Monday, 2 November 2015

ONE DAY Part VII


      The Boy's sensitive nature was stirred to the depths by the emotion inSir Paul's face--emotion that all his life long he had never seen therebefore. He grasped his hand--

      "Father Paul, " he began, but Sir Paul shook his head at the unspokenappeal in his face and bade him be patient just a little longer andawait his letters, for he could tell him nothing. 

      And thus they parted; the Boy to seek in Lucerne the unveiling of hisdestiny, the man to wait in Venice, a place he had shunned forone-and-twenty years, but which was dearer to him than any other city inthe world. It was there that he had lived the climax of his love-life, with its unutterable ecstasy--and unutterable pain. 

      Vasili had preceded his young master to Lucerne with the letters thathad been too precious, and of too secret a nature, to be entrusted tothe post. Who can define the sensations of the young prince as he heldin his hand the whole solution of the mystery that had haunted all hisyears? He trembled--paled. What was this secret--perhaps this terriblesecret--which was to be a secret no longer?

      Alone in his apartment, he opened the little packet and read the notefrom the Regent, which enclosed the others, and then--he could read nofurther. The few words of information that there stared him in the facedrove every other thought from his mind, every other emotion from hisheart. His father! Why hadn't he seen? Why hadn't he known? A thousandsignificant memories rushed over him in the light of the startlingrevelation. How blind he had been! And he sat for hours, unheeding theflight of time, thinking only the one thought, saying over and overagain the one name, the name of his father, his own father, whom he hadloved so deeply all his life-- _Paul Verdayne!_

      At last, when he felt that he could control his scattered senses, heturned over the letters in the packet and found his mother's. How hisboyish heart thrilled at this message from the dead!--a message that hehad waited for, and that had been waiting for him, one-and-twenty years!The letter began:

      "Once, my baby, thy father--long before he was thy father--had apresentiment that if he became my lover my life would find a tragic end. 

      "Once, likewise, I told thy father, before he became my lover, that theprice we might have to pay, if we permitted ourselves to love, would besorrow and death! For, my baby, these are so often the terrible cost ofsuch a love as ours. That he has been my lover--my beloved--heart of myheart--thine own existence is the living proof; and something--anintangible something--tells me that the rest of his prophecy willlikewise be fulfilled. We have known the sorrow--aye, as few othershave--and even now I feel that we shall also know death! "It is because of this curious presentiment of mine that I write downfor thee, my baby--my baby Paul--this story of thy father and thymother, and the great love that gave thee to the world. It is but right, before thou comest into thy kingdom, that thou shouldst know--thou andthou alone--the secret of thy birth, that thou mayst carry with theeinto the big world thy birthright--the sweetness of a supreme love. "

      Then briefly, but as completely and vividly as the story could bewritten, she pictured for him the beautiful idyl she and her lover hadlived, here in this very spot, two-and-twenty years ago; told him, inher own quaint words, of the beautiful boy she had found in Lucerne, that glorious May so long ago, and how it had been her caprice to wakenhim, until the caprice had become her love, and afterwards her life;told him how she had seen the danger, and had warned the boy to leaveLucerne, while there was yet time, but that he had answered that hewould chance the hurt, because he wished to live, and he knew that onlyshe could teach him how--only she could prove to him the truth of herown words, that _life was love!_

      She told how weary and unhappy she had been, picturing with no lightfingers the misery of her life--married when a mere child to a vicioushusband--and all the insults and brutality she was forced to endure; andthen, for contrast, told him tenderly how she had been young again forthis boy she had found in Lucerne. 

      There was not one little detail of that idyllic dream of love omittedfrom the picture she drew for him of these two--and their sublime threeweeks of life on the Bürgenstock with their final triumphant, but bitterculmination in Venice. She told him of what they had been pleased tocall their wedding--the wedding of their souls--nor did she seek tolessen the enormity of their sin. 

      She touched with the tenderest of fingers upon the first dawn in theirhearts of the hope of the coming of a child--a child who would holdtheir souls together forever--a child who would immortalize their lovetill it should live on, and on, and on, through countless generationsperhaps--till who could say how much the world might be benefited andhelped just because they two had loved!

      And then she told him--sweetly, as a mother should--of all her dreamsfor her son--all her hopes and ambitions that were centered around hislittle life--the life of her son who was to redeem the land--told himhow ennobled and exalted she had felt that this strong, manly Englishmanwas her lover, and how sure she had been that their child would have anoble mind. 

