The Princess Aline
"You are coming now, Miss Morris," exclaimed Carlton from the front of the carriage in which they were moving along the sunny road to Athens, "into a land where one restores his lost illusions. Anybody who wishes to get back his belief in beautiful things should come here to do it, just as he would go to a German sanitarium to build up his nerves or his appetite. You have only to drink in the atmosphere and you are cured. I know no better antidote than Athens for a siege of cable-cars and muddy asphalt pavements and a course of Robert Elsmeres and the Heavenly Twins. Wait until you see the statues of the young athletes in the Museum," he cried, enthusiastically, "and get a glimpse of the blue sky back of Mount Hymettus, and the moonlight some evening on the Acropolis, and you'll be convinced that nothing counts for much in this world but health and straight limbs, and tall marble pillars, and eyes trained to see only what is beautiful. Give people a love for beauty and a respect for health, Miss Morris, and the result is going to be, what they once had here, the best art and the greatest writers and satirists and poets. The same audience that applauded Euripides and Sophocles in the open theatre used to cross the road the same day to applaud the athletes who ran naked in the Olympian games, and gave them as great honor. I came here once on a walking tour with a chap who wasn't making as much of himself as he should have done, and he went away a changed man, and became a personage in the world, and you would never guess what it was that did it. He saw a statue of one of the Greek gods in the Museum which showed certain muscles that he couldn't find in his own body, and he told me he was going to train down until they did show; and he stopped drinking and loafing to do it, and took to exercising and working; and by the time the muscles showed out clear and strong he was so keen over life that he wanted to make the most of it, and, as I said, he has done it. That's what a respect for his own body did for him."
The carriage stopped at the hotel on one side of the public square of Athens, with the palace and its gardens blocking one end, and yellow houses with red roofs, and gay awnings over the cafes, surrounding it. It was a bright sunny day, and the city was clean and cool and pretty.
"Breakfast?" exclaimed Miss Morris, in answer to Carlton's inquiry; "yes, I suppose so, but I won't feel safe until I have my feet on that rock." She was standing on the steps of the hotel, looking up with expectant, eager eyes at the great Acropolis above the city.
"It has been there for a long time now," suggested Carlton, "and I think you can risk its being there for a half-hour longer."
"Well," she said, reluctantly, "but I don't wish to lose this chance. There might be an earthquake, for instance."
"We are likely to see THEM this morning," said Carlton, as he left the hotel with the ladies and drove towards the Acropolis. "Nolan has been interviewing the English maid, and she tells him they spend the greater part of their time up there on the rock. They are living very simply here, as they did in Paris; that is, for the present. On Wednesday the King gives a dinner and a reception in their honor."
"When does your dinner come off?" asked Miss Morris.
"Never," said Carlton, grimly.
"One of the reasons why I like to come back to Athens so much," said Mrs. Downs, "is because there are so few other tourists here to spoil the local color for you, and there are almost as few guides as tourists, so that you can wander around undisturbed and discover things for yourself. They don't label every fallen column, and place fences around the temples. They seem to put you on your good behavior. Then I always like to go to a place where you are as much of a curiosity to the people as they are to you. It seems to excuse your staring about you."
"A curiosity!" exclaimed Carlton; "I should say so! The last time I was here I tried to wear a pair of knickerbockers around the city, and the people stared so that I had to go back to the hotel and change them. I shouldn't have minded it so much in any other country, but I thought men who wore Jaeger underclothing and women's petticoats for a national costume might have excused so slight an eccentricity as knickerbockers. THEY had no right to throw the first stone."
The rock upon which the temples of the Acropolis are built is more of a hill than a rock. It is much steeper upon one side than the other, with a sheer fall a hundred yards broad; on the opposite side there are the rooms of the Hospital of Aesculapius and the theatres of Dionysus and Herodes Atticus. The top of the rock holds the Parthenon and the other smaller temples, or what yet remains of them, and its surface is littered with broken marble and stones and pieces of rock. The top is so closely built over that the few tourists who visit it can imagine themselves its sole occupants for a half-hour at a time. When Carlton and his friends arrived, the place appeared quite deserted. They left the carriage at the base of the rock, and climbed up to the entrance on foot.
"Now, before I go on to the Parthenon," said Miss Morris, "I want to walk around the sides, and see what is there. I shall begin with that theatre to the left, and I warn you that I mean to take my time about it. So you people who have been here before can run along by yourselves, but I mean to enjoy it leisurely. I am safe by myself here, am I not?" she asked.
