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Prince Zilah, complete by Jules Claretie

Part 2 out of 5

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you will."

"Well! Then in a month I will give you your answer," she said firmly.

"But," said Andras, smiling beneath his blond moustache, "remember that
I once, took for my motto the verses of Petoefi. You know well those
beautiful verses of our country:

O Liberty! O Love!
These two I need.
My chosen meed,
To give my love for Liberty,
My life for Love.

"Well," he added, "do you know, at this moment the Andras Zilah of
'forty-eight would almost give liberty, that passion of his whole life,
for your love, Marsa, my own Marsa, who are to me the living incarnation
of my country."

Marsa was moved to the depths of her heart at hearing this man speak such
words to her. The ideal of the Tzigana, as it is of most women, was
loyalty united with strength. Had she ever, in her wildest flights of
fancy, dreamed that she should hear one of the heroes of the war of
independence, a Zilah Andras, supplicate her to bear his name?

Marsa knew Yanski Varhely. The Prince had brought him to see her at
Maisons-Lafitte. She was aware that Count Varhely knew the Prince's most
secret thoughts, and she was certain that Andras had confided all his
hopes and his fears to his old friend.

"What do you think would become of the Prince if I should not marry him?"
she asked him one day without warning.

"That is a point-blank question which I hardly expected," said Yanski,
gazing at her in astonishment. "Don't you wish to become a Zilah?"

Any hesitation even seemed to him insulting, almost sacrilegious.

"I don't say that," replied the Tzigana, "but I ask you what would become
of the Prince if, for one reason or another--"

"I can very easily inform you," interrupted Varhely. "The Prince, as you
must be aware, is one of those men who love but once during their lives.
Upon my word of honor, I believe that, if you should refuse him, he would
commit some folly, some madness, something--fatal. Do you understand?"

"Ah!" ejaculated Marsa, with an icy chill in her veins.

"That is my opinion," continued Yanski, harshly. "He is wounded. It
remains with you to decide whether the bullet be mortal or not."

Varhely's response must have had great weight in Marsa Laszlo's
reflections, full of anguish, fever, revolt and despair as they were,
during the few weeks preceding the day upon which she had promised to
tell Prince Andras if she would consent to become his wife or not. It
was a yes, almost as curt as another refusal, which fell at last from the
lips of the Tzigana. But the Prince was not cool enough to analyze an
intonation.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, "I have suffered so much during these weeks of
doubt; but this happiness makes amends for all."

"Do you know what Varhely said to me?" asked Marsa.

"Yes, I know."

"Well, since the Zilahs treat their love-affairs as they do their duels,
and risk their whole existence, so be it! I accept. Your existence for
mine! Gift for gift! I do not wish you to die!"

He did not try to understand her; but he took her burning hands between
his own, and covered them with kisses. And she, with trembling lip,
regarded, through her long eyelashes, the brave man who now bent before
her, saying: "I love you."

Then, in that moment of infinite happiness, on the threshold of the new
life which opened before her, she forgot all to think only of the
reality, of the hero whose wife she was to be. His wife! So, as in a
dream, without thinking, without resisting, abandoning herself to the
current which bore her along, not trying to take account of time or of
the future, loving, and beloved, living in a sort of charmed
somnambulism, the Tzigana watched the preparations for her marriage.

The Prince, with the impatience of a youth of twenty, had urged an early
day for their union. He announced his engagement to the society, at once
Parisian and foreign, of which he formed a part; and this marriage of the
Magyar with the Tzigana was an event in aristocratic circles. There was
an aroma of chivalrous romance about this action of Prince Andras, who
was rich enough and independent enough to have married, if he had wished,
a shepherdess, like the kings of fairy tales.

"Isn't it perfectly charming?" exclaimed the little Baroness Dinati,
enthusiastically. "Jacquemin, my dear friend, I will give you all the
details of their first meeting. You can make a delicious article out of
it, delicious!"

The little Baroness was almost as delighted as the Prince. Ah! what a
man that Zilah was! He would give, as a wedding-gift to the Tzigana, the
most beautiful diamonds in the world, those famous Zilah diamonds, which
Prince Joseph had once placed disdainfully upon his hussar's uniform when
he charged the Prussian cuirassiers of Ziethen, sure of escaping the
sabre cuts, and not losing a single one of the stones during the combat.
It was said that Marsa, until she was his wife, would not accept any
jewels from the Prince. The opals in the silver agraffe were all she
wanted.

"You know them, don't you, Jacquemin? The famous opals of the Tzigana?
Put that all in, every word of it."

"Yes, it is chic enough." answered the reporter. "It is very romantic,
a little too much so; my readers will never believe it. Never mind,
though, I will write it all up in my best manner."

The fete on board the steamer, given by the Prince in honor of his
betrothal, had been as much talked of as a sensational first night at the
Francais, and it added decidedly to the romantic prestige of Andras
Zilah. There was not a marriageable young girl who was not a little in
love with him, and their mothers envied the luck of the Tzigana.

"It is astonishing how jealous the mammas are," said the Baroness, gayly.
"They will make me pay dearly for having been the matchmaker; but I am
proud of it, very proud. Zilah has good taste, that is all. And, as for
him, I should have been in love with him myself, if I had not had my
guests to attend to. Ah, society is as absorbing as a husband!"

Upon the boat, Paul Jacquemin did not leave the side of the matchmaker.
He followed her everywhere. He had still to obtain a description of the
bride's toilettes, the genealogy of General Vogotzine, a sketch of the
bridegroom's best friend, Varhely, and a thousand other details.

"Where will the wedding take place?" he asked the Baroness.

"At Maisons-Lafitte. Oh! everything is perfect, my dear Jacquemin,
perfect! An idyl! All the arrangements are exquisite, exquisite!
I only wish that you had charge of the supper."

Jacquemin, general overseer of the Baroness's parties in the Rue Murillo,
did not confess himself inferior to any one as an epicure. He would
taste the wines, with the air of a connoisseur, holding his glass up to
the light, while the liquor caressed his palate, and shutting his eyes as
if more thoroughly to decide upon its merits.

"Pomard!" would slowly fall from his lips, or "Acceptable Musigny!"
"This Chambertin is really very fair!" "The Chateau Yquem is not half
bad!" etc., etc. And the next morning would appear in the reports,
which he wrote himself under various pseudonyms: "Our compliments to our
friend Jacquemin, if he had anything to do with the selection of the
wines, in addition to directing the rehearsals of the Baroness's
operetta, which latter work he most skilfully accomplished. Jacquemin
possesses talents of all kinds; he knows how to make the best of all
materials. As the proverb says, 'A good mill makes everything flour.'"

Jacquemin had already cast an eye over the menu of the Prince's fete, and
declared it excellent, very correct, very pure.

....................

The steamer was at last ready to depart, and Prince Zilah had done the
honors to all his guests. It started slowly off, the flags waving
coquettishly in the breeze, while the Tzigani musicians played with
spirit the vibrating notes of the March of Rakoczy, that triumphant air
celebrating the betrothal of Zilah, as it had long ago saluted the burial
of his father.

CHAPTER X

"IS FATE SO JUST?"

"We are moving! We are off!" cried the lively little Baroness. "I hope
we shan't be shipwrecked," retorted Jacquemin; and he then proceeded to
draw a comical picture of possible adventures wherein figured white
bears, icebergs, and death by starvation. "A subject for a novel,--
'The Shipwreck of the Betrothed.'"

As they drew away from Paris, passing the quays of Passy and the taverns
of Point-du-jour, tables on wooden horses were rapidly erected, and
covered with snowy cloths; and soon the guests of the Prince were seated
about the board, Andras between Marsa and the Baroness, and Michel Menko
some distance down on the other side of the table. The pretty women and
fashionably dressed men made the air resound with gayety and laughter,
while the awnings flapped joyously in the wind, and the boat glided on,
cutting the smooth water, in which were reflected the long shadows of the
aspens and willows on the banks, and the white clouds floating in the
clear sky. Every now and then a cry of admiration would be uttered at
some object in the panorama moving before them, the slopes of Suresnes,
the black factories of Saint-Denis with their lofty chimneys, the red-
roofed villas of Asnieres, or the heights of Marly dotted with little
white houses.

"Ah! how pretty it is! How charming!"

"Isn't it queer that we have never known anything about all this? It is
a veritable voyage of discovery."

"Ladies and gentlemen," cried, above the other voices, Jacquemin, whom
Zilah did not know, and to whom the Baroness had made him give a card of
invitation, "we are now entering savage countries. It is Kamtschatka, or
some such place, and there must be cannibals here."

The borders of the Seine, which were entirely fresh to them, and which
recalled the pictures of the salon, were a delightful novelty to these
people, accustomed to the dusty streets of the city.

Seated between the Prince and the Japanese, and opposite Varhely and
General Vogotzine, the Baroness thoroughly enjoyed her breakfast. Prince
Andras had not spared the Tokay--that sweet, fiery wine, of which the
Hungarians say proudly: "It has the color and the price of gold;" and the
liquor disappeared beneath the moustache of the Russian General as in a
funnel. The little Baroness, as she sipped it with pretty little airs of
an epicure, chatted with the Japanese, and, eager to increase her
culinary knowledge, asked him for the receipt for a certain dish which
the little yellow fellow had made her taste at a dinner given at his
embassy.

"Send it to me, will you, Yamada? I will have my cook make it; nothing
gives me so much pleasure as to be able to offer to my guests a new and
strange dish. I will give you the receipt also, Jacquemin. Oh! it is
such an odd-tasting dish! It gives you a sensation of having been
poisoned."

"Like the guests in Lucrezia Borgia," laughed the Parisian Japanese.

"Do you know Lucrezia Borgia?"

"Oh, yes; they have sung it at Yokohama. Oh! we are no longer savages,
Baroness, believe me. If you want ignorant barbarians, you must seek the
Chinese."

The little Japanese was proud of appearing so profoundly learned in
European affairs, and his gimlet eyes sought an approving glance from
Paul Jacquemin or Michel Menko; but the Hungarian was neither listening
to nor thinking of Yamada. He was entirely absorbed in the contemplation
of Marsa; and, with lips a little compressed, he fixed a strange look
upon the beautiful young girl to whom Andras was speaking, and who, very
calm, almost grave, but evidently happy, answered the Prince with a sweet
smile.

