REBECCA HARDING DAVIS
AUTHOR OF "DOCTOR WARRICK'S DAUGHTER"
A REMEMBRANCER OF BRITTANY FOR THE BEST FELLOW-TRAVELLER IN THE WORLD
In another minute the Kaiser Wilhelm would push off from her pier in Hoboken. The last bell had rung, the last uniformed officer and white-jacketed steward had scurried up the gangway. The pier was massed with people who had come to bid their friends good-by. They were all Germans, and there had been unlimited embracing and kissing and sobs of "Ach! mein lieber Sckatz!" and "Gott bewahre Dick!"
Now they stood looking up to the crowded decks, shouting out last fond words. A band playing "The Merry Maiden and the Tar" marched on board.
The passengers pressed against the rails, looking down. Almost every one held flowers which had been brought to them: not costly bouquets, but homely bunches of marigolds or pinks. They carried, too, little German or American flags, which they waved frantically.
The gangways fell, and the huge ship parted from the dock. It was but an inch, but the whole ocean yawned in it between those who went and those who stayed. There was a sudden silence; a thousand handkerchiefs fluttered white on the pier and the flags and flowers were waved on the ship, but there was not a cry nor a sound.
James Perry, one of the dozen Americans on board, was leaning over the rail watching it all with an amused smile. "Hello, Watts!" he called, as another young man joined him. "Going over? Quite dramatic, isn't it? It might be a German ship going out of a German port. The other liners set off in as commonplace a way as a Jersey City ferryboat, but these North German Lloyd ships always sail with a certain ceremony and solemnity. I like it."
"I always cross on them," said Dr. Watts. "I have but a month's vacation—two weeks on board ship, two on land. Now you, I suppose, don't have to count your days? You cross every year. I can't see, for my part, what business the assistant editor of a magazine has abroad."
"Oh, we make a specialty of articles from notorieties over there; statesmen, scientific fellows, or people with titles. I expect to capture a paper from Lorne and some sketches by the Princess Beatrice this time."
"Lorne? It throws you into contact with that sort of folk, eh?" said the doctor, looking at him enviously. "How do they strike you, Jem?"
"Well," said Perry importantly, "well-bred people are the same the world over. I only see them in a business way, of course, but one can judge. Their voices are better than ours, but as to looks—no! It's queer, but American women—the wives and daughters of saddlers or farmers, perhaps—have more often the patrician look than English duchesses. Now there, for example," warming to the subject, "that woman to whom you bowed just now, the middle-aged one in blue cloth. Some Mrs. Smith or Pratt, probably. A homely woman, but there is a distinction in her face, a certain surety of good breeding, which is lacking in the heavy-jawed English royalties."
"Yes; that is a friend of mine," said Watts.
"She is a Mrs. Waldeaux from Wier, in Delaware. You could hardly call her a typical American woman. Old French emigre family. Probably better blood than the Coburgs a few generations back. That priggish young fellow is her son. Going to be an Episcopalian minister."
Mr. Perry surveyed his friend's friends good-humoredly. "Brand new rugs and cushions," he said. "First voyage. Heavens! I wish it were my first voyage, and that I had their appetite for Europe."
"You might as well ask for your relish of the bread and butter of your youth," said Watts.
The two men leaned lazily against the bulwark watching the other passengers who were squabbling about trunks.
Mr. Perry suddenly stood upright as a group of women passed.
"Do you know who that girl is?" he said eagerly. "The one who looked back at us over her shoulder."
"No. They are only a lot of school-girls, personally conducted. That is the teacher in front." "Of course, I see that. But the short, dark one—surely I know that woman."
The doctor looked after her. "She looks like a dog turning into a human being," he said leisurely. "One often sees such cases of arrested evolution. D'ye see? Thick lips, coarse curls, flat nostrils——"
Perry laughed. "The eyes, anyhow, are quite human," he said. "They challenge the whole world of men. I can't place her!" staring after her, perplexed. "I really don't believe I ever saw her before. Yet her face brings up some old story of a tragedy or crime to me."
"Nonsense! The girl is not twenty. Very fetching with all her vulgarity, though. Steward, send some coffee to my stateroom. Let's go down, Jem. The fog is too chilly."
Frances Waldeaux did not find the fog chilly. She had been thinking for thirty years of the day when she should start to Europe—ever since she could think at all.
This was the day. It was like no other, now that it had come. The fog, the crowd, the greasy smells of the pier, all familiar enough yesterday, took on a certain remoteness and mystery. It seemed to her that she was doing something which nobody had ever done before. She was going to discover the Old World.
The New was not more tremendous or unreal before the eyes of Columbus when he, too, stood on the poop of his ship.
Her son was arguing with the deck steward about chairs.
"Now, mother," he said at last, "it's all right. They are under cover so that the glare will not strain your eyes, and we can keep dry while we watch the storms."
"How did you know about it all? One would think you had crossed a dozen times, George."
"Oh, I've studied the whole thing up thoroughly," George said, with a satisfied little nod. "I've had time enough! Why, when I was in petticoats you used to tell me you would buy a ship and we would sail away together. You used to spoil all my school maps with red lines, drawing our routes."
"Yes. And now we're going!" said Frances to herself.
He sat down beside her and they watched the unending procession of passengers marching around the deck. George called her attention by a wink to any picturesque or queer figure that passed. He liked to watch her quiet brown eyes gleam with fun. Nobody had such a keen sense of the ridiculous as his mother. Sometimes, at the mere remembrance of some absurd idea, she would go off into soft silent paroxysms of laughter until the tears would stream down her cheeks.
George was fond and proud of his childish little mother. He had never known any body, he thought, so young or so transparent. It was easily understood. She had married at sixteen, and had been left a widow little more than a year afterward. "And I," he used to think, "was born with an old head on my shoulders; so we have grown up together. I suppose the dear soul never had a thought in her life which she has not told me."
As they sat together a steward brought Mrs. Waldeaux a note, which she read, blushing and smiling.
"The captain invites us to sit at his table," she said, when the man was gone.
"Very proper in the captain," said George complacently. "You see, Madam Waldeaux, even the men who go down in ships have heard of you and your family!"
"I don't believe the captain ever heard of me," she said, after a grave consideration, "nor of the Waldeaux. It is much more likely that he has read your article in the Quarterly, George."
"Nonsense!" But he stiffened himself up consciously.
He had sent a paper on some abstruse point of sociology to the Quarterly last spring, and it had aroused quite a little buzz of criticism. His mother had regarded it very much as the Duchess of Kent did the crown when it was set upon her little girl's head. She always had known that her child was born to reign, but it was satisfactory to see this visible sign of it.
She whispered now, eagerly leaning over to him. "There was something about that paper which I never told you. I think I'll tell you now that the great day has come."
"Why, you know—I never think of you as my son, or a man, or anything outside of me—not at all. You are just ME, doing the things I should have done if I had not been a woman. Well,"—she drew her breath quickly,—"when I was a girl it seemed as if there was something in me that I must say, so I tried to write poems. No, I never told you before. It had counted for so much to me I could not talk of it. I always sent them to the paper anonymously, signed 'Sidney.' Oh, it was long—long ago! I've been dumb, as you might say, for years. But when I read your article, George—do you know if I had written it I should have used just the phrases you did? And you signed it 'Sidney'!" She watched him breathlessly. "That was more than a coincidence, don't you think? I AM dumb, but you speak for me now. It is because we are just one. Don't you think so, George?" She held his arm tightly.
Young Waldeaux burst into a loud laugh. Then he took her hand in his, stroking it. "You dear little woman! What do you know of sociology?" he said, and then walked away to hide his amusement, muttering "Poems? Great Heavens!"
Frances looked after him steadily. "Oh, well!" she said to herself presently.
She forced her mind back to the Quarterly article. It was a beginning of just the kind of triumph that she always had expected for him. He would soon be recognized by scientific men all over the world as their confrere, especially after his year's study at Oxford.
When George was in his cradle she had planned that he should be a clergyman, just as she had planned that he should be a well-bred man, and she had fitted him for both roles in life, and urged him into them by the same unceasing soft pats and pushes. She would be delighted when she saw him in white robes serving at the altar.
Not that Frances had ever taken her religion quite seriously. It was like her gowns, or her education, a matter of course; a trustworthy, agreeable part of her. She had never once in her life shuddered at a glimpse of any vice in herself, or cried to God in agony, even to grant her a wish.
But she knew that Robert Waldeaux's son would be safer in the pulpit. He could take rank with scholars there, too.
She inspected him now anxiously, trying to see him with the eyes of these Oxford magnates. Nobody would guess that he was only twenty-two. The bald spot on his crown and the spectacles gave him a scholastic air, and the finely cut features and a cold aloofness in his manner spoke plainly, she thought, of his good descent and high pursuits.
Frances herself had a drop of vagabond blood which found comrades for her among every class and color. But there was not an atom of the tramp in her son's well-built and fashionably clothed body. He never had had a single intimate friend even when he was a boy. "He will probably find his companions among the great English scholars," she thought complacently. Of course she would always be his only comrade, his chum. She continually met and parted with thousands of people—they came and went. "But George and I will be together for all time," she told herself.
He came up presently and sat down beside her, with an anxious, apologetic air. It hurt him to think that he had laughed at her. "That dark haze is the Jersey shore," he said. "How dim it grows! Well, we are really out now in the big world! It is so good to be alone there with you," he added, touching her arm affectionately. "Those cynical old-men-boys at Harvard bored me."
"I don't bore you, then, George?"
"You!" He was very anxious to make her forget his roughness. "Apart from my affection for you, mother," he said judicially, "I LIKE you. I approve of you as I never probably shall approve of another woman. Your peculiarities—the way your brown hair ripples back into that knot "—surveying her critically. "And the way you always look as if you had just come out of a bath, even on a grimy train; and your gowns, so simple—and rich. I confess," he said gravely, "I can't always follow your unsteady little ideas when you talk. They frisk about so. It is the difference probably between the man's mind and the woman's. Besides, we have been separated for so many years! But I soon will understand you. I know that while you keep yourself apart from all the world you open your heart to me."
"Wrap the rug about my feet, George," she said hastily, and then sent him away upon an errand, looking after him uneasily.
It was very pleasant to hear her boy thus formally sum up his opinion of her. But when he found that it was based upon a lie?
For Frances, candid enough to the world, had deceived her son ever since he was born.