"As safe as though you were in the Metropolitan Museum," said Carlton, as he and Mrs. Downs followed Miss Morris along the side of the hill towards the ruined theatre of Herodes, and stood at its top, looking down into the basin below. From their feet ran a great semicircle of marble seats, descending tier below tier to a marble pavement, and facing a great ruined wall of pillars and arches which in the past had formed the background for the actors. From the height on which they stood above the city they could see the green country stretching out for miles on every side and swimming in the warm sunlight, the dark groves of myrtle on the hills, the silver ribbon of the inland water, and the dark blue AEgean Sea. The bleating of sheep and the tinkling of the bells came up to them from the pastures below, and they imagined they could hear the shepherds piping to their flocks from one little hill-top to another.
"The country is not much changed," said Carlton. "And when you stand where we are now, you can imagine that you see the procession winding its way over the road to the Eleusinian Mysteries, with the gilded chariots, and the children carrying garlands, and the priestesses leading the bulls for the sacrifice."
"What can we imagine is going on here?" said Miss Morris, pointing with her parasol to the theatre below.
"Oh, this is much later," said Carlton. "This was built by the Romans. They used to act and to hold their public meetings here. This corresponds to the top row of our gallery, and you can imagine that you are looking down on the bent backs of hundreds of bald-headed men in white robes, listening to the speakers strutting about below there."
"I wonder how much they could hear from this height?" said Mrs. Downs.
"Well, they had that big wall for a sounding-board, and the air is so soft here that their voices should have carried easily, and I believe they wore masks with mouth-pieces, that conveyed the sound like a fireman's trumpet. If you like, I will run down there and call up to you, and you can hear how it sounded. I will speak in my natural voice first, and if that doesn't reach you, wave your parasol, and I will try it a little louder."
"Oh, do!" said Miss Morris. "It will be very good of you. I should like to hear a real speech in the theatre of Herodes," she said, as she seated herself on the edge of the marble crater.
"I'll have to speak in English," said Carlton, as he disappeared; "my Greek isn't good enough to carry that far."
Mrs. Downs seated herself beside her niece, and Carlton began scrambling down the side of the amphitheatre. The marble benches were broken in parts, and where they were perfect were covered with a fine layer of moss as smooth and soft as green velvet, so that Carlton, when he was not laboriously feeling for his next foothold with the toe of his boot, was engaged in picking spring flowers from the beds of moss and sticking them, for safe-keeping, in his button-hole. He was several minutes in making the descent, and so busily occupied in doing it that he did not look up until he had reached the level of the ground, and jumped lightly from the first row of seats to the stage, covered with moss, which lay like a heavy rug over the marble pavement. When he did look up he saw a tableau that made his heart, which was beating quickly from the exertion of the descent, stand still with consternation. The Hohenwalds had, in his short absence, descended from the entrance of the Acropolis, and had stopped on their way to the road below to look into the cool green and white basin of the theatre. At the moment Carlton looked up the Duke was standing in front of Mrs. Downs and Miss Morris, and all of the men had their hats off. Then, in pantomime, and silhouetted against the blue sky behind them, Carlton saw the Princesses advance beside their brother, and Mrs. Downs and her niece courtesied three times, and then the whole party faced about in a line and looked down at him. The meaning of the tableau was only too plain.
"Good heavens!" gasped Carlton. "Everybody's getting introduced to everybody else, and I've missed the whole thing! If they think I'm going to stay down here and amuse them, and miss all the fun myself, they are greatly mistaken." He made a mad rush for the front first row of seats; but there was a cry of remonstrance from above, and, looking up, he saw all of the men waving him back.
"Speech!" cried the young English Captain, applauding loudly, as though welcoming an actor on his first entrance. "Hats off!" he cried. "Down in front! Speech!"
"Confound that ass!" said Carlton, dropping back to the marble pavement again, and gazing impotently up at the row of figures outlined against the sky. "I must look like a bear in the bear-pit at the Zoo," he growled. "They'll be throwing buns to me next." He could see the two elder sisters talking to Mrs. Downs, who was evidently explaining his purpose in going down to the stage of the theatre, and he could see the Princess Aline bending forward, with both hands on her parasol, and smiling. The captain made a trumpet of his hands, and asked why he didn't begin.
