something of this kind, all along. It seems he made his arrangements for going on the quiet. Frau Schaefele advanced him the money; for of course he has nothing of his own. But what condition do you think the old wretch made? That he should break with Louise. Furst has told me all about it. I went to him at once this morning. She was always jealous of Louise — though to him she only talked of the holiness of art and the artist’s calling, and the danger of letting domestic ties entangle you, and rubbish of that kind. I believe she was at the bottom of it that he didn’t marry Louise long ago. Well, however that may be, he now let himself be persuaded easily enough. He was hearing on all sides that he had been here too long; and candidly, I think he was beginning to feel Louise a drag on him. I know of late they were not getting on well together. But to be such a coward and a weakling! To slink off in this fashion! Of course, when it came to the last, he was simply afraid of her, and of the scene she would make him. Bravery has as little room in his soul as honesty or manliness. He would always prefer a back-door exit. Such things excite a man, don’t you know? — and ruffle the necessary artistic composure.” She laughed scornfully. “However, I’m glad to say, he didn’t escape scot-free after all. Everything went well till yesterday afternoon, when Louise, who was as unsuspecting as a child, heard of it from some one — they say it was Krafft. Without thinking twice — you know her . . . or rather you don’t — she went straight to Schilsky and confronted him. I can’t tell you what took place between them, but I can imagine something of it, for when Louise lets herself go, she knows no bounds, and this was a matter of life and death to her.”

Madeleine rose, blew out the flame of the spirit-lamp, and refilled the teapot.

“Fraulein Grunhut, her landlady, heard her go out yesterday afternoon, but didn’t hear her come in, so it must have been late in the evening. Louise hates to be pried on, and the old woman is lazy, so she didn’t go to her room till about half-past eight this morning, when she took in the hot water. Then she found Louise stretched on the floor, just as she had come in last night, her hat lying beside her. She was conscious, and her eyes were open, but she was stiff and cold, and wouldn’t speak or move. Grunhut couldn’t do anything with her, and was mortally afraid. She sent for me; and between us we got her to bed, and I went for a doctor. That was at nine, and I have been on my feet ever since.”

“It’s awfully good of you.”

“No, she won’t die,” continued Madeleine meditatively, stirring her tea. “She’s too robust a nature for that. But I shouldn’t wonder if it affected her mind. As I say, she knows no bounds, and has never learnt self-restraint. It has always been all or nothing with her. And this I must say: however foolish and wrong the whole thing was, she was devoted to Schilsky, and sacrificed everything — work, money and friends — to her infatuation. She lived only for him, and this is a moral judgment on her. Excess of any kind brings its own punishment with it.”

She rose and smoothed her hair before the mirror.

“And now I really must get to work, and make up for the lost morning. I haven’t touched a note to-day. As for you, Maurice, if you take my advice, you’ll go home and go to bed. A good sleep is what you’re needing. Come to-morrow, if you like, for further news. I shall go back after supper, and hear what the doctor says. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye, Madeleine. You’re a brick.”

Having returned to his room, he lay face downwards on the sofa. He was sick at heart. Viewed in the light of the story he had heard from Madeleine, life seemed too unjust to be endured. It propounded riddles no one could answer; the vast output of energy that composed it, was misdirected; on every side was cruelty and suffering. Only the heartless and selfish — those who deserved to suffer — went free.

He pressed the back of his hand to his tired eyes; and, despite her good deeds, he felt a sudden antipathy to Madeleine, who, on a day like this, could take up her ordinary occupation.

In the morning, on awakening from a heavy sleep, he was seized by a fear lest Louise should have died in the night. Through brooding on it, the fear became a certainty, and he went early to Madeleine, making a detour through the BRUDERSTRASSE, where his suspicions were confirmed by the lowered blinds. He had almost two hours to wait; it was eleven o’clock before Madeleine returned. Her face was so grave that his heart seemed to stop beating. But there was no change in the sick girl’s condition; the doctor was perplexed, and spoke of a consultation. Madeleine was returning at two o’clock to relieve the nurse.

“You are foolishly letting it upset you altogether,” she reproved Maurice. “And it won’t mend matters in the least. Go home and settle down to work, like a sensible fellow.”

He tried to follow Madeleine’s advice. But it was of no use; when he had struggled on for half an hour, he sprang up, realising how monstrous it was that he should be sitting there, drilling his fingers, getting the right notes of a turn, the specific shade of a crescendo, when, not very far away, Louise perhaps lay dying. Again he felt keenly the contrariness of life; and all the labour which those around him were expending on the cult of hand and voice and car, seemed of a ludicrous vanity compared with the grim little tragedy that touched him so nearly; and in this mood he remained, throughout the days of suspense that now ensued.

