Monday, 2 November 2015

ONE DAY Part V


      And then she purred in his ear, all the time caressing his cheek withher small white fingers: "You see, Paul, I knew I had made some sort ofimpression upon you. I must have done so or you wouldn't have--donethat! But any girl can make an impression on shipboard, and an affair atsea is always so--evanescent, that no one expects it to last more thana week. I don't want to make such a transitory impression upon you, Paul. I wanted you to remember me longer. I wanted--oh, I wanted to giveyou something to remember that was just a little bit different thanother girls had given you--some distinct impression that must lingerwith you--always--always! I'm not like other women! Do you see, Paul? Itwas all sheer vanity. I wanted you to remember!"

      "And did you think I could forget?"

      "Of course! All men forget a kiss as soon as their lips cease tingling!"

      Paul laughed. "Wise girl! Who taught you so much? Come, confess!"
"Oh, I've known _you_ a whole week, Paul, and you----"

      But their lips met again and the sentence was never finished. 

      At last she put her hands on each side of his face and looked up intohis eyes. 

      "Aren't you ashamed of yourself, Paul?"

      "Of course not!"

      "Of course you are!"

      "You misunderstood me!--I said _'Not'_! But why? Are you ashamed ofme?"

      "I ought to be, oughtn't I? But--I don't believe you can help it!"

      His lips crushed hers again, fiercely. "I can't, Opal--I can't!"

      She turned away her head, but he buried his face in her neck,
kissingthe soft flesh again and again. 

      "Such a slip of a girl!" Paul murmured in her ear, when he again foundhis voice. "Such a tiny, little girl! I am almost afraid you will vanishif I don't hold you tight!"

      Opal was thoroughly aroused now--no longer merely passive--quitesatisfactorily responsive. 

      "I won't, Paul! I won't! But hold me closer, closer! Crush this terribleache out of my heart if you can, Paul!"

      There were tears in her voice. He clasped her to him and felt her heartthrobbing out its pain against its own, as he whispered, "Opal, am I abrute?"

      "N-o-o-o-o!" A pause. At last, "Let me go now, Paul! This is sheerinsanity!"

      But he made no move to release her until she looked up into his eyes inan agony of appeal, and pleaded, "Please, Paul!"

      "Are you sure you want to go?"
"No, I'm not sure of that, but I'm quite sure that I _ought_ to go! Imust! I must!"

      And Paul released her. Where was this madness carrying them? Was heacting the part of the man he meant to be, or of a cad--an unprincipledbounder? He did not know. He only knew he wanted to kiss her--_kiss_her. . . . 

      She turned on him in a sudden flash of indignation. "Why have you suchpower over me?" she demanded. 

      "What power over you, Opal!"

      "What's the use of dodging the truth, you professor of honesty? You makeme do things we both know I'll be sorry for all the rest of my life. _Why_ do you do it?"

      Her eyes blazed with a real anger that made her _piquante_ face morealluring than ever to the eyes of the infatuated Boy who watched her. Hewas fighting desperately for self-control, but if she should look athim as she had looked sometimes--!
"I can't understand it!" she exclaimed. "I always knew I was capable ofbeing foolish--wicked, perhaps--for a _grande passion_. I could forgivemyself that, I think! But for a mere caprice--a _penchant_ like this!Oh, Paul! what can you think of me?"

      His voice was hoarse--heavy with emotion. 

      "Think of you, Opal? I am sure you must know what I think. I've neverhad an opportunity to tell you--in so many words--but you must have seenwhat I have certainly taken no pains to conceal. Shall I try to tellyou, Opal?"

      "No, no! I don't want to hear a word--not a word! Do you understand? Iforbid you!"

      Paul bowed deferentially. She laughed nervously at the humility in hisobeisance. 

      "Don't be ridiculous!" she commanded. "This is growing too melodramatic, and I hate a scene. But, really, Paul, you mustn't--simply mustn't!There are reasons--conditions--and--you must not tell me, and I mustnot, _will_ not listen!"
"I mustn't make love to you, you mean?"