"Hello! how are you?" Carlton called back, waving his hat at him in some embarrassment. "I wonder if I look as much like a fool as I feel?" he muttered.
"What did you say? We can't hear you," answered the captain.
"Louder! louder!" called the equerries. Carlton swore at them under his breath, and turned and gazed round the hole in which he was penned in order to make them believe that he had given up the idea of making a speech, or had ever intended doing so. He tried to think of something clever to shout back at them, and rejected "Ye men of Athens" as being too flippant, and "Friends, Countrymen, Romans," as requiring too much effort. When he looked up again the Hohenwalds were moving on their way, and as he started once more to scale the side of the theatre the Duke waved his hand at him in farewell, and gave another hand to his sisters, who disappeared with him behind the edge of the upper row of seats. Carlton turned at once and dropped into one of the marble chairs and bowed his head. When he did reach the top Miss Morris held out a sympathetic hand to him and shook her head sadly, but he could see that she was pressing her lips tightly together to keep from smiling.
"Oh, it's all very funny for you," he said, refusing her hand. "I don't believe you are in love with anybody. You don't know what it means."
They revisited the rock on the next day and on the day after, and then left Athens for an inland excursion to stay overnight. Miss Morris returned from it with the sense of having done her duty once, and by so doing having earned the right to act as she pleased in the future. What she best pleased to do was to wander about over the broad top of the Acropolis, with no serious intent of studying its historical values, but rather, as she explained it, for the simple satisfaction of feeling that she was there. She liked to stand on the edge of the low wall along its top and look out over the picture of sea and plain and mountains that lay below her. The sun shone brightly, and the wind swept by them as though they were on the bridge of an ocean steamer, and there was the added invigorating sense of pleasure that comes to us when we stand on a great height. Carlton was sitting at her feet, shielded from the wind by a fallen column, and gazing up at her with critical approval.
"You look like a sort of a 'Winged Victory' up there," he said, "with the wind blowing your skirts about and your hair coming down."
"I don't remember that the 'Winged Victory' has any hair to blow about," suggested Miss Morris.
"I'd like to paint you," continued Carlton, "just as you are standing now, only I would put you in a Greek dress; and you could stand a Greek dress better than almost any one I know. I would paint you with your head up and one hand shielding your eyes, and the other pressed against your breast. It would be stunning." He spoke enthusiastically, but in quite an impersonal tone, as though he were discussing the posing of a model.
Miss Morris jumped down from the low wall on which she had been standing, and said, simply, "Of course I should like to have you paint me very much."
Mrs. Downs looked up with interest to see if Mr. Carlton was serious.
"When?" said Carlton, vaguely. "Oh, I don't know. Of course this is entirely too nice to last, and you will be going home soon, and then when I do get back to the States you will—you will have other things to do."
"Yes," repeated Miss Morris, "I shall have something else to do besides gazing out at the AEgean Sea." She raised her head and looked across the rock for a moment with some interest. Her eyes, which had grown wistful, lighted again with amusement. "Here are your friends," she said, smiling.
"No!" exclaimed Carlton, scrambling to his feet.
"Yes," said Miss Morris. "The Duke has seen us, and is coming over here."
When Carlton had gained his feet and turned to look, his friends had separated in different directions, and were strolling about alone or in pairs among the great columns of the Parthenon. But the Duke came directly towards them, and seated himself on a low block of marble in front of the two ladies. After a word or two about the beauties of the place, he asked if they would go to the reception which the King gave to him on the day following. They answered that they should like to come very much, and the Prince expressed his satisfaction, and said that he would see that the chamberlain sent them invitations. "And you, Mr. Carlton, you will come also, I hope. I wish you to be presented to my sisters. They are only amateurs in art, but they are great admirers of your work, and they have rebuked me for not having already presented you. We were all disappointed," he continued, courteously, "at not having you to dine with us that night in Constantinople, but now I trust I shall see something of you here. You must tell us what we are to admire."
"That is very easy," said Carlton. "Everything."
"You are quite right," said the Prince, bowing to the ladies as he moved away. "It is all very beautiful."
"Well, now you certainly will meet her," said Miss Morris.
"Oh no, I won't," said Carlton, with resignation. "I have had two chances and lost them, and I'll miss this one too."
"Well, there is a chance you shouldn't miss," said Miss Morris, pointing and nodding her head. "There she is now, and all alone. She's sketching, isn't she, or taking notes? What is she doing?"
