THE PRICE OF THINGS
BY ELINOR GLYN
I wrote this book in Paris in the winter of 1917-18—in the midst of bombs, and raids, and death. Everyone was keyed up to a strange pitch, and only primitive instincts seemed to stand out distinctly.
Life appeared brutal, and our very fashion of speaking, the words we used, the way we looked at things, was more realistic—coarser—than in times of peace, when civilization can re-assert itself again. This is why the story shocks some readers. I quite understand that it might do so; but I deem it the duty of writers to make a faithful picture of each phase of the era they are living in, that posterity may be correctly informed about things, and get the atmosphere of epochs.
The story is, so to speak, rough hewn. But it shows the danger of breaking laws, and interfering with fate—whether the laws be of God or of Man.
It is also a psychological study of the instincts of two women, which the strenuous times brought to the surface. "Amaryllis," with all her breeding and gentleness, reacting to nature's call in her fierce fidelity to the father of her child—and "Harietta," becoming in herself the epitome of the age-old prostitute.
I advise those who are rebuffed by plain words, and a ruthless analysis of the result of actions, not to read a single page.
[Signature: Elinor Glyn]
THE PRICE OF THINGS
"If one consciously and deliberately desires happiness on this plane," said the Russian, "one must have sufficient strength of will to banish all thought. The moment that one begins to probe the meaning of things, one has opened Pandora's box and it may be many lives before one discovers hope lying at the bottom of it."
"What do you mean by thought? How can one not think?" Amaryllis Ardayre's large grey eyes opened in a puzzled way. She was on her honeymoon in Paris at a party at the Russian Embassy, and until now had accepted things and not speculated about them. She had lived in the country and was as good as gold.
She was accepting her honeymoon with her accustomed calm, although it was not causing her any of the thrills which Elsie Goldmore, her school friend, had assured her she should discover therein.
Honeymoons! Heavens! But perhaps it was because Sir John was dull. He looked dull, she thought, as he stood there talking to the Ambassador. A fine figure of an Englishman but—yes—dull. The Russian, on the contrary, was not dull. He was huge and ugly and rough-hewn—his eyes were yellowish-green and slanted upwards and his face was frankly Calmuck. But you knew that you were talking to a personality—to one who had probably a number of unknown possibilities about him tucked away somewhere.
John had none of these. One could be certain of exactly what he would do on any given occasion—and it would always be his duty. The Russian was observing this charming English bride critically; she was such a perfect specimen of that estimable race—well-shaped, refined and healthy. Chock full of temperament too, he reflected—when she should discover herself. Temperament and romance and even passion, and there were shrewdness and commonsense as well.
"An agreeable task for a man to undertake her education," and he wished that he had time.
Amaryllis Ardayre asked again:
"How can one not think? I am always thinking."
He smiled indulgently.
"Oh! no, you are not—you only imagine that you are. You have questioned nothing—you do right generally because you have a nice character and have been well brought up, not from any conscious determination to uplift the soul. Yes—is it not so?"
She was startled.
"Do you ever ask yourself what things mean? What we are—where we are going? What is the end of it all? No—you are happy; you live from day to day—and yet you cannot be a very young ego, your eyes are too wise—you have had many incarnations. It is merely that in this one life the note of awakening has not yet been struck. You certainly must have needed sleep."
"Many lives? You believe in that theory?"
She was not accustomed to discuss unorthodox subjects. She was interested.
"But of course—how else could there be justice? We draw the reflex of every evil action and of every good one, but sometimes not until the next incarnation, that is why the heedless ones cannot grasp the truth—they see no visible result of either good or evil—evil, in fact, seems generally to win if there is a balance either way."
"Why are we not allowed memory then, so that we might profit by our lessons?"
"We should in that case improve from self-interest and not have our faults eliminated by suffering. We are given no conscious memory of our last life, so we go on fighting for whatever desire still holds us until its achievement brings such overwhelming pain that the desire is no more."
"Why do you say that for happiness we must banish thought—that seems a paradox."
She was a little disturbed.
"I said if one consciously and deliberately desired happiness, one must banish thought to bring oneself back to the condition of hundreds of people who are happy; many of them are even elementals without souls at all. They are permitted happiness so that they may become so attached to the earth plane that they willingly return and gradually obtain a soul. But no one who is allowed to think is allowed any continued happiness; there would be no progress. If so, we should remain as brutes."
"Then how cruel of you to suggest to me to think. I want to be happy—perhaps I do not want to obtain a soul."
"That was born long ago—my words may have awakened it once more, but the sleep was not deep."
Amaryllis Ardayre looked at the crowds passing and re-passing in those stately rooms.
"Tell me, who is that woman over there?" she asked. "The very pretty one with the fair hair in jade green—she looks radiantly happy."
"And is—she is frankly an animal—exquisitely preserved, damnably selfish, completely devoid of intellect, sugar manners, the senses of a harem houri—and the tenacity of a rat."
"You are severe."
"Not at all. Harietta Boleski is a product of that most astonishing nation across the Atlantic—none other could produce her. It is the hothouse of the world as regards remarkable types. Here for immediate ancestry we have a mother, from heaven knows what European refuse heap, arrived in an immigrant ship—father of the 'pore white trash' of the south—result: Harietta, fine points, beautiful, quite a lady for ordinary purposes. The absence of soul is strikingly apparent to any ordinary observer, but one only discovers the vulgarity of spirit if one is a student of evolution—or chances to catch her when irritated with her modiste or her maid. Other nations cannot produce such beings. Women with the attributes of Harietta, were they European, would have surface vulgarity showing—and so be out of the running, or they would have real passion which would be their undoing—passion is glorious—it is aroused by something beyond the physical. Observe her nostril! There is simple, delightful animal sensuality for you! Look also at the convex curve below the underlip—she will bite off the cherry whether it is hers by right or another's, and devour it without a backward thought."
"Boleski—that is a Russian name, is it not?"
"No, Polish—she secured our Stanislass, a great man in his country—last year in Berlin, having divorced a no longer required, but worthy German husband who had held some post in the American Consulate there."
"Is that old man standing obediently beside her your Stanislass?—he looks quite cowed."
"A sad sight, is it not? Stanislass, though, is not old, barely forty. He had a beguin for her. She put his intelligence to sleep and bamboozled his judgment with a continuous appeal to the senses; she has vampired him now. Cloying all his will with her sugared caprices, she makes him scenes and so keeps him in subjection. He was one of the Council de l'Empire for Poland; the aims of his country were his earnest work, but now ambition is no more. He is tired, he has ceased to struggle; she rules and eats his soul as she has eaten the souls of others. Shall I present her to you? As a type, she is worthy of your attention."
"It sounds as if she had the evil eye, as the Italians say," Amaryllis shuddered.
"Only for men. She is really an amiable creature—women like her. She is so frankly simple, since for her there are never two issues—only to be allowed her own desires—a riot of extravagance, the first place—and some one to gratify certain instincts without too many refinements when the mood takes her. For the rest, she is kind and good-natured and 'jolly,' as you English say, and has no notion that she is a road to hell. But they are mostly dead, her other spider mates, and cannot tell of it."
"I am much interested. I should like to talk to her. You say that she is happy?"
"Obviously—she is an elemental—she never thinks at all, except to plan some further benefit for herself. I do not believe in this life that she can obtain a soul—her only force is her tenacious will."
"Such force is good, though?"
"Certainly. Even bad force is better than negative Good. One must first be strong before one can be serene."
"You are strong."
"Yes, but not good. Hardly a fit companion for sweet little English brides with excellent husbands awaiting them."
"I shall judge of that."
"Tiens! So emancipated!"
"If you are bad, how does your theory work that we pay for each action? Since by that you must know that it cannot be worth while to be bad."
"It is not—I am aware of it, but when I am bad I am bad deliberately, knowing that I must pay."
"That seems stupid of you."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I take very severe exercise when I begin to think of things I should not and I become savage when I require happiness—now is our chance for making you acquainted with Harietta, she is moving our way."
Madame Boleski swept towards them on the arm of an Austrian Prince and the Russian Verisschenzko said, with suave politeness:
"Madame, let me present you to Lady Ardayre. With me she has been admiring you from afar."
The two women bowed, and with cheery, disarming simplicity, the American made some gracious remarks in a voice which sounded as if she smoked too much; it was not disagreeable in tone, nor had she a pronounced American accent.
