Beyond the Rocks
_Beyond the Rocks
A Love Story
Author of "Three Weeks"
With illustrations From the Paramount Photo-Play
Produced by Famous Players-Lasky Corp.
starring Gloria Swanson with Rodolph Valentino
New York The Macaulay Company_ Printed in the U.S.A.
ILLUSTRATIONS FACING PAGE
Rodolph Valentino, as Lord Bracondale and Elinor Glyn, the author Frontispiece
"She Wondered What Love Was—" 8
"Once Upon a Time There Was a Fairy Prince and Princess—" 96
What Could He Say to Her— 314
Beyond the Rocks
The hours were composed mostly of dull or rebellious moments during the period of Theodora's engagement to Mr. Brown. From the very first she had thought it hard that she should have had to take this situation, instead of Sarah or Clementine, her elder step-sisters, so much nearer his age than herself. To do them justice, either of these ladies would have been glad to relieve her of the obligation to become Mrs. Brown, but Mr. Brown thought otherwise.
A young and beautiful wife was what he bargained for.
To enter a family composed of three girls—two of the first family, one almost thirty and a second very plain—a father with a habit of accumulating debts and obliged to live at Bruges and inexpensive foreign sea-side towns, required a strong motive; and this Josiah Brown found in the deliciously rounded, white velvet cheek of Theodora, the third daughter, to say nothing of her slender grace, the grace of a young fawn, and a pair of gentian-blue eyes that said things to people in the first glance.
Poor, foolish, handsome Dominic Fitzgerald, light-hearted, debonair Irish gentleman, gay and gallant on his miserable pension of a broken and retired Guardsman, had had just sufficient sense to insist upon magnificent settlements, certainly prompted thereto by Clementine, who inherited the hard-headedness of the early defunct Scotch mother, as well as her high cheek-bones. That affair had been a youthful mesalliance.
"You had better see we all gain something by it, papa," she had said. "Make the old bore give Theodora a huge allowance, and have it all fixed and settled by law beforehand. She is such a fool about money—just like you—she will shower it upon us; and you make him pay you a sum down as well."
Captain Fitzgerald fortunately consulted an honest solicitor, and so things were arranged to the satisfaction of all parties concerned except Theodora herself, who found the whole affair far from her taste.
That one must marry a rich man if one got the chance, to help poor, darling papa, had always been part of her creed, more or less inspired by papa himself. But when it came to the scratch, and Josiah Brown was offered as a husband, Theodora had had to use every bit of her nerve and self-control to prevent herself from refusing.
She had not seen many men in her nineteen years of out-at-elbows life, but she had imagination, and the one or two peeps at smart old friends of papa's, landed from stray yachts now and then, at out-of-the-way French watering-places, had given her an ideal far, far removed from the personality of Josiah Brown.
But, as Sarah explained to her, such men could never be husbands. They might be lovers, if one was fortunate enough to move in their sphere, but husbands—never! and there was no use Theodora protesting this violent devotion to darling papa, if she could not do a small thing like marrying Josiah Brown for him!
Theodora's beautiful mother, dead in the first year of her runaway marriage, had been the daughter of a stiff-necked, unforgiving old earl; she had bequeathed her child, besides these gentian eyes and wonderful, silvery blond hair, a warm, generous heart and a more or less romantic temperament.
The heart was touched by darling papa's needs, and the romantic temperament revolted by Josiah Brown's personality.
However, there it was! The marriage took place at the Consulate at Dieppe, and a perfectly miserable little bride got into the train for Paris, accompanied by a fat, short, prosperous, middle-class English husband, who had accumulated a large fortune in Australia, quite by accident, in a comparatively few years.
Josiah Brown was only fifty-two, though his head was bald and his figure far from slight. He had a liver, a chest, and a temper, and he adored Theodora.
Captain Fitzgerald had felt a few qualms when he had wished his little daughter good-bye on the platform and had seen the blue stars swimming with tears. The two daughters left to him were so plain, and he hated plain people about him; but, on the other hand, women must marry, and what chance had he, poor, unlucky devil, of establishing his Theodora better in life?
Josiah Brown was a good fellow, and he, Dominic Fitzgerald, had for the first time for many years a comfortable balance at his bankers, and could run up to Paris himself in a few days, and who knows, the American widow, fabulously rich—Jane Anastasia McBride—might take him seriously!
Captain Dominic Fitzgerald was irresistible, and had that fortunate knack of looking like a gentleman in the oldest clothes. If married for the third time—but this time prosperously, to a fabulously rich American—his well-born relations would once more welcome him with open arms, he felt sure, and visions of the best pheasant shoots at old Beechleigh, and partridge drives at Rothering Castle floated before his eyes, quite obscuring the fading smoke of the Paris train.
"A pretty tough, dull affair marriage," he said to himself, reminded once more of Theodora by treading on a white rose in the station. "Hope to Heavens Sarah prepared her for it a bit." Then he got into a fiacre and drove to the hotel, where he and the two remaining Misses Fitzgerald were living in the style of their forefathers.
Josiah Brown's valet, Mr. Toplington, who knew the world, had engaged rooms for the happy couple at the Grand Hotel. "We'll go to the Ritz on our way back," he decided, "but at first, in case there's scenes and tears, it's better to be a number than a name." Mademoiselle Henriette, the freshly engaged French maid, quite agreed with him. The Grand, she said, was "plus convenable pour une lune de Miel—" Lune de Miel!
It was a year later before Theodora saw her family again. A very severe attack of bronchitis, complicated by internal catarrh, prostrated Josiah Brown in the first days of their marriage, and had turned her into a superintendent nurse for the next three months; by that time a winter at Hyeres was recommended by the best physicians, and off they started.
Hyeres, with a semi-invalid, a hospital nurse, and quantities of medicine bottles and draught-protectors, is not the ideal place one reads of in guide-books. Theodora grew to hate the sky and the blue Mediterranean. She used to sit on her balcony at Costebelle and gaze at the olive-trees, and the deep-green velvet patch of firs beyond, towards the sea, and wonder at life.
She longed to go to the islands—anywhere beyond—and one day she read Jean d'Agreve; and after that she wondered what Love was. It took a mighty hold upon her imagination. It seemed to her it must mean Life.
It was the beginning of May before Josiah Brown thought of leaving for Paris. England would be their destination, but the doctors assured him a month of Paris would break the change of climate with more safety than if they crossed the Channel at once.
Costebelle was a fairyland of roses as they drove to the station, and peace had descended upon Theodora. She had fallen into her place, a place occupied by many wives before her with irritable, hypochondriacal husbands.
She had often been to Paris in her maiden days; she knew it from the point of view of a cheap boarding-house and snatched meals. But the unchecked gayety of the air and the facon had not been tarnished by that. She had played in the Tuilleries Gardens and watched Ponchinello at the Rond Point, and later been taken once or twice to dine at a cheap cafe in the Bois by papa. And once she had gone to Robinson on a coach with him and some aristocratic acquaintances of his, and eaten luncheon up the tree, and that was a day of the gods and to be remembered.
But now they were going to an expensive, well-managed private hotel in the Avenue du Bois, suitable to invalids, and it poured with rain as they drove from the Gare de Lyon.
All this time something in Theodora was developing. Her beautiful face had an air of dignity. The set of her little Greek head would have driven a sculptor wild—and Josiah Brown was very generous in money matters, and she had always known how to wear her clothes, so it was no wonder people stopped and turned their heads when she passed.
Josiah Brown possessed certainly not less than forty thousand a year, and so felt he could afford a carriage in Paris, and any other fancy he pleased. His nerves had been too shaken by his illness to appreciate the joys of an automobile.
Thus, daily might be seen in the Avenue des Acacias this ill-assorted pair, seated in a smart victoria with stepping horses, driving slowly up and down. And a number of people took an interest in them.
Towards the middle of May Captain Fitzgerald arrived at the Continental, and Theodora felt her heart beat with joy when she saw his handsome, well-groomed head.
Oh yes, it had been indeed worth while to make papa look so prosperous as that—so prosperous and happy—dear, gay papa!
He was about the same age as her husband, but no one would think of taking him for more than forty. And what a figure he had! and what manners! And when he patted her cheek Theodora felt at once that thrill of pride and gratification she had always experienced when he was pleased with her, from her youngest days.
She was almost glad Sarah and Clementine should have remained at Dieppe. Thus she could have papa all to herself, and oh, what presents she would send them back by him when he returned!
Josiah Brown despised Dominic Fitzgerald, and yet stood in awe of him as well. A man who could spend a fortune and be content to live on odds and ends for the rest of his life must be a poor creature. But, on the other hand, there was that uncomfortable sense of breeding about him which once, when Captain Fitzgerald had risen to a situation of dignity during their preliminary conversations about Theodora's hand, had made Josiah Brown unconsciously say "Sir" to him.
He had blushed and bitten his tongue for doing it, and had blustered and patronized immoderately afterwards, but he never forgot the incident. They were not birds of a feather, and never would be, though the exquisite manners of Dominic Fitzgerald could carry any situation.
Josiah was not altogether pleased to see his father-in-law. He even experienced a little jealousy. Theodora's face, which generally wore a mask of gentle, solicitous meekness for him, suddenly sparkled and rippled with laughter, as she pinched her papa's ears, and pulled his mustache, and purred into his neck, with joy at their meeting.
It was that purring sound and those caressing tricks that Josiah Brown objected to. He had never received any of them himself, and so why should Dominic Fitzgerald?
Captain Fitzgerald, for his part, was enchanted to clasp his beautiful daughter once more in his arms; he had always loved Theodora, and when he saw her so quite too desirable-looking in her exquisite clothes, he felt a very fine fellow himself, thinking what he had done for her.
