Just as the sun began to sink, several little pages came out of the house, and with low salutations, distributed among the guests, daintily embossed and painted programmes of the 'Tableaux Vivants,' prepared for their diversion in the extemporized bijou theatre. Numbers of people rose at once from their chairs on the lawn, eager for this new spectacle, and began to scramble along and hustle one another in that effective style of' high breeding' so frequently exhibited at Her Majesty's Drawing-Rooms. I, with Sibyl, hastily preceded the impatient, pushing crowd, for I wished to find a good seat for my beautiful betrothed before the room became full to overflowing. There proved, however, to be plenty of accommodation for everybody,—what space there was seemed capable of limitless expansion, and all the spectators were comfortably placed without difficulty. Soon we were all studying our programmes with considerable interest, for the titles of the ' Tableaux' were somewhat original and mystifying. They were eight in number, and were respectively headed, 'Society,' 'Bravery: Ancient and Modern,' 'A Lost Angel,' 'The Autocrat,' 'A Corner of Hell,' 'Seeds of Corruption,' 'His Latest Purchase,' and 'Faith and Materialism.' It was in the theatre that everyone became at last conscious of the weirdly beautiful character of the music that had been surging round them all day. Seated under one roof in more or less enforced silence and attention, the vague and frivolous 'society' throng grew hushed and passive,—the 'society smirk' passed off certain faces that were as trained to grin as their tongues were trained to lie,—the dreadful giggle of the unwedded man-hunter was no longer heard, and soon the most exaggerated fashion-plate of a woman forgot to rustle her gown. The passionate vibrations of a violoncello superbly played to a double harp accompaniment throbbed on the stillness with a beseeching depth of sound,—and people listened, I saw, almost breathlessly, entranced, as it were, against their wills, and staring as though they were hypnotized, in front of them at the gold curtain with its familiar motto—
"All the world's a stage And all the men and women merely players."
Before we had time to applaud the violoncello solo, however, the music changed, and the mirthful voices of violins and flutes rang out in a waltz of the giddiest and sweetest tune. At the same instant a silvery bell tinkled, and the curtain parted noiselessly in twain, disclosing the first tableau— 'Society.' An exquisite female figure, arrayed in eveningdress of the richest and most extravagant design, stood before us, her hair crowned with diamonds, and her bosom blazing with the same lustrous gems. Her head was slightly raised, —her lips parted in a languid smile,—in one hand she held up-lifted a glass of foaming champagne,—her gold-slippered foot trod on an hour-glass. Behind her, catching convulsively at the folds of her train, crouched another woman, in rags, pinched and wretched, with starvation depicted in her face,— a dead child lay near. And, overshadowing this group, were two Supernatural shapes,—one in scarlet, the other in black, —vast and almost beyond the stature of humanity,—the scarlet figure represented Anarchy, and its blood-red fingers were advanced to clutch the diamond crown from 'Society's' brow, —the sable-robed form was Death, and even as we looked, it slowly raised its steely dart in act to strike. The effect was weird and wonderful,—and the grim lesson the picture conveyed was startling enough to make a very visible impression. No one spoke,—no one applauded,—but people moved restlessly and fidgeted on their seats,—and there was an audible sigh of relief as the curtain closed. Opening again, it displayed the second tableau—'Bravery: Ancient and Modern.' This was in two scenes;—the first one depicted a nobleman of Elizabeth's time, with rapier drawn, his foot on the prostrate body of a coarse ruffian who had evidently, from the grouping, insulted a woman whose slight figure was discerned shrinking timidly away from the contest. This was 'Ancient Bravery,'—and it changed rapidly to 'Modern,' showing us an enervated, narrow-shouldered, pallid dandy in opera-coat and hat, smoking a cigarette and languidly appealing to a bulky policeman to protect him from another young noodle of his own class, similarly attired, who was represented as sneaking round a corner in abject terror. We all recognised the force of the application, and were in a much better humour with this pictured satire than we had been at the lesson of 'Society.' Next followed 'A Lost Angel,' in which was shown a great hall in the palace of a king, where there were numbers of brilliantly attired people, all grouped in various attitudes, and evidently completely absorbed in their own concerns, so much so as to be entirely unconscious of the fact that in their very midst stood a wondrous Angel, clad in dazzling white, with a halo round her fair hair, and a glory, as of the sunset, on her half drooping wings. Her eyes were wistful,—her face was pensive and expectant; she seemed to say, "Will the world ever know that I am here?'' Somehow, —as the curtain slowly closed again, amid loud applause, for the picture was extraordinarily beautiful,—I thought of Mavis Clare, and sighed. Sibyl looked up at me.
"Why do you sigh?" she said. "It is a lovely fancy,— but the symbol is wasted in the present audience,—no one with education believes in Angels now-a-days."