Amaryllis Ardayre found herself interested. She admired the superb attention to detail shown in Madame Boleski's whole person. Her face was touched up with the lightest art, not overdone in any way. Her hair, of that very light tone bordering on gold, which sometimes goes with hazel eyes, was quite natural and wonderfully done. Her dress was perfection—so were her jewels. One saw that her corsetiere was an artist, and that everything had cost a great deal of money. She had taken off one glove and Amaryllis saw her bare hand—it was well-shaped, save that the thumb turned back in a remarkable degree.
"So delighted to meet you," Madame Boleski said. "We are going over to London next month and I am just crazy to know more of you delicious English people."
They chatted for a few moments and then Madame Boleski swept onwards. She was quite stately and graceful and had a well-poised head. Amaryllis turned to the Russian and was startled by the expression of fierce, sardonic amusement in his yellow-green eyes.
"But surely, she can see that you are laughing at her?" she exclaimed, astonished.
"It would convey nothing to her if she did."
"But you looked positively wicked."
"Possibly—I feel it sometimes when I think of Stanislass; he was a very good friend of mine."
Sir John Ardayre joined them at this moment and the three walked towards the supper room and the Russian said good-night.
"It is not good-bye, Madame. I, too, shall be in your country soon and I also hope that I may see you again before you leave Paris."
They arranged a dinner for the following night but one, and said au revoir.
An hour later the Russian was seated in a huge English leather chair in the little salon of his apartment in the rue Cambon, when Madame Boleski very softly entered the room and sat down upon his knee.
"I had to come, darling Brute," she said. "I was jealous of the English girl," and she fitted her delicately painted lips to his. "Stanislass wanted to talk over his new scheme for Poland, too, and as you know that always gets on my nerves."
But Verisschenzko threw his head back impatiently, while he answered roughly.
"I am not in the mood for your chastisement to-night. Go back as you came, I am thinking of something real, something which makes your body of no use to me—it wearies me and I do not even desire your presence. Begone!"
Then he kissed her neck insolently and pushed her off his knee.
She pouted resentfully. But suddenly her eyes caught a small case lying on a table near—and an eager gleam came into their hazel depths.
"Oh, Stepan! Is it the ruby thing! Oh! You beloved angel, you are going to give it to me after all! Oh! I'll rush off at once and leave you, if you wish it! Good-night!"
And when she was gone Verisschenzko threw some incense into a silver burner and as the clouds of perfume rose into the air:
"Wough!" he said.
"What are you doing in Paris, Denzil?"
"I came over for a bit of racing. Awfully glad to see you. Can't we dine together? I go back to-morrow." Verisschenzko put his arm through Denzil Ardayre's and drew him in to the Cafe de Paris, at the door of which they had chanced to meet.
"I had another guest, but she can be consoled with some of Midas' food, and I want to talk to you; were you going to eat alone?"
"A fellow threw me over; I meant to have just a snack and go on to a theatre. It is good running across you—I thought you were miles away!"
Verisschenzko spoke to the head waiter, and gave him directions as to the disposal of the lovely lady who would presently arrive, and then he went on to his table, rather at the top, in a fairly secluded corner.
The few people who were already dining—it was early on this May night—looked at Denzil Ardayre—he was such a refreshing sight of health and youth, so tall and fit and English, with his brown smooth head and fearless blue eyes, gay and debonnaire. One could see that he played cricket and polo, and any other game that came along, and that not a muscle of his frame was out of condition. He had "soldier" written upon him—young, gallant, cavalry soldier. Verisschenzko appreciated him; nothing complete, human or inanimate, left him unconscious of its meaning. They knew one another very well—they had been at Oxford and later had shot bears together in the Russian's far-off home.
They talked for a while of casual things, and then Verisschenzko said:
"Some relations of yours are here—Sir John Ardayre and his particularly attractive bride. Shall we eat what I had ordered for Collette, or have you other fancies after the soup?"
Denzil paid only attention to the first part of the speech—he looked surprised and interested.
"John Ardayre here! Of course, he married about ten days ago—he is the head of the family as you are aware, but I hardly even know him by sight. He is quite ten years older than I am and does not trouble about us, the poor younger branch—" and he smiled, showing such good teeth. "Besides, as you know, I have been for such a long time in India, and the leaves were for sport, not for hunting up relations."
Verisschenzko did not press the matter of his guest's fancies in food, and they continued the menu ordered for Collette without further delay.
"I want to hear all that you know about them, the girl is an exquisite thing with immense possibilities. Sir John looks—dull."
"He is really a splendid character though," Denzil hastened to assure him. "Do you know the family history? But no, of course not, we were too busy in the old days enjoying life to trouble to talk of such things! Well, it is rather strange in the last generation—things very nearly came to an end and John has built it all up again. You are interested in heredity?"
"Naturally—what is the story?"
"Our mutual great-grandfather was a tremendous personage in North Somerset—the place Ardayre is there. My father was the son of the younger son, who had just enough to do him decently at Eton, and enable him to scrape along in the old regiment with a pony or two to play with. My mother was a Willowbrook, as you know, and a considerable heiress, that is how I come out all right, but until John's father, Sir James, squandered things, the head of the family was always very rich and full of land—and awfully set on the dignity of his race. They had turned the cult of it into regular religion."
"The father of this man made a gaspillage, then—well?"
"Yes, he was a rotter—a hark-back to his mother's relations; she was a Cranmote—they ruin any blood they mix with. I am glad that I come from the generation before."
Denzil helped himself to a Russian salad, and went on leisurely. "He fortunately married Lady Mary de la Paule—who was a saint, and so John seems to have righted, and takes after her. She died quite early, she had had enough of Sir James, I expect, he had gambled away everything he could lay hands upon. Poor John was brought up with a tutor at home, for some reason—hard luck on a man. He was only about thirteen when she died and at seventeen went straight into the city. He was determined to make a fortune, it has always been said, and redeem the mortgages on Ardayre—very splendid of him, wasn't it?"
"Yes—well all this is not out of the ordinary line—what comes next?"
Denzil laughed—he was not a good raconteur.
"The poor lady was no sooner dead than the old boy married a Bulgarian snake charmer, whom he had picked up in Constantinople! You may well smile"—for Verisschenzko had raised his eyebrows in a whimsical way—this did sound such a highly coloured incident!
"It was an unusual sort of thing to do, I admit, but the tale grows more lurid still, when I tell you that five months after the wedding she produced a son by the Lord knows who, one of her own tribe probably, and old Sir James was so infatuated with her that he never protested, and presently when he and John quarrelled like hell he pretended the little brute was his own child—just to spite John."
Verisschenzko's Calmuck eyes narrowed.
"And does this result of the fusion of snake charmers figure in the family history? I believe I have met him—his name is Ferdinand, is it not, and he is, or was, in some business in Constantinople?"
"That is the creature—he was brought up at Ardayre as though he were the heir, and poor John turned out of things. He came to Eton three years before I left, but even there they could not turn him into the outside semblance of a gentleman. I loathed the little toad, and he loathed me—and the sickening part of the thing is that if John does not have a son, by the English law of entail Ferdinand comes into Ardayre, and will be the head of the family. Old Sir James died about five years ago, always protesting this bastard was his own child, though every one knew it was a lie. However, by that time John had made enough in the city to redeem Ardayre twice over. He had tremendous luck after the South African War, so he came into possession and lives there now in great state—I do really hope that he will have a son."
"You, too, have the instinct of the family, then—this pride in it—since it cannot benefit you either way."
"I believe it is born in us, and though I have never seen Ardayre, I should hate this mongrel to have it. I was brought up with a tremendous reverence for it, even as a second cousin."
"Well, the new Lady Ardayre looks young enough and of a health to have ten sons!"
"Y-es," Denzil acquiesced in a tentative tone.
"Not so?" Verisschenzko glanced up surprised, and then gave his attention to the waiter who had brought some Burgundy and was pouring it out into his glass.
"Not so you would say?"
"I don't know, I have never seen her—but in the family it is whispered that John—poor devil—he had an accident hunting two or three years ago. However, it may not any of it be true—here, let us drink to the Ardayre son!"
"To the Ardayre son!" and Verisschenzko filled his friend's glass with the decanted wine and they both drank together.
