Yes, she was very pale and grave; peaceful, not happy.
Scarcely twelve months had passed since she had been cruelly torn from the idolized young husband of her youth and thrown into a convent, where the only news that she heard of him was, that he had been killed in a duel with her ruthless father. She had mourned for him in secret, without hope and without sympathy, and before the first year of her widowhood had passed—a widowhood she had been sternly forbidden by her father either to bewail or even to acknowledge—she had been driven by a series of unprecedented persecutions to give her hand where she could not give her broken heart, and to go to the altar with a deadly secret on her conscience, if not with a lie on her lips!
Now her persecutions had ceased, indeed; but not her sorrows. Her home was quiet and honored, her middle-aged husband was kind and considerate, and she loved him with filial affection and reverence; but she could not forget the husband of her youth, slain by her father; his memory was a tender sorrow cherished in the depths of her heart, the only living sentiment there, for it seemed dead to all else.
"If he were a living lover," she whispered to herself, "I should be bound by every consideration of honor and duty to cast him out of my heart—if I could! But for my dead boy, my husband, slain in the flower of his youth for my sake, I may cherish remembrance and sorrow."
Thus, it is no wonder that she moved through the splendor of her first London season, a beautiful, pale, grave Melpomene.
But the splendor of that season was soon to be dimmed.
News came by telegraph to the Duke of Hereward, announcing the sudden death of the Baron de la Motte, of apoplexy, in Paris.
Now much has been said and written about the ingratitude of children; but quite as much might be said of their indestructible affection. The Baron de la Motte had shown himself a very cruel father to his only child; he had shot down her young husband in a duel; yet, notwithstanding all that, Valerie was wild with grief at the news of his sudden death. She wondered, poor child, if she herself had not had some hand in bringing it on by all the trouble she had given him, although that trouble had passed away now more than twelve months since; and the late baron was known to have been a man of full habit and excitable temperament, and, withal, a heavy feeder and hard drinker—a very fit subject for apoplexy to strike down at any moment.
The Duke and Duchess of Hereward hastened to Paris, where they found the remains of the baron laid in state in the great saloon of the Hotel de la Motte, and the widowed baroness prostrated by grief, and confined to her bed.
The duke and duchess remained until after the funeral, when the will of the late baron was read. It was then discovered for the first time that his daughter, Valerie, was not nearly the wealthy heiress she was supposed to be.
All the late baron's landed estates went to the male heir-at-law, a young officer in the Chasseurs d' Afrique, then in Algiers. All his personal property, consisting of bank and railroad stocks, after a deduction as a provision for his widow, was bequeathed to his only daughter Valerie, Duchess of Hereward. But this property was so inconsiderable, that, without other means, it would scarcely have sufficed for the respectable support of the mother and daughter.
After the settlement of the late baron's affairs, the duke and duchess would have returned immediately to London but for the condition of the widowed baroness' health.
Madame de la Motte had for years been a delicate invalid, and she had experienced, in the sudden death of her husband, a severe shock, from which she could not rally; so that, within a few weeks after the baron's remains had been laid in the family vault, she passed away, and hers were laid by his side.
Valerie was even more prostrated with sorrow by the loss of her mother than she had been by that of her father.
The duke, to distract her grief, telegraphed to New Haven, where his yacht, the Sea-Bird, was lying to have her brought over to meet him at Dieppe, took his duchess down to that little seaport and embarked with her for a voyage to Norway.
The season was most favorable for such a northerly voyage. They sailed on the first of July, and spent three months cruising about the coasts of Norway, Iceland, and down to the Western Isles. They returned about the first of October.
The duke left his yacht at Dieppe, and, accompanied by the duchess, went up to Paris, to attend to some business connected with the estate of the late baron.
As but a third of a year had passed since the death of her parents, and the duchess had scarcely passed out of her first deep crape mourning, she went very little into society. Nevertheless, she was constrained, at the duke's request, to accept one invitation.
There was to be a diplomatic dinner given at the British Legation, at which the Prussian, Austrian and Russian ministers, with the higher officers of their suites, were to be present.
Valerie, living her recluse life in the city, did not know the names of one of these ministers, nor, in the apathy of her grief, did she care to inquire.
On the evening appointed for the entertainment, she went to the hotel of the British Legation, escorted by her husband.
Dressed in her rich and elegant mourning of jet on crape, glimmering light on blackest darkness, and looking herself paler and fairer by its contrast, she entered the grand drawing-room, leaning on the arm of her husband. She heard their names announced:
"The Duke and Duchess of Hereward."
Then she found herself in a room sparsely occupied by a very brilliant company, and stood—not, as she had expected to stand, among strangers—but in the midst of her own familiar friends, whom she had known in her girlhood at the court of St. Petersburg, or met, in her womanhood, in the drawing-rooms of London.
It was while she was still leaning on her husband's arm and receiving the courteous salutations of her old friends, that their host, Lord C—n, approached with a gentleman.
Valerie looked up and saw standing before her the young husband of her girlish love!
RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.
Waldemar de Volaski, left as dead upon the duelling ground by his antagonist, the Baron de la Motte, was tenderly lifted by his second and the surgeon in attendance, laid upon a stretcher, and conveyed to the infirmary of a neighboring monastery, where he was charitably received by the brethren.
When he was laid upon a bed, undressed, and examined, it was discovered that he was not dead, but only swooning from the loss of blood.
When his wound was probed, it was found that the bullet had passed the right lobe of the lungs, and lodged in the flesh below the right shoulder blade. To extract it, under the circumstances, or to leave it there, seemed equally dangerous, threatening, on the one hand, inflammation and mortification, and, on the other, fatal hemorrhage. Therefore, the surgeon in charge of the case sent off to the nearest town to summon other medical aid, and meanwhile kept up the strength of the patient by stimulants. In the consultation that ensued on the arrival of the other surgeons, it was decided that the extraction of the bullet would be difficult and dangerous; but that in it lay the only chance of the patient's life.
On the next morning, therefore, Waldemar de Volaski was put under the influence of chloroform, and the operation was performed. His youth and vigorous constitution bore him safely through the trying ordeal, but could not save him from the terrible irritative fever that set in and held him in its fiery grasp for many days there after.
He was well tended by the holy brotherhood, who sent to the vine-dresser's cottage for information concerning him, that they might find out who and where were his friends, and write and apprise them of his condition.
But the vine-dresser could tell the monks no more than this—that the young man and young woman had come as strangers to the village, were married by the good Father Pietro in the church of San Vito, and had come to lodge in his cottage. The young pair had lived as merrily as two birds in a bush until the sudden arrival of an illustrious and furious signore, who tore the bride from the arms of her husband, and carried her off to the convent of Santa Madelena. That was all the vine-dresser knew.
The surgeon supplemented the vine-dresser's story with an account of the duel between the enraged baron and the young captain.
The good Father Pietro was next interviewed, and gave the names of the imprudent young pair whom he had tied together, as Waldemar Peter de Volaski and Valerie Aimee de la Motte; but besides this, who they were, or whence they came, he could not tell.
Inquiries were made in the village of San Vito, which only resulted in the information that the "illustrious" strangers had departed with their daughter no one knew whither.
Meanwhile the unfortunate victim of the duel tossed and tumbled, fumed and raved in fever and delirium, that raged like fire for nine days, and then left him utterly prostrated in mind and body. Many more days passed before he was able to answer questions, and weeks crept by before he could give any coherent account of himself.
His first sensible inquiry related to his bride.
"Where is she? What have they done with her?" he demanded to know.
"The illustrious signore has taken the signorita away with him, no one knows whither," answered the monk who was minding him.
"I know—so he has taken her away?—I know where he has taken her,—to Paris," faltered the victim, and immediately fainted dead away, exhausted by the effort of speaking these words.
His next question, asked after the interval of a week, related to the length of time he had been ill.
"How long have I lain stretched upon this bed?" he asked.
"The Signore Captain has been here four weeks," answered his nurse.
"Great Heaven! then I have exceeded my month's leave by two weeks! I shall be court-martialed and degraded!" cried the patient, starting up in great excitement, and instantly swooning away from the reaction.
In this manner the recovery of the wounded man became a matter of difficulty and delay; for as often as he rallied sufficiently to look into his affairs, their threatening aspect threw him back prostrated.
He recovered, however, by slow degrees.
As soon as he was able to sustain the continued exertion of talking, he requested one of the brothers on duty in the infirmary to write two letters at his dictation. The first was addressed to the colonel of his regiment, informing that officer of the long and severe illness of Captain de Volaski, and petitioning for the invalid an extended leave of absence. The other was to the Count de Volaski, apprising that nobleman of the condition of his son, and imploring him to hasten at once to the bedside of the patient.
The next morning Waldemar de Volaski sat up in bed and asked for stationery, and wrote with his own weak and trembling hand a short letter to his youthful bride—telling her that he had been very ill, but was now convalescent, and that as soon as he should be able to travel he would hasten to Paris and claim his wife in the face of all the fathers, priests and judges in Paris, or in the world. He addressed her as his well beloved wife, signed himself her ever-devoted husband, and had the temerity to direct his letter to Madame Waldemar de Volaski, Hotel de la Motte, Rue Faubourg St. Honore, Paris.
The mail left St. Vito only twice a week, so that the three letters left the post office on the same day to their respective destinations; one went to St. Petersburg, to the Colonel of the Royal Guards; one to Warsaw, to the Count de Volaski; and one to Paris, to Madame de Volaski.
In the course of the next week the writer received answers from all three letters. The first came from the colonel of his regiment, enclosing an extension of his leave of absence to three months; the second was answered in person by the Count de Volaski; the third was only an envelope, enclosing his letter to Valerie, crossed with this line:
"No such person to be found."
