"Are you very much interested in Menko?"
"Very much," replied Yanski, in a tone which struck the minister as rather peculiar.
"Then," asked Count Ladany with studied slowness, "you would like?—"
"A note from you to the Russian ambassador, demanding Menko's release. Angelo Valla—you know him—Manin's former minister—"
"Yes, I know," said Count Josef, with his enigmatical smile.
"Valla told me of Menko's arrest. I knew that Menko had left Paris, and I was very anxious to find where he had gone. Valla learned, at the Italian embassy in Paris, of the affair of this Labanoff and of the real or apparent complicity of Michel Menko; and he told me about it. When we were talking over the means of obtaining the release of a man held by Muscovite authority, which is not an easy thing, I know, we thought of you, and I have come to your Excellency as I would have gone to the chief of the Legion of Students to demand his aid in a case of danger!"
Yanski Varhely was no diplomat; and his manner of appealing to the memories of the past was excessively disagreeable to the minister, who, however, allowed no signs of his annoyance to appear.
Count Ladany was perfectly well acquainted with the Warsaw affair. As an Hungarian was mixed up in it, and an Hungarian of the rank and standing of Count Menko, the Austro-Hungarian authorities had immediately been advised of the whole proceeding. There were probably no proofs of actual complicity against Menko; but, as Josef Ladany had said, it seemed evident that he had come to Poland to join Labanoff. An address given to Menko by Labanoff had been found, and both were soon to depart for St. Petersburg. Labanoff had some doubtful acquaintances in the Russian army: several officers of artillery, who had been arrested and sent to the mines, were said to be his friends.
"The matter is a grave one," said the Count. "We can scarcely, for one particular case, make our relations more strained with a—a friendly nation, relations which so many others—I leave you to divine who, my dear Varhely—strive to render difficult. And yet, I would like to oblige you; I would, I assure you."
"If Count Menko is not set at liberty, what will happen to him?" asked Yanski.
"Hmm—he might, although a foreigner, be forced to take a journey to Siberia."
"Siberia! That is a long distance off, and few return from that journey," said Varhely, his voice becoming almost hoarse. "I would give anything in the world if Menko were free!"
"It would have been so easy for him not to have been seized by the Russian police."
"Yes; but he is. And, I repeat, I have come to you to demand his release. Damn it! Such a demand is neither a threat nor a cases belli."
The minister calmed the old hussar with a gesture.
"No," he replied, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth; "but it is embarrassing, embarrassing! Confound Menko! He always was a feather-brain! The idea of his leaving diplomacy to seek adventures! He must know, however, that his case is—what shall I say?—embarrassing, very embarrassing. I don't suppose he had any idea of conspiring. He is a malcontent, this Menko, a malcontent! He would have made his mark in our embassies. The devil take him! Ah! my dear Count, it is very embarrassing, very embarrassing!"
The minister uttered these words in a calm, courteous, polished manner, even when he said "The devil take him!" He then went on to say, that he could not make Varhely an absolute promise; he would look over the papers in the affair, telegraph to Warsaw and St. Petersburg, make a rapid study of what he called again the "very embarrassing" case of Michel Menko, and give Varhely an answer within twenty-four hours.
"That will give you a chance to take a look at our city, my dear Count. Vienna has changed very much. Have you seen the opera-house? It is superb. Hans Makart is just exhibiting a new picture. Be sure to see it, and visit his studio, too; it is well worth examining. I have no need to tell you that I am at your service to act as your cicerone, and show you all the sights."
"Are any of our old friends settled here?" asked Varhely.
"Yes, yes," said the minister, softly. "But they are deputies, university professors, or councillors of the administration. All changed! all changed!"
Then Varhely wished to know if certain among them whom he had not forgotten had "changed," as the minister said.
"Where is Armand Bitto?"
"Dead. He died very poor."
"And Arpad Ovody, Georgei's lieutenant, who was so brave at the assault of Buda? I thought that he was killed with that bullet through his cheek."
"Ovody? He is at the head of the Magyar Bank, and is charged by the ministry with the conversion of the six per cent. Hungarian loan. He is intimately connected with the Rothschild group. He has I don't know how many thousand florins a year, and a castle in the neighborhood of Presburg. A great collector of pictures, and a very amiable man!"
"And Hieronymis Janos, who wrote such eloquent proclamations and calls to arms? Kossuth was very fond of him."
"He is busy, with Maurice Jokai, preparing a great book upon the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, a book patronized by the Archduke Rudolph. He will doubtless edit the part relative to the kingdom of Saint Stephen."
"Ha! ha! He will have a difficult task when he comes to the recital of the battle at Raab against Francis Joseph in person! He commanded at Raab himself, as you must remember well."
"Yes, he did, I remember," said the minister. Then, with a smile, he added: "Bah! History is written, not made. Hieronymis Janos's book will be very good, very good!"
"I don't doubt it. What about Ferency Szilogyi? Is he also writing books under the direction of the Archduke Rudolph?"
"No! no! Ferency Szilogyi is president of the court of assizes, and a very good magistrate he is."
"He! an hussar?"
"Oh! the world changes! His uniform sleeps in some chest, preserved in camphor. Szilogyi has only one fault: he is too strongly anti-Semitic."
"He! a Liberal?"
"He detests the Israelites, and he allows it to be seen a little too much. He embarrasses us sometimes. But there is one extenuating circumstance—he has married a Jewess!"
This was said in a light, careless, humorously sceptical tone.
"On the whole," concluded the minister, "Armand Bitto, who is no longer in this world, is perhaps the most fortunate of all."
Then, turning to Yanski with his pleasant smile, and holding out his delicate, well-kept hand, which had once brandished the sabre, he said:
"My dear Varhely, you will dine with me to-morrow, will you not? It is a great pleasure to see you again! Tomorrow I shall most probably give you an answer to your request—a request which I am happy, very happy, to take into consideration. I wish also to present you to the Countess. But no allusions to the past before her! She is a Spaniard, and she would not understand the old ideas very well. Kossuth, Bem, and Georgei would astonish her, astonish her! I trust to your tact, Varhely. And then it is so long ago, so very long ago, all that. Let the dead past bury its dead! Is it understood?"
Yanski Varhely departed, a little stunned by this interview. He had never felt so old, so out of the fashion, before. Prince Zilah and he now seemed to him like two ancestors of the present generation—Don Quixotes, romanticists, imbeciles. The minister was, as Jacquemin would have said, a sly dog, who took the times as he found them, and left spectres in peace. Well, perhaps he was right!
"Ah, well," thought the old hussar, with an odd smile, "there is the age of moustaches and the age of whiskers, that is all. Ladany has even found a way to become bald: he was born to be a minister!"
It little mattered to him, however, this souvenir of his youth found with new characteristics. If Count Josef Ladany rescued Menko from the police of the Czar, and, by setting him free, delivered him to him, Varhely, all was well. By entering the ministry, Ladany would thus be at least useful for something.
CHAPTER XXX. "TO SEEK FORGETFULNESS"
The negotiations with Warsaw, however, detained Yanski Varhely at Vienna longer than he wished. Count Josef evidently went zealously to work to obtain from the Russian Government Menko's release. He had promised Varhely, the evening he received his old comrade at dinner, that he would put all the machinery at work to obtain the fulfilment of his request. "I only ask you, if I attain the desired result, that you will do something to cool off that hotheaded Menko. A second time he would not escape Siberia."
Varhely had made no reply; but the very idea that Michel Menko might be free made his head swim. There was, in the Count's eagerness to obtain Menko's liberty, something of the excitement of a hunter tracking his prey. He awaited Michel's departure from the fortress as if he were a rabbit in its burrow.
"If he is set at liberty, I suppose that we shall know where he goes," he said to the minister.
"It is more than probable that the government of the Czar will trace his journey for him. You shall be informed."
Count Ladany did not seek to know for what purpose Varhely demanded, with such evident eagerness, this release. It was enough for him that his old brother-in-arms desired it, and that it was possible.
"You see how everything is for the best, Varhely," he said to him one morning. "Perhaps you blamed me when you learned that I had accepted a post from Austria. Well, you see, if I did not serve the Emperor, I could not serve you!"
