IT often happens, when our hopes are raised to the highest pitch of expectation, and when we think we are on the eve of realizing our well-considered plans, that an unexpected obstacle arises in our path, like the impenetrable wall which so often in our dreams suddenly interposes itself between us and the enemy we are pursuing. At such moments we are apt to despair of ourselves, and it is the inability to rise above this dejection at the important crisis which too often causes failure. After we had discovered the watch, and after Balsamides had traced it to the house of Laleli Khanum Effendi, it seemed to me that the end could not be far. It could not be an operation of superhuman difficulty to bribe some one in the harem to tell us what we wanted to know. In a few days this might be accomplished, and we should learn the fate of Alexander Patoff.
It was at this point, however, that failure awaited us. The house of Laleli was impenetrable. The scheme to establish communication by means of the story-teller did not succeed. The old woman was received once, but saw nothing, and never succeeded in gaining admittance again. Selim, the Lala, ceased at that time to pay regular visits to Stamboul on Thursday, and Balsamides realized that he had perhaps not done wisely in letting him go free from the bazaar. We paid several visits to Yeni Köj. and contemplated the dismal exterior of the Khanum’s villa. High walls of mud and stone surrounded it on all sides except the front, and there the long, low wooden façade exhibited only its double row of latticed windows, overlooking the water, while two small doors, which were always closed, constituted the entrance from the narrow stone quay. Nothing could penetrate those lattices, nor surmount the blank steepness of those walls. Our only means of reaching the interior of the dwelling and the secrets which perhaps were hidden there lay in our power over Selim ; but the Lala had no difficulty in eluding us, and either kept resolutely within doors, or sallied out in company with his mistress, It was remarkable, however, that we had never met him in charge of the ladies of the harem, as Paul had so often met him during the summer when Alexander had made his visit to his brother. We went to every place where Turkish ladies are wont to resort in their carriages during the winter, but we never saw Selim nor the lady with the thick veil.
Meanwhile, Paul grew nervous, and his anxiety for the result of our operations began to show itself in his face. I had written to John Carvel, and he had replied that he was making his preparations, and would soon join us. Then Macaulay Carvel arrived, and, having found Paul, came with him to see me. The young man’s delight at being at last appointed to Constantinople knew no bounds, and he almost became enthusiastic in his praises of the city and the scenery. He smiled perpetually, and was smoother than ever in speech and manner. Balsamides conceived a strong dislike for him, but condescended to treat him with civility in consideration of the fact that he was Paul’s cousin and the son of my old friend.
Indeed, Macaulay had every reason to be happy. He had succeeded in getting transferred to the East, where he could see his cousin every day, he was under one of the most agreeable and kind-hearted chiefs in the service, and now his whole family had determined to spend the summer with him. What more could the heart of a good boy desire ? It was rather odd that Paul should like him so much, I thought. It seemed as though Patoff, who was inclined to repel all attempts at intimacy, and who at four and thirty years of age was comparatively friendless, were touched by the admiration of his younger cousin, and had for him a sort of half - paternal affection, which was quite enough to satisfy the modest expectations of the quiet young man. Yet Macaulay was far from being a match for Paul in any respect. Where Paul exhibited the force of his determination by intelligent hard work, Macaulay showed his desire for excellence by doggedly memorizing in a parrot-like way everything which he wished to know. Where Paul was enthusiastic, Macaulay was conscientious. Where Paul was original, Macaulay was a studious but dull imitator of the originality of others. Instead of Paul’s indescribable air of good-breeding, Macaulay possessed what might be called a well-bred respectability. Where Paul was bold, Macaulay exhibited a laudable desire to do his duty.
Yet Macaulay Carvel was not to be despised on account of his high-class mediocrity. He did his best, according to his lights ; he endeavored to improve the shining hour, and admired the busy little bee, as he had been taught to do in the nursery; if he had not the air of a thoroughbred, he had none of the plebeian clumsiness of the cart-horse; though he was not the man to lead a forlorn hope, he was no coward, and though he had not invented gunpowder, he had the requisite intelligence to make use of already existing inventions under the direction of others. He had a way of remembering what he had learned laboriously which his brilliant chief found to be very convenient, and he was a useful secretary. His admiration for Paul was the honest admiration which many a young man feels for those qualities which he does not possess, but which he believes he can create in himself by closely imitating the actions of others.
It is unnecessary to add that Macaulay was discreet, and that in the course of a few days he was put in possession of the details of what had occurred. I had feared at first that his presence might irritate Paul, in the present state of affairs, but I soon found out that the younger man’s uniformly cheerful, if rather colorless, disposition seemed to act like a sort of calming medicine upon his cousin’s anxious moods.
“ That fellow Carvel,” Balsamides would say, “ is the ultimate expression of your Western civilization, which tends to make all men alike. I cannot understand why you are both so fond of him. To me he is insipid as boiled cucumber. He ought to be a banker’s clerk instead of a diplomatist. The idea of his serving his country is about as absurd as hunting bears with toy spaniels.”
“ You do not do him justice,” I always answered. “ You forget that the days of original and personal diplomacy are over, or very nearly over. Plenipotentiaries now are merely persons who have an unlimited credit at the telegraph office. The clever ones complain that they can do nothing without authority; the painstaking ones, like Macaulay Carvel, congratulate themselves that they need not use their own judgment in any case whatever. They make the best government servants, after all.”
“ When servants begin to think, they are dangerous. That is quite true,” was Gregorios’ scornful retort; and I knew how useless it was to attempt to convince him. Nevertheless, I believe that as time proceeded he began to respect Macaulay, on account of Iris extreme calmness. The young man had made up his mind that he would not be astonished in life, and had therefore systematically deadened his mental organs of astonishment, or the capacity of his mental organs for being astonished. As no one has the least idea what a mental organ is, one phrase is about as good as another.
We had not advanced another step in our investigations, in spite of all our efforts, when we received news that the Carvels, accompanied by Madame Patoff and Chrysophrasia Dabstreak, were on their way to Constantinople. We had looked at several houses which we thought might suit them, but as the season was advancing we supposed that John would prefer to spend the remainder of the spring in a hotel, and then engage a villa on the Bosphorus, at Therapia or Buyukdere. At last the day came for their arrival, and Macaulay took the kaváss of his embassy with him to facilitate the operations of the customhouse. Paul did not go with him, thinking it best not to meet his mother, for the first time since her recovery, in the hubbub of landing. I, however, went with Macaulay Carvel on board the Varna boat. In a few minutes we were exchanging happy greetings on the deck of the steamer, and in the midst of the confusion I was presented to Madame Patoff.