There was a sort of Oriental grace about Marsa, with her willowy figure,
flexible as a Hindoo convolvulus, and her dark Arabian eyes fringed with
their heavy lashes. Michel Menko took in all the details of her beauty,
and evidently suffered, suffered cruelly, his eyes invincibly attracted
toward her. In the midst of these other women, attired in robes of the
last or the next fashion, of all the colors of the rainbow, Marsa, in her
gown of black lace, was by far the loveliest of them all. Michel watched
her every movement; but she, quiet, as if a trifle weary, spoke but
little, and only in answer to the Prince and Varhely, and, when her
beautiful eyes met those of Menko, she turned them away, evidently
avoiding his look with as much care as he sought hers.

The breakfast over, they rose from the table, the men lighting cigars,
and the ladies seeking the mirrors in the cabin to rearrange their
tresses disheveled by the wind.

The boat stopped at Marly until it was time for the lock to be opened,
before proceeding to Maisons-Lafitte, where Marsa was to land. Many of
the passengers, with almost childish gayety, landed, and strolled about
on the green bank.

Marsa was left alone, glad of the silence which reigned on the steamer
after the noisy chatter of a moment ago. She leaned over the side of the
boat, listening idly to the swish of the water along its sides.

Michel Menko was evidently intending to approach her, and he had made a
few steps toward her, when he felt a hand laid upon his shoulder. He
turned, thinking it was the Prince; but it was Yanski Varhely, who said
to the young man:

"Well, my dear Count, you did right to come from London to this fete.
Not only is Zilah delighted to see you, but the fantastic composition of
the guests is very curious. Baroness Dinati has furnished us with an
'ollapodrida' which would have pleased her husband. There is a little of
everything. Doesn't it astonish you?"

"No," said Michel. "This hybrid collection is representative of modern
society. I have met almost all these faces at Nice; they are to be seen
everywhere."

"To me," retorted Yanski, in his guttural voice, "these people are
phenomena."

"Phenomena? Not at all. Life of to-day is so complicated that the most
unexpected people and events find their place in it. You have not lived,
Varhely, or you have lived only for your idol, your country, and
everything amazes you. If you had, like me, wandered all over the world,
you would not be astonished at anything; although, to tell the truth"--
and the young man's voice became bitter, trenchant, and almost
threatening--" we have only to grow old to meet with terrible surprises,
very hard to bear."

As he spoke, he glanced, involuntarily perhaps, at Marsa Laszlo, leaning
on the railing just below him.

"Oh! don't speak of old age before you have passed through the trials
that Zilah and I have," responded Varhely. "At eighteen, Andras Zilah
could have said: 'I am old.' He was in mourning at one and the same time
for all his people and for our country. But you! You have grown up, my
dear fellow, in happy times. Austria, loosening her clutch, has
permitted you to love and serve our cause at your ease. You were born
rich, you married the most charming of women"--

Michel frowned.

"That is, it is true, the sorrow of your life," continued Varhely. "It
seems to me only yesterday that you lost the poor child."

"It is over two years, however," said Michel, gravely. "Two years! How
time flies!"

"She was so charming," said old Yanski, not perceiving the expression of
annoyance mingled with sadness which passed over the young man's face.
"I knew your dear wife when she was quite small, in her father's house.
He gave me an asylum at Prague, after the capitulation signed by Georgei.
Although I was an Hungarian, and he a Bohemian, her father and I were
great friends."

"Yes," said Menko, rapidly, "she often spoke of you, my dear Varhely.
They taught her to love you, too. But," evidently seeking to turn the
conversation to avoid a subject which was painful to him, "you spoke of
Georgei. Ah! our generation has never known your brave hopes; and your
grief, believe me, was better than our boredom. We are useless
encumberers of the earth. Upon my word, it seems to me that we are
unsettled, enfeebled, loving nothing and loving everything, ready to
commit all sorts of follies. I envy you those days of battle, those
magnificent deeds of 'forty-eight and 'forty-nine. To fight thus was to
live!"

But even while he spoke, his thin face became more melancholy, and his
eyes again sought the direction of Prince Andras's fiancee.

After a little more desultory conversation, he strolled away from
Varhely, and gradually approached Marsa, who, her chin resting on her
hand, and her eyes lowered, seemed absorbed in contemplation of the
ceaseless flow of the water.

Greatly moved, pulling his moustache, and glancing with a sort of
uneasiness at Prince Andras, who was promenading on the bank with the
Baroness, Michel Menko paused before addressing Marsa, who had not
perceived his approach, and who was evidently far away in some day-dream.

Gently, hesitatingly, and in a low voice, he at last spoke her name:

"Marsa!"

The Tzigana started as if moved by an electric shock, and, turning
quickly, met the supplicating eyes of the young man.

"Marsa!" repeated Michel, in a humble tone of entreaty.

"What do you wish of me?" she said. "Why do you speak to me? You must
have seen what care I have taken to avoid you."

"It is that which has wounded me to the quick. You are driving me mad.
If you only knew what I am suffering!"

He spoke almost in a whisper, and very rapidly, as if he felt that
seconds were worth centuries.

She answered him in a cutting, pitiless tone, harsher even than the
implacable look in her dark eyes. "You suffer? Is fate so just as that?
You suffer?"

Her tone and expression made Michel Menko tremble as if each syllable of
these few words was a blow in the face.

"Marsa!" he exclaimed, imploringly. "Marsa!"

"My name is Marsa Laszlo; and, in a few days, I shall be Princess Zilah,"
responded the young girl, passing haughtily by him, "and I think you will
hardly force me to make you remember it."

She uttered these words so resolutely, haughtily, almost disdainfully,
and accompanied them with such a flash from her beautiful eyes that Menko
instinctively bowed his head, murmuring:

"Forgive me!"

But he drove his nails into the palm of his clenched hand as he saw her
leave that part of the boat, and retire as far from him as she could, as
if his presence were an insult to her. Tears of rage started into the
young man's eyes as he watched her graceful figure resume its former
posture of dreamy absorption.

CHAPTER XI

A RIVER FETE

Close alongside of the Prince's boat, waiting also for the opening of the
lock, was one of those great barges which carry wood or charcoal up and
down the Seine.

A whole family often lives on board these big, heavy boats. The smoke of
the kitchen fire issues from a sort of wooden cabin where several human
beings breathe, eat, sleep, are born and die, sometimes without hardly
ever having set foot upon the land. Pots of geranium or begonia give a
bit of bright color to the dingy surroundings; and the boats travel
slowly along the river, impelled by enormous oars, which throw long
shadows upon the water.

It was this motionless barge that Marsa was now regarding.

The hot sun, falling upon the boat, made its brown, wet sides sparkle
like the brilliant wings of some gigantic scarabee; and, upon the
patched, scorched deck, six or seven half-naked, sunburned children, boys
and girls, played at the feet of a bundle of rags and brown flesh, which
was a woman, a young woman, but prematurely old and wasted, who was
nursing a little baby.

A little farther off, two men-one tough and strong, a man of thirty, whom
toil had made forty, the other old, wrinkled, white-haired and with skin
like leather, father and grandfather, doubtless, of the little brats
beyond--were eating bread and cheese, and drinking, turn by turn, out of
a bottle of wine, which they swallowed in gulps. The halt was a rest to
these poor people.

As Marsa watched them, she seemed to perceive in these wanderers of the
river, as in a vision, those other wanderers of the Hungarian desert, her
ancestors, the Tzigani, camped in the puszta, the boundless plain,
crouched down in the long grass beneath the shade of the bushes, and
playing their beautiful national airs. She saw the distant fires of the
bivouac of those unknown Tzigani whose daughter she was; she seemed to
breathe again the air of that country she had seen but once, when upon a
mournful pilgrimage; and, in the presence of that poor bargeman's wife,
with her skin tanned by the sun, she thought of her dead, her cherished
dead, Tisza.

Tisza! To the gipsy had doubtless been given the name of the river on
the banks of which she had been born. They called the mother Tisza, in
Hungary, as in Paris they called the daughter the Tzigana. And Marsa was
proud of her nickname; she loved these Tzigani, whose blood flowed in her
veins; sons of India, perhaps, who had descended to the valley of the
Danube, and who for centuries had lived free in the open air, electing
their chiefs, and having a king appointed by the Palatine--a king, who
commanding beggars, bore, nevertheless, the name of Magnificent;
indestructible tribes, itinerant republics, musicians playing the old
airs of their nation, despite the Turkish sabre and the Austrian police;
agents of patriotism and liberty, guardians of the old Hungarian honor.

These poor people, passing their lives upon the river as the Tzigani
lived in the fields and hedges, seemed to Marsa like the very spectres of
her race. More than the musicians with embroidered vests did the poor
prisoners of the solitary barge recall to her the great proscribed family
of her ancestors.

She called to the children playing upon the sunbeaten deck: "Come here,
and hold up your aprons!"

They obeyed, spreading out their little tattered garments. "Catch
these!" she cried.

They could not believe their eyes. From the steamer she threw down to
them mandarins, grapes, ripe figs, yellow apricots, and great velvety
peaches; a rain of dainties which would have surprised a gourmand: the
poor little things, delighted and afraid at the same time, wondered if
the lady, who gave them such beautiful fruit, was a fairy.

The mother then rose; and, coming toward Marsa to thank her, her sunburnt
skin glowing a deeper red, the poor woman, with tears in her tired eyes,
and a wan smile upon her pale lips, touched, surprised, happy in the
pleasure of her children, murmured, faltering and confused:

"Ah! Madame! Madame! how good you are! You are too good, Madame!"

"We must share what we have!" said Marsa, with a smile. "See how happy
the children are!"

"Very happy, Madame. They are not accustomed to such things. Say 'Thank
you,' to the beautiful lady. Say 'Thank you,' Jean; you are the oldest.
Say like this: 'Thank-you-Ma-dame.'"

"Thank-you-Ma-dame" faltered the boy, raising to Marsa big, timid eyes,
which did not understand why anybody should either wish him ill or do him
a kindness. And other low, sweet little voices repeated, like a refrain:
"Thank-you-Ma-dame."

The two men, in astonishment, came and stood behind the children, and
gazed silently at Marsa.