The meeting between the Count de Volaski and his reckless son was not in all respects a pleasant one. There was an explanation to be demanded by the father a confession to be made by the son. The count was divided between his anxiety for his son and indignation at that son's conduct.
"You exposed more than your own life by the escapade, sir!" said the elder Volaski, "You abducted a minor, sir; for doing which you might have been prosecuted for felony, and sent to the gaol!—a fate so much worse than your death in the duel would have been for the honor of your family, that, had you been consigned to it, I should have cursed the hour you were born and blown my own brains out, in expiation of my share in your existence!"
The yet nervous invalid shuddered, and covered his face with his hands.
"But even that was not the greatest calamity your rashness provoked! You presumed to carry off the French minister's daughter while they were yet in the dominions of the Czar! by doing which you might have caused a war between two great nations, and the sacrifice of a million of lives!"
"Sir, forbear! I have not yet recovered from the severe illness consequent upon my wound. Surely, I have suffered enough at the hands of the ruthless Baron de la Motte!" said Waldemar de Volaski.
"The Baron de la Motte, being your enemy, is mine also; yet I cannot but admit that he has dealt very leniently with the abductor of his daughter by merely shooting him through the lungs, and laying him on a bed of repentance, when he might have prosecuted him as a felon, and sent him to penal servitude!" said the count, severely. "But there," he exclaimed, "I will say no more on that subject. As you say, you have suffered enough already to expiate your fault. You have nearly lost your life, and you have quite lost your love; for, of course, you know that your fooling marriage with a minor was no marriage at all, unless her father had chosen to make it so by his recognition. And if you ever had a chance of winning the girl, you have lost it by your imprudence. You must try to get up your strength now, so as to go with me back to Warsaw."
So saying, the count left the bedside of his son, and went into the refectory of the monastery, where a substantial repast had been prepared to regale the traveler.
The young man wrote yet another letter to his love, enclosing it on this occasion in an envelope directed to the lady's maid, who had once assisted the lovers in carrying on their correspondence; but as the maid had been long discharged from the service of her mistress, it was impossible that the letter should have reached her. The lover wrote again and again without receiving an answer to letters which it is certain his lost bride never received.
Captain de Volaski's three months' extended leave of absence had nearly expired before he was in a condition to travel; and even then he had to go by slow stages, riding only during the day and resting at night, until they reached Warsaw.
He spent a week at his father's castle, watched and wept over by his mother, who had not a reproach for her son, nor anything to offer him but her sympathy and her services. Six months had now passed away since his parting with his stolen bride; and it was the day before his expected return to his regiment that a packet of newspapers arrived for him, forwarded from St. Petersburg.
He tore the envelopes off them. They were English, French and German papers. He threw all away except the French papers. He eagerly examined them, in the hope of seeing the name of the Baron de la Motte, and forming thereby some idea of the movements of the family, and the whereabouts of Valerie.
The first paper he took up was Le Courier de Paris, and the first item that caught his eye was this—
"MARRIED.—At the Church of Notre Dame, on Tuesday, March 1st, by the Most Venerable, the Archbishop of Paris, the Duke of Hereward, to Valerie, only daughter of the Baron de la Motte."
With the cry and spring of a panther robbed of its young, Volaski bounded to his feet. His rage and anguish were equal, and beyond all power of articulate or rational utterance. He strode up and down the floor like a maniac; he raved; he beat his breast, and tore his hair and beard; and finally, he rushed into the parlor where his father and mother were seated together over a quiet game of chess, and he dashed the paper down on the table before them, smote his hand upon the fatal marriage notice, and exclaimed in a voice of indescribable anguish:
"See! see! see! see!"
"It is just as I thought it would be," said the count, as he calmly read over the item, and passed it to his amazed wife. "The baron has wisely taken the first opportunity of marrying off his wilful girl—the best thing he could have done for her. I am sure I am glad she is no daughter-in-law of mine! She who could so lightly elope from her father might as lightly elope from her husband also."
Waldemar made no reply, but stood looking the image of desolation, until his mother having read through the notice, and grasped the situation, arose and threw her arms around his neck, exclaiming in a burst of sympathy:
"Oh, my son! my son! my son! my son! forget her! forget the heartless jilt! she was unworthy of you!"
A burst of wild and bitter laughter answered this appeal and frightened the good lady half out of her wits.
"Let him go back to his regiment and be a man among men, and not lose his time whimpering after a silly girl, who has not sense enough even to take care of herself. The man to be most pitied is that husband of hers! Upon my word and honor, I am sorry for that English duke! Yes, that I am!" said the count, heartily.
The next day Waldemar de Volaski returned to his regiment at St. Petersburg.
As his brother officers happily knew nothing of his elopement with the minister's daughter, and the duel that followed it; but supposed that his long absence had been occasioned by a long illness, he escaped all that exasperating chaff that might, under the circumstances, have half maddened him.
He threw himself, for distraction, into all the wildest gayeties of the Russian capital, and led the life of a reckless young sinner, until he was suddenly brought to his senses by a domestic calamity. He received a telegram announcing the sudden death of his father and his elder brother, both of whom were instantly killed by an accident on the St. Petersburg and Warsaw Railroad, while on their way to the Russian capital.
Stricken with grief, and with the remorse which grief is sure to awaken in the heart of a wrong-doer not altogether hardened, Waldemar de Volaski hastened down to Warsaw to support his almost inconsolable mother through the horrors of that sudden bereavement and that double funeral.
By the death of his father and elder brother, he became the Count Volaski, and the heir of all the family estates; and there were left dependent on him his widowed mother and several younger brothers and sisters.
At the earnest request of his mother he resigned his commission in the Royal Guards, and went down to reside with the family on the estate, during their retirement for the year of mourning.
Before that year was half over, however, the young Count de Volaski received a summons to the court of his sovereign.
He obeyed it immediately by hurrying up to St. Petersburg.
On his arrival, he presented himself at the Annitchkoff Palace to receive the commands of the Czar, and he was appointed Secretary of Legation to the new Russian Embassy about to proceed to Paris.
To Paris! to the home of Valerie de la Motte! The order agitated him to the profoundest depths of his being. He would have declined the honor about to be thrust upon him, could he have done so with propriety; but he could not, so there was no alternative but to kiss his sovereign's hand, express his sense of gratitude, and obey.
The embassy left St. Petersburg for the French capital almost immediately.
On the arrival at Paris they were established in the splendid Maison Francoise in the Champs Elysees.
As soon as he was at leisure, the Count de Volaski drove to the Rue Faubourg St. Honore, and to the Hotel de la Motte. He found the house shut up, and upon inquiry of a gend'arme, learned, with more surprise than regret, that the Baron and Baroness de la Motte had both been dead for some months; the baron, who was a free liver, had been suddenly stricken down by apoplexy, and the baroness, whose health had long been feeble, could not rally from the shock, but soon followed her husband.
"And,—where is their daughter, Madame la Duchesse d'Hereward?" hesitatingly inquired the Count de Volaski.
The gend'arme could not tell; he did not know; but supposed that she was living with her husband, Monsieur le Duc, on his estates in England.
No, clearly the gend'arme did not know; for, in fact, the Duke and the Duchess of Hereward were at that time living very quietly in the closed-up house at which the count and the gend'arme stood gazing while they talked.
Count de Volaski re-entered his carriage and returned to the Maison Francoise in time to attend the official reception of the embassy by the citizen-king at the Tuileries.
After the act of national and official etiquette, the embassy were free to enter into the social festivities of the gayest capital in the world.
Among other entertainments, a great diplomatic dinner was given at the English Legation, then the magnificent Hotel Borghese, once the residence of the beautiful Princess Pauline Bonaparte, but now the seat of the British Embassy. Among the invited guests were the Russian minister and his Secretary of Legation, Count de Volaski.
The count came late and found the splendid drawing-room honored with a small, but brilliant, company of ladies and gentlemen, the former among the most celebrated beauties, the latter the most distinguished statesmen of Europe.
Nearly every one in the room were strangers to the Russian count; but his English host, with sincere kindness and courtesy, took care to present him to all the most agreeable persons present.
"And now," whispered Lord C—n, in conclusion, "I have reserved the best for the last. Come and let me introduce you to the most interesting woman in Paris."
Count de Volaski suffered himself to be conducted to the upper end of the room, where a tall and elegant-looking woman, dressed in rich mourning, stood, leaning on the arm of a stately, middle-aged man.
Her face was averted as they approached; but she turned her head and he recognized the beautiful, pale face and lovely dark eyes of his lost bride.
And while the floor of the drawing-room seemed rocking with him, like the deck of a tempest-tossed ship, he heard the words of his host whirling through his brain:
"Madame, permit me to present to you Count de Volaski of St. Petersburg; Count, the Duchess of Hereward."
FACE TO FACE.
"Madame, permit me to present to you Count de Volaski, of St. Petersburg—Count, the Duchess of Hereward," said Lord C., with old-time courtesy and formality.
The gentleman bowed low; the lady courtesied; nothing but the close compression of his lips beneath the golden mustache, and the paler shade on her pale cheeks, betrayed the "whirlwind of emotion" which swept through both their hearts; and these indications of disturbance were too slight to attract any attention.
Neither spoke, neither dared to speak. It was as much as each could do to maintain a conventional calmness through the terrible ordeal of such an introduction.
Lord C., happily unconscious of anything wrong, did the very best thing he could have done under the circumstances. Scarcely allowing the count and the duchess time to exchange their bow and courtesy, he turned to her companion and said:
"Duke, the Count de Volaski. Count, the Duke of Hereward."
