Miss Dunbar painted the priest's robe yellow, in her agitation. But the agitation was not deep. There really seemed no reason why she should hesitate. He would be kind; he was well-bred and agreeable. A princess? She had a vague idea of a glorified region of ancestral castles and palaces in which dukes and royalties dwelt apart and discoursed of high matters. She would be one of them.
The other day there seemed to be no reason why she should not marry Mr. Perry. In marriage then one must only consider the suitability of the man? There was nothing else to consider——
With a queer, hunted look in her soft eyes she worked on, daubing on paint liberally.
Meanwhile, in the little salle below, Miss Vance sat stiffly erect, while the prince talked in his shrill falsetto. Although he set forth his affection for the engelreine Madchen as simply as the little German baker in Weir (whom he certainly did resemble) might have done, she could find, in her agitation, no fitting words in which to answer him. That she, Clara Vance, should be the arbiter in a princely alliance! At last she managed to ask whether Miss Dunbar had given him any encouragement on which to found his claim.
"Ah, Fraulein Vance!" he cried, laughing. "The hare does not call to the hounds! But I have no fear. She speaks to me in other ways than by words.
"'Mein Herz und seine Augen Verstehen sich gar so gut!'
You know the old song. Ah, ja! I understand what she would say—here!" touching his heart.
He paced up and down, smiling to himself. Suddenly he drew up before her, tossing his hands out as if to throw away some pleasant dream. "I have come to you, gracious lady, as I would to the mother of Miss Dunbar. I show to you the heart! But before I address her it is necessary that I shall consult her guardian with regard to business."
It was precisely, Clara said afterward, as if the baker from Weir had stopped singing, and presented his bill.
"Business?" she gasped. "Oh, I see! Settlements. We don't have such things in the States. But I quite understand all those European social traits. I have lived abroad for years. I——"
"Who is Miss Dunbar's guardian?" the prince demanded alertly. He sat down by the table and took out a notebook and papers.
"But—settlements? Is not that a little premature?" she ventured. "She has not accepted you."
"HE may not accept my financial proposals. It is business, you see. The gentle ladies, even die Amerikaner, do not comprehend business. It is not, you perceive, dear lady, the same when the head of the House of Wolfburgh allies himself with a hochgeboren Fraulein as when the tailors marry——"
"Nor bakers. I see," stammered Clara.
"Miss Dunbar's properties are valuable. Her estate in Del-aware," glancing at his notebook, "is larger than some of our German kingdoms. Her investments in railway and mining securities, if put on the market, should be worth a million of florins. These are solid matters, and must be dealt with carefully."
"But, good gracious, Prince Wolfburgh!" cried Miss Vance, "how did you find out about Lucy's investments?"
He looked at her in amazement. "Meine gnadigste Fraulein! It is not possible that you supposed that in such a matter as this men leap into the dark—the men of rank, princes, counts, English barons, who marry the American mees? That they do not know for what they exchange their—all that they give? I will tell you," with a condescending smile. "There are agents in the States—in New York—in Chicago—in—how do you name it? St. Sanata. They furnish exact information as to the dot of the lady who will, perhaps, marry here. Oh, no! We do not leap into the dark!"
"So I perceive," said Clara dryly. "And may I inquire, your Highness, what financial arrangement you propose, in case she becomes your wife?"
"Assuredly." He hastily unfolded a large paper. "This must be accepted by her guardian before the betrothal can take place. I will translate, in brief. The whole estate passes to me, and is secured to me in case of my wife's death without issue. I inserted that clause," he said, looking up, smiling, for approval, "because American Frauleins are so fragile—not like our women. I will, of course, if we have issue, try to preserve the real estate for my heir, and the remaining property for my other children."
"It seems to me that a good deal is taken for granted there," said Clara, whose cheeks were very hot. "And where does Miss Dunbar come into this arrangement? Is she not to have any money at all?"
"My widow, should I die first, will be paid an annuity from my estate. But while Mees Lucy is my wife, I will buy all that she needs. I will delight to dress her, to feed her well. With discretion, of course. For there are many channels into which my income must flow. But I will not be a niggardly husband to her! No, no!" cried the little man in a glow.
"That is very kind of you. But she will not have any of her own money to spend? In her own purse? To fling into the gutter if she chooses?"
The prince laughed gayly. "How American you are, gracious lady! A German wife does not ask for her 'own purse.' My wife will cease to be American; she will be German," patting his soft hands ecstatically. "But you have not told me the name of her guardian?"
"Lucy," said Miss Vance reluctantly, "is of age. She has full control of her property. A Trust Company manages it for her, but they have no authority to stop her if she chooses to—throw it into the gutter."
The prince looked up sharply. Could this be a trick? But if it were, the agent would find out for him. He rose.
"To have the sole disposal of her own hand and of her fortune? That seems strange to us," he said, smiling. "But I have your consent, most dear lady, to win both, if I can?"
"Oh, yes, prince. If you can."
He took her hand and bowed profoundly over it, but no courtly grace nor words could bring back Clara's awe of him. She had a vague impression that the Weir baker had been wrangling with her about his bill.
"Your Highness has asked a good many questions," she said. "May I put one to you? Did you inquire concerning Miss Hassard's dot, also?" "Ah, certainly! Why not? It is very large. I have spoken of it to my cousin Count Odo. But the drawback—her father still lives. He may marry again. Her dot depends upon his good pleasure. Whereas Miss Dunbar is an orphan; and besides that, she is so dear to me!" clasping his hands, his face red with fervor. "So truly dear!"
And she knew that he honestly meant it.
When Miss Vance came into the corridor after she had reported this interview to Lucy, Jean swept her into her room and dragged the whole story from her. In fact the poor anxious lady was glad to submit it to the girl's shrewd hard sense.
"You told him that she was the uncontrolled mistress of her money!"
"It is the truth. I had to tell him the truth, my dear."
"Yes, I suppose so, for he would have found it out anyhow."
"I do feel," panted Clara, "as if I had put a dove into the claws of a vulture."
"Not at all," said Jean promptly. "The little man has a heart, but an empty pocket. Was Lucy interested most in his love or his bargaining?"
"In neither, I think. She just went on painting, and said nothing."
"Oh, she will decide the matter in time! She will bring her little intellect to bear on it as if it were a picnic for her Sunday-school class!" Jean stood silent a while. "Miss Vance," she said suddenly, "let me engineer this affair for a few days. I can help you."
"What do you propose to do, Jean?"
"To leave Bozen to-morrow. For Munich."
"But the Wolfburghs have a palace or—something in Munich. Is it quite delicate for us——"
"It is quite rational. Let us see what the something is. So far in our dealings with principalities and powers, we have had a stout little man—with no background." The prince was startled when he was told of this sudden journey, but declared that he would follow them to-morrow.
Lucy, as usual, asked no questions, but calmly packed her satchel.
As the little train, the next day, lumbered through the valley of the Eisach, she sat in her corner, reading a newspaper. Miss Vance dozed, or woke with a start to lecture on points of historic interest.
"Why don't you look, Lucy? That monastery was a Roman fortress in the third century. And you are missing the color effects of the vineyards."
"I can look now. I have finished my paper." Lucy folded it neatly and replaced it in her bag. "I have read the Delaware State Sun," she said triumphantly, "regularly, every week since we left home. When I go back I shall be only seven days behind with the Wilmington news."
Jean glanced at her contemptuously. "Look at that great castle on yonder mountain," she said. "You could lodge a village inside of the ramparts. Do you think Wolfburgh Schloss is like that? The prince told us last night," turning to Miss Vance, "the old legends about his castle. The first Wolfburgh was a Titan about the time of Noah, and married a human wife, and with his hands tore open the mountain for rocks to lay the foundation of his house. According to his story there were no end of giants and trolls and kings concerned in the building of it," she went on, furtively watching the deepening pink in Lucy's cheek. "The Wolfburgh of Charlemagne's day was besieged by him, and another entertained St. Louis and all his crusaders within the walls." Jean's voice rose shrilly and her eyes glowed. She leaned forward, looking eagerly across the fields. "The prince told us that the Schloss of his race had for centuries been one of the great fortresses of Christendom. And here it is! Now we shall see—we shall see!"
The car stopped. The guard opened the door and Miss Vance and Lucy suddenly found themselves swept by Jean on to the platform, while the little train rumbled on down the valley. Miss Vance cried out in dismay.
"Never mind. There will be another train in a half hour," said Jean. "Here is the Schloss," pointing to a pepper-box tower neatly whitewashed, which rose out of a huge mass of broken stone. "And here, I suppose, is the capital of the kingdom over which the Wolfburghs now reign feudal lords?"
Clara found herself against her will looking curiously at the forge, the dirty shop, the tiny bier-halle, and a half a dozen huts, out of which swarmed a few old women and children.
"Where are the men of this village?" Jean demanded of the station master, a stout old man with a pipe in his mouth.
