A TRAGEDY OF THE HEART AND CONSCIENCE
Novelized by Joseph O'Brien from Henry W. Savage's great play
BY FERENC MOLNAR
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY AMERICAN-JOURNAL-EXAMINER.
COPYRIGHT, 1908, BY J. S. OGILVIE PUBLISHING COMPANY.
There is a great lesson for all women and men in this wonderful story. It is one that will impress with its power. But I am glad to say that I do not believe fully in its truth. The Devil here wins his victory, as he has won many. But each year, as men and women get better, the victories of Satan are fewer. Good men and good women fight against evil and do not yield.
This tragic, heart-breaking story, by the wonderful new writer, tells one side of the battle between good and evil that goes on in every human heart. It has its lesson for all men and women.
It is a powerful warning against playing with fire. Its lesson, taught in the downfall of the man and woman, is "Keep away from evil, and the appearance of evil."
Karl Mahler An Artist Heinrich His Valet Mimi His Model Herman Hofmann A Banker Olga Hofmann The Banker's Wife The Devil Calling Himself Dr. Millar Elsa Berg An Heiress
The scenes are laid in Vienna, Austria, in Karl Mahler's studio, and in the conservatory reception-room at the Hofmanns', and all the events transpire within the space of one day.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
PAGE. DR. MILLAR: "WHAT AN IDEAL COUPLE YOU TWO WOULD MAKE" Frontispiece
MIMI: "YOU DO NOT LOVE ME; YOU HAVE CEASED TO CARE FOR ME" 16
"CALL ME DR. MILLAR. MY SOCIAL POSITION IS BEYOND QUESTION" 40
"THE ART DEALER," HE SAID SARCASTICALLY 70
"THEY SEEM TO BE GROWING FOND OF EACH OTHER," OLGA SAID JEALOUSLY 108
"LET ONLY YOUR BARE NECK SHOW ABOVE YOUR CLOAK, AND THE TIPS OF 115 YOUR SHOES BENEATH IT"
"I HAVE BEGUN THIS, LET ME FINISH IT. LET ME DICTATE THIS LETTER" 136
"I WANTED TO FEEL THAT YOU LOVED ME AS I HOPED YOU DID" 173
NOTE:—The illustrations used in this book are reproduced from scenes in Henry W. Savage's production of "The Devil," the only version approved by the author.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
FOREWORD 3 CHAPTER I 9 CHAPTER II 19 CHAPTER III 34 CHAPTER IV 45 CHAPTER V 56 CHAPTER VI 72 CHAPTER VII 83 CHAPTER VIII 88 CHAPTER IX 104 CHAPTER X 134 CHAPTER XI 156 CHAPTER XII 162 CHAPTER XIII 168 CHAPTER XIV 175 THE MORAL OF "THE DEVIL" 185
Herman Hofmann, the wealthy banker, and his beautiful young wife, Olga, had as their guest at dinner Karl Mahler, an artist. Some years earlier, before Hofmann married, Mahler, befriended by his family, had been sent away to Paris to study art. Olga, at that time a dependent ward in the Hofmann family, and the poor young art student loved each other with the sweet, pure affection of boy and girl.
In the absence of Karl, Olga yielded to the pressing suit of Herman and the importunities of her own relatives, all poor, and became his wife. Karl returned to find the sweetheart whom he had kissed for the first time when he told her good-by, married to another. He was not greatly shocked at the discovery, the life of an art student in Paris having somewhat dimmed the memory of his boyhood's love, and neither he nor Olga alluded to their early romance.
For six years the two had been friends, although they never saw each other alone. Karl was a frequent visitor at their house and Herman was his devoted and loyal friend. Olga honestly believed that she loved her husband and had long ago forgotten her love for Karl. Lately she had interested herself in his future to the extent of proposing for him a bride, Elsa Berg, a beautiful and youthful heiress, and she had arranged a grand ball, to be given so that the two young people might be brought together.
In all the six years of her married life Olga had never visited Karl's studio. Karl had never even offered to paint her portrait. Although neither would confess it, some secret prompting made them fear to break down the barriers of convention, and they remained to each other chaperoned and safe. On this evening, however, when Karl was with them, the subject of a portrait of Olga came up for the first time, and Herman declared that it must be painted.
"She is more beautiful than any of your models or your patrons," he said to Karl.
Olga was strangely disturbed, she could not tell why. She blushed and looked at Karl, whom the proposition seemed to excite to strange eagerness. She did not trust herself to speak, but listened to the artist and her husband.
Neither Olga nor Karl could have defined the strange, conflicting emotions with which they separately received Herman's proposition. Unwillingly Olga's mind traveled swiftly back to the old days and her girlhood, and she recalled the day of Karl's departure, the day he took her in his arms and kissed her lips and said:
"I love you, Olga; I will not forget."
The memory thrilled her and the color flamed into her cheeks. Karl looked at her, so enraptured and absorbed that he could scarcely give attention to Herman, who rattled on about the portrait. It was finally settled that the first sitting should be the following day at Karl's studio, where Olga would be left with him alone.
It was there that Olga was then to encounter the materialization of the impulses she had been, only half unconsciously, struggling against for six years; the spirit of evil purpose against which good contends; the incarnation of the arch fiend in the attractive shape of a suave, polished, plausible, eloquent man of the world, whose cynicism bridged the years of married life; whose subtle suggestions colored afresh the faded dreams which she believed faintly remembered, and believed would come no more.
Karl left them with the promise of a sitting on the morrow.
Karl's fitful slumber was disturbed that night by vague half dreams which oppressed him when he arose. He was filled with misgiving, doubt, uncertainty. His thoughts, half formed, disturbing, were of Olga.
He tried to think of marriage with Elsa, but it was without enthusiasm. Warm, beautiful, affectionate, she made no impression on his heart, which seemed like ice.
He looked around the studio with aversion.
The pictures on the walls seemed no longer to represent the aspiration of the artist; they were mementos of the models who had posed and flirted and talked scandal within his walls.
He paced the floor restlessly, nervously, twisting his unlighted cigarette in his fingers until it crumbled, his mouth tight, his eyebrows drawn together. Then he seized his hat and overcoat and flung himself out of the door into the gathering winter storm.
For an hour he plunged through the snow, the chaos of the storm matching his mood. Almost exhausted, he turned back toward his home and entered. The room glowed warmly. In front of the inviting fire was the big arm-chair with its wide seat, comfortable cushions and high pulpit back. As he laid aside his greatcoat he stepped toward the chair, intending to bury himself in its depths and surrender to his mood. A shudder ran over him and he drew back, staring at the seat.
It was empty, his eyes assured him, but he could not rid himself of a feeling that it was occupied. He pressed his hands to his eyes and then flung them outward with the gesture of one distraught.
"I am going mad!" he thought.
He called loudly, harshly:
His old servant, alarmed at the unwonted violence of his master's voice, hastened into the room. Karl flung aside his coat and Heinrich held for him his velvet dressing jacket. He slipped into it, shook himself, and lighted a cigarette. His hands shook with nervousness, and he held them out from him that he might look at them.
"Oh, what a terrible sight!" he groaned.
"Monsieur?" Heinrich said inquiringly.
"Has any one been here?" Karl asked.
"No, Monsieur, only Ma'm'selle Mimi. She is waiting in the studio to pose."
With an impatient gesture Karl walked across the room, picked up a newspaper, flung himself on a couch and held the sheet before his eyes. He did not even see the print, but he persisted, trying to banish his restless thoughts.
Heinrich, solicitously brushing and folding Karl's coat, waited. The artist looked at him impatiently:
"Tell Ma'm'selle Mimi I shall not need her to-day. She may go."
"Yes, Monsieur," Heinrich said.
The servant stepped to the door of the studio and threw it open. He called out:
"Ma'm'selle, Monsieur Karl says he will not need you to-day; you may go home."
Heinrich withdrew. Karl lay at full length on the couch, holding the paper before him.
A young woman, daintily featured, with rounded figure whose lines showed through her close-fitting costume, burst into the room.
Although conscious of her presence and irritated, Karl did not look. He pretended to be absorbed in his newspaper. Mimi looked at him and waited, but as he did not speak, she ventured timidly:
"Aren't you going to paint me to-day?"
"Er—no, not to-day."
"Do you not love me any more, Karl?"
The newspaper rattled with the artist's impatience and irritation, but he did not answer. Mimi approached him.
"You do not love me; you have ceased to care for me. Ah, Karl, when you loved me you painted me every day. Now you paint nothing but landscapes."
Karl forced a laugh.
"Nonsense!" he said. "You talk like a silly child, Mimi."
"You say that now, but you did not say such things when you loved me, Karl. It is always the way with us poor models. At first it is, 'Ah, what shoulders, what beautiful coloring, what perfect ankles!' Then you paint us every day.
"And then it is, 'What in the world have you done with your figure? It is all angles!' or, 'What on earth have you put on your face? It is as yellow as old parchment.' And then you paint landscapes."
Mimi burst into tears, and vigorously dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief. She was an extremely pretty girl of the bourgeois type, with heavy coils of straw-colored hair piled high on her head, and big blue eyes that were quick to weep.
Karl arose, threw aside his paper and essayed to comfort her.
