The Gods Arrive - Edith Wharton - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1932

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About

Part 1
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

About Wharton:

Edith Wharton (January 24, 1862 – August 11, 1937) was an American novelist, short story writer, and designer.

Also available on Feedbooks Wharton:
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The gods approve

The depth and not the tumult of the soul

 

Sunt aliquid manes.

—Propertius



Chapter 1

 

One of the stewards of the big Atlantic liner pushed his way among the passengers to a young lady who was leaning alone against the taffrail. "Mrs. Vance Weston?"

The lady had been lost in the effort to absorb, with drawn-up unseeing eyes, a final pyramidal vision of the New York she was leaving—a place already so unreal to her that her short-sighted gaze was unable to register even vaguely its towering signals of farewell. She turned back.

"Mrs. Vance Weston?"

"No—" she began; then, correcting herself with a half-embarrassed smile: "Yes."

Stupid—incredibly! But it was the first time the name had been given to her. And it was not true; she was not yet Mrs. Vance Weston, but Halo Tarrant, the still undivorced wife of Lewis Tarrant. She did not know when she would be free, and some absurd old leaven of Lorburn Puritanism (on her mother's side she was a Lorburn of Paul's Landing) made her dislike to masquerade under a name to which she had no right. Yet before her own conscience and her lover's she was already irrevocably what she called herself: his wife; supposing one could apply the term irrevocable to any tie in modern life without provoking Olympian laughter. She herself would once have been the first to share in that laughter; but she had to think of her own situation as binding her irrevocably, or else to assume that life, in its deepest essence, was as brittle as the glass globe which the monkeys shatter in the bitter scene of Faust's visit to the witch. If she were not Vance Weston's for always the future was already a handful of splinters.

The steward, handing her a telegram, and a letter inscribed "urgent," had hurried away on his distribution of correspondence. On the envelope of the letter she read the name of her lawyer; and as he was not given to superfluous writing, and as telegrams were too frequent to be of consequence, she opened the letter first. "Dear Mrs. Tarrant," she read, "I am sending this by hand to the steamer in the hope of reaching you in time to persuade you not to sail. I have just heard, from a safe source, that your husband knows of your plans, and is not disposed to consent to your divorcing him if you persist in leaving the country in the circumstances of which you have advised me." (She smiled at this draping of the facts.) "Indeed, I suspect he may refuse to take divorce proceedings himself, simply in order to prevent your re-marrying. I should have tried to see you at once if I were not leaving for Albany on professional business; but I earnestly beg you, if my messenger reaches you before you are actually off … "

Halo Tarrant lifted her eyes from the letter. No; she was not actually off. The decks were still in the final confusion of goodbyes; friends and relatives were lingering among the passengers till the landing gong should hurry them ashore. There was time to dash down to her cabin, collect her possessions, and descend the gangplank with the other visitors, leaving a note of explanation for the companion she was abandoning. For his sake as well as her own, ought she not to do it? What she knew of her husband made her ready enough to believe that a headlong impulse of reprisals might make him sacrifice his fixed purpose, his hope of happiness, a future deliberately willed and designed by himself, to the satisfaction of hurting and humiliating her. He was almost capable of wishing that she would go away with Vance Weston; the mere pleasure of thwarting her would be keen enough to repay him. He was a man who grew fat on resentment as others did on happiness … For an instant her old life rose before her. This was the man she had lived with for ten years; he had always been what he was now, and she had always known it. The thought frightened her even now—she had to admit that he could still frighten her. But the admission stiffened her will. Did he really imagine that any threat of his could still affect her? That she would give up a year, perhaps two years, of happiness, of life—life at last!—and sit in conventual solitude till the divorce, conducted with old-fashioned discretion and deliberation, permitted him to posture before his little world as the husband who has chivalrously "allowed" an unworthy but unblamed wife to gain her liberty? How quaint and out-of-date it all sounded! What did she care if she divorced him or he divorced her—what, even, if he chose to wreak his malice on her by preventing any recourse to divorce? Her life had struck root in the soul-depths, while his uneasily fluttered on the surface; and that put her beyond all reach of malice. She read the letter twice over, slowly; then with a smiling deliberation she tore it up, and sent the fragments over the taffrail.

As she did so, she felt a faint vibration through the immense bulk to which her fate was committed. It was too late now—really too late. The gong had sounded; the steamer was moving. For better or worse, she had chosen; and she was glad she had done so deliberately.

"We're off!" she heard at her side, in a voice of passionate excitement. She turned and laid her hand on Vance Weston's; their eyes met, laughing. "Now at last you'll have your fill of the sea," she said.

He shook his head. "Only a week … "

"Ten days to Gibraltar."

"What's that you've got?"

With a little start she looked down at her hand. "Oh, only a telegram. The steward brought it. I forgot … "

"Forgot what?"

"Everything that has to do with that dead world." She made a gesture of dismissal toward the dwindling cliffs of masonry. "The steward called me Mrs. Vance Weston," she added, smiling.

He responded to her smile. "Well, you'll have to get used to that."

They both laughed again, for the mere joy of sipping their laughter out of the one cup; then she said: "I suppose I ought to open it … "

"Oh, why? Now we're off, why not drop it into the sea as a tribute to old Liberty over there? We owe her a tribute, don't we?" he said; and she thought, with a little thrill of feminine submission: "How strong and decided he seems! He tells me what to do—he takes everything for granted. I'm the weak inexperienced one, after all." She ran her finger carelessly under the flap of the telegram.

Now that they were off, as he said, it did not much matter whether she opened her telegrams or threw them to the waves. What possibility was there in her adventure that she had not already foreseen, agonized over and finally put out of mind as inevitable or irrelevant? With that last letter she had tossed her past overboard. Smiling, brooding, still thinking only of himself and her, enclosed in the impenetrable world of their love, she opened the telegram under their joint gaze.

