Edgar Saltus.

Mr. Incoul's Misadventure





He returned to the agent, and informed him that the house suited him, an announcement which the man received with an air of personal sympathy.

Is it not! he exclaimed, it made the mouth champagne nothing but to think there. And again, one was at home with ones self. Truly, the h?tel was beautiful as a boulevard. Monsieur would never regret himself of it. And had Monsieur servants? No, good then. Let Monsieur not disquiet himself. He who spoke knew of a cook, veritably a blue ribbon, and as to masters of h?tel, why, anointed name of a dog, not later than yesterday, he had heard that Baptiste he who had served the family of Cantacuz?ne Monsieur knew her, without doubt, came to be free.

In many respects Paris is not what it might be. The shops are vulgar in their ostentation. Were Monte Cristo to return he would find his splendor cheap and commonplace. In a city where Asiatic magnificence is sold from misfit and remnant counters by the ton, where emeralds large as swallows eggs are to be had in the side-streets at a discount, where agents are ready to provide everything from an op?ra-seria to a shoelace, the badauds have lost their ability to be startled. Paris, moreover, is not what it was. The suavity and civility for which it was proverbial have gone the way of other old-fashioned virtues; the wit which used to run about the streets never by any chance enters a salon; save in China a more rapacious set of bandits than the restauranteurs and shop-keepers do not exist; the theatres are haunts of ennui; the boulevards are filled with the worst-dressed set of people in the world. As for Parisian gaiety, there is nothing duller no, not even a carnival. In winter the city is a tomb; in summer a furnace. In fact, there are dozens and dozens of places far more attractive, but there is not one where house-keeping is easier. The butcher and baker are invisible providers of the best of fare. The servants understand their duties and attend to them, and, given a little forethought and a good bank account, the palace of the White Cat is there the most realizable of constructions.

In a weeks time the house in the Parc Monceau ran in grooves. To keep it running the tenants had absolutely nothing to do but to pay the bills. For this function Mr. Incoul was amply prepared, and, that the establishment should be on a proper footing, he furnished an adjacent stable with carriages, grooms and horse.

CHAPTER XII.
MR. INCOUL IS PREOCCUPIED

Mr. Incouls attitude to his wife had, meanwhile, in no wise altered. To an observer, nay, to Maida herself, he was as silent, methodical and self-abnegatory as he had been from the first. He had indeed caused her to send a regret to Ballister without giving any reason why the regret should be sent, but otherwise he showed himself very indulgent.

He cared little for the stage, yet to gratify Maida he engaged boxes for the season at the Fran?ais and at the Op?ra. Now and then in the early autumn when summer was still in the air he took her to dine in the Bois, at Madrid or Armenenville, and drove home with her in the cool of the evening, stopping, perhaps, for a moment at some one of the different concerts that lined the Champs Elys?es.

And sometimes he went with her to Versailles and at others to Vincennes, and one Sunday to Bougival. But there Maida would never return; it was crowded with a set of people the like of which she had never seen before, with women whose voices were high pitched and unmodulated, and men in queer coats who stared at her and smiled if they caught her eye.

But with the first tingle that accompanies the falling leaves, the open-air restaurants and concerts closed their doors. There was a succession of new plays which Vitu always praised and Sarcey always damned. The verdict of the latter gentleman, however, did not affect Maida in the least. She went bravely to the Od?on and liked it, to the Cluny where she saw a shocking play that made her laugh till she cried. She went to the Nations and saw Lacressoni?re and shuddered before the art of that wonderful actor. At the Gymnase she saw the Ma?tre des Forges and when she went home her eyes were wet; she saw Nitouche and would have willingly gone back the next night to see it again; even Mr. Incoul smiled; nothing more irresistibly amusing than Baron could be imagined; she saw, too, Bartet and Delaunay, and for the first time heard French well spoken. But of all entertainments the Op?ra pleasured her most. Already, under Maplesons reign, she had wearied of mere sweetness in music; she felt that she would enjoy Wagner and even planned a pilgrimage to Bayreuth, but meanwhile Meyerbeer had the power to intoxicate her very soul. The septette in the second act of LAfricaine affected her as had never anything before; it vibrated from her fingertips to the back of her neck; the entire score, from the opening notes of the overture to the farewell of Zuleikas that fuses with the murmur of the sea, thrilled her with abrupt surprises, with series and excesses of delight.

