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The train was half an hour late and the drive from the station longer than he had supposed, so that when he reached the house its inmates had dispersed to dress for dinner and he was conducted straight to his room. The curtains were drawn in this asylum, the candles were lighted, the fire was bright, and when the servant had quickly put out his clothes the comfortable little place became suggestive — seemed to promise a pleasant house, a various party, talks, acquaintances, affinities, to say nothing of very good cheer. He was too occupied with his profession to pay many country visits, but he had heard people who had more time for them speak of establishments where ‘they do you very well.’ He foresaw that the proprietors of Stayes would do him very well. In his bedroom at a country house he always looked first at the books on the shelf and the prints on the walls; he considered that these things gave a sort of measure of the culture and even of the character of his hosts. Though he had but little time to devote to them on this occasion a cursory inspection assured him that if the literature, as usual, was mainly American and humorous the art consisted neither of the water-colour studies of the children nor of ‘goody’ engravings. The walls were adorned with old-fashioned lithographs, principally portraits of country gentlemen with high collars and riding gloves: this suggested — and it was encouraging — that the tradition of portraiture was held in esteem. There was the customary novel of Mr. Le Fanu, for the bedside; the ideal reading in a country house for the hours after midnight. Oliver Lyon could scarcely forbear beginning it while he buttoned his shirt.
Perhaps that is why he not only found every one assembled in the hall when he went down, but perceived from the way the move to dinner was instantly made that they had been waiting for him. There was no delay, to introduce him to a lady, for he went out in a group of unmatched men, without this appendage. The men, straggling behind, sidled and edged as usual at the door of the dining-room, and the dénouement of this little comedy was that he came to his place last of all. This made him think that he was in a sufficiently distinguished company, for if he had been humiliated (which he was not), he could not have consoled himself with the reflection that such a fate was natural to an obscure, struggling young artist. He could no longer think of himself as very young, alas, and if his position was not so brilliant as it ought to be he could no longer justify it by calling it a struggle. He was something of a celebrity and he was apparently in a society of celebrities. This idea added to the curiosity with which he looked up and down the long table as he settled himself in his place.
It was a numerous party — five and twenty people; rather an odd occasion to have proposed to him, as he thought. He would not be surrounded by the quiet that ministers to good work; however, it had never interfered with his work to see the spectacle of human life before him in the intervals. And though he did not know it, it was never quiet at Stayes. When he was working well he found himself in that happy state — the happiest of all for an artist — in which things in general contribute to the particular idea and fall in with it, help it on and justify it, so that he feels for the hour as if nothing in the world can happen to him, even if it come in the guise of disaster or suffering, that will not be an enhancement of his subject. Moreover there was an exhilaration (he had felt it before) in the rapid change of scene — the jump, in the dusk of the afternoon, from foggy London and his familiar studio to a centre of festivity in the middle of Hertfordshire and a drama half acted, a drama of pretty women and noted men and wonderful orchids in silver jars. He observed as a not unimportant fact that one of the pretty women was beside him: a gentleman sat on his other hand. But he went into his neighbours little as yet: he was busy looking out for Sir David, whom he had never seen and about whom he naturally was curious.
Evidently, however, Sir David was not at dinner, a circumstance sufficiently explained by the other circumstance which constituted our friend’s principal knowledge of him — his being ninety years of age. Oliver Lyon had looked forward with great pleasure to the chance of painting a nonagenarian, and though the old man’s absence from table was something of a disappointment (it was an opportunity the less to observe him before going to work), it seemed a sign that he was rather a sacred and perhaps therefore an impressive relic. Lyon looked at his son with the greater interest — wondered whether the glazed bloom of his cheek had been transmitted from Sir David. That would be jolly to paint, in the old man — the withered ruddiness of a winter apple, especially if the eye were still alive and the white hair carried out the frosty look. Arthur Ashmore’s hair had a midsummer glow, but Lyon was glad his commission had been to delineate the father rather than the son, in spite of his never having seen the one and of the other being seated there before him now in the happy expansion of liberal hospitality.
Arthur Ashmore was a fresh-coloured, thick-necked English gentleman, but he was just not a subject; he might have been a farmer and he might have been a banker: you could scarcely paint him in characters. His wife did not make up the amount; she was a large, bright, negative woman, who had the same air as her husband of being somehow tremendously new; a sort of appearance of fresh varnish (Lyon could scarcely tell whether it came from her complexion or from her clothes), so that one felt she ought to sit in a gilt frame, suggesting reference to a catalogue or a price-list. It was as if she were already rather a bad though expensive portrait, knocked off by an eminent hand, and Lyon had no wish to copy that work. The pretty woman on his right was engaged with her neighbour and the gentleman on his other side looked shrinking and scared, so that he had time to lose himself in his favourite diversion of watching face after face. This amusement gave him the greatest pleasure he knew, and he often thought it a mercy that the human mask did interest him and that it was not less vivid than it was (sometimes it ran its success in this line very close), since he was to make his living by reproducing it. Even if Arthur Ashmore would not be inspiring to paint (a certain anxiety rose in him lest if he should make a hit with her father-in-law Mrs. Arthur should take it into her head that he had now proved himself worthy to aborder her husband); even if he had looked a little less like a page (fine as to print and margin) without punctuation, he would still be a refreshing, iridescent surface. But the gentleman four persons off — what was he? Would he be a subject, or was his face only the legible door-plate of his identity, burnished with punctual washing and shaving — the least thing that was decent that you would know him by?
This face arrested Oliver Lyon: it struck him at first as very handsome. The gentleman might still be called young, and his features were regular: he had a plentiful, fair moustache that curled up at the ends, a brilliant, gallant, almost adventurous air, and a big shining breastpin in the middle of his shirt. He appeared a fine satisfied soul, and Lyon perceived that wherever he rested his friendly eye there fell an influence as pleasant as the September sun — as if he could make grapes and pears or even human affection ripen by looking at them. What was odd in him was a certain mixture of the correct and the extravagant: as if he were an adventurer imitating a gentleman with rare perfection or a gentleman who had taken a fancy to go about with hidden arms. He might have been a dethroned prince or the war-correspondent of a newspaper: he represented both enterprise and tradition, good manners and bad taste. Lyon at length fell into conversation with the lady beside him — they dispensed, as he had had to dispense at dinner-parties before, with an introduction — by asking who this personage might be.
‘Oh, he’s Colonel Capadose, don’t you know?’ Lyon didn’t know and he asked for further information. His neighbour had a sociable manner and evidently was accustomed to quick transitions; she turned from her other interlocutor with a methodical air, as a good cook lifts the cover of the next saucepan. ‘He has been a great deal in India — isn’t he rather celebrated?’ she inquired. Lyon confessed he had never heard of him, and she went on, ‘Well, perhaps he isn’t; but he says he is, and if you think it, that’s just the same, isn’t it?’
‘If you think it?’
‘I mean if he thinks it — that’s just as good, I suppose.’
‘Do you mean that he says that which is not?’
‘Oh dear, no — because I never know. He is exceedingly clever and amusing — quite the cleverest person in the house, unless indeed you are more so. But that I can’t tell yet, can I? I only know about the people I know; I think that’s celebrity enough!’
‘Enough for them?’
‘Oh, I see you’re clever. Enough for me! But I have heard of you,’ the lady went on. ‘I know your pictures; I admire them. But I don’t think you look like them.’
‘They are mostly portraits,’ Lyon said; ‘and what I usually try for is not my own resemblance.’
‘I see what you mean. But they have much more colour. And now you are going to do some one here?’
‘I have been invited to do Sir David. I’m rather disappointed at not seeing him this evening.’
‘Oh, he goes to bed at some unnatural hour — eight o’clock or something of that sort. You know he’s rather an old mummy.’
‘An old mummy?’ Oliver Lyon repeated.
‘I mean he wears half a dozen waistcoats, and that sort of thing. He’s always cold.’
‘I have never seen him and never seen any portrait or photograph of him,’ Lyon said. ‘I’m surprised at his never having had anything done — at their waiting all these years.’
‘Ah, that’s because he was afraid, you know; it was a kind of superstition. He was sure that if anything were done he would die directly afterwards. He has only consented to-day.’
‘He’s ready to die then?’
‘Oh, now he’s so old he doesn’t care.’
‘Well, I hope I shan’t kill him,’ said Lyon. ‘It was rather unnatural in his son to send for me.’
‘Oh, they have nothing to gain — everything is theirs already!’ his companion rejoined, as if she took this speech quite literally. Her talkativeness was systematic — she fraternised as seriously as she might have played whist. ‘They do as they like — they fill the house with people — they have carte blanche.’
‘I see — but there’s still the title.’
‘Yes, but what is it?’
Our artist broke into laughter at this, whereat his companion stared. Before he had recovered himself she was scouring the plain with her other neighbour. The gentleman on his left at last risked an observation, and they had some fragmentary talk. This personage played his part with difficulty: he uttered a remark as a lady fires a pistol, looking the other way. To catch the ball Lyon had to bend his ear, and this movement led to his observing a handsome creature who was seated on the same side, beyond his interlocutor. Her profile was presented to him and at first he was only struck with its beauty; then it produced an impression still more agreeable — a sense of undimmed remembrance and intimate association. He had not recognised her on the instant only because he had so little expected to see her there; he had not seen her anywhere for so long, and no news of her ever came to him. She was often in his thoughts, but she had passed out of his life. He thought of her twice a week; that may be called often in relation to a person one has not seen for twelve years. The moment after he recognised her he felt how true it was that it was only she who could look like that: of the most charming head in the world (and this lady had it) there could never be a replica. She was leaning forward a little; she remained in profile, apparently listening to some one on the other side of her. She was listening, but she was also looking, and after a moment Lyon followed the direction of her eyes. They rested upon the gentleman who had been described to him as Colonel Capadose — rested, as it appeared to him, with a kind of habitual, visible complacency. This was not strange, for the Colonel was unmistakably formed to attract the sympathetic gaze of woman; but Lyon was slightly disappointed that she could let him look at her so long without giving him a glance. There was nothing between them to-day and he had no rights, but she must have known he was coming (it was of course not such a tremendous event, but she could not have been staying in the house without hearing of it), and it was not natural that that should absolutely fail to affect her.
She was looking at Colonel Capadose as if she were in love with him — a queer accident for the proudest, most reserved of women. But doubtless it was all right, if her husband liked it or didn’t notice it: he had heard indefinitely, years before, that she was married, and he took for granted (as he had not heard that she had become a widow) the presence of the happy man on whom she had conferred what she had refused to him, the poor art-student at Munich. Colonel Capadose appeared to be aware of nothing, and this circumstance, incongruously enough, rather irritated Lyon than gratified him. Suddenly the lady turned her head, showing her full face to our hero. He was so prepared with a greeting that he instantly smiled, as a shaken jug overflows; but she gave him no response, turned away again and sank back in her chair. All that her face said in that instant was, ‘You see I’m as handsome as ever.’ To which he mentally subjoined, ‘Yes, and as much good it does me!’ He asked the young man beside him if he knew who that beautiful being was — the fifth person beyond him. The young man leaned forward, considered and then said, ‘I think she’s Mrs. Capadose.’
‘Do you mean his wife — that fellow’s?’ And Lyon indicated the subject of the information given him by his other neighbour.