"And your baby, Madame?" said the Tzigana, looking at the sleeping
infant, that still pressed its rosy lips to the mother's breast. "How
pretty it is! Will you permit me to offer it its baptismal dress?"

"Its baptismal dress?" repeated the mother.

"Oh, Madame!" ejaculated the father, twisting his cap between his
fingers.

"Or a cloak, just as you please," added Marsa.

The poor people on the barge made no reply, but looked at one another in
bewilderment.

"Is it a little girl?" asked the Tzigana.

"No, Madame, no," responded the mother. "A boy."

"Come here, jean," said Marsa to the oldest child. "Yes, come here, my
little man."

Jean came forward, glancing askance at his mother, as if to know whether
he should obey.

"Here, jean," said the young girl, "this is for your baby brother."

And into the little joined hands of the boy, Marsa let fall a purse,
through whose meshes shone yellow pieces of gold.

The people of the barge thought they were dreaming, and stood open-
mouthed in amazement, while Jean cried out:

"Mamma, see, mamma! Mamma! Mamma!"

Then the younger bargeman said to Marsa:

"Madame, no, no! we can not accept. It is too much. You are too good.
Give it back, Jean."

"It is true, Madame," faltered his wife. "It is impossible. It is too
much."

"You will cause me great pain if you refuse to accept it," said Marsa.
"Chance has brought us together for a moment, and I am superstitious.
I would like to have the little children pray that those I love--that the
one I love may be happy." And she turned her eyes upon Prince Andras,
who had returned to the deck, and was coming toward her.

The lock was now opened.

"All aboard!" shouted the captain of the steamer.

The poor woman upon the barge tried to reach the hand of Marsa to kiss
it.

"May you be happy, Madame, and thank you with all our hearts for your
goodness to both big and little."

The two bargemen bowed low in great emotion, and the whole bevy of little
ones blew kisses to the beautiful lady in the black dress, whom the
steamer was already bearing away.

"At least tell us your name, Madame," cried the father. "Your name, that
we may never forget you."

A lovely smile appeared on Marsa's lips, and, in almost melancholy
accents, she said:

"My name!" Then, after a pause, proudly: "The Tzigana!"

The musicians, as she spoke, suddenly struck up one of the Hungarian
airs. Then, as in a flying vision, the poor bargemen saw the steamer
move farther and farther away, a long plume of smoke waving behind it.

Jacquemin, hearing one of those odd airs, which in Hungary start all feet
moving and keeping time to the music, exclaimed:

"A quadrille! Let us dance a quadrille! An Hungarian quadrille!"

The poor people on the barge listened to the music, gradually growing
fainter and fainter; and they would have believed that they had been
dreaming, if the purse had not been there, a fortune for them, and the
fruit which the children were eating. The mother, without understanding,
repeated that mysterious name: "The Tzigana."

And Marsa also gazed after them, her ears caressed by the czardas of the
musicians. The big barge disappeared in the distance in a luminous haze;
but the Tzigana could still vaguely perceive the little beings perched
upon the shoulders of the men, and waving, in sign of farewell, pieces of
white cloth which their mother had given them.

A happy torpor stole over Marsa; and, while the guests of the Baroness
Dinati, the Japanese Yamada, the English heiresses, the embassy attaches,
all these Parisian foreigners, led by Jacquemin, the director of the
gayety, were organizing a ballroom on the deck, and asking the Tzigani
for polkas of Fahrbach and waltzes of Strauss, the young girl heard the
voice of Andras murmur low in her ear:

"Ah! how I love you! And do you love me, Marsa?"

"I am happy," she answered, without moving, and half closing her eyes,
"and, if it were necessary for me to give my life for you, I would give
it gladly."

In the stern of the boat, Michel Menko watched, without seeing them,
perhaps, the fields, the houses of Pecq, the villas of Saint-Germain,
the long terrace below heavy masses of trees, the great plain beside
Paris with Mont Valerien rising in its midst, the two towers of the
Trocadero, whose gilded dome sparkled in the sun, and the bluish-black
cloud which hung over the city like a thick fog.

The boat advanced very slowly, as if Prince Andras had given the order to
delay as much as possible the arrival at Maisons-Lafitte, where the whole
fete would end for him, as Marsa was to land there. Already, upon the
horizon could be perceived the old mill, with its broad, slated roof.
The steeple of Sartrouville loomed up above the red roofs of the houses
and the poplars which fringe the bank of the river. A pale blue light,
like a thin mist, enveloped the distant landscape.

"The dream is over," murmured Marsa.

"A far more beautiful one will soon begin," said Andras, "and that one
will be the realization of what I have waited for all my life and never
found--love."

Marsa turned to the Prince with a look full of passionate admiration and
devotion, which told him how thoroughly his love was returned.

The quadrille had ended, and a waltz was beginning. The little Japanese,
with his eternal smile, like the bronze figures of his country, was
dancing with a pre-raphaelite English girl.

"How well you dance," she said.

"If we only had some favors," replied the Japanese, showing his teeth in
a grin, "I would lead the cotillon."

The boat stopped at last at Maisons-Lafitte. The great trees of the park
formed a heavy mass, amid which the roof of the villa was just
discernible.

"What a pity it is all over," cried the Baroness, who was ruddy as a
cherry with the exercise of dancing. "Let us have another; but Maisons-
Lafitte is too near. We will go to Rouen the next time; or rather, I
invite you all to a day fete in Paris, a game of polo, a lunch, a garden
party, whatever you like. I will arrange the programme with Yamada and
Jacquemin."

"Willingly," responded the Japanese, with a low bow. "To collaborate
with Monsieur Jacquemin will be very amusing."

As Marsa Laszlo was leaving the boat, Michel Menko stood close to the
gangway, doubtless on purpose to speak to her; and, in the confusion of
landing, without any one hearing him, he breathed in her ear these brief
words:

"At your house this evening. I must see you."

She gave him an icy glance. Michel Menko's eyes were at once full of
tears and flames.

"I demand it!" he said, firmly.

The Tzigana made no reply; but, going to Andras Zilah, she took his arm;
while Michel, as if nothing had happened, raised his hat.

General Vogotzine, with flaming face, followed his niece, muttering, as
he wiped the perspiration unsteadily from his face:

"Fine day! Fine day! By Jove! But the sun was hot, though! Ah, and
the wines were good!"

ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

A man's life belongs to his duty, and not to his happiness
All defeats have their geneses
Foreigners are more Parisian than the Parisians themselves
One of those beings who die, as they have lived, children
Playing checkers, that mimic warfare of old men
Superstition which forbids one to proclaim his happiness
The Hungarian was created on horseback
There were too many discussions, and not enough action
Would not be astonished at anything
You suffer? Is fate so just as that

PRINCE ZILAH

By JULES CLARETIE

BOOK 2.

CHAPTER XII

A DARK PAGE

As Marsa departed with Vogotzine in the carriage which had been waiting
for them on the bank, she waved her hand to Zilah with a passionate
gesture, implying an infinity of trouble, sadness, and love. The Prince
then returned to his guests, and the boat, which Marsa watched through
the window of the carriage, departed, bearing away the dream, as she had
said to Andras. During the drive home she did not say a word. By her
side the General grumbled sleepily of the sun, which, the Tokay aiding,
had affected his head. But, when Marsa was alone in her chamber, the cry
which was wrung from her breast was a cry of sorrow, of despairing anger:

"Ah, when I think--when I think that I am envied!"

She regretted having allowed Andras to depart without having told him on
the spot, the secret of her life. She would not see him again until the
next day, and she felt as if she could never live through the long, dull
hours. She stood at the window, wrapped in thought, gazing mechanically
before her, and still hearing the voice of Michel Menko hissing like a
snake in her ear. What was it this man had said? She did not dare to
believe it. "I demand it!" He had said: "I demand it!" Perhaps some
one standing near had heard it. "I demand it!"

Evening came. Below the window the great masses of the chestnut-trees
and the lofty crests of the poplars waved in the breeze like forest
plumes, their peaks touched by the sun setting in a sky of tender blue,
while the shadowy twilight crept over the park where, through the
branches, patches of yellow light, like golden and copper vapors, still
gave evidence of the god of day.

Marsa, her heart full of a melancholy which the twilight increased,
repeated over and over again, with shudders of rage and disgust, those
three words which Michel Menko had hurled at her like a threat: "I demand
it!" Suddenly she heard in the garden the baying of dogs, and she saw,
held in check by a domestic, Duna and Bundas, bounding through the masses
of flowers toward the gate, where a man appeared, whom Marsa, leaning
over the balcony, recognized at once.

"The wretch!" she exclaimed between her clenched teeth. It was Menko.

He must have debarked before reaching Paris, and have come to Maisons-
Lafitte in haste.

Marsa's only thought, in the first moment of anger, was to refuse to see
him. "I can not," she thought, "I will not!" Then suddenly her mind
changed. It was braver and more worthy of her to meet the danger face to
face. She rang, and said to the domestic who answered the bell: "Show
Count Menko into the little salon."

"We shall see what he will dare," muttered the Tzigana, glancing at the
mirror as if to see whether she appeared to tremble before danger and an
enemy.

The little salon into which the young Count was introduced was in the
left wing of the villa; and it was Marsa's favorite room, because it was
so quiet there. She had furnished it with rare taste, in half Byzantine
and half Hindoo fashion--a long divan running along the wall, covered
with gray silk striped with garnet; Persian rugs cast here and there at
random; paintings by Petenkofen--Hungarian farms and battle-scenes,
sentinels lost in the snow; two consoles loaded with books, reviews, and
bric-a-brac; and a round table with Egyptian incrustations, covered with
an India shawl, upon which were fine bronzes of Lanceray, and little
jewelled daggers.

This salon communicated with a much larger one, where General Vogotzine
usually took his siesta, and which Marsa abandoned to him, preferring the
little room, the windows of which, framed in ivy, looked out upon the
garden, with the forest in the distance.

Michel Menko was well acquainted with this little salon, where he had
more than once seen Marsa seated at the piano playing her favorite airs.
He remembered it all so well, and, nervously twisting his moustache, he
longed for her to make her appearance. He listened for the frou-frou of
Marsa's skirts on the other side of the lowered portiere which hung
between the two rooms; but he heard no sound.