"Your cousin is like you," he said presently. "A fatiguing likeness, but the same height and make—and voice—strange things these family reproductions of an exact type. I have no family, as you know—we are of the people, arisen by trade to riches. Could I go beyond my immediate parents, could I know cousins and uncles and brothers, should I find this same peculiar stamp of family among us all? Who knows? I think not."
"I suppose there is something in it. My father has told me that in the picture gallery at Ardayre they are as like as two pins the whole way down."
"The concentration upon the idea causes it. In people risen like my father and myself, we only resemble a group—a nation; if I have children they will resemble me. It is strength in the beginning when an individual rises beyond the group, which produces a type. One says 'English' to look at you, and then, if one knows, one says 'Ardayre' at once; one gets as far as 'Calmuck' with me, that is all, but in years to come it will have developed into 'Verisschenzko.'"
"How you study things, Stepan; you are always putting new ideas into my head whenever I see you. Life would be just a routine, for all the joy of sport, if one did not think. I am going to finish my soldiering this autumn and stand for Parliament. It seems waste of time now, with no wars in prospect, sticking to it; I want a vaster field."
"You think there can be no wars in prospect—no? Well, who can prophesy? There are clouds in the Southeast, but for the moment we will not speculate about them—and they may affect my country and not yours. And so you will settle down and become a reputable member of Parliament?" Then, as Denzil would have spoken perhaps upon the subject of war clouds, Verisschenzko hastily continued:
"Will you dine to-morrow night at the Ritz to meet your cousin and his wife? They are honouring me."
"I wish I could, but I am off in the morning. What is she like?"
Verisschenzko paid particular attention to the selection of a quail, and then he answered:
"She is of the same type as the family, Denzil,—that is, a good skeleton—bones in the right place, firm white flesh, colouring as yours—well bred, balanced, unawakened as yet. Was she a relation?"
"Yes, I believe so—a cousin of a generation even before mine. I wish I could have dined, I would awfully like to have met them; I shall have to make a chance in England. It is stupid not to know one's own family, but our fathers quarrelled and we have never had a chance of mending the break."
"They were at the Russian Embassy last night; the throng admired Lady Ardayre very much."
"And what are you doing in Paris, Stepan? The last I heard of you, you were on your yacht in the Black Sea."
"I was cruising near countries whose internal affairs interest me for the moment. I returned to my appartement in Paris to see a friend of mine, Stanislass Boleski—he also has a lovely wife. Look, she has just come in with him. She is in the devil of a temper—observe her. If I sit back, the pillar hides me—I do not wish them to see me yet."
Denzil glanced down the room; two people were taking their seats by the wall. The mask was off Harietta Boleski's face for the moment; it looked silly with its raised eyebrows and was full of ill temper and spite. The husband had an air of extreme worry on his clever, intellectual face, but that he was solicitous to gratify his wife's caprices, any casual observer could have perceived.
"You mean the woman with the wonderful cigrettes—she is good-looking, isn't she? I wonder who it is she has caught sight of now, though? Look at the eagerness which has come into her eyes—you can see her in the mirror if you want to."
But Verisschenzko had missed nothing, and he bent forward to endeavour to identify the person upon whom Madame Boleski's gaze had turned. There was nothing to distinguish any individual—the company were of several nations—German and Austrian and Balkan and Russian scattered about here and there among the French and American habitues. The only plan would be to continue to watch Harietta—but although he did this throughout the dinner, not a flicker of her eyelids gave him any further clue.
Denzil was interested—he felt something beyond what appeared on the surface was taking place, so he waited for his friend to speak.
Verisschenzko was silent for a little, and then he casually gave a resume of the character and place of Madame Boleski and her husband, a good deal more baldly expressed, but in substance much the same as he had given to Amaryllis at the Russian Embassy the night before.
He spoke lightly, but his yellow green eyes were keen.
"Look at her well—she is capable of mischief. Her extreme stupidity—only the brain of a rodent or a goat—makes her more difficult to manipulate than the cleverest diplomat, because you can never be sure whether the blank want of understanding which she displays is real or simulated. She is a perfect actress, but very often is quite natural. Most women are either posing all the time, or not at all. Harietta's miming only comes into action for self-preservation, or personal gain, and then it is of such a superb quality that she leaves even me—I, who am no poor diviner—confused as to whether she is telling a lie or the truth."
"What an exceptional character!" Denzil was thrilled.
"An absence of all moral sense is her great power," Verisschenzko continued, while he watched her narrowly, "because she never has any of the prickings of conscience which even most rogues experience at times, and so draws no demagnetising nervous uncertain currents. If it were not for an insatiable extravagance, and a capricious fancy for different jewels, she would be impossible to deal with. She has information, obtained from what source I do not as yet know, which is of vital importance to me. Were it not for that, one could simply enjoy her as a mistress and take delight in studying her idiosyncrasies."
"She has lovers?"
"Has had many; her role now is that of a great lady and so all is of a respectability! She is so stupid that if that instinct of self-preservation were not so complete as to be like a divine guide, she would commit betises all the time. As it is, when she takes a lover it is hidden with the cunning of a fox."
"Who did you say the first husband was—?"
"A German of the name of Von Wendel—he used to beat her with a stick, it is said—so naturally such a nature adored him. I did not meet her until she had got rid of him and he had disappeared. She would sacrifice any one who stood in her way."
"Your friend, the present husband, looks pretty epuise—one feels sorry for the poor man."
Then, as ever, at the mention of the debacle of Stanislass, Verisschenzko's eyes filled with a fierce light.
"She has crushed the hope of Poland—for that, indeed, one day she must pay."
"But I thought you Russians did not greatly love the Poles?" Denzil remarked.
"Enlightened Russians can see beyond their old prejudices—and Stanislass was a lifetime friend. One day a new dawn will come for our Northern world."
His eyes grew dreamy for an instant, and then resumed their watch of Harietta. Denzil looked at him and did not speak for a while. He had always been drawn to Stepan, from a couple of terms at Oxford before the Russian was sent down for a mad freak, and did not return. He was such a mixture of idealism and brutal commonsense, a brain so alert and the warm heart of a generous child—capable of every frenzy and of every sacrifice. They had planned great things for their afterlives before the one joined his regiment, and learned discipline, and the other wandered over many lands—and as they sat there in the Cafe de Paris, the thoughts of both wandered back to old days gapping the encounters for sport in Russia and in India between.
"They were glorious times, Denzil, weren't they?" Verisschenzko said presently, aware by that wonderfully delicately attuned faculty of his of what his friend was thinking. "We had thought to conquer the sun, moon and stars—and who knows, perhaps we will yet!"
"Who knows? I feel my real life is only just beginning. How old are we, Stepan? Twenty-nine years old!"
Afterwards, as they went out, they passed the Boleskis close, and the two rose and spoke to Verisschenzko, with empressement. He introduced Captain Ardayre and they talked for a few minutes, Harietta Boleski all smiles and flattering cajoleries now—and then they said good-night and went out.
But as Stepan passed, a man half hidden behind a pillar leaned forward and looked at him, and in his light blue eyes there burned a jealous hate.
"Ah, Gott in Himmel!" he growled to himself. "It is he whom she loves—not the pig-fool who we gave her to—one day I shall kill him—" and he raised his glass of Rhine wine and murmured "Der Tag!"
That evening Sir John Ardayre had taken his bride to dine in the Bois, and they were sitting listening to the Tziganes at Armenonville. Amaryllis was conscious that the evening lacked something. The circumstances were interesting—a bride of ten days, and the environment so illuminating—and yet there was John smoking an expensive cigar and not saying anything! She did not like people who chattered—and she could even imagine a delicious silence wrought with meaning. But a stolid respectable silence with Tziganes playing moving airs and the romantic background of this Paris out-of-door joyous night life, surely demanded some show of emotion!
John loved her she supposed—of course he did—or he never would have asked her to marry him, rich as he was and poor as she had been. She could not help going over all their acquaintance; the date of its beginning was only three months back!
They had met at a country house and had played golf together, and then they had met again a month later at another house, in March, but she could not remember any love-making—she could not remember any of those warm looks and those surreptitious hand-clasps when occasion was propitious, which Elsie Goldmore had told her men were so prodigal of in demonstrating when they fell in love. Indeed, she had seen emotion upon the faces of quite two or three young men, for all her secluded life and restricted means, since she had left the school in Dresden, where a worldly maiden aunt had pinched to send her, German officers had looked at her there with interest in the street, and the clergyman's three sons and the Squire's two, when she returned home. Indeed, Tom Clarke had gone further than this! He had kissed her cheek coming out of the door in the dark one evening, and had received a severe rebuff for his pains.