She was not changed since I had seen her last, except that she now looked quietly at me and offered her hand. Her fine features were perhaps a little less pale, her dark eyes were a little less cold, and her small traveling-bonnet concealed most of her thick gray hair. She was dressed in a simple costume of some neutral tint which I cannot remember, and she wore those long loose gauntlets commonly known as Biarritz gloves. I thought her less tall and less imposing than when I had seen her in the black velvet which it was her caprice to wear during the period of her insanity, but she looked more natural, too, and at first sight one would have merely said that she was a woman of sixty, who had once been beautiful, and who had not lost the youthful proportions of her figure. As I observed her more closely in the broad daylight, on the deck of the steamer, however, I began to see that her face was marked by innumerable small lines, which followed the shape of her features, like the carefully traced shadows of an engraving ; they crossed her forehead, they made labyrinths of infinitesimal wrinkles about her eyes, they curved along the high cheek-bones and the somewhat sunken cheeks, and they surrounded the mouth and made shadings on her chin. They were not like ordinary wrinkles. They looked as though they had been drawn with infinite precision and care by the hand of a cunning workman. To me they betrayed an abnormally nervous temperament, such as I had not suspected that Madame Patoff possessed, when in the yellow lamplight of her apartment her white skin had seemed so smooth and even. But she was evidently in her right mind, and very quiet, as she gave me her hand, with the conventional smile which we use to convey the idea of an equally conventional satisfaction when a stranger is introduced to us.
John was delighted to see me, and was more like his old self than when I had last seen him. Mrs. Carvel’s gentle temper was not ruffled by the confusion of landing, and she greeted me as ever, with her sweet smile and air of sympathetic inquiry. Chrysophrasia held out her hand, a very forlorn hope of anatomy cased in flabby kid. She also smiled, as one may fancy that a mosquito smiles in the dark when it settles upon the nose of some happy sleeper. I am sure that mosquitoes have green eyes, exactly of the hue of Chrysophrasia’s.
“ So deliciously barbarous, is it not, Mr. Griggs ? ” she murmured, subduing the creaking of her thin voice.
“ Dear Mr. Griggs, I am so awfully glad to see you again,” said Hermione with genuine pleasure, as she laid her little hand in mine.
It seemed to me that Hermione was taller and thinner than she had been in the winter. But there was something womanly in her lovely face, as she looked at me, which I had not seen before. Her soft blue eyes were more shaded, — not more sad, but less carelessly happy than they used to be, — and the delicate color was fainter in her transparent skin. There was an indescribable look of gravity about her, something which made me think that she was very much in earnest with her life.
“ Paul is at the hotel,” I said, rather loudly, when the first meeting was over. “ He has made everything comfortable for you up there. The kaváss will see to your things. Let us go ashore at once, out of all this din.”
We left the steamer, and landed where the carriages were waiting. John talked all the time, recounting the incidents of the journey, the annoyance they had had in crossing the Danube at Rustchuk, the rough night in the Black Sea, the delight of watching the shores of the Bosphorus n the morning. When we landed, Chrysophrasia turned suddenly round and surveyed the scene.
“ We are not in Constantinople at all,” she said, in a tone of bitter disappointment.
“ No,” said Macaulay, “ nobody lives in Stamboul. This is Galata, and we are going up to Pera, which is the European town, formerly occupied by the Genoese, who built that remarkable tower you may have observed from the harbor. The place was formerly fortified, and the tower has now been applied to the use of the fire brigade. Much interest is attached ” —
How long Macaulay would have continued his lecture on Galata Tower is uncertain. Chrysophrasia interrupted him in disgust.
“ A fire brigade ! ” she exclaimed. “ We might as well be in America at once. Really, John, this is a terrible disappointment. A fire brigade ! Do not tell me that the people here understand the steam-engine, — pray do not! All the delicacy of my illusions is vanishing like a dream ! ”
Chrysophrasia sometimes reminds me of a certain imperial sportsman who once shot an eagle in the Tyrol.
“ An eagle ! ” he cried contemptuously, when told what it was. “ Gentlemen, do not trifle with me, — an eagle always has two heads. This must be some other bird.”
In due time we reached the hotel. Paul was standing in the doorway, and came forward to help the ladies as they descended from the carriage, greeting them one by one. When his mother got out, he respectfully kissed her hand. To the surprise of most of us, Madame Patoff threw her arms round his neck, and embraced him with considerable emotion.
“ Dear, dear Paul, — my dear son ! ” she cried. “ What a happy meeting ! ”
Paul was evidently very much astonished, but I will do him the credit to say that he seemed moved, as he kissed his mother on both cheeks, for his face was pale and he appeared to tremble a little.
The travelers were conducted to their rooms by Macaulay, and I saw no more of them. But John insisted that I should dine with them in the evening. In the mean while I went home, and found Gregorios reading, as usual when he was not on duty at Yildiz-Kiösk, — the “ Star-Palace,” where the Sultan resides.
“ Have you deposited your friends in a place of safety ? ” he asked, looking up from his book. “ Have they all come, — even the old maid with the green eyes, and the mad lady whom Patoff is so unfortunate as to call his mother ? ”
“ All,” I answered. “ They are real English people, and my old friend John Carvel is the patriarch of the establishment. There are maid-servants and men-servants, and more boxes than any house in Pera will hold. The old lady seems perfectly sane again.”
“ Then she will probably die,” said Gregorios, reassuringly. “ Crazy people almost always have a lucid interval before death.”
“ You take a cheerful view,” I observed.
“ Fate would confer a great benefit on Patoff by removing his mother from this valley of tears,” returned my friend. “ Besides, as our proverb says, mad people are the only happy people. Madame Patoff, in passing from insanity to sanity, has therefore fallen from happiness to unhappiness.”
“ If all your proverbs were true, the world would be a strange place.”
“ I will not discuss the inexhaustible subject of the truth of proverbs,” answered Balsamides. “ I only doubt whether Madame Patoff will be happy now that she is sane, and whether the uncertainty of the issue of our search may not drive her mad again. She will probably spoil everything by chattering at all the embassies. By the bye, since we are on the subject of death, lunacy, and other similar annoyances, I may as well tell you that Laleli is very ill, and it is not expected that she can live. I heard it this morning on very good authority.”
“ That is rather startling,” I said.
“ Very. Dying people sometimes make confessions of their crimes, but to hear the confession you must be there when they are about to give up the ghost.”
“ That is impossible in this case, unless you can get into the harem as a doctor.”
“ Who knows ? We must make a desperate attempt of some kind. Leave it to me, and do not be surprised if I do not appear for a day or two. I have made up my mind to strike a blow. You are too evidently a Frank to be of any use. I wish you were a Turk, Griggs. You have such an enviably sober appearance. You speak Turkish just well enough to make me wish you would never betray yourself by little slips in the verbs and mistakes in using Arabic words. Only educated Osmanlis can detect those errors : just now they are the very people we want to deceive.”
“ I can pass for anything else here, without being found out,” I answered. “ I can pass for a Persian when there are no Persians about, or for a Panjabí Mussulman, if necessary.”
“ That is an idea. You might be an Indian Hadji. I will think of it.”
“ What in the world do you intend to do ? ” I asked, suspecting my friend of some rash or violent project.
“A very sly trick,” he replied, with his usual sarcastic smile. “ There need not necessarily be any violence about it, unless we find Alexander alive, in which case you and I must manage to get him out of the house.”
