WHAT DREAMS MAY COME.
by Frank Lin (pseud. of Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton)
Dedicated to Muriel Atherton
WHAT DREAMS MAY COME.
Constantinople; the month of August; the early days of the century. It was the hour of the city's most perfect beauty. The sun was setting, and flung a mellowing glow over the great golden domes and minarets of the mosques, the bazaars glittering with trifles and precious with elements of Oriental luxury, the tortuous thoroughfares with their motley throng, the quiet streets with their latticed windows, and their atmosphere heavy with silence and mystery, the palaces whose cupolas and towers had watched over so many centuries of luxury and intrigue, pleasure and crime, the pavilions, groves, gardens, kiosks which swarmed with the luxuriance of tropical growth over the hills and valleys of a city so vast and so beautiful that it tired the brain and fatigued the senses. Scutari, purple and green and gold, blended in the dying light into exquisite harmony of color; Stamboul gathered deeper gloom under her overhanging balconies, behind which lay hidden the loveliest of her women; and in the deserted gardens of the Old Seraglio, beneath the heavy pall of the cypresses, memories of a grand, terrible, barbarous, but most romantic Past crept forth and whispered ruin and decay.
High up in Pera the gray walls of the English Embassy stood out sharply defined against the gold-wrought sky. The windows were thrown wide to invite the faint, capricious breeze which wandered through the hot city; but the silken curtains were drawn in one of the smaller reception-rooms. The room itself was a soft blaze of wax candles against the dull richness of crimson and gold. Men and women were idling about in that uneasy atmosphere which precedes the announcement of dinner. Many of the men wore orders on their breasts, and the uniforms of the countries they represented, and a number of Turks gave a picturesque touch to the scene, with their jewelled turbans and flowing robes. The women were as typical as their husbands; the wife of the Russian Ambassador, with her pale hair and moonlight eyes, her delicate shoulders and jewel-sewn robe; the Italian, with her lithe grace and heavy brows, the Spanish beauty, with her almond, dreamy eyes, her chiselled features and mantilla-draped head; the Frenchwoman, with her bright, sallow, charming, unrestful face; the Austrian, with her cold repose and latent devil. In addition were the Secretaries of Legation, with their gaily-gowned young wives, and one or two English residents; all assembled at the bidding of Sir Dafyd-ap-Penrhyn, the famous diplomatist who represented England at the court of the Sultan.
Sir Dafyd was standing between the windows and underneath one of the heavy candelabra. He was a small but striking-looking man, with a great deal of head above the ears, light blue eyes deeply set and far apart, a delicate arched nose, and a certain expression of brutality about the thin lips, so faint as to be little more than a shadow. He was blandly apologizing for the absence of his wife. She had dressed to meet her guests, but had been taken suddenly ill and obliged to retire.
As he finished speaking he turned to a woman who sat on a low chair at his right. She was young and very handsome. Her eyes were black and brilliant, her mouth was pouting and petulant, her chin curved slightly outward. Her features were very regular, but there was neither softness nor repose in her face. She looked like a statue that had been taken possession of by the Spirit of Discontent.
"I am sorry not to see Dartmouth," said the great minister, affably. "Is he ill again? He must be careful; the fever is dangerous."
Mrs. Dartmouth drew her curved brows together with a frown which did not soften her face. "He is writing," she said, shortly. "He is always writing."
"O, but you know that is a Dartmouth failing—ambition," said Sir Dafyd, with a smile. "They must be either in the study or dictating to the King."
"Well, I wish my Fate had been a political Dartmouth. Lionel sits in his study all day and writes poetry—which I detest. I shall bring up my son to be a statesman."
"So that his wife may see more of him?" said Sir Dafyd, laughing. "You are quite capable of making whatever you like of him, however, for you are a clever woman—if you are not poetical. But it is hard that you should be so much alone, Catherine. Why are not you and Sioned more together? There are so few of you here, you should try and amuse each other. Diplomatists, like poets, see little of their wives, and Sioned, I have no doubt, is bored very often."
Dinner was announced at the moment, and Mrs. Dartmouth stood up and looked her companion full in the eyes. "I do not like Sioned," she said, harshly. "She, too, is poetical."
For a moment there was a suspicion of color in Sir Dafyd's pale face, and the shadow on his mouth seemed to take shape and form. Then he bowed slightly, and crossing the room offered his arm to the wife of the Russian Ambassador.
* * * * *
The sun sank lower, Constantinople's richer tints faded into soft opal hues, and the muezzin called the people to prayer. From a window in a wing of the Embassy furthest from the banqueting hall, and overlooking the city, a woman watched the shifting panorama below. She was more beautiful than any of her neglected guests, although her eyes were heavy and her face was pale. Her hair was a rich, burnished brown, and drawn up to the crown of her head in a loose mass of short curls, held in place by a half-coronet of diamonds. In front the hair was parted and curled, and the entire head was encircled by a band of diamond stars which pressed the bronze ringlets low over the forehead. The features were slightly aquiline; the head was oval and admirably poised. But it was the individuality of the woman that made her beauty, not features or coloring. The keen, intelligent eyes, with their unmistakable power to soften, the spiritual brow, the strong, sensuous chin, the tender mouth, the spirited head, each a poet's delight, each an artist's study, all blended, a strange, strong, passionate story in flesh and blood—a remarkable face. Her neck and arms were bare, and she wore a short-waisted gown of yellow satin, which fell in shining lines from belt to hem.
Pale as she was she assuredly did not look ill enough to justify her desertion of her guests. As a matter of fact she had forgotten both guests and excuse. When a woman has taken a resolution which flings her suddenly up to the crisis of her destiny she is apt to forget state dinners and whispered comment. To-morrow state dinners would pass out of her life, and they would go unregretted. She turned suddenly and picked up some loose sheets of manuscript which lay on a table beside her—a poem which would immortalize the city her window overlooked. A proud smile curved her mouth, then faded swiftly as she pressed the pages passionately to her lips. She put them back on the table and turning her head looked down the room with much of the affection one gives a living thing. The room was as Oriental as any carefully secluded chamber in the city below. The walls were hung with heavy, soft Eastern stuffs, dusky and rich, which shut out all suggestion of doors. The black marble floor was covered with a strange assortment of wild beasts' skins, pale, tawny, sombre, ferocious. There were deep, soft couches and great piles of cushions, a few rare paintings stood on easels, and the air was heavy with jasmine. The woman's lids fell over her eyes, and the blood mounted slowly, making her temples throb. Then she threw back her head, a triumphant light flashing in her eyes, and brought her open palm down sharply on the table. "If I fall," she said, "I fall through strength, not through weakness. If I sin, I do so wittingly, not in a moment of overmastering passion."
She bent suddenly forward, her breath coming quickly. There were footsteps at the end of the marble corridor without. For a moment she trembled from head to foot. Remorse, regret, horror, fear, chased each other across her face, her convulsed features reflecting the emotions which for weeks past had oppressed heart and brain. Then, before the footsteps reached the door, she was calm again and her head erect. The glory of the sunset had faded, and behind her was the short grey twilight of the Southern night; but in her face was that magic light that never was on sea or land.
The heavy portiere at the end of the room was thrust aside and a man entered. He closed the door and pushed the hanging back into place, then went swiftly forward and stood before her. She held out her hand and he took it and drew her further within the room. The twilight had gone from the window, the shadows had deepened, and the darkness of night was about them.
* * * * *
In the great banqueting-hall the stout mahogany table upheld its weight of flashing gold and silver and sparkling crystal without a groan, and solemn, turbaned Turks passed wine and viand. Around the board the diplomatic colony forgot their exile in remote Constantinople, and wit and anecdote, spicy but good-humored political discussion, repartee and flirtation made a charming accompaniment to the wonderful variety displayed in the faces and accents of the guests. The stately, dignified ministers of the Sultan gazed at the fair faces and jewel-laden shoulders of the women of the North, and sighed as they thought of their dusky wives; and the women of the North threw blue, smiling glances to the Turks and wondered if it were romantic to live in a harem.
At the end of the second course Sir Dafyd raised a glass of wine to his lips, and, as he glanced about the table, conversation ceased for a moment.
"Will you drink to my wife's health?" he said. "It has caused me much anxiety of late."
Every glass was simultaneously raised, and then Sir Dafyd pushed back his chair and rose to his feet. "If you will pardon me," he said, "I will go and see how she is."
He left the room, and the wife of the Spanish Ambassador turned to her companion with a sigh. "So devot he is, no?" she murmured. "You Eenglish, you have the fire undere the ice. He lover his wife very moocho when he leaver the dinner. And she lover him too, no?"
"I don't know," said the Englishman to whom she spoke. "It never struck me that Penrhyn was a particularly lovable fellow. He's so deuced haughty; the Welsh are worse for that than we English. He's as unapproachable as a stone. I don't fancy the Lady Sioned worships the ground he treads upon. But then, he's the biggest diplomate in Great Britain; one can't have everything."
"I no liker all the Eenglish, though," pursued the pretty Spaniard. "The Senora Dar-muth, I no care for her. She looker like she have the tempere—how you call him?—the dev-vil, no? And she looker like she have the fire ouside and the ice in."
"Oh, she's not so bad," said the Englishman, loyally. "She has some admirable traits, and she's deuced clever, but she has an ill-regulated sort of a nature, and is awfully obstinate and prejudiced. It's a sort of vanity. She worries Dartmouth a good deal. He's a born poet, if ever a man was, and she wants him to go into politics. Wants a salon and all that sort of thing. She ought to have it, too. Political intrigue would just suit her; she's diplomatic and secretive. But Dartmouth prefers his study."
