PublicBookshelf Book Club
Weekly tips on great novels to read.
Theodora did not wonder why she felt in no exalted state of spirits as
she dressed for dinner. She seldom thought of herself at all, or what
her emotions were, but the fact remained there was none of the
excitement there had been over the prospect of breakfast. Her husband,
on the contrary, seemed quite fussy.
"A devilish fine woman," he had described Mrs. McBride. "Acts like a
tonic upon me; does me more good than a pint of champagne!"
"Is she not delightful?" agreed Theodora; "so very kind and gay. I am
sure the dinner will do you good, Josiah, and perhaps we might give one
in return. What do you say?"
Josiah said, "Certainly!" He could give a meal with the best of them!
They would consult that father of hers, who knew Paris so well, and ask
him to help them to arrange a regular "slap-up treat."
And so they arrived at Armenonville. It was a divine night, quite warm,
and a soft three-quarter moon.
Mrs. McBride had everything arranged to perfection. Their table was just
where it should be, the menu was all that heart of gourmet could desire,
and the company sparkling.
Theodora found herself seated beside Mr. Harryman Hoggenwater and an
elderly Austrian, and before the hors d'oeuvres were cleared away
both gentlemen had decided to make love to her.
It was when the bisque d'écrevisses was being handed she became
conscious that, not two tables off, there was an empty one simply
arranged with flowers, and almost at the same instant Lord Bracondale
and his party arrived upon the scene.
All Theodora's perceptions seemed to be sharpened. She knew without
turning her head the table was for them, and that they were advancing
towards it. She had felt their arrival almost before their automobile
stopped; and now she would not look up.
A strange sensation, as of excitement, tingled through her. She longed
to ascertain if the woman was good-looking who made the third in this
party of three. She peeped eventually--with the corner of her eye. Lord
Bracondale had so placed his guests that he himself faced Theodora, and
the lady had her back turned to her.
Thus Theodora's curiosity could not be gratified.
"She is English," she decided; "that round shaped back always is--and
very well-bred looking, and not much taste in dress. I wonder if she is
old or young--and if that is the husband. Yes, he is unattractive--it
must be the husband--and oh, I wonder what they are talking about! Lord
Bracondale seems so interested!"
And if she had known it was-"Really, Monica, how fortunate to have secured you at short notice like
this," Lord Bracondale was saying. "I only found I had a free evening at
breakfast, and I met Jack on my way to the polo-ground just in the nick
"We love coming," Mrs. Ellerwood replied. "For unsophisticated English
people it is a great treat. We go back on Saturday--every one will be
asking what is keeping you here so long."
"My plans are vague," Lord Bracondale said, casually. "I might come back
any day, or I may stay until well into June--it quite depends upon how
amused I am. I rather love Paris."
And to himself he was thinking-"How I wish that atrocious woman over there with the paradise plume
would keep her hat out of the way. Ah, that is better! How lovely she
looks to-night! What an exquisite pose of head! And what are those two
damned foreigners saying to her, I wonder. Underbred brute, the
American, Herryman Hoggenwater! What a name! She is laughing--she
evidently finds him amusing. Abominably cattish of the widow not to ask
me. I wonder if she has seen me yet. I want to make her bow to me. Ah!"
For just then magnetism was too strong for Theodora, and, in spite of
her determination, their eyes met.
A thrill, little short of passion, ran through Lord Bracondale as he saw
the wild roses flushing her white cheeks--the exquisite flattery to his
vanity. Yes, she had seen him, and it already meant something to her.
He raised his champagne glass and sipped a sip, while his eyes, more
ardent than they had ever been, sought her face.
And Theodora, for her part, felt a flutter too. She was angry with
herself for blushing, such a school-girlish thing to do, Sarah had
always told her. She hoped he had not noticed it at that
distance--probably not. And what did he mean by drinking her health
like that? He--oh, he was-"Now, truly, Mrs. Brown, you are cruel," Mr. Herryman Hoggenwater said,
pathetically, interrupting her thoughts. "I tell you I am simply longing
to know if you will come for a drive in my automobile, and you do not
answer, but stare into space."
Theodora turned, and then the young American understood that for all her
gentle looks it would be wiser not to take this tone with her.
He admired her frantically, he was just "crazy" about her, he told Mrs.
