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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : XVII. In one of the few remaining streets of Rome which the vandal hand of theà

The Master-christian by Marie Corelli

XVII. In one of the few remaining streets of Rome which the vandal hand of theà

In one of the few remaining streets of Rome which the vandal hand of the modern builder and restorer has not meddled with, stands the |Casa D'Angeli|, a sixteenth-century building fronted with wonderfully carved and widely projecting balconies -- each balcony more or less different in design, yet forming altogether in their entirety the effect of complete sculptural harmony. The central one looks more like a cathedral shrine than the embrasure of a window, for above it angels' heads look out from the enfolding curves of their own tall wings, and a huge shield which might serve as a copy of that which Elaine kept bright for Lancelot, is poised between, bearing a lily, a cross, and a heart engraven in its quarterings. Here, leaning far forward to watch the intense gold of the Roman moon strike brightness and shadow out of the dark uplifted pinions of her winged stone guardians, stood Sylvie Hermenstein, who, in her delicate white attire, with the moonbeams resting like a halo on her soft hair, might have easily passed for some favoured saint whom the sculptured angels were protecting. And yet she was only one whom the world called |a frivolous woman of society, who lived on the admiration of men|. So little did they know her, -- so little indeed does the world know about any of us. It was true that Sylvie, rich, lovely, independent, and therefore indifferent to opinions, lived her own life very much according to her own ideas, -- but then those ideas were far more simple and unworldly than anybody gave her credit for. She to whom all the courts of Europe were open, preferred to wander in the woods alone, reading some favourite book, to almost any other pleasure, -- and as for the admiration which she won by a look or turn of her head wherever she went, nothing in all the world so utterly bored her as this influence of her own charm. For she had tried men and found them wanting. With all the pent-up passion of her woman's soul she longed to be loved, -- but what she understood by love was a much purer and more exalted emotion than is common among men and women. She was suffering just now from an intense and overpowering ennui. Rome was beautiful, she averred, but dull. Stretching her fair white arms out over the impervious stone- angels she said this, and more than this, to someone within the room, who answered her in one of the most delightfully toned voices in the world -- a voice that charmed the ear by its first cadences, and left the listener fascinated into believing that its music was the expression of a perfectly harmonious mind.

|You seem very discontented,| said the voice, speaking in English, |But really your pathway is one of roses!|

|You think so?| and Sylvie turned her head quickly round and looked at her companion, a handsome little man of some thirty-five years of age, who stretching himself lazily full length in an arm-chair was toying with the silky ears of an exceedingly minute Japanese spaniel, Sylvie's great pet and constant companion. |Oh, mon Dieu! You, artist and idealist though you are -- or shall I say as you are supposed to be,| and she laughed a little, |you are like all the rest of your sex! Just because you see a woman able to smile and make herself agreeable to her friends, and wear pretty clothes, and exchange all the bon mots of badinage and every-day flirtation, you imagine it impossible for her to have any sorrow!|

|There is only one sorrow possible to a woman,| replied the gentleman, who was no other than Florian Varillo, the ideal of Angela Sovrani's life, smiling as he spoke with a look in his eyes which conveyed an almost amorous meaning.

Sylvie left the balcony abruptly, and swept back into the room, looking a charming figure of sylph-like slenderness and elegance in her clinging gown of soft white satin showered over with lace and pearls.

|Only one sorrow!| she echoed, |And that is -- ?|

|Inability to win love, or to awaken desire!| replied Varillo, still smiling.

