Some time passed before Fitzgerald became aware of Maurice's departure. Whe_e saw that he and Madame were alone, he said nothing, but pulled all th_uicker at his clay. He wondered at the desire which suddenly manifeste_tself. Fly? Why should he fly? The beat of his pulse answered him… . What _ine thing it was to feel the presence of a woman—a woman like this! What _ine thing always to experience the content derived from her nearness!
He looked into his heart; there was no animosity; there was nothing at all bu_ sense of gratefulness. In the dreary picture of his life there was now a_llumined corner. He had ceased to blame her; she was doing for her countr_hat he, did necessity so will, would do for his. And after all, he could no_ar against a woman—a woman like this. His innate chivalry was too deep- rooted.
How soft her voice was! The color of her hair and eyes followed him night an_ay. Once he had been on the verge of sounding Maurice in regard to Madame, Maurice was so learned in femininities; but this would have been a_cknowledgment of his ignorance, and pride closed his mouth. It was al_mpossible, but then, why should he return to his loneliness withou_ttempting to find some one to share it with him? The king was safe; his dut_as as good as done; his conscience was at ease in that direction. He neede_ot love, he thought, so much as sympathy… . Sympathy. He turned over the wor_n his mind as a gem merchant turns over in his hand a precious jewel.
Sympathy; it was the key to all he desired—woman's sympathy. There was nothin_ut ash in the bowl of his pipe, but he continued to puff.
Madame was seated at the piano again, idly thrumming soft minor chords. Sh_as waiting for him to speak; she wanted to test his voice, to know an_easure its emotion. At times she turned her head and shot a sly glance at hi_s he sat there musing. There was a wrinkle of contempt and amusement lurkin_t the corners of her eyes. Had Maurice been there he would have seen it.
Fitzgerald might have gazed into those eyes until doomsday, and never hav_een else than their gray fathoms. Minute after minute passed, still he di_ot speak; and Madame was forced to break the monotony. She was not sure tha_he countess could hold Maurice very long.
"Of what are you thinking, Monsieur?" she asked, in a soft key.
He started, looked up and laid the pipe on the sill. "Frankly, I was thinkin_hat nothing can be gained by keeping us prisoners here." He told the li_ather diffidently.
"Not even forgiveness?" The lids of the gray eyes drooped and the musi_eased.
"Forgiveness? O, there is nothing to forgive you; it is only your mistress _an not forgive. On the contrary, there is much to thank you for."
"Still, whatever I do or have done is merely in accordance with her Highness'_ishes."
He moved uneasily. "It is her will, not yours."
"Yes; the heart of Madame Amerbach is supine to the brain of Madame th_uchess." She rose and moved silently to the window and peered out. He though_er to be star-gazing; but she was not. She was endeavoring to see wher_aurice and the countess were.
"Madame, shall I tell you a secret?"
"A secret? Tell me," sitting in the chair next to his.
"This has been the pleasantest week I have known in thirteen years."
"Then you forgive me!" Madame was not only mistress of music but of tones.
And then, out of the fullness of his lonely heart, he told her all about hi_ife, its emptiness, its deserts, its longings. Each sentence was a knif_laced in her hands; and as she contemplated his honest face which coul_onceal nothing, his earnest eyes which could hide nothing, Madame wa_onscious of a vague distrust of herself. If only he had offered to fight, sh_hought. But he had not; instead, he was giving to her all his weapons o_efense.
"Ah, Monsieur, you do wrong to forgive me!" impulsively.
"Why should you be friendly to me when I represent all that is antagonistic t_ou?"
"To me you represent only a beautiful woman."
"Ah; you have been taking lessons of your friend."
"He is a good teacher. He is one of those men whom I admire. Women have neve_astered him. He knows so much about them."
"Yes?" a flicker in her eyes.
"Beneath all his banter there is a brave heart. He is a rare man who, havin_rain and heart to guide, follows the heart." He picked up the pipe and bega_o play a tattoo on the sill. "As for me, I know nothing of women, save what _ave read in books, and save that I have been too long without them."
"And you have gone all these years without knowing what it is to love?" To _an less guileless, this question would not have been in good taste.
Fitzgerald was silent; he dared not venture another lie.
"What! you are silent? Is there, after all, a woman somewhere in your life?"
"Yes." He continued to tap the pipe. His gaze wandered to the candles, straye_ack to the window, then met hers steadfastly, so steadfastly, that she coul_ot resist. She was annoyed.
"Tell me about her."
"My vocabulary is too limited. You would laugh at me."
"I? No; love is sacred." She had boasted to Maurice that she was withou_onscience; she had only smothered it. "Come; is she beautiful?"
"Yes." These questions disturbed him.
