The Bond/Part 1/Chapter 2

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II

TERESA came down the avenue, where a vague breath of spring floated above the muddy pavement. She walked with her quick, light step toward the little park at the end of the street, seeing with pleasure the faint touch of green showing through the arch; but before reaching it she turned into a side street, smiling. She held her light-grey dress carefully up from the walk, showing pretty, carefully-shod feet. A great bunch of purple violets was fastened in her short coat. Her eyes looked out from the shade of a broad black hat, gaily, blue as the sky.

She went toward the rushing noisy stream of Sixth Avenue; midway was the studio-building, her destination. In front of the building a carriage was standing; a discreet brougham, dark-blue in colour; two resplendent bay horses, a coachman in light livery. A footman with a lap-robe over his arm walked up and down before the door of the studios. Teresa seemed to see in the expression of the horses and the servants that they had been waiting a long time. She knew the carriage, and at sight of it the smile of her eyes had vanished and she blushed suddenly with vexation. She went into the building, but in the hall she hesitated, walked up and down for a few moments, and finally stopped before a half-open door, from which issued husky strains of a bass voice chanting,

 

"In deinen Augen hab' ich
Einst gelesen …"

 

Teresa tapped at the door.

"Come in," said the voice.

She entered, but the sculptor was not visible. In the half-twilight of the studio the crowd of his vast cold images, his "family," as he called them, loomed up with stony chastity. They were all of heroic size or more. In the middle of the room a colossal horse, a palæolithic horse, arched his neck and lifted a fore-foot. If the foot fell, the floor would certainly sink. But Teresa had seen it poised now for two years in the same spot. The horse perhaps would stand there until it or the building crumbled to pieces. Even the sculptor did not expect anyone to buy it.

 

"Behüt dich Gott, es war zu schön gervesen,
Behüt dich Gott, es hat nicht sollen sein,"

 

warbled Erhart behind a screen where he was making coffee.

Teresa mimicked the dying fall with which he rendered the last words; and Erhart burst from behind the screen, still in his loose linen working-apron, his powerful arms bare to the elbows, a steaming coffee-pot in one hand.

"You!" he cried. "Come in, come in, and have coffee with me! Excuse my looks, I have just stopped work, I'll be ready in five minutes. …"

"Don't bother, I can't stay. I have to fetch Basil," said Teresa.

"But he has a sitter. Mrs. Perry hasn't gone yet."

"How do you know?" asked Teresa, smiling. "Do you watch for her?"

"Not I, but I can't help knowing when she goes by. There's a swish, swish that you can't mistake, and a blast of perfume—whew! Araby the blest couldn't touch it."

"That's the reason you leave your door open, I suppose," suggested Teresa, looking bored.

Erhart was busy setting out cups, plates, a plum-cake, and two silver mugs containing milk and sugar on a small table. He put the coffee-pot on the table and disappeared behind the screen.

"Do sit down," he begged eagerly. "This is awfully nice. When Mrs. P. goes we'll get Basil in. You know it's ages since you've been here. I want to show you my new group."

"Well," said Teresa indifferently.

She sat down and poured out the coffee, listening in spite of herself for the rustle of perfumed skirts. Erhart's pleasure in seeing her evoked no response. But she was not ungracious. She smiled at him as he came to sit near her, and said that the coffee was delicious.

"Yes, if I could sculp as well as I can make coffee …!" said Erhart, "Not that the new group is so bad—I'll show it to you … But how are you? I haven't seen you for——"

"For three days. Why haven't you been up to lunch?" enquired Teresa rather maliciously.

Erhart's cold, handsome face betrayed a slight embarrassment.

"Well, I imagine you're tired of me," he said. "I suppose I have been coming too often …"

"Nonsense. You needn't fish in that way. I shan't say anything agreeable to you. I'm in a bad temper. Let's see your famous group."

He got up and lifted the damp cloth from the clay. A male and a female figure, of more than life size, were shown, half interlaced in the relaxation of sleep.

"It's one of the studies for my 'Night,'" said the sculptor.

"How inhuman they are!" commented Teresa. "Like all your things. I think it's because you make them all so big and so muscular. Look at that woman's biceps! She isn't a woman; she's a monster."

"She's splendid," said the sculptor with conviction. "She's ideal. Art should show what people ought to be; it should be remote from what they are. As the philosopher says, 'The Real is an immense outrage on the Ideal.' When art submits to reality it's pure treason …"

He stood looking at his clay figures, drinking his coffee slowly. In his big frame and his clear-cut, high-boned face with its contemplative, large eyes and tossed blonde hair, was something of the cold and rather empty power that he put into his work.

"When are you going to let me do that bust of you?" he asked.

"Never. I don't want to bore myself sitting to you, simply to serve as a pretext for something which wouldn't in the least resemble me! Anyone else will do quite as well. And you know I hate posing."

"You pose constantly for Basil."

"That's why I won't for anybody else. I have too much of it."

"I could do a very good thing of you," said Erhart, looking earnestly at her. "A sort of mermaiden head, with smooth hair, with lowered eyelids and a streak of wildness under them—and it would be much more like you than Basil's Madonna effects."