The lady from Spain raised her sympathetic, pensive eyes to the Englishman's. "And the Senor Dar-muth? How he is? He is nice fellow? I no meeting hime?"
"The best fellow that ever lived, God bless him!" exclaimed the young man, enthusiastically. "He has the temperament of genius, and he isn't always there when you want him—I mean, he isn't always in the right mood; but he's a splendid specimen of a man, and the most likeable fellow I ever knew—poor fellow!"
"Why you say 'poor fel-low'? He is no happy, no?"
"Well, you see," said the young man, succumbing to those lovely, pitying eyes, and not observing that they gazed with equal tenderness at the crimson wine in the cup beside her plate—"you see, he and his wife are none too congenial, as I said. It makes her wild to have him write, not only because she wants to cut a figure in London, and he will always live in some romantic place like this, but she's in love with him, in her way, and she's jealous of his very desk. That makes things unpleasant about the domestic hearthstone. And then she doesn't believe a bit in his talent, and takes good care to let him know it. So, you see, he's not the most enviable of mortals."
"Much better she have be careful," said the Spanish woman; "some day he feel tire out and go to lover someone else. Please you geeve me some more clarette?"
"Here comes Sir Dafyd," said the Englishman, as he filled her glass. "It has taken him a long time to find out how she is."
The shadow had wholly disappeared from Sir Dafyd's mouth, a faint smile hovering there instead. As he took his seat the Austrian Ambassador leaned forward and inquired politely about the state of Lady Sioned's health.
"She is sleeping quietly," said Sir Dafyd.
The Hon. Harold Dartmouth was bored. He had been in Paris three months and it was his third winter. He was young. He possessed a liberal allowance of good looks, money, and family prestige. Combining these three conditions, he had managed to pretty thoroughly exhaust the pleasures of the capital. At all events he believed he had exhausted them, and he wanted a new sensation. He had "done" his London until it was more flavorless than Paris, and he had dawdled more or less in the various Courts of Europe. While in St. Petersburg he had inserted a too curious finger into the Terrorist pie, and had come very near making a prolonged acquaintance with the House of Preventative Detention; but after being whisked safely out of the country under cover of a friend's passport, he had announced himself cured of further interest in revolutionary politics. The affair had made him quite famous for a time, however; Krapotkin had sought him out and warmly thanked him for his interest in the Russian Geysers, and begged him to induce his father to abjure his peace policy and lend his hand to the laudable breaking of Czarism's back. But Lord Cardingham, who was not altogether ruled by his younger son, had declined to expend his seductions upon Mr. Gladstone in the cause of a possible laying of too heavy a rod upon England's back, and had recommended his erratic son to let the barbarism of absolutism alone in the future, and try his genius upon that of democracy. Dartmouth, accordingly, had spent a winter in Washington as Secretary of Legation, and had entertained himself by doling out such allowance of diplomatic love to the fair American dames as had won him much biographical honor in the press of the great republic. Upon his father's private admonition, that it would be as well to generously resign his position in favor of some more needy applicant, with a less complex heart-line and a slight acquaintance with international law, he had, after a summer at Newport, returned to Europe and again devoted himself to winning a fame not altogether political. And now there was nothing left, and he felt that fate had used him scurrilously. He was twenty-eight, and had exhausted life. He had nothing left but to yawn through weary years and wish he had never been born.
He clasped his hands behind his head and looked out on the brilliant crowd from his chair in the Cafe de la Cascade in the Bois. He was handsome, this blase young Englishman, with a shapely head, poised strongly upon a muscular throat. Neither beard nor moustache hid the strong lines of the face. A high type, in spite of his career, his face was a good deal more suggestive of passion than of sensuality. He was tall, slight, and sinewy, and carried himself with the indolent hauteur of a man of many grandfathers. And indeed, unless, perhaps, that this plaything, the world, was too small, he had little to complain of. Although a younger son, he had a large fortune in his own right, left him by an adoring grandmother who had died shortly before he had come of age, and with whom he had lived from infancy as adopted son and heir. This grandmother was the one woman who had ever shone upon his horizon whose disappearance he regretted; and he was wont to remark that he never again expected to find anything beneath a coiffure at once so brilliant, so fascinating, so clever, so altogether "filling" as his lamented relative. If he ever did he would marry and settle down as a highly respectable member of society, and become an M.P. and the owner of a winner of the Derby; but until then he would sigh away his tired life at the feet of beauty, Bacchus, or chance.
"What is the matter, Hal?" asked Bective Hollington, coming up behind him. "Yawning so early in the day?"
"Bored," replied Dartmouth, briefly. "Don't expect me to talk to you. I haven't an idea left."
"My dear Harold, do not flatter yourself that I came to you in search of ideas. I venture to break upon your sulky meditations in the cause of friendship alone. If you will rouse yourself and walk to the window you may enrich your sterile mind with an idea, possibly with ideas. Miss Penrhyn will pass in a moment."
"No, not the devil; Miss Penrhyn."
"And who the devil is Miss Penrhyn?"
"The new English, or rather, Welsh beauty, Weir Penrhyn," replied Hollington. "She came out last season in London, and the Queen pronounced her the most beautiful girl who had been presented at Court for twenty years. Such a relief from the blue-eyed and 'golden-bronze' professional! She will pass in a moment. Do rouse yourself."
Dartmouth got up languidly and walked to the window. After all, a new face and a pretty one was something; one degree, perhaps, better than nothing. "Which is she?" he asked. "The one in the next carriage, with Lady Langdon, talking to Bolton."
The carriage passed them, and Harold's eyes met for a moment those of a girl who was lying back chatting idly with a man who rode on horseback beside her. She was a beautiful creature, truly, with a rich, dark skin, and eyes like a tropical animal's. A youthful face, striking and unconventional.
"Well?" queried Hollington.
"Yes, a very handsome girl," said Dartmouth. "I have seen her before, somewhere."
"What! you have seen that woman before and not remembered her? Impossible! And then you have not been in England for a year."
"I am sure I have seen her before," said Dartmouth. "Where could it have been?"
"Her father is a Welsh baronet, and your estates are in the North, so you could hardly have known her as a child. She was educated in the utmost seclusion at home; no one ever saw her or heard of her until the fag end of the last London season, and she only arrived in Paris two days ago, and made her first appearance in public last night at the opera, where you were not. So where could you have seen her?"
"I cannot imagine," said Dartmouth, meditatively. "But her face is dimly familiar, and it is a most unusual one. Tell me something about her;" and he resumed his seat.
"She is the daughter of Sir Iltyd-ap-Penrhyn," said Hollington, craning his neck to catch a last glimpse of the disappearing beauty. "Awfully poor, but dates back to before Chaos. Looks down with scorn upon Sir Watkin Wynn, who hangs up the flood on the middle branch of his family tree. They live in a dilapitated old castle on the coast, and there Sir Iltyd brought up this tropical bird—she is an only child—and educated her himself. Her mother died when she was very young, and her father, with the proverbial constancy of mankind, has never been known to smile since. Lively for the tropical bird, was it not? Lady Langdon, who was in Wales last year, and who was an old friend of the girl's mother, called on her and saw the professional possibilities, so to speak. She gave the old gentleman no peace until he told her she could take the girl to London, which she did forthwith, before he had time to change his mind. She has made a rousing sensation, but she is a downright beauty and no mistake. Lady Langdon evidently intends to hold on to her, for I see she has her still."
"I could not have known her, of course; I have never put my foot in Wales. But I suppose I shall meet her now. Is she to be at the Russian Legation to-night?"
"Yes; I have it from the best authority—herself. You had better go. She is worth knowing, I can tell you."
"Well, I'll think of it," said Dartmouth. "I must be off now; I have no end of letters to write. I'll rely upon you to do the honors if I go!" and he took up his hat and sauntered out.
He went directly to his apartments on the Avenue Champs Elysees, and wrote a few epistles to his impatient and much-enduring relatives in Britain; then, lighting a cigar, he flung himself upon the sofa. The room accorded with the man. Art and negligence were hand-in-hand. The hangings were of dusky-gold plush, embroidered with designs which breathed the fervent spirit of Decorative Art, and the floor was covered with the oldest and oddest of Persian rugs. There were cabinets of antique medallions, cameos, and enamels; low brass book-cases, filled with volumes bound in Russian leather, whose pungent odor filled the room; a varied collection of pipes; a case of valuable ceramics, one of the collection having a pedigree which no uncelestial mind had ever pretended to grasp, and which had been presented to Lord Cardingham, while minister to China, by the Emperor. That his younger son had unblushingly pilfered it he had but recently discovered, but demands for its return had as yet availed not. There were a few valuable paintings, a case of rare old plates, many with the coats of arms of sovereigns upon them, strangely carved chairs, each with a history, all crowded together and making a charming nest for the listless, somewhat morbid, and disgusted young man stretched out upon a couch, covered with a rug of ostrich feathers brought from the Straits of Magellan. Over the onyx mantel was a portrait of his grandmother, a handsome old lady with high-piled, snow-white hair, and eyes whose brilliancy age had not dimmed. The lines about the mouth were hard, but the face was full of intelligence, and the man at her feet had never seen anything of the hardness of her nature. She had blindly idolized him.
