The Girl on the Mountain by Warwick Deeping
It was hot on the steep mule-path that zigzagged up the southern
slope of Monte Verde to the sanctuary of Santa Maria in Montorio,
and David Flemming, with all his artist's gear upon his back,
paused every hundred yards or so to catch the sea breeze, and to
look back upon Villadoro, that pleasant, frivolous, and rather
artificial little town lying white at the edge of its blue bay.
There was shade here and there where the grey, stone-paved path ran
under old ilexes and stone pines. The olive terraces were purpled
with violets. Ever and again the white pinnacles of Santa Maria
glimmered above the rocks and trees.
David Flemming broke the climb to drink a glass of vermouth at
the little green-shuttered osteria lying half-way up the mountain.
He sat under a pergola covered with roses and vines, and his lean
and rather humorous face was sad. For even the pleasant comedies of
life were tinged with pathos, and Flemming's laughter was often
tempted to end in tears. He had discovered the utter loneliness of
life, the loneliness that overtakes a man when death has snatched
from him the other half of his soul. It was more than a year since
his wife had died. The first anguish had passed, but the loneliness
remained. They had been comrades; life had been an intimate
interweaving of the sensitive threads of two personalities. Then
fate had torn the fabric of life asunder, and left Flemming's
career all loose and ravelled. Moving on again, he reached at last
the broad walk between huge ilexes that led to the soaring steps
and the white façade of Santa Maria. But Flemming did not stop at
the sanctuary; he crossed the forecourt, passed round under an
arch, and struck a path that climbed to the top of Monte Verde,
three hundred feet nearer the clouds.
The path was steep, mere flat rocks and stones piled together,
and it ran through a pine wood where the wind made a plaintive
murmuring. And more than once, as he climbed through sunlight and
shadow, Flemming fancied that he heard the sound of someone
singing. It was just a voice that came and went, uttering a few
wayward notes, like the deep throat notes of a bird.
Then the sanctuary bells started jangling just as Flemming saw
the blue summit sky through the trees. There would be all the glory
of the view up yonder, the snow peaks, the turquoise sea, the
wooded headlands, the rocky valley black with shadows. Moreover,
lunch and a bottle of wine were not to be scoffed at after such a
The summit came suddenly, a smooth cap of turf with a big flat
stone perched in the centre like some primitive altar. All around
the sky seemed to hang like a blue tent, but that grey stone on the
top of Monte Verde was coloured red, as though someone had lit a
Flemming stopped dead. Here was the unexpected on the top of a
mountain, a woman kneeling by the great stone, her body flung
forward over it, her head hidden in her arms. She was wearing some
loose sort of red jacket, and her skirt was of white linen, short,
and showing bare ankles. A mass of black hair was stirred by the
wind, but she herself was absolutely motionless, save for the
slight fluttering of her white skirt.
Flemming was posed. He took her to be a peasant girl who had
climbed to the top of Monte Verde to cry her heart out over some
love affair. Her back was towards him, and the choice seemed to be
his, the choice of leaving her in possession, and losing the crown
of the morning's climb.
But chance saved him that. The girl raised herself, turned, saw
him, and started to her feet. And Flemming, if he had been
surprised at finding her there on the top of Monte Verde, was
doubly astonished when he saw her face.
For she was the child of another hemisphere, an islander, dark
skinned, with a mass of dusky hair, large eyes, and a splendid
throat. And Flemming, in his astonishment, was conscious of two
things—that he had surprised her in some tragic moment, and
that her eyes were empty of tears.
He was conscious of having blundered, conscious of a kind of
resentfulness in her expression, and with an Englishman's habit of
blurting out things in his own language, he tried to put her and
himself at ease.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know anyone would be on the top of Monte
He realised instantly that the chances were against her knowing
English, and that a man of more poise would have strolled to the
edge of the plateau and admired the view.
"Monte Verde does not belong to me. The mountains should be free
to us all, should they not?"
She answered him in English; spoke it, indeed, as though it were
her natural tongue. And she smiled slightly, perhaps at his most
"No doubt you have come from Villadoro, and you have come to
Again Flemming was shocked by the discovery that it was the girl
who was smoothing away the embarrassment of the moment and putting
him at his ease. Her voice sounded very deep and rich, and though
she was quite young there was a maturity about her that hinted at
the woman of the world. Flemming, a "sensitive" himself, was aware
of the palpable breed in her, a frank and gracious ease of manner
that could keep its dignity in the face of such a coincidence. He
awoke to the fact that here was something amazing and unique, a
mere child who could carry off all the bizarrerie of her clothes,
of her loose, black hair and her bare ankles, and remain
convincing, natural, absolutely herself.
"It is a long climb from Villadoro," he said, "and I wanted to
try and make a rather unique sketch."
By way of settling the situation, he began to unload himself, to
pull out the legs of his collapsible easel, and to prepare
ostentatiously for work. The way lay open for the girl to smile at
him and retreat. But she did nothing of the kind. She sat herself
down on the flat stone and watched him with perfect composure.
"Is it not funny, I met an English girl up here one day, two of
us on the top of the mountain, and we did not speak? Two
intelligent creatures with tongues! And yet—I like the
He glanced at her and was struck by the soft charm of her
manner. She seemed to have put some sad thing behind her; her face
had cleared, and for the first time he realised her beauty. There
was nothing negroid about her. Her skin had a dusky pallor; her
face was refined in spite of its breadth; her eyes were a clear
blue and heavily lashed. But it was the physical perfection of her
that appealed to the artist in him, the splendid throat, the
modelling of the forearm and ankle, the generous grace of her very
feminine figure. And she seemed quite unconscious of it all, a kind
of dusky island queen, with all the subtle charm of a fine culture
added to the simple insouciance of her southern nature.
She was amazing. The loose hair, the bare ankles, the red and
white of her clothes seemed inevitable. Somehow he could not
imagine her in a Paris frock, and yet he had an idea that she wore
"I think we are two very sensible people," he said suddenly.
He was recovering his poise, his sympathetic sense of
Her eyes brightened to his.
"Well—perhaps. And I am glad you came. I wanted some
He saw a tremor as of pain pass over her face, but it cleared
"Oh, the sun—the sun—and the sea! I was born on an
island, a surf child."
"Is it rude to be curious?"
"Why should it be? Isn't life worth living as long as one
remains inquisitive? I was born at Hawaii."
He nodded. His little easel was set up, and he had rolled a
round stone forward from the edge of the plateau to serve as a
"I say, I am going to be very forward. But there is only one
really inevitable thing for me to do."
"Paint you—there—on that rock. May I?"
She gave a charming lift of the head.
"Why not? And may I talk? It is such a silent world sometimes. I
chatter to the mountains, but they cannot answer me back."
So Flemming painted her, while the bells of Santa Maria in
Montorio began their midday chiming. It was a merry sanctuary, and
the bells seemed to dance in the mountain air, riotously, and with
gay abandonment. The Lady of the Mountain was no joyless prude, and
seemed to love laughter rather than melancholy.
The chiming came to an end with one long, deep-tongued boom of
the big bell.
"And I have kept still through it all. Now, listen; it is
She held up her hand, and through the silence they heard all the
mountain and valley bells striking, like so many distant voices.
Each white campanile for miles around took up the cry, and the
echoes seemed to tremble in the deep valleys between the
Not only did Flemming paint her portrait, but he discovered her
name and where she lived. She had been christened Eulalie, and the
name had been changed to Lalia by her Hawaiian playmates. She lived
at Acqua Dolce, a rather famous little villa in the river valley
below, and Flemming remembered that Acqua Dolce was let to one
Fenton Bale. He noticed that she was wearing a plain gold ring, and
the obvious inference was that she was Bale's wife.
He seized a chance thought that suggested itself.
"I have wanted to paint in the gardens of Acqua Dolce. I am
wondering if I can get leave."
She was silent a moment and her face became overclouded.
"My husband is not fond of strangers. I will ask him."
"But I am not going to thrust myself in——"
"I will ask him. Where are you staying?"
"At the Hotel Regina, Villadoro—David Flemming."
She smiled at him rather wistfully, and in a short while he was
alone on the summit of Monte Verde.
David Flemming went and sat on the big stone where he had seen
her prostrate, her head in her arms. That there was some great
sorrow in her life he felt convinced. Her courage had set it aside
for the moment, and she had faced him as though life hid no
tragedy, no sinister shadows that darkened the sun.
Why had she come to such a lonely place? And how strange the
whole business seemed—a Hawaiian girl on the summit of an
If the great stone could have spoken it might have startled
Flemming with strange words, the words of a woman in anguish, who
had fled to some solitary place where passions might cool
"O God, I shall kill him. Help me, or I shall kill him!"
While Flemming ate his lunch and looked at the snow peaks and
the sea, Lalia Bale raced down the mule-path, her string-soled
shoes giving her a grip of the stones. She moved like a wild thing,
agile, graceful, and with all the suppleness of an island child
taught to swim through the surf. It was an hour after noon when she
reached the bridge across the stream in the valley, and found
herself at the iron gates of Acqua Dolce. An avenue of cypresses
led up towards the villa hidden in its gardens which were full of
the sound of running water.
"Hallo! Where the devil have you been?"
A man was leaning over the balustrade at the top of a terrace
where clipped box trees grew in huge stone jars. He was a thin,
yellow-faced man, with sunken cheeks and dull eyes. The muscles
showed in his throat, and there was something about him that
suggested a predaceous and hungry bird. His face was not the face
of a healthy man; it was unwholesome, irritable, violent, with
shadows under his eyes, and a kind of loose and cynical cruelty
hanging about the mouth.
The girl answered him very quietly, though his voice had sent a
shiver of anger through her, that discordant voice like the harsh
cry of a bird.
"I have been up Monte Verde."
"Damn it—what rot! I've been waiting an hour for
"You need not have waited."
She knew that he had done it to gain a grievance against her.
That was Fenton Bale's way. He would spite himself in order to
scold at her—and worse.
She climbed the steps leading to the terrace, and his panama hat
moved along above the balustrade. Her pallor had increased. She was
holding herself in, clenching her hands till the nails hurt her
That jeering profile of his waited at the top of the steps.
His eyes flared.
"You've been out again in that get-up. Why don't you dress like
a Christian? You might be doing a cinema show."
She knew the man was ill, that he had drugged himself into evil
decrepitude. And once she had thought she had loved him, in those
Hawaiian days when he could swim and sail a boat.
"Don't, Fenton. I am so tired of it all."
"Tired! And what have I spent on you? Paris, London,
Vienna—damn it, and you cannot dress to please me. Here, I'll
He snatched at the sleeve of her loose red jacket, and his thin
fingers pinched the flesh of her arm. She twisted away, but she did
not cry out, though her lips went white. The sleeve gave at the
seam, and he continued to drag at it, laughing like a malicious
"I'll settle the thing."
