Monday, 2 November 2015

ONE DAY Part VI


      Her voice trembled as she looked up at him and answered, "Am I wicked, Paul? I wanted to be happy to-night--just for to-night! I wanted toforget the fate that was staring me so relentlessly in the face. But--Icouldn't, Paul!"

      Then she glanced through the curtains into the ballroom and shuddered. 

      "The Count is looking for me, " she said. The Boy winced, and she went onrapidly, excitedly. "We must part. As well now as any time, I suppose, since it has to be. But first, Paul, let me say it once--just once--_Ilove you!_"

      He snatched her to him--God! that any one else should ever have theright!

      "And I--worship you, Opal! Even that seems a weak word, to-night. But--you understand, don't you? I didn't know at sea whether it was loveor what it was that had seized me as nothing ever had before. But I knownow! And listen, Opal--this isn't a vow, nor anything of that kind--butI feel that I want to say it. I shall always love you just thisway--always--I feel it, I know it!--as long as I live! Will youremember, darling?--remember--everything?"

      "Yes--yes! And you, Paul?"

      "Till death!" And his lips held hers, regardless of ten thousand Countsand their claims upon her caresses. 

      And they clung together again in the anguish of parting that comes atsome time, or another into the lives of all who know love. 

      Then like mourners walking away from the graves of their loved ones, they returned to the ballroom, with the dull ache of buried happiness intheir hearts. 

     
      Out--far out--in the great American West, the Boy wandered. And PaulVerdayne, understanding as only he could understand, felt how little usehis companionship and sympathy really were at this crisis of the Boy'slife. 

      All through the month of August they travelled, the Boy looking upon theland he had been so eager to see with eyes that saw nothing but his owndisappointment, and the barrenness of his future. The hot sun beat downupon the shadeless prairies with the intensity of a living flame. But itseemed as nothing to the heat of his own passion--his own fieryrebellion against the decree of destiny--altogether powerless againstthe withering despair that had choked all the aspirations and ambitionswhich, his whole life long, he had cultivated and nourished in the soilof his developing soul. 

      He thought again and again of the glories so near at hand--the gloriesthat had for years been the goal of his ambition. He pictured thepageant to come--the glitter of armor and liveries, the splendor andsparkle of jewels and lights, and all the dazzling gorgeousness of royalequipments--the throngs of courtiers and beautiful women bowing beforehim, proud of the privilege of doing him homage--him, a mere boy--yetthe king--the absolute monarch of his little realm, and supreme in hisundisputed sway over the hearts of his people--his people who hadworshipped his beautiful mother and, if only for her sake, made an idolof her son. He saw himself crowned by loving hands with the goldencirclet he loved and reverenced, and meant to redeem from the stigma ofa worthless father's abuse and desecration; he saw his own young hands, strong, pure, and undefiled by any form of bribery or politicalcorruption, wielding  the sceptre that should--please God!--bringeverlasting honor and fame to the little principality. He saw all this, and yet it did not thrill him any more! It was all Dead Sea fruit, dustand ashes in his hand. He wanted but one thing now--and his wholekingdom did not weigh one pennyweight against it. 

      But in spite of his preoccupation the freedom and massiveness of theWest broadened the Boy's mental vision. He absorbed the spirit of thebig world it typified, and he saw things more clearly than in thecrowded city. And yet he suffered more, too. He could not often talkabout his sorrow and his loss, but he felt all the time the unspokensympathy in Verdayne's companionship, and was grateful for thecompleteness of the understanding between them. 

      Once, far out in a wide expanse of sparsely settled land, the two cameupon a hut--a little rough shanty with a sod roof, and probably but twotiny rooms at most. It was nearing evening, and the red rays of thesetting sun fell upon a young woman, humbly clad, sitting on a bench atthe doorway, and cuddling upon her knee a little baby dressed in coarse, but spotlessly white garments. A whistle sounded on the still air, andthrough the waving grain strode a stalwart man, an eager, expectantlight in his bronzed face. The girl sprang to meet him with aninarticulate cry of joy, and wife and baby were soon clasped close tohis breast. 

      Paul could not bear it. He turned away with a sob in his throat andlooked into Verdayne's eyes with such an expression of utterhopelessness that the older man felt his own eyes moisten with thefervor of his sympathy. That poor, humble ranchman possessed somethingthat was denied the Boy, prince of the blood though he was. 

