"Well, that's how we went on for nearly half a year. Then, in the summer o_916, things began to happen. Toward the middle of June Denis got a note fro_is old friend Frank Marsh, telling of a sort of nervous breakdown which mad_im want to take a rest in the country. It was postmarked New Orleans - fo_arsh had gone home from Paris when he felt the collapse coming on - an_eemed a very plain though polite bid for an invitation from us. Marsh, o_ourse, 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 fo_n indefinite visit.
"Marsh came - and I was shocked to notice how he had changed since I had see_im in his earlier days. He was a smallish, lightish fellow, with blue eye_nd an undecided chin; and now I could see the effects of drink and I don'_now what else in his puffy eyelids, enlarged nose-pores, and heavy line_round the mouth. I reckon he had taken his dose of decadence prett_eriously, and set out to be as much of a Rimbaud, Baudelaire, or Lautreamon_s he could. And yet he was delightful to talk to - for like all decadents h_as exquisitely sensitive to the color and atmosphere and names of things; admirably, thoroughly alive, and with whole records of conscious experience i_bscure, shadowy fields of living and feeling which most of us pass ove_ithout knowing they exist. Poor young devil - if only his father had live_onger 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 norma_tmosphere in the house again. And that's what it really seemed to do a_irst; for as I said, Marsh was a delight to have around. He was as sincer_nd profound an artist as I ever saw in my life, and I certainly believe tha_othing on earth mattered to him except the perception and expression o_eauty. When he saw an exquisite thing, or was creating one, his eyes woul_ilate until the light irises were nearly out of sight - leaving two mystica_lack pits in that weak, delicate, chalk-like face; black pits opening o_trange worlds which none of us could guess about.
"When he reached here, though, he didn't have many chances to shew thi_endency; for he had, as he told Denis, gone quite stale. It seems he had bee_ery successful as an artist of a bizarre kind \- like Fuseli or Goya or Sim_r Clark Ashton Smith - but had suddenly become played out. The world o_rdinary things around him had ceased to hold anything he could recognize a_eauty - beauty, that is, of enough force and poignancy to arouse his creativ_aculty. He had often been this way before - all decadents are - but this tim_e could not invent any new, strange, or outré sensation or experience whic_ould supply the needed illusion of fresh beauty or stimulatingly adventurou_xpectancy. He was like a Durtal or a des Esseintes at the most jaded point o_is curious orbit.
"Marceline was away when Marsh arrived. She hadn't been enthusiastic about hi_oming, and had refused to decline an invitation from some of our friends i_t. Louis which came about that time for her and Denis. Denis, of course, stayed to receive his guest; but Marceline had gone on alone. It was the firs_ime they had ever been separated, and I hoped the interval would help t_ispel the daze that was making such a fool of the boy. Marceline shewed n_urry to get back, but seemed to me to prolong her absence as much as sh_ould. Denis stood it better than one would have expected from such a dotin_usband, and seemed more like his old self as he talked over other days wit_arsh and tried to cheer the listless aesthete up.
"It was Marsh who seemed most impatient to see the woman; perhaps because h_hought her strange beauty, or some phase of the mysticism which had gone int_er one-time magical cult, might help to reawaken his interest in things an_ive him another start toward artistic creation. That there was no base_eason, I was absolutely certain from what I knew of Marsh's character. Wit_ll his weaknesses, he was a gentleman - and it had indeed relieved me when _irst learned that he wanted to come here because his willingness to accep_enis' hospitality proved that there was no reason why he shouldn't.
"When, at last, Marceline did return, I could see that Marsh was tremendousl_ffected. He did not attempt to make her talk of the bizarre thing which sh_ad so definitely abandoned, but was unable to hide a powerful admiratio_hich kept his eyes - now dilated in that curious way for the first tim_uring his visit - riveted to her every moment she was in the room. She, however, seemed uneasy rather than pleased by his steady scrutiny - that is, she seemed so at first, though this feeling of hers wore away in a few days, and left the two on a basis of the most cordial and voluble congeniality. _ould see Marsh studying her constantly when he thought no one was watching; and I wondered how long it would be that only the artist, and not th_rimitive man, would be aroused by her mysterious graces.
"Denis naturally felt some irritation at this turn of affairs; though h_ealised that his guest was a man of honour and that, as kindred mystics an_esthetes, Marceline and Marsh would naturally have things and interests t_iscuss in which a more or less conventional person could have no part. H_idn't hold anything against anybody, but merely regretted that his ow_magination was too limited and traditional to let him talk with Marceline a_arsh talked. At this stage of things I began to see more of the boy. With hi_ife otherwise busy, he had time to remember that he had a father - and _ather who was ready to help him in any sort of perplexity or difficulty.
"We often sat together on the veranda watching Marsh and Marceline as the_ode up or down the drive on horseback, or played tennis on the court tha_sed 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 mor_libly than either Denis or I could speak it. Marceline's English, alway_cademically correct, was rapidly improving in accent; but it was plain tha_he relished dropping back into her mother-tongue. As we looked at th_ongenial couple they made, I could see the boy's cheek and throat muscle_ighten - though he wasn't a whit less ideal a host to Marsh, or a whit les_onsiderate husband to Marceline.
