Some of the men were elderly, and a number the husbands of the various ladies; there were a few young officers and several diplomats from the Embassies, too. But young or old, all were gay and ready to enjoy life.
"You must taste some vodka, Madame," Prince Milaslvski said, pouring a small glass at Tamara's side. "You will not like it, but it is Russian, and you must learn. See I take some, too, and drink your health!"
Tamara bowed and sipped the stuff, which she found very nasty, with a whiff of ether in it. And then they all trouped to the large table in this huge dining-hall.
Tamara sat on her host's right hand, and Princess Sonia on his left.
To-night his coat was brown and the underdress black, it was quite as becoming as the others she had seen him in, with the strange belt and gold and silver trimmings and the Eastern hang of it all, and his great dark gray-blue eyes blazed at Tamara now and then with a challenge in them she could hardly withstand.
"Now tell us, Gritzko, what did you do in Egypt this year?" Princess Sonia said. "It is the first time that no histories of your ways have come to our ears—were you ill?—or bored? We feared you were dead."
"On the contrary, I was greatly alive," he answered gravely. "I was studying mummies and falling in love with the Sphinx. And just at the end I had a most interesting kind of experience; I came upon what looked like a woman, but turned out to be a mummy and later froze into a block of ice!"
"Gritzko!" they called in chorus. "Can anyone invent such impossible stories as you!"
"I assure you I am speaking the truth. Is it not so, Madame?" And he looked at Tamara and smiled with fleeting merry mockery in his eyes. "See," and he again turned to his guests, "Madame has been in Egypt she tells me, and should be able to vouch for my truth."
Tamara pulled herself together.
"I think the Sphinx must have cast a spell over you, Prince," she said, "so that you could not distinguish the real from the false. I saw no women who were mummies and then turned into ice!"
Some one distracted Princess Sonia's attention for a moment, and the Prince whispered, "One can melt ice!"
"To find a mummy?" Tamara asked with grave innocence. "That would be the inverse rotation."
"And lastly a woman—in one's arms," the Prince said.
Tamara turned to her neighbor and became engrossed in his conversation for the rest of the repast.
All the women, and nearly all the men, spoke English perfectly, and their good manners were such that even this large party talked in the strange guest's language among themselves.
"One must converse now as long as one can," her neighbor told her, "because the moment we have had coffee everyone will play bridge, and no further sense will be got out of them. We are a little behind the rest of the world always in Petersburg, and while in England and Paris this game has had its day, here we are still in its claws to a point of madness, as Madame will see."
And thus it fell about.
Prince Milaslvski gave Tamara his arm and they found coffee awaiting them in the salon when they returned there, and at once the rubbers were made up. And with faces of grave pre-occupation this lately merry company sat down to their game, leaving only the Prince and one lady and Tamara unprovided for.
"Yes, I can play," she had said, when she was asked, "but it bores me so, and I do it so badly; may I not watch you instead?"
The lady who made the third had not these ideas, and she sat down near a table ready to cut in. Thus the host and his English guest were left practically alone.
"I did not mean you to play," he said, "I knew you couldn't—I arranged it like this."
"Why did you know I couldn't?" Tamara asked. "I am too stupid perhaps you think!"
"Yes—too stupid and—too sweet."
"I am neither stupid—nor sweet!" and her eyes flashed.
"Probably not, but you seem so to me.—Now don't get angry at once, it makes our acquaintance so fatiguing, I have each time to be presented over again."
Then Tamara laughed.
"It really is all very funny," she said.
"And how is the estimable Mrs. Hardcastle?" he asked, when he had laughed too—his joyous laugh. "This is a safe subject and we can sit on the fender without your wanting to push me into the fire over it."
"I am not at all sure of that," answered Tamara. She could not resist his charm, she could not continue quarrelling with him; somehow it seemed too difficult here in his own house, so she smiled as she went on. "If you laugh at my Millicent, I shall get very angry indeed."
"Laugh at your Millicent! The idea is miles from my brain—did not I tell you when I could find a wife like that I would marry—what more can I say!" and the Prince looked at her with supreme gravity. "Did she tell 'Henry' that a devil of a Russian bear had got drunk and flung a gipsy into the sea?"
"Possibly. Why were you so—horrible that night?"
"Was I horrible?"
"Probably not, but you seemed so to me," Tamara quoted his late words.
"I seem horrible—and you seem sweet."
"Surely the stupid comes in too!"
"Undoubtedly, but Russia will cure that, you will not go away for a long time."
"In less than four weeks."
"We shall see," and the Prince got up and lit another cigarette. "You do not smoke either? What a little good prude!"
"I am not a prude!" Tamara's ire rose again. "I have tried often with my brother Tom, and it always makes me sick. I would be a fool, not a prude, to go on, would not I?"
"I am not forcing you to smoke. I like your pretty teeth best as they are!"
Rebellion shook Tamara. It was his attitude toward her—one of supreme unconcerned command—as though he had a perfect right to take his pleasure out of her conversation, and play upon her emotions, according to his mood. She could have boxed his ears.
"How long ago is it since we danced in Egypt—a fortnight, or more? You move well, but you don't know anything about dancing," he went on. "Dancing is either a ridiculous jumping about of fools, who have no more understanding of its meaning than a parcel of marionettes. Or it is an expression of some sort of emotion. The Greeks understood that in their Orchiesis, each feeling had its corresponding movement. For me it means a number of things. When a woman is slender and pliant and smooth of step, and if she pleases me otherwise, then it is not waste of time!—Tonight I shall probably get drunk again," and he flicked the ash off his cigarette with his little finger; and even though Tamara was again annoyed with him, she could not help noticing that his hands were fine and strong.
"But you were not drunk on the ship—you could not even plead that," she said, almost shocked at herself for speaking of anything so horrible.
"It is the same thing. I feel a mad supercharge of life—an intoxication of the senses, perhaps. It has only one advantage over the champagne result. I am steady on my feet, and my voice is not thick!"
Tamara did not speak.
"I wonder what this music we shall hear will say to you. Will it make the milk and water you call blood in your veins race?—it will amuse me to see."
"I am not made for your amusement, Prince. How dare you always treat me as you do?" And Tamara drew herself up haughtily. "And if my veins contain milk and water, it is at least my own."
"You dared me once before, Madame," he said, smiling provokingly. "Do you think it is quite wise of you to try it again?"
"I do not care if it is wise or no. I hate you!" almost hissed poor Tamara.
Then his eyes blazed, as she had never seen them yet. He moved nearer to her, and spoke in a low concentrated voice.
"It is a challenge. Good. Now listen to what I say. In a little short time you shall love me. That haughty little head shall lie here on my breast without a struggle, and I shall kiss your lips until you cannot breathe."
For the second time in her life Tamara went dead white—he saw her pale even to her lips. And since the moment was not yet, and since his mood was not now to make her suffer, he bent over with contrition and asked her to forgive him in a tender voice.
"Madame—I am only joking—but I am a brute," he said.
Tamara rose and walked to the bridge tables, furious with herself that he could have seen his power over her, even though it were only to cause rage.
He came up behind her and sat down and began to talk nicely again— about the sights to be seen in the capital, and the interesting museums and collections of pictures and arms. Nothing could be more correct than his manner, and the bridge players who were within earshot smiled, while Countess Olga thought.
"Either Gritzko has just been making love to the Englishwoman, or he is immensely bored—The latter from his face."
The company stopped their game about a quarter to twelve, and tables and champagne and glasses were brought in, and hand in hand they made a circle and drank in the New Year.
Tamara took care to stand by Princess Ardcheff, but her host looked at her as he raised his glass. Then they descended to the hall, and were wrapped in their furs again to go to the caf where the Bohemians were to sing.
Tamara and the Princess were already in the latter's coup when Prince Milaslvski called out: "Tantine—! take me too—I am slim and can sit between you, and I want to arrive soon, I have sent my motor on with Serge and Valonne."
And without waiting he got in.
They had to sit very close, and Tamara became incensed with herself, because in spite of all her late rage with the Prince, she experienced a sensation which was disturbing and unknown. The magnetic personality of the man was so strong. He bent and whispered something to the Princess, and then as though sharing a secret, he leaned the other way, and whispered to Tamara, too. The words were nothing, only some ordinary nonsense, of which she took no heed. But as he spoke his lips touched her ear. A wild thrill ran through her, she almost trembled, so violent was the emotion the little seemingly accidental caress caused. A feeling she had never realized in the whole of her life before. Why did he tease her so. Why did he always behave in this maddening manner! and choose moments when she was defenseless and could make no move. Of one thing she was certain, if she should stay on in Russia she must come to some understanding with him if possible, and prevent any more of these ways—absolutely insulting to her self-respect.
So she shrunk back in her corner and gave no reply.
"Are you angry with me?" he whispered. "It was the shaking of the automobile which caused me to come too near you. Forgive me, I will try not to sin again,"—but as he spoke he repeated his offense!
Tamara clasped her hands together, tightly, and answered in the coldest voice—
"I did not notice anything, Prince, it must be a guilty conscience which causes you to apologize."
"In that case then all is well!" and he laughed softly.
The Princess now joined in the conversation.
"Gritzko, you must tell Mrs. Loraine how these gipsies are, and what she will hear—she will think it otherwise so strange."
He turned to Tamara at once.
"They are a queer people who dwell in a clan. They sing like the fiend—one hates it or loves it, but it gets on the nerves, and if a man should fancy one of them, he must pay the chief, not the girl. Then they are faithful and money won't tempt them away. But if the man makes them jealous, they run a knife into his back."
