Mr. Incoul's Misadventureскачать книгу бесплатно
“You are cruel, Lenox, you are cruel.”
“It is you that are cruel, and there the wonder is, for your cruelty is unconscious, of your own free will you would not know how.”
“It is not that I am cruel, it is that I am trying to do right. And it is for you to aid me. I have been true to you, do not ask me now to be false to myself.”
If at that moment Mrs. Bunker Hill could have looked into the girl’s face, her suspicions would have vanished into air. Maida needed only a less fashionable gown to look like a medi?val saint; and before the honesty that was in her eyes Lenox bowed his head.
“Will you help me?”
“I will,” he answered.
“I knew you would; you are too good to try to make me more miserable than I am. And now, you must go; kiss me, it is the last time.”
He caught her in his arms and kissed her full upon the mouth. He kissed her wet eyes, her cheeks, the splendor of her hair. And after a moment of the acutest pain of all her life, the girl freed herself from his embrace, and let him go without another word.
A YELLOW ENVELOPE
There is a peculiarity about Baden-Baden which no other watering-place seems to share – it has the aroma of a pretty woman. In August it is warm, crowded, enervating, tiresome as are all warm and crowded places, but the air is delicately freighted and a pervasive fragrance is discerned even by the indifferent.
In the summer that succeeded Maida’s marriage Baden was the same tame, perfumed zwei und funfzig that it has ever been since the war. The ladies and gentlemen who were to regard it as a sort of continuation of the Bois de Boulogne had departed never to return. Gone was Benazet, gone, too, the click of the roulette ball. The echoes and uproars of the Second Empire had died away, as echoes and uproars ever must, and in place of the paint and cleverness of the dames du-lac had come the stupid loveliness of the schw?rmerisch M?dchen.
But though Paris had turned her wicked back, the attitude of that decadent capital in no wise affected other cities. On the particular August to which allusion is made, interminable dinners were consumed by contingents from the politest lands, and also from some that were semi-barbaric.
In the Lichenthal All?e and on the promenade in front of the Kursaal one could hear six languages in as many minutes, and given a polyglottic ear the number could have been increased to ten. Among those who added their little quota to this summer Babel were Mr. and Mrs. Incoul.
The wedding had been very simple. Mrs. Barhyte had wished the ceremony performed in Grace Church, and to the ceremony she had also wished that all New York should be bidden. To her it represented a glory which in the absence of envious witnesses would be lustreless indeed. But in this respect her wishes were disregarded. On a melting morning in early June, a handful of people, thirty at most, assembled in Mrs.
Hildred’s drawing-room. The grave service that is in usage among Episcopalians was mumbled by a diligent bishop, there was a hurried and heavy breakfast, and two hours later the bride and groom were on the deck of the “Umbria.”
The entire affair had been conducted with the utmost dispatch. The Sunday Sun chronicled the engagement in one issue, and gave the date of the wedding in the next. It was not so much that Harmon Incoul was ardent in his wooing or that Miss Barhyte was anxious to assume the rank and privileges that belong to the wedded state. The incentives were other if equally prosaic. The ceremony if undergone needed to be undergone at once. Summer was almost upon them, and in the code which society has made for itself, summer weddings are reproved. There was indeed some question of postponing the rites until autumn. But on that Mrs. Barhyte put her foot. She was far from sure of her daughter, and as for the other contracting party, who could tell but that he might change his mind. Such changes had been, and instances of such misconduct presented themselves unsummoned to the woman’s mind. The fish had been landed almost without effort, a fish more desirable than any other, a very prize among fishes, and the possibility that he might slip away and without so much as a gill awry float off into clearer and less troubled seas, nerved her to her task anew.
In the interview which she enjoyed with her prospective son-in-law she was careful, however, to display no eagerness. She was sedate when sedateness seemed necessary, but her usual attitude was one of conciliatory disinterestedness. Her daughter’s choice she told him had met with her fullest approval, and it was to her a matter of deep regret that neither her husband nor her father – the late Chief Justice Hildred, with whose name Mr. Incoul was of course familiar – that neither of them had been spared to join in the expression of her satisfaction. Of Maida it was unnecessary to speak, yet this at least should be said, she was young and she was impressionable, as young people are apt to be, but she had never given her mother cause for the slightest vexation, not the slightest. “She is a sweet girl,” Mrs. Barhyte went on to say, “and one with an admirable disposition; she takes after her father in that, but she has her grandfather’s intellect.”