       "Thou wilt think my thoughts, my baby Paul--thou wilt dream my dreams, and know all my ambitions and longings. Thou canst not be ignoble or base, for thou wert born of a love that makes all other unions mean and low and sordid by comparison. "

      Then, after telling, as only she could tell it, of the bitterness ofthat parting in Venice, when, because of the threatening danger, fromwhich there was no escape, she left her lover to save his life, she wenton:

       "Dost thou know yet, when thou readest this, little Paul, with thy father's eyes--dost thou know, I wonder, the meaning of that great love which to the twain who realize it becomes a sacrament--dost understand?--a sacrament holier even than a prayer. It was even so with thy father and me--dost thou--canst thou understand? If not yet, sometime thou wilt, and thou wilt then forgive thy mother for her sin. "

      She told of the taunts and persecutions to which she was forced tosubmit upon her return to her kingdom. The king and his friends hadvilely commended her for her "patriotism" in finding an heir to thethrone. "Napoleon would have felt honored, " her husband had sneered, "ifJosephine had adopted thy method of finding him the heir he desired!"But through it all, she said, she had not faltered. She had held the onethought supreme in her heart and remembered that however guilty shemight be in the eyes of the world, there was a higher truth in the wordsof Mrs. Browning, "God trusts me with a child, " and had dared to pray. 

       "To pray for strength and grace and wisdom to give thee birth, my baby, and to make thee all that thou shouldst be--to develop thee into the man I and thy father would have thee become. I was not only giving an heir to the throne of my realm. I was giving a son to the husband of my soul. But the world did not know that. Whatever it might suspect, it could actually know--nothing! The secret was thy father's and mine--his and mine alone--and now it is thine, as it needs must be! Guard it well, my baby, and let it make thy life and thy manhood full of strength and power and sweetness and glory and joy, and remember, as thou readest for the first time this story of thy coming into the world, that thy mother counted it her greatest, proudest glory to be the chosen love of thy father, and the mother of his son. " She had touched as lightly as she could upon the dark hours of herbaby's coming, when she was doomed to pass through that Valley of theShadow far away from the protecting and comforting love of him whoseright it was by every law of Nature to have been, then of all times, byher side; but the Boy felt the pathos of it, and his eyes filled withtears. His mother--the mother of his dreams--his gloriousqueen-mother--to suffer all this for him--for him!

      And Father Paul!--his own father! What must this cross have been to him!Surely he would love him all the rest of his life to make up for allthat suffering!

      Then he thought of the other letters and he read them all, his hearttorn between grief and anger--for they told him all the appallingdetails of the tragedy that had taken his mother from him, and left hisfather and himself bereaved of all that made life dear and worth theliving to man and boy. 

      One of the letters was from Sir Paul, telling the story over again fromthe man's point of view, and laying bare at last the great secret theBoy had so often longed to hear. Nothing was kept back. Even everynote--every little scrap of his mother's writing--had been sacredly keptand was now enclosed for the eyes of their son to read. The closed doorin Father Paul's life was unlocked now, and his son entered andunderstood, wondering why he had been so blind that he had not seen itall before. The writing on the wall had certainly been plain enough. Andhe smiled to remember the readiness with which he had believed theplausible story of Isabella Waring!

      And that man--the husband of his mother--the king who had taken her dearlife from her with a curse upon his lips! Thank God he was not hisfather! No, in all the world of men, there was no one but PaulVerdayne--no one--to whom he would so willingly have given thetitle--and to him he had given it in his heart long before. 

      He sat and read the letters through again, word by word, living inimagination the life his mother had lived, feeling all she had felt. God! the bliss, the agony of it all!

      And Paul Zalenska, surrounded by the messages from the past that hadgiven him being, and looking at the ruin of his own life with eyes newlyawakened to the immensity of his loss, bowed his face in his hands andwept like a heart-broken child over the falling of his house of cards. 

      Ah! his mother had understood--she had loved and suffered. She was olderthan he, too, and had known her world as he could not possibly know it, and yet she had bade him take the gifts of life when they came his way. 

      And--God help him!--he had not done so!

      The next morning, Paul Zalenska rose early. He had not slept well. Hewas troubled with conflicting emotions, conflicting memories. The wonderand sorrow of it all had been too much even for his youth and health toendure. His mother had won so much from life, he thought--and he solittle! He thought of Opal--indeed, when was she ever absent from histhoughts, waking or sleeping?--and the memory of his loss made himfrantic. Opal--his darling! And _they_ might have been just as happy ashis mother and father had been, but they had let their happiness slipfrom them! What fools! Oh, what fools they had been! Not to have riskedanything--everything--for their happiness! And where was she now? InParis, in her husband's arms, no doubt, where he could hold her to him, and caress her and kiss her at his own sweet will! God! It wasintolerable, unthinkable! And he--Paul, her lover--lying there alone, who would have died a thousand deaths, if that were possible, to saveher from such a fate!

