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Princess Napraxine

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R. E.



. By David Christie





Princess Napraxine






[All rights reserved]




When her husband and her guests came
downstairs at one o'clock, they found the
Princess Nadine looking her loveliest.

4 Oh, you lazy people ! ' she cried to them.
' Are you any the better for sleeping like that ?
Look at me. I have been swimming half an hour ;
I have dictated twenty letters ; I have scolded
the gardeners, and I have seen three boxes from
Worth unpacked ; it is only one o'clock, and I
can already feel as good a conscience as Titus.
I have already saved my day.'

' I daresay you have only been doing mis-
chief,' said LadyBrancepeth. 'I should like to
see the letters before I judge of the excellence
of your actions.'

' Anyone might see the letters ; they are all
orders, or invitations, or refusals of invitations ;



quite stupid, but very useful ; epistolary omni-
bus horses driven by the secretary. When I
had done with them, I had my half hour's
swim. What nonsense the doctors talk about
not swimming in winter : the chill of the water
is delicious. In summer one always fancies
the sea has been boiled. Platon, if you had
not gone to bed, you would have seen your
friend Othmar. He was here for half an hour.'
. ' Othmar ! ' exclaimed the Prince. ' Here
at that time of the morning ? '

' He does not want to go to sleep,' she
retorted. ' He had his chocolate with me, and
then rowed himself back to S. Pharamond
and Baron Fritz.'

Lady Brancepeth glanced at her.

4 You have certainly done a great deal,
Nadine, while we have been only dozing,' she
said drily. The Princess looked at her good-
humouredly, with her little dubious smile.

' There is always something to do if one
only look for it. You feel so satisfied with
yourself too when you have been useful before
one o'clock.'

' Othmar ! ' repeated the Prince. ' If I had
known, I would have come downstairs.'


\ My clear Platon, you would have done
nothing of the kind ; you would have sworn
at your man for disturbing you, and would
have turned round and gone to sleep again.
Besides, what do you want with Othmar?
You do not care about "getting on a good
thing," nor even about suggesting a loan. for

' I like Othmar,' said Napraxine with per-
fect sincerity. His wife looked at him, with
her little dubious smile. 'It is always so with
them,' she thought. ' They always like just the
one man of all others ! '

' I suppose, if I had done quite what I
ought, I should have asked Othmar to " put
me on " something,' she said aloud. ' It is not
every day that one has one of the masters of
the world all alone at eight o'clock in the

1 The masters of the world always find their
Cleopatras,' said Lady Brancepeth. ' At La
Jacquemerille, perhaps, as well as in Egypt.'

' Cleopatra must have been a very stupid
woman,' said Nadine Napraxine, ' to be able
to think of nothing but that asp ! '

4 1 do not know that it was so very stupid ;

B 2


it was a good reclame. It has sent her name
down to us.'

'Anthony alone would have done that. A
woman lives by her lovers. Who would have
heard of Heloise, of Beatrice, of Leonora
d'Este? '

' You are very modest for us. Perhaps
without the women the men might never have
been immortal.'

' I cannot think why you sent Othmar
away,' repeated Prince Napraxine. ' I wanted
especially to know if they take up the Russian
loan '

' I did not send him away, he went,' replied
his wife, with a little smile ; ' and you know
he will never allow anyone to talk finance
to him.'

1 That is very absurd. He cannot deny that
his House lives by finance.'

1 He would certainly never deny it, but he
dislikes the fact ; you cannot force it on him,
my dear Platon, in the course of breakfast chit-
chat. I am sure your manners are better than
that. Besides, if you did commit such a rude-
ness, you would get nothing by it. I believe he
never tells a falsehood, but he will never tell


the truth unless he chooses. And I suppose,
too, that financiers are like cabinet ministers —
they have a right to lie if they like.'

