The Bond/Part 1/Chapter 4

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IV

TERESA next morning lay late in bed, reading the Arabian Nights in sixteen large volumes of delicious French. The books had come two days before, and were a gift in honour of her anniversary, from her sister's husband, Ernesto di Pepoli. Teresa had a contempt for Ernesto, but she was forced to admit that he had a distinct grace in the small things of life. She had not seen him for two years, and who else would have remembered so long that she loved the Arabian Nights? In her delight at getting them she had written Ernesto a really affectionate letter; in spite of her reflection that the money to pay for those sixteen volumes (Ernesto had had them bound at Siena) would have to come out of Nina's shallow pocket. Nina had sent only a cablegram.

The door of Teresa's room was open, and from the tiny hall and drawing-room (the whole flat was no bigger than Erhart's studio) came the scent of flowers. The people who knew her best had remembered yesterday for she and Basil were still in the state of obvious content with one another which made floral recognition suitable. Most of the flowers, indeed, had been sent in by Basil. But Gerald Dallas had sent her a great bunch of violets, the ones she had worn at dinner; they were now reviving in a vase on the table beside her. And Major Ran- some, her father-in-law, had sent white roses, which fact touched and amused her. Major Ransome admired Teresa, and though he was afraid of his second wife, he was apt to be reckless with the pocket-money she allowed him.

Unfortunately, with the roses, Major Ransome had sent a note saying that he would come to lunch on the present day; and Teresa had al-already asked Gerald Dallas to lunch and go to a concert with her. It was not the Major's presence that she minded, but the amount of thought that must be spent on any meal of which he was to partake.

She and Gerald would have lunched on chops, baked potatoes, and salad; but now there must be a clear soup and a cold lobster and a cheese soufflé; and it was always touch and go with the art of Mary, the temperamental Irish cook. If she was in a bad temper, if the wind stood in the east, or she had stayed out too late the night before, the result would be disaster. Usually she liked to cook for Major Ransome, since he appreciated her success.

"Our Mr. Ransome don't care what he eats," she would say with implied reproach to Teresa. Teresa took no interest in cookery, and to her a man tremulously concerned about his food was a humorous and pitiable spectacle.

Now as she lay reading she heard from the kitchen the melancholy "keen" of an Irish melody rising and falling monotonously. It was a good sign; Mary always crooned this dirge when she was happy, and Teresa endured it philosophically. But it made her feel herself rather lazy; she, too, had her work to do. Basil had gone away early, after taking his coffee with her in her room. Even Basil was working. The roar of the city without penetrated her solitude a humming, disquieting bass note with an occasional sharp crescendo. It was necessary to be active; it was impossible to read the Arabian Nights after ten o'clock. She got up, took her bath, and dressed quickly; saw that the drawing-room was dusted; arranged the flowers, dusted the piano, which Mary invariably forgot, put a match to the fire, wrote several notes of thanks, posted up her accounts; and then, having a clear hour before her and a rush of energy in her veins, she put on her hat and grey furs, for the morning was cool, and went out. The air was clear and sparkling; she drew a long breath as the doors of the flat-building closed behind her and shut in the be-rugged entrance-hall, the potted palms, and the negro boy-in-buttons. The tiny leaves on the trees shivered in the wind, and Teresa, breathing it in, felt as though she were walking on the downs facing the sea. She was happy, light-hearted. Basil did not worry her. She knew he had an appointment with Mrs. Perry, who intended leaving town soon and seemed to want the portrait finished in a hurry. Very well, let him have appointments! She knew he was flirting with Mrs. Perry, and she felt now a light contempt for him. She, Teresa, had all his heart, she had his happiness in her hand, she knew her own power. In her mood of to-day she recognised it calmly and felt independent of him. For the moment she was free, as she had been before she married, and for some time afterwards. The business on which she was going, too, was a reminder of her bachelor freedom.

Her rooms, in which she had lived very happily alone for a year before her marriage, were high up in an old building on the edge of the roar and rush of the great middle-class business thoroughfare. The endless noise of trolleys and elevated road had not disturbed Teresa. She had liked to live in the midst of this flood of life, as she liked the view from her windows to the west—an endless spread of roofs, chimney-pots, smoke and steam, which did not stain the clear air. She had made herself a little niche in the huge city; and the feeling of its vastness closed her round comfortably. She was as much of it as she wished to be. She regarded it—and so she did, at that time, life in general as a spectacle, which might roll turbulently about one and leave one amused and unmoved, with one's small activities and one's dreams.

