Going up to the bed, she clung still more fondly to Wilhelm, and murmured in coy and halting tones—"Perhaps you have not noticed that everything in this room, except the altar and the priedieu, is new; I had this fresh little nest arranged for us while we were in St. Valery. I hope our rest may be sweet and our dreams happy ones."
He sought nervously for some appropriate answer, but she gave him no time, and opening a door in the wall beside the fireplace, she went on—"And this is your room. Tell me, have I guessed your taste?"
Without even glancing into the cozy, one-windowed room, he said, taking Pilar's hand in his: "Why torture me, Pilar?—you know it cannot be."
"Wilhelm!" her voice was firm, and she looked him full in the eyes, "do you love me?"
"You know it."
"Do we belong to each other?"
"That is not a straightforward answer. We do belong to one another. You know perfectly well that if I were free you would marry me, and then you certainly would have no scruples in coming into this house as its master. Where is the difference?"
"You know where the difference lies."
"It is enough to drive one crazy! Is a paltry prejudice to triumph over our right to be happy? We are both of age. We are accountable to no one on earth for our actions. An insurmountable obstacle, for the moment, prevents us making our relations respectable in the eyes of the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick-maker by paying a few francs to a registry-office and a priest. Has the mumbling of a priest so much meaning for you? Must you first enjoy the edifying spectacle of a mavre in a fringed scarf before you can feel like my husband? Or do you want any one else's consent? My father is dead, but my mother would adore you and do anything in the world for you, if I told her you made her only child unspeakably happy. What more do you want?"
"I could not reconcile myself to such a position, There is nothing to be said against your arguments. But for me to live on you—"
"For shame!" she cried, and tapped him lightly on the cheek with her forefinger. "Ah, you see I love you better than you love me. If you were very rich and I had not a penny, I would not hesitate for an instant to accept everything from you. I trust my heart is of more value to you than this paltry little house and its sticks of furniture. You have my heart—what is all the rest compared with that?"
He still shook his head unconvinced, but she knelt before him and said imploringly: "Wilhelm, you will not hurt me so. Even if it costs you a great deal, make this sacrifice for my sake. Give it a trial. You will see how soon you will get accustomed to it. And if not, then I am ready to go with you to the ends of the earth—to the Black Forest—wherever you will. Only try it, Wilhelm—have pity on me."
He stooped to lift her up, but reading in his eyes that he was yielding, she sprang to her feet and threw herself, gleeful as a child, upon his breast. Her victory filled her with such joy she could have shouted it out of the windows. She coaxed and fondled Wilhelm, called him by every endearing name, drew him over to the long mirror that he might see how handsome he was, dragged him into his room and then back into the bedroom, and required a considerable time to recover her self-control.
Meanwhile it had grown dark. She did not notice it till now, and rang for Anne to bring lamps.
"Has Don Pablo come back?" she asked of the maid.
"Half an hour ago, madame."
"Then send up the boxes at once."
"You have sent for the luggage already?" was Wilhelm's astonished inquiry when Anne had left the room.
"Naturally, my darling. I was certain, you know, that you would not break your Pilar's heart."
Auguste and the man whom Pilar called Don Pablo now carried up the one small box and two large ones Wilhelm always took about with him. Pilar asked him for the keys, and proceeded to put away his belongings in the various receptacles of the room. She would not suffer him to help her. Only his books she allowed him to pile up in a corner for the present; their orderly arrangement in the bookcase was put off till the daylight.
At dinner Pilar was in the seventh heaven, and more in love than ever before. In her wild spirits she threw all her glasses into the garden, and would only drink out of Wilhelm's. It was a real banquet: costly Spanish wines, red and white, rough and sweet, from her well-stocked cellar, accompanied by choice dishes, and finally champagne, of which Pilar partook—valiantly. After dessert she skipped into the salon, put the champagne glass down on the piano, and between sips and kisses played and sang Spanish love-songs that drove the flames to her cheeks. That evening she was all Bacchante. In the bedroom she tore off her clothes with impatient fingers, and held out her small, high-bred feet for Wilhelm to pull off her silk stockings. He knelt and kissed the little feet, while she gazed down at him with burning misty eyes, and between the blood-red lips slightly parted in a wanton smile gleamed pearly teeth that looked as if they could bite with satisfaction into a quivering heart. It was the Sphinx and the poor trembling mouse in the dust before her to the life.
When Wilhelm awoke next morning, he saw Pilar standing all fresh and ready at the bedside to greet him with a happy smile. With her iron nerves and superabundant animal strength, she required but little sleep, and had at once resumed her old habit of stealing away early to perform the rites of her toilette while he still slept.
He dressed quickly, she being occupied meanwhile in completing the coquettish adornment of his room with knots of ribbon, bouquets of flowers, Japanese fans, pictures and bronzes which she arranged with unerring taste on the walls beside the mirror, over the doors and window, or strewed about the secretaire, the table, or the chest of drawers, in studied negligence. They had breakfast in the red salon, after which she led him to her boudoir, which he had not yet seen, and that looked like a pink silk-lined jewel box. She drew up an armchair beside the crackling wood fire, begged Wilhelm to sit down put a little inlaid rosewood table before him, and out of a cabinet she fetched a large Russia leather pocketbook with a gold lock and laid it on the table.
"Let us settle these details once for all," she said to Wilhelm, who had watched her proceeding with surprise, "so that we need never refer to them again. You are my husband, and must relieve me now of all my business cares. Here—" she opened the pocketbook and spread out some formidable-looking papers, with stamps and seals attached, before him: "This is my check book, here the deposit receipts for my government stock and, bonds."
"What do you mean?" cried Wilhelm. "I understand nothing of such things; I have never had anything to do with them, and I am certainly not going to begin now, and with you." He gathered up the papers impatiently, thrust them back into the pocketbook, which he closed with a snap, and seeing Pilar standing there like a disappointed child balked of a surprise, he added: "However, I am grateful for the suggestion, as it helps me out of a dilemma. I was at a loss in what form to put what I must say to you—you have helped me in the nick of time. Pilar," he drew her on to his knee and kissed her, "at the seaside the matter was very simple, we had only to divide the bill between us. That will not do here. I am not well enough off to defray half the expense of such an establishment as yours."
"Oh, Wilhelm!" she exclaimed, horror-stricken, and attempted to jump down, but he held her fast and continued:
"I know this subject is painful to you, so it is to me; but, as you said yourself, it must be settled once for all. You must allow me to defray my own expenses as I would in a good family pension. I will put the trifling sum in your pocketbook once a month, and you will have a little more for your poor—one cannot have too much for them."
"I am simply petrified," murmured Pilar, "that you can take such a thing into consideration?"
"It is the one condition on which I stay here," returned Wilhelm firmly.
"What a dreadful proud boy you are! You will not accept a thing from me, and I told you yesterday that I would never be too proud to share your possessions with you. And if you had married me, you would no doubt have scorned to touch my dowry, and wanted to pay me for your board too."
"Dear heart, I imagine the question is settled between us, and never to be discussed again. I simply cannot live free of expense in the house of my—"
"Your wife," she broke in hastily.
"Very well," she said, resigning herself, "you must have your own way, I suppose. But explain to me, my Teutonic philosopher, how comes it that so high-bred a body and so noble a mind can contain a corner holding such a tradesman's idea? How can one make these commonplace calculations when one is in love? Are you Germans all like that, or is it an inherited weakness in your family?"
"In my family," he answered simply, and without a trace of bitterness, "as far back as I know of (though that is certainly not anything like as far as your ancestor, the first knight of San Iago), we have always worked for our living, and owed all to our own industry. I am the first who found the table ready spread for him, and who knows if it has been an advantage to me."
"Now you are making fun of my ancestors, you disagreeable man—when did I ever say such a silly thing?"
"I never said you did, but you asked an explanation of the German philosopher, and the German philosopher has done his best to give you one."
She locked her pocketbook in the cabinet again, and there the matter ended between them.