Carlton looked eagerly in the direction Miss Morris had signified, and saw the Princess Aline sitting at some distance from them, with a book on her lap. She glanced up from this now and again to look at something ahead of her, and was apparently deeply absorbed in her occupation.
"There is your opportunity," said Mrs. Downs; "and we are going back to the hotel. Shall we see you at luncheon?"
"Yes," said Carlton, "unless I get a position as drawing-master; in that case I shall be here teaching the three amateurs in art. Do you think I can do it?" he asked Miss Morris.
"Decidedly," she answered. "I have found you a most educational young person."
They went away together, and Carlton moved cautiously towards the spot where the Princess was sitting. He made a long and roundabout detour as he did so, in order to keep himself behind her. He did not mean to come so near that she would see him, but he took a certain satisfaction in looking at her when she was alone, though her loneliness was only a matter of the moment, and though he knew that her people were within a hundred yards of her. He was in consequence somewhat annoyed and surprised to see another young man dodging in and out among the pillars of the Parthenon immediately ahead of him, and to find that this young man also had his attention centred on the young girl, who sat unconsciously sketching in the foreground.
"Now what the devil can he want?" muttered Carlton, his imagination taking alarm at once. "If it would only prove to be some one who meant harm to her," he thought—"a brigand, or a beggar, who might be obligingly insolent, or even a tipsy man, what a chance it would afford for heroic action!"
With this hope he moved forward quickly but silently, hoping that the stranger might prove even to be an anarchist with a grudge against royalty. And as he advanced he had the satisfaction of seeing the Princess glance over her shoulder, and, observing the man, rise and walk quickly away towards the edge of the rock. There she seated herself with her face towards the city, and with her back firmly set against her pursuer.
"He is annoying her!" exclaimed Carlton, delightedly, as he hurried forward. "It looks as though my chance had come at last." But as he approached the stranger he saw, to his great disappointment, that he had nothing more serious to deal with than one of the international army of amateur photographers, who had been stalking the Princess as a hunter follows an elk, or as he would have stalked a race-horse or a prominent politician, or a Lord Mayor's show, everything being fish that came within the focus of his camera. A helpless statue and an equally helpless young girl were both good subjects and at his mercy. He was bending over, with an anxious expression of countenance, and focussing his camera on the back of the Princess Aline, when Carlton approached from the rear. As the young man put his finger on the button of the camera, Carlton jogged his arm with his elbow, and pushed the enthusiastic tourist to one side.
"Say," exclaimed that individual, "look where you're going, will you? You spoiled that plate."
"I'll spoil your camera if you annoy that young lady any longer," said Carlton, in a low voice.
The photographer was rapidly rewinding his roll, and the fire of pursuit was still in his eye.
"She's a Princess," he explained, in an excited whisper.
"Well," said Carlton, "even a Princess is entitled to some consideration. Besides," he said, in a more amicable tone, "you haven't a permit to photograph on the Acropolis. You know you haven't." Carlton was quite sure of this, because there were no such permits.
The amateur looked up in some dismay. "I didn't know you had to have them," he said. "Where can I get one?"
"The King may give you one," said Carlton. "He lives at the palace. If they catch you up here without a license, they will confiscate your camera and lock you up. You had better vanish before they see you."
"Thank you. I will," said the tourist, anxiously.
"Now," thought Carlton, smiling pleasantly, "when he goes to the palace with that box and asks for a permit, they'll think he is either a dynamiter or a crank, and before they are through with him his interest in photography will have sustained a severe shock."
As Carlton turned from watching the rapid flight of the photographer, he observed that the Princess had remarked it also, as she had no doubt been a witness of what had passed, even if she had not overheard all that had been said. She rose from her enforced position of refuge with a look of relief, and came directly towards Carlton along the rough path that led through the debris on the top of the Acropolis. Carlton had thought, as he watched her sitting on the wall, with her chin resting on her hand, that she would make a beautiful companion picture to the one he had wished to paint of Miss Morris—the one girl standing upright, looking fearlessly out to sea, on the top of the low wall, with the wind blowing her skirts about her, and her hair tumbled in the breeze, and the other seated, bending intently forward, as though watching for the return of a long-delayed vessel; a beautifully sad face, fine and delicate and noble, the face of a girl on the figure of a woman. And when she rose he made no effort to move away, or, indeed, to pretend not to have seen her, but stood looking at her as though he had the right to do so, and as though she must know he had that right. As she came towards him the Princess Aline did not stop, nor even shorten her steps; but as she passed opposite to him she bowed her thanks with a sweet impersonal smile and a dropping of the eyes, and continued steadily on her way.