"I wish she were here now," thought Dartmouth regretfully, as he contemplated the picture through the rings of smoke; "I could talk over things with her, and she could hit off people with that tongue of hers. Gods! how it could cut! Poor old lady! I wonder if I shall ever find her equal." After which, he fell asleep and forgot his sorrows until his valet awakened him and told him it was time to dress for dinner.
I hope I have not conveyed to the reader the idea that our hero is frivolous. On the contrary, he was considered a very brilliant young man, and he could command the respect of his elders when he chose. But, partly owing to his wealth and independent condition, partly to the fact that the world had done its best to spoil him, he had led a very aimless existence. He was by no means satisfied with his life, however; he was far too clever for that; and he had spent a good deal of time, first and last, reviling Fate for not having endowed him with some talent upon which he could concentrate his energies, and with which attain distinction and find balm for his ennui. His grandmother had cherished the conviction that he was an undeveloped genius; but in regard to what particular field his genius was to enrich, she had never clearly expressed herself, and his own consciousness had not been more explicit. He had long ago made up his mind, indeed, that his grandmother's convictions had been the fond delusions of a doting parent, and that the sooner he unburdened himself of that particular legacy the better. The unburdening, however, had been accomplished with a good deal of bitterness, for he was very ambitious and very proud, and to be obliged to digest the fact that he was but a type of the great majority was distinctly galling. True, politics were left. His father, one of the most distinguished of England's statesmen, and a member of the present cabinet, would have been delighted to assist his career; but Harold disliked politics. With the exception of his passing interest in the Russian socialists—an interest springing from his adventurous nature—he had never troubled himself about any party, faction, or policy, home or foreign. He would like to write a great poem, but he had never felt a second's inspiration, and had never wasted time in the endeavor to force it. Failing that, he would like to write a novel; but, fluently and even brilliantly as he sometimes talked, his pen was not ready, and he was conscious of a conspicuous lack of imagination. To be sure, one does not need much in these days of realistic fervor; it is considered rather a coarse and old-fashioned article; but that one needs some sort of a plot is indisputable, and Dartmouth's brain had consistently refused to evolve one. Doubtless he could cultivate the mere habit of writing, and achieve reputation as an essayist. His critical faculty was pronounced, and he had carefully developed it; and it was possible that when the world had completely palled upon him, he would shut himself up at Crumford Hall and give the public the benefit of his accumulated opinions, abstract and biographical. But he was not ready for that yet; he needed several years more of experience, observation, and assiduous cultivation of the habit of analysis; and in the meantime he was in a condition of cold disgust with himself and with Fate. It may also have been gathered that Mr. Dartmouth was a young man of decidedly reckless proclivities. It is quite true that he never troubled himself about any question of morals or social ethics; he simply calculated the mathematical amount of happiness possible to the individual. That was all there was in life. Had he lived a generation or two earlier, he would have pursued his way along the paths of the prohibited without introspective analysis; but being the intellectual young man of the latter decades of the 19th century, it amused him to season his defiance of certain conventional codes with the salt of philosophy.
Miss Penrhyn reached the Legation a few moments after Dartmouth's arrival, and he watched her as she entered the ballroom. She wore a simple white gown, embroidered about the corsage with silver crescents; and her richly-tinted brown hair was coiled about her head and held in place by a crescent-shaped comb. She was a tall, slim, shapely girl, with an extreme grace of carriage and motion, and a neck and arms whose clear olive was brought out with admirable effect by the dead white of her gown. Her face, somewhat listless and preoccupied as she entered, quickly brightened into animation as a number of men at once surrounded her. Dartmouth continued to watch her for a few moments, and concluded that he would like to know her, even if she were a girl and an ingenue. She was fascinating, apart from her beauty; she looked different from other women, and that was quite enough to command his interest. It would be too much trouble to struggle for an introduction at present, however, and he allowed himself to be taken possession of by his cousin, Margaret Talbot, who, with the easy skill of a spoiled beauty, dismissed several other cavaliers upon his approach. They wandered about for a time, and finally entered a tiny boudoir fitted up to represent a bird's nest in tufted blue satin, with an infinite number of teacups so arranged as to be cunningly suggestive of eggs whose parents had been addicted to Decorative Art.
"What do you think of the new beauty?" demanded Mrs. Talbot, as they established themselves upon an extremely uncomfortable little sofa upheld between the outstretched wings of the parent bird, which was much too large for the eggs.
"She does very well," replied Harold, who was wise in his generation.
Mrs. Talbot put her handkerchief suddenly to her face and burst into tears. Dartmouth turned pale.
"What is it, Margaret?" he said. "Do not cry here; people will notice, and make remarks."
She made no reply, and he got up and moved restlessly about the room; then returning he stood looking moodily down upon her.
Some years before, just about the time he was emerging from knickerbockers, he had been madly in love with this golden-haired, hazel-eyed cousin of his, and the lady, who had the advantage of him in years, being unresponsive, he had haunted a very large and very deep ornamental pond in his grandmother's park for several weeks with considerable persistency. Had the disease attacked him in summer it is quite probable that this story would never have been written, for his nature was essentially a high-strung and tragic one; but fortunately he met his beautiful cousin in mid-winter, and 'tis a despairing lover indeed who breaks the ice. Near as their relationship was, he had not met her again until the present winter, and then he had found that years had lent her additional fascination. She was extremely unhappy in her domestic life, and naturally she gave him her confidence and awoke that sentiment which is so fatally akin to another and sometimes more disastrous one.
Dartmouth loved her with that love which a man gives to so many women before the day comes wherein he recognizes the spurious metal from the real. It was not, as in its first stage, the mad, unreasoning fancy of an unfledged boy, but that sentiment, half sympathy, half passion, which a woman may inspire who is not strong enough to call out the highest and best that lies hidden in a man's nature. This feeling for his cousin, if not the supremest that a woman can command, bore one characteristic which distinguished it from any of his previous passions. For the first time in his life he had resisted a temptation—principally because she was his cousin. With the instinct of his caste he acknowledged the obligation to avert dishonor in his own family where he could. And, aside from family pride, he had a strong personal regard for his cousin which was quite independent of that sentiment which, for want of a better name, he called love. She was young, she was lonely, she was unhappy, and his calmer affection prompted him to protect her from himself, and not, after a brief period of doubtful happiness, to leave her to a lifetime of tormenting memories and regrets. She loved him, of course; and reckless with the knowledge of her ruined life, her hopeless future, and above all the certainty that youth and its delicious opportunities were slipping fast, she would doubtless have gone the way of most women under similar circumstances, had not Harold, for once in his life, been strong. Perhaps, if he had really loved her, he would not have been so self-sacrificing.
After her paroxysm of tears had partly subsided, he took her hand. "What is the matter?" he asked, kindly. "Is there any more trouble?"
"It is the same," she said. "You know how unhappy I am; it was foolish of me to break down here, but I could not help it. Besides, there is another thing—I wish you would go away."
He walked to the end of the room, then returned and bent over her, placing his hand on the back of the sofa. "Very well," he said, "I will go. I should have gone before. I would have done so, but I hated to leave you alone."
He lifted her face and kissed her. She laid her head against his shoulder, then she suddenly pushed him from her with a low cry, and Dartmouth, following her gaze, turned his head in time to meet the scornful eyes of Miss Penrhyn as she dropped the portiere from her hand. Dartmouth kicked aside a footstool with an exclamation of anger. He was acutely conscious of having been caught in a ridiculous position, and moreover, he would not be the chief sufferer.
"Oh, Harold! Harold!" gasped Margaret, "I am ruined. You know what women are. By this time to-morrow that girl will have told the story all over Paris."
The words made Dartmouth forget his personal annoyance for the moment. "Do not cry any more," he said, kindly; "I am awfully sorry, but I will see what I can do. I will make a point of meeting the girl, and I will see that—do not worry. I will go at once, and you had better remain here for the present. There is no danger of anyone intruding upon you: this room was never intended for three." He paused a moment. "Good-bye, Margaret!" he said.
She started sharply, but rose to her feet and put out her hand: "Good-bye," she said.
He lifted her hand to his lips, then the portiere fell behind him and she was alone.
He went directly to the ball-room and asked Hollington to present him to Miss Penrhyn. She was standing with her back to him and did not notice his approach, and his name was pronounced while her eyes were still on the face of the man to whom she was talking. She gave him a glance of swift scorn, bent her head haughtily, and all but turned her back upon him. But Dartmouth, indolent and lazy as he was, was not the man to be lightly disposed of when once roused to action.
"Bolton," he said, to her companion, "they are waiting for you in the billiard-room; you have an engagement to play a game with our host at twelve. It is now exactly the hour. I will take charge of Miss Penrhyn;" and before the bewildered Bolton could protest, or Miss Penrhyn realize his purpose, he had drawn the girl's arm through his own and was half-way down the room.
"Where have I met you before?" he demanded, when they were safely lost in the crowd. "Surely, we are not altogether strangers."
"I do not know," haughtily; "I have never met you before that I am aware of."
"It is strange, but I cannot get rid of the idea that I have seen you elsewhere," continued Dartmouth, unmoved. "And yet, if I had, I most assuredly could not have forgotten it."
"You are flattering, but I must ask you to excuse me. I am engaged for the next dance, and I see my partner looking for me."
"Indeed, I shall do nothing of the kind. I have no idea of resigning you so lightly." And he calmly led her into a small withdrawing-room and seated her behind a protecting screen. He took the chair beside her and smiled down into her angry face. Her eyes, which had a peculiar yellow flame in them, now within, now just without the iris, as if from a tiny lantern hidden in their depths, were blazing.