"There, there," he said, patting her shoulder, "don't cry, Mimi; you are full of folly to-day."
As quick to smile as she had been to cry, Mimi unveiled her eyes and looked at him eagerly, her lips parting over her white teeth.
"Then you do love me, Karl? Ah, tell me that you love me."
"And you will paint me again? If not to-day, perhaps to-morrow?"
"Perhaps, but I am very busy."
He turned from her and sat on the couch again. Mimi's mood suddenly turned to anger, and she cried out at him furiously:
"I know that you do not love me, and I know why. You are going to be married.
"Yes, yes," as Karl made an impatient gesture; "I know it is true."
"You are very silly, Mimi," he said.
"Ah, no; I am not. It is true what I have said. I have heard all about it, but I did not believe it, because I was a fool. You are going to marry Ma'm'selle Elsa Berg, who is said to be very beautiful and who will be a great heiress; and then you will forget me, as you would be glad to do now."
"Where in the devil have you heard all of this?" Karl demanded, springing angrily to his feet.
"It does not matter; you cannot deny that it is true."
Then her mood changed swiftly to contrition, and she went close to Karl.
"But forgive me; I know it must be. I have always known, and I must have annoyed you. We models are always annoying—in our street clothes. Forgive me, Karl."
She looked appealingly at Karl, and he was moved.
"Never mind, Mimi; run along home, now, and I promise to paint you again, perhaps to-morrow, perhaps the next day."
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Then she fled from the room. Karl flung himself down on the couch again and hid his face with his arms.
Olga's dream journey had been through the flowering orchard of girlhood, hand in hand with Karl, and she awoke with a sense of regret that the realities of everyday life should take the place of such joyous visions. She felt strangely elated during the day, and eagerly waited for the hour when Herman was to call for her and take her to Karl's studio.
"I wonder what it will be like there?" she asked herself a dozen times. "I think I have always been jealous of that studio and its possibilities, and I have always wanted to go there—but I did not dare."
Then she chided herself for the thought she had not uttered.
"Why, I am a goose! What am I confessing here to myself? That I am in love with Karl? What silly nonsense. Come, Olga, you are getting romantic."
Herman came after luncheon and they drove together to the studio building. Old Heinrich admitted them, his eyes growing big and round at the imposing splendor of Herman's greatcoat and the bewildering beauty of the grand lady.
Karl, in his artist's velvet jacket, hurried forward to greet them.
"Welcome to my workshop," he cried.
"How do you do?" Olga said, barely giving him her hand, and turning at once to let her eyes rove curiously around the walls of the room.
"How do you do, Karl?" Herman said. "You see, we are prompt. And now I am curious to see your place."
Karl watched Olga as she surveyed the room. He felt piqued at her seeming lack of interest in him.
"So this is your wonderful studio," she said absently.
"It is much like a junkshop," Karl said deprecatingly.
"It is very interesting," Olga said. "Whose picture is that?" she asked, pointing to a painting of a half nude figure on the wall.
"That? Oh, that is a model who has posed for me."
"Oh, yes, I recognize it. We met the girl on the stairs, Herman."
"Oh, yes; that is she."
Herman busied himself looking at the pictures, chuckling over those that caught his unpoetic fancy, and nudging Karl in the ribs at some of them.
"I must come again and inspect them more at my leisure," he said. "This afternoon I have to go away."
"I am sorry you are not to remain," Karl said politely.
"Oh, I suppose we might put off the sitting in view of the fact that the picture might have been painted any time these last six years," Herman said. "But Olga has been nervous about the ball we are going to have to-night, and I thought it best to bring her to-day to distract her. You know this is really a house-warming to-night."
"And we were obliged to invite so many people," Olga said, still looking at the pictures.
"I hate these social affairs," Herman rattled on, "but I suppose in our position they are inevitable. What time shall I return for Olga?"
"It grows dark quickly," Karl said, looking at his watch. "In another hour we shall not be able to see. Suppose you return about 4 o'clock."
"Very well; and now I must be going. You are coming to the ball to-night, Karl? You know you really are the guest of honor; isn't he, Olga?"
"Yes, indeed. Karl is to fall in love with his future wife to-night."
Karl looked at her, but she spoke with perfect self-possession, and lightly.
"I shall do my best," he said, and he tried to speak with enthusiasm.
"Ah, you are not half grateful enough for this treasure, Karl; you should be happy," Olga said.
"Of course he should, and he will," Herman interposed, moving toward the door. "We will all be happy—you and Elsa and Karl and I—everybody, I hope."
Olga went nearer to Karl and spoke seriously.
"She is a very charming girl, Karl."
"If you say one word more about that girl I shall fall in love with her immediately, which would be ahead of my matrimonial scheme," Karl replied jestingly. "You know I am not obliged to fall in love until to-night."
"Well, well, I must be off," Herman said, as he went up to kiss Olga. "Good-by, dear; I shall call for you at 4 o'clock."
Almost against his will, Karl asked a question which he had never before in all his life thought of.
"Aren't you afraid to leave your wife alone?"
"With me, I mean?"
Herman looked at him, and then spoke jestingly, but with an effort. "I am hurrying away because I am afraid I shall change my mind and take Olga with me," he said.
"You are not jealous?" Olga asked.
"If you don't want the truth—no, I am not," Herman replied, and in his tone there was the peculiar meaning which his words did not convey. "If I were not afraid of becoming ridiculous, I should say warningly, 'Children, be sure to be good.'"
He paused and looked at both of them. Then he said:
As he turned, Karl followed and escorted him through the door. Olga stood frowning, worried, ill at ease. Karl looked at her in surprise when he returned.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
Olga started nervously and looked at him. She pressed her hands before her eyes and for a moment did not speak. She looked away as Karl approached her and said tenderly:
"Are you afraid? Please tell me."
"I don't know what is the matter with me, but just now, when my husband went away, I felt as if I had been left without a protector."
She broke off abruptly, and Karl urged her to explain.
"What do you mean? I don't understand," he said.
"Yes, you do, Karl," Olga said, as she turned and faced him. "You know. I have fought against coming here for six years; ever since my marriage."
She looked away from him, around the studio, with its bizarre decorations, and shuddered.
"Ugh! this place looks like a devil's kitchen," she cried. "These strange things, terrible monsters, cold, white statues, heads without bodies, and you in their midst like a conjurer. I did not notice them while Herman was here, but now——"
Karl turned swiftly toward her.
"But now?" he asked.
Olga looked at him with an expression of terror in her eyes. The two stood thus at bay.
Left to themselves in the big studio, facing each other, Karl and Olga were silent. There was a look in Karl's eyes that Olga had never seen before; there was a tumult in her heart that she had never before felt. It was Karl who first recovered himself and broke the silence, trying to speak lightly:
"Don't be nervous," he said, reassuringly. "This is the reception-room of my studio. Every woman I paint comes here."
"And do you paint every woman who comes here?" Olga asked slowly.
"No," Karl replied shortly.
There was another awkward pause. Olga could not tell why she had asked that question any more than Karl could have told why he had asked Herman if he was not afraid to leave them alone. It was some unsuspected jealousy that prompted it.
"Did you understand my husband?" Olga asked.
"Yes, I think I did."
"He said, 'I trust you.' Why should he say that? Why should it not be a matter of course?"
"You don't think he is really jealous?"
Olga shook her head.
"I don't know," she said. "During the six years we have been together and you have been our friend, he has often pretended to be jealous. This time there was something in his voice that made me believe it was more than pretense. It is the first time he has ever left us alone."
They were standing, Karl near the door, where he had bidden Herman farewell, and Olga across the apartment. In an alcove in one corner an open fire burned brightly, casting a red glow over the big, comfortable arm-chair drawn up before it, with its high, pulpit-shaped back toward them. Karl walked over to Olga and said with quiet earnestness:
"We have tried to avoid it, Olga; tried for six years. Now that the situation is forced upon us, why not be honest? Let us talk about it frankly."
"I think it was sweet not to discuss it for six long years," Olga said, smiling at him. "A clean conscience is like a warm cloak, Karl; it enfolds us and makes us feel so comfortable."
She tried to make her mood seem light, but Karl would not fall in with it.
"Last night, when it was suggested that I should paint your portrait, you gave me a look I had never seen before," he persisted. "I wonder why?"
"I don't know," Olga answered, her fear returning. "Don't let us talk about it; I don't want to."
"You must not be afraid of me, Olga; if I were not I you might be frightened. I am fond of you, yes; but respectfully. I do not see what harm can be done by talking everything over quietly. It seems so long ago—seven years—since they told me that Herman was to be your husband. It was on the anniversary of the day——"
"Oh, Karl!" she protested, holding out her hands to silence him.
"The day we kissed each other," he went on, speaking so quietly that it seemed almost a whisper. "We were almost children then. I was a poor little chap, who gave drawing lessons to Herman and his sisters. You were a little waif, fed cake and tea at the millionaire's table. There we met, a beggar boy and a beggar girl, thrown together in a palace. We looked at each other, and I think we understood."
Olga covered her burning face with her hands, and Karl went on:
"We kissed each other, quite innocently; just one kiss, the memory of which has almost faded."
