The sun poured brilliantly into my room when I awoke the next morning. I was free from all my customary aches and pains, and a delightful sense of vigour and elasticity pervaded my frame. I rose at once, and, looking at my watch, found to my amazement that it was twelve o’clock in the day! Hastily throwing on my dressing-gown, I rang the bell, and the servant appeared.
“Is it actually mid-day?” I asked her. “Why did you not call me?”
The girl smiled apologetically.
“I did knock at mademoiselle’s door, but she gave me no answer. Madame Denise came up also, and entered the room; but seeing mademoiselle in so sound a sleep, she said it was a pity to disturb mademoiselle.”
Which statement good Madame Denise, toiling upstairs just then with difficulty, she being stout and short of breath, confirmed with many smiling nods of her head.
“Breakfast shall be served at the instant,” she said, rubbing her fat hands together; “but to disturb you when you slept — ah, Heaven! the sleep of an infant — I could not do it! I should have been wicked!”
I thanked her for her care of me; I could have kissed her, she looked so motherly, and kind, and altogether lovable. And I felt so merry and well! She and the servant retired to prepare my coffee, and I proceeded to make my toilette. As I brushed out my hair I heard the sound of a violin. Someone was playing next door. I listened, and recognised a famous Beethoven Concerto. The unseen musician played brilliantly and withal tenderly, both touch and tone reminding me of some beautiful verses in a book of poems I had recently read, called “Love-Letters of a Violinist,” in which the poet* talks of his “loved Amati,” and says:
“I prayed my prayer. I wove into my song
Fervour, and joy, and mystery, and the bleak,
The wan despair that words could never speak.
I prayed as if my spirit did belong
To some old master who was wise and strong,
Because he lov’d and suffered, and was weak.
“I trill’d the notes, and curb’d them to a sigh,
And when they falter’d most, I made them leap
Fierce from my bow, as from a summer sleep
A young she-devil. I was fired thereby
To bolder efforts — and a muffled cry
Came from the strings as if a saint did weep.
“I changed the theme. I dallied with the bow
Just time enough to fit it to a mesh
Of merry tones, and drew it back afresh,
To talk of truth, and constancy, and woe,
And life, and love, and madness, and the glow
Of mine own soul which burns into my flesh.”
[* Author of the equally beautiful idyl, “Gladys the Singer,” included in the new American copyright edition just issued.]
All my love for music welled freshly up in my heart; I, who had felt disinclined to touch the piano for months, now longed to try my strength again upon the familiar and responsive key-board. For a piano has never been a mere piano to me; it is a friend who answers to my thought, and whose notes meet my fingers with caressing readiness and obedience.
Breakfast came, and I took it with great relish. Then, to pass the day, I went out and called on Mrs. Everard’s friends, Mr. and Mrs. Challoner and their daughters. I found them very agreeable, with that easy bonhomie and lack of stiffness that distinguishes the best Americans. Finding out through Mrs. Everard’s letter that I was an “artiste” they at once concluded I must need support and patronage, and with impulsive large-heartedness were beginning to plan as to the best means of organizing a concert for me. I was taken by surprise at this, for I had generally found the exact reverse of this sympathy among English patrons of art, who were never tired of murmuring the usual platitudes about there being “so many musicians,” “music was overdone,” “improvising was not understood or cared for,” etc., etc.
But these agreeable Americans, as soon as they discovered that I had not come for any professional reason to Paris, but only to consult a physician about my health, were actually disappointed.
“Oh, we shall persuade you to give a recital some time!” persisted the handsome smiling mother of the family. “I know lots of people in Paris. We’ll get it up for you!”
I protested, half laughing, that I had no idea of the kind, but they were incorrigibly generous.
“Nonsense!” said Mrs. Challoner, arranging her diamond rings on her pretty white hand with pardonable pride. “Brains don’t go for nothing in OUR country. As soon as you are fixed up in health, we’ll give you a grand soiree in Paris, and we’ll work up all our folks in the place. Don’t tell me you are not as glad of dollars as any one of us.”
“Dollars are very good,” I admitted, “but real appreciation is far better.”
“Well, you shall have both from us,” said Mrs. Challoner. “And now, will you stop to luncheon?”
I accepted this invitation, given as it was with the most friendly affability, and enjoyed myself very much.
“You don’t look ill,” said the eldest Miss Challoner to me, later on. “I don’t see that you want a physician.”
“Oh, I am getting much better now,” I replied; “and I hope soon to be quite well.”
“Who’s your doctor?”