Carlton stood for some short time looking after her, with his hat still at his side. She seemed farther from him at that moment than she had ever been before, although she had for the first time recognized him. But he knew that it was only as a human being that she had recognized him. He put on his hat, and sat down on a rock with his elbows on his knees, and filled his pipe.
"If that had been any other girl," he thought, "I would have gone up to her and said, 'Was that man annoying you?' and she would have said, 'Yes; thank you,' or something; and I would have walked along with her until we had come up to her friends, and she would have told them I had been of some slight service to her, and they would have introduced us, and all would have gone well. But because she is a Princess she cannot be approached in that way. At least she does not think so, and I have to act as she has been told I should act, and not as I think I should. After all, she is only a very beautiful girl, and she must be very tired of her cousins and grandmothers, and of not being allowed to see any one else. These royalties make a very picturesque show for the rest of us, but indeed it seems rather hard on them. A hundred years from now there will be no more kings and queens, and the writers of that day will envy us, just as the writers of this day envy the men who wrote of chivalry and tournaments, and they will have to choose their heroes from bank presidents, and their heroines from lady lawyers and girl politicians and type-writers. What a stupid world it will be then!"
The next day brought the reception to the Hohenwalds; and Carlton, entering the reading-room of the hotel on the same afternoon, found Miss Morris and her aunt there together taking tea. They both looked at him with expressions of such genuine commiseration that he stopped just as he was going to seat himself and eyed them defiantly.
"Don't tell me," he exclaimed, "that this has fallen through too!"
Miss Morris nodded her head silently.
Carlton dropped into the chair beside them, and folded his arms with a frown of grim resignation. "What is it?" he asked. "Have they postponed the reception?"
"No," Miss Morris said; "but the Princess Aline will not be there."
"Of course not," said Carlton, calmly, "of course not. May I ask why? I knew that she wouldn't be there, but I may possibly be allowed to express some curiosity."
"She turned her ankle on one of the loose stones on the Acropolis this afternoon," said Miss Morris, "and sprained it so badly that they had to carry her—"
"Who carried her?" Carlton demanded, fiercely.
"Some of her servants."
"Of course, of course!" cried Carlton. "That's the way it always will be. I was there the whole afternoon, and I didn't see her. I wasn't there to help her. It's Fate, that's what it is—Fate! There's no use in my trying to fight against Fate. Still," he added, anxiously, with a sudden access of hope, "she may be well by this evening."
"I hardly think she will," said Miss Morris, "but we will trust so."
The King's palace and gardens stretch along one end of the public park, and are but just across the street from the hotel where the Hohenwalds and the Americans were staying. As the hotel was the first building on the left of the square, Carlton could see from his windows the illuminations, and the guards of honor, and the carriages arriving and departing, and the citizens of Athens crowding the parks and peering through the iron rails into the King's garden. It was a warm night, and lighted grandly by a full moon that showed the Acropolis in silhouette against the sky, and gave a strangely theatrical look to the yellow house fronts and red roofs of the town. Every window in the broad front of the palace was illuminated, and through the open doors came the sound of music, and one without could see rows of tall servants in the King's blue and white livery, and the men of his guard in their white petticoats and black and white jackets and red caps. Carlton pulled a light coat over his evening dress, and, with an agitation he could hardly explain, walked across the street and entered the palace. The line of royalties had broken by the time he reached the ballroom, and the not over-severe etiquette of the Greek court left him free, after a bow to those who still waited to receive it, to move about as he pleased. His most earnest desire was to learn whether or not the Princess Aline was present, and with that end he clutched the English adjutant as that gentleman was hurrying past him, and asked eagerly if the Princess had recovered from her accident.
"No," said the officer; "she's able to walk about, but not to stand, and sit out a dinner, and dance, and all this sort of thing. Too bad, wasn't it?"
"Yes," said Carlton, "very bad." He released his hand from the other's arm, and dropped back among the men grouped about the doorway. His disappointment was very keen. Indeed, he had not known how much this meeting with the Princess had meant to him until he experienced this disappointment, which was succeeded by a wish to find Miss Morris, and have her sympathize and laugh with him. He became conscious, as he searched with growing impatience the faces of those passing and repassing before him, of how much the habit of going to Miss Morris for sympathy in his unlucky love-affair had grown of late upon him. He wondered what he would have done in his travels without her, and whether he should have had the interest to carry on his pursuit had she not been there to urge him on, and to mock at him when he grew fainthearted.