It was not an unnatural circumstance that he should look upon the idea of a dinner at the respectable private hotel, with his son-in-law and daughter, as a trifle dull for Paris, or that he should have suggested a meal at the Ritz would do them both good.
"Come and dine with me instead, my dear child," he said, with his grand air. "Josiah, you must begin to go out a little and shake off your illness, my dear fellow."
But Josiah was peevish.
Not to-night—certainly not to-night. It was the evening he was to take the two doses of his new medicine, one half an hour after the other, and he could not leave the hotel. Then he saw how poor Theodora's face fell, and one of his sparks of consideration for the feelings of others came to him, and he announced gruffly that his wife might go with her father, if she pleased, provided she crept into her room, which was next door to his own, without the least noise on her return.
"I must not be disturbed in my first sleep," he said; and Theodora thanked him rapturously.
It was so good of him to let her go—she would, indeed, make not the least noise, and she danced out of the room to get ready in a way Josiah Brown had never seen her do before. And after she had gone—Captain Fitzgerald came back to fetch her—this fact rankled with him and prevented his sleep for more than twenty minutes.
"My sweet child," said Captain Fitzgerald, when he was seated beside his daughter in her brougham, rolling down the Champs-Elysees, "you must not be so grateful; he won't let you out again if you are."
"Oh, papa!" said Theodora.
They arrived at the Ritz just at the right moment. It was a lovely night, but rather cold, so there were no diners in the garden, and the crowd from the restaurant extended even into the hall.
It was an immense satisfaction to Dominic Fitzgerald to walk through them all with this singularly beautiful young woman, and to remark the effect she produced, and his cup of happiness was full when they came upon a party at the lower end by the door; prominent, as hostess, being Jane Anastasia McBride—the fabulously rich American widow.
In a second of time he reviewed the situation; a faint coldness in his manner would be the thing to draw—and it was; for when he had greeted Mrs. McBride without gush, and presented his daughter with the air of just passing on, the widow implored them with great cordiality to leave their solitary meal and join her party. Nor would she hear of any refusal.
The whole scene was so novel and delightful to Theodora she cared not at all whether her father accepted or no, so long as she might sit quietly and observe the world.
Mrs. McBride had perceived immediately that the string of pearls round Mrs. Josiah Brown's neck could not have cost less than nine thousand pounds, and that her frock, although so simple, was the last and most expensive creation of Callot Soeurs. She had always been horribly attracted by Captain Fitzgerald, ever since that race week at Trouville two summers ago, and fate had sent them here to-night, and she meant to enjoy herself.
Captain Fitzgerald acceded to her request with his usual polished ease, and the radiant widow presented the rest of her guests to the two new-comers.
The tall man with the fierce beard was Prince Worrzoff, married to her niece, Saidie Butcher. Saidie Butcher was short, and had a voice you could hear across the room. The sleek, fair youth with the twinkling gray eyes was an Englishman from the Embassy. The disagreeable-looking woman in the badly made mauve silk was his sister, Lady Hildon. The stout, hook-nosed bird of prey with the heavy gold chain was a Western millionaire, and the smiling girl was his daughter. Then, last of all, came Lord Bracondale—and it was when he was presented that Theodora first began to take an interest in the party.
Hector, fourteenth Lord Bracondale of Bracondale (as she later that night read in the Peerage) was aged thirty-one years. He had been educated at Eton and Oxford, served for some time in the Fourth Lifeguards, been unpaid attache at St. Petersburg, was patron of five livings, and sat in the House of Lords as Baron Bracondale; creation, 1505; seat, Bracondale Chase. Brothers, none. Sister living, Anne Charlotte, married to the fourth Earl of Anningford.
Theodora read all this over twice, and also even the predecessors and collateral branches—but that was while she burned the midnight oil and listened to the snorts and coughs of Josiah Brown, slumbering next door.
For the time being she raised her eyes and looked into Lord Bracondale's, and something told her they were the nicest eyes she had ever seen in this world.
Then when a voluble French count had rushed up, with garrulous apologies for being late, the party was complete, and they swept into the restaurant.
Theodora sat between the Western millionaire and the Russian Prince, but beyond—it was a round table, only just big enough to hold them—came her hostess and Lord Bracondale, and two or three times at dinner they spoke, and very often she felt his eyes fixed upon her.
Mrs. McBride, like all American widows, was an admirable hostess; the conversation never flagged, or the gayety for one moment.
The Western millionaire was shrewd, and announced some quaint truths while he picked his teeth with an audible sound.
"This is his first visit to Europe," Princess Worrzoff said afterwards to Theodora by way of explanation. "He is so colossally rich he don't need to worry about such things at his time of life; but it does make me turn to hear him."
Captain Fitzgerald was in his element. No guest shone so brilliantly as he. His wit was delicate, his sallies were daring, his looks were insinuating, and his appearance was perfection.
Theodora had every reason to tingle with pride in him, and the widow felt her heart beat.
"Isn't he just too bright—your father, Mrs. Brown?" she said as they left the restaurant to have their coffee in the hall. "You must let me see quantities of you while we are all in Paris together. It is a lovely city; don't you agree with me?"
And Theodora did.
Lord Bracondale was of the same breed as Captain Fitzgerald—that is, they neither of them permitted themselves to be superseded by any other man with the object of their wishes. When they wanted to talk to a woman they did, if twenty French counts or Russian princes stood in the way! Thus it was that for the rest of the evening Theodora found herself seated upon a sofa in close proximity to the man who had interested her at dinner, and Mrs. McBride and Captain Fitzgerald occupied two arm-chairs equally well placed, while the rest of the party made general conversation.
Hector Bracondale, among other attractions, had a charming voice; it was deep and arresting, and he had a way of looking straight into the eyes of the person he was talking to.
Theodora knew at once he belonged to the tribe whom Sarah had told her could never be husbands.
She wondered vaguely why, all the time she was talking to him. Why had husbands always to be bores and unattractive, and sometimes even simply revolting, like hers? Was it because these beautiful creatures could not be bound to any one woman? It seemed to her unsophisticated mind that it could be very nice to be married to one of them; but there was no use fighting against fate, and she personally was wedded to Josiah Brown.
Lord Bracondale's conversation pleased her. He seemed to understand exactly what she wanted to talk about; he saw all the things she saw and—he had read Jean d'Agreve!—they got to that at the end of the first half-hour, and then she froze up a little; some instinct told her it was dangerous ground, so she spoke suddenly of the weather, in a banal voice.
Meanwhile, from the beginning of dinner, Lord Bracondale had been saying to himself she was the loveliest white flower he had yet struck in a path of varied experiences. Her eyes so innocent and true, with the tender expression of a fawn; the perfect turn of her head and slender pillar of a throat; her grace and gentleness, all appealed to him in a maddening way.
"She is asleep to the whole of life's possibilities," he thought. "What can her husband be about, and what an intoxicatingly agreeable task to wake her up!"
He had lived among the world where the awaking of young wives, or old wives, or any woman who could please man, was the natural course of the day. It never even struck him then it might be a cruel thing to do. A woman once married was always fair game; if the husband could not retain her affections that was his lookout.
Hector Bracondale was not a brute, just an ordinary Englishman of the world, who had lived and loved and seen many lands.
He read Theodora like an open book: he knew exactly why she had talked about the weather after Jean d'Agreve. It thrilled him to see her soft eyes dreamy and luminous when they first spoke of the book, and it flattered him when she changed the conversation.
As for Theodora, she analyzed nothing, she only felt that perhaps she ought not to speak about love to one of those people who could never be husbands.
Captain Fitzgerald, meanwhile, was making tremendous headway with the widow. He flattered her vanity, he entertained her intelligence, and he even ended by letting her see she was causing him, personally, great emotion.
At last this promising evening came to an end. The Russian Prince, with his American Princess, got up to say good-night, and gradually the party broke up, but not before Captain Fitzgerald had arranged to meet Mrs. McBride at Doucet's in the morning, and give her the benefit of his taste and experience in a further shopping expedition to buy old bronzes.
"We can all breakfast together at Henry's," he said, with his grand manner, which included the whole party; and for one instant force of habit made Theodora's heart sink with fear at the prospect of the bill, as it had often had to do in olden days when her father gave these royal invitations. Then she remembered she had not been sacrificed to Josiah Brown for nothing, and that even if dear, generous papa should happen to be a little hard up again, a few hundred francs would be nothing to her to slip into his hand before starting.
The rest of the party, however, declined. They were all busy elsewhere, except Lord Bracondale and the French Count—they would come, with pleasure, they said.
Theodora wondered what Josiah would say. Would he go? and if not, would he let her go? This was more important.
"Then we shall meet at breakfast to-morrow," Lord Bracondale said, as he helped her on with her cloak. "That will give me something to look forward to."
"Will it?" she said, and there was trouble in the two blue stars which looked up at him. "Perhaps I shall not be able to come; my husband is rather an invalid, and—"
But he interrupted her.
"Something tells me you will come; it is fate," he said, and his voice was grave and tender.
And Theodora, who had never before had the opportunity of talking about destiny, and other agreeable subjects, with beautiful Englishmen who could only be—lovers—felt the red blood rush to her cheeks and a thrill flutter her heart. So she quickened her steps and kept close to her father, who could have dispensed with this mark of affection.
"Dearest child," he said, when they were seated in the brougham, "you are married now and should be able to look after yourself, without staying glued to my side so much—it is rather bourgeois."
Poor Theodora was crushed and did not try to excuse herself.
"I am afraid Josiah won't go, papa dear," she said, timidly; "and in case he does not allow me to either, I want you to have these few louis, just for the breakfast. I know how generous you are, and how difficult things have been made for you, darling." And she nestled to his side and slipped about eight gold pieces, which she had fortunately found in her purse, into his hand.