"True!" I assented; yet there was a heaviness at my heart, for her words reminded me of what I would rather have forgotten,—namely, her own admitted lack of all religious faith.
'The Autocrat,' was the next tableau, and represented an Emperor enthroned. At his footstool knelt a piteous crowd of the starving and oppressed, holding up their lean hands to him, clasped in anguished petition, but he looked away from them as though he saw them not. His head was turned to listen to the side-whisper of one who seemed, by the courtly bend and flattering smile, to be his adviser and confidant,— yet that very confidant held secreted behind his back a drawn dagger, ready to strike his sovereign to the heart. "Russia!" whispered one or two of the company, as the scene was obscured; but the scarcely-breathed suggestion quickly passed into a murmur of amazement and awe as the curtain parted again to disclose 'A Corner of Hell.' This tableau was indeed original, and quite unlike what might have been imagined as the conventional treatment of such a subject. What we saw was a black and hollow cavern, glittering alternately with the flashings of ice and fire,—huge icicles drooped from above, and pale flames leaped stealthily into view from below, and within the dark embrasure the shadowy form of a man was seated, counting out gold, or what seemed to be gold. Yet as coin after coin slipped through his ghostly fingers, each one was seen to change to fire,—and the lesson thus pictured was easily read. The lost soul had made its own torture, and was still at work intensifying and increasing its own fiery agony. Much as this scene was admired for its Rembrandt effect of light and shade, I personally was glad when it was curtained from view; there was something in the dreadful face of the doomed sinner that reminded me forcibly and unpleasantly of those ghastly Three I had seen in my horrid vision on the night of Viscount Lynton's suicide. 'Seeds of Corruption' was the next picture, and showed us a young and beautiful girl in her early teens, lying on a luxurious couch en deshabille, with a novel in hei hand, of which the title was plainly seen by all—a novel well known to everyone present, and the work of a much-praised living author. Round her, on the floor, and cast carelessly on a chair at her side, were other novels of the same 'sexual' type,—all their titles turned towards us, and the names of their authors equally made manifest.
"What a daring idea !" said a lady in the seat immediately behind me. "I wonder if any of those authors are present!"
"If they are, they won't mind !" replied the man next to her with a smothered laugh. "Those sort of writers would merely take it as a first-class advertisement!"
Sibyl looked at the tableau with a pale face and wistful eyes.
"That is a true picture!" she said under her breath "Geoffrey, it is painfully true!"
I made no answer,—I thought I knew to what she alluded; but alas !—I did not know how deeply the 'seeds of corruption' had been sown in her own nature, or what a harvest they would bring forth. The curtain closed,—to open again almost immediately on 'His Latest Purchase.' Here we were shown the interior of a luxurious modern drawing-room, where about eight or ten men were assembled, in fashionable evening-dress. They had evidently just risen from a cardtable, and one of them, a dissipated looking brute, with a wicked smile of mingled satire and triumph on his face, was pointing to his 'purchase,'—a beautiful woman. She was clad in glistening white like a bride,—but she was bound, as prisoners are bound, to an upright column, on which the grinning head of a marble Silenus leered above her. Her hands were tied tightly together,—with chains of diamonds; her waist was bound,—with thick ropes of pearls; a wide collar of rubies encircled her throat; and from bosom to feet she was netted about and tied,—with strings of gold and gems. Her head was flung back defiantly with an assumption of pride and scorn,—her eyes alone expressed shame, selfcontempt and despair at her bondage. The man who owned this white slave was represented, by his attitude, as cataloguing and appraising her 'points' for the approval and applause of his comrades, whose faces variously and powerfully expressed the different emotions of lust, cruelty, envy, callousness, contempt, and selfishness, more admirably than the most gifted painter could imagine.
"A capital type of most fashionable marriages!" I heard someone say.
"Rather !" another voice replied. "The orthodox ' happy couple' to the life!"
I glanced at Sibyl. She looked pale,—but smiled as she met my questioning eyes. A sense of consolation crept warmly about my heart as I remembered that now, she had, as she told me, 'learnt to love,' and that therefore her marriage with me was no longer a question of material advantage alone. She was not my 'purchase,'—she was my love, my saint, my queen!—or so I chose to think, in my foolishness and vanity.