"It sounds exciting at all events," Tamara said.
"It is an acquired taste, and if you have a particularly sensitive ear the music will make you feel inclined to scream. It drives me mad."
"Gritzko," the Princess whispered to him. "You promise to be sage, dear boy, do you not? Sometimes you alarm me when you go too far."
"Tantine!" and he kissed her hand. "Your words are law!"
"Alas! if that were only true," she said with a sigh.
"Tonight all shall be suited to the eleven thousand virgins!" and he laughed. "Or shall I say suited to an English grande dame—which is the same!"
They had crossed the Neva by now, and presently arrived at a building with a gloomy looking door, and so to a dingy hall, in which a few waiters were scurrying about. They seemed to go through endless shabby passages, like those of a lunatic asylum, and finally arrived at a large and empty room—empty so far as people were concerned—for at the end there were sofas and a long narrow table, and a few smaller ones with chairs.
The tables were already laid, with dishes of raw ham and salted almonds and various bonnes bouches, while brilliant candelabra shone amidst numerous bottles of champagne.
The company seemed to have forgotten the gloom that playing bridge had brought over them, and were as gay again as one could wish, while divesting themselves of their furs and snow-boots.
And soon Tamara found herself seated on the middle sofa behind the long table, Count Glboff on her right, and the French Secretary, Count Valonne, at her left, while beyond him was Princess Sonia, and near by all the rest.
Their host stood up in front, a brimming glass in his hand.
Then there filed in about twenty-five of the most unattractive animal-looking females, dressed in ordinary hideous clothes, who all took their seats on a row of chairs at the farther end. They wore no national costume nor anything to attract the eye, but were simply garbed as concierges or shop-girls might have been; and some were old, gray-haired women, and one had even a swollen face tied up in a black scarf! How could it be possible that any of these could be the "fancy" of a man!
They were followed by about ten dark, beetle-browed males, who carried guitars.
These were the famous Bohemians! Their appearance at all events was disillusioning enough. Tamara's disappointment was immense.
But presently when they began to sing she realized that there was something—something in their music—even though it was of an intense unrest.
She found it was the custom for them to sing a weird chant song on the name of each guest, and every one must drink to this guest's health, all standing, and quaffing the glasses of champagne down at one draught.
That they all remained sober at the end of the evening seemed to do great credit to their heads, for Tamara, completely unaccustomed to the smoke and the warm room, feared even to sip at her glass.
The toasting over, every one sat down, Prince Milaslvski and a Pole being the only two in front of the table, and they with immense spirit chaffed the company, and called the tunes.
The music was of the most wild, a queer metallic sound, and the airs were full of unexpected harmonies and nerve-racking chords. It fired the sense, in spite of the hideous singers.
They all sat there with perfectly immovable faces and entirely still hands,—singing without gesticulations what were evidently passionate love-songs! Nothing could have been more incongruous or grotesque!
But the fascination of it grew and grew. Every one of their ugly faces remained printed on Tamara's brain. Long afterward she would see them in dreams.
How little we yet know of the force of sounds! How little we know of any of the great currents which affect the world and human life!
And music above any other art stirs the sense. Probably the Greek myth of Orpheus and his lute was not a myth after all; perhaps Orpheus had mastered the occult knowledge of this great power. Surely it would be worth some learned scientist's while to investigate from a psychological point of view how it is, and why it is, that certain chords cause certain emotions, and give base or elevating visions to human souls.
The music of these gipsies was of the devil, it seemed to Tamara, and she was not surprised at the wild look in Prince Milaslvski's eyes, for she herself—she, well brought up, conventionally crushed English Tamara,—felt a strange quickening of the pulse.
After an hour or so of this music, two of the younger Bohemian women began to dance, not in the least with the movements that had shocked Mrs. Hardcastle in the Alexandrian troupe on the ship, but a foolish valsing, while the shoulders rose and fell and quivered like the flapping wings of some bird. The shoulders seemed the talented part, not the body or hips.
And then about three o'clock the entire troupe filed out of the room for refreshment and rest. The atmosphere was thick with smoke, and heated to an incredible extent. Some one started to play the piano, and every one began to dance a wild round—a mazurka, perhaps—and Tamara found herself clasped tightly in the arms of her Prince.
She did not know the step, but they valsed to the tune, and all the time he was whispering mad things in Russian in her ear. She could not correct him, because she did not know what they might mean.
"Doushka," he said at last. "So you are awake; so it is not milk and water after all in those pretty blue veins! God! I will teach you to live!"
And Tamara was not angry; she felt nothing except an unreasoning pleasure and exultation.
The amateur bandsman came to a stop, and another took his place; but the spell fortunately was broken, and she could pull herself together and return to sane ways.
"I am tired," she said, when the Prince would have gone on, "and I am almost faint for want of air." So he opened a window and left her for a moment in peace.
She danced again with the first man who asked her, going quickly from one to another so as to avoid having to be too often held by the Prince. But each time she felt his arm round her, back again would steal the delicious mad thrill.
"I hope you are amusing yourself, dear child," her godmother said. "This is a Russian scene; you would not see it in any other land."
And indeed Tamara was happy, in spite of her agitation and unrest.
She sat down now with Olga Glboff, and they watched the others while they took breath. The Prince was dancing with Princess Shbanoff, and her charming face was turned up to him with an adoring smile.
"Poor Tatiane,—" Countess Olga said low to herself.
When the gipsies returned, their music grew wilder than ever, and some of the solos seemed to touch responsive chords in Tamara's very bones.
The Prince sat next her on the sofa now, and every few moments he would bend over to take an almond, or light a cigarette, so that he touched her apparently without intention, but nevertheless with intent. And the same new and intoxicating sensation would steal through her, and she would draw her slender figure away and try to be stiff and severe, but with no effect.
It was long after five o'clock before it was all done, and they began to wrap up and say "Goodnight." And the troupe, bowing, went out to another engagement they had.
"They sing all night and sleep in the day," Count Glboff told Tamara, as they descended the stairs. "At this time of the year they never see daylight, only sometimes the dawn."
"Tantine," said the Prince, "order your motor to go back. I sent for my troika, and it is here. We must show Madame Loraine what a sleigh feels like."
And the Princess agreed.
Oh! the pleasure Tamara found when presently they were flying over the snow, the side horses galloping with swift, sure feet. And under the furs she and her godmother felt no cold, while Gritzko, this wild Prince, sat facing them, his splendid eyes ablaze.
Presently they stopped and looked out on the Gulf of Finland and a vast view. Above were countless stars and a young, rising moon.
It was striking seven as they went to their rooms.
Such was Tamara's first outing in this land of the North.
Six days went past before Tamara again saw the Prince. Whether he was busy or kept away because he wished to, she did not know—and would not ask—but a piqued sensation gradually began to rise as she thought of him.
"I must arrange for you to go to Tsarski-Slo to see the ceremony of the Emperor blessing the waters on the 6th of our January, Tamara," her godmother said, a day or two after the Bohemian feast. "I have seen it so often, and I do not wish to stand about in the cold, but Sonia's husband is one of the aides-de-camp, and, as you know, she lives at Tsarski. Olga is going out there, and will take you with her, and you three can go on; it will interest you, I am sure."
And Tamara had gladly acquiesced.
Tsarski-Slo, which they reached after half an hour's train, seemed such a quaint place to her. Like some summer resort made up of wooden villas, only now they were all covered with snow. She and Countess Olga had gone together to Princess Sonia's house, and from there to the palace grounds, where they followed snow-cleared paths to a sort of little temple near the lake, where they were allowed to stand just outside the line of Cossacks and watch for the coming procession.
The sky was heavy, and soon the snow began to fall intermittently in big, fluffy flakes. This background of white showed up the brilliant scarlet uniforms of the escort. Standing in long rows, they were an imposing sight. And Tamara admired their attractive faces, many so much more finely cut than the guards further on. They wore fierce beards, and they all seemed to be extremely tall and slim, with waists which would not have disgraced a girl. And, at the end of the line at the corner where they stood, she suddenly saw the Prince. He was talking to some other officers, and apparently did not see them. Tamara grew angry with herself at finding how the very sight of him moved her. The procession, soon seen advancing, was as a lesser interest, her whole real concentration being upon one scarlet form.
From the time the signal was given that the Emperor had started from the palace all the heads were bare—bare in a temperature many degrees below freezing and in falling snow! It was the Prince who gave the word of command, and while he stood at attention she watched his face. It was severe and rigid, like the face of a statue. On duty he was evidently a different creature from the wild Gritzko of gipsy suppers. But there was no use arguing with herself—he attracted her in every case.
Then the procession advanced, and she looked at it with growing amazement. This wonderful nation! so full of superstition and yet of common sense. It seemed astonishing that grown-up people should seriously assist at this ceremony of sentiment.
First came the choir-boys with thick coats covering their scarlet gowns; then a company of singing men; then the priests in their magnificent robes of gold and silver, and then the Emperor, alone and bareheaded. Afterward followed the Grand Dukes and the standard of every guard regiment and finally all the aides-de-camps.
When the Emperor passed she glanced again at the Prince. The setness of his face had given place to a look of devotion. There was evidently a great love for his master in his strange soul. When the last figure had moved beyond the little temple corner, the tension of all was relaxed, and they stood at ease again, and Gritzko appeared to perceive the party of ladies, and smiled.
"I am coming to get some hot coffee after lunch, Sonia," he called out. "I promised Marie."
"Does it not give them cold?" Tamara asked, as she looked at the Cossacks' almost shaven bare heads. "And they have no great-coats on! What can they be made of, poor things?"