The rest of the household, which seemed to accept the establishing of the new guest without the faintest surprise, consisted, beside Anne, of the man-servant Auguste, a young, knowing-looking southern Frenchman, with a clean-shaven, lackey's face, the old Spanish cook Isabel, a colossal, unwieldly, hippopotamus-like person with a red nose, watery, bloodshot eyes, and a strident voice, and Don Pablo, who seemed to be a mixture of servant, major-domo, and the confidential attendant of the old plays. Pilar esteemed him highly, and always spoke of him in terms of respect. According to her, he came of a good Catalonian family, had served with the Carlists and received titles and orders of distinction from Don Carlos. After the downfall of the cause for which he had fought he had come to Paris like so many of his compatriots and Pilar had rescued him from terrible want. He did not live in the house, but had an attic somewhere in the town. Every morning he appeared at the Boulevard Pereire to receive Pilar's orders, was occupied during the whole day in going on errands and doing shopping of every description, and his work over returned late in the evening to his lodging. He was a tall, thin, middle-aged man with a long leathery face, a long painted nose, long oily hair, and long gray mustache. The entire loose, bony figure looked like a reflection in a concave glass—all distorted into length. Don Pablo had a deeply melancholy air, never smiled and spoke but little. During the few spare hours which the countess' service—in which his legs were chiefly in demand—permitted, he might be seen in a back room on the ground floor, engaged in manufacturing pictures out of gummed hair—an art in which he was a proficient. He had even achieved a portrait of Pilar in blonde, brown, and red hair. It looked like the queen in a pack of cards, but Don Pablo was very proud of the masterpiece, and never forgave Pilar for not hanging it in one of the salons, but in quite another place. It was this accomplishment of his which led Auguste to declare firmly and with conviction that he was nothing more nor less than a common hairdresser. The relations between the two were altogether very strained. Auguste was annoyed by the Spaniard's high-and-mighty airs, and his French instincts of equality revolted against Don Pablo's pretensions to be better than the rest of the servants. They had their meals in common, but Don Pablo occupied the seat of honor and demanded to be waited upon, while Auguste, Anne and Isabel had to be content to wait upon themselves. As ill-luck would have it, Auguste had once got a sight of Don Pablo's uniform and great order; whereupon he instantly cut out a monstrous tin star out of the lid of a sardine box and wore it at meals. Don Pablo was so furious that he spoke seriously of challenging Auguste to a duel to the death, and it required a stern order from the countess to make him give up his bloodthirsty design and Auguste his practical joke.
The sharp-tongued Anne and noisy old Isabel were on a similar warlike footing. The maid was jealous of the cook because she had long, secret confabulations with the countess, who let her do exactly as she pleased, and even forgave her her pronounced liking for her excellent Val de Penas, of which she—Isabel—drank at least a barrel a year to her own account. One day Wilhelm, coming unexpectedly into the boudoir, surprised Pilar and the red-nosed cook together, the latter engaged in telling her mistress' fortune by the cards. This was the secret of Isabel's influence. She hurriedly took herself off with her cards, but Wilhelm shook his head: "I should not have believed it of my clever Pilar."
"What would you have?" she returned, half-laughing, half-ashamed; "we all of us have some little remnant of superstition in some dark corner of our minds. And after all, it is very odd that ever since our return she is continually turning up the knave of hearts." And as Wilhelm was obviously still unenlightened, she explained, "Barbarian, don't you know that that always means a sweetheart?"
Pilar arranged their life as if they were on their honeymoon. Every midday and evening meal was a banquet with flowers, choice dishes, and champagne, till Wilhelm forbade it; every day a drive in an elegant coupe; every evening to some theater in a half-concealed stage box, in which Pilar hid herself in the dim background. Wilhelm did not care for the theater, but Pilar insisted that he should become acquainted with the French stage. She showed him about Paris as if he were a schoolboy allowed to come to town in the holidays as a reward for having passed his examination well. And she was such an interesting, entertaining guide! She was thoroughly acquainted with the history or the anecdotes connected with the various streets and buildings, and on their way from the Column of July to the Opera House, from the Madeleine to the Arc de Triomphe, from the Odeon to the Pantheon, she unrolled a sparkling picture of Paris, past and present, now showing him the seething crowds of the lower classes and their customs and doings in good and bad hours, now describing well-known contemporaries with all that was absurd or commendable in them. Stories, scandals, traits of character, encounters she had had, adventures that had befallen her, all flowed from her lips in a gay, babbling, inexhaustible stream, and initiated her hearer into all the intricacies of Parisian life. She was as familiar with the galleries as with the famous buildings, and in front of the works of art in the one and the facades of the other she fired off a rocket-like shower of original remarks, paradoxes, and brilliant criticism. She knew exactly where to scoff and where to be enthusiastic, jeered with all the ruthless slang of the Paris gamins at the pompously mediocre sights recommended to the tourists' admiration by Baedeker, and gave evidence of deep and true comprehension of all that was really beautiful.
At the very beginning she dragged Wilhelm to a photographer's studio and disclosed to him, when it was too late to beat a retreat, that he was to be photographed. What for? A fancy of hers—she wanted to have his likeness. Half-length, full-length, full-face, profile. Only when the pictures were sent home did he discover, that she did not want them for herself, but to send to her mother. It was high time she should see what the man was like who alone made life worth living for her only child. That she should draw her mother into an affair of the kind of which women do not, as a rule, boast to their families, seemed to him peculiarly bad taste. "What," he cried, "you have told your mother the whole story?"
"My mother is a Spaniard, she will guess what one leaves unsaid."
"And you are not ashamed that she should know?"
"That is why I am sending her your likeness; she will then understand that, on the contrary, I have every reason to be proud."
What she did not consider it necessary to explain to him was, that she had palmed off a complete romance upon the Marquise de Henares, to the effect that Wilhelm had saved her life at Ault while bathing, that he was a celebrated German revolutionist, and the future President of the German Republic, to whom she was affording a refuge in her house because, for the time being, he was obliged to be in hiding from the German secret police, and so forth, and so forth.
The marquise believed every word. In her answer, she certainly reproached her daughter gently for having anything to do with foreign conspirators, but otherwise praised her evidence of gratitude toward her preserver, and frankly expressed her admiration for the handsome person of this interesting German. She even inclosed a note to him, in which she thanked him from her overflowing mother's heart for all he had done for her only child, and adjured him to be very prudent. He could make nothing out of it, and Pilar declared that she was equally in the dark. "I only see this much," she said in an off-hand manner, "that mamma loves you already, and will do still more so when she gets to know you personally. And that is all that matters."
It was on the second Sunday after their arrival in Paris that the children came to visit their mother. Pilar looked forward with some uneasiness to Wilhelm's first meeting with them, and he too felt far from comfortable when Pilar brought a half-grown girl and a ten-year old boy to him, and addressing herself to them said, "Embrace Monsieur le Docteur, and look at him well. He is the best friend your mother has on earth. You must love him very much, for he deserves it."
The girl was fair like her mother. She was already dressed with conspicuous elegance, and her manner betrayed extreme self-consciousness. She glanced at Wilhelm with sly and wanton eyes, in which it was easily to be read that she had a very good idea of the real state of the case. She offered her forehead for his kiss, bestowed a few cold and perfunctory caresses on her mother, and slipped away to Anne, with whom she spent the whole afternoon in eager whispered conversation, till the governess came to take her back to the fashionable boarding school where she was being trained to be a perfect great lady, and to make some enviable man happy in the future by the bestowal of her hand.
The boy, who was accompanied by a priest, and was being educated at a fashionable Jesuit institution, was of a better sort. He gave his hand to Wilhelm shyly but heartily, while his innocent eyes looked frankly and openly into his, and then hung over his mother with a tenderness that had a touch of chivalry in it—half-funny, half-affecting. Wilhelm felt decidedly drawn to the slender, healthy-looking boy.
But in the course of the afternoon another—a third child—appeared upon the scene; a lovely, brown, four-year-old boy, with bold black eyes and long raven curls, whom a maid-servant brought to Pilar that he might kiss his mamma.
Wilhelm was much surprised. "Three? You never told me that," he whispered.
"This is little Manuel, my sweet little Manuelito," she answered in a low voice, and buried her face in the child's black curls that she might not have to look at Wilhelm. She covered little Manuelito with kisses, and then pushed him gently over to Wilhelm, in whom the most conflicting emotions were struggling for the mastery. It was impossible to feel any ill-will toward this captivating mite with the dark Bronzino face, and yet to Wilhelm he seemed to represent a distinct act of treachery. How could she have been so underhand as to hide the fact from him that her connection with the fashion-plate diplomat had not been without results! He made as if to draw away from the boy, who stood staring nervously at him, but the next moment his natural love of children prevailed, and he clasped the sweet little fellow to his breast.
"Such a lovely child!" he said, "and so young, and in need of a mother's care. Why does it not live with you?"
"He lives with a sister of his father," she answered, hardly above her breath.
"And you let it go?"
"The father would not let me keep it. And I could not do anything against it because—it is not registered as my child, and does not bear my name."
The past, to which Wilhelm and Pilar had closed their eyes till now, presented itself that afternoon in incontestably lively form before them. Dispelled was the artificial fabric of their dream of a love that was as old as life itself—dispelled the poetic figment that they were in the honeymoon of a young pure union of the heart! These three children told a tale of Pilar in which Wilhelm bore no part, and the chapters of that story bore different names, as did the children themselves.
