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Title: Miss Hildreth: A Novel, Volume 1
Author: Stevens, Augusta de Grasse
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Miss Hildreth: A Novel, Volume 1" ***

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                            MISS HILDRETH.

                               A Novel.

                       BY A. DE GRASSE STEVENS,

              AUTHOR OF "OLD BOSTON," "THE LOST DAUPHIN,"
                    "WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE," ETC.


    In Three Volumes.
    VOL. I.

    LONDON:
    WARD AND DOWNEY,
    12, YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN, W.C.
    1888.

    [_All rights reserved._]

    _Copyright by_ A. de GRASSE STEVENS, 1888.


                    TO MY ONLY SISTER,
                   MRS. FRANK H. EVANS,
                   I Dedicate this Book.

    Dreams, books are each a world; and books we know
    Are a substantial world, both pure and good;
    Round these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
    Our pastime and our happiness will grow.

                                           WORDSWORTH.



CONTENTS.


        CHAPTER I. A LETTER                                1

       CHAPTER II. THE FOLLY                              22

      CHAPTER III. "THE SINS OF THE FATHERS"              41

       CHAPTER IV. A FAIR PARLIAMENT                      51

        CHAPTER V. SENTIMENT AND "BACCY"                  66

       CHAPTER VI. STAGE-STRUCK                           82

      CHAPTER VII. DANGER AHEAD                          101

     CHAPTER VIII. AN ARRIVAL AND A MEETING              123

       CHAPTER IX. THE IMPERIAL CHANCELLERIE             152

        CHAPTER X. A COURT FAVOURITE                     176

       CHAPTER XI. A WOMAN SCORNED                       204

      CHAPTER XII. A PINK BILLET-DOUX                    227

     CHAPTER XIII. IN THE HAZEL COPSE                    253



MISS HILDRETH.



CHAPTER I.

A LETTER.


     "THE RED HOUSE,
     "Benton's Station, New Hampshire,
     "_April, 188--_.

     "MY FRIEND,

     "A clever Frenchman once said, 'On revient toujours à ses premiers
     amours.' Let us suppose this to have been said of a woman who, in
     her first youth, had loved a man and jilted him, and then, after
     many years and much sorrow, her heart returned again to him with a
     love and constancy unknown before. Cannot the past teach you to
     read between the lines? I did not write to you of my engagement;
     but now that it is over, and I am free, I find myself
     instinctively seeking the old shelter of your friendship, which at
     one time was never denied me; appealing to the old sympathy to
     which I then never appealed in vain. Are you astonished--surprised?
     I am not. In those old days--whose glory is not yet faded, over
     whose memory 'Requiescant in pace' has not yet been written--I came
     to you at all times, and you refused me nothing save one
     thing--once. So now I creep back to the old refuge, and bid you
     fold down the cere-cloth from our dead past, and see if still,
     after all these years, it does not look somewhat fair; if still
     there does not cling to it the memory of those old days; of blue
     skies, bluer waters, sweet roses, sweeter vows, bright sunshine,
     brighter promises! My marriage engagement is broken, Philip. Why? I
     can give no reason. He was all that the world calls worthy, and I
     believe he loved me; yet I found him wanting. Memory is a rare and
     delusive beautifier, and my memory is sadly tenacious of the past;
     therefore I am free. I could not be dishonest to him, even though
     I would. Yes, I am free, and I am writing you after years of
     silence. I wonder will you smile over this half-confession, and
     say, 'Impetuous as ever!' or will you understand, and, so
     understanding, send me the answer I desire? But should you choose
     to misconstrue my words, I can but say that I have wished to be
     honest, however late in the day. Write to me, Philip, or better,
     come to me. After all, I am but a woman, and a very weak one.

     "PATRICIA."

This was the letter that awaited Philip Tremain on his breakfast-table,
one bright spring morning of that most fickle, yet most beautiful month,
April. Even as he entered the room he became aware of its subtle
presence made known to him by its faint, dead odour of violets;
consequently it caused him no great shock of surprise to find the large,
square envelope, sealed with the device of a lighted candle and a silly
moth, and the motto "Delusion" below a monogram; with the firm
handwriting forming his name and address looking up at him from its
dainty surroundings of silver and damask. As the face of a once dearly
loved friend, neglected yet not forgotten, comes back to one from out
the mists of memory, recalled unexpectedly by some trivial
circumstance--a strain of music, a line of poetry, a faded flower.

Time was when each succeeding morning of Mr. Tremain's life, the early
post brought a similar letter, but in those days his manner of receiving
it differed exceedingly from this greeting. Then, he would take it up
tenderly, holding it for a few moments before his longing eyes, and
perhaps--for he was young and very adoring--raise it to his lips before
he broke the seal--which in those days was not a cynical candle and
blind moth, but a true lover's knot, with a French sentiment
intertwined.

Now he eyed it askance for a second or more before he lifted it, and
then after balancing it lightly on his open palm, put it down unopened,
made his tea, buttered his toast, and opened his newspaper; nor did he
glance towards it again until, his breakfast finished, his cigar alight,
sitting in the sunshine that flooded his apartment, he took it up and
broke the seal.

Various emotions passed over his face as he read. Surprise, half anger,
half scorn, and lastly, as he came to the final lines, a quiver of pity
or tenderness softened the stern outlines of forehead and lips. He laid
the open letter on his knee, and as he sat motionless, the increasing
noise of the shrill street cries, and the echo of commencing traffic
bespoke the reawakening of the great city to one more day of toil and
strife and unrest, passed by him unheeded.

A breath of the past was mingled with the present, and bore along with
it the scent of fresh grass, a mingled perfume of fruit and flowers, a
vision of flowing muslin draperies, a lithe, graceful figure, dark,
lustreless hair crowning a proud little head, eyes of deepest violet
shaded by black, pencilled brows and lashes, a face whose almost dusky
colouring flushed in an instant into richest carmine when deeply moved.

Ten years had gone by since Philip Tremain, a young barrister struggling
for briefs, idle, clever, lazy, and cursed with expectations of money,
first met Patricia Hildreth. He was living then in a small city, in the
interior of New York State, situated near one of those great lakes so
renowned for their beauty and their treachery. On account of his talents
and position he was rather the _enfant gâté_ of society in that
aristocratic little town; which, by the way, held itself very exclusive,
and counted among its residents many blue-blooded descendants of old
colonial families; its customs were colonial as well as its traditions,
and it looked down with contempt upon its sister city, on the borders
of a sister lake, because it had admitted within the doors of
hospitality scions of fathers who were known to have made their money in
trade.

To this hot-bed of traditional conservatism came Patricia as a
guest--handsome, disdainful, capricious, city-bred Patricia--armed with
all her little wiles and graces, a creature of wonderful resource, to be
looked upon from afar, and to be judged and condemned by the narrow code
and petty by-laws of the unwritten Blackstone of Hurontown. To the
married women she was a dangerous siren; to the girls a triumphant,
unapproachable Thetis; to the men a delusion and a snare, so soon as
ever she burned them with the blue fire of her eyes, or flashed her
smile upon them from the freshest of red lips, revealing the whitest of
pearly teeth.

In virtue of Philip Tremain's long acknowledged precedence where
anything feminine was concerned, all the other young eligibles of
Hurontown stood aloof and watched the coming flirtation, half in envy,
half in pride; for was not the conquering hero one of their own
belongings, and one also who had never known the arts and cajoleries of
women, save as portrayed by the demure maidens of their own little town;
whose manners and conversation betook largely of the Puritan training
bestowed upon them by their mothers? And was not this mocking, fearless
young amazon a maiden fresh from that modern Babylon, New York, where,
if all the girls were fair, all, too, were more or less false, and like
the Lorelei, only ensnared to destroy? Would it not be a proud boast for
all future Huronites if this beautiful young witch should be captured by
their village Perseus, and so changing the classic rôle be made
subservient to his will and pleasure all the days of her life?

But Patricia was petulant and capricious, and Patricia was not to be
easily won; both of which reasons made Philip pursue her the more
eagerly; to him, as to all men, that which is easy of attainment is not
to be desired. Whether he was successful or not remained for a long time
unknown to the outside world, but before many weeks had gone by Patricia
had given over her superior little airs, ceased pursing up her pretty
mouth, and become indeed wondrously meek and gentle, as she cast down
her proud eyes and hung out the red flag of danger, followed by the
white flag of truce; all of which signals signified a total surrender to
the enemy.

Thus one evening as they drifted idly about in a cockle-shell of a boat
on the blue waters of the great lake, she holding the oars, he sitting
at her feet, the softly fading pink and amber light in the west casting
a rosy hue over her sweet face and fleecy white draperies, he put his
hand on hers, and drawing down her not unwilling head, told his
love--the old, old story--and gained the assurance of hers.

Then followed days of beatific bliss and rapture, though both were poor,
and a more undesirable and foolish marriage for either in the world's
eyes--even the little world of Hurontown, which aped the morals and
cynicism of modern Babylon--could not be imagined. As a punishment for
their precipitate happiness came an indignant letter from Patricia's
mamma summoning her home, and peremptorily bidding her give up such
foolish playing at love. What did she think would be her chances for the
future if she marred all possibilities by such reckless flirtations? Was
she really devoid of all sense and judgment?

The lovers parted with vows of undying constancy, and the flame of their
love was kept alight by the interchange of daily letters, which, on
Patricia's part at least, were the cause of considerable deception and
hood-winking. Thus the months wore on; winter came, and with it a kind
friend, lately visiting in modern Babylon, brought news of Patricia's
gay life in that city, and rumours of her not too innocent flirtations,
of her daring public opinion by various foolhardy escapades; of her
beauty, her wit, her heedlessness of public censure; to all of which
Philip listened, smiling, believing in her fully, trusting that his love
for her, and hers for him, was sufficient safeguard against all attacks
made upon her loyalty by those in her own home.

But when there came a letter from Patricia, short, and not very
gracious, flippant and worldly in tone, announcing her approaching visit
to Europe under the chaperonage of a lady rather too well known for her
leaning towards a brilliant life, and altogether unfitted to be the
guide, philosopher, and friend of so impetuous a nature as his lady
love's, Philip aroused himself from his indolence, and awakened to
dangers ahead for him and her, betook himself to modern Babylon, and
presented himself before her without word of warning. Came, indeed, most
unexpectedly upon her, as she was holding her little court, composed of
one or two clever men, several handsome ones, a sprinkling of fair girls
and equally fair matrons; in the midst of whom Patricia shone forth
resplendent, as the planet Venus among her satellites.

Upon this fashionable throng burst poor Philip, disturbed,
travel-stained, and weary. From the fulness of a young, loving, jealous
heart, overcharged and ready to explode at the first touch of powder, he
demanded, not too courteously perhaps, that she should instantly then
and there, explain the presence of those obnoxious men, renounce her
contemplated journey, throw aside the useless, frivolous life she was
leading; marry him at once, and come to him in his poverty and toil with
him; he did not add _for him_, or she might have yielded. He was not
even gracious in his manner of asking, and his hand clasped hers
roughly, sending the brilliant rings into the soft fingers mercilessly.

Patricia drew back her injured hand, noting with self pity the red marks
his violence had left upon it, glanced down at her dainty costume of
delicate laces and softest silk, looked at the evidence of wealth in
her soft surroundings, turned a little towards the inner room,
brilliantly lighted, where she had left her subtle flatterers and
adorers, their words still echoing in her ears, then brought her
unwilling eyes back to Philip's tired, angry, harassed face, noted,
although half ashamed, his rumpled hair and ill-fitting coat, his
general lack of finish and repose, and drawing one hand slowly over the
other, slightly shook her head.

"You will not?" he cried out hoarsely. Then without waiting for her
reply, he burst into a torrent of disappointment and recrimination,
urged thereto by his hurt self-love; as he, quick as Patricia to make
comparisons, noted in proud disdain his provincial appearance beside the
perfectly-mannered, faultlessly-dressed, languidly-interested young
moths, who fluttered about the flame of Patricia's beauty, stupidly
singing their sensibilities in the fire of her brilliancy. Yet none the
less, though he knew and felt his own worth and truth to be boundless,
compared to theirs, he also felt that in the eyes of the woman he loved,
he looked--oh, unpardonable sin--honest, jealous, and countrified.

"You are not worthy of my love, or of me," he cried. "Go your own way,
Patricia, lead your own life; I release you, but don't for one moment
think you have injured or blighted mine. If all these luxurious
dainties, and all those brainless fools," with a contemptuous wave of
his hand towards the innocent revellers and their surroundings, "are
more to you than my love, then is your love too dainty a luxury for me.
I loved you, Patty, God knows how I loved you; but that goes for nothing
in your eyes. Good-bye, Patricia, good-bye."

She stood very still and silent while he spoke, the colour burned red in
her cheeks, the fire gleamed in her eyes, her bosom rose and fell
rapidly with the quick beating of her heart. She had not intended that
half unwilling shake of her head to be taken so literally, and used
against her. Was he not over anxious to grasp at this chance of freedom?
Were there not others, only waiting for her to declare herself
unfettered, to offer her so much more than this one poor man could give?
Above all, did he not snatch at this suddenly-made breach between them
with almost indecent haste? Her head rose proudly. She met his look
gallantly.

"As you say; no, I cannot live without what to me makes up the sum of
life; luxuries, dainties, call them what you will; they have not entered
over much into your life, I know; but they have become a part of mine,
and of me. I should be miserable without them."

"Even as my wife?" he asked royally.

"Even as your wife," she answered proudly.

He said no more, but as he turned to go from her, she came close up to
him, touching him lightly on his arm. His love had been very dear to
her; might she not keep a slight chain upon him still, so that in the
future she might have some little hold upon him; and, indeed, did she
not love him all the more because of his hot anger, and bitter truth,
and loyal love?

She put out both her hands to him--her voice was very gentle and
pleading:

"Since we are to part, Philip, and you will have it so, will you not
kiss me once, only once more, for good-bye?"

He turned from her, unheeding her pleading voice or hands.

"Do not say it is _my_ will that we part, Patricia; be just at least, if
you cannot be generous. No, I will not kiss you now, I am not quite a
hypocrite; perhaps one day, when I can believe and trust in you again,
Patty, or when all my love for you is dead, or when I can think of you,
look at you, judge you, as other men do, then I will kiss you, but not
until then. Ask me then, Patricia."

"I will never ask you again," she answered passionately; "but you,
Philip, shall be the first to beg a kiss from me, and I shall be the
one to make your pride suffer, as you now make mine."

Then she left him, sweeping by him, proud, tremulous, excited, stung to
the heart, but making no sign. He heard her laugh ring out joyously, a
moment later, as she applauded some witticism of one of her admirers,
and with a muttered exclamation he made his way out into the night.

So they had parted, and never since that unhappy evening had they met.

Time went on; there came trouble to Patricia in the death of her mother;
he wrote her a cold note of condolence, to which he received no reply;
then rumour brought him the knowledge of her inherited wealth, and,
shortly after, of her engagement to a man many years her senior. Of her
wealth he thought little, of her engagement he spoke calmly, and with
the air of a cynic, who beholds all things pass by, good and bad, and
says, in the bitterness of his soul, _cui bono_? But, inwardly his love
and pride were roused from their sleep of years, and he owned to
himself, with a hard honesty, that to think of her as belonging to
another man than he was intolerable. He had not been able to keep her
love when he won it, but it was none the less a pain to find that
another had succeeded where he had failed. Time, however, that wonderful
physician, in a measure numbed his distress, and to his world he posed
as a charming man, though cold and heartless; not one to be sentimental
over a dead past, but rather one to make his power felt, and to lead and
bend other wills by the stern inflexibility of his own.

And then had come Patricia's letter, telling of her broken toys; asking
to be taken back into his affections; seeking to creep back into the old
shelter of his heart, where once she had ruled so proudly.

Ten years had passed since he, in that sweet month of roses, had first
met and loved her. Ten years; and in the mean time Philip Tremain had
risen high in the world, and in men's opinions; his money had come to
him, partly by inheritance, partly through his own hard work; he had
made his name well known, his fame was still a rising one. No need to
feel ashamed for him now; indeed, no greater sybarite lived than he, no
truer _dilettante_, and no one whose surroundings were more daintily
luxurious.

But notwithstanding the changes that had developed this, to her, unknown
side of his nature, as he sat in the sunshine this fair spring morning,
holding Patricia's letter in his hand, he judged her no less harshly,
blamed her no whit the less, than he had when last he saw her, and
refused to kiss her for good-bye. With her own hands she had torn the
veil from his idol ten years ago, and he would not now voluntarily raise
a finger to restore its shattered beauty.

An hour glided by, his cigar was finished, the freshness of the morning
had departed, before he aroused himself from his retrospect; he turned
to his writing-table with a smile, and a half-uttered: "No, not even for
you, my once beloved Patty; you have made your own life, and you must
live it out to the bitter end--alone."

His answer therefore to Patricia was a polite stiff note of condolence
or congratulation, which she chose, on the failure of her matrimonial
plans. A regret he was unable to accept her invitation, a hope for her
happiness, an assurance that she might always consider him her friend,
but nothing more; not one word in answer to the love she proffered, not
one of remembrance of, or regret for the past.

Patricia Hildreth's face was not good to look upon, as she read his
response; if ever mortified vanity and determined revenge was readable
on a woman's countenance, it was to be seen on hers then.

"So I have humbled myself in vain," she said. "Well, it shall be your
turn next, my Philip, or my woman's wit is of no account; you shall
feel the same sting as you have given me, incased in your armour of
pride and well-being though you may be. Take care, Philip, my hand is
small but it is firm to strike, and he is most lost who thinks himself
invulnerable to a woman's charms."



CHAPTER II.

THE FOLLY.


About a week later Mr. Tremain found at his breakfast plate another
letter, and though bearing no crest or motto, and not suggestive of
violets, was nevertheless a dainty enough feminine epistle.

     "THE FOLLY,
     "Staten Island,
     "_April_, 188--.

     "DEAR MR. TREMAIN,

     "Will you come down to us for as long as you can stay without
     becoming bored to extinction! Your favourite rooms are waiting you,
     your favourite horse stands idle in his stall, the yacht is in
     perfect condition, and this delicious foretaste of summer makes
     sailing in her delightful. We are bored to death, however, for want
     of some one out of the common. Come and be that some one. I can
     offer you a pretty girl, a clever girl, and a girl of the period to
     flirt with successively; then there is myself, and your little
     god-daughter, Marianne, for common sense and dulness; while George,
     poor fellow, is pining for another battle at tennis and billiards
     with you. The ponies, my new ones, and their mistress, will be at
     the five-thirty boat to-morrow afternoon, to meet you, so pray
     don't disappoint,

     "Yours most cordially,
     "ESTHER NEWBOLD."

Nothing loth, Mr. Tremain put himself on board the _Castleton_ the next
day, and enjoyed the half-hour's crossing to the island, whose wooded,
picturesque shores, clad in fairest green, were a refreshment to his
senses, accustomed for so many months to the hard lines and sharp
angles of New York. As he stepped off the boat at New Brighton, he was
at once attracted by a very small boy, in a very tall hat, top-boots,
and silver buttons; then the most perfect of pony-carriages and ponies
met his view; and last, but not least, a pretty little woman in a
Gainsborough hat, and a light ulster, who put out a welcoming hand, in a
heavy driving-glove, as he appeared, and said gaily:

"Oh, Mr. Tremain, this is very good of you. You know I said I should
come for you myself. Now, then, are you quite settled to your liking?
Let go their heads, Tony; go on, my beauties."

The ponies answered spiritedly to the flick of her whip; and, indeed,
pranced off so suddenly that the small atom of humanity, perched up
behind, quite lost his dignity, and only retained his equilibrium by
super-human efforts.

Once on the Terrace they bowled along at a good pace, and after the
usual questions had been asked and answered, Mr. Tremain inquired whom
he was to meet at the Folly.

Mrs. Newbold answered with a little laugh: "I think I told you in my
letter of the three varieties of graces--a specimen of each--I have
prepared for you? Here they are by name, and ticketed with the
attributes they pose for, and fondly imagine they possess. A clever girl
from Boston of course, Rosalie James--small and dark, and
critical--reads all the newest books with the most jaw-breaking names,
goes in for all the 'ologies' and 'isms,' the later the better; likes to
think herself a disciple of the most advanced agnostic cult, is nothing
if not cultured, and pins her artistic canons to those of Burne Jones
and Walter Crane; is a working member of the Sorosis Club, the
Nineteenth Century, and every other woman's club in the Union; writes
for the magazines, and always has an æsthetic novel on the stocks, which
never is launched. How do you like this style, Philip?"

"Honestly, not at all," answered Tremain, echoing her thrill of
laughter; "from the woman of brains defend me! What have you next to
show me?"

"Ah well, she's not so bad as she sounds," said Mrs. Newbold, "I've
known her do a great many kind things; and after all it's not her fault,
you know, if like the little boy in _Punch_ she fails to take interest
in any event subsequent to the Conqueror. And now to number two, my
pretty girl, Baby Leonard, and a very pretty girl she is, in a slow,
superb Juno-like fashion. I don't _know_ of my own knowledge that she
ever shows greater animation than a languid yes, or no, implies; but if
you feel a very keen desire to read beneath the tranquillity of her
manner, go to Jack Howard for information, she is his latest victim, and
he may have touched the depths of even her shallow soul."

"Thank you," returned Tremain, "I do not feel _my_ soul intensely drawn
by occult forces--isn't that the correct jargon?--towards that of Miss
Leonard; let us allow Jack full innings there."

"Ah, you are very hard to please," cried Mrs. Newbold in pretended
petulance. "Now this is really my last and only remaining girl; in my
heart of hearts I think she is worth the other two, in spite of her
always handicapping herself; enter then Dick Darling, and shouldn't you
know by the sound of her name that she is a girl of the period? Pretty?
Oh, yes, but more fascinating than pretty; has a brown face, and
laughing eyes, and turned-up nose, uses all the latest slang, wears a
hard hat, a cut-away jacket, a Stanley necktie, and eye-glass and chain,
and carries the slenderest of walking-sticks, smokes her own cigarettes,
drinks Bass's ale, and plays a rattling good game at poker; and despite
all her mannish affectations, has the best heart in the world. She rides
like a bird, pulls an oar with the best, and can give as ugly a twister
at tennis as you could wish to see. Now is she more to your liking?"

Mr. Tremain shrugged his shoulders.

"My dear Mrs. Newbold, what can I say? Miss Darling is doubtless a
thoroughly good young lady, but more after the hearts and tastes of
younger men than such a graybeard as I. Do not, I beg of you, make any
efforts in the young-lady line on my behalf, I ask nothing better than a
good share of your company, and an hour or two of romps with my little
god-daughter. I shall be more than blessed if you will put up with my
dulness."

"What a very pretty speech, Philip, it is quite refreshing to my old
married ears; very well, you may sacrifice yourself on the altar of
decorum and innocence if you like, I will not say you nay. The men of
our party I think you know; besides Jack Howard we have handsome Freddy
Slade--the beauty of the day--and one or two inoffensive lads to fetch
and carry. And so you don't think either of my graces worthy your
consideration, Philip? Yet I do believe each one of them owns a good and
true heart, in spite of their individual fads."

"I do not doubt it," answered Mr. Tremain; "but seriously, my dear
Esther, you must surely know that having suffered once in that way, I am
not likely to be easily attracted again. I fancy the woman who could win
my cynical and fastidious heart, has not yet come from the other world;
she must needs combine all the beauties of the graces, the attributes of
the muses, and be withal, like Cæsar's wife, above suspicion. Find me
such a divinity, Esther, or else I shall wait for your own little
Marianne."

A silence followed Philip's half-jesting, half-bitter reply, broken at
last by Mrs. Newbold's lightest laugh, as she asked:

"Do you like my ponies? George gave them to me on my last birthday; Dick
Darling christened them, Rock and Taffy; hard and soft, you know, or
dependable and doubtful, or any opposing virtues you choose to select.
Now then, here we are," as she turned her ponies cleverly over an
awkward incline, and dashed through the gates.

"Shall we join the world at lawn-tennis, or will you come in with me and
have a cup of tea?"

"With you, if you please," answered Philip, mock-pleadingly. "My dear
Mrs. Newbold, don't deliver me into the hands of the Philistines
prematurely."

Esther's blithe laugh rang out merrily as they sped up the long avenue,
shaded by the rows of graceful elm trees on either side; she brought the
ponies to the door with a workmanlike flourish, and scarcely touching
Philip's assisting hand, sprang out and was up the low broad steps
before him.

"Let us have tea at once, Long. This way, Mr. Tremain."

They entered the library together; it was a large room and the favourite
one, _par excellence_, of all the apartments in that most charming and
hospitable of homes, the Folly. On one side ran a broad, covered,
outside verandah, on to which opened two large windows of stained glass,
through whose mellow tints the light shone in tenderest colours; heavy
draperies, of some wondrous Eastern fabric, fell on either side of the
broad low door; a neutral-tinted wall supported rare plaques of Moorish
faïence, and choice selections of _bric-à-brac_, with here and there the
glimmer of brass sconces and silver _repoussé_ ovals, relieving the
somewhat sombre tone; while everywhere, in each possible or impossible
spot, on every table, in every vase or bowl, a wealth of Maréchal Niel
roses filled the air with their subtle pungent perfume, and caught and
held the sunshine as in a trance. The one picture of the room stood upon
an easel, hung with plush of ruddy hue; it was an artist proof engraving
of Correggio's "Io and Jupiter." A fire of pine-logs smouldered on the
andirons, and through the curtained doorway a vanishing perspective
revealed a vista of drawing-room, music-parlour, and billiard-hall, all
in the half tints of twilight.

Mrs. Newbold threw off her hat and ulster, and pushing back the light
fluffy curls from her forehead, called out laughingly:

"Mimi, Mimi!"

A little fairy, all yellow curls and white frock, darted through the
open door, and dancing up to the pretty lady threw her arms rapturously
around her; her mamma bent down her own head above the little one, and
kissed the eager little lips.

"See, Philip," she said, "here is your god-daughter. Has she not
blossomed into a little hoyden?"

"A Hebe, rather," answered Philip, "and as like her mother as a bud is
like the rose."

Esther laughed. "You certainly do pay one the very prettiest
compliments, Mr. Tremain; I make you my humble acknowledgments," and she
dropped him a mock curtsey. "If this is the result of stern law, why,
commend me to its votaries."

And thus laughing, chatting and sipping their tea, they beguiled the
time away, until the first dressing-gong broke upon them with surprise,
and Philip escaped to his room before the tennis party appeared, flushed
with victory, or despondent with defeat.

As Mr. Tremain moved leisurely about his apartment, his ear caught the
sound of his own name; he stopped, with a half smile on his lips, and
listened. The speakers, two girls, were evidently oblivious to the fact,
that given open windows and unmodulated voices, what is sent out of one
window, may enter at the other.

"Who is this Philip Tremain?" asked voice No. 1. "I am bored to death by
Esther Newbold's praises of him. _I_ don't know him."

"He can't be great things then, can he?" said mockingly voice No. 2.
"Only you see, Rosie, this time you're out of it altogether; Philip
Tremain is just too awfully utter, just the swellest thing out in men,
my dear, though you _don't_ know him Boston-way. Handsome mug, heaps of
shiners, Mayflower family, and good form from way back."

Here a little whiff from a Russian cigarette fluttered in. "Ha, ha,"
laughed Philip, as he sniffed at it, "the girl of the period, and her
least hated friend; matters grow interesting."

