"I must apologise for this intrusion," he said, speaking in deep, soft accents which gave a singular charm to his simplest words, "But -- to be quite frank with you -- I thought I should find the Comtesse Hermenstein here."
Angela smiled. In her heart she considered the man a social reprobate, but it was impossible to hear him speak, and equally impossible to look at him without a vague sense of pleasure in his company.
"Sylvie was here a moment ago," she answered, still smiling.
The Marquis took one or two quick impulsive steps forward -- then checking himself, stopped short, and selecting a chair deliberately sat down.
"I understand!" he said, "She wished to avoid me, and she has done so. Well! -- I would not run after her for the world. She must be perfectly free."
Angela looked at him with a somewhat puzzled air. She felt herself in a delicate and awkward position. To be of any use in this affair now seemed quite impossible. Her commission was to have told the Marquis that Sylvie had left Paris, but she could not say that now as Sylvie was still in the city. Was she supposed to know anything about the Marquis's dishonourable proposals to her friend? Surely not! Then what was she to do? She stood hesitating, glancing at the fine, clear-cut, clean-shaven face of Fontenelle, the broad intellectual brows, and the brilliant hazel eyes with their languid, half-satirical expression, and her perplexity increased. Certainly he was a man with a grand manner, -- the manner of one of those never- to-be-forgotten haughty and careless aristocrats of the "Reign of Terror" who half redeemed their vicious lives by the bravery with which they faced the guillotine. Attracted, yet repelled by him, Angela had always been, -- even when she had known no more of him than is known of a casual acquaintance met at different parties and reunions, but now that she was aware of Sylvie's infatuation, the mingled attraction and revulsion became stronger, and she caught herself wishing fervently that the Marquis would rouse himself from his lethargy of pleasure, and do justice to the capabilities which Nature had evidently endowed him with, if a fine head and noble features are to be taken as exponents of character. Fontenelle himself, meanwhile, leaning carelessly back in the chair he had taken, looked at her with a little quizzical lifting of his eyebrows.
"You are very silent, mademoiselle," he broke out at last, "Have you nothing to say to me?"
At this straight question Angela recovered her equanimity.
"I HAD something to say to you, Marquis," she answered quietly, "but it was to have been said to-morrow."
"To-morrow? Ah, yes! You receive your world of art to-morrow," he said, "and I was to come and meet la Comtesse, -- and of course she would not have been here! I felt that by a natural instinct! Something psychological -- something occult! I saw her carriage pass my windows up the Champs Elysees, -- and I followed in a common fiacre. I seldom ride in a common fiacre, but this time I did so. It was an excitement -- la chasse! I saw the little beauty arrive at your door, -- I gave her time to pour out all her confidences, -- and then I arranged with myself and le bon Dieu to escort her home."
"You arranged well," said Angela, inclined to laugh at his easy audacity, "but le bon Dieu was evidently not of your opinion, -- and you must remember that the most excellent arrangements are not always carried out."
"True!" and Fontenelle smiled, "In the case of the fascinating Sylvie, I do not know when I have had so much trouble about a woman. It is interesting, but vexatious. Sometimes I think I shall have to give up and gallop off the hunting-field altogether -- "
"Excuse me, Marquis," said Angela coldly, "Sylvie Hermenstein is my friend -- pray understand that I cannot allow her to be spoken of in the tone of badinage you are pleased to assume."
He looked up with a curious air of surprise and mock penitence.
"Pardon! But there is no badinage at all about the very serious position in which I find myself," he said, "You, mademoiselle, as a woman, have not the slightest idea of the anxiety and trouble your charming sex gives to ours. That is, of course, when you are charming -- which is not always. Now Sylvie, your friend Sylvie -- is so distinctly charming that she becomes provoking and irritating. I am sure she has told you I am a terrible villain . . ."
"She has never said so, -- never spoken one word against you!" interposed Angela.
"No? That is curious -- very curious! But then Sylvie is curious. You see the position is this; -- I wish to give her all I am worth in the world, but she will not have it, -- I wish to love her, but she will not be loved -- "
"Perhaps," said Angela, gaining courage to speak plainly, "Perhaps your love is not linked with honour?"
"Honour?" echoed the Marquis, lifting his finely arched eyebrows, "You mean marriage? No -- I confess I am not guilty of so much impudence. For why should the brilliant Sylvie become the Marquise Fontenelle? It would be a most unhappy fate for her, because if there WERE a Marquise Fontenelle, my principles would oblige me to detest her!"