The whole sleeve came away in his hand, leaving her full white
arm showing, with the marks of his fingers upon it. For a moment
there was a kind of madness in her eyes, but she mastered herself
and turned towards the house.
"You will be rough with me once too often, Fenton," she said. "I
am not one of your soft Englishwomen—my blood is hotter than
Three days later David Flemming went down from the Regina Hotel
to a dance at a little casino that was built on a headland that
jutted into the bay. The night was superb, warm, and ablaze with
stars, and the sea made no more than a moist murmur among the
rocks. The casino gardens were brightly lit; the string band was
playing in the rotunda; the cosmopolitan crowd had scattered itself
round the little tables in the alcoves; only a few couples were
A gay little German widow was chattering in the vestibule. She
nodded and smiled at David Flemming, for he was a favourite of
"Ach, Mr. Flemming, I have a quarrel with you. You did not dance
with me last week."
"Why, Baroness, then it was I who was the loser."
"So you have a smooth tongue, you wicked prevaricator. I was
here—you not ask me."
She shrugged her plump shoulders and looked up at him
provokingly, but found that Flemming was staring over her head with
a surprised and innocent intentness that could not be quarrelled
with. For, seated at one of the little tables in one of the
recesses leading from the ball-room were Lalia Bale and her
husband. The girl was wearing a brilliant wine-coloured gown and a
string of pearls in her hair. She was no longer the child of the
mountain, but a woman of the world, a Parisian creature,
cosmopolitan and yet unique.
The German lady turned her smile upon someone else, and Flemming
went to leave his hat and coat in the cloakroom. And here a tall
man, bald, clean-shaven, with ironical blue eyes, was stuffing a
white scarf into an overcoat pocket.
"You here, as usual, Locker?"
"Part of my business. I prescribe dancing for some of my
patients, and I have to be here to see that they take it. Have you
seen the sensation of the evening?"
"Come along, I'll show you."
He took Flemming by the arm, and so piloted him that one of the
doorways leading from the vestibule served as a picture frame to
Lalia and the man seated at the table.
"There's a problem for you, Flemming! What do you make of
Flemming's eyes were studying the man. Fenton Bale was lounging
in his chair, his dress shirt bulging forward, his yellow face
lined and haggard, his right hand twirling a liqueur glass by the
stem. He seemed to be sneering at life, a malicious decadent, whose
restless eyes saw little that was good, but very much that was
"Who is the man, Locker?"
"Fenton Bale, and that bit of milk and charcoal is his
Flemming's mouth hardened.
"Yes, I have met her, but I have not met the man. What is
Locker was pulling on a pair of white gloves.
"A polyglot gentleman, a cosmopolitan—a bit of American, a
bit of English and a bit of French mixed up into a very nasty mess,
my dear Flemming. Plenty of money, a liver, and a devilish temper.
Excuse me, there's the Marchesa; I must go and pay my
Flemming was left alone in the doorway, where he was partly
screened by a palm. Lalia Bale had not seen him, so he felt no
guilt in remaining there for a while to watch her and the man who
was her husband.
Lalia looked splendid, but it was a mute and haughty splendour
that scornfully suffered some ordeal. She did not speak to Bale,
did not look at him; her eyes seemed to be gazing at something a
long way off; she was there, and she was not there. The soul of the
woman had withdrawn itself to some inaccessible proud height where
no one could follow.
Flemming was puzzled, but in a little while he understood. That
Hawaiian girl was the dominant figure in the room; a glowing thing
with an ice-cold face, a woman who drew men and rebuffed them when
they sought her. Her beauty was like no other kind of beauty that
Flemming had ever seen. She was the sex spirit idealised,
mysterious, strangely pure.
The casino etiquette was easy; introductions were not demanded,
and Flemming saw several men go up to the girl, bow, and ask her to
dance. And each time she refused, and each time a yellow gleam of
mocking self-satisfaction seemed to light up Fenton Bale's face. He
had brought his wife there to show her off, like some rare gem that
he flashed in the eyes of other men, boastfully, and with an
ironical sneer. He had forbidden her to dance. She should sit
there—and be his.
David Flemming understood, and the man in him was angered.
Bale's gloating sense of possession was so patent, so offensive,
that no one could have watched him without appreciating the truth.
And Flemming felt a sudden disgust at the sight of this wreck of a
man flashing this child's beauty in the eyes of the world, like
some Jew dog mocking the Gentiles with the yellow leer of his own
There was more than anger in Flemming's mood. He was touched,
stirred to an imaginative pity, able to feel the supreme
humiliation that was being laid upon the woman.
Then their eyes met across the length of the long room. Lalia's
face seemed to float for a moment in a tremulous haze of
hesitation. Then she smiled. It was as though she asked to be
The band had struck up a waltz. Couples floated out and began to
circle the room. Flemming made his way round, and found himself
bowing to Lalia Bale.
"Will you dance with me?"
Her eyes flashed a rebellious "yes." As they glided away to the
music Flemming caught a glimpse of Fenton Bale's face, and for the
moment he was sorry that he had tempted Lalia to rebel. She would
be made to suffer for it; Fenton Bale would see to that.
But there were other things besides the music to carry him
away—to make him forget that shrivelled, yellow-cheeked man
by the window. For the girl had risen to him with a rush of
recklessness; her warm blood was afire, her supple body thrilling
to the sinuous moan of the violins. Her eyes looked into his; her
throat seemed full of laughter and joy; if he was to match her
physical exultation he would have no leisure to brood over the
vicious jealousy of a sick and decadent man. Flemming was a fine
dancer, but he had never danced with such a partner as this. She
moved like a rhapsody, and Flemming's blood took fire. He was young
again. He was the movement to her music, though some wild devil
piped the tune.
They did not speak. There was an exultation in the flowing of
their steps, and mere words would have marred the rhythm. People
stopped to watch them, though it was doubtful whether they were
conscious of anything but the music and their two selves. Then it
became a danse à deux, the red and the black figure holding
It was over. The leader of the band stood up, bowing in answer
to a burst of applause. People began to talk; waiters came hurrying
to take orders; the rooms and galleries were full of the shifting
colours of the feminine crowd.
"That was splendid."
Her arm was resting in his and her eyes shone. He was about to
lead her back to that table in the window recess.
"How hot it is in here!"
He changed his mind of a sudden, though there was more than a
mere sensuous drift in the impulse that prompted him.
"It would be cooler in the gardens."
"Yes, let's go out. I don't want to dance again."
They passed through the crowded vestibule and down the steps
into the garden. Men and women watched them, and then smiled at
each other. A waiter came hurrying, a little round-eyed man with a
worried, deprecating smile.
"Monsieur, monsieur, please! Ze gen'leman wish me to
Flemming turned sharply.
"What is it?"
"Ze gen'leman wish me to say he go home, sir, and will madame
put on her cloak."
Flemming glanced at Lalia. She looked pale and
"I shall not go yet. Tell Signor Bale that I will come later,
plus tard, you understand?"
She withdrew her arm from Flemming's, and there was the light of
revolt in her eyes.
"Let him wait for me. I will please myself—for once."
Flemming was sobered. The waltz tune had changed to a sadder and
more sinister movement. The glare of the casino had given place to
the shadows of pines, cypresses, ilexes, and palms. Winding paths
disappeared into the shadows. Here and there a light flickered, and
they could hear the soft wash of the sea.
She put her head back, and seemed to draw in deep breaths, as
though the night air cooled some inward flame within her. Her white
throat showed. To Flemming there was something tragic in the poise
of her head.
"Let's go down to the sea."
She swept on, and he followed; the path was narrow, so that they
could not walk abreast.
"I am afraid the blame is mine."
She answered him quickly over her shoulder.
"What blame? Did you not see—you must have seen."
"Oh, I must talk—I must talk, and somehow I feel that I
know you—that I have known you for years. What fools we
humans are—what cowards! But I saw by your eyes that you
understood. How gross and hateful life can be made!"
She turned suddenly and faced him under the overspreading canopy
of a pine.
"I can talk to you—I must talk to you. And you are not
afraid of me? I am not like those women in there—who feed on
a man's folly."
He answered her impulsively.
"I know that. We are children, you and I; we can understand each
She turned and walked on.
"The other day—on Monte Verde—what did you
"That you were suffering."
He saw her put her hand to her throat.
"Oh, my God! is a woman to have no pride? Is she to be bullied,
exposed like a tame beast—shown off before other men, to be
made the creature of a man's evil whims? I was just a child when he
married me. I did not know then. And he is clever; he has taken
care to keep me at his mercy. Men are like that, but one might bear
it from some men."
Flemming was mute for a moment. This passionate outburst of
hers, so poignantly sincere, so vital, smote him like a wave of the
sea. Its salt strength smothered him, lifted him away from the
familiar rock of a man's habitual outlook upon life. He had a
feeling of breathlessness, of being seized on and possessed by a
rush of emotion that no amount of cool and selfish reasoning could
The path broadened out, and ended in a rough terrace built up on
the rocks where the Italians bathed in spring and summer. The sea
was very calm, with just a soft heaving that fringed each black
rock with a little circle of foam. Across the bay the lights of the
old town glittered in a clustering fringe that spread and thinned
and died away upon the mountains. A couple of sailing boats were
gliding in towards the harbour, mere grey ghosts upon the
Lalia and Flemming were quite alone. They stood and leant upon
the parapet and watched each heave of the sea pouring a gush of
foam into each little pothole and crevasse in the rocks below.
"How calm it is here! It makes me think of Hawaii."
He was silent awhile.
"Why not go back?"
By the way she glanced at him he knew that he had said a foolish
"That is what makes life so difficult; one cannot go back. I
should not be happy there; I have learnt too much, seen too much. I
should seem a stranger to them, and they would seem strange to me.
Besides, there are the Americans; I do not love them. What is more,
I have no money."
She laughed suddenly and rested her chin on her hands.
"Do you know, I never have more than a franc in my purse. No, my
friend, I am not going to ask you for money."
He answered hotly.
"It never crossed my mind."
"I believe you. He keeps me without money, so that I am tied to
him by a golden rope. Oh, but it is hateful, talking like this; it
sounds mean, horribly mean. Let's be just ourselves. Tell me about
yourself. I feel—somehow—that you have suffered, that
you are not a beast of prey—like other men."
He betrayed a gleam of humour.
"I don't know that I am so interested in myself."
"No? But I may be. Shall I read your character? I am rather good
at reading people."
"Let me feel one of your hands."
He gave her his left hand, and she ran the tips of her fingers
over it, touching it lightly here and there.