"Well?" he said, calmly; "of what are you thinking?"
"That you are the rudest and the most impertinent man I have ever met," she replied, hotly.
"You are unkind; I have been unfortunate enough to incur your disapproval, but you judge me cruelly. I am undoubtedly a very reprehensible character, Miss Penrhyn, but I don't think that I am worse than most men." He recognized at once that it would be folly to tell the usual lie: she would simply laugh in his face. He must accept the situation, plead guilty and make a skilful defense. Later, when he had established himself in her confidence, he would exonerate his cousin.
Miss Penrhyn's lip curled disdainfully. "I am not aware that I have asked you to justify yourself," she said. "It is of no possible interest to me whether you are better or worse than most men. It is quite possible, however," she added, hastily and unwillingly, "that in this case, as in others, there may be the relief of an exception to prove the rule."
Dartmouth saw his advantage at once. She was not merely disgusted; she was angry; and in her anger she forgot herself and condescended to sarcasm. There was one barrier the less to be broken down. "We are a bad lot, I am afraid, Miss Penrhyn," he replied, quietly; "but keep your illusions while you can. You are happier for them, and I would be the last to dispel them."
"You are considerate," she retorted: "it is more than possible you will not dispel my illusions; there will not be—"
"You mean to imply, delicately," he interrupted her, "that you do not consider me worthy of being added to the list of your acquaintances?"
"I really have given the matter no thought, and I do not see what advantage either side could derive from further acquaintance." But she colored slightly as she spoke, and turned to him an angrily severe profile.
"Don't you think," he said—and his calm, drawling tone formed a contrast to her own lack of control which she could not fail to appreciate—"don't you think that you judge me with exaggerated harshness? Do you think the life of any one of these men who have surrounded you to-night, and upon whom you certainly did not frown, would bear inspection? It would almost appear as if I had personally incurred your displeasure, you are so very hard upon me. You forget that my offense could not have any individual application for you. Had I known you, you might reasonably have been indignant had I gone from you, a young girl, to things which you held to be wrong. But I did not know you; you must remember that. And as for the wrong itself, I hope the knowledge of greater wrong may never come to you. When you have lived in the world a few years longer, I am very much afraid you will look upon such things with an only too careless eye."
The cruel allusion to her youth told, and the girl's cheek flushed, as she threw back her head with a spirited movement which delighted Dartmouth, while the lanterns in her eyes leaped up afresh. Where had he seen those eyes before?
"I don't know what your ideas of honor may be in regard to the young ladies of your acquaintance," she said, with an additional dash of ice in her voice, "but it seems to me a peculiar kind of honor which allows a man to insult his hostess by making love to a married woman in her house."
"Pret-ty good for a baby!" thought Dartmouth. "She could not have done that better if she had been brought up Lady Langdon's daughter, instead of having been under that general's tuition, and emancipated from a life of seclusion, just about six months. Decidedly, she is worth cultivating." He looked at her reflectively. That he was in utter disgrace admitted of not a doubt. Women found little fault with him, as a rule. They had shown themselves willing, with an aptitude which savored of monotony, to take him on any terms; and to be sat in judgment upon by a penniless girl with the face and air of an angry goddess, had a flavor of novelty about it decidedly thrilling. He determined to conquer or die. Clever as she was, she was still absolutely a child, and no match for him. He placed his elbow on his knee and leaned his head on his hand.
"Your rebuke is a very just one," he said, sadly. "And I have only the poor excuse to offer that in this wicked world of ours we grow very callous, and forget those old codes of honor which men were once so strict about, no matter what the irregularities of their lives might be. I am afraid it is quite true that I am not fit to touch your hand; and indeed," he added hastily, "it is a miserable business all round, and God knows there is little enough in it."
She turned and regarded him with something less of anger, something more of interest, in her eyes.
"Then why do not you reform?" she asked, in a matter-of fact tone. "Why do you remain so bad, if you regret it?"
"There is nothing else to do," gloomily "Life is such a wretched bore that the only thing to do is to seize what little spice there is in it, and the spice, alas! will never bear analysis."
"Are you unhappy?" she demanded. Her eyes were still disapproving, but her voice was a shade less cold.
He smiled, but at the same time he felt a little ashamed of himself, the weapons were so trite, and it was so easy to manage an unworldly-wise and romantic girl. There was nothing to do but go on, however. "No, I am not unhappy, Miss Penrhyn," he said; "that is, not unhappy in the sense you would mean. I am only tired of life. That is all—but it is enough."
"But you are very young," she said, innocently. "You cannot yet be thirty."
He laughed shortly. "I am twenty-eight, Miss Penrhyn—and I am—forty five. You cannot understand, and it is well you should not. But this much I can tell you. I was born with a wretched load of ennui on my spirits, and all things pall after a brief experience. It has been so since the first hour I can remember. My grandmother used to tell me that I should wake up some day and find myself a genius, that I rejoiced in several pointed indications toward that desirable end; that I had only to wait, and ample compensation for the boredom of life would come But, alas! I am twenty-eight, and there are no signs of genius yet. I am merely a commonplace young man pursuing the most commonplace of lives—but I am not going to bore you by talking about myself any longer. I never do. I do not know why I do so to-night. But there is something about you which is strangely sympathetic, in spite of your"—he hesitated—"your unkindness."
She had kept her eyes implacably on the opposite wall, but when he finished she turned to him suddenly, and he saw that her face had perceptibly relaxed.
"You impress me very strangely," she said, abruptly. "I am willing to tell you that frankly, and I hardly understand it. You are doubtless correct when you say I have no right to be angry with you, and I suppose it is also true that you are no worse than other men. When I pushed aside that portiere to-night I felt an unreasoning anger which it would be hard to account for. Had it been Lord Bective Hollington or Mr. Bolton I—I should not have cared. I should not have been angry, I am sure of it. And yet I never saw you before to-day, and had no possible interest in you. I do not understand it. I hardly know whether I like you very much or hate you very much."
He bent his head and looked down sharply into her eyes. He was so used to the coquetry and finesse of women! Was she like the rest? But the eyes she had turned to him were sincere to disquiet, and there was not a suggestion of coquetry about her.
"Do not hate me," he said, softly, "for I would give more for your good opinion than for that of any woman I know. No, I do not mean that for idle flattery. You may not realize it, but you are very different from other women—Oh, bother!"—this last under his breath, as their retreat was invaded by two indignant young men who insisted upon the lawful rights of which Dartmouth had so unblushingly deprived them. There was nothing to do but resign himself to his fate.
Knowing that a second uninterrupted conversation would be impossible with her that night, he left the house shortly after, not, however, before a parting word had assured him that though she still might disapprove, he would have many future opportunities to plead his cause, and, furthermore, that she would not risk the loss of his admiration by relating what she had seen. When he reached his apartment he exchanged his coat for a smoking-jacket, lit a cigar, and throwing himself down on a sofa, gave himself up to thoughts of Miss Penrhyn.
"A strange creature," he mentally announced. "If one can put one's trust in physiognomy, I should say she had about ten times more in her than dwells in ordinary women. She has no suspicion of it herself, however; she will make that discovery later on. I should like to have the power to render myself invisible; but no, I beg pardon, I should like to be present in astral body when her nature awakens. I have always wanted to study the successive psychological evolutions of a woman in love. Not of the ordinary compound of the domestic and the fashionable; there is nothing exciting in that; and besides, our realistic novelists have rendered such researches on my part superfluous; but of a type, small, but each member of which is built up of infinite complexities—like this girl. The nature would awaken with a sudden, mighty shock, not creep toward the light with slow, well-regulated steps—but, bah! what is the use of indulging in boneless imaginings? One can never tell what a woman of that sort will think and feel, until her experience has been a part of his own. And there is no possibility of my falling in love with her, even did I wish it, which I certainly do not. The man who fascinates is not the man who loves. Pardon my modesty, most charming of grandmothers, if your soul really lurks behind that wonderful likeness of yours, as I sometimes think it does, but a man cannot have the double power of making many others feel and of feeling himself. At least, so it seems to me. Love lightly roused is held as lightly, and one loses one's respect for even the passion in the abstract. Of what value can a thing be which springs into life for a trick of manner, an atom or two more of that negative quality called personal magnetism, while wiser and better men pass by unnoticed? One naturally asks, What is love? A spiritual enthusiasm which a cold-blooded analyst would call sentimentality, or its correlative, a fever of the senses? Neither is a very exalted set of conditions. I have been through both more than once, and if my attacks have been light, I have been the better enabled to study my fair inspiration. I never discovered that she felt more deeply; simply more strongly, more tempestuously, after the nature of women. Her feelings were not more complex, they were merely more strongly accentuated. A woman in love imagines that she is the pivot on which the world revolves. A general may immortalize himself, an emperor be assassinated and his empire plunged into a French Revolution, and her passing interest is not roused; nor is she unapt to wonder how others can be interested in matters so purely impersonal. She thinks she loves as no woman ever loved before, and sometimes she succeeds in making the man think so too. But when a man has gone through this sort of thing a couple of dozen times, he becomes impressed with the monotony, the shallowness, and the racial resemblance, so to speak, of the divine passion; and his own capacity for indulging in it diminishes in proportion. If Miss Penrhyn is capable of anything wider and deeper and higher than her average sister, I have met her too late to be inspired with anything beyond passing curiosity. In fact, I doubt if I could be capable of so much as indulging in the surmise had I never known my grandmother. There was a woman unique in her generation. So strong was her individuality that I was forced to appreciate it, even in the days when I used to make her life a burden by planting her silver spoons in the rose-garden and re-setting her favorite cuttings wrong side up. I wish she had lived longer; it would have been both a pleasure and a profit to have studied and analyzed her. And how I should like to know her history! That she had one there is no doubt. The lines of repression in her face were the strongest I have ever seen, to say nothing of the night I found her standing over the Byzantine chest with her hands full of yellow papers. There were no lines of repression in her face just then; she looked fairly murderous. She did not see me, and I left with a brevity worthy of its cause. I should like to know who wrote those letters. I looked for them after her death, but she had either destroyed them or else that old Byzantine chest has a secret drawer. If it has I'll discover it some day when time hangs heavily.
