Paris on a bright April morning. Can any city make a brighter, braver show under a clear blue sky and a brilliant sun, the chestnuts in the Champs Elysées and Tuileries gardens bursting into bloom, the flower-market of the Madeleine a mass of color, exhaling delicious perfume, the fair purchasers in the first freshness of their spring attire, the tide of business and of pleasure at the fullest flood. It is a sight to fill any heart tolerably free from pressing anxiety with an irresistible sense of youth.
Though the month was still young, the weather was warm enough to make open windows an agreeable addition to the comfort of a pretty little salon in the entre-sol of Meurice’s hotel, where an elderly lady was seated at a table on which a dainty déjeuner, and a couple of bottles, inscribed respectively “Moselle” and “Pomard,” was laid out.
She was not handsome, never could have been handsome, her face was broad and strong, with small twinkling black eyes, and a heavy jaw. Her figure still showed traces of the symmetry for which she had been remarkable, and the hand she had stretched out to take another oyster, was fine both in shape and color. Her rich black silk dress, the lace of her cap, the jewels on her fingers, all her surroundings indicated wealth,—her expression, comfortable self-satisfaction.
She finished her oyster with an air of enjoyment, and then looking at her watch, murmured “he is late”—as she spoke, the door was opened, and a waiter announced “M. Glynn.”
The visitor was a tall, broad-shouldered man, of perhaps thirty-five or more, with very dark hair, eyes, and complexion, well dressed and easy in his bearing and movements, yet not looking quite like a club or a drawing-room man.
“This is not your usual punctuality, Hugh,” said the lady smiling benignly, as she stretched out a welcoming hand, “but you make your own punishment! Time, tide, and vol au vents, wait for no man.”
“I have a thousand apologies to make! You may be sure the delay was unavoidable or I should not have kept you waiting.”
“But I have not waited! Take some oysters—and then tell me what has kept you, if it is a discreet question.”
“Perfectly. No oysters, thank you. Do not let me delay the routine of your déjeuné. Just as I was leaving the ‘Bourse,’ I ran against Deering of Denham, who insisted on walking almost to the door with me.”
“Travers Deering? I did not know he was in Paris. Is Lady Frances with him?”
“She is, for he honored me with an invitation to dinner to-morrow, mentioning that Lady Frances would be very glad to see me. I was engaged, however; I don’t find dining with Travers Deering a cheerful occupation. Though Lady Frances keeps a brave front there is a profound sadness in her eyes, or I fancy there is.”
“Fancy! yes; I suspect your fancy is tolerably vivid still. Now eat your luncheon, and we will talk presently.” She proceeded to press various dainties on her guest, who ate moderately.
“I don’t think you care for good things as much as I do,” said the hostess, leaning back in her chair; “I am always vexed with people who don’t care what they eat; it shows deficiency of brain power. Now tell me,—have you succeeded this morning?”
“Yes,” he returned with a smile, as he poured out another half-glass of Pomard; “I have disposed of all your Honduras shares, not at par, but at a trifling decrease. Here,” drawing out his pocket-book, “are bills and notes to the amount of fifteen hundred pounds. I am glad you are out of the concern, you might have lost double the amount; pray avoid these foreign bubble companies in future, none of them are to be trusted, Lady Gethin,—none that offer high interest are.”
“My dear Hugh, I never will do anything without your advice again; I have had a perfect nightmare about these horrid things. I am no miser, but I hate to lose money; I am very glad you managed to get rid of these shares so soon, for I want to go back to London to-morrow; the rooms I have had altered in that old house of mine, are ready, I am dying to furnish them.”
“Well, you had better post this money to your bankers, and register your letter, than carry it about with you.”
“Yes, it would be the best plan. Shall you stay here much longer?”
“Some little time; I have a special mission to execute for the House, which may keep me a few weeks.”
“Be sure you come and see me directly you return; and do go and see Lady Frances Deering, she would be a charming woman if she let herself go. I was always interested in her. Why can’t she get on with Deering? he is good-looking, well bred, well thought of, and not very much older than herself.”
“Perhaps she does get on with him,” said Glynn.
“I used not to care for Deering,” replied Lady Gethin. “He had a quarrel with a cousin whom I liked very much, and who was killed afterwards, poor fellow. I have forgotten what the quarrel was about—a woman, I think, and I have an idea Travers behaved badly; but he is quite an irreproachable personage now, and monstrously civil to me, especially since poor dear Sir Peter bequeathed me all his real and personal property. Then, you know, we are second cousins, two or three times removed.”