Both gentlemen bowed; but one, the count, quivered from head to foot in the presence of his unconscious but successful rival.
"By the way, Count," said the duke, pleasantly, "the duchess, when Mademoiselle de la Motte, passed a year at the court of St. Petersburg with her parents. It is a wonder that you have not met before. Although, indeed, you may have done so," he added, as with an after-thought.
"We have met before," replied the Count de Volaski, in a low and measured tone.
"Of course! Of course! You are quite old friends," said the duke, gayly.
Fortunately, then a diversion was made. The heavy, purple satin curtains vailing the arch between the drawing-rooms and dining saloon were drawn aside by invisible hands, and a very dignified and officer-looking personage, in a powdered wig, clerical black suit, and gold chain, appeared, and with a low bow and with low tones, said:
"My lord and lady are served."
"Count, will you take the duchess in to dinner?—Duke, Lady C. will thank you for your arm," said the host, as, with a nod and a smile, he moved off in search of that particular ambassadress whom custom, or etiquette, or policy, required him to escort to the dining-room.
The Duke of Hereward with a polite wave of the hand, left his duchess in the charge of her appointed attendant, and went to meet Lady C., who was advancing toward him.
Count Volaski bowed, and silently offered his arm to the young duchess.
She did not take it; she could not; she stood as one paralyzed.
He was stronger, firmer, calmer; perhaps because he really felt less than she did. He took her hand and drew it within his own, and led her to her place in the little procession that was going to the dining-room.
He placed her in her chair at the table, and took his seat at her side.
Then the self-control of their order, the self-control instilled as a virtue by their education, and standing now in the place of all virtues, enabled them to maintain a superficial calmness that conducted them safely through the trying ordeal of this dinner-table.
Count de Volaski entered freely into the conversation of the guests. The Duchess of Hereward spoke but little; hers was a passive self-control, not an active one; she could force herself to be, or seem, composed; she could not force herself to talk; but her deep mourning dress was a good excuse for her extreme quietness, which was naturally ascribed to her recent and double bereavement.
The dinner was a long, long agony to her; the courses seemed almost endless in duration and numberless in succession; but at length the hostess arose and gave the signal for the ladies to retire and leave the gentlemen to their wine and politics.
The gentlemen all stood up while the ladies passed out to the drawing-room.
Valerie would willingly have gone off to hide herself in some bay-window or other nook or corner of the vast drawing-room, and taken up a book or a piece of music as an excuse for her reserve; but as they passed through the curtained archway leading from the dining-saloon to the drawing-room, Lady C., with the kindest intentions toward the supposed mourner, and with the motherly grace for which her ladyship was noted, drew Valerie's arm within her own and began a conversation, to draw her mind from the contemplation of her bereavements.
"What do you think of the young Russian count who brought you in to dinner, my dear?" inquired Lady C.
"I—he is a Pole," answered Valerie, in a low voice.
"Yes, I am aware that he is a Pole by birth; but he is a thorough Russian in politics and principles; has been in the service of the Czar since the age of fifteen.—Here, my love, sit beside me," added her ladyship, as she sank gracefully down upon a sofa and drew her young guest to her side.
Valerie submitted in silence.
"Oh, by the way, however, I think I heard some one say that you had met the count at the court of St. Petersburg?" pursued Lady C.
"I—have met him," answered Valerie, in the same level tone.
"I am boring you, I fear, with this young Russian, my dear, but—"
"Oh no," softly interrupted Valerie.
"I was about to explain that I feel some interest in him from the fact that he is betrothed to my niece—"
"Betrothed! Your niece!" exclaimed Valerie, surprised out of the apathy of her despair.
"Yes, my love. Is there anything wonderful in that? It is a way these continental people have of doing things, you see. The Count Waldemar and my niece were betrothed to each other in their childhood. There is a very great attachment between them—at least on her part. The child seems to think that there is but one man in the world and his name is Waldemar de Volaski."
"But—I did not know—I thought—I did not think—the count had ever been in England," incoherently murmured Valerie.
"Nor has he; but what has that to do with it?" smiled her ladyship.
"Oh, I see! Because I am an Englishwoman my niece must be one, you think. You are mistaken, dear; she is French. My sister Anne married a Frenchman, the Marquis de St. Cyr. They had two children—Alphouse, a colonel in the Chasseurs d'Afrique, now in Algiers; and Aimee, now in the Convent of St. Rosalie. It was when the late Count de Volaski was here as the minister from Russia, that the acquaintance between the two families commenced and ripened into intimacy and the intimacy into friendship. Then Waldemar and Aimee were betrothed."
"How many years ago was that?" faintly inquired Valerie.
"Oh, about six—the young man was then about fifteen; the girl not more than twelve."
"They could not have known their own minds at that age," murmured Valerie.
"Oh, that was not at all necessary in a French betrothal," laughed the lady; "but, however, Aimee, child as she was, certainly knew her mind. The love of her betrothed husband was, and is, the religion of her life. I presume that Count Waldemar is equally constant; and that he will now press for a speedy marriage. My brother-in-law is down on his estates in Provence, just now; but I shall write and ask his permission to withdraw Aimee from her convent, in anticipation of her marriage, for of course she will be married from this house."
"Oh! I should have told you; her mother, my dear sister Anne, passed away about a year after the betrothal of her daughter. The marquis took her loss very much to heart, and has never married again. The motherless girl has passed her life in a convent; but I hope to have her out soon. Here, my love, is an album containing portraits of my sister and brother-in-law and their children, taken at various times. You cannot mistake them, and they may interest you," said Lady C., taking a photographic volume from a gilded stand near, and laying it upon her guest's lap.
Valerie received it with a nod of thanks, and the lady glided away to give some of her attention to her other guests.
"The young English duchess is lovely, but too sad," said an embassadress, as the hostess joined her.
"Ah! yes, poor child! lost her father and mother within a few weeks of each other," answered Lady C.
"But that was six months ago; she ought to have recovered some cheerfulness by this time," remarked old Madame Bamboullet, who was a walking register of all the births, deaths and marriages of high life in Paris for the last half century.
"Well, you see she has not done so; but here come the gentlemen," observed Lady C., as a rather straggling procession from the dining-room entered.
The host, Lord C., went up to the embassadress to whom it was his cue to be most attentive.
The Duke of Hereward sought out his hostess, and entered into a bantering conversation with her.
Count Waldemar de Volaski came directly up to Valerie where she sat alone on the sofa in a distant corner of the room. The little gilded stand stood before her, and the photographic album lay open upon it. Her eyes were fixed upon the album, and were not raised to see the new-comer; but the sudden accession of pallor on her pale face betrayed her recognition of him.
He drew a chair so close to her sofa that only the little gilded stand stood between them. His back was toward the company; his face toward her; his elbows, with unpardonable rudeness, were placed upon the stand, and his hands supported his chin, as he stared into her pale face with its downcast eyes.
"Valerie," he said.
She did not look up.
"Valerie de Volaski!" he muttered.
She shuddered, but did not lift her eyes.
She shrank into herself, as it were, and her eyes fell lower than before.
"Is it thus we two meet at last?" he demanded, in low, stern, measured tones, pitched to meet her ear alone. "Is it thus I find you, after all that has passed between us, bearing the name and title of another man who calls himself your husband, oh! shame of womanhood!"
"They told me our marriage was not legal, was not binding!" she panted under her breath.
"It should have been religiously, sacredly binding up on you as it was upon me, until we could have made it legal. It is amazing that you could have dreamed of marriage with another man!" muttered Volaski.
"But they told me you were dead. They told me you were dead!" she gasped, as if she were in her own death throes.
"Even if they had told you truly—even if I had been dead—dead by the hand of your father—could that circumstance have excused you for rushing with such indecent haste to the altar with another man? It was but a poor tribute to the memory of the husband of your choice (if he had been dead) to marry again within six months."
"Oh, mercy! Oh, my heart! my heart! They forced me into that marriage, Waldemar! They forced me into that marriage! I was as helpless as an infant in the hands of my father and my mother!" she panted, in a voice that was the more heart-rending from half suppression.
"Valerie! love! wife!" murmured Volaski, in low and tender tones, as he essayed to take her hand.
But she snatched it from him hastily, gasping:
"Do not speak to me in that way! Do not call me love or wife!"
"No man on earth has a better right to speak to you in this way than I have. No other man in the world has the right to call you love or wife but me! You are my wife!" grimly answered the young count.
"I am the wife of the Duke of Hereward. Oh, Heaven, that I were a corpse instead!" gasped Valerie.
"'The wife of the Duke of Hereward!' Have you then forgotten our betrothal at St. Petersburg? Our flight from Warsaw to St. Vito? Our marriage at the little chapel of Santa Maria? Our short, blissful honeymoon in the vine-dresser's cottage under the Apennines?" he inquired, bitterly.
"I have forgotten nothing! Oh, Heaven! Oh, earth! Oh, Waldemar! that I could die! that I could die!" she wailed in low, heartbroken tones.
It was well for her that the corner sofa stood in the shade, far removed from the seats of the other guests in that long drawing-room.
"Valerie! love! wife!" he murmured again.
"Oh, Waldemar, if I were your wife, as I truly believed myself then to have been, oh, why did you not defend and protect me from all the world, even from my father—even from myself? Oh, why did you suffer me to be torn from your protection, to be deceived with a false story of your death, and forced into this marriage? Oh, Waldemar! if I were indeed and in truth your lawful wife, as I believed myself to be, why, oh why did you permit all these evils to happen to me? Ah, what a position is mine! What a position! I cannot bear it! I will not bear it! I will not live! I will kill myself! I ought to kill myself! It is the only way out of this!" she wailed, wringing her hands.
