Arthur went back to London next day.
Susie felt it impossible any longer to stay in the deserted studio, and accepted a friend's invitation to spend the winter in Italy. The good Dr Porhoet remained in Paris with his books and his occult studies.
Susie travelled slowly through Tuscany and Umbria. Margaret had not written to her, and Susie, on leaving Paris, had sent her friend's belongings to an address from which she knew they would eventually be forwarded. She could not bring herself to write. In answer to a note announcing her change of plans, Arthur wrote briefly that he had much work to do and was delivering a new course of lectures at St. Luke's; he had lately been appointed visiting surgeon to another hospital, and his private practice was increasing. He did not mention Margaret. His letter was abrupt, formal, and constrained. Susie, reading it for the tenth time, could make little of it. She saw that he wrote only from civility, without interest; and there was nothing to indicate his state of mind. Susie and her companion had made up their minds to pass some weeks in Rome; and here, to her astonishment, Susie had news of Haddo and his wife. It appeared that they had spent some time there, and the little English circle was talking still of their eccentricities. They travelled in some state, with a courier and a suite of servants; they had taken a carriage and were in the habit of driving every afternoon on the Pincio. Haddo had excited attention by the extravagance of his costume, and Margaret by her beauty; she was to be seen in her box at the opera every night, and her diamonds were the envy of all beholders. Though people had laughed a good deal at Haddo's pretentiousness, and been exasperated by his arrogance, they could not fail to be impressed by his obvious wealth. But finally the pair had disappeared suddenly without saying a word to anybody. A good many bills remained unpaid, but these, Susie learnt, had been settled later. It was reported that they were now in Monte Carlo.
'Did they seem happy?' Susie asked the gossiping friend who gave her this scanty information.
'I think so. After all, Mrs Haddo has almost everything that a woman can want, riches, beauty, nice clothes, jewels. She would be very unreasonable not to be happy.'
Susie had meant to pass the later spring on the Riviera, but when she heard that the Haddos were there, she hesitated. She did not want to run the risk of seeing them, and yet she had a keen desire to find out exactly how things were going. Curiosity and distaste struggled in her mind, but curiosity won; and she persuaded her friend to go to Monte Carlo instead of to Beaulieu. At first Susie did not see the Haddos; but rumour was already much occupied with them, and she had only to keep her ears open. In that strange place, where all that is extravagant and evil, all that is morbid, insane, and fantastic, is gathered together, the Haddos were in fit company. They were notorious for their assiduity at the tables and for their luck, for the dinners and suppers they gave at places frequented by the very opulent, and for their eccentric appearance. It was a complex picture that Susie put together from the scraps of information she collected. After two or three days she saw them at the tables, but they were so absorbed in their game that she felt quite safe from discovery. Margaret was playing, but Haddo stood behind her and directed her movements. Their faces were extraordinarily intent. Susie fixed her attention on Margaret, for in what she had heard of her she had been quite unable to recognize the girl who had been her friend. And what struck her most now was that there was in Margaret's expression a singular likeness to Haddo's. Notwithstanding her exquisite beauty, she had a curiously vicious look, which suggested that somehow she saw literally with Oliver's eyes. They had won great sums that evening, and many persons watched them. It appeared that they played always in this fashion, Margaret putting on the stakes and Haddo telling her what to do and when to stop. Susie heard two Frenchmen talking of them. She listened with all her ears. She flushed as she heard one of them make an observation about Margaret which was more than coarse. The other laughed.
'It is incredible,' he said.
'I assure you it's true. They have been married six months, and she is still only his wife in name. The superstitious through all the ages have believed in the power of virginity, and the Church has made use of the idea for its own ends. The man uses her simply as a mascot.'
The men laughed, and their conversation proceeded so grossly that Susie's cheeks burned. But what she had heard made her look at Margaret more closely still. She was radiant. Susie could not deny that something had come to her that gave a new, enigmatic savour to her beauty. She was dressed more gorgeously than Susie's fastidious taste would have permitted; and her diamonds, splendid in themselves, were too magnificent for the occasion. At last, sweeping up the money, Haddo touched her on the shoulder, and she rose. Behind her was standing a painted woman of notorious disreputability. Susie was astonished to see Margaret smile and nod as she passed her.
