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The Secret Power
by Marie Corelli
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THE SECRET POWER

BY

MARIE CORELLI



AUTHOR OF

"God's Good Man" "The Master Christian" "Innocent," "The Treasure of Heaven," etc.

JTABLE 5 26 1

THE SECRET POWER



CHAPTER I

A cloud floated slowly above the mountain peak. Vast, fleecy and white as the crested foam of a sea-wave, it sailed through the sky with a divine air of majesty, seeming almost to express a consciousness of its own grandeur. Over a spacious tract of Southern California it extended its snowy canopy, moving from the distant Pacific Ocean across the heights of the Sierra Madre, now and then catching fire at its extreme edge from the sinking sun, which burned like a red brand flung on the roof of a roughly built hut situated on the side of a sloping hollow in one of the smaller hills. The door of the hut stood open; there were a couple of benches on the burnt grass outside, one serving as a table, the other as a chair. Papers and books were neatly piled on the table,—and on the chair, if chair it might be called, a man sat reading. His appearance was not prepossessing at a first glance, though his actual features could hardly be seen, so concealed were they by a heavy growth of beard. In the way of clothing he had little to trouble him. Loose woollen trousers, a white shirt, and a leathern belt to keep the two garments in place, formed his complete outfit, finished off by wide canvas shoes. A thatch of dark hair, thick and ill combed, apparently served all his need of head covering, and he seemed unconscious of, or else indifferent to, the hot glare of the summer sky which was hardly tempered by the long shadow of the floating cloud. At some moments he was absorbed in reading,—at others in writing. Close within his reach was a small note-book in which from time to time he jotted down certain numerals and made rapid calculations, frowning impatiently as though the very act of writing was too slow for the speed of his thought. There was a wonderful silence everywhere,—a silence such as can hardly be comprehended by anyone who has never visited wide-spreading country, over-canopied by large stretches of open sky, and barricaded from the further world by mountain ranges which are like huge walls built by a race of Titans. The dwellers in such regions are few—there is no traffic save the coming and going of occasional pack-mules across the hill tracks—no sign of modern civilisation. Among such deep and solemn solitudes the sight of a living human being is strange and incongruous, yet the man seated outside his hut had an air of ease and satisfied proprietorship not always found with wealthy owners of mansions and park-lands. He was so thoroughly engrossed in his books and papers that he hardly saw, and certainly did not hear, the approach of a woman who came climbing wearily up the edge of the sloping hill against which his cabin presented itself to the view as a sort of fitment, and advanced towards him carrying a tin pail full of milk. This she set down within a yard or so of him, and then, straightening her back, she rested her hands on her hips and drew a long breath. For a minute or two he took no notice of her. She waited. She was a big handsome creature, sun-browned and black-haired, with flashing dark eyes lit by a spark that was not originally caught from heaven. Presently, becoming conscious of her presence, he threw his book aside and looked up.

"Well! So you've come after all! Yesterday you said you wouldn't."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"I do not wish you to starve."

"Very kind of you! But nothing can starve me."

"If you had no food—"

"I should find some"—he said—"Yes!—I should find some,—somewhere! I want very little."

He rose, stretching his arms lazily above his head,—then, stooping, he lifted the pail of milk and carried it into his cabin. Disappearing for a moment, he returned, bringing back the pail empty.

"I have enough for two days now," he said—"and longer. What you brought me at the beginning of the week has turned beautifully sour,—a 'lovely curd' as our cook at home used to say—, and with that 'lovely curd' and plenty of fruit I'm living in luxury." Here he felt in his pockets and took out a handful of coins. "That's right, isn't it?"

She counted them over as he gave them to her—bit one with her strong white teeth and nodded.

"You don't pay ME"—she said, emphatically—"It's the Plaza you pay."

"How many times will you remind me of that!" he replied, with a laugh—"Of course I know I don't pay YOU! Of course I know I pay the Plaza!—that amazing hotel and 'sanatorium' with a tropical garden and no comfort—"

"It is more comfortable than this"—she said, with a disparaging glance at his log dwelling.

"How do YOU know?" and he laughed again—"What have YOU ever experienced in the line of hotels? You are employed at the Plaza to fetch and carry;—to wait on the wretched invalids who come to California for a 'cure' of diseases incurable—"

"YOU are not an invalid!" she said with a slight accent of contempt.

"No! I only pretend to be!"

"Why do you pretend?"

"Oh, Manella! What a question! Why do we all pretend?—all!—every human being from the child to the dotard! Simply because we dare not face the truth! For example, consider the sun! It is a furnace with flames five thousand miles high, but we 'pretend' it is our beautiful orb of day! We must pretend! If we didn't we should go mad!"

Manella knitted her black brows perplexedly.

"I do not understand you"—she said—"Why do you talk nonsense about the sun? I suppose you ARE ill after all,—you have an illness of the head."

He nodded with mock solemnity.

"That's it! You're a wise woman, Manella! That's why I'm here. Not tubercles on the lungs,—tubercles on the brain! Oh, those tubercles! They could never stand the Plaza!—the gaiety, the brilliancy—the—the all-too dazzling social round!..." he paused, and a gleam of even white teeth under his dark moustache gave the suggestion of a smile—"That's why I stay up here."

"You make fun of the Plaza"—said Manella, biting her lips vexedly—"And of me, too. I am nothing to you!"

"Absolutely nothing, dear! But why should you be any thing?"

A warm flush turned her sunburnt skin to a deeper tinge.

"Men are often fond of women"—she said.

"Often? Oh, more than often! Too often! But what does that matter?"

She twisted the ends of her rose-coloured neckerchief nervously with one hand.

"You are a man"—she replied, curtly—"You should have a woman."

He laughed—a deep, mellow, hearty laugh of pleasure.

"Should I? You really think so? Wonderful Manella? Come here!—come quite close to me!"

She obeyed, moving with the soft tread of a forest animal, and, face to face with him, looked up. He smiled kindly into her dark fierce eyes, and noted with artistic approval the unspoiled beauty of natural lines in her form, and the proud poise of her handsome head on her full throat and splendid shoulders.

"You are very good-looking, Manella"—he then remarked, lazily—"Quite the model for a Juno. Be satisfied with yourself. You should have scores of lovers!"

She stamped her foot suddenly and impatiently.

"I have none!" she said—"And you know it! But you do not care!"

He shook a reproachful forefinger at her.

"Manella, Manella, you are naughty! Temper, temper! Of course I do not care! Be reasonable! Why should I?"

She pressed both hands tightly against her bosom, seeking to control her quick, excited breathing.

"Why should you? I do not know! But I care! I would be your woman! I would be your slave! I would wait upon you and serve you faithfully! I would obey your every wish. I am a good servant,—I can cook and sew and wash and sweep—I can do everything in a house and you should have no trouble. You should write and read all day,—I would not speak a word to disturb you. I would guard you like a dog that loves his master!"

He listened, with a strange look in his eyes,—a look of wonder and something of compassion. There was a pause. The silence of the hills was, or seemed more intense and impressive—the great white cloud still spread itself in large leisure along the miles of slowly darkening sky. Presently he spoke. "And what wages, Manella? What wages should I have to pay for such a servant?—such a dog?"

Her head drooped, she avoided his steady, searching gaze.

"What wages, Manella? None, you would say, except—love! You tell me you would be my woman,—and I know you mean it. You would be my slave—you mean that, too. But you would want me to love you! Manella, there is no such thing as love!—not in this world! There is animal attraction,—the magnetism of the male for the female, the female for the male,—the magnetism that pulls the opposite sexes together in order to keep this planet supplied with an ever new crop of fools,—but love! No, Manella! There is no such thing!"

Here he gently took her two hands away from their tightly folded position on her bosom and held them in his own.

"No such thing, my dear!" he went on, speaking softly and soothingly, as though to a child—"Except in the dreams of poets, and you—fortunately!—know nothing about poetry! The wild animal in you is attracted to the tame, ruminating animal in me,—and you would be my woman, though I would not be your man. I quite believe that it is the natural instinct of the female to select her mate,—but, though the rule may hold good in the forest world, it doesn't always work among the human herd. Man considers that he has the right of selection—quite a mistake of his I'm sure, for he has no real sense of beauty or fitness, and generally selects most vilely. All the same he is an obstinate brute, and sticks to his brutish ideas as a snail sticks to its shell. I am an obstinate brute!—I am absolutely convinced that I have the right to choose my own woman, if I want one—which I don't,—or if ever I do want one—which I never shall!"

She drew her hands quickly from his grasp. There were tears in her splendid dark eyes.

"You talk, you talk!" she said, with a kind of sob in her voice—"It is all talk with you—talk which I cannot understand! I don't WANT to understand!—I am only a poor, ignorant girl. I cannot talk—but I can love! Ah yes, I can love! You say there is no such thing as love! What is it then, when one prays every night and morning for a man?—when one would work one's fingers to the bone for him?—when one would die to keep him from sickness and harm? What do you call it?"

He smiled.

"Self-delusion, Manella! The beautiful self-delusion of every nature-bred woman when her fancy is attracted by a particular sort of man. She makes an ideal of him in her mind and imagines him to be a god, when he is nothing but a devil!"

Something sinister and cruel in his look startled her,—she made the sign of the cross on her bosom.

"A devil?" she murmured—"a devil—?"

"Ah, now you are frightened!" he said, with a flash of amusement in his eyes—"You are a good Catholic, and you believe in devils. So you make the sign of the cross as a protection. That's right! That's the way to defend yourself from my evil influence! Wise Manella!"

The light mockery of his tone roused her pride,—that pride which had been suppressed in her by the force of a passionate emotion she could not restrain. She lifted her head and regarded him with an air of sorrow and scorn.