George had always believed that she had inherited a fortune from his father. It gave solidity and comfort to his life to think of her in the stately old mansion on the shores of Delaware Bay, with nothing to do except to be beautiful and gracious, as befitted a well-born woman. It pleased him, in a lofty, generous way, that his father (whom she had taught him to reverence as the most chivalric of gentlemen) had left him wholly dependent upon her. It was a legal fiction, of course. He was the heir—the crown prince. He had always been liberally supplied with money at school and at Harvard. Her income was large. No doubt the dear soul mismanaged the estates fearfully, but now he would have leisure to take care of them.
Now, the fact was that Colonel Waldeaux had been a drunken spendthrift who had left nothing. The house and farm always had belonged to his wife. She had supported George by her own work all of his life. She could not save money, but she had the rarer faculty of making it. She had raised fine fruit and flowers for the Philadelphia market; she had traded in high breeds of poultry and cattle, and had invested her earnings shrewdly. With these successes she had been able to provide George with money to spend freely at college. She lived scantily at home, never expecting any luxury or great pleasure to come into her own life.
But two years ago a queer thing had happened to her. In an idle hour she wrote a comical squib and sent it to a New York paper. As everybody knows, fun, even vulgar fun, sells high in the market. Her fun was not vulgar, but coarse and biting enough to tickle the ears of the common reader. The editor offered her a salary equal to her whole income for a weekly column of such fooling.
She had hoarded every penny of this money. With it she meant to pay her expenses in Europe and to support George in his year at Oxford. The work and the salary were to go on while she was gone.
It was easy enough to hide all of these things from her son while he was in Cambridge and she in Delaware. But now? What if he should find out that his mother was the "Quigg" of the New York ——, a paper which he declared to be unfit for a gentleman to read?
She was looking out to sea and thinking of this when her cousin, Miss Vance, came up to her. Miss Vance was a fashionable teacher in New York, who was going to spend a year abroad with two wealthy pupils. She was a thin woman, quietly dressed; white hair and black brows, with gold eye-glasses bridging an aquiline nose, gave her a commanding, inquisitorial air.
"Well, Frances!" she began briskly, "I have not had time before to attend to you. Are your bags hung in your stateroom?"
"I haven't been down yet," said Mrs. Waldeaux meekly. "We were watching the fog in the sun."
"Fog! Mercy on me! You know you may be ill any minute, and your room not ready! Of course, you did not take the bromides that I sent you a week ago?
Miss Vance glanced at her. "Well, just as you please. I've done what I could. Let me look at your itinerary. You will be too ill for me to advise you about it later."
"Oh, we made none!" said George gayly, coming up to his mother's aid. "We are going to be vagabonds, and have no plans. Mother's soul draws us to York Cathedral, and mine to the National Gallery. That is all we know."
"I thought you had given up that whim of being an artist?" said Miss Vance, sharply facing on him.
Young Waldeaux reddened. "Yes, I have given it up. I know as well as you do that I have no talent. I am going to study my profession at Oxford, and earn my bread by it."
"Quite right. You never would earn it by art," she said decisively. "How long do you stay in York, Frances?"
"Oh, a day, or a month—or—years, as we please," said Frances, lazily turning her head away. She wanted to set Clara Vance down in her proper place. Mrs. Waldeaux abhorred cousinly intimates—people who run into your back door to pry into the state of your larder or your income. But Miss Vance, as Frances knew, unfortunately held a key to her back door. She knew of George's wretched daubs, and his insane desire, when he was a boy, to study art. He gave it up years ago. Why should she nag him now about it? By virtue of her relationship she knew, too, all of Mrs. Waldeaux's secrets. It was most unfortunate that she should have chosen to sail on this vessel.
"Well, mother," George said, uneasy to get away, "no doubt Miss Vance is right. We should set things in order. I am going now to give my letter of credit to the purser to lock up; shall I take yours?"
Mrs. Waldeaux did not reply at once. "No," she said at last. "I like to carry my own purse."
He smiled indulgently as on a child. "Of course, dear. It IS your own. My father was wise in that. But, on this journey, I can act as your paymaster, can't I? I have studied foreign money——"
"We shall see. I can keep it as safe as any purser now," she said, obstinately shaking her head.
He laughed and walked away.
"You have not told him, then?" demanded Clara.
"No. And I never will. I will not hurt the boy by letting him know that his mother has supported him, and remember, Clara, that he can only hear it through you. Nobody knows that I am 'Quigg' but you."
Miss Vance lifted her eyebrows. "Nothing can need a lie," she quoted calmly. Presently she said earnestly, "Frances, you are making a mistake. Somebody ought to tell you the truth. There is no reason why your whole being should be buried in that man. He should stand on his own feet, now. You can be all that he needs as a mother, and yet live out your own life. It is broader than his will ever be. At your age, and with your capabilities, you should marry again. Think of the many long years that are before you."
"I have thought of them," said Mrs. Waldeaux slowly. "I have had lovers who came close to me as friends, but I never for a moment was tempted to marry one of them. No, Clara. When the devil drove my father to hand me over—innocent child as I was—to a man like Robert Waldeaux, he killed in me the capacity for that kind of love. It is not in me." She turned her strenuous face to the sea and was silent. "It is not in me," she repeated after a while. "I have but one feeling, and that is for my boy. It is growing on me absurdly, too." She laughed nervously. "I used to be conscious of other people in the world, but now, if I see a boy or man, I see only what George was or will be at his age; if I read a book, it only suggests what George will say of it. I am like one of those plants that have lost their own sap and color, and suck in their life from another. It scares me sometimes."
Miss Vance smiled with polite contempt. No doubt Frances had a shrewd business faculty, but in other matters she was not ten years old.
"And George will marry some time," she said curtly.
"Oh, I hope so! And soon. Then I shall have a daughter. I know just the kind of a wife George will choose," she chattered on eagerly. "I understand him so thoroughly that I can understand her. But where could he find her? He is so absurdly fastidious!"
Miss Vance was silent and thoughtful a moment. Then she came closer. "I will tell you where to find her," she said, in a low voice. "I have thought of it for a long time. It seems to me that Providence actually made Lucy Dunbar for George."
"Really?" Mrs. Waldeaux drew her self up stiffly.
"Wait, Frances. Lucy has been with me for three years. I know her. She is a sincere, modest, happy little thing. Not too clever. She is an heiress, too. And her family is good; and all underground, which is another advantage. You can mould her as you choose. She loves you already."
"Or is it that she——?"
"You have no right to ask that!" said Miss Vance quickly.
"No, I am ashamed of myself." Mrs. Waldeaux reddened.
A group of girls came up the deck. Both women scanned the foremost one critically. "I like that wholesome, candid look of her," said Miss Vance.
"Oh, she is well enough," said Frances. "But I am sure George does not like yellow hair. Nothing but an absolutely beautiful woman will attract him."
"An artist," said Miss Vance hastily, "would tell you her features were perfect. And her flesh tints——"
"For Heaven's sake, Clara, don't dissect the child. Who is that girl with the red cravat? Your maid?"
"It is not a cravat, it's an Indian scarf. If it only were clean——" Miss Vance looked uneasy and perplexed. "She is not my maid. She is Fraulein Arpent. The Ewalts brought her as governess from Paris, don't you remember? They sent the girls to Bryn Mawr last week and turned her adrift, almost penniless. She wished to go back to France. I engaged her as assistant chaperone for the season."
Mrs. Waldeaux's eyebrows went up significantly. She never commented in words on the affairs of others, but her face always was indiscreet. George, who had come up in time to hear the last words, was not so scrupulous. He surveyed the young woman through his spectacles as she passed again, with cold disapproval.
"French or German?" he asked.
"I really don't know. She has a singular facility in tongues," said Miss Vance.
"Well, that is not the companion I should have chosen for those innocent little girls," he said authoritatively, glad to be disagreeable to his cousin. "She looks like a hawk among doves."
"The woman is harmless enough," said Miss Vance tartly. "She speaks exquisite French."
"But what does she say in it?" persisted George. "She is vulgar from her red pompon to her boots. She has the swagger of a soubrette and she has left a trail of perfume behind her—pah! I confess I am surprised at you, Miss Vance. You do not often slip in your judgment."
"Don't make yourself unpleasant, George," said his mother gently. Miss Vance smiled icily, and as the girls came near again, stopped them and stood talking to Mlle. Arpent with an aggressive show of familiarity.
"Why do you worry Clara?" said Mrs. Waldeaux. "She knows she has made a mistake. What do you think of that little blonde girl?" she asked presently, watching him anxiously. "She has remarkable beauty, certainly; but there is something finical—precise——"
"Take care. She will hear you," said George. "Beauty, eh? Oh, I don't know," indifferently. "She is passably pretty. I have never seen a woman yet whose beauty satisfied ME."
Mrs. Waldeaux leaned back with a comfortable little laugh. "But you must not be so hard to please, my son. You must bring me my daughter soon," she said.
"Not very soon. I have some thing else to think of than marriage for the next ten years."
Just then Dr. Watts came up and asked leave to present his friend Perry. The doctor, like all young men who knew Mrs. Waldeaux, had succumbed to her peculiar charm, which was only that of a woman past her youth who had strong personal magnetism and not a spark of coquetry. George's friends all were sure that they would fall in love with a woman just like her—but not a man of them ever thought of falling in love with her.
Young Perry, in twenty minutes, decided that she was the most brilliant and agreeable of companions. He had talked, and she had spoken only with her listening, sympathetic eyes. He was always apt to be voluble. On this occasion he was too voluble. "You are from Weir, I think, in Delaware, Mrs. Waldeaux?" he asked. "I must have seen the name of the town with yours on the list of passengers, for the story of a woman who once lived there has been haunting me all day. I have not seen nor thought of her for years, and I could not account for my sudden remembrance of her."
"Who was she?" asked George, trying to save his mother from Perry, who threatened to be a bore.
"Her name was Pauline Felix. You have heard her story, Mrs. Waldeaux?"
"Yes" said Frances coldly. "I have heard her story. Can you find my shawl, George?"
But Perry was conscious of no rebuff, and turned cheerfully to George. "It was one of those dramas of real life, too unlikely to put into a novel. She was the daughter of a poor clergyman in Weir, a devout, good man, I believe. She had marvellous beauty and a devilish disposition. She ran away, lived a wild life in Paris, and became the mistress of a Russian Grand Duke. Her death——"
He could not have told why he stopped. Mrs. Waldeaux still watched him, attentive, but the sympathetic smile had frozen into icy civility. She had the old-fashioned modesty of her generation. What right had this young man to speak of "mistresses" to her? Clara's girls within hearing too! She rose when he paused, bowed, and hurried to them, like a hen fluttering to protect her chicks.