Captain Fitzgerald was still a gentleman, although a good many edges of his sensitive perceptions had been rubbed off.
He kissed his daughter fondly while he murmured: "Merely a loan, my pet, merely a loan. You were always a jewel to your old father!"
Whenever her parent accused himself of being "old," Theodora knew he was deeply touched, and her tender heart overflowed with gladness that she was able to smooth the path of such a darling papa.
"I will come and see you in the morning, my child," he said, as they stopped at the door of her hotel, "and I will manage Josiah."
So Theodora crept up to her apartment, comforted; and in the salon it was she caught sight of the Peerage.
Josiah Brown bought one every year and travelled with it, although until he met the Fitzgerald family he had not known a single person connected with it; but it pleased him to be able to look up his wife's name, and to read that her mother was the daughter of a real live earl and her father the brother of a baronet.
"Hector! I like the name of Hector," were the last coherent thoughts which floated through the brain of Theodora before sleep closed her broad, white lids.
Meanwhile, Lord Bracondale had gone on to sup at the Cafe de Paris, with Marion de Beauvoison and Esclarmonde de Chartres; and among the diamonds and pearls and scents and feathers he suddenly felt a burning disgust, and a longing to be out again in the moonlight—alone with his thoughts.
"Mais qu'as tu, mon vieux chou?" they said. "Ce bel Hector cheri—il a un beguin pour quelqu'un—mais ce n'est pas pour nous autres!"
Josiah Brown cut the top off his oeuf a la coque with a knife at his premier dejeuner next day. The knife grated on the shell in a determined way, and Theodora felt her heart sink at the prospect of broaching the subject of the breakfast at the Cafe Henry.
"I am so glad the rain has stopped," she said, nervously. "It was raining when I woke this morning."
"Indeed," replied Josiah. "And what kind of an evening did you pass with that father of yours?"
"A very pleasant one," said Theodora, crumbling her roll. "Papa met some old friends, and we all dined together at the Ritz. I wish you had been able to come, it might have done you good, it was so gay!"
"I am not fit for gayety," said her husband, peevishly, scooping out spoonfuls of yolk. "And who were the party, pray?"
Theodora obediently enumerated them all, and the high-sounding title of the Russian Prince, to say nothing of the English lord and lady, had a mollifying effect on Josiah Brown. He even remembered the name of Bracondale—had he not been a grocer's assistant in the small town of Bracondale for a whole year in his apprenticeship days?
"Papa wants us to breakfast to-day with him at Henry's for you to meet some of them," Theodora said, with more confidence.
Josiah had taken a second egg and his frown was gone.
"We'll see about it, we'll see about it," he grunted; but his wife felt more hopeful, and was even unusually solicitous of his wants in the way of coffee and marmalade and cream. Josiah was shrewd if he did happen to be deeply self-absorbed in his health, and he noticed that Theodora's eyes were brighter and her step more elastic than usual.
He knew he had bought "one of them there aristocrats," as his old aunt, who had kept a public-house at New Norton, would have said. Bought her with solid gold—he had no illusions on this subject, and he quite realized if the solid gold had not been amassed out of England, so that to her family he could be represented as "something from the colonies—rather rough, but such a good fellow"—even Captain Fitzgerald's impecuniosity and rapacity would not have risen to his bait.
He was also grateful to Theodora—she had been so meek always, and such a kind and unselfish nurse. With his impaired constitution and delicate chest he had given up all hopes of looking on her as a wife again, just yet; but, as a nurse and an ornament—a peg to hang the evidences of his wealth upon—she was little short of perfection. He could have been frantically in love with her if she had only been the girl from the station bar in Melbourne. Josiah Brown was not a bad fellow.
By the time Mr. Toplington advanced in his dignified way with the accurately measured tonic on a silver tray and the single acid drop to remove the taste, Josiah Brown had decided to go and partake food with his father-in-law at Henry's. If he had been good enough to entertain the Governor of Australia, he was quite good enough for Russian princes or English lords, he told himself. Thus it was that Captain Fitzgerald, who came in person in a few minutes to indorse his invitation, found an unusually cordial reception awaiting him.
"I am too delighted, my dear Josiah," he said, "that you have decided to come out of your shell. Moping would kill a cat; and I shall order you the plainest chicken and souffle aux fraises."
"Josiah can eat almost anything, papa. I don't think you need worry about that," said Theodora, who hoped to make her husband enjoy himself. And then Captain Fitzgerald left to meet his widow.
All the morning, while she walked up and down under the trees in the Avenue du Bois beside her husband, who leaned upon her arm, Theodora's thoughts were miles away. She felt stimulated, excited, intensely interested in the hour, afraid they would be late. Twice she answered at random, and Josiah got quite cross.
"I asked you which you considered would do me most good when we return to England, to continue seeing Sir Baldwin once a week or to have Dr. Wilton permanently in the house with us, and you answer that you quite agree with me! Agree with what? Agree with which? You are talking nonsense, girl!"
Theodora apologized gently, and her white velvet cheeks became tinged with wild roses. It seemed as if the victoria, with its high-steppers, would never come and pick them up; and it must be at least quarter of an hour's drive to Henry's. She did not understand where it was exactly, but papa had said the coachman would know.
If some one had told her, as Clementine certainly would have done had she been there, that she was simply thus interested and excited because she wished to see again Lord Bracondale, she would have been horrified. She never had analyzed sensations herself, and the day had not yet arrived when she would begin to do so.
At last they were rolling down the Champs-Elysees. The mass of chestnut blooms in full glory, the tender green still fresh and springlike, the sky as blue as blue, and every creature in the street with an air of gayety—that Paris alone seems to inspire in the human race. It entered into her blood, this rush of spring and hope and laughter and life, and a radiant creature got out of the carriage at Henry's door.
The two men were waiting for them—Lord Bracondale and the French Count—her father and Mrs. McBride had not yet appeared.
Theodora introduced them to her husband, and Lord Bracondale said:
"Mrs. McBride is always late. I have found out which is your father's table; don't you think we might go and sit down?"
And they did. Theodora got well into the corner of the velvet sofa, the Count on one side and Lord Bracondale on the other, with Josiah beyond the Count.
They made conversation. The Frenchman was voluble and agreeable, and the next ten minutes passed without incident.
Josiah, not quite at ease, perhaps, but on the whole not ill-pleased with his situation. The Count took all ups and downs as of the day's work, sure of a good breakfast, sooner or later, unpaid for by himself. And Lord Bracondale's thoughts ran somewhat thus:
"She is even more beautiful in daylight than at night. She can't be more than twenty—what a skin! like a white gardenia petal—and, good Lord, what a husband! How revolting, how infamous! I suppose that old schemer, her father, sold her to him. Her eyes remind one of forgotten fairy tales of angels. Can anything be so sweet as that little nose and those baby-red lips. She has a soul, too, peeping out of the blue when she looks up at one. She reminds me of Praxiteles' Psyche when she looks down. Why did I not meet her long ago? I believe I ought not to stay now—something tells me I shall fall deeply into this. And what a voice!—as gentle and caressing as a tender dove. A man would give his soul for such a woman. As guileless as an infant saint, too—and sensitive and human and understanding. I wish to God I had the strength of mind to get up and go this minute—but I haven't—it is fate."
"Oh, how naughty of papa," said Theodora, "to be so late! Are you very hungry, Josiah? Shall we begin without them?"
But at that moment, with rustling silks and delicate perfume, the widow and Captain Fitzgerald came in at the door and joined the party.
"I am just too sorry," the lady said, gayly. "It is all Captain Fitzgerald's fault—he would try to restrain me from buying what I wanted, and so it made me obstinate and I had to stay right there and order half the shop."
"How I understand you!" sympathized Lord Bracondale. "I know just that feeling of wanting forbidden fruit. It makes the zest of life."
He had foreseen the disposition of the party, and by sitting in the outside corner seat at the end knew he would have Theodora almost en tete-a-tete, once they were all seated along the velvet sofa beyond Josiah Brown.
"What do you do with yourself all the time here?" he asked, lowering his voice to that deep note which only carries to the ear it is intended for. "May one ever see you again except at a chance meal like this?"
"I don't know," said Theodora. "I walk up and down in the side allees of the Bois in the morning with my husband, and when he has had his sleep, after dejeuner, we drive nearly all the afternoon, and we have tea, at the Pre Catalan and drive again until about seven, and then we come in and dine, and I go to bed very early. Josiah is not strong enough yet for late hours or theatres."
"It sounds supernaturally gay for Paris!" said Lord Bracondale; and then he felt a brute when he saw the cloud in the blue eyes.
"No, it is not gay," she said, simply. "But the flowers are beautiful, and the green trees and the chestnut blossoms and the fine air here, and there is a little stream among the trees which laughs to itself as it runs, and all these things say something to me."
He felt rebuked—rebuked and interested.
"I would like to see them all with you," he said.
That was one of his charms—directness. He did not insinuate often; he stated facts.
"You would find it all much too monotonous," she answered. "You would tire of them after the first time. And you could if you liked, too, because I suppose you are free, being a man, and can choose your own life," and she sighed unconsciously.
And there came to Hector Bracondale the picture of her life—sacrificed, no doubt, to others' needs. He seemed to see the long years tied to Josiah Brown, the cramping of her soul, the dreary desolation of it. Then a tenderness came over him, a chivalrous tenderness unfelt by him towards women now for many a long day.
"I wonder if I can choose my life," he said, and he looked into her eyes.
"Why can you not?" She hesitated. "And may I ask you, too, what you do with yourself here?"
