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Title: Princess Napraxine, Volume 2 (of 3)
Author: Ramé, Maria Louise
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Princess Napraxine, Volume 2 (of 3)" ***

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 PRINCESS NAPRAXINE

       II.



 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 14    1
  Chapter 15    9
  Chapter 16    41
  Chapter 17    63
  Chapter 18    77
  Chapter 19    80
  Chapter 20    98
  Chapter 21    117
  Chapter 22    136
  Chapter 23    157
  Chapter 24    171
  Chapter 25    192
  Chapter 26    207
  Chapter 27    218
  Chapter 28    232
  Chapter 29    254
  Chapter 30    276
  Chapter 31    278
  Chapter 32    321
  Chapter 33    340
Chatto & Windus's List of Books



     PRINCESS NAPRAXINE

             BY

            OUIDA

       [Illustration]

      IN THREE VOLUMES

          VOL. II.

           London
 CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY
            1884

   [_All rights reserved_]



PRINCESS NAPRAXINE.



CHAPTER XIV.


When her husband and her guests came downstairs at one o'clock, they
found the Princess Nadine looking her loveliest.

'Oh, you lazy people!' she cried to them. 'Are you any the better for
sleeping like that? Look at me. I have been swimming half an hour; I
have dictated twenty letters; I have scolded the gardeners, and I have
seen three boxes from Worth unpacked; it is only one o'clock, and I can
already feel as good a conscience as Titus. I have already saved my
day.'

'I daresay you have only been doing mischief,' said Lady Brancepeth. 'I
should like to see the letters before I judge of the excellence of your
actions.'

'Anyone might see the letters; they are all orders, or invitations, or
refusals of invitations; quite stupid, but very useful; epistolary
omnibus horses driven by the secretary. When I had done with them,
I had my half hour's swim. What nonsense the doctors talk about not
swimming in winter: the chill of the water is delicious. In summer one
always fancies the sea has been boiled. Platon, if you had not gone to
bed, you would have seen your friend Othmar. He was here for half an
hour.'

'Othmar!' exclaimed the Prince. 'Here at that time of the morning?'

'He does not want to go to sleep,' she retorted. 'He had his chocolate
with me, and then rowed himself back to S. Pharamond and Baron Fritz.'

Lady Brancepeth glanced at her.

'You have certainly done a great deal, Nadine, while we have been only
dozing,' she said drily. The Princess looked at her good-humouredly,
with her little dubious smile.

'There is always something to do if one only look for it. You feel
so satisfied with yourself too when you have been useful before one
o'clock.'

'Othmar!' repeated the Prince. 'If I had known, I would have come
downstairs.'

'My dear Platon, you would have done nothing of the kind; you would
have sworn at your man for disturbing you, and would have turned round
and gone to sleep again. Besides, what do you want with Othmar? You do
not care about "getting on a good thing," nor even about suggesting a
loan for Odessa.'

'I like Othmar,' said Napraxine with perfect sincerity. His wife looked
at him, with her little dubious smile. 'It is always so with them,' she
thought. 'They always like just the one man of all others----!'

'I suppose, if I had done quite what I ought, I should have asked
Othmar to "put me on" something,' she said aloud. 'It is not every day
that one has one of the masters of the world all alone at eight o'clock
in the morning.'

'The masters of the world always find their Cleopatras,' said Lady
Brancepeth. 'At La Jacquemerille, perhaps, as well as in Egypt.'

'Cleopatra must have been a very stupid woman,' said Nadine Napraxine,
'to be able to think of nothing but that asp!'

'I do not know that it was so very stupid; it was a good _réclame_. It
has sent her name down to us.'

'Anthony alone would have done that. A woman lives by her lovers. Who
would have heard of Héloïse, of Beatrice, of Leonora d'Este?----'

'You are very modest for us. Perhaps without the women the men might
never have been immortal.'

'I cannot think why you sent Othmar away,' repeated Prince Napraxine.
'I wanted especially to know if they take up the Russian loan----'

'I did not send him away, he went,' replied his wife, with a little
smile; 'and you know he will never allow anyone to talk finance to him.'

'That is very absurd. He cannot deny that his House lives by finance.'

'He would certainly never deny it, but he dislikes the fact; you cannot
force it on him, my dear Platon, in the course of breakfast chit-chat.
I am sure your manners are better than that. Besides, if you did commit
such a rudeness, you would get nothing by it. I believe he never tells
a falsehood, but he will never tell the truth unless he chooses. And I
suppose, too, that financiers are like cabinet ministers--they have a
right to lie if they like.'

'I am sure Othmar does not lie,' said Napraxine.

'I dare say he is as truthful as most men of the world. Truth is not
a social virtue; tact is a much more amiable quality. Truth says to
one, 'You have not a good feature in your face;' tact says to one, 'You
have an exquisite expression.' Perhaps both facts are equally true;
but the one only sees what is unpleasant, the other only sees what is
agreeable. There can be no question which is the pleasanter companion.'

'Othmar has admirable tact----'

'How your mind runs upon Othmar! Kings generally acquire a great deal
of tact from the obligation to say something agreeable to so many
strangers all their lives. He is a kind of king in his way. He has
learnt the kings' art of saying a few phrases charmingly with all his
thoughts elsewhere. It is creditable to him, for he has no need to be
popular, he is so rich.'

'Ask him to dinner to-morrow or Sunday.'

'If you wish. But he will not come; he dislikes dinners as much as I
do. It is the most barbarous method of seeing one's friends.'

'There is no other so genial.'

She rose with a little shrug of her shoulders. She seldom honoured
Napraxine by conversing so long with him.

'Order the horses, Ralph,' she said to Lord Geraldine; 'I want a long
gallop.'

'She has had some decisive scene with Othmar,' thought Lady Brancepeth,
'and she is out of humour; she always rides like a Don Kossack when she
is irritated.'

'There is no real riding here,' said the Princess, as she went to put
on her habit. 'One almost loves Russia when one thinks of the way one
can ride there; of those green eternal steppes, those illimitable
plains, with no limit but the dim grey horizon, your black Ukrane
horse, bounding like a deer, flying like a zephyr; it is worth while to
remain in Russia to gallop so, on a midsummer night, with not a wall or
a fence all the way between you and the Caspian Sea. I think if I were
always in Russia I should become such a poet as Maïkoff: those immense
distances are inspiration.'

She rode with exquisite grace and spirit; an old Kossack had taught
her, as a child, the joys of the saddle, on those lonely and dreamful
plains, which had always held since a certain place in her heart. That
latent energy and daring, which found no scope in the life of the
world, made her find pleasure in the strong stride of the horse beneath
her, in the cleaving of the air at topmost speed. The most indolent
of _mondaines_ at all other times, when she sprang into the saddle as
lightly as a bird on a bough, she was transformed; her slender hands
had a grip of steel, her delicate face flushed with pleasure, the fiery
soul of her fathers woke in her--of the men who had ridden out with
their troopers to hunt down the Persian and the Circassian; who had
swept like storm-clouds over those shadowy steppes which she loved;
who had had their part or share in all the tragic annals of Russia;
who had slain their foes at the steps of the throne, in the holiness
of the cloister; who had been amongst those whose swords had found the
heart of Cathrine's son, and whose voices had cried to the people in
the winter's morning, 'Paul, the son of Peter, is dead; pray for his
soul!' If she were cruel--now and then--was it not in her blood?

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Yseulte was helping her foster-mother to pack tea-roses, to
go to England for a great ball, in their little hermetically-sealed
boxes. The roses were not wholly opened before they were thus shut
away from light and air into darkness. They would not wither in
their airless cells, but they would pale a little in that dull sad
voyage from the sunshine to the frost and fog. As she laid the
rosebuds,--pink, white, and pale yellow,--one by one on their beds of
moss, she thought for the first time wistfully that her fate was very
like theirs; only the rosebuds, perhaps, when they should be taken out
of their prisons at their journey's end, though they would have but
a very few hours of life before them, yet would bloom a little, if
mournfully, in the northern land, and see the light again, if only for
a day. But her life would be shut into silence and darkness for ever;
she would not even live the rose's life '_l'espace d'un matin_.'



CHAPTER XV.


When Othmar went out from her presence, he was more near to happiness
than he had been in his whole thirty years of life. He was filled
with vivid, palpitating, intoxicated hope. He was passionately in
love, and almost he believed himself beloved in return. As much as
she had allowed to him she had certainly allowed to no living man.
The very force of his passion, which had driven him to scorn the
conventional court which he might have paid her in common with so many
others--the spaniel's place of Geraldine, the slave's place of Boris
Seliedoff--rendered him as willing to set no limits to the sacrifices
which she should be free to exact from him, and he be proud to make.
Only he would never share her, even in nominal union with her lawful
lord. He would be all to her, or nothing.

He loathed the conventional adulteries of his time and of his society;
he sighed, impatiently for the means to prove that the old fearless,
high-handed, single-hearted passion which sees in the whole teeming
world only one life, was not dead, but lived in him for her.

He foresaw all the loss of freedom and of fair repute which would be
entailed on him by the surrender of his life to her; he knew well
that she was a woman who would be no docile companion or unexacting
mistress; he knew that there were in her the habits of dominance, the
instincts of egotism, and that _esprit gouailleur_ which compelled
her, almost despite herself, to jest at what she admired, to ridicule
her better emotions, to make a mockery of the very things which were
the dearest to her. He did not because he loved her become blind to
all that was cold, merciless, and capricious in her nature; he was
conscious that she would never lose her own identity in any passion,
never surrender her mind, even if she gave her person, to any lover; he
knew that she would always remain outside those tropic tempests of love
which she aroused and controlled, and which offended her or flattered
her, according to the mood in which they found her.

He knew all these things, and was aware that his future would not be
one of peace. But he loved her, and agitation, jealousy, suffering
beside her would, he felt, be sweeter to him than any repose beside
another. Even these defects, these dangers, which he clearly perceived,
added to her sorcery for him. It is the mistress who is indifferent
who excites the most vehement desires; and, by reason of his great
fortunes, women had been always to him so facile, so eager, and so
easily won, that the coldness of Nadine Napraxine, which he knew was a
thing of temperament, not of affectation, had but the more irresistible
power over him. The very sense with which she impressed everyone,
himself as well as others, of being no more to be held or relied upon
than the snowflake, to which her world likened her, attracted a man who
had, from his boyhood, been wearied by the adulation, insistence, and
sycophancy of almost all who approached him.

The few days of his probation passed slowly over his head, seeming as
though they would never end. He was restless, feverish, and absent
of mind; Friederich Othmar, who, contrary to all his usual habits,
remained at S. Pharamond, tranquilly ignoring the visible impatience
of his host at his unasked presence, was sorely troubled by the
alternate exhilaration and anxiety of spirit which all the reserve
and self-possession of Othmar himself could not wholly conceal from
the penetration of a person accustomed to divine and dive into the
innermost recesses of the minds of men.

'What, in God's name, is he meditating?' thought his uncle. 'Some
insanity probably. I should believe he was about to disappear from
the world with Madame Napraxine if I were not so persuaded that her
pride and her selfishness will never permit her to commit a folly for
anyone. Morality is nothing to her, but her position is a great deal;
her delight in being insolent will never allow her to lose the power of
being so.'

So accurately did this man of the world read a character which baffled
most persons by its intricacy and its anomalies.

To Friederich Othmar human nature presented many absurdities but few
secrets.

He remained at S. Pharamond, despite his own abhorrence of any place
which was not a capital. He passed his mornings in the consideration
of his correspondence and his telegraphic despatches, but in the later
hours of the day and in the evenings he was that agreeable member of
society whom society had known and courted for so many years; and
beneath his pleasant subacid wit and his admirable manner his acute
penetration was for ever _en vedette_ to penetrate his nephew's purpose
and preoccupation. But a lover, on his guard, will baffle an observer
whom the keenest of statesmen would, in vain, seek to deceive or
mislead, and the Baron learned nothing of Othmar's inmost thoughts.
Although Othmar and Nadine Napraxine met twice or thrice in his
presence at other people's houses, and once at S. Pharamond itself,
where some more choice music was given one evening, the acute blue eyes
of the elder man failed to read the understanding which existed between
them. All he saw was that she appeared to treat Othmar, before others,
with more raillery and more nonchalance than usual. He remarked that
Othmar did not seem either hurt or surprised at this.

'Since he is as much in love with her as ever, he must be aware of some
intimacy between them which renders him comparatively insensible to
her treatment of him in society,' thought the sagacity of his uncle,
who was alarmed and disquieted by a fact which would have reassured
less fine observers--the fact that the master of S. Pharamond did
not once, during fifteen days, cross the mile or two of olive-wood,
orange orchard, and hanging field which alone separated him from La
Jacquemerille.

'No love is so patient but on some promise,' he reflected. He knew
the romantic turn of Othmar's character, and he feared its results as
others would fear the issue of some mortal or hereditary disease. A
week or two previous the ministers then presiding over the fortunes
of France had met, at his little house in the Rue du Traktir, the
representatives of two great Powers, and in the newspapers of the
hour that informal meeting, which had led to many important results,
had been called the Unwritten Treaty of Baron Fritz; and yet, at such
a moment, instead of being entranced with such influence as such a
nickname implied to his House, instead of being occupied with the
power, the might, and the mission of the Othmars, which that gathering
around the library-table in the Rue du Traktir displayed for the
ten thousandth time to the dazzled eyes of suppliant and trembling
Europe, Otho himself could only think of a woman with larger eyes and
smaller hands than usual, but a woman absolutely useless to him in any
ambitions--likely, rather, to be his ruin in all ways!

'I could understand it were she one of the great political forces
of the world. Some women are that, and might so, to us, be of very
high value,' thought Friederich Othmar, 'but Madame Napraxine is as
indifferent to all political movement as if she were made of the ivory
and mother-of-pearl which her skin resembles. If she be anything, she
is that horrible thing a Nihilist, only because Nihilism embodies an
endless and irreconcilable discontent, which finds in her some secret
corner of vague sympathy. But for politics in our meaning of the word
she has the most complete contempt. What did she say to me the other
day? "I am a diplomatist's daughter. I have seen the strings of all
your puppets. I cannot accept a Polichinelle for a Richelieu, as you
all do." And she declared that if there were no statesmen at all, and
no journalists, life would go smoothly; everybody would attend to their
own affairs, the world would be quiet, and there would be no wars. What
but disaster can such a woman with such views bring into the life of
Otho, already paralysed as it is by poco-curantism?'

He asked the question of himself in his own meditations, and could give
himself no answer save one which grieved and alarmed him.

Othmar himself bestowed on his guest but little thought except a
passing impatience that his uncle should have taken that moment, of all
others, to instal himself at S. Pharamond.

He had not the cynicism nor the _insouciance_ of the woman he adored.
He did not attempt any sophisms with his own conscience. He knew that
to do a man dishonour was to do him a violence unkinder, and perhaps
even in a way baser, than to take his life. But he was ready to pledge
himself to that which, unlike her, he still considered was a sin.
He was entirely mastered by a force of passion which she could have
understood by the subtlety of her intelligence, but was not likely ever
to share by any fibre of her nature. He was lost in that whirlpool of
emotion, anticipation, and fear which carried his inner life away on
it, although his outer life remained in appearance calm enough for no
eyes save those of the Baron to penetrate the disguise of his serenity.

Yseulte he had forgotten.

The simple and innocent tenderness which she had momentarily aroused
in him could not hold its place beside the overwhelming passion which
governed him, more than a slender soft-eyed dove can dispute possession
with the fierce, strong-pinioned falcon. Once or twice he saw her and
spoke to her with kindness, but his thoughts were far away from her,
and he did not linger beside her, although each time he chanced to meet
her on the way to her foster-mother's, in lonely lovely country paths,
which might well have tempted him to tarry.

On the thirteenth day of his probation, the priest's gown which, to
please her, he had ordered for the church of S. Pharamond, arrived at
the château, and, his attention being drawn to it by his servants,
he remembered his promise to her. It was the last day of the year. A
passing remembrance of pity came over him as he thought of her; she
was so entirely alone, and she would go to the life of the cloister;
a fancy came to him to do some little thing to give her pleasure; a
mere evanescent breath of innocent impulse, which passed like the cool
breeze of an April day, sweet with scent of field flowers, across the
heated atmosphere of desire and expectation in which his soul was then
living. Conventional etiquette had seldom troubled him greatly; he
had always enjoyed something of that sense which princes have, that
whatever he did the world would condone. A man of the exceptional power
which he possessed can always exercise on his contemporaries more or
less of his own will. Whatever he might have done no one would have
said of him anything more severe than that he was singular.

When he went into Nice that day he chanced to see a very pretty thing,
modern, but admirable in taste and execution, a casket of ivory mounted
on silver, with a little angel in silver on the summit. On its sides
were painted in delicate miniatures reproductions of Fra Angelico
and Botticelli. It was signed by a famous miniaturist, and cost ten
thousand francs. Othmar, to whom the price seemed no more than ten
centimes, bought it at once.

'It will please her,' he thought. 'It shall go to her with the
soutane;' and he sent it with the vestment to Millo, addressed to
Mademoiselle de Valogne. His knowledge of etiquette told him that he
ought to send it, if he sent it at all, through the Duchesse; but he
did not choose to obey etiquette; he had discarded social rules, more
or less, all his life, according to his inclination, and people had not
resented his rebellion simply because he was who he was. He utterly
disobeyed etiquette now, and sent his present direct to Yseulte very
early on the morning of the New Year.

It did not occur to him that he might only run the risk of cruelly
compromising the poor child. He gave hardly more thought to the action
than he would have given to a rose which he might have broken off
its stalk to offer to her. All his heart had gone with the basket of
flowers which he had sent at sunrise to Nadine Napraxine, who allowed
no other offering.

The chances were a million to one that his casket would never
reach its destination without being seen, if not intercepted, by
the governesses; but as it happened, his messenger gave it to the
gatekeeper, and the gatekeeper gave it in turn to the woman who served
her as maid during her stay at Millo, and who was passing through the
gates, on her way home from matins. The woman was attached to her;
indeed, being a religious person herself, considered that Yseulte was
the only creature whose presence saved Millo from the fate of Sodom and
Gomorrah; therefore, pleased that the girl should have pleasure, she
carried the packet straight to her as she rose from her bed; and in the
cold, misty morning of the New Year the first thing that greeted the
astonished eyes of Yseulte was the Coronation of the Virgin, glowing
like a jewel on the side of the ivory casket.

The whole day passed to her in an enchanted rapture.

In the large, idle, careless household there was a general exchange
of congratulations and _étrennes_, and a pleasant tumult of good
wishes and merriment. Blanchette and Toinon danced about before a
pyramid of bonbons and costly playthings, and the Duchesse, descending
at her usual hour, two o'clock, gave and received a multitude of
felicitations, gifts, and visits. 'The most tedious day of the whole
three hundred and sixty-five,' she said pettishly, giving her cheek to
the touch of her children's pale little lips.

In the many occupations and ennuis of the day no one heard or knew
anything of Othmar's present. At noon some bouquets of roses and some
orchids, laid on a plate of old _cloisonné_ enamel, were brought in
his name to Madame de Vannes, but she knew nothing of her cousin's
casket. Meanwhile nothing could hurt Yseulte. The contempt with which
her little cousins received the gifts she had made for them in the
convent, the oblivion to which she was consigned by every one, the
carelessness with which the Duchesse received her timidly-offered good
wishes, the severity with which the governesses forbade her to go out
in such weather to see Nicole or attend Mass in the little church, the
unconcealed ill-temper with which Alain de Vannes flung her a word of
greeting--none of these things had any power to wound her; she scarcely
perceived them; she was lifted up into a world all her own. Unnoticed
in the general _branle-bas_ of the day, she passed the hours, when she
was not at Mass in the chapel, locked safely in her own room, before
her treasure, in a rapt happiness, in a wonder of ecstasy, which were
so intense that she feared they were cardinal sins.

The weather was cold, some snow had even fallen, and the north winds
blew, making all the chilly foreigners gathered on those shores shiver
and grumble like creatures defrauded of their rights; but all the
grey, cheerless, misty landscape, and the fog upon the sea, appeared
more beautiful to her than they had ever done before in its sunshine.
From her window she looked at the towers of S. Pharamond, and on her
table--all her own--was the ivory casket.

The Duchesse de Vannes, waking in the forenoon after the Jour de l'An,
cross, peevish, sleepy, and yet sleepless, which is, in itself, the
most irritating and dispiriting of all human conditions, and morbidly
conscious that, as her little daughter had said, she was beginning
to _baisser un peu_, was in a mood of natural resentment against all
creation in general and the human race in particular, and quite ready
to vent her ill-humour on the first object which offered itself.
That first object was one of the little prim notes by which her
children's instructresses were wont to communicate any terrible event
in the schoolroom, or any entreaty for guidance when Mademoiselle
Blanchette had insisted on riding the wooden horses at a village fair,
or Mademoiselle Toinon had dressed herself up in the smallest groom's
clothes. 'Ne m'ennuyez pas; vous savez vos devoirs' was the only reply
they ever received; but the good women continued to write the notes
as a relief to their consciences. They wrote one now, signed in their
joint names, humbly entreating to be informed if it were the pleasure
of Madame la Duchesse that Mdlle. de Valogne should receive presents
of which the donor was unknown. Mdlle. de Valogne was in possession of
a new and very valuable locket; they believed also that she was in the
habit of going to the gardens of S. Pharamond; they had deemed it their
duty to acquaint Madame la Duchesse, &c., &c.

Blanchette, with the most innocent face in the world, had said to them,
'I have seen the big pearl locket of Yseulte! _Oh, vrai!_ When I am
as old, I will not hide my handsome things as she does. Who gave it
her? Who do you think could give it to her? She is friends with that
gentleman at S. Pharamond--the one that is as rich as M. de Rothschild.
I think he gave it her! Do you tell mamma.'

Blanchette guessed very shrewdly that her father had given the locket;
but she was too wary to offend him. Blanchette was like the little cats
who steal round and round to their mouse by devious paths unseen. She
had alarmed the governesses, and the prim note was the consequence.

When the Duchesse read it, she flung it away in a corner. '_Tas
d'imbéciles_,' she said, contemptuously; then said to one of her maids,
'Request Mdlle. de Valogne to come hither.'

Yseulte was presented in a fortuitous moment as the whipping-boy on
whom could be spent all that useless irritation which she could not
spend on the real offenders, her ineffective chloral, her increasing
wrinkles, and the indifference of Raymond de Prangins.

'Mamma is always cross,' the wise little Blanchette had reflected.
'She is always angry, even for nothing. That great baby will get a
lecture, and she will be sure to say it was papa; she always tells the
truth--such a simpleton!--and papa will hate her for ever and for ever!'

Then Blanchette made a _pied de nez_ all by herself in her little
bedroom: when you were a child you could not have many things your
own way, but you could spoil other people's things very neatly with a
little pat here, a little poke there, if you looked all the while like
your picture by Baudry, an innocent cherub with sweet smiling eyes, who
could not have made a _pied de nez_ to save your life. Blanchette had
already acquired the knowledge that this was how the world was most
easily managed.

When Yseulte was summoned to her cousin's presence, the girl was
startled to see how old she looked, for it was scarcely noon, and the
handsome face which 'Cri-Cri' was wont to present to her own world had
scarcely received its finishing touches from the various embellishing
_petits secrets_ shut up in their silver boxes and their china pots,
which were strewn about under the great Dresden-framed mirror in front
of her.

'Good-day,' she said, with irritation already in her voice, as Yseulte
timidly kissed her hand. 'Is this true what they tell me, that you
receive presents without my knowledge and consent? Do you not know that
it is perfectly _inconvenable_? Are you not taught enough of the world
in your convent to be aware that a young girl cannot do such things
without being disgraced eternally? What is it you have accepted? Is it
a jewel? Can you realise the enormity of your action?----' she paused,
in some irritation and uncertainty. 'Well, why do you not speak? Can
you excuse yourself? What is it you have taken? From whom have you
taken it? My people have told me you have a new and valuable jewel and
refuse to say who gave it.'

'My cousin, M. le Duc, gave it me,' said Yseulte. 'He said that I was
to tell you if you asked me, but not anyone else.'

She spoke frankly, without any hesitation. The Duchesse stared at her,
half rose in her amazement; her face was dark with anger for a moment,
then cleared into a sudden laughter.

'My husband!' she echoed. 'A _fillette_ like you! And they say there
are no miracles now! Do you absolutely mean to say that Alain gave you
a jewel?----'

'He was so good as to give me a locket--yes,' murmured Yseulte,
conscious that her cousin was angry, insolent, and derisive, and afraid
that the Duc would be irritated at the issue of his kindness to her.

'Pray, has he given you anything else?' echoed Madame de Vannes. 'Has
he given you the diamonds he had bought for Mdlle. Rubis, or the
_coupé_ from Bender's which he meant for _la grande_ Laure?'

'He has not given me anything else,' answered Yseulte, to whom these
terrible names conveyed no meaning.

'Where is this locket? Show it me.'

'It is in my room. Shall I fetch it?'

'No, no. It does not matter. You can send it me. I will send Agnès for
it. The idea of Alain having even looked at you!--it makes one laugh;
it is too absurd.'

She continued to laugh, but the laughter did not convey to the ear of
Yseulte any impression either that she was pardoned or that her cousin
was amused. It was a laugh expressive of irony, irritation, wonder,
contempt, rancour, all in one.

'You should not have taken it. You should have told me,' continued
the Duchesse. 'To be sure, he is your cousin. But it is not proper to
take a man's gifts. It is not becoming. It is too forward. It is even
immodest. Is that the sort of thing the Dames de Ste. Anne have taught
you? Surely you might have known better.'

These phrases she uttered in a staccato rapid succession, as if she
thought little of what she said; she was indeed thinking as the girl
stood before her:

'What a skin! What shoulders! What a throat! What a thing it is to be
sixteen! Why did not _le bon Dieu_ make all that last longer with us?
It goes too soon; so horribly soon; after one is five-and-twenty it
is all one can do to make up decently. If it were only the complexion
which went it would not matter; that one can easily arrange; but it
is the features that change; they grow out or they grow in; the mouth
gets thin or the cheeks get broad; the very lines alter somehow, and we
cannot alter that; and then to make oneself up is as much trouble as
to build a house, and the house has to be built anew every day!--it is
horribly hard--and yet one has compensations, revenges; it is not those
children whom men care to look at though they are fresh as roses; at
least not usually. Alain, I suppose, does--what can he mean by giving
her a medallion?'

While these thoughts ran through her mind, she was staring hard at
Yseulte through her eyeglass, as though they had never met before then.
The girl had coloured scarlet at the epithet 'immodest,' but it had
made her a little angry, with the righteous indignation of innocence.
Respect kept her mute, but her face spoke for her.

'Alain was right; she is really handsome,' reflected the Duchesse.

She was herself only eight-and-twenty, but in the world as on the
racecourse it is the pace that kills; and before she had passed through
all those arduous processes which she had rightly compared to building
a house anew every day, she knew very well that she looked cruelly old,
though after two o'clock in the day she was still one of the great
beauties of France.

She had been immersed in pleasures, pastimes, and excitements from
the day of her marriage; she had lived in a crowd, she had gambled
not a little, and she had had certain intrigues, of whose dangers
she had at times a vivid and anxious consciousness, for the Duc was
indifferent but not base, and might any day be roused if he came to be
aware that men laughed at him more than he liked. As a rule, she and
he understood each other very well, and tacitly condoned each other's
indiscretions; but there might come a time when he would break that
convenient compact, as she felt disposed now to resent his admiration
of her young cousin. On the whole, perhaps, she mused, she had been
wrong to do so; she would let the girl keep his present; he might, if
she provoked him, insist that Raymond de Prangins should leave Millo.
All these reflections occurred to her during that one minute in which
her eyeglass watched the indignation rise in Yseulte's face.

'Have you seen M. de Vannes alone?' she resumed, with a sharpness in
her voice, due rather to her own sense of the girl's beauty than to her
knowledge of her husband's admiration for it.

'Now and then,' said Yseulte without hesitation. 'He has come into the
schoolroom----'

'For a lesson in A B C, I suppose?--or a cup of Brown's green tea?'
said the Duchesse contemptuously. 'Well, he may _conter ses fleurettes
ailleurs_. I should have thought he had had better taste than to begin
in his own house: however,' she continued, interrupting herself, as she
remembered that she was suggesting, 'I do not suppose it is you who
are to blame. But another time, ask my permission before you accept
anything from anybody. I will not deprive you of the Duc's gift. He is
in a manner your cousin--your guardian--of course he meant very kindly,
but another time remember to come to me. You will tell the Duc that I
said so.'

'Good heavens!' she was thinking, 'who would have supposed that Alain
had a taste for a creature like that, half a saint and half a baby? To
be sure, her eyes are superb, and the throat and bosom--what beautiful
lines they have; why did they send her here? She shall go back next
week. The wickedness of the thing would charm him; the nearer it was
to a crime, the more of a _clou_ it would be. To play Faust under the
respectable shade of Brown's teapot and the big dictionaries would be
sure to enthral him, out of its very drollery--men are made like that.'

Then a remembrance of S. Pharamond passed over her, and she said aloud,
with an unkind sarcasm in her voice:

'Perhaps you have other friends beside M. de Vannes? Pray tell me if
you have. I fully appreciate the effects of the education which the
Dames de Ste. Anne have given you.'

Yseulte coloured scarlet, and the Duchesse's eyes scanned her face as
Blanchette's had done, without mercy.

'Pray tell me,' she continued, with a chill dignity, which was in sharp
contrast with the sarcasm and railing of her previous manner. 'You will
be so good as to remember that I stand in the place of your mother;
your indiscretions are not alone painful to me, but compromising to me.
Is it true that you are intimate with Otho Othmar?'

'He has been kind to me,' murmured Yseulte, an agony at her heart and
the hot tears standing in her eyes. She did not understand enough of
the world to justify herself by the fact that the offender had been
presented to her by her cousin herself; nor, if she had done so, would
the position she stood in towards Madame de Vannes have allowed her to
use such a justification without apparent impertinence. For eight years
she had owed everything to the Duchesse.

'Kind to you!' echoed her cousin, 'a most fortuitous phrase, but not
one that young girls can employ except to their own ridicule and
injury. Pray how has he been kind to you? has _he_ given you a locket?'

Yseulte might easily have told a lie; no one knew of the casket, no one
could tell of it; she loved it more dearly than anything she had ever
possessed. But she had been taught in her childhood that falsehood was
cowardice, and the courage of the de Valogne was in her; therefore she
answered, with an unsteady voice indeed, but with entire truthfulness,
'He has given me a very beautiful box, it is made of ivory and painted,
it came yesterday----'

Madame de Vannes burst into another laugh, which jarred on the child's
ear:

'Really,' she cried, relapsing into the manner most natural to her,
'you begin well! Othmar and my husband! and you are not quite sixteen
yet, and we all thought you such a little demure saint in your grey
clothes! Send the casket to me. You cannot receive presents in that
way. From your cousin, _passe encore_, but from a man like Othmar--you
might as well go and sup with him at Bignon's. Good heavens! What are
Schemmitz and Brown about that they have let you meet him? Where have
you seen him? how have you become intimate with him?'

Yseulte had become very pale. She had done her duty; done what honour,
truth, obedience, and gratitude all required; but it had cost her a
great effort, and she would lose the casket.

'I have only seen him three times,' she said, with her colour changing;
and she went on to tell the story of her visit to his gardens, of his
conversation with her on the seashore, of the priest's soutane, and of
their meeting at the house of Nicole. It was a very simple inoffensive
little story, but it hurt her greatly to tell it; cost her quite as
much as it would have done Madame de Vannes to unfold all her manifold
indiscretions in full confession before a _conseil de famille_.

'He has been very kind to me,' she said timidly, as she finished her
little tale, 'and if--if--if you would only let me keep the casket and
take it to Faïel?'

The Duchesse laughed once more:

'You do not care to keep the Duc's locket--how flattering to him!
Really, _fillette_, you are sagacious betimes; I would never have
believed you such a cunning little cat! Did you learn all that at
the convent? you convent-girls are more _rusées_ than so many rats!
Othmar, of all men of the world! My dear, you might as well wish for
an emperor. There is not a marriageable woman in Europe who does not
sigh for Othmar! He is so enormously rich! There is no one else rich
like that; all the other financiers have a tribe of people belonging to
them. "The family" is everywhere, at Paris, at Vienna, at Berlin, at
London, and have as many branches as the oak; but Othmar is absolutely
alone--for old Baron Fritz does not count--he is absolutely alone,
that is what is unique in him. Whoever marries him will be the most
fortunate woman in Europe. Yes, I say it advisedly, it is fortune that
is power nowadays; our day is over; we do not even lead society any
longer.'

The colour had rushed back into Yseulte's face; the Duchesse's words
tortured her as only a very young and sensitive creature can be
tortured by an indelicate and cruel suspicion. 'I never thought, I
never meant,' she murmured. 'You know, my cousin, I am dedicated to the
religious life; you cannot suppose that I--I----' The words choked her.

'_Ne pleurnichez pas, de grâce!_' said the Duchesse impatiently. 'I
have no doubt you have taken all kinds of impossibilities into your
head, girls are always so foolish; but you may be sure that the gift of
the casket means nothing--nothing. Othmar is always giving away, right
and left; most very rich men are mean, but he is not. It was a wrong
thing, an impertinent thing, for him to do, and it must be returned to
him instantly; but if you imagine you have made any impression upon
him, I can assure you you are very mistaken, he only thinks of Nadine
Napraxine.'

Yseulte remained very pale; her eyes were cast down, her lips were
pressed together. She had done her duty and told the truth, but she
was not recompensed.

The Duchesse rang for her maids. To the one who answered the summons,
she said: 'Accompany Mdlle. de Valogne to her room, and bring me a
casket she will give you, which is to be sold for the Little Sisters of
the Poor. _Va-t'-en, Yseulte._'

She put out her hand carelessly, and the girl bent over her.

'My cousin! I have never seen him but three times,' she murmured
again. Her face was very pale; she had been wounded profoundly by the
Duchesse's words, even though their full meaning was not known to her.

Madame de Vannes laughed again; then, with an assumption of dignity,
which she could take on at will, said coldly:

'Once was too much. Never accuse accident; no one believes in it.
Remember also, that as one vowed to the service of Heaven, it is
already sin in you if you harbour one earthly thought. Go, and send me
the casket.'

Without another word Yseulte curtsied and withdrew from her presence.

When the maid returned, she brought her mistress the ivory casket; but
inside it was the Duc's medallion. Madame de Vannes laughed yet again
as she saw.

'The little obstinate!' she murmured. 'It is not often that Alain
throws pearls, or anything else away. And what a casket! Heavens! it is
fit for a wedding gift to a queen. Is it possible that Othmar---- No,
it is not possible; he would never think of a child like that. Perhaps
he did it to rouse Nadine. What a cunning little pole-cat these nuns
have sent me!'

But a kind of respect awakened in her towards her young cousin. A girl
who could charm Alain de Vannes and Othmar was not to be dismissed
scornfully as a novice and a baby. The Duchesse drew some note-paper to
her, and wrote a little letter to her neighbour, in which she expressed
herself very admirably, with dignity and grace, as the guardian of
a motherless child who was dedicated to the service of Heaven. She
suggested, without actually saying so, that he had failed in reverence
towards Heaven, and towards the Maison de Vannes and the Maison de
Creusac, in permitting himself to offer gifts to Mdlle. de Valogne;
she recalled to him, without any positive expression of the sort, that
a young girl of noble descent could not be approached with gifts as a
young actress might be, and that if any had been offered they should
have, at least, been offered through herself.

She was honestly irritated with Othmar for having thus been wanting,
as she considered, in full respect for those great families from which
Yseulte de Valogne had sprung. She was excessively angry with her
children's governesses, whose negligence had rendered it possible for
the girl to wander about alone, and she gave them a short but very
terrible audience in her dressing-room; yet, on the whole, the affair
amused her a little, and the high-breeding in her made her do justice
to the honour which had forced her young cousin to tell unasked all the
truth.

Later on she had a little scene with her husband, half comic, half
tragic, in which they flung the _tu quoque_ liberally one at the other,
apropos of many vagaries less innocent than his fancy for Yseulte
de Valogne; but she did not tell him about Othmar's casket, for she
reasoned, with admirable knowledge of men's natures, that they cared
so much more if they thought any one else cared too.

Meanwhile Yseulte, having given the casket into the hands of the maid
without a word or a sign of regret, locked herself in, threw herself on
her bed, and sobbed as piteously as though the magic box had been that
of Pandora, and bore all hope away within it.



CHAPTER XVI.


Nadine Napraxine kept her promise to Othmar. She did for him what she
had done for no other human being; she meditated on his entreaties as a
thing which might possibly be granted by her. She looked for a little
while through the play and the glow of his impassioned words as through
some painted window into some agreeable land whither, perchance, she
might travel.

The very sternness and daring of his manner of demand had its
attraction for her. None of her courtiers had wooed her quite in
that way: some had been too timid, some too submissive, some too
worldly-wise. The insane desire to fly with her from the world to some
far-away, semi-barbaric, mysterious Eden of his own making had never
been so boldly and uncompromisingly set forth to her by any lover as
now by Othmar. It had a certain fascination for her even while the
philosophy and irony in her ridiculed the idea. It responded to the
vague but very real dissatisfaction with which life, as it was, filled
her. She was tired of the routine of it. Everyone said the same thing.
Its very triumphs were so monotonous that they might just as well have
been failures. Half her provocation and cruelty to men arose from a
wish which she could not resist, to find something vivid and new to
interest her. She succeeded in causing tragedies, but she did not
succeed in being interested in them herself.

Othmar did interest her--in a measure.

He had done so from the first moment that she saw him coming in--tall,
slight, grave, with great repose and more dignity than most men of his
day--through the vague light, _entre chien et loup_, into the hall of
a country house in the green heart of the Ardennes, where she and her
hosts and a great party, wearing the russet and gold and pale blue of
their hunting clothes, were waiting for the signal of the _curée_ from
the terraces without.

He had interested her then and always in a degree; but only in a degree.

'It certainly cannot be love that _I_ feel,' she said to herself,
with regret. 'I am glad when he comes because he--almost--excites
me, but I am glad when he is gone because he--almost--disturbs me. I
can imagine certain follies being possible to me when he is here, but
they never quite become possible. If I were sure they would become
so, and in becoming so be agreeable to me, I would go away with him.
But--but--but----.'

The objections seemed many to her, in a way insuperable; they lay in
herself, not in him, and so appeared never to be removed.

She respected him because he would have scorned one of those intrigues
screened under conventional observances, of which the world is so
full. If she could have entirely persuaded herself that his life was
absolutely necessary to hers, she would not have hesitated to let
society become aware of the truth. She had no grain in her of the
hypocrite or of the coward.

But she was not sure: and to break up your life irrevocably, to throw
it into a furnace and fuse it into a wholly new shape, to fling your
name to all the hounds who fed on the offal of calumny, and then
to find, after all this _Sturm und Drang_, that you had only made
a mistake, and were only a little more bored than before!--this
possibility seemed to be at once so dreary and so ridiculous that she
did not dare to put it to the proof. Her own potential weariness in the
future to which he wooed her, rose before her in a ghastly shape and
barred the way.