"After all, I think you must be a wicked man!" she said—"You have no heart! You are not worthy to be loved!"

"Quite true, Manella! You've hit the bull's eye in the very middle three times! I am a wicked man,—I have no heart,—I'm not worthy to be loved. No I'm not. I should find it a bore!"

"Bore?" she echoed—"What is that?"

"What is that? It is itself, Manella! 'Bore' is just 'bore.' It means tiredness—worn-out-ness—a state in which you wish yourself in a hot bath or a cold one, so that nobody can come near you. To be 'loved' would finish me off in a month!"

Her big eyes opened more widely than their wont in piteous perplexity.

"But how?" she asked.

"How? Why, just as you have put it,—to be prayed for night and morning,—to be worked for and waited on till fingers turned to bones,—to be guarded from sickness and harm,—heavens!—think of it! No more adventures in life,—no more freedom!—just love, love, love, which would not be love at all but the chains of a miserable wretch in prison!"

She flushed an angry crimson.

"Who is it that would chain you?" she demanded, "Not I! You could do as you liked with me—you know it!—and when you go away from this place, you could leave me and forget me,—I should never trouble you or remind you that I lived!! I should have had my happiness,—enough for my day!"

The pathos in her voice moved him though he was not easily moved. On a sudden impulse he put an arm about her, drew her to him and kissed her. She trembled at his caress, while he smiled at her emotion.

"A kiss is nothing, Manella!" he said—"We kiss children as I kiss you! You are a child,—a child-woman. Physically you are a Juno,—mentally you are an infant! By and by you will grow up,—and you will be glad I did no more than kiss you! It's getting late,—you must go home."

He released her and put her gently away from him. Then, as he saw her eyes still uplifted questioningly to his face, he laughed.

"Upon my word!" he exclaimed—"I am making a nice fool of myself! Actually wasting time on a woman. Go home, Manella, go home! If you are wise you won't stop here another minute! See now! You are full of curiosity—all women are! You want to know why I stay up here in this hill cabin by myself instead of staying at the 'Plaza.' You think I'm a rich Englishman. I'm not. No Englishman is ever rich,—not up to his own desires. He wants the earth and all that therein is—does the Englishman, and of course he can't have it. He rather grudges America her large slice of rich plum-pudding territory, forgetting that he could have had it himself for the price of tea. But I don't grudge anybody anything—America is welcome to the whole bulk as far as I'm concerned—Britain ditto,—let them both eat and be filled. All I want is to be left alone. Do you hear that, Manella? To be left alone! Particularly by women. That's one reason why I came here. This cabin is supposed to be a sort of tuberculosis 'shelter,' where a patient in hopeless condition comes with a special nurse to die. I don't want a nurse, and I'm not going to die. Tubercles don't touch me—they don't flourish on my soil. So this solitude just suits me. If I were at the 'Plaza' I should have to meet a lot of women—"

"No, you wouldn't," interrupted Manella, suddenly and sharply—"only one woman."

"Only one? You?"

She sighed, and moved impatiently.

"Oh, no! Not me. A stranger."

He looked at her with a touch of inquisitiveness.

"An invalid?"

"She may be. I don't know. She has golden hair."

He gave a gesture of dislike.

"Dreadful! That's enough! I can imagine her,—a die-away creature with a cough and a straw-coloured wig. Yes!—that will do, Manella! You'd better go and wait upon her. I've got all I want for a couple of days at least." He seated himself and took up his note-book. She turned away.

"Stop a minute, Manella!"

She obeyed.

"Golden hair, you said?"

She nodded.

"Old or young?"

"She might be either"—and Manella gazed dreamily at the darkening sky—"There is nobody old nowadays—or so it seems to me."

"An invalid?"

"I don't think so. She looks quite well. She arrived at the Plaza only yesterday."

"Ah! Well, good-night, Manella! And if you want to know anything more about me, I don't mind telling you this,—that there's nothing in the world I so utterly detest as a woman with golden hair! There!"

She looked at him, surprised at his harsh tone. He shook his forefinger at her.

"Fact!" he said—"Fact as hard as nails! A woman with golden hair is a demon—a witch—a mischief and a curse! See? Always has been and always will be! Good-night!"

But Manella paused, meditatively.

"She looks like a witch," she said slowly—"One of those creatures they put in pictures of fairy tales,—small and white. Very small,—I could carry her."

"I wouldn't try it if I were you"—he answered, with visible impatience—"Off you go! Good-night!"

She gave him one lingering glance; then, turning abruptly picked up her empty milk pail and started down the hill at a run.

The man she left gave a sigh, deep and long of intense relief. Evening had fallen rapidly, and the purple darkness enveloped him in its warm, dense gloom. He sat absorbed in thought, his eyes turned towards the east, where the last stretches of the afternoon's great cloud trailed filmy threads of woolly black through space. His figure seemed gradually drawn within the coming night so as almost to become part of it, and the stillness around him had a touch of awe in its impalpable heaviness. One would have thought that in a place of such utter loneliness, the natural human spirit of a man would instinctively desire movement,—action of some sort, to shake off the insidious depression which crept through the air like a creeping shadow, but the solitary being, seated somewhat like an Aryan idol, hands on knees and face bent forwards, had no inclination to stir. His brain was busy; and half unconsciously his thoughts spoke aloud in words—

"Have we come to the former old stopping place?" he said, as though questioning some invisible companion; "Must we cry 'halt!' for the thousand millionth time? Or can we go on? Dare we go on? If actually we discover the secret—wrapped up like the minutest speck of a kernel in the nut of an electron,—what then? Will it be well or ill? Shall we find it worth while to live on here with nothing to do?—nothing to trouble us or compel us to labour? Without pain shall we be conscious of health?—without sorrow shall we understand joy?"

A sudden whiteness flooded the dark landscape, and a full moon leaped to the edge of the receding cloud. Its rising had been veiled in the drift of black woolly vapour, and its silver glare, sweeping through the darkness flashed over the land with astonishing abruptness. The man lifted his eyes.

"One would think that done for effect!" he said, half aloud—"If the moon were the goddess Cynthia beloved of Endymion, as woman and goddess in an impulse of vanity she would certainly have done that for effect! As it is—"

Here he paused,—an instinctive feeling warned him that some one was looking at him, and he turned his head quickly. On the slope of the hill where Manella had lately stood, there was a figure, white as the white moonlight itself, outlined delicately against the dark background. It seemed to be poised on the earth like a bird just lightly descended; in the stirless air its garments appeared closed about it fold on fold like the petals of an unopened magnolia flower. As he looked, it came gliding towards him with the floating ease of an air bubble, and the strong radiance of the large moon showed its woman's face, pale with the moonbeam pallor, and set in a wave of hair that swept back from the brows and fell in a loosely twisted coil like a shining snake stealthily losing itself in folds of misty drapery. He rose to meet the advancing phantom.

"Entirely for effect!" he said, "Well planned and quite worthy of you! All for effect!"



CHAPTER II

A laugh, clear and cold as a sleigh-bell on a frosty night rang out on the silence.

"Why did you run away from me?"

He replied at once, and brusquely.

"Because I was tired of you!"

She laughed again. A strange white elf as she looked In the spreading moonbeams she was woman to the core, and the disdainful movement of her small uplifted head plainly expressed her utter indifference to his answer.

"I followed you"—she said—"I knew I should find you! What are you doing up here? Shamming to be ill?"

"Precisely! 'Sham' is as much in my line as yours. I have to 'pretend' in order to be real!"

"Paradoxical as usual!" and she shrugged her shoulders—"Anyway you've chosen a good place to do your shamming in. It's quite lovely up here,—much better than the Plaza. I am at the Plaza."

"Automobile and all I suppose!" he said, sarcastically—"How many servants?—how many boxes with how many dresses?"

She laughed again.

"That's no concern of yours!" she replied—"I am my own mistress."

"More's the pity!" he retorted.

They faced each other. The moon, now soaring high in clear space, shed a luminous rain of silver over all the visible breadth of wild country, and their two figures looked mere dark silhouettes half drowned in the pearly glamour.

"It's worth travelling all the long miles to see!" she declared, stretching her arms out with an enthusiastic gesture—"Oh, beautiful big moon of California! I'm glad I came!"

He was silent.

"You are not glad!" she continued—"You are a bear-man in hiding, and the moon says nothing to you!"

"It says nothing because it IS nothing"—he answered, impatiently—"It is a dead planet without heart,—a mere shell of extinct volcanoes where fire once burned, and its light is but the reflection of the sun on its barren surface. It is like all women,—but mostly like YOU!"

She made him a sweeping curtsy so exquisitely graceful that the action resembled nothing so much as the sway of a lily in a light wind.

"Thanks, gentle Knight!—flower of chivalry!" she said—"I see you love me in spite of yourself!"

He made a quick stride towards her,—then stopped. "Love you!" he echoed,—then laughed loudly and derisively-"Great God! Love you? YOU? If I did I should be mad! When will you learn the truth of me?—that women are less in my estimation than the insects crawling on a blade of grass or spawning in a stagnant pond?—that they have no power to move me to the smallest pulse of passion or desire?—and that you, of all your sex, seem to my mind the most—"

"Hateful?" she suggested, smilingly.

"No—the most complete and unmitigated bore!"

"Dreadful!" and she made a face at him like that of a naughty child,—then she sank down on the sun-baked turf in an easy half-reclining attitude—"It's certainly much worse to be a bore than to be hated. Hate is quite a live sentiment,—besides it always means, or HAS meant—love! You can't hate anything that is quite indifferent to you, but of course you CAN be bored! YOU are bored by me and I am bored by YOU!—and we are absolutely indifferent to each other! What a comedy it is! Isn't it?"

