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The dinner-party went off with great éclat. Had not all the guests read
in the New York Herald that morning of Captain Fitzgerald's
good-fortune? He with his usual savoir-vivre had arranged matters to
perfection. The company was chosen from among the nicest of his and Mrs.
The invitations had been couched in this form: "I want you to meet my
daughter, Mrs. Josiah Brown, my dear lady," or "dear fellow," as the
case might be. "She is having a little dinner at Madrid on Monday night,
and so hopes you will let me persuade you to come."
And the French Count, and Mr. Clutterbuck R. Tubbs and his daughter,
Theodora had asked herself. Also the Austrian Prince. The party
consisted of about twenty people--and the menu and the Tziganes were as
perfect as they could be, while the night might have been a night of
July--it happened to be that year when Paris was blessed with a
gloriously warm May.
Lord Bracondale was late: had not the post come in just as he was
starting, and brought him a letter, whose writing, although he had never
seen it before, filled him with thrills of joy.
Theodora had found time during the day to read and reread his epistle,
and to kiss it more than once with a guilty blush.
And she had written this answer: "I have received your letter, and it says many things to me--and,
Hector, it will comfort me always, this dear letter, and to know
you love me.
"I have led a very ordinary life, you see, and the great blast of
love has never come my way, or to any one whom I knew. I did not
realize, quite, it was a real thing out of books--but now I know it
is; and oh, I can believe, if circumstances were different, it
could be heaven. But this cannot alter the fact that for me to
think of you much would be very wrong now. I do love you--I do not
deny it--though I am going to try my utmost to put the thought away
from me and to live my life as best I can. I do not regret anything
either, dear, because, but for you, I would never have known what
life's meaning is at all--I should have stayed asleep always; and
you have opened my eyes and taught me to see new beauties in all
nature. And oh, we must not grieve, we must thank fate for giving
us this one peep into paradise--and we must try and find the angel
to steer our barks for us beyond the rocks. Listen--I want you to
do something for me to-night. I want you not to look at me much, or
tempt me with your dear voice. It will be terribly hard in any
case, but if you will be kind you will help me to get through with
it, and then, and then--I hardly dare to look ahead--but I leave it
all in your hands. I would like to meet your mother and sister--but
when, and where? I feel inclined to say, not yet, only I know that
is just cowardice, and a shrinking from possible pain in seeing
you. So I leave it to you to do what is best, and I trust to your
honor and your love not to tempt me beyond bearing-point--and
remember, I am trying, trying hard, to do what is right--and trying
not to love you.
"And so, good-bye. I must never say this again--or even think it
unsaid; but to-night, oh! Yes, Hector, know that I love you!
And all the way to Madrid, as he flew along in his automobile, his heart
rejoiced at this one sentence--"Yes, Hector, know that I love you!"
The rest of the world did not seem to matter very much. How fortunate it
is that so often Providence lets us live on the pleasure of the moment!
He sat on her left hand--the Austrian Prince was on her right--and
studiously all through the repast he tried to follow her wishes and the
law he had laid down for himself as the pattern of his future conduct.
He was gravely polite, he never turned the conversation away from the
general company, including her neighbors in it all the time, and only
when he was certain she was not noticing did he feast his eyes upon her
She was looking supremely beautiful. If possible, whiter than usual, and
there was a shadow in her eyes as of mystery, which had not been there
before--and while their pathos wrung his heart, he could not help
perceiving their added beauty. And he had planted this change there--he,
and he alone. He admired her perfect taste in dress--she was all in pure
white, muslin and laces, and he knew it was of the best, and the
creation of the greatest artist.
She looked just what his wife ought to look, infinitely refined and
slender and stately and fair.
Morella Winmarleigh would seem as a large dun cow beside her.
Then suddenly they both remembered it was only a week this night since
they had met. Only seven days in which fate had altered all their lives.
The Austrian Prince wondered to himself what had happened. He had not
been blind to the situation at Armenonville, and here they seemed like
polite hostess and guest, nothing more.
"They are English, and they are very well bred, and they are very good
actors," he thought. "But, mon Dieu! were I ce beau jeune homme!"
And so it had come to an end--the feast and the Tziganes playing, and
Theodora will always be haunted by that last wild Hungarian tune. Music,
which moved every fibre of her being at all times, to-night was a
torture of pain and longing. And he was so near, so near and yet so far,
and it seemed as if the music meant love and separation and passionate
regret, and the last air most passionate of all, and before the final
notes died away Hector bent over to her, and he whispered: "I have got your letter, and I love you, and I will obey its every wish.
You must trust me unto death. Darling, good-night, but never good-bye!"
And she had not answered, but her breath had come quickly, and she had
looked once in his eyes and then away into the night.
And so they shook hands politely and parted. And next day Mr. and Mrs.
Josiah Brown crossed over to England.