“Oh indeed! Well, he is very civil to me too, and I am certainly no relation but——”
“Aha! you are dearer than kith or kin,” interrupted Lady Gethin; “you can give him financial tips, and chances of turning, I won’t say an honest penny, but simple hundreds into splendid thousands by the varied sources of information you command. Ah! were I a man, I should like to be a financier, which is ‘high falutin’ for stock-broker.”
Glynn smiled. “I have had very few business transactions with Deering, or for him. He is wealthy enough without help from any one. By the way, he is more inflammable than I imagined; we were at the Auteuil races together the day before yesterday, and when sauntering about we were both struck by a girl who was in an open carriage with two other ladies; she was certainly pretty—more than pretty—and Deering seemed quite fascinated, he could not keep away. It was not like his usual cool, high-bred indifference to all mundane things, to go back again and again to stare at the young lady, for you know he is rather a decent fellow as men go.”
“You don’t say so!” cried Lady Gethin, with keen interest. “What would Lady Frances have said?”
“The last time we went to look at the bright particular star, she and her party had left their carriage,” continued Glynn. “Deering then seemed to pull himself together, and to remember he was not alone; but I could see he was desperately vexed to have lost sight of her, though he tried to laugh at himself, and said she was wonderfully like some one he used to know. I was both surprised and amused by his manoeuvres. I left him before the last race, and I rather fancy he was going to renew his search for her.”
“Ah!” said Lady Gethin; “no doubt, thereby hangs a tale.”
“Perhaps so. The young lady, however, is very young—little more than seventeen or eighteen, and she certainly did not recognize him—nor even notice him.”
“The wisest have their weak moments,” observed Lady Gethin, with an air of wisdom. “I certainly have never heard any queer stories about Deering. Did you see any one else you knew at Auteuil?”
“A few second-rate racing men, and George Verner.”
“Oh, he generally haunts the Deerings when he is not at sea.” After a good deal more talk, partly business, partly wittily told scandal, Glynn rose to take leave. “I dine at the Café de Florence to-day, with Captain Methvin and Madame Gauthier; will you join us?”
“I am unfortunately already engaged; so must forego that pleasure,” said Glynn.
“I shall see you then as soon as you return to London, and be sure you tell me anything fresh about the Deerings.”
“I don’t fancy there will be any exciting esclandre in that quarter. If the weather continues as fine as it has been for the last few days, you will have a pleasant journey. Good-morning, Lady Gethin.”
When Glynn left the hotel he walked briskly for a few minutes towards the Louvre, then he gradually relaxed his pace, as his thoughts disengaged themselves from his surroundings, and presented him with a picture they had frequently mirrored during the last three days.
After making a few purchases at the bookstalls of the Palais Royal, he made his way down the Rue St. Honoré, finally coming to a halt at the crowded crossing opposite the Madeleine, where the contrary currents coming from the Boulevards, meet the tributary tide of the Rue Royale. He was in no hurry; it amused him to see the huge omnibuses disgorging their contents; to watch eager women with parcels, and refractory children tightly held by the hand, make ineffectual dashes at the opposite shore, and come scurrying back again, baffled, but still resolute. To observe the little flower-girls plying their trade, and hear the sharp bargaining between them and their customers.
Suddenly, however, his eyes brightened; the expression of a lazy looker-on vanished, and was replaced by one of keen, vivid interest, as his glance fell on the original of the picture which had haunted him since the day of the races at Auteuil. A slight girlish figure, in a pale gray dress; a mantlet or scarf, edged with black lace, drawn closely round her; she was crowned by a pretty little hat, also bordered with black lace, and adorned with a large bouquet of primroses and tufts of narrow black velvet ribbon. Under the hat beamed a pair of thoughtful, earnest, dark-blue eyes—large and lustrous; eyes that none could pass unnoticed; long lashes; distinct, but delicate eyebrows; a clear, pale complexion; a sweet though not very small mouth, and abundant light golden-brown hair, made up a whole that might have attracted the attention of even a more “potent, grave, and reverend Signor” than Travers Deering of Denham.