She had read quantities of novels, ancient and modern. She knew that love was a wonderful thing; she knew also that modern life and its exigencies had created a new and far more matter-of-fact point of view about it than that which was obtained in most books. She did not expect much, and had indulged in none of those visions of romantic bliss which girls were once supposed to spend their time in constructing. But she did expect something, and here was nothing—just nothing!
The day John had asked her to marry him he had not been much moved. He had put the question to her simply and calmly, and she had not dreamed of refusing him. It was obviously her duty, and it had always been her intention to marry well, if the chance came her way, and so leave a not too congenial home.
She had been to a few London balls with the maiden aunt, a personage of some prestige and character. But invitations do not flow to a penniless young woman from the country, nor do partners flock to be presented to strangers in those days, and Amaryllis had spent many humiliating hours as a wall-flower and had grown to hate balls. She was not expansive in herself and did not make friends easily, and pretty as she was, as a girl, luck did not come her way.
When she had said "Yes" in as matter-of-fact a voice as the proposal of marriage had been made to her, Sir John had replied: "You are a dear," and that had seemed to her a most ordinary remark. He had leaned over—they were climbing a steep pitch in search of a fugitive golf ball—and had taken her hand respectfully, and then he had kissed her forehead—or her ear—she forgot which—nothing which mattered much, or gave her any thrill!
"I hope I shall make you happy," he had added. "I am a dull sort of a fellow, but I will try."
Then they had talked of the usual things that they talked about, the most every-day,—and they had returned to the house, and by the evening every one knew of the engagement, and she was congratulated on all sides, and petted by the hostess, and she and John were left ostentatiously alone in a smaller drawing-room after dinner, and there was not a grain of excitement in the whole conventional thing!
There was always a shadow, too, in John's blue eyes. He was the most reserved creature in this world, she supposed. That might be all very well, but what was the good of being so reserved with the woman you liked well enough to make your wife, if it made you never able to get beyond talking on general subjects!
This she had asked herself many times and had determined to break down the reserve. But John never changed and he was always considerate and polite and perfectly at ease. He would talk quietly and with commonsense to whoever he was placed next, and very seldom a look of interest flickered in his eyes. Indeed, Amaryllis had never seen him really interested until he spoke of Ardayre—then his very voice altered.
He spoke of his home often to her during their engagement, and she grew to know that it was something sacred to him, and that the Family and its honour, and its traditions, meant more to him than any individual person could ever do.
She almost became jealous of it all.
Her trousseau was quite nice—the maiden aunt had seen to that. Her niece had done well and she did not grudge her pinchings.
Amaryllis felt triumphant as she walked up the aisle of St. George's, Hanover Square, on the arm of a scapegrace sailor uncle—she would not allow her stepfather to give her away.
Every one was so pleased about the wedding! An Ardayre married to an Ardayre! Good blood on both sides and everything suitable and rich and prosperous, and just as it should be! And there stood her handsome, stolid bridegroom, serenely calm—and the white flowers, and the Bishop—and her silver brocade train—and the pages, and the bridesmaids. Oh! yes, a wedding was a most agreeable thing!
And could she have penetrated into the thoughts of John Ardayre, this is the prayer she would have heard, as he knelt there beside her at the altar rails: "Oh, God, keep the axe from falling yet, give me a son."
The most curious emotions of excitement rose in her when they went off in the smart new automobile en route for that inevitable country house "lent by the bridegroom's uncle, the Earl de la Paule, for the first days of the honeymoon."
This particular mansion was on the river, only two hours' drive from her aunt's Charles Street door. Now that she was his wife, surely John would begin to make love to her, real love, kisses, claspings, and what not. For Elsie Goldmore had presumed upon their schoolgirl friendship and been quite explicate in these last days, and in any case Amaryllis was not a miss of the Victorian era. The feminine world has grown too unrefined in the expression of its private affairs and too indiscreet for any maiden to remain in ignorance now.
It is true John did kiss her once or twice, but there was no real warmth in the embrace, and when, after an excellent dinner her heart began to beat with wonderment and excitement, she asked herself what it meant. Then, all confused, she murmured something about "Good-night," and retired to the magnificent state suite alone.
When she had left him John Ardayre drank down a full glass of Benedictine and followed her up the stairs, but there was no lover's exaltation, but an anguish almost of despair in his eyes.
Amaryllis thought of that night—and of other nights since—as she sat there at Armenonville, in the luminous sensuous dusk.
So this was being married! Well, it was not much of a joy—and why, why did John sit silent there? Why?
Surely this is not how the Russian would have sat—that strange Russian!
It was nearing sunset in the garden below the Trocadero. A tall German officer waited impatiently not far from the bronze of a fierce bull in a secluded corner under the trees; he was plainly an officer although he was clothed in mufti of English make. He was a singularly handsome creature in spite of his too wide hips. A fine, sensual, brutal male.
He swore in his own language, and then, through the glorious light, a woman came towards him. She wore an unremarkable overcoat and a thick veil.
"Hans!" she exclaimed delightedly, and then went on in fluent German with a strong American accent.
He looked round to be sure that they were alone, and then he clasped her in his arms. He held her so tightly that she panted for breath; he kissed her until her lips were bruised, and he murmured guttural words of endearment that sounded like an animal's growl.
The woman answered him in like manner. It was as though two brute beasts had met.
Then presently they sat upon a seat and talked in low tones. The woman protested and declaimed; the man grumbled and demanded. An envelope passed between them, and more crude caresses, and before they parted the man again held her in close embrace—biting the lobe of her ear until she gave a little scream.
"Yes—if there was time—" she gasped huskily. "I should adore you like this—but here—in the gardens—Oh! do mind my hat!"
Then he let her go—they had arranged a future meeting. And left alone, he sat down upon the bench again and laughed aloud.
The woman almost ran to the road at the bottom and jumped into a waiting taxi, and once inside she brought out a gold case with mirror and powder puff, and red greases for her lips.
"My goodness! I can't say that's a mosquito!" and she examined her ear. "How tiresome and imprudent of Hans! But Jingo, it was good!—if there only had been time—"
Then she, too, laughed as she powdered her face, and when she alighted at the door of the Hotel du Rhin, no marks remained of conflict except the telltale ear.
But on encountering her maid, she was carrying her minute Pekinese dog in her arms and was beating him well.
"Regardez, Marie! la vilaine bete m'a mordu l'oreil!"
"Tiens!" commented the affronted Marie, who adored Fou-Chou. "Et le cher petit chien de Madame est si doux!"
* * * * *
Stanislass Boleski was poring over a voluminous bundle of papers when his wife, clad in a diaphanous wrap, came into his sitting room. They had a palatial suite at the Rhin. The affairs of Poland were not prospering as he had hoped, and these papers required his supreme attention—there was German intrigue going on somewhere underneath. He longed for Harietta's sympathy which she had been so prodigal in bestowing before she had secured her divorce from that brute of a Teutonic husband, whom she hated so much. Now she hardly ever listened, and yawned in his face when he spoke of Poland and his high aims. But he must make allowances for her—she was such a child of impulse, so lovely, so fascinating! And here in Paris, admired as she was, how could he wonder at her distraction!
"Stanislass! my old Stannie," she cooed in his ear, "what am I to wear to-night for the Montivacchini ball? You will want me to look my best, I know, and I just love to please you."
He was all attention at once, pushing the documents aside as she put her arms around his neck and pulled his beard, then she drew his head back to kiss the part where the hair was growing thin on the top—her eyes fixed on the papers.
"You don't want to bother with those tiresome old things any more; go and get into your dressing-gown, and come to my room and talk while I am polishing my nails,—we can have half an hour before I must dress. I'll wait for you here—I must be petted to-night, I am tired and cross."
Stanislass Boleski rose with alacrity. She had not been kind to him for days—fretful and capricious and impossible to please. He must not lose this chance—if it could only have been when he was not so busy—but—
"Run along, do!" she commanded, tapping her foot.
And putting the papers hastily in a drawer with a spring lock, he went gladly from the room.
Her whole aspect changed; she lit a cigarette and hummed a tune, while she fingered a key which dangled from her bracelet.