For several years, in fact since the death of her surviving parent, Teresa had filled out a microscopic income by work which was more pleasure than anything else. She had a slender but real artistic gift, developed in the course of her family's eccentric wanderings abroad. She modelled tiny bronzes, useful or purely decorative, little figures of animals, naked children, or fantastic beings out of fairyland; and she designed jewels of worked silver and gold and semi-precious stones whose colour was their chief value. These things were exhibited from time to time and sold—through an agent, as Teresa disliked money-dealings—for prices such as "art" commands in our country; the price of the exotic, the mysterious.

Her rooms had old-fashioned size and squareness. The living-room served also as a studio, and was ornamented by the remains of the family furniture, picked up abroad with more taste than money. Heavy tables and chairs of Italian walnut, cabinets and a desk elaborately inlaid, long curtains of faded but rich red brocade, and some pieces of embroidery on the grey walls, made a formal but agreeable setting. The dining-room was furnished chiefly with books—collected by Teresa's father in each country they had lived in, and usually left behind, in large boxes marked "library," when the family took its unpremeditated flight. When Teresa's mother, a widow, had decided to come home, she had tried to reassemble her scattered household goods. The "library" seemed to stand the stress of time and removals better than the furniture, much of which fell to pieces in transit; Teresa had about three thousand volumes covering her walls, with space left only for a portrait of her father, painted by a German friend of the family in acknowledgment of an unrepayable loan. It was not a bad portrait; it vividly presented Konald Grange as Teresa remembered him—his thin, bearded face, his soft, fiery eyes, his whole look of meditative fragility. He was a South Carolinian, and his wife an energetic but unpractical New Englander; and they had quarrelled so much retrospectively over the war of secession and the ethics of slavery that at times in their European wanderings the family had split; Teresa going with the father, whom she adored, and the elder daughter, Nina, with the mother. Some years after her father's death Nina had married an Italian of good but impoverished family. She had been married for her beauty and for love, having no money. But soon it appeared that love was hardly enough, and that money was pressingly necessary. Agonising appeals to Mrs. Grange led her to relieve as much as possible Nina's situation, and to leave her by will, with Teresa's con- sent, two-thirds of the small property on which the other two had lived. Nina had been the mother's favourite, Teresa the father's; it was to Teresa that he left his books, and the book-plate and gold seal and few pieces of plate descended from English ancestors; and the sword of her grandfather, the slaveholder and rebel general, whom the New England part of the family repudiated. Konald Grange had little more to leave—except a memory to Teresa full of pathetic charm.

When Teresa married, she said to Basil Ransome:

"I shall keep my rooms, you know, in case we don't get on." And he, gaily admitting the provisory nature of their arrangement, had yet a jealous pang, which he concealed as little as he concealed anything else from her. For the wary Teresa had not seemed even half-tamed when he did succeed in marrying her, and how much she was won was known only to herself. They had now had a year together, and had got on marvellously, though with frequent quarrels. Teresa had not even once desired to retreat to her bachelor independence. In her flat lived a young woman, an art student whom Teresa had befriended, and who looked after the place. Teresa came almost every day to work in the studio. Often she took people there to tea. It was always a place to retreat to when she had quarrelled with Basil. Once or twice she had even stayed over night there with Miss Pease, who cooked her own meals on a chafing- dish; and curled up on a divan Teresa tasted the luxury of freedom, as they chatted about the old days of the studio in Paris, where she had worked hard for two years.

Teresa liked enormously to have this little pied-à-terre apart from Basil. He had his work separately, she had hers, and they met at the flat on equal terms. She clung to outward signs of independence more and more, since of late she had felt sometimes that its spirit was escaping her. She was painfully aware now that she could not do without Basil, and that, if she had not let herself go, it was of no use: she had gone just the same. In her calm moods she looked back on her fits of pointless jealousy, her emotional crises, as simple idiocy. But it seemed to her more and more probable that this idiocy was the woman in her waking up. Basil had chosen to call the creature—blind, primeval, essentially a slave—to life, and he must take the consequences!

As his stormy courtship calmed, what he wanted was the peace of the ménage; quiet, sweet, though not monotonous intimacy. Teresa took a perverse pleasure in making scenes, and disturbing him: Had he not proceeded on the theory that she was cold and indifferent, deficient in instinct and emotion?