"You would detest your own wife!" said Angela surprised.
"Naturally! It is the fashion. To love one's wife would be petite bourgoisie -- nothing more absurd! It is the height of good form to neglect one's wife and adore one's mistress, -- the arrangement works perfectly and keeps a man well balanced, -- perpetual complaint on one side, perpetual delight on the other."
He laughed, and his eyes twinkled satirically.
"Are you serious?" asked Angela.
"I never was more serious in my life," declared the Marquis emphatically, "With all my heart I wish to make the delicious pink and white Sylvie happy, -- I am sure I could succeed in my way. If I should ever allow myself to do such a dull thing as to marry, -- imagine it! -- such a dull and altogether prosy thing! -- my gardener did it yesterday; -- I should of course choose a person with a knowledge of housekeeping and small details, -- her happiness it would be quite unnecessary to consider. The maintenance of the establishment, the servants, and the ever increasing train of milliners and dressmakers would be enough to satisfy Madame la Marquise's ambitions. But for Sylvie, -- half-fairy, half-angel as she is, -- there must be poetry and moonlight, flowers, and romance, and music, and tender nothings, -- marriage does not consort with these delights. If you were a little school-girl, dear Donna Sovrani, I should not talk to you in this way, -- it would not be proper, -- it would savour of Lord Byron, and Maeterlinck, and Heinrich Heine, and various other wicked persons. It would give you what the dear governesses would call 'les idees folles', but being an artist, a great artist, you will understand me. Now, you yourself -- you will not marry?"
"I am to be married next year if all is well, to Florian Varillo," said Angela, "Surely you know that?"
"I have heard it, but I will not believe it," said the Marquis airily, "No, no, you will never marry this Florian! Do not tell me of it! You yourself will regret it. It is impossible! You could not submit to matrimonial bondage. If you were plain and awkward I should say to you, marry, and marry quickly, it is the only thing for you! -- but being what you are, charming and gifted, why should you be married? For protection? Every man who has once had the honour of meeting you will constitute himself your defender by natural instinct. For respectability? Ah, but marriage is no longer respectable, -- the whole estate of matrimony is as full of bribery and corruption as the French War Office."
He threw himself back in his chair and laughed, running one hand through his hair with a provoking manner of indifferent ease and incorrigible lightheartedness.
"I cannot argue with you on the matter," said Angela, rather vexedly, "Your ideas of life never will be mine, -- women look at these things differently . . ."
"Poor dear women! Yes! -- they do," said the Marquis, "And that is such a pity, -- they spoil all the pleasure of their lives. Now, just think for a moment what your friend Sylvie is losing! A devoted, ardent and passionate lover who would spare no pains to make her happy, -- who would cherish her tenderly, and make her days a dream of romance! I had planned in my mind such a charming boudoir for Sylvie, all ivory and white satin, -- flowers, and a soft warm light falling through the windows, -- imagine Sylvie, with that delicate face of hers and white rose skin, a sylph clad in floating lace and drapery, seen in a faint pink hue as of a late sunset! You are an artist, mademoiselle, and you can picture the fairy-like effect! I certainly am not ashamed to say that this exquisite vision occupies my thoughts, -- it is a suggestion of beauty and deliciousness in a particularly ugly and irksome world, -- but to ask such a dainty creature as Sylvie to be my housekeeeper, and make up the tradesmen's books, I could not, -- it would be sheer insolence on my part, -- it would be like asking an angel just out of heaven to cut off her wings and go downstairs and cook my dinner!"
"You please yourself and your own fanciful temperament by those arguments," said Angela, -- "but they are totally without principle. Oh, why," and raising her eyes, she fixed them on him with an earnest look, "Why will you not understand? Sylvie is good and pure, -- why would you persuade her to be otherwise?"
Fontenelle rose and took one or two turns up and down the room before replying.
"I expect you will never comprehend me," he said at last, stopping before Angela, "In fact, I confess sometimes I do not comprehend myself. Of course Sylvie is good and pure -- I know that; -- I should not be so violently in love with her if she were not -- but I do not see that her acceptance of me as a lover would make her anything else than good and pure. Because I know that she would be faithful to me."
"Faithful to you -- yes! -- while you were faithless to her!" said Angela, with a generous indignation in her voice, "You would expect her to be true while you amused yourself with other women. A one- sided arrangement truly!"
The Marquis seemed unmoved.
