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Title: Princess Napraxine, Volume 3 (of 3)
Author: Ramé, Maria Louise
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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

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PRINCESS NAPRAXINE

III.



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



PRINCESS NAPRAXINE


BY

OUIDA

[Illustration]

IN THREE VOLUMES

VOL. III.

  London
  CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY
  1884

  [_All rights reserved_]



  TABLE OF CONTENTS
  Chapter 34      1
  Chapter 35     62
  Chapter 36     92
  Chapter 37    115
  Chapter 38    136
  Chapter 39    163
  Chapter 40    179
  Chapter 41    197
  Chapter 42    226
  Chapter 43    243
  Chapter 44    257
  Chapter 45    267
  Chapter 46    270
  Chapter 47    276
  Chapter 48    284
  Chapter 49    292
  Chapter 50    315
  Chapter 51    325
  Chapter 52    327
  Chapter 53    342
  Chapter 54    354
  Chapter 55    363
  L'Envoi       375



PRINCESS NAPRAXINE.



CHAPTER XXXIV.


When Yseulte had recovered enough to travel, he took her to the Italian
lakes for awhile, to restore her to her usual health and strength,
and distract her thoughts from what had befallen her at Amyôt. With
the beginning of winter they returned, and made their home for awhile
in the great hotel of the Boulevard St. Germain, which he hated, and
where he intended to remain for the briefest time that could suffice
for the fulfilment of those social duties of which Friederich Othmar
never ceased to remind him. There his mother's apartments had been
prepared for his wife, and every grace and attraction that the art and
the taste of the day could add to them had been added, as though the
most solicitous affection had presided over the preparation of them.
All the preferences she had shown in the country had been remembered
and gratified; whatever she had liked best in colour, in treatment, in
art, in flowers, in marble, had been consulted or reproduced in Paris;
and even a large dog to which she had taken a fancy at Amyôt had been
brought thence from the kennels, and was lying before the fire when she
entered.

A much older and far wiser woman would have been persuaded to believe,
as she believed, that in all this delicate _prévenance_ for her
pleasures and her preferences the tenderest love had spoken. She could
not divine the self-reproach of her husband's conscience, which made
him sensible that he perforce denied her so much that was her due,
and made him proportionately eager to atone for that denial by every
material enjoyment and outward mark of affection and of homage. All
those who surrounded him, all his acquaintances, his household, and his
dependents, imagined that he loved his young wife. The person who was
in nowise deceived was Friederich Othmar.

'He is like a Sultan,' thought the old man angrily, 'a Sultan who loads
the women of his zenana with ropes of pearls and emeralds as big as
pigeon's eggs, that they may not perceive that he only visits them
twice a year!'

By the law of the attraction of contrasts, there had arisen a mutual
attachment between her and Baron Fritz: the unscrupulous old man, for
whom as for Turcaret the whole world was composed of shareholders, felt
more reverence and tenderness for Yseulte than he ever felt in his life
for anyone; and she, who only saw his devotion to Othmar, his admirable
manners, his shrewd wit, and his paternal kindness to herself, grew
fond of, and grateful to, him, and was wholly ignorant of that
mercilessness and selfishness which would have immolated all mankind
to the service of his personal ambitions, and to which all morality or
humanity appeared as absurd as they did to Fouquet or to Talleyrand.

Friederich Othmar incessantly strove to inspire her with his own
passion for the House he adored, and though he failed because she
was too thoroughly patrician in all her instincts to easily welcome
such impressions, and was more apt to share her husband's disdain for
all such ambitions, he did succeed in persuading her that the future
content of Othmar himself would depend on the measure of the interest
which he would take in those great fortunes of which he held the key.

'Understand this, my child,' he would say, 'a man in old age never
forgives himself for the occasions which he has let slip in youth;
and every man who in youth is _désœuvré_, pays for it heavily when
age has come. Otho is a clever man, but he has the sickness of his
century; he is indifferent to everything' ('even to you!' he thought
impatiently). 'We call it the malady of the time; I do not know that we
are right. It existed in Petronius Arbiter's, but it had no existence
in our immediate forefathers'. However, you do not care for abstract
discussions; you care for Otho. Well, let us confine ourselves to Otho.
Nowadays, he is still a young man; he thinks he can afford to despise
all things because he has strength, and health, and every form of
enjoyment accessible to him--and he is certainly rich enough to play at
cynicism all day if it amuse him most.'

'He is no cynic,' said Yseulte, quickly.

Baron Fritz smiled.

'A little of Alceste, surely? You read "Le Misanthrope," even at your
convent, I imagine? My dear child, people always desire the fate they
have not. Alfred de Vigny, with his sixteen quarterings, was always
in rebellion against the fate of the poor gentleman; Otho, one of the
richest men in Europe, is always rebelling against his riches as a
chain and a species of dishonour. Now, it is for you to reconcile him
to them; it is for you to persuade him that in the interests of his
House lie those occupations and obligations which will not pall upon
him as he grows older. I have known men weary of love and pleasure,
but I have never known them weary of ambition. Otho scorns vulgar
ambitions, but there are those which are not vulgar. In finance, as
in life, there is no standing still. In his present mood he would be
delighted if ruin were possible to us; it is not possible. Short of a
European war that should last thirty years, nothing can harm us much.
Still, no great house can long stand without a chief who cares for
its welfare and honour. Like Catherine II., "je lis l'avenir dans le
passé." A wise statesman has always the past of the world spread out
before him like an ordnance map for his guidance. So may we also, in
the past history of such houses as our own, see what has led to their
ruin, and so guide ourselves to avoid those evils in our own case.
Now, nothing has been so commonly the cause of _krach_ in financial
establishments as their being afflicted with imprudent or indifferent
members. Otho is not very often imprudent, but he is entirely
indifferent. Certainly,' continued the Baron, with pardonable pride,
'the Maison d'Othmar is too solidly established, too greatly important
to the public life of Europe, to be easily imperilled by a young man's
foibles. Still, I cannot disguise from myself the fact that when I am
no more there will be no check on his eccentricities, no stimulus to
his apathy. He will be ill served because he will at once expect too
much virtue from men, and observe them with too little suspicion. The
ship is sound and safe, and sure to have fair winds, but if the man at
her helm be reading his Horace or his La Bruyère instead of steering
by his chart, the ship may founder in clear weather and calm seas. You
understand me?'

Metaphor was very unusual to him; he only condescended to use it for
sake of making his meaning clearer to the feebleness of a feminine
mind.

'Yes, I understand quite well,' she replied, with a little sigh. 'But I
have no influence; he would think me impertinent; and I am sure no one
will care for the honour of the House more truly than he.'

'Commercially speaking, there are two kinds of honour,' said Friederich
Othmar. 'The fantastic and visionary one he will always maintain,
but the practical one, which lies in doing your utmost for all the
interests centred in yours, he will neglect. If I were to tell him that
we must collapse to-morrow, he would give up everything, down to his
pet edition of Marcus Aurelius, to satisfy our debts; but if I were to
tell him also how many financial schemes and companies would fall with
us, he would only reply that the world would be exceedingly well rid
of so many scoundrels. The honour is safe with him, doubtless, but the
welfare is not. I shall not live for ever; I shall probably only live
a very few years more. You must persuade your husband that his true
duties and pleasures will lie in those ambitions which his fathers
have bequeathed to him. I know that he and you would like to extinguish
the House of Othmar financially, and dwell at Amyôt with no remembrance
of the world. That is a lover's dream. My dear, simplicity and solitude
are impossible in our society; a shepherd's peace is not attainable by
a man whom the world claims. If I were to die to-morrow, and Otho to
remain as indifferent to his own interests as he is now, all that I
have done, all that his predecessors have done, would crumble away in
ten or twenty years like so much soft sandstone in a succession of wet
winters. He would not resent it now, but when he should be fifty years
old he would resent it bitterly; he would never pardon himself. It is
from this possibility that your influence must protect him.'

She hesitated, with a blush upon her face.

'I have no influence,' she said timidly. 'He knows so much better, so
much more than I----'

'Obtain influence over him,' said the old man curtly; 'for if you do
not, someone else will. Nay, my dear, pardon me; do not be hurt by
my plain speaking. Such men as Otho are always influenced by women;
he should be so now by you; he will be so if you will leave off
worshipping him timidly, making him your law and your religion, and
realise that you are an exquisitely lovely woman, with mind enough not
to be the mere toy of any man. You are very young, it is true, but you
have grown ten years in a few months. You must remember that to be in
love is very agreeable, no doubt, but you are not his mistress; you are
his wife. You must not think only of the immediate moment, but of the
far future when he will not be in love with you, _ma belle_, nor you
with him, but when you may still influence him nobly and wisely, and he
may find in you his safest friend.'

Yseulte listened, with a little sigh.

It seemed to her as if all her happy illusions were taking wing,
like the group of amorini which flew away from a weeping nymph on
the ceiling of her room, which had been painted by Bourgereau. They
were seated in one of her own apartments, a very bower of primroses
and white lilac, panelled in the Louis Seize style, with Bourgereau's
charming children in groups within each panel above the satin couches.
Between the curtains, there were glimpses through the windows of the
cedars and wellingtonias of the gardens. Without, it was a chilly
winter's day, but within, it was warm as summer, mellow with soft
colour, fragrant with innumerable flowers; even to this great hotel
of the Boulevard S. Germain, which had always seemed to Othmar the
most oppressive and detestable of all his many mansions, the advent of
Yseulte had brought a grace and light and sweetness as of young and
innocent life, a charm of home to these splendid and desolate suites of
rooms. Her dogs lay on the hearth, her voice called the peacocks in the
lonely gardens, her scores of Beethoven and Schubert and Berlioz lay
open on the grand pianos. Even the look of the great bouquets in the
Japanese bowls and the jars of Saxe and Sèvres was different: her hand
had added a rose there, a fern here; they were flowers which were there
because she loved them, not only because they served for decorations
grouped by skilful servants as mere masses of colour. The great house,
sombre in its Bourbon stateliness, magnificent in its architecture,
but oppressive in its too continual display of wealth, was no longer
'une maison sans musique, une ruche sans abeilles;' it had gained a
charm which was none the less perceptible because undefinable and
impalpable, as the scent of the tea-roses in the tall Sèvres jars. But
Friederich Othmar was more sensible of this than was the possessor of
the house and of her. Friederich Othmar, who had lived for fifty years
and more without perceiving that he had never had, or wished to have,
a home, perceived that his nephew had one and scarcely appreciated it.
Friederich Othmar himself became suddenly alive to the pleasure of
finding something home-like in that corner of her boudoir where she
drew a Japanese screen between him and the draught from the windows,
brought him his cup of green tea, and listened with an interest fresh
and unfeigned to his anecdotes, his reminiscences, and his counsels:
but he found Othmar there less often than he would have wished.

'He will be glad of that _coin du feu_ some day,' he thought angrily;
annoyed by a neglect which Yseulte herself did not perceive. She
had been used to solitude; she was neither vain nor exacting; she
understood that everything could not be in Paris altogether as it had
been at Amyôt; and if she gave a sigh to that necessity, she bravely
and tranquilly accepted it. The great world was about her with its
demands, its solicitations, its tyrannies over time and thought; she
had little leisure for meditation; the Countess Othmar could not escape
the social obligations of her position or avoid its ceremonies and its
courtesies.

She remained much graver and simpler than her contemporaries were; she
cared for none of the noisy amusements of modern fashion; the world
of pleasure seemed to her, on the whole, a little vulgar, a little
tiresome, astonishingly monotonous, even in its feverish search for the
untried and the startling. But at the same time she could not escape
from its demands, and their effects upon her, and the counsels of
Friederich Othmar incessantly reminded her that she could best serve
the honour of the name she bore by making Europe admire and praise her.
It was a counsel which contained the seeds of danger; but he read her
character aright.

'Voilà une qui ne _cascadera_ jamais,' said the Baron to himself in his
tongue of the Boulevards. He was infinitely proud of, and delighted
with her; he gave her the most magnificent presents, bought her the
rarest of jewels. He accompanied her constantly in her drives and to
the opera, and even in the visits which she paid.

'It is Baron Fritz whom Othmar's marriage has reformed!' said a pretty
woman, who had long considered the silver-haired financier as her own
especial prey. He took a paternal pleasure in the admiration which the
rare patrician graces of the girl awoke in that _tout Paris_ which he
had long considered the lawgiver of the universe.

'If you had been Marie Antoinette, there might have been no
revolution,' he said jestingly to her. 'You would never have flirted
with Ferson, nor would you have played at shepherdessing, or worn a
mask in the Palais Royal.'

'I think I should only have thought of France,' she answered.

'Which would not have prevented you from going to the guillotine, I
dare say,' said the Baron. 'Nations are the concentrated distillation
of the ingratitude of men. There is only one thing which one can
always count on with absolute certainty, and that is, the general and
individual thanklessness.'

Nothing was further from his thoughts than to cloud over the trust,
confidence, and faith of her innocent optimism. He spoke as he thought
and felt, and as a long experience of mankind had taught him to do,
without reflecting that he dropped the bitterness of gall into a fair
and limpid spring, which had seen nothing above its waters save the
white lily-cups and the blue heavens.

'She will be robbed right and left endlessly if she be not taught a
little mistrust,' he said to Othmar himself, who replied:

'Let her be robbed of everything rather than of her illusions. This is
the only loss from which we never recover.'

'What an absurd idea!' thought the Baron, who had never cherished any
illusions at all, and had found life exceedingly entertaining and
enjoyable without them.

The practical mind can no more understand the regrets of the meditative
one than a manufacturer, spending his days by choice amidst the roar of
steam wheels and the ledgers of a counting-house, can understand the
artist's anguish when he is shut up in a city garret whence he cannot
see a sunset or a sunrise.

'The woes of the body, I grant, may be too much for one's philosophy,'
the Baron was wont to say. 'With the gout, or neuralgia, or sciatica,
Seneca's self might fail to retain serenity. But the sorrows of
the emotions or of the imagination are so entirely fictitious that
anyone, by the exercise of a little self-control, may put them aside
completely.'

'What! Even the losses of death?' objected some one once.

The Baron smiled:

'Death cannot affect you very greatly unless you have already committed
an act of unwisdom--that is, have already attached yourself to some
other life than your own.'

'Then where is love?' said his interlocutor.

'Where it has always been,' said Friederich Othmar, 'chiefly in the
senses partially in the imagination. When we have both the senses
and the imagination under the control of our temperate judgment, it
cannot disturb us seriously. In my youth, and even in my maturity,' he
continued, with complacence, 'I have dallied with love as well as other
men, but the moment that I felt that any one passion was likely to
exercise undue influence upon me, I withdrew myself from it. To break a
chain is difficult, but never to let it be forged is easy.'

He thought it his duty to put his young favourite on her guard against
all the deceptions and delusions which the world prepares for its
novices; he told her much more than her husband would have done of all
the intricacies and meanings of the varied life which was about her,
gave her the key to many of its secrets, and the hidden biographies of
many of its personages.

'You are in the world, you must understand the world,' he said to her;
'if not, it will be a mere labyrinth to you, and you will be lost in
it. You need not become a _mondaine_ with your heart, but you must
become one with your head, or the _mondaines_ will devour you. It
is not necessary that you should gamble or swear or get into debts
for your petticoats, as they do; but it is necessary that you should
understand the society of your time. At Amyôt you may be a young saint,
as heaven meant you to be, but in Paris you must be able to hold your
own against those who are the reverse of saints. Otho ought to teach
you all this himself, but he will not, so you must listen to me. I have
not been so engrossed in the gold market all my days that I do not
know _la haute gomme_ down to the ground. In my leisure I have always
gone into the world: the boudoir of a pretty woman is always much more
amusing than a card-table or a pistol-gallery. _L'Ecole des Femmes_ is
the one to which every wise man goes.'

He paused, with a consciousness that he had better not pursue that
theme.

'My child,' he resumed, as the carriage rolled down the Bois, 'you
are not seventeen; you are in love with your husband; you sweep your
conscience every morning with a palm-leaf to make sure there is no
little film of a cobweb left in it; you think life is such a simple
and beautiful thing that you have only to get up and go to bed as the
sun does. You hear quantities of compliments, but you pay no attention
to them; you are altogether as innocent as a flower, and you are quite
exquisite like that--it suits you; but, all the same, you cannot go on
like that for ever. Men might let you, for we are not as black as we
are painted, but women will not. It is from women that your sorrows
will come, that your perception of evil will come, that your enemies
will come. Satan, pardon me the word, would take off his hat to you and
pass by on the other side, for he, too, is not as black as he has been
painted. But women will not feel what Satan would feel; they are much
more hard to touch. It is women whom you must try to understand; you
can analyse without imbibing, as chemists do poisons.'

'Must one analyse at all?' said Yseulte, a little wistfully.

Such abrupt and familiar allusions to Satan disturbed the awe in
which she had been reared at Faïel; but she was growing used to the
perception that all the things which she held most sacred were mere
Mother Goose's tales to the world in general, and to understand why
her cousin Clothilde, who had her emblazoned chair at S. Philippe du
Roule and occupied it so regularly, and was so heedful all Lent to
wear the strictest mourning costume without a shred of lace, had yet
not a grain of real religion in her. She began to comprehend what
Blanchette had meant by all her rapturous felicitations, and sometimes
the proud and austere young soul of her was humiliated to think that
these mere material pleasures should have any attraction for her: she
felt that her grandmother's ascetic and haughty teachings would have
condemned such joys as mundane and vulgar. But the pleasure of them
was there, nevertheless, and she was too honest in her self-analysis
to dissimulate before her conscience. Unworldly as temperament and
education alike made her, Yseulte was feminine enough and accessible
enough to such vanities for all the possessions into which she entered
to amuse and please her with their novelty and the sense of power which
they gave. She was but a child in years, and the large households
deferential to her slightest word, the grand equipages ready for her
whim and fancy, the beautiful horses which bore her with the fleetness
of the wind, the vast houses through which she could wander, conscious
that she was the mistress of them all, the innumerable beauties of
art which they contained, the caskets and coffers full of jewels and
baubles, all these things beguiled her time and gratified that pride
which a very young girl always feels in the sudden assumption of
womanhood. She began to understand why all her companions at Faïel
had thought her so fortunate. Her serious and spiritual nature made
her feel a little ashamed at finding so much interest in such earthly
treasures; in her self-examination she reproved herself, and almost
contemned herself. But she was too young not to take such irresistible
delight in all these things as a child takes in butterflies or poppies;
it was delightful to say 'I wish,' and see her wishes accomplished as
by magic; it was charming to give away right and left, as out of a
bottomless purse; it was amusing to command, to confer, to be regarded
as the source of all favours and all fortune, as the people of Amyôt
and the household of Paris regarded her. In time, the delicacy of
her taste, the seriousness of her intelligence, might probably make
these possessions and privileges pall on her; in time she would see
sycophancy where she now saw only devotion, and grow weary of a loyalty
only rooted in self-interest; but, at the onset, life was to her like a
fairy story, her empire was one on which the sun never set and in which
the spring-time never waned.

Othmar never said one word which could have served to disenchant
her. Conscious that he could not give her all the singleness of love
which was her due, he strove to atone for any wrong he did her so by
multiplying around her every physical gratification, and giving her an
unlimited power of self-indulgence.

In this new life she was like a child who stands amidst the
bewilderment of its crowd of New Year presents; sometimes she thought
of herself as she had been six months before, sitting in the shadow of
the stone cloisters at Faïel, in her dust-coloured convent frock, with
the blue ribbon of merit crossing her breast and some holy book open on
her hands, with a kind of wondering pity and strangeness, and a sense
of being herself far, very far, away from any kinship with that sad
grey figure.

That so little of egotism was aroused in her in this hot-house
existence which she led, was due to the generosity and simplicity
of her instincts, on which the contagion of worldly influences had
little power. To send a silver crucifix to Faïel, or a piece of fine
lace to Nicole, still gave her greater pleasure than to wear her own
great diamonds or see the crowds in the Champs Elysées look after her
carriage with its liveries of black velvet and white satin.

Meanwhile she had the natural feeling of every unselfish and generous
nature, that her life was not full enough of thought for others. It was
difficult for her at her age to know what to do, so as to carry out
those theories of self-sacrifice which training and temperament alike
made a religion to her.

Friederich Othmar, when he discovered this, told her, with some
impatience, that the House of Othmar always did what was expected of it
in this respect, and that its women had no occasion to trouble their
heads with such matters.

'Wherever we have been located we have always been good citizens,'
he said, with truth. 'We have always borne our due share of public
expenditure or public almsgiving; perhaps more than our due share.
Myself, I believe that all that sort of charity is a vast mistake. It
is intended as a sop to the wolves, but you cannot feed wolves on sops.
They will always want your blood, however they may lick up your mess.'

Yseulte remembered that S. Francis had proved that even wolves may be
tamed into affection and usefulness; but though she believed firmly in
that legend, she hesitated to put it forward, even as an allegory, as
evidence against the arguments of the Baron. She did not lack courage,
nor even that truest courage, the courage of opinion, but she had been
reared in the old traditions of high breeding, which make contradiction
a vulgarity, and, from the young to the old, an offence.

'I hope you will not make yourself into a sort of Judith Montefiore,'
continued the Baron irritably. 'We are not Jews. Jews must do that
kind of thing to get themselves tolerated. We could forgive them the
Crucifixion, but we cannot forgive them their percentage. Though we are
not Jews, Otho has already done some Quixotic things in the Montefiore
fashion. I hope you will not encourage him to continue them.'

'Tell me what they were,' she said, with the light in her eyes and the
colour in her face.

'Not I,' said the Baron; 'I much prefer to see him smoking à Londrès at
the Jockey.'

'Had he ever any very great sorrow?' she ventured to ask.

'None, my dear, but what he chose to make for himself,' replied
Friederich Othmar, with contempt. 'Do you remember Joubert's regret
that he could not write his thoughts on the bark of trees by merely
looking at them?--well, Otho's griefs are much as baseless. As if,' he
added, 'as if there were any real grief in the world,--except the gout!'

'He is like Obermann, like Amiel,' she said timidly. She had read
passages in the volumes of those dreamy and isolated thinkers in the
library of Amyôt. Friederich Othmar shrugged his shoulders; those names
signified to him the very lowest deeps of human ineptitude and folly.

'Men who were so afraid of disappointment and disillusion that they
would allow themselves to enjoy nothing! It would be as reasonable to
let oneself die of starvation as a preventive of dyspepsia! Such men
do not think; they only moon. The cattle that lie and graze under the
trees have meditations quite as useful. My child,' he added, 'would
you be wise or foolish if you threw all your diamonds into the river
in anger because they were not stars? That is what your husband does
with his life. You must learn to persuade him that the stars are
unattainable, and that the diamonds represent a very fair and fruitful
kingdom if not the powers of the air.'

Yseulte sighed wistfully. She vaguely felt that it was not within her
means to reconcile him with the world and fate; she had not the magic
wand.

'I am always in dread,' continued the Baron, 'that you, with your
religious ideas, and he, with his impatience of his position, will do
something extraordinary and Quixotic; will turn S. Pharamond into a
_maison de santé_, or this hotel into a lazar-house for cancer. I shall
never be surprised at any madness of that sort.'

Yseulte sighed a little.

'But, there is the misery of the world all around us,' she ventured to
say; 'if we could alleviate it, would it not be worth any sacrifice?'

'My dear,' said Baron Fritz, 'when Napoléon gave the opium at Jaffa, he
did more to alleviate suffering than all the philanthropists have ever
done. Yet it has been always brought against him as his worst action. I
went once, out of curiosity, to see the Incurables at the hospital of
la Salpêtrière. Well, if false sentiment did not prevent the treatment
à la Jaffa taking place there, an infinitude of hideous suffering and
of hideous deformity would be mercifully nded. But the world is so
sentimental that it will send several hundred thousand of young and
healthy men to endure all kinds of tortures in war for a question of
frontier, or a matter of national etiquette, but it esteems it unlawful
to kill idiots or drug to death incurables cursed with elephantiasis or
leprosy.'

Yseulte's clear eyes grew troubled; these views of life were perplexing
to her. At Faïel all such contradictions had been simply accepted as
ordained under one unquestioned and divine law; the conversation of
Friederich Othmar depressed and bewildered her, but she could perceive
its reason. It made her reflect; it made her more of a woman, less of
a child. He thought that was for the best. If she were not educated in
some worldly knowledge, the world would make an easy prey of her.

'Otho treats her as if she were an ivory madonnina who would remain
aloof on an altar all her days,' he said to a woman he knew. 'On the
contrary, she is a beautiful creature, about whom all the world will
buzz and sting like bees about a lily. She must be taught not to throw
away her honey. She is just now in the clouds; she is very much in
love with a man who is not in love with her; she is full of ideals and
impossible sentiments. She is half a child, half an angel; but to hold
her own in the world she must be something else--not so angelic and
not so childish,--and she must learn to esteem people at their value,
which is for the most part very small. It would be even well if she
could see Otho as he is; she would take life more easily. She would
not be so likely to fall headlong from a heaven of adoration into a
stone well of disillusion. Truths live at the bottom of these wells, no
doubt, but they are not agreeable, and they give a shock to sensitive
people. A woman is prettier when she is sensitive. It is like piety
or charity--it is an essentially feminine ornament, but it is not a
quality which wears well.'

His friend laughed.

'Do you think Othmar will thank you for so educating his wife?'

'He has never thanked me for anything that I have done,' he replied.
'But that does not prevent me from doing what I consider is my duty, or
is most wise.'

'Say wisdom,' returned the lady. 'That suits you better than duty. Duty
is ridiculous if you do not let _le bon Dieu_ pose behind it.'

'I know people say so,' answered the Baron; 'but it is only an idea. In
practical life agnostics and disbelievers of every sort make just as
good citizens as the pietists.'

With the second week of December there was a great social event in
Paris. The Hôtel Othmar was opened to the world. 'The gates of Janus
unclose,' said one who deemed himself a wit in allusion to a war, then
in embryo, into whose conception and gestation the gold of the Othmar
was considered to enter largely.

The Boulevard S. Germain and all its approaches were like rivers of
light, and the sound of carriage wheels was like the roll of artillery.
'Tout Paris' flocked there, and even the Faubourg disdained not to pass
through those immense gates of gilded bronze, which were nicknamed
of Janus, since the mistress of the salons within was by birth
incontestibly a Comtesse de Valogne.

'Tiens, tiens, tiens!' murmured Aurore de Vannes. 'Is it possible
for twelve months to have so changed a _fillette_ into a goddess!
Really, we were all wrong, and Othmar was right. We all thought her a
_pauvrette_, to be put away in a holy house; he had the sense to see
that she would become superb, and would set him right with all the
Faubourg. The Faubourg was always well inclined to him, because his
grandmother was a de Soissons-Valette, but his marriage has made him
one of them: he is definitely placed for ever. Really, I never gave him
credit for so much foresight when he sent that ivory casket. I thought
it was only a caprice.'

'Othmar cares not a straw for the Faubourg,' said her husband, out of
the pure spirit of contradiction. 'He will never give his millions to
carry on a Holy War or restore the throne. He is more likely to dream
of a great Western empire with its capital at the Golden Horn. He is a
Slavophile.'

'He is wholly indifferent to politics; it is Baron Fritz who is the
political conspirator,' returned the Duchesse. 'Otho is a mere dreamer,
and he used to be a discontented one. Perhaps he is not so now.'

'He does not look especially happy; she does. I confess I should be
sorry for him to become contented; the contemplation of his discontent
has always reconciled me with having nothing myself,' said a great
diplomatist, whose debts were as considerable as his talents.

'If he be not contented----' began the Duc, and paused, conscious that
for him to say anything except a jest of any marriage under the sun
would appear supremely ridiculous to his companions. Yet his admiration
for Yseulte was not dormant, and took a still warmer character as he
saw her in the _grande tenue_ of a woman of the world, with the Othmar
diamonds, long famous and long unseen, on her fair hair and her white
breast.

'She has too many jewels for such a child,' he said irritably. 'She is
covered with them like an Indian idol. That is so like a financier's
love of display!'

'I dare say he has given them to her as you give toys to a child,'
replied the diplomatist. 'Othmar has no faults of display. What has
been almost ridiculous in him has been a simplicity of taste not in
accord with his millions. But his wife is so very handsome that she may
well betray him into some vanities.'

Twelve months had truly made in her that almost magical transformation
which passion can cause in a very young and innocent girl who, from
entire seclusion and absolute ignorance, is suddenly thrown into the
arms of a man whom she has scarcely seen, yet timidly adores. She had
lost her extreme spirituality of expression, but she had gained a
thousand-fold in other ways. Her form had developed, her whole person
had become that of a woman instead of a child; she was many years older
than she had been one short year before, when, in her little quiet
chamber under the woods of Faïel, she had only thought of love as a
mystical religious emotion, and of herself as the betrothed of Christ.

She filled her place, and did the honours of her house with a calm
grace which had nothing of the hesitation or the awkwardness of youth.
He had told her what to do, and she did it with perfect ease, and that
dignity which had so become her when she had curtsied to Melville as a
little child in the old, dusky house in the Ile Saint-Louis. In manner
she might have been a Queen of France for five-and-twenty years. It
was only in the unworn transparency of the fair skin, beneath which
the blood came and went so warmly, the slenderness of the lines of
her form, the childlike naïveté of her smile, that her exceeding
youthfulness was still revealed.

She made no single error; she said little, but she said always what
was needful and becoming; she received each one of her guests with the
phrase that pleased them, with the observances that were due to them;
there was no hesitation or awkwardness in her. Even women who watched
her, as her cousin did, with a malicious wish to find her at fault
somewhere, were forced to confess to themselves that she bore herself
admirably. If she had a defect, it was that she appeared a little cold.
She was always exquisitely courteous; she was never familiar.

'She has the manner of the last century,' said Madame de Vannes, 'of
the last century, before the women of Marie Antoinette rode donkeys and
milked cows.'

To see that baby who six months ago had never spoken to any man except
her confessor, and never worn any ornament except her convent medal,
receiving sovereigns and princes and ambassadors, _de puissance à
puissance_, and wearing diamonds which were ten times bigger, finer,
and in greater profusion than her own, made her very angry, and yet
made her laugh. She had seen many transformations of _fillettes_ into
great ladies, but none quite so rapid, so striking, or so complete as
that of her young cousin into the mistress of the Hôtel Othmar.

'I wish Nadine Napraxine were here this evening,' she thought with that
good-humoured malice which enjoys a friend's annoyance without meaning
any real unkindness.

'All Paris will talk of your ball and much more of you to-morrow,' said
de Vannes during the evening to his wife's cousin. 'Does that please
you as much as it pleases most of them?'

'I shall not think about it,' replied Yseulte, simply.

'But I imagine you read the journals?'

'No, never.'

'Never!' he echoed, incredulously. 'Why is that?'

She hesitated, then answered with a little blush: 'He has told me not;
he thinks they are foolish.'

'Othmar?' asked the Duc, with a laugh. 'Do you obey him as you did the
Mother Superior?'

'Why not?' said Yseulte gently, but coldly.

'Why not!' he said irritably. 'Well, because you should begin as you
wish to go on; you will not care for that state of servitude long; it
would be better never to accustom him to it.'

'Excuse me, my cousin, I see Madame de Tavernes is looking for me,'
said Yseulte, as she went to speak with a Duchesse whose genealogical
tree mounted to the remote ages before the long-haired kings; a stately
and powdered person who had issued from the retirement in which she
usually lived to honour the first great entertainment of the daughter
of Gui de Valogne.

The Duc was rebuffed and annoyed.

'She has learned her _riposte_ already,' he thought, 'and she has
not forgotten the locket. I wonder if he care? If he want to be free
himself, he had better put her on a course of _petits journaux_ at
once. There is no recipe like that for corrupting the mind and debasing
the taste. How handsome she is! What a lovely face--what a lovely
form!--and only seventeen even now! She will be in perfect beauty for
the next ten years. If he be not a very ardent or a very assiduous
husband, he will not be able to keep all that to himself; he will have
many rivals, and he will be sure to be unfaithful himself:--then she
will read the journals and learn how women console themselves.'

At five o'clock that morning her rooms were empty, her guests were
gone, and her woman had undressed her, and put on her a _négligée_
of white silk; her hair was unloosened and fell behind her like a
cascade of gold; all the great jewels were strewn on the table near;
she was looking at her own reflection in the large oval silver-framed
mirror before her; she smiled a little as she did so; her eyes were
luminous, her cheeks were flushed; she was sensible of no fatigue, she
was only elated with her own triumphs. She had had a girlish pleasure
in receiving her cousins in that magnificent house; she had had an
innocent triumph in showing how well she could fill the part of a woman
of the world; she felt like a child who has played a queen's part in
some pageant, and played it well; something of the insidious charm of
the world had begun to steal on her; something of its vanity and of its
rivalry had begun to attract her;--very little, for her nature was too
proud, too pure, and too serious to yield easily to these temptations,
but something nevertheless. Only as yet her one dominant thought was of
him in it all. Had he also been content; had there been nothing that he
could have desired otherwise?

She turned with a smile, half timid still, as he knocked at the door
and entered her chamber. Her attendants withdrew at a sign from him; he
took her in his arms and kissed her.

'I thank you for all your triumphs, dear,' he said kindly. 'They are
mine.'

'Did I really do well?' she said doubtfully, but joyfully.

'Perfectly, perhaps almost too well; Paris will talk too much of you.'

'I forgot nothing?' she asked, still anxiously.

'You forgot nothing, and you looked--much too beautiful for men quickly
to forgive me! No, dear, I do not flatter you; flattery would be absurd
from me to you; I tell you the simple truth.'

'I am glad,' she said simply, 'for I have nothing else to reward you
with for all you have given to me.'

She spoke shyly, for she was always in awe of him a little. Her arm,
uncovered to the shoulder as the loose folds of the sleeve fell away
from it, stole timidly about his throat; in all her caresses there was
the hesitation of a proud and delicate nature blent with the longing
of an ardent love. Habit had not familiarised her with the relation in
which he stood to her; the brutalising intimacy of marriage had not
dwarfed or dulled her ideal and adoration of him. He was still much
less her lover than her lord.

Othmar took the bright gold of her heavy hair in his hand, and drew it
through his fingers.

'On chasse de race,' he said, with a smile. 'You receive a great crowd
as if you had been reared in a court from your babyhood.'

'You told me what to do,' she answered simply. 'It seems very easy;
besides, every one was so extremely kind.'

'The kindness of society,' thought Othmar, 'the kiss of Judas!'

But he did not say so. Let her learn for herself what it was worth, he
thought; the knowledge would come soon enough of itself.

Yseulte's face grew grave as she sat lost in thought.

'I do not think it is right to care for this sort of thing,' she said,
with hesitation. 'It is only a sort of vanity. And then all these
diamonds and these great pearls--they say they are worth millions--I do
not like to wear them whilst there are so many without clothes or food
of any kind; one knows that there is so much misery all about us here
in Paris. Is it right, do you think, to enjoy oneself in this kind of
way? I seem to remember nothing but myself all the day long----'

Othmar smiled and sighed.

'Enjoy, my child, while you can; leave all those grave thoughts for
your older years. If you like to sell your jewels, and give them all to
the poor, you can do it, but wait a few years first; wait to see more
of the world. There is a cruel science, called political economy, which
they certainly did not teach you at Faïel; you must learn something
of that before you try to decide these questions, which have vainly
perplexed every thoughtful man since rich and poor were together on
earth. And now, shut your pretty eyes, and sleep and dream of your
triumphs; they have been very innocent ones, you need not repent them.'

He kissed her again, and left her to her daybreak slumber in the warm
orange-flower-scented air of her bed-chamber; and himself went out into
the chill half-frozen streets of Paris on one of those errands of mercy
of which he never spoke to any human being, and which were the result
of his pity for men rather than of any belief or faith or sympathy that
he had with them. He was one of the few men whom the lawless classes of
Paris have ever respected.

Othmar himself could go unharmed where the police would not have
ventured to go save in force; and in the days of the Commune the worst
leaders of it had put a white cross on the great houses of which he was
master, and spared them from torch and shell for sake of the young man
who was wont to pass through the vilest quarters of Paris, with his
hand ever open and his compassion never denied. They knew that if their
_couches sociales_ could have been an accomplished fact, Othmar himself
would never have wished the old state of things maintained, but would
have accepted the new with indifference and perfect courage, himself
glad to be rid of a burden.

They forgave him his riches for sake of his own contempt for them; his
courage, even his coldness, attracted them. He had no _blague_; he was
entirely sincere; he never attempted to convert them to anything; he
aided them without putting any price on his aid, either of gratitude or
doctrine. They knew that he had neither fear of them nor love for them,
but that he had a profound sense of a common humanity with them, which
was in his eyes as in theirs another name for a common misfortune.

The times were out of joint for him. If he had been created with the
capacity of religious faith, he would have been willingly what François
Xavier or Père Lacordaire were. But he had the clear and critical
intelligence of a man of the world; the fables of faith could not give
him any mental pabulum. He took refuge in pity; it seemed to him that
men were bound to do for one another at least as much as buffaloes do,
which in trouble gather around the wounded ones of the herd.

Melville alone had found out something of what he did; Melville,
who although the sweetest-voiced, softest-handed, of churchmen and
courtiers in salon and boudoir, never feared or failed to descend into
the haunts of iniquity, to grapple with disease and crime. In such
places he and Othmar had met by chance more than once, and on one
occasion Melville had said to him: 'You have more influence than I,
because they do not suspect you; a priest is always suspected of trying
to save souls only to serve his own.'

'If I have more influence than you, they are thankless,' rejoined
Othmar; 'for you certainly love them, and I care nothing for them,
absolutely nothing.'

'Why do you serve them, then?' asked Melville, in surprise.

Othmar sighed impatiently. 'It seems to me that one is bound in honour
when fate has placed oneself beyond temptation;--besides, these reeking
breeding-pens of crime in the midst of our own luxury are horrible;
they are cancers in the very womb of human nature. Your Christianity
has endeavoured to cure them for eighteen centuries, and has always
failed miserably. The cancer grows and grows.'

Few persons save those of the police, who were perforce acquainted with
his movements, were aware of the intimacy and influence he had acquired
with the most wretched and the most dangerous classes of Paris;
the food of _maisons centrales_ and the emigrants of Nouméa. Often
Friederich Othmar wondered within himself whither went the large sums
which his nephew drew and spent without explanation; what he spent on
art and on pleasure was known, but there were often great quantities of
money taken by Othmar, in the exercise of his unquestionable right, for
the use of which all the Baron's ingenuity failed to find an account.
Numberless families redeemed from misery, many youths saved from crime
and the galleys, many grown men aided to begin new lives in other
climes, and many a foul place purged to moral and physical cleanliness,
swallowed up these millions of francs, of which the employment remained
a secret to the argus-eyes of Baron Fritz. There was a nobility about
the indifference of this very rich man to his riches which conquered
the hatred of the poor even amongst the Socialistic arrondissements,
where such hatred was the sole religion recognised. They knew that
Othmar himself was as disdainful of existent society as they were
themselves, and that although fortune had so favoured him, he was
no more content with the arrangement of the world than they were
themselves. They were continually, brutally, ungrateful, but underneath
their gratitude they liked him, and would never have harmed him.

As he walked out now into the misty air of dawn, he recalled the
lovely face, with its sleepy eyelids, of his young wife with a sharp
pang of conscience. Why could he not be content with that innocent and
undivided love?

He recalled with a sense of some great fault in himself how entirely
she was outside his life, how little hold she had upon his passions
or his emotions. She was exquisite, she was purity itself in body
and soul; he realised his own absolute possession of her as he had
never done that of any other woman. He had been, that night, proud of
her grace before the world, charmed by her manner, conscious of her
incomparable distinction; and she was his as entirely as any flower
that he might gather in a field. For him had been her first flush, her
first kiss, her first consciousness of love; and yet, as he walked
through the streets of Paris, leaving her to sink to sleep like a happy
and tired child, he was conscious that his heart was indifferent to
her; that, the mere early inclinations of the senses pacified, she had
no power to rouse in him more than the kindly and indulgent affection
which a child might have called forth by its helplessness and beauty.

He desired earnestly to make her as happy as any creature could be on
earth, and would have denied her nothing which could have helped to
make her so; but he could not command his own passions, and he could
not make her the supreme mistress of them. She was a most lovely and
most innocent creature, who was welcome to enjoy all the greatness
and the grace of life with which he could dower her; she was a young
saint who would bear his children in her breast as innocently as
the peach-blossom bears the fruit; she was at all times both dear
to him and sacred to him; but love for her was not there. He sighed
impatiently as he felt that in all his words and his caresses he acted
a part with her, that perhaps sooner or later, when the world had
taught her better what men were, she would know that, and would be no
longer so easily deceived.

