Part 3 out of 3
"Yes, that is what I should say--I say it to myself now even in the short
while I am absent from you dressing!"
The lady's eyes brimmed with tenderness. "Paul!--you do love me, my own!"
"Oh, why can't we go on and travel together, darling?" Paul continued. "I
want you to show me the world--at least the best of Europe. In every
country you would make me feel the spirit of the place. Let us go to
Greece, and see the temples and worship those old gods. They knew about
love, did they not?"
The lady leant back and smiled, as if she liked to hear him talk.
"I often ask myself did they really know," she said. "They knew the whole
material part of it at any rate. They were perhaps too practical to have
indulged in the mental emotions we weave into it now--but they were wise,
they did not educate the wives and daughters, they realised that to perform
well domestic duties a woman's mind should not be over-trained in learning.
Learning and charm and grace of mind were for the others, the _hetaerae_ of
whom they asked no tiresome ties. And in all ages it is unfortunately not
the simple good women who have ruled the hearts of men. Think of Pericles
and Aspasia--Antony and Cleopatra--Justinian and Theodora--Belisarius and
Antonina--and later, all the mistresses of the French kings--even, too,
your English Nelson and Lady Hamilton! Not one of these was a man's ideal
of what a wife and mother ought to be. So no doubt the Greeks were right in
that principle, as they were right in all basic principles of art and
balance. And now we mix the whole thing up, my Paul--domesticity and
learning--nerves and art, and feverish cravings for the impossible new--so
we get a conglomeration of false proportions, and a ceaseless unrest."
"Yes," said Paul, and thought of his mother. She was a perfectly domestic
and beautiful woman, but somehow he felt sure she had never made his
father's heart beat. Then his mind went back to the argument in what the
lady had said--he wanted to hear more.
"If this is so, that would prove that all the very clever women of history
were immoral--do you mean that?" he asked.
The lady laughed.
"Immoral! It is so quaint a word, my Paul! Each one sees it how they
will. For me it is immoral to be false, to be mean, to steal, to cheat, to
stoop to low actions and small ends. Yet one can be and do all those
things, and if one remains as well the faithful beast of burden to one man,
one is counted in the world a moral woman! But that shining light of
hypocrisy and virtue--to judge by her sentiments in her writings--your
George Eliot, must be classed as immoral because, having chosen her mate
without the law's blessing, she yet wrote the highest sentiments of British
respectability! To me she was being immoral _only_ because she was
deliberately doing what--, again I say, judging by her writings--she felt
must be a grievous wrong. That is immoral--deliberately to still one's
conscience and indulge in a pleasure against it. But to live a life with
one's love, if it engenders the most lofty aspirations, to me is highly
moral and good. I feel myself ennobled, exalted, because you are my lover,
and our child, when it comes to us, will have a noble mind."
The thought of this, as ever, made Paul thrill; he forgot all other
arguments, and a quiver ran through him of intense emotion; his eyes swam
and he clasped more tightly her hand. The lady, too, leant back and closed
"Oh! the beautiful dream!" she said, "the beautiful, beautiful--certainly!
Sweetheart, let us have done with all this philosophising and go back to
our palace, where we are happy in the temple of the greatest of all
Gods--the God of Love!"
Then she gave the order for home.
But on the way they stopped at Jesurum's, and she supervised Paul's
purchases for his mother, and allowed him to buy herself some small gifts.
And between them they spent a good deal of money, and laughed over it like
happy children. So when they got back to the palazzo there was joy in
their hearts like the sunlight of the late afternoon.
She would not let Paul go on to the loggia overlooking the Grand Canal. He
had noticed as they passed that some high screens of lilac-bushes had been
placed in front of the wide arched openings. No fear of prying eyes from
opposite houses now! And yet they were not too high to prevent those in the
loggia from seeing the moon and the sky. Their feast was preparing
evidently, and he knew it would be a night of the gods.
But from then until it was time to dress for dinner his lady decreed that
they should rest in their rooms.
"Thou must sleep, my Paul," she said, "so that thy spirit may be fresh for
And it was only after hard pleading she would allow him to have it that
they rested on the other loggia couches, so that his closing eyes might
know her near.
No Englishwoman would have thought of the details which made the Feast of
the Full Moon so wonderful in Paul's eyes. It savoured rather of other
centuries and the days of Imperial Rome, and indeed, had his lady been one
of Britain's daughters, he too might have found it a little _bizarre_. As
it was, it was all in the note--the exotic note of Venice and her spells.
The lady had gone to her room when he woke on the loggia, and he had only
time to dress before the appointed moment when he was to meet her in the
She was seated on the old Venetian chair she had bought in Lucerne when
Paul entered--the most radiant vision he had yet seen. Her garment was
pale-green gauze. It seemed to cling in misty folds round her exquisite
shape; it was clasped with pearls; the most magnificent ones hung in a row
round her throat and fell from her ears. A diadem confined her glorious
hair, which descended in the two long strands twisted with chains of
emeralds and diamonds. Her whole personality seemed breathing magnificence
and panther-like grace. And her eyes glowed with passion, and mystery, and
Paul knelt like a courtier, and kissed her hand. Then he led her to their
Dmitry raised the curtain of the loggia door as they approached, and what a
sight met Paul's view!
The whole place had been converted into a bower of roses. The walls were
entirely covered with them. A great couch of deepest red ones was at one
side, fixed in such masses as to be quite resisting and firm. From the roof
chains of roses hung, concealing small lights--while from above the screen
of lilac-bushes in full bloom the moon in all her glory mingled with the
rose-shaded lamps and cast a glamour and unreality over the whole.
The dinner was laid on a table in the centre, and the table was covered
with tuberoses and stephanotis, surrounding the cupid fountain of perfume.
The scent of all these flowers! And the warm summer night! No wonder Paul's
senses quivered with exaltation. No wonder his head swam.
They had scarcely been seated when from the great salon, whose open doors
were hidden by falling trellises of roses, there came the exquisite sounds
of violins, and a boy's plaintive voice. A concert of all sweet airs played
softly to further excite the sense. Paul had not thought such musicians
could be obtained in Venice, and guessed, and rightly, that, like the cook
and the artist who had designed it, they hailed from Paris, to beautify
Throughout the repast his lady bewildered him with her wild fascination.
Never before had she seemed to collect all her moods into one subtle whole,
cemented together by passionate love. It truly was a night of the gods, and
the exaltation of Paul's spirit had reached its zenith.
"My Paul," she said, when at last only the rare fruits and the golden wine
remained, and they were quite alone--even the musicians had retired, and
their airs floated up from a gondola below. "My Paul, I want you never to
forget this night--never to think of me but as gloriously happy, clasped in
your arms amid the roses. And see, we must drink once more together of our
wedding wine, and complete our souls' delight."
An eloquence seemed to come to Paul and loosen his tongue, so that he
whispered back paeans of worship in language as fine as her own. And the
moon flooded the loggia with her light, and the roses gave forth their
scent. It was the supreme effort of art and nature to cover them with
"My darling one," the lady whispered in his ear, as she lay in his arms on
the couch of roses, crushed deep and half buried in their velvet leaves,
"this is our souls' wedding. In life and in death they can never part
* * * * *
Dawn was creeping through the orchid blinds of their sleeping chamber when
this strange Queen disengaged herself from her lover's embrace, and bent
over him, kissing his young curved lips. He stirred not--the languor of
utter prostration was upon him, and held him in its grasp. In the uncertain
light his sleep looked pale as death.
The lady gazed at him, an anguish too deep for tears in her eyes. For was
not this the end--the very end? Fierce, dry sobs shook her. There was
something terrible and tigerish in her grief. And yet her will made her
not linger--there was still one thing to do.
She rose and turned to the writing-table by the window, then drawing the
blind aside a little she began rapidly to write. When she had finished,
without reading the missive over, she went and placed it with a flat
leather jewel-case on her pillow beside Paul. And soon she commenced a
madness of farewells--all restrained and gentle for fear he should awake.
"My love, my love," she wailed between her kisses, "God keep you
safe--though He may never bring you back to me."
Then with a wild, strangled sob, she fled from the room.
A hush was over everything when Paul first awoke--the hush of a hot, drowsy
He stretched out his arm to touch his loved one, as was his custom, to draw
her near and envelop her with caresses and greeting--an instinct which came
to him while yet half asleep.
But his arm met empty space. What was this? He opened his eyes wide and sat
up in bed. He was alone--where had she gone? He had slept so late, that was
it. She was playing one of her sweet tricks upon him. Perhaps she was even
hiding behind the curtain which covered the entrance to the side loggia
where they were accustomed to breakfast. He would look and see. He rose
quickly and lifted the heavy drapery. No--the loggia was untenanted, and
breakfast was laid for one! That was the first chill--for one! Was she
angry at his drowsiness? Good God! what could it mean? He staggered a
little, and sat on the bed, clutching the fine sheet. And as he did so it
disclosed the letter and the flat leather case, which had fallen from the
pillow and become hidden in the clothes.
A deadly faintness came over Paul. For a few seconds he trembled so his
shaking fingers refused to hold the paper. Then with a mighty effort he
mastered himself, and tearing the envelope open began to read.
It was a wonderful letter. The last passionate cry of her great loving
heart. It passed in review their glorious days in burning words--from the
first moment of their meeting. And then, towards the end, "My Paul," she
wrote, "that first night you were my caprice, and afterwards my love, but
now you are my life, and for this I must leave you, to save that life,
sweet lover. Seek me not, heart of my heart. Believe me, I would not go if
there were any other way. Fate is too strong for us, and I must bow my
head. Were I to remain even another hour, all Dmitry's watching could not
keep you safe. Darling, while I thought they menaced me alone, it only
angered me, but now I know that you would pay the penalty, I can but go. If
you follow me, it will mean death for us both. Oh! Paul, I implore you, by
our great love, go into safety as soon as you can. You must leave Venice,
and return straight to England, and your home. Darling--beloved--lover--if
we never meet again in this sad world let this thought stay with you
always, that I love you--heart and mind--body and soul--I am utterly and
As he read the last words the room became dark for Paul, and he fell back
like a log on the bed, the paper fluttering to the floor from his nerveless
She was gone--and life seemed over for him.