There were, of course, many evenings when neither opera nor theatre was attractive, and on such evenings invitations from resident friends and acquaintances were sometimes accepted and sometimes open house was held.

On these occasions, Maida found herself an envied bride. It was not merely that her husband was rich enough to buy a principality and hand it over for charitable purposes, it was not merely that he was willing to give her everything that feminine heart could desire, it was that, however crowded the halls might be, he seemed conscious of the existence of but one woman, and that woman was his wife. There were triflers who said that this attitude was bourgeois; there were others more witty who said that it was immoral; but, be this as it may, the South American highwaymen, who called themselves generals, the Russian princesses, the Roumanian boyards, the attach?s, embassadors, and other accredited bores, the contingent from the Faubourg, the American residents, who, were they sent in a body to the rack, could not have confessed to an original thought among them, all these, together with a sprinkling of Spaniards and English, the Tout-Paris, in fact, agreed, as it was intended they should, on this one point, to wit, that Mr. Incoul was the most devoted of husbands.

And such apparently he was. If Maida had any lingering doubts as to the real reason of their return to Paris, little by little they faded. After her fright she made with herself several little compacts, and that she might carry them out the better she wrote to Lenox a short, decisive note. She determined that he should never enter her life again. It was no longer his, he had let it go without an effort to detain it, and in Biarritz if it had seemed that he still held the key of her heart, it was owing as much to the unexpectedness of his presence as to the languors of the afternoons. In marrying, she had meant to be brave; indeed, she had been so when there was no danger; and if in spite of her intentions she had faltered, the faltering had at least served as a lesson which she would never need to learn again. Over the cinders of her youth she would write a Requiescat. Her girlhood had been her own to give, but her womanhood she had pledged to another.

As she thought of these things she wondered at her husband. He had done what she had hardly dared to expect he had observed their ante-nuptial agreement to the letter. A brother could not have treated her with greater respect. Surely if ever a man set out to win his wifes affection he had chosen the surest way. And why had he so acted if it were not as he had said, that given time and opportunity he would win her affection. He was doing so, Maida felt, and with infinitely greater speed than she had ever deemed possible. Beside, if the mangled remnants of her heart seemed attractive, why should he be debarred from their possession? Yet, that was precisely the point; he did not know of the mangled remnants, he thought her heart-whole and virginal. But what would he do if he learned the truth? And as she wondered, suddenly the consciousness came to her that she was living with a stranger.

Heretofore she had not puzzled over the possible intricacies of her husbands inner nature. She had known that he was of a grave and silent disposition, and as such she had been content to accept him, without question or query. But as she collected some of the scattered threads and memories of their life in common, it seemed to her that latterly he had become even graver and more silent than before. And this merely when they were alone. In the presence of a third person, when they went abroad as guests, or when they remained at home as hosts, he put his gravity aside like a garment. He encouraged her in whatever conversation she might have engaged in, he aided her with a word or a suggestion, he made a point of consulting her openly, and smiled approvingly at any bright remark she chanced to make.

But when they were alone, unless she personally addressed him, he seldom spoke, and the answers that he gave her, while perfectly courteous in tone and couching, struck her, now that she reflected, as automatic, like phrases learned by rote. It is true they were rarely alone. In the mornings he busied himself with his correspondence, and in the afternoons she found herself fully occupied with shops and visits, while in the evenings there was usually a dinner, a play, or a reception, sometimes all three. Since the season had begun, it was only now and then, once in ten days perhaps, that an evening was passed en t?te-?-t?te. On such occasions he would take up a book and read persistently, or he would smoke, flicking the ashes from the cigar abstractedly with his little finger, and so sit motionless for hours, his eyes fixed on the cornice.

It was this silence that puzzled her. It was evident that he was thinking of something, but of what? It could not be arch?ology, he seemed to have given it up, and he was not a metaphysician, the only thinker, be it said, to whom silence is at all times permissible.

