THE GUESTS OF HERCULES
BOOKS BY C. N. and A. M. WILLIAMSON
The Golden Silence The Motor Maid Lord Loveland Discovers America Set in Silver The Lightning Conductor The Princess Passes My Friend the Chauffeur Lady Betty Across the Water Rosemary in Search of a Father The Princess Virginia The Car of Destiny The Chaperon
The Guests of Hercules
BY C. N. and A. M. WILLIAMSON
ILLUSTRATED BY M. LEONE BRACKER & ARTHUR H. BUCKLAND
GARDEN CITY NEW YORK DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY 1912
Copyright, 1912, by C. N. & A. M. WILLIAMSON
All rights reserved, including that of translation into Foreign Languages, including the Scandinavian
TO THE LORD OF THE GARDEN
"Mary was a goddess on a golden pinnacle. This was life; the wine of life" . . . . . . . Frontispiece
Mary Grant . . . . . . . . FACING PAGE 22
"'I can't promise!' she exclaimed. 'I've never wanted to marry.'" . 286
"'It was Fate brought you—to give you to me. Do you regret it?'" . 398
THE GUESTS OF HERCULES
Long shadows of late afternoon lay straight and thin across the garden path; shadows of beech trees that ranged themselves in an undeviating line, like an inner wall within the convent wall of brick; and the soaring trees were very old, as old perhaps as the convent itself, whose stone had the same soft tints of faded red and brown as the autumn leaves which sparsely jewelled the beeches' silver.
A tall girl in the habit of a novice walked the path alone, moving slowly across the stripes of sunlight and shadow which inlaid the gravel with equal bars of black and reddish gold. There was a smell of autumn on the windless air, bitter yet sweet; the scent of dying leaves, and fading flowers loth to perish, of rose-berries that had usurped the place of roses, of chrysanthemums chilled by frost, of moist earth deprived of sun, and of the green moss-like film overgrowing all the trunks of the old beech trees. The novice was saying goodbye to the convent garden, and the long straight path under the wall, where every day for many years she had walked, spring and summer, autumn and winter; days of rain, days of sun, days of boisterous wind, days of white feathery snow—all the days through which she had passed, on her way from childhood to womanhood. Best of all, she had loved the garden and her favourite path in spring, when vague hopes like dreams stirred in her blood, when it seemed that she could hear the whisper of the sap in the veins of the trees, and the crisp stir of the buds as they unfolded. She wished that she could have been going out of the garden in the brightness and fragrance of spring. The young beauty of the world would have been a good omen for the happiness of her new life. The sorrowful incense of Nature in decay cast a spell of sadness over her, even of fear, lest after all she were doing a wrong thing, making a mistake which could never be amended.
The spirit of the past laid a hand upon her heart. Ghosts of sweet days gone long ago beckoned her back to the land of vanished hours. The garden was the garden of the past; for here, within the high walls draped in flowering creepers and ivy old as history, past, present, and future were all as one, and had been so for many a tranquil generation of calm-faced, dark-veiled women. Suddenly a great homesickness fell upon the novice like an iron weight. She longed to rush into the house, to fling herself at Reverend Mother's feet, and cry out that she wanted to take back her decision, that she wanted everything to be as it had been before. But it was too late to change. What was done, was done.
Deliberately, she had given up her home, and all the kind women who had made the place home for her, from the time when she was a child eight years old until now, when she was twenty-four. Sixteen years! It was a lifetime. Memories of her child-world before convent days were more like dreams than memories of real things that had befallen her, Mary Grant. And yet, on this her last day in the convent, recollections of the first were crystal clear, as they never had been in the years that lay between.
Her father had brought her a long way, in a train. Something dreadful had happened, which had made him stop loving her. She could not guess what, for she had done nothing wrong so far as she knew: but a few days before, her nurse, a kind old woman of a comfortable fatness, had put her into a room where her father was and gently shut the door, leaving the two alone together. Mary had gone to him expecting a kiss, for he was always kind, though she did not feel that she knew him well—only a little better, perhaps, than the radiant young mother whom she seldom saw for more than five minutes at a time. But instead of kissing her as usual, he had turned upon her a look of dislike, almost of horror, which often came to her afterward, in dreams. Taking the little girl by the shoulder not ungently, but very coldly, and as if he were in a great hurry to be rid of her, he pushed rather than led her to the door. Opening it, he called the nurse, in a sharp, displeased voice. "I don't want the child," he said. "I can't have her here. Don't bring her to me again without being asked." Then the kind, fat old woman had caught Mary in her arms and carried her upstairs, a thing that had not happened for years. And in the nursery the good creature had cried over the "poor bairn" a good deal, mumbling strange things which Mary could not understand. But a few words had lingered in her memory, something about its being cruel and unjust to visit the sins of others on innocent babies. A few days afterward Mary's father, very thin and strange-looking, with hard lines in his handsome brown face, took her with him on a journey, after nurse had kissed her many times with streaming tears. At last they had got out of the train into a carriage, and driven a long way. At evening they had come to a tall, beautiful gateway, which had carved stone animals on high pillars at either side. That was the gate of the Convent of Saint Ursula-of-the-Lake, the gate of Mary's home-to-be: and in a big, bare parlour, with long windows and a polished oak floor that reflected curious white birds and dragons of an escutcheon on the ceiling, Reverend Mother had received them. She had taken Mary on her lap; and when, after much talk about school and years to come, the child's father had gone, shadowy, dark-robed women had glided softly into the room. They had crowded round the little girl, like children round a new doll, petting and murmuring over her: and she had been given cake and milk, and wonderful preserved fruit, such as she had never tasted.
Some of those dear women had gone since then, not as she was going, out into an unknown, maybe disappointing, world, but to a place where happiness was certain, according to their faith. Mary had not forgotten one of the kind faces—and all those who remained she loved dearly; yet she was leaving them to-day. Already it was time. She had wished to come out into the garden alone for this last walk, and to wear the habit of her novitiate, though she had voluntarily given up the right to it forever. She must go in and dress for the world, as she had not dressed for years which seemed twice their real length. She must go in, and bid them all goodbye—Reverend Mother, and the nuns, and novices, and the schoolgirls, of whose number she had once been.
She stood still, looking toward the far end of the path, her back turned toward the gray face of the convent.
"Goodbye, dear old sundial, that has told so many of my hours," she said. "Goodbye, sweet rose-trees that I planted, and all the others I've loved so long. Goodbye, dear laurel bushes, that know my thoughts. Goodbye, everything."
Her arms hung at her sides, lost in the folds of her veil. Slowly tears filled her eyes, but did not fall until a delicate sound of light-running feet on grass made her start, and wink the tears away. They rolled down her white cheeks in four bright drops, which she hastily dried with the back of her hand; and no more tears followed. When she was sure of herself, she turned and saw a girl running to her from the house, a pretty, brown-haired girl in a blue dress that looked very frivolous and worldly in contrast to Mary's habit. But the bushes and the sundial, and the fading flowers that tapestried the ivy on the old wall, were used to such frivolities. Generations of schoolgirls, taught and guarded by the Sisters of Saint Ursula-of-the-Lake, had played and whispered secrets along this garden path.
"Dearest Mary!" exclaimed the girl in blue. "I begged them to let me come to you just for a few minutes—a last talk. Do you mind?"
Mary had wanted to be alone, but suddenly she was glad that, after all, this girl was with her. "You call me 'Mary'!" she said. "How strange it seems to be Mary again—almost wrong, and—frightening."
"But you're not Sister Rose any longer," the girl in blue answered. "There's nothing remote about you now. You're my dear old chum, just as you used to be. And will you please begin to be frivolous by calling me Peter?"
Mary smiled, and two round dimples showed themselves in the cheeks still wet with tears. She and this girl, four years younger than herself, had begun to love each other dearly in school days, when Mary Grant was nineteen, and Mary Maxwell fifteen. They had gone on loving each other dearly till the elder Mary was twenty-one, and the younger seventeen. Then Molly Maxwell—who named herself "Peter Pan" because she hated the thought of growing up—had to go back to her home in America and "come out," to please her father, who was by birth a Scotsman, but who had made his money in New York. After three gay seasons she had begged to return for six months to school, and see her friend Mary Grant—Sister Rose—before the final vows were taken. Also she had wished to see another Mary, who had been almost equally her friend ("the three Maries" they had always been called, or "the Queen's Maries"); but the third of the three Maries had disappeared, and about her going there was a mystery which Reverend Mother did not wish to have broken.
"Peter," Sister Rose echoed obediently, as the younger girl clasped her arm, making her walk slowly toward the sundial at the far end of the path.
"It does sound good to hear you call me that again," Molly Maxwell said. "You've been so stiff and different since I came back and found you turned into Sister Rose. Often I've been sorry I came. And now, when I've got three months still to stay, you're going to leave me. If only you could have waited, to change your mind!"
"If I had waited, I couldn't have changed it at all," Sister Rose reminded her. "You know——"
"Yes, I know. It was the eleventh hour. Another week, and you would have taken your vows. Oh, I don't mean what I said, dear. I'm glad you're going—thankful. You hadn't the vocation. It would have killed you."
"No. For here they make it hard for novices on purpose, so that they may know the worst there is to expect, and be sure they're strong enough in body and heart. I wasn't fit. I feared I wasn't——"
"You weren't—that is, your body and heart are fitted for a different life. You'll be happy, very happy."
"I wonder?" Mary said, in a whisper.
"Of course you will. You'll tell me so when we meet again, out in my world that will be your world, too. I wish I were going with you now, and I could, of course. Only I had to beg the pater so hard to let me come here, I'd be ashamed to cable him, that I wanted to get away before the six months were up. He wouldn't understand how different everything is because I'm going to lose you."
"In a way, you would have lost me if—if I'd stayed, and—everything had been as I expected."
"I know. They've let you be with me more as a novice than you could be as a professed nun. Still, you'd have been under the same roof. I could have seen you often. But I am glad. I'm not thinking of myself. And we'll meet just as soon as we can, when my time's up here. Father's coming back to his dear native Fifeshire to fetch me, and I'll make him take me to you, wherever you are, or else you'll visit me; better still. But it seems a long time to wait, for I really did come back here to be a 'parlour boarder,' a heap more to see you than for any other reason. And, besides, there's another thing. Only I hardly know how to say it, or whether I dare say it at all."