Here, perhaps an hour later, Tompson found him still unconscious, and in
terrified haste sent off for a doctor, and telegraphed to Sir Charles
"Come at once, TOMPSON."
But ere his father could arrive on Sunday, Paul was lying 'twixt life and
death, madly raving with brain fever.
And thus ended the three weeks of his episode.
Have any of you who read crept back to life from nearly beyond the grave?
Crept back to find it shorn of all that made it fair? After hours of
delirium to awaken in great weakness to a sense of hideous anguish and
loss--to the prospect of days of aching void and hopeless longing, to the
hourly, momentary sting of remembrance of things vaster than death, more
dear than life itself? If you have come through this valley of the shadow,
then you can know what the first days of returning consciousness meant to
He never really questioned the finality of her decree, he _sensed_ it meant
parting for ever. And yet, with that spring of eternal hope which animates
all living souls, unbidden arguings and possibilities rose in his enfeebled
brain, and deepened his unrest. Thus his progress towards convalescence was
long and slow.
And all this time his father and Tompson had nursed him in the old Venetian
palazzo with tenderest devotion.
The Italian servants had been left, paid up for a month, but the lady and
her Russian retinue had vanished, leaving no trace.
Both Tompson and Sir Charles knew almost the whole story now from Paul's
ravings, and neither spoke of it--except that Tompson supplied some links
to complete Sir Charles' picture.
"She was the most splendid lady you could wish to see, Sir Charles," the
stolid creature finished with. "Her servants worshipped her--and if
Mr. Verdayne is ill now, he is ill for no less than a Queen"'
This fact comforted Tompson greatly, but Paul's father found in it no
The difficulty had been to prevent his mother from descending upon
them. She must ever be kept in ignorance of this episode in her son's life.
She belonged to the class of intellect which could never have
understood. It would have been an undying shock and horrified grief to the
end of her life--excellent, loving, conventional lady!
So after the first terrible danger was over, Sir Charles made light of
their son's illness. Paul and he were enjoying Venice, he said, and would
soon be home. "D--d hard luck the boy getting fever like this!" he wrote
in his laconic style, "but one never could trust foreign countries'
And the Lady Henrietta waited in unsuspecting, well-bred patience.
Those were weary days for every one concerned. It wrung his father's heart
to see Paul prostrate there, as weak as an infant. All his splendid youth
and strength conquered by this raging blast. It was sad to have to listen
to his ever-constant moan:
"Darling, come back to me--darling, my Queen."
And even after he regained consciousness, it was equally pitiful to watch
him lying nerveless and white, blue shadows on his once fresh skin. And
most pitiful of all were his hands, now veined and transparent, falling
idly upon the sheet.
But at least the father realised it could have been no ordinary woman whose
going caused the shock which--even after a life of three weeks' continual
emotion--could prostrate his young Hercules. She must have been worth
something--this tiger Queen.
And one day, contrary to his usual custom, he addressed Tompson:
"What sort of a looking woman, Tompson?"
And Tompson, although an English valet, did not reply, "Who, Sir Charles?"
--he just rounded his eyes stolidly and said in his monotonous
"She was that forcible-looking, a man couldn't say when he got close, she
kind of dazzled him. She had black hair, and a white face, and--and--
witch's eyes, but she was very kind and overpowering, haughty and
generous. Any one would have known she was a Queen."
"Young?" asked Sir Charles.
Tompson smoothed his chin: "I could not say, Sir Charles. Some days about
twenty-five, and other days past thirty. About thirty-three to thirty-five,
I expect she was, if the truth were known."
The eyes rounded more and more. "Well, she was so fascinatin', I can't say,
Sir Charles--the most lovely lady I ever did see at times, Sir Charles."
"Humph," said Paul's father, and then relapsed into silence.
"She'd a beast of a husband; he might have been a King, but he was no
gentleman," Tompson ventured to add presently, fearing the "Humph" perhaps
meant disapprobation of this splendid Queen. "Her servants were close, and
did not speak good English, so I could not get much out of them, but the
man Vasili, who came the last days, did say in a funny lingo, which I had
to guess at, as how he expected he should have to kill him some time.
Vasili had a scar on his face as long as your finger that he'd got
defending the Queen from her husband's brutality, when he was the worse for
drink, only last year. And Mr. Verdayne is so handsome. It is no wonder,
"That will do, Tompson," said Sir Charles, and he frowned.
The fatal letter, carefully sealed up in a new envelope, and the leather
case were in his despatch-box. Tompson had handed them to him on his
arrival. And one day when Paul appeared well enough to be lifted into a
long chair on the side loggia, his father thought fit to give them to him.
Paul's apathy seemed paralysing. The days had passed, since the little
Italian doctor had pronounced him out of danger, in one unending languid
quietude. He expressed interest in no single thing. He was polite, and
indifferent, and numb.
"He must be roused now," Sir Charles said to the doctor. "It is too hot for
Venice, he must be moved to higher air," and the little man had nodded his
So this warm late afternoon, as he lay under the mosquito curtains--which
the coming of June had made necessary in this paradise--his father said to
"I have a letter and a parcel of yours, Paul: you had better look at
them--we hope to start north in a day or two--you must get to a more
Then he had pushed them under the net-folds, and turned his back on the
The blood rushed to Paul's face, but left him deathly pale after a few
moments. And presently he broke the seal. The minute Sphinx in the corner
of the paper seemed to mock at him. Indeed, life was a riddle of anguish
and pain. He read the letter all over--and read it again. The passionate
words of love warmed him now that he had passed the agony of the farewell.
One sentence he had hardly grasped before, in particular held balm.
"Sweetheart," it said, "you must not grieve--think always of the future
and of our hope. Our love is not dead with our parting, and one day
there will be the living sign--" Yes, that thought was comfort--but how
should he know?
Then he turned to the leather case. His fingers were still so feeble that
with difficulty he pressed the spring to open it.
He glanced up at his father's distinguished-looking back outlined against
the loggia's opening arches. It appeared uncompromising. A fixed
determination to stare at the oleanders below seemed the only spirit
animating this parent.
Yes--he must open the box. It gave suddenly with a jerk, and there lay a
dog's collar, made of small flexible plates of pure beaten gold, mounted on
Russian leather, all of the finest workmanship. And on a slip of paper in
his darling's own writing he read:
"This is for Pike, my beloved one; let him wear it always--a gift from me."
On the collar itself, finely engraved, were the words, "Pike, belonging to
Then the floodgates of Paul's numbed soul were opened, a great sob rose in
his breast. He covered his face with his hands, and cried like a child.
Oh! her dear thought! her dear, tender thought--for Pike! His little
And Sir Charles made believe he saw nothing, as he stole from the place,
his rugged face twitching a little, and his keen eyes dim.
They did not go north, as Sir Charles intended, an unaccountable reluctance
on Paul's part to return through Switzerland changed their plans. Instead,
by a fortunate chance, the large schooner yacht of a rather eccentric old
friend came in to Venice, and the father eagerly accepted the invitation to
go on board and bring his invalid.
The owner, one Captain Grigsby, had been quite alone, so the three men
would be in peace, and nothing could be better for Paul than this warm sea
"Typhoid fever?" Mark Grigsby had asked.
"No," Sir Charles had replied, "considerable mental tribulation over a
"D--d kittle cattle!" was Captain Grigsby's polite comment. "A fine boy,
too, and promising--"
"Appears to have been almost worth while," Sir Charles added, "from what I
gather--and, confound it, Grig, we'd have done the same in our day."
But Captain Grigsby only repeated: "D--d kittle cattle!"
And so they weighed anchor, and sailed along the Italian shores of the
These were better days for Paul. Each hour brought him back some health and
vigour. Youth and strength were asserting their own again, and the absence
of familiar objects, and the glory of the air and the blue sea helped
sometimes to deaden the poignant agony of his aching heart. But there it
was underneath, an ever-present, dull anguish. And only when he became
sufficiently strong to help the sailors with the ropes, and exert physical
force, did he get one moment's respite. The two elder men watched him with
kind, furtive eyes, but they never questioned him, or made the slightest
allusion to his travels.
And the first day they heard him laugh Sir Charles looked down at the white
foam because a mist was in his eyes.
They had coasted round Italy and Sicily, and not among the Ionian Isles, as
had been Captain Grigsby's intention.
"I fancy the lady came from some of those Balkan countries," Sir Charles
had said. "Don't let us get in touch with even the outside of one of them."
And Mark Grigsby had grunted an assent.
"The boy is a fine fellow," he said one morning as they looked at Paul
hauling ropes. "He'll probably never get quite over this, but he is
fighting like a man, Charles--tell me as much as you feel inclined to of
So Sir Charles began in his short, broken sentences:
"Parson's girl to start with--sympathy over a broken collar-bone. The wife
behaved unwisely about it, so the boy thought he was in love. We sent him
to travel to get rid of that idea. It appears he met this lady in
Lucerne--seems to have been an exceptional person--a Russian, Tompson
says--a Queen or Princess _incog.,_ the fellow tells me--but I can't spot
her as yet. Hubert will know who she was, though--but it does not
matter--the woman herself was the thing. Gather she was quite a remarkable
woman--ten years older than Paul."
"Always the case," growled Captain Grigsby.
Sir Charles puffed at his pipe--and then: "They were only together three
weeks," he said. "And during that time she managed to cram more knowledge
of everything into the boy's head than you and I have got in a
lifetime. Give you my word, Grig, when he was off his chump in the fever,
he raved like a poet, and an orator, and he was only an ordinary sportsman
when he left home in the spring! Cleopatra, he called her one day, and I
fancy that was the keynote--she must have been one of those exceptional
women we read of in the sixth form."
"And fortunately never met!" said Captain Grigsby.
"I don't know," mused Sir Charles. "It might have been good to live as
wildly even at the price. We've both been about the world, Grig, since the
days we fastened on our cuirasses together for the first time, and each
thought himself the devil of a fine fellow--but I rather doubt if we now
know as much of what is really worth having as my boy there--just
twenty-three years old."
