The unspeakable tragedy of her voice cut to my soul. “But listen!” I broke out. “You are young. You are free. All the world is before you. You can have anything you like—”
“Ah, do not talk to me of that,” she exclaimed imperiously. “Do not tempt me to attempt the deceit of myself! I made myself as I am, long ago. I did not love. I did not know it. As to marriage, I did not need it. I had abundant means without. I was in the upper ranks of society. I was there; I was classified; I lived with them. But always I had my purposes, my plans. For them I paid, paid, paid, as a woman must, with—what a woman has.
“But now, I am far ahead of my story. Let me bring it on. I went to Paris. I have sown some seeds of venom, some seeds of revolution, in one place or another in Europe in my time. Ah, it works; it will go! Here and there I have cost a human life. Here and there work was to be done which I disliked; but I did it. Misguided, uncared for, mishandled as I had been—well, as I said, I went to Paris.
“Ah, sir, will you not, too, leave the room, and let me tell on this story to myself, to my own soul? It is fitter for my confessor than for you.”
“Let me, then, be your confessor!” said I. “Forget! Forget! You have not been this which you say. Do I not know?”
“No, you do not know. Well, let be. Let me go on! I say I went to Paris. I was close to the throne of France. That little Duke of Orleans, son of Louis Philippe, was a puppet in my hands. Oh, I do not doubt I did mischief in that court, or at least if I failed it was through no lack of effort! I was called there ‘America Vespucci.’ They thought me Italian! At last they came to know who I was. They dared not make open rupture in the face of the courts of Europe. Certain of their high officials came to me and my young Duke of Orleans. They asked me to leave Paris. They did not command it—the Duke of Orleans cared for that part of it. But they requested me outside—not in his presence. They offered me a price, a bribe—such an offering as would, I fancied, leave me free to pursue my own ideas in my own fashion and in any corner of the world. You have perhaps seen some of my little fancies. I imagined that love and happiness were never for me—only ambition and unrest. With these goes luxury, sometimes. At least this sort of personal liberty was offered me—the price of leaving Paris, and leaving the son of Louis Philippe to his own devices. I did so.”
“And so, then you came to Washington? That must have been some years ago.”
“Yes; some five years ago. I still was young. I told you that you must have known me, and so, no doubt, you did. Did you ever hear of ’America Vespucci’?”