This was the face and figure that had dwelt in Hugh Glynn’s imagination since he had first seen them. In any case he must have noticed so fair a girl; but there was something in the effect she produced on Deering, that impressed him with a curious sense of interest and uneasiness.
He had laughed at his own condition of mind, as a silly after-glow of boyish folly, unworthy his experience and maturity. Yet there was a wonderful charm in the soft grace of her quiet movements, and, accustomed as he had been to women who rarely stirred out unattended, he looked round to ascertain if this delicate, refined creature had no companion, no bonne or chaperon. No! she was quite alone. Three times, while he watched her, she attempted to cross the street, and three times she returned baffled. Glynn could not lose such a chance; advancing to her side, he raised his hat and said, with grave politeness:
“There is an unusual crowd; will you allow me to see you safely to the other side?”
She raised her wonderful eyes to his with a slightly startled, but frank expression.
“Yes,” she said simply, in exactly the low clear tones that might be expected from her. “I shall be very glad.”
“Keep close to me,” returned Glynn, and seizing a lull in the traffic, he piloted her to the pavement in front of the Madeleine.
“The reason of the strongest is always the best,” she said, quoting La Fontaine aptly in his own language. “I should never have had resolution to seize that opportunity.”
“I think I speak to a countrywoman,” remarked Glynn.
“Yes, I consider myself English. I am very much obliged. Good-morning.” This decidedly, though politely.
Glynn felt himself obliged to relinquish an eagerly-formed intention of drawing her into conversation. He could not thrust himself upon a lady, and he felt strongly disposed to believe that his new acquaintance was thoroughly a lady, though a knowledge of life in most European capitals disposed him to suspend his judgment. He followed her at a little distance as she threaded her way through the booths which shelter the flower-sellers and their fragrant wares, till she reached one where she was apparently greeted as a regular customer by its wrinkled owner. Then with a certain degree of contempt for his own weakness he turned resolutely away, and walked down the new Boulevard Malesherbes.
He had not gone far, when his attention was attracted by a figure advancing with a somewhat slouching gait towards him, a man of scarcely middle height, but broadly and strongly built, well, though rather showily, dressed, his trousers tight below the knee, and loose above, his cut-away coat, bright-colored necktie, and low-crowned hat, had a horsey aspect; a broad, sun-burnt face, with well-trimmed, but coarse, red moustaches and hair, a blunt, resolute nose, sharp, light eyes, the lids puckered, as if from trying to look at strong sunlight, gave him an air of intense knowingness; all these seemed somewhat familiar to Glynn, as was also a certain expression of lazy good-nature, which softened the ruggedness of his aspect.
While Glynn was struggling to answer the question with which we have all puzzled ourselves at one time or another—”Where have I seen that face?”—its owner stopped suddenly before him, exclaiming, “Mr. Glynn! if I am not greatly mistaken; I hope I see you well, sir.”
The voice and accent, which were peculiar, neither French, nor English, nor American, though a little of all, with an undertone of something that was none of the three, brought back to Glynn, as by magic, certain passages of his life ten years before—a big, crowded, gambling saloon in the Far West, dim with tobacco smoke, and hot with gas-lights, reeking with the fumes of strong drink, and echoing with the din of strange oaths, suddenly rose from out the caverns of memory, a confusion of struggling figures, a hand-to-hand conflict, the man before him gallantly backing him in a desperate fight to reach the door.
“Mr. Merrick, I had no idea you were at this side of the Atlantic!”
“I have been more than once at this side of the Atlantic since we met last. You know all good Yankees hope to go to Paris not only when they die, but a considerable few times before that event. I’m right glad to meet you; and, before going further, I beg to observe that I have assumed” (he said “ashumed”) “another name since I had the pleasure of seeing you: or rather, I have reverted to my original patronymic, which was a deuced deal too good for the raff amongst whom we were temporarily engulfed, to mouth. Allow me”—with an elegant air he drew forth a note-book, and presented a card engraved, “Captain Lambert, U.S.C., 27 Rue de L’Evêque.” “Times have changed for the better with me, and I am now established here permanently.”
“Glad to hear it, Captain Lambert,” said Glynn, amused by the rencontre. Then glancing at the card, “You are no longer on active service?”
“No, in a sense, no. Life is always more or less a battle; but for the present the bugles sing truce, and I am enjoying well-earned rest in the society of my daughter and only child, to whom I shall be delighted to introduce an esteemed comrade, if you will allow me to say so.”