They read: "Happiness is a work of art. Handle with care." The message was unsigned, but no signature was necessary. "Poor old Frenny!" Her first impulse was to smile at the idea that any one, and most of all an embittered old bachelor like her friend George Frenside, should think it possible to advise her as to the nature or management of happiness. Her eyes met Vance's, and she saw that they were grave.

"I suppose he remembered something in his own life," Vance said.

"I suppose so." It made her shiver a little to think that some day she too might be remembering—this. At the moment, happiness seemed to have nothing to do with memory, to be an isolating medium dividing her from the past as completely, as arbitrarily, as this huge ship had detached her little world of passengers from the shores of earth. Suddenly Halo recalled having said to Frenside, in the course of one of their endless speculative talks: "Being contented is so jolly that I sometimes think I couldn't have stood being happy"; and his grim answer: "It's a destructive experience."

Poor Frenside! Poor herself! For she had not known then what happiness was, any more (she supposed) than he did. Destructive? When the mounting flood of life was rumouring in her ears like the sea? As well call spring destructive, or birth, or any of the processes of renewal that forever mantle the ancient earth with promise.

"I wonder what it feels like to remember," she said obscurely. Vance's smile met hers. "How extraordinary!" she thought. "Nothing that I say to him will need explaining … " It gave her a miraculous winged sense, as though she were free of the bonds of gravitation. "Oh, Vance, this—it's like flying!" He nodded, and they stood silent, watching the silvery agitation of the waters as the flank of the steamer divided them. Up and down the deck people were scattering, disappearing. Rows of empty deck-chairs stood behind the lovers. The passengers had gone to look up their cabins, hunt for missing luggage, claim letters, parcels, seats in the dining-saloon. Vance Weston and Halo Tarrant seemed to have the ship to themselves.

It was a day of early September. Wind-clouds, shifting about in the upper sky, tinged the unsteady glittering water with tones of silver, lead and rust-colour, hollowed to depths of sullen green as the steamer pressed forward to the open. The lovers were no longer gazing back on the fading pinnacles of New York; hand clasped over hand, they looked out to where the sea spread before them in limitless freedom.

They had chosen a slow steamer, on an unfashionable line, partly from economy, partly because of Halo's wish to avoid acquaintances; and their choice had been rewarded. They knew no one on board. Halo Tarrant, in the disturbed and crowded days before her departure, had looked forward with impatience to the quiet of a long sea-voyage. Her life, of late, had been so full of unprofitable agitation that she yearned to set her soul's house in order. Before entering on a new existence she wanted to find herself again, to situate herself in the new environment into which she had been so strangely flung. A few months ago she had been living under the roof of Lewis Tarrant, bound to him by ties the more unbreakable because they did not concern her private feelings. She had regarded it as her fate to be a good wife and a devoted companion to her husband for the rest of their joint lives; it had never occurred to her that he would wish a change. But she had left out of account the uneasy vanity which exacted more, always more, which would not be put off with anything less than her whole self, her complete belief, the uncritical surrender of her will and judgment. When her husband found she was not giving him this (or only feigning to give it) he sought satisfaction elsewhere. If his wife did not believe in him, his attitude implied, other women did—women whom this act of faith endued with all the qualities he had hoped to find in Halo. To be "understood", for Lewis Tarrant, was an active, a perpetually functioning state. The persons nearest him must devote all their days and nights, thoughts, impulses, inclinations, to the arduous business of understanding him. Halo began to see that as her powers of self-dedication decreased her importance to her husband decreased with them. She became first less necessary, then (in consequence) less interesting, finally almost an incumbrance. The discovery surprised her. She had once thought that Tarrant, even if he ceased to love her, would continue to need her. She saw now that this belief was inspired by the resolve to make the best of their association, to keep it going at all costs. When she found she had been replaced by more ardent incense-burners the discovery frightened her. She felt a great emptiness about her, saw herself freezing into old age unsustained by self-imposed duties. For she could not leave her husband—she regarded herself as bound by the old debt on which their marriage had been based. Tarrant had rescued her parents from bankruptcy, had secured their improvident old age against material cares. That deed once done would never be undone; she knew he would go on supporting them; his very vanity compelled him to persist in being generous when he had once decreed that he ought to be. He never gave up an attitude once adopted as a part of his picture of himself.

But then—what of her? She tried not to think of her loneliness; but there it was, perpetually confronting her. She was unwanted, yet she could not go. She had to patch together the fragments of the wrecked situation, and try to use them as a shelter.

And then, what would have seemed likely enough had it not been the key to her difficulty, had after all come to pass. An infirm old cousin died, and her will made Halo Tarrant a free woman. At first she did not measure the extent of her freedom. She thought only: "Now I can provide for my people; they need not depend on Lewis—" but it had not yet dawned on her that her liberation might come too. She still believed that Tarrant's determination to keep whatever had once belonged to him would be stronger than any other feeling. "He'll take the other woman—but he'll want to keep me," she reasoned; and began to wonder how she could avoid making her plea for freedom seem to coincide with her material release. To appear to think that her debt could be thus cancelled was to turn their whole past into a matter of business—and it had begun by being something else. She could not have married anybody who happened to have paid her parents' debts; that Tarrant had done so seemed at the time merely an added cause for admiration, a justification of her faith in him. She knew now that from the beginning her faith had needed such support … And then, before she could ask for her freedom, he had anticipated her by asking for his; and, so abruptly that she was still bewildered by the suddenness of the change, she found herself a new woman in a new world …

 

All this she had meant to think over, setting her past in order before she put it away from her and took up the threads of the future. But suddenly she found herself confronted by a new fact which reduced past and future to shadows. For the first time in her life she was living in the present. Hitherto, as she now saw, her real existence, her whole inner life, had been either plunged in the wonders that art, poetry, history, had built into her dreams, or else reaching forward to a future she longed for yet dreaded. She had thought she could perhaps not bear to be happy; and now she was happy, and all the rest was nothing. She was like someone stepping into hot sunlight from a darkened room; she blinked, and saw no details. And to look at the future was like staring into the sun. She was blinded, and her eyes turned to the steady golden noon about her. Ah, perhaps it was true—perhaps she did not know how to bear happiness. It took her by the inmost fibres, burned through her like a fever, was going to give her no rest, no peace, no time to steady and tame it in her dancing soul.