      At last he forced the thought of his own loss from him, and thoughtagain of his mother. Ah, but her death had been opportune! How gloriousto die when life and love had reached their zenith! in the fullness ofjoy to take one's farewell of the world!

      And in the long watches of that wakeful night, he formed the resolutionthat he put into effect at the first hint of dawn. He would spend oneentire day in solitude. He would traverse step by step the primrosepaths of his mother's idyllic dream; he would visit every scene, everynook, she and her lover had immortalized in their memories; he would seeit all, feel it all--yes, _live_ it all, and become so impregnated withits witchery that it would shed lustre and glory upon all the bleakyears to come. So well had she told her story, so perfect had been itsword-painting, he was sure that he would recognize every scene. 

      He explored the ivy-terrace leading to his mother's room, he walked upand down under the lime trees, and he sat on the bench still in positionunder the ivy hanging from the balustrade, and looked up wistfully atthe windows of the rooms that had been hers. Then he engaged a launchand crossed the lake, and was not satisfied until he had found among theyoung beeches on the other side what he felt must have been the exactspot where his mother had peeped through the leaves upon her ardentlover, before she knew him. And he roamed about among the trees, feelinga subtle sense of satisfaction in being in the same places that they hadbeen who gave him being, as though the spirits of their two natures muststill haunt the spot and leave some trace of their presence even yet. Hefollowed each of the three paths until he had decided to his ownsatisfaction by which one his mother had escaped from her pursuer, thatday, and he laughed a buoyant, boyish laugh at the image it suggested ofVerdayne, the misogynist--his stately, staid old Father Paul--actually"running after a woman!" Truly the Boy was putting aside his own sorrowand discontent to-day. He was living in the past, identifying himselfwith every phase of it, living in imagination the life of these two sodear to him, and rejoicing in their joy. Life had certainly been onesweet song to them, for a brief space, a duet in Paradise, brokenup--alas for the Boy!--before it had become the trio it should havedeveloped into, by every law of Nature.  He sought the little village that they had visited before him, andlunched at the same little hotel. He drove out to the little farmhousewhere the lovers had had their first revelation of him--their baby--andhe wept over the loss of the glorious mother she would have been to him. He even climbed the mountain and looked with her eyes out over thelandscape. He was young and strong, and he determined to let nothingescape him--to let no sense of fatigue deter him--but to crowd the dayfull of memories of her. 

      The Boy, as his mother had been before him, was enraptured by all thathe saw. The beauty of the snow-capped mountains against the blue of thesky and the golden glamour of the sunshine appealed to him keenly, andhe watched the reflection of it all in the crystal lake in a trance ofdelight. 

      "Ah, " he thought, "had they deliberately searched the world over for afitting setting for their idyl, they could not have selected a retreatmore perfect than this. It was made for lovers who love as they did. "

      And at last, under the witchery of the star-studded skies, wearied andhungry, but filled and thrilled with the fragrance and glory of thememories of the mother whom his young heart idealized, he left thelaunch at the landing by the terrace steps and started blithely for thelittle restaurant, dreaming, always dreaming, not of the future--but ofthe past. 

      For him, alas, the future held no promise!

      During the Boy's absence that day a new guest had arrived at the littlehotel. A capricious American lady, who had come to Lucerne, "for a dayor two's rest, " she said, before proceeding to Paris where an impatientCount awaited her and his wedding-day. 

      Yes, Opal was actually in Lucerne, and the suite of rooms once occupiedby the mysterious Madame Zalenska were now given over to the little ladyfrom over the seas, who, in spite of her diminutive stature, contrivedto impress everybody with a sense of her own importance. She had justreceived a letter from her fiancé, an unusually impatient communication, even from him. He was anxious, he said, for her and his long-delayedhoneymoon. Honeymoon! God help her! Her soul recoiled in horror from thehideous prospect. Only two days more, she thought, pressing her lipstightly together. Oh, the horror of it! She dared not think of it, orshe would go mad! But she would not falter. She had told herself thatshe was now resigned. She was going to defeat Fate after all!

      She had partaken of her dinner, and was standing behind the ivy thatdraped the little balcony, watching the moon in its setting of Swissskies and mystic landscape. How white and calm and spotless it appeared!It was not a man's face she saw there--but that of a woman--the face ofa nun in its saintly, virgin purity, suggesting only sweet inspiringthoughts of the glory of fidelity to duty, of the comfort and peace andrest that come of renunciation. 

