"Pray," asked the Baroness, "do you owe it to your children, then, to take this trip to Vienna—"
"Ma foi!" retorted the Grand Duke, "I owe that to myself."
"—and thereby break the Grand Duchess' heart?"
"Indeed," observed his Highness, "you appear strangely deep in the confidence of my wife."
Again the Baroness descended to aphorism. "All women are alike, your Highness."
"Ah, ah! Well, I have heard," said the Grand Duke, "that seven devils were cast out of Magdalene—"
"I have never heard of this being done to any other woman. Accordingly I deduce that in all other women must remain—"
"Beware, your Highness, of the crudeness of cynicism!"
"I age," complained the Grand Duke, "and one reaches years of indiscretion so early in the forties."
"You admit, then, discretion is desirable?"
"I admit that," his Highness said, with firmness, "of you alone."
"Am I, in truth," queried the Baroness, "desirable?" And in this patch of moonlight she looked incredibly so.
"More than that," said the Grand Duke—"you are dangerous. You are a menace to the peace of my Court. The young men make sonnets to your eyes, and the ladies are ready to tear them out. You corrupt us, one and all. There is de Chateauroux now—"
"I assure you," protested the Baroness, "Monsieur de Chateauroux is not the sort of person—"
"But at twenty-five," the Grand Duke interrupted, "one is invariably that sort of person."
"Phrases, your Highness!"
"Phrases or not, it is decided. You shall make no more bad poets."
"You will," said the Baroness, "put me to a vast expense for curl-papers."
"You shall ensnare no more admirers."
"My milliner will be inconsolable."
"In short, you must leave Noumaria—"
"You condemn me to an exile's life of misery!"
"Well, then, since misery loves company, I will go with you. For we should never forget," his Highness added, with considerable kindliness, "always to temper justice with mercy. So I have ordered a carriage to be ready at dawn."
The Baroness reflected; the plump little Grand Duke smiled. And he had reason, for there was about this slim white woman—whose eyes were colossal emeralds, and in show equivalently heatless, if not in effect,—so much of the baroque that in meditation she appeared some prentice queen of Faery dubious as to her incantations. Now, though, she had it—the mislaid abracadabra.
"I knew that I had some obstacle in mind—Thou shalt not commit adultery. No, your Highness, I will not go."
"Remember Sapphira," said the Grand Duke, "recall Herodias who fared happily in all things, and by no means forget the portmanteau."
"I have not the least intention of going—" the Baroness iterated, firmly.
"Nor would I ever suspect you of harboring such a thought. Still, a portmanteau, in case of an emergency—"
"—although I am told the sunrise is very beautiful from the Gardens of Breschau."
"It is well worth seeing," agreed the Grand Duke, "on certain days—particularly on Thursdays. The gardeners make a specialty of them on Thursdays."
"By a curious chance," the Baroness murmured, "this is Wednesday."
"Indeed," said the Grand Duke, "now you mention it, I believe it is."
"And I shall be here, on your Highness' recommendation, to see the sunrise—"
"Of course," said the Grand Duke, "to see the sunrise,—but with a portmanteau!"
The Baroness was silent.
"With a portmanteau," entreated the Grand Duke. "I am a connoisseur of portmanteaux. Say that I may see yours, Amalia."
The Baroness was silent.
"Say yes, Amalia. For to the student of etymology the very word portmanteau—"
The Baroness bent toward him and said:
"I am sorry to inform your Highness that there is some one at the door of the summer-house."
Inasmuch as all Noumaria knew that its little Grand Duke, once closeted with the lady whom he delighted to honor, did not love intrusions, and inasmuch as a discreet Court had learned, long ago, to regard the summer-house as consecrate to his Highness and the Baroness von Altenburg,—for these reasons the Grand Duke was inclined to resent disturbance of his privacy when he first peered out into the gardens.
His countenance was less severe when he turned again toward the Baroness, and it smacked more of bewilderment.
"It is only my wife," he said.
"And the Comte de Chateauroux," said the Baroness.
There is no denying that their voices were somewhat lowered. The chill and frail beauty of the Grand Duchess was plainly visible from where they sat; to every sense a woman of snow, his Highness mentally decided, for her gown this evening was white and the black hair powdered; all white she was, a cloud-tatter in the moonlight: yet with the Comte de Chateauroux as a foil, his uniform of the Cuirassiers a big stir of glitter and color, she made an undeniably handsome picture; and it was, quite possibly, the Grand Duke's aesthetic taste which held him for the moment motionless.
"After all—" he began, and rose.
"I am afraid that her Highness—" the Baroness likewise commenced.
"She would be sure to," said the Grand Duke, and thereupon he sat down.
"I do not, however," said the Baroness, "approve of eavesdropping."
"Oh, if you put it that way—" agreed the Grand Duke, and he was rising once more, when the voice of de Chateauroux stopped him.
"No, not at any cost!" de Chateauroux; was saying; "I cannot and I will not give you up, Victoria!"