‘Oh, is he Mr. Capadose?’ said the young man, who appeared very vague. He admitted his vagueness and explained it by saying that there were so many people and he had come only the day before. What was definite to Lyon was that Mrs. Capadose was in love with her husband; so that he wished more than ever that he had married her.
‘She’s very faithful,’ he found himself saying three minutes later to the lady on his right. He added that he meant Mrs. Capadose.
‘Ah, you know her then?’
‘I knew her once upon a time — when I was living abroad.’
‘Why then were you asking me about her husband?’
‘Precisely for that reason. She married after that — I didn’t even know her present name.’
‘How then do you know it now?’
‘This gentleman has just told me — he appears to know.’
‘I didn’t know he knew anything,’ said the lady, glancing forward.
‘I don’t think he knows anything but that.’
‘Then you have found out for yourself that she is faithful. What do you mean by that?’
‘Ah, you mustn’t question me — I want to question you,’ Lyon said. ‘How do you all like her here?’
‘You ask too much! I can only speak for myself. I think she’s hard.’
‘That’s only because she’s honest and straightforward.’
‘Do you mean I like people in proportion as they deceive?’
‘I think we all do, so long as we don’t find them out,’ Lyon said. ‘And then there’s something in her face — a sort of Roman type, in spite of her having such an English eye. In fact she’s English down to the ground; but her complexion, her low forehead and that beautiful close little wave in her dark hair make her look like a glorified contadina.’
‘Yes, and she always sticks pins and daggers into her head, to increase that effect. I must say I like her husband better: he is so clever.’
‘Well, when I knew her there was no comparison that could injure her. She was altogether the most delightful thing in Munich.’
‘Her people lived there; they were not rich — in pursuit of economy in fact, and Munich was very cheap. Her father was the younger son of some noble house; he had married a second time and had a lot of little mouths to feed. She was the child of the first wife and she didn’t like her stepmother, but she was charming to her little brothers and sisters. I once made a sketch of her as Werther’s Charlotte, cutting bread and butter while they clustered all round her. All the artists in the place were in love with her but she wouldn’t look at ‘the likes’ of us. She was too proud — I grant you that; but she wasn’t stuck up nor young ladyish; she was simple and frank and kind about it. She used to remind me of Thackeray’s Ethel Newcome. She told me she must marry well: it was the one thing she could do for her family. I suppose you would say that she has married well.’
‘She told you?’ smiled Lyon’s neighbour.
‘Oh, of course I proposed to her too. But she evidently thinks so herself!’ he added.
When the ladies left the table the host as usual bade the gentlemen draw together, so that Lyon found himself opposite to Colonel Capadose. The conversation was mainly about the ‘run,’ for it had apparently been a great day in the hunting-field. Most of the gentlemen communicated their adventures and opinions, but Colonel Capadose’s pleasant voice was the most audible in the chorus. It was a bright and fresh but masculine organ, just such a voice as, to Lyon’s sense, such a ‘fine man’ ought to have had. It appeared from his remarks that he was a very straight rider, which was also very much what Lyon would have expected. Not that he swaggered, for his allusions were very quietly and casually made; but they were all too dangerous experiments and close shaves. Lyon perceived after a little that the attention paid by the company to the Colonel’s remarks was not in direct relation to the interest they seemed to offer; the result of which was that the speaker, who noticed that he at least was listening, began to treat him as his particular auditor and to fix his eyes on him as he talked. Lyon had nothing to do but to look sympathetic and assent — Colonel Capadose appeared to take so much sympathy and assent for granted. A neighbouring squire had had an accident; he had come a cropper in an awkward place — just at the finish — with consequences that looked grave. He had struck his head; he remained insensible, up to the last accounts: there had evidently been concussion of the brain. There was some exchange of views as to his recovery — how soon it would take place or whether it would take place at all; which led the Colonel to confide to our artist across the table that he shouldn’t despair of a fellow even if he didn’t come round for weeks — for weeks and weeks and weeks — for months, almost for years. He leaned forward; Lyon leaned forward to listen, and Colonel Capadose mentioned that he knew from personal experience that there was really no limit to the time one might lie unconscious without being any the worse for it. It had happened to him in Ireland, years before; he had been pitched out of a dogcart, had turned a sheer somersault and landed on his head. They thought he was dead, but he wasn’t; they carried him first to the nearest cabin, where he lay for some days with the pigs, and then to an inn in a neighbouring town — it was a near thing they didn’t put him under ground. He had been completely insensible — without a ray of recognition of any human thing — for three whole months; had not a glimmer of consciousness of any blessed thing. It was touch and go to that degree that they couldn’t come near him, they couldn’t feed him, they could scarcely look at him. Then one day he had opened his eyes — as fit as a flea!
‘I give you my honour it had done me good — it rested my brain.’ He appeared to intimate that with an intelligence so active as his these periods of repose were providential. Lyon thought his story very striking, but he wanted to ask him whether he had not shammed a little — not in relating it, but in keeping so quiet. He hesitated however, in time, to imply a doubt — he was so impressed with the tone in which Colonel Capadose said that it was the turn of a hair that they hadn’t buried him alive. That had happened to a friend of his in India — a fellow who was supposed to have died of jungle fever — they clapped him into a coffin. He was going on to recite the further fate of this unfortunate gentleman when Mr. Ashmore made a move and every one got up to adjourn to the drawing-room. Lyon noticed that by this time no one was heeding what his new friend said to him. They came round on either side of the table and met while the gentlemen dawdled before going out.
‘And do you mean that your friend was literally buried alive?’ asked Lyon, in some suspense.
Colonel Capadose looked at him a moment, as if he had already lost the thread of the conversation. Then his face brightened — and when it brightened it was doubly handsome. ‘Upon my soul he was chucked into the ground!’
‘And was he left there?’
‘He was left there till I came and hauled him out.’
‘I dreamed about him — it’s the most extraordinary story: I heard him calling to me in the night. I took upon myself to dig him up. You know there are people in India — a kind of beastly race, the ghouls — who violate graves. I had a sort of presentiment that they would get at him first. I rode straight, I can tell you; and, by Jove, a couple of them had just broken ground! Crack — crack, from a couple of barrels, and they showed me their heels, as you may believe. Would you credit that I took him out myself? The air brought him to and he was none the worse. He has got his pension — he came home the other day; he would do anything for me.’
‘He called to you in the night?’ said Lyon, much startled.
‘That’s the interesting point. Now what was it? It wasn’t his ghost, because he wasn’t dead. It wasn’t himself, because he couldn’t. It was something or other! You see India’s a strange country — there’s an element of the mysterious: the air is full of things you can’t explain.’
They passed out of the dining-room, and Colonel Capadose, who went among the first, was separated from Lyon; but a minute later, before they reached the drawing-room, he joined him again. ‘Ashmore tells me who you are. Of course I have often heard of you — I’m very glad to make your acquaintance; my wife used to know you.’
‘I’m glad she remembers me. I recognised her at dinner and I was afraid she didn’t.’
‘Ah, I daresay she was ashamed,’ said the Colonel, with indulgent humour.
‘Ashamed of me?’ Lyon replied, in the same key.
‘Wasn’t there something about a picture? Yes; you painted her portrait.’
‘Many times,’ said the artist; ‘and she may very well have been ashamed of what I made of her.’
‘Well, I wasn’t, my dear sir; it was the sight of that picture, which you were so good as to present to her, that made me first fall in love with her.’
‘Do you mean that one with the children — cutting bread and butter?’
‘Bread and butter? Bless me, no — vine leaves and a leopard skin — a kind of Bacchante.’
‘Ah, yes,’ said Lyon; ‘I remember. It was the first decent portrait I painted. I should be curious to see it to-day.’
‘Don’t ask her to show it to you — she’ll be mortified!’ the Colonel exclaimed.
‘We parted with it — in the most disinterested manner,’ he laughed. ‘An old friend of my wife’s — her family had known him intimately when they lived in Germany — took the most extraordinary fancy to it: the Grand Duke of Silberstadt–Schreckenstein, don’t you know? He came out to Bombay while we were there and he spotted your picture (you know he’s one of the greatest collectors in Europe), and made such eyes at it that, upon my word — it happened to be his birthday — she told him he might have it, to get rid of him. He was perfectly enchanted — but we miss the picture.’
‘It is very good of you,’ Lyon said. ‘If it’s in a great collection — a work of my incompetent youth — I am infinitely honoured.’
‘Oh, he has got it in one of his castles; I don’t know which — you know he has so many. He sent us, before he left India — to return the compliment — a magnificent old vase.’
‘That was more than the thing was worth,’ Lyon remarked.
Colonel Capadose gave no heed to this observation; he seemed to be thinking of something. After a moment he said, ‘If you’ll come and see us in town she’ll show you the vase.’ And as they passed into the drawing-room he gave the artist a friendly propulsion. ‘Go and speak to her; there she is — she’ll be delighted.’
Oliver Lyon took but a few steps into the wide saloon; he stood there a moment looking at the bright composition of the lamplit group of fair women, the single figures, the great setting of white and gold, the panels of old damask, in the centre of each of which was a single celebrated picture. There was a subdued lustre in the scene and an air as of the shining trains of dresses tumbled over the carpet. At the furthest end of the room sat Mrs. Capadose, rather isolated; she was on a small sofa, with an empty place beside her. Lyon could not flatter himself she had been keeping it for him; her failure to respond to his recognition at table contradicted that, but he felt an extreme desire to go and occupy it. Moreover he had her husband’s sanction; so he crossed the room, stepping over the tails of gowns, and stood before his old friend.
‘I hope you don’t mean to repudiate me,’ he said.
She looked up at him with an expression of unalloyed pleasure. ‘I am so glad to see you. I was delighted when I heard you were coming.’
‘I tried to get a smile from you at dinner — but I couldn’t.’
‘I didn’t see — I didn’t understand. Besides, I hate smirking and telegraphing. Also I’m very shy — you won’t have forgotten that. Now we can communicate comfortably.’ And she made a better place for him on the little sofa. He sat down and they had a talk that he enjoyed, while the reason for which he used to like her so came back to him, as well as a good deal of the very same old liking. She was still the least spoiled beauty he had ever seen, with an absence of coquetry or any insinuating art that seemed almost like an omitted faculty; there were moments when she struck her interlocutor as some fine creature from an asylum — a surprising deaf-mute or one of the operative blind. Her noble pagan head gave her privileges that she neglected, and when people were admiring her brow she was wondering whether there were a good fire in her bedroom. She was simple, kind and good; inexpressive but not inhuman or stupid. Now and again she dropped something that had a sifted, selected air — the sound of an impression at first hand. She had no imagination, but she had added up her feelings, some of her reflections, about life. Lyon talked of the old days in Munich, reminded her of incidents, pleasures and pains, asked her about her father and the others; and she told him in return that she was so impressed with his own fame, his brilliant position in the world, that she had not felt very sure he would speak to her or that his little sign at table was meant for her. This was plainly a perfectly truthful speech — she was incapable of any other — and he was affected by such humility on the part of a woman whose grand line was unique. Her father was dead; one of her brothers was in the navy and the other on a ranch in America; two of her sisters were married and the youngest was just coming out and very pretty. She didn’t mention her stepmother. She asked him about his own personal history and he said that the principal thing that had happened to him was that he had never married.
‘Oh, you ought to,’ she answered. ‘It’s the best thing.’
‘I like that — from you!’ he returned.
‘Why not from me? I am very happy.’
‘That’s just why I can’t be. It’s cruel of you to praise your state. But I have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of your husband. We had a good bit of talk in the other room.’
