She was startled. Her aunt and Madame Keroulan had retired to the end of the garden, and only a big bee, brumming overhead, was near. He had arisen with the pontifical air of a man who has a weighty gospel to expound. He encircled with his potent personality the imagination of his listener; the hypnotic quality of his written word was carried leagues farther in effect by his trained, soothing voice. Flattered, no longer frightened, her nerves deliciously assaulted by this coloured rhetoric, Ermentrude yielded her intellectual assent. She did not comprehend. She felt only the rhythms of his speech, as sound swallowed sense. He held her captive with a pause, and his eloquent eyes—they were of an extraordinary lustre—completed the subjugation of her will.
“Only kissed hands are white,” he murmured, and suddenly she felt a velvety kiss on her left hand. Ermentrude did not pretend to follow the words of her aunt and Madame Keroulan as they stopped before a bed of June roses. Nor did she remember how she reached the pair. The one vivid reality of her life was the cruel act of her idol. She was not conscious of blushing, nor did she feel that she had grown pale. His wife treated her with impartial indifference, at times a smile crossing her face, with its implication—to Ermentrude—of selfish reserves. But this hateful smile cut her to the soul—one more prisoner at his chariot wheels, it proclaimed! Keroulan was as unconcerned as if he had written a poetic line. He had expected more of an outburst, more of a rebuff; the absolute snapping of the web he had spun surprised him. His choicest music had been spread for the eternal banquet, but the invited one tarried. Very well! If not to-day, to-morrow! He repeated a verse of Verlaine, and with his wife dutifully at his side bowed to the two Americans and told them of the pleasure experienced. Ermentrude, her candid eyes now reproachful and suspicious, did not flinch as she took his hand—it seemed to melt in hers—but her farewell was conventional. In the street, before they seated themselves in their carriage, Mrs. Sheldam shook her head.
“Oh, my dear! What a woman! What a man! I have such a story to tell you. No wonder you admire these people. The wife is a genius—isn’t she handsome?—but the man—he is an angel!”
“I didn’t see his wings, auntie,” was the curt reply.
The Sheldams always stayed at the same hotel during their annual visits to Paris. It was an old-fashioned house with an entrance in the Rue Saint-Honore and another in the Rue de Rivoli. The girl sat on a small balcony from which she could view the Tuileries Gardens without turning her head; while looking farther westward she saw the Place de la Concorde, its windy spaces a chessboard for rapid vehicles, whose wheels, wet from the watered streets, ground out silvery fire in the sun-rays of this gay June afternoon. Where