"Yes, Karl, faded," Olga cried eagerly. "We have grown up sensibly and we never mentioned it."
Karl seemed not to hear her interruption. He went on:
"You became Herman's wife and went to live in a palace. I found you there when I came back from Paris, still fond of you, but determined never to tell you so, and when I met you again I, too, was somewhat changed. Still, when our eyes met, Olga, it was with the same look of the two poor, longing little beggars of the years ago. But we did not kiss again."
"Why not?" Olga breathed.
"Your husband and I are the best of friends," Karl said. "Though we have met hundreds of times, you and I, we have not mentioned it."
Olga turned to him gratefully and held out her hand to clasp his.
"You are a good, true friend, Karl."
"Are you satisfied now?" Karl asked her, smiling. "You are not afraid of me, are you?"
"No; but there was something in my husband's voice that frightened me," Olga answered. "He knows what we were to each other, and when he was leaving us here alone I think it made him feel uncomfortable. We aren't in love any more, are we, Karl?"
"No, of course not."
"And it is sweet to think that we have not entirely forgotten old times, isn't it?"
"Yes," he answered absently.
"And, of course, if we loved each other still you would not marry, would you, Karl?"
"Of course not," he said shortly.
"Now you will get married and you will be very, very happy. And I, too, shall be happy, because I want you to marry, and I myself have chosen a sweet, clever girl for you."
"Exactly," Karl acquiesced dryly.
"And now let us think no more of it," Olga cried, her mood changing to one of gayety.
She ran over to the door, turned and faced Karl, knocking loudly on the panel.
"Now for work; we have done nothing," she said. "Monsieur, I have come to have my portrait painted."
"Come in, madame," Karl said, bowing gravely and entering into her play. "Good-morning."
"I have come to have my portrait painted," Olga said again.
Karl forgot the playing and exclaimed seriously:
"Ah, last night I made a memory sketch of you after I got home. I have made many, very many, but now I see you differently."
"Why?" Olga asked, startled again by his vehemence.
"Yesterday I saw the lines of your figure; to-day I see your soul," he said. "Yesterday you were a model; to-day you are an inspiration."
"Please, Karl; please, don't; we agreed to end everything," she pleaded.
"It is hard to end everything so suddenly."
"Karl, my good friend, I did wrong in coming here," Olga said. "Now that I did come, let us work. Take your colors and brush. We must get through with it as soon as possible."
"You are right, Olga; as soon as possible."
"What shall I do first?" she asked.
"Take off your hat and coat, please."
Karl stepped toward her with outstretched hands as if to help her. She drew back, with a little gesture of apprehension.
"You mustn't touch me," she said.
As she brushed past him Karl caught a whiff of fragrance from her hair that was intoxicating.
"Do you use perfume on your hair?" he asked, quite innocently.
"Certainly not," she laughed.
"Oh, then, it is the natural perfume of your hair. Pardon me; I stood too close to you."
Olga removed her hat and cloak. She looked up and saw that Karl was regarding her intently.
"You seem to be studying my features," she said.
"I know them by heart, each one," he answered. "I am thinking of a pose. You know your husband wished a half length in evening gown."
"Yes; I should have preferred a full length in street costume."
"I agree with Herman. You must be quick; it is getting dark."
"What shall I do?"
"Your waist; you must take it off; you will find some shawls there from which to select one for your shoulders. I will go into the studio."
"Don't mind; I shall close the door. Oh, it is snowing terribly," he added as he moved toward the big studio.
"Snowing! Oh, Karl, can't we postpone this? I don't feel well to-day; to-morrow I could come and bring my maid."
"Certainly not; your husband would surely want to know why we did no work to-day. Now I will leave you."
He left the room, closing the studio doors behind him. Olga looked apprehensively about her. Some mysterious presence seemed to oppress her. She fumbled with nerveless fingers at the buttons of her waist.
"Oh, what folly!" she cried to herself. "What is the matter with me?"
Resolutely she set to work and drew from her beautiful shoulders and gleaming, rounded arms the silken waist that covered them. She turned to get the shawl, and the waist fell to the floor, as she recoiled with a shriek of terror from an apparition that arose slowly from the depths of the big arm-chair.
Where there had been no human being an instant before Olga saw a tall, strange-looking man. He was in conventional afternoon attire, save that his waistcoat was red, in sharp contrast to the somber black of his frock coat. His hair was black. His upward pointing eyebrows were black, and his eyes shone like dull-burning lumps of coal. His face was like a mask, matching his immaculate linen in whiteness. It was cynical in its expression and almost sinister as he bowed low, with his hands folded over his breast, and said in a low, musical voice:
"Pardon me, madam, I think you dropped something."
He stooped and picked up the silken waist which had fallen from Olga's hands. As he held it out to her she drew back in horror.
Olga shrank from this strange being, sensible of his serpent-like fascination, even while he repelled her. It flashed across her consciousness that he was something more than human, something worse—the embodiment of malevolent purpose—a man devoid of good—the Devil himself.
He came from behind the chair, and as he moved toward her his every action heightened the impression she had received. In a situation where any man might have been confused he was perfectly self-possessed. His attitude was neither offensive nor ingratiating. He became at once a part of her surroundings, of her thoughts, yes, of her soul. It was this influence that she felt herself combating with growing weakness.
"I hope you will forgive me," his smooth, suave voice went on, breaking the stillness almost melodiously, and he bowed again. "I permitted myself to fall asleep."
Still Olga could not find tongue, and she drew yet farther away. The man, or the devil, watched her as she groped for the shawl, found it and quickly wound its filmy length around her beautiful shoulders and arms. An expression of cynical amusement crossed his face.
"Excuse me, but I awoke just as you were about to unbutton your blouse," he said. "Propriety should have made me close my eyes, but——"
"Oh!" Olga cried, shocked into speech.
"Oh, I know, madam," he said, with a bow, "you think I am suspicious, and you only came here——"
"To have my portrait painted," Olga said quickly.
"Precisely," he acquiesced, with the same cynical expression. "Only yesterday I met a lady at the dentist's, and I observed that she permitted him to extract a perfectly good and very pretty tooth."
"But I——" Olga began, accepting the defensive position into which he placed her, when he interrupted her:
"Yes, you, I know, speak the truth. I am even at liberty to believe you, but I cannot."
For an instant Olga recovered her self-possession, and her indignation sprang into a flame that she should be addressed in this manner by a man whom she had never seen before—an intruder.
"I don't know why I permit a stranger to talk to me in this fashion," she exclaimed. "It amazes me."
The man stepped toward her. Terrified, she turned and fled toward the door of the studio.
"Karl! Karl!" she called.
The stranger smiled as the doors were flung open and Karl burst into the room. The young artist paused, astonished at the presence of the stranger. He was more amazed when the man cried out in the voice of genial comradeship:
"Hello, Karl; how do you do?"
"Why, how do you do?" Karl faltered, looking blankly from Olga to the mysterious visitor. "I don't——"
"You don't remember me," the other said. "Don't you recall me at Monte Carlo?"
"Oh, yes, at Monte Carlo," Karl said with dawning recollection.
"It was an eventful day," the stranger said.
"Yes, yes, of course, I remember; it was last fall, when I had lost all my money playing roulette. Some one stood behind me, and it was you. I was afraid when I turned and saw you, because I fancied I had seen you a moment before, beside the croupier, grinning at me as my gold pieces were swept away. But when I had lost everything you offered me a handful of gold."
"Which you refused, but I saw the longing to accept in your eyes."
"I did not know you."
"But I offered it again and you accepted."
"Yes, and in ten minutes I had recouped my losses and won $20,000 besides," Karl cried with growing enthusiasm. "I remember indeed. Your money seemed to possess mystic luck. When you put it in my hands it glowed, and I thought it was hot. It seemed to burn me."
"You were excited, my boy," said the other genially. "But you repaid me and invited me to dine. I could not accept, because I was forced to leave for Spain that same evening. I promised, however, to call on you when you needed me—and here I am."
He bowed to Karl and Olga, who stood in speechless astonishment at this strange dialogue. She could understand nothing of this uncanny stranger; this specter in black and white, who seemed to emit a lurid radiance as if his red waistcoat were alive.
"It was kind of you to come," Karl said. "I am glad."
"You were not here when I entered," the visitor said, "and I took a seat in that comfortable arm-chair. The warmth of the fire affected me, and I permitted myself to fall asleep."
He indicated, with a sweeping gesture, the big pulpit-backed arm-chair. Olga started and cried out:
"That chair was empty; I remember quite well, when my husband was here. There was no one in it, I am absolutely certain."
Karl was so strangely affected by the stranger's presence that he did not notice Olga's agitation. The other regarded her with his expression of cynical amusement, bowed gravely and said:
"Then I was mistaken, madam."
"Won't you sit down?" Karl said. "Allow me to present you to—but I can't remember your name."
"It does not matter," the other said with an expansive outward gesture of his restless, eloquent hands. "I am a philanthropist, traveling incognito. You may call me anything you like; call me Dr. Millar."
"Dr. Millar," Karl repeated, seeming for the first time to have some doubt as to the character of his guest.
"Oh, you may rest assured my social position is beyond question," the stranger said, as if divining his thought.