I hesitated. Somehow the name of Heliobas would not come to my lips. Fortunately Mrs. Challoner diverted her daughter’s attention at this moment by the announcement that a dressmaker was waiting to see her; and in the face of such an important visit, no one remembered to ask me again the name of my medical adviser.
I left the Grand Hotel in good time to prepare for my second visit to Heliobas. As I was going there to dinner I made a slightly dressy toilette, if a black silk robe relieved with a cluster of pale pink roses can be called dressy. This time I drove to the Hotel Mars, dismissing the coachman, however, before ascending the steps. The door opened and closed as usual, and the first person I saw in the hall was Heliobas himself, seated in one of the easy-chairs, reading a volume of Plato. He rose and greeted me cordially. Before I could speak a word, he said:
“You need not tell me that you slept well. I see it in your eyes and face. You feel better?”
My gratitude to him was so great that I found it difficult to express my thanks. Tears rushed to my eyes, yet I tried to smile, though I could not speak. He saw my emotion, and continued kindly:
“I am as thankful as you can be for the cure which I see has begun, and will soon be effected. My sister is waiting to see you. Will you come to her room?”
We ascended a flight of stairs thickly carpeted, and bordered on each side by tropical ferns and flowers, placed in exquisitely painted china pots and vases. I heard the distant singing of many birds mingled with the ripple and plash of waters. We reached a landing where the afterglow of the set sun streamed through a high oriel window of richly stained glass. Turning towards the left, Heliobas drew aside the folds of some azure satin hangings, and calling in a low voice “Zara!” motioned me to enter. I stepped into a spacious and lofty apartment where the light seemed to soften and merge into many shades of opaline radiance and delicacy — a room the beauty of which would at any other time have astonished and delighted me, but which now appeared as nothing beside the surpassing loveliness of the woman who occupied it. Never shall I behold again any face or form so divinely beautiful! She was about the medium height of women, but her small finely-shaped head was set upon so slender and proud a throat that she appeared taller than she actually was. Her figure was most exquisitely rounded and proportioned, and she came across the room to give me greeting with a sort of gliding graceful movement, like that of a stately swan floating on calm sunlit water. Her complexion was transparently clear — most purely white, most delicately rosy, Her eyes — large, luminous and dark as night, fringed with long silky black lashes — looked like
“Fairy lakes, where tender thoughts
Swam softly to and fro.”
Her rich black hair was arranged a la Marguerite, and hung down in one long loose thick braid that nearly reached the end of her dress, and she was attired in a robe of deep old gold Indian silk as soft as cashmere, which was gathered in round her waist by an antique belt of curious jewel-work, in which rubies and turquoises seemed to be thickly studded. On her bosom shone a strange gem, the colour and form of which I could not determine. It was never the same for two minutes together. It glowed with many various hues — now bright crimson, now lightning-blue, sometimes deepening into a rich purple or tawny orange. Its lustre was intense, almost dazzling to the eye. Its beautiful wearer gave me welcome with a radiant smile and a few cordial words, and drawing me by the hand to the low couch she had just vacated, made me sit down beside her. Heliobas had disappeared.
“And so,” said Zara — how soft and full of music was her voice! —“so you are one of Casimir’s patients? I cannot help considering that you are fortunate in this, for I know my brother’s power. If he says he will cure you, you may be sure he means it. And you are already better, are you not?”
“Much better,” I said, looking earnestly into the lovely star-like eyes that regarded me with such interest and friendliness. “Indeed, to-day I have felt so well, that I cannot realize ever having been ill.”
“I am very glad,” said Zara, “I know you are a musician, and I think there can be no bitterer fate than for one belonging to your art to be incapacitated from performance of work by some physical obstacle. Poor grand old Beethoven! Can anything be more pitiful to think of than his deafness? Yet how splendidly he bore up against it! And Chopin, too — so delicate in health that he was too often morbid even in his music. Strength is needed to accomplish great things — the double strength of body and soul.”
“Are you, too, a musician?” I inquired.
“No. I love music passionately, and I play a little on the organ in our private chapel; but I follow a different art altogether. I am a mere imitator of noble form — I am a sculptress.”
“You?” I said in some wonder, looking at the very small, beautifully formed white hand that lay passively on the edge of the couch beside me. “You make statues in marble like Michael Angelo?”
“Like Angelo?” murmured Zara; and she lowered her brilliant eyes with a reverential gravity. “No one in these modern days can approach the immortal splendour of that great master. He must have known heroes and talked with gods to be able to hew out of the rocks such perfection of shape and attitude as his ‘David.’ Alas! my strength of brain and hand is mere child’s play compared to what HAS been done in sculpture, and what WILL yet be done; still, I love the work for its own sake, and I am always trying to render a resemblance of —”
Here she broke off abruptly, and a deep blush suffused her cheeks. Then, looking up suddenly, she took my hand impulsively, and pressed it.