No one eclipsed Madame Boleski in that distinguished crowd later on. Her clinging silver brocade, and the one red rose at the edge of the extreme decolletage, were simply the perfection of art. She did not wear gloves, and on her beautifully manicured hands she wore no rings except a magnificent ruby on the left little finger. It was her caprice to refuse an alliance. "Wedding rings!" she had said to Stanislass. "Bosh! they spoil the look. Sometimes it is chic to have a good jewel on one finger, sometimes on another, but to be tied down to that band of homely gold! Never!"
Stanislass had argued in those early days—he seldom argued now.
"My love!" he cried, as she burst upon his infatuated vision, when ready for the ball, "let me admire you!"
She turned about; she knew that she was perfection.
Her husband kissed her fingers, and then he caught sight of the ruby ring. He examined it.
"I had not seen this ruby before," he exclaimed in a surprised voice, "and I thought I knew all your jewel case!"
She held out her hand while her big, stupid, appealing hazel eyes expressed childish innocence.
"No—I'd put it away, it was of other days—but I do love rubies, and so I got it out to-night, it goes with my rose!"
He had perceived this. Had he not become educated in the subtleties of a woman's apparel? For was it not his duty often, and his pleasure sometimes, to have to assist at her toilet, and to listen for hours to discussions of garments, and if they could suit or not. He was even accustomed now to waiting in the hot salons in the Rue de la Paix, while these stately perfections were being essayed. But the ruby ring worried him. Why had she asked him to give her just such a one only last month, if she already possessed its fellow?... He had refused because her extravagance had grown fantastic, but he had meant to cede later. Every pleasure of the senses he always had to secure by bribes.
"I do not understand why?—" he began, but she put her hand over his mouth and then kissed him voluptuously before she turned and shrilly cried to Marie to bring her ermine cloak.
The maid's eyes were round and sullen with resentment; she had not forgotten the beating of Fou-Chou! "As for the ear of Madame!" she said, clasping the tiny dog to her heart, as she watched her mistress go towards the lift from the sitting-room, "as for that maudite ear, thy teeth are innocent, my angel! But I wish that he who is guilty had bitten it off!" Then she laughed disdainfully.
"And look at the old fool! He dreams of nothing! And if he dreamed, he would not believe—such insenses are men!"
Meanwhile the Boleskis had arrived at the hotel of the Duchesse di Montivacchini, that rich and ravishing American-Italian, who gave the most splendid and exclusive entertainments in Paris. So, too, had arrived Sir John and Lady Ardayre, brought on from the dinner at the Ritz by Verisschenzko.
Denzil had left that morning for England, or he would have had the disagreeable experience of meeting his soi-disant cousin, to whom he had applied the epithet "toad." For Ferdinand Ardayre had just reached the gay city from Constantinople, and had also come to the ball with a friend in the Turkish Embassy.
He happened to be standing at the door when the Boleskis were announced, and his light eyes devoured Harietta—she seemed to him the ideal of things feminine—and he immediately took steps to be presented. Assurance was one of his strongest cards. He was a fair man—with the fairness of a Turk not European—and there was something mean and chetive in his regard. He would have looked over-dressed and un-English in a London ball-room, but in that cosmopolitan company he was unremarkable. He had been his mother's idol and Sir James had left him everything he could scrape from his highly mortgaged property. But certain tastes of his own made a Continental life more congenial to him, and he had chosen early to enter a financial house which took him to the East and Constantinople. He was about twenty-seven years old at this period and was considered by himself and a number of women to be a creature of superlative charm.
The one burning bitterness in his spirit was the knowledge that Sir John Ardayre had never recognised him as a brother. During Sir James' lifetime there had been silence upon the matter, since John had no legal reason for denying the relationship, but once he had become master of Ardayre he had let it be known that he refused to believe Ferdinand to be his father's son. On the rare occasions when he had to be mentioned, John called him "the mongrel" and Ferdinand was aware of this. A silent, intense hatred filled his being—more than shared by his mother who, until the day of her death, two years before, had always plotted vengeance—without being able to accomplish anything. Either mother or son would willingly have murdered John if a suitable and safe method had presented itself. And now to know that John had married a beautiful far-off cousin and might have children, and so forever preclude the possibility of his—Ferdinand's—own inheritance of Ardayre was a further incentive to hate! If only some means could be discovered to remove John, and soon! But while Ferdinand thought these things, watching his so-called brother from across the room, he knew that he was impotent. Poisons and daggers were not weapons which could be employed in civilised Paris in the twentieth century! If they would only come to Constantinople!
Amaryllis Ardayre had never seen a Paris ball before. She was enchanted. The sumptuous, lofty rooms, with their perfect Louis XV gilt boiseries, the marvellous clothes of the women, the gaiety in the air! She was accustomed to the new weird dances in England, but had not seen them performed as she now saw them.
"This orgie of mad people is a wonderful sight," Verisschenzko said, as he stood by her side. "Paris has lost all good taste and sense of the fitness of things. Look! the women who are the most expert in the wriggle of the tango are mostly over forty years old! Do you see that one in the skin-tight pink robe? She is a grandmother! All are painted—all are feverish—all would be young! It is ever thus when a country is on the eve of a cataclysm—it is a dance Macabre."
Amaryllis turned, startled, to look at him, and she saw that his eyes were full of melancholy, and not mocking as they usually were.
"A dance Macabre! You do not approve of these tangoes then?"
He gave a small shrug of his shoulders, which was his only form of gesticulation.
"Tangoes—or one steps—I neither approve nor disapprove—dancing should all have its meaning, as the Greek Orchises had. These dances to the Greeks would have meant only one thing—I do not know if they would have wished this to take place in public, they were an aesthetic and refined people, so I think not. We Russians are the only so-called civilised nation who are brutal enough for that; but we are far from being civilised really. Orgies are natural to us—they are not to the French or the English. Savage sex displays for these nations are an acquired taste, a proof of vicious decay, the middle note of the end."
"I learned the tango this Spring—it is charming to dance," Amaryllis protested. She was a little uncomfortable—the subject, much as she was interested in the Russian's downright views, she found was difficult to discuss.
"I am sure you did—you counted time—you moved your charming form this way and that—and you had not the slightest idea of anything in it beyond anxiety to keep step and do the thing well! Yes—is it not so?"
Amaryllis laughed—this was so true!
"What an incredibly false sham it all is!" he went on. "Started by niggers or Mexicans for what it obviously means, and brought here for respectable mothers, and wives, and girls to perform. For me a woman loses all charm when she cheapens the great mystery-ceremonies of love—"
"Then you won't dance it with me?" Amaryllis challenged smilingly—she would not let him see that she was cast down. "I do so want to dance!"
His eyes grew fierce.
"I beg of you not! I desire to keep the picture I have made of you since we met—later I shall dance it myself with a suitable partner, but I do not want you mixed with this tarnished herd."
Amaryllis answered with dignity:
"If I thought of it as you do I should not want to dance it at all." She was aggrieved that her expressed desire might have made him hold her less high—"and you have taken all the bloom from my butterfly's wing—I will never enjoy dancing it again—let us go and sit down."
He gave her his arm and they moved from the room, coming almost into conflict with Madame Boleski and her partner, Ferdinand Ardayre, whose movements would have done honour to the lowest nigger ring.
"There is your friend, Madame Boleski—she dances—and so well!"
"Harietta is an elemental—as I told you before—it is right that she should express herself so. She is very well aware of what it all means and delights in it. But look at that lady with the hair going grey—it is the Marquise de Saint Vrilliere—of the bluest blood in France and of a rigid respectability. She married her second daughter last week. They all spend their days at the tango classes, from early morning till dark—mothers and daughters, grandmothers and demi-mondaines, Russian Grand Duchesses, Austrian Princesses—clasped in the arms of incredible scum from the Argentine, half-castes from Mexico, and farceurs from New York—decadent male things they would not receive in their ante-chambers before this madness set in!"
"And you say it is a dance Macabre? Tell me just what you mean."
They had reached a comfortable sofa by now in a salon devoted to bridge, which was almost empty, the players, so eager to take part in the dancing, that they had deserted even this, their favourite game.
"When a nation loses all sense of balance and belies the traditions of its whole history, and when masses of civilised individuals experience this craze for dancing and miming, and sex display, it presages some great upheaval—some calamity. It was thus before the revolution of 1793, and since it is affecting England and America and all of Europe it seems, the cataclysm will be great."
Amaryllis shivered. "You frighten me," she whispered. "Do you mean some war—or some earthquake—or some pestilence, or what?"