‘You must know him better — you must know him really well,’ said Mrs. Capadose.
‘I am sure that the further you go the more you find. But he makes a fine show, too.’
She rested her good gray eyes on Lyon. ‘Don’t you think he’s handsome?’
‘Handsome and clever and entertaining. You see I’m generous.’
‘Yes; you must know him well,’ Mrs. Capadose repeated.
‘He has seen a great deal of life,’ said her companion.
‘Yes, we have been in so many places. You must see my little girl. She is nine years old — she’s too beautiful.’
‘You must bring her to my studio some day — I should like to paint her.’
‘Ah, don’t speak of that,’ said Mrs. Capadose. ‘It reminds me of something so distressing.’
‘I hope you don’t mean when you used to sit to me — though that may well have bored you.’
‘It’s not what you did — it’s what we have done. It’s a confession I must make — it’s a weight on my mind! I mean about that beautiful picture you gave me — it used to be so much admired. When you come to see me in London (I count on your doing that very soon) I shall see you looking all round. I can’t tell you I keep it in my own room because I love it so, for the simple reason —— ’ And she paused a moment.
‘Because you can’t tell wicked lies,’ said Lyon.
‘No, I can’t. So before you ask for it —— ’
‘Oh, I know you parted with it — the blow has already fallen,’ Lyon interrupted.
‘Ah then, you have heard? I was sure you would! But do you know what we got for it? Two hundred pounds.’
‘You might have got much more,’ said Lyon, smiling.
‘That seemed a great deal at the time. We were in want of the money — it was a good while ago, when we first married. Our means were very small then, but fortunately that has changed rather for the better. We had the chance; it really seemed a big sum, and I am afraid we jumped at it. My husband had expectations which have partly come into effect, so that now we do well enough. But meanwhile the picture went.’
‘Fortunately the original remained. But do you mean that two hundred was the value of the vase?’ Lyon asked.
‘Of the vase?’
‘The beautiful old Indian vase — the Grand Duke’s offering.’
‘The Grand Duke?’
‘What’s his name? — Silberstadt–Schreckenstein. Your husband mentioned the transaction.’
‘Oh, my husband,’ said Mrs. Capadose; and Lyon saw that she coloured a little.
Not to add to her embarrassment, but to clear up the ambiguity, which he perceived the next moment he had better have left alone, he went on: ‘He tells me it’s now in his collection.’
‘In the Grand Duke’s? Ah, you know its reputation? I believe it contains treasures.’ She was bewildered, but she recovered herself, and Lyon made the mental reflection that for some reason which would seem good when he knew it the husband and the wife had prepared different versions of the same incident. It was true that he did not exactly see Everina Brant preparing a version; that was not her line of old, and indeed it was not in her eyes to-day. At any rate they both had the matter too much on their conscience. He changed the subject, said Mrs. Capadose must really bring the little girl. He sat with her some time longer and thought — perhaps it was only a fancy — that she was rather absent, as if she were annoyed at their having been even for a moment at cross-purposes. This did not prevent him from saying to her at the last, just as the ladies began to gather themselves together to go to bed: ‘You seem much impressed, from what you say, with my renown and my prosperity, and you are so good as greatly to exaggerate them. Would you have married me if you had known that I was destined to success?’
‘I did know it.’
‘Well, I didn’t’
‘You were too modest.’
‘You didn’t think so when I proposed to you.’
‘Well, if I had married you I couldn’t have married him — and he’s so nice,’ Mrs. Capadose said. Lyon knew she thought it — he had learned that at dinner — but it vexed him a little to hear her say it. The gentleman designated by the pronoun came up, amid the prolonged handshaking for good-night, and Mrs. Capadose remarked to her husband as she turned away, ‘He wants to paint Amy.’
‘Ah, she’s a charming child, a most interesting little creature,’ the Colonel said to Lyon. ‘She does the most remarkable things.’
Mrs. Capadose stopped, in the rustling procession that followed the hostess out of the room. ‘Don’t tell him, please don’t,’ she said.
‘Don’t tell him what?’
‘Why, what she does. Let him find out for himself.’ And she passed on.
‘She thinks I swagger about the child — that I bore people,’ said the Colonel. ‘I hope you smoke.’ He appeared ten minutes later in the smoking-room, in a brilliant equipment, a suit of crimson foulard covered with little white spots. He gratified Lyon’s eye, made him feel that the modern age has its splendour too and its opportunities for costume. If his wife was an antique he was a fine specimen of the period of colour: he might have passed for a Venetian of the sixteenth century. They were a remarkable couple, Lyon thought, and as he looked at the Colonel standing in bright erectness before the chimney-piece while he emitted great smoke-puffs he did not wonder that Everina could not regret she had not married him. All the gentlemen collected at Stayes were not smokers and some of them had gone to bed. Colonel Capadose remarked that there probably would be a smallish muster, they had had such a hard day’s work. That was the worst of a hunting-house — the men were so sleepy after dinner; it was devilish stupid for the ladies, even for those who hunted themselves — for women were so extraordinary, they never showed it. But most fellows revived under the stimulating influences of the smoking-room, and some of them, in this confidence, would turn up yet. Some of the grounds of their confidence — not all of them — might have been seen in a cluster of glasses and bottles on a table near the fire, which made the great salver and its contents twinkle sociably. The others lurked as yet in various improper corners of the minds of the most loquacious. Lyon was alone with Colonel Capadose for some moments before their companions, in varied eccentricities of uniform, straggled in, and he perceived that this wonderful man had but little loss of vital tissue to repair.
They talked about the house, Lyon having noticed an oddity of construction in the smoking-room; and the Colonel explained that it consisted of two distinct parts, one of which was of very great antiquity. They were two complete houses in short, the old one and the new, each of great extent and each very fine in its way. The two formed together an enormous structure — Lyon must make a point of going all over it. The modern portion had been erected by the old man when he bought the property; oh yes, he had bought it, forty years before — it hadn’t been in the family: there hadn’t been any particular family for it to be in. He had had the good taste not to spoil the original house — he had not touched it beyond what was just necessary for joining it on. It was very curious indeed — a most irregular, rambling, mysterious pile, where they every now and then discovered a walled-up room or a secret staircase. To his mind it was essentially gloomy, however; even the modern additions, splendid as they were, failed to make it cheerful. There was some story about a skeleton having been found years before, during some repairs, under a stone slab of the floor of one of the passages; but the family were rather shy of its being talked about. The place they were in was of course in the old part, which contained after all some of the best rooms: he had an idea it had been the primitive kitchen, half modernised at some intermediate period.
‘My room is in the old part too then — I’m very glad,’ Lyon said. ‘It’s very comfortable and contains all the latest conveniences, but I observed the depth of the recess of the door and the evident antiquity of the corridor and staircase — the first short one — after I came out. That panelled corridor is admirable; it looks as if it stretched away, in its brown dimness (the lamps didn’t seem to me to make much impression on it), for half a mile.’
‘Oh, don’t go to the end of it!’ exclaimed the Colonel, smiling.
‘Does it lead to the haunted room?’ Lyon asked.
His companion looked at him a moment. ‘Ah, you know about that?’
‘No, I don’t speak from knowledge, only from hope. I have never had any luck — I have never stayed in a dangerous house. The places I go to are always as safe as Charing Cross. I want to see — whatever there is, the regular thing. Is there a ghost here?’
‘Of course there is — a rattling good one.’
‘And have you seen him?’
‘Oh, don’t ask me what I’ve seen — I should tax your credulity. I don’t like to talk of these things. But there are two or three as bad — that is, as good! — rooms as you’ll find anywhere.’
‘Do you mean in my corridor?’ Lyon asked.
‘I believe the worst is at the far end. But you would be ill-advised to sleep there.’
‘Until you’ve finished your job. You’ll get letters of importance the next morning, and you’ll take the 10.20.’
‘Do you mean I will invent a pretext for running away?’
‘Unless you are braver than almost any one has ever been. They don’t often put people to sleep there, but sometimes the house is so crowded that they have to. The same thing always happens — ill-concealed agitation at the breakfast-table and letters of the greatest importance. Of course it’s a bachelor’s room, and my wife and I are at the other end of the house. But we saw the comedy three days ago — the day after we got here. A young fellow had been put there — I forget his name — the house was so full; and the usual consequence followed. Letters at breakfast — an awfully queer face — an urgent call to town — so very sorry his visit was cut short. Ashmore and his wife looked at each other, and off the poor devil went.’
‘Ah, that wouldn’t suit me; I must paint my picture,’ said Lyon. ‘But do they mind your speaking of it? Some people who have a good ghost are very proud of it, you know.’
What answer Colonel Capadose was on the point of making to this inquiry our hero was not to learn, for at that moment their host had walked into the room accompanied by three or four gentlemen. Lyon was conscious that he was partly answered by the Colonel’s not going on with the subject. This however on the other hand was rendered natural by the fact that one of the gentlemen appealed to him for an opinion on a point under discussion, something to do with the everlasting history of the day’s run. To Lyon himself Mr. Ashmore began to talk, expressing his regret at having had so little direct conversation with him as yet. The topic that suggested itself was naturally that most closely connected with the motive of the artist’s visit. Lyon remarked that it was a great disadvantage to him not to have had some preliminary acquaintance with Sir David — in most cases he found that so important. But the present sitter was so far advanced in life that there was doubtless no time to lose. ‘Oh, I can tell you all about him,’ said Mr. Ashmore; and for half an hour he told him a good deal. It was very interesting as well as very eulogistic, and Lyon could see that he was a very nice old man, to have endeared himself so to a son who was evidently not a gusher. At last he got up — he said he must go to bed if he wished to be fresh for his work in the morning. To which his host replied, ‘Then you must take your candle; the lights are out; I don’t keep my servants up.’
In a moment Lyon had his glimmering taper in hand, and as he was leaving the room (he did not disturb the others with a good-night; they were absorbed in the lemon-squeezer and the soda-water cork) he remembered other occasions on which he had made his way to bed alone through a darkened country-house; such occasions had not been rare, for he was almost always the first to leave the smoking-room. If he had not stayed in houses conspicuously haunted he had, none the less (having the artistic temperament), sometimes found the great black halls and staircases rather ‘creepy’: there had been often a sinister effect, to his imagination, in the sound of his tread in the long passages or the way the winter moon peeped into tall windows on landings. It occurred to him that if houses without supernatural pretensions could look so wicked at night, the old corridors of Stayes would certainly give him a sensation. He didn’t know whether the proprietors were sensitive; very often, as he had said to Colonel Capadose, people enjoyed the impeachment. What determined him to speak, with a certain sense of the risk, was the impression that the Colonel told queer stories. As he had his hand on the door he said to Arthur Ashmore, ‘I hope I shan’t meet any ghosts.’
‘You ought to have some — in this fine old part.’
‘We do our best, but que voulez-vous?’ said Mr. Ashmore. ‘I don’t think they like the hot-water pipes.’
‘They remind them too much of their own climate? But haven’t you a haunted room — at the end of my passage?’
‘Oh, there are stories — we try to keep them up.’
‘I should like very much to sleep there,’ Lyon said.
‘Well, you can move there to-morrow if you like.’
‘Perhaps I had better wait till I have done my work.’
‘Very good; but you won’t work there, you know. My father will sit to you in his own apartments.’
‘Oh, it isn’t that; it’s the fear of running away, like that gentleman three days ago.’