“ Tell me your plan,” I said. “ Let me hear what it is like.”
“ No ; I will tell you to-night, when I know whether it is possible or not. You are going to dine with your friends ? Yes ; very well, when you have finished, come here, and we will see what can be done. We must only pray that the iniquitous old woman may live till morning.”
It was clear that Gregorios was not ready, and that nothing would induce him to speak what was in his mind. I showed no further curiosity, and at the appointed time I left the house to go and dine with the Carvels.
“ Say nothing to Patoff,” said Balsamides, as I went out.
I found the Carvels assembled in their sitting-room, and we went to dinner. I could not help looking from time to time at Paul’s mother, who surprised me by her fluent conversation and perfect selfpossession. With the exception that she was present and that Professor Cutter was absent, the dinner was very much like the meals at Carvel Place. I noticed that Paul was placed between Mrs. Carvel and his mother, while Hermione was on the opposite side of the table. But their eyes met constantly, and there was evidently a perfect understanding between them. Paul looked once more as I had seen him when he was talking to Hermione in England, and the coldness I so much disliked had temporarily disappeared from his face. I did not know what had occurred during the afternoon, since I had left the hotel, and it was not until later that I learned some of the details of the meeting.
When the members of the party retired to their rooms, on arriving at Missiri’s, Macaulay had gone off with his father, and Paul had been left alone for a few minutes in the sitting-room. When all was quiet, Hermione opened her door softly and looked in. Paul was standing by the chimney-piece, contemplating the smouldering logs with the interest of a man who has nothing to do. He raised his head suddenly, and saw that Hermione had entered the room, and was standing near him. She had taken off her traveling-hat, and her golden hair was in some disorder, but the tangled coils and waves of it only showed more perfectly how beautiful she was. She came forward, and he, too, left his place. She took his hands rather timidly in hers.
“ Paul — I never meant that you should go ! ” she exclaimed, while the tears stood in her eyes. “ Why did you take me so literally at my word ? ”
“It was better, darling,” said he, drawing her nearer to him. You were quite right. I could not bear the idea of any one being free to speak to me as your aunt did; but I was very unhappy. How could I know that you were coming here so soon ? ”
“ I did not know,” she said simply. “ But I was very unhappy, too, and the days seemed so long. I could worship my brother for bringing it about.”
“ So could I,” answered Paul, rather absently. He was looking down into her eyes that met his so trustfully. “ Do you really and truly believe in me, Hermione ? ” he asked.
“ Indeed I do; I always did ! ” she cried, passionately. Then he kissed her very tenderly and held her in his arms.
“ Thank you, — thank you, darling,” he murmured in her ear.
Presently they stood by the chimneypiece, still holding each other’s hands.
“ I must speak to your father,” he said. “ You know his way. He wrote all about it to Griggs, telling him to show me the letter.”
“ I could not keep the secret to myself any longer,” she answered. “ And I knew that papa loved me and liked you.”
“ Yes, dear, you were quite right,” said Paul. “ But I did not mean to tell him, after what happened that evening, until I had found my brother. Do you know ? I have almost found him. I hope to reach the end in a day or two.”
“ Oh, Paul! That is splendid! ” cried Hermione. “ I knew you would. You must tell me all about it.”
There was a sound of footsteps in one of the rooms. Hermione slipped quickly away, and, throwing a kiss towards Paul with her fingers, disappeared through the door by which she had entered, leaving him once more alone. The moments of their meeting had been few and short, but they had more than sufficed to show that these two loved each other as much as ever. Some time afterwards Paul had been alone with his mother for half an hour, and had frankly asked her whether she was able to hear him speak of Alexander or not. Her face twitched nervously, but she answered calmly enough that she wished to hear all he had to tell. But when he had finished she shook her head sadly.
“ You may find out how he died, but you will never find him,” she said. Then, with a sudden energy which startled Paul, she gazed straight into his eyes. “ You know that you cannot,” she added, almost savagely.
“I do not know, mother,” he answered, calmly. “I still have hope.”
Madame Patoff looked down, and seemed to regain her self-control almost immediately. The long habit of concealing her feelings, which she had acquired when deceiving Professor Cutter, stood her in good stead, and she had not forgotten what she had studied so carefully. But Paul had seen the angry glance of her eyes, and the excited tone of her voice still rang in his ears. He guessed that, although she had come to Constantinople with the full intention of forgetting the accusations she had once uttered, the mere sight of him was enough to bring hack all her virulent hatred. She still believed that he had killed his brother. That was clear from her words, and from the tone in which they were spoken. Whether the thought was an hallucination, or whether she sanely believed Paul to be a murderer, made little difference. Her mind was evidently still under the influence of the idea. But Paul determined that he would hold his peace, and it was not until later, when all necessity for concealment was removed, that I learned what had passed. Paul believed that in a few days he should certainly solve the mystery of Alexander’s disappearance, and thus effectually root out his mother’s suspicions.
All this had occurred before dinner, and without my knowledge. Madame Patoff seemed determined to be agreeable and to make everything go smoothly. Even Chrysophrasia relaxed a little, as we talked of the city and of what the party must see.
“ I am afraid,”said I, “ that yon do not find all this as Oriental as you expected, Miss Dabstreak.”
“ All, no ! ” she sighed. “ If by ‘ this ’ you mean the hotel, it is European, and unpleasantly so at that.”
“ I think it is a very good hotel; and this rice — what do you call it ? — is very good, too,” said John Carvel, who was tasting pilaff for the first time.
“ Your carnal love of food always shocks me, John,” murmured Chrysophrasia. “ But I dare say there is a good deal that is Oriental on the other side. There, I am sure, we should be sitting on very precious carpets, and eating sweetmeats with golden spoons, while some fair young Circassian slave sang wild melodies and played upon a rare old inlaid lute.”
“ Yes,” I answered. “ I have dined with Turks in Stamboul.”
“ Oh, do describe it! ” exclaimed Miss Dabstreak.
“ We squatted on the floor around a tiny table, and we devoured ragouts of mutton and onions with our fingers,” I said.
“ How very disgusting ! ” Miss Dabstreak made an anæsthetic grimace, and looked at me with profound contempt.
“ But I suppose they eat other things, Griggs ? ” asked John, laughing.
“ Yes. But mutton and onions and pilaff: are the staple of their consumption. They eat jams of all sorts. Sometimes soup is brought in in a huge bowl, and put down in the middle of the table. Then each one dips in his spoon in the order of precedence, and eats as much as he can. They will give you a dozen courses in half an hour, and they never speak at their meals if they can help it.”
“ Pigs ! ” exclaimed Chrysophrasia, whose delicacy did not always assert itself in her selection of epithets.
“ No ; I assure you,” I objected, “ they are nothing of the kind. They consider it cleaner to eat with their fingers, which they can wash themselves, than with forks, which are washed in a common bath of soapsuds by the grimy hands of a scullery maid. It is not so unreasonable.”