He went regularly every afternoon to Madeleine, and, if she were not at home, waited till she returned, an hour, two hours, as the case might be. This was the vital moment of the day — when he read her tidings from her face.

At first they were always the same: there was no change. Fever did not set in, but, day and night, Louise lay with wide, strained eyes; she refused nourishment, and the strongest sleeping-draught had no effect. Then, early one morning, for some trifling cause which, afterwards, no one could recall, she broke into a convulsive fit of weeping, went on till she was exhausted, and subsequently fell asleep.

On the day Maurice learnt that she was out of danger, he walked deep into the woods. The news had lifted such a load from his mind that he felt almost happy. But before he reached home again, his brain had begun to work at matters which, during the period of anxiety, it had left untouched. At first, in desperation, he had been selfless enough to hope that Schilsky would return, on learning what had happened. Now, however, that he had not done so, and Louise had passed safely through the ordeal, Maurice was ready to tremble lest anything should occur to soil the robe of saintly suffering, in which he draped her.

He began to take up the steady routine of his life again. Furst received him with open arms, and no allusion was made to the night in the BRUHL. With the cessation of his anxiety, a feeling of benevolence towards other people awakened in him, and when, one afternoon, Schwarz asked the assembled class if no one knew what had become of Krafft, whether he was ill, or anything of the kind, it was Maurice who volunteered to find out. He remembered now that he had not seen Krafft at the Conservatorium for a week or more.

Frau Schulz looked astonished to see him, and, holding the door in her hand, made no mien to let him enter. Herr Krafft was away, she said gruffly, had been gone for about a week, she did not know where or why. He had left suddenly one morning, without her knowledge, and the following day a postcard had come from him, stating that all his things were to lie untouched till his return.

“He was so queer lately that I’d he just as pleased if he stayed away altogether,” she said. “That’s all I can tell you. Maybe you’d get something more out of her. She knows more than she says, anyhow,” and she pointed with her thumb at the door of the adjoining PENSION.

Maurice rang there, and a dirty maid-servant showed him Avery’s room. At his knock, she opened the door herself, and first looked surprised, then alarmed at seeing him.

“What’s the matter? Has anything happened?” she stammered, like one on the look-out for bad news.

“Then what do you want?” she asked in her short, unpleasant way, when he had reassured her.

“I came up to see Heinz. And they tell me he is not here; and Frau Schulz sent me to you. Schwarz was asking for him. Is it true that he has gone away?”

“Yes, it’s true.”

“Where to? Will he be away long?”

“How should I know?” she cried rudely. “Am I his keeper? Find out for yourself, if you must know,” and the door slammed to in his face.

He mentioned the incident to Madeleine that evening. She looked strangely at him, he thought, and abruptly changed the subject. A day or two later, on the strength of a rumour that reached his ears, he tackled Furst, and the latter, who, up to this time, had been of a praiseworthy reticence, let fall a hint which made Maurice look blank with amazement. Nevertheless, he could not now avoid seeing certain incidents in his friendship with Krafft, under a different aspect.

About a fortnight had elapsed since the beginning of Louise’s illness; she was still obliged to keep her bed. More than once, of late, Madeleine had returned from her daily visit, decidedly out of temper.

“Louise rubs me up the wrong way,” she complained to Maurice. “And she isn’t in the least grateful for all I’ve done for her. I really think she prefers having the nurse about her to me.”

“Sick people often have such fancies,” he consoled her.

“Louise shows hers a little too plainly. Besides, we have never got on well for long together.”

But one afternoon, on coming in, she unpinned her hat and threw it on the piano, with a decisive haste that was characteristic of her in anger.

“That’s the end; I don’t go back again. I’m not paid for my services, and am under no obligation to listen to such things as Louise said to me to-day. Enough is enough. She is well on the mend, and must get on now as best she can. I wash my hands of the whole affair.”

“But you’re surely not going to take what a sick person says seriously?” Maurice exclaimed in dismay. “How can she possibly get on with only those strangers about her?”

“She’s not so ill now. She’ll be all right,” answered Madeleine; she had opened a letter that was on the table, and did not look up as she spoke. “There’s a limit to everything — even to my patience with her rudeness.”

And on returning the following day, he found, sure enough, that, true to her word, Madeleine had not gone back. She maintained an obstinate silence about what had happened, and requested that he would now let the matter drop.

The truth was that Madeleine’s conscience was by no means easy.