‘Three days ago? What gentleman?’ Mr. Ashmore asked.
‘The one who got urgent letters at breakfast and fled by the 10.20. Did he stand more than one night?’
‘I don’t know what you are talking about. There was no such gentleman — three days ago.’
‘Ah, so much the better,’ said Lyon, nodding good-night and departing. He took his course, as he remembered it, with his wavering candle, and, though he encountered a great many gruesome objects, safely reached the passage out of which his room opened. In the complete darkness it seemed to stretch away still further, but he followed it, for the curiosity of the thing, to the end. He passed several doors with the name of the room painted upon them, but he found nothing else. He was tempted to try the last door — to look into the room of evil fame; but he reflected that this would be indiscreet, since Colonel Capadose handled the brush — as a raconteur — with such freedom. There might be a ghost and there might not; but the Colonel himself, he inclined to think, was the most mystifying figure in the house.
Lyon found Sir David Ashmore a capital subject and a very comfortable sitter into the bargain. Moreover he was a very agreeable old man, tremendously puckered but not in the least dim; and he wore exactly the furred dressing-gown that Lyon would have chosen. He was proud of his age but ashamed of his infirmities, which however he greatly exaggerated and which did not prevent him from sitting there as submissive as if portraiture in oils had been a branch of surgery. He demolished the legend of his having feared the operation would be fatal, giving an explanation which pleased our friend much better. He held that a gentleman should be painted but once in his life — that it was eager and fatuous to be hung up all over the place. That was good for women, who made a pretty wall-pattern; but the male face didn’t lend itself to decorative repetition. The proper time for the likeness was at the last, when the whole man was there — you got the totality of his experience. Lyon could not reply that that period was not a real compendium — you had to allow so for leakage; for there had been no crack in Sir David’s crystallisation. He spoke of his portrait as a plain map of the country, to be consulted by his children in a case of uncertainty. A proper map could be drawn up only when the country had been travelled. He gave Lyon his mornings, till luncheon, and they talked of many things, not neglecting, as a stimulus to gossip, the people in the house. Now that he did not ‘go out,’ as he said, he saw much less of the visitors at Stayes: people came and went whom he knew nothing about, and he liked to hear Lyon describe them. The artist sketched with a fine point and did not caricature, and it usually befell that when Sir David did not know the sons and daughters he had known the fathers and mothers. He was one of those terrible old gentlemen who are a repository of antecedents. But in the case of the Capadose family, at whom they arrived by an easy stage, his knowledge embraced two, or even three, generations. General Capadose was an old crony, and he remembered his father before him. The general was rather a smart soldier, but in private life of too speculative a turn — always sneaking into the City to put his money into some rotten thing. He married a girl who brought him something and they had half a dozen children. He scarcely knew what had become of the rest of them, except that one was in the Church and had found preferment — wasn’t he Dean of Rockingham? Clement, the fellow who was at Stayes, had some military talent; he had served in the East, he had married a pretty girl. He had been at Eton with his son, and he used to come to Stayes in his holidays. Lately, coming back to England, he had turned up with his wife again; that was before he — the old man — had been put to grass. He was a taking dog, but he had a monstrous foible.
‘A monstrous foible?’ said Lyon.
‘He’s a thumping liar.’
Lyon’s brush stopped short, while he repeated, for somehow the formula startled him, ‘A thumping liar?’
‘You are very lucky not to have found it out.’
‘Well, I confess I have noticed a romantic tinge —— ’
‘Oh, it isn’t always romantic. He’ll lie about the time of day, about the name of his hatter. It appears there are people like that.’
‘Well, they are precious scoundrels,’ Lyon declared, his voice trembling a little with the thought of what Everina Brant had done with herself.
‘Oh, not always,’ said the old man. ‘This fellow isn’t in the least a scoundrel. There is no harm in him and no bad intention; he doesn’t steal nor cheat nor gamble nor drink; he’s very kind — he sticks to his wife, is fond of his children. He simply can’t give you a straight answer.’
‘Then everything he told me last night, I suppose, was mendacious: he delivered himself of a series of the stiffest statements. They stuck, when I tried to swallow them, but I never thought of so simple an explanation.’
‘No doubt he was in the vein,’ Sir David went on. ‘It’s a natural peculiarity — as you might limp or stutter or be left-handed. I believe it comes and goes, like intermittent fever. My son tells me that his friends usually understand it and don’t haul him up — for the sake of his wife.’
‘Oh, his wife — his wife!’ Lyon murmured, painting fast.
‘I daresay she’s used to it.’
‘Never in the world, Sir David. How can she be used to it?’
‘Why, my dear sir, when a woman’s fond! — And don’t they mostly handle the long bow themselves? They are connoisseurs — they have a sympathy for a fellow-performer.’
Lyon was silent a moment; he had no ground for denying that Mrs. Capadose was attached to her husband. But after a little he rejoined: ‘Oh, not this one! I knew her years ago — before her marriage; knew her well and admired her. She was as clear as a bell.’
‘I like her very much,’ Sir David said, ‘but I have seen her back him up.’
Lyon considered Sir David for a moment, not in the light of a model. ‘Are you very sure?’
The old man hesitated; then he answered, smiling, ‘You’re in love with her.’
‘Very likely. God knows I used to be!’
‘She must help him out — she can’t expose him.’
‘She can hold her tongue,’ Lyon remarked.
‘Well, before you probably she will.’
‘That’s what I am curious to see.’ And Lyon added, privately, ‘Mercy on us, what he must have made of her!’ He kept this reflection to himself, for he considered that he had sufficiently betrayed his state of mind with regard to Mrs. Capadose. None the less it occupied him now immensely, the question of how such a woman would arrange herself in such a predicament. He watched her with an interest deeply quickened when he mingled with the company; he had had his own troubles in life, but he had rarely been so anxious about anything as he was now to see what the loyalty of a wife and the infection of an example would have made of an absolutely truthful mind. Oh, he held it as immutably established that whatever other women might be prone to do she, of old, had been perfectly incapable of a deviation. Even if she had not been too simple to deceive she would have been too proud; and if she had not had too much conscience she would have had too little eagerness. It was the last thing she would have endured or condoned — the particular thing she would not have forgiven. Did she sit in torment while her husband turned his somersaults, or was she now too so perverse that she thought it a fine thing to be striking at the expense of one’s honour? It would have taken a wondrous alchemy — working backwards, as it were — to produce this latter result. Besides these two alternatives (that she suffered tortures in silence and that she was so much in love that her husband’s humiliating idiosyncrasy seemed to her only an added richness — a proof of life and talent), there was still the possibility that she had not found him out, that she took his false pieces at his own valuation. A little reflection rendered this hypothesis untenable; it was too evident that the account he gave of things must repeatedly have contradicted her own knowledge. Within an hour or two of his meeting them Lyon had seen her confronted with that perfectly gratuitous invention about the profit they had made off his early picture. Even then indeed she had not, so far as he could see, smarted, and — but for the present he could only contemplate the case.
Even if it had not been interfused, through his uneradicated tenderness for Mrs. Capadose, with an element of suspense, the question would still have presented itself to him as a very curious problem, for he had not painted portraits during so many years without becoming something of a psychologist. His inquiry was limited for the moment to the opportunity that the following three days might yield, as the Colonel and his wife were going on to another house. It fixed itself largely of course upon the Colonel too — this gentleman was such a rare anomaly. Moreover it had to go on very quickly. Lyon was too scrupulous to ask other people what they thought of the business — he was too afraid of exposing the woman he once had loved. It was probable also that light would come to him from the talk of the rest of the company: the Colonel’s queer habit, both as it affected his own situation and as it affected his wife, would be a familiar theme in any house in which he was in the habit of staying. Lyon had not observed in the circles in which he visited any marked abstention from comment on the singularities of their members. It interfered with his progress that the Colonel hunted all day, while he plied his brushes and chatted with Sir David; but a Sunday intervened and that partly made it up. Mrs. Capadose fortunately did not hunt, and when his work was over she was not inaccessible. He took a couple of longish walks with her (she was fond of that), and beguiled her at tea into a friendly nook in the hall. Regard her as he might he could not make out to himself that she was consumed by a hidden shame; the sense of being married to a man whose word had no worth was not, in her spirit, so far as he could guess, the canker within the rose. Her mind appeared to have nothing on it but its own placid frankness, and when he looked into her eyes (deeply, as he occasionally permitted himself to do), they had no uncomfortable consciousness. He talked to her again and still again of the dear old days — reminded her of things that he had not (before this reunion) the least idea that he remembered. Then he spoke to her of her husband, praised his appearance, his talent for conversation, professed to have felt a quick friendship for him and asked (with an inward audacity at which he trembled a little) what manner of man he was. ‘What manner?’ said Mrs. Capadose. ‘Dear me, how can one describe one’s husband? I like him very much.’
‘Ah, you have told me that already!’ Lyon exclaimed, with exaggerated ruefulness.
‘Then why do you ask me again?’ She added in a moment, as if she were so happy that she could afford to take pity on him, ‘He is everything that’s good and kind. He’s a soldier — and a gentleman — and a dear! He hasn’t a fault. And he has great ability.’
‘Yes; he strikes one as having great ability. But of course I can’t think him a dear.’
‘I don’t care what you think him!’ said Mrs. Capadose, looking, it seemed to him, as she smiled, handsomer than he had ever seen her. She was either deeply cynical or still more deeply impenetrable, and he had little prospect of winning from her the intimation that he longed for — some hint that it had come over her that after all she had better have married a man who was not a by-word for the most contemptible, the least heroic, of vices. Had she not seen — had she not felt — the smile go round when her husband executed some especially characteristic conversational caper? How could a woman of her quality endure that day after day, year after year, except by her quality’s altering? But he would believe in the alteration only when he should have heard her lie. He was fascinated by his problem and yet half exasperated, and he asked himself all kinds of questions. Did she not lie, after all, when she let his falsehoods pass without a protest? Was not her life a perpetual complicity, and did she not aid and abet him by the simple fact that she was not disgusted with him? Then again perhaps she was disgusted and it was the mere desperation of her pride that had given her an inscrutable mask. Perhaps she protested in private, passionately; perhaps every night, in their own apartments, after the day’s hideous performance, she made him the most scorching scene. But if such scenes were of no avail and he took no more trouble to cure himself, how could she regard him, and after so many years of marriage too, with the perfectly artless complacency that Lyon had surprised in her in the course of the first day’s dinner? If our friend had not been in love with her he could have taken the diverting view of the Colonel’s delinquencies; but as it was they turned to the tragical in his mind, even while he had a sense that his solicitude might also have been laughed at.
The observation of these three days showed him that if Capadose was an abundant he was not a malignant liar and that his fine faculty exercised itself mainly on subjects of small direct importance. ‘He is the liar platonic,’ he said to himself; ‘he is disinterested, he doesn’t operate with a hope of gain or with a desire to injure. It is art for art and he is prompted by the love of beauty. He has an inner vision of what might have been, of what ought to be, and he helps on the good cause by the simple substitution of a nuance. He paints, as it were, and so do I!’ His manifestations had a considerable variety, but a family likeness ran through them, which consisted mainly of their singular futility. It was this that made them offensive; they encumbered the field of conversation, took up valuable space, converted it into a sort of brilliant sun-shot fog. For a fib told under pressure a convenient place can usually be found, as for a person who presents himself with an author’s order at the first night of a play. But the supererogatory lie is the gentleman without a voucher or a ticket who accommodates himself with a stool in the passage.