'I am sure Othmar does not lie,' said

' I dare say he is as truthful as most men of
the world. Truth is not a social virtue ; tact
is a much more amiable quality. Truth says
to one, ' You have not a good feature in your
face ; ' tact says to one, ' You have an exquisite
expression.' Perhaps both facts are equally
true ; but the one only sees what is unpleasant,
the other only sees what is agreeable. There
can be no question which is the pleasanter

1 Othmar has admirable tact '

'How your mind runs upon Othmar!
Kings generally acquire a great deal of tact
from the obligation to say something agreeable
to so many strangers all their lives. He is a
kind of king in his way. He has learnt the
kings' art of saying a few phrases charmingly
with all his thoughts elsewhere. It is credit-
able to him, for he has no need to be popular,
he is so rich.'

1 Ask him to dinner to-morrow or Sunday.'


4 If you wish. But lie will not come ; lie
dislikes dinners as much as I do. It is the
most barbarous method of seeing one's friends.'

' There is no other so genial.'

She rose with a little shrug of her
shoulders. She seldom honoured Napraxine
by conversing so long with him.

' Order the horses, Ealph,' she said to Lord
Geraldiue ; 'I want a long gallop.'

1 She has had some decisive scene with
Othmar,' thought Lady Brancepeth, 'and she
is out of humour ; she always rides like a Don
Kossack when she is irritated.'

' There is no real riding here,' said the
Princess, as she went to put on her habit. ' One
almost loves Eussia when one thinks of the way
one can ride there ; of those green eternal
steppes, those illimitable plains, with no limit
but the dim grey horizon, your black Ukrane
horse, bounding like a deer, flying like a
zephyr ; it is worth while to remain in Eussia
to gallop so, on a midsummer night, with not
a wall or a fence all the way between you and
the Caspian Sea. I think if I were always in
Eussia I should become such a poet as Maikoff:
those immense distances are inspiration.'


She rode with exquisite grace and sjoirit ;
an old Kossack had taught her, as a child, the
joys of the saddle, on those lonely and dreamful
plains, which had always held since a certain
place in her heart. That latent energy and
daring, which found no scope in the life of the
world, made her find pleasure in the strong
stride of the horse beneath her, in the cleaving
of the air at topmost speed. The most indolent
of mondaines at all other times, when she
sprang into the saddle as lightly as a bird on a
bough, she was transformed ; her slender
hands had a grip of steel, her delicate face
flushed with pleasure, the fiery soul of her
fathers woke in her — of the men who had
ridden out with their troopers to hunt down
the Persian and the Circassian ; who had swept
like storm-clouds over those shadowy steppes
which she loved ; who had had their part or
share in all the tragic annals of Eussia ; who
had slain their foes at the steps of the throne,
in the holiness of the cloister ; who had been
amongst those whose swords had found the
heart of Cathrine's son, and whose voices had
cried to the people in the winter's morning,
8 Paul, the son of Peter, is dead ; pray for his


soul I ' If she were cruel — now and then —
was it not in her blood ?

Meanwhile Yseulte was helping her foster-
mother to pack tea-roses, to go to England for
a great ball, in their little hermetically-sealed
boxes. The roses were not wholly opened
before they were thus shut away from light
and air into darkness. They would not wither
in their airless cells, but they would pale a
little in that dull sad voyage from the sunshine
to the frost and fog. As she laid the rosebuds,
— pink, white, and pale yellow, — one by one
on their beds of moss, she thought for the first
time wistfully that her fate was very like theirs ;
only the rosebuds, perhaps, when they should
be taken out of their prisons at their journey's
end, though they would have but a very few
hours of life before them, yet would bloom a
little, if mournfully, in the northern land, and
see the light again, if only for a day. But her
life would be shut into silence and darkness for
ever; she would not even live the rose's life
' Vespace dun matin!


When Othmar went out from her presence, he
was more near to happiness than he had been
in his whole thirty years of life. He was
filled with vivid, palpitating, intoxicated hope.
He was passionately in love, and almost he
believed himself beloved in return. As much
as she had allowed to him she had certainly
allowed to no living man. The very force of
his passion, which had driven him to scorn the
conventional court which he might have paid
her in common with so mauy others — the
spaniel's place of Geraldine, the slave's place of
Boris Seliedoff — rendered him as willing to set
no limits to the sacrifices which she should
be free to exact from him, and he be proud to
make. Only he would never share her, even
in nominal union with her lawful lord. He
would be all to her, or nothing.