      "I mean . . . Just that!"

      "Why not?"

      "Never mind the 'why. ' There are plenty of good and sufficient reasonsthat I might give if I chose, but--I don't choose! The only reason thatyou need to know is--that I forbid you!"

      She turned away with that regal air of hers that made one forget herchild-like stature. 

      "Are you going, Opal?"

      "Yes!--what did I come out here for? I can't remember. Do you know?"

      "To wish me good-night, of course! And you haven't done it!"

      She looked back over her shoulder, a mocking laugh in those inscrutableeyes. Then she turned and held out both hands to him. "Good-night, Paul, good-night!. . . You seem able to do as you please withme, in spite of--everything--and I just want to stay in your armsforever--forever . . . "

      Paul caught her to him, and their lips melted in a clinging kiss. 

      At last she drew away from his embrace. 

      "The glitter of the moonlight and the music of the wind-maddened wavesmust have gone to my brain!" She laughed merrily, pulled his face downto hers for a last swift kiss, and ran from him before he could detainher. 


      The next morning they met for a brief moment alone. 

      Opal shook hands with the Boy in her most perfunctory manner. 

      Paul, after a moment's silent contemplation of her troubled face, bentover her, saying, "Have I offended you, Opal? Are you angry with me?"
She opened her eyes wide and asked with the utmost innocence "For what?"

      Paul was disconcerted. "Last night!" he said faintly. 

      She colored, painfully. 

      "No, Paul, listen! I don't blame you a bit!--not a bit! A man would be adownright fool not to take--what he wanted---- But if you want tobe--friends with me, you'll just forget all about--last night--or at anyrate, ignore it, and never refer to it again. "

      He extended his hand, and she placed hers in it for the briefestpossible instant. 

      And then their _tête-à-tête_ was interrupted, and they sat down fortheir last breakfast at sea. 

      Opal Ledoux was not visible again until the Lusitania docked in NewYork, when she waved her _companion de voyage_ a smiling but none theless reluctant _au revoir_!
But Paul was too far away to see the tears in her eyes, and onlyremembered the smile. 


      New York's majestic greatness and ceaseless, tireless activity speedilyengrossed the Boy and opened his eager eyes to a wider horizon than hehad yet known. There was a new influence in the whir and hum of thismetropolis of the Western world that set the wheels of thought to a morerapid motion, and keyed his soul to its highest tension. 

      It was not until his first letter from the homeland had come across thewaters that he paused to wonder what the new factor in his life meantfor his future. He had not allowed his reason to assert itself until theforce of circumstances demanded that he look his soul in the face, andlearn whither he was drifting. Paul was no coward, but he quailed beforethe ominous clouds that threatened the happiness of himself and the girlhe loved. 

      For now he knew that he loved Opal Ledoux. It was Fate. He had guessedit at the first sound of her voice; he had felt it at the first glanceof her eye; and he had known it beyond the peradventure of a doubt atthe first touch of her lips. 

      Yet this letter from his kingdom was full of suggestions of duties to bedone, of responsibilities to be assumed, of good still to be brought outof much that was petty and low, and of helpless, miserable human beingswho were so soon to be dependent upon him. 

      "I will make my people happy, " he thought. "Happiness is the birthrightof every man--be he peasant or monarch. " And then the thought came tohim, how could he ever succeed in making them truly happy, when hehimself had so sorely missed the way! There was only one thing to do, heknew that--both for Opal's sake and for his own--and that was to go faraway, and never see the face again that had bewitched him so. 

      Perhaps, if he did this, he might forget the experience that was, afterall, only an episode in a man's life and--other men forget! He mightlearn to be calmly happy and contented with his Princess. It was onlynatural for a young man to make love to a pretty girl, he thought, andwhy should he be any exception? He had taken the good the gods provided, as any live man would--now he could go his way, as other men did, and--forget! Why not? And yet the mere thought of it cast such a gloomover his spirits that he knew in his heart his philosophic attempt todeceive himself was futile and vain. He might run away, ofcourse--though it was hardly like him to do that--but he would scarcelybe able to forget. 