      And the two men talked of commonplace subjects that night in subduedtones that were close to tears. Both hearts were aching with theconsciousness of unutterable and irreparable loss. 

      Through the long nights that followed, out there in the primitive, Paulthought of the hideousness of life as he saw it now, with a loathingthat time seemed only to increase. He pictured Opal--his love--as thewife of that old French libertine, till his soul revolted at the verythought. Such a thing was beyond belief.  Once he said to Verdayne, thinking of the conversation he had had withOpal on the night of the ball at the Plaza, "Father Paul, who was Lord Hubert Aldringham? The name sounds sofamiliar to me--yet I can't recall where I heard it. "

      "Why, he was my uncle, Boy, my mother's brother. A handsome, wicked, devil-may-care sort of fellow to whom nothing was sacred. You must haveheard us speak of him at home, for mother was very fond of him. "

      "And you, Father Paul?"

      "I--detested him, Boy!"

      And then the Boy told him something that Opal had said to him of thepossibility--nay, the probability--of Lord Hubert's being her owngrandfather. Verdayne was pained--grieved to the heart--at the terriblesignificance of this--if it were true. And there was little reason, alas, to doubt it! How closely their lives were woven together--Paul'sand Opal's! How merciless seemed the demands of destiny!

      What a juggler of souls Fate was!

      And the month of August passed away. And September found the two menstill wandering in an aimless fashion about the prairie country, and yetwith no desire for change. The Boy was growing more and moredissatisfied, less and less resigned to the decrees of destiny. 

      At last, one dull, gray, moonless night, when neither could woo covetedsleep to his tired eyes, the Boy said to his companion, "Father Paul, I'm going to be a man--a man, do you hear? I am going to NewOrleans--you know Mr. Ledoux asked us to come in September--and I'mgoing to marry Opal, whatever the consequences! I will not be bound to apiece of flesh I abhor, for the sake of a mere kingdom--not for the sakeof a world! I will not sell my manhood! I will not sacrifice myself, norallow the girl I love to become a burnt-offering for a mother's sin. Iwill not! Do you remember away off there, " and he pointed off to thesouth of them, "the little shack, and the man and the woman and--thebaby? Father Paul, I want--that! And I'm going to have it, too! Do youblame me?"
And Verdayne threw his arm around the Boy's neck, and said, "Blame you?No, Boy, no! And may God bless and speed you!"

      And the next day they started for the South. 

      It was early in the morning, a few days later, when Paul Verdayne andhis young friend reached New Orleans. Immediately after breakfast--hewould have presented himself before had he dared--the Boy called at thehome of the Ledouxs. Verdayne had important letters to write, as heinformed the Boy with a significant smile, and begged to be allowed toremain behind. 

      And the impatient youth, blessing him mentally for his tact, set forthalone. 

      The residence that he sought was one of the most picturesque andbeautiful of the many stately old mansions of the city. It was enclosedby a high wall that hid from the passers-by all but the most tantalizingglimpses of a fragrant, green tropical garden, and gave an air ofexclusiveness to the habitation of this proud old family. As the Boypassed through the heavy iron gate, and his eye gazed in appreciationupon the tints of foliage no autumn chills had affected, and the glintsof sun and shadow that only heightened the splendor of blossom, andshrub, and vine, which were pouring their incense upon the air, he feltthat he was indeed entering the Garden of Eden--the Garden of Eden withno French serpents to tempt from him the woman that had been created hishelpmeet. 

      He found Opal, and a tall, handsome young man in clerical vestments, sitting together upon the broad vine-shaded veranda. The girl greetedhim cordially and introduced him to the priest, Father Whitman. 

      At first Paul dared not trust himself to look at Opal too closely, andhe did not notice that her face grew ashen at his approach. She hadrecovered her usual self-possession when he finally looked at her, andnow the only apparent sign of unusual agitation was a slight flush uponher cheek--an excited sparkle in her eye--which might have been theeffect of many causes. 

      He watched the priest curiously. How noble-looking he was! He felt surethat he would have liked him in any other garb. What did his presencehere portend? Paul had supposed that Opal was a Catholic; indeed had been but littleconcerned what she professed. She had never appeared to him to bespecially religious, but, if she was, that absurd idea of self-sacrificefor a dead mother she had never known might appeal to the love ofpenance which is inherent in all of Catholic faith, and she might notsurrender to her great love for him. 