"Gone to America, for the most part," he said, with a shrug.
Lucy came up hastily, an angry glitter in her soft eyes. "You have no right to make me play the spy in this way!" she said haughtily, and going into the little station sat down with her back to the door.
"You? It is I—I——" muttered Jean breathlessly. "And who lives in the tower, my good man? It is not big enough for a dozen hens." She slipped a florin into his hand.
"Four of the noble ladies live there. The princesses. The gracious sisters of Furst Hugo. There come two of them now."
A couple of lean, wrinkled women dressed in soiled merino gowns and huge black aprons, their hair bristling in curl papers, crossed the road, peering curiously at the strangers.
"They came to look at you, Fraulein," said the man, chuckling. "Strangers do not stop at Wolfburgh twice in the year."
"And what do the noble ladies do all the year?"
"Jean, Jean!" remonstrated Clara.
"Oh, Miss Vance! This is life and death to some of us! What do they do?"
"Do?" said the man, staring. "What shall any gracious lady do? They cook and brew, and crochet lace and——"
"Are there any more princesses—sisters of Furst Hugo?"
"Two more. They live in Munich. No, none of them are married. Because," he added zealously, "there are no men as high-born as our gracious ladies, so they cannot marry."
"No doubt that accounts for it," said Jean. "Six. These are 'the channels into which the income will flow,' hey?" She gave him more money, and marching into the station caught Lucy by the shoulder, shaking her passionately. "Do you think any American girl could stand that? How would YOU like to be caged up in that ridiculous tower to cook and crochet and brew beer and watch the train go by for recreation? The year round—the year round?"
Lucy rose quietly. "The train is coming now," she said. "Calm yourself, Jean. YOU will not have to live in the tower."
Jean laughed. When they were seated in the car again, she looked wistfully out at the heaps of ruins.
"It must have been a mighty fortress once," she said. "Those stones were hewed before Charlemagne's time. And a great castle could easily be built with them now," she added thoughtfully.
The travellers entered Munich at noon. The great generous city lay tranquil and smiling in the frosty sunlight.
"I have secured apartments," said Miss Vance, "used hitherto by royalties or American millionaires. My girl must be properly framed when a prince comes a-wooing."
Lucy smiled. But her usual warm color faded as they drove through the streets. Jean, however, was gay and eager.
"Ah, the dear splendid town!" she cried. "It always seems to give us a royal welcome. Nothing is changed! There is the music in the Kellers, and there go the same Bavarian officers with their swagger and saucy blue eyes. They are the handsomest men in Europe! And here is the Munchen-kindl laughing at us, and the same crowds are going to the Pinakothek! What do you want more? Beer and splendor and fun and art! What a home it will be for you, Lucy!"
Lucy's cold silence did not check Jean's affectionate zeal. She anxiously searched among the stately old buildings, which they passed, for the Wolfburgh palace. "It will not be in these commonplace Haussmannized streets," she said. "It is in some old corner; it has a vast, mysterious, feudal air, I fancy. You will hold a little court in it, and sometimes let a poor American artist from Pond City in to hang on the edge of the crowd and stare at the haute noblesse."
"Don't be absurd, Jean," said Miss Vance.
"I am quite serious. I think an American girl like Lucy, with her beauty and her money, will be welcomed by these German nobles as a white swan among ducks. She ought to take her place and hold it." Jean's black eyes snapped and the blood flamed up her cheeks. "If I were she I'd make my money tell! I'd buy poor King Ludwig's residence at Binderhof, with the cascades and jewelled peacocks and fairy grottos, for my country seat. The Bavarian nobility are a beggarly lot. If they knew that Lucy and her millions were coming to town in this cab, they'd blow their trumpets for joy. 'Wave, Munich, all thy banners wave!'" Lucy's impatient shrug silenced her, but she was preoccupied and excited throughout the day. Miss Vance watched her curiously. Could it be that she had heard of the prince's plan of marrying her to his cousin, and that she was building these air castles for herself?
A day or two sufficed to make Miss Vance's cheery apartments the rendezvous of troops of Americans of all kinds: from the rich lounger, bored by the sight of pictures, which he did not understand, and courts which he could not enter, to the half-starved, eager-eyed art students, who smoked, and drank beer, and chattered in gutturals, hoping to pass for Germans.
There were plenty of idle young New Yorkers and Bostonians too, hovering round Lucy and Jean, overweighted by their faultless London coats and trousers and fluent French. But they deceived nobody; they all had that nimble brain, and that unconscious swagger of importance and success which stamps the American in every country. Prince Hugo, in his old brown suit, came and went quietly among them.
"The genuine article!" Jean declared loudly. "There is something royal in his hospitality! He lays all Munich at Lucy's feet, as if it were his own estate, and the museums and palaces were the furniture of his house. That homely simplicity of his is tremendously fine, if she could understand it!"
The homely genuineness had its effect even upon Lucy. The carriage which he brought to drive them to Isar-anen was scaly with age, but the crest upon it was the noblest in Bavaria; in the cabinet of portraits of ancient beauties in the royal palace he showed her indifferently two or three of his aunts and grandmothers, and in the historical picture of the anointing of the great Charlemagne, one of his ancestors, stout and good-humored as Hugo himself, supported the emperor.
"The pudgy little man," said Jean one day, "somehow belongs to the old world of knights and crusaders—Sintram and his companions. He will make it all real to Lucy when she marries him. He is like Ali Baba, standing at the shut door of the cave full of jewels and treasures with the key in his hand."
"Those Arabian Night stories are simply silly," said Lucy severely. "I am astonished that any woman in this age of the world should read that kind of trash."
"But the prince's cave?" persisted Jean. "When are we to look into it? I want to be sure of the treasures inside. When are we to go to his palace? When will his sisters ask us to dinner?"
Miss Vance looked anxious. "That is a question of great importance," she said. "The princesses have invited me through their brother to call. It is of course etiquette here for the stranger to call first, but I don't wish to compromise Lucy by making advances."
There was a moment's silence, then Lucy said, blushing and faltering a little, "It would be better perhaps to call, and not prejudice them, by any discourtesy, against us. The prince is very kind."
"So! The wind is in that quarter?" Jean said, with a harsh laugh.
She jumped up and went to her own room. She was in a rage at herself. Why had she not run away to Paris months ago and begun her great picture of the World's mother, Eve? There was a career for her! And thinking—perhaps of Eve—she cried hot salt tears.
A week passed, but the question of the first call was not yet settled. It required as much diplomacy as an international difficulty. Furst Hugo represented the princesses as "burning with impatience to behold the engelreine Madchen whom they hoped to embrace as a sister," but no visible sign of their ardor reached Miss Vance.
On Monday Jean went to spend the day with some of her artist friends, but at noon she dashed into the room where Clara and Lucy sat sewing, her dark face blotched red, and her voice stuttering with excitement.
"I have seen into the cave!" she shouted. "I have got at the truth! It's a rather stagy throne, the Wolfburghs! Plated, cheap!"
"What is the matter with you?" said Miss Vance.
"Nothing is the matter with ME. It is Lucy's tragedy. I've seen the magnificent ancient palace of the Wolfburghs. It is a flat! In the very house where I went to-day. The third story flat just under the attics where the poor Joneses daub portraits. I passed the open doors and I saw the shabby old tables and chairs and the princesses—two fat old women in frowzy wrappers, and their hair in papers, eating that soup of pork and cabbages and raisins—the air was thick with the smell! And that is not the worst!"
"Take breath, Jean," said Lucy calmly.
"The prince himself—the Joneses told me, there can be no doubt—the prince makes soap for a living! No wonder you turn pale, Miss Vance. Soap! He is the silent partner in the firm of Woertz und Zimmer, and it is not a paying business either."
Jean did not wait for an answer, but walked up and down the room, laughing angrily to herself. "Yes, soap! He cannot sneer at Lucy's ancestral saddles, now. Nor my father's saws! His rank is the only thing he has to give for Lucy's millions, and now she knows what it is worth!"
Lucy rose and, picking up her work basket, walked quietly out of the room. Jean flashed an indignant glance after her.
"She might have told me that he gave himself! Surely the man counts for something! Anyhow, rank like his is not smirched by poverty or trade. Bismarck himself brews beer."
"Your temper is contradictory to-day," said Clara coldly. "Did you know," she said presently, "that the princesses will be at the Countess von Amte's to-morrow?"
"Then we shall meet them!" cried Jean. "Then something will be settled."
Lucy locked the door of her chamber after her. She found much comfort in the tiny bare room with its white walls and blue stove, and the table where lay her worn Bible and a picture of her old home. The room seemed a warm home to her now. Above the wall she had hung photographs of the great Madonnas, and lately she had placed one of Frances Waldeaux among them. That was the face on which she looked last at night. When Clara had noticed it, Lucy had said, "I am as fond of the dear lady as if she were my own mother."