"Sensitive, rather diffident, reserved—and a little
"An artist; I know that, and yet you are not an egoist. Not good
at business; inclined to be too generous. That's strange; I feel
you have lost someone who was very dear to you."
He answered her quietly.
"I lost my wife. Oh, about a year ago or more. I haven't been
quite alive since then. Marriages are happy sometimes, you
And then she showed him another aspect of herself, a phase that
proved that she was not a devourer, that she could give—as
well as take.
"Won't you tell me about her?"
"I don't know. I have never talked about her to anybody."
"Perhaps it hurts too much?"
"It is not that. There are parts of one's life into which one
never takes a third person."
She stretched out a hand and touched his arm.
"Oh, but I never asked for that. I would never desire to pry
into the sacred things that belonged to another woman. But now I
know why your voice sounds lonely. It struck me that way up on
Monte Verde; it was like the voice of someone who was always
remembering in the middle of saying something—that there was
no one to listen, no one—I mean—who mattered. The one
who mattered was no longer there."
He looked over the sea.
"That's true, utterly true. In the middle of doing things even
now—painting a picture, for instance—I suddenly realise
she is not here, and life seems to break in the middle. Things do
not seem worth while. I was ambitious. Yes, I suppose we were
everything to each other."
"I can picture her. May I try?"
"She was rather fragile, pale, with large eyes and dark hair.
But she had plenty of spirit, plenty of fun. She did not talk very
much, but she was full of cleverness, understanding. She was one of
those fragile, graceful women who make a man feel very protective,
very tender. And yet she had an immense courage, more courage than
you have. She helped you."
He turned to her in astonishment.
"How do you know all that?"
"How? It is what you make me feel, that is all I can say.
Perhaps your loneliness paints a thought picture, for you were very
"Lonely? Good God! no one knows how awful that loneliness can be
till they have been through it. I didn't want to go on living."
"But you did go on living."
"Somehow. I was very near ending it once or twice."
"Oh, I know. But perhaps it is worse to have to go on living
with the dead body of the past in the same house with one. I think
I know what loneliness means—a loneliness that has even no
dreams left to it."
Flemming looked at her, and as he watched her pale face a
strange thing happened to him. For suddenly his dead wife seemed to
rise before him and to enter into the body of this island girl. The
two women seemed to become mysteriously mingled. All the old
poignant tenderness awoke in him and reached out towards the living
as well as towards the dead.
"You and I seem to have drunk of the same cup. I am going to be
your friend, Lalia. You can say things to me that you would say to
your own self."
She remained motionless, brooding.
"Would she mind—if she knew?"
"I think not. She was always generous. And somehow I feel
her—the eternal woman—in you."
Again she sighed.
"I cannot help hating him. And sometimes he drives me mad, for I
am not like your passive white women; I have fire in my blood, and
there are times when I feel that I shall do some desperate
"Kill myself—or kill him."
She uttered the words with the quietness of one who knew that
she was uttering the truth. And Flemming looked at her with a sense
of helplessness, feeling that he had been drawn into some
inevitable and tragic current that was life itself, remorseless yet
He turned and leant slightly towards her, resting his right arm
along the wall.
"I should be a prig and a fool if I doubted that. But is he
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Oh, he is a devil, an ingenious, tormenting devil.
Whisky—and drugs. I try to think of him as he was, to realise
that the thing that lives is a kind of caricature of the thing that
is dead. And yet there is a horrible likeness in the caricature. He
was always cruel, a little unscrupulous, but, then, it seemed a
natural audacity, a masterfulness that appealed to a mere girl. I
misread it all then; now I am wiser."
Suddenly they heard a harsh voice calling, the voice of a man
who had lost all self-restraint.
"Lalia! Are you there? Where the devil are you?"
They looked at each other meaningly.
"I had better go. It maddens him to be kept waiting."
"I've been responsible. I am coming with you. I want you to
"He will be rude to you."
"Let him be rude. What does it matter?"
She called to her husband.
"Is that you, Fenton? Where are you?"
"Up here, of course. Hurry along."
They found him at the top of the path that led down the cliff to
the terrace above the bathing place. A solitary lamp burnt here,
and a few iron chairs were ranged in a half-circle under a stone
pine, and Fenton Bale was sitting on one of these iron chairs, the
lamplight making his face look all shadowy and haggard.
He started up jerkily, unsteadily.
"Where the devil have you been? Didn't you get that
"Yes, I got it, Fenton, but I meant to stay on a little longer.
I want to introduce you to Mr. Flemming."
"Oh! And who the——"
He glared at Flemming, and for an instant these two men stood
face to face, eyeing each other, measuring each other. Then
Flemming held out a hand.
"Glad to meet you, sir. I must confess that I am the sinner. I'm
an artist, and you have to make allowances for artists. We're
infernal fools, of course."
He was easy, debonair, but that facile politeness of his was a
grip laid on the throat of Bale's evil temper. He was determined
that the fellow should behave himself, and not fall to snarling
like a spoilt dog.
"You've kept me waiting, anyway. I'm an invalid, a sick man,
"I'm sorry. Your wife and I have met before, and the casino was
so confoundedly hot that we strolled down here. Are you driving
"We shouldn't be walking, should we?"
"Hardly. Shall I get hold of a carriage for you?"
"Much obliged; the porter fellow's paid for that."
Flemming laughed, but there was an edge to his laughter.
"Your husband won't let me be officious, Mrs. Bale. Shall I lead
the way? I know all these winding paths."
"Oh, there's my cloak. I left it in the cloak-room."
"Give me your number and I'll get it for you."
Flemming found them waiting at the entrance gates when he walked
across the garden with Lalia's black velvet cloak over his arm. A
powerful electric light hung from the iron arch over the gates,
throwing a pale glare that made the foliage of the palms and the
grass look a hard, metallic green. There were other people waiting,
and there appeared to be a shortage of carriages, for Fenton Bale
was kicking up a row with the concierge and not gaining in dignity
"Didn't I tell you to reserve me a carriage? Well, and why the
blazes isn't there a carriage here? You won't get the ghost of a
tip out of me."
The concierge was a big Frenchman who spoke English, and who had
no intention of being bullied.
"Monsieur must wait his turn. The carriage is coming."
"Look here, my man, I don't want any impertinence. I ordered a
carriage to be here at eleven; other people have got their
"That is so, monsieur." And the concierge's tone suggested that
the other people had better manners, and that Mr. Bale might wait
till midnight so far as he was concerned.
Flemming was helping Lalia with her cloak. His hands touched
hers. She looked at him over her shoulder.
"Oh, I am used to this. Try if you can get us away."
Bale had pounced on a carriage that had driven up and was
attempting to annex it, but a bearded Austrian with two ladies
refused to be hustled out of his rights. He was very polite, but
very determined. It was his private carriage; he managed to make
Fenton Bale appreciate the fact.
People were smiling. Lalia drew aside under one of the palms and
stood there haughtily. Flemming tackled the concierge, and dropped
a two-lire piece into the man's hand.
He spoke to him in French and tapped his forehead
"Monsieur is a little—— You understand. I apologise
for him; you were quite in the right."
The concierge smiled.
"I am ready to oblige monsieur. He shall have the third
Flemming turned, and discovered that Bale had rejoined his wife
and was making a further exhibition of himself by scolding at
"It's all your damned fault. What did you want to go
gallivanting off for? You know it knocks me up to be out late."
Flemming felt very much tempted to take Bale by the scruff of
the neck and shake him. The fellow seemed to have no self-control,
no sense of the fitness of things. He let himself be carried away
by any animal impulse. The whole thing was absurd; but, like many
absurd things, it was tragic.
"All right, sir, a carriage is coming."
He caught a flash of Lalia's eyes, a flash of gratitude and of
appeal, and he went and stood, by her, looking at Fenton Bale with
mesmeric intentness. He would stare the little cad into behaving
himself, and his attitude succeeded.
In another moment he was handing Lalia into a carriage, though
Bale had made a move to get in first.
She had pressed his hand, and her eyes looked for a moment into
"Acqua Dolce, cocchiere."
The carriage moved away, and Flemming stood under one of the
palms, watching it. The band was still playing in the casino,
Chaminade's "Autumn," and the music seemed to entangle itself with
the emotions of the moment. How would that little beast behave now
that he had her alone with him? And Flemming found that he had no
delusions as to Fenton Bale's most probable attitude towards his
What a monstrous thing it was that she should be made the victim
of a decadent sot's vile humours! He was angry, generously angry,
and mingled with his anger was a compassion that was not content to
stand and philosophise. The vehemence and the drive of life had
come back to David Flemming. The spirit of his dead wife seemed to
have spoken to him by the mouth of Lalia Bale.
The carriage was rattling along the road that skirted the bay.
There was the moist swish of the sea upon the shingle. From the
windows of a tall house came the sound of laughter and the
shrilling of a mandoline. The ilexes that lined the road met
overhead and made a black tunnel.
Lalia was leaning back in her corner. Bale had begun before they
had driven thirty yards, and she had let him snarl at her and given
him not a word in return. He could rave like an hysterical woman,
fling the most monstrous taunts at her, show all that malignant
unreason that drives the most patient of mortals to despair.
"A nice fool you made of me. I suppose you think I'm a yellow
dog, done for, a blasted corpse in trousers. Damn it, I'm not dead
yet. I'm not going to die for a long time. You keep away from the
She did not answer, and her silence exasperated him.
"Who's this artist chap, anyway? Short of money, is he? You
haven't given him those pearls, have you, to raise money on? Don't
you try that game; I'm not going to be boobied into passing out the
shekels for some other chap to pocket. Where are those pearls?"
She twisted the rope out of her hair and tossed them to him.
"Take them. But be very careful, Fenton, or some day you may
discover that I have taken you at your word."
"Ah, would you? Yes, get yourself into the gutter, my dear. You
know where those sort of adventures end."
"Fenton, do you know the kind of woman I am? No, I think
"Women—they're all alike; toss a man over when they've
dragged all the fun out of him."
She leant towards him and spoke so fiercely that he crumpled in
"Fenton, I shall kill you—some day; yes, kill you, if you
talk to me like this."
David Flemming had not seen Lalia Bale for days, though he had
climbed Monte Verde and wandered along the valley paths on the
steep hillsides above the river. The image of her did not fade; it
was no day's fancy, no momentary infatuation. On the contrary, it
grew more distinct and compelling; he began to feel very lonely,
and in his loneliness his thoughts turned to her.
