Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 66 of 274

“We often sat together on the veranda watching Marsh and Marceline as they rode up or down the drive on horseback, or played tennis on the court that used to stretch south of the house. They talked mostly in French, which Marsh, though he hadn’t more than a quarter-portion of French blood, handled more glibly than either Denis or I could speak it. Marceline’s English, always academically correct, was rapidly improving in accent; but it was plain that she relished dropping back into her mother-tongue. As we looked at the congenial couple they made, I could see the boy’s cheek and throat muscles tighten–though he wasn’t a whit less ideal a host to Marsh, or a whit less considerate husband to Marceline.

“All this was generally in the afternoon; for Marceline rose very late, had breakfast in bed, and took an immense amount of time preparing to come downstairs. I never knew of anyone so wrapped up in cosmetics, beauty exercises, hair-oils, unguents, and everything of that kind. It was in these morning hours that Denis and Marsh did their real visiting, and exchanged the close confidences which kept their friendship up despite the strain that jealousy imposed.

“Well, it was in one of those morning talks on the veranda that Marsh made the proposition which brought on the end. I was laid up with some of my neuritis, but had managed to get downstairs and stretch out on the front parlour sofa near the long window. Denis and Marsh were just outside; so I couldn’t help hearing all they said. They had been talking about art, and the curious, capricious elements needed to jolt an artist into producing the real article, when Marsh suddenly swerved from abstractions to the personal application he must have had in mind from the start.

“‘I suppose,’ he was saying, ‘that nobody can tell just what it is in some scenes or objects that makes them aesthetic stimuli for certain individuals. Basically, of course, it must have some reference to each man’s background of stored-up mental associations, for no two people have the same scale of sensitiveness and responses. We decadents are artists for whom all ordinary things have ceased to have any emotional or imaginative significance, but no one of us responds in the same way to exactly the same extraordinary. Now take me, for instance.'”

“He paused and resumed.

“‘I know, Denny, that I can say these things to you because you such a preternaturally unspoiled mind–clean, fine, direct, objective, and all that. You won’t misunderstand as an oversubtilised, effete man of the world might.'”

“He paused once more.

“‘The fact is, I think I know what’s needed to set my imagination working again. I’ve had a dim idea of it ever since we were in Paris, but I’m sure now. It’s Marceline, old chap–that face and that hair, and the train of shadowy images they bring up. Not merely visible beauty–though God knows there’s enough of that–but something peculiar and individualised, that can’t exactly be explained. Do you know, in the last few days I’ve felt the existence of such a stimulus so keenly that I honestly think I could outdo myself–break into the real masterpiece class if I could get ahold of paint and canvas at just the time when her face and hair set my fancy stirring and weaving. There’s something weird and other-worldly about it–something joined up with the dim ancient thing Marceline represents. I don’t know how much she’s told you about that side of her, but I can assure you there’s plenty of it. She has some marvellous links with the outside.’

“Some change in Denis’ expression must have halted the speaker here, for there was a considerable spell of silence before the words went on. I was utterly taken aback, for I’d expected no such overt development like this; and I wondered what my son could be thinking. My heart began to pound violently, and I strained my ears in the frankest of intentional eavesdropping. Then Marsh resumed.

“‘Of course you’re jealous–I know how a speech like mine must sound–but I can swear to you that you needn’t be.’

“Denis did not answer, and Marsh went on.

“‘To tell the truth, I could never be in love with Marceline–I couldn’t even be a cordial friend of hers in the warmest sense. Why, damn it all, I felt like a hypocrite talking with her these days as I’ve been doing.

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