Sister Rose looked suddenly anxious, as if she were afraid of something that might follow. "What is it?" she asked quickly, almost sharply. "You must tell me."
"Why, it's nothing to tell—exactly. It's only this: I'm worried. I'm glad you're not going to be a nun all your life, dear; delighted—enchanted. You're given back to me. But—I worry because I can't help feeling that I've got something to do with the changing of your mind so suddenly; that if ever you should regret anything—not that you will, but if you should—you might blame me, hate me, perhaps."
"I never shall do either, whatever happens," the novice said, earnestly and gravely. She did not look at her friend as she spoke, though they were so nearly of the same height as they walked, their arms linked together, that they could gaze straight into one another's eyes. Instead, she looked up at the sky, through the groined gray ceiling of tree-branches, as if offering a vow. And seeing her uplifted profile with its pure features and clear curve of dark lashes, Peter thought how beautiful she was, of a beauty quite unearthly, and perhaps unsuited to the world. With a pang, she wondered if such a girl would not have been safer forever in the convent where she had lived most of her years. And though she herself was four years younger, she felt old and mature, and terribly wise compared with Sister Rose. An awful sense of responsibility was upon her. She was afraid of it. Her pretty blond face, with its bright and shrewd gray eyes, looked almost drawn, and lost the fresh colour that made the little golden freckles charming as the dust of flower-pollen on her rounded cheeks.
"But I have got something to do with it, haven't I?" she persisted, longing for contradiction, yet certain that it would not come.
"I hardly know—to be quite honest," Mary answered. "I don't know what I might have done if you hadn't come back and told me things about your life, and all your travels with your father—things that made me tingle. Maybe I should never have had the courage without that incentive. But, Peter, I'll tell you something I couldn't have told you till to-day. Since the very beginning of my novitiate I was never happy, never at rest."
"Truly? You wanted to go, even then, for two whole years?"
"I don't know what I wanted. But suddenly all the sweet calm was broken. You've often looked out from the dormitory windows over the lake, and seen how a wind springing up in an instant ruffles the clear surface. It's just like a mirror broken into a thousand tiny fragments. Well, it was so with me, with my spirit. And after all these years, when I'd been so contented, so happy that I couldn't even bear, as a schoolgirl, to go away for two or three days to visit Lady MacMillan in the holidays, without nearly dying of homesickness before I could be brought back! As a postulant I was just as happy, too. You know, I wouldn't go out into the world to try my resolve, as Reverend Mother advised. I was so sure there could be no home for me but this. Then came the change. Oh, Peter, I hope it wasn't the legacy! I pray I'm not so mean as that!"
"How long was it after your novitiate began that the money was left you?" Peter asked: for this was the first intimate talk alone and undisturbed that she had had with her old school friend since coming back to the convent three months ago. She knew vaguely that a cousin of Mary's dead father had left the novice money, and that it had been unexpected, as the lady was not a Roman Catholic, and had relations just as near, of her own religion. But Peter did not quite know when the news had come, or what had happened then.
"It was the very next day. That was odd, wasn't it? Though I don't know, exactly, why it should have seemed odd. It had to happen on some day. Why not that one? I was glad I should have a good dowry—quite proud to be of some use to the convent. I didn't think what I might have done for myself, if I'd been in the world—not then. But afterward, thoughts crept into my head. I used to push them out again as fast as they crawled in, and I told myself what a good thing I had a safe refuge, remembering my father, what he wrote about himself, and my mother."
For a moment she was silent. There was no need to explain, for Peter knew all about the terrible letter that had come from India with the news of Major Grant's death. It had arrived before Mary resolved to take vows, while she was still a fellow schoolgirl of Peter's, older than most of the girls, looked up to and adored, and probably it had done more than anything else to decide her that she had a "vocation." Mary had told about the letter at the time, with stormy tears: how her father in dying wrote down the story of the past, as a warning to his daughter, whom he had not loved; told the girl that her mother had run away with one of his brother officers; that he, springing from a family of reckless gamblers, had himself become a gambler; that he had thrown away most of his money; and that his last words to Mary were, "You have wild blood in your veins. Be careful: don't let it ruin your life, as two other lives have been ruined before you."
"Then," Mary went on, while Peter waited, "for a few weeks, or a few days, I would be more peaceful. But the restlessness always came again. And, after the end of the first year, it grew worse. I was never happy for more than a few hours together. Still I meant to fight till the end. I never thought seriously of giving it up."
"Until after I came?" Peter broke in.
"Oh, I was happier for a while after you came. You took my mind off myself."
"And turned it to myself, or, rather, to the world I lived in. I'm glad, yes, I'm glad, I was in time, and yet—oh, Mary, you won't go to Monte Carlo, will you?"
Mary stopped short in her walk, and turned to face Peter.
"Why do you say that?" she asked, sharply. "What can make you think of Monte Carlo?"
"Only, you seemed so interested in hearing me tell about staying with father at Stellamare, my cousin's house. You asked me such a lot of questions about it and about the Casino, more than about any other place, even Rome. And you looked excited when I told you. Your cheeks grew red. I noticed then, but it didn't matter, because you were going to live here always, and be a nun. Now——"
"Now what does it matter?" the novice asked, almost defiantly. "Why should it occur to me to go to Monte Carlo?"
"Only because you were interested, and perhaps I may have made the Riviera seem even more beautiful and amusing than it really is. And besides—if it should be true, what your father was afraid of——"
"That you inherit his love of gambling. Oh, I couldn't bear it, darling, to think I had sent you to Monte Carlo."
"He didn't know enough about me to know whether I inherited anything from him or not. I hardly understand what gambling means, except what you've told me. It's only a word like a bird of ill omen. And what you said about the play at the Casino didn't interest me as other things did. It didn't sound attractive at all."
"It's different when you're there," Peter said.
"I don't think it would be for me. I'm almost sure I'm not like that—if I can be sure of anything about myself. Perhaps I can't! But you described the place as if it were a sort of paradise—and all the Riviera. You said you would go back in the spring with your father. You didn't seem to think it wicked and dangerous for yourself."
"Monte Carlo isn't any more wicked than other places, and it's dangerous only for born gamblers," Peter argued. "I'm not one. Neither is my father, except in Wall Street. He plays a little for fun, that's all. And my cousin Jim Schuyler never goes near the Casino except for a concert or the opera. But you—all alone there—you who know no more of life than a baby! It doesn't bear thinking of."
"Don't think of it," said Mary, rather dryly. "I have no idea of going to Monte Carlo."
"Thank goodness! Well, I only wanted to be sure. I couldn't help worrying. Because, if anything had drawn you there, it would have been my fault. You would hardly have heard of Monte Carlo if it hadn't been for my stories. A cloistered saint like you!"
"Is that the way you think of me in these days?" The novice blushed and smiled, showing her friendly dimples. "I wish I felt a saint."
"You are one. And yet"—Peter gazed at her with sudden keenness—"I don't believe you were made to be a saint. It's the years here that have moulded you into what you are. But, there's something different underneath."
"Nothing very bad, I hope?" Mary looked actually frightened, as if she did not know herself, and feared an unfavourable opinion, which might be true.
"No, indeed. But different—quite a different You from what any of us, even yourself, have ever seen. It will come out. Life will bring it out."
"You talk," said Mary, "as if you were older than I."
"So I am, in every way except years, and they count least. Oh, Mary, how I do wish I were going with you!"
"So do I. And yet perhaps it will be good for me to begin alone."
"You won't be alone."
"No. Of course, there will be Lady MacMillan taking me to London. And afterward there'll be my aunt and cousin. But I've never seen them since I was too tiny to remember them at all, except that my cousin Elinor had a lovely big doll she wouldn't let me touch. It's the same as being alone, going to them. I shall have to get acquainted with them and the world at the same time."
"Are you terrified?"
"A little. Oh, a good deal! I think now, at the last moment, I'd take everything back, and stay, if I could."
"No, you wouldn't, if you had the choice, and you saw the gates closing on you—forever. You'd run out."
"I don't know. Perhaps. But how I shall miss them all! Reverend Mother, and the sisters, and you, and the garden, and looking out over the lake far away to the mountains."
"But there'll be other mountains."
"Yes, other mountains."
"Think of the mountains of Italy."
"Oh, I do. When the waves of regret and homesickness come I cheer myself with thoughts of Italy. Ever since I can remember, I've wanted Italy; ever since I began to study history and look at maps, and even to read the lives of the saints, I've cared more about Italy than any other country. When I expected to spend all my life in a convent, I used to think that maybe I could go to the mother-house in Italy for a while some day. You can't realize, Peter—you, who have lived in warm countries—how I've pined for warmth. I've never been warm enough, never in my life, for more than a few hours together. Even in summer it's never really hot here, never hot with the glorious burning heat of the sun that I long to feel. How I do want to be warm, all through my veins. I've wanted it always. Even at the most sacred hours, when I ought to have forgotten that I had a body, I've shivered and yearned to be warm—warm to the heart. I shall go to Italy and bask in the sun."
"Marie used to say that, too, that she wanted to be warm," Peter murmured in an odd, hesitating, shamefaced way. And she looked at the novice intently, as she had looked before. Mary's white cheeks were faintly stained with rose, and her eyes dilated. Peter had never seen quite the same expression on her face, or heard quite the same ring in her voice. The girl felt that the different, unknown self she had spoken of was beginning already to waken and stir in the nun's soul.
"Marie!" Sister Rose repeated. "It's odd you should have spoken of Marie. I've been thinking about her lately. I can't get her out of my head. And I've dreamed of seeing her—meeting her unexpectedly somewhere."
"Perhaps she's been thinking of you, wherever she is, and you feel her mind calling to yours. I believe in such things, don't you?"
"I never thought much about them before, I suppose because I've had so few people outside who were likely to think of me. No one but you. Or perhaps Marie, if she ever does think of old times. I wish I could meet her, not in dreams, but really."