During his sojourn at Vienna, Varhely kept himself informed, day by day, as to what was passing in Paris. He did not write to Prince Zilah, wishing, above everything, to keep his errand concealed from him; but Angelo Valla, who had remained in France, wrote or telegraphed whatever happened to the Prince.
Marsa Laszlo was cured; she had left Dr. Sims's institution, and returned to the villa of Maisons-Lafitte.
The poor girl came out of her terrible stupor with the distaste to take up the thread of life which sometimes comes after a night of forgetfulness in sleep. This stupor, which might have destroyed her, and the fever which had shaken her, seemed to her sweet and enviable now compared to this punishment: To live! To live and think!
And yet—yes, she wished to live to once more see Andras, whose look, fixed upon her, had rekindled the extinct intellectual flame of her being. She wished to live, now that her reason had returned to her, to live to wrest from the Prince a word of pardon. It could not be possible that her existence was to end with the malediction of this man. It seemed to her, that, if she should ever see him face to face, she would find words of desperate supplication which would obtain her absolution.
Certainly—she repented it bitterly every hour, now that the punishment of thinking and feeling had been inflicted upon her—she had acted infamously, been almost as criminal as Menko, by her silence and deceit—her deceit! She, who hated a lie! But she longed to make the Prince understand that the motive of her conduct was the love which she had for him. Yes, her love alone! There was no other reason, no other, for her unpardonable treachery. He did not think it now, without any doubt. He must accuse her of some base calculation or vile intrigue. But she was certain that, if she could see him again, she would prove to him that the only cause of her conduct was her unquenchable love for him.
"Let him only believe that, and then let him fly me forever, if he likes! Forever! But I cannot endure to have him despise me, as he must!"
It was this hope which now attached her to life. After her return to Maisons-Lafitte from Vaugirard, she would have killed herself if she had not so desired another interview where she could lay bare her heart. Not daring to appear before Andras, not even thinking of such a thing as seeking him, she resolved to wait some opportunity, some chance, she knew not what. Suddenly, she thought of Yanski Varhely. Through Varhely, she might be able to say to Andras all that she wished her husband—her husband! the very word made her shudder with shame—to know of the reason of her crime. She wrote to the old Hungarian; but, as she received no response, she left Maisons-Lafitte and went to Varhely's house. They did not know there, where the Count was; but Monsieur Angelo Valla would forward any letters to him.
She then begged the Italian to send to Varhely a sort of long confession, in which she asked his aid to obtain from the Prince the desired interview.
The letter reached Yanski while he was at Vienna. He answered it with a few icy words; but what did that matter to Marsa? It was not Varhely's rancor she cared for, but Zilah's contempt. She implored him again, in a letter in which she poured out her whole soul, to return, to be there when she should tell the Prince all her remorse—the remorse which was killing her, and making of her detested beauty a spectre.
There was such sincerity in this letter, wherein a conscience sobbed, that, little by little, in spite of his rough exterior, the soldier, more accessible to emotion than he cared to have it appear, was softened, and growled beneath his moustache—
"So! So! She suffers. Well, that is something."
He answered Marsa that he would return when he had finished a work he had vowed to accomplish; and, without explaining anything to the Tzigana, he added, at the end of his letter, these words, which, enigmatical as they were, gave a vague, inexplicable hope to Marsa "And pray that I may return soon!"
The day after he had sent this letter to Maisons-Lafitte, Varhely received from Ladany a message to come at once to the ministry.
On his arrival there, Count Josef handed him a despatch. The Russian minister of foreign affairs telegraphed to his colleague at Vienna, that his Majesty the Czar consented to the release of Count Menko, implicated in the Labanoff affair. Labanoff would probably be sent to Siberia the very day that Count Menko would receive a passport and an escort to the frontier. Count Menko had chosen Italy for his retreat, and he would start for Florence the day his Excellency received this despatch.
"Well, my dear minister," exclaimed Varhely, "thank you a thousand times. And, with my thanks, my farewell. I am also going to Florence."
"You will arrive there before Menko."
"I am in a hurry," replied Varhely, with a smile.
He went to the telegraph office, after leaving the ministry, and sent a despatch to Angelo Valla, at Paris, in which he asked the Venetian to join him in Florence. Valla had assured him that he could rely on him for any service; and Varhely left Vienna, certain that he should find Manin's old minister at Florence.
"After all, he has not changed so much," he said to himself, thinking of Josef Ladany. "Without his aid, Menko would certainly have escaped me. Ladany has taken the times as they are: Zilah and I desire to have them as they should be. Which is right?"
Then, while the train was carrying him to Venice, he thought: Bah! it was much better to be a dupe like himself and Zilah, and to die preserving, like an unsurrendered flag, one's dream intact.
Yes! After all, Varhely might, at this moment, be close to death; but, whatever might be the fate which awaited him at the end of his journey, he found the road very long and the engine very slow.
At Venice he took a train which carried him through Lombardy into Tuscany; and at Florence he found Angelo Valla.
The Italian already knew, in regard to Michel Menko, all that it was necessary for him to know. Before going to London, Menko, on his return from Pau, after the death of his wife, had retired to a small house he owned in Pistoja; and here he had undoubtedly gone now.
It was a house built on the side of a hill, and surrounded with olive-trees. Varhely and Valla waited at the hotel until one of Balla's friends, who lived at Pistoja, should inform him of the arrival of the Hungarian count. And Menko did, in fact, come there three days after Varhely reached Florence.
"To-morrow, my dear Valla," said Yanski, "you will accompany me to see Menko?"
"With pleasure," responded the Italian.
Menko's house was some distance from the station, at the very end of the little city.
The bell at the gate opening into the garden, had been removed, as if to show that the master of the house did not wish to be disturbed. Varhely was obliged to pound heavily upon the wooden barrier. The servant who appeared in answer to his summons, was an Hungarian, and he wore the national cap, edged with fur.
"My master does not receive visitors," he answered when Yanski asked him, in Italian, if Count Menko were at home.
"Go and say to Menko Mihaly," said Varhely, this time in Hungarian, "that Count Varhely is here as the representative of Prince Zilah!"
The domestic disappeared, but returned almost immediately and opened the gate. Varhely and Valla crossed the garden, entered the house, and found themselves face to face with Menko.
Varhely would scarcely have recognized him.
The former graceful, elegant young man had suddenly aged: his hair was thin and gray upon the temples, and, instead of the carefully trained moustache of the embassy attache, a full beard now covered his emaciated cheeks.
Michel regarded the entrance of Varhely into the little salon where he awaited him, as if he were some spectre, some vengeance which he had expected, and which did not astonish him. He stood erect, cold and still, as Yanski advanced toward him; while Angelo Valla remained in the doorway, mechanically stroking his smoothly shaven chin.
"Monsieur," said Varhely, "for months I have looked forward impatiently to this moment. Do not doubt that I have sought you."
"I did not hide myself," responded Menko.
"Indeed? Then may I ask what was your object in going to Warsaw?"
"To seek-forgetfulness," said the young man, slowly and sadly.
This simple word—so often spoken by Zilah—which had no more effect upon the stern old Hungarian than a tear upon a coat of mail, produced a singular impression upon Valla. It seemed to him to express unconquerable remorse.
"What you have done can not be forgotten," said Varhely.
"No more than what I have suffered."
"You made me the accomplice of the most cowardly and infamous act a man could commit. I have come to you to demand an explanation."
Michel lowered his eyes at these cutting words, his thin face paling, and his lower lip trembling; but he said nothing. At last, after a pause, he raised his eyes again to the face of the old Hungarian, and, letting the words fall one by one, he replied:
"I am at your disposal for whatever you choose to demand, to exact. I only desire to assure you that I had no intention of involving you in an act which I regarded as a cruel necessity. I wished to avenge myself. But I did not wish my vengeance to arrive too late, when what I had assumed the right to prevent had become irreparable."
"I do not understand exactly," said Varhely.
Menko glanced at Valla as if to ask whether he could speak openly before the Italian.
"Monsieur Angelo Valla was one of the witnesses of the marriage of Prince Andras Zilah," said Yanski.
"I know Monsieur," said Michel, bowing to Valla.
