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Title: Princess Napraxine, Volume 1 (of 3)
Author: Ouida
Language: English
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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 "Princess Napraxine, Volume 1 (of 3)" ***

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PRINCESS NAPRAXINE

I.



New Three-volume Novels at all Libraries.


  DOROTHY FORSTER. By WALTER BESANT.

  THE NEW ABELARD. By ROBERT BUCHANAN.

  A REAL QUEEN. By R. E. FRANCILLON.

  THE WAY OF THE WORLD. By DAVID CHRISTIE MURRAY.


CHATTO & WINDUS, Piccadilly, W.



  TABLE OF CONTENTS
  Chapter 1       1
  Chapter 2      46
  Chapter 3      71
  Chapter 4      96
  Chapter 5     130
  Chapter 6     155
  Chapter 7     177
  Chapter 8     200
  Chapter 9     234
  Chapter 10    269
  Chapter 11    296
  Chapter 12    319
  Chapter 13    336



  PRINCESS NAPRAXINE

  BY

  OUIDA

  [Illustration]

  IN THREE VOLUMES

  VOL. I.


  London

  CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY

  1884

  [_All rights reserved_]



  TO

  TWO PERFECTLY WISE AND HAPPY PEOPLE

  MY DEAR FRIENDS

  PIERRE AND EMILIE DE TCHIHATCHEFF

  This Story

  OF PEOPLE NEITHER HAPPY NOR WISE

  IS

  Affectionately Dedicated



PRINCESS NAPRAXINE.



CHAPTER I.


A blue sea, some palms with their heads bound up, some hedges of
cactus and aloes; some thickets of high rose-laurel, a long marble
terrace shining in the sun, huge groups of geraniums not yet
frost-bitten, a low white house with green shutters and wooden
balconies, a châlet roof and a classical colonnade, these
all--together with some entangled shrubberies, an orange orchard, and
an olive wood--made up a place which was known on the French Riviera
as La Jacquemerille.

What the name had meant originally nobody knew or everybody had
forgotten. What La Jacquemerille had been in the beginning of
time--whether a woman, a plant, a saint, a ship, a game, a shrine, or
only a caprice--was not known even to tradition; but La Jacquemerille
the villa was called, as, before it, had been the old windmill which
had occupied the site, ere steam and fashion, revolutionising the
seashores of Savoy, had caused the present pretty nonsensical,
half-rustic, half-classical house to be erected on the tongue of land
which ran sharply out into the midst of the blue waves, and commanded
a sea view, west and east, as far as the Cape of Antibes on the one
side and the Tête du Chien on the other.

It was one of the most coveted spots on the whole seaboard of our
modern Capua, and brought a little fortune annually to its happy
possessor, a respectable vendor of hams, cheese, and butter in the
Cannebière at Marseilles, who for the coming season had pocketed now,
from Prince Napraxine, the round little sum of two thousand napoleons.

And the Princess Nadège Napraxine, who had set her heart, or rather
her fancy, upon it, was sitting in a bamboo rocking-chair and looking
over the house front, and thinking that decidedly she did not like it.
It had been an idiotcy to take it, just the sort of folly which her
delegate in the affair always committed. They would have been a
thousand times better off at the hotels in Nice; you had no kind of
trouble at an hotel, and you could always have your own cooks if you
insisted.

For three months it had been the reigning desire of her life to have
La Jacquemerille for the winter; it had been let to an American
millionnaire, and the apparent impossibility of getting it had
naturally increased her anxiety. The American millionnaire had
suddenly decided to go home; Jay Gould or Mr. Vanderbilt had done
something that had disturbed his digestion, and La Jacquemerille,
which she had never seen, but had fallen in love with from
photographs, was granted to her wishes for the modest sum of forty
thousand francs. She had travelled straight from the Krimea to it
without stopping, had arrived by night, and now was looking at it for
the first time in broad daylight with a sentiment very near akin to
disgust. She did not find it the least like the photographs.

'It is so horridly low!' she exclaimed, after a long and thoughtful
examination of the frontage, where an Ionic colonnade sheltered itself
under a châlet roof from the Bernese Oberland. 'I am sure it will be
most dreadfully cold. And just look at the architecture--every style
under heaven! Was there ever such an extraordinary jumble?'

'If it be a jumble, my dear, it is very suitable to our generation;
and you are very lucky if, when you buy a pig in a poke, you get
nothing worse than a jumble,' said another lady who was sitting
opposite to her, with a book held upside down and a litter of
newspapers, and who was known in society as Lady Brancepeth.

'Pig in a poke! what is he?' said the Princess Napraxine in her pretty
English, which she spoke with scarcely any foreign accent. 'The house
is shocking! It is the Parthenon mixed up with a Gasthof. It is a
nightmare;--and so small! I don't believe there is room for one
quarter of the servants. And just look at these palms with their heads
tied up as if they had neuralgia; and I am sure they may well have it,
standing still in that _bise_, day and night. I think the whole place
utterly odious. I will tell the women to unpack nothing; I am sure I
shall not stay a night; an Italian _villino_ with a shingle roof and
Grindenwald balconies! Can anything be so absurd?'

'I suppose you will wait till the Prince comes downstairs?' said Lady
Brancepeth with a little yawn.

'Oh, I don't know; why? He can stay if he likes. Oh, dear! there is a
Cairene lattice at that end and these other windows have been copied
from the Ca d'Oro, and the roof is as Swiss as if it were a cuckoo
clock or a St. Bernard dog. What is one to do?'

'Stay,' suggested Lady Brancepeth. 'People do not die of a Swiss roof
unless it tumbles in. The house is all wrong, no doubt, but it is
picturesque; a horrible word, you will say, but it describes the
place. It _is_ picturesque.'

'Wrong things usually are,' said the Princess Napraxine with a sigh,
as she surveyed the Greek peristyle, the Swiss shingles, and the
slender Ionic colonnade. 'Are all these oranges good for one's
complexion, I wonder? It is like sitting in a bright yellow room. I
don't like bright yellow rooms. Who said that granted wishes are
self-sown curses? Whoever did must have wished to hire La
Jacquemerille, and done it. Why do they tie up those palms?'

'To blanch the leaves for Holy Week. Every blade of grass is turned
into money on this poetic shore. If the gardens have been included in
your agreement you can untie them; if not, you cannot.'

'They will certainly be untied; as for agreement--your brother took
the place for us, I daresay he blundered.'

'What were your instructions to him, may I ask?'

'Oh, instructions? I do not remember. I sent him the photographs, and
wrote under them: "Take me the house at any price."'

'Curt as Cæsar!'

With a little yawn the Princess Napraxine looked down the long shining
sea-wall of white marble, studded at intervals with vases of white
marble filled with aloes; beyond the marble wall was the sea--blue,
bright, quivering, and full of shifting lights as diamonds are. Then
her gaze came inward, and returned to the outline of the house which
was so daring and contradictory a jumble. The creepers which covered
it glowed red in the December noon; its blue and white awnings were
gay and fresh; its vanes were gilded, and pointed merrily to the
south; a late rose was garlanding the Cairene lattice; some woodlarks
were singing their pretty little roundelay on the boughs of a carob
tree; it was all bright, lively, full of colour and of gaiety.
Nevertheless, she hardened her heart to it and condemned it utterly,
out of mere waywardness.

'I shall go away after breakfast,' she said, as she looked. 'Platon
can do as he likes. I shall dine at Nice, and you will come with me.'

'I was sure that was what you would do,' said her friend; 'so was
Ralph.'

'Then I shall not do it,' said Princess Napraxine.

She rocked herself soothingly in her chair.

'What a dear little bird that is singing; it cannot be a nightingale
in December. The sea looks very much like our Krimean one; and what a
lovely air it is. Like an English June without the rain-clouds.'

'Wait till Madame la Bise comes round.'

'Oh, Madame la Bise comes round the corner everywhere. She is like
ennui--ubiquitous. You have her in England, only you pretend she is
good for your health, and your Kingsley wrote an ode to her; the rest
of the world is not such a hypocrite.'

'Kingsley? He was _Tom Brown_, was he not?'

'You are _Tom Brown_! Really, Wilkes, you know nothing of your own
literature.'

'Well, I was never educated as you clever Russians are,' said Lady
Brancepeth, good-humouredly; she was sometimes called Socrates, and
generally Wilkes by her intimates. She was the ugly member of a
singularly handsome family, and the nickname had been given to her in
the schoolroom. But her ugliness was a _belle laideur_; her face was
charming in its own way; her eyes were brilliant, and her figure was
matchless. She was an earl's daughter and an earl's wife, and when she
put on the Brancepeth diamonds and showed herself at a State ball, if
ugly she was magnificent, even as, if intellectually ignorant, she was
a marvel of tact, humour, and discernment.

Her friend and hostess was as entirely unlike her as an orchid is
unlike an aloe. She was exquisitely lovely, alike in face and form,
and as cultured as a hothouse flower. She was just three-and-twenty
years old, and was a woman of the world to her finger tips. She was
very cosmopolitan, for though a Russian by birth and marriage her
mother had been French, one of her grandmothers English, the other
German, and she had been educated by a crowd of governesses of many
different nationalities. All her people, whether Russian, English,
French, or German, had been very great people, with innumerable and
unimpeachable quarterings, for many generations, and to that fact she
owed her slender feet, her tiny ears, and her general look of perfect
distinction. She had a transparent, colourless skin, like the petals
of a narcissus in its perfect _mat_ whiteness; she had oriental eyes
of a blue-black, which looked immensely large in her delicate face,
and which could have great inquisitiveness, penetration, and sarcasm
in them, but were usually only lustrous and languid; her mouth was
most admirably shaped, and her teeth deserved the trite compliment of
the old madrigals, for they were like pearls; she had a very ethereal
and delicate appearance, but that delicacy of mould sheathed nerves of
steel as a silken scabbard sheathes a damascene blade. She had an
infinite grace and an intricate alternation of vivacity and languor
which were irresistible. Men were madly in love with her, which
sometimes diverted and sometimes bored her; many people were rather
afraid of her, and this pleased her much more than anything. She had a
capacity for malice.

She now held a sunshade above her head and surveyed the house, and
tried to persuade herself it was charming, as her friend had been so
sure she would find it detestable. She had wished for the place with
an intensity that had almost disturbed her sleep for some weeks, and
now she had got it and she hated it. But as they had expected her to
do so she was determined to conquer her hatred and to find it much
better than its photographs. The task was not difficult, for La
Jacquemerille, if full of absurdities and incongruities, was decidedly
pretty.

As she swung herself on her rocking-chair and began to see with the
eyes of her mind a hundred improvements which she would instantly have
effected whether the terms of the contract allowed of it or not, she
saw coming within the range of her unassisted eyesight a large and
stately schooner, with canvas white as snow bellying in the breeze.
She drew on her long loose tan-coloured glove cheerfully, and said
aloud:

'After all, it is better than an hotel. There is no noise, and nobody
to stare at one. I daresay we shall get through three months without
cutting each other's throats.'

Lady Brancepeth turned and looked out to sea, and saw the schooner,
and smiled discreetly; she said as discreetly:

'I am so glad, dear, you won't fret yourself too much about the place;
after all, you are not going to live in it for a lifetime; and though,
no doubt, it is utterly wrong, and would give Oscar Wilde a sick
headache, yet one must confess it is pretty and suits the sunshine.'

The trees had been cut, so that openings in their boughs allowed the
sea to be seen from any point of the terrace. Princess Nadine from
under her sunshade watched the stately yacht draw nearer and nearer
over the shining path of the waters, and drop anchor some half mile
off the shore; then she saw a gig lowered, with red-capped
white-shirted sailors to man it, and a figure which she recognised
descended over the schooner's side into the stern of the boat, which
thereupon left the vessel, and was pulled straight towards La
Jacquemerille. Neither she nor Lady Brancepeth appeared to notice it;
they talked _chiffons_, and read their newspapers; but the long boat
came nearer and nearer, until the beat of the oars sounded directly
under the walls of La Jacquemerille, and the rowers were too close at
hand to be seen. But the Princess Nadine heard the rattle of the oars
in the rowlocks, the shock of its keel against the sea stairs below,
which she could not see for the tangle of pyracanthus and mahonia and
many another evergreen shrub, covering the space between the terrace
and the shore; she heard a step that she knew very well, the sound of
which moved her to a slight sense of anticipated amusement, and a
stronger sense of approaching weariness, and she turned her head a
little, with a gracious if indifferent welcome in her eyes, as a man
ran up the stairs at the end of the terrace, and came along the marble
floor in the sunshine--a young man, tall, fair, athletic, with a
high-bred look and handsome aquiline features.

'You have had a very quick run, surely?' said the Princess Napraxine,
stretching out her tan glove.

'Well, we did all we knew, and crammed on every stitch we had,' the
new comer answered, as he kissed the tips of the glove, and murmured
in a lower tone, 'Were you not here?'

Then he crossed over to where Lady Brancepeth sat, and kissed her
cheek with a brother's indifference.

'Dear Wilkes, are you all right?' he said as he took up a majolica
stool and seated himself between them.

'Take that bamboo chair, Geraldine,' asked the Princess. 'That china
stool does not suit your long legs at all. How many hours really have
you been coming from Genoa? I am fearfully angry with you, by the way;
how could you take this place?'

'Because you told me,' answered Lord Geraldine, staring hard. 'What
was the command? Take it, _coûte que coûte_. Not an "if"; not a
"perhaps"; not a "but." Wilkes, do you not call that too cruel?'

'My dear Ralph,' said Lady Brancepeth, 'any woman's instructions
should always be construed so liberally that a margin is left for her
at the eleventh hour to change her mind. But do not distress yourself.
I do not think Mme. Napraxine really dislikes the place. It is only
her way. When she has bought a thing she always finds a flaw in it. It
is her habit to condemn everything. She is a pessimist from sheer want
of ever having had real disappointment.'

'Look at the house. It speaks for itself,' said the Princess,
contemptuously. 'Why did you not telegraph and say that it was a
patchwork of every known order of architecture? I would have told you
to break off negotiations.'

'But you had seen the photographs.'

'Photographs! Would you know your own mother from a photograph if you
had not been told beforehand whose it was?'

'I am so sorry,' murmured Geraldine, as he turned round and gazed at
the offending building. 'It is a pretty place, surely? not classical
or severe, certainly; but cheery and picturesque. I looked all over it
conscientiously, I give you my word, and it is really in very good
taste inside; much better than one could have hoped for in a _maison
meublée_.'

'Oh, it is Wilkes, not I, who finds it so irretrievably bad,' said the
Princess Napraxine, with tranquil mendacity; 'but if it be too bad one
can always go to an hotel, only in an hotel one can never sleep at
night for the omnibuses, and the banging of other people's luggage,
and if I do not sleep I can do nothing. Here I should fancy it is
perfectly quiet?'

'Quiet as the grave, unless the sea is howling. But Monte Carlo is
just behind that cliff there; with fast horses you can drive over in
twenty-six minutes--I timed it by my watch. You can have a score of
people to dinner every evening if you like.'

The Princess raised her eyebrows with a gesture signifying that this
prospect was not one of unmitigated happiness; and Lady Brancepeth,
alleging that the sun was rather too warm for her north-country bones,
went away into the house, being of opinion that three was no company;
her brother drew his bamboo-chair nearer his hostess, and took the tan
glove with the wrist it inclosed in a tender grasp.

'So you do not like the poor place? I am truly grieved!'

She drew her hand away so dexterously that she left the loose empty
glove in his fingers, and he looked foolish.

'No; I thought of going away to-morrow,' she continued, without any
regard to his dejection; 'I do not like palms that have the toothache,
and marble pillars that have married wooden balconies. But your
sister, who always opposes me, is so certain I shall go that it is
very probable I shall stop.'

'Admirable feminine logic! No doubt the poor house is utterly wrong,
though it has been the desire of everybody on the Riviera ever since
it was built. I felt sure you would have been more comfortable in a
good hotel at Nice, and if I had ventured to volunteer an opinion, I
should have said so. Wilkes is quite right; you will be bored to death
here.'

'She is quite wrong; she does not like the place herself,' said
Princess Napraxine, with decision, while she took back her glove
peremptorily. 'I do--at least in a way. The oranges look jaundiced,
and the palms rheumatic, but those are trifles. They do say it hailed
yesterday, and the water in the washing-basin in the _coupé lit_ was
frozen last night as we came into Ventimiglia; but I saw a scorpion on
the wall this morning, and heard a mosquito, so I am convinced it is
the south of the poets, and am prepared for any quantity of proper
impressions, only they are slow in coming to me; it is so excessively
like the Krimea, terrace and all. Should not you go in and see if
Platon be awake?'

'I am convinced he is asleep. It is not quite one o'clock, and you
arrived in the night, didn't you?'

'Yes; but he will get up, because he will want to be off to Monte
Carlo. He will spend his life there and send over expresses every hour
for fresh rouleaux. When he is near a gaming-table he is so happy.'

'Enviable faculty!'

'It is my faculty too. But I try against it; he doesn't. Men never try
to resist anything.'

Geraldine murmured words to the effect that his life was one long
compulsory resistance, and his eyes completed the uncomplete
sentences.

'Don't talk nonsense,' said his hostess. 'You know I do not like
_madrigaux_; and an Englishman always looks so clumsy when he is
making them. Make me a cigarette instead.'

'Always cruel!' murmured her companion, obediently rolling up Turkish
tobacco.

'Always kind,' said the Princess. 'People who are kind to men and
children never spoil them. Where will your schooner stay? There is no
dock, or quay, or whatever you call it, here. These places always
ought to have one of their own.'

'How can they when the rocks go sheer down into deep water? No, I must
keep her off Villefranche or Monaco. She can be round in half an
hour--at your disposition, of course, like her owner.'

'If she be not more manageable than her owner----'

'Oh, Nadine! When I only live to obey your orders, and never even
receive a smile in return!'

'Ah, if you want reward there is no longer any merit! And do not call
me by my name in that manner; you will do it some day before Platon.'

'He doesn't mind.'

'No, of course he does not mind; but I do, which is more to the
purpose.'

'You are very unkind to-day, princess. This unhappy Jacquemerille! it
is grievous that you don't like it; the gardens are really pretty, and
the view is superb.'

'You talk like an auctioneer; go and find the gardener and tell him to
untie those palms.'

'Pray don't send me away yet.'

'Is that what you call your docility?'

His hand stole towards hers again.

'Do tell me, princess,' he murmured timidly. 'You will stay now that
you are here, will you not?'

'How can I answer for the duration of my fancies? Perhaps I may, if
you amuse me well enough.'

'I would rather interest you.'

'Ah, my friend, that is quite impossible. Even to be amused is hard
enough, when one is not in the humour. When one is in the humour, it
is even fun to go out fishing; when one is not, one is dull even at a
masked ball at Petersburg. We are like the cuttle-fish, we make our
sphere muddy with our own dulness. How would you suggest that I should
find any interest here? There will be no society except some gouty
statesmen and some sickly women, a few yachtsmen, a pigeon-shooter or
two, and quantities of people one cannot know.'

'There will be heaps of people who know you,' said Geraldine, almost
with a groan; 'at least, if you deign to allow them the _entrée_ of La
Jacquemerille. If I might presume to advise, the place is all to
itself, they cannot come if you do not invite them. It is as nearly
simple nature here as a _mondaine_ and an _élégante_ like you can ever
bring herself to go. You have the sea at your feet and the mountains
at your back; you can have absolute repose and leisure unless you
wilfully bring a horde of men and women from Nice and Monaco. You are
so clever; you might make endless sketches. If I were you, I should
make it the occasion to get away from the world a little; if the world
you must have, I should take it in the Avenue Josephine instead of at
La Jacquemerille.'

The Princess laughed languidly, and looked at her cigarette.

'You want a solitude _à deux_, I daresay! But you see there are
Platon and Wilkes against that, not to mention my own inclinations.'

'Pray, be serious.'

'Why? When one is in the mood to be serious, one does not take a
nondescript toy within five miles of Nice. I daresay you are right; a
quiet life for a little while would be very wholesome, it would
certainly be a novelty, but it would be beyond me. I am not a stupid
woman, I am not a silly woman certainly; no, I am quite convinced I
have a brain, though as for a soul, I don't know, and I am afraid I
don't very much care. A brain, however, I have; Wilkes is even unkind
enough to call me learned. But still, my dear Ralph, I am, as you
observed, that much-abused animal, a _mondaine_. When once we belong
to the world can we ever get rid of the world? _Jamais! au grand
jamais!_ If we try to drink spring water, we put it somehow or other
in a liqueur glass. If we smell at a hedge-rose, somehow or other
Piver has got in it before us, and given it the scent of a sachet.'

'You are very witty, but----'

'I don't care in the least for "buts," and I have no pretensions to
wit; I leave wit and whist to the dowagers. No; when we are once of
the world worldly, we never get rid of the world again. It is our old
man of the sea pickaback with us for ever? Who can lead a meditative
life that dines twice a day, as we all practically do, and eats of
twenty services? When we prattle about nature, and quote Matthew
Arnold, we are as artificial as the ribboned shepherdesses of Trianon;
and what we call our high art is only just another sort of jargon.
Suppose I followed your recipe and tried living quietly here, which
means asking nobody to dinner, what would happen? Wilkes would go
away, Platon would sulk or do worse, and you and I should yawn in each
other's faces. It is not that I have no brain, I have even a soul--if
anybody has--but I began the other way, you know. It is like taking
chloral; if once you do it you cannot leave off. Society is entirely
like chloral; it gives you pleasant titillations at first and just the
same _morne_ depression afterwards, and yet you cannot do without it.'

'I hope you do without chloral; wait another twenty years at any rate
before you poison yourself.'

'Twenty years! I wonder what we shall be like by then? I daresay I
shall be an incurable hypochondriac, and you will have several tall
boys at Eton. Perhaps your son will be falling in love with my
daughter, and you and I shall be quarrelling about the settlements.'

'Nadine!'

He drew his chair very near indeed, and looked straight into her eyes.
The Princess looked up at the blue sky, serenely indifferent.

'That is all nonsense, you know,' she said, with a little affected
asperity, but she smiled even if she felt more inclined to yawn. At
that moment there issued from one of the many glass doors of the
nondescript house her husband, Platon Nicholaivitch Napraxine.

'My dear Ralph, I am very glad to see you,' he said cordially, in the
tongue of the boulevards, which every gently born Russian has taken as
his own. 'You came round in your "tub," as you call her? You have
found the Princess dissatisfied with the house? She is always
dissatisfied with everything, alas! The house is well enough; the
bathrooms are small, and there is no billiard-room; but otherwise I
see no defect. Breakfast is waiting and Lady Brancepeth also. Will you
come?'

His wife rose languidly, and taking the arm of Lord Geraldine, drew
her skirts of India muslin, Flemish lace, and primrose satin, over the
marble pavement of the terrace to the house. Prince Napraxine stood a
moment with his cigar in his mouth, looking south and east over the
sparkling sea, then, with his hands in his pockets, sauntered also
towards the house.

He was a tall, loosely-built man, with an ugly and frankly Kalmuck
face, redeemed by an expression of extreme good humour; he was about
thirty years of age, and had the air of a person who had always done
what he chose, and had always been obeyed when he spoke; but this air
changed curiously whenever he looked at his wife; he had then the
timid and almost supplicating expression of a big dog, anxious to
please, but afraid to offend.

'Let us go and eat Milo's red mullets,' she said now.

'Milo? Is that the cook? Can he do a _bouillabaisse_, I wonder?' he
replied.

Their _chef_ had been taken ill, as the train had touched Bordighera,
and their agent had hastily supplied his place so far as it is ever
possible to supply that of a great and almost perfect creature
experienced in all the peculiarities and caprices in taste of those to
whom his art is consecrated.

The Princess took no notice of her lord's blunder; indeed, she seldom
answered his remarks at any time; she drew her primrose satin and soft
muslin over the sill of the French window, and seated herself at an
oval table, gay with fine china, with flowers and fruit, and with a
Venice point lace border to its table cloth, which was strewn with
Parma violets and the petals of orange-blossoms. She had Geraldine on
her right hand and her back to the light. She had an ermine bag
holding a silver globe of warm water for her feet, and a chair that
was the perfection of ease. The dining-room was small, but very
pretty, with game and autumn flowers painted on its panels, and
shutters, with hangings of olive velvet and cornices of dead gold, and
on the ceiling a hunting scene of Fontainebleau _à la_ Henri IV.

She began to think seriously that after all La Jacquemerille would do
very well for the winter. It was utterly absurd, to be sure, outside,
but it was comfortable within; and, indeed, had considerable taste
displayed in it, the American having wisely mistrusted his own
tendencies and left the whole arrangement to French artists, who had
robbed him ruthlessly, but who had made each of his apartments as
perfect in its way as a Karl Theodor plate.

'I think I shall buy it,' said the Princess to her companions;
indifferent to her own inconsistencies.

'Wait a little,' said Lady Brancepeth. 'Don't rush from hatred to
adoration. There may be all sorts of things the matter with the
drains. The _calorifères_ may be wrong. The cellars may be damp. The
windows may rattle. The kitchens may be too far or too near. At the
end of the winter you will know all its defects and all its virtues.
Houses are like friendships, there is hardly one in a thousand worth a
long lease.'

'Wilkes is always cynical,' said her brother.

'And nobody is a stauncher friend,' said the Princess. 'Why will she
make herself out a cynic?'

'A cynic? Because I am prudent?' said Lady Brancepeth. 'If you sigh
all the winter because the house is not yours you will enjoy it. If
you buy it you will discover that it is uninhabitable at once.'

'Nadine is never long pleased,' said her husband.

'What does Matthew Arnold say?' answered the Princess, 'that the poet
is never happy, because in nature he wants the world, and in the world
he longs for nature. Now, I am not a poet, but still I am a little
like that. What you are pleased to call my discontent is a certain
restless sensation that our life--which we think the only life--is a
very ridiculous one; and yet I am quite incapable of leading any
other--for more than a week. I remember, Geraldine, that you remarked
once that it was this fool of a world which makes fools of us all.
There was a profound truth in the not very elegant speech.'

'I don't remember saying it; but it is certainly true. We grow up in
the world as a Chinese child grows up in the jar which is to make a
dwarf of him. The jar checks our development _malgré nous_. We cannot
be giants, if we would.'

'I am sure it would not suit you to be a giant, Ralph,' said his
sister. 'You would never like to release distressed damsels and slay
disagreeable dragons. The uttermost you would ever do to the very
biggest dragon would be to turn an epigram on his odd appearance.
Giants are always very busy people, and you are so lazy----'

'That is the fault of the jar,' said Geraldine.

'Some people break the jar and get out of it,' said his sister.

'No, nobody does,' said the Princess Napraxine. 'You mistake there,
Wilkes. The world is with us always, and we cannot get rid of it.'

The frank eyes of Geraldine conveyed to her eloquently his conviction
that the discontent she spoke of was solely due to her determined
banishment of one sentiment out of her life. She gave him an
enigmatical little smile of comprehension and disbelief combined, and
continued to unroll her philosophies--or what did duty as such.

'Do you not know the kind of feeling I mean? When we are among the
orchids in the conservatories we want to go and gather damp primroses.
Do you not remember that queen who, when she heard the gipsies
singing under her windows, all in a moment longed to go with them?
There is something of the gipsy in everybody--in everybody who has a
soul. The time comes when one is tired of the trumpery and folly of it
all--the wicked expenditure, the dense selfishness and indifference,
the people that call themselves leaders of good taste, and yet like
_foie gras_ and the _Concours hippique_ and _Kümmel_ and _Londrès_,
and the atmosphere of Paris theatres.'

'Interesting, but discursive,' murmured Lady Brancepeth.
'Primroses--gipsies--a soul--I do not see the connection.'

'You know what I mean,' said her hostess, who always expected to be
understood. 'Our life is silly, it is tiresome, it is entirely
selfish, it is even, in a way, monstrous; and yet we cannot live any
other. We are dominated by the Frankenstein of pleasure which we have
been pleased to create. When we wish to get away we cannot; we are
like the queen at the palace windows--we would fain go to the
greenwood, and the brook, and the fresh winds, but we cannot, because
we are fastened in our gilded chair; there is always our household to
shut the window and send the gipsies away. Do we ever get rid of the
household, of the _galerie_, of the routine, of the infinite ennui? I
am only twenty-three years old, as you all know, and I feel as if I
had lived fifty years. Why? Because it is all over-full, tiresome,
high-pressure; and the worst of it is that I could lead no other life
if I tried!'

'I am not sure of that,' said Lady Brancepeth. 'Marie Antoinette would
never have believed that she could mend clothes and darn stockings had
not the days of darkness come. In those days it was just the dainty
perfumed _mignonnes_ like you, my dear, who were the bravest and
handiest in bearing their troubles and earning their bread.'

'One never knows till one is tried,' said Princess Nadine. 'If they
would begin to guillotine us I daresay we should know how to behave;
dynamite doesn't do much for us. When one goes into the air without
warning in little bits, in company with the plaster of the ceiling, or
the skin of the carriage horses, or the stuffing of the railway
carriage, there is not much room for heroism.'

'I am not sure there is no heroism,' said Geraldine. 'The certainty of
the guillotine must have been much easier to bear than the uncertainty
in which you all dwell in Russia--the perpetual spectre always behind
your chairs, beside your pillows, under the roses in your gardens----'

'Oh, my dear Geraldine, is not death with us always everywhere? May we
not kill ourselves every moment we walk downstairs, or eat a mullet
like this, or start on a journey, or read a book by a night-lamp? You
all wonder how Russians can exist with assassination always keeping
step with them, but in reality is it so much worse than the way in
which all humanity loves and laughs, and toils and moils, and makes
leases for ninety-nine years, and contracts foreign loans for payment
in a century, with death hanging over the whole thing ready to swoop
down at any minute? If the world realised it of course it would go mad
_en masse_, but it doesn't realise it though hundreds of people die
every second.'

'Did Nadine ever tell you what she did last year?' said Prince
Napraxine. 'She saw by chance a queer-looking can which had been
placed by some of those miscreants in a niche of the garden wall of
our house in Petersburg; the thing looked suspicious to her, and it
had a coil of tubing attached to it. She took the whole affair up and
dropped it into the fountain. She forgot to mention it till the next
morning. Then when we fished it out, and the chemists reported on it,
it appeared that the can was really full of nitro-glycerine as she had
fancied. I think that was quite as courageous as going to the
guillotine.'

'Oh, no, my dear Platon!' said his wife, with some annoyance. 'Nothing
you have no time to think about is really courageous. The can was
suspicious and the children were playing near it, so I thought the
fountain was the safest place; it _might_ have been only milk, you
know. Pray do not let us attempt to compete with those people of '89.
We shall fail dismally.'

Geraldine looked up with a startled apprehension in his eyes.

'Good heavens, do you mean it? Has she actually been--been--in such
awful danger as that, and never told me?'

'We were all in the same danger,' said Prince Napraxine, a little
drily; 'but the Princess alone had the _beau rôle_ out of it.'

'Who put the can there?'

'Oh, how should I know. The police never traced it. I do not suppose
it was any special design against us as individuals; only as items of
a detested whole. And two of the Grand Dukes were coming to breakfast
with us that day.'

'What a fuss about an ugly little tin can!' said his wife. 'The really
courageous person must have been the person who brought it there;
misguided, perhaps, but certainly courageous. To drive through a city
in a droschky embracing certain annihilation, in the form of a little
tin pot held on your knee, is a combination of absolute awfulness and
grotesque bathos, which must try all one's nerves without any
compensating sense of grandeur in it. A jolt of the wheel over a stone
and away you fly into the air, a blurred nothing in a stream of blood
and dust! No; I respect the Nihilists when I think of all they risk
for a purely abstract idea without any sort of personal hope or
triumph.'

'They have hatred,' said Lady Brancepeth; 'I think you forget what an
invigorating, self-sustaining, all-compensating sentiment that is. Its
ecstasy is its own reward. You underrate, too, the immense fascination
of the power to destroy; _on se grise_ with that sense of holding the
annihilation of a whole community in their hands. What made the Roman
Emperors mad,--the unlimited power of destruction,--now intoxicates
the mechanic or the clerk who has the task of planting a can of
nitro-glycerine. When statesmen, and even philosophers, theorise about
human nature and all its disorders, they never give weight enough to
the tremendous attraction which pure destruction alone exercises over
so many minds.'

'But they have love, too; love of the poor and of a lofty ideal,' said
the Princess. 'Myself, I forgive their little tin cans, though they
are extremely unpleasant, when I think of their impersonal devotion.
All I wish is, that their warfare was not conducted by tin cans; the
thing has a ludicrous, comical, vulgar side; death dropped in a little
box labelled "glass, with care"! There is no dignity in it, no grace.
Pallida Mors should not crouch under a cab-cushion!'

'How can you make a jest----' began Prince Napraxine. She interrupted
him:

'I am not in the least jesting, I am entirely in earnest. I do not
like being made war on by chemists; I do not like annihilation left in
a paper parcel; it makes one feel absurd, fate seems trifling with
one. A Jacquerie hewing at one with their scythes one would know what
to do with, but who can extract any Sophoclean tragedy from a Thanatus
that looks exactly like a box of sardines or a pot of _foie gras_? It
is not the war that I object to, it is the form it takes; and our
great, grim, ghostly Russia should evolve out of her soul of ice
something much more in consonance with her. Beside the burning of
Moscow, the little tin cans and the burrowing like moles underground
are commonplace and a little vulgar. Russia is so awful in herself.
One thinks of the frozen world of the Inferno, and Dante and Virgil
walking in the spectral silence; and then, after all, in hard fact
there is nothing but the police, and the drunken moujik, and the man
who carries his nitro-glycerine as a baker's boy carries his rolls of
bread! It is bathos.'

'One never knows what you mean, Nadine,' murmured her husband. 'If
you talk so at Petersburg they will think you are a Nihilist at
heart.'

'I imagine half the _noblesse_ are,' said the Princess. 'The
_noblesse_ have always dug their own graves before all revolutions
everywhere. They call it "going with the times." They did it in
France, they are now doing it in England, they are doing it (more
secretly) in Russia. No one should forsake their order; it is a kind
of desertion, like that of a soldier who runs away before the enemy.
That is why I like the party obedience of your country, Wilkes; it is
entirely unintelligent and profoundly immoral; to a generally
intellectual nation it would be impossible, but it is loyal. I think
when one has to choose between a crime and a disloyalty one must take
the crime as the lesser evil of the two.'

'Voting for party is a crime very often,' said Geraldine. 'It is one
of the many things as to which I have never made up my mind. Ought one
to sacrifice the country to what one believes a bad measure for the
sheer sake of keeping one's party in office? Surely not.'

'You solve your doubts by having no party, and never going into the
Lords.'

'At least, I can do no mischief.'

'Are you certain of that?' said his sister. 'I think you place voting
for party on too low a plane. If we believe, generally, that one
party--say it is Conservative, say it is Liberal--is necessary to the
preservation or the progress of the nation, then I think we are bound
to do our best to keep it at the helm of the vessel of the nation,
even if in certain minor matters we are not always in accord with the
course it takes.'

'Admirably reasoned; but are not politicians always as great sophists
as priests?'

'Sophists! always that cruel charge,' said a mellow and manly voice,
as there entered the dining-room a person of handsome and stately
presence, in a picturesque costume, with knee breeches and buckled
shoes, whom the servant announced as Monsignore Melville. He was
welcomed by all with cordiality and delight, and the Princess bade him
draw his chair beside her, though he alleged that he had breakfasted.

'I came to see if you had arrived,' he said, as he seated himself.
'Princess, I hope La Jacquemerille is fortunate enough to please
you?'

'I have been abusing it; it is a very ridiculous house, but it grows
upon one; and if you will come often enough, Monsignore---- No, I never
make compliments. You know you are a delightful companion, and of how
many people can one say that?'

Monsignore Melville bowed low.

'You are too enchantingly kind. But all are not so kind. Lord
Geraldine was accusing priests of sophism. What was he saying?'

'He was saying that politicians are the sophists, and Wilkes the head
of them.'

'Because I defended "voting straight,"' said Lady Brancepeth. 'Is it
not the very root and essence of English constitutional life?
Monsignore Melville, who is an Englishman, will, I am sure, say so.'

'To serve the Church is only a superior kind of voting with party,'
said Geraldine.

'Do not be profane, Ralph,' said his sister. 'It does not suit you.
You were created with a reverential nature, and you have endeavoured
to ruin it, as most men always do try to destroy what is best in them.
Monsignore, answer me, is it not the highest morality to vote
straight?'

'That is a very unlimited laudation, Lady Brancepeth,' returned
Melville, with a charming smile. 'I should be scarcely prepared to go
so far, though I am aware that there is no salvation outside such
morality in the political creed of our country.'

'Ecclesiastics have no country, my dear Monsignore,' said the Princess
Napraxine, 'except a heavenly one. What a comfort that must be! Platon
is always being worried to return to the _mater patria_, and his
conscience is so peculiarly constituted that it will never allow him
to admit how intensely he hates it. As if life were not tiresome
enough in itself, without everyone being burdened with the obligation
to like, or pretend that they like, their country, their relatives,
their children, and their church!----.'

Napraxine looked distressed:

'You have liked Russia, too, sometimes,' he said wistfully; 'and poor
little Sachs and Mitz!'

His wife cast upon him a glance of sovereign disdain: 'There are only
two things I like in Russia, they are the steppes and the wolves: that
limitless expanse, stretching away to the dim grey sky on every side,
and the sight of a pack of the gaunt grey beasts on the snow as one's
sledge flies by; those two things give one a sensation which one does
not get elsewhere. But it is monotonous, it soon ceases to move one;
the wolves never attack, and the great, awful, white plain never leads
to anything better than the posting-house, the samavàr, and the vodki,
and the group of drunken coachmen.'

'The human interest, in a word,' suggested Melville.

Madame Napraxine smiled:

'Ah! my dear Monsignore, the human interest is quite as dull as the
steppe and quite as ravenous as the wolf! How delightful it must be to
be a priest to see all that raw material through rose-glasses!'

'May not the interest be in subduing the wolf?' murmured Melville.
'And even the steppe, under the fostering touch of May dews and June
sunlight, will put forth blossoms. Is there no allegory there that
Madame Napraxine will deign to accept?'

'You always say pretty things, in the pulpit or out of it,' she
replied; 'but you cannot lend me your rose-glasses to see them
through, so I fear they do not convince me. The astronomers who are
now busy seeing canals in the planet Mars, would see nothing if they
had not their glasses; no more would you. You see a soul in a drunken
_dvornik_; that is quite as astonishing, and probably quite as
imaginary, as the network of canals in Mars. Will you really eat
nothing, Monsignore? Let us go out and sit under that awning there; a
bath of sunshine always does one good, and you need not grudge
yourself a half hour of leisure. I have no doubt you have been passing
the forenoon somewhere with cholera or typhus or some other plague of
this sanitary century. You know, Geraldine, that is Monsignore's way.
He is S. Francis Xavier all the morning, and then turns himself inside
out and becomes an Abbé _galant_ for society.'

'I have not been to anything typhoid or choleraic this morning, or I
should not be here to endanger your loveliness, Princess,' answered
Melville. 'I have been where Poverty is--alas! where is she not?--and
in our day those who wed with her regard it as a forced marriage,
wholly joyless; and we cannot persuade them that there may be
graciousness where she dwells if only cleanliness and content will sit
down with her.'

'Oh, Monsignore, it is not only poverty that scares content, I can
assure you,' said Madame Napraxine.

'If you be not content, who should be?' murmured Melville. 'With every
possible gift of nature, culture, fate, and fortune showered upon you,
why will you always persuade yourself, Princess, that your doubled
rose-leaf mars everything? I do not believe the rose-leaf even
exists!'

'I am not sure that it does, either,' replied Madame Napraxine; 'but I
never remember to have felt contented in my life. Is content an
intellectual quality? I doubt it. Perhaps it is a virtue; I dislike
virtues.'

Melville was a sincerely pious Churchman, but even he did not dare to
take up the cudgels in honour of poor virtue before this merciless
speaker. He was satisfied with replying that content was not a quality
which the tendencies of the waning nineteenth century were likely to
foster.

'No!' said the Princess Napraxine. 'The note of our time is
restlessness, and its chief attainment the increase of insanity.'

'If it did not sound too much like moralising, I should say that there
was never any time in which there was so much self-indulgence and so
little real rest,' said Melville, who had the sensitive fear of a man
of the world of appearing to obtrude his own convictions, and to
preach out of season and out of church.

'People require to have their brains and their consciences very clear
and very calm to enjoy rest. It is the reward which nature reserves
for her good children,' said Lady Brancepeth.

'I must be very good, then,' said Madame Napraxine with her little
mysterious smile, 'for I rest absolutely. To know how to do nothing is
a great secret of health and of comfort; but you must not wait till
you are fatigued to do nothing, or you cannot enjoy it.'

'And I suppose you must occasionally be deaf to duty knocking at the
door?'

'Duty! She should have her proper moments of audience, like the
steward, the piqueur, the secretary, and other necessary and
disagreeable people; that is to say, if she really exist. Monsignore
Melville evidently is in the habit of listening to her.'

'I may say with Josef II., "C'est mon métier à moi,"' said Melville,
with good humour. 'But believe me, Princess, it is not duty which
prevents repose; it is far more often worry, the hateful familiar of
all modern life. Worry takes a million forms; very often it is dressed
up as pleasure, and perhaps in that shape is more distressing than in
any other.'

'Yes, the age has invented nothing that does not result in worry. Only
look at the torture to diplomatists from the telegrams,' replied
Madame Napraxine, while she tendered him a cigar. 'In other years an
ambassador had some pleasure in disentangling a delicate and intricate
embroglio, some chance of making a great name by his skill in
negotiation. An able man was let alone to mingle his _suaviter_ and
his _fortiter_, his honey and his aloes, as he thought fit; his
knowledge of the country to which he was accredited was trusted to and
appreciated; nowadays, telegrams rain in on him with every hour; he is
allowed no initiative, no independent action; he is dictated to and
interfered with by his home government, and cypher messages torture
him at every step. What is the consequence? That there is scarcely a
diplomatist left in Europe--they are only delegates. Where there is
one, he is incessantly controlled, hindered, and annoyed, and all his
counsels are disregarded. Meanwhile the world's only kind of peace is
a permanent armed truce. But let us go into the garden.'