The pretty Comtesse raised her golden head a little more proudly, with the air of a lily lifting itself to the light on its stem -- her deep blue eyes flashed.

|I certainly cannot complain on that score!| she said, with a touch of malice as well as coldness -- |But the fact that men lose their heads about me does not make me in the least happy.|

|It should do so!| and Varillo set the little Japanese dog carefully down on the floor, whereupon it ran straight to its mistress, uttering tiny cries of joy, |There is no sweeter triumph for a woman than to see men subjugated by her smile, and intimidated by her frown; -- to watch them burning themselves like moths in her clear flame, and dying at her feet for love of her! The woman who can do these things is gifted with the charm which makes or ruins life, -- few can resist her, -- she draws sensitive souls as a magnet draws the needle, -- and the odd part of it all is that she need not have any heart herself -- she need not feel one pulse of the passion with which she inspires others -- indeed it is better that she should not. The less she is moved herself, the greater is her fascination. Love clamours far more incessantly and passionately at a closed gate than an open one!|

Sylvie was silent for a minute or two looking at him with something of doubt and disdain. The room they were in was one of those wide and lofty apartments which in old days might have been used for a prince's audience chamber, or a dining hall for the revelry of the golden youth of Imperial Rome. The ceiling, supported by eight slender marble columns, was richly frescoed with scenes from Ariosto's poems, some of the figures being still warm with colour and instinct with life -- and on the walls were the fading remains of other pictures, the freshest among them being a laughing Cupid poised on a knot of honeysuckle, and shooting his arrow at random into the sky. Ordinarily speaking, the huge room was bare and comfortless to a degree, -- but the Comtesse Sylvie's wealth, combined with her good taste, had filled it with things that made it homelike as well as beautiful. The thickest velvet pile carpets laid over the thickest of folded mattings, covered the marble floors, and deprived them of their usual chill, -- great logs of wood burned cheerfully in the wide chimney, and flowers, in every sort of quaint vase or bowl, made bright with colour and blossom all dark and gloomy corners, and softened every touch of melancholy away. A grand piano stood open, -- a mandoline tied with bright ribbons, lay on a little table near a cluster of roses and violets, -- books, music, drawings, bits of old drapery and lace were so disposed as to hide all sharp corners and forbidding angles, -- and where the frescoes on the wall were too damaged to be worth showing even in outline, some fine old Flemish tapestry covered the defect. Sylvie herself, in the exquisite clothing which she always made it her business to wear, was the brilliant completion of the general picturesqueness, -- and Florian Varillo seemed to think so as he looked at her with the practised underglance of admiration which is a trick common to Italians, and which some women accept as a compliment and others resent as an insult.

|Do you not agree with me?| he said persuasively, with a smile which showed his fine and even teeth to perfection, |When the chase is over the hunters go home tired! What a man cannot have, that very thing is what he tries most to obtain!|

|You speak from experience, I suppose,| said Sylvie, moving slowly across the room towards the fire, and caressing her little dog which she held nestled under her rounded chin like a ball of silk, |And yet you, more than most men, have everything you can want in this world -- but I suppose you are not satisfied -- not even with Angela!|

|Angela is a dear little woman!| said Florian, with an air of emotional condescension, |The dearest little woman in the world! And she is really clever.|

|Clever!| echoed Sylvie, |Is that all?|

|Cara Contessa, is not that enough?|

|Angela is a genius,| averred Sylvie, with warmth and energy, |a true genius! -- a great, -- a sublime artist!|

|Che Che!| and Varillo smiled, |How delightful it is to hear one woman praise another! Women are so often like cats spitting and hissing at each other, tearing at each other's clothes and reputations, -- clothes even more than reputations, -- that it is really quite beautiful to me to hear you admire my Angela! It is very generous of you!|

|Generous of me!| and the Comtesse Hermenstein looked him full in the eyes, |Why I think it an honour to know her -- a privilege to touch her hand! All Europe admires her -- she is one of the world's greatest artists.|

|She paints wonderfully well, -- for a woman,| said Varillo lazily, |But there is so much in that phrase, cara Contessa, 'for a woman'. Your charming sex often succeeds in doing very clever and pretty things; but in a man they would not be considered surprising. You fairy creatures are not made for fame -- but for love!|

The Comtesse glanced him up and down for a moment, then laughed musically.