She pondered on the matter fully and sincerely for some days: days
in which nothing pleased her: days in which her riding-horse felt
her spurs, and her friends her sarcasms: days in which her toilettes
had little power to interest her; Worth himself seemed worn out; her
admirable tire-woman did nothing well; and her husband seemed to her
to have grown heavier, stouter, stupider, more Kalmuck, and more
intolerable than ever during the hours of breakfast and dinner, which
were the only hours weighted by his presence. In those few hours she
felt almost persuaded to take her lover at his word. Platon Napraxine
was so densely, so idiotically, so provocatively unalarmed and secure!
He would have tempted almost any woman to make him suddenly awake to
find himself ridiculous.

'He would howl like a wounded bear!' she thought contemptuously, 'and
then somebody would bring him brandy, and somebody would mention the
tables, and somebody would talk about Mdlle. Chose, and he would be all
right again. He is too stupid to feel. There are prairie dogs, they
say, which hardly know when they are shot or beaten; he has got the
soul of one of them. Because I have married him he is convinced that I
shall never leave him;--_la belle raison_! There are so many men like
that. They marry just as they buy a cane; they put the cane in the
stand; it is bought and it cannot move; they are sure it will always be
there. One fine day some one comes and takes it; then they stare and
they swear because they have been robbed.'

This time of uncertainty and doubt, which was to Othmar fraught with
such wild alternations of hope and of fear, which now swung him in his
fancy high as heaven and now sunk him deep in the darkness of despair,
was to her a period rather of the most minute analysis and of the
most subtle self-examination. In the _naïveté_ of her profound and
unconscious egotism she never once considered his loss or gain: she was
entirely occupied with the consideration of her own wishes. Everything
bored her; would she, if she took this step, which to most women would
have looked so big with fate, be less bored--or more? This seemed to
her the one momentous issue which trembled uncertain at the gate of
choice.

She considered it thoughtfully and dispassionately. She was not
troubled by any moral doubts, or any such reasons for hesitation as
would have beset many women of more prejudices and of less intelligence
than herself. All these things were _le vieux jeu_. She was far too
clear-sighted and too highly-cultured to be scared by such bogies as
frighten narrow minds. She saw no sanctity whatever in the marriage
ties which bound her to Platon Napraxine. You might as well talk of
a contract for eggs and butter, or an operation on the Bourse being
sacred! No human ordinances can very well be sacred, and we cannot
be sure there are any divine ones, logically, all the probabilities
are that there are none; so she certainly would have said had anyone
challenged her views on such a subject.

In a manner, this crisis of her life amused her like a comedy. The
unconsciousness of her husband whilst the unseen cords of destiny were
tightening about him; the revolt and impatience of Othmar, conveyed to
her by many a restless glance and half-uttered word as they passed each
other in his drawing-rooms or in those of others; the ignorance of her
lovers and her friends; and her own meditations as to the many comments
that the world would make if ever it knew: all these diverted her.

What alone troubled her was her own pride. Would she ever be able to
endure any loss of that? '_Je serai honnête femme_,' she had said to
her father in her childhood, and when she had repeated the words in her
womanhood her mind had been made up not so much by coldness, chastity,
or delicacy as by hauteur. She could not have endured to feel that
there were any doors in Europe which could be shut in her face, or that
she could not shut her own whensoever and against whomsoever she might
choose.

His term of probation came to an end one morning when the day had
nothing of winter save its date; a morning rosy and golden, with
distant mists transparent as a veil, and the mild air soundless and
windless amongst the mimosa and eucalyptus groves of the grounds of La
Jacquemerille. For once Nadine Napraxine condescended to be true to an
appointment; whilst the day was still young and all the lazy world of
the modern Baiæ still dozed or, at the utmost, yawned itself awake, she
moved, with that lovely languor which was as much a portion of her as
the breath she drew, along the sea-terrace of her house, and smiled to
see Othmar already standing at the foot of the sea-steps.

'What children men are!' she thought, with that ridicule which the
ardour of her lovers was always most apt to awake in her, as he bent
over her hand and pressed on it lips which trembled.

'It must be really delightful,' she continued in her own reflections,
'to be able to be so very eager and so very much in earnest about
anything. Instead of abusing us, men ought to be infinitely thankful
to us for giving them emotions which do, for the time at least eclipse
those of baccarat and of pigeon-shooting. In a moment or two he will be
inclined to hate me, but he will be very wrong. He will always be my
debtor for fifteen days of the most exquisite agitation of his life.
Twenty years hence he will look back to this time, and say, "_Oh, le
beau temps quand j'étais si malheureux!_"'

Whilst she so mused she was saying little careless, easy phrases to
him, pacing her terrace slowly, with her great mantle of iris-coloured
plush, lined with silver-fox fur drawn close about her, and its
hood about her face, like its spathe around the narcissus. She was
serene, affable, nonchalante; he was silent, and deeply agitated; so
passionately eager for his fate to be spoken, that he could find no
light sentences with which to answer hers.

'He looks very well in that kind of excitement,' she thought, as she
glanced sideways at him. 'He is poetic in it, instead of being only
awkward, like poor Ralph. Really, if one could only be sure of one's
self----'

She amused herself awhile by keeping him upon the terrace, on which all
the windows of the house looked, and where regard for her must perforce
restrain him from any betrayal of his own emotions. She felt as if she
held in leash some panting, striving, desert animal which she forced to
preserve the measured pace and decorous stillness of tamed creatures.

At length, compassion or prudence made her relent, and enter the
little oriental room where his eloquent avowals had been made a
fortnight before. She closed the glass doors, threw off her furs, and
stood in the subdued light and the heated air of the room, cool, pale,
delicate as the April flower which she resembled, long trailing folds
of the primrose-coloured satin which formed her morning _négligé_
falling from her throat to her feet in the long lines that painters
love; one great pearl fastened a few sprays of stephanotis at her
throat. She sank into a chair which stood against a tree of scarlet
azalea set in an antique vase of brass. She was one of those women
who naturally make pictures of themselves for every act and in every
attitude.

The moment they were secure from observation Othmar knelt at her feet
and kissed her hands again; his eyes, uplifted, told their tale of
rapture, hope, fear, and imploring prayer more passionately than any
words. He would have cut his heart out of his breast if she had bidden
him.

She glanced down on the agitation which his features could not conceal
with a sense of that wonder which never failed to come to her before
the intensity of feeling with which she inspired others.

'When I really do nothing to make them like that!' she reflected for
the hundredth time before the tempest which she raised almost without
endeavour.

Othmar had recovered his presence of mind, though none of his
tranquillity; his words, impetuous, persuasive, at times broken by the
force of his emotion, at times eloquent with the eloquence natural
to passion, fell on her ear uninterrupted by her. She listened, much
as she might have listened to the sonorous swell of the _Marche au
Supplice_ of Berlioz, or any other harmony which should have pleased
her taste if only by contrast of its own vehemence and strength with
the serenity of her own nature. She listened, without any sign of
any sort, save of so much acquiescence as might be indicated by the
gentleness of her expression and the passiveness with which she left
her hand in his. He believed her silence to be assent.

'This is what I have always fancied might conquer me,' she thought,
whilst his ardent protestations and entreaties held her for the moment
pleased and fascinated. 'And yet, I do not know. To leave the world, to
be always together, to go, heaven knows where, into a sort of Mahometan
paradise--would it suit me? I am afraid not. The idea pleases one in
a way, but not quite enough for that. Always together, and alone--one
would tire of an angel!'

So still she was, as these thoughts drifted through her mind, so
unresistingly she let his forehead, and then his lips, lie on her hand,
that he believed himself successful in his prayer. He lifted his eyes
and looked at her with a gaze full of rapturous light, of adoration and
of gratitude.

'Oh, my love! my love!' he murmured. 'Never shall you regret an hour
your mercy to me!'

His lips would have sought hers as his words ended in a sigh, the
lover's sigh of happiness, but she moved and disengaged herself
quickly, and motioned to him to rise. On her mouth there was the slight
smile he knew so well--the smile that was the enemy of men.

'My dear friend,' she said, in her melodious voice, sweet as the
south wind, and never sweeter than when it uttered cruel truths to
ears that were wounded by them, 'I will do you the justice to grant
that I quite believe you care very much for me' (he made an indignant
gesture); 'well, that you love me _un peu, beaucoup, passionnément_, as
the convent girls say to the daisies. But I am equally convinced that
you do not understand me in the least. I understand myself thoroughly.
We are all enigmas to others, but we ought to be able to read our own
riddle ourselves. I can read mine; many people never can read theirs
all their lives long, and that is why they make so many mistakes.
Now, I do know myself so very well. I know that no kind of sin, if
there really be such a thing as sin, would frighten me much. I think
my nerves would stand even a crime without wincing, if it were a bold
one. If the world threw stones at me, it would amuse me. I cannot
fancy anybody being unhappy about it. Therefore you will comprehend me
when I say that it is not any kind of commonplace nonsense about doing
anything wrong which moves me for a moment, but,--I have thought of it
all very much and very seriously, and really with a wish to try that
other kind of life you speak of, but--I cannot go with you!'

She said it as quietly and as lightly as if she were saying that she
could not drive with him to the Col di Guardia that morning. She was
smiling her pretty, slight, mysterious smile, which might have meant
anything, from pity to derision. She had a sprig or two of the leafless
calycanthus in her fingers, which she played with as she spoke. He
hated the fragrance of that winter blossom ever afterwards.

'You cannot? You cannot?' he murmured almost unconsciously. 'And why?'

He did not well know what he said, the paralysis of a sudden and
intense disappointment was upon him; he forgot that he had no right to
interrogate her, that no faintest breath of promise from her had ever
given him title to upbraid her; the noise as of a million waves of
stormy seas was surging in his ears.

'Why?' she repeated, with the same serenity, and with a kind of
indulgence as to a wayward, imperious child. 'Oh, for so many
reasons!--not at all, believe me, from any kind of hesitation about
Platon; he would do very well without me, though he would try to kill
you, I suppose, because men have such odd ideas; besides they are
always fretting about what the world thinks, just as when they play
billiards they think about the opinion of the _galerie_; no, not for
that, believe me; that is not my kind of feeling at all; but I have
thought over it all very much, and I have decided that it would not
do--for me. I should be irritable and unhappy in a false position,
because I should have lost the power to shut my doors, other people
would shut theirs instead; I should be quite miserable if I could not
be disagreeable to persons whom I did not care to know, and no one
in a false position ever dares be that; they smile, poor creatures,
perpetually, like so many wax dolls from Giroux's. Of course the moral
people say it is the loss of self-respect which makes them so anxious
to please, but it is not that: it is really the sense that it is of no
use for them to be rude any more, because their rudeness cannot vex
anybody. I quite understand Marie Antoinette; I should not mind the
scaffold in the least, but I should dislike going in the cart. "_Le roi
avait une charrette_," you remember.'

Othmar had risen; as she glanced up at him, even over her calm and
courageous temperament, a little chill passed that was almost one of
alarm. Yet her sense of pleasure was keener than her fear: men's souls
were the chosen instrument on which she chose to play; if here she
struck some deeper chords than usual, the melody gained for her ear.
Profound emotions and eager passions were unknown to her in her own
person, but they constituted a spectacle which diverted her if it did
not weary her--the chances depended upon her mood. At this moment they
pleased her; pleased her the more for that thrill of alarm, which was
so new to her nerves.

Othmar did not speak: all the strength which was in him was taxed to
its breaking point in the effort to restrain the passionate reproaches
and entreaties which sprang to his lips, the burning tears of bitter
disillusion and cruel disappointment which rushed to his sight and
oppressed his breath. What a fool, what a madman, he had been again to
throw down his heart like a naked, trembling, panting thing at her feet
to be played with by her.

'How well he looks like that!' she thought. 'Most men grow red when
they are so angry, but he grows like marble, and his eyes burn--there
are great tears in them--he looks like Mounet-Sully as Hippolytus.'

Once more the momentary inclination came over her to trust herself to
that stormy force of love which might lead to shipwreck and might lead
to paradise; there were a beauty, a force, a fascination for her about
him as he stood there in his silent rage, his eyes pouring down on her
the lightnings of his reproach; but the impulse was not strong enough
to conquer her; the world she would have given up with contemptuous
indifference, but she would not surrender her own power to dictate to
the world.

Her soft tranquil voice went on, as a waterfall may gently murmur its
silvery song while a tempest shakes the skies.

'I know you think that love is enough, but I assure you I should doubt
it, even if I did--love you. Rousseau has said long before us that
love lacks two things,--permanence and immutability; they seem to me
synonymous, and I do not think that their absence is a defect; I think
it even a merit. Yet, as they _are_ absent, it cannot be worth while to
pay so very much for so very defective a thing.'

'God forgive you!' cried her lover in passionate pain. 'You betray me
with the cruelest jest that woman ever played off on man, and you think
that I can stand still to hearken to the pretty tinkling bells of a
drawing-room philosophy!'

'You do not stand still,' she answered languidly, 'you walk to and fro
like a wounded panther in a cage. I have in no way betrayed you, and I
am not jesting at all. I am saying the very simplest truth. You have
asked me to do a momentous and irrevocable thing; and I have answered
you truthfully that I should not shrink from it if I were convinced
that I should never regret it. But I am not convinced----'

'If you loved me you would be so!' he said in a voice which was choked
and almost inaudible.

'Ah!--if!' said Nadine Napraxine with a smile and a little sigh. 'The
whole secret lies in that one conjunction!'

His teeth clenched as he heard her as if in the intolerable pain of
some mortal wound.

'Besides, besides,' she murmured, half to herself and half to him, 'my
dear Othmar, you are charming. You are like no one else; you please
me; I confess that you please me, but you could not ensure me against
my own unfortunate capacity for very soon tiring of everybody, and,--I
have a conviction that in three months' time _I should be tired of
you_!'

A strong shudder passed over him from head to foot, as the words struck
him with a greater shock than the blow of a dagger in his side would
have given. He realised the bottomless gulf which separated him from
the woman he adored,--the chasm of her own absolute indifference.

He, in his exaltation, was ready to give up all his future and fling
away all his honour for her sake, and would have asked nothing more of
earth and heaven than to have passed life and eternity at her feet; and
she, swayed momentarily towards him by a faint impulse of the senses
and the sensibilities, yet could draw back and calmly look outward into
that vision of the possible future, which dazzled him as the mirage
blinds and mocks the desert-pilgrim dying of thirst; she, with chill
prescience could foresee the time when his presence would become to
her a weariness, a chain, a yoke-fellow tiresome and dull!

She looked at him with a momentary compassion.

'Dear Othmar, I am quite sure you have meant all you said,' she
murmured softly. 'But, believe me, it would not do; it would not do for
you and me, if it might for some people. I am not in the least shocked.
I think your idea quite beautiful, like a poem; but I am certain it
would never suit myself. I tire of everything so quickly, and then you
know I am not in love with _you_. One wants to be so much in love to
do that sort of thing, we should bore one another so infinitely after
the first week. Yes, I am sure we should, though I know you are quite
sincere in saying you would like it.'

Then, still with that demure, satisfied, amused smile, she turned
away and lifted up the Moorish chocolate pot and poured out a little
chocolate into her cup.

'It has grown cold,' she said, and tinkled a hand-bell which was on the
tray to summon Mahmoud.

Othmar, who had sprung to his feet and stood erect, seized her wrist
in his fingers and threw the bell aside.

'There is no need to dismiss me,' he said in a low tone. 'Adieu! You
can tell the story to Lord Geraldine.'

His face was quite colourless, except that around his forehead there
was a dusky red mark where the blood had surged and settled as though
he had been struck there with a whip.

He bowed low, and left her.

She stood before the Moorish tray and its contents with a sense of cold
at her heart, but her little self-satisfied smile was still on her
mouth.

'He will come back,' she thought. 'He came back before; they always
come back.'

She did not intend to go with him to Asia, but she did not, either,
intend to lose him altogether.

'He was superb in his fury and his grief,' she thought, 'and he meant
every word of it, and he would do all that he said, more than he said.
Perhaps it hurt him too much, perhaps I laughed a little too soon.'

She was like the child who had found its living bird the best of all
playthings, but had forgotten that its plaything, being alive, could
also die, and so had nipped the new toy too cruelly in careless little
fingers, and had killed it.



CHAPTER XVII.


Othmar, as he left La Jacquemerille, forgot the boat in which he had
come thither. He walked mechanically through the house, and out by the
first gate which he saw before him. He was in that state of febrile
excitation in which the limbs move without the will in an instinctive
effort to find outlet to mental pain in bodily exertion. The gate he
had passed through opened into a little wood of pines, whence a narrow
path led upward into the hills above. With little consciousness of
what he did, he ascended the mule-road which rose before him, and the
chill of the morning air, as it blew through the tops of the swaying
pines, was welcome to him. He had that cruel wound within him which a
proud man suffers from when he has disclosed the innermost secrets of
his heart in a rare moment of impulse, and has seen them lightly and
contemptuously played with for a jest.

He had gone through life receiving much adulation but little sympathy,
and giving as little confidence; in a moral isolation due to the
delicacy of his own nature and to the flattery he received, which had
early made him withhold himself from intimate friendships, fearing to
trust where he would be only duped.

To her, in an unguarded hour, he had shown the loneliness and the
longing which he felt, he had disclosed the empty place which no powers
or vanities of the world could fill; he had staked the whole of his
peace on the caprice of one woman, and he knew that, in the rough
phrase which men would have used to him, he had been made a fool of
in return; he had betrayed himself, and had nothing in return but the
memory of a little low laughter, of a tranquil voice, saying: '_Tout
cela c'est le vieux jeu!_'

He never knew very well how that day of the 2nd of January passed
with him. He was sensible of walking long, of climbing steep paths
going towards the higher mountains, of drinking thirstily at a little
woodland fountain, of sitting for hours quite motionless, looking down
on the shore far below, where the blue sea spread in the sunlight,
and the towers of S. Pharamond were mere grey points amidst a crowd of
evergreen and of silvery-leafed trees.

There was an irony in the sense that he could have purchased the
whole province which lay beneath his feet, could have bought out the
princeling who reigned in that little kingdom under old Turbia, as
easily as he could have bought a bouquet for a woman, could have set
emperors to war with one another by merely casting his gold into the
scales of peace, could have created a city in a barren plain with as
little effort as a child builds up a toy village on a table, and yet
was powerless to command, or to arouse, the only thing on earth which
he desired, one whit of feeling in the woman he loved!

It was late in the afternoon when he took his way homeward, having
eaten nothing, only drunk thirstily of water wherever a little brook
had made a well amongst the tufts of hepatica in the pine woods. He was
a man capable of a spiritual love; if she had remained aloof from him
for honour's sake, but had cared for him, he would not have demurred
to her choice, but would have accepted his fate at her hands and would
have served her loyally with the devotion of a chivalrous nature.

All the passion, the pain, as of a boy's first love, blent in him
with the bitter revolts of mature manhood. He believed that Nadine
Napraxine had never intended more than to amuse herself with his
rejection; he believed that for the second time he had been the toy of
an unscrupulous coquette. Whatever fault there might be in his love for
her, it was love--absolute, strong, faithful, and capable of an eternal
loyalty; he had laid his heart bare before her, and had meant in their
utmost meaning all the words which he had uttered, all the offers which
he had made. Despite his knowledge of her, he had allowed himself to
be beguiled into a second confession of the empire she possessed over
him, and for the second time he had been not alone rejected, but gently
ridiculed with that quiet amused irony which had been to the force
and heat of his passion like a fine spray of ice-cold water falling
on iron at a white-heat. She had not alone wounded and stung him: she
had humiliated him profoundly. If she had rejected him from honour,
duty, or love for any other, he would have borne what men have borne
a thousand times in silence, and with no sense of shame; but he was
conscious that in her absolute indifference she had drawn him on to the
fullest revelation of all he felt for her, only that her ready satire
might find food in his folly, and her fine wit play with his suffering,
as the angler plays the trout. She seemed to him to have betrayed
him in the basest manner that a woman could betray a man who had no
positive right to her loyalty. She had known so well how he loved her.
He had told her so many times; unless she had been willing to hear the
tale again, why had she bidden him come there in that charmed solitude
in the hush and freshness of the early morning? When women desire not
love, do they seat their lover beside them when all the world sleeps?
He had been cheated, laughed at, summoned, and then dismissed; his
whole frame thrilled with humiliation when he recalled the smiling
subdued mockery of her voice as she had dismissed him.

He had been willing to give her his life, his good repute, his peace,
his honour, his very soul; and she had sent him away with the calm,
cool, little phrases with which she would have rejected a clumsy valser
for a cotillon!

He had little vanity, but he knew himself to be one of those to whom
the world cringes; one of those of whom modern life has made its
Cæsars; he knew that what he had been willing to surrender to her had
been no little thing; that he would have said farewell to the whole
of mankind for her sake, and would have loved her with the romantic
devoted force and fealty of a franker and fiercer time than his own;
and she had drawn him on to again confess this, again offer this, and
all it had seemed to her was _vieux jeu_, an archaic thing to laugh at,
to yawn at, to be indulgent to, and tired by, in a breath!

He was a very proud man, and a man who had seldom or never shown what
he either desired or suffered, yet he had laid his whole heart bare to
her; and she, the only living being who had either power over him, or
real knowledge of him, had looked at him with her little cool smile,
and said, 'In three months I should be tired of you.'

If, when the knight had killed his falcon for his lady, she had scoffed
at it and thrown it out to feed the rats and sparrows he would have
suffered as Othmar suffered now. He had killed his honour and his pride
for her sake, and she had held them in her hands for a moment, and then
had laughed a little and had thrown them away.

Where he sat all alone he felt his cheeks burn with the sense of an
unendurable mortification. At this moment, for aught he knew, she, with
her admirable mimicry and her merciless sarcasm, might be reacting the
scene for the diversion of her companions! Passion was but _vieux jeu_;
it could expect no higher distinction than to be ridiculed as comedy by
a witty woman. Did not the universe only exist to amuse the languor of
Nadine Napraxine?

The world, had it heard the story, would have blamed him for an unholy
love, and praised her for her dismissal of it; but he knew that he had
been as utterly betrayed as though he had been sold by her into the
hands of assassins. She had drawn him on, and on, and on, until all his
life had been laid at her feet, and then she had looked at it a little,
carelessly, idly, and had said she had no use for it, as she might
have said so of any sea-waste washed up on the sea-steps of her terrace
with that noon.

Of course the world would have praised her; no doubt the world would
have blamed him; but he knew that women who slay their lovers after
loving them do a coarser but a kinder thing.

It was almost dark as he descended the road to S. Pharamond, intending
when he reached home to make some excuse to his uncle and leave
for Paris by the night express or by a special train. The path he
took led through the orange-wood of Sandroz, which fitted, in a
triangular-shaped piece of ground, between the boundaries of his own
land and that of Millo. Absorbed as he was in his own thoughts, he
recognised with surprise the figure of Yseulte as he pushed his way
under the low boughs of the orange trees, and saw her within a yard of
him. She was with the woman Nicole.

She did not see him until he was close to her, where she sat on a low
stone wall, the woman standing in front of her. When she did so, her
face spoke for her; it said what Nadine Napraxine's had never said.
The emotion of joy and timidity mingled touched him keenly in that
moment, when he, with his millions of gold and of friends, had so
strongly realised his own loneliness.

'_She_ loves me as much as she dare--as much as she can, without being
conscious of it,' he thought, as he paused beside her. She did not
speak, she did not move; but her colour changed and her breath came
quickly. She had slipped off the wall and stood irresolute, as though
inclined to run away, the glossy leaves and the starry blossoms of the
trees consecrated to virginity were all above her and around her. She
glanced at him with an indefinite fear; she fancied he was angered by
the return of the casket; he looked paler and sterner than she had ever
seen him look.

He paused a moment and said some commonplace word.

Then he saw that her eyes were wet with tears, and that she had been
crying.

'What is the matter?' he said, gently. 'Has anything vexed you?'

'They are sending her away,' said Nicole Sandroz, with indignant tears
in her own eyes, finding that she did not reply for herself. 'They are
sending her to the Vosges, where, as Monsieur knows very well, I make
no doubt, the very hares and wolves are frozen in the woods at this
month of the year.'

'Are you indeed going away?' he asked of Yseulte herself.

She did not speak: she made a little affirmative gesture.

'Why is that? Bois le Roy, in this season, will be a cruel prison for
you.'

'My cousin wishes it,' said the girl; she spoke with effort; she did
not wish to cry before him; the memory of all that her cousin had said
that morning was with her in merciless distinctness.

Nicole broke out in a torrent of speech, accusing the tyrants of Millo
in impassioned and immoderate language, and devoting them and theirs to
untold miseries in retribution.

Yseulte stopped her with authority; 'You are wrong, Nicole; do not
speak in such a manner, it is insolent. You forget that, whether I am
in the Vosges or here, I equally owe my cousin everything.'

She paused; she was no more than a child. Her departure was very cruel
to her; she had been humiliated and chastised that day beyond her power
of patience; she had said nothing, done nothing, but in her heart she
had rebelled passionately when they had taken away her ivory casket.
They had left her the heart of a woman in its stead.

Othmar was ignorant that his casket, fateful as Pandora's, had been
returned, but he divined that his gift had displeased those who
disposed of her destiny, and had brought about directly or indirectly
her exile from Millo.

'When do you go?' he asked abruptly.

'To-morrow.'

As she answered him the tears she could not altogether restrain rolled
off her lashes. She turned away.

'Let us go in, Nicole,' she murmured. 'You know Henriette is waiting
for me.'

'Let her wait, the cockered-up Parisienne, who shrieks if she see a pig
and has hysterics if she get a spot of mud on her stockings!' grumbled
Nicole, who was the sworn foe of the whole Paris-born and Paris-bred
household of Millo. But Yseulte had already moved towards the house.
When she had gone a few yards away, however, she paused, returned, and
approached Othmar. She looked on the ground, and her voice trembled as
she spoke: 'I ought to thank you, M. Othmar--I do thank you. It was
very beautiful. I would have kept it all my life.'

'Ah!' said Othmar.

He understood; he was moved to a sudden anger, which penetrated even
his intense preoccupation. He had meant to do this poor child a
kindness, and he had only done her great harm.

Yseulte had turned away, and had gone rapidly through the orange-trees
towards the house.

'She is not happy?' said Othmar to her foster-mother, whose tongue,
once loosed, told him with the eloquence of indignation of all the
sorrows suffered by her nursling. 'And they will make her a nun,
Monsieur!' she cried; 'a nun! That child, who is like a June lily. For
me, I say nothing against the black and grey women, though Sandroz
calls them bad names. There are good women amongst them, and when one
lies sick in hospital one is glad of them; but there are women enough
in this world who have sins and shame to repent them of to fill all
the convents from here to Jerusalem. There are all the ugly ones too,
and the sickly ones and the deformed ones, and the heart-broken; for
them it is all very well; the cloister is home, the veil is peace,
they must think of heaven, or go mad; it is best they should think of
it. But this child to be a nun!--when she should be running with her
own children through the daisies--when she should be playing in the
sunshine like the lambs, like the kids, like the pigeons!'----

Othmar heard her to the end; then without answer he bade her good-day,
and descended the sloping grass towards his house.

'They say he has a million a year,' said Nicole to herself, as she
looked after him. 'Well, he does not seem to be happy upon it. The lads
that bring up the rags on their heads from the ships look gayer than
he, all in the stench and the muck as they are, and never knowing that
they will earn their bread and wine from one day to another.'

She kicked a stone from her path, and hurried after her nursling.

Othmar went quickly on to his own woods. 'They could not even let
her have that toy,' he thought with an emotion, vague but sincere,
outside the conflict of passion, wrath, and mortification which Nadine
Napraxine had aroused in him. He saw the sudden happiness, so soon
veiled beneath reserve and timidity, which had shone on the girl's face
as she had first seen him under the orange boughs. He saw her beautiful
golden eyes misty with the tears she had had too much courage to
shed; he saw her slender throat swell with subdued emotion as she had
approached him and said shyly, 'I would have kept it all my life.'

All her life,--in the stone cell of some house of the Daughters of
Christ or the Sisters of St. Marie!

 'To love is more, yet to be loved is something,'

he thought. 'What treasures for one's heart and senses are in her--if
one could only care!'



CHAPTER XVIII.


When he reached home that evening he found on his writing-table the
ivory casket and the letter of Madame de Vannes. In the pain and
the passion which wrestled together against his manhood in him, he
scarcely heeded either, yet they brought before his memory the face of
Yseulte, and the sound of her soft grave voice with that sweet thrill
of youth in it which is like the thrill of the thrush's in the woods at
spring-time. She had youth, but she would have no spring-time.

And in the strong and impotent rage which consumed him, in the pain of
bruised and aching nerves, and the sickening void which the certain
loss of what alone is loved brings with it, Othmar, seeing the ivory
casket, and glancing at the letter which he had had no patience to
read through, thought to himself, 'The child loves me; she will have
a wretched life; what if I try to forget? They threw virgins to the
Minotaur. Shall I try to appease with one this cruel fire of love,
which leaves me no peace or wisdom?'

It was the act of a madman to attempt to make one woman take the place
of another to the senses or to the heart, but in that moment he was
not master of himself. He was only sensible of a cruel insult which he
had received from the hand he loved best on earth; of a cruel betrayal
which was but the more merciless because wrought with so sweet a smile,
so apparent an unconsciousness, so seemingly innocent a malice.

He passed the night and the next morning locked in his own room; when
he left it, and met the Baron Friederich, he said to him:

'I have thought over all you said the other day. You are right, no
doubt. Will you go across to our neighbours at Millo and ask of them
the honour of the hand of their cousin, of Mademoiselle de Valogne?'

The Baron stared at him with a little cry of amaze.

'For you?' he stammered.

'For me,' said Othmar. 'What have you said yourself? I do not want
wealth; I want good blood, beauty, and innocence; they are all
possessed by Mademoiselle de Valogne. Go; your errand will please them.
They will pardon some breach of etiquette. It will be a mission which
you will like.'

As the Baron, a little later, rolled through the gates of Millo in full
state, his shrewd knowledge of men and their madnesses made him think:

'So the Princess Napraxine evidently will have nothing to say to him!
_A la bonne heure!_ There are some honest women left then amongst the
great ladies. She could so easily have ruined him! He takes a droll
way to cure himself, but it is not a bad one. The worst is, that this
sort of cure never lasts long, and when she can make the unhappiness of
two persons, instead of only the happiness of one, perhaps Madame la
Princesse will be tempted to make it!'



CHAPTER XIX.


On the following day Platon Napraxine drove home from Monte Carlo at
sunset with a piece of news to carry there which amused and unusually
animated him.

He went up the stone stairs of the terrace of La Jacquemerille with the
quick step of one who is eager to deliver himself of his tidings, and
approached, with a rapidity unfrequent with him, the spot where his
wife sat with her guests under the rose and white awning beside the
marble balustrade and the variegated aloes.

The Princess Nadine was also full of unwonted animation; her cheek
had its sea-shell flush, her eyes a vague and pleased expectancy; she
was laughing a little and listening a good deal; besides her usual
companions, she had there a group of Austrian and Russian diplomatists
and some Parisian boulevardiers. They were just taking their leave as
she was taking her tea, but it was not very greatly of them that she
was thinking: she was thinking as she heard the roll of her husband's
carriage wheels beneath the carouba trees;----'Ten to one Othmar will
return with him.'

She lost her gay expression as she saw that he was alone.

All the day she had expected the man whom she had banished to return.
She was accustomed to spaniels who crawled humbly up after a beating to
solicit another beating rather than remain unnoticed. She had dismissed
a certain apprehension which had told her that she had gone too far
with the reflection that a man who loved her once did so for ever, and
that, as he had returned from Asia, so he would return this morning,
however great his offence or his humiliation might have been.

'He is more romantic than most,' she had thought, 'but after all, he
must be made of the same stuff.'

Napraxine approached her hurriedly, and scarcely giving himself time to
formally greet the gentlemen there, cried to her aloud:

'_Ecoutez donc, Madame!_ You will never guess what has happened.'

'It is of no use for us to try then,' said his wife. 'You are evidently
_gonflé_ with some tremendous intelligence. Pray unburden yourself.
Perhaps the societies for the protection of animals have had Strasburg
_pâtés_ made illegal?'

'I have seen the Duchesse, I have seen Baron Fritz, I have seen
Melville,' answered her husband impetuously and triumphantly, 'and
they all say the same thing, so that there cannot be a doubt that it
is true. Othmar marries that little cousin of Cri-Cri: the one of whom
they meant to make a nun. What luck for her! But they say she is very
beautiful, and only sixteen.'

The people assembled round her table raised a chorus of exclamation
and of comment. Napraxine stood amidst them, delighted; his little
social bomb had burst with the brilliancy and the noise that he had
anticipated.

Nadine Napraxine turned her head with an involuntary movement of
surprise.

'Othmar!' she repeated; her large black eyes opened fully with a
perplexed expression.

'It must be the girl who was in the boat,' said Lady Brancepeth. 'She
was very handsome.'

Geraldine looked at Madame Napraxine with curiosity, eagerness, and
gratification.

'Who told you, Platon?' she asked, with a certain impatience in her
voice.

'Three of them told me; Melville first, then Cri-Cri herself, in the
Salle de Jeu. She did not seem to know whether to be affronted or
pleased. She said the whole thing was a great surprise, but that she
could not refuse Othmar; she declared that her projects were all upset,
that her young cousin had been always destined to the religious life;
that she regretted to have her turned from her vocation; in short, she
talked a great deal of nonsense, but the upshot of it all was that
Baron Fritz had made formal proposals, and that she had accepted them.
In the gardens, coming away, I met the Baron himself; he was in a state
of ecstasy; all he cares for is the perpetuation of the name of Othmar;
but he declares that Mademoiselle de Valogne is everything he could
desire, that she was excessively timid, and scarcely spoke a word when
they allowed him to see her for five minutes, but that it was a very
graceful timidity, and full of feeling.'

'Baron Fritz in the operatic _rôle_ of Padrone d'Amore is infinitely
droll,' said Nadine, with a little cold laugh.

'Of course Othmar was obliged to marry some time,' continued Napraxine,
who did not easily abandon a subject when one pleased him. 'And he
is--how old is he?--I saw the Baron as I left; he is delighted. He says
the poor child fainted when they told her she was to be saved from a
religious life.'

'My dear Platon,' said his wife impatiently, 'we can read Daudet or
Henri Greville when we want this sort of thing. Pray, spare us. I hope
Baron Fritz explained to her that all she is wanted for is to continue
a race of Croatian money-lenders which he considers the pivot of the
world. If she fail in doing that he will counsel a divorce, _à la_
Bonaparte.'

'He might marry an archduchess,' said one of the diplomatists. 'Surely,
it is throwing himself away.'

'It must be for love,' said Geraldine, with an ironical smile.

'The de Valogne was a great race, but impoverished long ago,' said a
Russian minister. 'I think, if he had married at all, he should have
made an alliance which would have brought him that unassailably great
rank which is usually the ambition of all financiers. For a man of
his position to make a mere romantic _mariage d'amour_ is absurd--out
of place;--and who knows if it be even that?' he pursued, with an
involuntary glance at the Princess Napraxine.

'Why on earth should we doubt it?' said her husband. 'It cannot be
anything else, and they say the girl is quite beautiful. Surely, if
anyone can afford to marry to please himself, that one is Othmar.'

'At any rate, it is his own affair,' said Nadine, in a voice which was
clear and sweet, but cold as steel. 'I cannot see why we should occupy
ourselves about it, or why you should have announced it as if it were
the dissolution of the world.'

'Mademoiselle de Valogne is very beautiful,' said Geraldine, 'I have
seen her once at Millo. Why should they pretend to hesitate?'

'They hesitated because she is _vouée à Marie_,' replied Napraxine,
'and also the de Vannes and the de Creusac scarcely recognise the
princes of finance as their equals. Still the marriage is magnificent;
they felt they had no right to regret it since it fell to them from
heaven.'

'Do you still believe, Platon, that heaven has anything to do with
marriage?' said his wife, with her little significant smile; a slight
colour had come upon her cheeks, tinging them as blush-roses are tinged
with the faintest flush; her eyes retained their astonished and annoyed
expression, of which her husband saw nothing.

'Heaven made mine at least,' he said, with his unfailing good-humour,
and a bow in which there was some grace.

'Louis Quatorze could not have answered better,' said Nadine. 'I cannot
say I see the hand of heaven myself in it, but if you do, so much the
better. "Les illusions sont des zéros, mais c'est avec les zéros qu'on
fait les beaux chiffres."'

'I do not know whether Mademoiselle de Valogne has illusions, but
her settlements will certainly have _de beaux chiffres_,' continued
Napraxine, who was still full of the tidings he had brought. 'Did
Othmar say nothing to you the other morning of what he intended to do?'

'Nothing; why should he? I am no relation of his or of Mademoiselle de
Valogne.'

'He might have done so; he was a long time alone with you. Perhaps he
did not know it himself.'

'Perhaps not.'

'It seems a _coup de tête_. Madame de Vannes told me that he had only
seen her cousin four times.'

'That is three times more than is necessary.'

'They say the girl is very much in love with him, and burst into tears
when they told her of his proposals.'

'Oh, my dear Platon! That the girl marries Othmar one understands; she
would be an imbecile, a lunatic, to refuse; but that she weeps because
she will enjoy one of the hugest fortunes in Europe--do not make such
demands on our credulity!'

'They say their acquaintance has been an idyl; quite _hors d'usage_;
they both met in his gardens by chance, and he----'

'Chance? I thought it was heaven? You may be quite sure neither had
anything to do with it. Aurore is a very clever woman; she knew very
well what she did when she brought her cousin down to Millo this
winter; if the girl had been honestly _vouée à Marie_, would they have
had her in the drawing-room after their dinner-parties? Ralph says he
has seen her there.'

'Well, if it were a conspiracy, it has succeeded.'

'Of course it has succeeded. When women condescend to conspire, men
always fall. Our Russian history will show you that.'

Being, however, an obstinate man, who always adhered to his own
opinion, even in trifles which in no way concerned him, Napraxine
reiterated that Baron Fritz had expressed himself satisfied that the
girl was in love with his nephew.

'And why not?' he said stoutly, with more courage than he usually
showed. 'Most women would soon care for Othmar if he wished them to do
so.'

'Oh, _grand dada_!' murmured Nadine, in supreme disdain, whilst her
eyes glanced over him for a moment with an expression which, had he
been wise enough to read it, would have made him less eager to extol
the absent.

'After all,' she said aloud, 'what is his marriage to us, that we
should talk about it? I suppose it is the sole act of his life which
would have no effect on the Bourses. We get into very base habits of
discussing our neighbours' affairs. Let us say, once for all, that he
has done a very charitable action, and that we hope it will have a
happy result: _e basta!_ We will call at Millo to-morrow. I am curious
to see the future Countess Othmar.'

'They say she is very shy.'

'Oh, we all know Ste. Mousseline,' said Nadine Napraxine, with scorn.
'Besides, convent-reared girls are all of the same type. I only hope
Cri-Cri will not assume any hypocritical airs of regret before me; the
only regret she can really have is that Blanchette was not old enough
to have won this matrimonial Derby.'

'You always speak so slightingly of Othmar,' said Napraxine, with some
reproach.

'I really thought I paid him a high compliment,' said his wife.

'Why has he done it?' said one of the Russian diplomatists to another,
when they had taken leave of the Princess and her party.

'I imagine that Madame Napraxine piqued him,' said another. 'You know
he has been madly in love with her for two years.'

