Hannele went her way pondering. A man never is quite such an abject specimen as his wife makes him look, talking about ‘my husband’. Therefore, if any woman wishes to rescue her husband from the clutches of another female, let her only invite this female to tea and talk quite sincerely about ‘my husband, you know’. Every man has made a ghastly fool of himself with a woman at some time or other. No woman ever forgets. And most women will give the show away, with real pathos, to another woman. For instance, the picture of Alec at his wife’s feet on his wedding night, vowing to devote himself to her life-long happiness — this picture strayed across Hannele’s mind time after time, whenever she thought of her dear captain. With disastrous consequences to the captain. Of course if he had been at her own feet, then Hannele would have thought it almost natural: almost a necessary part of the show of love. But at the feet of that other little woman! And what was that other little woman wearing? Her wedding night! Hannele hoped before heaven it wasn’t some awful little nightie of frail flowered silk. Imagine it, that little lady! Perhaps in a chic little boudoir cap of punto di Milano, and this slip of frail flowered silk: and the man, perhaps, in his braces! Oh, merciful heaven, save us from other people’s indiscretions. No, let us be sure it was in proper evening dress — twenty years ago — very low cut, with a full skirt gathered behind and trailing a little, and a little leather erection in her high-dressed hair, and all those jewels: pearls of course: and he in a dinner-jacket and a white waistcoat: probably in an hotel bedroom in Lugano or Biarritz. And she? Was she standing with one small hand on his shoulder? — or was she seated on the couch in the bedroom? Oh, dreadful thought! And yet it was almost inevitable, that scene. Hannele had never been married, but she had come quite near enough to the realization of the event to know that such a scene WAS practically inevitable. An indispensable part of any honeymoon. Him on his knees, with his heels up!
And how black and tidy his hair must have been then! and no grey at the temples at all. Such a good-looking bridegroom. Perhaps with a white rose in his button-hole still. And she could see him kneeling there, in his new black trousers and a wing collar. And she could see his head bowed. And she could hear his plangent, musical voice saying: ‘With God’s help, I will make your life happy. I will live for that and for nothing else.’ And then the little lady must have had tears in her eyes, and she must have said, rather superbly: ‘Thank you, dear, I’m perfectly sure of it.’
Ach! Ach! Husbands should be left to their own wives: and wives should be left to their own husbands. And NO stranger should ever be made a party to these terrible bits of connubial staging. Nay, thought Hannele, that scene was really true. It actually took place. And with the man of that scene I have been in love! With the devoted husband of that little lady. Oh God, oh God, how was it possible! Him on his knees, on his knees, with his heels up!
Am I a perfect fool? she thought to herself. Am I really just an idiot, gaping with love for him? How COULD I? How could I? The very way he says: ‘Yes, dear!’ to her! The way he does what she tells him! The way he fidgets about the room with his hands in his pockets! The way he goes off when she sends him away because she wants to talk to me. And he knows she wants to talk to me. And he knows what she MIGHT have to say to me. Yet he goes off on his errand without a question, like a servant. ‘I will do whatever you wish, darling.’ He must have said those words time after time to the little lady. And fulfilled them, also. Performed all his pledges and his promises.
Ach! Ach! Hannele wrung her hands to think of HERSELF being mixed up with him. And he had seemed to her so manly. He seemed to have so much silent male passion in him. And yet — the little lady! ‘My husband has ALWAYS been PERFECTLY SWEET to me.’ Think of it! On his knees too. And his ‘Yes, dear! Certainly. Certainly.’ Not that he was afraid of the little lady. He was just committed to her, as he might have been committed to gaol, or committed to paradise.
Had she been dreaming, to be in love with him? Oh, she wished so much she had never been. She WISHED she had never given herself away. To him! — given herself away to him! — and so abjectly. Hung upon his words and his motions, and looked up to him as if he were Caesar. So he had seemed to her: like a mute Caesar. Like Germanicus. Like — she did not know what.
How had it all happened? What had taken her in? Was it just his good looks? No, not really. Because they were the kind of staring good looks she didn’t really care for. He must have had charm. He must have charm. Yes, he HAD charm. When it worked.