"Queerer things have happened. And if you're going to travel you can't tell but you may run across each other," said Peter. "I've sometimes caught myself wondering whether I should see her in New York, for there it's like London and Monte Carlo—the most unexpected people are always turning up."
"Is Monte Carlo like that?" Mary asked, with the quick, only half-veiled curiosity which Peter had noticed in her before when relating her own adventures on the Riviera.
"Yes. More than any other place I've ever been to in the world. Every one comes—anything can happen—there. But I don't want to talk about Monte Carlo. You really wouldn't find it half as interesting as your beloved Italy. And I shouldn't like to think of poor Marie drifting there, either—Marie as she must be now."
"I used to hope," Mary said, "that she might come back here, after everything turned out so dreadfully for her, and that she'd decide to take the vows with me. Reverend Mother would have welcomed her gladly, in spite of all. She loved Marie. So did the sisters; and though none of them ever talk about her—at least, to me—I feel sure they haven't forgotten, or stopped praying for her."
"Do you suppose they guess that we found out what really happened to Marie, after she ran away?" Peter wanted to know.
"I hardly think so. You see, we couldn't have found out if it hadn't been for Janet Churchill, the one girl in school who didn't live in the convent. And Janet wasn't a bit the sort they would expect to know such things."
"Or about anything else. Her stolidity was a very useful pose. You'd find it a useful one, too, darling, 'out in the world,' as you call it; but you'll never be clever in that way, I'm afraid."
"In what way?"
"In hiding things you feel. Or in not feeling things that are uncomfortable to feel."
"Don't frighten me!" Mary exclaimed. They had walked to the end of the path, and were standing by the sundial. She turned abruptly, and looked with a certain eagerness toward the far-off facade of the convent, with its many windows. On the leaded panes of those in the west wing the sun still lingered, and struck out glints as of rubies in a gold setting. All the other windows were in shadow now. "We must go in," Mary said. "Lady MacMillan will be coming soon, and I have lots to do before I start."
"What have you to do, except to dress?"
"Oh!—to say goodbye to them all. And it seems as if I could never finish saying goodbye."
Peter did not meet her friend again after they had gone into the house until Mary had laid away the habit of Sister Rose the novice and put on the simple gray travelling frock in which Mary Grant was to go "out into the world." Peter had been extremely curious to see her in this, for it was three years ago and more since she had last had a sight of Mary in "worldly dress." That was on the day when Molly Maxwell had left the convent as a schoolgirl, to go back to America with her father; and almost immediately Mary Grant had given up such garments, as she thought forever, in becoming a postulant.
Not since then had Peter seen Mary's hair, which by this time would have been cut close to her head if she had not suddenly discovered, just in time, that she had "lost her vocation." Mary had beautiful hair. All the girls in school had admired it. Peter had hated to think of its being cut off; and lately, since the sudden change in Mary's mind, the American girl had wondered if the peculiar, silvery blond had darkened. It would be a pity if it had, for her hair had been one of Mary's chief beauties, and if it had changed she would not be as lovely as of old, particularly as she had lost the brilliant bloom of colour she had had as a schoolgirl, her cheeks becoming white instead of pink roses.
It seemed to Peter that she could not remember exactly what Mary had been like, in those first days, for the novice's habit had changed her so strangely, seeming to chill her warm humanity, turning a lovely, glowing young girl into a beautiful marble saint. But under the marble, warm blood had been flowing, and a hot, rebellious heart throbbing, after all. Peter delighted in knowing that this was true, though she was anxious about the statue coming to life and walking out of its sheltered niche. When she was called to say goodbye formally, with other friends who had loved Mary as schoolgirl and novice, Peter's own heart was beating fast.
The instant she caught sight of the tall, slight, youthful-looking figure in gray, the three years fell away like a crumbling wall, and gave back the days of the "three Maries." No, the silvery blond hair had not faded or lost its sparkle.
Mary Grant, in her short gray skirt and coat, with her lovely hair in an awkwardly done clump at the nape of a slender neck, looked a mere schoolgirl. She was twenty-four, and nearing her twenty-fifth birthday. Of late, she had had anxieties and vigils, and the life of a novice of Saint Ursula-of-the-Lake was not lived on down or roses: but the tranquil years of simple food, of water-drinking, of garden-work, of quiet thinking and praying had passed over her like the years in dreams, which last no longer than moments. They had left her a child, with a child's soft curves and a child's rose-leaf skin. Yet she looked to Peter very human now, and no saint. Her large eyes, of that golden gray rimmed with violet, called hazel, seemed to be asking, "What is life?"
Peter thought her intensely pathetic; and somehow the fact that new shoes had been forgotten, and that Mary still wore the stubby, square-toed abominations of her novitiate, made her piteous in her friend's eyes. The American girl hotly repented not writing to her father in New York and telling him that she must leave the convent with Mary Grant. Probably he would not have consented, but she might have found some way of persuading him to change his mind. Or she could have gone without his consent, and made him forgive her afterward. Even now she might go; but dimly and sadly she felt that Mary did not really wish for her superior knowledge of the world to lean upon; Mary longed to find out things for herself.
Peter did not sleep well that night, and when she did sleep she dreamed a startling dream of Mary at Monte Carlo.
"She'll go there!" the girl said to herself, waking. "I know she'll go. I don't know why I know it, but I do."
Trying to doze again, she lay with closed eyes; and a procession of strange, unwished-for thoughts busily pushed sleep away from her brain. She seemed to see people hurrying from many different parts of the world, with their minds all bent on the same thing: getting to Monte Carlo as soon as possible. She saw these people, good and bad, mingling their lives with Mary's life; and she saw the Fates, like Macbeth's witches, laughing and pulling the strings which controlled these people's actions toward Mary, hers toward them, as if they were all marionettes.
Lady MacMillan of Linlochtry Castle, who was a devout Catholic, came often from her place in the neighbourhood to see her half-sister, Mother Superior at the Convent of St. Ursula-of-the-Lake. Mary Grant's only knowledge of the world outside the convent had been given her by Lady MacMillan, with whom when a schoolgirl she had sometimes spent a few days, and might have stopped longer if she had not invariably been seized by pangs of homesickness. Lady MacMillan's household, to be sure, did not afford many facilities for forming an opinion of the world at large, though a number of carefully selected young people had been entertained for Mary's benefit. Its mistress was an elderly widow, and had been elderly when the child saw her first: but occasionally, before she became a postulant, Mary had been taken to Perth to help Lady MacMillan do a little shopping; and once she had actually stayed from Saturday to Tuesday at Aberdeen, where she had been to the theatre. This was a memorable event; and the sisters at the convent had never tired of hearing the fortunate girl describe her exciting experiences, for theirs was an enclosed order, and it was years since most of them had been outside the convent gates.
Lady MacMillan was a large, very absent-minded and extremely near-sighted lady, like her half-sister, Mary's adored Reverend Mother; but neither so warm-hearted nor so intelligent. Still, Mary was used to this old friend, and fond of her as well. It was not like going away irrevocably from all she knew and loved, to be going under Lady MacMillan's wing. Still, she went weeping, wondering how she had ever made up her mind to the step, half passionately grateful to Reverend Mother for not being angry with her weakness and lack of faith, half regretful that some one in authority had not thought it right to hold her forcibly back.
There was no railway station within ten miles of the old convent by the lake. Lady MacMillan came from her little square box of a castle still farther away, in the old-fashioned carriage which she called a "barouche," drawn by two satin-smooth, fat animals, more like tightly covered yet comfortable brown sofas than horses.
It was a great excitement for Lady MacMillan to be going to London, and a great exertion, but she did not grudge trouble for Mary Grant. Not that she approved of the girl's leaving the convent. It was Reverend Mother who had to persuade her half-sister that, if Mary had not the vocation, it was far better that she should read her own heart in time, and that the girl was taking with her the blessings and prayers of all those who had once hoped to keep their dear one with them forever. Still it was the greatest sensation the convent had known, that Mary should be going; and Reverend Mother would not let her half-sister even mention, in that connection, the name of the other Mary—or Marie—Grant, who also had gone away sensationally. The eldest of the "three Maries," the three prettiest, most remarkable girls in the convent school, had left mysteriously, in a black cloud of disgrace. She had run off to join a lover who had turned out to be a married man, unable to make her his wife, even if he wished; and sad, vague tidings of the girl had drifted back to the convent since, as spray from the sea is blown a long way on the wind.
Reverend Mother would not hear Lady MacMillan say, "Strange that the two Mary Grants should be the only young women to leave you, except in the ordinary way," the ordinary way being the end of school days for a girl, or the end of life for a nun.
"I want dear Mary to be happy in the manner that's best for her," answered the good woman, whose outlook was very wide, though her orbit was limited, "If it had been best for Mary to stay with us, she would have stayed; or else some day, when she has learned enough to know that the world can be disappointing, she will return. If that day ever comes, she'll have a warm welcome, and it will be a great joy to us all; but the next best thing will be hearing that she is happy in her new life; and she promises to write often." Then the clever lady proceeded to ask advice about Mary's wardrobe. Should the girl do such shopping as she must do in Aberdeen, or should she wait and trust to the taste of Mrs. Home-Davis, the widowed aunt in London, who had agreed to take charge of her?
The question had fired Lady MacMillan to excitement, as Reverend Mother knew it would. Lady MacMillan believed that she had taste in dress. She was entirely mistaken in this idea; but that was not the point. Nothing so entranced her as to give advice, and the picture of an unknown aunt choosing clothes for Mary was unbearable. She made up her mind at once that she would escort her young friend to London, and stay long enough at some quiet hotel in Cromwell Road to see Mary "settled." Mrs. Home-Davis lived in Cromwell Road; and it was an extra incentive to Lady MacMillan that she would not be too far from the Oratory.