As he had watched her that evening in her serenity, her gracefulness,
her dignity, he had all at once remembered that in the great world
youth grows rapidly, as a flower in a hothouse, that she would be
surrounded by many who would ask no happier task than to enlighten
her ignorance and embitter her confidence, and that if she ever came
to learn and realise that she had owed her marriage partially to his
compassion, and more still to his passion for another woman, her heart
might break under the burden of that bitter knowledge, but her pride
would never pardon the offence.

He began to feel as if he wronged her, though neither by act nor word
had he been untrue to her since her marriage. She was so charming
in every way, so delicate of thought, so graceful in expression, so
intelligent even in her ignorance, so wholly worthy to inspire and
retain the greatest love of a man's life, that he felt guilty before
her, knowing that his pulses beat no quicker when he joined her after
absence, that when her young lips, fresh as roses, touched his own, he
met them without ardour or emotion. He had wished society to attract
her; it seemed to him the quickest and the easiest compensation
that he could offer her. At the root of the willingness with which
he entertained the world, he to whom it was as indifferent as it
was commonplace, was the unacknowledged sentiment that if Yseulte
placed her happiness, as her temperament would lead her to do, in
the inner life, in the affections and in the sympathies, she would
be inevitably most miserable soon or late, since soon or late she
would discover the poverty of his own heart; and his heart was richly
endowed enough by nature to make him ashamed to think that it might
ever be so. Friederich Othmar judged him harshly but justly; his
indulgence and tenderness to her were not those of a lover, but were
the accumulated gifts with which he strove to make her blind to his own
coldness. The more he lived with her, the more he felt as though it
were an unpardonable sin to have no love to give her, and the farther
the possibility of such love receded from him. Esteem, admiration,
tenderness, even affection, may all exist only to make the absence of
love itself the more conspicuous.

As he went through the quiet streets, almost wholly deserted in
the early hour of the morning, and swept by a keen wind, a waggon
thundering along at too rapid a pace for so clumsy a vehicle caught the
wheel of a carriage, which was coming in the opposite direction. The
shock flung the carriage on the kerbstone; one of its two horses fell,
the other struggled like a demoniac; the coachman and servant were
thrown to the ground. Othmar naturally hastened to the spot. He was the
only person in sight. The carriage itself had oscillated violently, but
was not upset; its occupant had opened the door of it before he could
arrive at the spot, and had leaped lightly out, though wrapped in
sable furs from head to foot. When he reached the place, the fur-clad
figure was standing in calm contemplation of the harm which had been
done, and of the struggling horses which the coachman, who had sprung
to his feet, was endeavouring to pacify.

'Othmar, is it you?' said a voice whose clear and sweet vibration sent
the blood to his temples; and the eyes of Nadine Napraxine looked at
him from under the sable lining of her velvet hood.

The waggon had blundered on out of sight, its driver in terror of the
distant figure of a sergeant-de-ville who had now approached the scene.
The fallen men had both found their feet, and the horses were still
throwing themselves from side to side with broken traces and slippery
pavement adding to the difficulty increased by their terror.

Othmar's own _coupé_, which followed him at a distance, had now come
up, and his servants assisted hers. He opened the door of his own
carriage.

'Pray accept it,' he said hurriedly. 'They will drive you where you
wish; I will stay and help your people.'

'My people are idiots,' she said, as she gave them a disdainful glance.
'The waggon was large enough to be seen. I was coming from the Gare du
Nord; my women and the _fourgons_ are behind me. What are you about at
this hour? Does the Countess Othmar allow you to be out so early--or so
late?'

There was a grain of malice in the accent of the words; Othmar coloured
despite himself, yet knew not why. He felt his whole being thrill at
the mere sound of the sweet, cruel, well-remembered tones, and hated
her.

She looked at him as they stood together on the kerbstone of the
deserted and foggy street. She was enveloped in her long fur mantle,
and none of the lines of her figure were traceable: she had no more
contour than an Esquimaux. Yet, nevertheless, that incomparable grace
which belonged to her--as its movement to a bird, as its fragrance to
a flower--seemed to detach itself, and escape, even from the heavy
shapeless covering of the travelling-cloak in which she had been
wrapped throughout her long express journey from Russia hither by way
of Berlin and Strasburg. There was nothing visible of her except her
starry eyes, and yet all the irresistible power which she possessed
made his pulses fast and his thought confused; he strove against his
own weakness, and pressed his offer on her with a cold courtesy.

'Well, I will take it since you wish it,' she said, as she entered his
_coupé_. 'You will say who I am to this sergeant-de-ville, and whatever
else may be necessary, though it is no case for the police since the
waggoner has made good his escape; and if he had not, I certainly
should let him alone. Tell your men my address--you remember it? _Au
revoir!_ I shall come and witness your happiness. Many things from me
to your wife.'

They were only the usual words of commonplace politeness, yet to the
ear of Othmar they were fraught with a thousand meanings. 'C'est le ton
qui fait la musique,' and the tone of these perfectly simple sentences
had for him irony, mockery, menace, and ridicule. Remember her address!
Remember the Hôtel Napraxine! As if to his dying day he would ever
forget the slightest trifle which had ever been associated with her!

His horses started off at a swift trot, and he lost her from sight.
The questions of the police as to the cause of the accident started
him as though someone had spoken to him in his sleep. When the matter
was over, and the disabled carriage had been dragged away by hand, and
the frightened horses led homewards by their coachman, it was too late
to go where he had intended. He returned to his own house, bathed,
dressed, and went to his library; but he could not give his attention
to what he read. Nor when, with the early hours of the forenoon,
various persons came to see him by appointment, could he confine his
thoughts to the subjects under consideration.

At noon he gave his card to a servant, and told the man to go and
inquire at her hotel if the Princess Napraxine had suffered any
inconvenience from the accident of that morning.

The servant brought him back one of the small pale-rose-tinted notes,
folded in three, with the crown embossed in silver, which he knew so
well. The few lines in it said only:

'Merci bien. Vous êtes toujours preux chevalier. Je n'ai rien souffert
du tout. Le Prince vous remerciera.--N. N.'

It was the merest trifle, a thing of no import, such as she wrote by
scores every week to numbers of indifferent people; yet it had a sort
of fascination for him. He could not destroy it; its faint subtle
scent, like that of a tea-rose, recalled so vividly the charm of the
woman who had written it; it seemed to him as if no one but Nadine
Napraxine could have sent that little note, coloured like a sea-shell,
delicate as a butterfly, with its miniature and _mignonne_ writing.
Ashamed of his own weakness, and angry with himself for his own
concessions, he threw it into a drawer of his bureau and turned the key
on it.

He had not seen her for a year, and her spell was unbroken; all he had
done to escape from it was of no avail. One glance of her eyes from
beneath the furs in that bleak, grey, misty daybreak, had sufficed to
re-establish her dominion. He was conscious that life seemed no more
the same to him since that chance encounter; it would be more troubled,
more excited, more disturbed, but it would not be again the dull and
even course which it had seemed to be when he had entered absent from
her.

'I will never see her, except in a crowd,' he said to himself, whilst
he remembered, with self-reproach, the tender caresses of Yseulte,
which left him so calm, and even in his heart so cold!

Of course he had known that the Princess Napraxine, who was more
Parisienne than the Parisiennes, would, sooner or later, return to her
home there; would sooner or later reappear in the society which she had
always preferred to all other. Russia had never held her long, and the
seclusion which both her taste and her irritation had made her seek
after the suicide of Seliedoff could not, in the nature of things, have
lasted longer than one season. Yet the sense that she was there within
a few streets of him, separated only by a few roods of house-roof from
him, affected him with a force altogether unforeseen. He realised in it
that there is no cure in simples for strong fevers, and that the will
of a man is as naught against the dominion of passion. Even that slight
letter, with its odour as of pale rose-buds, had a power over him which
all the loveliness and innocence of Yseulte could not exercise. The
irresistible force of his own emotions humiliated him in his own eyes.

He shrank a little, with almost a sense of guiltiness, as a little tap
came on the panels of the library door, and from behind the tapestry
the fair head of his young wife peeped cautiously.

'May I come in?' she asked, as a child might have done.

He rose with instinctive courtesy and opened the door to her.

It was noonday, and her few hours of sleep had sufficed to banish all
her fatigue, and to make her as fresh, as radiant, and as clear-eyed,
as she had been in the summer woods of Amyôt. She had none of the
languor which late hours cause in later years; she had slept as soundly
as a young fawn tired with its play, and had awakened as refreshed
as a flower that uncloses at sunrise. She wore a long loose gown of
palest blue, opening a little at the throat, with much old lace, of
which the yellow tinge made whiter still the whiteness of her skin. The
gown was of satin, and had gleams and shadows in it as she moved. Her
eyes smiled; her cheeks were flushed from her bath; her entrance had a
childish eagerness.

'Do tell me again that I did well last night,' she said, with a
child's longing for the recapitulation of its innocent triumphs.

He did not look at her as he drew her to him with a mechanical caress.

'You did perfectly,' he answered, absently. 'A great ball is a woman's
Austerlitz, I suppose. Do not let it make you in love with the world.'

'One cannot but like it,' she said, with her habitual truthfulness, a
little wistfully. 'That is what I thought last night; perhaps it is
wrong--when so many suffer----'

'They would not suffer a whit less if you did not give a ball.'

She hesitated, being still shy with him, and afraid of that which she
had never seen, but which she always dreaded, his displeasure.

'But,' she said timidly, 'when one _is_ so very happy, one wants to do
something to deserve it. You have made for me such a perfect life, I
want to give others something out of it. I should like to be useful, to
show that I am grateful; not only to give away money----'

She paused, colouring a little at her own temerity. She did not
express herself very well, because she was so much in earnest, and
so uncertain as to whether it would seem discontented or vain in her
to say so much. In an earlier moment the words would have touched
his heart; he would have probably replied by admitting her into some
association with the efforts of his own life, and some knowledge of his
own desires and regrets for humanity at large. But in that instant he
was only anxious to be alone. He answered a little absently:

'My child, ask your confessor these questions; he will show you many
ways; you think him a good man--I have too many doubts myself to be
able to solve yours.'

He spoke with a certain impatience; the harsher note grated on her
sensitive ear. She felt that her scruples, which were very honest and
sincere, did not meet with the same sympathy from him that they had
received a few hours earlier.

A shadow passed over her face and she was silent.

'My dear,' continued Othmar, a little penitently, a little
inconsistently, 'I have had such doubts as yours all my life, but no
one has ever respected me for them; not even those in whose interest
they tormented me. We cannot be wiser than all the world. If we
stripped ourselves bare to found some community or some universal
asylum, we should only be ridiculed as visionaries or as mischievous
disturbers of the public peace and of the balance of fortune. Charity
has oftener created a proletariat than it has increased prosperity.
These questions have haunted me all my life. When I have found an
answer to them, I will tell you. Until then, enjoy yourself. You are at
the age when enjoyment is most possible and most natural. I wish your
days to be happy.'

He spoke with a certain distraction; he was thinking little of what he
said, much of the eyes which had looked at him from under the gloom of
the fur in the mists of the dawn. He sighed unconsciously as he felt
that this innocent young life beside him was no more to him--hardly
more--than the flower which she wore at her throat. He recognised all
its beauty, spiritual and physical, but only as he might have done that
of a picture he looked at, of a poem he read.

'Enjoy yourself, dear; why not?' he added with kindness. 'You were
made to smile as a primrose is made to blossom, and it is now mid-April
with you.'

He kissed her, and passed his hand carelessly over her hair, then he
glanced at the clock on his writing-table.

'I must leave you, for I have an appointment to keep. What are you
going to do with your day?'

'Blanchette is to come to me. I have not seen her yet. The children are
only now up from Bois le Roy, and Toinon is ill.'

She answered him with a little sigh. She wanted him to understand, and
she could not better explain, how her own intense thankfulness for the
new joys of her life filled her sensitive conscience with a trembling
longing to become more worthy of it all, and to let the light which was
about her stream into all dark places, and illumine them with love and
peace. But she felt chilled, and discouraged, and silenced; and she
had been so accustomed to keep all rebellious thoughts mute, that she
did not dream of pursuing a theme to which he appeared indifferent.
He kissed her hand and left her. She sank down for a moment on the
writing-chair he had occupied before the table, and leaned her forehead
on her hands with the first vague sensation of loneliness which had
ever touched her since her marriage day.

'If my little child had been born alive,' she thought, 'then I should
always have known what duty to do, what use to be----'

It was an infinite trouble to her conscience that in these great
palaces of the Othmars she was as useless in her own sight as any one
of the green palm trees or the rose-hued parrots in the conservatories.
She could give money away, indeed,--almost endlessly; but that did
not seem enough to do; that counted to her as nothing, for it cost
no effort. It hurt her to feel, as she did feel vaguely, that she
was no more the companion of her husband than the marble statue of
Athene which stood at one end of his great library. He was infinitely
indulgent to her. He was perfectly courteous and kind, and generous
even to excess; but he never opened his heart to her, he never made
her those familiar confidences which are the sweetest homage that a
man can render to a woman, even when they display his own weakness or
unwisdom. She had too little experience to be able to measure all that
this meant, all of which it argued the absence; but as much perception
as she had of it mortified her. At Amyôt she had vaguely suffered from
it, but here, in Paris, he seemed very far away from her in thought and
feeling. She felt that she was but one of the ornaments of his house,
as the azaleas and palms were in their great porcelain vases.

To be exquisitely dressed, to be the possessor of some of the finest
jewels in the world, to be told to amuse herself as she chose, to
have the world at her feet, and all Paris look after her as she drove
over its asphalte, would have been enough to most women of her age to
make up perfect happiness; but it was not enough for the girl whose
thoughtful years had been passed under the sad and solemn skies of
Morbihan, and who had the sense of duty and the instincts of honour
inherited from great races who had perished on the scaffold and on the
battle-field. There was a pensive seriousness in her nature which would
not permit her to abandon herself wholly to the self-indulgences and
gaieties of the life of the world. She was too grave and too spiritual
to become one of the butterflies who flirt with folly from noonday till
night. Her chastened childhood in the darkened rooms on the Ile St.
Louis had left a gravity with her which could not easily assimilate
itself to the levity and the licence of modern society, which offended
her taste as it affronted her delicacy.



CHAPTER XXXV.


A few minutes after Othmar had left the house her groom of the chambers
ushered into the library the Duc de Vannes and his elder daughter.
Blanchette, muffled up to her dancing turquoise-coloured eyes in
sealskin, and with her small, impatient feet cased in little velvet
boots lined with fur, in which costume Carlos Durand was about to paint
her portrait for the salon, with a background of snow and frosted
boughs taken from the Bois, sprang across the long room with the speed
of a little greyhound, and embraced her cousin as if she had never
loved anyone so much in all the days of her life. They had not met for
six months, for Blanchette had been in penitence with her governesses
and the dowager Duchesse de Vannes, in the depths of the Jura; a
chastisement which had only sent her back to Paris two centimètres
taller, full of resolution to avenge herself, and more open-eyed and
quick-eared than ever.

'Ah, my dearest! How happy I am to see you again!' she cried in
ecstasy, lifting her pretty little pale face to be kissed, in a
transport of affection.

'Il faut la ménager: elle est si riche!' she had said to Toinon that
morning, who was in bed with a cold, and who had grumbled in answer,
'Autrefois elle était si bête!' to which Blanchette had judiciously
replied, 'On n'est jamais bête quand on est riche.'

De Vannes, when his little daughter's ecstasies were somewhat spent,
approached with a smile and kissed the hand of Yseulte with a
reverential but cousinly familiarity.

'Out so early!' she said in surprise. 'Surely you never used to see the
outer air till two o'clock?'

'I brought this _feu-follet_ to enjoy your kindness,' said the Duc,
'that I might have the pleasure of seeing you before all the world
does. I wished, too, to be the first to congratulate you, my cousin,
on your brilliant success last night. You were perfect, marvellous,
incredible!----'

'I think I was much like any one else,' said Yseulte, to check the
torrent of his adjectives; 'and the success of the ball was due more to
Julien than to us; he was so enchanted to have a ball to organise in
this great house after so many years without any receptions.'

'Julien is an admirable maître d'hôtel, no doubt,' answered de Vannes,
with a smile; 'and he is happy in possessing a young mistress who
appreciates his zeal and fidelity, but it is not of Julien that all
Paris is talking and sighing this morning.'

'They must be talking and sighing in their beds then,' said Yseulte, a
little impatiently. 'I thought no one was up so early as this except
myself. Is the Duchesse well? She was so kind last night; she gave so
much _entrain_----'

'You know I never see her till dinner, if then, unless I chance to
cross her in the Bois,' answered the Duc, a little irritably.

He had risen three hours too early, and had bored himself to bring
his little daughter here in his _coupé_; and he felt that so much
self-sacrifice was not likely to avail him anything except that as he
looked at Yseulte he could see for once in his life a woman who was
still prettier in the morning than at night. He himself did not bear
that trying light well; the lines about his eyes were deep and not to
be hidden by any art, his eyes were dull and heavy, his cheeks hollow,
and his moustache dyed. By night he was still one of the most elegant
of _la haute gomme_, and his natural distinction could never altogether
leave him; but his manner of life had aged him prematurely, and he felt
old beside the freshness and the youth of Yseulte.

His vanity and his good sense alike counselled him to retire from a
position which would avail him nothing; but a certain malice, which was
a part of his character, and which his little daughter had inherited
in increased degree, prompted him first to take reprisal for the
indifference of his reception. Yseulte remained standing, holding the
hand of Blanchette, evidently not desiring that he should be long
there, and giving him no invitation to protract his visit until her
breakfast hour. Blanchette's mischievous eyes watched her father's
visible annoyance with keen appreciation of it; she had not forgotten
the medallion given at Millo, and she had guessed very well why she
had received the extraordinary honour of a seat in his brougham as
he drove to the Jockey. She had been just about to leave the house
with her maid when the Duc, passing her in the vestibule, had said
carelessly: 'Is it you, you little cat? Ah, you are going to your
cousin. Well, jump in with me, and I will set you down as I pass; I am
going to the Jockey.' Now Blanchette knew as well as he did that the
way from their house to the Jockey Club did not by any means lie past
the Hôtel d'Othmar; but she had been too shrewd to say that, and too
proud of driving beside her father, who smoked a big cheroot, and told
her about the little theatres.

'Can I see Othmar?' he asked now, as he made his adieux to Yseulte.

'I am sorry, but he is just gone out,' she answered; 'I think he is
gone for some hours; I do not know where.'

'You will soon learn not to say so,' thought the Duc, diverted even in
his discomfiture by her simplicity. He said aloud:

'Do you think he may have gone to see the Napraxines? He was always
a great friend of theirs, and they arrived last night; it is in all
the papers, but then you do not read the papers. I only ask, because
I should be so glad if I could meet him anywhere. The Prefect of Nice
writes to me about the basin of Millo; now S. Pharamond has much more
sea-front and much larger share of the harbour than we have, and if
Othmar would use his influence, one word from him----'

'I will tell him; he will be sure to come to you or write to you,' she
said quickly. She had flinched a little at the name of the Napraxine,
which no one had spoken to her since that silver statue of the Love
with the empty gourd had been sent to her before her marriage.

'Bien joué, petit papa,' thought Blanchette, with understanding and
appreciation, as her father bowed himself out of Othmar's library.

'Oh, how happy you are!--how I wish I were you!' she cried, five
minutes later, as she skipped about her cousin's boudoir, while the
glow of the fire of olive-wood shone on the panels which Bougereau had
painted there with groups of those charming nude children which he can
set frolicking with almost the soft poetic grace of Correggio.

Yseulte smiled on the little impudent face of the child, who leaned her
elbows on her knees as she spoke.

'I am very happy,' she said, with perfect truth. 'But I hope you will
be as much so one day, Blanchette.'

Blanchette nodded.

'I shall marry into the finance too; the noblesse is finished;
papa says so. He said yesterday, "Nous sommes de vieux
bonzes--emballons-nous!"'

Blanchette tied her arms and legs in a knot as she had seen a clown
do, and made a pantomimic show of being rolled away on a wheelbarrow;
then she gathered herself up and came and stood before her cousin and
hostess.

'Te voilà, grande dame!' she cried, looking at her with her own little
pert flaxen head, with its innumerable little curls held on one side
critically, as she surveyed Yseulte from head to foot with a frank
astonishment and admiration. It was only such a little while ago that
Yseulte had been her butt and victim at Millo; that she had ridiculed
her for her grey convent dress, her thick shoes, her primitive, pious
habits, brought from the Breton woods, and lo!--here she stood,
'très grande dame!' as Blanchette, a severe judge in such matters,
acknowledged to herself. So tall, so elegant, so stately, with her
beautiful slender hands covered with great rings, and her morning-gown
a cascade of marvellous old lace. 'She looks quite twenty years old!'
thought Blanchette. 'How nice it must be to be married, if one get
grown up all at once like that!'

She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she was unusually quiet for
a little time, during which her terrible eyes scanned every detail of
Yseulte's appearance, from the pearl solitaire at her throat to the
gold buckles in her shoes. Then, with a shriek of laughter, she cried
aloud:

'Do you remember when you came first to us you had leather
shoes--leather!--and no heels, and mamma sent you at once to have some
proper shoes; and how you could not walk a step in them, and cried?'

'I remember,' said Yseulte good-humouredly, 'but I wonder you do--you
were so little.'

'Oh, I never forget anything,' replied Blanchette, sagely. 'What
beautiful feet you have now, and you are so grown, so grown! And I want
to see all your jewels. Mamma says they are wonderful. I love jewels.'

'You shall see them, if you like, by-and-bye. But you did see many
before my marriage.'

'But mamma says he has given you ever so many more since--that you were
covered with them at your ball.'

'He is always generous.'

Yseulte smiled as she spoke--the dreamy introspective smile of one who
recalls happy hours.

'_Tope-là_, while it lasts,' said the small cynic before her.

'Hush,' said Yseulte, with some disgust.

'Papa never gives mamma anything,' pursued Blanchette. 'Papa gives
heaps of things to Mdlle. Fraise; the one they call Rose Fraise. She
plays; she has eyes like saucers; she is at the Variétés; she rides a
roan horse in the Bois of a morning. Don't you go to the theatre every
night? When I marry I shall have a box at every house. I have gone to
Hengler's. Now show me the jewels, will you?'

To humour the child, Yseulte took her to her dressing-room, where
the tortoiseshell and silver box, which was the outer shell of the
iron fire-proof jewel case, was kept, and told her women to open it.
Blanchette remained in an almost religious ecstasy before the treasures
exposed to her adoring eyes. Nothing could awe this true child of
her century except such a display as she now saw of ropes of pearls,
streams of sapphires, emeralds green as the deep sea, diamonds in
all possible settings, rare Italian jewels of the Renaissance, and
Byzantine and Persian work of the rarest quality. She was, after an
hour's worship, with difficulty persuaded to leave the spot where such
divine objects were shut within their silver shrine defended by Chubb's
locks.

'You _are_ happy!' she said, with a sigh.

Yseulte glanced at a miniature of Othmar which stood near.

'That is worth them all!' she said, and then coloured, vexed that she
had betrayed herself to the artificial, satirical mockery of the child.

But Blanchette did not hear; she was thinking of the great diamonds
lying like planets and comets fallen out of the sky into their velvet
beds.

'_Dis donc_,' she said abruptly, 'what is your budget for your
toilettes? You would not tell me when you married; tell me now.'

'I do not think it concerns you, my dear, and your mamma knows,'
replied Yseulte.

'Oh, it made mamma very angry; she said he gave you three times as
much as she has; that is why I want to know what it is, because then
I should know what hers is. And I know she is in debt so deep!' and
Blanchette held her little hand high above her head. 'What is the
first thing you ordered, Yseulte? Me, I should order a petticoat with
valenciennes quite up to the top; like that they are three thousand
francs each. Yours are like that? You have got them in all colours, and
ever so many white satin ones too? If I were you, I should be all day
long with the _lingères_ and _costumiers_. Are you not with them all
day long?'

'No, I have ordered nothing; I want nothing; I have such quantities of
clothes;--if I live to be a hundred I shall never wear them out!----'

'Wear them out!' cried Blanchette, with a scream which was as
inimitable as a shriek of Judic's or Jeanne Granier's. 'What an
expression! One would think you were a doctor's wife in the provinces.
You know you can never wear anything more than three times, and a
_toilette du soir_ never but once. Your maids surely tell you that?----'

'I wear what they put out,' said Yseulte, a little amused. 'But I doubt
very much whether I shall ever care about _chiffons_; not in your sense
of caring, Blanchette. Of course I like pretty things, but there are so
many other ways of spending money.'

'What ways?' said the child sharply. 'Play? Horses? The Bourse? Or do
you buy big jewels? It is very safe to buy big jewels; you can run away
with them in revolution, sown in your stays----'

'There is so much to do for the poor,' said Yseulte, with a little
hesitation; she feared to seem to boast of her own charity, yet she
thought it wrong to let the child think that she spent all she had
selfishly and frivolously.

Blanchette's little rosy mouth grinned.

'For the poor? One can _quêter_; that is always amusing. I stood at
the door of S. Philippe after Mass last month, and I got such a bagful
of napoleons, and I wore a frock, _couleur de feu_, and a Henri-Trois
hat, and Monseigneur himself kissed me--it was great fun--there was a
crowd in the street, and one of them said, "'Est crâne, la pétiote!" It
was a baker's boy said it; I threw him a napoleon out of the bag.'

'Oh, Blanchette!--out of the alms money!'

'Why not? I put a dragée in instead, and I dare say the boy was poor,
or he wouldn't have had a basket on his head. Monseigneur said to mamma
that I was one of the children of heaven!'

And Blanchette made her _pied de nez_, and waltzed round on one foot.

'You could buy the whole of Siraudin's and not feel it,' she resumed
enviously. 'You could buy half Paris they say; why don't you?'

'I have all I want,' said Yseulte; 'very much more than I want.'

'That is nonsense; one need never stop wishing----'

'One must be very ungrateful then,' said Yseulte. 'But you can wish
as much as you like this morning; you shall have your wishes. Only I
should like to hear you wish that Toinon were with you. Poor Toinon, at
home with her sore throat!'

'I don't wish that at all,' said Blanchette sturdily. 'She pinches, she
gobbles, and _she_ is vulgar, if you like; she swears like the grooms.
You know our rooms overlook the stables; we can hear all the men say
when they are cleaning the horses. Toinon makes signals to the English
tiger Bob, and he to her. Toinon will only marry someone who keeps a
fine _meute_ and good colours for a hunting-dress. She only lives for
the Cours Hippique. She got her sore throat because she would go on M.
de Rochmont's break when it was raining.'

'Poor Toinon! You ought to be so fond of each other. If I had had a
sister----'

'Ab-bah!' said Blanchette; 'you would have hated her! I can never have
a scrap of pleasure in a new frock because Toinon always has one too; I
know I do not make half the effect I should do if I were all alone!'

'Hush! If Toinon died, only think how sorry you would be!'

Blanchette laughed in silence; she did not dare to say so, but she
thought that if Toinon did die it would be a bore in one way, because
death always dressed one in black, and shut one up in the house; but
otherwise--there were quantities of Toinon's things which she would
like to possess herself, and in especial a set of pink coral, which
Toinon's godmother, the Queen of Naples, had given her, which was
delicious. Blanchette's own godmother was but little use to her, being
a most religious and most rigid Marquise, who dwelt on her estates in a
lonely part of La Vendée, and only made her presents of holy books and
crucifixes and relics in little antique boxes.

'Do you know, Yseulte,' she continued, with her persistent prattle, as
she hopped round the room, examining and appraising as accurately as a
dealer at the Drouot the treasures which it contained, 'they make bets
about you at the clubs? How nice that is! Nobody is anything in Paris
till the clubs do that. Papa and the Marquis have a hundred thousand
francs on it, and mamma laughs;--they think I don't hear these things,
but I do.'

'Bets on me?' repeated Yseulte in wonder. 'Why should they bet about
me?'

'Oh, they bet as to whether you will be the first to _flanquer_ Count
Othmar, or he you. They often make that sort of bet when people marry.
Papa is all for you; he says you will be _flanquée_, and bear it like
an angel,--"like a two-sous print of S. Marie!" said mamma.'

Yseulte coloured with natural indignation.

'You have no right to repeat such things if you hear them, Blanchette,'
she said, with only a vague idea of the child's meaning. 'You might
make great mischief. If Count Othmar were to know----'

'Bah!' said Blanchette. 'You will not tell him. You are in love with
him; they all say so; it is what they laugh at: it is what they bet
about--how long it will last, who will get him away first, what you
will do, whether you will take some one else. Papa says you will not;
mamma says you will: they quarrel ever so often about it. You see,'
continued Blanchette, with her mixture of _blasé_ cynicism and childish
naïveté, which made her say the most horrible things with only a half
perception of their meaning, 'they all only marry for that, to be able
to take some one else; that is why it does not matter if one's husband
is as old as the Pont Neuf and as ugly as Punch. You happen to be in
love with your's, and he is handsome; but it only makes them laugh, and
he was never in love with you--mamma says so; he married you because he
was angry with Madame Napraxine, and he wanted to do something to vex
her.'

Blanchette, who was given to such ruthless analysis of other people,
did not dissect her own emotions, so that she was ignorant of the
malice which actuated her speech, of the unconscious longing which
moved her to put a thorn in the rose. She wanted all those jewels for
herself! She knew very well she could not have them, that she would
be laughed at by Toinon and everybody if it were known she wished for
them; still, the longing for them made it pleasant to her to plant
her little poisoned dagger in the happy breast of her cousin. But she
paused, for once frightened at the sudden paleness of her cousin's face.

Yseulte gave a little low cry, like a wounded animal; she felt the air
grow grey, the room go round her, for a moment, with the intensity
of her surprise, the shock of her pain. But in another moment she
recovered herself; she repulsed, almost without pausing to examine it,
a suspicion which was an offence to himself and her. She laid her hand
on the little gay figure of the cruel child, and stopped her in her
airy circuit of the room, with a gesture so grave, a rebuke so calm,
that even Blanchette was awed.

'My little cousin,' she said, with an authority and a serenity which
seemed all at once to add a score of years to her age, 'you can jest
with me, and at me, as much as ever you like, I shall forgive it and I
shall never forget all I owed once to your mother; but if you venture
to speak again of my husband without respect, I shall not forgive it.
I shall close his house to you, and I shall tell your parents why I do
so.'

Blanchette looked furtively up in her face, and understood that she was
not to be trifled with. She began to whimper, and then to laugh, and
then to murmur in the coaxing way she had when she had been most in
fault.

'How grand you have grown, and how old in twelve months! You know I
only talked nonsense; I never heard them say a word; I only wanted to
teaze you; it is so silly, you see, Yseulte, to be so in love with M.
Othmar, it is so bourgeoise and so stupid, and they all say that it
is not the way to keep him. Me, when I marry, I will always make my
husband call me Madame, and I will never let him touch but the tip of
my little finger, and I will eat oysters every day, and drive the horse
that wins the Grand Prix in my basket in the Bois. _Dis, donc!_ you
will not tell mamma I said anything naughty?'

'I shall not tell her,' said Yseulte, who could not so quickly smile.
She felt as if some one had run a needle straight through her heart.

Blanchette laid her curly head against her cousin's breast:

'I do love you, Yseulte,' she murmured. 'You are always true, and you
are always kind, and you are so handsome, so handsome! Mercié, and all
the sculptors say so; and all the painters too. The Salon will be full
of your busts and your portraits; Madame Napraxine is only a pale woman
with great black eyes like coals in a figure of snow----'

'I desire you not to speak of Madame Napraxine!' said Yseulte, with a
violence which startled herself and momentarily shook her self-control.

The child, who had ignorantly meant to atone and to console for her
previous offence, was genuinely alarmed at her failure.

'I only meant that you are much prettier, much handsomer, than she is,'
she stammered.

'Madame Napraxine's beauty is celebrated,' said Yseulte, with enforced
calmness. 'Leave off your habit of indulging in personalities,
Blanchette; it is a very vulgar fault, and it makes you malicious for
the pleasure of fancying yourself witty. Come and feed my peacocks;
they are birds who will recommend themselves to your esteem, for they
are intensely vain, artificial, and egotistic; they believe flowers
only grow that they may pull them to pieces.'

'I don't care for the peacocks,' said Blanchette. 'Drive me in the
Bois in the _Daumont_ with the four white horses, and you can buy me
something at Siraudin's as we go.'

'As you like,' said Yseulte.

Yseulte humoured the child's caprices, and drove her out into the
cold sparkling air with the four white horses, with their postilions
in black velvet caps and jackets, which Blanchette condescended to
praise as the most _chic_ thing in all Paris. It was on the tip of her
tongue to say that they were even more _chic_ than the Napraxine black
horses and Russian coachman, but she restrained herself, unwilling to
offend her cousin before they stopped on their return from the Bois
at Giroux's, at Siraudin's, and at Fontane's, for Blanchette was too
sensible to be satisfied with toys and bonbons, and set her affections
on three monkeys in silver-gilt, playing at see-saw on a tree trunk of
jade, with little caps made of turquoises on their heads.

When she had chattered herself tired, and the day was declining, she
consented to allow herself to be driven home, and Yseulte returned
alone to the Boulevard S. Germain. For the first time since her
marriage her heart was heavy. The selfishness and greed of her little
companion were nothing new to her, but they had been made painfully
evident in that drive through Paris; and the wound which the child had
given her still smarted, as the bee-sting throbs after the insect has
flown away. It was not that she believed what was said; she was too
loyal and too innocently sure of her husband's affection to dishonour
him by such suspicion. Yet the mere knowledge that such things were
said of him and herself hurt her delicacy and her pride cruelly, and
she knew well that, if the Duchesse de Vannes said so, then the world
said so too. And her heart contracted as she thought involuntarily,
'Why should they speak of Madame Napraxine at all in connection with
me, unless--unless he had loved her?'

Yseulte was too young to think with composure of the women who had
preceded herself in the affections of her husband; she could not
console herself, as older or colder women would have done, with the
reflection that every man has many passions, and that the past should
be a matter of indifference to one who was indissolubly united with his
present and his future. To her it seemed that if he had ever loved any
one else he could not care for her; all the ignorance and exaggeration
of youth made this seem a certainty to her.

She was no longer the calm and innocent child that she had been at
Millo; the passions of humanity had become to stir in her; love, the
great creator and the great destroyer, had taken possession of her, and
had roused in her impulses, jealousies, desires, of whose existence
she had never dreamed; her temperament, naturally sweet and spiritual,
had beneath it unknown springs of ardour and of passions: _le vin
mousseux_, which her cousin Alain had said was latent in her blood from
the impetuous and voluptuous race of her fathers. She could not wholly
recover from the shock which she had received, as from a bolt that fell
from sunny skies. It had been only a child's frothy foolish chatter,
no doubt; yet the mere suggestion made in it clung to her memory with
a cruel and terrible persistency. She did not doubt that the child had
only repeated what she had heard; she knew that Blanchette's memory was
as retentive as a telephone; and if the Duchesse de Vannes had said
it, then the world had thought it. She had not allowed Blanchette to
perceive the pain that she had caused; but as her horses had flashed
through the chill bright frosty air of Paris, and the child's gay
shrill voice had chattered incessantly beside her, she had suffered
the first moments of anguish that she had known since her marriage.
As she drove now through the streets of Paris, in which the lamps were
beginning to sparkle through the red of the winter sunset, she felt a
strange sense of solitude amidst those gay and hurrying crowds through
which her postboys forced their fretting horses.

At Amyôt, on the days when Othmar had left her, she had never felt
alone; she had amused herself with the dogs, the birds, the horses, the
woods; she had dreamed over her classic music, or read some book which
he had recommended, and spent hours looking from the balustrade of the
great terrace, or from the embrasure of a window to watch for the first
appearance in the avenue of the horses which should bring him from the
station of Beaugency. She had never felt alone at Amyôt, but here in
the city which she loved from the associations of childhood, and as the
scene of her marriage, in this city which regarded her as one of the
most fortunate of its favourites of fortune, she felt a sense of utter
loneliness as the carriage rolled through the gates.

The _suisse_ told her that Othmar had not come home.

She went upstairs to her boudoir and threw off her close-fitting-coat
of sables and her sable hat, and sat down beside the olive-wood fire,
drawing off her long gloves. The room was softly lighted with a
rose-tinted light which shone on the gay children painted by Bougereau,
the flowered satin of the curtains and couches, the Dresden frames of
the mirrors, the marqueterie of the tables and consoles, the bouquets
of roses of all growths and colours. She looked round it with a little
sigh; with the same sense of chillness and sadness. Everything in it
seemed to echo the cruel words: 'He only married you to anger her!'

In the morning the whole chamber had seemed to smile at her from all
the thousand trifles, which spoke in it of his tender thoughtfulness
for herself; now, the roses in their bowls, the children on their
panels, the amorini holding up the mirrors, the green parrots swinging
in their rings, all seemed to say with one voice, 'What if he never
loved you?'

Her arms rested on her knees and her face on her hands, as she sat in
a low chair before the fire which burned under white marble friezes of
the Daphnephoria, carved by the hand of Clésinger. She could never
ask him, she could never ask any one, of this cruel doubt, which had
come into her perfect peace as a worm comes into a rose. All her pride
shrank from the thought of laying bare such a wound. Not even in the
confessional could she have brought herself to breathe a whisper of
it. She was not yet seventeen years old, and she had already a doubt
which, like the pains of maternity, she must shut in her heart and bear
as best she might alone. She had both courage and resignation in her
nature, and she needed both.

'It is impossible!' she murmured unconsciously, half aloud, as the
memory of a thousand caresses and gestures, which seemed to her to be
proof of the most absolute love, came to her thoughts with irresistible
persuasion, and made her face grow warm with blushes even in her
solitude. It was impossible that he did not love her--he who had been
free to choose from the whole world.

'It is impossible!' she murmured, with her head lifted as though in
some instinct of combat against some unseen foe.

'What is impossible?' said Othmar, as he entered the room and
approached behind her, unseen until he had drawn her head backward and
kissed her on the eyes. 'What is impossible, my child?' he repeated.
'No wish of yours if you tell it to me.'

She coloured very much, and rose, and remained silent. Her heart was
beating fast; she did not know what to reply. By the light of the fire
he did not see how red she grew and then how pale. He seated himself in
a low chair and took her by the hand.

'What is so impossible,' he said carelessly, 'that you dream of it in
my absence in the dark?'

'Nothing,--at least,--I would rather not say,' she murmured.

'As you like,' said Othmar. 'You know I am not Blue Beard, my dear.'

A great longing rushed through her to tell him what the Duchesse de
Vannes had said, and ask him if it were true or false--he who alone
could know the secrets of his own heart,--but sensitiveness, timidity,
delicacy, pride, all made her mute. What use would it be to ask him? He
would never wound her with the truth if the truth were what her cousin
had said.

Othmar smiled kindly as he looked at her; she did not know that if
he had loved her more he would have been more curious before this,
her first secret, less willingly resigned to be shut out from her
confidence.

'Who has been with you to-day?' he asked. 'Oh, I remember, you have had
little Blanchette. What a terrible child; she is an Elzevir compendium
of the century. Has she said anything to vex you? She is as malicious
as Mascarille----'

Yseulte touched his hand timidly. There was a grain of fear in her
adoration of him, that fear which enters into all great love, though
Nadine Napraxine and Madame de Vannes would have ridiculed it as
'jeu de lac et de nacelle,' the 'vieux jeu' of the romanticists and
sentimentalists.

'You do love me?' she said, very low, with much hesitation, while her
colour deepened.

Othmar looked up quickly with a certain irritation.

'Has that pert baby told you to doubt it? Can that be a question
between you and me? My dear child, would you be by me now if I did not
do so?'

And he soothed her agitation by those caresses with which a man can so
easily and with pleasure to himself counterfeit warmth and tenderness
to a woman who has youth and grace and cheeks as soft as the wing of a
bird.

'Yseulte,' he said gravely a few moments later, 'do not listen to
what other women say to you; if you do, you will lose your beautiful
serenity and fret yourself vainly by doubts and fancies. There is
nothing on earth so cruel to a woman as women. They envy you--not for
me--but for what you possess through me and for the face and form with
which nature has dowered you. Do not let them poison your peace. I am
not afraid that they will corrupt your heart, but I am afraid that
they may distress and disturb you. We cannot live all our lives in
seclusion at Amyôt, and the world must come about you soon or late.
To be in the world means to be surrounded with jealousies, cruelties,
enmities, ingratitude, and malice; if we once lend our ear to what
these will tell us, we shall have no more happiness. You have been like
your favourite, S. Ignace; by reason of your own purity you have been
allowed to hear the angels sing. Do not let the world's clamour drown
that divine song, for once lost no one ever hears it again! Do you
understand what I mean, my dear?'