CHAPTER II.


When Nadège Fedorevna, Countess Platoff, known to all her friends by
the _petit nom_ of Nadine, had reached her sixteenth year she had the
look of a hothouse gardenia, so white was her skin and so spiritual
her aspect, whilst her slender form had all the grace of a flower
balancing itself on a fragile stalk in a south wind. That ethereality,
that exquisite delicacy, as of something far too fair and evanescent
for man's rude touch, fascinated into a timid and adoring passion a
heavily-built and clumsy cuirassier of the Imperial Guard, who was
also one of the greatest nobles written in the Velvet Book of
Russia--Platon Nicholaivitch, head of the mighty family of Napraxine.
He was eight-and-twenty years old, immeasurably rich, popular with his
sovereign, a good soldier, and an exceedingly amiable man. He laid his
heart and everything he possessed at the feet of this exquisite and
disdainful child when he saw her at her father's embassy in Vienna one
fateful April day.

She refused him without a moment of doubt; but he was persevering,
greatly enamoured, and had both her parents upon his side. She was
neither weak, nor very obedient; yet in time she allowed herself to be
persuaded that not to accept such an alliance would be to do something
supremely ridiculous. She resisted stubbornly for a while; but she was
inquisitive, independent, and a little heartless.

Her mother, a woman of the world, full of tact and of wisdom, answered
her objection that the Prince Napraxine was stupid, had a Kalmuck
face, and was inclined to be corpulent--in a word, displeased her
taste in every way--by frankly admitting these objections to be
incontestable facts, but added, with persuasive equanimity, 'All you
say is quite true, my child, but that sort of details does not matter,
I assure you, in a question of the kind we are discussing. It would
matter terribly to him if you were stupid or ugly, or inclined to be
fat; but in a man--in a husband--in three months' time you will not
even observe it. Indeed, in a fortnight you will be so used to him
that you will not think whether he is handsome or ugly. Familiarity is
a magician that is cruel to beauty, but kind to ugliness. As for being
inclined to corpulence, he is very tall, he will carry it off very
well; and as to gambling, he will never get to the bottom of his salt
mines and ruby mines: that is the chief question. And after all, my
dear Nadine, a man who will never interfere with you and never quarrel
with you is a pearl seldom found amongst the husks; and when the pearl
is set in gold---- I would not for worlds persuade you, my dear, to
marry merely for certain worldly considerations, such as the great
place and the great wealth of Platon Nicholaivitch; but I would
earnestly advise you to marry early and to marry for peace, and when
peace and a colossal fortune are to be found united, it seems to me a
great mistake to throw them both away. Somebody else will take them. I
suppose you dream of love as all young girls do; but----'

'Not at all; I know this is only a question of marriage,' said Nadine,
with that terrible sarcasm on her lovely young lips with which many
things she had seen in her mother's house had armed her for the
battle of life whilst she was still but a child.

She did not think about love at all; she was not romantic; she already
thought it _vieux jeu_; but she had a brain above the average, and she
fancied that she should like the man to whom she was given to be
something great in intellectual power, not merely in the sense of
millions and of rank. But a girl of sixteen, born and bred in an
embassy, reared in the most brilliant cities of the world, having seen
the great panorama of society pass before her eyes from her babyhood,
is, however innocent in other ways, not unsophisticated enough to
ignore the vast advantages of such a position and such wealth as the
Prince Napraxine offered to her. Besides, her father wished
passionately for the acceptance of Napraxine; he himself was deeply in
debt, and knew that his constitution had the germs of a mortal
disease.

'V'là, ma petite,' he said to her gravely one morning, 'je suis criblé
de dettes: je peux mourir demain. C'est mieux que tu le
prennes---- enfin, c'est un assez bon garçon.'

It was not an enthusiastic eulogy of his desired son-in-law, but he
never spoke enthusiastically, and his child knew very well that under
the negligent slight phrases there ran a keen and vivid desire,
perhaps even a carking and unacknowledged care. By the end of that
evening she had allowed herself to be persuaded, and in three months'
time was married to Prince Napraxine, not knowing in the least what
marriage was, but only regarding it as an entry into the world with
unlimited jewels and the power of going to any theatres she chose.
When she did know what it was, it filled her with an inexpressible
disgust and melancholy. She was very young, and her temperament was
composed of that mingled hauteur and spirituality in which the senses
sleep silent long, sometimes for ever.

She bore two sons in the first two years of her marriage, and then
considered herself free from further obligations to provide heirs for
the vast Napraxine properties. Her husband had been ardently but
timidly in love; when she intimated to him that their union should be
restricted to going to Courts together and being seen in the same
houses at discreet intervals, he suffered in his affections as well as
in his pride, but he did not dare to rebel.

This lovely young woman, who was like a gardenia or a narcissus, who
was not nineteen, and declared that all the caresses and obligations
of love were odious to her, could strike terror and submission into
the soul of the big Platon Napraxine, who stood six feet three inches,
and had been no unheroic soldier in the frosty Caucasus and on the
banks of Euphrates and Indus. She was unusually clever, clever by
nature and culture, by intellect and insight, keenly, delicately
clever, with both aptitude and appetite for learning and scholarship;
and within the first twenty-four hours of her marriage, she had taken
his measurement, moral and mental, with merciless accuracy, and had
decided to herself that she would never do but what she chose. He was
a big dog, a _bon enfant_, a good-natured, good-tempered cipher, but
he was a great bore. And she put him aside out of her life altogether,
except inasmuch as it was absolutely necessary to sit sometimes at the
same table with him, and have his orders blaze beside her diamonds at
State balls; and the friends of the Prince Napraxine envied her, of
all her valuable possessions, none so much as that of her husband,
whose revenues were inexhaustible, and whose good-nature and patience
were equally endless.

Looking back to her seventeenth year she always admitted that her
mother had judged rightly.

'Poor Platon!' she would say to herself sometimes when she thought so,
with a little passing flicker of something like compunction. What had
she given him in return for his great name, his enormous wealth, his
magnificent gifts of all kinds, his honest devotion, and his infinite
docility? Being very honest, when in self-communion of this sort, she
was obliged to confess to herself--nothing. Her own money was all
settled on herself; their rank had been quite equal; there were
hundreds as pretty as herself, and she could not now recollect that in
six years of marriage she had given him one affectionate word.

'The fault is not ours;' she would say, 'it is the institution that is
so stupid. People do not know how else to manage about property, and
so they invented the marriage state. But it is an altogether illogical
idea, binding down two strangers side by side for ever, and it cannot
be said to work well. It keeps property together, that is all; so I
suppose it is good for the world; but certainly individuals suffer for
it more than perhaps property is worth.'

Her two little boys were always left in the Krimea with the mother of
Napraxine; they were much better there, she thought, growing up robust
and healthy like two young bear cubs (which, to her eyes, they much
resembled) in the pure breezes from the Black Sea. When she did see
them she was always amiable to them, even thought she felt fond of
them, as she did of the steppes and the wolves; but like the steppes
and the wolves they were certainly most interesting in theory and at a
good long distance. They were too like their father to be welcome to
her. 'They have the Tartar face, and they will be just as big and just
as stupid,' she thought, whenever she saw them.

When Melville, who had been long intimate with her family, told her,
as he very often did, that it was her duty to have the children near
her, and to interest herself in their education, she always replied:
'They are exactly like Platon; nothing I could do would make them
different. They are perfectly well cared for by his mother, and
brought up much better than I could do it. I was expected to give him
an heir: I have given him two heirs. I do not see that anything more
is required of me.'

And when Melville would fain have insisted on the usual arguments as
to the obligations of maternity and education, she invariably
interrupted him, and once said at full length, 'If the children were
mine only and not Platon's, I could make something of them. But they
are formed in his image; exceedingly good, entirely uninteresting.
They will be Princes Napraxine, and so the world will adore them,
though they be as stupid as mules and as ugly as hedgehogs. They do
not interest me. Oh, you are shocked! Even you, the most original of
Churchmen, cannot get over your prejudices. Believe me, _la voix de la
Nature_ does not speak to everybody. It does not say anything at all
to me.'

'I will be an honest woman; it is much more _chic_,' she had said to
herself in the first year of her marriage in the height of a Paris
winter, as she had looked around her on society, with her brilliant
indolent eyes, which saw so clearly and so far, and surveyed and
appraised her contemporaries.

It would be eccentric, but distinguished. To her delicate, satirical,
fastidious taste, there was a sort of vulgarity in being compromised.
She did not go farther than that, or higher than that. The thing was
common, was low; that was quite enough against it. Something that was
half spirituality, half hauteur, made the decision easy to her. A
certain chillness of temper aiding, her resolve had been kept. She had
been as loyal a wife to Prince Napraxine as though she had loved him.
Men did not obtain any hold on her. She flirted desperately sometimes,
amused herself always, but that was all. When they tried to pass from
courtiers into lovers, they found a barrier, impalpable but
impassable, compounded of her indifference and her raillery, ever set
between her and them. She fancied that it would be quite intolerable
to her for any living being to believe himself necessary to her
happiness; besides, she did not much believe in happiness. The world
was pleasant enough; like a well-cushioned saloon carriage on a
well-ordered line of rail; nothing more. You travelled onward,
_malgré vous_, and you slept comfortably, and your ultimate
destination you could not avoid; but if you escaped any great disaster
by the way, and if nobody woke you with a shock, it was all you
wanted. She did not believe in the possibility of any great beatitude
coming to you on that very monotonous route.

She had that admirable tact coupled with that refined but unsparing
insolence which daunts the world in general to silence and respect.
The greatest _blagueur_ on the Boulevards never dared to hint at a
weakness or a concession on the part of the Princess Napraxine. And
women, though they envied her bitterly, reviled her unsparingly, and
shivered under the sting of her delicate impertinence or her pregnant
epigram, yet were perfectly conscious that she had never shared their
follies. Passion had as yet no place in her complex and delicate
organism. She could not, or would not, understand why passion should
not be content to amuse and worship her, just as a furnace fire may
only bake a porcelain cup or call to life a gardenia blossom.

Now and then this refusal of hers to comprehend what she inspired
ended in dire tragedy. Now and then some one killed himself because
she had laughed. Now and then two people were silly enough to fight a
duel about a glove she had dropped, or the right to take her down the
stairs at the opera. But this was always lamentable and foolish in her
sight; only its consequences, though she regretted them, did not alter
her. If she had loved her husband her victims would have been less
mortified; but they all knew very well that Platon Napraxine was no
more to her than one of the chairs in her drawing-room. If she had
even loved the world she lived in, her coldness would have been more
intelligible; but she did not. Her magnificent jewels, her marvellous
toilettes, her many beautiful houses, her power of gratifying any whim
as it formed itself, the way people looked after her postillions in
their blue velvet jackets, the perpetual fête of which society was
made up for her, all diverted her but moderately. She was _mondaine_
to the tips of her fingers, but not enthusiastically so, only so from
habit--as she wore silk stockings or had rose-water in her bath.

'I have seen the whole thing since I was sixteen; how can it
entertain me much?' she said to those who marvelled at her
indifference. When it was objected to her that there were many who had
seen it from sixteen to sixty, and yet thought nothing else worth
seeing, she shrugged her shoulders. On the whole she understood the
sect of the Skoptzi better; they had an ideal. What ideal had her
world?

She kept her exquisite tint and her lovely eyes unspoiled by the
endless late hours and the incessant excitations in which women of the
_monde où l'on s'amuse_ lose their youth in a year or two. She ate
very simply, drank little but water, rode or drove no matter what
weather, refused forty-nine out of fifty of all the invitations she
received, seldom or never made any house visits, and spent many hours
in perfect repose.

'Why should you go and stay in other people's houses?' she always said
to her English friends, in whom this mania is more rampant than
amongst any other nationality. 'Another person's house is hardly
better than an hotel; indeed, very often it is worse. If you don't
like the dinner-hour, you cannot change it; if you are given slow
horses, you cannot complain; if you dislike your rooms, you cannot
alter them; if you think the _chef_ a bad one, you cannot say so; if
you find all the house party bore you, you cannot get rid of them. You
must pretend to eat all day long; you must pretend to feel amiable
from noon to midnight; you must have all kinds of plans made for you,
and submit to them; you can never read but in your own room, and,
generally speaking, there is nothing in the library--if it be an
English library--except Tennyson, Wordsworth, and Mr. Darwin. I cannot
imagine how any reasonable being subjects herself to such a martyrdom
only because somebody else finds their country place dull without
people.'

She had also ingeniously established a reputation for very delicate
health, which she found beyond anything useful to spare her from being
bored, and to excuse her absence from any gathering which did not
specially attract her.

'I have a _santé de fer_,' she said once to a friend, 'but happily I
look very fragile, and physicians, if they think you wish it, will
always promise you angina pectoris or tubercles on your lungs. I have
an enchanting doctor in Paris--you know him, de Thiviers--he is very
famous; he will shake his head over me as if I were doomed to die in
ten minutes, and he frightens Platon out of his wits--he gets a great
many rouleaux at the end of the season--and he and I look as grave as
the two augurs, though, like the augurs, we are both longing to laugh.
It is so useful to be thought very delicate, you have an excuse for
everything. If at the last moment you don't wish to go anywhere,
nobody can say anything if it be your health that gives way. They
would never forgive me my continual absence from the Court at
Petersburg, and I certainly should not receive my perpetual passport,
if they did not sincerely believe in the tubercles which de Thiviers
has so obligingly found for me. Do go to de Thiviers if you are quite
well and want to be ill; he understands all that sort of thing so
well, and he never betrays you. He has convinced Platon that I am
_poitrinaire_.'

And between her reputation for a dangerous disease in her system, and
her really intelligent care of her health, she had the paths of life
made very smooth to her, and was infinitely freer from any genuine
indisposition than might have been expected from the fragility of her
aspect, and her Russian love of hot rooms and yellow tea. Still, as a
great comedian will so identify himself with his part that he at times
believes himself the thing which he represents, she did at times
almost persuade herself, as she completely persuaded others, that she
had some great constitutional delicacy to contend with, and she would
play at medicine with little needles for morphia, or a few glasses of
water at Baden-Baden or Ems, as she would play now and then at
baccarat or roulette in her drawing-rooms.

'Nothing is so useful,' she would say in moments of confidence. 'Look
at the quantity of weariness that there is in the world from which no
other possible plan will set you free. Palace dinners, diplomatic
banquets, great marriages, country house visits, self-invited princes,
imperial coronations, royal baptisms,--you cannot refuse them; the
laws of society forbid; but if you are known to be in delicate health,
no one can be offended if, at the last moment, quite unexpectedly, you
get a chill and must not stir out of your own room. When there is some
unutterable social tedium looming on the horizon, I always telegraph
for de Thiviers, and he is always equal to the occasion.'

In this, as in other matters, she arranged her life to her own
satisfaction, without any kind of misgiving that this self-absorption
was egotistical. Everything had combined to make her an egotist. An
only child, adored by her father, admired and a little feared by her
mother, whose most intimate secrets she had divined with all the keen
intuition of her natural intelligence; surrounded from her earliest
years by a court of dependents and servants who seemed only to live to
minister to her caprices, flattered from her babyhood by all her
father's friends, secretaries, and attachés, she had imbibed
selfishness as inevitably as a young willow sucks in the moisture from
the stream by which it grows. There was nothing in a loveless marriage
and in the clumsy and irritating devotion of a man who was ardently in
love with her, whilst she only viewed him with contempt and dislike,
to counteract the influences of her earlier years. The whole world
conspired to induce the Princess Napraxine to live only for herself.

That she occasionally had moments of supreme generosity, and a
capacity seldom or never called out for heroic courage, did not alter
the main fact that her life was essentially selfish. She never did
anything that she did not wish to do; the great want in her existence,
to herself, was that she so very seldom felt any wish for anything.
When she did, she gratified it without any scruple or hesitation.

Her mind was too clear and logical for any creed to obtain any hold
upon her; nominally, of course, she was of the Greek Church, and had
too much good taste to create any scandal by openly separating herself
from it; but her intelligence, as critical and as subtle as Voltaire's
or Bolingbroke's, would no more have submitted to the bondage of
religious superstition and tradition than she would have clothed her
graceful person in one of the 'Décrochez-moi-ça' that hung in the
windows of Paris clothes-shops. In morality, also, she did not much
believe; she read Stuart Mill's plea for the utility of virtue once,
and smiled as she closed the book with a mental verdict of
'non-proven.'

Pride (that pride which has been happily defined by a French writer as
_pas d'orgueil, mais de la fierté_), and the delicacy of her taste,
with her profound indifference, supplied the place in her of moral
laws, and probably acted on her much more effectively than they would
have done. Principle is but a palisade; temperament is a stone
bastion.

'Les honnêtes gens m'ennuient et les mauvaises gens me déplaisent,'
she was wont to say, with a frank confession of what many others have
felt, and have not had the courage to say. She had no more rigidity of
principle than any other person who has been reared in the midst of a
witty, elegant, and corrupt society; but her perfect taste supplied
the place of moral convictions, the grossness of vice offended her
like a bad odour, or a staring colour; and everything loose or coarse
seemed to her an affront to intelligence and to refinement.

Sometimes she almost envied the women who could plunge themselves into
the hot springs of a passion, only it seemed to her vulgar; the same
sort of vulgarity as swimming in public in a rose-coloured _maillot_.
She could swim like an otter, but she never swam in public. The noisy
and ungrateful pleasures which delight modern society seemed to her
sheer imbecilities, whilst she would as soon have descended to an
intrigue with her cook or her coachman as have made an amorous
appointment in a private room at a café, or have mounted the stairs of
a hired house to meet a Lovelace of the clubs. '_Peut-on être plus
bête!_' she would say, with supreme disdain, whenever she heard of the
vulgarities which usually accompany Apate and Philotes in these the
waning years of the nineteenth century. She quite understood the
Parisienne in 'Frou-frou' who, tempted to make an assignation, awakes
to a sense of its coarseness and commonness when she finds that the
temple of love is upon the third floor in the Rue du Petit Hurleur,
and that the wall-paper has five-and-twenty Poniatowskys jumping into
the Elster repeated on every length of it.

'In that sort of affair,' she said once, 'you must have either secrecy
or a scandal; both to me seem in bad taste. And then, with the one you
are at the mercy of your maid, and with the other you are at the mercy
of the newspapers. To be sure,' she added, 'I cannot, perhaps, measure
the force of the temptation, for I have never in my life seen any
human being to meet whom I should have ever thought it worth while
even to order out my _coupé_.'

Innumerable lives had done their uttermost to entwine themselves in
hers and had only broken themselves helplessly on the rock of her
supreme indifference, like so many ships upon icebergs. She was a
_charmeresse_ in the uttermost sense of that expressive word, but she
was scarcely a coquette, though the most merciless coquetry might have
done much less harm than she did. A coquette desires and strives to
please; Nadine Napraxine fascinated other lives to hers without effort
if without pity. She had one supreme end--to endeavour to amuse
herself; and she had one unending appetite--that of the study of
character. She so seldom succeeded in amusing herself that she came
naturally to the conclusion that most characters contained no amusing
elements.

'_Vous m'ennuyez!_' was her single word of explication to those whose
homage she had permitted for a while only to send them adrift without
a sign of compassion or contrition. To her the three words seemed
entirely comprehensive. When some one more daring than the others had
once ventured to remind her that he had not been quite so hateful to
her only a brief while before, she had said, with some impatience,
'Can one know that a book is dull unless one looks at a few pages? It
is not one's fault if it be ill-written. I cannot say why you all
weary me, but if you do, it is not my fault either.'

When once they wearied her it was of no use for them by any ingenuity,
subserviency, or despair, to attempt to regain her favour. Her path,
like that of all great victors, was strewn with unregarded victims.
Now and then her composure had been ruffled, when the fate of someone
of these had roused the adverse comments of the world, and the issue
of some duel or the fact of some suicide had had her name, by common
consent, coupled with it. She disliked that kind of notoriety;
sincerely disliked it with all the hauteur and disgust of a very proud
and sensitive refinement; but it never made her change the tenor of
her ways.

'If you do not like _du potin_, would it not be better--to--to--not to
give rise to it?' Napraxine himself had once humbly ventured to
suggest when she was excessively angered because the journals of the
hour had ventured to introduce her name into their narratives of a
duel ending in the death of the young Principe d'Ivrea, who had been
very popular and beloved in French and Italian society.

'_Du potin!_' she had echoed. 'Why cannot you say scandal? What sense
is there in slang? Give rise to it? Ivrea was a nice boy, but
irascible like all Italians, and intensely vain; the least word
irritated him. He chose to provoke de Prangins because de Prangins
teased him, and the old man has been too strong for the young one. It
is a great pity! he had a pretty face and a pretty manner, but I have
no more to do with his death than the gilt arrow on the top of the
house. Myself, I would much rather he had killed de Prangins.'

Napraxine had preserved a reverential silence; he knew that there was
another side to the story, but he did not venture to say so.

When the jealousies, feuds, and quarrels which it amused her to excite
and foment arrived at any such tragical conclusion as this with which
the Duc de Prangins had disembarrassed her salons of a youth who of
late had grown too presuming, she was always entirely innocent of
being the cause of it. 'I always tell them to like each other,' she
would say placidly; but therein they did not obey her.

She valued her power of destruction as the only possible means of her
own amusement. It reconciled her to herself when she was most disposed
to be discontented. Her delicate lips smiled with ineffable disdain
when she saw other women _se tordant comme des folles_, as she
expressed it, in their effort to secure the admiration or retain the
passions of men, while she, merely lifting the cloud of her black
lashes in the sunshine by the lake, or sitting still as marble in the
shadow of her box at the 'Français,' could anchor down by her for ever
the thoughts, the desires, the regrets, the destinies of young and
old, of friend and enemy, of stranger and familiar, merely by the
passive magnetism of that charm which Nature had given her.

'Marie Stuart,' she said once when she closed _Chastelard_, 'a
sorceress! Pooh! They make much too much of her. She had a charm, I
suppose, but she could not have known how to use it, or she would
never have married either Darnley or Bothwell, and she would never
have allowed herself to be beaten by Elizabeth--a grey-haired virgin
and a _maîtresse femme_!'

All women seemed to her to have been very weak: Josephine humiliated
at Malmaison; Marie Antoinette, on the tumbril of death; Heloise, in
her cell of Paraclete; Lady Hamilton, dying of want in Calais; Lady
Blessington, poor and miserable in Paris:--what was the use of 'charm'
if it ended like that?

'I shall reign as long as I live,' she said to herself. 'And if I live
to eighty men will be still eager to hear me talk.'



CHAPTER III.


'This room is stifling, it is so small; and yet there are horrible
draughts in it. I dare say the ridiculous walls are not an inch
thick,' said the Princess Napraxine now, as she rose from the
breakfast-table, and drew her delicate skirts, with their undulating
waves and foam of lace, out through the glass doors and over the
marble of the terrace to the sheltered nook in which she had been
sitting before breakfast, where a square Smyrna carpet was placed
under several cushioned lounging-chairs. It was only two o'clock, and
the air was warm and full of brilliant sunshine.

'It is all in dreadful taste,' she said for the hundredth time. 'This
sort of mock-Syrian scenery, mixed up with châlets, villas, and
hotels, has such a look of the stage. It seems made on purpose for
_maquillées_ beauties, dyed and pampered gamblers, and great ladies
who are received nowhere else. Places have all a physiognomy, moral
as well as physical. The Riviera must have been enchanting when there
was only a mule-track as wide as a ribbon between the hills and the
sea from Marseilles to Genoa, but now that the moral emanations of
Monte Carlo and of the _cinq heures_ at all the nondescript houses,
and of the baccarat groups in the clubs which are not as exclusive as
they might be, have spread all along the coast like miasma, the whole
thing is only a _décor de scène_, the very gardens are masquerading as
Egypt, as Damascus, as Palermo. It is all _postiche_.'

'You are very cruel, madame,' murmured Melville.

'That is the only thing you can any of you find to reply when I say
anything that is true!' said the Princess, with triumph.

'The de Vannes are your nearest neighbours,' suggested her husband.

'Did you mean that Cri-Cri is _bien nature_?' she said, with her
little low laugh. 'I fear neither of them will contribute anything to
redeem the character of the place for either _maquillage_ or
gambling----'

'Why would you come to it?' he asked, with all a man's stupidity.

'Why do people ever ask one why one does things?' she interrupted,
irritably. 'One imagines one will like a thing; one gets it; and
directly, of course, one does not like it. That is a kind of general
law. Monsignore Melville will tell us, I suppose, that it is to
prevent us attaching ourselves to the pleasures of this world; but as
it also operates in preventing one's attaching oneself to anybody, as
well as anything, I do not know that the result is as admirable as he
would imagine.'

'I never said----' began Melville.

'Oh, no, but you would say if you were in the pulpit,' she replied,
before he could finish his sentence. 'You would say that even _ennui_
and satiety and depression have their uses if they lead the soul to
heaven; but that is just what they do not do; they only lead to
morphia, chloral, dyspepsia, and Karlsbad. It is quite impossible--it
must be quite impossible, even for you, Monsignore--to consider
Karlsbad as an antechamber to heaven!'

Melville tried to look shocked, but did not succeed well, as he was a
little Rabelaisian and Montaignist at heart, and not intended by
nature for a Churchman.

'What are we going to do?' said the Prince, as he stretched himself in
his chair, and lighted another cigarette.

'Stay where we are,' suggested Geraldine, who desired nothing better,
as a _tête-à-tête_ was a favour never accorded to him twice in
twenty-four hours.

'Oh, not I, indeed!' cried Napraxine, with as much alacrity as was
possible beneath his heavy 'envelope of flesh.' 'I shall go to Monte
Carlo. I have told them to harness. If you like to come----'

At that moment a servant brought him a card. He read what was written
in pencilled lines upon it; then raised his head with a pleased
exclamation.

'_Je vous le donne en mille!_' he cried. 'Nadine, who do you think is
here?'

'A goose with a diseased liver, or a hundred green oysters?' said his
wife, contemptuously. 'I can imagine no lesser source for so much
radiance.'

The Prince, regardless of sarcasm, or tempered to endurance of it by
long habit, answered placidly:

'No; it is Othmar.'

The face of Nadine Napraxine changed considerably; the most astute
observer could not have decided whether annoyance or gratification was
the most visible expression; her eyes lighted with a look different to
the mild amusement with which she had greeted Geraldine.

'Where can he have come from?' continued her husband. 'He was in Asia
a little while ago. One is always so glad to see him. He is so unlike
other people. It is only you, Nadine, who do not appreciate him.'

'He is _poseur_,' said she with languor. 'But I do not know whether
that is reason enough to keep him waiting at the gate?'

'I forgot,' said Napraxine. 'There is no one less _poseur_, I assure
you. Clever as you are, you sometimes mistake. Grégor, beg Count
Othmar to join us here.'

The servant withdrew. Princess Nadine put a large peacock fan between
her and the sun; she yawned a little.

'Seven minutes for Grégor to send down to the gate, seven minutes for
Othmar to come up from the gate, a minute and a half more for him to
traverse the house; we have fifteen minutes and a half in which to
vilify our coming friend, as modern hospitality binds us to do. Let us
begin. We must be stupid indeed if we cannot kill anybody's character
in a quarter of an hour.'

'There is no character to kill,' began her husband.

'Pardon me! No one can say he is characterless. He is a very marked
character.'

'That was not what I meant,' said Napraxine. 'I meant that no one
could say otherwise than good of him. And if there were such a one, he
should not say it before me.'

Nadine Napraxine let her eye rest on her husband with a peculiar
expression, half pity, half derision, which might have given him
plentiful food for reflection, had he been a man who ever reflected.

'Poor Platon! He has all the antique virtues!' she said softly. 'He
even thinks it necessary to defend his acquaintances behind their
backs. _Quel type admirable!_'

'Why do you like Othmar, Prince?' said Geraldine, abruptly. 'I detest
him.'

'Indeed?' said Napraxine, in surprise. 'You must be almost alone,
then. What do you see to dislike?'

Geraldine glanced at his hostess, but she refused to accept the
challenge of his regard. She was looking out to sea with a little
dreamy amused smile.

'I hate all financiers,' said Geraldine, moodily and lamely. '_La
grande Juiverie_ is one gigantic nest of brigands; those men get
everything, whilst we lose even our old acres.'

'Perhaps that is your fault,' said Prince Platon; 'and Othmar, believe
me, has nothing to do with the _Juiverie_; the Othmar are pure Croats;
Croats loathe Hebrews.'

'He is very fortunate, Prince, to have your admiration and your
confidence,' said Geraldine, with a sarcasm, lost on the
pachydermatous placidity of his host.

'I have always liked Othmar since one day, of which I will tell you
when we have more time,' answered Napraxine.

'Please tell us now,' said his wife. 'I have always been curious to
know the affinity between you and Othmar. It is a walrus gambling
with a stag.'

'Am I the walrus? It is an awkward animal,' said her husband
good-humouredly. 'No, the tale can wait; he will be here in a moment.'

'If he were an Admirable Crichton he would be detestable, if only
because he is so hideously rich,' interrupted Geraldine, with
sullenness, 'and the Princess has already spoken of another defect,
the greatest a man can have, to my thinking; he is _poseur_.'

'Pshaw!' said the Prince. 'How? What do you mean? Othmar, I should
say, never thinks of himself.'

'Oh, he is _poseur_, certainly,' said Geraldine, with an undisguised
cruel exultation in the cruel epithet. 'He is a Croesus, and he poses
for simplicity; he is a financier, and he poses as a grand-seigneur;
he is gorged with gold, and he poses as a Spartan on black broth. The
whole life of the man is affectation. His humility is as detestable as
his pride; his liberalities are as offensive as his possessions.'

'_Tiens, tiens!_' murmured Napraxine, taking his cigar out of his
mouth. 'My dear friend, you are under my roof, or at least on my
terrace, so I cannot quarrel with you. I can only ask you kindly to
remember what I said a little while ago, and to spare me again
recalling to you that Othmar also is my friend. You will understand.'

Geraldine coloured slightly, conscious of having been ill-bred, and
muttered sullenly, 'I beg your pardon.' A more tart and stinging
retort was on his lips to the effect that the new comer was the last
man on earth whom his host should welcome, but his awe of the Princess
Napraxine repressed it. She herself gave her husband a glance of more
appreciation than she had ever cast on him, and said to herself, 'The
walrus is the clumsiest and the stupidest of all living creatures, but
it is so honest----' and said aloud:

'Verify your quotations, was the advice given by a dying don to an
Oxford student. Geraldine quoted from me, but he did not stay to
verify what he quoted. I spoke in haste. Othmar is a tiny trifle of a
_poseur_, but it is quite unconsciously; it is the consequence of an
anomalous position. All his instincts refuse to be the Samuel Bernard
of his generation, and he is equally horrified at the idea of
appearing as a Sidonia. If he had only ten thousand francs a year
to-morrow he would be happy and charming. As it is, with his ten
millions or his ten hundred millions, there is always the sense of
that wall of ingots filling up the background, and keeping, as he
thinks, the sunshine out of his life. Occasionally it makes him see
everything yellow, like the jaundice, and to everybody else it makes
him seem a colossus, which is distressing to him, as he is of ordinary
stature.'

'He is even taller than I am,' said her husband.

Princess Napraxine, who had made her little speech languidly, looking
at the sea, and extended full length on her Indian cane chair, said
with a little smile:

'My dear, I spoke metaphorically. I did not mean to underrate your
friend's centimètres. I meant merely to explain that if he do look
occasionally a _poseur_ it is the fault of Europe, which, ever since
he was born, has persisted in worshipping him as one of the
incarnations of Mammon. If he had belonged to _la grande Juiverie_ he
would have been much happier. Jews can swallow any amount of flattery
as they can wear any number of rings. He likes neither.'

'Count Othmar,' announced Grégor, ascending the terrace steps from the
gardens.

The person announced was a man of some thirty years old, with delicate
and handsome features, and an expression at once gentle and cold; his
height was great, and his bearing that of a _grand seigneur_. He
looked weary and dissatisfied; yet his life was one of the most envied
of Europe. He greeted Napraxine with warmth, the Princess with grace
and ceremony; Geraldine and his sister with a rather cold courtesy.

Nadine Napraxine had flushed a little as he kissed her hand; a lovely
faint flush which made her cheeks like two pale-pink sea-shells.
Geraldine noticed that momentary change of colour, and thought
bitterly, 'She never looked like that for _me_!'

Napraxine was not so observant; his hospitable soul was filled with
the pleasure of welcoming his friend, and he felt angered with his
wife because she said so indifferently:

'I wonder you did not stay amongst the Mongols, Othmar. They must be
much more original than we are. They ride all day long, don't they,
over deserts of grass? How enchanting! I wonder you could tear
yourself away.'

'Perhaps it would have been wiser to stay,' said Othmar, with a
meaning which she alone understood. 'But I fear "the world holds us"
too strongly for us to be long content even with a Tartar mare and a
fat sheep's tail. I am fortunate to find you all here. I came from
Egypt; I saw your name in a newspaper, and could not resist driving
over to La Jacquemerille.'

'You have your "Berenice"?'

'Yes; she has behaved very well; we met with a typhoon in the Indian
Ocean, and were nearly lost; but she has been patched up and ran home
bravely. I have left her at Marseilles to be thoroughly overhauled.'

'You will have to try her in a match with Geraldine's "Zostera."'

'I could not hope to compete with Count Othmar,' said Geraldine,
sullenly; for him the skies were overcast, the sun was clouded, the
pretty marble terrace with its gay awnings seemed dark with the gloom
of night.

He hated La Jacquemerille which he had been so eager to persuade his
friends to inhabit: who could have told that this man would drop on
this Mediterranean shore without note of warning, at a moment when he
was supposed to be safe on the sandy steppes of Mongolia? 'As Count
Othmar never, I believe, shot anything in his life, I cannot perceive
what possible attraction any wild life can have for him,' he added
now, in a tone that was aggressive and impertinent.

Othmar glanced at him with a regard which said much, as he replied
simply: 'I have shot the most noxious animal--man; I have never, I
confess, shot wood doves or tame pheasants.'

'Geraldine will shoot doves all the week,' said the Princess, with a
sense that La Jacquemerille had become interesting. She loved to see
men on the brink of a quarrel: sometimes she restrained them from
passing the brink; sometimes she did not; sometimes she helped them
over it with a little imperceptible touch, light as the touch of a
feather, which yet had all the power of electricity.

'That is modern knighthood,' said Othmar. 'I prefer my Mongols.'

'My brother is English,' said Lady Brancepeth, to avert disagreeable
rejoinders; 'he always reminds me of the old French caricature: "It is
a beautiful day; let us go and kill something."'

'Othmar is more English than Croat,' said Napraxine, 'but he does not
kill things, he prefers to paint them.'

'_Crésus doublé de Corôt_,' murmured his wife. 'Othmar, have you
sketched any Mongol ladies? are there such beings? or are they only as
that terrible Dumas has it, _la femelle de l'homme_?'

'Only _la femelle de l'homme_, Madame. They cannot be said to be women
in any civilised sense of that term; they only know the duties of
maternity, and are ignorant of the victories of coquetry. You will
perceive that they are an entirely elementary animal.'

Princess Nadine heard with a little smile; she knew what allusions to
herself were contained in the words.

'You should have married one of them,' she said, slowly moving her big
fan. 'It would have been too picturesque; the owner of two hundred
millions dwelling by choice under a pole and a piece of blue cloth,
and----'

'Cannot you forbear to quote my millions?' said Othmar. 'You would not
reproach a hunchback with his hump.'

'Though it is the only thing which makes him noticeable,' muttered
Geraldine, but the fear of his hostess made him speak too low to be
overheard save by Othmar, who did not deign to notice the insolence.

'You think money is not interesting,' said the Princess Nadine, 'but
you are wrong. It is the Haroun al Raschid of our day. It is the wand
of Mercury. It is the sunshine of life. Only fancy, Othmar, if you
chose you could make the desert blossom like the rose; you could call
up a city like Paris in the centre of your Mongolian steppes; that is
very interesting indeed. Money itself is not so, but when one
considers its enormous influence, its fantastic powers, it is so; it
is even more, it is positively bewitching.'

'When it comes out of anything so fairylike and invisible as the
Prince's salt-crystals it may be,' replied Othmar, 'but not when it is
tainted by commerce. Remember, Princess, your Mercury was the god of
the mart and of the thieves.'

'That was in the Roman decadence.'

'And are we not in a decadence?'

'It is the fashion to say so, but I am not sure. Have we decayed? and,
if we have, from what? The last century contained nothing noble.'

'Even the burning of Moscow belongs to this,' said Othmar, with a bow
to Napraxine, whose grandfather had been one of the foremost generals
at the defence of Moscow, and one of the chief counsellors of that
heroic sacrifice.

'Othmar always remembers what is fine in history and in his friends,'
said the Prince, well pleased. 'He is not like Nadine there.'

'No, indeed,' said Lady Brancepeth; 'she always likes to see that a
great man is a little one somewhere; she will always find out the
speck on the handsome rosy apple, the yellow stain on the ivory, the
rift in the lute--that is her way. She would never have admired Dr.
Johnson, she would have only laughed at his uncouthness and his dishes
of tea, and only seen that he touched all the posts in the streets.'

'I cannot help it if I am observant, and Dr. Johnson certainly would
have bored me,' said the Princess.

    'Les délicats sont malheureux:
    Rien ne saurait les satisfaire,'

quoted Othmar.

'Then you and I are both profoundly miserable,' said Nadine Napraxine.
'I believe we have never found anything that satisfied either of us.'

'Except, perhaps, each other,' muttered Geraldine, in a smothered
voice, his jealousy conquering his prudence. It was a phrase which no
one heard except his hostess, who was as quick at hearing as Fine
Ears. She did not deign to take any notice of it; it could be punished
at her leisure.

'What an idiot he is,' she thought; 'as if _that_ tone could ever
succeed with _me_!'

She had herself become amused, serene, good-tempered, immediately,
that with the entrance of Othmar the twin masks of tragedy and comedy
had appeared to her prescient eyes to lie upon the stage of the
terrace of La Jacquemerille. The whole place changed to her: the view
was beautiful, the house was quaint and full of colour and variety,
the orange wood was a delightful bit of local colour, the marble
colonnade and the brown wooden balconies were absurd certainly, but
garlanded about with all those sweet American creepers they had a
graceful effect; nowhere else in December would you get roses and
geraniums and white marbles and blue waves, and a thermometer at 20°
Réaumur.

Othmar had brought that dramatic element into her life without which,
despite her really very high intelligence, ennui was apt to descend
upon her. When his eyes encountered that look they became very cold,
and had a challenge in them: the challenge of a man who defies a woman
to make him again the slave of her caprices. Her husband saw nothing
of those glances. Geraldine saw more even than there was to see, and
became moody and dejected. He only roused himself now and then to say
what he thought might be hostile or disagreeable to the new comer. His
remarks were ignored by Othmar, which increased his irritation. The
Princess was amused, as she was, occasionally, at a good theatre, by
the sullenness of the one man and by the coldness of the other. Both
had elements, perhaps, of tragedy and comedy. She felt a sudden
exhilaration and increase of interest, such as a person fond of a
theatre feels when the great actor of the hour makes his entry on the
scene. Geraldine was very useful, she had known him several years: he
was always hopelessly in love with her, timid, devoted, and obedient;
but he had no originality of character to make him very interesting.
He was extremely good-looking, very popular, and very amiable, but he
was commonplace; he had not the wit of his sister. She had admitted
him into her intimacy because he was humble, handsome, and usually so
docile that he seldom irritated her, but he gave no interest to her
life whatever; whereas Othmar--she had scarcely ever confessed it even
to herself--but whilst Othmar had been lost to sight in the wilds of
Asia, society had seemed to her even more stupid than usual.

One had been in love with her for a year; the other two years before
had loved her. There was a considerable difference in the two
passions, which she, with her analytical mind, could perfectly
appraise.

For the one she was quite sure of her sentiment in return. He was
good-looking, agreeable, useful, submissive; he diverted her
sometimes, wearied her occasionally, obeyed her always. She liked him,
and liked better still to tease him. The other had brought into her
life a sense of a stormier emotion than she cared to raise. He had
been more in earnest than she chose to allow; he had loved her
imperiously, ardently, unreasonably; when she had made light of it, he
had left her with indignation and scorn. He had been one of those who
had fought a duel about her, though none but himself and his adversary
had ever known that she was the cause of it, a card at _écarté_ having
served as the colourable pretext. She had never been quite sure what
she had felt for him; admiration in a way, perhaps, but more, she
thought, dislike. But his had been one of the conquests which had most
flattered her. When he had left all his habits and friends and
possessions to plunge into Asian solitudes, she had felt that her
power over him was illimitable. And now he had returned and told her,
with as much chill assertion as a regard could convey, that her power
existed no more for him. She did not care, but the change interested
her, and piqued her.

'Poor Othmar!' she had said often to herself, when remembering the
passages which had passed between them, and thinking of him in Asia;
and now he was back from Asia, and sitting on her garden-terrace at La
Jacquemerille, and was telling her by manner and by glance--perhaps
telling her too persistently and insistantly for it to be entirely
true--that he had vanquished his madness.

It had been a strong if short-lived madness, born first in a
country-house in the Ardennes, in autumn-woods and tapestried
galleries and the stately revelries of a Legitimist party of pleasure,
fanned by her own will into flame in the course of a brilliant, giddy,
insensate winter season in Paris. Then with spring had come the
decisive moment when he had declined to be content any longer with his
position, and he had been lightly laughed at, disdainfully jested
with; and had revolted, and had gone out of Europe after a duel which
had made even her tranquil pulses beat a little quickly in
apprehension of the possible issue.

With her usual consummate tact she had so borne herself that the six
or eight months' devotion, in which Othmar had been the shadow of her
every step, had attracted no injurious notice from her husband or her
world. It was known that he was passionately attached to her, but so
many were so also, that beyond a little more attention than usual,
because he was a more conspicuous person than most, the great world of
Paris only smiled and watched to see if the snowflake melted. It did
not melt, and he went to Asia. The duel had only come out of a trivial
dispute at a club, so every one believed, Prince Napraxine as
innocently as the rest.

It was after the departure of Othmar that her society took to naming
her the _flocon de neige_. It seemed strange, both to men and women,
that Othmar should have been so near her so long and have left no
impression on her life. He had usually a strong influence on those
whom he sought; in this instance he had been the magnetised, not the
magnetiser.