The General had shaken hands with Michel, as he passed through the large
salon, saying, in his thick voice:

"Have you come to see Marsa? You have had enough of that water-party,
then? It was very pretty; but the sun was devilish hot. My head is
burning now; but it serves me right for not remaining quiet at home."

Then he raised his heavy person from the armchair he had been sitting in,
and went out into the garden, saying: "I prefer to smoke in the open air;
it is stifling in here." Marsa, who saw Vogotzine pass out, let him go,
only too willing to have him at a distance during her interview with
Michel Menko; and then she boldly entered the little salon, where the
Count, who had heard her approach, was standing erect as if expecting
some attack.

Marsa closed the door behind her; and, before speaking a word, the two
faced each other, as if measuring the degree of hardihood each possessed.
The Tzigana, opening fire first, said, bravely and without preamble:

"Well, you wished to see me. Here I am! What do you want of me?"

"To ask you frankly whether it is true, Marsa, that you are about to
marry Prince Zilah."

She tried to laugh; but her laugh broke nervously off. She said,
however, ironically:

"Oh! is it for that that you are here?"

"Yes."

"It was perfectly useless, then, for you to take the trouble: you ask me
a thing which you know well, which all the world knows, which all the
world must have told you, since you had the audacity to be present at
that fete to-day."

"That is true," said Michel, coldly; "but I only learned it by chance.
I wished to hear it from your own lips."

"Do I owe you any account of my conduct?" asked Marsa, with crushing
hauteur.

He was silent a moment, strode across the room, laid his hat down upon
the little table, and suddenly becoming humble, not in attitude, but in
voice, said:

"Listen, Marsa: you are a hundred times right to hate me. I have
deceived you, lied to you. I have conducted myself in a manner unworthy
of you, unworthy of myself. But to atone for my fault--my crime, if you
will--I am ready to do anything you order, to be your miserable slave,
in order to obtain the pardon which I have come to ask of you, and which
I will ask on my knees, if you command me to do so."

The Tzigana frowned.

"I have nothing to pardon you, nothing to command you," she said with an
air more wearied than stern, humiliating, and disdainful. "I only ask
you to leave me in peace, and never appear again in my life."

"So! I see that you do not understand me," said Michel, with sudden
brusqueness.

"No, I acknowledge it, not in the least."

"When I asked you whether you were to marry Prince Andras, didn't you
understand that I asked you also another thing: Will you marry me, me--
Michel Menko?"

"You!" cried the Tzigana.

And there was in this cry, in this "You!" ejaculated with a rapid
movement of recoil-amazement, fright, scorn, and anger.

"You!" she said again. And Michel Menko felt in this word a mass of
bitter rancor and stifled hatred which suddenly burst its bonds.

"Yes, me!" he said, braving the insult of Marsa's cry and look. "Me,
who love you, and whom you have loved!"

"Ah, don't dare to say that!" she cried, drawing close to the little
table where the daggers rested amid the objects of art. "Don't be vile
enough to speak to me of a past of which nothing remains to me but
disgust! Let not one word which recalls it to me mount to your lips,
not one, you understand, or I will kill you like the coward you are!"

"Do so, Marsa!" he cried with wild, mad passion. "I should die by your
hand, and you would not marry that man!"

Afraid of herself, wresting her eyes from the glittering daggers, she
threw herself upon the divan, her hands clasped tightly in her lap, and
watched, with the look of a tigress, Michel, who said to her now, in a
voice which trembled with the tension of his feelings: "You must know
well, Marsa, that death is not the thing that can frighten a man like me!
What does frighten me is that, having lost you once, I may lose you
forever; to know that another will be your husband, will love you, will
receive your kisses. The very idea that that is possible drives me
insane. I feel myself capable of any deed of madness to prevent it.
Marsa! Marsa! You did love me once!"

"I love honor, truth, justice," said Marsa, sternly and implacably.
"I thought I loved you; but I never did."

"You did not love me?" he said.

This cruel recalling of the past, which was the remorse of her life, was
like touching her flesh with a red-hot iron.

"No, no, no! I did not love you! I repeat, I thought I loved you.
What did I know of life when I met you? I was suffering, ill; I thought
myself dying, and I never heard a word of pity fall from any other lips
than yours. I thought you were a man of honor. You were only a wretch.
You deceived me; you represented yourself to me as free--and you were
married. Weakly--oh, I could kill myself at the very thought!--
I listened to you! I took for love the trite phrases you had used to
dozens of other women; half by violence, half by ruse, you became my
lover. I do not know when--I do not know how. I try to forget that
horrible dream; and when, deluded by you, thinking that what I felt for
you was love, for I did think so, I imagined that I had given myself for
life to a man worthy of the deepest devotion, ready for all sacrifices
for me, as I felt myself to be for him; when you had taken me, body and
soul, I learn by what? by a trifling conversation, by a chance, in a
crowded ballroom--that, this Michel Menko, whose name I was to bear, who
was to be my husband; this Count Menko, this man of honor, the one in
whom I believed blindly, was married! Married at Vienna, and had already
given away the name on which he traded! Oh, it is hideous!" And the
Tzigana, whose whole body was shuddering with horror, recoiled
instinctively to the edge of the divan as at the approach of some
detested contact.

Michel, his face pale and convulsed, had listened to her with bowed head.

"All that you say is the truth, Marsa; but I will give my life, my whole
life, to expiate that lie!"

"There are infamies which are never effaced. There is no pardon for him
who has no excuse."

"No excuse? Yes, Marsa; I have one! I have one: I loved you!"

"And because you loved me, was it necessary for you to betray me, lie to
me, ruin me?"

"What could I do? I did not love the woman I had married; you dawned on
me like a beautiful vision; I wished, hoping I know not what impossible
future, to be near you, to make you love me, and I did not dare to
confess that I was not free. If I lied to you, it was because I trembled
at not being able to surround you with my devotion; it was because I was
afraid to lose your love, knowing that the adoration I had for you would
never die till my heart was cold and dead! Upon all that is most sacred,
I swear this to you! I swear it!"

He then recalled to her, while she sat rigid and motionless with an
expression of contempt and disdain upon her beautiful, proud lips, their
first meetings; that evening at Lady Brolway's, in Pau, where he had met
her for the first time; their conversation; the ineffaceable impression
produced upon him by her beauty; that winter season; the walks they had
taken together beneath the trees, which not a breath of wind stirred;
their excursions in the purple and gold valleys, with the Pyrenees in the
distance crowned with eternal snow. Did she not remember their long
talks upon the terrace, the evenings which felt like spring, and that day
when she had been nearly killed by a runaway horse, and he had seized the
animal by the bridle and saved her life? Yes, he had loved her, loved
her well; and it was because, possessing her love, he feared, like a
second Adam, to see himself driven out of paradise, that he had hidden
from Marsa the truth. If she had questioned one of the Hungarians or
Viennese, who were living at Pau, she could doubtless have known that
Count Menko, the first secretary of the embassy of Austria-Hungary at
Paris, had married the heiress of one of the richest families of Prague;
a pretty but unintelligent girl, not understanding at all the character
of her husband; detesting Vienna and Paris, and gradually exacting from
Menko that he should live at Prague, near her family, whose ancient ideas
and prejudices and inordinate love of money displeased the young
Hungarian. He was left free to act as he pleased; his wife would
willingly give up a part of her dowry to regain her independence. It was
only just, she said insolently, that, having been mistaken as to the
tastes of the man she had married for reasons of convenience rather than
of inclination, she should pay for her stupidity. Pay! The word made
the blood mount to Menko's face. If he had not been rich, as he was, he
would have hewn stone to gain his daily bread rather than touch a penny
of her money. He shook off the yoke the obstinate daughter of the
Bohemian gentleman would have imposed upon him, and departed, brusquely
breaking a union in which both husband and wife so terribly perceived
their error.

Marsa might have known of all this if she had, for a moment, doubted
Menko's word. But how was she to suspect that the young Count was
capable of a lie or of concealing such a secret? Besides, she knew
hardly any one at Pau, as her physicians had forbidden her any
excitement; at the foot of the Pyrenees, she lived, as at Maisons-
Lafitte, an almost solitary life; and Michel Menko had been during that
winter, which he now recalled to Marsa, speaking of it as of a lost Eden,
her sole companion, the only guest of the house she inhabited with
Vogotzine in the neighborhood of the castle.

Poor Marsa, enthusiastic, inexperienced, her heart enamored with
chivalrous audacity, intrepid courage, all the many virtues which were
those of Hungary herself; Marsa, her mind imbued from her infancy with
the almost fantastic recitals of the war of independence, and later, with
her readings and reflections; Marsa, full of the stories of the heroic
past-must necessarily have been the dupe of the first being who, coming
into her life, was the personal representative of the bravery and charm
of her race. So, when she encountered one day Michel Menko, she was
invincibly attracted toward him by something proud, brave, and
chivalrous, which was characteristic of the manly beauty of the young
Hungarian. She was then twenty, very ignorant of life, her great
Oriental eyes seeing nothing of stern reality; but, with all her
gentleness, there was a species of Muscovite firmness which was betrayed
in the contour of her red lips. It was in vain that sorrow had early
made her a woman; Marsa remained ignorant of the world, without any other
guide than Vogotzine; suffering and languid, she was fatally at the mercy
of the first lie which should caress her ear and stir her heart. From
the first, therefore, she had loved Michel; she had, as she herself said,
believed that she loved him with a love which would never end, a very
ingenuous love, having neither the silliness of a girl who has just left
the convent, nor the knowledge of a Parisienne whom the theatre and the
newspapers have instructed in all things. Michel, then, could give to
this virgin and pliable mind whatever bent he chose; and Marsa, pure as
the snow and brave as her own favorite heroes, became his without
resistance, being incapable of divining a treachery or fearing a lie.
Michel Menko, moreover, loved her madly; and he thought only of winning
and keeping the love of this incomparable maiden, exquisite in her
combined gentleness and pride. The folly of love mounted to his brain
like intoxication, and communicated itself to the poor girl who believed
in him as if he were the living faith; and, in the madness of his
passion, Michel, without being a coward, committed a cowardly action.

