Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 63 of 274

“Well, sir, I took it the best way I could. I knew that sophisticated Continentals have different standards from our old American ones–and anyway, I really knew nothing against the woman. A charlatan, perhaps, but why necessarily any worse? I suppose I tried to keep as naïve as possible about such things in those days, for the boy’s sake. Clearly, there was nothing for a man of sense to do but let Denis alone so long as his new wife conformed to de Russy ways. Let her have a chance to prove herself–perhaps she wouldn’t hurt the family as much as some might fear. So I didn’t raise any objections or ask any penitence. The thing was done, and I stood ready to welcome the boy back, whatever he brought with him.

“They got here three weeks after the telegram telling of marriage. Marceline was beautiful–there was no denying that–and I could see how the boy might very well get foolish about her. She did have an air of breeding, and I think to this day she must have had some strains of good blood in her. She was apparently not much over twenty; of medium size, fairly slim, and as graceful as a tigress in posture and motion. Her complexion was a deep olive–like old ivory–and her eyes were large and very dark. She had small, classically regular features–though not quite clean-cut enough to suit my taste–and the most singular braid of jet black hair that I ever saw.

“I didn’t wonder that she had dragged the subject of hair into her magical cult, for with that heavy profusion of it the idea must have occurred to her naturally. Coiled up, it made her look like some Oriental princess in a drawing of Aubrey Beardsley’s. Hanging down her back, it came well below her knees and shone in the light as if it had possessed some separate, unholy vitality of its own. I would almost have thought of Medusa or Berenice myself–without having such things suggested to me–upon seeing and studying that hair.

“Sometimes I thought it moved slightly of itself, and tended to arrange itself in distinct ropes or strands, but this may have been sheer illusion. She braided it incessantly, and seemed to use some sort of preparation on it. I got the notion once–a curious, whimsical notion–that it was a living being which she had to feed in some strange way. All nonsense–but it added to my feeling of constraint about her and her hair.

“For I can’t deny that I failed to like her wholly, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t tell what the trouble was, but it was there. Something about her repelled me very subtly, and I could not help weaving morbid and macabre associations about everything connected with her. Her complexion called up thoughts of Babylon, Atlantis, Lemuria, and the terrible forgotten dominations of an elder world; her eyes struck me sometimes as the eyes of some unholy forest creature or animal goddess too immeasurably ancient to be fully human; and her hair–that dense, exotic, overnourished growth of oily inkiness–made one shiver as a great black python might have done. There was no doubt but that she realised my involuntary attitude–though I tried to hide it, and she tried to hide the fact that she noticed it.

“Yet the boy’s infatuation lasted. He positively fawned on her, and overdid all the little gallantries of daily life to a sickening degree. She appeared to return the feeling, though I could see it took a conscious effort to make her duplicate his enthusiasms and extravagances. For one thing, I think she was piqued to learn we weren’t as wealthy as she had expected.

“It was a bad business all told. I could see that sad undercurrents were arising. Denis was half-hypnotised with puppy-love, and began to grow away from me as he felt my shrinking from his wife. This kind of thing went on for months, and I saw that I was losing my only son–the boy who had formed the centre of all my thoughts and acts for the past quarter century. I’ll own that I felt bitter about it–what father wouldn’t? And yet I could do nothing.

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