"He was talking to me of a woman," she said excitedly to Clara, "who is never mentioned by decent people."
"Yes, I heard him," said Miss Vance. "Poor Pauline! Her career was always a mystery to me. I was at school with her, and she was the most generous, lovable girl! Yet she came to a wretched end," turning to her flock, her tone growing didactic. "One is never safe, you see. One must always be on guard."
"Oh, my dear!" cried Frances impatiently. "You surely don't mean to class these girls and me with Pauline Felix! Come, come!"
"None of us is safe," repeated Clara stiffly. "Somebody says there is a possible vice in the purest soul, and it may lie perdu there until old age. But it will break out some day."
Mrs. Waldeaux looked, laughing, at the eager, blushing faces around her. "It is not likely to break out in us, girls, eh! Really, Clara," she said, in a lower tone, "that seems to me like wasted morality. Women of our class are in no more danger of temptation to commit great crimes than they are of finding tigers in their drawing-rooms. Pauline Felix was born vicious. No woman could fall as she did, who was not rotten to the core."
A sudden shrill laugh burst from the French woman, who had been looking at Mrs. Waldeaux with insolent, bold eyes. But as she laughed, her head fell forward and she swung from side to side.
"It is nothing," she cried, "I am only a little faint. I must go below."
The ship was now crossing short, choppy waves. The passengers scattered rapidly. George took his mother to her stateroom, and there she stayed until land was sighted on the Irish coast. Clara and her companions also were forced to keep to their berths.
During the speechless misery of the first days Mrs. Waldeaux was conscious that George was hanging over her, tender as a mother with a baby. She commanded him to stay on deck, for each day she saw that he, too, grew more haggard. "Let me fight it out alone," she would beg of him. "My worst trouble is that I cannot take care of you."
He obeyed her at last, and would come down but once during the day, and then for only a few hurried minutes. His mother was alarmed at the ghastliness of his face and the expression of anxious wretchedness new to it. "His eye avoids mine craftily, like that of an insane man," she told herself, and when the doctor came, she asked him whether sea-sickness affected the brain.
On the last day of the voyage the breeze was from land, and with the first breath of it Frances found her vigor suddenly return. She rose and dressed herself. George had not been near her that day. "He must be very ill," she thought, and hurried out. "Is Mr. Waldeaux in his stateroom?" she asked the steward.
"No, madam. He is on deck. All the passengers are on deck," the man added, smiling. "Land is in sight."
Land! And George had not come to tell her! He must be desperately ill!
She groped up the steps, holding by the brass rail. "I will give him a fine surprise!" she said to herself. "I can take care of him, now. To-night we shall be on shore and this misery all over. And then the great joy will begin!"
She came out on deck. The sunshine and cold pure wind met her. She looked along the crowded deck for her invalid. Every-body was in holiday clothes, every-body was smiling and talking at once. Ah! there he was!
He was leaning over Frances' steamer chair, on which a woman lay indolently. He was in rude health, laughing, his face flushed, his eyes sparkling.
Looking up, he saw his mother and came hastily to meet her. The laugh was gone. "So you came up?" he said impatiently. "I would have called you in time. I—— Mother!" He caught her by the arm. "Wait, I must see you alone for a minute." Urged by the amazed fright in her face, he went on desperately, "I have something to tell you. I intended to break it to you. I don't want to hurt you, God knows. But I have not been idle in these days. I have found your daughter. She is here."
He led her up to the chair. The girl's head was wrapped in a veil and turned from her.
Mrs. Waldeaux held out her hands. "Lucy! Lucy Dunbar!" she heard herself say.
"Mais non! Cest moi!" said a shrill voice, and Mlle. Arpent, turning her head lazily, looked at her, smiling.
Clara Vance had her faults, but nobody could deny that, in this crisis, she acted with feeling and tact. She ignored mademoiselle and her lover, whose bliss was in evidence on deck all day, and took possession of Mrs. Waldeaux, caring for her as tenderly as if she had been some poor wretch sentenced to death. "She has no intellect left except her ideas about George," she told herself, "and if he turns his back on her for life in this way—— She never was too sane!" shaking her head ominously.
She thought it best to talk frankly of the matter to little Lucy Dunbar, and was relieved to find her ready to joke and laugh at it. "No bruise in that tender heart!" thought Clara, who was anxious as a mother for her girls.
"We all worshipped Mr. George," said Lucy saucily. "I, most of all. He is so cold, so exalted and ah—h, so good-looking! Like a Greek god. But he never gave a look to poor little me! The fraulein came on deck as soon as we all went down with sea-sickness, and bewitched him with her eyes. It must have been her eyes; they are yellow—witch's eyes. Or maybe that cheap smell about her is a love-philter! Or was it just soul calling to soul? I should have said the fraulein had the soul of a milliner. She put great ideas into the hat that she altered for me," Lucy added, with an unsteady laugh.
"I care nothing for them or their souls," said Miss Vance crossly. "It is his mother that I think of."
"But really," said Lucy, "mademoiselle is quite raw material. No ideas—no manners whatever. Mrs. Waldeaux may mould her into something good and fine."
"She will not try. She will never accept that creature as a daughter."
"She seems to me to be indifferent," said Lucy. "She does not see how terrible it is. She was leaning over the bulwark just now, laughing at the queer gossoons selling their shillalahs."
"Oh, she will laugh at Death himself when he comes to fetch her, and see something 'queer'in him," said Clara.
But her little confidence with Lucy had relieved her. The child cared nothing for George, that was plain.
Mademoiselle, watching Mrs. Waldeaux closely all day, was not deceived by her laugh. "The old lady, your mother," she said to George, "is what you men call 'game.' She has blood and breeding. More than you, monsieur. That keeps her up. I did not count on that," said the young woman thoughtfully.
George took off his glasses and rubbed them nervously as he talked. "I don't understand my mother at all! She has always been very considerate and kind. I never thought that she would receive my wife, when I brought her to her, with calm civility. Not a kiss nor a blessing!"
"A kiss? A blessing for me?" Lisa laughed and nodded meaningly to the sea and world at large. "She could hardly have blessed a woman lolling full length in her chair," she thought. "It IS her chair. And I have unseated her for life curling herself up in the rugs."
Yet she had a twinge of pity for the old lady. Even the wild boar has its affections and moments of gentleness. A week ago Lisa could have trampled the life out of this woman who had slandered her dead mother, with the fury of any wild beast. For she was Pauline Felix's daughter. It was her mother's name that Mrs. Waldeaux had said could not be spoken by any decent woman. Lisa had been but a child, but she had held her mother's head close to her stout little heart as she lay dying—that awful mysterious death of which the young man had tried to make a telling story. The girl crossed herself now and closed her tired eyes as she thought of it. She had been a wicked child and a wicked woman, but she knew certainly that the Virgin and her Son had come near to her that day, and had helped her.
George, who was poring fondly on her face, exclaimed: "Your eyes are wet. You are in trouble!"
"I was thinking of my mother," she said gently, holding out her hand to him.
He took it and said presently, "Will you not talk to me about her, Lisa? You have not told me any thing of your people, my darling. Nor of yourself. Why, I don't even know whether you are French or German."
"Oh, you shall hear the whole story when we are married," she replied softly, a wicked glitter in her eyes. "Some of the noblest blood in Europe is in my veins. I will give you my genealogical tree to hang up in that old homestead of yours. It will interest the people of Weir—and please your mother."
"It is good in you to think of her," he said, tenderly looking down at her.
He was not blind. He saw the muddy skin, the thick lips, the soiled, ragged lace. They would have disgusted him in another woman.
But this was—Lisa. There was no more to be said.
These outside trifles would fall off when she came into his life. Even with them she was the breath and soul of it.
She saw the difference between them more sharply than he did. She had been cast for a low part in the play, and knew it. Sometimes she had earned the food which kept her alive in ways of which this untempted young priest had never even heard. There was something in this clean past of his, in his cold patrician face and luxurious habits new to her, and she had a greedy relish for it all.
She had been loved before, caressed as men caress a dog, kicking it off when it becomes troublesome. George's boyish shyness, his reverent awe of her, startled her.
"He thinks Lisa Arpent a jeune fille—like these others. A little white rose!" she thought, and laughed. She would not tell him why she laughed, and muttered an oath when he stupidly insisted on knowing.
He was the first lover who had ever believed in her.
She had begun this affair simply to punish the "old woman"; the man in it had counted for nothing. But now, as they crossed the gangway, she looked up at him with eyes that for the moment were honest and true as a child's, and her firm hand suddenly trembled in his.
Three weeks later Mrs. Waldeaux came into Miss Vance's little parlor on Half Moon Street. Her face was red from the wind, her eyes sparkled, and she hummed some gay air which an organ ground outside. Clara laid down her pen.
"Where have you been, Frances? It is a week since I saw you."
"Oh, everywhere! George has been showing me London!" She sat down before the fire with a gurgle of comfort and dropped her bonnet and gloves on the floor beside her. "Yesterday we spent at the Museum. George explained the Elgin marbles to me. I don't suppose any body in London has studied their history so thoroughly. I did wish you could have heard him. And the day before I was at the House—in the ladies' gallery. I can't imagine how he got admission for me. He IS so clever!"
"We are going down to Canterbury for a couple of days," said Clara. "We start at noon. Will you go with us?"
"No, I think not. George does not seem to care for cathedrals. And he has plans for me, no doubt."
Miss Vance brushed the bonnet and carefully rolled up the strings. "Are you satisfied? Is London the London you have been thinking of these twenty years?" she asked.
"Oh, a thousand times more! And George has been with me every day—every day!"
Miss Vance picked up the gloves, looking impatiently at the poor lady's happy face. "Now she has gone off into one of her silly transports of delight, and for no earthly reason!"
"I noticed that George has seen very little of Lisa lately," she said tentatively. "If he really means to marry her——"
"Marry her! Clara! You surely never feared THAT?"
"He certainly told us plainly enough that he would do it," said Miss Vance testily.