Susie learnt that the Haddos had a suite of rooms at the most expensive of the hotels. They lived in a whirl of gaiety. They knew few English except those whose reputations were damaged, but seemed to prefer the society of those foreigners whose wealth and eccentricities made them the cynosure of that little world. Afterwards, she often saw them, in company of Russian Grand-Dukes and their mistresses, of South American women with prodigious diamonds, of noble gamblers and great ladies of doubtful fame, of strange men overdressed and scented. Rumour was increasingly busy with them. Margaret moved among all those queer people with a cold mysteriousness that excited the curiosity of the sated idlers. The suggestion which Susie overheard was repeated more circumstantially. But to this was joined presently the report of orgies that were enacted in the darkened sitting-room of the hotel, when all that was noble and vicious in Monte Carlo was present. Oliver's eccentric imagination invented whimsical festivities. He had a passion for disguise, and he gave a fancy-dress party of which fabulous stories were told. He sought to revive the mystical ceremonies of old religions, and it was reported that horrible rites had been performed in the garden of the villa, under the shining moon, in imitation of those he had seen in Eastern places. It was said that Haddo had magical powers of extraordinary character, and the tired imagination of those pleasure-seekers was tickled by his talk of black art. Some even asserted that the blasphemous ceremonies of the Black Mass had been celebrated in the house of a Polish Prince. People babbled of satanism and of necromancy. Haddo was thought to be immersed in occult studies for the performance of a magical operation; and some said that he was occupied with the Magnum Opus, the greatest and most fantastic of alchemical experiments. Gradually these stories were narrowed down to the monstrous assertion that he was attempting to create living beings. He had explained at length to somebody that magical receipts existed for the manufacture of _homunculi_.
Haddo was known generally by the name he was pleased to give himself. The Brother of the Shadow; but most people used it in derision, for it contrasted absurdly with his astonishing bulk. They were amused or outraged by his vanity, but they could not help talking about him, and Susie knew well enough by now that nothing pleased him more. His exploits as a lion-hunter were well known, and it was reported that human blood was on his hands. It was soon discovered that he had a queer power over animals, so that in his presence they were seized with unaccountable terror. He succeeded in surrounding himself with an atmosphere of the fabulous, and nothing that was told of him was too extravagant for belief. But unpleasant stories were circulated also, and someone related that he had been turned out of a club in Vienna for cheating at cards. He played many games, but here, as at Oxford, it was found that he was an unscrupulous opponent. And those old rumours followed him that he took strange drugs. He was supposed to have odious vices, and people whispered to one another of scandals that had been with difficulty suppressed. No one quite understood on what terms he was with his wife, and it was vaguely asserted that he was at times brutally cruel to her. Susie's heart sank when she heard this; but on the few occasions upon which she caught sight of Margaret, she seemed in the highest spirits. One story inexpressibly shocked her. After lunching at some restaurant, Haddo gave a bad louis among the money with which he paid the bill, and there was a disgraceful altercation with the waiter. He refused to change the coin till a policeman was brought in. His guests were furious, and several took the first opportunity to cut him dead. One of those present narrated the scene to Susie, and she was told that Margaret laughed unconcernedly with her neighbour while the sordid quarrel was proceeding. The man's blood was as good as his fortune was substantial, but it seemed to please him to behave like an adventurer. The incident was soon common property, and gradually the Haddos found themselves cold-shouldered. The persons with whom they mostly consorted had reputations too delicate to stand the glare of publicity which shone upon all who were connected with him, and the suggestion of police had thrown a shudder down many a spine. What had happened in Rome happened here again: they suddenly disappeared.
Susie had not been in London for some time, and as the spring advanced she remembered that her friends would be glad to see her. It would be charming to spend a few weeks there with an adequate income; for its pleasures had hitherto been closed to her, and she looked forward to her visit as if it were to a foreign city. But though she would not confess it to herself, her desire to see Arthur was the strongest of her motives. Time and absence had deadened a little the intensity of her feelings, and she could afford to acknowledge that she regarded him with very great affection. She knew that he would never care for her, but she was content to be his friend. She could think of him without pain.
Susie stayed in Paris for three weeks to buy some of the clothes which she asserted were now her only pleasure in life, and then went to London.
She wrote to Arthur, and he invited her at once to lunch with him at a restaurant. She was vexed, for she felt they could have spoken more freely in his own house; but as soon as she saw him, she realized that he had chosen their meeting-place deliberately. The crowd of people that surrounded them, the gaiety, the playing of the band, prevented any intimacy of conversation. They were forced to talk of commonplaces. Susie was positively terrified at the change that had taken place in him. He looked ten years older; he had lost flesh, and his hair was sprinkled with white. His face was extraordinarily drawn, and his eyes were weary from lack of sleep. But what most struck her was the change in his expression. The look of pain which she had seen on his face that last evening in the studio was now become settled, so that it altered the lines of his countenance. It was harrowing to look at him. He was more silent than ever, and when he spoke it was in a strange low voice that seemed to come from a long way off. To be with him made Susie curiously uneasy, for there was a strenuousness in him which deprived his manner of all repose. One of the things that had pleased her in him formerly was the tranquillity which gave one the impression that here was a man who could be relied on in difficulties. At first she could not understand exactly what had happened, but in a moment saw that he was making an unceasing effort at self-control. He was never free from suffering and he was constantly on the alert to prevent anyone from seeing it. The strain gave him a peculiar restlessness.