His charm had not worked on her now for some time — never since that evening after his wife’s arrival. Since then he had seemed to her — rather awful. Rather awful — stupid — an ass — a limited, rather vulgar person. That was what he seemed to her when his charm wouldn’t work. A limited, rather inferior person. And in a world of Schiebers and profiteers and vulgar, pretentious persons, this was the worst thing possible. A limited, inferior, slightly pretentious individual! The husband of the little lady! And oh heaven, she was so deeply implicated with him! He had not, however, spoken with her in private since his wife’s arrival. Probably he would never speak with her in private again. She hoped to heaven, never again. The awful thing was the past, that which had been between him and her. She shuddered when she thought of it. The husband of the little lady!
But surely there was something to account for it! Charm, just charm. He had a charm. And then, oh, heaven, when the charm left off working! It had left off so completely at this moment, in Hannele’s case, that her very mouth tasted salt. What DID it all amount to?
What was his charm, after all? How could it have affected her? She began to think of him again, at his best: his presence, when they were alone high up in that big, lonely attic near the stars. His room! — the big white-washed walls, the first scent of tobacco, the silence, the sense of the stars being near, the telescopes, the cactus with fine scarlet flowers: and above all, the strange, remote, insidious silence of his presence, that was so congenial to her also. The curious way he had of turning his head to listen — to listen to what? — as if he heard something in the stars. The strange look, like destiny, in his wide-open, almost staring black eyes. The beautiful lines of his brow, that seemed always to have a certain cloud on it. The slow elegance of his straight, beautiful legs as he walked, and the exquisiteness of his dark, slender chest! Ah, she could feel the charm mounting over her again. She could feel the snake biting her heart. She could feel the arrows of desire rankling.
But then — and she turned from her thoughts back to this last little tea-party in the Vier Jahreszeiten. She thought of his voice: ‘Yes, dear. Certainly. Certainly I will.’ And she thought of the stupid, inferior look on his face. And the something of a servant-like way in which he went out to do his wife’s bidding.
And then the charm was gone again, as the glow of sunset goes off a burning city and leaves it a sordid industrial hole. So much for charm!
So much for charm. She had better have stuck to her own sort of men. Martin, for instance, who was a gentleman and a daring soldier, and a queer soul and pleasant to talk to. Only he hadn’t any MAGIC. Magic? The very word made her writhe. Magic? Swindle. Swindle, that was all it amounted to. Magic!
And yet — let us not be too hasty. If the magic had REALLY been there, on those evenings in that great lofty attic. Had it? Yes. Yes, she was bound to admit it. There had been magic. If there had been magic in his presence and in his contact, the husband of the little lady — But the distaste was in her mouth again.
So she started afresh, trying to keep a tight hold on the tail of that all-too-evanescent magic of his. Dear, it slipped so quickly into disillusion. Nevertheless. If it had existed it did exist. And if it did exist, it was worth having. You could call it an illusion if you liked. But an illusion which is a real experience is worth having. Perhaps this disillusion was a greater illusion than the illusion itself. Perhaps all this disillusion of the little lady and the husband of the little lady was falser than the illusion and magic of those few evenings. Perhaps the long disillusion of life was falser than the brief moments of real illusion. After all — the delicate darkness of his breast, the mystery that seemed to come with him as he trod slowly across the floor of his room, after changing his tunic — Nay, nay, if she could keep the illusion of his charm, she would give all disillusion to the devils. Nay, only let her be under the spell of his charm. Only let the spell be upon her. It was all she yearned for. And the thing she had to fight was the vulgarity of disillusion. The vulgarity of the little lady, the vulgarity of the husband of the little lady, the vulgarity of his insincerity, his ‘Yes, dear. Certainly! Certainly!’ — this was what she had to fight. He WAS vulgar and horrible, then. But also, the queer figure that sat alone on the roof watching the stars! The wonderful red flower of the cactus. The mystery that advanced with him as he came across the room after changing his tunic. The glamour and sadness of him, his silence, as he stooped unfastening his boots. And the strange gargoyle smile, fixed, when he caressed her with his hand under the chin! Life is all a choice. And if she chose the glamour, the magic, the charm, the illusion, the spell! Better death than that other, the husband of the little lady. When all was said and done, was he as much the husband of the little lady as he was that queer, delicate-breasted Caesar of her own knowledge? Which was he?
No, she was NOT going to send her the doll. The little lady should never have the doll.
What a doll she would make herself! Heavens, what a wizened jewel!
Last updated Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 22:23