He loathed the conventional adulteries of
his time and of his society ; he sighed, im-


patiently for the means to prove that the old
fearless, high-handed, single-hearted passion
which sees in the whole teeming world only
one life, was not dead, but lived in him for

He foresaw all the loss of freedom and of
fair repute which would be entailed on him
by the surrender of his life to her ; he knew
well that she was a woman who would be no
docile comj)anion or unexacting mistress ; he
knew that there were in her the habits of
dominance, the instincts of egotism, and that
esprit gouailleur which compelled her, almost
despite herself, to jest at what she admired, to
ridicule her better emotions, to make a mockery
of the very things which were the dearest to her.
He did not because he loved her become blind
to all that was cold, merciless, and capricious in
her nature ; he was conscious that she would
never lose her own identity in any passion,
never surrender her mind, even if she gave her
person, to any lover ; he knew that she would
always remain outside those tropic tempests
of love which she aroused and controlled, and
which offended her or flattered her, according
to the mood in which they found her.


He knew all these things, and was aware
that his future would not be one of peace. But
he loved her, and agitation, jealousy, suffering
beside her would, he felt, be sweeter to him
than any repose beside another. Even these
defects, these dangers, which he clearly per-
ceived, added to her sorcery for him. It is
the mistress who is indifferent who excites the
most vehement desires ; and, by reason of his
great fortunes, women had been always to him
so facile, so eager, and so easily won, that the
coldness of Nadine Napraxine, which he knew
was a thing of temperament, not of affectation,
had but the more irresistible power over him.
The very sense with which she impressed every-
one, himself as well as others, of being no more
to be held or relied upon than the snowflake,
to which her world likened her, attracted a
man who had, from his boyhood, been wearied
by the adulation, insistence, and sycophancy
of almost all who approached him.

The few days of his probation passed slowly
over his head, seeming as though they would
never end. He was restless, feverish, and
absent of mind ; Friederich Othmar, who,
contrary to all his usual habits, remained at


S. Pharamond, tranquilly ignoring the visible
impatience of his host at his unasked presence,
was sorely troubled by the alternate exhilara-
tion and anxiety of spirit which all the reserve
and self-possession of Othmar himself could not
wholly conceal from the penetration of a person
accustomed to divine and dive into the inner-
most recesses of the minds of men.

' What, in God's name, is he meditating ?
thought his uncle. ' Some insanity probably.
I should believe he was about to disappear
from the world with Madame Napraxine if
I were not so persuaded that her pride and her
selfishness will never permit her to commit
a folly for anyone. Morality is nothing to her,
but her position is a great deal ; her delight in
being insolent will never allow her to lose the
power of being so.'

So accurately did this man of the world
read a character which baffled most persons by
its intricacy and its anomalies.

To Friederich Othmar human nature pre-
sented many absurdities but few secrets.

He remained at S. Pharamond, despite his
own abhorrence of any place which was not a
capital. He passed his mornings in the con-


sideration of his correspondence and his tele-
graphic despatches, but in the later hours of
the day and in the evenings he was that
agreeable member of society whom society had
known and courted for so many years ; and
beneath his pleasant subacid wit and his
admirable manner his acute penetration was
for ever en vedette to penetrate his nephew's
purpose and preoccupation. But a lover, on
his guard, will baffle an observer whom the
keenest of statesmen would, in vain, seek to
deceive or mislead, and the Baron learned
nothing of Othmar's inmost thoughts. Although
Othmar and Nadine JNapraxine met twice or
thrice in his presence at other people's houses,
and once at S. Pharamond itself, where some
more choice music was given one evening, the
acute blue eyes of the elder man failed to read
the understanding which existed between them.
All he saw was that she appeared to treat
Othmar, before others, with more raillery and
more nonchalance than usual. He remarked
that Othmar did not seem either hurt or sur-
prised at this.

