The Woman in Marble

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THE WOMAN IN MARBLE

BY

LEONARD MERRICK

author of "Aribaud's Two Wives"

ILLUSTRATIONS BY F. GRAHAM COOTE

IN the Square Carnot, which teems with little Parisians in charge of English nurses, Ada Simpson wheeled the baby carriage to a bench on fine mornings, and exchanged patriotic sentiments with her compeers. When criticism of France flagged, Ada Simpson occasionally observed. So, as she always entered the square at the same end and nearly always chose the same bench, she observed the eccentric proceedings of a young man who took to coming every morning to stare at the statue on the opposite grass-plot. After standing before it as if he were glued there, the young man would reverse one of the chairs that faced the path in an orderly line, and then sit mooning at the statue, with his back to everybody, for nearly an hour. It was, Miss Simpson surmised, a statue to a departed Frenchy. She had never approached it to ascertain what name it bore, and could see nothing about the thing to account for the fellow's taking such stock in it. When he had appeared for nine days in succession, she and her circle had nicknamed him "the rum 'un."

On the tenth day, instead of the young man, a woman went to the statue, and stood before it just as stupidly, and as long as he had done. The most comical bit was that, when she turned away at last, it was seen that the statue had been making the woman cry. After that, neither of the funny pair came back to the Square Carnot; but, as Ada Simpson chooses the same bench still, she sometimes recalls their queerness and, before her mind wanders, tries again to guess their game. This is the game that Ada Simpson tries to guess.

 

Gaby Dupuy was wishing that the summer were over. She was a model—not one of the wretched models that wait at the corner of the Boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse on Mondays to crave the vote of students in academies: she went by appointment to the ateliers of the successful. But now the painters and the sculptors were all at the seaside, and her appointment-book had shown no sitting for ever so long.

Gaby's qualities had never placed her among the stars of her profession. Nobody had ever said of her, as a great man said of one of the most celebrated of models, that he had only to reproduce her faithfully. Still less could it be asserted that she had the genius to penetrate an artist's purport and present the pose that was eluding him. But, if she had neither the beauty of a Sarah Brown nor the intuition of a Dubosc, her face possessed a certain attractiveness, and she could achieve the expression demanded of her when it had been laboriously explained.

Once upon a time her face had been more attractive still; Gaby wasn't so young as she used to be.

While the woman was regretting that her scanty provision for the dreaded summer would not allow her a more adequate menu, she received a letter. A stranger, who signed himself "Jacques Launay," earnestly desired an interview. He wrote that, being unfamiliar with Paris, he had had great difficulty in ascertaining her address, and added that, as his stay in the capital was drawing to a close, he would deeply appreciate the favor of an early reply. Her eyebrows climbed as she saw that, in lieu of requiring her to betake herself to his studio, he "begged for the privilege of calling upon her at any hour that she might find convenient." Probably, though, as a provincial, he hadn't got a studio here! Still, what deference!—he had written to her as if she were of the ancienne noblesse.

But, if he hadn't a studio, where did he expect her to "sit"? Did he want her to go to him in the country? Yes, that must be it. Flûte! Gaby didn't think it would be good enough. The end of the dead season was in sight at last, and in Paris she would often be booked for two sittings a day. Nevertheless she was eager to hear what he had to say for himself. She answered that he could see her at seven o'clock the following evening at the Paradis des Artistes, round the corner. To meet him at a restaurant, she reflected, would at least insure his asking her to have something to drink, and, as the tables would be laid by seven o'clock, he might even spring to a meal.

The Paradis des Artistes was a small establishment where for three francs one found a homely dinner, inclusive of wine, and a cripple who wore a red jacket, to look like a Tzigane, and chanted to a mandolin. The artistes were chiefly models and the lesser lights of a café-concert. As most of the company knew one another, and the proprietress called many of the ladies by their Christian names, and played piquet with them between midnight and 2 a.m., the tone of the restaurant was as informal as a family party. When Gaby arrived, the only person present whom she had never seen there before was a young man who sat at a table near the door, solitary and seemingly expectant. Their gaze met; but, although he looked undecided, he did not salute her. Then, as she was greeted by acquaintances, somebody cried, "Gaby, comment va?" and the young man's head was turned again. If he was her correspondent, it was rather odd that he didn't know her when he saw her, but she gave him another opportunity. … He approached with marked hesitation.

"Mademoiselle Gabrielle Dupuy?"

"Mais oui, monsieur," she said, smiling graciously. "It is Monsieur Launay?"