   
   The priest rose. 

      "Must you go, Father?" asked Opal. 

      "Yes!. . . I will call to-morrow, then?"

      "Yes--tomorrow! And"--she suddenly threw herself upon her knees at hisfeet--"your blessing, Father" she begged. 

      The priest laid a hand upon her head, and raised his eyes to Heaven. Then, making the sign of the cross upon her forehead, he took her handsin his, and gently raised her to her feet. She clung to his handsimploringly. 

      "Absolution, Father, " she pleaded.  He hesitated, his face quivering with emotions his eyes lustrous withtears, a world of feeling in every line of his countenance. 

      "Child, " he said hoarsely, "child! Don't tempt me!"

      "But you _must_ say it, you know, or what will happen to me?"

      The priest still hesitated, but her eyes would not release him till hewhispered, "_Absolvo te_, my daughter, and--God bless you!"

      And releasing her hands, he bowed formally to Paul and hurried down thebroad stone steps and through the gate. 

      Opal watched him, a smile, half-remorseful and half-triumphant, upon herface. 

      "What does it all mean?" asked Paul as he laid his hand upon her arm.

      She laughed nervously. "Oh--nothing! Only--when I see one of thoselong, clerical cassocks, I am immediately seized with an insane desireto find the _man_ inside the priest!"

      "Laudable, certainly! And you always succeed, I suppose?"

      "Yes, usually!--why not?" And she laughed again. "Don't, Paul! I don'twant to quarrel with you!"

      "We won't quarrel, Opal, " he said. But the thought of the priest annoyedhim. 

      He seated himself beside her. "Have you no welcome for me?" he said. 

      She looked up at him, her eyes sweetly tender. 

      "Of course, Paul! I'm very glad to see you again--if you are a bad boy!"

      He looked at her in amazement. "I, bad?--No, " he said. And they laughedagain. But it was not the care-free laughter they had known at sea. There was a strained note in the tones of the girl that grated strangelyupon the Boy's sensitive ear. What had happened? he wondered. What wasthe new barrier between them? Was it the priest? Again the thought ofthe priest worried him. 

      "Where is my friend, the Count de Roannes?" he ventured at last. 

      "He sailed for Paris last week. "

      Paul's heart leaped. Surely then their legal betrothal had not takenplace. 

      "What happened, Opal?"

      "The inevitable!"

      And again his heart bounded for joy! The inevitable! Surely that meantthat the girl's better nature had triumphed, had shown her the ignominyof such a union in time to save her. He looked at her for furtherinformation, but seeing her evident embarrassment, forbore to pursue thequestion further. 

      They wandered out through the luxurious garden, and the spell of itsenchantment settled upon them both. 

      He pulled a crimson rose from a bush and began listlessly to strip thethorns from the stalk. "Roses in September, " he said, "are like love inthe autumn of life. "

      And they both thought again of the Count and a chill passed over theirspirits. The girl watched him curiously. 

      "Do you always cut the thorns from your roses?" she asked. 

      "Certainly-sooner or later. Don't you?"

      "O no! I am a woman, you see, and I only hold my rose tightly in myfingers and smile in spite of the pricks as if to convince the worldthat my rose has no thorns. "

      "Is that honest?"

      "Perhaps not--but--yes, I think it is! If one really loves a rose, yousee, one forgets that it has thorns--really forgets!". 

      "Until too late!"

      But there was some undercurrent of hidden meaning even in this subject, and Paul tried another. 
He asked her about the books she had read since they parted and told herof his travels. He painted for her a picture of the little cabin on thewestern prairie, with its man and its woman and its baby, and shelistened with a strange softness in her eyes. He felt that sheunderstood. 

      There was a tiny lake in the garden, and they sat upon the shore andlooked into the water, at an unaccountable loss for words. At last Paul, with a boyish laugh, relieved the situation by rolling up his sleeve anddabbling for pebbles in the sand at the bottom. 

      There was not much said--only a word now and then, but both, in spite oftheir consciousness of the barrier between them, were rejoicing in thefact that they were together, while Paul, happy in his new-bornresolution, was singing in his heart. 