"Oh, you don't understand him! You have had so little to do with young men. They are all liable to attacks like that—as to measles and scarlet fever. But they pass off. Now, George is not as susceptible as most of them. But," lowering her voice, "he was madly in love with the butcher's Kate when he was ten, and five years afterward offered to marry the widow Potts. I thought he had outgrown the disease. There has been nothing of the kind since, until this fancy. It is passing off. Of course it is mortifying enough to think that such a poor creature as that could attract him for an hour."
"I was to blame," Miss Vance said, with an effort. "I brought her in his way. But how was I to know that she was such a cat, and he such—— If he should marry her——"
Mrs. Waldeaux laughed angrily. "You are too absurd, Clara. A flirtation with such a woman was degrading enough, but George is not quite mad. He has not even spoken of her for days. Oh, here he comes! That is his step on the stairs." She ran to the door. "He found that I was out and has followed me. He is the most ridiculous mother's boy! Well, George, here I am! Have you thought of some thing new for me to see?" She glanced at Miss Vance, well pleased that she should see the lad's foolish fondness for her.
George forced a smile. He looked worn and jaded. Miss Vance noticed that his usually neat cravat was awry and his hands were gloveless. "Yes," he said. "It is a little church. The oldest in London. I want to show it to you."
Miss Vance tied on Mrs. Waldeaux's bonnet, smoothing her hair affectionately. "There are too many gray hairs here for your age, Frances," she said. "George, you should keep your mother from worry and work. Don't let her hair grow gray so soon."
George bowed. "I hope I shall do my duty," he said, with dignity. "Come, mother."
As they drove down Piccadilly Mrs. Waldeaux chattered eagerly to her son. She could not pour out her teeming fancies about this new world to any body else, but she could not talk fast enough to him. Had they not both been waiting for a lifetime to see this London?
"The thing," she said earnestly, as she settled herself beside him, "the thing that has impressed me most, I think, were those great Ninevite gods yesterday. I sat for hours before them while you were gone. There they sit, their hands on their knees, and stare out of their awful silence at the London fog, just as they stared at the desert before Christ was born. I felt so miserably young and sham!"
George adjusted his cravat impatiently. "I'm afraid I don't quite follow you, mother. These little flights of yours—— They belong to your generation, I suppose. It was a more sentimental one than mine. You are not very young. And you certainly are not a sham. The statues are interesting, but I fail to see why they should have had such an effect upon you."
"Oh!" said Frances. "But you did not stay alone with them as long as I did, or you would have felt it too. Now I am sure that the debates in Parliament impressed you just as they did me?"
George said nothing, but she went on eagerly. It never occurred to her that he could be bored by her impressions in these greatest days of her life. "To see a half-dozen well-groomed young men settle the affairs of India and Australia in a short, indifferent colloquy! How shy and awkward they were, too! They actually stuttered out their sentences in their fear of posing or seeming pretentious. So English! Don't you think it was very English, George?"
"I really did not think about it at all. I have had very different things to occupy me," said George, coldly superior to all mothers and Parliaments. "This is the church."
The cab stopped before an iron door between two shops in the most thronged part of Bishopsgate Street. He pushed it open, and they passed suddenly out of the hurrying crowd into the solemn silence of an ancient dingy building. A dim light fell through a noble window of the thirteenth century upon cheap wooden pews. The church was empty, and had that curious significance and half-spoken message of its own which belongs to a vacant house.
"I remember," whispered Frances, awestruck. "This was built by the first Christian convert, St. Ethelburga."
"You believe every thing, mother!" said George irritably. She wandered about, looking at the sombre walls and inscriptions, and then back uneasily, to his moody face.
Suddenly she came up to him as he stood leaning against a pillar. "Something has happened!" she said. "You did not bring me here to look at the church. You have something to tell me."
The young man looked at her and turned away. "Yes, I have. It isn't a death," he said, with a nervous laugh. "You need not look in that way. It is—something very different. I—I was married in this church yesterday to Lisa Arpent."
Frances did not at first comprehend the great disaster that bulked black across her whole life, but, woman-like, grasped at a fragment of it.
"You were married and I was not there! Yesterday! My boy was married and he forgot me!"
"Mother! Don't look like that! Here, sit down," grabbing her helplessly by the arms. "I didn't want to hurt you. I brought you here to tell you quietly. Cry! Why don't you cry if you're worried! Oh! I believe she's dying!" he shouted, staring around the empty church.
She spoke at last.
"You were married and I couldn't say God bless you! You forgot me! I never forgot you, George, for one minute since you were born."
"Mother, what fool talk is that? I only didn't want a scene. I kept away from Lisa for weeks so as not to vex you. Forget you! I think I have been very considerate of you under the circumstances. You have a dislike to Lisa, a most groundless dislike——"
"Oh, what is Lisa?" said Frances haughtily. "It is that you have turned away from me. She has nothing to do with the relation between you and me. How can any woman come between me and my son?" She held up her hands. "Why, you are my boy, Georgy. You are all I have!"
He looked at the face, curiously pinched and drawn as if by death, that was turned up to his, and shrugged his shoulders impatiently. "Now this is exactly what I tried to escape yesterday. Am I never to be a man, nor have the rights of a man? You must accept the situation, mother. Lisa is my wife, and dearer to me than all the world beside."
He saw her lips move. "Dearer? Dearer than me!" She sat quite still after that, and did not seem to hear when he spoke. Something in her silence frightened him. She certainly had been a fond, indulgent mother, and he perhaps had been abrupt in cutting the tie between them. It must be cut. He had promised Lisa the whole matter should be settled to-day. But his mother certainly was a weak woman, and he must be patient with her. Secretly he approved the manliness of his patience.
"The cab is waiting, dear," he said. She rose and walked to the street, standing helpless there while the crowd jostled her. Was she blind and deaf? He put her into the cab and sat down opposite to her. "Half Moon Street," he called to the driver.
"Mother," touching her on the knee.
"I told him to drive to Half Moon Street. I will take you to Clara Vance. We may as well arrange things now, finally. You do not like my wife. That is clear. For the present, therefore, it is better that we should separate. I have consulted with Lisa, and she has suggested that you shall join Clara Vance's party while we go our own way."
She stared at him. "Do you mean that you and I are not to see London together? Not to travel through Europe together?"
He pitied her a little, and, leaning forward, kissed her clammy lips. "The thing will seem clearer to you to-morrow, no doubt. I must leave you now. Go to Clara and her girls. They all like to pet and make much of you. I will bring Lisa in the morning, to talk business a little. She has an uncommonly clear head for business. Good-by, dear!" He stopped the cab, jumped out, and walked briskly to the corner where his wife was waiting for him.
"You have told her?" she asked breathlessly.
"Yes. It's over."
"That we must separate?"
"Yes, yes. I told her you thought it best."
"And she was not willing?"
"Well, she did not approve very cordially," said George, evading her eye.
"But she shall approve!" hanging upon his arm, her burning eyes close to his face. "You are mine, George! I love you. I will share you with nobody!" She whistled shrilly, and a hansom stopped.
"What are you going to do, darling?"
"Follow her. I will tell her something that will make her willing to separate. Get in, get in!"
Frances, when in trouble, went out of doors among the trees as naturally as other women take to their beds. Lisa's sharp eyes saw her sitting in the Green Park as they passed. The mist, which was heavy as rain, hung in drops on the stretches of sward and filled the far aisles of trees with a soft gray vapor. The park was deserted but for an old man who asked Mrs. Waldeaux for the penny's hire for her chair. As he hobbled away, he looked back at her curiously.
"She gave him a shilling!" exclaimed Lisa, as he passed them. "I told you she was not fit to take care of money."
"But why not wait until to-morrow to talk of business? She is hurt and unnerved just now, and she—she does not like you, Lisa."
"I am not afraid. She will be civil. She is like Chesterfield. 'Even death cannot kill the courtesy in her.' You don't seem to know the woman, George. Come."
But George hung back and loitered among the trees. He was an honest fellow, though slow of wit; he loved his mother and was penetrated to the quick just now by a passionate fondness for his wife. Two such good, clever women! Why couldn't they hit it off together?
"George?" said Frances, hearing his steps.
Lisa came up to her. She rose, and smiled to her son's wife, and after a moment held out her hand.
But the courtesy which Lisa had expected suddenly enraged her. "No! There need be no pretence between us," she said. "You are not glad to see me. There is no pretence in me. I am honest. I did not come here to make compliments, but to talk business."
"George said to-morrow. Can it not wait until to-morrow?"
"No. What is to do—do it! That is my motto. George, come here! Tell your mother what we have decided. Oh, very well, if you prefer that I should speak. We go to Paris at once, Mrs. Waldeaux, and will take apartments there. You will remain with Miss Vance."
"Yes, I know. I am to remain——" Frances passed her hand once or twice over her mouth irresolutely. "But Oxford, George?" she said. "You forget your examinations?"
George took off his spectacles and wiped them.
"Speak! Have you no mind of your own?" his wife whispered. "I will tell you, then, madam. He has done with that silly whim! A priest, indeed! I am Catholic, and priests do not marry. He goes to Paris to study art. I see a great future for him, in art."
Frances stared at him, and then sat down, dully. What did it matter? Paris or Oxford? She would not be there. What did it matter?
Lisa waited a moment for some comment, and then began sharply, "Now, we come to affaires! Listen, if you please. I am a woman of business. Plain speaking is always best, to my idea."
Mrs. Waldeaux drew herself together and turned her eyes on her with sudden apprehension, as she would on a snapping dog. The woman's tones threatened attack.
"To live in Paris, to work effectively, your son must have money. I brought him no dot, alas! Except"—with a burlesque courtesy—"my beauty and my blood. I must know how much money we shall have before I design the menage."
"George has his income," said his mother hastily.
"Ah! You are alarmed, madam! You do not like plain words about the affaires? George tells me that although he is long ago of age, he has as yet received no portion of his father's estates."
"Lisa! You do not understand! Mother, I did not complain. You have always given me my share of the income from the property. I have no doubt it was a fair share—as much as if my father had left me my portion, according to custom."
"Yes, it was a fair share," said Frances.
"Ah! you smile, madam!" interrupted Lisa. "I am told it is a vast property, a grand chateau—many securities! M. Waldeaux pere made a will, on dit, incredibly foolish, with no mention of his son. But now that this son comes to marry, to become the head of the house, if you were a French mother, if you were just, you would—— You appear to be amused, madam?"
For Mrs. Waldeaux was laughing. She could not speak for a moment. The tears stood in her eyes.