Vineyards and olive groves surrounded Acqua Dolce, and grey
stone walls shut in the villa grounds. The road ran along the
eastern boundary, and there were paths that went up through the
terraces where the olives grew. And Flemming began to haunt these
paths, innocently enough. He would take his sketch-book with him
and make studies of olives and cypresses and the river running in
its rocky bed below. Only once did he see Lalia or have speech with
her. Things were going badly; Bale had developed a new mania; he
would hardly let her out of his sight.
Flemming was cutting down close to the wall one morning when he
heard someone hailing him. It was a sneering and ironical voice,
and had the same effect on Flemming as the sound of a file grating
"Hallo! Mr. Gamboge. You seem to find a dashed lot of material
Flemming glanced up and saw Bale looking down at him under the
shade of a loquat tree.
"Good morning, sir."
Bale mimicked him.
"Good morning, sir. I'm not so damned polite as you are, sir. In
fact, I see a dashed sight too much of you, sir."
"Is that so?" he said.
"That is so, Mr. Gamboge. And my wife isn't on view—see.
And if you try climbing over my wall you may get a jolly lot more
than you bargain for."
It was not the face of a sane man that looked down at Flemming
from under the shade of the loquat tree. It was all lined and
yellow, with a cunning leer in the eyes, the face of a malicious
Bale's insolence was ridiculous and vulgar, and Flemming was
inclined to ignore it.
"You seem to have got some sort of prejudiced idea into your
Bale grinned at him.
"Look here, Mr. Juan; I'll show you what I carry in my
He dangled a nickel-plated revolver over the wall, and pointed
it half-playfully at Flemming.
"I used to be a dead shot, old sport."
Flemming looked at him steadily.
"If you go walking about with toys like that you'll get yourself
into trouble, Mr. Fenton Bale. I should lock it up if I were
"Not me. You haven't lived out West, in Mexico, and in some of
those dirty republics. You dress with your pistol; it's part of the
He waved his hat.
"Good-bye, Gamboge. You keep on the right side of my wall, old
Flemming left him and walked on, but his face was a little grim.
Bale's antics struck him as serious.
"The man's mad. He ought to be watched. Good God! he might take
it into his brain to shoot her!"
Flemming took one of the mule-paths back to Villadoro, and on
reaching the town he went straight to a little white villa that
stood amid palms and camellias and mimosa on the hillside just
above the Regina Hotel. Here James Locker and his wife lived for
eight months of the year, two very popular healers, without whom
the English who wintered at Villadoro would have to pour out their
woes in German or Italian.
Dr. Locker was at home, rolling a supply of cigarettes as he sat
in the loggia that overlooked the sea.
"Hallo, Leonardo! Stay to lunch? Glad to see you. Sit down."
"I have got a problem for you, Locker."
"Oh, good heavens! What is it, the disappearance of Mona
"I'll tell you."
Locker was no fool, though he sauntered through life rather like
a pierrot. He listened seriously enough, rolling his cigarettes,
and glancing now and again at Flemming with a kind of affectionate
"You have got to look into this, Locker. No; I'm not a
sentimental fool. You know something of Bale."
"Quite enough. He tried to choke me once in one of his riots.
The man's a degenerate beast. I told him that he would drink and
drug himself into Bedlam."
"Well, what are you going to do?"
Locker got up.
"Call Grace in," he said dryly. "It's a case for consultation.
You didn't know that Grace ran the practice, did you,
"I have a great admiration for your wife, Locker."
"She deserves it, my friend. Try rolling a few cigarettes while
I go and explain things. I think she is writing letters in that
room of hers under the tiles."
Grace Locker was an exceptional woman, a woman whose appearance
made strangers imagine that she spent all her time and energy
elaborating new dresses, putting a superfine polish upon her nails,
and massaging that smooth and handsome face of hers in a triumphant
revolt against wrinkles. She contrived to be immensely busy without
ever appearing in a hurry. Her very charm owed much to its
suggestion of leisureliness. She was amazingly efficient, that was
the secret of it all. She contrived to be both the busiest and the
best-dressed woman in Villadoro, simply because she knew what to
do—and did it—while other women were talking.
"What a sensible man you are, David. Of course, you were
thinking of me when you came to appeal to Jim."
She sat down in a basket chair, looking, fresh and delightfully
young for a woman of forty. She was a fair woman, but she could
still wear white in the morning without it making her look
Flemming smiled at her.
"Of course, I had you in my thoughts. But I'm serious,
"Don't be a prig and assume that I'm frivolous because I don't
moan. Jim has told me. I have been interested in that girl all the
winter. She's one of the most fascinating things I have ever
"And David wants to rescue her."
Flemming stared between the stone pillars of the loggia at the
blue of the sea.
"Anyone would think, Locker, that you just trifled through life,
and that you couldn't be in earnest about anything. I happen to
know you. Grace couldn't have married a fool. I want you to go up
to Acqua Dolce——"
"But I'm not going, David."
"I'm leaving it to Grace."
Flemming turned eagerly to Grace Locker.
"Will you go?"
"Of course. I've been thinking things over. The girl wants
rescuing, bringing out among people; it is enough to make her
morbid, being shut up with a man like Bale. He may be only a
whimsical curmudgeon. People have cut him; a little human flattery
might work wonders with the man. I'll try it; I'll just be charming
to him, and get him to let the girl come and help with that fête of
ours at the Villa Scala. That can serve as an excuse, and I can see
what's to be made of Mr. Fenton Bale."
Flemming looked grateful but troubled.
"I suppose it's safe—for you——"
Locker laughed shrewdly.
"Grace would be safe anywhere. You need not picture Bale
threatening her with a revolver. I'd trust her to manage a case of
"If you think it's all right—
"Of course, it's all right. Grace has struck an idea. Let her
try her cunning on Mr. Fenton Bale."
So Grace Locker drove up the winding valley round to Acqua Dolce
and called on the Bales.
She found herself in a long salon paved with marble, its windows
opening upon a loggia all overgrown with vines and bougainvillea
and Banksia roses. A little Italian garden lay below the loggia,
with two fountains throwing plumes of water into the sunlight. The
salon was full of fine old furniture; it was plain that Fenton Bale
And then Lalia came in, dressed in a simple white dress with a
red rose and a scarf of the same colour. She looked depressed and
tired, for even her superb physique could not carry her through
such a life as she was leading without betraying signs of
The two women looked at each other interestedly. They were such
utter contrasts—Grace Locker with her slim, fair elegance;
Lalia with her rich and dusky comeliness and her sad eyes. They
were attracted to each other, and Grace Locker knew how to make the
most of such a tendency.
"What a lovely place you have here! Of course, you know its
history. I have often felt that I should like to live here—in
a house of actual romance."
"I suppose they were happy——"
"I have always heard so. I know an old padre who knew them, and
he said they were like a pair of children, even when they had grown
grey. I have come to ask you if you will do something for me."
"We are getting up a fête for the Italian hospital; it is going
to be held in the grounds of the Villa Scala. I am wondering if you
would help me."
"I should love to, but——"
"Put the 'buts' on one side."
She seemed to force herself to speak.
"Mrs. Locker, my husband is an invalid—with queer whims
"Well, let me ask him."
"You might try. I should love to help."
"I am quite ready to be importunate."
Her opportunity was on the threshold, for Fenton Bale came in,
looking shrunken and yellow, a sloven who had not been shaved. He
glanced sulkily at Mrs. Locker, and gave her a curt nod when Lalia
Bale was not a promising subject, but Grace Locker attacked him
with all her delightful guile. Very few men could withstand her,
but Bale had become something less than a man, and this refined and
clever woman seemed to irritate him, even while she was being
charming. The brute in him refused to be fascinated, and in
asserting its independence contrived to be insolent.
"I suppose it's a question of money, isn't it? All right. I'll
give you a subscription—if that's what you want."
"It's your wife I want, Mr. Bale."
He grinned maliciously.
"Then you won't get her, ma'am. The fact is, my wife doesn't
know how to behave, so I keep her at home, except when I go out
Grace Locker flushed slightly. She glanced at Lalia, and felt
humiliated for the girl's sake.
"I don't agree with you, Mr. Bale. In fact——"
He interrupted her rudely.
"What's that matter, anyhow? My wife's not going to swank round
at your show, but I'll give you a hundred francs and leave it at
that. I don't want to be in with the Villadoro crowd."
It was Lalia who rose with a meaning look at Grace Locker.
"You see," her eyes said, "he will only insult us both. He is
Grace rose also. She looked steadily at Fenton Bale, but she was
too wise, too much herself, to squabble with such a man. He was
what he had made himself, a shrunk and bedrugged thing, a rotten
apple ready to drop from the tree.
"I cannot take money that is given in such a spirit."
He laughed, showing his teeth.
"Oh, all right. Then I save a hundred francs."
She shook hands with Lalia, gave her a compassionate smile, and
walked back to the carriage.
But she was angry. Grace Locker was not the woman to be pleased
at being balked by a little blackguard, even though he might not be
responsible for his actions.
She had reached the flight of steps leading down to the iron
gates when she heard someone behind her.
Grace turned and saw Lalia in her white dress, the sunlight
striking through the olives and making a patterning of shadow all
"I wanted to say I'm sorry. I couldn't help him being rude to
Grace's eyes lit up.
"My dear, of course I understand that. And really—I'm very
angry with that husband of yours. I like you."
Lalia's lips quivered, and she seemed to be struggling to hide
"And I like you—too. Somehow—you made me feel good
directly I saw you."
"Well, see more of me; I should welcome it. Why let your husband
Lalia shrugged her shoulders.
"He is not reasonable; it is impossible to argue with him. And
if I anger him—I know that I shall be afraid—not of
him, but of myself. I have to set my teeth and keep my patience.
Good-bye, I must go now."
She turned abruptly and made her way back towards the house,
leaving Grace Locker full of a new compassion.
"The little beast! Why doesn't he poison himself or shoot
himself, and have done with it?"
But she was in a serious mood when she described her experiences
to her husband.
"David Flemming is right," she confessed. "I am half afraid of
something tragic happening at Acqua Dolce."
The same evening David Flemming heard the result of the attempt
to rescue Lalia. He was sitting in the loggia of the Lockers'
villa, with the lights of Villadoro strung across the bay, and
Grace Locker a dim figure in white lying back in a cane chair
beside him. Locker had been called out to see a patient at one of
the hotels, an athletic lady who had broken her ankle on the steep
path to Monte Cavallo.
Close to Flemming a big camellia growing in a stone vase was
starred with white flowers that looked like snowy rosettes on a
cloak of black velvet. The night was supremely still. They could
hear the band playing in the casino gardens.
"What can one do in such a case, my friend? You cannot rush up,
take the little wretch by the scruff of the neck and threaten to
shake the life out of him if he doesn't mend his ways. Besides, I
don't think Fenton Bale is capable of changing. He is just one of
those wretched, fateful little figures that go bobbing through
life, exasperating everybody and causing endless trouble. It's
sordid and tragic and utterly puzzling."