Pilar divined easily enough what was passing in Wilhelm's mind at sight of the children. She never let them come to the house again, but henceforth went to see them at their respective homes. He was sure that they liked coming to the Boulevard Pereire, and was sorry that they should miss this pleasure on his account. Pilar begged him, however, not to allude to the subject again—he was dearer to her than her children, and there was nothing she would not do to spare him a moment's unpleasantness.
The first visitor whom Wilhelm saw in Pilar's house was a little tubby gentleman with a clean-shaven face and a rosette in his buttonhole, composed of sixteen different colored ribbons at the very lowest computation. He enjoyed the privilege of coming at any hour of the day, and being instantly admitted to the boudoir. He was introduced to Wilhelm as Don Antonio Gorra, and Pilar explained afterward that Don Antonio was a lawyer, an old friend of her family, and that he conducted her business affairs for her. For a time she had long daily consultations, to which Wilhelm was not invited. As soon as he left, she would come to Wilhelm with a significant and mysterious air, evidently expecting that he would ask what all this putting together of heads might mean. As he did not evince the slightest curiosity, she grew impatient at last, and asked with assumed lightness:
"Are you not at all jealous, you fish-blooded German?"
"Jealous? No, I certainly am not. Besides which, you give me no cause."
"Indeed! and what about my tete-a-tetes with Don Antonio?"
"Oh, Don Antonio!" laughed Wilhelm.
"You are quite right, sweetheart, but it aggravates me that you should not want to know what he and I are brewing. You do not take nearly so much interest in my affairs as you ought."
"But you told me that Don Antonio was your man of business."
"Well, then—no—this time it is not a matter of business. I wanted to prepare a surprise for you." She seated herself on his knee, and laying her cheek to his, she whispered: "I have been trying to have myself naturalized in Belgium, and then, as a Belgian subject, get a divorce from Count Pozaldez. In that way I might have become your wife before the law as well."
He looked at her with a face expressive rather of alarm and astonishment than joy, and she went on with a sigh, "However, Don Antonio has just told me I must give up that pleasant dream—it cannot be realized."
He kissed her lips and brow, and stroked her silky hair. She laid her head on his shoulder, and remained long in silent thought. Presently she rose, walked up and down the room once or twice, and finally seated herself on a footstool at Wilhelm's feet. "But something I must do to bind you to me," she said. "I shall not rest till there is some written bond, something legal between us. I shall alter my will, and give you the place in it you occupy in my life."
"Pilar," exclaimed Wilhelm, "if you love me, and if you wish that we should remain what we are to one another, never say such a word again. If I ever find out that you have mentioned me in your will, all is at end between us." She drooped her head disconsolately, and he continued in a milder tone—"Dorfling's will has not brought me so much luck that I should ever wish to inherit money again."
The idea to which she had given expression did not leave Pilar, however. There should be something in writing—some document with stamps and seals to testify that Wilhelm belonged to her. This wish assumed the proportions of a superstition with her, and she never rested till it was satisfied.
One morning the inmates of the house on the Boulevard Pereire saw the arrival of three carriages, which discharged eight persons at the door. A well-dressed gentleman rang the bell, marshaled his seven companions in the hall, and desired to be shown up to the countess. She was expecting him, and received him in the red salon. After a short conversation, she went downstairs with him to the yellow salon, where Wilhelm, at her request, followed them. The visitor was the Spanish consul in Paris. He produced a casket ornamented with mother-o'-pearl, broke a seal with which it was fastened, unlocked it with a small silver key, and took out a document in a closed envelope, and handed it to Pilar. He then opened the door, and permitted his followers to enter. They came in in single file, and ranged themselves silently along the wall. They were tall, lean men in great circular Spanish cloaks of brown or bottle-green, defective in the matter of footgear, and with shapeless greasy hats in their ungloved hands. Their deportment was as dignified as if they had been the chapter of a religious order, and every face was turned with an air of contemplative solemnity toward the countess. With nervous haste she wrote a few lines at the foot of the document, read it over three or four times and altered a word here and there; she then folded the paper, returned it to the envelope, and handed it back to the consul. She sealed it with her seal and wrote something on it, the seven men then advanced one by one to the table, and with extreme gravity and precision put their signatures on the envelope. The casket was then relocked and resealed, and the company withdrew with a ceremonious bow, not, however, without leaving behind them such a piercing smell of garlic that the yellow salon was still full of it next day.
When Pilar found herself alone with Wilhelm, she asked: "I suppose you would like to know what all this means?"
"We have in Spain what we call mysterious wills, the contents of which may be kept secret. A will of that kind is valid if an official person and seven witnesses vouch for it by their signatures on the envelope that it has been written or altered in their presence. To-day I have added something to my secret will."
He made a movement, but she would not give him time to speak.
"Do not be afraid, I have not acted against your wishes nor wounded your pride. On our Vega de Henares in Old Castile, we have a family tomb where my ancestors have been laid to rest since the sixteenth century. It is the Renaissance mausoleum of the picture hanging in your room. The marble tomb stands in the middle of an oak wood, not far from a little brook, and it is cool and still there. I shall lie there some day, wherever I may die, and I have assigned you a place beside me. Promise me, Wilhelm, that you will accept it. Promise me that you, in your turn, will make the necessary arrangements for your remains to be brought at last to our vega. I do not know if I may ever belong to you as your wife in my lifetime, but in death I want to have you forever at my side. Grant me this consolation. Give me your hand upon it."
Great tears welled slowly into the hazel eyes, and it was plainly of such sacred and earnest import to her that Wilhelm had not the heart to smile at her strained and sentimental idea. Moved and touched, he clasped her to his heart in silence.
"To be as much alone with you in great Paris as if we were on a desert island in the Pacific—in the midst of the crowd, yet having no part with it; spectators of its amusing doings, and yet unnoticed by it. You all my world, and I yours—what a sweet and perfect dream!" Thus Pilar as she went out in fine weather, thickly veiled, on Wilhelm's arm into the crowded streets, and she did her utmost to prolong the charming delusion as far as possible. She paid no visits, invited no one to the house, avoided every familiar face in the street. Through the consul and Don Antonio, however, her more immediate circle got wind by degrees of her return to Paris, and visitors began to call at the little house on the Boulevard Pereire who would not submit to being sent away. With the versatility of mind peculiar to her, Pilar soon adapted herself to the new position of affairs, and tried to make the best of it. Of course it would have been infinitely more agreeable, she said to Wilhelm, to have been able to remain longer in their delicious seclusion, but, sooner or later, social life would have to be resumed, and it was best he should make a beginning now. "Do not be afraid," she added, "that I shall ask you to make the acquaintance of all the asses and parrots that have chattered and gesticulated round me for years. You shall only know a really select few, who are fond of me, and who can offer you friendship and appreciation."
And so the march past of the elect began, most of them being invited either to lunch or dinner. Wilhelm found them very peculiar and uncongenial, and, on the whole, derived but little satisfaction from their acquaintance. Pilar had a small weakness; according to her account, each one of her more intimate friends was a striking and original character, the possessor of the rarest qualities. It was the only touch of snobbishness of which one could have accused her. She announced the arrival of an old Spanish general, "a hero of quite the antique, classic type, one of the most remarkable figures in the history of modern warfare," and there entered to them a little old man, shuffling in with the flurried, dragging gait of a paralytic, unable to lift his feet from the ground, stammering out a few commonplaces, who could not keep his gold eyeglasses on his nose, and who, when he was informed that Wilhelm had fought in the Franco-Prussian War, frankly admitted that, though he had commanded at many a grand review, he had never been in real action.
Another time a Great Thinker was to appear, a profound sage, with whom Wilhelm would be delighted, thoroughly versed in German philosophy, a critic of immense and independent spirit. But what Wilhelm really saw was a slovenly, pock-marked man, with a very arrogant manner, who smoked cigarettes without intermission, and preserved an obstinate silence, behind which one was naturally free to imagine the profoundest thoughts, if one wished it; and who, when Pilar tried to lead him on to air his opinions on German philosophy, answered sententiously: "I do not care for Kant; his was not a republican spirit." A man who was said to be famed for his wit perpetrated such atrocious puns that even Pilar was forced to admit after he left that he had had a surprisingly bad day. An aristocratic member of the Jockey Club, "a truly distinguished being"—when Pilar wished to give any one the highest praise she always alluded to them as "a being"—"and not superficial like the most of his class," talked for two consecutive hours of the coming elections to the Jockey Club, and of the attempt to bring in the wearing of bracelets as a fashion among gentlemen. The only figure in this gallery which made anything like a favorable impression on Wilhelm was a Catalonian, naturalized in France, a professor at a Paris lycee. He had simple, winning manners, spoke and looked like an intelligent person, and met Wilhelm with much friendliness. He was to learn later on that this amiable, frank, unfailingly good-tempered acquaintance had made the most ill-natured, not to say defamatory remarks about him, before Pilar and her whole circle of friends.