Men always quoted Princess Nadine to their wives as an example to be
followed for the serene indifference with which she flirted all the
year through, yet never was compromised by a breath of calumny. Their
wives sometimes retorted that she had no heart, so could not lose it.

'I promise you I will never be compromised,' she had said to her
father a few months after her marriage; and he, a very easy and
philosophic man of the world, had answered:

'I am sure you mean what you say; but the test of your resolution will
come whenever you shall meet the person who pleases you. At present
you laugh at them all.'

'I do not think I shall ever care,' she had said, with much accurate
knowledge of herself.

Othmar, momentarily lava, had thrown himself in vain against this
indifference; the ice of her temperament had not changed under the
volcanic fires of his. All those airy nothings, that capricious
friendship, that unrecompensed position of servitude which she offered
him, he would have none of, and told her so with passion and force.

'And I will have no melodramatic passions to disturb me,' she had
said. 'They are absurd. They are out of date. They are tiresome.'

Wounded and incensed, he had taken her at her word more completely and
instantly than she had intended; and she had not known whether to
feel regret or relief. She had felt a good deal of triumph. And now he
had returned, unchanged in appearance, handsomer even for that duskier
hue which the desert sun had left on the marble of his features; and
she, and he himself, were silently wondering--was she glad?

He thought she was annoyed; Napraxine thought so too; Geraldine alone,
with a lover's self-paining penetration, felt that life had grown
sweeter and more stimulating to her, that her languid interest in
existence had grown quicker of pulse and more content with its own
atmosphere since her husband had read aloud the name of Othmar on the
pencilled card.

Perhaps, thought he also, with a lover's self-torture, what he had
found in her of indifference, of disdain, of lack of sympathy, had
been due to the absence of the sole person who possessed the power to
touch her dormant emotions.

In reality, Madame Napraxine at that moment felt no more than the
vague expectation and gratification of a spectator at a theatre, who
sees a drama complicate itself, mingled with a certain sense of
curiosity as to why Othmar sought to display to her so conspicuously
his escape from her sorcery. She was not mortified; she was accustomed
to change her adorers into her friends, and she was of a nature too
integrally proud to be capable of small things. She only wondered--and
doubted a little.

Could any one who had loved her once fail to love her all his life?

She thought not. Yet she was not vain.



CHAPTER IV.


'The "Zostera" looks tempting in the sunshine,' said Nadine Napraxine,
as she rose and leaned on the marble balustrade to gaze over the sea,
where the stately sailing yacht of Geraldine was at anchor outside the
little bay of La Jacquemerille, which was too shallow to be entered.
'I will go out in her in ten minutes' time. I prefer to watch the
sunset from the sea, and the sunset will be very fine to-day, for
there are a few clouds above; the sky is usually so terribly
monotonous here, it is like an eulogy of your predecessor at the
Academy: _il y a trop de bleu_. Monsignore, I will take you back to
Nice by the coast. I dislike coasting usually, but along this shore it
is pretty, and besides, it is too late to go far out to sea. Lord
Geraldine, go and give your men the order. I will go and change my
clothes.--Wilkes, you will come?'

Geraldine sullenly obeyed, and went down the steps to where his long
boat was still in waiting. In a very few moments the Princess
Napraxine returned, not clothed in any maritime fashion, for she
thought that sort of thing theatrical, foolish, and staring; but
wearing a dark serge gown, fitting with marvellous precision to the
perfect contour and lines of her form, and carrying a scarlet parasol
large enough to shelter the dignity of any Chinese mandarin. She wore
yachting shoes and scarlet stockings; her feet, like her hands, were
such as sculptors dream of but seldom see.

'Tell them to put in my furs,' she said to Geraldine. 'Are you ready?
It is always so cold here when the sun has gone down. We will take
Count Othmar and Monsignore Melville to Nice. It is a beautiful day
for a sail, just wind enough and not too much. Platon goes to his
adored _tripot_; I wonder he stayed to eat his breakfast.'

'The "Zostera," of course, is at your commands,' murmured Geraldine,
with ill-disguised ill-humour. 'For myself, if you will excuse me, I
will accompany the Prince.'

She smiled, understanding his ill-humour well enough.

'How immoral they are!' she said to Melville. 'The _salle de jeu_ by
daylight is monstrous; but since it is their form of happiness----'

'Happiness!' muttered Geraldine between his teeth.

'All your preaching and mine will not alter them,' she continued. 'It
is an extraordinary thing; neither Platon nor Lord Geraldine cares a
straw for money; neither of them would awake a whit merrier if their
fortunes were quadrupled to-morrow; and yet they find absolute
intoxication in playing for money! What an inexplicable anomaly!
Othmar is far more consistent. He despises his own fortune and the
table of M. Blanc with equal sincerity.'

'I do not despise wealth, I dislike it,' said Othmar.

'Why should you do either?' said Melville. 'Look at the immense
potentialities of great riches.'

'That is what I said this morning,' continued Princess Nadine.

'Surely great riches help one very nearly to happiness,' continued
Melville. 'I do not mean from the _bourgeois_ point of view, but
simply because they remove so many material obstacles in the way of
happiness. There can be hardly any great difficulties for a very rich
man. He goes where he chooses, he can purchase whatever he desires;
there are swept aside from his path for ever all the thousand and one
annoyances and hindrances which beset the man who is not rich. Only
imagine a person who cannot reach his dying child because he has not
money enough for the journey; imagine another who has his homestead
made intolerable to him by the erection of a steam-mill, and yet is
obliged to end his days in it because he cannot afford to move;
imagine yet another with weak lungs, who would recover his strength if
he could take a house in the country, in the south, and yet cannot
leave his business, which chains him to a city in the north. Those are
the sort of sorrows from which wealth sets free a man or a woman. One
may say roughly, I think, that if his health be good, a very rich
person is exempt from all other misfortunes than those which come to
him from his affections or his friendships; his troubles are, in a
word, entirely those of sentiment.'

'Precisely,' said Nadine Napraxine.

    'Un seul être est mort et tout est dépeuplé!'

murmured Othmar; 'you will not allow, or cannot comprehend that,
Princess?'

'I can imagine that a man might fancy so for twenty-four hours; but
even if the fancy endure, a rich man can enjoy his desolation while a
poor man cannot. Part of the advantages of the rich man consists in
his having the leisure and the luxury to muse upon his own
unhappiness. I think you forget what a great happiness that is!'

'You believe neither in love nor in sorrow,' said Othmar, abruptly.

'I am aware they exist, if you mean that,' she replied; 'but their
existence chiefly depends upon the imagination.'

Othmar gave an impatient gesture.

'And, like all pleasures of the imagination,' she added, 'require
leisure for their development. The rich man or woman enjoys that
leisure, and if he or she like to raise a gigantic mushroom under
glass, in the way of exaggerated affections or sentimental regrets,
they are at liberty to do so. Besides, surely, no one can deny that
there is a captivating sense of power in vast riches; the fancy can
take endless flights in that golden sphere; we do not know that
delight, because, though people think us rich, in reality we are no
such thing, in reality our expenses keep for ever ahead of our income,
as I think they do with most people; but Othmar, who is actually,
positively, fabulously rich, who is all alone, who spends nothing on
himself--at least, he used to spend nothing--why, he could build you a
cathedral, Monsignore Melville, in every city of the world of jasper
and chalcedony, whatever they are, and never be a sou the poorer for
doing it.'

'Are you inclined, Count Othmar?' said Melville.

'If it would make all men like you I should be so,' said Othmar. 'But
I regret to see that the Princess Napraxine has apparently retained
only one recollection of me, and that one is of my "wall of ingots,"
as she termed it, which appears to separate me from her sympathies.'

'Did you hear that?' she said, not very well pleased, though it was
not in human power to confuse her. 'We will let those people go to
Monte Carlo, and we will have a run before the wind and leave you and
Monsignore at Nice.'

'But it is not my own yacht.'

'But it is mine when I am in it, and I invite you both. Come.'

Othmar hesitated till she gave him a little look, one brief fleeting
look. Two years seemed to have fled away; he was again on the
staircase of the Grand Opéra, she gave him her fan to carry, she had
on a cloak of soft white feathers, a gardenia dropped out of her
bouquet, he picked it up; in the whole glittering mass of Paris he
only saw that one delicate face, pale as a narcissus, with two
wonderful liquid eyes like night; and, with a sort of shock, he
recollected himself, and realised that he was standing on the terrace
of La Jacquemerille beside a woman whom he had vowed to put out of his
life for ever and aye.

'Come!' said Princess Nadine, and he did not resist her.

He followed in her shadow down the flight of marble steps leading to
the sea; while Geraldine, with a tempestuous rage stifled in his
heart, drove Napraxine (who never drove himself), as furiously as
Russian horses can be driven, along the sunny road, shaded with olives
and caruba trees, which led from La Jacquemerille to the gambler's
paradise a few miles westward on the shore.

'When boys sulk, they should always be punished,' thought the Princess
Nadine with silent diversion, as she heard the plunge and rush of the
horses on the other side of the gardens, and divined that their driver
was already repenting of the moment of petulance and of jealousy in
which he had exiled himself from her presence, and condemned himself
to the society of her lord.

'Poor Platon is the dullest of companions, and Geraldine thinks it
_dans son rôle_ to detest him; and yet he goes with him by way of
showing his pique against Othmar. How stupid, how intensely stupid!'
she thought, with exceeding amusement to herself, as she descended the
water-stairs and stepped into Geraldine's boat.

It was droll to her that anybody should either detest or envy her
husband, he was so infinitesimally little in her own life. She readily
did justice to his good humour, his loyalty, his courage, and his
honesty; but those qualities were all obscured by his dulness and
heaviness, and also by the simple fact that he was her husband, as the
good points in a landscape are blotted out by a fog. 'Dogs' virtues!
all of them,' she called them, with a mixture of esteem and
impatience, of appreciation and contempt.

The boat glided through a quarter of a mile of blue water, and brought
them to the side of Geraldine's yacht, a beautiful racer-like schooner
with canvas white as foam, and flying the pennon of Cowes.

'My poor "Berenice" was once as elegant and spotless as this,' said
Othmar, 'but she has been through sore stress of weather. Her sails
are rags, her sides are battered, her rudder is gone. She made a sorry
spectacle when we hove to last night, but I am attached to her. I
shall not buy another yacht.'

'You always take things so seriously,' said Princess Nadine. 'A yacht
is a toy like any other; when one is broken get another. Why should
you be attached to a thing of teak and copper?'

'She has served me well,' he said simply. 'You do not understand
attachment of any kind, Princess.'

'It is only an amiable form of prejudice. Certainly I do not
understand why you should be attached to a thing made of wood and
metal.'

'Or to a thing made of flesh and blood! I believe that is equally
ridiculous in the eyes of Madame Napraxine,' said Othmar, with some
bitterness. 'May I ask, how are your children?' he added after a
pause.

'My two ugly little boys? Oh, quite well; they are never anything
else. They are as strong as ponies. They are _very_ ugly; they have
the Tartar face, which is the ugliest in Europe; they are so like
Platon that it is quite absurd.'

Othmar was silent; the words did not seem to him in her usual
perfectly good taste. They did not accord with the delicate
narcissus-like face of their speaker.

'I remember that you never cared for your children,' he said, and
added, after a pause, 'Nor for anything that had the misfortune to
love you.'

'I do not think the children love me at all,' she said, with a smile.
'Why should they? Their father they adore because he adores them. It
is always _quid pro quo_ in any love.'

'Not always,' said Othmar, curtly.

'Ah, you love me still,' thought Princess Nadine, without
astonishment.

Aloud she said, 'It must be, or the thing is absurd, it dies a natural
death, or rather, is starved to death; nothing one-sided has any
strength.'

'I think you have seen many living proofs to the contrary,' he
answered. 'But pride may strangle a love which is not shared; it is a
violent death, but a sure one.'

'Why will men always talk of love?' she said, with some impatience.
'After all, how little place it takes up in real life! ambition,
society, amusement, politics, money-making, a hundred things, take up
a hundredfold more space.'

'It is not to every one the unnecessary molecule that it is to Madame
Napraxine,' said Othmar. 'You have seen a glass of water touched by a
single drop of quinine? It is only a drop, but it embitters the whole
glassful. So do the attachments of life embitter it.'

'If you put the drop in, no doubt,' said Princess Napraxine, drily.

'Or if some one else put it in,' muttered Othmar, 'before one knows
what one drinks.'

'Oh! one must never let others meddle with one, even in drinking a
glass of water,' replied his tormentor. She knew very well that he
meant to reproach her, but she bore the reproach lightly. If the
remembrance of her embittered any man's existence it was not her
fault; it was the fault of those who would not be content with adoring
her as the poor people of this sea-shore adored their Madonna shut
away behind a glass case.

'By the way, Othmar, have you not a villa here?' she said, suddenly
remembering the fact. 'I believe you have five hundred and fifty-five
houses altogether, have you not? Is there not some place near Nice
that belongs to you?'

'S. Pharamond? Yes. It is where I slept last night. My father bought
some olive and pine wood and built the house in the midst of them. It
has a fine view seaward.'

'Then we shall be neighbours?'

'If I do not go to Paris.'

'Of course you will go to Paris, but you will go one day and come back
another, like everybody else at this season; though, to be sure, I
dare say you are longing for the smell of the asphalte after a cycle
of Cathay?'

'No; the asphalte is not necessary to me. It is more monotonous, on
the whole, than the desert.'

'Ah! you were never a Parisien _parisiennant_; you were always in
revolt against something or another, though one never could understand
very well what. When you condescended to our amusements, it was with
the air of a man who, to please a child, plays with tin soldiers; that
sort of air of contemptuous condescension has made you many enemies.
There is nothing makes the world so angry as indifference to what it
thinks delightful.'

'You have offended it in that way yourself, Princess.'

'Often; but not quite with your insolence. A man who prefers his
library to the clubs is beyond all pardon; and, besides, I am seen
everywhere where it is worth while to be seen; you are--or
were--generally conspicuous by your absence.'

'I imagine the world has grown as indifferent to me as I am to it, and
having forgotten has so forgiven me. I have been away eighteen
months.'

'The world never forgets its rich men, my dear Othmar. It may forget
its great ones. Will forget them, indeed, unless they have a drum
beaten very loudly before them. You might be great, I think, if you
liked; you have so many talents, so much power.'

'I might buy a kingdom the size of Morocco or Montenegro? Very likely:
such sovereignty does not attract me.'

'Of course I do not mean that: you do not want to be a Prince
Floristan; you do not love the race of princes well enough. But were I
you I should set some great ambition before me.'

'Pardon me; you would do no such thing if you were in my position. You
would feel, as I feel, the numbing influence of what you called just
now the "blank wall of ingots." When you can buy men you do not
estimate them highly enough either to serve or rule them. I have all
I can possibly want--materially. I have no reason to seek anything.'

'Why do English nobles enter public life? They want nothing,
materially, either. Some of them are of rank, also, so high in place
that nothing can be added to their position.'

'God knows why they do,' said Othmar, 'except that I think the
Englishman is an animal like the beaver, not happy without work.
Besides, I think they imagine that they serve their country, a
delusion, but an honourable one, which must make them very happy. As I
have no country I cannot be attached to it.'

'You could choose one; you are allied to several.'

'That would not be the same thing. To adore the motherland one must
have known no arms, no hearts but hers; no country is more than a
stepmother to me.'

'You are a very much envied man, Othmar, but you are not a happy man.'

He looked her straight in the eyes.

'I have been unhappy, but I have conquered my folly. It is ingratitude
to fate to be wretched while one has health and strength and no
material cares to contend with.'

'All the same, you are not happy now,' she thought, but she said, with
her sweetest smile, 'You admit that you have all you want materially;
all the rest is a dream, not worth keeping awake about for one hour.
By the way, as you speak of countries--you are French now by law, I
think?'

'My grandfather was naturalised for his own interests, as you know;
but our people were Croat peasants.'

'I know I have heard you always say so; but I believe it is a fable.
_You_ do not come from any peasantry; besides, surely Sclavonia is old
enough and dim enough to give you any mystical heroic ancestry you may
prefer.'

'They might be robbers,' said Othmar, 'I do not know. There is not
much to choose.'

'Everybody who is noble comes from robbers of some sort,' said
Princess Napraxine; 'what were the Hohenstauffen, the Hohenzollern,
the Habsburg, the Grimaldi, the Montefeltro, the Colonna? Robbers all,
sitting on high in their fortresses, and swooping down like hawks on
the fords, on the highways, on the moorlands, on the forests, on the
little towns below them. You may be quite sure that is what your
people did in Croatia.'

'You are very kind to try and console me,' said Othmar. 'Nobility, I
think, consists in being able to trace the past of your forefathers
and to have your charters; the past of mine is lost in darkness, and
my charters are lost with them. Truthfully we can only date from 1767,
when Marc Othmar, who dealt in horses, began to lend money in Agram.
It is not a lofty beginning; it is not even a creditable one. But I do
not think that to pretend that Marc Othmar, the horse dealer or horse
stealer, was a hero and saint would mend matters. I accept him as what
he was, but I cannot be proud of him; even sometimes I am on the eve
of cursing him; at all events, of wishing he had never existed.'

'My dear Othmar, you are very strange sometimes----'

'Am I? One is never content with what one has. There is nothing
strange in that. If you will deign to remember me at all, you will
remember that I was never pleased with being the head of the house of
Othmar; I would give all its millions for an unblemished descent.'

'Then you are ungrateful to your fortunes, and do not understand your
own times.'

'Perhaps I understand them too well, and that is why I despise what
they over-estimate.'

'And over-estimate yourself what they have found worth but little.
Look at most of our contemporaries and associates. Have their
unblemished names served them in much? How many have remembered that
_noblesse oblige_? How many of them ally themselves with the mud of
the earth for the sake of large dowries? how many mortgage their old
lands till they have not a sod left which they can call their own? how
many waste all their energies and all their health in a routine of
miserable and stupid follies which are hardly even to be dignified as
vice?'

She spoke with animation; her cheeks had a faint flush, delicate as
that of the waxen bells of the begonia flowers, her eyes were full of
light. Othmar looked at her with a passion of regret. If only she had
loved him, he thought he could have conquered the world, have renewed
the impossibilities of Alexander, have done all that visionary boys
dream of doing as they read their Euripides or their Æschylus in a
summer noon under blossoming lime trees.

'You will take from Rome what you yourself have carried there,' says a
German writer, and it is with love the same thing; you take from it
what you carry to it, you get out of it so much spirituality, and no
more, than you bear thereto. To others Nadine Napraxine was a
coquette, a _mondaine_, a mere _élégante_ of the elegant world; but to
him she was the one woman of the earth; she could have inspired him
with any heroism, she could have moved him to any sacrifice, she could
have compensated him for any loss; he saw in her a million
possibilities which no one ever saw, which might be only the fruits of
his imagination, but yet were wholly real to him, unspeakably lovely
and attractive. She had offended him, alienated him, treated his
ardour and his earnestness as a baby treats its toys, and his reason
condemned her inexorably and often; yet she was the one woman on earth
for him, and he had tried to hate her, to drive her out of his memory,
and had thought that he succeeded, and had only failed.

'If you were like other men of your generation,' she pursued, 'you
would be much more content. You do not care for any of the things
which fill up their time. You have magnificent horses, but you never
race with them, you never even hunt. You care nothing for cards, or
for any games of hazard. You do not shoot except, as you justly
observed, a fellow-creature now and then when he provokes you. You do
not care to have yourself talked about, which is the supreme felicity
of the age you live in; your solitary extravagance is to have operas
and concerts given in your own houses with closed doors, like Ludwig
of Bavaria, and that seems rather an eccentricity than an extravagance
to the world at large. You are a great student, but you care about the
contents of your books, not about the binding or the date of their
edition, so that you never commit the follies of a bibliophile. You do
not care about any of your fine places; you have an idea that you
would like a cottage just because you are tired of palaces. You vex
women by your indifference to their attractions, and men by your
indifference to their pursuits. Because circumstance has made you a
conspicuous person with an electric light always upon you, you sigh
to be an _homme d'intérieur_, with no light on you at all except that
of your own hearth. It is Louis Seize and the locksmith, Domitian and
the cabbage-garden, Honorius and the hens, over again. History always
repeats itself, and how one wishes that it did not!'

'I am flattered, Madame, that you deign to draw my portrait, since it
shows that you have not wholly forgotten my features,' said Othmar,
with some bitterness. 'At present I have not discovered the hen, the
cabbages, or the keys that will make life worth living to me. No doubt
the fault lies with myself.'

'I think you have not the dramatic instinct which alone makes life
interesting,' replied Nadine Napraxine. 'You do not divert yourself
with the faults, the follies, and the meannesses of men; you sigh over
them, and your regret is so poignant that it prevents your seeing how
infinitely droll their blunders are in reality.'

'I think,' she continued, 'that there are only two ways of looking on
life which make it interesting, or even endurable. The one is the way
of Corot, which adores Nature, and can find an absolute ecstasy in
the sound of the wind and the play of the sunshine, and asks nothing
more of fate than a mill-stream and a handful of green leaves. The
other is the way of Rochefoucauld and of St. Simon, which finds
infinite and unending diversion in watching the feebleness and the
mistakes of human nature, which regards the world with what I call the
dramatic instinct, and amuses itself endlessly with the attitudes and
genuflections of its courtiers, the false phrases and the balked
calculations. Now, though you are a very clever man, my dear Othmar,
you cannot be put in either of these categories. You know too much of
the world for the first, and you have too much softness of heart for
the second. Now, were you like Baron Fritz----'

'My uncle is the one perfectly happy man that I have ever known,'
replied Othmar. 'It is because he is the most perfect of egotists.
According to him the sun shines only for the Othmar, as Joshua fancied
it only shone for the Israelites.'

'It is not only that,' she said, 'it is because he has the dramatic
instinct. He sees the dramatic side to all that he does; suppliant
monarchs, bankrupt statesmen, intriguing diplomatists; men who carry
him schemes to tunnel the earth from pole to pole, and great ladies
who want him to lend them money on their family diamonds; they are all
so many comedians in the eyes of Baron Fritz. He pulls their strings
and makes them dance at his pleasure. I quite understand how the whole
comedy amuses him so greatly that he can never be conscious of a
moment of _ennui_. It is a great pity that you are not like that. You
would leave such witty memoirs!--for you can be witty,--or you would
be if you were not always so melancholy.'

'I regret, Madame,' said Othmar, 'that I cannot alter the manner of my
life even to have the honour of amusing you after my death!'

Across the bows of the 'Zostera' at that moment there passed,
perilously near, one of the lateen-sailed boats so common on the
coast, with their freights of fruits, of fish, of olives, or of market
produce. The boat was full of lemons and of oranges, which gleamed
like virgin gold in the bright sunshine of the tranquil afternoon. A
peasant woman was managing the sail, a young girl was steering.

'What a beautiful face!' said Nadine Napraxine, who had a great love
of beauty, and the frank acknowledgment of it of a woman high above
all possibilities of envy.

Othmar looked where she pointed.

'A very lovely face,' he said indifferently.

'She does not look like a peasant,' continued Mme. Napraxine; 'that
little grey gown speaks of some convent. She steers well, for they
were terribly near. Who is that very pretty child, Monsignore? I
suppose you know all the flock of which you are given the winter
shepherding.'

'Pray do not make me responsible for all the black sheep of these
shores,' said Melville, drawing near and looking at the boat, which
was going slowly and heavily against the wind, and labouring under a
weighty load. He said as he did so, with a little surprise:

'Why, that is Yseulte de Valogne!'

'Yseulte de Valogne! What a name of the Romaunt de la Rose and
black-letter Chronicles! Pray who may she be, may I ask?'

'They call her here Cendrillon,' said Melville, a little sadly. 'As
for her name, the de Valogne belong to French history; surely you
remember to have heard of some of them? Aymar, who fell at the combat
of the Thirty; and Adhémar, who was Constable of France under Louis
XII.; and Maximin, who was a general under Condé; and Gui, who was
ruined by his display at Versailles, a Colonel of the Guard and a
great officer of State. The family is as historic as the Louvre
itself, but the poor child is literally _sans le sou_.'

'So that she is reduced to sell oranges?' said Nadine. 'How very
touching! Othmar will purchase immediately several bales.'

'No, she does not sell oranges,' said Melville, 'but perhaps she is
more to be pitied than those who do. A great name and no dower--it is
to have silver bells to your shoes but no stockings inside them.'

'Surely she must have stockings, I mean relations?'

'Only very distant ones. She is a far-off cousin of your friend and
neighbour the Duchesse de Vannes, who brings her up; that is, sends
her to her convent, pays for her frocks, and allows her to pass her
holidays at one of de Vannes' country-houses. I do not know that we
could reasonably expect the Duchesse to do more, only there are two
ways of doing a thing, and she does not do this in the best possible
manner.'

'Cri-Cri cannot love a very pretty girl of sixteen, it would not be in
nature, certainly not in her nature,' said the Princess, with one of
her moments of frankness. 'I imagine they will make her embrace the
religious life; what else can they do with her?'

'It is what they will probably end with,' said Melville, with a tinge
of sadness. 'It is hard for a girl of noble blood and no dower to end
otherwise in France. The men who ought to marry her, her equals, will
marry instead some Americans with dollars, whose fathers were stokers
or pork-butchers.'

'But are there no other de Valogne?'

'None; she is the last of a family which was as extravagant as it was
distinguished. Othmar may have heard of her father, the last Comte de
Valogne; he was a _viveur enragé_, and finished the little that had
been left by Count Gui, the hero of Versailles, and the fortune of his
wife as well, who was a De Creusac. She died in childbed. Her mother
had the care of the child, and he went on with his life of pleasure
until he broke his neck riding at La Marche. The old Marquise de
Creusac, when she also died, could not leave her granddaughter a
farthing. The de Creusac had been ruined in the Revolution, and the
sons of the Marquise, who would never have anything to do with their
brother-in-law, were both killed in the war of '70. There was no one
left but the Duchesse de Vannes, who was a third cousin of de Valogne,
to do anything. She took the child in her charge, as I have said, and
has behaved admirably, in the letter of charity, if something has been
lacking of the spirit. So long as the girl is being educated the thing
is easy; but when the time comes when she must leave her convent, as
she will have to do in two years' time, the problem will not be so
easy of solution; they will have to decide on her future; at present
her fate has been easily settled, but soon the terrible question will
arise,--who will marry her without a dower? I believe they mean to
make her enter the religious life, as you said; for the men who
probably would marry her for sake of alliance with the de Vannes, will
be those with whom the de Vannes would utterly refuse to ally
themselves.'

'A convent! Good heavens, for a child like a Greuze picture!'
exclaimed Othmar.

Melville added sadly:

'It is a refuge; but myself, I would never have the religious life
embraced only for its safety. I never approve of looking at Deity as a
superior sort of chaperon. If all the soul be not aspirant of its own
accord to a spiritual sacrifice the vows are a mere shibboleth.'

'What soul shrined in a healthy body would aspire to the cloister at
sixteen?' thought Othmar, as the Princess said, 'All this is very
interesting, Monsignore, but it does not explain how a _protégée_ of
my neighbours, the high and mighty de Vannes, comes to be rowing in a
boat full of oranges.'

'Ah, that I cannot tell you,' said Melville, 'but I believe her
foster-mother has a _bastide_ near Nice; it may be she is with her
foster-mother now. I knew her well when she was a little child, living
with the old Marquise de Creusac in that extreme but refined and
reserved poverty of which only the old noblesse has the secret. The
Marquise was one of the sweetest and most pious women I have ever had
the honour to know; but she could, if necessary, have withered a king
into the earth with a glance. The child promised to be like her, but
had something _bouillante_ and impetuous, which had come to her from
her father, and which, beneath her high-bred manner and her chastened
tone, made her, as a baby, intensely interesting.'

'Dear Monsignore,' said the Princess, with a little impatience,
'surely you have mistaken your vocation, and should have been a writer
of novels; you draw portraits with the skill of Octave Feuillet.'

'I have only said what I have seen,' said Melville, good-humouredly.
'Probably Feuillet only does the same.'

The boat with the oranges had passed ahead towards the shore, its
Venetian red side was dipping in the trough of the waves, its old
striped sail was swaying in the wind; there was a speck of gold in the
sun where the oranges were.

'You had better rescue this distressed damsel and marry her, Othmar!'
said the Princess Napraxine, with an unkind little laugh. 'She seems
made on purpose for you. She has the unsullied descent which you are
always sighing for, and you certainly can dispense with a _dot_.'

For answer he only looked at her; but she understood his answer.

Melville vaguely understood also that in his innocent praises of his
Cinderella he had unwittingly struck a false chord, and he was too
much a man of the world not to be grieved at his involuntary failure
in tact. The boat meanwhile was fast growing to a mere speck of red
and yellow colour, soon to be wholly lost in the blue radiance of sea
and sky.

'You have at times bought some Greuzes, if I remember,' continued the
Princess. 'They are pretty, soft, conventional, but I do not know that
your gallery is much the richer for them.'

'They belong to another time than ours,' said Othmar. 'I imagine
Talleyrand was right when he said that no one born since '89 can know
how sweet human life can become.'

'And how elegant human manners can be,' added Melville. 'Cendrillon
has something of that old grace; when she was two years old she
curtseyed as though she were Sevigné's self.'

'What a paragon!' said Madame Napraxine. 'Poverty and all the Graces!
An irresistible combination. The time I should have liked to live in
would have been Louis Treize's; what perfect costume, what picturesque
wars, what admirable architecture! Is this child at Sacré Coeur, did
you say, Monsignore?'

'That would be too extravagant for her place as Cendrillon,' replied
Melville. 'No; I think they were wise not to put her amidst all those
great ladies in embryo; she has been educated by the Dames de Ste.
Anne, at a remote village called Faiël in the Morbihan. She has had a
pale girlhood there, like the arum-lily that blossoms under the
moss-grown oaks.'

'How poetic you are!' said the Princess Napraxine, with a smile which
brought a flush of embarrassment even to the world-bronzed cheek of
Melville. 'Men are so much more romantic than women. Here are Clotilde
de Vannes and I, who only see that, as this young girl has no dower,
the very best place for her in the world is a convent, melancholy but
inevitable; whereas you and Othmar, merely because she has pretty hair
which the sun shines on as she goes past amongst her oranges, are
already thinking that some one ought to rise out of the sea to marry
her, with a duke's _couronne_ in one hand and a veil of old d'Alençon
lace in the other! Certainly those things do happen. If she were an
impudent _écuyère_ at Hengler's, or a Californian who never had a
grandfather, the duke's _couronne_ would no doubt appear on her
horizon. By the way, pending her eternal retreat, does Cri-Cri allow
her to be seen at all?'

'You will probably see her at Millo. I saw her there last week, and
made her cry by reminding her of her babyhood on the isle; and of her
grandmother, whom she adored. She is with the Duchesse now, because
there is typhus fever at the convent, and the pupils are all
dispersed; but Millo is scarcely a congenial air for a poor relation,
who is also a proud one.'

'Ah! she is a good advertisement of Cri-Cri's virtues, _elle en a
besoin_,' said the Princess Napraxine, with her merciless little
laugh. 'And de Vannes, what does he say to so pretty a relative?'

'A man like de Vannes never sees that a young girl of that type
exists.'

'Hum--m--mph!' she murmured dubiously. 'That depends on a great many
circumstances. Propinquity and _ennui_ will make Ste. Scholastique
herself sought like the Krauss or Jeanne Granier. Millo is certainly a
very odd kind of home for your woodland arum-lily. If she have any
intelligence at all, and relate what she sees when she gets back to
Faiël, the good Dames de Ste. Anne will have the monastic enjoyment of
scandal gratified to the uttermost.'

'I believe she lives entirely in the schoolroom whilst at Millo,' said
Melville, a little impatiently. He wished he had never spoken the name
of Yseulte de Valogne, the name which seemed to belong to _le temps
quand la Reine Berthe fila_. He had one of those instincts of having
spoken unwisely, one of those presentiments of impending disaster,
which come to finely organised and much-experienced minds, and are
called by blunter and slower brains mere nervous nonsense.

When the other day the tall factory chimney fell at Bradford, the
birds which built in it had flown away before the workmen--stupidly
eating their breakfasts till the bricks tumbled about their ears--had
looked up and seen any danger.



CHAPTER V.


As Othmar leaned against the side of the yacht and let his eyes dwell
on her face, unseen by him so long, his regard let something of the
emotion which he felt escape him, and betrayed that the chill
indifference with which he had met her again had been but the mere
mask of pride, though it might be a mask which he would be strong
enough always to wear in her presence.

'Yonder is S. Pharamond,' he said, conscious of his momentary loss of
self-control, as he pointed to some round towers which rose above
woods of ilex trees and magnolias. 'If you would allow them to land me
there instead of at Nice I should be grateful, and perhaps you would
honour me with landing too: the house is somewhat neglected, as I have
been away so long; but they will be at least able to give you a cup of
tea.'

'With pleasure, if Wilkes likes it,' said the Princess, as she joined
her friend. 'I never knew you had a place upon this coast; surely you
never named it when--when I knew you first?'

'Most likely not,' said Othmar, 'I have been seldom there. It was a
favourite house of my father's in his rare moments of leisure, but I
have never cared for the air or for the world of Nice. I have lent it
sometimes to my friends.'

'What do you not lend to your friends? In that respect you have made
yourself honey, and the flies have eaten you without hesitation.'

'If the honey be not in the hive it ought to be eaten. There is a
landing-place in my grounds, and the house is not more than a quarter
of a mile distant, if such a distance do not alarm you. I know that
you are no great pedestrian, Princess.'

'Why should one be when there are so many more agreeable modes of
progression? _On ne doit jamais se punir pour rien._'

'I have walked twenty miles for my own pleasure very often,' said Lady
Brancepeth, who approached them.

'Oh, but you are English; we were just saying that all English people
are like beavers, you must be sawing and drilling and building and
dragging something or other all through the length of your days. I
could walk, I think I could walk right across Russia, if there were
any wise object to be obtained by it, but simply to walk, as a mad dog
runs, from a sort of blind impulsion!--no, that is beyond me.'

'You are such a curious union, Nadine, of languor and energy, of
indifference and of potentialities,' began her friend.

'My energy is latent,' she said, interrupting her. 'I do not waste it
on every-day trifles, as you waste yours. You always use forty-horse
power to boil an egg or make a box of wax matches. That is an English
idea of energy.'

'Your grandmother, the Princesse d'Yssingeaux, was English by birth.'

'So was Othmar's mother. That is why he and I have something of the
beaver in us, but calmed, controlled, kept in reserve; we do not waste
our time and timber damming up threads of water, but we shall be ready
if an inundation occur.'

'Othmar, perhaps,' said Lady Brancepeth.

'I have a great deal more energy than he,' said Nadine Napraxine, with
a smile, as she leaned back in the wicker lounging-chair, looking as
indolent as a Turkish woman, and as delicate and useless as a painted
butterfly.

The schooner in twenty minutes' time landed them at a creek, with a
little marble quay, shadowed by great pines and eucalyptus trees;
there was a pavilion on the small pier, a pretty kiosque all white and
blue and gold, with twisted pillars and Moorish arabesques.

'Remember, nothing here is of my taste or choice,' said Othmar; 'I
have not been at the place for ten years. Would you like to rest? They
can bring your tea to you; or would you come up to the house at once?'

'_Va pour le château_,' said Nadine Napraxine; 'I never care for the
preface of a story.'

'I fear you will find it a dull story,' said he, as they left the quay
and passed up a steep path, always under the shadow of the trees.

'What a misfortune for him that he inherited so much! It prevents him
enjoying any thing,' she said to Melville; who replied, a little
drily:

'I do not think it is what he inherited which prevents his enjoyment,
Princess; it is more probably what he encountered and sighed for
vainly. Life holds many of these ironies.'

'If I were he,' she continued, ignoring the reply, 'I should care for
nothing but that power which he, in common with other great
capitalists, possesses. To be able to make a war possible or
impossible by the mere inclining of your wand of gold--that must be
the most interesting of all possible kinds of influence.'

'Yes, the financier is the modern Merlin, but then there is
Vivien----'

'In Mr. Tennyson's poem, not out of it,' said Princess Nadine,
sceptically; but she knew very well that Vivien was then walking under
the shade of her own great red parasol, with its group of
humming-birds embroidered on its left side.

The pathway ascended steeply through the woods, bordered with datura
and geranium, which were still blossoming gaily; here and there was a
wooden bench, a majolica seat, a little statue; the ground was of
shining shingle; it had been kept in perfect order, awaiting its
owner, for ten years. After about a quarter of a mile it ended on a
level space of the red rock up which it had climbed. Here had been
laid out a fairy-like and fantastic garden, lawns, palms, fountains,
walls of shrubs, and groves of camellias and azaleas, spreading before
a château, which was, in architecture, a miniature Maintenon, and in
position stood high enough to look over the sea in front of it.

'What a delicious place!' said Nadine; 'and in a month or two, when
all those azaleas flower--if I had known you had owned such a bijou, I
would have told you to lend it to us. It makes La Jacquemerille a mere
trumpery toy.'

'I would lend you nothing,' said Othmar, in her ear; 'I would have
given you everything--once.'

Then he added aloud, 'This is somewhat trumpery also, I fear; modern
things are so apt to have that look. They are like the _articles de
Paris_, which cost enormously, but are only plush and ormolu after
all. However, Viollet le Duc built this house; so it may be a little
better than its neighbours. Only I should like statelier and simpler
gardens myself; I should like high box hedges and old-fashioned
plants. But I suppose they would not go with the Mediterranean.'

'You like anything simple and homely; you will have to marry Margot,
or Phoebe, or Grethel, off a farm,' said the Princess, with some
contempt. She was a hothouse flower herself, and despised thyme and
dog-roses.

'I might do worse,' said Othmar, as he ushered them into the house,
which contained some wonderful china, some admirable modern pictures,
some fine statuary, and more French luxury than its master cared to
have surround him.

'It is exquisite,' said the Princess, after wandering through it, and
returning to a room opening on the gardens; a room hung with tawny
plush, embroidered with white roses and blue irises. The chairs and
couches matched the walls, a gilt cornice ran round the oval ceiling,
which was painted _in tempera_ with the story of Undine. 'How many
more houses have you, Othmar, standing like so many open empty caskets
waiting for you to put the jewel of life into them? Really, how many
have you? Come, tell me!'

'I have too many,' said Othmar. 'But excess always carries its own
retribution; amongst them all I have no home; none that I feel
home-like. I can imagine what it is--a _chez soi_ that one cares about
and desires to return to--but I do not possess it.'

'Make it,' said Melville; 'that is always in the power of every man
who is not a priest.'

'I suppose it is,' said Othmar. 'But it has never seemed very easy to
me. The fire of the hearth is like the coal from the altar: it comes
from heaven, and can scarcely be commanded.'

He glanced as he spoke at Nadine Napraxine, who was lying back against
the golden gleams of the plush of her couch; she had a tea-rose in her
hand which she had plucked from the gardens. She looked dream-like and
ethereal. She had on her lips that little smile which meant so much
and yet said nothing, and was half compassion and half disdain, and
partially, also, amusement. If she had been mistress here and in all
his other houses, he thought, each one of them would have been Eden
to him. But that had not been Melville's meaning.

At that moment his servants brought in the tea noiselessly and
quickly: little Saxe cups, frosted cakes, forced strawberries,
appearing on great old plateaux of gold,--as though he had been served
there every day instead of having been absent ten years.

'Really, Othmar, you have a little of the Haroun Alraschid, though you
do not care for your throne,' said Melville: 'who would have imagined
that returning from Asia last night you would have tea all ready made
for your friends?'

'My friends reconcile me to my house,' said Othmar; 'you will leave
almost a perfume of home behind you, these rooms will seem lonely no
more.'

'The rooms are quite perfect,' said Princess Nadine, 'but still I
think we will have our tea out of doors; the sun is still brilliant.
We have now and then little fits of rurality; when we have those we
sit on a terrace and take tea; that is as near rusticity as we care to
go.'

She walked through one of the doorways into the air as she spoke.

To Othmar the golden-coloured room with its white roses and blue
irises seemed to grow dark as she left it.

As she passed out to the gardens his people brought him a note; it was
inside a silver-grey envelope, with a silver _couronne_ upon it, and
on a silver-grey card was written a very pressingly worded invitation
to dinner the following night with his neighbours the Duc and Duchesse
de Vannes. They had just heard of his arrival; they would have a few
people; they begged him not to be formal, &c. &c. The château nearest
to him was Millo, their favourite winter retreat; a gorgeous and
fantastic place, with many a gilded cupola and shining dome which
caught the sunshine from the sea, amidst groves of magnolia and woods
of ilex. He had not been to Millo for ten years. When he had been last
there the Duc had been just married to a famous beauty, and he had
known them very well in Paris ever since that time. They were not
people for whom he cared much: Alain de Vannes was a sporting man, and
his wife was one of the leaders of fashion, with half a hundred lovers
given to her, rightly or wrongly, by report. They were, however,
legitimist in politics to the backbone. Neither of their families had
ever pandered to Emperor or Elysée, and they were, despite their easy
morals and their profound indifference to each other, exceedingly
exclusive, and, with all their nonchalance, even arrogant.

'It must be a strange house for that poor little girl,' he thought as
he threw the card aside, and remembered the Greuze face in the
Venetian red boat. Millo was not more than a mile off him, at one
point their woods and his joined, and looking from his terrace any day
he could see the gilded minarets and the varicoloured tiles of their
villas shining in the light against billows of dark evergreen foliage.

'How soon they know you are here!' said Nadine Napraxine, as he spoke
of the invitation to her. 'You will go, of course; you cannot have any
engagements?'

'Will you be there?'

'I do not know; yes, perhaps. I never make up my mind until the last
hour. People say it is cruel when they have dinners; it leaves a place
blank; but how can you be sure what you wish to do until the moment
comes? I detest dinners. When we have really become civilised we
shall each of us eat in solitude, or, at the least, each behind his
own screen. Why should one of the unloveliest of the operations of
nature be performed in public? The flowers, and the plate, and the
footmen cannot really embellish it; indeed, they only make it the more
grotesque.'

'How droll you are, Nadine!' said Lady Brancepeth. 'You have certainly
a monopoly of singular ideas.'

