Sunday, 1 November 2015

ONE DAY Part II

ONE DAY

      He had given himself up so thoroughly to political interests that he hadnot taken time to marry. This was a great disappointment to his mother, Lady Henrietta, who had set her heart upon welcoming a daughter-in-lawand a houseful of merry, romping grandchildren before the sun of herlife had gone down forever. It was also a secret source ofdisappointment to certain younger feminine hearts as well, who in thedays of his youth, and even in the ripeness of later years, had regardedPaul Verdayne with eyes that found him good to look upon. But the youngpolitician had never been a woman's man. He was chivalrous, of course, as all well-bred Englishmen are, but he kept himself as aloof from allsociety as politeness would permit, and the attack of the mostskillfully aimed glances fell harmless, even unheeded, upon hisimpenetrable armor. He might have married wherever he had willed, butSociety and her fair votaries sighed and smiled in vain, and finallydecided to leave him alone, to Verdayne's infinite relief.
As for the Boy, he was always, as I have said, a mystery, always a topicfor the consideration of the gossips. Every year since he was a littlefellow six years old he had come to Verdayne Place for the summer; atfirst, accompanied by his nurse, Anna, and a silver-haired servant, curiously named Dmitry. Later the nurse had ceased to be a necessity, and the old servant had been replaced by Vasili, a younger, but no lessdevoted attendant. As the Boy grew older, he had learned to hunt andtook long rides with his then youthful host across the wide stretch ofEnglish country that made up the Verdayne estates and those of theneighboring gentry. Often they cruised about in distant waters, for theyoung fellow from his earliest years shared with the elder an absorbinglove of nature in all her varied and glorious forms; and in February, always in February, Verdayne found time to steal away from England for abrief visit to that far-off country in the south of Europe from whichthe Boy came. Many remembered that Verdayne, like an uncle of his, LordHubert Aldringham, had been much given to foreign travel in his youngerdays and had made many friends and acquaintances among the nobility androyalty of other lands, and although it was strange, they thought it wasnot at all improbable that the lad was connected with some one of thosegreat families across the Channel. 

      As for Paul and the Boy, they knew not what people thought or said, andcared still less. There was too strong a bond of _camaraderie_ betweenthem to be disturbed by the murmurings of a wind that could blow neitherof them good or ill. 

      And the Boy was now twenty years of age. 

      Suddenly Paul Zalenska broke their long silence. 

      "Do you know, Uncle, I sometimes have a queer feeling of fear that myfather must have done something terrible in his life--something to makestrong men shrink and shudder at the thought--something--_criminal_! Oh, I dare not think of that!" he went on hastily. "I dare not--I dare not!I think the knowledge of it would drive me mad!"




      His voice sank to a half-whisper and there was a note of horror in hiswords. 

      "But, what a king he must have been!--what a miserable apology  for allthat royalty should be by every law, human or divine! Why isn't his nameheralded over the length and breadth of the kingdom in paeans of praise?Why isn't the whole world talking of his valor, his beneficence, hisstatesmanship? What is a king created a king for, if not to makehistory?"

      He fought silently for a moment to regain his self-control, forcing thehideous idea from him and at last speaking with an air of finalitybeyond his years. 

      "No, I won't think of it! May the King of the world endow me with thestrength of the gods and the wisdom of the ancient seers, that I maymake up by my efficiency for all my father's deplorable lack, and becomeall that my mother meant me to be when she gave me to the world!"

      He stretched out his arms in a passionate appeal to Heaven, and PaulVerdayne, looking up at him, realized as he had never before that theBoy certainly had within him the stuff of which kings should be made. 

      The Boy was not going to disappoint him. He was going to justify thehigh hopes cherished for him so long. He was going to be a man after hismother's own heart. 