“Be my friend,” she said, with a caressing inflection in her rich voice, “I have no friends of my own sex, and I wish to love you. My brother has always had so much distrust of the companionship of women for me. You know his theories; and he has always asserted that the sphere of thought in which I have lived all my life is so widely apart from those in which other women exist — that nothing but unhappiness for me could come out of associating us together. When he told me yesterday that you were coming to see me to-day, I knew he must have discovered something in your nature that was not antipathetic to mine; otherwise he would not have brought you to me. Do you think you can like me? — perhaps LOVE me after a little while?”
It would have been a cold heart indeed that would not have responded to such a speech as this, uttered with the pleading prettiness of a loving child. Besides, I had warmed to her from the first moment I had touched her hand; and I was overjoyed to think that she was willing to elect me as a friend. I therefore replied to her words by putting my arm affectionately round her waist and kissing her. My beautiful, tender Zara! How innocently happy she seemed to be thus embraced! and how gently her fragrant lips met mine in that sisterly caress! She leaned her dark head for a moment on my shoulder, and the mysterious jewel on her breast flashed into a weird red hue like the light of a stormy sunset.
“And now we have drawn up, signed, and sealed our compact of friendship,” she said gaily, “will you come and see my studio? There is nothing in it that deserves to last, I think; still, one has patience with a child when he builds his brick houses, and you must have equal patience with me. Come!”
And she led the way through her lovely room, which I now noticed was full of delicate statuary, fine paintings, and exquisite embroidery, while flowers were everywhere in abundance. Lifting the hangings at the farther end of the apartment, she passed, I following, into a lofty studio, filled with all the appurtenances of the sculptor’s art. Here and there were the usual spectral effects which are always suggested to the mind by unfinished plaster models — an arm in one place, a head in another; a torso, or a single hand, protruding ghost-like from a fold of dark drapery. At the very end of the room stood a large erect figure, the outlines of which could but dimly be seen through its linen coverings; and to this work, whatever it was, Zara did not appear desirous of attracting my attention. She led me to one particular corner; and, throwing aside a small crimson velvet curtain, said:
“This is the last thing I have finished in marble. I call it ‘Approaching Evening.’”
I stood silently before the statue, lost in admiration. I could not conceive it possible that the fragile little hand of the woman who stood beside me could have executed such a perfect work. She had depicted “Evening” as a beautiful nude female figure in the act of stepping forward on tip-toe; the eyes were half closed, and the sweet mouth slightly parted in a dreamily serious smile. The right forefinger was laid lightly on the lips, as though suggesting silence; and in the left hand was loosely clasped a bunch of poppies. That was all. But the poetry and force of the whole conception as carried out in the statue was marvellous.
“Do you like it?” asked Zara, half timidly.
“Like it!” I exclaimed. “It is lovely — wonderful! It is worthy to rank with the finest Italian masterpieces.”
“Oh, no!” remonstrated Zara; “no, indeed! When the great Italian sculptors lived and worked — ah! one may say with the Scriptures, ‘There were giants in those days.’ Giants — veritable ones; and we modernists are the pigmies. We can only see Art now through the eyes of others who came before us. We cannot create anything new. We look at painting through Raphael; sculpture through Angelo; poetry through Shakespeare; philosophy through Plato. It is all done for us; we are copyists. The world is getting old — how glorious to have lived when it was young! But nowadays the very children are blase.”
“And you — are not you blase to talk like that, with your genius and all the world before you?” I asked laughingly, slipping my arm through hers. “Come, confess!”
Zara looked at me gravely.
“I sincerely hope the world is NOT all before me,” she said; “I should be very sorry if I thought so. To have the world all before you in the general acceptation of that term means to live long, to barter whatever genius you have for gold, to hear the fulsome and unmeaning flatteries of the ignorant, who are as ready with condemnation as praise — to be envied and maligned by those less lucky than you are. Heaven defend me from such a fate!”
She spoke with earnestness and solemnity; then, dropping the curtain before her statue, turned away. I was admiring the vine-wreathed head of a young Bacchante that stood on a pedestal near me, and was about to ask Zara what subject she had chosen for the large veiled figure at the farthest end of her studio, when we were interrupted by the entrance of the little Greek page whom I had seen on my first visit to the house. He saluted us both, and addressing himself to Zara, said:
“Monsieur le Comte desires me to tell you, madame, that Prince Ivan will be present at dinner.”