"They get accustomed to it, and it is not at all cold to-day, fortunately," Countess Olga said. "They would have their furs on if it were. Don't you think they are splendid men? I love to see them in their scarlet; they only wear it on special occasions and when they are with the Emperor, or at Court balls or birthdays. I am so glad you see Gritzko in his."
Tamara did not say she had already seen the Prince in the scarlet coat; none of her new friends were aware that they had met before in Egypt.
All this time the guns were firing, and soon the ceremony of dipping the cross in the water was over, and the procession started back again.
It was the same as when it came, only the priests were wiping the cross in a napkin, and presently all passed out of sight toward the palace, and the three ladies walked quickly back to the waiting sleigh, half-frozen with cold.
About ten minutes after they had finished lunch, and were sitting at coffee in Princess Sonia's cosy salon—so fresh and charming and like an English country house—they heard a good deal of noise in the passage, and the Prince came in. He was followed by a sturdy boy of eight, and carried in his arms a tiny girl, whose poor small body looked wizened, while in her little arms she held a crutch.
"We met in the hall—my friend Marie and I," he said, as he bent to kiss Princess Sonia's hand, and then the other two ladies', "and we have a great deal to say to one another."
"These are my children, Mrs. Loraine," Princess Sonia said. "They were coming down to see you; but now Gritzko has appeared we shall receive no attention, I fear," and she laughed happily, while the little boy came forward, and with beautiful manners kissed Tamara's hand.
"You are an English lady," he said, without the slightest accent. "Have you a little boy, too?"
Tamara was obliged to own she had no children, which he seemed to think very unfortunate.
"Marie always has to have her own way, but while she is with Gritzko she is generally good," he announced.
"How splendidly you speak English!" Tamara said. "And only eight years old! I suppose you can talk French, too, as well as Russian?"
"Naturally, of course," he replied, with fine contempt. "But I'll tell you something—German I do very badly. We have a German governess, and I hate her. Her mouth is too full of teeth."
"That certainly is a disadvantage," Tamara agreed.
"When Gritzko gets up with us he makes her in a fine rage! She spluttered so at him last week the bottom row fell out. We were glad!"
Princess Sonia now interrupted: "What are you saying, Peter?" she said. "Poor Frulein! You know I shall have to forbid Gritzko from going to tea with you. You are all so naughty when you get together!"
There was at once a fierce scream from the other side of the room.
"Maman! we will have Gritzko to tea! I love him!—Je l'aime!" and the poor crippled tiny Marie nearly strangled her friend with a frantic embrace.
"You see, Maman, we defy you!" the Prince said, when he could speak.
The little boy now joined his sister, and both soon shrieked with laughter over some impossible tale which was being poured into their ears; and Princess Sonia said softly to Tamara:
"He is too wonderful with children—Gritzko—when he happens to like them—isn't he, Olga? All of ours simply adore him, and I can never tell you of his goodness and gentleness to Marie last year when she had her dreadful accident. The poor little one will be well some day, we hope, and so I do not allow myself to be sad about it; but it was a terrible grief."
Tamara looked her sympathy, while she murmured a few words. Princess Sonia was such a sweet and charming lady.
More visitors now came in, and they all drank their coffee and tea, but the Prince paid no attention to any one beyond casual greetings; he continued his absorbing conversation with his small friends.
Tamara was surprised at this new side of him. It touched her. And he was such a gloriously good-looking picture as he sat there in his scarlet coat, while Marie played with the silver cartridges across his breast, and Peter with his dagger.
When she and Countess Olga left to catch an early afternoon train he came too. He had to be back in Petersburg, he said. Nothing could look more desolate than the tracts of country seen from the train windows, so near the capital and yet wild, uncultivated spaces, part almost like a marsh. There seemed to be nothing living but the lonely soldiers who guarded the Royal line a hundred yards or so off. It depressed Tamara as she gazed out, and she unconsciously sighed, while a sad look came into her eyes.
The Prince and Countess Olga and another officer, who had joined them, were all chaffing gaily while they smoked their cigarettes, but Gritzko appeared to be aware of everything that was passing, for he suddenly bent over and whispered to Tamara:
"Madame, when you have been here long enough you will learn never to see what you do not wish." Then he turned back to the others, and laughed again.
What did he mean? she wondered. Were there many things then to which one must shut one's eyes?
She now caught part of the conversation that was going on.
"But why won't you come, Gritzko?" Countess Olga was saying. "It will be most amusing—and the prizes are lovely, Tatiane, who has seen them, says."
"I?—to be glued to a bridge table for three solid evenings. Mon Dieu!" the Prince cried. "Having to take what partner falls to one's lot! No choice! My heavens! nothing would drag me. Whatever game I play in life, I will select my lady myself."
"You are tiresome!" Countess Olga said. When they got to the station the Princess's coup was waiting, as well as the Glboff sleigh.
"Good-bye, and a thousand thanks for taking me," Tamara said, and they waved as Countess Olga drove off. And then the Prince handed her into the coup and asked her if she would drop him on the way.
For some time after they were settled under the furs and rushing along, he seemed very silent, and when Tamara ventured a few remarks he answered mechanically. At last after a while:
"You are going to this bridge tournament at the Varishkine's, I suppose?" he suddenly said. "It ought to be just your affair."
"Why my affair?" Tamara asked, annoyed. "I hate bridge."
"So you do. I forgot. But Tantine will take you, all the same. Perhaps, if nothing more amusing turns up, I will drop in one night and see; but—wheugh!" and he stretched himself and spread out his hands—"I have been impossibly sage for over a fortnight. I believe I must soon break out."
"What does that mean, Prince—to 'break out'?"
"It means to throw off civilized things and be as mad as one is inclined," and he smiled mockingly while some queer, restless spirit dwelt in his eyes. "I always break out when things make me think, and just now—in the train—when you looked at the sad country——"
"That made you think?" said Tamara, surprised.
"Well—never mind, good little angel. And now good-bye," and he kissed her hand lightly and jumped out; they had arrived at his house.
Tamara drove on to the Serguiefskaia with a great desire to see him again in her heart.
* * * * *
And so the days passed and the hours flew. Tamara had been in Russia almost three weeks; and since the blessing of the waters the time had been taken up with a continual round of small entertainments. The Court mourning prevented as yet any great balls; but there were receptions, and "bridges" and dinners, and night after night they saw the same people, and Tamara got to know them fairly well. But after the excursion to Tsarski-Slo for several days she did not see the Prince. His military duties took up his whole time, her godmother said. And when at last he did come it was among a crowd, and there was no possible chance of speech.
"This bores me," he announced when he found the room full of people, and he left in ten minutes, and they did not see him again for a week, when they met him at a dinner at the English Embassy.
Then he seemed cool and respectful and almost commonplace, and Tamara felt none of the satisfaction she should have done from this changed order of things.
At the bridge tournament he made no appearance whatever.
"Why do we see Prince Milaslvski so seldom when we go out, Marraine?" she asked her godmother one day. "I thought all these people were his intimate friends!"
"So they are, dear; but Gritzko is an odd creature," the Princess said. "He asked me once if I thought he was an imbcile or a performing monkey, when I reproached him for not being at the balls. He only goes out when he is so disposed. If some one person amuses him, or if he suddenly wants to see us all. It is merely by fits and starts—always from the point of view of if he feels inclined, never from the observance of any social law, or from obligation."
"Why on earth do you put up with such manners?" Tamara exclaimed with irritation.
"I do not know. We might not in any one else, but Gritzko is a privileged person," the Princess said. "You can't imagine, of course, dear, because you do not know him well enough, but he has ways and faons of coaxing. He will do the most outrageous things, and make me very angry, and then he will come and put his head in my lap like a child, and kiss my hands, and call me 'Tantine,' and, old woman as I am, I cannot resist him. And if one is unhappy or ill, no one can be more tender and devoted." Then she added dreamily:—"While as a lover I should think he must be quite divine."
Tamara took another cup of tea and looked into the fire. She was ashamed to show how this conversation interested her.
"Tatiane Shbanoff is madly in love with him, poor thing, and I do not believe he has ever given her any real encouragement," the Princess continued. "I have seen him come to a ball, and when all the young women are longing for him to ask them to dance, he will go off with me, or old Countess Nivenska, and sit talking half the night, apparently unaware of any one else's presence."
"It seems he must be the most exasperating, tiresome person one has ever heard of, Marraine," Tamara exclaimed. "He rides over you all, and you cannot even be angry, and continually forgive him."
"But then he has his serious side," the Princess went on, eager to defend her favorite. "He is now probably studying some deep military problem all this time, and that is why we have not seen him,"—and then noticing the scornful pose of Tamara's head she laughed. "Don't be so contemptuous, dear child," she—said. "Perhaps you too will understand some day."
"That is not very likely," Tamara said.
But alas! for the Princess' optimistic surmises as to the Prince's occupations, a rumor spread toward the end of the week of the maddest orgie which had taken place at the Fontonka house. It sounded like a phantasmagoria in which unclothed dancers, and wild beasts, and unheard-of feats seemed to float about. And the Princess sighed as she refuted the gossip it caused.
"Oh, my poor Gritzko! if he might only even for a while remain in a state of grace," she said.
And Tamara's interest in him, in spite of her shocked contempt, did not decrease.
And so the time went on.