"All this was generally in the afternoon; for Marceline rose very late, ha_reakfast in bed, and took an immense amount of time preparing to com_ownstairs. I never knew of anyone so wrapped up in cosmetics, beaut_xercises, hair-oils, unguents, and everything of that kind. It was in thes_orning hours that Denis and Marsh did their real visiting, and exchanged th_lose confidences which kept their friendship up despite the strain tha_ealousy imposed.
"Well, it was in one of those morning talks on the veranda that Marsh made th_roposition 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 sof_ear the long window. Denis and Marsh were just outside; so I couldn't hel_earing 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 h_ust have had in mind from the start.
"'I suppose,' he was saying, 'that nobody can tell just what it is in som_cenes or objects that makes them aesthetic stimuli for certain individuals.
Basically, of course, it must have some reference to each man's background o_tored-up mental associations, for no two people have the same scale o_ensitiveness and responses. We decadents are artists for whom all ordinar_hings have ceased to have any emotional or imaginative significance, but n_ne of us responds in the same way to exactly the same extraordinary. Now tak_e, for instance…'"
"He paused and resumed.
"'I know, Denny, that I can say these things to you because you such _reternaturally 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 workin_gain. I've had a dim idea of it ever since we were in Paris, but I'm sur_ow. It's Marceline, old chap - that face and that hair, and the train o_hadowy images they bring up. Not merely visible beauty - though God know_here's enough of that \- but something peculiar and individualised, tha_an't exactly be explained. Do you know, in the last few days I've felt th_xistence of such a stimulus so keenly that I honestly think I could outd_yself - break into the real masterpiece class if I could get ahold of pain_nd canvas at just the time when her face and hair set my fancy stirring an_eaving. There's something weird and other-worldly about it - something joine_p with the dim ancient thing Marceline represents. I don't know how muc_he's told you about that side of her, but I can assure you there's plenty o_t. She has some marvellous links with the outside…'
"Some change in Denis' expression must have halted the speaker here, for ther_as a considerable spell of silence before the words went on. I was utterl_aken aback, for I'd expected no such overt development like this; and _ondered what my son could be thinking. My heart began to pound violently, an_ strained my ears in the frankest of intentional eavesdropping. Then Mars_esumed.
"'Of course you're jealous - I know how a speech like mine must sound - but _an 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'_ven be a cordial friend of hers in the warmest sense. Why, damn it all, _elt 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 _ertain way - a very strange, fantastic, and dimly terrible way - just a_nother phase half hypnotises you in a much more normal way. I see somethin_n 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 o_hapes from forgotten abysses, and makes me want to paint incredible thing_hose outlines vanish the instant I try to envisage them clearly. Don'_istake, Denny, your wife is a magnificent being, a splendid focus of cosmi_orces 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 abstrac_trangeness of Marsh's statement, plus the flattery he was now heaping o_arceline, could not fail to disarm and mollify one as fondly proud of hi_onsort as Denis always was. Marsh evidently caught the change himself, fo_here 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 tha_eautiful - '
"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 th_rtist alone, or was he merely infatuated as Denis had been? I had thought, i_heir schooldays, that he had envied my boy; and I dimly felt that it might b_he same now. On the other hand, something in that talk of artistic stimulu_ad rung amazingly true; so that the more I pondered, the more I was incline_o take the stuff at face value. Denis seemed to do so, too, for although _ould not catch his low-spoken reply, I could tell by the effect it produce_hat it must have been affirmative.
"There was a sound of someone slapping another on the back, and then _rateful 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 _ense, 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 o_alvation - but you can't see what I mean as yet. Just remember ol_riendship, 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 almos_minous reassurance? The more my fears were quieted in one direction, the mor_hey were aroused in another. Look at it any way I could, it seemed to be _ather bad business.
"But matters got started just the same. Denis fixed up an attic room wit_kylights, and Marsh sent for all sorts of painting equipment. Everyone wa_ather excited about the new venture, and I was at least glad that somethin_as on foot to break the brooding tension. Soon the sittings began, and we al_ook them quite seriously - for we could see that Marsh regarded them a_mportant artistic events. Denny and I used to go quietly about the house a_hough something sacred were occurring, and we knew that it was sacred as fa_s marsh was concerned.
"With Marceline, though, it was a different matter, as I began to see at once.
Whatever Marsh's reactions to the sittings may have been, hers were painfull_bvious. Every possible way she betrayed a frank and commonplace infatuatio_or the artist, and would repulse Denis' marks of affection whenever sh_ared. Oddly, I noticed this more vividly than Denis himself, and tried t_evise some plan for keeping the boy's mind easy until the matter could b_traightened out. There was no use in having him excited about it if it coul_e helped.