'She does not seem to like his marriage.'

'They never like it,' returned the Russian minister. 'They may not look
at you themselves, but they never like you to look at any one else.'

'If he marry her because he is in love elsewhere, and if she have the
Princess Nadine for an enemy at the onset, this poor child's path will
not be of roses.'

'She will be almost the richest woman in Europe; that must suffice.'

'That will depend on her character.'

'It will depend a little on whether she will be in love with her
husband. If she be not, all may go smoothly.'

'Do you know what I thought as I looked at Madame Napraxine just
now?' said the younger man. 'I thought of that Persian or Indian tale
where the woman, leaning over the magic cup, dropped a pearl from her
necklace into it, and spoilt the whole charm for all eternity. I dare
say it will be only a pearl which she will drop into Othmar's future
life, but it will spoil the whole charm of it for ever and ever.'

'You never liked her,' said the elder man. 'She is a woman capable of
an infinitude of things, good and bad. She has the misfortune to have a
very excellent and very stupid husband. There is nothing so injurious
for a clever woman. A bad man who had ill-treated her would not have
done her half as much harm. She would have had courage and energy to
meet an unhappy fate superbly. But a perfectly amiable fool whom she
disdains from all the height of her own admirable wit, coupled with the
habits of our idiotic world, which is like a mountain of wool steeped
in opium, into which the strongest sinks indolent and enfeebled, have
all tended to confirm her in her egotism and her disdain, and to send
to sleep all her more noble impulses. Whatever men may be, women can
only be "saved by faith," and what faith has Nadine Napraxine except
her perfect faith in her own irresistible and incomparable power over
her innumerable lovers?'

'Well,' said the younger man, 'if she chose to drop that pearl in, as I
said, I would not give much for the chances of Othmar's wife against
her. I have seen the girl. She is very lovely, serious, simple; no
match at all against such a woman as Princess Napraxine.'

'She will have the advantage of youth, and also--which, perhaps, will
count for something with such a man as Othmar, though it would not with
most men--she will be his wife.'

'Perhaps. He has been always eccentric,' rejoined the other.

Watching her with all the keen anxiety of jealousy Geraldine had been
unable to discover that the intelligence of Othmar's marriage caused
her any more surprise or interest than any other of the hundred and one
items of news which make up the daily pabulum of society. But then he
knew very well that she was of such a character that though she might
have suffered intolerably she would have shown no sign of it any more
than she would have shown any fear had a dozen naked sabres been at her
breast.

Left alone beside his sister for a moment, he said to her, with
doubting impatience: 'Does she care, do you think?'

'What affair is it of yours if she does?' returned Lady Brancepeth.
'Does she ever care for anything? And why should she care here? Othmar
has been known to be violently in love with her--as you are--but no one
has ever had the slightest reason to suppose that she had any feeling
in return for him. He does a foolish thing in marrying one woman while
he loves another. Some men have faith in that cure. Myself I should
have none. But whatever his reasons for this sudden choice of Mdlle.
de Valogne, I imagine that his marriage is a matter of as perfect
indifference to Nadine as your own would be.'

Geraldine grew red, and his mortification kept him silent. But the
insight of a man in love told him that his keen-eyed sister was for
once in error.

Nadine Napraxine herself had gone to her own rooms to change her gown
for dinner, but she dismissed her maids for twenty minutes and threw
herself on a couch in her bedroom. She was herself uncertain what she
felt, and angered that she should feel anything. She was conscious of
a sense of offence, irritation, amazement, almost chagrin, which hurt
her pride and alarmed her dignity. If a month before she had been told
that Othmar was dead, she would have felt no more than a momentary
regret. But the strength of his passion in the morning interviews with
her had touched some fibre, some nerve in her, which had been dumb and
numb before. Again and again she had recalled the accents of his voice,
the sombre fire and pathetic entreaty of his eyes; they had not moved
her at the time to anything more than the vague artistic pleasure which
she would have taken in any emotion admirably rendered in art or on the
stage, but in remembrance they had haunted her and thrilled through
her with something more nearly resembling response than had ever been
aroused in her.

The expectation of his return had been as strong as certainty; the
sense that she had gone too far with him had heightened the interest
with which she had awaited her next meeting with him. One of the
greatest triumphs of her fascination had been the power she had
exercised over him. She was the only living person who could say to
this man, who could have purchased souls and bodies as he could have
purchased strings of unpierced pearls if he had chosen: 'You desire
something of which you will never be master.'

That she had had influence enough on such a career as his to drive him
out from the world where all his interests, pursuits, and friendships
lay, had pleased her with more keenness in her pleasure than similar
victories often gave her. She had seen his return to Europe with
amusement, even with derision; she had seen at a glance that he had
fled in vain from her; she had been diverted, but she had remained
indifferent.

In those morning hours when he had addressed her with an almost brutal
candour, he had taken a hold upon her admiration which he had never
gained before. His accents had lingered on her ear; his regard had
burned itself into her remembrance; she had begun to look forward to
his next approach, after her rejection, with something more than the
merely intellectual curiosity with which before she had studied the
results of her influence upon him. The news of his intended marriage
came to her with a sense of surprise and of affront which was more
nearly regret than any sentiment she had ever experienced. It seemed
to her supremely ridiculous that a man who adored _her_ should seek
or hope to find any oblivion elsewhere; she even understood that it
was no such hope which had actuated him, but rather his wounded pride
which had rebelled against herself and been unwilling to allow the
world to consider him her slave. Of the more delicate and more tender
motives which had led him towards Yseulte de Valogne she could know
nothing; but of those more selfish and embittered ones she comprehended
accurately all the sources and all the extent.

'He does it to escape me,' she thought as she sat in solitude, while
the last faint crimson of the winter's sunset tinged the light clouds
before her windows; a smile came slowly on her beautiful mouth,--a
smile, proud, unkind, a little bitter. There was resentment in her,
and there was also pain, two emotions hitherto strangers to her
heart; but beyond these, and deeper than these, there was a caustic
contempt for the man's cowardice in seeking asylum in an unreal love,
in endeavouring to cheat himself and another into belief in a feigned
passion.

'I thought him more brave!' she said bitterly to herself. 'He is like
a beaten warrior who makes a rampart of a virgin's body!'

And yet, in that moment she was nearer love for him than she had ever
been before.



CHAPTER XX.


Blanchette was dancing round her cousin in the twilight of the January
day, making her _pied de nez_ triumphantly, but pausing every now and
then to look up in her face with her habitual inquisitiveness, yet with
a respect quite new to her.

'_Tiens, tiens, tiens!_' she was crying in her little shrill voice,
like the tiniest of silver trumpets. 'To think you are going to be
married after all! You will be ever so much richer than mamma, they
say; you will be as rich as all the _Juiverie_ put together, and you
will be as great a lady as all the _grandes dames_. You will have as
many jewels as Madame de Talleyrand; you will have as many horses and
houses as Madame de Sagan; you will have two new gowns every day if you
like. Have you seen the Hôtel Othmar? I have seen it; it is as big as
the Louvre. What will you ask him for first? If I were you, I should
ask him for a rope of pearls, all as big as pigeons' eggs. What are
the Othmar liveries? I never saw them; the state liveries, I mean. I
like canary-colour best, and Louis Treize _tricornes_. What will he
settle on you? He will give you what you wish; I heard mamma say so.
Make him give you S. Pharamond for your very own. I am sure you will
not get half you might, you are such a silly little snipe; you are as
tall as a Venetian mast on a feast day, but you are a simpleton. You
cried when mamma told you he would marry you. The idea! You should have
danced for joy. It would be delicious to marry him if he were as old as
the hills and as ugly as Punch, but he is not old and he is handsome:
all that _par-dessus le panier_, and thirty thousand francs a day,
Julie says; and Brown and Schemmitz wanted to kiss your hand! What fun
you would make of them if you were me. You should skip and shout all
day;--I should. To be sure, he is _dans la finance_, but they are the
only royalties nowadays; I have heard mamma say so. Whatever can he
see in you? You are pretty and tall, but you don't know it; you stand
and stare like an owl with your big eyes. What can he want with you?
He will give you everything, he must be a simpleton, too! he might
marry somebody quite great; none of them can imagine what he wants you
for----'

'Oh, Blanchette!' said Yseulte de Valogne, with a look of pain, as she
tried to silence her little tormentor, whose words she only vaguely
heard as she stood lost in the golden mists of an incomparable dream.

'_Vrai!_' said the cruel little child. 'Nobody can think what he can
see in you. It is Madame Napraxine whom he loves.'

Yseulte coloured with sudden anger, and a look of severity and
sternness came on her youthful face, while its happy wistful eyes lost
their light and grew cold:

'You must not say these things, Blanchette,' she said sternly; 'you may
laugh at me as you like, but you must respect M. Othmar.'

The red deepened in her cheeks as she spoke, and realised that she
had the right to defend his name thus. She was thinking in herself as
she did so: 'If it were true, if I thought it were true, I would bury
myself in the convent for ever.'

The quick little mind of Blanchette divined the direction of her
thoughts, and dearly as the child loved to do mischief and to torment,
she loved her own pleasure and gain better. She had no wish for this
_beau mariage_ to be broken off, as she foresaw from it endless
diversion, gifts, and bonbons for herself.

'Othmar will give us each at least a medallion with diamonds on the
back,' she reflected; and she was conscious, too, that if the marriage
fell through by any doing of hers, her mother would be unsparing in
her punishment, of which not the least portion would be banishment to
Bois de Roy; for Blanchette adored her spring-time in Paris, her summer
months at Deauville and Homburg and Biarritz, her wagers on the _petits
chevaux_, her exploits in the water, and the many whispers of scandals
and naughty witticisms which she caught, when apparently engrossed
with her toy balloon or her ball, behind the chairs of her mother and
other great ladies on the sand by the sea or under the trees of the
fashionable inland baths.

With a rapid remembrance of all that she herself would lose if there
were no grand wedding at which she would assist at the Madeleine or S.
Philippe du Roule, she threw her arms about her cousin with her most
coaxing _câlinerie_: 'It was only my fun,' she whispered; 'pray don't
tell any one, _chérie_. It was years and years ago that they laughed
about Madame Napraxine; of course, it is you he loves now. Why should
he marry you if he did not? He could marry anywhere, anybody,--mamma
says so. And you _are_ handsome, if you would only think it! Mamma says
when you shall have been married a week, and have all your jewels you
will be superb.'

Her cousin's face flushed more warmly till it was the hue of those
Charles Raybaud roses which she had used to pack for Nicole. Her heart
beat in that tumult of emotion, of joy, and of vague, most sweet, fear,
in which she had lived for the last twenty-four hours. She thought:
'Why, if he did not care for me, why, indeed, should he seek me?'

It seemed marvellous to her that it should be so, but she could not
doubt it.

She had only seen him for ten minutes that morning, in the presence of
the Duchesse de Vannes, but though her confusion had been too great to
let her eyes meet his, the few soft grave words he had spoken, and the
touch of his lips on her hand, had left with her an ineffable sense of
protection and affection received. If it were not for love, why should
he have paused on his way to thrust back the gates of the convent and
take her to himself?

As for herself, the timid, pure, half-unconscious feeling which he had
awakened in her was growing in strength with every hour now that it had
recognised its own existence and been permitted its expansion without
shame. It remained as shy and fearful as a freshly captured wood-dove,
but it had in it all the elements of an intense and devoted passion.

She did not hear the child's chatter, which rippled on like a little
brook, asking her a thousand questions of what she would do, of what
she would wear, of what she would give away. Blanchette was herself
half sympathetic, half envious; disposed to resent her cousin's sudden
and splendid change of destiny, yet inclined to rejoice in it, as it
would secure to herself a spectacle, a new costume, and a costly gift.
She kept looking at the girl critically, with her head on one side, and
affecting to help her only hindered her, as she dressed for the first
ceremonious dinner at which she had ever assisted.

'To think you can dress yourself; how queer!' cried the little censor.
'I cannot put on a stocking, nor Toinon either. I never mean to do it.
Mamma could not to save her life. How many women will you have? Two?
three? Never let your maids carry your jewel-box; have it always put in
the train by your major-domo, between two footmen. Mamma says all the
robberies are done by the maids. What are you going to put on? You have
only white frocks. Don't you long to wear satin and velvet? Oh, you are
so stupid; you ought to marry a shepherd, and wear lambs'-wool that you
spun yourself. You must not be so simple. A Countess Othmar ought to be
very magnificent. The finance is nothing if it do not look gorgeous.
Oh, what are you doing? You must not put a black sash on; you are a
_fiancée_. Have you got nothing but black? Wait a minute; I will run
and get one of mine.'

'I have always worn something black or grey since my grandmother died,'
said Yseulte, a little sadly.

But Blanchette made a _pirouette_.

'Henri IV. est sur le Pont-Neuf!' she cried. 'Oh, you silly! You were
Cendrillon yesterday; now you are the prince's betrothed. Yesterday you
were a little brown grub; now you are a butterfly. I will go and get my
sash.'

The child flew out of the room and left Yseulte standing before the
mirror, looking shyly at her own reflection as though she saw a
stranger. She felt, indeed, a stranger to herself; so long she had been
resigned to the religious life, so long she had been accustomed to
regard obscurity, neglect, sadness, loneliness, as her natural lot; so
long she had been trained to submission, lectured to the shade and the
silence of resignation, that to be thus suddenly called out into the
light, and lifted on to a pedestal, dazzled and almost paralysed her.

It seemed to her as though it could never be herself, Yseulte de
Valogne, to whom her cousin had said, with an admiration that was
almost reverence: 'You will be the most enviable woman in Europe. Do
you understand all you have done for yourself?'

She did not understand it; she only understood that he had rescued her
from the conventual life, and that he loved her--surely he loved her,
or he would not wish?----

Blanchette flew back into the room, accompanied by the maid Françoise.

'Yseulte! Yseulte!' she shrieked, waving a blue sash in one hand and
with the other clasping to her a square parcel tied with silver cord.
'Here is something he sends you: Françoise was bringing it. Open it
quick, quick. Oh, what a happy creature you are, and you only stand and
stare like the statues in the Luxembourg! Open it quick! It is sure to
be something worth thousands and thousands of francs.'

'Hush, Blanchette!' said the girl, with a look of pain, as she took the
packet and undid its covering. Within was the ivory casket; and within
the casket was a necklace of great pearls.

A little note lay on them, which said merely:--

'_No one can dispossess you of the casket now. Receive what is within
as a symbol of your own innocence and of my reverence for it.--Yours,
with devotion_, OTHMAR.'

On the other side of the paper was written more hastily:--'_Pardon me
that I must leave immediately after dinner for Paris and shall not see
you for a few days. I have explained to the Duchesse._'

Yseulte grew very pale. If the eyes of her little tormentor and of the
woman Françoise had not been on her, she would have kissed his note and
fallen on her knees and wept. As it was, she stood still in silence,
reading the lines again and again, with sweet, warm tears in her eyes.
It was Blanchette who took out the pearls and held them up in the
lamplight, and appraised their value with the keenness of a jeweller
and screamed in rapture over their size and colour.

'They _are_ the pigeon's eggs!' she cried, 'and four ropes of them;
they must be worth an empire. They are as fine as mamma's, and she
has only three rows. I will marry into the finance myself. Oh, what a
happy creature you are! Brown says it all came out of your going to
gather flowers in his garden. Is that true? How clever it was of you!
Who would ever have believed you were so clever, with your silent ways
and your countryfied scruples. Let me see his note? You will not? What
nonsense! You must put the pearls on. Let me fasten them. Four ropes!
They are fit for a Court ball. What a _corbeille_ he will send you!'

As she chattered she clasped it round the throat of her cousin, who
grew red, then white, as the pearls touched her skin. They made her
realise the immense change which one short day had made in her lot.
They made her realise that Othmar henceforth was her lover.

While Blanchette chirped and skipped around her, directing her toilette
with the accurate instinct in decoration of a little Parisienne, the
eyes of the girl were suffused with unshed tears of gratitude and
tremulous joy.

 'What can I render thee, O princely giver?'

she was saying in her heart, although she had never read the Portuguese
sonnets; while her little cousin babbled on of jewels and ball-dresses,
and horses and establishments, and dowries and settlements, and the
_régime dotal_, and all the many matters which meant marriage to the
precocious comprehension of Blanchette.

'You will have your box at all the theatres, will you not? You have
never been to a theatre, but I have. Mind that you go the evening after
your marriage. When will your marriage be? I heard mamma say that he
wished it to be very soon: but then there is all your _lingerie_,
and all your gowns to be made. I suppose mamma will give you your
trousseau; she must. Oh, how happy you ought to be, and you look
just as grave as an owl! Nobody would guess you were going to be the
Countess Othmar. Do you know that he could be made a prince if he
liked? You have never learned to ride, Yseulte. What a pity! It is so
_chic_ to ride early in the Bois. Well, you will have a _coupé_ for
the early morning, and then you will have a Daumont for the afternoon,
of course. There is nothing so pretty as postillions in velvet jackets
and caps--if you only knew what colour his liveries are? Won't you
have out-riders? I do not know, though, whether you can; I think
it is only ambassadresses and princesses of the blood who may have
out-riders----You might have a special train every day,' continued
Blanchette, exciting herself with her own visions. 'There is nothing
such fun as a special train; we had one when grandmère was dying at
Bois le Roy all in a moment and wanted to see us; it is so diverting
to go on, on, on, through all the stations, past all the other trains,
never stopping--pr-r-r-rut!'

'Oh, hush, Blanchette! What do I care about those things?' murmured
Yseulte, as she put his note into the casket, locked it, and slipped
the little silver key in her bosom, blushing very much as she did so.

It seemed so very wonderful to her that such lines should have been
written to her. She wanted to be all alone to muse upon the marvel
of it. She remembered a little nook in the convent garden where a
bench was fixed against the high stone wall, under the branches of an
old medlar tree; a place that she had gone to with her sorrows, her
fancies, her visions, her tears, very often; she would have liked to
have gone now to some such quiet and solitary nook, to realise in peace
this miracle which had been wrought for her. But that was impossible;
they had ordered her to dine with them at eight--her first great
dinner. She must submit to be gazed at, commented on, complimented,
felicitated.

The sensitive, delicate nature of the child shrank from the publicity
of her triumph; but she understood that it was her duty, that
henceforth these things would be a prominent portion of her duties; the
wife of Othmar could not live shut away from the world.

Blanchette tossed her golden head with immeasurable contempt.

'It is all "those things" that make a _grand mariage_. If you think you
do not care now, you will care in a year's time. Mamma said so. Mamma
said you will be just like anybody else when you shall have been in the
world six months.'

Yseulte shook her head with a smile, but she sighed a little also; it
pained her that the world, and all it gave, was so intermingled with
this beautiful, incredible, dream-like joy which had come to her like
some vision brought by angels. In the singleness and sincerity of her
young heart she thought: 'Ah! if only he were poor!--how I wish he were
poor!--then they would know and he!----'

But he was not poor, and he had sent her pearls worthy of an empress,
and Blanchette was dancing before her in envy, longing to be sixteen
years old too and betrothed to an archi-millionaire.

She cast one last timid glance at herself and at the great pearls
lying beneath the slender ivory column of her throat, then she drew
on her long gloves, and went, with a quickly-beating heart, down the
staircase, Blanchette shouting after her Judic's song,--

    On ne peut pas savoir ce que c'est,
        Ce que c'est,
    Si on n'a pas passé par là!

which the child had caught up from the echoes of the boulevards, and
sang with as much by-play and meaning as Judic herself could have put
into it.

There were some twenty people assembled in the oval drawing-room when
Yseulte entered it. It was not of them she was afraid: it was of seeing
Othmar before them. There was a murmur of admiration as she appeared in
her childish white dress, with the superb necklace on, which a queen
might have worn at a Court ball. Her shyness did not impair her grace;
the stateliness and pride which were in her blood gave her composure
even in her timidity; her eyes were dark and soft with conflicting
feelings, her colour came and went. She never spoke audibly once in
answer to all the compliment and felicitation she received, but she
looked so lovely and so young that no one quarrelled with her silence.
When Othmar gave her his arm she trembled from head to foot, but no one
noticed it save Othmar himself.

'Do not be afraid of me, my child,' he murmured, and for the first
time she took courage and looked at him with a rapid glance that was
like a beam of sunlight. The look said to him, 'I am not afraid, I am
grateful; I love you, only I dare not say so, and I hardly understand
what has happened.'

The dinner seemed both to her and to him interminable; she was quite
silent through it, and ate nothing. She was conscious of a sullen gaze
which her cousin, de Vannes, fastened on her, and which made her feel
that, by him, she was unforgiven. She was confused by the florid speech
made to her by the Baron Friederich, who was so enchanted by her that
he put no measure to his audible admiration. Othmar, seated beside her,
said very little. The party was gay, and the conversation animated.
The silence of each of them passed unnoticed. The Duchesse, who alone
remarked it, said to Raymond de Prangins:

'It is their way of being in love; it is the old way, which they have
copied out of Lamartine and Bernardin de St. Pierre. It is infinitely
droll that Othmar should play the sentimental lover, but he does. I
want Nadine Napraxine to see him like that. I asked her to dinner, but
they had a dinner party at home. She sent me a little line just now,
promising, if her people were gone, to come for an hour in the evening.
The child looks well, does she not? What jewels he has given her! They
are bigger than mine. It is the least he can do; the Finance is bound
to buy big jewels. Who would ever have supposed he would have seen
anything in that baby, that convent mouse? To be sure, she is handsome.
Such a marriage for that little mouse to make! a mere baby like that,
a child proud of being the _médaillon_ of her convent yesterday! After
all, nothing takes some men like that air of innocence, which bores
them to death as soon as they have put an end to it. It is like dew; it
is like drinking milk in the meadow in the morning; we don't care for
the milk, but the doctors say it is good for us, and so----I wonder
what she is thinking about. About her gowns, I dare say, or about her
jewels. She is just like a vignette out of "Paul et Virginie." She need
not pretend to be in love with him; no one will believe in it; he will
not believe in it himself; he is too rich. What can he have seen in her
more than in five thousand other _fillettes_ he might have married? To
be sure she is handsome. She will be handsomer----'

She put up her eyeglass and looked down the table at her young cousin
with amusement and envy, mingled as they mingled in little Blanchette.
The amusement was at the girl's evident embarrassment, the envy was of
her youth, of her complexion, of her form, of all which told her own
unerring instincts that Yseulte in a few years, even in a few months,
would be one of the most beautiful women of her world.

And she said angrily to de Prangins, 'Some men like children; it is as
boys like green apples.'

'At least the green apples are not painted,' thought the young man as
he murmured aloud a vague compliment. Raymond de Prangins, like most
men of his age, had never looked twice at a _fillette_; he had been
three weeks in the same house with this child and had never addressed
a word to her or noticed whether her eyes were black or brown; but now
that she had become the betrothed wife of Othmar, the charm of the
forbidden fruit had come to her; she had suddenly become an object of
interest in his sight; he was never tired of finding out her beauties,
he was absorbed in studying the shape of her throat, the colour of her
hair, the whiteness of her shoulders, which came so timidly and with a
little shiver, like shorn lambs, out of the first low bodice that she
had ever worn. To know that she was about to belong to another man,
gave her all at once importance, enchantment, and desirability in his
sight.



CHAPTER XXI.


Immediately that the dinner was over Othmar made his excuses and left
Millo to take the night express to Paris. When once she knew that he
was absent, she lost all fear.

Her innocent love was at that stage when the presence of a lover
is full of trouble and alarm, and the happiest hours are those in
which his absence permits its dreams to wander about her memory
undisturbed. When he was there he was still, to her, a stranger whose
gaze embarrassed her, whose touch confused her, whose association
with herself was unfamiliar and unreal; but, away from him, there was
nothing to check or dismay those spiritual and poetic fancies which had
lodged their ideal in him. No one of those around her would ever have
imagined that she had these fancies, or would have understood them in
the slightest degree; they only thought that she was very naturally
enraptured to be chosen by a very rich man, and did not doubt that in
her mind she was musing, as Blanchette had suggested, on the colour of
her liveries, the number of her horses, the places of her residence,
and the prospect of her jewels.

Baron Fritz, who made her blush with the fervour of his compliments,
and was so delighted with her that he could not cease from gazing at
her as though she were a water-colour of Copley Fielding's, was alone
sufficiently sympathetic, despite all his seventy years of cynicism,
to perceive that the things of this world had little place in her
thoughts, and he thought to himself as he looked at her:

'Will Otho be wise enough to appreciate all that? He will have the
carnation in its bud, the peach in its flower; he will make just
what he pleases of them; the worse will be if he should leave them
altogether alone: then the carnation will unfold, the peach will ripen
and come out into fruit unnoticed, and if he be an ingrate, they will
both come to their perfection for someone else--which will be a pity.
The child is in love with him--_parbleu!_--he does not deserve it; he
only cares for his Russian woman, his hothouse narcissus; he only
wants to cure himself of Nadine Napraxine; as if one blush of this
child's cheek were not worth a century of Madame Napraxine's languor!'

And he felt a passing regret that he was not forty years younger and in
the place of his nephew.

After dinner he seated himself beside Yseulte, and talked to her of
Othmar, of his boyhood, of his talents, of his opportunities, and of
his destinies, with so much tact and so much skill that she was moved
to an affectionate gratitude towards the speaker and to a sense of
infinite awe before all the ambitions and responsibilities with which
he filled her future.

'She is a baby, but she is not a fool,' thought the wise old man. 'When
the love fever has passed, we shall make of her just what we want,
provided only that she has influence over Otho. But will she have
any? In marriage there is always one who rules the other: "_un qui se
baisse, et l'autre qui tend la joue_": and it is always the one who
_cares_ who goes under.'

Even as he had eaten his truffles and drunk the fine wines grown on
the de Vannes' estates in Gironde, he had been more troubled by an
impersonal anxiety than he had ever allowed himself to be in the whole
course of his existence. The child had sat opposite to him, looking
so youthful beside the faces, more or less _maquillées_, of the women
around her, with her soft surprised eyes, happy as those of a child
that wakes from sleep, and her colour coming and going, delicate and
warm: 'And he will not stay here to see, just because the desire for
another woman is in him like a fly in the ear of a horse!' had thought
the Baron impatiently. He guessed very accurately that the departure of
Othmar was due to a restless unwillingness to face the fate which he
had voluntarily made for himself.

He himself had had no heed of Othmar's marriage except as a means of
legally continuing his race; his only notion of a woman was Napoleon's,
that she should bear many children; but as he looked at Yseulte de
Valogne, something kinder and more pitiful stirred in his selfish old
heart; she seemed to him too good to be sacrificed so; he understood
that there would be other things than money and children which this
sensitive plant would want; and worldly, unemotional, and unprincipled
as he was, Baron Fritz was the only person present who divined
something of the dreams which she was dreaming and felt a compassionate
regret for them, as for flowers which opened at dawn to die perforce at
noonday.

About eleven o'clock in the evening, when Yseulte was beginning to
feel her eyelids grow heavy, and was thinking wistfully of her little
white bed amidst the murmur of conversation unintelligible to her and
the stare of inquisitive eyes, she heard with a little thrill of an
emotion quite new to her the voice of the groom of the chambers, which
announced Madame la Princesse Napraxine.

Jealousy she was too young, too simple, and too innocent to know; but a
strange eagerness and an unanalysed pain moved her as she saw the woman
whom they said that Othmar loved.

'Is that really Madame Napraxine?' she said in a low voice to the
Baron, who was beside her.

'Who has told you of Madame Napraxine?' he thought, as he answered her:
'Yes! that is the name of the lady coming in now; she is a famous
European beauty, though to my taste she is too slender and too pale.'

The girl did not reply; her eyes followed the trail of Princess
Nadine's pale primrose-coloured skirts laden with lace, and fastened
here and there with large lilies and lilac. Before that inimitable
grace, that exquisite languor and ease, that indescribable air of
indifference and of empire and of disdain which made the peculiar power
of Nadine Napraxine, the poor child felt her own insignificance, her
own childishness, her own powerlessness; she fancied she must look
rustic, awkward, stupid: she grew very pale, and her throat swelled
with pain under her lover's pearls.

'It is too early for you to have that adder in your breast,' thought
Friederich Othmar, as he watched her. 'What a coward he was to go away,
instead of standing his ground beside you! After all, why is everyone
so afraid of this Russian woman?'

Aloud, he only said: 'The Princess is coming to you; courage, _mon
enfant_. A woman of the world is certainly an alarming animal, but you
will have to meet many such, and you will be one yourself before very
long.'

'_Fillette_, come and be presented to Mme. Napraxine; she wishes it,'
said her cousin at that moment in her ear. The girl shrank back a
little, and the colour came into her face; she rose, nevertheless,
obediently.

Nadine Napraxine came half-way to meet her, with an indulgent little
smile, of which the compassion and disdain penetrated the inmost soul
of Yseulte with a cruel sense of inferiority. Yet had she not been so
humble and so embarrassed she might have seen a look of surprise in the
eyes of her rival. Nadine saw at a glance that in this child there was
no 'Sainte Mousseline' to be easily derided and contemned.

'How beautiful a woman she will be in a year or two!' she thought, with
that candour which was never lacking in her in her judgments of her
greatest foes. 'He is going to possess all that, and he only sighs in
his soul for me!--what fools men are!'

While she so thought, she was still smiling as she came to meet Yseulte
with that slow, soft, indescribable grace of which she had the secret.

'I am an old friend of Count Othmar's; you must let me be yours in the
future,' she said with gracious kindliness. 'Shall I offend you if I
venture to say that I am sure he is a very happy and fortunate person?
I dare say I shall please you better if I say that he deserves to be
so.'

The girl could not have found words to answer to save her life.
Instinctively she made her grand eighteenth-century curtsy in
acknowledgment. She was very pale; her heart seemed to sink within her
as she realised all the charm of this her rival.

Mme. de Vannes murmured a few amiable words, and left them opposite
to one another; the girl trembled despite herself, as those indolent
lustrous eyes scanned her with merciless investigation and smiled at
her embarrassment.

It was her first experience of that obligation, so constant in the
world, to meet what is dreaded and disliked with suavity and compliment.

'I am a great friend of your cousin, too,' continued Nadine Napraxine,
with all the amiable condescension of a woman of the world to a child.
'We shall be sure to meet constantly in the years to come, which will
leave you so young and make us so old! Where have you lived? In an old
Breton convent? I wish I had lived in a Breton convent too! Come and
sit by me and talk to me a little. Do you know that I am here to-night
on purpose to see you. I had a tiresome dinner, all of Russian people,
or I should have come here earlier.'

She drew the girl down beside her on a sofa with that pretty
imperiousness of which women as well as men often felt the charm and
the command. She was most kindly, most gentle, most flattering, yet
Yseulte suffered under all her gracious compliments as under the most
poignant irony. She answered in monosyllables and at random; she was
ill at ease and confused, she looked down with the fascination of a
bird gazing at a snake on the hand which held hers, such a slender hand
in its tan-coloured glove and with its circles of _porte-bonheurs_
above the wrist, and its heavy bracelets crowding one another almost to
the elbow.

She would not have spoken more than Yes or No to save her life, and she
said even these in the wrong places; but Nadine Napraxine did not make
the mistake of thinking her stupid, as less intelligent women would
have done.

She studied her curiously whilst she continued to speak those amiable
and careless nothings which are the armoury of social life; toy weapons
of which the young know neither the use nor the infinite value. She had
all the kindly condescension, the good-humoured, amused indulgence,
of a grown woman of the world for a schoolgirl; by dates she was only
seven years older than Yseulte de Valogne, but in experience and
knowledge she was fifty years her senior.

'_Elle est vraiment très bien_,' she said, as she turned away from the
girl and took the arm of Friederich Othmar. 'At present she is like a
statue in the clay, like a sketch, like a magnolia flower folded up;
but Othmar will change all that. You must be so glad; his marriage must
have been such an anxiety to you. Suppose he had married a Mongol! What
would you have done?'

'It was not precisely of the Mongol that I was most afraid, Madame,'
replied the Baron. 'Do you think too that a marriage is a termination
to anyone's anxieties? Surely, the dangerous romance begins afterwards
in life as in novels.'

'It would be very dull reading in either if it did not,' said Madame
Napraxine. 'But we will hope that Mademoiselle and your nephew will
read theirs together, and eschew the dangers; that is possible
sometimes; and she will have one great advantage for the next five
years; she will be handsomer every year.'

'It will be a great advantage if he find her so, but perhaps only
others will find her so; marriage does not lend rose-coloured
spectacles to its disciples,' thought the Baron, as he answered aloud,
'There can be no one's opinion that he could value as much as he is
sure to do that of Madame Napraxine.'

'I imagine my opinion matters nothing at all to him,' she answered,
with her enigmatical smile. 'But when I see him I shall certainly be
able to congratulate him with much more truth than one can usually
put into those conventionalities. Mademoiselle de Valogne is very
beautiful.'

The Baron sadly recalled the saying of that wise man who was of opinion
that it makes little difference after three months whether your wife
be a Venus or a Hottentot; but he did not utter this blasphemy to a
lovely woman.

The girl remained on her sofa gazing wistfully after this _élégante_
who had all the knowledge which she lacked, and who impressed her so
sadly with an indefinite dull sense of inferiority and of helplessness.
She put her hand up to her throat and felt for his pearls; they seemed
like friends; they seemed to assure her of his affection and of the
future. People thought she was proud of them because they were so
large, so perfect in colour and shape, so royal in their value; she
would have been as pleased with them if they had been strings of
berries out of the woods, and he had sent them with the same message
and meaning.

She watched Nadine Napraxine with fascinated eyes; wondering where
was the secret of that supreme seduction which even she, in her
convent-bred simplicity, could feel was in her. In the few words which
had been addressed to her she was dimly conscious that the other
disdained her as a child, and derided Othmar as a fool.

Madame de Vannes roused her from her preoccupation with a tap of her
fan.

'How grave you look, _fillette_,' she said with some impatience. 'You
must never look like that now you are in the world. Everyone detests
grave people. If you cannot always smile, stay in your convent.'

'I beg your pardon,' murmured Yseulte, waking from her meditation with
a little shock. 'I did not know--I was thinking----'

'That is just what you must not do when you are in society. What were
you thinking of? You looked very sombre.'

The girl coloured and hesitated, then she said very low:

'The other day--the day of the casket--you said he loved her--was it
true?'

She glanced across the room at Nadine Napraxine as she spoke.

'Did I say so?' answered the Duchesse, with annoyance at herself.
'Then I talked great nonsense. But how was I to know then that he was
thinking of you? Listen to me, _fillette_,' she continued, with more
real kindness in her tone than the girl had ever heard there. 'You
will hear all kinds of scandals, insinuations, stories of all sorts in
the world that you will live in; never listen to them, or you will be
perpetually irritated and unhappy. People say all sorts of untruths
out of sheer idleness; they must talk. M. Othmar must certainly have
some very especial esteem for you, or why should he choose you out of
all womankind for his wife? That is all you have to think of; do not
perplex yourself as to whom he may, or may not, have loved beforehand.
All your care must be that he shall love no one else afterwards.
You are tired, I think; go to bed, if you like: you can slip away
unnoticed. You are only a child yet.'

Yseulte went at once, thankful for the permission, yet looking
wistfully still at the delicate head of Nadine Napraxine, as it rose
up from a collar of emeralds. Madame de Vannes passed to the music
room, where a little operetta was being given, with a vague compassion
stirring in her.

'I am sure the old Marquise could not have given her more moral
advice than I,' she thought, 'but I am afraid the silly child will
have trouble, she is so old-fashioned. Why cannot she marry the man,
and enjoy all he will give her, without perplexing herself as to
what fancies he may have had for other people? What does it matter?
She will have to get used to that sort of thing. If it be not Nadine
who makes her jealous, it will be someone else; but one could not
tell her that. How right I was not to send Blanchette and Toinon to
a convent! The holy women make them so romantic, so emotional, so
_pleurnicheuses_!'

At the same moment Nadine Napraxine said, when she had left her and was
speaking to Melville of her:

'She is very interesting. She will have plenty of character; he thinks
that he is marrying a child; he forgets that she will grow up, and that
very rapidly. Marriage is a hothouse for women who are young. I was
married at her age; in three months' time I felt as old--as old--as old
as I do now. Nobody can feel older! You are sixty-five, you say, and
you are so young. That is because you are not married and can believe
in Paradise.'

'You mean that I hope for compensation?' said Melville, with his
pleasant laugh.

'Or that you keep your illusions. There is so much in that. People who
do are always young. I do not think I ever had any to lose!'

'It is great emotions which make happy illusions, and I believe you
have never permitted those to approach you?'

'I have viewed them from afar off, as Lucretius says one ought to see a
storm.'

'I do not doubt you have seen them very often, Princess,' said
Melville, with significance. 'But as you have not shared them, they
have passed by you like great waves which leave no mark upon the
smoothness of the sand on which they break.'

'Perhaps,' she said, while her mind reverted to the scene of which her
boudoir had been the theatre three days before; then she added a little
abruptly: 'You know Mlle. de Valogne well--you are interested in her?
What do you think of her marriage?'

'I have known her from the time she was four years old,' replied
Melville. 'I have seen her at intervals at the convent of Faïel. I am
convinced she has no common character; she is very unlike the young
girls one sees in the world, who have had their course of Deauville,
Aix, and Biarritz. She is of the antique French patrician type; perhaps
the highest human type that the world has ever seen, and the most
capable of self-restraint, of heroism, of true distinction, and of
loyalty. I fancy Elizabeth de France must have been just such a girl as
is Yseulte de Valogne.'

'What eulogy!' returned his companion, with a little incredulous
accent. 'I have always wondered that your Church did not canonize
the Princess Elizabeth. But you do not tell me what you think of the
marriage.'

Melville smiled.

'I might venture to prophecy if the success of a marriage depended on
two persons, but it depends on so many others.'

'You are very mysterious; I do not see what others have to do with it.'

'And yet,' thought Melville, 'how often you have stretched out your
delicate fingers and pushed down the most finely-wrought web of human
happiness--just for pastime!'

Aloud he said: 'If she and he were about to live their lives on a
desert island, I am convinced they would be entirely suited to each
other. But as they will live in the world, and perforce in what they
call the great world, who shall presume to say what their marriage
will become? It may pass into that indifferent and amiable friendship
which is the most usual issue of such marriages, or it may grow into
that direct antagonism which is perhaps its still commoner result; on
the other hand, it may become that perfect flower of human sympathy
which, like the aloe, blossoms once in a century; but, if that miracle
happen, such flowers are not immortal; an unkind grasp will suffice to
break them off at the root. On the whole, I am not especially hopeful;
she is too young, and he----'

'And he?' said Nadine Napraxine, with a gleam of curiosity in her
glance.

'I am not his confessor; I doubt if he ever confess--to his own sex,'
replied Melville; 'but if I had been, I should have said to him: "My
son, one does not cure strong fevers with meadow-daisies; wait till
your soul is cleansed before you offer it to a child whom you take from
God." That is what I should have said in the confessional; but I only
know Othmar on the neutral ground of society. I cannot presume to say
it there.'

'You are too serious, Monsignore,' said Nadine, with her enigmatical
smile. 'Marriage is not such a very serious thing, I assure you. Ask
Platon.'

'Prince Napraxine is exceptionally happy,' said Melville, so gravely
that she laughed gaily in his face.