In one particular Lyon acquitted his successful rival; it had puzzled him that irrepressible as he was he had not got into a mess in the service. But he perceived that he respected the service — that august institution was sacred from his depredations. Moreover though there was a great deal of swagger in his talk it was, oddly enough, rarely swagger about his military exploits. He had a passion for the chase, he had followed it in far countries and some of his finest flowers were reminiscences of lonely danger and escape. The more solitary the scene the bigger of course the flower. A new acquaintance, with the Colonel, always received the tribute of a bouquet: that generalisation Lyon very promptly made. And this extraordinary man had inconsistencies and unexpected lapses — lapses into flat veracity. Lyon recognised what Sir David had told him, that his aberrations came in fits or periods — that he would sometimes keep the truce of God for a month at a time. The muse breathed upon him at her pleasure; she often left him alone. He would neglect the finest openings and then set sail in the teeth of the breeze. As a general thing he affirmed the false rather than denied the true; yet this proportion was sometimes strikingly reversed. Very often he joined in the laugh against himself — he admitted that he was trying it on and that a good many of his anecdotes had an experimental character. Still he never completely retracted nor retreated — he dived and came up in another place. Lyon divined that he was capable at intervals of defending his position with violence, but only when it was a very bad one. Then he might easily be dangerous — then he would hit out and become calumnious. Such occasions would test his wife’s equanimity — Lyon would have liked to see her there. In the smoking-room and elsewhere the company, so far as it was composed of his familiars, had an hilarious protest always at hand; but among the men who had known him long his rich tone was an old story, so old that they had ceased to talk about it, and Lyon did not care, as I have said, to elicit the judgment of those who might have shared his own surprise.
The oddest thing of all was that neither surprise nor familiarity prevented the Colonel’s being liked; his largest drafts on a sceptical attention passed for an overflow of life and gaiety — almost of good looks. He was fond of portraying his bravery and used a very big brush, and yet he was unmistakably brave. He was a capital rider and shot, in spite of his fund of anecdote illustrating these accomplishments: in short he was very nearly as clever and his career had been very nearly as wonderful as he pretended. His best quality however remained that indiscriminate sociability which took interest and credulity for granted and about which he bragged least. It made him cheap, it made him even in a manner vulgar; but it was so contagious that his listener was more or less on his side as against the probabilities. It was a private reflection of Oliver Lyon’s that he not only lied but made one feel one’s self a bit of a liar, even (or especially) if one contradicted him. In the evening, at dinner and afterwards, our friend watched his wife’s face to see if some faint shade or spasm never passed over it. But she showed nothing, and the wonder was that when he spoke she almost always listened. That was her pride: she wished not to be even suspected of not facing the music. Lyon had none the less an importunate vision of a veiled figure coming the next day in the dusk to certain places to repair the Colonel’s ravages, as the relatives of kleptomaniacs punctually call at the shops that have suffered from their pilferings.
‘I must apologise, of course it wasn’t true, I hope no harm is done, it is only his incorrigible —— ’ Oh, to hear that woman’s voice in that deep abasement! Lyon had no nefarious plan, no conscious wish to practise upon her shame or her loyalty; but he did say to himself that he should like to bring her round to feel that there would have been more dignity in a union with a certain other person. He even dreamed of the hour when, with a burning face, she would ask him not to take it up. Then he should be almost consoled — he would be magnanimous.
Lyon finished his picture and took his departure, after having worked in a glow of interest which made him believe in his success, until he found he had pleased every one, especially Mr. and Mrs. Ashmore, when he began to be sceptical. The party at any rate changed: Colonel and Mrs. Capadose went their way. He was able to say to himself however that his separation from the lady was not so much an end as a beginning, and he called on her soon after his return to town. She had told him the hours she was at home — she seemed to like him. If she liked him why had she not married him or at any rate why was she not sorry she had not? If she was sorry she concealed it too well. Lyon’s curiosity on this point may strike the reader as fatuous, but something must be allowed to a disappointed man. He did not ask much after all; not that she should love him to-day or that she should allow him to tell her that he loved her, but only that she should give him some sign she was sorry. Instead of this, for the present, she contented herself with exhibiting her little daughter to him. The child was beautiful and had the prettiest eyes of innocence he had ever seen: which did not prevent him from wondering whether she told horrid fibs. This idea gave him much entertainment — the picture of the anxiety with which her mother would watch as she grew older for the symptoms of heredity. That was a nice occupation for Everina Brant! Did she lie to the child herself, about her father — was that necessary, when she pressed her daughter to her bosom, to cover up his tracks? Did he control himself before the little girl — so that she might not hear him say things she knew to be other than he said? Lyon doubted this: his genius would be too strong for him, and the only safety for the child would be in her being too stupid to analyse. One couldn’t judge yet — she was too young. If she should grow up clever she would be sure to tread in his steps — a delightful improvement in her mother’s situation! Her little face was not shifty, but neither was her father’s big one: so that proved nothing.
Lyon reminded his friends more than once of their promise that Amy should sit to him, and it was only a question of his leisure. The desire grew in him to paint the Colonel also — an operation from which he promised himself a rich private satisfaction. He would draw him out, he would set him up in that totality about which he had talked with Sir David, and none but the initiated would know. They, however, would rank the picture high, and it would be indeed six rows deep — a masterpiece of subtle characterisation, of legitimate treachery. He had dreamed for years of producing something which should bear the stamp of the psychologist as well as of the painter, and here at last was his subject. It was a pity it was not better, but that was not his fault. It was his impression that already no one drew the Colonel out more than he, and he did it not only by instinct but on a plan. There were moments when he was almost frightened at the success of his plan — the poor gentleman went so terribly far. He would pull up some day, look at Lyon between the eyes — guess he was being played upon — which would lead to his wife’s guessing it also. Not that Lyon cared much for that however, so long as she failed to suppose (as she must) that she was a part of his joke. He formed such a habit now of going to see her of a Sunday afternoon that he was angry when she went out of town. This occurred often, as the couple were great visitors and the Colonel was always looking for sport, which he liked best when it could be had at other people’s expense. Lyon would have supposed that this sort of life was particularly little to her taste, for he had an idea that it was in country-houses that her husband came out strongest. To let him go off without her, not to see him expose himself — that ought properly to have been a relief and a luxury to her. She told Lyon in fact that she preferred staying at home; but she neglected to say it was because in other people’s houses she was on the rack: the reason she gave was that she liked so to be with the child. It was not perhaps criminal to draw such a bow, but it was vulgar: poor Lyon was delighted when he arrived at that formula. Certainly some day too he would cross the line — he would become a noxious animal. Yes, in the meantime he was vulgar, in spite of his talents, his fine person, his impunity. Twice, by exception, toward the end of the winter, when he left town for a few days’ hunting, his wife remained at home. Lyon had not yet reached the point of asking himself whether the desire not to miss two of his visits had something to do with her immobility. That inquiry would perhaps have been more in place later, when he began to paint the child and she always came with her. But it was not in her to give the wrong name, to pretend, and Lyon could see that she had the maternal passion, in spite of the bad blood in the little girl’s veins.
She came inveterately, though Lyon multiplied the sittings: Amy was never entrusted to the governess or the maid. He had knocked off poor old Sir David in ten days, but the portrait of the simple-faced child bade fair to stretch over into the following year. He asked for sitting after sitting, and it would have struck any one who might have witnessed the affair that he was wearing the little girl out. He knew better however and Mrs. Capadose also knew: they were present together at the long intermissions he gave her, when she left her pose and roamed about the great studio, amusing herself with its curiosities, playing with the old draperies and costumes, having unlimited leave to handle. Then her mother and Mr. Lyon sat and talked; he laid aside his brushes and leaned back in his chair; he always gave her tea. What Mrs. Capadose did not know was the way that during these weeks he neglected other orders: women have no faculty of imagination with regard to a man’s work beyond a vague idea that it doesn’t matter. In fact Lyon put off everything and made several celebrities wait. There were half-hours of silence, when he plied his brushes, during which he was mainly conscious that Everina was sitting there. She easily fell into that if he did not insist on talking, and she was not embarrassed nor bored by it. Sometimes she took up a book — there were plenty of them about; sometimes, a little way off, in her chair, she watched his progress (though without in the least advising or correcting), as if she cared for every stroke that represented her daughter. These strokes were occasionally a little wild; he was thinking so much more of his heart than of his hand. He was not more embarrassed than she was, but he was agitated: it was as if in the sittings (for the child, too, was beautifully quiet) something was growing between them or had already grown — a tacit confidence, an inexpressible secret. He felt it that way; but after all he could not be sure that she did. What he wanted her to do for him was very little; it was not even to confess that she was unhappy. He would be superabundantly gratified if she should simply let him know, even by a silent sign, that she recognised that with him her life would have been finer. Sometimes he guessed — his presumption went so far — that he might see this sign in her contentedly sitting there.
At last he broached the question of painting the Colonel: it was now very late in the season — there would be little time before the general dispersal. He said they must make the most of it; the great thing was to begin; then in the autumn, with the resumption of their London life, they could go forward. Mrs. Capadose objected to this that she really could not consent to accept another present of such value. Lyon had given her the portrait of herself of old, and he had seen what they had had the indelicacy to do with it. Now he had offered her this beautiful memorial of the child — beautiful it would evidently be when it was finished, if he could ever satisfy himself; a precious possession which they would cherish for ever. But his generosity must stop there — they couldn’t be so tremendously ‘beholden’ to him. They couldn’t order the picture — of course he would understand that, without her explaining: it was a luxury beyond their reach, for they knew the great prices he received. Besides, what had they ever done — what above all had she ever done, that he should overload them with benefits? No, he was too dreadfully good; it was really impossible that Clement should sit. Lyon listened to her without protest, without interruption, while he bent forward at his work, and at last he said: ‘Well, if you won’t take it why not let him sit for me for my own pleasure and profit? Let it be a favour, a service I ask of him. It will do me a lot of good to paint him and the picture will remain in my hands.’
‘How will it do you a lot of good?’ Mrs. Capadose asked.
‘Why, he’s such a rare model — such an interesting subject. He has such an expressive face. It will teach me no end of things.’
‘Expressive of what?’ said Mrs. Capadose.
‘Why, of his nature.’
‘And do you want to paint his nature?’
‘Of course I do. That’s what a great portrait gives you, and I shall make the Colonel’s a great one. It will put me up high. So you see my request is eminently interested.’
‘How can you be higher than you are?’
‘Oh, I’m insatiable! Do consent,’ said Lyon.
‘Well, his nature is very noble,’ Mrs. Capadose remarked.
‘Ah, trust me, I shall bring it out!’ Lyon exclaimed, feeling a little ashamed of himself.
Mrs. Capadose said before she went away that her husband would probably comply with his invitation, but she added, ‘Nothing would induce me to let you pry into me that way!’
‘Oh, you,’ Lyon laughed — ‘I could do you in the dark!’
