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Frontispiece by H. Richard Boehm






The rays of the September sun flooded the great halls of the old
chateau of the Dukes of Charmerace, lighting up with their mellow glow
the spoils of so many ages and many lands, jumbled together with the
execrable taste which so often afflicts those whose only standard of
value is money. The golden light warmed the panelled walls and old
furniture to a dull lustre, and gave back to the fading gilt of the
First Empire chairs and couches something of its old brightness. It
illumined the long line of pictures on the walls, pictures of dead and
gone Charmeraces, the stern or debonair faces of the men, soldiers,
statesmen, dandies, the gentle or imperious faces of beautiful women.
It flashed back from armour of brightly polished steel, and drew dull
gleams from armour of bronze. The hues of rare porcelain, of the rich
inlays of Oriental or Renaissance cabinets, mingled with the hues of
the pictures, the tapestry, the Persian rugs about the polished floor
to fill the hall with a rich glow of colour.

But of all the beautiful and precious things which the sun-rays warmed
to a clearer beauty, the face of the girl who sat writing at a table in
front of the long windows, which opened on to the centuries-old turf of
the broad terrace, was the most beautiful and the most precious.

It was a delicate, almost frail, beauty. Her skin was clear with the
transparent lustre of old porcelain, and her pale cheeks were only
tinted with the pink of the faintest roses. Her straight nose was
delicately cut, her rounded chin admirably moulded. A lover of beauty
would have been at a loss whether more to admire her clear, germander
eyes, so melting and so adorable, or the sensitive mouth, with its
rather full lips, inviting all the kisses. But assuredly he would have
been grieved by the perpetual air of sadness which rested on the
beautiful face - the wistful melancholy of the Slav, deepened by
something of personal misfortune and suffering.

Her face was framed by a mass of soft fair hair, shot with strands of
gold where the sunlight fell on it; and little curls, rebellious to the
comb, strayed over her white forehead, tiny feathers of gold.

She was addressing envelopes, and a long list of names lay on her left
hand. When she had addressed an envelope, she slipped into it a
wedding-card. On each was printed:

"M. Gournay-Martin has the honour to inform
you of the marriage of his daughter
Germaine to the Duke of Charmerace."

She wrote steadily on, adding envelope after envelope to the pile ready
for the post, which rose in front of her. But now and again, when the
flushed and laughing girls who were playing lawn-tennis on the terrace,
raised their voices higher than usual as they called the score, and
distracted her attention from her work, her gaze strayed through the
open window and lingered on them wistfully; and as her eyes came back
to her task she sighed with so faint a wistfulness that she hardly knew
she sighed. Then a voice from the terrace cried, "Sonia! Sonia!"

"Yes. Mlle. Germaine?" answered the writing girl.

"Tea! Order tea, will you?" cried the voice, a petulant voice, rather
harsh to the ear.

"Very well, Mlle. Germaine," said Sonia; and having finished addressing
the envelope under her pen, she laid it on the pile ready to be posted,
and, crossing the room to the old, wide fireplace, she rang the bell.

She stood by the fireplace a moment, restoring to its place a rose
which had fallen from a vase on the mantelpiece; and her attitude, as
with arms upraised she arranged the flowers, displayed the delightful
line of a slender figure. As she let fall her arms to her side, a
footman entered the room.

"Will you please bring the tea, Alfred," she said in a charming voice
of that pure, bell-like tone which has been Nature's most precious gift
to but a few of the greatest actresses.

"For how many, miss?" said Alfred.

"For four - unless your master has come back."

"Oh, no; he's not back yet, miss. He went in the car to Rennes to
lunch; and it's a good many miles away. He won't be back for another

"And the Duke - he's not back from his ride yet, is he?"

"Not yet, miss," said Alfred, turning to go.

"One moment," said Sonia. "Have all of you got your things packed for
the journey to Paris? You will have to start soon, you know. Are all
the maids ready?"

"Well, all the men are ready, I know, miss. But about the maids, miss,
I can't say. They've been bustling about all day; but it takes them
longer than it does us."

"Tell them to hurry up; and be as quick as you can with the tea,
please," said Sonia.

Alfred went out of the room; Sonia went back to the writing-table. She
did not take up her pen; she took up one of the wedding-cards; and her
lips moved slowly as she read it in a pondering depression.

The petulant, imperious voice broke in upon her musing.