"Certainly she must be worthy or you would not love her. She is rich?"
"That does not matter; I am." He was wishing that Maurice would hurry back; the desire to fly was returning.
"And she rejected you and sent you to the army?"
"She has not rejected me, though I dare say she would, had I the presumptio_o ask her."
"A faint heart, they say—"
"My heart is not faint; it is my tongue." He rose and wandered about the room.
Her breath was like orris, and went to his head like wine.
"Monsieur," she said, "is it possible that you have succumbed to the charms o_adame the countess?"
He laughed. "One may admire exquisite bric-a-brac without loving it."
"Bric-a-brac! Poor Elsa!" and Madame laughed. "If it were the countess I coul_id you."
"Love is not merchandise, to traffic with."
Madame's cheeks grew warm. Sometimes the trick of fence is beaten down by _yro's stroke.
"Eh, bien, since it is not the countess—"
He came toward her so swiftly that instinctively she rose and moved to th_pposite side of her chair. Something in his face caused her to shiver. Sh_ad no time to analyze its meaning, but she knew that the shiver was no_nmixed with fear.
"Madame, in God's name, do not play with me!" he cried.
"Monsieur, you forget yourself," for the moment forgetting her part.
"Yes, there is no self in my thoughts since they are all of you! You know tha_ love you. Who could resist you? Thirteen years? They are well wasted, in th_nd to love a woman like you."
Before she could withdraw her hands from the top of the chair he had seize_hem.
"Monsieur, release me." She struggled futilely.
"I love you." He began to draw her from behind the chair.
"Monsieur, Monsieur!" she, cried, genuinely alarmed; "do not forget that yo_re a gentleman."
"I am not a gentleman now; I am a man who loves."
Madame was now aware that what she had aroused could not be subdued by angr_ords.
"Monsieur, you say that you love me; do not degrade me by forcing me into you_rms. I am a woman, and weak, and you are hurting me."
He let go her hands, and they stood there, breathing deeply and quickly. Bu_or her it was a respite. She had been too precipitate. She brought togethe_he subtle forces of her mind. She could gain nothing by force; she must us_unning. To hold him at arm's length, and yet to hold him, was her desire. Sh_ad reckoned on wax; a man stood before her. All at once the flutter o_dmiration stirred in her heart. She was a soldier's daughter, the daughter o_ man who loved strong men. And this man was doubly strong because he wa_earless and honest. She read in his eyes that a moment more and he had kisse_er, a thing no man save her father had ever done.
"O, Monsieur," she said lightly, "you soldiers are such forward lovers! Yo_ave not even asked me if I love you." He made a move to regain her hands.
"No, no!" darting behind the chair. "You must not take my hands; you do no_ealize how strong you are. I am not sure that my heart responds to yours."
"Tell me, what must I do?" leaning across the chair.
"You must have patience. A woman must be wooed her own way, or not at all.
What a whirlwind you are!"
"I would to heaven," with a gesture indicative of despair, "that you had kep_e behind bars and closed doors." He dropped his hands from the chair an_ought the window, leaning his arms against the central frame.
Madame had fully recovered her composure. She saw her way to the end.
"It is true," she said, "that I do not love you, but it is also true that I a_ot indifferent to you. What proof have I that you really love me? None, sav_our declaration; and that is not sufficient for a woman such as I am. Shall _lace my life in your hands for better or for worse, simply because you sa_ou love me?"
"My love does not reason, Madame."
She passed over this stroke. "I do not know you; it is not less than natura_or me to doubt you. What proof have I that your declaration of love is not _cheme to while away your captivity at my expense? My heart is not one to b_aken by storm. There is only one road to my affections; it is narrow. Othe_en have made love to me, but they have hesitated to enter upon this self-sam_oad."
"Love that demands conditions? I have asked none."
Madame blushed. "A man offers love; a woman confers it."
"And what is this narrow road called which leads to your affections? Is you_eart a citadel?"
"It is called sacrifice. Those who dwell in my heart, which you call _itadel, enter by that road."
"Sacrifice?" Fervor lighted his face again. "Do you wish my fortune? It i_ours. My life? It is yours. Do you wish me to lead the army of the duches_nto Bleiberg? It shall be done. Sacrifice? I have sacrificed the best year_f youth for nothing; my life has been made up of sacrifices."
"Monsieur, if I promised to listen to you here-after, if I promised a hear_hat has never known the love of man, if I promised lips that have never know_he lips of any man save my father—" She moved away from the chair, within a_rm's length of him. "If I promised all these without reservation, would yo_id me to give back to the duchess her own?"
Instantly her arms were pinioned to her sides, and he had drawn her so clos_hat she could feel his heart beat against her own.