The Colonel shortly afterwards placed his leisure at the painter’s disposal and by the end of July had paid him several visits. Lyon was disappointed neither in the quality of his sitter nor in the degree to which he himself rose to the occasion; he felt really confident that he should produce a fine thing. He was in the humour; he was charmed with his motif and deeply interested in his problem. The only point that troubled him was the idea that when he should send his picture to the Academy he should not be able to give the title, for the catalogue, simply as ‘The Liar.’ However, it little mattered, for he had now determined that this character should be perceptible even to the meanest intelligence — as overtopping as it had become to his own sense in the living man. As he saw nothing else in the Colonel to-day, so he gave himself up to the joy of painting nothing else. How he did it he could not have told you, but it seemed to him that the mystery of how to do it was revealed to him afresh every time he sat down to his work. It was in the eyes and it was in the mouth, it was in every line of the face and every fact of the attitude, in the indentation of the chin, in the way the hair was planted, the moustache was twisted, the smile came and went, the breath rose and fell. It was in the way he looked out at a bamboozled world in short — the way he would look out for ever. There were half a dozen portraits in Europe that Lyon rated as supreme; he regarded them as immortal, for they were as perfectly preserved as they were consummately painted. It was to this small exemplary group that he aspired to annex the canvas on which he was now engaged. One of the productions that helped to compose it was the magnificent Moroni of the National Gallery — the young tailor, in the white jacket, at his board with his shears. The Colonel was not a tailor, nor was Moroni’s model, unlike many tailors, a liar; but as regards the masterly clearness with which the individual should be rendered his work would be on the same line as that. He had to a degree in which he had rarely had it before the satisfaction of feeling life grow and grow under his brush. The Colonel, as it turned out, liked to sit and he liked to talk while he was sitting: which was very fortunate, as his talk largely constituted Lyon’s inspiration. Lyon put into practice that idea of drawing him out which he had been nursing for so many weeks: he could not possibly have been in a better relation to him for the purpose. He encouraged, beguiled, excited him, manifested an unfathomable credulity, and his only interruptions were when the Colonel did not respond to it. He had his intermissions, his hours of sterility, and then Lyon felt that the picture also languished. The higher his companion soared, the more gyrations he executed, in the blue, the better he painted; he couldn’t make his flights long enough. He lashed him on when he flagged; his apprehension became great at moments that the Colonel would discover his game. But he never did, apparently; he basked and expanded in the fine steady light of the painter’s attention. In this way the picture grew very fast; it was astonishing what a short business it was, compared with the little girl’s. By the fifth of August it was pretty well finished: that was the date of the last sitting the Colonel was for the present able to give, as he was leaving town the next day with his wife. Lyon was amply content — he saw his way so clear: he should be able to do at his convenience what remained, with or without his friend’s attendance. At any rate, as there was no hurry, he would let the thing stand over till his own return to London, in November, when he would come back to it with a fresh eye. On the Colonel’s asking him if his wife might come and see it the next day, if she should find a minute — this was so greatly her desire — Lyon begged as a special favour that she would wait: he was so far from satisfied as yet. This was the repetition of a proposal Mrs. Capadose had made on the occasion of his last visit to her, and he had then asked for a delay — declared that he was by no means content. He was really delighted, and he was again a little ashamed of himself.
By the fifth of August the weather was very warm, and on that day, while the Colonel sat straight and gossiped, Lyon opened for the sake of ventilation a little subsidiary door which led directly from his studio into the garden and sometimes served as an entrance and an exit for models and for visitors of the humbler sort, and as a passage for canvases, frames, packing-boxes and other professional gear. The main entrance was through the house and his own apartments, and this approach had the charming effect of admitting you first to a high gallery, from which a crooked picturesque staircase enabled you to descend to the wide, decorated, encumbered room. The view of this room, beneath them, with all its artistic ingenuities and the objects of value that Lyon had collected, never failed to elicit exclamations of delight from persons stepping into the gallery. The way from the garden was plainer and at once more practicable and more private. Lyon’s domain, in St. John’s Wood, was not vast, but when the door stood open of a summer’s day it offered a glimpse of flowers and trees, you smelt something sweet and you heard the birds. On this particular morning the side-door had been found convenient by an unannounced visitor, a youngish woman who stood in the room before the Colonel perceived her and whom he perceived before she was noticed by his friend. She was very quiet, and she looked from one of the men to the other. ‘Oh, dear, here’s another!’ Lyon exclaimed, as soon as his eyes rested on her. She belonged, in fact, to a somewhat importunate class — the model in search of employment, and she explained that she had ventured to come straight in, that way, because very often when she went to call upon gentlemen the servants played her tricks, turned her off and wouldn’t take in her name.
‘But how did you get into the garden?’ Lyon asked.
‘The gate was open, sir — the servants’ gate. The butcher’s cart was there.’
‘The butcher ought to have closed it,’ said Lyon.
‘Then you don’t require me, sir?’ the lady continued.
Lyon went on with his painting; he had given her a sharp look at first, but now his eyes lighted on her no more. The Colonel, however, examined her with interest. She was a person of whom you could scarcely say whether being young she looked old or old she looked young; she had at any rate evidently rounded several of the corners of life and had a face that was rosy but that somehow failed to suggest freshness. Nevertheless she was pretty and even looked as if at one time she might have sat for the complexion. She wore a hat with many feathers, a dress with many bugles, long black gloves, encircled with silver bracelets, and very bad shoes. There was something about her that was not exactly of the governess out of place nor completely of the actress seeking an engagement, but that savoured of an interrupted profession or even of a blighted career. She was rather soiled and tarnished, and after she had been in the room a few moments the air, or at any rate the nostril, became acquainted with a certain alcoholic waft. She was unpractised in the h, and when Lyon at last thanked her and said he didn’t want her — he was doing nothing for which she could be useful — she replied with rather a wounded manner, ‘Well, you know you ’ave ‘ad me!’
‘I don’t remember you,’ Lyon answered.
‘Well, I daresay the people that saw your pictures do! I haven’t much time, but I thought I would look in.’
‘I am much obliged to you.’
‘If ever you should require me, if you just send me a postcard —— ’
‘I never send postcards,’ said Lyon.
‘Oh well, I should value a private letter! Anything to Miss Geraldine, Mortimer Terrace Mews, Notting ‘ill —— ’
‘Very good; I’ll remember,’ said Lyon.
Miss Geraldine lingered. ‘I thought I’d just stop, on the chance.’
‘I’m afraid I can’t hold out hopes, I’m so busy with portraits,’ Lyon continued.
‘Yes; I see you are. I wish I was in the gentleman’s place.’
‘I’m afraid in that case it wouldn’t look like me,’ said the Colonel, laughing.
‘Oh, of course it couldn’t compare — it wouldn’t be so ‘andsome! But I do hate them portraits!’ Miss Geraldine declared. ‘It’s so much bread out of our mouths.’
‘Well, there are many who can’t paint them,’ Lyon suggested, comfortingly.
‘Oh, I’ve sat to the very first — and only to the first! There’s many that couldn’t do anything without me.’
‘I’m glad you’re in such demand.’ Lyon was beginning to be bored and he added that he wouldn’t detain her — he would send for her in case of need.
‘Very well; remember it’s the Mews — more’s the pity! You don’t sit so well as us!’ Miss Geraldine pursued, looking at the Colonel. ‘If you should require me, sir —— ’
‘You put him out; you embarrass him,’ said Lyon.
‘Embarrass him, oh gracious!’ the visitor cried, with a laugh which diffused a fragrance. ‘Perhaps you send postcards, eh?’ she went on to the Colonel; and then she retreated with a wavering step. She passed out into the garden as she had come.
‘How very dreadful — she’s drunk!’ said Lyon. He was painting hard, but he looked up, checking himself: Miss Geraldine, in the open doorway, had thrust back her head.
‘Yes, I do hate it — that sort of thing!’ she cried with an explosion of mirth which confirmed Lyon’s declaration. And then she disappeared.
‘What sort of thing — what does she mean?’ the Colonel asked.
‘Oh, my painting you, when I might be painting her.’
‘And have you ever painted her?’
‘Never in the world; I have never seen her. She is quite mistaken.’
The Colonel was silent a moment; then he remarked, ‘She was very pretty — ten years ago.’
‘I daresay, but she’s quite ruined. For me the least drop too much spoils them; I shouldn’t care for her at all.’
‘My dear fellow, she’s not a model,’ said the Colonel, laughing.
‘To-day, no doubt, she’s not worthy of the name; but she has been one.’
‘Jamais de la vie! That’s all a pretext.’
‘A pretext?’ Lyon pricked up his ears — he began to wonder what was coming now.
‘She didn’t want you — she wanted me.’
‘I noticed she paid you some attention. What does she want of you?’
‘Oh, to do me an ill turn. She hates me — lots of women do. She’s watching me — she follows me.’
Lyon leaned back in his chair — he didn’t believe a word of this. He was all the more delighted with it and with the Colonel’s bright, candid manner. The story had bloomed, fragrant, on the spot. ‘My dear Colonel!’ he murmured, with friendly interest and commiseration.
‘I was annoyed when she came in — but I wasn’t startled,’ his sitter continued.
‘You concealed it very well, if you were.’
‘Ah, when one has been through what I have! To-day however I confess I was half prepared. I have seen her hanging about — she knows my movements. She was near my house this morning — she must have followed me.’
‘But who is she then — with such a toupet?’
‘Yes, she has that,’ said the Colonel; ‘but as you observe she was primed. Still, there was a cheek, as they say, in her coming in. Oh, she’s a bad one! She isn’t a model and she never was; no doubt she has known some of those women and picked up their form. She had hold of a friend of mine ten years ago — a stupid young gander who might have been left to be plucked but whom I was obliged to take an interest in for family reasons. It’s a long story — I had really forgotten all about it. She’s thirty-seven if she’s a day. I cut in and made him get rid of her — I sent her about her business. She knew it was me she had to thank. She has never forgiven me — I think she’s off her head. Her name isn’t Geraldine at all and I doubt very much if that’s her address.’
‘Ah, what is her name?’ Lyon asked, most attentive. The details always began to multiply, to abound, when once his companion was well launched — they flowed forth in battalions.
‘It’s Pearson — Harriet Pearson; but she used to call herself Grenadine — wasn’t that a rum appellation? Grenadine — Geraldine — the jump was easy.’ Lyon was charmed with the promptitude of this response, and his interlocutor went on: ‘I hadn’t thought of her for years — I had quite lost sight of her. I don’t know what her idea is, but practically she’s harmless. As I came in I thought I saw her a little way up the road. She must have found out I come here and have arrived before me. I daresay — or rather I’m sure — she is waiting for me there now.’
‘Hadn’t you better have protection?’ Lyon asked, laughing.
‘The best protection is five shillings — I’m willing to go that length. Unless indeed she has a bottle of vitriol. But they only throw vitriol on the men who have deceived them, and I never deceived her — I told her the first time I saw her that it wouldn’t do. Oh, if she’s there we’ll walk a little way together and talk it over and, as I say, I’ll go as far as five shillings.’
‘Well,’ said Lyon, ‘I’ll contribute another five.’ He felt that this was little to pay for his entertainment.
That entertainment was interrupted however for the time by the Colonel’s departure. Lyon hoped for a letter recounting the fictive sequel; but apparently his brilliant sitter did not operate with the pen. At any rate he left town without writing; they had taken a rendezvous for three months later. Oliver Lyon always passed the holidays in the same way; during the first weeks he paid a visit to his elder brother, the happy possessor, in the south of England, of a rambling old house with formal gardens, in which he delighted, and then he went abroad — usually to Italy or Spain. This year he carried out his custom after taking a last look at his all but finished work and feeling as nearly pleased with it as he ever felt with the translation of the idea by the hand — always, as it seemed to him, a pitiful compromise. One yellow afternoon, in the country, as he was smoking his pipe on one of the old terraces he was seized with the desire to see it again and do two or three things more to it: he had thought of it so often while he lounged there. The impulse was too strong to be dismissed, and though he expected to return to town in the course of another week he was unable to face the delay. To look at the picture for five minutes would be enough — it would clear up certain questions which hummed in his brain; so that the next morning, to give himself this luxury, he took the train for London. He sent no word in advance; he would lunch at his club and probably return into Sussex by the 5.45.