“You are very good! I shall be happy to make the young lady’s acquaintance.”
“And yourself, sir? I fancy you have been looking up too, there’s an air of success, of solid respectability, eh? worthy of a churchwarden, about you!”
“Yes, I may say I am now a sober citizen of famous London——”
“I believe you, and I am right glad to hear it. I shall yet salute you as Lord Mayor of London. ‘Turn again Whittington,’ hey? Where do you put up? I’ll call and get you to fix a day to dine with us, but for the present I must bid you good-morning, for I promised to meet my daughter at the flower-market, and I never keep her waiting. Eh! by Jove, here she is.”
Struck by the sudden joyous lighting up and softening of his interlocutor’s eyes, Glynn turned to see the cause, and found himself face to face with the beauty of Auteuil.
Seldom had he been so surprised, and it must be confessed shocked, as when he saw this charming ideal creature smile back affectionately to the rowdy-looking nomad who claimed her as his child, whom he remembered as one of an adventurous gang, ready alike with dice-box or revolver, barely ten years ago.
“I thought you had forgotten me,” she said, slipping her hand through his arm.
“Forgotten you? No, faith! you must blame my friend here, if I am a trifle late. This is an old acquaintance, my dear; we have faced death together more than once; and a better, pluckier comrade no man need wish for. Mr. Glynn—Miss Lambert.”
Glynn raised his hat with profound respect.
“He has already befriended me,” she returned, gazing at him with a pretty, surprised, bewildered look in her large eyes. “I should still have been waiting to cross there at Madeleine, had he not escorted me.”
Lambert gave a quick, questioning glance at his daughter’s open smiling face, and then exclaimed, “I am infinitely obliged to you, sir; infinitely, begad! I tell you what, Elsie, you mustn’t be out so late in the day by yourself. Why don’t you take the bonne with you, or wait till I come in.”
“Oh, it is such waste of time waiting for a chaperon on a fine day; but we shall be too late to secure places if we delay.”
“Yes, we had better be jogging. Can you dine with us to-day? And we’ll have a talk over old times, and my girl will give us a song or two. Pot luck, my dear fellow, but you shan’t starve.”
“Many thanks, I am engaged unfortunately,” returned Glynn, half-pleased, half-regretful that he had a real excuse ready.
“Well, to-morrow then, at six, sharp, and we will go and hear the new operette at the Comique after.”
“You are very good. I shall be most happy,” said Glynn, with an irresistible impulse as if some voice, not his own, answered for him.
“Well, good-bye for the present. By the way, where do you hang out? What’s your hotel? Wagram?—very good.” He swept off his hat in continental style, and his daughter bestowed a bow and smile upon Glynn which conveyed to him in some occult manner the impression that it pleased her to think he was a friend of her father.
How in the name of all that was contradictory did he come to have such a daughter? From the crown of her head to her dainty shoes she looked thoroughly a gentlewoman. More distinguished than fashionable in style, and so delightfully tranquil in pose and manner. “I hate chattering, animated women,” thought Glynn, with that readiness to condemn everything different from the attraction of the moment, peculiar to the stronger and more logical sex.
It was too dreadful to think of so fair a creature, who looked the incarnation of high-toned purity, being surrounded by a swarm of sharpers—for that Lambert alias Merrick, and a dozen other names probably, could have ever settled down to sober, honest work, seemed impossible.
Glynn dived deep into the recesses of his memory, recalling all the circumstances of his former acquaintance with Merrick or Lambert, and necessarily reviewing his own life also.
He had lost his parents in boyhood, but was left well provided for, and had been carefully educated, taking a creditable degree at Oxford shortly before coming of age. Then came a spell of wandering, of high play, of rage for costly excitement, which, with a love of speculation, beggared him in a few years. This climax found him in New York, and for a considerable time he was put to strange shifts to make out a living, for he would not beg, he was too true a gentleman to stoop to dishonesty; but he was by no means ashamed to dig, or to do any work worthy an honorable man. During his desperate struggle with fortune he joined an exploring expedition, and found himself among queer companions in one of those wonderful improvised far-western towns, which spring up, mushroom-like, almost in a night, having spent the little money he had scraped together in his attempt to reach it, after the failure and dispersion of the prospecting party he had been induced to join.