"No," he continued, settling himself down more comfortably among his pillows, and tossing the end of his cigar into the grate, "I shall marry some day, undoubtedly, but I must find a woman with the brains and charm of my grandmother. This girl, they say, is brilliant, and certainly she cut me up sharply enough to-night; but she would be altogether too much to handle for a lifetime. It would be very pleasant for a time, but a deuced bore later on. What a beauty she is, though! I cannot get her out of my mind. She has been posing before my mental vision all the time I have been trying to think about something else. Those eyes—gods! And what a figure! What—"
With a nervous, precipitate motion, he rose to his feet and drew in his breath, as if to throw a sudden load from his chest. He stood irresolute for a moment, then revolving slowly on his heel, walked, as if independently of his own volition, over to his desk. He felt very strangely; he did not remember to have ever felt so strangely before. His head had become suddenly confused, but at the same time he was aware that his brain had thrown open its doors to a new arrival, and that the visitor was trying to make itself heard. It appeared to be a visitor of great importance, and Dartmouth was conscious that it had presented itself to his perceptions in the form of an extraordinarily strong impulse, a great and clamorous Desire. He had been aware of the same desire before, but only in an abstract way, a general purposeless longing; but now this peremptory, loudly-knocking consciousness was vaguely suggesting another—just behind. It would almost seem, if it were not too preposterous a supposition, as if that second struggling consciousness were trying to announce itself under the high-sounding title of—what? He could not formulate it. If his brain were only not so confused! What could so suddenly have affected him? He was always so clear-headed and logical. Was he going to be ill? When he reached his desk he sat down before it and mechanically took up his pen. He leaned his head on his hand, like a man in a state of mental exhaustion, and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he opened them wide, with an exclamation which was almost a cry; and of his usual calm repose there was not a trace remaining. He leaned forward breathlessly and put his pen to the paper. "Her eyes! Her skin! Her form!" he muttered uncertainly. "Her—her—her—Oh! what is it? Why cannot I say it? It has come at last—she was right after all—but the words—the words—why will not they come? The music is there—a great rhythm and harmony—but the words are floating about like wraiths of mist. If I could only grasp and crystallize them, and set them to that wonderful music, the world—the world would rise at last and call me great! Her eyes—her hair—oh, my God, what is it?" He threw down his pen and staggered to his feet. His face was blanched and drawn, and his eyes had lost their steady light. He grasped the chair to save himself from falling; he had lost over himself both physical and mental control. It seemed to him that two beings, two distinct entities, were at war within his brain—that new, glorious consciousness, and a tangible power above, which forced it down with an iron hand—down—down—into the depths of his mind, where its cries for speech came up in faint, inarticulate murmurs. And it tried and tried, that strange new thing, to struggle from its dungeon and reach the wide, free halls of his thought, but it could not; it beat against that unrelaxing iron hand only to fall back again and again. And it sang and sang and sang, in spite of its struggles and captivity. The faint, sweet echo came up—if he could but catch the words! If he could but dash aside that iron hand, and let his brain absorb them! Surely a word or two must force their way—yes! yes! they had come! "Her face! her form!"—He tore open his waistcoat; his lungs felt as if they had been exhausted. Then, how he never knew, he managed to reach his sofa, and fell face downward upon it; and the next morning, when his valet came in and drew aside the curtains and let in the light of mid-day, he found him there as he had fallen.
Harold Dartmouth came of a family celebrated throughout its history for producing men of marked literary and political ability. Few generations had passed without a Dartmouth distinguishing himself, and those members of the family less gifted were not in the habit of having their fine intellectual qualities called to account. The consequence was that their young descendant, who inherited all the family cleverness, although as yet he had betrayed the possession of none of its higher gifts, paid the penalty of his mental patrimony. His brain was abnormally active, both through conditions of heredity and personal incitement; and the cerebral excitation necessarily produced resulted not infrequently in violent reaction, which took the form of protracted periods of melancholy. These attacks of melancholy had begun during his early school-days, when, a remarkably bright but extremely wild boy, he had been invariably fired with ambition as examinations approached, and obliged to cram to make up for lost time. As years went by they grew with his growth, and few months passed without an attack of the blues more or less violent, no matter how brief. They came after hours of brooding over his desire to distinguish himself, and his fatal want of ability; they came during his intervals of purely intellectual disgust with himself and with life; but more frequently still they came upon him from no apparent cause whatever. They were a part of his personality, just as humor, or light, unthinking gaiety, or a constantly bubbling wit may form the predominating characteristic of another man.
For a week after the night of his futile impulse to put into shape the nebulous verse which had tormented his brain, no one saw Harold Dartmouth. The violent shock and strain had induced an attack of mental and spiritual depression which amounted to prostration, and he lay on his sofa taking no notice of the days as they slipped by, eating little and speaking to no one. At first Jones, his man-servant, was not particularly disturbed. He had brought Dartmouth up, and had come to look upon his moods as a matter of course. He therefore confined himself to forcing his master to take his food and to parrying the curiosity of the French servants; he knew Dartmouth's temper too well to venture to call a doctor, and he hoped that in a few days the mood would wear itself out. But at the end of a week he became seriously alarmed. He had spent the last day but one in a desperate and fruitless attempt to rouse Dartmouth, and had used every expedient his ingenuity could suggest. Finally, at his wits' end, he determined to call in the help of Lord Bective Hollington, who was Dartmouth's most intimate friend, and had lived with him and his moods for months together. He came to this decision late on the night of the seventh day, and at eleven the next morning he presented himself at Hollington's apartments in the Rue Lincoln. Hollington was still in bed and reading the morning paper, but he put it down at once.
"Send him in," he said. "Something is the matter with Harold," he continued to himself. "Something unusual has been the matter with him all the week, when he wouldn't even see me. Well, Jones, what is it?" as that perturbed worthy entered. "You are an early visitor."
"Oh! my Lord!" exclaimed Jones, tearfully; "something dreadful hails Master 'Arold."
"What is it?" demanded Hollington, quickly. "Is he ill?"
Jones shook his head. "No, my Lord; I wish 'ee was. 'Ee's worse than hill. 'Ee's got one of 'is moods."
"Poor Harold! I thought he had got over all that since he had given himself over to the distractions of wine, woman, and song. I haven't seen him in one of his moods for three or four years."
"Ah, sir, I 'ave, then. 'Ee don't 'ave them so frequent like before he begun to travel, but hevery wunst in a while 'ee will be terrible for two hor three days; but I never see hanything like this before, heven at Crumford 'All. 'Ee 'as never spoke for a week; not since the night of the ball hat the Russian Legation."
"By Jove! you don't mean it. I thought he was on a 'private tear,' as the Americans say; but I don't like this at all. Just clear out, and I'll be dressed and over in his rooms in less than half an hour." And he sprang out of bed before Jones had closed the door.
He was but a few moments dressing, as he had promised, and was at Dartmouth's apartment before Jones had time to become impatient, nervous as he was. He pulled aside the portiere of the salon and looked in. The curtains were drawn and the room was dark, but on a sofa near the window he saw his friend lying. He picked his way over through the studiously disordered furniture and touched Dartmouth on the shoulder.
"Hal!" he said, "Hal!"
Dartmouth opened his eyes and looked up. "Is it you, Becky?" he said, languidly. "Go away and let me alone." But his words and manner indicated that the attack was at last "wearing itself out."
"I will do nothing of the sort," replied Hollington. "Get up off that sofa this moment. A week! I am ashamed of you. What would the old lady say?"
"She would understand," murmured Dartmouth. "She always understood. I wish she were here now."
"I wish she were. She would soon have you out of this. Get up. Don't be a fool."
"I am not a fool. I have got one of the worst of the old attacks, and I can't shake it off; that is all. Go away, and let me fight it out by myself."
"I will not move from this room, if I stay here for six months, until you go with me. So make up your mind to it." And he threw himself into an easy-chair, and lighting a cigar, proceeded leisurely to smoke it.
Dartmouth turned uneasily once or twice. "You know I can't bear anyone near me," he said; "I want to be alone."
"You have been alone long enough. I will do as I have said."
There was silence for a few moments, and Dartmouth's restlessness increased. Hollington watched him closely, and after a time handed him a cigar and offered him a light. Dartmouth accepted both mechanically, and for a time the two men smoked in silence. When Dartmouth finished he rose to his feet.
"Very well," he said, "have your own way. Wait until I dress and I will go out with you." He went into his dressing-room and returned about an hour later, during which time Hollington had thrown back the curtains and written a couple of letters. Dartmouth was still haggard and very pale, but his face had been shaved and he looked something like himself once more. Hollington rose and threw down his pen at once.