Karl did not heed the irony of his speech, but presented him to Olga, who distantly acknowledged his bow. As Karl appeared to succumb to this strange influence, she felt herself growing indignant. Millar seemed bent on provoking an outburst, and his astonishing remarks in another would have seemed vulgar insolence, but in him they possessed a singular meaning that made both Karl and Olga shiver.
"Under different circumstances I should now take my hat and say good-by," Millar said, after the introduction. "But my infinite tact compels me to force my presence upon you in this most unpleasant situation."
The innuendo stung Olga, and she turned to the artist.
"Karl, I can hardly believe it," she exclaimed, indignantly. "Think of it—this man dared to——"
"How long has your husband been dead?" Millar interrupted with exasperating coolness.
"I am not a widow," Olga said, surprised that she should reply.
"Oh, you are divorced?"
"I am not."
"Then if you feel that I have offended you I should think your husband would be the proper man to appeal to," he said with the utmost coolness.
He seemed like a trainer, prodding tame animals with sharp prongs out of the lethargy of their caged lives to stir them to viciousness. Turning to Karl he went on:
"However, if you wish it, I am also at your disposal. But do you not see, madam, that it would be an admission on your part?"
He spoke as one who had dared read every secret thought of each. Bewildered, Karl cried out:
"What does all this talk mean? I don't understand anything. You come in here unannounced; I don't know how nor from where. You make us feel quite uncomfortable, just as if you had trapped us in some compromising situation."
"Yes, yes, that is it," Olga cried, relieved at Karl's outburst.
The stranger looked at them amusedly.
"You may be as impolite to me as you wish; I cannot go," he said.
"Why?" Olga demanded.
"My departure now would mean that I leave you because I have interrupted you. On the other hand, by remaining I prove that I suspect nothing."
"There is nothing to suspect," Karl declared angrily. "I do not want you here."
"Then that is settled; let us talk of something else," the visitor remarked with the most casual inattention to Karl's rage. "The weather; isn't it snowing beautifully? Art; are you preparing anything for the spring exhibition at the Royal Academy?"
"Perhaps I may send something," Karl answered sullenly.
Olga's bewilderment gave place to panic. In her mind was formed the purpose of snatching up her waist and rushing from the room. Before she could do it the stranger was there, holding the waist out and bowing profoundly.
"Permit me, madam," he said.
With a cry of astonishment Olga snatched at the garment.
"Who are you? Where do you come from?" she cried.
With his restless, vibrant hands in the air, the stranger said:
"I come from nowhere, I go everywhere; I am here."
He touched his forehead with his long, white fingers, and his black eyes were fixed upon her. Clutching the silken garment she had worn, Olga rushed into the studio. Millar, man or devil, looked after her and chuckled.
Karl threw himself moodily into a chair as Olga fled into the outer studio, and sat there, not looking at his unwelcome visitor. Dr. Millar seemed to find his dejection amusing. He allowed the silence to remain undisturbed, while he puffed a cigarette. Then he said, half to himself, half to Karl:
"Full of temperament, that woman, and pretty, too; extremely pretty."
"Yes, she is pretty," Karl acquiesced, without looking at him.
"It's a pity she doesn't love her husband," was the next cynical remark that fell on Karl's ears.
He wheeled in his seat and looked at the visitor, who went on with perfect coolness:
"How do I know? It was apparent when she fancied I had insulted her and turned to you for protection."
Karl angrily slammed down an ash tray he had picked up in his nervous fingers and began to pace the floor. Millar went on in a light tone:
"She does not love her husband. He must be a genius or a very commonplace man. Marriage always is a failure with such men. Common men live so low that women are afraid some one may steal into their lives at night through a cellar window. Genius—well, genius lives on the top floor, up toward the clouds, and with so many gloomy steps to climb and no elevator, it's very uncomfortable for a pretty woman. Her ideal is one easy flight of stairs to comfortable living rooms on the first floor."
Karl maintained silence, and continued to walk the floor. He looked at his watch and started toward the door of the reception-room leading into the hall, which was locked.
"This is the second time I have seen madam's shoulders," Millar remarked, casually, blowing cigarette rings in the air.
"What do you mean?" Karl demanded, stung to speech by jealousy.
"Ah, I saw them first in Paris, at the Louvre, fashioned of snow-white marble. They were the shoulders of Venus. Am I right, Karl?"
"I don't know," the artist snapped.
"Well, you must take my word for it, then," Millar said lightly. "I have seen both. And since Alcamenes I have known but one sculptor who could form such wonderful shoulders."
"Who?" Karl asked, turning to him.
"Prosperity," Millar replied, sententiously. "Such tender, soft, exquisite curves are possible only to women who live perfectly. Madam must be the wife of a millionaire."
Karl fell to pacing the floor again, glancing impatiently at the door through which Olga had fled.
"Is she dressing?" asked Millar slyly.
"Yes," Karl answered nervously.
"Is there a mirror in your studio?"
"Madam must be very respectable," Millar said in an insinuating tone; "she takes so long to dress."
"Your remarks are in very bad taste," Karl cried angrily, walking up threateningly to his visitor.
Millar stood erect, without changing his expression of ironical amusement, and said:
"Do you wish to offend me?"
"Yes," Karl snarled.
"Then you, too, must be respectable," the visitor said coolly, adding, as Karl looked at him with wonder: "In a situation like this only a very respectable man could behave with such infernal stupidity."
Karl was about to retort when the studio door opened and Olga entered. He turned quickly toward her and she went to him without noticing Millar.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"Your husband will be here in ten minutes," Millar interposed.
Olga turned toward him and cried accusingly:
"Then you were not asleep in that chair when my husband was here. You heard him say when he would return."
"Madam is mistaken. Feminine presentiment always feels the approach of the husband ten minutes ahead of time. Were it not for those ten minutes there would be more divorced women, but fewer locked doors."
As he spoke he walked over and unlocked the door leading into the hall, then turned and looked at them calmly.
"Is this never to finish?" Olga asked.
"I tried to change the subject, but Karl would not let me," Millar answered.
"I have not spoken a word," Karl protested.
"By your actions, Karl; by the way you jumped up, impatiently consulted your watch, rushed to the door. Poor chap, he was afraid," he added to Olga.
"Afraid!" Karl exclaimed.
"Yes, afraid that your husband would come before you finished dressing. And you were right, Karl."
"Why, my dear Olga——" Karl began impatiently, when the other interrupted him.
"Please, please, let us be logical," he urged. "Look at the situation. The husband enters suddenly. 'Well, here I am, back again, my darling,' he announces. 'Where is the picture? I must see the picture.' There is none. Karl did not work on the picture. Your husband is worried; he does not speak, but he is irritated. He wants to speak and the words stick in his throat. You look at each other, unhappy. Nothing has happened, but the mischief is done. What mischief? Appearances. Whatever you say makes matters worse, and a compromising situation like this is never forgotten by the husband. You go home together in silence."
"Ah, if it were like that," Karl broke in; "but we are not alone. You are here."
Millar shrugged his shoulders.
"Ah, that is it; I am here, and with one word I could dispel the illusion," he acquiesced. "But I know myself; I am cursed with a peculiar, sinister sense of humor, and I am afraid I would not say the word. Hence, when the husband enters we are all silent. Then I say, 'I regret to have arrived at such an inopportune moment.' I take my hat and walk out, leaving you, madam, your husband and Karl."
He seemed to find keen pleasure in the possibility of forcing the two into a position which would cause them suffering and weaken the barriers of self-control they had built up around that boy and girl love that had come back so vividly to both. Had they regarded him as merely human it is certain that Karl would have kicked this cynical being out of the studio, with his infernal innuendoes. But there was something supernormal about him. He dominated both the artist and the wife, and they were completely under his spell, struggle as they would to break it. Olga shrank from the cruelty of their tormentor.
"If this is a jest it is a cruel one," she cried.
"True, madam. But there is another way. If you wish it I can be quite truthful. Should your husband arrive I can tell him the portrait has not been touched and ask his pardon."
"Pardon for what?"
"For having seen your shoulders."
"This is a trap," Olga cried, turning toward Karl for protection. "What do you want? You overwhelm me with false insinuations. I hardly know you five minutes, and I imagine I feel your long fingers at my throat."
"Other pretty women do not feel them quite so soon," he murmured, bending toward her.
Enraged at the attitude of the man, Karl stepped toward him.
"Stop! I won't allow any more of this," he commanded.
The entrance of Heinrich checked his speech. The old servant said:
"The tailor has sent some evening clothes, Monsieur Karl, but they are not yours."
"They are mine," interrupted the stranger.
"Yours?" Karl said in amazement.
"Yes; they were crushed in my trunk," the other said coolly. "I told the tailor to press them and send them here for the evening. I must dress, as I am invited to the ball of one of the most beautiful women in the city to-night at the residence of the Duke of Maranese."
"But the Duke is not living there any more," Olga interposed. "He is in Madrid."
"Yes, I know that; I met the Duke in Paris."
"He has sold his house to us. We are living there now, and the ball is given by me," she went on.
The man looked at her, his black eyes seeming to burn through her own. Shrinking, fearful, fascinated, Olga was held in the spell of those eyes.
"Was I mistaken? Am I not invited?" he asked.
