At three o’clock, an hour before he expected the Cardiffs, John Kendal ran up the stairs to his studio. The door stood ajar, and with a jealous sense of his possession within, he reproached himself for his carelessness in leaving it so. He had placed the portrait the day before where all the light in the room fell upon it, and his first hasty impression of the place assured him that it stood there still. When he looked directly at it he instinctively shut the door, made a step or two forward, closed his eyes and so stood for a moment, with his hands before them. Then, with a groan, “Damnation!” he opened them again and faced the fact. The portrait was literally in rags: They hung from the top of the frame and swung over the bottom of it Hardly enough of the canvas remained unriddled to show that it had represented anything human. Its destruction was absolute—fiendish, it seemed to Kendal.
He dropped into a chair and stared with his knee locked in his hands.
“Damnation!” he repeated, with a white face. “I’ll never approach it again;” and then he added grimly, still speaking aloud, “Janet will say I deserved it.”
He had not an instant’s doubt of the author of the destruction, and he remembered with a flash in connection with it the little silver-handled Algerian dagger that pinned one of Nadie Palicsky’s studies against the wall of Elfrida’s room. It was not till a quarter of an hour afterward that he thought it worth while to pick up the note that lay on the table addressed to him, and then he opened it with a nauseated sense of her unnecessary insistence.
“I have come here this morning,” Elfrida had written, “determined to either kill myself or IT. It is impossible, I find, notwithstanding all that I said, that both should continue to exist. I cannot explain further, you must not ask it of me. You may not believe me when I tell you that I struggled hard to let it be myself. I had such a hideous doubt as to which had the best right to live. But I failed there—death is too ghastly. So I did what you see. In doing it I think I committed the unforgivable sin—not against you, but against art. It may be some satisfaction to you to know that I shall never wholly respect myself again in consequence.” A word or two scratched out, and then: “Understand that I bear no malice toward you, have no blame for you, only honor. You acted under the very highest obligation—you could not have done otherwise. * * * * * And I am glad to think that I do not destroy with your work the joy you had in it. * * ”
Kendal noted the consideration of this final statement with a cynical laugh, and counted the asterisks. Why the devil hadn’t he locked the door? His confidence in her had been too ludicrous. He read the note half through once again, and then with uncontrollable impatience tore it into shreds. To have done it at all was hideous, but to try and impress herself in doing it was disgusting. He