Zara looked somewhat vexed; but the shade of annoyance flitted away from her fair face like a passing shadow, as she replied quietly:
“Tell Monsieur le Comte, my brother, that I shall be happy to receive Prince Ivan.”
The page bowed deferentially and departed. Zara turned round, and I saw the jewel on her breast flashing with a steely glitter like the blade of a sharp sword.
“I do not like Prince Ivan myself,” she said; “but he is a singularly brave and resolute man, and Casimir has some reason for admitting him to our companionship. Though I greatly doubt if —” Here a flood of music broke upon our ears like the sound of a distant orchestra. Zara looked at me and smiled. “Dinner is ready!” she announced; “but you must not imagine that we keep a band to play us to our table in triumph. It is simply a musical instrument worked by electricity that imitates the orchestra; both Casimir and I prefer it to a gong!”
And slipping her arm affectionately through mine, she drew me from the studio into the passage, and together we went down the staircase into a large dining-room, rich with oil-paintings and carved oak, where Heliobas awaited us. Close by him stood another gentleman, who was introduced to me as Prince Ivan Petroffsky. He was a fine-looking, handsome-featured young man, of about thirty, tall and broad-shouldered, though beside the commanding stature of Heliobas, his figure did not show to so much advantage as it might have done beside a less imposing contrast. He bowed to me with easy and courteous grace; but his deeply reverential salute to Zara had something in it of that humility which a slave might render to a queen. She bent her head slightly in answer, and still holding me by the hand, moved to her seat at the bottom of the table, while her brother took the head. My seat was at the right hand of Heliobas, Prince Ivan’s at the left, so that we directly faced each other.
There were two men-servants in attendance, dressed in dark livery, who waited upon us with noiseless alacrity. The dinner was exceedingly choice; there was nothing coarse or vulgar in the dishes — no great heavy joints swimming in thin gravy a la Anglaise; no tureens of unpalatable sauce; no clumsy decanters filled with burning sherry or drowsy port. The table itself was laid out in the most perfect taste, with the finest Venetian glass and old Dresden ware, in which tempting fruits gleamed amid clusters of glossy dark leaves. Flowers in tall vases bloomed wherever they could be placed effectively; and in the centre of the board a small fountain played, tinkling as it rose and fell like a very faintly echoing fairy chime. The wines that were served to us were most delicious, though their flavour was quite unknown to me — one in especial, of a pale pink colour, that sparkled slightly as it was poured into my glass, seemed to me a kind of nectar of the gods, so soft it was to the palate. The conversation, at first somewhat desultory, grew more concentrated as the time went on, though Zara spoke little and seemed absorbed in her own thoughts more than once. The Prince, warmed with the wine and the general good cheer, became witty and amusing in his conversation; he was a man who had evidently seen a good deal of the world, and who was accustomed to take everything in life a la bagatelle. He told us gay stories of his life in St. Petersburg; of the pranks he had played in the Florentine Carnival; of his journey to the American States, and his narrow escape from the matrimonial clutches of a Boston heiress.
Heliobas listened to him with a sort of indulgent kindness, only smiling now and then at the preposterous puns the young man would insist on making at every opportunity that presented itself.
“You are a lucky fellow, Ivan,” he said at last. “You like the good things of life, and you have got them all without any trouble on your own part. You are one of those men who have absolutely nothing to wish for.”
Prince Ivan frowned and pulled his dark moustache with no very satisfied air.
“I am not so sure about that,” he returned. “No one is contented in this world, I believe. There is always something left to desire, and the last thing longed for always seems the most necessary to happiness.”
“The truest philosophy,” said Heliobas, “is not to long for anything in particular, but to accept everything as it comes, and find out the reason of its coming.”
“What do you mean by ‘the reason of its coming’?” questioned Prince Ivan. “Do you know, Casimir, I find you sometimes as puzzling as Socrates.”
“Socrates? — Socrates was as clear as a drop of morning dew, my dear fellow,” replied Heliobas. “There was nothing puzzling about him. His remarks were all true and trenchant — hitting smartly home to the heart like daggers plunged down to the hilt. That was the worst of him — he was too clear — too honest — too disdainful of opinions. Society does not love such men. What do I mean, you ask, by accepting everything as it comes, and trying to find out the reason of its coming? Why, I mean what I say. Each circumstance that happens to each one of us brings its own special lesson and meaning — forms a link or part of a link in the chain of our existence. It seems nothing to you that you walk down a particular street at a particular hour, and yet that slight action of yours may lead to a result you wot not of. ‘Accept the hint of each new experience,’ says the American imitator of Plato — Emerson. If this advice is faithfully followed, we all have enough to occupy us busily from the cradle to the grave.”
