The Madelon Viera

THE schooner Madelon Viera has gone down off the Georges, and her captain, Raphael Viera, with her. They said that as she sank he stood with his arms folded, looking level before him as though he were on watch. They said, too, that through the drifting fog he loomed up incredibly huge, like some supernatural creature. The fog-wraiths and the early silver morning light seemed to have magnified him, so far as the mere size of him went, out of all reason, as if that dawn swimming with light glorified him, as if the moment of his death were his apotheosis. His men in the dories even at that time of danger must needs gaze astonished at him as he stood on the deck of his wounded boat that was settling so inevitably in the water. From one and another of them one got the picture of Raphael Viera standing on his sinking vessel, now obscured by the fog, now standing out clear for a second as the mist blew from him, a dark, towering mass against the early day. When they were picked up they told, in a babble of voices, of how he stood there superbly indifferent, as if the sinking of the boat were no concern of his; of how they implored him to save himself and how he did n’t answer their cries.

He must have impressed them profoundly, for they mentioned only as an incident that, when the schooner went under, the swirl she made upset one of the dories hovering too near, and that Manuel Doutra and Antonio Susa were drowned, — that was the detail, all in the day’s work. Later it appeared that those two men were his best friends on the schooner; their death seemed rather logical. It was as if some savage chieftain had taken with him his favorites, since it had pleased himself to die. That was the word for it, — “ it had pleased him to die.” He chose to. He was one of those men of whom it might be said fairly that though he might be killed, he could n’t be beaten. He had played the winning card, though that card was his life; he had won the game from his wife Madelon. She shivers now and cries at the story of his death, cries without grief and yet beyond measure; and for her the drowning of Manuel Doutra and Antonio Susa is no detail, for Flores Doutra, widow of Manuel, and the old mother of Antonio have wept with her. They do not know, as does Madelon, that it is because of her that they were drowned. It is hard for her also to meet the eyes of Raphael’s mother. Madelon is a very religious woman, tender of conscience, and her scruples have as many nuances as if she were New England by blood instead of by birth alone.

The first meeting of Madelon and Raphael Viera was so little one of the ordinary colorless meetings that, had you been superstitious, you might have felt that Fate had marked it off. Had Madelon never seen him again she must have always remembered him, and when she thought of him there must have been an echo of the hard beating of her heart. Fire and ice must have fought together within her at his bare memory, as they did that first time.

Madelon stood leaning over the gate, watching the harbor flushing softly to strange pinks shot with indescribably soft blues. She sighed with content. “ It’s pretty as changeable silk,” she thought.

A schooner stole in, its sails golden in the evening light. Madelon watched the men moving about like black ants putting up the sails. Presently they dropped into a dory; they faced the west, and their sunburned faces flamed deep orange against the soft water. The man in the end of the boat towered up above the others, a young, commanding presence. They clambered out on the shore, in front of the gate where Madelon stood. They seemed to this girl who came from an inland town like a different breed from any men she had ever known, — swarthy, hairy men these, copper-hued. A person more versed than Madelon in the romance of the world might have compared them to a band of pirates. Their very apparel gave to most of them a foreign aspect: they wore high boots, their shirts were open at the neck, and they carried little bundles of effects tied in bright-colored handkerchiefs. Madelon stared at them with the frank curiosity with which one stares at the dwellers of a foreign country. Her eyes traveled idly from one to another till they met the eyes of Raphael Viera, and there they stayed, as if they had lost the power to move from his face.

Under his steady gaze her face flushed from pearl to deep rose; her wide gray eyes stared into his dark ones, startled, wide-open. Her hand had traveled unconsciously to her throat with a vague little panic-stricken gesture, as if she had read his thought and knew that if he could he would have strode the three steps that separated them and then have gathered her into his arms. She would have run then, if she could; instead, she stayed, with her eyes on Raphael’s, as though his swift flaming desire of her had been some force that paralyzed her will. It was as if in those few moments Madelon lived a lifetime of shivering protest against this man of alien blood; the very depths of her were in passionate arms against him, yet his eyes, tender, devouring, confident, burned her with fire. A sense of her own power thrilled her, while at the same time the sense of her powerlessness held her in panic.