"How disgustingly slangy you are, Dick," broke in voice No. 1; "really
your language is most offensive."

"Poor cultured child!" cried out the other, with a merry laugh, that had
something honest in its tone. "How I afflict her! Oh, ye gods and little
fishes, how shall I appease her? But seriously, Rosie, don't you
remember some one telling us all about him, and the dreadful cropper
handsome Patty Hildreth came over him? Long ago, my dear, when she was
young, and we had not even seen our 'green and salad days.' He was
tremendously in love with her, they say, and was blind to Patty's little
peculiarities where men and flirting were concerned, until at last
something worse than usual came to his ears, some scrape more daring and
hare-brained, in which Patty's name figured largely, and he cut up rough
about it; Patty was wilful and obstinate, and Mr. Tremain injured and
harsh, and so the engagement came to everlasting smash, and Patty
engaged herself, before the week was out, to old Tom Naylor, who left
her a cool million, and died within the year of her dismissing him. What
luck some girls have! By the way, Esther has asked her here, she says;
what a lark it will be to see the meeting of the old-time pals. Good
gracious! are you all dressed, Rosa? I shall be late again, as sure as
eggs is eggs, and George is such a Turk about meals."

Then the speaker evidently moved away from the window, and Philip heard
no more; but what he had listened to set him thinking, and brought a
smile of bitterness to his lips.

"So Patty is coming, Patty is to be here," he mused, "and I must meet
her after all these long years. Poor, wilful, pretty Patricia!"

A few moments later he entered the library, and found the room still in
half-lights and apparently tenantless; but as he moved towards the
fireplace he became aware of a tall, slight figure, severely clad in a
dark, trailing gown of some heavy silken material. A fall of black lace
surrounded the drooping head and fell low about the face, throwing such
deep shadows upon it that Philip looked in vain for any definite
characteristics. The long and slender hands lay crossed lightly upon her
knees, and were guiltless of rings. Something in their attitude,
however, recalled Patty to him, and, with a half-credulous smile, he
quickened his steps towards the quiet, almost motionless figure; but as
he reached her side, a ripple of laughter and light voices broke the
spell, as the door was thrown open, and Mrs. Newbold entered, followed
by her bevy of fair maidens.

"Ah, Mr. Tremain," cried Esther, "are you here before us? How shall I
apologise? Now, will you take your introductions homoeopathically, or
in one dose? Girls, fall into line!"

Laughingly she presented him to each in turn, and with a careless, "The
men you know," slipped her hand within his arm, saying: "Shall we go in
to dinner?"

But Philip stayed her.

"You have forgotten _one_," he said, in a low voice, glancing towards
the figure by the fire, that had remained motionless during all the gay
_argot_ and repartee.

"Oh," replied Mrs. Newbold, with a shrug of her pretty shoulders, "you
mean Mdlle. Lamien. She is Mimi's governess. I will present you,
however. Mademoiselle, permit me; Mr. Tremain--Mdlle. Lamien."

The lady thus addressed turned and bowed slightly--the barest
recognition of Mr. Tremain's presence. She raised her face a little, and
the light from the wax candles in the sconce above her head fell full
upon it. It was a face pale in the extreme, with the dull waxen colour
of death--a pallor increased and intensified by the masses of snow-white
hair piled high above it, and the heavy black lace folds about it. The
dark eyes set in deep shadows burned with a strange inward fire, that
not even the heavy lashes could veil. Across one cheek a long cruel mark
of greyish blue seemed to throb, as if in angry remembrance of the cruel
blow that had caused it; the fair skin would bear its traces for life.
The mouth was firm and hard, save for a nervous twitching that sometimes
marred its outline. It was a countenance neither handsome nor
attractive, and Mr. Tremain turned away, after the barest interchange
of civilities, with a feeling of irritable disappointment. What right
had such a figure, youthful and full of grace, to be surmounted by a
face almost grotesque in its plainness? He had thought of Patty, when
first he saw the quiet, dark figure and clasped hands; but as he turned
now with Esther's hand still on his arm, the fleeting evanescent vision
passed from him.

"Mimi will come to us at dessert, mademoiselle," said Esther, not
unkindly. "Will you not also join us?"

"Madame is very kind, but I beg she will excuse me," was the reply, in a
voice that sounded young for so old a face, and yet that held an echo of
such hopelessness in its cadences, it haunted Philip's ears unceasingly,
and so dulled his senses that Miss James's most brilliant high
æsthetical conversation fell unheeded, while Dick Darling's most daring
slang evoked only a passing shudder of disapproval.

Miss James shrugged her thin shoulders and voted him a good-looking
bore, then turned her dark head and left shoulder upon him, and carried
the battle into the enemy's camp, by appropriating Jack Howard, who, by
all rights, social and flirtatious, belonged to pretty Baby Leonard.



CHAPTER III.

"THE SINS OF THE FATHERS."


Philip thus left unmolested save by his own reflections, and quite
innocent of his own shortcomings, was only aroused from a long brown
study by hearing Freddy Slade appeal in his most drawling tones to his
host, as he lifted his glass of Burgundy, and eyed it lovingly.

"I say, Newbold, what an extraordinary woman you have managed to annex
as a governess--capital wine this, what's its vintage?--I met her
to-day, walkin' all alone in that beastly sycamore plantation of yours,
and thinkin' she might be lonely offered myself as a companion. By
George! you should have seen the look on her face as she declined; you
wouldn't have thought me good enough to be her lap-dog--give you my
word, never saw such scorn on any woman's face before. Who is she? A
princess in disguise, an exiled Russian of high degree, or a
disappointed tragedy actress?"

"Oh, you must ask Esther," replied lazy George Newbold. "She's her
latest importation."

This was Mr. Newbold's usual way of getting rid of all troublesome or
inconvenient questions. "It saved him trouble," he used to say, "and
gave the wife the gratification of doing all the talking."

"Esther will tell you, without being asked, _beau sire_," broke in that
little matron; "I am very much in love with her, you must know; she is
delightful, and she is mysterious, what more can you ask? She is the
daughter of a Russian noble and a French girl of the bourgeoisie. You
can imagine the story, it's for ever repeating itself. The marriage was
a secret one, the young man's family refused to recognise it; he was
recalled to Petersburg, and the girl offered money in lieu of her young
husband, which she passionately rejected. Then followed the old story of
hopeless waiting; her baby was born, and for a time she struggled
bravely on, fighting shame and poverty hand to hand. But at last she
succumbed, and death freed her from her share in life's battle.

"The misfortunes of the mother seemed to follow and dog the daughter,
whose great personal beauty served only as her worst enemy. She was
brought up respectably enough, and but for what Lord Byron calls the
'fatal dower,' would doubtless have lived and died in the monotony of a
commonplace existence. Little as you may think it, however, Adèle Lamien
was possessed of such unusual beauty of face and form, it was impossible
for her to pass unnoticed in the rank and file of humanity.

"In ignorance of her mother's fate, the poor girl, with a blindness born
of innocence, was soon treading step by step that dolorous path which
had ended for her young mother in despair and death. There's an irony in
such repetitions that might well repay the study of one interested in
the factors of the 'great chance' called life.

"Well, Adèle was wooed and won by a very lofty personage, who, if not of
the parent imperial rose-tree, could claim close connection with it.
Like her mother again, the marriage was a secret one, though in
accordance with the ritual of the Catholic Church, to which faith the
girl belonged. I believe the months that followed were the happiest the
girl had ever known in her not too happy life. It made the awakening all
the more terrible; for of course there was an awakening. Men have a
habit of tiring of their most beautiful human toys, especially if these
playthings develop intellect and passion.

"Let me draw a veil over this part of Mdlle. Lamien's history. It is
enough to say that a terrible crime was committed--a crime so violent
and so fatal that all Petersburg were roused to action, and the imperial
blood-hounds let loose to track the perpetrator. It was at this time
that Adèle fled from Russia, and reached England almost by miracle. From
there she hastened to America, haven of all persecuted unfortunates; and
in New York she came under my notice. I listened to her story, and,
after she had finished its narration, and knowing all against her, and
nothing in her favour, I took her as governess for my little daughter.
Quixotic! Yes, I know it was, and a dangerous experiment; but I couldn't
help it--there were reasons--her eyes haunted me. And truth compels me
to state that so far she has proved herself fully worthy of my trust.
Marianne is devoted to her--she is little short of angelic in the
child's eyes; and I openly confess to a tender regard for her. She is
unexplainable, enigmatic, fascinating. But, hush, here comes the child;
and _her_ ears are something abnormal."

Esther finished with a dramatic little gesture that set them all
laughing, and in the general merriment Philip's gravity passed
unchallenged.

The story, as told by Mrs. Newbold, with all her little artistic touches
of gesture and inflection, haunted him strangely. He found himself
constantly reverting to it, and always with an incongruous and almost
jarring thought of Patty, running side by side with his unwilling
sympathy for Mdlle. Lamien.

Miss James found him a very inattentive listener as, later in the
evening, they sat together on the wide verandah, and looked across the
broad stretch of lawn to where the faintest streak of shining grey
marked the waters of the bay. The moonlight was flooding all things with
reckless prodigality, until even the barest and tiniest twig grew
luminous, and the budding roses became ethereal in the generosity of its
rays.

Miss James would have dearly loved to sentimentalise a little; she was
not at all adverse to a mild flirtation with this handsome grave man,
whose very presence made her feel her own littleness of mental stature.
Unconsciously she dropped her usual heroics, and was prepared to be as
meek and coy as any new-fledged _débutante_. Unfortunately however,
Philip's mind was not in tune, or she struck the wrong chords, for he
failed miserably to be responsive. At length, after a rather awkward
little silence, she requested him, a trifle sharply, to fetch her a
shawl; she felt the evening growing chilly.

Almost too eagerly Philip sprang up and hastened to obey her, leaving
her with tears of mortification in her eyes, and hot anger in her heart.
Meantime, Mr. Tremain, quite oblivious to his shortcomings, made his way
to the inner hall, where he had an indistinct remembrance of having seen
something white and fluffy, and which bore about it a faint odour of
white rose, Miss James's most affected scent. Surely, unless he was too
awfully masculine, that soft white odorous mass was of the nature of a
wrap.

As he crossed the entrance-hall on his quest, he caught sight of Mdlle.
Lamien's tall figure in the little drawing-room which was especially
consecrated to Marianne. She was standing by the window, her face
pressed against the frame, her whole form shaken with suppressed
emotion. Tremain, like most men, was acutely susceptible to tears. He
stopped involuntarily, hesitated, and in another moment was at her side.

"Mdlle. Lamien," he said, gently, "are you in trouble? Can I help you?"

She made him no answer, save by a quick, impatient movement of her head.

But Mr. Tremain was not to be baffled, though he rather wished himself
out of the scene, and felt unwarrantably angry at Miss James for being
the innocent cause of his present position.

"Have you had bad news?" he persisted. "Are you suffering? Let me beg of
you to tell me what troubles you?"

As suddenly as she had drawn from him before she turned towards him
now, and lifted her face, pale and haggard in the moonlight, full upon
him. Her eyes shone hotly.

"I have been looking my dead past--my old love--in the face," she cried,
passionately, "and I am miserable!"

She turned, and before Philip could put out a detaining hand, was gone.
He stood as she left him, almost as pale as the wild, white face she had
flashed upon him.

"Good God!" he muttered. "What a look of Patty there was in her eyes!"

Miss James waited long, and impatiently, and in vain for Mr. Tremain and
her wrap. He did not come back; indeed, as a matter of fact, he forgot
all about her commission until later in the evening, when she swept by
him on Jack Howard's arm. At sight of her, Philip was struck by his sins
of omission, and with rather less self-possession than usual, made a
poor apology for his rudeness.

"Were you rude, Mr. Tremain?" Miss James replied, icily. "Pray don't
apologise; I had not accused you." And with a mocking smile, she passed
on, laughing ostentatiously at Jack's latest witticism.

Mr. Tremain looked after them with a faint surprise in his glance; then
he, too, laughed, but quietly, as he said, half-aloud:

"Oh, woman, woman! thy name is caprice!"



CHAPTER IV.

A FAIR PARLIAMENT.


The next morning, when Mr. Tremain sauntered down the broad stairs, that
gave upon the inner hall, he found that favourite place of resort
already occupied, and about twenty tongues were going at full gallop,
every one talking, no one listening, while far above the well-bred
clamour, rose Dick Darling's high-pitched treble.

"I say we must; oh, what a most too unutterably utter lark! Esther, you
are a trump, you are a saint, you are a double-distilled daisy, and you
deserve to have a free-actioned, high-stepping trotter, and a skeleton
selfish waggon, for your very, very own!"

"You are very kind, Dick," and this time it was Mrs. Newbold's voice,
"but indeed, I don't want a reward of merit of that description, I fail
to appreciate it, my dear. A nasty little abominable trotting waggon,
all bones and ribs, and no flesh, and a monstrosity of a horse that
would drag my arms from their sockets and me over its head before I
could say----"

"Jack Robinson," broke in the irrepressible Dick, "though why one is
always supposed to invoke that mythical personage, in times of surprise,
it is beyond me to explain. However, you are about right, Esther, for
now I come to think of it, what would you do with your legs?"

"Oh, Dick, you are really too hopelessly vulgar," cried out a chorus of
voices, to which Miss Darling not a whit abashed, replied:

"Well, and what would you have me call them?"

"You might say pedal extremities," remarked Miss James, to which
brilliant suggestion Dick vouchsafed no further reply than a pronounced
sniff and shrug of her shoulders.

Then Esther caught sight of Philip, and rose in pretty confusion to
greet him.

"Ah, Mr. Tremain, you have stolen a march upon us, and invaded a woman's
congress, and now, since you have been so very rash and bold----"

"'Oh, rash and bold!'" sang Dick, under her breath, with a comical
Mikado gesture.

"You shall stay and be umpire. Perhaps, as you are a man," continued
Esther, severely, "I may be able to drag a little bit of sense out of
you."

"I doubt it," said Dick again, _sotto voce_.

"And so do I," echoed Philip aloud, at which there was a general laugh,
and then a general and eagerly expressed desire that Mr. Tremain might
be made as comfortable as possible, and at once admitted to the inner
sanctorum of their circle.

Esther pulled forward the most seductive _causeuse_, Baby Leonard
actually resigned a cushion for his head, and Dick Darling evolved the
tiniest of cigarette cases and vesuvians from her knowing little coat
pocket, and striking a light offered him a "real Turkish brew," assuring
him that they were "quite the knob," and that she imported them herself,
straight from the shores of the Bosphorus, a fact, which none of them
being strong in geography, dared to contradict. Only Miss James refused
to join in the general adulation; she sat quite still in her low
wicker-chair, leaning her dark head against the gold-coloured cushions,
and watching Philip, furtively, through her half-closed eyelids.

When the hubbub of welcome had somewhat subsided, and only a rippling
laugh, or the _frou-frou_ of the women's gowns, as their owners moved
about listlessly, or settled themselves more comfortably in their
luxurious chairs, gave evidence of the "concourse of tongues" that had
been, Mr. Tremain ventured to ask, holding his unsmoked cigarette
between his fingers, what had been the topic under discussion, when his
untoward entrance silenced the music of their voices?

"Music of our voices, indeed!" mocked Dick, bringing her shoulders up to
her little ears. "You flatter us, Mr. Tremain--at least you flatter
me--the harmonies must have been strangely mixed in that _galère_; I
never heard my shrill pipe called anything so fetching before. Speak for
yourselves, girls, I am nothing if not honest."

"Don't be absurd, Dick," answered Miss James, pettishly; "what a miser
you are to take everything to yourself in that fashion!"

"Speak for oneself, or no one will speak for you," said Dick, calmly. "I
always find the best policy is that which brings oneself most into
notice, and if you don't flaunt your own colours boldly, no one will
haul 'em up for you."

"All this isn't very enlightening to Mr. Tremain," broke in Mrs.
Newbold, in her pleasant fashion; "of course it's wildly exciting and
interesting to us, but we can scarcely expect him to enter heart and
soul, into the rights and wrongs of our feminine policy. Now the case in
point, Philip, is this: next Thursday--ten days off, you see--will be my
husband's birthday, and we thought it would be very nice to celebrate it
for him in some jovial way."

"I suggested a dance," interrupted Baby Leonard, "because a dance is so
easily done; one has only to put the whole affair in Delmonico's hands,
and order one's dress, and let one's young men know the colours for
one's bouquets, and fill up one's dance card twice over, and then you
see--why then it is accomplished."

"Highly amusing for you, Baby, who never look to such advantage as
valsing with Jack," said Esther, half indignantly, "but rather hard on
poor old George, I think, seeing that the poor dear fellow can't dance
a step, and after all, it's _his_ birthday, you know."

"I don't suppose he would think of that," replied Miss Leonard, "_I_
never did," at which self-evident ingenuousness Dick went off into a
frenzy of laughter, which proved so infectious that they all joined in,
until their united strength of lung attracted Jack Howard and Freddy
Slade, who emerged from the billiard-hall, cues in hand, to know "what
the dickens was the joke?" And then, when order was restored, and only
Dick going off spasmodically in little spurts of merriment, the two men
were invited to remain and become members of the council of war.

"Now, Esther, _I_ have an idea," suddenly cried out Dick. "I don't get
one very often, so attach it when you can. Let's have some downright
first-class athletic sports. There's the gymnasium, just the ticket,
with all the newest fads in bars, and poles, and trapezes. We girls
might go in for the lighter exercises against the men, and then make
way for their competitions in the higher science; and we could end up
with a rousing good battle at ten-pins! Now that is a good suggestion.
Don't you like it?" in a tone of intense astonishment, turning from one
to another with a comical look of surprise on her fresh round face.

"I think it is perfectly disgusting," said Miss James, with scorn; "and
quite worthy of you, Dick. The idea of making mountebanks of ourselves
in those odious gymnasium costumes, to romp and riot about like a parcel
of schoolboys! Besides, I don't see where George would come in, in your
refined little programme, any better than in Baby's scheme!"

"Oh, he should give the prizes," answered Dick, not a whit abashed.

"Yes, and pay for them, too," muttered Jack Howard, a little
maliciously.

"Well, I resign," said Dick, with the air of a martyr. "But really I
don't see what we can do. We can't have races, because the ground's as
hard as nails, and the poor dear beasties would lame themselves, and we
can't have a yachting contest, because all the Squadron, and the crack
boats, have gone off to Newport; and tennis is a bore, and dancing is a
nuisance, and you look down on my healthy little device, so cudgel your
own brains, my dears, mine refuse to evolve another iota of an idea!"
And Miss Darling pulled out her cigarette-case and devoted herself to a
minute inspection of its contents.

"Well, I am sure, the only things left to us are theatricals, or
tableaux," said Esther, piteously; "the latter are simply odious, so it
must be the former. After all, it's strange how one always does come
back to theatricals; they always seem most satisfactory in the end."

"Because we all believe ourselves to be the one great actor of the
future," said Mr. Tremain, with a smile; "it's only opportunity that we
lack, not genius; and it's only other people's stupidity that fails to
recognise our talents."

"You needn't count me in, Esther dear," cried Dick; "I never could act
worth a cent, and what's more I hate it, pretending to be ever so many
qualities that one is not, and never succeeding a third part as well as
the most tuppenny-ha'penny actress at the Bowery!"

"Dick's severe," laughed Baby Leonard, "because the first and only time
she was to have appeared in public the committee were obliged to ask her
to resign, she made love in such a vigorous fashion, and charged the
_jeune premier_ as though he were a five-barred gate, and over him she
would go, willy-nilly. She frightened him terribly, and he refused to go
on with his rôle if Miss Darling continued in hers."

"Baby dearly loves a sell," remarked Dick, good-naturedly, when the
laugh at her expense had subsided; "but she's quite right, I'm quite
too awfully horrid when it comes to making believe." With which little
home thrust Miss Darling settled back in her chair beamingly.

"Then, since acting it is to be, let's settle the play," said Jack
Howard. "It's always a long business, and we haven't any too much time
at our disposal."

"There's _School_," suggested Miss James, "or _Ours_, or _The Romance of
a Poor Young Man_; and oh, doesn't that make one weep for poor
Montague?"

"Oh, how sentimental!" cried Dick. "Why don't you have something jolly,
like _The Mikado_, or _Ruddigore_, or even _Patience_? There's something
more in any one of them, than in all your love and moonshine plays put
together."

"But since you refuse to join our company, Dick, isn't it a little
grasping on your part to wish to coerce our choice?" said Esther,
mischievously.

"I am dumb," answered Dick, shutting her mouth firmly, and only letting
her laughing eyes glance merrily from one to another, as the discussion
waxed fast and furious, and threatened to end in tears and temper.

It settled itself down at last, however, into a comedy, or melodrama,
and a farce; and when, to end all further embarrassment, Mr. Tremain
suggested a ballot to decide, it was accepted unanimously. The result
gave the first preference to _The Ladies' Battle_, the second to the
ever fresh _Box and Cox_.

"Of course you all know I don't act," said Mrs. Newbold, prettily, and
withdrawing gracefully from all contest over the rôles. "_I_ never like
anything so much as being wardrobe mistress and prompter, so I shall
elect myself into those positions at once, and that clears off one
superfluous woman."

Nor would she listen to any of the protestations and entreaties of her
companions; she put her hands over her ears, and shook her head, until
every little golden curl danced again, as she cried, laughingly: "It's
no use, I don't hear you, and I'm not to be moved. I have chosen my
favourite characters, and I won't give them up. Now then," bringing down
her hands, "let us dispose of the rôles. Baby, you must be Léonie de
Villegontier, you will look the character to perfection; Rosalie, whose
forte though you may not think it, is comedy, shall be Mrs. Bouncer, in
the farce; Jack, will you take De Grignon's rôle? And you, Philip, I
know Henri is an old friend in your hands, will you represent him once
more?"

"And who is to be the Countess, Esther?" asked Miss James, with a little
smile. "Are you keeping her part for some special favourite who has not
yet arrived? It's the most important rôle of all, and should be well
taken, or the play will prove terribly flat."

"Have no fear, Rose," cried out Dick, forgetful of her vow of silence,
"I know, my genius is once more to the front; for whom, of course,
should Esther be keeping that part, except for the cleverest actress of
you all--Patricia Hildreth--don't you know, pretty Patty----" She
stopped as suddenly as she began, and, flushing crimson, stole a
deprecatory look at Mr. Tremain's cold quiet face, which at that moment
caught a reflection of her own painful blush.

"I beg your pardon," she murmured under her breath; and there followed a
moment's constraint, broken immediately, however, by Philip asking quite
naturally and easily:

"Then you are expecting Miss Hildreth, Mrs. Newbold? It is many years
since I last saw her--act."

And then, just in time to save Esther's confusion, the luncheon-gong
sounded, and the council broke up, straying off in twos and threes
towards the dining-room.

"It's all very well," said Dick Darling, scoffingly, to Freddy
Slade, as they sauntered along together, "having these miserable
theatricals--they might as well have dumb-crambo at once, and be done
with it--and, for my part, I can't see that poor George comes into it
any better than he did with Baby and me, though Esther was so sharp
about its being _his_ birthday."

"Oh, George can pay the shot," answered Freddy, carelessly.

"I'm sure it's what he's always at, poor dear," retorted Dick, sharply;
and as by this time they had reached the lunch-room, their argument came
to an end.



CHAPTER V.

SENTIMENT AND "BACCY."


"Esther," said Mr. Tremain a few hours later, as they sat together in
the library, just before the time for the tea-tray and the return of the
other visitors, who, at Dick Darling's suggestion and under her
guidance, had gone _en masse_ to deal out tobacco and small sums of
money to the old salts at Snug Harbour, "Esther, did you know Patricia
was to be here, when you asked me to come?"

His voice was more stern than reproachful, and Mrs. Newbold, glancing up
at him furtively, thought how cold and impassive was his face. She
paused a moment before answering him, and the flames from the pine-logs
on the wide hearth, leaping high, revealed a half-anxious,
half-hesitating expression in her blue eyes and about her delicately-cut
mouth. She held a screen of scarlet Ibis feathers, as she sat in a low
chair, to shield her from the heat, and her hand trembled just enough to
set the scarlet feathers moving, like so many vivid fire-tongues. She
answered somewhat evasively:

"And if I did, Philip, what then? Is the old wound so deep it cannot be
healed, and do you, a Hercules among men, shrink from the light touch of
a woman's fingers?"

"We are but courageous," he made answer, "according to time and
opportunity, and the weakness or strength of the temptation. A woman's
hand has been the cause of a man's undoing ever since the world began,
Esther. I have no desire to become another sacrifice on the altar of a
woman's vanity."

"What do you fear, Philip?" she asked, presently, turning the feather
fan round and round in her fingers, and watching him intently as she
spoke.

"What do I fear? Everything and nothing. You, who know the whole
miserable old story, must also know the bitterness of its ending. What
do I fear? I fear Patricia; I fear the light coming and going in her
eyes; I fear the grace and beauty of her motions; I fear the subtle
witchery of her voice; I fear the sweetness of her smile, the studied
trick of her down-drooped mouth, the soft lingering pressure of her
hand; I fear--but there, why fight against shadows? I have the remedy in
my own hands--I can leave you, Esther. Even you cannot compel me to see
her."

He had risen as he spoke, and moved about restlessly, stopping
half-unconsciously at a table that stood in his path, and fingered
absently the several articles of _bric-à-brac_ upon it.

Esther followed his movements with her eyes, a look of pity and yet
triumph on her face. As his voice grew passionate, she dropped the
feather-screen, and clasping her hands across her knee, drew a quick
long breath; but when he came towards her again, she sank back into her
former listless attitude. He stood up tall and straight before her,
resting one arm upon the chimney-shelf, and looked down at her with dark
excited eyes, which the slight smile upon his lips failed to
counterbalance.

"Did you ask her here with some deep-laid plan of reconciliation?
Esther, was that your motive? Did you think, knowing me since your
girlhood--not so many years ago, Esther--and finding me fairly
good-natured and forgiving, as men go, that you would take the spindle
of fate into your own hands, and like Atropos of old, cut the tangled
skein of my life, in the vain hope of reuniting it with hers? It was
kindly meant, Esther, but--it cannot be."

Mrs. Newbold stopped him with an upward gesture of her hand.

"Philip," she said, slowly, and looking at him steadily, "does it not
strike you--do you not think--you are taking her acquiescence rather too
much as a matter of course? Has Patricia no right to repudiate you,
before even you endeavour to reclaim her?"

He paused before he answered, and the lines about his mouth and eyes
grew sterner and more defined. When he spoke he took his arm from the
chimney-shelf, on which he had been resting, as though disdaining that
slight support, and his voice sounded harsh and uncompromising.

"Has she that right, Esther? Has she not rather by her own actions cut
herself adrift from the usual consideration granted to women? Did she
consider me, when she cast me off so lightly? And for what, forsooth?
Because I was a too eager and too rustic a lover; because my outward
appearance offended her hypercritical eyes; because she was but a
butterfly of the hour, as vain and frivolous as the frailest _cigale_ of
a summer's hour; and because her world, before which she shone as a
bright particular star--and oh, what a little, trifling world it
was!--and over which she reigned as a queen, repudiated me. I was not of
their mode; I was not a _super-chic_; I could not speak their _argot_,
or join in their light impertinent persiflage. I was too honest, Esther,
for her world--too honest and too brutally straightforward, and so--she
threw me over."