On the road he had fallen in with Merrick, whom he found friendly, helpful, and not without gleams of good and of decency. So for a week or two they kept together. Fortune befriended Glynn at the gambling-tables, till the row occurred with which Merrick was so inseparably associated, and which arose out of Glynn’s extraordinary run of luck, at which the mixed company of miners, explorers, desperadoes and ruffians took offence. Finding the place rather too hot for safety, Glynn and his new friend parted company, the former making his way to San Francisco, whence he sailed for Australia, where after various adventures he was agreeably surprised, by seeing an advertisement in the Times, requesting him to communicate with a well-known firm of solicitors in London. The result proved that his uncle, the late Sir Peter Gethin, had left him a handsome legacy.
The late Baronet had been a partner in a great banking and money-lending house; Glynn elected to let his capital remain invested in the concern. His varied experience in speculative communities, his knowledge of modern languages, and his training generally, made him a valuable acquisition to the firm, first as an employé, and after a few years as a junior partner. He was frequently despatched to conduct complicated transactions with foreign houses, to inquire into the validity of distant schemes, to test the practicality of proposed undertakings. He had thoroughly sown his wild oats, and had developed ambition, self-respect, self-confidence; but, unknown to himself, the spring of imaginative passion which had been the cause of all his misfortunes, and most of his pleasure, was only covered in, not exhausted, and lay there, ready to bubble up and well over into a strong current at the touch of the divining-rod.
Perhaps it was some hidden sympathy arising from this latent warmth that made him so great a favorite with his uncle’s widow,—a shrewd worldly voltairean woman, well-born and well-bred,—who escaped from poverty and dependence by accepting the position of wedded nurse to the aged, gouty, city knight, Sir Peter Gethin.
It was long since Glynn had been so roused and interested, and the acquaintances on whom he called that afternoon, found him unusually animated and agreeable. All through a somewhat solemn dinner at the house of a great French banker, he was buoyed up by the prospect of the different kind of festivity which awaited him next day. There was something curiously stimulating in this encounter with his old Californian acquaintance thus swept into such incongruous surroundings by the eddying current, life’s stream. How did he come to have such a daughter? What matter! enough that there would be so charming an ingredient in the morrow’s pleasure. As for his own prudence, self-control, worldly wisdom—it never crossed his mind to doubt them. He would pose as a calm spectator, study the puzzle offered to his observation, and if necessary let Merrick or Lambert know the exact position of Deering should he ever cross their path.
The weather was still calm, bright, warm, when, having drawn a light paletôt over his evening dress, Glynn left his hotel, preferring to walk as he was in good time for dinner. At the corner of the Rue Castiglione he met Deering, who was coming leisurely from the opposite direction; they stopped to exchange a few words, and then Deering exclaimed, looking at his watch, “I did not know it was so late, I am to do duty, and escort my wife and her sister to the Opera Comique to-night, au revoir,” and they parted.
“The Opera Comique,” muttered Glynn, with a strong feeling of annoyance. “He will see his Auteuil attraction, and recognize me in attendance. The presence of such a father, too, will dispose him to believe it’s a case of fair game; but after all, I have no right to think ill of Deering. There is a curious sort of fate about the whole affair. I am a fool to worry myself. I will try to enjoy the passing hour, and let omens and auguries alone.”
On reaching his destination Glynn mounted to the third étage, and was admitted by a neat, black-eyed bonne, to a dimly lighted little vestibule, containing some oak-chairs and a small orange-tree in blossom, the perfume of which was almost overpowering.
“Enter then, Monsieur,” said the servant, throwing open one of several doors on either side, and Glynn found himself in a pretty, pleasant salon and the presence of Miss Lambert; who, somewhat to his surprise, was in outdoor dress.
“My father will be here directly,” she said, giving him her hand. “He has gone to fetch our friends, Madame and Mademoiselle Davilliers, for we have changed our plans; not being able to secure places at the Comique for to-night, we propose to drive through the bois and dine at the Café de Madrid. I hope this will be agreeable to you?”
“Any arrangement you make will be most agreeable to me!” said Glynn, indescribably relieved to find himself and her delivered from the possibilities of an encounter with Deering, and charmed with the unpretending refinement of her surroundings. The room was well but simply furnished, and innocent of the flashy finery which might have been looked for in an apartment where Lambert was master. Some small but good water-colors enlivened the walls, which were of a neutral tint; an open piano loaded with music; the stove converted into a stand for flowers; the furniture of carved oak and green velvet; a small basket work-table, overflowing with bright-colored wools and silk, some fine old china on the mantel-shelf; a vase or two on corner-brackets, formed a pleasant picture of comfort and occupation.