But when he finally did discover her he stood quite still, and for an instant doubted if it were she. The girl he saw seemed to be a more beautiful sister of the Miss Morris he knew—a taller, fairer, and more radiant personage; and he feared that it was not she, until he remembered that this was the first time he had ever seen her with her hair dressed high upon her head, and in the more distinguished accessories of a decollete gown and train. Miss Morris had her hand on the arm of one of the equerries, who was battling good-naturedly with the crowd, and trying to draw her away from two persistent youths in diplomatic uniform who were laughing and pressing forward in close pursuit on the other side. Carlton approached her with a certain feeling of diffidence, which was most unusual to him, and asked if she were dancing.
"Mr. Carlton shall decide for me," Miss Morris said, dropping the equerry's arm and standing beside the American. "I have promised all of these gentlemen," she explained, "to dance with them, and now they won't agree as to which is to dance first. They've wasted half this waltz already in discussing it, and they make it much more difficult by saying that no matter how I decide, they will fight duels with the one I choose, which is most unpleasant for me."
"Most unpleasant for the gentleman you choose, too," suggested Carlton.
"So," continued Miss Morris, "I have decided to leave it to you."
"Well, if I am to arbitrate between the powers," said Carlton, with a glance at the three uniforms, "my decision is that as they insist on fighting duels in any event, you had better dance with me until they have settled it between them, and then the survivor can have the next dance."
"That's a very good idea," said Miss Morris; and taking Carlton's arm, she bowed to the three men and drew away.
"Mr. Carlton," said the equerry, with a bow, "has added another argument in favor of maintaining standing armies, and of not submitting questions to arbitration."
"Let's get out of this," said Carlton. "You don't want to dance, do you? Let us go where it's cool."
He led her down the stairs, and out on to the terrace. They did not speak again until they had left it, and were walking under the trees in the Queen's garden. He had noticed as they made their way through the crowd how the men and women turned to look at her and made way for her, and how utterly unconscious she was of their doing so, with that unconsciousness which comes from familiarity with such discrimination, and Carlton himself held his head a little higher with the pride and pleasure the thought gave him that he was in such friendly sympathy with so beautiful a creature. He stopped before a low stone bench that stood on the edge of the path, surrounded by a screen of tropical trees, and guarded by a marble statue. They were in deep shadow themselves, but the moonlight fell on the path at their feet, and through the trees on the other side of the path they could see the open terrace of the palace, with the dancers moving in and out of the lighted windows. The splash of a fountain came from some short distance behind them, and from time to time they heard the strains of a regimental band alternating with the softer strains of a waltz played by a group of Hungarian musicians. For a moment neither of them spoke, but sat watching the white dresses of the women and the uniforms of the men moving in and out among the trees, lighted by the lanterns hanging from the branches, and the white mist of the moon.
"Do you know," said Carlton, "I'm rather afraid of you to-night!" He paused, and watched her for a little time as she sat upright, with her hands folded on her lap.
"You are so very resplendent and queenly and altogether different," he added. The girl moved her bare shoulders slightly and leaned back against the bench.
"The Princess did not come," she said.
"No," Carlton answered, with a sudden twinge of conscience at having forgotten that fact. "That's one of the reasons I took you away from those men," he explained. "I wanted you to sympathize with me."
Miss Morris did not answer him at once. She did not seem to be in a sympathetic mood. Her manner suggested rather that she was tired and troubled.
"I need sympathy myself to-night," she said. "We received a letter after dinner that brought bad news for us. We must go home at once."
"Bad news!" exclaimed Carlton, with much concern. "From home?"
"Yes, from home," she replied; "but there is nothing wrong there; it is only bad news for us. My sister has decided to be married in June instead of July, and that cuts us out of a month on the Continent. That's all. We shall have to leave immediately—tomorrow. It seems that Mr. Abbey is able to go away sooner than he had hoped, and they are to be married on the first."
"Mr. Abbey!" exclaimed Carlton, catching at the name. "But your sister isn't going to marry him, is she?"
Miss Morris turned her head in some surprise. "Yes—why not?" she said.
"But I say!" cried Carlton, "I thought your aunt told me that YOU were going to marry Abbey; she told me so that day on the steamer when he came to see you off."