“ You have such a terrible way of putting things, Mr. Griggs ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Carvel, in a tone of gentle protest. “ But I dare say,” she added, as though fearing lest her mild rebuke should have hurt my feelings, — “I dare say you are quite right.”
“ To tell the truth,” I answered, “ I am rather fond of the Turks.”
“ I have always noticed,” remarked Madame Patoff, “ that you Americans generally admire people who live under a despotic government. Americans all like Russia and Russians.”
“ Our government is not quite despotic,” observed Paul, who felt bound to defend his country. “ We have laws, and the laws are respected. The Czar would not think of acting against the established law, even though in theory he might.”
“ The Turks must have laws, too,” objected Madame Patoff.
“ I don’t know,” said Chrysophrasia. “ I already feel a delicious sensation, as though I might be strangled with a bowstring at any moment, and dropped into the Bosphorus.”
John Carvel looked very grave. Perhaps he was offering up a silent prayer to the end that such a consummation might soon be reached; but more probably he considered the topic of sudden death by violence as one to be avoided. Macaulay Carvel came to the rescue.
“ The Turks have laws,” he said, fluently. “ All their law is founded upon the Koran, and they are most ingenious in making the Koran answer the purpose of our more learned and therefore more efficacious codes. The Supreme Court really exists in the person of the Sheik ul Islam, who may be called the High Pontiff, a sort of Pontifex Maximus with judicial powers. All important cases are ultimately referred to him, and as most of these important cases are connected with the Vakuf, the real estate held by the mosques, like our glebe lands at home, it follows that the Sheik ul Islam generally decides in favor of his own class, who are the Ulema, or priests. The consequences of this mode of administering the laws are very ” —
“ Capital! ” exclaimed John Carvel. “ Where on earth did you learn all that, my boy ? ”
“ I began to coach the East when I saw there was a chance of my coming here,” answered Macaulay, much pleased at his father’s acknowledgment of his learning. It struck me that the young man had got his information out of some rather antiquated book, in which no mention was made of the present division of the civil and criminal courts under the Ministry of Justice, and of the ecclesiastical courts under the Sheik ul Islam. But I held my peace, being grateful to Macaulay for delivering his lecture at the right moment. Mrs. Carvel looked with undisguised admiration at her son, and even Hermione smiled and felt proud of her brother.
“ Wonderful, this modern education, is it not ? ” said John Carvel, turning to me.
“ Amazing,” I replied.
“ I want to see all those delightful creatures, you know,” said Chrysophrasia. “ The Sultan and the Sheik — what do you call him ? ”
“ Sheik ul Islam,” said the ready Macaulay.
“ Sheik Ool is lamb ! ” repeated Chrysophrasia, thoughtfully. “ Lamb, — so symbolical in our own very symbolic religion. It means so much, you know.”
“ Chrysophrasia ! ” ejaculated Mary Carvel, in a tone of gentle reproach. She thought she detected the far-off shadow of a possible irreverence in her sister’s tone. Macaulay again interposed, while Paul and I endeavored to avoid each other’s eyes, lest we should be overtaken by an explosion of laughter.
“ It is ‘ Islam,’ not ‘is lamb,’ aunt Chrysophrasia,” said Macaulay, mildly.
“ I don’t see much difference,” retorted Miss Dabstreak, “ except that you say it is lamb, and I say it is lamb. Oh! you mean it is one word, — yes, I dare say,” she added quickly, in some confusion. “ Of course, I don’t speak Turkish.”
“ It is Arabic,” observed the implacable Macaulay.
“ John,” said Chrysophrasia, ignoring the correction with a fine indifference, “ we must see everything at once. When shall we begin ? ”
The question effectually turned the conversation, for all the party were anxious to see what Macaulay was equally anxious to show, having himself only seen each sight once. The remainder of the time while we sat at table was occupied in discussing the various expeditions which the party must undertake in order to see the city and its surroundings systematically. After dinner John and I remained behind for a while. Paul wanted to talk to Hermione, and Macaulay, who was the most domestic of young men, preferred the society of his mother and aunts, whom he had not seen for several months, to the smell of cigars and Turkish coffee.
“ What do you think of her? ” asked John Carvel, when we were alone. “ She seems perfectly sane, does she not ? ”
“Perfectly. What proves it best is the way she treats Paul. She is very affectionate. I suppose there is no fear of a relapse ? ”
“ I hope not, I hope not! ” repeated John, fervently. “ She has behaved admirably during the journey. Now, about Paul,” he continued, lowering his voice a little: “ how does he strike you since you have known him better ? You have seen him every day, for some time. What sort of a fellow is he ? ”
“ I think he is very much in earnest,” I answered.
“ Yes, yes, — no doubt. But you know what I mean, Griggs: is he the kind of man to whom I can give my daughter ? That is what I am thinking of. I know that he works hard and will succeed, and all that.”
“ I can tell you what I think,” said I, “ but you must form your own judgment as well. I like Paul very much, but you must like him, too, before you decide. In my opinion he is a man of fine character, scrupulously honest, and not at all capricious. I cannot say more.”
“ A little wild when he was younger ? ” suggested John.
“ Not very, I am sure. He was unhappy in his childhood ; he was one of those boys who make up their minds to work, and who grow so fond of it that they go on working when other boys begin to play.”
“ Very odd,” observed John. “ He is not at all a prig.”
“ No, indeed. He is as manly a fellow as you could meet, and at first sight he does not produce the impression of being so serious as he is. I think that is put on. He once told me that he had made a study of small talk and of the art of appearing well, because he thinks it so important in his career. I dare say he is right. He knows a great deal, and knows it thoroughly.”
“ He does not know any more than Macaulay,” said John, as though in praising Paul I had attacked his son. “ What a clever fellow he is! I only wish he were a little tougher, — just a little more shell to him, I mean.”
“ He will get that,” I answered. “ He is younger than Paul, and has not seen so much of the world.”
“ You say you like Paul. Do you think he would make a good husband ? ”
“ Yes, I really believe he would,” I replied. “ But do not take him on my recommendation. You must know him better yourself. You will meet many people here who know him, and some who know him well.”
“ What do you think of that story about his brother ? ” asked John, looking at me very earnestly.
“ I believe he is as innocent as you or I. But we are getting near the truth, and have made some valuable discoveries.”
I explained to Carvel what we had found, and without mentioning the name of Laleli Khanum I told him how far we had traced the mystery, and he listened with profound interest to my account.
“ I hope yon may find him alive,” he said, as we rose from the table. “ For my part, I do not believe we shall ever see him. Paul was alone with his mother this afternoon, and I dare say he told her what you have told me. She does not seem to object to the subject, though of course we generally avoid it.”
I stayed an hour longer with the party, during which time Paul talked a great deal to Hermione, occasionally joining in the general conversation, and certainly not trying to prevent what he said to the young girl from being heard. At last I took my leave and went home, for I was anxious to see Gregorios, and to hear from him what plan he proposed to adopt for the solution of our difficulties at this critical moment. I found him waiting for me.
“ Have you made up your mind ? ” I asked.