“You know the Café de Madrid, of course?” said Miss Lambert, when Glynn had taken a seat, as she put her music together and closed the piano.
“Yes, I know it well; it is a capital place to dine at.”
“On such a fine evening it is delightful to be among the trees; they are quite green already, and there is a charming walk down to the river. We must try and persuade Madame Davilliers and the dear father to walk; do you mind walking after dinner?” She sat down suddenly while she spoke and looked straight at him gravely, as if it were a question of the last importance. “Does she think me an old fogy?” thought Glynn, and answered with a smile, “I have not yet reached that period of life when repose after eating is essential.”
“No,” still considering him gravely, “you are much younger than my father. When he spoke of you as a comrade I thought you must be about the same age. Is it long since you met?”
“Quite ten years.”
“That is a long time. But my father is always young—I sometimes think he is younger than I am—nothing depresses him, he is so full of resource; and enjoys as if he were but five-and-twenty.”
“Yes; I was always struck with his remarkable readiness. Do you remember America?”
“America? I never was in America. I was born in Australia, but my father——Ah! here he is,” looking out of the window as the carriage was heard to stop. She took up her gloves, which were lying beside her sunshade, and began to put them on. In another moment the door opened to admit Lambert, who came in with an expression of radiant satisfaction.
“Glynn, my fine fellow! I am delighted to see you. Has my daughter told you we have changed our plans, and substituted a little dinner at the Madrid instead of baking ourselves at the Comique? All right, come along, Madame Davilliers and ‘Toinette are waiting for us below; they have brought the cousin, young Henri Le Clerc, Elsie, and who should I stumble on just at the corner of the Rue d’Aguesseau, but Vincent, going to dine all alone by himself; so I made him jump up on the box. We’ll be a nice little party; you ladies will have a cavalier apiece, and one to spare, that’s myself; I am only a super nowadays; don’t forget a wrap for coming home.” Elsie locked the drawer of an ornamental bureau, put the key in her pocket, and declared herself ready; and Lambert led the way down-stairs. Arrived at the entrance, Glynn was duly presented to Madame and Mademoiselle Davilliers, in whom he recognized the ladies who were with Miss Lambert at Auteuil; they smiled and bowed most graciously, expressing their delight at M. Lambert’s change of plans in rather shrill-toned raptures. After a little confusion it was settled that Mr. Vincent, a very elaborately got-up continentalized American, with fair hair, moustaches, and complexion, and rather sleepy pale blue eyes, should escort Madame Davilliers and her daughter. While Miss Lambert, her father, Glynn, and young Le Clerc, a good-looking boy in the polytechnique uniform, should occupy another open carriage.
Glynn fancied he observed an expression of decided relief in Elsie’s face as Vincent took the seat assigned him, and she gave her hand to her father, who assisted her with careful politeness to her place; it was absurd to feel pleased by so trifling an indication—yet Glynn did feel pleased.
The drive along the beautiful Champs Elysées, and the Avenue de l’Imperatrice, as the approach to the bois was then called, is exhilarating,—especially when seated opposite an exceedingly pretty woman, whose prettiness possesses a peculiar charm for your own individual taste, and with whom for some occult reason you feel in sympathy. Away past the marionette shows, and Punch and Judy’s, the well-kept gardens and fountains, the mansions all sheltered from the heat by their closed jalousies, at the further end, round the wide sweep which encircles the Arc de Triomphe, and on past splendid equipages returning from the afternoon drive up and down Long Champs; their occupants brilliant in exquisite toilettes, on down the Empress’ Avenue, soon to be rechristened under a new order of things. Glynn could not help a keen sense of amusement as he compared the present condition of the man opposite him to his former state; and the wonder grew and grew, as to how such a girl as Miss Lambert came to be his daughter. The embryo artillery officer (such was Le Clerc’s destination) chattered gaily, and was well seconded by his host, whose French, though fluent and amusing, was not distinguished by grammatical correctness, or purity of accent. His daughter said little, but that little showed she could express herself pointedly. Moreover, she looked so frankly and confidingly at Glynn that he felt as if she accepted him, stranger though he was, as an hereditary friend. He had to exercise some self-control to keep his eyes from saying too plainly how charming he thought her.