“Her beauty, madam, comes from you.”
To this Mrs. Barhyte assented. “She is pretty,” she said, and then in the voice of an actress who feels her r?le, “Do be good to her,” she pleaded, “she is all I have.”
Mr. Incoul assured her that on that score she need give herself no uneasiness, and a few days before the wedding, begged as a particular favor to himself that after the ceremony she would take up her residence in his house. The servants, he explained, had been instructed in that respect, and a checkbook of the Chemical Bank would be handed her in defrayment of all expenses. “And to think,” Mrs. Barhyte muttered to herself, “to think that I might have died in Connecticut!”
The voyage over was precisely like any other. There were six days of discomfort in the open, and between Queenstown and Liverpool unnumbered hours of gloomy and irritating delay. Mrs. Incoul grew weary of the captain’s cabin and her husband was not enthusiastic on the subject of the quarters which the first officer had relinquished to him. But in dear old London, as all good Americans are wont to call that delightful city, Mrs. Incoul’s spirits revived. The difference between Claridge’s and Rodick’s would have interested one far more apathetic than she, and as she had never before set her foot on Piccadilly, and as Rotten Row and Regent Circus were as unfamiliar to her as the banks of the Yang-tse-Kiang, she had none of that satiated feeling of the dej?-vu which besets the majority of us on our travels.
The notice of their arrival in the Morning Post had been followed by cards without limit and invitations without stint. An evening gazette published an editorial a column in length, in which after an historical review of wealth from Plutus to the Duke of Westminster, the reader learned that the world had probably never seen a man so rich and yet seemingly so unconscious of the power which riches give as was Harmon Incoul, esq., of New York, U. S. A.
During the few weeks that were passed in London the bride and groom were bidden to more crushes, dinners and garden parties than Maida had attended during the entire course of her bud-hood. There was the inevitable presentation and as the girl’s face was noticeably fair she and her husband were made welcome at Marlborough House. Afterwards, yet before the season drooped, there was a trip to Paris, a city, which, after the splendors of London, seemed cheap and tawdry indeed, and then as already noted came the villegiatura at Babel-Baden.
Meanwhile Maida had come and gone, eaten and fasted, danced and driven in a constant chase after excitement. To her husband she had acted as she might have done to some middle-aged cousin with whom she was not precisely on that which is termed a familiar footing, one on whom chance not choice had made her dependent, and to whom in consequence much consideration was due. But her relations will be perhaps better understood when it is related that she had not found herself physically capable of calling him by his given name, or in fact anything else than You. It was not that she disliked him, on the contrary, in many ways he was highly sympathetic, but the well-springs of her affection had been dried, and the season of their refreshment was yet obscure.
In the face of this half-hearted platonism Mr. Incoul had displayed a wisdom which was peculiar to himself; he exacted none of those little tributes which are conceded to be a husband’s due, and he allowed himself none of the familiarities which are reported to be an appanage of the married state. From the beginning he had determined to win his wife by the exercise of that force which, given time and opportunity, a strong nature invariably exerts over a weaker one. He was indulgent but he was also austere. The ordering of one gown or of five hundred was a matter of which he left her sole mistress. Had she so desired she might have bought a jewelry shop one day and given it back as a free gift on the morrow. But on a question of ethics he allowed no appeal. The Countess of Ex, a lady of dishonor at a popular court, had, during the London season, issued cards for a ball. On the evening on which it was to take place the bride and groom had dined at one house, and gone to a musicale at another. When leaving the latter entertainment Maida told her husband to tell the man “Park Lane.” Mr. Incoul, however, ordered the carriage to be driven to the hotel.
“Did you not understand me?” she asked. “I am going to the Countess of Ex’s.”
“She is not a woman whom I care to have you know,” he replied.
“But the Prince is to be there!”
To this he assented. “Perhaps.” And then he added in a voice that admitted of no further argument, “But not my wife.”
Maida sank back in the carriage startled by an unexperienced emotion. For the first time since the wedding she could have kissed the man whose name she bore. It was in this way that matters shaped themselves.