He evaded the question; he suddenly realized that his days were not more amusing than hers, although they were filled up with racing and varied employments—while the thought of his nights sickened him.
"I think I am going to make an immense change and learn to take pleasure in the running brooks," he said. "Will you help me?"
"I know so little, and you know so much," and her sweet eyes became soft and dreamy. "I could not help you in any way, I fear."
"Yes, you could—you could teach me to see all things with fresh eyes. You could open the door into a new world."
"Do you know," she said, irrelevantly, "Sarah—my eldest sister—Sarah told me it was unwise ever to talk to strangers except in the abstract—and here are you and I conversing about our own interests and feelings—are not we foolish!" She laughed a little nervously.
"No, we are not foolish because we are not strangers—we never were—and we never will be."
"Are not strangers—?"
"No—do you not feel that sometimes in life one's friendships begin by antipathy—sometimes by indifference—and sometimes by that sudden magnetism of sympathy as if in some former life we had been very near and dear, and were only picking up the threads again, and to such two souls there is no feeling that they are strangers."
Theodora was too entirely unsophisticated to remain unmoved by this reasoning. She felt a little thrill—she longed to continue the subject, and yet dared not. She turned hesitatingly to the Count, and for the next ten minutes Lord Bracondale only saw the soft outline of her cheek.
He wondered if he had been too sudden. She was quite the youngest person he had ever met—he realized that, and perhaps he had acted with too much precipitation. He would change his tactics.
The Count was only too pleased to engage the attention of Theodora. He was voluble; she had very little to reply. Things went smoothly. Josiah was appreciating an exceedingly good breakfast, and the playful sallies of the fair widow. All, in fact, was couleur de rose.
"Won't you talk to me any more?" Lord Bracondale said, after about a quarter of an hour. He felt that was ample time for her to have become calm, and, beautiful as the outline of her cheek was, he preferred her full face.
"But of course," said Theodora. She had not heard more than half what the Count had been saying; she wished vaguely that she might continue the subject of friendship, but she dared not.
"Do you ever go to Versailles?" he asked. This, at least, was a safe subject.
"I have been there—but not since—not this time," she answered. "I loved it: so full of memories and sentiment, and Old-World charm."
"It would give me much pleasure to take you to see it again," he said, with grave politeness. "I must devise some plan—that is, if you wish to go."
"It is a favorite spot of mine, and there are some allees in the park more full of the story of spring than your Bois even."
"I do not see how we can go," said Theodora. "Josiah would find it too long a day."
"I must discuss it with your father; one can generally arrange what one wishes," said Lord Bracondale.
At this moment Mrs. McBride leaned over and spoke to Theodora. She had, she said, quite converted Mr. Brown. He only wanted a little cheering up to be perfectly well, and she had got him to promise to dine that evening at Armenonville and listen to the Tziganes. It was going to be a glorious night, but if they felt cold they could have their table inside out of the draught. What did Theodora think about it?
Theodora thought it would be a delicious plan. What else could she think?
"I have a large party coming," Mrs. McBride said, "and among them a compatriot of mine who saw you last night and is dying to meet you."
"Really," said Theodora, unmoved.
Lord Bracondale experienced a sensation of annoyance.
"I shall not ask you, Bracondale," the widow continued, playfully. "Just to assert British superiority, you would try to monopolize Mrs. Brown, and my poor Herryman Hoggenwater would have to come in a long, long second!"
Josiah felt a rush of pride. This brilliant woman was making much of his meek little wife.
Lord Bracondale smiled the most genial smile, with rage in his heart.
"I could not have accepted in any case, dear lady," he said, "as I have some people dining with me, and, oddly enough, they rather suggested they wanted Armenonville too, so perhaps I shall have the pleasure of looking at you from the distance."
The conversation then became general, and soon after this coffee arrived, and eventually the adieux were said.
Mrs. McBride insisted upon Theodora accompanying her in her smart automobile.
"You leave your wife to me for an hour," she said, imperiously, to Josiah, "and go and see the world with Captain Fitzgerald. He knows Paris."
"My dear, you are just the sweetest thing I have come across this side of the Atlantic," she said, when they were whizzing along in her car. "But you look as if you wanted cheering too. I expect your husband's illness has worried you a good deal."
Theodora froze a little. Then she glanced at the widow's face and its honest kindliness melted her.
"Yes, I have been anxious about him," she said, simply, "but he is nearly well now, and we shall soon be going to England."
Mrs. McBride had not taken a companion on this drive for nothing, and she obtained all the information she wanted during their tour in the Bois. How Josiah Brown had bought a colossal place in the eastern counties, and intended to have parties and shoot there in the autumn. How Theodora hoped to see more of her sisters than she had done since her marriage. The question of these sisters interested Mrs. McBride a good deal.
For a man to have two unmarried daughters was rather an undertaking.
What were their ages—their habits—their ambitions? Theodora told her simply. She guessed why she was being interrogated. She wished to assist her father, and to say the truth seemed to her the best way. Sarah was kind and humorous, while Clementine had the brains.
"And they are both dears," she said, lovingly, "and have always been so good to me."
Mrs. McBride was a shrewd woman, full of American quickness, lightning deduction, and a phenomenal insight into character. Theodora seemed to her to be too tender a flower for this world of east wind. She felt sure she only thought good of every one, and how could one get on in life if one took that view habitually! The appallingly hard knocks fate would give one if one was so trusting! But as the drive went on that gentle something that seemed to emanate from Theodora, the something of pure sweetness and light, affected her, too, as it affected other people. She felt she was looking into a deep pool of crystal water, so deep that she could see no bottom or fathom the distance of it, but which reflected in brilliant blue God's sky and the sun.
"And she is by no means stupid," the widow summed up to herself. "Her mind is as bright as an American's! And she is just too pretty and sweet to be eaten up by these wolves of men she will meet in England, with that unromantic, unattractive husband along. I must do what I can for her."
By the time she had dropped Theodora at her hotel the situation was quite clear. Of course the girl had been sacrificed to Josiah Brown; she was sound asleep in the great forces of life; she was bound to be hideously unhappy, and it was all an abominable shame, and ought to have been prevented.
But Mrs. McBride never cried over spilled milk.
"If I decide to marry her father," she thought, as she drove off, "I shall keep my eye on her, and meanwhile I can make her life smile a little perhaps!"
Theodora did not wonder why she felt in no exalted state of spirits as she dressed for dinner. She seldom thought of herself at all, or what her emotions were, but the fact remained there was none of the excitement there had been over the prospect of breakfast. Her husband, on the contrary, seemed quite fussy.
"A devilish fine woman," he had described Mrs. McBride. "Acts like a tonic upon me; does me more good than a pint of champagne!"
"Is she not delightful?" agreed Theodora; "so very kind and gay. I am sure the dinner will do you good, Josiah, and perhaps we might give one in return. What do you say?"
Josiah said, "Certainly!" He could give a meal with the best of them! They would consult that father of hers, who knew Paris so well, and ask him to help them to arrange a regular "slap-up treat."
And so they arrived at Armenonville. It was a divine night, quite warm, and a soft three-quarter moon.
Mrs. McBride had everything arranged to perfection. Their table was just where it should be, the menu was all that heart of gourmet could desire, and the company sparkling.
Theodora found herself seated beside Mr. Harryman Hoggenwater and an elderly Austrian, and before the hors d'oeuvres were cleared away both gentlemen had decided to make love to her.
It was when the bisque d'ecrevisses was being handed she became conscious that, not two tables off, there was an empty one simply arranged with flowers, and almost at the same instant Lord Bracondale and his party arrived upon the scene.
All Theodora's perceptions seemed to be sharpened. She knew without turning her head the table was for them, and that they were advancing towards it. She had felt their arrival almost before their automobile stopped; and now she would not look up.
A strange sensation, as of excitement, tingled through her. She longed to ascertain if the woman was good-looking who made the third in this party of three. She peeped eventually—with the corner of her eye. Lord Bracondale had so placed his guests that he himself faced Theodora, and the lady had her back turned to her.
Thus Theodora's curiosity could not be gratified.
"She is English," she decided; "that round shaped back always is—and very well-bred looking, and not much taste in dress. I wonder if she is old or young—and if that is the husband. Yes, he is unattractive—it must be the husband—and oh, I wonder what they are talking about! Lord Bracondale seems so interested!"
And if she had known it was—
"Really, Monica, how fortunate to have secured you at short notice like this," Lord Bracondale was saying. "I only found I had a free evening at breakfast, and I met Jack on my way to the polo-ground just in the nick of time."
"We love coming," Mrs. Ellerwood replied. "For unsophisticated English people it is a great treat. We go back on Saturday—every one will be asking what is keeping you here so long."
"My plans are vague," Lord Bracondale said, casually. "I might come back any day, or I may stay until well into June—it quite depends upon how amused I am. I rather love Paris."
And to himself he was thinking—
"How I wish that atrocious woman over there with the paradise plume would keep her hat out of the way. Ah, that is better! How lovely she looks to-night! What an exquisite pose of head! And what are those two damned foreigners saying to her, I wonder. Underbred brute, the American, Herryman Hoggenwater! What a name! She is laughing—she evidently finds him amusing. Abominably cattish of the widow not to ask me. I wonder if she has seen me yet. I want to make her bow to me. Ah!" For just then magnetism was too strong for Theodora, and, in spite of her determination, their eyes met.
A thrill, little short of passion, ran through Lord Bracondale as he saw the wild roses flushing her white cheeks—the exquisite flattery to his vanity. Yes, she had seen him, and it already meant something to her.
He raised his champagne glass and sipped a sip, while his eyes, more ardent than they had ever been, sought her face.