As she looked back on it afterwards, it seemed to her that she had stood there always, scorching and shivering, the depths of her crying out with loathing against this intruder, her heart beating high with the sudden sense of power that so little and gentle a creature as herself should for a moment of time hold in her hand this master of men.

When the spell broke, Raphael advanced, his hat in his hand, to speak to some one coming up behind her. A little dazed, her heart still beating painfully, Madelon turned, flushing again, without reason, at the sight of her friend whom she was visiting. She recovered her self-possession as her friend introduced them. Mechanically she put her soft hand in his outstretched one, where it lay fluttering like an imprisoned bird. She looked away as she answered the commonplace things he said, not liking to see on his face the high triumphant expression of a man who has now found the thing on earth that he most desires.

As for Raphael, the touch of her hand, so little, so cool, confessing by its vague trembling all the things that her mask of self-possession denied, sent the blood beating to his brain. He enveloped her in a look that was a caress, while he talked of the indifferent things one does to a girl one meets for the first time. His soft foreign accent rang so strangely in her ears, and his look so troubled her, that she scarcely knew what he was saying. Then, —

“ I got be goin’,” he told them. “ You girls wan’ cum wit’ me to-ni’t an’ get ice-crim? ”

Helen Kelsey, the girl Madelon was visiting, accepted, without hesitation; and, when Raphael had gone, prattled to her visitor concerning him.

Madelon barely heard her, absorbed in the contemplation of this man who had come up out of the sea to take possession of her. When it was her turn to speak, she said, —

“I don’t think I like him, — he stares at one so, — he looks so foreign.”

In that moment a wave of homesickness swept over her. She longed to be away from the sea that stretched so far and so sad-colored before her. The sails of the boats had faded from gold to a strange unearthly green; the soft dove-like pinks and blues had deepened and strengthened to colors that Madelon, in her meagre vocabulary, called “ queer.” The very noises were unhomelike. The lap, lap of little waves on the shore, the thumping of oars on thole-pins, the chug-chug of gasolene dories, — all fell strange and unfamiliar on her ear. She longed passionately for the little hill-encircled village clustered around a green common and shaded by swaying elm-trees, and for the men and women with white skins who walked up and down its asphalt streets. Here, knots of darkfaced Portuguese men and sleek, blackheaded, dark-eyed girls passed and repassed the house, and all of them bore some curious kinship in their looks to Raphael Viera. Madelon shivered slightly. They were all unhomelike, foreign-looking creatures,— handsome, vaguely repellant because of their strangeness.

“They’re almost like colored people,” she faltered.

“ Why, Madelon Brennan,” Helen remonstrated, " they’re as white as we are. Of course they’re different! ” She spoke with that complacent patronage with which the dominant, fair-haired race speaks of the Southern race.

“ They’re awful different,” Madelon agreed.

But their difference represented to her that horror that the women of the North have at times for the men of the South. Yet, in spite of their strangeness, Madelon must watch them, with the shrinking fascination with which her eyes had remained fixed, in spite of herself, on those of Raphael Viera.

That evening they waited for Raphael in the little yard. Out in the harbor the riding-lights of the boats twinkled like the lights of a town. Spikes of lilies made the air sweet with their troubling odor. Madelon waited, very quiet, — keyed high like a too tightly drawn violin string. Afterward, when she returned to her town, that evening and the succeeding ones were to her as part of a phantasmal dream, a dream where dark-eyed, dark-skinned men and women passed her, smiling, chattering; a dream where a heavy, dark man, a stranger, brooded perpetually over her.

On their way back the party became separated,—another man had joined them and walked with Helen. Raphael walked beside her, speaking little. He asked her questions such as a child might ask, about herself: —

“ You called Mad’lon? ” He said the name over two or three times.

Madelon strolled slowly on through the people swarming on the boardwalk, acutely conscious that his eyes never left her. He asked her questions concerning her parents, and where she lived.

“ You wan’ see my ship? Come out on this pier wit’ me, I show you.” He looked at her covetously. “ Come,” he urged gently, — and yet with his gentleness there was the hint in his voice of a man accustomed to being obeyed by men and women.