Prince Ivan looked at Zara, who sat quietly thoughtful, only lifting her bright eyes now and then to glance at her brother as he spoke.
“I tell you,” he said, with sudden moroseness, “there are some hints that we cannot accept — some circumstances that we must not yield to. Why should a man, for instance, be subjected to an undeserved and bitter disappointment?”
“Because,” said Zara, joining in the conversation for the first time, “he has most likely desired what he is not fated to obtain.”
The Prince bit his lips, and gave a forced laugh.
“I know, madame, you are against me in all our arguments,” he observed, with some bitterness in his tone. “As Casimir suggests, I am a bad philosopher. I do not pretend to more than the ordinary attributes of an ordinary man; it is fortunate, if I may be permitted to say so, that the rest of the word’s inhabitants are very like me, for if everyone reached to the sublime heights of science and knowledge that you and your brother have attained —-”
“The course of human destiny would run out, and Paradise would be an established fact,” laughed Heliobas. “Come, Ivan! You are a true Epicurean. Have some more wine, and a truce to discussions for the present.” And, beckoning to one of the servants, he ordered the Prince’s glass to be refilled.
Dessert was now served, and luscious fruits in profusion, including peaches, bananas, plantains, green figs, melons, pine-apples, and magnificent grapes, were offered for our choice. As I made a selection for my own plate, I became aware of something soft rubbing itself gently against my dress; and looking down, I saw the noble head and dark intelligent eyes of my old acquaintance Leo, whom I had last met at Cannes. I gave an exclamation of pleasure, and the dog, encouraged, stood up and laid a caressing paw on my arm.
“You know Leo, of course,” said Heliobas, turning to me. “He went to see Raffaello while you were at Cannes. He is a wonderful animal — more valuable to me than his weight in gold.”
Prince Ivan, whose transient moodiness had passed away like a bad devil exorcised by the power of good wine, joined heartily in the praise bestowed on this four-footed friend of the family.
“It was really through Leo,” he said, “that you were induced to follow out your experiments in human electricity, Casimir, was it not?”
“Yes,” replied Heliobas, calling the dog, who went to him immediately to be fondled. “I should never have been much encouraged in my researches, had he not been at hand. I feared to experimentalize much on my sister, she being young at the time — and women are always frail of construction — but Leo was willing and ready to be a victim to science, if necessary. Instead of a martyr he is a living triumph — are you not, old boy?” he continued, stroking the silky coat of the animal, who responded with a short low bark of satisfaction.
My curiosity was much excited by these remarks, and I said eagerly:
“Will you tell me in what way Leo has been useful to you? I have a great affection for dogs, and I never tire of hearing stories of their wonderful intelligence.”
“I will certainly tell you,” replied Heliobas. “To some people the story might appear improbable, but it is perfectly true and at the same time simple of comprehension. When I was a very young man, younger than Prince Ivan, I absorbed myself in the study of electricity — its wonderful powers, and its various capabilities. From the consideration of electricity in the different forms by which it is known to civilized Europe, I began to look back through history, to what are ignorantly called ‘the dark ages,’ but which might more justly be termed the enlightened youth of the world. I found that the force of electricity was well understood by the ancients — better understood by them, in fact, than it is by the scientists of our day. The ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN’ that glittered in unearthly characters on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast, was written by electricity; and the Chaldean kings and priests understood a great many secrets of another form of electric force which the world to-day scoffs at and almost ignores — I mean human electricity, which we all possess, but which we do not all cultivate within us. When once I realized the existence of the fact of human electric force, I applied the discovery to myself, and spared no pains to foster and educate whatever germ of this power lay within me. I succeeded with more ease and celerity than I had imagined possible. At the time I pursued these studies, Leo here was quite a young dog, full of the clumsy playfulness and untrained ignorance of a Newfoundland puppy. One day I was very busy reading an interesting Sanskrit scroll which treated of ancient medicines and remedies, and Leo was gambolling in his awkward way about the room, playing with an old slipper and worrying it with his teeth. The noise he made irritated and disturbed me, and I rose in my chair and called him by name, somewhat angrily. He paused in his game and looked up — his eyes met mine exactly. His head drooped; he shivered uneasily, whined, and lay down motionless. He never stirred once from the position he had taken, till I gave him permission — and remember, he was untrained. This strange behaviour led me to try other experiments with him, and all succeeded. I gradually led him up to the point I desired — that is, I FORCED HIM TO RECEIVE MY THOUGHT AND ACT UPON IT, as far as his canine capabilities could do, and he has never once failed. It is sufficient for me to strongly WILL him to do a certain thing, and I can convey that command of mine to his brain without uttering a single word, and he will obey me.”