Balsamides was sitting beside his table with a book. He looked even paler than usual, and was evidently more excited than he liked to own. He is eminently a man who loves danger, and his nature never warms so genially as when something desperate is to be done. A Christian by race and belief, he has absorbed much of the fatalism of the Oriental races, and his courage is of the fatalist kind, reckless and devoted.
“ Yes,” he answered. “ I have made up my mind. One must either be the camel or the camel driver. One must either submit to the course of events, or do something to violently change their direction. If we submit much longer, we shall lose the game. The old woman will die, — the Turkish women always die when they are ill; and if she is once dead without confessing, we may give up all hope.”
“ We should always have Selim to examine,” I remarked.
“ If Laleli Khanum dies, Selim will disappear the same hour, — laying hands on everything within reach, of course. How could we catch him ? He would cross the Bosphorus, put on a disguise of some sort, and make his way to Egypt in no time. Those fellows are very cunning.”
“ Then you mean to try and extort a confession from Laleli herself ? How in the world do you mean to do it ? It is a case of life or death.”
“ I have got life and death in my pocket,” answered Gregorios, his eyes beginning to sparkle. “ Can you read Turkish ? Of course you can. Bead that.”
I took the folded document and examined it.
“ This is an Iradè ! ” I exclaimed, in great surprise ; “ an imperial order to arrest Laleli Khanum Effendi, — good heavens! Balsamides, I had no idea that you possessed such tools as this ! ”
“ To tell you how I got it would be to tell you my own history during the last ten years,” he answered, in low tones. “ I trust you, Griggs, but there are other reasons why I cannot tell you all that. You see the result, at all events, and a result very dearly paid for,” he added, gravely. " But I have got the thing, and what is more I have permission to personate the Sultan’s private physician.”
“ What is that for ? I should think the Iradè were quite enough.”
“ Laleli might die of fright, if I merely presented myself and threatened to arrest her. But I shall see her in the assumed character of the court physician. Laleli is a Turkish woman, who understands no other language but her own and Greek. She is very superstitious, and believes in all manner of charms and spells; for she has no ideas at all concerning Western science, except that it is all contrary to the Koran. I can talk the jargon of an old Hadji well enough, and besides I know something of medicine ; very little, hut enough to tell me whether she is absolutely in a dying state. It is a great compliment for the Sultan to send his private physician, and if she is in a conscious state she will be flattered and thrown off her guard. If I can manage to get her slaves out of the way, I may induce her to confess. If I fail in this, I have the means to frighten her. If she dies, I have the means of arresting Selim before he can escape. It is all very well arranged, and there is nothing to be done but to put the plan into execution. When you left me I had not got the Iradè ; it came about an hour ago.”
“ How can I help you ? ” I asked.
“ You must have a disguise, too. When the court physician is sent to visit a person of consequence, he is always accompanied by an adjutant from the palace. You must play this part. I have borrowed a uniform from a brother officer which will fit you. It is in your room, and I will help you to put it on. You need say nothing, nor answer any questions the slaves may put to you unless you are quite sure of your words. You have a very military figure, and the sight of a uniform acts like magic on fellows like the Lala and his companions. As I am an adjutant myself, I can tell you exactly what to do, so that no one could detect you. Are you willing to try ? ”
“ Of course,” I said, rising and going towards my room. " How are we to go to Yeni Köj ? ”
“ A carriage from the palace will be at the door in half an hour,” answered Gregorios, looking at his watch. “ Now, then, we must turn you into a Turkish officer,” he added, with a laugh.
In ten minutes the change was complete, and I do not believe that my best friend would have recognized me in the close-fitting dress, cut like that of a Prussian dragoon’s parade uniform, but made of dark cloth with red facings. I buckled on the sabre, and Gregorios set the fez carefully on my head. I looked at myself in the glass. The costume fitted as though it were made for me.
“ I feel as though I were going to a masked ball,” I said, laughing. “ I never was so disguised before in my life.”
“ I hope you may feel so when you come home,” answered Balsamides, with a smile. “ Now you must take some of your own clothes in a bag. We may not get home before morning, and we might meet some one of the adjutants when we come back. They would know that you are not one of us, and there might be trouble. We must take some money, too. We may need to hire a boat or horses ; one can never tell.”
Balsamides stood a moment and looked at me, apparently well satisfied with my appearance. Then he opened the window to see whether the carriage was below, but it had not yet come.
“ While we are waiting, I will explain our plan of action,” he said, as he opened his writing-desk and took a small roll of gold pieces and a handful of silver. “ We shall be driven to the door of the house, and when we knock, Selim or some other Lala, if there are others, will open the door. He will see yon and recognize your uniform, as well as the livery of the palace carriage. He will salute us, and you must of course return the salutation. I will then explain that I am the court physician, and that his majesty, having just heard of the Khanum Effendi’s illness, has sent me down to attend her. Selim will salute us again, and show us into the house. You will be left in the salamlek, the lower hall, and I shall be shown into the harem, after a few minutes have elapsed to give time for preparations. Then you will have to wait, but you will probably not be disturbed, unless a slave brings you coffee and cigarettes. Selim will probably remain in the harem all the time I am there. But if you hear anything like a scuffle, you must come when you recognize my voice. This will not occur unless Selim hears something which frightens him, and tries to get away. Of course you are supposed to be present for my protection, and you must affect a certain deference towards me.”
“ I will be humility itself,” I answered.
“ No, not too much humility. A mere show of respect for my position will do. We adjutants about the palace are not much given to self-abasement of any sort. There is one catastrophe which may occur. If the old woman is really dying, as they say she is, she may die while we are there. We must then take possession of the person of Selim and carry him off. There will not be much trouble about that. The house is in a lonely place, and the driver of the carriage knows his orders. He will obey instantly, no matter what I tell him to do.”
“ And if we should, by any chance, find Alexander in the house,” I asked, “ shall we be able to get him out without trouble ? ”
Not without trouble,” answered Gregorios, with a grim smile. “ But we will not stick at trifles so long as we have the imperial Iradè with us. I hear the carriage. Let us be off.”
So we left the house on our errand without further words.
Paul stayed at the hotel until a late hour, and went home, feeling lighter at heart than he had felt for many days. He was in love, and the passion had a very salutary effect upon his nature. His heart had been crushed down when he was a child, until he doubted whether he had any heart at all. His early sufferings had hardened his nature, and his cold strong mind had approved the process, so that he was well satisfied with his solitary condition and his loveless life. He had seen much of the world, and had known many women of all nations, but his immovable indifference was proverbial among his colleagues, and if he had ever entertained a passing fancy for any one, the fact was unknown to gossip. It might be supposed that this very coldness would have rendered him attractive to women, for it is commonly said, and with some truth, that they are sometimes drawn to those men who show them no manner of attention. But I think that the case is not always the same, and admits of very subtle distinctions. It is not a man’s coldness that attracts a woman, but the belief that, though he is cold to others, he may soften towards herself; and this belief often rests on mere vanity, and often on the truth of the supposition. There are many men who systematically affect outward indifference in order to make themselves interesting in the eyes of the other sex, allowing a word, a look, a gesture, to betray at stated intervals that they are not indifferent to the one woman whose love they covet. They give these signs with the utmost skill and with a strange, calculating avarice. Women watch such men jealously from a distance, to see if they can detect the slightest softening of manner towards other women ; and when they have convinced themselves that they alone have the power to influence the frozen nature they admire, they very easily fall wholly in love. In general a man who is very cold and indifferent is not to be trusted. The chances are ten to one that he is playing the old and time-honored part for a definite purpose.
