‘Madame is going?’ she asked coldly, holding open the door.
‘No, madame,’ I said. ‘Are you the femme de menage of monsieur?’
‘Monsieur is ill,’ I said, deciding swiftly what to do. ’He does not wish to be disturbed. He would like you to return at two o’clock.’
Long before two I should have departed.
‘Monsieur knows well that I have another menage from twelve to two,’ protested the woman.
‘Three o’clock, then,’ I said.
Bien, madame,’ said she, and, producing the contents of a reticule: ‘Here are the bread, the butter, the milk, and the newspaper, madame.’
‘Thank you, madame.’
I took the things, and she left, and I shut the door and bolted it.
In anticipation, the circumstances of such an encounter would have caused me infinite trouble of spirit. ’But after all it was not so very dreadful,’ I thought, as I fastened the door. ’Do I care for his femme de menage?’
The great door of the house would be open now, and the stairs no longer affrighting, and I might slip unobserved away. But I could not bring myself to leave until I had spoken with Diaz, and I would not wake him. It was nearly noon when he stirred. I heard his movements, and a slight moaning sigh, and he called me.
‘Are you there, Magda?’
How feeble and appealing his voice!
For answer I stepped into his bedroom.
The eye that has learned to look life full in the face without a quiver of the lid should find nothing repulsive. Everything that is is the ordered and calculable result of environment. Nothing can be abhorrent, nothing blameworthy, nothing contrary to nature. Can we exceed nature? In the presence of the primeval and ever-continuing forces of nature, can we maintain our fantastic conceptions of sin and of justice? We are, and that is all we should dare to say. And yet, when I saw Diaz stretched on that wretched bed my first movement was one of physical disgust. He had not shaved for several days. His hair was like a doormat. His face was unclean and puffed; his lips full and cracked; his eyes all discoloured. If aught can be vile, he was vile. If aught can be obscene, he was obscene. His limbs twitched; his features were full of woe and desolation and abasement.
He looked at me heavily, mournfully.
‘Diaz, Diaz!’ said my soul. ‘Have you come to this?’
A great and overmastering pity seized me, and I went to him, and laid my hand gently on his. He was so nervous and tremulous that he drew away his hand as if I had burnt it.
‘Oh, Magda,’ he murmured, ’my head! There was a piece of hot brick in my mouth, and I tried to take it out. But it was my tongue. Can I have some tea? Will you give me some cold water first?’
Strange that the frank and simple way in which he accepted my presence there, and assumed my willingness to serve him, filled me with a new joy! He said nothing of the night. I think that Diaz was one of the few men who are strong enough never to regret the past. If he was melancholy, it was merely because he suffered bodily in the present.