"Oh, mademoiselle, it is most kind of you!" faltered the stranger. His confusion was extraordinary, considering his age, for he could not have been less than seven or eight and twenty. They stood mute for some seconds. As he remained too embarrassed to suggest her taking a seat at his table, "I hope I have not kept you waiting?" she asked, carelessly moving toward it.

They sat down now, and the waitress, whose tone was informal too, whisked over with, "And for Mademoiselle Dupuy?"

"Give me a glass of madére, Louise," she said.

Still the young man seemed unable to find his tongue, and she went on:

"I am afraid this place was rather out of the way for you? But I have got into the habit of dropping in here about this time, and it is cozy and one can talk."

"Yes," he assented. He stole a timid glance at her, and looked quickly away. "Oh, yes!"

"Who was it that gave you my address at last, monsieur?"

"I do not know," he said awkwardly. "It was a man who heard me inquiring. I had immense trouble to find it out."

"It is not a dead secret, however."

"I suppose not—no; but I have no friends in Paris, I have never been in Paris before. And at the start I did not even know who you were."

"You did not know who I was? Oh, you had seen something I had posed for?"

"Yes, it was like that. I was anxious to find you, but I did not know your name. And I had no one to help me," he stammered. "It was enormously difficult."

"You are a painter. Monsieur Launay?"

"No, mademoiselle."

"Ah, a sculptor! That interests me still more."

"I am not a sculptor, either, mademoiselle," he admitted. "I am a composer."

"A composer?" she echoed. "But—but a composer does not employ models!"

"No, mademoiselle; but I beg you not to think my motive impudent!" exclaimed the young man, with the first touch of spontaneity that he had shown.

"Mysterious merely!" she smiled. Her expression offered him encouragement to elucidate the mystery, but nervousness seemed to overcome him again. He was boring her. She exchanged remarks across the room with a lady who wore one of those figured veils under which the victim of fashion appears to have lost portions of her face.

"Going to feed. Gaby?"

"Yes, my dear, in a minute," she answered.

She saw her correspondent regard the announcement "Diner, 3 francs." His invitation was constrained and her acceptance listless.

It no doubt surprised the young man to discover that the veiled lady was his guest as well; he must have wondered how it had happened. Also, it may have startled him, when he made to fill Gaby's glass from one of the little decanters that stood before them, to learn that she "did not take it," and to see a bottle labeled "Pouilly Fuissé" display itself before he could say "Why?"—for he had not heard it ordered. He heard no order given for the second bottle that he beheld, nor for the tarte aux cerises that graced their repast, a delicacy that was not a feature of the other people's. But, though these incidents may have caused him disquietude, since he was far from having an air of wealth, he manifested no objection to them. Gaby allowed that that was gentil. A singularly taciturn host, but an amenable one! And, briefly as he spoke, he yielded continuous attention to her prattle to the lady with the veil. It was queer that the more she prattled the more despondent he grew! She found him piquing her curiosity.

When a bill for twenty-nine francs fifty was presented to him, after the café filtré and Egyptian cigarettes, Gaby put out her hand for it, and knocked off four francs without discussion. "I don't let them make their little mistakes with friends of mine," she told him languidly, rising. "I am going home to get my coat—you can come with me." He accepted her invitation with as scant enthusiasm as she had shown for his own; and by way of a hint, forgetful of her earlier statement, she added: "This place is rotten—it's so noisy and one can't talk!"

But he proved no more talkative in the street. One might almost have imagined that the task of explaining his petition for the interview was a duty that he sought to escape.

Her lodging was so close that the doorway took him aback. He followed her up the stairs submissively. Her impatience for the coat had plainly subsided; for, after lighting the lamp, she lit another of the cigarettes and sat. The young man stood staring from the window.

"Well, chatterbox?" she said.

He swung round with unexpected vehemence. "I am aware I look a hopeless idiot to you!" he cried.

"But—what an idea!" Her gesture was all surprised denial.

"I prayed to see you, I said nothing all the evening, I stand like a dummy here! I must tell you why I wrote, I know. But—but it is not so easy as I thought it would be; I shall have to entreat your patience."

"Not the least in the world! I find you interesting already."

"Listen!" he exclaimed. "I had had only two passions in my life—music and the poetry of Richardière. No other poet has meant half, a tithe so much to me as he. His work inspired me when I was a boy; if I had had the means, I would have taken the journey to Paris just to wait on the pavement and see his face when he went out. When he died— Of course, all France mourned his loss, but none but his dearest friends, I think, could have felt as I did! Well, since I have been a man I have made an opera of his 'Arizath,' and I came to Paris last week because there was a prospect of its being produced. Five minutes after I had found a room at a hotel, I was asking my way to the Square Carnot to see the statue to him. I knew nothing about it but that it had been erected there, and as I approached it my heart sank. I had always pictured a statue of the man, and I saw merely a bust of him. The statue was of a woman, recalling a verse."