But there are those who play no part, nor need to affect any characteristic not theirs. When women find out that a man is really indifferent to all women, their disgust knows no bounds. So long as he is known to have loved any one in the past, or to love any one in the present, or to be even likely to love any one in the future, he may be pardoned. But if it is firmly believed that he is incapable of love, womankind arises in a body and abuses him in unmeasured terms. He is selfish. He is arrogant. He is so conceited that he thinks no one good enough for him. He is a stone, a prig, a hypocrite, a maniac, a monster, a statue, and especially he is a bore. In other words he is a man’s man, and not a woman’s man; and unless it can he proved that his madness proceeds from disappointed love, even Dives in hell is not further removed from forgiveness than he. Men may admire his strength, his talents, his perseverance, and some friend will be found foolish enough to sing his praises to some woman of the world. She wall answer the panegyrist with a blank stare, and will very likely say, coldly, that he is a bore, or that he is very rude. No amount of praise or ingenious argument will extort an admission that the unfortunate man is worthy of human sympathy. And yet, he may be very human, after all. The pyramids look hard and dead in the Egyptian sun, but deep down within them men have found shriveled and blackened grain, hidden there four thousand years ago beside the body of a dead king ; and the wretched seeds have been planted and watered, and have flourished abundantly, yielding a hundred fold, and growing far more luxuriantly than the common wheat of to-day, which is planted, cut down, and sown again from year to year.
It may be that some of those coldeyed cynics whom women so fiercely hate have somewhere in their breasts a little grain of sympathy, which, if lovingly tended, may grow up till its branches spread to heaven, and it is worthy to be called the tree of love. At all events, if we say with the Greek philosopher that a man shall not be called happy until he be dead, we should not allow that he is beyond the reach of love until the life has gone out of him, certainly not until he is sixty years of age at the very least.
Now Paul Patoff was not sixty years old when he found himself in the quiet English country house, and looked on his fair English cousin and loved her. He was, as the times go, a young man, just entered upon the prime of his life, just past the age when youth is considered foolish, and just reaching the time when it is considered desirable. The fact that he had not loved before was not likely to make his passion less strong now that it had come at last, and he knew it, as men generally understand themselves better when they are in love with a good woman. He asked himself, indeed, why he had so suddenly given himself up, heart and soul, to the lovely girl he had known only for a month ; but such questions are necessarily futile, because the heart does not always go through the formality of asking the mind’s consent before acting, and the mind consequently refuses to be called to account in a matter for which it is in no way responsible. It seemed to Paul very strange that after so many years of a busy life, in which no passion but ambition had played any part, he should all at once find his whole existence involved in a new and undreamed-of labyrinth of feeling. But though it was indeed a labyrinth, from which he did not even desire to escape, he acknowledged that the paths of it were full of roses, and that life in its winding walks was pleasanter than life outside.
The uncertainty of his position, however, disturbed his dreams, and even the pleasant hours he spent with Hermione, listening to her rippling laughter and gentle voice, were somewhat disturbed by the thought of the morrow, and of what the end would be. His own instinct would have led him to speak to Carvel at once and to have the matter settled, but another set of ideas argued that he should wait and see what happened, and if possible put off asking the fatal question until he had unraveled the mystery of his brother’s disappearance. That Carvel could have believed him in any way implicated in the tragedy, and yet have asked him to his house, he knew to be impossible ; but he knew also that the shadow of Alexander’s fate hung over him, and now that there existed a chance of completely and brilliantly establishing his innocence before the world, he was unwilling to take so serious a step as formally proposing for Hermione’s hand, until the long-desired result should be reached. He had deeply felt the truth of what she had said to him in England, — that he should be able to silence hints like those Chrysophrasia had let fall, that he should place himself in such a position as to defy insults instead of being obliged to bear them quietly ; and the conviction brought home to him by Hermione’s words had resulted in his immediate departure, with the determination to fathom the mystery and to clear himself forever, or to sacrifice his love in case of failure.
But he had not counted upon the visit of the Carvels to Constantinople. So long as he could not see Hermione, he had felt that it was possible to contemplate with some calmness the prospect of giving her up if he failed in his search. When Carvel had proposed to come out and had asked my advice, we had fancied ourselves on the verge of the final discovery, and with natural and pardonable enthusiasm Paul had joined me in urging John to bring his family at once. He had felt sure that the end was near, and he had wished that Hermione might arrive at the moment of his triumph. It would not be a complete triumph, he thought, unless she were there, and this idea showed how the man had changed under the influence of his love. In former times Paul Patoff would never have thought of anticipating success until he held it securely in his own hands; he would have worked silently, giving no sign, and when the result was obtained he would have presented it to the world with his coldest and most sarcastic stare, content in the thought that he had satisfied himself, and demanding no appreciation from others. To feel that he had succeeded was then the most delicious part of success. Now, he was so changed that he could not imagine success as being at all worth having unless Hermione were there to share it. No one else would do, and something of his exclusiveness might still be found in his desire for her sympathy, and for that of no one else. But the transformation was very great, and as he had realized it, he had understood the extent of his love for his cousin. The sensation was wholly novel, and he again asked himself what it meant, half doubting its reality, but never doubting that it would last forever, — in the highly contradictory spirit of a man who is in love for the first time.
Then Hermione arrived, and Paul awoke to find himself between two fires. To contemplate the possibility of not marrying Hermione, when she was in the same city, when he must see her and hear her voice every day of his life, was now out of the question. His love had grown ten times stronger in the separation of the last months, and he knew that it was now useless to think of putting it away. With a modesty not found in men who have loved many women, Paul discarded the idea that Hermione’s happiness was as deeply concerned as his own. He did not understand how very much she loved him, and it would have seemed to his softened soul an outrageous piece of arrogance to suppose that she could not be quite as happy with some one else as with himself. But of his own feelings he had no doubt. It was perfectly clear that without Hermione life could never be worth living, and he found himself face to face with a most difficult question, — a true dilemma, from which there could be no issue unless he found his brother, or the evidences of his brother’s death.