Chapter 2

 

Halo had said: "Now you'll have your fill of the sea—" and Vance Weston had smiled at the idea that ten days could be enough of infinitude. Hitherto his horizon had been bounded by the prairies of the Middle West or walled in between the cliffs of the Hudson or the skyscrapers of New York. Twice only had he drunk of that magic, in two brief glimpses which had seemed to pour the ocean through his veins. If a lover can separate the joys of love from its setting, he felt a separate delight in knowing that his first days and nights with Halo were to be spent at sea.

When his wife's death, and Halo Tarrant's decision to leave her husband, had brought the two together a few months previously, Vance had seen no reason for not seizing at once on their predestined happiness. But Halo felt differently. When she went to him with the news of her freedom she supposed him to be separated from his wife, and thought that he and she might resume their fraternal intimacy without offense to Laura Lou. Then, when she had run him to earth in a shabby outskirt of New York, she had discovered that he also was free, freed not by the law but by the fact that his young wife had just died in the tumble-down bungalow where Halo had found him. There she learned that there had been no lasting quarrel between Vance and Laura Lou, and that they had never separated. Expecting to find a deserted husband she had encountered a mourning widower, and had been paralyzed by the thought of declaring her love under the roof where Vance's vigil by his wife's death-bed was barely ended. Vance had hardly perceived the barrier that she felt between them. He lived in a simpler moral atmosphere, and was quicker at distinguishing the transient from the fundamental in human relations; but he would have felt less tenderly toward Halo if she had not been aware of that silent presence.

"But she's there, dearest—can't you feel it? Don't you see her little face, so pleading and puzzled … as it was that day when she was angry with me for going to see her, and turned me out of her room—do you remember? Oh, Vance, it was all for love of you—don't I know? I understood it even then; I loved her for it. I used to envy her for having somebody to worship. And now I see her, I feel her near us, and I know we must give her time, time to understand, time to consent, to learn not to hate me, as she would hate me at this minute if you and I were to forget her."

Vance had never before thought of the past in that way; but as he listened Halo's way became his, and her evocation of Laura Lou, instead of paining or irritating him, seemed like saying a prayer on a lonely grave. Such feelings, instinctive in Halo, were familiar to Vance through the pity for failure, pity for incomprehension, which glowed in his grandmother's warm blood. New York and Euphoria called things by different names, and feelings which in the older society had become conventionalized seemed to require formulating and ticketing in the younger; but the same fibres stirred to the same touch.

Vance and Halo, that spring evening, had parted after a long talk. Halo had gone to join her parents at Eaglewood, their country place above Paul's Landing; Vance had returned to his family at Euphoria, with the idea of settling down there for a year of writing, away from all the disturbances, material and moral, which had so long hampered his work. By the end of the year Halo would have obtained her divorce, his book (he was sure) would be finished, and a new life could begin for both. Vance meant to go on with the unfinished novel, "Magic," which had been so strangely stimulated by his wife's illness, so violently interrupted by her death. That sad fragment of his life was over, his heart was free to feed on its new hopes, and he felt that it would be easy, after a few weeks of rest, to return to his work.

They had all been very kind at Euphoria. His father's business was recovering, though his spirits were not. A younger and more unscrupulous school of realtors had robbed Mr. Weston of his former prominence. Though he retained its faint reflection among his contemporaries he was a back number to the younger men, and he knew it, and brooded over the thought that if things had gone differently Vance might have been one of his successful supplanters. Lorin Weston would have liked to be outwitted in business by his own son. "I used to think you'd be a smarter fellow than I ever was," he said wistfully. "And anyway, if you'd come back and taken that job they offered you on the 'Free Speaker' you could have given me enough backing to prevent the Crampton deal going through without me. I was a pioneer of Crampton, and everybody in Euphoria knows it. But those fellows squared the 'Free Speaker' and so their deal with the Shunts motor people went through without me. And it's not much more'n three years ago that I sold that house your grandmother used to live in for less than what Harrison Delaney got the year after by the square yard for that rookery of his down the lane—you remember?" Vance remembered.

"Oh, well," interrupted Mrs. Weston, in the nervous tone of one who knows what is coming, and has heard it too often, "there's no use your going over that old Delaney deal again. I guess everybody has a chance once in their lives—and anyhow, Harrison Delaney's waited long enough for his."

"Well, he did wait, and I couldn't afford to. He smelt out somehow that Shunts Amalgamated were buying up everything they could lay their hands on down Crampton way; and he pocketed his million—yes, sir, one million—and sent for that girl of his, who was on some job over at Dakin, and the story is they've gone over to Europe to blow it in—gay Paree!" Mr. Weston jeered a little mournfully. "Well, son, I always kinder hoped when you'd worked the literature out of your system you'd come back and carry on the old job with me; and if you had I guess we'd be running Crampton today instead of the Shuntses."

However, the Euphoria boom was not confined to Crampton, and Mr. Weston's improved situation enabled him to pay Vance's debts (though the total startled him), and even to promise his son a small allowance till the latter could get on his feet and produce that surest evidence of achievement, a best-seller. "And he will too, Vanny will; just you folks reserve your seats and wait," his grandmother Scrimser exulted, her old blue eyes sparkling like flowers through her tears.

"Well, I guess father'll be prouder of that than what he would of a real-estate deal," Mae, the cultured daughter, remarked sententiously.