Soon after reaching Paris, Mr. Blydenburg called. He had brought his daughter abroad because he did not know what else to do with her, and now that he was on the Continent he did not know what to do with himself. He explained these pre-occupations and Mr. Incoul suggested that in the general exodus they should all go to Germany. To this suggestion Blydenburg gave a ready assent and that very day purchased a translation of Tacitus, a copy of Mr. Baring-Gould’s Germany, a Baedeker, and a remote edition of Murray.
At the appointed date the little party started for Cologne, where, after viewing a bone of the fabulous virgin Undecemilla, they drifted to Frankfort and from there reached the Oos. In Baden, Blydenburg and his daughter elected domicile at the Englischerhof, while through the foresight of a courier, good-looking, polyglottic, idle and useful, the Incouls found a spacious apartment in the Villa Wilhelmina, a belonging of the Mesmer House.
In the drawer of the table which Maida selected as a suitable place for superfluous rings was a yellow envelope addressed to the Gr?fin von Adelsburg. On the back was an attempt at addition, a double column of figures which evidently represented the hotel expenses of the lady to whom the envelope was addressed. The figures were marked carefully that no mistake should be possible, but the sum total had been jotted down in hurried numerals, as though the mathematician had been irritated at the amount, while under all, in an indignant scrawl, was the legend “S. T.”
Maida was the least inquisitive of mortals, but one evening, a week or ten days after her arrival, when she happened to be sitting in company with the Blydenburgs and her husband on the broad terrace that fronts the Kursaal, she alluded, for the mere sake of conversation, to the envelope which she had found. The Gr?fin von Adelsburg it then appeared was the name with which the Empress of a neighboring realm was accustomed to veil her rank, and the legend it was suggested could only stand for schrechlich theuer, frightfully dear. The Empress had vacated the Villa Wilhelmina but a short time before and it seemed not improbable that the figures and conclusion were in her own imperial hand.
While this subject was under discussion the Prince of Albion sauntered down the walk. He was a handsome man, with blue projecting eyes, somewhat stout, perhaps, but not obese. In his train were two ladies and a few men. As he was about to pass Mrs. Incoul he stopped and raised his hat. It was of soft felt, she noticed, and his coat was tailless. He uttered a few amiable commonplaces and then moved on. The terrace had become very crowded. The little party had found seats near the musicians, and from either side came a hum of voices. A Saxon halted before them, designating with pointing finger the retreating back of the Prince, his companion, a pinguid woman who looked as though she lived on fish, shouted, “Herr Jesus! ist es ja m?glich,” and hurried on for a closer view. Near by was a group of Brazilians and among them a pretty girl in a fantastic gown, whose voice was like the murmur of birds. To the left were some Russians conversing in a hard, cruel French. The girl seemed to have interested them. “But why,” asked one, “but why is it that she wears such loud colors?” To which another, presumably the wit of the party, answered idly, “Who knows, she may be deaf.” And immediately behind Mrs. Incoul were two young Americans, wonderfully well dressed, who were exchanging chaste anecdotes and recalling recent adventures with an accompaniment of smothered laughter that was fathomless in its good-fellowship.
Maida paid no attention to the conversation about her. She was thinking of the yellow envelope, and for the first time she began to form some conception of her husband’s wealth. Apparently he thought nothing of prices that seemed exorbitant to one whose coffers notoriously overflowed. She had never spoken to him about money, nor he to her; she knew merely that his purse was open; yet, as is usual with one who has been obliged to count the pennies, she had in her recent shopping often hesitated and refused to buy. In Paris she had chaffered over handkerchiefs and been alarmed at Doucet’s bill. Indeed at Virot’s when she told that poetic milliner what she wished to pay for a bonnet, Virot, smiling almost with condescension, had said to her, “The chapeau that madame wants is surely a chapeau en Espagne.”
And now for the first time she began to understand. She saw how much was hers, how ungrudgingly it was given, how easy her path was made, how pleasant it might be for the rest of her days, and she half-turned and looked at her husband. If she could only forget, she thought, only forget and begin anew. If she could but tell him all! She moaned to herself. The moon was shining behind the Kursaal and in the air was the usual caress. The musicians, who had just attacked and subdued the Meisters?nger, began a sob of Weber’s that had been strangled into a waltz, and as the measures flowed they brought her that pacification which music alone can bring.
