“Have you looked at the orchid you wished so much to see, Monsieur Zalenska? Mamma is very proud of it!”
But she went on, heedless of his interruption, “Because, if you haven’t, you must look at it hastily—you have wasted some time quite foolishly already—and I have promised to join the Count in a few moments, and—”
“Very well. I understand, Opal!” Paul stiffened. “I will relieve you of my presence. But don’t think you will always escape so easily because I yield now. You have not meant all you have said to me to-night, and I know it as well as you do. You have tried to play with me—”
“I beg your pardon!”
“You knew the tiger was in my blood—you couldn’t help but know it!—and yet you deliberately awakened him!” She gave him a startled glance, her eyes appealing for mercy, but he went on relentlessly. “Yes, after the manner of women since the world began, you lured him on and on! Is it my fault—or yours—if he devour us both?”
Paul Verdayne, strangely restless and ill at ease, was passing beneath the window and thus became an involuntary listener to these mad words from the lips of his young friend.
Straightway there rose to his mental vision a picture—never very far removed—a picture of a luxurious room in a distant Swiss hotel, the foremost figure in which was the slender form of a royally fascinating woman, reclining with reckless abandon upon a magnificent tiger skin, stretched before the fire. He saw her lavishing her caresses upon the inanimate head. He heard her purr once more in the vibrant, appealing tones so like the Boy’s.
The stately Englishman passed his hand over his eyes to shut out the maddening vision, with its ever-fresh pangs of poignant anguish, its persistent, unconquered and unconquerable despair!
“God help the Boy!” he prayed, as he strolled on into the solitude of the moonlit night. “No one else can! It is the call of the blood—the relentless lure of his heritage! From it there is no escape, as against it there is no appeal. It is the mad blood of youth, quickened and intensified in the flame of inherited desire. I cannot save him!”
And then, with a sudden flood of tender, passionate, sacred memories, he added in his heart,
“And I would not, if I could!”
Paul Verdayne had many acquaintances and friends in New York, and much against their inclination he and the Boy soon found themselves absorbed in the whirl of frivolities. They were not very favorably impressed. It was all too extravagant for their Old World tastes—not too magnificent, for they both loved splendor—but it shouted its cost too loudly in their ears, and grated on their nerves and shocked their aesthetic sense.