      And then Verdayne joined him with an open note in his hand--a formalinvitation from Gilbert Ledoux for them to dine with him in his FifthAvenue house on the following evening. He wished his family to meet thefriends who had so pleasantly attracted himself and his daughter onshipboard. 

      Was it strange how speedily the Boy's resolutions vanished? Run away!Not he!

      "Accept the invitation, Father Paul, by all means!"

      It was a cordial party in which Paul Verdayne and his young companionfound themselves on the following evening--a simple family gathering, graciously presided over by Opal's stepmother. 
Gilbert Ledoux's wife was one of those fashion-plate women who strikeone as too artificial to be considered as more than half human. Youwonder if they have also a false set of emotions to replace those theywore out in their youth--_c'est à dire_ if they ever had any! Paulsmiled at the thought that Mr. Ledoux need have no anxiety over thevirtue of his second wife--whatever merry dance the first might have ledhim!

      Opal was not present when the gentlemen were announced, and the bevy ofaunts and uncles and cousins were expressing much impatience for herpresence--which Paul Zalenska echoed fervently in his heart. It wastruly pleasant--this warm blood-interest of kinship. He liked theAmerican clannishness, and he sighed to think of the utter lack offamily affection in his own life. 

      The drawing-room, where they were received, was furnished in good taste, the Boy thought. The French touch was very prominent--the blend of colorseemed to speak to him of Opal. Yes, he liked the room. The effect grewon one with the charm of the real home atmosphere that a dwelling placeshould have. But he wasn't so much interested in that, after all! Infact, it was rather unsatisfactory--without Opal! These people were_her_ people and, of course, of more than ordinary interest to him onher account, but still--

     
 And at last, when the Boy was beginning to acknowledge himself slightlybored, and to resent the familiar footing on which he could see theCount de Roannes already stood in the family circle, Opal entered, andthe gloomy, wearisome atmosphere seemed suddenly flooded with sunlight. 

      She came in from the street, unconventionally removing her hat andgloves as she entered. 

      "Where have you been so long, Opal?" asked Mrs. Ledoux, withconsiderable anxiety. 

      "At the Colony Club, _ma mère_--I read a paper!"

      "_Mon Dieu!_" put in the Count, in an amused tone. "On what subject?"

      "On 'The Modern Ethical Viewpoint, ' _Comte_, " she answered, nodding herlittle head sagely. "It was very convincing! In fact, I exploded a bombin the camp that will give them all something sensational to talk abouttill--till--the next scandal!" The Count gave a low chuckle of appreciation, while Mr. Ledoux asked, seriously, "But to what purpose, daughter?"

      "Why, papa, don't you know? I had to teach Mrs. Stuyvesant Moore, Mrs. Sanford Wyckoff, and several other old ladies how to be good!"

      And in the general laugh that followed, she added, under her breath, "Oh, the irony of life!"

     
 Paul watched her in a fever of boyish jealousy as she passed through thefamily circle, bestowing her kisses left and right with impartial favor. She made the rounds slowly, conscientiously, and then, with an air ofsupreme indifference, moved to the Boy's side. 

      He leaned over her. 

      "Where are my kisses?" he asked softly. 

      She clasped her hands behind her back, child-fashion, and looked up athim, a coquettish daring in her eyes. 
"Where did you put them last?" she demanded. 

      "You ought to know!"

      "True--I ought. But, as a matter of fact, I haven't the slightest idea. It depends altogether upon what girl you saw last. "

      "If you think that of me----"

      "What else can I think? Our first meeting did not leave much room forconjecture. And, of course----"

      "Opal! You have just time to dress for dinner! And the Count is veryanxious to see the new orchid, you know!"