She said nothing, but she hid her face on his breast and burst into
tears, the first that he had ever seen from her eyes.

'Can they not let her alone,' he thought with anger, and a sense of
weariness and apprehension; if the world taught her what men's love
could be, would she not discover what was missing in his?



CHAPTER XXXVI.


When the three black horses of the Princess Napraxine, with their manes
flying in the wind, their eyes flashing, and their nostrils breathing
fire, dashed down the Champs Elysées to make the tour du Bois, all
Paris looked after her, and multitudes who only knew her by repute took
off their hats to her as they had used to do in a bygone time to the
golden-haired empress.

'Ah, if I had been in that woman's place in 'seventy-one,' she thought
once, 'I would not have run away in a cab with Evans the dentist; I
would have put on a white gown and all my diamonds, and gone out before
them on to the terrace of the Tuileries--they would have forgotten
Sedan, and would have worshipped me! I cannot forgive people who have
the happiness of great opportunities for not rising to be equal to
them. One can but die once, and it must be essentially delightful to
die amidst a roll of drums, a blaze of sunset, a storm of welcome. The
death of Desaix at Marengo is the ideal death.'

There was at the bottom of her soul, despite her languor, ennui,
and pessimism, a certain heroic element; life seemed to her so poor
a thing, so stupid, so illogical, that if it went out in fire it
vindicated itself in a measure.

'Sometimes, do you know,' she said once to a sympathetic companion,
'I think I might have been something great if I had been born in the
time for it; all depends upon that. Mdlle. de Sombreuil would have
lived and died like ten thousand other Frenchwomen, in the monotony
of the _vie de château_, if she had not happened to be alive under
the Terror. What possibility of any greatness is there for a woman
who lives nowadays in what calls itself the great world? The very
men who have any genius in it are dwarfed by it. Modern life is so
trivial, yet so absorbing; it is such a bed of down and such a bed of
prickles; it is such a sleeping-potion and such a whip of nettles,
that we have no time to think about anything but itself. You must live
"à l'abri des hommes," if you want to be of higher stature than they
are. Bismarck is a colossus, because he shuts himself up in Varzin
so constantly. It is very hard even for men to resist the presence
of the world; even Tennyson leaves Farringford in the primrose month
to court a vulgar apotheosis in the London drawing-rooms; and for a
woman who finds herself from birth upward in that _milieu_ there is no
resistance possible. We are born to dress, to drive, to dine, to dance,
to set the fashion in all kinds of things,--and that is all. If we are
clever, we do mischief in meddling with the hidden cards of diplomacy
or statecraft, and if we are light-minded we do a different manner of
mischief in making all sorts of vices look pretty and distinguished
to those below us, who are always endeavouring to imitate us; but
more than that we cannot do. The morphine has been injected into our
veins; we cannot resist its influence; there is a kind of excitement
and somnolence, both at once, in the routine of our world which none
of us can resist. If we have any brains, perhaps we make resolutions
to resist, but we do not keep them; the world we live in is idiotic
but it is irresistible. When we wake, we see the heap of invitation
cards on our table; we yawn, but we yield, and we fill up our book
of engagements; the day is crowded, so is the year; and so life slips
away hurried, tired, thinking itself amused. Sometimes I think I should
like to live amongst the corn-fields and the larchwoods, and do good,
and I dare say I shall when I am old, or, what is still worse than old,
middle-aged. But you know one does not do good in that way; one always
gets imposed on, and the Jew money-lender in the centre of the village
would be really the person who would profit by one's charities. It is
quite easy for stupid people to be happy; they believe in fables and
they trot on in a beaten track like a horse on a tramway. But when you
have some intelligence, and have read something besides your breviary,
and have studied the philosophy of life a little, it is much more
difficult to content yourself. My friends who are putting on blisters
and bandages at the hospitals, fancy they are on the way to eternal
salvation, but a political economist would tell them that they were
only doing a vast deal of mischief, upsetting the nicely-balanced
arrangements of Nature. Myself, I think, Nature has very little to
do with the world as it is in the nineteenth century in Europe. I do
not think Nature, left to herself, would create either cripples or
cancers, any more than she would yoke bullocks or cut terriers' tails.'

She had accompanied her friends the Dames du Calvaire more than once to
those hospitals, where patrician hands touched the leper's sores and
the idiot's ulcers; but her delicate taste had been revolted, and her
intelligence, nurtured on shrewd and satiric philosophies, had rejected
the idea that any good was done by great ladies transforming themselves
into sick nurses of disease. She thought it must be infinitely
delightful to be able to delude yourself in that kind of way, to think
that you pleased Deity by putting on a poultice and averted a social
cataclysm by washing a cretin, but she did not believe in that kind of
thing herself. She did not see how any one could do so who had thought
about life, and the rest of it.

'I dare say I am quite useless,' she would reply to those who tried
to convince her, 'but then so many things are. Who has ever found
out the use of butterflies, or of daisies, or of a nautilus, or of
a nightingale, or of those charming rosy clouds which drift about
at sunset? I do not see the utility of prolonging the horrible and
miserable lives of lepers and of idiots in hospitals and asylums.
Humanity is not in the least served; it is much more often profoundly
noxious and disgusting. Even the people who talk about its sanctity,
do not believe in what they say, or war would become an impossibility,
and so would all the factories which, as Victor Hugo has said, take the
soul out of man to put it into machinery.'

When she spoke in this way she was very much in earnest, and her
arguments were very hard to refute; and even Melville went out of her
presence with an uncomfortable, though unacknowledged, sense that his
whole life had been a mistake based on a bubble which had all the hues
of the rainbow, indeed, but no more than a bubble's solidity. When
the men of science, with whom she sometimes amused herself by playing
the part of the great Catherine to the Encyclopædists, came into her
presence, they fared no better than the priests, and she did not
believe in them a whit the more.

'Five hundred years hence, your ideas and your discoveries will all
be refuted and ridiculed,' she said to them, 'as you now refute and
ridicule the physiology of the Greeks and Latins; you will not find the
key to the mystery of creation by torturing dogs or chaining horses on
a bed of agony.'

And she listened to them, but she laughed at them. To the satirical
clearness of her highly-trained intelligence the delirium of science
was quite as much a malady of the mind as were the rhapsodies of
religion.

'La science est la grande névrose du moment; ça passera,' she said once
to Claude Bernard.

In Paris, Nadine Napraxine was what the world had made her; she was
the _élégante_ of her period, a hothouse flower of fragile beauty,
of absolute indolence, of hypercritical taste, of utter and entire
uselessness. In her carriage or her sleigh, under her pile of silver
fox skins; on a Tuesday at the Français, and on a Saturday at the
Grand Opéra; on her Thursdays at her 'cinq heures,' when the most
exclusive of crowds gathered in her drawing-rooms; in the few great
assemblies and balls to which she deigned to carry her listless grace
and her marvellous jewels; throughout her self-absorbed day, which
began at noon and ended at dawn, she was a _cocodette_ of the most
exquisite grace and of the most incredible extravagance, such as Paris
had known her to be from the second year of her marriage. Her caprices
were unending, her changefulness was incalculable, her expenditure
was enormous; the most exaggerated tales were told of her hauteur and
of her exclusiveness, yet were not much beyond the truth; and men
worshipped her, and women intrigued for her notice, just because she
was so unapproachable and could be insolent. Fragile and white as the
narcissus flower, which she always took as her emblem, with a voice
ever sweet and low, and the most perfect manner in the world, she could
be as cruel in all the cruelties of society as ever her ancestors had
been with knout and steel in their frosty fastnesses. It amused her to
see the timid recoil, the presumptuous shrink, the confident wither
into humiliation, before the chillness of her smile, the terror of her
few cold softly-spoken words.

'I am the only scavenger that Europe has left,' she said once. 'All
the others have been frightened by the democracy, but I frighten the
democracy, or, at least, I keep it out of my drawing-rooms. It may get
into the "Almanac de Gotha," but it will not get past my _suisse_ and
up my staircase.'

Now and then she had been known to do exceedingly kind things, just
as in the midst of her worldly life she would go now and then to a
discourse at the Academy or to a séance at the Sorbonne. But they had
been always done to persons quite simple and frank, who never affronted
her with presumption or disgusted her with pretension. To a lie of any
sort she was inexorable.

The Hôtel Napraxine was one of the most delightful houses in Europe.
It stood near the entrance of the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, and was
withdrawn from every inquisitive glance which might be cast on it
from the road, within gardens large enough to contain groves of lime
trees and plane trees, fountains, lawns, pavilions, and terraces of
rose-coloured marbles. No disturbing echo of the traffic of Paris could
reach the sensitive ear of its sovereign lady when she sank to sleep
under the white satin of her shell-shaped ivory bed.

All the finest French artists living had been summoned to its adornment
within.

'All modern rooms are only like so many bonbon-boxes,' she had said.
'At least my bonbon-boxes shall be well-painted.'

And Meissonier, Duran, Baudry, Cabanel, Henner, Legros, had all signed
some panel, some ceiling, some staircase, chimney-piece, or salon-wall
in this most exquisite of houses.

'It is really charming,' she said to herself, when she reached it on
that first grey, chill, misty morning of her arrival, and its delicious
colour and warm air and flower-filled twilight welcomed her after the
long dull journey across Europe. It was especially perfect to her
this day because for some fifty hours at least her husband would not
come thither. There was only one thing ever discordant in its perfect
harmonies. When Platon Napraxine came up the staircase--with its
black-and-white marbles, its pale-blue velvet carpets, its sculptures
by Clésinger, and its wall-paintings by Baudry,--when he came up under
the leaves of the bananas and the palms, and entered her own sanctuary,
his broad tall form, his heavy step, his Kalmuck face were dissonant
and absurd in it all, and irritated her sense of fitness, and annoyed
her like a false note in the middle of a classic symphony.

'Poor Platon!' she thought more than once; 'I have certainly been the
most expensive whim that he has ever had; and he has never got the
slightest entertainment out of me. I am very disagreeable to him; I
have always been disagreeable to him. I was so at first because I could
not help it, and I am so now because I like to be so. But I grant
that it has never been quite fair to him. He might just as well have
been all alone to amuse himself with his dancers, and comic singers,
and people; I have been a white elephant to him. Certainly he has a
kind of triumph in possessing the white elephant; he likes to feel I
am here; when they all look after me in the Bois, or at the Opéra, he
likes to think I belong to him. As somebody said, when people admire
what is ours, it is as if they admired us. I am very much to him what
the _bleu ciel_ Sèvres for which he gave ten thousand pounds must be
to Lord Dudley. The Sèvres is of no earthly use to him, and he would
scarcely dare to touch it, and he would certainly never eat his cutlet
or have his venison served on it; but it is something that everybody
envies him, that nobody else has. When Platon gives great dinners to
sovereigns and all kinds of _gros bonnets_, and I am opposite to him,
I am sure he has the sort of feeling that Lord Dudley has about that
_bleu ciel_ service. After all, that is something; though, as the
service was incomplete in quantity, so I am incomplete in sentiment.
And then, when I meet him driving Mdlle. Chose in the Champs Elysées, I
seem as if I did not see him; and I never say a syllable of objection
if there are a hundred paragraphs in the _petits journaux_ about
himself and any number of Mdlles. Chose. If I had ever liked him, I
should be angry and make a fuss. After all, he ought to know that, if
indifference be not flattery, it is peace.'

So she soothed her conscience, but not always successfully; she had
occasionally a passing touch of self-reproach, when she remembered how
very little she had given her husband in return for the magnificent
fortune, the boundless admiration, and the perfect independence,
which she owed to him. She had at the bottom of her heart, though
stifled and indistinct, a more sensitive and a higher-toned honour
than most women; that instinct of honour told her that she had been,
at all times, unjust and ungrateful to a man whose good qualities she
refused to see, and even did her best to destroy, because his relation
to her irritated her taste and temper, and his ugliness and want of
intelligence filled her with disdain.

'If I had a daughter,' she thought, in those moments of candour and
compunction, 'I think I should say to her, "Commit any sin and incur
any sorrow you like rather than make a marriage without sympathy; it is
the one crime which society has agreed to applaud as an act of wisdom
and of virtue; but it is a crime nevertheless. One is so young, one
does not know; one listens to people who urge all the advantages of it,
and when one does know it is too late." However,' she added in her own
musings, 'I dare say, if I had daughters, when they were old enough, I
should do just the same as everybody else does; I should want them to
make a _beau mariage_, and I should tell them to do it. It is the world
which makes one like that. At the fair of Novgorod I once saw a little
Simbirsh peasant arrested for stealing a necklace of blue and yellow
beads; she burst out sobbing, and said she would not have taken it, but
all the girls of her village had all their big beads, and she had none!
In the big world we do the same. We want the big beads because other
people have theirs. It is paltry; but then society is paltry at its
best. They say, when you have entered an opium house, you may have made
all the resolutions you will against smoking, you cannot keep them, the
atmosphere gains on you, you yield, and smoke, and sink, like all the
rest. The world is an opium house.'

Nature had designed her for something better than the opium house.
Her intellect, her courage, and her chastity were all of great and
fine quality, like the burnished blade of a sword, that is at once
delicate and strong. But the world had absorbed her, and left little
scope to those higher and nobler instincts. She was in her habits and
her tastes a mere _élégante_, indolent, hard to please, hypercritical,
of languid constitution, of infinite egotism. Given the impetus, this
languor could alter, as by magic, into ardour, force, and energy; but
the motive power could rarely be found which could rouse her, and she
remained for the most part of her time a mere _mondaine_, of exquisite
taste, of irresistible seduction, but useless, idle, contemptuous,
cynical, vaguely disappointed, though all were at her feet, wanting,
petulantly, like Alexander, more worlds to conquer. Sometimes in the
ennui of the whole thing, and her dissatisfaction in it, she was only
restrained from absolute evil by the consciousness of its vulgarity,
and her own aversion to those indulgences in which most find their
strongest temptation, but in which she only saw a humiliating and a
grotesque affinity to the brutes.

As at four years old she had shrugged her small shoulders, with a
sigh, before the bonbon boxes--'J'en ai tant!'--so at four-and-twenty
years old she was supercilious to the whole world because it had
given her so much, and yet had nothing better than that to give. And
incredulous that there was anywhere anything better, she lived in her
calorifère-heated rooms, like an orchid in a hothouse, and amused
herself as with a game by the desires, the pains, the reproaches, the
solicitations, the jealousies, which fretted and fumed themselves in
that arena of her salon, whilst she remained as tranquil, as pitiless,
and as indifferent as fate.

No woman had the world more completely beneath her feet, yet she,
like Othmar, was consumed by that eternal ennui which is the penalty
of those who possess too much, have seen and heard too much too
early, and have been from childhood the objects of adulation and of
speculation;--of all those, indeed, who have mind and heart enough not
to find all their interests in society, and yet have not that poetic
temper which would give them a sure consolation and a safe refuge in
the uncloying loveliness of nature.

Ennui is unjustly looked upon as the characteristic of the frivolous
type of humanity; on the contrary, the frivolous character is perfectly
content with frivolity, and never tires of it. Ennui is rather the mark
of those whose taste is too fine and whose instincts are too high to
let them be satisfied with the excitement of, and the victories of,
society, and yet who have too little of that simplicity, or of that
impersonality, which makes the artistic temperament capable of entirely
withdrawing from the world and living its own life, self-sustained.

This delicate patrician had the seed in her of great _roués_, of
dauntless conspirators, of haughty territorial tyrants, of men and
of women who had emptied thrones and filled them, and given law for
life and death to multitudes of vassals; she could not be altogether
content with the rosewater politics of modern drawing-rooms, with the
harmless rivalry of toilettes and equipages, with the trivial pastimes
and as trivial passions of society. She was a woman of the world to the
tips of her fingers, yet she could not be altogether content with an
existence of Courts, _chiffons_, flirtations, endless entertainments,
and unlimited expenditure.

'They find us eccentric, capricious, autocratic, us Russians,' she said
one day. 'I dare say we are so; they forget that, not a century ago,
our great-grandparents were slaying Paul and Peter in their palaces,
and could knout to death whole villages of men, women, and children, at
their mere freak and fancy. I think it is very creditable to us not to
be a thousand times worse than we are; our blood is made up of arack
and of ice; we are the rude pines of the north French-polished!'

It was three o'clock in the day; she had given orders to be
undisturbed. She had slept admirably for eight hours without any
morphine. She had bathed twice, on her arrival and on her awaking,
in warm water, opaque with otto of rose; she had breakfasted off her
usual cup of cream and rolls made of milk. She was in a dreamy, drowsy,
amused state of thought; and, as she lay on her couch in the boudoir,
which was placed between her library and her dressing-chamber, her
thoughts drifted persistently to the meeting of the dawn.

She felt very like Fate now, as she thought how odd it was that the
first person she had met in Paris had been Othmar.

'He is very much changed for so short a time. He is not a whit more
content,' she reflected, with pleasure.

The little room was the prettiest thing in all Paris. 'It is a casket
for a pearl,' one of her adorers had said, and it seemed really a pity
that for eight months out of the year the casket should be closed, and
no ray of light ever enter it. Its furniture was of ivory, like that of
the adjoining library, bed-room, and bathroom, and its hangings were of
silvery satin embroidered with pale roses and apple-blossoms; Baudry
had painted the ceiling with the story of Ædon and Procris: the glass
in the windows was milk white, and the floor was covered with white
bearskins: the atmosphere was like that of a hothouse, and as odorous;
there were always a perfect seclusion and silence in it; the only sound
which ever came there was the splash of a fountain in the garden below;
it might have been set in the heart of the island of Alcina rather than
in one of the great avenues of Paris. Here, lying back on one of her
low couches with the air around her tropical, vaporous, dreamy, she
mused within herself as to how she would deal with Othmar, a smile in
her eyes and a doubt in her mind.

'Let him alone,' said her conscience.

'No,' said her vanity, and perhaps some other emotion also.

'He never harmed you; he only loved you, and obeyed you, and went
away,' her conscience urged on her. But her vanity replied: 'That
was the worst offence. There are commands which are most honoured
by disobedience. There are wounds which ought to be cherished, not
healed.'

Unless she chose that it should be otherwise, Othmar, she knew, would
be a stranger to her all his life. They would meet, perhaps, in the
world very often, but they would exchange commonplace courtesy, and
remain as far asunder as two ships that pass each other on the same
ocean course, unless she chose. Her better self said to her, 'Let him
alone; he has tried to make another life for himself; he has failed, no
doubt, but he has probably found a sort of peace, a kind of affection;
if it can console him, do not disturb it.' But the habits of supremacy
and of intrigue, the love of dominion, the intolerance of opposition,
which were instinctive in her, and which all her many triumphs and her
permitted egotism had fostered and confirmed, forbade her to resign
herself to such passivity, and urged her to take up her empire over his
life.

And she had a vague wish to see him there again beside her, a wish not
very strong, but strong enough to move her. It was here, in this room,
that he had first of all told her that he loved her, with words more
daring and more imperious than any other had ventured to use in her
presence; he was never like other people; he was probably no better,
certainly no worse, than other men, but he was different: he pleased
her imagination, he touched her sympathy; he was the only man with
whom it had ever seemed to her that her life might have been lived
harmoniously, with whom she might have understood something of that
mystery of love in which she had never believed. To her temper it was
the intrigue and intricacy of life which alone made it endurable, the
unrolling of the ribbon of fate, the watching and controlling of the
comedy of circumstances, which alone made it worth while to rise in the
morning to the tedium of its routine.

'Is life worth living?' she said once, hearing of the title of a book
of drawing-room philosophy. 'Yes, I think it is, if you are the cat,
if you are the spider, if you are the eagle, if you are the dog; not
if you are the mouse, or the fly, or the lamb, or the hare. Life
is certainly worth living, too, if you regard it as what it is, a
dramatic entertainment, diversion. This is the true use of riches,
that it enables you to give yourself up to watching and controlling
circumstances as if men and women were marionettes; it enables you
to sit in your fauteuil and look on without moving unless you wish.
I think that life must be always rather tiresome to anybody over ten
years old, but the only possible way to endure it is to regard it as
a spectacle, as a comedy, or, as Manteuffel has said, that a general
sitting in his saddle regards the battlefield he governs.'

This was what she said and felt in her cynical moods, and she was
cynical now on her return to Paris; she had left her better self behind
her in the snow-drifts of her own country. The woman who had spoken so
tenderly of Boganof scarcely existed in her; she lived in an atmosphere
of adulation, excitation, ennui, and frivolous occupations. The heroic
protectress of the Siberian exile had scarcely a trait in common with
her; she spent half the day in the discussion of new costumes with her
tailors, and the other half surrounded by flatterers and courtiers in
the pursuit of new distractions.

Analysis was so natural to her that it seemed to her in no situation
or even crisis of her life would she have abandoned it. There is a
well-known physiologist, now head of a famous laboratory, who, when
his son died, a boy of twelve, scarcely waited for the child's last
breath to plunge his scalpel into the still warm body in hopes of some
discovery of the law of life.[1] If she had had any emotions she would
have done a similar thing; she would have dissected them even if they
had sprung from her own life blood.

[1] A fact.



CHAPTER XXXVII.


'Is Madame Napraxine a good woman?' said Yseulte timidly one day in her
own drawing-room to Melville, whilst she coloured to the eyes as she
pronounced the name.

'Good, my dear!' echoed Friederich Othmar, who overheard and replied to
the question. 'The epithet is comically incongruous. She would be as
horrified if she heard you as if you called her _ma bourgeoise_.'

Melville laughed a little despite himself, and hesitated before giving
his own reply: he was embarrassed. How could he as a priest say to this
innocent creature what he as a man of the world knew to be the truth;
that the simple classifications of good and bad can no more suffice
to describe the varieties of human character than the shepherd's
simple names for herb and flower can suffice for the botanist's floral
nomenclature and complicated subdivisions.

'She has very noble qualities,' he said at length. 'Perhaps they are
somewhat obscured by the habits of the world. She is of an exceedingly
complicated character. I fear I scarcely know her well enough to
describe her with perfect correctness. But I know some noble acts of
her life; one I may tell you.'

And he related to her the episode of Boganof.

Yseulte listened with wonder: to her youthful imagination her one
enemy appeared in all the dark hues with which youth ever paints what
it dislikes and dreads, exaggerated like the rainbow light with which
it decks what it loves. All the highest instincts of her nature were
touched to sympathy by what she now heard, but a pain of which Melville
knew nothing contracted her heart as she thought that if her husband
had indeed loved such a woman as this, it was natural that she would
for ever retain her power on him.

'And she is so beautiful!' she added, with a little sigh. Melville
looked at her in surprise.

'Who has been talking to her?' he wondered as he said aloud:

'There are women more beautiful. You have but to look in your mirror,
my child. But she has a surpassing grace, an incomparable fascination,
some of which springs, perhaps, from her very defects. She is a woman
essentially of the modern type, all nerves and scepticism intermingled;
ironical, incredulous, indifferent, yet capable of heroic _coups de
tête_; dissatisfied with the worldly life and yet incapable of living
any other; the Réné of Chateaubriand, made female and left without a
God.'

'Except her tailor!' said Friederich Othmar, who approached the little
nook in which Melville was seated in the boudoir.

'Pardon me,' said Melville, with a smile. 'Madame Napraxine's tailor
is but her slave, like every one else whom she employs or encounters.
The king of _couturiers_ trembles before her, he is so afraid of her
displeasure; if she blame his creations they are ruined. She makes _la
pluie et le beau temps_ in the world of fashion.'

'And yet she could do what you say for that unhappy man in Siberia?'
murmured Yseulte, who had listened with seriousness and some
perplexity to all that had been said of one in whom her instinct felt
was the enemy of her life.

'You should understand a character which is made up of contradictions,
my dear,' interrupted the Baron; 'for you have one beside you every
day in Otho's. Your own is formed with just a few broad, simple, fair
lines, ruled very straight on the old pattern, which was in use before
the Revolution, or even farther back than that, in the days of Anne of
Bretagne and of Blanche of Castille. But your husband's--and some other
people's--is a tangled mass of unformed desires and of widely-opposed
qualities which are for ever in conflict, and are as unsatisfactory and
as indefinite as any _impressionniste's_ picture.'

Yseulte did not hear; she was absorbed in her own reflections; her face
was very grave.

'M. le Baron, you cannot have everything,' said Melville, gaily. 'Your
age has destroyed the _femme croyante_. Nature, which always avenges
herself, gives you the _femme du monde_, which, in its lowest stages,
becomes the _cabotine_, and in its highest just such an ethereal,
capricious, tantalising combination of the finest culture and the most
languid scepticism, as captivates and tortures her world in the person
of the Princess Napraxine.'

'Excuse me in my turn if I say that you are quite mistaken,' said
Friederich Othmar. 'The two species of womankind have existed since the
days of Athens and of Rome, and modern theology and modern scepticism
have nothing to do with either of them. Penelope and Circe are as old
as the islands and the seas. If you will not find me impertinent, I
cannot help saying that ecclesiastics always remind me of the old
story (I think it is in Moore's Diary) of the grazier's son who went
to Switzerland, and was only impressed by one fact--that bullocks were
very cheap there. Christianity is a purely modern thing. What are
eighteen centuries in the history of the world? Yet every churchman
refers every virtue and every vice of human nature to the influence or
the absence of this purely modern creed, which has, after all, not one
tenth of the magnetic power of absorption of Buddhism and nothing like
the grasp on the mind of a multitude which Islamism has possessed.'

Friederich Othmar had always an especial pleasure in teazing Melville,
and in contemplating the address with which the trained talent of the
theologian vaulted over the difficulties which his reason was forced to
acknowledge.

As Melville was about to reply, the groom of the chambers entered and
announced 'Madame la Princesse Napraxine.'

Yseulte rose with a startled look upon her young face, which was not
yet trained to conceal what she felt beneath that mask of serenity and
smiling indifference which makes the most impenetrable of all masks.
Her cheeks flushed, her eyes had a momentary look of bewilderment. She
did not hear the words of graceful greeting with which her visitor
answered the courtesy she mechanically made.

Melville, who himself felt a little guilty, hastened to her rescue,
and the Baron, as he rolled a low chair for the newcomer, thought to
himself, 'What a pity Otho is not here; it is always better to have
those situations gone through, and over. The poor child!--so happy
as she has been! It will be a pity if Circe come. But Circe always
comes. How can Melville pretend that Circe is anything new, or has
only sprung into existence because women do not go to church! Madame
Napraxine is precisely the same kind of _charmeresse_ that Propertius
used to write odes to on his tablets; the type was more consistent
then, because in our days costume is incongruous, and life is more
complicated, and people are more tired, but it remains integrally the
same.'

Nadine Napraxine meanwhile was saying:

'Your people were unwilling to let me in because it was not your day;
but I insisted. When one desires a thing very much one always insists
till one gets it. I find Paris talking of nothing but the Countess
Othmar; I was eager to claim from her the privilege of an old friend.'

It was said with sweetness, apparent frankness, and all her own
inimitable grace. She lightly touched, with the softest, slightest
kiss, the cheeks of Yseulte, which grew warm and then cold. Not
appearing to notice her embarrassment, Nadine Napraxine continued to
string her pretty, careless, courteous phrases together with that tact
which is the most useful and the most graceful of all the talents.
Yseulte had all a girl's embarrassment before her, and that dignity
which was an instinct in her became, by contrast, almost stiffness.

'Someone has told her of me,' thought Nadine, with amusement and
irritation combined. It at once offended her and pleased her that
she should be a source of pain to this girl--to how many women had
she been so, and without mercy! Well, why would they not learn to
keep to themselves the wandering thoughts of their lovers and their
lords? 'This child is beautiful,' she said to herself with candour;
'how can she fail with him. No doubt she loves him herself; men are
not thankful. _Tenez la dragée haute_ is the only motto for their
subjection.'

She studied Yseulte with attention and interest, and without malice.
She frankly admired this beauty so different to her own; this union
of high-bred stateliness and childish naïveté which seemed to her
just such a manner as some young châtelaine of some old Breton or
Norman tower would have had in the days of the Reine Isabeau; she did
full justice to it. The irritation she had felt when she had walked
in the moonlight through the grass lands at Zaraïzoff, and thought
of the château of Amyôt, had ceased the moment that she had entered
the atmosphere of Paris. Othmar had believed that he had been cold as
marble in that momentary meeting, but she had seen in it that her power
over him was undiminished. She knew very well that soon or late he
who had defied her would be once more as a reed in her hands. She was
in no haste to try her force; she could rely on it in the calmness of
certainty. She was very amiable to his wife; but she had a little touch
of good-natured condescension in her amiability which made the pride of
the girl shrink as under an affront which could not be resented; the
very young always suffer under a kindness which tacitly reminds them,
by its unspoken superiority, of their own inexperience and their own
defects. The ironical smile, the slight suggestive phrases, the very
indulgence, as to a child, of Nadine Napraxine were as so many thorns
in the heart of Yseulte, who had none of that vanity which might have
rendered her indifferent to them.

It was not so much an emotion, but a certain sentiment--half interest,
half irritation--which brought her to the great house of which, in a
moment of impulse, he had made this child mistress. 'They try to give
it a false air of home,' she thought, with her merciless accuracy of
penetration, 'but they do not succeed. It is always a barn--a barn
gilded and painted like Versailles: but a barn. Perhaps they succeed
better at Amyôt, and perhaps they do not. He always hated this huge
house, and he was very right in his taste. It is made to entertain
in, not to be happy in. If he were happy he would go far away to that
castle by the blue Adrian Sea that I saw within a few leagues of
Miramar.'

With that thought she had gone through the succession of great rooms,
grand and uninteresting as the rooms of the Escurial, until she had
reached one of the drawing-rooms, with its painted panels of children
romping in orchards and gardens, and there had found Yseulte sitting
at her tapestry like some young dame of the time of Bayard or the
Béarnais, a large hound at her feet, the two old men beside her.

'What colouring! She is like a pastel of Emile Lévy's!' she had
thought, with an appreciation which was entirely sincere, as she kissed
the girl's reluctant, roseleaf-like cheek: she really felt not the
slightest ill-will towards her; on the contrary, she was moved to a
compassion, none the less genuine that it was based on something very
like disdain; the disdain of the wise for the simple, of the certainly
victorious for the predestined vanquished, of the snake-charmer for
those who let the snake kill them.

With her most charming grace, with that seduction which made it
impossible for anyone in her presence to be her enemy, she renewed
her acquaintance with the wife of Othmar, speaking pretty and
gracious words of recognition and of admiration. Yseulte preserved a
self-control admirable for one so young, to whom the necessities for
such reserve were a new and painful lesson; but she was unable to keep
the change of colour in her cheeks, and the expression in her candid
eyes betrayed her to the quick perception of her guest.

'You have come to honour Paris, Princess?' said the Baron, to cover the
embarrassment and the constraint of Yseulte.

'One always comes to Paris, Baron,' answered Nadine Napraxine, raising
her eyeglass and gazing at the girl through it, with all the cruel,
careless scrutiny of a woman of the world; her luminous eyes wanted
no assistance of the sort, but it was a weapon--unkind as a dagger
on occasion. 'One always comes to Paris. It is the toy-shop where
we dolls of the world get mended when we are battered and bruised.
We come for our hair, for our teeth, for our complexions; at any
rate, for our gowns; and then when we arrive we remain. The Republic
may push its iron roller, as Berlioz says it does, over the world;
it rolls on wheels of lead; but it cannot prevent Paris from being
always an empire, and always the _urbs_ for us. I do not love Paris as
passionately as most Russians do, yet even I admit that there is no
other city where one finds so little monotony. Even in Paris, alas!
as Marivaux said long ago, everybody has two eyes, one nose, and one
mouth, and one sighs in vain for a little variety of outline.'

'If I remember,' said the Baron, 'Marivaux was more merciful to
humanity than is Madame Napraxine; he admitted that even with such
homely materials as two eyes, a nose, and a mouth, one could obtain
infinite variety in expression; no two physiognomies are alike.'

'Perhaps in Marivaux's time men did not imitate the _chic anglais_!'
said Nadine Napraxine. 'I see very little variety myself. Everybody is
terribly like everyone else, except the Comtesse Othmar,' she added,
with her charming smile, 'who is only like Hope nursing Love, or some
other picture of a fairer day than ours.'

Yseulte, pained at herself for her want of self-command, coloured
hotly under the compliment, in which her alarmed sensitiveness fancied
there was hidden a sarcasm. She did not know of what picture Nadine
Napraxine spoke, and she thought--'Does she mean that Hope was barren
and foolish, that Love did not care?' She remembered the silver amorino
and the empty gourd.

Directly appealed to, a moment later, she murmured something at random;
she did not well know what; she grew first pale, then red; she seemed
constrained and stupid, void of ideas, and stiff in manner. Friederich
Othmar could have broken his cane about her shoulders in his vexation.

'Heavens and earth!' he thought, 'if you let yourself be magnetised
at the first sight of an imagined rival, what will you do before the
reality when you meet it? My poor little girl! It is not the women who
adore a man, and are struck dumb because they see another woman whom
he has once loved, who obtain any influence over him, or possess any
charm whatever for him. Who is to tell you that? who is to open your
eyes and harden your heart? who is to make you understand that you are
as lovely as the morning, but that if you do not acquire self-control,
wit, indifference, all the armoury of the world's weapons, she will
pass over you as artillery sweeps over the daisy in the grass.'

But he could not say his impatient thoughts aloud; he could not even,
by his own readiness of language and easy persiflage, contrive wholly
to hide the uneasiness and restraint which the presence of her guest
brought upon Yseulte, and which she herself was at once too young and
too frank to dissemble. They amused the Princess Napraxine, and they
gratified her infinitely. She had not the slightest pity for them; she
had never suffered from any such awkwardness herself.

'You are cruel, Princess,' Melville ventured to murmur as he rose and
bade her adieu.

'Have you only now discovered that?' said Nadine. 'And I do not know
why you should discover it especially now, or why, even if it were
truth, you should be in any way astonished. Thirty years of the
confessional should have taught you that women are always cruel. Are
you never cruel?' she said aloud, turning to Yseulte. 'Ah, then,
your dog will disobey you and your horse run away with you, my dear
Countess!'

'Is there no power in affection?' said Yseulte bravely, feeling her
colour come and go, and conscious that she had made an absurd reply.

Madame Napraxine smiled with a little look of indulgent amusement,
which made the girl thrill to the tips of her fingers.

'You are still in the age of illusions, my love. I dare say you even
write poetry. Do you not write poetry? I am sure you must have a little
velvet book and a silver pencil somewhere. It is so delightful to see
anyone so young,' she added, with seriousness, to Friederich Othmar.
'The children are not young now, are never young. I do not think I ever
was; I have no recollection of it. If I had daughters, I would send
them to those Dames de Sainte Anne--away in Brittany, is it not?--if
it be they who have made your nephew's wife what she is. I did not
believe there was any place left, simple enough and sweet and solemn
enough to make a girlhood like a garden lily. Othmar has been very
happy to have gathered the lily.'

There were both reality and admiration in many of her words, but the
last phrase was not so sincere. Yseulte, overhearing, thought, with a
pang, 'She knows that he is not happy!' Her heart swelled. She felt
that this exquisite woman, so little her senior in actual years, so
immeasurably her superior in knowledge, tact, and power, laughed at
her even as she praised her. 'How could she know that I wrote poetry?'
thought the child, conscious of many a poor little verse, the unseen,
carefully-hidden, timid offspring of a heart too full, written with a
pencil in the leafy recesses of the woods of Amyôt, in that instinctive
longing for adequate expression which is born of a great love. The
chance phrase gave Nadine Napraxine in her sight all the irresistible
fascination of a magician. She felt as if those languid, luminous
eyes could read all the secrets of her soul--secrets so innocent, all
pregnant with the memory of Othmar--secrets pure, wholesome, and
harmless as the violets that the mosses hid in the Valois woods of
Amyôt.

'Well, what do you think of her?' asked Friederich Othmar when she had
left the house. Yseulte hesitated.

'I can believe that she has a great charm,' she answered with some
effort. 'She has a fascination that one feels whether one will or
no----'

She paused and unconsciously sighed.

'She is the greatest _charmeresse_ in Europe,' replied Friederich
Othmar. 'No other words describe her. She is not a Cleopatra or a Mary
Stuart. She would never have had an Actium or a Kirk's Field. She would
never have so blundered. She has no passions; she would be a better
woman if she had. She is entirely chaste only because she is absolutely
indifferent. It creates her immense power over men. She remains ice
while she casts them into hell.' He stopped abruptly, remembering to
whom he spoke, and added, 'Her visit was a most rare honour to you, my
dear; she seldom deigns to go in person anywhere; her servants leave
her cards, and the fortunate great ladies who are the recipients of
them may go and see her on her day, and take their chance of receiving
a few words from her. She is one of those exceptional women who have no
intimate friends of their own sex, or hardly any; men----'

He paused, asked leave to light a cigarette, and walked with it awhile
about the room. Yseulte did not take up his unfinished phrase by an
interrogation.

'Have you no inquisitiveness?' thought Friederich Othmar. She was,
indeed, full of restless and painful curiosity concerning the woman who
had just left her presence, but she would not allow herself to utter a
word of it. She thought it would be disloyalty to her husband.

Some fifteen minutes later Othmar himself entered.

'Madame Napraxine has just honoured us _in propriâ personâ_,' said the
Baron, looking at him with intention.

'Indeed!' said Othmar. 'It was most amiable of her,' he added, after
a moment's pause; but to the penetration or to the imagination of
his uncle it seemed that he spoke with embarrassment and annoyance.
Yseulte had resumed her work at her tapestry. The cruel sense that she
was not wanted there, that she had been brought there only out of pity,
as a kind hand gives a stray animal a home, weighed on her more and
more. She did not see all that others saw in her; all the attraction
of her youth, and her innocence and her beauty. She had too sincere a
humility for any idea of her own charms to console her. She was wise
enough to perceive that the world flattered her because she was a rich
man's wife, but in her own eyes she remained the same that she had been
under the grey shadows of Faïel.

'If I were only myself again to-morrow, they would never think of
me,' she said to herself, with a wisdom born out of the poverty
and obscurity in which her childish years had been spent. She was
passionately grateful to Othmar, as well as devoted to him; but the
suggestion that she was in no way necessary to his happiness, was even
a burden and a constraint to him, had been harshly set before her by
the words of Blanchette, and it was corroborated by a thousand trifles
of look, and speech, and accident. His very entrance into her room had
nothing of the warmth of a man who returns to what he loves; he came
there so evidently because he felt that courtesy and custom required it
of him.

The Baron understood what was passing in her thoughts as she bent her
fair head over her tapestry-frame, the severity of her black velvet
gown serving to enhance, by its contrast, the whiteness of her throat,
the youthfulness of her features, the suppleness and vigour of her
form. He longed to say to her, 'My child, do not fret because he is
no longer your lover--is even, perhaps, that of some one else; it is
always so in marriage, even in love. There is always one who cares
long, and one who cares little. It will not matter to you in the end;
you will learn to lead your own life; you will have your children. I do
not think you will have your lovers, as most of them do, but you will
get reconciled to accepting life on a lower plane than your youthful
imagination placed it on at first.'

He would have liked to say that, and much more, to her, but he did
not venture. She made no confidence, no appeal for sympathy; and
after all, for aught he knew, she might be entirely content with her
husband's ardour, or his lack of it. She was but a child still, and had
little knowledge of the passions of men.

Othmar did not say that he had met his wife's guest as she left his
house.

She had given him her prettiest smile.

'The Countess Othmar is quite lovely; and what a perfect manner!'
she had said. 'What does she say to all your pessimism, to all your
_boutades_? Does she understand them? You must send her to hear a
course of Caro. Her mind can hardly be metaphysical yet. She is at the
age to eat bonbons and expect caresses.'

Then she had made him a little careless sign of farewell, and her black
horses had borne her through the great gates of gilded bronze of the
house which always seemed to him oppressive as a gaol. The words were
harmless, playful, amiable; yet they had annoyed him. He understood
that she ridiculed his marriage, and that she divined that it had but
little place in his affections, and as little hold upon his thoughts.

'Poor child!' he had said involuntarily, as he mounted his staircase to
enter the presence of Yseulte.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


When Nadine Napraxine came into her boudoir on New Year's day, she
smiled a little to see it blocked with flowers. She had always
discountenanced any other gifts than flowers. Whoever had presumed to
offer her anything else would have run the risk of having his name
struck off her list of acquaintances.

'All those _gros cadeaux_ are so vulgar,' she was wont to say. 'A
branch of lilac--a tea-rose--nothing else. No; you must not send the
lilac in a _cloisonné_ Limoges vase, or the roses in a _repoussé_
silver bowl; I should send you your vase or your bowl back to you; you
have no kind of right to suppose that I want vases or bowls; but just
the branch, just the rose, you may send if you like.'