"Ah!" he exclaimed abruptly, his whole manner changing. "There was a man whom I respected, admired and loved. That man, without knowing it, wrested from me the woman who had been the folly, the dream, and the sorrow of my life. I would have done anything to prevent that woman from bearing the name of that man."
"You sent to the Prince letters written to you by that woman, and that, too, after the Tzigana had become Princess Zilah."
"She had let loose her dogs upon me to tear me to pieces. I was insane with rage. I wished to destroy her hopes also. I gave those letters to my valet with absolute orders to deliver them to the Prince the evening before the wedding. At the same hour that I left Paris, the letters should have been in the hands of the man who had the right to see them, and when there was yet time for him to refuse his name to the woman who had written them. My servant did not obey, or did not understand. Upon my honor, this is true. He kept the letters twenty-four hours longer than I had ordered him to do; and it was not she whom I punished, but I struck the man for whom I would have given my life."
"Granted that there was a fatality of this sort in your conduct," responded Varhely, coldly, "and that your lackey did not understand your commands: the deed which you committed was none the less that of a coward. You used as a weapon the letters of a woman, and of a woman whom you had deceived by promising her your name when it was no longer yours to give!"
"Are you here to defend Mademoiselle Marsa Laszlo?" asked Michel, a trifle haughtily.
"I am here to defend the Princess Zilah, and to avenge Prince Andras. I am here, above all, to demand satisfaction for your atrocious action in having taken me as the instrument of your villainy."
"I regret it deeply and sincerely," replied Menko; "and I am at your orders."
The tone of this response admitted of no reply, and Yanski and Valla took their departure.
Valla then obtained another second from the Hungarian embassy, and two officers in garrison at Florence consented to serve as Menko's friends. It was arranged that the duel should take place in a field near Pistoja.
Valla, anxious and uneasy, said to Varhely:
"All this is right and proper, but—"
"But suppose he kills you? The right is the right, I know; but leaden bullets are not necessarily on the side of the right, and—"
"Well," interrupted Yanski, "in case of the worst, you must charge yourself, my dear Valla, with informing the Prince how his old friend Yanski Varhely defended his honor—and also tell him of the place where Count Menko may be found. I am going to attempt to avenge Zilah. If I do not succeed, 'Teremtete'!" ripping out the Hungarian oath, "he will avenge me, that is all! Let us go to supper."
CHAPTER XXXI. "IF MENKO WERE DEAD!"
Prince Zilah, wandering solitary in the midst of crowded Paris, was possessed by one thought, one image impossible to drive away, one name which murmured eternally in his ears—Marsa; Marsa, who was constantly before his eyes, sometimes in the silvery shimmer of her bridal robes, and sometimes with the deathly pallor of the promenader in the garden of Vaugirard; Marsa, who had taken possession of his being, filling his whole heart, and, despite his revolt, gradually overpowering all other memories, all other passions! Marsa, his last love, since nothing was before him save the years when the hair whitens, and when life weighs heavily upon weary humanity; and not only his last love, but his only love!
Oh! why had he loved her? Or, having loved her, why had she not confessed to him that that coward of a Menko had deceived her! Who knows? He might have pardoned her, perhaps, and accepted the young girl, the widow of that passion. Widow? No, not while Menko lived. Oh! if he were dead!
And Zilah repeated, with a fierce longing for vengeance: "If he were dead!" That is, if there were not between them, Zilah and Marsa, the abhorred memory of the lover!
Well! if Menko were dead?
When he feverishly asked himself this question, Zilah recalled at the same time Marsa, crouching at his feet, and giving no other excuse than this: "I loved you! I wished to belong to you, to be your wife!"
His wife! Yes, the beautiful Tzigana he had met at Baroness Dinati's was now his wife! He could punish or pardon. But he had punished, since he had inflicted upon her that living death—insanity. And he asked himself whether he should not pardon Princess Zilah, punished, repentant, almost dying.
He knew that she was now at Maisons, cured of her insanity, but still ill and feeble, and that she lived there like a nun, doing good, dispensing charity, and praying—praying for him, perhaps.
For him or for Menko?
No, for him! She was not vile enough to have lied, when she asked, implored, besought death from Zilah who held her life or death in his hands.
"Yes, I had the right to kill her, but—I have the right to pardon also," thought Zilah.
Ah, if Menko were dead!
The Prince gradually wrought himself into a highly nervous condition, missing Varhely, uneasy at his prolonged absence, and never succeeding in driving away Marsa's haunting image. He grew to hate his solitary home and his books.
"I shall not want any breakfast," he said one morning to his valet; and, going out, he descended the Champs-Elysees on foot.
At the corner of the Place de la Madeleine, he entered a restaurant, and sat down near a window, gazing mechanically at this lively corner of Paris, at the gray facade of the church, the dusty trees, the asphalt, the promenaders, the yellow omnibuses, the activity of Parisian life.
All at once he was startled to hear his name pronounced and to see before him, with his hand outstretched, as if he were asking alms, old General Vogotzine, who said to him, timidly:
"Ah, my dear Prince, how glad I am to see you! I was breakfasting over there, and my accursed paper must have hidden me. Ouf! If you only knew! I am stifling!"
"Why, what is the matter?" asked Andras.
"Matter? Look at me! I must be as red as a beet!"
Poor Vogotzine had entered the restaurant for breakfast, regretting the cool garden of Maisons-Lafitte, which, now that Marsa no longer sat there, he had entirely to himself. After eating his usual copious breakfast, he had imprudently asked the waiter for a Russian paper; and, as he read, and sipped his kummel, which he found a little insipid and almost made him regret the vodka of his native land, his eyes fell upon a letter from Odessa, in which there was a detailed description of the execution of three nihilists, two of them gentlemen. It told how they were dragged, tied to the tails of horses, to the open square, each of them bearing upon his breast a white placard with this inscription, in black letters: "Guilty of high treason." Then the wretched General shivered from head to foot. Every detail of the melodramatic execution seemed burned into his brain as with a red-hot iron. He fancied he could see the procession and the three gibbets, painted black; beside each gibbet was an open ditch and a black coffin covered with a dark gray pall. He saw, in the hollow square formed by a battalion of Cossack infantry, the executioner, Froloff, in his red shirt and his plush trousers tucked into his boots, and, beside him, a pale, black-robed priest.
"Who the devil is such an idiot as to relate such things in the newspapers?" he growled.
And in terror he imagined he could hear the sheriff read the sentence, see the priest present the cross to the condemned men, and Froloff, before putting on the black caps, degrade the gentlemen by breaking their swords over their heads.
Then, half suffocated, Vogotzine flung the paper on the floor; and, with eyes distended with horror, drawing the caraffe of kummel toward him, he half emptied it, drinking glass after glass to recover his self-control. It seemed to him that Froloff was there behind him, and that the branches of the candelabra, stretching over his heated head, were the arms of gibbets ready to seize him. To reassure himself, and be certain that he was miles and miles from Russia, he was obliged to make sure of the presence of the waiters and guests in the gay and gilded restaurant.
"The devil take the newspapers!" he muttered.
"They are cursed stupid! I will never read another! All that stuff is absurd! Absurd! A fine aid to digestion, truly!"
And, paying his bill, he rose to go, passing his hand over his head as if his sword had been broken upon it and left a contusion, and glancing timidly into the mirrors, as if he feared to discover the image of Froloff there.
It was at this moment that he discovered Prince Zilah, and rushed up to him with the joyful cry of a child discovering a protector.
The Prince noticed that poor Vogotzine, who sat heavily down by his side, was not entirely sober. The enormous quantity of kummel he had absorbed, together with the terror produced by the article he had read, had proved too much for the good man: his face was fiery, and he constantly moistened his dry lips.
"I suppose it astonishes you to see me here?" he said, as if he had forgotten all that had taken place. "I—I am astonished to see myself here! But I am so bored down there at Maisons, and I rust, rust, as little—little—ah! Stephanie said to me once at Odessa. So I came to breathe the air of Paris. A miserable idea! Oh, if you knew! When I think that that might happen to me!"
"What?" asked Andras, mechanically.