      There was a suggestion of reproof in Mrs. Ledoux's voice. The girl'sface clouded as she turned away in response to the summons. But shethrew the Boy a challenge over her shoulder--a hint of that mischiefthat always seemed to lurk in the corner of her eye. 

      Paul bit his lip. He was not a boy to be played with, as Opal Ledouxwould find out. And he sulked in a corner, refusing to be conciliated, until at last she re-entered the room, leaning on the Count's"venerable" arm. She had doubtless been showing him the orchid. Humph!What did that old reprobate know--or care--about orchids?

       "A primrose by the river's brim, A yellow primrose was to him, And nothing more. "

      As the evening passed, there came to the Boy no further opportunity tospeak to Opal alone. She not only avoided him herself, but the entireparty seemed to have entered into a conspiracy to keep him from her. Itroused all the fight in his Slavic blood, and he determined not to beoutwitted by any such high-handed proceeding. He crossed the room andboldly broke into the conversation of the group in which she stood. 

      "Miss Ledoux, " he said, "pardon me, but as we are about to leave, Imust remind you of your promise to show me the new orchid. I am veryfond of orchids. May I not see it now?"

      Opal had made no such promise, but as she looked up at him with aninstinctive denial, she met his eyes with an expression in their depthsshe dared not battle. There was no knowing what this impetuous Boy mightsay or do, if goaded too far. 

      "Please pardon my forgetfulness, " she said, with a propitiating smile, as she took his arm. "We will go and see it. "

      And the Boy smiled. He had not found his opportunity--he had made one!

      With a malicious smile on his thin, wicked lips the Count de Roanneswatched them as they moved across the room toward the conservatory--thispair so finely matched that all must needs admire. 

      It was rather amusing in _les enfants_, he told Ledoux, this "_Paul etVirginie_" episode. Somewhat _bourgeois_, of course--but harmless, hehoped. This with an expressive sneer. But--_mon Dieu!_--and there was asinister gleam in his evil eyes--it mustn't go too far! The girl was acaptivating little witch--the old father winced at the significance inthe tone--and she must have her fling! He rather admired her the morefor her _diablerie_--but she must be careful! But he need not have feared to-night. Paul Zalenska's triumph wasshort-lived. When once inside the conservatory, the girl turned andfaced him, indignantly. 

      "What an utterly shameless thing to do!" she exclaimed. 

      "Why?" he demanded. "You were not treating me with due respect and'self-preservation is the first law of nature, ' you know. I am so littleaccustomed to being--snubbed, that I don't take it a bit kindly!"

      "I did not snub you, " she said, "at least, not intentionally. But ofcourse my friends have prior claims on my time and attention. I can'tput them aside for a mere stranger. "

      "A stranger?" he echoed. "Then you mean----"

      "I mean what?"

      "To ignore our former--acquaintance--altogether?"

      "I do mean just that! One has many desperate flirtations on board ship, but one isn't in any way bound to remember them. It is notalways--convenient. You may have foolishly remembered. Ihave--forgotten!"

      "You have not forgotten. I say you have not, Opal. "

      "We use surnames in society, Monsieur Zalenska?"

      "Opal!" appealingly. 

      "Why such emotion, Monsieur?" mockingly. 

      The Boy was taken aback for a moment, but he met her eyes bravely.

      "Why? Because I love you, Opal, and in your heart you know it!"

      "Why?"

      "Why do I love you? Because I can't help it! Who knows, really, whyanything happens or does not happen in this topsy-turvy world?"

      The girl looked at him steadily for a moment, and then spokeindifferently, almost lightly. 

      "Have you looked at the orchid you wished so much to see, MonsieurZalenska? Mamma is very proud of it!"

      "Opal!"

      But she went on, heedless of his interruption, "Because, if you haven't, you must look at it hastily--you have wasted some time quite foolishlyalready--and I have promised to join the Count in a few moments, and--"

      "Very well. I understand, Opal!" Paul stiffened. "I will relieve you ofmy presence. But don't think you will always escape so easily because Iyield now. You have not meant all you have said to me to-night, and Iknow it as well as you do. You have tried to play with me--"

      "I beg your pardon!"