She was gradually growing to know the society better, and to get a peep at the national point of view. They were a wonderfully uncomplex people, with the perfect ease which only those at the bottom of the social ladder who have not started to climb at all, and those who have reached the top, like these, can have. They were casually friendly when the strangers pleased them, and completely unimpressed with their intrinsic worth if they did not. They seemed to see in a moment the shades in people, and only to select the best. And when Tamara came to talk seriously with even the most apparently frivolous, she found they all had the same trace of vague melancholy and mystery, as though they were grasping in the dark for something spiritual they wished to seize. Their views and boundaries of principles in action seemed to be limitless, just as their vast country seems to have no landmarks for miles. One could imagine the unexpected happening in any of their lives. And the charm and fascination of them continued to increase.
It was late one afternoon when Prince Milaslvski again came prominently into view on Tamara's horizon.
She was sitting alone reading in the blue salon when he walked unceremoniously in.
"Give me some tea, Madame," he said. "The Princess met me in the hall, and told me I should find you here; so now let us begin by this."
Tamara poured it out and leaned back in the sofa below the beautiful Falconet group, which made—and makes—the glory of the blue salon in the Ardcheff House. She felt serene. These two weeks of unawakened emotions and just pleasant entertainments since the day at Tsarski had given her fresh poise.
"And what do you think of us by now, Madame?" he asked.
"I think you are a strange band," she said. "You are extremely intellectual, you are brilliant, and yet in five minutes all intelligence can fade out of your faces, and all interest from your talks, and you fly to bridge."
"It is because we are primitive and unspoilt; this is our new toy, and we must play with it; the excitement will wane, and a fresh one come——" he paused and then went on in another tone—
"You in England have many outlets for your supervitality—you cannot judge of other nations who have not. You had a magnificent system of government. It took you about eight hundred years to build up, and it was the admiration of the world—and now you are allowing your Socialists and ignorant plebeian place hunters to pull it all to pieces and throw it away. That is more foolish surely, than even to go crazy over bridge!"
"Have you ever been in England, Prince?" she asked.
He sat down on the sofa beside her.
"No—but one day I shall go, Paris is as far as I have got on the road as yet."
"You would think us all very dull, I expect, and calculating and restrained," Tamara said softly. "You might like the hunting, but somehow I do not see you in the picture there—"
He got up and moved restlessly to the mantlepiece, where he leaned, while he stirred his tea absently. There was almost an air of bravado in the insouciant tone of his next remark—
"Do you know, I did a dreadful thing," he said. "And it has grieved me terribly, and I must have your sympathy. I hurt my Arab horse. You remember him, Suliman, at the Sphinx?"
"Yes," said Tamara.
"I had a little party to some of my friends, and we were rather gay— not a party you would have approved of, but one which pleased us all the same—and they dared me to ride Suliman from the stables to the big saloon."
"And I suppose you did?" Tamara's voice was full of contempt.
He noticed the tone, and went on defiantly:
"Of course; that was easy; only the devil of a carpet made him trip at the bottom again, and he has strained two of his beautiful feet. But you should have seen him!" he went on proudly. "As dainty as the finest gentleman in and out the chairs, and his great success was putting his forelegs on the fender seat!"
"How you have missed your metir!" Tamara said, and she leant back in her sofa and surveyed him as he stood, a graceful tall figure in his blue long coat. "Think of the triumph you would have in a Hippodrome!"
He straightened himself suddenly, his great eyes flashed, and over his face came a fierceness she had not guessed.
"I thought you had melted a little—here in our snow, but I see it is the mummy there all the same," he said.
Tamara laughed. For the first time it was she who held the reins.
"Even to the wrappings,"—and she gently kicked out the soft gray folds of her skirt.
He took a step nearer her, and then he stood still, and while the fierceness remained in his face, his eyes were full of pain.
She glanced up at him, and over her came almost a sense of indignation that he should so unworthily pass his time.
"How you waste your life!" she said. "Oh! think to be a man, and free, and a great landowner. To have thousands of peasants dependent upon one's frown. To have the opportunity of lifting them into something useful and good. And to spend one's hours and find one's pleasure in such things as this! Riding one's favorite horse at the risk of its and one's own neck, up and down the stairs. Ah! I congratulate you, Prince!"
He drew himself up again, as if she had hit him, and the pain in his eyes turned to flame.
"I allow no one to criticize my conduct," he said. "If it amused me to ride a bear into this room and let it eat you up, I would not hesitate."
"I do not doubt it," and Tamara laughed scornfully. "It would be in a piece with all the rest."
He raised his head with an angry toss, and then they looked at each other like two fighting cats, when fortunately the door opened, and the Princess came in.
In a moment he had laughed, and resumed his habitually insouciant mien.
"Madame has been reading me a lecture," he said. "She thinks I am wasted in the Emperor's escort, and a circus is my place."
Tamara did not speak.
"Why do you seem always to quarrel so, Gritzko?" the Princess said, plaintively. "It really quite upsets me, dear boy."
"You must not worry, Tantine," and he kissed the Princess' hand. "We don't quarrel; we are the best of friends; only we tell one another home truths. I came this afternoon to ask you if you will come to Milaslv next week. I think Madame ought to see Moscow, and we might make an excursion from there just for a night," and he looked at Tamara with a lifting of the brows.
"Then, Tantine, she could see how I cow my peasants with a knout, and grind them to starvation. It would be an interesting picture for her to take back to England."
"I should enjoy all that immensely, of course," Tamara said, pleasantly. "Many thanks, Prince."
"I shall be so honored," and he bowed politely; then, turning to the Princess: "You will settle it, won't you, Tantine?"
"I will look at our engagements, dear boy. We will try to arrange it. I can tell you at the ballet," and the Princess smiled encouragingly up at him. "My godchild has not seen our national dancing yet, so we go to-night with Prince Miklefski and Valonne."
"Then it is au revoir," he said, and kissing their hands he left them.
When the door was shut and they were alone.
"Tamara, what had you said to Gritzko to move him so?" the Princess asked. "I, who know every line of his face, tell you I have not seen him so moved since his mother's death."
So Tamara told her, describing the scene.
"My dear, you touched him in a tender spot," her godmother said. "His mother was a saint almost to those people at Milaslv; they worshipped her. She was very beautiful and very sweet, and after her husband's death she spent nearly all her life there. She started schools to teach the peasants useful things, and she encouraged them and cared for their health; and her great wish was that Gritzko should carry out her schemes. She was no advanced Liberal, the late Princess, but she had such a tender heart, she longed to bring happiness to those in her keeping, and teach them to find happiness themselves."
"And he has let it all slide, I suppose," Tamara said.
"Well, not exactly that," and the Princess sighed deeply; "but I dare say these over gay companions of his do not leave him much time for the arrangement such things require. Ah! if you knew, Tamara," she went on, "how fond I am of that boy, and how I feel the great and noble parts of his character are running to waste, you would understand my grief."
"You are so kind, dear Marraine," Tamara said. "But surely he must be very weak."
"No, he is not weak; it is a dare-devil wild strain in him that seems as if it must out. He has a will of iron, and never breaks his word; only to get him to be serious, or give his word, is as yet an unaccomplished task. I sometimes think if a great love could come into his life it would save him—his whole soul could wake to that."
Tamara looked down and clasped her hands.
"But it does not seem likely to happen, does it, Marraine?"
The Princess sighed again.
"I would like him to love you, dear child," she said; and then as Tamara did not answer she went on softly almost to herself: "My brother Alexis was just such another as Gritzko. That season he spent with me in London, when your mother and I were young, he played all sorts of wild pranks. We three were always together. He was killed in a duel after, you know. It was all very sad."
Tamara stroked her godmother's hand.
"Dear, dear Marraine," she said.
Then they checked sentiment and went to dress for dinner, arm in arm. They had grown real friends in these three short weeks.
The scene at the ballet was most brilliant, as it is always on a Sunday night. The great auditorium, with its blue silk-curtained boxes, the mass of glittering uniforms, and the ladies in evening-dress, although they were all in black, made a gay spectacle almost like a gala night. Then it is so delightful to have one's eyes pleased with what is on the stage and yet be able to talk.
But Tamara, as she sat and looked at it, was not enjoying herself. She was overcome with a vague feeling of unrest. She hated having to admit that the Prince was the cause of it. She could not look ahead; she was full of fear. She knew now that when he was near her she experienced certain emotion, that he absorbed far too much of her thoughts. He did not really care for her probably, and if he did, how could one hope to be happy with such a wild, fierce man? No, she must control herself; she must conquer his influence over her, and if she could not she could at least go away. England seemed very uninteresting and calm—and safe!
Filled with these sage resolutions she tried to fix her eyes on the stage, but unconsciously they continually strayed to a tall blue figure which was seated in the front row of the stalls with a number of officers of the Chevaliers Gardes. And when the curtain went down,—and instead of the Prince joining them in the box, as she fully expected he would do, he calmly leaned against the orchestra division and surveyed the house with his glasses—she felt a sudden pang, and talked as best she might to the many friends who thronged to pay the Princess court.
Gritzko did not even glance their way! he stood laughing with his comrades, and it would have been impossible to imagine anything more insouciant and attractive and provoking than the creature looked.
"No wonder Tatiane Shbanoff is in love with him—or that actress—or— the rest!" Tamara thought.
And then a wave of rage swept over her. She at least would not give in and join this throng! To be his plaything. She would be mistress of herself and her thoughts!
But alas! all these emotions not unmixed with pique, spoilt the ballet's second act!
For the interval after it, the two ladies got up and went into the little ante-chamber beyond the box. Tamara was glad. There she could not see what this annoying Prince would do.
What he did do was to open the door in a few minutes and saunter in. He greeted Tamara with polite indifference, and having calmly displaced Count Valonne, sat down by the Princess' side.