The last tableau of all was now to come,—' Faith and Materialism,'—and it proved to be the most startling of the series. The auditorium was gradually darkened, and the dividing curtain disclosed a ravishingly beautiful scene by the sea-shore. A full moon cast its tranquil glory over the smooth waters, and, rising on rainbow-wings from earth towards the skies, one of the loveliest creatures ever dreamed of by poet or painter, floated angel-like upward, her hands holding a cluster of lilies clasped to her breast,—her lustrous eyes full of divine joy, hope, and love. Exquisite music was heard,—soft voices sang in the distance a chorale of rejoicing;—heaven and earth, sea and air,—all seemed to support the aspiring Spirit as she soared higher and higher, in ever-deepening rapture, when,—as we all watched that aerial flying form with a sense of the keenest delight and satisfaction,—a sudden crash of thunder sounded,—the scene grew dark,—and there was a distant roaring of angry waters. The light of the moon was eclipsed,—the music ceased; a faint lurid glow of red shone at first dimly, then more vividly,—and ' Materialism' declared itself,—a human skeleton !—bleached white and grinning ghastly mirth upon us all! While we yet looked, the skeleton itself dropped to pieces, and one long twining worm lifted its slimy length from the wreck of bones, another working its way through the eye-holes of the skull. Murmurs of genuine horror were heard in the auditorium,—people on all sides rose from their seats,—one man in particular, a distinguished professor of science, pushed past me to get out, muttering crossly, "This may be very amusing to some of you, but to me, it is disgusting!"
"Like your own theories, my dear Professor!" said a rich laughing voice, as Lucio met him on his way, and the bijou theatre was again flooded with cheerful light. "They are
amusing to some, and disgusting to others! Pardon me!
I speak of course in jest! But I designed that tableau specially in your honour!"
"Oh, you did, did you?" growled the Professor. "Well, I didn't appreciate it."
"Yet you should have done, for it is quite scientifically correct," declared Lucio laughing still. "Faith, with the wings, whom you saw joyously flying towards an impossible heaven, is not scientifically correct,—have you not told us so? —but the skeleton and the worms were quite of your cult I No materialist can deny the correctness of that ' complexion to which we all must come at last.' Positively, some of the ladies look quite pale! How droll it is, that while everybody (to be fashionable, and in favour with the press) must accept Materialism as the only creed, they should invariably become affrighted, or let us say offended, at the natural end of the body, as completed by material agencies!"
"Well, it was not a pleasant subject, that last tableau," said Lord Elton, as he came out of the theatre with Diana Chesney hanging confidingly on his arm. "You cannot say it was festal!"
"It was,—for the worms !" replied Lucio gaily.—" Come, Miss Chesney, and you, Tempest, come along with Lady Sibyl, —let us go out in the grounds again and see my will-o'-thewisps lighting up."
Fresh curiosity was excited by this remark; the people quickly threw off the gruesome and tragic impression made by the strange 'tableaux' just witnessed, and poured out of the house into the gardens chattering and laughing more noisily than ever. It was just dusk, and as we reached the open lawn we saw an extraordinary number of small boys, clad in brown, running about with will-o' -the-wisp lanterns. Their movements were swift and perfectly noiseless,—they leaped, jumped and twirled like little gnomes over flower-beds, under shrubberies, and along the edges of paths and terraces, many of them climbing trees with the rapidity and agility of monkeys, and wherever they went they left behind them a trail of brilliant light. Soon, by their efforts, all the grounds were illuminated with a magnificence that could not have been equalled even by the historic fetes at Versailles,—tall oaks and cedars were transformed to pyramids of fire-blossoms,—every branch was loaded with coloured lamps in the shape of stars,— rockets hissed up into the clear space showering down bouquets, wreaths and ribbons of flame,—lines of red and azure ran glowingly along the grass-borders, and, amid the enthusiastic applause of the assembled spectators, eight huge fire fountains of all colours sprang up in various corners of the garden, while an enormous golden balloon, dazzlingly luminous, ascended slowly into the air and remained poised above us, sending from its glittering car hundreds of gem-like birds and butterflies on fiery wings, that circled round and round for a moment and then vanished. While we were yet loudly clapping the splendid effect of this sky-spectacle, a troop of beautiful girl-dancers in white came running across the grass, waving long silvery wands that were tipped with electric stars, and to the sound of strange tinkling music, seemingly played in the distance on glass bells, they commenced a fantastic dance of the wildest yet most graceful character. Every shade of opaline colour fell upon their swaying figures from some invisible agency as they tripped and whirled,—and each time they waved their wands, ribbons and flags of fire were unrolled and tossed high in air, where they gyrated for a long time like moving hiero-' glyphs. The scene was now so startling, so fairy like and wonderful, that we were well-nigh struck speechless with astonishment; too fascinated and absorbed even to applaud, we had no conception how time went, or how rapidly the night descended, till all at once, without the least warning, an appalling crash of thunder burst immediately above our heads, and a jagged fork of lightning tore the luminous fire-balloon to shreds. Two or three women began to scream,—whereupon Lucio advanced from the throng of spectators and stood in full view of all, holding up his hand.