' Since he is as much in love with her
as ever, he must be aware of some intimacy


between them which renders him comparatively
insensible to her treatment of him in society,'
thought the sagacity of his uncle, who was
alarmed and disquieted by a fact which would
have reassured less fine observers — the fact that
the master of S. Pharamond did not . once,
during fifteen days, cross the mile or two of
olive-wood, orange orchard, and hanging field
which alone separated him from La Jacque-

' No love is so patient but on some pro-
mise,' he reflected. He knew the romantic
turn of Othmar's character, and he feared its
results as others would fear the issue of some
mortal or hereditary disease. A week or two
previous the ministers then presiding over the
fortunes of France had met, at his little house
in the Eue du Traktir, the representatives of
two great Powers, and in the newspapers of
the hour that informal meeting, which had led
to many important results, had been called the
Unwritten Treaty of Baron Fritz ; and yet, at
such a moment, instead of being entranced with
such influence as such a nickname implied to
his House, instead of being occupied with the
power, the might, and the mission of the


Othmars, which that gathering around the
library-table in the Eue du Traktir displayed
for the ten thousandth time to the dazzled
eyes of suppliant and trembling Europe, Otho
himself could only think of a woman with
larger eyes and smaller hands than usual, but
a woman absolutely useless to him in any
ambitions — likely, rather, to be his ruin in all
ways !

' I could understand it were she one of
the great political forces of the world. Some
women are that, and might so, to us, be of very
high value,' thought Friederich Othmar, ' but
Madame Napraxine is as indifferent to all poli-
tical movement as if she were made of the ivory
and mother-of-pearl which her skin resembles.
If she be anything, she is that horrible thing a
Nihilist, only because Nihilism embodies an
endless and irreconcilable discontent, which
finds in her some secret corner of vague sym-
pathy. But for politics in our meaning of the
word she has the most complete contempt.
What did she say to me the other day ? " I am a
diplomatist's daughter. I have seen the strings
of all your puppets. I cannot accept a Polichi-
nelle for a Eichelieu, as you all do." And she de-


clared that if there were no statesmen at all, and
no journalists, life would go smoothly ; every-
body would attend to their own affairs, the
world would be quiet, and there would be no
wars. "What but disaster can such a woman
with such views bring into the life of Otho,
already paralysed as it is by poco-curantism ? '

He asked the question of himself in his own
meditations, and could give himself no answer
save one which grieved and alarmed him.

Othmar himself bestowed on his guest but
little thought except a passing impatience that
his uncle should have taken that moment, of all
others, to instal himself at S. Pharamond.

He had not the cynicism nor the insouciance
of the woman he adored. He did not attempt
any sophisms with his own conscience. He
knew that to do a man dishonour was to do
him a violence unkinder, and perhaps even in a
way baser, than to take his life. But he was
ready to pledge himself to that which, unlike
her, he still considered was a sin. He was
entirely mastered by a force of passion which
she could have understood by the subtlety of
her intelligence, but was not likely ever to
share by any fibre of her nature. He was lost


in that whirlpool of emotion, anticipation, and
fear which carried his inner life away on it,
although his outer life remained in appearance
calm enough for no eyes save those of the
Baron to penetrate the disguise of his serenity.

Yseulte he had forgotten.

The simple and innocent tenderness which
she had momentarily aroused in him could not
hold its place beside the overwhelming pas-
sion which governed him, more than a slender
soft-eyed dove can dispute possession with the
fierce, strong-pinioned falcon. Once or twice
he saw her and spoke to her with kindness, but
his thoughts were far away from her, and he
did not linger beside her, although each time
' he chanced to meet her on the way to her
foster-mother's, in lonely lovely country paths,
which might well have tempted him to tarry.

On the thirteenth day of his probation, the
priest's gown which, to please her, he had
ordered for the church of S. Pharamond, arrived
at the chateau, and, his attention being drawn
to it by his servants, he remembered his pro-
mise to her. It was the last day of the year. A
passing remembrance of pity came over him as
he thought of her ; she was so entirely alone,

vol. 11. c


and she would go to the life of the cloister ; a
fancy came to him to do some little thing to
give her pleasure ; a mere evanescent breath of
innocent impulse, which passed like the cool
breeze of an April day, sweet with scent of
field flowers, across the heated atmosphere of
desire and expectation in which his soul was
then living. Conventional etiquette had seldom
troubled him greatly ; he had always enjoyed
something of that sense which princes have,
that whatever he did the world would condone.
A man of the exceptional power which he
possessed can always exercise on his contem-
poraries more or less of his own will. What-
ever he might have done no one would have
said of him anything more severe than that he
was singular.