McBride later. And so now he exerted himself to please and amuse her
with all the vivacity of his brilliant nation.
Theodora was enjoying herself. Environment and atmosphere affected her
strongly. The bright pink lights, the sense of night and the soft moon
beyond the wide open balcony windows, the scents of flowers, the gayety,
and, above all, the knowledge that Lord Bracondale was there, gazing at
her whenever opportunity offered, with eyes in which she, unlearned as
she was in such things, could read plainly admiration and unrest.
It all went to her head a little, and she became quite animated and full
of repartee and sparkle, so that Josiah Brown could hardly believe his
eyes and ears when he glanced across at her. This his meek and quiet
His heart swelled with pride when Mrs. McBride leaned over and said to
him: "You know, Mr. Brown, you have got the most beautiful wife in the world,
and I hope you value her properly."
It was this daring quality in his hostess Josiah appreciated so much.
"She's not afraid to say anything, 'pon my soul," he said to himself. "I
rather think I know my own possession's value!" he answered aloud, with
a pompous puffing out of chest, and a cough to clear the throat.
The Austrian Prince on Theodora's right hand pleased her. He had a quiet
manner, and the freemasonry of breeding in two people, even of different
nations, drew her to talk naturally to him in a friendly way.
He was a fatalist, he told her; what would be would be, and mortals like
himself and herself were just scattered leaves, like barks floating down
a current where were mostly rocks ahead.
"Then must we strike the rocks whether we wish it or no?" asked
Theodora. "Cannot we help ourselves?"
"Ah, madame, for that," he said, "we can strive a little and avoid this
one and that, but if it is our fate we will crash against them in the
"What a sad philosophy!" said Theodora. "I would rather believe that if
one does one's best some kind angel will guide one's bark past the rocks
and safely into the smooth waters of the pool beyond."
"You are young," he said, "and I hope you will find it so, but I fear
you will have to try very hard, and circumstances may even then be too
strong for you."
"In that case I must go under altogether," said Theodora; but her eyes
smiled, and that night at least such a possibility seemed far enough
away from her.
The Austrian looked across at her husband. Such marriages were rare in
his country, and he had thought so too in England. He wondered what
their story could be. He wondered how soon she would take a lover--and
he realized how infinitely worth while that lover would find his
He wished he were not so old. If she must break up her bark on the
rocks, he could take the place of steersman with pleasure. But he was a
courteous gentleman and he said none of these things aloud.
Meanwhile, Lord Bracondale was not enjoying his dinner. For the first
time for several years he found himself jealous! He, unlike Theodora,
knew the meaning of every one of his sensations.
"She is certainly interested in Prince Carolstein," he thought, as he
watched her; "he has a European reputation for fascination. She has not
looked this way once since the entrées. I wish I could hear what they
are talking about. As for that young puppy Hoggenwater, I would like to
kick him round the room! Lord, look how he is leaning over her! It
sickens me! The young fool!"
Mrs. Ellerwood turned round in her seat and surveyed the room. They had
almost come to the end of dinner, and could move their chairs a little.
She had the true Englishwoman's feeling when among foreigners--that they
were all there as puppets for her entertainment.
"Look, Hector," she said--they were cousins--"did you ever see such a
lovely woman as that one over there among the large party, in the black
Then Hector committed a bêtise.
"Where?" said he, his eyes persistently fixed in another direction.
"There; you can't mistake her, she looks so pure white, and fair, among
all these Frenchwomen The one with the blue eyes and the lovely hat
with those sweeping feathers. She is exquisitely dressed, and both those
men look fearfully devoted to her. Can't you see? Oh, you are stupid!"
"My dear Monica," said Jack Ellerwood, who joined rarely in the
conversation, "Hector has been sitting facing this way all through
dinner. He is a man who can appreciate what he sees, and I do not fancy
has missed much--have you, Hector?" and he smiled a quiet smile.
Mrs. Ellerwood looked at Lord Bracondale and laughed.
"It is I who am stupid," she said. "Naturally you have seen her all the
time, and know her probably. Are they cocottes, or Americans, or Russian
princesses, or what?--the whole collection?"
"If you mean that large party in the corner, they are most of them
friends and acquaintances of mine," he said, rather icily--she had
annoyed him--"and they belong to the aristocracies of various nations.