"She was young, Philip," pleaded Mrs. Newbold, "young and flattered and
spoilt. Cannot you now make allowance for her surroundings then, and
understand how terrible and impossible poverty, imperious poverty,
seemed to her? You, who so well appreciate the luxuries of life now,
cannot you put yourself in Patricia's place, and judge from her
standpoint, and see with her eyes, what it meant, when you asked her to
fling her old life behind her, and start on a new and untried one, with
you alone, and you only as recompense and compensation?"

"If she had loved me," broke in Mr. Tremain, "she would not have
considered, she would not have hesitated; my love and my devotion would
have weighed heavier with her than all the baubles and gewgaws of her
fashionable life."

For all answer to this Mrs. Newbold laughed, throwing back her pretty
head, and throwing out her pretty hands dramatically.

"Ah," she cried, "for wholesale, downright vanity commend me to a man!
It's no use looking savage, Philip; I cannot help it, I must have my
laugh out; your cool assumption of the be-all and end-all of Patricia's
existence is too irresistibly funny. It's very man-like, and very
characteristic. You never take into consideration, you lords of
creation, the up-bringing, education and surroundings of a girl of the
world. You forget that the very trifles you stigmatise as frivolities
are the daily small necessities of her life: she knows nothing
different. It is as natural to her to have pretty clothes, artistic
surroundings, and dainty employments, as it is for you to go to a crack
tailor and smoke an irreproachable cigar. She cannot understand another
sort of world where these elements are not: she accepts them as a matter
of course, and could not fashion her day without them. Then comes some
untoward fate, in the shape of a lover from that unfamiliar world, whose
habits, manner of life, occupations, are all opposed to hers--as
opposite as the luxurious civilisation of Europe is to that of the heart
of Africa. What she deems necessities, he calls luxuries; her natural
pastimes become frivolities; her occupations, idleness; her unconscious
acceptation of all that money brings, worldliness; and her hesitation,
when her lover and her love demand the sacrifice of all this,
pusillanimity and calculativeness. And what does the man offer in
exchange?--for luxurious comfort, straitened means; for dainty clothes,
the resuscitated dresses of last year; for society--a tired harassed
husband; and for recreation--perhaps a cheap place at some theatre,
two or three times a year."

"You are painfully frank, Esther," said Mr. Tremain, stiffly.

"Yes, and I mean to be," continued Mrs. Newbold, "because it is a
subject I have very much at heart, and because it is the fashion of the
day to cry down the worldly maiden, and cry up the poor, but
self-sacrificing lover. Had you anything better to offer Patricia, than
what my words picture? Was there any brighter prospect for her? Did you
not make the sacrifice as great a one as possible, and could you
honourably and reasonably have expected the change in your fortunes,
when you urged Patricia's choice, and left her no alternative between
poverty with you, and her accustomed luxury without you? Do you not
understand her position somewhat better, Philip, since _you_ have become
a man of luxury and wealth?"

"You should qualify as a special pleader, Esther," was Mr. Tremain's
reply; "but you are in a manner right, a woman's motives are always
beyond a man's fathoming;" and then with half a sigh she heard him add,
under his breath, "poor Patty, poor pretty wilful Patty!" and she smiled
at the inconsequent words, and nodded her pretty head at the dancing
flames, while the lurking look of triumph in her eyes shone out
defiantly, and drove away the droop of apprehension from her lips.

Then came Long, and the tea-tray, and little Marianne, and Mrs. Esther
was very gracious and sweet, and full of _petits soins_ for Mr.
Tremain's comfort, and withal so winsome and so subduedly elated, that
Dick Darling--who returned presently with all her volunteers in
outrageous spirits--declared she was "the daisyest thing out, and quite
too superlatively lovely!"

"And how did you find the old salts, Dick?" asked Esther, when every one
had been served with tea, and little Marianne was particularly happy,
forcing some scalding milk down the luckless throat of "Trim," her
_fidus Achates_ in terrier-dog form.

"Oh, as fresh as paint, and as delightfully greedy and selfish as it
behoves all old men to be. They minutely inspected the 'baccy,' and one
of them told me, ''tweren't his sort, but shiver his timbers if he could
expect a young leddy ter know the difference atween "old virginny," and
"honey dew";' and another one spat rather unpleasantly upon the new
silver dollar I gave him, and expressed his rather blasphemous opinion,
as to its being a 'Blaine dollar,' and only worth ninety cents! Oh, my
dear, they are a most edifying old crew, and their simplicity and
naturalness is only worthy of that respectable old party, and his
residence, known familiarly as 'Davy Jones's locker.'"

"Dick, you are incorrigible!" laughed Mrs. Newbold, and that young lady,
on whom the afternoon's expedition seemed to have acted as champagne,
began again.

"There was one most particularly refreshing old hero; he said he had
been all through the civil war, and got his promotion, and his leg
bowled off, at Gettysburgh----"

"Oh, but I say, Miss Dick," here broke in Freddy Slade, "he couldn't do
it, you know, not there, because Gettysburgh was a land battle, and how
could your old man-o'-war's man be there?"

"He said Gettysburgh, I am perfectly sure he did," answered Dick,
"because I quite well remember how he winked at me when he said it,
and--yes, I did, I couldn't help it, it must have been capillary
attraction, Esther--I winked back at him, and then he spun a tremendous
yarn, all about his gory wounds, and bloody hurts; mixed up, you know,
with reefing topsails, and belaying mizzen-masts, and setting fore and
aft sheets, and rolling in the scuppers, and weltering in his own gore,
and piping up the dog-watch, and losing his leg, and fighting for his
country, and scoffing at its rewards; and I am sure, yes, very sure, he
said it was at Gettysburgh it all happened. But really now, when you
come to think of it, things _were_ a little mixed, and I am not
responsible for the geography of this country."

At this there was another laugh, in which Dick joined, and then in the
silence that followed, Marianne's shrill treble made itself heard:

"I do quite think with Perkins, mumsey, Miss Dick's the gal for my
money!"

At which astounding revelation Esther gasped, and the rest of the
company fell into renewed shouts of laughter.

"Come here, Mimi," said Mr. Slade at last, putting out his hand, and
catching hold of the child and the dog, and drawing them towards him, he
lifted Marianne on to his knee, causing Trim to stand in perilous
fashion on his back legs, since his little mistress refused to release
him.

"Now, Mimi," Mr. Slade continued in the hush of a breathless silence,
"you are a most interesting little girl, and what you have just told us
has made Miss Dick very happy, only we should like to know a little
more. Can you remember anything else said by the ingenuous Mr. Perkins?"

"He isn't _Mister_ Perkins, 'cept to Sarah," said Marianne, very proud
of her position, and rather consequential in consequence; "he's her
young man, and he comes under her window sometimes, and sings 'Sally in
our Alley,' real beautiful, and that's _her_, and I heard her tell Jane,
and she's my very own nursery-maid, that he said 'that there wasn't no
one could hold a candle to Miss Dick, and she was the gal for his money;
he wouldn't mind putting a fiver on her, 'cause she'd run straight; but
he wouldn't go much on that there pal of hers, Miss James, 'cause she
was a shifty one.'"

"Oh, Marianne, Marianne!" cried out Esther, trying vainly to cover the
confusion caused by Miss Newbold's parrot-like revelations, "come here
to me." Then as Mimi struggled down from Mr. Slade's detaining arms,
and danced over to her mother, she said, reprovingly:

"What were you doing, to hear all that senseless gossip? Where was
Mdlle. Lamien?"

"Poor Lammy had a 'cruciation' headache," lisped the little girl,
standing first on one foot and then on the other; "so I was just put off
on to Jane, 'cause nursey was out, and so she and Sarah did their work
together and I helped 'em, and they were having 'a crack' over the
company. Is you sorry, mumsey?" the little thing asked suddenly,
noticing the look of annoyance on her mother's face. "Was I naughty?"

"Yes, I am very sorry," answered Mrs. Newbold, emphatically; "my little
daughter, you must not listen to such nonsense. You must get your dolly
next time, or come to me, when Mdlle. Lamien has a headache."

"Poor Lammy!" echoed the child, "she was cross, too, and said Sarah was
very wrong, every one wasn't made with Miss Dick's bright face and
sweet temper; but I could make myself like her if I tried to always say
a kind thing and not a horrid one, though the horrid one might be
cleverer."

There was a moment's unbearable awkwardness as Mimi's sage remarks fell
upon the burning ears of her audience; then Esther made a move, quickly
followed by the other ladies, and the party broke up, each glad to
escape the embarrassment of the moment. Esther alone noticed Miss
James's face, flushed with passion and mortification, and sighed
involuntarily.

She had reason afterwards to remember that look, and her sigh.



CHAPTER VI.

STAGE-STRUCK.


For the next week but little was talked of at the Folly, save the
forthcoming theatricals.

The morning hours grew strangely silent. Gone was the light laughter,
banished the echo of gay voices, the quick coming and going of youthful
feet; indeed, to any one entering suddenly and unknowing, the air of the
house was so changed and transformed they might well exclaim, "The place
is haunted!"

And haunted it certainly was, but with fair ghosts in modern raiment,
who, if they moved about at all, did so with tragic step and abstracted
gaze, or with comic gesture and exaggerated action, accompanied by
eagerly-moving lips, from which, however, no sound proceeded, while
each and all held, tightly clasped and closely scanned, one of those
thin yellow paper books which Mr. French has made so happily familiar to
all of us.

Indeed, as Dick Darling remarked, with a piteous shake of her head, and
a twisting up of her round mouth, "There wasn't such a thing as a 'rise'
to be got out of any one of them, since the craze for acting had
descended upon them."

Now and then George Newbold, in honour of whose birthday all this
commotion was undertaken, would come upon a solitary group of
two--always a girl and a man--who evidently considered learning in
couples the quickest way, and who would scowl upon him distractedly when
he approached them, or seem wrapped in contemplation of the other's
genius as, with halting speech and flushed face, he or she repeated
their respective lines.

Mr. Newbold had been heard to declare more than once within the safe
precincts of the smoking-room, in language more forcible than polite,
that for his part, he should be glad when the "shindy" was all over; and
as to its having anything to do with him, or his birthday, it was
a--lie. He didn't see where his fun came in, since he took no part in
it.

"Paying the bills, old man," replied Jack Howard, lazily, to this
outburst; "what more can you ask? Isn't that the proud position and
boast of the typical American husband?"

To which grim comfort George only replied by lighting a very large and
disreputable-looking pipe, and smoking furiously.

Miss James was among those who elected to study _à deux_, and had
undertaken, in this way, Jack Howard's education, who, much to Baby
Leonard's chagrin, had become in some manner, the clever Rosalie's
slave. Baby, with tears in her eyes, marked his defalcation from her
ranks, and with a feeling of self-pity and wounded vanity, sought
compensation in Freddy Slade, and absorption in her rôle.

Between Miss James and Dick Darling coolness reigned. These once fast
friends were now almost declared enemies, for even Dick's proverbial
good-nature was not proof against the continued and unbending anger of
her whilom friend. Miss James had neither forgotten nor forgiven little
Marianne's unfortunate revelations, and she visited her annoyance and
jealousy upon Dick, who at least was guiltless of all wish to offend;
and from brooding over Mr. Perkins' plain and unvarnished words, Rosalie
grew to forget they were the utterance of a servant, and magnified their
consequence until she fairly hated Dick, and longed to see some evil
befall her.

Perhaps the keenest sting of all lay in the fact of her humiliation
before Mr. Tremain, for, with an unreasoning confidence, she had made
out to herself that Philip was attracted to her, that he found in her a
mind superior to the general run of young ladies, and that consequently
he might, in time, come to fully realise and appreciate her abilities,
and so, perhaps, would be solved the enigma of her future; for Miss
James was no longer a _jeune ingénue_, and the thought of continued
single-blessedness troubled her not a little.

It was therefore very bitter to be humiliated in his presence, and to
see the lurking smile gather about his lips at Marianne's reckless
disclosures. Mr. Tremain, be it remarked, was innocent of any
co-operation in Miss James's schemes; he did not even give her a second
thought beyond the necessities of every-day life; and the fact that they
were often thrown together created no suspicion in his mind, as to any
ulterior hopes being built upon his words and manner. Though, indeed,
Philip had that courteous and deferential bearing towards women which
made his smallest service an appeal, and his lightest word a caress--as
Dick Darling said, "When he asked one to have sugar in one's tea, it was
with such an assumption of intimacy and entreaty, one might well imagine
he was suing for one's heart and hand."

Perhaps Miss James built upon this manner, and though so clever in
ologies and ethics, failed to read aright the signs of this man's heart,
and raised foundations on sand in consequence.

And still Patricia did not come. Each day Mr. Tremain looked for the old
familiar witching face in the circle of "fair women" who gathered at
tea-time in the pleasant library; where the wide fireplace, never empty
of smouldering pine-logs, was very attractive in the chilly spring
mornings and evenings. But he looked in vain. The faces were constantly
changing--for Mrs. Newbold was a great favourite, and had many
guests--and they were fair enough, too, but none so fair as Patty's, as
he remembered it, ten years ago, and not so winsome or so full of grace.

He was too proud to ask news of her; ever since his conversation with
Esther, his heart had gone forth more and more to his little wayward
love of a decade ago, and though he turned his thoughts resolutely from
all remembrance of her, and sternly told himself that he had been right
in his judgment of her, she was but a frivolous butterfly, and as such
more unsuited than ever to him in his graver years, still there would
come unbidden a lurking memory of her sweet mutinous face, the wilful
lips, the flashing eyes, the silks and laces that surrounded her lithe
form, the faint sweet odour of violets that always accompanied her, and
he would pull himself up with a start to find his heart and mind gone
captive to the ghost of his old love.

"Ten years ago!" he said, half unconsciously to himself, "ten years ago!
It is ten years since we parted; why, Patty must be past her _jeunesse_
now; she was nineteen then, she is nine-and-twenty now, and what woman
keeps youth's fairness or freshness when so close on thirty? Patty
thirty! Patty grown out of wilful, petulant girlhood; Patty with
suffering and change written on her face; nay, with perhaps a wrinkle
or two, or even a gray thread in the soft brown darkness of her hair!"

Impossible! He could never think of her save as when they parted, when
she was in the full flush and arrogance of her young beauty, surrounded
by every luxury, and flattered by the gay homage of her little court,
triumphant, sparkling, inaccessible. To picture her in any different
guise, was to wilfully take down his idol from its pedestal.

He sauntered into the library one afternoon, at the accustomed hour of
tea, and found the room full of people. Mrs. Newbold was pouring Indian
Hyson into faultless cups of royal Worcester, which Jack Howard passed
about, followed by Dick Darling with what she called "the trimmings,"
_i.e._ sugar and cream.

An animated discussion was going on, so Philip's entrance was unnoticed
save by Miss James, who beckoned to him to take the empty chair beside
her. Nothing loth to escape introductions, he fell into her scheme and
made her supremely happy; for they sat a little withdrawn from the
general group, and this made Mr. Tremain's position all the more marked.
Miss James was never quite content unless what she called Philip's
"attentions" were fully _en évidence_.

Dick Darling's bright eyes spied him out presently, and she brought him
a cup of tea, handing it to him with a shrug of her shoulders and an
absolute wink of her eye, at which Miss James coloured and cast an angry
look after the retreating culprit.

"And when is Miss Hildreth coming?" were the first words that caught Mr.
Tremain's ear, and riveted his attention at once.

"Not until the very day of the play," replied Mrs. Newbold. "It's rather
provoking of her, isn't it? But really, you know, Patricia's so spoiled,
and it doesn't very much matter. She's quite perfect in her part, and we
can have a dress rehearsal before evening on _the_ day, if necessary."

"And who acts Henri de Flavigneul's part?" asked another voice.

"Oh, Mr. Tremain," replied Mrs. Newbold again. "You need have no fear,
Mrs. Beverley. Mr. Tremain is _sans reproche_ in his character."

"Do you mean Philip Tremain," the lady persisted, "the clever Mr.
Tremain, who has such bijou chambers and who is so unapproachable? But
surely, won't that be a little awkward? Wasn't he once engaged to Miss
Hil----?"

But here Dick Darling managed to upset the brass water-kettle, and in
the confusion which ensued the question was never completed.

Soon after the guests took their departure, and as the house party stood
about the fire waiting for the dressing-gong, Esther said:

"I am sure it is high time we had a rehearsal; we shall never be ready
if we go on in this lazy fashion. I have sent for Mr. Robinson, of
Wallack's Theatre, to coach you all, and he will be here to-morrow; so I
call a rehearsal for that afternoon, and I advise you to study up well,
for he's a perfect martinet regarding correct lines, and thinks nothing
of reducing one to abject misery by his sarcasm."

"But who will take Miss Hildreth's part?" asked Baby Leonard. "It's no
use our rehearsing if the Countess isn't here--it will be _Hamlet_ with
Hamlet left out, and no mistake."

"Baby is thinking of her grand scene," murmured Miss James aside to
Philip. "Her part is nothing without the Countess as a foil."

"Some one might read the lines of her rôle," suggested Freddy Slade,
who, as De Grignon, thought very little of any other character. "It
won't matter very much if one only gets one's proper cues."

"Oh, but it matters a great deal, thank you," cried Baby, quite roused
from her usual lethargy. "Who wants to act to bare cues, I should like
to know? And how is one to work up into anything, if one hasn't the
proper assistance?"

"You are quite right, Baby," said Esther, when she could make herself
heard, "and you shan't be put in any such dampening position. Mdlle.
Lamien has offered to be Patricia's substitute, and she knows the lines
by heart. I think it's very good-natured of her."

To which there was a general assent, only Miss James whispered again to
Mr. Tremain:

"You will have no temptation to draw you from your allegiance to your
Baby-ish sweetheart, Mr. Tremain. Mdlle. Lamien can scarcely offer any
counter attractions, as the Countess, to Baby, as Léonie."

Then with a quick upward look and the least perceptible halt: "How would
it be, I wonder, if our capricious leading lady were here in person?"

The glance she gave him was brief; but in the second that her eyes
scanned his face, she noted the blood steal slowly into his cheeks, and
the lines deepen about his mouth, and with an angry impotent throb at
her heart she realised his secret, and the hopelessness of her plans and
desires. She turned away however, as the gong sounded, with a light
laugh, despite the dull heavy sense of her own impuissance.

Mr. Tremain was not long in completing his toilette that evening, and
when he came downstairs and made his way to the library in search of a
book, it was with the purpose of half an hour's quiet reading before
dinner. He crossed the room to the low book-cases that lined one side,
and selecting his volume turned back to the fireplace, where a low
reading-lamp on the sofa-table made an inviting resting-place.

He had thought himself quite alone, and was consequently not a little
surprised to see within the shadow of the chimney recess, opposite to
him, the dark quiet figure of Mdlle. Lamien. He put down his book with
a half-sigh, and approached her; not even at the sacrifice of his
dearest self-indulgence could Mr. Tremain be discourteous to a lady,
still less to a stranger and a dependent. Moreover, he acknowledged to
himself that Mdlle. Lamien exercised a distinct and strange kind of
spell over him, reminding him in some occult mysterious way of Patricia,
though why and wherefore he was at a loss to explain.

It was not that these two women--who had so little in common, whose
lives were as wide apart as the poles, and whose interests were as
diversely opposite as well could be--had ever met; and yet--such is the
strong personal magnetism of certain natures--Philip, though he had
spoken but twice to Mimi's governess, felt the sense of her power over
him; a power so subtle, and yet so strong as to amount almost to
physical force; while always with the sense of this domination came the
thought of Patricia.

Mdlle. Lamien was sitting where first he remembered seeing her, well
within the shadowed recess; her face, even in the subdued light of the
single lamp, looked paler than ever, perhaps because its waxen pallor
was touched by a shade of red in the cheeks; the kindly shadows hid the
painful mark that disfigured one of them, but the light, catching the
silver of the wavy hair beneath the falling lace folds, played about it,
and across the dark sombre eyes, and thin hands that lay clasped with a
sorrowful droop on her knees.

As Philip drew near to her, some polite words of salutation on his lips,
she suddenly raised her head, and turning it more fully towards the
light, smiled at him. It was wonderful, the effect of her smile; in a
moment, as it flashed across her face, it transfigured it wholly, and
restored, once more, somewhat of the youth and beauty of bygone days.

Mr. Tremain stood spell-bound; once again there swept across him that
strange intangible _something_, that reflex of Patricia, that evanescent
likeness, gone as soon as caught, yet so tantalising in its reality. As
he stood silent, amazed, and yet in a manner fascinated, by the singular
metamorphose wrought by a smile, two lines of an unpublished poem,
written by a dear dead friend, rose unbidden to his lips. He repeated
them, half unconsciously, below his breath:

    "Light my path thro' Stygian darkness,
    By the splendour of thy smile."

Such indeed must have been the light that glowed upon the face of
Cleopatra, when Anthony called her his

    "Glorious sorceress of the Nile."

As Philip gazed upon the face before him, and no word was spoken, he
felt a sudden thrill of life and fire pass through him; the blood leapt
in his veins and flew to his face, he put out his hands entreatingly,
drawing nearer to her; he felt the subtle essence of her being wrapping
him around, enervating his mind, his will; and yet he had no power, no
desire to combat it. For it was not Mdlle. Lamien he saw, it was not her
white, wan face, with its disfiguring scar, that enchanted him, it was
not her burning eyes that held his, it was not even the present he was
conscious of. No, he was back again in the past, ten years ago, and he
was looking his last upon his sweet girl-love, seeing the mocking smile
upon her lips, the trembling hands, the piteous, defiant eyes.

"Patricia," he cried, "Patricia!" And as he called her name, the spell
was broken, the glory faded, the past fell from him, and he found
himself alone; and only the light rustle of a silken gown, the faint
click of a closing door, gave evidence of a departing presence.

"Good heavens!" he said at last, drawing a deep breath, and looking
about him uncertainly, "who and what is this Mdlle. Lamien, that she is
so like, and yet so unlike Patricia? And what spell does she own to
trick me into such hysteric emotion?"

Then the door opened, and Long came in, followed by Perkins, and the wax
candles were lit in the brackets and sconces, and the room from
semi-darkness and mysterious shadows, leapt into vivid, brilliant life.
Then came Mrs. Newbold, bringing a touch of this world's goods in her
latest importation of a Wörth gown, full of joyful content and
well-being, fastening her gloves and jingling her jewelled bangles, and
looking very much surprised to find Mr. Tremain in advance of her.

And so the hour passed and the spell faded, and Philip gave no further
thought to Mdlle. Lamien or, strange to say, to Patricia.

Miss James scored several points that evening in her own estimation,
and felt almost feverishly anxious to have the preliminaries over with,
and her engagement to Philip recognised as _un fait accompli_.



CHAPTER VII.

DANGER AHEAD.


Meantime the preparations for the theatricals went on rapidly. Mr.
Robinson came down the next day, and found his amateur troupe duly drawn
up for inspection. Not one of them, however, was word-perfect, in spite
of their diligent study, singly or in couples, except Mdlle. Lamien and
Mr. Tremain, to neither of whom did the text present any difficulties.

Much to Philip's surprise, Mdlle. Lamien proved but an indifferent
actress; she recited her lines without a mistake, but that was all that
could be said in praise of her. She was dull, apathetic, heavy, made no
effort to throw life or emotion into her part, and was, indeed, so
studiously indifferent, that Mr. Robinson took no trouble to either
remonstrate with or contradict her, knowing her to be but a substitute,
and feeling perfectly sure of the real impersonator, who had been
trained untiringly by him, and had made her _début_ as his favourite
pupil.

Mdlle. Lamien made it so very apparent that she only appeared in
obedience to Mrs. Newbold's request, that Philip found acting up to her
not only laborious, but ridiculous, and consequently shirked his scenes
with her as much as possible, though not without wondering at the
strange contradictions of which her character seemed formed.

The days were drawing on now, and only three remained before that one
which, as Dick Darling remarked, "they were to so appropriately
celebrate--George's birthday, with George left very much out of it." Now
that Philip knew Patricia was not expected until the very morning of the
all-important day, he put away from him all thought of meeting her,
and, with a suddenly developed gaiety, joined heart and soul in the
frivolities of the hour.

The day before the great event, however, something happened which
threatened to deprive the company of Henri's personation, and which for
the moment, threw even the theatricals in the shade. A letter written by
Mr. Tremain to his one intimate man friend best explains the situation:

     "THE FOLLY,
     "_April, 188_--.

     "DEAR MAINWARING,

     "Here I am with a strained wrist and a halo of heroism. The first
     is uncomfortable, the second undeserved. No doubt you will receive
     a garbled account of what has occurred, and a highly-coloured
     report of my 'heroic action and wonderful presence of mind'--the
     words are Miss James's, not mine. Well, then, to save your brain a
     shock, and your friendship a blow, I send off these somewhat
     unintelligible lines. I don't want you repeating the tale, with
     mock heroics, at the club and about town, and I know your fondness
     for a good story.

     "Let me say then, as a premise, that whatever of bravery or heroism
     was displayed, at a somewhat critical moment in a commonplace
     incident, belongs solely to Mdlle. Lamien, Mimi's governess; and,
     by-the-bye, I don't know but that it is just at these commonplace
     times that one's nerve and resolution are most often put to the
     test.

     "Here are the facts: Mrs. Newbold has a pair of new ponies,
     George's latest gift, and her last fad; she drove me up with them
     the day I arrived, and I didn't care for their style particularly,
     they pulled too hard, and had an obstinate trick of catching at the
     bit that might prove nasty. Esther's groom on these occasions is
     Tony, elected, presumably, because of the smallness of his stature.
     You have seen Tony, and therefore know that he is mostly hat.

     "Very well, this morning being bright and cool, Mrs. Newbold
     decided to take little Marianne and Cissy Beverley for a drive; it
     was in vain both George and I pointed out to her that the ponies
     had not been exercised for the last two days, and would therefore
     be very fresh and too great a handful for her, she would not
     listen--her sex never will, you know, when advice runs against
     inclination--and woman-like, she must play with her latest toy.

     "So off they started, the children tucked in beside Mrs. Newbold,
     and Tony perched up behind. The little brutes were fresh enough,
     but Esther had them well in hand, and drove off in true workmanlike
     style. They had their drive, along the upper road, and round by the
     Bay, and so through the town to Beverley's house. Here Mrs. Newbold
     got out, letting Marianne hold the reins, with Tony at the ponies'
     heads. She lifted Cissy down, and was just turning to give a word
     of caution, when a cat, followed by Beverley's setter pup, ran out
     from the kitchen garden and flew directly under the ponies' heads.

     "Then came a sudden shying movement, the light carriage swayed
     dangerously, and then, with tossing heads, the little brutes broke
     loose from Tony's hold, took the bits between their teeth, and in a
     second were off on a dead run.

     "You will admit it was not a pleasant situation for Esther. She has
     since told me that her first intimation of danger was the sight of
     her darling's bright sunny hair and frightened blue eyes being
     borne away in the rocking, swaying carriage, as it sped down the
     drive, drawn by horses wild and young.

     "They passed the gate safely, and started off down the Terrace at a
     full gallop. And now my part comes in. I was walking leisurely up
     from the post-office when, as I neared Snug Harbour, I saw the
     ponies dashing towards me; in a second I recognised them; in that
     second they were past me. I started after them, but with a feeling
     of hopelessness, for who could hope to come up with their flying
     feet? And though the road was broad and open for several miles,
     little Marianne--whose piteous white face caught my eye as she was
     borne by me--might at any moment loose her hold and be dashed out,
     or dragged in the trailing reins.