"The matter has somewhat of droll to you?"
"It has its humorous side," said Frances. "I quite understand, George, that you will need more money to support a wife. I will double your allowance. It shall be paid quarterly."
"You would prefer to do that?" hesitated George. "Rather than to make over a son's share of the property to me absolutely? Some of the landed estate or securities? I have probably a shrewder business talent than yours, and if I had control could make my property more profitable."
"I should prefer to pay your income as before—yes," said Frances quietly.
"Well, as you choose. It is yours to give, of course." George coughed and shuffled to conquer his disappointment. Then he said, "Have it your own way." He put his hand affectionately on her shoulder. "And when you have had your little outing and go home to Weir, you will be glad to have us come to you, for a visit—won't you, mother? You haven't said so."
"Why should I say so? It is your home, George, yours and your wife's." She caught his hand and held it to her lips.
But Lisa had not so easily conquered her disappointment. This woman was coolly robbing George of his rights and was going instead to kill for him a miserable little fatted calf! Bah! This woman, who had maligned her dead mother!
She should have her punishment now. In one blow, straight from the shoulder.
"But you should know, madam," she said gently, "who it is your son has married before you take her home. I assure you that you can present me to the society in Weir with pride. I have royal blood——" "Lisa!" George caught her arm. "It is not necessary. You forget——"
"Oh, I forget nothing! I said royal blood. My father, madam, was the brother of the Czar, and my mother was Pauline Felix. You don't seem to understand——" after a moment's pause. "It was my mother whose name you said should not cross any decent woman's lips—my mother——" She broke down into wild sobs.
"When I said it I did not know that you—— I am sorry." Frances suddenly walked away, pulling open her collar. It seemed to her that there was no breath in the world. George followed her. "Did you know this?" she said at last, in a hoarse whisper. "And you are—married to her? There is no way of being rid of her?"
"No, there is no way," said Waldeaux stoutly. "And if there were, I should not look for it. I am sorry that there is any smirch on Lisa's birth. But even her mother, I fancy, was not altogether a bad lot. Bygones must be bygones. I love my wife, mother. She's worth loving, as you'd find if you would take the trouble to know her. Her dead mother shall not come between her and me."
"She's like her, George!" said Mrs. Waldeaux, with white, trembling lips. "I ought to have seen it at first. Those luring, terrible eyes. It is Pauline Felix's heart that is in her. Rotten to the core—rotten——"
"I don't care. I'll stand by her." But George's face, too, began to lose its color. He shook himself uncomfortably. "The thing's done now," he muttered.
"Certainly, certainly," Frances repeated mechanically. "Tell her that I am sorry I spoke of her mother before her. It was rude—brutal. I ask her pardon."
"Oh, she'll soon forget that! Lisa has a warm heart, if you take her right. There's lots of hearty fun in her too. You'll like that. Are you going now? Good-by, dear. We will come and see you in the morning. The thing will not seem half so bad when you have slept on it."
He paused uncertainly, as she still stood motionless. She was facing the grim walls of Stafford House, looming dimly through the mist, her eyes fixed as if she were studying the sky line.
"George," she said. "You don't understand. You will come to me always. But that woman never shall cross my threshold." "Mother! Do you mean what you say?"
It was a man, not a shuffling boy that spoke now. "Do you mean that we are not to go to you to-morrow? Not to go home in October? Never——"
"Your home is open to you. But Pauline Felix's child is no more to me than a wild beast—or a snake in the grass, and never can be." She faced him steadily now.
"There she is," said Frances, looking at the little black figure under the trees, "and here am I. You can choose between us."
"Those whom God hath joined together," muttered George. "You know that."
"You have known her for three weeks," cried Frances vehemently. "I gave you life. I have been your slave every hour since you were born. I have lived but for you. Which of us has God joined together?"
"Mother, you're damnably unreasonable! It is the course of nature for a man to leave his parents and cleave to his wife."
"Yes, I know," she said slowly. "You can keep that foul thing in your life, but it never shall come into mine."
"Then neither will I. I will stand by my wife."
"That is the end, then?"
She waited, her eyes on his.
He did not speak.
She turned and left him, disappearing slowly in the rain and mist.
Two days later Mr. Perry met Miss Vance in Canterbury and told her of the marriage. She hurried back to London. She could not hide her distress and dismay from the two girls.
"How did she force him into it? One is almost driven to believe in hypnotism," she cried.
Lucy Dunbar had no joke to make about it to-day. The merry little girl was silent, having, she said, a headache.
"You've had too much cathedral!" said Miss Hassard. "And the whole church is wretchedly out of drawing!"
Jean Hassard had studied art at Pond City in Dakota, and her soul's hope had been to follow Marie Bashkirtseff's career in Paris. But her father had morally handcuffed her and put her into Clara's custody for a year. It was hard! To be led about to old churches, respectable as her grandmother, when she might have been studying the nude in a mixed class! She rattled her chains disagreeably at every step.
"The mesalliance is on the other side," she told Lucy privately. "A woman of the world who knew life, to marry that bloodless, finical priest!"
"He was not bloodless. He loved her."
Mr. Perry came up with them from Canterbury, being secretly alarmed about Miss Dunbar's headache. Nobody took proper care of that lovely child! He had attached himself to Miss Vance's party in England; he dropped in every evening to tell of his interviews with Gladstone or Mrs. Oliphant or an artist or a duke. It was delightful to the girls to come so close to these unknown great folks. They felt quite like peris, just outside the court of heaven, with the gate a little bit ajar. This evening Mr. Perry promised it should open for them. He was going to bring a real prince, whom he familiarly dubbed "a jolly fellow," to call upon Miss Vance.
"Who is the man?" said Clara irritably. "Be careful, Mr. Perry. I have had enough of foreign adventurers."
"Oh, the Hof Kalender will post you as to Prince Wolfburgh. I looked him up in it. He is head of one of the great mediatized families. Would have been reigning now if old Kaiser Wilhelm had not played Aaron's serpent and gobbled up all the little kings. Wolfburgh has kept all his land and castles, however."
"Very well. Let us see what the man is like," Miss Vance said loftily.
Mrs. Waldeaux was not in the house when they arrived. Every day she went early in the morning to the Green Park, where she had seen George last, and wandered about until night fell. She thought that he had gone to Paris, and that she was alone in London. But somehow she came nearer to him there.
When she found that Clara had arrived, she knew that she would be full of pity for her. She came down to dinner in full dress, told some funny stories, and laughed incessantly.
No. She had not missed them. The days had gone merry as a marriage bell with her even after her son and his wife had run away to Paris.
Mr. Perry congratulated her warmly on the match. "The lady is very fetching, indeed," he said. "I remarked that the first day on ship-board. Oh, yes, I know a diamond when I see it. But your son picks it up. Lucky fellow! He picks it up!" He told Miss Vance that there was a curious attraction about her friend, "who, by the way, should always wear brown velvet and lace."
Miss Vance drew little Lucy aside after dinner. "Do you see," she said, "the tears in her eyes? It wrenches my heart. She has become an old woman in a day. I feel as if Frances were dead, and that was her ghost joking and laughing."
Lucy said nothing, but she went to Frances and sat beside her all evening. When the prince arrived and was presented, going on his triumphant way through the room, she nestled closer, whispering, "What do you think of him?"
"He looks very like our little fat Dutch baker in Weir—he has the same air of patronage," said Frances coldly. She was offended that Lucy should notice the man at all. Was it not she whom George should have married? How happy they would have been—her boy and this sweet, neat little girl! And already Lucy was curious about so-called princes!
When his Highness came back to them she rose hastily and went to her own room.
Late that night Miss Vance found her there in the dark, sitting bolt upright in her chair, still robed in velvet and lace. Clara regarded her sternly, feeling that it was time to take her in hand.
"You have not forgiven George?" she said abruptly.
Mrs. Waldeaux looked up, but said nothing.
"Is he coming back soon?"
"He never shall come back while that woman is with him."
Miss Vance put her lamp on the table and sat down. "Frances," she said deliberately, "I know what this is to you. It would have been better for you that George had died."
"But he didn't die. He married Lisa Arpent. Now it is your duty to accept it. Make the best of it."
"If a lizard crawls into my house will you tell me to accept it? Make the best of it? Oh, my God! The slimy vile creature!"
"She is not vile! I tell you there are lovable qualities in Lisa. And even if she were as wicked as her mother, what right have you—— You, too, are a sinner before God."
"No," said Mrs. Waldeaux gravely, "I am not. I have lived a good Christian life. I may have been tempted to commit sin, but I cannot remember that I ever did it."
Miss Vance looked at her aghast. "But surely your religion teaches you—— Why, you are sinning now, when you hate this girl!"
"I do not hate her. God made her as he made the lizard. I simply will not allow her to cross my path. What has religion to do with it? I am clean and she is vile. That is all there is to say."
Both women were silent. Mrs. Waldeaux got up at last and caught Clara by the arm. She was trembling violently. "No, I'm not ill. I'm well enough. But you don't understand! That woman has killed George. I spent twenty years in making him what he is. I worked—there was nothing but him for me in the world. I didn't spare myself. To make him a gentleman—a Christian. And in a month she turns him into a thing like herself. He is following her vulgar courses. I saw the difference after he had lived with her for one day. He is tainted." She stood staring into the dull lamp. "She may not live long, though," she said. "She doesn't look strong——"
"Frances! For God's sake!"
"Well, what of it? Why shouldn't I wish her gone? The harm—the harm! Do you remember that Swedish maid I had—a great fair woman? One day she was stung by a green fly, and in a week she was dead, her whole body a mass of corruption! Oh, God lets such things be done! Nothing but a green fly——" She shook off Clara's hold, drawing her breath with difficulty. "That is Lisa. It is George that is being poisoned, body and soul. It's a pity to see my boy killed by a thing like that—it's a pity——"
Miss Vance was too frightened to argue with her. She brought her wrapper, loosened her hair, soothing her in little womanish ways. But her burning curiosity drove her presently to ask one question.
"How can they live?"
"I have doubled his allowance."
"Frances! You will work harder to make money for Lisa Arpent?"
"Oh, what is money!" cried Frances, pushing her away impatiently.
Miss Vance persuaded Mrs. Waldeaux to go with her to Scotland. During the weeks that followed Frances always found Lucy Dunbar at her side in the trains or on the coaches.