One afternoon Anne announced that "the consumptive poet was below, and begged to be allowed to pay his respects to Madame la Comtesse." "Another great man, no doubt," thought Wilhelm, sadly resigned to his fate. To his surprise Pilar turned furiously red, and said angrily:
"I am not at home!"
Anne retired, but came back again immediately.
"He sent to ask," she said, in a tone of studied indifference, which ineffectually concealed her inward satisfaction, "what he had done to deserve madame's displeasure, and why he should be treated like a stranger?"
"Anne," cried Pilar, her voice quivering with rage, "how dare you bring me such a message! If the man does not go instantly, then order Don Pablo and Auguste to see that he does."
The maid withdrew, and Pilar, without waiting for Wilhelm's question, muttered resentfully:
"A man I was kind to out of pity, because he was such a poor wretch, an unknown poet, and bound to die soon—and now he is impudent and intrusive. But that is just what one may expect when one is kind-hearted."
Wilhelm thought no more of this episode, and had almost forgotten that it had ever occurred, when one day soon afterward a friend of Pilar's, the Countess Cuerbo, came to call. She was the wife of a fabulously rich Spanish banker, whose house, racing-stables, picture gallery, carriages, and dinners were among the marvels of Paris. This lady's most striking characteristic was a vulgar boastfulness, such as is seldom met with even among the worst upstarts of the Bourse. It was said that she had originally been a washerwoman or a cigarette maker in Seville, but this was perhaps an exaggeration. So much, however, was certain, that her husband had begun in a very small way, and had received his title at the accession of King Alfonso, in return for financial services which had materially helped toward the re-establishment of the throne. The Countess Cuerbo could now give points as to pride of station to the bluest-blooded grandee. She associated exclusively with persons of title, and strove, in every possible way, to play the "grande dame." She was always bedizened with the most costly diamonds, and so shamelessly rouged that she must have been mobbed had she gone through the Boulevards on foot. She was not actually plain, but so affected that she did not know what to do with herself, and made such frightful grimaces that one was afraid to look at her. Nor could she be called stupid, for she had the inborn natural wit of the Andalusians, and when she spoke Spanish, could give very droll turns to her remarks. Her French was calculated to induce toothache in her hearers, and in the unfamiliar language the wit evaporated and left only the vulgar behind. She was the terror of her female friends, for she considered absolute freedom of speech to be the privilege and badge of nobility, and thought herself every inch an aristocrat when she alluded, without the faintest regard for decency, not only to her own numerous affairs of gallantry, but to those of her friends to their faces. Her tactlessness had been the cause of many a disaster, but she remained incorrigible, in spite of repeated and severe snubbings and even bitter insults.
No sooner had she entered the room than Wilhelm received a sample of her peculiar style. Anne announced the Countess Cuerbo. Wilhelm rose, prepared to leave Pilar alone, but the visitor had followed on the heels of the maid, and rustled into the red salon, exclaiming in her strident voice and horrible Spanish accent as she embraced Pilar:
"This is your German friend, I suppose, about whom I have heard so much. Oh, please don't go away, I am so curious to know you."
Wilhelm was dumfounded. Such calm insolence he had never yet encountered. Pilar shot a glance of fury at the countess, to which she did not pay the slightest attention, but examined Wilhelm insolently through her gold eyeglasses, and went on with a vulgar laugh:
"General Varon told me about you, and described you to me. He thinks you very nice, and I must say I think he is right."
Pilar's patience gave out.
"Madame," she said very dryly, "if Monsieur le Docteur Eynhardt feels himself honored by your astounding familiarities that is his affair. I do not disguise from you that I think them in very bad taste."
"Oh, my dear countess," replied the lady, in no way discomposed by this snub, "don't be so severe upon me. I have no designs upon your friend, and you need not be prudish with me. Surely ladies of our rank have no need to be particular like any little grocer's wife."
That was Pilar's own creed, and before any other audience she would smilingly have agreed with the Countess Cuerbo. But she pictured to herself what an effect this tone would have upon Wilhelm's German, middle-class sense of propriety, which she knew so well, and was indignant at her visitor's cool cynicism.
"Madame," she returned, still more icily, "you force upon me the opinion that there are circumstances under which it would be well to take an example by the grocer's wives whom you despise so much."
This remark, in which the Bourse-countess did not fail to hear the ring of the real aristocrat's disdain, touched her in her tenderest point. She tried to smile, but turned livid under her paint, and determined to return the stab on the spot.
"Don't be angry, dearest countess, I was only joking, and you know as well as anybody that we Andalusians do not weigh our words too carefully. By the bye, your French poet—you know—the one before you went to the seaside—is simply beside himself. You have thrown him over, it seems. He comes to me every day, imploring me to say a good word for him to you. He talks of challenging his fortunate successor, and goodness only knows what nonsense beside."
Pilar turned very white. She sprang to her feet.
"Shall I give a name to what you are doing?" she cried, her voice shaking.
"Don't trouble," returned her visitor, perfectly delighted, and rising as she spoke. "I see, dearest countess, that you have one of your nervous days, so I had better come again another time."
So saying she swept out of the room, throwing an offensively friendly nod at Wilhelm as she passed. To the grinning Anne, who was waiting in the hall to see her to her carriage, she said:
"Well, it looks serious this time—the countess is over head and ears. But it is quite true, he is much better-looking than any of the others."
"Looks are not everything," returned Anne sagely, and her contemptuous shrug conveyed plainly enough that she did not share her mistress' taste.
Upstairs Pilar had rushed over to Wilhelm as soon as the countess disappeared, and hid her face on his breast.
Wilhelm pushed her gently away, and said sadly:
"I have no right to reproach you, or, if I did, it would only be for not having been open with me, although you boast of your extreme truthfulness."
"Wilhelm," she entreated, clasping his hand in both of hers, "do not judge me hastily. I might excuse myself, I might even deny it, but I am not capable of that. When I told you the story of my life, I believed honestly that I had made you a full confession. You shake your head? Is it true—I swear it is! This man had entirely escaped my memory. Why, I never loved him! It was in some part a childish folly, but principally pity and perhaps little caprice on the part of a bored and lonely woman. My heart had not the smallest part in it. He was given up by the doctors, they thought he might die any day—in such a case one gives oneself is one would offer him a cup of tisane—the action of a Good Samaritan."
"Your defense," he said grimly, as he freed himself from her grasp, "is far worse than any reproach I might bring against you. You never loved him? Your heart had no part in this childish folly? That makes it all the uglier—then it becomes unpardonable. Love alone could extenuate such a fault to some degree."
He turned to leave the room, but she threw herself upon him and clung to him.
"You are right—quite right, darling," her voice half-choked with terror and excitement; "but forgive me—forgive me for the sake of my love to you. That story belongs to the past, and the past is buried—buried forever. I cannot believe myself that it is not all a hideous dream—that it should be really true! It was not I—it was another woman, a stranger whom I do not know—with whom I have nothing in common. I was not alive then—I have only lived since you were mine. Oh, why did you come so late?" And her wild, passionate words sank into heartrending sobs.
He could not but be sorry for her. Was it wise, was it fitting to rake up the past? Had he any right to call her to account for faults which were not committed against him? She was good and pure now. She had not broken faith with him—not even in her thoughts—for she had no eyes for anybody in the world but him! He held out his hand to her.
"I will forget what I heard to-day," he said, "and do not let us ever speak again of what has been."
He was quite sincere in saying this, for he really wished to forget. But our memory is not subject to our will. Do what he would, he could not banish the consumptive poet from his mind, nor the diplomat with the silly, handsome face, and other figures more shadowy than these two, but none the less annoying. He learned to know that most torturing form of jealousy—the jealousy of the past—against which it is hopeless to struggle, which will not be dispelled, and which, in its unalterable steadfastness, mocks at the despair of the heart that is forever searching after new grounds for torment, and yet cries aloud when it finds what it sought. His imagination wandered perpetually from the lovely pastel in the yellow salon to the new ebony bed, with its inlaid ivory scenes in the bedroom, and saw or guessed things between these two points that made him shudder.
Thus, New Year's night found him in a very gloomy frame of mind, and the letter he wrote to Schrotter expressed a still deeper dejection than that of the year before. Since recounting the conversation about the donkey in Ault, he had never again mentioned Pilar to his friend, nor betrayed by a single word the circumstances in which he had lived since the middle of August. Such disclosures would have necessitated a moral effort on his part, for which even his friendship for Schrotter could not supply him with sufficient force. He knew that Schrotter's views on morality were neither narrow nor pharisaical, that to him virtue did not consist in the outward observance of social rules, but in self-forgetful, brotherly love and a strict adherence to duty. It would have afforded him unspeakable relief to have been able to pour out his heart to his friend, to give him an insight into his turbid love-story and the conflict in his soul. But a sense of shame—the outcome, no doubt, of his own disgust at the unsavory accessories of his love—had withheld him from making these confidences. He made none now, complained only in a general way of the emptiness of his life, to which neither desire nor hope bound him any more; especially that he had no future, and looked forward to each new day with horror and shrinking.