'I wish my ideas were general,' answered the Princess. 'When the world
has really refined itself it will look on our eating in society as we
look now on savages eating with their fingers. Some of our friends
cannot even have a little love affair but they must go and eat prawns,
and quails, and _petits fours_ together in a café; and if a hero comes
home from a war anywhere his countrymen at once make him eat and drink
in public by way of showing their respect for him. The whole thing is
absurd. The only creature that is not offensive when it eats is a
bird. Just one little dive in a rose, or under a vine-leaf, and it has
breakfasted. But we!----'

'When a very pretty woman eats a strawberry, the bird is not very much
her superior,' murmured Melville.

'Reverend father,' said the Princess, 'you have no business to know
whether one is pretty or not. Fruit, perhaps, does keep something of
the golden age about it; but our dinners!--were I a man I would never
see the woman I admired taking her share of diseased livers, tortured
fish, slaughtered songsters. They are fond of writing nowadays about a
higher humanity which will succeed to ours; but my idea of it would be
that it should be fed like Fénelon's islanders by only breathing sweet
odours. That would be even better than the bird's dip in the rose.'

'Then you will not go to Millo?' persisted Othmar.

'Who knows what one may do in twenty-four hours?'

The servants had carried the gold trays out into the garden after her.
Melville and Lady Brancepeth, who were more comfortable in the embrace
of their plush couches, returned within-doors; Othmar drew his chair
nearer to hers, and offered her a cigarette.

'Rurality always wants this consolation, Princess,' he said, as he did
so.

'Thanks; not till I have finished my strawberries. They are delicious.
How do you manage your households? If we go home unexpectedly anywhere
we always find the servants away, the major-domo drunk, the house
topsy-turvy, and not a thing to eat within twenty miles. How did you
keep them at this point of perfection?'

'They are never sure that I may not arrive at any moment. If servants
be not ready at any hour of the day or night they are not worth their
salt. Then I have very faithful stewards----'

'One marvel does not explain another. The fidelity is perhaps more
astonishing than the perpetual readiness.'

'I reward fidelity; most people limit themselves to accepting it. If
you do not pay your servant well he will help himself.'

'I am sure we pay--pay endlessly. Platon spends Heaven knows what on
the servants, but he gets only a mob of rogues, who rob him right and
left.'

'I have no right to suppose the Prince less wise than myself; but
perhaps there is other payment as well as money in which he does not
deal. I let the humblest man in my service have plenty of hope; there
is no moral tonic so bracing; each of them knows that he may rise if
he only deserve it. Then, again, I am heedful to have my
house-stewards men of high character; a house-steward is one's
viceroy--one cannot be too careful in choosing him.'

'I should never have supposed you cared about those things, Othmar,'
she said, in much surprise, as she stared at him, a strawberry held
uneaten against her lips.

'One must think about them or be at war with one's conscience,' he
answered. 'That is the tedium of life; its duties are so inexorable
and so wearisome.'

'Is an easy conscience absolutely necessary to you?'

'No; I could easily imagine circumstances under which a guilty one
would make me carry it lightly.'

A gleam of the old passionate emotion which she had once known in him
passed for a moment into his eyes with gloom and fire mingled. He
repressed it; he did not wish her to believe that she had still the
power over his life which she actually possessed. He heard her voice
saying always, 'I will have no melodramatic passions to disturb me;
they are absurd, they are out of date, they are tiresome.'

And she had said it out of no virtue, only out of sheer shallowness
and indifference.

'That is a very shocking sentiment,' she said demurely now, as she ate
another strawberry. 'At least, one is bound to say so; Monsignore in
there would certainly say so. Indeed, from Monsignore's point of view,
one would certainly think it so; but as all we modern people, whatever
church we ostensibly belong to, are all so completely of one mind that
we know we are only automata, made up of nerve-centres and different
gases, I do not see why we should necessarily have consciences at all,
do you? Why should we have one any more than the zostera from which I
named that yacht?'

'Only because the zosteræ have no traditions of a conscience, all men
have.'

'All men? Savages have not, primitive races have not; and how should
we know whether the zostera has or has not? She may have a very
perfect system of ethics, sitting on her rocks in reach of the tide--I
should think, indeed, she had a sort of Buddhism.'

'You named that yacht?' he said abruptly.

'Yes; Geraldine had her built last year. He is not like you; he has
not a superstition that one is bound to go on sailing in the same ship
all one's life, however old-fashioned she may grow.'

'Lord Geraldine has many superiorities over me. He has the patience to
play at Platonic cicisbeism as children play for counters,' said
Othmar, with a brusque contempt.

'That is neither a well-bred speech nor a true one,' said Nadine
Napraxine very calmly, as she set down her cup.

'Its breeding I cannot defend, its truth I do,' he answered coldly.
'There are men who can spend their lives carrying a woman's fan, and
ask for nothing more at her hands; they have merits, no doubt, but
they are not those which I appreciate.'

'Poor Ralph! if he heard you!' she said, with a little yawn which she
could not control, though she tried to stifle it with a cigarette.
'He thinks himself far more manly than you because he shoots fur and
feather, and you do not kill anything--except a man now and then!'

'I may yet add to the list of the latter,' said Othmar.

'The Mongolians have made you very savage,' she said, as she lighted
the cigarette. 'And you used to be so gentle.'

'I used to be many things that I have ceased to be since the twentieth
of April a year and eight months ago,' said Othmar.

She had forgotten the date which he remembered so accurately, the date
of the day on which they had parted in her own room in Paris, with the
smell of the lilac of the avenue coming in through the open windows,
and the sunset rays, as they came through the rose-coloured blinds,
touching her fair face, and the curl of her long dark lashes, and the
beautiful mouth with the little cruel languid smile on it as she had
said, 'I will have no melodramatic passions to disturb me.'

She looked at him now with the demure un-selfconsciousness of a child.

'Ah! I never could remember dates,' she murmured. 'I was the despair
of all my governesses, I had such a bad memory.'

'It is convenient sometimes,' said Othmar, a little bitterly. Why were
all those past hours written on his remembrance as the chisel writes
on stone, whilst she had shaken off their memories as a bird shakes a
summer rain off its wings?

'And how,' he added with an effort, 'with such a defective brain as
you describe, have you become one of the most cultured women of
Europe? Does forgetfulness of--dates--enhance the power of acquiring
other knowledge?'

'I think it leaves the brain freer,' she answered, in that serene way
which she had with her when she was intending that a man should never
forget her whatever she might choose to forget.

'No doubt,' he said impatiently. 'No doubt learned women have never
been very tender ones.'

'Learned! what a terrific word. Would you call a mere poor frivolous
_mondaine_ like me by the same word that described Lady Jane Grey and
Mrs. Somerville? I know a few languages; I had _bonnes_ of every
nation when I was a baby; and I have read Schopenhauer and Herbert
Spencer, and I assure you that one bored me as much as the other. But
learned! would a _bas bleu_ eat your strawberries or smoke your
cigarettes?'

'Or take all my heart and my soul out of me?' he thought, as he
answered, 'No; certainly your one great science, Madame, was never
learned either in the nursery, or out of Schopenhauer and Herbert
Spencer. It is the perfection of high art; and you, like all supreme
artists, cannot pause to remember what your studies may cost to your
subjects.'

She did not ask him what art or science he meant; she lighted a second
cigarette and said, in her sweetest voice, 'I do not think you are
quite so even-tempered as you used to be, Count Othmar. Look, the sun
is low; it is time to be going homeward. What are Monsignore and
Evelyn doing? Will you call them, please?'

'Stay yet a little while; I have not seen you for so long,' he
murmured, ashamed and irritated at his own weakness in letting the
words escape him.

'Naturally you have not,' she said, with a gay laugh, 'since you have
been in Asia and I in Europe. Why did you go to Asia? People do not do
that sort of thing nowadays. If they be annoyed they walk down to
their club and play hard, or they ride a horse at a steeplechase, and
in a week they think no more about it. And why did you have that duel
with de Sénélac? It was very imprudent. I had told you I could not
bear that kind of melodrama. Nobody knew certainly, but that was only
because they were all stupid; any one might have known. And Sénélac
never left his bed for six months; and have you heard that he will
limp, they say, for ever?'

Othmar, with a gesture, intimated that the misfortune of his late
adversary was a matter of utter indifference.

'If you be sorry that he limps,' he said impatiently, 'be sorry that
you gave him your bouquet to carry. Princess, you are very fond of
psychological studies, but you do not like to be reminded of what
others pay for them. You know well enough what men suffer for you, and
through you, but you do not choose ever to blame yourself for making
them do so. The world has not changed; the mode of expression may
have altered, but men feel as they felt in the days of David or of
Æschylus. Love is what it was then, a mere passing pleasure or pain to
many, but to some the herald of heaven or of hell, the begetter of
heroism or of crime.'

'My dear Othmar, pray excuse me,' said Nadine Napraxine, 'you talk
beautifully, you always did, but I cannot stay to hear you when the
sun is just going down, and we have only a yacht that crawls to take
us home to dinner. It is my fault that it crawls: he would have had a
steam one if I had not prevented him. I detest smoke and machinery,
but still certainly without them one crawls. Monsignore, will you come
if you have finished talking about the Little Sisters of the Poor?'

Othmar's face grew cold, a sombre displeasure darkened his eyes, he
drew back and let Melville join Madame Napraxine. He himself walked
beside her friend down the path through the woods talking, but not
sensible of what he said, watching the red sunshade with its
embroidered humming-birds pass before him under the boughs.

As they neared the quay he took from the hands of one of his men two
bouquets of gardenias and orchids, and offered them to the two ladies;
they were in pretty cornucopiæ of silvered wicker-work. Any one would
have thought that there had been the preparation of a week for this
afternoon visit.

'You are _bon prince_,' said Madame Napraxine as she took her orchids,
'why will you pretend to be a barbarian? The little graceful amenities
of the world become you, and you do them so well, though you do them
so seldom; why will you make yourself _un homme de foyer--manqué_? It
is much nicer,' she added in a low murmur, 'to give me a bouquet than
to shoot another man for carrying one.'

He did not answer. Her jests jarred on him.

When they reached the quay the sun was setting, the boat was waiting,
the sailors immovable, their oars held straight in the air.

'Adieu, Othmar!' said the Princess Nadine gaily. 'Your château is
marvellous, your orchids are exquisite, and your tea was enchanting;
we will leave you all alone in your poetic solitude, and when you
want prose and society you will come to La Jacquemerille.'

'Will you not honour me again?' he said, angry at his own weakness.
'Would you not dine with me to-morrow night? Or the day after
to-morrow? I think the Prince would come.'

'Oh! Platon would come certainly,' said Nadine Napraxine, with a
smile; 'you are his especial friend. He shall come to you alone; then
you can talk to him as much as you like about the burning of Moscow
and--and--all those other dates for which you have so admirable a
memory!'

She would say no more than that, and her musical slight laugh
tantalised his ear as the boat was pushed off in the deep blue water,
and the seamen bent above their oars.

Otho Othmar leaned against the marble balustrade and watched them row
away towards the schooner, with an anger in which vain regrets and
baffled desires were mingled disconsolately. He remained there till
the sun was gone down, and the white canvas of the yacht had passed
out of sight round a bend of the shore.

When he retraced his steps to his solitary house, he saw a tea-rose
lying beside the gilded garden chair which she had occupied as she ate
her strawberries. It was the one which she had gathered and dropped.
He picked it up and put it in his coat.

'_Quand on aime on n'a que vingt ans_,' he thought with scorn for
himself.

He entered the golden drawing-room, wrote a formal note of invitation
to the Prince and Princess Napraxine, and said to one of his servants,
'Send a messenger over with this letter the first thing in the morning
to the villa that is called La Jacquemerille.' Yet he had come from
Asia with the firm resolve to show the Princess Napraxine that he had
conquered all passion for her; and he was not on the whole a weak
man.



CHAPTER VI.


He dined alone; a few telegrams would have filled his rooms, but he
did not care for society, which he thought only came to him because he
was one of the few owners of milliards in Europe. He sat alone after
dinner in the salon which she had admired, with the light of half a
hundred wax candles bringing out the golden gleams in the plush, the
colours of the embroidered irises, the dead gold of the cornice and
panels, while a fire of olive wood glowed under the carvings of the
mantelpiece of porphyry. The plush curtains, with the lace beneath
them, veiled the shuttered windows; outside the night was calm, there
was no sound anywhere. The words of Melville came back to him as he
sat there in the midst of the luxury and of the loneliness: 'To make a
home is in the power of any man who is not a priest.'

It did not seem to him to lie in his. He could have bought a
principality, but he could not buy a home. Love alone could create
that, and the only woman he had loved for years was Nadine Napraxine.

If she had been what he wished to him, would she have made him this
ideal home--she, capricious, indifferent, disdainful, _mondaine_, as
she had said, in every habit, thought, and attitude of her life?
Perhaps not; probably not, he knew; yet she alone would have had power
to make a melody out of the discords of his desires and his
discontent; she alone seemed to him to fill the vacant places, to
smile across the solitary room, to have left the lingering perfume of
her presence there, as the orange flowers left their fragrance in the
cabinet in which they were laid for a moment.

Otho Othmar was one of the richest men in Europe; he was often
disposed to regret it, as many persons regret that to which they have
been born. He did not think it a thing to be vain of; he was even
occasionally ashamed of it. It seemed to him that when you were so
much richer than most of your fellows you were required to be very
much better than they; and it is not always agreeable, nor often easy,
to be so. When he signed 'Othmar' it was as when an emperor signs his
name, and with a stroke of the pen he could give away millions with as
much ease as lesser mortals can scatter pence. This facility was no
pleasure to him. Though he was well aware that riches are the one
ruling power of the modern world, and comprise in themselves the
wishing cap and the magician's wand, Excalibur and Holy Grail, he did
not greatly prize his possession of them; perhaps because they had
been always before him and about him in profusion from his birth.

The Othmar fortune had been steadily growing for a century and a half.
At the commencement Marc Othmar, a Croat, native of Agram, had been a
poor man enough--a horse dealer, some said a horse stealer--what
precisely never was known. Agram is not a very greatly frequented
place, and records get easily mildewed and dim in it. Whether he began
life as pedlar, or peasant, or, as some affirmed, as a robber of wild
colts, Marc Othmar at forty years old was a money-lender, commission
agent, and banker, and at sixty had become a millionaire, known of far
beyond Croatia, and had laid the foundations of one of the great
financial houses of Eastern Europe.

His son quadrupled his possessions and extended his operations
westward and northward. His grandson fell upon the hard times of the
Napoleonic wars as on a bed of roses; and from the misfortunes of
Austria and Prussia, and the necessities of Pitt's England, made gold
as rapidly as though he had had the philosopher's stone in a crucible.
He grew into a very colossus of riches, and his houses did their
business in Vienna, Paris, London, and Frankfort. He married the
daughter of a French duke, and made his central house of business in
Paris.

His eldest son Stefan, who inherited all his astuteness, succeeded him
in due course in the direction of affairs, ably seconded by his
brother Friederich, and in his turn married the daughter of an English
nobleman, by whom he had one son, Otho, who was chiefly educated in
England, and who had little or nothing of the Othmar type in feature
or in character.

He was a boy of infinite promise, and of no ordinary mind, but,
despite his personal and intellectual gifts, he was a bitter
disappointment to his father; and the indifference, which at times
deepened into contempt, with which the lad reviewed the origin and
the employment of the fortunes of his house seemed to him nothing
short of blasphemy. Stefan Othmar himself was a man of excessive
arrogance, but it was a bourgeois arrogance, proud of its own sources
and dominion, and capable of infinite self-abasement in the pursuit of
self-interest. That his boy should revolt against his descent and
despise the future before him was a fact so hideous and so amazing in
his sight that, had he not known his dead wife to have been the purest
and coldest of women, he would almost have doubted that his own blood
ran in the veins of his degenerate heir.

As Otho grew towards manhood the distance between them widened more
and more. That a fastidious fine gentleman, a fantastic and futile
dreamer, a mere visionary and dilettante, should be the outcome of a
hundred and fifty years of financial success and ambition seemed to
Count Stefan so frightful a mockery of fortune, that he cursed his own
folly in having wedded a patrician, instead of some woman of a common
but ambitious stock who would have given him successors content, and
solely content, with the superb position of princes of finance, and
capable of doubling and quadrupling those many millions which were his
own ecstasy. The very virtues of his son alarmed him as hardly any
vices would have done. The youth was so delicate of mind and taste, so
devout and chaste of habit, so meditative and so solitary by choice,
that his father grew alarmed lest he should actually do what he at
times threatened, and consecrate himself to the Catholic priesthood.
He took a violent remedy.

He went to one of the most seductive and most venal women of the day,
and said to her, 'Win this boy from his dreams or he will become a
monk.'

She undertook the mission, and succeeded in it. She destroyed all that
was spiritual and innocent in him with the merciless witchery of the
courtesan, which is like the tide of burning lava: no grass will
spring where the scoria has spread. He awoke in her arms without a
faith. He never again dreamed of the religious life. She earned well
the estate in Franche-Comté and the large sum in rouleaux which his
father settled on her; but nothing in after-life could ever give him
back those heavenward aspirations, that purity of soul, which she had
swept away as with a wave of fire. Like the young Reichstadt before
him, he had wasted all the splendour and innocence of a first passion
on a wanton who had betrayed him for gold. The first passion of a boy
colours all his future; the bitter-sweet flavour of this remained with
him through all his later years. Love without it was tasteless; love
with it was worthless. He said once to his father: 'You had better
have killed me than have given me to Sara Vernon.'

'Who passes by the gates of disillusion has died twice.' His father
had pushed him with a hard hand through those gates, believing that
they led to the path of self-knowledge and of empire over men. Stefan
Othmar had not wanted a poet, a scholar, a philanthropist, or a priest
for his successor; he had wanted a cold-hearted, clear-headed,
unscrupulous, unyielding financier to hold, and even to increase, the
mighty powers and possessions of which the name of Othmar was a symbol
to the world.

But the crime he had committed did not obtain for him what he desired.
The merciless cynicism with which he had destroyed the faith and the
purity of his son did not ensure its object. The youth remained as
aloof in mind from the traditions of his house, and as disdainful in
spirit of them, as he had been before. He consented, indeed, with
apathy, to put his signature to the deeds which made him one of the
chiefs of the house, but that was all which Stefan Othmar gained by
his son's immeasurable loss. Some four years later, when Otho was
two-and-twenty years of age, Stefan Othmar died suddenly on the steps
of his great hotel in the Boulevard St. Germain, as he was ascending
them after an audience at the Tuileries, in which he had been the
master of the situation, and Napoléon Trois the suppliant. He died of
fulminant apoplexy without an instant's warning; but his affairs were
left in the most perfect order. His brother Fritz remained, who had
been his _alter ego_ all his life, and nothing was altered in the
House of Othmar, of which his son became supreme master.

The young man received the news far away in the forest recesses of
Lahore, at the court of an Indian prince, where he was being feasted
with royal honours in the course of his travels over the world. There
had been no sympathy between his father and himself; their
temperaments had been as opposite as the poles; little sentiment of
personal affection mingled with his sudden consciousness that he was
absolute lord of his own destinies. His first impulse was to use the
power into which he had entered to destroy, at a blow, all that his
forefathers had been a century and a half in building up for him. 'It
is a mass of corruption; it shall perish,' he said to himself, with
the ruthless integrity, the unsparing fanaticism, of a generous and
high-souled youth. But when he returned to England and came face to
face with all his responsibilities and powers, he found that which he
had thought so easy was quite impossible to accomplish as he desired
to accomplish it. His first impulse was to throw the whole into
liquidation and efface the House of Othmar from financial existence
for ever. But to do so was but a dream; the financial world would not
have released him from his obligations; his only living relative, his
father's brother and partner, Baron Friederich Othmar, stoutly refused
to suffer that to be done which would, in his sight, have been a
greater crime than many murders.

Against his desires and against his conscience, he had, on reaching
his majority, been half persuaded, half coerced, by his father to
associate himself in legal form with the house. The act had been one
of filial sacrifice, and it hung like a wallet of stones about his
neck. He found that his power had its limits; that he could no more
disengage himself from all the operations and engagements of his firm
than a young king can emancipate himself from the trammels of court
and constitution. He had a right to ruin himself, but he had no right
to ruin all those whose fortunes were interwoven with the enterprises
of his predecessors. Irritated and disappointed he resigned himself to
the inevitable, and remained the 'master of milliards,' with as much
regret as the young Francis Joseph accepted the diadem of Austria. The
cloth of gold in which they, his forefathers, had wrapped him remained
upon him, and sometimes he thought it a very shirt of Nessus.

Sometimes he was almost tempted to take the vow of poverty for the
sake of getting rid of it, but he was restrained by two
recollections--one that he had no spiritual faith, the other that
mankind in general would have voted him insane. A profound melancholy,
without any definite or special cause, grew upon him; he felt the
sense of an immense responsibility, which he saw no manner of using
with proportionate usefulness. The sophism that duties unsought may be
disregarded did not satisfy his conscience, whilst his knowledge of
the world told him that to do harm is as easy as to kiss your hand,
whilst to effect any great good is as hard as to move the mountains
from their bases. Public charity only fills the pockets of greedy
speculators; private charity too often raises up a festering mass of
imposture. The rich man goes through the world as a sheep through
briars in spring time. If he be a perfect egotist, he is happy enough;
if he have thought and feeling, he is depressed by the universal greed
around him, and by the absolute impotence of all religions to bridle
it.

Otho Othmar remained always sensible of a bitter irritation and
degradation whenever he recalled the sources of the wealth he enjoyed:
the ruin of prosperous countries, the wholesale slaughter of wars, the
distress or disgrace of ancient nobilities, the impoverishment of
nations. True, there was another side to the throne of Plutus, on
which his fathers had seated themselves; by their means, no doubt,
enterprises had been carried out for which humanity, on the whole, was
materially, if not spiritually, the better. Canals, deserts, mines,
cities, colonies, ocean ways, had felt the vivifying powers of the
great Othmar loans; but the evil appeared to him far to out-balance
the good, and all the wealth seemed to him tainted. He had
considerable pride, in a shape with which men would not have
sympathised. He fancied that the inherited nobility of his French and
English blood was always at war with the blood of the Croat bankers by
whom he had been begotten. Though his position was one which almost
all the world envied, it was one which galled himself. Titles had been
offered him, but he had contemptuously rejected them. He was Othmar;
the name spoke to all the ears of Europe; he did not consider that the
story it told could be either changed or buried by smothering it
underneath the blaze of some princeship or dukedom. He did not even
call himself, as others called him, Count Othmar, and he put neither
coronet or escutcheon on his carriages, his plate, or his
writing-paper. He was far too proud to be proud in that way.

Illustrious alliances had been proposed to him, but he had rejected
all; the world expected him to marry greatly, but he remained the hope
and the despair of all the European nobilities, who would have
willingly accorded him any one of their fair virgins. Their eagerness
had early given him a cynical disdain for the aristocracies to which
his tastes attracted him; he had no less a disdain for the financial
order to which tradition allied him. On the whole, although he had
never had any especial sorrow, he was scarcely a happy man, though the
whole world was ready to gratify and amuse him. He had been always
able to indulge his fancies to the uttermost, but all the venal beauty
which affected adoration for him left his heart cold.

Though gentle in manner and chary of speech, he could on provocation
say caustic truths which cut like surgeons' knives. In general,
however, he was indulgent to follies which he did not share. He lived
always a little apart from the world in which he was so conspicuous a
figure, and he judged it with good nature rather than with sympathy.

Occasionally, as Nadine Napraxine had said, _il voyait en jaune_; the
bitterness of spirit which comes over all who see themselves sought
for what they possess passed over him also, but its pessimism never
lasted long. That human nature was trivial but not evil was, on the
whole, the result of his experiences.

By one of the odd caprices in which destiny delights, a lettered ease
would have been the utmost he would have cared to command. The
incessant demands which a great fortune always brings upon its
possessor were to him irksome; wherever he went mankind pursued him
hat in hand and hand outstretched. He could arrive nowhere without
petitions and invitations raining in on him; obscurity was not to be
enjoyed even in Mongolia, where the Foreign Ministers at the Chinese
Court and the Celestial Emperor himself sent mounted messengers after
him to see that he came to no harm. The interest everywhere excited by
his arrival or by his actions irritated him perpetually; the
impossibility of securing privacy, to him formed the gravest of
annoyances. His intolerance of publicity made him almost detest the
whole human race which combined to refuse it to him. To be compelled
to live in a glass-house appeared to him to destroy the very first
requisite for life's enjoyment. He concealed this sensitiveness under
a chilliness of manner which did injustice to the real warmth of his
sympathies. There was much that was at once attractive and irritating
to women in this young man whose fortunes were so immense and power so
extended, who yet passed through the world with so unaffected an
indifference to his own advantages in it, and who had the melancholy
and romantic features of a Ruy Blas or of a Rolla. With men, his
perfect simplicity of expression, his unpretentious courage, and his
unfailing generosity, commanded respect, whilst his position excited
their envy; but while he compelled their esteem, he did not, as a
rule, possess their attachment. 'If we are in a position to serve men
greatly, we shall never be greatly loved by them,' said Melville to
him once; 'we shall make too many ingrates, even though we do our best
not to make one. Men, as a rule, love most what they can afford a
little to despise and have no cause whatever to envy. Do you remember
when the anarchists of '48 came to old Rothschild at Ferrières and
demanded his fortune for the people of France, and he very quietly
took up his pen and made aloud his calculation that his fortune
divided thus would give everyone just four francs and a half each?
Well, the fault of the very rich man to the world is always
Rothschild's to the anarchists; everyone expects he can bestow on each
of them ten millions, whilst he can only really give four francs and a
half. The calculation may be as clear as day, but the fact is one
never forgiven.'

Othmar understood that very well with his reason, but he was not
reconciled to it in his heart; he would have desired something
different. The immense hotel which his father had built, with its
ceilings painted by Ingres and Delaroche, its gardens sloping to the
Seine, its genuine treasures of art, its double staircase, its _cour
d'honneur_, its stables built on the model of Chantilly, was no better
than a barn to him; he detested it with a sort of petulance; he never
willingly resided in it. Its network of communication with the banks
and the bureaux, laid with all the facilities which modern science
could invent, had no interest for him. He did not feel the slightest
emotion about any public event that could possibly happen, whether
wars and rumours of wars, or the betting of a racecourse. He had none
of those tastes which may make a rich man popular for a season and
ruined in a twelvemonth. To his mistresses he was invariably generous,
but these extravagances scarcely made more impression on his vast
fortune than a few pailsfull taken from the sea make diminution in its
volume. His greatest pleasure, on which he spent his money most
largely, was music. Wherever he was he gathered great singers and
musicians around him. She had likened him to Ludwig of Bavaria. His
caprices were not quite so eccentric, but his preference was almost as
ungrudgingly indulged. He had studied music theoretically and
profoundly, though he had never touched any instrument and had never
written a bar. It was one of those tastes which to his father had
appeared an absolute insanity. He also spent much upon his libraries
and his horses, as the Princess Napraxine had said to him. But since
he was not a bibliophile, and did not care for rare editions, and
never raced or made wagers, his expenditure even here was moderate as
compared with his powers. From the time of his early and bitter
passion for Sara Vernon he had avoided those famous sorceresses who
can beggar Croesus and discrown Cæsar; they recalled too vividly to
him the intense suffering of his boyhood, when he had found himself
betrayed by what he adored. To the few women whom he had ever noticed
he had been invariably generous even to excess, with a generosity that
strove to make amends for the scorn he had for them; but he had had
none of those long-enduring _liaisons_ which cling like the octopus
and drain like the vampire. The knowledge that so many women would
have drunk the dregs of infamy at his word for the sake of his gold,
held him aloof from them; he was conscious that they pursued him as
the sword-fish pursues the fish entangled in a seine. There was no
Venusburg which would not have let him enter into its enchantment with
his golden key; and this untempted Tannhäuser turned away indifferent.
All the rest which attracted other men--gambling, feasting, drinking,
racing, living together in feverish crowds,--appeared to him
ridiculous and tiresome. All the popular vices of men of his rank
seemed to him dull and vulgar, trivial and stupid; the life of the
_muscadin_, of the masher, seemed to him, on the whole, more stupid
than the Tartar's. There was a certain similarity between him and
Nadine Napraxine. The world appeared to them both very narrow and its
resources few.

For her the result of this impression took the shape of disdain; in
him of regret.

In her it was a thirst of the mind, in him it was a hunger of the
heart, which led them to think that the land around them was barren.

His friends called him jestingly as Chateaubriand was called, '_le
grand ennuyé_,' but it was precisely his vague discontent with the
puerilities and the vulgarities of existence which made his affinity
to Nadine Napraxine. She had much the same contempt for all those who
surrounded her and who made so much of all their little ambitions, who
crowned themselves with straw and thought they reigned, who set their
souls on a winning horse, a political measure, a policy, a project, or
a _coup d'état_, whilst the horse was to her taste as much worth
wasting thought on as the statesmanship.

If he had heard of his own total ruin he would have put a Horace in
his pocket and walked out of the great bronze Renaissance gates of his
palace with a serenity which would have had in it nothing either
strained or affected. He was no ascetic or philosopher, but his great
fortunes bored him, and their origin annoyed him. His temperament
would probably have led to higher ambitions if he had not been born to
so much possession that ambition had no scope. He was wont to cite as
the wisest man the world had known the gay physician of the Fronde
epoch, Gui Patin, who sat throughout that troublous time, peaceful and
amused, beneath his own cherry-trees. But fate had seated him,
himself, beneath the gold pagoda-tree, and the tree seemed to him a
sterile one; it had neither fragrance nor shade, yet a million eager
hands were always trying to pluck from it, and for him who sat under
it there was no quiet. Some one was always wanting him to shake down
the fruit into their hands.

He had had one great misfortune; he had known satiety almost before
he had known enjoyment; and men were so bent upon making use of him
that they did not take time to attach him to them before they
disgusted him. The world in general did not like him much; it followed
him endlessly, but it thought his reserve arrogance, his simplicity of
taste affectation, and his dislike to display avarice. It did not
comprehend in the least the simple truth that Othmar would have shaken
his gold off him if he could have done so like so much mud. In the
Croat character there are both romance and religion; he had more of
the Croat than the English temper in him; but, like most men of his
time, he had no belief at all, though it was a sorrow to him, not a
boast; and the romance of his impulses had been early chilled and
silenced by the venal passions offered to his boyhood for sake of his
wealth. He learned too early that there is scarcely anything which may
not be bought. It is a knowledge which hardens the selfish, but
saddens the generous, nature. The irresistible conviction that money
is after all the one great power of the world is not an exhilarating
or a consoling fact for thoughtful or visionary minds.

He knew very well that he might have been the most vicious brute, the
most brutal tyrant, the most merciless of men, and mankind would have
served, followed, and flattered him none the less; he could have
purchased immunity for most crimes, condonation for most iniquities.
So long as he had remained master of his fortune and of his
possessions, he knew that men would have sought him none the less
eagerly though he had had the vices of a Heliogabalus; and that women
would have given themselves to him none the less willingly though he
had been as hideous as the Veiled Prophet. It did not make him
cynical; but it made him indifferent, and it moved him at times to a
vague sadness. It seemed scarcely worth while for his forefathers to
have raised that mountain of gold, only that from its summit he might
see the nakedness of the world of men.



CHAPTER VII.


At eight o'clock on the following night Othmar walked across his
gardens, under a starlit sky, towards the adjacent grounds of Millo. A
few roods of plantation parted his from theirs; in the boundary fence
there was a small gate, of which his major-domo had reminded him that
a key existed. The night was young, but the stars already were many,
and a slender moon had risen in the deep serene blue of the heavens.
Though it was midwinter the air was sweet with the smell of orange
orchards in flower and of the aromatic pine-woods of his own
enclosures.

'Will she be there?' he thought a hundred times.

He had kept away from her all the day, had busied himself with his
sailors, with his steward, with the condition of the place; but he
longed to see that smile which even in its malice was sweeter to him
than all the kindness of others, to hear again that voice which was
music to his ear, even in its chill, indifferent mockeries.

He had an intuitive belief, which had been shaken but not destroyed by
his own failure, that in her nature there were depths to be reached,
passions to be awakened, though a bland and cruel indifference at
present veiled them. He had been ruthlessly betrayed by her coquetry,
profoundly wounded by her coldness, but he believed in her still--even
still believed in himself as the man whom ultimately she would love.
He had returned to Europe with the resolution never to be in her
presence except when the hazards of society should bring them perforce
in the same atmosphere, but at the first charm of her regard he had
forgotten all his resolves, lost all his wisdom. Life only seemed
worth living if he could hear that one voice, so sweet in its
modulations, so chilly in its perfect harmony. It was, perhaps,
because he was one of the few men who could gratify all wishes,
caprices, and ambitions as fast as such arose, that this one thing
wholly denied to him, wholly inaccessible, had such force of
attraction for him. Yet he was bitterly angered against himself for
his own submission. She was but a supreme coquette, a woman _pétrie
du monde_, despite all her charm; but she could make her careless
little nod, or a half-ironical smile, more prized from her than the
utmost tenderness of other women ever was. There was about her that
air as of one so wholly indifferent to all the vulgarities which
others esteem triumphs that, when she ever deigned to notice that a
man existed, he was more flattered than by the fondest concessions of
his most ardent adorers. She had been assailed by all the powers and
vanities of passion, but she had always given it at most that cool
little smile--sometimes the smile had been compassionate, more often
it had been cruel. Women had succumbed to him as full-blown roses fall
before the touch of a careless hand; for this reason the chillness of
Nadine Napraxine, which seemed chastity, had had so strong an
attraction for him that for awhile it had seemed to him sweeter to
wait upon its caprices than to obtain fuller response from them. But
no man tarries long at this stage of his affections, and the time had
come when he had grown impatient of a pursuit without end, of an
allegiance without recompense. It was like an empty cup of exquisite
form and transparent beauty, for ever without wine in it; to the
connoisseur the gem is perfect thus, but to those athirst it brings
little delight.

The unshuttered windows of Millo were glistening with light, which
shone through the thickets of rose-laurel and bay as he approached the
house, and a flood of light was poured out shining on the stone
_perron_, carpeted and screened closely by rose-coloured awnings from
the air of night. After a year and a half spent on tropic seas and in
desert lands, the return to society has always a half-sweet,
half-bitter, flavour. Was it worth while, he thought, to leave all the
routine and tedium and emptiness of the world only to drift back again
into its formalities and follies?

He had, however, no choice left in the matter, for the servants in the
antechamber were bowing low to him and taking his furred coat from
him, and in another moment the Duchesse de Vannes was welcoming him
with all the genuine pleasure which a hostess feels in having the
first visit from a person long absent, and high enough in the world's
favour to make his return to the world an event of social interest
and of public importance.

Aurore de Vannes, called Cri-Cri by her friends, was a very pretty
woman, as much and as delicately painted as the fan she carried; she
wore a marvellous costume of cream-coloured velvet blent with
japonica-coloured satin, and had japonicas in her hair and at her
bosom; she wore also some very fine rubies.

When he entered the drawing-rooms of Millo there were a dozen persons
assembled there, most of whom he knew, but amongst them was not the
Princess Napraxine. There was lamentation for her absence, but no
surprise at it, because her caprices were so well known.

As he entered a little note had entered behind him; when Mme. de
Vannes had said all her pretty greetings to him she glanced at it.

'"Désolée--migraine--temps détestable,"' she murmured, as she ran her
eyes over it. 'Of course!' she said, aloud, 'that is always Nadine's
way--she does it on purpose. She loves to disappoint people. She was
out riding this afternoon; I saw her in the distance with Boris
Seliedoff. She treated the Empress in that fashion last winter at
Petersburg, and when the Dames du Palais told her that the Tsarina was
so displeased that she would exclude her from Court, Nadine said to
them quite simply: "Trop de bonté! Je m'habitue si mal à ces
corvées-là."'

'And has she been excluded?' asked one of the guests.

'Ouf!' cried the Duchesse de Vannes, 'I see you do not know her. No
empress in the world would dare to exclude her. Imagine how she would
avenge herself! Courts cannot afford to be brave nowadays.'

Othmar heard every syllable she said as he conversed with De Vannes, a
tall man of some eight-and-thirty years old, with a look of extreme
distinction and of as supreme fatigue. 'Who is Boris Seliedoff?' he
thought, with the restless jealousy of an unsatisfied passion. He
regretted his tent in Tartary: the elegant rooms, the perfumed air,
the pretty women, the low buzz of conversation, the little breaks of
laughter, the artificiality, the monotony of the whole thing, wearied
him already.

The dinner was gay and even brilliant; to him alone it seemed tedious.
Why had she not come? he thought, and that disappointment alone
occupied him. He was angered that she should have so much power to
make _la pluie et le beau temps_ of his time and of his moods.

'Is Othmar cured by Central Asia?' said one of the guests to the
Duchesse de Vannes who looked across the table at him, and answered,
'I should say not. He would hardly be within five leagues of La
Jacquemerille if he were so. Besides, Nadine has a power of making
herself remembered which I have seen in no one else. It is because she
remembers nothing herself. The law of contrasts is the law of
affinity.'

'Madame Napraxine is the only woman in whom virtue does not look
ridiculous,' said an old gentleman to his neighbour, overhearing her
name. 'But then, true, this is because it is not virtue at all, but
something much more disdainful and unapproachable. Have you seen a
peacock ravage a flower-garden? He does not care for any one of the
flowers, but all the same the carnations and roses and geraniums fall
in showers as he goes, strewing them right and left, and drawing his
plumes carelessly over the waste he has made behind him. Her lovers
are no more to Madame Napraxine than the flowers to the peacock; but
the result is the same.'

'Is that a quality you would rank very highly?' asked the person next
him.

'That depends on your standard,' he answered. 'It is a power which is
to her just what plumage is to the peacock--something quite beyond
imitation, and royal in its disdainful beauty. I did not think men
were ever hopelessly in love in this century, but with her I perceive
that they are so.'

'Othmar'---- began the other.

'Othmar?' repeated the old diplomat, 'Othmar reminds me of a man I
once knew, who was a collector of miniatures; the collection has been
dispersed now by unworthy heirs, but some twenty years ago it was a
marvel of completeness. Every admirable miniaturist whom the world has
possessed was represented in it by his finest examples. It had taken
him thirty-five years and more millions to make it what it was. Any
one else would have thought it perfect. He did not, because he had not
an example amongst it of Karl Huth. You may never have heard of Karl
Huth; I never had. He was a German miniaturist of the sixteenth
century; he dwelt at Daunenberg, a small place on the Elbe. There is
nothing of him in any museum, and there was supposed to be nothing of
him anywhere but his tradition. For thirty-five years my friend hunted
North and South Germany for a Karl Huth. At length, such was his
perseverance that he did find an undeniable Karl Huth, in the family
of a tradesman at Grieffenhagen, in a little portrait of a woman, on
ivory, the size of a walnut, and signed and dated. His joy was
immense; but, alas! it was of short duration. The burgomaster who
owned it would not part with it. My friend offered sums untold for
this three inches of ivory, would have sold his estates to purchase
it, stopped at nothing in his frantic offers; but the burgomaster was
rich, too, and inflexible; he would not sell the Karl Huth. There was
some fable in his family about it. Two obstinacies met with a shock
like the foreheads of two elephants in combat; of course the Teuton
obstinacy beat the Gaul's. The Karl Huth remained in the burgomaster's
possession, and my friend had such an excess of rage and despair that
it brought on gout and killed him in an inn in that obscure Pomeranian
town--all because with three thousand five hundred famous miniatures
he failed to acquire one obscure example. Now Madame Napraxine is
certainly not obscure, nevertheless she is the Karl Huth of Othmar. He
is one of those men who can command and enjoy everything; therefore,
of course, he has set his heart on the only woman, probably, in Europe
who will not smile on him. All his grand collection became worthless
to my poor friend when once he failed to include in it that single
Karl Huth.'

Othmar, meanwhile, unconscious that they talked of him, even
unconscious that his passion for his friend's wife had been ever
suspected by his world, found the dinner tedious, and was not
distracted by his neighbours, both of whom were lovely women.

When they returned to the salons at the further end of the great
central drawing-room, which was all white and silver, with satin
panels embroidered with silver thread, and doors made of mirrors
painted with groups of flowers, there was seated all alone at one of
the little tables a very young girl, who wore a plain white gown,
with a plain black sash tied around her waist, _à l'enfant_, and a
black ribbon holding up the thick masses of her fair hair.

'That is Cendrillon,' thought Othmar, moved to a vague interest as he
recalled the story which Melville had told; and he looked on her more
attentively.

As she rose at the entrance of the Duchess he saw that she was very
tall for her age; the slim, straight, unornamented frock became her:
she had neither awkwardness nor self-consciousness, neither much
timidity nor any self-assertion. There was a look about her of
spirited but restrained life which was pathetic, the look of any
high-couraged young animal which is too early and too rudely tamed.

'Poor child!' thought Othmar in an involuntary pity, as he saw the
Duchess go up to her, tap her carelessly on the shoulder with a fan,
present her to another lady and with that other lady turn away
indifferently after a few words. The girl curtsied low with perfect
grace, and resumed her seat; she appeared used to be forgotten. She
sat quite still, neither embarrassed by neglect or solicitous of
attention. She might have been a statue but for her half-veiled eyes,
of a luminous golden brown shaded by long black lashes, and her mouth
like a rose, which had made him call her a Greuze picture as she had
passed him in the boat. She had looked much happier in the boat than
she looked now in the drawing-room.

Othmar watched her a little while. No one approached her: the men
present did not care for _ingénues_; the women, it is needless to say,
cared still less. The Duchesse did not think it necessary to trouble
herself about a child who was still in a convent and would soon be in
one for the rest of her days. She was not averse to such an evidence
of her own charity as her young cousin presented sitting there,
carefully dressed, admirably educated, in living testimony of the
benevolence of Aurore de Vannes; but there was no need for more than
the tap with the fan and the good-natured indifferent _Comment va-t-on
ce soir, petite?_

Othmar waited some ten or twelve minutes, then approached his hostess.

'Duchesse, will you do me the honour to present me to Mdlle. de
Valogne?'

She stared at him in astonishment.

'Certainly--yes; why not?--But how did you know her name? And she is
only a child at Sacré Coeur.'