She nodded. "I know! Beauvais kept me posing for three hours and a half without budging, and I had a chilblain that itched like mad on the finger inside the book."

"The disappointment was keen. I almost wished I had not come—for it had been a long walk and I was very tired. And then, after I had stood looking at the bust, noting how handsome he had been and thinking of his genius, I looked at the statue of the woman—and I felt that it would have been worth coming simply to see that. It was so wonderful, so real! The naturalness of the attitude, the perfection of the toilette—I had never realized that the sculptor's art could do such things. I think I looked for minutes at the slippers; I admired the sleeves, the sweep of the gown, that seemed as if it must be soft to touch; I was amazed by a thousand trifles before my glance lingered on the face. And after my glance lingered on the face I saw nothing else—I could not even move to look at it in profile. It held me fixed."

"It is Beauvais' masterpiece," said Gaby; "they all say it is the finest thing he has done."

"It is a masterpiece, yes. But I was not thinking of the sculptor and his art any more; I was thinking of the face, without remembering how it had come about. It was as if a beautiful mind were really pondering behind that brow. The character of the mouth and chin impressed me as if the marble had been flesh and blood; the abstracted eyes could not have stirred me to more reverence if they had had sight. And while I looked at them they seemed, by an optical illusion, to meet my own. Not with interest, with an unconsciousness that mortified me—they seemed to gaze through my insignificance into the greatness of Richardière! I blinked, I suppose, for the next instant they had been averted. I wanted them to come back, to realize my presence. I concentrated all my will upon the effort to trick myself once more—and I could have sworn they turned! Now, too, they seemed to notice me; there was a smile in them, an ironical smile—they smiled at the presumption of my linking an immortal poet's work with mine! Insane! But I felt it; I shrank from the derision. Again I raised my head to Richardière, and for the first time I remarked that his expression was a poor acknowledgment of the figure's homage. It was consequential and impertinent. A tinge of cruelty in it, even! He had an air of sensualism, of one who held women very light. I could imagine his having said horrible things to women. He was not worthy of the look in the statue's eyes. …

"I went there next day, after vowing that I would not go. The eyes discerned me sooner this time, and I contrived to fancy that their gaze was gentler. I was happy in the fancy, that their gaze was gentler. When the eyes wandered from me I was humbled, and when they looked in mine I held my breath. I persuaded myself—no, I did not 'persuade myself'; the thought was born—that there was comprehension in the gaze, that my worship, though undesired, was understood. In the afternoon I had a business appointment that I had been thinking about for weeks; but, instead of being excited by its nearness, I regretted that it obliged me to leave the Square Carnot. When I kept the appointment, the bad news that there had been a delay in the arrangements hardly troubled me; I was only impatient to be outside. Originally my plan had been to see the Louvre as soon as the business was over—now my one desire was to return to the statue. It was a delight to hasten to it. People must have thought me bound for a rendezvous as I strolled smiling through the streets. Not once did I regard the arrogance of Richardière on the pedestal, but it was only in moments that the musing figure ceased to remind me that her god was there. Though I never looked at it, an intense repugnance for the face of Richardière was in my blood—a jealousy, if you will. It possessed me while I was away, while I was reiterating that I had made my last visit to the square, knowing nevertheless that on the morrow I should yield again. The jealousy persisted when I turned the pages of my opera now, and the magic of the master's poetry was gone. I could not forget his domination of the figure; I wanted to think of the beautiful statue freed, aloof from him!"

He had left the window and was moving restlessly about the room. Intent, her face propped by her hands, the model for the statue sat and watched him. The cigarette between her lips was out.

"The fact that there must have been a model for it was borne upon me quite suddenly. It had the thrill of a revelation, and nearly dazed me. This woman lived! Somewhere in the world she was walking, speaking! It was as if a miracle had happened, as if the statue had come to life. I repeated breathlessly that it was true, but it appeared fabulous. I had attributed emotions to the marble figure with ease—to grasp the simple truth of the woman's existence was inconceivably difficult; I trembled with the marvel of it—Pygmalion was not more stupefied than I. When my heart left off pounding so hard, I began to question how long it would take me to discover who she was. I did not even know, the-way to set about it. But I knew that if she was in France I meant to find her. … I need not talk about the rest."