      Opal clasped her hands together with a thrill of exultation at her ownvictory over the love and longings that were never to be fulfilled. Asong of prayer and thanksgiving echoed in her heart over the thoughtthat she had been strong enough to do her duty and bear the cross thatlife had so early laid upon her shoulders. She felt so good--so true--sopure--so strong to-night. She would make her life, she thought--her lifethat could know no personal love--abound in love for all the world, andbe to all it touched a living, breathing benediction. 

      As she gazed she suddenly noticed a lighted launch on the little lake, and an inexplicable prescience disturbed the calm of her musings. Shewatched, with an intensity she could not have explained, the gradualapproach of the little craft. What did that boat, or its passenger, matter to her that she should feel such an acute interest in itsmovements? Yet something told her it did matter much, and though shelaughed at her superstition, nevertheless her heart listened to it, anddared not gainsay its insistent whisper. 

      A young man, straight and tall and lithe, bounded from the launch andmounted the terrace steps. She saw his clean-cut profile, hiswell-groomed appearance, which even in the moonlight was plainlyevident. She noted the regal bearing of his well-knit figure, and shecaught the delicious aroma of the particular brand of cigar Paul alwayssmoked, as he passed beneath the balcony where she stood. 

      She turned in very terror and fled to her rooms, pulling the curtainscloser. She shrank like a frightened child upon the couch, her facewhite and drawn with fear--of what, she did not know. 

      After a time--long, terrible hours, it seemed to her--she parted thecurtains with tremulous fingers and looked out again at the sky, andshuddered. The virgin nun-face had mysteriously changed--the moon thathad looked so pure and spotless was now blood-red with passion. 

      Opal crept back, pulling the curtains together again, and threw herselfface downward upon the couch. God help her!

      Paul Zalenska lingered long over his dinner that night. He was tired andthoughtful. And he enjoyed sitting at that little table where his fatherperhaps sat the night he had first seen her who became his love. 

      And Paul pictured to himself that first meeting. He tried to imaginethat he was Paul Verdayne, and that shortly his lady would come in withher stately tread, and take her seat, and be waited upon by her elderlyattendant. Perhaps she would look at him through those long dark lasheswith eyes that seemed not to see. But there was no special table, to-night, and the Boy felt that the picture was woefullyincomplete--that he had been left out of the scheme of things entirely. 

      After finishing his meal, he went out, as his father had done, out underthe stars and sat on the little bench under the ivy, and smoked a cigar. He felt a curious thrill of excitement, quite out of keeping with hisloneliness. Was it just the memory of that old love-story that hadstirred his blood? Why did his pulse leap, his blood race through hisveins like this, his heart rise to his throat and hammer there sofiercely, so strangely. Only one influence in all the world had everdone this to him--only one influence--_one woman_--and she was miles andmiles away!

      Suddenly, impelled by some force beyond his power of resistance--a senseof someone's gaze fixed upon him, he raised his eyes to the ivy abovehim. There, faint and indistinct in the shadow of the leaves, but quiteunmistakable, he saw the white, frightened face of the girl he loved, her luminous eyes looking straight down into his. 

      He sprang to his feet, and pulled himself up by the ivy to the level ofthe terrace, but she had vanished and the watching stars dancedmockingly overhead. Was he dreaming? Had that strange old love-storytaken away from him the last remaining shred of sanity? Surely he hadn'tseen Opal! She was in Paris--damn it!--and he clenched his teeth at thethought--certainly not at Lucerne!

      He looked at the windows of that enchanted room. All was darkness andsilence. Cursing himself for a madman, he strode into the hall andexamined the Visitors' List. Suddenly the blood leaped to his face--hishead reeled--his heart beat to suffocation. He was not dreaming, forthere, as plainly as words could be written, was the entry:

      _Miss Ledoux and maid, New Orleans, U. S. A. _

      She was there--in Lucerne!--his Opal!

            How Paul reached his room, he never knew. He was in an ecstasy--hisyoung blood surging through his veins in response to the leap of theseething passions within. 

      Have you never felt it, Reader? If you have not, you had better layaside this book, for you will never, never understand whatfollowed--what _must_ follow, in the very nature of human hearts. 

      Fate once more had placed happiness in his grasp--should he fling itfrom him? Never! never again! He remembered his mother and her greatlove, as she had bade him. 

      This day, following as it did his mother's letter, had been a revelationto him of the possibilities of life, and of his own capacity forenjoying it. In one week, only one week more, he must take upon hisshoulders the burdens of a kingdom. Should he let a mistaken sense ofright and duty defraud him a second time? Was this barrier--which astronger or a weaker man would have brushed aside without a secondthought--to wreck his life, and Opal's? He laughed exultingly. His wholesoul was on fire, his whole body aflame. 