'Melville told me her sad little story and of all your amiability
towards her. Surely she will soon be a very beautiful woman?'

'_Elle n'est pas mal_,' said the Duchess, somewhat irritably.
'Melville is always romancing, you know; there is nothing to be
romantic about; she is destined to the religious life; it was her
grandmother's wish, and is her own. As for presenting you to her, she
is only a child; it would not be well to make her think herself in the
world. If you would excuse me----'

'Pray present me, Duchesse,' he persisted. 'I assure you I do not eat
children; and if she be doomed to take the veil so soon, the world
will lose her anyhow. But will you have the heart to cut off all that
hair?'

'You will always have your own way,' said Madame de Vannes, who knew
very well that he did not have it where most he cared; then she took
him across to where her young cousin sat, and said, 'Yseulte, Count
Othmar wishes to know you; he is a friend of Monsignor Melville's.'

The girl made him the same grand curtsy, which she had made before,
only a little less low than she had given to the lady. Then she seated
herself once more, and waited for him to speak first, as we wait for a
royal person to do so.

He spoke to her of Melville, divining that the way to her confidence
would be through his regard for the early period of her childhood. She
listened with pleasure to his praises of her grandmother's friend, and
answered him in few syllables; but the restraint seemed to him the
result neither of timidity nor of want of intelligence, but of the
reserve which had been imposed upon her alike at her convent and here
at Millo, where no one heeded her unless the Duc threw her a
good-natured glance, or the Duchesse a petulant word of censure. It
was easy to see that on a nature formed for light and laughter, the
sense of being unneeded and undesired in the home of others had early
cast shadows too deep for childhood.

'How very handsome she is!' he thought, as he spoke of Melville and
his many noble works. Close to her he could see the exceeding
regularity of her features, the splendour of her eyes, the purity of
her complexion, which was not the narcissus whiteness of Nadine
Napraxine, but that childlike fairness under which the colour mantles
at any passing thought, or any effort or exercise. Her form, too, had
all the slenderness and indecision of youth, but it had also the
certainty of a magnificent womanhood. Her low dress showed her white
shoulders, her quickly-breathing childlike breast, her beautiful
throat.

'All that to be wasted in a cloister!' he thought, with repugnance. It
seemed a sin against nature's finest work, youth's most gracious
grace. To be sixteen years old, and to have a face as fair as a
flower, and to be the last of a great race, and yet to be doomed to be
joyless, loverless, childless, from birth unto death, because a little
gold and silver were lacking to her! To the master of millions it
seemed the cruelest irony of fate that he had ever encountered. Why
should the absurd codes and prejudices of the world make him powerless
to give this unhappy child out of his abundance the little which she
would need to take her place amidst those common human joys which the
poorest can attain, but which the selfishness of man and the customs
of society forbade to her, merely because she had been nobly born? He
was thinking of her fate all the while that he talked to her of
Melville; he was thinking of that supple slender form disguised under
the nun's heavy garb, of that abundant hair shorn and falling to the
stone floor. Could those gay, good-natured, idle, spendthrift people
who condemned her so lightly to such a sacrifice, not surrender one of
their luxuries, one of their follies, to save her?

Then he pictured to himself, with a smile at his own whimsical
conceit, the tailors' bills of Madame de Vannes curtailed, her
caprices sacrificed, her equipages diminished, her _parties de chasse_
discontinued, her superfluous jewels sold, to furnish with the result
attained a dower to her portionless cousin! These good people called
themselves Christians; nevertheless, such generosity would have seemed
to them as impossible as to go out on to the boulevards in the
goatskin of John the Baptist. Would there ever be a religion that
should influence the lives of its professors? Christianity had had
its own way for nigh two thousand years, and had scarcely left a mark
on the world so far as practical renunciation went.

While he mused thus, he talked lightly and kindly to the girl, but he
met with little response. The convent education had taught her
silence, and she thought that he had only come to her side because he
had pitied her solitude; that thought made her shy and proud. With all
his good will, he failed to make much way into her friendship, or to
elicit much more than monosyllabic replies, and he would have felt his
benevolence wearisome had it not been that there was so much true
loveliness in her features and in her form that he was not glad of his
release when she was called by the Duchesse to the piano.

'Could you make anything of Yseulte?' said the Duc de Vannes to him.
'She is the true _ingénue_ of the novelist and dramatist; she knows
nothing beyond the four walls of the convent. It is a type fast
disappearing, even with us, under the influence of American women and
English romances. I am not sure that it is not to be regretted; it is
something, at least, to have a girlhood like a white rose.'

'But you are going to set the rose to wither before the sanctuary of
Marie?' said Othmar, still moved by his one idea.

The Duc shrugged his shoulders.

'Oh, that is my wife's affair. Myself, I think it is a pity. The child
will be a magnificent woman; but then, you see, she has no dower.
Where can she go except to the cloisters? Listen! she sings well.'

She was singing then, and her voice rose with singular richness, like
the notes of a nightingale smiting the silence of a golden southern
noon. The quality of her voice was pure and strong, with a sound in it
as of unshed tears, of restrained, and perhaps unconscious, emotion.

'And she will only sing the _Laus Deo_ and the _Kyrie Eleison_,'
thought Othmar, 'and no one will hear her except a few scores of
sad-hearted, stupid women, who will succeed in making her as
sad-hearted and as stupid as themselves!'

What she rendered was the sweetest of all the simple Noëls written by
Roumanille, the song of the blind child who begs her mother to take
her to see the Enfant Jésus in the church, and to whom the mother long
replies, in chiding and hardness of heart: 'What use, since thou canst
not see?' Saint-Saëns had set the naive and pathetic words to music
which was penetrated with that _esprit provençal_ which has in it 'les
pleurs du peuple et les fleurs du printemps;' and the voice of the
girl was pure, tender, and solemn, in unison with what she treated.

    'Je sais qu'au tombeau seul finit ma voie obscure;
                    Je sais encor
    Que je ne verrai pas, divine créature,
                    Ta face d'or.

    'Mais qu'est-il besoin d'yeux pour adorer et croire?
                    Si mes yeux sont
    A te voir impuissants, mes mains, ô Dieu de gloire,
                    Te toucheront!'

    L'aveugle à ses genoux pleure si fort, et prie
                    Sur un tel ton,
    D'un air si déchirant, que la mère attendrie
                    N'a plus dit non.

    Oh! comme la pauvrette, en entrant dans la grotte,
                    En tressaillait!
    De Jésus sur son coeur elle mit la menotte:
                    Elle voyait!

Of all those who listened to her, the old minister, who had spoken of
Karl Huth, and Othmar himself, were the only persons touched by the
likeness of the words of the Noël to the destiny which awaited the
singer of it.

    'Je sais qu'au tombeau seul finit ma voie obscure,'

Othmar repeated to himself. 'Poor child! there will be no miracle
wrought for her.'

It seemed to him pathetic, and even cruel.

She had sung with science and accuracy which were in contrast with the
very youthful cadence of her voice, and when she ceased there was a
murmur of applause. She blushed a little, and with a composure that
was almost dignity accepted the compliments paid her, and went back,
without a word, to her seat.

'She would make a name for herself as an artist if she were not the
last Comtesse de Valogne,' thought Othmar. 'Poor child! it is hard to
bear all the harness and curb of rank and have none of its gilded oats
to eat.'

A pretty _élégante_ was now singing a song of Judic's with even more
suggestion by gesture and of glance than the original version of it
gave; the air of the drawing-room rippled with her silvery notes and
their response of subdued laughter; everyone forgot Mdlle. de Valogne
and the Provençal Noël. When Othmar looked again for her, she was
gone: the salon saw her no more that night.

'You were soon tired, Othmar,' said the Duchesse. 'Naturally: what
should you find to say to a child from a convent? She has not two
ideas.'

'She speaks little, certainly,' he answered; 'but I am not sure that
it is from want of ideas; and even if she have no ideas, what does a
beautiful woman want with them?--and she is beautiful.'

'I thought you liked clever women.'

'Clever! Oh, what a comprehensive word. It is like that balloon they
advertise, which you can either fold up in your pocket or float as
high as the moon. As for Mdlle. de Valogne, I should think she was
very intelligent, to judge by her brow and her eyes. But convents do
not nourish their pupils on Rénan and Huxley.'

'Rénan?' said the Duchess, with a charming affectation of ignorance.
'Oh, that is the man who writes so many volumes about himself to
explain why he cannot bring himself to believe some story about an
almond bough that swallowed snakes! When Voltaire began that sort of
thing, it seemed shocking, but it was new; nowadays it is not new and
nobody is shocked; it is only tiresome.'

'But you, Madame, who laugh, yet respect the Church enough to
sacrifice a virgin to it as the Greek to the Minotaur?'

'There is no other retreat possible for girls of good family who are
portionless,' said the Duchess very positively.

'But there are many men who do not marry for a dower.'

'Perhaps, but not with us; it would be quite impossible, an unheard of
thing,' said the Duchesse, scandalised at such a suggestive violation
of all etiquette and family dignity.

From time immemorial the younger sons or the unmarriageable daughters
of the Valogne, of the Creusac, of the d'Authemont, of all the great
races whose blood met in this child, had hidden their narrowed fates
with decorum and stateliness in the refuge of the cloisters; why
should she, because she had been born in the latter half of the
nineteenth century, rebel against so just a disposal? And she did not
rebel at all, would not, unless some man made love to her and put
rebellion in her head. That man would not be Othmar; he had only one
thought--Nadine Napraxine. If she had not been sure of that, she would
not even have presented him to her young cousin, for she was a very
proud woman despite her frivolity, and to seek a rich alliance for a
poor relative would have seemed to her the last of degradations. Her
own people, and her husband's, had always married as sovereigns do,
accepting and conferring equal advantages.

'Poverty has the right to be as proud as it chooses so long as it
accepts nothing; when once it has accepted anything, it has become
mendicity,' had said often the old Marquise de Creusac to her
granddaughter, and Yseulte would not do dishonour to that lesson.

'One can trust her implicitly,' said Madame de Vannes once to her
husband, who had answered:

'Oh, yes, my dear; that is the result of an old-fashioned education.
When your Blanchette and Toinon are at her age, they will know
everything objectionable under the sun, but they will not let you know
that they know it. You are bringing them up _more britannico_!'



CHAPTER VIII.


Yseulte de Valogne, waking the next morning and looking through the
little panes of her high window in the roof at the landscape which the
red leaves of the Canadian vine framed in crimson, was conscious of a
new interest in her life. Some one, she did not know whom, for in her
confusion she had not heard his name, had spoken to her with kindness,
and that deference to her incipient womanhood which is the sweetest
flattery to a very young girl. Othmar, with the grace of his manner,
the seriousness and coldness which made him different to the men of
his time, and his handsome features, to which an habitual reserve had
given that expression of self-control and of melancholy which most
attracts her sex, had seemed to her imagination like some gracious
knight of old bending to pity her loneliness, and to succour that
timidity which was in so much due to her pride and her unwillingness
to be regarded with compassion and to her dread lest she should seem
to seek attention.

She thought of him with a vague personal interest stronger than any
she had felt in her simple and monotonous life, since her childhood on
the Ile St. Louis had become to her like an old book of prayer, shut
up unused, with the lavender and southern-wood of long dead summers
faded and dried inside it. Though she was only sixteen, that childhood
seemed so far, so very far, away. It would have appeared to Blanchette
and Toinon, with their artificial, excited, _blasé_ little lives, a
dull and austere childhood enough, passed beside the infirmities and
incapacities of age, and with no other active pleasure than to gather
marguerites on the grass islands of the Seine or to hear a Magnificat
sung at Notre Dame.

The rooms they lived in had been narrow and dark, their food had been
of the simplest, their days regulated with exact and severe precision.
But she had been so happy! When her grandmother, with the white hair
like spun silk and the thin small hands, on which one great diamond
sparkled--sole relic of a splendid past--said, with a smile, 'C'est
bien fait, mon enfant,' all the universe could have added nothing to
her content.

When the old man servant Bénoît had taken her out to the Sainte
Chapelle, or the graves at the Abbaye, and had told her tales of how
her forefathers had died on the scaffold, in the _noyades_, on the
battle-fields of Jemappes, or in the slaughter of Quiberon, she had
known that purest of all pride, which rejoices in the honour and
loyalty of the dead who have begotten us. All the air about her had
been redolent of fidelity, of courage, of dignity. She had breathed in
that fine clear atmosphere of integrity as the transparent dianthus
drinks in the sea-water which the sunbeams pierce with vivifying gold.
When the Marquise had sometimes taken, out of old sandal-wood coffers,
antique brocades, dusky old jewels, faded yellow letters, perhaps a
ribbon and a star of some extinct order once worn at Marly or at
Amboise, the child had listened with reverent ear and beating heart to
the stories which went with the relics and keepsakes, and it had
always seemed to her as if some perfume of the past entered her very
veins, as its fragrance is poured upwards from the root into the
flower. Nor had it been always melancholy, that innocent, tranquil
life; gentlemen of the old courtly habits had made their bow humbly in
those narrow rooms, and the old _gaieté gauloise_ had laughed
sometimes beneath the sad serenity of losses nobly borne. There had
been merry days when Bénoît had taken her in one of the boats which
crossed the Seine in summer, and had rowed to one of those quiet nooks
of which he had the secret, and had landed with her amidst the tall
hay grasses, and had set her noonday meal there--a little fruit and
roll of bread--watching the poplars quiver in the light, and the women
work upon the shore, and the clumsy brown brigs come and go on the
broad breast of the river; and she had clasped a great sheaf of may
and daisies and kingcups in her arms, and had run hither and thither
in a very ecstasy of limbs set free and eyes delighted, and had cried
her delight aloud to the old man, who had nodded and smiled and said,
'Oui, oui, c'est beau,' but had thought, with a pang at his faithful
heart, 'Si jeunesse savait----.'

Then, whilst she was still a young child, there had fallen across her
life the darkness of the 'année terrible.' The Marquise de Creusac had
been at once too brave and too poor to quit Paris when the wall of
iron and of fire had closed in around it. Her sons had died, one at
the cavalry charge of Fræschweiler, the other during the siege of
Strasburg; she herself never rose from her bed during that ghastly
winter, and her last breath left her lips as the Prussians entered
Paris. The horror of that time could never wholly pass from the mind
of Yseulte. Bénoît had travelled with her to the château of Bois les
Rois, and placed her under the roof of her only living relative,
Aurore de Vannes, who herself was momentarily saddened and touched by
the misfortunes of the country and the loss of many of her kinsmen,
and in that chastened mood was kinder to the little friendless
fugitive than she might have been at another and less desperate time.

All that time seemed very far away to Yseulte now; to earliest youth,
a few years seems like the gap of a century.

Bénoît was dead now, like the mistress he had adored and served, with
that loyal service which, in this later time, one class has lost the
power to inspire and the other class has lost the capacity to render;
but those happy midsummer holidays on the islets of the Seine were
always in her mind whenever she felt the touch of the fresh air or
smelt the scent of growing leaves. They had spread a fragrance like
that of summer all over her memories of childhood. She pitied
Blanchette and Toinon, who cared nothing for daisies and kingcups; who
tired so soon of their costly playthings; who knew their Trouville and
Biarritz by heart, who, when they played at their games, were either
peevish or bored, and who looked with all the scorn of fashionable
eight-year-olders on a toilette which was a season out of date.
Blanchette and Toinon would die without ever having been young; their
cousin, who at sixteen was still entirely a child, had to die to the
world before she had begun to live.

She leaned out of her window in the chill of the early morning, and
she watched the sea mists curl up and drift away before the sun, the
mountains come forth slowly from the clouds obscuring them, the light
touch and reveal one by one the low white bastides, the grey olive
yards, the bosquets of orange and lemon, the fields where the young
corn already was spreading, the fantastic buildings which diversified
and vulgarised the beauty of the scene, and the grey towers of S.
Pharamond sober and severe amidst its ilex woods by contrast with the
coquetteries and motley phantasies of its neighbours.

'I wonder,' she thought for the hundredth time, 'if it were only
because he pitied me that he talked to me?'

She went on wondering who he was, what he was; she did not even know
that he owned S. Pharamond, and dared ask no one about him; all the
gay, thoughtless, inquisitive questions which youth loves to put,
whilst often too impatient to wait for an answer to them, had been too
perpetually frozen on her lips for silence not to have become a second
nature to her.

'What you can observe is well,' her grandmother had often said to her;
'it is the wheat you have gleaned, and you have a right to it. But
never gain knowledge by asking questions; it is the short cut across
the fields which only trespassers take.'

At the convent any interrogations which she had been tempted to make
had been repressed as too apposite to be convenient, and of the
Duchesse de Vannes she would have no more have asked a question or a
favour than she would have asked one of the lay figures on which the
Duchesse's marvellous costumes were built up, bit by bit, as idea
succeeded to idea in the brains of great artists of the toilette.

She had scarcely heard a dozen sentences from Madame Aurore in the
half-dozen years through which she had spent her summer vacations at
their great castle in the Vosges, a lonely place where she had usually
only the house-servants as companions; but in winter at Millo she had
been always happy, for near Millo dwelt her foster-mother, a
Savoyarde, who had become well-to-do since the time when, a poor young
unwedded mother astray on the mercy of Paris, she had been glad to
give her breast to the motherless child of the Comtesse de Valogne.
Through the influence and aid of the Marquise de Creusac the woman
Nicole had ultimately married her lover, a sturdy peasant of the
environs of Nice, and by thrift and hard work and good luck and good
husbandry combined, they now owned a bastide and an orange-orchard,
and could receive 'la petite Comtesse' with honey and cream and
conserves of their own manufactures. They had no children, and Mlle.
de Valogne still filled in the heart of her foster-mother the place
which had been empty and cold when a month-old baby had gasped out its
last breath of feeble life in a Paris hospital sixteen years before.

'What is the good of it all, the _pétiot_ is dead and gone?' said
Nicole Sandroz many a time, looking over her hives and hen-houses, her
rose-beds and her green peas, all blooming for the Paris market. But
this mood was transient; the _pétiot_ was not to be recalled by
regret, and the solid delight of early vegetables and their value
remained to her. She was a good woman, though hard in some ways and
greedy; but she was the only creature who gave Yseulte de Valogne
anything of the comfort of human affection and tender, blind,
unreasoning admiration. To Nicole 'mon enfant la Comtesse' was an
object of honest adoration, to be waited on, worshipped, petted,
slaved for if need be; and this wholly sincere, if clumsy, devotion
had always been to the starved heart of the girl as the one scrap of
moss on the frozen sea and shore is to the lonely and lost voyager.

When the dark, hard-featured face of the Niçoise presented itself at
the convent gates of Faïel, and with her load of oranges or
strawberries, of camellias or roses, she came out of the hot sun into
the quietness and dusk of the _parloir_ and stretched out her big
sturdy arms to her nursling, the proud eyes of Yseulte filled with
tears as no one else ever saw them do. She was a little child once
more clinging to her nurse's skirts in the old panelled rooms in the
Ile St. Louis.

The low white walls of the bastide were set upon a hill-side not
half-an-hour's walk from Millo, a fragrant, pleasant, homely place,
with violets cultured like corn, and roses grown like currant-bushes,
for the flower-shops of Paris and the purchase of the foreigners in
Nice. The mere presence of Nicole made her visits to the southern
shore longed for and enjoyed, and compensated to her for the fretful
teazing of her little cousins, the ill-concealed enmity of their
governesses, the perpetual sense of being undesired by any one there,
and the many slights which the indifference of her hosts made them
careless of inflicting. Aurore de Vannes would have said, if
remonstrated with, that the girl could want for nothing. She had two
pretty rooms all to herself, and a piano in one of them; had as many
gowns as she could wear, though, of course, at her age they were the
frocks of a _pensionnaire_; and could pass her time in the schoolroom
or in the gardens very much at her pleasure; she could even drive out
in the basket-carriage if Blanchette and Toinon did not want it. The
existence must, she would have argued, at any rate be very much
livelier than the convent.

In the first winter she had passed at Millo no one had come there but
herself, and she had spent her time almost wholly with her
foster-mother; later on, when the house was full--as it was now--she
obtained in her holidays a large amount of liberty, from the fact that
it was no one's especial duty to look after her. She used her freedom
innocently enough, and always took the path under the olives which led
to the flower-farm of the Sandroz.

Once the Duchesse had said to her irritably, 'What charm do you find
in peasants grubbing among peastalks and growing salad?' But she had
not waited for an answer, which was fortunate, as Yseulte would have
been too shy to give the true one,--that they loved her a little.

The Duchesse concluded that the governesses of her children did their
duty in attending on her young cousin. The governesses, however, were
willing that one who was only an extra charge to them should do as she
chose so long as she brought no trouble on themselves; few mornings
passed without her finding her way to the welcome of her old nurse, to
sit at pleasure under the shadow of the orange leaves, or drift
through clear water in the big market boat.

Madame de Vannes was, as the world in general would have said, very
generous to her; her education was of the best, the clothes provided
for her were elegant and suitable, her linen was of the finest, her
boots and shoes were the prettiest possible; the Duchesse did
everything well that she did at all; but beyond a remark that her hair
was too low or too high on her forehead, or that she did not wear the
right gloves with the right frock, Yseulte could scarcely recall
twenty phrases that she had heard from her august cousin. Now and then
the heart of the girl had risen in an impulse of ardour towards
liberty, towards independence. She was conscious of more talent than
the manner of her education had developed; in a vague way she
sometimes fancied the world might hold some place for her, some
freedom of effort or attainment; but all the habits of obedience made
a cage for her as surely as the laws made one. Her grandmother had
written with a hand half paralysed by death to commend her to the care
of her relative, and amongst her dying words the command: 'Obey Aurore
as you have obeyed me,' had been often repeated. Any thought of
rebellion was stifled by her sense of duty as soon as it arose.

This morning, as she leaned out of her window she could see the white
house of the Sandroz, half a league away, amongst the olive foliage,
and what was still more to her, the tiny bell tower of a little
whitewashed church, the parish church of S. Pharamond, in whose parish
Millo also lay. The one cracked bell sounding feebly for matins
recalled her to the present hour, and reminded her that the morrow
was the feast day of S. Cecilia to whom the building was dedicated.

'He will be so vexed if the altar be not dressed,' she thought. The
old priest of Millo was accustomed to look to her for that service.
The Duchesse always gave him two thousand francs in gold for his poor
at New Year, but there her heed of her vicar ended. Yseulte, who had
no gold to give, brought him flowers and boughs for his little, dusky,
lonely place, where only a few fishermen and peasants ever knelt, and
she sometimes sang at his Offices.

When she remembered the day, she wasted no more time at the window;
she drank the cup of milk and ate the roll which the maid appointed to
her service brought, and putting on a little hat of fur, went out
through the house where even Blanchette and Toinon were still asleep,
and only a few of the under servants were stirring.

It was cold, but already grown bright, with sunshine, and the promise
of a warm noonday.

The gardens of Millo, with their autumn luxuriance still prolonged,
were sparkling with sunbeams and dew-drops; their aloes and cacti
pierced with broad sword-blades the blue clear air; the latest roses
kissed the earliest camellias; the pink, the amber, the white, the
purple, of groves of chrysanthemums, glowed in the parterres; but she
did not dare to give them even a glance. No one ever plucked a flower
there.

She went quickly through the alleys, and avenues, over the lawns, and
under the _berceaux_, and after walking about a mile came to where the
boundary of Millo was fixed by a high wall of closely-clipped arbutus,
and only the small iron gate which Othmar had unlocked the previous
night gave access to the lands of S. Pharamond, which lay beyond.

'There will be sure to be something here,' she thought, as she turned
the latch of the gate which he had unthinkingly left open, and passed
through the aperture into the thick ilex wood on the other side of the
bearberry wall. She was not surprised to find it open, for the
gardeners of the two houses often held communication; and she had been
constantly permitted by those of S. Pharamond to wander about its
grounds and pluck its commoner plants. It was a thing she had done a
hundred times in the winters she had passed at Millo.

There were all kinds of plants growing up at Nicole's bastide; but as
she had no money to pay, the child had always felt a delicacy in
asking, for them. Her foster-mother would indeed have refused her
nothing; but to take as a gift the late-come _quatre-saisons_ rose, or
the early-blooming _clochettes_, which the Sandroz could sell so
highly by sending them away in little air-tight tin boxes to Paris,
would have appeared to the generous temper of the last of the Valognes
a very ungenerous act.

Othmar, who had slept ill, rose early that day. When he had bathed and
dressed, he strolled out on to his terrace, where Nadine Napraxine had
eaten her strawberries. Though winter, the morning was mild, the
sunrise glorious. Through the great gloom of his ilex groves he could
see the sparkle of blue waves. It was not the scenery he cared most
for; he liked the great windy shadowy plains of eastern Europe, the
snow of mountains more sombre and severe than these hyacinth-hued
maritime Alps, the gigantic grey walls of Atlantic rollers breaking on
rugged rocks of Spain, or Britanny, or Scotland; but he was not
insensible to the present beauty which surrounded him, if it were
brighter and paler of hue, gayer of tone, softer in character, than
the scenes he preferred.

He stood and looked idly, and thinking, 'If I were wise I should go to
Paris this morning.'

What was the use of letting all his years languish and drift aimlessly
away for sake of a woman who made sport of his pain? Yonder, hidden by
the curve of a distant cliff, was La Jacquemerille, and its mistress
of the moment was, no doubt, sleeping soundly enough amongst the lace
and cambric and satin of her bed, and would not have lain awake one
moment thinking of him, though he had thought of her all night.

'Were people ever sleepless for love?' she had said once, with her
pretty cynical smile. 'That must have been very long ago, before the
chemists had given us chloral!'

As he stood and thus made his picture of her in his mind sleeping, as
the narcissus which she resembled sleeps in the moonlight, he saw a
figure underneath the ilex boughs which was not hers, but had a grace
of its own, though wholly unlike her.

It was the figure of a girl in a grey close dress which defined the
outline of her tall slim limbs. She wore a fur hat, and had some fur
about her shoulders; the sunbeams of the early day touched the gold in
her hair and shone in her hazel eyes. She was gathering now one
datura, now another, of those spared by the December mistral, and
coming up to a bed of camellias, paused doubtfully before their
blossoms; she came there like one accustomed to the place, and who
merely did what she had often done before. Her grey gown, her sunny
hair under its crown of sable, her hands filled with flowers, made a
picture underneath the palms, amidst the statues, against the ilex
darkness.

He recognised the child whom he had last seen in her white gown with
the black sash a few hours before in the Duchesse's drawing-rooms.

For the moment, he put on her appearance there that construction which
a man, subject from his boyhood to the advances and solicitations of
the other sex, was most apt to conceive of such an unsought visit. But
as he saw how unconcerned, natural, and childlike her movements were
as she paused, now by this shrub and now by that, or sat down on a
bench to arrange some asters in her basket, he as rapidly discarded
his suspicions and guessed the truth, that she had been ignorant of
who he was the previous evening, and had come to his gardens by chance
or by custom.

As he hesitated whether to descend and make her welcome, or to retreat
unseen into the house and tell his servants to say nothing, she looked
up and saw him. She dropped her flowers on the grass, and turned to
run away like any startled nymph in classic verse, but he was too
quick for her; he had descended the few steps from his terrace and had
approached her before she could fly from him.

'Do not be so unkind to me,' he said, with deference and courtesy, for
he divined how ashamed she was to have been found there. 'There is
little in these gardens after being swept by the mistral, which is a
cruel horticulturist, but the hothouses, I hope, may give you
something worthier your acceptance.'

'I beg your pardon,' she murmured, 'there has been no one here so
long----'

He had spoken as though her presence was the most natural thing in the
world, but neither his composed acceptance of it or his courteous
welcome could reconcile her to the position she occupied. She coloured
painfully, and her breath came and went in an agitation she could not
subdue.

'I beg your pardon,' she stammered again; 'I did not know--last night
I did not hear your name--there has been no one here so long. Oh, what
can you think of me!'

Her eyes were filled with sudden tears; her colour faded as suddenly
as it had come. She was only a child, and had been reared by stern
formalities and by chill precepts.

'Think?' echoed Othmar; 'that you are kind enough to treat me as a
neighbour. Neighbours are not always friends, but I hope we shall be
so. That little gate has no use in it unless it be an open portal for
friendship to pass to and fro; I walked through it to Millo last
night.'

But his good nature and gentleness could not avail to console her for
what was in her own eyes, as it would have been in that of her
relatives, an unpardonable and infamous misdemeanour. Now that she
recognised in the speaker the same person whom her cousin had
presented to her the previous evening, she longed for the lawn she
stood on to open and cover her. A piteous dismay took possession of
her; would he ever believe that she had not known him as the owner of
S. Pharamond? Would he ever believe that S. Pharamond had been that
morning, as far as her knowledge had gone, still unoccupied as it had
been for ten mortal years?

All the lessons of her convent life made her act appear in her own
eyes one of inexcusable audacity, unspeakable horror,--to have come
into the gardens of a stranger when he was himself there to take his
flowers!

The kindness of his gaze and the cordiality of his welcome could do
nothing to console her; she was barely conscious of them; the colour
in her face mounted to the loose curls escaping from her little fur
cap; she laid her basket down and joined her hands in an unconscious
supplication.

'There has been no one here so long,' she said yet again with pathetic
appeal in her voice. 'I thought I did no harm; M. Duvelleroy, the
head gardener, has always let me come when there is a feast day.
Indeed, I have never taken the rare flowers, only those which he did
not want. It is the parish church of S. Pharamond, too; I did not know
I did wrong--pray do not blame the gardeners.'

'Blame them, when I am so much their debtor! I wish you would believe
that you are the queen of all the gardens here. Why, even still you
are hesitating to pluck the camellias!'

'Because they told me never to touch them; I only looked at them; I
think M. Duvelleroy sends them to Nice to sell. Indeed--indeed--I have
never taken but what he told me I might have.'

What seemed so very terrible to her was that she must appear to the
owner of S. Pharamond as a thief of his flowers! A vague idea flashed
across her mind, that perhaps she might pay for the value of them--but
then she had no money! The old jewels of her mother were to be hers,
indeed; but when? She had not even seen them since her grandmother had
died; perhaps they were to be sold to defray the cost of her entrance
into convent life; she did not know. The great trouble of her spirit
was reflected in her face, which was full of conflicting emotions; her
mouth, which had been too silent the night before, trembled a little;
the tears gleamed under her long lashes. Othmar thought her much more
interesting with all this expression breaking up from under the mask
of white marble which the convent had made her wear. In her
bewilderment she became altogether a child; and the stately quiet of
her manner fell away from her like an embroidered ermine-lined robe
too heavy for her years.

'Do they sell my camellias--the rogues?' he said with a smile. 'Of
course you shall go away if you will, but not empty-handed. There must
be something better worth having than those frost-bitten roses.'

He called a man who was sweeping up leaves on a lawn here.

'Go and tell your chief to cut his finest orchids and bring them in a
basket to me himself: any other rare thing he may have in the houses
he can cut also. Mademoiselle,' he said, turning to the girl, 'you
must not go back to Millo with such a poor opinion of my gardens. Is
the Duchesse well? You remember that I had the honour to be presented
to you by her last evening?'

'You are Count Othmar?'

'Men call me so,' he replied, for he never loved that title which
seemed to him so contemptible a thing, given, as it had been, in the
beginning of the century by the first Emperor. 'I am happy to be the
owner of S. Pharamond, since you deign to visit it. You are at Millo
every winter, I think?'

'I am; they are not,' she said, regaining her composure a little. 'I
did not hear your name last night. I thought you were some gentleman
from Paris.'

'I live oftenest in Paris,' he replied, 'but at the present moment I
come from Central Asia. I am a friend of Monsignore Melville, as I
told you; and I hope you will believe me when I say that, if only for
his regard for you, you would be welcome at S. Pharamond.'

He spoke without compliment, seeing that any compliment would only
scare her more.

'You help my parish church, did you say?' he continued. 'It is very
disgraceful of me never to have known it; we will get Melville to
come and preach there. Does the curé want for anything?--is there
nothing I could do?'

'He wants a new _soutane_ very much,' she said with hesitation.

'Then a new _soutane_ he shall have before the world is a week older,'
said Othmar. 'Why will you go away? Are you too afraid of me to
venture into the house? Would you not have some cream, some cakes,
some strawberries? What do young Graces like you live upon? Command
anything you will.'

'I have had some bread and milk; I want nothing; you are very kind.'

'If you think me so, you must not treat me so distantly. You must make
me a friend of yours. The Duchesse herself presented me last night.
You seem determined to forget that.'

She stood inclined to go away, unwilling to seem ungrateful, yet
afraid to remain; a charming picture of confusion and indecision,
mingled with a gravity and a grace beyond her years. The Greuze face
which he had seen in the boat bore the full force of the morning light
as a rose bears it, the pure tints only deepened and illumined by it.
Under the straight simple lines of the grey stuff gown the budding
beauties of a still childish form could be divined; in her
embarrassment her colour still came and went; her large eyes, of a
golden hazel, were almost black from the shadow of their lashes. So
far as a man whose heart and senses are engrossed by one woman can be
alive to the loveliness of another, Othmar was sensible of this
youthful and poetic beauty, which seemed to belong to the first fresh
hours of the morning, and to be born of it as the rosebuds were.

'I hope you will not be angry,' she said anxiously. 'It was my fault.
At Millo no one must touch a single flower, and the curé likes to see
the altar pretty, and so one day--oh, that is quite a long time ago,
three winters ago--I happened to see the gate open into these grounds,
and I asked M. Henri if I might gather what he did not care to sell,
and he said that I was welcome always to the common flowers. You will
not blame him, if you please, for it was altogether my fault.'

She had seldom made a speech so long in her life, and she paused,
ashamed of the sound of her voice in the quiet of the morning air.
She feared also that she was doing wrong to speak at all to this
stranger, all owner of S. Pharamond though he might be.

'All that I am inclined to blame him for,' answered Othmar, 'is for
having laid any restrictions upon you; he has no right to sell even a
sprig of mignonette. These gardens are not kept for profit; they can
have no happier use than to contribute to your pleasure and to the
altars of the church. Pray, do not go; wait a moment for this criminal
to bring us the orchids.'

But she only grew more alarmed at her own intrusion there. The easy,
kindly gallantry of his manner scarcely reassured her; she was but a
child, and a child reared in formal and severe codes. She doubted that
she was guilty of some grave offence in standing under a palm-tree
beside a group of camellias with a person whom she had scarcely seen
before. She had neither the habits of the world nor the conventional
badinage which could have met his courtesy on its own ground and
replied to it in a few careless phrases. But it seemed to him that her
silence was golden, as golden as the gleams in her changeful hazel
eyes as the sun smote on them.

'If you would allow me to go,' she murmured, 'I have quite enough
flowers here. It is such a small church, and the orchids would be much
too rare----'

'If the orchids were made of rubies and pearls, what happier fate
could they ask than to fall from your hands on to the altars of the
Madonna?' said Othmar, as he broke off the blossoms of his camellias
with no sparing hand.

At that moment the head-gardener, alarmed and disturbed at the message
which he had received from his master, came in sight with a basket
hurriedly filled with some of the choicest treasures of his
forcing-houses.

Othmar took it from him:

'You did quite right,' he said in a low tone, 'to make my friends
welcome to the gardens in my absence, but another time, M. Duvelleroy,
make them welcome to the best; do not reserve it for the markets and
the florist shops of Nice.'

The man, guilty, and taken at a disadvantage, had no time to prepare a
lie; he grew red, and stammered, and was thankful for his master's
gesture of dismissal as Othmar turned from him impatiently and offered
the orchids to the girl.

'You are angry with him,' she said, anxiety conquering her timidity.

'Not so; I am grateful to him,' said Othmar. 'But I shall, perhaps, be
angry with my house-steward, whose duty it is to keep these rogues
clean-handed. If he had given you his best flowers I would have
pensioned him for life, but to limit you to taking what he did not
want to sell, was to disgrace S. Pharamond.'

'Indeed, he has been very kind all these three winters,' she murmured,
in infinite distress at the thought that she had inadvertently injured
the man in his master's opinion.

'He shall wear the order of St. Fiacre if you like, if there be such
an order to reward good gardeners,' said Othmar gaily, seeing her
genuine anxiety on the man's behalf. 'I may come and see your
decorations to-morrow. Shall I send you a load of flowers? That would
be better I think.'

She looked alarmed.

'Oh no; oh pray, do not!' she said with earnestness. 'You are very
kind to think of it, Monsieur, but it would frighten the curé, and we
should not know what to do with so many, the church is so very
small----'

She hesitated a moment, the colour in her cheeks grew warm as she
added:

'My cousin does not know that I come here. I do not mean that it is
any secret, but she might think it wrong, intrusive, impertinent----'

'She could think nothing of the sort,' said Othmar. 'They are three
words which no one could associate with Mdlle. de Valogne; I am
delighted my deserted house could be so honoured. Must you go? I shall
not easily forgive myself if I frighten you away. Let me come with you
to the gate at least.'

He walked beside her under the palms and on the shaven grass down an
aisle of clipped arbutus, carrying for her the camellias, white and
rose, which he had broken off their plants with no care for the
appearance of the group to which they belonged.

She was silent; she was subdued by an unwonted sense of wrong-doing;
she fancied that she had committed some terrible indiscretion; but how
was she to have known that he was there, when for three winters the
camellias had blossomed unseen in those silent evergreen ways, which
no step but a gardener's had ever disturbed, and where she had come to
watch the blackbirds trip over the fallen leaves, and the fountains
dance in the sunshine, and the tea-roses shower petals of cream and of
gold on the terraces, with no more thought or hesitation than she had
gone to the olive-yards of Nicole Sandros? Her confusion had nothing
of awkwardness. It was very graceful, almost stately, in its silence;
it was the grave innocence, the startled hesitation, of the young
nymph surprised in the sanctuary of the grove.

She accepted the orchids with a serious gratitude, which seemed to him
quite out of proportion to the slenderness of the gift; but when he
said as much she interrupted him:

'They are so beautiful,' she said earnestly. 'It seems cruel to have
plucked them. One fancies they will take wing like the butterflies.'

'You are very fond of flowers?'

'Oh yes--and people waste them so. At my cousin's ball last week there
were five thousand roses. I saw them in the morning; they were quite
dead.'

'Did you not see them at night?'

'At night, no; how could I? I am not in the world; I never shall be.
Sometimes they tell me to be an hour in the reception-rooms after
dinner; that is all; I do not care for it.'

'But do you not wish for the time of balls to come? Every young girl
does.'

'I try never to think about it,' she said simply. 'I know it will
never come for me.'

There was a resignation in her words which was more pathetic than any
regrets.

Then with the colour hot in her cheeks again, remembering that she was
speaking too much to a stranger, she opened the little gate in the
arbutus walk which led into the grounds of Millo. 'I thank you very
much,' she murmured. 'I assure you I will never come again.'

'And unless you come again, I assure you that you will tell me tacitly
that I have had the misfortune to displease you,' said Othmar, as he
held open the gate, and bowed low to her; he saw that it would be only
unkindness to detain her or to accompany her. She was as uneasy as a
bird which has flown by mistake into a conservatory.

'I will come to the church to-morrow,' he added. 'Do you not sing
there sometimes?'

'Now and then. There is no one else to sing. But my cousin does not
approve of it. She thinks there may be people over from Nice; but
there never are. There is no one but the peasants.'

'The Duchesse will not mind me,' said Othmar. 'Let us say _au
revoir_!'

He kissed her hand with a careless gallantry which made her colour
over her brow and throat, and let her leave him. She sped like a
frightened fawn over the turf and was soon lost to sight in the
bosquets of Millo.

Othmar strolled back to the house.

    'Au tombeau seul finit ma voie obscure,'

he repeated to himself as he looked after her; the pathos of her
destiny gave her a spirituality and a sanctity in his sight, and the
song of the blind child and its young singer for a few moments
disputed a place in his memory with the vision of Nadine Napraxine as
she had plucked the tea-roses on his terrace to let them fall.

'That young girl would not let a rose fade,' he thought, 'and her own
roses are to wither between convent walls! What arbitrary caprices has
Fate! If they would only let me give her a million----'

But they would not even have let him give her orchids and camellias
had they known it.



CHAPTER IX.


Othmar went into his house, but before taking his coffee sent for his
steward, and gave him a brief but severe reprimand for having
permitted Duvelleroy and his underlings to use the gardens as a
nursery-ground.

'The grounds may be sacked to please my friends,' he said, in
conclusion. 'But if a single carnation be sold for a single centime,
it is not the seller who will be dismissed, but yourself, who are paid
highly only that you may save your subordinates from those temptations
which kill honesty and should be no more left in the path of poor men
than poisoned mangolds in a sheep-field.'

The notion that his hothouses and gardens had furnished the
flower-sellers of Nice with materials for their myriads of bouquets,
irritated him disproportionately. He would have taken his oath that on
none of his estates did his people steal a farthing's worth. They were
all highly paid, and those set in authority over them were all men
who had been chosen and enriched by his father; he had often spoken of
their probity and affection with pride; and now they cheated him for
sake of selling a bouquet!

It was a mere trifle, no doubt. He would have cleared his gardens at a
stroke to please anyone he liked; and he would have given a poor man
willingly the value of all his forcing houses; but the knowledge that
his hirelings sold his mignonette and his heliotrope to profit
themselves irritated him, and even quite embittered life to him for
the moment. The most generous minds feel the most acutely betrayal in
small things, and resent most vividly the contemptible robberies which
take advantage of trust and opportunity. That the rich man is so
seldom honestly served goes further, perhaps, to redress the balance
between him and the poor man than the latter, in his ignorance, ever
supposes.

'After all,' he thought, 'perhaps I only feed rogues, like Napraxine.'
And the thought was painful to him, for he fed them well.

It was primarily his own fault for so seldom coming to the place;
perhaps it was natural that when years rolled on and they never saw
their master they should learn to consider his possessions as almost
their own. But he had so many places that he could not live in them
all. His fathers had bought them, so, out of respect to their
memories, he could not get rid of them. He had a great house on the
Boulevard St. Germain; another great house in Piccadilly; another in
the Teresian Platz of Vienna; he had estates in France, England,
Germany, and Austria, a Scotch moor, a Flemish forest, a château on
the shores of the Dalmatian Adriatic, a villa at Biarritz, a castle in
dense woods on the Moselle, and whole towns, villages, plains, and
hills in Croatia itself. How was he to live at all these places? He
lent them liberally, but he could hardly sell them; the head of the
house of Othmar could not sell what he had inherited. If he had sold
them he would only have had more millions with which he would not have
known what to do.