He stood still and sombre, gazing down at the figure resting on the ground at his feet, its white garments gathering about it as though they were sentiently aware that they must keep the line of classic beauty in every fold.

"Boredom is the trouble"—she went on—"No one escapes it. The very babies of to-day are bored. We all know too much. People used to be happy because they were ignorant—they had no sort of idea why they were born, or what they came into the world for. Now they've learned the horrid truth that they are only here just as the trees and flowers are here—to breed other trees and flowers and then go out of it—for no purpose, apparently. They are 'disillusioned.' They say 'what's the use?' To put up with so much trouble and labour for the folks coining after us whom we shall never see,—it seems perfectly foolish and futile. They used to believe in another life after this—but that hope has been knocked out of them. Besides it's quite open to question whether any of us would care to live again. Probably it might mean more boredom. There's really nothing left. That's why so many of us go reckless—it's just to escape being bored."

He listened in cold silence. After a pause—

"Have you done?" he said.

She looked up at him. The moonbeams set tiny frosty sparkles in her eyes.

"Have I done?" she echoed—"No,—not quite! I love talking—and it's a new and amusing sensation for me to talk to a man in his shirt-sleeves on a hill in California by the light of the moon! So wild and picturesque you know! All the men I've ever met have been dressed to death! Have you had your dinner?"

"I never dine," he replied.

"Really! Don't you eat and drink at all?"

"I live simply,"—he said—"Bread and milk are enough for me, and I have these."

She laughed and clapped her hands.

"Like a baby!" she exclaimed—"A big bearded baby! It's too delicious! And you're doing all this just to get away from ME! What a compliment!"

With angry impetus he bent over her reclining figure and seized her two hands.

"Get up!" he said harshly—"Don't lie there like a fallen angel!"

She yielded to his powerful grasp as he pulled her to her feet—then looked at him still laughing.

"Plenty of muscle!" she said—"Well?"

He held her hands still and gripped them fiercely. She gave a little cry.

"Don't! You forget my rings,—they hurt!"

At once he loosened his hold, and gazed moodily at her small fingers on which two or three superb diamond circlets glittered like drops of dew.

"Your rings!" he said—"Yes—I forgot them! Wonderful rings!—emblems of your inordinate vanity and vulgar wealth—I forgot them! How they sparkle in this wide moonlight, don't they? Just a drifting of nature's refuse matter, turned into jewels for women! Strange ordinance of strange elements! There!" and he let her hands go free—"They are not injured, nor are you."

She was silent pouting her under-lip like a spoilt child, and rubbing one finger where a ring had dinted her flesh.

"So you actually think I have coma here to get away from YOU?" he went on—"Well for once your ineffable conceit is mistaken. You think yourself a personage of importance—but you are nothing,—less than nothing to me, I never give you a thought—I have come here to study—to escape from the crazy noise of modern life—the hurtling to and fro of the masses of modern humanity,—I want to work out certain problems which may revolutionise the world and its course of living—"

"Why revolutionise it?" she interrupted—"Who wants it to be revolutionised? We are all very well as we are—it's a breeding place and a dying place—voila tout!"

She gave a French shrug of her shoulder and waved her hands expressively. Then she pushed back her flowing hair,—the moonbeams trickled like water over it, making a network of silver on gold.

"What did you come here for?" he asked, abruptly.

"To see you!" she answered smilingly—"And to tell you that I'm 'on the war-path' as they say, taking scalps as I go. This means that I'm travelling about,—possibly I may go to Europe—"

"To pick up a bankrupt nobleman!" he suggested.

She laughed.

"Dear, no! Nothing quite so stupid! Neither noblemen nor bankrupts attract me. No! I'm doing a scientific 'prowl,' like you. I believe I've discovered something with which I could annihilate you—so!" and she made a round O of her curved fingers and blew through it—"One breath!—from a distance, too! and hey presto!—the bear-man on the hills of California eating bread and milk is gone!—a complete vanishing trick—no more of him anywhere!" The bear-man, as she called him, gloomed upon her with a scowl.

"You'd better leave such things alone!" he said, angrily—"Women have no business with science."

"No, of course not!" she agreed—"Not in men's opinion. That's why they never mention Madame Curie without the poor Monsieur! SHE found radium and he didn't,—but 'he' is always first mentioned."

He gave an impatient gesture.

"Enough of all this!" he said—"Do you know it's nearly ten o'clock at night?—I suppose you do know!—and the people at the Plaza—"

"THEY know!"—she interrupted, nodding sagaciously—"They know I am rich—rich—rich! It doesn't matter what I do, because I am rich! I might stay out all night with a bear-man, and nobody would say a word against me, because I am rich! I might sit on the roof of the Plaza and swing my legs over the visitors' windows and it would be called 'charming' because I am rich! I can appear at the table d'hote in a bath-wrap and eat peas with a hair-pin if I like—and my conduct will be admired, because I am rich! When I go to Europe my photo will be in all the London pictorials with the grinning chorus-girls, because I am rich! And I shall be called 'the beautiful,' 'the exquisite'—'the fascinating' by all the unwashed penny journalists because I am rich! O-ooh!" and she gave a comic little screw of her mouth and eyes—"It's great fun to be rich if you know what to do with your riches!"

"Do YOU?" he enquired, sarcastically.

"I think so!" here she put her head on one side like a meditative bird and her wonderful hair fell aslant like a golden wing—"I amuse myself—as much as I can. I learn all that can be done with greedy, stupid humanity for so much cash down! I would,"—here she paused, and with a sudden feline swiftness of movement came close up to him—"I would have married YOU!—if you would have had me! I would have given you all my money to play with,—you could have got everything you want for your inventions and experiments, and I would have helped you,—and then—then—you could have blown up the world and me with it, so long as you gave me time to look at the magnificent sight! And I wouldn't have married you for love, mind you!—only for curiosity!"

He withdrew from her a couple of paces,—a glimmer of white teeth between his dark moustache and beard gave his face the expression of a snarl more than a smile.

"For curiosity!" she repeated, stretching out a hand and touching his arm—"To see what the thing that calls itself a man is made of! I did my very best with you, didn't I?—uncouth as you always were and are!—but I did my best! And all Washington thought it was settled! Why wouldn't you do what Washington expected?"

The light of the moon fell full on her upturned face. It was a wonderful face,—not beautiful according to the monotonous press-camera type, but radiant with such a light of daring intelligence as to make beauty itself seem cheap and meretricious in comparison with its glowing animation. He moved away from her another step, and shook his arm free from her touch.

"Why wouldn't you?" she reiterated softly; then with a sudden ripple of laughter, she clasped her hands and uplifted them in an attitude of prayer—"Why wouldn't he? Oh, big moon of California, why? Oh, pagan gods and goddesses and fauns and fairies, tell me why? Why wouldn't he?"

He gave her a glance of cool contempt.

"You should have been on the stage!" he said.

"'All the world's a stage,'" she quoted, letting her upraised arms fall languidly at her sides—"And ours is a real comedy! Not 'As You Like It' but 'As You Don't Like It!' Poor Shakespeare!—he never imagined such characters as we are! Now, suppose you had satisfied the expectations of all Washington City and married me, of course we should have bored each other dreadfully—but with plenty of money we could have run away from each other whenever we liked—they all do it nowadays!"

"Yes—they all do it!" he repeated, mechanically.

"They don't 'love' you know!" she went on—"Love is too much of a bore. YOU would find it so!"

"I should, indeed!" he said, with sudden energy—"It would be worse than any imaginable torture!—to be 'loved' and looked after, and watched and coddled and kissed—"

"Oh, surely no woman would want to kiss you!" she exclaimed—"Never! THAT would be too much of a good thing!"

And she gave a little peal of laughter, merry as the lilt of a sky-lark in the dawn. He stared at her angrily, moved by an insensate desire to seize her and throw her down the hill like a bundle of rubbish.

"To kiss YOU," she said, "one would have to wear a lip-shield of leather! As well kiss a bunch of nettles! No, no! I have quite a nice little mouth—soft and rosy! I shouldn't like to spoil it by scratching it against yours! It's curious how all men imagine women LIKE to kiss them! They never grasp an idea of the frequent unpleasantness of the operation! Now I'm going!"

"Thank God!" he ejaculated fervently.

"And don't worry yourself"—she continued, airily—"I shall not stay long at the Plaza."

"Thank God again!" he interpolated.

"It would be too dull,—especially as I'm not shamming to be ill, like you. Besides, I have work to do!—wonderful work! and I don't believe in doing it shut up like a hermit. Humanity is my crucible! Good-night,—good-bye!"

He checked her movement by a quick, imperious gesture.

"Wait!" he said—"Before you go I want you to know a bit of my mind—"

"Is it necessary?" she queried.

"I think so," he answered—"It will save you the trouble of ever trying to see me again, which will be a relief to me, if not to you. Listen!—and look at yourself with MY eyes—"

"Too difficult!" she declared—"I can look at nothing with your eyes any more than you can with mine!"

"Madam—"

She uttered a little laughing "Oh!" and put her hand to her ears.

"Not 'Madam' for heaven's sake!" she exclaimed; "It sounds as if I were either a queen or a dressmaker!"

His sombre eyes had no smile in them.

"How should you be addressed?" he demanded, "A woman of such wealth and independence as you possess can hardly be called 'Miss' as if she were in parental leading-strings!"

She looked up at the clear dark sky where the moon hung like a huge silver air-ball.

"No, I suppose not!" she replied—"The old English word was 'Mistress.' So quaint and pretty, don't you think?"

'Oh mistress mine, where are you roaming? Oh stay and hear! your true love's coming!'

She sang the two lines in a deliciously entrancing voice, full of youth and tenderness. With one quick stride he advanced upon her and caught her by the shoulders.