"Every relation between the sexes is one-sided," he declared, "It is not my fault! The woman gives all to one, -- the man gives a little to many. I really am not to blame for falling in with this general course of things. You look very angry with me, Donna Sovrani, and your eyes positively abash me; -- you are very loyal to your friend and I admire you for it; but after all, why should you be so hard upon me? I am no worse than Varillo."
Angela started, and her cheeks crimsoned.
"Than Varillo? What do you mean?"
"Well, Varillo has Pon-Pon, -- of course she is useful -- what he would do without her I am sure I cannot imagine, -- still she IS Pon-Pon."
He paused, checked by Angela's expression.
"Please explain yourself, Marquis," she said in cold, calm accents, "I am at a loss to understand you."
Fontenelle glanced at her and saw that her face had grown as pale as it was recently flushed, and that her lips were tightly set; and in a vague way he was sorry to have spoken. But he was secretly chafing at everything, -- he was angry that Sylvie had escaped him, -- and angrier still that Donna Sovrani should imply by her manner, if not by her words, that she considered him an exceptional villain, when he himself was aware that nearly all the men of his "Cercle" resembled him.
"Pon-Pon is Signor Varillo's model," he said curtly, "I thought you were aware of it. She appears in nearly all his pictures."
Angela breathed again.
"Oh, is that all!" she murmured, and laughed.
Fontenelle opened his eyes a little, amazed at her indifference. What a confiding, unsuspecting creature was this "woman of genius"! This time, however, he was discreet, and kept his thoughts to himself.
"That is all," he said, "But . . . artists have been known to admire their models in more ways than one."
"Yes," said Angela tranquilly, "But Florian is entirely different to most men."
The Marquis was moved to smile, but did not. He merely bowed with a deep and reverential courtesy.
"You have reason to know him best," he said, "and no doubt he deserves your entire confidence. For me -- I willingly confess myself a vaurien -- but I assure you I am not as bad as I seem. Your friend Sylvie is safe from me."
Angela's eyes lightened, -- her mind was greatly relieved.
"You will leave her to herself -- " she began.
"Certainly I will leave her to herself. She will not like it, but I will do it! She is going away to-morrow, -- I found that out from her maid. Why will you beautiful ladies keep maids? They are always ready to tell a man everything for twenty or forty francs. So simple! -- so cheap! -- Sylvie's maid is my devoted adherent, -- and why?- -not only on account of the francs, but because I have been careful to secure her sweetheart as my valet, and he depends upon me to set him up in business. So you see how easy it is for me to be kept aware of all my fair lady's movements. This is how I learned that she is going away to-morrow -- and this is why I came here to-day. She has given me the slip -- she has avoided me and now I will avoid her. We shall see the result. I think it will end in a victory for me."
"Never!" said Angela, "You will never win Sylvie to your way of thinking, but it is quite possible she may win you!"
"That would be strange indeed," said the Marquis lightly, "The world is full of wonders, but that would be the most wonderful thing that ever happened in it! Commend me to the fair Comtesse, Mademoiselle, and tell her it is I who am about to leave Paris."
"Where are you going?" asked Angela impulsively.
"Ah, feminine curiosity!" said the Marquis laughing, "How it leaps out like a lightning flash, even through the most rigid virtue! Chere Mademoiselle, where I am going is my own secret, and not even your appealing looks will drag it out of me! But I am in no hurry to go away; I shall not fly off by the midnight train, or the very early one in the morning, as your romantic friend the Comtesse Sylvie will probably do, -- I have promised the Abbe Vergniaud to hear him preach on Sunday. I shall listen to a farewell sermon and try to benefit by it, -- after that I take a long adieu of France; -- be good enough to say to the Countesse with my humblest salutations!"
He bowed low over Angela's hand, and with a few more light parting words took his graceful presence out of the room, and went down the stairs humming a tune as he departed.
After he had gone Angela sat for some minutes in silence thinking. Then she went to her desk and wrote a brief note to the Comtesse as follows: --
"Dear Sylvie: Dismiss your maid. She is in the employ of Fontenelle and details to him all your movements. He has been here for half an hour and tells me that he takes a long adieu of France after Sunday, and he has promised me to LEAVE YOU TO YOURSELF. I am sure you are glad of this. My uncle and I go to Rome next week.