She sat down before it now, and taking out her sewing began to work, glancing up at it, half smiling as to a friend who talked to her. She thought of Furst Hugo boiling soap, with a gentle pity, and of Jean with hot disdain. What had Jean to do with it? The prince was her own lover, as her gloves were her own.
But indeed, the prince and love were but shadows on the far sky line to the little girl; the real things were her work and her Bible, and George's mother talking to her. She often traced remembered expressions on Mrs. Waldeaux's face; the gayety, the sympathy, a strange foreboding in the eyes. Finer meanings, surely, than any in the features of these immortal insipid Madonnas!
Sometimes Lucy could not decide whether she had seen these meanings on Frances Waldeaux's face, or on her son's.
She sewed until late in the afternoon. There came a tap at the door. She opened it, and there stood Mrs. Waldeaux, wrapped in a heavy cloak. Lucy jumped at her, trembling, and hugged her.
"Oh, come in! Come in!" she cried shrilly. "I have just been thinking of you and talking to you!"
Frances laughed, bewildered. "Oh, it is Miss Dunbar? The man sent me here by mistake to wait. Miss Vance is out, he said."
"Yes, I suppose so. But I—I am here." Lucy threw her arms around her again, laying her head down on her shoulder. She felt as if something that she had waited for a long time was coming to her. "Sit by the stove. Your hands are like ice," she said.
"Yes, I am usually cold now; I don't know why."
Lucy then saw a curious change in her face. The fine meanings were not in it now. It was fatter—coarser; the hair was dead, the eyes moved sluggishly, like the glass eyes of a doll.
"You are always cold? Your blood is thin, perhaps. You are overtired, dear. Have you travelled much?"
"Oh, yes! all of the time. I have seen whole tracts of pictures, and no end of palaces and hotels—hotels—hotels!" Frances said, awakening to the necessity of being talkative and vivacious with the young girl. She threw off her cloak. There was a rip in the fur, and the dirty lining hung out. Lucy shuddered. Mrs. Waldeaux's blood must have turned to water, or she would never have permitted that!
"You must rest now. I will take care of you," she said, with a little nod of authority. Frances looked at her perplexed. Why should this pretty creature mother her with such tenderness?
Oh! It was the girl that George should have married!
She glanced at the white room with its dainty bibelots, the Bible, the Madonnas, watching, benign. Poor little nun, waiting for the love that never could come to her!
"I am glad you are here, my child. You can tell me what I want to know. I have not an hour to spare. I am going to my son—to George. Do you know where he is?"
"At Vannes, in Brittany."
"Brittany—that is a long way." Frances rose uncertainly. "I hoped he was near. I was in a Russian village, and Clara's letter was long in finding me. When I got it, I travelled night and day. I somehow thought I should meet him on the way. I fancied he would come to meet me."
Lucy's blue eyes watched her keenly a moment. Then she rang the bell.
"You must eat, first of all," she said.
"No, I am not hungry. Vannes, you said? I must go now. I haven't an hour."
"You have two, exactly. You'll take the express at eight. Oh, I'm never mistaken about a train. Here is the coffee. Now, I'll make you a nice sandwich."
Frances was faint with hunger. As she ate, she watched the pretty matter-of-fact little girl, and laughed with delight. When had she found any thing so wholesome? It was a year, too, since she had seen any one who knew George. Naturally, she began to empty her heart, which was full of him, to Lucy.
"I have not spoken English for months," she said, smiling over her coffee. "It is a relief! And you are a friend of my son's, too?"
"No. A mere acquaintance," said Lucy, with reserve.
"No one could even see George and not understand how different he is from other men."
"Oh! altogether different!" said Lucy. "Yes, you understand. And there was that future before him—when his trouble came. Oh, I've thought of it, and thought of it, until my head is tired! He fell under that woman's influence, you see. It was like mesmerism, or the voodoo curse that the negroes talk of. It came on me too. Why, there was a time when I despised him. George!" Her eyes grew full of horror. "I left him, to live my own life. He has staggered under his burden alone, and I could have rid him of it. Now there are two of them."
"Two of them?" said Lucy curiously.
"There is a baby—Pauline Felix's grandson. I beg your pardon, my child, I ought not to have named her. She is not a person whom you should ever hear of. He has them both,—George. He has that weight to carry." She stood up. "That is why I am going to him. It must be taken from him."
"You mean—a divorce?"
"I don't know—I can't think clearly. But God does such queer things! There are millions of men in the world, and this curse falls on—George!"
Lucy put her hands on the older woman's arms and seated her. "Mrs. Waldeaux," she said, with decision, "you need sleep, or you would not talk in that way. Lisa is not a curse. Nor a voodoo witch. She came to your son instead of to any other man—because he chose her out from all other women. He had seen them." She held her curly head erect. "As he did choose her, he should make the best of her."
Frances looked at her as one awakened out of a dream. "You talk sensibly, child. Perhaps you are right. But I must go. Ring for a cab, please. No, I will wait in the station. Clara would argue and lecture. I could not stand that to-night," with her old comical shrug.
Lucy's entreaties were vain.
But as the train rushed through the valley of the Isar that night, Frances looked forward into the darkness with a nameless terror. "That child was so healthy and sane," she said, "I wish I had stayed with her longer."
Prince Hugo had made no secret of his intentions with regard to Miss Dunbar, so that when it was known that his sisters and the rich American Mees would at last meet at the Countess von Amte's there was a flutter of curiosity in the exclusive circle of Munich. The countess herself called twice on Clara that day, so great was her triumph that this social event would occur at her house.
She asked boldly "Which of Miss Dunbar's marvellous Parisian confections will she wear? It is so important for her future happiness that the princesses should be favorably impressed! Aber, lieber Gott!" she shrieked, "don't let her speak French! Not a word! That would be ruin! They are all patriotism!" She hurried away, and ran back to say that the sun was shining as it had not done for days.
"She thinks nature itself is agog to see how the princesses receive Lucy," said Miss Vance indignantly. "One would suppose that the child was on trial."
"So she is. Me, too," said Jean, wistfully regarding the bebe waist of the gown which Doucet had just sent her. "I must go as an ingenue. I don't play the part well!"
"No, you do not," said Clara.
Miss Vance tapped at Lucy's door as she went down, and found her working at her embroidery. "You must lie down for an hour, my dear," she said, "and be fresh and rosy for this evening."
"I am not going. I must finish these pinks. I have just sent a note of apology to the countess."
"Not going!" Clara gasped, dismayed. Then she laughed with triumph. "The princesses and all the Herrschaft of Munich will be there to pass judgment on the bride, and the bride will be sitting at home finishing her pinks! Good!"
"I am no bride!" Lucy rose, stuck her needle carefully in its place, and came closer to Miss Vance. "I have made up my mind," she said earnestly. "I shall never marry. My life now is quiet and clean. I'm not at all sure that it would be either if I were the Princess Wolfburgh."
Clara stroked her hair fondly. "Your decision is sudden, my dear," she faltered, at last.
"Yes. There was something last night. It showed me what I was doing. To marry a man just because he is good and kind, that is—vile!" The tears rushed to her eyes. There was a short silence.
"Don't look so aghast, dear Miss Vance," said Lucy cheerfully. "Go now and dress to meet the Herrschaft."
"And what will you do, child?"
"I really must finish these pinks to-night." She took up her work. Her chin trembled a little. "We won't speak of this again, please," she said. "I never shall be a bride or a wife or mother. I will have a quiet, independent life—like yours."
The sunshine fell on the girl's grave, uplifted face, on the white walls, the blue stove, and the calm, watching Madonnas. Clara, as Mrs. Waldeaux had done, thought of a nun in her cell to whom love could only be a sacred dream.
She smiled back at Lucy, bade her goodnight, and closed the door.
"Like mine?" she said, as she went down the corridor. "Well, it is a comfortable, quiet life. But empty——" And she laid her hand suddenly across her thin breast.
Jean listened in silence when Clara told her briefly that Lucy was not going.
"She is very shrewd," she said presently. "She means to treat them de haut en bas from the outset. It is capital policy."
Jean, when she entered the countess's salon, with downcast eyes, draped in filmy lace without a jewel or flower, was shy innocence in person. Furst Hugo stood near the hostess, with two stout women in shabby gowns and magnificent jewels.
"The frocks they made themselves, and the emeralds are heirlooms," Jean muttered to Clara, without lifting her timid eyes.
"Miss Dunbar is not coming?" exclaimed the prince.
"No," said Miss Vance.
"The Fraulein is ill?" demanded one of his sisters.
"No," Clara said, again smiling. "WE expected to meet her," the younger princess said. "It is most singular——"
"She has sent her apology to the countess," said Clara gently, and passed on.
But her little triumph was short lived.
A famous professional soprano appeared in a white-ribboned enclosure at the end of the salon, and the guests were rapidly arranged according to their rank to listen. Clara and Jean stood until every man and woman were comfortably seated, when they were placed in the back row.