"—though I have heard," said his Highness, "that the moonlight is bad for the eyes." Saying this, he seated himself composedly in the darkest corner of the summer-house.
"This is madness!" the Grand Duchess said—"sheer madness."
"Madness, if you will," de Chateauroux persisted, "yet it is a madness too powerful and sweet to be withstood. Listen, Victoria,"—and he waved his hand toward the palace, whence music, softened by the distance, came from the lighted windows,—"do you not remember? They used to play that air at Staarberg."
The Grand Duchess had averted her gaze from him. She did not speak.
He continued: "Those were contented days, were they not, when we were boy and girl together? I have danced to that old-world tune so many times—with you! And to-night, madame, it recalls a host of unforgettable things, for it brings back to memory the scent of that girl's hair, the soft cheek that sometimes brushed mine, the white shoulders which I so often had hungered to kiss, before I dared—"
"Hein?" muttered the Grand Duke.
"We are no longer boy and girl," the Grand Duchess said. "All that lies behind us. It was a dream—a foolish dream which we must forget."
"Can you in truth forget?" de Chateauroux demanded,—"can you forget it all, Victoria?—forget that night a Gnestadt, when you confessed you loved me? forget that day at Staarberg, when we were lost in the palace gardens?"
"Mon Dieu, what a queer method!" murmured the Grand Duke. "The man makes love by the almanac."
"Nay, dearest woman in the world," de Chateauroux went on, "you loved me once, and that you cannot have quite forgotten. We were happy then—very incredibly happy,—and now—"
"Life," said the Grand Duchess, "cannot always be happy."
"Ah, no, my dear! nor is it to be elated by truisms. But what a life is this of mine,—a life of dreary days, filled with sick, vivid dreams of our youth that is hardly past as yet! And so many dreams, dear woman of my heart! in which the least remembered trifle brings back, as if in a flash, some corner of the old castle and you as I saw you there,—laughing, or insolent, or, it may be, tender. Ah, but you were not often tender! Just for a moment I see you, and my blood leaps up in homage to my dear lady. Then instantly that second of actual vision is over, I am going prosaically about the day's business, but I hunger more than ever—"
"This," said the Grand Duke, "is insanity."
"Yet I love better the dreams of the night," de Chateauroux went on; "for they are not made all of memories, sweetheart. Rather, they are romances which my love weaves out of multitudinous memories,—fantastic stories of just you and me that always end, if I be left to dream them out in comfort, very happily. For there is in these dreams a woman who loves me, whose heart and body and soul are mine, and mine alone. Ohe, it is a wonderful vision while it lasts, though it be only in dreams that I am master of my heart's desire, and though the waking be bitter...! Need it be just a dream, Victoria?"
"Not but that he does it rather well, you know," whispered the Grand Duke to the Baroness von Altenburg, "although the style is florid. Yet that last speech was quite in my earlier and more rococo manner."
The Grand Duchess did not stir as de Chateauroux bent over her jewelled hand.
"Come! come now!" he said. "Let us not lose our only chance of happiness. 'Come forth, O Galatea, and forget as thou comest, even as I already have forgot, the homeward way! Nay, choose with me to go a-shepherding—!'"
"Oh, but to think of dragging in Theocritus!" observed his Highness. "Can this be what they call seduction nowadays!"
"I cannot," the Grand Duchess whispered, and her voice trembled. "You know that I cannot, dear."
"You will go!" said de Chateauroux.
"A man who leaves you for each new caprice, who flaunts his mistresses in the face of Europe."
"Eh, mon Dieu! are they or aught else to stand in my way, now that I know you love me!"
"—it would be criminal—"
"Ah, yes, but then you love me!"
"—you act a dishonorable part, de Chateauroux,—"
"That does not matter. You love me!"
"I will never see you again," said the Grand Duchess, firmly. "Go! I loathe you, I loathe you, monsieur, even more than I loathe myself for having stooped to listen to you."
"You love me!" said de Chateauroux, and took her in his arms.
Then the Grand Duchess rested her head upon the shoulder of de Chateauroux, and breathed, "God help me!—yes!"
"Really," said the Grand Duke, "I would never have thought it of Victoria. It seems incredible for any woman of taste to be thus lured astray by citations of the almanac and secondary Greek poets."
"You will come, then?" the Count said.
And the Grand Duchess answered, quietly, "It shall be as you will."
More lately, while the Grand Duke and the Baroness craned their necks, and de Chateauroux bent, very slowly, over her upturned lips, the Grand Duchess struggled from him, saying, "Hark, Philippe! for I heard some one—something stirring—"
"It was the wind, dear heart."
"Hasten!—I am afraid!—Oh, it is madness to wait here!"
"At dawn, then,—in the gardens?"
"Yes,—ah, yes, yes! But come, mon ami." And they disappeared in the direction of the palace.
The Grand Duke looked dispassionately on their retreating figures; inquiringly on the Baroness; reprovingly on the moon, as though he rather suspected it of having treated him with injustice.
"Ma foi," said his Highness, at length, "I have never known such a passion for sunrises. Shortly we shall have them announced as 'Patronized by the Nobility.'"