"Have no fear," he said. The voice was unfamiliar to her ears. "I shall no_iss you. Let me look into your eyes, Madame, your eyes, and read the li_hich is written there. My fortune and my life are not enough. Keep your love, Madame; I have no wish to purchase it. What! if I surrender my honor it i_greed that you surrender yours? A love such as mine requires a wife. Yo_ould have me break my word to the dead and to the living, and you expect m_o believe in your promises! Faugh!" He pushed her from him, and resumed hi_tand by the window.
The hate of a thousand ancestors surged into her heart, and she would hav_iked to kill him. Mistress! He had dared. He had dared to speak to her as n_ther man living or dead had dared. And he lived. All that was tigerish in he_oul rose to the surface; only the thought of the glittering goal stayed th_utburst. She had yet one weapon. A minute went by, still another; silence. _and was laid tremblingly on his arm.
"Forgive me! I was wrong. Love me, love me, if you must. Keep your honor; lov_e without conditions. I—" She stumbled into the chair, covered her eyes an_ell to weeping.
Fitzgerald, dumfounded and dismayed, looked down at the beautiful head. H_ould fight angry words, tempests of wrath—but tears, a woman's tears, th_ears of the woman he loved!
"Madame," he said gently, "do you love me?"
"Madame, for God's sake, do not weep! Do you love me? If you love me—if yo_ove me—"
She sprang to her feet. Once again she experienced that shiver; again he_onscience stirred.
"I do not know," she said. "But this I may say: your honor, which you hol_bove the price of a woman's love, will be the cause of bloodshed. Mothers an_ives and sisters will execrate your name, brave men will be sacrifice_eedlessly. What are the Osians to you? They are strangers. You will do fo_hem, and uselessly, what you refuse to do for the woman you profess to love.
I abhor bloodshed. Your honor is the offspring of pride and egotism. Can yo_ot see the inevitable? War will be declared. You can not help Leopold; bu_ou can save him the degradation of being expelled from his throne by force o_rms. The army of the duchess is true to its humblest sword. Can you say tha_or the army of the king? Would you witness the devastation of a beautifu_ity, by flame and sword?
"Monsieur, Austria is with us, and she will abide with us whichever way w_ove. Austria, Monsieur, which is Leopold's sponsor. And this Leopold, is he _an to sit upon a throne? Is he a king in any sense of the word? Would a kin_ubmit to such ignominy as he submits to without striking a blow? Would h_ermit his ministers to override him? Would he permit his army to murmur, hi_gents to plunder, his people to laugh at him, if he possessed one kingl_ttribute? No, no! If you were king, would you allow these things? No! Yo_ould silence all murmurs, you would disgorge your agents, you would throttl_hose who dared to laugh.
"Put yourself in the duchess's place. All these beautiful lands are hers b_ight of succession; is she wrong to desire them? What does she wish t_ccomplish? She wishes to join the kingdom and the duchy, and to make a grea_ingdom, as it formerly was. Do you know why Leopold was seated upon th_hrone?
"Some day the confederation will decide to divide all these lands int_idbits, and there will be no one to oppose them. Madame the duchess wishes t_e strong enough to prevent it. And you, Monsieur, are the grain of sand whic_tops all this, you and your pride. Not even a woman's love—There, I have sai_t!—not even a woman's love—will move your sense of justice. Go! leave me.
Since my love is nothing, since the sacrifice I make is useless, go; you ar_ree!" The tears which came into her eyes this time were genuine; tears o_hagrin, vexation, and of a third sensation which still remained a mystery t_er.
To him, as she spoke, with her wonderful eyes flashing, a rich color suffusin_er cheeks and throat and temples, the dim candle light breaking against th_uddy hair; honor or pride, whichever it was, was well worth the losing. H_as a man; it is only the pope who is said to be infallible. His honor coul_ot save the king. All she had said was true. If he held to his word ther_ould be war and bloodshed.
On the other hand, if he surrendered, less harm would befall the king, and th_oss of his honor—was it honor?—would be well recompensed for the remainder o_is days by the love of this woman. His long years of loneliness came back; h_avered. He glanced first at her, then at the door; one represented all tha_as desirable in the world, the other more loneliness, coupled wit_nutterable regret. Still he wavered, and finally he fell.
"Madame, will you be my wife?"
"Yes." And it seemed to her that the word, came to her lips by no volition o_ers. As she had grown red but a moment gone, she now grew correspondingl_ale, and her limbs shook. She had irrevocably committed herself. "No, no!" a_he saw him start forward with outstretched arms, "not my lips till I am you_ife! Not my lips; only my hands!"
He covered them with kisses.
"Hush!" as she stepped back.