"My God, I could shake the life out of you!" he said, fiercely—"I wonder you are not afraid of me!"

She laughed, careless of his grasp.

"Why should I be? You couldn't kill me if you tried—and if you could—"

"If I could—ah, if I could!" he muttered, fiercely.

"Why then there would be another murderer added to the general world of murderers!" she said—"That's all! It's not worth it!"

Still he held her in his grip.

"See here!" he said—"Before you go I want yon to know a thing or two,—you may as well learn once for all my views on women. They're brief, but they're fixed. And they're straight! Women are nothing—just necessary for the continuation of the race—no more. They may be beautiful or homely—it's all one—they serve the same purpose. I'm under no delusions about them. Without men they are utterly useless,—mere waste on the wind! To idealise them is a stupid mistake. To think that they can do anything original, intellectual or imaginative is to set one's self down an idiot. YOU,—you the spoilt only child of one of the biggest rascal financiers in New York,—YOU, left alone in the world with a fortune so vast as to be almost criminal—you think you are something superlative in the way of women,—you play the Cleopatra,—you are convinced you can draw men after you—but it's your money that draws them,—not YOU! Can't you see that?—or are you too vain to see it? And you've no mercy on them,—you make them believe you care for them and then you throw them over like empty nutshells! That's your way! But you never fooled ME,—and you never will!"

He released her as suddenly as he had grasped her,—she drew her white draperies round her shoulders with a statuesque grace, and lifted her head, smiling.

"Empty nutshells are a very good description of men who come after a woman for her money"—she observed, placidly—"and it's quite natural that the woman should throw them over her shoulder. There's nothing in them—not even a flavour! No—never fooled you,—you fooled yourself—you are fooling yourself now, only you don't know it. But there!—let's finish talking! I like the romance of the situation—you in your shirt-sleeves on a hill in California, and I in silken stuff and diamonds paying you a moonlight visit—it's really quite novel and charming!—but it can't go on for ever! Just now you said you wanted me to know a thing or two, and I presume you have explained yourself. What you think or what you don't think about women doesn't interest me. I'm one of the 'wastes on the wind!' I shall not aid in the continuation of the race,—heaven forbid! The race is too stupid and too miserable to merit continuance. Everything has been done for it that can be done, over and over again, from the beginning—till now,—and now—NOW!" She paused, and despite himself the tone of her voice sent a thrill through his blood of something like fear.

"NOW?—well! What NOW?" he demanded.

She lifted one hand and pointed upwards. Her face in the moonbeams looked austere and almost spectral in outline.

"Now—the Change!" she answered—"The Change when all things shall be made new!"

A silence followed her words,—a strange and heavy silence.

It was broken by her voice hushed to an extreme softness, yet clearly audible.

"Good-night!—good-bye!"

He turned impatiently away to avoid further leave-taking—then, on a sudden impulse, his mood changed.

"Morgana!"

The call echoed through emptiness. She was gone. He called again,—the long vowel in the strange name sounding like "Mor-ga-ar-na" as a shivering note on the G string of a violin may sound at the conclusion of a musical phrase. There was no reply. He was—as he had desired to be,—alone.



CHAPTER III

"She left New York several weeks ago,—didn't you know it? Dear me!—I thought everybody was convulsed at the news!"

The speaker, a young woman fashionably attired and seated in a rocking chair in the verandah of a favourite summer hotel on Long Island, raised her eyes and shrugged her shoulders expressively as she uttered these words to a man standing near her with a newspaper in his hand. He was a very stiff-jointed upright personage with iron grey hair and features hard enough to suggest their having been carved out of wood.

"No—I didn't know it"—he said, enunciating his words in the deliberate dictatorial manner common to a certain type of American—"If I had I should have taken steps to prevent it."

"You can't take steps to prevent anything Morgana Royal decides to do!" declared his companion. "She's a law to herself and to nobody else. I guess YOU couldn't stop her, Mr. Sam Gwent!"

Mr. Sam Gwent permitted himself to smile. It was a smile that merely stretched the corners of his mouth a little,—it had no geniality.

"Possibly not!" he answered—"But I should have had a try! I should certainly have pointed out to her the folly of her present adventure."

"Do you know what it is?"

He paused before replying.

"Well,—hardly! But I have a guess!"

"Is that so? Then I'll admit you're cleverer than I am!"

"Thats a great compliment! But even Miss Lydia Herbert, brilliant woman of the world as she is, doesn't know EVERYTHING!"

"Not quite!" she replied, stifling a tiny yawn—"Nor do you! But most things that are worth knowing I know. There's a lot one need never learn. The chief business of life nowadays is to have heaps of money and know how to spend it. That's Morgana's way."

Mr. Sam Gwent folded up his newspaper, flattened it into a neat parcel, and put it in his pocket.

"She has a great deal too much money"—he said, "and-to my thinking—she does NOT know how to spend it,—not in the right womanly way. She has gone off in the midst of many duties to society at a time when she should have stayed—"

Miss Herbert opened her brown, rather insolent eyes wide at this and laughed.

"Does it matter?" she asked. "The old man left his pile to her 'absolutely and unconditionally'—without any orders as to society duties. And I don't believe YOU'VE any authority over her, have you? Or are you suddenly turning up as a trustee?"

He surveyed her with a kind of admiring sarcasm.

"No. I'm only an uncle,"—he said—"Uncle of the boy that shot himself this morning for her sake!"

Miss Herbert uttered a sharp cry. She was startled and horrified.

"What!... Jack?... Shot himself?... Oh, how dreadful!—I'm—I'm sorry—!"

"You're not!"—retorted Gwent—"So don't pretend. No one is sorry for anybody else nowadays. There's no time. And no inclination. Jack was always a fool—perhaps he's best out of it. I've just seen him—dead. He's better-looking so than when alive."

She sprang up from her rocking chair in a blaze of indignation.

"You are brutal!" she exclaimed, with a half sob—"Positively brutal!"

"Not at all!" he answered, composedly—"Only commonplace. It is you advanced women that are brutal,—not we left-behind men. Jack was a fool, I say—he staked the whole of his game on Morgana Royal, and he lost. That was the last straw. If he could have married her he would have cleared all his debts over and over—and that's what he had hoped for. The disappointment was too much for him."

"But—didn't he LOVE her?" Lydia Herbert put the question almost imperatively.

Mr. Sam Gwent raised his eyebrows quizzically. "I guess you came out of the Middle Ages!" he observed—"What's 'love'? Did you ever know a woman with millions of money who got 'loved'? Not a bit of it! Her MONEY is loved—but not herself. She's the encumbrance to the cash."

"Then—then—you mean to tell me Jack was only after the money—?"

"What else should he be after? The woman? There are thousands of women,—all to be had for the asking—they pitch themselves at men headlong—no hesitation or modesty about them nowadays! Jack's asking would never have been refused by any one of them. But the millions of Morgana Royal are not to be got every day!"

Miss Herbert's rather thin lips tightened into a close line,—she flicked some light tear-drops away from her eyes with a handkerchief as fine as a cobweb delicately perfumed, and stood silently looking out on the view from the verandah.

"You see," pursued Gwent, in his cold, deliberate accents, "Jack was ruined financially. And he has all but ruined ME. Now he has taken himself out of the way with a pistol shot, and left me to face the music for him. Morgana Royal was his only chance. She led him on,—she certainly led him on. He thought he had her,—then—just as he was about to pin the butterfly to his specimen card, away it flew!"

"Cute butterfly!" interjected Miss Herbert.

"Maybe. Maybe not. We shall see. Anyway Jack's game is finished."

"And I suppose this is why, as you say, Morgana has gone off 'in the midst of many social duties'? Was Jack one of her social duties?"

Gwent gazed at her with an unrevealing placidity.

"No. Not exactly," he replied—"I give her credit for not knowing anything of his intention to clear out. Though I don't think she would have tried to alter his intention if she had."

Miss Herbert still surveyed the scenery.

"Well,—I don't feel so sorry for him now you tell me it was only the money he was after"—she said—"I thought he was a finer character—"

"You're talking 'Middle Ages' again,"—interrupted Gwent—"Who wants fine characters nowadays? The object of life is to LIVE, isn't it? And to 'live' means to get all you can for your own pleasure and profit,—take care of Number One!—and let the rest of the world do as it likes. It's quite YOUR method,—though you pretend it isn't!"

"You're not very polite!" she said.

"Now, why should I be?" he pursued, argumentatively—"What's politeness worth unless you want to flatter something for yourself out of somebody? I never flatter, and I'm never polite. I know just how you feel,—you haven't got as much money as you want and you're looking about for a fellow who HAS. Then you'll marry him—if you can. You, as a woman, are doing just what Jack did as a man. But,—if you miss your game, I don't think you'll commit suicide. You're too well-balanced for that. And I think you'll succeed in your aims—if you're careful!"

"If I'm careful?" she echoed, questioningly.

"Yes—if you want a millionaire. Especially the old rascal you're after. Don't dress too 'loud.' Don't show ALL your back—leave some for him to think about. Don't paint your face,—let it alone. And be, or pretend to be, very considerate of folks' feelings. That'll do!"

"Here endeth the first lesson!" she said. "Thanks, preacher Gwent! I guess I'll worry through!"

"I guess you will!"—he answered, slowly. "I wish I was as certain of anything in the world as I am of THAT!"

She was silent. The corners of her mouth twitched slightly as though she sought to conceal a smile. She watched her companion furtively as he took a cigar from a case in his pocket and lit it.

"I must go and fix up the funeral business"—he said, "Jack has gone, and his remains must be disposed of. That's my affair. Just now his mother's crying over him,—and I can't stand that sort of thing. It gets over me."

"Then you actually HAVE a heart?" she suggested.