"I will, the day he gets up to Harrison Delaney's figure," Mr. Weston grumbled; but he circulated Mrs. Scrimser's prophecy among his cronies, and Vance's fame spread about through Euphoria. The women of the family (his grandmother not excepted) took even more pride in the prospect of his marrying into one of the "regular Fifth Avenue families." "Well, if they wouldn't listen to me I guess they'll all be listening to you some day soon," Mrs. Scrimser said, humorously alluding to an unsuccessful attempt she had once made to evangelize fashionable New York. They all gloated over a snap-shot of Halo which Vance had brought with him, and his mother longed to give it to the "Free Speaker" for publication, and to see Vance, on both literary and social grounds, interviewed, head-lined and banqueted. But they were impressed, if disappointed, by his resolve to defend his privacy. He had come back home to work, they explained for him; one of the big New York publishers was waiting for his new book, and showing signs of impatience; and the house in Mapledale Avenue was converted into a sanctuary where the family seer might vaticinate undisturbed.

Never before in Vance's troubled life had he worked with an easy mind. He had written the first chapters of "Magic" in an agony of anxiety. Fears for his wife's health, despair of his own future, regrets for his past mistakes, had made his mind a battle-ground during the months before Laura Lou's death. Yet through that choking anguish the fount of inspiration had forced its way; and now that he sat secure under the Mapledale Avenue roof, heart and mind at peace, the past at rest, the future radiant, the fount was dry. Before he had been at home a week he was starving for Halo, and stifling in the unchanged atmosphere of Euphoria. He saw now that the stimulus he needed was not rest but happiness. He had meant to send Halo what he wrote, chapter by chapter; but he could not write. What he needed was not her critical aid but her nearness. His apprentice days were over; he knew what he was trying to do better than any one could tell him, even Halo; what he craved was the one medium in which his imagination could expand, and that was Halo herself.

For two or three months he struggled on without result; then, after a last night spent in desperate contemplation of the blank sheets on his desk, he threw his manuscript into his suit-case and went down to announce his departure to the family. He travelled from Euphoria to Paul's Landing as quickly as changes of train permitted; and two days later rang the door-bell of Eaglewood, and said to the Spears' old chauffeur, Jacob, who appeared at the door in the guise of the family butler: "Hullo, Jake; remember me—Vance Weston? Yes; I've just arrived from out west; and I've got to see Mrs. Tarrant right off … "

That had happened in August; now, barely three weeks later, Halo sat at his side in a corner of the liner's deck, and the night-sea encircled them, boundless and inscrutable as their vision of the future. There was no moon, but the diffused starlight gave a faint uniform lustre to the moving obscurity. The sea, throbbing and hissing in phosphorescent whirls about the steamer's keel, subsided to vast ebony undulations as it stretched away to the sky. The breeze blew against the lovers' faces purified of all earthly scents, as if it had circled forever over that dematerialized waste. Vance sat with his arm about Halo, brooding over the mystery of the waters and his own curious inability to feel their vastness as he had once felt it from a lonely beach on Long Island. It was as if the sea shrank when no land was visible—as if the absence of the familiar shore made it too remote, too abstract, to reach his imagination. He had a feeling that perhaps he would never be able to assimilate perfection or completeness.

"It's funny," he said; and when Halo wanted to know what was, he rejoined: "Well, when people tell me a story, and say: 'Here's something you ought to make a good thing out of, if what they tell me is too perfect, too finished—if they don't break off before the end—I can't do anything with it. Snatches, glimpses—the seeds of things—that's what story-tellers want. I suppose that's why the Atlantic's too big for me. A creek's got more of the sea in it, for people who want to turn it into poetry."

She pressed closer to him. "That's exactly the theme of 'Magic', isn't it?"

"Yes," he assented; and sat silent. "Do you know, there's another thing that's funny—"

"What else is?"

"Well, I used to think your eyes were gray."

"Aren't they?"

"They're all mixed with brown, like autumn leaves on a gray stream."

"Vance, wouldn't it be awful if you found out that everything about me was different from what you used to think?"

"Well, everything is—I mean, there are all sorts of lights and shades and contradictions and complications."

"Perhaps I shall be like your subjects. If you get to know me too well you won't be able to do anything with me. I suppose that's why artists often feel they oughtn't to marry."

"What they generally feel is that they oughtn't to stay married," he corrected.

"Well—it's not too late!" she challenged him.

"Oh, but they've got to marry first; artists have. Or some sort of equivalent."

"You acknowledge that you're all carnivora?"

He turned and drew her head to his cheek in the dimness. "I said perfection was what I hadn't any use for." Their laughter mixed with their long kiss; then she loosed herself from his arms and stood up.

"Come, Vance, let's go and look at the past for a minute."

"What's the past?"

She drew him along the deck, from which the last of the passengers were descending to the light and sociability below; they retraced the ship's length till they reached a point at the stern from which they could see the receding miles of star-strown ocean. "Look how we're leaving it behind and how it's racing after us," Halo said. "I suppose there's a symbol in that. All the things we've done and thought and struggled for, or tried to escape from, leagued together and tearing after us. Doesn't it make you feel a little breathless? I wonder what we should do if they caught up with us."

Vance leaned on the rail, his arm through hers. The immensity of the night was rushing after them. On those pursuing waves he saw the outstretched arms of his youth, his parents, his grandmother, Floss Delaney, Mrs. Pulsifer, the girls who had flitted across his path, and the little white vision of Laura Lou springing like spray from wave to wave. He pictured a man suddenly falling over the ship's side, and seized and torn to pieces by the pack of his memories—then he felt the current of Halo's blood beating in his, and thought: "For a little while longer we shall outrace them."