And Theodora, for her part, felt a flutter too. She was angry with herself for blushing, such a school-girlish thing to do, Sarah had always told her. She hoped he had not noticed it at that distance—probably not. And what did he mean by drinking her health like that? He—oh, he was—
"Now, truly, Mrs. Brown, you are cruel," Mr. Herryman Hoggenwater said, pathetically, interrupting her thoughts. "I tell you I am simply longing to know if you will come for a drive in my automobile, and you do not answer, but stare into space."
Theodora turned, and then the young American understood that for all her gentle looks it would be wiser not to take this tone with her.
He admired her frantically, he was just "crazy" about her, he told Mrs. McBride later. And so now he exerted himself to please and amuse her with all the vivacity of his brilliant nation.
Theodora was enjoying herself. Environment and atmosphere affected her strongly. The bright pink lights, the sense of night and the soft moon beyond the wide open balcony windows, the scents of flowers, the gayety, and, above all, the knowledge that Lord Bracondale was there, gazing at her whenever opportunity offered, with eyes in which she, unlearned as she was in such things, could read plainly admiration and unrest.
It all went to her head a little, and she became quite animated and full of repartee and sparkle, so that Josiah Brown could hardly believe his eyes and ears when he glanced across at her. This his meek and quiet mouse!
His heart swelled with pride when Mrs. McBride leaned over and said to him:
"You know, Mr. Brown, you have got the most beautiful wife in the world, and I hope you value her properly."
It was this daring quality in his hostess Josiah appreciated so much. "She's not afraid to say anything, 'pon my soul," he said to himself. "I rather think I know my own possession's value!" he answered aloud, with a pompous puffing out of chest, and a cough to clear the throat.
The Austrian Prince on Theodora's right hand pleased her. He had a quiet manner, and the freemasonry of breeding in two people, even of different nations, drew her to talk naturally to him in a friendly way.
He was a fatalist, he told her; what would be would be, and mortals like himself and herself were just scattered leaves, like barks floating down a current where were mostly rocks ahead.
"Then must we strike the rocks whether we wish it or no?" asked Theodora. "Cannot we help ourselves?"
"Ah, madame, for that," he said, "we can strive a little and avoid this one and that, but if it is our fate we will crash against them in the end."
"What a sad philosophy!" said Theodora. "I would rather believe that if one does one's best some kind angel will guide one's bark past the rocks and safely into the smooth waters of the pool beyond."
"You are young," he said, "and I hope you will find it so, but I fear you will have to try very hard, and circumstances may even then be too strong for you."
"In that case I must go under altogether," said Theodora; but her eyes smiled, and that night at least such a possibility seemed far enough away from her.
The Austrian looked across at her husband. Such marriages were rare in his country, and he had thought so too in England. He wondered what their story could be. He wondered how soon she would take a lover—and he realized how infinitely worth while that lover would find his situation.
He wished he were not so old. If she must break up her bark on the rocks, he could take the place of steersman with pleasure. But he was a courteous gentleman and he said none of these things aloud.
Meanwhile, Lord Bracondale was not enjoying his dinner. For the first time for several years he found himself jealous! He, unlike Theodora, knew the meaning of every one of his sensations.
"She is certainly interested in Prince Carolstein," he thought, as he watched her; "he has a European reputation for fascination. She has not looked this way once since the entrees. I wish I could hear what they are talking about. As for that young puppy Hoggenwater, I would like to kick him round the room! Lord, look how he is leaning over her! It sickens me! The young fool!"
Mrs. Ellerwood turned round in her seat and surveyed the room. They had almost come to the end of dinner, and could move their chairs a little. She had the true Englishwoman's feeling when among foreigners—that they were all there as puppets for her entertainment.
"Look, Hector," she said—they were cousins—"did you ever see such a lovely woman as that one over there among the large party, in the black chiffon dress?"
Then Hector committed a betise.
"Where?" said he, his eyes persistently fixed in another direction.
"There; you can't mistake her, she looks so pure white, and fair, among all these Frenchwomen The one with the blue eyes and the lovely hat with those sweeping feathers. She is exquisitely dressed, and both those men look fearfully devoted to her. Can't you see? Oh, you are stupid!"
"My dear Monica," said Jack Ellerwood, who joined rarely in the conversation, "Hector has been sitting facing this way all through dinner. He is a man who can appreciate what he sees, and I do not fancy has missed much—have you, Hector?" and he smiled a quiet smile.
Mrs. Ellerwood looked at Lord Bracondale and laughed.
"It is I who am stupid," she said. "Naturally you have seen her all the time, and know her probably. Are they cocottes, or Americans, or Russian princesses, or what?—the whole collection?"
"If you mean that large party in the corner, they are most of them friends and acquaintances of mine," he said, rather icily—she had annoyed him—"and they belong to the aristocracies of various nations. Does that satisfy you? I am afraid they are none of them demimondaines, so you will be disappointed this time!"
Mrs. Ellerwood looked at him; she understood now.
"He is in love with the white woman," she thought; "that is why he was so anxious to dine here to-night, when Jack suggested Madrid; that is why he stays in Paris. It is not Esclarmonde de Chartres after all! How excited Aunt Milly will be! I must find out her name."
"She is a beautiful creature," said Jack Ellerwood, as if to himself, while he carefully surveyed Theodora from his position at the side of the table.
Hector Bracondale's irritation rose. Relations were tactless, and he felt sorry he had asked them.
"You must tell me her name, Hector," pleaded Mrs. Ellerwood; "the very white, pretty one I mean."
"Now just to punish your curiosity I shall do no such thing."
"Hector, you are a pig."
"And so selfish."
"Why mayn't I know? You set a light to all sorts of suspicions."
"Doubly interesting for you, then."
"Don't you think you would like some coffee? The waiter is trying to hand you a cup."
Mrs. Ellerwood laughed. She knew there was no use teasing him further; but there were other means, and she must employ them. Theodora had become the pivot upon which some of her world might turn.
The object of this solicitude was quite unconscious of the interest she had created. She did not naturally think she could be of importance to any one. Had she not been the youngest and snubbed always?
The same thought came to her that was conjuring the brain of Lord Bracondale: would there be a chance to speak to-night, or must they each go their way in silence? He meant to assist fate if he could, but having Monica Ellerwood there was a considerable drawback.
Mrs. McBride's party were to take their coffee in one of the bosquets outside, and all got up from their table in a few minutes to go out. They would have to pass the partie a trois, who were nearer the door. Monica would take her most searching look at them, Lord Bracondale thought; now was the time for action. So as Mrs. McBride came past with Captain Fitzgerald, he rose from his seat and greeted her.
"You have been exceedingly mean," he whispered. "What are you going to do for me to make up for it?"
The widow had a very soft spot in her heart for "Ce beau Bracondale," as she called him, and when he pleaded like that she found him hard to resist.
"Come and see me to-morrow at twelve, and we will talk about it," she said.
"To-morrow!" exclaimed Lord Bracondale; "but I want to talk to her to-night!"
"Get rid of your party, then, and join us for coffee," and the widow smiled archly as she passed on.
Theodora bowed with grave sweetness as she also went by, and most of the others greeted Hector, while one woman stopped and told him she was going to have an automobile party in a day or two, and she hoped he would come.
When they had all gone on Mrs. Ellerwood said:
"I wonder why Americans are so much smarter than we poor English? I can't bear them as a nation though, can you?"
"Yes," said Lord Bracondale. "I think the best friends I have in the world are American. The women particularly are perfectly charming. You feel all the time you are playing a game with really experienced adversaries, and it makes it interesting. They are full of resource, and you know underneath you could never break their hearts. I am not sure if they have any in their own country, but if so they turn into the most wonderful and exquisite bits of mechanism when they come to Europe."
"And you admire that."
"Certainly—hearts are a great bore."
"You were always a cynic, Hector; that is perhaps what makes you so attractive."
"Am I attractive?"
"I can't judge," said Mrs. Ellerwood, nettled for a moment. "I have known you too long, but I hear other women saying so."
"That is comforting, at all events," said Lord Bracondale. "I always have adored women."
"No, you never have, that is just it. You have let them adore you, and utterly spoil you; so now sometimes, Hector, you are insupportable."
"You just said I was attractive."
"I shall not argue further with you," said Mrs. Ellerwood, pettishly.
"And I think we ought to be saying good-night, Hector," interrupted the silent Jack. "We are making an early start for Fontainebleau to-morrow, and Monica likes any amount of sleep."
This did not suit Mrs. Ellerwood at all; but if Jack spoke seldom he spoke to some purpose when he did, and she knew there was no use arguing.
So with a heart full of ungratified curiosity, she at last allowed herself to be packed into Hector's automobile and driven away.
"Of course he'll go and join that other party now, Jack! What did you make me come away for, you tiresome thing!" she said to her husband.
"He has done me many a turn in the past," said Jack, laconically.
"Then you think—?"
But Jack refused to think.
Theodora was sitting rather on the outskirts of the party in the bosquet, her two devoted admirers still on either side of her. All the chairs were arranged informally, and hers was against the opening, so that it proved easy for Lord Bracondale to come up behind her unperceived.
She believed he had gone. She could not see distinctly from where she was, but she had thought she saw the automobile whizzing by. She recognized Mrs. Ellerwood's hat. An unconscious feeling of blankness came over her. She grew more silent.
A lady beyond the Prince spoke to him, and at that moment Mr. Hoggenwater rose to put down her coffee-cup, and in this second of loneliness a deep voice said in her ear:
"I could not go—I wanted to say good-night to you!"