      Should he tell her now?

      He looked up quickly. 

      "Opal, " he said, "you knew I would come. "
"Why?" she asked. 

      "Because--I love you!"

      The girl tried to laugh away the serious import of his tone. 

      "I am not looking for men to love me, Paul, " she said. 

      "No, that's the trouble. You never have to. "

      He turned away again and for a few moments had no other apparent aim inlife than a careful scrutiny of the limpid water. 

      Somehow he felt a chill underlying her most casual words to-day. Whathad become of the freemasonry between them they had both so readilyrecognized on shipboard?

      Just then Gilbert Ledoux and his wife strolled into the garden. Theywere genuinely pleased to see Paul and insisted on keeping him forluncheon. The conversation drifted to his western trip and other lesspersonal things and not again did he have an opportunity to talk alonewith Opal. Paul took his departure soon after, promising to return for dinner, andto bring Verdayne with him. Then, he resolved to himself, he would tellOpal why he had come. Then he would claim her as his wife--his queen!

            And Paul kept his word. 

      That evening they found themselves alone in a deep-recessed windowfacing the dimly-lighted street. 

      "Opal, " said Paul, "do you know why I have come to New Orleans? Can'tyou imagine, dear?"

      She instantly divined the tenor of his thoughts, and shook her head in atremor of sudden fright. 


      "I have come to tell you that I have fought it all out and that I cannotlive without you. Though I am breaking my plighted troth, I ask you tobecome my wife!"

      Her eyes glistened with a strange lustre. 
"Oh, Paul! Paul!" she murmured, faintly. "Why did you not say thisbefore--or--why do you tell me now?"

      "Because now I know I love you more than all the world--more than myduty--more than my life! Is that enough?"

      And Paul was about to break into a torrent of passionate appeal, whenGilbert Ledoux joined them and, shortly after, Mrs. Ledoux called Opalto her side. 

      Opal looked miserably unhappy. Why was she not rejoicing? Paul knew thatshe loved him. Nothing could ever make him doubt that. As he stoodwondering, idly exchanging platitudes with his genial host, Mrs. Ledouxspoke in a tone of ringing emphasis that lingered in Paul's ears all therest of his life, "I think, Opal, it is time to share our secret!"

      And then, as the girl's face paled, and her frail form trembled with theforce of her emotion, her mother hastened to add, "Gentlemen, you willrejoice with us that our daughter was last week formally betrothed tothe Count de Roannes!" The inevitable _had_ happened. 

      How the remainder of the evening passed, Paul Zalenska never knew. As helooked back upon it, during the months that followed, it seemed likesome hideous dream from which he was struggling to awake. He talked, hesmiled, he even laughed, but scarcely of his own volition; it was asthough another personality acted through him. 

      He was a temperate boy, but that night he drank more champagne than wasgood for him. Paul Verdayne was grieved. Not that he censured the lad. He knew only too well the anguish the Boy was suffering, and he couldnot find it in his heart to blame him for the dissipation. And yetVerdayne also knew how unavailing were all such attempts to drown thesorrow that had so shocked the Boy's sensitive spirit. 

      As he gazed regretfully at the Boy across the dinner table, the butlerplaced a cablegram before him. Receiving a nod of permission from hishostess, he hastily tore open the envelope and paled at its contents. The message was signed by the Verdaynes' solicitor, and read:

       _Sir Charles very ill. Come immediately. _

      Before they left the house, Paul sought Opal for a few last words. Therewere no obstacles placed in his way now by anxious parental authority. He smiled cynically as he noticed how clear the way was made for him, now that Opal was "safeguarded" by her betrothal. 

      She drew him to one side, whispering, "Before you judge me too harshly, Paul, please listen to what I have to say. I feel I have the right tomake this explanation, and you have the right to hear it. Under theFrench law, I am legally bound to the Count de Roannes. Fearing that Imight not remain true to a mere verbal pledge--you knew we were engaged, Paul, for I told you that, last summer--the Count asked that thebetrothal papers be executed before his unavoidable return to Paris. Knowing no real reason for delay, since it had to come some time, Iconsented; but I stipulated that I was to have six months of freedombefore becoming his wife. Arrangements have been made for us all to goabroad next spring, and we shall be married in Paris. Paul, I did nottell you this, this afternoon--I could not! I wanted to see you--thereal you--just once more, before you heard the bitter news, for I knewthat after you had heard, you would never look or speak the same to meagain. Oh, Paul, pity me! Pity me when I tell you that I asked for thosesix months simply that I might dedicate them to you, and to the burial, in my memory, of our little dream of love! It was only my little fancy, Paul! I wanted to play at being constant that long to our dream. Iwanted to wear my six-months' mourning for our still-born love. Ithought it was only a little game of 'pretend' to you, Paul--why shouldit be anything else? But it was very real to me. "

