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Chapter 1-1

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« on: September 18, 2023, 06:39:56 am »



Adrian Savage---a noticeably distinct, well-groomed, and well-set-up figure, showing dark in the harsh light of the winter afternoon against the pallor of the asphalt---walked rapidly across the Pont des Arts, and, about half-way along the Quai Malaquais, turned in under the archway of a cavernous porte-cochère. The bare, spindly planes and poplars, in the center of the courtyard to which this gave access, shivered visibly. Doubtless the lightly clad, lichen-stained nymph to whom they acted as body-guard would have shivered likewise had her stony substance permitted, for icicles fringed the lip of her tilted pitcher and caked the edge of the shell-shaped basin into which, under normal conditions, its waters dripped with a not unmusical tinkle. Yet the atmosphere of the courtyard struck the young man as almost mild compared with that of the quay outside, along which the northeasterly wind scourged bitingly. Upon the farther bank of the turgid gray-green river the buildings of the Louvre stood out pale and stark against a sullen backing of snow-cloud. For the past week Paris had cowered, sunless, in the grip of a black frost. If those leaden heavens would only elect to unload themselves of their burden the weather might take up! To Adrian Savage, in excellent health and prosperous circumstances, the cold in itself mattered nothing---would, indeed, rather have acted as a stimulus to his chronic appreciation of the joy of living but for the fact that he had to-day been suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to leave Paris and bid farewell to one of its inhabitants eminently and even perplexingly dear to him. Having, for all his young masculine optimism, the artist’s exaggerated sensibility to the aspects of outward things, and equally exaggerated capacity for conceiving---highly improbable---disaster, it troubled him to make his adieux under such forbidding meteorologic conditions. His regrets and alarms would, he felt, have been decidedly lessened had kindly sunshine set a golden frame about his parting impressions.

Nevertheless, as---raising his hat gallantly to the concierge, seated in her glass-fronted lodge, swathed mummy-like in shawls and mufflers---he turned shortly to the left along the backs of the tall grey houses, a high expectation, at once delightful and disturbing, took possession of him to the exclusion of all other sensations. For the past eighteen months---ever since, indeed, the distressingly sudden death of his old friend, the popular painter Horace St. Leger---he had made this selfsame little pilgrimage as frequently as respectful discretion permitted. And invariably, at the selfsame spot---it was where, as he noted amusedly, between the third and fourth of the heavily barred ground-floor windows a square leaden water-pipe, running the height of the house wall from the parapet of the steep slated roof, reached the grating in the pavement---this quickening of his whole being came upon him, however occupied his thoughts might previously have been with his literary work, or with the conduct of the bi-monthly review of which he was at once assistant editor and part proprietor. This quickening remained with him, moreover, as he entered a doorway set in the near corner of the courtyard and ran up the flights of waxed wooden stairs to the third story. In no country of the civilized world, it may be confidently asserted, do affairs of the heart, even when virtuous, command more indulgent sympathy than in France. It followed that Adrian entertained his own emotions with the same eager and friendly amenity which he would have extended to those of another man in like case. He was not in the least contemptuous or suspicious of them. He permitted cynicism no smallest word in the matter. On the contrary, he hailed the present ebullience of his affections as among those captivating surprises of earthly existence upon which one should warmly congratulate oneself, having liveliest cause for rejoicing.

To-day, as usual, there was a brief pause before the door of the vestibule opened. A space of delicious anxiety---carrying him back to the poignant hopes and despairs of childhood, when the fate of some anticipated treat hangs in the balance---while he inquired of the trim waiting-maid whether her mistress was or was not receiving. Followed by that other moment, childlike, too, in its deliciously troubled emotion and vision, when, passing from the corridor into the warm, vaguely fragrant atmosphere of the long, pale, rose-red and canvas-coloured drawing-room, he once again beheld the lady of his desires and of his heart.

From the foregoing it may be deduced, and rightly, that Adrian Savage was of a romantic temperament, and that he was very much in love. Let it be immediately added, however, that he was a young gentleman whose head, to employ a vulgarism, was most emphatically screwed on the right way. Only child of an eminent English physician of good family, long resident in Paris, and of a French mother---a woman of great personal charm and some distinction as a poetess---he had inherited, along with a comfortable little income of about eighteen hundred pounds a year, a certain sagacity and decision in dealing with men and with affairs, as well as quick sensibility in relation to beauty and to drama. Artist and practical man of the world went, for the most part, very happily hand and hand in him. At moments, however, they quarreled, to the production of complications.