The Baroness said only, with an ellipsis, "Her own cousin, too!" [Footnote: By courtesy rather than legally; Mademoiselle Berlin was, however, undoubtedly the Elector of Badenburg's sister, though on the wrong side of the blanket; and to her (second) son by Louis Quinze his French Majesty accorded the title of Comte de Chateauroux.]
"Victoria," observed the Grand Duke, "has always had the highest regard for her family; but in this she is going too far—"
"Yes," said the Baroness; "as far as Vienna."
"—and I shall tell her that there are limits, Pardieu," the Grand Duke emphatically repeated, "that there are limits."
"Whereupon, if I am not mistaken, she will reply that there are—baronesses."
"I shall then appeal to her better nature—"
"You will find it," said the Baroness, "strangely hard of hearing."
"—and afterward I shall have de Chateauroux arrested."
"On what grounds, your Highness?"
"In fact," admitted the Grand Duke, "we do not want a scandal"
"It is no longer," the Baroness considered, "altogether a question of what we want."
"And, morbleu! there will be a horrible scandal—"
"The public gazettes will thrive on it."
"—and trouble with her father, if not international complications—"
"The armies of Noumaria and Badenburg have for years had nothing to do."
"—and later a divorce."
"The lawyers will call you blessed. In any event," the Baroness conscientiously added, "your lawyers will. I am afraid that hers—"
"Will scarcely be so courteous?" the Grand Duke queried.
"It is not altogether impossible," the Baroness admitted, "that in preparation of their briefs, they may light upon some other adjective."
"And, in short," his Highness summed it up, "there will be the deuce to pay."
"Oh, no! the piper," said the Baroness,—"after long years of dancing. That is what moralists will be saying, I suspect."
And this seemed so highly probable that the plump little Grand Duke frowned, and lapsed into a most un-ducal sullenness.
"Your Highness," murmured the Baroness, "I cannot express my feelings as to this shocking revelation—"
"Madame," said the Grand Duke, "no more can I. At least, not in the presence of a lady."
"—But I have a plan—"
"I," said the Grand Duke, "have an infinity of plans; but de Chateauroux has a carriage, and a superfluity of Bourbon blood; and Victoria has the obstinacy of a mule."
"—And my plan," said the Baroness, "is a good one."
"It needs to be," said the Grand Duke.
But thereupon the Baroness von Altenburg unfolded to his Highness her scheme for preserving coherency in the reigning family of Noumaria, and the Grand Duke of that principality heard and marvelled.
"Amalia," he said, when she had ended, "you should be prime-minister—"
"Ah, your Highness," said the lady, "you flatter me, for none of my sex has ever been sufficiently unmanly to make a good politician."
"—though, indeed," the Grand Duke reflected, "what would a mere prime-minister do with lips like yours?"
"He would set you an excellent example by admiring them from a distance. Do you agree, then, to my plan?"
"Why, ma foi, yes!" said the Grand Duke, and he sighed. "In the gardens at dawn."
"At dawn," said the Baroness, "in the gardens."
That night the Grand Duke was somewhat impeded in falling asleep. He was seriously annoyed by the upsetment of his escape from the Noumarian exile, since he felt that he had prodigally fulfilled his obligations, and in consequence deserved a holiday; the duchy was committed past retreat to the French alliance, there were two legitimate children to reign after him, and be the puppets of de Puysange and de Bernis, [Footnote: The Grand Duke, however, owed de Puysange some reparation for having begot a child upon the latter's wife; and with de Bernis had not dissimilar ties, for the Marquis de Soyecourt had in Venice, in 1749, relinquished to him the beautiful nun of Muran, Maria Montepulci,—which lady de Bernis subsequently turned over to Giacomo Casanova, as is duly recorded in the latter's Memoires, under the year 1753.] just as he had been. Truly, it was diverting, after a candid appraisal of his own merits, to reflect that a dwarfish Louis de Soyecourt had succeeded where quite impeccable people like Bayard and du Guesclin had failed; by four years of scandalous living in Noumaria he had confirmed the duchy to the French interest, had thereby secured the wavering friendship of Austria, and had, in effect, set France upon her feet. Yes, the deed was notable, and he wanted his reward.
To be the forsaken husband, to play Sgarnarelle with all Europe as an audience, was, he considered, an entirely inadequate reward. That was out of the question, for, deuce take it! somebody had to be Regent while the brats were growing up. And Victoria, as he had said, would make an admirable Regent.
He was rather fond of his wife than otherwise. He appreciated the fact that she never meddled with him, and he sincerely regretted she should have taken a fancy to that good-for-nothing de Chateauroux. What qualms the poor woman must be feeling at this very moment over the imminent loss of her virtue! But love was a cruel and unreasonable lord.... There was Nelchen Thorn, for instance.... He wondered would he have been happy with Nelchen? her hands were rather coarse about the finger-tips, as he remembered them.... The hands of Amalia, though, were perfection....