They trembled, and dared not disobey; the lilacs or the roses came by
the scores, with the greatest names of Europe attached to them; and
her courtiers managed ingeniously to spend many thousands of francs
by means of the rarest of the orchids, fulfilling her commands in the
letter, though breaking them in the spirit.

She smiled now as she came into her favourite room this morning, when
fog and frost together reigned without. All the orchid world was there
to welcome her, brilliant and ethereal as the hues of sunrise.

'They love to be extravagant,' she thought, with a little contempt.
'If one limit them to flowers they manage to spend as much as if they
bought jewels. It is very vulgar, all that sort of thing. If I cared
for any one of them, I think I should like him to bring me a little
bunch of corn-cockles--just by way of change.'

She glanced here and there at a name, but, for the most part, did not
even trouble herself to look who was the sender of this or of that.

'_C'est toute la bande!_' she murmured, with an impatient amusement,
knowing that every man in Paris, with rank sufficient to be able to
dare to do so, had sent his floral tribute there.

She rang for her favourite servant Paul; when he appeared she said to
him, 'Take all those cards off those baskets and bouquets; they look
as if they were ticketed for a horticultural show.' So Paul, obedient,
swept away the visiting cards with his swift and silent touch, and
the senders of them were not even honoured by her caring to know
their names; their gifts were all blended in one mass of blossom as
indifferent to her as themselves.

Paul, as he retired with the cards crushed in his hand, thought to
himself with grim amusement, 'If only those _beaux messieurs_ would
understand that Nadège Fedorowna cares no more for any one of them
than she will care for those flowers when they are yellow and withered
to-morrow.'

'If somebody would bring me the corn-cockles!' she herself thought,
with a little laugh.

At that moment there came a timid tap on the door which separated
her boudoir from the great salons. She recognised it with a little
shiver, such as a nervous woman will give when she sees an unpleasant
or uncouth animal; only she was not nervous herself; she was merely
impressionable and irritated.

'Come in,' she said impatiently.

The door opened behind the satin hangings, and Platon Napraxine entered.

'How many times must I request you to pay me the common respect of
sending to know if I be visible?' she said, with that hauteur which he
dreaded, as a prisoner in the fortress of Peter and Paul dreads the
sight of the knout.

'I beg your pardon,' he murmured humbly. 'It is not our day, but I
thought you would allow me to take advantage of the French New Year
to--to--to bring you a little gift. Do not be angry, Nadine----'

He spoke very submissively and with a timidity which made his
high-coloured cheeks grow paler. He had for many a year abandoned all
hope of being any nearer to the woman who was his wife than the marble
of the steps which she descended to her carriage; yet he could not
help having, every now and then, a foolish impulse to approach her in
affection, a wistful fancy that perhaps--perhaps--at last----

He laid on her knee as he spoke a velvet case, with her crown and
initials in gold upon it.

'My dear Platon, what nonsense!' she said, with some real annoyance,
and she murmured to herself: 'In half an hour he will take something
similar to half a dozen _cocottes_!'

But she could do no less than open the case, which was filled by a
necklace, earrings, and a small crown for the hair in pink pearls.

Platon Napraxine watched her wistfully as she looked at them with a
listless indifference. If he could only please her once! If he could
only once see that beautiful contemptuous mouth smile kindly on him.

'There is not one of them worth her little finger,' he thought, meaning
the companions and consolers of his life.

'I think you have no pink pearls; it is the only thing you have not,'
he said; as humble still as a chidden dog. 'Will you not let me wish
you _bonne fête_, Nadine? I----'

He took her hand and carried it to his lips. She drew it away, not
angrily, but with a profound indifference.

'I cannot see why one day in the year is any more than another, that we
should make speeches upon it,' she said, shutting up the jewel case.
'The pearls are quite charming. It is too good of you. Only, you know
I do not in the least see why you should give me things; I really do
not want them----'

It was the '_j'en ai tant_' of her five-year-old philosophy.

'I know you do not want them,' said her husband with a blank sense of
foolish disappointment, foolish because his hope had been foolish. 'But
still most women never have jewels enough. I do not mean that I ever
thought you would care for them, but still it is the custom--and--one
never likes the day to go by,--if you would say a kind word----'

'My dear Platon,' she said wearily, yet with a certain amusement at
his stupidity, 'why will you persist in that superstition that one day
is any more than all the others?--and not even a Russian day either!
You, who are such a Slavophil, should have ignored a French New Year's
day as quite pagan and indecent. The pearls are very pretty; I will
put them on to-night, if that will please you. Only--only--you know I
am not very fond of that sort of presents. Are you sure you have not
another similar case in your pocket that you are going to take this
morning to that very handsome new house in the Avenue Villiers? All
the houses are new there, but that is newest----'

Napraxine coloured dully with a dual sense of embarrassment and
ridicule.

He was silent.

'Are you sure?' said his wife, with her head leaning back on her
cushions and her demure smile gleaming beneath the lashes of her
half-closed eyelids.

'Nadine!' stammered Napraxine, in mingled discomfiture and eagerness,
which made him blunder more and more. 'What can one do when
you--you,--as God is above us, if you had not turned me adrift years
ago as if I were a monster, I would never have looked at another woman.
You do not believe it, but I would not. Even now, I would leave them
all if you said a word,--if--if----'

She rose and laid the case of pearls down on a table near her.

'My dear Prince,' she said in her iciest tones, though, in her own
heart, she could very willingly have laughed aloud, 'I see you have
indeed mistaken your road to the Avenue de Villiers. Do you think you
can purchase my--kindness--as you do that of your mistresses? Pray let
this be the last of such blunders. You have not been guilty of them for
many years. Do not begin now. They offend me. You will only ruffle,
very disagreeably and uselessly, the amiable understanding on which we
have agreed to live.'

'When did I ever agree?'

His face was darkly flushed, his voice was husky and had a tremor in
it, something savage and imperious began to wake in him and tell him
that after all this delicate and disdainful woman was his;--but her
languid lids opened wholly, and her calm, luminous eyes looked him full
in the face with that look with which the keeper can daunt, by sheer
power of will, the animal which could trample him into dust and tear
him into atoms.

'Pray, do not let us re-open a discussion which has been closed for six
years,' she said in her softest, coldest voice. 'I am quite sure you
meant well; I never bear malice; I will wear your pearls to-night. We
have a dinner, I think; for d'Aumale, is it not? _Bonne fête, mon ami._
Think what a troubled life you would have if I cared about that new
house, and be grateful. Please send Paul here. He must take away some
of this lilac. So much of it will give me _migraine_.'

Napraxine stifled as best he could some oath which he dared not utter
aloud, and went slowly and sullenly out of her presence, sensible of an
ignominious dismissal. His glance as he went dwelt with suspicion on
the baskets and bouquets which made the room and the adjoining rooms
gardens of orchids and odontoglossum, of gardenias and of tea-roses.

'Is there one among them,' he thought, 'for whom she cares?'

He was nothing to her: but he would be something to such an one if ever
he could find his foe.

He was hurt, wounded, humiliated, infuriated, all in one; conscious of
a defeat which made him grotesque in her sight, sensible of an act of
unwisdom and of sentimentality which had only placed him lower than
ever in the estimation of a woman whom he was furiously conscious that
he still loved and still desired.

When the hangings of the door had closed behind him, his wife laughed
with an amusement which her sense of courtesy had controlled before,
and put a tea-rose in the bosom of her gown.

'How stupid, how intensely stupid, to come to me as he goes to his
_cocottes_,' she thought, with that irritation and ennui which were
the only emotions which he ever aroused in her. 'And to renew that
sort of argument as if we were two greengrocers living at Montmartre!
Decidedly, when the _bon Dieu_ made poor Platon, he left out of his
composition every vestige of tact; and really tact is the only quality
that it is absolutely necessary for everybody to have to prevent them
from irritating others. Who could have imagined that after six years
he would begin again like that!--he has always a little access of
tenderness at the end of the year; last time he gave me a dreadful
Chinese idol as big as himself with green eyes; some dealer had told
him it was very precious: he did not know, he never knows; I wonder if
there were anybody so stupid in all the world; I am only astonished
that he did not send for Sachs and Mitz as an agreeable surprise for
me!'

'Yes, Paul,' she said aloud, 'take away most of those flowers, they
make my head ache; and give that case to Jeanne to put up in the
jewel-safe. Tell Fedor that I shall want the horses in an hour.'

'How very stupid some women must be,' she reflected often, 'to let
themselves be dictated to, and denied, and bullied, and worried by
their husbands. Nothing is so easy to manage as a man, if you only
begin in the right way with him. All depends on how you begin; it
is just like a horse; if you do not make him feel that you are his
superior at once, he will take advantage of you for ever. I remember
my mother saying to me before my marriage: "Ménage ton mari, sois bien
douce." Now, if I had listened to her, I should have had Platon on my
shoulders all my life; I dare say, even, he would have expected me to
please him, and to listen to him, and to accept all his absurdities.
But I froze him from the first; he has always been intensely afraid of
me. Of two people there is always one who is afraid, and I preferred
that it should be he. It just shows what mind can do over matter.'

She looked listlessly at a pile of telegrams which her servant had
brought in with him and laid on the little table near her.

'They will all say the same thing,' she thought indifferently, as she
opened two or three which contained the usual greetings of the New Year
from her innumerable relatives and friends in other countries and at
other courts; no Russian, of course, amongst them.

'If people must have it that a year begins, which is utterly absurd,
why did they not take pretty pink and white April instead of this ugly,
shivering, frost-bitten January?' she said to her dog Dauphin, as she
glanced through the tedious compliments of the telegrams. At last,
amidst them, there was one which made her change colour as she read
it. It was from Lady Brancepeth, away on her estates in the north of
England. It was only a line; it said:

'My brother has been killed on the ice in the Gulf of S. Lawrence.'

There were no details, only the bare fact, as it had been brought with
the same crushing curtness by the electric cable from the western to
the eastern shores of the Atlantic.

Nadine Napraxine read it three times without at the first realising
or believing it. The news gave her a shock; not a great one, but
still a kind of chilly pain and vague terror. A mist swam for a moment
before her eyes; a sorrow, which was quite sincere, moved her as the
sense of what she read gradually grew more and more distinct. A sudden
remembrance smote her of Geraldine, as she had seen him first some
three years earlier, standing on the beach at Biarritz, clad in his
blue sea-clothes, with the sun shining full on his fair frank features
and in his clear, happy, candid eyes. He had looked at her; his sister
had beckoned to him, and had said carelessly: 'Ralph, is it possible
that you do not know Madame Napraxine?' and he had come up to them over
the rough red rocks, the sun and the wind playing in his bright hair.
And then, life had never again been quite the same to him, and now it
was over for ever. He was dead, just thirty years old!

'Pauvre garçon!' she said, with genuine regret, as she had said the
same words when they had told her that the young Louis Napoléon had
been killed at Isandula. It was not the regret for which the dead man,
thinking of her as the frozen night had closed in on him and over the
wastes of ice-bound waters, perchance had hoped. 'Pauvre garçon!' she
murmured where she sat, amidst the profusion of the flowers. For the
moment she felt cold in her room, which was as warm as a summer day,
and through whose double windows of opalescent glass no breath of the
outer air could penetrate.

'I suppose they will say I did this too!' she thought with impatience,
her memory reverting to the death of young Seliedoff even whilst she
said again very softly to herself, 'Pauvre garçon!'

She was sincerely sorry; she felt nothing of that more passionate and
personal pain which once Geraldine might not unnaturally have hoped
that his death would excite in her, but a sincere regret mingled with
a kind of annoyance that men who had loved her would always go and run
some tragic risks, so that they perished miserably:--and then the world
blamed her.

'I, who detest tragedies!' she said to the little dog. 'When the
majority of men, too, always live too long, live to have gout, and use
spectacles, and grow tiresome!'

'Pauvre garçon, pauvre garçon!' she murmured once more, in the only
threnody which occurred to her: how could he go and get drowned in
the S. Lawrence, where the ice was surely as thick as in the Neva?
She had always liked to play at being Providence to her world, a very
capricious and unkind Providence indeed, but still one which decided
their destinies without any reference to their desires as Providence is
always permitted to do. She did not like these rude gusts of uncalled
for accident which blew out the lives which she held in her hand as if
they were so many tapers!

'Pauvre garçon!'

He had grown very wearisome, he had been even disposed to become
exacting, he had wearied her, and she had not known very well how to
get rid of him; but still it was a pity. He had had a great position,
he was an only son, his own people were very fond of him, he was
better than most of the men of his age and rank; she had for once
the sensation that one feels when one has broken a rare piece of
china,--the sensation of having done a silly thing, an irreparable
thing.

'I never told him to go to Canada!' she said to herself. No: she had
only told him that he wearied her. So he had wearied her; he had never
been too amusing at the best of times. It was not her fault that he had
become tiresome; they all became so; they had no originality. Still it
was a pity; she saw his fair frank face, with its eyes so blue and so
wistful, looking at her as he had stood to hear his sentence that last
day we saw La Jacquemerille.

'I do not think I said anything unkind to him that day,' she reflected;
and then the little smile that was so often on her lips came on
them a moment as she thought: 'To be sure, I told him to marry
somebody--anybody.'

Well, he was dead, and before he was thirty; with all his courage and
gallantry and wealth, and the many people who loved him at home all
powerless to save him from the black chasm of the yawning ice; and she
was not so very sorry after all; she honestly wished she could feel
more sorrow. She had never known real sorrow but once, when her father
had been found dead in his writing-room in the Embassy at Vienna.

'Platon will be more sorry,' she thought, 'he always likes his worst
enemies so much!'

Then she rang again for Paul, and told him to take the telegram to the
Prince if he was still in the house.

Napraxine, in five minutes' time, not venturing to return in person,
wrote to her on the back of the printed message:

'I am grieved indeed. Would you desire to postpone the dinner of
to-night?'

She wrote back to him:

'That would be too infinitely ridiculous; though it is certainly a
great pity, he was no relation of ours, only a _bonne connaissance_!'

'A _bonne connaissance_!' exclaimed Napraxine when he read the
pencilled words. That was all the requiem given to the drowned man,
whose battered and disfigured body was then on its way homeward, on
the deck of a vessel which was ploughing a stormy way through dusky
mountainous Atlantic waves!

She sat still a little while, looking through the remaining telegrams
and casting them aside; all the rest were the mere congratulations of
the season.

'I wonder when people will invent anything new!' she thought as she
threw the last aside. 'To think that the Romans five and twenty
centuries ago were also running about and visiting and sending cakes
and taking flowers, because what they called a new year had come! I
suppose the world will never liberate itself from the _camisole de
force_ of idiotic customs.'

She wrote a telegram of sympathy to the sister of Geraldine as she had
written a letter of condolence to the mother of Seliedoff; then she
had herself wrapped in sealskin from head to foot and prepared for her
drive in the Bois.

'When I am gone, open the windows, Paul,' she said to the servant, who
was so astonished that he ventured to ask if he heard aright, knowing
that his lady loved warm air as a palm does.

'Open the windows and leave them open,' she repeated. She looked at
all the hot-house blossoms and thought, with that cruelty which was
latent in her side by side with her higher qualities, 'They will all be
withered in an hour. Paul will tell all the valets, they will tell all
their masters----'

The fancy diverted her. She liked flowers, but she liked a little
cruelty like this much better. It would be wholesome for all those men
to know how she valued their New Year's gifts.

'Women nowadays make them so vain,' she said to herself. 'If it were
not for me, they would never get a lesson at all.'

To some the lesson had been severe, severe as the severity of death;
but that fact scarcely affected her conscience.

She did not stop her carriage to speak to any of her acquaintances, for
she supposed that the news of Geraldine's death would by this time be
known in Paris, where he had so many friends, and knew that everyone
would take pleasure in saying to her--'Mais comment donc? Est-ce bien
vrai?--' It would be so tiresome!

'I cannot help it if they kill themselves!' she said to herself as her
horses sped along the frosty roads. 'Society will blame me now, but I
imagine they would have blamed me much more if I had gone away into
his north-country mists with poor Geraldine as he would have liked me
to do; he was so sensational, poor fellow, and so romantic under his
English awkwardness. Englishmen are like that; they can seldom say
anything they mean properly, but they are very romantic under it all;
they are always ready to compromise themselves, despite their decorum,
and they have just the dogged fidelity of their own bulldogs.'

He had been better than most of them certainly.

She felt a certain pain as she went through the chill sharp air and
heavy mists, and remembered how many times she had seen Geraldine
come riding through the trees, and how boyishly his face had flushed
whenever he had seen her first! Poor foolish fellow! to leave all his
possessions and interests and duties, and to go out to Ottawa, where
he had no earthly business to be, as if going to Ottawa were likely
to deliver him of her memory! That was so truly an Englishman's idea,
to change latitude and longitude and think you left behind you any
inconvenient passion you might be haunted with by merely changing your
climate and your food! 'Poor Ralph! Poor Ralph! I think there was
nothing on earth tragic, ridiculous, or abominable that he would not
have done if I had ordered him to do it--except that he would never
have killed Platon. I do not think even I could have made him kill
Platon. That is the sort of scruple an Englishman always has, alone of
all men in the world.'

'I suppose she knows it, but she does not care,' said many persons,
looking after her as their wont was, as she flashed past them, nothing
scarcely seen of her except her luminous eyes looking out from the
brown lustre of the sealskins, whilst she made an almost imperceptible
gesture of her head to the innumerable salutations that marked her
course.

'When we get rid of the _camisole de force_,' she said to herself, 'we
shall get rid of bowing to each other; it is insane, when everyone
meets everyone else morning, noon, and night, to be obliged to jerk
one's head fifty times every quarter of an hour when one is out of
doors!'

She scarcely moved hers, indeed, but still it was a trouble; it was to
avoid the trouble that she sometimes took those long solitary drives
into the open country, of which the motive constantly perplexed her
world. To any other woman they would have attributed assignations,
but no one could ever do that to the Princess Napraxine; her absolute
indifference was too notorious a fact, and the dullest who knew aught
of her felt that if ever she awoke to any preference she would never
stoop to mask it. She cared nothing for the opinion of any living
being. She had no lover, only because she had no love.

Under her nonchalance and her occasional sentiments of sympathy with
revolutionists, she was of an inexorably proud temperament; she would
have liked to be an empress,--an empress such as was seen in earlier
times, whose mere breath spoke the _fiat_ of life and death. As it was,
she could only vex the souls of men and kill orchids.

When she reached home, after driving until dusk, she passed through her
boudoir to see if Paul had obeyed her. He had obeyed her implicitly:
the windows were still wide open and the bitter biting air was
streaming into the room, driving out before it all the heat from the
calorifère; all the poor flowers were withered, as if a scorch from
fire had passed over them, and the beautiful butterfly petals were mere
shrivelled, shapeless leaves. It had been a pity, she thought, to have
obeyed her so exactly; yet she knew very well that if he had not done
so, Paul, despite his twenty-five years of service to the house of
Napraxine, would have found himself outside her doors for evermore that
night.

'Shut them now,' she said to him, as he waited for her commands, 'and
take away all those baskets and bouquets.'

Paul knew her too well to dare to remark what he had thought all the
afternoon, that it had been a sad waste of some fifty thousand francs'
worth of blossoms. He closed the windows in silence. She passed on
towards her dressing-chambers through the little library which divided
the boudoir from them, the gayest and most coquettish of little
libraries in appearance, with ivory bookcases ornamented by painted
medallions of birds, a few white marble busts, and hangings of modern
Gobelin tapestry; but a library by no means destitute of serious and
philosophic works of some Latin authors, and of transactions of recent
scientific research.

In the library, Paul, hesitating, ventured to approach her with a
bouquet which was not harmed by the twilight frost.

'This was left a few moments ago,' he explained as he tendered it
in some trepidation, uncertain whether he had done wrong to exclude
it from the general massacre. She took it indifferently: it was very
simple;--a bouquet of narcissus with a rim of white violets, nothing
else. The name on the card with it was Othmar's. She smiled and took it
with her into her dressing-room. It was the bunch of 'corn-cockles' for
which she had wished.

'I did not do wrong,' thought Paul, with a sigh of relief. Then he
smiled too as he recalled the winter in which the sender had been
many times alone with his mistress in that little room where the
orchids had now withered in their gilded baskets. 'It was he if it
were ever anyone,' he thought; 'but I do not believe it has ever been
anyone--yet.'

His knowledge of the world made him make the restriction, as he called
one of his subordinates to sweep away all that rubbish, pointing to the
poor murdered flowers, whose costly _corbeilles_ would be one of his
many perquisites.

She, meanwhile, was undressed, clothed in a loose gown of embroidered
china silk, took a cup of tea, and slept peacefully in the perfumed
warmth. She liked to come out of the frosty and foggy air, and lie
still with the pleasant drowsiness caused by the contrast of the sharp
evening wind and the atmosphere heated to 40° Réaumur. Physicians told
her that so sudden a change was not wise or safe, but she laughed at
them. 'What is pleasant is always wholesome,' she said, constructing
new rules of hygiene, as she often did new rules of etiquette. She
liked the warmth, the sense of repose, of languor, of voluptuousness,
as a cat loves it, stretched on velvet, in still hot air. She slept
now with perfect composure, dreamlessly, from the semi-stupor that
driving against cold winds brings with it afterwards. Then, all at
once, she dreamt of a lake half frozen, of dark tempestuous skies, of
an open grave in the black water under the jagged drifting ice; and
she awoke with a little unconscious cry to open her eyes on the mellow
light, the satin hangings, the Saxe mirrors, the snowy bear-skins of
her dressing-room, the little tray of silver and china, the bouquet of
narcissus and violets near her.

'What a wretched dream! I, who never dream,' she said impatiently, as
she stretched her limbs out on the white furs of her couch. Then she
remembered Geraldine.

'Will he haunt me every time I go to sleep?' she thought, with a little
shiver. It seemed to her altogether unreasonable and undeserved. She
had never told him to go on the Gulf of S. Lawrence in the dangerous
season before the ice was solid.

In an hour's time she took the bouquet of narcissus in her hand, and
descended to her drawing-rooms. She wore the pink pearls that night,
the little crown holding up her hair, raised like that of the portraits
of Madame Tallien: she never wore her hair twice together in the same
fashion. 'If you always wear your hair the same way, you have no
imagination, and you are always suspected of a peruke,' she was wont to
say.

Platon Napraxine seeing his despised gift thus honoured, was almost
contented. In the _régime_ of starvation, on which he had been kept so
long, the smallest crumbs of condescension were eagerly seized by him.

She herself was in a gentle and gracious mood; she was not quite so
merciless in speech as usual, but she was quite as charming. The Duc
d'Aumale sat on her right hand, the English Ambassador on her left. Her
airy laughter rang ever and again like silver bells; and Napraxine,
even in the midst of the surprised gratitude with which he saw his pink
pearls honoured by being worn, thought with a sense of depression and
wonder: 'If I were to die to-morrow, would she care a whit more than
she cares now for Ralph?'



CHAPTER XXXIX.


The telegram had merely said that Geraldine had been killed on the
ice in the Gulf of S. Lawrence. There had been no details; but later
on all the world learned that death had come to him in the freshness
of his manhood by one of those trite accidents so common in North
American waters in the beginning of winter, when the ice is still loose
and detached, and is borne to and fro by the sullen waves which seem
unwilling to endure its chains. He had been standing on an ice floe,
off the Prince Edward Island, with Canadian hunters, seeking seals,
when that portion of it which sustained them had suddenly broken away
before they were aware of their danger, and, drifting with frightful
rapidity, had borne them out to sea at the close of the short, bitter
winter's day. Many on the shore were witnesses of the certain death to
which they were carried, but no help was possible before the darkness
of night came down,--the night which froze all human life left without
shelter in it.

Where the floe went none knew; when the dawn broke there was no trace
of its passage to be made out amidst the many masses of ice rocking,
meeting, parting, crashing one upon another as the frost strove to
bind beneath its iron hold the free will and the wild anger of the
sea. Whether those who had been upon it had been drowned, or frozen to
death, or borne out to mid-Atlantic, none could know; but on the third
day the body of Geraldine and of two of the Canadian fishermen had
been washed ashore off the New Brunswick coast: his features had been
recognised by his own crew, and the tidings of his cruel fate had been
sent to his mother and his sisters. He had been the only son of a high
and honourable House. There was the grief which sorrowed without hope
in the old north country halls, where a widowed mother wept for him,
and a loyal and loving tenantry followed his body to its grave by the
fair Yore waters.

One Tuesday evening, some two weeks later, when Nadine Napraxine
returned home from the opera to change her gown for a ball at Prince
Orloff's, there lay on her dressing-room table, amongst others, a
letter of which the superscription was very familiar to her, and which
moved her with a certain sense which was as nearly fear as it was
possible for her temperament to know.

She herself had written to Geraldine's people, but no one of them had
answered her until now that Evelyn Brancepeth did so. She broke the
envelope and read the letter, standing in the costume of Venetian red
embroidered with silver flowers, in which, at the opera that night,
she had held all the eyes of the house upon her as she sat, careless,
indifferent, half hidden behind her great red fan, the diamond
butterflies which served in the place of sleeves trembling upon her
shoulders.

'I know very well,' wrote Lady Brancepeth, 'that before the world you
are wholly blameless. I know that my unhappy brother had no right
to consider himself preferred by you. I know, were I speaking with
you now, you would say with your chilliest manner that you had never
honoured him with any encouragement to folly. But you will pardon me
if I say that you are more blamable to me than you would be if you
had loved him. I am a plain, stupid, unromantic Englishwoman, but
even I can see that love excuses its own excesses: _l'amour prime le
droit_. I could pardon a great passion if it even committed a great
crime. But you have no passion, you have even no sentiment. You are
sometimes amused, and you are sometimes--much more often--bored; and
there the scale of your emotions rounds itself and ends. There may
be someone who can, or who will, extend for you that narrow circle,
though I very greatly doubt it; but it was entirely certain that poor
Ralph had never any chance or any power to do so. He adored you, quite
stupidly and hopelessly, but he never even knew how to say so in such
a manner as could have touched you. He was very English, very _terre
à terre_, and if he had never seen you he would have led a happy life
enough; a commonplace one, no doubt, but one useful in his generation,
and content with those simple joys which to a _raffinée_ like you seem
so absurd and so dull. But he did meet you; and ever afterwards life
meant nothing to him unless it meant your presence, and your will. You
had admitted him into the honour of a certain intimacy, which, in his
blundering English way, he fancied meant all kinds of eventualities
that it did not mean. No doubt his delusion was of his own creating,
and of course he ought to have been prepared for his dismissal when he
had become troublesome or tedious; but he was so unwise that he put all
his heart into that which he should have understood was a mere _jeu
de salon_; and you did not condescend to give him any warning. Why
should you? you will say. Why, indeed, since his fate was as entirely
indifferent to you as the bouquets that crowd your antechambers in
Carnaval. It would have been so very easy for you, when first my
brother ventured to show you what he felt, to banish him for ever
with a decisive word; he would have been man enough to understand and
to accept it; but you did not take that trouble, and the love of you
grew--not perhaps precisely upon hope--but at least upon the tacit
permission to exist. I scarcely know why I write all this to you, for
you will not read it; only I have been your friend, so far as you allow
any woman to call herself so, and I feel that whenever we meet in the
world you will expect me to be so still, and I cannot. I must ask you
to let us be strangers. No doubt, actually, you are innocent of my
brother's death, but indirectly--even in a manner directly--you were
the cause of it. You made his country, his family, his home life, his
duties of all kinds, become no more to him than if he had never known
land or kindred. The pain with which you filled him made him wander in
an aimless unrest from place to place in an alien world with which he
had no sympathy, and made him only too willing to die, that he might so
throw off the fever of your memory. My dear Nadine, you are a woman of
perfect honour, of high repute, of sensitive and unbending pride, and
on the ermine of your delicate dignity there is no stain as yet. But
for me, there is blood upon your hand. I can never take it in my own
again. Let us be strangers.'

The letter was signed, and nothing more was added to it.

Nadine Napraxine read the lines through, word by word, and when she
had done so, folded it up and put it aside, without irritation, but
not altogether without regret. The frank, sincere, and at times rough
words of Geraldine's sister had been welcome to her by their contrast
with the false sweetness of the world's phrases, and she knew that
she would lose her friendship with reluctance, and miss her surly
honesty, with its uncompromising truths. But the letter seemed to her
exaggerated, not in the best taste, even if, under the circumstances
which inspired it, natural enough. Geraldine had perished by such an
accident as every year costs scores of fishers' lives whenever the ice
floes meet and sever in the half-frozen seas of the north. Why would
they see her hand in it so clearly?

'It is just as they always see the finger of God where a horse stumbles
at a post and rails, or when a pointsman is sleepy and does not hang
out the red light,' she said to herself, with some impatient contempt.
'I am sorry, quite sorry myself, that he is dead, but I certainly never
told him to get upon a block of ice in midwinter on the St. Lawrence.
And it was quite as much Platon's doing as mine that ever he took the
habit of coming about our house at all. Besides, if he had not been
very stupid, as even his sister says, he would have understood _à
demi-mot_; there is nothing on earth so tiresome as people who want
things explained.'

Still, there were passages in the letter which touched her conscience,
and reached that truthfulness in self-judgment which easily awoke in
her.

'I suppose I am unkind--sometimes,' she thought, with a certain
contrition. 'When they irritate me I really do not care what becomes
of them. As long as they know how to please me I am always amiable. It
is not my fault that their knowledge comes to an end too soon. It is
their own poverty of style, of thought, of invention. If I were writing
a dictionary, and had to define Man, I should say he was a limited
animal, exceedingly limited. There is infinitely more variety about
dogs.'

The very recollection of the excessive monotony of the human species
made her yawn. She wondered if that monotony were the fault of
civilisation; probably not. In a savage state, no doubt, instincts had
been all alike, just as manners were all alike now. People were all
dull, and because she found them so they considered her heartless.
Poor Geraldine had been dull; dull in comprehension, in intention, in
discernment; and just because she had found him so his sister wrote to
her as if she were a murderess.

'Poor woman!' she reflected. 'She is always so disposed to see
everything so terribly _en noir_. That is so English, too. They always
have the fog in their eyes. I am not in the least like Lady Macbeth. I
neither murder men, nor have my sleep murdered by them. It is natural
that she should feel keenly the loss of her only brother, but it is
absurd that she should lay the blame upon my shoulders, when she
knows that if he had not wished to shoot seals--which is a barbarous
pastime--he would most probably be alive now. As if a man could be
wasting with despair, and yet care about seals! To be sure, it is
very English. If an Englishman be hopelessly in love with any one, he
generally goes a long way off and tries to kill a tiger or a moose.
I do not see the connection of ideas between the sigh of passion and
the steel of a gun barrel, but there must be some link of affinity for
them, because they all do it. I prefer men like Othmar, who kill other
men.'

Although she was all alone as these thoughts drifted through her
mind while the letter of Lady Brancepeth lay amongst the litter of
notes, cards, and invitations on her table, a momentary warmth came
on her face as the name of Othmar recurred to her, and a certain
bitterness of contempt came into her recollection as she remembered
his marriage. If he had had patience, if he only had had patience,
perhaps--perhaps--perhaps----

She would not have gone away with him, because in her world they did
not do those things, and she would have always been too keenly afraid
of an after-time of regret and weariness, but she might have accepted
the gift of his life, and given him something of her own.

In his haste and wrath he had set up a barrier between them, but how
frail it was! Only the timid, wistful youth of a girl! The imperial
scorn of the Cleopatras of the earth rose in her before her meek,
childlike rival.

What a coward he had been to shelter himself behind the frail rampart
of a young girl's affection; affection which he did not appreciate, did
not reciprocate, did not value!

A woman with a tithe part of the discernment and the experience which
she possessed could cast the horoscope of Yseulte without any recourse
to the stars for knowledge of the future. All that fresh and tender
love would count for nothing, would avail nothing, would awaken no
response. She would bear his children, and live in his houses, and be
the object of all his careful outward observance, and that would be
all. He would grow unspeakably weary of seeing her, of hearing her,
of remembering her tie to him, and he would conceal his weariness ill
or well, and be every day more and more galled by the necessity for
concealment.

When Nadine Napraxine, after the ball, went to her own rooms that
night, she had herself undressed by her women and wrapped in a loose
bed-room gown, made of her favourite white satin, and lined with
eider-down. She dismissed her women, and lay before the warmth of her
dressing-room fire in that dreamy state between waking and sleeping
which is the very perfection of repose. The softly-lighted chambers
opened one out of another in a vista of rich subdued colour, ending in
the bath room, where a lamp hung above a beautiful reproduction of the
Venus of Naples. The rooms were so many temples to her own perfections,
she was the Grace, the Muse, and the Venus herself of this perfect
sanctuary, which no footfall of man had ever dared invade. As she
reclined before the fire that night and glanced through her half-closed
lids down the succession of chambers, which in the clear but delicate
light had the glow of jewels, she thought how dull and empty they would
have seemed to most women of her years without a lover's step coming
silently and swiftly through the fragrant silence.

'Decidedly,' she mused, 'the _voix de la nature_ says nothing at all
to me. Is it because I have no heart, as they say? I do not think the
heart has much to do with that kind of thing. I suppose I am cold, as
they all cry out against me. Of all of them, there is no one I should
care to see coming through those shadows; he would disturb me. The
passions are coarse things. It is disgusting that there should not
be two ways of love, one for Dona Sol and one for Manon Lescaut--for
one's self and one's maid. But there are not. _On se rend, ou on ne se
rend pas_; but when the submission is made Nature makes no difference
between Cleopatra and a camp-follower.'

She sighed a little, inconsistently. She disdained alike the
solicitations of the senses and the pleasures of the affections, and
yet she was conscious of a certain coldness and emptiness in her life;
she was not prepared to confess that what she needed was love, but a
vague impression of solitude came upon her. She remembered the lips
of Othmar pressed upon her wrist, how they had burned, how they had
trembled!

Was it possible that the keenest joys of life lay, after all, in those
follies which her temperament and her philosophies had classed with
contempt amongst the excesses of wantons and the exaggerations of poets?

The purest maiden in her cloister could not have been colder than
was Nadine Napraxine; to her the indulgence of the senses only meant
an intolerable humiliation, an ignominious outrage; maternity itself
had only been to her a long and hated and revolting burden, a sign
of unendurable degradation, which offended all her pride and all her
delicacy. The satyr had always seemed to her a much juster emblem of
such instincts than any winged amorino.

    'D'un être inconnu le contact passager'

could not rouse any desire or any sentiment in her.

And yet there were occasionally moments, fleeting ones it is true, when
in the sublimated egoism of her indolent, ironical, artificial life,
she had a vague impression of some possible passion which yet might
arouse her to acknowledge its force; a tempestuous fancy swept over
her, as a storm-wind may sweep over a parterre of tulips and azaleas,
for stronger emotions, hotter enmities, dearer attachments, keener
strife, than those which the polished inanities of her own sphere could
yield to her. The emotion lasted with her very little time, but whilst
it was there the eyes of Othmar always looked in memory into hers.

She who at will forgot everything had never forgotten the sound of his
voice as he had pleaded with her. It had ever since haunted her with a
vague imperfect sense of something missed, something lost, something in
her own life incomplete and unattainable. She had not a doubt but that
in time they would have wearied each other--fatigue was the inevitable
shadow of all love--yet she had a pathetic regretfulness as for life
incomplete, undeveloped, unshared, whenever she remembered that hers
and his might have been passed together.

It had been only a sentiment; it never had risen to the form of desire,
or ached with the pain of passion; but it had been a sentiment, vague,
almost poetic; a wild flower of feeling which seemed of strange growth
in the hot-house culture of her intelligence, and the rarified chill
air of her many philosophies.

She had sometimes said to herself, 'I could have loved him.' In
self-communion the conditional mood is never parted by more than a
hair's breadth from the present. There were moments in the ironical,
indolent, artificial life which usurped her time and thoughts in which
she almost regretted that decision which had banished Othmar from her
side and given him to another. The regret was as nearly a movement
of the heart as she was capable of; but it was much besides that; it
was the inquisitiveness of a _désœuvrée_ incredulous that life could
hold any great emotions for her; it was the impulse of a contemptuous
courage to break through social laws which it despised; it was the
desire of a woman lonely amidst her triumphs to find that key to the
enjoyment of existence which, in some way or another, had slipped
through her hands, and had never been discovered in its hiding-place.

'If I had been quite sure that he would have contented me!' she thought
more than once.

If she had been quite sure, she would have surrendered everything,
paused at nothing; it was neither daring nor generosity which were
wanting in her; but she had not been sure, since she was never sure of
herself!



CHAPTER XL.


A fortnight afterwards, the Prince and Princess Napraxine issued cards
for a dinner, to meet the Emperor of all the Russias. The invitation
came to the Hôtel Othmar at noon, as Yseulte sat at breakfast; she
coloured a little as she saw it, and passed it across the table to her
husband with a dozen other invitations. He glanced at them, put them
aside, and spoke of something else. She hesitated a few minutes, then
said timidly:

'Am I to accept it?'

'Accept which of them?'

'The Princess Napraxine's.'

He looked up with some displeasure at her tone; he answered quickly:

'Assuredly. Why not? You cannot leave it open as you do for a ball or a
reception.'

She did not venture to say why. She coloured more and more, and
remained silent.

'You have no plea for refusing invitations since you are not ill and
are seen everywhere,' he said coldly. 'Besides, I thought you were
acquiring the tastes of the world.'

She did not speak. She could not say to him: 'I cannot bear to be the
guest of Madame Napraxine, because they tell me you have loved her as
you never have loved me.'

Othmar glanced at her, and imagined what was in her thoughts. 'Perhaps
that meddlesome Melville has talked to her,' he thought, with the ready
suspicion of a man of the world of an ecclesiastic. He said, a little
impatiently:

'My dear child, do not conceive animosities against people, or you will
spoil your own sweetness of temper and make yourself disliked by your
own sex. And do not fret yourself with imaginary antagonisms, which
are altogether unworthy of you. When we are living in the world, we
must abide by its rules of courtesy. I am wholly at a loss to imagine
why you should be unwilling to accept this invitation; but as you are
seen everywhere in this your first Paris winter, you cannot without
rudeness refuse it. This is the only good that I have ever seen come
out of society, that it compels us to subordinate our own inclinations
to certain definite laws of good breeding. Pray do not grow fretful; it
was your beautiful serenity that I first admired, and loved.'

He hesitated a moment before the last word.

'I will remember,' she said gently; but without much effort she would
have burst into tears.

He saw the effort, and it irritated him. He knew that he ought to have
said to her, 'Follow your inclination and refuse, if you like.' But
her wish to refuse it had annoyed him, and hurried him into a command
to accept it from which he could not recede. And the charm of Nadine
Napraxine was upon him, and had broken down all his wiser resolutions.

He looked across the table at Yseulte. She was as fair as the dawn,
certainly; but she had no power over him; she did not beguile his time,
or stimulate his wit, or stir his intellect; she did not, even after
twelve months of possession, move his senses. She was a lovely child,
most obedient, tender, and spiritual; but--she was not the mistress of
his thoughts. She never had been, she never would be so.

'How stupid men are!' thought Nadine Napraxine that night. 'She is
worth very much more than I am; she is both handsome and lovely; she is
as harmless and guileless as a dove, and she adores him, a great deal
too much; yet, perhaps one ought to say therefore, he cares nothing
on earth for her; he will love me as long as his life lasts; he would
do so even if I had the tremendous penalty-weight, as the racing-men
say, of being his wife. I really do not know why it is that the noblest
sort of women do not excite love. I wonder why it is? I asked my father
once; he said, "Because the devil dowers his own daughters." But that
explains nothing; we all know there is no devil; there are women--and
women. That is all.'

As those thoughts drifted dreamily through her mind she was conversing
all the while about classic music with a potentate who was no mean
dilettante in melody, and she was looking down her table at the young
face of Yseulte with a vague sort of pity which she could scarcely
have explained,--such pity as in the gladiatorial arena some trained
and irresistible _retiarius_ might have felt at seeing some fair brave
youth enter with the shield that was to be so useless and the sword
that was so soon to fail; a pity which might be quite sincere, though
it might never go so far as mercy. The faint jealousy which she had
felt when, walking amongst the moonlit fields of Zaraïzoff, she had
thought of Amyôt, had faded altogether the moment that she had met
Othmar again. She knew, as women always know such things, that her
power over him was unaltered and unalterable by any will of his own.