      Her voice broke, and the Boy took her hand in his, tenderly, for hisresentment had long since died away. 

      "Opal, " he faltered, "I no longer know nor care who or what I am. Thisexperience has taken me out of myself, and set my feet in strange paths. I had a life to live, Opal, but I have forgotten it in yours. I hadtheories, ideals, hopes, aspirations--but I don't know where they arenow, Opal. They are gone--gone with your smile--"
Opal's eyes grew soft with caresses. 

      "They will come back, Paul--they must come back! They were born inyou--of Truth itself, not of a mere woman. You will forget me, Boy, andyour life will not be the pitiful waste you think. It must not be!"

      "I used to think that, Opal. It never seemed to me that life could everbe an utter waste so long as a man had work to do and the strength andskill to do it. But now--I'm all at sea! I only know--how--I shall miss_you!_"

      Opal grew thoughtful. 

      "And how will it be with me?" she said sadly. "I have never learned towear a mask. I can't pose. I can't wear 'false smiles that cover anaching heart. ' Perhaps the world may teach me now--but I'm not ahypocrite--yet!"

      "I believe you, Opal! I love you because you are you!"

      "And I love you, Paul, because you are you!
And even then he did not clasp her in his arms, nor attempt it. She wasanother's now, and his hands were tied. He must try to control his onegreat weakness--the longing for her. 

      And in the few moments left to them, they talked and cheered each other, as intimate friends on the eve of a long separation. They both knew nowthat they loved--but they also knew that they must part--and forever!

      "I love you, Paul, " said Opal, "even as you love me. I do not hesitateto confess it again, because--well, I am not yet his wife. And I want togive you this one small comfort to help to make you strong to fight andconquer, and--endure!"

      "But, Opal, you are the one woman in the world God meant for me! How canI face the world without you?"

      "Better that you should, Paul, and keep on fancying yourself loving mealways, than that you should have me for a wife, and then weary of me, as men do weary of their wives!"

      "Opal! Never!"
"Oh, but you might, Boy. Most men do. It's their nature, I suppose. "

      "But it is not _my_ nature, Opal, to grow tired of what I love. I am notcapricious. Why should you think so?"

      "But it's human nature, Paul; there is no denying that. To think, Paul, that we could grow to clasp hands like this--that we couldkiss--actually kiss, Paul, _calmly_, as women kiss each other--that wecould ever rest in each other's arms and grow weary!"

      But Paul would not listen. He always would have loved her, always! Heloved her, anyway, and always would, were she a thousand times theCountess de Roannes, but it was too late! too late!

      "Always remember, Paul, wherever you are and whatever you do, " went onOpal, "that I love you. I know it now, and I know how much! Let thememory of it be an inspiration to you when your spirits flag, and aconsolation when skies are gray, and--Paul--oh, I love you--loveyou--that's all! Kiss me—just once--our last goodbye! There can be noharm in that, when it's for the last time!"

      And Paul, with a heart-breaking sob, clasped her in his arms and pressedhis lips to hers as one kisses the face of his beloved dead. He wonderedvaguely why he felt no passion--wondered at the utter languor of thesenses that did not wake even as he pressed his lips to hers. It was nota woman's body in his arms--but as the sexless form of one long dead andlost to him forever. It was not passion now--it was love, stripped ofall sensuality, purged of all desire save the longing to endure. 

      It was the hour of love's supremest triumph--renunciation!