It was evening when the two arrived at King's Cross Station, after the longest journey Mary had ever made. There was a black fog, cold and heavy as a dripping fur coat. Out of its folds loomed motor-omnibuses, monstrous mechanical demons such as Mary had never seen nor pictured. The noise and rush of traffic stunned her into silence, as she drove with her old friend in a four-wheeled cab toward Cromwell Road. There, she imagined, would be peace and quiet; but not so. They stopped before a house, past which a wild storm of motor-omnibuses and vans and taxicabs and private cars swept ceaselessly in two directions. It seemed impossible to Mary that people could live in such a place. She was supposed to stay for a month or two in London, and then, if she still wished to see Italy, her aunt and cousin would make it convenient to go with her. But, before the dark green door behind Corinthian pillars had opened, the girl was resolving to hurry out of London somehow, anyhow, with or without her relatives. She decided this with the singular, silent intensity of purpose that she did not even know to be characteristic of herself, though it had carried her through a severe ordeal at the convent; for Mary had never yet studied her own emotions or her own nature. The instant that the Home-Davises, mother and daughter, greeted her in their chilly drawing-room, she lost all doubt as to whether she should leave London with or without them. It would be without them that she must go. How she was to contrive this, the girl did not know in the least, but she knew that the thing would have to be done. She could not see Italy in the company of these women.
Suddenly Mary remembered them both quite well, though they had not met since a visit the mother and daughter had made to Scotland when she was seven years old, before convent days. She recalled her aunt's way of holding out a hand, like an offering of cold fish. And she remembered how the daughter was patterned after the mother: large, light eyes, long features of the horse type, prominent teeth, thin, consciously virtuous-looking figure, and all the rest.
They had the sort of drawing-room that such women might be expected to have, of the coldest grays and greens, with no individuality of decoration. The whole house was the same, cheerless and depressing even to those familiar with London in a November fog, but blighting to one who knew not London in any weather. Even the servants seemed cold, mechanical creatures, made of well-oiled steel or iron; and when Lady MacMillan had driven off to a hotel, Mary cried heartily in her own bleak room, with motor-omnibuses roaring and snorting under her windows.
At dinner, which was more or less cold, like everything else, there was talk of the cousin who had left Mary a legacy of fifty thousand pounds; and it was easy to divine in tone, if not in words, that the Home-Davises felt deeply aggrieved because the money had not come to them. This cousin had lived in the Cromwell Road house during the last invalid years of her life, and had given them to understand that Elinor was to have almost, if not quite, everything. The poor lady had died, it seemed, in the room which Mary now occupied, probably in the same bed. Mary deeply pitied her if she had been long in dying. The wall-paper was atrocious, with a thousand hideous faces to be worried out of it by tired eyes. The girl had wondered why the money had been left entirely to her, but now she guessed in a flash why the Home-Davises had had none of it. The years in this Cromwell house had been too long.
"We've always imagined that Cousin Katherine must have been in love with your father, Uncle Basil, before he married," said Elinor, when they had reached the heavy stage of sweet pudding; "and when the will was read, we were sure of it. For, of course, mother was just as nearly related to her as uncle Basil was."
It was difficult for Mary to realize that this Aunt Sara could be a sister of the handsome, dark-faced man with burning eyes whose features had remained cameo-clear in her memory since childhood. But Mrs. Home-Davis was the ugly duckling of a handsome and brilliant family, an accident of fate which had embittered her youth, and indirectly her daughter's.
"How shall I get away from them?" Mary asked herself, desperately, that night. But fate was fighting for her in the form of a man she had never seen, a man not even in London at the moment.
In a room below Mary's Elinor was asking Mrs. Home-Davis how they could get rid of the convent cousin.
"She won't do," the young woman said.
"She reminds me of her mother," remarked Mrs. Home-Davis. "I thought she would grow up like that."
"Yet there's a look in her eyes of Uncle Basil," Elinor amended, brushing straight hair of a nondescript brown, which she admired because it was long.
"With such a combination of qualities as she'll probably develop, she'd much better have stayed in her convent," the elder woman went on.
"I wish to goodness she had," snapped Elinor.
"You are—er—thinking of Doctor Smythe, dear?"
"Ye-es—partly," the younger admitted, reluctantly; for there was humiliation to her vanity in the admission. "Not that Arthur'd care for that type of girl, particularly, or that he'd be disloyal to me—if he were let alone. But you can see for yourself, mother—is she the kind that will let men alone? At dinner she made eyes even at the footman. I was watching her."
"She can't have met any men, unless at that old Scotchwoman's house," replied Mrs. Home-Davis. "Perhaps even their Romish consciences would have forced them to show her a few, before she took her vows—Catholic young men, of course."
"Perhaps one of them decided her to break the vows."
"She hasn't really broken them, you know, Elinor. We must be just."
"Well, anyhow, she hasn't the air of an engaged person. And if she's here when Arthur gets back to London, I feel in my bones, mother, there'll be ructions."
"Arthur" was Doctor Smythe, a man not very young, whom Elinor Home-Davis had known for some time; but it was only lately that she had begun to hope he might ask her to marry him. She valued him, for he was the one man she had ever succeeded in attracting seriously, and though she knew he would not think of proposing if she had not some money which would be helpful in his career, she was eager to accept him. Had she realized sooner that there was a chance with Arthur Smythe, she would not have let her mother make that promise concerning Italy, for she could not be left alone in London all winter. Arthur Smythe would think that too strange; yet now she would not go out of England for anything. He was in Paris attending a medical congress, and planned afterward to visit the chateaux country with a friend; but he would be back in two or three weeks. Now that Elinor had seen Mary, she felt that changes must be made quickly. In other circumstances, it would have been pleasant to loiter about Italy, stopping at the best hotels at Mary's expense, on money that ought to have been the Home-Davises; but as it was, Elinor could think of nothing better to do than to send Mary off by herself, in a hurry. Or, as Mrs. Home-Davis said, "some one suitable" might be travelling at the right time, and they could perhaps find an excuse for stopping at home themselves.
"You can be ill, if necessary," suggested Elinor.
"Yes, I can be ill, if necessary—or you can," replied her mother.
Mary had not known that there could be such noise in the world as the noise of London. She did not sleep that night; and the fog was blacker than ever in the morning. Shopping had to be put off for three days; and then Lady MacMillan was too near-sighted and too absent-minded to be of much use. She was telegraphed for from her box of a castle, at the end of the week, because her housekeeper was ailing—an old woman who was almost as much friend as servant. Mary would have given anything to return with her, even if to go back must mean retiring into the convent forever; but the gate of the past had gently shut behind her. She could not knock upon it for admittance, at least not until she had walked farther along the path of the future.
When Lady MacMillan had gone, Mrs. Home-Davis and Elinor showed no interest in the convent cousin. They went about their own concerns as if she did not exist, leaving her to go about hers, if she chose. They were both interested, they explained, in the Suffragist movement; also they had charities to look after. There was no time to bother with Mary's shopping, but of course she could have their maid, Jennings, to go out with: in fact, she must not attempt to go alone. Consequently, Mary bought only necessaries, in the big, confusing shops that glared white in the foggy twilight, for Jennings as a companion was more depressing than the cold. She was middle-aged, very pinched and respectable in appearance, with a red nose, always damp at the end; and she disapproved of lace and ribbons on underclothing. Mrs. Home-Davis and Miss Elinor would never think of buying such things as Miss Grant admired. Jennings would have pioneered Miss Grant to the British and South Kensington museums if Miss Grant had wished to go, but Mary had no appetite for museums in the dark and forbidding November, which was the worst that London had known for years. Her aunt never suggested a theatre, or the opera, or anything which Mary was likely to find amusing, for a plan decided upon with Elinor was being faithfully carried out. The convent cousin was to be disgusted with Cromwell Road, and bored with London, so that she might be ready to snatch at the first excuse to get away. And once away, Mrs. Home-Davis promised Elinor to find some pretext for refusing to receive her back again.
The plan succeeded perfectly, though, had the ladies but guessed, no complicated manoeuvres would have been necessary, Mary having determined upon escape in the moment of arrival. She was shut up in her room for a few days with a cold, after she had been a week in Cromwell Road, and when she was let out, after all danger of infection for her relatives had passed, she dared to propose Italy as a cure for herself.
"I know you have important engagements," Mary said, hastily, "and of course you couldn't go with me at such short notice; but I don't feel as if I could wait. I may be ill on your hands. I feel as if I should be, unless I run away where it's warm and bright."
Mrs. Home-Davis, much as she wanted to take the girl at her word, could not resist retorting: "It's not very bright and warm in Scotland at this time of year, yet you don't seem to have been ill there."
Mary could have replied that in the convent she had had the warmth and brightness of love, but she merely mumbled that she had often taken cold in the autumn.
"It will be impossible for us to leave home at present," her aunt went on. "If you're determined to go, I must get you some one to travel with, or you must have an elderly maid-companion. Perhaps that would be best. One can't always find friends travelling at the time they're wanted."
"Mary isn't such a baby that she ought to need looking after," said Elinor. "She's nearly twenty-five—as old as I am—and you don't mind my going to Exeter alone."
Elinor was twenty-eight. When she was a child she had assumed airs of superiority on the strength of her age, Mary remembered, but now she and her cousin seemed suddenly to match their years. Mary was glad of this, however, and bolstered Elinor's argument by admitting her own maturity. "I don't want a companion-maid, please," she said, with the mingling of meekness and violent resolution which had ended her novitiate. "It will be better for my Italian, to get one in Italy. I shall be safe alone till I arrive. You see, Reverend Mother has given me a letter to the Superior in the mother-house, and other letters, too. I shall have friends in Florence and Rome, and lots of places."
"But it wouldn't look well for you to travel alone," Mrs. Home-Davis objected.
"Nobody will be looking at me. Nobody will know who I am," Mary argued. Then, desperately, "Rather than you should find me a companion, Aunt Sara, I won't go to Italy at all. I——"
She could have chosen no more efficacious threat; though if she had been allowed to finish her sentence, she would have added, "I'll go back to Scotland to Lady MacMillan's, or stay in the convent."
Thus the sting would have lost its venom for the Home-Davises, but Elinor, fearing disaster, cut the sentence short. "Oh, for mercy's sake, mother, let Mary have her own way," she broke in. "You can see she means to in the end, so why disturb yourself? Nothing can happen to her."