When he had drunk a cup of coffee and a glass of iced water, he went
for a long ride, mounting high up into the hills until the sea lay far
below, blue as a great bed of mysotis, and the gilded cupolas of La
Jacquemerille glittered in his sight far beneath the darkening slopes
of pine. When he returned to his one o'clock breakfast, he found that
his house was deserted no more. He was told that his uncle, the Baron
Friederich, had arrived by the _rapide_ from Paris. He was not greatly
pleased, but he prepared to do his duties as a host without betraying
his sense that the new comer was not precisely in harmony with a
romantic retreat amidst myrtles, camellias, and bromelias.

But he also foresaw a tedious day and evening, and he did not care to
have the keen blue eyes of his father's brother fixed on him at a
moment when he was sending telegrams in all directions and commanding
all kinds of novel diversions to amuse and receive the Princess
Napraxine.

'Have your travels tended to convince you that Europeans are wrong not
to let the tails of sheep fatten and appear at their tables?' said his
unbidden guest, coming out of the house as though they had parted the
previous night instead of twenty months before.

There was no figure better known in Paris than that of the Baron
Friederich Othmar, familiar to society all over Europe as Baron
Fritz; a tall and portly figure carried with the ease and vigour of
manhood, though age had whitened the hair, that was still abundant, on
the handsome head above. He never attempted to conceal his age: he
despised all _maquillage_, as all healthy and all clever men do; and
if his skin was as fair and his hands were as white and soft as a
duchess's, it was because nature had made them so, and a life
temperate in indulgence though entirely unscrupulous in morals had
preserved his health and his strength unimpaired save by occasional
twinges of the gout. With old Gaulois blood in him, Friederich Othmar
was a thorough Parisian in habit, taste, and manner; but he was a true
Slav in suppleness, sagacity, and profound secretiveness. Othmar
thought that there was not on the face of the earth another man with
such a hideous power of dissimulation as his uncle; whilst the elder
man, on the contrary, looked upon such dissimulation as the mere mark
which distinguishes the civilised being from the savage.
'Dissimulation lies at the root of all good manners,' he was wont to
say in moments of frankness. 'Your friend bores you infinitely; you
smile, and appear charmed! If you do not, you are a boor.
Dissimulation is the essence of Christianity; you are enjoined to turn
one cheek after another, and not to show that you smart. Dissimulation
is the only thing that makes society possible; without its amenities,
the world would be a bear-garden.'

On the Bourse 'Baron Fritz' was dreaded as the keenest-witted colossus
of finance in all Europe. His acumen was unerring; his mind was as
sensitive to the changes of the political atmosphere as an electric
wire to heat. He perceived long before anyone else the little cloud,
not so big as a man's hand, which was pregnant with storm whilst yet
the sky was clear; he heard long before anyone else the low tremor in
the bowels of the earth which prefaced the seismic convulsion, as yet
undreamed of by a sleeping world. Therefore, with supreme tact and
matchless instinct, he had made the House of Othmar the envy of all
its peers. 'What are statesmen without us?' said Friederich Othmar.
'They cannot move, they cannot strike, unless the financiers enable
them to do so; all their combinations crumble like a dropt bird's-nest
unless we are willing to sustain them. If Germany had had no money,
could she have crossed the Rhine? The finest army in the world is no
more than a child's set of metal soldiers if it be not _roulant sur
l'or_. The statesmen are thought to be the chief rulers and prime
motors of the fate of the world, but they can but act as we who are
behind them permit: they drag the coach; we drive it.'

'That I know,' answered Othmar. 'We have the most gigantic
responsibility united with the most utterly corrupt moral code. I
grant that we are, in a way, the Cæsars of the modern world, but we
are bestially selfish; we are hog-like in our repletion, as all Cæsars
become. No financier ever risked ruin for a noble impulse or for a
lost cause. If he did, he would seem mad to his guild, as Ulysses to
his companions.'

All the enjoyment and sense of power which Othmar contemptuously
rejected his uncle appreciated to the full; he was, in his own way, a
Wolsey, a Richelieu, a Bismarck. Nothing of much importance had been
done in Europe for the last forty years without Friederich Othmar
being beneath it, in more or less degree, for weal or woe. He had
those unerring instincts which amount in their own way to genius.

Endowed with one of those keen, logical, yet imaginative brains, which
are as necessary to the great financier as to the great statesman, he
had worked unweariedly all his life long for the sake and for the
glory of the house of Othmar; he was in no way of his nephew's
opinion; he considered that the world held nothing finer than the
fortunes which had been built up out of Marc Othmar's kreutzers till
it was solid as so many towers of bullion; he considered the position
of the capitalist who can refuse a king, sustain a nation, fructify
great enterprises, and constrain or restrain great wars, was not to be
exchanged with any other power under the sun. In finance he was
inexorable, unerring; full of the finest penetration, and the most
piercing acumen; stern as granite, piercing as steel; in private life
he was an amiable cynic, who cared for very little except the
reputation of his dinners and his collection of water-colours. Baron
Fritz was never really content out of his little hotel, which was as
cosy as a satin-lined bag, and where by stretching out a finger to
touch an ivory button he could put himself in communication with all
the centres of finance in Europe. Without moving from his velvet chair
or taking his foot from its gout-stool he could converse with his
brother capitalists at all quarters of the globe, and change the fate
of nations, and the surface of events in the course of a winter's
forenoon during a pause between two cigarettes. To be able to do so
seemed to him the very flower and perfection of life. It was to play
chess with the world for your board, and to say checkmate to living
and crowned kings.

Whenever he expatiated on that theme to his nephew, Othmar only
replied that he himself did not care for any games.

For the rest, his one great social amusement was whist; he could never
see why men forsook their clubs because hay was being mown and corn
reaped and grapes gathered. You bought forage, you ate bread--very
little of it--and you drank wine, but why, because those three things
were all in their embryo state every city in Europe should become
empty he had not patience to comprehend. No place was cooler,
shadier, quieter, than your club. The vast green silent country which
his nephew loved was to him an outer darkness; he detested _le
province_ with all the maliciousness against it of a born and bred
Parisian.

To see a breezy common on a six-inch square of David Cox, or a brook
purling amongst rushes by Bonnington, was to have as much of the
country as he cared to enjoy. The stones of Vienna, the asphalte of
Paris, were the only ground he cared to tread. He had educated his
cook into perfect excellence, and never travelled anywhere without him
and his battery of silver saucepans. 'Because you sleep in a strange
bed there is no reason why you should let yourself be poisoned by
strange dishes,' he invariably said.

On the whole he had led a happy and enviable life; he was a perfectly
selfish man, with one great unselfish loyalty set in the midst of his
egotism, like a vein of pure marble amongst a mass of sandstone. 'To
benefit the House Fritz would let himself be brayed in a mortar,' his
brother had often said of him; in private life, on the contrary, he
was entirely self-absorbed, as became a man who was one of the most
notable persons in Paris; he had never been known to lend a five-franc
piece, but he gave choice dinners three times a week, which cost
twenty napoleons for each guest.

Sometimes he thought with a pang of terror of what would become of the
House of Othmar when he himself should be no more. He was seventy
years old; he would be unable to live for ever; his arsenal of wires
contained no ivory button by which he could summon eternal life; he
had gout in his system, and he did not disguise from himself that any
day his cook, with the silver saucepans, his pretty aquarelles, his
gigantic operations, his intense love of life, might one and all be
powerless to keep him in his place, and then!--all the magnitude and
might of the House of Othmar would depend solely and entirely on one
capricious and unstable young man, who only cared for a Greek poet or
a German opera!

On these melancholy days when he remembered this, he voluntarily
deprived himself of his burgundy, and ate only of two dishes.

He was much attached to Othmar, but he was impatient of him. He was
annoyed by what he looked upon as his crotchets and caprices; he was
irritated by the unconcealed apathy and even scorn with which his
nephew regarded his own superb position in the world. The
dissatisfaction with which the origin of their House filled the head
of it, was to Baron Fritz almost incomprehensible and whimsical
squeamishness. If he revered anything in life, it was the tradition of
old Marc Othmar amassing his florins in the half-barbaric city of
Agram.

'For aught we know he was a Tchigan, a Romany,' his nephew had said to
him once; and he had replied angrily, 'And if he were a gipsy? Is
there blood more ancient? Is there a people freer? Is there an
intelligence more complex? What are the European races beside the
Oriental? But you know very well that he was a pure Croat,' he had
concluded, with intolerable impatience of such depreciation of the
founder of their greatness.

Although it had been the habit of his life to follow and study the
minds of men even in their more secret thoughts, he had no patience to
attempt to understand the caprices of his nephew's. It was, he
thought, that kind of ingratitude to fate which is almost an
insanity; the same sort of fractious wilfulness which made James of
Scotland love to wander disguised in his own towns, and sent Domitian
to a plot of cabbages.

To Baron Fritz the power and might of the House he belonged to had
ever been in the stead of any other religion, creed, or attachment; he
was not personally an ambitious or an avaricious man; he had effaced
himself for his brother's sake, as he still slaved for his brother's
son; the celebrity of the House of Othmar, their power, heavy as an
elephant's tread, subtle as an electric current, the magnitude of the
operations which they either undertook or impeded, the respect with
which Europe regarded them, the weight of their own smile or
frown,--all these things were the very breath of his life to him. He
had remained, and always willingly remained, a subordinate; he had
never resented the superiority of his elder brother in power and
position; all he had cared to do was to give his years to the service
and aggrandisement of his race; he would have been very astonished if
he had been told that it was in its way, after all, chiefly a form of
sentiment which actuated him.

Between himself and Othmar there was the affection of consanguinity,
but no sympathy whatever. To the elder man the younger seemed almost
blasphemously unworthy of his heritage: the generosities and the
scruples of such a _raffiné_ seemed to him the perverseness of a
child. Usually, Othmar willingly abandoned to him the guidance of
their great argosy, freighted with the gold of the world, but twice or
thrice since his majority he had interfered when he had considered a
loan immoral or an enterprise corrupt, and had made his veto, as head
of the house, obeyed forcibly. Those few times had been unpardonable
to the Baron who had not his eccentric and quixotic principles.

'Affairs are affairs,' he said. 'If you conduct them according to the
follies and phantasies of the Story of Arthur--adieu.'

'I would willingly say adieu--an eternal adieu,' had retorted Othmar.
'But you have told me repeatedly that I cannot withdraw my House from
business without causing ruin on the Bourses of Europe, and
dishonouring our name by annulling and repudiating our engagements.'

'Of course you cannot,' had said the Baron, to whom the mere idea
seemed like a preparation to blow up with dynamite all the mountains
of Europe and of Asia. 'Do you suppose you can efface such an
institution as our financial existence? You might as well say that a
sovereign, by dying, could will his country into non-existence.'

'Then as I cannot touch the engagements of the past, however much I
condemn them, I will at least keep pure the obligations of the
future,' Othmar had answered; and those transactions which his more
delicate sense of honour did not allow him to approve he refused to
permit to be undertaken.

Baron Fritz, who had the ordinary financier's conscience, that is, who
would have done nothing commercially dishonourable, but who cared not
a straw how iniquitous might be the results of an operation, so long
as it was legal, clever, and lucrative, was beyond measure irritated
by this occasional interference of one who was too fine a gentleman,
too indolent a dreamer, to bear any of the frets and burden of
habitual attention to their gigantic operations. But there was no help
for it; Otho Othmar was the head of the House, and, what was a
greater grief still to his uncle, the only living one of the name
besides himself. They, who could have given fortunes and position to a
score of younger branches, who could have had their sons and brothers
objects of power and worship in all the capitals of Europe, had been
so visited by death and destiny that of them all there only remained
the young man who was Othmar to all the world, and the old one who was
Baron Fritz to his intimate associates, and Baron Friederich to all
the Bourses.

'You should marry, Otho,' said the Baron to him now.

'I have no inclination to do so,' he answered, and thought of Nadine
Napraxine.

'Inclination!' exclaimed the other irritably. 'What has inclination to
do with it? Is inclination considered or waited for in the marriages
of princes? You are a prince in your own way. If you died to-morrow,
your race would be extinct.'

'That would not much matter,' said Othmar. 'We have never been
conspicuous for anything except for amassing gold, as a ship's keel
collects barnacles. I suppose I had better make a will. You shall have
everything for your lifetime, and then it shall all go to the French
Republic, which is the only national institution I know of that is
capable of muddling away two hundred milliards in a year, with nothing
whatever to show for it afterwards.'

Baron Fritz made a gesture of irritated contempt.

'You ought to have had legitimate heirs ten years ago. You do not
belong to yourself. You have no right to live and die without raising
up posterity.'

'I do not see the obligation,' said Othmar, 'and I do not care enough
about the name, which you think so very fine, to greatly grieve over
its probable extinction.'

Baron Fritz had heard this often, but he never heard it freshly
without an inward shudder, such as a religious man feels before a
blasphemy. Othmar, merely as a man, seemed to him a fanciful dreamer,
an unsatisfactory anomaly, an unphilosophic thinker, whose theories
were always playing the deuce with his interest, and whose sympathies
ran away with him like half-broken horses. But Othmar, as the chief
of his House, could do no wrong, and had to be obeyed, even if he
rushed on his own destruction.

'You should marry for sake of posterity,' he reiterated. 'You are so
happily and exceptionally situated that you can choose wherever you
please. No living woman would refuse you. You should seek physical
charms for sake of your offspring and high lineage also; the rest is a
mere matter of taste.'

'The rest is only a trifle! Only character, mind, and feeling--the
three things which determine happiness and influence life more than
anything else.'

Baron Fritz made a little gesture of indifference: 'I imagine anyone
_bien élevé_ would not err in any of these points. Happiness one
usually finds with the wives of others. Not that I would discourage
you if you be inclined----'

'I am not inclined,' said Othmar, brusquely. 'I only say that
character is never considered by men and women when they marry; yet it
is what makes or mars a life. When a marriage is announced, what is
discussed? The respective fortunes of those concerned, then their
good looks or their lack of them; perhaps someone adds that he is _bon
garçon_, or someone says _sa taille est jolie_, or, on the other hand,
they may say he is a fool, or she has ugly feet; but you never hear a
word as to their characters, their sympathies, or their principles. It
is why all marriages are at best but a compromise between two
ill-assorted dispositions.'

'Make yours well-assorted,' said Baron Fritz. 'If you attach so much
to character, let character be your study; myself, I have always
considered that marriage is a means of continuing a race, so that it
legally can continue to transmit property; I have never known why
people imported fine sentiments into a legal transaction. It is taking
a false view of a social duty to look for personal pleasure out of it;
indeed, if a man be in love with his wife he will probably communicate
his passion to her, which is undesirable, because it awakens her
senses, and ultimately leads to her taking a lover, or lovers, which
again introduces uncertainty into the legal enjoyment and transmission
of property.'

Othmar smiled: 'Really, Baron, you are the most profoundly immoral
man I ever met. You would always, too, subordinate humanity to
property. All human actions should, according to you, only tend to the
consolidation and concentration of fortune; now, there is no possible
theory of human action more demoralising.'

'That is a matter of opinion,' said the Baron. 'But unless your
forefathers had carried that theory into practice, you would now be
taming wild horses in Croatia, or probably you--Otho Othmar in your
entity as you are--would not exist at all, for certainly your father
would not have wedded with an English aristocrat.'

'It is a humiliating reflection,' said Othmar, 'that one's existence
depended on the accidental union of two persons; indeed, I decline to
believe it. I am convinced that the real _ego_, the impersonal entity
which has been called the soul for want of knowing what to call it,
must have had its own independent existence; the envelope it is
slipped into is the accident; let us think so at all events. It is
more consoling than your notion that the entire life of A. depended on
the chance of B. cohabiting with C.; and that if B. had wedded D.
instead, A. would never have existed at all, but another and totally
different being would have done so--say Z.'

The Baron shrugged his shoulders. Why, he wondered, why on earth
should a man care about a pre-existence, or a spiritual existence, at
all, who had everything that his heart could desire in his terrestrial
life? He could imagine that starving poets or hungry theologians
comforted themselves with those fancies, but Othmar!----

'You should have been a Montalembert or a Lamennais,' he answered,
which was a polite way of saying that he was an imbecile.

'Without being either the one or the other, one may carry into public
life the same sort of honour which even you think incumbent on one in
public life,' said Othmar.

'Not at all,' said his relative. 'The code for one has never been the
code for the other. A man in private life may not send another man to
be slain because it suits his purpose; a man in public life, that is,
as a war minister or as an officer commanding-in-chief may send ten
thousand, fifty thousand, men to certain slaughter. So has a
diplomatist every title to lie as much as he may need to do in the
public service, but he has no right to deceive his personal friend in
a private matter. This is not mere casuistry; it is common-sense.
Indeed, all effective casuistry is based on common-sense.'

'The most dangerous casuistry is so, no doubt,' said Othmar. 'Because
when it is so based it is irresistible in its appeal to egotism.'

'I do not know why you use the word dangerous,' replied the Baron.
'Nothing is so wholesome as to teach men to take care of their own
interests. If that lesson were universally understood, there would be
neither paupers or criminals.'

'We should have a world of bankers,' said Othmar. 'With all deference
to you, even that would not be a Millennium.'

The Baron assented with good humour that it would certainly not be
one, since there would be no investments of any kind possible.

The day was tedious to Othmar. He had to examine many projects, and
append his signature to many documents. He had not disappeared into
Central Asia for eighteen months without having brought upon himself
the penalty of many arrears of affairs. His assent was merely _pro
formâ_, but the formula was necessary.

'He is in love still with Madame Napraxine,' thought his uncle,
finding his attention hard to fix. He was not sorry for that. At
Othmar's age he was sure to be in love with someone, and the more he
was in love the less likely was he to meddle with the transactions of
the House.

The Baron could be excessively amusing, and was so this day of his
arrival at S. Pharamond; but Othmar would gladly have been free of his
presence. He knew that the old man would see at a glance, if he and
Nadine Napraxine met before him, that time had not cured him of
passion; and the malice and the contempt of his uncle were both
disagreeable to him. Moreover, Othmar had been too perpetually agreed
with all his life to be pleased by the constant enunciation of
opinions and sentiments the reverse of his own. There was that in the
tranquil cynicism of Baron Friederich which left him with a sense of
moral nausea. Men, it is true, were not worth much; but he could
never get accustomed to the calm manner in which his uncle was
habitually ready to sacrifice all their interests--their bodies, too,
had there been any question of them--to what he considered
advantageous to himself and to his house in public life and finance.

He did not care for the new Russian loan, for the new Turkish loan,
for the great naval dockyards to be made by Germany on the Baltic, for
the railway that was to be driven along the ancient bed of the Oxus,
nor for the necessities of the empire of Brazil, nor for the
development of Canadian forests. It did not interest him that such and
such a sovereign would be a cripple without his help, or such and such
a country as virtually in pawn to him as though it had been a pledged
estate; that the assistance of his gold could enable a Ministry to
keep its tenure of office, or the refusal of it could precipitate a
State into revolution; to Baron Fritz it was like holding the reins of
the universe, but to Othmar himself it was excessively dull work. The
heir of four generations of money-lenders, he was absolutely
indifferent to the immense power which lay in the stroke of his pen;
the genius of finance was inherited by him, though dormant in him;
even his uncle did justice to the accuracy of his vision, to the
certainty of his instinct; but it was genius unused; he had no taste
to employ its capacities. Europe was as indifferent to him as a mound
of clay.

'We only do mischief, unmitigated mischief,' he asserted very often.
'Look at the Canal of Suez; it has only bred wars and pretexts for
wars, and will probably embroil England and France for the next
century,--until indeed India shall have become Russian, or the African
negro have avenged Abd-el-Kadir. Then again take the Panama project:
it will set Great Britain and the United States at each other's
throats like two bull-dogs.'

'You are enough to make your father rise from his grave,' said Baron
Fritz.

'It is only aristocrats who do that,' returned Othmar. 'The financier
sleeps sound on the remembrance of his own virtues--and loans.'

The memory of his father was bitter to him; he could not forget the
injury done to him in his earliest youth by subjecting him to the
charms and the corruptions of Sara Vernon.

'You must marry, and then you will see things differently,' his uncle
insisted, reverting to the simplicity of reiteration.

What a cruel thing was destiny! Thousands of men who had not a crust
of bread begat legitimate offsprings in the most reckless and profuse
manner; and the one man for whom lawful heirs were an absolute
necessity and duty obstinately neglected his obligations to family and
to the world.

It was possible, even probable, that the last of the Othmars would
remain the last of his race.

'Marry for me,' said Othmar. 'I will give all we possess to any
cousins you may give me, and keep only enough myself to live peaceably
in Arabia Felix. I have always wished to live there; the climate is
divine; and, after all, there is nothing that is of so much
consequence as climate.'

'You will always jest!'

'Most people say I am too serious. I am not jesting at all. We have
all a sort of superstition that we must live in Europe, but it is
only a superstition. There is a great deal finer weather elsewhere,
and without fine weather life is intolerable.'

'Have you never seen a woman you would marry?' asked Baron Fritz.

'Perhaps I have,' said Othmar, who never lied. 'But never one I could
marry.'

'Ah!--someone else's wife! That is just like you. If she were not
unattainable she would have no more attraction than anyone else. You
are so whimsical.'

'I hope not. I dislike whimsical people. They are always asking for
the windows to be shut, or imagining that there is a drainpipe open.
Oh, some day I may marry. I do not pledge my future. But I have no
inclination to marriage, and you will confess that you preach what you
do not practise.'

'I am seventy-one and you are thirty-two,' said Baron Fritz; 'I should
have married fifty years ago if I had been as you are, the head of the
House.'

'Curse the House!' said Othmar, though he was a man who never used any
oaths, great or small. But it seemed to him that the House of Othmar
was for ever on his shoulders like Sindbad's burden; that he could do
nothing freely as other men did; that go where he would he could never
wholly escape from the mephitic acid which adulation and importunity
exhale, and could never gain that simplicity of existence which,
precisely because it was denied to him, seemed to him the chief good
on earth.

'You speak as if the Othmars had been Plantagenets or Comneni!' he
continued. 'It is not quite two centuries ago that the world did not
even know that a Croat horse-dealer bore that name! The last time I
was at Agram, I looked into the archives of the city; nobody ever did
so; they were crabbed and hard to decipher; but I passed a day over
them when it was raining and blowing so hard that there was not a soul
abroad in the streets except the sentries. In the municipal documents
for the year 1730 I found an account of a famine which had been the
result of floods such as we have seen in our own day, for science,
after all, makes little way against natural catastrophes. It was
during this famine, when every grain of wheat was worth treble its
weight in gold, that your hero Marc Othmar made his first great
_coup_. He had amassed money before, but this was the grand
conception which first largely enriched him. He had bought enormously
in corn, foreseeing a wet season and bad harvests. He had more than he
had hoped for--he had the whole country under water. He had almost a
monopoly of grain. In those days government aid could not come by
steam, and besides, Croatia had just then no government. In these
records it is stated that upwards of forty-five thousand persons,
chiefly women and children, died of starvation; and all the while they
were dying Marc Othmar shut up his grain and only sold it sack by
sack, at an average rate of a death a bushel. You find that admirable;
I do not. I confess, ever since I put these facts together out of the
fragments of public history, it has seemed to me as if there were an
earthy smell about all our money; you know the lungs of people who die
starved always do smell like decaying mould. It is pure fancy--I am
quite aware of that. But even, putting fancy out of the question, I do
not see anything heroic about the figure of our founder. He is not
Hugh Lupus or Godfrey de Bouillon.'

Baron Fritz's patience had scarcely endured the strain upon it.

'I never heard the story. I believe you have invented it,' he said
irritably. 'If it be true, we have no explanation, so we cannot form a
correct judgment. At the most, accepting it as you relate it, no more
was done then by Marc Othmar than every farmer or peasant proprietor
in Europe and America does whenever he gets a chance. Not so much as
was done by Ferdinand de Lesseps when he sacrificed the fellahs to
make his Egyptian Canal. You cannot conduct any trade on abstract
principles or æsthetic moralities. You must buy cheap and sell dear,
or commerce falls to the ground, and the whole superstructure of
society falls with it. As the lawyer cannot refuse to conduct a case
because he disapproves of the morality of it, so a financier cannot
let pass a favourable operation because he may not approve entirely of
its scope; all he has to examine are its wisdom and utility. When once
you enter the region of motives and of principles, all is confusion.
No two men have the same views as to what is right; you must proceed
on broader lines than those of fanciful ethics. For instance, nothing
is more clearly immoral than the marriage of two diseased persons, but
the priest or the mayor who should refuse to perform the ceremonies
demanded of him because he conceived that the bodily health of the
people came before him was unsatisfactory would be clearly overpassing
the boundaries of his functions, which are limited to the
consideration of simply legal obstacles. So, a man of business who
once concerns himself with the vague moralities of his speculations is
lost; all he has to occupy himself with is their solvency, their
legality, and their probabilities of success or failure. Marc Othmar,
no doubt, regarded his investments in corn in that purely practical
light.'

'For a very clever man as you are,' returned Othmar, 'you are
curiously unconscious of what a satire your theories are on all that
you most admire. I am as entirely convinced as you can be that Marc
Othmar never gave a thought to the twenty-five thousand people who
starved to death while his corn was shut up in granaries and barges;
all the difference between us is, that you think this singleness of
eye for his own interest was heroic, and I think it was not so,--that
it was even as near true hellish wickedness as humanity can go.'

'There is neither wickedness nor virtue in questions of finance,' said
Baron Friederich, with distress at his nephew's obtuseness.

'There is certainly no virtue,' said Othmar.

'Neither wickedness nor virtue,' repeated the Baron. 'They are pure
abstractions, like political economy. To talk of the immorality of a
speculation is like talking of the vices of a rock-crystal. There is
only one sin in a financial operation; it sins if it be unsound.'

'Financial morality,' then said Othmar, 'has at least this advantage
over social morality, that it is very much simplified!'

'It is simple as your stable's doctrines,' replied the Baron. 'If a
horse be sound, he is a good horse; if he be not sound, he is a screw;
nothing can be simpler. And the moment that a man begins to confuse
himself with asking any more complex questions than this one, "Is it
sound?"--whether he engage in a great operation of finance, or whether
he be only buying a roadster, he will be inevitably bewildered with
his own multiform requirements and will fall into the hands of mere
persuasive sharpers.'

'I can buy a horse,' said Othmar, 'but I will leave finance to you.'

'Not always,' said Baron Fritz, grimly, with vivid recollections of
more than one occasion on which his nephew had interfered with a
peremptory veto to prevent some contemplated operation of which the
morality was more doubtful than the expediency. The occasions had been
rare indeed; but they had left an ineffaceable soreness on the mind of
the elder man; nay, he would scarcely have forgiven them had it not
been that his devotion to Otho as to the head of the House had
something of the irrational and patient loyalty which the Russian
nation renders blindly to its unseen Tzar.

As for Othmar himself, he was too impatient of his uncle's laxity of
principle and conscience to do full justice to the fine qualities
which accompanied these.

Those huge stone palaces whose portals bore the magic name of Othmar
were sacred to Baron Fritz as his temples to a Greek. His nephew never
passed through the great doors of any one of them without a sense of
impatience, of distaste, without a remembrance of the twenty-five
thousand people who had died of hunger in Croatia whilst Marc Othmar
was building up his piles of ducats and florins. The very homage with
which he was himself met within their walls irritated him. He thought
of all the debasing worship the earth has seen the worship of riches
was the most corrupt. 'If I were a leper they would kiss my ulcers so
long as my hand could sign a cheque,' he thought. After all, when Marc
Othmar had used up human lives in the furnace of his speculations he
had used up material which was but of little worth.

Yet despite the disdain which human nature cannot do otherwise than
awaken in those who are the objects of its adulation if they keep
their senses clear amidst the incense fumes, his heart was empty.

'You have people here to-night?' asked the Baron, a little later, his
vigilant eyes perceiving the preparations which were being made in the
little theatre attached to the château.

'To-morrow night,' answered Othmar. 'A small dinner; I hope you will
remain for it. And as Talazac, Sembrich, and other good singers are
at Nice _disponibles_, we shall have some music afterwards and a few
people; for that you will not care.'

'The Napraxines are here?' enquired his uncle, with a little smile.

Othmar was annoyed to feel that he changed colour despite himself, as
he answered in the affirmative.

'Have you seen her?' said Friederich Othmar, carelessly. 'How do you
find her? _Maladive_ as usual?'

'There is no woman living less _maladive_,' said Othmar, with some
irritation. 'She is glad to make the care of her health a pretext when
she is disinclined for the world; that is all.'

'Ah, indeed?' said the elder man. 'All great rulers are allowed to be
ill at their own convenience. Will she be ill or well to-morrow
night?'

'Time will show,' replied Othmar, in a tone which closed the subject.



CHAPTER X.


It was a tiny church which bore the name of S. Cecilia at S.
Pharamond, and was perched on an olive-covered knoll, with the rolling
woods of the château d'Othmar at its base and the gardens of Millo on
its right. Nicole Sandroz and a few other families of the _petite
culture_ gathered there on Sundays and holy days; but the great people
of Millo, with their household, had their own private chapel, and the
friends to whom Othmar had lent his house had never troubled
themselves to find their way to the little whitewashed, wind-blown
sanctuary and the lowly presbytery that leaned up against its south
wall.

Othmar himself, who had a score of ecclesiastics in a score of places
looking to him for support, had hardly known that this little church
and its old purblind peasant-born curé were upon the confines of his
estate. He had paid every year a large sum for the maintenance of S.
Pharamond, as for that of each of his houses and estates, but he had
never examined the details of the expenditure. The advantage of an
immense fortune is that you can leave all such matters to your
secretaries. He paid them more heed than many would have done because
of the views he entertained on the duties of saving other people from
temptation; but S. Pharamond, with all its luxuries, elegancies,
gardens, carriages, and conservatories, was only to him as a mere
cottage, a mere toy. He had, indeed, almost forgotten that he had
owned it, until, beating up the Bay of Genoa in a storm-tossed and
almost disabled vessel, he had suddenly remembered that somewhere on
this coast which slid away in the dusk to the westward he had a
harbour and a quay all his own if he chose to go thither.

The little church was ugly, poor, and had been built since the
Revolution; all that redeemed it was a great climbing rose which
covered the whole of its front, and was even flinging audacious
branches upwards to the cross upon the roof. In summer the rose made
the little plain square place a glory of pink bloom. Inside, there
were a few deal benches, a few bad prints, a humble little altar, and
some pewter candlesticks; the presbytery was equally as bare.

The old vicar lived with one servant as old as himself; he toddled out
amongst the farms, and was scouted and scowled at by some of the
peasants, petted and welcomed by others. He did no harm, and was quite
happy if one of his parishioners gave him a basket of figs or a dish
of seakale; he could almost have counted his flock on his fingers. The
men about there were very radical and hard-headed; they were all small
proprietors, who cursed Millo and S. Pharamond all the year round,
though neither the villa nor the château did them the slightest harm.
On the contrary, the stewards of both the Duc de Vannes and Othmar had
orders to give away any rare seeds, aid in any irrigation-works, or
contribute to any need that there might be in the neighbourhood. But
the Duc was a duke and peer of France, and Othmar was an
archimillionaire; the _petite culture_ hated the sight of their gilded
bronze gates and their glittering high-pitched roofs.

'It is for you that we pay taxes!' snarled one of them once to the
Duc de Vannes, who laughed and answered:

'Oh, my friend, if we compared notes I think you would find that it is
I who pay them for you and yours. I have not the slightest objection
to do so, only do not let us misrepresent matters.'

But they did not want logic, and they hated the steep shining roofs
and the gates with the gilded scroll work. What they did not hate was
Yseulte de Valogne; all countess though she was, they pardoned her
that defect because she had always remained for them _la pétiote de
Nicole_. They understood that she was to be sacrificed to the pride of
her relatives; that because she was poor, so poor, she was to be
refused all the joys of her youth and her sex and surrendered to the
Church that she might not offend the grandeur of her family by making
a portionless marriage. This, which they had learned, with many
exaggerations of its enormity from Nicole and from the servants of
Millo, gave her the halo of a martyr in their eyes; she was sacrificed
to the _noblesse_, and that fact was enough to make her sacred to them
even though she belonged to the detested order herself, and had not a
little of its hauteur. Besides, her tenderness to their old people,
the little gifts she made at the convent and brought to their little
ones and their women, her intrepidity in cases of sickness in those
winters when she was alone at Millo--a mere child, but with the
courage of giants, as Nicole loved to tell--all these, joined to her
personal elegance, which made her as unlike themselves as the orchids
in Othmar hothouses were unlike the sweet peas and the lavender
growing under their peach trees, had combined to make of the last
Comtesse de Valogne the idol of _petite culture_ which, with few
exceptions, loathed and execrated the brilliant idlers who rode and
drove out of the gates of Millo, and carried their light laughter,
their painted fans, their blazing jewels, their grace and their
luxuries, out on to the illuminated terraces, under the palms and the
araucarias, amidst the lamps and the music, regardless of the people
in the distant huts and houses on the surrounding hills who, rising to
their work, as they went to their beds, swore savagely against them
with all the unchanged rancorous class-hatred of the Terror still
alive in them and unsatisfied.

'But, Nicole,' the girl said often to her foster-mother, 'if there
were no rich people, no great people, who would buy your _primeurs_,
your December peas, your January asparagus?'

'We should eat them ourselves,' said Nicole, sternly.

'You might do that now; but I do not think that eating them would pay
you for all they cost you,' said Yseulte, not very sure of her ground,
and therefore timid in treading it.

'We should not grow them; there would be no need to grow them,' said
Nicole, obstinately. 'Everybody would have his cabbage in his pot if
there were not those pestilent aristocrats and rich folks.'

'But you might plant cabbages now,' insisted her _pétiote_. 'Why
should you not plant cabbages everywhere now if you like? Only you
always say it is only the _primeurs_ that pay well.'

'Oh, _ma mie_, you belong to them, so you defend them!' grumbled her
foster-mother, finding the argument go against her. 'And what are they
going to do with you? Cut off all your beautiful hair, and cram you
between four stone walls all your life, because it suits their pride
to get rid of you!'

'One cannot live better than in God's service,' said Yseulte, with a
passing blush.

'Oh, yes, one can,' muttered Nicole, 'when one is sixteen years old
and has a face like yours; one could have a gallant lover, and a loyal
lord, a home of one's own, and children one after another at one's
breast.'

A colour like that of the red winter roses which she was binding up
for the Nice markets came into the girl's cheeks.

'I am quite happy to dedicate my life to our Mother and her poor,' she
said, in that tone which always awed and silenced Nicole. 'All that I
fear is, not to be worthy. There have been holy women of my race. I
may never content them as they watch me from their places at God's
right hand.'

The coarse blunt fashion of speech of her foster-mother, and the crude
class-hatreds and political animosities which Nicole had imbibed from
her husband often pained and offended the delicacy and the pride of
the girl; but the rough woman loved her, was almost the only creature
that did love her, save some of the younger children in the convent;
and Yseulte bore with her faults with that indulgent affection which
is not blind, but patient and ever forgiving.

She spoke in simplicity and sincerity; she had been so drilled to
behold her only future in the religious life, that she prayed night
and day to be worthy of such election; and if a thrill of longing for
unknown freedom, for unimaginable joys, sometimes came over her she
loyally stifled it ere it could grow to any strength. From her
babyhood she had been taught to consider herself consecrated to the
Church, and that knowledge had always kept her a little apart from
others, made her more serious, more sensitive, more meditative, than
her age usually is.

'And, to be sure, if there be any up there who do know, it is a crying
shame that they do not interfere,' muttered her foster-mother, only
half abashed. But Yseulte did not hear her; she had let the roses lie
on her lap, her hands were motionless, her eyes were looking far away,
farther than the snow which crowned the distant mountains; she was
thinking of that saint by whom her childhood had been sheltered;
could it indeed be that so great a love as her grandmother's had been
had perished utterly, had gone whither it knew nothing, saw nothing,
had no power to warn or save? If it were so, she was alone indeed.
But----

'Nay, do not think of them,' said Nicole, roughly; 'what is dead is
dead, my sweet; be it a pig or be it a princess, when the life is out
the sense is out with it; it rots, but it does not wake.'

'Hush!' said the girl, with a little frown and a sense of pain, as if
she had heard some foul irreverence. The dead were all she had to care
for; half her young life was passed in thinking of them, in praying
for them, in wondering if they approved that which she did. 'Christ
will give you your dower,' her grandmother had said often to her, a
little seven-year-old child, who had vaguely understood that her
future was pledged to heaven; and that she must never be fractious, or
noisy, or sullen, or give way to appetite or mischief as other
children did who were less honoured. It had made her neither affected
nor hypocritical; only pathetically doubtful of herself and capable of
repressing her naturally buoyant spirits with an incredible patience
which was almost heroism, but went always unrewarded.

Faïel was a part of the old world of Bretagne, where the land is green
and deeply wooded, and the days are misty and soft and still; it lies
inland, and has no sight of the sea; it is traversed by narrow roads
sunk down low between moss-grown walls of verdure; it seems all
covered up with moss and ferns and boughs; there is always moisture in
the air and there are almost always clouds in the sky, but it is a
sweet, tender, if mournful country, and in the late-arriving spring
becomes a very bower of flowers.

In the heart of this green country the ancient village of Faïel held
the equally ancient convent of the Holy Ladies of St. Anne, with its
long grey stone walls, its steep shining metal roofs, and its high
belfry with its cross of gilded brass towering above the low quaint
cottages which crept humbly up beneath it many centuries ago. The
foundation owed its origin to Anne of Bretagne herself, and year after
year, century after century, undisturbed by wars or revolutions, and
unreached by any change of thought or manners the pious ladies of
Faïel, in their habits of black and white, had reared the young
daughters of the Breton nobility and gentry in the ways of God and in
such secular learning as seemed not too profane. The community was
severe in its rules and austerely simple in all its customs; but the
children were happy if not gay; the green, leafy, silent country was
between them and the world, the sisters were kind and gentle, the
young girls murmured together, joyously, unreproved, like young
swallows chirping under the eaves in midsummer. This holy house in
pious Morbihan was wholly unlike those fashionable convents of Paris,
and near it, where all the pomps and vanities of the world find their
way, and its jealousies and its rivalries fret and fume in miniature
mimicry. The Dames de Ste. Anne had all the primitive faiths, the
unblemished loyalties, the devout beliefs in tradition of the Middle
Ages; they taught the history of France from religious instead of
secular records, and the history of the saints from the Golden Legend;
they worked silver lilies on white banners, and in their chapel every
day a Mass was said for Henri Cinq. Their little maidens became under
their hands simple, earnest, grave, and most innocent and truthful
creatures, ignorant, no doubt, in many things, but possessing a
perfect courage and a beautiful candour; such maidens as in the old
days, from the Combât des Trente to Quiberon, had become the wives and
mothers of the Breton seigneurie, and had, if need were, defended a
castle and headed a sally of men-at-arms in the holy cause of their
duke or of their king; women like the arum lilies that covered the
damp green earth in their native woods; women whose eyes look at us
still, serious and serene, from the gold blazonries of illuminated
missals, where their miniatures have been painted beneath their
scutcheons and their crowns.

Of these children, when they had passed from the gates of Faïel for
the last time, some went to pass all their years in the small secluded
châteaux or the dull stone-built towns of the seashore or the
interior; some, finding a wider flight, a bolder fate, went into the
life of the world and lived that life. But wherever they went,
whatever they became, none of them ever wholly forgot Faïel; all of
them when they bore children said, as they looked on their little
daughters, 'They shall go to the Dames de Ste. Anne;' so that
generation after generation came to the great Gothic gateway, and
passed within and dwelt there for eight or ten peaceful years; and the
sisters, though death made changes amidst them, yet seemed always the
same.

Yseulte, who was a fanciful child like most of those who have a lonely
childhood, used to believe that they were like that woman of the time
of Clovis who learned the secret of eternal life from listening to the
singing of the forest birds.

She used to look through the grating down the deep green shade of the
woods without, and think, 'That is why they live so long, why they are
always content.'

One day an old peasant, who was called a witch in Faïel, saw her
looking so and heard her say something of her thoughts to her
companion, and the old crone shook her head wisely, 'Do not wish to
live long; wish to live so that you have all heaven in one hour; it is
not the birds, nor is it the woods, nor is it the saints, that will
give you that.'

'What does she mean?' said Yseulte.

'In the village they say she has been a wicked woman,' said the girl
who was beside her.

Yseulte pondered often on the mysterious words, but she could never
understand them.

At Faïel her days and years went by without any sorrow, if without any
pleasure save such as youth and perfect health and willingness to
accomplish all allotted tasks can bring with them. She always wore
grey or black or white; no colours were ever seen, no ornaments were
ever allowed within the sacred walls. She was regarded as certain to
enter the religious life. '_Tu seras des nôtres_,' said the nuns so
often to her that before she was ten years old she had grown so imbued
with the idea that she had never dreamed of resisting such a
destination. Her life was so entirely simple, in a way so barren, that
the spiritual world assumed a proportion in it which would have been
morbid had not the high courage and bodily healthfulness of her
resisted the gloom which those who had to do with her deemed most
fitting to the loneliness of her lot. She came of a race of gay
nobles, of reckless soldiers, of high-handed seigneurs, and some
instincts of their courage, of their temper, of their imprudence,
stirred in her now and then beneath the calm of cloistral habit and
the spirituality of her natural temperament.

'Do you think the daughter of Gui de Valogne will ever be a saint?'
the Duc de Vannes often said to his wife. He thought that blood would
out even beneath the coif of a Carmelite. His wife replied that the
Valogne had always kept their women pure, if at the sword's point, and
that amongst them there had been more than one canonised; besides, she
added, Yseulte was a child both grave and good; she would never know
the world or its temptations; she would live and die as a lily did in
a convent garden.

The Duc shrugged his shoulders:

'She has her father's blood in her,' he said, 'and he would have
suited no cloister but Roissy or Medmenham.'