He led the way up a small lane, which in turn led to one of the half-rotted wharves that jutted out into the harbor. Madelon followed slowly, letting the distance grow between them. She felt herself trembling; she wanted to turn and run from the shadow ahead of her. Instead, she followed, as if some invisible chain held her to him.

He stopped, and Madelon stopped also, a little distance from him. He pointed into blackness at a vague, shadowy something.

“ My boat! ”

Then she felt, rather than saw, that he had turned toward her, faced her squarely, and stood motionless.

“ Come, Mad’lon,” he said to her. And as she did not move, “ Come,” he said again, and she began walking toward him very slowly, as if he were drawing her to him by that mysterious bond that had kept her from running, as she wished to do just when his eyes met hers. She knew he was looking at her; oh, she knew well the expression of his eyes with which he watched her coming to him like a white ghost! She knew it as if this look had been a danger from which she had tried all her life to escape, and which was now upon her.

He did not move or speak again until she was near enough so that he could see her trembling in the darkness; until her soft, difficult breathing was like a whisper in his ears; until she was so close to him that in the darkness he could see her eyes lifted to him as if pleading, pleading for a moment’s breathing-space. Even then he waited, as though listening intently to her, as though to give her time, if she wished to run; or if she wished to break the spell that surrounded her. But Madelon did not speak. She stood there quivering before him, too frightened by his strange power to defend herself.

Suddenly, he gathered her in his arms and kissed her. First gently, lingeringly, with tenderness, then with a certain restrained and fierce eagerness. Her head drooped like a flower beaten down by rain. She did n’t resist, she did n’t make the faintest movement to leave him. She suffered as though stunned. She was very young, and had never seen before the uncloaked passion of man, and it swept over her and carried her with it as a great wave sweeps over a trifling object in its path. In the face of this great elemental thing, modesty, training, maidenliness, those trivial and ineffectual breakwaters, were swept away. Passive, as if in the face of a great storm, she let him raise her face in his hands like a cup and drink thirstily from her mouth. She had neither anger nor revolt. She had come to him when he bade her come. And to what she was coming his first look at her had made no secret.

As they walked back silent as ghosts over the soft rotting planks of the wharf, she trembled as one who has been in the face of some terrible danger. They did not speak. In the darkness Raphael groped for her hand and found it; she let it lie there unresisting. Then she turned toward him and spoke, in the monotonous voice of one speaking in sleep, — the end of a sentence, apparently of a long speech; as one may hear some one breaking out into spoken words where the rest has only been dreamed.

“ But you can’t, make me kiss you, ever! ”

Then she stopped, as if astonished at what she had said, astonished even at the sound of her voice, astonished that she should be able to speak loud enough to be heard above the tumultuous beating of her heart.

The days that followed gave her no time for the recovery of herself. Before she knew it she had promised to marry him. Without putting it into words she supposed she was seeing the full fury of the storm. She could not know that Raphael kept watch and guard on himself, knowing that this girl whom he loved so irrevocably was as wax in his hands. Her bewilderment touched him, her acquiescence aroused his chivalry. Because he was arrogant and a man, it never occurred to him to wonder if she loved him. For his part, he loved her too well to harm her. But there was no hour that he did not make full of himself. He drowned her; he drove her hither or thither as a storm drives a rudderless boat.

At last, when her visit was over and she went home to her little green village, she felt like one who crawls back to firm shore again, out of the clutch of a smothering sea.

Raphael prospered amazingly that summer. He bought a new schooner, which would wait for their wedding for its name. The significance of this passed over Madelon, — boats meant nothing to her. It was when he wrote of a house which he had bought and was having remodeled, of a certain little upper balcony that would please her, and asked her advice and that of her mother on such intimate questions as the color of its paint, that she began to look here and there like a wild thing trying to escape.

Here Madelon found herself very much alone, as women have before her who have promised themselves in marriage to a likely-looking man with more money than any one had reason to expect. Her little Irish mother, so tender of her and so considerate, so proud of her girl, had no patience with her. When Madelon cried and said she did n’t wish to marry Raphael, the good woman lost her temper and told Madelon that girls nowadays were kittle cattle. Raphael seemed to her a fine big broth of a man she was glad to have Madelon marry, knowing that she herself was old, and that the world is a bad place for motherless girls. When pressed for reasons for not wishing to marry, Madelon could give none except that he was a foreigner, to which the old lady replied with spirit that he was no more foreign than she, and that his accent was every bit as good as her own mother’s brogue. And while they treated her like a capricious child, Madelon, with panic in her heart, ran round and round in the cage of her thoughts, looking here and there to see if there were no way that she could hide from her captor.