"What?" gasped the General, staring at him with dilated eyes. "Why, Froloff, of course! Froloff! The sword broken over your head! The gallows! Ach! I am not a nihilist—heaven forbid!—but I have displeased the Czar. And to displease the Czar—Brr! Imagine the open square-Odessa-No, no, don't let us talk of it any more!" glancing suddenly about him, as if he feared the platoon of Cossacks were there, in the restaurant, come to drag him away in the name of the Emperor. "Oh! by the way, Prince," he exclaimed abruptly—"why don't you ever come to Maisons-Lafitte?"
He must, indeed, have been drunk to address such a question to the Prince.
Zilah looked him full in the face; but Vogotzine's eyes blinked stupidly, and his head fell partially forward on his breast. Satisfied that he was not responsible for what he was saying, Andras rose to leave the restaurant, and the General with difficulty stumbled to his feet, and instinctively grasped Andras's arm, the latter making no resistance, the mention of Maisons-Lafitte interesting him, even from the lips of this intoxicated old idiot.
"Do you know," stuttered Vogotzine, "I, myself, should be glad—very glad—if you would come there. I am bored-bored to death! Closed shutters—not the least noise. The creaking of a door—the slightest bit of light-makes her ill. The days drag—they drag—yes, they do. No one speaks. Most of the time I dine alone. Shall I tell you?—no—yes, I will. Marsa, yes, well! Marsa, she is good, very good—thinks only of the poor-the poor, you know! But whatever Doctor Fargeas may say about it, she is mad! You can't deceive me! She is insane!—still insane!"
"Insane?" said Andras, striving to control his emotion.
The General, who was now staggering violently, clung desperately to the Prince. They had reached the boulevard, and Andras, hailing a cab, made Vogotzine get in, and instructed the coachman to drive to the Bois.
"I assure you that she is insane," proceeded the General, throwing his head back on the cushions. "Yes, insane. She does not eat anything; she never rests. Upon my word, I don't know how she lives. Once—her dogs—she took walks. Now, I go with them into the park—good beasts—very gentle. Sometimes, all that she says, is: 'Listen! Isn't that Duna or Bundas barking?' Ah! if I wasn't afraid of Froloffyes, Froloff—how soon I should return to Russia! The life of Paris—the life of Paris wearies me. You see, I come here today, I take up a newspaper, and I see what? Froloff! Besides, the life of Paris—at Maisons-Lafitte—between four walls, it is absurd! Now, acknowledge, old man, isn't it absurd? Do you know what I should like to do? I should like to send a petition to the Czar. What did I do, after all, I should like to know? It wasn't anything so horrible. I stayed, against the Emperor's orders, five days too long at Odessa—that was all—yes, you see, a little French actress who was there, who sang operettas; oh, how she did sing operettas! Offenbach, you know;" and the General tried to hum a bar or two of the 'Dites lui', with ludicrous effect. "Charming! To leave her, ah! I found that very hard. I remained five days: that wasn't much, eh, Zilah? five days? But the devil! There was a Grand Duke—well—humph! younger than I, of course—and—and—the Grand Duke was jealous. Oh! there was at that time a conspiracy at Odessa! I was accused of spending my time at the theatre, instead of watching the conspirators. They even said I was in the conspiracy! Oh, Lord! Odessa! The gallows! Froloff! Well, it was Stephanie Gavaud who was the cause of it. Don't tell that to Marsa! Ah! that little Stephanie! 'J'ai vu le vieux Bacchus sur sa roche fertile!' Tautin—no, Tautin couldn't sing like that little Stephanie! Well," continued Vogotzine, hiccoughing violently, "because all that happened then, I now lead here the life of an oyster! Yes, the life of an oyster, of a turtle, of a clam! alone with a woman sad as Mid-Lent, who doesn't speak, doesn't sing, does nothing but weep, weep, weep! It is crushing! I say just what I think! Crushing, then, whatever my niece may be—cr-r-rushing! And—ah—really, my dear fellow, I should be glad if you would come. Why did you go away? Yes, yes, that is your affair, and I don't ask any questions. Only—only you would do well to come—"
"Why?" interrupted Andras, turning quickly to Vogotzine.
"Ah! why? Because!" said the General, trying to give to his heavy face an expression of shrewd, dignified gravity.
"What has happened?" asked the Prince. "Is she suffering again? Ill?"
"Oh, insane, I tell you! absolutely insane! mad as a March hare! Two days ago, you see—"
"Well, what? two days ago?"
"Because, two days ago!—"
"Well, what? What is it? Speak, Vogotzine!"
"The despatch," stammered the General.
"The des—despatch from Florence."
"She has received a despatch from Florence?"
"A telegram—blue paper—she read it before me; upon my word, I thought it was from you! She said—no; those miserable bits of paper, it is astonishing how they alarm you. There are telegrams which have given me a fit of indigestion, I assure you—and I haven't the heart of a chicken!"
"Go on! Marsa? This despatch? Whom was it from? What did Marsa say?"
"She turned white as a sheet; she began to tremble—an attack of the nerves—and she said: 'Well, in two days I shall know, at last, whether I am to live!' Queer, wasn't it? I don't know what she meant! But it is certain—yes, certain, my dear fellow—that she expects, this evening, some one who is coming—or who is not coming, from Florence—that depends."
"Who is it? Who?" cried Andras. "Michel Menko?"
"I don't know," faltered Vogotzine in alarm, wondering whether it were Froloff's hand that had seized him by the collar of his coat.
"It is Menko, is it not?" demanded Andras; while the terrified General gasped out something unintelligible, his intoxication increasing every yard the carriage advanced in the Bois.
Andras was almost beside himself with pain and suspense. What did it mean? Who had sent that despatch? Why had it caused Marsa such emotion? "In two days I shall know, at last, whether I am to live!" Who could make her utter such a cry? Who, if not Michel Menko, was so intimately connected with her life as to trouble her so, to drive her insane, as Vogotzine said?
"It is Menko, is it not? it is Menko?" repeated Andras again.
And Vogotzine gasped:
"Perhaps! anything is possible!"
But he stopped suddenly, as if he comprehended, despite his inebriety, that he was in danger of going too far and doing some harm.
"Come, Vogotzine, come, you have told me too much not to tell me all!"
"That is true; yes, I have said too much! Ah! The devil! this is not my affair!—Well, yes, Count Menko is in Florence or near Florence—I don't know where. Marsa told me that—without meaning to. She was excited—very excited—talked to herself. I did not ask her anything—but—she is insane, you see, mad, mad! She first wrote a despatch to Italy—then she tore it up like this, saying: 'No, what is to happen, will happen!' There! I don't know anything but that. I don't know anything!"
"Ah! she is expecting him!" cried Andras. "When?"
"I don't know!"
"You told me it was to be this evening. This evening, is it not?"
The old General felt as ill at ease as if he had been before a military commission or in the hands of Froloff.
"Yes, this evening."
"At Maisons," responded Vogotzine, mechanically. "And all this wearies me—wearies me. Was it for this I decided to come to Paris? A fine idea! At least, there are no Russian days at Maisons!"
Andras made no reply.
He stopped the carriage, got out, and, saluting the General with a brief "Thank you!" walked rapidly away, leaving Vogotzine in blank amazement, murmuring, as he made an effort to sit up straight:
"Well, well, are you going to leave me here, old man? All alone? This isn't right!"
And, like a forsaken child, the old General, with comic twitchings of his eyebrows and nostrils, felt a strong desire to weep.
"Where shall I drive you, Monsieur?" asked the coachman.
"Wherever you like, my friend," responded Vogotzine, modestly, with an appealing look at the man. "You, at least, must not leave me!"
CHAPTER XXXII. THE VALE OF VIOLETS
In the Prince's mind the whole affair seemed clear as day, and he explained the vague anxiety with which he had been afflicted for several days as a mysterious premonition of a new sorrow. Menko was at Florence! Menko, for it could be no other than he, had telegraphed to Marsa, arranging a meeting with her. That very evening he was to be in the house of Marsa Laszlo—Marsa who bore, in spite of all, the title and name of the Zilahs. Was it possible? After the marriage, after this woman's vows and tears, these two beings, separated for a time, were to be united again. And he, Andras, had almost felt pity for her! He had listened to Varhely, an honest man; drawing a parallel between a vanquished soldier and this fallen girl—Varhely, the rough, implacable Varhely, who had also been the dupe of the Tzigana, and one evening at Sainte-Adresse had even counselled the deceived husband to pardon her.