      "Uncle, " went on the Boy, wrought up to a high pitch of emotion, andthrowing himself down again at Verdayne's feet, "I feel with Louis XVI, 'I am too young to reign!' Why haven't I ever had a father to teach andtrain me in the way I should go? Every boy needs a good father, princesmost of all, so much more is expected of us poor royal devils than ofmore ordinary and more fortunate mortals! I know I shouldn' becomplaining like this--certainly not to you, Uncle Paul, who have beenall most fathers are to most boys! But there are times, you know, whenyou persist in keeping me at arm's length as you keep everyone else!When you put up that sign, 'Thus far and no further!' I feel myselfalmost a stranger! Won't you let me come nearer? Won't you take downthat barrier between us and let me have a father--at least, in name? I'mtired of calling you 'Uncle' who uncle never was and never could be!You're far more of a father--really you are! Let me call you in namewhat you have always been in spirit. Let me say 'Father Paul!' I likethe sound of it, don't you? 'Father Paul!'--'Father Paul!'"

      Paul Verdayne felt every drop of blood leave his face. He felt as if theBoy had inadvertently laid a cold hand upon his naked heart, chilling, paralyzing its every beat. What did he mean? The Boy was just thenlooking thoughtfully at the setting sun and did not see the change thathis words called into his companion's face--thank heaven for that!--butwhat _could_ he mean?

      "You can call yourself my 'Father Confessor, ' you know, if you entertainany scruples as to the propriety of a staid old bachelor's fathering astray young cub like me--that will make it all right, surely! You willlet me, won't you? In all the world there is no one so close to me asyou, and such dreams as I may happily bring to fulfillment will be, morethan you know, because of your guidance, your inspiration. You are thefather of my spirit, whoever may have been the father of my flesh! Letit be hereafter, then, not 'Uncle, ' but 'Father Paul'!"

      And the older man, rising and standing by the Boy, threw his arm aroundthe young shoulders, and gazing far off to the distant west, felthimself shaken by a strange emotion as he answered, "Yes, Boy, hereafterlet it be 'Father Paul!'"

      And as the sun travelled faster and faster toward the line of itscrossing between the worlds of night and day, its rays reflected a newradiance upon the faces of the two men who sat in  the silent shadows ofthe park, feeling themselves drawn more closely together than everbefore, thinking, thinking, thinking-in the eyes of the man a greatmemory, in the eyes of the Boy a great longing for life!


      The two friends ran up to London for the theatre that night, to see afamous actor in a popular play, but neither was much interested in theperformance. Something had kindled in the heart of the man a reminiscentfire and the Boy was thinking his own thoughts and listening, everlistening. 

      "I'm several kinds of a fool, " he thought, "but I'd like to hear thatvoice again and get a glimpse of the face that goes with it. I dare sayshe is anything but attractive in the flesh--if she is really in theflesh at all, which I am beginning to doubt--so I should be disenchantedif I were to see her, I suppose. But I'd like to _know_!" Yet, afterall, he could not comprehend how such a voice could accompany anunattractive face. The spirit that animated those tones must needs lightup the most ordinary countenance with character, if not with beauty, hethought; but he saw no face in the vast audience to which he cared toassign it.
No, _she_ wasn't there. He was sure of that. 

      But as they left the building and stood upon the pavement, awaitingtheir carriage, his blood mounted to his face, dyeing it crimson. In thesudden silence that mysteriously falls on even vast crowds, sometimes, he heard that voice again!

      It was only a snatch of mischievous laughter from a brougham just beingdriven away from the curb, but it was unmistakably _the_ voice. Had theBoy been alone he would have followed the brougham and solved themystery then and there. 

      The laugh rang out again on the summer evening air. It was like a liltof fairies' merriment in the moonlit revels of Far Away! It was the noteof a siren's song, calling, calling the hearts and souls of men! Itwas--But the Boy stopped and shook himself free from the "sentimentalrot" he was indulging in. 

      He turned with a question on his lips, but Verdane had noticed nothingand the Boy did not speak. 

      Still that laugh thrilled and mocked him all the way to Berkeley Squareand lured him on and on through the night's mysterious dreams. 