      

      Back in England again--England in the fall of the year--England in theautumn of life, for Sir Charles Verdayne was nearing his end. The Boyspent a few weeks at Verdayne Place, and then left to pay his firstvisit to his fiancée. Paul Verdayne was prevented by his father's illhealth from accompanying him to Austria, as had been the original plan.  Opal had asked of the Boy during that last strange hour they had spenttogether that he should make this visit, and bow obediently to the callof destiny--as she had done. She did not know who he really was, norwhat station in life his fiancée graced, but she did know that it washis duty bravely and well to play his part in the drama of life, whatever the role. She would not have him shirk. It was a horriblething, she had said with a shudder--none knew it better than she--butshe would be glad all her life to think that he had been no coward, andhad not cringed beneath the bitterest blow of fate, but had been strongbecause she loved him and believed in him. 

      And so, since Paul Verdayne could not be absent from his father's side, with many a reluctant thought the Boy set forth for Austria alone. 

      During his absence, Isabella--she who had been Isabella Waring--returnedfrom Blackheath a widow with two grown daughters--two more moderneditions of the original Isabella. The widow herself was graver and morematronly, yet there was much of the old Isabella left, and Verdayne wasglad to see her. Lady Henrietta gave her a cordial invitation to visitVerdayne Place, which she readily accepted, passing many pleasant hourswith the friend of her youth and helping to while away the long daysthat Verdayne found so tiresome when the Boy was away from him. 

      Isabella was still "a good sort, " and made life much less unbearablethan it might have been, but Verdayne often smiled to think of the"puppy-love" he had once felt for her. It was amusing, now, and theyboth laughed over it--though Isabella would not have been a woman hadshe not wondered at times why her "old pal" had never married. There hadbeen chances, lots of them, for the girls had always liked theblue-eyed, manly boy he had been, and petted and flattered and courtedhim all through his youth. Why hadn't he chosen one of them? Had hereally cared so much for her--Isabella? And she often found herselflooking with much pitying tenderness upon the lonely man, whose heartseemed so empty of the family ties it should have fostered--andwondering. 

      Lady Henrietta, too, was set to thinking as the days went by, andturning, one night, to her son, "Paul, " she said, "I begin to think thatperhaps I was wrong in separating you from the girl you loved, and sospoiling your life. Isabella would have made you a fairly good wife, Ibelieve, as wives go, and you must forgive your mother, who meant it forthe best. She did not see the way clearly, then, and so denied you theone great desire of your heart"

      She looked at him closely, but his heart was no longer worn upon hissleeve, and finding his face non-committal, she went on slowly, feelingher way carefully as she advanced. 

      "Perhaps it is not too late now, my son. Don't let my prejudices standin your way again, for you are still young enough to be happy, and Ishall be truly glad to welcome any wife--any!"

      Verdayne did not reply. His eyes were studying the pattern of the rugbeneath his feet. His mother's face flushed with embarrassment at thedelicacy of the subject, but she stumbled on bravely. 

      "Paul, " she said, "Isabella is young yet, and you are not so very old. It may not, even now, be too late to hold a little grandchild on my kneebefore I die. I have been so fond of Paul--he is so very like you whenyou were a boy--and have wished--oh, you don't know how a mother feels, Paul--I have often wished that he were your son, or that I might havehad a grandson just like him. Do you know, Paul, I have often fanciedthat your son, had you had one, would have been very like this dearBoy. " Verdayne choked back a sob. If his mother could only understand as somewomen would have understood! If he could have told her the truth! But, no, he never could. Even now it would have been a terrible shock to her, and she could never have forgiven, never held up her head again, if shehad known. 

      As for marrying Isabella--could he? After all, was it right to let theold name die out for want of an heir? Was it just to his father? AndIsabella would not expect to be made love to. There was never that sortof nonsense about her, and she would make all due allowance for his ageand seriousness. 

      His mother felt she had been very kind and generous in renouncing theold objection of twenty years' standing, and, too, she felt that it wasonly right, after spoiling her son's life for so long, to do her best toatone for the mistake. It must be confessed she could not see what therewas about Isabella to hold the love and loyalty of a man like Paul forso long, but then--and she sighed at the thought of the wastedyears--"Love is blind, " they say--and so's a lover! And her motherlyheart longed for grandchildren--Paul's children--as it had always longedfor them. 

      Paul Verdayne sat opposite his penitent mother and pondered. The scentfrom a bowl of red roses on his mother's table almost overpowered himwith memories. 