Flemming was leaning forward, his hands clasped between his
"Would one keep a leopardess and some miserable and depraved ape
in the same cage? And yet we humans persist in such
"You cannot reason on those lines, David. We are not mere
animals. There are some things that have to be borne, and sometimes
we are the better for bearing them."
"The old moral, that because a thing is nasty it helps to build
up character. Let's get down to the tragic facts. Do you think that
girl can go on living with that little blackguard and not revolt?
She is not English; she is prouder, cleaner than most
"What do you mean, David?"
"Oh—well, she may kill him. That's what I mean."
Grace Locker raised herself in her chair.
"Then you, too, have felt that?"
"And what can one do? I don't want to persuade you, my friend,
into thrusting yourself into a tragedy."
"Do you know that she reminds me of Norah?"
"Yes. There is the same impulsiveness, the same naïveté, the
same psychical colour. Strange, isn't it? Something has been
reawakened in me. It was as though Norah were alive and married to
that little beast."
Grace Locker looked at him in the dusk.
"David, don't be mad. You may make things worse."
He answered her with quiet passion:
"No, I am not that selfish sort of scoundrel. But I am not going
to stand aside and do nothing. Surely I can be a friend to her, a
"Oh, be very careful. Where do such friendships end—in
many cases? No; I'm not an opportunist and a cynic, but people get
hurt when trying to be heroic. And yet——"
"You must follow your own calling. The fact is, I like you,
David; you are my very good friend; I'm quite a motherly person.
Why not let things drift a little, and wait in patience?"
"Because," and his voice was solemn, "I am afraid of what might
happen—while I waited."
When Flemming left the Lockers' villa he did not turn straight
towards his hotel, but took the road that crossed to the old Roman
bridge and led beside the river towards Acqua Dolce. He felt
irresistibly drawn towards the white house among the palms and
cypresses, with its garden full of the noise of running water and
olive trees softening the grey walled terraces. Compassion
possessed him, and something deeper than compassion. He was
re-dreaming the dreams of fifteen years ago.
The villa gates were locked, but he climbed one of the rough
walls and went wandering about the garden with its dusky alleyways
and its turf walks between rose hedges and trellised vines. There
was a light in one of the upper windows, but Flemming dared not go
too near the house, though his imagination set that light in
Lalia's room and made him think of her as wakeful and very lonely.
He greeted her in his heart, this child of the south nurtured in
London, Rome, Paris, and Vienna.
If Flemming gained anything by that midnight ramble—he
gained a certain decision, and the sulky stare of the porter who
had to let him into the hotel. Nor did the morning put an end to
the night's mood. He took his artist's baggage under his arm and
started for the woods on the hill slope above Acqua Dolce.
So steep was the hillside that Flemming was able to see down
into the villa garden; in fact, it was set out like a toy stage
below him, with its terraces and statues, its groves of cypresses,
its rose walks and stone fish ponds, its little Grecian theatre
partly hidden by the encircling mystery of the towering trees.
Acqua Dolce had been a house of romance. Love had planned all those
quaint and formal terraces, those fountains and pools, those secret
paths through green glooms, that little classic theatre open to the
blue heaven. Flemming found himself thinking of the woman who had
danced in that theatre, that wonderful woman who had set half Italy
And then he saw Lalia, a little white figure moving along one of
the terraces where orange trees grew in stone pots. He saw her
pause and bend over one of the pools, and then disappear up a stone
stairway under a smother of roses. For a while he lost sight of
that thread of white, but suddenly she appeared within the grey
curve of the Grecian theatre. He could see her above and between
the cypresses, a figure that moved to no rhythmic music, but a
figure that went hither and thither restlessly, pausing now and
again to lean against the balustrade and look up at Monte Verde and
the woods upon the hills.
Flemming stood up and willed her to see him. And presently she
turned and stared fixedly in his direction. He had chosen a place
where he was screened from the windows of the villa.
For fully half a minute the distant figure did not move.
He waved his arm. She waved back. Then she appeared to be
pointing towards the top of the cypresses, and Flemming guessed
what he wished to guess.
They met at the low stone wall that shut off the garden from the
woods above. A row of cypresses threw a mass of shadow here, their
sharp spires motionless against the blue of the sky.
"I wondered whether I should see you again."
She was wearing a red camellia in her white dress, and the
flower was the colour of blood.
"Well, I had to come."
Her eyes met his with perfect frankness. There was no guile in
her attitude towards him, none of the self-conscious cunning of the
"You can trust me, Lalia. I should not be here—but for
She smiled at him.
"Trust you! Of course I trust you. I am quick in such things. Do
you think I should have let you paint me that day on Monte Verde if
I had not known instantly what sort of man you were? Should I have
danced with you that night? Should we have talked—as we
talked—down there by the sea?"
"Do you know—I began to live again—that night? We
seemed to come together out of our two lonely lives. I want to know
how things are with you."
A swift change came over her face. She rested her arms on the
top of the wall and stared up at the pinewoods.
"I feel that I can talk to you as I might talk to myself."
"Talking helps us. You saw Grace Lockyer yesterday?"
"You sent her? I guessed it."
"I thought she might get you out into the life down yonder. She
is a sort of queen in Villadoro."
Lalia rested her chin on her wrists.
"It was good of you, David. But, then—he is mad, and yet
most horribly sane. It is like living with a cunning and malicious
devil, to whom nothing is too petty or too monstrous. He is
asleep—now. I am trying to be patient."
"You must have no will of your own. Every maddening freak of his
has to be humoured. It would be funny if it weren't horrible. One
moment he is in an absurd rage about nothing, the next he is trying
to be affectionate. Oh, my God; it is that which is so difficult to
She hid her face suddenly in her arms, as though ashamed and
utterly humiliated. It was a mute anguish, poignant, silent,
motionless. Her woman's pride, all the intimate delicacies of life
were in voiceless revolt.
And Flemming was stirred to the deeps. This was no melodrama, no
piece of play-acting, no pretty tale dreamed in a dreamer's brain.
The figure in the white dress was terribly real, terribly
appealing. He wanted to touch her, to feel his hand smoothing that
dark brown hair of hers, to raise her head and make her look into
"Lalia, I have got to help you—somehow."
She lifted her head.
"No one can help me. I have taken a fate and I must live it
through. And yet you do help me."
She stretched out a hand and he held it fast.
"You can talk to me; tell me everything. I understand. I don't
ask for anything. I'll just come here, and you shall talk. It is
something to have a listener."
"But I don't know whether I shall let you come here. It will be
utter selfishness on my part."
"Then I am guilty of selfishness."
"Yes, but you don't realise——"
It was Flemming who saw Bale's grinning face appear from behind
one of the cypresses, and by an effort he restrained himself and
did not let go of Lalia's hand.
"What the devil are you two playing at—anyhow?"
Lalia went white as her dress. She glanced over her shoulder and
tried to withdraw her hand. But there was a touch of the divine
madness in David Flemming, a spirit that rebelled at the thought of
compromise or of shrinking from a crisis in which the enemy was so
contemptible. He found himself refusing to feel embarrassed or to
confess that Fenton Bale had any right to mouth at him.
"If you want to know the truth, sir, I came here with the
express purpose of seeing your wife. She did not know that I was
Fenton Bale flourished his arms.
"I like your infernal insolence."
Flemming put Lalia's hand away and, leaning over the wall,
looked steadily at Fenton Bale.
"You happen to have a very charming wife, Mr. Bale. Other men
realise it—if you do not. And supposing I were to tell you
that I had just asked her to leave you—and that she had
Bale stared at him, like a dog who has made up his mind to bite
an intruder and is astonished by the intruder attacking instead of
waiting to be attacked. His yellow face looked flat, inept and
"Well, this is the funniest darned situation I ever fell
He glanced rancorously at Lalia.
"Let's have no more of this fooling. I'm not the sort of child
to stand it—see? I've lived in rough
Lalia turned to Flemming:
"Please leave it to me."
Her eyes appealed to him, willed him to go. The whole situation
seemed so impossible, for there were no hidden generosities in
Fenton Bale that could be aroused by rivalry. He was not sane; he
was not even human in any reasonable sense, and Lalia knew him
better than David Flemming did.
Bale's hand went into the side pocket of his coat; he was
"I've got something here that can talk, old sport."
Flemming seemed to hesitate, but a glance from Lalia warned him
"Oh, run away, Mr. Flemming, or my husband will be taking all
this seriously. What an innocent you are, Fenton, not to see that
Mr. Flemming has been ragging you!"
She laughed quite merrily, and caught Bale by the arm.
"Good-bye. Next time please come in by the gate."
Bale had begun to mutter something, but that shrunken, bedrugged
body of his was incapable of much physical independence. This girl
from the south could have lifted him in her arms and carried him
off like a child. She pushed him through the cypresses, laughing,
and calling back to Flemming:
"Good-bye. It really was wrong of you to try and hold my
Flemming did not move, but stood leaning against the wall and
staring at the row of cypresses through which those two had
disappeared. He had more than a suspicion that he had blundered on
to the edge of a tragedy, and that the steel-bright thing that lay
in Bale's pocket might have spoken with irresponsible violence. He
had seen a momentary panic in Lalia's eyes. He realised that he had
been at the mercy of a morpho-maniac's savage whim.
But Lalia! It was monstrous that she should have to live on the
edge of a possible fatality. The man was irresponsible. He might
shoot her, shoot himself. He was like so much dynamite, with a
candle burning close by.
For a moment he felt tempted to climb the wall and follow them,
but saner thoughts prevailed. She knew Bale, she knew how to handle
him. He had only made things more difficult for her by trying to
thrust a chivalrous sympathy into her life. And so he climbed back
into the woods to get a view of the villa garden. No one was to be
seen there save a man in bright blue trousers hoeing one of the
lower terraces where olives grew.
All that evening Fenton Bale sat brooding in the loggia like a
little yellow god staring at nothing with sullen and expressionless
eyes. His face was a mere wrinkled mask. He neither moved not spoke
nor took notice of anything. Coffee, liqueurs, his Russian
cigarettes were left untouched on the ebony and mother of pearl
table beside him. He just stared and stared like a corpse propped
in a chair.
Lalia had brought a book and a reading-lamp out into the loggia,
but he had repulsed her sullenly when she had suggested that she
should read to him.
"Put that dashed light out. I don't want to hear that sort of
And so they sat on together while the darkness fell, and the
green leaves of the vines on the trellises turned black. Stars
glittered above the mountains. They could hear the river in the
valley rushing over its rocky bed.