"I suppose so. I used to have. But it isn't the heart,—that's only a pumping muscle. I conclude it's the head."

He puffed two or three rings of smoke into the clear air.

"You know where she's gone?" he asked, suddenly.

"Morgana?"

"Yes."

Lydia Herbert hesitated.

"I THINK I know," she replied at last—"But I'm not sure."

"Well, I'M sure"—said Gwent—"She's after the special quarry that has given her the slip,—Roger Seaton. He went to California a month ago."

"Then she's in California?"

"Certain!"

Mr. Gwent took another puff at his cigar.

"You must have been in Washington when every one thought that he and she were going to make a matrimonial tie of it"—he went on—"Why, nothing else was talked of!"

She nodded.

"I know! I was there. But a man who has set his soul on science doesn't want a wife."

"And what about a woman who has set her soul in the same direction?" he asked.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Oh, that's all popcorn! Morgana is not a scientist,—she's hardly a student. She just 'imagines' she can do things. But she can't."

"Well! I'm not so sure!" and Gwent looked ruminative—"She's got a smart way of settling problems while the rest of us are talking about them."

"To her own satisfaction only"—said Miss Herbert, ironically,—"Certainly not to the satisfaction of anybody else! She talks the wildest nonsense about controlling the world! Imagine it! A world controlled by Morgana!" She gave an impatient little shake of her skirts. "I do hate these sorts of mysterious, philosophising women, don't you? The old days must have been ever so much better! When it was all poetry and romance and beautiful idealism! When Dante and Beatrice were possible!"

Gwent smiled sourly.

"They never WERE possible!" he retorted—"Dante was, like all poets, a regular humbug. Any peg served to hang his stuff on,—from a child of nine to a girl of eighteen. The stupidest thing ever written is what he called his 'New Life' or 'Vita Nuova.' I read it once, and it made me pretty nigh sick. Think of all that twaddle about Beatrice 'denying him her most gracious salutation'! That any creature claiming to be a man could drivel along in such a style beats me altogether!"

"It's perfectly lovely!" declared Miss Herbert—"You've no taste in literature, Mr. Gwent!"

"I've no taste for humbug"—he answered—"That's so! I guess I know the difference between tragedy and comedy, even when I see them side by side." He flicked a long burnt ash from his cigar. "I've had a bit of comedy with you this morning—now I'm going to take up tragedy! I tell you there's more written in Jack's dead face than in all Dante!"

"The tragedy of a lost gamble for money!" she said, with a scornful uplift of her eyebrows.

He nodded.

"That's so! It upsets the mental balance of a man more than a lost gamble for love!"

And he walked away.

Lydia Herbert, left to herself, played idly with the leaves of the vine that clambered about the high wooden columns of the verandah where she stood, admiring the sparkle of her diamond bangle which, like a thin circlet of dewdrops, glittered on her slim wrist. Now and then she looked far out to the sea gleaming in the burning sun, and allowed her thoughts to wander from herself and her elegant clothes to some of the social incidents in which she had taken part during the past couple of months. She recalled the magnificent ball given by Morgana Royal at her regal home, when all the fashion and frivolity of the noted "Four Hundred" were assembled, and when the one whispered topic of conversation among gossips was the possibility of the marriage of one of the richest women in the world to a shabbily clothed scientist without a penny, save what he earned with considerable difficulty. Morgana herself played the part of an enigma. She laughed, shook her head, and moved her daintily attired person through the crowd of her guests with all the gliding grace of a fairy vision in white draperies showered with diamonds, but gave no hint of special favour or attention to any man, not even to Roger Seaton, the scientist in question, who stood apart from the dancing throng, in a kind of frowning disdain, looking on, much as one might fancy a forest animal looking at the last gambols of prey It purposed to devour. He had taken the first convenient interval to disappear, and as he did not return, Miss Herbert had asked her hostess what had become of him? Morgana, her cheeks flushed prettily by a just-finished dance, smiled in surprise at the question.

"How should I know?" she replied—"I am not his keeper?"

"But—but—you are interested in him?" Lydia suggested.

"Interested? Oh, yes! Who would not be interested in a man who says he can destroy half the world if he wants to! He assumes to be a sort of deity, you know!—Jove and his thunderbolts in the shape of a man in a badly cut suit of modern clothes! Isn't it fun!" She gave a little peal of laughter. "And every one in the room to-night thinks I am going to marry him!"

"And are you not?"

"Can you imagine it! ME, married? Lydia, Lydia, do you take me for a fool!" She laughed again—then grew suddenly serious. "To think of such a thing! Fancy ME!—giving my life into the keeping of a scientific wizard who, if he chose, could reduce me to a little heap of dust in two minutes, and no one any the wiser! Thank you! The sensational press has been pretty full lately of men's brutalities to women,—and I've no intention of adding myself to the list of victims! Men ARE brutes! They were born brutes, and brutes they will remain!"

"Then you don't like him?" persisted Lydia, moved, in spite of herself, by curiosity, and also by a vague wonder at the strange brilliancy of complexion and eyes which gave to Morgana a beauty quite unattainable by features only—"You're not set on him?"

Morgana held up a finger.

"Listen!" she said—"Isn't that a lovely valse? Doesn't the music seem to sweep round and tie us all up in a garland of melody! How far, far above all these twirling human microbes it is!—as far as heaven from earth! If we could really obey the call of that music we should rise on wings and fly to such wonderful worlds!—as it is, we can only hop round and round like motes in a sunbeam and imagine we are enjoying ourselves for an hour or two! But the music means so much more!" She paused, enrapt;—then in a lighter tone went on—"And you think I would marry? I would not marry an emperor if there were one worth having—which there isn't!—and as for Roger Seaton, I certainly am not 'set' on him as you so elegantly put it! And he's not 'set' on me. We're both 'set' on something else!"

She was standing near an open window as she spoke, and she looked up at the dark purple sky sprinkled with stars. She continued slowly, and with emphasis—

"I might—possibly I might—have helped him to that something else—if I had not discovered something more!"

She lifted her hand with a commanding gesture as though unconsciously,—then let it drop at her side. Lydia Herbert looked at her perplexedly.

"You talk so very strangely!" she said.

Morgana smiled.

"Yes, I know I do!" she admitted—"I am what old Scotswomen call 'fey'! You know I was born away in the Hebrides,—my father was a poor herder of sheep at one time before he came over to the States. I was only a baby when I was carried away from the islands of mist and rain—but I was 'fey' from my birth—"

"What is fey?" interrupted Miss Herbert.

"It's just everything that everybody else is NOT"—Morgana replied—"'Fey' people are magic people; they see what no one else sees,—they hear voices that no one else hears—voices that whisper secrets and tell of wonders as yet undiscovered—" She broke off suddenly. "We must not stay talking here"—she resumed-"All the folks will say we are planning the bridesmaids' dresses and that the very day of the ceremony is fixed! But you can be sure that I am not going to marry anybody—least of all Roger Seaton!"

"You like him though! I can see you like him!"

"Of course I like him! He's a human magnet,—he 'draws'! You fly towards him as if he were a bit of rubbed sealing-wax and you a snippet of paper! But you soon drop off! Oh, that valse! Isn't it entrancing!"

And, swinging herself round lightly like a bell-flower in a breeze she danced off alone and vanished in the crowd of her guests.

Lydia Herbert recalled this conversation now, as she stood looking from the vine-clad verandah of her hotel towards the sea, and again saw, as in a vision, the face and eyes of her "fey" friend,—a face by no means beautiful in feature, but full of a sparkling attraction which was almost irresistible.

"Nothing in her!" had declared New York society generally—"Except her money! And her hair—but not even that unless she lets it down!"

Lydia had seen it so "let down," once, and only once, and the sight of such a glistening rope of gold had fairly startled her.

"All your own?" she had gasped.

And with a twinkling smile, and comic hesitation of manner Morgana had answered.

"I—I THINK it is! It seems so! I don't believe it will come off unless you pull VERY hard!"

Lydia had not pulled hard, but she had felt the soft rippling mass falling from head to far below the knee, and had silently envied the owner its possession.

"It's a great bother," Morgana declared—"I never know what to do with it. I can't dress it 'fashionably' one bit, and when I twist it up it's so fine it goes into nothing and never looks the quantity it is. However, we must all have our troubles!—with some it's teeth—with others it's ankles—we're never QUITE all right! The thing is to endure without complaining!"

"And this curious creature who talked "so very strangely," possessed millions of money! Her father, who had arrived in the States from the wildest north of Scotland with practically not a penny, had so gathered and garnered every opportunity that came in his way that every investment he touched seemed to turn to five times its first value under his fingers. When his wife died very soon after his wealth began to accumulate, he was beset by women of beauty and position eager to take her place, but he was adamant against all their blandishments and remained a widower, devoting his entire care to the one child he had brought with him as an infant from the Highland hills, and to whom he gave a brilliant but desultory and uncommon education. Life seemed to swirl round him in a glittering ring of gold of which he made himself the centre,—and when he died suddenly "from overstrain" as the doctors said, people were almost frightened to name the vast fortune his daughter inherited, accustomed as they were to the counting of many millions. And now—-?"

"California!" mused Lydia—"Sam Gwent thinks she has gone there after Roger Seaton. But what can be her object if she doesn't care for him? It's far more likely she's started for Sicily—she's having a palace built there for her small self to live in 'all by her lonesome'! Well! She can afford it!"

