The Mystery of Evelin Delorme: A Hypnotic Story
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"And they are real, live women, then?"
"Yes. I was in hopes you might recognize one or both of them."
The other shook his head, and gazed from one to the other in silence.
"Do you see any – any resemblance between them?" asked the artist, after a pause.
"Resemblance! Good Lord, no! Why? Are they related in any way?"
"Not that I am aware of; in fact, I am quite sure they are not. She told me she had no relatives."
"Um – and which do you refer to as she?"
"Oh, the upper one, of course."
"Well, I don't see any 'of course' about it. She was here to-day for the first time. I don't see why she should begin by exchanging family confidences. All things considered, I should have thought it more than likely you referred to the other. However, I suppose you are familiar with her family history, too."
"Don't be sarcastic, Harry. I know nothing of either of them; at least not in that way. The one who came first gave her name as Evelin March. She came in suddenly, one morning last week, and asked for a sitting. She had on a light wrap, which she laid off and stood before me as you see her. During the sitting she was inclined to be lively and talkative. Her voice is just a trifle harsh, but she is a remarkably brilliant talker and a very fascinating woman. I had not met the other, then, and foolishly allowed myself to say some rather silly things to her. When she came again I did more. You know what a rash fool I am, Harry. Well, I made love to her, off-hand. She stirred me up terribly for some reason. Of course, there was nothing of real love in what I felt for her; it was a brief madness of the head. You know about what I would say under the circumstances."
"Oh, perfectly. You swore that her eyes were as are lights in a midnight desert; that her tints would rival the roseate pearl of a June sunset; that her smiles would be your only diet henceforth and forever; that her frown would be as terrible as the day of judgment. And now what has the other one to do with it?"
"Lawton, you will think I am crazy, and I am, perhaps – but I love her; and more than that, I believe she loves me. No word of it has passed between us, but – we understand."
"Oh, we do, eh? We – we understand," imitated Lawton. "Well, this is exceedingly interesting, I must say, although quite the thing to be expected from one of your temperament. How very fortunate you are in the choice of subjects, too."
"What do you mean, Harry?"
"Well, I should judge you might divide up your affections on those two without any serious confliction of sentiments."
"You are mistaken, though; I do not care for Evelin March at all, now. I am sorry I ever met her. I shall stop this foolish flirtation with her, at once."
"Quite likely. And when does Evelin come again?"
"So; well, I'll just drop in to-morrow evening for the latest. Evelin seems to be a trifle outclassed just at present."
"Harry, you are unkind.I tell you I love that innocent girl on the easel there and mean to marry her."
"Oh, of course; I haven't the least doubt of it. And now, what about the resemblance?"
"Why, look! do you see their hair? The shade of each is exactly the same – the same silkiness and glow through it; it is very peculiar. And notice the ear; the outline and formation of each is identical. You may not have noticed these things as I have, but it is very rare that the ear is anatomically the same in two people. There is a similarity, too, about the oval of the face, although less marked and not unusual; and there is a faint suggestion of something else, which I feel but cannot locate. I noticed these things, and they struck me at once as being a tie of kinship. I hinted, in a miserably awkward manner, as to relatives who might be having their portraits painted. It was then she told me that she had no relatives, and I believe started to tell me she had no friends, but she hesitated and was near bursting into tears. From that moment I loved her; I shall love her always."
"Charming, Julian. And yet I fancy she is not wholly alone in the world. A beautiful and affluent maiden is not calculated to be friendless; and you will admit that one who is able to gratify a passing impulse for one of Julian Paul Goetze's justly celebrated portraits is not likely to be destitute. Still, I will allow that there are cases, even among the wealthy, that are not entirely undeserving of sympathy; and, if I may judge from this incipient work of your magic brush, I think I should be willing to lavish any amount of that article on its original. However, you haven't told me her name as yet; I trust it is not disappointing."
"I do not even know it myself. She gave me her card; I laid it down and haven't thought of it since."
"Well, really, if your love is no greater than your curiosity, your case does not present any very alarming features, as yet."
The artist had approached a small table in the center of the room, from which he now picked up a slip of white pasteboard and held it to the light, then he started a little and was silent.
"Well?" said his friend, inquiringly; "is it Mary Mullally or Nancy Muggins?"