To Lalia this silence became charged with a feeling of fatality.
She could not escape from a strange sense of impending dread. The
man in the chair had become a vague blur, but his grey face was
like the dim face of a ghost. There was something frightening in
his immobility, in his utter silence. She wondered what was passing
in his mind, whether this mood was the last sinister phase of his
They had not spoken of the affair of the morning. She had just
laughed it aside, and her laughter seemed to have dominated him,
though she had caught him watching her with a kind of sinister and
She yawned and stretched out her arms.
"You are not gay company, Fenton."
He did not answer her for a moment.
"Not like your artist friend."
"Why worry about that? Am I never to speak to a living
"Go to bed," he said laconically.
And she left him there sunk in his chair,
Lalia's room communicated with her husband's, but she locked
both doors that night. She was brushing her hair when she heard him
come upstairs, and she remained motionless, expecting him to speak
to her. But he passed her door without pausing and went to his
room, and for a long while she heard him moving restlessly to and
fro. Roberts, his English servant, had been fastening the shutters
and locking the doors downstairs. Bale was still moving about his
room when she got into bed, but presently his restlessness seemed
to come to an end. The sense of tension relaxed, and she fell
This sleep of hers was not to last through the night, and she
awoke from it suddenly with a sense of clamour in her brain.
Someone had been calling, calling, and the voice had tangled itself
up in the bizarrerie of a restless dream.
She sat up, chilled, vaguely disturbed. For the moment the house
seemed silent; a full moon was shining; there was no wind to rattle
the shutters. And then she understood.
A sudden outcry came from her husband's room, and the voice was
like the voice of a frightened child terrified by some dream. It
was shrill, querulous and insistent, suggestive of panic.
Lalia slipped out of bed, put on a dressing-jacket, lit a
candle, and went out into the passage. The childish outcry
continued. She tried the door and found it unlocked.
"Fenton, what is it?"
"I'm dying—I'm dying."
She closed the door, set the candle on a table and sat down on
the edge of the bed. For the first few seconds she was confused and
not a little frightened, for he was breathing jerkily and tossing
his arms to and fro, his jacket wide open, the muscles showing in
his throat. She laid a hand over his heart; it was beating rapidly,
but not like the heart of a dying man.
Her intuition helped her to sum up the situation. The man was
hysterical—something had thrown him into a panic.
"What has frightened you, Fenton?"
He bleated the same cry.
"No, no, lie still; you have had nightmare."
He gave her one queer, half-cunning, half-agonized look, and
then burst into tears. His hands came clutching at her; he dragged
himself round in the bed and tried to snuggle his face into her
"I was choking; I woke up choking. I was dying—and no one
cares. Why don't you send for a doctor? You don't care—you'll
He clung to her, convulsed, pitiable, like a scared child. And
the first spasm of repulsion quivered out of her throat; she held
him in her arms—this little wreck of a man who sobbed and
"There—there, I'm here; I'll stay with you. You're
frightened, that's all. I'll stay here with you."
"It was awful. I couldn't breathe. You won't leave me—you
won't run away——"
"I've been a beast sometimes. I'm so cold, I'm shivering."
She made him lie down.
"There—get warm. I'll sit here—and hold your hand.
You'll feel better soon."
Hers was no affectation of compassion. She had no love for the
man, but his terror, the very misery of his cowardice, even his
pitiable selfishness, called to the woman in her. Some primitive
instinct answered his child's wail. She laid a hand on his
"You've been dreaming. Doesn't that feel cool and soft? I'll sit
here with you and you must go to sleep. Try and go to sleep. I'll
frighten the bad dreams away."
Her presence seemed to soothe him, and presently he fell asleep,
clutching her hand tightly so that she could not move without
awaking him. She decided not to leave him, but to sit the night out
beside him, and her compassion carried her through.
That vigil brought her new thoughts and a new inspiration as she
listened to her husband's breathing, and to the rushing of the
river over the rocks below. She had a vision of a further effort,
of a further struggle to bear with this man. Life had meant a
renunciation of all that youth desires. She would still strive to
play her part, to humour him, to save him from his meaner self.
So the dawn came; yellow light slanted through the shutters; a
mule team went up the road with a jingling of bells. The sanctuary
on Monte Verde sent out a morning chime.
When Fenton Bale awoke he found himself holding Lalia's hand.
For a moment he did not remember the scene he had made in the
night. He blinked at her as though bemused and puzzled.
"So you slept after all, Fenton? I kept the dreams away."
"Slept! Did I call you up?"
"I have been sitting here for about five hours."
She saw by his eyes that he remembered.
"I've been thinking, Fenton; thinking hard."
"What, all the night?"
"Part of it."
She freed her hand and went and opened one of the shutters. The
morning sun poured in, and the white walls of the villa seemed
washed by a sea of green.
"It is a wonderful morning, Fenton. The olives are all blue and
there is not a cloud in the sky."
He lay there apathetically and did not answer her.
"Just the morning to start on a holiday. Why shouldn't we start
on a holiday?"
"What sort of a holiday do you think I'm fit for? I don't want
to go gallivanting about."
She sat on the window-ledge and the sunlight played in her
"I don't mean an actual holiday, Fenton. Why shouldn't we make a
new beginning—start a new bit of life? It's possible."
He pulled himself up in bed.
"What d'you mean?"
"We haven't been very happy—have we, Fenton? I'm ready to
let bygones be bygones and to start afresh. Let us try."
"So I'm to blame, am I?"
"I never spoke of blame. Everybody has something to forgive. My
quarrel is with that thing—over there."
She pointed to a little rosewood cabinet that stood on the top
of a chest of drawers. Bale's eyes followed the pointing of her
hand. He grunted.
"Can't do without it—now."
She went and stood facing him.
"Don't you realise that you have got to choose—to choose
between me—and the stuff in that cabinet? Make a fight for
it. I'll help; I'll do all that I can."
"It's no use," he said sullenly; "you can't fight against a
thing that has become a food."
But she would not let him surrender, and she set out to make a
last effort to save her husband from the curse of the crave he had
created. Perhaps the man's better self shone out momentarily
through the fog of opium; perhaps her pleading proved even more
powerful than a potent drug. At all events she won him over, though
he joined her sullenly like a man who misdoubted his own
"All right. Chuck it away. The key's in my
purse—there—on the table."
She found the key and unlocked the rosewood cabinet. In it were
rows of little bottles, a pile of chip boxes, and a couple of
hypodermic syringes in gilt cases. She gathered all the plunder in
a fold of her night-dress, and stood looking compassionately at her
"Promise me that is all, Fenton."
"Yes; that's the lot."
"I will make it up to you. I am going to throw these into the
In half an hour she was standing on a rocky bank above one of
the deep pools in the valley. The stream foamed into it from above,
but where the rush had spent itself the pool was wonderfully clear
and the colour of green glass. She had brought a little
bright-coloured leather bag with her, and she stood on an
outjutting rock and tossed bottles and syringes into the water. She
was very solemn over it, and her eyes looked sad; perhaps she
doubted the permanence of her triumph.
Climbing back to the road and rounding the corner where the
terrace wall jutted out, she walked straight into David Flemming.
He was standing in the shade of an overhanging pine and looking up
towards the house whose red roof showed through the foliage.
"You are out early."
She noticed at once how serious his eyes were.
"I was worried; I admit it."
"Yes, but I have news for you. I must not stay more than two
minutes. He is waiting for me, and he is just like a child this
She told him all that she had to tell, but Flemming's eyes did
not brighten to hers. He, too, misdoubted the value of this
"He has let you throw all his drugs away?"
"Yes. I mean to stand by him and help him to fight through."
He looked at her gravely, compassionately, for there was an air
of sadness and resignation about her, as though she were none too
sanguine, but had made up her mind to go through with it to the
"It's splendid of you."
"Oh, no, it's nothing of the kind. Perhaps it's despair.
Good-bye. I must go. I'll—I'll write to you sometimes."
"I shall be down at Villadoro. Send for
She gave him one look and hurried on as though she could not
trust herself to say more.
"Good-bye. I shan't forget you."
Dr. Locker, driving along the sea-front of his smart carrozza,
sighted a man leaning over the parapet and watching the waves
playing over the rocks below. Locker ordered the driver to stop
and, jumping out, crossed the footpath and leant over the parapet
close to Flemming, but the artist was so absorbed in some thoughts
of his own that he did not glance at the man at his side.
Locker looked at him shrewdly.
Flemming turned sharply.
"Hallo! I didn't realise who it was. In a way you are
"Thanks. Get in and drive; I have to go to San Pietro."
They went bowling along the dusty road overhung by pines and
ilexes and mimosa trees, with villa gardens on one side and the
blue of the sea on the other. For a while they chatted about the
Villa Scala bazaar, the tennis tournament in the casino gardens,
and the expected visit of the English Mediterranean fleet. But this
was mere dust so far as David Flemming was concerned, though he was
shy with the shyness of a man who is fiercely in earnest.
"I say, Locker, I want to ask you something."
"Well, ask away."
"When a man who has the drug craving has the drug suddenly taken
away from him, what happens?"
"Sometimes he collapses, even dies."
"Or goes off his head and does something violent."
"That's what I thought. I may as well tell you the truth,
Locker. Mrs. Bale has persuaded her husband to let her throw all
the stuff away, and I tell you—I'm worried."
Locker was in a cynical mood.
"I shouldn't worry. He has another hoard hidden away somewhere.
That is always the way. They are very cunning—the poor
"Then you think he only made a pretence——"
"I'd swear to it. The only way to make sure that such a man as
Bale does not get his particular drug is to shut him up in a
nursing-home with people he can't bribe round him. I expect there
is morphia hidden in every corner of that house."
"You may be right."
"My dear man, I have had to deal with a good many drug-maniacs
in my time."
Flemming might be outreasoned, but he was not reassured. A
peculiar restlessness took possession of him that day; it was as
though telepathic suggestion were at work, beating a mysterious
warning into his brain. Towards evening it grew more imperious,
more suggestive. He dined as usual at his hotel, took his coffee
under a palm in the garden; chatted to a couple of American women,
and then broke away. Something was driving him up towards Acqua
Dolce, something born of a restless imagination, or of a mysterious
sympathy that no mechanical theory could explain.
It was a rare night; a full moon was shining, and the road lay
white between dark walls and gardens. The mountains were sharp
ridged and black against a sky of steel. The river running in the
valley made a noise like thunder.
It took Flemming half an hour to reach Acqua Dolce. The white
walls of the house gleamed between the palms, cypresses, and
ilexes; the iron gates were closed.