And with a short sigh she let go her train of thought and left the verandah,—it was time to change her costume and prepare "effects" to dazzle and bewilder the uncertain mind of a crafty old Croesus who, having freely enjoyed himself as a bachelor up to his present age of seventy-four, was now looking about for a young strong woman to manage his house and be a nurse and attendant for him in his declining years, for which service, should she be suitable, he would concede to her the name of "wife" in order to give stability to her position. And Lydia Herbert herself was privately quite aware of his views. Moreover she was entirely willing to accommodate herself to them for the sake of riches and a luxurious life, and the "settlement" she meant to insist upon if her plans ripened to fulfilment. She had no great ambitions; few women of her social class have. To be well housed, well fed and well clothed, and enabled to do the fashionable round without hindrance—this was all she sought, and of romance, sentiment, emotion or idealism she had none. Now and again she caught the flash of a thought in her brain higher than the level of material needs, but dismissed it more quickly than it came as—"Ridiculous! Absolute nonsense! Like Morgana!"

And to be like Morgana, meant to be like what cynics designate "an impossible woman,"—independent of opinions and therefore "not understood of the people."



CHAPTER IV

"Why do you stare at me? You have such big eyes!"

Morgana, dotted only in a white silk nightgown, sitting on the edge of her bed with her small rosy toes peeping out beneath the tiny frill of her thin garment, looked at the broad-shouldered handsome girl Manella who had just brought in her breakfast tray and now stood regarding her with an odd expression of mingled admiration and shyness.

"Such big eyes!" she repeated—"Like great head-lamps flaring out of that motor-brain of yours! What do you see in me?"

Manella's brown skin flushed crimson.

"Something I have never seen before!" she answered—"You are so small and white! Not like a woman at all!"

Morgana laughed merrily.

"Not like a woman! Oh dear! What am I like then?"

Manella's eyes grew darker than ever in the effort to explain her thought.

"I do not know"—she said, hesitatingly—"But—once—here in this garden—we found a wonderful butterfly with white wings—all white,—and it was resting on a scarlet flower. We all went out to look at it, because it was unlike any other butterfly we had ever seen,—its wings were like velvet or swansdown. You remind me of that butterfly."

Morgana smiled.

"Did it fly away?"

"Oh, yes. Very soon! And an hour or so after it had flown, the scarlet flower where it had rested was dead."

"Most thrilling!" And Morgana gave a little yawn. "Is that breakfast? Yes? Stay with me while I have it! Are you the head chambermaid at the Plaza?"

Manella shrugged her shoulders.

"I do not know what I am! I do everything I am asked to do as well as I can."

"Obliging creature! And are you well paid?"

"As much as I want"—Manella answered, indifferently. "But there is no pleasure in the work."

"Is there pleasure in ANY work?"

"If one works for a person one loves,—surely yes!" the girl murmured as if she were speaking to herself, "The days would be too short for all the work to be done!"

Morgana glanced at her, and the flash of her eyes had the grey-blue of lightning. Then she poured out the coffee and tasted it.

"Not bad!" she commented—"Did you make it?"

Manella nodded, and went on talking at random.

"I daresay it's not as good as it ought to be"—she said—"If you had brought your own maid I should have asked HER to make it. Women of your class like their food served differently to us poor folk, and I don't know their ways."

Morgana laughed.

"You quaint, handsome thing! What do you know about it? What, in your opinion, IS my class?"

Manella pulled nervously at the ends of the bright coloured kerchief she wore knotted across her bosom, and hesitated a moment.

"Well, for one thing you are rich"—she said, at last—"There is no mistaking that. Your lovely clothes—you must spend a fortune on them! Then—all the people here wonder at your automobile—and your chauffeur says it is the most perfect one ever made! And all these riches make you think you ought to have everything just as you fancy it. I suppose you ought—I'm not sure! I don't believe you have much feeling,—you couldn't, you know! It is not as if you wanted something very badly and there was no chance of your getting it,—your money would buy all you could desire. It would even buy you a man!"

Morgana paused in the act of pouring out a second cup of coffee, and her face dimpled with amusement.

"Buy me a man!" she echoed—"You think it would?"

"Of course it would!" Manella averred—"If you wanted one, which I daresay you don't. For all I know, you may be like the man who is living in the consumption hut on the hill,—he ought to have a woman, but he doesn't want one."

Morgana buttered her little breakfast roll very delicately.

"The man who lives in the consumption hut on the hill!" she repeated, slowly, and with a smile—"What man is that?"

"I don't know—" and Manella's large dark eyes filled with a strangely wistful perplexity. "He is a stranger—and he's not ill at all. He is big and strong and healthy. But he has chosen to live in the 'house of the dying,' as it is sometimes called—where people from the Plaza go when there's no more hope for them. He likes to be quite alone—he thinks and writes all day. I take him milk and bread,—it is all he orders from the Plaza. I would be his woman. I would work for him from morning till night. But he will not have me."

Morgana raised her eyes, glittering with the "fey" light in them that often bewildered and rather scared her friends.

"You would be his woman? You are in love with him?" she said.

Something in her look checked Manella's natural impulse to confide in one of her own sex.

"No, I am not!"—she answered coldly—"I have said too much."

Morgana smiled, and stretching out her small white hand, adorned with its sparkling rings, laid it caressingly on the girl's brown wrist.

"You are a dear!"—she murmured, lazily—"Just a dear! A big, beautiful creature with a heart! That's the trouble—your heart! You've found a man living selfishly alone, scribbling what he perhaps thinks are the most wonderful things ever put on paper, when they are very likely nothing but rubbish, and it enters into your head that he wants mothering and loving! He doesn't want anything of the sort! And YOU want to love and mother him! Oh heavens!—have you ever thought what loving and mothering mean?"

Manella drew a quick soft breath.

"All the world, surely!" she answered, with emotion—"To love!—to possess the one we love, body and soul!—and to mother a life born of such love!—THAT must be heaven!"

The smile flitted away from Morgana's lips, and her expression became almost sorrowful.

"You are like a trusting animal!" she said—"An animal all innocent of guns and steel-traps! You poor girl! I should like you to come with me out of these mountain solitudes into the world! What is your name?"

"Manella."

"Manella—what?"

"Manella Soriso"—the girl answered—"I am Spanish by both parents,—they are dead now. I was born at Monterey."

Morgana began to hum softly—

"Under the walls of Monterey At dawn the bugles began to play Come forth to thy death Victor Galbraith."

She broke off,—then said—

"You have not seen many men?"

"Oh, yes, I have!" and Manella tossed her head airily—"Men all more or less alike—greedy for dollars, fond of smoke and cinema women,—I do not care for them. Some have asked me to marry, but I would rather hang myself than be wife to one of them!"

Morgana slid off the edge of her bed and stood upright, her white silk nightgown falling symmetrically round her small figure. With a dexterous movement she loosened the knot into which she had twisted her hair for the night, and it fell in a sinuous coil like a golden snake from head to knee. Manella stepped back in amazement.

"Oh!" she cried—"How beautiful! I have quite as much in quantity, but it is black and heavy—ugly!—no good. And he,—that man who lives in the hut on the hill—says there is nothing he hates so much as a woman with golden hair! How can he hate such a lovely thing!"

Morgana shrugged her shoulders.

"Each one to his taste!" she said, airily—"Some like black hair—some red—some gold—some nut-brown. But does it matter at all what men think or care for? To me it is perfectly indifferent! And you are quite right to prefer hanging to marriage—I do, myself!"

Fascinated by her wonderful elfin look as she stood like a white iris in its silken sheath, her small body's outline showing dimly through the folds of her garment, Manella drew nearer, somewhat timidly.

"Ah, but I do not mean that I prefer hanging to real, true marriage!" she said—"When one loves, it is different! In love I would rather hang than not give myself to the man I love—give myself in all I am, and all I have! And YOU—you who look so pretty and wonderful—almost like a fairy!—do YOU not feel like that too?"

Morgana laughed—a little laugh sweet and cold as rain tinkling on glass.

"No, indeed!" she answered—"I have never felt like THAT! I hope I shall never feel like THAT! To feel like THAT is to feel like the female beasts of the field who only wait and live to be used by the males, giving 'all they are and all they have,' poor creatures! The bull does not 'love' the cow—he gives her a calf. When the calf is born and old enough to get along by itself, it forgets its mother just as its mother forgets IT, while the sire is blissfully indifferent to both! It's really the same thing with human animals,—especially nowadays—only we haven't the honesty to admit it! No, Manella Soriso!—with your good looks you ought to be far above 'feeling like THAT!—you are a nobler creature than a cow! No wonder men despise women who are always on the cow level!"

She laughed again, and tripped lightly to the looking-glass.

"I must dress;"—she said—"And you can take a message to my chauffeur and tell him to get everything ready to start. I've had a lovely night's rest and am quite fit for a long run."

"Oh, are you going?" and Manella gave a little cry of pain—"I am sorry! I do want you to stay!"

Morgana's eyes flashed mingled humour and disdain. "You quaint creature! Why should I stay? There's nothing to stay for!"

"If there's nothing to stay for, why did you come?"

This was an unexpected question, the result of a subconscious suggestion in Manella's mind which she herself could not have explained.

Morgana seemed amused.

"What did I come for? Really, I hardly know! I am full of odd whims and fancies, and I like to humour myself in my various ways. I think I wanted to see a bit of California,—that's all!"

"Then why not see more of it?" persisted Manella.

"Enough is better than too much!" laughed Morgana—"I am easily bored! This Plaza hotel would bore me to death! What do you want me to stay for? To see your man on the mountain?"

"No!" Manella replied with sudden sharpness—"No! I would not like you to see him! He would either hate you or love you!"

The grey-blue lightning flash glittered in Morgana's eyes.

"You ARE a curious girl!" she said, slowly—"You might be a tragic actress and make your fortune on the stage, with that voice and that look! And yet you stay here as 'help' in a Sanatorium! Well! It's a dull, dreary way of living, but I suppose you like it!"

"I DON'T like it!" declared Manella, vehemently, "I hate it! But what am I to do? I have no home and no money. I must earn my living somehow."

