Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 69 of 274

“Marceline interrupted in a voice full of mixed emotions.

“‘It’s you who are cheaply sentimental now! You know well that the old things had better be let alone. All of you had better watch out if ever I chant the old rites or try to call up what lies hidden in Yuggoth, Zimbabwe, and R’lyeh. I thought you had more sense!

“‘You lack logic. You want me to be interested in this precious painting of yours, yet you never let me see what you’re doing. Always that black cloth over it! It’s of me–I shouldn’t think it would matter if I saw it.’

“Marsh was interrupting this time, his voice curiously hard and strained.

“‘No. Not now. You’ll see it in due course of time. You say it’s of you–yes, it’s that, but it’s more. If you knew, you mightn’t be so impatient. Poor Denis! My God, it’s a shame!’

“My throat was suddenly dry as the words rose to an almost febrile pitch. What could Marsh mean? Suddenly I saw that he had stopped and was entering the house alone. I heard the front door slam, and listened as his footsteps ascended the stairs. Outside on the veranda I could still hear Marceline’s heavy, angry breathing. I crept away sick at heart, feeling that there were grave things to ferret out before I could safely let Denis come back.

“After that evening the tension around the place was even worse than before. Marceline had always lived on flattery and fawning and the shock of those few blunt words from Marsh was too much for her temperament. There was no living in the house with her anymore, for with poor Denis gone she took out her abusiveness on everybody. When she could find no one indoors to quarrel with she would go out to Sophonisba’s cabin and spend hours talking with the queer old Zulu woman. Aunt Sophy was the only person who would fawn abjectly enough to suit her, and when I tried once to overhear their conversation I found Marceline whispering about ‘elder secrets’ and ‘unknown Kadath’ while the negress rocked to and fro in her chair, making inarticulate sounds of reverence and admiration every now and then.

“But nothing could break her dog-like infatuation for Marsh. She would talk bitterly and sullenly to him, yet was getting more and more obedient to his wishes. It was very convenient for him, since he now became able to make her pose for the picture whenever he felt like painting. He tried to shew gratitude for this willingness, but I thought I could detect a kind of contempt or even loathing beneath his careful politeness. For my part, I frankly hated Marceline! There was no use in calling my attitude anything as mild as dislike these days. Certainly, I was glad Denis was away. His letters, not nearly so frequent as I wished, shewed signs of strain and worry.

“As the middle of August went by I gathered from Marsh’s remarks that the portrait was nearly done. His mood seemed increasingly sardonic, though Marceline’s temper improved a bit as the prospect of seeing the thing tickled her vanity. I can still recall the day when Marsh said he’d have everything finished within a week. Marceline brightened up perceptibly, though not without a venomous look at me. It seemed as if her coiled hair visibly tightened around her head.

“‘I’m to be the first to see it!’ she snapped. Then, smiling at Marsh, she said, ‘And if I don’t like it I shall slash it to pieces!’

“Marsh’s face took on the most curious look I have ever seen it wear as he answered her.

“‘I can’t vouch for your taste, Marceline, but I swear it will be magnificent! Not that I want to take much credit–art creates itself–and this thing had to be done. Just wait!'”

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