On the opposite side of the road rose a grass bank topped by a
few old olive trees, whose delicate foliage caught the moonlight
and made a lacework of silver and jet. Flemming climbed the bank,
and sat down on a gnarled root of one of the trees. He could see
the upper windows of the villa; the shutters were not closed, and
the moonlight played upon the glass. Here and there a stone figure
on the balustrades of the terrace walks shone white amid the gloom
of shrubs and trees. The river thundered below, but no wind stirred
the leaves of the olives.
Was it a mere superstitious whim that had brought him
here—a mysterious voice speaking in the air? He wondered.
Nothing could have seemed more peaceful than this Italian valley,
sleeping in the moonlight. It suggested no possible tragedy. And
the sound of the bells ringing in the campaniles on the hills
shivered through it with a thrill of mystery and of awe.
Flemming's eyes fixed themselves suddenly on a path that came
winding down through the garden from one of the upper terraces. He
thought he had seen something move there, gliding along the curves
that were sometimes in the shadow, sometimes in the moonlight.
He sat at gaze, his face sharpening. The path ended in a formal
walk along the terrace at the top of the boundary wall. A figure
appeared there—a figure in a white dress, with hair black as
the shadows under the trees. It was Lalia.
She threw a hurried glance up and down the road below, but she
did not notice the man sitting under the olive tree, for he kept
quite still, and his dark clothes merged into the outlines of the
tree trunks. Flemming saw her climb the low wall, and let herself
down by her hands. There was a drop of some five feet, but She
landed lightly in the road below.
Flemming did not move. A kind of intuitive and tragic curiosity
possessed him. What was she about to do?
Lalia did not hesitate. Some very definite purpose seemed to
possess her, for she started up the road with quick, silent steps.
She had come out barefooted—that was why her feet made no
As she disappeared round the curve of the road Flemming sprang
down the bank and followed her. He had realised with sudden
vividness what this escapade of hers might mean.
Lalia had heard him. He had a glimpse of her looking back as he
came in view, her face white in the moonlight. He shouted to
"It's Flemming. I want to speak to you."
But she gave a strange cry, turned, and started running up the
road away from him.
Flemming went in pursuit. He had been something of an athlete as
a youngster, but he found himself being left behind by this child
of the Pacific. Never had he seen a girl run as she
ran—beautifully, like a wild thing, lissome and very strong.
Her short, loose skirt did not hinder her, and her bare feet seemed
to give her grip and speed.
He hailed her once more:
But she paid no heed, and he saved his breath to make a race of
it, a race that hinted as some tragic goal. He began to gain on her
a little along one of the straight grey stretches of the mountain
Suddenly he saw her swerve to one side and take a path that led
downwards through a plantation of olives. Flemming knew that path,
and whither it led. Someone had built a rough stone belvedere at
the top of a precipice that overhung the river, where a magnificent
view could be had right down the valley, with Villadoro lying white
on the edge of the sea.
He had been running like a man; now he ran as a desperate lover.
It was to be a battle of wills, and of bodies. He was racing her
for her life.
The path ran about two hundred yards before it reached the
plateau overhanging the river, and Flemming was some thirty yards
behind the figure in the white dress. Yet Lalia looked like beating
him in that death race, for her bare feet seemed to give her a
She had stumbled and fallen forward, and the cry burst from him
impulsively. But she was up again before he could reach her.
"Go back—go back!"
She dashed on, with Flemming after her. He gained, and caught
her at the bottom of the short flight of rough steps that led down
to the platform.
She struggled with him, and her strength almost overmatched
"Let me go, David—let me go!"
He had his arms around her and she tried to break his grip, her
hair clouding in his face.
"Let me go—do let me go!"
"I cannot bear it! I must kill myself before he drives me to
"You shall not kill yourself; neither shall he drive you
"David—I shall kill him."
"No. Give in to me, dear. I am stronger than death."
The despair seemed to go out of her quite suddenly. She
surrendered, and he felt her limp in his arms. He had to hold her.
Her arms went round his neck; her head lay on his shoulder.
"Oh—my dear—what shall I do?"
She broke down, and all her passionate soul seemed to dissolve
in anguish. He held her close and smoothed her hair. He was
touching a woman and a child.
"Oh, I was wrong. A devil seemed to seize him when he had lost
his drugs. I cannot tell you, David. I cannot go on living with
him. He fell asleep, and I seized my chance."
Flemming was deeply moved.
"Lalia, you and I are strangers to each other, and yet somehow
you have given me back the will to live. Sit down here with me, and
let us see what we can make out of this tangle."
He led her to the belvedere overlooking the valley. They could
see Villadoro shining white in the moonlight and the river flashing
and foaming in the valley below. Fleming kept hold of her hand, and
held it so firmly that she smiled at him with her wet eyes.
"I shan't throw myself over, David. That mood has gone."
He did not let her hand go, nor did she try to withdraw it.
"We must face things, Lalia. You cannot go on living this
"But what am I to do?"
He was silent for some while, thinking.
"Listen to me. I happen to be fairly well off, so far as money
goes. I am going to ask you to let me give you what you need. I'm
not making a bargain; I'm not asking for anything in return. You
must go away and live your own life, and I can help you to begin
She looked at him with shining eyes.
"But I can't take your money."
"Because it is yours."
"Oh, nonsense!" he broke out passionately. "Of course you can
take it. I'm not making any cad's bargain with you. What is money
for but to be used, and I have more than I know what to do with. I
might send it to a charity, or write a cheque for some relative I
don't care twopence about. Lalia, you'll take it?"
"Yes. Because I shall know that you don't trust me if you
She covered her eyes with her hand.
"Oh, what problems! But to escape! Yes, I'll take it, David.
I'll go to Vienna. I had friends there. I'm not afraid to work. I
can speak four languages, and I could teach. But how shall I
He thought a moment.
"Go back to-night; bear one more night there. Then to-morrow
morning come down to Villadoro; I will meet you in the Casino
gardens at eleven. I can manage things; you shall have enough to
carry you along for the moment. Go to Genoa, buy a trunk and some
clothes, and then go on to Milan and Vienna. Write to me from
there, and I will arrange to have more money sent to you. Is not
that very simple?"
"It sounds so simple. I will go back to-night and think it over.
I promise to meet you in the morning and tell you what I have
She rose, hesitated, and then looked straight into his eyes as
he stood beside her.
"You have willed me to live, David. You have been very good to
me. And there is nothing that I can do in return."
"But there is, Lalia. Go on living, and so helping me to live. A
month ago I did not care whether I lived or died; in fact, I think
I would rather have had death. But I do care now."
She laid a hand on his shoulder.
"And I care, too. Do you doubt it? Something sang in my heart
that night when we danced together. But there, we must just be
comrades, and I must be going back."
They wandered slowly through the olive groves, where the
moonlight sifted through and made delicate patterns on the ground.
Silence had fallen upon them—a silence that was intimate and
mysterious. Now and again they looked into each other's eyes and
The road lay white and empty before them, with a black shadow
falling across it here and there where a pine or a cypress
intercepted the moonlight. They reached the wall where Lalia had
let herself drop from the terrace below.
"The gates are locked."
"Then I must help you up."
An old fig tree hung down in one place. Flemming took Lalia in
his arms and lifted her up till she could get a grip of the tree.
He made a stirrup with his hands for one of her bare feet. She drew
herself up, stood for a moment on his shoulder, and then scrambled
to the top of the wall.
Flemming was looking at one of his hands.
"I say, you have cut your foot."
"Have I? It can't be very much. I did not feel it. I must creep
in now. Good night."
She leant over to him, her hair hanging down.
"I trust you, David."
"Till to-morrow," he answered her.
She disappeared, and he stood there at the foot of the wall,
listening, determined to stay there till he was sure that she had
succeeded in getting back into the house. If Bale had fallen into a
drugged sleep, well and good; but if the little
He threw his head back sharply like a man challenged, for a cry
came from the direction of the villa. He heard a man shouting
angrily, and with a shrill and almost screaming self-abandonment.
Another voice answered him—also a man's voice—scared
Flemming made a leap for the fig tree, pulled himself up, and
was over the wall like a man scaling a redoubt. He took the first
path that showed in the moonlight; it led him uphill and towards
the villa, and that was all he desired. And suddenly he found
himself in the main way from the iron gates to the house, with a
broad flight of steps going up under the shade of cypresses and
A revolver-shot rang out, the sound echoing across the
"Good God! he's shot her!"
Flemming ran on, and as he reached the flight of steps a man
came blundering down them. It was Roberts, Bale's English valet,
unnerved and in a panic.
He swerved to one side when he saw Flemming, and threw up his
"What has happened, man? Are you hurt?"
He stared into the valet's white face.
"No, sir. I was running for assistance, sir. He's up there with
a revolver, and she's with him. He shot at me."
"Come along, then! Come on!"
Flemming raced up the steps, and the valet followed him,
flustered and out of breath, but ready to follow when there was
another man in front.
"Be careful, sir. He's clean mad."
Flemming had reached the last steps leading to the main terrace
in front of the villa. He came to a sudden halt, stood staring, and
then turned to the valet and signalled to him to hold back, for
Flemming had seen enough in that one glance to realise that any
meddling would mean death for the woman whom he loved.
On the terrace Lalia and her husband were facing each other in
the moonlight, the woman absolutely motionless, the man wagging a
revolver up and down as though he were wagging a monster
forefinger. Then Fenton Bale began to shuffle round in a circle,
and as he moved Lalia turned also, but more slowly, so that her
eyes never left his face. Flemming had crouched down so that he
could just see over the top step. He knew that if he made a dash
for Bale the fellow would fire at Lalia.
It was a dumb show that Flemming watched—a play of mutes
in the moonlight—and yet he could size up the tragic horror
of the thing, and realise how disastrously it might end. Fenton
Bale had nothing to say. He just grinned, and went shuffling round
and round with that revolver of his, possessed by all the cunning
ferocity of his madness, determined to kill, yet gloating over the
prospect, and holding his hand for a while. And Lalia kept pace
with him while he circled round her, so that he had to meet her
eyes and look into her white face.
It had become a battle of wills, silent and problematical. When
Bale's back was towards him Flemming could see Lalia's face. There
seemed to be no fear upon it, but a kind of intense and youthful
vitality that challenged Bale's idiot spite and dared it to act.
She held her head high and her throat showed, and as she moved she
looked like a statue turning on a pedestal.
Flemming was in a savage dilemma. He longed to jump up, make a
dash for Bale, and risk the consequences so far as he himself was
concerned, but he had an uncanny feeling that the madman's first
shot would be fired at Lalia.
The valet came crawling up behind him and started to whisper.
Flemming silenced him with a jab of the foot.
For Fenton Bale had stopped his shuffling round in a circle, and
was standing staring at his wife as though the clock of madness in
his brain had struck the hour.