The artist turned to the table again and selected another card, somewhat larger, from a little silver tray; then he returned to Lawton and held them before him, one above the other, like the pictures. On the lower one, written in a bold, dashing hand, were the words:
And on the other, in a neat and beautiful penmanship:
"Capital, old fellow!" exclaimed Lawton. "There is an air of harmony about the name, the handwriting, and the face of your charmer that is delightful. What a blessing she has no relatives."
"But do you notice nothing strange about these names, Harry?"
"Nothing, except that both are strangely bewitching. What more is there?"
"Why, the similarity of the first names. Eva – Evelin; one is frequently a contraction of the other. I don't like this, Harry; it troubles me."
"Now, Julian, you are positively absurd. Here are two women of natures manifestly as different as light and darkness. By a coincidence, or a distant family tie, or both, their hair happens to be the same color (not a very unusual one, either, by the way); a similarity in their names; also, perhaps, one or two other trifling resemblances, more or less marked. I will admit, myself, that there is something in the face of that siren that had she kept herself unspotted from the world might have suggested the other – that rare being there on the easel who told you she had no relatives or friends, and for which reason you are deeply troubled. It is probable she told you the exact truth. I have seen people who were almost counterparts of each other between whom there existed no known tie of kinship. There was once a man in New York who resembled Jay Gould so strikingly as to deceive their best friends. And besides, the girl may have relatives of whom she knows nothing. Most of us have cousins whom we have never seen, or even heard of. Should Guinevere prove to be the unknown cousin of Elaine, I cannot see that the purity and charm of Elaine is in any manner affected thereby."
"Yes, Harry; that is so. Besides" —
"Besides, the resemblance is positively trivial. No one but an artist would think of it. I should never have suspected it without your assistance. In the one face there is written all that is good, and pure, and holy; in the other, all that is reckless, unscrupulous, soulless, and if not vicious might easily become so. It does not take a physiognomist to see that. I beg pardon for saying so, Julian, but it seems to me that there is no more similarity between the two than there is between the opposing elements of your own strange nature. The one all that is good, and the other, well – not all that is bad, but very different, you know, old boy. And it is probably these forces within you that answer to the charms of these two beings who are so manifestly opposites. The one inspiring only the nobleness of a blameless love; the other suggesting the abandonment of a reckless passion."
The light in the studio was growing dim. Goetze had risen to his feet and was walking back and forth in front of the portraits. When he spoke he seemed to have forgotten them, except as the representation of an abstract principle; or, perhaps, he was thinking of his own nature, and what his friend had said of it.
"Good and bad are relative terms only," he said, as one pronouncing a text. Every man fulfills his purpose. I can put a stroke of paint on my canvas, and you will call it white. I put another beside it, and by contrast the first appears gray. Still another, and the second has become gray, and the first still darker. And so on, until I have reached the purest white we know. It is the same with humanity. Men are only dark or light as they are contrasted with others; nor can they avoid the place they occupy on God's canvas any more than my colors can choose their places on mine. The world is a great picture. God is the greatest of all artists. His is the master hand – the unerring touch that lays on the lights, the half-tones and the shadows. Each fulfills its purpose. Without the shadows there would be no lights.
"What is true of masses is likewise true of individuals," he continued, after a moment's pause. "In a landscape, every blade of grass, every pebble, has its light and its dark side. If you see only the light side of an object, it is only because the shadow is turned from you. It is so with men; one side is sun, the other shadow. Sometimes the light, only, is presented to view, but the darker side is none the less there because unseen. Nature is never unbalanced. Whatever of brightness there is toward the sun there must be an equal amount of shadow opposing, with all the intergradations between. If the light is dim the shadow is soft; if the light is brilliant the shadow is black. Some of us are turned white side to the world, some the reverse; some show the white and the black alternately."
The man in the chair settled himself comfortably to listen. He liked nothing better than to see the artist in his present mood, offering a word now and then that was likely to draw out his peculiar ideas.
"You believe in fate, then, and the absence of moral freedom," he said reflectively.
"I believe nothing. Belief is not the word. What is, is right. To assert otherwise is an insult to the Supreme. He is all powerful, hence – wrong cannot exist."
"I should be glad to hear your argument in support of that position."