"Events will show. But let us talk of something else. A cousin of your husband's, who is a very good friend of mine, was here yesterday. He went to England to-day, you have not met him yet, I believe—Denzil Ardayre?"
"No—but I know all about him—he plays polo and is in the Zingari."
"He does other things—he will even do more—I shall be curious to hear what you think of him. For me he is the type of your best in England. We were at Oxford together; we dreamed dreams there—and perhaps time will realise some of them. Denzil is a beautiful Englishman, but he is not a fool."
A sudden illumination seemed to come into Amaryllis' brain; she felt how limited had been all her thoughts and standpoints in life. She had been willing to drift on without speculation as to the goal to be reached. Indeed, even now, had she any definite goal? She looked at the Russian's strong, rugged face, his inscrutable eyes narrowed and gazing ahead—of what was he thinking? Not stupid, ordinary things—that was certain.
"It is the second evening, amidst the most unlikely surroundings, that you have made me speculate about subjects which never troubled me before. Then you leave me unsatisfied—I want to know—definitely to know!"
"Searcher after wisdom!" and he smiled. "No one can teach another very much. Enlightenment must come from within; we have reached a better stage when we realise that we are units in some vast scheme and responsible for its working, and not only atoms floating hither and thither by chance. Most people have the brains of grasshoppers; they spring from subject to subject, their thoughts are never under control. Their thoughts rule them—it is not they who rule their thoughts."
They were seated comfortably on their sofa, and Verisschenzko leaning forward from his corner, looked straight into her eyes.
"You control your thoughts?" she asked. "Can you really only let them wander where you choose?"
"They very seldom escape me, but I consciously allow them indulgences."
"Visions—day dreams—which I know ought not to materialise."
Something disturbed her in his regard; it was not easy to meet, so full of magnetic emanation. Amaryllis was conscious that she no longer felt very calm—she longed to know What his dreams could be.
"Yes—but if I told you, you would send me away."
It seemed that he could read her desire. "I shall order myself to be gone presently, because the interest which you cause me to feel would interfere with work which I have to do."
"And your dreams? Tell them first?" she knew that she was playing with fire.
He looked down now, and she saw that he was not going to gratify her curiosity.
"My noblest dream is for the regeneration of a nation—on that I have ordered my thoughts to dwell. For the others, the time is not yet for me to tell you of them—it may never come. Now answer me, have you yet seen your new home, Ardayre?"
"No, but why should you be interested in that? It seems strange that you, a Russian, should even know that there is such a place as Ardayre!"
"Continue—I know that it is a wonderful place, and that your husband loves it more than his life."
Amaryllis pouted slightly.
"He does indeed! Perhaps I shall grow to do so also when I know it; it is the family creed. Sir James—my late father-in-law—was the only exception to this rule."
"You must uphold the idea then, and live to do fine things."
"I will try—if only—" then she paused, she could not say "if only John would be human and unfreeze to me, and love me, and let us go on the road together hand in hand!"
"It is quite useless for a family merely to continue from generation to generation piling up possessions, and narrowing its interests. It must do this for a time to become solid, and then it should take a vaster view, and begin to help the world. Nearly everything is spoiled in all civilisation because of this inability to see beyond the nose, this poor and paltry outlook."
"People rave vaguely," Amaryllis argued, "about one's duty and vast outlooks and those things, but it is difficult to get any one to give concrete advice—what would you advise me to do, for instance?"
"I would advise you first to begin asking yourself the reason of everything, each day, since Pandora's box has been opened for you in any case. 'What caused this? What caused that?' Search for causes—then eradicate the roots, if they are not good, do not waste time on trying to ameliorate the results! Determine as to why you are put into such and such a place, and accomplish what you discover to be the duty of the situation. But how serious we have become! I am not a priest to give you guidance—I am a man fighting a tremendously strong desire to take you in my arms—so come, we will return to the ball room, and I will deliver you to your husband."
Amaryllis rose and stood facing him, her heart was beating fast. "If I try to do well—to climb the straight road of the soul's advancement, will you give me counsel should I need it by the way?"
"Yes, this I will do when I have complete control, but for the moment you are causing me emotions, and I wish to keep you a thing apart—of the spirit. Hermits and saints subdue the flesh by abstinence and fasting; they then become useless to the world. A man can only lead men while he remains a man, with a man's passions, so that he should not fight in this beyond his strength—only he should never sully the wrong thing. Come! Return to the husband—and I shall go for a while to hell."
And presently Amaryllis, standing safely with John, saw Verisschenzko dancing the maddest one-step with Madame Boleski, their undulations outdoing all others in the room!
The day after the wonderful rejoicing which the homecoming of Amaryllis had been the occasion of at Ardayre, she was sitting waiting for her husband in that exquisite cedar parlour which led from her room.
They would breakfast cosily there, she had arranged, and nothing was wanting in the setting of a love scene. The bride wore the most alluring cap and daintiest Paris neglige, and her fair and pure skin gleamed through the diaphanous stuff.
How she longed for John to notice it all, and make love to her! She had apprehended a number of delightful possibilities in Paris, none of which had materialised, alas! in her case.
John was the same as ever—quiet, dignified, polite and unmoved. She had taken to turning out the light before he came to her at night, to hide the disappointment and chagrin which she felt might show in her eyes. It would be so humiliating if he should see this. There would soon be nothing left for her to do but pretend that she was as cold as he was, if this last effort of froufrous left him as stolid as usual.
She smoothed out the pale chiffon draperies with a tender hand. She got up and looked at herself in the mirror. It was fortunate that the reflection of snowy nose and throat and chin, and the pink velvet cheeks, required no art to perfect them; it was all natural and quite nice, she felt. What a bore it must be to have to touch up like Madame Boleski!
But what was the meaning of all the imputations she had read of in those interesting French novels in Paris?—the languors and lassitudes and tremors of breakfasting love! There was just such a scene as this in one she had devoured on the boat. A dejeuner of amants—certainly they had not been married, there was that want of resemblance, but surely this could not matter? For a fortnight, three weeks, a month, surely even a husband could be as a lover—especially to a mistress who took such pains to please his eye!
Would Elsie Goldmore spend such dull breakfasts when she espoused Harry Kahn? Elsie Goldmore was a Jewess, perhaps that made the difference, perhaps Jews were more expansive—But the people in the novels were not Jews. Of course, though, they were French, that must be it! Could it be that all Englishmen, to their wives, were like John? This she must presently find out.
Meanwhile she would try—oh, try so hard to entice him to be lovely to her! He was her own husband; there was absolutely no harm in doing this. And how glorious it would be to turn him into a lover! Here in this perfectly divine old house! John was so good-looking, too, and had the most attractive deep voice, but heavens! the matter-of-factness of everything about him!
How long would it all go on?
John came in presently with The Times under his arm. He was immaculately dressed in a blue serge suit. Amaryllis had hoped to see him in that subduedly gorgeous dressing gown she had persuaded him to order at Charvets during their first days. It would have been so suitable and intimate and lover-like. But no! there was the blue serge suit—and The Times.
A shadow fell upon her mood. Her own pink chiffons almost seemed out of place!
John glanced at them, and at the glowing, living, delicious bit of young womanhood which they adorned. He saw the rebellious ripe cherry of a mouth, and the warm, soft tenderness in the grey eyes, and then he quickly looked out of the window—his own blue ones expressionless, but the hand which held the newspaper clenched rather hard.
"Amn't I a pet!" cooed Amaryllis, deliberately subduing the chill of her first disappointment. "Dearest, see I have kept this last and loveliest set of garments for the morning of our home-coming—and for you!" and she crept close to him and laid her cheek against his cheek.
He encircled her with his arm and kissed her calmly.
"You look most beautiful, darling," he said. "But then, you always do, and your frills are perfection. Now I think we ought to have breakfast; it is most awfully late."
She sat down in her place and she felt stupid tears rise in her eyes.
She poured out the tea and buttered herself some toast, while John was apparently busy at a side table where dwelt the hot dishes.
He selected the daintiest piece of sole for her, and handed her the plate.
"I am not hungry," she protested, "keep it for yourself."
He did not press the matter, but took his place and began to talk quietly upon the news of the day—in a composed fashion between glances at The Times and mouthfuls of sole.
