Albert Paine.

The Mystery of Evelin Delorme: A Hypnotic Story



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"I am aware that my logic is not wholly in accord with generally accepted theory. It accords much more nearly, perhaps, with universal practice – of course I refer only to men in the single walks of life. It is well known that all men after marriage are irreproachable. And when you have plucked your stainless lily, you, like the rest, will subsist only upon its fragrance. But really, for the present, I cannot see that your affair with Miss March in any way conflicts with your sentiments for Miss Delorme; and especially as you have known the latter but a few hours in all – hardly sufficient, I should think, to inspire a lifelong devotion. Truly, Julian, I would advise you not to take matters quite so seriously, and let the tide drift as it will for the present."

Throughout this long harangue Julian Goetze had listened in silence.

"Oh, Harry," he groaned, as the other paused, "you don't know what a traitor I am!"

"Well, possibly my sensibilities are not over fine, but I think you will be more comfortable for taking my advice."

Without replying, the artist rose and going into the adjoining room returned a moment later with a decanter and glasses.

"I am tired," he said, apologetically, as he caught the look of disapproval in his friend's eye; "it will do me good."

"None for me, Julian, before supper, and – I don't think, if – if I were you, I would take any, either."

"I am exhausted, Harry; I am not going to supper and I need it," he said, fretfully.

The other sighed and did not reply. Goetze filled one of the glasses and drank it off, then he resumed his seat by the window. A little later his friend took leave of him; reaching the street door he hesitated as if about to turn back, then he lifted the latch, and passed slowly out into the lighted street, closing the door gently behind him.

The next morning the studio of Julian Goetze was locked. It remained locked all day, and within, stretched upon the floor, unconscious, lay the gifted man, and by his side was an empty flask.

V

Perhaps Julian Goetze did not willingly abide by the somewhat fallacious reasoning of his friend. It is more than probable that each time he succumbed to the savage elements of his nature, he did so with reluctance and shame, with subsequent remorse, and good resolutions formed a score of times, perhaps, to be as often broken.

As the weeks went by he became more and more involved in this singular affair. In a way he had found it possible, as his friend had once suggested, to be in love with two women at one time.

When he was with Eva Delorme his love for the pure, beautiful girl seemed to take entire possession of his life. Evelin March, for the time, was as hateful to him as his own weakness, or was wholly forgotten.

When in the presence of Evelin March his better self shrank away before the fierce heredity within him, and the face of Eva Delorme became only a dim, haunting ghost that taunted him with his treachery.

Of the lives of these two he knew absolutely nothing.

The evident distress which his reference to relatives and friends had occasioned Eva during their first meeting, had caused him carefully to avoid the subject afterward; and the other, who had never referred to her family, he had not cared to know. He had never even considered whether she was wife, maid or widow, until he suddenly became aware that the sentiment he had awakened within her was not, as he had at first supposed, a passing fancy, but a fierce passion of jealous and tyrannical love. She no longer rallied him, and parried his compliments with her light, pointed sarcasm, as she had done at first, but assumed an unmistakable bearing of ownership and possession – questioning him closely regarding other sitters and female acquaintances – while he writhed helplessly in the exquisite misery of a spell which he felt himself powerless to break.

Thus far he had never surrendered himself entirely to this passion. More than once he had hesitated on the very brink of the precipice. Whether it was the haunting face of Eva Delorme that stayed him, or something in the manner of the other, he could not tell.

One day he suddenly caught her in his arms. She suffered his embrace for a moment, then drew away from him.

"When we are married, Paul," she said, tenderly, "I will take you to Italy, where in some beautiful villa we will give ourselves up wholly to our love. I am rich, Paul, rich; and it is all yours, but we must wait."

He turned white and was silent. The thought of marriage with this woman had never entered his head. He had already asked Eva Delorme to be his wife. She had long since confessed her love for him, but had deferred her answer from week to week, and with such evident distress of mind that the young artist felt that a secret sorrow lay heavily upon her life. He longed to fly with her to some far country, away from it all, and from the dark shadows that encompassed his own.