Schrotter's answer was, as usual, full of faithful affection and wise encouragement. He chid him gently for his want of spirit, and then went on to say:
"You have no future! I am amazed at such a remark in the mouth of a man of thought. Which one of us can say he has a future? To say we have a future is simply to say that we wish for something, strive after something, set some aim before us. That which we call a man's future does not lie outside of him, but in himself. I would have you observe that events rarely or never happen as we expect, and that the plans which we have worked out most zealously are scarcely ever carried out. And yet we firmly believe, all the time, that we have a future. Nature permits us no outlook into Time. A wall rises before our eyes to hide what is coming. But the cheerless nakedness of that wall being unbearable to us, we paint it over with landscapes of our own devising. And that is what the unthinking mind calls the future. Any one can paint these pictures on the wall, and to complain of its bareness is to acknowledge the poverty of one's own imagination wishing for something,—never mind what. The higher, the more unattainable, the better. Only desire earnestly, and you will feel yourself alive again. Your misfortune, my friend, is that you have not to work for your daily bread. A settled income is only a blessing to those to whom the attainment of the trifling and external pleasures of life seems worth the trouble of an effort. You are wise enough to set no value on what the world can give you. You are neither vain nor ambitious. Therefore you do not exercise your capacities in wrestling for position, recognition, honors, or fame. On the other hand, you have no need to trouble yourself about the bare necessities of life, and are thereby deprived of another occasion for bringing your strength into play. Now, you are provided with organic forces, and it is the circumstance that these forces are lying fallow that affects you like a malady. It is in work alone that you can hope to find a cure, or at least an improvement. Accordingly, if you have not sufficient strength of will to set yourself some task, my will shall come to your aid. I suggest, nay, I insist, that you proceed manfully with your 'History of Human Ignorance,' about which I have heard nothing for months, and that you show me at least the first volume ready for the press by the end of this time next year."
Wilhelm caught desperately at this advice, offered to him by his friend in the paradoxical form of a command. He got out his books and papers again, and began devoting his mornings to work. Pilar was delighted. She was far too wise not to know that honeymoons do not last forever, and although she was persuaded that she, for her part, would never desire anything better than to be always at Wilhelm's side, passing the time in interminable conversations about herself and himself, in kissing and fondling, she quite understood that that was not enough to satisfy a man accustomed to a wider range of pursuits. She had looked forward with anxiety to the moment when mere love-making would pall upon him, and he would begin to be bored, and wish for a change. She had kept a sharp lookout for the approach of this ticklish moment that her ingenious mind might have some fresh interest ready for him. This trouble had been spared her. He himself took thought for a suitable occupation to fill up his time. So much the better. He had adapted himself to the circumstances, after all. He no longer looked upon it as a passing liaison, but had settled down permanently and finally to lead his accustomed life with her.
It took a weight off her mind, and gave her a sense of peace and security such as she had not known since the return to Paris. She too began to come out of her shell, and to resume her former mode of life. She fulfilled her social duties, and paid and received calls, which Wilhelm was allowed to shirk. At the end of January the first ball of the Spanish embassy took place. Pilar's whole set was invited, and she could not well absent herself without exciting remark. She therefore made the necessary preparations for the festivity. A diadem of brilliants was sent to be reset, a sensational gown composed, after repeated conferences with a great ladies' tailor, a pattern in seed pearls chosen for the embroidery of the long gloves. Don Pablo galloped about like a post-horse from morning till night; gorgeous vans, with liveried attendants, from the fashionable shops stopped constantly at the door to deliver parcels; there was an unceasing stream of messengers, shop people, and needlewomen. But Wilhelm was oblivious of it all; Pilar did not trouble him with such frivolous matters. It was not till the very day of the ball that she handed him the card of invitation she had procured for him at the embassy, and asked, as a precaution:
"You have all you require, have you not?"
Wilhelm glanced at the pink, glazed card.
"But, Pilar, do you know me so little?"
"I know that you do not care for these stupid entertainments," she answered coaxingly, "but I thought you would go to please me."
"So you are going?" he asked.
"I must," she replied. "They know that I am in Paris, and I wish to avoid the remark that would be made if I stayed away."
"You are quite right," said Wilhelm, "but you will have to go without me."
"Don't be a bear!" she urged. "It will interest you to see this side of Parisian life. I don't say that I would ask you to do it often, but you might—just this once. Beside, you have been more than three months in Paris, and you do not know one real Parisian. Now, here is an opportunity of meeting artists, authors, academicians, senators—and there are some remarkable men among them, well worth talking to."
"I am sincerely grateful," he returned, and kissed her hand. "Please do not trouble about it. I am quite sure that there are many people in Paris I should like to meet, but they are scarcely likely to be present at an embassy ball. And even if they were, a mere introduction, an interchange of society platitudes, would not bring me any further. No; go you to your ball, and leave me at home."
Pilar sighed, and gave up the struggle, and then received the jeweler, who had brought the newly-set ornament for the hair, a miracle of taste, delicate workmanship, and splendor.
In the afternoon Monsieur Martin, the prince of Paris hairdressers, arrived, to compose her a coiffure for the ball. He was a little man, with a clean-shaven upper lip, and the mutton-chop whiskers of a solicitor. He wore a long black coat, of severe cut, buttoned up to the top, and a ribbon in his buttonhole. In his very pale cravat was a breastpin with a magnificent cat's eye. Patent leather boots and kid gloves completed the faultless attire of this gentleman, whom one would sooner have taken for a minister than a hairdresser. A liveried servant followed him, carrying a silver-bound morocco box, which he took from him at the door of the boudoir, and placed with his own hands on the rosewood table.
After an extremely ceremonious greeting, he drew off his gloves, seated himself in an armchair by the fire, and made the countess describe what she was going to wear. He listened with almost tragic attention, his forehead in his hand, his eyes closed. After some reflection, he exclaimed:
"Where is the diadem?"
Pilar placed it on the table in front of him.
He contemplated it earnestly, and then murmured:
"Good, very good. But now I must see the robe."
"Monsieur Martin," Pilar returned reproachfully, "don't you know that my tailor respects himself far too much to send home one of his creations before the last moment?"
"It is always the same story," he complained mournfully; "I am to arrange a coiffure for Madame la Comtesse, the coiffure is to harmonize with the whole, and I am not permitted to see the robe."
"But I have given you the general idea of it."
"General idea! general idea! Does Madame la Comtesse think that that will suffice?"
"For an artist like you, Monsieur Martin—"
"Oh, of course—for an artist like me! I can answer for myself, but how do I know if the tailor has caught madame's style correctly? I am perfectly competent to compose a coiffure which shall agree entirely with the type of Madame la Comtesse, but what if the tailor has been mistaken—what if the robe turns out a disguise rather than an enhancement? In that case, adieu to the harmony."
Pilar reassured the sorely-tried master, and exchanged glances of amusement with Wilhelm. She had described him to Wilhelm beforehand as a Parisian oddity, and invited him to be present during the visit. While Anne enveloped her mistress in the white dressing-mantle, Monsieur Martin laid out the battery of combs, brushes, and tortoise-shell hair-pins provided by the maid, added, out of his own box, two hand-glasses, and a box of gold-powder, and began to loosen the countess' abundant tresses. As the golden waves flowed over the back of the chair to the ground, he murmured, drawing his fingers repeatedly through the silken mass:
"What a fleece, Madame la Comtesse! It takes a Spaniard to have such hair."
He now began rapidly and skillfully to comb, brush, coil, and fasten, to smooth away here, loosen there, shook the gold dust over it, touched the locks upon the forehead, placed the diadem, and fell back a step to review his work. A groan burst from him.
"That is not it! that is not it!" he wailed, and shook his head dolefully from side to side. "I am not permitted to see the costume of Madame la Comtesse, I am not to use pads or curling-irons, and yet all is to be in the grand style—only a diadem—not a flower, not a feather! No, it will not do." He glared at her for a moment, and then cried suddenly, "No, it positively will not do!" And before Pilar could prevent him, he had rapidly pulled out all the hairpins, removed the diadem, and disarranged with nervous fingers the whole artistic edifice.
"A coiffure that bears my signature must not be allowed to leave my hands like that," he said. "And yet the ground is burning beneath my feet. It is three o'clock, and I have not yet lunched."
"Poor Monsieur Martin!" cried Pilar. "Will you have something to eat at once? They shall serve it to you downstairs."
"Madame la Comtesse is very good, but I have no time to sit down comfortably at a table. I have all that is necessary in my carriage, and shall take some slight refreshment there, on my way to my next client."