      "You knew the tiger was in my blood--you couldn't help but know it!--andyet you deliberately awakened him!" She gave him a startled glance, hereyes appealing for mercy, but he went on relentlessly. "Yes, after themanner of women since the world began, you lured him on and on! Is it myfault--or yours--if he devour us both?"

      Paul Verdayne, strangely restless and ill at ease, was passing beneaththe window and thus became an involuntary listener to these mad wordsfrom the lips of his young friend. 

      Straightway there rose to his mental vision a picture--never very farremoved--a picture of a luxurious room in a distant Swiss hotel, theforemost figure in which was the slender form of a royally fascinatingwoman, reclining with reckless abandon upon a magnificent tiger skin, stretched before the fire. He saw her lavishing her caresses upon theinanimate head. He heard her purr once more in the vibrant, appealingtones so like the Boy's. 

      The stately Englishman passed his hand over his eyes to shut out themaddening vision, with its ever-fresh pangs of poignant anguish, itspersistent, unconquered and unconquerable despair!

      "God help the Boy!" he prayed, as he strolled on into the solitude ofthe moonlit night. "No one else can! It is the call of the blood--therelentless lure of his heritage! From it there is  no escape, as againstit there is no appeal. It is the mad blood of youth, quickened andintensified in the flame of inherited desire. I cannot save him!"

      And then, with a sudden flood of tender, passionate, sacred memories, headded in his heart, "And I would not, if I could!"

      Paul Verdayne had many acquaintances and friends in New York, and muchagainst their inclination he and the Boy soon found themselves absorbedin the whirl of frivolities. They were not very favorably impressed. Itwas all too extravagant for their Old World tastes--not too magnificent, for they both loved splendor--but it shouted its cost too loudly intheir ears, and grated on their nerves and shocked their aestheticsense. 

      The Boy was a favorite everywhere, even more so, perhaps, than inLondon. American society saw no mystery about him, and would not havecared if it had. If his face seemed somewhat familiar, as it often hadto Opal Ledoux, no one puzzled his brains over it or searched themagazines to place it. New York accepted him, as it accepts alldistinguished foreigners who have no craving for the limelight ofpublicity, for his face value, and enjoyed him thoroughly. Women pettedhim, because he was so witty and chivalrous and entertaining, and alwaysas exquisitely well-groomed as any belle among them; men were attractedto him because he had ideas and knew how to express them. He was worthtalking to and worth listening to. He had formed opinions of his ownupon most subjects. He had thought for himself and had the courage ofhis convictions, and Americans like that. 

      Naturally enough, before many days, at a fashionable ball at the Plazahe came into contact with Opal Ledoux again. 

      It was a new experience, this, to see the girl he loved surrounded bythe admiration and attention of other men. In his own infatuation he hadnot realized that most men would be affected by her as he was, wouldexperience the same maddening impulses--the same longing--the samethirst for possession of her. Now the fact came home to him with theforce of an electric shock. He could not endure the burning glances ofadmiration that he saw constantly directed toward her. What right hadother men to devour her with their eyes?

      He hastened to meet her. She greeted him politely but coldly, expressingsome perfunctory regret when he asked for a dance, and showing him thather card was already filled. And then her partner claimed her, and shewent away on his arm, smiling up into his face in a way she had thatdrove men wild for her. "The wicked little witch!" Paul thought. "Wouldshe make eyes at every man like that? Dare she?"

      A moment after, he heard her name, and instantly was all attention. Thetwo men just behind him were discussing her rather freely--far toofreely for the time and the place--and the girl, in Paul's estimation. He listened eagerly. 

      "Bold little devil, that Ledoux girl!" said one. "God! how she isplaying her little game to-night! They say she is going to marry thatold French Count, de Roannes! That's the fellow over there, watching herwith the cat's eyes. I guess he thinks she means to have her flingfirst--and I guess she thinks so too! As usual, it's the spectator whosees the best of the game. What a curious girl she is--a livingparadox!" red--black eyesinstead of--well, chestnut about expresses the color of hers. I callthem witch's eyes, they're so full of fire and--the devil!"