Meanwhile Yseulte dismissed the maid, undressed herself slowly, kissed
the pearls when she had unclasped them; and, kneeling down under her
crucifix, said many prayers for Othmar.

She was soon asleep, like a tired child, and she had his note under her
pillow; nevertheless, she dreamed of Nadine Napraxine, and her sleep
was not the pure unbroken rest that she had always had before. Once she
awoke in a great terror, her heart beating, her limbs trembling.

'If he did not love me!' she cried aloud; then the light of the lamp
fell on the open casket, on the necklace of pearls. They seemed to say
to her, 'What should he want with you, unless he loved you?'

She fell asleep again, and with a smile on her face.



CHAPTER XXII.


The fortnight passed away rapidly and dizzily for her. They took her
at once to Paris, and gave her no time for thought. She lived in a
perpetual movement, which dazzled her as a blaze of fireworks would
dazzle a forest doe. All the preparations of a great marriage were
perpetually around her, and she began to realise that the world thought
her lot most enviable and rare. Often her head ached and her ears were
tired with the perpetual stream of compliment and felicitation, the
continual demands made on her time, on her patience, on her gratitude.
What would have been ecstasy to Blanchette was to her very nearly pain.
There were moments when she almost longed for the great, still, walled
gardens of the Dames de Ste. Anne, for her little whitewashed room, her
rush chair in the chapel, her poor grey frock.

Then she thought of Othmar, and the colour came into her face and she
was happy, though always unquiet and a little alarmed, as a dove is
when its owner's hand is stretched out to it.

To Yseulte he was a hero, a saint, an ideal. He had come so suddenly
into her life, he had transformed it so completely, that he had
something of a magical fascination and glory for her. She knew nothing
of the House of Othmar, or of their position in finance; if she had
understood it, she would have disliked it with the instinctive pride of
a daughter of '_les preux_;' she had a vague, confused idea of him as
the possessor of great power and wealth, but that taint of commerce,
which in Othmar's eyes soiled every napoleon he touched, had not dimmed
his majesty for her.

She was never allowed to see him alone; her cousin insisted on the
strictest observance of '_les convenances_,' and though a Romeo would
have found means to circumvent these rules, her lover did not. He was
glad of the stiff laws of etiquette which forbade him unwitnessed
interviews. He felt that if she asked him straightway, with her clear
eyes on his, what love he had for her, a lie would not come easily to
his lips. He was lavish of all offerings to her, as though to atone
materially for the feeling that was wanting in him. The Duchesse was
herself astonished at the magnificence and frequency of his gifts.
Unasked, he settled S. Pharamond and an estate in Seine et Oise upon
her in absolute possession, while a commensurate income was secured to
her to render her wholly independent in the future of any whim or will
of his own.

'He is really very generous,' said the Duchesse to herself. 'But what
perplexes me is, he is not in love; not the very least in love! If he
were, one would understand it all. But he is not in the very slightest
degree _amouraché_; not half as much as Alain is.'

But she was heedful that no suggestion of this fact, which her
observation made clear to her, should escape her before Yseulte or
anyone else. If he were not in love, yet still wished to marry, it was
his own affair; and she was not his keeper.

To Yseulte, it was absolute shame to find that she was regarded by
all who approached her as having done something clever, won something
enviable in the lottery of life. A vague distress weighed on her
before the motives which she felt were attributed to her.

When her cousin said to her, '_Fillette_, you were really very
audacious when you went to gather those flowers at S. Pharamond. But
audacity succeeds--Voltaire and Napoléon were right,' she could have
wept with humiliation and indignation.

'Perhaps he thinks as badly of me, too!' she thought, in that
perplexity which had never ceased, since his gift of the ivory casket,
to torment her.

'There is storm in the air,' said the Duc once to his wife; 'Othmar
will be like one of those magicians who used to raise a force that they
could neither guide nor quell. He is making a child worship him, and
forgetting that he will make her a woman, and that then she will not be
satisfied with being hung about with trinkets, and set ankle-deep in
gold like an Indian goddess. I am quite sure that this marriage, which
pleases you all so much, will be a very unhappy one--some day.'

'You think what you wish--all men do,' said his wife. 'I have not a
doubt that it will be perfectly happy--as happy as any marriage is,
that is to say. She will adore him; men like to be adored. You can only
get that from somebody very young. He will never say an unkind word
to her, and he will never object, however much she may spend. If she
cannot be content with that----'

The Duc laughed derisively.

'Gold! gold! gold! That is the joy of the _cabotine_, not of Yseulte de
Valogne. What she will want will be love, and he will not give it her.
With all deference to you, I see the materials for a very sombre poem
in your _épopée_.'

'I repeat, your wish is father to your thought. On the theatres women
do rebel, and stab themselves, or other people, but in real life they
are very much more pliable. In a year's time she will not care in
the least about Othmar himself, but she will have grown to like the
world and the life that she leads in it. She will have learnt to amuse
herself; she will not fret if he pass his time elsewhere----'

'You are entirely wrong,' said de Vannes, with irritation. 'She is a
child now, but in a few weeks she will be a woman. Then he will find
that you cannot light a fire on grass and leave the earth unscorched.
She has the blood of Gui de Valogne. She will not be a saint always.
If she find herself neglected, she will not forgive it when she shall
understand what it means. If he be her lover after marriage, all may
be well; I do not say the contrary. But if he neglect her then, as he
neglects her now----'

'Pray, do not put such follies into her head. Neglected! When not a day
passes that he does not send her the most marvellous presents, does not
empty on her half the jewellers' cases out of Europe and Asia.'

'He makes up in jewels what he wants in warmth,' said Alain de Vannes.
'At present she is a baby, a little saint, an innocent; as ignorant as
her ivory Madonna; but in six months' time she will be very different.
She will know that she belongs to a man who does not care for her; she
will want all that he does not give her; she will be like a rich red
rose opening where all is ice----'

'You go to the theatres till you get melodramatic,' said his wife, with
contempt. 'I do not believe she will ever have any passions at all; she
will always be the ivory saint.'

Alain de Vannes laughed grimly.

'Women who are beautiful and have good health are never saints,' he
said, 'and saints are not married at sixteen.'

'Françoise Romaine was,' said his wife, who always had the last word in
any discussion.

Othmar was more restless than he had ever been in his life, more
dissatisfied, and more impatient of fate. Yet he was not sure that he
would have undone what he had done, even if honour would have allowed
him.

The tenderness which Yseulte had awakened in him, though it could not
compete with the passion another had aroused in him, made him feel a
charm in her presence, a solace in her youthfulness. The restrictions
imposed on their intercourse sustained the mystic spiritual grace which
the young girl had in his eyes, and it prevented any possible chance
of disillusion or of fatigue on his part. Hers was really the virginal
purity, as of a white rosebud which has blossomed in the shade. He was
not insensible to its beauty, even whilst a beauty of another kind
had fuller empire upon him. He had done an unwise thing, but he said
to himself continually, 'At least I have made one innocent creature
happy, and surely I shall be able to continue to do so; she can hardly
be more difficult to content than a dove or a fawn.'

He forgot, as so many men do forget, that in this life, which seemed
to him like the dove's, like the fawn's, there would be all the
latent ardours of womanhood; that in the folded rosebud there was
the rose-tinted heart, in which the bee would sting. They met at
ceremonies, banquets, great family réunions, solemn festivities, in
which all the Faubourg took part. She was intensely, exquisitely, happy
when she was conscious that he was near her, but she was as silent as
a statue and as timid as a bird when he looked at her or addressed
her. Every day, every hour, was increasing what was to become the one
absorbing passion of her life, but he was too indifferent, or too
engrossed by other thoughts, to note the growth of this innocent love.
Alain de Vannes saw much more of it than he.

She had the spiritual loveliness for him which S. Cecilia had in the
eyes of the Roman centurion who wedded with her; a more delicate and
more ethereal charm than that which only springs from the provocation
of the senses. A caress to her seemed almost a profanity: to disturb
her innocent soul with the grossness of earthly love seemed like a sort
of sacrilege.

The whole of this time was a period of restless doubt with him, and the
sense that he had not been honest with her rebuked him whenever he met
the timid worship of her wistful eyes. He thought, 'She would not give
herself to me, if she knew!'

He was impatient to have all the tumult and folly which precede a great
marriage over and done with. Every detail annoyed him; every formula
irritated him.

'All I entreat is, that there may be no delay,' he said so often to her
cousin, that Madame de Vannes ended in believing that he must be much
more enamoured than his manner had betokened, and said with amusement
to her husband:

'It has often been disputed whether a man can be in love with two
persons at one time: Othmar is so, unquestionably. It is like the bud
and the fruit on the same bough of camellia.'

'It is to be hoped that when the bud is a flower the fruit will fall,'
said de Vannes, with a grim smile.

'You are not sincere when you say that,' said the Duchesse, 'and you
know that both always fall--after a time.'

'A law of nature,' said her husband. 'And it is a law of nature also
that others come in their place.'

'My dear friend,' said Aurore de Vannes, with good-natured contempt,
'when Yseulte shall have followed the laws of nature in that
way, believe me, it is not you who will profit by them. You were
good-looking ten years ago--or more--but absinthe and bacarat does
not improve the looks after five-and-twenty, and you have crow's-feet
already, and will soon have to dye your hair if you wish still to look
young. Yseulte will never think of you except as a _vieux cousin_ who
was kind enough to give her a locket--if she will even do that when she
has got all the diamonds that she will get as Countess Othmar.'

Meantime, Othmar himself was constantly saying to the Duchesse:

'I put myself completely in your hands; only, all I beseech of you,
Madame, is not to delay my marriage longer than you are absolutely
obliged.'

'He does not say his happiness,' thought Madame de Vannes, as she said
aloud, 'Well, what will seem terrible to you? I think I ought to exact
a delay of at least six months. She is so very young.'

'It is her youth that is delightful to me,' he replied abruptly. 'I am
old enough to need its charm. I should be glad if you would consent
to our nuptials very soon--say within a fortnight. I have already
instructed my solicitors to meet you and to make whatever settlements
you and the Duc de Vannes may desire upon Mademoiselle de Valogne.'

'What! carte blanche?' thought Cri-Cri, with a wonder which she took
care to conceal, whilst she objected that such speed as he desired was
impossible, was quite unheard of, would be indecorous: there were so
many things to be done; but in the end she relented, consented to name
that day month, and reflected that he should pay for his haste in the
marriage contract. It would make no difference to herself whether he
settled ten millions or ten pence on her young cousin, but it seemed
to her that she was not doing her duty unless, in condescending to
ally herself with la Finance, she did not shear its golden fleeces
unscrupulously.

In her own mind she reflected that it was as well the marriage should
take place speedily, for she perceived that his heart was not much in
it. She divined that some alien motive actuated him in his desire for
it, and she would have regretted if any breach had occurred to prevent
it; for, although she professed to her intimate friends that she
disliked the alliance excessively, she was nevertheless very gratified
at her own relative having borne off such a great prize as Othmar. One
never knew either how useful such a connection as his might not become.

'I would never have let her marry into the _Juiverie_,' she said to
her husband. 'But Othmar is quite different; his mother was an English
duke's daughter, his grandmother was a de Soissons-Valette, he has
really good blood.'

'And besides that,' said de Vannes savagely, 'he is a man whom all
Europe has sighed to marry ever since he came of age. Why do you talk
such nonsense to me? It is waste of good acting!'

'As you wasted your medallion,' said his wife, with a malicious
enjoyment. 'If she had taken the veil, you would have been quite
capable of eloping with her, the very infamy of the action would have
delighted you. But Othmar will certainly not let you make love to his
wife; he is just the sort of man to be jealous.'

'Of Nadine Napraxine, not of his own wife!' said de Vannes, with an
angry laugh. 'Marry them quickly, while he is in the mind, and before
Madame Napraxine can spoil the thing. In six months' time he will
return to her, but that will not matter; our little cousin will be
Countess Othmar, and will probably learn to console herself.'

'You are not hopeless?' said his wife, much amused. 'Well, I do not
think with you. I believe that Nadine Napraxine has never been anything
to Othmar; that the child, on the contrary, is passionately in love
with him; and that the marriage will be a very happy one.'

Alain de Vannes shrugged his shoulders. He was very angry that the
matter had turned out as it had done; the more angry that it was
wholly impossible for him to display or to express his discomfiture,
and that he was compelled to be amiable to Othmar and to all the
world in relation to it, and bear himself before everyone as the
friend and guardian of his wife's cousin. His fancy for her had been
a caprice rather than anything stronger, but it was resentful in
its disappointment and impotence, and might even be capable of some
vengeance.

Faïel had left sweet, solemn memories with the girl: the green gloom
of the fern-brakes and the wooded lanes, the soft grey summers,
and the evenings with their mysterious silvery shadows; the silent
corridors, the tolling bells, the altars with their white lilies, the
pathetic monotonous voices of the nuns--all were blent together in
her recollection into a picture full of holiness and calm. Now that
she knew what the gipsy woman had meant, she wished to be there for a
little while to muse upon her vast happiness, her wondrous future, and
consecrate them both.

She asked for, and obtained, permission to go to her old convent in
retreat for the two weeks before her marriage. Madame de Vannes was
inclined to refuse what she regarded as excessive and eccentric, but
Othmar obtained her consent.

It pleased him that she should pass her time before her marriage with
the holy women who had trained her childhood; it was not so that Nadine
Napraxine had spent the weeks preceding her soulless union.

'You wish not to see her for two whole weeks?' said the Duchesse,
suspiciously.

'I wish her to do always what she wishes,' he answered.

'She will be a very happy woman then,' said Cri-Cri, drily.

He added, with a little hesitation: 'It is her unlikeness to the world,
her spirituality, which has charmed me; I wish her to retain them.'

'It will be difficult,' said the Duchesse, with a laugh. '_Fillette_,'
she said with amusement to her young cousin, 'I do not know why you are
so very solemn about it all; I assure you the soul has very little to
do with marriage, as you will find out soon enough. Why should you go
in retreat as if you were about to enter religion?'

Yseulte coloured; she answered timidly: 'I am forgetting God; it is
ungrateful; I am too happy; I mean--I grow selfish, I want to be quiet
a little while to remember----'

The Duchesse laughed, much amused: 'You ought decidedly to have taken
the veil; you will be a _religieuse manquée_! At your age I thought of
nothing but of my balls and my bouquets, and of the costumes they gave
me, and of the officers of the Guides--Alain was in the Guides, he was
very good-looking at that time. I must say Othmar and you are like no
lovers in the world that I have ever known.'

However, she gave her permission, and Yseulte went to the ancient
stonebuilt fortress-like house of Faïel, where the quiet corridors were
filled with the smell of dried herbs from the nuns' distillery and
the little grey figures of the children played noiselessly under the
leafless chestnut avenues of the tranquil gardens.

It was all so welcome to her after the babble of Blanchette, the tumult
of congratulation, the succession of compliments, the perpetual sense
of being exhibited and examined, discussed and depreciated; but it
did not change her thoughts very much, for even in her prayers her
wondrous change of fate always seemed with her, and she found that even
amongst her pious and unworldly Dames de Ste. Anne the betrothed of
Count Othmar was received as a very different being to the dowerless
Yseulte de Valogne; and something of that bitterness which so often
came to her lover reached her through all her guilelessness. Even
Nicole, also, embracing her with ardour and tenderness, with the tears
running down her brown cheeks, and pleading for the right to send her
_pétiote_ the orange-blossoms and the lilies-of-the-valley for her
bridal-dress, yet amidst her joyful tears and tearful joy had not
forgotten to whisper: 'And, _dis donc, ma mignonne_, you will say a
word now to the Count Othmar to get my husband the municipal concession
to put up the steam mill? It will make our fortune, my angel, and I
know what a happiness that will be to you!'

'A fortune! Money, money! It seems all they think of in the world!'
the child reflected sadly. 'What can Nicole and Sandroz want with more
money? They are very well off, and they have no children, no relations
even; and yet all they think about is laying by one napoleon on the
top of another! It is horrible! Even the Mother Superior has never said
to me how good he is, how kind, how generous; she only says that I am
fortunate because he is so rich! They make me feel quite wicked. I want
to tell them how mean they are! Why am I so much better and greater
in their sight because I am going to become rich too? I thought they
cared for none of those things. But our Reverend Mother asks me for a
new altar service as Blanchette asked me for a turquoise necklace! I
understand why he is always a little sad. He thinks no one cares for
him, for himself.'

And, after many days and nights of most anxious thought and most
entreating prayer, she gathered up all her courage and wrote a little
letter to Othmar, the only one which she had ever addressed to him; she
was afraid it was a strange thing to do, and one perhaps unmaidenly,
but she could not resist her longing to say that one thing to him, and
so she wrote:

'Monsieur,--I do not know whether I ought to say it, and I hope
you will forgive me if it be wrong to say so, but I have thought
often since I hear and see so much of your great wealth that
perhaps--perhaps--you may imagine it is that which I care for; but
indeed I do not; if you were quite poor, very poor to-morrow, it would
be just the same to me, and I should be just as happy. I do pray you to
believe this.

  'Yours, in affection and reverence,
  'YSEULTE.'

She had hesitated very long before she ventured to sign herself so,
but in the end it seemed to her that it could not be very wrong as
it stood: she owed him both affection and reverence--even the Mother
Superior herself would say so.

She enclosed the little note in a letter to her cousin the Duchesse,
knowing that otherwise it would not be allowed to pass the convent
walls. When Madame de Vannes received it she looked at it with
suspicion.

'If it should be any nonsense about Nadine Napraxine?' she thought with
alarm; 'if it should be any folly that would break the marriage?'

She decided that it would be unwise to send it to Othmar without
knowing what it said, so she broke the little seal very carefully and
read it. Something in it touched her as she perused the simple words,
written so evidently with a hand which trembled and a heart that was
full. She sealed it again and despatched it to its destination. 'Poor
little simpleton,' she thought, 'why did she take the trouble to say
that? She will not make him believe it!'

But he did believe it.

It was because she made the belief possible to him that the child had
seemed to him like a young angel who brought healing on her wings; and
the love which did not venture to avow itself, but yet was visible in
every one of these timid sentences, went to his heart with sweetness
and unconscious reproach. He wrote back to her:

'I believe you, and I thank you. You give me what the world cannot give
nor command.'

And he added words of tenderness which, if they would have seemed cold
to an older or a less innocent recipient, wholly contented her, and
seemed to her like a breath from heaven.

The fortnight soon passed, and after its quiet days at Faïel, filled
with the sounds so familiar to her of the drowsy bells, the rolling
organ swell, the plaintive monotonous chaunts and prayers, the pacing
of slow steps up and down long stone passages, the grinding of the
winch of the great well in the square court, she felt calmed and
strengthened, and not afraid when the Mother Superior spoke of all the
responsibilities of her future.

To her, marriage was a mystic, spiritual union; all she knew of it was
gathered from the expressions borrowed from it to symbolise the union
of Christ and His saints. She went to it with as religious and innocent
a faith as she would have taken with her to the cloister had they sent
her there. If any human creature can be as pure as snow, a very young
girl who has been reared by simple and pious women is so. Even the
Duchesse de Vannes felt a vague emotion before that absolute ignorance
of the senses and of the passions of life.

'It is stupid,' she said to herself. 'But it is lovely in its way. I
can fancy a man likes to destroy it--slowly, cruelly--just as a boy
pulls off butterflies' wings.'



CHAPTER XXIII.


The first days of February came all too soon for the vague fears of
Yseulte, which throbbed in her as the heart beats in a bird which
feels a captor's hand approaching. All the ridicule of Blanchette
and Toinon, all the good-natured banter of their mother, and all the
endless congratulations of society which rained on her like the almond
blossoms which were falling in showers in the wind, could not make her
otherwise than bewildered and alarmed, and as the time of her marriage
drew closer and closer her terror almost obscured her happiness. No one
would have believed in it; everyone, had they known the secrets of her
shy and silent mind, would have laughed at it as hypocrisy; but with
her it was most real.

Away from Othmar, she adored him; but near him, she dreaded him as
a stranger who was about to lead her into the strangest and most
terrible mysteries of life. But time stays not for the sinking or
the fluttering of any poor human heart, and they brought her from the
dim, cold, misty Breton country back into the gay and crowded world of
Paris; and the great rooms of her cousin's house, filled by brilliant
throngs for the signing of the contract, brought home to her the
inexorable fact that her marriage would itself take place in another
forty-eight hours.

'You are so pale, _fillette_!' said the Duchesse in some impatience.
'One would think that we were forcing your inclinations!'

Yseulte said nothing; she could not have explained the tumult of
agitation which was in her. She was marvellously happy; and yet----

A lover who had loved her would have divined and penetrated all those
mingled emotions, which were unintelligible to herself; but Othmar was
too _distrait_ and too absorbed in thought, wherein she had no share,
to do so. Though she was the centre of the world around her for the
moment, the child remained in an absolute solitude.

Friederich Othmar, studying her with his exquisite power of
penetration, alone perceived her trouble, and thought with pleasure:
'The poets are not quite the fools I deemed them; there _is_ such a
thing as a virginal soul in which the senses do not speak, and to
which the gewgaws of the world say nothing either. I should never have
believed that, but I see it. He has found a pearl, but he will not
care for it. He will absorb it into the acid of his own disappointed
passions, and then will be surprised if it disappear.'

If he had been told a month earlier that he would have had such
sentimental regrets, he would have been wholly incredulous, but
something in the sight of the young girl, in her innocent gravity, with
her wistful, changeful eyes, touched him, as she stood by the table
where the marriage contract was signed. She seemed to him too good to
be wedded with indifference, taught the fever of passion, the suffering
of maternity, and then be forsaken--as she would be.

'I am glad that I did not meet her, or one like her, thirty years ago;
she would have unnerved me,' he thought, as he stooped and wrote his
own name.

Amongst the nuptial gifts had been one of great value from the
Princess Napraxine. It was a gold statuette of Love, modelled by Mercié
and standing on a base of jade and agate. It had all the cruelty and
irony of the modern Italian school in it, for the poor Amorino was
trying to drink out of a gourd which was empty, and the expression
of his disappointed, distressed, pathetic features was rendered with
admirable mockery and skill. He turned his sad eyes ruefully on those
who looked at him; some withered passion-flowers and a little asp were
near his feet. When Othmar saw it, his face darkened; he thought it
a jest at himself, nor had the giver selected it without intention.
Behind the gold Amorino he seemed to see her smiling, serene,
jewel-like eyes, her delicate, contemptuous mouth, which said: '_Va
donc! C'est le vieux jeu!_'

'The only woman that I shall ever love!' he thought with a thrill of
remorse, of shame, and of anger, all in one.

What right had he, while his veins were hot with those unholy fires, to
simulate love for an innocent and virgin life?

The morning came for which Blanchette and Toinon had been longing for a
month; and clothed in palest blue velvet, carrying white bouquets as
large as themselves, they wore at their throats the new diamond lockets
of their ambition, with the miniature of their cousin within each,
for which they cared nothing at all. But the diamonds were as large
and as numerous as ever their hearts could desire. '_Vrai! Il est bon
prince!_' they cried in chorus, as they skipped round each other, and
made the sun sparkle in the jewels, and sang the song of Judic.

Then they went to the church of S. Philippe du Roule, and made their
little naughty faces as grave as mice that see a cat, while the incense
rose and the organ pealed, and the Latin words rolled out sonorously,
and the pale wintry sunshine shone over the brilliant crowd assembled
there for the marriage.

Yseulte herself looked like a slender white lily.

The deep peace and serenity of her convent days had come there with
her; certain instincts of her race kept her still and composed with
the eyes of so many strangers upon her; a dignity that was exquisitely
graceful blended with her childish air; she looked like some young
princess of the Valois time, such as poets and painters still see in
their dreams.

One of those special trains which Blanchette thought the supreme
privilege of marriage bore them without a pause through the wintry
landscapes between Paris and Blois.

The day was fine and windless; there was a scent of spring which
breathed through the leafless poplars and willows, and over the frosted
fields and vineyards, with sweet, vague promise; here and there
burst in to sight, out from a forest glade beside some château, some
gaily-clad hunting party, the last of the season; ever and anon there
was some little town, with its old ruined castle, or its monastic
church, shut in, in leafless orchards. The broad river glistened in
the light under the burden of its many islands, its breaking blocks of
ice drifting on turbid green waters, its flood of mud and melted snow
rolling heavily beneath the colliers and the merchant craft, which made
their way slowly against the floes. In the drear blackened vineyards,
peasants, like pictures by Millet, were at work; sometimes a woman
with faggots on her bowed shoulders straightened herself to watch the
swiftness of the train, or a bluefrocked herd-boy stopped his cattle
at a crossing.

All these pictures passed before the eyes of Yseulte like the panorama
of a dream: the early morning hours had been one long bewilderment to
her; though she had carried herself so bravely, her heart had beaten
all the while like a caught bird's: even now the scent of the incense,
the waves of sound from the organ, the sonorous voice of the great
prelate in its admonitions, seemed to come with her into the still,
brown, fresh country; the sense of some infinite and solemn obligation,
accepted and irrevocable, was upon her.

They had left Paris immediately after the ceremony; and the evening
sun was glowing in the west and lighting the pastoral country with its
leafless woods and glancing rivers as they reached the château.

Amyôt was a place of great beauty and stateliness; it had been built
for François Premier, and had the salamander and the crown carved on
its stones and blazoned on its metal work; it was surrounded by water
like Chenonceaux, and in the sunset-glow its pinnacles and towers and
high steep roof gleamed as if made of gold; it stood on a hill amidst
great woods, overlooking the fruitful valleys and fertile plains which
lie between the Loire and Cher, and in its gardens all the art that
modern horticulture can boast was united to the stately avenues, the
close-shorn turf, the long grey stone terraces with the motto of the
Valois and the fleur-de-lis of France carved upon their pilasters,
which had in their day seen the _mignons_ of Henri II., and felt the
feet of Diane de Poitiers and of Mary Stuart.

Amyôt was a poem, epic and epopee in one; she had never seen it before;
she gazed at it with entranced eyes, glad that her home would be in
such a place; then she looked timidly at Othmar.

He was not looking at her.

She sighed, hardly knowing why, but with a vague sense of neglect and
disappointment. She was in a trance of mingled joy and dread. She saw
the dusky avenue of yews through which they passed, the long lines
of majestic terraces, the sheets of glancing water, the masses of
camellias and azaleas, brought from the hothouses to make the wintry
gardens bloom for that momentous hour, the vast fantastic solemn pile
towering up against the evening skies. She saw them all as in a dream;
she was wondering wistfully in her ignorance whether it were possible
that she had offended him, or possible that already he regretted what
he had done. She shrank a little from him, and sat quite silent as
their carriage rolled under the great stone gateway.

There had been enough in his caresses, in his words, as they had come
thither, to startle her innocent ignorance into some sense of the
meaning and the demands of love, but they had left her dimly alarmed
and troubled, as before some great mystery, and he had soon grown
abstracted, almost indifferent, and had abandoned himself to his own
thoughts.

Amyôt even in its winter silence and sombreness, was a place where
lovers could well forget the world; yews and bay trees made perpetual
verdure around its lawns, and orangeries and palm-houses made ceaseless
summer within its walls; in its halls and galleries old tapestries and
Eastern hangings muffled every sound and excluded every draught; and in
the warm air of its chambers, ceiled with cedar-wood, embossed with the
salamander, and the 'F.' in solid gold, and having embayed windows,
all looking straightway south over the Loire water, the winter's
landscape, seen through its painted casements, was but as a decorative
scene set there for the strong charm of contrast.

They passed through the ranks of the bowing servants, and remained at
last alone in the great suite of drawing-rooms, whose oriel windows
all looked southward. They were rooms hung with pale satins, still
ceiled with cedar, and keeping the Valois crown and arms upon their
gilded carvings and lofty archways. They preserved the style and charm
of the age which had begotten them. She was in harmony with them as
she moved there, the dull red light which preceded evening falling
through the painted panes on the dove-hued velvet and dusky furs of her
travelling-gown, and touching the light gold of her fair hair coiled in
a great knot above her throat.

He, when his servants had retired, kissed her hand with a ceremony
which seemed, even to her innocence, very cold.

'You are at home,' he said gently. 'Here it will be for you to command,
for all to obey.'

She stood before him in one of the embrasures of the windows; the
cream-hued velvet of her travelling-dress trimmed with sable, caught
the rays of the setting sun.

'You are châtelaine of Amyôt,' he added, with a smile. 'Here I shall be
but the first of your servants.'

The words were gracious, and even tender, but they touched her with a
sense of chillness; she felt, without knowing why she felt it, that it
was not with this courteous ceremony that he would have welcomed her if
he had loved her--much.

She said nothing, though she coloured a little as he kissed her hands.

She moved to one of the great windows and looked out a little wistfully
towards the rolling waters, the deep, dark brown forests with their
purple shadows. The dim afternoon light spread over the landscape
without, and through the gorgeous and majestic chambers, which had
once heard the love words of the Valois. She had laid her hat down on
a table near, the lingering glow of the dying day fell on her white
throat, on her cheek with its changing colour, on the knot of orange
blossom fastened amongst the lace at her breast; she thrilled through
all her nerves as she suddenly realised that she was altogether his, to
be used as he chose, never to be apart from him unless by his wish.

She gazed at the scene around her, troubled, perplexed, wistfully,
vaguely alarmed, afraid she knew not of what; whilst he watched her
with a certain futile anger against himself that her loveliness did not
excite him and content him more, a remorseful sense that he was not the
lover she merited and should have won.

A sort of self-reproach moved him as he looked at her in her innocence,
which seemed too holy a thing to be profaned by the grossness of
sensual approach--on the morrow she would not look at him with those
serene, childlike eyes.

It seemed to him almost cruel to rouse that perfect innocence from its
unsuspicious repose.

Before he could speak again she had turned towards him; her lips
trembled a little as she gathered her courage and said aloud what had
been in her thoughts all the day through.

'It will be for me to obey,' she murmured, with the colour deepening in
her cheeks. 'And I will do it always, so gladly: but would you tell
me one thing: did you--I mean--if you had not cared for me a little,
surely you would never have wished----?'

She paused, overcome by the sense of her own hardihood, and her eyes
filled with tears; she longed to say to him, 'Instead of all your
jewels, instead of all this luxury, give me one fond word,' but her
timidity and her modesty would not let her lips frame the supplication.
He was still as a stranger to her--a man whom she had seen scarce a
dozen times.

The question in its timid commencement had said enough: his conscience
shrank from it; he had always dreaded the moment inevitable of the
fatal--

 'If this be love, tell me how much.'

'Would you tell me?' she repeated very low, then paused with an
overwhelming sense of her own hardihood and great immodesty.

She made a beautiful picture as she stood before him; the cream-hued
satin falling about her, the warm cedar-wood panels behind her, the red
light of the sunset shed like a glory upon her head and shining about
her feet.

'Who would not love you, dear?' he murmured, with a hesitation of
which her own confusion spared her from being conscious. 'Never doubt
my affection. I have not been as happy as the world thinks me, but if I
be not happy beside you, fate will indeed find me thankless.'

Nor was it altogether untrue; she looked infinitely lovely to him in
that moment, with the tears shining in her upraised eyes, and the blue
veins of her throat swelling where the orange flowers touched them; and
all this was his--his as wholly as the budding primrose in the woods is
the child's that finds it and may pluck and rifle it at will.

An emotion that was more nearly passion than he had hitherto felt for
her moved him as he looked on her.

With a sudden impulse of the joy and mastery of possession, warmer and
more eager than any she had roused in him before, he took her in his
arms and kissed her throat where the orange flowers were fastened, and,
with a tender touch, unloosed them.



CHAPTER XXIV.


'Othmar _filant le parfait amour_ while he gathers wet violets under
his Valois woods, is a truly admirable idyl!' said the Princess
Napraxine, with her unkind little smile, a month later, while her eyes,
from under an umbrella covered with old point duchesse, went indolently
from the shining sea upon her right to the romantic gorge leading up
to distant peaks of snow, which could be seen on her left through
boughs of eucalyptus and mimosa. She was seated on the white terraces
of a famous villa, crowning a promontory which carried luxuriant and
fantastic gardens far out into the lazy blue water, across whose then
smiling plains of azure light it looked straight southward to the cloud
which was Corsica. It was the villa of another Russian magnate, Prince
Ezarhédine, with whom there was at that time staying a mighty statesman
at whose nod or frown Europe breathed lightly or held her breath; and
under the guise of a breakfast there was an informal conference of
diplomatists at his house that day.

Friederich Othmar was staying at S. Pharamond for two days to meet the
great Russian, and conduct, over a cigarette and a glass of kümmel,
one of those delicate and intricate negotiations in which finance and
diplomacy had equal parts, and which were the delight of his soul, and
made the special fame of the House of Othmar.

The great statesman was a charming person, Oriental in morals, Athenian
in mind, and French in manners; and Nadine Napraxine, who so seldom
could be persuaded to go anywhere, had deigned to come and breakfast
with him there and allow him to recall her childhood.

'You would never give me a smile,' he said to her. 'At five years
old you were as cruel as you are now. I remember taking you what I
thought an irresistible bribe; a gardener in Saxe driving a wheelbarrow
of bonbons. But you just looked at it--smileless--and said cruelly,
"_Merci, Monsieur--mais j'en ai tant!_" You were five years old then.'

'"_Tant_" and "_trop_" are the spoilers of our existence,' she replied.
'I remember as a child I never cared for bonbons; I used to say that if
they hung up where the church bells were, and one could not get them,
one would care----'

'My intention was good,' said the great man piteously; 'you might have
smiled on me for that.'

'That would have been very commonplace, everybody is amiable in that
kind of way; I am not amiable, they say, and yet I am never out of
temper--which seems to me the first requisite for amiability.'

'Serenity is unkind when it means indifference.'

'But indifference is so comfortable to the indifferent!' she had
replied, and the reply admitted of no refutation.

Now, when the _déjeuner_, which had been the pretext and cover of the
morning's informal but pregnant discussion, was over, and she was
about to go to her carriage, she had smiled with gentle condescension
on the Baron, and asked him the tidings of Amyôt. Friederich Othmar,
in his answers, had been incautiously and unusually enthusiastic in
the hearing of a person who to all enthusiasm was merciless; the more
merciless, because in a far-down and never-investigated corner of her
own nature she was a little conscious that she also could have been
enthusiastic--if it had been worth while.

She had laughed a little unkindly, and had made the remark about the
wet violets; the Baron, slightly irritated and considerably in earnest,
had replied, that to gather violets with your own wife was less
exciting, but perhaps sweeter, and certainly wiser, than to purchase
orchids for the wife of someone else.

'A most moral opinion, turned with classic elegance, and quite
indisputable,' said Madame Napraxine, with much amusement. 'And orchids
are so short-lived! Do you think home-grown violets live longer? Dear
Baron, I am so glad to see you so pleased, and so poetical; Napoleon's
desire for an heir made him quite brutal; your desire for your nephew's
heir makes you quite full of pretty sentiment. Pray go on, you interest
me! it is as if one heard Bismarck playing a guitar!'

'Like Napoleon, I dislike _les amours stériles_,' replied Friederich
Othmar, with a smile. 'My nephew was in danger of letting his life
drift away in a dream; I know no means of recalling a man to the
practical happiness of existence so efficacious as a young girl's
beauty.'

'You are very primitive in your ideas, dear Baron, for a person who has
lived all his life in Paris,' said the Princess Nadine, with her little
air of fatigue and of irony. She knew very well what had been implied
in his words, and she resented them.

'Nature is primitive, Madame,' said the Baron. 'But after all, we do
not improve on her, nor exclude her, do what we may.'

'You think not?' said Madame Napraxine, much amused. 'Well, for my
part, I have never been able to discover that Nature is very charming:
if we attended to her, she would make us eat with our fingers, fight
with our teeth, drink only water, and wear no clothes; she would
certainly, also, give Otho Othmar a score of wives instead of one
Sainte Mousseline. Do not take to admiring Nature, Baron; she will lead
you astray. It is too late for you to begin; no one after twenty can
eat green fruit with impunity.'

'Sainte Mousseline!' echoed the old man, with more temper than
prudence. 'Surely that epithet would not apply to Yseulte!'

'Of course not now,' said Nadine, serenely. 'Sainte Mousseline has
given way to the nuptial white satin. Only you spoke of Nature;--and if
I were you I would not wish for Nature to prevail too much at Amyôt,
for Nature has a sad trick of being soon satisfied, and dissatisfied,
and disposed to change. You know it is only the poets who invented
Constancy, at the same time that they created the Phoenix and the
Hippogriff.'

'If I thought he could be unfaithful to so much youth and so much
innocence----,' began the Baron, with some heat.

'He will not be so yet, at all events,' said Prince Ezarhédine. 'Men
are not quite so fickle as Madame Nadine thinks.'

'Men are what women make them,' she replied, with her most contemptuous
tranquillity. 'As a rule, they are always faithless to women who
love them. It is tiresome to be loved; "_ça vous donne des nerfs_."
You get out of temper and you go away; then silly people say you are
inconstant.'

'You will admit that at least it seems very like it,' said Baron Fritz.

The great statesman, standing near, looked a little wistfully at her.
He thought that he would not have found it tiresome to be loved by the
wife of Napraxine.

'The Countess Othmar will be too young to understand all that,'
continued Nadine. 'She will give too much of herself. She will not
have the first essential: _savoir se reprendre_. Love is like all
other fine arts--it should be treated scientifically. Do you remember
Sergius Veriatine? He was devoted to the Princess Platoff--my cousin
Sophie. All at once he broke with her. Some one asked him why he did
so. He answered honestly: "Un jour, elle faisait la faute de me prier
de rester quand je voulais m'en aller." Serge Veriatine put the whole
of male human nature into that sentence. Othmar's wife will be always
begging him to stay when he will want to go; she is so young. She is,
of course, in love with him; very much in love with him; and she is so
unhappily inexperienced that she will be sure to tell him so a hundred
times a day. Now, however pretty a story is, still when you hear it
very often it grows dull: you see she is beginning with an immense
mistake: Amyôt in the winter!'

'Amyôt is his choice as much as hers,' said Friederich Othmar. 'You
know he always liked solitude. They will be in Paris in the first days
of April----'

'Two months, or to speak precisely, seven weeks, of Amyôt in midwinter
is precisely the mistake that a very young girl would be sure to make,'
continued his tormentor. 'Amyôt is a delightful place in its way; it
is like a page of Brantôme. I remember the admirable hunting parties
he gave there for the Orleans princes. But all the same, seven whole
weeks of Amyôt in the rain of February and March would damp any ardour
that he might begin with--do you think he began with very much? What
a pity there was no one to tell her that a man is bored so soon! And
Othmar is like Chateaubriand; he is the _grand ennuyé_ just because
his ideals are so high that it is wholly impossible to find anything
like them anywhere. I am quite sure that he has imagined in this poor
child an angel and a goddess; a kind of Greek nymph and Christian
virgin blent in one. When he finds that she is only a child, who has
had the narrowest of all educations, and is not even a woman in her
comprehension or her sympathies, he will be intolerably wearied. If
they were in the world, the disillusion might be postponed; at Amyôt it
must come in two days.'

'You are very clever, Madame,' said the Baron with some irritation,
'but even you may perhaps for once be mistaken. She is very young, as
you say; but for that very reason she will be like clay in his hands
which he can mould as he will.'