When he went into Nice that day he
chanced to see a very pretty thing, modern,
but admirable in taste and execution, a casket
of ivory mounted on silver, with a little angel
in silver on the summit. On its sides were
painted in delicate miniatures reproductions of
Fra Angelico and Botticelli. It was signed
by a famous miniaturist, and cost ten thousand
francs. Othmar, to whom the price seemed


no more than ten centimes, bought it at

' It will please her,' he thought. ' It shall
go to her with the soutane ; ' and he sent it
with the vestment to Millo, addressed to Made-
moiselle de Valogne. His knowledge of etiquette
told him that he ought to send it, if he sent it
at all, through the Duchesse ; but he did not
choose to obey etiquette ; he had discarded
social rules, more or less, all his life, according
to his inclination, and people had not resented
his rebellion simply because he was who he
was. He utterly disobeyed etiquette now, and
sent his present direct to Yseulte very early
on the morning of the New Year.

It did not occur to him that he might only
run the risk of cruelly compromising the poor
child. He gave hardly more thought to the
action than he would have given to a rose
which he might have broken off its stalk to
offer to her. All his heart had gone with the
basket of flowers which he had sent at sunrise
to Nadine Napraxine, who allowed no other

The chances were a million to one that his
casket would never reach its destination without

c 2


being seen, if not intercepted, by the govern-
esses ; but as it happened, his messenger gave
it to the gatekeeper, and the gatekeeper gave
it in turn to the woman who served her as
maid during her stay at Millo, and who was
passing through the gates, on her way home
from matins. The woman was attached to her ;
indeed, being a religious person herself, con-
sidered that Yseulte was the only creature whose
presence saved Millo from the fate of Sodom
and Gomorrah ; therefore, pleased that the girl
should have pleasure, she carried the packet
straight to her as she rose from her bed ; and in
the cold, misty morning of the New Year the
first thing that greeted the astonished eyes of
Yseulte was the Coronation of the Virgin,
glowing like a jewel on the side of the ivory

The whole day passed to her in an en-
chanted rapture.

In the large, idle, careless household there
was a general exchange of congratulations and
etrennes, and a pleasant tumult of good wishes
and merriment. Blanchette and Toinon danced
about before a pyramid of bonbons and costly
playthings, and the Duchesse, descending at her


usual hour, two o'clock, gave and received a
multitude of felicitations, gifts, and visits. ' The
most tedious day of the whole three hundred
and sixty-five/ she said pettishly, giving her
cheek to the touch of her children's pale little

In the many occupations and ennuis of
the day no one heard or knew anything of
Othmar's present. At noon some bouquets of
roses and some orchids, laid on a plate of old
cloisonne enamel, were brought in his name to
Madame de Vannes, but she knew nothing of
her cousin's casket. Meanwhile nothing could
hurt Yseulte. The contempt with which her
little cousins received the gifts she had made for
them in the convent, the oblivior. to which she
was consigned by every one, the carelessness
with which the Duchesse received her timidly-
offered good wishes, the severity with which
the governesses forbade her to go out in such
weather to see Nicole or attend Mass in the
little church, the unconcealed ill-temper with
which Alain de Vannes flung her a word of
greeting — none of these things had any power
to wound her ; she scarcely perceived them ;
she was lifted up into a world all her own.


Unnoticed in the general branle-bas of the clay,
she passed the hours, when she was not at
Mass in the chapel, locked safely in her own
room, before her treasure, in a rapt happiness,
in a wonder of ecstasy, which were so intense
that she feared they were cardinal sins.

The weather was cold, some snow had even
fallen, and the north winds blew, making all the
chilly foreigners gathered on those shores

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