Her nights were full of him. He appeared strange and dark and foreign, burning eyes on her, and she would cover her face with her hands to escape this compelling look of his, and wake up crying. The innermost drop of her blood revolted against him. She turned for help to the priest, and from him to her best friend, a young married woman. They all told her, wagging their heads wisely, that once married all would be well. As a proof that her revolt was caprice, they all pointed out the fact, irrefutable, that Madelon had engaged herself. And she had no words to explain that this, too, was a part of her resentment; that he should have drowned her in the violence of his love-making so that she had no ears nor eyes nor will, but was as if she had been beaten into a dumb acquiescence.

Now there remained only Raphael as a door of escape. If she could tell him, he would perhaps let her go.

When he came, his large presence, his childish satisfaction, smothered her. She took her courage in her desperate hands before he had time to benumb her will,

“ Come out here, Raphael; I want to speak to you.”

He followed, adoring eyes on her.

“ You look a lit’le pale. You wan’ sea air. Soon you get sea air, Mad’lon,” he laughed with meaning, trying to slip his arm around her.

“ I’ve got to speak to you, Raphael,” she repeated. Her purpose was oozing from her, the fears that held her bound were so large, her will so puny.

“ I don’t want to marry you, Raphael.” She had said it now, and she stood waiting for the shock.

He smiled tenderly.

“You won feel Iak that way long.”

Like the priest, he seemed to feel her reluctance becoming.

“You don’t understand,” she repeated slowly. “ I don’t want to marry you, Raphael.”

He smiled kindly again, smiled as if he had not heard what she said. She heard him breathing as if in a prayer of adoration, “O Mad’lon! Oh, my little girl, Mad’lon! ”

It was more shattering to her than any remonstrance or anger could have been. She had braced herself, for she dreaded the rush of his feeling—feared it as a man who has been half-drowned fears drowning; and he only said, “ O Mad’lon! ” from the depths of his contentment.

Some instinct told him to keep aloof from her. He patted her hand kindly and consolingly. She was not far from tears.

“ No good’ll come of my marrying you, Raphael. Don’t marry me, Raphael,” she begged. “No good can come of marrying me. I don’t know what’s the matter of me. You ’re kind and good, Raphael, you ought to find a good wife. Don’t marry me, Raphael! ”

He smiled at her with his uncomprehending indulgence.

In after years she always felt glad that she tried to hide from him what she felt. She repeated to herself, as if it were a lesson learned, that she would become used to him in time. She was a well brought-up girl and knew what was due a husband; moreover, she was religious and believed marriage to be a sacrament. She prayed earnestly that her heart might change. This also she was glad to remember.

She prayed on, even though the slender fondness she had for him had been killed dead the first week of their marriage. A chill horror clutched at her. The sound of Raphael’s footstep made her start; when he came into the room she shivered as with cold.

As for him, at first he saw nothing. What he thought to be her modesty delighted him, her reluctance to be alone with him seemed a charming coquetry. Then in Madelon’s horror a resentment began to grow. She remembered without ceasing how she had begged him to let her go in peace. After all, it was his fault. He had gone forth to get her, she had never lifted a finger, he had carried her along in the swift rushing current of his passion. Why, then, need she be forever submissive? There must be some way she could live more tolerable than this. Her unspoken resentment flicked him like the sudden, unexpected bite of a whip. He began to watch her; the result of his observation made him ask, —

“ You shiver w’en I touch you, — w’at mek you shiver, Mad’lon? ”

For answer she had only tears, a bitter rush that had been gathering through the staring nights and tearless, burning days. The passion in them appalled him. This was the first emotion he had from her. He had known her as submissive and very gentle, as unresisting as a lovely cup from which one might drink of pleasure unrestrained. Now she cried like a child frightened by the nameless horrors of the dark. When he would have comforted her in the only way he knew, she drew from him shudderingly as from something unclean. His outstretched hand fell by his side as nerveless as though broken. At this moment he could as little have touched her as she could have defended herself from him in the beginning.