The similarity of features which he had at first noticed in his two sitters was at times almost forgotten; at others it had recurred to him and haunted him like a nightmare. More than once he had imagined he saw the fleeting something in one woman that reminded him of the other. He had dallied over the portraits, making them photographically minute for comparison. He had hesitated guiltily about showing either of these to the other woman. He had sometimes longed, and always dreaded, to see them side by side in person. They did not always come at their appointed time, and he was in constant terror lest they should meet in the studio; and yet the thought had in it a fascination for him that made him feverish for its realization. It was strange that they had never met in his rooms – he did not realize, perhaps, how strange.

As the months slipped away, and he had become more and more distracted by the contending forces that were eating deeply into his life, he had grown almost indifferent to his curiosity and only dreaded their meeting.

It was now October. The portraits had been practically finished long since. Day after day he had resolved to send that of Evelin March to the dealer for framing. He felt that he could then break away from her. But still he had hesitated and lingered, and now, when in a moment of recklessness he had taken a step nearer the brink of the precipice, she had spoken to him of their marriage. The idea stunned him; he could not reply. She believed his emotion had been caused by her rebuff, and laid her hand gently on his arm.

"Don't be angry, Paul," she whispered.

He had never seen her so subdued and beautiful as she was at that moment. He was nearer to loving her than he had ever been.

"Yes," he said, with some agitation, "we must – wait."

That night after supper he sought Harry Lawton, and unburdened himself.

"What shall I do, Harry?" he said, piteously; "what must I do?"

"Marry Eva Delorme and take a year's trip to Europe."

"But Eva hesitates – she has never yet given me a decided answer."

"Insist upon it. Then take her to the preacher at once, and fly."

"Oh, Harry, what a villain I am! Evelin is really in love with me, and I have given her just cause. I never saw her look as she did to-day."

"Nonsense! She is a schemer and an actress. I did not suppose she wanted to marry you, but since that is her idea I can see right through her. This being the case, and your determination to marry the other fixed, the sooner you do it and get away, the better."

"I am afraid you are right, Harry; there seems to be no other course. I haven't the moral courage to tell her the truth."

"No need of it, whatever. It wouldn't help matters in the least. Just marry and go away quietly, and don't return until you get ready. If you need money draw on me at sight."

"Thank you, Harry. I expect Eva soon. I am going to put the final touches on her picture, and I will urge my suit. If she accepts me I will take her away at once. Evelin's picture is ready for framing; I will send it to the dealer's to-morrow. I wish to God I could get away before she comes again!"

"Why not? You have nothing to keep you. If the girl really loves you she will marry you out of hand, and be only too glad to cut loose from all unpleasant associations. And now let's take a last look at the pictures," he said.

They had been walking slowly in the direction of Goetze's cottage. They entered now, and the artist lighted the gas. Then he arranged the portraits of the two women as he had done for his friend's inspection nearly a half-year previous. Both were thinking of that evening now. How long ago it seemed. Harry sat silent before them for a long time.

"They are wonderful portraits, Goetze," he said, at length; "but, do you know, it doesn't seem to me that they have quite the artistic value of the first sketches."

"You are right, Harry; they are too minute. I shall destroy some of that to-morrow."

The other was silent. After a long pause he said, thoughtfully, "There is something – I can't tell where it is, either; but it is certainly there."

"You refer to the resemblance?"

"Yes; it is hardly that, however."

"I have thought very little about it lately. It troubled me terribly for a while."

"Well, good-night, Julian," said Lawton, rising. "If there are to be any orange-blossoms, I suppose I am best man."

"Yes, Harry. Good-night!"

Two days later, when Eva Delorme came to the studio, the artist thought he had never seen her so beautiful.

And now the whiteness of his own soul was turned to view. He resembled as little the man who had trembled before Evelin March, as Evelin March was like this beautiful being before him.

With all the ardor and fervid eloquence of his nature he urged his suit; and she, tearful and trembling before him, half consented. He caught her to his breast and covered her face with kisses.

"My darling – my darling," he murmured, "we will leave this smoky, dingy city; I will take you to a beautiful land where the flowers never fade and the air is forever filled with their fragrance. Where the blue skies of an eternal summer are above us, and the blue waves of a whispering sea shall lull us to peace. There is a tiny island in the Mediterranean on the coast of France. I was there once; it is like heaven. I will take you there. Say that you will go, sweetheart; we will start to-day."

The girl lifted her face to his, and kissed him on the forehead.

"It would be heaven, indeed, Julian; but – we must wait."