But he was gentler than he had ever been before. He seemed genuinely glad to see her and asked about her travels with interest. Susie led him to talk of himself, and he spoke willingly enough of his daily round. He was earning a good deal of money, and his professional reputation was making steady progress. He worked hard. Besides his duties at the two hospitals with which he was now connected, his teaching, and his private practice, he had read of late one or two papers before scientific bodies, and was editing a large work on surgery.
'How on earth can you find time to do so much?' asked Susie.
'I can do with less sleep than I used,' he answered. 'It almost doubles my working-day.'
He stopped abruptly and looked down. His remark had given accidentally some hint at the inner life which he was striving to conceal. Susie knew that her suspicion was well-founded. She thought of the long hours he lay awake, trying in vain to drive from his mind the agony that tortured him, and the short intervals of troubled sleep. She knew that he delayed as long as possible the fatal moment of going to bed, and welcomed the first light of day, which gave him an excuse for getting up. And because he knew that he had divulged the truth he was embarrassed. They sat in awkward silence. To Susie, the tragic figure in front of her was singularly impressive amid that lighthearted throng: all about them happy persons were enjoying the good things of life, talking, laughing, and making merry. She wondered what refinement of self-torture had driven him to choose that place to come to. He must hate it.
When they finished luncheon, Susie took her courage in both hands.
'Won't you come back to my rooms for half an hour? We can't talk here.'
He made an instinctive motion of withdrawal, as though he sought to escape. He did not answer immediately, and she insisted.
'You have nothing to do for an hour, and there are many things I want to speak to you about'
'The only way to be strong is never to surrender to one's weakness,' he said, almost in a whisper, as though ashamed to talk so intimately.
'Then you won't come?'
It was not necessary to specify the matter which it was proposed to discuss. Arthur knew perfectly that Susie wished to talk of Margaret, and he was too straightforward to pretend otherwise. Susie paused for one moment.
'I was never able to give Margaret your message. She did not write to me.'
A certain wildness came into his eyes, as if the effort he made was almost too much for him.
'I saw her in Monte Carlo,' said Susie. 'I thought you might like to hear about her.'
'I don't see that it can do any good,' he answered.
Susie made a little hopeless gesture. She was beaten.
'Shall we go?' she said.
'You are not angry with me?' he asked. 'I know you mean to be kind. I'm very grateful to you.'
'I shall never be angry with you,' she smiled.
Arthur paid the bill, and they threaded their way among the tables. At the door she held out her hand.
'I think you do wrong in shutting yourself away from all human comradeship,' she said, with that good-humoured smile of hers. 'You must know that you will only grow absurdly morbid.'
'I go out a great deal,' he answered patiently, as though he reasoned with a child. 'I make a point of offering myself distractions from my work. I go to the opera two or three times a week.'
'I thought you didn't care for music.'
'I don't think I did,' he answered. 'But I find it rests me.'
He spoke with a weariness that was appalling. Susie had never beheld so plainly the torment of a soul in pain.
'Won't you let me come to the opera with you one night?' she asked. 'Or does it bore you to see me?'
'I should like it above all things,' he smiled, quite brightly. 'You're like a wonderful tonic. They're giving Tristan on Thursday. Shall we go together?'
'I should enjoy it enormously.'
She shook hands with him and jumped into a cab.
'Oh, poor thing!' she murmured. 'Poor thing! What can I do for him?'
She clenched, her hands when she thought of Margaret. It was monstrous that she should have caused such havoc in that good, strong man.
'Oh, I hope she'll suffer for it,' she whispered vindictively. 'I hope she'll suffer all the agony that he has suffered.'
Susie dressed herself for Covent Garden as only she could do. Her gown pleased her exceedingly, not only because it was admirably made, but because it had cost far more than she could afford. To dress well was her only extravagance. It was of taffeta silk, in that exquisite green which the learned in such matters call _Eau de Nil_; and its beauty was enhanced by the old lace which had formed not the least treasured part of her inheritance. In her hair she wore an ornament of Spanish paste, of exquisite workmanship, and round her neck a chain which had once adorned that of a madonna in an Andalusian church. Her individuality made even her plainness attractive. She smiled at herself in the glass ruefully, because Arthur would never notice that she was perfectly dressed.