Chapter 3

 

The monumental Spanish sky was full of cloud-architecture. Long azure perspectives between colonnades and towers stretched away majestically above an empty earth. The real Spain seemed to be overhead, heavy with history; as if all the pictures, statues, ecclesiastical splendours that Vance and Halo had come to see were stored in the air-palaces along those radiant avenues. The clouds peopled even the earth with their shadow-masses, creating here a spectral lake in the dry landscape, there a flock of cattle, or a hamlet on a hill which paled and vanished as the travellers approached. All that Vance had ever read about mirages and desert semblances rose in his mind as the motor-coach rolled and swayed across the barren land.

The names of the few villages that they passed meant nothing to him. The famous towns and cities of Spain already sang in his imagination; but there were none on this road, and the clusters of humble houses on bare slopes could not distract his attention from that celestial architecture. At first he had been oppressed by the emptiness of the landscape, its lack of any relation to the labours and joys of men. Stretching away on all sides to the horizon, the tierras despobladas seemed to lie under a mysterious blight. But gradually he ceased to feel their gloom. Under a sky so packed with prodigies it began to seem natural that people should turn their minds and their interests away from the earth. On the steamer he had read a little about the Spanish mystics, in one of the books that Halo had brought; and now he thought: "No wonder everything on earth seemed irrelevant, with all those New Jerusalems building and re-building themselves overhead."

As the sun declined, cloud ramparts and towers grew more massive, nearer the earth, till their lowest degrees rested like marble stairways on the hills. "Those are the ladders that Jacob's angels went up and down," Vance mused; then the gold paled to ashes, and the sky-palaces were absorbed into the dusk. The motor-coach crossed a bridge and drove into a brown city, through narrow streets already full of lights. At a corner Halo asked the conductor to stop, and entrusted their bags to him. "Come," she said; and Vance followed her across a wide court where daylight still lingered faintly under old twisted trees. She pushed open a door in a cliff-like wall, and they entered into what seemed total darkness to eyes still blinking with Spanish sunshine. Vance stood still, waiting for his sight to return. It came little by little, helped by the twinkle of two or three specks of flame, immeasurably far off, like ships' lights in mid-ocean; till gradually he discerned through the obscurity forms of columns and arches linked with one another in long radiating perspectives. "The place is as big as that sky out there," he murmured.

He and Halo moved forward. First one colonnade, low-vaulted and endless, drew them on; then another. They were caught in a dim network of architectural forms, perpetually repeated abstractions of the relation between arch and shaft. The similarity of what surrounded them was so confusing that they could not be sure if they had passed from one colonnade to another, or if the whole system were revolving with them around some planetary centre still invisible. Vance felt as if he had dropped over the brim of things into the mysterious world where straight lines loop themselves into curves. He thought: "It's like the feel of poetry, just as it's beginning to be born in you"—that fugitive moment before words restrict the vision. But he gave up the struggle for definitions.

The obscure central bulk about which those perpetual aisles revolved gradually took shape as sculptured walls rising high overhead. In the walls were arched openings; lights reflected in polished marble glimmered through the foliation of wrought-iron gates. Vance was as excited and exhausted as if he had raced for miles over the uneven flagging. Suddenly he felt the desire to lift his arms and push back the overwhelming spectacle till he had the strength to receive it. He caught Halo's arm. "Come away," he said hoarsely. Through the dimness he saw her look of surprise and disappointment. She was used to these things, could bear them. He couldn't—and he didn't know how to tell her. He slipped his arm through hers, pulling her after him.

"But wait, dearest, do wait. This is the choir, the high-altar, the Christian cathedral built inside … It's so beautiful at this hour… Don't you want …  ?"

He repeated irritably: "Come away. I'm tired," knowing all the while how he was disappointing her. He felt her arm nervously pressed against his.

"Of course, dear. But what could have tired you? The hot sun, perhaps … Oh, where's the door?" She took a few uncertain steps. "There's only one left open. The sacristan saw us come in, and is waiting outside. All the doors are locked at sunset; but he's watching for us at the one we came in by. The thing is to find it."

They began to walk down one of the aisles. Farther and farther away in the heart of the shadows they left the great choir and altar; yet they seemed to get no nearer to the door. Halo stood still again. "No—this way," she said, with the abruptness of doubt. "We're going in the wrong direction." Vance remembered a passage in the Second Faust which had always haunted him: the scene where Faust descends to the Mothers. "He must have wound round and round like this," he thought. They had turned and were walking down another low-vaulted vista toward a glow-worm light at its end. This led them to a door bolted and barred on the inner side, and evidently long unopened. "It's not that." They turned again and walked in the deepening darkness down another colonnade. Vance thought of the Cretan labyrinth, of Odysseus evoking the mighty dead, of all the subterranean mysteries on whose outer crust man loves and fights and dies. The blood was beating in his ears. He began to wish that they might never find the right door, but go on turning about forever at the dark heart of things. They walked and walked. After a while Halo asked: "Are you really tired?" like Eurydice timidly guiding Orpheus back to daylight.

"No; I'm not tired any longer."

"We'll soon be out," she cheered him; and he thought: "How funny that she doesn't know what I'm feeling!" He longed to sit down at the foot of one of the glimmering shafts and let the immensity and the mystery sweep over him like the sea. "If only she doesn't tell me any more about it," he thought, dreading architectural and historical explanations. But she slipped her hand in his, and the touch melted into his mood.