After a silence she stirred and spoke:

"It was a triumph to pose for the statue; your story makes me very proud!"

"I could not avoid telling it to you," answered the young man drearily.

"But how you say it—as if you had done wrong! Shall I tell you what would have been wrong? Not to let me know! That would have been pathetic. Mon Dieu! it would be atrocious for a woman to have done all that and never to hear. And to think that at the beginning I fancied you were— You were so quiet while we dined!"

"I was listening to you," he sighed.

"That's true; you were entitled to it by then—you had done much to get the chance!"

"Yes; I had done much to get the chance."

"It was beautiful of you. I mean it! Because you have spoken earnestly, from your heart, and I could see—I could see very well—that what you were saying was true, that you were not exaggerating to please me. Oh, I am moved—believe me, I am really moved!" She put out her hand to him impulsively, and he took it, as in duty bound. But he did not raise it to his lips. Her body stiffened a little as the hand dropped slowly to her lap. A shade of apprehension aged her face. Again there was silence.

"Well?" she murmured.

"Well?"

"Enfin, when you sought the chance, when you wrote to me at last, you foresaw—what?"

"Infinitely less than you have granted, mademoiselle," he returned, with an obvious effort. "A briefer meeting, a more formal one. I thank you most gratefully for your patience, your kindness, the honor you have done me."

She gave a harsh laugh. "And now you regret that you must say 'good night'?"

"It is a fact that I have to see my man again this evening," he acknowledged, hurriedly glancing at his watch. "I had forgotten the time."

"Yes," said the woman; "you had forgotten the time—you had forgotten that the statue was modeled ten years ago. … So you did not find her, after all? You began your search too late!"

"It is not that!" he cried, distressed.

"Oh!" She had sprung to her feet, and stood panting. "Why lie to me? I am sorry for you, in a way; you have not been consciously a brute."

"A brute?

"What do you imagine you have been? A fool to yourself, you think. I have changed, and you should have known I must have changed; it would have spared you the bother of seeking me, the disillusion when we met—there are no wrinkles creeping on the statue! Oh, it has been a fraud for you; I realize the sell! But you are not the only sufferer by your folly. A man can not talk to a woman as you have talked to me, and leave her cold; he can not say, 'I felt all this for you before I saw you—now, good-by!' and leave her proud; he can't adore her in the marble and disdain her in the flesh without her being ashamed. You have degraded me, jeered at me; you have taunted me with every blemish on my skin!"

"It is not that!" he cried again. "I was a fool—I own it; a brute, if you choose to call me one. But it is not that!"

"What, then? Is it my frock that alters me? I am poor; I can not afford such a gown as Beauvais put on me for the statue. Is it the way my hair is dressed? I can dress it like the statue again. The brow—you liked the brow. Well, look! Time hasn't been so rough on me there; the brow is young. And you need not be jealous of my thoughts of Richardière, for I have never read a word he wrote. What is there lacking in me? Tell me what you miss?"

"I can not tell you," he groaned. But he had started.

"You have told me," she said, shrinking. "I know now. My face is ignorant; the statue has more mind than I!"

He no longer said, "It is not that!" He drooped before her, dumb, contrite.

After a long pause, she quavered, dabbing at her eyes:

"Well, I am not an idiot; I should improve!"

"Is it an imbecile like me who could teach you?"

"I should be content."

"Never in a single hour! I fell in love with an ideal, and went to look for it. Failure was ordained. It is I who lack sense, not you."

A ghost of a smile twitched her lips. "It was all the fault of that Beauvais. He stuck an expression on me with the clothes! I did look like that in his studio, though the chilblain was burning. But, even if I made myself look like it now, it would not take you in, would it? Don't look so frightened of me; I shall not go on at you again. Poor boy, you have had a deuce of an evening! … Well, I suppose you are right; failure was ordained—and it is wise to cut one's failures short. You may go. And do not flatter yourself that you have hurt me so much as I said. My vanity was stung for a minute, that is all; to-morrow I shall have forgotten all about you. … You can find your way downstairs?"

He hesitated—and took a sudden step toward her with half opened arms.

"Good night!" she said, not moving. "Good-by!"

 

On the tenth day, instead of the young man, a woman went to the statue, and stood before it just as stupidly, and as long as he had done. The most comical bit was that, when she turned away at last, it was seen that the statue had been making the woman cry. After that, neither of the funny pair came back to the Square Carnot; but, as Ada Simpson chooses the same bench still, she sometimes recalls their queerness and, before her mind wanders, tries again to guess their game. This was the game that Ada Simpson tries to guess.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1939, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.