When the music was over supper was announced, and the same ceremony was observed. The Highnessess, the hochwohlgeboren privy councillors, the hochgeboren secretaries, even the untitled Herren who held some petty office, were ushered with profound deference to their seats at the long table, while Clara stood waiting. Jean's eyes still drooped meekly, but even her lips were pale.
"How can you look so placid?" she whispered. "It is a deliberate insult to your gray hairs."
"No. It is the custom of the country. It does not hurt me."
They were led at the moment to the lowest seats. Jean shot one vindictive glance around the table.
"You have more wit and breeding than any of them!" she said. "And as for me, this lace I wear would buy any of their rickety old palaces."
"They have something which we cannot buy," said Miss Vance gravely. "I never understood before how actual a thing rank is here."
"Cannot it be bought? I am going to look into that when this huge feed is over," Miss Hassard said to herself.
Late in the evening she danced with Count Odo, and prattled to him in a childish, frank fashion which he found very charming.
"Your rules of precedence are very disagreeable!" she pouted. "Especially when one sits at the foot of the table and is served last."
"They must seem queer to you," he said, laughing, "but they are inflexible as iron."
"But they will bend for Miss Dunbar, if she makes up her mind to marry your cousin?" she asked, looking up into his face like an innocent child.
"No. Hugo makes a serious sacrifice in marrying a woman of no birth," he said. "He must give up his place and title as head of the family. She will not be received at court nor in certain houses; she must always remain outside of much of his social life."
He led her back to Miss Vance. She seemed to be struck dumb, and even forgot to smile when he bowed low and thanked her for the dance.
"Let us go home," she whispered to Clara. "The American girl is a fool who marries one of these men!"
When Miss Vance's carriage reached her hotel, she found Prince Hugo's coupe before the door.
"He has come to see Lucy, alone!" she said indignantly, as she hurried up the steps. "He has no right to annoy her!"
She met him coming out of the long salle. The little man walked nervously, fingering his sword hilt. He could not control his voice when he tried to speak naturally.
"Yes, gracious lady, I am guilty. It was unpardonable to come when I knew the chaperone was gone. But—ach! I could not wait!" throwing out both hands to her. "I have waited so long! I knew when she did not come to meet my sisters to-night she had resolved against me, but I could not sleep uncertain. So I break all the laws, and come!"
"You have seen her, then? She has told you?"
He nodded without speaking. His round face was red, and something like tears stood in his eyes.
He waited irresolute a moment, and then threw up his head.
"Soh! It is over! I shall not whine! You have been very good to me," he said earnestly, taking Clara's hand. "This is the first great trouble in my life. I have loved her very dearly. I decided to make great sacrifices for her. But I am not to have her—never."
"I am so sorry for you, prince." Clara squeezed his hand energetically. "Nor her dot. That would have been so comfortable for me," he said simply.
Clara hid a smile, and bade him an affectionate good-night.
As he passed into the outer salle a childish figure in creamy lace rose before him, and a soft hand was held out. "I know what has happened!" she whispered passionately. "She has treated you scandalously! She cannot appreciate YOU!"
Prince Hugo stuttered and coughed and almost kissed the little hand which lay so trustingly in his. He found himself safely outside at last, and drove away, wretched to the soul.
But below his wretchedness something whispered: "SHE appreciates me, and her dot is quite as large."
George Waldeaux hummed a tune gayly as he climbed the winding maze of streets in Vannes, one cloudy afternoon, with Lisa.
"It is impertinent to be modern Americans in this old town," he said. "We might play that we were jongleurs, and that it was still mediaeval times. I am sure the gray walls yonder and the fortress houses in this street have not changed in ages."
"Neither have the smells, apparently," said Lisa grimly. "Wrap this scarf about your throat, George. You coughed last night."
George tied up his throat. "Coughed, did I?" he said anxiously. He had had a cold last winter, and his wife with her poultices and fright had convinced him that he was a confirmed invalid. The coming of her baby had given to the woman a motherly feeling toward all of the world, even to her husband.
"Look at these women," he said, going on with his fancy presently. "I am sure that they were here wearing these black gowns and huge red aprons in the twelfth century. What is this?" he said, stopping abruptly, to a boy of six who was digging mud at the foot of an ancient ivy-covered tower.
"C'est le tour du Connetable," the child lisped. "Et v'la, monsieur!" pointing to a filthy pen with a gate of black oak; "v'la le donjon de Clisson!" "Who was Clisson?" said Lisa impatiently.
"A live man to Froissart—and to this boy," said George, laughing. "I told you that we had gone back seven centuries. This fog comes in from the Morbihan sea where Arthur and his knights went sailing to find the Holy Greal. They have not come back. And south yonder is the country of the Druids. I will take you to-morrow and show you twenty thousand of their menhirs, and then we will sail away to an island where there is an altar that the serpent worshippers built ages before Christ."
Lisa laughed. He was not often in this playful mood. She panted as she toiled up the dark little street, a step behind him, but he did not think of giving her his arm. He had grown accustomed to regard himself as the invalid now, and the one who needed care.
"I am going for letters," he called back, diving into a dingy alley. The baby and its bonne were near Lisa. The child never was out of her sight for, a moment. She waited, standing a little apart from Colette to watch whether the passers-by would notice the baby. When one or two of the gloomy and stolid women who hurried past in their wooden sabots clicked their fingers to it, she could not help smiling gayly and bidding them good-day.
The fog was stifling. As she waited she gave a tired gasp. Colette ran to her. "Madame is going to be ill!"
"No, no! Don't frighten monsieur."
George came out of the gate at the moment.
"Going to faint again, Lisa?" he said, with an annoyed glance around the street. "Your attacks do choose the most malapropos times——"
"Oh, dear no, George! I am quite well quite." She walked beside him with an airy step, laughing gayly now and then, but George's frown deepened.
"I don't understand these seizures at all," he said. "You seem to be in sound physical condition."
"Oh, all women have queer turns, George."
"Did you consult D'Abri, as I told you to do, in Paris?"
"Yes, yes! Now let us talk no more about it. I have had these—symptoms since I was a child."
"You never told me of them before we were married," he muttered.
Lisa scowled darkly at him, but she glanced at the baby and her mouth closed. Little Jacques should never hear her rage nor swear.
From an overhanging gable at the street corner looked down a roughly hewn stone Madonna. The arms of the Holy Child were outstretched to bless. Lisa paused before it, crossing herself. A strange joy filled her heart.
"I too am a mother! I too!" she said. She hurried after George and clung to his arm as they went home.
"Was there any letter?" she asked.
"Only one from Munich—Miss Vance. I haven't opened it."
"I thought your mother would write. She must have heard about the boy!"
George's face grew dark. "No, she'll not write. Nor come."
"You wish for her every day, George?" She looked at him wistfully.
"Yes, I do. She and I were comrades to a queer degree. I long for something hearty and homelike again. See here, Lisa. I'm going home before my boy begins to talk. I mean he shall grow up under wholesome American influences—not foreign."
"Not foreign," she repeated gravely. She was silent a while. "I have thought much of it all lately," she said at last. "It will be wholesome for Jacques on your farm. Horses—dogs—— Your mother will love him. She can't help it. She—I acted like a beast to that woman, George. I'll say that. She hit me hard. But she has good traits. She is not unlike my own mother."
George said nothing. God forbid that he should tell her, even by a look, that she and her mother were of a caste different from his own.
But he was bored to the soul by the difference; he was tired of her ignorances, which she showed every minute, of her ghastly, unclean knowledges—which she never showed.
They came into the courtyard of the Chateau de la Motte, the ancient castle of the Breton dukes, which is now an inn. The red sunset flamed up behind the sad little town and its gray old houses and spires massed on the hill, and the black river creeping by. George's eyes kindled at the sombre picture.
"In this very court," he said, "Constance stood when she summoned the States of Brittany to save her boy Arthur from King John."
"Oh, yes, you have read of it to me in your Shakespeare. It is one of his unpleasant stories. Come, Bebe. It grows damp."
As she climbed the stone stairway with the child, Colette lingered to gossip with the portier. "Poor lady! You will adore her! She is one of us. But she makes of that bete Anglais and the ugly child, saints and gods!"
When George presently came up to their bare little room, Lisa was singing softly, as she rocked Jacques to sleep.
"Can't you sing the boy something a bit more cheerful?" he said. "You used to know some jolly catches from the music halls."
"Catches for HIM?" with a frightened look at the child's shut eyes.
"The 'Adeste Fideles' is moral, but it is not a merry air. You sing it morning, noon, and night," he grumbled.
"Yes," she whispered, laying the child in its crib. "One never knows how much HE understands, and he may remember, I thought. Some day when he is a great boy, he may hear it and he'll think, 'My mother sang that hymn. She must have been a good woman!'"