'If he take the trouble to model it at all,' said Nadine Napraxine.
'If the sculptor do not touch the clay, it lies in a lump neglected
till somebody else comes. She will not know, I fear, how to tempt him
to make anything of her. Do you suppose they have taught her the art
of provocation in her Breton convent? She will only sob aloud if he go
away for an hour, and be plunged into despair if his kisses be one less
in number. My dear Baron, you lost all your wisdom when you failed to
persuade them to leave Amyôt. They say there is no living woman who can
be seen at sunrise after a ball and keep her lover; I am sure there is
not one who can be shut up with a man for two months in the country, in
winter, and retain his belief in her.'

'You are very learned in these matters,' said the Baron, more and more
irritated, 'and yet everyone knows that the Princess Napraxine has
always herself despised all human affections!'

'It is not necessary to have sat in the midst of a maelstrom to have
studied the laws of whirlpools,' said his tormentor. 'And what have
human affections to do with it? You know as well as I do that humanity
has only caprices and passions, with their natural issue, disillusions.'

Friederich Othmar thought of the terrace at Amyôt and the face of
Yseulte.

Walking with her a moment, alone, in the afternoon sunshine, he had
ventured on a word of counsel.

'My dear child, you are very young. Let an old man tell you something.
Otho has one serious malady; nay, do not look so alarmed, it is only
the malady of his generation--caprice and ennui. He has not an idea
that he is capricious, but he is so. Do not let his caprices pain you;
but, as far as you can, vary with his varying moods; I think that is
the secret of sympathy. Just now it is high noon with you; so there are
no shadows; but shadows will fall. I want you to understand that. Otho
is not perfect; in a way, he is very weak, though he has more intellect
than most men. Do not make a god of him. You will only spoil him and
blind yourself.'

And then she had looked at him with that look which he recalled now as
he sat by Nadine Napraxine, and had said with a dignity of reproach
which had sat very prettily on her youthfulness: 'If he have faults, I
shall never see them--you maybe sure of that; and if you will tell me
how to please him, I will never think of myself.'

Remembering this, the Baron, who had never in his life cared greatly
for any woman or believed much in one, felt a restless anger against
the prophetess of woe.

'When they predict fire they have already laid the powder,' he thought,
impatiently.

Friederich Othmar was surprised himself at the feeling of affection and
of anxiety which Yseulte had aroused in him. He had wished Othmar to
marry that the race might be continued, but he had never supposed that
any young girl would fill him with the solicitude for her own welfare
which she made him feel for hers.

Women had always been _la femelle de l'homme_ with him; no more; he was
astonished at himself for being moved by a genuine desire to secure for
her those more subtle joys of the soul which he had always derided.
Before her he felt ashamed of his own grosser convictions (which a
month before would have been so confident) that she could want nothing
more than the riches her marriage conferred on her. Though he had been
a man of little feeling he was not altogether without kindliness,
and his keen penetration told him that hers was a nature which the
glories and gewgaws of the world would do very little to console if its
affections were starved or its higher instincts humiliated, and the
prophecies of Nadine Napraxine but irritated him more because he knew
that her merciless intelligence was as a seismographic pendulum which
foretold truly the convulsions of the future.

'Surely,' she continued, 'S. Pharamond would have been a more natural
place to select at this season. Amyôt is superb, but it must be sunk
fathoms deep in snow.'

'There is no snow; it was open weather, and even mild,' replied the
Baron, who was ready to declare that roses were blossoming in the
ditches of the Orleannais.

'But why did he not come to S. Pharamond? It is a paradise of azaleas
and tulips at the present moment.'

'It is a pretty place,' he answered; 'but perhaps more suggestive of
Apates and Philotes than of the true Eros.'

'The vicinity of the _tripots_ hardly accords with the solemnity
of Hymen? Do you mean that?' she said, with her enigmatical little
smile. 'Who would ever have thought to live to hear Baron Friederich
mention Eros! Well, we will hope that the god for once will be like
the Salamander which is emblazoned, and carved so liberally, all over
Amyôt. We will hope the fire that feeds him may not go out; but I am
afraid the motto really means that what nourishes extinguishes.'

With that she rose and took herself and her sunshade, with its point
duchesse, and her marvellous gown with its cascades of lace and soft
pale hues, like tea roses, her provocative languor, and her admirable
grace, from the terraces of the Prince Ezarhédine. She was followed
by longing eyes and a silence which was the truest of compliments. To
more than one there, the sun had set whenever she had passed from their
sight.

'What makes the world of men so fanatic about that woman?' asked
Friederich Othmar, exhaling all the unspoken grievances of his own soul
in a rude grumble, as the sound of the whirling wheels of her carriage
died away. 'Why? Why? There are numbers more beautiful; few, perhaps,
with so perfect a form, yet there are some who equal her even in that.
She is as cruel as death, as cold as frost; no one ever saw a flush on
her cheek or a tear in her eyes, and when she smiles it is like the
sirocco and the north wind blent together; and yet there is no woman so
blindly loved.'

'Yet!' echoed Prince Ezarhédine. 'Surely, you should say "therefore."
The sirocco and the north wind blent together are electric shocks to
the most sated senses.'

'Yes,' added the great statesman who was his guest, 'and if it will
not sound too pedantic, I will add also why it is. She is to her lovers
very much what the worship of Isis became to the Latins. She blends an
infinite subtlety of sentiment with an infinite potentiality of sensual
delight.'

'Sensual! She is as cold as snow----'

'I know; she has that sobriquet. But every one feels what a paradise
would lie within if the snow were melted. Every one hopes--more or less
conscious or unconscious of his hope--to pass that frosty barrier. I
think if Madame Napraxine ever loved any man, she would make such a
heaven for him that he would be the most enviable of all human beings.
But it would only last a month; perhaps six weeks. Although,' he added,
with a faint sigh, 'it would be worth losing all the rest of life to be
the companion of those six weeks.'

'If I may differ with you, Prince, I would say that, on the contrary,
if ever Madame Nadine can be touched to love she will be most tenacious
and most constant,' said Ezarhédine.

'Perhaps too much so for the felicity of the person whom she might
honour,' added the Baron with a smile that was a little impertinent.
He had always disliked and dreaded her; she had wasted two years of
his nephew's life, and he shrewdly suspected that she was the cause of
Othmar's too slight ardour towards his young wife.

Meanwhile, the subject of their meditations and desires was borne by
her fleet horses over the sea-road homeward to La Jacquemerille. She
felt astonished, irritated, offended at the idyl of Amyôt. To have
loved herself, and then to be content shut up within the stone walls of
a country-house with a girl taken from a convent!

'He is like Gilles de Retz,' she thought, with bitter disdain. 'He
takes the white flesh of a child to try and cure his malady.'

It seemed to her cowardly, sensual, contemptible.

She drove homeward through the olives and the lemon-yards and the green
fields that were full of anemones and narcissus and of the bright gold
and sea-shell hues of the crocus. The grey towers of S. Pharamond were
on her left as she went, and beyond them the fantastic pinnacles and
gilded crockets of Millo. She looked at them with an anger foreign to
her character.

'Who could have dreamed he would have done so absurd a thing?' she
thought, irritated against him and against herself. Never before in
her life had the actions of any other person had the slightest effect
upon her own feelings. She had not lived very long, it is true, but
to herself she seemed to have an illimitable experience; and within
her memory there was no record of any time in which she had cared one
straw what another did. That she should care now, ever so slightly,
irritated her pride and wounded her delicacy. She was a woman at all
times truthful with herself, however it might be her amusement to
mislead others. She was quite as cruel to herself as to anyone else
in her unrelenting and inquisitive mental dissection. She pursued her
self-analysis with a mercilessness which, had she been less witty and
less worldly, might have been morbid; and she did not disguise from
herself now that the tidings of Amyôt were an irritation if not a pain
to her. She did full justice to the loveliness with which Othmar had
sought to find oblivion of her own; and she knew that it might very
well be that, as the Baron had said, he had become the girl's lover as
well as her husband.

'Men are such poor creatures,' she thought with scorn. 'They are all
the slaves of their senses; they have no character; they are only
animals. They talk of their souls, but they have got none; and of their
constancy, but they are only constant to their own self-indulgence.'

The contempt of a woman, in whom the senses have never awakened, and
for whom all the grosser appetites have no attraction, for those easy
consolations which men can find in the mere gratification of those
appetites, is very real and very unforgiving.

Her scorn for Othmar, seeking forgetfulness of herself in the fresh
and budding life of a child of sixteen, was equal to that which she
felt for Napraxine finding solace for her own indifference in the
purchasable charms of the _belles petites_; the one seemed as trivial
to her as the other. When men spoke of their devotion, they only meant
their own passions; if these were denied, they sought refuge in mere
physical pleasures, which at all events partially consoled them.
She thought of him with increasing intolerance. She answered only by
monosyllables to the remarks of her companions, and her mind wandered
away to that stately place where life might well seem a love-lay of the
Renaissance.

'He will soon be tired,' she mused, with cruel wisdom. 'In a week the
child will have become a romance read through; a peach with its bloom
rubbed off; a poor little bird which has only one note, and has sung
that one till its master is ready to wring its throat. It is always
so. I never see a baby run through the fields gathering daisies and
throwing them down but what I think of men with their loves. The only
passion that lasts with them is one which is denied, and even that is
a poor affair. To be sure, sometimes they kill themselves, but that
is rather out of rage than out of any higher despair. And for one who
kills himself for us there are a hundred who kill themselves for their
debts. Othmar never can have any debts, so he invents woes for himself,
and captivity for himself, and he will die of neither.'

Yet, contemptuous of him for what seemed to her his weakness and his
unreason as she was, her thoughts attached themselves persistently to
him. He was the only living being who had never wearied her, who had
always perforce interested her, who had seemed to her unlike the rest
of the world, and capable of a master-passion, which might have risen
beyond mediocrity. How would it have been with them if he had stood in
the stead of Napraxine, whilst she was vaguely open to dim and noble
ideals, to spiritual emotions, to human affections?

'Pooh!' she thought. 'It would have been just the same thing. Love is
gross and absurd in its intimacies; it is like the hero to his valet.
Maternity is first a malady, and then an ennui; that _biche blanche_
at Amyôt will learn that as I learned it. He would have been much more
poetic than Platon, and much more agreeable; but I dare say he would
have been much more exacting, and much more jealous.'

Yet the remembrance of Amyôt pursued her, and made her restless; with
her lips she had ridiculed the idea of nuptial joys enshrouded in the
wet woods and falling mists of the Orleannais; but in her heart she did
not laugh; almost--almost--she envied that child, with the innocent,
serious eyes, whom she called contemptuously _la biche blanche_, who
was learning the language of love in the earliest dawn of womanhood.

'Only he does not love her!' she reflected, with pity, disdain, and
satisfaction, all commingled. No! He loved herself. She believed in few
things, and in few emotions; but she believed that so long as Othmar
lived he would love her alone.

'_Quand on tient la dragée haute!_' she thought, with her unkindest
smile at the fractiousness and ingratitude of men, as she descended at
the doors of La Jacquemerille, and with displeasure heard her servants
say, 'M. le Comte Seliedoff awaits Madame la Princesse.'



CHAPTER XXV.


Boris Fedorovich Seliedoff was a young cousin of Napraxine's; he was
twenty-two years old, tall and well made, with a beautiful face on his
broad shoulders, a face given him by a Georgian mother. He had been
an imperial page, and was now a lieutenant in the Imperial Guard. He
was an only son, and his father was dead; he had a great position,
and was much indulged by all his world, and was as headstrong and as
affectionate as a child. Nadine Napraxine alone did not indulge him,
and he adored her with all the blind ecstasies of a first love; he had
obtained his leave of absence only that he might follow her southward.
He was extremely timid in his devotion, but he was impassioned also;
the moral question of his love for his cousin's wife weighed no more
with him than it weighed with Othmar. His world was not given to
consideration of such scruples. As far as she could be entertained by
such stale things, she was amused by the worship of this boy. In Russia
he had done the maddest follies at her whim and word; once he had come
from Petersburg to the Krimea only to be able to dance one valse with
her at a ball at her villa on the Black Sea; he had ridden his horse
up the staircase of her house in Petersburg, and taken an incredible
leap over a river in Orel, because she wished for a stalk of foxglove
growing on the other bank; he had risked life and limb, position and
honour, again and again, to attract her attention or to go where she
was, and she had smiled on him the more kindly the more headstrong were
his acts and the more perilous his follies.

Once Napraxine had dared to say to her:

'Could you not spare Boris? He is only a lad, and his mother trusts to
me to keep him out of harm.'

She had answered in her chilliest tones:

'Pray keep him so. I do not think, however, that you give him the best
of examples. Your clubs, your play, your various distractions, are not
all of them virtuous?'

And he had been dumb, afraid to offend her more, though he was vaguely
uneasy for his young cousin. The lad was terribly in earnest, and
she only saw in him a young lion-whelp whose juvenile ardours and
furies were half grotesque, half amusing. Napraxine knew that if the
lion-whelp went too far, or if she tired of his rage and fret, she
would strike him with a whip like any other cur. But he dared not
remonstrate more; and Boris Seliedoff, on a brief term of leave, had
followed them to the sea-shores of the south-west, and was fretting
his soul in futile rage before the indifference of his idol and the
presence of her other lovers. It would have been very easy at the
onset to have checked the growth of this boyish passion, but she had
diverted herself with it, permitted its exaggerations, smiled at its
escapades, fanned its fires as she so well knew how to do, and it had
sprung to a giant growth in giant strength. This day, when she drove
homeward from the breakfast at Ezarhédine's, he was waiting for her at
La Jacquemerille. For anyone to wait for her was a thing she detested;
it was a disobedience to all those unspoken laws which she required
her courtiers implicitly to obey. She expected everyone, of whichever
sex, of whatever rank, in however high a degree of favour, to be the
humble suer of her commands, the meek attendant of her pleasure. To be
waited for without her desires being previously ascertained, made her
instantly in a chill and irritable mood; it was a presumption. This
morning she was especially ready to be irritated. When she saw the tall
figure of the young soldier pacing to and fro, with feverish steps, the
marble _perron_ of her villa, she grew suddenly and disproportionately
angry.

'The boy becomes audacious,--intolerable,--impertinent,' she thought.
'I should have taken him to Ezarhédine's if I had wanted him. He has
had too much sugar, he needs the whip.'

All that was most cruel, most intolerant, most tyrannical in her,
came with a cold hard look upon her delicate features; the temper of
those of her people who had thrust their swords into the body of Paul
began to awake in her. She was in the humour to hurt something, the
first thing she saw; her eyes were full of scorn and of command as
they looked haughtily at Seliedoff, and arrested him by a glance as he
sprang towards her.

'Who told you that I sent for you?' she said, with that chill
contemptuous gaze which froze the boy and magnetised him in the same
moment.

'No one,' he said piteously; 'I thought,--I imagined----'

'You imagined you were always welcome!' she replied. 'A very erroneous
imagination. You may be so to Prince Napraxine, you are his cousin;
but as the house is mine, I shall prefer that you shall await my
invitation.'

She spoke slightingly, and with a coldness like the New Year ice of
Russia.

Boris Seliedoff stood and gazed at her helplessly, fascinated by the
anger of the gaze which swept over him in such supreme contempt. He had
before offended, before had seen what her caprices and her unkindness
could become when she was displeased; but all those previous moments
had been as summer showers compared with this glacial censure which
froze all his hot young blood. So often she had been content to see
him; so often she had laughed at him with indulgence and benignity; so
often she had called him '_beau cousin_,' '_cher enfant_,' and smiled
at his haste and eagerness when he had done much more than this. Might
not any stranger have waited to see her pass, to hear her speak?

Nadine Napraxine, with that one comprehensive disdainful glance, passed
across the marble floor, and entered through the open glass doors of
the house. She said nothing more. The young Seliedoff, who had grown
first very red, then very pale, followed her timidly like a chidden
hound, and paused upon the threshold, hesitating; he scarcely ventured
to enter also without some sign from her. But she gave him none. She
passed on through the salons, and ascended the low broad staircase
without bestowing on him a single glance. Then he knew that she was
gone to her own apartments, where no man living dared follow her. Boris
Seliedoff stole into a little _salon_ humbly, and threw himself down on
the first seat he saw. He covered his face with his hands; there were
tears in his eyes, which fell slowly through his clasped fingers.

He was a young dare-devil who had eaten fire and played with death, and
had hewed down men and women and children without mercy by Skobeleff's
side; but he was a mere frightened, timid, wretched lad beneath the
lash of her displeasure. He would have crawled for her pardon like her
spaniel, even whilst he groped about in bewilderment and darkness to
discover his own offence, and could not tell what it had been. An older
man would have told him that it had only been the supreme fault of
arriving at the wrong moment.

How long he sat there he never knew; he waited in the vague hope of
a gentler word, a more kind dismissal, at least for permission to
return. He did not remember that he would only increase his offence,
prolong his error. The bright day was shining without on all the gay
array of shining marbles, many-coloured azaleas, dancing waves, white
sails, blue skies; within, the shaded light fell subdued and roseate on
the porcelains, the tapestries, the bronzes, the stands and bowls of
flowers, all the fantastic details of modern luxury. He might have been
in a peasant's _isba_ in the midst of a frozen plain for aught he knew.
Two or three clocks chimed five, and the carillon in the stable-tower
of La Jacquemerille answered them; for anything he could tell, he
might have been there a whole day or only fifteen minutes.

Whilst it was still quite daylight, servants came in and brought lamps
with rose-coloured shades and set them down noiselessly and went away.
Seliedoff raised his head, but he did not leave his place; he sat like
a figure of stone. He heard a sound of voices and of laughter; through
the parted curtains of the _portières_ he saw the vista of the three
drawing-rooms which opened out of the small one in which he was. People
were coming in and standing about conversing with one another in the
rose-hued light of the lamps, lit whilst the sun was still shining.
He then remembered that it was Thursday, her day, on which, from five
to seven, the _dessus du panier_ could come there and idle and flirt
and sip caravan tea, or syrups or liqueurs, and have the honour of a
word from her, perhaps even of a word of welcome. As he looked and
remembered, she herself entered the little room in which he sat, and
which was the nearest to her own apartments. She cast a glance upon
him, severe, astonished, then passed through to the larger salons. She
wore a pale-mauve-coloured velvet gown, with a _jabot_ of old point
lace, and the same lace peeping here and there from the folds of its
skirts; she had some natural yellow roses at her throat; she had her
hair _à l'empire_; she had never looked lovelier, colder, more utterly
beyond the imitation of other women or the solicitations of men. He
watched her receive the little crowd of people already there, and those
who came after them; he heard her sweet chill voice, now and then her
laugh; he saw all the men whom he hated gathered about her; and the
murmur of the voices, the whispers of the discreet mirth, the scent of
the flower-laden air, the rosy gleams of the lamplight, the _frou-frou_
of the dresses, the tinkle of the tea-cups, came to his ear as the
sounds of the outer world come to a sick man in fever.

Geraldine was not there. She had always prohibited his appearance more
than once a month at her _jour_.

'I will have no one seen in my rooms as regularly and certainly as
Paul,' she had always said to him. Paul was her groom of the chambers.
'Whenever any man is seen perpetually anywhere, as immovably as though
he were a clock or a bracket, he becomes ridiculous; and the woman who
allows him to be there, still more so.'

Geraldine had been forced to obey, with whatever reluctance; usually he
had consoled himself, as well as he could, with the _tripot_. A man is
not often jealous of a day in which he knows there exists for him, in
his absence, that safety which lies in numbers.

Boris Seliedoif sat on where he was with dogged persistence, his eyes
riveted on those pretty salons in which the comedy of society was being
acted, and where he perceived nothing save that one form, when it came
within his sight, with the grace of movement, the charm of attitude,
which were especial to Nadine Napraxine. He thought the coming and
going of her many guests would never end; that the buzz of the many
voices would never cease. Once or twice men and women whom he knew came
into the little room, and sat down there for a few moments; then he
was forced to rise and speak to them, to say he knew not what. But he
took his seat again immediately, and resumed his silent vigil. Some of
them looked at him in surprise, for his expression was strange, and
his black Georgian eyes were misty yet fierce; but he was not conscious
of the notice he excited, he was only conscious that she never glanced
towards him, never summoned him, once.

The two hours seemed to him endless. When seven had struck, the last
carriage rolled away from before the windows, the last lingering
visitor, the Duc de Prangins--he who had killed young d'Ivrea--made his
profound bow over her hand, and took himself and his elegant witticisms
and his admirable manners back to the Hotel de Paris at Monte Carlo.
When the doors had closed on him, Nadine Napraxine stood a moment alone
in the centre of her salon; then swiftly turned, and came towards
Seliedoff. He rose, and awaited her sullenly.

Her right hand was clenched as though it grasped the handle of a knout,
and was about to use it; a terrible anger shone from the lustre of her
eyes; her lips were pale with the force of her displeasure.

'How dare you! how dare you!' she said between her teeth.

So might an empress have spoken to a moujik.

To have waited unbidden in her room, seen by all the world, sulking
there as though he were a lover once favoured, now dispossessed;
making of himself a spectacle, a ridicule, a theme for the comment and
chatter of society--it seemed to her such intolerable presumption, such
infinite insolence, that she could have struck him with her clenched
hand if her dignity had not forbade her. For all her world to see this
love-sick boy half-hidden in an inner room, as though by her welcome
and authority! She, who had dismissed kings as others dismiss lackeys
when she had found them too presuming, could find no chastisement vast
enough for such a sin against her authority and her repute.

Seliedoff was but a spoilt child; he had had his own will and way
unchecked all his short life, and all his companions and servants had
existed only for his pleasure. A foolish and doting mother had never
bridled his wishes or tamed his passions. Before Nadine Napraxine alone
had the arrogant young noble become submissive, suppliant, and humble.
Now, in his torture and his sense of wrong, the natural self-will
and fury of a spoilt child crossed, of an adoring youth checked and
repudiated, broke away from the bonds of fear in which she had always
held them. He answered her with a torrent of words, unconsidered and
unwise, beyond all pardon.

'You have treated me like a dog!' he said in conclusion, his voice
choked in his throat, the veins of his forehead injected. 'You have
caressed me, called me, allowed me every liberty, been pleased with my
every folly; and now you turn me out of your house as you would turn
the dog if he misbehaved himself. But I am not a dog, I am a man, and
that you shall know, by God----'

He came nearer to her, his eyes red and covetous, his boyish face
inflamed with fiercest passion, his arms flung out to seize her.

She looked at him, such a look as she would have given to a madman to
control, and awe him; he paused, trembled, dared not draw nearer to her.

She was deeply, implacably offended by what had passed. For him to
permit himself such language and such actions, seemed to her as
intolerable an insult as if the African boy in her service had dared to
disobey her. It was the first time that anyone had ever ventured to
insult her; it irritated all her delicacy, infuriated all her pride.
She never paused to think what provocation she had given; she would
have struck him dead with a glance had she been able.

'You are unwell, and delirious,' she said in her serenest, chillest
tones. 'You know neither what you do or say. I have been kind to you,
and you have presumed to misinterpret my kindness. Your cousin would
treat you like a hound, if he knew. But you are ill, so there is excuse
for you. Go home, and I will send you my physicians.'

Then she rang; and when a servant entered from the antechamber she
turned to him:

'M. le Comte Seliedoff desires his carriage.'

The boy looked at her with a terrible look in his eyes--pitiful,
baffled, imploring, delirious.

'Nadine, Nadine,' he whispered hoarsely, 'will you send me away like
that--to die?'

But she had passed, with her slow soft grace, into the adjoining room.
He heard her say to Melville, who had been asked there:

'You are after my hours, Monsignore, but you are always welcome.'

Seliedoff, with a mist like blood before his eyes, staggered out of the
little salon into the mild primrose-scented evening air, hearing, as in
a dream, the voices of the servants who told him that his horses waited.

'She will never forgive; she will never forgive,' he thought, with a
sickening sense that this one moment of insanity had severed him for
ever from the woman he worshipped. 'She will never forgive; I shall
never enter her house again!'

All the lovely scene stretching before him in its peace and luxuriance,
as the stars came out in the deep blue skies and the daylight still
lingered upon shore and sea, was blotted out for him by a red haze as
of blood and of tears.



CHAPTER XXVI.


Meanwhile Melville, who had come to take his leave before proceeding
to Paris under orders from the Vatican, found his hostess evidently
_ennuyée_; she was not in her usual serene humour.

'What has irritated you, Princess?' that very observant person presumed
at last to ask. 'Have you actually discovered that doubled rose-leaf of
whose existence you have been always sure and I always sceptical?'

'The doubled rose-leaf is that enormous nuisance, _la bêtise humaine_,'
she replied with ennui, breaking off some blossoms of an odontoglossum
standing near her. 'It is like the fog in London, it penetrates
everywhere, you cannot escape it; there has been no rose-glass made
which could shut it out. If Balzac had written for centuries, he would
never have come to an end of it. Do you ever find any variety in your
confessional? I never do in my drawing-rooms.'

'And yet who should find it, if not Madame Napraxine?' said Melville,
who, when in his worldly moods, did not especially care to be reminded
that he was a churchman.

'I do not know who should,--I know that I never do,' she replied. 'I
have made _la chasse au caractère_ ever since I was old enough to know
what character meant; and my only wonder is how, out of such a sameness
of material, St.-Simon and La Bruyère and Ste.-Beuve, and all those
people who write so well, ever were able to make such entertaining
books. I suppose it is done by the same sort of science which enables
mathematicians to make endless permutations out of four numbers. For
myself, I should like other numbers than those we know by rote.'

'Good heavens!' thought Melville, 'when men have died because she
laughed! Is that so very commonplace? or, is it not tragic enough?'

Aloud he said, in his courtliest manner:

'Princess, I fear the sameness of human nature tries you so greatly
because of the sameness of the emotions which you excite in it; I can
imagine that too much adoration may cloy like too much sugar. Also, in
your _chasse au caractère_ you have, like all who hunt, left behind
you a certain little bourgeois quality called pity; an absurd little
quality, no doubt, still one which helps observation. I am sure you
have read Tourguenieff's little story of the quail?'

'Yes; but one eats them still, you know, just the same as if he had
never written it. Pity may be a microscope, I do not know; besides, you
must admit that a quail is a much lovelier little life than a man's,
and so can excite it so much more easily. A quail is quite a charming
little bird. Myself, I never eat birds at all; it is barbarous.'

'What I meant to say was,' suggested Melville, 'that, in that tiny
tale, Tourguenieff, like a poet, as he was, at heart, describes
precisely what sympathy will do to open the intelligence to the closed
lives of others, whether bird or man. Perhaps, madame, sympathy would
even do something to smooth the creases out of your rose-leaf--if you
tried it.'

'I suppose I am not sympathetic,' said Nadine Napraxine, stripping the
petals of the odontoglossum; 'they all say so. But I think it is their
own fault; they are so uninteresting.'

'The quail,' said Melville, 'to almost everybody is only a little juicy
morsel to be wrapped in a vine-leaf and roasted; but Tourguenieff
had the vision to see in it the courage of devotion, the heroism of
maternity, the loveliness of its life, the infinite pathos of its
death. Yet, the exceptional estimate of the student's view of it was
quite as true as the general view of the epicure.'

'Am I an epicure?' said Nadine Napraxine, amused.

'Spiritually, intellectually, you are,' replied Melville; 'and so
nothing escapes the fastidiousness of your taste; yet perhaps, madame,
something may escape the incompleteness of your sympathies.'

'That is very possible; but, as I observed to Lady Brancepeth when she
made me a similar reproach, one is as one is made. One is Tourguenieff
or one is Brillat-Savarin, all that is arranged beforehand for
one--somewhere.'

Melville had learned the ways of the world too well not to know
how to glide easily, with closed eyes and averted ears, over such
irreverences; but he ventured to say:

'One cannot dispute the fact of natural idiosyncrasy and inclination,
of course; but may not one's self-culture be as much of the character
as of the mind? Might it not become as interesting to strive and expand
one's moral as one's intellectual horizon? It seems so to me, at the
least.'

She laughed, and rang a little silver bell for Mahmoud to bring them
some fresh tea.

'My dear Monsignore,' she said, with amusement and admiration; 'for
enwrapping a kernel of religious advice in an envelope of agreeable
social conversation, there is not your equal anywhere--you may well be
beloved of the Propaganda! But, alas! it is all wasted on me.'

Melville reddened a little with irritation:

'I understand,' he answered. 'I fear, Princess, that you are like
Virschow or Paul Bert, who are so absorbed in cutting, burning, and
electrifying the nerves of dogs that the dog, as a sentient creature,
a companion, and a friend, is wholly unknown to them. Humanity, poor
Humanity, is your dog.'

'Will you have some tea?' she said, as Mahmoud brought in her service
made by goldsmiths of the Deccan, who sat on mats under their banana
trees, with the green parrots flying over the aloes and the euphorbia,
and who produced work beside which all the best which Europe can do
with her overgrown workshops is clumsy, inane, and vulgar.

'What you suggested was very pretty,' she continued, pouring out
the clear golden stream on the slices of lemon; 'and I had no right
to laugh at you for wrapping up a sermon in _nougat_. Of course the
character ought to be trained and developed just like the body and the
mind, only nobody thinks so; no education is conducted on those lines.
And so, though we overstrain the second, and pamper the third, we
wholly neglect the first. I imagine that it never occurs to anyone out
of the schoolroom to restrain a bad impulse or uproot a bad quality.
Why should it? We are all too busy in trying to be amused, and failing.
Do you not think it was always so in the world? Do you suppose La
Bruyère, for instance, ever turned his microscope on himself? And do
you think, if he had done, that any amount of self-scrutiny would have
made La Bruyère Pascal or Vincent de Paul?'

'No; but it might have made him comprehend them, or their likenesses.
I did not mean to moralise, madame; I merely meant that the issue of
self-analysis is sympathy, whilst the issue of the anatomy of other
organisations is cruelty even where it may be wisdom.'

'That may be true in general, and I daresay is so; but the exception
proves the rule, and I am the exception. Whenever I do think about
myself I only arrive at two conclusions; the one, that I am not as well
amused as I ought to be considering the means I have at my disposal,
and the other is that, if I were quite sure that anything would amuse
me very much, I should sacrifice everything else to enjoy it. Neither
of those results is objective in its sympathies; and you would not, I
suppose, call either of them moral.'

'I certainly should not,' said Melville, 'except that there is always a
certain amount of moral health in any kind of perfect frankness.'

'I am always perfectly frank,' said the Princess Nadine; 'so is
Bismarck. But the world has made up its mind that we are both of us
always feigning.'

'That is the world's revenge for being ruled by each of you.'

'Is it permitted in these serious days for churchmen to make pretty
speeches? I prefer your scoldings, they are more uncommon.'

'The kindness which permits them is uncommon,' said Melville, as he
took up his tea-cup.

'Ah! I can be kind,' said Nadine Napraxine. 'Ask Mahmoud and my little
dog. But then Mahmoud is dumb, and the dog is--a dog. If humanity were
my dog, too, as you say, I should make it _aphone_!'

'Poor humanity!' said Melville, with a sigh. 'If it would not offend
you, Princess, there are two lines of Mürger which always seem to me to
exactly describe the attitude, or rather the altitude, from which you
regard all our sorrows and follies.'

'And they are?'

'They are those in which he thinks he hears:

    "Le fifre au son aigu railler le violoncelle,
    Qui pleure sous l'archet ses notes de crystal;"

only we must substitute for _aigu_ some prettier word, say _perlé_.'

She laughed, thinking of Boris Seliedoff, with more perception of
his absurdities than of his offences, as her first movement of wrath
subsided into that ironical serenity which was most natural to her of
all her varying moods.

'The violoncello does not know itself why it weeps,' she replied, 'so
why should the fife not laugh at it? Really, if I were not so impious
a being, I would join your Church for the mere pleasure of confessing
to you; you have such fine penetration, such delicate suggestion. But
then, there is no living being who understands women as a Catholic
priest does who is also a man of the world. Adieu! or rather, I hope,
_au revoir_. You are going away for Lent? Ours will soon be here. I
shock every Russian because I pay no heed to its sanctity. Did you ever
find, even amongst your people, any creatures so superstitious in their
religion as Russians? Platon is certainly the least moral man the sun
shines on, but he would not violate a fast nor neglect a rite to save
his life. It is too funny! Myself, I have fish from the Baltic and
soups (very nasty ones) from Petersburg, and deem that quite concession
enough to Carême. My dear Monsignore, why _should_ there be salvation
in salmon and sin in a _salmis_?'

Melville was not at all willing to enter on that grave and large
question with so incorrigible a mocker. He took his leave, and bowed
himself out from her presence; whilst Nadine Napraxine went to her own
rooms to dress for dinner and look at the domino which she would wear
some hours later at a masked ball which was to take place that night
in her own house in celebration of the last evening of the Catholic
Carnival.

 'Le masque est si charmant que j'ai peur du visage,'

she murmured inconsequently, as she glanced at the elegant disguise
and the Venetian costume to be worn beneath it which had been provided
for her. 'That is the sort of feeling which one likes to inspire, and
which one also prefers to feel. Always the mask, smiling, mysterious,
unintelligible, seductive, suggestive of all kinds of unrealised, and
therefore of unexhausted pleasures; never the face beneath it, the face
which frowns and weeps and shows everything, is unlovely, only just
because it is known and must in due time even grow wrinkled and yellow.
How agreeable the world would be if no one ever took off their masks or
their gloves!'



CHAPTER XXVII.


On the following day as she returned from her drive, she was met, to
her great surprise, by Napraxine, who descended the steps of the house
with a face unusually pale, and a manner unusually grave.

'What can possibly be the matter, Platon?' she said, with a vague
sense of alarm, but with her inevitable mockery of him dominating her
transient anxiety. 'Have you had a _culotte_ yonder? Has Athenais
gone away with my jewel-safe? Or have our friends the Nihilists fired
Zaraizoff?'

Napraxine gave her his hand to help her to alight.

'Do not jest,' he said simply. 'Boris has shot himself.'

'Boris?--Boris Fédorovitch?'

She spoke in astonishment and anger rather than sorrow: an impatient
frown contracted her delicate brows, though she grew ashen pale. Why
would men do these things?

Napraxine was silent, but when they had entered the house he spoke very
sadly, almost sternly.

'This afternoon he had lost a hundred thousand francs; no doubt on
purpose to have an excuse. The ruse can deceive nobody. A Count
Seliedoff could lose as much all day for a year, and make no sign. He
shot himself in the gardens, within a few yards of us all.'

He paused and looked at his wife. A shadow passed over her face without
changing its narcissus-like fairness; she shrugged her shoulders ever
so slightly, her eyes had had for a moment an expression of awe and
regret, but, beyond any other sentiment with her, were her impatience
and irritation.

'Why will men be so stupid?' she thought. 'As if it did any good! The
foolish boy!'

'Nadine,' murmured her husband in a voice that was timid even in its
expostulation and reproach. 'I am sorry for Boris; for the other I have
never cared, but for Boris;--you know that I promised his mother to
take what care I could of him--and now--and now--and so young as he
was!--and how shall I tell her?--My God!'

She was silent; a genuine pain was on her face, though still mingled
with the more personal emotion of impatience and annoyance.

'It was no fault of yours!' she said at last, as she saw two great
tears roll down her husband's cheeks.

'Yes, it was,' muttered Platon Napraxine. 'I let him know you.'

The direct accusation banished the softer pain which had for the minute
moved her; she was at all times intolerant of censure or of what she
resented as a too intimate interference; and here her own surprise at
an unlooked-for tragedy, and her own self-consciousness of having been
more or less the cause and creatress of it, stung her with an unwelcome
and intolerable truth.

'You are insolent,' she said, with the regard which always daunted
Napraxine, and made him feel himself an offender against her, even when
he was entirely in the right.

'You are insolent,' she repeated. 'Do you mean to insinuate that I
am responsible for Seliedoff's suicide? One would suppose you were a
journalist seeking _chantage_!'

The power which she at all times possessed over her husband making him
unwilling to irritate, afraid to offend her, and without courage before
her slightest sign of anger, rendered him timid now. He hesitated and
grew pale, but the great sorrow and repentance which were at work in
him gave him more resolution than usual; he was very pale, and the
tears rolled down his cheeks unchecked.

'Every one knows that Boris loved you,' he said simply. 'All the world
knows that; he was a boy, he could not conceal it; I cannot tell what
you did to him, but something which broke his heart. You know I never
say anything; you give me no title. I am as much of a stranger to you
as if we had met yesterday; and do not fancy I am ever--jealous--as
men are sometimes. I know you would laugh at me, and besides, you care
for none of them any more than you care for me. I should be a fool to
wish for more than that;--if it be always like that, I shall never say
anything. Only you might have spared this lad. He was so young and my
cousin, and the only one left to his mother.'

He paused, in stronger agitation than he cared to allow her to see.
It was the first time for years that he had ventured to speak to her
in any sort of earnestness or of upbraiding. She had allotted him his
share in her life, a very distant one; and he had accepted it without
dispute or lament, if not without inward revolt; it was for the first
time for years that he presumed to show her he had observed her actions
and had disapproved them, to hint that he was not the mere lay figure,
the mere good-natured dolt, '_bon comme du pain_,' and as commonplace,
which she had always considered him.

She looked at him a little curiously; there was a dangerous irritation
in her glance, yet a touch of emotion was visible in her as she said
with impatience, 'You are growing theatrical. It does not become you.
Boris was a boy, foolish as boys are; he had no mind; he was a mere
spoilt child; he was grown up in inches, not in character; so many
Russians are. If he have killed himself, who can help it? They should
have kept him at home. Why do you play yourself? He is not the first.'

'No, he is not the first,' said Napraxine, with a curt bitterness.
'He is not the first, and it was not play; he only played to have an
excuse. He thought of your name, perhaps of mine; he did not wish the
world to know he died because you laughed at him.'

'Laughed! I used to laugh; why not? He was amusing before he grew
tragical. I rebuked him yesterday, for he deserved it. Everyone scolds
boys. It is good for them. No one supposes----' her tone was impatient
and contemptuous, but her lips quivered a little; she was sorry that
the boy was dead, though she would not say so. It hurt her, though it
annoyed her more.

'Did he--did he suffer?' she asked, abruptly.

Napraxine took out of the breast-pocket of his coat a sheet of
note-paper, and gave it her.

'He died instantly, if you mean that,' he answered. 'He knew enough to
aim well. They brought me that note; he had written it last night, I
think.'

In the broad, rude handwriting of the young Seliedoff there was
written:--

'Pardonnez-moi, mon cousin: je l'adore, et elle se moque de moi; je ne
peux pas vivre, mais j'aurai soin que le monde n'en sache rien. Soignez
ma pauvre mère. Tout à vous de coeur

        'BORIS FÉDOROVITCH.'

She read it with a mist before her eyes, and gave it back to him
without a word.

Napraxine looked at her wistfully; he wondered if he had killed himself
whether she would have cared more than she cared now--no, he knew she
would have cared as little, even less.

'You say nothing?' he murmured wistfully.

'What is there to say?' she answered. 'It was a boy's blunder. It was a
grievous folly. But no one could foresee it.'

'That is all the lament you give him?'

'Would it please you better if I were weeping over his corpse? I regret
his death profoundly; but I confess that I am also unspeakably annoyed
at it. I detest melodramas. I detest tragedies. The world will say, as
you have the good taste to say, that I have been at fault. I am not
a coquette, and a reputation of being one gives me no satisfaction.
As you justly observed, no one will believe that a Count Seliedoff
destroyed his life because he lost money at play. Therefore, they will
say, as you have been so good as to say, that the blame lies with me.
And such accusations offend me.'