     "I put on what speed I could, and as I reached a slight curve in
     the road, beyond which the ponies would be lost to sight, a woman
     flew through an open gate and threw herself directly in front of
     the frightened animals.

     "Thus checked for a second, I saw her measure the distance with a
     glance, then jump and catch the bridle with one hand, flinging all
     her weight upon it and never letting go, though the little brutes
     dragged her several rods. To reach her side and add my strength to
     hers was but the work of a moment; the ponies, easily tired,
     submitted to my soothing voice and hand, while little Marianne,
     who throughout had behaved like a heroine, now covered herself with
     glory, by stepping deliberately out of the carriage and throwing
     her arms about the tall, dark figure beside her.

     "I turned then to face my brave companion; it was, as I suspected,
     Mdlle. Lamien, who stood there, calm and unmoved, the heavy lace of
     her veil concealing whatever emotion her face might have revealed.
     It was she, and no other, who had risked her own life to save the
     child; and yet, Mainwaring, I declare to you solemnly and in all
     calmness, it was not of her I thought as we stood together side by
     side; it was not her personality that seemed so near me, nor her
     spirit that had carried out so brave a rescue. Laugh at me if you
     will, suggest hysteria and nerves; so be it, I accept the taunt,
     and repeat again, it was not Mdlle. Lamien who made captive my
     admiration and esteem--it was Patricia Hildreth. Explain it as best
     you can. I do but repeat, it was Patricia who dominated me then;
     Patricia who seemingly stood so close, I had but to put out my hand
     to touch her,--and yet--it was Mdlle. Lamien who replied coldly to
     my inquiries, and who walked swiftly away, leaving me with
     Marianne, and the now quiet horses.

     "Strange to say, neither she nor the child have received any
     injuries, and I have escaped with a strained wrist--my left
     one--which will not incapacitate me for to-morrow; indeed, a Henri
     de Flavigneul with a sling will be a new departure, and ought to
     prove what Miss Darling would call 'very fetching.'

     "By the way, you come down, I believe, for the play; did I tell you
     Patricia will also be here? I think in many ways this place grows
     dangerous, and I shall return to my own den, as soon as the
     theatricals are over.

     "As ever, old friend, yours faithfully,

     "PHILIP TREMAIN."

But if Mr. Tremain was inclined to treat thus lightly his share in
Marianne's rescue, the others refused to look at it in so trivial a
light. Esther, with tears in her eyes, took both his hands and thanked
him with a tremulous smile.

"I shall never forget it, Philip, never," she said, and turned away to
hide the falling drops.

George Newbold, proverbially a man of few words, wrung his friend's hand
in the grip of a giant, and muttered an incoherent "Old fellow, can't
thank you; it was splendidly done."

And then came Dick Darling, her laughing face sobered for a moment, and
a look of true admiration in her eyes, as she said:

"Mr. Tremain, you are a brick; it was awfully tip-top of you! I tell you
what; for downright bravery you 'take the cake!'"

But from no one did Philip receive such delicate and subtle flattery as
from Miss James. That young lady fairly glowed with the magnitude of her
admiration. She went about with raised eyelids and drooped lips, as
though always contemplating, mentally, his past danger, and returning
thanks for his deliverance. She was also always meeting him at odd
times, and in out-of-the-way corners, and asking with solicitude after
his "poor injured wrist," offering to bind it up for him, or write his
letters, or read to him; which last, as Dick said, "was palpably absurd,
since Mr. Tremain's eyes and brains were not injured, or out of working
gear."

Philip, hating all fuss, and especially fuss in which he deserved so
small a share, made the most of his strained wrist and kept in the
smoking-room, or his own chamber, the rest of the day, and there nursed
his rancour against Miss James for being a fool herself, and making him
appear an equal one; and his resentment towards Mdlle. Lamien, who had
passed him by almost without recognition, drawing the falling laces
closer about her face, and not heeding the eager hand he put out to
detain her, or the alert tone in which he asked after her health. She
had paused just one brief instant, as though about to speak, and then,
evidently changing her intention, drew herself up and passed down the
stairs, not once looking back, or replying by a word to his courtesy.

There was a full-dress rehearsal called for that evening, and Philip, as
he sat moodily in his own room, smoking his cigar, felt a half savage
delight in the knowledge that Mdlle. Lamien must appear for it, and
respond in a somewhat less chilling and uncomfortable manner to the
requirements demanded by his rôle.

A little before tea-time he heard voices in the corridor outside, which
he recognised as Dick Darling's and Baby Leonard's.

"Only think; she has actually come," Miss Leonard was saying, "and a day
before she promised!"

To which Dick briefly replied, "Who?"

"Why, Miss Hildreth, of course; who else are we all waiting for?
Really, Dick, you grow very dense!"

"Oh, do I?" returned Miss Darling, unmoved. "And so Patricia has come at
last? Patricia the beautiful, Patricia the inconstant, Patricia the
slayer, Patricia the conqueror! Well, I agree with you, Baby, 'tis
something to be sure of her, for Miss Patty is but kittle cattle at
best!"

Here the two girls walked down the passage, their voices growing fainter
and then sinking into silence. So Patricia was come. For a long time Mr.
Tremain sat very still, not heeding his outward surroundings, immersed
in retrospect; his cigar went out, the fire died on the hearth and fell
into little heaps of white ashes, the day darkened, the hours drew on to
evening, and the shadows came out of their hiding-places in the large
room, creeping up from indistinct corners, and from behind the heavy
furniture, shaking themselves free from the window draperies, and
drawing nearer, nearer, until they wrapped him all about in their
impalpable obscurity, and he became a part of them, as unreal and
intangible as they.

Patty was come! Patty! And he must see her again, must look into her
eyes, and touch her hand, and watch the smile come and go upon her lips,
just as he had known it all, and loved it, ten years ago.

And now a strange thing occurred; at least it seemed strange at the
time, and Philip could never quite shake off the indefinable feeling of
the supernatural that then enveloped him, whenever in after years he
recalled that evening.

His rooms were situated in what was known as the "bachelor wing" of the
Folly, though not separated from the main corridor, as were the other
apartments of that class. He knew that next to his chamber was what was
called the Green Room, occupied by Miss James and Dick Darling, while on
the other side was the dressing-room belonging to his suite, and used by
his man-servant; the remaining rooms beyond were bachelor apartments,
separated from the main part of the house by a heavy baize door, that
cut off all sound. He also knew that the fair occupants of the Green
Room were at that hour sipping tea and scandal in the library, and his
man flirting with the maids in the hall. To all intents and purposes he
was absolutely alone, as no sound of arriving guests could reach him,
the greater spare rooms being situated in the west wing. Marianne and
Mdlle. Lamien's apartments were in the main corridor, but a storey
above. All this flashed across Mr. Tremain's mind in a second, though it
has taken somewhat long to explain.

As he sat brooding in the chill dim shadows, conjuring up the ghosts of
bygone years, and speculating moodily upon the fate that had marred his
life, and the strange, inconsistent, unwilling homage he even yet bore
for the woman who had played the part of a gay mocking Cassandra to him,
and with a dreary pessimist philosophy accepted his destiny as
inevitable, he became suddenly aware of a faint subtle perfume, that
stole over his senses imperceptibly, which he recognised physically to
be the odour of violets. And as this sweet scent swept over him, there
came before him vividly, a sudden sharp remembrance of the past, while
the words of the poet rose unconsciously to his lips:

    "--I think of the passion that shook my youth,
      Of its aimless love and its idle pains,
    And am thankful now for the certain truth
      That only the sweet remains."

He was no longer Philip the successful, resting in his easy-chair, the
idol of the hour at the Folly; but he was Philip the ardent, and the
impecunious; Philip in a badly made coat, heated and travel-stained,
hurt and angry; standing in a room that was dainty in its luxury of
flowers and half lights, with a vision of a drawing-room beyond,
brilliantly lighted, softly coloured, and from whence came the echo of
gay laughter, and bright voices.

And now from out that room came slowly, ah, how slowly, to his wildly
beating heart, a tall slight figure, clad in softest silks and laces,
with a breast-knot of violets; and as the vision advanced nearer and
stood half within the shadow of the outer room, he could see the soft
fair face, crowned with its dead-brown hair, and wearing a look half
frightened, half pleading in the sweet eyes, and on the arched and
trembling lips.

Slowly, slowly the figure drew nearer to him; now it was but a few paces
off, he could almost touch it with his hand, he could see the violets
rise and fall with the lace upon her bosom; their scent came to him
strong, and sweet, and pungent. He sprang from his chair, and held out
his hands.

"Patty!" he cried, "Patty, have you come to find me, my little Patty?"

But even as he spoke the vision faded; there came one clear loud
whisper, calling his name, "Philip! Philip!" and then, even as he
looked, the shining lights were gone, the gaily echoed voices silent,
the figure grew indistinct and unreal, and then vanished, and Philip
found himself standing in the middle of the room, gazing on vacancy,
with only the sad perfume of violets left on the air.

He sank back into his chair, bewildered, exhausted, and as he did so, a
strain of saddest music reached his ears, and a voice that was almost a
monotone, and yet that struck an answering chord of misery in his heart,
said, rather than sang, some words that ran in this wise:

    "I am a woman,
      Therefore I may not
    Call to him, cry to him,
      Bid him delay not;
    Showing no sign to him,
    By look of mine to him,
    What he has been to me.
    Pity me, lean to me,
      Philip, my king!"

The voice ceased, and Mr. Tremain, his composure gone, his heart beating
wildly, cried out again, this time with a ring of deepest passion:

"Patricia! Patty, have you come back to me?"

But it was not Patty's sweet voice he knew so well, that made answer, it
was a far higher, lighter treble that cried out, as the door was flung
open impetuously:

"Oh, Mr. Tremain, how very dull and mopy of you! All alone, in the dark,
and no fire!" And Mrs. Esther swept in, trailing her plush tea-gown
after her, followed by Perkins with a lamp, and Long with a silver tray
set with a tea equipage.

"Dear me!" continued Mrs. Newbold, coming nearer, and blinking her eyes
in affected short-sightedness, "how very dismal you look, and how very
cold you feel! Here, Perkins, make up the fire directly. I have come to
give you your tea, Philip, I am sure you need it, for you look as white
as a ghost, and as dazed as a clairvoyant! Put the tray here, Long,"
drawing up a small table, "there, that will do; now tell your master to
come to Mr. Tremain's sitting-room, immediately." Then as the two
servants withdrew, she added with a comical little grimace, "now for
ten minutes, until George can join us, my reputation is at stake! Isn't
it awful? and I who have known you since my days of short frocks and
pig-tails!" Then with a light laugh, "I knew you would be dull, Philip,
I always think it's very trying work posing for a hero, and you know we
all insist upon your personating that most uncomfortable character,
whether you like it or not, so if I were you I'd get all the glory out
of it that's possible! Now then, here's a cup of tea for you," and she
jumped up, carrying it over to him, where he sat, half hidden in his
arm-chair.

The newly kindled fire flashed up as she came to him, and shining full
upon him, revealed the whiteness of his face, and the look of
introspection in his eyes.

"Are you not well, Philip?" she asked; and then before he could reply,
"Why, what a delicious odour of violets! You dear thing, have you got
some for me?"

But Mr. Tremain made no answer; he put out his hand and took the cup
from her, saying as he did so: "Then you, too, perceive it, Esther; it
_is_ the odour of violets, is it not, and yet I have none for you."

"Of course it's violets," replied Mrs. Newbold, positively, "and of
course you are hiding them from me. Ah, well, I don't mind, I dare say
you are keeping them for _some one_," and she smiled a little fine smile
of superiority and knowledge.

After a moment's pause Mr. Tremain asked another question, and in spite
of his attempted carelessness, his voice had a ring of anxiety.

"Esther, who--who was singing, just now, when you came in, or a moment
before?"

"Singing?" queried Mrs. Newbold. "Oh, no one; they are all far too busy
discussing this evening's rehearsal; though, stay a moment--yes, I
remember now, I did hear some one grinding out a melancholy ditty, as I
came down the corridor. Of course, it was Mdlle. Lamien."

"Mdlle. Lamien?" echoed Philip.

"Yes," replied Esther, "she has a little, tiny room in this very wing,
where she keeps a piano and some books; you might hear her here, it's
just possible."

But Mr. Tremain was not heeding her. Once again he was overwhelmed and
confused as the strange spell of this woman's personality crept over
him. He could have sworn the voice was Patricia's, just as the face of
his vision had been Patricia's! Was he always to be haunted by this
strange dual resemblance--which was no resemblance--between the Patricia
of his youth, and this incomprehensible, mysterious stranger?

If the voice was the voice of Mdlle. Lamien, why should it affect him so
strongly, or why should it seem but the fitting adjunct to the face of
his vision, since that vision wore the semblance of Patricia?

    "But whether she came as a faint perfume,
      Or whether a spirit in stole of white,
    I feel, as I pass from the darkened room,
      She has been with my soul to-night!"



CHAPTER VIII.

AN ARRIVAL AND A MEETING.


When Mr. Tremain entered the drawing-room later in the evening, he was
at once conscious of Patricia's presence. It did not require the
practical use of his eyes to assure himself of the fact, for to him the
room and the company were permeated with her personality.

It had always been so with Patricia. When she entered an assembly she
drew to herself all the light and vivacity and beauty of the scene; and
the homage which was always immediately accorded her, seemed but a
fitting tribute to her fascinations.

Other women, by far more beautiful, paled before the witchery of her
face; other wits, whose slightest expression was a _bon-mot_, faded into
insignificance when she entered the lists.

And yet she was neither very beautiful, nor very _spirituelle_; but she
possessed in a rare degree that nameless _something_, that charm of
presence, of voice, of manner, which is unconquerable because
intangible, and against which it is worse than useless to resist. It is
a dangerous attribute, and heavy is the responsibility of those who
possess it; it may lead them and others to the highest feats of heroic
sacrifice, and it may doom them to the lowest depths of the woe that is
eternal.

Philip, as he crossed the room, looked not so much for Patricia herself,
but rather to where the black coats gathered thickest, and the tinkling
sound of gay laughter and careless _persiflage_ waxed loudest; there he
knew he should find Miss Hildreth, for was she not the candle about
which the silly moths gathered eagerly, glad to singe their humble
wings, or even spend their lives, if only once the flame of her
brilliancy might rest upon them, and lift them for a moment from the
dull round of commonplace?

The seal she affected was indeed a typical one, he thought, as he moved
towards her with a slight smile upon his lips, his face still pale from
his recent emotion; and was he any better than his fellows? Were not his
unwilling feet moving towards her, drawn as the needle to the magnet?
Was not his heart beating tumultuously at the thought of holding her
hand in his once more? Was he not, in fact, the silliest of all human
moths, since he, who knew by experience the cruelty of that flame, yet
sought it wantonly, glad to bask again for a brief half-hour in its
baleful light? As he came close to where sat Miss Hildreth, a queen of a
mimic court, the knot of adorers and worshippers fell back, and accorded
him, as of a right, a free passage to the lady of their allegiance. In
a moment the hum of general conversation ceased; even Mrs. Newbold, who
had watched his entrance with only half-suppressed excitement, felt the
words die upon her lips, while Miss James made no pretence of even
listening to her cavalier as she noted with flashing eyes and sullen
heart the meeting of these whilom lovers, and Dick Darling, with
sympathy written on every line of her fresh young face, laid an
impetuous hand on Jack Howard's arm, drawing him a step or two nearer
the charmed circle. Thus watched by every eye, and almost in total
silence, Mr. Tremain bowed low before Patricia, holding out his hand, as
he said in his most deferential tones:

"May I hope that Miss Hildreth still keeps a place for me in her
remembrance, although it is so long since we last met?"

And now surely, if ever, Patricia earned for herself the character so
freely bestowed upon her, of petulance and inconstancy. She raised her
head a trifle haughtily as she replied, and so managed as not to see Mr.
Tremain's outstretched hand, while her words fell cold and cutting:

"Can Mr. Tremain expect any woman to remember ten years back and own to
it?"

Then she laughed, a cool, well-trained little defiant laugh, and turned
nonchalantly to a tall, dark, foreign-looking man, who alone of all her
court had refused to fall back as Philip approached her. The slight was
a direct one, but if it told, the hurt was invisible to the world, for
Mr. Tremain, smiling a little more indulgently, answered her no less
coolly:

"That Miss Hildreth should remember the number of years since we met is
answer sufficient, and too great an honour."

Then he bowed again, and turned away, and the crowd of eager satellites
moved up closer and filled the gap; only Miss James remarked the wave of
angry colour that swept across Patricia's face, and for an instant dyed
it crimson.

Meantime, Mr. Tremain moved quietly back, and stationed himself where,
half-hidden by the heavy falling _portières_, he could study unseen the
face and form of the woman on whom for ten long years he had bestowed
the greatest love of his life.

It was with keenest eyes of disapproval that he noted each change in
her, changes that to him seemed indicative only of the interior
alteration that had come over her, and that while it gave her the
polished brilliancy of a costly gem, he felt was gained only by some
corresponding loss of heart.

Miss Hildreth was dressed in white, without a spot of colour save for
the large bouquet of Parma violets that lay unheeded on her lap. Her
costume, though simple in the extreme, yet bore evidence, even to
Philip, of its costliness, and reminded him sadly, with its soft silken
folds and filmy laces, of the dress in which he had last seen her.
Evidently these baubles of fashion had not lost their charm to Patricia.
Mr. Tremain in his character of critic saw only artificiality in each
little curl that formed the coronal of soft, dusky hair, crowning the
small delicate head; he read worldliness in each guarded laugh, each
well-modulated tone; he descried vanity and pride in the very gestures
of her hands--those little hands that had once rested so trustingly in
his, and on which he had showered so many hot, youthful kisses. He noted
every turn of her head, every line of her sweet face, every movement of
the slim upright form, and to him it seemed as though a cold hard
imperceptible coating of worldly artifice and selfishness wrapped her
around and about, as hard and keen and impregnable as any corslet of
triply-tried steel, from which all shafts of remembrance, affection,
compassion, or naturalness, glanced off harmless, not leaving even a
dent behind upon the polished surface.

This, then, was Patricia after ten long years? This was the woman of his
love. This was the wilful Patty for whom Esther Newbold had pleaded so
generously, and towards whom his heart had become as wax in the fire of
tender remembrance. This was the reality of his vision; he had come from
the presence of that spiritual Patty face to face with the real
Patricia, and so coming his heart and soul had been moved with love and
compassion towards her; he had yearned to make all right between them,
to forget the past, to knit together the broken skein of their two
lives, to be, in fact, magnanimous and generous, to hold out the hand of
forgiveness and reconciliation, and to welcome in return a heart-broken,
remorseful, penitent Patricia, who should fall upon his heart with glad
gratitude, while she owned herself vanquished and grateful for the
immensity of his goodness and patronage.

And he had found instead of this imaginary Patty a woman of the world,
unmoved by his presence, irresponsive to his generosity, unconscious of
her own shortcomings, unremorseful for the past, in fact, forgetful of
it and of him; who, with cool insolence, overlooked his outstretched
hand, and, with the well-bred impertinence of her class, made plain her
indifference to him. Well, and was he not right when he told Esther
Newbold that he would not consent again to play the fool to a woman's
vanity? Had he not read aright Miss Hildreth's character when she
scorned him ten years ago, and withdrew her love, because of his poverty
and his bucolic indifference to the _petits soins_ of her every-day
life? Had he judged her too harshly? No; a thousand times no! Her
character was but in bud then, and he had only too well foreseen how
bitter would be the blossom, though so fair in outward seeming.

Ah, well! Let the dream vanish, the vision fade! He had been but allured
by the Lorelei of desire, and, however near he had approached to the
scorching flame of her seductions, he had come forth unscathed.

His meditations were here interrupted by a touch on his shoulder, and
George Newbold's pleasant voice in his ear.

"I say, Tremain, I want to introduce some one to you----. Oh, no, my
good fellow, _not_ a woman; I am too much your friend to betray you in
such a fashion. It's a man for whom I bespeak your politeness--a man,
and not a brother, since he is a foreigner."

Mr. Newbold, after this, for him, very long speech, stopped to take
breath, and, as he did so, patted Philip affectionately on the shoulder.

"There he is," he continued, presently, moving Mr. Tremain about, and
motioning towards the crowd that still surrounded the spot where sat
Patricia. "Don't you see him? Tall, dark man, pasty face and black eyes,
wears a red ribbon in his button-hole that fetches all the
women--there, bending over Miss Hildreth! By Jove! he's scarcely left
her side since I presented him. She's a witch, is Miss Patty--a witch,
with a long head, and minus a broomstick."

"Who is he?" asked Philip, not particularly impressed by the stranger's
appearance. "Where on earth did you pick him up, and what the devil made
you bring him down here?"

"He picked me up, don't you see?" replied George Newbold, not in the
least put out by Philip's evident bad temper. "Found him at the
Club--the Union, you know. Townsend had introduced him, and made him a
stranger member. He brought a line of introduction to Townsend from Jim
Goelet, who knew him in Paris. Townsend said he had been asking for
me--knew my name, he said, from hearing the Goelets speak of me so
often--awfully kind of Jim and Ada, I'm sure--so he wanted to know me,
and I couldn't do less than be civil, so I asked him down for the
theatricals--my birthday, you know--and he leaped at my fly at once, so
here he is."

"I don't like him," said Mr. Tremain, didactically. "What's his name,
Newbold, and where does he hail from?"

"Here's his card," replied George, pulling it out of his
waistcoat-pocket. "I thought I had better be sure about it because of
introducing him, you know. The women do get so savage when you leave a
fellow's patronymic vague. Bless them, the dears! They've got their
'Almanach de Gotha' at their fingers' ends, and know to a fraction's
nicety just how cordial they should be to each individual mother's son
of them. So many smiles and graciousness to the elder son of a peer, so
many less to an Honourable, and so many less again to a younger
detrimental. The women of this country, my dear Tremain, are mad, simply
mad over titles. It's the irony of history. What our forefathers fought
and died for--equality, and the abolishment of mere hereditary
rights--their grandchildren fall down and worship. For my part, I
wonder the stern old Puritans don't turn in their graves with horror!"

The card which Mr. Tremain held bore the name of Count Vladimir
Mellikoff, and had no address save a pencilled one--"Brevoort House"--in
one corner. The bit of paste-board was as non-committal as the
stranger's face.

"Is he a Russian?" asked Philip.

"It looks so, doesn't it?" was the careless reply. "'A Roosian or a
Proosian,' but certainly _not_ 'an Englishman.' Perhaps he's a Nihilist
in disguise, perhaps he's a dynamiter, or a Land-leaguer, or a
red-handed Communist, who knows? At any rate, he's got his match in Miss
Patty; never saw such a case of 'bowl over' at first sight in my life,
never, I give you my word."

But Philip failed to rejoice in Mr. Newbold's hilarity; and that
gentleman strolled off presently, in his peculiarly aimless fashion, and
securing Count Vladimir Mellikoff by the simple device of slipping his
hand within his arm, led him up to Philip, presenting him with all due
ceremony.

Mr. Tremain, contrary to the traditions of his country, and taking a
leaf from Patricia's own book, passed by the foreigner's outstretched
hand, and with a somewhat forbidding manner and bow, entered into
conversation.

Count Vladimir, however, was not to be easily distanced or put down; he
could with rare tact suit his manner and his words to the individual of
the moment who formed his audience; so now, with his usual keen insight,
while discovering Mr. Tremain's half-formed distrust and dislike, he
also recognised his superior intellect and position, and set himself to
work at once to dispel the unfavourable impression he had made. He had
not learned his earliest lessons in diplomacy at Europe's politest
Court, Petersburg, for nothing, therefore it was not long before Philip
found his suspicions and scepticism melting beneath the charm of his
manner, and his cultivated, modest conversation. He learned without
trouble, that Count Mellikoff was travelling in the States for pleasure
principally, though with a suspicion of political business to give
interest to his visit; that he was a diplomat by birth and training, and
a loyal servant to the present Tsar of all the Russias, whom he served
with the like love and fidelity he had formerly bestowed upon Alexander
II.

He was a distinguished-looking man, rather than handsome, with an air of
breeding and distinction in the thin face, keen small black eyes,
aquiline nose and broad, rather pointed forehead. His manners were
self-possessed and quiet, he spoke English fluently, and in a pleasantly
modulated voice, while the few gestures he used were indicative of
absolute self-control. Mr. Tremain soon discovered that nothing escaped
his observation, he was aware of every movement of the various groups
scattered about the drawing-rooms, and while apparently absorbed in the
topic of the moment, had the attribute of prescience so widely
developed as to be conscious of the general tone of conversation
throughout the room.

Philip acknowledged himself fascinated, and ere long dropping his
habitual reserve, he entered cordially into Count Vladimir's graphic
descriptions of life in Petersburg. By degrees the conversation glided
on to more intimate grounds, and Philip found himself asking somewhat
bold questions as to a certain Russian practice in which he had long
been much interested. Count Mellikoff replied frankly and with great
openness, and only laughed a little indulgently when Mr. Tremain
advanced gingerly upon the spy system of the Tsar's Government. His
remarks were firm and to the point, and the Count became more and more
earnest as he refuted them, giving his interlocutor, every now and then,
a keen and searching look.

"You cannot deny, Count Mellikoff," said Mr. Tremain at last, speaking
with more than his usual animation, "that the spy system, as practised
by your Government, makes of every true Russian a special constable,
whose work is well understood, and whose life is devoted to the
espionage, not only of suspects, but of every Russian citizen. You
become, in fact, individual policemen, and you each watch the other with
keenest scrutiny, ready at any moment to denounce and arrest each
other."

"Why should I deny it, my dear sir?" answered the Count, very quietly.
"It would be but useless waste of breath on my part, since all the world
looks with awe and wonder on the workings of the Imperial Chancellerie
of Petersburg. Nay, so far from denying it, let me give you some faint
idea of its workings, and of the far-reaching, all-powerful engines it
employs. Our system is divided into two sections, one of which is
devoted to all international or foreign questions; the other deals only
with the surveillance of the Tsar's subjects, who, for the time being,
are non-resident or abroad. Our agents of the first section are
generally well known; as a rule they make no secret of their connection
with the Imperial Chancellerie, and they consist of both sexes and of
all classes. Indeed, we find our cleverest work often accomplished by
ladies. I need but mention Madame Novikoff, whose influence and power
over a certain Premier of England is but a matter of common _on dits_,
and who, at one time, seriously affected the foreign policy of Great
Britain. That work accomplished, she has wrought further mischief to Her
Majesty's Government by encompassing the defection of Dhuleep Singh and
enrolling him under Russia's flag. It is not beside the question, sir,
if, in the future, he does not become a source of trouble to the British
authorities at Calcutta. That, sir, is one woman's work. On the
Continent, again, I could point out to you, in almost every city of
importance, a like emissary. In Paris there was the charming Princess
Lise Troubetskoi, followed now by that Marquis de ---- and his
fascinating wife, whose hotel is the gathering-place of all the _élite_,
and whose identity is as strictly unknown now as when first they
startled all Paris by the magnificence of their entertainments. At
Brussels you will find Madame de M----; at Dresden, the Countess de
B----; in Switzerland, the Prince A. P----; and at Rome, the Marquise di
P----. Even Egypt is not forgotten, and in the Countess J---- Russia
finds an able coadjutor, whose position as lady-in-waiting to the
vice-Queen gains for us many secrets communicated by the British
Government to the Khedive. And even you, sir, must remember the great
noise regarding Madame Blavatsky, who, as the priestess of theosophy,
for many years carried on a secret correspondence with Monsieur
Zinovieff, then Chief of the Asiatic Department of the Foreign Office,
and with Prince Doudaroff Korsakoff, Governor-General of the Caucasus?
But for Lord Dufferin's clear-sightedness, Madame might still be
carrying on her patriotic work."