      In the drawing room of her mansion on Grosvenor Square, Lady AliceMordaunt was pouring tea, and talking as usual the same triflingcommonplaces that had on a previous occasion excited her cousin'sdisdain. Opposite her sat her mother, Lady Fletcher, a perfect model ofthe well-bred English matron, while Opal Ledoux, in the daintiest andfluffiest of summer costumes, was curled up like a kitten in a corner ofthe window-seat, apparently engrossed in a book, but in reality watchingthe passers-by. 

      From her childhood up she had lived in a Castle of Dreams, which she hadpeopled with the sort of men and women that suited her own fancifulromantic ideas, and where she herself was supposed to lie

asleep untilher ideal knight, the Prince Charming of the story, came across landand sea to storm the Castle and wake her with a kiss. 

      It was made up of moonbeams and rays of sunshine andrainbow-gleams--this dream--woven by fairy fingers into so fragile acobweb that it seemed absurd to think it could stand the winds andtorrents of Grown-Up Land; but Opal, in spite of her eighteen years, wasstill awaiting the coming of her ideal knight, though the stage settingof the drama, and her picture of just how the Prince Charming of herdreams was to look, and what he would say, had changed materially withthe passing of the years. 

      If sometimes she wove strange lines of tragedy throughout the dreams, out of the threads of shadow that flitted across the sunshine of herlife, she did not reject them. She felt they belonged there and did notshrink, even when her young face paled at the curious self-pity thepassing of the thought invoked. 

      Hers was a strange mixture, made up of an unusual intermingling of manybloods. Born in New Orleans, of a father who was a direct descendant ofthe early French settlers of Louisiana, and of a Creole mother, whomight have traced her ancestry back to one of the old grandees of Spain, she yet clung with a jealous affection to the land of her birth andcalled herself defiantly "a thorough-bred American!" Her mother had diedin giving her birth, and her father, while she was still too young toremember, had married a fair Englishwoman who had tried hard to be amother to the strange little creature whose blood leaped and dancedwithin her veins with all the fire and romance of foreign suns. Gay  andpleasure-mad as she usually appeared, there was always the shadow of aheartache in her eye, and one felt the possibility of a tragedy in hernature. In fact one felt intuitively sorry--almost afraid--for her lesther daring, adventurous spirit should lead her too close to theprecipice along the rocky pathway of life. 

      She was thinking many strange thoughts as she sat looking out of thewindow. Her English cousins, related to her only through her stepmother, yet called kin for courtesy's sake, had given up trying to understandher complexities, as she had likewise given up trying to explainherself. If they were pleased forever to consider her in the light of aconundrum, she thought, why--let them!

      After a while the ladies at the tea-table began to chat in moreconfidential tones. Opal was not too oblivious to her surroundings tonotice, nor to grasp the fact that they were discussing her, but thatknowledge did not interest her. She was so used to being considered acuriosity that it had ceased to have any special concern for her. Sheonly hoped that they would sometime succeed in understanding her betterthan she had yet learned to understand herself. It might have interestedher, however, had she overheard this particular conversation, for itshed a great light upon certain shades of character she had discoveredin herself and often wondered about, but had never had explained to her. 

      But she did not hear. 

      "I am greatly concerned about Opal, " Lady Alice was saying. "She is themost difficult creature, Mamma--you've no idea how peculiar--with themost dangerous, positively _immoral_ ideas. I do wish she were safelymarried, for then--well, there is really no knowing what might happen toa girl who thinks and talks as she does. I used to think it might be asort of American pose--put on for startling effect, you know--but Ibegin to think she actually means it!"

      
"Yes, she means it, "
 replied Lady Fletcher, lowering her voicediscreetly, till it was little more than a whisper. "She has always hadjust such notions. It gives Amy a great deal of trouble and worry tokeep her straight. You know--or perhaps you didn't know, for we don'ttalk of these things often, especially when they are in one'sfamily--but there is a bad strain in her blood and they are alwayslooking for it to crop out somewhere. Her mother married happily--andescaped the curse--but for several generations back the women of herfamily have been of peculiar temperament and--they've usually gone wrongsometime in their lives. It seems to be in the blood. They can't helpit. Mr. Ledoux told Amy all about it at the time of their marriage, andthat is the reason they have tried to keep Opal as secluded as possiblefrom the usual free-and-easy associations of American girls, and are soanxious to marry her off wisely. "

      "And speedily, " put in Alice--"the sooner the better!"