"Argument! It is a self-evident truth! Argument is not necessary! Argument is never necessary! If an assertion is not true no amount of discussion will make it so, while the truth requires no support."
The other had lighted a pipe, and was smoking lazily.
"Well," he said, as the artist paused; "at least those who have crossed over have solved the mystery."
"Oh, they have! And how do you know that anyone has crossed over? You do not believe in the mortality nor the slumber of the soul; no more do I; but time exists only with life. A man dies and in the same instant opens his eyes upon eternity, and yet a million of years may have been swept away in that instant. As a tired child you have fallen asleep. A moment later you have been called by your mother to breakfast. And yet, in that moment of dreamless sleep, the long winter night had passed. Adam, the first man, closing his eyes in death; you and I, who will do the same ten, twenty, forty years hence, and the generations who will follow us for a million years, perhaps, will waken to eternity, if there be a waking, in one and the same instant of time, without a knowledge of the intervening years. There were no years. Eternity has no beginning, no end, no measurement."
He paused a moment, then suddenly burst out again.
"Nothing in life is real – it is all a dream. You think your being is reality and that you hear my voice speaking. I tell you it is but fancy. We are the figures – the mimes in some vast hypnotic exhibition – the shadows in some gigantic spirit's disordered dream. Hypnotism," he continued, pursuing a line of thought which his impulsive words had suggested, "has, in fact, proven that no one can distinguish the real from the unreal. You remember, when we went to see Flint, the great hypnotist, how his subjects passed from one condition to another and took on any personality at the operator's will; capering and grimacing about the stage with all the characteristics and even the facial expression of monkeys, one minute, and simpering as silly school-girls the next; and to them it was all real – as real as this room, these bodies, these pictures are to us. I read some lines once that seemed to express the idea:
He repeated these words with slow earnestness, adding solemnly, "Who knows? Who knows?"
The man who sat listening drew a long breath. He was a rich idler with a good deal of worldly wisdom, but he loved and admired his erratic friend. He felt that much of what he said was sophistry, wholly or in part; but there was a charm about the earnest manner, the musical voice, and the flashing brevity of statement, more pleasing to his ear than sounder logic from a surer reasoner.
It was nearly dark now in the studio. The artist halted in his march, and offered to light the gas.
"Not for the world, Julian; I am far too happy in the dark. I was just thinking what a glorious agitator you would make; you would carry all before you. I wonder you have never dabbled in politics or socialism. Now I think of it, I have never heard you mention these things. I suppose you belong to one or the other of the great parties, however."
"Politics? Party? Good heavens, no! I never meddle with such things; it is one step lower than I have ever gone."
"But a man must stand somewhere. He that stands nowhere stands upon nothing."
The artist paused before the open window and stood looking out upon the dusk of the little scented garden. A faint reflected glimmer from some far-away lamp dimly illuminated one side of his face, silhouetting his striking profile sharply against a ground of blackness.
"If you mean," he began, slowly, "that I should have some opinions, then I will tell you what they are.
"I believe neither in tariff nor trade. Currency nor coin. Traffic nor toil. I believe in nothing– but the absolute freedom of every living being. Freedom! – freedom from the curse of creeds, the blight of bigotry, and the leprosy of the law. Freedom to go and to come, to live and to die. Life without loathing, love without bondage. To live in some sunlit valley, where the bud is ever bursting into flower, the flower fading to fruit, and the fruit ripening to sustenance. The untouched bosom of Nature would yield enough for her children had not the curse of greed been implanted in their bosoms."
Goetze had turned away from the window and was again striding up and down the floor in the dark.
"A beautiful poem, Julian," said the other, dreamily; "but a sort of delightful barbarism, I'm afraid."
"Barbarism? No! A higher, purer intellectuality than we have ever yet known – a civilization that knows not the curse of avarice nor the miseries of crime – the weariness of wealth nor the pangs of poverty. The garden of Eden is still about us, but we have torn up the flowers, and desecrated it with the lust of gain. Man was never driven out of that garden. Greed was planted in his heart and he destroyed it."
"Come," he continued, suddenly changing the subject, "I have made you tired and hungry; let us go out, somewhere, to supper."
"Thanks," said the other, laughing; "I supposed a man in your condition had no need of bodily sustenance. You are comfortably situated here, Julian," he added, as they passed out into the street.