"I will kill that Duke of Hereward!" hissed Volaski, through his clenched teeth.
"Hush! For mercy's sake, hush! Put away such thoughts from your heart! I, the only wrong-doer, should be the only victim! Whatever wrong has been done, the Duke of Hereward has been blameless. He knew nothing of my former marriage; if he had, I do not believe he would have married me, even if I had been a princess."
"He was deceived, then?" coldly inquired the count.
"He was; but not willingly by me. I was forced to be silent about my marriage."
"You were 'forced' from my protection! 'forced' to conceal the fact of your marriage with me! and 'forced' to marry the Duke of Hereward under false colors. Could force on one side, and feebleness on the other, be carried any further than this?" muttered Volaski, between his teeth.
"I knew how helpless, in the hands of my parents, I was," wailed Valerie.
"Well, you are a duchess! Do you love the Duke of Hereward?"
"Oh, mercy! what shall I say? He deserves all my love, honor, and duty!"
"Does he get his deserts?" mockingly inquired Volaski.
"Ah! wretch that I am, why do I live?—I give him honor and duty; but love! love is not mine to give!" she murmured, in almost inaudible tones.
Their conversation—if an interview so emotional, so full of "starts and flaws" could be called so—had been carried on in a very low tone, while the count turned over the leaves of the photographic album, as if examining the portraits, but really without seeing one.
They were, however, so absorbed that neither perceived the approach of a footman until the man actually set down a small golden tray with two little porcelain cups of tea on the stand between them, and retired.
Valerie looked up with a sudden shudder of terror. Had the company, or any one of their number, overheard any part of the fatal interview? No, the company were drinking tea, at the other end of the room.
And now the Duke of Hereward, with a tea-cup in his hand, sauntered toward them, saying, as he reached the stand:
"Lady C. has just been telling me that you are showing the duchess some interesting family pictures there—among the rest, those of your belle fiancee. When shall I congratulate you, Count?"
"Not yet; I will advise your grace of my marriage," answered the count, gravely.
"Something gone wrong in that direction," thought the duke, but his good humor was invincible.
"If you have no engagement for to-morrow evening, I hope you will come and dine with us en famille, for we do not see much company, the duchess and myself."
Valerie cast an imploring look on the count, silently praying him to decline the invitation; but Volaski did not understand the meaning of the look, or did not care to do so, for he immediately accepted the invitation in the following unequivocal terms:
"I have no engagement for to-morrow; and I shall be very happy to come and dine with you."
"So be it then," said the duke, frankly. "Now, Valerie, my love, bid the count good-evening. It is time to go."
The young duchess arose wearily from the sofa, and slightly courtesied her adieux.
The count stood up and bowed with a profound reverence that seemed ironical to her sensitive mind.
The guests were now all taking leave of their host and hostess.
The Duke and Duchess of Hereward were among the last to go.
"I am very sorry that I brought you out this evening, love. I saw—indeed, every one saw, and could not help seeing—that this dinner-party has been a great trial to you. It will not bear an encore. You must have time to recover your cheerfulness, dearest, before you are again brought into a large company," said the duke, kindly, as soon as they were seated together in their carriage.
"Did people attribute my dullness to—to—to—," began Valerie, by way of saying something, but her voice faltered and broke down.
"To your recent double bereavement?—certainly they did, my love. They knew
'No crowds Make up for parents in their shrouds,'
and were not cruel enough to criticise your filial grief, my Valerie."
"I am glad of that; but I am very sorry you have invited the Count de Volaski to dinner to-morrow."
"Because I do not like company."
"He is only one guest and will dine with us quietly. He will amuse you."
"No, he will not; he will bore me. I wish you would write and put him off."
"Impossible, my dear Valerie! What earthly excuse could I make for such an unpardonable piece of rudeness?"
"Tell him that I am ill, out of spirits, anything you like so that you tell him not to come."
"My dearest one, you certainly are ill and out of spirits, and very morbid besides. So much the more reason why you should be gently aroused and amused. Dinner parties weary and distress you; but the count's visit will relieve and amuse you."
"Oh! I do think I ought to know what is good for me and what I want better than any one else," exclaimed Valerie, speaking impatiently to the duke for the first time during their married life.
"But you don't, love; that is all. The count is coming to dine with us to-morrow. That is settled. Now, here we are at home," said the duke, as the carriage rolled through the massive archway and entered the court-yard of the magnificent Hotel de la Motte.
A GATHERING STORM.
After a night of sleeplessness and anguish, Valerie arose to a day of duplicity and terror.
The anticipation of the evening was intolerable to her; the prospect of sitting down at her own table between the Duke of Hereward and the Count de Volaski overwhelmed her with a sense of horror and loathing.
Faint, pale, and trembling, she descended to the breakfast-room, where she found the duke already awaiting her.
Shocked at her aspect, he hastened to meet her and lead her to an easy-chair on the right of the breakfast-table.
"You are not able to be out of your bed, Valerie. You should not have attempted to rise," he said, as he carefully seated her.
"I told you last night that I was very ill," she answered coldly, as she sank wearily back on the cushion.
"That infernal dinner party! It has prostrated you quite. I am so grieved; I will not suffer you to be so severely tried again!" said the duke, vehemently.
"And you will write this morning and put off the count's visit," pleaded Valerie.
"No, my dear, I cannot," answered the duke, regretfully.
"Then I cannot come down to dinner. That is all," she said, sullenly closing her eyes.
"I shall be sorry for that; but we must do the best we can without you for the count, having been invited, must be permitted to come."
She languidly drew up to the table, and touched the bell that summoned the footman with the breakfast-tray.
When it was placed upon the table, she poured out two cups of coffee, handed one to the duke, and took the other herself.
When she had drained it, she arose, excused herself, and went back to her own room.
She closed and locked the door, and threw herself upon the bed, groaning:
"Oh! how could Waldemar accept that invitation? How can he bear to sit down with me at the Duke of Hereward's table? Has he no delicacy? No pity? Ah, mercy, what a state is mine! And yet I was not to blame for this! I have not deserved it! I have not deserved it! One of us three must die; I, or Waldemar, or the Duke of Hereward; and I am the one; for, I hate myself for the position I am in! I hate, LOATHE and utterly ABHOR myself! I do. I do. I wish the lightning would strike me dead! dead, before I have to meet one of them again!" she moaned, rolling and grovelling on the bed.
There came a soft rap at the door, followed by the kind voice of the duke, saying:
"Valerie, Valerie, my love! How are you? Do you want anything? May I come in?"
"No! I want rest! I do not want you!" she answered, so sharply as to astonish the duke, who spoke again however, deprecatingly and soothingly.
"Is there anything that I can do for you outside, then, my dear?"
"You can go away and let me alone, or you can stand there chattering until you drive me crazy!" she answered, ungratefully.
"Good morning, my love; I will not trouble you again soon," muttered the duke, as he walked away from the duchess' door.
"I never knew such a change as this that has come over her. She is as cross as a catamount! There may be a cause for it. There may—I will send for a physician," he added, as he went down stairs.
Valerie kept her room all day.
Count de Volaski came to dinner at eight o'clock and was received by the duke alone.
He smiled grimly when his host apologized for the absence of the duchess, by explaining the delicate condition of her health since the death of her parents, and the injury she had received from the fatigue and excitement of the dinner-party on the preceding evening.
The duke and the count dined tete-a-tete, and sat long over their wine, although they drank but little. After dinner they played chess together all the evening, and then parted, apparently the best of friends on both sides, really good friends on the duke's.
The next morning a letter was handed Valerie, while she sat at breakfast with the duke.
She recognized the handwriting of Count de Volaski, and put it in her pocket to read when she was alone.
The duke was not suspicious or inquisitive. He asked no questions.
As soon as the duchess found herself alone in her chamber, she locked the door to keep out intruders, and sat down and opened the letter.
Its contents were sufficiently startling. They were as follows:
"RUSSIAN LEGATION, RUE ST. HONORE.
"VALERIE: You avoid me in vain! You cannot shake me off. I accepted the duke's invitation to dinner last evening for the sake of seeing you again, and for the chance of having a final explanation with you; but you kept away from the dinner. Such expedients will not avail you.
"I write now to assure you that I must and will see you, to make an arrangement with you. I write openly, at the risk of having this letter fall into the hands of the duke; for I do not care if it does so fall. I would just as willingly say to him what I now say to you. I am quite willing to provoke a crisis. The present state of things maddens me. I wonder it does not kill you! When you married the Duke of Hereward within six months after my supposed death by the hands of your father, you acted cruelly, but not criminally; now that you know I am living, you must also know that every hour you continue to live under the roof of the Duke of Hereward you are a criminal. I do not require you to come to me. I do not wish to live with you again, although I love you; but I do require you to leave the Duke of Hereward and go away by yourself. I know you now, Valerie. You are as weak as water. You cannot go to the noble gentleman who has been so deeply deceived by you and your parents and tell him the secret that you have kept from him so long. You have not the moral courage to do so. But you can leave him. It is to arrange for your flight and for your future safety that I now demand and insist upon a private interview with you.
"Write to me at the poste-restante, and tell me when and where I can see you alone. Should you refuse to grant me this interview, I will myself go to the Duke of Hereward and tell him the whole story. He may not resent your former marriage; but he will never forgive you, living, or your parents in their graves, for the deception that has been practiced upon him. I will wait twenty-four hours for your answer, and then if I fail to receive it, or fail to get a favorable one, I shall come immediately to the Hotel de la Motte and seek an explanation with the duke. I shall direct this letter by the name and title you now bear, so as to prevent mistakes; but it is the last time I shall so address you. And I sign myself, for all eternity,
"Your true husband, WALDEMAR DE VOLASKI."