"Nonsense!" snapped Captain Grigsby--but there was a tone of regret in his
"Lucky to have got off without a knife or a bullet through him--dangerous
nations to grapple with," he said.
"Yes--I gather some pretty heavy menace was over their heads, and that is
what made the lady decamp, so we've much to be thankful for," agreed Sir
"Had she any children?" the other asked.
"Tompson says no. Rotten fellow the husband, it appears, and no heir to the
throne, or principality, or whatever it is--so when I have had a talk with
Hubert--Henrietta's brother, you know--the one in the Diplomatic Service,
it will be easy to locate her--gathered Paul doesn't know himself."
"Pretty romance, anyway. And what will you do with the boy now, Charles?"
Paul's father puffed quite a long while at his meerschaum before he
answered, and then his voice was gruffer than ever with tenderness
"Give him his head, Grig," he said. "He's true blue underneath, and he'll
come up to the collar in time, old friend--only I shall have to keep his
mother's love from harrying him. Best and greatest lady in the world, my
wife, but she's rather apt to jog the bridle now and then."
At this moment Paul joined them. His paleness showed less than usual
beneath the sunburn, and his eyes seemed almost bright. A wave of thankful
gladness filled his father's heart.
"Thank God," he said, below his breath. "Thank God."
The weather had been perfection, hardly a drop of rain, and just the
gentlest breezes to waft them slowly along. A suitable soothing idle life
for one who had but lately been near death. And each day Paul's strength
returned, until his father began to hope they might still be home for his
birthday the last day of July. They had crept up the coast of Italy now,
when an absolute calm fell upon them, and just opposite the temple of
Paestum they decided to anchor for the night.
For the last evenings, as the moon had grown larger, Paul had been
strangely restless. It seemed as if he preferred to tire himself out with
unnecessary rope-pulling, and then retire to his berth the moment that
dinner was over, rather than go on deck. His face, too, which had been
controlled as a mask until now, wore a look of haunting anguish which was
grievous to see. He ate his dinner--or rather, pretended to play with the
food--in absolute silence.
Uneasiness overcame Sir Charles, and he glanced at his old friend. But
Paul, after lighting a cigar, and letting it out once or twice, rose, and
murmuring something about the heat, went up on deck.
It was the night of the full moon--eight weeks exactly since the joy of
life had finished for him.
He felt he could not bear even the two kindly gentlemen whose unspoken
sympathy he knew was his. He could not bear anything human. To-night, at
least, he must be alone with his grief.
All nature was in a mood divine. They were close enough inshore to see the
splendid temples clearly with the naked eye. The sky and the sea were of
the colour only the Mediterranean knows.
It was hot and still, and the moon in her pure magnificence cast her
Not a sound of the faintest ripple met his ear. The sailors supped
below. All was silence. On one side the vast sea, on the other the shore,
with this masterpiece of man's genius, the temple of the great god
Poseidon, in this vanished settlement of the old Greeks. How marvellously
beautiful it all was, and how his Queen would have loved it! How she would
have told him its history and woven round it the spirit of the past, until
his living eyes could almost have seen the priests and the people, and
heard their worshipping prayers!
His darling had spoken of it once, he remembered, and had told him it was a
place they must see. He recollected her very words:
"We must look at it first in the winter from the shore, my Paul, and see
those splendid proportions outlined against the sky--so noble and so
perfectly balanced--and then we must see it from the sea, with the
background of the olive hills. It is ever silent and deserted and calm, and
death lurks there after the month of March. A cruel malaria, which we must
not face, dear love. But if we could, we ought to see it from a yacht in
safety in the summer time, and then the spell would fall upon us, and we
would know it was true that rose-trees really grew there which gave the
world their blossoms twice a year. That was the legend of the Greeks."
Well, he was seeing it from a yacht, but ah, God! seeing it
alone--alone. And where was she?
So intense and vivid was his remembrance of her that he could feel her
presence near. If he turned his head, he felt he should see her standing
beside him, her strange eyes full of love. The very perfume of her seemed
to fill the air--her golden voice to whisper in his ear--her soul to
mingle with his soul. Ah yes, in spirit, as she had said, they could never
be parted more.
A suppressed moan of anguish escaped his lips, and his father, who had come
silently behind him, put his hand on his arm.
"My poor boy," he said, his gruff voice hoarse in his throat, "if only to
God I could do something for you!"
"Oh, father!" said Paul.
And the two men looked in each other's eyes, and knew each other as never
Next day there was a fresh breeze, and they scudded before it on to Naples.
Here Paul seemed well enough to take train, and so arrive in England in
time for his birthday. He owed this to his mother, he and his father both
felt. She had been looking forward to it for so long, as at the time of his
coming of age the festivities had been interrupted by the sudden death of
his maternal grandfather, and the people had all been promised a
continuance of them on this, his twenty-third birthday. So, taking the
journey by sufficiently easy stages, sleeping three nights on the way, they
calculated to arrive on the eve of the event.
The Lady Henrietta would have everything in readiness for them, and her
darling Paul was not to be over-hurried. Only guests of the most congenial
kind had been invited, and such a number of nice girls!
The prospect was perfectly delightful, and ought to cause any young man
It was with a heart as heavy as lead Paul mounted the broad steps of his
ancestral home that summer evening, and was folded in his mother's
arms. (The guests were all fortunately dressing for dinner.)
Captain Grigsby had been persuaded to abandon his yacht and accompany them
"Yes, I'll come, Charles," he said. "Getting too confoundedly hot in these
seas; besides, the boy will want more than one to see him through among
those cackling women."
So the three had travelled together through Italy and France--Switzerland
had been strictly avoided.
"Paul! darling!" his mother exclaimed, in a voice of pained surprise as she
stood back and looked at him. "But surely you have been very ill. My
darling, darling son--"
"I told you he had had a sharp attack of fever, Henrietta," interrupted Sir
Charles quickly, "and no one looks their best after travelling in this
grilling weather. Let the boy get to his bath, and you will see a different
But his mother's loving eyes were not to be deceived. So with infinite
fuss, and terms of endearment, she insisted upon accompanying her offspring
to his room, where the dignified housekeeper was summoned, and his every
imaginable and unimaginable want arranged to be supplied.
Once all this would have irritated Paul to the verge of bearish rudeness,
but now he only kissed his mother's white jewelled hand. He remembered his
lady's tender counsel to him, given in one of their many talks: "You must
always reverence your mother, Paul, and accept her worship with love." So
now he said:
"Dear mother, it is so good of you, but I'm all right--fever does knock one
over a bit, you know. You'll see, though, being at home again will make me
perfectly well in no time--and I'll be as good as you like, and eat and
drink all Mrs. Elwyn's beef-teas and jellies, and other beastly stuff, if
you will just let me dress now, like a darling."
However, his mother was obliged to examine and assure herself that his
beautiful hair was still thick and waving--and she had to pause and sigh
over every sharpened line of his face and figure--though the thought of
being permitted to lavish continuous care for long days to come held a
certain consolation for her.
At last Paul was left alone, and there came a moment he had been longing
for. He had sent written orders that Tremlett should bring Pike, and leave
him in his dressing-room beyond--and all the while his mother had talked he
had heard suppressed whines and scratchings. Somehow he had not wanted to
see his dog before any of the people; the greeting between himself and his
little friend must be in solitude, for was there not a secret link between
them in that golden collar given by his Queen?
And Pike would understand--he certainly would understand!
If short, passionate barks, and a madness of wagging tail-stump,
accompanied by jumps of crazy joy, could comfort any one--then Paul had his
full measure when the door was opened, and this rough white terrier bounded
in upon him, and, frantic with welcome and ecstasy, was with difficulty
quieted at last in his master's fond arms.
"Oh! Pike, Pike!" Paul said, while tears of weakness flowed down his
cheeks. "I can talk to you--and when you wear her collar you will know my
And Pike said everything of sympathy a dog could say. But it was not until
late at night, when the interminable evening had been got through, that his
master had the pleasure of trying his darling's present on.
That first evening of his homecoming was an ordeal for Paul. He was still
feeble, and dead tired from travelling, to begin with--and to have to
listen and reply to the endless banalities of his mother's guests was
almost more than he could bear.
They were a nice cheery company of mostly young friends. Pretty girls and
his own boon companions abounded, and they chaffed and played silly games
after dinner--until Paul could have groaned.
Captain Grigsby had eventually caught Sir Charles' eye:
"You will have the boy fainting if you don't get him off alone soon," he
said. "These girls would tire a man in strong health!"
And at last Paul had escaped to his own room.
He leant out of his window, and looked at the gibbous moon. Pike was there
on the broad sill beside him, under his arm, and he could feel the golden
collar on the soft fur neck--a wave of perhaps the most hopeless anguish he
had yet felt was upon his spirit now. The unutterable blankness--the
impossible vista of the endless days to come, with no prospect of
meeting--no aim--no hope. Yes, she had said there was one hope--one hope
which could bring peace to their crud unrest. But how and when should he
ever know? And if it were so--then more than ever he should be by her
side. The number of beautiful things he would want to say to her about it
all--the oceans of love he would desire to pour upon her--the tender care
which should be his hourly joy. To honour and worship her, and chase all
pain away. And he did not even know her name, or the country where one day
this hope should reign. That was incredible--and it would be so easy to
find out. But he had promised her never to make inquiries, and he would
keep his word. He saw her reason now; it had arisen in an instinct of
tender protection for himself. She had known if he knew her place of abode
no fear of death would keep him from trying to see her. Ah! he had had the
tears--and why not the cold steel and blood? It was no price to pay could
he but hear once more her golden voice, and feel her loving, twining arms.
He was only held back by the fear of the danger for her. And instead of
being with her, and waiting on her footsteps, he should have to spend his
next hours with those ridiculous Englishwomen! Those foolish, flippant
girls! One had quoted poetry to him at dinner, the very scrap his lady had
spoken a line of--this new poet's, who was taking the world of London by
storm that year: "Loved with a love beyond all words or sense!" And it had
sounded like bathos or sacrilege. What did these dolls know of love, or
life? Chattering parrots to weary a man's brain! Yes, the Greeks were
right, it would be better to keep them spinning flax, and uneducated.