"Yes, you are invited," she faltered.
She could not resist the subtle influence of the man, even while every instinct of good made her recoil from him. With a triumphant smile he bowed and said softly:
"Madam, a little while ago you asked me what I wanted. It was your invitation that I wanted. I thank you."
"But my husband," Olga said, already repenting of the advantage she had given him.
"Oh, he will be delighted to see me," the stranger assured her confidently. "He speculates in wheat; I have information that will be of value to him. The crop has turned out worse than was expected. You love your husband; you should be happy that the wheat crop is bad."
"I am," Olga assented. "We want wheat to be bad because the price will go up."
"Your husband will make another fortune, and you will have the new gown you want."
"How do you know I want a new gown?" Olga asked, falling in once more with the devil's humor of the man.
"I observe that you have a new hat, and a very pretty one; surely you want a new gown."
"You must be married."
"Married! not I," he exclaimed. "A wife is like a monocle; it looks well, but one sees more clearly without it."
"Your views seem against marriage; why?" Olga asked.
The tone of Millar became suddenly serious as he said:
"You want Karl to marry; I want to prevent him from marrying."
"Please let's not discuss that," Karl protested.
"Pardon me, Karl, but an artist should not marry," he went on. "Your future wife will swear to stand by your side for life—until the wedding day—and the day after she will be in your way."
"Not the true wife," Olga declared.
"Ah, but the true wife is always the other fellow's wife," he answered.
Millar had talked so absorbingly that Karl and Olga unconsciously drew near to each other. They stood in front of the high pulpit back of the arm-chair, each one resting a hand on the chair back. Although they were quite unaware of it, their position suggested that of a young couple, before the altar, about to be joined in wedlock. The cynical humor of the situation struck Millar, who walked around them, stood in the chair and leaned over the back, like a preacher in his pulpit.
"You are a pessimist," Olga declared, looking up at him.
"No, not a pessimist; only practical."
"I agree with you," Karl said. "A man should stay at home."
Millar leaned down, placing his hands over Karl's and Olga's as they rested on the back of the chair. Looking at Karl, he said:
"Why didn't you stay at home? You ran away to become an artist. You refused a professional position and ordinary morals; a decent occupation at so much a week. You wanted to go out and seek the Golden Fleece of Fame. Now, fight your battle; fight it alone; don't get married."
As he spoke he lifted the hands of Karl and Olga and placed them together, holding them clasped in his own. They thrilled at each other's touch; they looked into each other's eyes, and they hardly heard the cynical devil's voice as Millar leaned yet farther toward them and said:
"I was thinking what a splendid couple you two would make."
Olga felt herself yielding to the devilish insinuation of Millar. She made no effort to withdraw her hand from Karl's; she was completely under his sinister, dominating influence. Karl's will seemed equally impotent; he could not shake off the mysterious obsession. This man was more than a mere physical presence; he was a part of their very selves—the weaker, sensual impulses against which they had fought, but which now seemed gaining the mastery. The struggle went on in the soul of each as Millar's voice fell melodiously on their ears:
"The most important thing to you in life is to find your proper mate. Generations of conventional treatment will try to prevent you from doing so, by pretending it is impossible. But down in your hearts, in their depths where truth is not perverted by the veneer of convention, I know and you know that it is the simplest thing on earth. Here you are full of talent and longing; here is a woman, beautiful, passionate——"
Karl made a last struggle against the inevitable consequence of this demon's urging, drawing Olga away from him.
"I beg of you, don't!" he cried. "When I look at you I fear. Please don't speak of it. For six years we have lived peacefully."
"Say what you will," the soft, even voice persisted, "I can read your eyes and they are telling me. Don't believe him; he lies," he went on to Olga. "He dreams of her—you—every night and you of him, and he knows it and you know it. Ah, I understand the language of your eyes. No matter what you say, that little love light in your eyes discredits you, reveals your inmost thoughts, and I read them through."
"Let me speak," Karl pleaded. "For six years we have lived quietly in peace, good friends, nothing else. Olga has not the least interest in me, and I—I am quite, quite indifferent."
"Any one who thinks Karl capable of a base thought must be base and contemptible himself," Olga cried.
The two were almost hysterical as they stood beside each other, warding off the evil that seemed to emanate from the mysterious person who towered over them from the pulpit-backed chair. Karl held Olga's right hand in his; his left hand was on her shoulder protectingly. Millar spoke quickly, leaning far down toward them:
"It is not a base thought; it is a beautiful thought, a thought shedding happiness, warmth and joy upon your otherwise miserable lives. But happiness, warmth and joy have a price that must be paid. He who loves wine too well will go to a drunkard's grave, but while he is drunk with wine angels sing to him.
"Whatever the price, his happiness is cheaply bought. The poet sings his greatest song when he is about to die, and is a poor, weak, human mortal to live without wine and song and women's lips? A little stump of a candle shines its brightest ere it goes out forever. It should teach you that one glow of warmth is worth all this life can give. Life has no object but to be thrown away. It must end; let us end it well. Let our raging passions set fire to everything about us, burning, burning, burning until we ourselves are reduced to ashes. Those who pretend otherwise are hypocrites and liars."
The two listened spellbound to this amazing sermon of sin. Karl's arm slipped down to Olga's waist. He felt himself drawing her closer to him.
"Don't be a liar," Millar urged, his eyes still burning into them; "don't be a hypocrite. Be a rascal, but be a pleasant rascal and the world is yours. Look at me; all the world is mine, and what I have told you is the honest confession of all the world. We are baptized, not with water, but with fire. Love yourself; only yourself; wear the softest garments, sip the sweetest wine, kiss the prettiest lips."
No subtler tempter ever spoke to the hearts of a man and a woman. Karl was leaning over Olga now; he saw her eyes, her lips, soft, warm, rose-colored, he felt her arms as she clung to him, while over them both gloated the sinister figure of Millar—the devil—triumphant, confident that his work was done.
There was a crashing ring at the doorbell that acted like an electric shock on the group. Karl and Olga came to their senses, dazed, trembling, thankful. Millar stepped down from the chair, baffled, and turned his back upon them.
"My husband!" Olga gasped.
"Mr. Moneybags!" Millar sneered contemptuously.
Olga and Karl quickly drew apart. Both were relieved. Olga felt as if she had stepped back from the brink of a terrible precipice, over which she had almost fallen. Her face was colorless, and there were lines of agony across her brow. The two unhappy people stood staring at each other for a full minute before Heinrich entered and announced Herman.
It had been growing dark in the studio during the remarkable discourse by Millar, but so absorbed had both his listeners been in their own tremendous emotions that they had paid no heed. Now, as Herman entered, his first exclamation was:
"How dark it is in here. I am sorry I am late."
Heinrich turned on the lights, and the apartment was suddenly illuminated. Karl and Olga had not yet recovered their self-possession, but Karl managed to indicate with a wave of his hand his strange visitor.
"Dr. Millar," he said.
Millar nodded absently and barely replied to Herman's cordial greeting. He was still enraged at the interruption which had prevented the success of his infamous plan. Herman turned quickly to Karl and Olga.
"Well, children, where is the picture? I am anxious to see it," he exclaimed.
"There is no picture," was all Karl could say. Olga, filled with apprehension at she knew not what, was silent.
"No picture!" Herman exclaimed. "What have you been doing all this time?"
"It has been dark for an hour," Karl explained.
"Yes, but Olga has been here for two hours," Herman said, looking at his watch.
There was an instant of silence that threatened to become painfully embarrassing. Olga was about to speak when Millar unexpectedly stepped forward, briskly and politely.
"My dear Monsieur Hofmann, it was my fault," he explained. "I came a moment after you left. I had not seen Karl in two years. We chatted and the time flew past. It was an extremely interesting conversation and madam was so kind as to invite me to the ball this evening."
"You will accept, I trust," Herman said with ready hospitality.
"Yes, thank you," Millar said. "I have come direct from Odessa, where I have had a talk with the Russian wheat magnate."
"Ah, I know; I shall lose money; the wheat crop is bad," Herman said impatiently.
"Oh, isn't that good for us?" Olga asked.
"No, dear, it is not; I am short on wheat."
"What does short on wheat mean?" Olga asked.
"It means digging a pit for others and falling into it yourself," Millar remarked cynically. "However," he went on, "things are not so bad. I have reliable information that the later crop will be abundant."
"Good; I am delighted to learn this," Herman said, very much pleased with Millar, who now spoke pleasantly and ingratiatingly.
Karl had paid little attention to the colloquy between Herman and Millar. He tried to speak to Olga, but could not catch her eye. She seemed to wish to avoid him. She watched her opportunity, however, and managed to whisper to Millar:
"I want to speak with you alone."
Millar brought his subtlety into instant play. Turning to Herman he asked:
"By the way, have you seen the sketch of madam Karl made yesterday? It is atrociously bad."
"No; where is it? I would like to see it," Herman cried eagerly.
"It is in the studio," Millar said.
"You must show it to me, Karl," Herman said, walking toward the studio door with the young artist. "I am sorry you didn't start on the picture to-day, but I suppose it can't be helped. What in the world were you talking about all that time?"
As they went out talking, Olga followed slowly. As she passed Millar he said:
"I will await you here."