"Have you much to do to-day?"
Monsieur Martin drew out a little notebook, with ivory tablets, and a silver monogram, and held it up before Pilar's eyes.
"Eleven heads after that of Madame la Comtesse."
"All for the embassy ball?"
"No, madame; I have another dance to-night in the Faubourg, and a betrothal party in the American colony."
While speaking he had not remained idle. The coiffure was being built up on a different plan, and this time Monsieur Martin appeared to be satisfied with his creation. He walked all round the smiling countess, begged her to walk slowly up and down the room once or twice, touched up the front locks a little, and then the back, and finally ejaculated:
"Charming! Ravishing! Our head will have a great success!"
He departed, after a ceremonious leave-taking. At the door of the boudoir his servant again relieved him of his box, and carried it after him downstairs, and a few minutes later they heard his carriage drive away.
"You have not anything like that in Berlin yet," said Pilar, laughing, when the solemn and important artist had left.
"I think not," Wilhelm replied; "at least, not in the circles with which I am acquainted. But I do not laugh at him—on the contrary, I envy him. He takes himself so seriously, and combs with his whole soul. Happy man!"
It was about half-past ten when Pilar entered the red salon, in full ball dress. Wilhelm was sitting by the fire reading. She came up to him:
"How do you like me?" she asked.
She had on a salmon-colored broche velvet dress, with ostrich feather trimmings, and a long train. Shoulders and bust rose as out of pink foam from the scarf-like folds of some very airy material; brilliants flashed at her breast and on her arms, the diadem was in her hair, two solitaires in the delicate little ears, a double row of pearls round her neck, and an ostrich feather fan, with enameled gold mounts, in her hand. A superb figure!
"How beautiful!" he said, and stroked her chin fondly. He dared not touch her cheeks, for fear of disturbing the pearl powder. "But you look just as regal without the brilliants."
"Flatterer! Would you not like to come, after all? Make haste and dress."
He only shook his head, smiling.
"But are you not a little bit jealous, when you see me go off by myself to a ball? I shall talk to the men, and take their arm and dance with them; the people will look at me and pay me attention—does it not make any difference to you?"
"No, dear heart, for I hope it will make none to you either."
"Ah, yes—you need have no fear on that score. But still—in your place—you men, you love differently from us. And not so well," she added with a sigh, as Anne appeared with her fur-lined cloak, and announced that the carriage was waiting.
Some hours later Wilhelm was startled out of a deep sleep by burning kisses. He opened his dazed eyes, and, blinking in the lamplight, saw Pilar standing by the bed as if in a cloud. She held her great bouquet in one hand, and with the other was plucking the roses and gardenias to pieces, and strewing the petals over his head and face, as she did in the sunny afternoons at St. Valery. She must have been engaged in this pastime for a considerable time, for the pillows and quilt were covered with flowers, and his hair was full of them. As neither Pilar's entry with the lamp nor the shower of blossoms had succeeded in wakening him, she had leaned over him and roused him with a kiss.
"Oh, sleepy head!" she cried, and continued to rain flowers on his dazzled, blinking eyes. "At least you have been dreaming of me?"
"To tell the truth," he returned, "I have not dreamed at all."
"And I have never left off thinking about you all the time, and have longed so for you. Look here!"
She took a lamp off the chimney-piece, and held up her ball programme before his eyes. The blank places were filled up with pencil-writing, which looked as if it might be lines of poetry: which in truth it was—Spanish improvisations breathing burning love and passionate longing. He would have understood or guessed their meaning even if Pilar had not translated them with kisses and caresses.
"Now, you see, you bad boy," she went on, "those were my thoughts while I was away from you. I had not thought it would be so difficult to enjoy myself without you. It was impossible. It is only three, but I could not stand it any longer. I escaped before the cotillion. If you only knew how hollow and stupid it all seemed to me! How dull I thought the men's conversation, how ludicrous the affectations of the women! What are all these people compared to you! No, I will never go out again without you. Come, Wilhelm, and help me to undress. I will not have Anne about me now—nobody—only you."
Had she been drinking champagne at the ball? Had the lights, the music, the dancing, the perfumes, her own verses gone to her head? Whatever was the cause, her nerves were certainly very highly strung, and only calmed down when the morning was well advanced, and she had exhausted herself in a thousand fond extravagances.
During the next few days Wilhelm noticed something odd in Pilar's manner which he failed to understand. She seemed strangely absent and thoughtful, by turns unnaturally silent and feverishly talkative, would sit for hours beside him glancing mysteriously at him from time to time, as if she knew something very wonderful, and were debating in her own mind whether to tell it or keep it to herself. She blushed if he looked at her inquiringly, and rushed away and locked herself into her boudoir.
He watched these peculiar proceedings patiently for about a week, and then asked one day, not without a secret misgiving:
"Pilar, what is the matter with you lately?"
Probably she had only waited for this. She cast herself upon his breast, drew his head down, and whispered something in his ear. He straightened himself up with a jerk.
"Are you certain?" he asked, with an unsteady voice.
"Almost, I think; yes, Wilhelm, it must be so," she stammered, hiding her face on his shoulder.
It was well she did not look at him at that moment. Unskilled as he was in the art of dissembling, his face expressed no pleasure at all, but only painful surprise. For weeks, but more especially since his gloomy broodings on New-Year's night, the anxious thought lay heavy on him, "What if our connection should have results?" The situation would then become so complicated that he saw no prospect of ever putting it straight again. The idea had only hitherto been an indefinite cause of anxiety—now it resolved itself into a fact which appalled him. At the same time he could not but see how happy Pilar was at the prospect, and it seemed to him unkind, even brutal, to let her have an inkling of what he felt at her news. He kissed her in silence, and pressed her hand long and warmly.
"You have not said yet that you are glad," she said, and raised her eyes to his in fond reproach.
"Must one put everything into words?" he returned, with an uneasy smile.
"It is true," she answered; "I ought to be accustomed to your German ways by this time. But your reserve is quite uncanny to us Southerners. You are silent where our hearts simply overflow with words quite of themselves. You are content to think where we shout for joy."
With these words Pilar depicted her own state. She felt in truth that she could shout for joy, and the happy words flowed of themselves from her lips. Now at last the future stood clearly and definitely outlined before her eyes. Now indeed she was bound to Wilhelm, as was her burning desire, and that far faster than by any documents with solemn signatures and official seals. Her heart was so light, she felt as if her feet no longer touched the ground and that she must float away into the blue ether like the ecstatic saints in the church pictures of her own country. She talked incessantly of the coming being, and thought of nothing else waking or sleeping. She had not the slightest doubt that it would be a boy. Isabel had to lay the cards a dozen times, and the knave of spades came to the top nearly every time, an infallible promise of a boy. And how beautiful he would be, the son of such a handsome father, the fruit of such transcendent love! She consulted with Wilhelm what name he should receive, and wanted a definite statement or a suggestion, or at least some slight conjecture as to the profession his father would choose for him. And should he be educated in Paris? Would it not be too great a strain upon the little brain to have to learn French, Spanish, and German at the same time? What anxieties, what responsibilities, but at the same time what bliss! She did not even let Wilhelm see the whole depth of her feelings, knowing that he would not follow her in these extravagant raptures. She did not let him see her kneel two or three times a day at the altar or on her priedieu, and cover the silver Madonna del Pilar with ecstatic kisses. He knew nothing of her having sent for the priest of the diocese and ordered a number of masses. She did not take him with her when—her impatience leading her far ahead of events—she rushed from shop to shop looking for a cradle, and only put off buying one because she could find none in all Paris that was sumptuous and costly enough.
This went on for about a fortnight, till one day she tottered into Wilhelm's room, all dissolved in tears, sank sobbing at his feet, and hid her face on his knee.
"Pilar, what has happened?" he cried in alarm.
"Oh, Wilhelm, Wilhelm," was all the answer he could get from her; and only after long and loving persuasion did she murmur in such low and broken tones that she had to repeat her words before he could understand her, "My happiness was premature, I was mistaken."
She was inconsolable at the destruction of her airy castle, and was ill for days, the first time since Wilhelm had known her. He sympathized deeply with her in her grief, but he did not conceal from himself that he was infinitely relieved at the turn affairs had taken. With such a morbidly analytical and yet profoundly moral nature as his, no rapture of the senses could possibly last for six months and more. The passion in which reason plays no part was past and over long ago, and during the last few weeks he had reflected upon the situation with ever-increasing clearness and deliberation. At first he had not been quite sure of his feelings, but earnest self-examination by degrees made everything plain to him. What he was most distinctly conscious of was a sense of profound disgust at his present manner of life. Things could not remain as they were. Sooner or later it must inevitably come to the knowledge of his friends. What would they think of him for leading such a life at Pilar's side, in her house? She had children who would some day sit in judgment upon her conduct and his. And how did he stand in the eyes of the servants and the visitors whose acquaintance Pilar had forced upon him? If at least she would give up her outside circle of friends! But that she either could not or would not do, and so brought ill-natured witnesses of their relations to the house, and Wilhelm must needs accommodate himself to an intercourse with second-rate people who inevitably form the set of a woman whose domestic circumstances are not clearly, or rather all too clearly defined. And before these people, who appeared to him greatly inferior to himself, both morally and intellectually, he was forced to cast down his eyes. Reflect as he might upon the situation, the result was always the same—it must be put to an end to. But how?