And so in his young intolerance, maddened by pain, he saw all things
gibbous like the mocking moon. Pike stirred under his arm and licked his
hand, a faint whine of love making itself heard in the night.
"O God!" said Paul, as he buried his face in his hands, "let me get through
this time as she would have me do; let me not show the anguish in my heart,
but be at least a man and gentleman."
The neighbours and his parents were astonished at the eloquence of Paul's
speech at the great dinner given to the tenants next day. No one had
guessed at his powers before, and the county papers, and indeed some London
reporters, had predicted a splendid political future for this young
orator. It had been quite a long speech, and contained sound arguments and
common sense, and was expressed in language so lofty and refined that it
sent ecstatic admiration through his mother's fond breast.
And all the time Paul spoke he saw no sea of faces below him--only his
soul's eyes were looking into those strange chameleon orbs of his lady. He
said every word as if she had been there, and at the end it almost seemed
she must have heard him, so soft a peace fell on his spirit. Yes, she would
have been pleased with her lover, he knew, and that held large grains of
consolation. And so these days passed in well-accomplished duty; and at
last all the festivities were over, and he could rest.
Captain Grigsby and his father had helped him whenever they could, and an
eternal bond of friendship was cemented between the three.
"By Jove, Charles! You ought to be thundering proud of that boy!" Captain
Grigsby said the morning of his departure for Scotland on August 10. "He's
come up to the scratch like a hero, and whatever the damage, the lady must
have been well worth while to turn him out polished like that. Gad!
Charles, I'd take a month's journey to see her myself."
And Paul's father grunted with satisfaction as he said: "I told you so."
Thus the summer days went by in the strengthening of Paul's character--
trying always to live up to an ideal--trying ever to dominate his grief--
but never trying to forget.
By the autumn shooting time his health was quite restored, and except that
he looked a year or so older there were no outward traces of the passing
through that valley of the shadow, from whence he had escaped with just his
But the three weeks of his lady's influence had changed the inner man
beyond all recognition. His spirit was stamped with her nameless
distinction, and all the vistas she had opened for him to the tree of
knowledge he now followed up. No smallest incident of his day seemed
unconnected with some thought or wish of hers--so that in truth she still
guided and moulded him by the power of her great soul.
But in spite of all these things, the weeks and months held hours of aching
longing and increasing anxiety to know how she fared. If she should be
ill. If their hope was coming true, then now she must be suffering, and
suffering all alone. Sometimes the agony of the thought was more than Paul
could bear, and took him off with Pike alone into the leafless woods which
crowned a hill at the top of the park. And then he would pause, and look
out at the view, and the dull November sky, a madness of agonising unrest
torturing his heart.
The one thing he felt glad of was the absence of his Uncle Hubert, who had
been made Minister in a South American Republic, and would not return to
England for more than a year. So there would be no temptation to question
him, or perchance to hear one of his clever, evil jests which might contain
some allusion to his lady. Lord Hubert Aldringham was fond of boasting of
his royal acquaintances, and was of a mind that found "not even Lancelot
brave, nor Galahad clean." Now all Paul could do was to wait and hope. At
least his Queen had his address. She could write to him, even though he
could not write to her--and surely, surely, some news of her must come.
Thus the winter arrived, and the hunting--hunting that he had been sure was
what he liked best in all the world.
And now it just served to pass the time and distract some hours from the
anguishing ache by its physical pleasure. But in that, as in everything he
did at this time, Paul tried to outshine his fellows, and gain one more
laurel to lay at the feet of his Queen. Socially he was having an immense
success. He began to be known as some one worth listening to by men, and
women hung on his words. It was peculiarly delightful to find so young and
beautiful a creature with all the knowledge and fascinating _cachet_ of a
man of the world. And then his complete indifference to them piqued and
allured them still more. Always polite and chivalrous, but as aloof as a
mountain top. Paul had no small vanity to be soothed by their worship into
forgetting for one moment his Queen. So his shooting-visits passed, and his
experience of life grew.
Isabella had returned at Christmas, engaged to a High Church curate, and
beaming with satisfaction and health. And it gave Paul, and indeed them
both, pleasure to meet and talk for an hour. She was a good sort always,
and if he marvelled to himself how he had even been even mildly attracted
by her, he did not let it appear in his manner.
But one thing jarred.
"My goodness, Paul, how smart Pike's collar is!" Isabella had said. "Did
you ever! You extravagant boy! It is good enough for a lady's bracelet. You
had better give it to me! It will make the finest wedding gift I'll have!"
But Paul had snatched Pike up, the blood burning in his cheeks, and had
laughed awkwardly and turned the conversation.
No one's fingers but his own were ever allowed to touch the sacred gold.
About this time his mother began to have the idea he ought really to
marry. His father had been thirty at the time of his wedding with herself,
and she had always thought that was starting too late. Twenty-three was a
good age, and a sweet, gentle wife of Paul's would be the joy of her
declining years--to say nothing of several grandchildren. But when this
matter was broached to him first, Paul laughed, and when it became a daily
subject of conversation, he almost lost that quick temper of his, which was
not quite yet under perfect control.
"I tell you what it is, mother," he said, "if you tease me like this I
shall go away on a voyage round the world!"
So the Lady Henrietta subsided into pained silence, and sulked with her
adored son for more than a day.
"Paul is so unaccountably changed since his visit abroad," she said to her
husband plaintively. "I sometimes wonder, Charles, if we really know all
the people he met."
And Sir Charles had replied, "Nonsense! Henrietta--the lad is a man now,
and immensely improved; do leave him in peace."
But when he was alone the father had smiled to himself--rather sadly--for
he saw a good deal with his shrewd eyes, though he said no words of
sympathy to his son. He knew that Paul was suffering still, perhaps as
keenly as ever, and he honoured his determination to keep it all from view.
So the old year died, and the new one came--and soon February would be
here. Ah! with what passionate anxiety the end of that month was awaited by
Paul, only his own heart knew.
The days passed on, March had almost come, and Paul heard nothing. His
father noticed the daily look of strain, and his mother anxiously inquired
if he were dull, and if he would not like her to have some people to stay,
and thus divert him in some fashion. And Paul had answered with what grace
An intense temptation came over him to read all the Court news. He longed
to pick up the ladies' papers he saw in his mother's sitting-room; such
journals, he knew, delighted to publish the doings of royal lives. But the
stern self-control which now he practised in all the ruling of his life
prevented him. No, he had promised never to investigate--and neither in the
letter, nor the spirit, would he break his word, whatever the
suffering. The news, when it came, must be from his beloved one direct.
But oh! the unrest of these hours. Had their hope come true?--and how was
she? The days passed in a gnawing anxiety. He was so restless he could
hardly fix his attention on anything. It required the whole of his will to
keep him taking in the sense of the Parliamentary books which were now his
study. The constant query would raise its head between each page--"What
news of my Queen?--what news of my Queen?"
Each mail as it came in made his heart beat, and often his hand trembled as
he lifted his pile of letters. But no sight of her writing gladdened his
eyes, until he began to be like the sea and its tides, rising twice a day
in a rushing hope with the posts, and sinking again in disappointment.
He grew to look haggard, and his father's heart ached for him in
silence. At length one morning, when he had almost trained himself not to
glance at his correspondence, which came as he was dawdling over an early
breakfast, his eye caught a foreign-looking letter lying on the top. It
was no hand he knew--but something told him it contained a message--from
He dominated himself; he would not even look at the postmark until he was
away up in his own room. No eye but Pike's must see his joy--or sorrow and
disappointment. And so the letter burnt in his pocket until his sanctum was
reached, and then with agonised impatience he opened the envelope.
Within was another of the familiar paper he knew, and ah! thank God,
addressed in pencil in his lady's own hand. Inside it contained an
enclosure, but the sheet was blank. With wildly beating heart and trembling
fingers Paul undid the smaller packet's folded ends. And there the morning
sunbeams fell on a tiny curl of hair, of that peculiar nondescript shade of
infant fairness which later would turn to gold. It was less than an inch
long, and of the fineness of down, while in tender care it had been tied
with a thread of blue silk.
Written on the paper underneath were the words:
"Beloved, he is so strong and fair, thy son, born the 19th of February."
For a moment Paul closed his eyes, and as once before a choir of seraphims
were singing in his ears.
Then he looked at this minute lock again, and touched it with his
forefinger. The strangest emotion he had ever known quivered through his
being--the concentrated sensation of what he used to feel when his lady had
spoken of their hope--a weird, tremulous, physical thrill. The dear small
curl of hair! The actual, tangible proof of his own living son. He lifted
it with the greatest reverence to his lips, and a mist of joy swam in his
blue eyes. Ah! it was all too wonderful--too divine the thought! The
essence of their great love--this child of his and hers. His and hers!
Yes, their hope had not deceived them. It was true! It was true!
Then his mind rose in passionate worship of his lady. His goddess and
Queen--the mainspring of his watch of life--the supreme and absolute
mistress of his heart and soul. Never had he more madly desired and loved
her than this day. He kissed and kissed her words in deep devotion.
But how and where was she?--was she well?--was she ill? Had she been
suffering? Oh! that he could fly to her. More than ever the terrible gall
of their separation came to him. It was his right, by every law of nature,
to now be by her side.
But she was well--she must be well, or she would have said, and surely he
soon would see her.
It was like a voice from heaven, her little written words, bridging the
impossible--drawing him back to the knowledge and certainty that she was
there, for him to love, and one day to go to. Fate could never be so unjust
as to part him from--the mother of his child.
And then a state of mad ecstasy came over Paul with that vision; he could
not stay in the house; he must go out under God's sky, and let his
soul-thoughts fly into space. Dazzling pictures came to him; surely the
spring was in his heart breaking through the frozen ground like a single
golden crocus he saw at his feet--surely, surely the sun of life would
shine again, and living he should see her.