"You astonish me, Count Mellikoff," said Mr. Tremain, as his informant
stopped to draw breath; "I knew that 'the little father' held undoubted
sway over all his own vast territory, but not that he bisected other
nations with such regular and effective engines."

Count Mellikoff smiled, and the fire in his deep-set eyes leapt up, as
he answered:

"Sir, this is but a small portion of the all-powerful protection
bestowed on his children by our father, the Tsar. Even here, in your own
land of equality and freedom, his emissaries are ever at work, and from
every capital of Europe, indeed from many insignificant towns and
villages, there go forth daily weekly or monthly reports to the Imperial
Chancellerie at Petersburg. Is it not useless, then, for any one
individual to fight against so omnipotent and universal a power?"

"Worse than useless, I should say," replied Philip, wondering within
himself as he spoke, what part was played in the great political drama
by this same quiet, well-bred gentleman who stood before him.

"But this," continued Count Mellikoff, smiling again, and turning his
intensely black eyes, in which no pupil was visible, but all seemed
iris, full upon Mr. Tremain, "this is but one section of the great
organisation, and in some ways the most insignificant. The second
section, which has to do directly with the Tsar's subjects abroad, is of
much vaster proportions, and wields a far greater power. If you will
permit me, sir, to introduce dry statistics?" And the Count drew from
his pocket a small but substantial note-book, which he held unopened,
waiting for Mr. Tremain's reply.

Philip bowed a trifle impatiently, as he said: "I beg you will continue,
Count Mellikoff; statistics are the back-bone of political economics in
all countries; to me they bear a special charm."

"I thank you, sir," replied the Count, who evidently was a literal
translator of the polite Gaelic, _Monsieur_. He opened the note-book,
and turned over the pages carefully and with a practised hand.

"Ah!" he said at last, "I have it. Listen, sir, to a quotation from the
reports of the Chancellerie: 'In the year 1884, no less than 890,318
Russian subjects of the Tsar crossed the Western frontier, for the
purpose of paying more or less prolonged visits to foreign countries.
The next year the numbers had increased to 920,563;' and you must bear
in mind that I do not exaggerate when I assert that every one of these
travellers is subjected to the same amount of espionage abroad as at
home. Their every movement is noted, every remark reported, every change
of residence recorded. There lives no true-born and loyal Russian who is
not bound by conscience, if not by oath, to report to Petersburg
anything that may seem to him suspicious, or amiss, in any of his
fellow-countrymen. It may be only a word, a look, a letter, a handshake,
nothing is too trivial, because out of trivialities have grown the great
revolutions of the world. You may be living in India, China, England, or
America; you may be rich and noble, or poor and dependent; if you are
one of the Tsar's children, you may be very sure that every day and hour
of your life is known, nay, is commented upon and discussed within the
Imperial Chancellerie, no matter how many thousands of miles of sea and
land separate you from Russia. At any moment the Tsar can call you to
account; he is no respecter of persons; it may be the highest noble at
the Court, the poorest serf on the steppes, the fashionable beauty of
the hour, the hired governess of your children, the maid of your
toilette, the _valet de place_; the very highest and the very lowest,
one and all must obey when the voice of the Tsar of all the Russians
speaks the word of command. No crime can be so hidden but it will be
unearthed, no reparation accepted unless appointed by Imperial edict, no
forgiveness sanctioned unless granted by word of the Tsar. Said I not
right, sir, is it not a grand and wonderful system, this that puts to
shame Nature's barriers, and acknowledges no limits to its power, save
its own Imperial will?"

Count Mellikoff ceased speaking, and Philip, looking at him, saw his
face for one moment lit with the mocking fires of conscious malignity
and indomitable, cruel perseverance. For one moment only; but in that
moment the fierce light of his eyes seemed to scorch all who came within
its radiance--nay, seemed even to traverse the long room and touch
Patricia with its malevolence. Then the passion faded, and the Count
stood quietly before him, a smile on his lips, the black note-book
clasped firmly between the long, thin fingers of both hands.

Mr. Tremain felt all his original dislike and mistrust rush full upon
him once more. He for one moment felt actual hatred for this calm,
composed foreigner, and his quiet, well-tutored face, his low voice and
persuasive manner, and, above all, for the horrible system of torture
and surveillance he upheld as his tenets and dogma. He gave a short,
hard laugh as he replied:

"I cannot compliment you, Count Mellikoff, on either section of your
system. To me, as I said before, you all appear to act only as special
police spies, each one ready and eager to betray the other should
occasion arise, and each knowing the other to hold this power over him.
You have interested me deeply; but, pardon me, I cannot jump with you
the entire length of the Tsar's fatherly protection, as exemplified by
the Imperial Chancellerie. I have an old-fashioned prejudice in favour
of individual free will and independence."

Count Mellikoff made a slight bow, and the smile on his lips deepened as
he answered:

"At least, sir, you will pay us this justice, you never hear one
Russian speak evil of another (I speak, of course, only of those of a
certain social standing), nor will our ambassadors give any direct
information to foreigners concerning any fugitive from justice, no
matter how doubtful and suspicious their actions may appear. With us,
sir, loyalty to our great Tsar and to his Government go hand-in-hand
with our lives."

Mr. Tremain replied only by a gesture of assent, for, as he began to
speak, George Newbold came up to him once more, and carried him off,
with a hurried apology to the Count.

"We want him, you see. Many pardons, but he is needed for rehearsal.
I'll be back directly," and Philip, thus hustled away, had no time to
explain.

Count Vladimir Mellikoff stood very still for some moments after Philip
left him; the lines of care and thought that were graven innumerably
about his eyes and the corners of his mouth, came forth with startling
prominence, and gave a crafty, sceptical look to his countenance; his
eyes gleamed in their hollow sockets, his lips moved quickly, and then,
with a sudden upward gesture of his right hand, he put back the
note-book in his pocket, and, turning, walked slowly back to where he
had left Patricia surrounded by her gay adorers.

The room, however, was empty now, and had Miss Hildreth been in very
deed but a vision of his own creating she could not have vanished more
completely--not a trace of her remained. The great carved chair in which
she had sat was pushed hastily back, and about it, grouped in confusion,
stood the ottomans, stools, _causeuses_ and low _fauteuils_, in which
her train of devotees had reposed themselves, all equally unoccupied
now. Not a trace of the queen of the revels, or her light-hearted
companions, remained--not one. Yet stay; what is this lying on the
floor, half-hidden by the fallen satin cushion of her chair? This bit
of finest muslin and filmy lace, dropped or forgotten by Patricia as she
moved away indifferent, yet alive, to every note of praise or flattery
that rang about her.

Count Mellikoff crossed the room with noiseless footsteps, bent down and
picked up the dainty morsel; it proved to be a lady's handkerchief, and
in the corner were an embroidered crest, and the initials _A. de L._ The
Count gave one long-drawn sigh, almost a gasp, and then with dexterous
fingers folded the delicate article neatly and placed it in an inner
pocket of his waistcoat. He smiled as he did so, and said, half aloud:

"There's treason in every inch of that cambric and lace! Ah, madame, how
we overreach ourselves sometimes, and how the odour of violets clings to
every thread of this little traitor!"

Then he turned and walked down the empty room, and as he reached the
heavily-draped doors dividing the drawing-rooms from the music-hall, one
of the curtains was pulled further aside, and he came face to face with
Miss Rosalie James.



CHAPTER IX.

THE IMPERIAL CHANCELLERIE.


Three months before that meeting between Patricia Hildreth and Mr.
Tremain--out of which had grown such cynical disillusion on
his part, and which had called forth such cogent reasons for his
disenchantment--winter still held captive the great metropolis of
Petersburg. But a winter of such dazzling brilliancy, such blue skies,
such clear and glittering frost and snow, such floods of sunshine, such
ringing out of joyful sleigh-bells, such flashing past of fair women
robed _cap-à-pie_ in costly furs, and such a constant round of gaiety
and frivolity, as to rob the ice-king of his usual hardships and
terrors.

Looking on as an unbiassed spectator at the life and vivacity of the
scene, the riches and luxury displayed day by day on the Nevski
Prospekte, at the line of handsome equipages, the brilliant uniforms of
the Tsar's Guard Imperial, at the laughing eyes and fair faces of the
fairest women of the world, at the hourly ebb and flow of the splendid
pageant, who could believe, or, believing, realise that not a
stone's-throw away, beneath the horrible gloomy walls of Peter's
fortress, there languished men and women, equal in birth and position to
those gay _flâneurs_ of the present hour, and who once had flaunted
their colours as bravely as the best, but who now, owing to the
inexorable will of an acknowledged tyrant, wore their hearts away in
imprisonment for some political lapse, some inadvertent dereliction, no
matter how slight; perhaps but a word whispered in a lover's ear, a note
given or taken, an uncontrolled exclamation, a gesture of emotion; and
who, victims of that despotic secret police, betrayed, maybe, by their
nearest and dearest, were hurled in one moment from comparative security
and protection into the terrible, silent, unapproachable dungeons of
Petropavlovsk, from which no word or sigh, no cry for help, no appeal
for justice ever resounds, and into which no whisper of comfort or
encouragement, no sign of love, friendship, or remembrance, ever
penetrates, whose only outlook is the still more horrible sentence of
exile to Siberia, or perhaps a merciful deliverance through death on the
weary march thither?

The very air of the gay city breathes disaffection and suspicion, while
upon the brightest countenance, beneath the merriest jest and laugh, one
reads the fleeting look of terror, or hears the echo of strained
anxiety.

It was of Venice that Lord Byron wrote his famous line:

    "A palace and a prison on each hand."

And yet, surely, it may well be typical of great Petersburg, where
fair, and grand, and imperial rises the Winter Palace, guarded night and
day by ranks of soldiers and police, within which reign luxury, power,
and wealth, though stalked by the grim shadows of treachery, deception,
Nihilism; while hard by, the frowning bastions of Peter and Paul tell of
the first Peter's cruel tyranny, as of the latter-day hand of iron
despotism and oppression; within whose death-encircling walls languish
many of Russia's proudest sons and daughters, who, grown hopeless from
long and fruitless waiting for deliverance, have become

            "... Bowed and bent,
    Wax gray, and ghostly, withering ere their time."

Thus does history but repeat itself, and the story of _Ivan Ivanowich_
is rehearsed again and again, only the actors changing, not the drama,
or the _mise-en-scène_.

On one bright and beautiful morning in January, when all the fashionable
world of the famous capital were out and abroad, and to all outward
seeming "youth was at the prow, pleasure at the helm" of the day's
amusements, a group of some half-dozen men were gathered together in a
small inner apartment of the building known as the Imperial
Chancellerie. Of these, some were in the police uniform of the Tsar, the
others in plain morning dress, in one case enhanced by a great-coat
lined with almost priceless sables. Conversation, which had been carried
on in low tones, languished somewhat, and the only sounds that broke the
increasing silence, were the scratching of a quill-pen over rough paper,
or the fall of a coal from time to time from the open fireplace. It was
the owner of the fur-lined great-coat who was writing, and as he sat
busy and preoccupied, the clear, searching sunlight fell full upon him,
and revealed a face of more than usual distinction. The brow was broad
at the temples, growing narrow as it reached the hair that fell heavily
across it, and which was well streaked with grey; the eyes were
intensely black, deep set in cavernous sockets, out of which they
flashed and glowed like smouldering fires; the cheeks were thin, the
complexion olive; a slight, short beard and moustache accentuated the
pointed chin and firm, thin lips; the hand that guided the pen was
slender, nervous, long-fingered, and capable.

In a word, the man writing in the inner sanctum of the Petersburg
Chancellerie, and the man paying his _devoirs_ to Patricia Hildreth, and
conversing amicably with Mr. Tremain, are one and the same, Count
Vladimir Mellikoff. It was easy to see that he was the ruling spirit of
the group assembled, each one of whom treated him with deference and
respect.

The quill-pen continued its noisy progress over the official paper for
some moments, and the silence grew so intense that the tinkling of the
sleigh-bells and the echoed laughter of the occupants of the droschkies
as they flew past could be distinctly heard, despite the heavy double
casements. At length the door opened and another person entered, at
sight of whom the assembled men fell into attitudes of anxious respect,
even Count Mellikoff rising from the table and bowing deferentially to
him.

The new-comer was a tall and handsome man, with a stern, uncompromising
face, and of alert and dictatorial manner. He was dressed in morning
attire, and wore on his coat more than one ribbon of merit or
distinction. He advanced rapidly, bowing comprehensively, and took the
chair offered him by Count Mellikoff, from which the latter had just
arisen, with a courteous word and gesture.

This personage, for he well deserves the grander designation, was Paul
Patouchki, a naturalised Russian, who owned Poland as his mother, yet
yielded his allegiance to the Tsar; he was the head and chief in
Petersburg of that secret section of the Chancellerie whose work it was
to keep strict watch and ward over the Imperial subjects, who, from
business or pleasure, elected to live without the Tsar's boundaries.
Patouchki was trusted implicitly by his superiors, whom, indeed, he had
often served at the risk of his life, and by them, the Emperor of all
the Russias not excepted, he was entrusted with the organisation and
development of the most delicate missions; for by no harsher word were
the despotic actions and orders of the Chancellerie ever designated.

Patouchki seated himself and drew towards him a heavily brass-bound
despatch-box, and unlocking it with a key suspended from his
watch-chain, took from it his morning's correspondence; this he
scrutinised rapidly, sorting out the more important papers, and pushing
the largest number towards a fair, boyish-looking young man, who had
entered with him, with a muttered, "For you, Ivor," and then opening and
reading with quick and comprehensive eyes the few special
communications he had reserved for his own perusal.

Indeed, every movement and action of this remarkable man bespoke a
character of keen perceptions, unbending will, inflexible opinions, and
quick deductions. As he finished his letters he folded them neatly and
laid them down with nice precision, in due regularity of sequence of
importance; this done, he leant back and looked up at the men who stood
somewhat back from him in the same respectful attitudes. This slight
movement was evidently a signal well known, for each one of the group
now advanced in turn and laid before Patouchki their reports, which were
in the form of sealed documents; then falling back again, waited for the
chief to speak.

When he did so, his voice was harsh and crisp, the words fell from his
lips with the precision of bullets from a repeating revolver, and it was
noticeable that, whatever the bearing or meaning of his instructions,
his countenance and expression never changed or softened; that hard,
imperious, unsympathetic human mask was never known to show emotion of
any kind.

"Count Vladimir," he said, addressing the most distinguished of the
group, after himself, "I have read and considered your report of the
work done by you in western France, which, I am requested by his
Excellency to say, does you infinite credit; it has been decided by the
secret committee of the Chancellerie to give into your hands a somewhat
delicate mission. What say you, sir, to an expedition into the heart of
Africa?"

"His Excellency knows he has but to command me at all times, and in any
mission," replied Count Mellikoff, his musical voice sounding in marked
contrast to the other's harsh tones; "my life is at the service of our
father the Tsar."

"Well said," replied Patouchki, shortly; then, turning towards the
others, he continued: "Gentlemen, we will dispense with your presence;
we wish you good morning, sirs."

The salutation was a command, and so understood by those to whom it was
addressed; they responded to it by bowing and withdrawing in silence;
all but Ivor, who, as the chief's private secretary, was a privileged
person.

As the door closed on the last departing agent, Patouchki turned
somewhat hastily towards Count Mellikoff, and bade him be seated. Ivor
Tolskoi's fair head was bent in studious attention over his official
papers, and the chief had learned by experience that Ivor, despite his
boyish face and girlish complexion, was both deaf, dumb, and blind when
it behoved him to be so in the service of his master, even as his soft
dimpled hand could, when occasion required, sheath itself in a gauntlet
of iron, and deal a giant's blow.

"Vladimir Mellikoff," said the chief, dropping the more ceremonious
title, "we have tried your metal often, and know of what true steel it
is fashioned; but the mission I am now desired to commit to your skill
and judgment is one requiring even more _finesse_, delicacy, and
determination than any that have gone before. Let me put well before you
its hazards and unpleasant features, that you may withdraw your
acquiescence, if you so desire."

Count Mellikoff, whose mobile face had responded by varying expressions
to Patouchki's warning, now flushed suddenly, and as suddenly paled
again; he leant forward impetuously, and spoke rapidly, the nervous
fingers of his right hand moving restlessly as he did so.

"In what have I failed, chief, that you should think such words
necessary?"

"In nothing, Vladimir Mellikoff," replied the other, coldly and without
change of expression or voice; "we have ever found you ready and willing
and zealous in our service; indeed, but one reproach can be attributed
to you, and that is more an attribute of temperament than a fault; _trop
de zèle_, Vladimir, _trop de zèle_, has ruined more than one diplomat,
and frustrated more than one mission."

Count Vladimir drew back as if struck an unexpected blow; his eyes
flashed for a moment intemperately, the lines about his mouth tightened;
then the habitual and tutored reserve and control of long apprenticeship
reasserted itself, and when he bowed in answer to the implied reproof,
his face was as expressionless and cold as that of his monitor.
Patouchki continued:

"It goes without the saying that your mission will not take you into
Africa, that was but a _pour-parler_; indeed, you must leave the East
behind you and travel westward to the great continent of America; your
work lies there, and if I mistake not, within the somewhat narrow limits
of New York. You have read the minutes of the murder of Count Stevan
Lallovich, and you know that our suspicions regarding the murderer all
point to a woman, either as instigator or accomplice. _You_ must find
that woman, Vladimir. Stop," raising his hand imperatively, "we ask no
impossible _devoir_; you shall have every facility afforded you, and as
the case now stands, you will want no deadlier weapons than tact,
_finesse_, and delicacy, the surest tools with which to meet a woman,
since they are essentially her own."

"It is but a poor warfare, chief," replied the Count, a smile curving
his lips in disdain.

Patouchki frowned.

"No warfare is poor or trivial, Count Vladimir, that sustains the safety
of our father the Tsar, or that strengthens the hands of his Government.
Women have proved ere now our most dangerous foes; they strike in the
dark, and pay no regard to honourable codes. Since, then, we may not
fight them openly, let us turn their own forces of cunning, artifice,
and falsehood against them. He who would serve the interests of the
Tsar must put aside all considerations of sex."

Again Count Mellikoff bowed; and after a moment's silence the chief
continued:

"You know the incidents of the murder, Vladimir, no need to recapitulate
them; you know Count Stevan's near kinship to the Tsar, and the
consequent lesson that must be read to all miscreants who think to spill
the Imperial blood of Russia and escape unpunished. You know also of the
oath sworn by that wretched woman, when, by Imperial ukase, her marriage
to Stevan Lallovich was pronounced void; you know her subsequent career,
and the chain of circumstantial evidence that points to her as at least
an accessory to the crime. We have reason to believe that she has
escaped to America, and is living there in disguise; the chain has
narrowed its links until we can confine ourselves to one state and one
city of that great country--New York, or a narrow radius therefrom. But
so far the Chancellerie has been unable to lay the finger of certainty
upon her, so far she has eluded our absolute knowledge; and therefore it
is to you we would depute the task of tracking her, dogging her, and
bringing her personally within the power and jurisdiction of the
Imperial Chancellerie. Are you willing to accept this work, Vladimir?
Remember, we ask it in the service of the Tsar, to whose protection you
have hitherto, with undeviating fidelity, sworn to be true, even at the
cost of your life."

Count Mellikoff, as Patouchki concluded, rose from his chair and walked
quickly across the room to the window. As he did so, Ivor Tolskoi raised
his fair head and youthful face, and looked after him. "Does he
hesitate?" he said within himself. "By our Lady of Kazan, I wish the
chance were but offered me. The chief should find me ready, and as
adamant against the softest lures of the fairest woman of all her sex."
Then he dropped his innocent blue eyes, and continued the monotonous
pen-work on which he was engaged.

Vladimir Mellikoff remained for several long moments beside the window,
looking out with unseeing eyes upon the well-known scene before him;
upon the gaily decorated sleighs and droschkies flying by; upon the
frozen Neva, over whose glittering ice the skaters were deftly circling;
upon the Austrian band playing before the Admiralty, their light-blue
uniforms seeming like a bit of the sky above, fallen to earth; upon the
huge Imperial Winter Palace, whose innumerable windows glanced like
jewels in the crisp cold sunlight; upon the officers and sentinels
relieving guard at its gates; upon the throng of brightly attired
pedestrians coming and going, up and down the broad streets, in quick
succession; he knew it all so well, had been part of it for so many
years. Was not this very scene photographed upon his brain's camera,
with all the high lights accentuated, and all the shadows deepened? Who
shall say what wave of memory swept over him, as he stood there gazing
down, seeing, yet not seeing the ever-changing panorama that since his
boyhood had been dear to him; from the unique charm with which only
youth and youth's memories can embellish the most ordinary scene?

Did he hesitate, or draw back from this mission laid upon him; did his
heart and soul shrink from hounding out a woman, whose wrongs and griefs
had hurried her on to the perpetration of a crime, which even he felt to
be but an outburst of that savage justice that reigns deep down in every
human heart? Did he confess to himself that it was but coward's work to
bring to bear upon this wretched fugitive all the political force of the
Imperial Chancellerie, with himself at its head as its willing and
revengeful agent?

He knew well that if he undertook this mission he would carry it
through to the very end, that was his nature; combining something of the
sleuth-hound and the bulldog, he could track his prey indefatigably, and
could fasten his cruel fangs upon it relentlessly when found. But was it
worth his while, was the game noble enough; was not fighting a woman,
with her own weapons, but poor sport for one who had won his spurs in
signal service under far braver and more dangerous circumstances?

As he stood thus, wavering within himself, a hoarse and mighty shout
went echoing up to the blue vaulted sky; then came the clank of arms,
the rattle of metal trappings, and a mounted guard swept into sight,
their scarlet kaftans brilliant against the snow, the precursors of the
Imperial equipage, in which, as it dashed past, Vladimir recognised the
Tsar and Tsarina, enveloped though they were in robes and mantles of
rarest furs. Behind them came another sleigh in which sat two ladies and
an equerry; as they passed the Chancellerie, the lady nearest
Vladimir's window lifted her face and turned it towards the grim walls;
it was a pale and beautiful face, enhanced by the rich cap of sables
that seemed to embrace lovingly the waves and masses of golden brown
hair beneath it. As Count Vladimir caught sight of that proud, fair
countenance, a sudden smile broke over it, called forth by some remark
of her companion's, and melted all the pure still lines into the
tenderest curves of youth.

It was but an instant. Then the sleigh had passed by, and was already
far down the Nevski Prospekte, while the shouts and cries of "Long live
the Tsar! Long live the Little Father!" grew fainter and fainter as the
crowd followed in the wake of the Imperial _cortège_.

Count Vladimir started as from a reverie, and unconsciously drew up his
tall figure proudly, while his face became haughty and resolved. Well he
knew that fair, proud woman, and long had he served her as the most
ardent and loving of her slaves. She had been a hard task-mistress, but
he loved her, and to win her would gladly have sold his soul to the
Prince of Darkness. She had given him some half-encouragement when last
he urged his suit, and laughing half tenderly as she dismissed him, bade
him bring her yet one more proof of his undeviating fidelity to the
Tsar, augment by one more public expression his unqualified loyalty, add
one more ribbon to those he already wore on State occasions, and
then--why, then, she, Olga the beautiful, the Tsarina's favourite, most
beloved and loving maid of honour, Olga the cold, the proud, the
unbending, would consider his passionate pleadings, his long service,
and perhaps reward it in the way he implored.

"You must hesitate at nothing, Count Vladimir," she had ended, "if it is
to serve our father the Tsar. Remember, it is in small actions, rather
than in great ones, that we prove our loyalty. Nothing can be too
trivial or too heroic if it be undertaken for him."

And Vladimir had gone from her presence resolved to win her at any cost.
Here then, lay his opportunity close to his hand. He turned abruptly
from the window, and met Ivor Tolskoi's eager blue eyes with such an
expression of determination and pride that that youth dropped his
abashed, and felt his chances of superseding Count Mellikoff to be but
vain and delusive hopes.

"Your pardon, chief," said Vladimir, in a quiet voice, once more taking
the chair facing Patouchki; "I have taken, perhaps, too much time to
consider the flattering mission his Excellency would honour me with. My
answer is, as it ever has been, and ever will be, that I am at the
disposal of my gracious father the Tsar. My life is his, consequently
what his Government elect for me to do, I can but consider as an
Imperial command, and consecrate myself to its fulfilment. I am ready to
leave Petersburg at a moment's notice."

"It is well said, Vladimir," replied Patouchki, over whose composed
features passed the faintest suspicion of relief. "My instructions are
that you leave within the week; to-morrow your papers of detail will be
given you. I need not remind so faithful a servant of the Tsar that
secrecy, despatch, and caution should be your watchwords. Be discreet,
Vladimir, and watchful. Remember how much depends upon our having this
woman within our power; and remember, also, that in choosing you as
their emissary, the secret committee have had particular regard to the
exigencies of the case, and to the fact that you will have to deal with
people of the upper classes, and through them work your way to the
completion of the chain of evidence. Distrust every one, Vladimir; but,
above all, distrust the ladies of the great world, they are our
cleverest enemies, even as they are our best friends. Your letters of
introduction and credit will be sent you in due course. And now,
good-bye, Vladimir, for the present. You have carried good luck with you
so far, may it not fail you now."

A week later saw Count Vladimir Mellikoff on his way to Paris, _en
route_ for the United States, and as he settled himself comfortably in
the _salon coupé_ reserved for him in the _train de luxe_ going
southward, it was with the memory of Olga's blue eyes looking kindly on
him, and Olga's hand resting just a moment longer in his than was
necessary for good-bye, and his heart was warm within him, and he smiled
as he watched the outlines of magnificent Petersburg fading in the
distance.

His glance lingered longest on the glittering spire of Petropavlovsk, as
it rose above the Neva, and when at last this was lost in the distance,
he murmured, with a sigh upon his lips:

"Fate is stronger than conscience. I go to make war upon a woman, with a
woman's smile as my reward!"



CHAPTER X.

A COURT FAVOURITE.


It was evening in the Winter Palace--evening of the day on which
Vladimir Mellikoff had entered on the first stage of his new mission: to
make war upon a woman.

Within the Palace all was hushed and still; the servants passed to and
fro with noiseless footsteps and that well-trained air of repose only
attainable by long and constant effort. For once no official or social
entertainment was on hand, and the Imperial Family were enjoying the
novelty of a comparatively quiet evening--a novelty, whose rarity
precluded any possibility of its charm waxing dim.