|And for desertion, and neglect as well!| she said, |And sometimes for bestowing upon YOUR charming sex every fortune and every good blessing, and getting kicked for our pains! And sometimes it happens that we are permitted the amazing honour of toiling to keep you in food and clothing, while you jest at your clubs about the uselessness of woman's work in the world! Yes, I know! Have you seen Angela's great picture?|

Again Florian smiled.

|Great? No! I know that the dear little girl has fixed an enormous canvas up in her studio, and that she actually gets on a ladder to paint something upon it; -- but it is always covered, -- she does not wish me to see it till it is finished. She is like a child in some things, and I always humour her. I have not the least desire to look at her work till she herself is willing to show it to me. But in myself I am convinced she is trying to do too much -- it is altogether too large an attempt.|

|What are YOU doing?| asked Sylvie abruptly.

|Merely delicate trifles, -- little mosaics of art!| said Varillo with languid satisfaction, |They may possibly please a connoisseur, -- but they are quite small studies.|

|You have the same model you had last year?| queried Sylvie.

Their eyes met, and Varillo shifted uneasily in his chair.

|The same,| he replied curtly.

Again Sylvie laughed.

|Immaculate creature!| she murmured, |The noblest of her sex, of course! Men always call the women who pander to their vices 'noble'.|

Varillo flushed an angry red.

|You are pleased to be sarcastic, fair lady.| he said carelessly, |I do not understand -- |

|No? You are not usually so dense with me, though to those who do not know you as well as I do, you sometimes appear to be the very stupidest of men! Now be frank! -- tell me, is not Pon-Pon one of the 'noble' women?|

|She is a very good creature,| averred Varillo gently, and with an air that was almost pious, -- |She supports her family entirely on her earnings.|

|How charming of her!| laughed Sylvie, |And so exceptional a thing to do, is it not? My dressmaker does the same thing, -- she 'supports' her family; but respectably! And just think! -- if ever your right hand loses its cunning as a painter, Angela will be able to 'support' YOU!|

|Always Angela!| muttered Varillo, beginning to sulk, |Cannot you talk of something else?|

|No, -- not for the moment! She is an interesting subject, -- to ME! She will arrive in Rome to-morrow night, and her uncle Cardinal Bonpre, will be with her, and they will all stay at the Sovrani Palace, which seems to me like a bit of the Vatican and an old torture- chamber rolled into one! And, talking of this same excellent Cardinal, they have almost canonized him at the Vatican, -- almost, but not quite.|

|For what reason?|

|Oh, have you not heard? It appears he performed a miracle in Rouen, curing a child who had been a cripple ever since babyhood, and making him run about as well and strong as possible. One prayer did it, so it is said, -- the news reached the Vatican some days ago; our charming Monsignor Gherardi told me of it. The secretary of the Archbishop of Rouen brought the news personally to the Holy Father.|

|I do not believe it,| said Varillo indifferently, |The days of miracles are past. And from what I know, and from what Angela has told me of her uncle, Cardinal Bonpre, he would never lend himself to such nonsense.|

|Well, I only tell you what is just now the talk at the Vatican,| said Sylvie, |Your worthy uncle-in-law that is to be, may be Pope yet! Have you heard from Angela?|

|Every day. But she has said nothing about this miracle.|

|Perhaps she does not know,| -- and Sylvie began to yawn, and stretch her white arms above her head lazily, |Oh, DIO MIO! How terribly dull is Rome!|

|How long have you been here, Contessa?|

|Nearly a week! If I am not more amused I shall go away home to Budapest.|

|But how is one to amuse you?| asked Varillo, sitting down beside her and endeavouring to take her hand. She drew it quickly from him.

|Not in that way!| she said scornfully, |Is it possible that you can be so conceited! A woman says she is dull and bored, and straightway the nearest man imagines his uncouth caresses will amuse her! TIENS TIENS! When will you understand that all women are not like Pon- Pon?|

Varillo drew back, chafed and sullen. His AMOUR PROPRE was wounded, and he began to feel exceedingly cross. The pretty laugh of Sylvie rang out like a little peal of bells.