He believed in very few things, but his one belief was his conviction
that the bias of a race goes with it as do its diseases or its
excellences. Most racing men are implicit believers in hereditary
influence, and the Duc, who had bred winners at Chantilly and at
Ascot, did not credit that the daughter of Gui de Valogne would
contentedly become a Ste. Catherine or a Soeur Rose.

'Of course you may shut her perforce in a religious house; so might
you shut her in a coffin. To be sure, the one murder is legal and the
other would not be so,' he said, with some ill-humour, the night after
Othmar noticed his young cousin with her long black gloves, her
stately curtsy, her sash _à l'enfant_, and her beautiful figure, which
had the slimness of a child and the promise of a goddess.

'I believe you are almost in love with her yourself,' said the
Duchess.

'I wonder no one else is wholly,' he answered, with petulance; and he
wrote to his jeweller in the Rue de la Paix for a locket, a girl's
locket; something with pearls. He thought even a Mother Superior could
hardly object to pearls.

Yseulte, all unconscious of the perilous honour projected for her by
her cousin's lord, passed the whole day up at the little church,
arranging the flowers which Othmar had given her in the morning, and
others which his men, by his orders, had brought thither in the
forenoon. She was happier than she had been since her grandmother had
died. A warm human interest had come suddenly into the monotony and
solitude of her existence. She worked at the decoration of the little
place with ardour and delight. She had never before possessed such
flowers as these; the woods had yielded all those which had ever
decked the altar of the chapel at Faïel. She had only seen such
gorgeous blossoms as these in the glass-house at Millo, where she
would no more have dreamed of gathering them than of wearing her
cousin's diamonds.

'He shall see how beautiful it looks to-morrow,' she thought with each
blossom that she added, each leaf she touched. That he would come she
never doubted; a promise, ever such a little one, was so sacred to
herself that for any pledge to be forgotten would have seemed to her
quite impossible.

The old vicar came and went, the sacristan and the housekeeper stood
and chattered and told her for the hundredth time all their household
troubles; the gay sunshine streamed in past the open door and through
the dulled grey glass of the small windows, a goat trotted up the
aisle and nibbled at the bay boughs which she had tied together. The
morning passed like a pleasant dream; it seemed not December to her
but May. She was but a child, and for once the weight of her future
fell off her young shoulders. She laughed,--softly, because she sat on
the altar steps,--but she laughed. 'God is so good,' she thought, in
the simple sincerity of her glad gratitude.

'You will let me sing, my reverend, at all the offices?' she said to
the old man when she had finished her welcome labours and stood with
him within the stone porch whilst the sun was setting.

'Surely, my child,' he said willingly. 'It does me good to hear your
voice, and I think it must even be pleasant to the angels too.'

She went happily along the uneven little path which led down the hill
under great olive trees and warm evening sunset skies to Millo. Her
feet went so rapidly that the maid whose duty it was to attend her out
of doors could ill keep pace with her. Her heart was so light; she had
the vision of the beautiful flowers always before her eyes, of the
altar which she had made like a garden. It mattered nothing to her
that when she entered the house she was met by a reprimand, that she
found her simple supper cold, that her little cousins were malicious,
quarrelsome, unkind; all those were trifles. She bore them with
perfect patience, and with never a word of harsh reply; and she went
to her bed and slept soundly, dreaming of roses and lilies, and S.
Cecilia, and of a world of angels who leaned on the sunbeams as on
golden spears, and looked down on her and smiled.

She was up long before the first gleam of coming day lightened the
eastward seas. No one ever forbade her going to the church as often as
she chose; they deemed it in unison with her future vocation. She had
attached herself to this rude, lonely, little place in the winters
which she had passed there under the charge of Nicole Sandroz. Her
cousin had said once that it would be better if she attended instead
the offices of the house chapel, but she had not insisted, and the
child, who had a certain obstinacy in her affections, had persevered
in her loyalty to the parish church under its silvery mist of olives.

This morning her foster-mother was in waiting to accompany her. The
cold was keen in the greyness of the dawn; the sun, which at noon
would vivify the winter landscape to summer-like warmth, was still
hidden in the nether world, the earth and the sea were dark, the stars
still lingered in the shadowy skies.

'What folly, _pétiote_!' muttered Nicole, who had her lanthorn, 'to
get up out of your bed to go and sing an ave! If it were to pack a
crate of oranges there would be some sense!'

'Hush, please,' said Yseulte gently. 'Perhaps grandmère hears.'

The memory of the old Marquise always touched and silenced the
irreligious grumbling of Nicole. She said nothing more, but toiled on
stoutly, her lanthorn twinkling amongst the rough grass, white with
passing frost.

'The child would be best in her bed,' she thought; 'but there is one
thing,--she never takes cold. One would like to think the saints had a
care of her, but that is all rubbish; even our mayor says so now, and
he is such a dunderhead, what he cannot stomach nobody can.'

Still Nicole, who came to Mass for her sake, though the good woman in
her soul hated the bigots, the black beetles, of the church, held on
her way up the hill, stumbling over the roots of the old olives; it
pleased the _pétiote_ that she should come, and after all it could do
no harm.

Eager, proud, joyous--more joyous she feared than was meet for the
sanctity of the hour and the errand--Yseulte led her into the church
as the first pale light of daybreak spread itself over the earth.

'Now you will see how beautiful it is!' she murmured to Nicole.

Alas, the fair garden she had made and left at twilight was a ruin
now! Where she had caused the metal and the wood and the stone to
bloom as with the blossoms of Paradise, there were only poor pale
yellow withered things colourless as ashes!

The frost of the night had stolen the glory from the flowers as the
hand of the Church would strike the youth from her life and leave it
hard and dumb as a stone. The blossoms had died of cold like little
children lost in the snow, like bright butterflies beaten down and
drowned in a storm of hail.

A low pathetic cry of grief escaped her as she saw the lovely things,
which she so ignorantly and innocently had slain, hanging their folded
petals in the chill glimmer of the early day as the limbs of infants
hang in death.

Her eyes filled with hot quick tears that ran down her cheeks.

'Oh, look! Oh, look!' she cried piteously.

'What could you expect, _pétiote_,' said Nicole with rough sympathy,
'if you bring hothouse flowers from under their glass? Our nights are
cold--my man said last night it was two below zero by the mercury tube
in our wall. Do not cry, _mignonne_; you could not help it; you did
not think of it; children never do think. But bay and laurel and all
those common shrubs are best fit to stand the cold of the church.
These things are only aristocrats.'

Nicole checked herself; she remembered the Marquise de Creusac, with
the frost of poverty and cruel loss upon her, meeting misfortune with
serene courage and unchanging dignity; her comparison, she saw, halted
and failed.

Yseulte did not hear; she was thinking piteously, 'And I did so want
him to see how beautiful it all looked through his kindness!'

She was quite sure that Othmar would come to one office or another
during the day. She was ashamed to be so occupied with this one
thought when the drone of the acolyte was chanting in monotonous
sing-song the opening words of the Mass; but it was stronger than
herself. She thought of nothing else, to her own surprise and
confusion; she was wholly unable to keep her mind to the holy offices
of the hour; for the first time, the sonorous Latin words failed to
carry her soul with them; she was glancing while she knelt at the
closed rickety door, she was wondering whilst she sang the 'Agnus
Dei,' would he come? She had taken such infinite pains with the
flowers, and now all their beauty was gone!--they were only faded,
helpless-looking melancholy wrecks of themselves, disfiguring the
altar rather than lending it grace and glory.

'_Pauvre pétiote!_' thought Nicole, fingering her beads, and bending
her stiff knees from habit. 'The frost will come just like that to
her, and nobody will care. Often have I a mind to go up to Millo and
tell them it is a shame, a vile shame; but they would not care, they
would have me turned out for an old mad woman.'

The church was very dark; the few lights there were did not dissipate
the shadows of the dawn; the clear melodious voice of Yseulte rose in
the gloom as a nightingale's does in the lovelier dusk of a midsummer
daybreak.

All her heart thrilled out in it, and when the last notes sank to
silence there was a tremor as of tears in them.

Nicole's heart swelled too as she heard, half with pain, half with
rage.

'I would sooner she were singing "do', do', l'enfant dor'!" by her
baby's cradle,' thought this heathen.

She attended every office of the church during the next twelve hours,
but Othmar came not to one of them. With Vespers all hope of seeing
him there--such a vague, innocent, half-conscious hope as it was--had
perished quite, like the orchids on the altar.

The day was over: the church had once more no light except that of its
twinkling candles; the peasants shuffled to their feet and clattered
out over the stones; Nicole began to chatter to the maid; the old
vicar had tottered into the sacristy and was pulling off his
vestments; the last office was done; the butterfly orchids were dying
in the stench of the sputtering candlewicks; the acolyte--a ploughboy
in a short linen tunic which showed his hobnailed boots--began to put
the wicks out with a brass extinguisher fixed at the end of a long
stick; she thought she would never bring flowers there any more--it
was cruel--they withered and faded, and who could tell what they might
suffer? She had never remembered that before.

The flowers had died in the service of the church; so would she. It
had seldom seemed hard before.

While the two women chattered in low tones of the doings of Millo, she
turned quickly back to the altar-steps and knelt down there and said
one last prayer confusedly, conscious that she had been at fault all
through the Mass in thinking of other things than the holy services in
which she had taken part.

She rose, with the tears in her eyes, and went out through the little
dark aisle between the two women, leaving the poor lost flowers in a
confused and shadowy mass upon the altar until dawn, to be tossed away
and thrust out under the sacristan's broom to the dust-heap. Othmar
had not come.

He was sitting at his own table, with the Princess Napraxine at his
right hand.

The girl could see the lighted windows of his château as she walked
down under the olives through the dusky furrows, already dotted with
blades of corn, the women still chattering as they came behind her,
the woods of Millo black under the moon, the stars shining, a distant
watchdog giving tongue.

'You are late, _pétiote_,' said her foster-mother, kissing her hand at
the door of the house. 'But it will not matter; they are all dining at
Count Othmar's; if no one of those cats of gouvernantes tell the
Duchesse, she will be none the wiser.'

'There is nothing to conceal,' cried Yseulte a little coldly. 'My
cousin knows that I go out to Vespers as well as Mass. Good night.'

She kissed her nurse on the cheek, and went up the staircase of Millo.
Her heart had contracted with a sort of pang as she heard the idle
words, 'They are all dining at Count Othmar's.' She did not wonder
that he had not invited her; no one invited her anywhere; she was a
schoolgirl now, and would be a nun later on; she had nothing to do
with the world, and yet her heart ached a little.

She did not touch the coffee and the cakes that her maid brought her.
She sat at the window of her own little room, and looked every now and
then out into the chilly night and across the moonlit landscape to the
towers of S. Pharamond. There were points of light of all colours
sparkling in the darkness round the château. They were the lamps of
his gardens, which were illuminated down to the very edge of the sea.
She felt a great longing to cry like a little child; but she would not
yield to it. Only two great tears rolled slowly down her cheeks. She
knew that she had been very foolish to expect him at the church; only
he had said that he would come!----



CHAPTER XI.


A few mornings later, after his noonday breakfast, Alain de Vannes
sauntered out into the rose gardens of his wife, having seen there the
figure of his wife's young cousin in her demure grey dress with the
cape of sable, which he was just then in the mood to think the
prettiest female garb in the world. He went up to her with easy and
good-humoured courtesy, as became her kinsman and her host.

'My cousin,' he said tenderly, 'you have no trinkets and pretty
things, as a little lady of your years should have. I believe there
are all that are left of the Valogne jewels waiting for you in strong
coffers, but meantime here is a little bird that will whisper to you
pretty things if you will listen to him. You may wear a dove, you
know, at the convent itself. It is the bird of the Holy Spirit.'

And with that he gave her what he had telegraphed for from Paris, a
locket of blue enamel rimmed with pearls, and a dove, made of pearls,
flying on it; it hung from a thick gold chain.

She was so astonished that she could not speak.

The Duc watched her with amusement. 'Pardieu!' he thought, 'it is much
more entertaining to give to the _ingénue_ than to the _belle petite_.
What wonder, what delight, what innocent gratitude!--and the others
only box your ears if the diamonds be not big enough or the emeralds
do not please them. Really we are fools.'

Yseulte meanwhile had not spoken yet; what moved her so intensely was
not the gift of the medallion itself, splendid though it was, but the
idea that anyone had had so much remembrance of her. She had scarcely
had more notice than a careless bow or a brief '_bon jour_' from her
cousin's husband in all her life, and now, he brought her this
magnificent present! And yet, how much sooner she would have had
Othmar remember to go and hear her sing!

'Well, _mignonne_,' said the Duc gaily. 'You look as if you were not
sure whether you were in earth or in heaven. _We_ are not, when we
look at you.'

'It is most good of you; it is most beautiful,' she said, with
hesitation. 'That you should have thought of me is so kind; but I fear
I ought not to wear it; you know in two years' time I am to enter the
Carmelite communion.'

'Nonsense! It is the bird of the Holy Spirit,' said de Vannes, with an
ambiguous smile. 'I think you may wear it when you are an abbess--if
ever you be an abbess. Ah, my child, it is a cruel thing to doom you
to the religious life; only ugly women should go there, and you are so
handsome, _fillette_,--you will be so handsome!'

'Oh, no!' she said, quickly; she blushed very much; she had been
always told that it was a sin to think of any physical charms, and yet
she had enough of the instincts of a beautiful woman in her to take an
unconscious delight in the whiteness of her limbs, the thickness of
her hair, the smile of her own eyes from a mirror.

'Oh, yes!' said de Vannes, still with that smile which vaguely hurt
her. 'You will be marvellously handsome, Yseulte; I think that is the
chief reason why the ladies wish you in the cloister! It was certainly
the reason why they would not take you to Othmar's last night. To be
sure you are not in the world, but in the country they might have made
an exception; you are seen in our drawing-rooms.'

She lifted her eyes with eager appeal. 'Did he ask me? Did he think of
me?' she said, under her breath.

The keen glance of the Duc flashed over her face, and grew harsh and
suspicious.

'Because he spoke to you once,' he thought, 'I suppose, though you be
a young saint in embryo, you are not proof against his millions! You
are all alike after all, you women, even in the bud.'

Aloud he said: 'Yes; I believe Othmar bade my wife bring you. Perhaps
she thought it was too much like the great world for you; it was a
brilliant affair--all done for the Princess Napraxine.'

'Who is the Princess Napraxine?' she asked, surprised at her own
temerity.

'She is the lady of Othmar's dreams,' said de Vannes, with an unkind
satisfaction. 'You are sure to see her here sometime. What did you
think of him the other night? You know, I suppose, that he could buy
up all France if he chose.'

'I did not know,' she murmured. 'Nicole, I think, said that he was
rich.'

'Rich!' echoed the Duc, with derision. 'That is not a word to describe
Othmar. He has about a million millions, and he would probably be
happier if he were the blind beggar of the Pont Neuf. His millions do
not do anything for him with Nadine Napraxine, and it is only for
Nadine Napraxine that he exists.'

Then he paused; the respect for _la jeune fille_, by which the most
dissolute of his countrymen is restrained from long habit, making him
repress the sentence he had on his lips; that momentary flush and
light of happiness at being remembered by Othmar which he had seen on
his young cousin's face had made him bitter against his neighbour and
friend, and he would willingly have continued his sarcasms on a man
who, with all the world at his feet, cared only for another man's
wife, who laughed at him.

Yseulte listened with serious and wistful eyes; she did not know
enough of his meaning, nor enough of the sympathy which had attracted
her towards Othmar, to understand why she felt a vague pain at hearing
these things said of him mingled with a delighted gratitude that he
had remembered her. It was not to have gone to his party that she
cared for, but to be remembered by him.

The children and their governesses approached her at that moment, and
the Duc somewhat hurriedly turned away.

'Do not let these fools see your locket,' he said quickly, meaning by
that epithet the wise women who educated his daughters. 'If Cri-Cri
notice it, tell her, of course.'

Yseulte, surprised at the injunction, looked at him in wonder; but she
saw so much irritation in his expression that, being accustomed to
obey the orders of others without comment, and to be taught that
silence was one of the first of duties, she put his gift in her pocket
as the children approached, and their father, with a petulant word or
two, turned away, lighting a cigar.

'What was _petit papa_ saying to you?' cried the little sisters in a
breath.

They were pretty children, with clouds of hair and saucy peevish
little faces. They wore sailor dresses, made very short at the knee
and showing legs very shapely though too thin. Blanchette was blonde;
Toinon was a little darker and rosier. Blanchette was the more elegant
and the more witty by far; Toinon was the sturdier and the naughtier.
But Toinon had still something of childhood left in her; Blanchette
had lost every atom of hers years before, though she was only ten
years old now. Toinon loved horses, dogs, boats, and _le sport_
generally; Blanchette only cared for smart frocks, things which cost a
great deal of money, scandal which she overheard, and which fascinated
her in proportion as it was unintelligible to her, and the sense that
she was looked at admiringly as she drove behind the ponies in the
Bois or walked, with a court of small boys behind her, down the planks
at Trouville.

Between her two cousins and Yseulte de Valogne there was a great gulf
fixed, that gulf into which there has fallen so much of the innocence
of youth, of the grace of good manners, of the charm of girlhood, and
of the obligation of nobility; that gulf over which modern society
dances so lightly, blind and indifferent to all it has lost.

'What was _petit papa_ saying?' cried Blanchette and Toinon in one
breath, their eyes wide open with curiosity and sparkling with
suspicion.

Yseulte hesitated; she scarcely knew what to say, and a kind of
oppression came upon her with the sense of the gift and the secret
which she had to keep and conceal.

'He was telling me that I was invited--there--last night,' she said,
as she looked across at the trees of S. Pharamond; 'but they thought
me not old enough,' she added, with an unconscious sigh.

Blanchette turned up her little delicate nose in the air.

'_Grande nigaude, va!_' she said contemptuously. 'You will never be
anything but a big baby, you! When I am as old as you, I shall have
been married a whole year to a crown prince, and have gone to all the
theatres, and read all the newspapers--every one!'

'But she will never see a newspaper, and never go to a theatre;
never, never, never,--a big never!' cried Toinon, who was two years
younger than Blanchette, as she clapped her hands and capered.

'She does not care, she is such a stupid,' said Blanchette, with all
the superiority of measureless scorn.

'Papa was giving you something: what did he give you?' said Toinon.
'He said you were handsome the other night to mamma, I heard him.
Mamma was angry.'

'Mamma did not care,' said Blanchette. 'If it had been the Marquis
Raymond!'----

Then the little sisters laughed.

Yseulte with difficulty escaped from her little tormentors, and
wandered alone through the pretty grounds; while the closed shutters
of the villa of Millo showed that her cousin and her house-party were
still sleeping after the cotillon with which Othmar's party had
closed; an improvised and unexpected cotillon, for which,
nevertheless, there had been all manner of admirable surprises,
marvellous novelties, and costly presents.

When she was quite alone she took out her pearl medallion and looked
at it with all a child's rapture at a toy and something of a woman's
pleasure in a jewel. The kindness of her cousin de Vannes overwhelmed
her. She had known him now and then, as she passed the doors of the
billiard-room, or watched the drag roll out of the courtyard, give her
a careless, good-tempered nod and a lazy word or two, but never any
more notice than that, which was as much as Blanchette and Toinon ever
received from him. At such times as he had come down to Bois le Roy or
Millo, when she was there, she had heard of him as a man only devoted
to horses and dogs, to sport of all sorts, to his stag-hounds and
boar-hounds and otter-hounds, to his coach and his stud and his great
_chasses_; she knew that he was a very grand gentleman in Paris, and
at Bois le Roy--despite all revolutions--was a kind of king. And he
had thought about her so much that he had bought her a locket! She
could scarcely believe it.

She sat in a little nook made by magnolias that overhung the sea, and
saw the sun shine on her dove of pearls, and wondered if she would
dare to wear it; would the Duchess approve of it? There was only one
thing which disturbed her, it was his recommendation to silence;
there had been a look in his eyes, too, when he had said, 'You are
very handsome, _fillette_,' which haunted her with a vague uneasiness.
She was too utterly innocent to be alarmed by it, but a certain
instinct in her shrank from the remembrance of that regard. It was the
first look of sensual admiration which had been ever given her, and
though he had added 'Of course you must tell Cri-Cri,' he had said it
grudgingly, as though he would willingly, if he could have ventured to
do so, have bidden her keep his gift a secret from his wife.

'Are you counting your jewels, Mademoiselle de Valogne?' said the
voice of Othmar. 'Leave that until you are thirty years older and need
their aid.'

Without any thought of her he had been strolling on the rocks above
the little harbour which belonged equally to S. Pharamond and to
Millo. He had been bathing and swimming, and was returning to his
house, when he caught sight of her seated beneath the magnolias.

Yseulte coloured, and rose to her feet, dropping the medallion in her
surprise as his voice startled her from her meditation. Othmar picked
it up and returned it to her.

'What a happy trinket to hold your thoughts so long,' he said as he
did so. 'I have been watching you for a quarter of an hour, and you
have never ceased to look at that most fortunate jewel.'

'My cousin, the Duc de Vannes, gave it to me a moment ago,' she
answered him, vexed that he should suppose she could care so much for
any trifle.

'De Vannes!' echoed Othmar in some surprise; 'I did not know he had so
much good taste in the selection either of his gifts or their
recipients. It is a very pretty medallion,' he added, noticing her
look of distress and of bewilderment. 'The dove is admirably done; I
hope it will be an emblem of the peace which will always remain with
you.'

She did not speak; the quick sensitiveness of her instincts made her
feel the satire of his felicitations, and become conscious that for
some reason or another he disapproved the gift which she had received.

'I have never had any present before from anyone,' she said simply,
'so it is a great pleasure to me. I do not mean only because it is
pretty----'

'But because of the affection it represents? I understand,' said
Othmar, while he thought to himself, 'That _goailleur_ de
Vannes!--must he even bring his indecencies to Millo and try and
corrupt a poor helpless child? The man would not spend twenty francs
out of mere good nature, nor look at her twice out of mere
compassion.'

He looked at her himself now where she sat under the magnolia
branches; and it seemed to him as if she were the dove and he saw the
hawk descending. Alain de Vannes could be seductive when he chose; he
was good-looking and extremely distinguished, was accustomed to
conquest, and had that charm of manner which the habit of the world
and the society of women make second nature. If his fancy had lighted
on his wife's cousin he would not be likely to pause because she was
penniless, lonely, and consecrated to a spiritual life.

'One ought to put her on her guard, and yet, who could venture to do
that,' he thought; he, at all events, had no title to do so, and if
he had, he could not willingly have been the first to tell her that
under the roses there were vipers, that behind the dew and the sunrise
there were evil fires burning.

'Will you stay long at Millo?' he asked abruptly.

'I came here for two months,' she said. 'We were all sent away,--there
was fever; I have been here often before. I am very fond of Millo.'

'Why would they not let you honour me last night?'

'I do not go into the world at all. I never shall.' She hesitated a
moment, then added timidly, 'It was very kind to think of me.'

'It would not be easy to forget you,' said Othmar with a sincerity
which surprised himself. 'I wish you had been with us; yours is the
age for _sauteries_ and enjoyment. I should like to see you at your
first ball.'

'I shall never go to a ball. It would not be thought right.'

'And do you never rebel against so harsh a destiny?'

She coloured to her eyes as she answered almost inaudibly,
'Sometimes--yes--but then I know that it is I who am wrong and they
who are right.'

'Who are they?'

'The Mother Superior; my uncle, de Creusac, by his will; my cousin
Aurore; everyone that I belong to at all: my grandmother especially
desired it.'

'It makes one wish all the world were agnostic!'

'What did you say?'

Agnostic was not a word she had been allowed to hear.

'I say that it is a cruel thing to force on you such a choice. At
least you should be allowed to know what you do, ere you do it. You
should see what the world is like before you renounce it. I can fancy
that women tired, sorrow-laden, unlovely, unloved, feeble of health,
may be glad of the refuge of religious life; but you!----'

'Do you think one should only give God what is weary and worn out?'
she said softly. 'Surely one should give one's best?'

Othmar was touched by the words and the tone. To him, whose boyhood
had been filled with spiritual faiths and hopes, and whose manhood
had the pain of knowledge that all these gracious myths and wistful
desires were but mere dreams, there was the echo of remembered
adorations, of exquisite unreasoning beliefs, in the simple answer
which bespoke that faith in heaven which a child has in its mother,
unquestioning, undoubting, implicit in obedience and in trust.

Beside the cultured mind of the woman he loved, with its fine
scepticism, its delicate ironies, its contemptuous rejections, its
intellectual scorn, no doubt this simple, narrow, unintelligent faith
was foolish and childish, and out of date; yet it touched him; in
Yseulte de Valogne it had an unconscious heroism, a beautiful repose,
which lifted it out of the cramped rigidity of creeds and the apathy
of ignorance.

There were beneath her gravity and spirituality a warmth, a vitality,
a latent force, which seemed to him to cry aloud for enjoyment and
expansion. Sooner or later all that teeming life slumbering in her
would awake and demand its common rights; no creature perfectly
organised and full of health and strength can forego the natural joys
of human existence without suffering a thousand deaths. As yet, no
doubt, she was as innocent, as ignorant, of the tyranny of the senses,
as any shell that lay at the bottom of the blue waters yonder. She
might have fallen from heaven that day for aught she knew of all
which, in her unconsciousness, she was ready to renounce. But any hour
that divine innocence might be destroyed by a word, banished at a
touch. Alain de Vannes, or any other, might choose to find sport in
waking and in slaying it; and then, how unhappy she would be! How like
a bird freshly captured, and beating itself to death against the bars!

It was only in France that a high-born and beautiful girl could be
sacrificed thus because she had no dower. Everywhere else women
without dowers were sought and taken in marriage every day. As if a
few hundred thousand francs were needful to make youth, and
loveliness, and purity, and high lineage, acceptable to men!

'You know my cousin the Duc very well?' she said timidly after a long
silence.

'We have lived in the same world; I have not been intimate with him.'

'Do you think he would be very vexed if I asked Nicole--that is, my
foster-mother--to sell this locket for me?'

'I fear he would not be best pleased. Why should you wish to sell it?'

She hesitated, then answered: 'I want to buy the vicar that new gown
he wants so much. He will never spend a centime on himself, and his
gown has been mended and mended and mended; it is all a patchwork, and
even that is dropping to pieces, and the bishop's visitation is near
at hand. I thought the value of this locket would buy a priest's gown,
if my cousin de Vannes would not be angry.'

'That is a pretty thought of you; it would certainly buy many
_soutanes_,' said Othmar. 'But I think Alain would not be at all
pleased if you sold his present; and I told you the other day that I
will give the curé a new gown myself with the very utmost pleasure.
You say that I belong to his parish.'

She smiled; nevertheless, she hesitated to accept his offer.

'You must have so many things to give. Nicole says that people are
always asking you for things.'

'They do not always get them,' replied Othmar, with a smile. 'If they
wished only for such useful and harmless things as _soutanes_, they
should always have their wish.'

'Are you so immensely rich then?' she asked him, opening widely her
golden-brown eyes, which looked as if the sunshine was always shining
in them.

'To my misfortune,' said Othmar, annoyed. Could not even a child of
sixteen out of a convent forget his riches? Was it possible she too
was going to ask him for something?

She looked at him gravely.

'I wonder you do not build a cathedral,' she said, after a pause.

'A cathedral!' he echoed, in surprise. 'I would if I had the faith of
those who used to do so.'

'It is what I would do if I had money,' said she, still very gravely.
'I would build one in the heart of a forest, with the deer and the
birds all round it; not jammed up amongst streets and crowds like
Nôtre Dame or Chartres.'

Then a sudden sense came over her that she was violating all the rules
of propriety by which her life was ordered in thus speaking out her
thoughts to one who was almost a stranger; in tarrying at all by the
side of a man who was of no parentage to her. She rose, a little
hurriedly, but with the stately grace which was natural to her; the
grace of old Versailles and Marly.

'I think I must go back to the house,' she said, with a little
shyness. 'My cousin does not like me to be alone, or to talk to
anyone----'

'The Duchesse will not object to me,' said Othmar, with the same smile
as he had had when using the same words a few days before. 'Besides,
Mademoiselle, you are in another world than your convent. At Millo men
are not thought dragons and tigers. We are poor creatures, indeed, but
harmless; more injured than injuring. Do not be so alarmed. I want you
to tell me a great deal more about our vicar. Where am I to get his
measure for his gown? Will he be surprised with it? Will you not let
me send it to you that you may take it to him? I should be ashamed to
do so. I have never been inside his church, even to hear you sing.'

'No, you never came yesterday!' she said, with a sigh, innocently
revealing that she had remarked his absence with regret.

'To my shame and loss, I did not. I had my uncle with me all the day,
and at night a dinner, a concert, and the _sauterie_, to which I hoped
you would have been brought.'

'But I cannot dance,' said the child, blushing very much as she made
the humiliating confession.

'So much the better,' said Othmar, inconsistently, 'I am sure,
however, that you would dance with admirable grace if you danced at
all. Anyone who moves well can dance well.'

This time the colour in her cheeks was that of pleasure at his praise.
She was silent, looking at him a little wistfully, recalling what De
Vannes had said of the Princess Napraxine.

The kindliness of his tone, its mingling of familiarity and reverence,
melted her reserve and disarmed her shyness. There had been that in
the compliment of Alain de Vannes which had startled and alarmed her;
but in the almost paternal gentleness and friendliness of Othmar's
words there was nothing to do so. He had little to her of the
chillness and languid irony which often frightened even women in him,
whilst he had all the graceful courtesy of a man polished by all the
habits of the great world, and accustomed to that pre-eminence which
gives supreme ease of manner. To her Othmar seemed a hero, a king, an
ideal among men; when her cousin had said to her that this person, so
powerful, so great, and so rich, was also unhappy, he had said the
only thing needed to complete his fascination for her and to make him
the master of her dreams.

He bowed low before her with a sense of something holier than was
often met with in this world, and looked after her as she sped over
the lawns to the house.

'A beautiful creature, with a tender heart in her breast,' he thought.
'Why could I not meet her and find my heaven in possessing her,
instead of caring only for a woman who has no more passion or pity
than those Mexican aloes?'

As he walked home the remembrance of Nadine Napraxine seemed like a
little adder growing in his heart, and the large eyes of Yseulte de
Valogne seemed to look into his soul with their golden sun-rays. He
was passionately in love with the one, bitterly, angrily,
resentfully, in love; for the other he felt an extreme pity, a
sympathy, which with propitious circumstances might become affection,
an admiration of the senses which might with time be heightened to
desire, an inclination to take her in his arms and save her from her
fate as he might have taken up a wounded bird to save it from the
trap.



CHAPTER XII.


Yseulte the next day was sitting writing a German theme in the
children's room, of which the windows opened on the gardens, when
Alain de Vannes, with a cigarette in his mouth, pushed open the glass
door and sauntered in from the open air.

'Well, my cousin,' he said gaily. 'Here you are, shut up like a little
mouse. What nonsense it is! German? What good will that do you? When
the _revanche_ comes, we shall speak with bullets and they will
understand as we understood. Pardieu! When they burnt my woods in
Charente!--I had a ball in my ribs at Saarbrück; did you know it?
Where were you? In Paris?--during the siege? A baby like you! Is it
possible!'

'There were many other little children there,' said the girl with a
shudder; she had been such a little child then, that the horror of the
time had left an ineffaceable mark upon her.

'Of course, of course,' said the Duc, seating himself on the edge of
the table. 'But not many of your rank. Most people got away. Ah, to be
sure, I remember your uncles de Creusac were both shot; yes, we all
lost heavily; it is no use thinking of it; but I would give my life to
enter Berlin. _Tiens!_ this is not what I came to say, but you make
one serious; why will you not laugh? Do you know that we have a ball
next week?'

'I heard Blanchette saying so.'

'Ah, the little cat! She knows everything. Now, this ball--would you
not like to come to it, instead of being shut up in your room writing
crabbed German characters?'

'It is impossible.'

While she said the cruel word firmly, her heart gave a great leap of
longing that was almost hope.

'Not impossible; perhaps difficult,' said de Vannes, with a smile as
he threw his cigar out on to the grass. 'But I think I could persuade
Cri-Cri; it is a shame for you to be shut up; you will have enough of
that all your life if you go where they say.'

Yseulte was silent; her heart was still beating tumultuously, she
breathed quickly.

'How handsome she is!' thought the Duc. 'She only wants that flush of
life to be perfect. Women are like alabaster lamps, unlit until they
learn envy and desire. When that flame is lighted, then the alabaster
glows.'

He stooped his head and kissed her hand, but he did it with a
different touch to Othmar's, and she coloured with a sense of pain and
anger.

'_Ma mie!_' he murmured. 'I will undertake to combat successfully the
scruples of your cousin; you shall see the ball next week. Cri-Cri
shall find you a frock, and jewels you want none; you have the supreme
jewel--youth; crowns are dull without it; and, let our dear women use
what arts they may, they cannot counterfeit it. I will be your good
genius, Yseulte, and open your prison doors. You will not refuse me a
little gratitude--a little goodwill? Something quite simple and
commonplace will content me, you see, but you must give it _de bon
coeur_.'

The words were harmless, and said little, but his eyes as they were
bent upon her said much; much more than he knew. There was a look in
them which lighted their pale blue with a fire from which she shrank
by instinct, as from something which scorched and hurt her. The eyes
of Alain de Vannes, like those of most men who have lived his life and
had his experiences, were cold, jaded, passionless in repose, but when
amorous, were cruel, eager, rapacious. Yseulte drew her hand from him;
her heart sank five fathoms deep, but she gathered up all her courage.

'You are very good, _M. mon cousin_,' she said with a ceremonious
coldness worthy of one twice her years. 'But do not trouble yourself
for me. That sort of pleasure would not accord with the life that I am
always to lead. I do not know the world; I do not wish to know it; it
is never to have anything to do with me; it is better I should not
even see it, I might only regret.'

She said the little speech bravely, not faltering once, though to make
it cost her a pang, but she crushed out all her natural longings, all
her wistful instincts, all her youthful dreams to do so; flowers
plucked up by the roots and thrown down at the foot of the altars of
Marie. But even at this moment the altar still seemed to her that
which she had been always told that it was, a refuge sweet, safe,
unfailing. A refuge from what? She did not know, but a vague fear had
assailed her.

De Vannes looked at her with surprise and irritation; at the bottom of
his heart he was himself ashamed of the unholy wishes which had
awakened in him, of the treacherous temptations which he had begun to
put in the path of a girl who was his own guest, his wife's relative,
and whose position ought in its sheer defencelessness to have been her
best safeguard with any man of honour. He was not without honour, in a
loose fashion, but he was very unscrupulous when his fancy was
excited. If before her retirement to the religious life she should
have an 'affaire,' and if that 'affaire' should have himself for its
hero, it did not seem to him that anything terrible would have taken
place. What was the use of occupying a high position if one could not
successfully conduct and cover a little intrigue like that?

At the same time he knew that his designs would scarcely be condoned,
even by the very light-minded set amongst which he lived, if it were
seriously known that he endeavoured to be the first to corrupt his
young cousin. Therefore her words struck a certain nerve of
susceptibility within him; he felt a kind of compunction before that
serious and guileless regard. Yet he was very angry. He, Alain de
Vannes, who never looked at a _fillette_, who never deigned to notice
any lesser thing than some of the famous beauties of the great world,
or of the half-world, had taken the infinite trouble to distinguish
this child, to seek her and to offer her his influence and protection,
and she had repulsed him, with her hands lying crossed on her German
books and her rose-leaf cheeks growing neither the warmer nor the
colder for his regard.

He rose, and his eyebrows contracted in a heavy frown. He was a
good-humoured man usually, but in such rare times as his will was
crossed he had the petulance and the malice of a spoiled child.

'You are not wise, _fillette_,' he said, with a little laugh. 'I would
be a good friend to you, and you may want one before you are safe in
the bosom of Our Lady. I wonder the ball did not tempt you. You would
have seen your friend Othmar--and Madame Napraxine.'

Then he pulled the glass door open with an impatient hand, and went
out into the grounds without, leaving behind him the odour of his
cigarette and the sting of his last words.

Blanchette peeped in from behind a silk curtain; her saucy babyish
eyes were full of curiosity and wonder.

'_Tiens_, Yseulte,' she said, running up to her cousin, 'I heard all
papa said. Why should he want you at the ball, and why should you not
go? You are a goose, such a goose! You know papa can always make mamma
do what he chooses. He always threatens to send away M. de Prangins.'

Then Blanchette laughed, curling herself up in a little ball at her
cousin's feet.

'You should not say such wicked things, Blanchette,' said Yseulte;
'and it is very shameful and dishonourable to listen anywhere
unseen----'

Blanchette made a _pied de nez_ with her little rosy fingers, with all
the mockery and insolence of Gavrôche himself.

'You are vulgar as well as wicked,' said her cousin sadly, as she
looked away.

'It is distinguished to be vulgar, now,' said the little ten-year-old
Parisienne. 'All the great ladies are, except Madame Napraxine; she is
always wrapped up in herself. She has no _entrain_, she cares for
nothing. She is not at all my model. Listen! If you were not such an
idiot, you would see that _petit papa_ is in love with you, ever so
much in love! Why don't you get all kinds of things out of him while
he is in the humour? He would buy you all the Palais Royal if you knew
how to manage him, and mamma will not say anything as long as the
Marquis Raymond is here.'

'Blanchette!' cried the girl, indignantly. She rose to her feet; a
flood of shame seemed to roll over her.

The insolent, malicious turquoise eyes of Blanchette amused themselves
with her horror and trouble.

'You are such a baby!' said the child again, contemptuously. 'You
never seem to understand anything. Me, I understand it all. I shall
_do_ it all when I am married. I shall be just like mamma. It is the
Marquis Raymond now; it was the Prince Jacques last year. I liked the
Prince Jacques best. He gave me an orchestra of monkeys; you wound it
up and all the monkeys played--fife, drum, clarionet, flute, too-too,
too-too, tra-la-la-la! The marquis has never given me anything, except
a sack of bonbons he might have bought at St. Cloud. If he do not give
me something very good at new year, I shall say out loud in the salon,
when a lot of people are making visits: "You are not as nice as Prince
Jacques!" And how he will look, because he always frets and fumes
about the prince! I think they fought about mamma. Oh, it must be such
fun to be a woman! I wish, I wish, I wish I were fifteen. I would be
so naughty, they would have to marry me to-morrow! If you were not a
goose you would be as naughty as ever you could be. They would get you
a husband then; papa would see to it.'

'Blanchette!' cried Yseulte, again, in desperation, not knowing how to
stem the tide of the child's words. She, like Blanchette herself, was
ignorant of all the horrible import of those words which the little
thing used, half in malicious precocious knowledge, and half in
absolute childish ignorance; but they terrified her and appalled her
both in themselves and for their speaker, and for all which, even to
her innocence, they suggested of unspeakable inconceivable
shamefulness.

'Blanchette!' echoed the child, mimicking the horror and expostulation
of her cry. 'Oh, how glad I am I have Schemmitz and Brawn to teach me
instead of going to a convent to be made a goose of like you.
Schemmitz and Brawn are old owls, but I keep my eyes and my ears open
at Trouville, at Biarritz, in Paris, here, anywhere, everywhere. Now,
in your nunnery you see no more, you hear no more, than if you were a
statue in a chapel. That is why you are so stupid. _Tiens!_ Why did
papa call Count Othmar your friend? Is he your friend? You are as
still as a mouse about everything.'

Her quick glance saw the colour mount into her cousin's face, and the
cruel child laughed triumphantly. 'Oh, how you blush, oh-oh! Nobody
blushes now-a-days. One must be old-fashioned like you to be so silly.
_I_ shall never blush. _Tiens_, Yseulte, tell me all about it and I
will not tell Toinon.'

'There is nothing to tell,' said Yseulte, almost losing her patience.

'Papa never says anything without meaning something by it,' said
Blanchette, sagaciously. 'And if there be nothing, why should you
blush? I know all about Count Othmar; he is rich--oh, so rich! Nobody
was ever so rich outside the _Juiverie_; I heard them say so this
autumn at Aix. But all he cares about is Princess Napraxine. Have you
ever seen Princess Napraxine? She drives in the Bois with three horses
in the Russian way; the one in the middle is a little in front of the
others, and they have only little bits of silver for harness, and they
fly--ouf! I mean to marry a Russian.'

'Is she so very beautiful?' said Yseulte, in a low tone, ashamed of
questioning the child, and yet impelled by an irresistible desire to
hear more of this wondrous sovereign.

'_Pas tant que ça!_' said Blanchette, critically. 'But she is much
more than only handsome. She makes every one that goes near her mad
about her. She is pale, and has great eyes; but there is no one like
her, they say. What do you think they call her? They call her Flocon
de Neige. She cares for nobody, you know; that is what they mean. She
is not at all what I admire; what I admire is the Duchesse d'Ambrée.
_Elle sait se faire une tête!_'--continued Blanchette, growing
breathless, and powerless to express her immense admiration.

Madame d'Ambrée was a blonde, with a profusion of real gold curls,
cheeks admirably tinted, and a tiny Cupid's bow of a mouth; a great
huntress, a great swimmer, a great smoker; she had very extravagant
toilettes, and very loud manners, and was a really great lady, with
the language of a cantinière: she was the object of the child's
idolatry.

'I will be just like that,' Blanchette said to herself whenever she
saw Madame d'Ambrée walking on the planks at Trouville, going into the
casino at Aix, or driving her piebald ponies round the Bois.
Blanchette admired her own mother immensely, but she admired the
Duchesse d'Ambrée still more.

'_Maman baisse un peu_,' she often said to her sister, with a little
scornful smile. She knew that her mother was twenty-eight; to
Blanchette that age seemed to be quite hopeless decrepitude.

'Yseulte,' she said, suddenly now, 'if you do not give me your silver
prayer-book, I shall tell mamma about you and papa. _Dis donc, sois
sage._ Give me the silver Hours.'

The silver prayer-book had belonged to a Marquise de Creusac, in the
time of Louis Treize. It was adorned with illuminated letters, and the
coronet and initials were set in opals on one side of the silver
cover. Yseulte had been given the book by her grandmother on her
death-bed; she used it always, and it was the object of Blanchette's
desires.

'You know that I cannot give it you,' said Yseulte, gently. 'It was my
grandmother's last gift; it is an heirloom.'