"Yes, it is quiet here – no bother with servants nor landladies. Once a week my washerwoman comes and stays to put my establishment in order; the rest of the time I am disturbed only by my sitters."
"You forget me."
"Yes, Harry," said the artist, taking his arm affectionately; "and by you, of course."
When Julian Goetze arose the next morning he felt strong within himself to withstand and conquer those fierce impulses of his savage heritage that had answered to the blandishments of Evelin March. And yet he was greatly troubled. He felt that in a large measure he had been to blame. He blushed hotly as he recalled some of the things he had said to this woman whom Harry had called a siren.
"Men are all scoundrels," he said, savagely; "I wonder if there are really any who are not so at heart."
He rapidly formulated his plan of action, and even the sentences with which he was to meet and conquer this modern Circe.
"I will keep Eva's face before me," he thought, "and I will treat her coldly. She is high-spirited and keen; she will notice the change at once and resent it. She is too proud to demand an explanation."
He felt himself equal to the ordeal. He was anxious now for her to come that it might be safely passed. As the hours went by he grew impatient; he placed her portrait on the easel and fancied the original was before him. He went through an imaginary dialogue with it in which he was wholly victorious. He no longer felt any emotion for this woman.
"I will begin a new life," he said, as he strode rapidly up and down the room; "a new life." But there was a feverishness in his voice that did not bode well for his resolution.
"I wish she would come," he muttered, fretfully.
His cheeks were hot and flushed, and his hands were like ice, and trembling. And the result was – that he failed – failed miserably and completely. When, an hour later, Evelin March entered the studio and, throwing off her wrap, stood before him, imperious, soulless and beautiful – a delicate odor, as of pansies, from her white flesh, stealing into his brain – his pledges of faith and his fair resolves melted away like walls of mist, and the face of Eva Delorme shrank back into the silent recesses of his heart, and only a small voice within him whispered, "Coward – traitor – "
She glanced at him sharply.
"Something troubles you, mon ami. You are not overjoyed at my coming. I have been fancying to myself how impatiently you were waiting."
His hands were no longer trembling. He was calm enough, now, but it was the calmness of defeat – of having yielded to the inevitable.
"I have indeed been waiting impatiently," he said, smiling. "You see that I have been even consoling myself with your picture," and he pointed to the easel.
"From an artistic point of view, only, I fancy."
"That is unkind. I have been holding a conversation with it that I fear I should hesitate to repeat – with the original."
"How interesting! A rehearsal, perhaps."
"Perhaps; and I was testing the powers of my work as compared to those of the original."
"And with the result" —
"That my work is a failure."
"How humiliating! May I ask in what way?"
"I could withstand the charms of the picture, but with the original" —
"Well, and with the original?"
The face before him was radiant; but down in his heart the small voice, growing very faint, still whispered, "Coward – traitor – fool."
That evening Harry Lawton found him sitting gloomily before the window looking out upon the shadows that were gathering in the little garden beneath. As the door opened he glanced up and nodded without speaking.
Again the artist nodded.
"Did you suppose for a moment that she wouldn't?"
Lawton assumed a dignified attitude, and began with mock earnestness:
"Oh, wise man – thou who knowest so well the heart and the face of Nature – how little thou knowest of thine own soul!"
A shade of anguish swept over the artist's face, but he made no reply.
"Most gentle and gifted man! Last night I listened long and patiently to the scintillating wisdom of your wonderful brain. Let me now speak, while you, in turn, give ear.
"When, last night, you showed me the portraits and told me their history, I foresaw this moment. You are plunged into despair at the contemplation of your own weakness. You have been abusing your soul with hard names. Now, I would whisper to you with great gentleness that what you observed to me last night, about the sunlight and shadow of every life, is true; and that the brightness of the sun cannot illuminate, but only intensifies the blackness of the shade. Pursuing the same line of reasoning, I add that flowers bloom in the sunlight, while mushrooms thrive in the darkness. That because man is fond of mushrooms is no reason why he should be deprived of flowers. That because your purer and spiritual self reaches out for the stainless lily, is no reason why your material and grosser nature should be left starving. Because you are for a time intoxicated with Evelin March is no reason why, in your calmer and nobler existence, you should not love truly and sinlessly, Eva Delorme.
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