"Whatever are you doing, Sonia? Aren't you getting on with those
letters?" it cried angrily; and Germaine Gournay-Martin came through
the long window into the hall.

The heiress to the Gournay-Martin millions carried her tennis racquet
in her hand; and her rosy cheeks were flushed redder than ever by the
game. She was a pretty girl in a striking, high-coloured, rather
obvious way - the very foil to Sonia's delicate beauty. Her lips were a
little too thin, her eyes too shallow; and together they gave her a
rather hard air, in strongest contrast to the gentle, sympathetic face
of Sonia.

The two friends with whom Germaine had been playing tennis followed her
into the hall: Jeanne Gautier, tall, sallow, dark, with a somewhat
malicious air; Marie Bullier, short, round, commonplace, and

They came to the table at which Sonia was at work; and pointing to the
pile of envelopes, Marie said, "Are these all wedding-cards?"

"Yes; and we've only got to the letter V," said Germaine, frowning at

"Princesse de Vernan - Duchesse de Vauvieuse - Marquess - Marchioness?
You've invited the whole Faubourg Saint-Germain," said Marie, shuffling
the pile of envelopes with an envious air.

"You'll know very few people at your wedding," said Jeanne, with a
spiteful little giggle.

"I beg your pardon, my dear," said Germaine boastfully. "Madame de
Relzieres, my fiance's cousin, gave an At Home the other day in my
honour. At it she introduced half Paris to me - the Paris I'm destined
to know, the Paris you'll see in my drawing-rooms."

"But we shall no longer be fit friends for you when you're the Duchess
of Charmerace," said Jeanne.

"Why?" said Germaine; and then she added quickly, "Above everything,
Sonia, don't forget Veauleglise, 33, University Street - 33, University

"Veauleglise - 33, University Street," said Sonia, taking a fresh
envelope, and beginning to address it.

"Wait - wait! don't close the envelope. I'm wondering whether
Veauleglise ought to have a cross, a double cross, or a triple cross,"
said Germaine, with an air of extreme importance.

"What's that?" cried Marie and Jeanne together.

"A single cross means an invitation to the church, a double cross an
invitation to the marriage and the wedding-breakfast, and the triple
cross means an invitation to the marriage, the breakfast, and the
signing of the marriage-contract. What do you think the Duchess of
Veauleglise ought to have?"

"Don't ask me. I haven't the honour of knowing that great lady," cried

"Nor I," said Marie.

"Nor I," said Germaine. "But I have here the visiting-list of the late
Duchess of Charmerace, Jacques' mother. The two duchesses were on
excellent terms. Besides the Duchess of Veauleglise is rather worn-out,
but greatly admired for her piety. She goes to early service three
times a week."

"Then put three crosses," said Jeanne.

"I shouldn't," said Marie quickly. "In your place, my dear, I shouldn't
risk a slip. I should ask my fiance's advice. He knows this world."

"Oh, goodness - my fiance! He doesn't care a rap about this kind of
thing. He has changed so in the last seven years. Seven years ago he
took nothing seriously. Why, he set off on an expedition to the South
Pole - just to show off. Oh, in those days he was truly a duke."

"And to-day?" said Jeanne.

"Oh, to-day he's a regular slow-coach. Society gets on his nerves. He's
as sober as a judge," said Germaine.

"He's as gay as a lark," said Sonia, in sudden protest.

Germaine pouted at her, and said: "Oh, he's gay enough when he's making
fun of people. But apart from that he's as sober as a judge."

"Your father must be delighted with the change," said Jeanne.

"Naturally he's delighted. Why, he's lunching at Rennes to-day with the
Minister, with the sole object of getting Jacques decorated."

"Well; the Legion of Honour is a fine thing to have," said Marie.

"My dear! The Legion of Honour is all very well for middle-class
people, but it's quite out of place for a duke!" cried Germaine.

Alfred came in, bearing the tea-tray, and set it on a little table near
that at which Sonia was sitting.

Germaine, who was feeling too important to sit still, was walking up
and down the room. Suddenly she stopped short, and pointing to a silver
statuette which stood on the piano, she said, "What's this? Why is this
statuette here?"

"Why, when we came in, it was on the cabinet, in its usual place," said
Sonia in some astonishment.

"Did you come into the hall while we were out in the garden, Alfred?"
said Germaine to the footman.

"No, miss," said Alfred.