"Nonsense, Lisa," said George kindly. "You'll teach him every day, while he is growing to be a great boy, that you are a good woman."
She said nothing, but stood on the other side of the crib looking at him.
"Well, what is it?" said George uneasily. "You look at me as if somebody were dragging you away from me."
She laughed. "What ridiculous fancies you have!" She came behind him and, drawing his head back, kissed him on the forehead. "Oh, you poor, foolish boy!" she said.
Lisa sat down to her work, which was the making of garments for Jacques out of her own gowns. She was an expert needlewoman, and had already a pile of fantastic kilts of cloth and velvet.
"Enough to last until he is ten years old," George said contemptuously. "And you will not leave a gown for yourself."
"There will be all I shall need," she said.
He turned up the lamp and opened Clara's letter.
Lisa's needle flew through the red and yellow silk. It was pleasant work; she was doing it skilfully. The fire warmed her thin blood. She could hear the baby's regular, soft breathing as it slept. A pleasure that was almost like health stole through her lean body. She leaned back in her chair looking at Jacques. In three years he could wear the velvet suit with the cap and pompon. His hair would be yellow and curly, like his father's. But his eyes would be like her mother's. She pressed her hands together, laughing, the hot tears rushing to her eyes. "Ah, maman!" she said. "Do you know that your little girl has a baby? Can you see him?"
What a superb "great boy" he would be! He should go to a military school. Yes! She lay back in her chair, watching him.
George suddenly started up with a cry of amazement.
"What is it?" she said indifferently.
He did not answer, but turned the letter and read it over again. Then he folded it with shaking fingers.
"I have news here. Miss Vance thinks it time that I was told, and I agree with her. It appears that I am a pauper, and always have been. My father died penniless."
"Then Jacques will be poor?"
"Jacques! You think of nothing but that mewling, senseless thing! It is mother—she always has supported me. We are living now on the money that she earns from week to week, while I play that I am an artist!"
Lisa listened attentively. "It does not seem strange that a mother should work for her son," she said slowly. "But she has never told us! That is fine! I like that! I told you she had very good traits."
George stared at her. "But—me! Don't you see what a cad I am?"
He paced up and down, muttering, and then throwing on his hat went out into the night to be alone.
Lisa sank back again and watched Jacques. At military school, yes; and after he had left school he would be a soldier, perhaps. Such a gallant young fellow!
She leaned over the cradle, holding out her hands. Ah, God! if she could but live to see it! Surely it might be? There was no pain now. Doctors were not infallible—even D'Abri might be mistaken, after all.
George, coming in an hour later, found her sitting with her hands covering her face.
"Are you asleep, Lisa?"
"There is a telegram from Clara. My mother has left Munich for Vannes. She will be here in two days."
She rose with an effort. "I am glad for you, George."
"You are ill, Lisa!"
"A little tired, only. Colette will give me my powder, and I shall be quite well in the morning. Will you send her to me now?"
After George was gone the rumbling of a diligence was heard in the courtyard, and presently a woman was brought up to the opposite chamber.
The hall was dark. Looking across it, Frances Waldeaux saw in the lighted room Lisa and her child.
Before we come to the dark story of that night in the inn, it is but fair to Frances to say that she came there with no definite evil purpose. She had been cheerful on her journey from Munich. There was one clear fact in her brain: She was on her way to George.
The countless toy farms of southern France, trimmed neatly by the inch, swept past her. In Brittany came melancholy stretches of brown heath and rain-beaten hills; or great affluent estates, the Manor houses covered with thatch, stagnant pools close to the doors, the cattle breaking through the slovenly wattled walls.
Frances, being a farmer, felt a vague amusement at these things, but they were all dim to her as a faded landscape hanging on the wall.
She was going to George.
Sometimes she seemed to be in Lucy's room again, with the sweet, clean air of youth about her. All of that purity and love might have gone into George's life—before it fell into the slough.
But she was going now to take it out of the slough.
There was a merchant and his wife from Geneva in the carriage with their little boy, a pretty child of five. Frances played and joked with him.
"Has madam also a son?" his mother asked civilly.
She said yes, and presently added, "My son has now a great trouble, but I am going to relieve him of it."
The woman, startled, stared at her.
"Is it not right for me to rid him of it?" she demanded loudly.
"Mais oui, certainement," said the Swiss. She watched Frances after that furtively. Her eyes, she thought, were quite sane. But how eccentric all of these Americans were!
Mrs. Waldeaux reached Vannes at nightfall. At last! Here was the place in this great empty world where he was.
When the diligence entered the courtyard, George was so near to the gate that the smoke of his cigar was blown into her face, but he did not see her. He was lean and pale, and his eyes told his misery. When she saw them his mother grew sick from head to foot with a sudden nausea. This was his wife's doing. She was killing him! Frances hurried into the inn, her legs giving way under her. She could not speak to him. She must think what to do.
She was taken to her room. It was dark, and across the corridor she saw Lisa in her lighted chamber. This was good luck! God had put the creature at once into her hands to deal with!
She was conscious of a strange exaltation, as if from wine—as if she would never need to sleep nor eat again. Her thoughts came and went like flashes of fire. She watched Lisa as she would a vampire, a creeping deadly beast. Pauline Felix—all that was adulterous and vile in women—there it was!
Her mind too, as never before, was full of a haughty complacency in herself. She felt like the member of some petty sect who is sure that God communes with him inside of his altar rails, while the man is outside whom he believes that God made only to be damned.
Lisa began to undress. Frances quickly turned away, ashamed of peeping into her chamber. But the one fact burned on into her brain:
The woman was killing George.
If God would rid the world of her! If a storm should rise now, and the lightning strike the house, and these stone walls should fall on her, now—now!
But the walls stood firm and the moonlight shone tranquilly on the world outside.
She told herself to be calm—to be just. But there was no justice while this woman went on with her work! God saw. He meant her to be stopped. Frances prayed to him frantically that Lisa might soon be put off of the earth. Just as the Catholic used to pray before he massacred the Huguenot, or the Protestant, when he tied his Catholic brother to the stake. If this woman was mad for blood, it was a madness that many sincere people have shared.
Colette was busy with her mistress for a long time. She was very gentle and tender, being fond of Lisa, as people of her class always were. She raised her voice as she made ready to leave the room.
"If the pain returns, here is the powder of morphia, mixed, within madame's reach," she said.
Frances came close to the door.
"And if it continues?" asked Lisa.
"Let monsieur call me. I would not trust him to measure a powder," Colette said, laughing. "It is too dangerous. He is not used to it—like me."
Mrs. Waldeaux saw her lay a paper package on a shelf.
"I will pray that the pain will not return," the girl said. "But if it does, let monsieur knock at my door. Here is the tisane when you are thirsty." She placed a goblet of milky liquid near the bed.
What more she said Frances did not hear.
It was to be! There was the morphia, and yonder the night drink within her reach. It was God's will.
Colette turned out the lamp, hesitated, and sat down by the fire. Presently she rose softly, bent over her mistress, and, finding her asleep, left the room noiselessly. Her door closed far down the corridor.
Mrs. Waldeaux was quite alone, now.
It was but a step across the hall. So easy to do—easy. It must be done at once.
But her feet were like lead, she could not move; her tongue lay icy cold in her mouth. Her soul was willing, but her body rebelled.
What folly was this? It was the work of a moment. George would be free. She would have freed him.
In God's name then——
She crossed the hall softly. Into the hell of her thoughts flashed a little womanish shame, that she, Frances Waldeaux, should be walking on tiptoe, like a thief.
She took down the package, and leaning over the table at the side of the bed, shook the white powder into the glass. Then she went back to her room and shut the door.
The casement was open and the moonlight was white outside. She was conscious that the glare hurt her eyes, and that there was a strange stricture about her jaws and the base of her brain, like an iron hand.
It seemed to her but a minute that she stood there, but the dawn was breaking when there was a sudden confusion in the opposite room. She heard Colette's voice, and then George's, calling Lisa.
There was no answer.
Frances stood up, to listen. "Will she not speak?" she cried. "Make her speak!"
But in reality she said nothing. Even her breath had stopped to listen.
There was no answer.
Frances was awake now, for the rest of her life. She knew what she had done.
"Why, George," she said, "she cannot speak. She is dead. I did it."
She stood in the room a minute, looking from side to side, and then went with measured steps out of it, down the corridor and into the street.
"I did it," she said to herself again and again, as she walked slowly on.
The old cathedral is opposite to the inn. Her eyes, as she passed, rested on the gargoyles, and she thought how fine they were. One was a ridiculous head with lolling tongue.
A priest's voice inside was chanting mass. A dozen Breton women in their huge white winged caps and wooden shoes hurried up to the door, through the gray fog. They met Mrs. Waldeaux and saw her face. They huddled to one side, crossing themselves, and when she passed, stood still, forgetting the mass and looking, frightened, up the steep street behind her to find what horror had pursued her.