The great State apartments, the Onyx Hall, and the _Salle des Palmiers_
were empty, dark, and silent, hiding their wonderful treasures in the
gloom and shadows: their priceless tables of malachite and lapis-lazuli;
their jewel-encrusted frames to pictures rarer and more valuable than
the gems that surrounded them. From out the dark corners started a
thousand and one memories of bygone kings and dynasties--of that great
and licentious Catherine II., to whose energy Petersburg owes so much,
and the Winter Palace its existence; of Peter, also called the Great,
who first raised his nation from out of its barbarism; of Napoleon, and
his restless ambition; of Nicholas, who died broken-hearted when
Sevastopol fell; of Alexander, the wise and beneficent, father of the
Tsar who now occupies the Imperial throne, and who strove in vain to
stem the current of mad republicanism that spread disaffection broadcast
from the Baltic to the Caspian, and which gathering strength year by
year and month by month, rolled on like some gigantic wave far out at
sea, tossing high above the surrounding breakers, riding fearlessly to
its doom, and breaking with devastating effect against the ill-protected
breakwaters of monarchical institutions and traditions.

When the Court was alone, so to speak, and free from the onerous duties
of perfunctory ceremonial, the Tsarina--whose nature was as gentle and
loving and peaceful as that of her sister, the beloved Princess of
England's hopes--shunned the vast State chambers, and held her _petites
réunions_ in a smaller suite of apartments, within which were gathered
every luxury of modern civilisation, and where, when the heavy plush
_portières_ were drawn, the great stoves emitting the heat of a furnace,
and the logs piled high on the low fire-dogs, it was possible to forget
the ice and snow without, even as in looking upon the various spoils and
souvenirs of every clime and country, from the rich silks and perfumed
woods of the Orient, to the more homely comforts of Great Britain, it
was possible to forget that this was Petersburg, and become oblivious to
those frowning walls and cruel dungeons, mocked by the names of the two
Apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul.

Nevertheless, there they stood, grim, real, dauntless, and within them
languished the poor "prisoners of hope," wrapped, at least let us pray,
in that merciful and dreamless sleep, which the dark hours bring even to
the most miserable.

This favourite set of rooms of the Tsarina's opened one from another,
each growing smaller until the last was reached, which was indeed a
veritable nest of down for the fair Danish dove who had mated with the
bold Russian eagle. Here the Empress received her most privileged
guests, and permitted audiences that were of a peculiarly private or
domestic order. Here, too, would come the Tsar, and throwing himself
down into one of the low velvet ottomans, put from him his habitual air
of reserve and anxiety, and enter with affectionate raillery into the
spirit of the hour; or should such be his mood, at a sign all would
withdraw, leaving him alone with the Empress, who at such times threw
aside the conventionalities of a life hedged in by etiquette, and became
only the loving, faithful wife, the intelligent companion, the cheerful
counsellor and consoler.

Much indeed might the walls of that blue chamber have revealed could
they have spoken: secrets on which hung the fate of nations; decisions
that were to make history; and confidences that wrung tears of blood
from the stern Tsar, whose heart, like that of his father, loved his
mighty empire, but who, unlike him, failed to inspire complete trust in
his nation's heart.

On these occasions, the larger room of all was given up to the use of
the Court; and here gathered the different ladies and gentlemen attached
to the _personnel_ of their Imperial Majesties; and here, too, were
often admitted particular friends of the bedchamber ladies, the maids
of honour, the equerries, and other official personages of the Court.
The orders, however, for such entrance were somewhat difficult to
obtain, and each person who entered was keenly watched by a member of
the secret committee of the Chancellerie, whose function, unknown to any
but himself, obtained for him the fullest opportunities of scrutiny.

And in this incognito lay the power of the Chancellerie; for it might be
the very individual to whom you spoke so confidingly; the friend, man or
woman, on whose fidelity you relied implicitly, the young girl with the
innocent face, the youth with the bold free carriage, the elderly
courtier with venerable grey locks, or the _dame d'honneur_ of highest
repute, who was the secret agent and in the secret pay of the
Chancellerie, and who, at a given signal, would deliver you up to its
iron laws, its fearless judgments, and cruel sentence.

On this particular evening the outer _salon_ was well filled with
guests, whose gay voices and subdued rippling laughter mingled with the
strains of the Household band, and bespoke some hearts at least among
the number as free from carking care. French was the language spoken,
for Petersburg outvies even gay Lutetia itself in its undeviating
worship of all things Parisian.

Within an embrasure of one of the heavily-draped windows, the curtains
of which had been pulled somewhat hastily apart, sat a youthful couple,
who would in any assembly have stood boldly forth as being more
beautiful and distinguished than is the usual type of humanity. Of
these, one was a young man, the other a woman scarcely entering her
second decade, but with so much of imperious grandeur and haughty pride
of race about her that to call her by the less dignified title of girl
or maiden would seem an impertinence.

The young man was of more than ordinary proportions, tall and
broad-shouldered, with a look of the innocence of childhood still
clinging to the soft curves of his fair Northern face, that was revealed
in his joyous azure-blue eyes, and reflected in the crisp golden curls
which, despite the rigid cropping according to the last Paris mode, lay
in tiny rings all over his round and well-shaped head. A close observer
would perhaps have noted that his throat, though full and well
developed, owned a straight and clean back line, denoting a lack of
amative passion, and that the head and forehead were most developed
where the phrenologists tell us to look for cruelty and perseverance.
His hands were remarkably white, and kept in scrupulous order, even to
the finely-rounded filbert nails that shone with the reflected sheen of
a _polissoire_ and _poudre des ongles_. This was his only bit of
cox-combry, however, and for the rest, it may be said, he had a hearty
laugh, a merry jest, and a cheerful word for every one, and, while
boasting more friends than any young patrician in Petersburg, yet
admitted no one to a closer intimacy than that accorded by outward
cordiality of manner.

This was Ivor Tolskoi. We have seen him before, in the inner sanctum of
the Chancellerie, when Vladimir Mellikoff accepted his mission; and Ivor
cursed the fate that trembling in the balance, fell in the favour of the
older and more experienced man, and thus shut him out from winning his
first spurs in the service of his master.

Ivor Tolskoi was, in many ways, an _enfant gâté_ of his world. He was an
orphan, and very rich; a ward of the Tsar's, owning large estates in the
wild Ural province, which he seldom visited, and serfs whose numbers he
had never counted, who were free in name only, and whose sole use in the
world was so to labour for him that his revenues year by year never
failed, and never grew less. He owned no title, and he would have
scorned the acceptance of any mere bauble of to-day's creation; he would
have told you, with a toss of his golden head and a ringing laugh, that
the Tolskois were lords of the soil and of human souls long centuries
before Peter came to the Imperial throne, and raised his nation from out
their barbaric indolence; and that while the imperious Tsar was learning
ship-building at Deptford, his ancestor of that period was riding at
large over his vast properties, hunting the wild boar and the wolf, the
ermine and marten, across his own territory, whose boundaries not even
he could define. It would ill become him, then, the last scion of his
grand old race, to accept a tawdry title in place of his own simple
name, Ivor Tolskoi, which each eldest son had born in succession for
generation after generation, and before which the peasants upon his wide
western property turned pale and trembled.

His companion was his equal in feminine beauty, and there were many
circumstances in the life of each strangely similar, which served to
draw them closer together, and more intimately than is usually the case
in a country and a Court where etiquette governs rather than affinity.

The face of the young woman who leant back negligently against the pile
of velvet cushions Ivor had placed for her, was strangely beautiful,
with the weird, almost unholy beauty of an enchantress of old; such
beauty as Faustine wore, or Cleopatra, or Messalina, which enslaves the
senses at once, without leaving any loophole for calm reason. She too
was tall and grand of build, though slight, as became her
three-and-twenty years; her shoulders bore the curves of the Milo Venus;
her neck and bosom fell in the round charming lines of maidenhood; her
head rose proudly from the short classic pillar of her throat, and was
carried with an almost royal grace; the sweep from chin to ear was
perfect in its fine symmetry; the low arched forehead bespoke more than
ordinary intelligence; beneath it her eyes, set wide apart and wearing a
look of innocent fearlessness, were of the deepest shade of violet, to
which the black lashes and pencilled brows gave the piquancy of
unexpectedness, for her hair, which was rolled high in heavy masses and
fastened with a jewelled arrow, was brown in colour, shot through with a
thousand lights of golden auburn; her complexion was pale but warm, and
the small perfectly modelled bow of her mouth was tinged with vivid
crimson, adding the perfecting note to her ideal countenance.

In manner she was cold, proud, repellent, though beneath the outward ice
ran a fire of passion that once let loose would sweep away all barriers
of conventionality, and stop at nothing to accomplish its desires.

Like Ivor, she was an orphan, and like him untitled, but there ran
within her veins a strain of the great Catherine's blood, transmuted to
her from an ancestor who could boast of Imperial favours, and of this
bar sinister in the past Olga--for she it was--was prouder than of any
patent of a lesser nobility. It may be that, generations intervening
notwithstanding, this last fair representative of her race possessed
some traits and characteristics of her Imperial ancestress, for like
her, she was both strong and weak, impetuous and calculating, passionate
and mercenary, forgiving and tyrannical; and was indeed a pure specimen
of the Russian type, in which are so strongly and so dispassionately
blended the master passions of cruelty and remorse.

Olga Naundorff had known no home save that of the Court, for though she
inherited a fair property from her father, it was situated many long
miles from Petersburg, on the southern frontier amidst the trackless
wastes of the steppes, where for nine months continual snow reigned, and
where the long dreariness of winter was fraught with the terror of
isolation and dull monotony.

Olga remembered but little of this far-away home, and shunned such
memories whenever they came to her, with an instinctive shrinking from
the unknown and undesirable.

Her father, who had been a brave and gallant officer, who had served his
country on many a battle-field, and loved his Tsar, the Alexander of
good deeds, with a strong and fervent love, which nothing, not even the
claims of his little daughter, could outweigh, and who was trusted and
loved in return by his Emperor, brought the little motherless Olga, when
but a child of ten, to Gatschina, presented her to the Tsar, demanding
an asylum for the pretty child, whose mother was dead, and whose
fearlessness and beauty made her the more open to an untoward fate.

The great Alexander was pleased to gratify his faithful friend and
servant, and was also captivated by the tiny maid's rare loveliness; and
so it came about that General Naundorff's desire was granted, and his
little Olga became the pet and plaything of the Imperial Court. There
she grew from girlhood to maidenhood, and, as her beauty developed more
and more, and her intelligence expanded, she became a special favourite
with the Tsar, to whose private apartments she had free access, and from
whom she gained by her pretty imperious pleading, many a coveted favour
for some loyal subject of his Majesty.

The news came of her father's death, but it made little difference to
Olga; she had scarcely known him, she could not be expected to weep for
one she did not love. Her first real sorrow fell upon her when by the
hand of an assassin, the kind and gracious Alexander II. passed from
life to death. Her grief was inconsolable then; she wept for days and
nights, and mourned him with a deep abiding sorrow, that fostered and
strengthened her hate and abhorrence of those who, while calling
themselves Russians and patriots, planned secretly, and in the dark, for
the overthrow of the Imperial throne.

She was grown a woman then, and a rarely beautiful one, with her fair
proud face with its touch of royal scorn, and her free, upright,
graceful form. It was at this time that Vladimir Mellikoff first saw
her, and claiming distant cousinship, proceeded straightway to fall in
love with her and worship her; a worship she accepted as a right, but a
love which she only tolerated with indifference.

When the new Tsarina formed her personal Court, she named Olga as maid
of honour, and when first the young girl entered on her duties, received
her with such winning sweetness and graciousness, as to subdue utterly
the proud heart, and cause it to transfer to the young and still lovely
woman all its treasure of intense veneration, affection, and allegiance
which it had held for the beloved Alexander.

Count Mellikoff, meantime, succeeded but poorly in his suit; Olga was
neither touched nor won by his persistency; she accepted his homage and
his passionate devotion with her superb Imperial grace, but granted him
nothing in return, save perhaps when she saw him wavering and uncertain,
torn between his love and his self-respect, then she would bestow on him
a smile of dazzling softness, or let her slim firm fingers rest a moment
within his, or murmur some half inaudible word of praise or protest,
when he would be again at her feet, her slave, her adorer, her
passionate lover.

He had spoken out his love at last, and urged his claims upon her so
vehemently and with such emotional force, as to rouse her even from her
habitual indifference, and to call forth that half promise, on account
of which Vladimir had started on his new mission with such an exulting
heart and such visions of glorified future bliss.

There was one _habitué_ of the Court, however, whom Olga often favoured
with her rare smiles, and in whose company she always appeared frankly
content; this was Ivor Tolskoi, in whose fair good looks she took honest
pride, and for whom she laid aside something of her haughty, imperious
manner. Indeed, Ivor was so bright and joyous, such an incarnation of
the brilliant sparkling cold sun of Petersburg, which exhilarates but
does not warm, it was impossible not to like him, and not to melt under
the cool fire of his blue eyes, and the fine if cruel smile of his lips;
only Olga failed to see the coldness or the cruelty.

She fancied she knew Ivor Tolskoi's life from Alpha to Omega, that there
was not a page of his daily existence that was not open to her
inspection, and yet she in reality knew nothing; not even his daily
avocations, beyond the light ones imposed upon him by Court regulations,
and never dreamed that he was one of the most vigilant and most active
members in the secret service of the Chancellerie. Indeed, Ivor
Tolskoi's boyish face and youthful laugh seemed incompatible with
intrigue and surveillance; and Ivor knew this, and took good care to
play both his rôles with diplomatic _finesse_ and success.

"And so, Ivor," Olga was saying in her clear, cold voice, "you really
believe that that wretched woman of the _bourgeoisie_ had a hand in the
murder of poor Stevan Lallovich? Upon my word, to what heights will the
_canaille_ next aspire, if even a Prince of Russia is not safe from the
stab of a knife in the hand of a red republican? Do you think she
murdered him, Ivor?"

"Ah," replied Tolskoi, "you put a blunt question, Mdlle. Naundorff," for
though Olga addressed him with the familiarity of a sister, Ivor never
so far forgot himself as to reply in like manner. "How dare one express
any opinion on any subject in these days of treachery, since the very
walls have ears and the very doors speak? And even should you press me,
mademoiselle, I could not answer; I never have any opinion on any
subject more important than a ball cotillon; _c'est trop de peine_." And
Ivor threw back his head and laughed, his full and hearty peal, at
sound of which several of the other guests of the _salon_ stopped their
idle occupations and laughed in sympathy. But Olga frowned and beat her
pointed slipper impatiently against the foot-stool on which it rested.

"Don't be silly, Ivor," she said; "and don't laugh so loud, you will
have old Madame Bettcheriski down upon us for breach of etiquette. When
will you cease to be such a boy?"

"When I cease to sun myself in your smiles, mademoiselle," replied the
young man, gallantly, and with a half-mocking bow. "When that unhappy
day dawns for me I shall take leave of my youth for ever, and seeing it
fall from me, grow as 'grave and reverend a signior' as Count Vladimir
himself."

To this allusion to her absent lover, Olga made no rejoinder save by a
scarcely perceptible upward movement of her head. She waited a moment
before she spoke again, and in the silence that fell between them,
there floated across the room the conclusion of a sentence, spoken in a
musical though rather high-pitched voice:

"It is true, nevertheless. She may not care for him, but when he returns
to Court our proud and haughty favourite will be prepared to bestow her
hand upon him."

Then the speaker's voice faded away into space, and Olga looking up
found Ivor's eyes fixed upon her with a strange and unwonted fierceness
in their blue depths. Her own fell beneath his glance, and she felt with
annoyance the blood rise in her face, and spread its crimson over her
pale cheeks.

She was angry at this school-girl exhibition, and drew herself upright
into a more dignified attitude, folding her hands on her knees, and
looking up boldly into Ivor's face; as she did so the colour faded as
quickly as it had come, leaving her paler than before. Tolskoi continued
to gaze at her intently; he bent forward a little, bringing his golden
head nearer her dark one, and said, in a voice quite different from his
usual gay _insouciant_ tones:

"It is my turn to ask a question. Is this true, mademoiselle?"

"Is what true?" replied Olga, under her breath, half fascinated by the
face and eyes looking down so close upon her; a face that bore the
familiar lineaments of Ivor, but with an expression she had never seen
there before, and which made this very familiarity seem strange and
repellent.

"Is it true," repeated Ivor, in the same low voice, "that when Count
Vladimir Mellikoff returns--if he returns--Mademoiselle Naundorff will
bestow upon him the honour of her hand? Is it true? For that is the
reading between the lines, is it not? Our Court recognises but one proud
favourite, mademoiselle, and who should know her name so well as you? At
present she lacks but one courtier in her train, Count Vladimir. You see
the riddle is not difficult of solution; but is it true--Olga?"

It was the first time he had ever called her by her name, and
Mademoiselle Naundorff winced perceptibly as she heard it fall from his
lips, in the low suppressed tones of his voice. She started, and threw
back her head with her favourite gesture, as if she would throw off the
burden of the hour, and free herself from its restrictions.

"Have you a right to ask, Ivor?" she answered, coldly. "How can you be
so foolish as to heed a bit of incomplete gossip, blown to us from the
lips of Countess Vera, light as feather-down, and without beginning or
end, as are most of the Countess's scandals?"

"You may laugh at me if it pleases you," replied the young man,
brusquely; "but I will have my answer. Is it true?"

"_Will_ have--and to me!" cried out Mademoiselle Naundorff, hasty anger
in her voice, then laughing a little. "You deserve to be punished for
your temerity. What--since you will have it so, Ivor--what if to oblige
you I admit that perhaps when Count Mellikoff returns, if I see my way
to it, and am not too _bornée_ or fatigued, I may--what is the happy
phrase?--bestow my hand upon him. There, you have your answer, sir."

She leant back again against the cushions, and scrutinised him through
her half-closed eyelids. Ivor's face was white with passion; his blue
eyes seemed made of steel, so hard and brilliant was their lustre. He
did not move from his position, or take his gaze from her face, and when
he spoke it was with no outburst of anger or eloquence, but in the same
repressed low voice.

"Then I warn you, Olga, let him take heed, for you shall never give to
him what I know you would refuse to me. Should he dare to boast of you
as won by him, I will make him eat his own words, even though it be with
a knife of steel."

Olga shuddered involuntarily, but controlling herself quickly, said
quietly, with a little laugh: "You speak at random, my poor Ivor; what
wish of yours have I disregarded, or what request left unfulfilled? Is
there anything more I can do for you?"

But Tolskoi was not to be put off with light words or meaningless
phrases; his face did not relax, nor a softer expression come to his
eyes, at her bantering words, though he spoke somewhat less harshly.

"Yes, you can give me one thing more; you can give me your promise never
to marry Vladimir Mellikoff without my consent. Will you promise me
this, Olga?"

Mdlle. Naundorff was now, however, thoroughly roused; she sprang to her
feet and drew up her tall figure to its full height, while the proud
lines of her face became prouder and more imperious, and her voice
vibrated with suppressed anger, though her tones fell calm and cold.

"Certainly not, Monsieur Tolskoi; you presume too far on good
fellowship. I make no promise to you, or any one, that shall control my
free actions; what you ask is preposterous, Ivor, preposterous."

"Then I will kill him," said Tolskoi, quite calmly, and without any
extraordinary vehemence in his voice or manner; "I will kill him."

And as Olga drew back, startled at his unexpected reply, he bent forward
and caught her hand in his.

"Remember what I say, Olga; if he presumes to think that he has won you,
or dares to say so, or if I learn in any way that you are his promised
wife, I will kill him. He shall not possess what I would give my life to
gain, and what you know would be refused me."

Then he dropped her hand, and before Olga could recover from her
surprise, had passed down the long _salon_, and through the open
_portières_ into the great corridor that led to the palace court-yard.

Olga remained for some moments dazed and astonished, trying in vain to
reconcile the Ivor of the past with the Ivor of the moment, wondering
vaguely at his strange words and altered aspect. She had known for some
months that he made no secret of his devotion to her, but he had always
urged his admiration upon her in such a happy half-bantering fashion,
she only regarded it as a boy's ardour, nor took him more seriously than
his youthful face and careless manner demanded.

He had, indeed, once hinted at a deeper feeling, but she had laughed and
told him not to burn his fingers with fire, and he, after a moment's
annoyance, had laughed with her, and returned to his old openly
expressed adoration.

But now, within this last half-hour, she had seen below the surface of
that gay exterior, and she drew back half alarmed, half fascinated at
what she beheld there. And although she had had her eyes opened to the
other side of Ivor's nature, she had ruled and controlled men too long,
seen them become her willing and abject slaves at a mere smile or word
too often, to give much weight to Tolskoi's threat; it amused her
rather than terrified her.

"Poor Ivor," she mused; "how very melodramatic, and how youthful! I must
get you into better training, Ivor, or we shall have you really
committing some foolish escapade, and mixing my name up in it, in a way
I should not care for."

Then she turned from the window, and as she did so came her summons to
the Empress, and hastening to obey the command she forgot Ivor entirely,
or remembered him only to say half vexedly: "After all he told me
nothing about Count Stevan's murder. Oh, tiresome Ivor!" And thus she
dismissed him, and all other annoying subjects, with but scant
courtesy.



CHAPTER XI.

A WOMAN SCORNED.


When Count Vladimir Mellikoff drew back the _portières_ that shrouded
the doors of the large drawing-room at the Folly, he came face to face
with Miss Rosalie James, and for a full moment these two gazed at each
other in a silence that might have been born either of unexpectedness,
or preconcerted arrangement.

Count Mellikoff never allowed ordinary emotions to be visible in his
face; he had that absolute control of feature and muscle which only long
training and an inflexible will can effect. It is seldom one comes
across such a countenance, over which no appreciable change ever
passes, and upon which the passions leave no reflex, not even the
slightest shadow, such as troubles a pool when a cloud passes overhead,
that is gone even as one watches its approach. Such a countenance
betokens one of two temperaments: a nature too weak and vacuous to feel
or comprehend any master passion, and which from very inanition becomes
irresponsive, or one so strong and so intense as to fear its own
capabilities, and therefore strives to conceal all outward expression,
lest its lightest emotion might exhibit something more than the usual
conventionalities.

Of the latter type was Vladimir Mellikoff. From his boyhood he had
taught himself the value of repression, and in it had found his greatest
power. He had learned to so utterly subdue all outward expression of the
passion that at the moment might be consuming him, as to remain
absolutely passive under the most trying circumstances, and so to
control his every feature, that not one muscle, not so much as the
trembling of his lips or the lifting of his eyebrows, ever betrayed him,
when it was his will that they should not.

And yet, perhaps, the greatest charm that he possessed was the sudden
and unexpected brilliancy or softness which he at times allowed his
countenance to assume; then all the harsh, decisive lines faded from
about his mouth and eyes, the stern rigidity of chin and brow relaxed,
the gravity of the dark eyes, in their deep settings, grew tender, and
the expression of melancholy harshness melted beneath the sweetness of
his smile.

Olga Naundorff, who knew him so well, had seen this change in him more
often than any one, yet even to her it was always new and startling, and
filled her with a certain feeling of amazement, not unmixed with pity.
For to Olga, the beautiful, as to her Imperial ancestress, men and men's
passions were but playthings of the hour, and should, like all
mechanical toys, be perfectly regulated by ingenious clockwork,
warranted never to get out of order, and never to carry their cleverness
beyond certain boundaries. If any one of her puppets over-stepped these,
and showed signs of unconventional or barbaric passion, she lifted her
dark brows in astonishment, raised her proud head a trifle more
haughtily, and with superb disdain reduced the poor bungler to his
proper state of imbecility, and then passed him by ever after with an
intensity of quiet scorn, that killed by slow but sure degrees.

To her mind all passion was vulgar, and to be vulgar was to write one's
self down a fool; fools had no place in her world. They might be of use
in some other part of the globe, that was not her affair; to her they
were bores, and bores, as we all know, are obnoxious pests; away with
them, let them be anathema. Life is too short to expend any portion of
it on emotions that ruin the digestion and spoil the most perfect
complexion.

For one entire moment Miss James and Count Vladimir looked full in one
another's faces, and in that moment each pair of dark eyes read
something in the other that caused them both to sink simultaneously,
while over the girl's cheeks a faint dull red rose and faded.

The half smile, mocking yet satisfied, that had come to Count
Mellikoff's lips as he picked up the bit of lace and muslin from beside
Patricia's chair, still lingered, and now it deepened somewhat, as with
a bow he stepped back, holding aside the heavy draperies, and by an
almost imperceptible gesture commanded Miss James to enter. She obeyed
him, and as the thick plush curtains fell behind her with a dull rustle,
they seemed to her excited fancy to shut her out for ever from the
gaiety and freedom of the life she had quitted only a moment ago, even
as they shut her within the deserted drawing-room, with Vladimir
Mellikoff as her only companion.

She laughed nervously and put her hand up to her throat as she did so,
trying in vain to shake off the absurd superstitious feeling that was
creeping over her, and that seemed to enfold all her senses and render
her acquiescent and obedient to the will of this tall dark man, who
stood before her, and whose distinguished face, with its burning eyes
and compressed lips, fascinated her, as the serpent fascinates the dove.
She could even think of this simile, and in her heart laugh at it, but
she could not shake off, or overcome the fact of his mesmeric influence
upon her.

Count Mellikoff drew a low _causeuse_ towards her, and with grave
politeness begged her to be seated. She sank down upon it with passive
obedience, and folding her hands on her knees looked up at him; she held
a _marquise_ fan of ostrich plumes, these trembled somewhat; it was the
only sign of emotion that escaped her.

Vladimir turned from her and walked the length of the drawing-room,
standing for a moment at the entrance to the conservatory, where lived
the golden-hued Maréchal Niel roses; their pungent yet faint perfume
permeating the atmosphere, while their heavy heads drooped with the
burden of their own loveliness, half hidden in the tender green of their
leaves.

As he walked away from her, Rosalie roused herself from the strange
lethargy that had subdued her; she threw back her head, her breath came
quickly, a flush crept up and stained the olive pallor of her cheeks;
she opened her hands, throwing them out with an impatient gesture, and
the _marquise_ fan fell noiselessly at her feet, the waving feathers
making a light breeze as they fluttered down that touched her face and
lifted the laces of her low corsage.

The over-strained tension of her nerves gave way; she could have cried
for very relief and joy as she felt the spell of his presence failing at
the return of her powerful will. She watched him eagerly and saw him
enter the rose house; as his dark figure vanished in the interior gloom
she jumped up quickly, threw up her arms, and drew a long deep breath;
took a step or two forward, and noticing the fallen fan stooped to pick
it up, then turned to leave the room by a side entrance. As she did so
Vladimir Mellikoff stood before her, holding a golden-hued rose between
his fingers.

She started back, she was almost terrified by his sudden reappearance;
she had not heard his approach, his footsteps were noiseless on the
heavy carpet; she imagined him safe in the alleys of the conservatory,
and her escape from him but the effort of a moment. She had but stooped
to recover her fan, and lo, there he stood, tall and commanding and
smiling, before her. She gazed at him questioningly, and again, as her
glance met his inscrutable dark eyes, she recalled the old fable of the
serpent and the dove. She sank down upon the _causeuse_ trembling.

"Mademoiselle," Count Vladimir's courteous, cool tones were saying,
"will you honour me by the acceptance of this rose? The royal flower,
_par excellence_, over all other flowers, as one of your own English
writers, John Ruskin, says. If I may be permitted to suggest so bold an
idea, it will enhance, and be enhanced, by a place in your corsage."