'When I choose,' she thought, 'he will leave her and she will break her
heart. She will know nothing about such reprisal as a Parisienne should
take; she will never be a Parisienne; she will always be a patrician of
the _vieille souche_, which is quite another thing; she will always be
an innocent woman, with a soul like a lily. She is afraid of me, and
she dislikes me; she tries to hide it all she can, but she does not
know how. Platon admires her; that is what he ought to have married; I
dare say she would never have found him ugly or clumsy; he would have
been her husband--that would have been enough to make him sacred;
there are women like that. She adores Othmar, but she knows nothing
about him; he is a little like Hamlet, and she is as much puzzled as
Ophelia. Of course she would have worshipped any man who had prevented
her being buried in a convent; she is as full of life as a lime-tree
in flower. She is longing to look at me always, but she does not dare.
She is quite beautiful, quite, but all that is no use to her. He knows
it, but he does not care for it. He will keep her in his house and have
children by her, but he will care no more for her than for Mercié's
Andromache, that stands in his vestibule. Whether you are Venus or a
Hottentot matters so little if a man do not love you; if you do not
know how to make him love you. They always say a modest woman never
does know how; but I do not think I am especially immodest, yet I
know----'

The disjointed thoughts drifted through her mind without interfering
with the current of her conversation. Metaphysicians may dispute the
existence of two simultaneous trains of thought, but women know their
possibility.

Her enigmatical victorious smile came on her lips as that consciousness
soothed and stimulated her.

She had too much honour to make any deliberate project to seduce him
from his allegiance. Her coquetries might be less merciful than many
more guilty, but they had never ceased to be innocent in the world's
conception of the term. The coldness with which Othmar had reproached
her was still one of the most definite of her qualities. It was
the amulet of her magic, the secret of her power. She was as yet a
perfectly passionless woman, and as such ruled the passions of men.

'So, Othmar, like every one else, you find that marriage leads to
the world, not to the hidden doves' nest of the poets?' said Nadine
Napraxine after dinner, when her rooms had filled an hour before
midnight, and her imperial guest had gone and left her free.

'I am afraid it is impossible to avoid following the mould of the
society we live in,' replied Othmar. 'The hope of being original is one
of the many illusions which we leave behind us with time.'

'I confess that I am a little disappointed in you,' she continued,
with the smile of malice which he knew so well. 'I should have thought
you would have had courage to live your own life, to avoid beaten
paths, and to keep your lovely arum lily from the Breton woods out of
our forcing-house. Allow me to say it in all simplicity and sincerity,
she is most lovely. All Paris envies you.'

Othmar's face flushed as he bowed in acknowledgment. He did not reply.
Though the habits of the world had taught him many such lessons, he
found it hard to appear unmoved beside the woman he loved, and discuss
with her that other whom he had wedded. She understood quite well the
unwillingness and the embarrassment which he felt, and they made her
but the more tenacious in pursuit of the subject she had selected.

'Heavens!' she thought, 'what children of Nature men always remain!
They are unmanned if they meet a woman who recalls a love scene ten
years old, whilst a woman would not move an eyelash if she encountered
a score of lovers she had forsaken--no!--not if she had hired bravoes
to kill them, and they knew it!'

Aloud she said, in her sweetest voice: 'I remember you were always
so haunted with ideals. You must certainly have realised the most
spiritual and the purest of them now. When I heard people say that you
were going to shut yourself up in your country house in the Orléannais,
it seemed to me perfectly natural, perfectly fitting; you never cared
for society. Why should you contaminate your young wife with it? I
thought you were going to show us that an idyllic life was still
possible. We are all sad sceptics, but we should have believed _you_.
Why did you lose so good an opportunity? To live in Paris, to receive
and be received; any one can do that; _toute la gomme_ does it; Amyôt
ought to have given you something better.'

'To live in the country needs a clear conscience,' replied Othmar
impatiently, not very well knowing what he said.

'I hope you have murdered nobody,' said his tormentor. 'Really, without
compliment, I should have thought you were one of the few men who
could have lived in the country without ennui. You love books, you
like your own company, and you are not enamoured of that of others.
Besides, it is really a pity to bring that young angel,--that
clear-eyed saint,--into our feverish world. She will only lose that
lovely complexion, and perhaps her health as well, learn a great deal
of folly, and feel thirty years old before she is twenty. Why do you do
it? It is heartless of you. Amyôt is her world.'

He did not attempt to reply.

She had spoken with sincerity, though her motive in speaking was not so
sincere as her sentiment. Nadine Napraxine, who herself often regretted
the premature womanhood which the manner of her childhood had brought
so early to her, who often sighed restlessly, if disdainfully, for
that innocence of mind, that freshness of heart which she had never
enjoyed--the blue cornflower of Louise of Prussia, the green fields
of Eugénie de Guerin,--felt at that moment the impulse of compassion
which she expressed. It seemed to her, momentarily at least, cruel to
have brought any creature so youthful and so easily contented by simple
things, as Yseulte was, into the furnace of the world, where all simple
tastes and fancies perish like a handful of meadow daisies cast into a
brazier.

'And to have brought her near _me_!' she thought, with the singular
union of disdain and of compassion with which she had looked for the
first time at the face of the child in the salons of Millo. Whilst
he remained silent she looked at him a little curiously, a little
contemptuously; with no pity whatever for him.

'One day, when I was ten years old, I was in my father's study,' she
continued with apparent irrelevance. 'I was very tiresome; he was
dictating to three secretaries alternately, and I tormented him with
questions. He was so good to me that he could never bear to turn me
out; but he threw me an illustrated copy of "Gil Blas." I became as
quiet as a mouse. I was entranced, delighted; I never spoke for two
hours--but I do not know that I was the better for it afterwards. "Gil
Blas" is not amongst the moral tales of children. I suppose he did not
think of that; he only wanted to get rid of me.'

Othmar coloured with anger and self-consciousness. He knew very well
that she meant to imply that he sent his wife into the world as Count
Platoff had given his daughter 'Gil Blas.' Conscience would not allow
him a disclaimer, even if a sense of ridicule in her reminiscences,
apparently so ill-timed, had permitted him to make one.

'I do not know that I was any the better,' continued Nadine Napraxine
in the same even, dreamy tones. 'But I do not know that I was any the
worse. Everything depends on temperament. Oh yes, much more than on
circumstance, let them say what they will. Temperament is like climate,
a thing unalterable. All the forces of men will not make the Nile
desert cold, or the Baltic shores tropical. It is so delightful to
think that something escapes the carpentering of man! Do you know, when
an earthquake asserts itself or a mountain kills people, I can never
help saying to myself with pleasure--"Ah-ha! there is _something_ left,
then, that they cannot explain away, or regulate, or measure with their
pocket-rule, and what a comfort that is!"'

She laughed a little, leaning back in her chair, slowly moving a fan
which Watteau had painted for Larghillière.

'Madame Napraxine,' answered Othmar bitterly, 'has always occupied in
life the position which Juvenal thought so enviable; she has always
watched the tempest and the shipwreck from her own safe couch behind
her casement.'

'Yes, I have,' she murmured, with a little sigh of self-satisfaction.
'It is so easy not to go out in bad weather.'

'May one not be overtaken by it?'

'Not if one have a good aneroid.'

'Let us leave metaphor,' she continued, after a pause; 'I know you
believe in something like the Greek Erinnys; but you may believe me
that there is nothing of the kind. We all make our own fates, or our
temperaments make them for us. Destiny does not stalk about amongst us
unseen, but irresistible, as I know you think it does. I believe there
is nothing which befalls us, from a catarrh to a catastrophe, which,
if we choose to be honest with ourselves, we may not trace to our own
imprudence.'

'You cannot judge; you have never----'

'Never had a cold? Oh, indeed I have. If you were to listen to de
Thiviers, I am a person on whom the most southerly wind should never be
allowed to blow, for fear of its blowing through me and annihilating
me; as for catastrophe----'

She paused a moment; across even her profound indifference there passed
the memories of some dead men.

'Catastrophes,' added Othmar; 'catastrophes have not been lacking in
the pageant of your life, madame; but I believe they have only been the
shipwrecks seen through the windows of rose-glass.'

She was silent. Then she said slowly and in a low voice:

'You mistake if you think that I did not feel pain for the death of
Seliedoff.'

Othmar bent his head. She saw that he did not believe her. The sense of
being misjudged banished her momentarily chastened mood.

'But I was at the same time very much annoyed,' she continued. 'Tragedy
always annoys me. It sets the asses of the world braying. No one
ever pleases me by irrational or exaggerated actions. I am sorry, of
course, but I cannot forgive the uproar which all conduct of--of that
sort causes me. It always irritates me like the conflagration in the
cantata of the 'Dernière Nuit de Sardanapale,' where the _grosse
caisse_ always roars and rolls so loud that all the music is lost, and
one does not feel to care in the very least who may die or who may
live.'

Then she rose and gave him a little smile.

'I assure you the _grosse caisse_ is a mistake in a cantata!' she said
as she passed him and left him, the subtle, voluptuous odour of the
gardenias of her bouquet floating by him like the dewy odours of a
midsummer eve.

He thought bitterly that he could comprehend how such a man as Joubert
loved the scent of tube-roses till his death, because a woman once had
taken a cluster of them from his hand twenty years before in a garden
alley of the Tuileries.

It irritated him extremely that she should so exactly have suspected
and penetrated the motive which had led him to desire that the life of
the world should distract and occupy the young companion of his life.
It was a motive of which he was acutely ashamed, which he could not
endure to confess to himself, much less could bear to feel was subject
to the observation of her unsparing raillery. Of all wounds which she
could have reopened, none would have ached more keenly in him than his
humiliating sense of how she, at the least, must know that the young
girl who bore his name had no place in his heart; that she, at the
least, must remember, as he remembered, those interviews with her at La
Jacquemerille which had been so closely followed by his marriage. He
might deceive all the world into the belief that he loved his wife--he
could not so deceive her. His veins thrilled, his blood burned, as he
recalled those two days in which his passion had been spoken to her
in words whose utterance he himself could never forget. What had they
sounded to her ear? Only, no doubt, like the _grosse caisse_ which,
symbolising death, agony, destruction, woe untellable, yet only seemed
to her grotesquely forcible, jarring unpleasantly on the harmonious
serenity of the symphony!

He forced himself not to follow her with his eyes as she moved away
with that exquisite harmony of step and carriage which were due to the
perfect proportions of her form, and he turned and sought out Yseulte
herself.

She was in the music-room, listening absently to an andante of
Beethoven's, surrounded by a little court of men no longer young, who
cared nothing for Beethoven, but much for her youth and her unconscious
charm of manner.

'Are you willing to come away?' he murmured to her when the andante was
ended.

She rose with eagerness; to be in the Hôtel Napraxine was oppressive
and painful to her.

He took her away unobserved, and drove homeward beside her in silence.
He looked at her profile, fair and clear against the light thrown from
without on the glass of the carriage window, and at the whiteness
of her slender throat, with its collar of pearls, and hated himself
because he could only think, with a shudder, 'All my life must I sit
beside her, a living lie to her!'

'Yseulte,' he murmured suddenly; then paused: he felt a momentary
impulse to tell her the truth, to say to her, 'I do not love you--God
forgive me!--I love another woman; help me, my dear, and pity me; do
not reproach me; I will do the best that I can by your life; love me
always yourself if you can; I need it sorely. We may never be happy;
but at least there will be no falsehood or secrecy between us. That
will be much.'

The impulse was momentarily strong upon him; he took her hand in his
and said once more with hesitation: 'Yseulte----'

Then he paused; long habit of reserve, a sensitive fear of wounding and
of being wounded, the tenderness of pity for a blameless creature who
adored him and who, if he spoke his thoughts aloud, would never lie in
peace upon his heart again, all checked the words which had risen to
his lips.

He sighed, kissed her hand, and murmured some vague caressing phrase.
The moment passed; the impulse of confidence and candour lost strength
and courage. 'It would be cruel,' he thought. 'Since I have made my
burden, let me at least have courage to bear it alone.'

It seemed to him unmanly and ungenerous to lay any share or shadow of
it on this young life, which owed all its peace and light to ignorance
of the truth. She was deluded, but she was happy: he let her be. He
shrank from arousing her; he shrank from hurting her; she was like a
child, doomed to starve on her awaking, but whilst she slept, dreaming,
with a smile, that she was fed by bread from heaven.



CHAPTER XLI.


The Paris season seemed to all her world to have gained new brilliancy
with the advent of the Princess Napraxine. The opening of that most
desired and exclusive of all houses was an event of supreme import
in the hierarchy of society, and she herself had returned from her
self-inflicted exile in the North more disposed than usual for its
frivolities and graces, more willing than usual to deign to see and be
seen, more general in her courtesies, more amiable and benignant in
her condescensions. When she chose, she could fascinate women scarcely
less completely than she did men, and she did so choose this year of
her reappearance from Russia. She was less capricious, less inexorably
exclusive, less merciless in her ironies; those who knew her nature
best concluded that something had pleased her; no one knew what. She,
who had no secrets from herself as sillier people have, confessed
frankly to herself that what pleased her was what her fine penetration
had discovered at a glance, the first moment that she had entered the
Hôtel d'Othmar.

'All the virtues are there, no doubt,' she had said to herself, 'and
all the qualities and all the charms, but Love--où va-t-il se nicher?'

Love, she saw, was absent.

She had a curious sentiment towards the young mistress of that gorgeous
house. She admired her; she thought her type pure and lofty, her
manners most high bred, if a little too constrained, her face lovely;
she had a sort of pitying regard for her; the glance of the girl's eyes
moved her to compassion as those of an antelope will do the hunter, who
nevertheless plunges his knife into its velvet throat; but she was not
more dissuaded by her pity than the hunter is by his to desist from her
intentions.

The waning of the slight affection which he had ever been able to give
his young wife, the growing constraint of her manner to him and before
him, the visible chillness which had fallen on their life together
since that December night when she herself had arrived in Paris were
all plain enough to her unerring perceptions, however slight might be
the outward signs of that separation which was only not estrangement,
because on the one side there was a devotion so timid, grateful, and
constant that it could not be estranged.

Her world observed that she treated Yseulte with much more kindliness
than it was common with her to show to women so young. Whenever she
spoke of her, or to her, she always used some phrase which was gracious
or flattering, with that most subtle and delicate flattery of which she
had the secret as well as she had those of the most cruel ironies and
insinuations; the extreme charm of her flatteries, as the intense sting
of her cruelties, always lay in the fact that they contained a visible
truth; they were not the mere offspring of invention.

Yseulte did not show to equal advantage when she received them;
she was always embarrassed, even almost rude, so far as rudeness
was possible to one nurtured in all the grand traditions of French
patrician courtesy. In her own heart the child suffered excruciating
mortification whenever the one woman whom she knew her husband had
loved--did love--met her with sweet and praiseful words. She had all
the exaggerated honesty of exceeding youth; she could not believe
that sincerity permitted the sincere to smile on what they hated, and
almost--almost--she hated this exquisite woman who was so gracious to
her. It became an absolute dread upon her lest she should meet the one
person who had this power to make her feel insignificant, ignorant,
and awkward: a power never expressed, never even hinted at, yet lying
beneath all those pretty phrases which the Princess Napraxine addressed
to her or spoke before her. Her own innocent pleasure in these new
pleasures of the world was marred by the constant apprehension of
meeting her one enemy, who did not even give her the frank offence
of an enemy, but always approached her with the smiling grace of a
friendship the insincerity of which her own sincere instincts detected.
The routine of their world brought them in almost perpetual contact,
and Yseulte felt her presence before she saw her, and was conscious of
a nervousness which she could not conquer, though she strove to conceal
it. There was no one to whom she dared to speak of what she felt, and
she was indeed ashamed of it. Youth dies a hundred deaths in silence in
these unavowed antagonisms and apprehensions. If she had ventured to
confess what she felt to Othmar, she would have ceased to be haunted
by these vague terrors; but there was a look in his face whenever the
name of Nadine Napraxine was spoken before him, which told her she
herself must never speak it in blame or in fear. A chill and desolate
consciousness had by degrees stolen upon her that they were right who
said her husband loved this other woman as he never had and never would
love herself. She said nothing to anyone, not even in the confessional;
but a coldness like frost seemed to have come over her glad, warm, and
grateful life just opened like the primroses in spring.

The day after he had left that simple bouquet of narcissus and white
violets, Othmar had called at the Hôtel Napraxine. It was not her day,
but she was at home and received him; it was the twilight hour so
favourable to dreams, to confidence, to familiarity; when he had left
the house he was conscious that he had done an unwise thing, perhaps
even an unmanly thing; but he had been for the moment almost happy,
which he had not been for a year.

They had not been even alone; but the sound of her voice, the languid
glance of her eyes in the dim half-light, the music of her slight, low
laugh, had all thrilled his veins with a thousand memories of passion
and of hope; he had said to himself, 'I will never go back,' but he
had gone back, and he knew that life would only count to him in future
by the moments when he should return. In the evening which followed on
his visit he was, quite unwittingly, colder and more preoccupied than
Yseulte had ever seen him; he was even for once almost irritable. She
looked at him wistfully. Friederich Othmar, who was present there,
thought to himself in futile fury: 'That sorceress has bewitched him
once more. In another twelvemonths' time, if he be not her accepted
lover he will have shot himself. This poor fair child would cut her
heart out of her breast to serve him; but she will grow less and less
to him, less and less, every day. It is no fault of hers. He never
cared for her, and she has no philtre of which she can make him drink.
Innocent women do not brew them. Poor sweet fools! They can only pray!'

The old man had never cared for these women before; but now he did
care. His heart which had been so cold all his life melted towards
Yseulte.

Why could not Othmar be content with his _coin du feu_? When the Baron
came into her apartment and saw the tall figure of the girl, with her
fair head carried with a little droop like a flower's after rain,
he was every day more and more angry to find her husband so seldom
there. Yseulte seemed to him to have in herself all those beauties and
qualities which should be sweetest in the eyes of a man. But she was
left alone, very constantly alone.

To one who had loved her she would have been full of interest, of
surprises for the imagination, and of nascent character for influence
to work upon; but to Othmar she was only a child, tame, quiet, without
power to arrest or to excite him.

In the presence of Nadine Napraxine every fibre of his being was
thrilled and awake, every nerve of his mind and body was alternately
soothed and strung; her discursive and ironical intelligence seemed
to light up the universe of thought, and every syllable she spoke,
every slight gesture, smile, and suggestive glance, were fuller of
meaning and more appealing at once to the intellect and the senses
than hours of effort and provocation from other women. When he passed
from her presence into that of Yseulte it was as though he passed
from the marvellous intricacies of the passion music of _Tristan und
Isolde_ to the simple peace and prayer of a Gregorian chaunt sung by a
child chorister. The latter was not without beauty of its own; beauty
harmless and holy; but which had no power to move him.

Little by little his caresses grew fewer, his attentions grew rarer to
his wife; he was always full of courteous observance and unremitting
kindness to her as before; but the times were rare in which he sought
her alone--the evenings few in which he entered her apartments.

His whole remembrance, desires, and adoration were with Nadine
Napraxine. He imagined that he entirely concealed his weakness from
the world and from Yseulte; but as the weeks passed on and the
opportunities of society brought him continually into the presence of
the one woman whom he loved, the magical influence of her dominion
began completely to absorb and to subdue him afresh. He still abstained
from any intimacy at her house; he still most rarely visited her or
directly sought her, but all the indirect occasions to be in her
presence which the routine of their world afforded he accepted and
looked forward to with an eagerness which he imagined was wholly
unsuspected by others. When she was entertained at his own hotel he was
studiously distant in his courtesies, and though he did not betray it,
he was embarrassed by the honest and cordial regard which her husband
showed to him.

Friederich Othmar would very much have liked to speak his mind on the
subject to his nephew, but he felt that he had no possible pretext
to do so, for Othmar was perfect in his manner to his young wife and
constant in his kindness and solicitude for her. The elder man felt
that he could not with decency split straws about imaginary wrongs
when he himself had been always so incredulous of the sorrows of the
affections. So long as Othmar refused her nothing, inflicted no slight
on her publicly, and never said a syllable to her that was unkind or
uncourteous, it was impossible for anyone to call him to account for
mere fanciful offences which, however real might be the suffering they
caused, had no substantial ground or root.

'He would laugh at me,' thought the Baron, and the whole philosophy of
his life made any possible ridicule on grounds of sentiment intolerable
to him even in idea. He was, moreover, conscious that Othmar would do
more than laugh, and united to his impatience of his nephew's errors
and caprices was a reverence for him as the chief of the House, which
was still stronger than any other feeling. So might a loyal prince of
blood royal see in his nephew a man most blameable, full of faults and
of inconsistency, yet see in him also his sovereign, whose very errors
or failures he was bound, for sake of their common race and of his
sworn supremacy, to defend.

'Othmar can do no wrong in your sight,' said Nadine Napraxine once,
with the smile that the Baron hated.

'Nor could the Roi Soleil in the sight of his family,' he responded,
with a tone that was the reverse of amiable, 'yet there were lovely
ladies on the terraces of Marley and Versailles who must have tried
their patience and their faith sometimes.'

'Can faith and patience be said to exist unless they are tried?' said
his tormentor. 'And I should think that the Treaty of Utrecht tried
both much more than his preferences, which could not matter in the very
least to them.'

Friederich Othmar was silent, twisting his white moustaches irritably.
He would have liked to say many things to her, but he dared not; he did
not know enough; and Othmar, implacably incensed, would have quarrelled
with him then and for ever had he ventured to interfere.

He who had intelligence enough to appreciate the spirituality and
unworldliness of Yseulte's nature, who had been first touched by her
unlikeness to all the young girls of his world, by her serious and
elevated character and her simple unostentatious piety, felt a sting of
shame at his own motives when he realised how much he sought to make
her like all other women, how much he trusted to frivolous temptations
to console and to absorb her.

'In doubt do nothing,' he knew well was one of the golden legends of
the world's wisdom. If she had sought advice or sympathy, her doubts
and her fears might have been soothed in a measure. Her confessors
would have given her the same counsel as that worldliest of men,
Friederich Othmar. They would have entreated her not to fret her life
out over mere sorrows of the emotions and the imagination; they would
have hinted that she was exceptionally happy if she had no more to
bear than an inconstancy of the mind and of the fancy; they would
have bade her trust to her youth, to her own strength of affection,
and to her place in his house and in his life, to give her ultimate
supremacy in the thoughts and the heart of her husband. But even in the
sanctity of the confessional she chose rather to commit the sin, for
sin it was in her sight, of hiding all her inmost feelings and keeping
silence on all her most rebellious impulses rather than speak of Othmar
with any words which might imply suspicion, blame, or reproach to
him. Her convent life had given her such little knowledge of human
nature, her sensitive reserve of character left her so entirely
without counsellors or friends, that she was altogether alone in the
bewilderment of this world which had at first seemed to her at once a
pageant and a paradise, but which, now that her soul was haunted by
one poignant dread, only appeared to her filled with cruel problems,
incomprehensible temptations, strange confusions and humiliating
motives. To her, only one friend was possible, her husband; to him
alone would her timidity and her honour have permitted her to confide
all her pathetic fears, all her innocent secrets; but Othmar never
sought her confidence. Treating her with the gentleness of a man to a
child, with the respect of a gentleman for what he wholly reverences,
and is always willing to protect and please, he yet remained as distant
from her in true confidence and sympathy as any stranger ushered into
her drawing-rooms, whose face she had never seen before.

Naturally unselfish, Othmar had yet unconsciously dropped into the
habit of one intense selfishness; he wrapped himself in his own
thoughts as in a domino, and drew each day more and more closely about
him that reserve which spared him all the trouble of reply, all the
ennui of interrogation. The continual demands which his great position
in the world made upon his time gave him continued excuse for being
alike occupied and absorbed. Often the whole day passed without her
receiving more from him than a few brief gentle phrases of greeting or
adieu.

But he had provided her with every possible means of enjoyment and of
self-indulgence, and it did not occur to him that amidst all her luxury
the heart of the child remained empty and hungered.

'He treats her as he would treat a mistress to whom he had grown
utterly indifferent,' thought Melville, often observing him with
anger. 'He surrounds her with every conceivable kind of luxury and
distraction, and he leaves her alone amidst it. Does he think that a
girl of her years wants nothing more than toilettes, horses, jewels,
and _bibelots_? Does he suppose that at seventeen the heart is dead,
and that the sentiments and the desires have said their last word?
Does he believe that she will want nothing more of love than a chill
embrace now and then, _pro formâ_? He leaves her at once so free and
so starved, that were she any other woman in the world she would use
her liberty in such wise that he would live to bitterly repent his
neglect. But she is of the old time, the old school; she will keep
silent and faithful; she will bear his children with the meekness and
the resignation of the lambing sheep in spring-time; and she will rear
them with courage, wisdom, and devotion. But she will not be happy,
though probably the world will always envy her; and she will be less
to him--less, less, less,--with every year which passes. In the end
they will be total strangers, and she will accept that strange sort of
widowhood--the saddest of all--as patiently as she accepted maternity
and its pains. The cloister is out of date, perhaps, as they say, but
the fact remains that there are natures for which, whether in or out of
the cloister, life means crucifixion.'

Melville strove to do what he could to restore peace to her; but it
is difficult to administer any efficacious medicine when no disease
is admitted by the sufferer to exist. The extreme sensitiveness and
the power of silent suffering in Yseulte baffled her well wishers,
whilst it assisted those who did not wish her so well. When he, with
his tact at suggestion, contrived to give her some hint that human love
must always be accepted as a thing imperfect, that in every human life
there must come disillusions, trials, and regrets, and that none of
these need bring wretchedness with them if they be met with faith and
patience, Yseulte listened to him with her usual courteous reverence,
but felt bitterly that beneath his carefully chosen words, which
were dropped with such elaborate assumption of hazard, as upon some
general and impersonal subject, there were hidden both counsel to her
and apprehension for her. She resented both with that hauteur which
the blood of the de Valogne had given her; and he desisted from his
efforts, afraid to do hurt where he washed to do good.

'After all,' he thought, 'one's fears for her may be wholly chimerical.
Othmar is a man of honour, and Madame Napraxine is as chaste as
snow,--according to report. It is true, her chastity has been as
perilous and as cruel as the immoralities of others. But I think, even
if to Othmar she should be not so cold, and be even more fatal than
usual, his young wife may have charm enough to keep him faithful, or at
least to win him back to fidelity.'

But though he tried thus to reassure himself, he did not succeed.
He had learned much of the wisdom of society in his forty years of
priesthood; he had been the favourite ecclesiastic of the great
world, and he had seen much of its delicate and capricious women, of
its unstable and unhealthy passions, of its irksome and disregarded
ties; and he saw in the position of Yseulte many possibilities of
error and unhappiness, little likelihood of a future of peace. Never
within his memory, with its innumerable records of human destinies,
had he ever seen simplicity, innocence, and devotion victorious over
finesse, experience, and egotism; never within his memory had either
the confessional or the drawing-rooms afforded him any precedent by
which he could hope that the love which gave its all unreservedly and
adoringly with both hands, would ever be conqueror over the seduction
which provoked every desire and granted none, sacrificed nothing
and expected all. Melville had always seen the egoist supreme in the
conflict of life; his knowledge did not disturb his faith, it only
made him the more convinced that there must be some future world in
which all these wrongs would be set right; but it saddened him despite
himself, and, despite his hope of ultimate compensation, he could not
help whenever he could aiding the weak against the strong.

'If everything is done by the will of God, why do you try and alter
it?' said Friederich Othmar to him once, with just sarcasm.

Melville was conscious that he was illogical, but he could not resist
his own English love of fair play; it did not seem to him that as the
world was made innocence and unselfishness ever obtained any chance of
justice.

'It must be granted,' he thought mournfully once, also unable to resist
his own clear-sightedness and its conclusions, 'it must be granted
that both innocence and unselfishness are too often inconceivably,
irremediably, stupid, and throw their best cards on the table and
follow will-o'-the-wisps, and break their limbs over every obstacle
which a little skill and coolness would enable them to negotiate.'

The keen eyes of Aurore de Vannes saw what Othmar did not see; that
since the arrival of the Princess Napraxine her young cousin had no
longer the single-hearted and buoyant happiness of the early months of
her marriage, that her face was often melancholy, her gaze wistful, her
manner constrained.

But her reflections were precisely contrary to those of Melville.

'She is fortunate beyond everything,' said the Duchesse to her intimate
friends. 'He gives her all she can wish for, as if he were Haroun
Alraschid, and he leaves her entirely to herself, because he is not
in the least in love with her. Can anyone imagine a more enviable
position?--to be seventeen years old and have all the Othmar millions
at your back, and to enjoy such an absolute liberty that your husband
never asks you even where you spend your days? Only she is such a baby
still, so very full of all her convent fancies, so scrupulous, and
proud, and old-fashioned, that I suppose she will never enjoy herself
as she might do. She was ruined by those women at Faïel, and by the
austerities and prejudices of the old Marquise. If she only knew it,
her position might be the happiest in the world.'

'Will it not be as I said?' asked the Duc, her husband, triumphantly
many a time. She always answered him irritably:

'If a woman prefer to be miserable she always can be; men will always
furnish her with the materials. But in this case you may be quite sure
it is merely a girl's romance and disappointment with marriage, which
she expected, as they all do, to be a primrose path whilst it is only a
common highway.'

'The highway can be varied by _étapes_,' murmured the Duc de Vannes.

He himself watched with unkind satisfaction the little cloud which had
come in the serene heaven of Yseulte's fate. It might betoken but an
April shower, or it might bring in its wake a tempest. When he had seen
Nadine Napraxine arrive in Paris he had said to himself, 'Adieu les
marguerites!' The daisies were simple treasures of the spring; they
would have no charm beside the hothouse flower. As his little daughter
had said, he had bet heavily on the chances of Yseulte's marriage, and
he watched the unfolding of the leaves of fate with the impatience of
the gambler added to the unacknowledged malice of a personal pique. In
the frequent opportunities which both society and relationship afforded
him he dropped the gall of many a vague insinuation, worded with tact
and finesse, into the troubled peace of her thoughts. He had too
much skill and too much good taste to permit himself to speak either
Othmar's or Nadine Napraxine's name directly, but he had not been so
long schooled in the cruelties of the world without having learned the
art of suggestion in its most merciless and its most subtle shapes. He
never said so in any clear form of words, yet he contrived to convey to
her his own conviction and the conviction of society that she counted
for nothing in her husband's existence. All his delicately-hinted
compassion, all his vaguely-worded indignation, the mere light jests
with which he strove to amuse her, all contained that drop of acid
which burned its way into the pure gold of her affections, and remained
with her long after he had left her presence.

She always summoned fortitude enough to repress any sign of the harm he
did to her; but the effect of it was for that reason the more baneful.
Sorrows and doubts, which pass away when a woman can weep for them at
her mother's knees, or in her sister's arms, grow strong and cruel in
solitary meditation and the nurture of thoughts unconfessed.

One night at a great fête the Duc de Vannes approached her and said to
her with a smile:

'How preoccupied you are, my cousin! I never should have thought that
anyone so young would look so grave at a ball. Really, you make one
fear that after all you were wrongly turned from your vocation, and
would have been happiest in the cloister, much as the world would have
lost.'

'The world would have lost nothing,' answered the girl, a little
bitterly. 'The world and I have no affinity.'

'That is only an idea. In a few years you will habituate yourself
to----' he paused and added with meaning, 'to many things which seem to
you harsh and cold. Penelope nowadays, if she spin at all to console
herself for abandonment, only weaves the web of _flirtages_----'

Yseulte coloured at the insinuation contained in the phrase. Her heart
was too full for her to trust herself to answer. Did all these people
know, as she knew, that her husband had never loved her?

'You are _trop taillée à l'antique_,' said de Vannes with a little
impertinence. 'Do you think you are ever thanked for all this exclusive
devotion which does not permit you to smile at a ball? Do not be
angered, Yseulte. I should be glad if I could persuade you that it
would be much wiser to smile often--and smile on others. Men are
ungrateful, my cousin. The spaniel love is not what moves them most.'

'I do not know why you should say this to me,' she murmured with
embarrassment and offence. 'You presume too far on our relationship----'

'Pardon me!' said the Duc very humbly. 'My indignation is apt to outrun
my prudence. I do not like to see--any one--passively accept neglect.
Neglect should be avenged. It is the only way in which it can be
transformed into allegiance.'

Yseulte made a courageous effort to conceal her knowledge of the drift
of his words.

'I cannot tell what you allude to,' she said coldly. 'Nor do I see why
you should feel any anger for which you are not asked.'

'In the last century,' continued de Vannes, as though he had not heard
her, 'there was a woman called Lescombat; she was very beautiful and
had many lovers; she incited them to many crimes. One of them, Mongeôt,
was condemned to be broken on the wheel for one of these crimes. He
could have cleared himself if he had revealed her name; but he never
did. He died on the wheel silent. She went to the Place de Grêve and
smiled to see his tortures. 'Il ne fallait pas moins que cela pour
faire rougir Mongeôt!' she cried so loud that he could hear her: he had
always been very fair and pale. But he died mute, nevertheless. It is
women like the Lescombat, my cousin, who are loved like that. Pauline
de Beaumont, the very flower and perfection of womanhood, was only
allowed as a reward for her devotion to follow her lover at a distance
like a dog and die in Rome. It is always so.'

A chill passed over the girl as he spoke. She said wearily:

'Madame de Beaumont was as nature and religion made her; she could not
have rivalled your Lescombat if she had wished.'

Then she rose and went away from him.

When she returned home to her own rooms, where she was now too often
left as solitary as though she had been in her nun's cell at Faïel, she
fell upon her knees before her crucifix and sobbed bitterly: she had
seen that night how wistfully, and with what unconsciously revealed
longing and regret, the eyes of Othmar had followed every movement of
her rival.

To her ignorance, Nadine Napraxine was a woman as cruel, as evil, as
terrible as the murderess Lescombat of whom the Duc de Vannes had
spoken. All the innumerable intricacies of line, and the delicate
half-tints of which such a character as hers was composed, made a
study far beyond the girl's power of analysis, even had any such power
been left to her in the confusion and the fever of her thoughts. She
only saw in her a sorceress, whose merciless will and irresistible
seduction drew her husband from her as the Greek ships of old that
passed to the world of the east were drawn out of their safe straight
road by the loadstone rocks of the Gulf of Arabia. A sense of entire
helplessness and of unending despair came upon her in those glad sunlit
flower-filled Parisian days when all the pomp and pleasure which the
great world could give were continually around her. If ever timidly
and ashamed she ventured to reveal anything which she endured in the
sanctity of the confessional, her confessor, an austere and fanatical
recluse, always met her with the reply that, having turned as she had
done from the paths of religion, she only met with her just retribution
if the golden apples of terrestrial life, for which she had abandoned
spiritual things, changed to ashes between her lips. She received no
compassion from him and little consolation; she followed meekly the
course of self-mortification he traced out for her; and, day by day,
her cheek grew paler, her eye heavier, her step more slow and joyless.

She suffered as only a nature can suffer which is too sensitive to seek
comfort in revealing itself, and too unused to the ways of the world to
be able to find either distraction or compensation. No tortures would
have wrung from her the confession of what she felt; she was ashamed
of the passionate and piteous jealousy of which she was conscious;
she thought it an offence against her husband and her God. But she
could not resist its inroads into her peace; it grew and grew, and its
insidious fires spread farther and farther in her simple soul, as a
cancer spreads in healthy flesh.

She felt no sense of wrong; even in her own thoughts she uttered no
reproach against him. In her own sight she was so utterly his debtor
that she had no title to complain, even though he should wring her very
heart with desertion. But a sickening despondency stole upon her little
by little; each week brought with it some clearer sense of counting for
nothing in his life, some sharper consciousness that she had no real
place in his affections. Her perceptions, suddenly and cruelly aroused
by the knowledge that he loved another woman than herself, became
preternaturally keen in instinct and second-sight. She could tell in
an instant, by the expression of his features, when he had seen her
rival or when he had failed to meet her. Her mind, lately so ignorant
of all the meanings of the world's babble, grew fatally alive to all
its insinuations, its hints, its allusions, whenever these in aught
concerned Nadine Napraxine. Her ear brought to her the faintest and
most distant whispers in which the dreaded name was spoken. She became
aware of the meaning of Othmar's glance, animated or absent, according
as Nadine Napraxine was within his sight or not. She grew sensitive
to all the different inflections of his voice, in which expectation,
disappointment, pleasure, mortification, or impatience spoke. She was
as susceptible to every change in him as the mercury to the frost and
to the sun. Her whole existence was consumed in her study of him.

The self-restraint and the silence to which her early years had been
trained, made her perfectly capable of repressing every outward sign
of what she felt. Othmar saw no alteration in her; he saw that she
went eagerly into the world, and imagined that she, like all women,
had learned to enjoy its frivolities. She was always calm, docile,
cheerful; she had at all times a graceful answer to those with whom
she spoke, an admirable manner in whatever scene she was placed in. He
never divined how, beneath the serious smile on her mouth which served
to hide the aching, wistful doubts and fears of her still childlike
heart, how, beneath the pretty stateliness and gravity which he had
first admired at Millo, and which never altered in her, there throbbed
the poignant pain of a timid and impassioned affection--wasted.

If he had loved her, he might have seen something of it, little as men
are able at any time to read the soul of a woman; but he was only kind
to her, gentle to her, faithful--as yet--to her. He never loved her,
and so all that wistful, lonely suffering went on and grew greater and
greater unguessed by him. When he sat by her side in the opera-house,
all he saw was Nadine Napraxine on the opposite side of the theatre;
when he entered a ball-room, or a music-room, or a drawing-room before
a dinner, all he looked for were the dark, languid, luminous eyes of
the woman he adored, and when he met their glance, and saw across a
crowded salon the irony of her slight and subtle smile, he only lived
for her.



CHAPTER XLII.


This duel, if duel it could be called, since all the science and
almost all the advantages were on one side, passed constantly in the
presence and beneath the eyes of Othmar. But he was blind to it with
the shortsightedness of a man; he was, even, more than once irritated
by what he thought was an excess of kindness, an unusual interest,
shown by the woman whom he loved to his wife. He hated to see them
near each other. He scarcely disguised his restlessness when he noted
any approach to intimacy between them. The remembrance of those two
mornings at La Jacquemerille were for ever with him. He could not
pardon Nadine Napraxine that she appeared so entirely to ignore their
memory. True, he thought bitterly, it was she who had betrayed him,
and it is always the betrayed who remembers, the betrayer who forgets.
Had he said so much to her she would have answered: 'My friend, I did
not betray you; I only told you I would reflect. I did reflect; if the
result of my reflections was adverse to you, it was your misfortune
perhaps, but it was also your fault.'

Once or twice Melville endeavoured to induce Nadine Napraxine to speak
of the young girl of whose destinies he considered her the arbitress,
but he never succeeded.

'She is very beautiful;' she always answered with that talent in
selecting what she could say truthfully, which was not the least of
her wisdom. She added a few more words of eulogy, neither critical
nor exaggerated; she did not permit him to have any glimpse of the
consummate scorn joined to the sincere compassion with which she
regarded the wife of Othmar, every one of whose emotions she read as
though she read them in a book every time that the voice of Yseulte
changed in greeting her or the girl's tell-tale colour rose, or faded,
whenever she herself entered a room or looked at her across a theatre.

No one of all her lovers had ever been so completely mesmerised by
her power as was this girl who held the name, the home, the honour of
Othmar, whilst she herself held all his memory, all his desires, all
his mind and heart and life.

It was the fascination of the ophidian for the dove. It gratified
her sense of dominion, and aroused all her more cruel instincts. The
reluctant fascination which she exercised over Yseulte; the visible
effort with which the girl strove to escape from it and failed; the
magnetism with which her gaze was riveted and her ear strained to
follow every movement, to catch every utterance of her foe; that
helplessness, that unwilling, yet powerless, subjugation, excited all
which was coldest, most contemptuous, most inexorable, in the soul of
the woman in whose veins ran the blood of the assassins of Paul. That
clairvoyance which is the gift of all rare intelligences, made her as
conscious of all the bewildered thoughts which thronged the mind of
Yseulte as though she saw them in the magic crystal of a sorcerer.
She knew how, when she looked at the girl carelessly, smilingly, over
the feathers of her fan or the flowers of her bouquet, across the sea
of light of the opera-house, the whole soul of her innocent rival
shrank and trembled within her, even whilst the natural courage, and
resolution, and pride, of the de Valogne blood forced her to endeavour
to resist, and enabled her to succeed in concealing, the fear and
trouble which she felt.

'She is brave,' said Nadine Napraxine to herself with respect; but all
the scorn which was in her made her add, without pity, 'but what a
child!--how foolish!--how transparent!'