Then Theodora experienced a new emotion; she could not have told herself what it was, but suddenly a gladness spread through her spirit; the moon looked more softly bright, and her sweet eyes dilated and glowed, while that voice, gentle as a dove's, trembled a little as she said:
"Lord Bracondale! Oh, you startled me!"
He drew a chair and sat down behind her.
"How shall we get rid of your Hogginheimer millionaire?" he whispered. "I feel as if I wanted to kill every one who speaks to you to-night."
The half light, the moon, Paris, and the spring-time! Theodora spent the next hour in a dream—a dream of bliss.
Mrs. McBride, with her all-seeing eye, perceived the turn events had taken. She was full of enjoyment herself; she had quite—almost quite—decided to listen to the addresses of Captain Fitzgerald, therefore her heart, not her common-sense, was uppermost this night.
It could not hurt Theodora to have one evening of agreeable conversation, and it would do Herryman Hoggenwater a great deal of good to be obstacled; thus she expressed it to herself. That last success with Princess Waldersheim had turned his empty head. So she called him and planted him in a safe place by an American girl, who would know how to keep him, and then turned to her own affairs again.
The Prince was a man of the world, and understood life. So Theodora and Lord Bracondale were left in peace.
The latter soon moved his chair to a position where he could see her face, rather behind her still, which entailed a slightly leaning over attitude. They were beyond the radius of the lights in the bosquet.
Lord Bracondale was perfectly conversant with all moves in the game; he knew how to talk to a woman so that she alone could feel the strength of his devotion, while his demeanor to the world seemed the least compromising.
Theodora had not spoken for a moment after his first speech. It made her heart beat too fast.
"I have been watching you all through dinner," he continued, with only a little pause. "You look immensely beautiful to-night, and those two told you so, I suppose."
"Perhaps they did!" she said. This was her first gentle essay at fencing. She would try to be as the rest were, gay and full of badinage.
"And you liked it?" with resentment.
"Of course I did; you see, I never have heard any of these nice things much. Josiah has always been too ill to go out, and when I was a girl I never saw any people who knew how to say them."
She had turned to look at him as she said this, and his eyes spoke a number of things to her. They were passionate, and resentful, and jealous, and full of something disturbing. Thrills ran through poor Theodora.
His eyes had been capable of looking most of these things before to other women, when he had not meant any of them, but she did not know that.
"Well," he said, "they had better not return or recommence their compliments, because I am not in the mood to be polite to them to-night."
"What is your mood?" asked Theodora, and then felt a little frightened at her own daring.
"My mood is one of unrest—I would like to be away alone with you, where we could talk in peace," and he leaned over her so that his lips were fairly close to her ear. "These people jar upon me. I would like to be sitting in the garden at Amalfi, or in a gondola in Venice, and I want to talk about all your beautiful thoughts. You are a new white flower for me, as different as an angel from the other women in the world."
"Am I?" said she, in her tender tones. "I would wish that you should always keep that good thought of me. We shall soon go our different ways. Josiah has decided to leave next week, and we are not likely to meet in England."
"Yes, we are likely to meet—I will arrange it," he said.
There was nothing hesitating about Hector Bracondale—his way with women had always been masterful—and this quality, when mixed with a sudden bending to their desires, was peculiarly attractive. To-night he was drifting—drifting into a current which might carry him beyond his control.
It was now several years since he had been in love even slightly. His position, his appearance, his personal charm, had all combined to spoil a nature capable of great things. Life had always been too smooth. His mother adored him. He had an ample fortune. Every marriageable girl in his world almost had been flung at his head. Women of all classes with one consent had done their best to turn him into a coxcomb and a beast. But he continued to be a man for all that, and went his own way; only as no one can remain stationary, the crust of selfishness and cynicism was perhaps thickening with years, and his soul was growing hidden still deeper beneath it all. From the beginning something in Theodora had spoken to the best in him. He was conscious of feelings of dissatisfaction with himself when he left her, of disgust with the days of unmeaning aims.
He had begun out of idle admiration; he had continued from inclination; but to-night it was plus fort que lui, and he knew he was in love.
The habit of indulging any emotion which gave him pleasure was still strong upon him; it was not yet he would begin to analyze where this passion might lead him—might lead them both.
It was too deliciously sweet to sit there and whisper to her sophistries and reasonings, to take her sensitive fancy into new worlds, to play upon her feelings—those feelings which he realized were as fine and as full of tone as the sounds which could be drawn from a Stradivarius violin.
It was a night of new worlds for them both, for if Theodora had never looked into any world at all, he also had never even imagined one which could be so quite divine as this—this shared with her in the moonlight, with the magic of the Tzigane music and the soft spring night.
He had just sufficient mastery over himself left not to overstep the bounds of respectful and deep interest in her. He did not speak a word of love. There was no actual sentence which Theodora felt obliged to resent—and yet through it all was the subtle insinuation that they were more than friends—or would be more than friends.
And when it was all over, and Theodora's pulses were calmer as she lay alone on her pillow, she had a sudden thrill of fear. But she put it aside—it was not her nature to think herself the object of passions. "I would be a very silly woman to flatter myself so," she said to herself, and then she went to sleep.
Lord Bracondale stayed awake for hours, but he did not sup with Esclarmonde de Chartres or Marion de Beauvoison. And the Cafe de Paris—and Maxims—and the afterwards—saw him no more.
Once again these houris asked each other, "Mais qu'est-ce qu'il a! Ce bel Hector? Ou se cache-t-il?"
Before she went to bed in her hotel in the Rue de Rivoli, Monica Ellerwood wrote to her aunt.
"PARIS, May 15th.
"MY DEAR AUNT MILLY,—We have had a delicious little week, Jack and I, quite like an old honeymoon pair—and to-day we ran across Hector, who has remained hidden until now. He is looking splendid, just as handsome and full of life as ever, so it does not tell upon his constitution, that is one mercy! Not like poor Ernest Bretherton, who, if you remember, was quite broken up by her last year. And I have one good piece of news for you, dear Aunt Milly. I do not believe he is so frantically wrapped up in this Esclarmonde de Chartres woman after all—in spite of that diamond chain at Monte Carlo. For to-night he took us to dine at Armenonville—although Jack particularly wanted to go to the Madrid—and when we got there we saw at once why! There was a most beautiful woman dining there with a party, and Hector never took his eyes off her the whole of dinner, Jack says—I had my back that way—and he got rid of us as soon as he could and went and joined them. Very young she looked, but I suppose married, from her pearls and clothes—American probably, as she was perhaps too well dressed for one of us; but quite a lady and awfully pretty. Hector was so snappish about it, and would not tell her name, that it makes me sure he is very much in love with her, and Jack thinks so too. So, dear Aunt Milly, you need have no more anxieties about him, as she can't have been married long, she looks so young, and so must be quite safe. Jack says Hector is thoroughly able to take care of himself, anyway, but I know how all these things worry you. If I can find out her name before I go I will, though perhaps you think it is out of the frying-pan into the fire, as it makes him no more in the mood to marry Morella Winmarleigh than before. Unless, of course, this new one is unkind to him. We shall be home on Saturday, dear Aunt Milly, and I will come round to lunch on Sunday and give you all my news.
"Your affectionate niece, "MONICA ELLERWOOD."
Which epistle jarred upon Hector's mother when she read it over coffee at her solitary dinner on the following night.
"Poor dear Monica!" she said to herself. "I wonder where she got this strain from—her father's family, I suppose—I wish she would not be so—bald."
Then she sat down and wrote to her son—she was not even going to the opera that night. And if she had looked up in the tall mirror opposite, she would have seen a beautiful, stately lady with a puckered, plaintive frown on her face.
If a woman absolutely worships a man, even if she is only his mother, she is bound to spend many moments of unhappiness, and Lady Bracondale was no exception to the general rule. Hector had always gone his own way, and there were several aspects of his life she disapproved of. These visits to Paris—his antipathy to matrimony—his boredom with girls—such nice girls she knew, too, and had often thrown him with!—his delight in big-game shooting in alarming and impossible countries—and, above all, his absolute indifference to Morella Winmarleigh, the only woman who really and truly in her heart of hearts Lady Bracondale thought worthy of him, although she would have accepted several other girls as choosing the lesser evil to bachelorhood. But Morella Winmarleigh was perfection! She owned the enormous property adjoining Bracondale; she was twenty-six years old, of unblemished reputation, nice looking, and not—not one of those modern women who are bound to cause anxieties. Under any circumstances one could count upon Morella Winmarleigh behaving with absolute propriety. A girl born to be a mother-in-law's joy.
But Hector persistently remained at large. It was not that he openly defied his mother—he simply made love to her whenever they were together, twisted her round his finger, and was off again.
"To see mother with Hector," Lady Annigford said, "is a wonderful sight. Although I adore him myself, I am not at the stage she is! She sits there beaming on him exactly like an exceedingly proud and fond cat with new kittens. He treats her as if she were a young and beautiful woman, caresses her, pets her, pays not the least attention to anything she says, and does absolutely what he pleases!"
Hector and Lady Bracondale together had often made the women who were in love with him jealous.
When she had finished her letter the stately lady read it over carefully—she had a certain tact, and Hector must be cajoled to return, not irritated. Monica's epistle, in spite of that touch of vulgarity which she had deplored, had held out some grains of comfort. She had been getting really anxious over this affair with the—French person. Even to herself Lady Bracondale would not use any of the terms which usually designate ladies of the type of Esclarmonde de Chartres.
Since her brother-in-law Evermond had returned from Monte Carlo bringing that disturbing story of the diamond chain, she had been on thorns—of such a light mind and always so full of worldly gossip, Evermond!