He held out the flower, smiling as he did so, and she took it
mechanically, and fastened it amidst the black laces that draped her
shoulders and bosom; it dropped its golden head lovingly upon them,
while its perfume rose and fell with the pulsations of her heart.

Vladimir drew a chair opposite to her and sat down, leaning forward with
his elbows on his knees, and his keen eyes noting each fluctuating
expression of her face, each flutter of the laces above her unquiet
breast, each nervous movement of her hands in their long, loose Suède
coverings. He had a dangerous game to play, and upon his success or
defeat depended his winning or losing Olga. As her name crossed his
mind, though not spoken by his lips, he was shaken by a sudden passion
of love and desire; he recalled her proud, pale beauty, the blue of her
eyes, "blue as the violets of his own Novgorod," the golden sheen of her
hair, her lissom figure, and her cold haughty smile.

He _would_ win her, or he would die; and what mattered any other woman's
life if he could but appear worthy in her eyes? What had the chief said?
"You must use a woman's weapons--_finesse_, deceit, distrust--when you
make war upon a woman." Well, and so he would; it should go hard with
him if he could not fit himself out in a woman's armour, and not reveal
where the breast-plate failed to meet, or the helmet bound his forehead
too tightly. One must put up with such little inconveniences when one
adapts oneself to the warfare of the weaker sex.

"Above all, distrust the women of the great world, they are our
cleverest enemies;" that had been another of Patouchki's axioms; and he
did distrust this pale, dark-eyed, slight American girl with every fibre
of his mind, and read her through and through; her shallow cleverness,
her dwarfed ambitions, her stunted love, that was not so much love as a
mixture of baffled pride and jealousy, and desire of conquest. She could
be useful to him; he had decided that within the dinner-hour, when he
caught her suspicious glances, cast first at Philip Tremain, as he sat
on Mrs. Newbold's left, and then at Miss Hildreth, who, radiant and
handsome, was eating olives, and mystifying George Newbold, on whose
right hand she was placed. He had read Miss James's secret then and
there, and resolved that it should be useful to him, and that she should
be the tool in his master-hand wherewith to work.

Rosalie in due course had been presented to him, and she had not failed
to notice and feel flattered by his attentions to her. She was smarting
under Mr. Tremain's too apparent indifference, and Patricia's too
evident power. She longed to strike both the one and the other, to tear
off the masks from their serenely smiling faces, and hold them up to the
scorn and derision of their world.

"I hate them both," she murmured between her teeth. "I hate him because
he loves her still, and I hate her because she is so beautiful and so
victorious. I know there is some secret well hidden behind that lovely
face, and oh, what would I not give to find it out and reveal it!"

It was at this moment that George Newbold's lazy voice interrupted her
thoughts, and looking up she saw him leaning towards her with the
distinguished appearing foreigner beside him. Mr. Newbold mumbled out
two names and left them, and Rosalie glancing up again met the Count's
steady dark eyes fixed upon her, and knew with sudden certainty that he
had read her face only too well; how much more that lay beneath the
surface of her outward seeming not even she could tell!

They stood quite silent for several moments, and during that time she
felt imperceptibly at first, and then more and more certainly, his
influence and power growing upon her; she acknowledged the intensity of
his glance without daring to meet it, and could have cried for rage at
her own inability to throw off the fascination he exercised over her.
When he spoke it was upon a commonplace topic, and she drew a sigh of
relief when, after a brief conversation, he bowed and left her, even
though conscious of a vague regret that he should go from her.

During the evening she had many times felt his eyes seek her out and
rest for a moment on her face, and at each such occurrence the blood had
rushed to her cheeks, and she had trembled, though not with cold. He had
stood a long time talking with Mr. Tremain, and she had watched them
with a half-formed anticipation of some coming and unexpected
catastrophe, and then, when she turned and sought to leave the room, she
heard a quiet voice say, "Permit me," the door was opened for her, and
as she expressed her thanks Count Vladimir bowed, and returned to his
place beside Philip. And now they were once more together and alone, and
she was again conscious of an ever-increasing apprehension; the
prescience of some coming evil in which they were both to bear a part,
and yet which she was powerless to avert.

"Mademoiselle," said Count Vladimir, bending a little more forward and
looking up at her from under his dark brows, "I am about to do something
which under ordinary circumstances and with an ordinary audience would
be considered not only indiscreet but unconventional. If I misjudge my
opportunity and my audience and offend you by putting you outside the
pale of weak worshippers of conventional cult, pray say so at once, and
I will humbly beg your pardon and withdraw."

For answer she drew her fingers once or twice across the feathers of her
fan, and let her eyes travel slowly up from that pretty toy to his face,
taking in as they did so the smallest detail of his appearance, from the
thin long-fingered hands, that hung down so quietly between his knees,
the dead gold of the one ring he wore with its blazing ruby, to the tiny
red rosette of an officer of the Legion of Honour that decorated his
correct evening costume. As she raised her eyes still higher they met
his, and for an infinitesimal space of time held hers captive; then she
dropped them again, and sinking back against the cushions of her chair,
raised the feather fan until it rested against her lips. Her voice was
quiet when she replied, though a fine ear might have caught a suspicion
of fear in it:

"You flatter me, Count Mellikoff; to be considered above one's world in
virtue or in vice is always a distinction, if not always an honour.
Pray in what indiscretion can I be of help to you?"

"I will tell you frankly, mademoiselle, that I am visiting this country
for two purposes and in two characters. It has struck me that as one
part of my work is that of reparation, a woman of my own world, of quick
perceptions, nice judgment, and unerring instinct might, and could,
materially assist me in my self-imposed task. I know the generosity of
women, and I know how quick they are to respond to any tale of wrong or
outrage; perhaps it is the very conventionalities of their lives which
hedge them in, from birth to marriage, that increases their spontaneous
desire to see wrongs righted, and the criminal brought to justice. I do
not know, that is a question of analysis into which I cannot enter; I
may have my theories, but need not bore you with them. The result of the
present system is made plain to me by the women of my own country,
where no rule or restriction is ever relaxed on any pretence, and where
the world and the world's dogmas are worshipped with a blind and
absolute faith. And yet, mademoiselle, even there I have known the
fairest and highest born women, when occasion required, shake off the
chains of custom and stand forth boldly in defence of right and
justice."

"That, Count Mellikoff, it seems to me any woman would do, no matter
what her nationality, if the object of her enthusiasm was worthy in her
eyes. It is not to an American girl that you should plead for liberty of
thought and action, since we have grown up upon the very soil that once
was baptized in blood, shed by our forefathers to gain this very freedom
of opinion."

"It is a grand country," replied Vladimir, slowly, and without banter or
sarcasm in his tone, "I admire it already, though as yet but a stranger,
and it is for that very reason that I shrink from one part of my task.
Mademoiselle, when one has been courteously received, and hospitably
entertained, one hesitates to strike a blow at those who have so trusted
one. The Arabs read us a lesson in moral ethics, which we children of a
latter-day civilisation would do well to follow. He who breaks bread
with the child of the desert is ever after protected by him and his
tribe. Not so with us, treachery is our watchword, ingratitude our pass
key."

He spoke somewhat bitterly, though without changing his position or
expression, and Miss James, as she looked searchingly at him, could
discover no corresponding reflexion of words in face or eyes.

"Has your experience been of such a character?" she asked, a little
abruptly.

"Both my experience and actions will bear me out in my asseverations,"
he replied; and then in rather a lighter tone he continued: "It is
rather the fault of our nineteenth century progress, mademoiselle, that
we have neither time nor inclination for the old-fashioned courtesies
and amenities of our grandsires' days; we make boast of our honesty and
truth, it is true, and we are brutal often in enforcing these virtues;
we cry out against and disclaim the gentler methods, and say with
satisfied arrogance that fine phrases have no truth, polite aphorisms no
depth; well, perhaps we are right, but for my part I prefer a
well-turned and politely-worded lie, knowing it to be such, than the
brute force of to-day's truthfulness. Honesty and honour have such
elastic definitions, it is difficult to know where the one degenerates
into mendacity, or the other becomes contention.

"Let us, however, leave useless analysis, mademoiselle, and with your
permission, I will become personal. I am selfish in doing so, because I
desire to interest you in myself and my work."

He drew back a little as he spoke, and lifted his arms from his knees,
bringing his face more on a level with hers. Rosalie watched him with
the same indefinable interest and fascination that had first subdued
her. She did not speak, but her eyes sought his and rested there, and
the heavy golden flower upon her bosom rose and sank hurriedly.

"Have I your permission, mademoiselle?" he asked.

She bowed her head, making an affirmative gesture with her hand; the
feather fan lay still upon her lap.

"You have heard," he began, "that I am here in two characters. I come in
the ordinary way to visit a great country, for which my own land has
always entertained a friendly feeling; I come to inspect her
institutions, her educational universities, her great cities, her fine
rivers; I come to admire and to learn, and to carry back with me
pleasant recollections of a too-hospitable and charming people. That is
I, in my proper aspect, without disguise or concealment; but that is
not my first object, or my real errand. Mademoiselle, I come to seek, to
trace, to find--a woman. One who has flown to your country for
protection, to escape the penalty of crime; who is a fugitive from
justice, and who thinks, poor fool! thus to avoid the power and the
vengeance of Russia. Mademoiselle, it is in this work I ask your
assistance."

As he spoke, Miss James had risen to her feet, and now stood before him,
her face blanched and haggard, her eyes glowing dark and angry, her
breath coming quick and short; her arms hung straight down by her sides,
the loose gloves falling about the thin wrists and leaving bare the
slender arms; the feather fan lay unheeded at her feet.

"Why do you ask _me_, Count Mellikoff?" she cried, in a strained, harsh
voice, her eyes never leaving his face. "Why do you ask me to help you
to track a woman, to hunt a fugitive, a poor, wretched, heart-broken
fugitive, no doubt flying for her life from your cruel country and its
cruel laws? What do you see in me that makes you think I will lend
myself to your mad schemes? What am I that you should so count upon my
co-operation?"

She stopped, and Vladimir, who had also risen and stood facing her, cool
and unmoved, bent down and, lifting up the _marquise_ fan, handed it to
her with a bow before he replied. When he spoke his voice was keen and
sharp, his words cutting and cruel.

"What do I see in you, mademoiselle? Nay, let me rather answer your
question by a line from an English poet:

    '_I see--a woman scorned----_'

How does the couplet end?"

But Miss James made him no reply, her hands closed vehemently on the fan
she held; under their pressure the frail pearl sticks snapped in two and
fell apart. She looked at him fixedly; the crimson blood had rushed in
a torrent to her face, and the red stain lingered there. Suddenly she
faltered, trembled, swayed a little, and sinking down upon the low
_causeuse_, covered her face with her hands and burst into long-drawn
sobs and tears.

It was late that night before Miss James sought her own room; as she
passed out of the drawing-room Count Vladimir held back the heavy
_portières_ with respectful attention, bending his head in salutation as
she went by him.

Behind her, on the velvet carpet, lay the strewn petals of a golden-hued
rose, about whose torn beauty a subtle fragrance still lingered, and the
broken pearl sticks of a _marquise_ feather fan.



CHAPTER XII.

A PINK BILLET-DOUX.


Mr. Tremain had allowed George Newbold to take him away from Count
Mellikoff without any great regret on his part. He acknowledged himself
interested in the man and in his conversation, and at first as he
listened had almost persuaded himself that his instinctive prejudice
against him was ill-founded and narrow.

But as the Count continued in a perfectly passionless voice and with
what seemed to Philip a grim satisfaction, his circumstantial
revelations regarding Russia's power, and Russia's definition as to what
constituted fatherly protection, he felt all his original doubts
reawaken; and then he had caught that momentary, searching,
comprehensive malevolent expression which crept over Vladimir's face,
though but for a brief second, and this had strengthened him in his
dislike and suspicion.

Therefore he was glad of any excuse to leave him and return to the more
commonplace, if frivolous, topics of the ladies.

In the silence and security of his own room he had promised himself a
somewhat more satisfactory interview with Mdlle. Lamien than had been
his portion since the accident, and with this object in view had shaken
himself out of his half-mesmeric condition, and deserted the hermitage
of his cynical reflections.

But this was destined to be an evening of disappointments, beginning
with Patricia's frigid reception of him, and culminating in the
non-appearance of Mdlle. Lamien, either at dinner or afterwards in the
drawing-room. He had watched in vain for the tall dark figure, with the
falling laces half concealing the pale face and white hair, to come
gliding in unnoticed, and take the accustomed place within the arched
chimney-recess, the slender hands, clasped loosely together, resting on
the black dress, the passionless repose of attitude marking a mind far
away from the gay surroundings of the Folly.

He grew impatient at her absence, for Philip was of that temperament
which, finding most things--men, women, and opportunity--come at his
bidding, resented the smallest deviation from this rule, and chafed
inwardly at so flagrant a dereliction to his will. He desired to see
Mdlle. Lamien in Patricia's presence, and with the cool analysis of
criticism, contrast her feature by feature, attribute by attribute, with
that brilliant woman of the world. It had never entered into his
reasoning that Mdlle. Lamien might frustrate his plans by the simple
device of remaining invisible. He had perhaps imagined her presence
compulsory, and since he had decided that she was to be the object of
his evening's pleasure or amusement, he felt doubly defrauded by her
absence.

Had Mdlle. Lamien desired to feed the flame of the something more than
interest already lighted in Mr. Tremain's mind concerning her, she could
not have chosen a surer method. He was piqued and chagrined at her
evident indifference. It was many years since any advances on his part
had been met by steady rebuff. He had sustained his character of
conquering hero by the very rarity of his attentions, and it gave his
sensibilities something of a moral shock to find himself distanced by
this cold indifferent woman, whose very position made his interest in
her the more anomalous.

It was ten years ago that Patricia had flouted and dismissed him. Was he
to experience like treatment at Mdlle. Lamien's hands? For though Mr.
Tremain had so far scarcely admitted the nature of the interest that
Mimi's governess inspired in him, he was yet candid enough to give it a
somewhat warmer title than mere curiosity in the study of a new
character.

Patricia had distinctly repulsed him, though he had met her with the old
love ready to reawaken at the first sign of desire on her part. Very
well then, let Patricia see that he too was heart-whole and as
indifferent to her as she to him. And then Mdlle. Lamien had failed to
work up to his cue, and Philip felt his sharpest weapon was thus taken
from him, while Patricia triumphed in her insolence and beauty.

The theatricals were to take place in the _bijou_ gem of a theatre which
George Newbold had had put up to please Esther, in the first year of
their marriage. It was a perfect model in miniature of _La Scala_, at
Milan, hung throughout with the softest shade of rose silk, a daring
innovation of Esther's, which rather outvied the classic columns and
severe arches, but which added a charming air of comfort and luxury,
and was as Dick Darling said, "quite far and away the most fetching
thing for the complexion."

The stage was fitted completely with all possible and impossible
"properties," and opened at the back into the other end of the
rose-house, the opposite door of which led into the drawing-room. It was
indeed a royal playhouse, and acting upon its boards became a luxurious
fine art.

When Mr. Tremain entered the auditorium, he found the first two rows of
stalls half filled by the house guests; Patricia had betaken herself and
her train of admirers to one of the boxes, where she sat radiant and
lovely, the soft rose colouring of the hangings casting a delicious tint
upon her fair face and upon the shimmering surface of her dress. Philip
was at once conscious of her presence, but passed her by apparently
unnoticed, and made his way to the front row, where sat Esther Newbold
and Dick Darling, with an empty _fauteuil_ beside the former.

Into this Mr. Tremain slipped carelessly, and with the familiarity of
good-fellowship, lifted the great bouquet of roses and hyacinths that
lay unheeded on Esther's lap. Dick Darling leant over and nodded her
brown head at him, while Mrs. Newbold gave him one of her sweet smiles,
but laid her fingers on her lips in token of silence, for _Box and Cox_
held the stage, and Miss James was entering into the spirit of Mrs.
Bouncer with a _verve_ and sprightliness, seemingly incompatible with
her usual irresponsive superciliousness.

The absurd farce played itself out amidst the chilling reproofs of Mr.
Robinson, and the plaudits of the spectators, until at last the curtain
dropped upon the final scene. Philip turned then to Mrs. Newbold, and
restoring her flowers to her, said:

"_A propos_ of nothing, Esther, whose exquisite taste is one supposed
to praise in the arrangement of your posy?"

"Ah," said Mrs. Newbold, smiling again, and touching the great
jacqueminots caressingly with her fingers, "I am very proud of my
bouquet, and I will give you three guesses, Philip, at the donor's
name."

"Yes," broke in Dick Darling, quickly, "and I'll bet you three to five
you don't guess it!"

"Those are very certain odds, Miss Dick," replied Mr. Tremain, laughing,
"considering that never in the course of my long and varied experience
have I been known to elucidate the simplest rebus. Even 'when is a door
not a door?' is beyond my mental powers; how then can I be expected to
divine who is the latest slave to Mrs. Newbold's charms? I must say
however, I consider George a very amiable young man."

"So do I," laughed Esther. "Now could a wife say more? But your three
guesses, Mr. Tremain."

"Miss Darling must put up the stakes first," answered Philip, "I am not
going to bring my powerful legal mind to bear on this problem without
first seeing the stakes. Now then, Miss Dick, out with them."

"Oh, but I have positively nothing," cried Dick Darling, her face
flushed and eager. "What could I possibly have worth Mr. Tremain's
'cheese'?"

"My dear Dick!" exclaimed Esther, "you really must get out a dictionary
of your own terms; your expressions, I am sure, are nowhere to be found
in Lindley Murray."

"Poor old duffer!" replied the incorrigible Dick, "I hope not indeed. I
guess some of them would make his hair curl, even in the cold cold
grave."

Philip laughed, and Esther tried to look scandalised, but failed
utterly; and then Mr. Tremain said, bending slightly forward:

"You might put up that tantalising little note, Miss Dick, that is half
stowed away in your laces. I am perfectly sure it contains 'some
scandal of Queen Elizabeth,' which would amply repay me for my unwonted
efforts, if I win it. Its very colour betrays it; whoever heard of a
pink _billet-doux_ that was not redolent of intrigue? The more bashful
the colour, the more gigantic the scandal."

"What, this?" replied Dick, taking out a small square envelope,
rose-tinted and crested. "Oh, no, this would not be worth your powder;
it's only a note from Mdlle. Lamien, and doesn't contain a cent's worth
of intrigue, Mr. Tremain."

"Then its looks belie it," said Philip, "for it fills me with
apprehension. Let me look at it, Miss Dick, perhaps its tangible
presence may allay my terrors."

But Dick only shook her head, and held the little note still further
away.

"No, no," she cried, "it's not for you, Mr. Tremain, and I'm not going
to give you even so much as a 'glim' at it." Saying this, she put it
back in her dress, and smiled at Philip provokingly.

"I will put up this," she exclaimed, holding out her arm, on which a
ruby and diamond butterfly sparkled in a bangle setting; "and I am sure
it's simply angelic of me, for this is my one and only piece of bang-up
jewellery; all real and no imitation, worth double the money. Now, Mr.
Tremain, three guesses out of five; and oh, ye gods, protect my
cherished bauble!"

She swung the pretty ornament between her finger and thumb, and the
light from the wax-candles in the girandoles caught at it eagerly, as it
shot forth rays tipped with rainbow gleams.

Mr. Tremain sat back with a mock air and sigh of fatigue, and the two
women watched him interestedly; Esther with a little smile of amusement
on her softly-tinted face, and Dick with a frown of anxiety knitting her
forehead.

"Let me consider," said Philip, reflectively, putting the tips of his
fingers together somewhat awkwardly on account of his sling, and
contemplating them attentively, "only three random shots at three-score
recognised admirers! Long odds in your favour, Miss Dick. Now had I but
the language of flowers at my tongue's end, I might be able to make such
conjunctions with the unwritten but supposable affinities, as to read at
once the hidden meaning in the subtle juxtaposition of jacque roses and
hyacinths. Question: Did the donor know any more about their meanings
than I do?"

"I can supply you with posy lore, Mr. Tremain," broke in Mrs. Newbold,
"if that will be of any assistance. Know then that the red red rose
expresses love, the hyacinth sport or play."

"Ah, the one is contradictory of the other," replied Philip. "Your
nameless admirer, Esther, could scarcely be guilty of so bold a play
upon definitions as to make game of his love by his flowers. Rather let
us suppose him ignorant of any deeper knowledge than their price."

"I think that an equally impertinent suggestion," answered Mrs. Newbold.
"A man should never count the cost where a woman is concerned."

"Granted, my dear Esther; in theory you are absolutely right, in
practice you are lamentably wrong. But I see wrath mantling on Miss
Dick's brow, and scorn flashing from her eyes at our persiflage; let me
appease her and make a desperate plunge into the depths of incertitude.
And first of all, to be courteous and French, I throw away deliberately
one chance in suggesting that it may have been _M. le mari_ who sent the
flowers? Ah, no, believe me, I did not need your silent denial, Esther,
to be assured of my mistake; that would be far too commonplace and
_bourgeois_ a reading for our ethics of this nineteenth century. The
lover sinks such attentions in the husband, and is better employed in
sending flowers to some other man's wife, rather than to his own."

"How very cynical you can be, Philip," exclaimed Mrs. Newbold, turning
her blue eyes full upon him. "I am sure George often gives me flowers;
why, these very buds I am wearing are his gift," and she touched some
half-open blossoms that formed her _bouquet de corsage_.

"That was very gallant of George," replied Mr. Tremain, gravely,
"especially as he had the arduous task of gathering them from his own
rosery, and the virtuous satisfaction of knowing that they cost him far
more than the roses of your posy cost the other fellow. Well, let me try
again. Was it Freddy Slade? I have noticed that innocent youth casting
furtive glances in your direction, Mrs. Esther, too often of late. It is
possible that his ardour may have over-stepped his prudence and his
income, and your jacques been the result."

"Wrong again, Mr. Tremain," cried Dick Darling; "oh, I do hope, with all
my soul, you may miss each time."

"Considering that I have but one chance more, that is rather ungenerous,
Miss Dick. I should not have believed so rancorous a spirit dwelt within
your breast. To wish to further humiliate a two-thirds vanquished foe!"

"But I don't want to lose my bangle, you see," said Dick, naïvely, at
which remark both Mr. Tremain and Esther laughed, and the former
continued:

"Well, here goes my last and only try for your pretty bauble, Miss Dick.
Was it Sir Piers Tracey? To be sure it is not quite in his line, and I
never saw an Englishman yet who appreciated an American woman's love of
flowers, still it might have been Sir Piers, and in that case George
could not even try to appear jealous."

"Poor dear Sir Piers!" laughed Esther, "the idea of his sending any one
flowers! He's old enough to be one's grandfather!"

"I don't know that that makes him ineligible," answered Mr. Tremain, "I
dare say 'old Q.' and Beau Brummel showered roses upon the youthful
Esthers of their decrepitude; it isn't age, my dear Mrs. Esther, that
counts in such things, it's temperament."

"Well, in any case I am glad you have not won my bangle," cried Dick
Darling, as she slipped it over her dimpled wrist. "I always make it a
point to pay up my debts of honour on the spot, I can't bear a
'Welcher,' so you would have been obliged to take my ruby fly, had you
been successful, Mr. Tremain, and that would have been death to me,
simply death."

"With such an alternative, Miss Dick," replied Philip, with increased
gravity, and bowing across Esther, "I am devoutly thankful to have lost,
for to have been the indirect cause of your untimely decease, would
have branded me for ever in my own eyes!"

Then Mrs. Newbold said time was up, and she must go; the _Ladies'
Battle_ would be called in five minutes, and she was wanted behind the
scenes; was Mr. Tremain going through with his rôle?

But Philip begged off on account of his still lame wrist which he wore
bandaged and in a sling; it would be quite effort enough to act when the
real representation took place, Mr. Robinson could read his lines and he
would imbibe valuable hints from his superior method. Was Mdlle. Lamien
to take the Countess d'Autreval's part?

"No," replied Esther, fingering her roses a trifle nervously, and
looking at him from under her eyelids, "Miss Hildreth has elected to act
her own rôle at the rehearsal, consequently Mdlle. Lamien's services
will not be required. Ah, Patricia has already left her box, I must go,"
she added, hastily; and with a hurried gesture she walked towards a
side exit, her pale pink draperies sweeping after her, and making a
little _frou-frou_ with their silks and laces.

Mr. Tremain reseated himself, changing his _fauteuil_ for the one Esther
had vacated next to Miss Darling. He leant back negligently and turning
his face towards that young lady said carelessly:

"Since we neither of us appear on the boards, Miss Dick, let us console
one another off them. By the way, where is Miss James? I did not see her
come into the theatre after her very capital bit of acting."

"Oh, I don't know," answered Miss Darling, with a shrug of her
shoulders. "I suppose she is improving her mind somewhere, at the
expense of some one. To speak frankly, Mr. Tremain, Rosalie and I are
bad friends just now, and I give her as wide a berth as possible."

"Oh, indeed," answered Philip, rather bored, and not at all
understanding that he was the cause of this bad friendship, since Dick,
reading Rosalie's schemes and wishes, had denounced them hotly; and Miss
James, with the remembrance of Perkins's slighting remarks still fresh,
had replied with equal vigour; and so the breach widened between them
day by day.

Dick sat silent for several moments, the colour coming and going in her
cheeks; she was a very chivalrous little girl, and her whole heart had
gone out in unreasoning admiration to Patricia, when first she saw her;
her beauty, her brilliancy, her sparkling vivacity making an absolute
captive of the maiden, who, as she looked at her, felt all her own
shortcomings rise up and confront her in formidable array.

She had heard the story of Philip's and Patricia's engagement, and its
unhappy termination, and she had secretly admired him, in her own mind,
for a long time, and had felt Patricia's reception of him as a personal
injury, which she longed to put right by a few judicious words. She felt
sure they would be judicious because they would be honest. Now if he
would only name Patricia, only ask some question, no matter how trivial,
that she might introduce this one absorbing subject.

But Mr. Tremain, with that perverted obstinacy so often displayed, which
consists in saying the wrong thing at the right moment, when he did
speak, propounded a question so diametrically opposite to Dick Darling's
thoughts that that young lady was actually taken aback, and stared at
him blankly for a full second without answering. And yet Philip had only
inquired if Miss Dick could say why Mdlle. Lamien had not appeared that
evening? It was a simple enough question, but Miss Darling seemed
incapable of replying to it, so he spoke again.

"My dear Miss Dick, what have I said? You look as though you had either
not heard, or not understood me. Pray let me repeat myself. Can you tell
me why Mdlle. Lamien has absented herself all this evening?"

Miss Darling by this time had come back from her vain imaginings, and
answered him readily enough.

"Oh, I beg your pardon; I guess I must have been 'in Japan' when you
first spoke. Why hasn't Mdlle. Lamien come down this evening? For a very
simple reason: she has gone away."

"Gone away!" echoed Philip. "But I saw her late this afternoon in the
corridor." He did not add, and _heard_ her; since, if Esther Newbold
spoke truly, it was she who had startled him by her sad, monotonous
song, and her voice that had an echo of Patty's in its notes.

"Oh, no doubt," replied Miss Darling, "she only went away while we were
at dinner; I heard the wheels of the dog-cart just as we had eaten our
way up to the _suprême de volaille_."

"Is she to be gone long?" asked Philip, conscious and yet astonished at
the feeling of loss this news created in him.

