I rapidly passed behind the screening curtains into the hall, even as I heard a heavy foot stumbling at the threshold and a somewhat husky voice offer some sort of salutation.
The happiest women, like nations,
have no history.
The apartment into which I hurriedly stepped I found to be a long and narrow hall, heavily draped. A door or so made off on the right-hand side, and a closed door also appeared at the farther end; but none invited me to enter, and I did not care to intrude. This situation did not please me, because I must perforce hear all that went on in the rooms which I had just left. I heard the thick voice of a man, apparently none the better for wine.
“My dear,” it began, “I—” Some gesture must have warned him.
“God bless my soul!” he began again. “Who is here, then? What is wrong?”
“My father is here to-day,” I heard her clear voice answer, “and, as you suggest, it might perhaps be better—”
“God bless my soul!” he repeated. “But, my dear, then I must go! To-night, then! Where is that other key? It would never do, you know—”
“No, Sir Richard, it would never do. Go, then!” spoke a low and icy voice, hers, yet not hers. “Hasten!” I heard her half whisper. “I think perhaps my father—”
But it was my own footsteps they heard. This was something to which I could not be party. Yet, rapidly as I walked, her visitor was before me. I caught sight only of his portly back, as the street door closed behind him. She stood, her back against the door, her hand spread out against the wall, as though to keep me from passing.
I paused and looked at her, held by the horror in her eyes. She made no concealment, offered no apologies, and showed no shame. I repeat that it was only horror and sadness mingled which I saw upon her face.
“Madam,” I began. And again, “Madam!” and then I turned away.
“You see,” she said, sighing.
“Yes, I fear I see; but I wish I did not. Can I not—may I not be mistaken?”
“No, it is true. There is no mistake.”
“What have you done? Why? Why?”
“Did you not always credit me with being the good friend of Mr. Pakenham years ago—did not all the city? Well, then I was not; but I am, now! I was England’s agent only—until last night. Monsieur, you have come too soon, too late, too late. Ah, my God! my God! Last night I gave at last that consent. He comes now to claim, to exact, to take—possession—of me ... Ah, my God!”
“I can not, of course, understand you, Madam. What is it? Tell me!”
“For three years England’s minister besought me to be his, not England’s, property. It was not true, what the town thought. It was not true in the case either of Yturrio. Intrigue—yes—I loved it. I intrigued with England and Mexico both, because it was in my nature; but no more than that. No matter what I once was in Europe, I was not here—not, as I said, until last night. Ah, Monsieur! Ah, Monsieur!” Now her hands were beating together.