Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 67 of 274

“‘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.

“‘The case simply is, that one of her phase of her half hyponotises me in a certain way–a very strange, fantastic, and dimly terrible way–just as another phase half hypnotises you in a much more normal way. I see something in her–or to be psychologically exact, something through her or beyond her–that you didn’t see at all. Something that brings up a vast pageantry of shapes from forgotten abysses, and makes me want to paint incredible things whose outlines vanish the instant I try to envisage them clearly. Don’t mistake, Denny, your wife is a magnificent being, a splendid focus of cosmic forces who has a right to be called divine if anything on earth has!’

“I felt a clearing of the situation at this point, for the abstract strangeness of Marsh’s statement, plus the flattery he was now heaping on Marceline, could not fail to disarm and mollify one as fondly proud of his consort as Denis always was. Marsh evidently caught the change himself, for there was more confidence in his tone as he continued.

“‘I must paint her, Denny–must paint that hair–and you won’t regret. There’s something more than mortal about that hair–something more than beautiful–‘

“He paused, and I wondered what Denis could be thinking. I wondered, indeed, what I was really thinking myself. Was Marsh’s interest actually that of the artist alone, or was he merely infatuated as Denis had been? I had thought, in their schooldays, that he had envied my boy; and I dimly felt that it might be the same now. On the other hand, something in that talk of artistic stimulus had rung amazingly true; so that the more I pondered, the more I was inclined to take the stuff at face value. Denis seemed to do so, too, for although I could not catch his low-spoken reply, I could tell by the effect it produced that it must have been affirmative.

“There was a sound of someone slapping another on the back, and then a grateful speech from Marsh that I was long to remember.

“‘That’s great, Denny, and just as I told you, you’ll never regret it. In a sense, I’m half doing it for you. You’ll be a different man when you see it. I’ll put you back where you used to be–give you a waking-up and a sort of salvation–but you can’t see what I mean as yet. Just remember old friendship, and don’t get the idea that I’m not the same old bird!’

“I rose perplexedly as I saw the two stroll off across the lawn, arm in arm, and smoking in unison. What could Marsh have meant by his strange and almost ominous reassurance? The more my fears were quieted in one direction, the more they were aroused in another. Look at it any way I could, it seemed to be a rather bad business.

“But matters got started just the same. Denis fixed up an attic room with skylights, and Marsh sent for all sorts of painting equipment. Everyone was rather excited about the new venture, and I was at least glad that something was on foot to break the brooding tension. Soon the sittings began, and we all took them quite seriously–for we could see that Marsh regarded them as important artistic events. Denny and I used to go quietly about the house as though something sacred were occurring, and we knew that it was sacred as far as Marsh was concerned.

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