      "She's French, too, isn't she? That accounts for the eyes. The _beautédu diable_, hers is! Couldn't she make a heaven for a man if shewould--or a hell?"

 
     "Yes, it's in her! She's doomed, you know! Her grandmothers before herwere bad women--regular witches, they say, with a good, big streak ofyellow. Couldn't keep their heads on their shoulders--couldn't befaithful to any one man. Don't know as they tried!"

      "I'll bet they made it interesting for the fellow while it did last, anyway! But this one will never be happy. She has a tragedy in her face, if ever a woman had. But she's a man's woman, all right, and she'd makelife worth living if a fellow had any red blood in him. She's one ofthose women who are born for nothing else in the world but to love, andbe loved. Can't you shoot the Count?"

      "The Count!--Hell! He won't be considered at all after a little!
She'llfind plenty of men glad to wake the devil in her--just to keep her fromyawning! But she's not very tractable even now, though her sins all lieahead of her! She's altogether too cool on the surface for her make-up, but--well, full of suggestion, and one feels a volcano surging andsteaming just below the mask she wears, and has an insane desire to wakeit up! That kind of woman simply can't help it. "

      A third voice broke in on the conversation--an older voice--the voice ofa man who had lived and observed much. 

      "I saw her often as a child, " he said, "a perilously wilful child, determined upon her own way, and possessed of her own fancies aboutthis, that, and the other, which were seldom, if ever, the ideas ofanyone else. There was always plenty of excitement where she was--alwaysthat same disturbing air! Even with her pigtails and pinafores, onecould see the woman in her eyes. But she was a provoking littlecreature, always dreaming of impossible romances. Her father had hishands full. "

      "As her husband will have, poor devil! If he's man enough to hold her, all right. If he is not, " with a significant shrug of the shoulders, "it's his own lookout!"
"That old French _roué_ hold her? You're dreaming! She won't be faithfulto him a week--if he has a handsome valet, or a half-way manly groom!How could she?" And they laughed coarsely. 

      The Boy gave them a look that should have annihilated all three, butthey weren't noticing the Boy. He could have throttled them! How daredsuch lips as these pollute his darling's name! And yet these weresociety men--they could dance with her, clasp her to them, and look intothose "witch eyes"--oh, the ignominy of it!

      He looked across at Opal. How beautiful she was in her pale green gown, her white shoulders and arms glistening beneath the electric light withthe sheen of polished marble, her red-brown hair glowing with its fierylure, while even across the room her eyes sparkled like diamonds, lighting up her whole face. She was certainly enjoying herself--thisCirce who had tempted him across the seas. She seemed possessed of thevery spirit of mischief--and Paul forgot himself. 

      The orchestra was playing a Strauss waltz--it fired his blood. He walkedacross the room with his masterful, authoritative air--the manner of aman born to command. "Miss Ledoux, " he said, and the crowd around herinstinctively made way for him, "this is our waltz, I believe!" andwhirled her away before she could answer. 

      Ah! it was delicious, that waltz! In perfect rhythm they clung together, gliding about the polished floor, her bare shoulder pressing his arm, her head with its bewildering perfume so near his lips, their heartsthrobbing fiercely in the ecstasy of their nearness--which was Love. 

      Oh to go on forever! forever!

      The sweet cadence of the music died away, and they looked into eachother's eyes, startled. 

      "You seem to be acquiring the habit, " she pouted, but her lips quivered, and in response he whispered in her ear, "Whose waltz was it, sweetheart?"

      "I don't know, Paul--nor care!"

      That was enough. 

      They left the room together. 

      In a secluded corner adjoining the ballroom, Paul and Opal stood hand inhand, conscious only of being together, while their two hearts beat atumultuous acknowledgment of that =world-old= power whose name, inwhatever guise it comes to us, is Love!

