What Dreams May Come by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part I. The Melody.
The Hon. Harold Dartmouth was bored. He had been in Paris three months and it was his third winter. He was young. He possessed a liberal allowance of good looks, money, and family prestige. Combining these three conditions, he had managed to pretty thoroughly exhaust the pleasures of the capital. At all events he believed he had exhausted them, and he wanted a new sensation. He had "done" his London until it was more flavorless than Paris, and he had dawdled more or less in the various Courts of Europe. While in St. Petersburg he had inserted a too curious finger into the Terrorist pie, and had come very near making a prolonged acquaintance with the House of Preventative Detention; but after being whisked safely out of the country under cover of a friend's passport, he had announced himself cured of further interest in revolutionary politics. The affair had made him quite famous for a time, however; Krapotkin had sought him out and warmly thanked him for his interest in the Russian Geysers, and begged him to induce his father to abjure his peace policy and lend his hand to the laudable breaking of Czarism's back. But Lord Cardingham, who was not altogether ruled by his younger son, had declined to expend his seductions upon Mr. Gladstone in the cause of a possible laying of too heavy a rod upon England's back, and had recommended his erratic son to let the barbarism of absolutism alone in the future, and try his genius upon that of democracy. Dartmouth, accordingly, had spent a winter in Washington as Secretary of Legation, and had entertained himself by doling out such allowance of diplomatic love to the fair American dames as had won him much biographical honor in the press of the great republic. Upon his father's private admonition, that it would be as well to generously resign his position in favor of some more needy applicant, with a less complex heart-line and a slight acquaintance with international law, he had, after a summer at Newport, returned to Europe and again devoted himself to winning a fame not altogether political. And now there was nothing left, and he felt that fate had used him scurrilously. He was twenty-eight, and had exhausted life. He had nothing left but to yawn through weary years and wish he had never been born.
He clasped his hands behind his head and looked out on the brilliant crowd from his chair in the Cafe de la Cascade in the Bois. He was handsome, this blase young Englishman, with a shapely head, poised strongly upon a muscular throat. Neither beard nor moustache hid the strong lines of the face. A high type, in spite of his career, his face was a good deal more suggestive of passion than of sensuality. He was tall, slight, and sinewy, and carried himself with the indolent hauteur of a man of many grandfathers. And indeed, unless, perhaps, that this plaything, the world, was too small, he had little to complain of. Although a younger son, he had a large fortune in his own right, left him by an adoring grandmother who had died shortly before he had come of age, and with whom he had lived from infancy as adopted son and heir. This grandmother was the one woman who had ever shone upon his horizon whose disappearance he regretted; and he was wont to remark that he never again expected to find anything beneath a coiffure at once so brilliant, so fascinating, so clever, so altogether "filling" as his lamented relative. If he ever did he would marry and settle down as a highly respectable member of society, and become an M.P. and the owner of a winner of the Derby; but until then he would sigh away his tired life at the feet of beauty, Bacchus, or chance.
"What is the matter, Hal?" asked Bective Hollington, coming up behind him. "Yawning so early in the day?"
"Bored," replied Dartmouth, briefly. "Don't expect me to talk to you. I haven't an idea left."
"My dear Harold, do not flatter yourself that I came to you in search of ideas. I venture to break upon your sulky meditations in the cause of friendship alone. If you will rouse yourself and walk to the window you may enrich your sterile mind with an idea, possibly with ideas. Miss Penrhyn will pass in a moment."
"No, not the devil; Miss Penrhyn."
"And who the devil is Miss Penrhyn?"
"The new English, or rather, Welsh beauty, Weir Penrhyn," replied Hollington. "She came out last season in London, and the Queen pronounced her the most beautiful girl who had been presented at Court for twenty years. Such a relief from the blue-eyed and 'golden-bronze' professional! She will pass in a moment. Do rouse yourself."
Dartmouth got up languidly and walked to the window. After all, a new face and a pretty one was something; one degree, perhaps, better than nothing. "Which is she?" he asked. "The one in the next carriage, with Lady Langdon, talking to Bolton."