"But some one must have come into it," Germaine persisted.

"I've not heard any one. I was in my pantry," said Alfred.

"It's very odd," said Germaine.

"It is odd," said Sonia. "Statuettes don't move about of themselves."

All of them stared at the statuette as if they expected it to move
again forthwith, under their very eyes. Then Alfred put it back in its
usual place on one of the cabinets, and went out of the room.

Sonia poured out the tea; and over it they babbled about the coming
marriage, the frocks they would wear at it, and the presents Germaine
had already received. That reminded her to ask Sonia if any one had yet
telephoned from her father's house in Paris; and Sonia said that no one

"That's very annoying," said Germaine. "It shows that nobody has sent
me a present to-day."

Pouting, she shrugged her shoulders with an air of a spoiled child,
which sat but poorly on a well-developed young woman of twenty-three.

"It's Sunday. The shops don't deliver things on Sunday," said Sonia

But Germaine still pouted like a spoiled child.

"Isn't your beautiful Duke coming to have tea with us?" said Jeanne a
little anxiously.

"Oh, yes; I'm expecting him at half-past four. He had to go for a ride
with the two Du Buits. They're coming to tea here, too," said Germaine.

"Gone for a ride with the two Du Buits? But when?" cried Marie quickly.

"This afternoon."

"He can't be," said Marie. "My brother went to the Du Buits' house
after lunch, to see Andre and Georges. They went for a drive this
morning, and won't be back till late to-night."

"Well, but - but why did the Duke tell me so?" said Germaine, knitting
her brow with a puzzled air.

"If I were you, I should inquire into this thoroughly. Dukes - well, we
know what dukes are - it will be just as well to keep an eye on him,"
said Jeanne maliciously.

Germaine flushed quickly; and her eyes flashed. "Thank you. I have
every confidence in Jacques. I am absolutely sure of him," she said

"Oh, well - if you're sure, it's all right," said Jeanne.

The ringing of the telephone-bell made a fortunate diversion.

Germaine rushed to it, clapped the receiver to her ear, and cried:
"Hello, is that you, Pierre? ... Oh, it's Victoire, is it? ... Ah, some
presents have come, have they? ... Well, well, what are they? ... What!
a paper-knife - another paper-knife! ... Another Louis XVI.
inkstand - oh, bother! ... Who are they from? ... Oh, from the Countess
Rudolph and the Baron de Valery." Her voice rose high, thrilling with

Then she turned her face to her friends, with the receiver still at her
ear, and cried: "Oh, girls, a pearl necklace too! A large one! The
pearls are big ones!"

"How jolly!" said Marie.

"Who sent it?" said Germaine, turning to the telephone again. "Oh, a
friend of papa's," she added in a tone of disappointment. "Never mind,
after all it's a pearl necklace. You'll be sure and lock the doors
carefully, Victoire, won't you? And lock up the necklace in the secret
cupboard.... Yes; thanks very much, Victoire. I shall see you

She hung up the receiver, and came away from the telephone frowning.

"It's preposterous!" she said pettishly. "Papa's friends and relations
give me marvellous presents, and all the swells send me paper-knives.
It's all Jacques' fault. He's above all this kind of thing. The
Faubourg Saint-Germain hardly knows that we're engaged."

"He doesn't go about advertising it," said Jeanne, smiling.

"You're joking, but all the same what you say is true," said Germaine.
"That's exactly what his cousin Madame de Relzieres said to me the
other day at the At Home she gave in my honour - wasn't it, Sonia?" And
she walked to the window, and, turning her back on them, stared out of

"She HAS got her mouth full of that At Home," said Jeanne to Marie in a
low voice.

There was an awkward silence. Marie broke it:

"Speaking of Madame de Relzieres, do you know that she is on pins and
needles with anxiety? Her son is fighting a duel to-day," she said.

"With whom?" said Sonia.

"No one knows. She got hold of a letter from the seconds," said Marie.

"My mind is quite at rest about Relzieres," said Germaine. "He's a
first-class swordsman. No one could beat him."

Sonia did not seem to share her freedom from anxiety. Her forehead was
puckered in little lines of perplexity, as if she were puzzling out
some problem; and there was a look of something very like fear in her
gentle eyes.

"Wasn't Relzieres a great friend of your fiance at one time?" said

"A great friend? I should think he was," said Germaine. "Why, it was
through Relzieres that we got to know Jacques."