Hector had gone from Monte Carlo to Venice, and then to Paris, where he had been for more than a month, and she had heard that men could become quite infatuated and absolutely ruined by these creatures. So for him to have taken a fancy to a married American was considerably better than that. She had met several members of this nation herself in England, and were they not always very discreet, with well-balanced heads! So altogether the puckered frown soon left her smooth brow, and she was able to resume the knitting of a tie she was doing for her son, with a spirit more or less at rest, though she sighed now and then as she remembered Morella Winmarleigh could not be expected to wait forever—and her cherished vision of perfectly behaved, vigorously healthy grandchildren was still a long way from being realized. For with such a mother what perfect children they would be! This was always her final reflection.
At twelve o'clock punctually Lord Bracondale was ushered into Mrs. McBride's sitting-room at the Ritz, the day after her dinner-party at Armenonville. He expected she would not be ready to receive him for at least half an hour; having said twelve he might have known she meant half-past, but he was in a mood of impatience, and felt obliged to be punctual.
He was suffering more or less from a reaction. He had begun towards morning to realize the manner in which he had spent the evening was not altogether wise. Not that he had the least intention of not repeating his folly—indeed, he was where he was at this hour for no other purpose than to enlist the widow's sympathy, and her co-operation in arranging as many opportunities for similar evenings as together they could devise.
After all, she only kept him waiting twenty minutes, and he had been rather amused looking at the piles of bric-a-brac obsequious art dealers had left for this rich lady's inspection.
A number of spurious bronzes warranted pure antique, clocks, brocades, what not, lying about on all the available space.
"And I wonder what it will look like in her marble palace halls," he thought, as he passed from one article to another.
"I am just too sorry to keep you, mon cher Bracondale," Mrs. McBride said, presently, suddenly opening the adjoining door a few inches, "but it is a quite exasperating hat which has delayed me. I can't get the thing on at the angle I want. I—"
"Mayn't I come and help, dear lady?" interrupted Hector. "I know all about the subject. I had to buy forty-seven at Monte Carlo, and see them all tried on, too—and only lately! Do ask Marie to open that door a little wider; I will decide in a minute how it should be."
"Insolent!" said the widow, who spoke French with perfect fluency and a quite marvellously pure American accent. But she permitted the giggling and beaming Marie to open the door wide, and let Hector advance and kiss her hand.
He then took a chair by the dressing-table and inspected the situation.
Seven or eight dainty bandboxes strewed the floor, some of their contents peeping from them—feathers, aigrettes, flowers, impossible birds—all had their place, and on the sofa were three chef d'oeuvres ruthlessly tossed aside. While in the widow's fair hands was a gem of gray tulle and the most expensive feather heart of woman could desire.
"You see," she said, plaintively, "it is meant to go just so," and she placed it once more upon her head, a handsome head of forty-five, fresh and well preserved and comely. "But the vile-tempered thing refuses to stay there once I let go, and no pin will correct it."
"Base ingratitude," said Lord Bracondale, with feeling; "but couldn't you stuff these in the hiatus," and he tenderly lifted a bunch of nut-brown curls from the dressing-table. "They would fill up the gap and keep the fractious thing steady."
"Of course they would," said Mrs. McBride; "but I have a rooted objection to auxiliary nature trimmings. That bunch was sent with the hat, and Marie has been trying to persuade me to wear it ever since we began this struggle. But I won't! My hair's my own, and I don't mean to have any one else's alongside of it. There is my trouble."
"If milor were to hold madame's 'at one side, while I de other, madame might force her emerald parrot pin through him," suggested Marie, which advice was followed, and the widow beamed with satisfaction at the gratifying result.
"There!" she exclaimed, with a sigh of relief, "that will do; and I am just ready. Gloves, handkerchief—oh! and my purse, Marie." And in five minutes more she was leading the way back into her sitting-room.
"I have not ordered lunch until one o'clock," she said, "so we have oceans of time to talk and tell each other secrets. Sit down, jeune homme, and confess to me." She pointed to a bergere, but it was filled with Italian embroideries. "Marie, take this rubbish away!" she called, and presently some chairs were made clear.
"And what must I confess?" asked Hector, when they were seated. "That I am frantically in love with you, and your coldness is driving me wild?"
"Certainly not!" said the widow, while she rose again and began to arrange some giant roses in a wonderful basket which looked as if it had just arrived—her shrewd eye had seen the card, "From Captain Fitzgerald, with his best bonjour." "Certainly not! We are going to talk truth, or, to punish you, I shall not ask you to meet her again, and I shall warn her father of your strictly dishonorable intentions."
"You would not be so cruel!"
"Yes I would. And it is what I ought to do, anyway. She is as innocent as a woolly lamb, and unsophisticated and guileless, and will probably be falling in love with you. You take the wind out of the sails of that husband of hers, you see!"
"Do I?" said Hector, with overdone incredulity.
She looked at him. His long, lithe limbs stretched out, every line indicative of breeding and strength. She noted the shape of his head, the perfect grooming, his lazy, insolent grace, his whimsical smile. Englishmen of this class were certainly the most provokingly beautiful creatures in the world.
"It is because they have done nothing but order men, kill beasts, and subjugate women for generations," she said to herself. "Lazy, naughty darlings! If they came to our country and worked their brains a little, they would soon lose that look. But it would be a pity," she added—"yes, a pity."
"What are you thinking of?" asked Lord Bracondale, while she gazed at him.
"I was thinking you are a beautiful, useless creature. Just like all your nation. You think the world is made for you; in any case, all the women and animals to kill are."
"What an abominable libel! But I am fond of both things—women and animals to kill."
"And you class them equally—or perhaps the animals are ahead."
"Indeed not always," said Hector, reassuringly. "Some women have quite the first place."
"You are too flattering!" retorted the widow. "Those sentiments are all very well for your own poor-spirited, down-trodden women, but they won't do for Americans! A man has to learn a number of lessons before he is fitted to cope with them."
"Oh, tell me," said Hector.
"He has got to learn to wait, for one thing, to wait about for hours if necessary, and not to lose his temper, because the woman can't make up her mind to be in time for things, or to change it often as to where she will dine. Then he has to learn to give up any pleasure of his own for hers—and travel when she wants to travel, or stay home when she wants to go alone. If he is an Englishman he don't have brains enough to make the money, but he must let her spend what he has got how she likes, and not interfere with her own."
"And in return he gets?"
"The woman he happens to want, I suppose." And the widow laughed, showing her wonderfully preserved brilliant white teeth.
"You enunciate great truths, belle dame!" said Hector, "and your last sentence is the greatest of all—'The woman he happens to want.'"
"Which brings us back to our muttons—in this case only a defenceless baby lamb. Now tell me what you are here for, trying to cajole me with your good looks and mock humility."
"I am here to ask you to help me to see her again, then," said Hector, who knew when to be direct. "I have only met her three times, as you know, but I have fallen in love, and she is going away next week, and there is only one Paris in the world."
"You can do a great deal of mischief in a week," Mrs. McBride said, looking at him again critically. "I ought not to help you, but I can't resist you—there! What can we devise?"
It is possible the probability of Theodora's father making a fourth may have had something thing to do with her complaisance. Anyway, it was decided that if feasible the four should spend a day at Versailles.
They should go in their two automobiles in time for breakfast at the Reservoirs. They would start, Theodora in Mrs. McBride's with her, and Captain Fitzgerald with Lord Bracondale, and each couple could spend the afternoon as they pleased, dining again at the Reservoirs and whirling back to Paris in the moonlight. A truly rural and refreshing programme, good for the soul of man.
"And I can rely upon you to get rid of the husband?" said Lord Bracondale, finally. "I do not see the poetry of the affair with his bald head and mutton-chop whiskers as an accessory."
"Leave that to Captain Fitzgerald and myself," Mrs. McBride said, proudly. "I have a scheme that Mr. Brown shall spend the day with Clutterbuck R. Tubbs, examining some new machinery they are both interested in. Leave it to me!" The part of Deus ex machina was always a role the widow loved.
Then they descended to an agreeable lunch in the restaurant, with a numerous party of her friends as usual, and Lord Bracondale felt afterwards full of joy and hope, to continue his sinful path unrepenting.
The days that intervened before Theodora saw him again were uneventful and full of blankness. The walks in the Bois appeared more tedious than ever in the morning, the drives in the Acacias more exasperating. It was a continual alertness to see if she caught sight of a familiar face, but she never did. Fate was against them, as she sometimes is when she means to compensate soon after by some glorious day of the gods. And although Lord Bracondale called at her hotel and walked where he thought he should see her, and even drove in the Acacias, they had no meeting.
Josiah did not feel himself sufficiently strong to stand the air of theatres, and they went nowhere in the evenings. He was keeping himself for his own dinner-party, which was to take place at the Madrid on the Monday.
Captain Fitzgerald had arranged it, and besides Mrs. McBride several of his friends were coming, and a special band of wonderfully talented Tziganes, who were delighting Paris that year, had been engaged to play to them. If only the weather should remain fine all would be well.
A surprise awaited Theodora on Saturday morning. A friendly note from Mrs. McBride arrived, asking her if she would spend the day with her at Versailles, as she had asked her husband to do her a favor and lunch with Mr. Clutterbuck R. Tubbs.
Theodora awaited Josiah's presence at the premier dejeuner, which they took in their salon, with absolute excitement. He came in, a pompous smile on his face.
"Good-day, my love," he said, blandly. "That charming widow writes me this morning, asking if I will do her a favor, and take her friend, Mr. Clutterbuck Tubbs, to examine that machinery for the separation of fats we both have an interest in, and he suggests I should lunch with him, as he is very anxious to have my opinion upon the merits of it."
"Yes," said Theodora.