"I really don't know," replied Dick, looking a little surprised. "She
left this note for me," taking out the pink envelope from its
hiding-place and showing it to him. He bent forward eagerly to scan it
as it lay on her outstretched palm, the superscription hidden, the
reverse side lying uppermost. On this he saw impressed a tiny coronet
and a twisted cypher, "_A. de L._"

"It only tells me about some fancy work she undertook for me," continued
Dick, drawing back her hand with the note, "and thanks me rather over
much for my 'unvarying kindness.' She might stow that," she concluded,
with a grimace.

But Mr. Tremain had eyes and thoughts only for the little note, and its
dainty, aristocratic heraldry.

"Is she a titled _émigrée_ in disguise?" he asked, pointing to the
monogram and coronet; then, with an effort, as he became aware of Miss
Darling's surprised looks, and speaking more lightly: "This grows
exciting, Miss Dick; who knows?--we may have the elements of a three
volume novel ready to our hands, yet lose them all by blundering. What
do you know about Mdlle. Lamien?"

"Only what Esther has told us all, which you heard, I think. As to her
being titled, if you think this indicates it," pointing to the
embellishments on the pink note, "why you know, they go for nothing. It
may be only a blind, or it may be that Mdlle. Lamien prefers to write on
other people's note-paper. I don't think it's very conclusive evidence
one way or the other."

And Miss Darling got up with almost an impatient air.

"I am going to change my seat," she said, "I want to go further back,
where I can better see and admire Miss Hildreth. But before I go, Mr.
Tremain, I will tell you who sent Esther the roses, it was Mdlle.
Lamien; a sentimental and too extravagant outburst of gush on her part,
wasn't it?"

Too surprised to reply, Mr. Tremain made way for Miss Darling,
escorting her to a back row, where George Newbold received her with
_empressement_, and Jack Howard with unqualified relief.

"Give you my word," he whispered in her ear, "I have been bored to
death, Miss Dick; so glad to have you back again!"

But Miss Darling proved very poor company, and Jack Howard for once
voted her tiresome.

"Stupid blind mole!" declared Dick to herself, as Philip made his bow
and left her. "Can't he see how lovely Patricia has grown, that he must
run after that pale Russian woman? Oh, what idiots men are!" and Miss
Darling consoled herself by reducing poor Jack to the verge of despair
by her sharp retorts and acrid replies.

Quite late in the evening, after the rehearsal was over, and the little
theatre empty, Count Vladimir opened the double doors and stepped within
Melpomene's deserted temple. The lights had not yet been put out, and
the stage scenery stood unchanged from the last act; an air of late
occupancy, and a memory of brilliant accessories, of fair women in their
sheen of jewels and gleam of satins still lingered, to which the empty
seats and deserted stage pointed the moral of all transitory glory.

Vladimir stood for a moment contemplating the scene, a fine smile
curving his lips, the light of recent conquest lingering in his eyes.

"I am too late," he murmured; "the drama is played out seemingly, the
actors fled. Ah, well, I can afford to wait."

Then he went forward a few steps, and as he did so his quick eye
evidently detected something unexpected, for he made his way definitely
towards the back row of stalls, stooping when he came to the last but
one, and lifted from the carpet a folded square of paper. He held it up
to the light; it was an envelope, pink in hue, and embellished on the
smooth satin surface by a tiny coronet and a twisted cypher. It was
Dick Darling's rose-coloured _billet-doux_.

Vladimir Mellikoff made no movement of surprise or triumph, but as he
took out his black note-book and laid the envelope safely within its
pages, the smile deepened on his lips and in his eyes. He turned and
walked swiftly away, letting the double doors close noiselessly behind
him.

The little theatre was once more deserted; the wax-lights flickered in
the still air; the rose silk draperies stirred slightly as a passing
breath of soft spring wind floated in from the rose house, bringing a
wave of perfume from the golden blossoms over which it had lingered in
its passage. The mimic comedy was played out, the actors had abandoned
their rôles; only real life and its human tragedy remained uncompleted,
across which none but the Divine hand dare write the word _finis_.



CHAPTER XIII.

IN THE HAZEL COPSE.


Mr. Tremain, after leaving Miss Darling in the safe custody of George
Newbold, walked hastily out of the theatre by a side entrance, and
making his way along a narrow and dimly lighted corridor, came to a
small door opening on to an outside terrace which ran beneath the
library windows, and from which a flight of steps led to the large
flower garden--Esther Newbold's particular hobby.

He stepped out on to the terrace, shutting the door behind him, and
drawing a deep breath of relief at being once more alone. It was a
charming night; the cool fresh west wind swept by him in fitful gusts,
touched with a warmer breath of the south, and laden with all the
mystery of the thousands of miles it had travelled ere it reached this
fair spot of God's creation. It could not linger to unfold its burden of
knowledge; it could but flutter its dark soft wings and pass on in the
orbit of its destiny, leaving its mystery unsolved, its secrets
unrevealed, and murmuring ever as it went, sweeping up amidst the tall,
waving trees, or bending low to caress the sleeping flowers, telling its
message always and ever--its message of the passing of Time, of the
coming of Eternity.

             "The stars heard it, and the sea,
    And the answering aisles of the dim woods."

Only man, whose ears are not as yet finely enough attuned to the music
of the spheres, heard no hidden meaning in its gentle voice, no
celestial trumpet-call in its rude blasts.

Why should Nature reveal her most priceless secrets to man, since as
yet, his highest attainment is a disbelief in all things beyond his
finite wisdom, and a cavilling at what he calls the useless machinery of
organic life? Nature is as shy as she is beautiful; generous when
trusted, but niggardly when discredited. How shall the wilfully blind
expect to see into her mysteries, or the wilfully deaf hear the lilt of
her charming?

Below the terrace lay the garden beds, wrapt about in a dreamy haze, out
of which the crescent moon, set high in the intense blue of the heavens,
evoked spectral gleams of gold and silver as it fell athwart the yellow
daffodils, hanging their heavy heads down to their shrouding green
sheath-like leaves; or where the sweet narcissus raised its white disk,
distilling its rich perfume far into the night, and recalling the
beautiful Boeotian youth, whose tragic fate seemed written on each
silver petal.

    "Narcissi, fairest of them all,
    Who gaze on their eyes in the stream's recess,
    Till they die of their own dear loveliness."

Here, too, blossomed the luscious double violet, hidden beneath its
close growing leaves, mingling its dainty perfume with the more pungent
exhalations of the tiny musk plant and lily-of-the-valley, while the
pale blue-eyed forget-me-not was lost in the shadows, as were the star
of Bethlehem, and the delicate classic cups of the crocus, only their
bolder yellow rims catching, now and then, a fleeting moonbeam.

A grove of sycamore trees threw up their graceful branches against the
luminous darkness, while the chestnuts swayed their half-opened downy
pink and white buds, and the maples fluttered their long, tendril-like
pods, cased in verdant green, and as rhythmical as lightly strung
Eastern prayer-beads. The faint early verdure of the lilac was just
discernible, and in one of the dark oak-trees a little mother bird,
wakened by the brilliant moonlight, crooned out a plaintive note to her
mate, who answered her by the soft fluttering of his brown wings.

And then all was still, but not silent; for the great wonderful night is
filled with the sweet harmonies of the invisible world, whose cadences
are too faint and tender to be heard among the clarion chords of the
day, but which possess an infinitude of euphony that seems borrowed from
the heavenly choirs of the New Jerusalem.

Mr. Tremain coming suddenly--from the artificiality of the miniature La
Scala, with its rose-coloured hangings, its wax tapers, its atmosphere
laden with the manufactured perfumes of chypre, jockey-club, duchesse;
and its stage, on which the mimic actors travestied the passions of real
life; its audience, made up of fair women, whose costly robes were more
priceless in their eyes than the ruder virtues of truth and honour; of
men, whose natural abilities were buried beneath a fashionable languor,
and whose moral nature was stunted and undeveloped by the blighting
curse of their century, love of gold and desire of its possession--into
the immensity and candour of the night--felt as if dealt a blow, and
stopped involuntarily, swayed by some unknown emotion that strove
against the one influence and yearned towards the other.

He stepped down from the terrace, and wandered aimlessly along the broad
garden paths, his hands clasped loosely behind him, his bare head bent
forward, the April wind stirring the short brown locks that fell over
his forehead. Now and then he stooped down and looked carefully at some
half-hidden blossom, drawing back the leaves with heedful fingers, and
smiling at his own childishness as he passed on, not rifling even one
bud from the parent stem.

The garden paths were all broad and straight, and Philip walked on,
unheeding his steps and unmindful of his course. He was very deep in
thought, so deep that presently he forgot to notice the flowers on
either side, passing on without halting at any favoured one. Dick
Darling's bald news--that Mdlle. Lamien had left the Folly--and her
apparent ignorance as to her return, had opened Philip's eyes with a
start, and revealed to him the distance he had already travelled in the
primrose path of dalliance and uncertainty.

He acknowledged to himself, with a twinge of mortification, that her
leaving the house in such a manner, and without any word to him as to
her intention, was a wound to his self-love and self-esteem. Though,
indeed, why Mdlle. Lamien should have confided her plans to him was an
open question. He had met her but once face to face since the accident,
and that opportunity had resolved itself into the unsatisfactory
interview in the corridor, when she had scorned his hand, and swept by
him down the stairs without a word.

Poor Philip! it was rather rough treatment, as he said to himself, to
have his hand refused twice in the same evening by two different women!
A smile of self-scorn and amusement came to his lips as he recalled the
incident; fate was not usually so unkind, he was not accustomed to such
churlish treatment at her hands, and the very novelty set him
speculating as to the motives that incited two such opposite natures to
a similarity of action.

Self analysis is a very deceitful occupation, and Mr. Tremain, who had
set about an interior examination as to his own feelings and intentions
regarding Mdlle. Lamien, was soon wandering far afield in the realms of
speculation regarding the ulterior motives of these two women, comparing
their various attributes, contrasting their characteristics, finding
subtle likenesses between them, and antagonistic points of approachment.
Then he recalled the little pink note, and the bouquet of jacque roses,
and Dick Darling's sarcastic criticism upon them. Why should Mdlle.
Lamien use coroneted note-paper if it was not her own? And why should
Mimi's governess waste her scanty substance upon hot-house flowers for
Esther Newbold, who certainly could better afford the luxury than her
paid dependent? And did not Mdlle. Lamien know the meaning hidden in the
blossoms? Had she some reason for selecting red roses and white
hyacinths, or was it only a coincidence, an accident?

"Were I a little more of a fatalist," thought Philip, "I should answer
my own question by reminding myself that nothing is accident in life. In
their cult, _kismet_ overrules and becomes destiny."

Meantime, taking no heed to his steps, Mr. Tremain was surprised into
consciousness by a sharp blow in the face, which recalled him to a
survey of his surroundings. He found he had wandered far beyond the
garden precincts, down a gentle declivity ending in a lightly-wooded
copse, to which a low-hanging hazel-tree branch barred his entrance.
Putting this aside, he entered the small enclosure; it was not more than
an acre in extent, the trees with which it was planted being still
young, and standing rather wide apart. The ground beneath was of
yielding though uneven turf, and quite at the far end of the tiny wood a
rustic bench was placed near a small fountain with a marble basin, into
which the water, trickling from a vase held in the marble boy
Narcissus's uplifted hands, made a pleasant murmur in the stillness of
the night.

A gleam of white drapery falling across the bench warned Philip that he
was trespassing upon a rendezvous, that had all the recognised
characteristics of an assignation. He had gone too far, however, to
retreat, since his presence must have been already announced by the
harsh crackling of the offending hazel-bough, some of the twigs having
broken in his hand as he pushed it back.

The white figure neither moved nor showed any knowledge of his approach,
but remained absolutely motionless, the head and shoulders in deep
shadow, only the gloved hands and the sweeping draperies catching
reflections from the fitful moonlight. If it was an assignation, the
lady apparently was the only one faithful to the tryst, for there was no
manly form beside her, nor manly accents raised in pleading or caress;
indeed, voices of any _timbre_ there were not. A silence, deep and
profound, held the little wood as in a spell, and the white-robed figure
with the folded hands might have been the enchanted Princess, and Philip
the Prince who was to wake her with a kiss, whose very sweetness would
open the door once again to the outside world of romance, and passion,
and disappointment.

Poor Princess! let her dream on a little longer, wrapped in her
unconscious, visionless slumber; the malignant fairy's curse of a
hundred years ago is fast wearing itself away, and with love's awakening
who can banish the twin sisters of jealousy and suspicion? Does not the
fairest rose of all the garden fair bear within its flushing bosom the
canker worm of deceit and decay?

Treading noiselessly upon the short turf, Mr. Tremain came close upon
the fair intriguer before she heard his footsteps, or was aware of his
presence. The moon, which had been slightly obscured by the passing of
some hazy clouds, now broke forth and shone down full upon the slight
upright figure that had arisen hastily, and taken a forward step or two,
as Philip's approach became known. The silver rays touched with seeming
tenderness the dark hair rolled high upon the little head, and fell
across the white neck, half concealed by a fleecy drapery, gathered
together carelessly, and held by one slender hand in a long loose glove;
they struck cool and sharp on the sweeping lines of the dress,
accentuating each fold of the silken texture, and threw into bold relief
the soft pallor of the delicately-rounded face, lingering longest where
the dark brows made a mystery of the eyes, and kissing the curved lips
that now were set and defiant; illuminating and defining each gracious
curve and outline of the graceful form, with the same ethereal
brilliancy that transformed the trickling fountain into an elixir of
life, and awakened the boy-god Narcissus into perennial youthfulness.

Mr. Tremain stopped spell-bound; and for a moment's space, in the hush
that fell between them, each could hear the quick-drawn breath of the
other, while the tinkling drops from Narcissus's vase became a Niagara
in sound and volume. Then the spell was broken, as both, with
involuntary impulse, spoke the other's name.

"Patricia!"

"Philip!"

The woman was the first to recover her composure; with a nervous laugh,
that rang a little untrue, and in a slightly strained voice, she broke
the embarrassment of the moment.

"So you, too, have caught the fever of unrest, Mr. Tremain, and become
moon-struck under the influence of Luna's fool's month. For myself, I
have always asserted that the blood of the wandering tribes flows in my
veins, the night-time and the dark hours have always been my favourite
times for----"

"A rendezvous," struck in Philip, sharply. "I have not forgotten any of
your pet peculiarities, you see. Perhaps I intrude, however; the hour
and scene demand a Romeo for your Juliet, and I can scarcely hope to
fill the part to your liking."

She started as though he had struck her, but made answer calmly enough:

"You are too modest, Mr. Tremain, by far; it is a new development in
your character, pardon me if it strikes me as somewhat ludicrous." And
she laughed lightly and coldly, though with a ring of bitterness below
the mocking notes.

But Philip was not angered by her words or her laughter; he scarcely
heard the latter, so eagerly were his eyes devouring each feature and
line of the once dearly worshipped face and form.

Surely the cheeks were a trifle more wan and hollow than in the old
days, despite the delicate rouge tinting that lay upon them; and the
eyes were deeper set, the shadows beneath them darker, their expression
more weary and unsatisfied than when last he had looked into their
violet depths; and had not the perfect modelling of her figure grown
somewhat thinner and more shrunken?

He, who remembered her in the full glory and pride of her youthful
beauty, and who had loved her in it, noted now with keenest vision each
change that time had wrought upon it. And as he gazed the old old
passion leapt into life again; his heart grew tender and longing, his
love of ten years ago awoke from its long slumber, and clamoured for its
resurrection. And yet, mingling with this tumult of emotion,
overweighing it, and pressing it back, was a strange, intangible,
inexplicable power that evolved itself out of a future of unknown
presentiment, even as it seemed but the forecast of a dread calamity.

But Philip was not one to be swayed by unseen influences; he shook off
the impression of supernatural agencies and resolved to snatch at this
one hour, which chance had thrown in his way, and wring from it whatever
of joy or sweetness could be gathered from the withered blossoms and
crushed buds of the past.

He stood face to face with Patricia once more; might not he, remembering
Esther Newbold's pleadings, even now after ten long years of separation,
gather sufficient fruit from off the golden trees of past youth and
love, to make happy and contented the downward years of life? Could a
man stand thus, looking into the eyes of the woman of his life-long
devotion, and remain indifferent? Would not any sop from out that gilded
past, if thrown to him by her hand, prove of sufficient value to be
worth his glad acceptance?

All this time his eyes had never left her face, and she grew restive
under the intensity of his scrutiny, flushing and paling, while the
hand that held the fleecy drapery about her throat and neck trembled.

"Patty," he said at last, in a voice set in a lower key than usual.
"Patty, it is ten long years since we stood thus, alone together. Do you
remember the last time we met and--parted?"

She did not answer him at first, but moved away from him some paces, and
halted beside the fountain; the marble rim that surrounded the basin was
broad and high, she seated herself upon it, and turning her face looked
upward at Philip, who had followed her.

Not more cold, or hard, or irresponsive was the face of the boy
Narcissus behind her, than was the fair impassive beauty of her face.
The springing jet of water had ceased to flow, and only a few drops fell
now and then from the upheld vase; they seemed like echoes from the past
years falling slowly, slowly, one by one.

When she spoke her voice was calm and composed, though Philip,
accustomed to its fuller cadences, caught here and there a flat note in
its ebb and flow.

"I find you are as inconsequent and as tactless as ever, Philip," she
said; and though she dropped her previous formality of address, his name
gained nothing in her using of it. "You were always a sad bungler; fancy
reminding a woman of her existence ten years ago! And then expecting her
to remember her words and actions at that time! My dear Philip you are
speaking of ancient history; why not tell me at once that Queen Anne is
dead, and expect me to be astonished? A woman remembers nothing of her
past, save her conquests and her gowns. The one tells upon her vanity,
the other tells upon her purse."

She laughed again, lightly; and drawing off her glove dipped one hand in
the dark water, stirring its surface into a hundred rippling smiles, and
scattering the drops in a shower of prismatic spherules.

"I know it is the fashion of your world, Patricia," Philip replied,
quietly, "to scoff at all things; so narrow are the limits of this
nineteenth-century philosophy that what we cannot understand we
disbelieve, what we do not wish to recall we deny, and what we are
forced to accept we despise. It is a cruel creed even for men, on the
lips of a woman it becomes detestable. You may scoff as you please,
Patricia, you cannot change or alter the old laws of God; as long as man
is man and woman, woman, memory and remorse must have a place within
their consciousness; and no matter how hard or callous you may have
grown, or how learned in the world's theology, you cannot entirely
quench the attributes bestowed upon you, when you became not only a
beautiful creation, but a woman of soul and reason. The last ten years
cannot be a blank to you, any more than our last meeting and parting can
be."

Miss Hildreth laughed again, and wiping her slender finger-tips upon a
tiny square of lace and muslin, from whose folds an odour of violets
stole forth, she answered in an even lighter tone:

"My dear Philip, let me recommend to you a certain essay on the 'Art of
Forgetting,' if you have not already read it. It is written by a modern
philosopher, it is true, but nevertheless, he sounds the heights and
depths of our social system, and evolves a theory therefrom for which he
should receive an universal peerage, bestowed upon him by his indebted
fellow-sufferers. In the art of forgetting lies one's only chance of
freedom from remorse for the past, and the inconveniences of the future.
Believe me, if we can only master thoroughly this hitherto neglected
art, we need have no further fears either for our digestions or
complexions. It was, I think, old Sir Piers who said that all one's
nightmares, physical or moral, arose from one of two causes, an unruly
liver, or a too vivid memory; let us give the old man the credit of the
aphorism, in any case."

"Since you are so willingly blind, Patricia," cried Philip, roused from
his apparent calm by the cool impertinence of her replies, "it seems a
pity to force you to recall a past that dates back ten years. And yet I
fear I must do so, for there are certain things that had better be
explained between us now. Who knows but twice ten years may come and go
before we meet again?"

He paused for a moment, but she made him no reply; her face and slim
graceful figure were thrown into high relief against the dark
hazel-trees, her silks and laces lay about her feet in careless
profusion across the short green turf, her hands were folded in the lace
scarf that wrapped her neck in its fleecy folds. Afar off in the
darkness of the drooping branches, an owl hooted, and a bird or two
answered in sleepy half-notes.

"It is not so very long ago," Philip continued, "since a letter came to
me from you."

She shivered a little and drew her laces about her more closely.

"In that letter, Patricia, you had forgotten nothing; not one detail of
the dream we dreamed together ten years ago. You wrote from your heart
then; your heart that will sometimes make its cry heard, despite the
crust of worldly artifice and selfishness you have built up upon it, and
you appealed to me to recall the old days, 'to fold back the cere-cloth
from the face of our dead past,' and see if something of beauty and
sentiment did not still cling to its memory."

She put up one hand to her face and passed it hurriedly across her
trembling lips; she did not speak, but her eyes grew large and dark in
their entreaty. Mr. Tremain continued, unheeding either her eyes or
gesture.

"I am not going to quote further from that letter, Patricia, and I will
only tax your patience a very little longer, while I describe to you two
visions conjured up by your appeal. I saw once more you, in your first
fresh loveliness and beauty, radiant with youth, transformed by love;
and I saw myself, as yet a raw, unfinished, unformed specimen of
manhood; the Creighton of a suburban society, it is true, but
nevertheless the veriest tyro in the affectations and niceties of town
etiquette. You came within my circle, and you charmed me by the sweet
graciousness of your beauty, the blue fire of your eyes, the frank
candour of your witcheries. And you--you were content to let me play
Strephon to your Chloe. And so that vision faded; and when next I saw
you in fancy, you came towards me, from out a world of light beyond,
from whence came also the echo of gay laughter and light jest; the silks
and laces of your dress fell about you jealously, I remember their
colour and their sheen, as you crept up to me, trembling. There was no
glad exclamation on your lips, no joy in your eyes, no hand held out in
welcome; hesitating and uncertain you stood before me, looking at me
from under your downcast lids, and drawing one hand slowly over the
other. And I, loving and eager, I, a very fool in love, never dreamed
the reason of your changed demeanour; no, not until hours afterwards,
when the night and the falling rain had cooled my passion. You were
ashamed of me, Patty, ashamed of your rustic lover, who came into your
presence with a heart on fire, but wearing an ill-fitting coat, and with
manners more pronounced and enthusiastic than those of your little court
in the room beyond."

He stopped and walked away from her a few paces. The woman thus left
alone seated on the marble fountain rim, never moved or spoke; only a
low cry burst from her lips, smothered as soon as born, otherwise she
remained as still and silent as the Boeotian marble god behind her,
whose prototype had lived out all the passion and the pain of loving so
many centuries ago.

The moon above drifted from cloud to cloud, flinging its silver fire
down recklessly upon the sheltered nook, and upon the fair woman
miserable in the midst of her loveliness. Mr. Tremain turned and came
back, he drew close to her and stood silent for some moments; the pity
that filled his soul, revealed in his eyes down bent upon her. After a
time he spoke, and his voice had regained its usual level tones.

"That was all, Patty, a very commonplace ending. You were ashamed of me;
ashamed of my outward appearance, which lacked the correct finish of a
Bond Street tailor; ashamed of my eagerness and my passion, and my open
adoration; ashamed of my poverty, and afraid of it. Poor pretty Patty!
poor little butterfly of fashion! What should it know of the coarser
insects of creation, whose existence was as necessary perhaps, but less
ornamental, than its own? Why should it break its pretty painted wings
in trying to soar above the sunshine of the hour? You rejected me,
Patricia, that was the end of our last interview; you rejected me and
scorned me, and cast me from you when tired of your toy, and when you
had wounded me beyond healing, and flouted my love and constancy. You
asked me to kiss you for good-bye; I think that was the bitterest moment
of all my life, Patty, it was such wanton cruelty, such selfish
triumphing. And I went from you with all the love and hope and trust and
belief of youth crushed out of my heart by your two soft little hands.
Who could have thought they had the strength to deal one such a coward's
blow?"

Again he stopped, but still she remained still and silent, the whiteness
of her face growing strange and unfamiliar in the fitful moonbeams.

"That was our last meeting and parting, Patricia, and it happened ten
years ago. And you would have me believe that you have so mastered the
art of forgetting as to make of it all only a blank chaos!"

He came nearer to her, and moving with careful hand the folds of her
dress sat down beside her on the broad marble brim. Seated thus, side by
side, his eyes were on a level with hers, and he read within their
depths so great a misery as to call forth a fuller pity in his own.

"Patty," he said, very quietly, "Patty, my answer to your letter was
cold and hard, unworthy of me. Will you forget it, my dear, and let me
give you my true answer now, with your head upon my heart, and my lips
on yours, as in the old days, Patty? The old beautiful days when the
world and our love was young. Patty, my little wayward Patty, come back
to my love and to me."

He held out his arms and would have drawn her to him, so sure was he of
her answer. But she, springing up, stood tall and dignified before him,
her bosom, from which the lace wrap had fallen, heaving with her
hurriedly drawn breath, the whiteness of her uncovered neck and arms
gleaming like alabaster, as she stood silhouetted against the sombre
boughs of the hazel-trees behind her. Her eyes flashed with their old
fire, she raised one hand in her old favourite imperious gesture, and
when she spoke the tones of her voice had grown round and full and
musical.

"No, Philip," she cried, "you come too late. What! you think you have
but to throw the handkerchief and I will run gladly to pick it up? You
are willing to accept me now, because for some concealed reason of your
own, I appear more desirable in your eyes, better worth the having, and
so you read me a long monologue on your constancy and love, and my
faithlessness and cruelty. But you forget to put in the finer shading to
the picture, Philip; you forget the part _you_ played in our drama _à
deux_; you forget how eagerly you snatched at the freedom I offered;
you forget your harsh words, your rough manners, your imperious demands,
your impatient flying to conclusions. You wilfully misunderstood me
then, Philip, you wilfully misread a girl's most natural shrinking from
the unknown and the untried, and put it down to heartless coquetry and
deceit. Was it for me to set you right? Was I to plead my own cause? No,
Philip, you have scorned me twice; once when you refused my kiss, ten
years ago, and again when you refused my offer in my letter. I will not
accept now a love born out of pity, an interest created by desire. I
will have all or nothing; pity shall have nothing to say or plead on my
behalf."

She threw out her hands passionately.

"Take back your offer, Philip; make it to some less jealous, less wise
woman. I will have none of it. I have seen many strange things in my
wanderings of ten years, gained many bitter experiences, mingled with
many strange people, touched close on terrible tragedies; but one thing
I have never lost throughout all--my pride and my freedom. Go, Philip,
you have your answer in my farewell words of ten years ago. I have no
room to remember. I have mastered the art of forgetfulness and
oblivion."

With one quick movement she stooped, drew the long folds of her shining
draperies about her, gathering her laces in one hand, and swept by him
swiftly; the moonlight clinging to her as she moved, surrounded her as
with a halo, and lighted up the fine scorn that curved her lips and
glowed in her deep eyes.

In another moment the elastic swaying hazel-boughs parted to receive
her, and then springing back, hid the slight graceful figure from
Philip's sight.

And still the drops falling from the vase, held high in the hands of the
boy-god Narcissus, counted out the moments, and the moonbeams fell
straight and long, in narrow shafts, across the spot where Patricia had
leant her fair form, stirring to sudden life with her jewelled fingers
the water's placid dark surface.

Now she was gone, and the radiance departed with her.

END OF VOL. I.

       *       *       *       *       *

CHARLES DICKENS AND EVANS, CRYSTAL PALACE PRESS.





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