"She is a very companionable child," she told Clara. "I often forget that I am any older than she. She never tires of hearing stories of George's scrapes or his queer sayings when he was a child. Such stories, I think, are usually tedious, but George was a peculiar boy."
Mr. Perry's search for notorieties took him also to Scotland, and, oddly enough, Prince Wolfburgh's search for amusement led him in the same direction. They met him and his cousin, Captain Odo Wolfburgh, at Oban, and again on the ramparts of Stirling Castle, and the very day that they arrived in Edinburgh, there, in Holyrood, in Queen Mary's chamber, stood the pursy little man, curling his mustache before her mirror.
Mr. Perry fell into the background with Miss Hassard. "His Highness is becoming monotonous!" he grumbled. "These foreigners never know when they are superfluous in society."
"Is he superfluous?" Jean glanced to the corner where the prince and Lucy were eagerly searching for the blood of Rizzio upon the steps.
"Decidedly," said Perry. "I wished to show you and Miss Dunbar a live prince, and I did it. That is done and over with. He has been seen and heard. There is no reason why he should pop up here and there all over Great Britain like a Jack-in-the-box. He's becoming a bore."
"You suspect him to be an impostor?" said Jean quickly.
"No. He's genuine enough. But we don't want any foreigners in our caravan," stroking his red beard complacently.
"No. What do you suppose is his object?" asked Jean, with one of her quick, furtive glances.
Mr. Perry's jaws grew red as his beard. "How can I tell?" he said gruffly. He went on irritably, a moment later: "Of course you see it. The fellow has no delicacy. He makes no more secret of his plans than if he were going to run down a rabbit. Last night at Stirling, over his beer, he held forth upon the dimples on Miss Dunbar's pink elbows, and asked me if her hair were all her own. I said, at last, that American men did not value women like sheep by their flesh and fleece and the money they were rated at in the market. I hit him square that time, prince or no prince!"
"Yes, you did, indeed," said Jean vaguely. Her keen eyes followed Lucy and the prince, who were loitering through the gallery, pausing before the faded portraits. "You think it is only her money that draws him after us?"
"Why, of course! A fellow like that could not appreciate Miss Dunbar's beauty and wit."
"You think Lucy witty?" said Jean dryly. "And you think she would not marry for a title?"
"I don't believe any pure American girl would sell herself, like a sheep in the shambles! And she is pure! A lamb, a lily! cried Perry, growing incoherent in his heat.
"She would not if her heart were preoccupied," said Jean thoughtfully.
"And you think——" he said breathlessly.
But Jean only laughed, and said no more.
The guide had been paying profound deference to Prince Wolfburgh, keeping close to his heels. Now he swung open a door. "If your Highnesses will come this way?" he said, bowing profoundly to Lucy.
The little girl started and hurried back to Miss Vance. Her face was scarlet, and she laughed nervously. Prince Wolfburgh also laughed, loudly and meaningly. He swore at the old man and went out into the cloister where his cousin stood smoking.
"Had enough of the old barracks?" said the captain.
"I found I was making too fast running in there," said the prince uneasily; "I'll waken up and find that girl married to me some day."
"Not so bad a dream," puffed his cousin.
"I'll take a train somewhere," said the prince. "But no matter where I go, I'll find an American old woman with a girl to marry. They all carry the Hof Kalender in their pockets, and know every bachelor in Germany."
The captain watched him attentively. "I don't believe those women inside mean to drive any marriage bargain with you, Hugo," he said gruffly. "I doubt whether the little mees would marry you if you asked her. Her dot, I hear, is e-normous!" waving his hand upward as if to mountain heights. "And as for beauty, she is a wild rose!"
Now, there were reasons why the captain should rejoice when Hugo allied himself to the little mees. On the day when he would take these hills of gold and wild rose to himself, the captain would become the head of the house of Wolfburgh. It was, perhaps, a mean, ungilded throne, but by German law no nameless Yankee woman could sit upon it.
The prince looked at Captain Odo. "You cannot put me into a gallop when I choose to walk," he said. "She's a pretty girl, and a good girl, and some time I may marry her, but not now."
Odo laughed good-humoredly, and they sauntered down the path together.
The prince had offered to dine with Miss Vance that evening, but sent a note to say that he was summoned to the Highlands unexpectedly.
"It is adieu, not auf wiedersehen, I fear, with his Highness," Miss Vance said, folding the note pensively. She had not meant to drive a marriage bargain, and yet—to have placed a pupil upon even such a bric-a-brac throne as that of Wolfburgh! She looked thoughtfully at Lucy's chubby cheeks. A princess? The man was not objectionable in himself, either—a kindly, overgrown boy. "He told me," said Jean, "that he was going to a house party at Inverary Castle."
"Whose house is that, Jean?" asked Lucy.
"It is the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Argyll."
"Oh!" Lucy gave a little sigh. Prince Hugo was undeniably fat and very slow to catch a joke, but there was certainly a different flavor in this talk of dukes and ancestral seats to the gossip about the Whites and Greens at home.
Indeed, the whole party, including even Mr. Perry, experienced a sensation of sudden vacancy and flatness when his Highness left them. It was as though they had been sheltering a royal eagle that was used to dwelling in sunlit heights unknown to them, and now they were left on flat ground to consort with common poultry.
Miss Vance led her party slowly through Scotland and down again to London. Mrs. Waldeaux went with them. The girls secretly laughed together at her fine indomitable politeness, and her violent passion for the Stuarts, and hate of the Roundheads. But Mr. Perry was bored by her.
"What is it to us," he said, "that Queen Mary paddled over this lake, or Cromwell's soldiers whitewashed that fresco? Give me a clean, new American church, anyhow, before all of your mouldy, tomby cathedrals. These things are so many cancelled cheques to me. I have nothing to pay on them. It is live issues that draw on my heart. You American girls ought to be at home looking into the negro problem, or Tammany, or the Sugar Trust, instead of nosing into Rembrandts, or miracles at Lourdes, or palaces. These are all back numbers. Write n. g. on them and bury them. So, by the way, is your Mrs. Waldeaux a back number. My own opinion is that all men and women at fifty ought to go willingly and be shut up in the room where the world keeps its second-hand lumber!"
"Yet nobody," said Lucy indignantly, "is more careful or tender with Mrs. Waldeaux than you!"
"That is because Mr. Perry has the genuine American awe of people of good birth," said Jean slyly. "It is the only trait which makes me suspect that he is a self-made man." Mr. Perry, for answer, only bowed gravely. He long ago had ceased to hide his opinion that Miss Hassard was insufferable.
Frances, for her part, was sure that the young people were glad to have her as a companion. One day she decided to stay with them, and the next to go to New York on the first steamer. She seemed to see life hazily, as one over whose mind a cataract was growing. What had she to do in Europe, she reasoned? George was gone. Her one actual hold on the world had slipped from her. That great mysterious thing called living was done and past for her.
And yet—there was Kenilworth, and Scott's house? Scott, who had been her friend and leader since she was eight years old! And in that anthem at York minster there was a message, which she had been waiting all of her life to hear! And here was Lucy beside her with her soft voice, and loving blue eyes—Lucy, who should have been George's wife! In all of these things something high and good called to the poor lady, which she heard and understood as a child would the voice of its mother.
One hour she resolved to leave her son with his wife, to go back to Weir at once and work with the poultry and Quigg's jokes for the rest of her life. She was dead. Let her give up and consent to be dead.
The next, she would stay where she could see George sometimes, and try to forgive the woman who had him in her keeping. Perhaps, after all, she was human, as Clara said. If she could forgive Lisa, she could be happy with these young people and live—live in this wonderful old world, where all that was best of past ages was kept waiting for her.
When they came to London, she went at once to Morgan's to make a deposit, for she had been hard at work on her jokes as she travelled, and had received her pay.
"Your son, madam," said the clerk, "drew on his account to-day. He said he expected remittances from you. Is this to be put to his credit?"
"My son was in London to-day?
"He has just left the house."
"Did he—he left a message for me? A letter, perhaps?"
"No, nothing, madam."
"Put the money to his credit, of course." She went out into the narrow street and wandered along to the Bank of England, staring up at the huge buildings.
He had been looking at them—he had walked on this very pavement a minute ago! That might be the smoke of his cigar, yonder!
She could easily find him. Just to look at him once; to hold his hand! He might be ill and need her; he never was well in foggy weather.
Then she remembered that Lisa was with him. She would nurse him.
She called a cab, and, as she drove home, looked out at the crowd with a hard, smiling face.
Henry Irving that night played "Shylock," and Mr. Perry secured a box for Miss Vance. Frances went with the others. Before the curtain rose there was a startled movement among them, a whisper, and then Clara turned to Mrs. Waldeaux.
"Frances, Lisa is coming into the opposite box," she said. "She is really a beautiful woman in that decollete gown, and her cheeks flushed, and her eyes—— I had no idea! She is superb!"
Two men in the dress of French officers entered the box with Lisa. They seated her, bending over her with an empressement which, to Mrs. Waldeaux's heated fancy, was insulting. George came last, carrying his wife's cloak, which he placed upon a chair. One of the men tossed his cape to him, with a familiar nod, and George laid it aside and sat down at the back of the box.
His mother leaned forward, watching. That woman had put her son in the place of an inferior—an attendant.
The great orchestra shook the house with a final crash, and the curtain rose upon the Venetian plaza. Every face in the audience was turned attentive toward it. But Mrs. Waldeaux saw only Lisa.
A strange change came upon her as she watched her son's wife. For months she had struggled feebly against her hate of Lisa. Now she welcomed it; she let herself go.
Is the old story true after all? Is there some brutal passion hiding in every human soul, waiting its chance, even in old age? It is certain that this woman, after her long harmless life, recognized the fury in her soul and freed it.
"Frances," whispered Clara, "when this act is over, go and speak to them. I will go with you. It is your chance to put an end to this horrible separation. They are your children."
"No. That woman is my enemy, Clara," said Mrs. Waldeaux quietly. "I will make no terms with her."
Miss Vance sighed and turned to the stage, but Frances still watched the opposite box. It seemed as if the passion within her had cleared her eyes. They never had seen George as they now saw him.
Was that her son? Was it that little priggish, insignificant fellow that she had made a god of? He was dull, commonplace! Satisfied to sit dumb in the background and take orders from those bourgeois French Jews!
The play went on, but she saw nothing but George and his wife.