In a state bordering on frenzy, Zilah returned to his hotel, thinking:
"He will be with her this evening!"
This was worse than all the rest. How could he punish her?
Why not? Was not Marsa Laszlo his wife? That villa of Maisons-Lafitte, where she thought herself so safe, was his by law. He, the husband, had a right to enter there at any hour and demand of his wife an account of his honor.
"She wished this name of Zilah! Well! she shall know at least what it costs and what it imposes upon her!" he hissed through his clenched teeth. He walked nervously to and fro in the library of his hotel, his excitement increasing at every step.
"She is Princess Zilah! She—a princess! Nothing can wrest from her that title which she has stolen! Princess be it, then; but the Prince has the right to deal out life or death to his wife—to his wife and to the lover of his wife!" with a spasmodic burst of laughter. "Her lover is to be there; Menko is to be there, and I complain! The man whom I have sought in vain will be before me. I shall hold him at my mercy, and I do not thank the kind fate which gives me that joy! This evening! He will be at her house this evening! Good! Justice shall be done!"
Every moment added to his fever. He would have given ten years of his life if it were already evening. He waited impatiently for the hour to come when he could go and surprise them. He even thought of meeting Menko at the railway station on his arrival from Italy: but what would be the use? Menko would be at Maisons; and he would kill him before her face, in a duel if Menko would fight, or like a thief caught in the act if he attempted to fly. That would be better. Yes, he would kill him like a dog, if the other—but no! The Hungarian, struck in the presence of the Tzigana, would certainly not recoil before a pistol. Marsa should be the sole witness of the duel, and the blood of the Prince or of Menko should spatter her face—a crimson stain upon her pale cheek should be her punishment.
Early in the evening Andras left the hotel, after slipping into the pocket of his overcoat a pair of loaded pistols: one of them he would cast at Menko's feet. It was not assassination he wished, but justice.
He took the train to Maisons, and, on his arrival there, crossed the railway bridge, and found himself almost alone in the broad avenue which runs through the park. As he walked on through the rapidly darkening shadows, he began to feel a strange sensation, as if nothing had happened, and as if he were shaking off, little by little, a hideous nightmare. In a sort of voluntary hallucination, he imagined that he was going, as in former days, to Marsa's house; and that she was awaiting him in one of those white frocks which became her so well, with her silver belt clasped with the agraffe of opals. As he advanced, a host of memories overwhelmed him. He had walked with Marsa under these great lindens forming an arch overhead like that of a cathedral. He remembered conversations they had had in the evening, when a slight mist silvered the majestic park, and the white villa loomed vaguely before them like some phantom palace of fairyland. With the Tzigana clinging to his arm, he had seen those fountains, with their singing waters, that broad lawn between the two long lines of trees, those winding paths through the shrubbery; and, in the emotion aroused by these well-remembered places, there was a sensation of bitter pain at the thought of the happiness that might have been his had fate fulfilled her promises, which increased, rather than appeased, the Prince's anger.
As his steps led him mechanically nearer and nearer to the house where she lived, all the details of his wedding-day rose in his memory, and he turned aside to see again the little church, the threshold of which they had crossed together—she exquisitely lovely in her white draperies, and he overflowing with happiness.
The square in front of the sanctuary was now deserted and the leaves were beginning to fall from the trees. A man was lying asleep upon the steps before the bolted door. Zilah stood gazing at the Gothic portal, with a statue of the Virgin Mother above it, and wondered whether it were he who had once led there a lovely girl, about to become his wife; and the sad, closed church produced upon him the effect of a tomb.
He dragged himself away from the contemplation of the stone threshold, where slept the tired man—drunk perhaps, at all events happier than the Prince—and proceeded on his way through the woods to the abode of Marsa Laszlo.
There was, Zilah remembered well, quite near there, a sort of narrow valley (where the Mayor of Maisons was said to have royally entertained Louis XIV and his courtiers, as they were returning from Marly), a lovely spot, surrounded by grassy slopes covered with violets, a little shady, Virgilian wood, where he and Marsa had dreamed away many happy hours. They had christened it The Vale o f Violets. How many memories were in that sweet name, each one of which stabbed and exasperated Zilah, rising before him like so many spectres.
He hastened his steps, repeating:
"He is there! She is waiting for him! Her lover is there!"
At the end of the road, before the villa, closed and silent like the old church, he stopped. He had reached his destination; but what was he about to do, he who—who up to this time had protected his name from the poisonous breath of scandal?
He was about to kill Menko, or to be killed himself. A duel! But what was the need of proposing a duel, when, exercising his rights as a husband, he could punish both the man and the woman?
He did not hesitate long, however, but advanced to the gate, saying, aloud:
"I have a right to enter my own house."
The ringing of the bell was answered by the barking of Duna, Bundas, and Ortog, who tore furiously at their iron chains.
A man presently appeared on the other side of the gate. It was a domestic whom Andras did not know and had never seen.
"Whom do you wish to see?" asked the man.
"The Princess Zilah!"
"Who are you?" demanded the man, his hand upon the inner bolt of the gate.
The other stood stock-still in amazement, trying to see, through the darkness, the Prince's face.
"Do you hear me?" demanded Andras.
And, as the domestic opened the gate, as if to observe the appearance of the visitor, the Prince gave it a nervous push, which threw the servant backward; and, once within the garden, he came close to him, and said:
"Look well at me, in order that you may recognize me again. I am master here."
Zilah's clear eye and imperious manner awed the man, and he bowed humbly, not daring to speak.
Andras turned on his heel, mounted the steps, and entered the house; then he stopped and listened.
She was with him. Yes, a man was there, and the man was speaking, speaking to Marsa, speaking doubtless of love.
Menko, with his twisted moustache, his pretty smile and his delicate profile, was there, behind that door. A red streak of light from the salon where Marsa was showed beneath the door, which the Prince longed to burst open with his foot. With anger and bitterness filling his heart, he felt capable of entering there, and striking savagely, madly, at his rival.
How these two beings had played with him; the woman who had lied to him, and the coward who had sent him those letters.
Suddenly Marsa's voice fell upon his ear, that rich, contralto voice he knew so well, speaking in accents of love or joy.
What was he waiting for? His hot, feverish hand sought the handle of his pistol, and, striding forward, he threw open the door of the room.
The light from an opal-tinted lamp fell full upon his face. He stood erect upon the threshold, while two other faces were turned toward him, two pale faces, Marsa's and another's.
Andras paused in amazement.
He had sought Menko; he found—Varhely!
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE DUEL
Marsa recoiled in fear at hearing this cry and the sudden appearance of the Prince; and, trembling like a leaf, with her face still turned toward that threshold where Andras stood, she murmured, in a voice choked with emotion:
"Who is there? Who is it?"
Yanski Varhely, unable to believe his eyes, advanced, as if to make sure.
"Zilah!" he exclaimed, in his turn.
He could not understand; and Zilah himself wondered whether he were not the victim of some illusion, and where Menko could be, that Menko whom Marsa had expected, and whom he, the husband, had come to chastise.
But the most bewildered, in her mute amazement, was Marsa, her lips trembling, her face ashen, her eyes fixed upon the Prince, as she leaned against the marble of the mantelpiece to prevent herself from falling, but longing to throw herself on her knees before this man who had suddenly appeared, and who was master of her destiny.
"You here?" said Varhely at last. "You followed me, then?"
"No," said Andras. "The one whom I expected to find here was not you."
"Who was it, then?"
Yanski Varhely turned toward Marsa.
She did not stir; she was looking at the Prince.
"Michel Menko is dead," responded Varhely, shortly. "It was to announce that to the Princess Zilah that I am here."
Andras gazed alternately upon the old Hungarian, and upon Marsa, who stood there petrified, her whole soul burning in her eyes.
"Dead?" repeated Zilah, coldly.
"I fought and killed him," returned Varhely.
Andras struggled against the emotion which seized hold of him. Pale as death, he turned from Varhely to the Tzigana, with an instinctive desire to know what her feelings might be.
The news of this death, repeated thus before the man whom she regarded as the master of her existence, had, apparently, made no impression upon her, her thoughts being no longer there, but her whole heart being concentrated upon the being who had despised her, hated her, fled from her, and who appeared there before her as in one of her painful dreams in which he returned again to that very house where he had cursed her.