"I marry him—my aunt told you—impossible!" said Miss Morris, smiling. "She probably said that 'her niece' was going to marry him; she meant my sister. They had been engaged some time."
"Then who are YOU going to marry?" stammered Carlton.
"I am not going to marry any one," said Miss Morris.
Carlton stared at her blankly in amazement. "Well, that's most absurd!" he exclaimed.
He recognized instantly that the expression was hardly adequate, but he could not readjust his mind so suddenly to the new idea, and he remained looking at her with many confused memories rushing through his brain. A dozen questions were on his tongue. He remembered afterwards how he had noticed a servant trimming the candle in one of the orange-colored lanterns, and that he had watched him as he disappeared among the palms.
The silence lasted for so long a time that it had taken on a significance in itself which Carlton recognized. He pulled himself up with a short laugh. "Well," he remonstrated, mirthlessly, "I don't think you've treated ME very well."
"How, not treated you very well?" Miss Morris asked, settling herself more easily. She had been sitting during the pause which followed Carlton's discovery with a certain rigidity, as if she was on a strain of attention. But her tone was now as friendly as always, and held its customary suggestion of amusement. Carlton took his tone from it, although his mind was still busily occupied with incidents and words of hers that she had spoken in their past intercourse.
"Not fair in letting me think you were engaged," he said. "I've wasted so much time: I'm not half civil enough to engaged girls," he explained.
"You've been quite civil enough to us," said Miss Morris, "as a courier, philosopher, and friend. I'm very sorry we have to part company."
"Part company!" exclaimed Carlton, in sudden alarm. "But, I say, we mustn't do that."
"But we must, you see," said Miss Morris. "We must go back for the wedding, and you will have to follow the Princess Aline."
"Yes, of course," Carlton heard his own voice say. "I had forgotten the Princess Aline." But he was not thinking of what he was saying, nor of the Princess Aline. He was thinking of the many hours Miss Morris and he had been together, of the way she had looked at certain times, and of how he had caught himself watching her at others; how he had pictured the absent Mr. Abbey travelling with her later over the same route, and without a chaperon, sitting close at her side or holding her hand, and telling her just how pretty she was whenever he wished to do so, and without any fear of the consequences. He remembered how ready she had been to understand what he was going to say before he had finished saying it, and how she had always made him show the best of himself, and had caused him to leave unsaid many things that became common and unworthy when considered in the light of her judgment. He recalled how impatient he had been when she was late at dinner, and how cross he was throughout one whole day when she had kept her room. He felt with a sudden shock of delightful fear that he had grown to depend upon her, that she was the best companion he had ever known; and he remembered moments when they had been alone together at the table, or in some old palace, or during a long walk, when they had seemed to have the whole world entirely to themselves, and how he had consoled himself at such times with the thought that no matter how long she might be Abbey's wife, there had been these moments in her life which were his, with which Abbey had had nothing to do.
Carlton turned and looked at her with strange wide-open eyes, as though he saw her for the first time. He felt so sure of himself and of his love for her that the happiness of it made him tremble, and the thought that if he spoke she might answer him in the old, friendly, mocking tone of good-fellowship filled him with alarm. At that moment it seemed to Carlton that the most natural thing in the world for them to do would be to go back again together over the road they had come, seeing everything in the new light of his love for her, and so travel on and on for ever over the world, learning to love each other more and more each succeeding day, and leaving the rest of the universe to move along without them.
He leaned forward with his arm along the back of the bench, and bent his face towards hers. Her hand lay at her side, and his own closed over it, but the shock that the touch of her fingers gave him stopped and confused the words upon his tongue. He looked strangely at her, and could not find the speech he needed.
Miss Morris gave his hand a firm, friendly little pressure and drew her own away, as if he had taken hers only in an exuberance of good feeling.
"You have been very nice to us," she said, with an effort to make her tone sound kindly and approving. "And we—"
"You mustn't go; I can't let you go," said Carlton, hoarsely. There was no mistaking his tone or his earnestness now. "IF you go," he went on, breathlessly, "I must go with you."
The girl moved restlessly; she leaned forward, and drew in her breath with a slight, nervous tremor. Then she turned and faced him, almost as though she were afraid of him or of herself, and they sat so for an instant in silence. The air seemed to have grown close and heavy, and Carlton saw her dimly. In the silence he heard the splash of the fountain behind them, and the rustling of the leaves in the night wind, and the low, sighing murmur of a waltz.