She sealed and marked the envelope "private", and ringing the bell for her man-servant requested him to deliver it himself into the hands of the Comtesse Hermenstein. This matter dismissed from her mind she went to a portfolio full of sketches, and turned them over and over till she came to one dainty, small picture entitled, "Phillida et les Roses". It was a study of a woman's nude figure set among branching roses, and was signed "Florian Varillo". Angela looked at it long and earnestly, -- all the delicate flesh tints contrasting with the exquisite hues of red and white roses were delineated with wonderful delicacy and precision of touch, and there was a nymph-like grace and modesty about the woman's form and the drooping poise of her head, which was effective yet subtle in suggestion. Was it a portrait of Pon-Pon? Angry with herself Angela tried to put the hateful but insinuating thought away from her, -- it was the first slight shadow on the fairness of her love-dream, -- and it was like one of those sudden clouds crossing a bright sky which throws a chill and depression over the erstwhile smiling landscape. To doubt Florian seemed like doubting her own existence. She put the "Phillida" picture back in the portfolio and paced slowly to and fro in her studio, considering deeply. Love and Fame -- Fame and Love! She had both, -- and yet Aubrey Leigh had said such fortune seldom fell to the lot of a woman as to possess the two things together. Might it not be her destiny to lose one of them? If so, which would she prefer to keep? Her whole heart, her whole impulses cried out, "Love"! Her intellect and her ambitious inward soul said, "Fame"! And something higher and greater than either heart, intellect, or soul whispered to her inmost self, "Work! -- God bids you do what is in you as completely as you can without asking for a reward of either Love or Fame." "But," she argued with herself, "for a woman Love is so necessary to the completion of life." And the inward monitor replied, "What kind of Love? Ephemeral or immortal? Art is sexless; -- good work is eternal, no matter whether it is man or woman who has accomplished it." And then a great sigh broke from Angela's lips as she thought, "Ah, but the world will never own woman's work to be great even if it be so, because men give the verdict, and man's praise is for himself and his own achievements always." "Man's praise," went on the interior voice, "And what of God's final justice? Have you not patience to wait for that, and faith to work for it?" Again Angela sighed; then happening to look up; in the direction of the music-gallery which occupied one end of her studio where the organ was fitted, she saw a fair young face peering down at her over the carved oak railing, and recognised Manuel. She smiled; -- her two or three days' knowledge of him had been more than sufficient to win her affection and interest.
"So you are up there!" she said, "Is my uncle sleeping?"
"No," replied Manuel, "he is writing many letters to Rome. Will you come and play to me?"
"Willingly!" and Angela went lightly up the winding steps of the gallery, "But you have been out all day, -- are you not tired?"
"No, not now. I WAS weary, -- very weary of seeing and hearing so many false things . . ."
"False things?" echoed Angela thoughtfully, as she seated herself at the organ, "What were they?"
"Churches principally," said Manuel quietly; "How sad it is that people should come into those grand buildings looking for Christ and never finding Him!"
"But they are all built for the worship of Christ," said Angela, pressing her small white fingers on the organ keys, and drawing out one or two deep and solemn sounds by way of prelude, "Why should you think He is not in them?"
"He cannot be," answered Manuel, "They are all unlike Him! Remember how poor he was! -- He told His followers to despise all riches and worldly praise! -- and now see how the very preachers try to obtain notice and reward for declaring His simple word! The churches seem quite empty of Him, -- and how empty too must be the hearts and souls of all the poor people who go to such places to be comforted!"
Angela did not reply, -- her hands had unconsciously wandered into the mazes of a rich Beethoven voluntary, and the notes, firm, grand, and harmonious, rolled out in the silence with a warm deep tenderness that thrilled the air as with a rhythmic beat of angels' wings. Lost in thought, she scarcely knew what she played, nor how she was playing, -- but she was conscious of a sudden and singular exaltation of spirit, -- a rush of inward energy that was almost protest, -- a force which refused to be checked, and which seemed to fill her to the very finger tips with ardours not her own, -- martyrs going to the destroying flames might have felt as she felt then. There was a grave sense of impending sorrow hanging over her, mingled with a strong and prayerful resolve to overcome whatever threatened her soul's peace, -- and she played on and on, listening to the rushing waves of sound which she herself evoked, and almost losing herself in a trance of thought and vision. And in this dreamy, supersensitive condition, she imagined that even Manuel's face fair and innocent as it was, grew still more beautiful, -- a light, not of the sun's making, seemed to dwell like an aureole in his clustering hair and in his earnest eyes, -- and a smile sweeter than any she had ever seen, seemed to tremble on his lips as she looked at him.
"You are thinking beautiful things," he said gently, "And they are all in the music. Shall I tell you about them?"