If the search proved fruitless, he was still in the position of a man who is liable to suspicion, and he had firmly resolved that he would not permit the woman he loved to marry a man who could be accused, however unjustly, of the crime of murder. On the other hand, he knew that while she was present in Constantinople he was not master of his feelings, hardly of his words; and he could not go away: first, because to go away would be to leave the search wholly in the hands of others ; and secondly, because his presence was required at the embassy and his services were constantly in requisition. To abandon his career was a course he never contemplated for a moment. His personal resources were small, and his pay was now considerable, so that he depended upon it for the necessities of life. He had never been willing to touch his brother’s money, either, and this honorable refusal had practically crushed all gossip about Alexander’s disappearance ; so that at the present time he was dependent upon himself. With the prospect of being a chargé d’affaires in a short time, and of being chancellor of an embassy at forty, he believed that he could fairly propose to marry Hermione. But to do this he must abide by his career, a conclusion which effectually prevented his flying from danger and giving the inquiry entirely into my hands. With a keen sense of honor and a very strong determination on the one side, and all the force of his love for Hermione on the other, Paul’s position was not an easy one, and he knew it.
Nor was his mind wholly at rest concerning his mother. He had seen her that afternoon, and had recognized that in the ordinary sense of the word and in the common opinion of people on the subject, she was perfectly sane. She looked, moved, talked, ate, and dressed as though she were wholly in her right mind ; but Paul was not satisfied. He had seen the old gleam of unreasoning anger in her eyes, when she had said that he knew Alexander could never be found; meaning, as Paul supposed, that he knew how the unfortunate man had come to his end. That this belief had been the cause and first beginning of her madness, he was convinced; and if the disturbing element was still present in her mind, it might assert itself again at any moment with direful results. He was willing, for the sake of argument, to believe that her idea was an hallucination, and indeed he preferred to think so. He did not like the thought that his mother could seriously and sanely believe him to be a murderer, though she had given him reason enough for knowing how she had always disliked him. There was no affection between the mother and the son, there was not even much respect; but beyond respect and affection we recognize in the relations of a mother with her children a sort of universal law of fitness, embracing the few conditions without which there can be no relations at all between them. That a mother should dislike her child offends our feelings and our conceptions of human sympathy ; but that a mother should wantonly and without evidence accuse her son of a fearful crime, and be his only accuser, is a sin against humanity itself, and our reason revolts against it as much as our heart.
It was hopeless to attempt an explanation of Madame Patoff’s state of mind. Paul might have understood her better had he known how she talked and behaved when he was not present. John Carvel and his wife had indeed assured Paul that his mother was entirely sane, and had forgotten her resentment against him, speaking of him affectionately, and showing herself anxious to see him during the long journey. But there was one of the party who could have told a different story; who could have repeated some of her aunt’s utterances, and could have described certain phases in her temper in such a way as would have surprised the rest. Madame Patoff had naturally chosen to confide in Hermione, for Hermione had first startled her into a confession of her sanity, and with her rested the secret of the last two years. On the occasion which Carvel had mentioned in his letter to me, when Madame Patoff had been surprised in a sensible conversation by her nurse, the old lady had shown very great presence of mind. She had recognized immediately that she was detected, and that she would find it extremely difficult in future to deceive the practiced eye of the vigilant Mrs. North. She was tired, too, in spite of what she said to Hermione, of the absolute seclusion in which she lived ; not that she was wearied of mourning for Alexander, but because she had exhausted one way of expressing her grief. So, at least, it seemed to Hermione. Madame Patoff had therefore accepted the situation and made the best of it, declaring herself sane and entirely recovered. She had always contemplated the possibility of some such termination to her pretended madness, and was perhaps glad that it had come at last. She even found at first a pleasant relaxation in leading the life of an ordinary person, and she tried to join in the life of the family in such a way as to be no longer a burden or a source of anxiety to those she had capriciously sacrificed during a year and a half. But with Hermione she was not the same as with the rest. She was with her what she had been on the first day when Hermione had declared her love for Paul, and it appeared to the young girl that her aunt was in reality leading a double existence, being in one state when with the assembled family, and in quite another when she was alone with Hermione.
Madame Patoff was able to force herself upon her niece, for the young girl had given a promise not to betray her secret, and though often in hard straits to elude her father’s questions without falling into falsehood, felt herself bound to her aunt, and obliged to submit to long conversations with her. It was a difficult position, and any one less honest than Hermione and less sensitively tactful would have found it hard to maintain the balance. She herself avoided carefully all mention of Paul, but her aunt delighted in talking of him. One of these conversations took place on the evening of their arrival in Constantinople, and may well serve as a specimen of the rest. When all the party had retired for the night, Madame Patoff came into Hermione’s room and sat down, evidently with the intention of staying at least an hour. Hermione looked at her with a deprecating expression, being indeed very tired, and wishing that her aunt would put off her visit until the next day. She saw, however, that there was no hope of this, and submitted herself with a good grace.
“ Are you not tired, aunt Annie ? ” asked the young girl.
“ No, no, not very, my dear,” said the old lady, smoothing her thick gray hair with her hand, and fixing her dark eyes on her niece’s face. “ Oh, Hermy, what a meeting! ” she suddenly exclaimed. “ If you knew how hard I tried to be kind to him, I am sure you would pity me. It is so hard, so hard! ”
“ It is the least you can do, — to treat him kindly,” answered Hermione, somewhat coldly. “ But I was very glad to see that you kissed him, when we arrived.”
“ It was dreadfully hard to do it. The very sight of him freezes my blood. Oh, Hermy, dear, how can you love him so much, when I love you as I do ? It frightens me ” —
“ It does not frighten me, aunt Annie,” said her niece. “ I can say, when you love me as you do, how can you not love him ? ”
“ It is not the same, my dear. How could I love him, knowing what I know ? ”
“ You do not know it,” answered Hermione, very firmly, “ and you must not suggest it to me. Sometimes I could almost think you were really mad, aunt Annie, — forgive me, I must say it. Not mad as you pretended to be, but mad on this one point. You have always bated poor Paul since he was a child, and you have treated him very unkindly. But you have no right to accuse him now, and I would not listen to you unless I believed that I could help to make you see him as you should.”
Madame Patoff bent her head and hid her eyes in her hand, as though greatly distressed.
“ I love you so much, dear Hermy — I cannot bear to think of your marrying him. You cannot understand me — I know — and you think me very unkind. But I hate him ! ” she cried, with a burst of uncontrollable anger. “ Oh, how I hate him! ”
Her hands had dropped from her face, and her dark eyes flashed wickedly as she stared at the young girl. Hermione was startled for a moment, but she also had learned a lesson of self-possession.
“ Do you think that I am afraid, when you look at me like that, aunt Annie ? ” she asked, very quietly.
Madame Patoff’s features relaxed, and she laughed a little foolishly, as though ashamed of herself.
“ No, child, why should you be afraid ? I am only an unhappy old woman. I cannot speak to any one else.”
“ And you must not speak to me in that way,” answered Hermione, in a gentle tone. “ I love Paul with all my heart, and I cannot hear him abused by you, even though I know you are out of your mind when you say such things. I should be despicable if I listened to you.”
“ If I loved you less, dear,” returned the old lady, “ I might hate him less. Ah, if you could only have married Alexis, — if it could only have been the other way! ”
“ Hush! ” exclaimed Hermione, almost roughly. “ You are wishing that Paul were dead, instead of his brother. I will go away, if you talk like that. ”
She suited the action to the word, and rose to go towards the door. She knew her aunt very well. Madame Patoff changed her tone at once.