      "I said I wouldn't, Paul!" at last she said. 

      "Wouldn't what?"

      "See you again--like this!"

      Paul smiled tenderly. 

      "My darling, " he whispered, "what enchantment have you cast over me thatall my resolutions to give you up fade away at the first
glimpse of yourface? I resolve to be brave and remember my duty--until I see you--andthen I forget everything but you--I want nothing but you!"

      "What do you want with me, Paul?"
"Opal!" he cried impetuously. "After seeing these gay Lotharios makingeyes at you all the evening, can you ask me that? I want to take youaway and hide you from every other man's sight--that's what I want! Itdrives me crazy to see them look at you that way! But you have such away of keeping a fellow at arm's length when you want to, " he went on, ruefully, "in spite of the magic call of your whole temptingpersonality. You know '_Die Walküre_, ' don't you?--but of course you do. If I believed in the theory of reincarnation, I should feel sure thatyou were Brünhilde herself, surrounded by the wall of fire!"

      "I wish I were! I wish every woman had some such infallible way of_proving_ every man who seeks her!"

      "You have, Opal! You have your own womanly instincts--every woman'simpassable wall of fire, if she will only hide behind them. _You_ couldnever love unworthily!"

      "But, Paul, don't you know? Haven't they told you? I shall probablymarry the Count de Roannes!"

      Paul was astounded. 
"Opal! No! No! Not that, surely not that! I heard it, yes--a moment ago. But I could not believe it. The idea was too horrible. It could not betrue!"

      "But it is true, Paul! It is all too true!"

      "It is a crime, " he fairly groaned. 

      She shrank from him. "Don't say that, Paul!"

      "But you know it is true! Opal, just think! If you give your sweet selfto him--and that is all you can give him, as you and I know--if you giveyourself to him, I say, I--I shall go mad!"

      "Yet women have loved him, " she began, bravely, attempting to defendherself. "Women--some kinds of women--really love him now. He has apower of--compelling--love--even yet!"

      "And such women, " Paul cried hoarsely, "are more to be honored than youif you consent to become his property with no love in your heart! Don'tplead extenuating circumstances. There can be no extenuatingcircumstances in all the world for such a thing. "
She winced as though he had struck her, for she knew in her heart thatwhat he said was true, brutally true. The Boy was only voicing her ownsentiments--the theory to which she had always so firmly clung. 

      As Paul paused, a sudden realization of his own future overwhelmed himand locked his lips. He smiled sadly. Who was he that he should talklike that? Was not he, too, pleading extenuating circumstances? True, hewas a man and she was a woman, and the world has two distinctstandards--but--no less than she--he was selling himself for gain. 

      "Paul, Paul! I'm afraid you don't understand! It isn't _money_. Surelyyou don't think that! It isn't money--it is honor--_honor_, do you hear?My dead mother's honor, and my father's breaking heart!"

      The secret was out, at last. This, then, was the shadow that had castits gloom over the family ever since he had come in contact with them. It was even worse than he had thought. That she--the lovely Opal--shouldhave to sacrifice her own honor to save her mother's! Honor! honor! how many crimes are committed in thy name!

      "Tell me about it, " he said sympathetically. 

      And she told him, sparing herself details, as far as possible, of thestorm of scandal about to burst upon the family--a storm from which onlythe sacrifice of herself could save the family name of Ledoux, and hermother's memory. It might, or might not, be true, but the Count deRoannes claimed to be able--and ready--to bring proof. And, if it weretrue, she was not a Ledoux at all, and her father was not her father atall, except in name. No breath of ill-fame had ever reached her mother'sname before. They had thought she had happily escaped the curse of hermother before her. But the Count claimed to know, and--well, he wantedher--Opal--and, of course, it _was_ possible, and of course he would doanything to protect the good name of his wife, if Opal became his wife, and----

      "So, you see, Paul--in the end, I shall have to--submit!"