She spoke very quietly, but with a tone which seemed chill as the
winter winds of the White Sea, to Napraxine, whose soul was filled
with remorse, dismay, and bewildered pain. Then she made him a slight
gesture of farewell and left him. As usual, he was entirely right in
the reproaches he had made, yet she had had the power to make himself
feel at once foolish and at fault, at once coarse and theatrical.

'Poor Boris!' he muttered, as he drew his hand across his wet lashes.

Had it been worth while to die at three-and-twenty years old, in
full command of all which the world envies, only to have that cruel
sacrifice called a boy's blunder? His heart ached and his thoughts
went, he knew not why, to his two young children away in the birch
forests by the Baltic Sea. She would not care any more if she heard on
the morrow that they were as dead in their infancy as Boris Seliedoff
was in his youth, lying under the aloes and the palms of Monte Carlo in
the southern sunshine.

Platon Napraxine was a stupid man, a man not very sensitive or very
tender of feeling, a man who could often console himself with coarse
pleasures and purchasable charms for wounds given to his affections or
his pride; but he was a man of quick compunction and warm emotions;
he felt before the indifference of his wife as though he stretched
out his hand to touch a wall of ice, when what he longed for was the
sympathetic answering clasp of human fingers. He brushed the unusual
moisture from his eyes, and went to fulfil all those innumerable small
observances which so environ, embitter, and diminish the dignity of
death to the friends of every dead creature.

Meanwhile, Nadine passed on to her own rooms, and let her waiting-woman
change her clothes.

A momentary wish, wicked as a venomous snake, and swift as fire, had
darted through her thoughts.

'Why had not Othmar died like that? I would have loved his memory all
my life!' she thought, with inconsistency.

Though she had almost refused to acknowledge it, the suicide of
Seliedoff pained and saddened her. Foremost of all was her irritation
that she who disliked tragedies, who abhorred publicity, who
disbelieved in passion, should be thus subject to having her name in
the mouths of men in connection with a melodrama which, terrible as
it was, yet offended her by its vulgarity and its stupidity. The hour
and the scene chosen were vulgar; the transparency of the pretext
was stupid. It was altogether, as she had said, a boy's blunder--a
blunder, frightful, irreparable, with the horror of youth misspent
and life self-destroyed upon it--still a blunder. She thought, with
impatience, that what they called love was only a spoilt child's whim
and passionate outcry which, denied, ended in a child's wild, foolish
fit of rage, with no more wisdom in it than the child has.

All Europe would say that, indirectly, she had been the cause of his
death; every one had seen him, moping and miserable, in her rooms the
previous day. She disliked a sensational triumph, which was fit for
her husband's mistresses, for Lia, for Aurélie, for la belle Fernande.
Men were always doing these foolish things for her. She had been angry
certainly: who would not have been so? He had been ridiculous, as youth
and intense emotion and unreasonable suffering constantly are in the
sight of others.

There had been only one man who had not seemed to her absurd when
passion had moved him, and that had only been because he had remained
master of himself even in his greatest self-abandonment. If it had
been Othmar who had been lying dead there with the bullet in his
breast, she would have felt--she was not sure what she would have
felt--some pleasure, some pain. Instead, he was at Amyôt finding what
pleasures he might in a virginal love, like a spring snowdrop, timid
and afraid. She, who always analysed her own soul without indulgence or
self-delusion, was disgusted at the impulses which moved her now.

'After all,' she thought, 'Goethe was right; we are always capable of
crime, even the best of us; only one must be Goethe to be capable of
acknowledging that.'

She sat alone awhile, thoughtful and regretful; indisposed to accept
the blame of others, yet not unwilling to censure herself if she saw
cause. But she saw no cause here; it was no fault of hers if men loved
her as she passed by them without seeing they were there. True, she had
been annoyed with the youth; she had been irritated by him; she had
treated him a little as some women treat a dog,--a smile one day, the
whip the next; but she had thought so little about him all the time,
except that his high spirits were infectious and his face was boyishly
beautiful, and that it had diverted her to annoy Geraldine. But who
could have supposed that it would end thus? And amidst her pain and her
astonishment was foremost a great irritation at his want of thought for
her.

The journals, with their innuendoes, their initials, their transparent
mysteries; the condolences and the curiosities of her own society; the
reproaches of his family; the long ceremonious Russian mourning and
Russian rites--'_Quelle corvée!_' she murmured impatiently, as at some
pebble in her embroidered shoe, at some clove of garlic in her delicate
dinner.

After all, were the great sorrows of life one-half so unendurable in
themselves as the tiresome annoyances with which the foolish habits of
men have environed them?

That our friend dies is pain enough, why must we have also the nuisance
of following his funeral?

'Men only think of themselves!' she said irritably, in her own
unconscious egotism. If Boris Seliedoff had considered her as he should
have done, he would not have killed himself within three miles of her
garden terrace, at a moment when all their own gossiping world was
crowding on the sunny shores of the Mediterranean. A sense of the wrong
done to herself divided the regret, tinged almost with remorse, which
weighed on her.

As she moved through her boudoir to write the inevitable and most
difficult letter which must be penned to his mother far away in the
province of the Ekaterinoslaf, a photograph, in a frame of blue plush,
caught her eye as it stood amongst all the pretty costly nothings of
her writing-table. It was a photograph of Seliedoff; it had been tinted
with an artist's skill, and the boyish handsome mouth smiled tenderly
and gaily at her.

For almost the first time in her life she felt the tears rise to her
throat and eyes. She laid the picture face downward, and wept.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


A few days later when the remains of Boris Seliedoff had been removed
to Russia, there to find their last home in the sombre mausoleum of
his family on their vast estates in Ekaterinoslaf, Geraldine, who was
one of the few who were admitted to La Jacquemerille in these days
of mourning, coming thither one afternoon to find her in the garden
alone and to entreat for permission to follow her in the various
travels which she was about to undertake, since the Riviera had grown
distasteful to her, was accosted by her abruptly, if in her delicate
languor she could ever be termed abrupt:

'My dear Ralph,' she said briefly, 'why do you not go home?'

Geraldine drew his breath quickly, and stared at her.

'Go home!' he repeated stupidly.

'Well, you have a home; you have several homes,' she said, with her
usual impatience at being questioned or misunderstood by wits slower
than her own. 'You are an Englishman; you must have a million and one
duties. It is utterly wrong to live so much away from your properties.
We do it, but I do not think it matters what we do. Whether we be here
or there, it is always the stewards who rule everything, but in your
country it is different. Your sister says you can do a great deal of
good. I cannot imagine what good you should do, but no doubt she knows.
I do not like England myself. Your châteaux are very fine, but the
life in them is very tiresome. You all eat far too much and far too
often, and you have lingering superstitions about Sunday; your women
are always three months behind Paris, and never wear shoes like their
gowns; your talk is always of games, and shooting, and flat-racing.
You are not an amusing people; you never will be. You have too much of
the Teuton, and the Hollander, and the Dane in you. Your stage makes
one yawn, your books make one sleep, your country-houses make one do
both. Your women clothe themselves in Newmarket coats, get red faces,
and like to go over wet fields; your men are well built very often,
but they move ill; they have no _désinvolture_, they have no charm. The
whole thing is tiresome. I shall never willingly go to England; but
you, as a great English noble, ought to go there, and stay there----'

'And marry there!' said Geraldine, bitterly. 'Is that the medicine you
prescribe for all your friends?'

'Of course you will marry some time,' she said indifferently. 'Men of
your position always do; they think they owe it to their country. But
whether you marry or not, go home and be useful. You have idled quite
too much time away in following our changes of residence.'

He turned pale, and his eyes grew dark with subdued anger.

'You want to be rid of me!'

'Ah, that is just the kind of rough, rude thing which an Englishman
always says. It is the reason why Englishmen do not please women much.
No Italian or Frenchman or Russian would make such a stupid, almost
brutal, remark as that; he would respect his own dignity and the
courtesy of words too greatly.'

'We are unpolished, even at our best; you have told me so fifty
times,' he said sullenly. 'Well, let me be a savage, then, and ask for
a savage mercy; a plain answer. You want me away?'

Nadine's eyes grew very cold.

'I never say uncivil things,' she answered, with an accent that was
chill as the mistral. 'But since for once you divine one's meaning, I
will not deny the accuracy of your divination.'

She blew a little cloud from a tiny cigarette as she paused. She
expressed, as clearly as though she had spoken, the fact that her
companion was as little to her as that puff of smoke.

'Does sincerity count for nothing?' he muttered stupidly.

'Sincerity!' she echoed. 'Ah! English people always speak as if they
had a monopoly of sincerity, like a monopoly of salt or a monopoly of
coal! My dear Lord Geraldine, I am not doubting your sincerity in the
very least; it is not _that_ which is wanting in you----'

'What is?' he asked in desperation.

'So much!' said the Princess Napraxine with a little comprehensive
smile and sigh.

'If you would deign to speak definitely--' he murmured in bitter pain,
which he strove clumsily to make into the likeness of serenity and
irony.

'Oh, if you wish for details!--It is just that kind of wish for details
which shows what you fail in so very much; tact, finesse, observation,
flexibility. My dear friend, you are thoroughly insular! Everything is
comprised in that!'

He was silent.

'I have not the least wish to vex you,' she continued. 'I am quite
sorry to vex you, but if you will press me----A painter teased me the
other day to go to his studio and see what he had done for the salon.
I made him polite excuses, the weather, my health, my engagements, the
usual phrases, but he would not be satisfied with them, he continued to
insist, so at last he had the truth. I told him that I detested almost
all modern art, and that I did not know why anyone encouraged it at all
when it was within everyone's power to have at least line-engravings of
the old masters. He was not pleased--take warning. Do not be as stupid
as he.'

Geraldine understood, and his tanned cheek grew white with pain. He
was a proud man, and had been made vain by his world. He was bitterly
and cruelly humbled, but the love he had for her made him almost
unconscious of the offence to him, so overwhelming in its cruelty was
the sentence of exile which he received.

He did not speak at once, for he could not be sure to command his
voice, and he shrank from betraying what he felt. She rose, and threw
the cigarette over the balustrade into the sea, and turned to go
indoors. She had said what her wishes were, and she expected to have
them obeyed without more discussion. But the young man rose too, and
barred her way.

He had only one consciousness, that he was on the point of banishment
from the only woman whom he had cared for through two whole years. It
had become so integral a part of his life that he should follow Nadine
Napraxine as the moon follows the earth, that exile from her presence
seemed to him the most terrible of disasters, the most unendurable of
chastisements.

'After all this time, do you only tell me to go away?' he muttered,
conscious of the lameness and impotency of his own words, which might
well only move her laughter. But a certain anger rather than amusement
was what they stirred in her; there was in them an implied right, an
implied reproach, which were both what she was utterly indisposed to
admit his title to use.

'All this time!' she echoed; 'all what time? You are leading a very
idle life, and all your excellent friends say that you leave many
duties neglected; I advise you to return to them.'

'Is it the end of all?' he said, while his lips trembled in his own
despite.

'All? All what? The end? No; it is the end to nothing that I know of;
I should rather suppose that you would make it the beginning--of a
perfectly proper life at home. Evelyn Brancepeth says you ought to
reduce all your farmers' rents; go and do it; it will make you popular
in your own county. I know you good English always fancy that you can
quench revolutions with a little weak tea of that sort. As if people
who hate you will not hate you just the same whether they pay you half
a guinea, or half a crown, for every sod of ground! Our Tsar Alexander
thought the same sort of thing _en grand_, and did it; but it has not
answered with him. To be sure, he was even sillier--he expected slaves
to be grateful!'

'You really mean that you are tired of my presence?' he said, with no
sense of anything except the immense desolation which seemed suddenly
to cover all his life.

'You _will_ put the dots on all your i's!' she said impatiently. 'That
kind of love of explanation is so English; all your political men's
time is wasted in it. Nobody in England understands _à demi-mot_, or
appreciates the prettiness of a hint.'

'I understand well enough--too well,' he muttered, with a sigh that
was choked in its birth. 'But--but--I suppose I am a fool; I did not
think you really cared much--yet I always fancied--I suppose I had no
right--but surely we have been friends at the least?'

His knowledge of the world and of women ought to have stopped the
question unuttered; but a great pain, an intense disappointment, had
mastered him, and left him with no more tact or wisdom than if he
had been a mere lad fresh from college. It cost him much to make his
reproach so measured, his words so inoffensive. He began to understand
why men had said that Nadine Napraxine was more perilous in her
chastity and her spiritual cruelty than the most impassioned Alcina.

She looked at him with a little astonishment mingled with a greater
offence.

'Friends? certainly; why not?' she said, with entire indifference. 'Who
is talking of enmity? In plain words, since you like them so much, you
do--bore me just a little; you are too often here; you have a certain
manner in society which might make gossips remark it. You do not seem
to comprehend that one may see too much of the most agreeable person
under the sun. It is, perhaps, a mistake ever to see much of anyone;
at least, I think so. Briefly, I do not wish to have any more stories
for Nice and its neighbourhood; this one of Boris Seliedoff is quite
enough! They are beginning to give me a kind of reputation of being
a _tueuse d'hommes_. It is so vulgar, that kind of thing. They are
beginning to call me Marie Stuart; it is absurd, but I do not like
that sort of absurdities. I had nothing to do with the folly of poor
Boris, but no one will ever believe it; he will always be considered
my victim. It is true you are certain not to kill yourself; Englishmen
always kill a tiger or a pig if they are unhappy, never themselves. I
am not afraid of your doing any kind of harm; you will only go home
and see your farmers and please your family; and you will give big
breakfasts in uncomfortable tents, and be toasted, and your county
newspapers will have all sorts of amiable paragraphs about you, and
sometime or other you will marry--why not? Please stand back a little
and let me pass; we shall meet in Paris next year when you take a
holiday on your reduced rents.'

She laughed a little, for the first time since Seliedoff's suicide; her
own words amused her. Those poor English gentlemen, who fancied they
would stem the great salt tide of class hatred, the ever-heaving ocean
of plebeian envy, by the little paper fence of a reduced rental! Poor
Abels, deluding themselves with the idea that they could disarm the
jealousy of their Cains with a silver penny!

But the thoughts of Geraldine were far away from any political ironies
with which she might entertain her own discursive mind.

'Nadine, Nadine,' he said stupidly, 'you cannot be so cruel. I have
always obeyed you; I have never murmured; I have been like your dog;
I have been content on so little. Other men would have rebelled, but
I--I----'

Her languid eyes opened widely upon him in haughty surprise and rebuke.

'Now you talk like a _jeune premier_ of the Gymnase!' she said,
contemptuously. 'Rebelled? Content? What words are those? You have been
a pleasant acquaintance--amongst many. You cannot say you have been
ever more. If you have begun to misunderstand that, go where you can
recover your good sense. I have liked you; so has Prince Napraxine. Do
not force us to consider our esteem misplaced.'

She spoke coldly, almost severely; then, with an enchanting smile, she
held out her hand.

'Come, we will part friends, though you are disposed to _bouder_ like
a boy. You know something of the world; learn to look as if you had
learned at least its first lesson--good temper. Affect it if you have
it not! And--never outstay a welcome!'

He looked at her and his chest heaved with a heavy sigh that was
almost a sob. Passionate upbraiding rose to his lips, a thousand
reproaches for delusive affabilities, for patiently-endured caprices,
for wasted hours and wasted hopes, and wasted energies, all rose to
his mouth in hot hard words of senseless, irrepressible pain; but they
remained unuttered. He dared not offend her beyond pardon, he dared not
exile himself beyond recall. He was conscious of the futility of any
reproach which he could bring, of the absence of any title which he
could allege. For two years he had been her bondsman, her spaniel, her
submissive servant in the full sight of the world, yet looking backward
he could not recall any sign or word or glance which could have
justified him in the right to call himself her lover. She had accepted
his services, permitted his presence--no more; and yet, he felt himself
as bitterly wronged, as cruelly deluded, as ever man could have been by
woman.

There is a little song which has been given world-wide fame by the
sweetest singer of our time: the little song which is called, '_Si
vous n'avez rien à me dire_.' Just so vague, and so intense, as is the
reproach of the song, was the cry of his heart against her now.

If she had never cared, had never meant, why then----?

But he dared not formulate his injury in words; he knew that it would
condemn him never to see her face again except in crowds as strangers
saw it. He had never really believed that she would care for him as
he cared for her, but it had always seemed to him that habit would in
the end become affection, that the continual and familiar intercourse
which he had obtained with her would become in time necessary to her,
an association, a custom, a friendship not lightly to be discarded.
He had believed that patience would do more for him than passion; he
had endured all her caprices, followed all her movements, incurred the
ridicule of men, and, what was worse, his own self-contempt, in the
belief that, with her, _Festina lente_ was the sole possible rule of
victory. And now she cast him aside, with no more thought than she
left to her maids a fan of an old fashion, a glove that had been worn
once!

She gave him no time to recover the shock with which he had heard his
sentence of exile, but, with a little kindly indifferent gesture,
passed him and went into the house.

He had not the courage of Othmar; he had never had as much title as
Othmar to deem himself preferred to the multitude; looking back on the
two years which he had consecrated to her memory and her service, he
could not honestly recall a single word or glance or sign which could
have justified him in believing himself betrayed.

She had accepted his homage as she accepted the bouquets which men sent
her, to die in masses in her ante-chambers.

His pain was intolerable, his disappointment was altogether out of
proportion to the frail, vague hopes which he had cherished; but he
felt also that his position was absurd, untenable; he had never been
her lover, he had none of the rights of a lover; he was only one of
many who had failed to please her, who had unconsciously blundered, who
had committed the one unpardonable sin of wearying her.

Resistance could only make him ridiculous in her eyes. She had plainly
intimated that she was tired of his acquaintance and companionship.
It was an intense suffering to him, but it was not one which he could
show to the world, or in which he could seek the world's sympathy. If
he had failed to please her--failed, despite all his opportunities, to
obtain any hold upon her sympathies--it was such a failure as is only
grotesque in the esteem of men, and contemptible in the sight of women.

'_A qui la faute?_' she would have said herself, with a pitiless
amusement, which the world would only have echoed.

It was late in February, but already spring in the Riviera; a brilliant
sun was dancing on all the million and one pretty things in her
boudoir, for she liked light, and could afford, with her exquisite
complexion and her flower-like mouth, to laugh at the many less
fortunate of her sex, who dared not be seen without all the devices of
red glass and rose-coloured transparencies and muffled sunbeams. She
caressed her little dog, and bade the negro boy bring her some tea, and
stretched herself out on a long low chair with a pleasant sense of
freedom from a disagreeable duty done and over.

'I will never be intimate with an Englishman again,' she thought.
'They cannot understand; they think they must be either your Cæsar or
_nullus_: it is so stupid; and then, when you are tired, they grumble.
Other men say nothing to you, but they fight somebody else,--which is
so much better. It is only the Englishman who grumbles, and abuses you
as if you were the weather!'

The idea amused her.

Through her open windows she could see the sea. She saw the boat
of Geraldine, with its red-capped crew pulling straightway to the
westward; he was going to his yacht; the affair was over peaceably; he
would not kill himself like Seliedoff. Her husband would miss him for
a little time, but he was used to men who made themselves his ardent
and assiduous friends for a few months or more, and then were no more
seen about his house, being banished by her; he was wont to call such
victims the Zephyrs after that squadron of the mutinous in the Algerian
army, which receives all those condemned and rejected by their chiefs.
He would ask no questions; he would understand that his old companion
had joined the rest; he had never cared for the fate of any save for
that of young Seliedoff. There were always men by the score ready to
amuse, distract, and feast with Prince Napraxine.

She drank her yellow tea with its slice of lemon, and enjoyed the
unwonted repose of half an hour's solitude. She was conscious at once
of a certain relief in the definite exile of her late companion, yet
of a certain magnanimity, inasmuch as she would enable other women to
presume that he had grown tired of his allegiance.

But the latter consideration weighed little with her; she had been
too satiated with triumph not to be indifferent to it, and she was at
all times careless of the opinions of others. She would miss him a
little, as one misses a well-trained servant, but there would be so
many others ready to fill his place. Whenever her groom-of-the-chambers
told her hall-porter to say 'Madame reçoit,' her rooms were filled with
young men ready to obey her slightest sign or wildest whim as poodles
or spaniels those of their masters. There were not a few who, like
Geraldine, regulated their seasons and their sojourns by the capricious
movements of the Princess Napraxine, as poor benighted shepherds follow
the gyrations of an ignis-fatuus. Whether north, south, east, or west,
wherever she was momentarily resident, there was always seen her _corps
de garde_.

As she sat alone now for the brief half-hour before her usual drive,
her past drifted before her recollection in clear colours, as though
she were quite old. She remembered her childhood, spent at the
embassies of great cities, where her father was the idol of all that
was distinguished and of much that was dissolute; the most courtly, the
most witty, the most elegant, of great diplomatists. She remembered
how, sitting in her mother's barouche in the Bois or the Prater,
or petted and caressed by sovereigns and statesmen in her mother's
drawing-rooms, she had seen so much with her opal-like eyes, heard so
much with her sea-shell-like ears, and had, at ten years old, said to
Count Platoff, '_Je serai honnête femme; ce sera plus chic_;' and
how his peal of laughter had disconcerted her own serious mood and
solemnity of resolve. Then she remembered how, when she was seventeen
years old, her mother had advised her to marry her cousin; and how her
father, when she had been tempted to ask his support of her own adverse
wishes, had twisted his silken white moustaches with a little shrug of
his shoulders, and had said: 'Mais, mon enfant, je ne sais--nous sommes
presque ruinés; ça me plaira--et un mari, c'est si peu de chose!'

'_Si peu de chose!_' she thought, now; and yet a bullet that you drag
after you, a note of discord always in your music, a stone in your ball
slipper, dance you ever so lightly--an inevitable ennui always awaiting
you!

'If they had not been in such haste, I should have met Othmar and have
married him!' she mused, with that frankness which was never missing
from her self-communion. 'Life would have looked differently;----I
would have made him the foremost man in Europe; he has the powers
needful, but he has no ambitions; his millions have stifled them.'

She thought, with something that was almost envy, of the fate of
Yseulte, and with a remembrance, which was almost disgust, of the early
hours of her own marriage, when all the delicacy and purity of her own
girlhood had revolted against the brutality of obligations which she
had in her ignorance submitted to accept.

How could she care for the children born of that intolerable
degradation to which no habit or time had had power to reconcile her?

In her own eyes she had been as much violated as any slave bought in
the market.

'If I had daughters, they should at least know to what they surrendered
themselves before they were given away in marriage,' she had often
reflected, with a bitter remembrance of the absolute innocence in which
she herself had repeated the vows, and broken the glass, which had
indissolubly united her to her cousin Platon.

Then, with the irony even of herself, and the doubt even of herself,
which were stronger than any other instincts in her, she laughed at her
own momentary sentiment.

'I dare say I should have been tired of him in six months,' she
thought, 'and very likely we should have hated one another in another
six. He would not have been as easy as Platon; he would have had his
prejudices----'

Before her mind there rose the vision of a place she had once seen as
she had sailed in a yacht down the Adriatic one cool autumnal month;
a place not far from Ragusa, somewhat farther to the southward; a
fantastic pile, half Greek, half Turkish, with an old Gothic keep built
by Quattrocentisto Venetians rising in its midst; gardens of palms and
woods of ilex sloping from it to meet the lapis-lazuli-hued sea, cliffs
of all the colours of precious stones towering up behind it into the
white clouds and the dazzling sunshine. Fascinated by the aspect of the
place, she had asked its name and owner, and the Austrians with her had
answered her, 'It is called Zama, and it belongs to the Othmars.'

She had often remembered the Herzegovinian castle, lonely as Miramar
after the tragedy of Quetaro.

'I would not have lived at Amyôt, but at Zama,' she thought now; then,
angry and impatient of herself, she dismissed her fancies as you banish
with a light clap of your hands a flock of importunate birds, which fly
away as fast as they have come.



CHAPTER XXIX.


'Are you very happy?' said Baron Fritz to Yseulte in his occasional
visits to Amyôt. And she answered without words, with a blush and a
smile which were much warmer than words. He saw that she was perfectly
happy, as yet; that whatever thorns might be beneath the nuptial couch,
they had not touched her.

He did not venture to put the same question to Othmar. There were times
when he would no more have interrogated his nephew than he would have
put fire to a pile of powder; he had at once the vague fear and the
abundant contempt which a thoroughly practical, artificial, and worldly
man has for one whose dreams and desires are wholly unintelligible to
him.

'Otho,' he said once to her, 'is like an Eastern sorcerer who holds
the magic ring with which he can wish for anything under heaven; but,
as he cannot command immortality, all his life slips through his
fingers before he has decided on what is most worth wishing for. Do you
understand?'

Yseulte did not understand; to her this sorcerer, if not benignant to
himself, had at least given all her soul desired. He treated her with
the most constant tenderness, with the most generous delicacy, with the
most solicitous care; if in his love there might be some of the heat
of passion, some of the ardours of possession, lacking, it was not the
spiritual affection and the childish innocence of so young a girl which
could be capable of missing those, or be conscious of their absence. To
Yseulte, love was at once a revelation and a profanation: she shrank
from it even whilst she yielded to it; it was not to such a temperament
as hers that any lover could ever have seemed cold.

She did not understand her husband; physical familiarity had not
brought much mental companionship. She adored him; the distant sound
of his step thrilled her with excitement, his lightest touch filled
her with delight; the intense love she bore him often held her silent
and pale with an excess of emotion which she would have been afraid to
render into speech even if she had been able to do so; and she was
utterly unable, for the strength of her own feelings alarmed her, and
the mode of her education had made her reticent.

He was to her as a god who had suddenly descended upon her life, and
changed all its poor, dull pathways into fields of light. That she
gave, or that she might give him, much more than he gave her, never
occurred to her thoughts. That any ardour of admiration, or force of
emotion, might be absent in him towards her, never suggested itself
to her. Such love as he bestowed on her, indifferent though it was in
reality, seemed to her the very height of passion. She could not tell
that mere sensual indulgences mingled with affectionate compassion, may
produce so fair a simulacrum of love for awhile that it will deceive
alike deceiver and deceived.

Othmar knew that nothing tenderer, purer, or nearer to his ideal, could
have come into his life than this graceful and most innocent girl. She
satisfied his taste if not his mind; she was as fresh as a sea-shell,
as a lily, as a summer-dawn; and he felt an entire and illimitable
possession in her such as he had never felt in any living woman; she
was so young, it seemed like drinking the very dew of morning; and yet
he could not have told whether he was most restless or most in peace at
Amyôt.

'Love me a little, dear; I have no one,' he had said to her on the day
of their betrothal, and it had always seemed to him that he had no one;
all his mistresses had never cared for him, but only for the golden god
which was behind him; or, he had thought so. And now, she loved him
with an innocence and a fervour of which he could not doubt the truth;
and he was grateful, as the masters of the world are usually grateful,
for a handful of the simple daily bread of real affection; and she gave
him all her young untouched loveliness in pledge of that, as she might
have given him a rosebud to pluck to pieces. And he felt the sweetness
of the rosebud, he resigned himself to the charm of the dawn, and
endeavoured to believe that he was happy; but happiness escaped him as
the vermilion hues of the evening sky may escape the dreamer watching
for them, who looks too closely or looks too far.

Yet he remained willingly at Amyôt through these winter weeks; as
willingly as though he had been the most impassioned of lovers. Amyôt
was as far from the world, if he chose, as though its pastures and
avenues had been an isle in the great South Ocean; he wished to forget
the world with the ivory arms of Yseulte drawn about his throat: he
would gladly have forgotten that any other woman lived beside this
child, on whose innocent mouth, sweet as the wild rose in spring, he
strove to stay the fleeting fragrance of his own youth.

'No man had ever sweeter physician to his woes,' he thought as he
looked at her in her sleep, the red glow from the angry winter sunrise
touching with its light the whiteness of her sculptural limbs. But what
drug cures for long?

Friederich Othmar often went to the château for a few hours on matters
of business, and was persuaded that the shining metal roofs of the
great Valois house of pleasure sheltered a perfect contentment.

'But you must not remain for ever here,' he said to his nephew. 'They
will give you some foolish name which will run down the boulevards
like magic; they will say you are in love with your wife, or that you
are educating her; we all know what comes of that latter attempt.'

'I stay at Amyôt,' answered Othmar, 'because I like it, because we both
like it.'

'My dear Otho, since you have pleased yourself persistently all your
life, it is improbable that you will cease to do so at an age when most
men are only just able to begin. Amyôt is an historic place, very old,
admirably adapted for a museum; but since it is to your taste, well and
good; only none will comprehend that you stay here _filant le parfait
amour_ for two months. If you continue to do so, Paris will believe
that your wife has a club-foot or a crooked spine.'

'You think she must show the one in a cotillon, or the other in
something _très collant_?' said Othmar.

'Are you afraid of that?' said the Baron, who knew by what means to
attain his own ends.

'I am not in the least afraid,' replied Othmar, with impatience. 'But I
confess Amyôt, with the cuckoo crying in its oak woods, seems a fitter
atmosphere for her than the _endiablement_ of Paris.'

'You could return to the cuckoo. I am not acquainted with his habits,
but I should presume he is a stay-at-home, countryfied person.'

'You do not understand the spring-time,' said Othmar, with a smile.

'It has always seemed to me the most uncomfortable period of the year,'
confessed the Baron. 'It is an indefinite and transitory period, such
as are seldom agreeable, except to poets, who are naturally unstable
themselves.'

'I suppose you were never young?' said Othmar, doubtfully.

'I must have been, pathologically speaking,' replied Friederich Othmar.
'But I have no recollection of it; I certainly never remember a time
when I did not read of the state of Europe with interest: I think, on
the contrary, there was never a time in which you took any interest in
it.'

'Europe is such a very small fraction of such an immeasurable whole!'

'It is our fraction at least; and all we have,' said the Baron; all
the gist of the matter seemed to him to lie in that. 'You would like
to live in Venus, or journey to the rings of Saturn, but at present
science limits us to Earth.'

'Can you not persuade him to take any interest in mankind?' he
continued to Yseulte, as she approached them at that moment. He was
about to leave Amyôt after one of his brief and necessary visits, and
stood smoking a cigarette before his departure in the great central
hall, with its dome painted by Primaticcio.

'In mankind?' she repeated with a smile. 'That is very comprehensive,
is it not? I am sure,' she added with hesitation, for she was afraid of
offending her husband, 'he is very good to his own people, if you mean
that?'

'He does not mean that at all, my dear,' said Othmar. 'He means that
I should be very eager to ruin some states and upraise others, that I
should foment war and disunion, or uphold anarchy or absolutism, as
either best served me, that I should free the hands of one and tie
the hands of another; do not trouble your head about these matters,
my child; let us go in the woods and look for primroses, which shall
remind you of the green lanes of Faïel.'

Yseulte, whose interest was vaguely aroused, looked from one to another.

'If you really can do so much as that,' she said timidly, 'I think I
would do it if I were you; because surely you might always serve the
right cause and help the weak people.'

Othmar smiled, well pleased.

'My dear Baron, this is not the advocate that you wish to arouse.
Remember Mephistopheles failed signally when he entered a cathedral.'

'I do not despair; I shall have Paris on my side,' said the Baron, as
he made his farewells.

The day was bright, and a warm wind was stirring amidst the brown
buds of the trees and forests; the great forests wore the purple
haze of spring; from the terraces of Amyôt, where once Francis and
the Marguerite des Marguerites had wandered, the immense view of
the valleys of the Loire and of the Cher was outspread in the noon
sunlight, white tourelle and grey church spire rising up from amid the
lake of golden air like 'silver sails upon a summer sea.' From these
stately terraces, raised high on colonnades of marble, with marble
statues of mailed men-at-arms standing at intervals adown their length,
the eyes could range over all that champaign country which lies open
like a chronicle of France to those who have studied her wars and
dynasties.

Yseulte loved to come there when the sun was bright as when it was
at its setting, and dream her happy dreams, whilst gazing over the
undulations of the great forests spreading solemn and hushed and
shadowy, away, far away, to the silver line of the vast river and to
the confines of what once was Touraine.

'What do you find to think so much of, you, with your short life and
your blameless conscience?' asked Othmar that day, looking at her as
she leaned against the marble parapet.

She might have answered in one word, 'You,' but love words did not come
easily to her lips; she was very shy with him still.

She answered evasively: 'Does one always think at all when one looks,
and looks, and looks, idly like this? I do not believe reverie is real
thinking; it is an enjoyment; everything is so still, so peaceful, so
bright--and then it cannot go away, it is all yours; we may leave it,
it cannot leave us.'

'You are very fond of the country?'

'I have never been anywhere else, except when I was a little child in
Paris. I love Paris, but it is not like this.'

'No woman lives who does not love Paris; but I think Amyôt suits you
better. You have a Valois look; you are of another day than ours. I
should not like to see you grow like the women of your time; you are a
true patrician--you have no need of _chien_.'

He put a hothouse rose in her bosom as he spoke, and kissed her throat
as he did so. The colour flushed there at his touch. She stooped her
face over the rose.

'I do not think I shall ever change,' she said, hurriedly. 'It seems to
me as if one must remain what one is born.'

'The ivory must; the clay changes,' said Othmar. 'You are very pure
ivory, my love. I robbed you from Christ.'

He was seated on one of the marble benches in the balustrade of the
terrace; she stood before him, while his hand continued to play with
the rose he had put at her breast. She wore a white woollen gown,
which fell about her in soft folds, edged with ermine; a broad gold
girdle clasped her waist, and old guipure lace covered her heart, which
beat warm and high beneath his touch as he set the great crimson rose
against it. In an innocent way she suddenly realised her own charm and
its power which it gave her over any man; she lost her timidity, and
ventured to ask him a question.

'What is it that the Baron wishes you so much to do?' she said, as she
stood before him. 'I did not understand.'

'He wishes me, instead of putting roses in your corsage, to busy myself
with setting the torch of war to dry places.'

'I do not understand. What is it you can do?'

'I will try and tell you in a few words. There are a few men, dear,
who have such an enormous quantity of gold that they can arrange the
balance of the world much at pleasure. One man, called Vanderbilt,
could, for instance, make such a country as England bankrupt if he
chose, merely by throwing his shares wholesale on the market. The
Othmar are such men as this. My forefathers made immense fortunes,
mostly very wickedly, and by force of their own unscrupulousness have
managed to become one of these powers of the world. I have no such
taste for any such power. It is with my indifference that my uncle
reproaches me. He thinks that if I bestowed greater attention to the
state of Europe I could double the millions I possess. I do not want to
do that; I do not care to do that; so a great chasm of difference yawns
for ever between him and me.'

'He loves you very much?'

'Oh, in his way; but I irritate him and he irritates me. We have
scarcely a point in common.'

'Perhaps,' said Yseulte, amazed at her own boldness in suggesting a
fault in him, 'perhaps you have not quite patience with his difference
of character?'

'That is very possible,' said Othmar, himself astonished at her
insight. 'I could pardon anything if he would not speak of the Othmar
as Jews speak of Jehovah. It is so intolerably absurd.'

'But they are your people.'

'Alas! yes. But I despise them; I dislike them. They were intolerably
bad men, my dear; they did intolerably bad things. All this,' he
continued, with a gesture of his hand towards the mighty building of
Amyôt, with its marble terraces and its many towers dazzling in the
sunlight, 'they would never have possessed save through hundreds of
unscrupulous actions heaped one on the other to make stepping-stones
across the salt-marsh of poverty to the yellow sands of fortune. Oh,
I do not mean that Amyôt was not bought fairly. It was bought quite
fairly, at a very high price, by my great grandfather, but the wealth
which enabled him to buy it was ill-gotten. His father was a common
Croat horse-dealer, which is a polite word for horse-stealer, who lived
in the last century in the city of Agram. There are millions of loose
horses in the vast oak woods of Western Hungary and the immense plains
of Croatia, and to this day there are many men who live almost like
savages, and steal these half-wild horses as a means of subsistence.
There were, of course, many more of these robbers in the last century
than in this. Marc Othmar did not actually steal the horses, but he
bought them at a tenth part of their value from these rough men of the
woods and plains when stolen, and the large profits he made by this
illegal traffic laid the foundations of the much-envied fortunes which
I enjoy, and which you grace to-day.'

He had spoken as though he explained the matter to a child, but
Yseulte's ready imagination supplied the colour to his bare outlines.
She was silent, revolving in her thoughts what he had said.

'I would rather your people had been warriors,' she said, with
hesitation, thinking of her own long line of crusaders.

'I would rather they had been peasants,' he returned. 'But being what
they were, I must bear their burdens.'

'Then what is it he wishes you to do that you do not?'

'He wishes me to have many ambitions, but as I regard it, the fortunes
which I have been born to entirely smother ambition; whatever eminence
I might achieve, if I did achieve it, would never appear better than so
much preference purchased. If I had been as great a soldier as Soult,
they would have said I bought my victories. If I had had the talent of
Balzac, they would have said I bought the press. If I had written the
music of the "Hamlet" or the "Roi de Lahore," they would have said that
I bought the whole musical world for my claque. If I could have the
life that I should like, I should choose such a life as Lamartine's,
but a rival of the Rothschilds cannot be either a poet or a leader of a
revolution. The _monstrari digito_ ruins the peace and comfort of life:
if I walk down the boulevard with the Comte de Paris the fools cry that
I wish to crown Philippe VII., if I speak to M. Wilson in the _foyer_
of the Français they scream that there is to be a concession for a new
loan; if the Prince Orloff come to breakfast with me a Russian war is
suspected, and if Prince Hohenlohe dine with me I have too German a
bias. This kind of notoriety is agreeable to my uncle. It makes him
feel that he holds the strings of the European puppet show. But to
myself it is detestable. To come and go unremarked seems to me the
first condition of all for the quiet enjoyment of life, but I have been
condemned to be one of those unfortunates who cannot drive a phaeton
down to Chantilly without the press and the public becoming nervous
about the intentions of M. d'Aumale. Last year, one very hot day, I was
passing through Paris, and I asked for a glass of water at a little
café at the barrière. They stared, and brought me some. When I told
them that I only wanted water, the waiter said, with a smile, "Monsieur
ne peut pas être sérieux! nous avons l'honneur de le connaître." The
world, like the waiter, will not let me have plain water when I wish
for it. I dare say my wish may be perversity, but, at any rate, it is
always thwarted by the very people who imagine they are gratifying me
with indulgences.'

'But some of the people love you,' she insisted. 'Did not the workmen
of Paris give you that beautiful casket the other day? Was it not
bought by a two-sous subscription?'

'That was more a compliment to the Maison d'Othmar than to myself. We
have always been popular in Paris; so was Louis Napoléon--once. We have
much the same titles as he had; we have committed many crimes, and
caused immeasurable misery.'

'Not you,' she said softly.

'I inherit the results,' said her husband.