|Suppose Angela knew that you wished to 'amuse' me in that particularly unamusing way?| she went on, |You -- who, to her, are CHEVALIER SANS PEUR ET SANS REPROCHE!|

|Angela is different to all other women,| said Varillo quickly, with a kind of nervous irritation in his manner as he spoke, |and she has to be humoured accordingly. She is extremely fantastic -- full of strange ideas and unnatural conceptions of life. Her temperament is studious and dreamy -- self-absorbed too at times -- and she is absolutely passionless. That is why she will make a model wife.|

The Comtesse drew her breath quickly, -- her blood began to tingle and her heart to beat -- but she repressed these feelings and said,

|You mean that her passionless nature will be her safety in all temptation?|

|Exactly!| and Varillo, smiling, became good natured again -- |For Angela to be untrue would be a grotesque impossibility! She has no idea of the stronger sentiment of love which strikes the heart like a lightning flash and consumes it. Her powers of affection are intellectually and evenly balanced, -- and she could not be otherwise than faithful because her whole nature is opposed to infidelity. But it is not a nature which, being tempted, overcomes -- inasmuch as there is no temptation which is attractive to her!|

|You think so?| and a sparkle of satire danced in Sylvie's bright eyes, |Really? And because she is self-respecting and proud, you would almost make her out to be sexless? -- not a woman at all, -- without heart? -- without passion? Then you do not love her!|

|She is the dearest creature to me in all the world!| declared Florian, with emotional ardour, |There is no one at all like her! Even her beauty, which comes and goes with her mood, is to an artist's eye like mine, exquisite, -- and more dazzling to the senses than the stereotyped calm of admitted perfection in form and feature. But, CARA CONTESSA, I am something of an analyst in character -- and I know that the delicacy of Angela's charm lies in that extraordinary tranquillity of soul, which, (YOU suggested the word!) may indeed be almost termed sexless. She is purer than snow -- and very much colder.|

|You are fortunate to be the only man selected to melt that coldness,| said Sylvie with a touch of disdain, |Myself, I think you make a great mistake in calling Angela passionless. She is all passion -- and ardour -- but it is kept down, -- held firmly within bounds, and devoutly consecrated to you. Pardon me, if I say that you should be more grateful for the love and trust she gives you. You are not without rivals in the field.|

Florian Varillo raised his eyebrows smilingly.

|Rivals? VERAMENTE! I am not aware of them!|

|No, I should say you had too good an opinion of yourself to imagine any rival possible!| said the Comtesse, |But such a person may exist!|

Varillo yawned, and flicked a grain of dust off his waistcoat with a fastidious thumb and finger.

|Impossible! No one could possibly fall in love with Angela now! She is an icicle, -- no man save myself has the ghost of a chance with her!|

|Of course not,| said Sylvie impatiently, |Because she is betrothed to you. But if things were not as they are -- |

|It would make no difference, I assure you,| laughed Varillo gaily, |Angela does not like men as a rule. She is fondest of romance -- of dreams -- of visions, out of which come the ideas for her pictures -- |

|And she is quite passionless with all this, you think?| said Sylvie, |The 'stronger sentiment which strikes the heart like a flash of lightning, and consumes it', as you so poetically describe it -- could never possibly disturb her peace?|

|I think not,| replied Varillo, with a meditative air, |Angela and I glided into love like two children wandering by chance into a meadow full of flowers, -- no storm struck us -- no sudden danger signal flashed from our eyes -- no trembling hurry of the blood bade us rush into each other's arms and cling! -- nothing of this marvel touched us! -- we loved with all the calm -- but without the glory!|