In that continual flux and reflux of society which incessantly brings
together those of the same world and allows them to see each other
perpetually, even though they remain strangers, the occasions were
frequent, almost daily, in which she could study this poor aching
heart, which was laid as bare to her as though Yseulte had had a mirror
in her breast, and, for no victory and no caprice of her life, had
she ever been so interested _de se faire belle_ as now, when she was
conscious that her imperial charm, her nameless irresistible powers
of seduction, had thrown their magic net over the life which had most
cause of all on earth to fear her own.

If he had known that she had suffered thus, his compassion and his
sense of honour would have been aroused and have taken alarm; but he
was blind to it, as men dominated by an exclusive passion are blind
to all outside it. His principles and his good taste would have made
him his own most inexorable censor had he been in any act of his life
faithless, in the gross meanings of the word, to the young life which
he had united to his own. But he did not consider that a love which
he pressed like a knife into the depths of his heart, and of which he
believed he gave no outward sign whatever, did any wrong to Yseulte.
She was still so young; she had all she desired; she would have
children about her in other years; she was of that docile, feminine,
unimpassioned nature which is easily content with the placid affections
of the natural ties. He did not think that he betrayed her because, all
unknown to her, he cherished in the depths of his own soul a bitter,
cruel, hopeless, and yet most exquisite and most enduring passion.
He had given her all which the world can give to any human creature;
he did not realise that his lips were chill when he kissed her, his
eyes indifferent when they glanced at her, his speech to her too often
absent and conventional, his caresses too often forced, mechanical, and
without any throb of warmth.

He knew well that if he were wise, even if he were faithful in intent
to his wife, he would leave Paris whilst Nadine Napraxine was in it.
His many possessions could have given him a hundred facile excuses for
absence, and Yseulte would have gone willingly wherever he had chosen
to take her. But he did not obey his conscience; he was swayed by his
pride, which would not allow him to let the world say that he retreated
before his sorceress, and he was held by that power which a great love
exercises over the judgment and the volition. The mere glance of her
eyes had fascination enough to destroy all his resolutions, and draw
him into absolute oblivion of everything save herself. His passion for
her was one of those which absence and denial intensify. He would make
the arrangements of his whole day subordinate to one slight chance of
meeting her for a moment in a crowd, of seeing her pass at a distance
beneath the boughs of an avenue. He had received a mortal affront, a
merciless insult, and yet he forgave them both; he was with her once
more, he had no sense except of that one ecstasy. He was weak as a reed
in her hands; he could have flung himself at her feet and kissed them.
He knew that manliness, dignity, honour, duty, self-respect, all ought
to have forbidden him to cross her threshold, but he was indifferent
to them; they were mere names, without power, almost without meaning,
for him. They had no more control over him than threads of silk upon
the neck of a horse which has broken loose. She was before him, the one
woman who was beautiful, beloved, and desired by him; and he realised
that it had been of no use to try and cure a delirious fever with a
simple draught of sweet herbs, as Melville had once said.

His own wife was nothing to him; the wife of Napraxine was all. He
despised and hated himself for his inconstancy where his fealty
bound him, for his fidelity where he had only received light mockery
and cruel provocation. But he could not change his nature, and the
education which life had given him had contained no lesson in the art
of self-denial. The world had always been at his feet; his desires
had always been gratified and his wishes forestalled; he had never
been used to subjugate his own inclinations; and this, the first evil
which had ever tempted him, began to assail him with increasing force
with every day which brought him within sight of the one woman whom he
adored. She knew his weakness as she knew that of every human being who
ever approached her, and she had no compassion for it. A man who had
done her the insult of presuming to seek elsewhere consolation for her
own indifference, had no mercy from her in his failure; he had offended
her in the only vulnerable portion of her character, her supreme love
of exclusive dominion. She was not vain with any common vanity, but the
instincts towards absolute mastery were strong in her; whoever thwarted
those instincts, always repented his temerity in dust and ashes.
Each step which Othmar made towards resumption of her yoke upon his
passions, seemed to her only his due chastisement; every pang which she
detected in him, every look of remorse, every imprudence of utterance
or regard, pleased her as witness of his just degradation. In the many
occasions which society gave her, she planted daggers in his breast
with every cruelly chosen word she spoke, which was invariably veiled
in easy irony or simulated friendliness, until his whole existence
was consumed between the longing for, and the dread of, her approach.
She had towards him a mingling of compassion, raillery, and kindness,
which was of all means the one most certain to wound, excite, and
enchain him. Whenever he was within hearing, she was in her wittiest
moods, her most brilliant aspects; all the various charms of her acute
intelligence and of her high culture seemed increased tenfold after the
simple childlike speech and the convent-bred mind of his young wife.
He felt like a man who, long chained to a narrow, colourless, peaceful
shore, is suddenly set free amidst the flowering labyrinths and the
voluptuous odours of a tropical savannah.

Never had Nadine Napraxine been so willing to please, so facile to be
pleased, as in the course of this Paris winter, when he was constantly
within sight of her coquetteries, within earshot of her speeches. He
watched her across a salon as a captive sunk in the depths of a prison
may gaze at a summer sky beneath which he may never again stand a free
man. The sense of his vicinity and of his suffering, supplied that
stimulant to life which her languid emotions needed; she viewed the
drama of his regret and revolt with an interest in it half bitter, half
sweet. A man who could have wedded another whilst he loved herself,
deserved, she told herself, to suffer; yet there were moments when,
beneath her triumphs and her mockeries, there was in her own heart a
thrill of answering pain; what might have been, glided also before her
memory with pale reproach.

One night, entirely by chance, he and she were alone for a few minutes,
that solitude in a crowd for which great entertainments give so much
opportunity.

It was at a ball given by Prince Orloff; those hazards of society which
it always amused her to subdue and turn to the service of her own
intentions, had brought him to her side; some great palms made a little
grove around them; the sound of the valse from Faust came dreamily from
the distant ball-room.

'Do you know, Othmar, that I am disappointed in you?' she murmured,
in her softest, cruellest, most malicious tones. 'I imagined that you
would be so very good to your wife; you were always sighing to be an
_homme d'intérieur_, you were always coveting solitude, sentiment, and
sympathy. I expected to see you give us the example of a perfectly
ideal union; but I am afraid that, after all, you are not much better
than other men.'

'Madame----'

'Oh, you are angry, of course! Everyone is angry who is in the wrong.
It is perfectly true, you are only a husband like ten thousand others.
You were always a little like Chateaubriand: "Touriste, ambassadeur,
ministre, ou amant, à peine arrivé, il s'ennuie."'

'It might be true of M. de Chateaubriand,' said Othmar, with
displeasure, 'it is not so of me. I am most constant,--where I have
never been welcome.'

The confession escaped him despite himself, and he regretted it
passionately as soon as it was uttered.

'That is why you are faithful,' said Nadine Napraxine, smiling. 'If
you had been welcome, how poor and pale the whole country of your
explorations would have seemed to you! There is only one way not to
have shut on you those dreadful gates of disillusion; it is to be wise,
and never to pass through them.'

'Your philosophies are, no doubt, madame, as correct as your
observations,' said Othmar, with impatience.

'I pass my life in observing,' she replied. 'It is the only pursuit in
society which has really any interest in it. But tell me, do you not
a little, just a little, neglect your wife? It is a pity, she is so
young; in time, if you be not there, someone else will be.'

'Never!' he interrupted, with some heat. 'I have many faults, no
doubt, and I abandon them to your observation; but Yseulte has not a
single defect that I have seen; she is loyalty, innocence, and honour
incarnated.'

'They are three charming qualities,' replied Nadine Napraxine, 'but
they do not appear to have any result except that of making you
dangerously confident that you may leave them wholly to themselves.'

Othmar coloured; he was sensible of the correctness of the accusation,
and it irritated him excessively to hear the woman he loved rebuke him
for his conduct to his wife.

'If I be too indifferent where all my allegiance should be given,' he
said abruptly, 'the Princess Napraxine should be the last on earth to
accuse me of it. She knows the cause.'

'The cause, I imagine, is in your temperament,' she replied, ignoring
his meaning, 'as it was in Chateaubriand's.'

'Can we not leave Chateaubriand alone?'

'And speak only of yourself? It is a curious thing, but a man is never
contented unless he is speaking solely of himself. It is the only
entity in which he takes any real interest.'

'Perhaps it is the only one with which he is really conversant.'

'Oh, you must be conversant with your wife's. Her mind must be as clear
as crystal. Do you know, Othmar, I think you ought to be more grateful
than you are; to have so very pure a creature as that to be the mother
of your children, is a privilege to you and to your race.'

She spoke gravely for the moment, abandoning the ironical mockery of
her habitual tone.

He rose abruptly.

'I cannot be grateful,' he said very low, with a passionate vibration
in his voice. 'I was a fool, and I committed a great error. With all
my life burnt up by one love, I imagined that I could slake the flames
of it by contact with youth and innocence, as if the woodland brook
could cool and arrest the boiling lava!'

Nadine Napraxine heard, with her languid lids drooped over her eyes,
and the shadow of a smile upon her mouth.

'If it were so, you should be too proud to confess it,' she said, after
a pause. 'To be sure it is not a very confidential confession, for
everyone sees that your--experiment--has not been quite so successful
as you hoped, as Baron Fritz, at least, hoped. Well, we have talked
long enough in this solitude; you may take me to the ball-room.'

When he went home, no sleep came to him that night; his conscience
and his pride rebuked him for the admission he had made, and before
his eyes there passed ceaselessly the vision of Nadine Napraxine,
pale, ethereal, magically seductive, like those figures of Herculaneum
which float noiselessly in the air, their bodies delicate as the
gossamer-winged body of the Deilephila.

And she had said to him, 'All the world sees that your experiment has
not succeeded!'

The words added the one drop of mortification and of bitterness which
was alone wanting in the cup which he had of his own weakness and of
his own will filled for himself, and was forced by the justice of fate
to drink.

She herself drove homeward alone through the chilly shadows of the
dawn, which could not touch her, wrapped in her eider-down lined
satins, and reclining amongst her yielding cushions. A beggar woman
sitting on a doorstep with a sick child sleepless in her arms, saw the
carriage pass, and thought, 'What must it feel like to roll on like
that, clad like that, warm and happy like that, with the price of a
million loaves of bread in one single stone at your throat?'

Nadine Napraxine would have told her that food and warmth and jewels
were no especial pleasure, when you had been always used to them;
perhaps the absence of them might be painful--so much she would have
granted.

She drove homeward, and went up to her white dressing-room with a vague
sense of impatience and of regret stirring within her.

How he loved her, how he loved her, although he had been madman enough
to give his life to another in an insane attempt to attain oblivion!

She did not lie down, but when her women had undressed her and wrapped
her in her loose warm wrappers, she sat long looking dreamily into the
fire burning on the open hearth, for the night of April was chilly
within doors though without nightingales began to sing amidst the
lilac buds. He would still, if she chose, go far away from all duty,
all honour, all the ways of the world and the respect of men. Almost
it tempted her, that which she had rejected two years before. There
was another life to be hurt now! Friederich Othmar had perchance read
her temperament aright when he had thought that the power to make
misery would have greater force to attract her than the power to confer
happiness.

'I suppose I must be what the good dullards call wicked,' she thought
with a smile at herself, and a certain vague emotion of disgust at her
own impulse.

Was she wicked? Was anybody so? Was there ever anything in human
nature beyond impatience, ennui, inquisitiveness, natural love of
dominion, and wholly instinctive egotism? Did not these, collectively
or singly, suffice to account for all human actions?



CHAPTER XLIII.


A few days later Nadine Napraxine was surprised and annoyed at
receiving in the forenoon a request from her husband that she would be
so good as to receive him for a few moments.

'Beg the Prince to excuse me,' she said to her women. 'I am tired and
must go out in an hour.'

Never once in the years of their marriage had Napraxine ever ventured
to insist after such a message, or to revolt against her decisions.
She was astonished and exceedingly irritated when they brought her a
pencilled note in which were written some blurred words: 'Pray pardon
me, but I have urgent reasons to desire to see you without delay; I
must entreat of you to admit me, if only for a moment.'

'_Quelle corvée!_' she murmured as she reluctantly gave the order to
let him enter. The companionship of her husband, at all times wearisome
to her, had become in the last few weeks more than usually intolerable.

'I must beg of you not to send me these autocratic demands,' she said,
with much impatience, as he entered. 'You want my women sent away? Why
should they be sent away? What can you possibly have to say that may
not be heard from the housetops?'

Looking at him with irritation and undisguised dislike, she saw an
expression upon his face which was new there; he motioned the maids
away with authority; he was disturbed and excited; he had nevertheless
a certain dignity and anger in his attitude.

'Do you know, madame,' he said abruptly when they were alone, being
scarcely conscious of what he did say, 'that here in Paris there are
persons who venture to hint that--that--that Othmar has been for many
years at your feet? That his marriage was only one of pique? That even
now he neglects his wife because of you? Had you any idea of this? Can
you tell me what possible foundation there is for it? Oh, do not think
for a moment that I pay any heed to it, only I would like to know
why--when----'

Entangled in his words and in his ideas, he stammered, breathed
heavily, came to a full pause; he dared not accuse her, did not even
accuse her in his own thoughts; but the sudden knowledge that her name
was spoken in union with Othmar's had so galled and stunned him that he
had lost his usual patience, his habitual timidity, before her.

His wife heard him with a contraction of her eyebrows, which was the
only sign she ever gave of anger; her eyes were cold and haughty; her
whole countenance was as unrevealing as the marble features of her
bust by Dupré which stood on a table near. For the sole time in her
life she was not prepared with a reply; the various memories which had
united herself and Othmar had been always so carefully veiled from the
knowledge of others that she had never imagined any outer light would
be ever shed upon them. The world had certainly seen at one time that
Othmar loved her, and had been ready to sacrifice his life at her word,
but that had been long ago; she had not supposed that the emotions
which her clairvoyance had discovered, the mesmerism which she still
exercised, had had any spectators. But if for the moment surprised, she
was never for a moment at fault. She looked steadily at her husband,
with the delicate lines of her eyebrows drawn together in a frown,
which lent a strange severity to her features.

'My dear Prince,' she said slowly and coldly; 'you have known
my character for nearly eight years. I cannot tell whether the
opportunities you have had of understanding it have been employed
to the utmost, or whether your powers of comprehension have been
not altogether equal to the task. But one thing at least I should
have supposed you would have learned in all that time--I should have
thought you would have understood that I do not permit impertinent
interrogation, or even interrogation at all. I never ask you questions;
I expect never to be asked them.'

Napraxine stood before her like a chidden child; his long habit of
deference to her will and fear of her superiority were still in
the ascendant with him, but struggling against them were his own
manliness, and a vague, new-born suspicion, strengthened by a certain
evasiveness, which even his sluggish intelligence perceived, in her
reply.

'After all,' he said, somewhat piteously and irrelevantly; 'after all,
Nadège, I am your husband.'

'Unhappily!'

The single word so chill and so contemptuous was cast at him like a
blow with crystals of ice. He shrank a little.

'No doubt you think so, though I have done what I could,' he said,
humbly repressing the pang he felt. 'But unhappily or not, the fact is
a fact. You permit me very few conjugal rights, but there is one which
you will not surely deny me--the right to know what truth or untruth
there is in these stories of Othmar?'

'You speak like a _juge d'instruction_!' she said, with all her
customary disdain. 'You ought to let no one tell you those or any other
stories. It is yourself whom they make ridiculous, not me.'

'No one shall make me so long,' he muttered. 'If you will not answer
me, I will go to him.'

She raised her head haughtily and looked him full in the face with
that gaze wherewith she was accustomed to cow and to coerce men as the
shepherd's voice intimidates and rules the sheep.

'That would be certainly original,' she said, with a slight suggestion
of laughter. 'A husband going to an imaginary lover to beg him to
reveal how high he stood in the favour of his wife!--it would be
original if it would not be dignified. I wonder what Othmar would
answer you! You will admit that it would be a great temptation to his
vanity--and his invention!'

Napraxine paced a few steps to and fro the room in an agitation which
every one of her languid and contemptuous words increased; a kind of
hopelessness always came over him in the presence of his wife; it was
so impossible to move, to touch, to hold, to comprehend her. The calm
raillery, the chill imperious anger, which were all he ever could
excite in her, left his heart so shrunken and wounded, his pride so
humiliated and baffled.

He paused before her suddenly.

'Nadège,' he said, with a tremor in his voice: 'You know that I have
always liked Othmar. You asked me once why. It is not much of a
narrative. This is it. One day, years and years ago, when he was quite
a youth, we chanced to travel together in Russia. There was a movement
of agrarian revolt at that time. As we passed a village in the province
of Moscow we came upon a horrible conflagration; there were incendiary
fires; great sheepfolds and cattle-pens were burning. I--Heaven forgive
my selfishness!--would have driven on; I only wanted to get to Moscow
itself in time for a masked ball at the Kremlin; but Othmar would not;
he sprang out of the carriage and rallied a few men around him, and
plunged right into the flames to save the sheep and the cattle, or such
of them as he could; of course when he did that, I had no choice but
to do the same. We worked all night; we saved thousands of the beasts,
but we lost the ball at the Kremlin. I do not say it was anything very
great to do. I dare say numbers of other young men would have done as
much; but the remembrance of it has always made me like Othmar. If you
had seen him scorched, and singed, and black with smoke, his hair burnt
and his hands blistered, dragging the rams and the ewes, driving the
bullocks and heifers, the flames curling up over the grass which was as
dry as chips, for it was in the month of August;--I have always liked
him ever since; he is not the mere ennuyé that they think him.'

He paused abruptly; his wife's eyes had a conflicting expression in
them; there was emotion and there was mockery.

'Oh fool!--oh poor big innocent fool!' she thought, '_you_ to praise
Otho Othmar to me!'

Yet something in what he had said softened her cynical intolerance of
his questions and made her more merciful to him. The only qualities
which were ever admirable to her in her husband were his courage and
his sympathy with courage. They were not uncommon attributes, but they
were those which always had affinity to hers. And the half-grotesque,
half-pathetic ignorance which was visible as he spoke of Othmar moved
her to a certain indulgence in all her scorn.

'He is so stupid, but he is so honest,' she thought, as she had thought
so often before, with a feeling of compassion which might in any other
woman have been a pang of conscience. However, the passing sentiment
could not altogether exclude her more dominant instincts of raillery,
her not easily appeased offence at interrogation and interference.

'I do not really see, my dear Napraxine,' she said languidly, 'what
possible connection singed sheep and burning heifers have to do with
the rumours which--you say--society has been so good as to set on
foot concerning me. It is unfortunate that your ideas are always so
entangled that it is very difficult to follow them. But I imagine, so
far as I can evolve anything from such a chaos, that what you intend me
to understand by all this is, that because one summer night in Russia
long ago you were witness of a courageous action on the part of--your
friend--you would be sorry to suppose that he would commit one which
would make him your enemy: is that so?'

Napraxine made a gesture of assent.

'I cannot express myself well,' he murmured. 'But you are so clever you
can always understand----'

'To sort the black and the white beans set to Psyche for a task were
easier,' quoted his wife, with her enigmatical smile. 'Still, if I
interpret your meaning aright, it is that. Pray, then, let your mind be
at rest; the Countess Othmar is not neglected that I know of, and if
she be, _je n'y suis pour rien_.'

Then she poured out her chocolate. Napraxine was reassured by her
indifferent manner, and did not observe that the major part of his
interrogations was still left unanswered.

'I was sure of it,' he said with warmth. 'He is very much in love with
her, is he not?'

She gave a slight, most eloquent gesture, indicative of absolute
ignorance and of as absolute indifference.

'Ah! that is another matter which I could not presume to decide,' she
answered with a little yawn. 'He has been married fourteen months; men
are not usually in love so long as that.'

'I----' began Napraxine: then he stammered, paused, and coloured,
afraid of her ridicule.

'Yes; you were,' said his wife, serenely. 'But it is very unusual; it
is very undesirable. I do not think it contributed to your comfort; it
certainly did not to mine.'

Napraxine sighed.

'I should have never changed,' he said with ardour, though with
timidity, as though he were a lover of eighteen.

'You have never changed,' she said with that smile which she could
render enchanting in sweetness and in graciousness. 'You have always
been much better to me than I have deserved, and you have always been
the most generous and the most amiable of men. Now go; I have many
things to do, and I want my women.'

Napraxine grew red with pleasure at her praise, and his pale eyes shone
with eagerness, delight, and the admiration which she had hated so
intensely in the early years of their marriage. He stooped towards her,
breathless with his gratitude, and his hopes suddenly aroused after so
many years of despair and of resignation.

'Nadine,' he murmured. 'Even now--now--if you would? None of them have
loved you as I do.'

She stretched out her hand so that his lips, which would fain have gone
elsewhere, were forced to remain there.

'Perhaps,' she said vaguely, still with that enchanting smile which was
to him like a glimpse into Paradise itself. 'Do not ask for too much at
first; _au revoir_.'

Then she rang for her maids, and he was forced to withdraw; but he went
with all the forces of a re-awakened passion throbbing in his veins and
beating at his heart, like a swarm of bees roused by a ray of warmth
from winter torpor.

She, as soon as his step had ceased to echo along the distant
corridors, and the sound of wheels and horses' feet in the courtyard
below told her that he was about to leave the house, dismissed her
women, saying that she wished to sleep, and sat alone, with a sense of
strong disgust and of vague anxiety upon her.

'I could not allow him to provoke Othmar,' she thought. 'Anything but
that! anything but that!'

She would have been capable of any self-sacrifice, of any concession to
her husband, which could have prevented the hostile meeting of those
men.

A sudden tide of strong emotion swept over her self-centred and languid
life. In that one moment, in which she had become conscious of a
possible danger to Othmar, she had become as conscious of the full
force of her regard for him. Love, which had been her victim, her
plaything, her instrument, her servitor, for so long, became at length
the guest of her own heart, and was stronger than herself. She had
driven that danger away from his path by the skill of her consummate
finesse; but she was not wholly reassured, and if to save him from
her husband's suspicions she would be compelled to make herself the
recipient of her husband's re-awakened tenderness, she felt that the
price would be more hateful than death.

Even the momentary constraint and feigning which she had put upon
herself with her husband stung all her pride, offended all her dignity;
she could take no delight in it as she did usually in the admirable
issues of her most admirable skill in seduction and dissimulation. A
certain impression, which was not profound enough to be shame but had
its character, remained with her. She had been successful as usual, but
success did not content her. She was exceedingly proud; her delicacy,
which was as susceptible as any sensitive plant to any rude approach,
shrank from the path into which she had entered. She could take an
intellectual pleasure in adroit dissimulation, but she had no pleasure
in deceiving an honest confidence. She had always despised with all the
scorn of her nature the covered ways of intrigue, the hidden resorts of
illicit desires; her taste as well as her pride had always preserved
her from the pitfalls to which other women danced with light hearts
and light steps. Some sense of approaching these perils touched her
now and offended her, as with the presence of some vulgar thing. She
saw clearly enough what Othmar perhaps did not or would not see, that
their mutual love would soon or late take them on that same road which
all lovers have taken since the days when the Book was read beneath
the garden trees of Rimini. She was not alarmed or troubled in any
moral sense, but her delicacy and her hauteur were disturbed. For the
first time, she felt that it was possible for events and sentiments to
have more control over her than she had over them; for the first time
she had the sensation of being drawn on by fate in lieu of herself
controlling it.



CHAPTER XLIV.


In the excitation of his new hopes and of his happy self-delusions her
husband's suspicions had all died away; he did not even notice how
completely she had avoided all direct answer to the questions which
had at the first so offended her. He had not the faintest conception
of how completely he had been put off his guard, intoxicated by
suggested concessions, and enwrapped in the blinding fumes of awakening
affections.

He went, with his usual heavy and slow tread, but with a heart as
light as a youth's who has heard the first word of encouragement from
lips he loved, out into the noon-day glare of the Paris streets.
During these six years through which his wife had been no more to him
than the tea-rose which she liked to wear at her throat, he had grown
reconciled to the inevitable. He had consoled himself with the thousand
and one consolations with which women are always ready to strew the
path of a rich man; he had not, after the first shock of her dislike,
greatly rebelled or greatly mourned; and he had been what his world
called a _viveur enragé_. Yet at the depths of his soul there had been
always--living, tenacious, indestructible, exceedingly humble, and
infinitely forgiving--a great love for his wife. If she had cared,
she could have done what she chose with him; he would have led the
life of an anchorite to win her favour, and there would have been no
heroism and no folly to which she could not have impelled him. She had
never seen in him anything except a heavy, stupid, good-humoured man,
who could have a very good manner when it was wanted, but had hardly
more intelligence than one of his own _moujiks_. She never saw the
possibilities of self-negation and of blind devotion which slumbered in
his nature because she never felt interest enough in him to look for
them. To see as little of him as was possible, whilst still remaining
in accordance with the etiquette of the world, was all her study where
Platon Napraxine was concerned.

That he loved her very much she was fully aware--loved her as only
big dogs and unintellectual people have the instinct to do--but the
higher qualities which were in him, and might have been called out had
she chosen, she never knew or would have cared to know. The natural
nobility of his character was entirely obscured to her beneath the
slowness and dulness of his intelligence, as his corpulent body and his
large appetite wholly concealed the heroism of poor Louis Seize from
France and from the world.

Napraxine, when he left her now, walked straight to a private
club which he often frequented; a club of great exclusiveness and
distinction, where very high play could be indulged in every morning,
afternoon, and evening. There he breakfasted, played a little himself
to while away time, and waited the coming of the Duc de Prangins.
He waited until four o'clock; at that hour, which was his usual one
for entrance there, the elder de Prangins arrived for his customary
afternoon baccarat.

Napraxine threw down the cards he held, rose, and approached him.

'M. le Duc,' he said curtly, 'I have learned that you have ventured to
jest about Madame la Princesse Napraxine. I am here to tell you that I
do not allow such jests. If you apologise for them--well. If not----'

'I never apologise,' said the Duc, as curtly.

Napraxine, without more words, struck him over the shoulders with a
cane which he carried. Then he turned his back on him with supreme
disdain, and sat down again to his écarté.

To such an insult there was only one answer possible. Within fifteen
minutes a hostile meeting was arranged between him and M. de Prangins,
which was to take place on the following morning at sunrise, in the
gardens of a friend's château situated on the road to Versailles.

The elder de Prangins, though a man of sixty-five years of age, was
of great skill and address in all offensive and defensive science; it
was he who had killed the young Piedmontese prince, d'Ivrea, some four
years before. He was a slightly-made man, but very strong and agile,
cold and sure in his attack, and very careful in his guard. He had the
reputation of being a dangerous foe, and, secure in that reputation,
had never condescended to bridle his tongue, which was at once coarse
and caustic. For Nadine Napraxine he had conceived, years earlier, one
of those gross, yet chill, passions of which a man, advanced in years,
is at once tenacious and impatient, proud and ashamed.

Platon Napraxine finished his game of écarté and won it. He was in no
degree disturbed or depressed by the ordeal which lay before him. He
was as happy as a boy to think that he was about to fight in her cause,
and he pictured to himself how, when all was over, he would tell her,
and perhaps--perhaps--she would smile on him for the recital. Like many
big, strong, and kindly men, he had a great deal of the lad in him; he
was unworn in heart, despite all the experiences of his life in Paris
and in Petersburg; the adoration of his wife, which he had preserved
throughout all the vulgar amours with which he had sought to console
himself, had served, in a great measure, to keep his youth alive in
him. With a youth's hopefulness and short-sightedness he longed now for
the moment in which he would say to her, 'They dared to jest of you,
but I was there; and they have bitten the dust.'

That night she dined at one house and he dined at another; she went
later to more than one ball, at which she showed herself for a brief
hour of the cotillon and then took herself away, knowing that after
her presence there all other women would pale and pall, as the stars
fade, or seem to fade, when a meteor passes. She and Othmar had met
that night at more than one house, and she had kept him beside her more
openly and for a longer time than she had ever done before. It was her
manner of reply to her husband's suspicions and to the conjectures of
the world.

Platon Napraxine returned home earlier than usual, and waited in a
little smoking-room which opened on to the head of the staircase that
he might hear her arrival, and see her once, if only as she passed
up the stairs. It was only midnight when he went home, and he waited
one, two, three, four hours; then he heard the carriage roll into the
inner court and the door of the private entrance open. He left the
_fumoir_ and walked a few steps downward to meet her as she ascended
the staircase. His heart thrilled as he saw her in her cloak, made of
soft blush-coloured feathers, with her delicate head emerging from it
as from some rose-tinted cloud. She herself perceived him waiting there
with that involuntary irresistible sense of annoyance which was always
her first emotion whenever she saw him anywhere.

She gave him a little careless smile, nodded a good-night, and would
have gone onward, but he stopped her timidly.

'Give me one of those,' he said, as he touched the knot of tea-roses
which were fastened at her breast.

'What nonsense!' she said impatiently, with much real irritation, as
she mused, 'If he play the lover, I shall not keep my patience!'

Her cloak parted and fell a little off one arm. His eyes dwelled
passionately on the whiteness of her shoulder, with the great diamonds
sparkling on it, and the jewelled butterflies trembling as though they
took the blue veins for azure flowers.

With an obstinacy which he had never dared to show to her before he
drew away one of the tea-roses.

'Do not be angry,' he murmured.

She shrugged her shoulders with sovereign indifference and contempt,
and passed up the stairs.

He looked after her with dim longing eyes.

No shadow of any sort had been upon him throughout that sunny day--the
last day of April.

The next morning he went with a perfectly light heart to the garden
outside Paris which had been chosen as the scene of his encounter
with the Duc de Prangins. He had fought many duels in his time; he
was a fine fencer, though of late he had neglected to keep his hand
in practice, and he was a man always of the coolest and most stolid
courage. He had no kind of apprehension of the result; he had taken
no measures in case he should fall; it seemed so entirely impossible;
besides, all his affairs were in order, all his vast wealth was
disposed of with legal accuracy and care in documents which were safe
in their iron safes in the muniment room of Zaraizoff; he went to his
appointment with no more thought or apprehension than he would have
gone to the 'tir aux pigeons.'

He lighted a large cigar and stood chatting with his friends to the
last moment. Now and then he put his hand in his coat; it was to feel
for the little rose he had taken from her the day before; but his
friends could not know that.

For some moments after the rapiers crossed the duel was bloodless;
a mere display of even and perfect science on each side; but at the
third encounter his guard was broken; the sword of the Duc de Prangins
entered his left side and passed straight through the left lung out
beneath the shoulder; his adversary could not draw it back; with the
blade transfixing his breast thus, Platon Napraxine fell heavily to the
ground. When they endeavoured to raise him he looked at them, and his
lips moved; it was only the hoarsest murmur, but it said once, twice,
thrice--'Do not tell her! Do not tell her! Do not tell her!'

They let him lie where he was; they gathered about him pale and in
silence. They all knew he was a dead man.

For one moment he looked up at the blue morning sky where the clouds
were drifting and a flock of swallows was circling with gay buoyant
movement; there were all the odours of spring on the air, and the grass
which he lay on was yellow with kingcups and white with daisies. With
his right hand he feebly made the sign of the cross on his breast;
then he thrust the same hand within his coat once more, and with a
terrible shuddering, choking sigh his last breath passed away. When
they unloosened his lifeless fingers they found them clasped on a faded
tea-rose.

'Who will tell Princess Napraxine?' said the men around him, with white
lips, to one another.

The man who had killed him, throwing on his great-coat in haste, said
with a cruel smile:

'She will have a Te Deum in every church in Paris. You waste your
pity.'



CHAPTER XLV.


Nadine Napraxine had just quitted her bathroom, and was taking her
chocolate, when her women, vaguely frightened and so venturing to
disobey her, brought her word that Prince Ezarhédine begged to see
her for a few moments on an urgent matter. It was noon. She was
never visible until three in the daytime in Paris. She was at first
indignant at such an insolence, then made curious by such an intrusion.
Ezarhédine had been one of her husband's familiar associates, but he
had never been an intimate friend of her own.

'What can he want?' she said irritably. 'Send M. Valisoff to him.'

Valisoff was her own secretary.

But when her servants insisted, contrary to all their usual timid
obedience to her rules, her inquisitiveness was excited; she consented
to receive the unbidden and ill-timed visit. She cast about her a
loose gown of cream-hued China crape, embroidered with pansies and
primroses, put her feet into slippers which were embroidered like it,
and with her beautiful arms seen through the loose sleeves, and her
eyes still suffused with the languor of her morning sleep, she passed
out into the small salon adjoining her dressing-chamber.

Prince Ezarhédine, ushered in there, bowed to the ground, and then
stood looking at her strangely. He was very pale, and there was a
tremor about his mouth.

'Madame,' he murmured, and then paused; his voice could not be
commanded.

She, with her wonderful and instantaneous penetration into the minds
of those who spoke to her, divined his mission in that one moment in
which his eyes met hers. She went a step nearer to him, herself looking
like some Aurora of the Italian painters, with her white floating
flower-embroidered robes and her loose hair bound by an amethyst-hued
ribbon.

'What have you come to tell me?' she said, in a strange, low voice. 'Is
my husband--dead?'

Ezarhédine bowed in silence.

She shuddered slightly from head to foot; her eyes opened wide with an
expression of great terror; her lips turned white. She sat down on the
nearest seat, and motioned to him to be seated by her.

'Has he fought with Othmar?' she said hoarsely, so low that her words
were scarcely intelligible.

'With Othmar? No, madame,' Ezarhédine answered in surprise; and told
her with whom he had fought and how he had died.

She heard in perfect silence; but the colour had returned to her lips.

       *       *       *       *       *

'Poor Napraxine; he died for her sake, and it is only of Othmar that
she thought,' mused Prince Ezarhédine as he left her house when his
painful mission was over.



CHAPTER XLVI.


Othmar was in his own house that day at two o'clock looking at a
portrait, by Cabanel, of his wife, which had been sent home in the
forenoon, and which had been left standing in the salon, where she
passed most of her hours. The portrait was one of the triumphs of
that elegant master. He had painted her in a gown of white velvet,
with her favourite peacocks near, and some high shrubs of red azaleas
to lend her the contrast of rich colour. The whole composition was a
masterpiece of softness, brilliancy, and sunshine. Othmar stood looking
at it and speaking of it to the Baron and to Yseulte when Alain de
Vannes was ushered into the room, and, scarcely pausing for the usual
ceremonies of salutation, said abruptly to him: 'You have heard the
news of the morning? Napraxine is dead.'

The Duc had calculated the effect of his abrupt speech. Othmar, on
whose features the full light was falling from a window of which the
curtains had been drawn back for the examination of Cabanel's portrait,
changed colour violently, and his whole face expressed the force of
conflicting emotions with which he was moved. Yseulte watched him,
fascinated with a vague terror; she had never seen him violently moved
under the influence of any strong feeling.

Friederich Othmar, alone retaining his calmness, answered in amazement:
'Napraxine! Napraxine dead! Are you certain? I saw him last night at
midnight; he was in full health and spirits.'

'Nevertheless he is dead,' said De Vannes, keeping his gaze on Othmar;
and he related the circumstances of the duel.

Othmar listened in profound silence; he had recovered his self-control,
but the colour had not returned to his face.

'What was the cause?' asked Friederich Othmar, when he had heard all
that there was to hear.

Alain de Vannes shrugged his shoulders.

'De Prangins had spoken jestingly of the Princess--and someone else.
Napraxine heard of it through some lamentable indiscretion; he
insulted the old Duke; and the result is what I have said. He was run
through the lungs and died in a few moments. De Prangins relieved
Madame Napraxine of a troublesome lad in young d'Ivrea; he has now
done her a still greater service by ridding her of the only ennui in
her life which she was sometimes compelled to endure. I do not know
who told her what had happened, but the body of Napraxine has already
been taken to his house. The duel was fought in a private garden at
Versailles.'

Then he paused, having no more to say, and, like a good orator, being
unwilling to destroy by detail and diffuseness the effect of his
unexpected statement.

Othmar muttered a few sentences of conventional regret and turned away
to where the picture stood. Yseulte followed him with wistful eyes. She
felt that the news had shocked and startled him strangely, but she was
afraid to seem to have remarked his agitation. After a few moments he
made some trivial excuse, and left the room.

Friederich Othmar resumed his occupation of examining Cabanel's work
through a lorgnon: people whom he knew died every day; it was not such
a simple event as that which could cause him any excitement, and Platon
Napraxine, though a very great person in his own way, had no place in
the public life of Europe.

The Duc de Vannes approached Yseulte.

'My cousin,' he said with gentle mockery, 'was poor Napraxine such a
favourite of yours that you look so stricken with sorrow? If I had
known that my intelligence would have caused such regret, I would have
been less precipitate in relating it.'

Yseulte coloured; she was conscious that it was her husband's emotion,
not hers, at which he jested.

'Death is always terrible,' she murmured, not knowing what to say.
'And Prince Napraxine always seemed so well, so strong, so full of
health----'

De Vannes laughed a little grimly.

'Poor Napraxine had only one vulnerable point--his heart; some gossiper
pecked at that as jays peck at fruit; and this is the end. You know
he adored his wife, most unfortunately for himself; she is called
the Marie Stuart of our day, and to complete the parallel, it was
necessary for her to be the cause of her husband's death.'

'But--she must suffer now?' said Yseulte, her golden eyes dim and dark
with feeling.

'Suffer?' echoed Alain de Vannes. 'I see you do not know Madame
Napraxine, though you meet so often. The long strict Russian mourning
and all the religious rites will weary her terribly. Beyond that, she
will not be much distressed, and she will have many--consolations.'

'She has children,' said Yseulte.

The Duc smiled.

'It was not of her children that I was thinking,' he said with meaning.

Friederich Othmar turned round from his examination of the portrait.

'My child,' he said to Yseulte, 'will you pardon me if I remind you
that your horses have been waiting a long time, and that the _matinée_
at Princess Hohenlohe's will be more than half over. M. le Duc will be
kind enough to excuse the hint; he is always so amiable.'

Yseulte, who was still obedient with the unquestioning submission of
her childish days, rose and bade adieu to her cousin, then went to her
own apartments.

Friederich Othmar turned to the Duke:

'Shall we walk down the boulevard together?' he suggested, whilst he
thought to himself, 'That fox shall not get at her ear if I can help
it.'

While Alain de Vannes assented and they sauntered down the staircase of
Othmar's house, the Duc said with a pleasant little laugh:

'Ah, my dear Baron, if this duel had taken place with the same results
fifteen months ago my little cousin would not have been mistress here!'

'Who knows?' said Friederich Othmar, vaguely, with that bland
indifference which was his favourite mask and weapon.



CHAPTER XLVII.


As Yseulte went to her own room her way led her past the great
cedar-wood doors of her husband's library, that retreat where he passed
so many of those hours of meditation and of pain,--such hours as in old
days led men of his nature to the isolation of the cloister. He had
always told her that she was free to enter there; but the delicacy of
her temper had always made her use the privilege but rarely; so rarely,
that he had ceased ever to be afraid of her entrance in moments when
the lassitude or the dejection of his life overcame him and made him
little willing to meet her gaze. Now, as she passed by the door, a
wistful impulse moved her to see him, to speak to him, to be spoken to
by him. She had an instinctive feeling that this news of Napraxine's
death had caused him a greater shock than she could comprehend or
measure; all the affection, the adoration, which she bore him went out
to him in this incomprehensible sorrow.

'If he would only tell me'--she thought.

Inspired by that longing for his confidence, she opened the door.
Othmar sat at his writing-table, and his head was bowed down on his
arms; his back was to her, but his whole attitude expressed extreme
weariness, exceeding sorrow. When he sprang to his feet at the sound
of the opening door, she saw that his eyes were wet with tears. He
suppressed both his emotion and his irritation as best he could, and
said to her gently:

'Do you want me, my dear? Wait a moment; I will be with you.'

He turned from her as if to sort some papers on his table. She did
not advance; she stood looking at him with a scared, colourless face:
a truth had come into her mind swift and venomous as an adder. She
thought suddenly:

'If I were not here--she could be his wife--now.'

The secret of his uncontrollable emotion at the tidings of Napraxine's
death was laid bare to her in one of those flashes of thought which
light up the brain as lightning illumines the landscape. She murmured
some vague words and left the room: her long training in silence and
self-suppression gave her strength to repress the cry which rose to her
lips.

Othmar scarcely heeded her departure or heard her answer: his own pain
and restless rebellion against the fate which he had made for himself
absorbed him.

'Poor innocent child!' he thought once with self-reproach. 'She must
never know; it was I who sought her--I must keep her in her illusions
as best I may.'

He did not know that her illusions had been killed in that moment of
cruel certainty, as once in the church of S. Pharamond his orchids and
azaleas had perished in a single night of frost.

She told her people to have the horses taken back to the stables:
she felt unwell; she would not go out that morning; then she locked
herself in her own apartments. She could not face that world of Paris,
which would be speaking all the day of one theme,--the death of Prince
Napraxine.