      Beyond the formality of the betrothal, Opal had not yet been bound tothe Count. She was not his--yet! She could not be Paul's wife--Fate hadmade that forever impossible--but she should be _his_, as he knew shealready was at heart.  They loved, and was not love--everything!

      He paced the floor in an excitement beyond his control. Opal should givehim, out of her life, one day--one day in the little hotel on theBürgenstock, where his mother and her lover had been so happy. They, too, should be happy--as happy as two mating birds in a new-builtnest--for one day they would forget all yesterdays and all to-morrows. He would make that one day as glorious and shadowless for her as a daycould possibly be made--one day in which to forget that the world wasgray--- one day which should live in their memories throughout all theyears to come as the one ray of sunshine in two bleak and dreary lives!

      And tempted, as he admitted to himself, quite beyond all reason, heswore by all that he held sacred to risk everything--braveeverything--for the sake of living one day in Paradise. 

      "We have a right to be happy, " he said. "Everyone has a right to behappy, and we have done no wrong to the world. Why should we two, whohave the capability of making so much of our lives and doing so much forthe world, as we might have, together--why should we be sentenced to themisery of mere existence, while men and women far less worthy ofhappiness enjoy life in its utmost ecstasy?"

      One thing he was firmly resolved upon. Opal should not know his realrank. She should give herself to Paul Zalenska, the man--not to Paul thePrince! His rank should gloss over nothing--nothing--and for all sheknew now to the contrary, her future rank as Countess de Roannes wassuperior to his own. 

      And then as silence fell about the little hotel, unbroken save by somestrolling musicians in the square near at hand who sent the most tenderof Swiss love-melodies out upon the evening air, Paul walked out to theterrace, passed through the little gate, and reaching the balcony, knocked gently but imperatively upon the door of the room that was oncehis mother's. 

      The door was opened cautiously. 

      Paul stepped inside, and closed it softly behind him. 

            In the moonlit room, Paul and Opal faced each other in a silence heavywith emotion. 

      It had been months since they parted, yet for some moments neitherspoke. Opal first found her voice. 

      "Paul! You-saw me!"

      "I felt your eyes!"

      "Oh, why did I come!"

      Opal had begun to prepare for the night and had thrown about hershoulders a loose robe of crimson silk. Her lustrous hair, like waves ofburnished copper, hung below her waist in beautiful confusion. Withtrembling fingers she attempted to secure it. 

      "Your hair is wonderful, Opal! Please leave it as it is, " Paul saidsoftly. And, curiously enough, she obeyed in silence. 

      "Paul, " she said at last, with a little nervous laugh, as she recoveredher self-possession and seated herself on the couch, "don't standstaring at me! I'm not a tragedy queen! You're too melodramatic. Sitdown and tell me why you've come here at this hour. "

      Paul obeyed mechanically, his gaze still upon her. She shrank from theexpression of his eyes--it was the old tiger-look again!

      "I came because I had to, Opal. I could not have done otherwise. I havesomething to tell you. "

      "Something to tell me?" she repeated. 

      "Yes. The most interesting story in the world to me, Opal--a letter frommy mother--a letter to me alone, which I can share with only one womanin the world--the woman I love!"

      Her eyes fell. As she raised her hand abstractedly to adjust thecurtain, Paul saw the flash of her betrothal ring. He caught her hand inhis and quietly slipped the ring from her finger. She seized the jewelwith her free hand and tried to thrust it into her bosom. 

      "No! no!--not there!" he remonstrated, and was not satisfied until shehad crossed the room and hidden it from his sight.  "Does that please your majesty?" she asked, with a curious littletremble in her voice. 

      Paul started, and stared at her with a world of wonder in his eyes. Could she know?

      "Your majesty--" he stammered. 

      "Why not?" she laughed. "You speak as though you had but to command tobe obeyed. "

      "Forgive me, dear, " he answered softly. 

      And Opal became her sympathetic self again. 

      "Tell me about your mother, Paul, " she said. 

      And Paul, beginning at the very beginning, told her the whole story asit had been told to him, reading much of his mother's letter to her, reserving only such portions of it as would reveal the identity he wasdetermined to keep secret until she was his. The girl was moved to thedepths of her nature by the beauty and pathos of it all, and then thethought came to her, "This, then, is Paul's heritage--his birthright!He, like me, is doomed!"

      And her heart ached for him--and for herself!