"They know what I have done," she said aloud.
Once when she was a child she had accidentally seen a bloated wretch, a murderer, on his way to the gallows.
"I am he," she thought. "I—I, Frances."
Then the gargoyle came into her mind again. What a capital headpiece it would make for "Quigg's" next column! It was time this week's jokes were sent.
But at last these ghosts of yesterday's life faded out, and she saw the fact.
She had hated her son's wife and had killed her!
When the sun was well up the women who had been at mass gathered down by the little river which runs through the old city, to wash their clothes. They knelt on the broad stones by the edge of the water, chattering and singing, tossing the soap from one to another.
There was a sudden silence. "Here she is again," they whispered, as a slight, delicate woman crossed the bridge with steady steps.
"She is blind and deaf," said old Barbe. "I met her an hour ago and asked her whom she sought. She did not see nor hear me, but walked straight on."
Oliver Bauzy was lounging near, as usual, watching his wife work.
"She is English. What does she know of your Breton talk? I speak English and French—I!" he bragged, and walking up to Mrs. Waldeaux, he flourished his ragged hat, smiling. "Is madame ill? She has walked far," he said kindly.
The English words seemed to waken her. "It is always the town," looking around bewildered. "The people—houses. I think I am not well. If I could find the woods——"
Bauzy had but a hazy idea of her meaning, but he nodded gravely. "She is a tourist. She wants to go out of Vannes—to see the chateaux, the dolmens. I'm her man. I'll drive her to Larmor Baden," he said to his wife. "I have to go there to-day, and I may as well make a franc or two. Keep her until I bring the voiture."
But Frances stood motionless until the old wagon rattled up to the water's edge.
"She has a dear old face," Bauzy's wife whispered.
"She is blind and deaf, I tell you," old Barbe grumbled, peering up at her. "Make her pay, Oliver, before you go."
Bauzy nodded, and when Frances was seated held out his hand.
"Twenty francs," he said.
She opened her bag and gave them to him.
"She must be folle!" he said uneasily. "I feel like a thief. Away with you, Babette!" as a pretty baby ran up to him. "You want to ride? That is impossible. Unless, indeed, madame desires it?" lifting the child to place her on the seat. Babette laughed and held out her hands.
But Mrs. Waldeaux shrank back, shuddering. "Take her away," she whispered. "She must not touch me!"
The mother seized the child, and the women all talked vehemently at once. Oliver climbed into the voiture and drove off in silence. When he looked around presently he saw that the woman's face was bloodless, and a cold sweat stood on it. He considered a while. "You want food," he said, and brought out some hard bread and a jug of Normandy cider.
Frances shook her head. She only spoke once during the morning, and then told him something about a woman "whom no child could touch. No man or woman could touch her as long as she lived. Not even her son."
As Bauzy could make nothing of this, he could only nod and laugh civilly. But presently he, too, grew silent, glancing at her uncomfortably from time to time.
They drove through great red fields of sarasson, hedged by long banks of earth, which were masses of golden gorse and bronzed and crimson ferns. The sun shone, the clover-scented air was full of the joyous buzzing of bees and chirp of birds.
"It is a gay, blessed day!" Bauzy said, "thanks to the good God!" He waited anxiously for her reply, but she stared into the sunshine and said nothing.
Larmor Baden is a lonely little cluster of gray stone huts on the shore of the Morbihan sea. Some of Bauzy's friends lounged smiling up to welcome him, waving their wide black hats with velvet streamers, and bowing low to the lady. Oliver alighted with decision. One thing he knew: He would not drive back with her. Something was amiss. He would wash his hands of her.
"Here, madame, is Vincent Selo, paysageur," he said rapidly in French. "He has a good boat. He will take you where you desire. Sail with her to Gavr' Inis," he said to Selo, "and bring her back at her pleasure. Somebody can drive her back to Vannes, and don't overcharge her, you robbers!"
"Gavr' Inis?" Frances repeated.
"It is an island in the sea yonder, madame. A quiet place of trees. When there was not a man in the world, evil spirits built there an altar for the worship of the devil. No men could have built it. There are huge stones carried there from the mountains far inland, that no engine could lift. It is a great mystery."
"It is the one place in the world, people say," interrupted Selo, lowering his voice, "where God never has been. A dreadful place, madame!"
Frances laughed. "That is the place for me," she said to Selo. "Take me there."
The old man looked at her with shrewd, friendly eyes, and then beckoned Bauzy aside.
"Who is she? She has the bearing of a great lady, but her face hurts me. What harm has come to her?"
"How do I know?" said Bauzy. "Go for your boat. The sea is rising."
Late in the afternoon M. Selo landed his strange passenger upon the pebbly beach of the accursed island. He led her up on the rocks, talking, and pointing across the sea.
"Beyond is the Atlantic, and on yonder headland are the great menhirs of Carnac—thirty thousand of them, brought there before Christ was born. But the Evil One loves this island best of all places. It has in it the mystery of the world. Come," he said, in an awed voice. "It is here."
He crossed to the hill, stooped, and entered a dark cave about forty feet long, which was wholly lined with huge flat rocks carved with countless writhing serpents. As Frances passed they seemed to stir and breathe beside her, at her feet, overhead. The cave opened into a sacrificial chamber. The reptiles grew gigantic here, and crowded closer. Through some rift a beam of melancholy light crept in; a smell of death hung in the thick, unclean air.
Selo pointed to a stone altar. "It was there they killed their victims," he whispered, and began to pray anxiously, half-aloud. When he had finished, he hurried back, beckoning to her to come out.
"Go," she said. "I will stay here."
"Then I will wait outside. This is no place for Christian souls. But we must return soon, madame. My little girl will be watching now for me."
When he was gone she stood by the altar. This island of Gavr' Inis was one of the places to which she and George had long ago planned to come. She remembered the very day on which they had read the legend that on this altar men before the Flood had sacrificed to the god of Murder.
"I am the murderer now, and George knows it," she said quietly. But she was cold and faint, and presently began to tremble weakly.
She went out of the cave and stood on the beach. "I want to go home, George," she said aloud. "I want to be Frances Waldeaux again. I'm sure I didn't know it was in me to do that thing."
There was no answer. She was alone in the great space of sky and sea. The world was so big and empty, and she alone and degraded in it!
"I never shall see George again. He will think of me only as the woman who killed his wife," she thought.
She went on blindly toward the water, and stood there a long time.
Then, in the strait of her agony, there came to Frances Waldeaux, for the first time in her life, a perception that there was help for her in the world, outside of her own strength. Her poor tortured wits discerned One, more real than her crime, or George, or the woman that she had killed. It was an old, hackneyed story, that He knew every man and woman in the world, that He could help them. She had heard it often.
Was there any thing in it? Could He help her?
Slowly, the nervous twitching of her body quieted, her dulled eyes cleared as if a new power of sight were coming to them.
After a long time she heard steps, and Selo calling. She rose.
The murder was known. They were coming to arrest her.
What did it matter? She had found help.
Selo came up excitedly.
"It is another boat, English folk also, that comes to arrive."
She turned and waited.
And then, coming up the hill, she saw George, and with him—Lisa! Lisa, smiling as she talked.
They ran to meet her with cries of amazement. She staggered back on the rock.
"You are not dead? Lisa——"
"Dead? Poor lady!" catching her in her arms. "Some water, George! It is her head. She has been too much alone."
When Frances opened her eyes she was lying on the grass, her children kneeling beside her. She caught Lisa's arm in both hands and felt it: then she sat up.
"I must tell you what I did—before you speak to me."
"Not now," said Lisa. "You are not well. I am going to be your nurse. The baby has made me a very good nurse," and she stooped again over Frances, with kind, smiling eyes.
Selo came to wile George up to the mysterious cave, but Lisa impatiently hurried them to the beach. "Caves and serpent worshippers truly!" she cried. "Why, she has not seen Jacques!" and when, in the boat, George, who was greatly alarmed, tried to rouse his mother from her silent stupor, Lisa said gayly, "She will be herself again as soon as she sees HIM."
When they reached Larmor Baden, she despatched George in search of Colette and the child, and she went into the church. It was late, and the village women sat on the steps gossipping in the slanting sunlight. There is nothing in their lives but work and the church; and when, each day, they have finished with one they go to the other.
Frances followed her. The sombre little church was vacant. She touched Lisa on the shoulder.
"There is something I must tell you," she said. "You would not let me touch the child, if you knew it."
She stooped and spoke a few sentences in a vehement whisper, and then leaned back, exhausted, against the wall.
Lisa drew back. Her lips were white with sudden fright, but she scanned Mrs. Waldeaux's face keenly.
"You were in Vannes last night? You tried—— My God, I remember! The tisane tasted queerly, and I threw it out." She walked away for a moment, and then turning, said, "You called my mother a vile woman once. But SHE would not have done that thing!