At first she feared that his preoccupation might in some way be connected with the episodes at Biarritz, but this fear faded. Mr. Incoul had been made a member of the Cercle des Capucines, and now and then looked in there ostensibly to glance at the papers or to take a hand at whist. One day he said casually, I saw your friend Leigh at the club. You might ask him to dinner. The invitation was sent, but Lenox had regretted. After that incident it was impossible for her to suppose that her husbands preoccupation was in anywise connected with the intimacy which had subsisted between the young man and herself.

There seemed left to her then but one tenable supposition. Her husband had been indulgence personified. He had been courteous, refined and foreseeing, in fact a gentleman, and, if silent, was it not possible that the silence was due to a self-restraining delicacy, to a feeling that did he speak he would plead, and that, perhaps, when pleading would be distasteful to her?

To this solution Maida inclined. It was indeed the only one at which she could arrive, and, moreover, it conveyed that little bouquet of flattery which has been found grateful by many far less young and feminine than she. And so, one evening, for the further elucidation of the enigma, and with the idea that perhaps it needed but a word from her to cause her husband to say something of that which was on his mind, and which she was at once longing and dreading to hear one evening when he had seemed particularly abstracted, she bent forward and said, Harmon, of what are you thinking?

She had never called him by his given name before. He started, and half turned.

Of you, he answered.

But Maidas heart sank. She saw that his eyes were not in hers, that they looked over and beyond her, as though they followed the fringes of an escaping dream.

CHAPTER XIII.
WHAT MAY BE HEARD IN A GREENROOM

One evening in November a new ballet was given at the Op?ra. Its production had been heralded in the manner which has found most favor with Parisian impressarii. The dead walls of the capital were not adorned with colored lithographs. The advertising sheets held no notice of the coming performance. But for several weeks previous the columns of the liveliest journals had teemed with items and discreet indiscretions.

Through these measures the curiosity of the Tout-Paris had been coerced afresh, and, when the curtain, after falling on the second act of the Favorite parted again before the new ballet, there was hardly a vacant seat in the house.

The box which Mr. Incoul had taken for the season was on what is known as the grand tier. It was roomy, holding eight comfortably and twelve if need be. But Maida, who was adverse to anything that suggested crowding, was always disinclined to ask more than five or six to share it with her, and on the particular evening to which allusion is made she extended her hospitality to but four people: Mr. and Mrs. Wainwaring and their daughter, New Yorkers like herself, and the Duc de la D?che, a nobleman who served as figure-head to the Cercle des Capucines, and who, so ran the gossip, was anxious to effect an exchange of his coroneted freedom for the possession of Miss Wainwaring and a bundle or two of her fathers securities.

During the entracte that preceded the ballet the box was invaded by a number of visitors, young men who were indebted to Maida for a dinner or a cup of tea and by others who hoped that such indebtedness was still in store for them; there came, too, a popular artist who wished to paint Maidas portrait for the coming Salon and an author who may have had much cleverness, but who never displayed it to any one.

As the invasion threatened to continue Mr. Incoul went out in the corridor, where he was presently joined by the duke, who suggested that they should visit the foyer. They made their way down the giant stair and turning through the lobby passed on through the corridor that circles the stalls until they reached a door guarded from non-subscribers by a Suisse about whose neck there drooped a medallioned chain of silver. By him the door was opened wide and the two men passed on through a forest of side scenes till the foyer de la danse was reached.

It was a spacious apartment, well lighted and lined with mirrors; the furniture was meagre, a dozen or more chairs and lounges of red plush. It was not beautiful, but then what market ever is? To Mr. Incoul it was brilliant as a caf?, and equally vulgar. From dressing-rooms above and beyond there came a stream of willowy girls. Few among them were pretty, and some there were whose faces were repulsive, but the majority were young; some indeed, the rats, as they are called, were mere children. Here and there was a mother of the Mme. Cardinal type, armed with an umbrella and prepared to listen to offers. As a rule, however, the young ladies of the ballet were quite able to attend to any little matter of business without maternal assistance. The Italian element was easily distinguishable. There was the ultra darkness of the eye, the faint umber of the skin, the richer vitality, in fact, of which the anemic daughters of Paris were unpossessed. And now and then the Gothic gutturals of the Spanish were heard, preceded by a wave of garlic.