At last they found the right door, and a key ground in response to Halo's knock. Vance felt like a disembodied spirit coming back to earth. "I'd like to go and haunt somebody," he murmured. It was night outside, but a transparent southern night, not like the thick darkness in the cathedral. The court with the old twisted orange-trees was dim; but in the streets beyond there were lights and shrill human noises, the smell of frying food and the scent of jasmine. When they got back to the hotel and were shown to their room, Vance said abruptly: "You go down to dinner alone. I don't want anything to eat. I'd rather stay here … "

"You don't feel ill?" she asked; but he reassured her. "I'm only overfed with the day … " She tidied her hair and dress, and went down. It was exquisite to be with a woman who didn't persist and nag. He flung himself on the bed, his nerves tranquillized, and watched the stars come out through a tree under the window. Those branches recalled others, crooked and half-bare, outside of the window of the suburban bungalow where he had nursed his wife in her last illness. They were apple-branches; and he remembered how one day—a day of moral misery but acute spiritual excitement—he had seen the subject of his new book hanging on that tree like fruit. "Magic"—the story he had meant to write as soon as he was free. And he had been free for nearly a year, and had not added a line to it. But now everything would be different. With Halo at his side, and the world opening about him like the multiple vistas of that strange cathedral, his imagination would have room to range in. He shut his eyes and fell asleep.

The opening of the door made him start up, and he tumbled off the bed as Halo entered. "It took forever to get anything to eat. Did you wonder what had become of me?"

"No. I must have been asleep. But I'm as hungry as a cannibal. Can't we go out somewhere and get supper?" He felt happy, renewed, and as famished as a boy who has been sent to bed dinnerless.

The streets hummed with nocturnal chatter. Gusts of scent blew over secret garden-walls; and in the narrower thoroughfares of the old town they caught, through open arch-ways, glimpses of white courts with hanging lanterns, and plants about fountains, and gossiping people grouped in willow armchairs. Halo's Spanish was fluent enough to make her at ease in the scene, and she found a little restaurant smelling of olive-oil and garlic, where diners still lingered, and a saffron mound of rice and fish was set before Vance. He revelled in the high-seasoned diet, the thick sunny wine, the familiarity and noise of the friendly place, the contrast between the solitude of the cathedral and the crowded common life at its doors. He longed to wander from street to street, listening to the overlapping gramophones, the snatches of hoarse song, excited talk from door-step to door-step, the wail of muleteers driving their beasts to the stable, the whine of beggars on the steps of churches. It was strange and delicious to be sitting there at ease with this young woman who knew what everybody was saying, could talk to them, laugh with them, ask the way, bandy jokes, and give him the sense of being at home in it all.

After a while they got up and walked on. "Do you want to see some dancing? I daresay we could find a place," Halo suggested, as they caught a rattle of castanets from a packed café. But Vance wanted to stay in the streets. He liked to wander under the night-blue sky, and to speculate on what was going on behind the white walls of the houses, and the gates that were beginning to be shut on the darkened patios. They strayed down one street after another, through little squares shadowed with trees, to the market quarter around the cathedral, where, at the base of those mute walls, the shrieking of gramophones contended with the smell of fish and garlic. Then they turned the flank of the cathedral, and followed an unfrequented lane descending between convent-like buildings to the river. All was hushed and dim. They went out to the middle of the fortified bridge, and leaning on the parapet looked from the sluggish waters below to the mountain-like mass of the great church.

Vance gave a chuckle of satiety. "I don't believe I could bear it if there was a moon!"

Halo had not spoken for a long while. "That's what I used to feel about happiness," she said.

"That you couldn't bear it?"

"Yes."

"Well—and now?"

"Oh, now … you'll have to teach me … "

"Me? I never knew what it was, either … not this kind … "

"Is there any other?"

He pressed her close. "If there is, I've got no use for it."

They stood listening to the sound of the lazy river. The darkness drooped over them, low and burning as the curtains of an Olympian couch; and Vance, holding his love, thought how little meaning the scene would have had without her. He had seen it all before, after all—in inklings, in scattered visions; at the movies, at the opera, in the histories and travels he'd read; in "Gil Blas" and Gautier and "The Bible in Spain"; in sham Spanish cafés and cabarets; who was going to tell him anything new about Spain? The newness, the marvel, was in his arms, under his lips—this girl who was his other brain, his soul and his flesh. He longed to tell her so, in words such as no other woman had heard; but the poverty of all words came over him. "See here, let's go home to bed." They linked arms, and went back up the hill to the hotel. It was so late that even a Spanish porter was hard to rouse—but at length they climbed the stairs and stole into their room. Through the window the smell of frying oil and jasmine flowers blew in on them; and Vance wondered if in all his life any other smell would be so mingled for him with the taste of Halo's lips and eyelids.


Chapter 4

 

The next morning Vance announced that he meant to spend at least a month at Cordova. He said "I mean," as naturally as if the decision concerned only himself, and he would not for the world have restricted his companion's liberty. But this was not a surprise to Halo. She knew the irresistible force which drove him in pursuit of the food his imagination required. It was not that he was forgetful of her, but that, now they were together, his heart was satisfied, while the hunger of his mind was perpetual and insatiable.

In spite of herself she was slightly disconcerted by his taking their plan of travel into his own hands. She, who had worked it out so carefully, considering the season, the probable weather, the number of days to be given to each place, saw that all this meant nothing to him and reflected with a pang that she had outgrown the age of impulse. It was seldom nowadays that she remembered this difference between them. At first she had been continually conscious that he was the younger, and this had kept her from acknowledging to herself that she was in love with him. Even afterward there were times when he had seemed a boy to her; but now that they were lovers she felt in him a man's authority. But in practical matters she was conscious of her greater experience, and half-vexed at his not perceiving it.

"But, darling, you haven't seen Seville yet—or Murcia or Granada. And we ought to go up to Ronda before the weather turns cold. You've no conception of the wonders … "

He looked at her with a whimsical smile. "That's why … "

"Why?"

"It takes me such a darned long time to deal with wonders. I'm slow, I suppose. I don't care for more than one course at a meal."

She shrugged a little impatiently. "Oh, don't use your gastronomic preferences as an argument, dearest!"

"You mean they're too crude?"

"No; but they contradict your other theory. The theory that artists need only a mouthful of each dish."

"Oh, damn artists! I just want to please Vance Weston," he rejoined imperturbably, his arm about her shoulder. She laughed, and kissed him; but inwardly she thought: "I must just adapt myself; I must learn to keep step."

