The Bond/Part 1/Chapter 3

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III

THEY walked up to the entrance of the big Park, a wall of dark-green starred with electric lights; Basil talking vigorously about the events of his day—his picture, a luncheon with a French painter visiting the city and two. Russian anarchists, an interview with a publisher whom he had invited to consider making a book of his drawings. With Teresa's hand clasped on his arm he felt forgiven for an offense which he was not conscious of having committed. They took the lumbering stage, with its cadaverous horses and quaint air of decay, and rode down to the restaurant where Basil had ordered dinner. They were the only passengers, and Teresa said, as the primitive vehicle rolled pathetically against the rapid current of luxury setting uptown:

"Dear old One-Hoss Shay, I hope it doesn't fall to pieces before we get there! How nice it is to be poor, Basil."

"What does that mean? I know it doesn't mean what it says," he answered, laughing and holding her close against his shoulder.

"Yes, it does. People don't bother about us, and we needn't bother about them. I like to feel lost in this tremendous whirl. It makes somehow my troubles seem small and my—happiness great."

"Dearest—you're happy then?" Basil said tenderly, half-startled.

"I'm perfectly happy. I keep wondering what will happen to spoil it all. … Someone will take you away from me!"

He laughed out at that.

"If you cared half as seriously for me as I do for you——!"

But suddenly she trembled in his clasp, and hid her face on his shoulder, tilting her big hat over one ear.

"Teresa! You strange child! What is the matter with you to-day? " he cried, trying to see her eyes.

"No—nothing—let me alone," she said imperiously, though in a stifled voice. And she clung to him silent for some moments. Then she sat up, put her hat straight, and cried joyously:

"We've gone too far—stop the thing!"

Basil stopped it, and Teresa jumped gaily down the steps.

"It lasted after all!" she cried. "I always feel things are going to fall to pieces—what a relief when they don't! … I thought our dinner was going to be spoiled, but now it isn't, and you shall tell me all about your Mrs. Perry."

"Mrs. Perry! What's she got to do with our dinner? I'll tell you all I know with pleasure, but——"

As Basil opened the outer door of the restaurant for her, Teresa smiled defiantly into his perplexed eyes.

"She came near spoiling our evening, I tell you! You know when I'm in a bad mood …"

"Oh, I know!"

He shook his head ruefully. They found their little table, with a bouquet of red and white carnations upon it, and the chairs tilted up. It stood next the wall, before a large mirror, which reflected all the pale colouring, shaded lights, and palm-trees of the room, and a vista of other rooms beyond. The place had a foreign air; nearly all the patrons spoke or tried to speak in French to the waiters, and when the orchestra began to play Strauss waltzes an air of gaiety diffused itself among the mixed crowd. By eight o'clock the room was full. Basil had ordered cocktails to begin their dinner and some good champagne. He liked Teresa to drink a little, for it made her gayer and more talkative, and her melancholy moods irritated him. To-night melancholy hung in the air for a time. Teresa looked vaguely about the room and seemed to be half-listening, half-dreaming. But suddenly her eyes brightened, she leaned forward, smiling at Basil, and began to talk.

"This is nice after all," she said. "I feel the spring to-day, and it always excites me and makes me sad. … And then I've been thinking. … It's a year to-day since we were married—does it seem so long to you?"

"Yes, longer. I feel as though I had been born married," Basil said with his quick radiant smile.

"Oh, I don't ! It seems like yesterday that we ran away! It's like a dream, the time has gone so fast. … And I was not born married! You are the same as you were before, but I am different. … The centre of gravity has been changed, and I am tottering!"

She said it laughing, but with a meaning that Basil answered by a look of passionate tenderness. Unconscious of the people about them, he put his hand across the table and touched hers. Teresa glanced into the mirror. It reflected a blur of bright colours, for most of the women were gaily dressed; a number of ordinary and rather dissipated faces and a few interesting ones. It reflected Basil's fine and vigorous profile and his brown colouring; and Teresa's face in three-quarters view, her dark, silky hair, rolled in a thick coil on her neck; her narrow eyes that varied in colour like sea-water, from grey to green or blue; her thin but sweetly curved and sensitive lips. The mirror showed also a corner of the next room and a table where two persons were dining. Teresa bent forward with sudden interest.