Then at last the body that had been Louis Quillan's fell asleep.
Discontentedly the Grand Duke appraised the scene, and in the murky twilight which heralded the day he found the world a cheerless place. The Gardens of Breschau were deserted, save for a travelling carriage and its fretful horses, who stamped and snuffled within forty yards of the summer-house.
"It appears," he said, "that I am the first on the ground, and that de Chateauroux is a dilatory lover. Young men degenerate."
Saying this, he seated himself on a convenient bench, where de Chateauroux found him a few minutes later, and promptly dropped a portmanteau at the ducal feet.
"Monsieur le Comte," the Grand Duke said, "this is an unforeseen pleasure."
"Your Highness!" cried de Chateauroux, in astonishment.
"Ludovicus," said the Grand Duke, "Dei gratia Archi Dux Noumariae, Princeps Gatinensis, and so on." And de Chateauroux caressed his chin.
"I did not know," said the Grand Duke, "that you were such an early riser. Or perhaps," he continued, "you are late in retiring. Fy, fy, monsieur! you must be more careful! You must not create a scandal in our little Court." He shook his finger knowingly at Philippe de Chateauroux.
"Your Highness,—" said the latter, and stammered into silence.
"You said that before," the Grand Duke leisurely observed.
"An affair of business—"
"Ah! ah! ah!" said the Grand Duke, casting his eye first toward the portmanteau and then toward the carriage, "can it be that you are leaving Noumaria? We shall miss you, Comte."
"I was summoned very hastily, or I would have paid my respects to your Highness—"
"Indeed," said the Grand Duke, "your departure is of a deplorable suddenness—"
"It is urgent, your Highness—"
"—and yet," pursued the Grand Duke, "travel is beneficial to young men."
"I shall not go far, your Highness—"
"Nay, I would not for the world intrude upon your secrets, Comte—"
"—But my estates, your Highness—"
"—For young men will be young men, I know."
"—There is, your Highness, to be a sale of meadow land—"
"Which you will find, I trust, untilled."
"—And my counsellor at law, your Highness, is imperative—"
"At times," agreed the Grand Duke, "the most subtle of counsellors is unreasonable. I trust, though, that she is handsome?"
"Ah, your Highness—!" cried de Chateauroux.
"And you have my blessing upon your culture of those meadow lands. Go in peace."
The Grand Duke was smiling on his wife's kinsman with extreme benevolence when the Baroness von Altenburg appeared in travelling costume and carrying a portmanteau.
"Heydey!" said the Grand Duke; "it seems, that the legal representative of our good Baroness, also, is imperative."
"Your Highness!" cried the Baroness, and she, too, dropped her burden.
"Every one," said the Grand Duke, "appears to question my identity." And meantime de Chateauroux turned from the one to the other in bewilderment.
"This," said the Grand Duke, after a pause, "is painful. This is unworthy of you, de Chateauroux."
"Your Highness—!" cried the Count.
"Again?" said the Grand Duke, pettishly.
The Baroness applied her handkerchief to her eyes, and plaintively said, "You do not understand, your Highness—"
"I am afraid," said the Grand Duke, "that I understand only too clearly."
"—and I confess I was here to meet Monsieur de Chateauroux—"
"Oh, oh!" cried the latter.
"Precisely," observed the Grand Duke, "to compare portmanteaux; and you had selected the interior of yonder carriage, no doubt, as an appropriate locality."
"And I admit to your Highness—"
"His Highness already knowing," the Grand Duke interpolated.
"—that we were about to elope."
"I can assure you—" de Chateauroux began.
"Nay, I will take the lady's word for it," said the Grand Duke—"though it grieves me."
"We knew you—would never give your consent," murmured the Baroness, "and without your consent I can not marry—"
"Undoubtedly," said the Grand Duke, "I would never have given my consent to such fiddle-faddle."
"And we love each other."
"Fiddle-de-dee!" said his Highness.
But de Chateauroux passed one hand over his brow. "This," he said, "is some horrible mistake—"
"It is," assented the Grand Duke, "a mistake—and one of your making."
"—For I certainly did not expect the Baroness—"
"To make a clean breast of it so readily?" his Highness asked. "Ah, but she is a lady of unusual candor."
"Indeed, your Highness—" began de Chateauroux.
"Nay, Philippe," the Baroness entreated, "confess to his Highness, as I have done."
"Oh, but—!" said de Chateauroux.
"I must beseech you to be silent," said the Grand Duke; "you have already brought scandal to our Court. Do not, I pray you, add profanity to the catalogue of your offences. Why, I protest," he continued, "even the Grand Duchess has heard of this imbroglio."
Indeed, the Grand Duchess, hurrying from a pleached walkway, was already within a few feet of the trio, and appeared no little surprised to find in this place her husband.
"I would not be surprised," said the Grand Duke, raising his eyes toward heaven, "if by this time it were all over the palace."