There remained always the possibility that her husband might die and she be thus free to marry him. Strange, he always hurried over this solution of the difficulty. In his inner consciousness he was apparently not desirous of making the connection a lifelong one, even if sanctioned by lawful formalities. Leave her. He shuddered at the thought. It would be criminal to cause her so great a grief, for he was assured that she loved him passionately, and he was deeply and fondly grateful to her for doing so. She might some day grow tired of him. He hoped for this, but the hope was so faint, so secret, so hidden, that he hardly dared confess it to himself, knowing well that it was a deadly and altogether undeserved insult to her love. And even this faint hope vanished when she whispered the news of her prospective motherhood in his ear; now there was no possibility of a dissolution of their connection. If a human creature was indebted to him for its life, he must give himself up to it, and to this sacred duty he must sacrifice freedom, happiness, even self-respect. But his heart contracted with a bitter pang at the thought. It was as if a black curtain had been drawn in front of him, or a window walled up which permitted a view over the open country from a dark room.
However, he had been spared this crowning addition to the burden of his discomfort, and he breathed more freely. But the episode had served to rend the last remaining veil that hung before his moral eye. That the situation should seem so unbearable, that he was so sensitive to the opinion of others, that his blood had run cold at Pilar's news, that he had felt the disappointment of her hopes as a relief, that the idea that the danger might recur should fill him with terror—this all pointed to one fact, the realization of which forced itself upon him with inexorable persistency; he did not love Pilar, or at any rate he did not love her sufficiently—not enough to take her finally into his life, and, possessing her, to forget himself and all the world beside.
In the midst of his torturing efforts to come to some conclusion he noticed that Auguste, who had come to his room with a letter, lingered about in an undecided manner, as if he had something to say but did not know exactly how to say it.
"What is it?" asked Wilhelm, coming to his assistance.
He liked Auguste, for he was always civil and attentive to him, whereas the hostility of the rest of the servants was easily discerned in spite of their forced show of servility.
"Monsieur le Docteur must excuse me," said the man, "but I really can't listen to it any longer and keep quiet. The lady's maid never stops saying the most scandalous things about monsieur. She says it is not true that monsieur is a celebrated doctor and a member of Parliament, and that they are not going to make him President of the German Republic."
"Who has been trying to impose upon you with such stories?"
"But Madamela Comtess tells everybody so, and all the world knows it. I have long wanted to ask monsieur for something against the rheumatism in my left shoulder, but did not like to because madame says monsieur may not practice here."
What object could Pilar have in inventing these fables?
As he remained silent Auguste resumed:
"Monsieur may trust me, I am discreet, and I always defend him against Anne, who is spiteful as a cat. She says monsieur is a Prussian spy and a fortune-hunter, and is simply preying upon madame. And she calls monsieur something still worse, which I would not like to repeat. It is a shame, for monsieur has never done her any harm, and it would not be quite so bad if she only let out her vile temper before us, but she slanders monsieur to outsiders and gives him a dreadfully bad name."
"I am sorry that you should retail such gossip to me," said Wilhelm, making a great effort to appear unmoved.
"I considered it my duty, as an honest man. I am not saying more than the truth about the maid, and am perfectly ready to repeat it all to her face. Madame la Comtesse is really wrong in keeping the viper. There are plenty of respectable and handy young women who would think themselves lucky to be taken into madame's service. I have a cousin, for instance, who has been in the best houses—Anne couldn't hold a candle to her; if monsieur would recommend her to Madame la Comtesse—"
"I can do nothing in the matter," said Wilhelm brusquely.
He turned his back upon the man and absorbed himself pointedly in his books. Auguste stood a moment, but seeing that Wilhelm would take no further notice of him, shrugged his shoulders and left the room.
Wilhelm was surprised himself at the impression the man's information had made upon him. Dismay, anger, and shame struggled for the mastery in his breast. What a suffocating air he breathed in this house! How vile and underhand and insincere were the people by whom he was surrounded! But was this true that Auguste told him? Did he not lie and slander like the rest? Was he not doing the servant far too great an honor by letting his mind dwell on the low gossip of the servants' hall? He felt a kind of dim revolt against his own excitement which he felt to be unworthy of him, and, under other circumstances, he really would have been too proud to allow such tale-bearing to exert the slightest influence upon his thoughts or actions. But, in his present state of mind, Auguste's words sounded to him like a brutal translation of his own thoughts, condemning him for his cowardice in submitting to his humiliating position, and he recognized more clearly than ever that he must fight his way out of this degradation.
It was not easy to carry out this resolve. When Pilar came to his room and took his arm to lead him down to lunch, she was as bewitching and fond as ever. At table she chattered brightly about an exhibition of pictures in the Cercle des Mirlitons, which she wanted to see with him that afternoon, asked him about the work he had done to-day, and if he had given a thought to her now and then between his crusty old books, and altogether gave evidence of such childlike and implicit confidence in his love and faith, such utter absence of suspicion as to possible rocks ahead, that that which he had it in his mind to do seemed almost like a stab in the dark. His mental suffering was so poignant as to be visibly reflected in his countenance, and Pilar interrupted her lively flow of talk to ask anxiously:
"What is the matter with you to-day, darling? Don't you feel well?"
He took his courage in both hands, and answered with another question:
"Tell me, Pilar, did you really trump up a story about me? That I was a celebrated doctor and member of Parliament, and the future President of the German Republic?"
She flashed, but tried to laugh off her embarrassment. "Oh, it was only a harmless little romance to amuse myself. You could be all that if you liked, I am sure, you are ever so much cleverer than these puppets—" She stopped short in the middle of the sentence as she caught sight of the menacing frown upon his face, drew her chair with a rapid movement close to his, and said, in her most humble and insinuating tones, "Dearest, are you vexed with me?"
"Yes, for it is a humiliating, and beside which, a totally unnecessary invention, and lays me open to the worst construction."
"And who has taken upon themselves to retail it to you? That Cuerbo, I suppose?"
"It was not the Countess Cuerbo—not that it matters if the actual fact is true."
"Forgive me, Wilhelm," she pleaded, "I thought to act for the best. The whole story was chiefly for my mother's benefit. I wanted her to love you and be grateful to you. I wanted her to take you to her heart like a son. I do not care a bit about the other people. I only told them the story to keep myself in practice. And beside, you know what the world is. A man's personal worth goes for nothing, it only cares for the outward signs of success, and that is why I said you were a celebrated man and had a great future before you. That is no invention, for I believe it firmly. And I told them that you had saved my life, because it is true, for life was a burden to me till I knew you, and you have made it worth living."
"But do you not see into what a degrading position you force me?"
"I hoped you would never hear about it. My intentions were so good. Our relations to one another must be explained in some way. I wanted to shield your reputation from these people and shut their mouths."
"You see, my poor Pilar," said Wilhelm sadly, "your excuse is the bitterest criticism upon our relations. You yourself feel how ugly the naked truth would look, and try to dress it up before the eyes of the world. That kind of life cannot go on. We are doomed to destruction in such an atmosphere of lies. We must return somehow to truth and order." At his last words she let go of him and turned very pale.
"Ah, then it is only a pretext," she cried; "you want to get up a quarrel with me as an excuse for breaking with me. That is unmanly of you, that is cowardly. Be frank, tell me straight out what you want. I have a right to demand absolute candor of you."
Her words stabbed him like a knife. There was some truth in her accusation. It was neither honest nor manly to make so much of her fibs when he had something very different in his mind. She appealed to his candor—she should not do so in vain.
"It was not a pretext," he said, and forced himself to look into her face that seemed turning to stone, "but a prompting cause. You ask for the truth, and you shall have it, for I owe it you. Well then, things cannot remain as they are. I cannot go on living as a hanger-on in this house. I—"
He sought painfully for words, but could find none.
Pilar breathed hard. "Well—in short—" The words came out as if she were being strangled.
"In short, Pilar—I must—we shall have—"
"I will not help you. Finish—you shall say the word."
"We shall have to part, Pilar."
"Wretch!" The cry wrenched itself from her breast.