      He thought of the couch of deep red roses on which he had lain, caressedby the velvet petals. He could inhale their fragrance even yet--he couldlook into her eyes and breathe the incense of her hair--her wholeglorious person--that was like none other in all the world. Yes, she hadbeen happy--and he would remember! She would be happier yet could sheknow that he had been faithful to his duty--and surely this was his dutyto his race. His Queen would have it so, he felt sure. 

      Rising, he bent over his mother, his eyes bright with unshed tears, andkissed her calmly upon the brow. Then he walked quietly from the room. His resolution was firmly fixed. 

      He would marry Isabella!

            Sir Charles Verdayne lingered for several weeks, no stronger, nor yetperceptibly weaker. He took a sudden fancy to see his old friend, Captain Grigsby, and the old salt was accordingly sent for. His presenceacted as a tonic upon the dying man, and the two old friends spent manypleasant hours together, talking--as old people delight in talking--ofthe days of the distant past. 

      "Is this widow the Isabella who once raised the devil with your Paul?"asked Grigsby. 

      "Same wench!" answered Sir Charles, a twinkle in his eye. 

      "Hum!" said the Captain--and then said again, "Hum!" Then he addedmeditatively, "Blasted unlucky kiss that! Likely wench enough, but--never set the Thames on fire!--nor me!"

      "Oh the kiss didn't count, " said Sir Charles. "As I said to the boy'smother at the time, a man isn't obliged to marry every woman he kisses!Mighty good thing, too--eh, Grig? Besides, a kiss like that is an insultto any flesh and blood woman!"

      "An insult?"

      "The worst kind! You see, Grig, no woman likes to be kissed that way. Whether she's capable of feeling a single thrill of passion herself ornot, she likes to be sure that she can inspire it in a man. And a kisslike that--well, it rouses all her fighting blood! Makes her feel she'sno woman at all in the man's eye--merely a doll to be kissed. D'ye see?It's damned inconsistent, of course, but it's the woman of it!"

      "The devil of it, you mean!" the old Captain chuckled in response. Then, "Paul had a lucky escape, " he said, as he looked furtively around theroom for listening ears, "mighty lucky escape! And an experience righton the heels of it to make up for the loss of a hundred such wenchesand--say, Charles, he's got a son to be proud of! The Boy is certainlyworth all the price!"

      "Any price--any price, Grig!" Then the old man went on, "If Henriettaonly knew! She thinks the world of the youngster, you know--no one couldhelp that--but what if she knew? Paul's been mighty cautious. I oftenlaugh when I see them out together--him and the Boy--and think what asensation one could spring on the public by letting the cat out of thebag. And the woman would suffer. Wouldn't she, just! Wouldn't they tearher to pieces!"

      "Yes, they would, " said the Captain, "they certainly would. This is aworld of hypocrites, Charles, damned rotten hypocrites! "That's what it is, Grig! Not one of those same old hens who would havesaid, 'Ought we to visit her?' and denounced the whole 'immoral' affair, and all that sort of thing--not one of them, I say, but would--"

      "Give her very soul to know what such a love means! O they would, Charles--they would--every damned old cat of them, who would never getan opportunity to play the questionable--no, not one in a thousandyears--if they searched for it forever!"

      "Yet women are made so, Grigsby--they can't help it! Henrietta wouldfaint at the mere suggestion of accepting as a daughter-in-law a womanwith a past!"

      And the old man sighed. 

      "I'd have given my eyes--yes, I would, Grig--to have seen that womanjust once! God! the man she made out of my boy! Of course it may havebeen for the best that it turned out as it did, but--damn it all, Grig, she was worth while! There's no dodging that!"

      "Nobody wants to dodge it, Charles! She was over-sexed, perhaps--butbetter that than undersexed--eh?"
      But the exhilaration caused by the coming of his old friend graduallywore itself away, and Sir Charles began to grow weaker. And at last theend came. He had grown anxious to see the Boy again, and the youngfellow had returned and spent much time with the old man, who loved thesound of his voice as it expressed his fresh, frank ideas. 

      But Sir Charles spent his last hours with his son. 

      "Paul, " he said, in a last confidential whisper, touching upon the themethat had never been mentioned between them before, "Iunderstand--everything--you know, and I'm proud of you--and him! I havewanted to say something, or do something for you--often--often--to helpyou--but it's the sort of thing a chap has to fight out for himself, and I thought I'd better keep out of it! But I wanted you toknow--_now_--that I've known it all--all along--and been proud ofyou--both!"