      But Paul did not give her long to muse. Sitting down beside her for thefirst time, he told her the plan he had been turning over in his mindfor their one day together. 

      "Surely, " he said, "it is not too much to ask out of a lifetime ofmisery--one little day of bliss! Just one day in which there shall be noyesterday, and no to-morrow--one day of Elysium against years ofPurgatory! Let us have our idyl, dear, as my mother and father hadtheirs--even though it must be as brief as a butterfly's existence, letus not deny ourselves that much. I ask only one day!

      "You love me, Opal. I love you. You are, of all the world of women, mychosen one, as I--no, don't shake your head, for you can't honestly denyit--am yours! We know we must soon part forever. Won't it be easier forboth of us--both, I say--if for but one day, we can give to each otherall! Won't all our lives be better for the memory of one perfect day?Think, Opal--to take out of all eternity just a few hours--and yet outof those few hours may be born sufficient courage for all the life tocome! Don't you see? Can't you? Oh, I can't argue--I can't reason! Ionly want you to be mine--all mine--yes, if only for a few hours--allmine!"

      "Paul, you are mad, " she began, but he would not listen. 

      "Just one day, " he pleaded--"no yesterday, and no to-morrow!"

      He looked at her tenderly. 

      "Opal, it simply has to be--it's Fate! If it wasn't meant to be, whyhave we met here like this? Do you think we two are mere toys in thegrip of circumstances? Or do you believe the gods have crossed our pathsagain just to tantalize us? Is that why we are here, Opal, you andI--_together_?"

      "Why, I came to rest--to see Lucerne! Most tourists come to Lucerne!It's a--pretty--place--very!" she responded, lamely. 

      "Well, then, account for the rest of it. Why did _I_ come?--and at thesame time?--and find you here in my mother's room? Simply a coincidence?Answer me that! Chance plays strange freaks sometimes, I'll admit, butFate is a little more than mere chance. Why did I hear your voice, thattime? Why did I see you, and follow? Why did we find ourselves so nearakin--so strangely, so irresistibly drawn to each other? Answer me, Opal! Why was it, if we weren't created to be--_one_?"

      After a moment of waiting he said, "Listen to the music, Opal! Onlylisten! Doesn't it remind you of dreams and visions--of fairyland, ofhappiness, and--love?"

      But she could not answer. 

      At last she said slowly, "Oh, it's too late, Paul--too late!"

      "Too late?" he echoed. "It's never too late to take the good the godssend! Never, while love lasts!"

      "But the Count, Paul--and your fiancée! Think, Paul, think!"

      "I can't think! What does the Count matter, Opal! Nothing--nothing makesany difference when you are face to face with destiny and your soul-matecalls! It has to be--_it has to be!_--can't you--won't you--see it?" "_God help all poor souls lost in the dark!_" She did see it. It staredher relentlessly in the face and tugged mercilessly at her heart withfingers of red-hot steel! She covered her face with her hands, but shecould not shut out the terrible image of advancing Death that held forher all the charm of a serpent's eye. She struggled, as virgin woman hasalways struggled. But in her heart she knew that she would yield. Whatwas her weak woman's nature after all, when pitted against the strengthof the man she loved!

      "Oh, I was feeling so pure--so good--so true--to-night! Are there notthousands of beautiful women in the world who might be yours for theasking? Could you not let the poor Count have his wife and his honeymoonin peace?"

      Honeymoon! She shuddered at the thought. 

      "Sweetheart, " he whispered, "by every God-made law of Nature you aremine--mine--mine! What care we for the foolish, man-made conventions ofthis or any other land? There is only one law in the universe--thedivine right of the individual to choose for himself his mate!"

      Then his whisper became softer--more enticing--more resistless in itspassionate appeal. 

      He was pleading with his whole soul--this prince who with one word couldcommand the unquestioning obedience of a kingdom! But the woman in hisarms did not know that, and it would have made no difference if she had!In that supreme moment it was only man and woman. 

      Opal gazed in amazement at this revelation of a new Paul. How splendidhe was! What a king among all the men she knew! What a god in hismanhood's glory!--a god to make the hearts of better and wiser womenthan she ache--and break--with longing! Her hand stole to her heart tostill the fury of its beating. 

      "Opal, " he breathed, "I have wanted you ever since that mad moment ingray old London when I first caught the lure in your glorious eyes--doyou remember, sweetheart? I know you are mine--and you know it--girl!

      His voice sank lower and lower, growing more and more intense withsuppressed passion. Opal was held spell-bound by the subtle charm of hislanguorous eyes. She wanted to cry out, but she could not speak--shecould not think--the spell of his fascination overpowered her. 