He strode away, Pike gambolling beside him, and racing ahead and back
again, seeming to understand and participate in his master's inward joy.
Paul hardly noticed where he went, his thoughts exalting him so that he did
not even heed to choose his favourite haunt, the wood against the
sky-line. It was as if great blocks of icy fear and anguish were melting in
the warmth. Hope and glory shone on his path, almost blinding him.
He left the park far behind, and struck away across the moor. As he passed
some gipsy vans a swarthy young woman looked out, an infant in her arms,
and gave him a smiling greeting. But Paul stopped and said good-day,
tossing her a sovereign with laughing, cheery words--for her little
child--and so passed on, his glad face radiant as the morn.
But the woman called after him in gratitude:
"Blessings on your honour. Your own will grace a throne."
And the strange coincidence of her prophecy set fresh thrills of delight
bounding in Paul's veins.
He walked and walked, stopping to lunch at an inn miles away. He could not
bear even to see his parents--or the familiar scenes at home; and as once
before he had felt in his grief--he and his joy must be alone to-day.
When he turned to come back in the late afternoon, the torrent of his wild
happiness had crystallised itself into coherent thought and question.
Surely she would send him some more words and make some plan to see
him. But at least he was in touch with her again and knew she was his
own--his own. The silence had broken, and human ingenuity would find some
way of meeting.
The postmark was Vienna--though that meant nothing at all; she could have
sent Dmitry there to post the letter. But at best, even if it were Russia,
a few days' journey only separated him from his darling and--his son! Then
the realisation of that proud fact of parenthood came over him again. He
said the words aloud, "My son!"
And with a cry of wild exaltation he vaulted a gate like a schoolboy and
ran along the path, Pike bounding in the air in frantic sympathy. Thus Paul
returned to his home again, hope singing in his heart.
* * * * *
But even his father did not guess why that night at dinner he raised his
champagne glass and drank a silent toast--his eyes gazing into distance as
if he there saw heaven.
Of course as the days went by the sparkle of Paul's joy subsided. An
infinite unrest took its place--a continual mad desire for further
news. Supposing she were ill, his darling one? Many times a day he read her
words; the pencil writing was certainly feeble and shaky--supposing--But he
refused to face any terrible picture. The letter had come on the 2d of
March; his son had been eleven days old then--two days and a half to
Vienna--that brought it to eight when the letter was posted--and from
whence had it come there? If he allowed two days more, say--she must have
written it only five or six days after the baby's birth.
Paul knew very little about such things, though he understood vaguely that
a woman might possibly be very ill even after then. But surely, if so, Anna
or Dmitry would have told him on their own initiative. This thought
comforted him a little, but still anxiety--like a sleuth-hound--pursued his
every moment. He would not leave home--London saw him not even for a day.
Some word might come in his absence, some message or summons to go to her,
and he would not chance being out of its reach. More than ever all their
three weeks of happiness was lived over again--every word she had said had
sunk for ever in his memory. And away in his solitary walks, or his rides
home from hunting in the dusk of the afternoon, he let them echo in his
But the desire to be near her was growing an obsession.
Some days when a wild gallop had made his blood run, triumphant thoughts
of his son would come to him. How he should love to teach him to sit a
horse in days to come, to ride to hounds, and shoot, and be an English
gentleman. Oh! why was she a Queen, his loved one, and far away--why not
here, and his wife, whom he could cover with devotion and honour? Surely
that would be enough for them both--a life of trust and love and sweetness;
but even if it were not--there was the world to choose from, if only they
The two--Paul and his father--were a silent pair for the most part, as they
jogged along the lanes on their way back from hunting.
One afternoon, when this sense of parenthood was strong upon Paul, he went
in to tea in his mother's sitting-room. And as he leant upon the
mantelpiece, his tall, splendid figure in its scarlet coat outlined against
the bright blaze, his eye took in--perhaps for the first time--the immense
number of portraits of himself which decorated this apartment--himself in
every stage, from infantile days upward, through the toy rocking-horse
period to the real dog companion--in Eton collars and Fourth of June
hats--in cricketing flannels and Oxford Bullingdon groups--and then not so
many, until one taken last year. How young it looked and smiling! There
was one particular miniature of him in the holy of holiest positions in the
centre of the writing-table--a real work of art, well painted on ivory. It
was mounted in a frame of fine pearls, and engraved with the name and date
at the back:
"Paul Verdayne--aged five years and three months."
It was a full-length picture of him standing next a great chair, in a blue
velvet suit and a lace turn-over collar, while curls of brightest gold fell
rippling to his neck--rather short bunchy curls which evidently would not
"Was I ever like that, mother?" he said.
And the Lady Henrietta, only too enchanted to expand upon this enthralling
subject, launched forth on a full description.
Like it! Of course! Only much more beautiful. No child had ever had such
golden curls, or such eyes or eye-lashes! No child had ever, in fact, been
able to compare with him in any way, or ever would! The Lady Henrietta's
delicate shell-tinted cheeks flushed rose with joy at the recollection.
"Darling mother," said Paul, as he kissed her, "how you loved me. And how
cold I have often been. Forgive me--"
Then he was silent while she fondled him in peace, his thoughts turning as
ever to his lady. She, too, probably, would be foolish, and tender, and
sweet over her son--and how his mother would love her grandchild. Oh! how
cruel, how cruel was fate!
Then he asked: "Mother, does it take women a long time to get well when
they have children? Ladies, I mean, who are finely nurtured? They
generally get well, though, don't they--and it is quite simple--"
And the Lady Henrietta blushed as she answered:
"Oh! yes, quite simple--unless some complications occur. Of course there is
always a faint danger, but then it is so well worth it. What a strange
thing to ask, though, dear boy! Were you thinking of Cousin Agatha?"
"Cousin Agatha!" said Paul vaguely, and then recollected himself. "Oh, yes,
of course--how is she?"
But when he went off to his room to change, his mother's words stayed with
him--"unless some complications occur"--and the thought opened a fresh
field of anxious wonderment.
At last it all seemed unbearable. A wild idea of rushing off to Vienna came
to him--to rush there on the clue of a postmark--but common sense put this
aside. It might be the means of just missing some message. No, he must bear
things and wait. This silence, perhaps, meant good news--and if by the end
of April nothing came, then he should have to break his promise and
About this time Captain Grigsby again came to stay with them. And the next
day, as he and his host smoked their pipes while they walked up and down
the sunny terrace, he took occasion to give forth this information:
"I say, Charles--I have located her--have you?"
"No! By Jove!" said Paul's father. "Hubert is away, you know, and I have
just let the thing slide--"
"About the end of February did you notice the boy looking at all worried?"
Sir Charles thought a moment.
"Yes--I recollect--d--d worried and restless--and he is again now."
"Ah! I thought so!" said Mark Grigsby, as though he could say a good deal
"Well, then--out with it, Grig," Sir Charles said impatiently.
And Captain Grigsby proceeded in his own style to weave together a chain of
coincidences which had struck him, until this final certainty. They were a
clear set of arguments, and Paul's father was convinced, too.
"You see, Tompson told you in the beginning she was Russian," Captain
Grigsby said after talking for some time, "and the rest was easy to find
out. We're not here to judge the morals of the affair, Charles; you and I
can only be thundering glad your grandson will sit on that throne all
He had read in one paper--he proceeded to say--that a most difficult
political situation had been avoided by the birth of this child, as there
was no possible heir at all, and immense complications would ensue upon the
death of the present ruler--the scurrilous rag even gave a _resume_ of this
ruler's dissolute life, and a broad hint that the child could in no case be
his; but, as they pithily remarked, this added to the little prince's
welcome in Ministerial circles, where the lady was greatly beloved and
revered, and the King had only been put upon his tottering throne, and kept
there, by the fact of being her husband. The paper added, the King had
taken the chief part in the rejoicings over the heir, so there was nothing
to be said. There were hints also of his mad fits of debauchery and
drunkenness, and a suppressed tale of how in one of them he had strangled a
keeper, and had often threatened the Queen's life. Her brother, however,
was with her now, and would see Russian supremacy was not upset.
"Husband seems a likely character to hobnob with, don't he, Charles? No
wonder she turned her eye on Paul, eh?" Mark Grigsby ended with.
But Sir Charles answered not, his thoughts were full of his son.
All the forces of nature and emotion seemed to be drawing him away from
peaceful England towards a hornets' nest, and he--his father--would be
powerless to prevent it.
April's days were lengthening out in showers and sunshine and cold east
wind. Easter and a huge party had come and gone at Verdayne Place, and the
Lady Henrietta had had her hopes once more blighted by noticing Paul's
indomitable indifference to all the pretty girls.
He was going to stand for Parliament in the autumn, when their very old
member should retire, and he made that an excuse for his isolation; he was
working too hard for social functions, he said. But in reality life was
growing more than he could bear.
Captain Grigsby had sold the old _Blue Heather_ and bought a new steam
yacht of seven hundred tons--large enough to take him round the world, he
said--and he had had her put in commission for the Mediterranean, and she
was waiting for him now at Marseilles. Would Paul join him for a trip? he
asked, and Paul hesitated for a moment.
If no news came by Friday--this was a Monday--then he should go to London
and deliberately find out his lady's name and kingdom. In that case to
cruise in those waters might suit his book passing well.
So he asked for a few days' grace, and Captain Grigsby gave a friendly
growl in reply, and thus it was settled. By Saturday he was to give his
Tuesday passed, and Wednesday, and on Thursday a telegram came for Paul
which drove him mad with joy. It was short and to the point: "Meet Dmitry
in Paris," Then followed an address. By rushing things he could just catch
the night boat.
He went to his father's room, where Sir Charles was discussing affairs with
his land steward. The man retired.
"Father," said Paul, "I am going immediately to Paris. I have not even time
to wait and see my mother--she is out driving, I hear. Will you understand,
father, and make it all right with her?"
And Sir Charles said, as he wrung his son's hand:
"Take care of yourself, Paul--I understand, my boy--and remember, Grig and
I are with you to the bone. Wire if you want us--and let me have your
So they had parted without fuss, deep feeling in their hearts.