Then, as his wife waited, speechless, the Grand Duke gravely asked: "You, too, have heard of this sad affair, Victoria? Ah, I perceive you have, and that you come in haste to prevent it,—even to pursue these misguided beings, if necessary, as the fact that you come already dressed for the journey very eloquently shows. You are self-sacrificing, you possess a good heart, Victoria."
"I did not know—" began the Grand Duchess.
"Until the last moment," the Grand Duke finished. "Eh, I comprehend. But perhaps," he continued, hopefully, "it is not yet too late to bring them to their senses."
And turning toward the Baroness and de Chateauroux, he said:
"I may not hinder your departure if you two in truth are swayed by love, since to control that passion is immeasurably beyond the prerogative of kings. Yet I beg you to reflect that the step you contemplate is irrevocable. Yes, and to you, madame, whom I have long viewed with a paternal affection—an emotion wholly justified by the age and rank for which it has pleased Heaven to preserve me,—to you in particular I would address my plea. If with an entire heart you love Monsieur de Chateauroux, why, then—why, then, I concede that love is divine, and yonder carriage at your disposal. But I beg you to reflect—"
"Believe me," said the Baroness, "we are heartily grateful for your Highness' magnanimity. We may, I deduce, depart with your permission?"
"Oh, freely, if upon reflection—"
"I can reflect only when I am sitting down," declared the Baroness. She handed her portmanteau to de Chateauroux, and stepped into the carriage. And the Grand Duke noted that a coachman and two footmen had appeared, from nowhere in particular.
"To you, Monsieur le Comte," his Highness now began, with an Olympian frown, "I have naught to say. Under the cover of our hospitality you have endeavored to steal away the fairest ornament of our Court; I leave you to the pangs of conscience, if indeed you possess a conscience. But the Baroness is unsophisticated; she has been misled by your fallacious arguments and specious pretence of affection. She has evidently been misled," he said to the Grand Duchess, kindly, "as any woman might be."
"As any woman might be!" his wife very feebly echoed.
"And I shall therefore," continued the Grand Duke, "do all within my power to dissuade her from this ruinous step. I shall appeal to her better nature, and not, I trust, in vain."
He advanced with dignity to the carriage, wherein the Baroness was seated. "Amalia," he whispered, "you are an admirable actress. 'O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! and yet again wonderful, and after that out of all whooping!"
The Baroness smiled.
"And it is now time," said his Highness, "for me to appeal to your better nature. I shall do so in a rather loud voice, for I have prepared a most virtuous homily that I am unwilling the Grand Duchess should miss. You will at its conclusion be overcome with an appropriate remorse, and will obligingly burst into tears, and throw yourself at my feet—pray remember that the left is the gouty one,—and be forgiven. You will then be restored to favor, while de Chateauroux drives off alone and in disgrace. Your plan works wonderfully."
"It is true," the Baroness doubtfully said, "such was the plan."
"And a magnificent one," said the Grand Duke.
"But I have altered it, your Highness."
"And this alteration, Amalia—?"
"Involves a trip to Vienna."
"Not yet, Amalia. We must wait."
"Oh, I could never endure delays," said the Baroness, "and, since you cannot accompany me, I am going with Monsieur de Chateauroux."
The Grand Duke grasped the carriage door.
"Preposterous!" he cried.
"But you have given your consent," the Baroness protested, "and in the presence of the Grand Duchess."
"Which," said the Grand Duke, "was part of our plan."
"Indeed, your Highness," said the Baroness, "it was a most important part. You must know," she continued, with some diffidence, "that I have the misfortune to love Monsieur de Chateauroux."
"Who is in love with Victoria."
"I have the effrontery to believe," said the Baroness, "that he is, in reality, in love with me."
"Especially after hearing him last night," the Grand Duke suggested.
"That scene, your Highness, we had carefully rehearsed—oh, seven or eight times! Personally, I agreed with your Highness that the quotation from Theocritus was pedantic, but Philippe insisted on it, you conceive—"
The Grand Duke gazed meditatively upon the Baroness, who had the grace to blush.
"Then it was," he asked, "a comedy for my benefit?"
"You would never have consented—" she began. But the Grand Duke's countenance, which was slowly altering to a greenish pallor, caused her to pause.
"You will get over it in a week, Louis," she murmured, "and you will find other—baronesses."
"Oh, very probably!" said his Highness, and he noted with pleasure that he spoke quite as if it did not matter. "Nevertheless, this was a despicable trick to play upon the Grand Duchess."
"Yet I do not think the Grand Duchess will complain," said the Baroness von Altenburg.
And it was as though a light broke on the Grand Duke. "You planned all this beforehand?" he inquired.
"Why, precisely, your Highness."
"And de Chateauroux helped you?"
"In effect, yes, your Highness."
"And the Grand Duchess knew?"
"The Grand Duchess suggested it, your Highness, the moment that she knew you thought of eloping."
"And I, who tricked Gaston—!"
"Louis," said the Baroness von Altenburg, in a semi-whisper, "your wife is one of those persons who cling to respectability like a tippler to his bottle. To her it is absolutely nothing how many women you may pursue—or conquer—so long as you remain here under her thumb, to be exhibited, in fair sobriety, upon the necessary public occasions. I pity you, my Louis." And she sighed with real compassion.