Wilhelm rose and prepared to leave the room. But at the same instant she had rushed to him, and clinging wildly to him, she cried, beside herself with anguish:
"Don't go, Wilhelm, don't be angry with me. You don't know what I feel—you are torturing me to death."
Her sobs were so violent that she could not keep upon her feet, and sank on the floor in front of him. He lifted her up and set her on a chair, and his own eyes were wet as he said:
"I am not suffering less than you, Pilar, but the cup of bitterness must be drunk."
"You do not love me," she moaned. "You have never loved me."
"Do not say that, Pilar. I have loved you, but it is our ill-luck—"
"You have loved me, you say. So you do not love me now? Wilhelm, speak—do you not love me any more?"
He tried to evade the question. "You know, from the first, I did not want to come here. My weak compliance is revenging itself upon me now. You yourself only spoke of it as a trial; if I could not accustom myself to it you would not insist on my remaining."
"You do not love me any more! So that is your boasted German constancy of which you are so proud! These are your vows which I took for gospel truth!"
"I have no recollection of having made any vows," he retorted. He was sorry for it the moment the words had left his mouth.
"That is true," she answered bitterly; "you never promised anything. You left me to do all the vowing. It is unpardonable of me to reproach you, I have no claim upon you. I forced myself upon you—why don't you tell me so? Shout it in my ears! Despise me, kick me—I deserve no better. I have been guilty of the deadly sin of loving you madly, and forgetting everything else in the world for that. You are quite right to punish me for it. And see how low I have sunk! see what my love has brought me to! You may curse me, you may ill-treat me; I love you all the same, Wilhelm—do what you will, I love you all the same."
She was so distraught that she could not stay in the dining room. With a sudden violent movement she grasped his arm and dragged him away with her upstairs to the bedroom, where she threw herself exhausted on the sofa. Wilhelm stood before her, looking thoroughly crestfallen, and wishing devoutly that he had the dread hour behind him. The silence frightened Pilar. She raised her head, and said in a weak, changed voice:
"It is all over, is it not? Tell me that it was only a bad dream—tell me that you will not frighten me like that again."
"Pilar," he returned miserably, "I wish you would listen to me quietly. You are generally so reasonable."
"No, no," she cried; "I am not reasonable—I will not be reasonable. I love you out of all reason. I shall repeat it a thousand times, till you give up talking to me of reason."
"And yet it is impossible for me to stay in this house."
She straightened herself up, looked at him for a moment, and then said with unnatural calmness, as she wiped the tears from her eyes:
"Very well; but if you go I shall go with you."
"What! you would leave your home, your friends, your beloved Paris—give up all you have been accustomed to, and follow me to Germany?"
"To Germany—to the Inferno—wherever you like."
"You do not mean it seriously."
"I do mean it, very seriously. I cannot live without you."
"But you have duties, you have your children—"
"I have no children, I have only you. And if my children were a barrier between you and me, I would strangle them with my own hands."
She spoke with such savage determination that he shuddered. But the battle must be fought out. He must not yield now.
"There is nothing for it," he said after a pause, during which he stood with downcast eyes, fumbling nervously with the buttons of his morning coat. "Our position would be equally wretched wherever we were. Fate is stronger than we are. I do not see how we are to escape it. Wherever we went, we should have to hide the truth, and surround ourselves with a tissue of lies, and that I cannot stand. I would rather die."
"Die?" she exclaimed, and her eyes flamed up weirdly—"I am quite ready. That is a way out of the difficulty. Die—whenever you like; but live without you? No, I will cling to you; no power on earth shall tear me from you. If you want to shake me off, you will have to kill me first." "And yet you said you would not try to hold me back if I wished to leave you."
"And you remembered those foolish words! While my heart was overflowing, you listened coolly and took note of everything, so that you might use it against me afterward. I really did not think you were so noble, so generous minded, as that."
"You see that you were mistaken in me. I am narrow-minded, mean-spirited, a thorough Philistine; you have said so repeatedly. What do you see in me to care for? Let me go."
"Oh, how you fix on every word and then turn it against me! I am not equal to you; you are stronger than I, because you do not love me and I love you. What do I care if you are narrow-minded—a Philistine? If you were a highway robber I would not let you go."
She stretched out her arms to him and drew him to her, and pressed him so tightly to her bosom that he could hardly breathe. Then she burst into tears, and wept so bitterly, so inconsolably, from the bottom of her heart, like a child who has been very deeply hurt. In order to value woman's tears aright, one must have often seen them flow. Wilhelm was a novice in this respect. He imagined that Pilar's tears were the outcome of the same amount of pain as he must have felt to weep like that, and every drop fell like molten lead upon his heart. His resolutions melted like ice before the fire; he had not the courage to wound this clinging, loving, sobbing creature. He rocked her gently in his arms till, exhausted by her frightful excitement, she fell asleep.
The storm was averted for this time, but her confidence, her joyous sense of security, was gone forever. The scene left her with a nervous restlessness which gradually increased to morbid fear. She was haunted by the idea, that Wilhelm had some plan for deserting her. She could not get rid of the thought—it assumed the aspect of a possession. She changed color as she did regularly two or three times in the course of the morning—she opened the door of his room unexpectedly and did not see him at the writing table, because, maybe, he had gone out on to the balcony for a moment, to rest from his work and cool his heated brow. Then she would search the house distractedly till she found him, and breathed again. In the night, she would start up, and feel about her hurriedly, to make sure that Wilhelm was there. She would not let him go a step out of the house without her. She even accompanied him to the National Library, and while he read or made notes, she sat beside him apparently occupied with a book, but in reality never taking her eye off him. She made no more visits except to the houses where she could take Wilhelm with her. She had curious jealous fancies, examining, for instance, with great care every letter that came for him, lest the address should be in a feminine hand. Her desire to be forever proving to herself that he was there, that he still belonged to her, took the form of an insatiable craving for love, admitting, so to speak, of no pauses for digestion. She was a beautiful, greedy werewolf, knowing neither consideration nor restraint, her vampire mouth forever draining the warm life-blood.
"She is crazy," said Anne to one of Queen Isabella's ladies who had been calling on Pilar, and remarked afterward to the maid that she found the countess strangely altered. Isabel, the cook with the red nose and alcoholic, watery eyes, passed whole mornings with her mistress laying the cards, till she forgot all about lunch. The father confessor, too, became an ever more frequent guest in the house of his fashionable parishioner, and received in exchange for his mild and discreet exhortations, donations for his church, gifts for his poor, and requests for masses and prayers. But in none of these distractions did Pilar find the peace she sought, and in her terror of heart she telegraphed one day to her mother to come at once to Paris and stay with her for a time. Don Pablo had taken the message to the office, and talked about it afterward downstairs. Auguste hurried to retail the news to Wilhelm, who had no difficulty in understanding the motive. In the first moment he thought he was glad of the approaching arrival of the Marquise de Henares. For, distasteful as the idea might be that the mother should become a witness of the daughter's questionable relations, he hoped that her presence would have a quieting effect on Pilar, and help to bring her to reason. But, on second thoughts, he was seized with afresh anxiety. He knew that Pilar's was the stronger spirit of the two, that she had a great influence over her mother, and could induce her to adopt any opinion or feelings she might choose. What if the marquise ranged herself on her daughter's side? Then, instead of one, he would have two women against him, and his struggle for freedom, in which he had already succumbed to one of them, would be utterly hopeless.
The Marquise de Henares did not come. She wrote that she was out of health, and was beside detained in Madrid by a thousand social duties; but in the spring or summer she would be very pleased to come and spend a few weeks with her only child and her grandchildren.
Wilhelm maintained an outward show of calm. He did not renew his attempt at revolt, made no resistance against the fact that Pilar took entire possession of his existence, and clung to him like his shadow; he only grew paler, and quieter, and more despondent than before. But he pondered day and night upon some way of unraveling the knot, and was in despair at finding none. Should he cut it? He could not. He lived over again the scene in the dining room; he pictured to himself how Pilar would sob, and fling herself on the floor, and clasp his knees, and tear her hair, and saw himself, after a useless repetition of his torture, disarmed anew. For one moment he thought of giving a cry for help, of calling Schrotter to his aid, but he was ashamed of his want of manliness, and put the idea from him. There was nothing for it but to resign himself. He did so with a gloomy, desperate relinquishment of all his principles, his sense of morality, his ideals of life. He was the victim of a malign fate, and there was no use fighting against it. He must accept it as he would sickness or death. He was untrue to himself, was a dissembler before himself and others: it lay in the inexorable logic of things that he must suffer for it. But what a shipwreck! After a pure and dignified life, wholly filled up by duty and a striving after knowledge, entirely devoted to warring against the animal element in man, and to educating himself up to an ideal standard of freedom from ignoble instincts, thus shamefully to choke and drown in the muddy lees of a love-potion!