She had gone to see Louise on that particular afternoon, with even more inconvenience to herself than usual. On admitting her, Fraulein Grunhut had endeavoured to detain her in the passage, mumbling and gesticulating in the mystery-mongering way with which Madeleine had no patience. It incited her to answer the old woman in a loud, clear voice; then, brusquely putting her aside, she opened the door of the sick girl’s room.

As she did so, she utttered an exclamation of surprise. Louise, in a flannel dressing-gown, was standing at the high tiled stove behind the door. Both her arms were upraised and held to it, and she leant her forehead against the tiles.

“Good Heavens, what are you doing out of bed?” cried Madeleine; and, as she looked round the room: “And where is Sister Martha?”

Louise moved her head, so that another spot of forehead came in contact with the tiles, and looked up at Madeleine from under her heavy lids, without replying.

Madeleine laid one by one on the table some small purchases she had made on the way there.

“Well, are you not going to speak to me to-day?” she said in a pleasant voice, as she unbuttoned her jacket. “Or tell me what I ask about the Sister?” There was not a shade of umbrage in her tone.

Louise moved her head again, and looked away from Madeleine to the wall of the room. “I have got up,” she answered, in such a low voice that Madeleine had to pause in what she was doing, to hear her; “because I could not bear to lie in bed any longer. And I’ve sent the Sister away — because . . . oh, because I couldn’t endure having her about me.”

“You have sent Sister Martha away?” echoed Madeleine. “On your own responsibility? Louise! — how absurd! Well, I suppose I must put on my hat again and fetch her back. How can you get on alone, I should like to know? Really, I have no time to come oftener than I do.”

“I’m quite well now. I don’t need anyone.”

“Come, get back into bed, like a good girl, and I will make you some tea,” said Madeleine, in the gently superior tone that one uses to a sick person, to a young child, to anyone with whom it is not fitting to dispute.

Instead, Louise left the stove, and sat down in a low American rocking-chair, where she crouched despondently.

“I wish I had died,” she said in a toneless voice.

Madeleine smiled with exaggerated cheerfulness, and rattled the tea-cups. “Nonsense! You mustn’t talk about dying — now that you are nearly well again. Besides, you know, such things are easily said. One doesn’t mean them.”

“I wish I had died. Why didn’t you let me die?” repeated Louise in the same apathetic way.

Madeleine did not reply; she was cogitating whether it would be more convenient to go after the nurse at once, and what she ought to do if she could not get her to come back. For Louise would certainly have despatched her in tragedy-fashion.

Meanwhile the latter had laid her arms along the low arms of the chair, and now sat gazing from one to the other of her hands. In their way, these hands of hers had acquired a kind of fame, which she had once been vain of. They had been photographed; a sculptor had modelled them for a statue of Antigone — long, slim and strong, with closely knit fingers, and pale, deep-set nails: hands like those of an adoring Virgin; hands which had an eloquent language all their own, but little or no agility, and which were out of place on the keys of a piano. Louise sat looking at them, and her face was so changed — the hollow setting of the eyes reminded perpetually of the bones beneath; the lines were hammered black below the eyes; nostrils and lips were pinched and thinned — that Madeleine, secretly observing her, remarked to herself that Louise looked at least ten years older than before. Her youth, and, with it, such freshness as she had once had, were gone from her.

“Here is your tea.”

The girl drank it slowly, as if swallowing were an effort, while Madeleine went round the room, touching and ordering, and opening a window. This done, she looked at her watch.

“I will go now,” she said, “and see if I can persuade Sister Martha to come back. If you haven’t mortally offended her, that is.”

Louise started up from her chair, and put her cup, only half emptied, on the table.

“Madeleine! — please — please, don’t! I can’t have her back again. I am quite well now. There was nothing more she could do for me. I shall sleep a thousand times better at night if she is not here. Oh, don’t bring her back again! Her voice cut like a knife, and her hands were so hard.”

She trembled with excitement, and was on the brink of tears.

“Hush! — don’t excite yourself like that,” said Madeleine, and tried to soothe her. “There’s no need for it. If you are really determined not to have her, then she shall not come and that’s the end of it. Not but what I think it foolish of you all the same,” she could not refrain from adding. “You are still weak. However, if you prefer it, I’ll do my best to run up this evening to see that you have everything for the night.”

“I don’t want you either.”

Madeleine shrugged her shoulders, and her pity became tinged with impatience.

“The doctor says you must go away somewhere, for a change,” she said as she beat up the pillows and smoothed out the crumpled sheets, preparatory to coaxing her patient back to bed.