No: a coward he certainly was not. He was one of those nervous natures,
as prompt to hope as to despair, going to all extremes, at times
foolishly gay, and at others as grave and melancholy as Hamlet. There
were days when Menko did not value his life at a penny, and when he asked
himself seriously if suicide were not the simplest means to reach the
end; and again, at the least ray of sunshine, he became sanguine and
hopeful to excess. Of undoubted courage, he would have faced the muzzle
of a loaded cannon out of mere bravado, at the same time wondering, with
a sarcastic smile upon his lips, 'Cui bono'?

He sometimes called heroism a trick; and yet, in everyday life, he had
not much regard for tricksters. Excessively fond of movement, activity,
and excitement, he yet counted among his happiest days those spent in
long meditations and inactive dreams. He was a strange combination of
faults and good qualities, without egregious vices, but all his virtues
capable of being annihilated by passion, anger, jealousy, or grief. With
such a nature, everything was possible: the sublimity of devotion, or a
fall into the lowest infamy. He often said, in self-analysis: "I am
afraid of myself." In short, his strength was like a house built upon
sand; all, in a day, might crumble.

"If I had to choose the man I should prefer to be," he said once, "I
would be Prince Andras Zilah, because he knows neither my useless
discouragements, apropos of everything and nothing, nor my childish
delights, nor my hesitations, nor my confidence, which at times
approaches folly as my misanthropy approaches injustice; and because,
in my opinion, the supreme virtue in a man is firmness."

The Zilahs were connected by blood with the Menkos, and Prince Andras was
very fond of this young man, who promised to Hungary one of those
diplomats capable of wielding at once the pen and the sword, and who in
case of war, before drawing up a protocol, would have dictated its terms,
sabre in hand. Michel indeed stood high with his chief in the embassy,
and he was very much sought after in society. Before the day he met
Marsa, he had, to tell the truth, only experienced the most trivial love-
affairs.

He did not speak of his wife at Pau any more than he did on the
boulevards. She lived far away, in the old city of Prague, and troubled
Michel no more than if she had never existed. Perhaps he had forgotten,
really forgotten, with that faculty of forgetfulness which belongs to the
imaginative, that he was married, when he encountered Marsa, the candid,
pure-hearted girl, who did not reflect nor calculate, but simply believed
that she had met a man of honor.

So, what sudden revolt, humiliation, and hatred did the poor child feel
when she learned that the man in whom she had believed as in a god had
deceived her, lied to her! He was married. He had treated her as the
lowest of women; perhaps he had never even loved her! The very thought
made her long to kill herself, or him, or both. She, unhappy, miserable
woman, was ruined, ruined forever!

She had certainly never stopped to think where the love she had for
Michel would lead her. She thought of nothing except that Michel was
hers, and she was his, and she believed that their love would last
forever. She did not think that she had long to live, and her existence
seemed to her only a breath which any moment might cease. Why had she
not died before she knew that Menko had lied?

All deception seemed hideous to Marsa Laszlo, and this hideousness she
had discovered in the man to whom she had given herself, believing in the
eternity as well as in the loyalty of his love.

It was at a ball, at the English embassy, after her return from Pau,
that, while smiling and happy, she overheard between two Viennese,
strangers to her, this short dialogue, every word of which was like a
knife in her heart: "What a charming fellow that Menko is!" "Yes; is his
wife ugly or a humpback? or is he jealous as Othello? She is never
seen." "His wife! Is he married?" "Yes: he married a Blavka, the
daughter of Angel Blavka, of Prague. Didn't you know it?"

Married!

Marsa felt her head reel, and the sudden glance she cast at the speakers
silenced, almost terrified them. Half insane, she reached home, she
never knew how. The next day Michel Menko presented himself at her
apartments in the hotel where she was living; she ordered him out of her
presence, not allowing him to offer any excuse or explanation.

"You are married, and you are a coward!"

He threw himself at her knees, and implored her to listen to him.

"Go! Go!"

"But our love, Marsa? For I love you, and you love me."

"I hate and scorn you. My love is dead. You have killed it. All is
over. Go! And let me never know that there exists a Michel Menko in the
world! Never! Never! Never!"

He felt his own cowardice and shame, and he disappeared, not daring again
to see the woman whose love haunted him, and who shut herself away from
the world more obstinately than ever. She left Paris, and in the
solitude of Maisons-Lafitte lived the life of a recluse, while Michel
tried in vain to forget the bitterness of his loss. The Tzigana hoped
that she was going to die, and bear away with her forever the secret of
her betrayal. But no; science had been mistaken; the poor girl was
destined to live. In spite of her sorrow and anguish, her beauty
blossomed in the shade, and she seemed each day to grow more lovely,
while her heart became more sad, and her despair more poignant.

Then death, which would not take Marsa, came to another, and gave Menko
an opportunity to repair and efface all. He learned that his wife had
died suddenly at Prague, of a malady of the heart. This death, which
freed him, produced a strange effect upon him, not unmingled with
remorse. Poor woman! She had worthily borne his name, after all.
Unintelligent, cold, and wrapped up in her money, she had never
understood him; but, perhaps, if he had been more patient, things might
have gone better between them.

But no; Marsa was his one, his never-to-be-forgotten love. As soon as he
heard of his freedom, he wrote her a letter, telling her that he was able
now to dispose of his future as he would, imploring her to pardon him,
offering her not his love, since she repelled it, but his name, which was
her right--a debt of honor which he wished her to acquit with the
devotion of his life. Marsa answered simply with these words: "I will
never bear the name of a man I despise."

The wound made in her heart by Menko's lie was incurable; the Tzigana
would never forgive. He tried to see her again, confident that, if he
should be face to face with her, he could find words to awaken the past
and make it live again; but she obstinately refused to see him, and, as
she did not go into society, he never met her. Then he cast himself,
with a sort of frenzy, into the dissipation of Paris, trying to forget,
to forget at any cost: failing in this, he resigned his position at the
embassy, and went away to seek adventure, going to fight in the Balkans
against the Russians, only to return weary and bored as he had departed,
always invincibly and eternally haunted by the image of Marsa, an image
sad as a lost love, and grave as remorse.

CHAPTER XIII

"MY LETTERS OR MYSELF"

It was that past, that terrible past, which Michel Menko had dared to
come and speak of to the Tzigana. At first, she had grown crimson with
anger, as if at an insult; now, by a sudden opposite sentiment, as she
listened to him recalling those days, she felt an impression of deadly
pain as if an old wound had been reopened. Was it true that all this had
ever existed? Was it possible, even?

The man who had been her lover was speaking to her; he was speaking to
her of his love; and, if the terrible agony of memory had not burned in
her heart, she would have wondered whether this man before her, this sort
of stranger, had ever even touched her hand.

She waited, with the idle curiosity of a spectator who had no share in
the drama, for the end of Menko's odious argument: "I lied because I
loved you!"

He returned again and again, in the belief that women easily forgive the
ill-doing of which they are the cause, to that specious plea, and Marsa
asked herself, in amazement, what aberration had possession of this man
that he should even pretend to excuse his infamy thus.

"And is that," she said at last, "all that you have to say to me?
According to you, the thief has only to cry 'What could I do? I loved
that money, and so I stole it.' Ah," rising abruptly, "this interview
has lasted too long! Good-evening!"

She walked steadily toward the door; but Michel, hastening round the
other side of the table, barred her exit, speaking in a suppliant tone,
in which, however, there was a hidden threat:

"Marsa! Marsa, I implore you, do not marry Prince Andras! Do not marry
him if you do not wish some horrible tragedy to happen to you and me!"

"Really?" she retorted. "Do I understand that it is you who now
threaten to kill me?"

"I do not threaten; I entreat, Marsa. But you know all that there is in
me at times of madness and folly. I am almost insane: you know it well.
Have pity upon me! I love you as no woman was ever loved before; I live
only in you; and, if you should give yourself to another--"

"Ah!" she said, interrupting him with a haughty gesture, "you speak to me
as if you had a right to dictate my actions. I have given you my
forgetfulness after giving you my love. That is enough, I think.
Leave me!"

"Marsa!"

"I have hoped for a long time that I was forever delivered from your
presence. I commanded you to disappear. Why have you returned?"

"Because, after I saw you one evening at Baroness Dinati's (do you
remember? you spoke to the Prince for the first time that evening), I
learned, in London, of this marriage. If I have consented to live away
from you previously, it was because, although you were no longer mine,
you at least were no one else's; but I will not--pardon me, I can not--
endure the thought that your beauty, your grace, will be another's.
Think of the self-restraint I have placed upon myself! Although living
in Paris, I have not tried to see you again, Marsa, since you drove me
from your presence; it was by chance that I met you at the Baroness's;
but now--"

"It is another woman you have before you. A woman who ignores that she
has listened to your supplications, yielded to your prayers. It is a
woman who has forgotten you, who does not even know that a wretch has
abused her ignorance and her confidence, and who loves--who loves as one
loves for the first time, with a pure and holy devotion, the man whose
name she is to bear."

"That man I respect as honor itself. Had it been another, I should
already have struck him in the face. But you who accuse me of having
lied, are you going to lie to him, to him?"

Marsa became livid, and her eyes, hollow as those of a person sick to
death, flamed in the black circles which surrounded them.

"I have no answer to make to one who has no right to question me," she
said. "But, should I have to pay with my life for the moment of
happiness I should feel in placing my hand in the hand of a hero, I would
grasp that moment!"

"Then," cried Menko, "you wish to push me to extremities! And yet I have
told you there are certain hours of feverish insanity in which I am
capable of committing a crime."

"I do not doubt it," replied the young girl, coldly. "But, in fact, you
have already done that. There is no crime lower than that of treachery."

"There is one more terrible," retorted Michel Menko. "I have told you
that I loved you. I love you a hundred times more now than ever before.
Jealousy, anger, whatever sentiment you choose to call it, makes my blood
like fire in my veins! I see you again as you were. I feel your kisses
on my lips. I love you madly, passionately! Do you understand, Marsa?
Do you understand?" and he approached with outstretched hands the
Tzigana, whose frame was shaken with indignant anger. "Do you
understand? I love you still. I was your lover, and I will, I will be
so again."