Elinor's eyes anxiously recalled to her mother a letter that had come from Doctor Smythe that morning announcing his return at the end of the week. It was providential that Mary should have proposed going, as it would have been awkward otherwise to get her out of the house in time; and Elinor was anxious that she should be taken at her word.
"It's more of appearances than danger that I'm thinking," Mrs. Home-Davis explained, retiring slowly, face to the enemy, yet with no real desire to win the battle. "Perhaps if I write Mrs. Larkin in Florence—a nice, responsible woman—to find a family for you to stay with, it may do. Only in that case, you mustn't stop before you get to Florence. I'll buy your ticket straight through, by the Mont Cenis."
"No, please," Mary protested, mildly. "Not that way. I've set my heart on going along the Riviera, not to stop anywhere, but to see the coast from the train. It must be so lovely: and after this blackness to see the blue Mediterranean, and the flowers, and oranges, and the red rocks that run out into the sea; it's a dream of joy to think of it. I've a friend who has been twice with her father. She told me so much about the Riviera. It can't be much farther than the other way."
So it was settled, after some perfunctory objections on the part of Mrs. Home-Davis, who wished it put on record that she had been overruled by Mary's obstinacy. If undesirable incidents should happen, she wanted to say, "Mary would go by herself, without waiting for me. She's of age, and I couldn't coerce her."
Mary felt like an escaped prisoner as the train began to move out of Victoria Station—the train which was taking her toward France and Italy. It was like passing through a great gray gate, labeled "This way to warmth and sunshine and beauty." Already, though the gate itself was not beautiful, Mary seemed to see through it, far ahead, vistas of lovely places to which it opened. She sat calmly, as the moving carriage rescued her from Aunt Sara and Elinor on the platform, but her hands were locked tightly inside the five-year-old squirrel muff, which would have been given away, with everything of hers, if Sister Rose had not changed a certain decision at the eleventh hour. She was quivering with excitement and the wild sense of freedom which she had not tasted in London.
In leaving the convent she had not felt this sense of escaping, for the convent had been "home," the goodbyes had drowned her in grief, and she had often before driven off with Lady MacMillan, in the springy barouche behind the fat horses. Even the journey to London had not given her the thrill she hoped for, as rain had fallen heavily, blotting out the landscape. Besides, she had even then regarded her stay in London with the Home-Davises only as a stage on the journey which was eventually to lead her into warmth and sunlight.
This train, with the foreign-looking people who rushed about chattering French and German, Italian and Arabic on the platform and in the corridors, seemed to link London mysteriously with other lands. Even the strong, active porters, who sprang at huge trunks piled on cabs, and carried them off to the weighing-room, were different from other porters, more important, part of a great scheme, and their actions added to her excitement. She liked the way that an alert guard put her into her compartment, as if he were posting a letter in a hurry, and had others to post. Then the great and sudden bustle of the train going out made her heart beat.
Mary had been brought to the station early, for Elinor had been nervous lest she might miss the train, and Doctor Smythe was coming at four o'clock that afternoon. But others who were to share the compartment were late. It was violently exciting to have them dash in at the last moment, and dispose of bags and thick rugs in straps to be used on the Channel.
They were two, mother and daughter perhaps; a delicate birdlike girl and a plump middle-aged woman with an air of extreme self-satisfaction.
In themselves they did not appear interesting, but Mary was interested, and wondered where they were going. When they took out fashion-papers and sixpenny novels, however, she felt that they were no longer worth attention. How could they read, when they were saying goodbye to England, and when each minute the windows framed charming pictures of skimming Kentish landscape? The strangely shaped oast-houses puzzled Mary. She longed to ask what they were, but the woman and the girl seemed absorbed in their books and papers. Mary thought they must be dull and stupid; but suddenly it came to her that to many people, these among others, maybe, this journey was a commonplace, everyday affair. Even going to France or Italy might not be to them a high adventure. Extraordinary to reflect that all over the world men and women were travelling, going to wonderful new places, seeing wonderful new things, and taking it as a matter of course!
She had never seen the sea; and when the billowing fields and neat hedges changed to chalky downs, a sudden whiff of salt on the air blowing through a half-open window made her heart leap. She nearly cried, "The sea!" but controlled herself because of her prim fellow-passengers.
Mary would have been surprised if she had known their real feelings toward her, which were not as remote as she supposed.
She looked, they both thought, like a schoolgirl going abroad for her Christmas holidays, only it was early for holidays: but if she were a schoolgirl it was strange that she should be travelling alone. Her furs were old-fashioned and inexpensive, her gray tweed dress plain and without style, her hat had a home-made air, but from under the short skirt peeped smart patent-leather shoes with silver buckles and pointed toes, and there was a glimpse of silk stockings thin as a mere polished film. A schoolgirl would not be allowed to have such shoes and stockings, which, in any case, were most unsuited to travelling. (Poor Mary had not known this, in replacing the convent abominations which had struck Peter as pathetic; and Mrs. Home-Davis had not troubled to tell her); nor would a schoolgirl be likely to have delicate gray suede gloves, with many buttons, or a lace handkerchief like a morsel of seafoam. These oddities in Mary's toilet, due to her inexperience and untutored shopping, puzzled her companions; and often, while she supposed them occupied with the fashions, they were stealing furtive glances at her clear, saintly profile, the full rose-red lips which contradicted its austerity, and the sparkling waves of hair meekly drawn down over the small ears. Her rapt expression, also, piqued their curiosity.
They were inclined to believe it a pose, put on to attract attention; and though they could not help acknowledging her beauty, they were far from sure that she was a person to be approved. At one instant the mother of the birdlike girl fancied her neighbour a child. The next, she was sure that the stranger was much more mature than she looked, or wished to look. And when, on leaving the train at Dover, Mary spoke French to a young Frenchman in difficulties with an English porter, the doubting hearts of her fellow-travellers closed against the offender. With an accent like that, this was certainly not her first trip abroad, they decided. With raised eyebrows they telegraphed each other that they would not be surprised if she had an extremely intimate knowledge of Paris and Parisian ways.
Even the Frenchman she befriended was ungrateful enough not to know quite what to think of Mary. He raised his hat, and gave her a look of passionate gratitude, in case anything were to be got by it: but the deep meaning of the gaze was lost on the lately emancipated Sister Rose. She blushed, because it happened to be the first time she had ever spoken to a young man unchaperoned by Lady MacMillan: but she was regarding him as a fellow-being, and remembering that she had been instructed to seize any chance of doing a kindness, no matter how small. She had never been told that it was not always safe for a girl to treat a Frenchman as a fellow-being.
Afterward, on the boat, when a porter had placed her in a sheltered deck-seat with a curved top, the fellow-being ventured again to thank the English Mees for coming to his rescue. It was a pleasure to Mary to speak French, which had been taught her by Sister Marie-des-Anges, a French nun from Paris; and she and the young man plunged into an animated conversation. Her travelling companions had chairs on deck not far off, and they knew what to think of the mystery now. They were on the way to Mentone, but as they intended stopping a day in Paris, and going on by a cheaper train than the train de luxe, Mary did not see them again during the journey.
She was unconscious of anything in her appearance or conduct to arouse disapproval. Her one regret concerning the thin silk stockings and delicate shoes (which she had bought because they were pretty) was that her ankles were cold. She had no rug; but the Frenchman insisted on lending her his, tucking it round her knees and under her feet. Then she was comfortable, and even more grateful to him than he had been to her for translating him to the porter. He was dark and thin, cynically intelligent looking, of a type new to Mary; and she thanked him for being disappointed that she could not stop in Paris. He inquired if, by chance, she were going to Monte Carlo. When she said no, she was passing on much farther, he was again disappointed, because, being an artist, he often ran down to Monte Carlo himself in the winter, and it would have been a great privilege to renew acquaintance with so charming an English lady.
Mary had feared that she might be ill in crossing the Channel, as she had never been on the water before, and could not know whether she were a good or a bad sailor. Aunt Sara and Elinor had told her unpleasant anecdotes of voyages; but when Dover Castle on its gray height, and white Shakespeare Cliff with its memories of "Lear," had faded from her following eyes, still she would hardly have known that the vessel was moving. The purring turbines scarcely thrilled the deck; and presently Mary ate sandwiches and drank a decoction of coffee, brought by her new friend. He laughed when she started at a mournful hoot of the siren, and was enormously interested to hear that she had never set eyes upon the sea until to-day. Mademoiselle, for such an ingenue, was very courageous, he thought, and looked at Mary closely; but her eyes wandered from him to the phantom-shapes that loomed out of a pale, wintry mist: tramps thrashing their way to the North Sea: a vast, distant liner with tiers of decks one above the other: a darting torpedo-destroyer which flashed by like a streak of foam.
Everything was so interesting that Mary would far rather not have had to talk, but she had been brought up in a school of old-fashioned courtesy. To her, a failure in politeness would have been almost a crime: and as the sisters had never imagined the possibility of her talking with a strange young man, they had not cautioned her against doing so.
She had meant to scribble a few notes of her impressions during the journey, for the benefit of Reverend Mother and the nuns, posting her letter in Paris; but as the Frenchman appeared surprised at her travelling alone, and everybody else seemed to be with friends, she decided not to write until Florence. There, when she could say that she had reached her journey's end safely, she might confess that she had left London without her relatives or even the companion-maid they advised.
"If Reverend Mother saw Aunt Sara, even for five minutes," Mary said to herself, "she couldn't blame me."
As it happened, there had been such a rush at the last, after the great decision was made, that Mary had not written to the convent. She had only telegraphed: "Leaving at once for Florence. Will write."
She was hoping that Reverend Mother would not scold her for what she had done, when suddenly another cliff, white as the cliffs of Dover, glimmered through the haze. Then she forgot her sackcloth, for, according to the Frenchman, this was old Grisnez, pushing its inquiring nose into the sea; and beyond loomed the tall lighthouse of Calais.