Valonne was a charming person, and he and Tamara were great friends. He chatted on now, and she smiled at him, but with ears preternaturally sharpened she heard the conversation of the other pair.
It was this.
"Tantine, I am feeling the absolute devil tonight. Will you come and have supper with me after this infernal ballet is over?"
"Gritzko—what is it? Something has disturbed you!"
He leant forward and rested his chin on his hands. "Well, your haughty guest touched me with too sharp a spur, perhaps," he said, "but she was right. I do waste my life. I have been thinking of my mother. I believe she might not be pleased with me sometimes. And then I felt mad, and now I must do something to forget. So if you won't sup—"
"Oh! Gritzko!" the Princess said.
"I telephoned home and ordered things to be ready. I know you don't like a restaurant. Say you will come," and he kissed her hand. "I have asked all the rest." And the Princess had to consent!
"You must promise not to quarrel any more with my godchild if we do. I am sure you frighten and upset her, Gritzko—promise me," she said. He laughed.
"I upset her! She is too cold and good to be upset!"
Tamara still continued to talk to Valonne, and presently they all moved into the box, and the Prince sat down beside her, and again as he leaned over in the shaded light that nameless physical thrill crept over her. Was she really cold, she asked herself. If so, why should she shiver as she was shivering now?
"I wonder if you have any heart at all, Madame?" he said. "If under the mummy's wrappings there is some flesh and blood?"
Then she turned and answered him with passion. "Of course there is," she said.
He bent over still nearer. "Just for to-night, shall we not quarrel or spar?" he whispered. "See, I will treat you as a sister and friend. I want to be petted and spoilt—I am sad."
Tamara, of course, melted at once! His extraordinarily attractive voice was very deep and had a note in it which touched her heart.
"Please don't be sad," she said softly. "Perhaps you think I was unkind to-day, but indeed it was only because—Oh! because it seemed to me such waste that you—you should be like that."
"It hurt like the fiend, you know," he said, "the thought of the damned circus. I think we are particularly sensitive as a race to those sort of things. If you had been a man I would have killed you."
"I hated to hear what you told me," and Tamara looked down. "It seemed so dreadful—so barbaric—and so childish for a man who really has a brain. If you were just an animal person like some of the others are, it would not have mattered; but you—please I would like you never to do any of these mad things again—"
Then she stopped suddenly and grew tenderly pink. She realized the inference he must read in her words.
He did not speak for a moment, only devoured her with his great blue-gray eyes. Of what he was thinking she did not know. It made her uncomfortable and a little ashamed. Why had she melted, it was never any use. So she drew herself up stiffly and leaned back in her seat.
Then down at the side by the folds of her dress he caught her hand while he said quite low:
"Madame, I must know—do you mean that?"
"Yes," she said, and tried to take away her hand. "Yes, I mean that I think it dreadful for any human being to throw things away—and Oh! I would like you to be very great."
He did not let go her hand, indeed he held it the more tightly.
"You are a dear after all, and I will try," he said. "And when I have pleased you you must give me a reward."
"Alas! What reward could I give you, Prince," she sighed.
"That I will tell you when the time comes."
Thus peace seemed to be restored, and soon the curtain fell for the interval before the last act, and the Prince got up and went out of the box.
He did not reappear again, but was waiting for them to start for his house.
"I met Stephen Strong, Tantine," he said. "He left me at Trieste, you know, and only arrived in Petersburg to-day. He has got a cousin with him, Lord something, so I have asked them both to come along. They will be a little late they said."
"It is not Jack Courtray by chance—is it?" Tamara asked, in an interested voice, as they went. "Mr. Strong has a cousin who lives near us in the country and he is always traveling about."
"Yes, I think that is the name—Courtray. So you know him then!" and the Prince leant forward from the seat which faced them. "An ami d'enfance?"
"We used to play cricket and fish and bird's-nest," she said. "Tom—my brother Tom—was his fag at Eton—he is one of my oldest friends—dear old Jack."
"How fortunate I met him to-night!"
Then her attention was diverted, as it always was each time she saw the blazing braziers and heaped up flaming piles of wood at the corners of the streets, since she had been in Russia. "How glad I am there is something to make the poor people warm," she said.
"When it gets below twelve degrees it is difficult to enjoy life, certainly," the Prince agreed. "And, indeed, it is hard sometimes not to freeze."
It was a strange lurid picture, the Isvostchiks drawn round, while the patient horses with their sleighs stood quiet some little distance off.
How hard must existence be to these poor things.
Supper could not be ready for half an hour, the Prince told them when they got to the Fontonka House, and as they all arrived more or less together, they soon paired off for bridge.
"I am going to show Mrs. Loraine my pictures," the host said. "She admires our Catherine and Peter the Great."
And in the salon where they all sat, he began pointing out this one and that, making comments in a distrait voice. But when they came to the double doors at the end he opened them wide, and led Tamara into another great room.
"This is the ballroom," he said. "It is like all ballrooms, so we shall not linger over that. I have two Rembrandts in my own apartment beyond which it may interest you to see, and a few other relics of the past."
He was perfectly matter of fact, his manner had not a shade of gallantry in it, and Tamara accepted this new situation and followed him without a backward thought.
They seemed to go through several sheet-shrouded salons and came out into a thoroughly comfortable room. Its general aspect of decoration had a Byzantine look, and on the floor were several magnificent bear skins, while around the walls low bookcases with quantities of books stood. And above them many arms were crossed. Over the mantlepiece a famous Rembrandt frowned, and another from the opposite wall. But it was strange there were no photographs of dancers or actresses about as Tamara would have thought.
The Prince talked intelligently. He seemed to know of such things as pictures, and understood their technique. And if he had been an elderly art critic he could not have been more aloof.
Presently Tamara noticed underneath the first picture there was hung a quaint sword. Something in its shape and workmanship attracted her attention, and she asked its history.
The Prince took it down and placed it in her hand.
"That sword belonged to a famous person," he said—"a Cossack—Stenko Razin was his name—a robber and a brigand and a great chief. He loved a lady, a Persian Princess whom he had captured, and one day when out on his yacht on the Volga, being drunk from a present of brandy some Dutch travellers had brought him, he clasped her in his arms. She was very beautiful and gentle and full of exquisite caresses, and he loved her more than all his wealth. But mad thoughts mounted to his brain, and after making an oration to the Volga for all the riches and plunder she had brought him, he reproached himself that he had never given this river anything really valuable in return, and then exclaiming he would repair his fault, unclasped the clinging arms of his mistress and flung her overboard."
"What a horrible brute!" exclaimed Tamara, and she put down the sword.
The Prince took it up and drew it from its sheath.
"The Cossacks had a wild strain in them even in those days," he said. "You must not be too hard on me for merely riding my horse!"
"Would you be cruel like that, too, Prince?" Tamara asked; and she sat down for a second on the arm of a carved chair. And when he had put the sword back in its place, he bent forward and leaned on the back of it.
"Yes, I could be cruel, I expect," he said. "I could be even brutal if I were jealous, or the woman I loved played me false, but I would not be cruel to her while it hurt myself. Razin lost his pleasure for days through one mad personal act. It would have been more sensible to have kept her until he was tired of her, or she had grown cold to him. Don't you agree with me about that?"
"It is a horrible history and I hate it," Tamara said. "Such ways I do not understand. For me love means something tender and true which could never want to injure the thing it loved."
He looked at her gravely.
"Lately I have wondered what love could mean for me. Tell me what you think, Madame," he said.
She resolved not to allow any emotion to master her, though she was conscious of a sudden beating of her heart.
"You would torture sometimes, and then you would caress."
"I would certainly caress."
He moved from his position and walked across the room, while he talked as though the words burst from him.
"Yes, I should demand unquestioning surrender, and if it were refused me, then I might be cruel. And if my love were cold or capricious, then I would leave her. But if she loved me truly—my God, it would be bliss."
"Think how it would hurt her when you did those foolish things though," Tamara said.
He stopped short in his restless walk.
"No one does foolish things when he is happy, Madame. All such outbursts are the froth of a soul in its seething. But if one were satisfied—" he paused, and then he went on again. "Oh! If you knew!— In the desert in Egypt I used to think I had found rest, sometimes. I am sated with this life here. A quoi bon, Madame!—the same thing year after year!—and then since I have known you. I have wondered if perhaps you in your country could teach me peace."
"So many of you are so dsquilibrs," Tamara said. "You seem to be so polished and sensible and even great, and then in a moment you are off at a tangent, displaying that want of discipline that we at home would not permit in a child."
"Yes it is true."
"It seems that you love, and must have, or you hate and must kill. There are storms and passions, and the gaiety of children and their irresponsibility, and all on the top is good manners and smiles, but underneath—I have a feeling I know not what volcano may burst."
"Tonight I feel one could flame with me." He came up close now and looked into her eyes, as if he were going to say something, and then he restrained himself.
Tamara did not move, she looked at him gravely.
"You all seem as if you had no aim," she said. "You are not interested in the politics of your country. You don't seem to do anything but kill time—Why?"
"Our country!" he said, and he flung himself into a seat near. "It would be difficult to make you understand about that. In the old days of the serfs, it was all very well. One could be a good landlord and father to them all, but now——" Then he got up restlessly and paced the room. "Now there are so many questions. If one would think it would drive one mad, but I am a soldier, Madame, so I do not permit myself to speculate at all."
"Things are not then as you would wish?" she asked.
"As I would wish—no, not as I would wish—but as I told you, I do not mix myself up with them. I only obey the Emperor and shall to the end of my life."