"There's Mary Addams! In the other room—don't turn, she'll see we're looking at her. Guess who's with her—you'll never guess—it's Jack!"

"Jack Addams! Oh, you're mistaken, it can't be, Teresa!"

Basil was quite as keenly interested.

"But it is, I tell you! And they look like a pair of lovers. I wonder if they can be going to make it up."

"Oh, they can't be. That would be too much. After the things that came out in the trial! Even Mary wouldn't dare!" protested Basil. "Are you sure, Teresa?"

"Perfectly—I can see him perfectly. … And there's no limit to the imbecility of women," said Teresa. "But if she does take him back …"

"She won't, on the children's account. She wouldn't have gone into court with that case if it hadn't been impossible——"

"Well, why are they here together then, and hid away in a corner where they think they won't be seen? None of Mary's crowd ever come here, I suppose. There, she's seen us." Teresa quickly looked away. "Let her think we haven't seen her."

"By Jove! it's queer," said Basil. "I thought they had made a clean division into two camps and never even went to the same houses."

"It's true. At least the few people that stood by Jack Mary has cut," said Teresa. "It's the queerest thing I've ever known."

To keep her eyes away from that reflection in the mirror, invisible to Basil, she looked over the room, where light veils of smoke were beginning to rise in the warm air. The orchestra was playing a Hungarian medley of wild slides and shuddering thrills. The waiter lifted the bottle of champagne from its ice-bath, looked at it suggestively and filled their glasses.

"We'll have another, shall we?" said Basil.

"No, we won't. The place is beginning to look hazy now."

"Oh, nonsense, you've only had two glasses."

"And a cocktail. It's quite, quite enough. Even for an anniversary. I wonder what the Jacks are celebrating! Their unwedding?"

"Never mind them, let them celebrate whatever they like. They interrupted something very interesting that you were saying."

"What was it, child?"

"Why, that you are different. I can't see it. You're the same cool little person that you were when I made you marry me!"

"No, I'm not. I'm in love with you now."

He threw back his head and laughed, and there was a note of pain in his laughter. He looked at her, and his eyes were clouded suddenly with tears.

"You! No—if you were!"

"You foolish boy, you dear creature, can't you see it? I'll prove it to you. Basil, I'm frightfully jealous."

"Jealous! Not you. How could you be—what is there to be jealous about?"

"Everything! Everybody! Every woman that comes to your studio, or that you look at in the street. Every woman you've ever known. Your past—your present—your future."

She changed colour. Her eyes, deeply blue now under straight, dark brows, looked fiercely into Basil's. But he took her emotion lightly.

"That's absurd, you're only trying to please me. You know you're the only woman in the world for me, the only one who has ever existed for me, really."

"Except some hundreds that you have been or are interested in! Except Mrs. Perry, except Alice, except—a lot that I don't know!"

"Teresa, you little charming idiot, you know perfectly well you're talking through your hat! Women don't care about me. Only two or three in my whole life have—and I haven't cared for them. They like me, they find me companionable, that's all. Alice has a purely friendly interest in me, and I in her. Mrs. Perry comes to me on business. I never see her socially——"

"On business! Now, Basil, do you pretend to me that she only comes to have you paint her portrait?"

"You're not very flattering to my art," said Basil, with an air of pique. "Now comes out what you really think about me! Du sprichst ein grosses Wort gelassen aus."

"You know what I mean. You're an artist, but those women don't know it. What do they care about a portrait that won't flatter them and that isn't signed by a big name? Mrs. Perry will put hers in the garret, when she's tired of you."

"Let her, so long as she pays me for it," said Basil easily. "Do you think I make love to her while I'm painting?"