It was absurdly wonderful on landing at Calais to hear every one talking French. Of course, Mary had known that it would be so, but actually to hear it, and to think that these people had spoken French since they were babies, was ridiculously nice. She felt rewarded for all the pains she had taken to learn verbs and acquire exactly the right accent; and she half smiled in a friendly way at the dark porters in their blue blouses, and at the toylike policemen with their swords and capes. Her porter was a cross-looking, elderly man, but at the smile she had for him he visibly softened; and, with her dressing-bag slung by a strap over his broad shoulder, made an aggressive shield of his stout body to pilot her through the crowd.
Now she left behind the two Englishwomen and her French acquaintance, for she was a passenger in the luxe, which started earlier than the ordinary first-class train for Paris. The Frenchman hoped and believed that she would regret his society, but she forgot him before the train went out, having no premonition of any future meeting.
This, then, was what they called a wagon lit! She was delighted with her quarters, supposing, as the compartment seemed small, that it was entirely for her use during the journey. She had been told that she would be provided with a bed, and she wondered how it was to be arranged.
Darkness fell over France, but Mary felt that she could see through the black veil, away to the south, where roses were budding in warm sunshine. She was whole-heartedly glad, for the first time, to be out of the convent.
If it had not been winter and night, she would perhaps have longed to stop in Paris, but the sight of the great bleak Gare du Nord chilled her. The ordeal of the douane had to be gone through there, and Mary was glad when it was over, and she could go on again, though she was once more protected by a gallant porter; and a youngish official of the customs, after a glance at her face, quickly marked crosses on her luggage without opening it. Other women, older and not attractive, saw this favouritism, and swelled with resentment, as Elinor Home-Davis had when saying:
"Is she the kind who can ever let men alone? She makes eyes at the footman!"
Mary had never heard of "making eyes." One did not use these vulgar expressions at the convent. But Peter would have known what Elinor meant; and even Reverend Mother knew instinctively that, if Mary Grant went out into the world, she would unconsciously influence all sorts and conditions of men with whom she came in contact, as the moon influences the tides. And Reverend Mother would have felt it safer for just such creatures as Mary to live out their lives in the shelter of a convent. But Mary thought only how kind Frenchmen even of the lower classes were, and wondered if those of other nations were as polite. Slowly the train took her round Paris, and, after what seemed a long time, stopped in another huge station, which shivered under a white, crude flood of electric light. Its name—Gare du Lyon—sounded warm, however, and sent her fancy flying southward again. She was growing impatient to get on when, to her surprise, a porter hovering in the corridor with a large dressing-bag plumped it into the rack beside her own. Mary started. Could it be possible that any one else had a right to come in with her?
The question was answered by the appearance of a marvellous lady who followed the porter. "Which of us is here?" she asked. "Oh, it's you, Mrs. Collis! That's your bag, I think."
She spoke like an Englishwoman, yet there was a faint roll of the "r" suggestive of foreign birth or education. Mary had never seen any one like her before. She was unusually tall, as tall as a man of good height, and her figure was magnificent. Evidently she was not ashamed of her stature, for her large black hat had upstanding white wings, and her heels were high. Her navy blue cloth dress braided with black that had threads of gold here and there was made to show her form to the best advantage. Mary had not known that hair could be as black as the heavy waves which melted into the black velvet of the hat. The level brows over the long eyes were equally black, and so were the thick short lashes. Between these inky lines the eyes themselves were as coldly gray and empty as a northern sea, yet they were attractive, if only by an almost sinister contrast. The skin was extraordinarily white, and it did not occur to Mary that Nature alone had not whitened it, or reddened the large scarlet mouth. Women did not paint at the convent, nor did Lady MacMillan's guests. Mary did not know anything about paint. She thought the newcomer very handsome, yet somehow formidable.
In a moment other people trooped into the corridor and grouped round the door of Mary's compartment. There was a wisp of a woman with neat features and sallow complexion, who looked the essence of respectability combined with a small, tidy intelligence. She was in brown from head to foot, and her hair was brown, too, where it was not turning gray. Evidently she was Mrs. Collis, for she took a lively interest in the bag, and said she must have it down, as the stupid people had put it wrong side up. She spoke like an American, though not with the delicately sweet drawl that Peter had. Behind her stood a pretty girl whose features were neatly cut out on somewhat the same design, and whose eyes and hair were of the same neutral brown. She had a waist of painful slenderness, and she reminded Mary of a charming wren. Behind her came another girl, older and of a different type, with hair yellow as a gold ring, round eyes of opaque, turquoise blue, without expression, and complexion of incredible pink and white. Her lips, too, were extremely pink, and her brows and lashes almost as black as those of the tall woman. She wore pale purple serge, with a hat to match, and had a big bunch of violets pinned on a fur stole which was bobbing and pulsing with numberless tiny, grinning heads of dead animals. On her enormous muff were more of these animals, and tucked under one arm appeared a miniature dog with a ferocious face. In the wake of these ladies who surged round the door and sent forth waves of perfume, presently arrived a man who joined them as if reluctantly, and because he could think of nothing else to do.
He was much taller than the woman who had come first, and must have been well over six feet. His clean-shaven, aquiline face was of a dead pallor. There were dark shadows and a disagreeable fulness under his gray, wistful eyes, which seemed to appeal for help without any hope of receiving it. He walked wearily and slouchingly, stooping a little, as if he were too tired or bored to take the trouble of throwing back his shoulders.
The ladies talked together, very fast, all but the tall one, who, though she talked also, did not chatter as the others did, but spoke slowly, in a low tone which must be listened to, or it could not be heard. The four laughed a good deal, and when the tall woman smiled she lost something of her fascination, for she had large, slightly prominent eye-teeth which went far to spoil her handsome red mouth. The others paid great attention to her, and to the big man with the sad eyes. In loud voices, as if they wished people to hear, they constantly addressed these two as Lord and Lady Dauntrey.
"I—are you quite sure that you're to be here?" Mary ventured, when Mrs. Collis had whisked into the compartment, and was ringing for some one to take down her bag, after the train had started. "I thought—I had this place to myself."
"Why, if you have, there must be a mistake," replied the American. "Have you taken both berths?"
"No," said Mary. "Only one. Are there two?"
"My, yes, of course. In some there are four. But this is one of the little ones. I expect"—and she smiled—"that you haven't made many long journeys?"
"I haven't travelled at all before," Mary answered, blushing under the eyes turned upon her.
"Well, you'll find it's all right, what I say," the American lady went on. "But"—and she lost interest in Mary—"aren't we silly? Miss Wardrobe had better come in here, where there's only one place, and my daughter and I'll take a compartment together, as the car seems pretty full."
"Please don't call me Miss Wardrobe!" exclaimed the golden-haired girl. "That's the eighth time. I've counted." As she spoke, her tiny dog yapped in a thin voice at the offender, its round eyes goggling.
"I hope you'll excuse me, I'm sure," returned the American, acidly.
"I must say, I really don't think mamma's had occasion to mention your name as many times as eight since we first had the pleasure of meeting," the charming wren flew to her mother's rescue. "But you've got such a difficult name."
"Anyhow, it isn't like everybody else's, which is something," retorted the girl who had been called "Miss Wardrobe."
Mary began to be curious to know what the real name was. But perhaps she would find out later, as the young woman was to share her little room. It would be interesting to learn things about this odd party, yet she would rather have been alone.
Soon after Paris there was dinner in the dining-car not far away, and Mary had opposite her the girl with the queer name. No one else was at the table. At first they did not speak, and Mary remembered the training of her childhood, never to seem observant of strangers; but she could not help looking sometimes at her neighbour. The first thing the latter did on sitting down was to draw off her gloves, and roll them inside out. She then opened a chain bag of platinum and gold, which looked rather dirty, and taking out, one after another, eight jewelled rings, slipped them on affectionately. Several fingers were adorned with two or three, each ring appearing to have its recognized place. When all were on, their wearer laid a hand on either side of her plate, and regarded first one, then the other, contentedly, with a slight movement causing the pink manicured nails to glitter, and bringing out deep flashes from diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. Glancing up suddenly, with self-conscious composure, the young woman saw that her neighbour's eyes appreciated the exhibition. She smiled, and Mary smiled too.
"If I didn't think my stable-companion was all right, I wouldn't have dared put them on," remarked "Miss Wardrobe." "But I do feel so—well, undressed almost, without my rings; don't you?"
"I haven't any," Mary confessed.
"Why—don't you like rings?"
"Yes, on other people. I love jewels. But for myself, I've never thought of having any—yet."
"I've thought more about it than about anything else," remarked the girl, smiling a broad, flat smile that showed beautiful white teeth. She looked curiously unintelligent when she smiled.
"Perhaps I shall begin thinking more about it now."
"That sounds interesting. What will start your mind to working on the subject? Looking at my rings?" She had an odd, persistent accent which irritated Mary's ears. If it was like anything the convent-bred girl had heard, it resembled the accent of a housemaid who "did" her bedroom in Cromwell Road. This maid had said that she was a London girl. And somehow Mary imagined that, if she had rings, she would like taking them out of a gold bag and putting them on at the dinner-table. Because Mary had never had for a companion any girl or woman not a lady, she did not know how to account for peculiarities which would not have puzzled one more experienced.
"Perhaps," she answered, smiling.
"Maybe you mean to win a lot of money at Monte, and buy some?"
"At Monte—does that mean Monte Carlo? Oh, no, I'm going to Florence. But some money has been left to me lately, so I can do and have things I shouldn't have thought of before." Mary explained all this frankly, yet without any real wish to talk of her own affairs.
The four others of the party were at a table opposite; and as there was a moment's lull in the rush of waiters and clatter of plates for a change of courses, now and then a few words of conversation at one table reached another. As Mary mentioned the legacy Lady Dauntrey suddenly flashed a glance at her, and though the long pale eyes were turned away immediately, she had the air of listening to catch the rest of the sentence. By this time the little quarrel over "Miss Wardrobe's" name had apparently been forgotten. The five were on good terms, and talked to each other across the gangway. Again the title of the two leading members of the party was called out conspicuously, and people at other tables turned their heads or stretched their necks to look at this party who advertised the "jolly time" they were having. They chattered about "Monte," and about celebrities supposed to have arrived there already, though it was still early in the season. Lady Dauntrey told anecdotes of the "Rooms," as if to show that she was not ignorant of the place; but Lord Dauntrey said nothing unless he were addressed, and then answered in as few words as possible. Nevertheless he had something of that old-world courtesy which Mary had been taught, and she felt an odd, instinctive sympathy with him. She even found herself pitying the man, though she did not know why. A man might be taciturn and tired-looking yet not unhappy.