“ Oh, don’t go away, don’t go away ! ” she cried nervously. “ I will never speak of him again, if you will only stay with me.”
Hermione turned and came hack, and saw that her threat had for the present produced its effect, as it usually did. Madame Patoff had indeed a strange affection for her niece, and the latter knew how to manage her by means of it. At the mere idea of Hermione’s leaving her in anger, the aunt softened and became docile.
“ I did not mean it, child,” she said, dolefully. “ I am always so unhappy, so dreadfully wretched, that I say things I do not altogether mean. I am not quite myself to-night, either. Coming here, to the place where my poor boy was lost, has upset my nerves ; and, really, your aunt Chrysophrasia is so very tactless. She always was like that. I remember the way in which she treated my poor husband before we were married. It was she who made all the quarrel, you know. It broke up my life at the very beginning, and we two sisters never saw each other again. I do not know what would have become of me if my husband had not loved me as he did. He was so kind to me, always, and he sympathized in all my feelings and ideas. If he had only lived, how different it might all have been ! ”
Hermione thought so, too; reflecting that if Paul’s father had been alive during the time when he was growing up, the unfortunate boy would have been spared a vast deal of suffering, and Madame Patoff would perhaps have been held in check. Her character was not of the kind which could safely be left to its own development, for she called her caprices justice and her obstinacy principle, a mode of viewing life not conducive to much permanent satisfaction when not modified by the salutary restraint of a more sensible companion. But Hermione was glad that her aunt was willing to talk of anything except Paul, and encouraged her to continue, though she had heard again and again Madame Patoff’s account of her own life and of the family quarrels. By carefully listening and watching her, it was possible to keep her from reaching the point at which Hermione was always obliged to protest that she would not hear more.
It may be judged from this scene that the young girl’s position was not an easy one. She was beginning to feel that Madame Patoff’s hatred for Paul approached in reality much nearer to insanity than the affected apathy she had assumed before Hermione discovered the imposition ; but, nevertheless, the younggirl felt that, sane or not sane, she could allow no one to cast a slur on the name of the man she loved. She was glad, indeed, that Madame Patoff did not make her hatred and her suspicion topics for conversation with the rest of the family, and she was willing to suffer much in order that her aunt might confide in her alone, and behave herself with propriety and dignity before the others. But when Madame Patoff overstepped the limits Hermione had set for her, the old lady invariably found herself checked and even frightened by the authoritative manner of her niece. The anxiety, however, and the constant annoyance to which she was subjected, together with the sorrow of the separation from Paul, had told upon the girl’s strength, and it was no wonder that she had grown thinner during the last months. Her young character was forming itself under terrible difficulties, and it was well that she inherited more of her father’s good sense and courage than of her mother’s meekness and gentleness under all circumstances. Hermione looked back and tried to remember what she had been six months ago, but she hardly recognized herself in the picture called up by her memories. She thought of her ignorance about her aunt’s state, and of how she had sometimes felt sad and sorry for the old lady, but had on the whole not found that her presence in the house materially changed her own smooth life. She looked further back, and remembered as in a dream her first London season. She had not enjoyed herself ; she had been oppressed rather than delighted by the crowds, the lights, the whirl of a life she could not understand, the terrors of presentation, the men suddenly brought up to her, who bowed and immediately whirled her away amongst a crowd of young people, all spinning madly round, and knowing each other probably as little as she knew her partner of the moment. It had all been strange to her, and she realized with pleasure that she should not be obliged to go through it again this year. Her mother was not a worldly woman, and had not inspired her, while still in the schoolroom, with a mad desire for the world. Hermione was an only daughter, and there was no reason for hastening her marriage ; nor had she ever been told, as many young girls are, that she must marry well, and if possible in her first season. She saw many men in the round of parties to which she was taken, but she found it hard to remember the names of even a few of them. They had been presented, had danced with her, had perhaps danced with her again somewhere else, and had dropped out of her existence without inspiring in her the smallest interest. Now, after nearly a year, she would not have known their faces. Some had talked to her, but their language was not hers ; it was the jargon of society, the petty gossip, the eternal chatter of people and people’s doings. Her answers were vague, and when she asked a question about a book, about an idea, about a fact, the faultlessly correct young men smiled sweetly, and answered that they did not understand that sort of thing. Towards the end of the season, when the first surprise of watching the moving crowds, the dancing, the women’s gowns, and the men’s faces had worn out, Hermione had regarded the whole thing as an inexpressible bore, and had returned with delight to the quiet life at Carvel Place, glad that her father’s position and tastes did not lead him to keep open house, as some of his neighbors did, and that she was allowed to read and to be quiet, and to do everything she liked.
Then her real life had begun, and her character, untouched and unchanged by what she had seen in a London season, had suddenly come under the influence of another character, strong, dominant, and apparently good, but in the eyes of the young girl eminently mysterious. She had known Paul Patoff as one knows people in the midst of a small family party in a country house, and he had at first repelled her, as he repelled many people ; but soon, very soon, she thought, the feeling of repulsion had grown to be a curiosity to know the man’s history, the secret of his coldness towards his mother and of his hard and cynical expression. From such interest as she felt for him, it was but a step to love, and the step was soon taken. The nearer she came to him, the more she felt the power of his fascination, and the more she wondered that every one else did not see it as she saw it, and yield to it as she yielded to it. Then had come the afternoon in the park, the joy of those few hours, the scene at dinner on the same evening, the revelation she had extracted from Cutter, the discovery that her aunt was sane, her interview with Paul, and his sudden departure, wounded by her speech, — all these events following on each other in less than four and twenty hours. From that day she knew that she had changed much, and she realized the strength of her love for Paul ; and on that day, also, had begun her annoyances with Madame Patoff, her constant defense of the son against the accusations of the mother, and her own fears lest she should be playing a double part. She had suffered much by the separation from Paul ; she suffered more whenever her aunt fell into her passionate way of abusing him, and she felt that her faculties were overstrained when she was in the society of her strange relative. But Madame Patoff loved her, and her affection was so evident to Hermione that she found it hard to cut her speeches short with a sharp word, however painful it might be to her to listen to them. Of late she had adopted the practice of treating her as she did on the first night, assuming that her hatred was very nearly an insanity in itself, and managing her almost like a child, threatening to leave her when she said too much, and bringing her to her senses by seeming to withdraw her affection. Indeed, there was something exaggerated in Madame Patoff’s love for the girl, as there appeared to be in everything she really felt. With the other members of the household she behaved with perfect self-possession, but when she was alone with Hermione she laid aside all her assumed calm, and spoke unreasonably about her son, as though it gave her pleasure ; always submitting, however, to the rebuke which Hermione invariably administered on such occasions. But the idea that whenever she was alone with her aunt something of the kind was sure to occur made Hermione nervous, so that she avoided an interview whenever she could.
F. Marion Crawford.