Tamara saw she had stirred too deep waters. His face wore a look of profound melancholy. She had never felt so drawn toward him. She let her eyes take in the picture he made. There was something very noble about his brow and the set of his head. Who could tell what thoughts were working in his brain. Presently he got up again and knelt by her side—his movements had the grace and agility of a cat. He took her hand and kissed it.
"Madame, please don't make me think," he said. "The question is too great for one man to help. I do not go with the Liberals or any of the revolt. Indeed I am far on the other side. Good to this country should all have come in a different, finer way, and now it must work out its own salvation as best it may. For me, my only duty is to my master. Nothing else could count." His eyes which looked into hers seemed great sombre pools of unrest and pain.
She did not take away her hand and he kissed it again.
Then the clock on the mantlepiece chimed one, and she started to her feet.
"Oh! Prince, should we not be thinking of supper," she said. "Come, let us forget we have been serious and go back and eat!"
"They have probably gone in without us, they know me so well," he said; "but as you say, we will no more be serious, we will laugh."
Then he took her hand, and merrily, like two children, they ran through all the big empty rooms to find exactly what he had predicted had occurred. The party were at supper quite unconcerned!
It was such a gay scene. Princess Sonia and Serge Grekoff were busily cutting raw ham, by their places; while others drank tea or vodka or champagne, or helped themselves from various dishes the servants had brought up. There was no ceremony or stiffness, each one did as he pleased.
And there sitting by Olga Glboff, already perfectly at home, was Lord Courtray; and further down the Princess Ardcheff sat by Stephen Strong.
"Gritzko—we could not wait!" Countess Olga said.
Then both the Englishmen got up and greeted Tamara.
"Fancy seeing you here, Tamara! What a bit of luck!" Jack Courtray said.
Jack Courtray was a thoroughly good all-around sportsman, and had an immense success with women as a rule. His methods were primitive and direct. When not hunting or shooting, he went straight to the point with a beautiful simplicity unhampered by sentiment, and then when wearied with one woman, moved on to the next.
He was a tremendously good fellow every man said. Just a natural animal creature, whom grooming and polishing in the family for some hundred or so of years had made into a gentleman.
He was as ignorant as he could well be. To him the geography of the world meant different places for sport. India represented tigers and elephants. It had no towns or histories that mattered, it had jungles and forests. Africa said lions. Austria, chamois—and Russia, bears!
Women were either sisters, or old friends and jolly comrades—like Tamara. Or they came under the category of sport. A lesser sport, to be indulged in when the rarer beasts were not obtainable for his gun—but still sport!
He found himself in a delightful milieu. The prospect of certain bears in the near future—a dear old friend to frolic with in the immediate present, and the problematic joys of a possible affair to be indulged in meanwhile. No wonder he was in the best of spirits, and when Tamara, without arrire pense, took the empty place at his side, he bent over her and filled her plate with the thinnest ham he had been able to cut, with all the apparent air of a devoted lover. And if she had looked up she would have seen that the Prince suddenly had begun to watch her with a fierceness in his eyes.
"This is a jolly place," Jack Courtray said. He had just the faintest lisp, which sounded rather attractive, and Tamara, after the storms and emotions of the past few days, found a distinct pleasure and rest in his obviousness.
It is an ill wind which blows no one any good, for presently the Prince turned and devoted himself to Tatiane Shbanoff.
She was quite the prettiest of all this little clique, petite and fair and sweet. Divorced from a brute of a husband a year or so ago, and now married to an elderly Prince.
And she loved Gritzko with passion, and while she was silent about it, her many friends told him so.
For his part he remained unconcerned, and sometimes troubled himself about her, and sometimes not.
And so the evening wore on, and apparently it had no distinct sign that it was to be one of the finger-posts of fate.
When all had finished supper, they moved back into another great room.
"You must notice this, Tamara, it is very Russian," her godmother said.
It was an immense apartment with a great porcelain stove at one corner, and panelled with wood, and it suggested to Tamara, for no sane reason, something of an orthodox church! One end was bare, and the other carpeted with great Persian rugs, had huge divans spread about; there was an electric piano and an organ, and there were also crossed foils, and masks, and everything for a fencing bout.
The Prince went to the piano and started a valse. Then he came up to Tamara and asked her to dance.
There was no trace left of his respectful friendliness! His sleepy eyes were blazing, he had never looked more oriental, or more savage, or more intense.
It was almost with a thrill of fear that Tamara yielded herself to his request. He clasped her so tightly she could hardly breathe, all she knew was she seemed to be floating in the air, and to be crushed against his breast.
"Prince, please, I am suffocating!" she cried at last.
Then he swung her off her feet, and stopped by an armchair, and Tamara subsided into it, panting, not able to speak. And all across her milk-white chest there were a row of red marks from the heavy silver cartridges, which cross in two rows in the Cossack dress.
"I would like those brands of me to last forever," the Prince said.
Tamara lay back in the chair a prey to tumultuous emotions. She ought to be disgusted she supposed, and of course she was—such an uncivilized horrible thought! but at the same time every nerve was tingling and her pulse was beating with the strange thrills she had only lately begun to dream of.
"Tamara! By jove! What have you done to your neck?" Jack Courtray said, as he came up.
And Tamara was glad she had a gauze scarf over her arm, which she wrapped around carelessly as she said:
"Nothing, Jack—let's dance!"
"What an awfully decent chap our host is, isn't he!" Lord Courtray said, as they ambled along in their valse. "And jolly good-looking too—for a foreigner. These Russians are men after my own heart!"
"Yes, he is good-looking," admitted Tamara. "If he weren't so wild; but don't you think he has a frightfully savage expression, Jack?"
"If you are intending to play with him, old girl, take my advice, you had better look out," and he laughed his merry laugh as they stopped because the piano stopped.
Meanwhile the Prince had left the room.
"Gritzko has gone to telephone for a Tzigane band," Princess Sonia said. "And to the club and to the reception at Madame Sueboffs, and soon we shall have enough people for a contre-danse—and some real fun."
That it was almost three o'clock in the morning never seemed to have struck anyone!
"Now, tell me everything, Tamara," Lord Courtray said, as they sat down on one of the big divans. "Give me a few wrinkles. I can see one wants to comprehend these tent ropes."
"Well, first they are the nicest people you could possibly meet, Jack," Tamara said. "And don't imagine because they skylark like this, and sit up all night, that they aren't most dignified when they have to be. That is their charm, this sense of the fitness of things. They have not got to have any pretence like some of us have. Not one of them has a scrap of pose. They are nice to you because they like you, or they leave you entirely alone if they do not. And some days when they are all together they will whisper and titter and have jokes among themselves, leaving you completely out in the cold—what would really be fearful ill-manners with us, but it is not in the least, it is just they have forgotten you are there, and as likely as not you will be the center of the whispering in the next minute. They are all like volcanoes with the most beautiful Faberger enamel on the top."
"And the men? I suppose they make awful love?"
"I don't think so," went on Tamara, while she stupidly blushed. "They all seem to be just merry friends, and the young ones don't go out very much. I don't mean the quite, quite young who dance with girls, but the young men. My godmother says they are very hard worked, and in their leisure they like to have dinners in their regiments—or at restaurants—with, with other sort of ladies, where they can do what they please. It seems a little elementary—don't you think so?"
"Jolly common-sense!" said Jack Courtray.
"And then, you see, if by chance, when they are in the world, if they do fall in love, it is possible for the lady to get a divorce here without any scandal and fuss, and the whole clan stick to their own member, no matter how much in the wrong she may be, and so all is arranged, and life seems much simpler and apparently happier than it is with us. If it is really so I cannot say, I have not been here long enough to judge."
"It sounds a kind of Utopia," and Lord Courtray laughed. And just then the Prince came into the room again, and over to them and they got up and the two men went off together to examine the foils.
Presently the band arrived and more guests, and soon the contre-danse was begun. That grown-up people could seriously take pleasure in this amazing romp was a new and delightful idea to Tamara.
It was a sort of enormous quadrille with numerous figures and farandole, while one sat on a chair between the figures, as at a cotillon. And toward the end the company stamped and cried, and the band sang, and nothing could have been more gay and exciting and wild.
Before they began, the Prince came up to Tamara and said:
"I want you to dance this with me. I have had it on purpose to show you a real Russian sight."
They had moved into the ballroom by then, which was now a blaze of light, while as if by magic the sheet coverings had been removed from the chairs.
And the Prince exerted himself to amuse and please his partner, and did not again clasp her too tight, only whenever she had turns with her countryman, his eyes would flame, and he would immediately interrupt them and carry her off.
Tamara felt perfectly happy, she was no longer analyzing and questioning, and she was no longer fighting against her inclination. She abandoned herself to the rushing stream of life.
It was about five o'clock when some one suggested supper at the Islands was now the proper thing. This was the delightful part about them—on no occasion was there ever a halt for the consideration of ways and means. They wanted some particular amusement and—had it! Convention, from an English point of view, remained an unknown quantity.—Now those who decided to continue the feasting all got into their waiting conveyances.
With the thermometer at fifteen degrees Reaumur, a coachman's life is not one altogether to be envied in Russia, but apparently custom will make anything endurable.
"I know you like the troika, Tamara," Princess Ardcheff said. "So you go with Olga and Gritzko and your friend—only be sure you wrap up your head."
And when they were all getting in, the Countess Glboff said:
"It is so terribly cold tonight, Gritzko. I am going to sit with my back to the horses, so as not to get the wind in my face."