Valerie read the cruel letter to its close, then dropped it on her lap, and sank back in her chair, helpless, breathless, almost lifeless. Minutes crept into hours, and still she sat there in the same position, without motion, thought, or feeling—stricken, spell-bound, entranced.
She was aroused at length by a rap at her chamber-door.
She started, shuddering, to her feet, and spasm after spasm shook her galvanized frame, as she picked up her letter, found a match, drew it, set fire to the paper, threw it, blazing, down upon the marble hearth, and watched it until it was consumed to a little heap of light ashes.
"There! That can never fall into the Duke of Hereward's hands now!" she said with a bitter laugh.
Meanwhile the rapping continued.
"Well! well! well! well! Can't you be patient!" she exclaimed, very impatiently, as she tottered tremblingly across the room and opened the door.
Her dressing-maid, Mademoiselle Desiree, was there.
"Pardonnez moi, madame; but you ordered me to come to dress you for a drive at twelve. The clock has just struck, madame," said the girl deprecatingly.
Valerie put her hand to her head in a bewildered way, and stared at the speaker a full minute before she could recollect herself sufficiently to reply.
"Yes—yes—yes—yes—I believe so. You can come in."
The girl entered and stood waiting for orders. Receiving none, she ventured to inquire:
"What dress shall madame wear?"
"My—my writing desk! Bring it here to me," answered the lady, as she sank into a chair, and drew a little ivory stand before her.
"I wonder if madame indulges in absinthe in the morning?" was the secret thought of the discreet Mademoiselle Desiree, as she brought the elegant little malachite writing-desk, and placed it before her mistress.
Valerie opened it, took out a piece of note-paper and wrote:
"I cannot write much. I am stricken. I am dying. I hope you are right in what you say. Come here tomorrow at twelve, noon. I will give you the interview you seek."
* * * * *
This note was without date, address or signature, or any word to guide a strange reader to its true meaning. She put it into a sealed envelope, and directed it to Count de Volaski, Poste Restante.
Then she sat back in her chair, exhausted from the slight exertion.
The maid watched her mistress for a little while, and then said:
"Pardon, madame; but it is half-past twelve."
"Yes! I must dress," said Valerie rising.
"What costume will madame wear?"
"Any. It does not signify."
The maid indulged in an imperceptible shrug of her shoulders, and laid out an elegant black rep silk, heavily trimmed with black crape and jet, with mantle, bonnet and vail to match.
"White or black gloves, madame?"
"Black, of course. It is not a wedding reception."
"Pardon, madame," said the girl; and she added the black gloves to the costume.
Valerie was soon dressed, and then the maid said:
"The carriage waits, madame."
Valerie took the note she had prepared and went down stairs, entered her barouche, and ordered the coachman to drive to the British Legation, Hotel Borghese, Rue Faubourg St. Honore.
When the carriage rolled through the archway into the courtyard, and drew up before the magnificent palace, interesting from having been built for and occupied by the beautiful Princess Pauline Bonaparte, Valerie alighted and handed her letter to the footman, with directions to go and post it while she was making her call.
The man knocked at the door for his mistress, and then hurried away to do her errand.
It was the conventional "dinner call" that brought Valerie to the Hotel Borghese.
An English footman admitted the visitor, conducted her to the private drawing-room of Lady C., and announced her.
Several other ladies, whom Valerie had met at the dinner party, were there on the same duty as herself.
Lady C. advanced from among them to receive the new comer, kissed her on both cheeks, inquired affectionately after her health and then made her sit down in the most comfortable of the easy-chairs at hand.
After courteously saluting the ladies present, Valerie subsided into a dull silence, from which she could not arouse herself; but her voice was not missed, since every visitor seemed anxious to talk rather than listen, and therefore kept up a chattering that would have carried off the palm in a contest with a village sewing-circle or aviary full of excited magpies.
Valerie, the last to enter, was also the first to rise, but Lady C. detained her by a slight signal, and she sat down again, and relapsed into dullness and silence.
One by one the visitors arose and took leave, chattering to the very last.
As soon as the two ladies were left alone together, Lady C. took Valerie's hand, and gazing earnestly in her face, said:
"What is the matter with you, my child? You look pale and ill. Although I am so glad to see you, under any circumstances, I am half inclined to scold you for coming out at all."
For a moment Valerie felt inclined to open her oppressed and suffering heart to this sweet, matronly friend, and tell her the whole, bitter truth, and seek her wise counsel; but again the want of moral courage, which had always been so fatal to her welfare, sealed her lips.
"Well," said Lady C., after a short pause for that answer that never came, "I will not press the question. 'The heart knoweth its own bitterness.'"
"Yes," murmured Valerie, in a very low voice. Then, not to seem indifferent or unsocial, and also, if the truth must be told of her, to gratify a gnawing curiosity, she inquired:
"How goes the expected marriage of your niece, madame?"
"I cannot tell you dear. I have been daily expecting some communication on the subject from de Volaski: but as yet he has made none. After coming to Paris for the purpose, (for of course his office in the embassy is a mere sinecure and a plausible excuse,) he betrays the bashfulness of a girl in pressing his suit; but some men, some of the best and purest of men, are just that way—in love affairs as shy women," said her ladyship.
Valerie smiled bitterly. She thought she understood the reason why the Count de Volaski was in no hurry to press the suit for marriage with a dreaming girl, to whom he had been arbitrarily contracted when he was a boy of fifteen, and she a child of twelve.
"I shall, however, write again to her father. I will not have my sister's daughter wasting her youth in a convent, while waiting for a tardy suitor."
Valerie smiled again, and then arose to take her leave.
Lady C. kissed her affectionately, and promised soon to visit her at the Hotel de la Motte.
"But—how long will you remain there?" inquired her ladyship.
"I do not know. Until some business connected with my father's will shall be arranged, I think. We are there on sufferance only. My cousin, Louis, the present baron, wrote from Algiers, very kindly asking us to occupy the Hotel de la Motte at any time when business or pleasure should call us to Paris. The house was the home of my childhood, and I prefer to live in it as long as I may. The duke, though he would rather live at the 'Trois Freres,' yields to my whim, and so we occupy the Hotel de la Motte, but I do not know for how long a time."
"Until you leave Paris, I presume?"
"Yes, probably," answered Valerie, as with another kiss, she took leave of her kind friend.
"Shall I ever see her sweet face, hear her sweet voice again?" murmured the young duchess, as she passed out to her carriage.
"You posted my letter?" she inquired of the footman who opened the carriage-door.
"Yes, your grace."
"That will do. Home."
The footman repeated the order to the coachman, who drove back to the Hotel de la Motte.
As Valerie entered her morning-room after laying off her bonnet and wrappings, she found the Duke of Hereward there, reading the papers.
He arose and placed a chair for her, saying kindly:
"I hope your drive has done you good, dear; if it has not been so long as to fatigue you."
"I have only been to the Hotel Borghese to call on Lady C.," replied Valerie, sinking into the chair and leaning back.
"Now that I look well at you, I see that you are tired. A very little exertion seems to fatigue you now, Valerie. I do not understand your condition. It makes me anxious. I have asked Velpeau to call and see you. He will look in this afternoon."
"Thanks, you are very kind—too kind to me, as fretful and miserable as I am," replied Valerie, with a momentary compunction—only a momentary one, for the deep fear, horror and despair which had seized her soul left her little sensibility to comparative trifles.
"My poor child," said the duke, looking compassionately on her pale, worn face, "do you not know that I can make all allowance for you? You are suffering very much. I hope Velpeau will be able to do something for you. You know he stands at the head of the medical profession in Paris, which is as much as to say, in the world."
"Yes, I know," said Valerie, indifferently. Then, with sudden earnestness, she exclaimed: "I wish you would do something for me."
"Why, my poor girl, I would do anything in the world for you. Tell me what you want me to do."
"I know you cannot leave Paris now, and so you cannot, yourself, take me to England; but I wish to go there; I wish you to send me there to Hereward Hold, where we passed so many peaceful months."
"To send you there alone, Valerie?" inquired the duke, in surprise.
"No, but with my personal attendants, and with any discreet old lady you may choose to appoint as my companion, if, like an old Spanish husband, you think your young wife may require watching when she is out of your sight," she added, with a relapse into her irritable mood.
"Valerie! you wrong me and yourself by such a thought," said the duke, gravely.
"I know I do, and I know I am a wretch! but I want to go to England. I want to get away from everybody, and be by myself. You promised to do what I wanted done. That is what I want done."
"Do you wish 'to get away' from me, Valerie?"
"Yes, from you and from everybody, except from my servants, who are not my companions, and therefore don't bore me."
"It must be as I thought," said the duke to himself; "all this eccentricity, this nervous irritability has a natural cause, and not an alarming one, and it must be humored."
"Will you keep your promise?" she testily inquired.
"Certainly, my dear child. Anything to please you. You will see Velpeau this afternoon. If after consulting him you still think it necessary to leave Paris for Hereward Hold, I will send you there under proper protection. By the by, you succeed very well in getting away from your friends I think. The Count de Volaski called here while you were away this forenoon. He seemed disappointed in not seeing you. He looks ill. I never saw a man change so within the last few days. I should not wonder if he were on the very verge of a bad fever. I wish you had seen him. He was quite a friend of yours in St. Petersburg, I believe."
"I used to see him every day in the public assemblies to which we were always going. I wish you wouldn't talk about him," gasped Valerie, with a nervous shudder, as she arose and left the room.
"What a little misanthrope she has grown to be; but it is only a temporary affliction. She will get over it in a few weeks," said the duke to himself, as he resumed the reading of his newspaper.