"No," said Frances, not raising her head. "No."
Lisa stood looking at her as she crouched against the wall. The fierce scorn slowly died out of her eyes. She was a coarse, but a good-natured, woman. An awful presence, too, walked with her always now, step by step, and in that dread shadow she saw the things of life more justly than we do. She took Frances by the hand at last. "You were not quite yourself, I think," she said quietly. "I have pushed you too hard. George has told me so much about you! If we could be together for a while, perhaps we should love each other a little. But there is no time now——" She turned hastily, and threw herself down before a crucifix.
After a long time she went out to the vestibule, where she found Frances, and said, with an effort to be cheerful and matter-of-fact, "Come, now, let us talk like reasonable people. A thing is coming to me which comes to every-body. I'm not one to whine. But it's the child—I don't think any baby ever was as much to a woman as Jacques is to me. I suppose God does not think I am fit to bring him up. Sit down and let me tell you all about it."
They sat on the steps, talking in a low tone. Frances cried, but Lisa's eyes were quite dry and bright. She rose at last.
"You see, there will be no woman to care for him, if you do not. There he is with Colette." She ran down, took the baby from the bonne, and laid him in Frances's arms.
Mrs. Waldeaux looked down at him. "George's son," she whispered, "George's boy!"
"He is very like George and you," Lisa answered. "He is a Waldeaux."
"Yes, I see."
She held him close to her breast as they drove back to Vannes. George whistled and sang on the box. He was very light of heart to have her with him again.
He looked impatiently at an ancient village through which they passed, with its towers, and peasants in strange garbs, like the pictures in some crusading tale.
"Now that we have mother, Lisa," he said, "we'll go straight back home. I am tired of mediaeval times. I must get to work for this youngster."
Lisa did not speak for a moment. "I should like to stay in Vannes a little longer," she said. "I did not tell you, but—my mother is buried there. That was why I came; I should like to be with her."
"Why, of course, dear. As long as you like," he said affectionately. "I will not detain you long. Perhaps only a week or two," she said.
He nodded, and began to whistle cheerfully again. Frances looked at Lisa, and her eyes filled with tears. It was a pitiful tragedy!
But the poor girl was quite right not to worry George until the last moment. She was blocking his way—ruining his life, and God was taking her away so that she could no longer harm him.
And yet—poor Lisa!
They drove on. The sun warmed the crimson fields, and the birds chirped, and this was George's child creeping close to her breast. It stirred there a keen pang of joy.
Surely He had forgiven her.
A month later a group of passengers in deep mourning stood apart on the deck of the Paris as she left the dock at Liverpool. It was George Waldeaux, his mother, and little Jacques with his nurse. Mrs. Waldeaux was looking at Clara and her girls, who were watching her from the dock. They had come to Vannes when Lisa died, and had taken care of her and the baby until now. Frances had cried at leaving them, but George stood with his back to them moodily, looking down into the black water.
"It seems but a few days since we sailed from New York on the Kaiser Wilhelm," he said, "and yet I have lived out all my life in that time."
"All? Is there nothing left, George?" his mother said gently.
"Oh, of course, you are always a good companion, and there is the child——" He paused. The fierce passions, the storms of delight and pain of his life with Lisa rushed back on him. "I will work for others, and wear out the days as I can," he said. "But life is over for me. The story is told. There are only blank pages now to the end."
He turned his dim eyes toward the French coast. She knew that they saw the little bare grave on the hill in Vannes. "I wish I could have seen something green growing on it before I left her there alone!" he muttered.
"Her mother's grave was covered with roses——" Frances answered quickly. "They will creep over to her. She is not alone, George. I am glad she was laid by her mother. She loved her dearly."
"Yes. Better than any thing on earth," he responded gloomily.
A few moments later the ship swung heavily around.
"We are going!" Mrs. Waldeaux cried, waving her hand. "Won't you look at Clara and Lucy, George? They have been so good to us. If Lucy had been my own child, she could not have been kinder to me."
Mr. Waldeaux turned and raised his crepe-bound hat, looking at Lucy in her soft gray gown vaguely, as he might at a white gull dropped on the shore.
"I suppose I never shall see her again," said his mother. "Clara tells me she is besieged by lovers. She is going to marry a German prince, probably."
"That would be a pity," George said, with a startled glance back at the girl.
"Good-by, my dear!" Mrs. Waldeaux leaned over the bulwark. "She is beautiful as an angel! Good-by, Lucy! God bless you!" she sobbed, kissing her hand.
Mr. Waldeaux looked steadily at Lucy. "How clean she is!" he said.
When the shore was gone he walked down the deck, conscious of a sudden change in himself. He was wakening out of an ugly dream. The sight of the healthy little girl, with her dewy freshness and blue eyes, full of affection and common sense, cheered and heartened him. He did not know what was doing it, but he threw up his head and walked vigorously. The sun shone and the cold wind swept him out into a dim future to begin a new life.
George Waldeaux took his mother and boy back to the old homestead in Delaware. They arrived at night, and early the next morning he rowed away in his bateau to some of his old haunts in the woods on the bay, and was seen no more that day.
"He is inconsolable!" his mother told some of her old neighbors who crowded to welcome her. "His heart is in that grave in Vannes." The women listened in surprise, for Frances was not in the habit of exploiting her emotions in words.
"We understood," said one of them, with a sympathetic shake of the head, "that it was a pure love match. Mrs. George Waldeaux, we heard, was a French artist of remarkable beauty?"
Frances moved uneasily. "I never thought her—but I can't discuss Lisa!" She was silent a moment. "But as for her social position"—she drew herself up stiffly, fixing cold defiant eyes on her questioner—"as for her social position," she went on resolutely, "she was descended on one side from an excellent American family, and on the other from one of the noblest houses in Europe."
When they were gone she hugged little Jacques passionately as he lay on her lap. "That is settled for you!" she said.
When George came back in the evening, he found her walking with the boy in her arms on the broad piazzas.
"I really think he knows that he has come home, George!" she exclaimed. "See how he laughs! And he liked the dogs and horses just as Lisa thought he would. I am glad it is such a beautiful home for him. Look at that slope to the bay! There is no nobler park in England! And the house is as big as most of their palaces, and much more comfortable!"
"Give the child to Colette, mother, and listen to me. Now that I have settled you and him here, I must go and earn your living."
She followed him into the hall.
"I leave you to-morrow. There is no time to be lost."
"You are going back to art, George?"
Frances grew pale. She thought she had torn open his gaping wound.
"I did not mean to remind you of—of——"
"No, it isn't that!"
He scowled at the fire. Art meant for him his own countless daubs, and the sickening smell of oily paints and musk, and soiled silk tea gowns, and the whole slovenly, disreputable scramble of Bohemian life in Paris.
"I loathe art!" he said, with a furious blow at the smouldering log in the fireplace, as if he struck these things all down into the ashes with it.
"Will you go back into the Church, dear?" his mother ventured timidly.
"Most certainly, no!" he said vehemently. "Of all mean frauds the perfunctory priest is the meanest. If I could be like one of the old holy gospellers—then indeed!"
He was silent a moment, and then began to stride up and down the long hall, his head thrown back, his chest inflated.
"I have a message for the world, mother."
"I am sure of it," she interrupted eagerly.
"But I must deliver it in my own way. I have lost two years. I am going to put in big strokes of work now. In the next two years I intend to take my proper place in my own country. I will find standing room for George Waldeaux," with a complacent smile. "And in the meantime, of course, I must make money enough to support you and the boy handsomely. So you see, mother," he ended, laughing, "I have no time to lose."
"No, George!" It was the proudest moment of her life. How heroic and generous he was!
She filled his pocket-book the next day, when he went to New York to take the world by the throat. It was really not George Waldeaux's fault that she filled it.
Nor was it his fault that during the next two years the world was in no hurry to run to his feet, either to learn of him, or to bring him its bags of gold. The little man did his best; he put his "message," as he called it, into poems, into essays, into a novel. Publishers thanked him effusively for the pleasure of reading them, and—sent them back. The only word of his which reached the public was a review of the work of a successful author. It was so personal, so malignant, that George, when he read it, writhed with shame and humiliation. He tore the paper into fragments.
"Am I so envious and small as that! Before God, no words of mine shall ever go into print again!" he said, and he kept his word.
He came down every month or two to his mother.
"Why not try teaching, George?" she said anxiously. "These great scholars and scientific men have places and reputations which even you need not despise."
He laughed bitterly. "I tried for a place as tutor in a third-class school, and could not pass the examinations. I know nothing accurately. Nothing."
It occurred to him to go into politics and help reform the world by routing a certain Irish boss. He made a speech at a ward meeting, and broke down in the middle of it before the storm of gibes and hootings.
"What was the matter?" he asked a friend, whose face was red with laughter.
"My dear fellow, you shouldn't lecture them! You're not the parson. They resent your air of enormous superiority. For Heaven's sake, don't speak again—in this campaign."