Does that satisfy you? I am afraid they are none of them demimondaines,
so you will be disappointed this time!"
Mrs. Ellerwood looked at him; she understood now.
"He is in love with the white woman," she thought; "that is why he was
so anxious to dine here to-night, when Jack suggested Madrid; that is
why he stays in Paris. It is not Esclarmonde de Chartres after all! How
excited Aunt Milly will be! I must find out her name."
"She is a beautiful creature," said Jack Ellerwood, as if to himself,
while he carefully surveyed Theodora from his position at the side of
Hector Bracondale's irritation rose. Relations were tactless, and he
felt sorry he had asked them.
"You must tell me her name, Hector," pleaded Mrs. Ellerwood; "the very
white, pretty one I mean."
"Now just to punish your curiosity I shall do no such thing."
"Hector, you are a pig."
"And so selfish."
"Why mayn't I know? You set a light to all sorts of suspicions."
"Doubly interesting for you, then."
"Don't you think you would like some coffee? The waiter is trying to
hand you a cup."
Mrs. Ellerwood laughed. She knew there was no use teasing him further;
but there were other means, and she must employ them. Theodora had
become the pivot upon which some of her world might turn.
The object of this solicitude was quite unconscious of the interest she
had created. She did not naturally think she could be of importance to
any one. Had she not been the youngest and snubbed always?
The same thought came to her that was conjuring the brain of Lord
Bracondale: would there be a chance to speak to-night, or must they each
go their way in silence? He meant to assist fate if he could, but having
Monica Ellerwood there was a considerable drawback.
Mrs. McBride's party were to take their coffee in one of the bosquets
outside, and all got up from their table in a few minutes to go out.
They would have to pass the partie à trois, who were nearer the door.
Monica would take her most searching look at them, Lord Bracondale
thought; now was the time for action. So as Mrs. McBride came past with
Captain Fitzgerald, he rose from his seat and greeted her.
"You have been exceedingly mean," he whispered. "What are you going to
do for me to make up for it?"
The widow had a very soft spot in her heart for "Ce beau Bracondale," as
she called him, and when he pleaded like that she found him hard to
"Come and see me to-morrow at twelve, and we will talk about it," she
"To-morrow!" exclaimed Lord Bracondale; "but I want to talk to her
"Get rid of your party, then, and join us for coffee," and the widow
smiled archly as she passed on.
Theodora bowed with grave sweetness as she also went by, and most of the
others greeted Hector, while one woman stopped and told him she was
going to have an automobile party in a day or two, and she hoped he
When they had all gone on Mrs. Ellerwood said: "I wonder why Americans are so much smarter than we poor English? I
can't bear them as a nation though, can you?"
"Yes," said Lord Bracondale. "I think the best friends I have in the
world are American. The women particularly are perfectly charming. You
feel all the time you are playing a game with really experienced
adversaries, and it makes it interesting. They are full of resource,
and you know underneath you could never break their hearts. I am not
sure if they have any in their own country, but if so they turn into the
most wonderful and exquisite bits of mechanism when they come to
"And you admire that."
"Certainly--hearts are a great bore."
"You were always a cynic, Hector; that is perhaps what makes you so
"Am I attractive?"
"I can't judge," said Mrs. Ellerwood, nettled for a moment. "I have
known you too long, but I hear other women saying so."
"That is comforting, at all events," said Lord Bracondale. "I always
have adored women."
"No, you never have, that is just it. You have let them adore you, and
utterly spoil you; so now sometimes, Hector, you are insupportable."
"You just said I was attractive."
"I shall not argue further with you," said Mrs. Ellerwood, pettishly.
"And I think we ought to be saying good-night, Hector," interrupted the
silent Jack. "We are making an early start for Fontainebleau to-morrow,
and Monica likes any amount of sleep."
This did not suit Mrs. Ellerwood at all; but if Jack spoke seldom he
spoke to some purpose when he did, and she knew there was no use
So with a heart full of ungratified curiosity, she at last allowed
herself to be packed into Hector's automobile and driven away.
"Of course he'll go and join that other party now, Jack! What did you
make me come away for, you tiresome thing!" she said to her husband.
"He has done me many a turn in the past," said Jack, laconically.
"Then you think--?"
But Jack refused to think.