The next day Valerie arose at her usual hour, and breakfasted tete-a-tete with the duke. She knew that this day must decide her fate, and she tried to nerve herself to bear all that it might bring her, even as the frailest women sometimes brace themselves to bear torture and death.
At eleven in the forenoon, the duke left the house to go to the Hotel de Ville to keep an appointment that would detain him until three in the afternoon.
Valerie knew all about this appointment, and had therefore fixed the hour of noon as the safest time for her interview with the count.
Twelve o'clock, therefore, found her dressed in her deepest mourning, and seated in her private drawing-room, awaiting the advent of her most dreaded visitor, Waldemar de Volaski.
A SENTENCE OF BANISHMENT.
Valerie, in an agony of terror, waited for her expected visitor.
Did she love him, then?
Ah, no! Horror at the position in which she found herself so filled her soul as to leave no room for any softer emotion. She loved no one in the world, not even herself; she wished for nothing on earth but death, and only her religious faith, or her superstitious fears, restrained her from laying sacrilegious hands upon her own life.
While watching for her dreaded guest she bitterly communed with herself.
"No one ever really loved me," she moaned. "Every one connected with me loved only himself, or herself, and sacrificed me. My father and my mother cared only for themselves and their own ambitions, and so they immolated me, their only child, to their gratification; my suitors loved only themselves and their passions, and immolated me! And I—I love no one and hate myself! hate the creature they have all combined to make me! If it were not for that which comes after death I would not exist an hour longer—I would die!"
As she muttered this the little ormolu clock on the mantlepiece struck twelve.
"The hour has come. He will be here in another moment! Oh, why could he not leave me in peace? Oh, what shall I do?" she exclaimed, in her excitement rising from her seat and beginning to pace up and down the room with wild, disordered steps.
Sometimes she stopped to listen, but without hearing any sound that might herald the approach of a visitor; then resumed her wild and purposeless walk, until the clock struck the quarter, when she suddenly threw herself down in the chair, muttering:
"Fifteen minutes late! I do not want to see him! But since he is to come, I wish he had come, and this was all over."
Another quarter of an hour passed, and her visitor had not arrived.
Again in her anxiety she arose and began to walk the floor and to look out occasionally at a window which commanded the approach to the house.
No one, however, was in sight.
She sat down again, muttering:
"This seems an intentional affront, an insult. He treats me with no consideration. Well, perhaps I deserve none. Oh! I wish I knew to whom my duty is due! I wish I had some one of whom I dared to ask counsel! I certainly did wed Waldemar. I certainly did believe him to be my lawful husband, and then my duty was clearly due to him. But my parents came and tore me away from him, and told me that my marriage was not lawful, and that Waldemar de Volaski was not my husband. Then they took me to Paris, and told me that I must forget the very existence of my lover. Still, I should never have dreamed of another marriage while I thought Waldemar lived; for I loved him with all my heart, and only wished to live until I should be of an age to contract a legal marriage with him, with whom I had already made a sacramental one. But they told me that Waldemar was dead, slain by the hand of my father! and they bade me keep the secret of my first marriage, and to contract a second one with the Duke of Hereward! Oh, if I had but known that Waldemar still lived, the tortures of the Inquisition should not have forced me into this second marriage! But believing Waldemar to be dead, I suffered myself to be persecuted, worried and weakened into this marriage! Oh! that I had been strong enough to bear the miseries of my home; to resist the forces brought to bear against me! Oh, that I had been brave enough to tell the whole truth of my marriage with Waldemar de Volaski to the Duke of Hereward before he had committed his honor to my keeping by making me his wife! That course would have saved me then with less of suffering than I have to bear now. But I weakly permitted myself to be forced, with this secret on my conscience, into a marriage with the Duke of Hereward. And now I dare not tell him the truth! And now my first husband has come back and hates me for my inconstancy, and my second husband knows nothing about it! Now to whom do I rightly belong! To whom do I owe duty? To Waldemar? To the duke? Who knows? Not I! One thing only is clear to me, that I must not live with either of them as a wife, henceforth! Heaven forgive those who forced me into this position, for I fear that I never can do so!"
While these wild and bitter thoughts were passing through her tortured mind the clock struck one and startled her from her reverie.
"Ah! something has prevented his coming," she said to herself, as she once more looked out of the window. Then she relapsed into her sad reverie.
"I can never, never be happy in this world again—never! But if I only knew my duty I would do it. I don't know it. I only know that I must go clear away from both these—" She shuddered and left the sentence incomplete even in her thoughts.
Just then a footman entered with a note upon a little silver tray.
She took it languidly, but all her languor vanished as she recognized the handwriting of Waldemar de Volaski.
"Who brought this?" she inquired of the servant.
"Un garcon from the Hotel de Russe, madame."
"Is he waiting for an answer?"
She had asked these questions partly to procrastinate the opening of the note she dreaded to read. Now slowly and sadly she drew it from its envelope, unfolded and read:
"HOTEL DE RUSSE, Tuesday Morning.
"UNFAITHFUL WIFE—An engagement at the Tuileries, for the very hour you named, prevents me from meeting you at your appointed time. Write by the messenger who brings this, and tell me when you can see me.
"Your wronged husband, VOLASKI."
While reading this, she shivered as with an ague. When she had finished she crushed it up in her hand and put it in her pocket with the intention of destroying it on the first opportunity.
Then she went to a little ornamental writing-desk that stood in the corner of the room, and took a pencil and a sheet of note paper and wrote these words, without date or signature:
"I was ready to see you this noon. I cannot at this instant tell at what hour I can be certain to be alone; but will find out and let you know in the course of this day."
She placed this note in an envelope, sealed it with a plain seal, and sent it down by the footman to Count Waldemar's messenger.
Then she hurried up to her own bedchamber, rang for her maid, changed her dress for a white wrapper, and threw herself down, exhausted, upon a lounge.
She was almost fainting.
"This must be something like death! Oh, if it were only death!" she sighed, as she closed her eyes.
An hour later she was found here by the Duke of Hereward, who showed no surprise at finding her reclining there, but only said that Doctor Velpeau was below stairs and would like to see her.
"Let him come up, then," coldly answered Valerie.
And the duke himself went to conduct the physician to his patient.
He left them together for an hour, at the end of which Doctor Velpeau came down and reported to the anxious husband that his wife was not seriously out of health that her malady was more of the mind than the body, and that amusement and society would be her best medicines.
"Just what I cannot prevail on her to take," said the duke, with an impatient shrug. "She will go nowhere, will see nobody; but shuts herself up and mopes. Now, to-day, I have received intelligence concerning the rather intricately embarrassed affairs of the late Baron de la Motte, which will oblige me to start for Algiers, for a personal interview with his heir-at-law, an officer in the Chasseurs d'Afrique, who cannot get leave of absence to come to me. Now the question is, Doctor, shall I take the duchess with me, or leave her here? Is she well enough to be left, or strong enough to travel?"
"Both! She is both. I assure you she is not at all ill in body. Put the question to herself. If she should be willing to go, take her. The trip will do her good. If she prefers to stay, leave her. She is in no danger of illness or death."
"But I should be gone, probably, a fortnight. Could I, with safety to herself, take her so far away, for so long a time, from the best medical advice? or could I, on the other hand, leave her here for so distant a bourne and so long an absence?"
"With perfect safety; barring, of course, the human possibilities to which even the most fortunate, the most healthful and the best-guarded among us are more or less subject. But again I counsel you to leave it to the duchess, whether she shall remain here or accompany you to Algiers. She is equally fit for either plan," said the great physician, as he drew on his gloves.
"I will take the duchess with me, if she will go. If not, I will leave here under your charge, Doctor," said the duke.
"Much honored, I am sure, in attending her grace," replied the French physician, with the extravagant politeness of his countrymen.
As soon as Doctor Velpeau had gone, the Duke of Hereward went up stairs to see his wife, and, sitting by the lounge on which she still reclined, he told her of the urgent business that required his immediate departure for Algiers.
"Algiers! Why, that is in Africa! another quarter of the globe! a long, long way off!" she exclaimed, starting up with an eagerness that the duke mistook for alarm and distress.
"Oh, no, dear, it is not. It only sounds so. It is about eight hundred miles nearly due south of Paris. We go by train to Marseilles in a few hours, and by steamer to Algiers in a couple of days. You will go with me, dear. The change will do you good," said the duke, gayly.
"I! Oh, no, I could not think of such a thing! Pray, pray, do not ask me to do so!" exclaimed Valerie, in a tone of such genuine terror that the duke hastened to say:
"Certainly not, if you do not wish it, my love. I should be happier to have you with me, and I think the trip would benefit your health, but—"
"Did that horrid doctor advise you to take me to Algiers?" testily interrupted the young duchess.
"He said the change would do you good if you should like to go; but not otherwise. He said that you should be left to decide for yourself."
"Then he has quite as much judgment as the world gives him credit for, and that is not the case with every one."
"Now you are left to your own choice, to go or not to go."
"Then I choose not to go, most decidedly."
"Very well," said the duke, with a disappointed air; "then there is no need that I should delay my departure for another day. I shall leave for Marseilles by the night's express, Valerie."
"As you please," she wearily replied.
"I may be gone a fortnight, Valerie, and I may not be gone more than ten days; the length of my absence will depend upon contingencies; but I shall hurry back with all possible dispatch."
"Yes, I am sure you will," she answered, because she did not know what else to say.
"And I will write to you every day."
"Will you write to me every day?"
"Certainly, if you wish me to do so."
"Of course I wish you to do so, my love," said the duke, as he stooped and pressed his lips on the pale cheek of his "wayward child," as he sometimes called her.
