" It is Beauvais' masterpiece," said Gaby; " they all say it is the finest thing he has done".
" It is a masterpiece, yes. But I was not thinking of the sculptor and his art any more—I was thinking of the face, without remembering how it had come about. It was as if a beautiful mind were really pondering behind that brow. The character of the mouth and chin impressed me as if the marble had been flesh and blood; the abstracted eyes couldn't have stirred me to more reverence if they had had sight. And while I looked at them, they seemed, by an optical illusion, to meet my own. Not with interest; with an unconsciousness that mortified me—they seemed to gaze through my insignificance into the greatness of Richardiere. I blinked, I suppose, for the next instant they had been averted. I wanted them to come back, to realise my presence. I concentrated all my will upon the effort to trick myself once more—and I could have sworn they turned. Now, too, they seemed to notice me; there was a smile in them, an ironical smile—they smiled at the presumption of my linking an immortal poet's work with mine ! Insane ? But I felt it, I shrank from the derision. Again I raised my head to Richardiere, and for the first time I remarked that his expression was a poor acknowledgment of the figure's homage. It was consequential and impertinent. A tinge of cruelty in it, even. He had an air of sensualism, of one who held women very light. I could imagine his having said horrible things to women. He was not worthy of the look in the statue's eyes. . . .
" I went there the next day, after vowing that I would not go. The eyes discerned me sooner this time, and I contrived to fancy that their gaze was gentler. I was happy in the fancy that their gaze was gentler. When the eyes wandered from me I was humbled, and when they looked in mine I held my breath. I persuaded myself—no, I did not ' persuade myself,' the thought was born— that there was comprehension in the gaze, that my worship, though undesired, was understood. In the afternoon I had a business appointment that I had been thinking about for weeks, but instead of being excited by its nearness, I regretted that it obliged me to leave the Square d'lena. When I kept the appointment, the bad news that there had been a delay in the arrangements hardly troubled me—I was impatient only to be outside. Originally my plan had been to see the Louvre as soon as the business was over—now my one desire was to return to the statue. It was a delight to hasten to it; people must have thought me bound for a rendezvous, as I strode smiling through the streets. Not once did I regard the arrogance of Richardiere on the pedestal, but it was only in moments that the musing figure ceased to remind me that her god was there. Though I never looked at it, an intense repugnance to the face of Richardiere was in my blood—a jealousy, if you will! It possessed me while I was away—while I was reiterating that I had made my last visit to the square, knowing nevertheless that on the morrow I should yield again. The jealousy persisted when I turned the pages of my opera now, and the magic of the master's poetry was gone. I could not forget his domination of the figure—I wanted to think of the beautiful statue freed, aloof from him ! "
He had left the window, and was moving restlessly about the room. Intent, her face propped by her hands, the model for the statue sat and watched him. The cigarette between her lips was out.
" The fact that there must have been a model for it was borne upon me quite suddenly. It had the thrill of a revelation, and nearly dazed me. This woman lived ! Somewhere in the world she was walking, speaking ! It was as if a miracle had happened, as if the statue had come to life. I repeated breathlessly that it was true, but it appeared fabulous. I had attributed emotions to the marble figure with ease—to grasp the simple truth of the woman's existence was inconceivably difficult. I trembled with the marvel of it; Pygmalion was not more stupefied than I. When my heart left off pounding so hard, I began to question how long it would take me to discover who she was. I did not even know the way to set about it. But I knew that if she was in France I meant to find her. ... I need not talk about the rest".
After a silence Gaby stirred and spoke :
" It was a triumph to pose for the statue—your story makes me very proud".
" I could not avoid telling it to you," answered the young man drearily.
"But how you say it—as if you had done wrong ! Shall I tell you what would have been wrong? Not to let me know. That would have been pathetic. Mon Dieu ! it would be atrocious for a woman to have done all that and never to hear. And to think that at the beginning I fancied you were- You were so quiet while we dined".
" I was listening to you," he sighed.
" That's true. You were entitled to it by then— you had done much to get the chance ! "
" Yes, I had done much to get the chance".