It was the last day of April; the sunshine was streaming through the
gardens of the great hotel, and through her open windows there came
the scent of opening lilac buds and blossoming hawthorn boughs. Like
the year and the earth, she was in the early sweetness of her youth;
yet old age hardly knows a more chill and cruel sense of loneliness
and desolation than was with her now as she lay, face downward, on
her bed, and sobbed her youth away. With instantaneous and merciless
force the truth had broken in upon her at last; she suddenly realised
that she had no place in the heart of Othmar, and was but a burden
on his life. She realised that she had been taken in pity, wedded in
generosity and compassion, but without one passing gleam or throb of
love. She marvelled that she could have been so blind before. All
the memories which thronged upon her brought with them a thousand
inexorable witnesses of the truth. The knowledge of the world which she
had learned of late was like a lamp shedding its cruel rays on every
damning fact.

For long she had known, she had felt, that her husband cared only for
one woman upon earth, and that woman not herself. But never until
now had the conviction come to her of how cruelly and eternally she
barred the way between him and his happiness and his desires. The
weakness and the defects of the early training which she had received
now told upon her character, making her shut close in her own soul all
she suffered, and enabling her to keep perfect silence on all she had
discovered. Without that acquired habit of reserve, her natural candour
and trustfulness would have impelled her to give some confidence, to
receive some counsel, in her dire distress, would have even brought her
to her husband's side. But the pride which was in her blood was united
with the power of self-repression engendered by the teachings she had
received. In any sorrow which had not also been humiliation, in any
fault which had been her own, not his, she would have thrown herself at
Othmar's feet and confessed all that she felt. But this was impossible
to her now; the words would have choked her; she could not say to him:
'I know I am only a pensioner on your pity and your generosity;' she
could not say to him, 'I know that I stand between you and one whom you
loved before ever you saw me.' More undisciplined and less delicate
tempers might have found some refuge in such passionate lamentation and
revelation, but to Yseulte de Valogne such outbursts of reproach were
impossible; they would have been contrary to every habit of her young
life, to every tradition of the order and of the race from which she
sprang. 'The vulgar cry out when they are hurt,' her grandmother had
said once to her during the siege of Paris; 'but for us--there are only
two things possible--either vengeance or silence.'

Those words came back upon her mind as she lay upon her bed, whilst the
sweet fresh winds of the spring-time blew the scent of the lilac and
hawthorn across her chamber. Vengeance there could be none for her; he
had been her saviour, her protector, her kindest friend, her lover,
whom she adored with all the ignorant, innocent, mute worship of first
love; there only remained the alternative--silence.

There was something of the dumb obstinacy of the Breton in her, and
much also of the Breton force of heroism; the heroism which does not
speak, but bears and acts, immovable and uncomplaining. That great
strength of endurance enabled her now to recover her self-control by
the time that she was forced to meet Othmar again, and to go into her
drawing-rooms at eight o'clock before the hour of dinner, with no trace
of what she had suffered upon her except in the pallor of her face and
the dark shade beneath her eyes.

'Are you feeling ill, my dear child?' said her husband, as he met her.
'I hear you have not been out to-day, and you had many engagements?'

She murmured some vague answer;--she had been lying down; her head
ached.

He answered her with some tender expressions of regret, and inquired
no more. Her health was delicate and fluctuating at that moment; he
supposed that it was natural that she had such occasional hours of
depression.

They chanced to be alone at dinner that evening, which was unusual.
Neither of them spoke many words. When he addressed her it was with the
utmost kindliness and gentleness of tone, but he said little, and his
own preoccupation prevented him from noticing how constrained were her
replies, how forced her smiles.

She observed, with a cruel tightening of her heart, that he never
alluded to the death of his friend Napraxine.

When dinner was over, she said to him very calmly:

'There are several engagements for tonight too, but if you will allow
me, I will stay at home. I am a little--tired.'

'Certainly, my dear,' he said at once. 'Never go into the world but
when it amuses you; and your health is of far more value than any other
consideration. Shall I call your physicians?'

'Oh no; it is nothing. I am only a little fatigued,' she said
hurriedly; and as he stooped to touch her cheek with his lips she
turned her head quickly, and for the first time avoided his caress.

He was too absorbed in his own thoughts even to observe the
significance of the involuntary gesture. He led her to the doors of her
own apartments, kissed her hand, and left her.

'Sleep well,' he said kindly, as he might have spoken to a sick child.

But to Yseulte it seemed that she would never sleep again.



CHAPTER XLVIII.


For some days his world spoke only of the death of Platon Napraxine in
the full vigour of his manhood. Men regretted him honestly, and many
women mourned for him as sincerely, if with less disinterestedness. His
body was taken to Zaraizoff, and there consigned to rest amidst the
dust of his ancestors with all the pomp and splendour of a funeral,
barbaric and gorgeous, like every other ceremony of his country. His
mother and his little sons were there; his wife was absent. She had
withdrawn herself to a secluded château in the Lake of Geneva, which
had been the property of her father, and no one had access to her.

What did she feel? No one could know; scarcely could she have told,
herself, so entangled and so conflicting were the emotions by which
she was swayed. Two sentiments alone were distinct to her amidst the
uncertainty of her thoughts; the one was regret that her last words
had been to him words impatient and unkind; the other an intense rage
against herself that by one involuntary question she had betrayed
herself to Prince Ezarhédine. It had been the solitary moment in all
her life in which anxiety had conquered her composure, and her perfect
self-control had failed her.

After the day which brought the dead body of Napraxine to his house,
and bore him up that beautiful staircase, where his heavy tread and
his unlovely presence had so often seemed so unwelcome and so out of
place, she had seen no one save those great ecclesiastics and high
functionaries who were perforce admitted to her presence. Cards,
dispatches, and letters were piled a foot deep in her ante-chamber, but
she took no heed of any; her secretary had one formal reply with which
he was instructed to receive one and all. Of the thousands who knew her
throughout Europe, Othmar alone sent no word and made no sign.

She understood his silence.

She made no affectation of a woe she could not feel or be expected to
feel; all the world had known how profound had been her indifference
for her husband, and how often intolerant had been her dislike of him.
But all that good taste and good breeding could dictate in respect
to his memory she did; and she withdrew herself absolutely from the
sights and sounds of the world in accordance with the severe usages of
his country and with the tragic fate to which he had succumbed. For
once her serenity had received a shock which, momentarily at least,
affected and dispelled it; for once her languid observation of the ways
of life and of death had been quickened to a dual feeling of mingled
rejoicing and remorse. The sense of her own liberty was lovely to
her, slight as had been the pressure of the bonds she wore; but her
recognition of Platon Napraxine's character had never been so just or
so warm as now when his living presence, his physical personality were
no longer there to offend her taste and fret her patience. All the
dispositions of his testament, all the entire trust they showed in her,
all the immense possessions he bequeathed to her, touched her with that
consciousness of magnanimity and generosity in this despised nature
which had at times visited her during his lifetime, but had always been
repulsed. Had it been possible for him to have returned to earth, he
would have been as intolerable to her as before; but dead,--knowing
that never more would he importune or trouble her with his unwelcome
tenderness,--she remembered him with contrition and almost with
remorse. The consciousness that never had she given him even one kind
word in return for all his royal gifts and loyal worship hurt her
sense of honour; when she remembered that the only praise she had ever
accorded to him had only been part of a scene of dissimulation with
which she had lulled his just suspicions, all the courage and candour
which were natural to her rose up in her conscience and accused her of
ingratitude and of treachery. Nor did she shrink from the _meâ culpâ_
which her self-reproach exacted. She had never been a coward before her
own conscience if her egoism had often made her sleep serenely, deaf to
its voice. She did not disguise to herself that she had been neither
merciful nor just to the dead man, neither worthy of his unquestioning
confidence nor of his unmeasured devotion. She remembered many a time
when a kind word would have cost her nothing and would have been so
much to him. But, then, if she had spoken it, he would not have
understood; he would have presumed on it; he would have imagined that
it gave him every privilege; he had always been so stupid; he had never
been able to understand _à demi-mot_--there had been no choice but to
use the whip and chain to this poor blundering, fawning, loving hound,
who would not otherwise comprehend how intolerable were his offered
caresses.

Now the 'big dog' was dead and could never more offend.

Perhaps she had been harsh, she thought--sometimes.

In the solitude of the slow-coming chilly spring of the Canton de Vaud,
Nadine Napraxine was left alone with her own thoughts. She remained
in the strictest seclusion, willing to concede so much to the usages
of her nation and the tragedy of his death. The isolation seemed very
strange to her, accustomed as she was to have the most brilliant
of societies, the most solicitous of courtiers, the most witty of
associates, for ever about her. Her life had been always _dans le
mouvement_, always seeking, if not always finding, distraction, always
filled with the voices and the laughter of the world. In this complete
solitude, where only her household were near her and there was no other
sound than the fall of water, the burr of bees, the rush of a distant
avalanche falling down the mountain side, or the lilt of a boatman's
song echoing from the lake, it seemed to her as if it were she--or all
the world--who was dead.

It had been suggested to her that she should have her children there,
but she had rejected the idea instantly.

'Now that I am free,' she thought, 'for heaven's sake, let me forget
the hours of my captivity if I can.'

They were well cared for; they should always be well cared for; she
would never allow their interests to be neglected or their fortunes to
be imperilled; but the sons of Platon Napraxine could never be more
to her than the issue of a union she had loathed, the living records
of a time of intense humiliation and disgust. Her retirement was
not nominal; no guests passed her gates except those members of her
husband's family and of her own whom it was impossible to refuse to
see. Even they could not tell whether she rejoiced or grieved. She was
serene and impassible; she never said a syllable which could let any
light in upon her own emotions; when she spoke, if it were not with her
usual malice, it was with all her usual skill at phrases which revealed
her intelligence and hid her heart. She omitted none of the observances
which Russian etiquette required from one in her position, and at the
long religious services in honour of the dead she was careful to render
the respect of her presence, though they meant no more to her than the
buzzing of the bees in the laburnum and acacia flowers.

The tedious days passed monotonous and alike.

For the first time in her life she submitted to ennui without revolt;
and if in the dewy silent evenings of the early summer she went down
to the steps which overlooked the lake, and leaned there, and drew
in the breath of the mountain air with a new invigorating sense of
freedom from a burden which had for ever galled her, though she had
borne it so lightly, no one was offended by that exhilaration, for no
one was witness of it; even as no one, either, ever knew how in such
evening musings as these an angry cloud would come upon her face and an
impatient regret stir at her heart as she thought--why had not Othmar
had patience?

She remembered him with a restless and unwilling tenderness.

The knowledge of how his name had escaped her to Ezarhédine was
constantly present to her mind, and the recollection fretted and
irritated her with all the mortification of a strong pride indignant at
its own self-betrayal. Ezarhédine would, no doubt, relate the story of
her momentary weakness to her friends and his. She had no belief in the
discretion of men; they had their views and principles of honour, no
doubt, but she had never known these remain superior to the impulses of
their indiscretion or their inquisitiveness; they were always talkative
as gossips round a market fountain, curious as children before a case
of unpacked toys.



CHAPTER XLIX.


Whilst she was thus withdrawn from the world in the observance if not
in the regrets of mourning, Othmar left Paris for the seclusion of the
château of Amyôt.

The summer and the autumn months seemed to both him and Yseulte long
and cruel; all the beauty of Amyôt in the blossoming hours could not
make their life there happy to either of them. Since the death of
Napraxine a great constraint had come between them. Each of them was
sensible of thoughts and of emotions which neither would, or could,
confide in the other.

Friederich Othmar came and went between Paris and the great Renaissance
château, but he was powerless to alter what he deplored. There was not
even any definite thing of which he could speak. There was no fault
ever to be found in the gentleness and courtesy of Othmar to his wife;
and there was no alteration in the deference and the docility which
she always showed to him. Only there was something wanting: there was
no spontaneity; there was no sympathy; there was none of that unspoken
gladness which exhales from all real happiness as its fragrance from
the rose. The wise old man said to himself, impatient and regretful,
'Why did Napraxine die? But for that, time would have been her friend.
He would have grown used to her sweet presence, and habit would have
brought content. But now!----'

Now, he knew that with every day which dawned, with every night which
fell, Othmar brooded, night and day, over his lost future, destroyed by
his own rash haste.

All his mind was with Nadine Napraxine, and it fretted him at times
almost beyond endurance that he could see her and hear of her no more,
know no more of her than all her world knew, or than the chronicles of
the hour stated for public information. It seemed to him as it did to
her, as if the strangest silence had fallen on the earth. He loved her
infinitely more than he had ever done, intense and unscrupulous as had
been the passion which she had aroused in him. She was entirely free;
and he--he who had adored her--dared not even enter her antechamber or
go where he could see her shadow fall upon the ground she trod!

The silence and the self-effacement of Yseulte were the most dangerous
anodynes which he could have had. He dreamed his life away in visions
of joys which never could be his, and the resignation of his young
companion allowed him to dream on unroused.

Friederich Othmar saw his increasing preoccupation, his growing love of
solitude, his impatience when he was recalled by force to the things of
actual life, and he could have gnashed his teeth with rage and sorrow.

'He will never live out his years away from his sorceress,' he thought;
'and when they meet again, she will do what she chooses with him. If
she like to make him the ridicule of Europe, he will accept his fate
and deem it heaven. Whilst Yseulte--Yseulte,--before she is twenty,
will be widowed in fact and left to the consolation of some little
child, plucking the daisies on the sward here at her feet.'

To Friederich Othmar love had ever seemed the most puerile of
delusions, the most illogical of all human fallacies, but now it
took a deadlier shape before him, and he began to comprehend why
poets--interpreters of human madness as they were--had likened it to
the witch's mandrake, to the devouring sea, to the flame which no power
can quench, to all things terrible, irresistible, and deadly as death.

Occasionally an impulse came to Yseulte to tell everything to Melville,
who was not her confessor, but who had known all her people so well in
their days of trial and adversity; but her pride repressed the instinct
of confidence. Besides, she thought drearily, she knew well all that
Melville would answer--the only reply, indeed, which would be possible
to him in such a case--he would exhort her to patience, to hope, to
trust in heaven and in her husband. The originality of his character
would not be able to escape from the platitudes of custom; he would
only say to her what she could say to herself, 'Be courageous and be
calm; time often heals all woes.'

Sometimes, too, she thought wistfully that if she bore a living child
perhaps she would reach some higher place in her husband's heart.

She had heard it often said that children formed a tie between those
who were even indifferent to each other. At least--at least, she
reflected, and strove to solace herself with this hope,--as the
mother of a living child of his, she would be something in his house
more than a mere form to wear his jewels and receive his indifferent
caresses. Perhaps, she thought, if her eyes looked up at him from his
child's face, he might grow to care for her a little. At least she
would be something to him that Nadine Napraxine was not. It was a
desolate kind of consolation to be the only one within reach of a girl
scarce eighteen years old; a sadly forlorn and wistful hope; but it
was something to sustain her in the midst of her perfect isolation of
thought and suffering, and it prevented her abandonment to despair.
She had one of those natures to which tenderness is more natural than
passion; her character was of that gentle and serious kind which
enables a woman to endure the desertion of her lover if the arms of a
child are about her. And so she awaited the future patiently, without
much trust in its mercies, yet not without courage and not wholly
without hope.

'She looks very ill,' said the most observant of all her friends,
Friederich Othmar, more than once to her husband. But Othmar replied
that it was only the state of her health, and the elder man protested
in vain.

'You think a girl of those years can be satisfied with bearing your
children and being left alone in beautiful houses as a cardinal bird is
shut up in a gilded cage?' he said irritably.

'She is certainly not left alone,' replied Othmar with annoyance;
'and I believe that she is precisely of that docile and religious
temperament which will find the greatest enjoyment of existence in
maternity. There are women formed for that kind of self-sacrifice
beyond all others. She is one of them.'

'It is not the only sacrifice to which she is condemned!' muttered
Friederich Othmar, but he feared to do more harm than good if he
explained himself more clearly.

'Has she been complaining to you?' asked her husband with increasing
anger.

'She would never complain,' returned his uncle positively. 'Besides,
my dear Otho, whatever we may all think of you, to her you are a
demi-god, the incarnation of all mortal and immortal excellences. She
would as soon strike the silver Christ that hangs over her bed as
consent to see a flaw in your perfections!'

Othmar only replied by an impatient gesture.

Both irritation and self-reproach were aroused in him, but they did no
more than disquiet and annoy him. He saw no means by which he could be
kinder, or gentler, or more generous, to Yseulte than he was already.
Love was not his to command. He could not help it if day by day an
unsatisfied passion gnawed in him for an absent woman, and if day by
day the fair face of his young wife receded farther and farther from
him into the shadowy distance of a complete indifference. All which he
could compel himself to render,--consideration, deference, kindness,
attention,--all these he poured out upon Yseulte with the utmost
liberality. What was missing was not in his power to give. He felt with
a shudder that the longer time went on, the more their lives passed
together, the greater would grow the coldness he felt for her. He
recognised all her sweetness and grace; he was not ungrateful for the
affection she bore him; he admired the many delicate beauties of her
mind and character. But she was nothing to him; she never would have
the power to quicken his pulses by one second. She was all that purity,
honour, and spirituality of thought could make her; but she had no
place in his heart. He had even to struggle hard with himself at times
not to let the sense of her perpetual presence there become almost an
offence to him. He was a generous man, and he had always striven to
be just, but he knew that he failed to be just to her because of the
fret and fever of his own thoughts, which left him no peace, but kept
repeating for ever the same burden: 'The woman you love is free now. O
fool! O fool!'

He believed that he altogether concealed all that he felt from Yseulte.
He did not dream that she had divined his secret. Her manner, which had
never been demonstrative, but had been always marked by that mixture
of shyness and of stateliness which were most natural to her, was not
one which displayed the changes of every emotion; she had been reared
in too perpetual a sense that it was both low and coarse to show the
inner feelings of the heart by abrupt and transparent signs of emotion,
and the calm high breeding of her habitual tone was as a mask, though
a most innocent one, and hid alike her sorrow, her fear, her jealous
terrors, and her wistful tenderness.

'I must never trouble him,' she said to herself again and again. She
knew that she could not take away from him the burden of her life;
that she could not release him from the vows he had vowed to her; but
she did her uttermost to efface herself otherwise. In these tranquil
summer months no one saw more amiss with her than a certain melancholy
and lassitude, which were attributed to the state of her health. She
was often alone, by choice, in the great gardens and the forest nooks
of the park, and those poor little timid verses in which her soul
found some kind of utterance were the only confidants of her grief and
pain. They were poor things, she knew, but her heart spoke in them
with involuntary, though feeble and halting, speech. They did her some
little good. She had no mother or friend to whom she could say what
she suffered, and from a priest she shrank; her woes--the mental woes
of neglected love, the physical woes of approaching parturition--could
not be told to any man.

'No one has wanted me all my life!' she thought one day, as she sat
in the gardens of Amyôt, whilst her eyes filled with blinding tears.
Her father had never heeded her; her grandmother had cared for her,
indeed, but had willed her budding life to the cloister, as a thing
for which there was no place amidst the love and the laughter of the
earth. She had been dependent, undesired, on her cousin's charity, and
to her husband she was as little as the does that couched at noon under
his forest trees. No one had ever wanted her! The knowledge lay on her
young life as a stone lies on the bird which it has killed. Through
the hot mist of her tears she gazed wistfully at the long lines of the
majestic house which only a year before had been to her the centre of
such perfect happiness. And even that happiness he had never shared!

The hush of the golden noon-day was about her, and the perfume of
innumerable roses filled the air.

'My little child will want me,' she thought, with a throb of hope at
her heart.

After a little while she rose and walked towards the house. Othmar,
who had come out from his library on to the terrace, saw her in the
distance, and descended the steps to meet her.

'Do not tire yourself, my dear,' he said as he offered her his arm.

His very gentleness almost hurt her more than unkindness or discourtesy
would have done. She seemed to see in it how he strove, by all the
tenderness of outward ceremonial, to atone for the absence of all
tenderness of the heart,--to pay so liberally in silver because he had
no gold to give.

She had brushed her tears away before she had risen to return to the
house; her features were calm, as usual, and if their expression
was grave, that was not new with her. She had looked almost as much
so on that first night when he had seen her sitting alone in the
drawing-rooms of Millo.

As she walked beside him through the aisles of flowers in the sunshine
of the brilliant noonday, she said, with her eyes lowered and her voice
very low:

'If--if--I should die this time, would you remember always how much I
have felt all your goodness to me? I cannot say all I feel--well--but I
hope you would always believe how grateful I had been--when you should
think of me at all.'

Othmar was touched and startled by the words.

'My dear child, do not speak so. Pray do not speak so,' he said, with
real emotion. 'Send away such cruel thoughts. You must live long,
and see your children's children running amidst these roses. You
are hardly more than a child yourself in years even yet. And as for
gratitude--that is not a word between us; what is mine is yours.'

'I want you to be sure of it--to never doubt it--if I die,' she said,
in the same low, measured voice. 'I am always grateful.'

Then she withdrew her hand from his arm, and sat down for a moment on
one of the marble seats beneath the great terrace. She looked over the
wide sunlit landscape, the radiant gardens, the dark masses of the
forests, the green plains and shining river far beyond. Her heart was
full; words sprang to her lips, fraught with all the varying emotions
of the past months. She longed to cry out to him, 'Ah, yes! You do not
love me, I know!--I know! But is there nothing I could do? I would give
my life, my soul----.'

But timidity and pride both held her mute. The moment passed; he never
saw, as he might have seen, into her innocent heart if she had spoken.

The late autumn came, and her child was born as the first red leaves
were blown upon the wind. But, enfeebled by the distress of her mind
during so many months before its birth, it only breathed a little while
the air of earth, then sank into death as a snowdrop sinks faded in the
snow. The solace which she had looked to as a staff of comfort and of
hope broke in two like a plucked reed.

An intense melancholy closed in upon her, from which no effort could
rouse her. She said little; but when she rose from her bed and resumed
her daily life, all alone in her heart was the one great grief which
had now no hope to lighten it.

They strove to make her remember how young she was, what unspent
years yet lay to her account, what undreamed-of treasuries of new
happiness were yet untouched by her; but nothing availed to give her
any consolation.

The pale sunshine of the early winter found her white and chilled as
itself. For she had a deeper pang than ever in her heart since she said
ever to herself in her solitary grief: 'He does not care; he is good,
he is gentle, he is compassionate; but he does not care.'

All her young life writhed in secret beneath that kindness which was
only pitiful, that tenderness which was only conventional.

'I am nothing in his life,' she thought with tenfold bitterness.
'Nothing;--nothing;--nothing! Even for my child's death he does not
really care!'

A woman far away, unseen, almost unheard of, was sole mistress of his
existence. With all the terrible insight which a love forsaken and
solitary possesses into the secrets of the life to which it clings,
she read the thoughts and the emotions of Othmar as though they were
written on some open page lit by a strong lamp. Although never a word
of self-betrayal escaped him, never more than an involuntary gesture
of lassitude or an unconscious sigh, she yet knew how utterly one
recollection and one desire alone reigned over him and dominated him.
She was no more a child, but was a woman humiliated, wounded, isolated,
who suffered far the more because her wounds were not those which she
could show, her humiliation was not such as she could reveal, and her
isolation was one of the spirit, and not of the body.

'You must not mourn as those who have no hope,' said Melville to her,
believing that her continued melancholy was due to the loss of her
offspring. 'You are so young; you will have many other children; all
kinds of joy will return to you, as their foliage will return to these
leafless trees. Be grateful, my dear, to heaven for all the mercies
which abide with you.'

She said nothing; but she turned her eyes on him one moment with an
expression so heart-broken and weary that he was startled and alarmed.

'What grief can she have that we know not?' he marvelled. 'Othmar does
not leave her; and he is the last man on earth to be cruel or even
ungentle to a woman.'

For a moment he was tempted to refer his doubts to her husband;
but, on reflection, he dared not. He had a sensitive fear of being
deemed meddlesome, as priests so often are called; and it was
difficult to make to Othmar--a very sensitive man, and at all times
uncommunicative--so strange an accusation as would seem to lie in
saying to him, 'The companion of your life is unhappy: what have you
done?'

The winter in the country of the Orléannais grew very cold and damp;
the rivers flooded many parts of the plains, and the end of the year
menaced violent storms and widespread floods. Her physicians begged
Yseulte to go elsewhere, and recommended a southern air; they spoke
of S. Pharamond, and Othmar, though vaguely reluctant to go thither,
consented, for he had no valid reason of refusal to give. To Yseulte
herself any movement appeared indifferent; to whatever was proposed
she always assented passively; the acquiescence of one whom no trifles
or accidents of fate have power to hurt, and which belongs alike to
perfect happiness and absolute despair.

Othmar would have given ten years of his life to have been able to go
away by himself, to wander north, south, east, or west in solitary
desolation, to be alone with his undying desires, and away from the
innocent presence of a creature whom he knew that he wronged by every
thought with which he rose at daybreak and lay down at night.

Yseulte had never been more to him than a sweet and tender-hearted
child, whose personal beauties had for a little while beguiled him
into the semblance of a faint passion, into a momentary semi-oblivion,
always imperfect and evanescent. But now, quiet as she was, and careful
as she was never to betray herself, nevertheless a constant reproach
seemed to look at him from her eyes, and her continual vicinity seemed
as continual a rebuke. He was not a man, as many are, who could lightly
neglect or deceive a woman; he was incapable of the half-unconscious
cruelty with which many men, when their fancy has passed, leave the
object of it in pitiable solitude, to console herself as best she
can; he had too much sensitiveness and too much sense of chivalrous
obligation to deny, even to his own reflections, the claims which his
wife had on him for sympathy and affection. That he could not give
them to her, because all his heart and soul and mind were with another
woman, burdened him with a perpetual sense of injustice and offence
done to her. He had sought her; he had taken her life voluntarily into
his; he knew that it would be a treachery and a baseness to fail in his
duty towards her. For that very reason her daily presence galled him
almost beyond endurance, and, though he forced himself to remain beside
her and to preserve to her every outward semblance of regard, his whole
life chafed and rebelled, as the horse frets which is tied in stall to
its manger, whilst all its longing is for the liberty of the pasture
and the air.

If Melville had followed his impulse and said to him, 'What fault can
there be in her?' he would have answered truthfully, 'None: all the
fault is my own;' and he would have thought in secret: 'She has that
involuntary fault which is the cruellest of all others: she is not the
woman I love!'

He had to put strong constraint upon himself not to shrink from the
sound of her gentle voice, not to avoid the glance of her wistful
eyes; he was afraid that she should read the truth of his own utter
indifference in his regard; he felt with horror of himself that
it was even growing something greater, something worse, than mere
indifference; that soon, do what he would, he would be only able to see
in her the barrier betwixt himself and the fate he coveted.

'Good God! what miserable creatures we are!' he thought. 'I meant, as
honestly as a man could ever mean anything, to make that poor child's
days as perfect in happiness as mortal life can be, and all I have
actually done is to sacrifice uselessly both her and myself! Heaven
send that she may never find it out herself!'

He was far from suspecting that she had already discovered the truth.
All the fine prescience, the quickness at reading trivial signs and
forming from them far-reaching conclusions, which love lends to the
dullest were absent from him, because love itself was absent. Her pride
gave her a sure mask, and he had not the lover's impulse which looks
for the face beneath.

Their lives outwardly passed in apparent unison and sympathy. He seldom
left her save when any urgent matter took him for a brief space to
Paris or some other European capital, and the days passed as evenly
and unmarked by any event at the château of S. Pharamond as at that of
Amyôt. People of a conspicuous position can seldom enjoy solitude, and
the demands of society provide them with a refuge from themselves if
embarrassment has forced them to need one. Othmar, who had at no time
been willing to open the doors of his house to the world, now became
almost solicitous to have the world about him. It spared him that
_solitude à deux_ which, so exquisite to the lover and to the beloved,
is so intolerable to the man who knows that he is loved but has no
feeling to bestow in answer. Throughout the early winter months they
were seldom or never alone. Yseulte said nothing when he urged her to
surround herself with people, but obeyed with a sinking heart. She was
very proud; she remained tranquil and gentle in manner to him and to
everyone, and, if she were at times more pensive than suited her years
or her world, it was attributed by all who knew her to the loss of her
child. She grew thin and white, and was always very grave; but she had
so admirable a courtesy, so patient a smile for all, that not a soul
ever dreamed her heart was breaking in her breast.

Sometimes when she was quite alone she wandered up the hill-side
beneath the olive trees to the bastide of Nicole Sandroz, and sat
amidst the blossoming violets, the tufts of hepaticas, with a strange
dull wonder in her at herself. Could it be only two years ago since she
had seen Othmar coming in the dusk beneath the silvery boughs and had
learned on the morrow that he had asked her hand in marriage?

Nicole watched her wistfully, but she, too, who had lost her _petiot_
in the days of her youth, believed that the melancholy which she saw
in her darling was due to the death of her offspring. She strove, in
ruder words, but in the same sense, to console her as Melville had
done. Yseulte smiled gently, thanked her, and said nothing. What was
the use, she mused, of their speaking to her of the future? The future,
whatever else it brought, would only take the heart and the thoughts of
her husband farther and farther from her. She knew still but little of
the world, but she knew enough to be conscious that the woman who fails
in the early hours of her marriage to make her husband her lover will
never in the years to come find him aught except a stranger. All the
sensitive hauteur of her nature shrank from the caresses which she knew
were only inspired by a sense of pity or of duty. She drew herself more
and more coldly away from him, whilst yet the mere sound of his voice
in the distance made all her being thrill and tremble. And he was too
grateful for the relief to seek to resist her alienation.

He did not guess, because he did not care to guess, that she loved
him so intensely that she would stand hidden for hours merely to see
him pass through the gardens or ascend the sea stairs of the little
quay. Her timidity had always veiled from him the intensity of her
affections, and now her pride had drawn a double screen between them.

'He only pitied me then!' she thought, as she sat amongst the violets
at Nicole's flower farm. 'He only pities me now!'

Pity seemed to this daughter of a great race the last of insult, the
_obole_ thrown to the beggar which brands him as beggar for evermore.

'I was hungered, and he gave me bread; I was homeless, and he sheltered
me!' she said, in the agony of her heart. 'And I--I thought that love!'



CHAPTER L.


With the turn of the year and the springing of the crocuses her cousins
had come to Millo. When she was in their presence she was more careful
than at any other time that no one should see in her any pain which
could be construed by them into a reproach against Othmar.

'She grows proud and cold,' said the Duchesse. 'The women of her blood
have always been like that--religious and austere. It is a pity. It
will age her before her time; and it is not at all liked in the world
nowadays--save just at Lent.'

Blanchette, with her keen mysotis-coloured eyes, saw farther than her
mother saw. She did not dare to tease her cousin, or to banter her, but
she looked sometimes with curiosity and wonder in her face.

One day, in a softer mood than was usual with her, she came over the
gardens from Millo and found her way to her cousin. Blanchette liked
to be welcome at S. Pharamond; her shrewd little senses smelt the
fragrance in all wealth which dogs find in the truffle; she was always
asking for things and getting them, and though she was afraid of Othmar
as far as she could be of anyone, she retained amongst her respect for
Yseulte's position her derision for what she termed her romanticism,
her Puritanism, and her habitual ignorance of how to extract the honey
of self-indulgence from the flowers of pleasure. But Blanchette had
all the wisdom of the world in her little fair, curly head, and though
at times her malicious impulses conquered her judgment, she usually
repressed them out of reverence for the many good gifts which fell to
her from her cousin's hands, and those instincts of 'modernity' which
forced her to worship where so much riches were.

She came into the garden salon this day, the one where Melville had
once said to Othmar that to make a home was in the power of any man not
a priest. Her eyes were watchful and her manner important; but Yseulte,
to whom the child's presence was always irksome, though her gratitude
to their mother forced her always to receive the little sisters with
apparent willingness, had not observation enough, or thought enough of
her, to notice those signs. She was alone; it was two hours after the
noon breakfast; Othmar was away, she knew not where; he had gone out
early in the forenoon. She was lost in the weariness of those thoughts
which occupied her unceasingly, when the pretty gay figure of the
child tripped up to her side, and the thin high voice of her began its
endless chatter.

'They were talking about you yesterday after the _déjeuner_,' she said,
after her discursive gossip had embraced every subject and person then
of interest to her, pecking at each one of them furtively, petulantly,
as a well-fed mouse pecks at crumbs of cake. 'They were saying how
beautiful you were; even mamma said that, and they all agreed that if
only you were not so grave, so cold, so almost stiff, nobody would be
admired more than you. But men think you do not care, so they do not
care. It is true,' added Blanchette, studying the face of her cousin
out of the corner of her eye, 'it is true that the Princess Napraxine,
whom they are always so mad about, is just as indifferent too. But
then it is another kind of indifference--hers. She is always provoking
them with it, on purpose. You go through a room as if you were saying a
paternoster under your breath. It is a great difference----'

'It is, no doubt, a great difference,' said Yseulte, with more
bitterness than she was aware of; the idle words struck at the hidden
wound within her. The difference was vast indeed between herself and
the woman whom her husband loved!

Blanchette watched her sharply, herself sitting on a stool at her feet.

'Do you know,' she said, pulling the ears of Yseulte's great dog, 'that
she is coming--indeed, I think, is here? I heard them say so yesterday.
It seems that the Prince bought that little villa and gave it to
her--La Jacquemerille--when they were here two years ago. She is very
rich, you know. Her husband has left her such immense properties, and
then I think she had a great deal of money all of her own, before his
death, from some distant relative, who left it to her because she did
not want it; it is always like that.'

Yseulte rose abruptly. Blanchette could not see her face, but she saw
her left hand, which trembled.

As far as the child liked anyone, she was attached to her cousin; since
her marriage Yseulte had been extremely generous and kind to her, and
the selfish little heart of Blanchette had been won, as far as ever
it could be won, by its affections which were only another form of
selfishness. She had been unable to resist the temptation of telling
her news, and saying what was unkind; and yet in her way she was
compassionate.

'Why are you so very still and grave?' she said now after a pause.
'They say it is because the child died, but that cannot be it; it is
nonsense; you would not care like that. Do you know now what I think?
Do not be angry. I think that you are so unhappy because--because--now
Prince Napraxine is dead, you fancy that she would have been his wife
if you had not been here!'

'Silence!' said Yseulte, with imperative command. Her face grew scarlet
under the inquisitive, searching gaze of the child. She suffered
an intolerable humiliation beneath that impertinent and unerring
examination which darted straight into her carefully-treasured secret,
and dragged it out into the light of day.

'Ah!' said Blanchette, with what was, for her, almost regret and almost
sympathy, 'ah, I was sure of it! I have always been sorry that I said
anything to you that day. But why do you care? If I were you, I should
not care. What does it matter what he wishes? Men always wish for what
they cannot get; I have heard that said a hundred and a thousand times.
And you are his wife, and you have all the houses, and all the jewels,
and all the horses; and all the millions; and as he is always thinking
of her, so people say, he will not mind what you do. You may amuse
yourself just as you like. If I were you, I should go and play at the
tables.'

'Silence! You are insolent; you hurt me; you offend me,' said Yseulte,
with greater passion than she had ever yielded to in all her life. All
the coarse consolations which the world would have given her, repeated
and exaggerated on the worldly-wise lips of Blanchette, seemed to her
the most horrible parody of her own sacred and intolerable woe, so
carefully buried, as she thought, from any human eye.

'It is true,' said the child, offended and sullen. 'Everyone knew he
never loved you; he always loved her. Even in Paris last year----. But
what does it matter? You have got everything you can want----'

But Yseulte had left her standing alone in the golden-coloured
drawing-room of S. Pharamond, with the irises and roses so gaily
broidered on the panels of plush.

Blanchette shrugged her shoulders as she glanced round the room. 'What
idiots are these sensitives!' she thought, with wondering contempt.
'What can it matter? She has all the millions----'

The mind of the little daughter of the latter half of the nineteenth
century could go no farther than that.

She had all the millions!

She had meant, quite sincerely, to give sympathy and consolation, but
she could not help fashioning both in her own likeness.

Yseulte, with a feverish instinct to reach solitude and the open air,
left her tormentor within the house, and hastily covering herself,
passed out into the gardens of S. Pharamond, and walked farther and
faster than her physical strength, which had not been great since the
birth of her child, was well fitted to bear. She longed thirstily for
the grey skies and the moist air of Faïel, for the cold dusky seas
of the north-west and the dim far-stretching lands. The light, the
buoyancy, the glitter, the dry clear atmosphere of those southern
shores, oppressed her and fevered her. If she had not altogether lost
the habit of confidence in her husband, she would have said to him, 'I
sicken of all this drought and cloying sweetness. Let me go where the
west wind blows; where the northern billows roll; where it is cold, and
dusk, and green, and full of shadows; where it does not mock one's pain
with light and laughter!'

But she had lost that habit utterly: she never spoke of anything she
felt or wished; she accepted all the days of her life as they came to
her.

'I have nothing of my own,' she thought; 'I have no right to wish for
anything.'

He had made this place hers; he always spoke of it as hers; it was,
indeed, her own inalienably; but she did not feel it to be so. It
was only a part of his wide charity to her--the charity which she had
thought was love.

She walked far, she scarcely knew herself where, taking her way
mechanically through the grounds and into the fields and orange woods
adjoining them, following the windings of the paths which wound upward
between the great gnarled trunks of olives and beneath their hoary
branches. As she ascended under the forest of olives, which was part
of the lands of S. Pharamond, she could see below her a broad hunting
road, cut in old times by the Maison de Savoie, neglected by the
Commune, but kept in preservation by Othmar himself. She heard a sound
of horses' hoofs, and instinctively looked down; between the network
of olive boughs she saw a low carriage, drawn by three black ponies
abreast, and harnessed in the Russian manner, their abundant manes
streaming on the wind as they dashed headlong down the steep incline.
They were followed by two outriders in liveries of deep mourning.

The woman who drove them looked upward, and made a slight salutation
with a smile.

It was Nadine Napraxine.

In another instant the turn of the road hid them from sight, and the
beat of the galloping hoofs was lost in the sound of a little torrent
which fell down through the red bare rocks above, and fed with its
moisture the beds of violets beneath the olives.



CHAPTER LI.


That night there was a concert at Millo. It was the fifth week of Lent:
nothing was possible but a musical party. There were famous musicians
and equally famous singers; the gardens were illumined, and the whole
arrangements had that charm and novelty which Madame de Vannes knew so
well how to give to all she did. But the evening was chiefly noticeable
for the first appearance in the world, since her husband's death, of
the Princess Napraxine. She came late, as she always came everywhere;
she still wore black; there was no relief to it anywhere, except
that given by the dazzling whiteness of her great pearls and of her
beautiful skin. The contour of her throat and bosom, the exceeding
beauty of her arms, had never been seen in such marked perfection as in
that contrast with the sombre robe she wore, sleeveless, and fastened
on each shoulder only with a clasp of pearls. One unanimous chorus of
admiration ran from mouth to mouth as she entered.

The tragedy of her husband's death had left no trace on her. Her smile
had its old ironical insouciance, her lips their rich warm rose-colour,
her eyes their lustrous languor; abstinence from all the fatigues of
society, and the fresh air of the country life in which she had passed
the tedious months of her seclusion, had given her all the vivifying
forces of health without destroying that look of fragility and languor
which were her most potent charms.

'Poor Napraxine!' thought Melville as he looked at her; but he was the
only one there who remembered the dead man.

Neither Othmar nor his wife was present there that night.

Both feared, with a fear which lay mute at the heart of each, to see
again for the first time before the eyes of the world the woman whose
memory ruled his life.



CHAPTER LII.


When Nadine Napraxine returned home that night she found a letter lying
on the table, of whose superscription she recognised the writing.

'So soon!' she thought, with her little smile, which had always been so
calm and so amused before the madnesses of men.

But when she had read it, it seemed like a living, burning, palpitating
thing, so did its words throb and thrill with ardour, reproach, and
pain. All the suffering and passion pent up in his soul for twelve long
months had broken loose and were uttered in it.

He had written in the silence of the dawn, when all the world was
quiet as the grave, and the loud beating of his heart was audible to
his own ear as he realised that near him, beyond those few miles of
feathery foliage and flower-scented fields, there lay sleeping the one
woman he adored. The impulse to write so to her had been stronger than
himself, and all wisdom, manhood, and pride spoke to him in vain. To
her alone had he ever laid bare his heart; to her alone was he not
ashamed to uncover all its weakness, all its rebellion, all its futile
and feverish pain. Let her laugh if she would, he thought, but let
her know all he suffered through her. For a year he had kept silent;
chained down by the bonds of duty and of custom. For a year he had
lived out his dreary days as best he might, bearing his burden mutely,
and striving to do his best; but at the knowledge that she was near
him, there in the pale, cool air of the daybreak, all his efforts at
self-command were shattered as silk threads break in a nervous hand.