"No, but she makes love to you and you encourage her. You wouldn't rebuff any woman. Even if you didn't like her, you'd be too afraid of looking ridiculous! Your vanity, Basil, will be my death."

Teresa's liking for light phrases had very much lightened the discussion. They both laughed. She took up her champagne-glass and he touched it with his.

"To the most charming woman in the world," he said.

"You do well to make her anonymous—but I'll drink it, for your sake. May you be happy!"

"I am," he said over the rim of his glass.

A moment later he said: "Here comes Mary Addams—she's coming to speak to us—no, Jack's somewhere out of sight."

He got up as a tall woman dressed plainly in dark-blue cloth, with a clever and worldly face, came to their table.

"Don't let me disturb you—just a word—just to ask you not to say you've seen us!" she said, smiling at them both.

"Of course not," both answered at once in some slight confusion.

"You'll think it awfully queer—but we dine together on the quiet now and then. Jack's impossible as a husband—but he's very nice at dinner once a fortnight!"

She nodded and went back, with her quick supple motion that drew the eyes of the people she passed; and they saw her leave the place, followed by the big, good-looking Addams, who carefully avoided looking in their direction.

"People are queer," said Basil, as he dropped into his seat again and lit a cigarette. "Will you dine with me once a fortnight after you divorce me?"

Teresa did not answer. She glanced dreamily about the room, at the various faces which at this stage of dinner all looked lightly or soddenly sensual. There were many fat, dark, foreign people, the women in tight light satins and huge hats, the men with heavy eyes and heads sunk between their shoulders. "What a collection of Steinlens!" said Basil. At the table next to them, which had been vacant all this time, now sat down a vivacious French girl, talking gaily to four young men. She looked curiously at Basil and Teresa, and Teresa instantly estimated her charms: Brilliant eyes and teeth, a pliant figure, an effective toilette. But her hands were ugly, her mouth shapeless, and her complexion sallow. Basil glanced at her indifferently.

"Odd that you almost never see a pretty Frenchwoman, even in Paris. They never seemed to me attractive—too nervous, too mental."

"Let us go and have coffee somewhere else," said Teresa suddenly. "It's too noisy here."

"You haven't enjoyed it! What's the matter, dearest? You used to like this place——"

"Yes, I like it generally, but I'm tired."

She was petulant, perhaps from fatigue. But when they got out into the soft spring night, and walked the few squares to the little hotel with the terrace-garden that Teresa had suggested, and particularly when they were sitting alone on the terrace, where a few lights glimmered on the bare budding twigs of trees and vines, she became gay. They drank their coffee and liqueurs, and sat on till Basil felt it necessary to have a whisky and soda—talking eagerly or softly, hands clasped across the table, more lovers now than they had been when they married a year before. There were no reserves in their talk. Both were of the world, with an experimental interest in life. Teresa's interest was at times the paler, perhaps for reasons of physical vitality, for she came of an old and rather tired stock; but at times also it was more intense than Basil's. He was younger in race and in temperament, full of vigour, and where Teresa questioned and doubted he went straight on; but he took life, not emotionally as Teresa did, but with a cool vision that sought beauty. His mind desired the closest contact with reality, and he desired the same mental experience for Teresa. He wanted her to know the world as nearly as possibly as he knew it, to see it as he saw it. He enjoyed a masculine intimacy of talk with her. He said to her in effect, in the phrase of Sainte-Beuve: "C'est toujours du plus près possible qu'il faut regarder les hommes et les choses." And he unrolled to her a vivid picture of the physical, mental, moral life of a man which by turns amused, saddened, revolted, but always fascinated her. The characters of many men, of many women, come into the story; the men intimately known, the women generally superficially and in a single light aspect. Basil's keen interest in human beings, joined to an attractive personality, had produced the rich harvest of reminiscences which he offered up to Teresa. But, oddly, in the whole story there was no emotional entanglement. It was the freshness and force of a first real passion that he had brought to her. To him she had been and was a magical thing; a creation of the mystical sensuous beauty that he loved.