      "Yes, yes--speedily!"

      Lady Fletcher gave an uneasy glance in Opal's direction before shecontinued. 

      "You are too young to have heard the story, Alice, but hergrandmother--a black-eyed Spanish lady of high rank--was made quiteunpleasantly notorious by her associations with a brother of LadyHenrietta Verdayne. He was an unprincipled roué--this Lord HubertAldringham--a libertine who openly boasted of the conquests he had madeabroad. Being appointed to many foreign posts in the diplomatic service, he was naturally on intimate terms with people of rank and royalty. Theysay he was very fascinating, with the devil's own eye, and ten times asdevilish a heart--"

      "Why, Mamma!"

      Alice was shocked. 

      "I am only repeating what they said, child, " apologized the elder womanmeekly. "Women will be fools, you know, over a handsome face and atender voice--some women, I mean--and that's what Opal has to fightagainst. "

      "Poor Opal, " murmured Alice, "I did not know!"

      "Some even go so far as to say--"

      Again Lady Fletcher looked up apprehensively, but Opal was stillabsorbed in her dreams. 

      "To say--what, Mother?"

      "Well, of course it's only talk--nobody can actually _know, _ I suppose, and I wouldn't, of course, be quoted as saying anything for the world, dear knows; but they say that it is more than probable that Opal'smother was . . . _Lord Hubert's own daughter!"_

      "Oh, Mother! If it is true--if it _could_ be true--what a fight forher!"

      "Yes, and the worst of it is with Opal, she won't fight. She has beenrigidly trained in the principles of virtue and propriety from her verybirth, and yet she horrifies every one at times by shocking ideas--thatno one knows where she gets, nor, worse yet, where they may lead!"

      "But she is good, Mother. She has the noblest ideas of charity andkindness and altruism, of the advancement of all that's good and true inthe world, of the attainment of knowledge, of the beauties andconsolation of religion. It's fine to hear her talk when she'sinspired--not a bit preachy, you know--she's certainly far enough fromthat--but more like reading some beautiful poem you can but halfunderstand, or listening to music that makes you wish you were better, whether you take in its full meaning or not. "
This was a long speech for Lady Alice. Her mother looked at her inamazement. There certainly must be something out of the ordinary in thispeculiar American cousin to wake Alice from her customary languor. 

      Alice smiled at her mother's surprise. 

      "Strange, isn't it, Mother?" she asked, half ashamed of her unusualenthusiasm. "But it's true. She'd help some good man to be a power inthe world. I feel it so often when she talks. I didn't know women everthought such things as she does. I-I-I believe we can trust her, Mother, to steer clear of everything!"

      "I hope so, Alice; I am sure I hope so, but--I don't know. I am afraidit was a mistake to keep her so much alone. It gives her more unrealideas of life than actual contact with the world would have done. "

      Opal Ledoux left the window and sauntered down the long drawing-roomtoward the table where the speakers were sitting. 

      "What are you talking about?--me?"

The cousins were surprised and showed it by blushing guiltily. 

      Opal laughed merrily. 

      "Dreary subject for a dreary day! I hope you found it more interestingthan I have!" And she stretched her small figure to its utmost height, which was not a bit above five foot, and shrugged her shoulders lazily. 

      "What are you reading, Opal?" asked Lady Fletcher, in an effort tochange the subject, looking with some interest at the volume that thegirl carried. 

      "Don't ask me--all twaddle and moonshine! I ought not to waste myvaluable time with such trash. There isn't a real character in the book, not one. When I write a book, and I presume I shall some time, if I livelong enough, I shall put people into it who have real flesh and blood inthem and who do startling things. But I'll have to live it all first!"

      "Live the startling things, Opal? God forbid!"