"I will drop in on our way back and finish this letter," he said. "You must get out of the house as quickly as possible. By Jove! how bad you look!" He put his hand on his friend's shoulder and looked at him a moment. He was the average Englishman in most of his details, tall, well-built, with a good profile, and a ruddy Saxon face. His individual characteristics were an eternal twinkle in his eye, a forehead with remarkably well-developed reflectives, and a very square chin and jaw. Just now the twinkle was less aggressive and his face had softened noticeably. "There is no help for it, I suppose, Hal, is there?" he said.
Dartmouth looked back at him with a smile, and a good deal of affection in his eyes. "No, old fellow," he replied; "I am afraid there is not. But they are rarely as bad as this last. And—thank you for coming."
They went out together and walked to the Cafe Anglais on the Boulevard des Italiens. The air was keen and cold, the walk a long one, and Dartmouth felt like another man by the time he sat down to breakfast. One or two other men joined them. Hollington was unusually witty, the conversation was general and animated, and when Dartmouth left the cafe the past week seemed an ugly dream. In the afternoon he met the wife of the American Consul-General, Mrs. Raleigh, in the Bois, and learned from her that Margaret Talbot had left Paris. This left him free to remain; and when Mrs. Raleigh reminded him that her doors were open that evening, he asked permission at once to present himself. Mrs. Raleigh not only had a distinguished and interesting salon, but she casually remarked that she expected Miss Penrhyn, and Dartmouth felt a strong desire to see the girl again.
When, a few hours later, Dartmouth entered Mrs. Raleigh's salon, he saw Miss Penrhyn surrounded by some half-dozen men, and talking with the abandon of a pleased child, her eyes sparkling, her cheeks flushed. As he went over to her the flush faded slightly, but she held out her hand and smiled up into his eyes.
"You have been ill," she murmured, sympathetically. "You look so still."
"Yes," he said, "I have been ill; otherwise I should have made an effort to see you before. I suppose I cannot get a word with you to-night May I call on you to morrow morning?"
"Yes, you may come."
"Thank you. And there will not be a dozen other men there?"
She smiled. "I do not think there will be anyone else. I rarely receive in the morning."
"But are you sure?"
He had a long sweep of black lash, through which the clear blue of his eyes had a way of shining with a pleading, softening lustre, immensely effective. It was an accepted fact that when Mr. Dartmouth turned on this battery of eyes and lash, resistance was a forgotten art and protest a waste of time. Miss Penrhyn did not prove an exception to the rule. She hesitated, then answered, with a little laugh, as if amused at herself, "Well, yes, I am sure."
"Very well, then, remember, I look upon that as a promise. And I will try to get a word with you later, but there is no hope now."
He moved off and, leaning against the opposite wall, covertly watched her, while ostensibly listening with due sympathy to the hopes and fears of an old friend and embryo author. In a moment he made a discovery—of his friend's confidence I regret to say he heard not one word—she did not treat him as she treated other men. Well bred as she was, there was a perceptible embarrassment in her manner whenever he addressed her, but with these other men she was talking and smiling without a trace of effort or restraint. He knew what it meant. He was thoroughly aware that he was a man of extraordinary magnetism, and he had seen his power over a great many women. Ordinarily, to a man so sated with easy success as Harold Dartmouth, the certainty of conquest would have strangled the fancy, but there was something about this girl which awakened in him an interest he did not pretend to define, except that he found her more beautiful, and believed her to be more original, than other women. He was anxious to have a longer conversation with her, and ascertain whether or not he was correct in his latter supposition. He did not want to marry, and she was too good to flirt with, but platonics were left. And platonics with Miss Penrhyn suggested variety.
He also made another discovery. Someone played an interminable piece of classic music. During its recital it was not possible for Miss Penrhyn to talk with the men about her, and as the animation faded from her face, he noticed the same preoccupied look overspread it which had characterized it the night she had entered the ball-room at the Legation. Something troubled her, but to Dartmouth's quick eye it was not an active trouble, it was more like a shadow which took possession of her face in its moments of repose with the quiet assurance of a dweller of long standing. Possibly she herself was habitually forgetful of its cause; but the cause had struck deep into the roots of her nature, and its shadow had become a part of her beauty. Dartmouth speculated much and widely, but rejected the hypothesis of a lover. She had never loved for a moment; and in spite of his platonic predilections, this last of his conclusions held a very perceptible flavor of satisfaction. When the classic young lady had gracefully acknowledged the raptures she had evoked, and tripped back to her seat, Miss Penrhyn was asked to sing, and then Dartmouth saw his opportunity; he captured her when she had finished, and bore her off to the conservatory before anyone could interfere.
"You sing charmingly," he said. "Will you sing for me to-morrow?"
"If you can stretch flattery to that extent, with Patti at the Grand Opera House."
"I have been listening to Patti for fifteen years, and man loves variety. I wish I could tell where I have seen you before," he continued, abruptly. "Do you look like your mother? I may have seen her in my youth."
Her face flushed a sudden, painful red, and then turned very pale. "I do not remember my mother," she stammered. "She died when I was quite young."
"Poor thing!" thought Dartmouth. "How girls do grieve for an unknown mother!" "But you have seen her picture?" he said, aloud.
"Yes, I have seen her pictures. They are dark, like myself. But that is all."
"You must have had a lonely childhood, brought up all by yourself in that gloomy old castle I have heard described."
She colored again and crushed a fern-leaf nervously between her fingers. "Yes, it was lonesome. Yes—those old castles always are."
"By the way—I remember—my mother spent a summer down there once, some twelve or thirteen years ago, and—it comes back to me now—I remember having heard her speak of Rhyd-Alwyn as the most picturesque castle in Wales. She must have known your mother, of course. And you must have known the children. Why was I not there?"
"I do not remember," she said, rising suddenly to her feet, and turning so pale that Dartmouth started to his in alarm. "Come; let us go back to the salon."
"There is some mystery," thought Dartmouth. "Have I stumbled upon a family skeleton? Poor child!" But aloud he said, "No, do not go yet; I want to talk to you." And when he had persuaded her to sit down once more, he exerted himself to amuse her, and before long had the satisfaction of seeing that she had forgotten her agitation. It did not take him long to discover that she had read a great deal and that her favorite reading had been travels, and he entertained her with graphic recitals of such of his own varied experience as he thought most likely to interest her. She listened with flattering attention and a natural and keen sense of humor, and he was stimulated to a good deal more effort than habit prompted. "You will enjoy travelling," he said, finally; "and you will not travel like other women. You will see something besides picture-galleries, and churches, and Bons marches. I believe that you would realize what it is to be an atom of to-day in the presence of twenty centuries."
She smiled up at him with quick sympathy. "Yes," she said, "I believe one must more frequently be awed than pleased, or even enraptured. And I can imagine how even the most self-content of men, if he absorb the meaning of Europe, must feel his insignificance. If he has wit enough to reflect that all these represented ages, with their extraordinary results, abstract and concrete, have come and gone with no aid of his; that no prophet ever whispered his name among the thousands of great in every conceivable destiny; that he is, mentally and physically, simply a result of evolution and civilization, not, in any way worth mentioning, a cause, he will be apt to reflect as well upon how many men, all told, have ever heard of his existence or who besides his grandchildren will remember him a generation hence. He will probably wish that arithmetic had never been invented. Or if he be one of the great of earth, he is only one after all, and, if he be in danger of bursting from inflation, he can be grateful for a timely reminder that there are several millions on the globe who have never heard of him, and a few millions more who do not and never will take the faintest interest in him or his career. But it needs the presence of twenty centuries to bring the fact of man's individual insignificance home to most of us."