She nodded assent, while her fingers, softly pressing out the last chord of Beethoven's music, wandered of their own will into the melancholy pathos of a Schubert "Reverie."
"You are thinking of the wonderful plan of the world," he said, -- "Of all the fair and glorious things God has made for those who love Him! Of the splendour of Faith and Hope and Courage, -- of the soul's divine origin and responsibility, -- and all the joy of being able to say to the Creator of the whole universe, 'Our Father!' You are thinking -- because you know -- that not a note of the music you are playing now fails to reach the eternal spheres, -- echoing away from your touch, it goes straight to its mark, -- sent with the soul's expression of love and gratitude, it flies to the centre of the soul's worship. Not a pulsation of true harmony is lost! You are thinking how grand it is to live a sweet and unsullied life, full of prayer and endeavour, keeping a spirit white and clean as the light itself, a spirit dwelling on the verge of earth but always ready to fly heavenward! -- You are thinking that no earthly reward, no earthly love, no earthly happiness, though good in itself, can ever give you such perfect peace and joy as is found in loving, serving, and obeying God, and suffering His will to be entirely worked in you!"
Angela listened, deeply moved -- her heart throbbed quickly, -- how wonderfully the boy expressed himself! -- with what sweetness, gentleness, and persuasion! She would have ceased playing, but that something imperative urged her to go on, -- and Manuel's soft voice thrilled her strangely when he spoke again, saying --
"You know now -- because your wise men are beginning to prove it -- that you can in very truth send a message to heaven."
"To heaven!" murmured Angela, "That is a long way! We know we can send messages in a flash of lightfrom one part of the world to another -- but then there must be people to receive them -- "
"And heaven is composed of millions of worlds," said Manuel, "'In my Father's house are many mansions!" And from all worlds to all worlds -- from mansion to mansion, the messages flash! And there are those who receive them, with such directness as can admit of no error! And your wise men might have known this long ago if they had believed their Master's word, 'Whatsoever is whispered in secret shall be proclaimed on the housetops.' But you will all find out soon that it is true, and that everything you say, and that every prayer you utter God hears."
"My mother is in heaven," said Angela wistfully, "I wish I could send her a message!"
"Your very wish has reached her now!" said Manuel, "How is it possible that you in the spirit could ardently wish to communicate with one so beloved and she not know it! Love would be no use then, and there would be a grave flaw in God's perfect creation."
Angela ceased playing, and turned round to face the young speaker.
"Then you think we never lose those we love? And that they see us and hear us always?"
"They must do so," said Manuel, "otherwise there would be cruelty in creating the grace of love at all. But God Himself is Love. Those who love truly can never be parted, -- death has no power over their souls. If one is on earth and one in heaven, what does it matter? If they were in separate countries of the world they could hear news of each other from time to time, -- and so they can when apparent death has divided them."
"How?" asked Angela with quick interest.
"Your wise men must tell you," said Manuel, with a grave little smile, "I know no more than what Christ has said, -- and He told us plainly that not even a sparrow shall fall to the ground without our Father. 'Fear not,' He said, 'Ye are more than many sparrows.' So, as there is nothing which is useless, and nothing which is wasted, it is very certain that love, which is the greatest of all things, cannot lose what it loves."
Angela's eyes filled with tears, she knew not why, "Love which is the greatest of all things cannot lose what it loves!" -- How wonderfully tender was Manuel's voice as he spoke these words!
"You have very sweet thoughts, Manuel," she said, "You would be a great comfort to anyone in sorrow."
"That is what I have always wished to be," he answered, "But you are not in sorrow yet, -- that is to come!"
She looked up quickly.
"You think I shall have some great trouble?" she asked, with a little tremour in her accents.
"Yes, most surely you will!" replied Manuel, "No one in the world ever tried to be good and great at the same time without suffering miscomprehension and bitter pain. Did not Christ say, 'In the world ye shall have tribulation'?"
"Yes, -- and I have often wondered why," said Angela musingly.
"Only that you might learn to love God best," answered Manuel with a delicate inflexion of compassion in his voice, "And that you might know for certain and beyond all doubt that this life is not all. There is something better -- greater -- higher! -- a glory that is worth winning because immortal. 'In the world ye shall have tribulation' -- yes, that is true! -- but the rest of the saying is true also -- 'Be of good cheer, -- I have overcome the world'!"
Moved by an impulse she could not understand, Angela suddenly turned and extended her hands with an instinctive grace that implied reverence as well as humility. The boy clasped them lightly then let them go, -- and without more words went softly away and left her.