They sat a long time at dinner before they were allowed to pay and go. Lord Dauntrey's party smoked, and the girl at Mary's table offered her a cigarette from a gold case with the name "Dodo" written across it in diamonds. Mary thanked her, and refused. She had heard girls at school say that they knew women who smoked, but she had never seen a woman smoking. It seemed odd that no one looked surprised.
Her neighbour, whom she now heard addressed as Miss Wardropp, did not come into their compartment at once, but stopped in another of the same size, where she, with Lord and Lady Dauntrey and Miss Collis, played a game with a little wheel which they turned. When Mary stood in the corridor, while the beds were being made, she saw them turning this wheel, and wondered what the game could be. They had a folding board with yellow numbers on a dark green ground, and they were playing with ivory chips of different colours.
Mary had the lower berth, but when she realized how much pleasanter it would be to sleep in the upper one, she could not bring herself to take it. She felt that it would be selfish to be found there when Miss Wardropp came to undress; and when the latter did appear, toward midnight, it was to see the lower berth left free.
"Why, but you were below. Didn't you know that?" she inquired rather sharply, as if she expected her room mate to insist on changing.
"Yes," Mary replied meekly. "But I—I left it for you, and your little dog."
"Well, I do think that's about the most unselfish thing I ever heard of any one doing!" exclaimed Miss Wardropp. "Thank you very much, I'm sure. No good my refusing now, as you're already in?"
"No, indeed," Mary laughed.
"I wish you were going with us to the Villa Bella Vista," said the other. "From what I can see, we don't seem likely to get much unselfishness there, from anybody."
Then, as she undressed, showing exquisite underclothing, she followed her ambiguous remark by pouring out information concerning herself, her companions, and their plans.
She was from Australia, and intimated that her father, lately dead, had left plenty of money. She had met Lord and Lady Dauntrey a month ago in Brighton at the Metropole. Where the Dauntreys had "picked up the Collises," Dodo Wardropp did not know, but they were "late acquisitions." "Lord and Lady Dauntrey have taken a furnished villa at Monte for the season," she went on, "a big one, so they can have lots of guests. I and the Collises are the first instalment, but they're expecting others: two or three men with titles."
She said this as if "titles" were a disease, like measles. As she rubbed off the day's powder and paint with cold cream, there was a nice smell in the little room of the wagon lit, like the scent of a theatrical dressing-room.
"I suppose you're looking forward to a delightful winter," Mary ventured, from her berth, as Dodo hid a low-necked lace nightgown under a pink silk kimono embroidered with gold.
"I hope!" exclaimed Miss Wardropp. "I pay for it, anyhow. I don't mind telling, as you aren't going to Monte, and won't know any of them, that we're sort of glorified paying-guests. The Collises haven't said to me they're that, and I haven't said what I am; but we know. I'm paying fourteen guineas a week for my visit, and I've a sneaking idea her ladyship's saving up the best room for other friends who'll give more. I could live at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, I expect, for that price, but you see the catch is that Lord and Lady Dauntrey can introduce their guests to swell people. I wouldn't meet the right kind if I lived in a hotel, even with a first-rate chaperon. I know, for I came to Monte Carlo with an Australian friend, for a few days on my way to England. It's no use being at a resort if you don't get into the smart set, is it?"
"I suppose not," said Mary. "But I think I care more about places than people."
"I don't understand that feeling. I want to get in with the best. And though Lord Dauntrey's poor, and I imagine disappointed in expectations of money with her, he must be acquainted with a lot of important titled people. He's a viscount, you know, and that's pretty high up."
"I didn't know," Mary confessed. "I don't know anything about society."
"You seem to have led a retired sort of life," Miss Wardropp remarked, though without much curiosity, for she was not really interested in any woman except herself, or those connected with her affairs. "Surely you read about their wedding in South Africa last Spring?"
"No. I have never read newspapers."
"I don't bother either, except society news and fashion pages. But there were pictures of them both everywhere. I expect she got the photographs in, for he doesn't seem a man to like that sort of thing. Lord Dauntrey was out in South Africa for years, trying to make his fortune, but it didn't appear to come off. Friends of mine I knew at Brighton, who took me there, a rich Jew and his wife who'd lived in Africa, said when the Dauntreys turned up at the Metropole that he'd been at a pretty low ebb out there. I believe he studied for a doctor, but I don't know if he ever practised. Nobody can say exactly who Lady Dauntrey was originally, but she was a widow when he married her, and supposed to have money. He doesn't seem to care for society, but she's ambitious to be some one. She's so good-looking she's sure to succeed. I expect to know everybody smart at Monte. That's what I've been promised, and Lady Dauntrey'll entertain a good deal. If that doesn't amuse her husband he can shoot pigeons, and gamble at the Casino. He's got a system at roulette that works splendidly on his little wheel. We were playing it this evening. But I expect I'm boring you. You look sleepy. I'll turn in, and go bye-bye with Diablette."
For the rest of the night all was silence in the compartment, save for the gobbling noises made in her sleep by the griffon Diablette. Mary lay awake in her upper berth, longing to look out, and thrilling to musical cries of big baritone voices at the few stops the train made: "Di-jon-n, cinq minutes d'arret! Ma-con-n, cinq minutes d'ar-ret! Ly-on, dix minutes d'a-rr-et!"
It was wonderful to hear the names ring like bells out of the mystery and darkness of night, names she had known all her life since she had been old enough to study history or read romance. She thought that the criers must have been chosen for their resonant voices, and in her mind she pictured faces to match, dark and ruddy, with great southern eyes; for now the train was booming toward Provence: and though Mary began to be drowsy, she held herself awake on purpose to hear "Avignon" shouted through the night.
Very early, almost before it was light, she arose noiselessly, bathed as well as she could, and dressed, so as to be able to look out at Marseilles. Miss Wardropp was asleep, and as the train slowed into the big station in the pale glimmer of the winter morning, Mary walked to the end of the car. The stop would be twenty minutes, and as the train gave its last jerk Mary jumped on to the platform.
The sky was of a faint, milky blue, like the blue that moves under the white cloud in a moonstone, and the first far down ray of morning sun, coming up with the balmy wind from still, secret places where the youth of the world slept, shimmered golden as a buttercup held under the pearly chin of a child. This was only Marseilles, but already the smell of the south was in the air, the scent of warm salt sea, of eucalyptus logs burning, and pine trees and invisible orange groves. On the platform, osier baskets packed full of flowers sent out wafts of perfume; and as Mary stood gazing over the heads of the crowd at the lightening sky, she thought the dawn rushed up the east like a torchbearer, bringing good news. Just for a moment she forgot everybody, and could have sung for joy of life—a feeling new to her, though something deep down in herself had whispered that it was there and she might know it if she would. It was such faint whisperings as this which, repeated often, had driven her from the convent.
"How young I am!" she thought, for once actively self-conscious. "How young I am, and how young the world is!"
She let her eyes fall from the sky and plunge into the turmoil of the station, turmoil of people getting in and out of trains, of porters running with luggage, of restaurant employes wheeling stands of food through the crowd, piled oranges and mandarines, and white grapes, decorated with leaves and a few flowers; soldiers arriving or saying goodbye, jolly dark youths in red and blue; an Arab trying to sell scarfs from Algiers; a Turkish family travelling; English men and women newly landed, with P. & O. labels large on their hand-bags; French bonnes wearing quaint stiff caps and large floating ribbons; Indian ayahs wrapped in shawls. Mary gazed at the scene as if it were a panorama, and scarcely dwelt upon individuals until her eyes were drawn by the eyes of a man.
It was when she had mounted the steps of her own car, and turned once more before going in. So she looked down at the man looking up.
She blushed under the eyes, for there was something like adoration in them, romantic admiration such as a man may feel for the picture of a lovely saint against a golden background, or the poetic heroine of a classic legend. They were extraordinarily handsome eyes, dark and mysterious as only Italian eyes can be, though Mary Grant did not know this, having gazed into few men's eyes, and none that were Italian.
"Looking up so, his face is like what Romeo's must have been," she said to herself with an answering romantic impulse. "Surely he is Italian!"
And he, looking up at her, said, "What a picture of Giulietta on the balcony! Is she French, Italian, Russian?"
The man was a Roman, whose American mother had not robbed him of an ardent temperament that leaned toward romance; and he had just come back to the west across the sea, from a romantic mission in the east. He had not exchanged words with a woman for months, in the desert where he had been living. For this reason, perhaps, he was the readier to find romance in any lovely pair of eyes; but it seemed to him that there never had been such eyes as these. For always, in a man's life, there must be one pair of eyes which are transcendent stars, even if they are seen but once, then lost forever.
This was not his train, for the luxe does not take local passengers, in the season when every place is filled between Paris and Nice; but because of Mary's face, he wished to travel with her, and look into her eyes again, in order to make sure if they really held the magic of that first glance.
He found a train-attendant and spoke with him rapidly, in a low voice, making at the same time a suggestive chinking of gold and silver with one hand in his pocket.
Under the golden sunshine, the luxe steamed on: after Toulon no longer tearing through the country with few pauses, but stopping at many stations. For the first time Mary saw olive trees, spouting silver like great fountains, and palms stretching out dark green hands of Fatma against blue sky and bluer sea. For the first time she saw the Mediterranean that she had dreamed of in her cold, dim room at the convent. This was like the dreams and the stories told by Peter, only better; for nothing could give a true idea of the glimmering olive groves. Under the silvery branches delicate as smoke-wreaths, and among the gnarled gray trunks, it seemed that at any moment a band of nymphs or dryads might pass, streaming away in fear from the noises of civilization.