He then left the room to give orders to his valet and groom to pack up and be ready to attend him on his journey.
As soon as she found herself alone, Valerie arose, slipped on a dressing-gown, sat down to her writing-desk, and wrote the following note, as usual, without name, date, or signature:
"Come to me at noon to-morrow; or, if you cannot do so, write and fix your own hour, any time will suit me equally well, or rather, ill."
She put this note in an envelope, sealed it, and directed it to Monsieur Le Count de Volaski, Russian Embassy.
Then she rang for her maid, and sent her out to post the letter.
Valerie made an effort to dress for dinner that evening, and dined with the duke for the last time—yes, for the very last time in this world.
After the Duke had risen from the table and pressed a parting kiss upon her lips before leaving her to enter the carriage that was to take him to the railway station, she never saw his face again—nay more—though she honored and revered him, she never even wished or intended to see him again.
She witnessed his departure with tearful eyes, yet with a sense of infinite relief. One of them was gone! Oh, how she wished that the other would go also!
She loved neither of them. She had lost the power of loving. Her love, by her awful position, was frightened into its death-throes. All she desired to do, was to get away from them both, and like a haunted hare, or wounded bird, creep into some safe hiding-place to die in peace.
She retired early that evening, and, for the first time for several days, slept in peace.
The next day she arose, and, contrary to her custom in the morning, dressed herself to receive company.
She waited all the forenoon in expectation of receiving a note from the Count de Volaski, either accepting her appointment or arranging another one; but when the clock struck the hour of noon without her having heard from him, she naturally concluded that he meant to answer her note in person, by coming at the hour named. So she went down into the small drawing-room to be ready to receive him.
She was right in her conclusions; for she had scarcely been seated five minutes when a footman entered and presented the count's card.
"Show the gentleman up," she said in a voice that she vainly tried to render steady.
A few minutes passed, the door opened, and Count de Volaski entered the room.
She arose to receive him, but did not advance a single step to meet him.
He came on, and bowed low—much lower than any ceremony required.
She bent her head, and silently pointed to a chair at a short distance.
He sat down.
Up to this time not a word had passed between them.
A monk and a nun, who keep their vows, could not have met more coldly than this pair who had once plighted their hands and hearts in marriage before the altar of the Church of St. Marie.
Valerie was the first to speak.
"Well, you insisted upon this interview. Now you have it. What do you want of me?"
"I want you to leave the Duke of Hereward," he answered, sternly.
"You are right, so far. But the Duke of Hereward has saved me the trouble of taking the initiative step. He has left me. I shall never see him, more."
"How! What!" exclaimed de Volaski, starting up.
"The Duke of Hereward left for Algiers last night. I shall not remain here to receive him when he returns."
"You told him, then, and he has left you? Good!"
"No, I have not told him; he knows nothing—not even that he has left me forever. Business of a financial nature connected with his duties as executor of my father's estates, takes him to Algiers for a few weeks. During his absence I shall make arrangements for leaving this house forever."
"Valerie, where will you go?" he inquired, in a more softened tone.
"I do not know—not with you that is certain. You were quite right when you said that I could not live with either—that a single life was the only possible one for me. I feel that it is so, and I hope that it will be a short one."
"Valerie, do not say so. You are very young yet. The duke is an elderly man; he will die and leave you free."
"I shall not be free while EITHER of you live! nor can I build any hope in life on death! Oh! I have been cruelly wronged, and I am very miserable, but I am not selfish or wicked, Waldemar."
"How soon do you propose to leave this house?"
"I do not know. I only know that I must go before the duke's return."
"What should hinder your going at once?"
"I must make some provision for the miserable remnant of life left me. I must collect and sell my jewels and my shawls and laces, and invest the money in some safe place, where it will bring me interest enough to live cheaply in some remote country neighborhood. Wretched as I am, soon as I hope to die, I do not wish to be dependant on you, Waldemar."
"No, nor do I wish anything but independence and honor for you, Valerie. But you must let me assist you in realizing capital from your personal property, and in making other necessary arrangements for your removal. You cannot do this for yourself. You are more ignorant of the world than a child. So you must let me see you safely through this trial. You have no alternative, Valerie. You have no one else to consult with but me, and you may confide in me, for I will endeavor to forget that I ever called you wife, and will treat you with the reverential tenderness due to a dear sister. When I once have seen you safely lodged in a secure retreat, I will leave you there, never to intrude upon you again."
"Thanks! thanks! that is the kindest course you could pursue toward me."
"You accept all my service then?"
"Yes, on the condition that I shall seem to you only as a sister. But, oh! Waldemar! you, who are so kind and considerate now, how could you have ever written to me so cruelly—calling me an unfaithful wife—calling yourself a wronged husband? I never was consciously unfaithful to any one in my life. I never voluntarily wronged any creature since I was born. How could you have written so cruelly, Waldemar?"
"Forgive me, Valerie! I was crazed with the contemplation of you,—you whom I considered as my own wife, living here as the Duchess of Hereward. Only since I have learned that the duke is gone—and gone forever from you, have I come to my senses. Do you understand me, and do you forgive me?"
"Yes, both; but now, do not think me rude or unkind; but you must go. It is not well that you should stay too long."
"Good-morning, Valerie," he said immediately preparing to obey her.
She held out her hand. He took it, pressed it lightly, dropped it, turned and left the room.
After this day the Count de Volaski came daily to the Hotel de la Motte on some errand connected with the duchess' financial business. These interviews were as coldly formal as the most severe etiquette would have required.
Valerie received frequent letters from the Duke of Hereward, in which he spoke of the protracted business that still kept him an unwilling absentee from her side; promised as speedy a return as possible; expressed great anxiety concerning her health, and besought her to write often.
She complied with his request: she wrote daily as she had promised to do, but she could not write deceitfully; she told him of her health, which she described as no better and no worse than it had been when he left Paris; she told him any little political news or rumor that happened to be stirring, and any social gossip that she thought might interest or amuse him; but she deluded him by no expressions of affection or devotion.
The duke's absence, that was expected to last but two weeks, was prolonged to six.
Still Valerie delayed leaving the Hotel de la Motte. She shrank from taking the final step, until it should seem absolutely necessary.
At length, after an absence of nearly seven weeks, the Duke of Hereward wrote to his young wife that he was about to return home, and would follow his letter in twenty-four hours.
This letter threw her into a state of excessive nervous excitement, and when her daily visitor entered her room a few hours after its reception, he found her in this condition.
"Why, what is the matter, Valerie? What on earth has happened?" he inquired, in much anxiety.
"The hour has come! I must go!" she answered, trembling.
"Well, so much the better. You are ready to go. You have been ready for weeks past! Do not falter now that the time is at hand."
"I do not falter in resolution, only in strength."
"The sooner it is over the better. I will take you away this afternoon, if you wish."
"Yes, yes, take me away as soon as possible!"
"Have you thought of where you would like to go first?"
"Yes! I have thought and decided! I want you to take me to Italy—to St. Vito, where we were married, and to the vine-dresser's cottage, in the Apennines, where we passed the first days of our marriage, and the happiest days of our lives."
"It will be very sad for you there," said Waldemar, compassionately.
"Yes! I know it will be so without you! for of course I must live without you! and though I do not love you as I used to do, because love has perished out of my soul, still, I know, there in that place where we were so happy in our honeymoon, I shall be always comparing the happy days that were with the sorrowful days that are!"
"But still, if that is so, why do you go there?"
"Oh, Waldemar, it is the only place for me! I cannot go among entire strangers. I am such a coward. I am afraid in my loneliness: I should be driven to despair or to insanity, or worse than all, to the unpardonable sin of suicide! I dare not go among strangers, nor dare I go among people who know me as the Duchess of Hereward, or knew me as Valerie de la Motte, for they would scorn and abhor me, and their company would be far worse than the very worst solitude. No! I must go to the vine-dresser's cottage in the Apennines. Good Beppo and Lena knew me only as your wife and loved me dearly, and wept bitter tears when my father tore me away from you. They will be glad to see poor Valerie again! And the good Father Antonio, who married us! He loved us both! He will comfort and counsel me. Yes, Waldemar! St. Vito is my City of Refuge, and the vinedresser's cottage my only possible home. Take me there and leave me in peace."
"I believe you are right, Valerie. By what train would you like to leave Paris? There is an express that starts at seven. Could you be ready for that?"
"Yes! yes! thanks! I can be ready for that!"
"Shall you take your maid with you?"
"No. I shall pay her and discharge her with a present."
"Then I shall have to secure only two seats. I will get a coupe, if it be possible."
"Anything you like! Go now, Waldemar!"
Count de Volaski pressed her hand and withdrew; but before leaving the room he turned back and inquired:
"Shall I come here for you, or shall I meet you at the station?"
"Meet me at the station, of course! Spare my poor name as long as it can be spared! In twenty-four hours it will be in everybody's mouth, and the worst that can be said of it will seem too good! And yet they will all be wrong, and I shall not deserve their condemnation."
Count de Volaski waved his hand, and hurried from the room and the house, for he had many hasty preparations to make for the sudden journey.
As soon as he had gone Valerie set about making her final arrangements. She paid off her maid and discharged her with a handsome present, but without a word of explanation. She sent off her luggage to the railway-station, and ordered the carriage to take her to the same point. She took in her hand a small bag containing her money, jewels, and other small valuables, when she seated herself in her carriage and gave the order to her coachman. And so she left her own magnificent home forever.
The wondering servants, who had been too well trained even to look any comment in their mistress' hearing, let loose their tongues as they watched the carriage roll away.
THE STORM BURSTS.