His voice, -- the most fascinating quality attached to his personality, -- rose and fell in this little speech with an exquisite cadence, half sad, half sweet, -- and Sylvie, impressionable creature as she was, with her innate love of romance and poetry, was unconsciously moved by it to a faint sigh. There was nothing to sigh for, really, -- it was just a mere melodious noise of words, in the making of which Florian Varillo was an adept. He had not an atom of serious thought in his remark, any more than in the dainty verses he was wont to append to his pictures -- verses which he turned out with the lightest and swiftest ease, and which read like his spoken sentences, as if there were a meaning in them, when truly there was none. But Sylvie was just then in a curious state of mind, and slight things easily impressed her. She was in love -- and yet she was not in love. The handsome face and figure of the Marquis Fontenelle, together with many of his undoubted good and even fine qualities, attracted her and held her in thrall, much more than the consciousness of his admiration and pursuit of her, -- but -- and this was a very interfering |but| indeed, -- she was reluctantly compelled to admit to herself that there was no glozing over the fact that he was an incorrigibly |fast|, otherwise bad man. His life was a long record of LIAISONS with women, -- an exact counterpart of the life of the famous actor Miraudin. And though there is a saying that a reformed rake makes the best husband, Sylvie was scarcely sure of being willing to try this test, -- besides, the Marquis had not offered himself in that capacity, but only as a lover. In Paris, -- within reach of him, surrounded by his gracious and graceful courtesies everywhere, the pretty and sensitive Comtesse had sometimes felt her courage oozing out at her finger's ends, -- and the longing to be loved became so strong and overwhelming in her soul that she had felt she must perforce one day yield to her persistent admirer's amorous solicitations, come what would of it in the end. Her safety had been in flight; and here in Rome, she had found herself, like a long-tossed little ship, suddenly brought up to firm anchorage. The vast peace and melancholy grandeur of the slowly dying |Mother of Nations|, enveloped her as with a sheltering cloak from the tempest of her own heart and senses, and being of an exquisitely refined and dainty nature in herself, she had, while employing her time in beautifying, furnishing and arranging her apartments in the casa D'Angeli, righted her mind, so to speak, and cleared it from the mists of illusion which had begun to envelop it, so that she could now think of Fontenelle quietly and with something of a tender compassion, -- she could pray for him and wish him all things good, -- but she could not be quite sure that she loved him. And this was well. For we should all be very sure indeed that we do love, before we crucify ourselves to the cross of sacrifice. Inasmuch as if the love in us be truly Love, we shall not feel the nails, we shall be unconscious of the blood that flows, and the thorns that prick and sting, -- we shall but see the great light of Resurrection springing glorious out of death! But if we only THINK we love, -- when our feeling is the mere attraction of the senses and the lighter impulses -- then our crucifixion is in vain, and our death is death indeed. Some such thoughts as these had given Sylvie a new charm of manner since her arrival in Rome -- she was less mirthful, but more sympathetic -- less RIANTE, but infinitely prettier and more fascinating. Florian Varillo studied her appreciatively in this regard after he had uttered his little meaningless melody of sentiment, and thought within himself -- |A week or two and I could completely conquer that woman!| He was mistaken -- men who think these sort of things often are. But the thought satisfied him, and gave bold lustre to his eyes and brightness to his smile when he rose to take his leave. He had been one of the guests at a small and early dinner-party given by the Comtesse that evening, -- and with the privilege of an old acquaintance, he had lingered thus long after all the others had gone to their respective homes.

|I will bid you now the felicissima notte, cara e bella contessa!| he said caressingly, raising her small white hand to his lips, and kissing it with a lingering pressure of what he considered a peculiarly becoming moustache -- |When Angela arrives to-morrow night I shall be often at the Palazzo Sovrani -- shall I see you there?|

|Of course you will see me there,| replied Sylvie, a little impatiently, |Am I not one of Angela's closest friends?|

|True! And for the sake of la mia dolcezza, you will also be a friend to me?|

|'la mia dolcezza'|, repeated Sylvie, |Is that what you call her?|

|Yes -- but I fear it is not original!| said Varillo smiling, |One Ariosto called his lady thus.|

|Yes?| and Sylvie's eyes darkened and grew humid with a sudden tenderness of thought, |It is a pretty phrase!|

|It should be used to YOU always, by every man who has my present privilege!| said Varillo, gallantly, kissing her hand once more, |You will be my friend?|

Sylvie disengaged her hand from his.

|You must not depend upon me, Signor,| she said with sudden coldness, |To be perfectly frank with you I am not sure that I like you. You are very charming and very clever -- but I doubt your sincerity.|

|Ah, che sono infelice!| murmured varillo softly, |you are right, bellissima madama! I am not myself with many people -- but with you -- you are one of the few who understand me . . . I am the very soul of candour!|

He fixed his eyes full upon her with an open and straight regard, adding, |Can you doubt me?| in a touching tone of wounded feeling.