Soon after, he went away on a cruise. He was successful even beyond his former successes. He turned his ship toward home triumphant, master again of himself.

The first two weeks he was gone she was like a child out of school. She sang about the house, occupied herself about the homely household tasks she loved, and played mistress of her fine new home, putting from her the thought of what price had been paid for it. She looked at the sea as little as possible. It was the symbol of him. He had come out from it to her; presently it would bring him to her again.

At night she would wake up in cold fear from a dream that he was already home.

When his schooner came bravely to her mooring, Madelon sat waiting for him in the midst of the shiny new furniture of the sitting-room, now hot now cold, a burning mist floating before her eyes, like a creature in a fever, alone with her unfathomable debasement.

She sat with haunted, unseeing eyes fixed on the door. He opened it to find her staring at him. He stood in the doorway as he had flung it open, and as his eyes fell on her face his look of high expectancy vanished. His face grew black with the blood that flooded his dark skin. Then pity for her suffering swallowed his first movement of anger, for he loved her, and knew besides how to be kind to women.

“ W’y, Mad’lon,” he said gently, “w’y, my lit’le girl, Mad’lon! ”

He advanced toward her, his arms outstretched.

She tried now to be submissive as a wife should. She waited his coming, settled heavily in her chair as if she had been a woman of stone; but when he bent over her and she felt his breath hot on her neck, she sprang from him. Still pitiful and tender, he followed her. She cowered against the wall and put an arm up to fend off his caress as one does a blow. So they stood staring at each other, it seemed for a long time. At last, —

“ W’at meks it?” he asked. His voice came to her in a hoarse whisper. “ W’at meks it you don’ lak me, Mad’lon? ”

The foreign cadence of his voice was louder in her ears than his anguish. That, too, reached her, but it did not touch her; instead, it was a certain sullen satisfaction to her, for she had suffered — what had n’t she suffered ? Now it was his turn, and she was glad.

Some look of triumph must have flashed to her eyes and kindled his rage.

“ You don’ lak me, Mad’lon! You don’lak me! You love somebod’! You always love somebod’ else! ”

Jealousy and fury and desire all had their way with him. He raged like an animal in pain, taunting her and pleading with her by turns, while she stood white and motionless against the door, the power of speech gone from her as if a storm blew the words from her mouth. He raged on, lashing himself into a fury against this white speechless woman who had so bitterly betrayed him. Then he made as though he would strike her down where she stood, and she fled to her room and locked the door and stood with her back pressed against it as if she would defend it with her life if he tried to break it down.

A strange lightness filled her. He had given her a reason for hating him. He had injured her, insulted her; he would have struck her. The blame was shifted. She listened to his pleadings without answering a word. He might rage now, she did n’t care. Unmoved she listened to him begging forgiveness. In his heart of hearts she knew he had thought no evil of her; he knew her too well for that. This only hardened her; the insult was only the more wanton.

She went downstairs boldly next morning and prepared breakfast. She greeted him pleasantly. She turned to him a hard brightness as though he had been a stranger. He watched her, dazed, as if he saw her through a fog. He who was accustomed to act so definitely in the moments of physical crisis was as bewildered as a landsman in a shipwreck. What had happened? what to do next? There seemed to be nothing to do, nothing at all. Some one else was sitting at the helm of the boat that was their life, and it was Madelon; she was guiding it with a firm, steady hand, into strange waters.

Through his night of fitful sleep he had been angry at her, and at himself, by turns. He had tried to give himself an account of what had happened. He could not tell. He had thrown himself back on that comfort used by all men in such distress, that women are hard to understand. He had come down ready to forgive and to be forgiven, to find this new Madelon hard and shining as a crystal ball, with no angle anywhere that one could take hold of; instead of repelling him, her attitude was a curious irritation to his senses. It aroused in him that desire of mastery.

The world of Raphael Viera had obeyed him. He had been stronger than other men. He was master of his boat. He had pitted his own wit and resources against the fury of the sea and won; time and time again he had won through desperate chances; now this blond child was stronger than he.