"There was," continued Varhely, slowly, "a martyr who could not raise her head, who could not live, so long as that man breathed. First of all, I came to her to tell her that she was delivered from a detested past. Tomorrow I should have informed a man whose honor is my own, that the one who injured and insulted him has paid his debt."
With lips white as his moustache, Varhely spoke these words like a judge delivering a solemn sentence.
A strange expression passed over Zilah's face. He felt as if some horrible weight had been lifted from his heart.
Yet there was a time when he had loved this Michel Menko: and, of the three beings present in the little salon, the man who had been injured by him was perhaps the one who gave a pitying thought to the dead, the old soldier remaining as impassive as an executioner, and the Tzigana remembering only the hatred she had felt for the one who had been her ruin.
Varhely took from the mantelpiece the despatch he had sent from Florence, three days before, to the Princess Zilah, the one of which Vogotzine had spoken to Andras.
He handed it to the Prince, and Andras read as follows:
"I am about to risk my life for you. Tuesday evening either I shall be at Maisons-Lafitte, or I shall be dead. I fight tomorrow with Count M. If you do not see me again, pray for the soul of Varhely."
Count Varhely had sent this despatch before going to keep his appointment with Michel Menko.
It had been arranged that they were to fight in a field near Pistoja.
Some peasant women, who were braiding straw hats, laughed as they saw the men pass by.
One of them called out, gayly:
"Do you wish to find your sweethearts, signori? That isn't the way!"
A little farther, Varhely and his adversary encountered a monk with a cowl drawn over his head so that only his eyes could be seen, who, holding out a zinc money-box, demanded 'elemosina', alms for the sick in hospitals.
Menko opened his pocketbook, and dropped in the box a dozen pieces of gold.
"Mille grazie, signor!"
"It is of no consequence."
They arrived on the ground, and the seconds loaded the pistols.
Michel asked permission of Yanski to say two words to him.
"Speak!" said Varhely.
The old Hungarian stood at his post with folded arms and lowered eyes, while Michel approached him, and said:
"Count Varhely, I repeat to you that I wished to prevent this marriage, but not to insult the Prince. I give you my word of honor that this is true. If you survive me, will you promise to repeat this to him?"
"I thank you."
They took their positions.
Angelo Valla was to give the signal to fire.
He stood holding a white handkerchief in his outstretched hand, and with his eyes fixed upon the two adversaries, who were placed opposite each other, with their coats buttoned up to the chin, and their pistols held rigidly by their side.
Varhely was as motionless as if made of granite. Menko smiled.
"One! Two!" counted Valla.
He paused as if to take breath: then—
"Three!" he exclaimed, in the tone of a man pronouncing a death-sentence; and the handkerchief fell.
There were two reports in quick succession.
Varhely stood erect in his position; Menko's ball had cut a branch above his head, and the green leaves fell fluttering to the ground.
Michel staggered back, his hand pressed to his left side.
His seconds hastened toward him, seized him under the arms, and tried to raise him.
"It is useless," he said. "It was well aimed!"
And, turning to Varhely, he cried, in a voice which he strove to render firm:
"Remember your promise!"
They opened his coat. The ball had entered his breast just above the heart.
They seated him upon the grass, with his back against a tree.
He remained there, with fixed eyes, gazing, perhaps, into the infinite, which was now close at hand.
His lips murmured inarticulate names, confused words: "Pardon—punishment—Marsa—"
As Yanski Varhely, with his two seconds, again passed the straw-workers, the girls saluted them with:
"Well, where are your other friends? Have they found their sweethearts?"
And while their laughter rang out upon the air, the gay, foolish laughter of youth and health, over yonder they were bearing away the dead body of Michel Menko.
Andras Zilah, with a supreme effort at self-control, listened to his old friend relate this tale; and, while Varhely spoke, he was thinking:
It was not a lover, it was not Menko, whom Marsa expected. Between the Tzigana and himself there was now nothing, nothing but a phantom. The other had paid his debt with his life. The Prince's anger disappeared as suddenly in proportion as his exasperation had been violent.
He contemplated Marsa, thin and pale, but beautiful still. The very fixedness of her great eyes gave her a strange and powerful attraction; and, in the manner in which Andras regarded her, Count Varhely, with his rough insight, saw that there were pity, astonishment, and almost fear.
He pulled his moustache a moment in reflection, and then made a step toward the door.
Marsa saw that he was about to leave the room; and, moving away from the marble against which she had been leaning, with a smile radiant with the joy of a recovered pride, she held out her hand to Yanski, and, in a voice in which there was an accent of almost terrible gratitude for the act of justice which had been accomplished, she said, firmly:
"I thank you, Varhely!"
Varhely made no reply, but passed out of the room, closing the door behind him.
The husband and wife, after months of torture, anguish, and despair, were alone, face to face with each other.
Andras's first movement was one of flight. He was afraid of himself. Of his own anger? Perhaps. Perhaps of his own pity.
He did not look at Marsa, and in two steps he was at the door.
Then, with a start, as one drowning catches at a straw, as one condemned to death makes a last appeal for mercy, with a feeble, despairing cry like that of a child, a strange contrast to the almost savage thanks given to Varhely, she exclaimed:
"Ah! I implore you, listen to me!"
"What have you to say to me?" he asked.
"Nothing—nothing but this: Forgive! ah, forgive! I have seen you once more; forgive me, and let me disappear; but, at least, carrying away with me a word from you which is not a condemnation."
"I might forgive," said Andras; "but I could not forget."
"I do not ask you to forget, I do not ask you that! Does one ever forget? And yet—yes, one does forget, one does forget, I know it. You are the only thing in all my existence, I know only you, I think only of you. I have loved only you!"
Andras shivered, no longer able to fly, moved to the depths of his being by the tones of this adored voice, so long unheard.
"There was no need of bloodshed to destroy that odious past," continued Marsa. "Ah! I have atoned for it! There is no one on earth who has suffered as I have. I, who came across your path only to ruin your life! Your life, my God, yours!"
She looked at him with worshipping eyes, as believers regard their god.
"You have not suffered so much as the one you stabbed, Marsa. He had never had but one love in the world, and that love was you. If you had told him of your sufferings, and confessed your secret, he would have been capable of pardoning you. You deceived him. There was something worse than the crime itself—the lie."
"Ah!" she cried, "if you knew how I hated that lie! Would to heaven that some one would tear out my tongue for having deceived you!"
There was an accent of truth in this wild outburst of the Tzigana; and upon the lips of this daughter of the puszta, Hungarian and Russian at once, the cry seemed the very symbol of her exceptional nature.
"What is it you wish that I should do?" she said. "Die? yes, I would willingly, gladly die for you, interposing my breast between you and a bullet. Ah! I swear to you, I should be thankful to die like one of those who bore your name. But, there is no fighting now, and I can not shed my blood for you. I will sacrifice my life in another manner, obscurely, in the shadows of a cloister. I shall have had neither lover nor husband, I shall be nothing, a recluse, a prisoner. It will be well! yes, for me, the prison, the cell, death in a life slowly dragged out! Ah! I deserve that punishment, and I wish my sentence to come from you; I wish you to tell me that I am free to disappear, and that you order me to do so—but, at the same time, tell me, oh, tell me, that you have forgiven me!"
"I!" said Andras.
In Marsa's eyes was a sort of wild excitement, a longing for sacrifice, a thirst for martyrdom.
"Do I understand that you wish to enter a convent?" asked Andras, slowly.
"Yes, the strictest and gloomiest. And into that tomb I shall carry, with your condemnation and farewell, the bitter regret of my love, the weight of my remorse!"
The convent! The thought of such a fate for the woman he loved filled Andras Zilah with horror. He imagined the terrible scene of Marsa's separation from the world; he could hear the voice of the officiating bishop casting the cruel words upon the living, like earth upon the dead; he could almost see the gleam of the scissors as they cut through her beautiful dark hair.
Kneeling before him, her eyes wet with tears, Marsa was as lovely in her sorrow as a Mater Dolorosa. All his love surged up in his heart, and a wild temptation assailed him to keep her beauty, and dispute with the convent this penitent absolved by remorse.