      She felt her eyes grow humid. Her heart seemed to struggle upward, tillit caught in her throat like a huge lump of molten lead and threatenedto choke her with its wild, hot pulsations. 

      "I love you, Opal! I love you! and I want you! God! how I want you!"Paul stammered on, with a catch in his boyish voice it made her heartleap to hear. "I want your eyes, Opal--your hair--your lips--yourglorious self! I want you as man never wanted woman before!"

      He paused, dazed by his own passion, maddened by her lack ofresponse--blinded by a mist of fire that made his senses swim and hisbrain reel, and crazed by the throbbing of the pulse that cried out fromevery vein in his body with the world-old elemental call. Was she goingto close the gates of Paradise in his very face and in the very hour ofhis triumph rob him of the one day--his little day?

      It was too much. 

      More overwhelmed by her lack of response than by any words she couldhave uttered, Paul hesitated. Then, speech failing him, half-dazed, hestumbled toward the door. 

      "Paul!. . . Paul!"

      He heard her call as one in dreamland catches the far-off summons ofearth's realities. He turned. She stretched out her arms to him--thoseround, white arms. 

      "I understand you, Paul! I do understand. " She threw her arms around hisneck and drew his face down to hers. "Yes, I love you, Paul, I love you!Do you hear, I love you! I am yours--utterly--heart, mind, soul, andbody! Don't you know that I am yours?"

      She was in his arms now, weeping strange, hot tears of joy, her heartthrobbing fiercely against his own. 

      "Paul--Paul--I am mad, I think!--we are both mad, you and I!"

      And as their lips at last met in one long, soul-maddening kiss, and theintoxication of the senses stole over them, she murmured in the fullnessof her surrender, "Take me! Crush me! Kiss me! My love--my love!"

            The morning dawned. The morning of their one day. 

      Nature had done her best for them and made it all that a May day shouldbe. There was not one tint, nor tone, nor bit of fragrance lacking. Silver-throated birds flooded the world with songs of love. The very airseemed full of beauty and passion and the glory and joy of life in thedawn of its fullness. 

      Their arrangements had been hasty, but complete. Paul had stolen awayfrom Lucerne in the middle of the night, to be ready to welcome hisdarling at the-first break of the morning; and it was at a delightfullyearly hour that they met at the little hotel on the Bürgenstock wherehis mother's love-dream had waxed to its idyllic perfection, one-and-twenty years ago. They sat on the balcony and ate their simplebreakfast, looking down to where the reflection of the snow-crownedmountains trembled in the limpid lake. 

     
 Opal had never before looked so lovely, he thought. She was gowned inthe simplest fashion in purest white, as a bride should be, her glorioushair arranged in a loose, girlish knot, while her lustrous eyes werecast down, shyly, and her cheeks were flushed--flushed with therevelations and memories of the night just passed--flushed with thepromise of the day just dawning--flushed with love, with slumbering, smouldering passion--with wifehood!

      How completely she was his when she had once surrendered!

      In their first kiss of greeting, they bridged over, in one ecstaticmoment, the hours of their brief separation. When he finally withdrewhis lips from hers, with a deep sigh of momentary satisfaction, shelooked up into his eyes with something of the old, capricious mischiefdancing in her own. 

      "Let us make the most of our day, darling, our one day!" she said. "Wemust not waste a single minute of it. "

      Opal had stolen away from Lucerne and had come up the mountainabsolutely unattended. She would share her secret with no one, she said, and Paul had acquiesced. And now he took her up in his arms as one wouldcarry a little child, and bore her off to the suite he had engaged forthem. What a bit of a thing she was to wield such an influence over aman's whole life!

      A pert little French maid waited upon them. She eyed with great favorthe _distingué_ young monsieur, and his _charmante épouse!_ There was aknowing twinkle in her eye--she had not been a _femme de chambre_ even alittle while without learning to scent a _lune de miel!_ And thispromised to be especially _piquante_. But Paul would have none of her, and she tripped away disappointed of her coveted _divertissement_. 

      Paul was very jealous and exacting and even domineering this morning, and would permit no intrusion. He would take care of madame, he hadinformed the girl, and when she had taken herself away, he repeated itemphatically. Opal was his little girl, he said, and he was going to petand coddle her himself. _Femme de chambre_ indeed! Wasn't he worth adozen of the impertinent French minxes! Wanted to coquette with him, most likely--thought he might be ready to yawn over madame's charms! Shecould keep her pretty ankles out of his sight--he wasn't interested inthem!