He took possession of one gloved hand. "At the bottom of your heart," his Highness said, irrelevantly, "you like me better than you do Monsieur de Chateauroux."
"I find you the more entertaining company, to be sure—But what a woman most wants is to be loved. If I touch Philippe's hand for, say, the millionth part of a second longer than necessity compels, he treads for the remainder of the day above meteors; if yours—why, you at most admire my fingers. No doubt you are a connoisseur of fingers and such-like trifles; but, then, a woman does not wish to be admired by a connoisseur so much as she hungers to be adored by a maniac. And accordingly, I prefer my stupid Philippe."
"You are wise," the Grand Duke estimated, "I remember long ago ... in Poictesme yonder...."
"I loathe her," the Bareness said, with emphasis. "Nay, I am ignorant as to who she was—but O my Louis! had you accorded me a tithe of the love you squandered on that abominable dairymaid I would have followed you not only to Vienna—"
He raised his hand, "There are persons yonder in whom the proper emotions are innate; let us not shock them. No, I never loved you, I suppose; I merely liked your way of talking, liked your big green eyes, liked your lithe young body.... He, and I like you still, Amalia. So I shall not play the twopenny despot. God be with you, my dear."
He had seen tears in those admirable eyes before he turned his back to her. "Monsieur de Chateauroux," he called, "I find the lady is adamant. I wish you a pleasant journey." He held open the door of the carriage for de Chateauroux to enter.
"You will forgive us, your Highness?" asked the latter.
"You will forget?" murmured the Baroness.
"I shall do both," said the Grand Duke. "Bon voyage, mes enfants!"
And with a cracking of whips the carriage drove off.
"Victoria," said the plump little Grand Duke, in admiration, "you are a remarkable woman. I think that I will walk for a while in the gardens, and meditate upon the perfections of my wife."
He strolled in the direction of the woods. As he reached the summit of a slight incline he turned and looked toward the road that leads from Breschau to Vienna. A cloud of dust showed where the carriage had disappeared.
"Ma foi!" said his Highness; "my wife has very fully proven her executive ability. Beyond doubt, there is no person in Europe better qualified to rule Noumaria as Regent."
LOVE'S ALUMNI: THE AFTERPIECE
As Played at Ingilby, October 6, 1755
"Though marriage be a lottery, in which there are a wondrous many blanks, yet there is one inestimable lot, in which the only heaven on earth is written. Would your kind fate but guide your hand to that, though I were wrapt in all that luxury itself could clothe me with, I still should envy you."
DUKE OF ORMSKIRK. LOUIS DE SOYECOURT, formerly GRAND DUKE OF NOUMARIA, and now a tuner of pianofortes. DUC DE PUYSANGE. DAMIENS, servant to Ormskirk.
In Dumb Show are presented LORD HUMPHREY DEGGE, CAPTAIN FRANCIS AUDAINE, MR. GEORGE ERWYN, DUCHESS OF ORMSKIRK, DUCHESSE DE PUYSANGE, LADY HUMPHREY DEGGE, MRS. AUDAINE, and MRS. ERWYN.
The library, and afterward the dining-room, of Ormskirk's home at Ingilby, in Westmoreland.
PROEM:-Wherein a Prince Serves His People
The Grand Duke did not return to breakfast nor to dinner, nor, in point of fact, to Noumaria. For the second occasion Louis de Soyecourt had vanished at the spiriting of boredom; and it is gratifying to record that his evasion passed without any train of turmoil.
The Grand Duchess seemed to disapprove of her bereavement, mildly, but only said, "Well, after all—!"
She saw to it that the ponds about the palace were dragged conscientiously, and held an interview with the Chief of Police, and more lately had herself declared Regent of Noumaria.
She proved a capable and popular ruler, who when she began to take lovers allowed none of them to meddle with politics: so all went well enough in Noumaria, and nobody evinced the least desire to hasten either the maturity of young Duke Anthony or the reappearance of his father.
Meantime had come to Ingilby, the Duke of Ormskirk's place in Westmoreland, a smallish blue-eyed vagabond who requested audience with his Grace, and presently got it, for the Duke, since his retirement from public affairs, [Footnote: He returned to office during the following year, as is well known, immediately before the attempted assassination of the French King, in the January of 1757.] had become approachable by almost any member of the public.
The man came Into the library, smiling, "I entreat your pardon, Monsieur le Duc," he began, "that I have not visited you sooner. But in unsettled times, you comprehend, the master of a beleaguered fortress is kept busy. This poor fortress of my body has been of late most resolutely besieged by poverty and hunger, the while that I have been tramping about Europe—in search of Gaston. Now, they tell me, he is here."
The travesty of their five-year-old interview at Bellegarde so tickled Ormskirk's fancy that he laughed heartily. "Damiens," said Ormskirk, to the attendant lackey, "go fetch me a Protestant minister from Manneville, and have a gallows erected in one of the drawing-rooms. I intend to pay off an old score." Meantime he was shaking the little vagabond's hand, chuckling and a-beam with hospitality.