Olga went with Karl and her husband. She had hardly left the room when the door from the hall opened and Mimi entered. As Millar turned toward her with his ironical bow she drew back, affrighted.
"Oh, excuse me," she murmured.
"You wish to see the artist?" Millar said.
He walked over, took her by the shoulders and coolly pushed her through the door into the hall.
"Wait there, my dear," he said. "He is engaged just now."
Then he turned to meet Olga, who entered suddenly, looking suspiciously around the room.
"I thought I heard a woman's voice," she exclaimed.
"The scrubwoman; I sent her away," Millar explained.
"I wanted to speak with you alone," Olga began, turning toward him and speaking very earnestly, "in order to tell you——"
"That is not true," Millar interrupted her, cynically.
"What is not true?"
"What you wanted to tell me," he said with exasperating suavity. "You really want to talk with me because you regret that my sermon was interrupted by Mr. Moneybags."
"No, no, I simply want to tell you the truth," she protested.
"You may want to tell the truth—but you never do. I might believe you, if you told me you were not telling the truth."
"Must I think and speak as you wish?" she cried desperately.
"No, not yet. What may I do for you, madam?"
"Please do not come to-night," she implored.
Millar smiled deprecatingly. She went on rapidly, speaking in a low tone that she might not be overheard by Herman and Karl.
"I am myself again—a happy, dutiful wife. Your frivolous morals hurt me. Your words, your thoughts, your sinister influence that seems to force me against my will, frighten me. I must confess that I had become interested in your horrible sermon when, thank God, my good husband rang the bell and put an end to it. He came in at the proper moment."
"Yes, as an object-lesson," Millar sneered. "I observed you closely. We three were beginning to understand one another when he came in."
"Won't you drop the subject?" Olga asked.
"Are you afraid of it?"
"No," she answered coldly; "but please don't come to-night."
Millar bowed deeply, as if granting her request, but he replied coolly:
"I shall come."
"And if my husband asks you not to come?"
"He will ask me to come."
"And if I should ask you in the presence of my husband not to come?"
"I will agree to this, madam," Millar said, looking at her with amusement. "If you do not ask me, in the presence of your husband, to come to-night I will not come. Is that fair?"
"Yes, that is more than nice. It is the first really nice thing you have said," Olga said, greatly relieved.
She wanted to be rid of this terribly sinister influence; to be out of reach of the being who seemed to compel her thoughts to link her present with the past. She wished to feel again the sweet, wholesome purpose that had inspired her yesterday; to go ahead with her unselfish plans for Karl's future. Now that he had given his promise, she was eager to be away, and as Karl and Herman entered she suggested to her husband that it was time to go.
"Yes, put on your coat," Herman said, turning to talk to Millar, whom he found interesting. Karl helped Olga on with her coat, and the touch of it brought back the feeling that had surged over him when he had leaned down to kiss her a few minutes before.
"Now I see how unworthy is my sketch," he said softly.
"Do not look at me like that," Olga protested.
"Why not?" Karl asked hopelessly. "Even when I don't look at you I see you just the same."
Olga covered her face and turned away from him.
"Karl, you shall not do my portrait," she said. "Come, Herman, let us go home," she called to her husband.
Herman and Millar were deep in the discussion of a subject on which the stranger seemed to be amazingly well informed. The business instincts of Olga's husband were uppermost, and he did not like to be drawn away, but he said:
"We shall continue this talk this evening, then."
"No, I regret to say that I can't come; I have made my apologies to Madam Hofmann. I had forgotten an engagement with the Russian Consul for this evening."
"Ah, the Russian Consul will be at our house. Olga, dear, add your entreaties to mine. Persuade Monsieur Millar to come."
In dreadful embarrassment Olga turned to the smiling, cynical mask of a face that looked at her triumphantly. She could not refuse.
"I hope we may have the pleasure of seeing you this evening," she said, and turned wearily toward the door.
"Thank you, madam," the fiend replied. "I shall be more than delighted."
Karl interrupted to say that he would not reach the house that evening before 11 o'clock. He explained that he expected an art dealer. In reality he had just recalled his promise to stop at the house of Mimi. Herman, suspecting his design, made some jesting allusion to it, which caused Olga to ask what he meant. He evaded her question, and Millar, seeing another excellent opportunity to point a moral, declared that he heard a knock.
He walked over to the door, opened it, and to the amazement of the others, ushered the embarrassed little model into the room.
"The art dealer," he said sarcastically.
Olga felt instantly consumed with jealousy. As she and her husband walked out Millar said to her:
"I will repay you for your invitation, madam. I shall manage to forget my overcoat, and in five minutes I shall return for it and break up the chat which you anticipate with such displeasure."
Olga could not deny the insinuation. She did feel jealous of the pretty model; she did wish that the girl and Karl might not be left alone, and she felt almost grateful to Millar for his promise. Karl had ushered Mimi into the studio, and then he bade his guests good-by. Left alone, he threw himself face downward on the sofa, where Mimi found him a few minutes later.
Karl paid no attention to Mimi until she walked over to him and touched him on the shoulder. Then he sat up impatiently.
"Did I not promise to call at your house?" he asked. "Why did you come here?"
"Are you ashamed because I came while all those people were here?" Mimi asked, hurt and drawing away from him.
"Oh, no, not at all. I promised to call, and I can't understand why you did not wait," Karl answered.
Mimi timidly leaned down and put her arms around his neck. Then she said pleadingly:
"Oh, Karl, dear, please don't get married."
"Don't! you'll spoil my collar," Karl exclaimed, trying to avoid her embrace. Mimi began to cry softly.
"Before I saw these people I hardly ever thought of your marriage," she said. "But now—Karl, dear, my heart aches. Please don't get married."
Karl was touched by her grief, in spite of himself. He reached over and patted her cheek.
"There, don't cry, dearie; please don't cry," he said. "It makes you homely."
Mimi brightened instantly, and her tears vanished, leaving her face smiling.
"I am a silly little girl," she said.
"Yes, you are, but I like you very much," Karl said, taking her in his arms. "Now, Mimi, suppose we talk over our marriage quietly and sensibly. You may as well stay, now that you are here. Take off your hat and your jacket."
He arose and was helping her off with her red woolen jacket. Then he hugged her and said as he kissed her lips:
"I am your best friend, after all, Mimi, and you are my——"
The door opened suddenly and Millar entered, taking up Karl's speech with:
"My overcoat; it is here somewhere. Your servant gave me yours."
Karl and Mimi drew away from each other, and Millar looked at them, smiling.
"It's very singular," he said, "but each time I enter your studio I find a lady disrobing. You might think this was a ladies' tailoring establishment."
Mimi looked at Karl jealously as he glared at Millar. Then she burst into tears and ran out of the room. Karl watched her, and as she slammed the door, he turned to Millar and quietly said:
"Thank you very much."
"Oh, don't mention it."
"I will get your overcoat, and don't let me detain you," said Karl with significant emphasis.
"I broke the hanger; your man is mending it and will bring it here," Millar said coolly, ignoring the marked impoliteness.
Karl said nothing more, and after a few minutes of silence Millar resumed:
"I just saw something that touched me deeply. Madam Hofmann clinging to her husband's arm as if she were begging him to protect her——"
"Protect her?" Karl exclaimed angrily. "You don't mean to protect her from me?"
"Look here, Karl, do you think you are wise to be a fool?"
"I prefer not to discuss this subject," Karl answered coldly. "You don't seem to understand my position. Why, it is absurd; I have seen this woman every day for years; met her and her husband; we have been good friends. That's all, absolutely, and had I thought of anything else I should laugh at myself. In wealth, position, everything, she is above me."
"No woman is above her own heart," Millar replied cynically. "Look at her. She is yours if you want her. Just stretch out your hand, my boy, and you have your warmth, your happiness, your joy, unspeakable joy, the most supreme joy possible to a human being, and you are too lazy to reach out your hand. Why, another man would toil night and day, risk life and limb for such a woman; yet she drops into your arms unsought—a found treasure."
Karl laughed bitterly.
"A found treasure," he repeated. "Perhaps that is why I am indifferent."
Millar moved over to where the young artist was seated on the couch and sat beside him. He leaned toward Karl and spoke low and earnestly, keeping his big, black, glittering eyes fixed on him.
"Last fall, on the 6th of September—I shall never forget the date—I had a singular experience," he said. "I put on an old suit of clothes—one I had not worn for some time—and as I picked up the waistcoat a sovereign dropped out from one of the pockets. It had been there no one knew how long. I picked it up, saying to myself, as I turned the gold piece over in my hand, 'I wonder when you got there?' It slipped through my fingers and rolled into some dark corner.
"I searched the room trying to find it, but my sovereign had gone. I became nervous. Again I searched, with no result. I became angry, took up the rugs, moved the furniture about, and I called my man to help me. I grew feverish with the one thought that I must have that sovereign. Suddenly a suspicion seized me. I sprang to my feet and cried to my servant, 'You thief, you have found the sovereign and put it back in your pocket.' He answered disrespectfully. I rushed at him. I saw a knife blade glimmer in his pocket and I drew a pistol—this pistol—from mine."