The artist started and grew pale. Her final words had been the same as those used by Evelin March. She did not seem to notice his emotion, or mistook its cause.

"You know that I love you, Julian," she continued, "and I will do anything for your happiness; but – oh, Julian" —

She burst into tears and hid her face on his shoulder. He felt that some mystery of grief weighed upon her, and he longed to urge her confidence, but refrained. He soothed her gently with tender words and caresses. By and by she grew calm.

"Julian," she said, "I am in no condition to-day to give you a sitting. I will come to-morrow, and then – I will give you a final answer, and – oh, my love, do not urge me further to-day; I – I cannot endure it."

Then suddenly throwing her arms about his neck she pressed one fierce kiss upon his lips and hurried from the room.

After she was gone the artist walked up and down the studio for a long time in deep thought. He was wildly happy in her love, and yet he was troubled. It was strange that her words should have been the same as those of Evelin March. Her manner, too, during the last moment had been unusual. Something about it had jarred him – almost reminded him of the other woman. What was it between these two?

By and by, he noticed something white lying on the floor. It was a woman's handkerchief – a bit of cambric and lace exhaling the delicate odor of violets. He pressed it to his lips repeatedly, and whispered her name over and over, then hid it away in his bosom. He had not noticed, in the dim light, that in one corner, in small, delicate letters, were the initials, E. M. D.

VI

The next morning was bright and crisp, and the artist felt better than he had for many weeks. He arose happy in the thought that he should again see Eva Delorme so soon, and in the confidence that she would accept his offer of marriage. He was happier still in the prospect of cutting free from all the feverish torture of the past few months; of leaving behind all the unpleasant associations that clouded both their lives, along with the soot, and fumes, and temptations of this grimy city; and of dreaming away the winter with Eva on the coast of France.

He rose early and set out for a morning walk. His favorite restaurant was near the heart of the city; he would go there for breakfast. The distance was considerable, but the brisk exercise was in harmony with his thoughts. The blood was circulating rhythmically through his veins; he threw back his shoulders and breathed in the fresh frosty air. He wanted to sing. In another week he would be away from all that was disagreeable and disgraceful – perhaps to-morrow. They would spend a whole year in Europe; may be they would not come back at all.

After breakfast he met two or three acquaintances; they remarked his unusual spirits.

"You must have made a big strike, Goetze; can't you tell us?"

"Yes, by and by; not now – later."

"Congratulations are in order, of course."

"Hardly yet; pretty soon."

He returned to his studio. Eva had named no hour, but he hoped she would come early. As he opened the street door he saw a long, thin, delicately tinted envelope that had been pushed beneath it in his absence. He knew instinctively that it was from Eva, and hastened into the studio to read it. It was not sealed and there was no address. Trembling with agitation he tore off the covering and read:

"Dearest Julian:

"I am feeling badly this morning, so will not come for my sitting to-day, and since my portrait is so nearly finished I suppose there is really no need of my coming again for that purpose. I should have come, however, as I promised, had it been possible. And now, my dear friend, as regards the decision which so concerns us both, I will ask your kind patience until to-morrow eve.

"On West L – Street, between 18th and 19th, near the park, there is a large, old-fashioned, brick mansion. It is No. 74, east side – you cannot miss it. There is an arc electric light directly in front of it.

"Go to this place to-morrow night, exactly at six o'clock. If the door is fastened, ring, and the servant will admit you. There wait in the hall-way until I come. If the door is unlocked, enter and wait likewise, unless I am already within to meet you. Then I will give you my answer; and oh, my friend, if it be possible I will unfold to you the history and sad mystery of my poor life, which you have so kindly never sought to know.

"Eva."

Julian read this note again and again now with pleasure, again with anxiety. Surely she meant to accept him or she would not have written thus; she would not have appointed a meeting with him at this old mansion. And why at this old mansion? Was it her home? No, that was not likely, or why was he to wait until she came? If her home, she would be waiting there for him. Probably the home of some friend of whom she had made a confidant, and who was in sympathy with her love affair. Yes, it must be this; and the mystery of her life, what could that be but some pre-natal pledge of marriage with one whom she despised, or tyrannical guardians, or both. She would probably be disinherited if she disobeyed. What did he care; money was not the end of God's judgment. He would take her away from it all; his precious darling, and she was ill, too; she was in pain and he could not go to her. He longed to sit by her side, and hold her hand and pour out his love. He was bitterly disappointed at not seeing her to-day, but he almost forgot that, now, as he thought of her ill and suffering. He read and re-read the lines of her letter, and tried to comfort himself with the thought that it was no more than a headache brought on by her mental strain.