"Your Grace—!" said Damiens, bewildered.
"Well, go, in any event," said Ormskirk. "Oh, go anywhere, man!—to the devil, for instance."
His eyes, followed the retreating lackey. "As I suspect in the end you will," Ormskirk said, inconsequently. "Still, you are a very serviceable fellow, my good Damiens. I have need of you."
And with a shrug he now began, "Your Highness,—"
"Praise God, no!" observed the other, fervently.
And Ormskirk nodded his comprehension. "Monsieur de Soyecourt, then. Of course, we heard of your disappearance, I have been expecting something of the sort for years. And,—frankly, politics are often a nuisance, as both Gaston and myself will willingly attest,—especially," he added, with a grimace, "since war between France and England became inevitable through the late happenings in India and Nova Scotia, and both our wives flatly declined to let either of us take part therein,—for fear we might catch our death of cold by sleeping in those draughty tents. Faith, you have descended, sir, like an agreeable meteor, upon two of the most scandalously henpecked husbands in all the universe. In fact, you will not find a gentleman at Ingilby—save Mr. Erwyn, perhaps—but is an abject slave to his wife, and in consequence most abjectly content."
"You have guests, then?" said de Soyecourt. "Ma foi, it is unfortunate. I but desired to confer with Gaston concerning the disposal of Beaujolais and my other properties in France since I find that the sensation of hunger, while undoubtedly novel, is, when too long continued, apt to grow tiresome. I would not willingly intrude, however—"
"Were it not for the fact that you are wealthy, and yet, so long as you preserve your incognito, and remain legally dead, you cannot touch a penny of your fortune! The situation is droll. We must arrange it. Meanwhile you are my guest, and I can assure you that at Ingilby you will be to all Monsieur de Soyecourt, no more and no less. Now let us see what can be done about clothing Monsieur de Soyecourt for dinner—"
"But I could not consider—" Monsieur de Soyecourt protested.
"I must venture to remind you," the Duke retorted, "that dinner is almost ready, and that Claire is the sort of housewife who would more readily condone fratricide or arson than cold soup."
"It is odd," little de Soyecourt said, with complete irrelevance, "that in the end I should get aid of you and of Gaston. And it is odd you should be forgiving my bungling attempts at crime, so lightly—"
Ormskirk considered, a new gravity in his plump face. "Faith, but we find it more salutary, in looking back, to consider some peccadilloes of our own. And we bear no malice, Gaston and I,—largely, I suppose, because contentment is a great encourager of all the virtues. Then, too, we remember that to each of us, at the eleventh hour, and through no merit of his own, was given the one thing worth while in life. We did not merit it; few of us merit anything, for few of us are at bottom either very good or very bad. Nay, my friend, for the most part we are blessed or damned as Fate elects, and hence her favorites may not in reason contemn her victims. For myself, I observe the king upon his throne and the thief upon his coffin, in passage for the gallows; and I pilfer my phrase and I apply it to either spectacle: There, but for the will of God, sits John Bulmer. I may not understand, I may not question; I can but accept. Now, then, let us prepare for dinner" he ended, in quite another tone.
De Soyecourt yielded. He was shown to his rooms, and Ormskirk rang for Damiens, whom the Duke was sending into France to attend to a rather important assassination.
At dinner Louis de Soyecourt made divers observations.
First Gaston had embraced him. "And the de Gatinais estates?—but beyond question, my dear Louis! Next week we return to France, and the affair is easily arranged. You may abdicate in due form, you need no longer skulk about Europe disguised as a piano-tuner; it is all one to France, you conceive, whether you or your son reign in Noumaria. You should have come to me sooner. As for your having been in love with my wife, I could not well quarrel with that, since the action would seriously reflect upon my own taste, who am still most hideously in love with her."
Helene had stoutened. Monsieur de Soyecourt noted also that Helene's gold hair was silvering now, as though Time had tangled cobwebs through it, and that Gaston was profoundly unconscious of the fact. In Gaston's eyes she was at the most seventeen. Well, Helene had always been admirable in her management of all, and it would be diverting to see that youngest child of hers.... Meanwhile it was diverting also to observe how conscientiously she was exerting a good influence over Gaston: and de Soyecourt smiled to find that she shook her head at Gaston's third glass, and that de Puysange did not venture on a fourth. Victoria, to do her justice, had never meddled with any of her husband's vices....
As for the Duchess of Ormskirk, Louis de Soyecourt had known from the beginning—in comparative youthfulness,—that Claire would placidly order her portion of the world as she considered expedient, and that Ormskirk would travesty her, and somewhat bewilder her, and that in the ultimate Ormskirk would obey her to the letter.