In St. John’s Wood the tide of human life flows at no time very fast, and in the first days of September Lyon found unmitigated emptiness in the straight sunny roads where the little plastered garden-walls, with their incommunicative doors, looked slightly Oriental. There was definite stillness in his own house, to which he admitted himself by his pass-key, having a theory that it was well sometimes to take servants unprepared. The good woman who was mainly in charge and who cumulated the functions of cook and housekeeper was, however, quickly summoned by his step, and (he cultivated frankness of intercourse with his domestics) received him without the confusion of surprise. He told her that she needn’t mind the place being not quite straight, he had only come up for a few hours — he should be busy in the studio. To this she replied that he was just in time to see a lady and a gentleman who were there at the moment — they had arrived five minutes before. She had told them he was away from home but they said it was all right; they only wanted to look at a picture and would be very careful of everything. ‘I hope it is all right, sir,’ the housekeeper concluded. ‘The gentleman says he’s a sitter and he gave me his name — rather an odd name; I think it’s military. The lady’s a very fine lady, sir; at any rate there they are.’
‘Oh, it’s all right,’ Lyon said, the identity of his visitors being clear. The good woman couldn’t know, for she usually had little to do with the comings and goings; his man, who showed people in and out, had accompanied him to the country. He was a good deal surprised at Mrs. Capadose’s having come to see her husband’s portrait when she knew that the artist himself wished her to forbear; but it was a familiar truth to him that she was a woman of a high spirit. Besides, perhaps the lady was not Mrs. Capadose; the Colonel might have brought some inquisitive friend, a person who wanted a portrait of her husband. What were they doing in town, at any rate, at that moment? Lyon made his way to the studio with a certain curiosity; he wondered vaguely what his friends were ‘up to.’ He pushed aside the curtain that hung in the door of communication — the door opening upon the gallery which it had been found convenient to construct at the time the studio was added to the house. When I say he pushed it aside I should amend my phrase; he laid his hand upon it, but at that moment he was arrested by a very singular sound. It came from the floor of the room beneath him and it startled him extremely, consisting apparently as it did of a passionate wail — a sort of smothered shriek — accompanied by a violent burst of tears. Oliver Lyon listened intently a moment, and then he passed out upon the balcony, which was covered with an old thick Moorish rug. His step was noiseless, though he had not endeavoured to make it so, and after that first instant he found himself profiting irresistibly by the accident of his not having attracted the attention of the two persons in the studio, who were some twenty feet below him. In truth they were so deeply and so strangely engaged that their unconsciousness of observation was explained. The scene that took place before Lyon’s eyes was one of the most extraordinary they had ever rested upon. Delicacy and the failure to comprehend kept him at first from interrupting it — for what he saw was a woman who had thrown herself in a flood of tears on her companion’s bosom — and these influences were succeeded after a minute (the minutes were very few and very short) by a definite motive which presently had the force to make him step back behind the curtain. I may add that it also had the force to make him avail himself for further contemplation of a crevice formed by his gathering together the two halves of the portière. He was perfectly aware of what he was about — he was for the moment an eavesdropper, a spy; but he was also aware that a very odd business, in which his confidence had been trifled with, was going forward, and that if in a measure it didn’t concern him, in a measure it very definitely did. His observation, his reflections, accomplished themselves in a flash.
His visitors were in the middle of the room; Mrs. Capadose clung to her husband, weeping, sobbing as if her heart would break. Her distress was horrible to Oliver Lyon but his astonishment was greater than his horror when he heard the Colonel respond to it by the words, vehemently uttered, ‘Damn him, damn him, damn him!’ What in the world had happened? Why was she sobbing and whom was he damning? What had happened, Lyon saw the next instant, was that the Colonel had finally rummaged out his unfinished portrait (he knew the corner where the artist usually placed it, out of the way, with its face to the wall) and had set it up before his wife on an empty easel. She had looked at it a few moments and then — apparently — what she saw in it had produced an explosion of dismay and resentment. She was too busy sobbing and the Colonel was too busy holding her and reiterating his objurgation, to look round or look up. The scene was so unexpected to Lyon that he could not take it, on the spot, as a proof of the triumph of his hand — of a tremendous hit: he could only wonder what on earth was the matter. The idea of the triumph came a little later. Yet he could see the portrait from where he stood; he was startled with its look of life — he had not thought it so masterly. Mrs. Capadose flung herself away from her husband — she dropped into the nearest chair, buried her face in her arms, leaning on a table. Her weeping suddenly ceased to be audible, but she shuddered there as if she were overwhelmed with anguish and shame. Her husband remained a moment staring at the picture; then he went to her, bent over her, took hold of her again, soothed her. ‘What is it, darling, what the devil is it?’ he demanded.
Lyon heard her answer. ‘It’s cruel — oh, it’s too cruel!’
‘Damn him — damn him — damn him!’ the Colonel repeated.
‘It’s all there — it’s all there!’ Mrs. Capadose went on.
‘Hang it, what’s all there?’
‘Everything there oughtn’t to be — everything he has seen — it’s too dreadful!’
‘Everything he has seen? Why, ain’t I a good-looking fellow? He has made me rather handsome.’
Mrs. Capadose had sprung up again; she had darted another glance at the painted betrayal. ‘Handsome? Hideous, hideous! Not that — never, never!’
‘Not what, in heaven’s name?’ the Colonel almost shouted. Lyon could see his flushed, bewildered face.
‘What he has made of you — what you know! He knows — he has seen. Every one will know — every one will see. Fancy that thing in the Academy!’
‘You’re going wild, darling; but if you hate it so it needn’t go.’
‘Oh, he’ll send it — it’s so good! Come away — come away!’ Mrs. Capadose wailed, seizing her husband.
‘It’s so good?’ the poor man cried.
‘Come away — come away,’ she only repeated; and she turned toward the staircase that ascended to the gallery.
‘Not that way — not through the house, in the state you’re in,’ Lyon heard the Colonel object. ‘This way — we can pass,’ he added; and he drew his wife to the small door that opened into the garden. It was bolted, but he pushed the bolt and opened the door. She passed out quickly, but he stood there looking back into the room. ‘Wait for me a moment!’ he cried out to her; and with an excited stride he re-entered the studio. He came up to the picture again, and again he stood looking at it. ‘Damn him — damn him — damn him!’ he broke out once more. It was not clear to Lyon whether this malediction had for its object the original or the painter of the portrait. The Colonel turned away and moved rapidly about the room, as if he were looking for something; Lyon was unable for the instant to guess his intention. Then the artist said to himself, below his breath, ‘He’s going to do it a harm!’ His first impulse was to rush down and stop him; but he paused, with the sound of Everina Brant’s sobs still in his ears. The Colonel found what he was looking for — found it among some odds and ends on a small table and rushed back with it to the easel. At one and the same moment Lyon perceived that the object he had seized was a small Eastern dagger and that he had plunged it into the canvas. He seemed animated by a sudden fury, for with extreme vigour of hand he dragged the instrument down (Lyon knew it to have no very fine edge) making a long, abominable gash. Then he plucked it out and dashed it again several times into the face of the likeness, exactly as if he were stabbing a human victim: it had the oddest effect — that of a sort of figurative suicide. In a few seconds more the Colonel had tossed the dagger away — he looked at it as he did so, as if he expected it to reek with blood — and hurried out of the place, closing the door after him.
The strangest part of all was — as will doubtless appear — that Oliver Lyon made no movement to save his picture. But he did not feel as if he were losing it or cared not if he were, so much more did he feel that he was gaining a certitude. His old friend was ashamed of her husband, and he had made her so, and he had scored a great success, even though the picture had been reduced to rags. The revelation excited him so — as indeed the whole scene did — that when he came down the steps after the Colonel had gone he trembled with his happy agitation; he was dizzy and had to sit down a moment. The portrait had a dozen jagged wounds — the Colonel literally had hacked it to death. Lyon left it where it was, never touched it, scarcely looked at it; he only walked up and down his studio, still excited, for an hour. At the end of this time his good woman came to recommend that he should have some luncheon; there was a passage under the staircase from the offices.
‘Ah, the lady and gentleman have gone, sir? I didn’t hear them.’
‘Yes; they went by the garden.’
But she had stopped, staring at the picture on the easel. ‘Gracious, how you ’ave served it, sir!’
Lyon imitated the Colonel. ‘Yes, I cut it up — in a fit of disgust.’
‘Mercy, after all your trouble! Because they weren’t pleased, sir?’
‘Yes; they weren’t pleased.’
‘Well, they must be very grand! Blessed if I would!’
‘Have it chopped up; it will do to light fires,’ Lyon said.
He returned to the country by the 3.30 and a few days later passed over to France. During the two months that he was absent from England he expected something — he could hardly have said what; a manifestation of some sort on the Colonel’s part. Wouldn’t he write, wouldn’t he explain, wouldn’t he take for granted Lyon had discovered the way he had, as the cook said, served him and deem it only decent to take pity in some fashion or other on his mystification? Would he plead guilty or would he repudiate suspicion? The latter course would be difficult and make a considerable draft upon his genius, in view of the certain testimony of Lyon’s housekeeper, who had admitted the visitors and would establish the connection between their presence and the violence wrought. Would the Colonel proffer some apology or some amends, or would any word from him be only a further expression of that destructive petulance which our friend had seen his wife so suddenly and so potently communicate to him? He would have either to declare that he had not touched the picture or to admit that he had, and in either case he would have to tell a fine story. Lyon was impatient for the story and, as no letter came, disappointed that it was not produced. His impatience however was much greater in respect to Mrs. Capadose’s version, if version there was to be; for certainly that would be the real test, would show how far she would go for her husband, on the one side, or for him, Oliver Lyon, on the other. He could scarcely wait to see what line she would take; whether she would simply adopt the Colonel’s, whatever it might be. He wanted to draw her out without waiting, to get an idea in advance. He wrote to her, to this end, from Venice, in the tone of their established friendship, asking for news, narrating his wanderings, hoping they should soon meet in town and not saying a word about the picture. Day followed day, after the time, and he received no answer; upon which he reflected that she couldn’t trust herself to write — was still too much under the influence of the emotion produced by his ‘betrayal.’ Her husband had espoused that emotion and she had espoused the action he had taken in consequence of it, and it was a complete rupture and everything was at an end. Lyon considered this prospect rather ruefully, at the same time that he thought it deplorable that such charming people should have put themselves so grossly in the wrong. He was at last cheered, though little further enlightened, by the arrival of a letter, brief but breathing good-humour and hinting neither at a grievance nor at a bad conscience. The most interesting part of it to Lyon was the postscript, which consisted of these words: ‘I have a confession to make to you. We were in town for a couple of days, the 1st of September, and I took the occasion to defy your authority — it was very bad of me but I couldn’t help it. I made Clement take me to your studio — I wanted so dreadfully to see what you had done with him, your wishes to the contrary notwithstanding. We made your servants let us in and I took a good look at the picture. It is really wonderful!’ ‘Wonderful’ was non-committal, but at least with this letter there was no rupture.