"Will you come away with me?" said Morgana—"I'll take you at once if you like!"

Manella stared in a kind of child-like wonderment,—her big dusky eyes grew brilliant,—then clouded with a sombre sadness.

"Thank you, Senora!" she answered, pronouncing the Spanish form of address with a lingering sweetness, "It is very good of you! But I should not please you. I do not know the world, and I am not quick to learn. I am better where I am."

A little smile, dreamy and mysterious, crept round Morgana's lips.

"Yes!-perhaps you are!" she said—"I understand! You would not like to leave HIM! I am sure that is so! You want to feed your big bear regularly with bread and milk—yes, you poor deluded child! Courage! You may still have a chance to be, as you say, 'his woman!' And when you are I wonder how you will like it!"

She laughed, and began to brush her shining hair out in two silky lengths on either side. Manella gazed and gazed at the glittering splendour till she could gaze no more for sheer envy, and then she turned slowly and left the room.

Alone, Morgana continued brushing her hair meditatively,—then, twisting it up in a great coil out of her way, she proceeded with her toilette. Everything of the very finest and daintiest was hers to wear, from the silken hose to the delicate lace camisole, and when she reached the finishing point in her admirably cut summer serge gown and becoming close-fitting hat, she studied herself from head to foot in the mirror with fastidious care to be sure that every detail of her costume was perfect. She was fully aware that she was not a newspaper camera "beauty" and that she had subtle points of attraction which no camera could ever catch, and it was just these points which she knew how to emphasise.

"I hate untidy travellers!"—she would say—"Horrors of men and women in oil-skins, smelling of petrol! No goblin ever seen in a nightmare could be uglier than the ordinary motorist!"

She had no luggage with her, save an adaptable suitcase which, she declared "held everything." This she quickly packed and locked, ready for her journey. Then she stepped to the window and waved her hand towards the near hill and the "hut of the dying."

"Fool of a bear man!" she said, apostrophising the individual she chose to call by that name—"Here you come along to a wild place in California running away from ME,—and here you find a sort of untutored female savage eager and willing to be your 'woman!' Well, why not? She's just the kind of thing you want—to fetch wood, draw water, cook food, and—bear children! And when the children come they'll run about the hill like savages themselves, and yell and dance and be greedy and dirty—and you'll presently wonder whether you are a civilised man or a species of unthinking baboon! You will be living the baboon life,—and your brain will grow thicker and harder as you grow older,—and your great scientific discovery will be buried in the thickness and hardness and never see the light of day! All this, IF she is 'your woman!' It's a great 'if' of course!—but she's big and handsome, with a beautiful body and splendid strength, and I never heard of a man who could resist beauty and strength together. As for ME and my 'vulgar wealth' as you call it, I'm a little wisp of straw not worth your thought!—or so you assume—no, good Bear!—not till we come to a tussle—if we ever do!"

She took up her gloves and hand-bag and went downstairs, entering the broad, airy flower-bordered lounge of the Plaza with a friendly nod and smile to the book-keeper in the office where she paid her bill. Her chauffeur, a smart Frenchman in quiet livery, was awaiting her with an assistant groom or page beside him.

"We go on to-day, Madame?" he enquired.

"Yes,—we go on"—she replied—"as quickly and as far as possible. Just fetch my valise—it's ready packed in my room."

The groom hurried away to obey this order, and Morgana glancing around her saw that she was an object of intense curiosity to some of the hotel inmates who were in the lounge—men and women both. Her grey-blue eyes flashed over them all carelessly and lighted on Manella who stood shrinking aside in a corner. To her she beckoned smilingly.

"Come and see me off!" she said—"Take a look at my car and see how you'd like to travel in it!"

Manella pursed her lips and shook her head.

"I'd rather not!" she murmured—"It's no use looking at what one can never have!"

Morgana laughed.

"As you please!" she said—"You are an odd girl, but you are quite beautiful! Don't forget that! Tell the man on the mountain that I said so!—quite beautiful! Good-bye!"

She passed through the lounge with a swift grace of movement and entered her sumptuous limousine, lined richly in corded rose silk and fitted with every imaginable luxury like a queen's boudoir on wheels, while Manella craned her neck forward to see the last of her. Her valise was quickly strapped in place, and in another minute to the sound of a high silvery bugle note (which was the only sort of "hooter" she would tolerate) the car glided noiselessly away down the broad, dusty white road, its polished enamel and silver points glittering like streaks of light vanishing into deeper light as it disappeared.

"There goes the richest woman in America!" said the hotel clerk for the benefit of anyone who might care to listen to the announcement,—"Morgana Royal!"

"Is that so?" drawled a sallow-faced man, reclining in an invalid chair—"She's not much to look at!"

And he yawned expansively.

He was right. She was not much to look at. But she was more than looks ever made. So, with sorrow and with envy, thought Manella, who instinctively felt that though she herself might be something to look at and "quite beautiful," she was nothing else. She had never heard the word "fey." The mystic glamour of the Western Highlands was shut away from her by the wide barrier of many seas and curtains of cloud. And therefore she did not know that "fey" women are a race apart from all other women in the world.



CHAPTER V

That evening at sunset Manella made her way towards the hill and the "House of the Dying," moved by she knew not what strange impulse. She had no excuse whatever for going; she knew that the man living up there in whom she was so much interested had as much food for three days as he asked for or desired, and that he was likely to be vexed at the very sight of her. Yet she had an eager wish to tell him something about the wonderful little creature with lightning eyes who had left the Plaza that morning and had told her, Manella, that she was "quite beautiful." Pride, and an innocent feminine vanity thrilled her; "if another woman thinks so, it must be so,"—she argued, being aware that women seldom admire each other. She walked swiftly, with head bent,—and was brought to a startled halt by meeting and almost running against the very individual she sought, who in his noiseless canvas shoes and with his panther-like tread had come upon her unawares. Checked in her progress she stood still, her eyes quickly lifted, her lips apart. In her adoration of the strength and magnificent physique of the stranger whom she knew only as a stranger, she thought he looked splendid as a god descending from the hill. Far from feeling god-like, he frowned as he saw her.

"Where are you going?" he demanded, brusquely.

The rich colour warmed her cheeks to a rose-red that matched the sunset.

"I was going—to see if you—if you wanted anything"—she stammered, almost humbly.

"You know I do not"—he said—"You can spare yourself the trouble."

She drew herself up with a slight air of offence.

"If you want nothing why do you come down into the valley?" she asked. "You say you hate the Plaza!"

"I do!" and he spoke almost vindictively—"But, at the moment, there's some one there I want to see."

Her black eyes opened inquisitively.

"A man?"

"No. Strange to say, a woman."

A sudden light flashed on her mind.

"I know!" she exclaimed—"But you will not see her! She has gone!"

"What do you mean?" he asked, impatiently—"What do you know?"

"Oh, I know nothing!" and there was a sobbing note of pathos in her voice—"But I feel HERE!"—and she pressed her hands against her bosom—"something tells me that you have seen HER—the little wonderful white woman, sweetly perfumed like a rose,—with her silks and jewels and her fairy car!—and her golden hair... ah!—you said you hated a woman with golden hair! Is that the woman you hate?"

He stood looking at her with an amused, half scornful expression.

"Hate is too strong a word"—he answered—"She isn't worth hating!"

Her brows contracted in a frown.

"I do not believe THAT!"—she said—"You are not speaking truly. More likely it is, I think, you love her!"

He caught her roughly by the arm.

"Stop that!" he exclaimed, angrily—"You are foolish and insolent! Whether I love or hate anybody or anything is no affair of yours! How dare you speak to me as if it were!"

She shrank away from him. Her lips quivered, and tears welled through her lashes.

"Forgive me! ... oh, forgive!" she murmured, pleadingly—"I am sorry!..."

"So you ought to be!" he retorted—"You—Manella—imagine yourself in love with me ... yes, you do!—and you cannot leave me alone! No amorous man ever cadged round for love as much or as shamelessly as an amorous woman! Then you see another woman on the scene, and though she's nothing but a stray visitor at the Plaza where you help wash up the plates and dishes, you suddenly conceive a lot of romantic foolery in your head and imagine me to be mysteriously connected with her! Oh, for God's sake don't cry! It's the most awful bore! There's nothing to cry for. You've set me up like a sort of doll in a shrine and you want to worship me—well!—I simply won't be worshipped. As for your 'little wonderful white woman sweetly perfumed like a rose,' I don't mind saying that I know her. And I don't mind also telling you that she came up the hill last night to ferret me out."

Step by step Manella drew nearer, her eyes blazing.

"She went to see you?—She did THAT!—In the darkness?—like a thief or a serpent!"

He laughed aloud.

"No thief and no serpent in it!" he said—"And no darkness, but in the full light of the moon! Such a moon it was, too! A regular stage moon! A perfect setting for such an actress, in her white gown and her rope of gold hair! Yes—it was very well planned!—effective in its way, though it left me cold!"

"Ah, but it did NOT leave you cold!" cried Manella; "Else you would not have come down to see her to-day! You say she went 'to ferret you out'—"

"Of course she did"—he interrupted her—"She would ferret out any man she wanted for the moment. Forests could not hide him,—caves could not cover him if she made up her mind to find him. I had hoped she would not find ME—but she has—however,—you say she has gone—"

The colour had fled from Manella's face,—she was pale and rigid.

"She will come back," she said stiffly.

"I hope not!" And he threw himself carelessly down on the turf to rest—"Come and sit beside me here and tell me what she said to you!"

But Manella was silent. Her dark, passionate eyes rested upon him with a world of scorn and sorrow in their glowing depths.

"Come!" he repeated—"Don't stare at me as if I were some new sort of reptile!"