The gardens of the Chateau de Madrid were gay and fragrant with lilac and laburnum, mignonette, and jonquils.
Lambert, who loved to do things in a princely fashion, had written to secure a private room and dinner. The party was therefore received with great politeness and attention.
The young ladies betook themselves to the garden, followed by the gentlemen except Lambert, who went indoors with madame to order the wines. They were soon summoned to table, but in the short interval, Glynn observed that Vincent made a decided attempt to separate Miss Lambert from her companions, an attempt which she frustrated with calm, resolute politeness, remarkable in so young a girl. The dinner was excellent, the company animated, pleased with themselves and each other, perhaps slightly noisy. Madame Davilliers talked well if she also talked a good deal. Lambert occasionally, often unconsciously, said good things, and told a story with point and humor. Vincent devoted himself to Madame. Young Le Clerc to his cousin and Miss Lambert. Glynn was for some time an observant listener, more and more amused and puzzled at the incongruity of the whole affair, and gathering from the conversation that Mademoiselle Antoinette Davilliers had been Miss Lambert’s dearest friend at the convent school, where they had spent nearly six years together, that the papa Davilliers held some government employment, and that Vincent was the agent for a New York commercial house. Lambert’s own occupation seemed very indefinite. He talked of having been connected with the press, of having had business interviews with various artistes, of writing himself on sporting matters. The symposium was prolonged, and when it was over, Glynn, observing a piano in a corner of their dining-room, asked Miss Lambert if she remembered her father’s promise, that she should sing?
“Yes,” smiling. “But, it was his promise, not mine.”
“Ah! my darlin’,” cried Lambert, overhearing. “You’ll not dishonor your father’s draft on your musical bank!”
“No, I will sing with pleasure by and by, Antoinette will begin.”
“And an uncommon sweet little pipe she has, of her own. Mademoiselle is always gracious—and ready to give pleasure! Open the instrument, Elsie, I hope it isn’t an instrument of torture.”
“It might be much worse,” she returned, when she had played a few chords. “Come, Antoinette,” she said, as she began an accompaniment, and Mademoiselle Davilliers, a neat little blonde with a saucy “tip-tilted” nose, and a pretty toilette of the latest fashion, went over to the piano, and in a sweet, slightly shrill soprano proceeded to request some ideal Jeannette to look into the well, that the reflection of her blue eyes might gladden the singer. She sang with much piquant expression, and was loudly applauded.
“I think I should prefer looking into the blue eyes themselves, to searching for a cold reflection,” said Glynn, who had placed himself at the end of the piano, so as to see the faces of the singers.
“It would be far better,” returned Miss Lambert; “realities are always best.”
“Now, Elsie; we are waiting for you,” cried her father. Her reply was to strike a few chords, and begin a sweet, wild, plaintive air with Italian words. Her voice was peculiarly rich and sympathetic; its lower notes were especially fine; she had been thoroughly well taught, and had besides a degree of natural expression that sent her tones right to the heart of her hearers.
“This is indeed music,” said Glynn, in a low voice when she ceased. “Do you feel something of the delight you give?”
“Do I give you delight? You look as if you liked my singing,—I am glad.”
“It is heaven to listen to you,” he exclaimed, almost in spite of himself. “Your song is quite unknown to me.”
“It is a Polish air arranged by my music-master for some Italian words. He is Italian.”
“I feel as if I were unworthy to ask for another song,” said Glynn, after a short pause.
“Why? I will sing as much as you like, I can always sing well for those who like my singing,” and again her deft fingers strayed over the notes, till they seemed to fall of their own accord into an undulating accompaniment to which she sang a barcarolle—brilliant, playful, but with an undertone of sadness.
“She can sing a bit, can’t she?” asked Lambert, approaching with exultant looks. “Why, sir, she’d create a fureur, a regular fureur; she’d pick up gold for the asking, ay, in hatfuls, if she’d go on the stage; fancy her in the ‘Trovatore,’ or, ‘The Figlia’ or ‘Martha!’—give us ‘The Last Rose of Summer,’ my heart;—why, she’d bring down any house; and the obstinate little sinner refuses point-blank to appear on the boards, says it would kill her. Faith, it is a right royal way to keep life in one, and the devil out of one’s pocket; by Jove, she would hold her own with the best, when she has a father that can crack a walnut at fifty paces, and wouldn’t mind if it were a skull in a good cause!”