There was the result of all her drudgery! The hot summers of work in the filthy poultry yards; the grinding out of poor jokes; the coarse, cheap underclothes (she used to cry when she put them on, she hated them so). Years and years of it all; and for that cold, selfish fop!
His mother saw him leave the box, and knew that he was coming.
"Oh, good-evening, George!" she said gayly, as he opened the door. "A wonderful scene, wasn't it? I have always wished to see Irving in 'Hamlet.'"
"This is 'Shylock,'" he said gravely, and turned to speak to the others. They welcomed him eagerly, and made room for him. He had lost something of the cold, blase air which had ennobled him in the eyes of the young women. He looked around presently, and said with a comfortable shrug:
"It is so pleasant to talk English again! My wife detests it. We speak only French. I feel like an alien and outcast among you!" He laughed; his mother glanced at him curiously. But Lucy turned her face away, afraid that he should see it. As he talked, George noted the clear-cut American features of the girls, and their dainty gowns, with a keen pleasure; then he glanced quickly at the opposite box.
"Ah!" said Jean to Mr. Perry. "The soiled lace and musk are beginning to tell! He is tired of Lisa already!" "I never liked the fellow," said Mr. Perry coldly. "But he is hardly the cad that you suppose."
He fell into a gloomy silence. He had wasted two years' salary in following Lucy Dunbar about, in showering flowers on her, in posing before her in the last fashions of Conduit Street, and yet when this conceited fellow came into the box she was blind and deaf to all besides! Her eyes filled with tears just now when he talked of his loneliness. Lonely—with his wife! A married man!
George, when the curtain fell again, sat down by Frances.
"Mother," he said.
"Yes, George." Her eyes were bright and attentive, but her countenance had fallen into hard lines new to him.
"I went to Morgan's this afternoon. You have been very liberal to us."
"I will do what I can. You may depend upon that amount, regularly."
He rose and bade them good-night, and turned to her again.
"We—we are coming to-morrow to thank you. MOTHER?" There was a hoarse sob in his throat. He laid his hand on her arm. She moved so that it dropped. "We will come to-morrow," he said. "Did you understand? Lisa wishes to be friends with you. She is ready to forgive," he groped on, blundering, like a man.
"Oh, yes, I understand. You and Lisa are coming to forgive me to-morrow," she said, smiling.
He looked at her, perplexed and waiting. But she said no more.
"Well, I must go now. Good-night."
"Good-night, George!" Her bright, smiling eyes followed him steadily, as he went out.
Mrs. Waldeaux tapped at Clara's door that evening after they reached home.
"I came to tell you that I shall leave London early in the morning," she said.
"You will not wait to see George and his wife?"
"I hope I never shall see them again. No! Not a word! I will hear no arguments!" She came into the room and closed the door. There was a certain novel air of decision and youth in her figure and movements. "I am going to make a change, Clara," she said. "I have worked for others long enough. I am going away now, alone. I will be free. I will live my own life—at last." Her eyes shone with exultation.
"And—— Where are you going?" stammered Miss Vance, dismayed.
"I don't know. There is so much—it has all been waiting so long for me. There are the cathedrals—and the mountains. Or the Holy Land. Perhaps I may try to write again. There seems to be a dumb word or two in me. Don't be angry with me, Clara," throwing her arms about her cousin, the tears rushing to her eyes. "I may come back to you and little Lucy some time. But just now I want to be alone and fancy myself young. I never was young."
When Lucy stole into her old friend's chamber the next morning as usual to drink her cup of coffee with her, she found the door open and the room in disorder, and she was told that Mrs. Waldeaux had left London at daybreak.
During the year which followed, Mr. Perry was forced to return to the States, but he made two flying trips across "the pond," as he called it, in the interests of his magazine, always running down his prey of notorieties in that quarter of Europe in which Miss Vance and her charges chanced to be.
When he came in July he found them in a humble little inn in Bozen. He looked with contempt at the stone floors, the clean cell-like chambers, each with its narrow bed, and blue stone ewer perched on a wooden stool; and he sniffed with disgust when breakfast was served on a table set out in the Platz.
"Don't know," he said, "whether I can digest food, eating out of doors. Myself, I never give in to these foreign ways. It's time they learned manners from us."
"I have no doubt," said Miss Vance placidly, "that you can find one of the usual hotels built for rich Americans in the town. We avoid them. We search out the inns du pays to see as far behind the scenes as we can. I don't care to go to those huge houses with mobs of Chicagoans and New Yorkers; and have the couriers and portiers turn the flashlights on Europe for me, as if it were a burlesque show."
"Now, that's just what I like!" said Perry. "I always go to the houses where the royalties put up. I like to order better dishes and give bigger tips than they do. They don't know Jem Perry from Adam, but it's my way of waving the American flag."
"I am afraid we have no such patriotic motive," said Clara. "My girls seem to care for nothing now but art. We have made this little inn our headquarters in the Tyrol chiefly out of love for the old church yonder."
Mr. Perry glanced contemptuously across the Platz at the frowning gray building, and sat down with his back to it.
"Art, eh? Well, I've no doubt I could soon catch on to Art, if I turned my mind that way. It pays, too,—Art. Not the fellows who paint, but the connoisseurs. There's Miller from our town. He was a drummer for a candy firm. Had an eye for color. Well, he buys pictures now for Americans who want galleries in their houses. He bought his whole collection for Stout—the great dealer in hams. Why, Miller can tell the money value within five dollars, at sight, of any picture in Europe. He's safe, too. Never invests in pictures that aren't sure to go up in price. Getting rich! And began as a candy drummer! No, ma'am! Art's no mystery. I've never taken it up myself. Europe is sheer pleasure to me. I get the best out of it. I know where to lodge well, and I can tell you where the famous plats are cooked, and I have my coats built by Toole. The house pays me a salary which justifies me in humoring my little follies," stroking his red beard complacently.
Lucy's chubby face and steady blue eyes were turned on him thoughtfully, and presently, when they sauntered down the windy street together, he talked and she still silently watched him.
"Miss Precision is weighing him in the balance," said Jean, laughing, as she poured out more black coffee. "With all of her soft ways Lucy is shrewd. She knows quite well why he races across the Atlantic, and why Prince Wolfburgh has backed away from us and charged on us again all summer. She is cool. She is measuring poor Perry's qualifications for a husband now just as she would materials for a cake. A neat little inventory. So much energy, so much honest kindness—so much vulgarity. I couldn't do that. If ever a man wants to marry me, I'll fly to him or away from him, as quick as the steel needle does when the magnet touches it." Miss Vance listened to her attentively. "Jean," she said, after a pause, "are you sure that it is Lucy whom the prince wishes to marry?"
"It is not I," said Miss Hassard promptly. "He has thought of me several times—he has weighed my qualifications. But the man is in love with Lucy as honestly as a ploughman could be. Don't you think I've tough luck?" she said, resting her elbow on the table and her chin on her palm, her keen gray eyes following Miss Dunbar and her lover as they loitered under the shadow of the church. "I am as young as Lucy. I have a better brain and as big a dot. But her lovers make her life a burden, and I never have had one. Just because our noses and chins are made up differently!"
"Oh, my dear!" said Clara anxiously. "I never thought you cared for that kind of success!"
"I'm only human," Jean laughed. "Of course I'm an artist. I'm going to paint a great picture some day that all the world shall go mad about. Of Eve. I'll put all the power of all women into her. But in the meantime I'd like to see one man turn pale and pant before me as the fat little prince does when Lucy snubs him."
"Lucy is very hard to please," complained Miss Vance. "She snubs Mr. Perry—naturally. But the prince—why should she not marry the prince?"
"Your generation," said Jean, smiling slyly, "used to think that an unreasonable whim called love was a good thing in marriage——"
"But why should she not love the prince? He is honorable and kind, and quite passable as to looks—— Can there be any one else?" turning suddenly to Jean.
Miss Hassard looked at her a moment, hesitating. "Your cousin George used to be Lucy's type of a hero——"
"Why! the man is married!" Miss Vance stood up, her lean face reddening. "Jean! You surprise me! That kind of talk—it's indecent! It is that loose American idea of marriage that ends in hideous divorce cases. But for one of my girls——"
"It is a very old idea," said Jean calmly.
"David loved another man's wife. Mind you, I don't accuse Lucy of loving any body, but when the needle has once touched the magnet it answers to its call ever after."
Miss Vance vouchsafed no answer. She walked away across the Platz, jerking her bonnet strings into a knot. Jean was one of the New Women! Her opinions stuck out on every side like Briareus' hundred elbows! You could not come near her without being jabbed by them. Such women were all opinions; there was no softness, no feeling, no delicacy about them. Skeletons with no flesh! As for Lucy, she had no fear. If even the child had loved George, she would have cast out every thought of him on his wedding day, as a Christian girl should do!
She passed Lucy at that moment. She was leaning against one of the huge stone lions which crouch in front of the church, listening to Mr. Perry. If ever a pure soul looked into the world it was through those limpid eyes!
The Platz was nearly empty. One or two men in blouses clattered across the cobblestones and going into the dark church dropped on their knees. The wind was high, and now and then swept heavy clouds low across the sunlight space overhead.
Lucy, as Jean had guessed, knew why the man beside her had crossed the Atlantic, and she had decided last night to end the matter at once. The tears had stood in her eyes for pity at the thought of the pain she must give him. Yet she had put on her new close-fitting coat and a becoming fur cap, and pulled out the loose hair which she knew at this moment was blowing about her pink cheeks in curly wisps in a way that was perfectly maddening. Clara, seeing the mischief in her eyes as she listened shyly to Perry, went on satisfied. There was no abyss of black loss in that girl's life!
Lucy just now was concerned only for Perry. How the poor man loved her! Why not marry him after all, and put him out of his pain? She was twenty-four. Most women at twenty-four had gone through their little tragedy of love. But she had had no tragedy. She told herself firmly that there had been no story of love in her life. There never could be, now. She was too old.
She was tired, too, and very lonely. This man would seat her on a throne and worship her every day. That would be pleasant enough.
"I am ashamed of myself," he was saying, "to pursue you in this way. You have given me no encouragement, I know. But whenever I go to New York and bone down to work, something tells me to come back and try again."
Lucy did not answer, and there was a brief silence.
"Of course I'm a fool,"—prodding the ground with his stick. "But if a man were in a jail cell and knew that the sun was shining just outside, he'd keep on beating at the wall."