I suppose I showed surprise and incredulity in my face, for Heliobas smiled at me and continued:
“I will put him to the proof at any time you like. If you wish him to fetch anything that he is physically able to carry, and will write the name of whatever it is on a slip of paper, just for me to know what you require, I guarantee Leo’s obedience.”
I looked at Zara, and she laughed.
“It seems like magic to you, does it not?” she said; “but I assure you it is quite true.”
“I am bound to admit,” said Prince Ivan, “that I once doubted both Leo and his master, but I am quite converted. Here, mademoiselle,” he continued, handing me a leaf from his pocket-book and a pencil —“write down something that you want; only don’t send the dog to Italy on an errand just now, as we want him back before we adjourn to the drawing-room.”
I remembered that I had left an embroidered handkerchief on the couch in Zara’s room, and I wrote this down on the paper, which I passed to Heliobas. He glanced at it and tore it up. Leo was indulging himself with a bone under the table, but came instantly to his master’s call. Heliobas took the dog’s head between his two hands, and gazed steadily into the grave brown eyes that regarded him with equal steadiness. This interchange of looks lasted but a few seconds. Leo left the room, walking with an unruffled and dignified pace, while we awaited his return — Heliobas and Zara with indifference, Prince Ivan with amusement, and I with interest and expectancy. Two or three minutes elapsed, and the dog returned with the same majestic demeanour, carrying between his teeth my handkerchief. He came straight to me and placed it in my hand; shook himself, wagged his tail, and conveying a perfectly human expression of satisfaction into his face, went under the table again to his bone. I was utterly amazed, but at the same time convinced. I had not seen the dog since my arrival in Paris, and it was impossible for him to have known where to find my handkerchief, or to recognize it as being mine, unless through the means Heliobas had explained.
“Can you command human beings so?” I asked, with a slight tremor of nervousness.
“Not all,” returned Heliobas quietly. “In fact, I may say, very few. Those who are on my own circle of power I can, naturally, draw to or repel from me; but those who are not, have to be treated by different means. Sometimes cases occur in which persons, at first NOT on my circle, are irresistibly attracted to it by a force not mine. Sometimes, in order to perform a cure, I establish a communication between myself and a totally alien sphere of thought; and to do this is a long and laborious effort. But it can be done.”
“Then, if it can be done,” said Prince Ivan, “why do you not accomplish it for me?”
“Because you are being forcibly drawn towards me without any effort on my part,” replied Heliobas, with one of his steady, keen looks. “For what motive I cannot at present determine; but I shall know as soon as you touch the extreme edge of my circle. You are a long way off it yet, but you are coming in spite of yourself, Ivan.”
The Prince fidgeted restlessly in his chair, and toyed with the fruit on his plate in a nervous manner.
“If I did not know you to be an absolutely truthful and honourable man, Casimir,” he said, “I should think you were trying to deceive me. But I have seen what you can do, therefore I must believe you. Still I confess I do not follow you in your circle theory.”
“To begin with,” returned Heliobas, “the Universe is a circle. Everything is circular, from the motion of planets down to the human eye, or the cup of a flower, or a drop of dew. MY ‘circle theory,’ as you call it, applied to human electric force, is very simple; but I have proved it to be mathematically correct. Every human being is provided INTERNALLY and EXTERNALLY with a certain amount of electricity, which is as necessary to existence as the life-blood to the heart or fresh air to the lungs. Internally it is the germ of a soul or spirit, and is placed there to be either cultivated or neglected as suits the WILL of man. It is indestructible; yet, if neglected, it remains always a germ; and, at the death of the body it inhabits, goes elsewhere to seek another chance of development. If, on the contrary, its growth is fostered by a persevering, resolute WILL, it becomes a spiritual creature, glorious and supremely powerful, for which a new, brilliant, and endless existence commences when its clay chrysalis perishes. So much for the INTERNAL electrical force. The EXTERNAL binds us all by fixed laws, with which our wills have nothing whatever to do. (Each one of us walks the earth encompassed by an invisible electric ring — wide or narrow according to our capabilities. Sometimes our rings meet and form one, as in the case of two absolutely sympathetic souls, who labour and love together with perfect faith in each other. Sometimes they clash, and storm ensues, as when a strong antipathy between persons causes them almost to loathe each other’s presence.) All these human electric rings are capable of attraction and repulsion. If a man, during his courtship of a woman, experiences once or twice a sudden instinctive feeling that there is something in her nature not altogether what he expected or desired, let him take warning and break off the attachment; for the electric circles do not combine, and nothing but unhappiness would come from forcing a union. I would say the same thing to a woman. If my advice were followed, how many unhappy marriages would be avoided! But you have tempted me to talk too much, Ivan. I see the ladies wish to adjourn. Shall we go to the smoking-room for a little, and join them in the drawing-room afterwards?”