"I think you are!" she said, coldly—"You seem to be a man, but you have not the feelings of a man!"

"Oh, have I not!" and he gave a light gesture of indifference—"I have the feelings of a modern man,—the 'Kultur' of a perfect super-German! Yes, that is so! Sentiment is the mere fly-trap of sensuality—the feeler thrust out to scent the prey, but once the fly is caught, the trap closes. Do you understand? No, of course you don't! You are a dreadfully primitive woman!"

"I did not think you were German," she said.

"Nor did I!" and he laughed—"Nor am I. I said just now that I had the 'Kultur' of a super-German—and a super-German means something above every other male creature except himself. He cannot get away from himself—nor can I! That's the trouble! Come, obey me, Manella! Sit down here beside me!"

Very slowly and very reluctantly she did as he requested. She sat on the grass some three or four paces off. He stretched out a hand to touch her, but she pushed it back very decidedly. He smiled.

"I mustn't make love to you this morning, eh?" he queried. "All right! I don't want to make love—it doesn't interest me—I only want to put you in a good temper! You are like a rumpled pussy-cat—your fur must be stroked the right way."

"YOU will not stroke it so!" said Manella, disdainfully.

"No?"

"No. Never again!"

"Oh, dire tragedy!" And he stretched himself out on the turf with his arms above his head—"But what does it matter! Give me your news, silly child! What did the 'little wonderful white woman' say to you?"

"You want to know?"

"I think so! I am conscious of a certain barbaric spirit of curiosity, like that of a savage who sees a photograph of himself for the first time! Yes! I want to know what the modern feminine said to the primitive!"

Manella gave an impatient gesture.

"I do not understand all your fine words"—she said—"But I will answer you. I told her about you—how you had come to live in the hut for the dying on the hill rather than at the Plaza—and how I took to you all the food you asked for, and she seemed amused—"

"Amused?" he echoed.

"Yes—amused. She laughed,—she looks very pretty when she laughs. And—and she seemed to fancy—"

He lifted himself upright in a sitting posture.

"Seemed to fancy? ... what?—"

"That I was not bad to look at—" and Manella, gathering sudden boldness, lifted her dark eyes to his face—"She said I could tell you that she thinks me quite beautiful! Yes!—quite beautiful!"

He smiled—a smile that was more like a sneer.

"So you are! I've told you so, often. 'There needs no ghost come from the grave' to emphasise the fact. But she—the purring cat!—she told you to repeat her opinion to me, because—can you guess why?"

"No!"

"Simpleton! Because she wishes you to convey to me the message that she considers me your lover and that she admires my taste! Now she'll go back to New York full of the story! Subtle little devil! But I am not your lover, and never shall be,—not even for half an hour!"

Manella sprang up from the turf where she had been sitting.

"I know that!" she said, and her splendid eyes flashed proud defiance—"I know I have been a fool to let myself care for you! I do not know why I did—it was an illness! But I am well now!"

"You are well now? Good! O let us be joyful! Keep well, Manella!—and be 'quite beautiful'—as you are! To be quite beautiful is a fine thing—not so fine as it used to be in the Greek period—still, it has its advantages! I wonder what you will do with your beauty?"

As he spoke, he rose, stretching and shaking him self like a forest animal.

"What will you do with it?" he repeated—"You must give it to somebody! You must transmit it to your offspring! That's the old law of nature—it's getting a bit monotonous, still it's the law! Now she—the wonderful white woman—she's all for upsetting the law! Fortunately she's not beautiful—"

"She IS!" exclaimed Manella—"I think her so!" He looked down upon her from his superior height with a tolerant amusement.

"Really! YOU think her so! And SHE thinks you so! Quite a mutual admiration society! And both of you obsessed by the same one man! I pity that man! The only thing for him to do is to keep out of it! No, Manella!—think as you like, she is not beautiful. You ARE beautiful. But SHE is clever, You are NOT clever. You may thank God for that! SHE is outrageously, unnaturally, cursedly clever! And her cleverness makes her see the sham of life all through; the absurdity of birth that ends in death—the freakishness of civilisation to no purpose—and she's out for something else. She wants some thing newer than sex-attraction and family life. A husband would bore her to extinction—the care of children would send her into a lunatic asylum!"

Manella looked bewildered.

"I cannot understand!" she said—"A woman lives for husband and children!"

"SOME women do!" he answered—"Not all! There are a good few who don't want to stay on the animal level. Men try to keep them there—but it's a losing game nowadays. ('Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests'—but we cannot fail to see that when Mother Fox has reared her puppies she sends them off about their own business and doesn't know them any more—likewise Mother Bird does the same. Nature has no sentiment.) We have, because we cultivate artificial feelings—we imagine we 'love,' when we only want something that pleases us for the moment. To live, as you say, for husband and children would make a woman a slave—a great many women are slaves—but they are beginning to get emancipated—the woman with the gold hair, whom you so much admire, is emancipated."

Manella gave a slight disdainful movement of her head.

"That only means she is free to do as she likes"—she said—"To marry or not to marry—to love or not to love. I think if she loved at all, she would love very greatly. Why did she go so secretly in the evening to see you? I suppose she loves you!"

A sudden red flush of anger coloured his brow.

"Yes"—he answered with a kind of vindictive slowness—"I suppose she does! You, Manella, are after me as a man merely—she is after me as a Brain! You would steal my physical liberty,—she would steal my innermost thought! And you will both be disappointed! Neither my body nor my brain shall ever be dominated by any woman!"

He turned from her abruptly and began the ascent that led to his solitary retreat. Once he looked back—

"Don't let me see you for two days at least!" he called—"I've more than enough food to keep me going."

He strode on, and Manella stood watching him, her tall handsome figure silhouetted against the burning sky. Her dark eyes were moist with suppressed tears of shame and suffering,—she felt herself to be wronged and slighted undeservedly. And beneath this personal emotion came now a smarting sense of jealousy, for in spite of all he had said, she felt that there was some secret between him and "the little wonderful white woman," which she could not guess and which was probably the reason of his self-sought exile and seclusion.

"I wish now I had gone with her!" she mused—"for if I am 'quite beautiful,' as she said, she might have helped me in the world,—I might have become a lady!"

She walked slowly and dejectedly back to the Plaza, knowing in her heart that lady or no lady, her rich beauty was useless to her, inasmuch as it made no effect on the one man she had elected to care for, unwanted and unasked. Certain physiologists teach that the law of natural selection is that the female should choose her mate, but the difficulty along this line of argument is that she may choose where her choice is unwelcome and irresponsive. Manella was a splendid type of primitive womanhood,—healthy, warm-blooded and full of hymeneal passion,—as a wife she would have been devoted,—as a mother superb in her tenderness; but, measured by modern standards of advanced and restless femininity she was a mere drudge, without the ability to think for herself or to analyse subtleties of emotion. Intellectuality had no part in her; most people's talk was for her meaningless, and she had not the patience to listen to any conversation that rose above the food and business of the day. She was confused and bewildered by everything the strange recluse on the hill said to her,—she could not follow him at all,—and yet, the purely physical attraction he exercised over her nature drew her to him like a magnet and kept her in a state of feverish craving for a love she knew she could never win. She would have gladly been his servant on the mere chance and hope that possibly in some moment of abandonment he might have yielded to the importunity of her tenderness; Adonis himself in all the freshness of his youth never exercised a more potent spell upon enamoured Venus than this plain, big bearded man over the lonely, untutored Californian girl with the large loveliness of a goddess and the soul of a little child. What was the singular fascination which like the "pull" of a magnetic storm on telegraph wires, forced a woman's tender heart under the careless foot of a rough creature as indifferent to it as to a flower he trampled in his path? Nature might explain it in some unguarded moment of self-betrayal,—but Nature is jealous of her secrets,—they have to be coaxed out of her in the slow course of centuries. And with all the coaxing, the subtle work of her woven threads between the Like and the Unlike remains an unsolved mystery.



CHAPTER VI

From California to Sicily is a long way. It used to be considered far longer than it is now but in these magical days of aerial and motor travelling, distance counts but little,—indeed as almost nothing to the mind of any man or woman brought up in America and therefore accustomed to "hustle." Morgana Royal had "hustled" the whole business, staying in Paris a few days only,—in Rome but two nights; and now here she was, as if she had been spirited over sea and land by supernatural power, seated in a perfect paradise-garden of flowers and looking out on the blue Mediterranean with dreamy eyes in which the lightning flash was nearly if not wholly subdued. About quarter of a mile distant, and seen through the waving tops of pines and branching oleander, stood the house to which the garden belonged,—a "restored" palace of ancient days, built of rose-marble on the classic lines of Greek architecture. Its "restoration" was not quite finished; numbers of busy workmen were employed on the facade and surrounded loggia; and now and again she turned to watch them with a touch of invisible impatience in her movement. A slight smile sweetened her mouth as she presently perceived one figure approaching her,—a lithe, dark, handsome man, who, when he drew near enough, lifted his hat with a profoundly marked reverence, and, as she extended her hand, raised it to his lips.

"A thousand welcomes, Madama!" he said, speaking in English with a scarcely noticeable foreign accent—"Last night I heard you had arrived, but could hardly believe the good fortune! You must have travelled quickly?"

"Never quickly enough for my mind!" she answered—"The whole world moves too slowly for me!"

"You must carry that complaint to the buon Dio!" he said, gaily—"Perhaps He will condescend to spin this rolling planet a little faster! But in my mind, time flies far too rapidly! I have worked—we all have worked—to get this place finished for you, yet much remains to be done—"

She interrupted him.

"The interior is quite perfect"—she said—"You have carried out my instructions more thoroughly than I imagined could be possible. It is now an abode for fairies to live in,—for poets to dream in—"

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