Captain Audaine Monsieur de Soyecourt considered at the start diverting, and in the end a pompous bore. Yet they assured him that Audaine was getting on prodigiously in the House of Commons, [Footnote: The Captain's personal quarrel with the Chevalier St. George and its remarkable upshot, at Antwerp, as well as the Captain's subsequent renunciation of Jacobitism, are best treated of in Garendon's own memoirs.]—as, ma foi! he would most naturally do, since his metier was simply to shout well-rounded common-places,—and the circumstance that he shouted would always attract attention, while the fact that he shouted platitudes would invariably prevent his giving offence. Lord Humphrey Degge was found a ruddy and comely person, of no especial importance, but de Soyecourt avidly took note of Mr. Erwyn's waistcoat. Why, this man was a genius! Monsieur de Soyecourt at first glance decided. Staid, demure even, yet with a quiet prodigality of color and ornament, an inevitableness of cut—Oh, beyond doubt, this man was a genius!
As for the ladies at Ingilby, they were adjudged to be handsome women, one and all, but quite unattractive, since they evinced not any excessive interest in Monsieur de Soyecourt. Here was no sniff of future conquest, not one side-long glance, but merely three wives unblushingly addicted to their own husbands. Eh bien! these were droll customs!
Yet in the little man woke a vague suspicion, as he sat among these contented folk, that, after all, they had perhaps attained to something very precious of which his own life had been void, to a something of which he could not even form a conception. Love, of course, he understood, with thoroughness; no man alive had loved more ardently and variously than Louis de Soyecourt. But what the devil! love was a temporary delusion, an ingenious device of Nature's to bring about perpetuation of the species. It was a pleasurable insanity which induced you to take part in a rather preposterously silly and undignified action: and once this action was performed, the insanity, of course, gave way to mutual tolerance, or to dislike, or, more preferably, as de Soyecourt considered, to a courteous oblivion of the past.
And yet when this Audaine, to cite one instance only, had vented some particularly egregious speech that exquisite wife of his would merely smile, in a fond, half-musing way. She had twice her husband's wit, and was cognizant of the fact, beyond doubt; to any list of his faults and weaknesses you could have compiled she indubitably might have added a dozen items, familiar to herself alone: and with all this, it was clamant that she preferred Audaine to any possible compendium of the manly virtues. Why, in comparison, she would have pished at a seraph!—after five years of his twaddle, mark you. And Helene seemed to be really not much more sensible about Gaston....
It all was quite inexplicable. Yet Louis de Soyecourt could see that not one of these folk was blind to his or her yoke-fellow's frailty, but that, beside this something very precious to which they had attained, and he had never attained, a man's foible, or a woman's defect, dwindled into insignificance. Here, then, were people who, after five years' consortment,—consciously defiant of time's corrosion, of the guttering-out of desire, of the gross and daily disillusions of a life in common, and even of the daily fret of all trivialities shared and diversely viewed,—who could yet smile and say: "No, my companion is not quite the perfect being I had imagined. What does it matter? I am content. I would have nothing changed."
Well, but Victoria had not been like that. She let you go to the devil in your own way, without meddling, but she irritated you all the while by holding herself to a mark. She had too many lofty Ideas about her own duties and principles,—much such uncompromising fancies as had led his father to get rid of that little Nelchen.... No, there was no putting up with these rigid virtues, day in and day out. These high-flown notions about right and wrong upset your living, they fretted your luckless associates.... These people here at Ingilby, by example, made no pretensions to immaculacy; instead, they kept their gallant compromise with imperfection; and they seemed happy enough.... There might be a moral somewhere: but he could not find it.
SPOKEN BY ORMSKIRK, WHO ENTERS IN A FRET
A thankless task! to come to you and mar Your dwindling appetite for caviar, And so I told him! [He calls within. Sir, the critics sneer, And swear the thing is "crude and insincere"! "Too trivial"! or for an instant pause And doubly damn with negligent applause! Impute, in fine, the prowess of the Vicar Less to repentance than to too much liquor! Find Louis naught! de Gatinais inane! Gaston unvital, and George Erwyn vain, And Degge the futile fellow of Audaine! Nay, sir, no Epilogue avails to save— You're damned, and Bulmer's hooted as a knave.
[He retires behind the curtain and is thrust out again. He resolves to make the best of it.
The author's obdurate, and bids me say That—since the doings of our far-off day Smacked less of Hippocrene than of Bohea— His tiny pictures of that tiny time Aim little at the lofty and sublime, And paint no peccadillo as a crime— Since when illegally light midges mate, Or flies purloin, or gnats assassinate, No sane man hales them to the magistrate.
Or so he says. He merely strove to find And fix a faithful likeness of mankind About its daily business,—to secure No full-length portrait, but a miniature,— And for it all no moral can procure.
Let Bulmer, then, defend his old-world crew, And beg indulgence—nay, applause—of you.
Grant that we tippled and were indiscreet, And that our idols all had earthen feet; Grant that we made of life a masquerade; And swore a deal more loudly than we prayed; Grant none of us the man his Maker meant,— Our deeds, the parodies of our intent, In neither good nor ill pre-eminent; Grant none of us a Nero,—none a martyr,— All merely so-so. And de te narratur.