We all rose.
“Well,” said the Prince gaily, as he prepared to follow his host, “I realize one thing which gives me pleasure, Casimir. If in truth I am being attracted towards your electric circle, I hope I shall reach it soon, as I shall then, I suppose, be more en rapport with madame, your sister.”
Zara’s luminous eyes surveyed him with a sort of queenly pity and forbearance.
“By the time YOU arrive at that goal, Prince,” she said calmly, “it is most probable that I shall have departed.”
And with one arm thrown round my waist, she saluted him gravely, and left the room with me beside her.
“Would you like to see the chapel on your way to the drawing-room?” she asked, as we crossed the hall.
I gladly accepted this proposition, and Zara took me down a flight of marble steps, which terminated in a handsomely-carved oaken door. Pushing this softly open, she made the sign of the cross and sank on her knees. I did the same, and then looked with reverential wonder at the loveliness and serenity of the place. It was small, but lofty, and the painted dome-shaped roof was supported by eight light marble columns, wreathed with minutely-carved garlands of vine-leaves. The chapel was fitted up in accordance with the rites of the Catholic religion, and before the High Altar and Tabernacle burned seven roseate lamps, which were suspended from the roof by slender gilt chains. A large crucifix, bearing a most sorrowful and pathetic figure of Christ, was hung on one of the side walls; and from a corner altar, shining with soft blue and silver, an exquisite statue of the Madonna and Child was dimly seen from where we knelt. A few minutes passed, and Zara rose. Looking towards the Tabernacle, her lips moved as though murmuring a prayer, and then, taking me by the hand, she led me gently out. The heavy oaken door swung softly behind us as we ascended the chapel steps and re-entered the great hall.
“You are a Catholic, are you not?” then said Zara to me.
“Yes,” I answered; “but —”
“But you have doubts sometimes, you would say! Of course. One always doubts when one sees the dissensions, the hypocrisies, the false pretences and wickedness of many professing Christians. But Christ and His religion are living facts, in spite of the suicide of souls He would gladly save. You must ask Casimir some day about these things; he will clear up all the knotty points for you. Here we are at the drawing-room door.”
It was the same room into which I had first been shown. Zara seated herself, and made me occupy a low chair beside her.
“Tell me,” she said, “can you not come here and stay with me while you are under Casimir’s treatment?”
I thought of Madame Denise and her Pension.
“I wish I could,” I said; “but I fear my friends would want to know where I am staying, and explanations would have to be given, which I do not feel disposed to enter upon.”
“Why,” went on Zara quietly, “you have only to say that you are being attended by a Dr. Casimir who wishes to have you under his own supervision, and that you are therefore staying in his house under the chaperonage of his sister.”
I laughed at the idea of Zara playing the chaperon, and told her she was far too young and beautiful to enact that character.
“Do you know how old I am?” she asked, with a slight smile.
I guessed seventeen, or at any rate not more than twenty.
“I am thirty-eight,” said Zara.
Thirty-eight! Impossible! I would not believe it. I could not. I laughed scornfully at such an absurdity, looking at her as she sat there a perfect model of youthful grace and loveliness, with her lustrous eyes and rose-tinted complexion.
“You may doubt me if you choose,” she said, still smiling; “but I have told you the truth. I am thirty-eight years of age according to the world’s counting. What I am, measured by another standard of time, matters not just now. You see I look young, and, what is more, I am young. I enjoy my youth. I hear that women of society at thirty-eight are often faded and blase — what a pity it is that they do not understand the first laws of self-preservation! But to resume what I was saying, you know now that I am quite old enough in the eyes of the world to chaperon you or anybody. You had better arrange to stay here. Casimir asked me to settle the matter with, you.”
As she spoke, Heliobas and Prince Ivan entered. The latter looked flushed and excited — Heliobas was calm and stately as usual. He addressed himself to me at once.
“I have ordered my carriage, mademoiselle, to take you back this evening to the Avenue du Midi. If you will do as Zara tells you, and explain to your friends the necessity there is for your being under the personal supervision of your doctor, you will find everything will arrange itself very naturally. And the sooner you come here the better — in fact, Zara will expect you here to-morrow early in the afternoon. I may rely upon you?”