When they were tucked in under the furs this arrangement seemed to Jack Courtray one of real worth, for he instantly proceeded to take Countess Olga's hand, while he whispered that he was cold and she could not be so inhuman as to let a poor stranger freeze!
It seemed amusing to look from the windows of a private room, down upon a gay supping throng, in the general salle at the restaurant on the Islands, while Tziganes played and their supper was being prepared.
"Who could think it was five o'clock in the morning! What a lesson for our rotten old County Council in London," Jack Courtray said. "By Jove! this is the place for me!" and he proceeded to make violent love to Olga Glboff, to who's side he remained persistently glued.
And then the gayest repast began; nothing could have been more entertaining or full of wild entrain, and yet no one over-did it, or was vulgar or coarse.
At the last moment, when they were all starting for home about seven o'clock, Countess Olga decided she could not face the cold of the open sleigh, and Lord Courtray and she got into her motor instead.
It was done so quickly, Tamara was already packed into the troika, and the outside steeds were prancing in their desire to be off.
"The horses won't stand," the Prince said, and he jumped in beside her and gave the order to go. Thus Tamara found herself alone with him flying over the snow under the stars.
There was a delicious feeling of excitement in her veins. They neither of them spoke for a while, but the Prince drew nearer and yet nearer, and presently his arm slipped round her, and he folded her close.
"Doushka," he whispered. "I hate the Englishman—and life is so short. Let us taste it while we may," and then he bent and kissed her lips!
Tamara struggled against the intense intoxicating emotion she was experiencing. What frightful tide was this which had swept into her well-ordered life! She vainly put up her arms and tried to push him away, but with each sign of revolt he held her the tighter.
"Darling," he said softly in her ear. "My little white soul. Do not fight, it is perfectly useless, because I will do what I wish. See, I will be gentle and just caress you, if you do not madden me by trying to resist!"
Then he gathered her right into his arms, and again bent and most tenderly kissed her. All power of movement seemed to desert Tamara. She only knew that she was wildly happy, that this was heaven, and she would wish it never to end.
She ceased struggling and closed her eyes, then he whispered all sorts of cooing love words in Russian and French, and rubbed his velvet eyelids against her cheek, and every few seconds his lips would come to meet her lips.
At last, when they had crossed the Troitzka bridge, he permitted her to release herself, and only held her hands under the furs, because dawn was breaking and they could be observed.
But when they turned into the wide Serguiefskaia, which seemed deserted, he bent once more and this time with wildest passion he seemed to draw her very soul through her lips.
Then ere she could speak, they drew up at the door, and he lifted her out, and before the Suisse and the waiting footmen.
"Good-night, Madame—sleep well," he calmly said.
But Tamara, trembling with mad emotion, rushed quickly to her room.
In life there comes sometimes a tidal wave in the ebb of which all old landmarks are washed out. And so it was with Tamara. She had fallen into bed half dead with fatigue and emotion, but when she woke the sickly gray light of a Russian winter mid-day pouring into her room, and saw her maid's stolid face, back rushed the events of the night, and she drew in her breath with almost a hiss. Yes, nothing could ever be the same again. "Leave me, Johnson," she said, "I am too tired, I cannot get up yet."
And the respectful maid crept from the room.
Then she lay back in her pillows and forced herself to face the position, and review what she had done, and what she must now do.
First of all, she loved Gritzko, that she could no longer argue with herself about. Secondly, she was an English lady, and could not let herself be kissed by a man whose habit it was to play with whom he chose, and then pass on. She was free, and he was free, it followed his caressing then—divine as it had been—was an absolute insult. If he wanted her so much he should have asked her to marry him. He had not done so, therefore the only thing which remained for her to do, was to go away. The sooner the better.
Then she thought of all the past.
From the moment of the good-bye at the Sphinx it had been a humiliation for her. Always, always, he had been victor of the situation. Had she been ridiculously weak? What was this fate which had fallen upon her? What had she done to draw such circumstances? Then even as she lay there, communing sternly with herself, a thrill swept over her, as her thoughts went back to that last passionate kiss. And her slender hands clenched under the clothes.
"If he really loved me," she sighed, "I would face the uncertain happiness with him. I know now he causes me emotions of which I never dreamed and for which I would pay that price. But I have no single proof that he does really love me. He may be playing in the same way with Tatiane Shbanoff—and the rest." And at this picture her pride rose in wild revolt.
Never, never! should he play with her again at least!
Then she thought of all her stupid ways, perhaps if she had been different, not so hampered by prejudice, but natural like all these women here, perhaps she could have made him really love her.—Ah!—if so.
This possibility, however, brought no comfort, only increased regret.
The first thing now to be done was to restrain herself in an iron control. To meet him casually. To announce to her godmother that she must go home, and as soon as the visit to Moscow should be over, she would return to England. She must not be too sudden, he would think she was afraid. She would be just stiff and polite and serene, and show him he was a matter of indifference to her, and that she had no intention to be trifled with again!
At last, aching in mind and body, she lay still. Meanwhile, below in the blue salon, the Princess Ardcheff was conversing with Stephen Strong.
"Yes, mon ami," she was saying. "You must come—we go in a week—the day after my ball, to show Tamara Moscow, and from there to spend a night at Milaslv. Olga and Sonia and her husband and the Englishman, and Serge Grekoff and Valonne are coming, and it will be quite amusing."
"Think of the travelling and my old bones!" And Stephen Strong smiled. "But since it is your wish, dear Princess, of course I must come."
They were old and very intimate friends these two, and with him the Princess was accustomed to talk over most of her plans.
He got up and lit a cigarette, then he walked across the room and came back again, while his hostess surveyed him with surprise. At last he sat down.
"Vera, tell me the truth," he said. "How are things going? I confess last night gave me qualms."
The Princess gazed at him inquiringly.
"You see, Gritzko is quite an exceptional person, he is no type of a Russian or any other nation that one can reckon with, he is himself, and he has the most attractive magnetic personality a man could have."
"And if you knew the simple unsophisticated atmosphere in which your godchild has been brought up——."
"Stephen, really,"—and the Princess tapped her foot impatiently. "Please speak out. Say what you mean."
"She is no more fitted to cope with him than a baby, that is what I mean."
"But why should she cope with him? Are not men tiresome!" and the Princess sighed. "Can't you see I want them to love one another. It is just that—if she would not snub and resist him—all would be well."
"It did not look much like resistance last night," said Stephen Strong. "And if Gritzko is only playing the fool, and means nothing serious, then I think it is a shame."
"You don't suggest, surely, that I should interfere with fate?"
"Only to the extent of not giving him unlimited opportunities. You remember that season in London—and your brother Alexis—and her mother, and what came of that!"
The Princess put her hands up with a sudden gesture and covered her eyes.
"Oh! Stephen! how cruel of you to bring it back to me," she said; "but this is quite different—they are free—and it is my dearest wish that Tamara and Gritzko should be united." Then she continued in another tone. "I think you are quite wrong in any case. My plan is to throw them together as much as possible—he will see her real worth and delicate sweetness—and they will get over their quarrelling. It is her reserve and resistance which drives him mad. Sometimes I do not know how he will act."
"No, one can never count upon how he will act!" and Stephen Strong smiled. "But since you are satisfied I will say no more, only between you don't break my gentle little countrywoman's heart."
"You hurt me very much, Stephen!" the Princess said. "You—you—of all people, who know the tie there is between Tamara and me. You to suggest even that I would aid in breaking her heart."
"Dear Vera, forgive me," and he kissed her plump white hand. "I will suggest nothing, and will leave it all to you, but do not forget a man's passions, and Gritzko, as we know, is not made of snow!"
"You all misjudge him, my poor Gritzko," the Princess said, hardly mollified. "He has the noblest nature underneath, but some day you will know."
It was late in the afternoon when Tamara appeared, to find a room full of guests having tea. Her mind was made up, and she had regained her calm.
She would use the whole of her intelligence and play the game. She would be completely at ease and indifferent to Gritzko and would be incidentally as nice as possible to Jack. And so get through the short time before she must go home. "For," she had reasoned with herself sadly, "If he had loved me really he would never have behaved as he has done."
So when the Prince and Lord Courtray came in together presently, her greeting to both was naturalness itself, and she took Jack off to a distant sofa with friendly familiarity, and conversed with him upon their home affairs.
"By Jove! you know, Tamara, you are awfully improved, my child," Lord Courtray said, presently. "You've acquired some kind of a look in your eye! If I wasn't so taken with that darling little Countess Olga I should feel inclined to make love to you myself."
"You dear silly old Jack!" Tamara said.
It was Lord Courtray's fashion, when talking to any woman, even his own mother, to lean over her with rather a devoted look. And Tamara glancing up caught sight of Prince Milaslvski's face. It wore an expression which almost filled her with fear. Of all things she must provoke no quarrel between him and dear old Jack, who was quite blameless in the affair.
At the same time there was a consolation in the knowledge that she could make him feel.
She thought it wiser soon to rise and return to the general group, while Jack, on his own amusement bent, now took his leave.
She sat down by Stephen Strong, she was in a most gracious mood it seemed.
"You have heard of our excursion to Moscow, Mr. Strong," she said. "The Princess says you must come too, I am looking forward to it immensely."
"We ought to have a most promising time in front of us," that old cynic replied, while he puffed rings of smoke. "It all should be as full of adventure as an egg is full of meat!"
"I have been reading up the guide books, so as to be thoroughly learned and teach Jack—he is so terribly ignorant always, worse than Tom!" and she laughed.
"We must try and see the whole show, and if the snow lasts, as it promises to do, we should have a delightful time."