Louise shook her head, but did not speak.

“A few weeks’ change of air is what you need to set you up again.”

“I cannot go away.”

“Nonsense! Of course you can. You don’t want to be ill all the winter?”

“I don’t want to be well.”

Madeleine sniffed audibly. “There’s no reasoning with you. When you hear on all sides that it’s for your own good ——”

“Oh, stop tormenting me!” cried Louise, raising a drawn face with disordered hair. “I won’t go away! Nothing will make me. I shall stay here — though I never get well again.”

“But why? Give me one sensible reason for not going. — You can’t!”

“Yes . . . if . . . if Eugen should come back.”

The words could only just be caught. Madeleine stood, holding a sheet with both hands, as though she could not believe her ears.

“Louise!” she said at last, in a tone which meant many things.

Louise began to cry, and was shaken by hard, dry sobs. Madeleine did not look at her again, but went severely on with her bedmaking. When she had finished, she crossed to the washstand, and poured out a glass of water.

Louise took it, humbled and submissive, and gradually her sobs abated. But now Madeleine, in place of getting ready to leave, as she had intended, sat down at the centre table, and revolved what she felt it to be her duty to say. When all sound of crying had ceased, she began to speak, persuasively, in a quiet voice.

“You have brought the matter up yourself, Louise,” she said, “and, now the ice is broken, there are one or two things I should like to say to you. First then, you have been very ill, far worse than you know — the immediate danger is over now, so I can speak of it. But who can tell what may happen if you persist in remaining on here by yourself, in the state you are in?”

Louise did not stir; her face was hidden.

“The reason you give for staying is not a serious one, I hope,” Madeleine proceeded cautiously choosing her words. “After all the . . . the precautions that were taken to ensure the . . . break, it is not all likely . . . he would think of returning. And Louise,” she added with warmth, “even though he did — suppose he did — after the way he has behaved, and his disgraceful treatment of you ——”

Louise looked up for an instant. “That is not true,” she said.

“Not true?” echoed Madeleine. “Well, if you are able to admire his behaviour — if you don’t consider it disgraceful — no, more than that — infamous ——” She stopped, not being able to find a stronger epithet.

“It is not true,” said Louise in the same expressionless voice. But now she lifted her head, and pressed the palms of her hands together.

Madeleine pushed back her chair, as if she were about to rise. “Then I have nothing more to say,” she said; and went on: “If you are ready to defend a man who has acted towards you as he has — in a way that makes a respectable person’s blood boil — there is indeed nothing more to be said.” She reddened with indignation. “As if it were not bad enough for him to go, after all you have done for him, but that he must do it in such a mean, underhand way — it’s enough to make one sick. The only thing to compare with it is his conduct on the night before he left. Do you know, pray, that on the last evening, at a KNEIPE in the GOLDENE HIRSCH, he boasted of what you had done for him — boasted about everything that had happened between you — to a rowdy, tipsy crew? More than that, he gave shameless details, about you going to his room that afternoon ——”

“It’s not true, it’s not true,” repeated Louise, as if she had got these few words by heart. She rose from her chair, and leaned on it, half turning her back to Madeleine, and holding her handkerchief to her lips.

Madeleine shrugged her shoulders. “Do you think I should say it, if it weren’t?” she asked. “I don’t invent scandal. And you are bound to hear it when you go out again. He did this, and worse than I choose to tell you, and if you felt as you ought to about it, you would never give him another thought. He’s not worth it. He’s not worth any respectable person’s ——”

“Respectable!” burst in Louise, and raised two blazing eyes to her companion’s face. “That’s the second time. Why do you come here, Madeleine, and talk like that to me? He did what he was obliged to — that’s all: for I should never have let him go. Can’t you see how preposterous it is to think that by talking of respectability, and unworthiness, you can make me leave off caring for him? — when for months I have lived for nothing else? Do you think one can change one’s feelings so easily? Don’t you understand that to love a person once is to love him always and altogether? — his faults as well — everything he does, good or bad, no matter what other people think of it? Oh, you have never really cared for anyone yourself, or you would know it.”