      "Surely! Why not?"
And Opal dropped listlessly into a chair, tossed the offending book on atable, and taking a cup of tea from the hand of her cousin, began to sipit with an air of languid indifference, which sat strangely on heryouthful, almost childlike figure. 

      "By the way, Alice, " she asked carelessly, "who was the young man whostared at us so rudely last night as we drove away from the theatre?"

      "I saw no young man staring, Opal. Where was he?"

      "Why, he stood on the pavement, waiting, I suppose, for his carriage, and as we drove away he looked at me as though he thought I had no rightto live, and still less to laugh--I believe I was laughing--and as weturned the corner I peeped back through the curtain, and he still stoodthere in the full glare of the light, staring. It's impolite, cousins--_very! Gentlemen_ don't stare at girls in America!"

      "What did he look like, Opal?" asked Lady Fletcher. 

      "Like a Greek god!" answered the girl, without a second's hesitation. 

      "What!"

      Both women gasped, simultaneously. They were dismayed. 

      "Oh, don't be shocked! He had the full panoply of society war-paint on. He was certainly properly clothed, but as to his being in his rightmind, I have my doubts--serious doubts! He stared!"

      "I hope you didn't stare at him, Opal!"

      "Well, I did! What could he expect? And I laughed at him, too! But Idon't believe he saw me at all, more's the pity. I am quite sure hewould have fallen in love with me if he had!"

      "Opal!"

      Opal was thoroughly enjoying herself now. She did enjoy shocking peoplewho were so delightfully shockable!

      "Why, _'Opal'?"_ and her mimicry was irresistible. "Don't you think I'ma bit lovable, cousin?--not a bit? You discourage me! I'm doomed to be aspinster, I suppose! Ah, me! And I'd far rather be the spinster's cat!Cats aren't worried about the conventions and all that sort of thing. Happy animals! While we poor two-footed ones they call human--only wearen't really more than half so--have to keep our claws well hidden andpurr hypocritically, no matter how roughly the world rubs our fur thewrong way, nor how wild we are to scratch and spit and bristle! Wouldn'tyou like to be a cat, Alice?"

      "Goodness, child! What an idea! I am very well contented, Opal, withthe sphere of life into which I have been placed!"

      "Happy, happy Alice! May that state of mind endure forever! But come!Haven't you an idea, either of you, who my Knight of the Stare can be?"

      "You didn't describe him, Opal. "

      Opal opened her eyes in wide surprise. 

      "Didn't I? Why, I thought I did, graphically! A Greek god, dressed _enrègle_. What more do you want? I am sure anyone ought to recognize himby that. "

      Her listeners looked at her in real consternation, which she was quickto see. Her eyes danced. 

      "Well, if you insist upon details, I can supply a few, I guess, if Itry. I am really dying of curiosity to know who he is and why he stared. Of course I didn't look at him very closely. It wouldn't havebeen--er--what do you call it?--proper. And of course I could not seeclearly at night, anyway. But I did notice he was about six feet tall. Imagine me, poor little me, looking up to six feet! With broadshoulders; an athletic, muscular figure, like a young Hercules; awell-shaped head, like Apollo's, covered with curls of fair hair; asmooth, clear skin, with the tint of the rose in his cheek that deepenedto blood-red when his blue eyes, in which the skies of all the worldseemed to be mirrored, stared with an expression like that of a man uponwhom the splendor of some glorious Paradise was just dawning. He lookedlike an Englishman, yet something in his attitude and general appearancemade me think that he was not. His hands--"

      "Opal! Opal! What do you mean? How could you see so much of a young manin so short a time? And at night, too?" Opal pouted. 

      "You wanted a detailed description. I was trying to give it to you. As Itold you at the start, I couldn't see much. But anyway, he stared!"

      "And I dare say he wasn't the only one who stared!" put in Lady Alice indry tones of reprehension. "I can't imagine who it could be, can you, mother?"

      "Not unless it was that strange young Monsieur Zalenska--_Paul_Zalenska, I believe he calls himself--Paul Verdayne's guest. I ratherthink, from the description, that it must have been he!"