      She had not told it at all well, she thought, but Paul little cared howthe story was told. 
"I do not see it that way at all, Opal. It seems to me--well, diabolical, and may God help you, dear girl, when you, with yourhigh-keyed sensitive nature, first wake to the infamy of it! I have noright to interfere--no right at all. Not even my love for you, which isstronger than myself, gives me that right. For I am betrothed! I tellyou this because I see where my folly has led us. There is only onething to do. We must part--and at once. I am sorry"--then he thought ofthat first meeting on board the liner, "no, I am _not_ sorry we met! Ishall never be that! But I am going to be a man. I am going to do myduty. Help me, Opal--help me!"

      It was the old appeal of the man to the helpmeet God had created forhim, and the woman in her responded. 

      "Paul, I will!" and her little fingers closed over his. 

      "Of course he loves you--in his way, but----"

      "Don't, Paul, don't! He has never once pretended that--he has been toowise. "
"He will break your spirit, dear--it's his nature. And then he willbreak your heart!"

      She raised her head, defiantly. 

      "Break my spirit, Paul? He could not. And as for my heart--that willnever be his to break!"

      Their eyes met with the old understanding that needs no words. Then shepointed to the heavens. 

      "See the stars, Paul, smiling down so calmly. How can they when heartsare aching? When I was a child, I loved the stars. I fancied, too, thatthey loved me, and I would run out under their watchful eyes, singingfor very joy, sure they were guiding my life and that some day I wouldbe happy, gloriously happy. Somehow, Paul, I always expected to behappy--always!--till now! Now the stars seem to mock me. I must havebeen born under a baleful conjunction, I guess. Oh, I told you, Paul, that Opals were unlucky. I warned you--didn't I warn you? I may havetempted you, too, but--I didn't mean to do it!"

      "Bless your dear heart, girl, you weren't to blame!"
"But you said--that night--about the tiger----"

      "Forgive me, Opal, I was not myself. I was--excited. I didn't meanthat. "

      After a moment, she said, musingly, "It is just as I said, Paul. I wasborn to go to the devil, so it is well--well for you, I mean--andperhaps for me--that you and I cannot marry. " He shook his head, but shewent on, unheeding. "Paul, if I am destined to be a disgrace tosomeone--and they say I am--I'd rather bring reproach upon his name thanon yours!"

      "But why marry at all, if you feel like that? Why, it's--it's damnable!"

      "Don't you see, Paul, I am foreordained to evil--marked a bad woman fromthe cradle! Marriage is the only salvation, you know, for girls with myinheritance. It's the sanctuary that keeps a woman good and 'happy everafter. '"

      "It would be more apt, in my opinion, to drive one to forbidden wine! Amarriage like that, I mean--for one like you. "
"But at least a married woman has a _name_--whatever she may do. She's--protected. She isn't----"

      But Paul would hear no more. 

      "Opal, _we_ were made for each other from the beginning--surely we were. Some imp has slipped into the scheme of things somewhere and turned itupside down. "

      He paused. She looked up searchingly into his eyes. 

      "Paul, do you love me?"

      "Yes, dearest!"

      "Are you sure?"

      "As sure as I am of my own existence! With all my heart, Opal--with allmy soul!"

      "Then we mustn't see each other any more!"
"Not any more. You are right, Opal, not any more!"

      "But what shall we do, Paul? We shall be sure to meet often. You expectto stay the summer through, do you not? And we are not going to NewOrleans for several weeks yet--and then?"

      "We are going West, Father Paul and I--out on the prairies to rough itfor a while. We were going before long, anyway, and a few weeks sooneror later won't make any difference. And then--home, back over the seaagain, to face life, to work, to try to be--strong, I suppose. "

      Paul paused and looked at her passionately. 

      "Why are you so alluring to-night, Opal?"

      Her whole body quivered, caught fire from the flame in his eyes. Whatwas there about this man that made her always so conscious she was awoman? Why could she never be calm in his presence, but was always sofated to _feel, feel, feel!_


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