"She is clever," thought Dartmouth, as he dismissed his brougham a little later and walked home alone. "Very un-modern and most reprehensibly unconventional, in so much as she thinks, and develops her mental muscles; but very charming, notwithstanding. There is an incongruity about her, however, which is almost absurd. She has been brought up in such seclusion—and under the sole tuition of a man not only a pedant, but who has never stepped through the gates of the last generation—that she reminds one of those fair English dames who used to prowl about their parks with the Phaedo under their arm and long for a block on which to float down to prosperity; Plato had quite enough to do to sail for himself. And upon this epitomized abstraction of the sixteenth century, this mingling of old-time stateliness, of womanly charm, of tougher mental fibre, are superimposed the shallow and purely objective attributes of the nineteenth-century belle and woman of fashion. It is almost a shock to hear her use our modern vernacular, and when she relapses into the somewhat stilted language in which she is still accustomed to think, it is a positive relief. She is conscious that she is apt to be a little high-flown, and when she forgets herself and is natural, she quickly pulls herself in with a round turn, which is an apology in itself. Upon such occasions a man wants to get his fingers about the throat of the world. She has acquired all the little arts and mannerisms of the London drawing-room girl, and although they do not sit ungracefully upon her, because she is innately graceful, and too clever to assume a virtue which she cannot assimilate, still it is like a foreigner who speaks your language to perfection in all but accent, and whom you long to hear in his own tongue. Put her back in her Welsh castle, and the scales would fall from her as from a mermaid who loves. If she returns to her father at the end of the season, I think I will call upon her six months later. She should go now, though; scales are apt to corrode. But what is the mystery about the mother? Did she elope with the coachman? But, no; that is strictly a modern freak of fashion. Perhaps she died in a mad-house. Not improbable, if she had anything of the nature of this girl in her, and Sir Iltyd sowed the way with thorns too sharp. Poor girl! she is too young for mysteries, whatever it is. I shall like to know her better, but she is so intense that she makes me feel frivolous. I am never intense except when I have the blues, and intensity, with my peculiar mental anatomy, is a thing to be avoided. In what is invariably the last chapter of those attacks of morbid dissatisfaction I shall some day feel an intense desire to blow out my brains, and shall probably succumb. I wonder if she will induce another rhyming attack to-night. Was that night a dream or a reality? Could I have had a short but sharp attack of brain fever? Perhaps the less I think about it the better; but it is decidedly hard to be gifted with the instincts of a poet and denied the verbal formulation. And it was the most painfully realistic, aggressively material thing, that conflict in my brain, that mortal ever experienced. That, however, may have been a mere figment of my excited imagination. But what excited my imagination? That is the question. If I remember aright, I was mentally discoursing with some enthusiasm upon Miss Penrhyn's charms, but in strict impartiality it cannot be said that I was excited. The excitement was like that produced by an onslaught from behind. It is the more surprising, as I think it may be conceded that I have myself pretty well in hand by this time, and that my nerves, unruly as nature saw fit to make them, are now my very abject slaves. Occasionally one of our fiction carpenters flies off at a tangent and treats us to a series of intellectual gymnastics, the significance of which—so we are called upon to digest—is that the soul of one dead, finding its present clime too warm—or too cold—or having left something undone on earth, takes temporary and summary possession of an unfortunate still in the flesh, and through this unhappy medium endeavors to work his will. Perhaps that is what is the matter with me. Pollok, perchance, who died in his flower, thinking that he had not given the world a big enough pill to swallow, wants to concoct another dose in my presumably vacant brain. I appreciate the compliment, but I disdain to be Pollok's mouthpiece: I will be original or nothing. Besides, it is deuced uncomfortable. And I should like to know if there is anything in life more bitter than the sense, even momentary, of loss of self-mastery. Well, as I remarked a few moments since, the less I think about it the better, considering my unfortunate peculiarities. I will go and see Miss Penrhyn to-morrow; that will be sufficiently distracting for the present."
He found her the next day in a pretty morning-room, dressed in a long white gown, with a single great yellow rose at her throat. She had a piece of tapestry in her hand, and as she rose to greet him, the plain, heavy folds of her gown clinging about her, and her dark hair bound closely around her head with a simplicity that was almost severe, Dartmouth again felt a humorous sense of having suddenly stepped into a page of a past century.
"What are you doing?" he said, as he took a chair opposite her. "Women never make tapestry—real tapestry—in these days. You remind me of Lady Jane Grey. Shall I get a volume of Greek and read it to you?"
She laughed. "I fear it would literally be Greek to me. Latin and I had a fierce and desperate war, but I conquered in the end. With the Greek, however, the war was extremely brief, and he marched off with colors flying, and never condescended to renew the engagement."
"For all mercies make us duly thankful. A woman who knows Greek is like a hot-house grape; a mathematically perfect thing, but scentless and flavorless."
"You are consoling; and, indeed, I cannot see that it would have done me much good; it certainly would not have increased my popularity among your exacting sex. You are the first man to whom I have dared acknowledge I know Latin. Lady Langdon was kind enough to give me elaborate warnings and instructions before she launched me into society. Among other things, she constantly reiterated, 'Never let a man suspect that you know anything, my dear. He will fly from you as a hare to cover. I want you to be a belle, and you must help me.' I naturally asked her what I was to talk about, and she promptly replied 'Nothing. Study the American girl, they have the most brilliant way of jabbering meaningless recitativos of any tribe on the face of the earth. Every sentence is an epigram with the point left out. They are like the effervescent part of a bottle of soda-water.' This was while we were still in Wales, and she sent for six books by two of those American novelists who are supposed to be the expounders-in-chief of the American girl at home and abroad, and made me read them. It nearly killed me, but I did it, and I learned a valuable lesson. I hated the American girl, but I felt as if I had been boiled in soda-water and every pore of my body had absorbed it. I felt ecstatically frivolous, and commonplace, and flashing, and sizzling. And—I assure you this is a fact, although you may not give me credit for such grim determination and concentration of purpose—but I never eat my breakfast before I have read an entire chapter from one of those two authors, it adjusts my mental tone for the day and keeps me in proper condition."
Dartmouth threw back his head and gave vent to the heartiest burst of laughter he had indulged in for years. "Upon my word, you are original," he exclaimed, delightedly, "and for heaven's sake, don't try to be anything else. You could not be an American girl if you tried for a century, for the reason that you have too many centuries behind you. The American girl is charming, exquisite, a perfect flower—but thin. She is like the first fruit of a new tree planted in new soil. Her flavor is as subtle and vanishing as pistachio, but there is no richness, no depth, no mellowness, no suggestion of generations of grafting, or of orchards whose very sites are forgotten. The soda-water simile is good, but the American girl, in her actual existence—not in her verbal photographs, I grant you—is worthy of a better. She is more like one glass of champagne-frappe, momentarily stimulating, but quickly forgotten. When I was in America, I met the most charming women in New York—I did not spend two weeks, all told, in Washington—and New York is the concentrated essence, the pinnacle of American civilization and achievement. But although I frequently talked to one or another of those women for five hours at a time without a suggestion of fatigue, I always had the same sensation in regard to them that I had in regard to their waists while dancing—they were unsatisfactory, intangible. I never could be sure I really held a woman in my arms, and I never could remember a word I had exchanged with them. But they are charming—that word describes them 'down to the ground.'"
"That word 'thin' is good, too," she replied; "and I think it describes their literature better than any other. They write beautifully those Americans, they are witty, they are amusing, they are entertaining, they delineate character with a master hand; they give us an exact idea of their peculiar environment and conditions; and the way they handle dialect is a marvel; but—they are thin; they ring hollow; they are like sketches in pen-and-ink; there is no color, no warmth, and above all, no perspective. I don't know that they are even done in sharp black-and-white; to me the pervading tone is gray. The American author depresses me; he makes me feel commonplace and new and unballasted. I always feel as if I were the 'millionth woman in superfluous herds'; and when one of those terrible American authors attacks my type, and carves me up for the delectation of the public, I shall go back to Wales, nor ever emerge from my towers again. And they are so cool and calm and deliberate, and so horribly exact, even the lesser lights. They always remind me of a medical student watching the workings of the exposed nervous system of a chloroformed hare."
Dartmouth looked at her with some intensity in his gaze. "I am glad your ideas are so singularly like my own," he said. "It is rather remarkable they should be, but so it is. You have even a way of putting your thoughts that strikes me as familiar, and which, out of my natural egotism, I find attractive. But I wish you would go back to your old castle; the world will spoil you."
"I shall return in a month or two now; my father is lonely without me."
"I suppose he spoils you," said Dartmouth, smiling. "I imagine you were an abominable infant. Tell me of some of the outrageous things you used to do. I was called the worst child in three counties; but, I doubt not, your exploits discounted mine, as the Americans say."
"Oh, mine are too bad to relate," she exclaimed, with a nervous laugh, and coloring swiftly, as she had done the night before. "But you were ill for a whole week, were you not? Was it anything serious?"
Dartmouth felt a sudden impulse to tell her of his strange experience. He was not given to making confidences, but he felt en rapport with this girl as he had never felt with man or woman before. He had a singular feeling, when talking with or listening to her, of losing his sense of separateness. It was not that he felt de-individualized, but that he had an accession of personality. It was pleasant because it was novel, but at the same time it was uncomfortable because it was a trifle unnatural. He smiled a little to himself. Was it a case of affinity after all? But he had no time to analyze. She was waiting for an answer, and in a moment he found himself yielding to his impulse and giving her a graphic account of his peculiar visitation.
At first she merely dropped her tapestry and listened attentively, smiling and blushing a little when he told her what had immediately preceded the impulse to write. But gradually the delicate pink left her face, and she began to move in the spasmodic, uncontrollable way of a person handling an electric battery. She clasped the arms of her chair with such force that her arms looked twisted and rigid, and finally she bent slowly forward, gazing up into his face with eyes expanded to twice their natural size and not a vestige of color in her cheek or lips: she looked like a corpse still engaged in the mechanical act of gazing on the scene of agony which had preceded its death. Suddenly she sprang to her feet and threw out her hands. "Stop!" she cried; "stop!"
"What is it?" he demanded, rising to his feet in amazement; he had been watching her with more or less surprise for some time. "I am afraid I have frightened you and made you nervous. I had better have kept my confidence to myself."
"No, no," she cried, throwing back her head and clasping her hands about it; "it is not that I am frightened—only—it was so strange! While you were talking it seemed—oh! I cannot describe it!—as if you were telling me something which I knew as well as yourself. When you spoke it seemed to me that I knew and could put into words the wonderful verse-music which was battling upward to reach your brain. They were, they were—I know them so well. I have known them always; but I cannot—I cannot catch their meaning!" Suddenly she stepped backward, dropped her hands, and colored painfully. "It is all purest nonsense, of course," she said, in her ordinary tone and manner, except for its painful embarrasment. "It is only your strong, picturesque way of telling it which presented it as vividly to my mind as if it were an experience of my own. I never so much as dreamed of it before you began to speak."