After all, wasn't it what she had wanted to marry him for? The absorbing interest of seeing his gift unfold under her care had been so interwoven with her love that she could not separate them. But she liked to think that she loved him because she believed in his genius, not that (as a simpler woman might) she believed in his genius because she loved him. Yet here she was, on the point of letting her petty habits of routine and order interfere with his inspiration! What did it matter if they spent the rest of the autumn at Cordova—or the rest of the year? "You feel as if you could write here?" she suggested, remembering how once before his art had flowered under her influence; and he smiled back at her: "Just at this minute I feel as if I couldn't write anywhere else." But they agreed that work would be impossible in their one noisy room at the hotel, and Halo set out to find quieter and roomier quarters. In her young days, before her marriage to Tarrant had immersed the family in luxury, Mr. and Mrs. Spear had taught their children that to combine picturesqueness with economy was one of the pleasures of travel. Scornful of the tourist who rated plumbing above local colour, and had to content himself with what could be asked for in English, the Spears, polylingual and ingratiating, gloried in the art of securing "amusing" lodgings at famine prices. The gifts developed in those nomad years came to Halo's aid, and before night she had driven a masterly bargain with the owner of the very quarters she wanted. The rooms were bare but clean, and so high above the town that they commanded the jumble of roofs and towers descending to the bridge, and a glimpse of the brown hills beyond. Vance was enchanted, and the unpacking and settling down turned the lovers into happy children. Though Vance lacked Halo's skill in driving nails and mending broken furniture he shared her love of order, and his good will and stronger muscles lightened her task. Before long his room was ready, and at a carefully consolidated table on which Halo had laid a fresh sheet of blotting paper and a stack of "author's pads" of a blue that was supposed to be good for the eyes, he sat down to his novel.

"Nobody ever fixed me up like this before," he said with a contented laugh. She remembered the comfortless house in which she had found him after Laura Lou's death, and wondered what happiness could equal that of a woman permitted to serve the genius while she adored the man.

"Do you think it's going to be as good a place for work as the Willows?" She coloured at her allusion to the old house on the Hudson, where she had spent so many hours with Vance while he was writing "Instead"—the novel the critics had acclaimed, and his publishers had resented his not consenting to repeat. All through one fervid summer the two had met there, unknown to Vance's wife and to Halo's husband. At that time she had imagined that she and Vance were only friends; yet, though she had ceased to meet him when his sudden outburst of passion broke down the feint, she could not recall their stolen hours without compunction. But there was none in Vance's eyes.

"I'm going to work a thousand per cent better here, because at the Willows I was always in a fever for you, and you kept getting in between me and my book."

"What a nuisance I must have been!" she murmured hypocritically; and added, half laughing, half in earnest: "And now—I suppose you already take me for granted?"

Their eyes met, and she saw in his the inward look which sometimes made him appear so much older than his age. "Oh, my soul—mayn't I?" he said; and: "Vance," she cried out, "what I want is just to be like the air you breathe … "

He lit a cigarette, and leaned back, comfortably surveying the blue pages. "That's only the beginning of all the things you're going to be," he declared. He held out the bundle of cigarettes, and she bent to light one from his, and stole to the door, pausing to say: "Now I'm going to leave you to your work."

 

She went to her own room to finish her unpacking; then she sat down in the window, and let the waves of bliss flow over her. More than once since she had left New York she had tried to look into the future and picture her probable destiny; but while her life held this burning core of passion she could fix her thoughts on nothing else. She had been too starved and cold before; now she could only steep herself in the glow.

No one would understand, she knew; least of all her own family. Mr. and Mrs. Spear had always regarded themselves as free spirits, and were certainly burdened with fewer social prejudices than most of their friends and relations. Mrs. Spear had specialized in receiving "odd" people at a time when New York was still shy of them. She had welcomed at her house foreign celebrities travelling with ladies unprovided with a marriage certificate, and had been equally hospitable to certain compatriots who had broken their marriage tie when such breaks were a cause of scandal. But though she sympathized with "self-expression", and the mystical duty to "live one's life", and had championed the first adventurers in the new morality, she had never expected any one belonging to her to join that band of heroes. She was a Lorburn of Paul's Landing, and people of pre-Revolutionary stock, however emancipated their sympathies, conformed to tradition in their conduct. Mrs. Spear had herself conformed. Her marriage had been a defiance, since she had married out of her own set, or her own class, as her family would have put it; but it was a defiance sanctioned by church and law, and she had never dreamed of her daughter's taking liberties with those institutions. Grieved as she was at Halo's leaving her husband, Mrs. Spear had accepted it as inevitable, and had bowed, after another struggle, to the further inevitability of her daughter's re-marriage; but she had been genuinely shocked, and deeply hurt, by Halo's decision to go away with her lover before her divorce. Mrs. Spear had not been violent and denunciatory, like her husband, whose resentment was doubled by the fact that he could not air it in the newspapers. Mrs. Spear knew that the day was past when parents, especially parents who have coquetted with Bohemia, can call down curses on a dishonoured daughter. But she did feel that Halo was dishonouring herself, and that every influence should be used to save her. If the break with Tarrant was unavoidable, why could not her daughter wait until he had taken the necessary steps? "Lewis is always a gentleman. You must admit that. You can count on his assuming all the blame," Mrs. Spear had pleaded, her beautiful eyes full of persuasion and perplexity.

"But, mother, supposing I'd rather share the blame—why shouldn't I take the necessary steps for that?" Halo rejoined, trying to evade her mother's entreaties. Mrs. Spear merely replied: "Don't talk like your brother, please"—for Lorry Spear was noted for his habit of dealing with serious questions flippantly; and Halo, conscious of the ineffectualness of any argument, could only repeat: "Mother, I must go with him—I must. He needs me"—though she knew that to her mother such a plea was worse than flippancy.