"Ah, miserable coward!" cried the Tzigana, with a rapid glance toward
the daggers, before which stood Menko, preventing her from advancing, and
regarding her with eyes which burned with reckless passion, wounded self-
love, and torturing jealousy. "Yes, coward!" she repeated, "coward,
coward to dare to taunt me with an infamous past and speak of a still
more infamous future!"

"I love you!" exclaimed Menko again.

"Go!" she cried, crushing him with look and gesture. "Go! I order you
out of my presence, lackey! Go!"

All the spirit of the daughters of the puszta, the violent pride of her
Hungarian blood, flashed from her eyes; and Menko, fascinated, gazed at
her as if turned to stone, as she stood there magnificent in her anger,
superb in her contempt.

"Yes, I will go to-day," he said at last, "but tomorrow night I shall
come again, Marsa. As my dearest treasure, I have preserved the key of
that gate I opened once to meet you who were waiting for me in the shadow
of the trees. Have you forgotten that, also? You say you have forgotten
all."

And as he spoke, she saw again the long alley behind the villa, ending in
a small gate which, one evening after the return from Pau, Michel opened,
and came, as he said, to meet her waiting for him. It was true. Yes, it
was true. Menko did not lie this time! She had waited for him there,
two years before, unhappy girl that she was! All that hideous love she
had believed lay buried in Pau as in a tomb.

"Listen, Marsa," continued Menko, suddenly recovering, by a strong effort
of the will, his coolness, "I must see you once again, have one more
opportunity to plead my cause. The letters you wrote to me, those dear
letters which I have covered with my kisses and blistered with my tears,
those letters which I have kept despite your prayers and your commands,
those letters which have been my only consolation--I will bring them to
you to-morrow night. Do you understand me?"

Her great eyes fixed, and her lips trembling horribly, Marsa made no
reply.

"Do you understand me, Marsa?" he repeated, imploring and threatening at
once.

"Yes," she murmured at last.

She paused a moment; then a broken, feverish laugh burst from her lips,
and she continued, with stinging irony:

"Either my letters or myself! It is a bargain pure and simple! Such a
proposition has been made once before--it is historical--you probably
remember it. In that case, the woman killed herself. I shall act
otherwise, believe me!"

There was in her icy tones a threat, which gave pleasure to Michel Menko.
He vaguely divined a danger. "You mean?" he asked.

"I mean, you must never again appear before me. You must go to London,
to America; I don't care where. You must be dead to the one you have
cowardly betrayed. You must burn or keep those letters, it little
matters to me which; but you must still be honorable enough not to use
them as a weapon against me. This interview, which wearies more than it
angers me, must be the last. You must leave me to my sorrows or my joys,
without imagining that you could ever have anything in common with a
woman who despises you. You have crossed the threshold of this house for
the last time. Or, if not--Ah! if not--I swear to you that I have energy
enough and resolution enough to defend myself alone, and alone to punish
you! In your turn, you understand me, I imagine?"

"Certainly," said Michel. "But you are too imprudent, Marsa. I am not a
man to make recoil by speaking of danger. Through the gate, or over the
wall if the gate is barricaded, I shall come to you again, and you will
have to listen to me."

The lip of the Tzigana curled disdainfully.

"I shall not even change the lock of that gate, and besides, the large
gate of the garden remains open these summer nights. You see that you
have only to come. But I warn you neither to unlock the one nor to pass
through the other. It is not I whom you will find at the rendezvous."

"Still, I am sure that it would be you, blarsa, if I should tell you that
to-morrow evening I shall be under the window of the pavilion at the end
of the garden, and that you must meet me there to receive from my hand
your letters, all your letters, which I shall bring you."

"Do you think so?"

"I am certain of it."

"Certain? Why?"

"Because you will reflect."

"I have had time to reflect. Give me another reason."

"Another reason is that you can not afford to leave such proofs in my
hands. I assure you that it would be folly to make of a man like me, who
would willingly die for you, an open and implacable enemy."

"I understand. A man like you would die willingly for a woman, but he
insults and threatens her, like the vilest of men, with a punishment more
cruel than death itself. Well! it matters little to me. I shall not be
in the pavilion where you have spoken to me of your love, and I will have
it torn down and the debris of it burned within three days. I shall not
await you. I shall never see you again. I do not fear you. And I leave
you the right of doing with those letters what you please!"

Then, surveying him from head to foot, as if to measure the degree of
audacity to which he could attain, "Adieu!" she said.

"Au revoir!" he rejoined coldly, giving to the salutation an emphasis
full of hidden meaning.

The Tzigana stretched out her hand, and pulled a silken bellcord.

A servant appeared.

"Show this gentleman out," she said, very quietly.

CHAPTER XIV

"HAVE I THE RIGHT TO LIE?"

Then the Tzigana,'s romance, in which she had put all her faith and her
belief, had ended, like a bad dream, she said to herself: "My life is
over!"

What remained to her? Expiation? Forgetfulness?

She thought of the cloister and the life of prayer of those blue sisters
she saw under the trees of Maisons-Lafitte. She lived in the solitude of
her villa, remaining there during the winter in a melancholy tete-a-tete
with old Vogotzine, who was always more or less under the effect of
liquor. Then, as death would not take her, she gradually began to go
into Parisian society, slowly forgetting the past, and the folly which
she had taken for love little by little faded mistily away. It was like
a recovery from an illness, or the disappearance of a nightmare in the
dawn of morning. Now, Marsa Laszlo, who, two years before, had longed
for annihilation and death, occasionally thought the little Baroness
Dinati right when she said, in her laughing voice: "What are you thinking
of, my dear child? Is it well for a girl of your age to bury herself
voluntarily and avoid society?" She was then twenty-four: in three or
four years she had aged mentally ten; but her beautiful oval face had
remained unchanged, with the purity of outline of a Byzantine Madonna.

Then--life has its awakenings--she met Prince Andras: all her admirations
as a girl, her worship of patriotism and heroism, flamed forth anew; her
heart, which she had thought dead, throbbed, as it had never throbbed
before, at the sound of the voice of this man, truly loyal, strong and
gentle, and who was (she knew it well, the unhappy girl!) the being for
whom she was created, the ideal of her dreams. She loved him silently,
but with a deep and eternal passion; she loved him without saying to
herself that she no longer had any right to love. Did she even think of
her past? Does one longer think of the storm when the wind has driven
off the heavy, tear-laden clouds, and the thunder has died away in the
distance? It seemed to her now that she had never had but one name in
her heart, and upon her lips--Zilah.

And then this man, this hero, her hero, asked her hand, and said to her,
"I love you."

Andras loved her! With what a terrible contraction of the heart did she
put to herself the formidable question: "Have I the right to lie? Shall
I have the courage to confess?"

She held in her grasp the most perfect happiness a woman could hope for,
the dream of her whole life; and, because a worthless scoundrel had
deceived her, because there were, in her past, hours which she remembered
only to curse, effaced hours, hours which appeared to her now never to
have existed, was she obliged to ruin her life, to break her heart, and,
herself the victim, to pay for the lie uttered by a coward? Was it
right? Was it just? Was she to be forever bound to that past, like a
corpse to its grave? What! She had no longer the right to love? no
longer the right to live?

She adored Andras; she would have given her life for him. And he also
loved her; she was the first woman who had ever touched his heart. He
had evidently felt himself isolated, with his old chivalrous ideas, in a
world devoted to the worship of low things, tangible successes, and
profitable realities. He was, so to speak, a living anachronism in the
midst of a society which had faith in nothing except victorious
brutalities, and which marched on, crushing, beneath its iron-shod heels,
the hopes and visions of the enthusiastic. He recalled those evenings
after a battle when, in the woods reddened by the setting sun, his father
and Varhely said to him: "Let us remain to the last, and protect the
retreat!" And it seemed to him that, amid the bestialities of the moment
and the vulgarities of the century, he still protected the retreat of
misunderstood virtues and generous enthusiasms; and it pleased him to be
the rear guard of chivalry in defeat.

He shut himself up obstinately in his isolation, like Marsa in her
solitude; and he did not consider himself ridiculously absurd or
foolishly romantic, when he remembered that his countrymen, the
Hungarians, were the only people, perhaps, who, in the abasement of all
Europe before the brutality of triumph and omnipotent pessimism, had
preserved their traditions of idealism, chivalry, and faith in the old
honor; the Hungarian nationality was also the only one which had
conquered its conquerors by its virtues, its persistence in its hopes,
its courage, its contempt of all baseness, its extraordinary heroism, and
had finally imposed its law upon Austria, bearing away the old empire as
on the croup of its horse toward the vast plains of liberty. The ideal
would, therefore, have its moments of victory: an entire people proved it
in history.

"Let this world boast," said Andras, "of the delights of its villainy,
and grovel in all that is low and base. Life is not worth living unless
the air one breathes is pure and free! Man is not the brother of swine!"

And these same ideas, this same faith, this same dreamy nature and
longing for all that is generous and brave, he suddenly found again in
the heart of Marsa. She represented to him a new and happy existence.
Yes, he thought, she would render him happy; she would understand him,
aid him, surround him with the fondest love that man could desire. And
she, also, thinking of him, felt herself capable of any sacrifice. Who
could tell? Perhaps the day would come when it would be necessary to
fight again; then she would follow him, and interpose her breast between
him and the balls. What happiness to die in saving him! But, no, no!
To live loving him, making him happy, was her duty now; and was it
necessary to renounce this delight because hated kisses had once soiled
her lips? No, she could not! And yet--and yet, strict honor whispered
to Marsa, that she should say No to the Prince; she had no right to his
love.

But, if she should reject Andras, he would die, Varhely had said it.
She would then slay two beings, Andras and herself, with a single word.
She! She did not count! But he! And yet she must speak. But why
speak? Was it really true that she had ever loved another? Who was it?
The one whom she worshipped with all her heart, with all the fibres of
her being, was Andras! Oh, to be free to love him! Marsa's sole hope
and thought were now to win, some day, forgiveness for having said
nothing by the most absolute devotion that man had ever encountered.
Thinking continually these same thoughts, always putting off taking a
decision till the morrow, fearing to break both his heart and hers,
the Tzigana let the time slip by until the day came when the fete in
celebration of her betrothal was to take place. And on that very day
Michel Menko appeared before her, not abashed, but threatening. Her
dream of happiness ended in this reality--Menko saying: "You have been
mine; you shall be mine again, or you are lost!"