The Comtesse laughed, and her face flushed.

|Well, I do not know!| she said, with a light gesture of her hands as though she threw something unpleasant away from her, |I shall fudge of you by the happiness -- or sorrow -- of Angela!|

A slight frown contracted his brows -- but it passed quickly, and the candid smile illumined his mobile face once more.

|Ebben! Buona notte, bela capricciosa!| and bowing low he turned towards the door, |Thank you a thousand times for a very happy evening! Even when you are unkind to me you are still charming! Addio!|

She murmured an |addio| in response, and when he had gone, and the echo of his footfall down the great marble stairs had completely died away, she went out once more to the balcony and leaned among the sculptured angels, a dainty, slender, white figure, with her soft flower-like face turned up to the solemn sky, where the large moon marched like an Amazon through space, attended by her legions and battalions of stars. So slight, so fragile and sweet a woman! -- with a precious world of love pent up in her heart . . . yet alone -- quite alone on this night of splendid luminousness and majestic suggestions of infinity, -- an infinity so monstrous and solitary to the one delicate creature, whose whole soul craved for a perfect love. Alas, for this |perfect love,| of which all the dearest women dream! Where shall they find it? -- and how shall they win it? Too often it comes when they may not have it; the cup of nectar is offered to lips that are forbidden to drink of it, because the world's convention stands between and turns the honey to gall. One of the many vague problems of a future life, offered for our consideration, is the one concerning the righteous satisfaction of love. Will not those who have been bound fast as prisoners in the bonds of matrimony without love, find those whose spirits are naturally one with theirs, but whom they have somehow missed in this life? For Byron's fine lines are eternally true, --

|Few -- none -- find what they love or could have loved, -- Though accident, blind contact, and the strong
Necessity of loving, have removed
Antipathies -- but to recur ere long
Envenom'd with irrevocable wrong.|

And the |blind contact| is the worst of all influences brought to bear upon the mind and heart, -- the most pernicious, and the most deeply weighted with responsibility. In this regard, Sylvie Hermenstein had acted wisely by removing herself from association, or |blind contact| with her would-be lover, -- and yet, though she was aware that her doing so had caused a certain dispersal of the atmosphere which almost veered towards complete disillusion, she found nevertheless, that Rome as she had said, was |dull|; her heart was empty, and longing for she knew not what. And that deep longing she felt could not have been completely gratified by the brief ardours of Fontenelle. And so she sat thinking wearily, -- wondering what was to become of her life. She had riches in plenty, a fine estate and castle in Hungary, -- servants at her beck and call -- and yet with all her wealth and beauty and brilliancy, she felt that she was only loved by two persons in the world, her old butler, and Madame Bozier, who had been her first governess, and who now lived with her, as a sort of dame d'honneur surrounded with every comfort and luxury, and who certainly served her former pupil with a faithful worship that would not have changed, even if the direst poverty instead of riches had been the portion of her beloved patroness. This elderly lady it was who entered now with a soft and hesitating step, and raising her glasses to her eyes, peered anxiously through the lighted room towards the dark balcony where Sylvie stood, like a fairy fallen out of the moon, and who presently ventured to advance and call softly,

|Sylvie!|

The pretty Comtesse turned and smiled.