Paul had telegraphed to the address given, for Dmitry, that he would be in
Paris, and at what hotel, by the following morning. He chose a large
caravanserai as being more suitable to unremarked comings and goings,
should Dmitry's visit be anything of a secret one. And with intense
impatience he awaited the faithful servant's visit.
He was eating his early breakfast in his sitting-room when the old man
appeared. In all the journey Paul had not allowed himself any
speculation--he would see and know soon, that was enough. But he felt
inclined to grind this silver-haired retainer's hand with joy as he made
his respectful obeisance.
"The Excellency was well?"
"Yes." And now for his news.
Madame had bid him come and see the Excellency here in Paris, as not being
so inaccessible as England--and first, Yes, Madame was well--There was
something in his voice as he said this which made Paul exclaim and question
him closely, but he would only repeat that--Yes, his lady was well--a
little delicate still, but well--and the never-sufficiently-to-be-beloved
son was well, too, his lady had told him to assure the Excellency--and was
the portrait of his most illustrious father. And the old man lowered his
eyes, while Paul looked out of the window, and thrilled all
over. Circumstances made things very difficult for Madame to leave the
southern country where she was at present, but she had a very strong desire
to see the Excellency again--if such meeting could be managed.
He paused, and Paul exclaimed that of course it could be managed, and he
could start that night.
But Dmitry shook his head. That would be impossible, he said. Much planning
would be needed first. A yacht must be taken, and not until the end of May
would it be safe for the Excellency to journey south. At that time Madame
would be in a chateau on the seacoast, and if the Excellency in his cruise
could be within sight, he might possibly land at a suitable moment and see
her for a few hours.
Paul thought of Captain Grigsby.
"I will come in a yacht, whenever I may," he said to Dmitry.
So they began to settle details. Paul imagined from Dmitry continuing to
call his Queen plain "Madame" that she still wished to preserve her
incognito, so, madly as he desired to know, he would wait until he saw her
face to face, and then ask to be released from his promise. The time had
come when he could bear the mystery no longer, but he would not question
Dmitry. All his force was turned to extracting every detail of his
darling's health and well-being from the old servant, and in his guarded,
respectful manner he answered all he could.
His lady had indeed been very ill, Paul gathered--at death's door. Ah!
this was terrible to hear--but lately she was mending rapidly, only she had
been too ill to plan or make any arrangements to see him. How all this made
his heart ache! Something had told him his passionate anxiety had not been
without cause. Dmitry continued: Madame's life was not a happy one, the
Excellency must know, and the difficulties surrounding her had become
formidable once or twice. However, the brother of Madame was with her now,
and had been made guardian of her son--so things were peaceful and the
cause of all her trouble would not dare to menace further.
For once Dmitry had let himself go, as he spoke, and a passionate hate
appeared in his quiet eyes. The "Trouble" was of so impossible a
viciousness that only the nobility and goodness of Madame had prevented his
assassination numbers of times. He was hated, he said, hated and loathed;
his life--spent in continual drunkenness, and worse, unspeakable
wickedness--was not worth a day's purchase, but for her. The son of Madame
would be loved forever, for her sake, so the Excellency need not fear for
that, and Madame's brother was there, and would see all was well.
Then Paul asked Dmitry if his lady had been aware that he had been ill in
Venice. And he heard that, Yes, indeed, she had kept herself informed of
all his movements, and had even sent Vasili back on learning of his danger,
and was on the point of throwing all prudence to the winds and returning
herself. Oh! Madame had greatly suffered in the past year--the old man
said, but she was more beautiful than ever, and of the gentleness of an
angel, taking continuous pleasure in her little son--indeed, Anna had said
this was her only joy, to caress the illustrious infant and call him
Paul--such name he had been christened--after a great-uncle. And again
Dmitry lowered his eyes, and again Paul looked out of the window and
Paul! She had called him Paul, their son. It touched him to the heart. Oh!
the mad longing to see her! Must he wait a whole month? Yes--Dmitry said
there was no use his coming before the 28th of May, for reasons which he
could not explain connected with the to-be-hated Troublesome one.
Every detail was then arranged, and Dmitry was to send Paul maps, and a
chart, and the exact description and name of the place where the yacht was
to lie. The whole thing would take some time, even if they were to depart
"The yacht is at Marseilles now," Paul said, "and we shall start on the
cruise next week. Let me have every last instruction _poste restante_, at
Constantinople--and for God's sake send me news to Naples on the way."
Dmitry promised everything, and then as he made his obeisance to go, he
slipped a letter into Paul's hand. Madame had bidden him give the
Excellency this when they had talked and all was settled. He would leave
again that night, and his present address would find him till six o'clock
if the Excellency had aught to send in return.
And then he backed out with deep bows, and Paul stood there, clasping his
letter, a sudden spring of wild joy in his heart.
And what a letter it was! The very soul of his loved one expressed in her
own quaint words.
First she told him that now she expected he knew who she was, and as they
were to meet again--which in the beginning she feared might never be--all
reason for her incognito was over. Then she told him--to make sure he
knew--her name and kingdom. "But, sweetheart," she added, "remember
this--my proudest titles ever are to be thy Loved one, and the Mother of
thy son." Here Paul kissed the words, madly thrilling with pride and
worship. She spoke of her still undying love, and of her anguishing sorrow
all the winter at their separation, and at length the joy of their little
"Thy image, my Paul! English and beautiful, as I said he would be--not
black and white like me. And oh! beloved, thou must always increase thy
knowledge of statesmancraft to help me to train him well."
Then she made a glorious picture of their child's future, and Paul lay back
in his chair and closed his eyes--the brightness of it all dazzled
him--while his heart flew to her in passionate adoration. She went on to
speak of their possible meeting. Her villa was but two hundred yards from
the sea, only he must follow exactly all Dmitry's instructions, or there
might be danger for them both; but at all costs she _could not live_ much
longer without seeing her lover.
"Thou art more than a lover _now_, my Paul--and I am more than ever THINE."
Thus it ended. And Paul spent most of the rest of his day reading and
re-reading it, and writing his worshipping answer.
By night both he and Dmitry had started on their homeward journeys.
The Lady Henrietta was desolated when Paul and his father announced their
intention of taking a month or six weeks' cruise with Captain Grigsby. So
unnecessary, she said, at this time of the year, almost the beginning of
May, when England was really getting most enjoyable. And they were obliged
to pacify her as best they could.
The Mediterranean! Such miles off--and so eccentric, too, starting when
other people would be leaving! Really, she had never ceased regretting ever
having tolerated her son's travels the year before. Since then there had
been no certainty in any of his movements.
"Darling mother," said Paul, "I must see the world."
And Sir Charles had snorted and chuckled, as was his habit.
So they sailed away from Marseilles, this party of three, like a gunboat
under sealed orders. A cruise to the Greek Isles, and beyond, was what they
said attracted them. "Especially the beyond!" Captain Grigsby had added,
with a grunt to Sir Charles. And if the ardour of love and impatience
boiled in Paul's veins, the spirit of interested adventure animated his old
friend and his parent.
They had not spoken much on the subject to the young man. He had briefly
asked Mark Grigsby to do him this service to take him to a far sea in the
new _Blue Heather_, and there to land him when he should give the word.
May was a fair month, and an adventure is an adventure all the world over,
so Mark Grigsby had given a joyful assent.
Then Sir Charles had suggested accompanying them, and was welcomed by the
other two as a third for their party with extra pleasure.
"I shall grow a young man again before I have done, Grig!" he had said
happily. But down in his heart lurked some undefined fear for Paul, and
that was the real reason for his journey.
They had a pleasant voyage, and picked up letters at Naples, which only
added to Paul's impatience to be there. But they were not to arrive before
the end of May, so the Grecian Archipelago could be investigated.
Life in these sunny seas was a joy to all concerned, and Paul's
eyes--illuminated by his lady's ever-present spirit--saw beauties and felt
shades and balances of which his companions never dreamed. So they came at
last to the Bosphorus and Constantinople.
Here full instructions awaited them. That night Paul took his father and
his friend some way into his confidence, as he showed them the chart and
read aloud the directions. On the 29th of May, should the weather prove
favourable, they were to anchor towards night at a certain spot--latitude
and longitude given--and when they heard a sea-bird cry sharply three
times, Paul was to come ashore to where he would see a green light. Vasili
would be waiting for him, and from there it was but a few steps to the
garden gate of the villa by the sea, in which his lady was passing the
summer. It all seemed perfectly simple--only, the directions added, he must
leave again before dawn, and the yacht be out of sight before daylight, as
complications had occurred since the letter to Naples, and the To-be-hated
one had not left the capital, so things were not so easy to manage, or
Paul's impatience knew no bounds. The concentrated pent-up longing of all
these months was animating him. To see his lady again! To clasp her! To
kiss her--to kneel to her--and give her homage and worship. And to behold
his little son. Always he carried the minute flaxen curl in a locket, and
often he had looked at it, and tried to picture the wee head from which it
had been cut. But she--his love--would bring his son to him--and perhaps
let him hold him in his arms. Ah! he shut his eyes and imagined the tender
scene. Would she be changed? Should he see the traces of suffering? But he
would caress all memory of pain away, and surely this meeting would only be
the forerunner of others to come. Fate could never intend such deep, true
love as theirs to be apart. An exaltation uplifted him. And if his lady
were a Queen, and wore a crown, he felt himself the greatest king on earth,
for was not he the absolute ruler of her heart? And who could wish for a
more glorious kingdom?
The hours from Constantinople seemed longer than the whole voyage. He could
hardly keep his attention to talk coherently about ordinary things at
meals, and his father and Mark Grigsby left him practically alone.
At last, at last, the 29th of May dawned, boiling hot and cloudlessly fair.
For obvious reasons they stayed beyond sight of the coast until darkness
fell, and then came close inshore. It was a starlit night, with not a
breath of air, and no moon would illuminate their whereabouts.
Paul dressed with the greatest care; never had he been more particular over
his toilet. Tompson found him _exigeant!_
He had broadened and filled out in the past year, and his fair face was
tanned, and blooming with health and excitement.