Lost! And how?

With cold resolution, Marsa Laszlo asked herself this question, terrible
as a question of life or death:

"What would the Prince do, if, after I became his wife, he should learn
the truth?"

"What would he do? He would kill me," thought the Tzigana. "He would
kill me. So much the better!" It was a sort of a bargain which she
proposed to herself, and which her overwhelming love dictated.

"To be his wife, and with my life to pay for that moment of happiness!
If I should speak now, he would fly from me, I should never see him
again--and I love him. Well, I sacrifice what remains to me of existence
to be happy for one short hour!" She grew to think that she had a right
thus to give her life for her love, to belong to Andras, to be the wife
of that hero if only for a day, and to die then, to die saying to him:
"I was unworthy of you, but I loved you; here, strike!" Or rather to say
nothing, to be loved, to take opium or digitalis, and to fall asleep with
this last supremely happy thought: "I am his wife, and he loves me!"
What power in the world could prevent her from realizing her dream?
Would she resemble Michel in lying thus? No; since she would immediately
sacrifice herself without hesitation, with joy, for the honor of her
husband.

"Yes, my life against his love. I shall be his wife and die!"

She did not think that, in sacrificing her life, she would condemn Zilah
to death. Or rather, with one of those subterfuges by which we
voluntarily deceive ourselves, she thought: "He will be consoled for my
death, if he ever learns what I was." But why should he ever learn it?
She would take care to die so that it should be thought an accident.

Marsa's resolve was taken. She had contracted a debt, and she would pay
it with her blood. Michel now mattered little to her, let him do what he
would. The young man's threat: "To-morrow night!" returned to her mind
without affecting her in the least. The contemptuous curl of her lip
seemed silently to brave Michel Menko.

In all this there was a different manifestation of her double nature: in
her love for Andras and her longing to become his wife, the blood of the
Tzigana, her mother, spoke; Prince Tchereteff, the Russian, on the other
hand, revived in her silent, cold bravado.

She lay down to rest, still feverish from the struggle, and worn out,
slept till morning, to awaken calm, languid, but almost happy.

She passed the whole of the following day in the garden, wondering at
times if the appearance of Menko and his tomorrow were not a dream, a
nightmare. Tomorrow? That was to-day.

"Yes, yes, he will come! He is quite capable of coming," she murmured.

She despised him enough to believe that he would dare, this time, to keep
his word.

Lying back in a low wicker chair, beneath a large oak, whose trunk was
wreathed with ivy, she read or thought the hours away. A Russian belt,
enamelled with gold and silver, held together her trailing white robes of
India muslin, trimmed with Valenciennes, and a narrow scarlet ribbon
encircled her throat like a line of blood. The sunlight, filtering
through the leaves, flickered upon her dress and clear, dark cheeks,
while, near by, a bush of yellow roses flung its fragrance upon the air.
The only sound in the garden was the gentle rustle of the trees, which
recalled to her the distant murmur of the sea. Gradually she entirely
forgot Michel, and thought only of the happy moments of the previous day,
of the boat floating down the Seine past the silvery willows on the banks
of the sparkling water, of the good people on the barge calling out to
her, "Be happy! be happy!" and the little children throwing smiling
kisses to her.

A gentle languor enveloped the warm, sunny garden. Old Sol poured his
golden light down upon the emerald turf, the leafy trees, the brilliant
flowerbeds and the white walls of the villa. Under the green arch of the
trees, where luminous insects, white and flame-colored butterflies,
aimlessly chased one another, Marsa half slumbered in a sort of
voluptuous oblivion, a happy calm, in that species of nirvana which the
open air of summer brings. She felt herself far away from the entire
world in that corner of verdure, and abandoned herself to childish hopes
and dreams, in profound enjoyment of the beautiful day.

The Baroness Dinati came during the afternoon to see Marsa; she fluttered
out into the garden, dressed in a clinging gown of some light, fluffy
material, with a red umbrella over her head; and upon her tiny feet, of
all things in the world, ebony sabots, bearing her monogram in silver
upon the instep. It was a short visit, made up of the chatter and gossip
of Paris. Little Jacquemin's article upon Prince Zilah's nautical fete
had created a furore. That little Jacquemin was a charming fellow; Marsa
knew him. No! Really? What! she didn't know Jacquemin of
'L'Actualite'? Oh! but she must invite him to the wedding, he would
write about it, he wrote about everything; he was very well informed, was
Jacquemin, on every subject, even on the fashions.

"Look! It was he who told me that these sabots were to be worn. The
miserable things nearly mademe break my neck when I entered the carriage;
but they are something new. They attract attention. Everybody says,
What are they? And when one has pretty feet, not too large, you know,"
etc., etc.

She rattled on, moistening her pretty red lips with a lemonade, and
nibbling a cake, and then hastily departed just as Prince Andras's
carriage stopped before the gate. The Baroness waved her hand to him
with a gay smile, crying out:

"I will not take even a minute of your time. You have to-day something
pleasanter to do than to occupy yourself with poor, insignificant me!"

Marsa experienced the greatest delight in seeing Andras, and listening to
the low, tender accents of his voice; she felt herself to be loved and
protected. She gave herself up to boundless hopes--she, who had before
her, perhaps, only a few days of life. She felt perfectly happy near
Andras; and it seemed to her that to-day his manner was tenderer, the
tones of his voice more caressing, than usual.

"I was right to believe in chimeras," he said, "since all that I longed
for at twenty years is realized to-day. Very often, dear Marsa, when I
used to feel sad and discouraged, I wondered whether my life lay behind
me. But I was longing for you, that was all. I knew instinctively that
there existed an exquisite woman, born for me, my wife--my wife! and I
waited for you."

He took her hands, and gazed upon her face with a look of infinite
tenderness.

"And suppose that you had not found me?" she asked.

"I should have continued to drag out a weary existence. Ask Varhely what
I have told him of my life."

Marsa felt her heart sink within her; but she forced herself to smile.
All that Varhely had said to her returned to her mind. Yes, Zilah had
staked his very existence upon her love. To drag aside the veil from his
illusion would be like tearing away the bandages from a wound.
Decidedly, the resolution she had taken was the best one--to say nothing,
but, in the black silence of suicide, which would be at once a
deliverance and a punishment, to disappear, leaving to Zilah only a
memory.

But why not die now? Ah! why? why? To this eternal question Marsa
made reply, that, for deceiving him by becoming his wife, she would pay
with her life. A kiss, then death. In deciding to act a lie, she
condemned herself. She only sought to give to her death the appearance
of an accident, not wishing to leave to Andras the double memory of a
treachery and a crime.

She listened to the Prince as he spoke of the future, of all the
happiness of their common existence. She listened as if her resolution
to die had not been taken, and as if Zilah was promising her, not a
minute, but an eternity, of joy.

General Vogotzine and Marsa accompanied the Prince to the station, he
having come to Maisons by the railway. The Tzigana's Danish hounds went
with them, bounding about Andras, and licking his hands as he caressed
them.

"They already know the master," laughed Vogotzine. "I have rarely seen
such gentle animals," remarked the Prince.

"Gentle? That depends!" said Marsa.

After separating from the Prince, she returned, silent and abstracted,
with Vogotzine. She saw Andras depart with a mournful sadness, and a
sudden longing to have him stay--to protect her, to defend her, to be
there if Michel should come.

It was already growing dark when they reached home. Marsa ate but little
at dinner, and left Vogotzine alone to finish his wine.

Later, the General came, as usual, to bid his niece goodnight. He found
Marsa lying upon the divan in the little salon.

"Don't you feel well? What is the matter?"

"Nothing."

"I feel a little tired, and I was going to bed. You don't care to have
me keep you company, do you, my dear?"

Sometimes he was affectionate to her, and sometimes he addressed her with
timid respect; but Marsa never appeared to notice the difference.

"I prefer to remain alone," she answered.

The General shrugged his shoulders, bent over, took Marsa's delicate hand
in his, and kissed it as he would have kissed that of a queen.

Left alone, Marsa lay there motionless for more than an hour. Then she
started suddenly, hearing the clock strike eleven, and rose at once.

The domestics had closed the house. She went out by a back door which
was used by the servants, the key of which was in the lock.

She crossed the garden, beneath the dark shadows of the trees, with a
slow, mechanical movement, like that of a somnambulist, and proceeded to
the kennel, where the great Danish hounds and the colossus of the
Himalayas were baying, and rattling their chains.

"Peace, Ortog! Silence, Duna!"

At the sound of her voice, the noise ceased as by enchantment.

She pushed open the door of the kennel, entered, and caressed the heads
of the dogs, as they placed their paws upon her shoulders. Then she
unfastened their chains, and in a clear, vibrating voice, said to them:

"Go!"

She saw them bound out, run over the lawn, and dash into the bushes,
appearing and disappearing like great, fantastic shadows, in the pale
moonlight. Then, slowly, and with the Muscovite indifference which her
father, Prince Tchereteff, might have displayed when ordering a spy or a
traitor to be shot, she retraced her steps to the house, where all seemed
to sleep, murmuring, with cold irony, in a sort of impersonal
affirmation, as if she were thinking not of herself, but of another:

"Now, I hope that Prince Zilah's fiancee is well guarded!"

CHAPTER XV

"AS CLINGS THE LEAF UNTO THE TREE"

Michel Menko was alone in the little house he had hired in Paris, in the
Rue d'Aumale. He had ordered his coachman to have his coupe in readiness
for the evening. "Take Trilby," he said. "He is a better horse than
Jack, and we have a long distance to go; and take some coverings for
yourself, Pierre. Until this evening, I am at home to no one."