She knelt there repentant, weeping, wringing her hands, asking nothing but pardon—a word, a single word of pity—and the permission to bury herself forever from the world.
"So," he said, abruptly, "the convent cell, the prison, does not terrify you?"
"Nothing terrifies me except your contempt."
"You would live far from Paris, far from the world, far from everything?"
"In a kennel of dogs, under the lash of a slavedriver; breaking stones, begging my bread, if you said to me: 'Do that, it is atonement!'"
"Well!" cried Andras, passionately, his lips trembling, his blood surging through his veins. "Live buried in our Hungary, forgetting, forgotten, hidden, unknown, away from all, away from Paris, away from the noise of the world, in a life with me, which will be a new life! Will you?"
She looked at him with staring, terrified eyes, believing his words to be some cruel jest.
"Will you?" he said again, raising her from the floor, and straining her to his breast, his burning lips seeking the icy ones of the Tzigana. "Answer me, Marsa. Will you?"
Like a sigh, the word fell on the air: "Yes."
CHAPTER XXXIV. A NEW LIFE
The following day, with tender ardor, he took her away to his old Hungarian castle, with its red towers still bearing marks of the ravages of the cannon—the castle which he never had beheld since Austria had confiscated it, and then, after long years, restored it to its rightful owner. He fled from Paris, seeking a pure existence, and returned to his Hungary, to the country of his youth, the land of the vast plains. He saw again the Danube and the golden Tisza. In the Magyar costume, his heart beating more proudly under the national attila, he passed before the eyes of the peasants who had known him when a child, and had fought under his orders; and he spoke to them by name, recognizing many of his old companions in these poor people with cheeks tanned by the sun, and heads whitened by age.
He led Marsa, trembling and happy, to the door of the castle, where they offered him the wine of honor, drank from the 'tschouttora', the Hungarian drinking-vessel, the 'notis' and cakes made of maize cooked in cream.
Upon the lawns about the castle, the 'tschiko' shepherds, who had come on horseback to greet the Prince, drank plum brandy, and drank with their red wine the 'kadostas' and the bacon of Temesvar. They had come from their farms, from their distant pusztas, peasant horsemen, like soldiers, with their national caps; and they joyously celebrated the return of Zilah Andras, the son of those Zilahs whose glorious history they all knew. The dances began, the bright copper heels clinked together, the blue jackets, embroidered with yellow, red, or gold, swung in the wind, and it seemed that the land of Hungary blossomed with flowers and rang with songs to do honor to the coming of Prince Andras and his Princess.
Then Andras entered with Marsa the abode of his ancestors. And, in the great halls hung with tapestry and filled with pictures which the conquerors had respected, before those portraits of magnates superb in their robes of red or green velvet edged with fur, curved sabres by their sides and aigrettes upon their heads, all reproducing a common trait of rough frankness, with their long moustaches, their armor and their hussar uniforms—Marsa Laszlo, who knew them well, these heroes of her country, these Zilah princes who had fallen upon the field of battle, said to the last of them all, to Andras Zilah, before Ferency Zilah, before Sandor, before the Princesses Zilah who had long slept in "dull, cold marble," and who had been no prouder than she of the great name they bore:
"Do you know the reason why, equal to these in devotion and courage, you are superior to them all! It is because you are good, as good as they were brave.
"To their virtues, you, who forgive, add this virtue, which is your own: pity!"
She looked at him humbly, raising to his face her beautiful dark eyes, as if to let him read her heart, in which was only his image and his name. She pressed closely to his side, with an uneasy, timid tenderness, as if she were a stranger in the presence of his great ancestors, who seemed to demand whether the newcomer were one of the family; and he, putting his arm about her, and pressing to his beating heart the Tzigana, whose eyes were dim with tears, said: "No, I am not better than these. It is not pity which is my virtue, Marsa: it is my love. For—I love you!"
Yes, he loved her, and with all the strength of a first and only love. He loved her so that he forgot everything, so that he did not see that in Marsa's smile there was a look of the other side of the great, eternal river. He loved her so that he thought only of this woman, of her beauty, of the delight of her caresses, of his dream of love realized in the air of the adored fatherland. He loved her so that he left without answers the charming letters which Baroness Dinati wrote him from Paris, so far away now, and the more serious missives which he received from his compatriots, wishing him to utilize for his country, now that he had returned to it, his superior intelligence, as he had formerly utilized his courage.
"The hour is critical," wrote his old friends. "An attempt is being made to awaken in Hungary, against the Russians, whom we like, memories of combats and extinct hatreds, and that to the profit of a German alliance, which is repugnant to our race. Bring the support of your name and your valor to our cause. Enter the Diet of Hungary. Your place is marked out for you there in the first rank, as it was in the old days upon the battlefield."
Andras only smiled.
"If I were ambitious!" he said to Marsa. Then he added: "But I am ambitious only for your happiness."
Marsa's happiness! It was deep, calm, and clear as a lake. It seemed to the Tzigana that she was dreaming a dream, a beautiful dream, a dream peaceful, sweet, and restful. She abandoned herself to her profound happiness with the trustfulness of a child. She was all the more happy because she had the exquisite sensation that her dream would have no awakening. It would end in all the charm of its poetry.
She was sure that she could not survive the immense joy which destiny had accorded her; and she did not rebel against this decree. It seemed to her right and just. She had never desired any other ending to her love than to die beloved, to die with Andras's kiss of forgiveness upon her lips, with his arms about her, and to sink with a smile into the eternal sleep. What more beautiful thing could she, the Tzigana, have wished?
When the Prince's people saluted her by that title of "Princess" which was hers, she trembled as if she had usurped it; she wished to be Marsa to the Prince, Marsa, his devoted slave, who looked at him with her great eyes full of gratitude and love. And she wished to be only that. It seemed to her that, in the ancient home of the Zilahs, the birthplace of soldiers, the eyrie of eagles, she was a sort of stranger; but, at the same time, she thought, with a smile:
"What matters it? It is for so short a time."
One day Prince Zilah received from Vienna a large sealed envelope. Minister Ladany earnestly entreated him to come to the Austrian capital and present, in the salons of Vienna and at the imperial court, Princess Zilah, of whose beauty the Austrian colony of Paris raved.
Marsa asked the Prince what the letter contained.
"Nothing. An invitation to leave our solitude. We are too happy here."
Marsa questioned him no further; but she resolved that she would never allow the Prince to take her to that court which claimed his presence. In her eyes, she was always the Tzigana; and, although Menko was dead, she would never permit Zilah to present her to people who might have known Count Michel.
No, no, let them remain in the dear old castle, he living only for her, she breathing only for him; and let the world go, with its fascinations and its pleasures, its false joys and its false friendships! Let them ask of life only what truth it possesses; an hour of rest between two ordeals, a smile between two sobs, and—the right to love each other. To love each other until that fatal separation which she felt was coming, until that end which was fast advancing; her poor, frail body being now only the diaphanous prison of her soul. She did not complain, as she felt the hour gently approach when, with a last kiss, a last sigh, she must say to Andras, Adieu!
He, seeing her each day more pale, each day more feeble, was alarmed; but he hoped, that, when the winter, which was very severe there, was over, Marsa would regain her strength. He summoned to the castle a physician from Vienna, who battled obstinately and skilfully against the malady from which the Tzigana was suffering. Her weakness and languor kept Marsa, during the cold months, for whole days before the lofty, sculptured chimney-piece, in which burned enormous logs of oak. As the flames gave a rosy tinge to her cheeks and made her beautiful eyes sparkle, Andras said to herself, as he watched her, that she would live, live and be happy with him.
The spring came, with the green leaflets and the white blossoms at the ends of the branches. The buds opened and the odors of the rejuvenated earth mounted subtly into the soft air.
At her window, regarding the young grass and the masses of tender verdure in which clusters of pale gold or silvery white gleamed like aigrettes, Marsa said to Andras:
"It must be lovely at Maisons, in the Vale of Violets!" but she added, quickly:
"We are better here, much better! And it even seems to me that I have always, always lived here in this beautiful castle, where you have sheltered me, like a swallow beaten by the wind."