"The best-looking young devil a woman's eye could light on!" Mark Grigsby
said, as he and Sir Charles watched him descend the gangway to the boat,
when the impatiently awaited signal had been given.
"God keep him safe, Grig," was all Sir Charles could mutter, with a grunt
in his throat.
The maddest excitement was racing through Paul, as he held the tiller-ropes
and made straight for the light. And once he felt in his pocket to assure
himself he had not forgotten Dmitry's pistol, which he had cleaned and
loaded himself that afternoon.
He knew this adventure might be a dangerous one, simple as it looked
superficially, and now he was an expert revolver shot, thanks to constant
The light proved to be in a little sheltered cove, with a small
landing-stage. And--yes--the man who held it was the Kalmuck, Vasili.
"Welcome, welcome to the _Siyatelstvo_," he whispered, as he kissed Paul's
hand. And then in perfect silence they began to ascend a path. Presently
it stopped abruptly. They had come up perhaps not fifty feet, when their
way was barred by a great nail-studded door.
"Hist!" said Vasili softly, and instantly it was opened from within, and
Dmitry peered anxiously at them.
"Ah, the saints be blessed, the Excellency is safe," he said. But they must
not delay a minute, he added. The Excellency must return to the waiting
boat! A slight but unexpected ill-fortune had befallen them, connected with
the to-be-execrated Troublesome one, and it would not be safe for the
Imperial Highness if the Excellency should land tonight. She had sent him
to say that the Excellency was to keep out at sea for two days, and return
steaming past, and if he saw a white flag flying from the villa roof, then
at night he was to anchor and come ashore at this same time. If not, for
the moment he must go on back to Constantinople, where news and further
instructions would be sent him.
As he spoke Dmitry indicated the return path, and bid the Excellency follow
him, and hasten, hasten. This was a terrible blow to Paul, but the thought
that he might bring danger to his beloved one made him not hesitate a
They descended the path in silence, and as he stepped into the boat the old
servant whispered, the Imperial Highness had bid him assure the Excellency
that all was well, the meeting was only deferred, when they should have
several days together in safety. "The saints protect the Excellency," the
faithful creature added. Then, when Paul was safely in the boat, he stood
back to make sharply three times the sea-bird's cry.
The weird minor notes floating out on the night seemed a wailing echo of
the agonised disappointment in Paul's heart--more than once a mad impulse
to go back convulsed his being before he reached the yacht--but it was not
till afterwards that he remembered as a strange circumstance the fact that
with Dmitry's first words at the nail-studded door Vasili had vanished into
The two days out at sea were a raging impatience to Paul, in which he
learnt to understand all the torments of Tantalus. To know and feel her
near, and yet not to be allowed to get to her! It was an impossible
The two grey-headed men's hearts ached for him, and Captain Grigsby
delivered himself of this aphorism:
"Say what you will, Charles, but youth pays the devil of a long price for
its pleasures. Here you and I snored like a couple of porpoises all last
night, while the boy paced the deck and cursed everything."
And Sir Charles had only grunted, for he was feeling very deeply for his
There was a fresh breeze blowing when the time was up and they sighted land
again, and long before any possible shore could be examined, Paul
stood--his strongest glasses in his hand--on the look-out.
At length they came in full view, and alas! there could be no mistake, the
flagstaff upon the villa roof was empty.
To the day of his death Paul will keep a vivid picture of the pure
white-columned house. No semi-Oriental architecture met his view, but a
beautiful marble structure in the graceful Ionic style, seeming a suitable
habitation for his Queen.
It was approached by groves of ilex, from a wall at the edge of the
sea. And now Paul could discern the landing-stage, and the great studded
A sensation of foreboding--a wild, mad anxiety, filled his being. What had
happened? Why might he not land? Then for the first time that fact of
Vasili's vanishment came into his mind. Was there something sinister in
it? Had he scented any danger to his Queen, and gone to see? A whirlwind of
questions and frenzied speculation shook Paul's brain. But there was
nothing to be done now but to cram on all steam and make for
He looked again. The green _jalousies_ were lowered over the windows, all
seemed peaceful, silent and deserted. No living being wandered in the
gardens. It might have been a mausoleum for the dead. And as this thought
came to him Paul almost cried aloud.
Then he dominated himself. How weak and intolerably foolish to imagine evil
where perhaps none was! Why should his thoughts fly to terrible reasons for
the postponement of his joy, when in truth they could as well be of the
simplest? A sudden call to the city--a descent of some undesirable spying
eye--a hundred and one possible things, all much more likely than any ones
He would not permit another moment of wonder. He would regain his calm and
wait like a man for certainty. Thus his face wore an iron mask and his
thoughts an iron band. And presently they came to Constantinople.
But of what followed afterwards it is difficult to write. For fate struck
Paul on that warm June morning, and blasted his life, so that for many days
he only saw red, and lived in hell.
Every one knows the story which at the time convulsed Europe. How a certain
evil-living King, after a wild orgie of mad drunkenness, rode out with two
boon companions to the villa of his Queen, and there, forcing an entrance,
ran a dagger through her heart before her faithful servants could protect
her. And most people were glad, too, that this brute paid the penalty of
his crime by his own death--his worthless life choked out of him by the
Queen's devoted Kalmuck groom.
But only Paul and his father, and Mark Grigsby, know the details, which
were told in Dmitry's heart-broken letter. How that night, the 29th of May,
at the hour the Excellency was expected, he--Dmitry--was waiting in the
garden to meet him and conduct him through the gloom, when, while he stood
there under the stars, the Imperial Highness had called him softly, telling
him to take the message down to the Excellency, which he did. How he had
never dreamed that immediate danger threatened her, or that the King was
there, or he would not have left her for any peril to the Excellency, who
was after all a man and could fight. And How Vasili, being younger and more
quick of wit, had suspected, hearing his message as he gave it to the
Excellency, that all was not well, and had hastened to the house--too late
to save his Queen.
And then the faithful servant took up Anna's tale. How this good girl had
been watching on the side of the villa towards the town, and had heard the
King come battering at the gate. How she had flown to warn her mistress,
but that the _Imperatorskoye_ had sent her back to watch, saying she
herself would call Dmitry to protect them. Of course--as they now
guessed--on purpose that Anna should not hear her message to him--as the
Queen knew full well if he--Dmitry--heard from Anna the King was there, and
she--the Queen--in danger, he would not leave her, even to do her
bidding. Then of how the King had thrust the frightened servants aside, and
strode with threats and oaths into the hall, accompanied by his two vile
men. And how Anna had implored the Queen to hide while there was yet time.
But how that shining one had stood only listening intently for the
sea-bird's cry, and then when she heard it, had turned in triumph to the
entering King, saying to Anna that nothing mattered now the Excellency was
On her face, as she looked at this monster, was no dread of death, or aught
but scorn and fearless pride. How Anna, seeing the dagger, had screamed,
and tried to get between, but had been seized by one of the execrated men,
and there been forced to watch the murder of her worshipped Queen. Ah! that
had been a moment the saints could never efface! The splendid lady had
stood quite still, her head thrown back, while this hound of hell had
lurched towards her--hissing through his evil teeth this dreadful sentence:
"Since thou hast at last obeyed me and found me an heir, making the people
love me, I have no more use for thee. It will be a joy to kill thee!"
And with that he had plunged the dagger in her heart.
Of all that followed the Excellency would know. How Vasili had entered,
scattering the minions like a mad bull, and springing upon the villainous
King, had torn his life out on the marble floor.
Thus ended the letter.
Ah, God! For Paul had come the tears. But for her--cold steel and blood.
And so, as ever, the woman paid the price.
Now some of you who read will think her death was just, because she was not
a moral woman. But others will hold with Paul she was the noblest lady who
ever wore a crown. And in all cases she is beyond our puny reasonings.
But her work in Paul's heart still lives, and will live to the end of his
life. Although for long months after the agony of that June day, nothing
but hate and passion and misery had the ruling of him.
He could not bear his kind. His father and Captain Grigsby had left the
yacht to him and let him cruise alone. But who can know of the hideous,
ghastly hours that Paul spent then, ever obsessed with this one bitter
thought? Why had he not gone back? Why had he not gone back when that
impulse had seized him? Why had Vasili, and not he, had the satisfaction of
killing this vile slayer of his Queen?
Even the remembrance of his child did not rouse him. It was safe with the
Grand Duke Peter--a king at four months old! But what of sons, or kings or
countries--nothing could make up for the loss of his Queen! And to think
that she had died to save him! Save him from what? A brush with three
besotted drunkards, whom it would have been great joy to kill!
There were moments when Paul went mad with passion, and lay and writhed in
his berth. So long months passed, and at last he dominated himself enough
to come back to his home.
And if the Lady Henrietta had exclaimed that he appeared ill before on his
return, she was dumb now with sorrow at the change. For Paul had looked
upon Medusa's head of horror, and, as well as his heart, his face seemed
turned to stone. He was gentle with his mother, and let her caress him as
much as she would, but nothing any one could say could move him--even
Pike's joyous greeting.
The whole of God's world was his enemy--for was he not alone there, robbed
of his mate? Presently the reaction from this violence came, and an
intense apathy set in. A saltless, tasteless existence. What was Parliament
to him? What was his country or his nation? or even his home? Only the
hunting when it came gave him some relief, and then if the run were fast
enough, or the jumps prodigiously high, or his horses sufficiently fresh to
be difficult, his blood ran again for a brief space. But beyond this life
was hell, and often he was tempted to use that little pistol of Dmitry's,
and end it, and sleep. Only the inherent manly English spirit in him, deep
down somewhere, prevented him.
All this time his father grieved and grieved, and the Lady Henrietta spent
hours in tears and prayer. Sir Charles had told her their son had met with
a great sorrow, and they must bow their heads and leave him in peace, so
there were no more gay young parties at Verdayne Place, and gone for ever
were the visions of the grandchildren. Only Mark Grigsby was a constant
visitor, but then--he knew.