"Your life is not a jail cell. It's very comfortable, I think."
"It has been bare enough. I have had a hard fight to live at all. I told you that I began as a canal-boy."
She looked at him with quick sympathy. At once she fancied that she could read old marks of want on his face. His knuckles were knobbed like a laborer's. He had had a hard fight! It certainly would be pleasant to rain down comfort and luxury on the good, plucky fellow!
"Of course that was all long ago," said Perry. "I'm not ashamed of it. As Judge Baker remarked the other day, 'The acknowledged aristocrats of America, to-day, are its self-made men.' He ought to know. The Bakers are the top of the heap in New York. Very exclusive. I've been intimate there for years. No, Miss Dunbar, I may have begun as a mule-driver on a canal, but I am choice in my society. My wife will not find a man or woman in my circle who is half-cut."
Lucy drew a long breath. To live all day and every day with this man!
And yet—she was so tired! There was a good deal of money to manage, and he could do that. He would like a gay, hospitable house, and so would she, and they would be kind to the poor—and he was an Episcopalian, too. There would be no hitch there. Lucy was a zealous High Churchwoman.
Why should she not do it? The man was as good as gold at heart. Jean called him a cad, but the caddishness was only skin deep.
Mr. Perry watched her, reading her thoughts more keenly than she guessed.
"One thing I will say in justice to myself," he said. "You are a rich woman. If you marry me, YOU will know, if nobody else does, that I am no fortune-hunter. I shall always be independent of my wife. Every dollar she owns shall be settled on her before I go with her to the altar."
"Oh, I'm not thinking of the money," said Lucy impatiently.
"Then you are thinking of me!" He leaned over her. She felt as if she had been suddenly dragged too close to a big unpleasant fire. "I know you don't love me," he panted, "you cold little angel, you! But you do like me? Eh? just a little bit, Lucy? Marry me. Give me a chance. I'll bring you to me. If there is a single spark of love in your heart for me, I'll blow it into a flame! I can do it, I tell you!" He caught her fiercely by the shoulder.
Lucy drew back and threw out her hands. "Let me have time to think!"
"Time? You've had a year!"
"One more day. Come again this evening——"
"This evening? I've come so often!" staring breathlessly into her face. "It will be no use, I can see that. Well, as you please. I'll come once more."
The young fellow in his jaunty new clothes shook as if he had the ague. He had touched her. For one minute she had been his!
He turned and walked quickly across the Platz.
Lucy, left alone, was full of remorse. She looked down into her heart; she had forgotten to do it before. No, not a spark for him to blow into a flame; not a single warm thought of him!
The girl was ashamed of herself. He might be a cad, but he was real; his honest love possessed him body and soul. It was a matter of expediency to her; a thing to debate with herself, to dally over, with paltry pros and cons.
Miss Vance came hurriedly up the street, an open letter in her hand. Lucy ran to meet her.
"What is it? You have heard bad news?"
"I suppose we ought not to call it that. It is from George Waldeaux. They have a son, two months old. He tells it as a matter for rejoicing."
"Oh, yes," said Lucy feebly.
"They are at Vannes—in Brittany. He has a cough. He seems to know nobody—to have no friends, and, I suspect, not much money. He is terribly depressed." Clara folded the letter thoughtfully. "He asks me to tell his mother that the baby has come."
"Where is his mother?"
"Why is she not with him?" demanded Lucy angrily. "Wandering about gathering edelweiss, while he is alone and wretched!"
"He has his wife. You probably do not understand the case fully," said Clara coldly. "I am going to wire to his mother now." She turned away and Lucy stood irresolute, her hand clutching the shaggy head of the stone beast beside her.
"I can give him money. I'll go to him. He needs me!" she said aloud. Then her whole body burned with shame. She—Lucy Dunbar, good proper Lucy, whose conscience hurt her if she laid her handkerchiefs away awry in her drawer, nursing a criminal passion for a married man!
She went slowly back to the inn. "He has his wife," she told herself. "I am nothing to him. I doubt if he would know me if he met me on the street." She tried to go back to her easy-going mannerly little thoughts, but there was something strange and fierce behind them that would not down.
Jean came presently to the salle. "I have had a letter too," she said. "The girl who writes came from Pond City. She was in the same atelier in Paris with George. She says: 'Your friends the Waldeaux have come to grief by a short cut. They flung money about for a few months as if they were backed by the Barings. The Barings might have given their suppers. As for their studio—there was no untidier jumble of old armor and brasses and Spanish leather in Paris; and Mme. George posing in the middle in soiled tea-gowns! But the suppers suddenly stopped, and the leather and Persian hangings went to the Jews. I met Lisa one day coming out of the Vendome, where she had been trying to peddle a roll of George's sketches to the rich Americans. I asked her what was wrong, and she laughed and said, "We were trying to make thirty francs do the work of thirty thousand. And we have made up our minds that we know no more of art than house painters. We are in a blind alley!" Soon after that the baby was born. They went down to Brittany. I hear that Lisa, since the child came, has been ill. I tell all this dreary stuff to you thinking that you may pass it on to their folks. Somebody ought to go to their relief.'"
"Relief!" exclaimed Miss Vance. "And the money that they were flinging into the gutter was earned day by day by his old mother! Every dollar of it! I know that during the last year she has done without proper clothes and food to send their allowance to them." "You forget," said Lucy, "that George Waldeaux was doing noble work in the world. It was a small thing for his mother to help him."
"Noble work? His pictures or his sermons, Lucy?" demanded Miss Vance, with a contemptuous shrug.
Lucy without reply walked out to the inn garden and seated herself in a shady corner. There Mr. Perry found her just as the first stroke of the angelus sounded on the air. Her book lay unopened on her lap.
He walked slowly up to her and stopped, breathing hard, as if he had been running. "It is evening now. I have come for my answer, Miss Dunbar," he said, forcing a smile.
"Answer?" Lucy looked up bewildered.
"You have forgotten!"
The blood rushed to her face. She held out her hands. "Oh, forgive me! I heard bad news. I have been so troubled——"
"You forgot that I had asked you to be my wife!"
"No, don't say another word, Miss Dunbar. I have had my answer. I knew you didn't love me, but I did not think I was so paltry that you would forget that I had offered to marry you."
Lucy pressed her hands together, looking up at him miserably without a word. He walked down the path and leaned on the wall with his back to her. His very back was indignant.
Presently he turned. "I will bid you goodby," he said, with an effort at lofty courtesy, "and I will leave my adieux for your friends with you."
"Are you going—back to the States?" stammered Lucy.
"Yes, I am going back to the States," he replied sternly. "A man of merit there has his place, regardless of rank. Jem Perry can hold his head there as high as any beggarly prince. Farewell, Miss Dunbar."
He strode down the path and disappeared. Lucy shook her head and cried from sheer wretchedness. She felt that she had been beaten to-day with many stripes.
Suddenly the bushes beside her rustled. "Forgive me," he said hoarsely. She looked up and saw his red honest eyes. "I behaved like a brute. Good-by, Lucy! I never loved any woman but you, and I never will."
"Stay, stay!" she cried.
He heard her, but he did not come back.
Lucy was silent and dejected for a day or two, being filled with pity for Mr. Perry's ruined life. But when she saw his name in a list of outgoing passengers on the Paris her heart gave a bound of relief. Nothing more could now be done. That chapter was closed. There had been no other chapter of moment in her life, she told herself sternly. Now, all the clouds had cleared away. It was a new day. She would begin again.
So she put on new clothes, none of which she had ever worn before, and tied back her curly hair with a fresh white ribbon, and came down to breakfast singing gayly.
Miss Vance gave her her roll and milk in silence, and frowning importantly, drew out a letter.
"Lucy, I have just received a communication from Prince Wolfburgh. He is in Bozen."
"Here!" Lucy started up, glancing around like a chased hare.
Then she sat down again and waited. There was no other chapter, and the book was so blank!
"His coming is very opportune," she said presently, gently.
"Oh! do YOU think so, my dear? Really! Well, I always have liked the young man. So simple. So secure of his social position. The Wolfburghs, I find, go back to the eleventh century. Mr. Perry had noble traits, but one never felt quite safe as to his nails or his grammar."
"But the prince—the prince?" cried Jean.
"Oh, yes. Well, he writes—most deferentially. He begs for the honor of an interview with me this afternoon upon a subject of the most vital importance. He says, 'regarding you, as I do, in loco parentis to the hochgeboren Fraulein Dunbar.'" "Hochgeboren!" said Lucy. "My grandfather was a saddler. Tell him so, Miss Vance. Tell him the exact facts. I want no disclosures after——"
"After marriage?" said Jean, rising suddenly. "Then you have decided?"
"I have not said that I had decided," replied Lucy calmly.
Jean laughed. "He will not be scared by the saddler. Europeans of his order take no account of our American class distinctions. They look upon us as low-born parvenues, all alike. They weigh and value us by other standards than birth."
"I have money, if you mean that, Jean," said Lucy cheerfully.
"I think you had better go away, girls, if you have finished your dejeuner. He may be here at any moment now," said Clara, looking anxiously at her watch.
Lucy went to her little chamber and sat down to work at a monstrous caricature which she was painting of the church. Jean paced up and down the stone corridor, looking out of the window into the Platz.
"He has come," she said excitedly, appearing at Lucy's door. "He went into the church first, to say an ave for help, poor little man! His fat face is quite pale and stern. It is a matter of life and death to him. And it's no more to you than the choosing of a new coat."
Lucy smiled and sketched in a priest on the church steps. Her hand shook, but Jean could not see that. She went to the window again with something like an inward oath at the dolts of commonplace women who had all the best chances, but was back in a moment, laughing nervously.
"Do you know he has on that old brown suit?" She leaned against the jamb of the door. "If I were a prince, and came a-wooing, I would have troops of my Jagers, and trumpets and banners with the arms of my House, and I'd wear all my decorations. Of course we Americans are bound to say that rank and royalty are dead things. But if I had them, I'd galvanize the corpses! If they are useful as shows, I'd make the show worth seeing. I'd cover myself with jewels like the old Romanoffs. You would never see Queen Jean in a slouchy alpaca and pork-pie hat like Victoria." While her tongue chattered, her eyes watched Lucy keenly. "You don't hear me! You are deciding what to do. Why on earth should you hesitate? He is a gentleman—he loves you!" and then to Lucy's relief she suddenly threw on her hat and rushed off for a walk.