The third day after Lyon’s return to London was a Sunday, so that he could go and ask Mrs. Capadose for luncheon. She had given him in the spring a general invitation to do so and he had availed himself of it several times. These had been the occasions (before he sat to him) when he saw the Colonel most familiarly. Directly after the meal his host disappeared (he went out, as he said, to call on his women) and the second half-hour was the best, even when there were other people. Now, in the first days of December, Lyon had the luck to find the pair alone, without even Amy, who appeared but little in public. They were in the drawing-room, waiting for the repast to be announced, and as soon as he came in the Colonel broke out, ‘My dear fellow, I’m delighted to see you! I’m so keen to begin again.’
‘Oh, do go on, it’s so beautiful,’ Mrs. Capadose said, as she gave him her hand.
Lyon looked from one to the other; he didn’t know what he had expected, but he had not expected this. ‘Ah, then, you think I’ve got something?’
‘You’ve got everything,’ said Mrs. Capadose, smiling from her golden-brown eyes.
‘She wrote you of our little crime?’ her husband asked. ‘She dragged me there — I had to go.’ Lyon wondered for a moment whether he meant by their little crime the assault on the canvas; but the Colonel’s next words didn’t confirm this interpretation. ‘You know I like to sit — it gives such a chance to my bavardise. And just now I have time.’
‘You must remember I had almost finished,’ Lyon remarked.
‘So you had. More’s the pity. I should like you to begin again.’
‘My dear fellow, I shall have to begin again!’ said Oliver Lyon with a laugh, looking at Mrs. Capadose. She did not meet his eyes — she had got up to ring for luncheon. ‘The picture has been smashed,’ Lyon continued.
‘Smashed? Ah, what did you do that for?’ Mrs. Capadose asked, standing there before him in all her clear, rich beauty. Now that she looked at him she was impenetrable.
‘I didn’t — I found it so — with a dozen holes punched in it!’
‘I say!’ cried the Colonel.
Lyon turned his eyes to him, smiling. ‘I hope you didn’t do it?’
‘Is it ruined?’ the Colonel inquired. He was as brightly true as his wife and he looked simply as if Lyon’s question could not be serious. ‘For the love of sitting to you? My dear fellow, if I had thought of it I would!’
‘Nor you either?’ the painter demanded of Mrs. Capadose.
Before she had time to reply her husband had seized her arm, as if a highly suggestive idea had come to him. ‘I say, my dear, that woman — that woman!’
‘That woman?’ Mrs. Capadose repeated; and Lyon too wondered what woman he meant.
‘Don’t you remember when we came out, she was at the door — or a little way from it? I spoke to you of her — I told you about her. Geraldine — Grenadine — the one who burst in that day,’ he explained to Lyon. ‘We saw her hanging about — I called Everina’s attention to her.’
‘Do you mean she got at my picture?’
‘Ah yes, I remember,’ said Mrs. Capadose, with a sigh.
‘She burst in again — she had learned the way — she was waiting for her chance,’ the Colonel continued. ‘Ah, the little brute!’
Lyon looked down; he felt himself colouring. This was what he had been waiting for — the day the Colonel should wantonly sacrifice some innocent person. And could his wife be a party to that final atrocity? Lyon had reminded himself repeatedly during the previous weeks that when the Colonel perpetrated his misdeed she had already quitted the room; but he had argued none the less — it was a virtual certainty — that he had on rejoining her immediately made his achievement plain to her. He was in the flush of performance; and even if he had not mentioned what he had done she would have guessed it. He did not for an instant believe that poor Miss Geraldine had been hovering about his door, nor had the account given by the Colonel the summer before of his relations with this lady deceived him in the slightest degree. Lyon had never seen her before the day she planted herself in his studio; but he knew her and classified her as if he had made her. He was acquainted with the London female model in all her varieties — in every phase of her development and every step of her decay. When he entered his house that September morning just after the arrival of his two friends there had been no symptoms whatever, up and down the road, of Miss Geraldine’s reappearance. That fact had been fixed in his mind by his recollecting the vacancy of the prospect when his cook told him that a lady and a gentleman were in his studio: he had wondered there was not a carriage nor a cab at his door. Then he had reflected that they would have come by the underground railway; he was close to the Marlborough Road station and he knew the Colonel, coming to his sittings, more than once had availed himself of that convenience. ‘How in the world did she get in?’ He addressed the question to his companions indifferently.
‘Let us go down to luncheon,’ said Mrs. Capadose, passing out of the room.
‘We went by the garden — without troubling your servant — I wanted to show my wife.’ Lyon followed his hostess with her husband and the Colonel stopped him at the top of the stairs. ‘My dear fellow, I can’t have been guilty of the folly of not fastening the door?’
‘I am sure I don’t know, Colonel,’ Lyon said as they went down. ‘It was a very determined hand — a perfect wild-cat.’
‘Well, she is a wild-cat — confound her! That’s why I wanted to get him away from her.’
‘But I don’t understand her motive.’
‘She’s off her head — and she hates me; that was her motive.’
‘But she doesn’t hate me, my dear fellow!’ Lyon said, laughing.
‘She hated the picture — don’t you remember she said so? The more portraits there are the less employment for such as her.’
‘Yes; but if she is not really the model she pretends to be, how can that hurt her?’ Lyon asked.
The inquiry baffled the Colonel an instant — but only an instant. ‘Ah, she was in a vicious muddle! As I say, she’s off her head.’
They went into the dining-room, where Mrs. Capadose was taking her place. ‘It’s too bad, it’s too horrid!’ she said. ‘You see the fates are against you. Providence won’t let you be so disinterested — painting masterpieces for nothing.’
‘Did you see the woman?’ Lyon demanded, with something like a sternness that he could not mitigate.
Mrs. Capadose appeared not to perceive it or not to heed it if she did. ‘There was a person, not far from your door, whom Clement called my attention to. He told me something about her but we were going the other way.’
‘And do you think she did it?’
‘How can I tell? If she did she was mad, poor wretch.’
‘I should like very much to get hold of her,’ said Lyon. This was a false statement, for he had no desire for any further conversation with Miss Geraldine. He had exposed his friends to himself, but he had no desire to expose them to any one else, least of all to themselves.
‘Oh, depend upon it she will never show again. You’re safe!’ the Colonel exclaimed.
‘But I remember her address — Mortimer Terrace Mews, Notting Hill.’
‘Oh, that’s pure humbug; there isn’t any such place.’
‘Lord, what a deceiver!’ said Lyon.
‘Is there any one else you suspect?’ the Colonel went on.
‘Not a creature.’
‘And what do your servants say?’
‘They say it wasn’t them, and I reply that I never said it was. That’s about the substance of our conferences.’
‘And when did they discover the havoc?’
‘They never discovered it at all. I noticed it first — when I came back.’
‘Well, she could easily have stepped in,’ said the Colonel. ‘Don’t you remember how she turned up that day, like the clown in the ring?’
‘Yes, yes; she could have done the job in three seconds, except that the picture wasn’t out.’
‘My dear fellow, don’t curse me! — but of course I dragged it out.’
‘You didn’t put it back?’ Lyon asked tragically.
‘Ah, Clement, Clement, didn’t I tell you to?’ Mrs. Capadose exclaimed in a tone of exquisite reproach.
The Colonel groaned, dramatically; he covered his face with his hands. His wife’s words were for Lyon the finishing touch; they made his whole vision crumble — his theory that she had secretly kept herself true. Even to her old lover she wouldn’t be so! He was sick; he couldn’t eat; he knew that he looked very strange. He murmured something about it being useless to cry over spilled milk — he tried to turn the conversation to other things. But it was a horrid effort and he wondered whether they felt it as much as he. He wondered all sorts of things: whether they guessed he disbelieved them (that he had seen them of course they would never guess); whether they had arranged their story in advance or it was only an inspiration of the moment; whether she had resisted, protested, when the Colonel proposed it to her, and then had been borne down by him; whether in short she didn’t loathe herself as she sat there. The cruelty, the cowardice of fastening their unholy act upon the wretched woman struck him as monstrous — no less monstrous indeed than the levity that could make them run the risk of her giving them, in her righteous indignation, the lie. Of course that risk could only exculpate her and not inculpate them — the probabilities protected them so perfectly; and what the Colonel counted on (what he would have counted upon the day he delivered himself, after first seeing her, at the studio, if he had thought about the matter then at all and not spoken from the pure spontaneity of his genius) was simply that Miss Geraldine had really vanished for ever into her native unknown. Lyon wanted so much to quit the subject that when after a little Mrs. Capadose said to him, ‘But can nothing be done, can’t the picture be repaired? You know they do such wonders in that way now,’ he only replied, ‘I don’t know, I don’t care, it’s all over, n’en parlons plus!’ Her hypocrisy revolted him. And yet, by way of plucking off the last veil of her shame, he broke out to her again, shortly afterward, ‘And you did like it, really?’ To which she returned, looking him straight in his face, without a blush, a pallor, an evasion, ‘Oh, I loved it!’ Truly her husband had trained her well. After that Lyon said no more and his companions forbore temporarily to insist, like people of tact and sympathy aware that the odious accident had made him sore.
When they quitted the table the Colonel went away without coming upstairs; but Lyon returned to the drawing-room with his hostess, remarking to her however on the way that he could remain but a moment. He spent that moment — it prolonged itself a little — standing with her before the chimney-piece. She neither sat down nor asked him to; her manner denoted that she intended to go out. Yes, her husband had trained her well; yet Lyon dreamed for a moment that now he was alone with her she would perhaps break down, retract, apologise, confide, say to him, ‘My dear old friend, forgive this hideous comedy — you understand!’ And then how he would have loved her and pitied her, guarded her, helped her always! If she were not ready to do something of that sort why had she treated him as if he were a dear old friend; why had she let him for months suppose certain things — or almost; why had she come to his studio day after day to sit near him on the pretext of her child’s portrait, as if she liked to think what might have been? Why had she come so near a tacit confession, in a word, if she was not willing to go an inch further? And she was not willing — she was not; he could see that as he lingered there. She moved about the room a little, rearranging two or three objects on the tables, but she did nothing more. Suddenly he said to her: ‘Which way was she going, when you came out?’
‘She — the woman we saw?’
‘Yes, your husband’s strange friend. It’s a clew worth following.’ He had no desire to frighten her; he only wanted to communicate the impulse which would make her say, ‘Ah, spare me — and spare him! There was no such person.’
Instead of this Mrs. Capadose replied, ‘She was going away from us — she crossed the road. We were coming towards the station.’
‘And did she appear to recognise the Colonel — did she look round?’
‘Yes; she looked round, but I didn’t notice much. A hansom came along and we got into it. It was not till then that Clement told me who she was: I remember he said that she was there for no good. I suppose we ought to have gone back.’
‘Yes; you would have saved the picture.’
For a moment she said nothing; then she smiled. ‘For you, I am very sorry. But you must remember that I possess the original!’
At this Lyon turned away. ‘Well, I must go,’ he said; and he left her without any other farewell and made his way out of the house. As he went slowly up the street the sense came back to him of that first glimpse of her he had had at Stayes — the way he had seen her gaze across the table at her husband. Lyon stopped at the corner, looking vaguely up and down. He would never go back — he couldn’t. She was still in love with the Colonel — he had trained her too well.
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