Their profiles were turned towards Flemming. He heard Lalia
"Put that thing away, Fenton. It does not frighten me."
He gave a sort of chuckle.
"I can see a little hole in your head, and there will be a
bigger hole at the back to match it. Gosh! I can shoot; I could
shoot the moon."
She went three steps towards him.
"I dare you to shoot me, Fenton. I am not afraid of you."
The devil of madness in him mocked her.
"You wait. I'll make a pretty white angel of you. Don't you hear
the bells ringing?"
He stooped and leered at her, the revolver pointed.
"There's nobody here but you and me, no one at all. Isn't it
quiet? We are going away together; I shan't stay behind you, my
dear; I'll lie down and hold your hand. Then, bang, and I shall be
with you again. I wonder whether it will be cold."
She faced him as though he were some wild beast that had to be
"No, you are going to bed, Fenton, and you are going to give
Flemming sprang up with a fierce cry, for he saw Bale poked his
hand forward and a jet of flame start from the black muzzle. Lalia
went swaying back, but Flemming's first business was with Bale. He
made a wild dash across the terrace, and Bale, catching sight of
him, stood faltering with an idiot indecision, the hand that held
the revolver swaying like a bough in a wind. Then, with a gesture
of impatience, he thrust the muzzle into his own face and
Flemming saw Bale fall forward and crumple up in a heap, the
revolver striking the stones. But when he looked towards Lalia; she
was still erect, a white figure in the moonlight.
He went towards her as though he expected to see her totter and
She stretched out her hands to him.
"Oh, dear God! I'm not touched. It went by me."
Flemming and the man Roberts carried Fenton Bale into the house
and laid him on a sofa in one of the ground floor rooms. He was
dead, with a bullet in his brain.
A couple of scared Italian servants were whispering on the
stairs. Flemming spoke to them, told them that "il signor" had shot
himself, that he would go down to Villadoro for a doctor, and that
the best thing they could do was to go back to bed.
Flemming found Lalia sitting on a stone seat at the edge of the
terrace. She turned a dazed white face to him, and her eyes had a
shadowy and lost look. The place seemed strangely still, with the
mountains clear and sharp under the full moon, the hillsides
brilliantly lit or lost in deep shadows. Not a leaf stirred. The
trees and shrubs might have been obelisks cut out of black
Flemming went and stood beside her.
"He is dead."
She echoed the last words as though her brain had been numbed by
"Dead! But how strange."
"I don't want you to stay here, Lalia."
"Not stay here? Where shall I go?"
He realised how the tragedy had shocked her, that she was dazed,
that she had no power for the moment either to choose or to
"I am going to take you back to Villadoro. I have friends there,
Mrs. Locker; you remember her. She will be very kind."
Lalia rose like a child, holding out a hand to him.
"Yes, take me away from here, David. I will do just what you
"I'll tell your husband's man."
He returned to the house and found Roberts waiting in the
"I'm taking Mrs. Bale to Dr. Locker's. She ought not to stay
"I shall ask Dr. Locker to come up to see the body. You will
stay here, of course?"
Flemming and Lalia did not remember that the iron gates were
locked till Roberts came running after them with the key. He had
been somewhat officious and familiar as Fenton Bale's servant, but
he had taken Flemming's measure and stepped into his proper
"Leave the gates unlocked and wait up for Dr. Locker."
Flemming was never likely to forget that walk down to Villadoro
in the moonlight, for Lalia took his hand like a child, and seemed
to give her fate into his keeping. And all that is admirable in a
man's love realised itself in Flemming's heart that night. Had his
dead wife come back from the grave to walk with them, he could have
looked in her eyes, and spoken: "Dear, you will not condemn me
because of this child. She will give me much that I lost when you
were taken from me."
The lights of Villadoro began to glimmer in the valley.
Flemming felt Lalia's hand stir in his.
"They will not be cross with you for bringing me?"
"You don't know Grace Locker as I do. Put such thoughts out of
your head, dear."
She drew closer to him.
"I should feel so lost without you, David. My soul seems to have
dried up. I can't think of things."
"Keep hold of my hand," he said simply, "and leave life to
Lights were still burning in the Lockers' villa when Flemming
and Lalia came up through the garden to the stone loggia running
along the front of the house. A chair had been left in the loggia,
and Flemming made Lalia sit down there.
"Wait. I'll go and tell them."
He found Grace writing letters, and her husband rolling
cigarettes. They just looked at him, and waited after the first
words, for his face had news graven upon it.
"Fenton Bale has shot himself. He tried to shoot his wife first,
but missed her. I wonder if you will go up to Acqua Dolce,
Locker jumped up.
"Of course. Is he badly hurt?"
"I came really to see Grace. I've brought Lalia Bale down here.
I'm wondering whether you could take her in?"
Grace Locker left her bureau.
"David, you are a man of sense. Of course. Where is she?"
"I left her sitting in the loggia. The shock has dazed her. She
was worrying about being a bother to you."
Grace glanced at her husband.
"We can dispense with you, Jim. You had better run up to Acqua
Dolce. I'll go to her, David."
Flemming's eyes thanked her.
"You see, I knew who to come to. She will want you, Grace. I'll
walk up with your man."
"Yes. I shall be glad to have both of you out of the way."
She hurried out into the loggia where Lalia's white figure
showed in the gloom.
"You poor dear, come in at once; come up to my room."
"David said that you would be kind to me."
"That shows that he is a very sensible man."
In half an hour Grace Locker had Lalia in bed, and had given her
a dose of veronal to make her sleep.
Flemming was out early next day buying flowers at the little
stall under the church wall in the market square. Grace Locker was
taking her café au lait in the loggia when he arrived. She noticed
his flowers and smiled brightly.
"Jim wants to see you. He's in the study. I'll take those
flowers for you."
Locker had news for Flemming.
"That's a fine girl, Leonardo. She has sent us on a mission,
though I fail to see why she should want to be generous to that
"What do you mean?"
"She wants to hide the fact that he tried to shoot her. If that
valet has not been gossiping, and if we get in before the good
"That's generous of her, Locker. Come along, we'll get hold of
Roberts and persuade him to forget a few details. Bale shot
himself; that's enough for anybody."
They started for Acqua Dolce together, and found that the police
had not yet put in an appearance, and that the man Roberts was to
be persuaded to forget that Fenton Bale had attempted murder.
"I've been with him five years, gentlemen, and he was generous
to me—in his way. The drugs did it. God knows I've pitied his
wife and I've pitied him. Well, he was mad, clean mad. It's good of
her to want to cover it up."
Meanwhile, Lalia lay abed in a little room whose window
overlooked the sea, that blue sea upon whose edge little white
towns glistened. And between the blue of the sea and the blue of
the sky the soft purple of the distant Appennines hung like a
But Lalia lay in a kind of daze, with eyes half closed, and her
breathing hardly perceptible. The reaction had come upon her, and
she felt weary with the weariness of one whose heart has been heavy
for many a long month.
Her eyes looked at the flowers in the vase on a table beside
her. Grace Locker had put them there, and Lalia knew that Flemming
had brought them. She smiled, but there was a questioning
wistfulness in the smile, for this lethargy of her brought with it
a mood of doubt and of sensitive self-abasement. No doubt he pitied
her, but then, she would not let him sacrifice himself. And a
sudden fear of love itself seized her. She felt herself a child of
tragedy. Supposing she brought unhappiness into his life?
Grace Locker came in and found her lying there mute, and still,
"I wonder if you will see someone?"
There was a start of fear in Lalia's eyes.
"Who is it?"
"Why, the sender of those flowers."
She turned her face away.
"No—no, not yet. I'm—I'm thinking. I'm afraid of
myself. It may mean so much to me—and to him."
Three weeks later David Flemming arrived at the little town of
Felice, and, hiring a carriage outside the station, ordered the man
to drive to the Villa Merula.
But Mrs. Locker was not at the Villa Merula when Flemming pulled
the iron bell-handle. Yet a neat, black-eyed Italian maid seemed to
have expected him.
"The ladies have gone to the Capo, sir."
Flemming's Italian was fairly serviceable. He asked to be
directed to the Capo.
"Follow the road, sir, and take the first path on the left. It
will take you to the Capo. You cannot miss your way."
In the midst of a thicket of wild rosemary he met Grace Locker,
and her kind eyes lit up under the shade of her white parasol.
"I was coming back to the villa. I thought my letter would bring
She gave him her hand.
"What a friend you have been. How is she?"
"I left her there at the end of the Capo, under a big fir. Oh,
she is happier, I think. There were days when she thought that she
never ought to see you again—for your sake, not hers."
"I think I am a judge of that. May we come back to lunch?"
"Better still. I will make up a picnic basket for two, and send
it out to you."
"No, you must join us."
"Very well. But I shall not hurry back."
She smiled as she left him to go upon his way.
The path ran under the wall of a garden that was smothered with
passion flower, roses, and climbing geranium. The whole headland
smelt with rosemary, and thyme, and the resinous pines. And in a
short while Flemming came to a place where the path ended in a
little plateau of grass screened by rocks, and shaded by two or
three old pines.
Lalia was sitting there with her back against one of the trees,
her hands locked about her knees.
"So I have found you."
She started round, her hands dropping from her knees.
"And what a tyrant you have been to me. I had begun to wonder
whether I should have to rebel."
He threw himself down beside her on the grass, and for the
moment her eyes seemed afraid to meet his. She was breathing
deeply, her fine throat quivering with emotion.
"It was Grace who persuaded me. She said she knew you so well,
He reached out and took one of her hands.
"Grace is splendid, but I can speak for myself. I want to forget
everything but these pines, that bit of blue sea and sky, the foam
down yonder, and you."
She turned and looked at him with grave and appealing eyes.
"David, do you mean——"
"I want you to want me. Why, dear heart, you can give me back
life. I see colour, and joy, and sunlight again. You can teach me
to work. You don't know what a hell of loneliness I have been
"I know. But am I the mate for you? Some of your good English
think me half a savage."
"Oh, good God! let them think what they please. Am I asking for
a little colourless, bloodless girl with no ideas beyond what is
supposed to be nice and pretty? I want someone to share life with
me, someone who is just a little wild and adventurous, and
impulsive. What do most of the English know about you island
people, you who are natural aristocrats? Look at the blue sea, and
the mountains, and smell these pines, and tell me that we are not
born comrades. Lalia, I love you, love you, and nothing is going to
stop me loving you."
She looked at him with head thrown back, eyes half closed. And
suddenly her eyes seemed to open and to fill with tawny light.
"I can't help it, David. You will have to take me. I'm a wild
girl, in spite of Paris and Vienna."
"I want the surf child, the girl with the red flowers in her