" It was beautiful of you. I mean it. Because you have spoken earnestly, from your heart, and I could see—I could see very well that what you were saying was true, that you were not exaggerating to please me. Oh, I am moved, believe me, I am really moved ! " She put out her hand to him impulsively, and he took it, as in duty bound. But he did not raise it to his lips. Her body stiffened a little as the hand drooped slowly to her lap. A shade of apprehension aged her face. Again there was silence.
" Well? " she murmured.
" Well? "
" Enfin, when you sought the chance, when you wrote to me at last, you foresaw—what? "
" Infinitely less than you have granted, mademoiselle," he returned, with an obvious effort. " A briefer meeting, a more formal one. I thank you most gratefully for your patience, your kindness, the honour you have done me".
She gave a harsh laugh. " And now you ' regret that you must say good night' ? "
"It is a fact that I have to see my man again this evening," he acknowledged hurriedly, glancing at his watch. " I had forgotten the time".
" Yes," said the woman, " you had forgotten the time—you had forgotten that the statue was modelled eleven years ago. ... So you did not find her, after all! You began your search too late".
" It is not that! " he cried, distressed.
" Ah ! " She had sprung to her feet, and stood panting. " Why lie to me ? I am sorry for you, in a way—you haven't been a brute consciously".
"A brute? "
" What do you imagine you have been ? A fool, you think, to yourself: I have changed, and you should have known I must have changed; it would have spared you the bother of seeking me, the disillusion when we met—there are no wrinkles creeping on the statue. Oh, it has been a fraud for you, I realise the sell! But you are not the only sufferer by your folly. A man can't talk to a woman as you have talked to me and leave her cold. He can't say, ' I felt all this for you before I saw you—now, good-bye,' and leave her proud; he can't adore her in the marble and disdain her in the flesh without her being ashamed. You have degraded me, jeered at me—you have taunted me with every blemish on my skin ! "
" It isn't that! " he cried again. " I was a fool, I own it—a brute, if you choose to call me one— but it isn't that".
" What then? Is it my frock that alters me? I am poor, I can't afford such gowns as Beauvais put on me for the statue. Is it the way my hair is dressed? I can dress it like the statue again. The brow ? You liked the brow. Well, look ! time hasn't been so rough on me there—the brow is young. And you need not be jealous of my thoughts of Richardiere, for I have never read a single word he wrote. What is there lacking in me? Tell me what you miss".
" I can't tell you," he groaned. But he had started.
" You have told me," she said, shrinking. " I know now. My face is ignorant—the statue has more mind than I! "
He no longer said, " It isn't that." He drooped before her, dumb, contrite.
After a long pause she quavered, dabbing at her eyes :
" Well, I'm not an idiot—I should improve." " Is it an imbecile like me who could teach you ? " " I should be content".
" Never in a single hour ! I fell in love with an ideal and went to look for it—failure was ordained. It is I who lack sense, not you".
A ghost of a smile twitched her lips. " It was all the fault of that Beauvais; he stuck an expression on me, with the clothes. I did look like that in his studio, though the chilblain was itching. But even if I made myself look like it now, it wouldn't take you in, would it? Don't look so frightened of me, I shan't go on at you again. Poor boy, you have had a deuce of an evening ! . . . Well, I suppose you are right, failure was ordained— and it is wise to cut one's failures short. You may go. And don't natter yourself that you have hurt me so much as I said—my vanity was stung for a minute, that's all; to-morrow I shall have forgotten all about you. . . . You can find your way downstairs? "
He hesitated—and took an irresolute step towards her, with half-opened arms.
" Good night," she said, not moving. " Goodbye".
On the tenth day, instead of the young man, a woman went to the statue, and stood before it just as stupidly and as long as he had done. The most comical bit was that, when she turned away at last, it was seen that the statue had been making the woman cry. After that, neither of the funny pair came back to the Square d'lena; but as Vera Simpson chooses the same bench still, she sometimes recalls their queerness and, before her mind wanders, tries again to guess their game. This was the game that an English nursemaid tries to guess.