      And their hands clasped closely, and the eyes of both were wet, but evenon the brink of death the lips of the younger man were sealed. The+silence of one-and-twenty years remained unbroken. +It was not afoolish reticence that restrained him--but simply that he could not findwords to voice the memories that grew more and more sacred with thepassing of the years. 

      And at evening, when the family had gathered about him, the old man laywith his son's hand in his, but his eyes looked beyond and rested on theface of the Boy, who seemed the renewal of hit son's youth, when lifewas one glad song! And thus he passed to the Great Beyond. 

      And his son was Sir Paul Verdayne, the last of his race. 

      That night, the young baronet and the Boy sat alone over their cigars. The Boy spoke at some length of his extensive Austrian visit. ThePrincess Elodie would make him a good wife, he said. She was of goodsturdy stock, healthy, strong--and, well, a little heavy and dull, perhaps, but one couldn't expect everything! At least, her honor wouldnever be called into question. He would always feel sure that his namewas safe with her! He was glad he went to Austria. There were politicalcomplications that he had not understood before which made the marriagean absolute necessity for the salvation of his country's position amongthe kingdoms of the world, and he was more resigned to it now. Yes, indeed, he was far more resigned. The princess wasn't by any meansimpossible--not a half bad sort--and--yes, he was resigned! He said itover and over, but without convincing Sir Paul--or deceiving himself!

      As for the elder man, he said but little. He had been wonderingthroughout that dinner-hour whether he could ever really make Isabellahis wife. The Boy thought of Isabella, too, and was anxious to knowwhether his Father Paul was going to be happy at last. He had been verycurious to see the woman who could play so cruel a part toward the manhe loved. If he had been Verdayne, he thought, he would never forgiveher--never! Still, if Father Paul loved the woman--as he certainly mustto have remained single for her sake so long--it put a different face onthe matter, and of course it was Verdayne's affair, not his! The Boy hadbeen disappointed in Isabella's appearance and attractions--she was notat all the woman he had imagined his Father Paul would love--but ofcourse she was older now, and age changes some women, and, and--well, heonly hoped that his friend would be happy--happy in his own way, whatever that might be. 

      At last, he summoned Vasili to him and called for his own particularyellow wine--the Imperial Tokayi--and the old man filled the glasses. Itwas too much for Verdayne--and all thoughts of Isabella were consignedto eternal oblivion as he remembered the time when _he_ had sipped thatwine with his Queen in the little hotel on the Bürgenstock. 

      She would have no cause for jealousy--his darling!

      It was November when Sir Charles died, and Lady Henrietta betook herselfto her sister's for consolation, while Sir Paul and the Boy, with acommon impulse, departed for India. 

      They spent Christmas in Egypt, the winter months in the desert, and atlast spring came, with its remembrance of duties to be done. And to theelder man England made its insistent call, as it always did in March. For was it not in England, and in March, the tidings reached him thatunto him a son was born?

     
 He must go back. 

      So at last, acting upon a pre-arrangement to which the young Prince hadnot been a party, they made their way back to their own world of men andwomen. 

      
      "Boy, " said Sir Paul, one day, "the time has come when many questions you have asked and wondered about are to be answered, as is your due. Itwas your mother's wish that you should go, at the beginning of May, alone, to Lucerne. There you will find letters awaiting you--fromher--from your Uncle Peter--yes, even from myself--telling you the wholesecret of your birth, the story of your inheritance. "

      "Why Lucerne, Father Paul?"

      "It was your mother's wish--and mine!"

      Then, with a rush of tenderness, the older man threw his arm around theBoy's shoulders. "Boy, " he said, "be charitable and lenient andkind--whatever you read!"

      "And what are you going to do, Father Paul? I have not quite two weeksof freedom left, and I begrudge every day I am forced to spend away fromyou. You will go with me to see me crowned--and married?"

      "Certainly, Boy! You are to stay in Lucerne only until you are sure youunderstand all the revelations of these letters, and their full import. It may be a week--it may be a day--it may be but a few hours, but--Ican't go with you, and you must not ask me to! It is an experience youmust face alone. I will await you in Venice, Paul, and be sure that whenyou want me, Boy, I will come!"

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