      How Paul thrilled at the touch of everything Opal wore! Soft deliciousthings they were, and he handled them with an awkward reverence thatbrought tears to her eyes. They spoke a strange, shy language of theirown--these little, filmy bits of fine linen. 

      Oh, but it was good, thought Opal, to be taken care of like this!--to beon these familiar terms with the Boy she loved--to give him the right tolove her and do these little things, so sacred in a woman's life. And toPaul it meant more than even she guessed. It was such a new world tohim. He felt that he was treading on holy ground, and, for the moment, was half-afraid. 

      And thus began their one day--the one day that was to know no yesterday, and no tomorrow!

      They found it hard to remember that part of it at all times. He wouldgrow reminiscent for an instant, and begin, "Do you remember--" and shewould catch him up quickly with a whispered, "No yesterday, Paul!" Andagain, it would be his turn, for a troubled look would cloud the joy ofher eyes, and she would start to say, "What shall I do--" or "When I goto Paris--" and Paul would snatch her to his heart and remind her thatthere was "No tomorrow!" All the forenoon she lay in his arms, crying out with littleinarticulate gurgles of joy under his caresses, lavishing a wholelifetime's concentrated emotion upon him in a ferocity of passion thatseemed quenchless. 

      And Paul was in the seventh heaven--mad with love! He was learning thatthere were tones in that glorious voice that he had never heard before, depths in those eyes that he had never fathomed--and those tones, thosedepths, were all for him, for him alone--aye, had been waiting therethrough all eternity for his awakening touch. 

      "Opal, " he said, earnestly, "perhaps it was here--on this very spot, itmay be, who knows--that my mother gave herself to my father!

      But she could only smile at him through fast-gathering tears--strangetears of mingled joy and wonder and pain. 

      And he covered her face, her neck, her shoulders with burning kisses, and cried out in an ecstasy of bliss, "Oh, my love! My life!" And thus the morning hours died away. 

      And behold, it was noon!

      The day and their love stood still together. The glamour of the day, theresistless force of their masterful love that seemed to them so unlikeall other loves of which they had ever heard or dreamed, held them in atransport of delight that could only manifest itself in strange, bitter-sweet caresses, in incoherent murmurings. 

      This, then, was love! Aye, this was Love!

      The thoughts of the two returned with a tender, persistent recollectionto the love-tale of the past--the delicious idyl of love that had givenbirth to this boy. Here, even here, had been spent those three maddestand gladdest of weeks--that dream of an ideal love realized in itsfullness, as it is given to few to realize. 

      Yes, that was Love!  It was youth eternal--youth and fire, power and passion. 

      It was May! May!

      It was mid-afternoon before they awakened, to look into each other'seyes with a new understanding. Surely never since the world began hadtwo souls loved each other as did these!

      And what should they do with the afternoon? Such a little while remainedfor them--such a little while!

      Paul drew out his mother's letter, and together they read it, understanding now, as they had not been able to understand before, itswhole wonderful significance. 

      When they read of the first dawn of the hope of parentage in the heartsof these long-ago lovers, their eyes met, heavy with the wistfulness ofrenunciation. That consolation, alas! was not for them. Only the joy ofloving could ever be theirs. And then, drawing out the other letters that had accompanied hismother's, Paul revealed to his darling the whole mystery of hisidentity. 

      At first she was startled--almost appalled--at the thought that she hadgiven herself to a Prince of the Purple--a real king of a realkingdom--and for a moment felt a strange awe of him. 

   
   But Paul, reading her unspoken thought in her eyes, with that sweetclairvoyance that had always existed between them, soothed and pettedand caressed her till the smiles returned to her face and she nestled inhis arms, once more happy and content. 

      She was the queen of his soul, he told her, whoever might wear the crownand bear the title before the world. Then, very carefully, lest heshould wound her, he told her the whole story of the Princess Elodie. 

      Opal moved across the room and stood drumming idly by the long, openwindow. He watched her anxiously. 

      "Paul, did you go to see her as you promised--and is she . . . Pretty?" "She is a cow!"

      "Paul!" Opal laughed at his tone. 

      "Oh, but she is! Fancy loving a cow!"

      Opal's heart grew heavy with a great pity for this poor, unfortunateroyal lady who was to be Paul's wife--the mother of his children--butnever, never his Love!

      "But, Paul, you'll be good to her, won't you? I know you will! Youcouldn't be unkind to any living thing. "

      And she ran into his arms, and clasped his neck tight! And the poorPrincess Elodie was again forgotten!

      "You--Opal--are my real wife, " Paul assured her, "the one love of mysoul, the mate the gods have formed for me--my own forever!"

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