The summer day passed very slowly for him in the suspense of waiting. He
opened and read the letters of which he had spoken to Marsa the evening
before; they always affected him like a poison, to which he returned
again and again with a morbid desire for fresh suffering--love-letters,
the exchange of vows now borne away as by a whirlwind, but which revived
in Michel's mind happy hours, the only hours of his life in which he had
really lived, perhaps. These letters, dated from Pau, burned him like a
live coal as he read them. They still retained a subtle perfume, a
fugitive aroma, which had survived their love, and which brought Marsa
vividly before his eyes. Then, his heart bursting with jealousy and
rage, he threw the package into the drawer from which he had taken it,
and mechanically picked up a volume of De Musset, opening to some page
which recalled his own suffering. Casting this aside, he took up another
book, and his eyes fell upon the passionate verses of the soldier-poet,
Petoefi, addressed to his Etelka:

Thou lovest me not? What matters it?
My soul is linked to thine,
As clings the leaf unto the tree:
Cold winter comes; it falls; let be!
So I for thee will pine. My fate pursues me to the tomb.
Thou fliest? Even in its gloom
Thou art not free.
What follows in thy steps? Thy shade?
Ah, no! my soul in pain, sweet maid,
E'er watches thee.

"My soul is linked to thine, as clings the leaf unto the tree!" Michel
repeated the lines with a sort of defiance in his look, and longed
impatiently and nervously for the day to end.

A rapid flush of anger mounted to his face as his valet entered with a
card upon a salver, and he exclaimed, harshly:

"Did not Pierre give you my orders that I would receive no one?"

"I beg your pardon, Monsieur; but Monsieur Labanoff insisted so
strongly--"

"Labanoff?" repeated Michel.

"Monsieur Labanoff, who leaves Paris this evening, and desires to see
Monsieur before his departure."

The name of Labanoff recalled to Michel an old friend whom he had met in
all parts of Europe, and whom he had not seen for a long time. He liked
him exceedingly for a sort of odd pessimism of aggressive philosophy, a
species of mysticism mingled with bitterness, which Labanoff took no
pains to conceal. The young Hungarian had, perhaps, among the men of his
own age, no other friend in the world than this Russian with odd ideas,
whose enigmatical smile puzzled and interested him.

He looked at the clock. Labanoff's visit might make the time pass until
dinner.

"Admit Monsieur Labanoff!"

In a few moments Labanoff entered. He was a tall, thin young man, with a
complexion the color of wax, flashing eyes, and a little pointed
mustache. His hair, black and curly, was brushed straight up from his
forehead. He had the air of a soldier in his long, closely buttoned
frock-coat.

It was many months since these two men had met; but they had been long
bound together by a powerful sympathy, born of quiet talks and
confidences, in which each had told the other of similar sufferings.
A long deferred secret hope troubled Labanoff as the memory of Marsa
devoured Menko; and they had many times exchanged dismal theories upon
the world, life, men, and laws. Their common bitterness united them.
And Michel received Labanoff, despite his resolution to receive no one,
because he was certain that he should find in him the same suffering as
that expressed by De Musset and Petoefi.

Labanoff, to-day, appeared to him more enigmatical and gloomy than ever.
From the lips of the Russian fell only words of almost tragical mystery.

Menko made him sit down by his side upon a divan, and he noticed that an
extraordinary fever seemed to burn in the blue eyes of his friend.

"I learned that you had returned from London," said Labanoff; "and, as I
was leaving Paris, I wished to see you before my departure. It is
possible that we may never see each other again."

"Why?"

"I am going to St. Petersburg on pressing business."

"Have you finished your studies in Paris?"

"Oh! I had already received my medical diploma when I came here. I have
been living in Paris only to be more at my ease to pursue--a project
which interests me."

"A project?"

Menko asked the question mechanicaljy, feeling very little curiosity to
know Labanoff's secret; but the Russian's face wore a strange, ironical
smile as he answered:

"I have nothing to say on that subject, even to the man for whom I have
the most regard."

His brilliant eyes seemed to see strange visions before them. He
remained silent for a moment, and then rose with an abrupt movement.

"There," he said, "that is all I had to tell you, my dear Menko. Now,
'au revoir', or rather, good-by; for, as I said before, I shall probably
never see you again."

"And why, pray?"

"Oh! I don't know; it is an idea of mine. And then, my beloved Russia
is such a strange country. Death comes quickly there."

He had still upon his lips that inexplicable smile, jesting and sad at
once.

Menko grasped the long, white hand extended to him.

"My dear Labanoff, it is not difficult to guess that you are going on
some dangerous errand." Smiling: "I will not do you the injustice to
believe you a nihilist."

Labanoff's blue eyes flashed.

"No," he said, "no, I am not a nihilist. Annihilation is absurd; but
liberty is a fine thing!"

He stopped short, as if he feared that he had already said too much.

"Adieu, my dear Menko."

The Hungarian detained him with a gesture, saying, with a tremble in his
voice:

"Labanoff! You have found me when a crisis in my life is also impending.
I am about, like yourself, to commit a great folly; a different one from
yours, no doubt. However, I have no right to tell you that you are about
to commit some folly."

"No," calmly replied the Russian, very pale, but still smiling, "it is
not a folly."

"But it is a danger?" queried Menko.

Labanoff made no reply.

"I do not know either," said Michel, "how my affair will end. But, since
chance has brought us together today, face to face--"

"It was not chance, but my own firm resolution to see you again before my
departure."

"I know what your friendship for me is, and it is for that reason that I
ask you to tell me frankly where you will be in a month."

"In a month?" repeated Labanoff.

"Give me the route you are going to take? Shall you be a fixture at St.
Petersburg?"

"Not immediately," responded the Russian, slowly, his gaze riveted upon
Menko. "In a month I shall still be at Warsaw. At St. Petersburg the
month after."

"Thanks. I only ask you to let me know, in some way, where you are."

"Why?"

"Because, I should like to join you."

"You!"

"It is only a fancy," said Menko, with an attempt at a laugh. "I am
bored with life--you know it; I find it a nuisance. If we did not spur
it like an old, musty horse, it would give us the same idiotic round of
days. I do not know--I do not wish to know--why you are going to Russia,
and what this final farewell of which you have just spoken signifies;
I simply guess that you are off on some adventure, and it is possible
that I may ask you to allow me to share it."

"Why?" said Labanoff, coldly. "You are not a Russian."

Menko smiled, and, placing his hands upon the thin shoulders of his
friend, he said:

"Those words reveal many things. It is well that they were not said
before an agent of police."

"Yes," responded Labanoff, firmly. "But I am not in the habit of
recklessly uttering my thoughts; I know that I am speaking now to Count
Menko."

"And Count Menko will be delighted, my dear Labanoff, if you will let him
know where, in Poland or Russia, he must go, soon, to obtain news of you.
Fear nothing: neither there nor here will I question you. But I shall be
curious to know what has become of you, and you know that I have enough
friendship for you to be uneasy about you. Besides, I long to be on the
move; Paris, London, the world, in short, bores me, bores me, bores me!"

"The fact is, it is stupid, egotistical and cowardly," responded
Labanoff.

He again held out to Menko his nervous hand, burning, like his blue eyes,
with fever.

"Farewell!" he said.

"No, no, 'au revoir'!"

"'Au revoir' be it then. I will let you know what has become of me."

"And where you are?"

"And where I am."

"And do not be astonished if I join you some fine morning."

"Nothing ever astonishes me," said the Russian. "Nothing!"

And in that word nothing were expressed profound disgust with life and
fierce contempt of death.

Menko warmly grasped his friend's thin and emaciated hand; and, the last
farewell spoken to the fanatic departing for some tragical adventure, the
Hungarian became more sombre and troubled than before, and Labanoff's
appearance seemed like a doubtful apparition. He returned to his longing
to see the end of the most anxious day of his life.

At last, late in the evening, Michel entered his coupe, and was driven
away-down the Rue d'Aumale, through the Rue Pigalle and the Rue de Douai,
to the rondpoint of the Place Clichy, the two lanterns casting their
clear light into the obscurity. The coupe then took the road to Maisons-
Lafitte, crossing the plain and skirting wheat-fields and vineyards, with
the towering silhouette of Mont Valerien on the left, and on the right,
sharply defined against the sky, a long line of hills, dotted with woods
and villas, and with little villages nestling at their base, all plunged
in a mysterious shadow.

Michel, with absent eyes, gazed at all this, as Trilby rapidly trotted
on. He was thinking of what lay before him, of the folly he was about to
commit, as he had said to Labanoff. It was a folly; and yet, who could
tell? Might not Marsa have reflected? Might she not; alarmed at his
threats, be now awaiting him? Her exquisite face, like a lily, rose
before him; an overwhelming desire to annihilate time and space took
possession of him, and he longed to be standing, key in hand, before the
little gate in the garden wall.

He was well acquainted with the great park of Maisons-Lafitte, with the
white villas nestling among the trees. On one side Prince Tchereteff's
house looked out upon an almost desert tract of land, on which a
racecourse had been mapped out; and on the other extended with the
stables and servants' quarters to the forest, the wall of the Avenue
Lafitte bounding the garden. In front of the villa was a broad lawn,
ending in a low wall with carved gates, allowing, through the branches of
the oaks and chestnuts, a view of the hills of Cormeilles.

After crossing the bridge of Sartrouville, Michel ordered his coachman to
drive to the corner of the Avenue Corneille, where he alighted in the
shadow of a clump of trees.

"You will wait here, Pierre," he said, "and don't stir till I return."

He walked past the sleeping houses, under the mysterious alleys of the
trees, until he reached the broad avenue which, cutting the park in two,
ran from the station to the forest. The alley that he was seeking
descended between two rows of tall, thick trees, forming an arch
overhead, making it deliciously cool and shady in the daytime, but now
looking like a deep hole, black as a tunnel. Pushing his way through the
trees and bushes, and brushing aside the branches of the acacias, the
leaves of which fell in showers about him, Michel reached an old wall,
the white stones of which were overgrown with ivy. Behind the wall the
wind rustled amid the pines and oaks like the vague murmur of a coming
storm. And there, at the end of the narrow path, half hidden by the ivy,
was the little gate he was seeking. He cautiously brushed aside the
leaves and felt for the keyhole; but, just as he was about to insert the
key, which burned in his feverish fingers, he stopped short.

Was Marsa awaiting him? Would she not call for help, drive him forth,
treat him like a thief?

Suppose the gate was barred from within? He looked at the wall, and saw
that by clinging to the ivy he could reach the top. He had not come here
to hesitate. No, a hundred times no!

Besides, Marsa was certainly there, trembling, fearful, cursing him
perhaps, but still there.

"No," he murmured aloud in the silence, "were even death behind that
gate, I would not recoil."

CHAPTER XVI

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