Teresa turned her head suddenly. She heard Basil's voice. He was coming down the corridor, escorting Mrs. Perry. Teresa caught a glimpse of the lady's sweeping black skirts as they passed the door. She rose, and ignoring Erhart's attempt to keep her a little longer, bade him good-bye and went on up the hall. There in the bare room where Basil did his calm, persevering, ardent work, was the portrait of Mrs. Perry, the figure indicated by blotches of violet colour, the face quite definite. Even in Basil's impressionistic sketch it might be guessed that she was handsome. The painted eyes fascinated Teresa, and she was studying them when Basil came abruptly in. His face lighted up at sight of her with a quick pleasure that made him look boyish, and a feeling of relief gave impetuous energy to his greeting.

"Dearest—sweetheart! Where did you come from?" he cried gaily, taking her round the waist. "You're late."

Teresa bent slightly away from him and said neutrally:

"I've been waiting in Erhart's place for half an hour. It's you who are late. You said you'd be ready at five."

"By Jove, I didn't notice the time! The light was so good, and the whole thing went so well that I never thought of stopping. And, besides, I expected you to come in any minute. Why didn't you?"

"I didn't want to interrupt you," said Teresa, coldly, slipping away from his arm.

"Oh, nonsense … What's the matter, dearest? What have I done—are you angry with me?"

He put both hands on her shoulders, with a little roughness, and bent toward her, smiling quizzically, tenderly.

"My new dress! I'm sure you're all paint," cried Teresa, and writhed away from him.

Basil looked at her, puzzled and apprehensive, and she looked at the picture, maintaining her offended air. Basil put his hands into the pockets of his brown corduroy coat, took out his cigarette-case, put it back again, and then stood quietly gazing at her, his lips compressed slightly, his eyes keen, searching, somewhat troubled. Teresa's moods, though he did not take them very seriously, always troubled the surface of things for him. He was used to coaxing her into good humour, and it was a labour that he never shrank from, for until it was accomplished nothing else seemed very important.

"Well, how do you like it?" he enquired at last of Teresa's chill profile.

"It is a little theatrical," she said.

"Well, so is she. That is, she would seem so to you, I daresay. She's very emotional."

"Really? She looks as though she had committed a mortal but pleasant sin, and was about to go to confession, which she would enjoy even more."

"That's clever of you," said Basil with a quick admiring smile. "She has the capacity for sin, and for confession, too. She's of the religious temperament, like most women who are very physical."

"Oh," said Teresa, with a contemptuous droop of her eyelids. "You'll be saying next that she's spiritual."

"I do say it—she is. She's thoroughly mystical—something you never can comprehend, you little pagan!"

Again Basil put his arm round his wife, and again she repelled him, gently, but with unmistakable irritation.

"Why, Teresa, what is it?" he demanded. "What's gone wrong—don't you like me any more?"

"No, I don't. You're too horrid," she replied with decision.

"Well, tell me how," said Basil, drawing a breath of relief. Usually when Teresa was offended she retreated into a blank silence; when he could get her to express her grievance he knew it was already half forgiven.

"Tell me—I didn't mean to be," he said with a pleading look.

Teresa was the picture of melancholy. The corners of her mouth and her eyelids expressed resignation to all the bitterness of life.

"I think you might have remembered you had an engagement with me—and on this day, too—I daresay you forgot even what day it is—our anniversary dinner——"

"Dearest!" cried Basil. This time he seized her firmly and kissed her. "I didn't forget it I've been thinking of it all day! …"

"No, you haven't. You forgot we were to go out at five for a walk. You only thought about painting that horrid woman, while she told you about her sins and said her prayers! Hypocrite!"

"Which is the hypocrite—she or I?"

"Both of you. Go and change your coat, I want to get out. It will be dark now; we've missed the twilight."

Basil was not yet forgiven. Teresa was still melancholy. Even the consciousness of the excellent cut of her new dress, the perfume of her extravagant bunch of violets, the feeling of Basil's uneasiness and fear lest their evening should be spoilt, the knowledge that she had only to smile to make him radiant and gay—all these mollifying influences she resisted for the sake of discipline. It was necessary to make Basil a little miserable before making him happy. And also there was a vague but real shade that overcast her pleasure in the rolling spectacle of the avenue along which they walked, in the soft cooling blue of the sky where stars were appearing, and the mild air that smelt of spring, the perfume of flower-stands at busy corners, the haze of lights, the roar from streets beyond of the great cityful homeward bound—all the discordant sights and sounds that closed her round, isolating her small, personal, absorbing life in the midst of this flood of life. She drank in the sad gaiety of the hour, the dividing-line between day and night, between the day's work and the quest of repose or pleasure. Its restlessness spoke deeply to her; the fatigue or the expectation of the faces that flashed into view under the lights, the glaring allurements of some streets to the west and to the east, offering food and drink and amusement, the quick roll of a closed carriage up the avenue, a girl passing whose sparkling eyes rested intently on Basil. …

Teresa glanced up at him quickly. Yes, he had seen the girl. Teresa surprised the rapid return of his glance to herself. She hated that other look—the interested, appraising look that betrayed a whole past of fleeting encounters, of fugitive souvenirs. She saw it often, for often Basil was unconscious of it himself, and denied it. She saw the involuntary look that women gave to him. And each such perception cast in its tiny grain to trouble her mind, conscious vaguely of a problem there to solve, of which all the conditions were not as yet known to her.