"Where was that?" said Marie.

"Here - in this very chateau," said Germaine.

"Actually in his own house?" said Marie, in some surprise.

"Yes; actually here. Isn't life funny?" said Germaine. "If, a few
months after his father's death, Jacques had not found himself hard-up,
and obliged to dispose of this chateau, to raise the money for his
expedition to the South Pole; and if papa and I had not wanted an
historic chateau; and lastly, if papa had not suffered from rheumatism,
I should not be calling myself in a month from now the Duchess of

"Now what on earth has your father's rheumatism got to do with your
being Duchess of Charmerace?" cried Jeanne.

"Everything," said Germaine. "Papa was afraid that this chateau was
damp. To prove to papa that he had nothing to fear, Jacques, en grand
seigneur, offered him his hospitality, here, at Charmerace, for three

"That was truly ducal," said Marie.

"But he is always like that," said Sonia.

"Oh, he's all right in that way, little as he cares about society,"
said Germaine. "Well, by a miracle my father got cured of his
rheumatism here. Jacques fell in love with me; papa made up his mind to
buy the chateau; and I demanded the hand of Jacques in marriage."

"You did? But you were only sixteen then," said Marie, with some

"Yes; but even at sixteen a girl ought to know that a duke is a duke. I
did," said Germaine. "Then since Jacques was setting out for the South
Pole, and papa considered me much too young to get married, I promised
Jacques to wait for his return."

"Why, it was everything that's romantic!" cried Marie.

"Romantic? Oh, yes," said Germaine; and she pouted. "But between
ourselves, if I'd known that he was going to stay all that time at the
South Pole - "

"That's true," broke in Marie. "To go away for three years and stay
away seven - at the end of the world."

"All Germaine's beautiful youth," said Jeanne, with her malicious smile.

"Thanks!" said Germaine tartly.

"Well, you ARE twenty-three. It's the flower of one's age," said Jeanne.

"Not quite twenty-three," said Germaine hastily. "And look at the
wretched luck I've had. The Duke falls ill and is treated at
Montevideo. As soon as he recovers, since he's the most obstinate
person in the world, he resolves to go on with the expedition. He sets
out; and for an age, without a word of warning, there's no more news of
him - no news of any kind. For six months, you know, we believed him

"Dead? Oh, how unhappy you must have been!" said Sonia.

"Oh, don't speak of it! For six months I daren't put on a light frock,"
said Germaine, turning to her.

"A lot she must have cared for him," whispered Jeanne to Marie.

"Fortunately, one fine day, the letters began again. Three months ago a
telegram informed us that he was coming back; and at last the Duke
returned," said Germaine, with a theatrical air.

"The Duke returned," cried Jeanne, mimicking her.

"Never mind. Fancy waiting nearly seven years for one's fiance. That
was constancy," said Sonia.

"Oh, you're a sentimentalist, Mlle. Kritchnoff," said Jeanne, in a tone
of mockery. "It was the influence of the castle."

"What do you mean?" said Germaine.

"Oh, to own the castle of Charmerace and call oneself Mlle.
Gournay-Martin - it's not worth doing. One MUST become a duchess," said

"Yes, yes; and for all this wonderful constancy, seven years of it,
Germaine was on the point of becoming engaged to another man," said
Marie, smiling.

"And he a mere baron," said Jeanne, laughing.

"What? Is that true?" said Sonia.

"Didn't you know, Mlle. Kritchnoff? She nearly became engaged to the
Duke's cousin, the Baron de Relzieres. It was not nearly so grand."

"Oh, it's all very well to laugh at me; but being the cousin and heir
of the Duke, Relzieres would have assumed the title, and I should have
been Duchess just the same," said Germaine triumphantly.

"Evidently that was all that mattered," said Jeanne. "Well, dear, I
must be off. We've promised to run in to see the Comtesse de Grosjean.
You know the Comtesse de Grosjean?"

She spoke with an air of careless pride, and rose to go.

"Only by name. Papa used to know her husband on the Stock Exchange when
he was still called simply M. Grosjean. For his part, papa preferred to
keep his name intact," said Germaine, with quiet pride.

"Intact? That's one way of looking at it. Well, then, I'll see you in
Paris. You still intend to start to-morrow?" said Jeanne.

"Yes; to-morrow morning," said Germaine.