He watched her as she came and went, at her household tasks, watched her hungry, his eyes sometimes a menace, sometimes a caress; and while she answered him and spoke with him, he felt as if, for all the difference his presence made, he might have been some one else, he might have been no one at all. He went out and stayed the morning, came home to eat, went out again. Madelon attended to his wants with the precision of a conscientious housekeeper. She did not start at the sound of his footsteps, he did not ruffle the smooth surface which she presented to him. Overnight she had become captain of herself.

That evening they sat with the lamp between them, a picture of domestic peace, — Madelon sewing on some garment of Raphael’s; Raphael, his pipe in his hand; between them a strange tenseness growing, unrecognized, unvoiced.

There was fought out that night, once again, in that new and shining room, the primeval battle of the Northern white woman’s inner hatred for the darker blood, and her passionate desire to keep her race pure against the Southerner who looks with longing eyes to the woman, fair-haired, whiter-skinned than his own sisters; fire and ice met there and fought, wordlessly.

Madelon Viera sewed and spoke no word, and Raphael Viera spoke no word and looked with sombre eyes at the woman who was his wife, and who was not his.

Out in the harbor two bells struck from one ship to another. The little over-ornamented clock on the mantelpiece chimed nine. Madelon arose.

“ Good-night, Raphael,” she said. Her eyes rested on him with neither hate nor pity, as detached as if great spaces of time divided them. She went to her room and locked the door.

And now there came over Raphael a white flame of rage. He had the simple man’s ideas of what the duties of a wife are. Incredible it was, a mockery, that a woman should dare—a little soft blond woman — to go to her room and lock her door. He raged up the stairs behind her. He knocked on the door. No answer.

“Open the door, Mad’lon,” he called, his voice low, and with the flicker of his rage and desire in it. “Mad’lon, open the door, or I brek it! ”

No answer. He heard her moving within as though his voice had not come to her. He lifted his great shoulder and crashed the door through.

She was standing before the glass, her long hair falling about her, still dressed. She turned quietly toward him, no fear in her eyes, no remonstrance on her lips, and faced him mutely.

“ Take me, if you will,” her look said, “ but you will not hold me in your arms. Your body is stronger than mine, but you will hold only illusion. See, I do not fight with you; I don’t fear you; I don’t plead with you.”

So they stood, his face working with anger and passion, hers as serene as a child whose hand is in its mother’s, ready to meet what she must. It was the cold, unfaltering strength of the Northern race against the mad passion of the South. She had suffered all she could; she had feared all she could; she had passed beyond the place where there was fear or suffering.

So she stood there, a little soft thing he could have crushed in his hand. And beaten by a force he was ignorant of, he turned and left her.

He stood the shattered door into its place. She heard him sighing as if under a great burden. But as though it were no concern of hers, she went on and undressed herself and went to her bed.

He found no change in her the next morning; he watched her furtively. They even talked about the things of his house, his mother’s health.

“ I’m starting off to-morrow, Mad’lon,” he told her.

She nodded, and asked him what things he would need. She seemed not to notice either his anger in its sullen bursts of inner rage, or the times when he looked at her as he had never looked at man or woman, piteously, with appealing eyes, begging for mercy.

The day dawned lowering. Other fishing-boats stayed in the harbor.

“ I think we get-a blow.”

“ Yes,” she answered indifferently.

The fury of the sea meant nothing to her.

“ Perhaps I’m gone long, Mad’lon.”

She did not answer.

Suddenly he flung out his arms, —

“ Mad’lon, my Mad’lon! ” he cried. “You kiss me good-by, Mad’lon, you kiss me good-by? ”

She did not answer; looked at him with level eyes, and they faced each other again, he, with his head up this time, proudly taking his defeat like a man, knowing, for reasons he could never understand, that she would never kiss him of her will; that she would never be his. And so, triumphantly as he had won her, triumphantly he gave her up, with his head held high, his eyes shining on her, as if he saw even now his schooner going down under him.

“Good-by, Mad’lon, my Mad’lon,” he said to her.

For it could be fairly said of Raphael Viera that though death for him might be the winning card, he could not be beaten in this game of life.