The Duke of Hereward arrived at home the next morning. When the fiacre that brought him from the railway station rolled through the porte-cochere into the court yard and drew up before the main entrance of the Hotel de la Motte, he sprang out with almost boyish eagerness, and ran up the stairs, and rang and knocked with vehemence and impatience.
The gray-haired porter opened the door.
"How is the duchess, Leblanc? Has she risen? Send some one to let her know that I have arrived," he exclaimed, hurriedly.
"Helas! Monseigneur!" answered the venerable old servant, in a distressed tone.
"What do you mean? Is the duchess ill? I got a letter from her yesterday, in which she said she was quite well. It met me at Marseilles. She continues well. I hope? Why don't you speak?" impatiently demanded the duke.
"Mille pardons. Monseigneur; but madame has gone," sadly replied Leblanc.
"What do you say?" exclaimed the duke, discrediting the evidence of his own ears.
"Mille pardons, Monsieur le Duc, Madame la Duchesse has gone."
"Gone! the duchess gone!" exclaimed the duke, in amazement, not unmixed with incredulity.
"Gone! the duchess gone! Where?"
"Miserable that I am, Monseigneur, I do not know. I cannot tell. Will Monsieur le Duc deign to consult the coachman who drove Madame la Duchesse in the carriage when she left the house last night, not to return. He can probably give Monseigneur some information," respectfully suggested the old porter.
"Send Dubourg to me in the library, then," said the duke, as he strode down the hall, full of vague alarm, but far from suspecting the fatal truth.
Soon the coachman came to him in the library, and in answer to his questions told how he had driven the duchess alone to the railway station to catch the night express for Marseilles.
"The night express for Marseilles! Then the foolish child was going to meet me, and must have passed me on the road!" said the duke to himself, with a strange blending of flattered affection and anxious fears.
"That will do, Dubourg. The duchess went down to the seaport to meet me on the steamer, and we have missed each other on the road. It is a pity, but it cannot be helped!" said the duke dismissing his coachman by a wave of his hand.
The man bowed and retired.
"Silly child, to go and do such an absurd and indiscreet thing as that! I would go down after her by the next train only I should be sure to pass her on the road again; for she will hasten immediately back when she finds that I have arrived at Marseilles and left for Paris," said the duke to himself, as he rang for his valet and retired to his own room to dress for breakfast.
But there, on the bureau, he found a letter addressed to him in the handwriting of Valerie.
At the moment he picked it up his valet entered the room in answer to his ring.
Some intuition warned the duke to send the man away while he should read his letter.
"Have a warm bath ready for me at nine o'clock, Dubois, and order breakfast at half-past," he said.
The man bowed and left the room.
The duke dropped into a chair, and with a strange, vague foreboding of evil, opened the letter.
Well might he shrink from the dread perusal of the story—the story of her cowardice and folly, and of his own humiliation and despair.
It was Valerie's full confession, the revelation of her woeful history as it is known to the reader, with one single reservation—the name of her lover.
The Duke of Hereward had wonderful powers of self-control. He read the fatal letter through to the bitter end. Then he folded it up carefully, and locked it up in a cabinet for safe-keeping.
And when, fifteen minutes later, his valet came to tell him that it was nine o'clock, and his bath was ready, no one could have guessed from his looks that a storm had passed through his soul.
He was rather pale, certainly; but that might well be explained by the fatigue of a long night's journey, and his gray mustache and beard concealed the close compression of his lips. He went through his morning toilet and his breakfast with apparently his usual composure.
After breakfast, however, he instituted a cautious but close investigation of the circumstances attending the flight of the duchess.
The servants, having nothing to gain from concealment and nothing to fear from communication, spoke freely of the daily visits of the Count de Volaski, continued through the seven weeks of the duke's absence.
Then the dreadful light of conviction burst full upon his startled intelligence. Count Waldemar de Volaski had been her acquaintance at the Court of St. Petersburg! He it was, then, who had been the hero of her foolish love story and mad marriage, before the duke had ever seen her. He it was who had been her constant visitor during the duke's absence. He it was who was the companion of her flight!
The duke did not believe Valerie's solemn declaration, that she left Paris only to isolate herself from every one and live a single, lonely life. Valerie had deceived him once, by keeping a fatal secret from him, and he would not trust her now. He believed that she had gone away with the Russian count to remain with him. The duke's rage and jealousy were roused and burning against them both.
He was determined to find out the place of their retreat, and to take immediate and signal vengeance.
He put the case in the hands of the most expert detectives, with instructions to use the utmost caution and secrecy in their investigations.
He permitted his first theory of the duchess' absence, made in good faith at the time it was first stated—that she had gone down to Marseilles to meet him, and had missed him on the way—to prevail in the household, and penetrate through that medium to the world of Paris.
He left the Hotel de la Motte, which he had only occupied in right of his wife's family, and saying that he should not return until the arrival of the duchess, he took up his residence at "Meurice's."
He shut himself up in his apartments, and never left them. He refused to see all visitors except the detectives in his employment. Thus he escaped the annoyance of having to answer questions and to make explanations.
He had remained at "Meurice's" about five days, when Villeponte, the chief detective, came to him and told him that they had succeeded in making out the facts connected with the flight of the duchess.
The duke, controlling all manifestations of excitement, directed the officer to proceed with the story at once.
Villeponte then related that on the Wednesday of the preceding week, madame, the Duchess of Hereward, had left Paris in company with Monsieur the Count de Volaski; that they took a coupe on the evening express for Marseilles, traveling alone together without servants or attendants; that they were now domiciliated at a vine-dresser's cottage in the little village of San Vito, at the foot of the Appenines.
Having concluded his information, Monsieur Villeponte asked for further instructions.
The duke told the detective that he had no further orders to give; but thanked him for his zeal, congratulated him on his success, paid him liberally, and bowed him out.
That evening the Duke of Hereward, unattended by groom or valet, took a coupe on the night express train for the south of France, and started for Marseilles, en route for Italy.
On the evening of the third day after leaving Paris he reached his destination—the little hamlet of San Vito at the foot of the Appenines.
He stopped at the small hotel.
Coming alone and unattended, carrying a small valise in his hand, and looking weary, dusty, and travel-stained, the Duke of Hereward was not intuitively recognized as a person of distinction, and therefore escaped the overwhelming amount of attention usually lavished upon English tourists of rank and wealth by continental hosts.
He was shown to a little room blinded by clustering vines, and there left to his own devices.
He ordered a bottle of the native wine, and sent for the landlord.
The latter came promptly—a thin, little, old man, with a skin like parchment, hair and beard like a black horse's mane, and eyes like glowworms.
He saluted the shabby stranger with courtesy, but without obsequiousness; for how should he know that the traveler was a duke?
"Pray sit down. I wish to ask you some questions," said the Duke of Hereward, with a natural, courteous dignity that immediately modified the landlord's estimate of his value.
"Non, signor; but I will answer questions," he declared, as he bowed deferentially, and remained standing.
"Did a gentleman and lady arrive here about ten days ago!"
"Si, signor—a grand milord, and a beautiful miladi. But they have been here before, signor, about two years ago."
"Ah! Where are they now?"
"At their old lodgings, signor—at the cottage of Beppo, the vine-dresser. The signor is a good friend of the young milord and miladi?" questioned the landlord, deferentially, but very anxiously; for just then it flashed upon his memory that two years previous another grand "signor," of reverend age like this one, had come inquiring about the young pair, and had ended in breaking up their union for the time.
"I have known the lady for about a year, or a little longer; the gentleman only a few months; but I can scarcely lay claim to so an intimate a relation to them as 'friendship' would imply," answered the duke, evasively, and putting a severe constraint upon himself.
The landlord was completely deceived and thrown off his guard.
"How far from the village does this vine-dresser live?" inquired the duke.
"Just on the outside, signor—just at the foot of the mountain—about three miles from this house."
"Can I have a carriage to take me there this evening."
"Si, signor, assuredly; but will not the signor refresh himself before he leaves?" inquired the host.
"No; I will refresh myself after I come back. Let me have the carriage as soon as possible."
"Si, signor," said the landlord, bowing himself out.
The duke, unable to rest, even after a long and fatiguing journey, walked up and down the floor of his little room, until the landlord re-appeared and announced the carriage.
The duke caught up his rough traveling-cap, clapped it on his head, hurried out and entered the rustic vehicle, dignified with the name of a carriage.
And in another moment he was rolling off in the direction of the Vine-dresser's cottage at the foot of the mountain.
The sun was setting behind the western ridge, and throwing a deep shadow over the valley, as the rustic vehicle conveying the Duke of Hereward drew up before the vinedresser's cottage, nestled almost out of sight amid thick foliage and deep shade.
It was the hour of rest, and Beppo, the vine-dresser, sat at the gate, strumming an old, dilapidated lute; his red jacket and white shirt making the only bits of bright color in the sombre picture.
As the rude carriage stopped before the gate, Beppo arose and put aside his lute, and stood with a look of expectancy on his dark face.
The duke did not alight, but put his head out of the carriage window and beckoned the man to approach him.
Beppo came up, curiosity expressing itself in every feature of his speaking countenance.
"You have a young gentleman and lady—a young married couple—staying with you?" said the duke, but speaking in the Italian language.
"No, Excellenzo. The signora is here. The signor went away on the same day on which he brought the signora," deferentially answered the peasant, with a profound bow.
"The man has gone!" exclaimed the duke, losing his caution and his politeness in the phrenzy of baffled vengeance.
"Si, signer, the man has gone!" with another deep bow.
"Where, then, has he gone?"
"To Paris, signor; but the signora is still here. Will the signor deign to come into my poor house and see the signora, then?"