|Is it you, Katrine? Will you come out here? It is not cold, and there is a lace wrap on the chair, -- put it round your dear old head and come and be romantic with me!| and she laughed as the worthy Bozier obeyed her, and came cautiously out among the angels' sculptured wings. |Ah, dear Katrine! The happy days are gone when a dark-eyed Roman lover would come strolling down a street like this to strike the chords of his mandoline, and sing the dear old song,

|'Ti voglio bene assai, E tu non pensi a me!'|

Without thinking about it, she sang this refrain suddenly in her sweet mezzo-soprano, every note ringing clear on the silence of the night, and as she did so a man of slim figure and medium height, stepped out of the dark shadows and looked up. His half laughing eyes, piercing in their regard, met the dreamy soft ones of the pretty woman sitting among the angels' heads above him -- and pausing a moment he hesitated -- then lifted his hat. His face was excessively delicate in outline and very pale, but a half mischievous smile softened and sweetened the firm lines of his mouth and chin, and as the moonbeams played caressingly on his close curling crop of fair hair, he looked different enough to most of the men in Rome to be considered singular as well as handsome. Sylvie, hidden as she was among the shadows, blushed and drew back, a little vexed with herself, -- the worthy Madame Bozier was very properly scandalised.

|My dear child!| she murmured, |Remember -- we are in Rome. People judge things so strangely! What an unfortunate error! -- |

But Sylvie became suddenly unmanageable. Her love of coquetry and mischief got the better of her, and she thrust out her pretty head over the balcony once more.

|Be quiet, Katrine!| she whispered, |I was longing for a romance, and here is one!| And detaching a rose from her dress she tossed it lightly to the stranger below. He caught it -- then looked up once more.

|Till we meet,| he said softly in English, -- and moving on among the shadows, disappeared.

|Now, who do you suppose HE was?| enquired Sylvie, leaning back against the edge of the balcony, with an arch glance at her gouvernante, |It was someone unlike anyone else here, I am sure! It was somebody with very bright eyes, -- laughing eyes, -- audacious eyes, because they laughed at me! They sparkled at me like stars on a frosty night! Katrine, have you ever been for a sleigh-ride in America? No, I did not take you there, -- I forgot! You would have had the rheumatism, poor dear! Well, when you are in America during the winter, you go for rides over the snow in a big sleigh, with tinkling bells fastened to the horses, and you see the stars flash as you pass -- like the eyes of that interesting gentleman just now. His face was like a cameo -- I wonder who he is! I shall find out! I must do something desperate for Rome is so terribly dull! But I feel better now! I like that man's eyes. They are SUCH a contrast to the sleepy tiger eyes of the Marquis Fontenelle!|

|My dear Sylvie!| remonstrated Madame Bozier, |How can you run on in this way? Do you want to break any more hearts? You are like a lamp for unfortunate moths to burn themselves in!|

|Oh no, not I,| said Sylvie, shaking her head with a touch of half melancholy scorn, |I am not a 'professional' beauty! The Prince of Wales does not select me for his admiration, -- hence it follows that I cannot possibly be an attraction in Europe. I have not the large frame, the large hands, and the still larger feet of the beautiful English ladies, who rule royal hearts and millionaires' pockets! Men scarcely notice me till they come to know me -- and then, pouf! -- away go their brains! -- and they grovel at my small feet instead of the large ones of the English ladies!| She laughed. |Now how is that, Katrine?|

|C'est du charme -- toujurs du charme!| murmured Madame Bozier, studying with a wistful affection the dainty lines of Sylvie's slight figure, |And that is an even more fatal gift than beauty, chere petite!|

|Du charme! You think that is it? Yes? -- and so the men grow stupid and wild! -- some want me, and some want my fortune -- and some do not know what they want! -- but one thing is certain, that they all quarrel together about me, and bore me to extinction! -- Even the stranger with the bright stars of an American winter for eyes, might possibly bore me if I knew him!|

She gave a short sigh of complete dissatisfaction.

|To be loved, Katrine -- really loved! What a delicious thing that would be! Have you ever felt it?|

The poor lady trembled a little, and gave a somewhat mournful smile.