At St. Raphael and Frejus colossal legs of masonry strode across the green meadows, and Mary knew that they had been built by Romans. Pine trees like big, open umbrellas were black against a curtain of azure. Acres of terraces were planted with rows of flowers like straightened rainbows: young roses, carnations, pinky white stock and blue and purple hyacinths; and over the coral or gamboge painted walls of little railway stations bougainvillea poured cataracts of crimson. By and by, the train ran close to the sea, and miniature waves blue as melted turquoise curled on amber sands, shafts of gilded light glinting through the crest of each roller where the crystal arch was shattered into foam.
Then came the wonderful red rocks which Peter had described; ruddy monsters of incredible shapes which had crawled down to drink, and lay basking in the clear water, their huge rounded backs bright as copper where the westerly sun smote them; for by this time it was afternoon. At Cannes, yachts sat high in the quaint harbour like proud white swans: mysterious islands slept on the calm surface of the sea, dreaming of their own reflections; and a company of blue-clad mountains, strangely crowned, were veiled below their foreheads like harem women with delicate fabric of cloud, thin as fine muslin.
After Cannes, appeared Antibes, with its peninsula of palms and pines, its old harbour, town, and white lighthouse; and at last, Nice.
Many people whose faces Mary had seen at dinner the night before, and again at luncheon, left the train at Nice; and on the platforms, waiting for local trains, she saw girls in flowery hats, and white or pale tinted serge dresses, such as they might wear on a cool day of an English summer. They could not be travelling far, in such frocks and hats, and Mary wondered where they were going, with their little plump hand-bags of netted gold or embroidered velvet.
By and by a train moved in, also on its way to Monte Carlo. Women and men suddenly surged together in a compact wave, and struggled with each other at the doors of the corridor carriages. Fat men had no hesitation in pushing themselves in front of thin women; robust females dashed little men aside, and mounted triumphantly. All were eager, and bent upon some object in which they refused to be thwarted.
The beauty of the coast was dreamlike to Mary, who had lived ever since she could remember in the north of Scotland, among moorland and hills whose only intrinsic brilliance of colour came at the time of heather. She had loved the browns and cloudy grays, and the deep blue of the lake and the pensive violet shadows; but this was like a burst of gorgeous day after an existence in sweet, pale twilight. She rejoiced that she had persisted in seeing the Riviera before passing into Italy.
It seemed that, after Nice, each stopping-place was prettier and more flowery than the one before. She had no one to admire them with her, for since luncheon, which Mary had taken early, Miss Wardropp had been in another compartment playing the game with the little wheel and spinning ivory ball. But after passing Villefranche harbour, Beaulieu drowned in olives, and Eze under its old hill-village on a horn of rock, the Australian girl came back, to exchange a cap of purple suede for her cartwheel of a hat.
"The next station where the train stops will be Monaco," she announced.
"Oh, then you'll be getting out almost at once?" And Mary prepared to say goodbye.
"Not yet. The station after Monaco: Monte Carlo—darling place! But the principality begins at Monaco of course. I told you how I stayed three days before I went to England. Almost everybody who lands at Marseilles wants to run on to Monte for a flutter, in season or out."
Miss Wardropp put away a novel, and dusted a little powder over her face, with the aid of a gold vanity-box. The train plunged through a tunnel or two, and flashed out, giving a glimpse of Monaco's high red rock with the Prince's palace half girdled by ruinous gray walls and towers of ancient feudal days. Dodo was ready to go. She bade her companion goodbye, and good luck in Florence. "Too bad you're not getting out here!" she said, as they shook hands. And then Mary forgot her in gazing at the Rock of Hercules, the red rock crowned with walls as old as history, and jewelled with flowers. Close to shore the water was green and clear as beryl, and iridescent blue as a peacock's breast where the sea flowed past the breakwater. In the harbour were yachts large and small, a trading ship or two, and fishing boats drawn up on a narrow strip of beach. Across from the Rock, and joined to it by the low-lying Condamine, was Monte Carlo, with the white Casino towers pointing high above roofs and feathery banks of trees, like the horns of a great animal crouched basking in the gay sunlight.
Mary remembered how Peter had told her the tale of Hercules landing here: how he had come in a small boat, and claimed the rock and the lovely semi-circle of coast for his own. "The guests of Hercules, going to pay him a visit," she said to herself now, as passengers began to push their way along the corridor, in order to be the first ones down. The girl's heart began suddenly to beat very fast, she did not know why.
"What is there to be excited about?" she asked herself. No answer came. Yet the fact remained. She was intensely excited.
"If I were getting out, like all these other people," she thought, "there'd be an excuse. But as it is——"
Then, far down within herself, a tiny voice said: "Why shouldn't you get out—now, quickly, while there's time?"
It was a voice which seemed quite separate from herself, and she could feel it as if her body were a cage in which a tiny bird sang a small song in a sweet voice that must be listened to intently.
There was no strong reason, when she came to think of it, why she should not listen, although to listen gave her a sensation of childish guilt. She was her own mistress. She had never promised Peter, nor any one else, not to come to Monte Carlo. Peter had advised her against coming, that was all. And Peter, though dear and kind, had no right——
Why not obey the bird voice, and get out quickly while there was time?
It was beautiful here, and this was the best season. Florence could be very cold, people said, and so could Rome. But on the Riviera, in December, roses and a thousand flowers were in bloom.
To dash out of the train unexpectedly, as a surprise to herself, would be a great adventure. To come another time, according to a plan, would not be an adventure at all.
Never in her whole past life had she had an adventure. What fun to land at Monte Carlo with only hand-luggage! The rest would go on to Florence, but somehow she could retrieve it sooner or later, and meanwhile how amusing to spend a little part of her legacy in fitting herself out with new things, clothes which would give her a place in the picture! And she needn't stay long. What were a few days more or less?
There was only a minute to make up her mind. The train was slowing into the station, a large attractive station, adorned with posters of dream-places painted in rich dream-colours, like those of stained glass. On the platform, to the left of the station building, stood a boy twelve or fourteen years old, dressed in livery. He had a bullet head, with hair so black as to seem more like a thick, shining coat of varnish than hair. His eyes were very large and expressed a burning energy, as if he were nerving himself to a great feat, and the moment of action had arrived. Mary watched him, in a sudden flash of curious interest, as if she must at all costs see what he was going to do, and then make her decision. This was a ridiculous idea, but she could not take her eyes off the child, as the train slowly approached him on its way into the station. He drew in a great breath, which empurpled the brown of his face, and then emitted a single word, "As-cen-s-e-u-r!" in a singing roar, into which he threw his whole soul, as a young tiger does. As the train passed the boy, Mary, gazing out of the corridor window, looked straight down the deep round tunnel that was his open mouth, and caught his strained eye. He suddenly looked self-conscious, and broke into a foolish yet pleasant smile. Mary smiled too, like a child, showing her dimples. Then she knew that she would get out at Monte Carlo no matter what happened.
At this instant, as the train stopped with a slight jerk, the attendant in his neat brown uniform whisked past Mary into her compartment, to snatch Miss Wardropp's bag and earn his fee. By this time the passengers who were alighting at Monte Carlo had pressed down the corridor in a procession, treading on each others' heels.
"If I should get out here, could I use my ticket afterward on to Florence?" Mary hastily inquired in French. But whatever the answer might be, her mind was obstinately set on the adventure she wanted.
"But yes, certainly, Mademoiselle," replied the man.
"Then will you take my bag, too, please?"
The porter's tired eyes dwelt on her for an instant understandingly, sympathetically, even pityingly. Perhaps he had seen other passengers make up their minds at the last minute to stop at Monte Carlo. He said nothing, but seized the bag; and with her heart beating as if this decision had changed the whole face of the world, Mary hurried after the stout brown figure, and joined the end of the procession as it poured from the wagon lit on to the platform.
Mary followed the other people who had left the train. Lord and Lady Dauntrey, with their party, were far ahead, and she could not have spoken to them if she had wished, without running to catch them up; but she did not wish to speak. She had taken no dislike to them; on the contrary, she was interested, but she did not feel inclined to ask advice, or attach herself to any one. She enjoyed the idea of a wonderful new independence.
The sunshine made her feel energetic, and full of courage and enterprise, which had been crushed out of her in London by the chilly manner of her relatives, and the weight of the black fog.
Passing through the station, after having part of her ticket torn from its book, she reached the front of the building, where a great many hotel omnibuses and a few private motors were in waiting. A station porter was following her now, with the one dressing-bag which remained of her abandoned luggage. "Quel hotel, Mademoiselle?" he inquired.
Mary hesitated, her eyes roaming over the omnibuses. One was conspicuous, drawn by four splendid horses, driven by a big man with a shining conical hat, and a wide expanse of scarlet waistcoat.
No other omnibus looked quite so important. On it, in gold letters, Mary read "Hotel de Paris." The name sounded vaguely familiar. Where had she lately heard this hotel mentioned! Oh, yes! by Miss Wardropp.
"Hotel de Paris, s'il vous plait," she answered.
In another moment her bag was in the omnibus, and she was climbing in after it in the wake of other persons, enough to fill the roomy vehicle. As she settled into her corner she saw a man walk slowly by at a distance. He was not looking at her for the moment, and she had no more than a glimpse of a dark, clearly drawn profile; yet she received a curious impression that he had just turned away from looking at her; and she was almost sure it was the man she had noticed at Marseilles. Now her Romeo idea of him struck her as sentimental. She wondered why she had connected such a thought with a man in modern clothes, in a noisy railway station. The morning and its impressions seemed long ago. She felt older and more experienced, almost like a woman of the world, as the big horses trotted up a hill, leaving all the other omnibuses behind. From under the large hat of a large German lady, she peered eagerly, to lose no detail in approaching Monte Carlo.
High at the right rose a terrace like a hanging garden, attached to a huge white hotel. In front of the building, and also very high, ran a long covered gallery where there appeared to be restaurants and shops. At the left were gardens; and then in a moment more, coming out into an open square, all Monte Carlo seemed made of gardens with extraordinary, ornate white buildings in their midst, sugar-cake buildings made for pleasure and amusement, all glass windows and plaster figures and irrelevant towers, the whole ringed in by a semi-circle of high, gray mountains. It was a fantastic fairyland, this place of palms and bosky lawns, with grass far too green to seem real, and beds of incredibly brilliant flowers.