Blanchette looked up from under her yellow hair.

'You had better give it me. _Sois sage!_'

She had the same expression--half menace, half malice--that her father
had had.

'I cannot,' repeated her cousin, 'I have told you so, dear, a hundred
times. I should not have a moment's peace if I parted with that book.'

Blanchette said nothing more, but she made a wheel of herself on the
school-room floor, as she had seen the boys do on the pavement in
Paris. 'Comme on est bête! Comme on est bête!' she kept thinking in
her shrewd little mind, as she stood on her wise little skull with all
the dexterity of any street-boy.

Blanchette at ten years old had already resolved the problem of life
with great simplicity; its solution seemed to her to consist in
getting whatever you wanted by being detestable whenever you did not
get it.

On the night of the ball, when the first carriages rolled up to the
_perron_ of Millo, Yseulte, who had gone to bed at ten o'clock, but
had not slept, rose and went to her window, which looked on the front
of the house. The illuminations of the building and of the grounds
were so brilliant that the light was almost as strong as day. The
awnings hid from her sight the steps at which the arriving guests
descended, but she could see the carriages as they came up toward
them, and she could hear the Suisse bawl out the names of those who
arrived one after another; amongst them some of the greatest names of
Europe. At twelve she heard the name of Othmar; but she had not seen
him, for the blinds of his brougham were down.

An hour and a half later, almost the last of the apparently endless
succession of champing horses and lamp-lit coupés, she saw one
carriage of which the window next her was lowered as it drove up; she
could see within it a very lovely woman, with a little tiara of
diamonds on her head, and a great bouquet, made entirely of gardenias,
in her hand, and a cloak of gold tissue, lined with ermine, drawn up
as high as her mouth. The lady's profile, delicate as if it were cut
in ivory, with something satirical and mutinous in its expression, was
all that Yseulte could see of her; but she felt that in that moment
she had looked on the Princess Napraxine. In effect, as the carriage
rolled beneath the awning, the sonorous Muscovite name was shouted by
the waiting lackeys.

The girl withdrew from the casement and shut the shutters; she did not
want to see any more.

She lay down again, but she did not sleep. The sound of dance music,
played by the band of the ball-room, echoed through all the villa,
which was a light modern structure, and had little solidity in it. She
did not care for the dancing; she hardly knew what it was like; but
she thought of the lovely woman with the pretty contemptuous profile,
and the diamonds and the gardenias in her hair. She could not sleep
for thinking of her; she was there below in the light, amidst the
music and the flowers, and Othmar was there too. The visitants which
Alain de Vannes had wished should go to her, envy and regret, entered
her innocent soul, and made sad ravages there, as when a rat runs
amidst a white rose and pulls its blossoms down.

Sleep kept aloof from her; she was ashamed of her own thoughts, but
the dawn found her with hot wide-open eyes. The music was still
sounding, like a tireless, immortal thing that shouted and laughed for
its pleasure. It was only the first notes of the cotillon; but to
Yseulte it sounded like the song of triumph of the world--that world
which she would never know.

All her nuns and priests could not perhaps have read her a sounder
homily than the house mutely spoke when she went timidly downstairs
and through its many rooms at sunrise.

The flowers covering the balustrades and walls of the staircase were
dying; the sleepy servants were turning out the gas, putting out the
wax candles; other servants were drinking champagne and smoking
cigars as they hurried to clear away the supper tables; in the
ball-room there was a litter of dropped flowers, torn lace, discarded
cotillon toys, atoms of fringe and of ribbon which looked scarcely
better than rags; the torches were still flaming amongst the scorched
clusters of azaleas and roses; in the vestibule two gentlemen who had
stayed to drink some black coffee were putting on their furs and
yawning miserably; Alain de Vannes, as he sauntered upstairs, was
muttering, 'C'est crevant!--un bal chez soi:--on ne me reprendra
jamais!' and a maid of his wife's was recounting her griefs to a tall
powdered lackey, with sobs of rage; 'Madame m'a donnée des gifles,
mais des gifles!--enfin--elle tomba de sommeil et puis le petit
Prangins n'a pas été gentil pour elle, du tout, du tout, ce soir!'



CHAPTER XIII.


Nadine Napraxine meanwhile rolled home in the pale light of the winter
morning, which had dawned over a quiet sea and a peaceful country. She
was neither fatigued nor exhilarated by a ball which had been one of
those long triumphs to which she was so well used. She looked as calm,
as cool, as delicate of hue, as any Lenten lily that opens between the
snow and the moss on an April morning. She was one of those women who
can go through incredible fatigue, whether of pleasure or of travel,
without any personal traces of it.

Whilst her companion, Lady Brancepeth, nodded and slumbered, she
looked out at the landscape over which the sun was slowly dawning,
driving before its rays the white mists which stretched over sea and
mountain. There were people moving in it: women came down the steep
stone ladders of their fields bearing heavy loads of oranges or of
vegetables; mule carts plodded along the cactus-lined paths;
fishermen were pushing boats into deep water; church bells were
ringing. She, with her delicate and acute perception of what was
beautiful, found pleasure in watching the simple hardy figures which
were seen for a moment and then disappeared beneath the mist, in
hearing the bells answer one another ringing across the white clouds
that were touching the earth.

'What does it feel like,' she wondered, 'to sleep sound all night on a
bit of sacking, and get up in the dusk, and go into the wet fields and
labour? What do these people think about? What do sheep think about,
or oxen? It must be much the same thing. Wilkes, what do
field-labourers think about?--you have got ever so many at home, you
ought to know.'

Lady Brancepeth felt cross at being aroused and cross at having been
asleep:

'Think about?' she murmured; 'oh, I don't know; beer, I believe with
us, beer and bacon; here I should say francs, nothing but francs,
probably. What put them in your head? And there are no labourers here
in our sense of the word, you know; it is most of it _la petite
culture_, you know. I never believe it is good for the soil, certainly
not in the long run; it can't be; they get everything out, they put
nothing in. Of course they think only of the market of the day; they
don't think of the future, those people. That will be always the
upshot of peasant proprietors, they will always ruin the soil.'

Nadine Napraxine laughed:

'What a fine thing it is to be an Englishwoman; you think of political
economy and of 'the soil' the very moment that you wake out of a doze!
I suppose the earth will certainly last our time; what does the rest
matter?'

'You are so--so--so egotistic and autocratic, Nadine.'

The Princess laughed:

'Oh, I don't know; I don't think so. I like a despotism, I was born
under it; it saves so much trouble, and one big despot is very much
easier to deal with than a score of little ones, especially when you
stand well at his Court. It is always better to be judged by a judge
instead of a jury, but simpletons will not see that.'

'But how can one judge, however just, rightfully judge a nation of
millions unless he have the eyes and ears of Vishnou? I think you
really are a despot by nature, but you are so very disputatious that
you are always ready to repudiate your most cherished opinions for
sheer sake of argument. You should have been a sophist.'

'Every question is polygonal. Look at that gleam of light on that sail
and all the rest of the vessel lost in fog--how charming!--it is like
a picture of Aïvanoffsky's. That is what I like in life; nothing said
out, nothing broadly and rudely done, everything _à demi mot_,
everything suggestion, not assertion; that is the only way to exhaust
nothing, not to be wearied.'

'You like impressions, not pictures; that is the new school. Everyone
is not satisfied with it. That there are people to whom these vague
wavy lines, those dim washes of colour, tell little----'

'Oh, the people to whom one must explain! Let them all go where the
sheep of Panurge went.'

'I wish you would condescend for once to explain something,' said Lady
Brancepeth, and paused: Princess Nadine heard with a look of infinite
_ennui_.

'You mean to revenge yourself for having been awakened out of that
dose. I never explain--_enfin!_----tell me what you want.'

Under this slight encouragement Lady Brancepeth gained courage to
plunge straightway into a question which she had long meditated.

'Will you tell me, my dear Nadine, what you mean to do with my
brother?'

Madame Napraxine turned a little round in her ermine and gold brocade,
and looked solemnly in her companion's face.

'My dear Evelyn, you amaze me! Do with him? I? With your
brother?--with Lord Geraldine? What should I do with him? Do you want
me to make a good marriage for him? But you are there to preside over
that; and, besides, he will make one himself--some day.'

'Speak seriously for a moment,' said Lady Brancepeth with impatience.
'You are very clever, and are fond of _demi-mots_; I am a blunt,
stupid woman, and so I like plain ones. It is two years since
Geraldine has had any other thought than yourself. When will you be
merciful and unmagnetise him?'

'Does that depend on me?' said the Princess Nadine, with a little
laugh. 'Do you want me to make a few passes in the air with my hand? I
can do it if you wish, but I doubt the result.'

Lady Brancepeth made an impatient movement.

'Poor Ralph is only one amongst many, I know, my dear; but for that
very reason surely you might spare him? You do not care the least
little atom about him----'

'The least little! I am a Russian, but I do know that is not good
English. I speak better English than you do.'

'You do everything admirably well. You are the most intelligent as you
are the most interesting woman that I know; but you are also the most
heartless,' answered Lady Brancepeth with some heat. 'I am not a
prude; I can understand temptation and the weakness that cedes to it;
I can understand love and the force that it may exercise, and I can
forgive even its follies; but your kind of coquetry I cannot forgive.
It is the exercise of a merciless power which is as chill as a
vivisector's attitude before his victim. You have no sympathy or
compassion; you have only a sort of cynical amusement in what you do;
you make yourself the centre of a man's life with no more effort than
you use that fan; the man is nothing to you, nothing on earth; but you
destroy all his peace, all his future----'

'Dear Wilkes, do not be so tragic!' murmured Princess Napraxine, with
a little yawn. 'I dislike tragedy; I never by any chance go to
Perrin's when they play one. If men are fond of me--as you say----'

'As I say!' ejaculated Lady Brancepeth.

'As you say; it is merely because--as you wisely if ungrammatically
observed--it is because I do not care the "least little atom" about
any one of them. I should have exceedingly liked to care for Platon;
it would have been something new; it would have agreed with my
programme of life; it would have suited me in every way; but _n'aime
pas qui veut_; who _could_ care for Platon? Does anybody ever care for
a good-natured, very big, and entirely uninteresting person who drinks
brandy and grows bald?'

'You beg my question,' retorted Lady Brancepeth; 'you know very well
that I am not talking of your husband.'

'Then you ought to be if you be not! You are a very immoral woman to
recommend me to care for anybody else,' said the Princess with her
soft, quiet little laugh, that was as pretty as the coo of a wood dove
but by no means so harmless.

'You would exasperate a saint,' cried her companion.

'I never met one,' said Nadine. 'The nearest approach to one that I
know is Melville, and I can put _him_ out of temper.'

'I have no doubt you can,' said Lady Brancepeth; 'I think you would
anyone; you do such immeasurable harm, and are all the while as demure
as a rabbit, and as innocent-looking. My dear Princess, you are the
cruellest woman that lives! Flocon de Neige they call you. They might
much more appropriately call you Goutte de Morphine. You enervate, and
you kill, and all the while, what do you care? You care no more than
the morphia does.'

'Did the ball bore you too so dreadfully that you are so very unkind?
A rabbit and morphia! Your similes are mixed, my dear. I am never a
flirt; a flirt is a very vulgar thing. No man lives, I can assure you,
who could say he ever had a word of encouragement from me. That is not
at all my way.'

'No!' said Lady Brancepeth, bitterly, 'your way is merely to look at
men and destroy them, and then laugh a little when they are spoken of:
I never reproached you with ordinary coquetry; I reproach you with
something much more subtle, arrogant, cold, and cruel. There is a gum
of the East advertised which does not kill flies, only attracts them,
so that they cling to it by millions, and hang there stupidly in a
throng till they die. That gum is very like your power over your
lovers; it is just as passive, just as deadly.'

'The gum and I were made as we are by nature. Blame nature. The men
and the flies would do worse if they did not do that. And pray do not
talk about my lovers; I have none.'

'You have no serfs in Russia, but you have moujiks; and it is still
much the same thing, as far as their submission goes.'

'You are really too sarcastic, Wilkes. Was Cri-Cri's champagne bad?
Surely not. But there must be something you have not digested. Perhaps
it is the caviare sandwiches. Here we are, at home. Do go to bed and
dream of your gum, your rabbit, and your bottle of morphine. None of
these things can swim, but I, who am a combination of them, can; and I
shall be swimming under your window whilst you sleep.'

The carriage stopped at the foot of the terrace of La Jacquemerille,
and she descended, aided by Geraldine, who, with her husband, had
arrived a few minutes earlier.

Lady Brancepeth hurried indoors, conscious, with the consciousness of
thirty-five years, that the morning light was not becoming after a
ball. Nadine Napraxine, with the equally conscious immunity of an
exquisite complexion, and of that kind of beauty which is like a
sea-shell, unwound the lace from about her delicate head, and paused
in the doorway, looking seaward.

'I shall not go to bed,' she said, as the rays of the sunrise touched
the gilded pinnacles and vanes of La Jacquemerille. 'I shall go and
get into a peignoir, then breakfast, and then bathe. It is so stupid
to go to bed when the sun is up. Platon, you look like a bear awaked
before he has done hybernating. Did you not get sleep enough in de
Vannes' _fumoir_?'

'I never get sleep enough,' replied Napraxine, good-humouredly but
drowsily; 'and you do a very foolish thing if you stand there,
Princess, in a frost, at seven o'clock, after five hours of the
cotillon!'

'There is no frost; look at the geraniums; and I never take cold; that
is not my malady at all; I am not so silly.'

Napraxine opened his sleepy eyes.

'When you cannot live in Russia because the tubercles on your
lungs----'

'Dr. Thiviers is responsible for the tubercles. One is obliged to say
something civil to get away from a Court. It is always safe to say one
suffers with one's lungs; nobody can ask to look at them. Pray go to
bed, and dream of Nirvana, if you know what it means.'

The Prince obeyed, and disappeared yawning. Geraldine remained, gazing
at this elegant figure on the marble step, with its _sortie du bal_
of ermine and gold silk folded about it, and the face with its hue of
a white tea-rose, which could defy so surely the searching morning
light.

She glanced at him in return, and laughed. 'How droll you look with
your _claque_ and your ulster; you are not harmonious with the
landscape, my friend; and you look sulky. The ball seems to have
disagreed with all of you; yet it was a very good ball, as balls go;
it is impossible to give any variety to a ball. Balls and funerals,
_ça se ressemble trop_.'

She drew the ermine over her pretty chin, the diamonds sparkled in her
hair; the bouquet of gardenias swung in her hand. The eyes of
Geraldine grew very sombre and covetous.

'I am sorry I am a blot on the scene,' he said, moodily. 'Englishmen
are always unpicturesque. I stood still and gazed at you all night,
but no doubt I only looked like a policeman or a fool----'

'Or both,' she murmured, with a smile.

He continued unheedingly, 'While your friend Othmar, who did precisely
the same thing, looked, of course, to you and to everybody, like a
Titian resuscitated.'

'Othmar is not especially like any Titian that I have ever seen,' said
Madame Napraxine, 'but he knows how to stand with grace, which no
Englishman ever did know yet. You are quite right; your people do not
"compose" well, except when they are in the hunting-field, or playing
some very rough game; but you need not _souffler_ for compliments; you
are very good-looking--in your way.'

'Thanks,' muttered Geraldine, in a tone which would have better suited
an imprecation.

Othmar had not danced once with her; he had indeed only moved
reluctantly through a _contre-danse_ with his hostess; but the
unerring instinct of jealousy made the envy of Geraldine fasten on him
rather than on any other of the crowd for whom the ball at Millo had
only meant Princess Napraxine.

'It is a little chilly,' said the Princess as she turned from the open
door.

Geraldine caught her hand which held the fan: 'If you would but
believe all that your life is to us, you would not run such mad risks
as this raw cold fog after a ball! Had I been Platon, I would have
carried you to your room by main force.'

The face of Nadine Napraxine grew very cold.

'You are not Prince Napraxine--happily for myself and yourself; and I
do not like impertinences. Go and smoke, and recover your good
manners.'

'You were kinder to me before Othmar came home!' said Geraldine, with
injudicious reproach.

'You have _very_ bad manners,' said the Princess calmly, as she
gathered up her ermine and drew her flower-laden train over the little
hall and up the staircase.

She smiled as she passed upward.

'How babyish they all are!' she reflected. 'As if to complain of
another man were not the very way to cement a woman's preference for
him,--if she had any preference. That poor boy has no tact; if his
sister had not said anything about him I would send him away; he is a
bore. To be sure, he is here to take Platon off one's hands, and smoke
with him. All men are tiresome when you have known them a month or so;
all human beings are tiresome. Nobody ever tires of me, and I tire of
everybody. Perhaps----'

She remembered that Othmar had alone never tired her; he had been too
romantic, too presuming, too prone to fancy he had rights and wrongs;
but he had never wearied her. Most men were so absurd when they were
enamoured of her, but he was not so; a little too, like Ruy Blas
perhaps a little too inclined to be serious and impassioned, to the
_vieux jeu_ in a word; but still he had kept his grace and kept his
dignity. He kept them still; he would not let her play with him. She
was the one woman on earth for him; but he did not become her slave.

She had her bath and wrapped herself in a loose gown of satin and lace
and went out into the garden with a rose-coloured hood over her head.
It was certainly cold, and the mists had not altogether cleared; but
it was a point of honour with her to do what her physician and her
friends denounced as most dangerous.

'Platon is snoring,' she thought contemptuously, as she glanced over
the closed shutters. 'And I dare say Geraldine snores too, if one only
knew. I dare say they both took soda and brandy. Men are certainly
unlovely creatures. As long as we are young we are a little better
than they; we look pretty asleep, and we don't snore. How _maquillée_
poor Cri-Cri was last night, and then she really throws her heart into
the affair with de Prangins; nothing ever ages a woman like that; and
I am quite sure he does not care a straw about her.'

She walked up and down her terrace, trailing her rose-coloured skirts
over the marble; she was a little sleepy, a little bored; but she
wished to show to her friends that she could dance all night and
breakfast out of doors without more fatigue than a nightingale, after
singing all night, feels as he trips across the grass at sunrise.

She thought, with a little amusement, that, if Geraldine were really
as wasting with despair as he professed to be, he would have been out
of bed still on the mere chance of her reappearance. The various
degrees of passions in her lovers diverted her; she had no vanity; she
could dissect and weigh their emotions with perfect accuracy and
philosophise upon them with a clearness of understanding wholly beyond
the reach of vain woman. Analysis diverted her much more than
conquest. Some had loved her tragically, some had died through her if
not for her; she had had genuine triumphs, great enough and costly
enough to satisfy the pride of anyone; therefore she could amuse
herself very well with the contradiction when somebody, who declared
that he only lived for her, nevertheless drank his claret with relish;
or somebody else, who was for ever at her feet, nevertheless ceased
not to be critical of his cigars.

'Poor Othmar!' she thought now; 'he would stay sleepless in the street
all night on the chance of seeing my shadow on a window blind!'

That was the _vieux jeu_; romanticism which did not suit their world;
which even made her impatient of it as indifferent people are always
impatient of earnestness. But it was fine after all: finer than
Geraldine's sulkiness which let him go to sleep.

The air was very cold, but the morning was fair, and the mists were
lifting higher and higher every moment; as her skirts brushed the bay
hedge it gave forth a sweet odour, snowdrops and hepatica blossomed
under the big aloes, and ground ivy was green about the stems of the
palms; the mountains grew the hue of summer roses under the sun's
approach, then paled into amethyst and pearly grey; it was intensely
quiet, there was no sound but of some unseen gardener sweeping up dead
leaves; the yellow wings of an oriole flashed among the glossy leaves
of a pitosperum.

'The world looks as if God washed it clean every morning,' she
thought. 'It gets soiled before noon. Decidedly it is only the birds
who are innocent enough for the sunrise.'

The latent sadness of the Russian character was in her, beneath her
_insouciance_ and her pessimism and her irony: sometimes she wished
she had not been born to that world in which she lived, where there is
no pause for reflection, but only a continuous succession of
spectacles, excitations, revelries, where no one is ever alone, where
no one has ever time to note a wild flower grow or a sun sink to the
west, where the babble of society is for ever on the ear, and Nature
has no place at all except as a _décor de théâtre_ of which no one
thinks more than the actor thinks of the painted canvas behind him
with its bridge or its garden or its windmill.

'I do believe I should have liked to have been a poor woman and have
married such a man as Millet or Corot,' she thought to herself now as
she walked along the alley of bay that ran parallel with the sea. Then
she laughed at the idea of herself, living in a cottage in a French
wood, without any lace, without any diamonds, without any toilettes,
looking for a dusty footsore artist coming home through the trees to
his _pot au feu_. Somehow the artist in her fancy had the features of
Othmar,--of Othmar, who was a prince of the Bourses and could no more
escape the world than she could!

It scarcely surprised her when she saw him in person, as though her
thoughts had compelled him to come thither. He was alone, in a little
boat, which drifted slowly past the sea-terrace of La Jacquemerille;
his hands rested idly on the oars, and his eyes were looking upward at
the house.

She leaned down through one of the openings of the wall of clipt bay,
and thrust her rose satin hood over the water:

'Is it you, Othmar?' she said to him. 'What are you doing on the sea
at eight o'clock? How astonished you look! Do you wonder what I am
doing in the open air? They are all asleep comfortably, though they
think I am courting death. Row to the stairs; you can breakfast with
me.'

He hesitated, looking up at her with his head uncovered and his eyes
dazzled by the delicate face that was peering forth from the framework
of close-sheared bay boughs.

'Come!' said Madame Napraxine. Her voice could be very imperious, and
was so now.

He obeyed in silence, passed to the landing-place a hundred yards
farther down, and in five minutes' time approached her under the
arched roof of the bay charmille.

'But you were only back from the ball an hour or less!' he said, as he
bowed before her.

'I was not inclined to go to bed; the morning is fine. You are up
betimes, too. When did you leave Millo?'

'I left when you did,' said Othmar, with significance in the brevity
of the reply.

'Then you cannot have breakfasted either. You will breakfast with me;
I was just going back to the house.'

It was precisely the sort of _coup de scène_ which would amuse her;
her husband and Geraldine lounging downstairs, late, cross, and easily
ruffled, to find her alone with their neighbour from S. Pharamond. It
was one of those amusing little incidents which Providence, who, she
was sure, was kind to her, was always sending her to relieve the
monotony of human life.

'What were you doing under the sea wall?' she pursued. 'Is it your
habit, too, never to go to bed? You must have been rowing some time.
We are two sea leagues at least from your place. What did you think of
Cri-Cri's ball? That new figure with the coloured hoops was pretty;
but the Duc leads a cotillon better than anyone.'

'Admirable pre-eminence!' said Othmar. 'I saw you with the coloured
hoops. You made them look as if Ariel had just brought them from
Titania. But I do not think the charm was in the hoops themselves.'

'If you had cared to lead a cotillon, Othmar, you might have been a
happier man.'

'That I do not doubt; the frivolous faculty is a very happy one.'

'At all events, though you despise it, you are indulgent to it. You
gave us superb presents at your own fête. Come in to breakfast. I
would not admit it if Platon were here, but it _is_ cold.'

'And surely it is not very wise to be in the cold after a ball?'

'That is what they all said, so I came. I have not much sympathy with
children, but I do understand why they like to do a thing for no other
reason than that they are told not to do it. My physicians pretend
that morning air is as bad as damp shoes, but I believe they say that
to be agreeable to their patients who turn night into day. It is not
only Molière's doctors who are charlatans. I imagine it is the
perpetual affectation of sympathy which doctors are compelled to put
on which makes them hypocrites. Come into the house.'

He went on in silence beside her along the bay path. He could not
easily talk of trifles with her; she had filled all his life for two
whole years; he loved her as he had loved no other woman. When he had
returned home from the Millo ball, he had bathed and swam in the
little bay of S. Pharamond, and then had rowed himself along the coast
in that vague irresistible desire to pass near where she dwelt which
every true lover feels.

He had resolved to emancipate himself from her power; as he had
watched her through the night he had told himself that to care for her
was to waste life on a baseless and ungrateful dream. Yet, when she
had looked down from her evergreen rampart, and had said 'Come,' he
had been unable to resist.

As he paced beside her now, the delicate perfume of her laces, the
floating, indefinite lines of the rose-satin draperies, the glimpse of
her profile which the hood showed, her slender feet in their
rose-coloured pearl-sewn slippers, which stepped so lightly over the
shining shingle of the paths--one and all they conquered his calmness
and his resolves, as the fumes of new wine mount over the brain and
move the senses. She walked on, provocative as Venus, unattainable as
Una, speaking idly of this thing and of that, knowing very well what
made his answers all at random and his colour changeful. Other women
might need to use all the arts of conquest; might need to woo with
their eyes, to charm with their smiles, to solicit with their glances.
She had no such vulgar fashions; she moved, spoke, looked, as the
moment actuated her, and noticed her lovers hardly more than she
noticed the little dog that ran after her skirts. To exist and to be
seen was enough to secure her more victories than she chose to count.

If she noticed Othmar more than others it was because he had gone away
from her, he had rebuked her, he had appeared to defy her, and he had
dared to tell her he loved her with more reproach, and more bitterness
of soul than any other had ever done. She did not intend to accept his
life, or to give him hers; but she did intend that his should be
unable to detach itself. And all the while she talked to him with that
easy, even kindness, as of a friend, with those light philosophies of
a woman of the world, which were to the passions of a man as ether
spray thrown upon a lava-flood; and she took him into breakfast with
her as though he were her brother.

She occasionally drank her chocolate in a boudoir opening on to the
terrace; a little nest of white satin and looking-glass and Saxe
china; the ceiling was a mirror painted with little doves and flowers;
the carpet was of lambskins; the corners were filled with azaleas,
rose and white, like her gown. She looked only a larger flower as she
sank down on one of the couches. The chocolate was served on Moorish
trays, in Turkish cups, by a little negro who, gorgeous in his dress
and immovable as a statue, was often taken by new comers for an
enamelled bronze cast by Barbédienne, so motionless did he squat
before the door of any room she occupied. Othmar almost envied that
little African menial the right he had to see his mistress pass and
repass a hundred times a day. Nadine, in her nonchalant way, was kind
to the boy.

'He will die of pneumonia,--they always do,' she said now. 'Poor dusky
little beetles, they only live by their hot sand and their hot sun; to
be sure, our houses inside are as hot as Africa, but outside, the east
wind blows, and one day it will blow too much for Mahmoud. I suppose
it would be a terrible thing for civilisation if the East ever again
surged over the West; but the East has very much to avenge, and I am
not sure that civilisation would be any great loss. It has discovered
that man is only a sort of hotbed for bacteria, and that butter can
be made out of river mud, and coffee out of powdered tan.'

She had taken the hood off her head; she was as charming as a child
freshly out of a bath, with her eyes brilliant and her cheeks a little
warmed by the transition from the chill air of early morning to the
room heated to 30° Réaumur. She had tossed herself backwards amongst
the white satin cushions. Her eyes, which were like onyx, dwelt on him
with a gleam of amusement; her beautiful mouth had the smile which was
so enigmatical, so gay, and yet so cold. She had had a different smile
when she had said to little Mahmoud, 'Cover yourself warmly here;
though the sun shines, it is not African.'

'What has that black brat done that you are so merciful to him?' asked
Othmar.

She replied: 'That black brat is a victim of civilisation. I hate
civilisation, as you know. It even adulterates truffles.'

'Did you ever smile so kindly on your own children?'

'I cannot say. I do not count my smiles. That poor little slave is
interesting, he is an exile, and he will die in a year or two; my
children are insufferably uninteresting; they have unchangeable
health, intense stupidity, and will grow up to have every desire
fulfilled, every caprice gratified, and to become that irresponsible,
useless, tyrannical, anachronism--a Russian noble. Perhaps they will
be good soldiers and kill a score of Asiatics. Perhaps they will only
drink brandy, and gamble.'

Othmar did not reply; he was looking at the exquisite grace of her
form, the tea-rose tint of her cheeks. Was it possible that she could
be the mother of two stout, ugly, Tartar-faced boys? It seemed to him
a profanation; a hideous incongruity. He did not like to think of it.
If she had had a child at all it should have been some blossom-like
creature, sharing her own grace as the catkin shares the willow's. The
subtlest charm about her was that ethereality, as of a virginal
goddess, which was blent in her with all the _finesses_ of seduction
and of mind. The boldest man felt that in Nadine Napraxine the senses
had hardly more empire than in the ivory Venus of the Greeks.

The eyes of Othmar dwelt on her now yearningly, sombrely, wistfully.

'It is of no use,' he said, abruptly. 'I did wrong to come here. If
you wish for men who can, whilst they adore you, sit and drink
chocolate and talk epigrams, seek elsewhere; I am not one of them. I
can wear a mask, but it must be of iron, not of velvet.'

'The iron mask was of velvet,' said she, correcting him, unmoved by
the repressed passion in his voice. 'All our illusions vanish under
the electric light of history, and the iron mask is one of them. I
daily expect to hear that Marie Antoinette was never guillotined, but
succumbed at seventy to dropsy at Schönbrunn; we know it is proved
that Jeanne d'Arc married and died, _bonne bourgeoise_, at Orleans,
and her family enjoyed a pension for three generations from the town.
It is very distressing, but it is all proved from the archives. Why
shouldn't you drink chocolate? Perhaps you do not like it. Men like
nothing that has sugar in it, except flattery. Ring. They will bring
you anything else.'

Othmar looked at her without speaking. Something of the impotent rage
against her with which he had left her in Paris awoke in him under the
sting of her ever dulcet tones, in which a little tone of mockery
could be felt rather than heard.

He rose abruptly.

'Have you never loved anyone?' he asked.

She lifted her eyebrows with impatience and astonishment.

'_Vous voila emballé!_ Dear Othmar, I should like you so much if you
would not always revert to that old theme. You are a man of the world,
or you ought to be one. Be amusing, even be instructive if you like; I
do not mind being instructed, but do not be romantic. Nobody is
nowadays; not even the novelists.'

Othmar appeared scarcely to hear her.

'Did you never love anyone?' he repeated.

She laughed a little.

'You speak as if I were forty years old, with a cabinet full of old
letters and faded roses! No; I never loved anybody, not even Platon!'

The notion suggested in her last words tickled her fancy so much that
she laughed outright.

'I suppose,' she continued, 'somewhere in the world there are women
who have loved Platon; but it seems too funny. He is always eating
when he is not drinking; he is always smoking when he is not sleeping;
_admettons, donc_, that Cupid must fly from his presence. How grave
you look. I believe you have something of the Eastern in you, and
think that all women should be prostrate before their husbands. There
is a good deal of that idea among the moujiks; it must be very
agreeable--for the man.'

'Why did you marry him?' said Othmar, gloomily; it hurt his sense of
honour to speak of Napraxine in Napraxine's house; yet he could not
repress the question.

'Oh, my friend, why do girls always marry?' she said, indifferently.
'Because the marriage is there; because the families have arranged it;
because one does not know; because one wishes for freedom, for jewels,
for the world; because one does not care to be a _fillette_,
chaperoned at every step. There are many reasons that make one marry:
it is the thing to do--everyone does it; when a girl sees the young
married women, she sees them flirted with, sought, monopolising
everything; it is like standing behind a shut door and hearing people
laughing and singing on the other side, while you cannot get to them;
besides, Platon did as well as anybody else, he is more good-natured
than most; he never interferes; he is very peaceable----'

'How long ago is it? Five years--six? Why could I not meet you
before?'

She smiled, not displeased.

'It is seven years. Oh, I do not think it would have done at all; you
are too arrogant; we should have quarrelled before a month was out.
Besides, I should have tormented you to do all manner of
impossibilities; with your immense power, I should have expected you
to buy me an empire.'

Othmar was very pale; the possibility of which she jested so airily
was one he could not think of without a mist before his eyes, a
quickening of his heart. He hesitated to say what rose to his lips;
she would only call it _vieux jeu_.

'I think you might be a great man, Othmar, if you were not Othmar,'
she pursued.

'I do not feel the capabilities,' he replied.

'That is because you are what you are,' she answered. 'You are
something like a king of England. A king of England might have all
the talents, but he could never be a great man because his position
binds him hand and foot, and makes a lay figure of him. You are not a
lay figure, but the very fact that you are Otho Othmar prevents your
being anything besides. I think, if I were you, I should buy some
great sunshiny fantastic eastern kingdom, and reign there; you might
lead the life of a Haroum Alraschid, and forget all about our stupid
Europe with its big dinners, its blundering politics, its unreal
religions, and its hideous dress.'

'A charming dream--if you were with me.'

'Oh, no; you would not want me; you would have two thousand slaves,
each more beautiful than the others.'

'All my life I shall want you!'

He spoke under his breath. He was leaning back in his chair; his face
was cold, almost stern, but his eyes were ardent and full of passion.
All night at Millo he had sworn to himself that never again would he
succumb to her influence or allow her to triumph in the power she
possessed over him, but in her presence he was unnerved, and unable to
keep silent. She, lying back amongst her cushions, glanced at him
under her long lashes, and understood very well the strife which went
on in his soul; the pride of manhood which combatted the impulses of
passion; the impetus which could not be resisted, the impatience of
his own weakness which vibrated through his confession.

'What was the use of your going to Mongolia; you could not escape
_me_,' she thought, with a little of that contemptuous indulgence
which she always felt for her lovers' follies, and a little of a newer
and more personal gratification; for Othmar touched a certain chord in
her mind, a certain pulse in her heart, which others had not done.
There was nothing commonplace or trivial in him. There was a vague
power, unused but existent, which commanded her respect. Nadine
Napraxine despised the world too heartily herself not to have sympathy
with the indifference he felt for his own potentialities and
possessions. He was one of the masters of the world, and he only
wished for one thing on earth--herself. There was a flattery in that
which pleased even her, sated with compliment though she was. There
were moments when she thought that if she had met him before, as he
said, there would have been less ennui and more warmth in her life.
'Only we should have been so sure to have tired of each other,' she
reflected. 'People always do; it is the fault of marriage; it compels
people at the onset to see so much of one another that they have
nothing new left with which to meet the future. If you heard the best
of Bach every day, you would get to hate Bach as intensely as you hate
a street organ; the music would still be perfect, but it could not
withstand incessant repetition. We should have been quite idylically
in love for a few months; I am sure we should; but then we should have
each gone our several ways, and in the end he would have been hardly
better than Platon.'

Aloud, however, she only said, with a little smile:

'You should never say things straight out like that, Othmar. You
should never go beyond a suggestion. The world has spoilt you so
greatly that it has let you get blunt. It is a pity. When I talk to
people I always feel as Boucher said he felt when he talked with his
lady-love. "J'aime tout ce qu'elle va dire; je n'aime rien qu'elle
dit." If we could only always remain at the stage when we are just
going to speak!'

Othmar did not reply. His face was very pale; it had a set stern look,
as though he exercised great self-repression. He was angered against
himself for being there; for having let her lead him thither merely to
be made the sport of her subtle and sarcastic intelligence. It seemed
to him that if his passion were unwelcome to her his presence should
be unwelcome too.

She guessed his thoughts with that rapid intuition which is the gift
of such minds as hers.

'Oh, I am not like that,' she said, with some unspoken amusement; 'I
am not startled at a confession like yours, as a horse starts at a
pistol shot. It seems to me that men are never happy unless they are
talking in that kind of way to some woman who does not belong to them.
They are so like children! In Petersburg, last year, I saw Sachs
crying for a sentinel's cartouche-box because he could not have it. He
had all Giroux's shop in his own nursery, but that did not do. You
are like Sachs. Ought I to ring the bell and dismiss you? Why should
I? I do not think so. Only very primitive beings take fright at
declarations. Besides, you made me so many in Paris, and then you went
to the Mongols. I never knew why you went to the Mongols; why did you
go?'

'Wounded brutes always get away somewhere to be unseen as long as
their wound bleeds,' said Othmar, with some bitterness.

'How Sachs cried for that cartouche-box!' she said, as she lit a
cigarette. 'His women scolded him, but I said to them, "Why do you
scold him? He is a male creature; therefore he must weep for what he
cannot get." Some children cry for the moon; a moon, or a
cartouche-box, or a woman, the principle is the same.'

Othmar rose and approached her. He seemed scarcely to have heard her
jest.

'Nadége, hear me a moment,' he said, in a low tone, through whose
enforced calmness there was the thrill of an intense passion. 'You are
not alarmed at declarations; they are nothing to you, you neither
requite nor reject them; they amuse you, that is all. You are used to
do just what you please with men; I understand that you despise them
so far as you deign to think of them seriously.'

'Despise, no!' she said, with a little gesture of depreciation; 'that
is too strong. Why should I despise them for acting according to their
natures? I do not desire cartouche-boxes myself, but I did not despise
Sachs.'

'I told you in Paris,' pursued Othmar, 'that I would not add one to
the list of those whom you have made ridiculous in the eyes of the
world. I will be all to a woman, or nothing to her. You would have let
me swell the cortège that marks your triumphal passage; you would have
let me fill the place that Lord Geraldine occupies now. You would have
allowed me to drive with you, dine with you, come in and out of your
house, take your husband away when he bored you, do everything that
Lord Geraldine is permitted to do now; and you would have repaid me as
you repay him, by a little laugh, a smile now and then, a vague liking
which would have grown, little by little, into contempt! I would not
accept that place in your household. I would not then. I left you,
though it cost me more than you would ever know or pity, for you do
not understand what love is. I went away; I desired to escape from
you. I did escape. I desired also to forget you, but I could not
forget. You are not a woman who can be forgotten; you are like one of
those _miséricordes_ with which they stabbed men in the Valois days,
that look like mere threads of silver sheathed in velvet, and yet can
go home through breast and bone, and kill more surely than swords that
are as high as a man's shoulder----'

He paused a moment; he breathed quickly and heavily; she looked up,
holding her little cigarette suspended:

'I am like a great many things,' she murmured; 'I thought Wilkes
exhausted all possibilities in comparison this morning. Go on! you are
very _entreprenant_, but it rather becomes you; you may go on if you
like.'

He dropped on his knee beside her:

'No, I would not be what Geraldine is; you tolerate him now, to scorn
him immeasurably hereafter. His own weakness will be the measure of
your scorn. He has never dared to say to you what I said to you in
Paris, what I say now: love me, or I will not see your face again,
except as society may compel me to see it in a crowd. Listen, Nadine!
I love you, only you; I never thought to love any woman so; but I love
you as men did in the old times, and there is nothing I will not
surrender to you save my own self-respect. If to meet you, to touch
your hand, to hear your voice, I must come and go like a dog in your
husband's house, petted one day, chidden the next, absurd in my own
sight and emasculated in the sight of others, I will wrench my love
for you out of my life if my life goes with it! Last night I heard
someone who did not know him inquire who Geraldine was; someone else
answered him, "Oh, that is one of Princess Napraxine's _ensorcelés_;
she never looks at him, but he is content to follow her shadow." You
know me very little if you believe I would ever let the world speak of
me like that. I told you in Paris I would never be the trembling valet
of a bloodless Platonism!'

She looked at him, and a gleam of admiration passed into her eyes for
a moment; she breathed a trifle more quickly; she thought to herself:
'He is superb when he looks and speaks like that! _C'est un homme
celui-là!_'

She did not speak, she leaned back amongst her cushions with a little
look of expectancy upon her face; the whole thing pleased her, as some
admirable piece of acting on the boards of the Théâtre Français
pleased at once her eye, her ear, and her taste.

But Othmar was passionately in earnest; all his heart was in his lips,
all his passions had found voice. He could scarcely see her for the
red mist that swam before his eyes, for the tumult of his senses. He
dropped on his knee beside her.

'Nadine,' he murmured, as his forehead touched her hand, 'I have told
you what I will not do; let me tell you what I will do. I will do as
you say, I will buy some sunlit kingdom far away in the heart of Asia,
and I will take you to it and obey every breath of your mouth as my
one divine law. I will turn my back on Europe once and for ever; I
will let men call me a coward, a fool, an infidel; what they will; I
will give all my present and all my future to you and to you alone;
all I possess shall only exist to minister to you; I will be your
slave, body and mind and will; but only _so_--only if you give
yourself to me as absolutely in return, only if you come with me where
nothing of this world which we have known shall pursue us to remind me
that you were ever else than mine.'

His forehead burned her hand as it touched her, his voice was
passionate in its emotion and eloquence, his heart beat so loudly that
it was audible in the stillness around them. For once she was touched,
almost awed; for once the electricity of the passion she excited
communicated something of its fire and thrill to her. She was silent a
few moments, her eyelids closed, her lips parted, she felt a vague
pleasure in the contact of this intense and imperious love. He saw
upon her delicate features a change of colour, a flicker of emotion,
which no one else had ever seen there; but she motioned him farther
away from her with that dislike to any concession and that sensitive
hauteur which but added to her charm.

She smiled a little, but there was an accent which was almost
tenderness in her voice as she said to him: 'C'est de ne rien perdre
de beaucoup prier! You evidently have belief in that saying. It is
to ask a very great deal, but then you would give a great deal in your
turn. Go away now; I will think. No, I shall not answer you; I want
time for thought. Be satisfied that I am not offended, and go. I ought
to be so, I suppose, but I am not. Go.'

'I may come back?'

His heart beat eagerly and exultantly. He was not refused or
dismissed! 'Château qui parle, femme qui écoutee'--the old proverb
drifted through his thoughts, all confused as they were in a tumult of
hope and desire, and triumph and doubt. A moment's hesitation from her
was more concession than a thousand caresses from a humbler woman.

'I may come back?' he repeated, as she remained silent.

'If you like, we shall meet in other places; yes, you may return in a
fortnight--at this time--in this room, then I will tell you.'

'In a fortnight!'--it seemed to him to be ten years.

'Be thankful for so much,' she said, as she gave him the tips of her
fingers. 'Now go. Mahmoud is in the antechamber.'

He kissed her hand with lips that burned like fire, bowed low and
obeyed her. Nadine Napraxine remained motionless, her eyes were
closed, her mouth smiled; she seemed to dream.

  THE END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.

[Illustration]


       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Table of contents created by Transcriber and placed into the
public domain.

Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.

Minor punctuation and printer errors repaired.

Retained idiosyncratic, antiquated and inconsistent spellings.

Variations in hyphenation have been retained as in the original
publication.

Left "pro formâ" as printed on page 256.





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