"If he really needs you, dear, he'll have the strength of character to wait for you for a year. If he hasn't—" Mrs. Spear left the ominous conclusion unspoken.

"Oh, but, mother darling, it's not that … I suppose you're thinking of other women … " Halo felt herself burning inwardly at the suggestion.

"It's not an unusual weakness—with artists especially," Mrs. Spear drily interposed.

"No," Halo conceded; "I suppose we shouldn't have much art without it … But what I mean is so different … He needs me for his work … I can help him, I know I can … "

"Of course he'll make you think so—oh, it's all so unlike you, darling!" cried poor Mrs. Spear, feeling herself as short of arguments as her daughter.

"No, it's like me," Halo exclaimed passionately, "only I've never really been myself before. Don't grudge me the chance." She bent over, trying to kiss away her mother's tears; and on this unsatisfactory conclusion they had parted.

At first Halo's view had differed little from Mrs. Spear's. To wait till she was divorced, and go to Vance Weston as his wife, had seemed the natural, the obvious arrangement. But when Vance came back from Euphoria, ill-looking, unsettled, unable to work, and pleading not to have his happiness postponed, she had given way at once. She herself hardly knew whether passion or pity had prevailed; but she felt, as she had said to her mother, that this was her first chance to be her real self, and that no argument, no appeal to social expediency or to loftier motives, should deprive her of it. Words like dignity and self-respect seemed to belong to an obsolete language. Her dignity, her self-respect! What had become of them when she had endured to live with a husband she despised? Yet she had remained with him for reasons much less potent than those which called her to her lover. Was she really the same woman who, on the steamer a few weeks earlier, had hesitated over her lawyer's warning letter, and asked herself whether she ought not to turn back? Now it was her past that she was ashamed of, not her present; there were lyric moments when her flight with Vance seemed like an expiation.

These phases of the struggle were over; she regarded them as indifferently as if they had belonged to some other woman's story. It was sweet to her now to know that she had gone to Vance without hesitating. "In such a heaven as ours there's no marrying or giving in marriage," she thought, as she sat there nursing her happiness; and awed by the perfectness of her well-being she hid her face in her hands.

"What quiet there is in deep happiness," she mused. "How little I ever imagined this lull in the middle of the whirlpool!" But the stars still danced about her, and when she tried to disentangle her mind from their golden whirl she felt a lassitude, a reluctance she could not explain. "All that matters is that he's sitting there next door, tranquil, happy, at work again—and that it's my doing," she thought. She longed to open his door and steal in, as she used to at the Willows, when he would break off every now and then to read aloud what he had written. But she remembered what he had said of her "getting in between him and his book," and she went back to her seat, reflecting that their moments together were no longer numbered, and that her present task was to defend his privacy, not to invade it.

The room was very still. The afternoon light, slowly veering, left in shadow first one group of roofs and towers, then another; the cloud-masses faded into twilight. At length Halo got up. Their lodging was without electric light, and she was sure Vance would not know how to light the oil-lamp she had put on his table. She was glad of the excuse for joining him …

"Vance," she said, opening the door. No one answered, and she saw that the room was empty. The door which led to the landing was ajar—he had evidently gone out. Probably he had felt tired after his hours of writing, and had wandered away without thinking of telling her. She lit the lamp and looked about her. Cigarette ends strewed the floor, and the blue writing pad on the desk, immaculate, untouched, looked up at her ironically. He had not written a line …

She stood struggling with a sense of disappointment. He had seemed so sure that he wanted to go on with his work—that this was the very place where it would come to him without an effort! Well, what of that? Did she still imagine that an artist, a creator, could always know in advance exactly in what conditions and at what hour the sacred impulse would come?

She went back for her hat and coat, and descended the dark narrow stairs. Slowly she sauntered through the streets that led to the cathedral, peering with shortsighted eyes to right and left in the hope of meeting him. Lamps had begun to twinkle in the houses. Before long the sacristan would pass on his rounds and close the cathedral doors. Halo thought: "He's surely in there; I must find him before the place is locked up." She pushed back the leather curtain and went in.

At first the darkness confused her. Each figure straying among the shadows seemed to have Vance's outline; but as she drew nearer she found herself mistaken. From aisle to aisle, from Christian altar to Moorish mihrab, she explored the baffling distances; but Vance was not there. She returned to the outer world, and began to walk back through the modern quarter; and suddenly, in front of a glittering café, she found him installed at a table. He greeted her with a smile, and said: "What will you have? I had to take a vermouth because it was all I knew how to ask for."

"I've been hunting all over for you—" she began; then broke off, annoyed by the maternal note in her voice. "I thought you might want a Spanish drink, and an interpreter to order it," she added laughing.

"No. I got on all right. I've been all up and down the place; then I sat down here to watch the crowd." He waited while she ordered a cup of coffee, and went on: "I couldn't write a line after all."

"What you need is to take a good holiday first, and not bother about your book."

His remote and happy smile enveloped her. "I'm not bothering about anything on God's earth." He was looking at her curiously. "Do you know, you've got just the shape of the head of one of those statues of the Virgin they carry in the processions—you remember: the one they showed us yesterday in that chapel? A little face, long, and narrowing down softly to the chin—like a fruit or a violin; the way yours does … God, I wish I could draw! I believe I might have … " He leaned across and twisted his fingers through hers. "What's the use of sight-seeing, anyhow, when I've got you to look at?"

The blood rose to Halo's face. She felt a sudden shyness when he looked at her with those eyes full of secret visions. How long would it be before he had gone her round, and needed new food for his dream? She thought: "Shall I have to content myself with being a peg to hang a book on?" and found an anxious joy in the idea.

When she had finished her coffee Vance pushed back the table. "Come—let's go down to the bridge and listen to the river in the dark … I don't believe I'll ever write a line again; not in this place anyway," he declared serenely.