"She also says," referring to the letter in his hand, "she will take charge of you for the day, and take you to Versailles, which I know you wish to go to. She wants an answer at once, as she will call for you at twelve o'clock if we accept."
"I have heard from her, too," said Theodora. "What shall you answer, Josiah?" and she looked out of the window.
"Oh, I may as well go, I think. There is money in the invention, or that old gimlet-eye would not be so keen about it; I talked the matter over with him at Armenonville the other night."
"Then shall you write or shall I?" said Theodora, as evenly as she could. "Her servant is waiting."
Theodora hummed to herself a glad little chansonnette as she changed her breakfast negligee for the freshest and loveliest of her spring frocks. She did not know why she was so happy. There had been no word of any one else being of the party, only she and Mrs. McBride, but Versailles would be exquisite on such a day, and something whispered to her that she might not yawn.
The most radiant vision awaited the widow, when, with unusual punctuality, her automobile stopped at the hotel door. She came in. She was voluble, she flattered Josiah. So good of him to take Mr. Tubbs—and she hoped it would not tire him. Theodora should be well looked after. They might be late and even dine at Versailles, she said, and Mr. Brown was not to be anxious—she would be responsible for the safe return of his beautiful little wife. (Theodora was five foot seven at least, but her small head and extreme slenderness gave people the feeling she was little—something to be protected and guarded always.)
Josiah was affable. Mrs. McBride's words were so smooth and so many, he had no time to feel Theodora was going to dine out without him, or that anything had been arranged for ultimate ends.
The automobile had almost reached Suresnes before the widow said to her guest:
"Your father and Lord Bracondale have promised to meet us at the Reservoirs. Captain Fitzgerald told me how you wanted to go to Versailles, and how your husband is not strong enough to take these excursions, so I thought we might have this little day out there, while he is engaged with Mr. Clutterbuck Tubbs."
"How sweet of you!" said Theodora.
As they rushed through the smiling country, both women's spirits rose, and Mrs. McBride's were the spirits of experience and did not mount without due cause. Since she had been a girl in Dakota and passionately in love with her first husband—the defunct McBride was a second venture—she had not met a man who could quicken her pulse like Captain Fitzgerald. It was a curious coincidence that they both had already two partners to regret. It was an extra link between them, and Jane McBride, who was superstitious, read the omen to mean that this time each had met his true mate.
"If he is irresistible to-day, I think I shall clinch matters," she was saying to herself.
While Theodora's musings ran:
"How beautiful Versailles will look, and I dare say he will know all about its history, and be able to tell me interesting things; and oh! I am so glad I put on this frock, and oh! I am so happy."
And aloud they spoke of paradise plumes and the new gray, and the merits and demerits of Callot and Doucet and Jeanne Valez. And the widow said some bright American things about husbands and the world in general that conveyed crisp truths.
The drive seemed all too short, and there were their two cavaliers in the court-yard awaiting them at the Reservoirs, having arrived just before them.
To the end of her life Theodora will remember that glorious May day. Its even minutest detail, the color of the chestnut-trees, the tint of the sky, the scent in the air, every line of his figure and turn of his head, every look in his eyes—and they were many and varied—and also and alas! every growing emotion in her own heart. But at the moment all was gladness, and exquisite, young, irresponsible joy. Sans arriere-pensee or disquieting reflection.
She wondered which of the two men was the handsomer as she got out of the automobile—dear, darling papa or Lord Bracondale; both were quite show creatures of their age, and both were of the same class and knowledge of savoir-vivre. Every one said such polite and gracious things, it was all so smooth and gay, and it seemed so natural that they should take a turn up towards the chateau while breakfast was being prepared.
Half-past one o'clock was time enough to eat, the widow said.
"I want to show you a number of spots I love," Hector announced, choosing a different path to the other pair. "And it is a day we can be happy in, can't we?"
"I want to be happy," said Theodora.
"Then we shall go no farther now; we shall sit on this seat and admire the view. See, we are quite alone and undisturbed; all the world has gone home to breakfast."
Then he looked at her, and though he really did try at this stage to be reasonable, something of the intense attraction he felt for her blazed in his eyes.
She was sufficiently delectable a picture to turn the sagest head. There was something so absolutely pure white about that skin, it seemed good to eat, flawless, unlined, unblemished, under this brilliant light.
The way her silvery blond hair grew was just the right way a woman's hair ought to grow, he thought; low on a high, broad brow, rippling and soft, and quantities of it. What could it be like to caress it, to run one's fingers through it, to bury one's face in it? Ah! and then there were her tender eyes, dewy and shadowed with dark lashes, and so intensely blue. His glance wandered farther afield. Such a figure! slender and graceful and fine. There was something almost childish about it all; the innocent look of a very young girl, with the polish of the woman, garbed by an artist. It seemed the great pearls in her ears were not more milkily white than her throat, and he was sure were also her little slender hands, that did not fidget, but lay idly in her lap, holding her blue parasol. He would like to have taken off her gloves to see.
Passionate devotion was surging up in his breast.
And he was an Englishman, and it was still the morning. There was no moon now and he had not even breakfasted! This shows sufficiently to what state he had come.
"I want you to tell me all about Versailles," she said, looking to the left and the gray wing beyond the chapel. "Its histories and its meanings. I used to read about it all after Sarah brought me here once for our treat, but you probably are learned upon the subject, and I want to know."
"I would much rather hear what you did when Sarah brought you here for your treat," he said.
"Oh! it was a very simple day," and she leaned back and laughed softly at the recollection. "Papa was very hard up at that time, you know, and we were rather poor, so we came as cheaply as we could, Sarah, Clementine, and I, and I remember there were some very snuffy men in the train—we could not go first-class, you see—and one of them rather frightened me."
"The brute!" said Hector.
"I think I was about fourteen."
"And even then perfectly beautiful, I expect," he commented to himself.
"We walked up from the station, and oh! we saw all the galleries and we ran all over the park, but we missed the way to Trianon somehow and never saw that, and when we got back here we were too tired to start again. We had only had sandwiches, you see, that we brought with us, and some funny little drinks at a cafe down there," and she pointed vaguely towards the lake, "because we found we had only one franc fifty between us all. But we were so happy, and Clementine knows a great deal, and told us many things which were quite different from what was in the guide-books—but it seems so long, long ago. Do you know it must be six years." And she looked at him seriously.
"Half a lifetime!" agreed Hector, with a whimsical smile.
"Oh! you are laughing at me!" she said, and there was a cloud in the blue stars which looked up at him.
He made a movement nearer her—while his deep voice took every tone of tenderness.
"Indeed, indeed I am not—you dear little girl! I love to hear of your day. I was only smiling to think that six years ago you were a baby child, and I was then an old man in feeling—let me see, I was twenty-five, and I was in Russia."
He stopped suddenly; there were some circumstances which, sitting there beside her, he would rather not remember connected with Russia.
This was one of the peculiarities of Theodora. There was something about her which seemed to wither up all low or vicious things. It was not that she filled people with ascetic thoughts of saints and angels and their mother in heaven, only she seemed suddenly to enhance simple joys with beauty and charm.
They talked on for half an hour, and with every moment he discovered fresh qualities of sweetness and light in her gentle heart.
She was not ill educated either, but she had never speculated upon things, she took them for granted just as they were, and Jean d'Agreve was probably the only awakening book she had ever read.
Hector all at once seemed to realize his mother's vision, and to understand for the first time what marriage might mean. That to possess this exquisite bit of God's finished work for his very own, to live with her in the country, at old Bracondale, to see her honored and adored, surrounded by little children—his children—would be a dream of bliss far, far beyond any dream he had ever known. A domestic, tender dream of sweetness that he had always laughed at before as a final thing when life's other joys should be over, and now it seemed suddenly to be the only heaven and completion of his soul's desire.
Then he remembered Josiah Brown with a hideous pang of pain and bitterness—and they went in to lunch.
* * * * *
Theodora was so gay! Captain Fitzgerald and Mrs. McBride were already seated when they joined them in the restaurant. Most of the other visitors had finished—it was almost two o'clock.
There was a good deal of black middle in the widow's eyes, Theodora noticed, and wondered to herself if she had had a happy and exciting hour too. Papa looked complacent and handsomer than ever, she thought. She did hope it was going well. And she wondered how they were to dispose of their afternoon.
The widow soon settled this. She had, she said, a wild desire to rush through the air for a little—she must have her chauffeur go at full speed—somewhere—anywhere—her nerves needed calming! And Captain Fitzgerald had agreed to accompany her. Their destination was unknown, and they might not be back for tea, so Lord Bracondale must take the greatest care of Theodora and give her some if they did not turn up. They certainly would for dinner, but eight o'clock would be time enough for that.
When your destination is unknown you can never say how many hours it will take to get there and back, she pointed out. And no one felt inclined to argue with her about this obvious truth!
Now if Theodora had been a free unmarried girl, or a freer widow, it is highly probable fate would not have arranged this long afternoon in blissful surroundings undisturbed by any one. As it was, who knows if the goddess settled it with a smile on her lip or a tear in her eye? It was settled, at all events, and looked as if it were going to contain some moments worth remembering.
"And what is your pleasure, fair queen?" Hector said, as they listened to the diminishing noise of the widow's Mercedes. "We are alone, and we have the world before us. Issue your commands."
"No," said Theodora, and she pouted her red lips. "I want you to settle that. I want you to arrange for whatever you think would give me the greatest pleasure. Then I shall know if you understand me and guess what I would like."
This was the most daring speech she had ever made, and she was surprised at her own temerity.
"Very well," he said. "That means you belong to me until they return," and a thrill ran through him. "Has not your father, has not your hostess, given you into my charge? And, now you yourself have sealed the compact, we shall see if I can make you happy."