Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 64 of 274

“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.

“Marceline seemed to be a good wife enough in those early months, and our friends received her without any quibbling or questioning. I was always nervous, though, about what some of the young fellows in Paris might write home to their relatives after the news of the marriage spread around. Despite the woman’s love of secrecy, it couldn’t remain hidden forever–indeed, Denis had written a few of his closest friends, in strict confidence, as soon as he was settled with her at Riverside.

“I got to staying alone in my room more and more, with my failing health as an excuse. It was about that time that my present spinal neuritis began to develop–which made the excuse a pretty good one. Denis didn’t seem to notice the trouble, or take any interest in me and my habits and affairs; and it hurt me to see how callous he was getting. I began to get sleepless, and often racked my brain in the night to try to find out what made my new daughter-in-law so repulsive and even dimly horrible to me. It surely wasn’t her old mystical nonsense, for she had left all the past behind her and never mentioned it once. She didn’t even do any painting, although I understood that she had once dabbled in art.

“Oddly, the only ones who seemed to share my uneasiness were the servants. The darkies around the house seemed very sullen in their attitude toward her, and in a few weeks all save the few who were strongly attached to our family had left. These few–old Scipio and his wife Sarah, the cook Delilah, and Mary, Scipio’s daughter–were as civil as possible; but plainly revealed that their new mistress commanded their duty rather than their affection. They stayed in their own remote part of the house as much as possible. McCabe, our white chauffeur, was insolently admiring rather than hostile; and another exception was a very old Zulu woman, said to have been a sort of leader in her small cabin as a kind of family pensioner. Old Sophonisba always shewed reverence whenever Marceline came near her, and one time I saw her kiss the ground where her mistress had walked. Blacks are superstitious animals, and I wondered whether Marceline had been talking any of her mystical nonsense to our hands in order to overcome their evident dislike.

“Well, that’s how we went on for nearly half a year. Then, in the summer of 1916, things began to happen. Toward the middle of June Denis got a note from his old friend Frank Marsh, telling of a sort of nervous breakdown which made him want to take a rest in the country. It was postmarked New Orleans–for Marsh had gone home from Paris when he felt the collapse coming on–and seemed a very plain though polite bid for an invitation from us. Marsh, of course, knew that Marceline was here; and asked very courteously after her. Denis was sorry to hear of his trouble and told him at once to come along for an indefinite visit.

“Marsh came–and I was shocked to notice how he had changed since I had seen him in his earlier days. He was a smallish, lightish fellow, with blue eyes and an undecided chin; and now I could see the effects of drink and I don’t know what else in his puffy eyelids, enlarged nose-pores, and heavy lines around the mouth. I reckon he had taken his dose of decadence pretty seriously, and set out to be as much of a Rimbaud, Baudelaire, or Lautreamont as he could. And yet he was delightful to talk to–for like all decadents he was exquisitely sensitive to the color and atmosphere and names of things; admirably, thoroughly alive, and with whole records of conscious experience in obscure, shadowy fields of living and feeling which most of us pass over without knowing they exist. Poor young devil–if only his father had lived longer and taken him in hand! There was great stuff in the boy!

“I was glad of the visit, for I felt it would help to set up a normal atmosphere in the house again. And that’s what it really seemed to do at first; for as I said, Marsh was a delight to have around. He was as sincere and profound an artist as I ever saw in my life, and I certainly believe that nothing on earth mattered to him except the perception and expression of beauty. When he saw an exquisite thing, or was creating one, his eyes would dilate until the light irises were nearly out of sight–leaving two mystical black pits in that weak, delicate, chalk-like face; black pits opening on strange worlds which none of us could guess about.

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