The past was over and done, ill-done, she knew, but above it might grow such weeds of forgetfulness as would hide it even from herself. In a semi-unconsciousness of her surroundings she stared like a pretty sphinx into the future. The waltz swooned in its ultimate accords, but she had ceased to hear; it had lulled and left her; her thoughts roamed far off into distant possibilities; she was dreaming with eyes wide open.
Abruptly the orchestra attacked a score that was seasoned with red pepper – the can-can of an op?ra-bouffe: the notes exploded like fire crackers, and in the explosion brought vistas of silk stockings, whirlwinds of disordered skirts, the heat and frenzy of an orgy. And then, as the riot mounted like a flame, suddenly in a clash and shudder of brass the uproar ceased.
Maida, aroused from her revery by the indecency of the music, looked idly about her. The Russians were drinking beer that was as saffron as their own faces. The Brazilians had departed. The young Americans were smoking Bond street cigarettes which they believed to be Egyptian, and discussing the relative merits of Hills and Poole.
“While I was getting measured for that top coat you liked so much,” said one, “Leigh came in.”
“Lee? What Lee? Sumpter?”
“No; Lenox Leigh.”
“Did he, though? How was he?”
“Finest form. Said he would take in Paris and Baden. He may be here now for all I know. Let’s ask the waiter for a Fremden-List.”
Maida had heard, and with the hearing there had come to her an enveloping dread. She felt that, did she see him, the love which she had tried to banish would return unfettered from its exile. Strength was not yet hers; with time, she knew, she could have sworn it would come; but, for the moment, she was helpless, and into the dread a longing mingled. At once, as though in search of a protection that should guard her against herself, she turned to her husband. To him, the Russians, Brazilians, and other gentry had been part of the landscape. He had little taste for music, and Blydenburg had bored him as that amiable gentleman was accustomed to bore every one with whom he conversed, yet, nevertheless, through that spirit of paradox which is common to us all, Mr. Incoul liked the man, and for old association’s sake took to the boredom in a kindlier fashion than had it come from a newer and more vivacious acquaintance. Blydenburg had been explaining the value of recent excavations in Tirynth, a subject which Mr. Incoul understood better than the informist, but he noticed Maida’s movement and stopped short.
“Come, Milly,” he said to his daughter, “let’s be going.”
Milly had sat by his side the entire evening, in stealthy enjoyment of secular music, performed for the first time in her hearing on the Lord’s day. She was a pale, freckled girl, with hair of the shade of Bavarian beer. She was not beautiful, but then she was good – a sort of angel bound in calf.
When Milly and her father had disappeared, Maida turned to her husband again. “Do you mind leaving Baden?” she asked.
Mr. Incoul eyed her a moment. “Why?” he asked. He had a trick of answering one question with another, yet for the moment she wondered whether he too had heard the conversation behind them, and then comforted by the thought that in any case the name of Lenox Leigh could convey but little to him, she shrugged her shoulders. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said; “I don’t like it; it’s hot and crowded. I think I would like the seashore better.”
“Very good,” he answered; “whatever you prefer. I will speak to Karl to-night.” (Karl was the courier.) “I don’t suppose,” he added, reflectively, “that you would care for Trouville – I know I should not.”
He had risen, and Maida, who had risen with him, was looking down at the gravel, which she toyed nervously with her foot. The opera that had been given that evening was evidently over. A stream of people were coming from the direction of the theatre, and among them was the Prince. He was chatting with his companions, but his trained eye had marked Mrs. Incoul, and when he reached the place where she stood he stopped again.
“You didn’t go in to-night,” he said, collectively. “It was rather good, too.” And then, without waiting for an answer, he continued: “Won’t you both dine with us to-morrow?”
“Oh, we can’t,” Maida answered. She was tormented with the thought that at any moment Lenox might appear. “We can’t; we are going away.”
The Prince smiled in his brown beard. Americans were popular with him. He liked their freedom. There was, he knew, barely one woman in Baden, not utterly bedridden, who would have taken his invitation so lightly. “I am sorry,” he said, and he spoke sincerely. Like any other sensible man, he liked beauty and he liked it near him. He knew that Mrs. Incoul had been recently married, and in his own sagacious way, il posait des jalons. “You are to be at Ballaster in the autumn, I hear.” Ballaster was a commodious shooting-box in Scotland, the possession of an hospitable peer.
“Yes, I believe we are,” Maida answered.
“I hope to see you there,” and with these historic words, Prince Charming departed.
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