That night the subscribers to the stalls were out in full force. There were Jew bankers in plenty, there were detachments from the Jockey and the Mirletons, one or two foreign representatives, a few high functionaries, the Minister of the Interior, and he of the Fine Arts, a member of the imperial family of Russia, a number of stock brokers and an Arab Sheik flanked by an interpreter.

Before the curtain rose, battalions of ballerines formed on the stage, and after the performance began they were succeeded by others, the first contingent returning to the dressing-rooms or loitering in the foyer. In this way there was a constant coming and going accompanied by the murmur of the spectators beyond and the upper notes of the flute.

Mr. Incoul was growing weary; he would have returned to the box, but he was joined by acquaintances that he had made at the club, Frenchmen mainly, friends of his companion, and presently he found himself surrounded by a group of viveurs, men about town, who had their Paris at the end of their gloves, and to whom it held no secrets. They had dined and talked animatedly in ends and remnants of phrases in a sort of verbal telegraphy; an exclamation helped by a gesture sufficing as often as not for the full conveyance of their thought.

Mr. Incoul spoke French with tolerable ease, but having nothing of moment to say, he held his tongue, contenting himself with listening to the words of those who stood about him. And as he listened, the name of Mirette caught his ear. The programme had already informed him that it was she who was to assume the principal r?le in the new ballet, consequently he was not unfamiliar with it, but of the woman herself he knew nothing, and he listened idly, indifferent to ampler information. But at once his interest quickened; his immediate neighbor had mentioned her in connection with one whom he knew.

They came up from Biarritz together, he heard him say. She went there with Chose, that Russian.

Balaguine?

Precisely.

What did she do with him?

Found the Tartar, I fancy.

And then?

Voil?, this young American is mad about her.

He is rich then?

What would you? An American! They are it all.

Yes, a rich one always wins.

How mean you?

This: he plays bac at the Capucines. His banks are fructuous.

Ah, as to that And the first speaker shrugged his shoulders.

A rustle circled through the foyer, men stood aside and nodded affably. The lights took on a fairer glow. Stay, murmured the second speaker, she is there.

Through the parting crowd Mirette passed with a carriage such as no queen, save perhaps Semiramis, ever possessed. She moved from the hips, her body was erect and unswayed. It was the perfection of artificial grace. Her features were not regular, but there was an expression in them that stirred the pulse. Je suis lAmour, she seemed to say, and to add prends garde ? toi. As she crossed the room men moistened their lips, and when she had gone they found them still parched.

Mr. Incoul followed her with his eyes. She had not left him unimpressed, but his impression differed from that of his neighbors. In her face his shrewdness had discerned nothing but the animal and the greed of unsatiated appetites. He watched her pass, and stepped from the group in which he had been standing that he might the better follow her movements.

From the foyer she floated on into a side scene, yet not near enough to the stage to be seen by the audience. A few machinists moved aside to let her pass, and as they did so Mr. Incoul saw Lenox Leigh. It was evident that he had been waiting there for her coming. There was a scarf about her neck, and as the young man turned to greet her, she took it off and gave it into his keeping. They whispered together. Beyond, Mr. Incoul could see the tulle of the ballet rising and subsiding to the rhythm of the orchestra. Then came a sudden blare of trumpets, the measure swooned, and as it recovered again the ballet had faded to the back of the stage. Abruptly, as though sprung from a trap-door, a r?gisseur appeared, and at a signal from him Mirette, with one quick backward stroke to her skirt, bounded from the side scene and fluttered down to the footlights amid a crash and thunder of applause.

Mr. Incoul had heard and seen enough. His mind was busy. He felt the need of fresh air and of solitude. He turned into the corridor and from there went through the vestibule until he reached an outer door, which he swung open and passed out into the night. He was thinly clad, in evening dress, and the air was chilly, but he thought nothing of his dress nor of the warmth or chill of the air. He walked up and down before the building with his head bent and his hands behind his back. A camelot offered him a pack of transparent cards, a vender of programmes pestered him to buy, but he passed them unheeding. For fully half an hour he continued his walk, and when he re-entered the box, Maida, who of late had given much attention to his moods, noticed that his face was flushed, and that about his lips there played the phantom of a smile.





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