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Theodora hummed to herself a glad little chansonnette as she changed
her breakfast negligee for the freshest and loveliest of her spring
frocks. She did not know why she was so happy. There had been no word of
any one else being of the party, only she and Mrs. McBride, but
Versailles would be exquisite on such a day, and something whispered to
her that she might not yawn.
The most radiant vision awaited the widow, when, with unusual
punctuality, her automobile stopped at the hotel door. She came in. She
was voluble, she flattered Josiah. So good of him to take Mr. Tubbs--and
she hoped it would not tire him. Theodora should be well looked after.
They might be late and even dine at Versailles, she said, and Mr. Brown
was not to be anxious--she would be responsible for the safe return of
his beautiful little wife. (Theodora was five foot seven at least, but
her small head and extreme slenderness gave people the feeling she was
little--something to be protected and guarded always.) Josiah was affable. Mrs. McBride's words were so smooth and so many, he
had no time to feel Theodora was going to dine out without him, or that
anything had been arranged for ultimate ends.
The automobile had almost reached Suresnes before the widow said to her
guest: "Your father and Lord Bracondale have promised to meet us at the
Réservoirs. Captain Fitzgerald told me how you wanted to go to
Versailles, and how your husband is not strong enough to take these
excursions, so I thought we might have this little day out there, while
he is engaged with Mr. Clutterbuck Tubbs."
"How sweet of you!" said Theodora.
As they rushed through the smiling country, both women's spirits rose,
and Mrs. McBride's were the spirits of experience and did not mount
without due cause. Since she had been a girl in Dakota and passionately
in love with her first husband--the defunct McBride was a second
venture--she had not met a man who could quicken her pulse like Captain
Fitzgerald. It was a curious coincidence that they both had already two
partners to regret. It was an extra link between them, and Jane
McBride, who was superstitious, read the omen to mean that this time
each had met his true mate.
"If he is irresistible to-day, I think I shall clinch matters," she was
saying to herself.
While Theodora's musings ran: "How beautiful Versailles will look, and I dare say he will know all
about its history, and be able to tell me interesting things; and oh! I
am so glad I put on this frock, and oh! I am so happy."
And aloud they spoke of paradise plumes and the new gray, and the merits
and demerits of Callot and Doucet and Jeanne Valez. And the widow said
some bright American things about husbands and the world in general that
conveyed crisp truths.
The drive seemed all too short, and there were their two cavaliers in
the court-yard awaiting them at the Réservoirs, having arrived just
To the end of her life Theodora will remember that glorious May day. Its
even minutest detail, the color of the chestnut-trees, the tint of the
sky, the scent in the air, every line of his figure and turn of his
head, every look in his eyes--and they were many and varied--and also
and alas! every growing emotion in her own heart. But at the moment all
was gladness, and exquisite, young, irresponsible joy. Sans
arrière-pensée or disquieting reflection.
She wondered which of the two men was the handsomer as she got out of
the automobile--dear, darling papa or Lord Bracondale; both were quite
show creatures of their age, and both were of the same class and
knowledge of savoir-vivre. Every one said such polite and gracious
things, it was all so smooth and gay, and it seemed so natural that they
should take a turn up towards the château while breakfast was being
Half-past one o'clock was time enough to eat, the widow said.
"I want to show you a number of spots I love," Hector announced,
choosing a different path to the other pair. "And it is a day we can be
happy in, can't we?"
"I want to be happy," said Theodora.
"Then we shall go no farther now; we shall sit on this seat and admire
the view. See, we are quite alone and undisturbed; all the world has
gone home to breakfast."
Then he looked at her, and though he really did try at this stage to be
reasonable, something of the intense attraction he felt for her blazed
in his eyes.
She was sufficiently delectable a picture to turn the sagest head. There
was something so absolutely pure white about that skin, it seemed good
to eat, flawless, unlined, unblemished, under this brilliant light.
The way her silvery blond hair grew was just the right way a woman's
hair ought to grow, he thought; low on a high, broad brow, rippling and
soft, and quantities of it. What could it be like to caress it, to run
one's fingers through it, to bury one's face in it? Ah! and then there
were her tender eyes, dewy and shadowed with dark lashes, and so
intensely blue. His glance wandered farther afield. Such a figure!
slender and graceful and fine. There was something almost childish about
it all; the innocent look of a very young girl, with the polish of the
woman, garbed by an artist. It seemed the great pearls in her ears were
not more milkily white than her throat, and he was sure were also her
little slender hands, that did not fidget, but lay idly in her lap,
holding her blue parasol. He would like to have taken off her gloves to
Passionate devotion was surging up in his breast.