'But you have done great things,' she said timidly. 'The curé here
was telling me yesterday of all you have done for the poor of Paris.
He says that the hospitals you have founded, the charities you
maintain----'

'The curé knows his way to your heart and your purse! My dear, the
Emperor Napoléon Trois thought that he did a great thing for the poor
of Paris when he pulled down their rookeries and built them fine and
healthy _cités ouvrières_; there was only one thing the Emperor could
not do: he could not make the poor live in them; and the Convalescent
Home he erected at Vincennes did not save him from Sedan, or Paris from
the Commune. We who are rich shall always have the Emperor's fate; we
shall build as much as we like, and spend as much as we like, but we
shall never reach the hearts of the great multitudes, who all hate
us. It is very natural they should. Never say a word about what they
call my charities. They are blunders like the Emperor's, many of which
seem now to be very absurd ones. If I ever come to my Sedan, they
will not be remembered for an hour. The one thing I can do, and will
do, is, that I will prevent, as long as I live, the use of the great
mill of gold which we grind being turned to immoral purposes--such
purposes, for instance, as the oppression of peoples, as the barter
of nationalities, as the supply of the sinews of unjust and unholy
wars, as the many intolerable iniquities which, whilst professing
Christianity, modern statesmen employ under spurious names to most
intolerable ends. So much I can do; and, for doing it, I am thought
a fool. All the rest is wholly indifferent to me. The machine swings
on as it will; it is so admirably organised that it requires little
guidance, and, that little, Baron Friederich gives, whilst I am free,
my dear, to stay at Amyôt and gather you another rose, for I have
spoilt this one.'

He had spoken more gaily, frankly, and fully than was his wont, and
kissed her softly on the throat once more.

Yseulte's thoughts were with his earlier words; her eyes were moist,
and very serious. It was the first time that he had ever alluded before
her to his family or his position; she had never at all understood what
they had meant around her when they had spoken of la Finance; she had
seen that he was _très grand seigneur_, and was treated, wherever he
moved, with the greatest marks of deference. It seemed very strange to
her that so much power and state should be possible without unblemished
descent: it was outside of her creed and her comprehension. If she had
loved him less, it would have shocked her.

'I am sorry,' she said softly, 'it must have troubled you so much. I
understand why you are sometimes sad. It must be like holding lightning
in your hands; and then there is the fear of using it ill----'

'My greatest fault has been to be too careless of it,' he answered.
'To have used my power neither way, neither for good nor ill. I have
comforted myself that I have done no harm;--a negative praise. Come,
let us go and choose another rose for you; or shall we go into the
woods? You like them better. Do not trouble your soul with the gold or
the crimes of the Othmar. You are come to purify both; and you will
make your children in your own likeness out of that consecrated ivory
of which heaven has made you!'

'She is the first woman of them all,' he thought, as they descended the
marble stairs towards the glades of the park, 'the first who has had
any sympathy with me. They have all thought me a fool for not turning
round like the sluggard, and lying drugged in my golden nest. She
understands very little because she does not understand the world; but
she can imagine how all which the vulgar think so delightful drags me
down like a wallet of stones.'

'Yseulte,' he said aloud, 'do you know what all my millions cannot
buy, and what I would give them all to be able to buy? Well, something
like the _mort sur le champ d'honneur_, which was said for a hundred
and fifty years when the name of Philippe de Valogne was called in the
roll-call of the Grenadiers.'

The memory he recalled was one of the most glorious of her race; one
of those traditions of pure honour which are common enough in the
nobility of France. The Counts de Valogne had been behind none in high
courage and lofty codes; and the local history of their province was
studded with the exploits and the martial self-sacrifice whereby they
had continually redeemed their extravagance and their idleness as
courtiers and men of pleasure.

She turned to him with her brightest smile, and her hand touched his
with a gesture caressing and timid.

'He is mine; I will give him to you,' she said, with a child's
abandonment and gaiety. 'I am so glad that I have something to give!'

'You will give his blood to my sons,' said Othmar. 'So you will give it
to me.'



CHAPTER XXX.


Melville came one day to Amyôt.

'You have followed my advice,' he said to Othmar. 'You have made
yourself a home. It is the nearest likeness to heaven that men get on
earth. Believe a homeless man when he tells you so.'

Othmar smiled.

'It is odd that you, the purest priest I know, and my uncle, the
worldliest of philosophers and money-makers, should coincide in your
counsels. Perhaps to make a home is as difficult as to make a discovery
in astronomy or mathematics, or to appreciate a sunrise or sunset.'

'Do you mean to say?----'

'I mean to say nothing in especial; except that one's life, as the
world goes, does not fit one to be the hourly companion of a perfectly
virginal mind. My dear Melville, she makes me ashamed; my society seems
infinitely too coarse for her. I have never seemed to myself such a
brute.'

'That is, I fear, because you are not very much in love, and so are at
liberty to analyse your own sensations: a lover would not feel those
scruples,' reflected Melville; but he merely said aloud: 'If a woman
have not a little of the angelic, she goes near to having something of
the diabolic. Women are always in extremes.'

'Her soul is like a crystal,' said Othmar. 'But in it I see my own
soul, and it looks unworthy.'

He could not say even to Melville, tried physician of sick souls as he
was, that there were moments when the perfect purity of the young girl
wearied him, when her innocent tenderness fretted him, and failed to
supply all the stimulant to his senses that women less lovely but more
versed in amorous arts could have given, when he was, in a word--the
most fatal word love ever hears--wearied.



CHAPTER XXXI.


'_Othmar cueillant les marguerites aux bois!_' said Nadine Napraxine,
with her most unkind smile, when she heard that he remained under the
Valois woods until autumn.

She herself was in Russia; forced also to gather daisies in her own
manner, which always wearied her. It was necessary to be seen awhile at
Tsarkoe Selo, or wherever the Imperial people were; and then to visit
for a few months the immense estates of Prince Napraxine. They had gone
thither earlier than usual through the suicide of Boris Seliedoff,
which had cast many noble northern families into mourning, and had for
a moment chilled the feeling of Europe in general towards herself.

'It was so inconsiderate of him!' she said more than once. 'Everyone
was sure to put it upon me!'

It seemed to her very unjust.

She had been kind to the boy, and then had rebuked him a little as
anybody else would have done. Who could imagine that he would blow his
brains out under the palms and aloes, like any _décavé_ without a franc?

She was exceedingly angry that the world should venture to blame her.
When her Imperial mistress, receiving her first visit, gave some
expression to this general sentiment, and presumed to hazard some
phrases which suggested a hint of reproof, Nadine Napraxine revolted
with all the pride of her temper, and did not scruple to respond to
her interlocutor that the Platoff and the Napraxine both were of more
ancient lineage and greater traditions in Russia than those now seated
on the throne.

To her alone would it have been possible to make such a reply and yet
receive condonation of it, as she did. There was in her a force which
no one resisted, a magnetism which no one escaped.

She was, however, extremely angered, both by the remarks made to her
at Court, and about her in European society, and withdrew herself
to the immense solitudes of the province of Kaluga in an irritation
which was not without dignity. Men who adored her, of whom there were
many, noticed that her self-exile to Zaraïzoff coincided with that of
Othmar to Amyôt; but there was no one who would have dared to say so.
Geraldine had gone to North America, which had amused her.

'_He_ will not shoot himself,' she thought. 'He will shoot a vast
number of innocent beasts instead. Seliedoff was the manlier of the
two.'

Zaraïzoff was a mighty place set amongst the endless woods and rolling
plains of the north-eastern provinces; a huge rambling structure half
fortress, half palace, with the village clustering near as in other
days when the Tartars might sweep down on it like vultures. The wealth
of the Napraxines had made it within almost oriental in its luxury;
without, it had much of the barbaric wildness of the country, and it
had been here in the first two intolerable years after her marriage
that she had learned to love to be drawn by half-wild horses at
lightning speed over the snow plains, with the bay of the wolves on the
air, and the surety of fatal frost-bite if the furs were incautiously
dropped a moment too soon.

At Zaraïzoff, when she established herself there for the summer,
she brought usually a Parisian household with her, and inviting a
succession of guests, filled with a great movement and gaiety of life
the sombre courts, the silent galleries and chambers, the antique walls
all covered with vivid paintings like a Byzantine church, the long low
salons luxurious as a Persian harem. But this summer it saw her come
almost alone. Her children came also from southern Russia, and Platon
Napraxine at least was happy.

'Is it possible to be uglier than that; not surely among the Kalmucks!'
she thought, looking in the good-tempered little Tartar-like faces of
her two small sons.

They were absurdly like their father; but, as they promised to be also,
like him, tall and well-built, would probably, as they grew up, find
many women, as he had found many, to tell them they were handsome men;
but that time was far off, and as yet they were but ugly children.
Sachs and Mitz (Alexander and Demetrius) were respectively five and six
years old, big, stout, ungainly little boys, with flat blunt features,
in which the Tartar blood of the Napraxine was prominently visible.
They had a retinue of tutors, governesses, bonnes, and attendants
of all kinds, and had been early impressed with the opinion that a
Napraxine had no superior on earth save the Gospodar.

'_Ils ont pris la peine de naître!_' quoted their mother with contempt
as she beheld their arrogant little pomposities: she could never
forgive them that they had done so. It was natural that when she looked
in her mirror she could scarcely bring herself to believe that they had
been the issue of her own life.

'I suppose I ought to adore them, but I certainly do not,' she said
to Melville, who, having been sent on a mission to Petersburg by the
Vatican in the vain hope of mitigating by the charm of his manner the
hard fate of the Catholic Poles, had paused for a day at Zaraïzoff to
obey the summons of its mistress, travelling some extra thousand versts
to do so. It was to him that she had made the remark about the daisies.

Melville, though he was a priest whose vows were truly sacred
obligations in his eyes, was also keenly alive to those enjoyments
of the graces and luxuries of life which his frequent employment
in diplomatic missions for the head of his Church made it not only
permissible but desirable for him to indulge in at times. His brief
visit to Zaraïzoff, and other similar diversions, were agreeable
episodes in months of spiritual effort and very serious intellectual
work, and he abandoned himself to the amusement of such occasional
rewards with the youthful ardour which sixty years had not tamed in him.

Nadine Napraxine was not only charming to his eyes and taste, as to
those of all men, but she interested him with the attraction which
a complicated and not-easily-unravelled character possesses for all
intellectual people. He had perceived in her those gifts mental
and moral which, under suitable circumstance, make the noblest of
temperaments, and he also perceived in her an indefinite potentiality
for cruelty and for tyranny; the conflict between the two interested
him as a psychological study. He could not but censure her intolerance
of Napraxine; yet neither could he refuse to sympathise with it. The
Prince was the last man on earth to have been able to attain any power
over that variable, contemptuous, and subtle temperament and over an
intelligence refined by culture to the utmost perfection of taste and
hypercriticism of judgment. He adored her indeed, but _c'est le pire
défaut_ in such cases; and a hippopotamus in his muddy sedges might
have done so, with as much hope as he, of exciting anything more than
her impatience and contempt.

'I certainly do not,' she repeated, as she lay on a divan after dinner,
in a grand hall imitated from the Alhambra, with a copy of the Lion
fountain in white marble in the centre, and groves of palms in white
marble vases lifting their green banners against the deep glow of
the many-coloured fretwork and diapered gold of the walls. 'They are
two quite uninteresting children, stupid, obstinate, proud, already
convinced that a Prince Napraxine has only to breathe a wish to see it
accomplished. At present they are good tempered and are fond of each
other, but that will not last long; they will soon feel their claws and
use them. They are quite wonderfully ugly;--an ugliness flat, heavy,
animal, altogether Tartar. I imagine I could have been fond of a child
like any other woman, but then I think with any mother it must be
always the child of a man she loves; it must be the symbol of sympathy
and the issue of joy----'

She spoke dreamily, almost regretfully, her delicate head lying back
amongst the pillows of golden silk, while she sent a little cloud of
smoke into the air.

Melville looked at her: he thought that there were persons who were
like the Neva river; the Neva does not freeze of itself, but it has so
many huge blocks of ice rolled down into it from above that it looks as
if it did.

He hesitated a moment; he was too sagacious a man of the world to
intrude his own beliefs where they would only have met with unbelief.

'What can I say?' he murmured. 'Only that I suppose maternal love,
after all, like all other love, does not come at command; human nature
has always been under the illusion that it was a spontaneous and
irresistible growth.'

'Human nature has so many illusions,' said Nadine Napraxine. 'But I
have never heard that much reason underlies any one of them.'

'But does not our happiness?' said Melville.

She laughed a little.

'Do you believe much in happy people? I think there are passions,
vanities, titillations, desires, successes--those one sees in full
motion on the earth, like animalculæ in a drop of water; but happiness,
I imagine, died with Paul et Virginie, with Chactas and Atala. To be
happy, you must be capable of being unhappy. We never reach that point;
we are only irritable, or grow _anémique_, according to the variety of
our constitutions.'

'I knew a perfectly happy woman once,' said Melville; 'happy all her
life, and she lived long.'

'Oh, you mean some nun,' said Nadine Napraxine, with impatience. 'That
is not happiness; it is only a form of hysteria or hypogastria.'

'Not a nun,' replied Melville, making himself a cigarette, while the
sun played on the red sash of his gown, the gown which Raffael designed
for Leo. 'Not a nun. The woman I mean was a servant in a little dirty
village near Grenoble; she had been in the service of two cross,
miserly people ever since she was fifteen. At the time I knew her
first she was forty-seven. The old people had a small shop of general
necessaries; she attended to the shop, cooked, and cleaned, and washed,
and spun, dug, too, in a vegetable garden, and took care of a donkey,
and pigs, and fowls. When she was about thirty, the old man first, and
then the old woman, became incapable, from paralysis. Rose--her name
was Rose--worked on harder than ever. She had many offers of better
service, even offers of marriage, for she was a famous housewife, but
she refused them; she would not leave the old people. They were poor;
they had never been good or grateful to her; they had even beaten her
when she was a girl; but she would never leave them. She had been a
foundling, and theirs had been the only form of human ties that she
had ever known. She was perfectly happy all the day long, and she
even found time to do many a good turn for neighbours worse off than
herself. She had never had more than twenty francs a year in money, but
then "you see, I live well, I want nothing," she said to me once. And
such living! Black cabbage and black bread! Well, she was perfectly
happy, as I say. You do not seem to believe it?'

'Oh, yes; so is a snail,' said the Princess Nadine. 'Besides, you
know, if she had been a pretty woman----'

Melville felt almost angry.

'You are very cruel. Why will you divorce beauty and virtue?'

'I do not divorce them, nature usually does,' she answered, amused.
'Perhaps they divorce themselves. Well, what became of this paragon?'

'She was no paragon,' said Melville, annoyed. 'She was a hard-working,
good, honest woman, perfectly content with a horrible lot, and loyal
unto death to two tyrannical old brutes who never thanked her. When
they died they left all the little they had to a nephew in the Jura,
who had taken no notice of them all their days--a rich tradesman. Poor
Rose, at fifty-three years old, was sent adrift on the world. She
cried her heart out to have to leave the house, and the ass, and the
chickens. I got her the grant from the Prix Montyon, and she was set
up in a tiny shop of her own in her own village, but she did not live
long. "_Quand on a été heureuse, après--c'est long_," she said in her
dying hour. She was afraid to seem ungrateful, but "_sans mes vieux_,"
as she said, apologetically, her life was done. It seems a terrible
life to us, but I can solemnly declare that it was one of the few
happy ones of which I have ever been witness. There is a sustaining,
vivifying force in duty, like the heat of the sun, for those who accept
it.'

'For those who accept it, no doubt,' said Nadine Napraxine, drily;
'but then, you see, my dear and reverend Melville, it requires some
organ in one's brain--superstition, I think, or credulity--before one
can do that. Every one is not blessed with that organ. Pray believe,'
she resumed, with her softer smile, perceiving a vexed shadow on his
face, 'I am not insensible to the quiet unconscious heroism of those
lowly lives of devotion. They are always touching. Those revelations
which the _discours_ of the Prix Montyon give from time to time always
make one envious of so much belief, of so much endurance, of so much
unobtrusive and unselfish goodness. But, though I dare say you will be
very angry, I cannot help reminding you that what makes the sparrow
very happy would have no sort of effect on the swallow, except that he
would feel restless and uncomfortable; and also that--pray forgive me,
for you are a priest--to be contented with doing one's duty one must
believe in duty as a Divine ordinance. To do that one must have--well,
just that bump of credulity of which I spoke--of easy, unquestioning,
unintelligent, credulity. Now, that it is a happy quality I am certain,
but is it,--is it, an intellectual one?'

She spoke very sweetly, but with a demure smile, which made Melville
feel that there was a great deal more which she did not say out of
respect for his sacred calling and his position as her guest.

'Do not repeat over to me all the stock arguments,' she said quickly,
as he opened his lips; 'I have heard them all ten thousand times.
I have the greatest possible regard for your doctrines, which have
satisfied Chateaubriand, Lacordaire, Montalembert, Manning, Newman, and
yourself, but I have always failed to understand how they did satisfy
any of you. But we will not discuss theology. Your poor Rose proves,
if she prove anything, that Heaven is not in a hurry to reward its
servitors. Perhaps, after all, she might have been wiser if she had
married some Jeannot, all over flour or coal dust, and had half a dozen
children and fifty grand children.'

'There is common brute enjoyment all over the earth,' said Melville,
almost losing his temper. 'It must be well that it should be leavened
here and there with lives of sublime self-sacrifice; one heroic or
unselfish act raises the whole of human nature with it.'

Nadine Napraxine took a cigarette.

'There are ten thousand such acts in Russia every year, but they do not
produce much effect. Juggernauth rolls on,----'

Melville looked at her quickly.

'You have a certain sympathy with the people, though you deride my poor
Rose.'

'I do not deride her; I admire her within certain limits. Only, I
ascribe her actions more to ignorance and to superstition, whereas you
ascribe them entirely to a clear-eyed devotion. Yes; I could have been
a revolutionist, I think, only all the traditions of the Platoff and
the Napraxine forbid it; and then, as I said to you once before, I do
not like _Pallida Mors_ carried about in a hat-box or a sardine-case.
It is grotesque. Without jesting,' she continued, 'I think if I saw
my way to do something truly great or of lasting benefit, I should be
ready to sacrifice my life to it; but there is nothing. If a Princess
Napraxine joined the Nihilists, she would only cause an intolerable
scandal and set an example which would be very injurious to the country
at large. Some day, Russia will be in revolt from one end to another,
but the day is not yet, and I doubt much that any good will be done
when it comes. The evil lies too deep, in the drunkenness, in the
lying, in the bestiality----'

She saw a look of surprise on Melville's face, and continued quickly:

'Do you suppose I never think? I believe I have read every socialistic
writer from Rousseau to Bakounine. They do not convince me of anything
except of the utter improbability that any real liberty will ever be
obtainable from any congregation of men. Humanity is tyrannical and
slavish at once; its governments are created in its own likeness, it
makes little difference what they are called, they are human offspring,
so they are narrow and arrogant.'

'Poor humanity!' said Melville. 'It is only we priests who can lend it
wings.'

'Because you say to it, like Schiller, "Cheat yourself, and dream,"'
she replied. 'But even there how narrow still! You say to each unit,
"Save yourself!"'

'Well,' said the Englishman with good temper, 'if every one sweep out
his own little chamber, the whole city will be clean.'

'The city will be for ever unclean. You know that as well as I do.
Only, all Churchmen can hide their eyes ostrich-like in the sand of
sonorous phrases. Your Christianity has been toiling for eighteen
centuries, and, one may say, has accomplished nothing. It mouths a
great deal, but practical result it has scarcely any. Its difficulty
has always been that, being illogical in its essence and traditions, it
must be restrained to words. Reduced to practice, all the modern world
would fade away, riches would disappear, effort would be impossible,
and the whole machinery of civilisation come to a standstill and entire
disuse. You are as aware of that as I am, only you do not like to say
so.'

She rose, amused at his discomfiture, and lighted another cigarette.
She smoked as gracefully as a bird pecks at the dew in a rose.

'She is the only woman who makes me irritable,' the courtly Gervase
Melville had once said of her, and he might have said also, 'the only
woman who reduces me to silence.'

'Allow, Princess,' he said irritably now, 'that whether we accredit
Christianity with it or not, the life of poor Rose in her wooden shoes
was much more useful than yours is in those pearl-embroidered _mules_.'

'Ah,' she answered with a smile. 'You are indeed worsted in your logic
if you must descend to personalities! Certainly I grant that; my life
is of a most absolute inutility. It is, perhaps, now and then useful
to my tailors, because I give them ideas they would not have without
me. But to no one else. _À qui la faute?_ I arrived in this world
without any option. As Mr. Gladstone said when he was an Eton boy,
responsibilities which are thrust upon us do not exact our obedience.
It is the only sentiment of Mr. Gladstone with which I have ever been
able to agree. Life is clearly thrust upon us. We none of us seek
it, that is certain. If we are able to disport ourselves in it, like
butterflies in a south wind, it says much in praise of the lightness of
our hearts.'

'Or of the levity of our consciences,' said Melville, a little
gloomily.

'Conscience is only the unconscious cerebral action of transmitted
influence, is it? Oh, I have read the Scientists as well as the
Socialists. They are not much more convincing, if one goes to them with
an unprejudiced mind----'

'Does your conscience never tell you that you have done any harm,
Princess?'

'Oh, very often--a great deal,' she answered candidly. 'But it does
not tell me that I ought not to have done it. I suppose my chain of
transmitted influences is not as strong as it should be. Seriously,'
she continued, 'I do not think hereditary influences are nearly
sufficiently allowed for at any time. Think what my people were for
ages and ages; the most masterful of autocratic lords who had no single
law save their own pleasure, and who, when they helped slay a Tzar,
were washing out some blood-feud of their family; pleasure, vice,
bloodshed, courage no doubt, rough justice perhaps, were all their
lives knew; they lived in the saddle or beside the drinking-horn; they
rode like madmen; they had huge castles set in almost eternal snows;
they were the judge and the executioner of every wrong-doer in their
family or their province; it was not until Letters came in with the
great Catherine that the least touch of civilisation softened them, and
even after Catherine they were amongst the slayers of Paul; for though
they could read Bossuet and Marmontel, their culture was but the merest
varnish still. Now, I come from these men and women, for the women were
not better than the men. Do you suppose their leaven is not in me? Of
course it is, though I am--perhaps as civilised as most people.'

Melville looked at her with a smile.

'Yes, certainly civilisation has in you, Princess, reached its most
exquisite and most supreme development; the hothouse can do no more.
You are its most perfect flower. Are we really to credit that you have
beneath all that the ferocity and the despotism of a thousand centuries
of barbaric Boyars?'

'I have no doubt something of it,' said Nadine Napraxine, whilst the
dark velvet of her eyes grew sombre and her delicate hand clenched
on an imaginary knout. 'I could use _that_ sometimes,' she said with
significance: Melville understood what she meant.

'You can hurt more than with the knout, Princess,' he answered.

Nadine Napraxine smiled. The suggestion pleased her.

Then a certain regretfulness came upon her face.

'I think I might have been tender-hearted,' she said involuntarily and
inconsistently, with a pathos of which she was unconscious. 'I do not
know--perhaps not--I am not compassionate.'

She forgot that Melville was seated on a divan near her in the great
golden room of Moorish work, whose arches opened on to the marble
court of the Lion. She thought of her spoilt, artificial, frivolous
childhood, spent in great drawing-rooms listening to political
rivalries and calumnious stories and wit that was always polished but
not always decent; she thought how her keen eyes had unravelled all
the threads of intrigue about her, and how her heart had scorned the
duplicity of her mother; when she had been only eight years old, she
had known by intuition her mother's secrets and had shut them all up in
her little silent soul with vague ideas of honour and dishonour, and
never had said anything to her father--never, never--not even when he
lay on his deathbed.

And then they had married her to Platon Napraxine as _si bon garçon_.
'Oh, _si bon garçon_, no doubt!' she had thought contemptuously then
as she thought now--only he had outraged her, revolted her, disgusted
her. Her marriage night still remained to her a memory of ineffaceable
loathing.

She looked up to see the intelligent eyes of Melville fixed on her in
some perplexity.

She laughed and walked out on to the marble pavement of the great
court, above which shone the blue of a northern sky; beyond its
colonnades were immense gardens, and beyond those stretched the plains
like a green sea covered with forests of birch and willow.

'I think I should have liked to be your Rose,' she said, as she did so.
'After all, she must have been content with herself when she died. A
philosopher can be no more.'

'A philosopher can rarely be as much,' said Melville. 'He may be
resigned, but resignation and content are as different as a cold hand
and a warm one. My poor Rose was certainly content whilst she lived,
but not when she died, for she thought she had not done nearly enough
in return for all the blessings which she had received throughout her
life.'

'Now you cannot get that kind of absurdly grateful feeling without pure
ignorance,' said Nadine Napraxine, a little triumphantly. 'It would be
impossible for an educated person to think that misery was comfort; so
you see, after all, ignorance is at the bottom of all virtue. Now in
your heart of hearts, you cannot deny that, because, though you are a
priest, you are beyond anything a man of the world?'

Melville did not dislike to be called a man of the world, for he was
one, and liked to prove, or think he proved, that worldly wisdom was
not incompatible with the spiritual life.

At that moment Napraxine crossed the court. It was the first of the
brief hours between sunset and sunrise; there was a full moon in the
midsummer skies; he was smoking a cheroot, and talking with some young
men, neighbouring gentlemen, who had dined there; he looked big and
coarse, and his face was red; his wife gazed at him with an intolerant
dislike; he could have a grand manner when he chose, but in the country
he 'let himself go;' he did not remember that he was in the presence
of the most inexorable of his critics, of the most implacable of his
enemies, of the one person in the whole world whom it would have been
most desirable, and was most impossible, for him to propitiate.

'Sachs turned the knife round and round in the wolf's throat; he did,
on my honour, while it was alive; we blooded him at five years old, and
the child never winked. When the blood splashed him he shouted!' he was
saying audibly, with much pride, to one of his guests, as he lounged
across the marble court. Sachs was his eldest son. He was relating a
hunting exploit, crowned by the presence of his heir.

Nadine glanced at Melville with an expression of sovereign contempt.

'Butchers before they can spell!' she said, with ineffable distaste.

'Shall I venture to say anything?' he murmured.

'It would be of no use. Slaughter is the country gentleman's god.
Prince Napraxine is just now wholly _fourré_ in his character of a
country gentleman. It is perhaps as useful as that of a Monte Carlo
gamester. Only here the beasts suffer--there, the fools. I prefer that
the fools should do so.'

The young men gathered about her; Napraxine approached Melville.

'How does the Othmar marriage succeed?' he asked. 'I suppose you have
seen them?'

'I have been once to Amyôt,' returned Melville. 'You know Amyôt? A
magnificent place. They appeared very happy. She seems to have grown
years in a month or two.'

'That of course,' said Napraxine, with his loud laugh. 'She is very
handsome. Why on earth do they stay on in the provinces?'

'She is fond of Amyôt,' replied Melville. 'Probably he thinks that as
she is so young, there is time and to spare for the world.'

'Perhaps Nadine will believe now that it is a love marriage?' insisted
her husband, turning towards her.

'Did I ever say it was not?' she replied, with a little yawn.

'I do not see, if it were not, why it should possibly have taken
place,' said Melville. 'Othmar is lord of himself.'

'With a slave for his master?' she murmured, too low to be heard by
the not quick ears of her husband.

Melville heard, and the doubt crossed him whether Othmar might not have
been the lover of the Princess Napraxine, and the marriage arranged by
her, as great ladies often arrange such matters to disarm suspicion;
for Melville, despite the acumen on which he prided himself, did not
by any means wholly understand the very complicated character of his
hostess, in which a supreme courage was to the full as strong as were
its disdain and its indifference.

She shook off the importunities of the young nobles, who seemed rustic
and tiresome enough to a woman to whom the wittiest society of Europe
had seemed dull and too tame, and strolled by herself through the half
wild gardens, which reached and touched the virgin forests of the East.
Her Kossack Hetman, who never lost her from sight when she was out of
doors, paced at a respectful distance behind her, but he was no more
to her than a big dog would be to others. The high seeding grass which
grew in the unused paths screened him from sight.

As she looked back, the moonlit mass of the vast house gathered a
dignity and austerity not its own by daylight, but to her it only
resembled a prison. She hated it: she would have liked to raze it to
the ground and make an end of it. There were so many prisons in Russia!

She laughed a little to herself, not mirthfully, as she strolled
through the intense light of the Northern night, her Kossack following
like her shadow. A poor drudge like that servant woman in Jura had been
content with her life, whilst she, the Princess Napraxine, in all the
perfection of youth, beauty, and great rank, was often so dissatisfied
with it that she could have drugged herself out of it with morphine
from sheer ennui!

What was the use of the highest culture, if that was all it brought
you? A whimsical fancy crossed her that she wished her Kossack would
try and assassinate her; it would be something new, it might make her
life seem worth the having, if somebody would try and take it away. She
was only three-and-twenty years old, and her future seemed so immensely
long that she felt tired at the very prospect of it, as one feels
tired at the sight of a long dull road which one is bound to follow.

The eternal monotony of the great world would be for ever about her.
She had too great rank, too great riches, for ambition to present any
prizes to her. To attempt to thrust Platon Napraxine into high offices
of the State would have been as absurd as to make a bear out of Finland
a magistrate or a general. He was a very great noble, but he would
never have wit enough even to play a decent hand at whist, much less to
conduct a negotiation or sway a Council.

'One might have had ambition for Othmar,' she thought involuntarily, as
his image rose unsummoned from the sea of silvery shadows around her;
'he had none for himself, but he might have been spurred, stimulated,
seduced, by a woman he had loved. There would have been many things
possible to him; the financier is the king, the Merlin, of the modern
world, and might become its Arthur also.'

She thought with impatience of that summer night, as it was shining
on the towers and woods of Amyôt. She felt as if something of her
own had been stolen from her, some allegiance due to her unlawfully
transferred. He should have had patience, he should have waited on her
will, he should have accepted her rebuffs, he should have followed her
steps through life as the Kossack was following them through the dewy
grass.

Poor stupid Geraldine would have been grateful to do so much, or
Seliedoff, or so many others. Othmar alone had dared to say to her, 'I
will be nothing or all.'

Therefore his memory abided with her and moved her, and had power
over her, and at times an irritable gnawing sense of something which
might have been stole upon her. What could that child give him at
Amyôt?--white limbs, clear eyes, a rose-bloom of blushes; but besides?
what sympathy, comprehension, inspiration? what of the higher delights
of the passions?

The thought of him irritated her. There was a defiance, an insolence,
in his assumption of being able to command his destiny in independence
of herself, which offended her; it was unlike what others did. She was
aware that it was done out of bravado, or so she believed; but it was
not thus that the fates on which she had deigned to lay her finger had
usually been closed. Something even of contempt for him at seeking such
a refuge from herself mingled with her irritation. It seemed to her
weak and commonplace.

'Madame,' said the voice of Melville through the shadows, 'is it quite
safe to ramble so late, despite the trusty Kossack and his lance?'

She turned; her head enwrapped in gossamer, till he saw nothing but the
cloud of lace and the two dusky, jewel-like eyes.

'I was just wishing, almost wishing,' she answered, 'that the trusty
Kossack were of the new doctrines, and would take advantage of the
opportunity to make away with his _barina_. I am not sure that I would
have called out; it would have saved one a great deal of sameness.
When my chocolate comes to my bedside I always think of Pierre Loti's
childish protest, "Toujours se lever, toujours se coucher, et toujours
manger de la soupe qui n'est pas bonne!" Our soup is good, perhaps. It
is rather the appetite which is lacking.'

'Your generation is born tired,' said Melville. 'Mine was happier; it
believed in the possibility of enjoyment--an illusion, no doubt, but
one which cheers life considerably. Princess, I wish you would pardon
me an indiscretion; you are always so merciful to me, you make me
over-bold; but I have always so much wanted to know whether a story
that I heard, of a winter's journey of yours across Russia, was true.
It was in the newspapers, but one never knows what is true there, and I
was in India at the time.'

She smiled. 'Oh! I know what you mean. Yes, it was true enough. That
was nothing; nothing at all. I had all kinds of people to help me.
There was no difficulty of any sort. It was amusing----'

'It was a very heroic thing to do,' said Melville gravely.

'Not at all,' she interrupted quickly. 'There was no heroism about it.
The Tzar was always very kind to me. I had every assistance, every
comfort on my journey. You, imaginative being, have a picture instantly
in your mind of me as enduring all the dangers of poor Elizabeth in the
French classic; on the contrary, I slept nearly all the way, and read a
novel the rest.'

'All the same,' said Melville, 'no one but yourself will deny that it
was a very noble thing to travel in November, the most hideous part
of the year, through mud and snow, right across Russia, to have a few
facts reach the Emperor in their true aspect, and then post to Tobolsk
with his pardon, that a dying mother might know her son was free before
she died----'

Nadine Napraxine shrugged her shoulders slightly, with a gesture of
indifference.

'It amused me. I had a fancy to see Siberia in winter. The pity
was that Fedor Alexowitch Boganof was an ugly and uninteresting
fellow--with plenty of brains, indeed, which brought his ruin, but
quite ugly, rather misshapen, and blessed with five children. If the
hero of my journey had only been a fine officer of cuirassiers, or a
romantic-looking revolutionist, the story would have been delightful,
but poor Boganof no one could turn into a _jeune premier_; not even
the gossips of Petersburg. He was only a clever writer, with a mother
and a wife who idolised him. The truth is, I had read his novel and
liked it; that is why, when his people came to me, I did what I could.
Anybody who knew the Tzar as well as I could have done as much. As
for going to Siberia--well, I went myself because I have a profound
distrust of Russian officials. Even an Imperial pardon has a knack of
arriving too late when it is desirable that it should do so. It was
certainly a disagreeable season of the year, but behind strong horses
one does not mind that. Very soon Siberia will have lost its terrors
and its romance; there will be a railway across the Urals, and all
chance of the little excitements attendant on such a journey as mine
will be over. When the Governor saw me actually in Tobolsk, he could
not believe his eyes. If his beard had not been dyed, it would have
turned white with the extremity of his amazement. I think he could have
understood my taking the trouble if it had been for a Tchin; but for
a mere scribbler of books, a mere teller of stories! I told him that
Homer, and Ariosto, and Goethe, and ever so many others had been only
tellers of stories too, but that produced no impression on him. He was
compelled to let Boganof go, because the Tzar ordered him, but he could
not see any valid reason why Boganof should not be left to rot away,
brain downwards, under the ice.'

She laughed a little at the recollection of it all; it had been called
an eccentric hair-brained thing at the time by all her world, but she
had taken Boganof back with her in triumph, and had not left him until
she had seen him seated by the stove of his own humble house in Odessa.

It had been one of the best moments of her life--yes, certainly--but it
did not seem to her that she had done anything remarkable. It had been
so absurd to send a man to dwell amidst eternal snows and semi-eternal
darkness because he had written a clever novel in which the wiseacres
of the third section had seen fit to discover revolutionary doctrines,
that when the wife and mother of Boganof, knowing her influence at
Court, and having chance of access to her through her steward, threw
themselves at her feet one day, and besought her compassion and
assistance, she had been surprised into promising her aid, from that
generosity and sympathy with courage which always lived beneath the
artificiality and indifference of her habits and temper. No doubt they
had succeeded because they had come upon her in a _bon moment_; no
doubt they might have found her in moods in which they might as well
have appealed to the Japanese bronzes in her vestibule; but, having
been touched and surprised into a promise, she had kept it through much
difficulty and with an energy which bore down all opposition.

'She looks as frail as a reed, but she has the force of a lance,' the
autocrat to whom she appealed, and who was at the onset utterly opposed
to her petition, had thought as he had answered her coldly that Boganof
was a dangerous writer.

'So were all the Encyclopædists; but the great Catherine was not afraid
of them; will you, the Father of your people, refuse to one of those
the protection which she was proud to grant to Frenchmen?' she had said
to the Emperor, with many another persuasive and audacious argument,
to which he had listened with a smile because the lovely mouth of the
Princess Napraxine had spoken them.

'It was a very noble thing to do,' repeated Melville.

'Oh, no,' she also repeated; 'it amused me. It frightened everybody
else. The Tzar was at Livadia unusually late; there was first to go
to him from here; when I reached Livadia, he was everything that was
kind to me personally, but I found him terribly angered against the
poor novelist, and all his courtiers were of course ready to swear
that Boganof was Satan; poor innocent Boganof, with his tender heart
always aching over the sorrows of the poor, and the mysteries of animal
suffering! I told the Emperor that Boganof was, on the contrary, a
type of all that was best in the Russian people; of that obedience,
of that faith, of that fortitude, which the Russian possesses in a
stronger degree than any other of the races of man. Where will you find
as you find in Russia the heroic silence under torture, the unwavering
adherence to a lost cause, the power of dying mute for sake of an idea,
the uncomplaining surrender of youth, of beauty, of all enjoyment,
often of rank and riches, to a mere impersonal duty? They are all
sacrificed to dreams, it is true; but they are heroic dreams which have
a greatness that looks fine in them, beside the vulgar greeds, and the
vulgar content of ordinary life. I said something to that effect to
the Tzar. "You fill your mines and prisons, sir, with these people,"
I said to him. "Greece would have raised altars to them. They are the
brothers of Harmodius; they are the sisters of Læna." I suppose it is
wonderful that he did not send me to the prisons; I dare say, if I had
been an ugly woman he would have done; he was, on the contrary, very
indulgent, and, though he was hard to move at first, he ended with the
utmost leniency.

'I was really quite in earnest at the time,' she continued, now, with
a little wondering astonishment at such remembrances of herself. 'I
urged on the Tzar the truth that, when the intellect of a nation
is suppressed and persecuted, the nation "dies from the top," like
Swift. I think I convinced him for the moment, but then there were so
many other people always at his ear to persuade him that universal
convulsion was only to be avoided by corking all the inkbottles, and
putting all the writers and readers down the mines. Prince Napraxine,
by the way, was in a terrible state when he heard of it all. He
was away in Paris at the time, and you may imagine that I did not
telegraph to ask his consent. Indeed, he first learnt what I had done
from the Russian correspondent of _Figaro_, and took the whole story
for one of _Figaro's_ impudent fictions. He went to the bureau in a
towering rage, and, I think, broke a Malacca cane over a sub-editor.
Then he telegraphed to me, and found it was all true enough; he might
more wisely have telegraphed first, for the sub-editor brought an
action for assault against him, and he had a vast deal of money to
pay. He abhors the very name of Boganof. Last New Year's day I had all
Boganof's novels in the Russian text, bound in vellum, as a present
from him; I thought he would have had an apoplectic fit.'

Her pretty, chill laughter completed the sentence.

'My honesty, however, compels me to confess,' she continued, 'that for
an unheroic _boulevardier_ and a strongly conservative _tchin_ like my
husband, the position was a trying one. He abhors literature, liberal
doctrines, and newspaper publicity; and the story of my journey for
and with Boganof met him in every journal, in every club, in every
city of Europe. The publicity annoyed me myself very much. I think
the way in which journalists seize on everything and exaggerate it to
their own purposes will, in time, prevent any action, a little out of
the common, ever taking place at all. People will shut themselves up
in their own shells like oysters. I should have left Boganof to the
governor of Tobolsk, who was so anxious to keep him, if I had ever
foreseen the annoyance which the Press was destined to cause me about
him. When I met the Tzar afterwards he said, "Well, Princess, are you
still convinced now that the ink-bottle contains the most harmless and
holy of fluids?" and I answered him that I granted it might contain a
good deal of gas and a good deal of gall, yet still I thought it wiser
not to cork it.'