There was, beneath the window, stretching out like a ribbon of silver, a road, which the mica dust caused, at times, in the sunlight to resemble a river. Marsa often looked out on this road, imagining that she saw again the massive dam upon the Seine, or wondering whether a band of Tzigani would not appear there with the April days.
"I should like," she said one day to Andras, "to hear again the airs my people used to play."
She found that, with the returning spring, she was more feeble than she had ever been. The first warmth in the air entered her veins like a sweet intoxication. Her head felt heavy, and in her whole body she felt a pleasant languor. She had wished to sink thus to rest, as nature was awakening.
The doctor seemed very uneasy at this languidness, of which Marsa said:
"It is delicious!"
He whispered one evening to Andras:
"It is grave!"
Another sorrow was to come into the life of the Prince, who had known so many.
A few days after, with a sort of presentiment, he wrote to Yanski Varhely to come and spend a few months with him. He felt the need of his old friend; and the Count hastened to obey the summons.
Varhely was astonished to see the change which so short a time had produced in Marsa. In seven months her face, although still beautiful, had become emaciated, and had a transparent look. The little hand, white as snow, which she gave to Varhely, burned him; the skin was dry and hot.
"Well, my dear Count," said Marsa, as she lay extended in a reclining-chair, "what news of General Vogotzine?"
"The General is well. He hopes to return to Russia. The Czar has been appealed to, and he does not say no."
"Ah! that is good news," she said. "He must be greatly bored at Maisons; poor Vogotzine!"
"He smokes, drinks, takes the dogs out—"
The dogs! Marsa started. Those hounds would survive Menko, herself, the love which she now tasted as the one joy of her life! Mechanically her lips murmured, too low to be heard: "Ortog! Bundas!"
Then she said, aloud:
"I shall be very, glad if the poor General can return to St. Petersburg or Odessa. One is best off at home, in one's own country. If you only knew, Varhely, how happy I am, happy to be in Hungary. At home!"
She was very weak. The doctor made a sign to Andras to leave her for a moment.
"Well," asked the Prince anxiously of Varhely, "how do you think she is?"
"What does the doctor say?" replied Yanski. "Does he hope to save her?"
Zilah made no response. Varhely's question was the most terrible of answers.
Ensconced in an armchair, the Prince then laid bare his heart to old Varhely, sitting near him. She was about to die, then! Solitude! Was that to be the end of his life? After so many trials, it was all to end in this: an open grave, in which his hopes were to be buried. What remained to him now? At the age when one has no recourse against fate, love, the one love of his life, was to be taken away from him. Varhely had administered justice, and Zilah had pardoned—for what? To watch together a silent tomb; yes, yes, what remained to him now?
"What remains to you if she dies?" said old Yanski, slowly. "There remains to you what you had at twenty years, that which never dies. There remains to you what was the love and the passion of all the Zilah princes who lie yonder, and who experienced the same suffering, the same torture, the same despair, as you. There remains to you our first love, my dear Andras, the fatherland!"
The next day some Tzigana musicians, whom the Prince had sent for, arrived at the castle. Marsa felt invigorated when she heard the czimbalom and the piercing notes of the czardas. She had been longing for those harmonies and songs which lay so near her heart. She listened, with her hand clasped in that of Andras, and through the open window came the "March of Rakoczy," the same strains which long ago had been played in Paris, upon the boat which bore them down the Seine that July morning.
An heroic air, a song of triumph, a battle-cry, the gallop of horses, a chant of victory. It was the air which had saluted their betrothal like a fanfare. It was the chant which the Tzigani had played that sad night when Andras's father had been laid in the earth of Attila.
"I would like," said Marsa, when the music had ceased, "to go to the little village where my mother rests. She was a Tzigana also! Like them, like me! Can I do so, doctor?"
The doctor shook his head.
"Oh, Princess, not yet! Later, when the warm sun comes."
"Is not that the sun?" said Marsa, pointing to the April rays entering the old feudal hall and making the bits of dust dance like sparks of gold.
"It is the April sun, and it is sometimes dangerous for—"
The doctor paused; and, as he did not finish, Marsa said gently, with a smile which had something more than resignation in it—happiness:
"For the dying?"
Andras shuddered; but Marsa's hand, which held his, did not even tremble.
Old Varhely's eyes were dim with tears.
She knew that she was about to die. She knew it, and smiled at kindly death. It would take away all shame. Her memory would be to Andras the sacred one of the woman he adored. She would die without being held to keep that oath she had made not to survive her dreamed-of happiness, the union she had desired and accepted. Yes, it was sweet and welcome, this death, which taking her from Andras's love, washed away all stain.
She whispered in his ear the oft-repeated avowal:
"I love you! I love you! I love you! And I die content, for I feel that you will love me always. Think a moment! Could I live? Would there not be a spectre between you and your Marsa?"
She threw her arms about him as he leaned over the couch upon which she lay, and he made a gesture of denial, unable to speak, for each word would have been a sob.
"Oh, do not deny it!" she said. "Now, no. But later, who knows? On the other hand, you see, there will be no other phantom near you but mine, no other image but mine. I feel that I shall be always near you, yes, always, eternally, my beloved! Dear death! blessed death! which renders our love infinite, yes, infinite. Ah, I love you! I love you!"
She wished to see once more, through the open window, the sunny woods and the new blossoms. Behind those woods, a few leagues away, was the place where Tisza was buried.
"I should like to rest by her side," said the Tzigana. "I am not of your family, you see. A princess, I? your wife? I have been only your sweetheart, my Andras."
Andras, whiter than the dying girl, seemed petrified by the approach of the inevitable grief.
Now, as they went slowly down the white road, the Tzigani played the plaintive melancholy air of Janos Nemeth, that air impregnated with tears, that air which she used so often to play herself—"The World holds but One Fair Maiden!"
And this time, bursting into tears, he said to her, with his heart breaking in his breast:
"Yes, there is but thee, Marsa! but thee, my beloved, thee, thee alone! Do not leave me! Stay with me! Stay with me, Marsa, my only love!"
Then, as she listened, over the lovely face of the Tzigana passed an expression of absolute, perfect happiness, as if, in Zilah's tears, she read all his forgiveness, all his love, all his devotion. She raised herself, her little hands resting upon the window-sill, her head heavy with sleep—the deep, dreamless sleep-and held up her sweet lips to him: when she felt Andras's kiss, she whispered, so that he barely heard it:
"Do not forget me! Never forget me, my darling!" Then her head drooped slowly, and fell upon the Prince's shoulder, like that of a tired child, with a calm sweet smile upon her flower-like face.
Like the salute they had once given to Prince Sandor, the Tzigani began proudly the heroic march of free Hungary, their music sending a fast farewell to the dead as the sun gave her its last kiss.
Then, as the hymn died slowly away in the distance, soft as a sigh, with one last, low, heart-breaking note, Andras Zilah laid the light form of the Tzigana upon the couch; and, winding his arms about her, with his head pillowed upon her breast, he murmured, in a voice broken with sobs: "I will love only, now, what you loved so much, my poor Tzigana. I will love only the land where you lie asleep."
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A man's life belongs to his duty, and not to his happiness All defeats have their geneses An hour of rest between two ordeals, a smile between two sobs Anonymous, that velvet mask of scandal-mongers At every step the reality splashes you with mud Bullets are not necessarily on the side of the right Does one ever forget? Foreigners are more Parisian than the Parisians themselves History is written, not made. "I might forgive," said Andras; "but I could not forget" If well-informed people are to be believe Insanity is, perhaps, simply the ideal realized It is so good to know nothing, nothing, nothing Let the dead past bury its dead! Life is a tempest Man who expects nothing of life except its ending Nervous natures, as prompt to hope as to despair No answer to make to one who has no right to question me Not only his last love, but his only love Nothing ever astonishes me One of those beings who die, as they have lived, children Pessimism of to-day sneering at his confidence of yesterday Playing checkers, that mimic warfare of old men Poverty brings wrinkles Sufferer becomes, as it were, enamored of his own agony Superstition which forbids one to proclaim his happiness Taken the times as they are The Hungarian was created on horseback There were too many discussions, and not enough action Unable to speak, for each word would have been a sob What matters it how much we suffer Why should I read the newspapers? Willingly seek a new sorrow Would not be astonished at anything You suffer? Is fate so just as that