The carriage passed them, and Harold's eyes met for a moment those of a girl who was lying back chatting idly with a man who rode on horseback beside her. She was a beautiful creature, truly, with a rich, dark skin, and eyes like a tropical animal's. A youthful face, striking and unconventional.
"Well?" queried Hollington.
"Yes, a very handsome girl," said Dartmouth. "I have seen her before, somewhere."
"What! you have seen that woman before and not remembered her? Impossible! And then you have not been in England for a year."
"I am sure I have seen her before," said Dartmouth. "Where could it have been?"
"Her father is a Welsh baronet, and your estates are in the North, so you could hardly have known her as a child. She was educated in the utmost seclusion at home; no one ever saw her or heard of her until the fag end of the last London season, and she only arrived in Paris two days ago, and made her first appearance in public last night at the opera, where you were not. So where could you have seen her?"
"I cannot imagine," said Dartmouth, meditatively. "But her face is dimly familiar, and it is a most unusual one. Tell me something about her;" and he resumed his seat.
"She is the daughter of Sir Iltyd-ap-Penrhyn," said Hollington, craning his neck to catch a last glimpse of the disappearing beauty. "Awfully poor, but dates back to before Chaos. Looks down with scorn upon Sir Watkin Wynn, who hangs up the flood on the middle branch of his family tree. They live in a dilapitated old castle on the coast, and there Sir Iltyd brought up this tropical bird--she is an only child--and educated her himself. Her mother died when she was very young, and her father, with the proverbial constancy of mankind, has never been known to smile since. Lively for the tropical bird, was it not? Lady Langdon, who was in Wales last year, and who was an old friend of the girl's mother, called on her and saw the professional possibilities, so to speak. She gave the old gentleman no peace until he told her she could take the girl to London, which she did forthwith, before he had time to change his mind. She has made a rousing sensation, but she is a downright beauty and no mistake. Lady Langdon evidently intends to hold on to her, for I see she has her still."
"I could not have known her, of course; I have never put my foot in Wales. But I suppose I shall meet her now. Is she to be at the Russian Legation to-night?"
"Yes; I have it from the best authority--herself. You had better go. She is worth knowing, I can tell you."
"Well, I'll think of it," said Dartmouth. "I must be off now; I have no end of letters to write. I'll rely upon you to do the honors if I go!" and he took up his hat and sauntered out.
He went directly to his apartments on the Avenue Champs Elysees, and wrote a few epistles to his impatient and much-enduring relatives in Britain; then, lighting a cigar, he flung himself upon the sofa. The room accorded with the man. Art and negligence were hand-in-hand. The hangings were of dusky-gold plush, embroidered with designs which breathed the fervent spirit of Decorative Art, and the floor was covered with the oldest and oddest of Persian rugs. There were cabinets of antique medallions, cameos, and enamels; low brass book-cases, filled with volumes bound in Russian leather, whose pungent odor filled the room; a varied collection of pipes; a case of valuable ceramics, one of the collection having a pedigree which no uncelestial mind had ever pretended to grasp, and which had been presented to Lord Cardingham, while minister to China, by the Emperor. That his younger son had unblushingly pilfered it he had but recently discovered, but demands for its return had as yet availed not. There were a few valuable paintings, a case of rare old plates, many with the coats of arms of sovereigns upon them, strangely carved chairs, each with a history, all crowded together and making a charming nest for the listless, somewhat morbid, and disgusted young man stretched out upon a couch, covered with a rug of ostrich feathers brought from the Straits of Magellan. Over the onyx mantel was a portrait of his grandmother, a handsome old lady with high-piled, snow-white hair, and eyes whose brilliancy age had not dimmed. The lines about the mouth were hard, but the face was full of intelligence, and the man at her feet had never seen anything of the hardness of her nature. She had blindly idolized him.
"I wish she were here now," thought Dartmouth regretfully, as he contemplated the picture through the rings of smoke; "I could talk over things with her, and she could hit off people with that tongue of hers. Gods! how it could cut! Poor old lady! I wonder if I shall ever find her equal." After which, he fell asleep and forgot his sorrows until his valet awakened him and told him it was time to dress for dinner.