He drew a shining revolver from his hip pocket and laid it on the table at Karl's elbow.
"And with this pistol I nearly killed a man for a found sovereign which I did not need," he finished quietly.
Karl was profoundly stirred by the story, although he could hardly tell why.
"I give found money away," he said, laughing uncertainly, and adding, "for luck."
"So do I," said Millar quickly, "but it slipped through my fingers, and what slips through our fingers is what we want—we seek it breathlessly—that is human nature. You, too, will seek your found treasure once it slips through your fingers. And then you will find that worthless thing worth everything. You will find it sweet, dear, precious."
Karl turned away from him, trying not to listen to him.
"Kill a man for a found sovereign," he repeated.
"That woman will become sweeter, dearer, more precious to you every day," the malignant one went on, his words searing Karl's soul. "You will realize that she could have given you wings, that she is the warmth, the color—her glowing passion the inspiration of your work. All this you will realize when she has slipped through your fingers. You might have become a master—a giant. Not by loving your art, but by loving her. Oh, to be kissed by her, to look into her burning eyes and to kiss her warm, passionate mouth."
Karl covered his face with his hands. Millar picked up the delicately scented shawl which had covered Olga's bare shoulders.
"This has touched her bosom," he cried, twining it around Karl's head and shoulders, so that its fragrance reached his nostrils.
The boy lost control of himself and caught the drapery, pressing it to his lips.
"Both so beautiful," Millar persisted in his soft, even, melodious voice. "Oh, what you could be to each other. What divine pleasure you would find."
Dropping the shawl, Karl started to his feet.
"Be quiet! You are trying to drive me mad," he cried. "Do you want to ruin me? For God's sake, man, be still!"
"Afraid again, O Puritan," Millar sneered. "Why, boy, life is only worth living when it is thrown away."
"Why do you tell me that?" Karl demanded. "Why do you hover over me? What do you want? Who sent you?"
"No one; I am here."
He again touched his forehead significantly and Karl shuddered. "I won't do it; no, no, no! Do you hear? I won't," the boy cried hysterically. "I have been her good friend for years—we have been good friends; we will remain good friends. I don't want the found sovereign."
"But if it slips through your fingers," Millar cried. "Suppose another man runs away with her."
"Who?" Karl demanded.
"Myself," Millar replied coolly.
"To-night! This very night!" Millar cried, laughing satanically and triumphantly. "To-night I shall play with her as I please. Oh, what joy! What exquisite joy! For ten thousand years no lovelier mistress."
"What's that?" Karl cried, taking a step toward him.
"Mistress, I said—mistress! She will do whatever I wish—to-night, at her home. You will see, when the lights are bright, when the air is filled with perfume—before day dawns, you will see."
"Stop, stop!" Karl cried warningly.
"Be there and you will run after your lost sovereign," Millar went on tauntingly. "Every minute you don't know where she is she is spending with me. A carriage passes you with drawn blinds, and your heart stands still. Who is in it? She and I. You see a couple turn the corner with arms lovingly interlocked. Who was that? She and I—always she and I. We sit in every carriage. We go around every corner. Always she and I—always clinging to each other, always lovingly. The thought maddens you. You run through the streets. A light is extinguished in some room, high up in a house. Who is there? She and I. We stand at the window, arm in arm, looking down into your maddened eyes, and we hold each other closer, and we laugh at you."
"Stop, damn you, stop!" Karl cried, beside himself and trying to shut out the terrible monotony of Millar's voice.
"We laugh at you, you fool," the fiend cried again hoarsely. "And her laughter grows warmer and warmer until she laughs as only a woman can laugh in the midst of delirious joy."
With a maddened scream of rage Karl reached the table with a bound and snatched up the revolver. But Millar, with a spring as lithe and agile as a cat, was there beside him, holding the arm with which he would have shot down the man who was pouring insidious poison into his ears—into his soul.
Millar smiled as he looked at the helpless boy before him. Karl released the revolver, and as he replaced it in his pocket, Millar said quietly:
"You see, Karl, a man may kill a man for a lost sovereign."
Karl's paroxysm of rage and pain over, he threw himself into a chair and buried his face in his hands. He did not even look up as Millar, his cynical glance fixed on him, walked out, closing the door softly behind him. His departure seemed to clear the atmosphere of its oppressive burden of evil, however, and Karl jumped to his feet. He made a few turns up and down the studio and then changed his velvet studio jacket for a greatcoat and plunged out of doors into the storm.
A brisk walk through the snow and gathering darkness revived him and he turned back to the studio with a clearer brain. His old servant, Heinrich, met him at the door.
"Monsieur, the gentleman has returned and is dressing," the old man said, in an awe-struck whisper. "I think he is the devil," he added vindictively.
Heinrich had been terrified when Millar, returning to the studio in Karl's absence, had taken possession, with the utmost coolness, of Karl's guest-chamber and proceeded to change to the evening clothes which had been sent to him there from the tailor's. Unwilling to meet the man again, Karl hurried into his own room and locked the door. He did not emerge again until long after Millar had completed his dressing and had left the studio.
Karl tried desperately to drive thoughts of Olga from his mind; but the terrible flame of passion which had grown from the tiny, buried spark of boy love that lurked in his heart, under the sinister suggestion of Millar, tortured him. He could hardly keep himself from rushing off to Olga's house, in advance of the ball, to beg her not to proceed with her design of bringing him and Elsa together; to tell her that he loved her and that in all the world there lived no other woman for him. Desperately, at last, he remembered his promise to see Mimi, and he hurried out and made his way afoot to the tattered little buildings in which she lived, hoping there to find forgetfulness. But, go where he would, the haunting black eyes, the cynical smile, that even, persistent voice, the insidious suggestions of Millar, the devil, followed him and would not be shaken off.
* * * * *
In a state of mind even more desperate than that of Karl, Olga went home with Herman. Their journey was as silent as their carriage was silent. Herman was absorbed in contemplation of the information Millar had given him regarding business affairs in Russia, in which he was heavily interested. Olga was torn by conflicting emotions. The man had roused in her the dormant love for Karl which she believed buried forever. She could not deny to herself now, as she had denied for six years, that she loved him. She knew now that during those six years it had been to Karl, not to Herman, that she had turned for sympathy, for understanding, and the knowledge maddened her.
Deep in her heart Olga exalted duty before every other virtue, and the duty of a loyal wife before every other duty. She could feel now the crumbling away of all her principles. She had believed for six years that she had given to Herman every bit of her love and loyalty, and now she was forced to the self-confession that she had lived a lie, even to herself. She loved Karl.
But, away from Millar's influence, she resolved that she would yet battle with and overcome the terrible impulses he had aroused. She would make the artist love the beautiful, accomplished girl whom she herself had selected for his bride. She would make him happy; make them both happy, even if it meant that she must crush out her own hopes of happiness in doing so.
"That is a very remarkable man, that friend of Karl's," Herman said after they had driven some time in silence.
"Yes; he is very disagreeable," Olga replied.
"Oh, I don't think so," Herman protested. "To me he seemed very agreeable. Where does he come from? He seems to have been everywhere and to know everybody."
"And everything," assented Olga wearily. "I cannot tell you anything about him. Karl met him a year ago at Monte Carlo."
"I am glad you persuaded him to come to-night," Herman said. "He is going to give me information that will be of great value to me."
Olga was on the point of telling Herman all about the terrible sermon the stranger had preached to them; of his wicked insinuations and of her terrible dread, but she checked herself. Herman seemed fatuously delighted by Millar, and she could not bring herself to talk to him now. They continued the ride in silence until home was reached.
Herman and Olga occupied one of the finest residences in Park Lane. It had been built by a wealthy nobleman and completed with a princely disregard for expenditure. It stood in the center of a considerable park, surrounded by trees and gardens.
Preparations were already going forward for the ball when Herman and Olga reached home. Decorators were putting the finishing touches on the magnificent ballroom. Florists were banking ferns and potted plants along the stairs and halls. All was bustle and preparation. Herman delightedly went forward and examined every detail of the work. Olga, who ordinarily would have taken the same keen interest in the preparations, turned wearily away and went to her own room. She dined alone, under the plea of a headache, and did not again appear until the guests began to arrive in the evening.
"You look very beautiful, my dear," Herman said to her when she entered the drawing-room.
Her mood had changed. Her eyes seemed unnaturally bright. She herself could not tell what had caused the change. When she reached home she had looked forward with shuddering aversion to her second meeting with Millar. Now she was impatient for him to arrive. She wanted to talk to him; to hear again the soft, persuasive voice, the insidious harmony of his words that seemed to frame for her the thoughts she had never dared express.
She was bright, alive, witty, charming in the beauty of her fresh color, her glorious hair, her splendid figure set off charmingly in an evening gown of white satin brocade. She stood at the head of the winding stairway leading to the drawing-room when Millar came.
The man seemed more suggestive of malignant purpose in his evening clothes than he had been in the afternoon. Immaculate in every detail of his dress, his very grooming suggested wickedness. He walked slowly up the stairs, feasting his eyes on Olga as she stood with hand extended to meet him.
"Madam, I am charmed to greet you again," he said. "I congratulate you on the wonderful transformation, and I need not ask in what way it was effected."