'Princess,' said Melville, with a little hesitation, 'one cannot
but regret that a person capable of such fine sympathy and such
noble effort as yourself should pass nearly the whole of her time in
sedulously endeavouring to persuade the world that she has no heart and
herself that she has no soul. Why do you do it?'

She gave a little contemptuous gesture. 'I do not believe I have
either,' she said. 'When I was a tiny child, my father said to me,
"Douchka, you will have no dower, but you will have plenty of wit,
two big eyes, and a white skin." The possession of these three things
has always been the only fact I have ever been sure of, really! Do
not begin to talk theologically; you are delightful as a man of the
world, but as a priest you would bore me infinitely. One thinks out all
that sort of thing for oneself: ostensibly, I am of the Greek Church;
actually, I am of Victor Hugo's creed, which has never been able to
find a key to the mystery of the universe, "_Quelle loi a donné la bête
effarée à l'homme cruel?_" The horse strains and shivers under the
whip, the brutal drunkard kicks him in his empty stomach: God looks
on, if He exist at all, in entire indifference throughout tens of
thousands of ages. You say the patient animal has no soul, and that the
sodden drunkard has one. I do not admire your religion, which enables
you placidly to accept such an absurdity, and such an injustice, as a
Divine creation. Do not say that poets do no good; they do more than
priests, my dear friend. I had been reading that poem of Hugo's, the
_Melancholia_, at the moment when Boganof's wife and mother brought
their petition to me. It had made me in a mood for pity. You know that
is the utmost a woman ever has of any goodness--a mere mood. It is why
we are so dangerous in revolutions: we slay one minute, and weep the
next, and dance the next, and are sincere enough in it all. If they had
come to me when I had been annoyed about anything, or when I had had a
toilette I disliked, or a visit that had wearied me, I should have said
"No," and left Boganof in Siberia. It was the merest chance, the merest
whim--all due to the _Melancholia_.'

'Whim, or will, I am sure Boganof was grateful?' asked Melville.

Her voice softened: 'Oh yes, poor soul! But he died six months
afterwards of tubercular consumption, brought on by exposure and bad
food in Siberia. You see, imperial pardons may arrive too late, even if
one carry them oneself!'

'But he died at home,' said Melville; 'think how much that is!'

'For the sentimentalists,' she added, with her cruel little smile, but
her eyes were dim as she glanced upward at the stars in the north.

'Poor Boganof!' she said, after a pause, with a vibration of unresisted
emotion in her voice. 'There is another problem to set beside your
Rose. The world is full of them. Your Christianity does not explain
them. He was the son of a country proprietor, a poor one, but he had a
little estate, enough for his wants. He was a man of most simple tastes
and innocent desires: he might have lived, as Tourguenieff might have
lived, happy all his humble days on his own lands; but he had genius,
or something near it. He believed in his country and in mankind; he
had passionate hopes and passionate faiths; he knew he would lose all
for saying the truth as he saw it, but he could not help it; the truth
in him was stronger than he, he could not restrain the fire that was
in him--a holy fire, pure of all personal greed. Well, he has died for
being so simple, being so loyal, being so impersonal and so unselfish.
If he had been an egotist, a time-server, a sycophant, he would have
lived in peace and riches. Your Christianity has no explanation of
that! Musset's "_être immobile qui regarde mourir_" is all we see
behind the eternal spectacle of useless suffering and unavailing loss.'

She turned and drew her laces closer about her head, and passed quickly
through the shadows to the house.

Melville in answer sighed.

That night, when Melville stood at his windows looking over the immense
flat landscape, green with waving corn and rolling grass lands and low
birch woods which stretched before him silvered by the effulgence of a
broad white moon, he thought of Nadine Napraxine curiously, wistfully,
wonderingly, as a man who plays chess well puzzles over some chess
problem that is too intricate for him. The explanation we give of
ourselves is rarely accepted by others, and he did not accept hers of
herself; that she was the creature of the impression of the moment.
It seemed to him rather that hers was a nature with noble and heroic
impulses crusted over by the habits of the world and veiled by the
assumption rather than the actuality of egotism. She, too, could have
been a sister of Læna, he thought.

What waste was here of a fine nature, sedulously forcing itself and
others to believe that it was worthless, wearied by the pleasures which
yet made its only kingdom, cynical, lonely, incredulous, whilst at the
height of youth and of all possession!



CHAPTER XXXII.


Othmar, faithful to his word, remained at the château of Amyôt
throughout the spring and summer months, indifferent to the laughter
of the world, if it did laugh. He divined very accurately that one
person at least laughed and made many a satiric sketch to her friends
of himself _filant le parfait amour_, and gathering wood violets, wood
anemones, wood strawberries, beneath the shadows of his Valois trees
in glades which had been old when the original of Jean Goujon's Diane
Chasseresse had been young.

Amyôt seemed to him to suit the youth, the grace, and the gravity of
Yseulte better than any babble of the great world;--Amyôt, which was
like a stately illuminated chronicle of kingly and knightly history,
which was as silent as the grave of a king in a crypt, and which was
shut out from the fret of mankind by the screen of its Merovingian
forests.

He was scarcely conscious that he lingered in this seclusion from an
unacknowledged unwillingness to go where he would see and hear of
another woman; he persuaded himself that he chose to stay on in the
provinces partially because the tumult of the world was always vulgar,
noisy, and offensive to him, chiefly because nowhere else in the world
so surely as in one of his own country houses could he be certain not
to meet the woman who had wounded him mortally, yet whom he loved far
more than he hated her.

'It is absolutely necessary that you should be seen in Paris, and that
you should receive there; it is absolutely necessary that you should
sustain your position in the world,' said Friederich Othmar, with much
emphasis as he sat at noon one day on the great terrace of Amyôt.
Othmar laughed a little, and shrugged his shoulders.

'Amyôt is magnificently kept up--that I admit,' continued the elder
man. 'It is a place that it is well to have, to spend six weeks of the
autumn in, to entertain princes at; it is quite royal, and was one of
the best purchases that my father ever made. But to bury yourself
here!--when the Kaiser comes to Paris, to whom you owe by tradition
every courtesy----'

'The Othmars were never received at the Court of Vienna.'

The Baron made an impatient gesture.

'We are Parisians, but we are Croats before all. Sometimes you are
pleased to insist very strongly that we are Croats, and nothing else.
If we are so, the Emperor is our sovereign.'

'It is disputed in Croatia, which has never been too loyal!'

'Croatia be----,' said Friederich Othmar, with difficulty restraining
the oath because Yseulte was seated within hearing; and he returned to
his old arguments, which were all brought to bear upon the fact that
at the approach of winter Othmar owed it as a duty to society and to
himself to throw open the doors of that vast hotel on the Boulevard S.
Germain, which had always seemed to him the most hateful embodiment of
the wealth, the unscrupulousness, and the past history of his race.

The hotel had been purchased from the Duc de Coigny during the White
Terror by Marc Othmar for a nominal price; and under the reign of
Louis Philippe, Stefan Othmar, deeming it neither grand nor luxurious
enough, had had it changed and redecorated in the worst taste of
the epoch, and, in the early days of the Second Empire, had farther
enlarged and overloaded it, until to his son it was as a very nightmare
of gilding, marble, and allegorical painting, a Cretan labyrinth of
enormous and uninhabitable chambers, fit for such motley crowds as cram
the Elysée in the days of Grevy.

It was one of the show-houses of Paris, and had, indeed, many real
treasures of art amidst its overloaded luxury, but Othmar hated it
in its entirety, from its _porte-cochère_, where the arms which the
heralds had found for Marc Othmar had replaced the shield and crown of
the Ducs de Coigny, to the immense library, which did not contain a
single volume that he cared to open; an 'upholsterer's library,' with
all its books, from Tacitus to Henri Martin, clad in the same livery of
vellum and tooled gold.

'Absolutely necessary to sustain your position in the world!' repeated
Othmar when his uncle had left him. 'That is always the incantation
with which the fetish of the world obtains its sacrifices. Translated
into common language, he means that as I have a great deal of money,
other people expect me to spend much of it upon them. I do not see the
obligation, at least not socially.'

'Do you desire the life of Paris?' he added abruptly to Yseulte, who
hesitated, coloured slightly, and said with timidity:

'I should prefer S. Pharamond.'

'S. Pharamond is yours,' said Othmar with some embarrassment, knowing
why every rood of that sunny and flowering shore seemed to him nauseous
with sickening memories. 'S. Pharamond is yours, my dear; but I
scarcely think that we can pass this winter there. There are tedious
duties from which we cannot escape; to entertain in Paris is one of
them.'

An older woman would have perceived that he contradicted himself, but
Yseulte was blinded to such anomalies by her adoration of him; an
adoration as intense as it was meek, dumb, and most humble.

'I am so perfectly happy here,' she answered, with hesitation;
'but----'

She was not actuated by the sentiment which he attributed to her
hesitation; she infinitely preferred the country to the city, as all
meditative and poetic tempers do, and the little she had seen of the
great world at Millo made her dread her entry into it in Paris. What
she wished, but lacked the courage to say, was, that she perceived
that the country did not satisfy him himself. She was not so dull of
comprehension that she did not see the melancholy of her husband, the
listless indifference, the unspoken ennui, which spoiled his years
to him, and left him without energy or interest in life. She could
discern the wound she knew not how to cure, and Friederich Othmar in
his conversations with her had repeatedly assured her that the _vie
de province_ stifled the intelligence of a man as moss grows over the
trunk of a tree.

'I am so happy here,' she answered now with hesitation, 'but still----'

'But still you are a daughter of Eve,' he added with indulgence. 'My
poor child, it is quite natural, you are so young; all young girls long
for the life of the world. It robs them of their lilies and roses, it
draws bistre shadows under their eyes, it makes them old before they
are twenty, but still they kiss the feet of their Moloch! I do not
think, though, that you will ever be hurt by the world yourself. You
are too serious, and have at once too much humility and too much pride:
they are safe warders at the door of the soul; you will not easily
become a _mondaine_.'

'What is the difference?'

'In the world, when she belongs to it, a woman crushes her soul as she
crushes her waist; she is a butterfly, with the sting of an asp; she
wastes her brain in the council-chambers of her tailors, and her time
in a kaleidoscope of amusements that do not even amuse her; she would
easily make the most hideous thing beautiful if she put it on once, and
the most flagrant vice the fashion if she adopted it for a week; she
has given the highest culture possible to her body and to her brain,
only to spend her years in an ennui and an irritation beside which the
life of the South Sea islanders would seem utility and wisdom; she has
the clearest vision, the finest intelligence, the shrewdest wit, only
to set her ambition on having a whole audience of a theatre forget the
stage because she has entered her box, or the entire journals of a city
chronicle the suicide of some madman who has taken his life because she
crossed out his name on her tablets before a cotillon----'

He paused abruptly, becoming suddenly conscious that he was speaking in
no general terms, and had only before his thoughts the vision of one
woman.

'No, my dear,' he said kindly, passing his hand over the shining
tresses of Yseulte; 'I am not afraid that you will become a coquette
or a lover of folly; you will not learn the slang of the hour, or
yellow your white skin with _maquillage_; you will always be the young
patrician of the time of the Lady of Beaujeu. You shall go to Paris if
you wish, and do just as you like there; you must not blame me if it do
not suit you better than it suits those roses which your foster-mother
sends up in moss from her garden.'

'Poor child!' he thought, with a pang of conscience. 'She has a right
to enjoy any amusement she can. She is young; the world will be a
play-place to her; if she can make for herself friends, interests,
pastimes, I should be the last to prevent her. Sooner or later she
will find out that she is so little to me. She is content now because
she takes kindness for love, and because, in her innocence, she cannot
conceive how one's senses may be roused while one's heart may lie dumb
and cold as a stone. But when she is older she will perceive all that,
and then the more friends she has found, and the less she leans on me,
the less unhappy she will be. I will give her everything that she can
wish for; all women grow contented and absorbed in the world.'

So he argued with himself, but he knew all the while that he was to
blame in desiring that sort of compensation and consolation for her;
and that delicacy of taste, which has over some temperaments a stronger
control than conscience, made him feel that there was a kind of
vulgarity in thus persuading himself that material gifts and material
triumphs would atone to her for the indifference of his feelings and
the absence of his sympathy.

It was something better than mere material possessions and indulgences
which he had meant to give the child whose lonely fate had touched
him to so much pity under the palm trees of S. Pharamond and the
gilded roofs of Millo. But he dismissed the rebuke of this memory with
impatience. The world had so repeatedly told him that his gold was
capable of purchasing heaven and earth, that, though he found it of no
avail for himself, he fell instinctively into the error of imagining
that with it at least he could heal all wounds not his own. She should
have all her fancy could desire. His experience of women told him that
she would be very unlike them if, in all the pleasure of acquisition,
emulation, and possession, she did not find at least a fair simulacrum
of happiness. She would be one out of a million--but if she were that
one? Then her soul might starve in the midst of all her luxuries and
pageants, like a bird in a golden cage that dies for want of the drop
of water which the common brown sparrow, flying over the ploughed brown
field, can find at will. But he did not think of that.

He knew that it was unworthy to speculate upon the power of the lower
life to absorb into itself a soul fitted by its affinities to discover
and enjoy the higher. He shrank from his own speculations as to the
possibility of the world replacing himself in her affections. He had
honestly intended, when he had taken her existence into his charge, to
study, reverence, and guide this most innocent and docile nature; and
endeavour, beside her, to seek out some trace of the purer ideals which
had haunted his youth. And he felt, with remorse, that the failure to
do so lay with himself, not with her. She remained outside his life;
she had no sorcery for him. She was a lovely and almost faultless
creature, but she was not what he loved. He realised, with bitter
self-reproach, that in a moment of impulse, not ignoble in itself, but
unwise, he had burdened his own fate and perhaps unconsciously done a
great wrong to her, since, in the years to come, she would ask at his
hands the bread of life and he would only be able to give her a stone.

She herself had as yet no idea that she was not beloved by Othmar
with a lover's love. She knew nothing of men and their passions. She
had not the grosser intuitions which could have supplied the place of
experience. She did not perceive that his tenderness had little ardour,
his embraces nothing of the fervour and the eagerness of delighted
possession. She had no standard of comparison by which to measure
the coldness or the warmth of the desires to which she surrendered
herself, and it was not to so spiritual a temperament as hers that the
familiarities of love could ever have seemed love. But her nerves were
sensitive, her perceptions quick; and they made her conscious that
mentally and in feeling Othmar was altogether apart from her; that in
sorrow she would not have consoled him, and that in his meditations she
never had any place.

'When I am older he will trust me more,' she reflected, in her
innocence, and she had been so long used to repression and obedience
that it cost her much less than it would have cost most women of her
years to accept, uncomplainingly, that humble place before the shut
doors of his life.

She was too modest to be offended at a distraction which would have
been certain to excite the offence and the suspicion of a more selfish
or self-conscious nature; and she was too young to be likely to
penetrate by intuition the secret of that evident joylessness which
might well have excited her jealousy. It was rather the same sense of
pity which had come to her for him in the weeks before her marriage
which grew strongest in her as the months passed on at Amyôt. He
enjoyed and possessed so much, yet could not enjoy or possess his own
soul in peace.

'I do not think he is happy, and it is not I who can make him happy,'
she said once, very timidly, to Friederich Othmar, who answered with
considerable impatience:

'My love, the fault does not lie with you. Otho, who believes himself,
like Hamlet, out of joint with his time, is in reality a man of his
times in everything; that is, he is a pessimist; he has a mental
nevrose, to borrow the jargon of scientists; he has so cultivated his
conscience at the expense of his reason, that I sometimes believe he
will be satisfied with nothing but the abandonment of all he possesses;
and no doubt he would have tried this remedy long since, only he has
no belief in any Deity who would reward him for it. The misfortune
of all the thoughtful men of Otho's generation is, that they combine
with their fretful consciences an entire disbelief in their souls, so
that they are a mass of irritable anomalies. The mirthful sceptics of
Augustan Rome, of Voltairian France, and of Bolingbroke's England, were
all consistent philosophers and voluptuaries; they disbelieved in their
souls, but they believed in their bodies, and were amply content with
them. They never talked nonsense about duty, and they passed gaily,
gracefully, and consistently through their lives, of which they made
the best they could materially, which is only reasonable in those who
are convinced that the present is the sole sentient existence they
will ever enjoy. But the tender-nerved pessimists of Otho's kind and
age are wholly inconsistent. They believe in nothing, and yet they are
troubled by a multitude of misgivings; they think the soul is merely a
romantic word for the reflex action of the brain, and yet they distress
themselves with imagining that the human animal has innumerable duties,
and should have innumerable scruples, which is ridiculous on the face
of it, for, religion apart and Deity denied, there is no possible
reason why man should have any more duties than a snail has, or a
hare. The agnostics of the present generation do not perceive this
contradiction in themselves, and that is why they look so inconsistent
and so entirely valetudinarian beside the robust Atheism of the past
century, and are, indeed, the mere _malades imaginaires_ of the moral
hospital.'

'If I could only make him as happy as I am myself,' she said again; but
she had not the talisman which the woman who is beloved in return holds
in the hollow of her hand.

'She is too young,' thought Friederich Othmar, angrily. 'She is too
innocent; she is a daisy, a dove, a child. She knows nothing of
persuasion or provocation; she is not even aware of her own charms. She
waits his pleasure to be caressed or let alone; she knows neither how
to deny herself or make herself desired. She wearies him only because
she does not know how to torment him. He will drift away to someone
else who does, while he will expect her--at seventeen!--to be satisfied
with bearing him children and owning his name!'

A few months before, the Baron himself would have emphatically declared
that no living woman could or should ever need more. But his nephew's
wife had touched a softer nerve in him; something which was almost
tenderness and almost regret smote him when he saw the tall, graceful
form of Yseulte like a garden lily, standing alone in the warmth of
the sunset on the terraces at Amyôt, or saw Othmar, when he approached
after a day's absence, kiss her hand with the calm and serious courtesy
which he would have displayed to any stranger, and turn away from her
with an indifference which all his deference of manner and careful
_prévoyance_ of thought for her could not conceal from the keen eyes of
the elder man.

'He gives her his caresses, not his companionship,' thought the old
man, angrily, but he was too prudent and too wise to draw her attention
to a fault against herself of which she was unconscious.

A few months earlier he would have said with Napoléon, _'Qu'elle
nous donne des marmots; c'est le nécessaire._' But before this young
mistress of this stately place as she moved, in her white gown, with
her great bouquet of roses in her hand and her clear eyes smiling
gravely on these men who so brief a while before had been unknown to
her, and now held all her destiny in their hands, Friederich Othmar
for the first time in his life saw a little way into a soul unsoiled,
and began to dimly comprehend some desires not wholly physical, some
necessities sheerly of the mind and heart. The impression came to
him--a purely sentimental one for which he chid himself--that this
child was entirely alone; more alone in her wedded life perhaps than
she would have been in the monastic. She was surrounded with every
species of material indulgence; day after day her husband gave her new
pleasures, as people give children new toys; if she had wished for
the impossible he would have endeavoured to obtain it for her; but
Friederich Othmar twice or thrice in his hurried visits to Amyôt had
found her in solitude, and walking alone in the stately gardens or
sitting alone in some little rustic temple in the woods, and the fact,
though insignificant enough, seemed to him indicative of a loneliness
which would certainly become her fate unless she learned as so many
other women have learned, to console herself for neglect by folly.

'And that she will not do,' the old man said to himself. 'She is
a pearl; but a pearl thrown, not before swine, but wasted on a
pessimist, an _ennuyé_, a _délicat_ whom nothing pleases except that
which he cannot possess.'

He pitied her for what he foresaw would befall her in the future,
rather than for any thing which troubled her at that present time, for
although vaguely conscious of a certain discordance and dissatisfaction
in her husband's life, Yseulte was, in her own, as happy as a very
young girl can be to whom kindliness seems love and the external beauty
surrounding her appears like a lovely dream.

Othmar left her often to shut himself in his library, to lose himself
in his forests, or to go for the affairs of his House to Paris; but
he was always gentle, generous, and kind; he was even prodigal of
caresses to her, because they spared him words in whose utterance he
felt himself untrue; and if the reflex of his own sadness fell at times
across herself, it became a light soft shadow without name, such as
seemed to suit better than mere vulgar joys the silence of the gardens
and the grandeur of the courts, where a life of the past, once so
gracious, so vivid, so impassioned in love and so light in laughter,
had been extinguished like a torch burned out in the night. A riotous
or exuberant happiness would not have so well pleased her nature, made
serious beyond her years whilst yet so mere a child, by the pains of
poverty, the companionship of old age, and the sights and sounds of
the siege of Paris. The long, light, warm days of spring and summer
at Amyôt, with all the floral pomp around her, and the château itself
rising, golden and silvery in the brilliant air, historic, poetic,
magnificent, airy as a madrigal, martial as an epic, were days of an
ecstatic but of an almost religious joy to her.

'What have I done that all this should come to me?' she said often in
her wonder and humility, and Othmar seemed ever to her as a magician,
at whose touch the briars and brambles in her path had blossomed like
the almond and the may.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


With October days an accident as her boat crossed the Loire water,
when the autumn currents were rolling strong and wide, brought on the
premature delivery of a child, who barely breathed for a few moments,
and then took with him into darkness the hopes of the Maison d'Othmar.
The fury and the grief of Friederich Othmar were so great that they far
surpassed the moderate regret shown by his nephew, who appeared to him
intolerably cold and little moved save by his sympathy with the sorrow
of the child's young mother.

'You would care, I believe, nothing if there were no one to succeed you
when you die!' said the elder man with indignation.

Othmar gave a gesture of indifference.

'I hope I should care for my sons as much as most men care for theirs,'
he replied. 'But the "succession" does not seem to me to be of vital
importance. If you would only believe it, we are not Hohenzollerns nor
Guelfs, and even they would be easily replaced, though perhaps Moltke
or Wolseley would not be so.'

'Why do I, indeed, care so little?' said Othmar to himself when he
was alone. 'I am neither inhuman nor heartless. I used to be quickly
touched to any kind of feeling; but the whole of life seems cold to me,
and profitless. I was dry-eyed whilst that poor child wept over that
little, frail, waxen body which was so much to her; would have been
so much to her if it had lived to lie on her breast. It is the most
pathetic of all possible things--a girl still sixteen sorrowing for her
offspring which has perished before it had any separate existence; has
died before it lived; and yet, I feel hardly more than if I had seen
a bird flying round an empty nest, or a brood of leverets wailing in
an empty form. I think she took my heart out of my chest that day she
fooled me, and put a stone there----'

He meant Nadine Napraxine, who remained the one woman on the earth for
him.

A woman of unstable impulses, of incalculable caprices, of an infinite
intelligence, of as infinite an egotism; absorbed in herself, save so
far as her merciless eyes scanned the whole world as players, whilst
her fastidious taste found them the poorest players, and judged them
inexorably as dunces and as fools; a woman who had treated the tragedy
of his own passion as a mere comedy, and had listened to it seriously
for a moment only the better to turn it into jest.

Yet the one woman upon earth whom he adored, whom he desired.

For love is fate, and will neither be commanded nor gainsaid.


THE END OF THE SECOND VOLUME.

[Illustration]



                                                        [_March, 1884._

                            [Illustration]

                           CHATTO & WINDUS'S

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_BY DUTTON COOK._

=Paul Foster's Daughter.=


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=Hearts of Gold.=


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=A Castle in Spain.=


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_BY MRS. ANNIE EDWARDES._

=Archie Lovell.=


_BY R. E. FRANCILLON._

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_Prefaced by Sir BARTLE FRERE._

=Pandurang Hari.=


_BY EDWARD GARRETT._

=The Capel Girls.=


_BY CHARLES GIBBON._

  =Robin Gray.=
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_BY THOMAS HARDY._

=Under the Greenwood Tree.=


_BY JULIAN HAWTHORNE._

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_BY SIR A. HELPS._

=Ivan de Biron.=


_BY MRS. ALFRED HUNT._

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  =Self-Condemned.=


_BY JEAN INGELOW._

=Fated to be Free.=


_BY HENRY JAMES, Jun._

=Confidence.=


_BY HARRIETT JAY._

  =The Queen of Connaught.=
  =The Dark Colleen.=


_BY HENRY KINGSLEY._

=Number Seventeen.=


_BY E. LYNN LINTON._

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  =With a Silken Thread.=
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  ="My Love!"=


_BY HENRY W. LUCY._

=Gideon Fleyce.=


_BY JUSTIN McCARTHY, M.P._

  =The Waterdale Neighbours.=
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  =Linley Rochford.=
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  =Dear Lady Disdain.=
  =Miss Misanthrope.=
  =Donna Quixote.=
  =The Comet of a Season.=


_BY GEORGE MACDONALD, LL.D._

  =Paul Faber, Surgeon.=
  =Thomas Wingfold, Curate.=


_BY MRS. MACDONELL._

=Quaker Cousins.=


_BY KATHARINE S. MACQUOID._

  =Lost Rose.=
  =The Evil Eye.=


_BY FLORENCE MARRYAT._

  =Open! Sesame!=
  =Written in Fire.=


_BY JEAN MIDDLEMASS._

=Touch and Go.=


_BY D. CHRISTIE MURRAY._

  =Life's Atonement.=
  =Joseph's Coat.=
  =A Model Father.=
  =Coals of Fire.=
  =Val Strange.=
  =Hearts.=
  =By the Gate of the Sea.=


_BY MRS. OLIPHANT._

=Whiteladies.=


_BY MARGARET A. PAUL._

=Gentle and Simple.=


_BY JAMES PAYN._

  =Lost Sir Massingberd.=
  =Best of Husbands.=
  =Fallen Fortunes.=
  =Halves.=
  =Walter's Word.=
  =What He Cost Her.=
  =Less Black than We're Painted.=
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  =Love Me Little, Love Me Long.=
  =Foul Play.=
  =The Cloister and the Hearth.=
  =The Course of True Love.=
  =The Autobiography of a Thief.=
  =Put Yourself in His Place.=
  =A Terrible Temptation.=
  =The Wandering Heir.=
  =A Woman-Hater.=
  =A Simpleton.=
  =Readiana.=


_BY MRS. J. H. RIDDELL._

  =Her Mother's Darling.=
  =Prince of Wales's Garden-Party.=


_BY F. W. ROBINSON._

  =Women are Strange.=
  =The Hands of Justice.=


_BY JOHN SAUNDERS._

  =Bound to the Wheel.=
  =Guy Waterman.=
  =One Against the World.=
  =The Lion in the Path.=
  =The Two Dreamers.=


_BY T. W. SPEIGHT._

=The Mysteries of Heron Dyke.=


_BY R. A. STERNDALE._

=The Afghan Knife.=


_BY BERTHA THOMAS._

  =Proud Maisie.=
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  =The Violin-Player.=


_BY ANTHONY TROLLOPE._

  =The Way we Live Now.=
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=Diamond Cut Diamond.=


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  =Confidences.=


_BY MRS. ALEXANDER._

=Maid, Wife, or Widow?=


_BY SHELSLEY BEAUCHAMP._

=Grantley Grange.=


_BY W. BESANT & JAMES RICE._

  =Ready-Money Mortiboy.=
  =With Harp and Crown.=
  =This Son of Vulcan.=
  =My Little Girl.=
  =The Case of Mr. Lucraft.=
  =The Golden Butterfly.=
  =By Celia's Arbour.=
  =The Monks of Thelema.=
  ='Twas in Trafalgar's Bay.=
  =The Seamy Side.=
  =The Ten Years' Tenant.=
  =The Chaplain of the Fleet.=
  =All Sorts and Conditions of Men.=
  =The Captains' Room.=


_BY FREDERICK BOYLE._

  =Camp Notes.=
  =Savage Life.=


_BY BRET HARTE._

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  =The Shadow of the Sword.=
  =A Child of Nature.=
  =God and the Man.=
  =The Martyrdom of Madeline.=
  =Love Me for Ever.=


_BY MRS. BURNETT._

=Surly Tim.=


_BY MRS. LOVETT CAMERON._

  =Deceivers Ever.=
  =Juliet's Guardian.=


_BY MACLAREN COBBAN._

=The Cure of Souls.=


_BY C. ALLSTON COLLINS._

=The Bar Sinister.=


_BY WILKIE COLLINS._

  =Antonina.=
  =Basil.=
  =Hide and Seek.=
  =The Dead Secret.=
  =Queen of Hearts.=
  =My Miscellanies.=
  =Woman In White.=
  =The Moonstone.=
  =Man and Wife.=
  =Poor Miss Finch.=
  =Miss or Mrs.?=
  =The New Magdalen.=
  =The Frozen Deep.=
  =Law and the Lady.=
  =The Two Destinies.=
  =Haunted Hotel.=
  =The Fallen Leaves.=
  =Jezebel's Daughter.=
  =The Black Robe.=


_BY MORTIMER COLLINS._

  =Sweet Anne Page.=
  =Transmigration.=
  =From Midnight to Midnight.=
  =A Fight with Fortune.=


_MORTIMER & FRANCES COLLINS._

  =Sweet and Twenty.=
  =Frances.=
  =Blacksmith and Scholar.=
  =The Village Comedy.=
  =You Play me False.=


_BY DUTTON COOK._

  =Leo.=
  =Paul Foster's Daughter.=


_BY J. LEITH DERWENT._

=Our Lady of Tears.=


_BY CHARLES DICKENS._

  =Sketches by Boz.=
  =The Pickwick Papers.=
  =Oliver Twist.=
  =Nicholas Nickleby.=


_BY MRS. ANNIE EDWARDES._

  =A Point of Honour.=
  =Archie Lovell.=


_BY M. BETHAM-EDWARDS._

  =Felicia.=
  =Kitty.=


_BY EDWARD EGGLESTON._

=Roxy.=


_BY PERCY FITZGERALD._

  =Bella Donna.=
  =Never Forgotten.=
  =The Second Mrs. Tillotson.=
  =Polly.=
  =Seventy-five Brooke Street.=


_BY ALBANY DE FONBLANQUE._

=Filthy Lucre.=


_BY R. E. FRANCILLON._

  =Olympia.=
  =Queen Cophetua.=
  =One by One.=


_Prefaced by Sir H. BARTLE FRERE._

=Pandurang Hari.=


_BY HAIN FRISWELL._

=One of Two.=


_BY EDWARD GARRETT._

=The Capel Girls.=


_BY CHARLES GIBBON._

  =Robin Gray.=
  =For Lack of Gold.=
  =What will the World Say?=
  =In Honour Bound.=
  =The Dead Heart.=
  =In Love and War.=
  =For the King.=
  =Queen of the Meadow.=
  =In Pastures Green.=
  =The Flower of the Forest.=
  =A Heart's Problem.=
  =The Braes of Yarrow.=


_BY WILLIAM GILBERT._

  =Dr. Austin's Guests.=
  =The Wizard of the Mountain.=
  =James Duke.=


_BY JAMES GREENWOOD._

=Dick Temple.=


_BY ANDREW HALLIDAY._

=Every-Day Papers.=


_BY LADY DUFFUS HARDY._

=Paul Wynter's Sacrifice.=


_BY THOMAS HARDY._

=Under the Greenwood Tree.=


_BY JULIAN HAWTHORNE._

  =Garth.=
  =Ellice Quentin.=
  =Prince Saroni's Wife.=
  =Sebastian Strome.=
  =Dust.=


_BY SIR ARTHUR HELPS._

=Ivan de Biron.=


_BY TOM HOOD._

=A Golden Heart.=


_BY MRS. GEORGE HOOPER._

=The House of Raby.=


_BY VICTOR HUGO._

=The Hunchback of Notre Dame.=


_BY MRS. ALFRED HUNT._

  =Thornicroft's Model.=
  =The Leaden Casket.=
  =Self-Condemned.=


_BY JEAN INGELOW._

=Fated to be Free.=


_BY HARRIETT JAY._

  =The Dark Colleen.=
  =The Queen of Connaught.=


_BY HENRY KINGSLEY._

  =Oakshott Castle.=
  =Number Seventeen.=


_BY E. LYNN LINTON._

  =Patricia Kemball.=
  =The Atonement of Leam Dundas.=
  =The World Well Lost.=
  =Under which Lord?=
  =With a Silken Thread.=
  =The Rebel of the Family.=
  ="My Love!"=


_BY HENRY W. LUCY._

=Gideon Fleyce.=


_BY JUSTIN McCARTHY, M.P._

  =Dear Lady Disdain.=
  =The Waterdale Neighbours.=
  =My Enemy's Daughter.=
  =A Fair Saxon.=
  =Linley Rochford.=
  =Miss Misanthrope.=
  =Donna Quixote.=
  =The Comet of a Season.=


_BY GEORGE MACDONALD._

  =Paul Faber, Surgeon.=
  =Thomas Wingfold, Curate.=


_BY MRS. MACDONELL._

=Quaker Cousins.=


_BY KATHARINE S. MACQUOID._

  =The Evil Eye.=
  =Lost Rose.=


_BY W. H. MALLOCK._

=The New Republic.=


_BY FLORENCE MARRYAT._

  =Open! Sesame!=
  =A Harvest of Wild Oats.=
  =A Little Stepson.=
  =Fighting the Air.=
  =Written in Fire.=


_BY J. MASTERMAN._

=Half-a-dozen Daughters.=


_BY JEAN MIDDLEMASS._

  =Touch and Go.=
  =Mr. Dorillion.=


_BY D. CHRISTIE MURRAY._

  =A Life's Atonement.=
  =A Model Father.=
  =Joseph's Coat.=
  =Coals of Fire.=
  =By the Gate of the Sea.=


_BY MRS. OLIPHANT._

=Whiteladies.=


_BY MRS. ROBERT O'REILLY._

=Phoebe's Fortunes.=


_BY OUIDA._

  =Held in Bondage.=
  =Strathmore.=
  =Chandos.=
  =Under Two Flags.=
  =Idalia.=
  =Cecil Castlemaine.=
  =Tricotrin.=
  =Puck.=
  =Folle Farine.=
  =A Dog of Flanders.=
  =Pascarel.=
  =Two Little Wooden Shoes.=
  =Signa.=
  =In a Winter City.=
  =Ariadne.=
  =Friendship.=
  =Moths.=
  =Pipistrello.=
  =A Village Commune.=
  =Bimbi.=
  =In Maremma.=


_BY MARGARET AGNES PAUL._

=Gentle and Simple.=


_BY JAMES PAYN._

  =Lost Sir Massingberd.=
  =A Perfect Treasure.=
  =Bentinck's Tutor.=
  =Murphy's Master.=
  =A County Family.=
  =At Her Mercy.=
  =A Woman's Vengeance.=
  =Cecil's Tryst.=
  =Clyffards of Clyffe.=
  =The Family Scapegrace.=
  =Foster Brothers.=
  =Found Dead.=
  =Best of Husbands.=
  =Walter's Word.=
  =Halves.=
  =Fallen Fortunes.=
  =What He Cost Her.=
  =Humorous Stories.=
  =Gwendoline's Harvest.=
  =Like Father, Like Son.=
  =A Marine Residence.=
  =Married Beneath Him.=
  =Mirk Abbey.=
  =Not Wooed, but Won.=
  =£200 Reward.=
  =Less Black than We're Painted.=
  =By Proxy.=
  =Under One Roof.=
  =High Spirits.=
  =Carlyon's Year.=
  =A Confidential Agent.=
  =Some Private Views.=
  =From Exile.=
  =A Grape from a Thorn.=
  =For Cash Only.=


_BY EDGAR A. POE._

=The Mystery of Marie Roget.=


_BY E. C. PRICE._

=Valentina.=


_BY CHARLES READE._

  =It is Never Too Late to Mend.=
  =Hard Cash.=
  =Peg Woffington.=
  =Christie Johnstone.=
  =Griffith Gaunt.=
  =Put Yourself in His Place.=
  =The Double Marriage.=
  =Love Me Little, Love Me Long.=
  =Foul Play.=
  =The Cloister and the Hearth.=
  =The Course of True Love.=
  =Autobiography of a Thief.=
  =A Terrible Temptation.=
  =The Wandering Heir.=
  =A Simpleton.=
  =A Woman-Hater.=
  =Readiana.=


_BY MRS. J. H. RIDDELL._

  =Her Mother's Darling.=
  =Prince of Wales's Garden Party.=


_BY F. W. ROBINSON._

=Women are Strange.=


_BY BAYLE ST. JOHN._

=A Levantine Family.=


_BY GEORGE AUGUSTUS SALA._

=Gaslight and Daylight.=


_BY JOHN SAUNDERS._

  =Bound to the Wheel.=
  =One Against the World.=
  =Guy Waterman.=
  =The Lion in the Path.=
  =Two Dreamers.=


_BY ARTHUR SKETCHLEY._

=A Match in the Dark.=


_BY T. W. SPEIGHT._

=The Mysteries of Heron Dyke.=


_BY R. A. STERNDALE._

=The Afghan Knife.=


_BY R. LOUIS STEVENSON._

=New Arabian Nights.=


_BY BERTHA THOMAS._

  =Cressida.=
  =Proud Maisie.=
  =The Violin-Player.=


_BY W. MOY THOMAS._

=A Fight for Life.=


_BY WALTER THORNBURY._

=Tales for the Marines.=


_BY T. ADOLPHUS TROLLOPE._

=Diamond Cut Diamond.=


_BY ANTHONY TROLLOPE._

  =The Way We Live Now.=
  =The American Senator.=
  =Frau Frohmann.=
  =Marion Fay.=
  =Kept in the Dark.=


_BY FRANCES ELEANOR TROLLOPE._

=Like Ships Upon the Sea.=


_BY MARK TWAIN._

  =Tom Sawyer.=
  =An Idle Excursion.=
  =A Pleasure Trip on the Continent of Europe.=
  =A Tramp Abroad.=
  =The Stolen White Elephant.=


_BY SARAH TYTLER._

  =What She Came Through.=
  =The Bride's Pass.=


_BY J. S. WINTER._

  =Cavalry Life.=
  =Regimental Legends.=


_BY LADY WOOD._

=Sabina.=


_BY EDMUND YATES._

  =Castaway.=
  =The Forlorn Hope.=
  =Land at Last.=


_ANONYMOUS._

 =Paul Ferroll.=

 =Why Paul Ferroll Killed his Wife.=

       *       *       *       *       *

 Fcap. 8vo, picture covers, =1s.= each.


 =Jeff Briggs's Love Story.= By BRET HARTE.


 =The Twins of Table Mountain.= By BRET HARTE.


 =Mrs. Gainsborough's Diamonds.= By JULIAN HAWTHORNE.


 =Kathleen Mavourneen.= By Author of "That Lass o' Lowrie's."


 =Lindsay's Luck.= By the Author of "That Lass o' Lowrie's."


 =Pretty Polly Pemberton.= By the Author of "That Lass o' Lowrie's."


 =Trooping with Crows.= By Mrs. PIRKIS.


 =The Professor's Wife.= By LEONARD GRAHAM.


 =A Double Bond.= By LINDA VILLARI.


 =Esther's Glove.= By R. E. FRANCILLON.


 =The Garden that Paid the Rent.= By TOM JERROLD.

  J. OGDEN AND CO., PRINTERS, 172, ST. JOHN STREET, E.C.


       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Italic text is indicated by _underscores_. Bold text is indicated by
=equal signs=.

Table of Contents created by the transcriber and placed into the
public domain.

Minor punctuation and printer errors repaired.

Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully
as possible, including obsolete and variant spellings and other
inconsistencies.





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