“Ah, no! the stage would be a miserable failure for me. You do not take temperament into account,” said Miss Lambert, with a sigh, and then stopped the conversation by thrilling out the exquisite air for which Lambert had asked.
“Now,” said the singer, when she had finished, rising from her seat, “you must do what I ask, dear father; I want to walk to the river.”
“It’s a good step,” said Lambert; “and it isn’t civil to leave your company.”
“But they will come with me. Will you not, Madame Davilliers? and you, Antoinette,—you will, I am sure?” raising her eyes with a confiding glance to Glynn’s.
“I shall enjoy a stroll immensely,” he replied. Madame, however, preferred to remain where she was, and Vincent offered to stay and play a game of piquet with her to pass away the time.
Evening was fast closing in when they started on their ramble, and the falling dew drew out delicious odors from grass, and flowers, and shrubs, as they proceeded along the avenue which, skirting the bois, led to the river-side. It was longer than Miss Lambert thought, and the moon had risen before they reached the Seine. At first they had kept all together, but gradually Glynn contrived to separate himself and Miss Lambert from the rest. “And so you had not courage enough for the stage,” he said, after a short pause in their conversation.
“No; I suppose it is want of courage that holds me back—a sort of constitutional dislike to such a calling. Though I greatly admire actresses and singers, I could not be one. I love quietness, stillness,—being with a few people I like.”
“Then you cannot like Paris?”
“Oh, yes! I am very happy here. I enjoy music and pictures, and my father gives me everything I can want or wish. I am a most fortunate girl, but——”
“There are ‘buts’ in every life,” said Glynn, as she paused. He wanted her to speak on.
“There is scarcely a ‘but’ in mine. I was going to say that I seem to want a few months in the country every year to make life complete.”
“Have you been accustomed to the country, then?”
“Yes. When we came first from Australia I was rather delicate, and I used to live with the kind woman who took care of me after my mother’s death at her brother’s farm in a beautiful country on the borders of Wales. It was a delightful place. Then when I was about twelve my father thought I ought to learn something, and he put me to school in the convent. I have never been in England since; still I always fancy I am English.”
“And I feel as if you were; but Mr. Lambert is American?”
“Not by birth. Tell me, did you know my father very well long ago?”
“Yes; that is, we ran some risks together. Why do you ask?”
“Because you are so unlike all his other friends.”
“Indeed! Am I too English?”
“No; I cannot exactly say what the difference is, but it is very great.”
Somehow these few simple words elated Glynn as though they contained the highest compliment. He restrained the reply which sprang to his lips, and changed the subject by exclaiming, “There is the river; how fine it looks in the moonlight.”
“Yes, there is real harmony there.”
“You are right, Elsie,” exclaimed her father. “It gives one the feeling of being in church when the organ is playing.”
“And you and your delightful singing give me the feeling of silvery light upon a still, smooth lake,” said Glynn, in a low tone to his companion. “You will be forever associated in my memory with moonlight and music.”
Elsie smiled a thoughtful smile.
“I am not sure that such an association of ideas is a good omen. There is something mournful and mystic in the moon.”
“I could never bring anything but good to you,” whispered Glynn, who was strangely stirred by the charm of his companion, the beauty of the scene, the curious fatality which had brought him into contact with Lambert after having lost sight of him for so many years.
“Dieu!” cried Mademoiselle Davilliers, “I am expiring with fatigue, and I have all that long way to walk back!”
“Not at all, my dear young lady,” said Lambert, with a superior air. “I made a few inquiries before we started, and told them to send on one of the carriages after us. There, I think I hear it coming.”
The drive back was a fitting end to a delightful day. Glynn secured a seat next Elsie, and though neither of them spoke many words, he at least felt that the electric communication of unuttered sympathy was complete and sufficient.
“Thank you for a delightful day, Mr. Lambert.”
“My dear boy”—it had been “my dear sir” the day before—”it is a real pleasure to meet you. Look in on us now and again. I am sure my daughter will be delighted. Elsie! Where is she?”
“Miss Lambert is rather tired; I think she has gone in. Good-night,—thanks, I have a cigar.”
Categories: English Literature