"Gritzko," Princess Ardcheff said. "How many versts is it from Moscow to Milaslv?"
The Prince had been leaning on the mantlepiece without speaking for some moments, listening to Tamara's conversation, but now he joined in, and sinking into a chair beside her, answered from there.
"Thirty versts, Tantine—we shall go in troikas—but you must send your servants on the night before."
Then he turned to Tamara, who seemed wonderfully absorbed, almost whispering to Stephen Strong. "Did you sleep well, Madame?" he said. There was an expression of mocking defiance in his glance, which angered Tamara. However, faithful to her resolutions, she kept herself calm.
"Never better, thank you, Prince. It was a most interesting evening, and I am learning the customs of the country," she said. "The thing which strikes me most is your wonderful chivalry to women—especially strange women."
They looked into one another's eyes and measured swords, and if she had known it she had never so deeply attracted him before.
She had broached the subject of her return to England to her godmother, who had laughed the idea to scorn, but now she spoke to Gritzko as if it were an established fact.
"I go home from Moscow, you know," she said.
"You find our country too cold?" he asked.
"It is too full of contrasts, freezing one moment and thawing the next, and while outside one is turned to ice, indoors one is consumed with heat; it is upsetting to the equilibrium."
"All the same, you will not go," and he leaned back in the chair with his provoking lazy smile.
"Indeed, I shall."
"We shall see. There are a number of things for you to learn yet."
The Prince lit a cigarette. "The possibilities of the unknown fires you have lit," he said. "You remember the night at the Sphinx, when we said good-bye. I told you a proverb they have there about meeting before dawn, and not parting until dawn. Well, that dawn has not arrived yet. And I have no intention—for the moment—that it shall arrive."
Tamara felt excited, and as ever his tone of complete omnipotence annoyed her. At the same time to see him sitting there, his eyes fixed with deep interest on her face, thrilled and exalted her. Oh! she certainly loved him! Alas! and it would be dreadfully difficult to say good-bye. But those three words in his sentence stung her pride—"for the moment." Yes, there was always this hint of caprice. Always he gave her the sensation of instability, there was no way to hold him. She must ever guard her emotions and ever be ready to fence.
And now that she had taken a resolve to go home, to linger no more, she was free to tease him as much as she could. To feel that she could, gave her a fillip, and added a fresh charm to her face.
"You think you can rule the whole world to your will, Prince," she said.
"I can rule the part of it I want, as you will find," he retorted fiercely. She made a pouting moue and tapped her little foot, then she laughed.
"How amusing it would be if you happened to be mistaken this time," she cooed. Then she rapidly turned to the Princess Sonia, who had just come in, and they all talked of the great ball which was to take place in the house in a week. The first after the period of the deep mourning.
"We cannot yet wear colors, but whites and grays and mauves—and won't it be a relief from all this black," Princess Sonia said.
When they had all gone and Tamara was dressing for dinner, she felt decidedly less depressed. She had succeeded better than she had hoped. She had contrived to outwit the Prince, when he had plainly shown his intention was to continue talking to her, she had turned from one to another, and finally sat down by a handsome Chevalier Garde. In companies she had a chance, but when they were alone!—however, that was simple, because she must arrange that they should never be alone.
It was perhaps a fortunate thing that for three days after this the Prince was kept at his military duties at Tsarski-Slo, and could not come to Petersburg, for he was in a mood that could easily mean mischief. Tamara also was inclined to take things in no docile spirit.
She felt very unhappy, underneath her gay exterior. It was not agreeable to her self-respect to realize she was fleeing from a place because she loved a man whose actions showed he did not entertain the same degree of feeling for her. No amount of attention from any other quite salved that ever-constant inward hurt.
She went often through strange moments. In the middle of a casual conversation suddenly back would come a wave of remembrance of the dawn drive in the troika, and she would actually quiver with physical emotion as the vivid recollection of the bliss of it would sweep over her.
Then she would clench her hands and determine more fiercely than ever to banish such memories. But with all her will, hardly for ten minutes at a time could she keep Gritzko from her thoughts. His influence over her was growing into an obsession.
She wondered why he did not come. She would not ask her godmother. The three days passed in a feverish, gnawing unrest; and on the third evening they went to the ballet again.
Opposite them, in a box, a very dark young woman was seated. She had a hard, determined face, and she was well dressed, and not too covered with jewels.
"That is a celebrated lady," Count Valonne said. "You must look at her, Madame Loraine; she was one of the best dancers at the ballet, and last year she tried to commit suicide in a charmingly dramatic way at one of Gritzko's parties. She was at the time perhaps his chre amie— one never knows, but in all cases violently in love with him—and is still, for the matter of that—or so it is said—and in the middle of rather a wild feast he was giving for her, she suddenly drank off some poison, after making the terrifying announcement of her intention! We were all petrified with horror, but he remained quite calm, and, seizing her, he poured a whole bottle of salad oil down her throat, and then sent for a doctor!—Of course the poor lady recovered, and the romantic end was quite rat!—She was perfectly furious, one heard—and married a rich slate merchant the week after. Wasn't it like Gritzko? He said the affair was vulgar, and he sent her a large diamond bracelet, and never spoke to her again!"
Tamara felt her cheeks burn—and her pride galled her more than ever. So she and the ex-dancer were in the same boat?—but she at least would not try to commit suicide and be restored by—salad oil!
"How perfectly ridiculous!" she said, with rather a bitter little laugh. "What complete bathos!"
"It was unfortunate, was it not?" Valonne went on, and he glanced at Tamara sideways.
He guessed that she was interested in the Prince; but Valonne was a charming creature with an understanding eye, and in their set was in great request. He knew exactly the right thing to talk about to each different person, as a perfect diplomat should, and he was too tactful and sympathetic to tease poor Tamara. On the contrary, he told her casually that Gritzko had been on some duty these three days, in case she did not know it.
From the beginning Tamara always had liked Valonne.
Then into the box came the same good-looking Chevalier Garde, Count Varishkine, whom she had talked to on the last occasion of Gritzko's visit, and the spirit of hurt pride caused her to be most gracious with him. Meanwhile the Princess Ardcheff watched her with a faint sensation of uneasiness, and at last whispered to Stephen Strong:
"Does not my godchild seem to be developing new characteristics, Stephen? She is so very stately and quiet; and yet to-night it would almost seem she is being flirtatious with Boris Varishkine.—I trust we shall have no complications. What do you think?"
Mr. Strong laughed.
"It will depend upon how much it angers Gritzko. It could come to mean anything—bloodshed, a scandal, or merely bringing things to a crisis between them.—Let us hope, for the latter."
"You must remember, for an Englishwoman it would be very difficult to grasp all the possibilities in the character of Gritzko. We are not accustomed to these tempestuous headlong natures in our calm country."
"Fortunately Boris and Gritzko are very great friends."
"I never heard that the warmest friendship prevented jealousy between men," Stephen Strong said, a little cynically—he had suffered a good deal in his youth.
"I am delighted we are going to Moscow. There will be no Boris, and I shall arrange for my two children to be together as much as possible. I feel that is the surest way," the Princess answered; and they talked of other things.
After the ballet was over the party went on to supper at Cubat's in a private room, contrary to the Princess' custom. But it was Stephen Strong's entertainment, and he had no house to invite them to.
As they passed down the passage to their salon the door of another opened as a waiter came out, and loud laughter and clatter of glass burst forth, and above the din one shrill girl's treble screamed:
"Gritzko! Oh, Gritzko!"
The food nearly choked Tamara when they reached their room, and supper began. It was not, of course, a heinous crime for the Prince to be entertaining ladies of another world. But on the top of everything else it raised a wild revolt in her heart, and a raging disgust with herself. Never, never should she unbend to him again. She would not love him.
Alas! for the impotency of human wills! Only the demonstrations of love can be controlled, the emotion itself comes from heaven—or hell, and is omnipotent. Poor Tamara might as well have determined to keep the sun from rising as to keep herself from loving Gritzko.
She was quite aware that men—even the nicest men—like Jack and her brother Tom, sometimes went out with people she would not care to know; but to have the fact brought under her very observation disgusted her fine senses. To realize that the man she loved was at the moment perhaps kissing some ordinary woman, revolted and galled her immeasurably. But if she had known it this night, at least, the Prince was innocent. He had strolled into that room with some brother officers, and was not the giver of the feast. And a few minutes after Mr. Strong's party had begun their repast he opened the door.
"May I come in, Stephen?" he asked. "I heard you were all here, Serge saw you. I have just arrived from Tsarski, and must eat."
And of course he was warmly welcomed and pressed to take a seat, while Valonne chaffed him in an undertone about the joys he had precipitately left.
Tamara's face was the picture of disdain. But the Prince sat beside her godmother, apparently unconcerned. He did not trouble to address her specially, and before the end of supper, in spite of rage and disgust and anger—and shame, she was longing for him to talk to her.
The only consolation she had was once when they went out, as she looked up sweetly at Count Varishkine she caught a fierce expression stealing over Gritzko's face.
So even though he did not love her really he could still feel jealous; that was something, at all events!
Thus in these paltry rages and irritations, these two human beings passed the next three days—when their real souls were capable of something great.
Prince Milaslvski, to every one's surprise, appeared continuously in the world.
Tamara and the Princess met him everywhere, and while the Princess did her best to throw them together, Tamara maneuvered so that not once could he speak to her alone, while she was assiduously charming to every one else. Now it was old Prince Miklefski or Stephen Strong, now one of the husbands, or Jack, and just often enough to give things a zest she was bewitching to the handsome Chevalier Garde.