The death of both his parents occurred during his tenth year, leaving him to the guardianship of a devoted French grandmother. Under the terms of Doctor Savage’s will one-third of his income was to be applied to the boy’s maintenance and education until his majority, the remaining two-thirds being set aside to accumulate until his twenty-third birthday. “At that age,” so the document in question stated, “I apprehend that my son will have discovered in what direction his talents and aptitudes lie. I do not wish to fetter his choice of a profession; still I do most earnestly request him not to squander the considerable sum of money into possession of which he will then come, but to spend it judiciously, in the service of those talents and aptitudes, with the purpose of securing for himself an honourable and distinguished career.” This idea that something definite, something notable even in the matter of achievement was demanded from him, clung to the boy through school and college, acting---since he was healthy, high-spirited, and confident---as a wholesome incentive to effort. Even before fulfilling his term of military service, Adrian had decided what his career should be. Letters called him with no uncertain voice. He would be a writer---dramatist, novelist, an artist in psychology, in touch at all points with the inexhaustible riches of the human scene. His father’s science, his mother’s poetic gift, should combine, so he believed, to produce in him a very special vocation. His ambitions at this period were colossal. The raw material of his selected art appeared to him nothing less than the fee-simple of creation. He planned literary undertakings beside which the numerically formidable volumes of Balzac or Zola shrivelled to positive next-to-nothingness. Fortunately fuller knowledge begot a juster sense of proportion, while his native shrewdness lent a hand to knocking extravagant conceptions on the head. By the time he came into possession of the comfortable sum of money that had accumulated during his minority and he was free to follow his bent, Adrian found himself contented with quite modest first steps in authorship. For a couple of years he travelled, resolved to broaden his acquaintance with men and things, to get some clear first-hand impressions both of the ancient, deep-rooted civilizations of the East and the amazing mushroom growths of America. On his return to Paris, it so happened that a leading bi-monthly review, which had shown hospitality to his maiden literary productions, stood badly in need of financial support. Adrian bought a preponderating interest in it; and by the time in question---namely, the winter of 190-- and the dawn of his thirtieth year---had contrived to make it not only a powerful factor in contemporary criticism and literary output, but a solid commercial success.

To be nine-and-twenty, the owner of a well-favoured person, of admitted talent and business capacity, and to be honestly in love, is surely to be as happily circumstanced as mortal man can reasonably ask to be. That the course of true love should not run quite smooth, that the beloved one should prove elusive, difficult of access, that obstacles should encumber the path of achievement, that mists of doubt and uncertainty should drift across the face of the situation, obscuring its issues, only served in Adrian’s case to heighten interest and whet appetite. The last thing he asked was that the affair should move on fashionable, conventional lines, a matter for newspaper paragraphs and social gossip. The justifying charm of it, to his thinking, resided in precisely those elements of uncertainty and difficulty. If, in the twentieth century, a man is to subscribe to the constraints of marriage at all, let it at least be in some sort marriage by capture! And, as he told himself, what man worth the name, let alone what artist, what poet---vowed by his calling to confession of the transcendental, the eternally mystic and sacred in this apparently most primitive, even savage, of human relations---would choose to capture his exquisite prey amid the blatant materialism, the vulgar noise and chaffer of the modern social highway; rather than pursue it through the shifting lights and shadows of mysterious woodland places, the dread of its final escape always upon him, till his feet were weary with running, and his hands with dividing the thick, leafy branches, his ears, all the while, tormented by the baffling, piercing sweetness of the half-heard Pipes of Pan?

Not infrequently Adrian would draw himself up short in the midst of such rhapsodizings, humorously conscious that the artistic side of his nature had got the bit, so to speak, very much between its teeth and was running away altogether too violently with its soberer, more practical, stable companion. For, as he frankly admitted, to the ordinary observer it must seem a rather ludicrously far cry from Madame St. Leger’s pleasant, well-found flat, in the center of cosmopolitan twentieth-century Paris, to the arcana of pagan myth and legend! Yet, speaking quite soberly and truthfully, it was of such ancient, secret, and symbolic things he instinctively thought when looking into Gabrielle St. Leger’s golden-brown eyes and noting the ironic loveliness of her smiling lips. That was just the delight, just the provocation, just what differentiated her from all other women of his acquaintance, from any other woman who, so far, had touched his heart or stirred his senses. Her recondite beauty---to quote the phrase of this analytical lover---challenged his imagination with the excitement of something hidden; though whether hidden by intentional and delicate malice, or merely by lack of opportunity for self-declaration, he was at a loss to determine. Daughter, wife, mother, widow---young though she still was, she had sounded the gamut of woman’s most vital experiences. Yet, it seemed to him, although she had fulfilled, and was fulfilling, the obligations incident to each of these several conditions in so gracious and irreproachable a manner, her soul had never been effectively snared in the meshes of any net. Good Catholic, good housewife, sympathetic hostess, intelligent and discriminating critic, still---he might be a fool for his pains, but what artist doesn’t know better than to under-rate the fine uses of folly?---he believed her to be, either by fate or by choice, essentially a Belle au Bois Dormant; and further believed himself, thanks to the workings of constitutional masculine vanity, to be the princely adventurer designed by providence for the far from disagreeable duty of waking her up. Only just now providence, to put it roughly, appeared to have quite other fish for him to fry. And it was under compulsion of such prospective fish-frying that he sought her apartment overlooking the Quai Malaquais, this afternoon, reluctantly to bid her farewell.

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