Amaryllis controlled herself. She was too proud and too just to make a foolish scene. If this was John's way and her little effort at enticement was a failure, she must put up with it. Marriage was a lottery she had always heard, and it might be her luck to have drawn a blank. So she choked down the rising emotion and answered brightly, showing interest in her husband's remarks—and she even managed to eat some omelette, and when the business of breakfast was quite over she went to the window and John followed her there.
The view which met their eyes was exquisite.
Beyond the perfect stately garden, with its quaint clipped yews and masses of spring flowers and velvet lawns, there stretched the vast park with its splendid oaks and browsing deer. It was a possession which any man could feel proud to own.
John slipped his arm round her waist and drew her to him.
"Amaryllis," he said, and his voice vibrated, "to-day I am going to show you everything I love here at Ardayre—because I want you to love it all, too. You are of the family, so it must mean something to you, dear."
Amaryllis kindled with re-awakening hope.
"Indeed, it will mean everything to me, John."
He kissed her forehead and murmured something about her dressing quickly, and that he would wait for her there in the cedar room. And when she returned in about a quarter of an hour in the neatest country clothes, he placed her hand on his arm and led her down the great stairs and on through the hall into the picture gallery.
It was a wonderful place of green silk and chestnut wainscoting, and all the walls of its hundred feet of length were hung with canvases of value—portraits principally of those Ardayres who had gone on. Face after face looked down on Amaryllis of the same type as John's and her own—the brown hair and eyes of grey or blue. Some were a little fairer, some a little darker, but all unmistakably stamped "Ardayre."
John pointed out each individual to her, while she hung fondly on his arm, from some doubtful crude fourteenth century wooden panels of Johns and Denzils, on to Benedict in a furred Henry VII. gown. Then came Henrys and Denzils in Elizabethan armour and puffed white satin, and through Stuart and Commonwealth to Stuart again, and so to William and Mary numbers of Benedicts, and lastly to powdered Georgian James' and Regency Denzils and Johns. And the name Amaryllis recurred more than once in stately dame or damsel, called after that fair Amaryllis of Elizabeth's days who had been maid of honour to the virgin Queen, and had sonnets written to her nut brown locks by the gallants of her time.
"How little the women they married seem to have altered the type!" the young living Amaryllis exclaimed, when they came nearly to the end. "It goes on Ardayre, Ardayre, Ardayre, ever since the very first one. Oh! John, if we ever have a son he ought to be even more so—you and I being of the same blood—" and then she hesitated and blushed crimson. This was the first time she had ever spoken of such a thing.
John held her arm very tightly to his side for a second, and his voice was uncertain as he answered:
"Amaryllis, that is the profound desire of my heart, that we should have a son."
A strange feeling of exaltation came over Amaryllis, half-innocent, wholly ignorant as she was.
She had been stupid—French novels were all nonsense. Marriages in real life were always like this—of course they must be—since John said plainly and with such deep feeling that his profoundest desire was that they should have a son! That meant that she would surely have one. This was perfectly glorious, and it must simply be those silly books and Elsie Goldmore's too uxorious imagination which had given her some ridiculously romantic exaggerated ideas of what love hours would be. She would now be contented and never worry again. She nestled closer to her husband and looked up at him with eyes sweet and fond, the brown, curly lashes wet with tender dew.
"Oh!—darling, when, when do you think we shall have a son?"
Then, for the first time in their lives, John Ardayre clasped her in his arms passionately and held her to his heart.
"Ah, God," he whispered hoarsely, as he kissed her fresh young lips. "Pray for that, Amaryllis—pray for that, my own."
Then he restrained himself and drew her on to the four last pictures at the end of the room. They were of his grandfather and grandmother, and his father and mother. And then there was a blank space, and the brighter colour of the damask showed that a canvas had been removed.
"Who hung there, John?"
"The accursed snake charmer woman whom my father disgraced the family with by bringing home. She was his wife by the law, and a Frenchman painted her. It was a fine picture with the bastard Ferdinand in her arms—the proof of our shame. I had it taken down and burnt the day the place was mine."
Amaryllis was receiving surprises to-day—John's face was full of emotion, his eyes were sparkling with hate as he spoke. How he must love everything connected with his home, and its honour, and its name—he could not be so very cold after all!
She thought of the Russian's words about a family—the uselessness of its going on for generations, piling up possessions and narrowing its interests. What had the aims been of all these handsome men? She knew the earlier history a little, for even though she was of a distant branch they had been proud of the connection, and treasured the traditions belonging to it. But these were just dry facts of history which she knew, so now she asked:
"John, what did any of them do? Did they accomplish great deeds?"
He took her back to the beginning again and began to tell her of the achievements of each one. There would be three perhaps, one after another, who had filled high posts in the State, and indeed had been worthy of the name. Then would come one or two quiet plodding ones, who seemed to have done little but sit still and hold on.
Then Denzil Ardayre, knight of Elizabeth's time, pleased Amaryllis most of all—though there had been greater soldiers, and more able politicians than he later on, culminating in Sir John Ardayre of George IV. days, who had hammered against pocket boroughs and corruption until he died an old man, the hour the Reform Bill swept aside abuses and the road to freedom was won.
"How strange it seems that different ages produce more accentuated stamps of breeding than others," Amaryllis said, "even in the same families where the blood is all blue. Look, John! that Denzil and the rest of the Elizabethans are the most refined, aristocratic creatures you could imagine, in their little ruffs. Absolutely intellectual and cultivated faces and of old race—and then comes a James period, less intelligent, more round featured. And a Cavalier one, gay and gallant, aristocratic and chiselled also, but not nearly so clever looking as the Elizabethan. Then we get cadaverous William and Mary ones, they might be lawyers or business men, not that look of great gentlemen, and the Anne's and the first George's are really bucolic! And then that wonderfully refined, cultivated, intellectual finish seems to crop up in the later eighteenth century again. Have you noticed this, John? You can see it in every collection of miniatures and portraits even in the museums."
John responded interestedly:
"The Elizabethans were supremely cultivated gentlemen—no wonder that they look as they do—and their lives were always in their hands which gives them that air of insouciance."
When the history of the family achievements had been told her down to John's father, she paused, still clinging to his arm, and said:
"I am so glad that they did splendid things, aren't you? And we shall not drift either. You must teach me to be the most perfect mistress of Ardayre, and the most perfect wife for the greatest of them all—because your achievement is the finest, John, to have won it all back and redeemed it by the work of your own brain."
He pressed the hand on his arm.
"It was hard work—and the home times were ugly in those days, Amaryllis, though the goal was worth it, and now we must carry on...." And then his reserve seemed to fall upon him again, and he took her through the other rooms, and kept to solid facts, and historic descriptions, and his bride had continuously the impression that he was mastering some emotion in himself, and that this stolidity was a mask.
When lunch time came the usual relations of obvious and commonplace goodfellowship had been fully restored between them, and that atmosphere of aloofness which seemed impossible to banish enveloped John once more.
Amaryllis sighed—but it was too soon to despair she thought, after the hope of John's words, and with her serene temperament she decided to leave things as they were for the present and trust to time.
But as her maid brushed out the soft brown hair that night, an unrest and longing for something came over her again—what she knew not, nor could have put into words. She let herself re-live that one moment when John had pressed herewith passion to his heart. Perhaps, perhaps that was the beginning of a change in him—perhaps—presently—
But the clock in the long gallery had chimed two, and there was yet no sound of John in the dressing-room beyond.
Amaryllis lay in the great splendid gilt bed in the warm darkness, and at last tears trickled down her cheeks.
What could keep him so long away from her? Why did he not come?
The large Queen Anne windows were wide open, and soft noises of the night floated in with the zephyrs. The whole air seemed filled with waiting expectancy for something tender and passionate to be.
What was that? Steps upon the terrace—measured steps—and then silence, and then a deep sigh. It must be John—out there alone!—when she would have loved to have stayed with him, to have woven sweet fancies in the luminous darkness, to have taken and given long kisses, to have buried her face in the honeysuckle which grew there, steeped in dew. But he had said to her after their stately dinner in the great dining-hall:
"Play to me a little, Amaryllis, and then go to bed, child—you must be tired out."
And after that he had not spoken more, but pushed her gently towards the door with a solemn kiss on the forehead, and just a murmur of "Good-night." And she had deceived herself and thought that it meant that he would come quickly, and so she had run up the stairs.
But now it was after two in the morning, and would soon be growing towards dawn—and John was out there sighing alone!