|No, you dear romantic child! I cannot say with truth that I have! I married when I was very young, and my husband was many years older than myself. He was afflicted with chronic rheumatism and gout, and to be quite honest, I could never flatter myself that he thought of me more than the gout. There! I knew that would amuse you!| -- this, as Sylvie's pretty tender laugh rippled out again on the air, |And though it sounds as if it were a jest, it is perfectly true. Poor Monsieur Bozier! He was the drawing master at the school where I was assistant governess, -- and he was very lonely; he wanted someone to attend to him when the gouty paroxysms came on, and he thought I should do as well, perhaps better than anyone else. And I -- I had no time to think about myself at all, or to fall in love -- I was very glad to be free of the school, and to have a home of my own. So I married him, and did my best to be a good nurse to him, -- but he did not live long, poor man -- you see he always would eat things that did not agree with him, and if he could not get them at home he went out and bought them on the sly. There was no romance there, my dear! And of course he died. And he left me nothing at all, -- even our little home was sold up to pay our debts. Then I had to work again for my living, -- and it was by answering an advertisement in the Times, which applied for an English governess to go to a family in Budapest, that I first came to know you.|

|And that is all your history!| said Sylvie, |Poor dear Bozier! How uneventful!|

|Yes, it is,| and the worthy lady sighed also, but hers, was a sigh of placid arid philosophical comfort. |Still, my dear, I am not at all sorry to be uninteresting! I have rather a terror of lives that arrange themselves into grand dramas, with terrible love affairs as the central motives.|

|Have you? I have not!| said Sylvie thoughtfully, -- |With all my heart I admire a 'grande passion.' Sometimes I think it is the only thing that makes history. One does not hear nearly so much of the feuds in which Dante was concerned, as of his love for Beatrice. It is always so, only few people are capable of the strength and patience and devotion needed for this great consummation of life. Now I -- |

Madame Bozier smiled, and with tender fingers arranged one of the stray knots of pearls with which Sylvie's white gown was adorned.

|You dear child! You were made for sweetness and caresses, -- not suffering . . .|

|You mistake!| said Sylvie, with sudden decision, |You, in your fondness for me, and because you have seen me grow up from childhood, sometimes still view me as a child, and think that I am best amused with frivolities, and have not the soul in me that would endure disaster. But for love's sake I would do anything -- yes! . . . anything!|

|My child!|

|Yes,| repeated Sylvie, her eyes darkening and lightening quickly in their own fascinating way, |I would consent to shock the stupid old world! -- though one can scarcely ever shock it nowadays, because it has itself become so shocking! But then the man for whom I would sacrifice myself, must love ME as ardently as I would love HIM! That is the difficulty, Katrine. For men do not love -- they only desire.|

She raised her face to the sky, and the moonbeams shed a golden halo round her.

|That,| she said slowly, |is the reason why I have come here to avoid the Marquis Fontenelle. He does not love me!|

|He is a villain!| said Madame Bozier with asperity.

|Helas! There are so many villains!| sighed Sylvie, still looking up at the brilliant heavens, |And sometimes if a villain really loves anybody he half redeems his villainy. But the Marquis loves himself best of anyone in the world . . . and I -- I do not intend to be second in anyone's affections! So . . .| she paused, |Do you see that star, Katrine? It is as bright as if it were shining on a frosty night in America. And do you not notice the resemblance to the eyes of the stranger who has my rose? I daresay he will put it under his pillow to-night, and dream!| She laughed, -- |Let us go in!|

Madame Bozier followed her as she stepped back into the lighted salon, where she was suddenly met by her little Arab page, carrying a large cluster of exquisite red and white roses. A card was attached to the flowers, bearing the words, |These many unworthy blossoms in return for one beyond all worth.|

The Comtesse read and passed it in silence to Madame Bozier. A smile was on her face, and a light in her eyes.

|I think Rome is not so dull after all!| she said, as she set the flowers carefully in a tall vase of Etruscan ware, |Do you know, I am beginning to find it interesting!|

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