When she tripped down the stairs and across the pavement to the cab with which he fetched her, Susie held up her skirt with a grace she flattered herself was quite Parisian. As they drove along, she flirted a little with her Spanish fan and stole a glance at herself in the glass. Her gloves were so long and so new and so expensive that she was really indifferent to Arthur's inattention.
Her joyous temperament expanded like a spring flower when she found herself in the Opera House. She put up her glasses and examined the women as they came into the boxes of the Grand Tier. Arthur pointed out a number of persons whose names were familiar to her, but she felt the effort he was making to be amiable. The weariness of his mouth that evening was more noticeable because of the careless throng. But when the music began he seemed to forget that any eye was upon him; he relaxed the constant tension in which he held himself; and Susie, watching him surreptitiously, saw the emotions chase one another across his face. It was now very mobile. The passionate sounds ate into his soul, mingling with his own love and his own sorrow, till he was taken out of himself; and sometimes he panted strangely. Through the interval he remained absorbed in his emotion. He sat as quietly as before and did not speak a word. Susie understood why Arthur, notwithstanding his old indifference, now showed such eager appreciation of music; it eased the pain he suffered by transferring it to an ideal world, and his own grievous sorrow made the music so real that it gave him an enjoyment of extraordinary vehemence. When it was all over and Isolde had given her last wail of sorrow, Arthur was so exhausted that he could hardly stir.
But they went out with the crowd, and while they were waiting in the vestibule for space to move in, a common friend came up to them. This was Arbuthnot, an eye-specialist, whom Susie had met on the Riviera and who, she presently discovered, was a colleague of Arthur's at St Luke's. He was a prosperous bachelor with grey hair and a red, contented face, well-to-do, for his practice was large, and lavish with his money. He had taken Susie out to luncheon once or twice in Monte Carlo; for he liked women, pretty or plain, and she attracted him by her good-humour. He rushed up to them now and wrung their hands. He spoke in a jovial voice.
'The very people I wanted to see! Why haven't you been to see me, you wicked woman? I'm sure your eyes are in a deplorable condition.'
'Do you think I would let a bold, bad man like you stare into them with an ophthalmoscope?' laughed Susie.
'Now look here, I want you both to do me a great favour. I'm giving a supper party at the Savoy, and two of my people have suddenly failed me. The table is ordered for eight, and you must come and take their places.'
'I'm afraid I must get home,' said Arthur. 'I have a deuce of a lot of work to do.'
'Nonsense,' answered Arbuthnot. 'You work much too hard, and a little relaxation will do you good.' He turned to Susie: 'I know you like curiosities in human nature; I'm having a man and his wife who will positively thrill you, they're so queer, and a lovely actress, and an awfully jolly American girl.'
'I should love to come,' said Susie, with an appealing look at Arthur, 'if only to show you how much more amusing I am than lovely actresses.'
Arthur, forcing himself to smile, accepted the invitation. The specialist patted him cheerily on the back, and they agreed to meet at the Savoy.
'It's awfully good of you to come,' said Susie, as they drove along. 'Do you know, I've never been there in my life, and I'm palpitating with excitement.'
'What a selfish brute I was to refuse!' he answered.
When Susie came out of the dressing-room, she found Arthur waiting for her. She was in the best of spirits.
'Now you must say you like my frock. I've seen six women turn green with envy at the sight of it. They think I must be French, and they're sure I'm not respectable.'
'That is evidently a great compliment,' he smiled.
At that moment Arbuthnot came up to them in his eager way and seized their arms.
'Come along. We're waiting for you. I'll just introduce you all round, and then we'll go in to supper.'
They walked down the steps into the foyer, and he led them to a group of people. They found themselves face to face with Oliver Haddo and Margaret.
'Mr Arthur Burdon--Mrs Haddo. Mr Burdon is a colleague of mine at St Luke's; and he will cut out your appendix in a shorter time than any man alive.'
Arbuthnot rattled on. He did not notice that Arthur had grown ghastly pale and that Margaret was blank with consternation. Haddo, his heavy face wreathed with smiles, stepped forward heartily. He seemed thoroughly to enjoy the situation.
'Mr Burdon is an old friend of ours,' he said. 'In fact, it was he who introduced me to my wife. And Miss Boyd and I have discussed Art and the Immortality of the Soul with the gravity due to such topics.'
He held out his hand, and Susie took it. She had a horror of scenes, and, though this encounter was as unexpected as it was disagreeable, she felt it needful to behave naturally. She shook hands with Margaret.
'How disappointing!' cried their host. 'I was hoping to give Miss Boyd something quite new in the way of magicians, and behold! she knows all about him.'