Jeanne and Marie slipped on their dust-coats to the accompaniment of
chattering and kissing, and went out of the room.

As she closed the door on them, Germaine turned to Sonia, and said: "I
do hate those two girls! They're such horrible snobs."

"Oh, they're good-natured enough," said Sonia.

"Good-natured? Why, you idiot, they're just bursting with envy of
me - bursting!" said Germaine. "Well, they've every reason to be," she
added confidently, surveying herself in a Venetian mirror with a petted
child's self-content.



Sonia went back to her table, and once more began putting wedding-cards
in their envelopes and addressing them. Germaine moved restlessly about
the room, fidgeting with the bric-a-brac on the cabinets, shifting the
pieces about, interrupting Sonia to ask whether she preferred this
arrangement or that, throwing herself into a chair to read a magazine,
getting up in a couple of minutes to straighten a picture on the wall,
throwing out all the while idle questions not worth answering.
Ninety-nine human beings would have been irritated to exasperation by
her fidgeting; Sonia endured it with a perfect patience. Five times
Germaine asked her whether she should wear her heliotrope or her pink
gown at a forthcoming dinner at Madame de Relzieres'. Five times Sonia
said, without the slightest variation in her tone, "I think you look
better in the pink." And all the while the pile of addressed envelopes
rose steadily.

Presently the door opened, and Alfred stood on the threshold.

"Two gentlemen have called to see you, miss," he said.

"Ah, the two Du Buits," cried Germaine.

"They didn't give their names, miss."

"A gentleman in the prime of life and a younger one?" said Germaine.

"Yes, miss."

"I thought so. Show them in."

"Yes, miss. And have you any orders for me to give Victoire when we get
to Paris?" said Alfred.

"No. Are you starting soon?"

"Yes, miss. We're all going by the seven o'clock train. It's a long way
from here to Paris; we shall only reach it at nine in the morning. That
will give us just time to get the house ready for you by the time you
get there to-morrow evening," said Alfred.

"Is everything packed?"

"Yes, miss - everything. The cart has already taken the heavy luggage to
the station. All you'll have to do is to see after your bags."

"That's all right. Show M. du Buit and his brother in," said Germaine.

She moved to a chair near the window, and disposed herself in an
attitude of studied, and obviously studied, grace.

As she leant her head at a charming angle back against the tall back of
the chair, her eyes fell on the window, and they opened wide.

"Why, whatever's this?" she cried, pointing to it.

"Whatever's what?" said Sonia, without raising her eyes from the
envelope she was addressing.

"Why, the window. Look! one of the panes has been taken out. It looks
as if it had been cut."

"So it has - just at the level of the fastening," said Sonia. And the
two girls stared at the gap.

"Haven't you noticed it before?" said Germaine.

"No; the broken glass must have fallen outside," said Sonia.

The noise of the opening of the door drew their attention from the
window. Two figures were advancing towards them - a short, round, tubby
man of fifty-five, red-faced, bald, with bright grey eyes, which seemed
to be continually dancing away from meeting the eyes of any other human
being. Behind him came a slim young man, dark and grave. For all the
difference in their colouring, it was clear that they were father and
son: their eyes were set so close together. The son seemed to have
inherited, along with her black eyes, his mother's nose, thin and
aquiline; the nose of the father started thin from the brow, but ended
in a scarlet bulb eloquent of an exhaustive acquaintance with the
vintages of the world.

Germaine rose, looking at them with an air of some surprise and
uncertainty: these were not her friends, the Du Buits.

The elder man, advancing with a smiling bonhomie, bowed, and said in an
adenoid voice, ingratiating of tone: "I'm M. Charolais, young
ladies - M. Charolais - retired brewer - chevalier of the Legion of
Honour - landowner at Rennes. Let me introduce my son." The young man
bowed awkwardly. "We came from Rennes this morning, and we lunched at
Kerlor's farm."

"Shall I order tea for them?" whispered Sonia.

"Gracious, no!" said Germaine sharply under her breath; then, louder,
she said to M. Charolais, "And what is your object in calling?"

"We asked to see your father," said M. Charolais, smiling with broad
amiability, while his eyes danced across her face, avoiding any meeting
with hers. "The footman told us that M. Gournay-Martin was out, but
that his daughter was at home. And we were unable, quite unable, to
deny ourselves the pleasure of meeting you." With that he sat down; and

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