"In the end I decided that Denis had better be away while the disagreeabl_ituation existed. I could represent his interests well enough at this end, and sooner or later Marsh would finish the picture and go. My view of Marsh'_onour was such that I did not look for any worse developments. When th_atter had blown over, and Marceline had forgotten about her new infatuation, it would be time enough to have Denis on hand again.
"So I wrote a long letter to my marketing and financial agent in New York, an_ooked up a plan to have the boy summoned there for an indefinite time. I ha_he agent write him that our affairs absolutely required one of us to go East, and of course my illness made it clear that I could not be the one. It wa_rranged that when Denis got to New York he would find enough plausibl_atters to keep him busy as long as I thought he ought to be away.
"The plan worked perfectly, and Denis started for New York without the leas_uspicion; Marceline and Marsh going with him in the car to Cape Girardeau, where he caught the afternoon train to St. Louis. They returned after dark, and as McCabe drove the car back to the stables I could hear them talking o_he veranda - in those same chairs near the long parlour window where Mars_nd Denis had sat when I overheard them talk about the portrait. This time _esolved to do some intentional eavesdropping, so quietly went down to th_ront parlour and stretched out on the sofa near the window.
"At first I could not hear anything but very shortly there came the sound of _hair being shifted, followed by a short, sharp breath and a sort o_narticulately hurt exclamation from Marceline. Then I heard Marsh speaking i_ strained, almost formal voice.
"'I'd enjoy working tonight if you aren't too tired.'
"Marceline's reply was in the same hurt tone which had marked her exclamation.
She used English as he had done.
"'Oh, Frank, is that really all you care about? Forever working! Can't we jus_it out here in this glorious moonlight?'
"He answered impatiently, his voice shewing a certain contempt beneath th_ominant quality of artistic enthusiasm.
"'Moonlight! Good God, what cheap sentimentality! For a supposedl_ophisticated person you surely do hang on to some of the crudest claptra_hat ever escaped from the dime novels! With art at your elbow, you have t_hink of the moon - cheap as a spotlight at the varieties! Or perhaps it make_ou think of the Roodmas dance around the stone pillars at Auteiul. Hell, ho_ou used to make those goggle-eyed yaps stare! But not - I suppose you'v_ropped all that now. No more Atlantean magic or hair-snake rites for Madam_e Russy! I'm the only one to remember the old things - the things that cam_own through the temples of Tanit and echoed on the ramparts of Zimbabwe. Bu_ won't be cheated of that remembrance - all that is weaving itself into th_hing on my canvas - the thing that is going to capture wonder and crystallis_he secrets of 75,000 years…'
"Marceline interrupted in a voice full of mixed emotions.
"'It's you who are cheaply sentimental now! You know well that the old thing_ad better be let alone. All of you had better watch out if ever I chant th_ld 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 o_ours, yet you never let me see what you're doing. Always that black clot_ver 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. Poo_enis! 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 th_ouse alone. I heard the front door slam, and listened as his footstep_scended the stairs. Outside on the veranda I could still hear Marceline'_eavy, angry breathing. I crept away sick at heart, feeling that there wer_rave 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 fe_lunt words from Marsh was too much for her temperament. There was no livin_n the house with her anymore, for with poor Denis gone she took out he_busiveness on everybody. When she could find no one indoors to quarrel wit_he would go out to Sophonisba's cabin and spend hours talking with the quee_ld Zulu woman. Aunt Sophy was the only person who would fawn abjectly enoug_o suit her, and when I tried once to overhear their conversation I foun_arceline whispering about 'elder secrets' and 'unknown Kadath' while th_egress rocked to and fro in her chair, making inarticulate sounds o_everence and admiration every now and then.
"But nothing could break her dog-like infatuation for Marsh. She would tal_itterly and sullenly to him, yet was getting more and more obedient to hi_ishes. It was very convenient for him, since he now became able to make he_ose for the picture whenever he felt like painting. He tried to she_ratitude for this willingness, but I thought I could detect a kind o_ontempt or even loathing beneath his careful politeness. For my part, _rankly hated Marceline! There was no use in calling my attitude anything a_ild 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 th_ortrait was nearly done. His mood seemed increasingly sardonic, thoug_arceline's temper improved a bit as the prospect of seeing the thing tickle_er vanity. I can still recall the day when Marsh said he'd have everythin_inished within a week. Marceline brightened up perceptibly, though no_ithout a venomous look at me. It seemed as if her coiled hair visibl_ightened around her head.
"'I'm to be the first to see it!' she snapped. Then, smiling at Marsh, sh_aid, '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 h_nswered 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 ha_o be done. Just wait!' "During the next few days I felt a queer sense o_oreboding, as if the completion of the picture meant a kind of catastroph_nstead of a relief. Denis, too, had not written me, and my agent in New Yor_aid he was planning some trip to the country. I wondered what the outcome o_he whole thing would be. What a queer mixture of elements - Marsh an_arceline, Denis and I! How would all these ultimately react on one another?
When my fears grew too great I tried to lay them all to my infirmity, but tha_xplanation never quite satisfied me."