He raised his head to listen, and she saw in the moonlight that he was smiling. It was as though he wished to delay any answer she might make to his last words.
"That is the waltz," he said, still speaking in a whisper, "that the gypsies played that night—" He stopped, and Miss Morris answered him by bending her head slowly in assent. It seemed to be an effort for her to even make that slight gesture.
"YOU don't remember it," said Carlton. "It meant nothing to you. I mean that night on the steamer when I told you what love meant to other people. What a fool I was!" he said, with an uncertain laugh.
"Yes, I remember it," she said—"last Thursday night, on the steamer."
"Thursday night!" exclaimed Carlton, indignantly. "Wednesday night, Tuesday night, how should I know what night of the week it was? It was the night of my life to me. That night I knew that I loved you as I had never hoped to care for any one in this world. When I told you that I did not know what love meant I felt all the time that I was lying. I knew that I loved you, and that I could never love any one else, and that I had never loved any one before; and if I had thought then you could care for me, your engagement or your promises would never have stopped my telling you so. You said that night that I would learn to love all the better, and more truly, for having doubted myself so long, and, oh, Edith," he cried, taking both her hands and holding them close in his own, "I cannot let you go now! I love you so! Don't laugh at me; don't mock at me. All the rest of my life depends on you."
And then Miss Morris laughed softly, just as he had begged her not to do, but her laughter was so full of happiness, and came so gently and sweetly, and spoke so truly of content, that though he let go of her hands with one of his, it was only that he might draw her to him, until her face touched his, and she felt the strength of his arm as he held her against his breast.
The Hohenwalds occupied the suite of rooms on the first floor of the hotel, with the privilege of using the broad balcony that reached out from it over the front entrance. And at the time when Mrs. Downs and Edith Morris and Carlton drove up to the hotel from the ball, the Princess Aline was leaning over the balcony and watching the lights go out in the upper part of the house, and the moonlight as it fell on the trees and statues in the public park below. Her foot was still in bandages, and she was wrapped in a long cloak to keep her from the cold. Inside of the open windows that led out on to the balcony her sisters were taking off their ornaments, and discussing the incidents of the night just over.
The Princess Aline, unnoticed by those below, saw Carlton help Mrs. Downs to alight from the carriage, and then give his hand to another muffled figure that followed her; and while Mrs. Downs was ascending the steps, and before the second muffled figure had left the shadow of the carriage and stepped into the moonlight, the Princess Aline saw Carlton draw her suddenly back and kiss her lightly on the cheek, and heard a protesting gasp, and saw Miss Morris pull her cloak over her head and run up the steps. Then she saw Carlton shake hands with them, and stand for a moment after they had disappeared, gazing up at the moon and fumbling in the pockets of his coat. He drew out a cigar-case and leisurely selected a cigar, and with much apparent content lighted it, and then, with his head, thrown back and his chest expanded, as though he were challenging the world, he strolled across the street and disappeared among the shadows of the deserted park.
The Princess walked back to one of the open windows, and stood there leaning against the side. "That young Mr. Carlton, the artist," she said to her sisters, "is engaged to that beautiful American girl we met the other day."
"Really!" said the elder sister. "I thought it was probable. Who told you?"
"I saw him kiss her good-night," said the Princess, stepping into the window, "as they got out of their carriage just now."
The Princess Aline stood for a moment looking thoughtfully at the floor, and then walked across the room to a little writing-desk. She unlocked a drawer in this and took from it two slips of paper, which she folded in her hand. Then she returned slowly across the room, and stepped out again on to the balcony.
One of the pieces of paper held the picture Carlton had drawn of her, and under which he had written: "This is she. Do you wonder I travelled four thousand miles to see her?" And the other was the picture of Carlton himself, which she had cut out of the catalogue of the Salon.
From the edge of the balcony where the Princess stood she could see the glimmer of Carlton's white linen and the red glow of his cigar as he strode proudly up and down the path of the public park, like a sentry keeping watch. She folded the pieces of paper together and tore them slowly into tiny fragments, and let them fall through her fingers into the street below. Then she returned again to the room, and stood looking at her sisters.
"Do you know," she said, "I think I am a little tired of travelling so much. I want to go back to Grasse." She put her hand to her, forehead and held it there for a moment. "I think I am a little homesick," said the Princess Aline.