It is a wretched story. There is no need of going into the details. There was no room for him. He tried in desperation to get some foothold in business. The times were hard that winter, which of course was against him. Besides, his critical, haughty air naturally did not prepossess employers in his favor when he came to ask for a job.
At the end of the second year the man broke down.
"The work of the world," he told Frances, "belongs to specialists. Even a bootblack knows his trade. I know nothing. I can do nothing. I am a mass of flabby pretences."
Every month she filled his pocket-book. She found at last that he did not touch the money. He sold his clothes and his jewelry to keep himself alive while he tramped the streets of New York looking for work. He starved himself to make this money last. His flesh was lead-colored from want of proper food, and he staggered from weakness. "'He that will not work neither let him eat,'" he said grimly.
It was about this time that Miss Vance came home. Mrs. Waldeaux in a moment of weakness gave her a hint of his defeat.
"Is the world blind," she cried, "to deny work to a man of George's capacity? What does it mean?"
Clara heard of George's sufferings with equanimity. "The truth is," she said, when she told the story to Miss Dunbar, "Frances brought that boy up to believe that he was a Grand Llama among men. There is no work for Grand Llamas in this country, and when he understands that he is made of very ordinary clay indeed, he will probably be of some use in the world."
Lucy was watering her roses. "It is a matter of indifference to me," she said, "what the people of New York think of Mr. Waldeaux."
Clara looked at her quickly. "I do not quite catch your meaning?" she said.
But Lucy filled her can, and forgot to answer.
Clara had brought Miss Dunbar back and established her in her own house near Weir, under the care of a deaf widowed aunt. Dunbar Place was a stately colonial house, set in a large demesne, and all Kent County waited breathless to know what revelations the heiress would make to it, in the way of equi-pages, marqueterie furniture, or Paris gowns.
Mrs. Waldeaux found Lucy one day, a month after her arrival, seated at her sewing on the broad, rose-covered piazza, looking as if she never had left it.
"Have you come to stay now, my dear," she said, "or will Prince Wolfburgh——"
"Oh, that is an old story," interrupted Clara. "Lucy handed the little prince over to Jean Hassard, who married him after he had a long fight with her father about her dot. He won the dot, but Count Odo is now the head of the house. Jean, I hear, is in Munich fighting her way up among the Herrschaft."
"Jean has good fighting qualities," Lucy said. "She will win."
"I had a letter from her to-day," said Miss Vance. "Here it is. She says, 'I mean to rebuild the Schloss, and I have put a stop to the soap-boiling business. I will have no fumes of scorching fat in our ancestral halls. Four of the princesses live with us here in the flat. Gussy Carson from Pond City is staying with me now. We have an American tea every Wednesday. Gus receives with me.'"
"Poor princesses!" said Lucy.
Miss Vance folded the letter with a complacent nod. "I am glad that Jean is settled so satisfactorily," she said. "As for Lucy——"
No one answered. Lucy threaded her needle.
"I start next week to Chicago, did you know, Frances? The Bixbys—two orphan heiresses—wish me to take them to Australia, coming back by India. And I suppose," she said, rising impatiently, "if I were to stay away forty years I should find Lucy when I came back, with white hair maybe, but sitting calmly sewing, not caring whether there was a man in the world or not!"
Lucy laughed, but did not even blush.
Mrs. Waldeaux presently said good-by, and Clara went home with her to spend the night. Lucy was left alone upon the piazza. It was there that George Waldeaux saw her again.
This had been the hardest day of his life. He rose that morning telling himself with an oath that he would earn the money to buy his own food or never eat again. His mother had sent him a cheque by post. He tore it up and went out of his cheap lodging-house without breakfast. There was a queer change in him—a sudden lofty independence—a sudden loathing of himself. He knew now that it was not in him to do good work in the world, but at least he would pay his own way. He had been a mass of vanity and now he was so mean in his own eyes that he shrank from the passers-by. Perhaps the long strain had damaged the gray matter of the brain, or some nervous centre—I do not know what change a physician would have found in him, but the man was changed.
A clerk was needed in a provision shop on Green Street. George placed himself in the line of dirty, squalid applicants. The day was hot, the air of the shop was foul with the smells of rotting meat and vegetables. He felt himself stagger against a stall. He seemed to be asleep, but he heard the butchers laughing. They called him a drunken tramp, and then he was hurled out on the muddy pavement.
"Too much whiskey for this time o' day!" a policeman said, hauling him to his feet.
"Move along, young man!"
Whiskey? That was what he wanted. He turned into a shop and bought a dram with his last pennies. It made him comfortable for a few hours, then he began to cry and swear. George Waldeaux had never been drunk in his life. The ascetic, stainless priest in him stood off and looked at this dog of the gutter with his obscene talk, and then came defeat of soul and body.
"I give up!" he said quietly. "I'll never try again."
He wandered unconsciously to the ferry and, having his yearly book of tickets in his pocket, took the train for home from force of habit. He left the cars at a station several miles from Weir, and wandered across the country. Just at sundown, covered with mud and weak from hunger and drunkenness, he crossed the lawn before Lucy's house and, looking up, saw her.
He had stumbled into a world of peace and purity! A soft splendor filled the sky and the bay and the green slopes, with their clumps of mighty forest trees. The air was full of the scents of flowers and the good-night song of happy birds. And in the midst of it all, lady of the great domain, under her climbing rose vines, sat the young, fair woman, clad in some fleecy white garments, her head bent, her blue eyes fixed on the distance—waiting.
George stopped, sobered by a sudden wrench of his heart. There was the world to which he belonged—there! His keen eye noted every delicate detail of her beauty and of her dress. He was of her sort, her kind—he, kicked into the gutter from that foul shop as a tramp!
This is what I have lost! his soul cried to him.
He had not as yet recognized Lucy. But now she saw him, and with a little inarticulate cry like that of a bird, she flew down the steps. "Ah! It is you!" she said. "I thought you would come to welcome me some time!"
Her voice was like a soft breath; her airy draperies blew against him. It was as if a wonderful, beautiful dream were folding him in—and in.
He drew back. "I am not fit, Miss Dunbar. I did not know you were here. Why—look at me!"
"Oh! You are ill! You have had an accident!" she cried. She had laid her little white fingers on his hand and now, feeling it burn and tremble at her touch, she caught it in both of her own and drew him into the house.
"Mr. Waldeaux," she said to a servant who appeared, "has had a fall. Bring him water and towels. Take care of him, Stephen." She spoke quietly, but her voice trembled with fright.
The man led George to an inner room.
"Were you thrown, sir?" he asked sympathetically.
George hesitated. "Yes, I was thrown," he said grimly.
He made himself clean in angry haste, taking the whisk from the man and brushing off the dry mud with a vicious fury.
Lucy came to meet him, with a pale, anxious smile. "You must not go without a cup of hot coffee," she said, leading him to a lounge in the hall. It was very sweet to be treated like a sick man!
"And God knows I am sick, body and soul!" he thought, sinking down.
Beside the lounge was a little table with one cover. He noted with keen pleasure the delicate napery, the silver candlesticks, the bowl of roses, with which the substantial meal was set out. Lucy waited on him with the quick intelligence of a trained nurse. She scarcely spoke, yet her every motion, as she served him, seemed a caress. When he had finished he began to stammer out his thanks.
"No," she said, rising decisively. "You are too weak to talk to me to-night, Mr. Waldeaux. The coupe is at the door. John will drive you home. You need sleep now."
As he sank down into the luxurious cushions and drove away through the twilight, he saw the little white figure in the door, and the grave wistful face looking after him.
"Did she suspect!" he suddenly cried, starting up.
But George Waldeaux never knew how much Lucy suspected that night.
Meanwhile Mrs. Waldeaux's mare had jogged on leisurely, dragging her mistress and Miss Vance home through the shady country lanes.
"Phebe is old," apologized Frances. "She really is a retired car horse."
"You used to take pride in your horses, Frances?"
"Yes." Mrs. Waldeaux added after a pause. "My income is small. Of course George soon will be coining money, but just now—— The peach crop failed this year too. And I save every dollar for Jack's education."
"But what of the jokes for the New York paper? They were profitable."
"Oh, I gave them up long ago." She glanced around cautiously. "Never speak of that, Clara. I would not have George know for the world; I never would hold up my head if he knew that I was 'Quigg.'"
Miss Vance gave a contemptuous sniff, but Mrs. Waldeaux went on eagerly, "I have a plan! You know that swampy tract of ours near Lewes? When I have enough money I'll drain it and lay out a summer resort—hotels—cottages. I'll develop it as I sell the lots. Oh, Jack shall have his millions yet to do great work in the world!" her eyes sparkling. "Though perhaps he may choose to strip himself of everything to give to the poor, like Francis d'Assisi! That would be best of all. It's not unlikely. He is the most generous boy!"