She crept to the window and leaned upon the sill. She thought that she could distinguish his tall figure there by the carved stone bench.
"John!" she called softly, "I am, so lonely—John, dearest—won't you come?"
Then she felt that her ears must be deceiving her, for there was the sound of a faint suppressed sob, and then, a second afterwards, her husband's voice answering cheerily, with its usual casual note:
"You naughty little night bird! Go back to bed—and to sleep—yes—I am coming immediately now!"
But when he did steal in silently from the dressing-room an hour later in a grey dawn, Amaryllis, worn out with speculation and disappointment, had fallen asleep.
He looked down upon her charming face—the long, curly brown lashes sweeping the flushed cheek, and at the rounded, beautiful girlish form—all his very own to clasp and to kiss and to hold in his arms—and two scalding tears gathered in his blue eyes, and he took his place beside her without making a sound.
"Here are the papers, Hans, but I think the whole thing stupid nonsense. What does it matter to any one what Poland wants? What a nuisance all these old boring political things are! They always spoiled our happiness since the beginning—and now if it wasn't for them we could have a glorious time here together. I would love managing to come out to meet you under Stanislass' nose. None of the others I have ever had are as good in the way of a lover as you."
The man swore in German under his breath.
"Of a lightness always, Harietta! No devouement, no patriotism.... Should I have agreed to the divorce, loving your body as I do, had it not been a serious matter? The pig-dog who now owns you must be sucked dry of information—and then I shall take you back again."
A cunning look came into Madame Boleski's hazel eyes. She had not the slightest intention of permitting this—to go back to Hans! To the difficulty of making both ends meet! Even though he did cause every inch of her well-preserved body to tingle! They had suggested her getting the divorce for their own stupid political ends, to be able to place her in the arms of Stanislass Boleski, and there she meant to stay! It was infinitely more agreeable to be a grande dame in Paris, and presently in London, than to be the spouse of Hans in Berlin, where, whatever his secret power might be with the authorities, he could give her no great social position; and social position was the goal of all Harietta Boleski's desires!
She could attract lovers in any class of life—that had never been her difficulty. Her trouble had been that she could never force herself into good American society, even after she had married Hans, and they had dwelt there for a year or more. Her own compatriots would have none of her, and so she wanted triumph in other lands. She hated to remember her youth of humiliation, trying to play a social game on the earnings of any work that she could pick up, between discreet outings with—friends who failed to suggest matrimony. Hans, on some secret mission to San Francisco, where she had gone as companion to a friend, had seemed a veritable Godsend and Prince Charming, when, in her thirtieth year, he actually offered legal marriage, completely overcome by her great physical charm. But although she loved Hans with whatever of that emotion such a nature could be capable of, five years of him and more or less genteel poverty had been enough, and now she was free of that, and could still enjoy surreptitiously the pleasure of his passion, and reign as a persona grata wife of one of the richest men in Poland at the same time. That those in authority who had arranged the divorce required of her certain tiresome obligations in return for their services, was one of those annoying parts of life! She took not the slightest interest in the affairs of any country. Nothing really mattered to her, but herself. Her whole force was concentrated upon the betterment of the position and physical pleasure of Harietta Boleski.
It was this instinct alone which had prompted her to acquire a smattering of education—and with the quick, adaptive faculty of a monkey she had been able to use this to its utmost limits, as well as her histrionic talent—no mean one—to gain her ends. She was now playing the role of a lady, and playing it brilliantly she knew—and here was Hans back again, and suggesting that when she had secured all the information that he required from Stanislass she should return to him!
"Tra la la!" she said to herself, there in the room at the Hotel Astoria, where she had gone to meet him, "think this if it pleases you! It will keep you quiet and won't hurt me!"
For the moment she wanted Hans—the man, and was determined to waste no further time on useless discussion. So she began her blandishments, taking pride in showing him her beautiful garments, and her string of big pearls; each thing exhibited between her voluptuous kisses, until Hans grew intoxicated with desire, and became as clay in her hands.
"It is not thy pig-dog of a husband I wish to kill!" he said, after one hour had gone by in inarticulate murmurings. "Him I do not fear—it is the Russian, Verisschenzko, who fills me with hate—we have regard of him, he does not go unobserved, and if you allure him also among the rest, beyond the instructions which you had, then there will be unpleasantness for you, my little cat—thy Hans will twist his bear's neck, and thine also, if need be!"
"Verisschenzko!" laughed Harietta, "why, I hardly know him; he don't amount to a row of pins! He's Stanislass' friend—not mine."
Then she smoothed back Hans' rather fierce, fair moustache from his lips and kissed him again—her ruby ring flashing in a ray of sunlight.
"Look! isn't this a lovely jewel, Hans! My old Stannie gave it to me only some days ago—it is my new toy—see—"
Hans examined it:
"Thou art a creature of the devil, Harietta, there is not one of thy evil qualities of greed and extortion which I do not know. Thou liest to me and to all men—the only good thing in thee is thy body—and for that all men let thee lie."
"I can't understand when you talk like that, Hans—it's all warbash, as we said out West. What are qualities? What is there but the body anyway? Great sakes! that's enough for me, and the devil is only in story books to frighten children—I'm just like every other woman and I want to have a good time."
"I hear that you are going to London soon," said Hans, dropping the tutoyage and growing brutally severe, "to conquer new lovers and to wear more dresses? But there you will be of great use to me. Your instructions will be all ready in cypher by Tuesday night, when you must meet me at whatever point is convenient to you, after nine o'clock—here, perhaps?"
Harietta frowned—she had other views for Tuesday night.
"What shall I gain by coming, or by going on with this spying on Stan? I'm tired of it all; it breaks my head trying to take in your horrid old cypher. I don't think I'll do it any more."
The Prussian's face grew livid and his mouth set like an iron spring. He looked at her straight between the eyes, as a lion tamer might have done, and he took a cane from where it laid on a bureau near.
"Until you are black and blue, I will beat you, woman," he said, "as I have done before—if you fail us in a single thing—and do not think we are powerless! It shall be that you are exposed and degraded, and so lose your game. Now tell me, will you go on?"
Harietta crouched in fear, just animal, physical fear—she had felt that stick, it was a nightmare to her, as it might have been to a child. She knew that Hans would keep his word. His physical strength had been one of the things she had adored in him—but to be degraded and exposed, as well as beaten, touched her sensibilities, after all the trouble she had taken to become a lady of the world! This was too much. No! Tiresome as all these old papers were, she would have to go on—but since he threatened her she would pay him out! The Russian should have papers as well! And so there was good in all things, since now material advantage would come from both sides. Was it not right that you looked to yourself, especially when menaced with a stick?
She laughed softly; this was humorous and she could appreciate such kind of humour.
Hans crushed her in his arms.
"Answer!" he ordered gutturally. "Answer, you fiend!"
Harietta became cajoling—no one could have looked more frank or simple, as simple as she looked to all great ladies when she would disarm them and win her way. She would look up at them gently, and ask their advice, and say that of course she was only a newcomer and very ignorant, not clever like they!
"Hans, darling, I was only joking, am I not devoted to your interests and always ready to serve you and the higher powers whom you serve? Of course, I will come on Tuesday night and, of course, I will go on."
She let her lip tremble and her eyes fill with tears; they were quite real tears. She felt the hardship of having to weary her brain with a new cypher, and self-pity inflames the lachrymose glands.
"To business then, mein liebchen—attend carefully to every word. In England you must be received by Royalty itself, and you must go into the highest circles of the diplomatic and political world. The men are indiscreet there; they trust their women and tell them secret things. It is the women you must please. The English are a race of fools; numbers are aristocrats in all classes and therefore too stupid to suspect craft, and those who are not are trying to appear to be, and too conceited to use their wits. You can be of enormous use to our country, Harietta, my wife," and he walked up and down the room in his excitement, his hands clasped behind him—he would have been a very handsome man but for his too wide hips.
Marietta looked at him out of the corner of her eye; she did not notice this defect in him, for her he was a splendid male, with a delightful quality of savagery in love which she had found in no other man except Verisschenzko—Verisschenzko! Her thoughts hesitated when they came to him—Verisschenzko was adorable, but he was a man to be feared—much more than Hans. Him she could always cajole if she used passion enough, but she had the uncomfortable feeling that Verisschenzko gave way to her only when—and because—he wanted to, not for the reason that she had conquered him.