“It’s not preposterous at all,” retorted Madeleine. “Yes — if he had deserved all the affection you wasted on him, or if unhappy circumstances had separated you. But that’s not the case. He has behaved scandalously, without the least attempt at shielding you. He has made you the talk of the place. And you may consider me narrow and prejudiced, but this I must say — I am boundlessly astonished at you. When he has shown you as plainly as he can that he’s tired of you, that you should still be ready to defend him, and have so little proper pride that you even say you would take him back! ——”

Louise turned on her. “You would never do that, Madeleine, would you? — never so far forget yourself as to crawl to a man’s feet and ask — ask? — no, implore forgiveness, for faults you were not conscious of having committed. You would never beg him to go on loving you, after he had ceased to care, or think nothing on earth worth having if he would not — or could not. As I would; as I have done.” But chancing to look at Madeleine, she grew quieter. “You would never do that, would you?” she repeated. “And do you know why?” Her words came quickly again; her voice shook with excitement. “Because you will never care for anyone more than yourself — it isn’t in you to do it. You will go through life, tight on to the end, without knowing what it is to care for some one — oh, but I mean absolutely, unthinkingly ——”

She broke down, and hid her face again. Madeleine had carried the cups and saucers to a side-table, and now put on her hat.

“And I hope I never shall,” she said, forcing herself to speak calmly. “If I thought it likely, I should never look at a man again.”

But Louise had not finished. Coming round to the front of the rocking-chair, and leaning on the table, she gazed at Madeleine with wild eyes, while her pale lips poured forth a kind of revenge for the suffering, real and imaginary, that she had undergone at the hands of this cooler nature.

“And I’ll tell you why. You are doubly safe; for you will never be able to make a man care so much that — that you are forced to love him like this in return. It isn’t in you to do it. I don’t mean because you’re plain. There are plenty of plainer women than you, who can make men follow them. No, it’s your nature — your cold, narrow, egotistic nature — which only lets you care for things outside yourself in a cold, narrow way. You will never know what it is to be taken out of yourself, taken and shaken, till everything you are familiar with falls away.”

She laughed; but tears were near at hand. Madeleine had turned her back on her, and stood buttoning her jacket, with a red, exasperated face.

“I shall not answer you,” she said. “You have worked yourself into such a state that you don’t know what you’re saying. All the same, I think you might try to curb your tongue. I have done nothing to you — but be kind to you.”

“Kind to me? Do you call it kind to come here and try to set me against the man I love best in the world? And who loves me best, too. Yes; he does. He would never have gone, if he hadn’t been forced to — if I hadn’t been a hindrance to him — a drag on him.”

“It makes me ashamed of my sex to hear you say such things. That a woman can so far lose her pride as to ——”

“Oh, other women do it in other ways. Do you think I haven’t seen how you have been trying to make some one here like you? — doing your utmost, without any thoughts of pride or self-respect. — And how you have failed? Yes, failed. And if you don’t believe me, ask him yourself — ask him who it is that could bring him to her, just by raising her finger. It’s to me he would come, not to you — to me who have never given him look or thought.”

Madeleine paled, then went scarlet. “That’s a direct untruth. You! — and not to egg a man on, if you see he admires you! You know every time a passer-by looks at you in the street. You feed on such looks — yes, and return them, too. I have seen you, my lady, looking and being looked at, by a stranger, in a way no decent woman allows. — For the rest, I’ll trouble you to mind your own business. Whatever I do or don’t do, trust me, I shall at least take care not to make myself the laughing-stock of the place. Yes, you have only succeeded in making yourself ridiculous. For while you were cringing before him, and aspiring to die for his sake, he was making love behind your back to another girl. For the last six months. Every one knew it, it seems, but you.”

She had spoken with unconcealed anger, and now turned to leave the room. But Louise was at the door before her, and spread herself across it.

“That’s a lie, Madeleine! Of your own making. You shall prove it to me before you go out of this room. How dare you say such a thing! — how dare you!”

Madeleine looked at her with cold aversion, and drew back to avoid touching her.

“Prove it?” she echoed. “Are his own words not proof enough! He told the whole story that night, just as he had first told all about you. It had been going on for months. Sometimes, you were hardly out of his room, before the other was in. And if you don’t believe me, ask the person you’re so proud of having attracted, without raising your finger.”

Louise moved away from the door, and went back to the table, on which she leaned heavily. All the blood had left her face and the dark rings below her eyes stood out with alarming distinctness. Madeleine felt a sudden compunction at what she had done.

“It’s entirely your own fault that I told you anything whatever about it,” she said, heartily annoyed with herself. “You had no right to provoke me by saying what you did. I declare, Louise, to be with you makes one just like you. If it’s any consolation to you to know it, he was drunk at the time, and there’s a possibility it may not be true.”

“Go away — go out of my room!” cried Louise. And Madeleine went, without delay, having almost a physical sensation about her throat of the slender hands stretched so threateningly towards her. — And this unpleasant feeling remained with her until she turned the corner of the street.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/richardson/henry_handel/r52mg/chapter15.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33