It was time. Maurice and the countess entered the room. Maurice glanced fro_adame to Fitzgerald and back to Madame; he frowned. The Englishman, who ha_ever before had cause to dissemble, caught up his pipe and fumbled it. Thi_ct merely discovered his embarrassment to the keen eyes of his friend. He ha_orgotten all about Maurice. What would he say? Maurice was something like _onscience to him, and his heart grew troubled.
"Madame," Maurice whispered to the countess, "I have lost all faith in you; you have kept me too long under the stars."
"Confidences?" said Madame, with a swift inquiring glance at the countess.
"O, no," said Maurice. "I simply complained that Madame the countess had kep_e too long under the stars. But here is Colonel Mollendorf, freshly returne_rom Brunnstadt to inform you that the army is fully prepared for an_mergency. Is not that true, Colonel?" as he beheld that individual standin_n the doorway.
"Yes; but how the deuce—your pardon, ladies!—did you find that out?" demande_he Colonel.
"I guessed it," was the answer. "But there will be no need of an army now.
Come, John, the Colonel, who is no relative of the king's minister of police, has not the trick of concealing his impatience. He has something important t_ay to Madame, and we are in the way. Come along, AEneas, follow your faithfu_chates; Thalia has a rehearsal."
Fitzgerald thrust his pipe into a pocket. "Good night, Madame," he sai_iffidently; "and you, countess."
"Good night, Colonel," sang out Maurice over his shoulder, and together th_air climbed the stairs.
Fitzgerald was at a loss how to begin, for something told him that Mauric_ould demand an explanation, though the affair was none of his concern. H_illed his pipe, fired it and tramped about the room. Sometimes he picked u_he end of a window curtain and felt of it; sometimes he posed before one o_he landscape oils.
"You have something on your mind," said Maurice, pulling off his hussar jacke_nd kicking it across the room.
"Madame has promised to be my wife."
"And the conditions?" curtly.
Fitzgerald pondered over the other's lack of surprise. "What would you do i_ou loved a woman and she promised to be your wife?"
"I'd marry her," sitting down at the table.
"What would you do in my place, and Madame had promised to marry you?" puffin_uickly.
"I'd marry her," answered Maurice, banging his fist on the table, "even if al_he kings and queens of Europe rose up against me. I would marry her, if I ha_o bind her hands and feet and carry her to the altar and force the priest a_he point of a pistol, which, in all probability, is what you will have t_o."
"I love her," sullenly.
"Do you know who she is?"
"Would it make any difference?"
"No. Who is she?"
"She is a woman without conscience; she is a woman who, to gain her miserabl_nds, will stop neither at falsehood, deceit nor bloodshed. Do you want me t_ell you more? She is—"
"Maurice, tell me nothing which will cause me to regret your friendship. _ove her; she has promised to be my wife."
"She will ruin you."
"She has already done that," laconically.
"Do you mean to tell me—"
"Yes! For the promise of her love I am dishonored. For the privilege o_issing her lips I have sold my honor. To call her mine, I would go throug_ell. God! do you know what it is to be lonely, to starve in God-forsake_ands, to dream of women, to long for them?"
"And the poor paralytic king?"
"What is he to me?"
"And your father?"
"What are my dead father's wishes? Maurice, I am mad!"
"You are a very sick man," Maurice replied crossly. "What's to become of al_hese vows—"
"You are wasting your breath! Do you remember what Rochefoucauld said o_adame de Longueville?—`To win her heart, to delight her beautiful eyes, _ave taken up arms against the king; I would have done the same against th_ods!' Is she not worth it all?" with a gesture of his arms which sent th_ive coals of his pipe comet-like across the intervening space. "Is she no_orth it all?"
"Who?—Madame de Longueville? I thought she was dead these two hundred years!"
"Damn it, Maurice!"
"I will, if you say so. The situation is equal to a good deal of plain, hones_amning." Maurice banged his fist again. "John, sit down and listen to me.
I'll not sit still and see you made a fool. Promises? This woman will kee_one. When she has wrung you dry she will fling you aside. At this moment sh_s probably laughing behind your back. You were brought here for this purpose.
Threats and bribes were without effect. Love might accomplish what the othe_wo had failed to do. You know little of the ways of the world. Do you kno_hat this house party is scandalous, for all its innocence? Do you know tha_adame's name would be a byword were it known that we have been here more tha_wo weeks, alone with two women? Who but a woman that feels herself abov_onvention would dare offer this affront to society? Do you know why Madam_he countess came? Company for Madame? No; she was to play make love to me t_eep me out of the way. Ass that I was, I never suspected till too late!
Madame's name is not Sylvia Amerbach; it is—"
The door opened unceremoniously and in walked the Colonel.
"Your voices are rather high, gentlemen," he said calmly, and sat down in a_asy chair.