Thus a year passed away, and Paul left on a voyage round the world. An
Englishman's stern duty to be a man at all costs was calling him at
last--bidding him in change of scene to try and overcome the paralysing
dominion of his grief. But as far as that went the experiment proved
futile. If moments came when circumstances did divert him, such as one or
two great storms he happened to come across, and one or two exciting
situations--still, when things were fair and peaceful, back would rush the
ever-living ache. That passionate void and loss for which there seems no
Gentle, pleasant women longed to lavish worship upon him, and Paul talked
and was polite, but all their sweetness touched him no more than summer
ripples stir the bottom of a lake. He seemed impervious to any human
influence, though when the look of a mountain or the colour of beech-trees
would remind him of the Buergenstock anguish as fresh as ever stabbed his
heart. Yet all this while, unknown to himself, his faculties were
developing. He read deeply. He had unconsciously grown to apply his
darling's lucid reasoning to every detail of his judgment of life. It was
as if it had before been written in cypher for him, and she had now given
him the key. His mind was untiring in its efforts to master subjects, as
his splendid physique seemed tireless in all manner of sport.
Thus he saw the world and its peoples, and was an honoured guest among the
great ones of the earth. But the hardness of adamant was in him. He had no
beliefs--no ambitions. He dissected everything with all the pitiless
certainty of a surgeon's cold knife. And if his life contained an aim at
all, it was to get through with it and find oblivion in eternal sleep.
Thoughts of his little son would sometimes come to him, but when they did
he thrust them back, and shut his heart up in a casing of ice.
To feel--was to suffer! That perhaps was his only creed; that and a blind,
sullen rage against fate. This was the lesson his suffering had taught him,
and they were weary years before he knew another side.
The first time he saw a tiger in India was one of the landmarks in the
history of his inner emotions. He had gone to shoot the beasts with a
well-known Rajah, and it had chanced he came upon a magnificent creature at
very close quarters and had shot it on sight. But when it lay dead, its
wonderful body gracefully moving no more, a sickening regret came over
Paul. Of all things in creation none reminded him so forcibly of his lost
worshipped Queen. In a flash came back to him the first day she had lain on
the skin which had been his gift. Out of the jungle her eyes seemed to
gleam. In his ears rang her words, "I know all your feelings and your
passions. And now I have your skin--for the joy of my skin." Yes, she had
loved tigers, and been in sympathy with them always, and here was one whose
joy of life he had ended!
No, he could never kill one more. After this expedition for weeks he was
restless--the incident seemed to have pierced through his carefully
cultivated calm. For days and days, fresh as in the first hours of his
grief, came an infinite sensation of pain--just hideous personal pain.
So time, and his journeys, went on. But no country and no change of scene
could dull Paul's sense of loss, and the great vast terrible finality of
The hackneyed phrase would continually ring in his brain of--Never
again--never again! Ah! God! it was true he would hold his beloved
one--never again. And often unavailing rebellion against destiny would rise
up in him, and he would almost go mad and see red once more. Then he would
rush away from civilisation out into the wild.
But these violent emotions were always followed by a heavy, numb lethargy
until some echo or resemblance roused him to suffering again. The scent of
tuberoses caused him anguish unspeakable. One night in New York he was
obliged to leave the opera because a woman he was with wore some in her
Thus, with all his strong will, there were times when he could not control
himself or his grief.
He had been absent from England for over two years, when the news came to
him far out in America of his Uncle Hubert's death. So he had gone to join
the world of spirits in the vast beyond! Paul did not care! His only
feeling was one of relief. No more fear of hearing, perhaps, some chance
idle word. But he remembered his mother had loved her handsome brother, and
he wrote a tender letter home.
Then something in the Lady Henrietta's answer touched him vaguely and
decided him to return. After all--because life was a black barren waste to
him--what right had he to dim all joy in the two who had given him being?
Yes, he would go back, and try to pick up the threads anew.
There were great quiet rejoicings in his parents' hearts at their son's
third homecoming. And like a wild beast tamed for a time to perform tricks
in a circus, Paul conformed to the ordinary routine. The question of his
entering Parliament was mooted again, but this he put aside. As yet he
could face no ties. He would do his best by staying at home most of the
year--but when that call of anguish was upon him, he must be free once more
Then hope began to bloom in the Lady Henrietta's heart as flowers after
rain. Surely this great unknown grief was passing--surely her adored one
would settle down again.
But the months went by without healing Paul's grief. Time only coated it
with a dull, callous crust. He had got into a hard way of taking everything
as it came. He did not fly from society, or ape the manners of the
misanthrope; he went to London, and stayed about and played the game. But
all with a stony, bald indifference which made people wonder.
No faintest inkling of his story had ever leaked out. And it seemed an
incomprehensible attitude towards life for a young and fortunate man.
Those who had looked for great things from his birthday speech shook their
heads sadly at the unfulfilment.
So time passed on, until one day at the beginning of February, nearly five
years after the light had gone out of his life, a circumstance happened
which proved a turning-point of great magnitude.
It was quite a small thing--just the brutalised hardness in a gipsy woman's
The sun was setting that late afternoon when he strode home across the moor
with Pike, and they came upon some gipsy vans. Paul looked up--it was no
unaccustomed sight, only they happened to be in exactly the same spot where
the like had stood that morning long ago, when in his exuberant happiness
at the news of his little son's birth he had tossed the young woman the
The door of the last van was open, and there, sitting on the steps in an
attitude of dull sullen idleness, was the same swarthy lass, only now she
was altered sadly! No more the proud young mother met his view, but a hard,
gaunt, evil-looking woman.
She knew him instantly, and her black eyes fiercened; as he came up close
to her she said without any greeting:
"I lost him, your honour--him and my Bill in the same blasted year, and I
ain't never had no other."
Paul stopped and peered into her brown face in the fading light.
"So we have been both through hell since then, my poor girl?" he said.
The gipsy woman laughed with bitter harshness as she echoed back the one
word "Hell!"--and afterwards she added with a wail: "Yes, they're dead! and
there won't be never no meeting."
And Paul went on--but her face haunted him.
Was there the same hard change in himself, he wondered? Was he, too,
brutalised and branded with the five years of hell? Surely if so he had
gone on a lower road than his darling would have had him travel.
Then out of the mist of the dying day came the memory of her noble face as
it had been in that happy hour when they had floated out to the lagoon, and
she had told him--her eyes alight with the _feu sacre_--her wishes for his
But what had he done to carry them out--those lofty wishes? Surely
nothing. For, obsessed with his own selfish anguish, he had lived on with
no single worthy aim, with no aim at all except to forget and deaden his
Forget! Ah God! that could never be. For had she not said there was an
eternal marriage of their souls--in life or in death they could never be
And he had tried to break this sacred tender bond, when he should have
cherished every memory to comfort his deep pain with its sweetness. What
had he done? Let sorrow sink him to the level of the poor gipsy girl,
instead of trying to do some fine thing as a tribute to his lady's noble
He strode on in the dusk towards his home, his thoughts lashing him with
shame and remorse.
And that night, when he and Pike were alone in his own panelled room, he
broke the seal of those beautiful letters which, with directions for them
to be buried with his body at his death, had lain in a packet hidden away
from sight all these years, freighted with agonised memory.
He read them over carefully, from the first brief note to the last long cry
of love which Dmitry had brought him to Paris. Then he lay back in his
chair, while his strong frame shook with sobs, and his eyes were blinded by
scorching, bitter tears.
But suddenly it seemed as if his lady's spirit stood beside him in the
firelight's flickering gleam, whispering words of hope, pleading to come
back from the cold grave to his heart, there to abide and comfort him.
He heard her golden voice once more, and it fell like soft, healing rain,
so that he stretched out his arms, and cried aloud:
"My darling, beloved one, forgive me for these five wasted
years--sweetheart, come back to me never to part again. Come back to my
heart, and dwell there, Angel Queen!"
* * * * *
Then, as the days went on, all the world altered for him. Instead of the
terrible bitterness against fate which had ruled his heart, a new
tenderness grew there. It seemed now as though he were never alone, but
lived in her ever-present memory. And with this golden change came thoughts
of his child--that little life neglected for so long. What had he done?
What cruel, terrible thing had he done in his selfish pain?
Each year Dmitry had sent him a letter of news, and each year that day had
held ghastly hours for him in the reopening of old anguish--the missive to
be read and quickly thrust out of sight, the thought of it to be strangled
And now the little one would soon be five years old, and his father's
living eyes had never seen him! But this should no more be so, and he wrote
at once to Dmitry.
By return of post came the answer. The Excellency indeed would be
welcome. The Regent--the Grand Duke Peter--had bidden him say that if the
Excellency should be travelling for pleasure, as the nobility of his
country often did, he would gladly be received by the Regent, who was
himself a great _chasseur_ and _voyageur_. The Excellency would then see
the never-to-be-sufficiently-beloved baby King. Of this glorious child
he--Dmitry--found it difficult to write. It was as if the _Imperatorskoye_
breathed again in his spirit, while he was the portrait of his illustrious
father, proving how deeply and well the _Imperatorskoye_ must have loved
that father. If the Excellency could arrive in time for the Majesty's fifth
birthday, on the 19th of February, there was to be a special ceremony in
the great church which the Regent thought might be of interest to the
Paul wired back he would travel night and day to be in time, and he
instructed Dmitry to have the necessary arrangements made that he might go
straight to the church, in case unforeseen delay should not permit him to
arrive until that morning.
It was in a shaft of sunlight from the great altar window that Paul first
saw his son. The tiny upright figure in its blue velvet suit, heavily
trimmed with sable, standing there proudly. A fair, rosy-cheeked,
golden-haired English child--the living reality of that miniature painted
on ivory and framed in fine pearls, which made the holy of holies on Lady
And as he gazed at his little son, while the organ pealed out a Te Deum and
the sweet choir sang, a great rush of tenderness filled Paul's heart, and
melted forever the icebergs of grief and pain.
And as he knelt there, watching their child, it seemed as if his darling
stood beside him, telling him that he must look up and thank God, too--for
in her spirit's constant love, and this glory of their son, he would one
day find rest and consolation.