'If she did, I'm quite sure she wouldn't speak to me,' said Oliver, with a bantering smile.
They went into the supper-room.
'Now, how shall we sit?' said Arbuthnot, glancing round the table.
Oliver looked at Arthur, and his eyes twinkled.
'You must really let my wife and Mr Burdon be together. They haven't seen one another for so long that I'm sure they have no end of things to talk about.' He chuckled to himself. 'And pray give me Miss Boyd, so that she can abuse me to her heart's content.'
This arrangement thoroughly suited the gay specialist, for he was able to put the beautiful actress on one side of him and the charming American on the other. He rubbed his hands.
'I feel that we're going to have a delightful supper.'
Oliver laughed boisterously. He took, as was his habit, the whole conversation upon himself, and Susie was obliged to confess that he was at his best. There was a grotesque drollery about him that was very diverting, and it was almost impossible to resist him. He ate and drank with tremendous appetite. Susie thanked her stars at that moment that she was a woman who knew by long practice how to conceal her feelings, for Arthur, overcome with dismay at the meeting, sat in stony silence. But she talked gaily. She chaffed Oliver as though he were an old friend, and laughed vivaciously. She noticed meanwhile that Haddo, more extravagantly dressed than usual, had managed to get an odd fantasy into his evening clothes: he wore knee-breeches, which in itself was enough to excite attention; but his frilled shirt, his velvet collar, and oddly-cut satin waistcoat gave him the appearance of a comic Frenchman. Now that she was able to examine him more closely, she saw that in the last six months he was grown much balder; and the shiny whiteness of his naked crown contrasted oddly with the redness of his face. He was stouter, too, and the fat hung in heavy folds under his chin; his paunch was preposterous. The vivacity of his movements made his huge corpulence subtly alarming. He was growing indeed strangely terrible in appearance. His eyes had still that fixed, parallel look, but there was in them now at times a ferocious gleam. Margaret was as beautiful as ever, but Susie noticed that his influence was apparent in her dress; for there could be no doubt that it had crossed the line of individuality and had degenerated into the eccentric. Her gown was much too gorgeous. It told against the classical character of her beauty. Susie shuddered a little, for it reminded her of a courtesan's.
Margaret talked and laughed as much as her husband, but Susie could not tell whether this animation was affected or due to an utter callousness. Her voice seemed natural enough, yet it was inconceivable that she should be so lighthearted. Perhaps she was trying to show that she was happy. The supper proceeded, and the lights, the surrounding gaiety, the champagne, made everyone more lively. Their host was in uproarious spirits. He told a story or two at which everyone laughed. Oliver Haddo had an amusing anecdote handy. It was a little risky, but it was so funnily narrated that everyone roared but Arthur, who remained in perfect silence. Margaret had been drinking glass after glass of wine, and no sooner had her husband finished than she capped his story with another. But whereas his was wittily immoral, hers was simply gross. At first the other women could not understand to what she was tending, but when they saw, they looked down awkwardly at their plates. Arbuthnot, Haddo, and the other man who was there laughed very heartily; but Arthur flushed to the roots of his hair. He felt horribly uncomfortable. He was ashamed. He dared not look at Margaret. It was inconceivable that from her exquisite mouth such indecency should issue. Margaret, apparently quite unconscious of the effect she had produced, went on talking and laughing.
Soon the lights were put out, and Arthur's agony was ended. He wanted to rush away, to hide his face, to forget the sight of her and her gaiety, above all to forget that story. It was horrible, horrible.
She shook hands with him quite lightly.
'You must come and see us one day. We've got rooms at the Carlton.'
He bowed and did not answer. Susie had gone to the dressing-room to get her cloak. She stood at the door when Margaret came out.
'Can we drop you anywhere?' said Margaret. 'You must come and see us when you have nothing better to do.'
Susie threw back her head. Arthur was standing just in front of them looking down at the ground in complete abstraction.
'Do you see him?' she said, in a low voice quivering with indignation. 'That is what you have made him.'
He looked up at that moment and turned upon them his sunken, tormented eyes. They saw his wan, pallid face with its look of hopeless woe.
'Do you know that he's killing himself on your account? He can't sleep at night. He's suffered the tortures of the damned. Oh, I hope you'll suffer as he's suffered!'
'I wonder that you blame me,' said Margaret. 'You ought to be rather grateful.'
'You're not going to deny that you've loved him passionately from the first day you saw him? Do you think I didn't see that you cared for him in Paris? You care for him now more than ever.'
Susie felt suddenly sick at heart. She had never dreamt that her secret was discovered. Margaret gave a bitter little laugh and walked past her.