And he was an Englishman, and it was still the morning. There was no
moon now and he had not even breakfasted! This shows sufficiently to
what state he had come.
"I want you to tell me all about Versailles," she said, looking to the
left and the gray wing beyond the chapel. "Its histories and its
meanings. I used to read about it all after Sarah brought me here once
for our treat, but you probably are learned upon the subject, and I want
"I would much rather hear what you did when Sarah brought you here for
your treat," he said.
"Oh! it was a very simple day," and she leaned back and laughed softly
at the recollection. "Papa was very hard up at that time, you know, and
we were rather poor, so we came as cheaply as we could, Sarah,
Clementine, and I, and I remember there were some very snuffy men in the
train--we could not go first-class, you see--and one of them rather
"The brute!" said Hector.
"I think I was about fourteen."
"And even then perfectly beautiful, I expect," he commented to himself.
"We walked up from the station, and oh! we saw all the galleries and we
ran all over the park, but we missed the way to Trianon somehow and
never saw that, and when we got back here we were too tired to start
again. We had only had sandwiches, you see, that we brought with us, and
some funny little drinks at a café down there," and she pointed vaguely
towards the lake, "because we found we had only one franc fifty between
us all. But we were so happy, and Clementine knows a great deal, and
told us many things which were quite different from what was in the
guide-books--but it seems so long, long ago. Do you know it must be six
years." And she looked at him seriously.
"Half a lifetime!" agreed Hector, with a whimsical smile.
"Oh! you are laughing at me!" she said, and there was a cloud in the
blue stars which looked up at him.
He made a movement nearer her--while his deep voice took every tone of
"Indeed, indeed I am not--you dear little girl! I love to hear of your
day. I was only smiling to think that six years ago you were a baby
child, and I was then an old man in feeling--let me see, I was
twenty-five, and I was in Russia."
He stopped suddenly; there were some circumstances which, sitting there
beside her, he would rather not remember connected with Russia.
This was one of the peculiarities of Theodora. There was something about
her which seemed to wither up all low or vicious things. It was not that
she filled people with ascetic thoughts of saints and angels and their
mother in heaven, only she seemed suddenly to enhance simple joys with
beauty and charm.
They talked on for half an hour, and with every moment he discovered
fresh qualities of sweetness and light in her gentle heart.
She was not ill educated either, but she had never speculated upon
things, she took them for granted just as they were, and Jean d'Agrève
was probably the only awakening book she had ever read.
Hector all at once seemed to realize his mother's vision, and to
understand for the first time what marriage might mean. That to possess
this exquisite bit of God's finished work for his very own, to live with
her in the country, at old Bracondale, to see her honored and adored,
surrounded by little children--his children--would be a dream of bliss
far, far beyond any dream he had ever known. A domestic, tender dream of
sweetness that he had always laughed at before as a final thing when
life's other joys should be over, and now it seemed suddenly to be the
only heaven and completion of his soul's desire.
Then he remembered Josiah Brown with a hideous pang of pain and
bitterness--and they went in to lunch.
* * * * * Theodora was so gay! Captain Fitzgerald and Mrs. McBride were already
seated when they joined them in the restaurant. Most of the other
visitors had finished--it was almost two o'clock.
There was a good deal of black middle in the widow's eyes, Theodora
noticed, and wondered to herself if she had had a happy and exciting
hour too. Papa looked complacent and handsomer than ever, she thought.
She did hope it was going well. And she wondered how they were to
dispose of their afternoon.
The widow soon settled this. She had, she said, a wild desire to rush
through the air for a little--she must have her chauffeur go at full
speed--somewhere--anywhere--her nerves needed calming! And Captain
Fitzgerald had agreed to accompany her. Their destination was unknown,
and they might not be back for tea, so Lord Bracondale must take the
greatest care of Theodora and give her some if they did not turn up.
They certainly would for dinner, but eight o'clock would be time enough
When your destination is unknown you can never say how many hours it
will take to get there and back, she pointed out. And no one felt
inclined to argue with her about this obvious truth!
Now if Theodora had been a free unmarried girl, or a freer widow, it is
highly probable fate would not have arranged this long afternoon in
blissful surroundings undisturbed by any one. As it was, who knows if
the goddess settled it with a smile on her lip or a tear in her eye? It
was settled, at all events, and looked as if it were going to contain
some moments worth remembering.