Dartmouth did not answer her for a moment. His own mind was in something of a tumult. In telling the story he had felt, not a recurrence of its conditions, but a certain sense of their influence; and the girl's manner and words were extraordinary. It could hardly be possible, even in cold blood, to understand their meaning. She was indisputably not acting. What she had said was very strange and unconventional, but from whatever source the words had sprung, they had not been uttered with the intention premeditated or spontaneous of making an impression upon him. They carried conviction of their sincerity with them, and Dartmouth was sensible that they produced a somewhat uncanny but strangely responsive effect upon himself. But what did it mean? That in some occult way she had been granted a glimpse into the depths of his nature was unthinkable. He was not averse to indulging a belief in affinity; and that this girl was his was not a disagreeable idea; but his belief by no means embraced a second, to the effect that the soul of one's antitype is as an open book to the other. Could her mind be affected? But no. She was a very unusual girl, possibly an eccentric one; but he flattered himself that he knew a lunatic when he saw one. There was left then but the conclusion that she possessed a strongly and remarkably sympathetic nature, as yet unbridled and unblunted by the world, and that he had made a dangerous imprint upon it. He was not unduly vain, but he was willing to believe that she would not vibrate so violently to every man's touch.
This point settled to the best of his capabilities, he allowed a second consciousness, which had been held under for the moment, during the exercisings of his analytical instinct, to claim his consideration. He was sensible that he was attracted as he had never been attracted by woman before. He had felt something of this on the night he had met her, and he had felt it more strongly on the occasion of their second interview; but now he was aware that it had suddenly taken the form of an overmastering desire for possession. He was by nature an impulsive man, but he was a man of the world as well, and he had his impulses pretty well subordinated to interest and common-sense; nevertheless he felt very much like doing a rash and impulsive thing at the present moment. He was a man of rapid thought, and these reflections chased each other through his mind much more quickly than I have been able to take them down, and Miss Penrhyn had averted her gaze and was playing nervously with some flowers in a basket on a pedestal beside her. She was acutely aware that she had made a fool of herself, and imagined that his hesitation was due to a polite desire to arrange his reply in such wise as not to make his appreciation of the fact too crudely apparent. At the same time she was a little exhausted under the reaction of a short but very severe mental strain. As for Dartmouth, he hesitated a moment longer. He was balancing several pros and cons very rapidly. He was aware that if he asked this girl to marry him and she consented, he must, as a man of honor, abide by the contract, no matter how much she might disappoint him hereafter. At the same time the knowledge that he was in love with her was growing more distinct every second. Doubtless the wisest course would be to go away for the present and postpone any decisive step until he knew her better. But he was not a patient man, and he was not in the habit of putting off until to-morrow what he could do to-day. (He considered that certain of the precepts instilled during childhood were of admirable practical value). The best thing in life was its morning: he did not like evening shadows and autumn twilights. There was nothing that could compare with the sweetness and fineness of the flavor of novelty. When it was practicable to take advantage of one's impulses one had a brief draught of true philosopher's happiness. And, at all events, this girl was a lady, high-born, high-bred, intellectual, and unique. She was also plastic, and if she had a somewhat too high-strung nature, love had been known to work wonders before. He had mastered the difficult art of controlling himself; he was not afraid of not being able to control any woman who loved him. He went over to her and took her hands in his strong clasp.
"I have known you a very short—" he began, and then paused abruptly.
He had meant to speak calmly and not frighten her by the suddenness of his love-making, but her touch fired him and sent the blood to his head. He flung down her hands, and throwing his arms about her, kissed her full on the mouth. The girl turned very white and tried to free herself, but his arms were too strong, and in a moment she ceased to resist. She made no attempt to define her feelings as Dartmouth had done. She had felt the young man's remarkable magnetism the moment she had met him: she had been aware of a certain prophetic instinct of it some hours before, when he had stood in the window of a crowded cafe above a crowded thoroughfare and speculatively returned her gaze. And the night before, she had gone home with a very sharply outlined consciousness that she would never again meet a man who would interest her so deeply. To-day, this feeling had developed into one of strong reciprocal sympathy, and he had exerted a psychological influence over her as vaguely delightful as it was curious and painful. But all this was no preparation for the sudden tumult of feeling which possessed her under his kiss. She knew that it was love; and, that it had come to her without warning, made the knowledge no less keen and sure. Her first impulse was to resist, but purely out of that pride which forbids a woman to yield too soon; and when his physical strength made her powerless, she was glad that it should be so.
"Will you marry me?" he asked.
"Yes" she said; "I will marry you."
Two weeks later Dartmouth had followed Weir Penrhyn to Wales. He had written to her father at once, and Sir Iltyd had informed him in reply that although aware of his rank and private fortune, through Lady Langdon's intimation, and although possessing a high regard and esteem for his father, still it was impossible for him to give any definite answer until he had known him personally, and he therefore invited him to come as soon as it pleased him and pay Rhyd-Alwyn a visit. Weir accordingly, and much to Lady Langdon's disgust, had returned to Wales at once; Dartmouth insisted upon an early marriage, and the longer they delayed obtaining Sir Iltyd's consent the longer must the wedding be postponed.
Dartmouth arrived late in the afternoon at Rhyd-Alwyn—a great pile of gray towers of the Norman era and half in ruins. He did not meet Sir Iltyd until a few minutes before dinner was announced, but he saw Weir for a moment before he went up-stairs to dress for dinner. His room was in one of the towers, and as he entered it he had the pleasurable feeling, which Weir so often induced, of stepping back into a dead and gone century. It looked as if unnumbered generations of Penrhyns had slept there since the hand of the furnisher had touched it. The hard, polished, ascetic-looking floor was black with age; the tapestry on the walls conveyed but a suggestion of what its pattern and color had been; a huge four-posted bed heavily shrouded with curtains stood in the centre of the room, and there were a number of heavy, carved pieces of furniture whose use no modern Penrhyn would pretend to explain. The vaulted ceiling was panelled, and the windows were narrow and long and high. Sufficient light found its way through them, however, to dress by, and there was a bright log-fire in the open fire-place.
"Jones," said Dartmouth, after he had admiringly examined the details of the room and was getting into his clothes, "just throw those curtains up over the roof of that bed. I like the antique, but I don't care to be smothered. Give me my necktie, and look out for the bed before you forget it."
Jones looked doubtfully up at the canopy. "That is pretty 'igh, sir," he said. "Hif I can find a step-ladder—"
"A step-ladder in a Welsh castle! The ante-deluge Penrhyns would turn in their graves, or to be correct, in their family vaults. No true Welsh noble is guilty of departing from the creed of his ancestors to the tune of domestic comforts. It is fortunate a man does not have to marry his wife's castle as well as herself. Get up on to that cabinet—it is twice as high as yourself—and you can manage the curtains quite easily."
Jones with some difficulty succeeded in moving the tall piece of furniture designated to the bed-side; then with the help of a chair he climbed to the top of it. He caught one of the tender-looking curtains carefully between his hands, and was about to throw it over the canopy, shutting his eyes and his mouth to exclude the possible dust, when the cabinet beneath him suddenly groaned, swayed, and the next moment there was a heavy crash, and he was groaning in the midst of a dozen antique fragments. Harold sprang forward in some alarm and picked him up. "By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I am afraid you are hurt; and what a row I have made! I might have known better than to tell you to trust your weight on that old thing."
Jones shook himself slowly, extended his arms and legs, announced himself unhurt, and Dartmouth gave his attention to the cabinet. "I shall have to initiate myself in my prospective father-in-law's good graces by announcing myself a spoiler of his household goods," he exclaimed, ruefully. "And a handsome old thing like that, too; it is a shame!" He thrust his hands into his pockets and continued looking down at the ruins with a quizzical smile on his face.
"By every law of romance and of precedent," he thought, "I ought to find in that cabinet the traditional packet of old letters which would throw a flood of light upon some dark and tragic mystery. Else why did I tell Jones to stand upon that particular cabinet instead of that one over there, which looks as if iron hammers could not break it; and why did Jones blindly obey me? That it should be meaningless chance is too flat to be countenanced. I should find the long lost Mss. of that rhymer who took possession of me that night, and so save myself the discomfort of being turned into a Temple of Fame a second time. Truly there has been an element of the unusual throughout this whole affair with Weir. Once or twice I have felt as if about to sail out of the calm, prosaic waters of this every-day nineteenth-century life, and embark upon the phosphorescent sea of our sensational novelists—psychological, so-called. It is rather soon for the cabinet to break, however. It suggests an anti-climax, which would be inartistic. But such material was never intended to be thrown away by a hero of romance."
He kicked about among the fragments of the ruined cabinet, but was rewarded by no hollow ring. It was a most undutifully matter-of-fact and prosaic piece of furniture in its interior, however much it may have pleased the aesthetic sense outwardly. He gave it up after a time, and finished dressing. "Nothing in that but firewood," he announced to Jones, who had been watching his researches with some surprise. "Pile it up in a corner and leave it there until I have made my peace with Sir Iltyd."
He gave his necktie a final touch, then went down to the drawing-room, where he found the candles lit and Sir Iltyd standing on the hearth-rug beside his daughter. The old gentleman came forward at once and greeted him with stately, old-fashioned courtesy, his stern, somewhat sad features relaxing at once under Dartmouth's rare charm of manner. He was a fine-looking man, tall and slim like his daughter, but very fair. His head, well developed, but by no means massive, and scantily covered with gray hair, was carried with the pride which was the bone and fibre of his nature. Pride, in fact, albeit a gentle, chastened sort of pride, was written all over him, from the haughty curve of his eyebrow to the conscious wave of his small, delicate hand—pride, and love for his daughter, for he followed her every movement with the adoring eyes of a man for the one solace of a sad and lonely old age.