By and by, something else about this letter began to puzzle him. He had not thought of it at first, but gradually it dawned upon him that the handwriting was not exactly like that upon the card of Eva Delorme. It seemed to him that it was less delicate and more irregular. He took her card from the little tray on the table, and compared them. He decided that they were the same, after all. The letter was written hurriedly and she was ill; but the formation of the characters was much the same. As he replaced the card his eye fell upon that of Evelin March. There was no similarity between the writing on the two cards, but as he glanced now from that of Evelin March to the letter he fancied one suggested faintly the nervous, dashing style of the other. The haunting curiosity that had once possessed him returned for a moment. There was a strange fear in his heart which he could not name. He compared the two more closely, and as he did so the fancy disappeared. It was like certain faint odors that are only perceptible at a distance. He heaved a sigh of relief.

"I am a consummate ass, among other things," he muttered.

His mind reverted to Eva. How would he get through the time until to-morrow? To-morrow there would be a sitting with Evelin. As he thought of her his face flushed with shame, and a feeling of dread came upon him. He would send her portrait to the dealer to-day – it was finished – then there would be no excuse for her staying. No, he would go away and lock the studio all day. What a fool he had been to allow himself to be fascinated by her dashing beauty. What a traitor he had been to make even a semblance of love to this bold, flashy woman of the world – a woman who, until recently, had not even commanded his respect.

"I have been a villain," he muttered, to himself; "a villain and a traitor, but I will be so no more. I will curb this savage nature within me. I will abstain from drink. I will be a new man."

He sealed his resolution with a kiss pressed upon the little, tinted letter, then placing it in an inner pocket he arranged the canvas of Eva Delorme on the easel before him and walked backward and forward in front of it thinking, pausing now and then to gaze long upon the beautiful, saintly features.

"It does not do her justice," he said, at last; "there is something about the lips and the expression that I have not caught. It is too minute; I must darken the ground; there is not enough relief – not enough depth."

Hastily removing his coat and the wide felt hat which he always wore on the street, he hung them on a rack in the adjoining room, and donning his velvet studio jacket, returned to the easel. Seizing his palette and brushes he fell to work rapidly, and with the enthusiasm of one who is in love with his task.

As he dashed on the broad sweeps of color from his palette, the background gradually assumed the effect of having faded away, and the rare face before it to have become a thing of flesh and blood. It was a marvel of skill. He had never done anything like this before. He became so absorbed in his work that he forgot the passing hours. The background of the portrait complete, he began adding touches of light and shadow and color to the drapery, to the hair, to the perfect features. He felt that he had never painted half so well. It seemed to him that he was inspired. He remembered the story of the artist who had painted the portrait of his beloved, drawing the tints so truly from her life, that when he had finished and turned to look at her with an exclamation of triumph on his lips, she was dead. It seemed to him at this moment that he was drawing his tints from her very life. That the intense workings of his brain must in some manner affect her own. He paused and his hand trembled. She was ill; what if she were to die! Pshaw! it was but a fable. He would paint the picture as truly, but only that the world might bow before the beauty of his mistress. He would exhibit it in Paris, and the multitude would worship the beautiful face that should win him a world-wide fame. Then he would take it away from the gaping throng and lay it, with the fame it brought him, at her feet.

The little clock on the mantel had long since chimed noon, and the hour hand had crept around the circle nearly to five before he finally laid aside his brushes and palette, and stepped back to view his finished work.

"It is wonderful – wonderful," he said, aloud. "Oh, my precious darling!"

There was a sound behind him as of some one choking. He turned and stood face to face with Evelin March. She was very pale, and her eyes burned like two stars.

"Who is that woman?" she said, fiercely.

He knew that she had overheard him, but he endeavored to address her calmly. He felt the cowardliness of his nature rising, and he cursed himself inwardly.

"I – I was not expecting you to-day, Evelin," he stammered; "to-morrow, you know, is the day for your sitting."



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