      "Zalenska? What a name! I wonder if he won't let me call him 'Paul!'"said the incorrigible Opal, musingly. "I shall ask him the first time Isee him. Paul's a pretty name! I like that--but I'll never, never beable to twist my tongue around the other. He'd get out of hearing beforeI could call him and that would never do at all! But 'Monsieur, ' yousay? Why 'Monsieur'? He certainly doesn't look at all like a Frenchman!"
"No one knows what he is, Opal; nor who. That is, no one but theVerdaynes. He has always made a mystery of himself. "

      Opal clapped her small hands childishly. 

      "Charming! My ideal knight in the flesh! But how shall I attract him?"

      She knitted her brows and pondered as seriously as though the fate ofnations depended upon her decision. 

      "Shall I send him my card, Alice, and ask him to call? Or would it bebetter to make an appointment with him for the Park? Perhaps a'personal' in the _News_ would answer my purpose--do you think he readsthe _News_, or would the _Times_ be better? Come, cousins, what do youthink? I am so young, you know! Please advise me. "

      She clasped her hands in a charming gesture of helpless appeal and theladies looked at one another in horrified silence. What unheard of thingwould this impossible girl propose next! They would be thankful whenthey saw her once more safely embarked for the "land of the free, " andout from under their chaperonage, they hoped, forever. They realizedthat she was quite beyond their restraining powers. Had she no sense ofdecency at all?

      The door opened, callers were announced, and the day was saved. 

      Opal straightened up, put on what she called her "best dignity" andcomported herself in so very well-bred and amiable a manner that hercousins quite forgave all her past delinquencies and smiled approvalupon the charming courtesy she extended to their guests. She could be_such_ a lady when she would! No one could resist her!
And yet they feltthemselves sitting upon the crater of a volcano liable to erupt at anymoment. One never felt quite safe with Opal. 

      But, much to their surprise and relief, everything went beautifully, andthe guests departed, delighted with Lady Alice's "charming Americancousin, so sweet, so dainty, so witty, so brilliant, and altogetherlovely--really quite a dear, you know!"

      But for all that, Lady Alice Mordaunt and Lady Fletcher were far fromfeeling easy over their guest, and ardently wished that the girl'sfather would cut short his visit to France and return to take her backwith him to America. And while these two worthy ladies worried andfretted, Opal Ledoux laughed and dreamed. 

      And in a big mansion over in Berkeley Square Monsieur Paul Zalenskawondered--and listened. 

      
      It was a whole two weeks after the Boy's experience at the theatre, andthough the echoes of that mysterious voice still rang through all hisdreams at night, and most of his waking hours, he had not heard its liltagain. 

      Paul Verdayne smiled to himself to note the youngster's sudden interestin society. He had not--strange as it may seem--been told a word of theexperience, but he was not curious. He certainly knew the world, ifanyone knew it, and though he was sure he recognized the symptoms, hehad too much tact to ask, "Who is the girl?"

      "Let the Boy have his little secrets, " he thought, remembering his owncallow days. "They will do him good. "
And though the Boy felt an undue sense of guilt, he continued to keephis lips closed and his eyes and ears open, though it often seemed soutterly useless to do so. Sometimes he wondered if he had dropped tosleep, there behind the hawthorn hedge that afternoon, and dreamed itall. 

      Verdayne and the Boy were sitting at luncheon at the Savoy. Sir Charlesand Lady Henrietta had gone down to Verdayne Place for a week, and thetwo men were spending most of their time away from the lonely house inBerkeley Square. 

      That day they were discussing the Boy's matrimonial prospects asproposed by the Grand Duke Peter--indeed, they were usually discussingthem. The Boy had written, signifying his acceptance and approval of thearrangements as made. Nothing else was expected of him for the present, but his nature had not ceased its revolt against the decree of Fate, andPaul Verdayne shared his feeling of repugnance to the utmost. PerhapsVerdayne felt it even more acutely than the young Prince himself, for heknew so much better all that the Boy was sacrificing. But he also knew, as did the poor royal victim himself, that it was inevitable. 

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