He spoke with a certain air of command, evidently expecting no resistance on my part. Indeed, why should I resist? Already I loved Zara, and wished to be more in her company; and then, most probably, my complete restoration to health would be more successfully and quickly accomplished if I were actually in the house of the man who had promised to cure me. Therefore I replied:
“I will do as you wish, monsieur. Having placed myself in your hands, I must obey. In this particular case,” I added, looking at Zara, “obedience is very agreeable to me.”
Heliobas smiled and seemed satisfied. He then took a small goblet from a side-table and left the room. Returning, however, almost immediately with the cup filled to the brim, he said, handing it to me:
“Drink this — it is your dose for to-night; and then you will go home, and straight to bed.”
I drank it off at once. It was delicious in flavour — like very fine Chianti.
“Have you no soothing draught for me?” said Prince Ivan, who had been turning over a volume of photographs in a sullenly abstracted sort of way.
“No,” replied Heliobas, with a keen glance at him; “the draught fitted for your present condition might soothe you too thoroughly.”
The Prince looked at Zara, but she was mute. She had taken a piece of silk embroidery from a workbasket near her, and was busily employed with it. Heliobas advanced and laid his hand on the young man’s arm.
“Sing to us, Ivan,” he said, in a kind tone. “Sing us one of your wild Russian airs — Zara loves them, and this young lady would like to hear your voice before she goes.”
The Prince hesitated, and then, with another glance at Zara’s bent head, went to the piano. He had a brilliant touch, and accompanied himself with great taste and delicacy; but his voice was truly magnificent — a baritone of deep and mellow quality, sonorous, and at the same time tender. He sang a French rendering of a Slavonic love-song, which, as nearly as I can translate it into English, ran as follows:
“As the billows fling shells on the shore,
As the sun poureth light on the sea,
As a lark on the wing scatters song to the spring,
So rushes my love to thee.
“As the ivy clings close to the tower,
As the dew lieth deep in a flower,
As the shadow to light, as the day unto night,
So clings my wild soul to thee!
“As the moon glitters coldly alone,
Above earth on her cloud-woven throne,
As the rocky-bound cave repulses a wave,
So thy anger repulseth me.
“As the bitter black frost of a night
Slays the roses with pitiless might,
As a sharp dagger-thrust hurls a king to the dust,
So thy cruelty murdereth me.
“Yet in spite of thy queenly disdain,
Thou art seared by my passion and pain;
Thou shalt hear me repeat, till I die for it, sweet!
‘I love thee! I dare to love THEE!’”
He ended abruptly and with passion, and rose from the piano directly.
I was enthusiastic in my admiration of the song and of the splendid voice which had given it utterance, and the Prince seemed almost grateful for the praise accorded him both by Heliobas and myself.
The page entered to announce that “the carriage was waiting for mademoiselle,” and I prepared to leave. Zara kissed me affectionately, and whispering, “Come early to-morrow,” made a graceful salute to Prince Ivan, and left the room immediately.
Heliobas then offered me his arm to take me to the carriage. Prince Ivan accompanied us. As the hall door opened in its usual noiseless manner, I perceived an elegant light brougham drawn by a pair of black horses, who were giving the coachman a great deal of trouble by the fretting and spirited manner in which they pawed the stones and pranced. Before descending the steps I shook hands with Heliobas, and thanked him for the pleasant evening I had passed.
“We will try to make all your time with us pass as pleasantly,” he returned. “Good-night! What, Ivan,” as he perceived the Prince attiring himself in his great-coat and hat, “are you also going?”
“Yes, I am off,” he replied, with a kind of forced gaiety; “I am bad company for anyone to-night, and I won’t inflict myself upon you, Casimir. Au revoir! I will put mademoiselle into the carriage if she will permit me.”
We went down the steps together, Heliobas watching us from the open door. As the Prince assisted me into the brougham, he whispered:
“Are you one of them!”
I looked at him in bewilderment.
“One of them!” I repeated. “What do you mean?”
“Never mind,” he muttered impatiently, as he made a pretence of covering me with the fur rugs inside the carriage: “if you are not now, you will be, or Zara would not have kissed you. If you ever have the chance ask her to think of me at my best. Good-night.”
I was touched and a little sorry for him. I held out my hand in silence. He pressed it hard, and calling to the coachman, “36, Avenue du Midi,” stood on the pavement bareheaded, looking singularly pale and grave in the starlight, as the carriage rolled swiftly away, and the door of the Hotel Mars closed.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49