"It may be that I owe it to you, monsieur," Olga replied gayly, her eyes frankly meeting those of Millar as he looked at her with admiration he did not attempt to disguise.
"I trust we are soon to have the pleasure of seeing Karl again."
"He will be here—later, I believe," Olga answered. "Meanwhile, monsieur, I am going to ask you to make yourself agreeable to some of my guests."
"Madam, I can only make myself disagreeable to them," he replied cynically. "It is not they whom I came to see and entertain."
"But you must be entertained now," Olga said. "Soon I hope we may talk."
"We shall talk," Millar assured her, bowing.
He passed on to greet Herman, and was presented to others in the rapidly growing throng. Wherever he went Olga heard exclamations usually of surprise or dismay from her women guests, and the number that invariably gathered around him at first rapidly diminished. He seemed bent on making himself disagreeable, as he had promised.
One elderly spinster to whom he was presented greeted him with an affected lisp, drooping eyes and an inane remark about the terrible cold.
"Yes, mademoiselle, your teeth will chatter to-night—on the dresser."
To another—a portly lady who affected the airs of a girl—he said in his most silken tones:
"My dear madam, I must tell you of a splendid remedy for getting thin."
"I don't want to get thin," the portly one replied indignantly as she flounced away from him.
Olga waited impatiently for an opportunity to withdraw with Millar into a secluded place, where she might listen to him while he told her the things that she did not dare tell herself. The evening had grown late, however, and Karl had arrived before she could get away from her guests.
Karl had tried to avoid a tete-a-tete with Olga, and she took the first opportunity of introducing him to Elsa. She rebelled in her soul now at the thought of their marriage, but her will drove her to the fulfilment of her purpose, to that extent at least. But it was with a heart torn with jealousy that she watched Karl and Elsa move off together, and turned to meet Millar, standing beside her with his cynical, sinister smile.
Elsa Berg was a brilliant, vivacious girl, rarely beautiful, with lively blue eyes, chestnut hair and a tall, slender, willowy figure. The romance and excitement of her meeting with Karl made her seem doubly beautiful, and she gladdened the artist in him, but he helplessly confessed to himself that she made no impression on his heart. His thoughts were with Olga, and he was abstracted, almost to the point of rudeness, while Elsa tried to talk with him.
"Who is that terribly rude person who seems to be frightening every one?" she asked.
"He? Oh, that is Dr. Millar, a friend of mine," Karl replied.
"Pooh! I don't see why every one seems so afraid of him," Elsa said with a note of challenge in her tone. "I think I shall meet him just to see if he will make me run."
"No, no; don't go near him," Karl begged.
"And why not? Has he such a sharp tongue or an evil mind? I can take care of myself."
"I don't really think you ought to meet him," Karl said, but he spoke without conviction. He suddenly yielded to a curiosity to see what might come of a meeting between Elsa and Millar.
"I don't care; I'm going to hunt him up," she cried, jumping up and scampering off.
Millar had gone into an anteroom leading out into the beautiful gardens. A number of the company had assembled there as he entered, and it was obvious from the instant silence which ensued that he had been the subject of their discussion. This seemed to gratify his cynical humor, and he looked the assembled men and women—society puppets—over with a cynical grin. Elsa was among them, and toward her Millar bowed as he said:
"I never knew this number of ladies could be so silent. I presume during my absence you have been discussing me kindly."
The others did not speak, but Elsa turned boldly to Millar.
"Don't flatter yourself that I am afraid of you," she said. "I would say to your face what these people only dare think. Indeed, I was just going to look for you."
"It is just as well you are here; they might discuss you and your approaching betrothal with Karl," Millar said.
"You—you know!" Elsa cried in astonishment.
The others seemed tremendously interested at the information Millar had imparted, and Elsa was embarrassed. She knew the design of her friend Olga in bringing her and Karl together, but she was not aware that it was known to any one else. Millar smiled as he replied:
"Of course; they would throw you into his arms."
While the others who overheard laughed at this sally and Elsa blushed furiously, Millar went close to her and said:
"I must speak to you alone. I will send these people away. Leave it to me."
Elsa drew away and there was a silence in the room. The others began to feel uncomfortable as Millar looked slowly from one to the other of them. One or two essayed conversation, and his cutting, insolent replies sent them scurrying from the room. In a few moments only he and Elsa remained in the apartment. From the adjoining ballroom came the strains of music and the sound of dancing and bright laughter. Millar looked at Elsa.
"Now they are gone," he said.
"Are you not surprised that I did not go also?" she asked. "You offended me, you know, but I stayed because I want to talk with you."
"How charming," Millar said with gentle sarcasm.
"Perhaps you know my nickname—Saucy Elsa?" said the girl warningly.
"Then you should know that your Chesterfieldian manners embarrass me," Elsa said impatiently as Millar bowed again before her. "I have selected you to deliver a most impudent message to that crowd in there, because you are so perfectly impolite."
"I am entirely at your disposal, mademoiselle."
"How can I be impudent, though, when you are so polite to me?" she cried petulantly.
"Shall we end the conversation, then?"
"Oh, no, not yet," Elsa cried, embarrassed. Then she went on with determination: "When you came in here you said I was the girl they were going to throw into Karl's arms."
"But you did not say that I am the girl who permits herself to be thrown into Karl's arms. Am I right?"
"Please sit down," Elsa went on, recovering her self-poise, which the baffling politeness of Millar had disturbed.
He declined the chair with a gesture, but she insisted.
"I feel much more commanding when I stand, and I want every advantage," she said. "I want to set you right, and it will be much easier when you sit down and I stand."
Smiling, Millar sat down and looked up at her expectantly. Slightly confused, she went on:
"I don't want people making fun of me before my face. I know everything. Do I make myself clear? You were kind enough to mention the subject, and I shall delegate to you the mission of explaining the true facts to those dummies."
She grew quite vehement, and her cheeks flushed. Millar looked at her admiringly as he said:
"Your confidence does me great honor."
"As a rule I don't take these people seriously," the girl hurried on. "I have no more interest in them or their opinions than I have in last week's newspapers. But I want them all to know that they have not fooled me into marrying Karl. And you all want me to marry him—you all want to throw me into his arms."
"Pardon me——" Millar interrupted, but she went on, unheeding.
"Don't you think I can see through your transparent schemes? But I'll marry him just the same, if he'll have me. Do you understand? I'll marry him."
"I do not think you will," Millar said quietly.
"I tell you I am going to be Karl's wife," Elsa cried with emphasis.
"Now that you have graced me with your confidence," Millar said, rising, "I feel that I may be quite frank with you. This marriage cannot take place."
He pointed to the chair he had vacated and smiled.
"Now, you sit down, because I am going to set you right," he said.
Wonderingly, Elsa obeyed. Millar called a servant who was passing, and said:
"You will find a small red leather case in my overcoat pocket. Bring it here."
The servant went out and he continued to Elsa:
"I know the reason of this marriage, but you—you don't know the reason, or——"
"Or you don't want to know. Hence you are about to consent."
"Consent to what?" Elsa cried. "Don't beat around the bush. This is what I am trying to avoid. I am about to consent to become the wife of a man who loves another woman. And, what is more, I intend to go on my honeymoon with a man who has another woman in his heart—who leaves with this other woman everything he should bring to his wife—love, sympathy, enthusiasm, everything. You see, you did not know me."
Millar was unmoved by her vehement declaration. As the servant re-entered the room and handed him a small, red leather case, he said:
"I did not think this subject could excite you to such a degree."
"I don't want any one laughing at me," Elsa protested. "I want them all to understand that I know quite well the way I am going, and that I go that way proudly, fully conscious of it—that I know everything and yet I consent to be his wife."
"Why?" Millar asked, opening his little satchel.
"Because—because—I—I love him," the girl answered, and began to sob.
Millar smiled wickedly as he took from the case a dainty lace handkerchief and held it toward Elsa.
"Pardon me, I always carry this with me," he said. "It is my weeping bag. In it is everything a woman needs for weeping."
Elsa sobbed and dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief, not noticing that the man was amused.
"I—I love him," she declared.
"And take this also," Millar said, handing her a little mirror, then a powder puff and a tiny stick of rouge. Elsa could not help smiling through her tears at the absurdity of it, as she dabbed and dusted her tear-stained face, looking at herself in the little mirror, until all traces of her weeping were removed.
"So this is the far-famed Saucy Elsa," Millar said as he watched her.
"No, it isn't," she said rebelliously. "When I came here to-night I was a young, saucy girl. Now I am a nervous old woman. What shall I do?"
"Whatever you do, you must not be discouraged. You must fight—attack the enemy. But first of all you must be pretty."
"I shall try," Elsa said dolefully.
"You must show that woman your teeth. Of course it is hard for a young girl to fight a woman," Millar went on. "You don't possess so many weapons as a married woman who knows love already—who—may I say something improper?"
"Please do," she said, her sauciness returning as she held her hands before her eyes and looked at him through her fingers.
"A woman who knows all about love that you have yet to learn."
"I understand," she said.
"But don't mind that; listen. There is not much sentiment in me, but I am a man, and I tell you, little girl, you possess the weapon that will deal the death blow to the most attractive, the most experienced woman in the world. That weapon is purity."