No one had ever written to her as he wrote now.

She read the letter, with the rosy light of the morning coming in
through her half-closed shutters; and the words of it banished the
sleep which hung like vapour about her languid eyes and her dreamy
thoughts. The smile went away from her lips. The force of another human
heart smote for once an echo from hers.

'What madness!' she murmured.

But it was a madness which seemed noble to her, beautiful in its folly,
and even in its torture; she felt a strange emotion as she read and
re-read the only message which he had sent to her in the whole months
of a year. She sat lost in thought; hesitation was rare with her, but
now she hesitated. With a word she could banish him for ever from her
life. With a word she could call him for ever to her side. His face
seemed to rise before her as she looked at the signature of his name;
his voice seemed in her ear pleading, imperious, tender, as she had
heard it a hundred times. A year had been lost; a year had passed
and dropped in the past, and they had never looked upon each other's
faces. A certain emotion which she had never known stirred in her,--the
weakness of a sudden yearning, of a sudden wistful desire.

'Is this love too?' she thought, with that ironical doubt of herself
with which she had so often doubted others.

'I have never cared,' she thought, with scorn for the impulses which
had moved her. But she cared now. The silence and the absence of those
long months had been his friends. In her meditations she had confessed
to herself that he had not been to her the mere poor slave and spaniel
that other men had been; she had thought to herself more than once with
a wonder at her own regret: 'If he had only had patience! If he had
only waited!'

She read the letter he had written twice again. Then she burned it. She
did not need to keep it. Each word of it was written on her memory.
When the day was warm with the light of the forenoon's sunshine she
went out into the air. She felt the need of movement, of space, of a
fresh atmosphere. For the first time in her life a certain excitation
had taken the place of her tranquil serenity. A certain restlessness
had disturbed her indifference; she had the sense of having descended
to some too great concession, of having let herself fall from her
serene heights of power to some human feebleness and frailty.

'If this be love?' she mused again with doubt and disdain, casting on
the awakening warmth of her own feelings that ice of scepticism with
which she had so often frozen the hearts of others. 'If I were only
quite sure of what I feel,' she thought, with that egoism which was so
natural to her that it was part of her every impulse and of her every
motive.

Life had a certain loveliness for her in her perfect liberty, though
she still doubted whether its monotony would not mar even that. The
sense of her entire freedom was still welcome to her, and the world
awaited her as a courtier, hat in hand, awaits his queen. All its
pleasures,--such as they were, she knew them all, and held them in
slight esteem,--would be hers. She had youth, beauty, and wit, and,
when the first two of these should have left her, would still have that
power of great riches which, as a wise man has said, is the only one to
which the modern world will bow. And yet a vague melancholy was upon
her; that melancholy, like a light mist on a smiling landscape, which
she had once said might have made her such a poet as Maikoff had she
lived for ever in the solitude of the steppes.

She went out into the balmy air, clear as a crystal, and filled with
the scent of blossoming orange-boughs. She stood awhile on the marble
terrace and looked seaward. The memories of the dead men who so late
had been living there beside her passed over her in the warmth and
light of the morning with a chill, as the north wind will sweep through
the sunshine and scatter the clusters of orange-buds. Of them all,
it was of her husband that she thought with the nearest likeness to
self-reproach which her nature made possible.

'He was brave, he was as trustful as a dog, he was _bon enfant_,' she
mused, 'and I do not think I ever said to him a single kind word before
that last day--and then it was only said to deceive him!'

She remembered him as he had spoken to her on that day. He had had
a certain dignity, the dignity of manliness, of simplicity, of
truthfulness; and all that was left of him was lying, mere dry dust and
bones, in his emblazoned coffin in the gilded gloom of the church at
Zaraizoff.

'Well--the dead are dead, and we shall soon be with them,' she thought
with a sigh, as she turned from the sea wall of the terrace and looked
at the picturesque and irregular front of the house, covered with its
gay garlands of creeping plants.

The place was hers, bought for her by Napraxine, as one may buy a
bonbon-box for a child. It seemed that day to laugh with light and
colour. Coming hither as she did from the endless night of a Russian
winter, it seemed bathed in heat, and luminance, and flowers. She
descended the steps to where her ponies waited, and went with them
along the climbing roads into the hills above La Jacquemerille.

The day was still young. The bare mountain sides wore the hues of the
jacinth and amethyst; the odours of sweet herbs and spring flowers
were strong and sweet; far down below, unseen, the sea was sparkling,
lending the sense of its presence and its freedom to all the gorges
and hillsides above. Her swift-footed ponies bore her fleetly as the
Hours bore Aurora through the roseate and golden radiance of the April
morning.

With intention she guided them up the steep roads which led to the
humble church of S. Pharamond, hidden beneath its great gnarled olive
trees, and covered with its network of rose-boughs. She knew that
Yseulte went there often in the forenoon, and the caprice moved her to
see if she could meet, as if by chance, this poor child, whose fate
lay in the hollow of her hand, like a bird taken from a trap to be
strangled with a touch at pleasure of its keeper. The sense of such
power was always sweet to her; although so familiar, its familiarity
did not detract from its pleasure. It was the sole thing which did not
by repetition grow monotonous. Her life had been short by years, but
it had been full of such dominion. She had dealt with men and women as
she chose, and to make or mar their destinies had always been the sole
pastime of which she did not weary. Humanity was her box of puppets,
as it is that of the Solitary of Varzin. To hold the strings of fate,
to bind and loose the threads of circumstance, and weave the warp and
woof of destiny, was the only science which had ever had charm over her
changeful temperament and her sceptical intelligence. Beside it all
other things were trivial and tame. She had never met anyone who had
resisted her will; Othmar himself had done so for awhile, but he had
lived to repent and to succumb.

The church of S. Pharamond was empty and silent; there was no office
said that day; it was grey and still and mournful, and no living thing
was in it save a swallow perched upon the altar rail. She pursued the
steep hillside road, overhung with olive and fig trees, the wayside
carpeted with gladiolus and the blue fleur-de-luce. Below, through
the light green foam of spring foliage and the sombre masses of pine
and ilex woods, there rose the towers and pinnacles of the château,
rising slim and fantastic, against the azure of the sky. Around her the
silence was unbroken, except by a tethered goat cropping euphorbia and
ivy from a ruined wall.

Looking through the boughs of the olives, she saw afar off the figure
of Yseulte. Where she was standing was on the land of Nicole Sandroz,
the furrows, thick with flowers, climbing the hill slope, the orchard
of lemon and olive hiding the low white walls of the house. She
alighted, and left her little horses standing by a stone well made in
the old wall where the goat was tethered. She wished to see the wife of
Othmar, and she moved straight towards her where she sat beneath one
of the gigantic olives, whose foliage spread in a misty cloud silvery
and sea-green above her. She had uncovered her head in the deep shadow
around her; her attitude was listless, spiritless, dejected; in the
shade thrown from the olive boughs her face looked very colourless,
worn, and thin. All her look of childhood had passed away, and almost
all her youth as well. As she recognised her rival she trembled
violently and rose to her feet, losing for the moment all self-control
and presence of mind. Her large brown eyes dilated with fear, like
a deer's when it is hard pressed in the chase. She had scarcely
self-command to make the common gesture of salutation.

Nadine Napraxine, smiling, approached her and looked at her with that
critical and penetrating glance which, through its languor, could
read all the secrets of the soul. She spoke the bland commonplaces of
compliment and courtesy with her sweetest manner, her most gracious
grace; and the girl, paralysed once again, as a hundred times before,
murmured a stupid sentence or so, coloured, grew pale, hesitated, felt
herself awkward, foolish, and constrained, and could not keep down the
tremor which shook her from head to foot, thus suddenly confronted with
the woman whom her husband loved. All the terror which she had felt
in Paris returned to her with tenfold more suffering, tenfold more
intensity. In the morning light, standing amongst the simple wild herbs
and flowers, her foe had the same magical power of magnetism over her
as she had had in the lighted drawing-rooms and theatres of Paris. She
understood why she herself was nothing in her husband's life, and this
other was all.

With simple gracious words, as she might have spoken to a timid child,
her enemy continued to address her, passing over her constraint and
silence as though she perceived them not, and all the while that the
smooth, careless phrases rose so easily on her lips she studied the
changing colour and the frightened eyes of Yseulte with that amused and
merciless analysis which was so common to her. She understood how all
the whole being of her victim shrank from her as a bird shrinks from
the gaze of a snake, yet how her courage and her pride strove with her
emotion and vainly tried to hide her fear.

'Oh, foolish, foolish child!' she thought, from the height of her
own assured strength, her own irresistible power. 'If you mistrust
yourself, you lie at the mercy of all your foes. Do you not know that
the first necessity for all success is to believe in our own power to
attain it? Nature has given you personal loveliness, but the gift is of
no more use to you than a score of music in the hands of an ignorant
who cannot read it, than a sculptor's chisel in the fingers of a child.
You love Othmar, and you weep for him; and you know how to do nothing
more. Do you suppose that women govern men with tears? Do you suppose
that their desires wake because a woman prays?'

There was derision, but there was a not unkind pity in her, as her eyes
studied the face in which, despite its youth and delicacy and charm,
Othmar could see no beauty.

'Your child died?' she said suddenly, as she sat there beside her
unwilling and trembling captive. Yseulte bent her head; she could not
trust her voice to answer.

'Did you care so much?' said Nadine Napraxine in wonder.

'I wished that it had been myself.'

The words escaped her almost unawares. When they had been uttered she
longed to recall them. They would sound, she knew, like a confession
of sorrow to the ear of one to whom all the sorrow of her life was due.

'Are you not happy, then, my dear?' said Nadine Napraxine: her tone was
grave and soft, and had for once no mockery or innuendo in it.

Yseulte grew paler even than she had been before; a frown of anger
knitted her fair brow; her expression grew cold and hard.

'I think you have no right to ask me that,' she said, gathering with
effort courage enough to oppose her dreaded foe. 'I think you have no
right. You are my husband's friend, not mine.'

Nadine Napraxine smiled.

'The frightened doe has its own bravery when roused,' she mused; and
aloud she only said, with all the sweet suave courtesy of her very
gentlest manner:

'His friend and yours. Surely that is the same thing? Or if it be not,
you should be wise and make it so.'

She paused a moment, then added softly still:

'Happiness only comes to the wise, my dear; it does not come to those
who stake their all upon one cast like the mad gamblers in the _salle
de jeu_ behind those hills. But you are too young to understand; and if
I spoke to you all day I should not teach you my philosophies.'

'I do not wish to learn them.'

She spoke almost sullenly, almost rudely, as the natural courage of her
temper asserted itself and strove to struggle against the paralysis of
mesmerised fear in which the presence of her rival held her.

'They have been useful,' said Nadine Napraxine with a chillier
intonation. 'And for want of them, what have women--who can only
love--made of their lives, and of their lovers? But since you will not
allow that I am your friend, I will leave you to your sylvan solitudes.
Adieu, my dear. It is not in the woods and hills that you will learn to
recover that _secret de bonheur_ which you have lost so early.'

She lingered a moment, looking at Yseulte with her meditative, languid,
unrevealing gaze. The girl's lips trembled, her throat swelled, her
eyes filled with scorching tears; she turned abruptly away lest her
self-control should altogether fail her. She knew that she had betrayed
herself as utterly to her enemy's eyes as though she had poured out in
words all the piteous secrets of her aching heart. Nadine Napraxine
passed slowly beneath the olive branches, brushing the humble flowers
with her careless sovereign's step.

'She is foolish, she is simple, she is awkward, and she is most
unwise,' she thought. 'But she is brave----'

It was the quality which she always honoured.



CHAPTER LIII.


When she returned home, she shut herself in her own rooms, and was not
seen, even by her women, for three hours. She lay almost immovable upon
a couch, whilst the sunshine came tempered and rose-hued through the
lowered awnings of her windows, and the air around her was filled with
the scent of hundreds of cut roses placed in all the jars and bowls and
vases in her sight. For the first time in her life a doubt which came
from pity, and a hesitation which came from conscience, were at war
with all her habits, instincts, and vanities. Underneath her egoism,
and her cruelty, and her many ironies, there had always been latent
a disdainful honour. Once having given it, she would have kept her
word to the meanest creature; she would have taken no advantage of the
weakest enemy, if to do so had been an injustice. She was capricious
in every act of her life, but her caprices had no meanness in them;
she was supremely merciless, because she was supremely indifferent,
but she was capable of perfect loyalty in her own fashion. Far down in
the depths of her complex nature there was, beneath all the coldness,
malice and selfishness of disposition and of custom, a vague instinct
of chivalrous generosity. If ever that chord in her were touched it
always responded. When she had been a child, reading the old chronicles
in her father's library, her favourite of history had always been
John of France, for sake of that voluntary return to his captivity in
England.

She comprehended the delirious impulse on which Othmar, hearing that
she was near him after twelve months of absence, had been unable
to control the emotion which mastered him, and had, in an hour of
irresponsible passion, laid his soul bare before her, in all its
weakness, and offered to load it with any weight she chose, so that
only he could be once more admitted to her presence. And she knew,
even more surely than he did, because she was calmer than he was, all
which hung upon her own decision. She knew that, once entering there,
he would be then and for ever hers; never more his wife's. She was too
clear of sight to cheat herself with self-delusions. Othmar would be
faithful to her, and false to all else all his life through, if once
she wrote to him the simple word he asked for: 'Come.' She knew that he
had played with fire unharmed, only because she herself had been cold
as ice; but now her coldness seemed suddenly to melt within her, and
her heart to go out to him in sweet and sudden yearning.

If he came there he would come as her lover.

To all her newly awakening tenderness, and to all her habitual
instincts of supremacy, the temptation was strong. For once in her life
she realised something of the force of that irresistible and enervating
impulse which heretofore had always seemed to her a mere frenzy of
ungoverned senses, of disordered dreams. For once her life seemed
incomplete if lived on without his.

Her irony and raillery could not aid her against herself; she was
absorbed in, and invaded by a tide of new and warm emotion; the words
which he had written to her seemed burned into her mind--seemed to fill
the rose-scented air, and become audible, as though his voice were
pleading to her.

'If this be love?' she thought again, with astonished impatience, with
a sense of servitude and weakness.

Twice she rose to write the one word he asked; and twice she put the
pen aside with it unwritten.

Such vacillation was new to her, and hateful as a sign of feebleness.
Her caprices had been as changeful as the winds of April, but beneath
them her will had been always firm as a rod of steel, centred ever on
her own whim and pleasure. Now she was irresolute, and scarce knew what
she wished, or what she chose.

She who had the blood in her of lascivious empresses, and of fierce
murderers of men, was swayed by two unfamiliar and divided things--by
conscience, and compassion. The tide of freshly-roused emotions, which
would have swept her onward to the gratification of them without
thought or pause, was checked by a sentiment as rare--the sentiment
of mercy. Once, one of her people, in the dark days of Natalia
Narischkine's rule, being of those who slew in the name of the idiot,
Ivan, had slaughtered the Narischkine right and left, not pausing for
age or youth, or sex, but, coming to the place where a young child of
the hated race lay sleeping, had dropped his blood-red sword in shame,
as before some holy image, faltered, and turned away; the child had
slept on unharmed. Such hesitation as that was with her now, born out
of the very faults of her nature, out of her disdain, of her hauteur,
of her superb self-love.

She was conscious of a desire to be in the presence of Othmar, to hear
his voice, to see his face again; a desire enervating, vague, full of
a dangerous languor, and a dangerous warmth; beyond that, stimulating
and sustaining it, were the instincts of empire, of dominion, of a
capricious and ever-victorious volition. Never in all her life had she
resisted an impulse of self-indulgence, had she hesitated before any
sacrifice of others. Absence had increased the shadowy attraction which
had always drawn her towards this one amongst her many lovers; in the
long silent months of her solitude his memory had grown dearer and more
welcome with each day. And he was hers, if she chose.

At her command all honour, duty and allegiance would be mere empty
words on his ear, without power to hold him, or meaning to move him.
Dignity, self-respect, and loyalty to his self-chosen vows would become
no more to him than threads of silk upon the neck of a courser broke
loose. She had only to let him enter there, and the world would hold
nothing for him but herself.

And for once she might perchance be able to share that oblivion, to
comprehend that ecstasy; and yet she hesitated, because a new faint
sense of pity and of compassion had come upon her.

'After all,' she thought, 'I should probably care such a little while,
and she, poor child,--it is all her life!'

A disdainful compassion forbade her to strike down so weak a foe.
Opposition or conflict would have intensified all her imperious
resolve, and heightened the zest of her power of destruction; but the
helplessness, the feebleness of her rival disarmed her. It would be
like striking a nesting-bird, a wounded kid.

Nadine Napraxine thought of her with a sensation of pity and the
stronger sensation of disdain which was inevitable to her character.
A creature who could not conquer, could not resist, could not keep
hold upon her own, seemed a thing so foolish and so feeble to her!
Even in her solitude, her imperial supremacy made her lips smile
contemptuously, her eyes gleam with scorn, as she rose and paced her
chamber for a few moments, her head erect and her bosom risen high with
her proud thoughts.

All the superb courage and scorn which were much stronger in her than
any other emotion, rejected so easy a victory, so sure a triumph.

'She is so impotent, poor little fool!' she murmured. 'She will break
her heart for ever in vain; she will never touch his.'

Her rooms were filled with the sweet faint smell of the roses, and
heated to the heat of a midsummer noon. She sat still in the dreamy
warmth, and all her vague regrets oppressed her with a faint, heavy
sense of inclinations suppressed, and impulses awaking after long
torpor.

'I should not hesitate at a crime,' she thought, 'but this would be
almost a baseness.'

And her memory went once more back to the hour in which the dead body
of Napraxine had been before her sight, the tea-rose held close in his
stiffened hand, and darkly red with the blood of his lungs.

'If he were living'--she thought.

If he had been living, he could have avenged Yseulte and himself.

But he was dead, a thing of bones and ashes--powerless, senseless,
defenceless. Something in that dishonour which would be done to a dead
man and to a helpless child seemed to her courage cowardice, to her
generosity meanness, to her dignity unworthiness.

'Neither could ever hurt us,' she thought, 'neither could ever avenge
it on us.'

Her sense of the utter impotency of those two, when she remembered
it, disarmed her where opposition or the struggle of forces equal
to her own would have made her obstinate and pitiless. They were so
helpless! the girl, in her pathetic, ignorant, unloved humiliation and
ineptitude; the man, dead in his strength, who had left only a memory
behind him. It would be as easy to sweep the one out of her path as
to forget and deride the other; so easy that it seemed not worth the
while; so easy that it seemed almost base.

She would have used her blade of steel without mercy to cleave through
bone and flesh of any who should have ventured to oppose her; but to
cut down a garden lily already dying of drought, to strike a pale
shadow from the tomb--it seemed poor, unworthy.

Othmar was hers if she would.

Had there been any doubt of it, her nature would have urged her on in
unsparing resolution until he should have yielded. But he was hers
when she chose, body and soul, peace and honour, present and future.
Her perfect sense of empire and security of dominion left her serene
and gentle; she could listen to the voice of pity, the impulse of what
men, in their stupidity, called conscience. It was with the disdainful
generosity with which the Great Katherine might have loosed one of
her lovers from the chains which bound him to her throne, that she
renounced her power to take him from his wife.

'If it were only a crime,' she thought, in the mystical complex
subtleties and intricacies of her brain, 'if it were only a crime,
the darkness would heighten the dawn, the danger would sweeten the
pleasure, the courage of it would strengthen the self-indulgence; but
when it is mean, when one is sure that there is no one living who can
avenge it, only a poor meek fool who will weep----!'

The laws of so-called duty said nothing to her.

The morality of the world was in her sight a mere mass of affectation,
hypocrisies, and timorous shifts.

To her sated and ever-curious intelligence a crime might have had
some potent charm, because it would have possessed some novelty and
proffered some strange experience.

But a meanness revolted her with the same sense of disgust as would
have moved her before squalor or disease. The same impulse which moves
the white-plumaged bird to keep aloof from dust or mud, moved her to
recoil from what was base or was ungenerous.

She rose and approached one of the windows, and pushed the
rose-coloured blind aside, and looked out over the wide white marble
terrace and the blue silent sea beyond.

It was three in the afternoon.

He had waited ten hours for her answer.

She left the casement and sat down and wrote. She wrote rapidly, as
her wont was; and when she had written, folded and sealed her letter
rapidly, giving it no second glance or afterthought. Then she rang, and
bade her women send her the African boy Mahmoud. When he obeyed her
summons, she gave him a letter.

'Take that to the château of S. Pharamond,' she said to him. 'You know
Count Othmar. Wait until you can see him alone, and give it, when he is
alone, into his own hands. You understand me.'

Mahmoud prostrated himself, put the letter in his vest, stretched
himself again on the ground in obeisance, then silently left her
presence.

She had always found the child obedient and intelligent, the only
person in all her household who would obey implicitly and in silence,
without feeling any curiosity as to the purport of his errands or ever
babbling of them in the servants' hall.

When he had left her she remained long motionless, lost in thought,
sitting alone amidst the dying roses, and the sunbeams broken and
dimmed by the deep shadows from the veiled windows. She had a strange
desolate sense of having given up the only thing which could have made
life worth the living.

'But I think in what I wrote there was no suggestion of regret,' she
mused, recalling all her written words. 'I think not; I hope not. If he
believed that there were any regret on my side, it would be of no avail
to have written it. He would be here in an hour, and he would follow me
all the world over.'

Then she summoned her women again:

'I go back to Russia to-night to Zaraizoff,' she said to them. 'Tell
Paul to have everything done that is necessary.'



CHAPTER LIV.


The boy Mahmoud, with the letter in his vest, took his way by the
inland paths towards S. Pharamond; it was not more than three miles,
following the tracks the peasants used. Mahmoud was almost always dumb,
but he was ceaselessly watchful; he adored his mistress, but he was
morbidly jealous of her. In the gay households of La Jacquemerille, of
Zaraizoff, of the Hôtel Napraxine, his precocity had become familiar
with all the corruptions of the world of white faces. Speaking little
he was supposed to understand as little; but, in truth, the small
listening dusky boy understood every word which went past him. He had
heard them in Paris speak of Othmar; he had comprehended that Othmar
was the lover of his mistress; he had heard Paul say to his friends,
'If it have ever been anyone, it is that one.' He had understood, and
he had taken a hatred of Othmar into his silent, savage, volcanic
child's heart.

When Mahmoud had been very ill with the cruel north winds which blew
so bitterly on his lungs, made only to breathe the torrid air of the
Soudan, his lady had come to see him, had spoken sweet words to him in
his own tongue, had touched his dusky paw with her soft snowy hand.
Mahmoud would have died a hundred deaths for her if he had had the
chance; but he was jealous, like a little black sulking dachshund, of
the mistress who sheltered him. Whenever he walked behind her, bearing
her shawls or her sunshade, he could have kissed her shadow as it fell,
but he could have plunged his dagger into the throats of the great
gentlemen who sauntered by her side. He was furiously, blindly jealous,
with the jealousy of a child and of a little wild beast blent in one.
To his naturally evil passions the life of Paris had united a monkeyish
malice and a precocious comprehension of vice. As he went now under the
red blossoms of the pepper trees and the yellow flowers of the mimosas
which fringed the route, a devilish fancy came into his head.

If, instead of giving the letter which he bore to Othmar, he took it
to Othmar's wife? His faculties had been educated enough in all the
scandals and jests of Paris to surmise that so he might bring about
with impunity a complication not easy to unravel, a storm not easy to
allay. If his mistake were ever brought against him, it would seem
only a mistake; he would take refuge behind his stolid childish mask
of affected stupidity, which had served him well more than once. He
had the cunning of the African, and he knew that the first condition
for his own safety in effecting such a treason would be that no one
should observe him on his errand. He entered the grounds of the château
cautiously. The gates usually stood open in the daytime, and the boy's
gaily-clad figure glided in amongst the shrubs unperceived.

It was about five o'clock in the afternoon. Yseulte was seated out of
doors, in a part of the gardens which was not in sight of the house.
There was a large Judas tree there covered with its crimson blossoms;
beneath it were some rustic chairs. She was reading, or affecting to
read; the book was open on her lap. The crimson flowers every now and
then, shaken by a south wind, fell down upon the unturned page.

Mahmoud had crept noiselessly about amongst the trees and plants, until
he saw her, with that feline skill and silence which were natural
to him, and had been developed by his life in the households of the
Napraxines. He knew her well by sight; he had seen her constantly in
Paris. He knew nothing of her otherwise, but he was French enough
by education to be sure that for her to receive and read a letter
addressed to her husband would bring about some dire disturbance.

So he approached her, bowing low as he had been taught to do, and
tendered the letter to her.

'From Madame la Princesse Napraxine,' he said, repeating his salaam.

Yseulte took the letter with a strange tumult at her heart: she did
not look at the superscription; she broke open the envelope with
agitation and haste. It might be only a conventional sentence or two,
an invitation or a farewell, or it might be some message of greater
meaning. It seemed strange to her that Nadine Napraxine should address
even the most formal words to her. She sat down under the boughs of the
roseate Judas tree and read what was written, read it all with that
instantaneous comprehension which comes to the brain in moments of
intense excitement.

There were but a few sentences in all in it, but those had been written
to Othmar, not to herself:

       *       *       *       *       *

'I have read your letter. I believe all that is said in it. I doubt
most things, but I have never doubted your love for me. If there be any
consolation to you in knowing this, you may believe it to the full. I
am certain that you would do all you say if I would accept the gift of
your life. But I will not; for it is not yours to give, and I do not
rob the innocent. My dear Othmar, I have seen your wife a few hours
ago; I sought her, she did not seek me; and from my soul I pity her,
though I am not too easily moved to pity. I pity her because she loves
you so greatly, and yet in your life she counts for nothing. She would
die for you, yet she will never be able to quicken a single beat of
your pulse. The fault is not hers--you admitted that the last evening
I spoke to you in Paris--but she only irritates when she would please
you, she only wearies you when she should stimulate you. You will
never care for her; she is a young angel, yet she will go unloved by
you all her life. But if you cannot do more, you can spare her some
pain, some dishonour; and I desire you to spare her that. Yours is the
fault that she is now beside you; you were in haste and blind, and
adventured a rash experiment; but it would be ungenerous in us both if
we made her pay all the penalty of my indifference and your error. You
have a strange madness for me because I am far removed from you; but
I--who am not mad--I can see that honour says to you, and generosity
says to me the same thing. I do not use the stale word duty, because
neither you nor I believe much in it; but honour and generosity call
upon us to protect a child who cannot protect herself, and perhaps even
a little also to remember a dead man who cannot avenge himself. I do
not speak to you as moralists would speak; I only mean that you must
remember those obligations which, as they were taken up unasked, must
be fulfilled out of sheer sense of common honour. You cannot force
yourself to care for her, but you can force yourself to conceal from
her that you do not. She is one of those women who easily and willingly
believe. For myself, I would sooner hesitate to dishonour a dead man
than a living one; so, I think, would you, if you only pause and think
of it. If I listened to you now when I have repulsed you before, it
would always seem to me as if I had not been brave enough whilst he
was living, whilst he could have killed me or you, or done anything he
chose. This is mere sentimental superstition, no doubt, but so it is
with me. We will not meet again, not yet, at least. You will not be
happy, of course, nor will you love your wife; neither happiness nor
love is to be had at command. But you are just by nature; be just now;
do not let all the weight of a mistake, which was wholly of your own
seeking and making, lie upon a creature altogether innocent. She is
not wise as we are wise, but she has a beautiful nature; she is purity
itself; be grateful. I do not say forget me, for that you will not do;
but live so that I may admire you and not esteem you a coward. We have
both always lived for ourselves, let us endeavour for a change to live
a little for others.'

       *       *       *       *       *

The letter was signed in full 'Nadège Fedorowna Princess Napraxine.'

Yseulte had read it once unconsciously, all its words seeming to smite
her brain together like the blows of many hands upon an unresisting
creature. She read it once again consciously, deliberately, word for
word; then she rose and put it out towards the bearer of it.

'It is not mine,' she said, in a suffocated voice. 'Take it to Count
Othmar.'

But the African boy had disappeared. There was no sound near her except
the sound of the sea breaking on the marble steps of the landing stairs
far down below.

'Take it, take it!' she said, mechanically holding the letter out to
the empty air. Then she staggered a little; her eyes grew blind; she
groped with her hand to feel for the trunk of the tree, and crept to it
and sank down on the bench beneath it, insensible.

How long she remained there she never knew. Gardeners were near,
trimming the banksia roses of a covered arcade, and below, on the edge
of the sea, there were boatmen and fishermen, and not fifty mètres
away, in the house, in his library, Othmar was sitting, awaiting the
reply to his letter. But no one knew what had befallen her. After
awhile she was awakened by the touch of a sea breeze which rising
rustled in the boughs and fanned her face.

When she was aroused and raised herself from her stupor, she saw the
note lying before her on the ground.



CHAPTER LV.


She remembered all that it had said. She saw as though it were written
in letters of fire the fact that her husband would leave her for ever
if another would stoop to accept the gift of his life. She saw the
terrible, inexorable humiliation of the truth that she would only owe
his fidelity, his presence, and his endurance of her in the future, to
the forbearance of Nadine Napraxine.

There was no place left in her mind for reason or hope to hide in; it
was all a blank desolation.

The pride, which was the strongest instinct in her, and the gratitude
which was the strongest motive, were all that were left alive in the
dull stupor which had overspread her brain. The one told her that every
hour which Othmar spent beside her would be but as an alms cast to
her by her rival; the other told her that her existence was the sole
barrier between the man to whom she owed obedience, love, and fealty,
and the joys which he coveted, the fate which he desired. Not alone was
she herself as nothing in his life; but she was his gaoler, his burden
of burdens, his one unchangeable regret and calamity. He had sought her
out of mercy, generosity, kindliness; and now she was for ever in his
path of life like a black shadow which hid the sunshine from his house.

She had known this, or most of this, for many months, but its cruel
indignity, its dreadful truth, had never looked to her all that it
looked now as she realised that pity for her unloved loneliness which
made her rival relinquish her hold on her husband's life and refuse
to accept the dishonoured allegiance which he offered. She saw in
those few words, which had been written for Othmar's eyes alone, the
finer impulses of generosity, the higher instincts of compassion,
which had impelled Nadine Napraxine to remember her and to spare her
when her husband had been willing to sacrifice her as the forest doe
was sacrificed of old upon the altars of love. She did not blame him
or hate him; she loved him always with the same loyalty, the same
grateful, mute, and timid devotion. But all her life revolted in
her at the thought that she would owe his enforced constancy to the
intercession of the woman he adored; that she herself was nothing more,
would for ever be nothing more, than as the clog of wood upon the
captive's foot, keeping his steps for ever in one cheerless path. She
did not reason; a stupor of horror had fallen upon her; she was only
conscious of this one fact, that whilst she lived Othmar would suffer.

Inherent in her nature was the heroism of a race which had never
feared death or danger, and the pride, sensitive as a nerve laid bare,
which made pity intolerable, charity insult, life without self-respect
unendurable. A delirium of shame was upon her. There was only alive
in her one consciousness--that she would never consent to live to be
a torture to him, never endure to be outstripped in generosity and in
renunciation by the enemy of her life. She had loved him with all the
tenderness and loyalty of her nature; she had done all she could to pay
him back in gratitude and affection the immeasurable gifts she owed to
him; but she had long known that she had failed, that she had no power
to console or to beguile him. She was only a weariness to him, a chain
upon his liberties, a companion undesired and irremovable, a thing
useless and joyless, which, being lost, would be never missed and never
regretted.

Nay, the gates of life closing for ever on herself would let the light
of the future stream in, white and fair, across his path.

Her mind was dulled and her whole being strung to unnatural excitation;
the many months in which she had shut her unuttered sorrow in silence
in her own breast had in a manner disturbed the balance of her mind.
That solitude in thought and absence of sustaining sympathy, which may
be as bracing as the north wind to older or sterner lives, had to her
youthfulness and timid susceptibility been fatal as the north wind is
to the shyly-flowering spring. She had lost all hold on proportion
in her lonely grief; she had become morbidly self-absorbed, and grew
in her own sight a useless and undesired burden. All which remained
distinct to her were her pride, which revolted from acceptation of
her rival's intercession in her favour, and the piteous sense that no
devotion, no sacrifice, no effort on her part could ever make her
more in her husband's existence than a weight, a weariness, a thing
undesired and unloved. The unselfishness and the loftiness of her
instincts now served her worse than any fault or feebleness would
have done. So long as she lived nothing, she knew, could serve him or
release him. The patience and the piety which her confessor ceaselessly
put before her as the eternal and unfailing panacea of woe could do
nothing to give him happiness whilst she was there beside him; only her
vacant place, her stiff dead limbs, her forgotten grave--these alone
could be the precursors of any joy or liberty for him.

She did not reason thus, but she was moved by the knowledge of it, as
one groping in the dark is guided by his touch. For the moment that
sublime insanity of self-sacrifice was on her which has sent all the
martyrs of the world to self-sought death.

By that which she believed divine law she knew that she was forbidden
to loose the cord of life. To forestall the summons of God was to her
implicit faith a guilt so dark that it would cast its shadow athwart
all eternity. But as her people had flung themselves by choice upon
the pikes of the revolutionists rather than outlive their king, so she
was willing now to cast herself into the jaws of death rather than
outlive the loss of hope, the loss of honour.

In her sight all his gifts, all his embraces, all the possessions
with which he had dowered her, were but so much dishonour, being only
the alms of pity and of charity, the forced atonement of a chill
indifference. To live one other hour beneath his roof and by his
side seemed to her, in all the dim, blind stupor of her thoughts, an
indignity before which any death were blessed. She had the silent
resolution and the endurance, meek yet dogged, of her Breton blood;
these held her outwardly calm and restrained, while the delirium of
self-sacrifice drove her headlong to her fate. She had never loved him
more than she loved him at that moment. She had clearness of memory and
strength of devotion enough to think, even in those terrible instants,
of the only ways in which she could spare him pain. If he knew that her
death was self-sought, remorse would be with him all his days.

'He shall not know; he shall not know,' she whispered to the sunny air
and to the crimson blossoms.

She stooped and tore the letter of Nadine Napraxine into small pieces,
and cast them down amongst the shrubs. Then with slow, unsteady steps
she took the familiar paths which led through the gardens to the hills.
There were no tears in her eyes; a flame-like force of self-destruction
burned in her and scorched up all natural fear. Even the frightful
guilt which her creed made her believe she was about to take upon her
soul could not appal or arrest her. Even the human yearning in her
which impelled her to turn back once and look upon his face and hear
his voice,--if only from some distant place, as strangers might look
and hear,--she had strength in her to resist and repel. Seeing him, she
would betray herself; he would suspect; her death would be a burden to
him as her life had been. She wished him to be happy, never to think of
her save now and then with kindness.

Fortitude and self-denial were stronger in her than any other thing,
and hushed down the natural revolt of aching passions.

'I will give him my life, since it is all I have to give,' she thought:
she was his debtor for so much, but thus her debt would be paid.

She went slowly, but steadily, up the familiar way in the glad light
of the afternoon hours. With the swift, unstudied instincts of a mind
feverish and confused, but holding fast to one central and immovable
idea, she had remembered at once the means by which she could reach her
end and make her death seem the result of accident; she had remembered
a crumbling tower on the flower-farm of her fostermother, where the
owls built and the pigeons mated, and where again and again as a child
she had been forbidden to risk life and limb on its rotten stairway and
its ancient stones, but obstinately had sat for many an hour, seeming
close to the blue sky, looking down on the olive and orange woods, and
calling to the birds wheeling above her head.

One false step there--then silence. Who would ever know?

The sun was near its setting as she reached the hedge of aloes marking
the boundary of S. Pharamond. She passed through them, and crossed a
field or two where the red tulips were glowing beneath the tall wheat;
then she reached the farm of Nicole Sandroz. No one was in sight: the
man was away in the town of Villefranche, the women were at work in the
rose fields. No one saw her save the old dog of the house, who gave
her a mute welcome, creeping out with stiffened limbs from his niche
in the wall. From the hill side on which the house stood, the turrets
and terraces of Millo, the towers and woods of S. Pharamond, the green
oasis of their gardens and the blue sea shining beyond, spread out
before her gaze in all the glow and glory of the sunset hour. The
golden light suffused all the visible world in its effulgence, and the
mountains northward were violet as the cup of an anemone flower. She
looked a moment: then closed her eyes and turned away, lest the fair
sight of the earth at evening should weaken and unnerve her.

She entered the dwelling-place and ascended the stairway leading to
the tower, relic of an ancient time when the low white-walled building
had been fortified and armed against the pirates of the sea and the
freelances of the land. She climbed the broken steps of stone, which
her young feet had so often trodden with the careless light tread of
the kid, and its heedlessness of danger. Every now and then a narrow
slit in the masonry of the tower let in the golden light of the world
without and let her see the smiling sunlit fields. A strong shudder
shook her at such times from head to foot, but she did not pause until
she had reached the platform of the tower. It was worn and broken,
many fissures yawned in it, the unused nests of birds cumbered it,
the battlements which had once protected it were almost levelled with
its floor; the stones which remained were lose and uneven. She paused
upon the summit, and the glory of the evening light was all about her
and upon her; the deep blue heavens seemed very near. Though it was
daylight still there were stars clear and large above her head. The
world lay soundless and serene; no echo from it reached her through
those depths of air.

Her eyes dwelt upon the place of her home.

The circling pigeons flew around her, the wind of their wings fanned
her cheek. She kneeled down and made the sign of the cross.

'God receive my soul!' she murmured. 'It is guilt--but there is no
other way.'

Then she rose, and, with a step which never paused or faltered, she
walked to the edge of the undefended roof. She looked once more
southward to where the house of Othmar lay, once upward to the vault of
azure air.

Then she stepped forward into the void below, threw her arms outward as
a bird spreads its wings, and fell, as a stone falls through the empty
air.

       *       *       *       *       *

A little while later the women coming there, called by the howling of
the old house-dog, found her lying quite dead upon the turf beneath.
Death had been merciful and had not mutilated her, her face was calm
and had not been bruised or wounded: her head had struck upon a stone,
and she had died without any lingering pain or conscious death-throe.

The birds were flying startled and distressed above the summit of the
tower. The sun had set.

Her last wish was fulfilled.

No one dreamed that her death had been sought by her own will. The
loosened masonry told its tale, and no one doubted what it said.
She had accomplished that supreme sacrifice which is content to be
unguessed, unpitied, and, attaining to the martyr's heroism, puts aside
the martyr's crown.



L'ENVOI.


In a year from that time Nadine Napraxine sat in her white boudoir in
her house in Paris.

It was the eve of her marriage with Othmar. She was lying indolently
amongst her white cushions; her eyes were thoughtful, her mouth was
smiling.

'If one could only feel all that rapture which he feels, how charming
life would be!' she mused, with her old sceptical wonder at the ardour
and the follies of men.

Passion was for once acceptable to her, but it was still scarcely
shared; she still surveyed and analysed its forces with a vague
astonishment, a lingering derision. Love had reached her more nearly
and enveloped her more warmly than she had ever believed that it
would do; yet there remained beneath it the smile of her habitual
raillery, the doubt of her habitual incredulity. Her life had obtained
the fruition of all its desires, and the future was hers in perfect
triumph, so far as any human knowledge can possess it. Yet, in the
vague melancholy which floated like a little cloud at times upon her
careless and amused mockery of herself, she thought more than once of
the device emblazoned on the wall of Amyôt, _Nutrio et extinguo_--it is
the motto of all human passions.

'Yes, this is love, no doubt,' she said to him this day; 'it is even
ecstasy--as yet. But shall we never know the recoil? Shall we never
tire? Will there be no reaction, no fatigue, no level lengths of habit
and of tedium? Who can keep always at this height?'

'We shall--for ever!' murmured her lover, with the intensity of his
adoration for her trembling on his lips. 'To doubt it is to doubt me!'

'No,' said Nadine Napraxine, with her fleeting mysterious smile. 'No; I
do not doubt you at all; I only doubt myself--and human nature!'

She sighed a little, even as she smiled. She, who had divined so much
more of the truth than the blunter perceptions of a man had ever
suspected, she, with that melancholy presage and superstitious sadness
which were dormant in her blood, thought, with a passing chill of dread:

'Our joy is like the basil plant of Isabella. It blossoms out of death!'


THE END.

[Illustration]


       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.

Table of contents created by Transcriber and placed into the public
domain.

Minor punctuation and printer errors repaired.

Retained idiosyncratic, antiquated and inconsistent spellings.





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