"Stage thunder, I assure you !" he said playfully, in a clear, somewhat scornful voice. "It comes and goes at my bidding. Quite a part of the game, believe me !—these sort of things are only toys for children. Again—again, ye petty elements!" he cried, laughing, and lifting his handsome face and flashing eyes to the dark heavens,—" roar your best and loudest!— roar, I say !''
Such a terrific boom and clatter answered him as baffled all description,—it was as if a mountain of rock had fallen into ruins,—but having been assured that the deafening noise was 'stage thunder' merely, the spectators were no longer alarmed, and many of them expressed their opinion that it was 'wonderfully well done.' After this, there gradually appeared against the sky a broad blaze of red light like the reflection of some great prairie fire,—it streamed apparently upward from the ground, bathing us all where we stood, in its blood-like glow. The white-robed dancing girls waltzed on and on, their arms entwined, their lovely faces irradiated by the lurid flame, while above them now flew creatures with black wings, bats and owls and great night moths that flapped and fluttered about for all the world as if they were truly alive and not mere 'stage properties.' Another flash of lightning,—and one more booming thud of thunder,—and lo !—the undisturbed and fragrant night was about us, clear, dewy and calm,—the young moon smiled pensively in a cloudless heaven,—all the dancing-girls had vanished,—the crimson glow had changed to a pure silvery radiance, and an array of pretty pages, in eighteenth-century costumes of pale pink and blue, stood before us with lighted flaming torches, making a long triumphal avenue down which Lucio invited us to pass.
"On, on, fair ladies and gallant gentlemen!" he cried. "This extemporized path of light leads,—not to Heaven— no! that were far too dull an ending !—but to supper! On! —follow your leader!"
Every eye was turned on his fine figure and striking countenance, as with one hand he beckoned the guests,—between the double line of lit torches he stood, a picture for a painter, with those dark eyes of his alit with such strange mirth as could not be defined, and the sweet, half cruel, wonderfully attractive smile playing upon his lips;—and with one accord the whole company trooped pell-mell after him, shouting their applause and delight. Who could resist him !—not one in that assemblage at least;—there are few 'saints' in society! As I went with the rest, I felt as though I were in some gorgeous dream,—my senses were all in a whirl,—I was giddy with excitement and could not stop to think, or to analyze the emotions by which I was governed. Had I possessed the force or the will to pause and consider, I might possibly have come to the conclusion that there was something altogether beyond the ordinary power of man displayed in the successive wonders of this brilliant 'gala'; but I was, like all the rest of society, bent merely on the pleasure of the moment, regardless of how it was procured, what it cost me, or how it affected others. How many I see and know to-day among the worshippers of fashion and frivolity who are acting precisely as I acted then! Indifferent to the welfare of everyone save themselves, grudging every penny that is not spent on their own advantage or amusement, and too callous to even listen to the sorrows or difficulties or joys of others when these do not in some way, near or remote, touch their own interests, they waste their time day after day in selfish trifling, wilfully blind and unconscious to the fact that they are building up their own fate in the future,—that future which will prove all the more a terrible Reality in proportion to the extent of our presumption in daring to doubt its truth.
More than four hundred guests sat down to supper in the largest pavilion,—a supper served in the most costly manner, and furnished with luxuries that represented the utmost pitch of extravagance. I ate and drank, with Sibyl at my side, hardly knowing what I said or did in the whirling excitement of the hour. The opening of champagne bottles, the clink of glasses, the clatter of plates, the loud hum of talk interspersed with monkey-like squeals or goat-like whinnies of laughter, over-ridden at intervals by the blare of trumpet-music and drums,—all these sounds were as so much noise of rushing waters in my ears, and I often found myself growing abstracted, and in a manner confused by the din. I did not say much to Sibyl,—one cannot very well whisper sentimental nothings in the ear of one's betrothed when she is eating ortolans and truffles. Presently, amid all the hubbub, a deep bell struck twelve times, and Lucio stood up at the end of one of the long tables, a full glass of foaming champagne in his hand—
"Ladies and gentlemen!"
There was a sudden silence.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" he repeated, his brilliant eyes flashing derisively, I thought, over the whole well-fed company; "midnight has struck and the best of friends must part! But before we do so, let us not forget that we have met here to wish all happiness to our host, Mr Geoffrey Tempest, and his bride-elect, the Lady Sibyl Elton." Here there was vociferous applause. "It is said," continued Lucio, "by the makers of dull maxims, that 'Fortune never comes with both hands full,'—but in this case the adage is proved false and put to shame, for our friend has not only secured the pleasures of wealth, but the treasures of love and beauty combined. Limitless cash is good, but limitless love is better; and both these choice gifts have been bestowed on the betrothed pair whom to-day we honour. I will ask you to give them a hearty round of cheering,—and then it must be goodnight indeed, though not farewell, for with the toast of the bride and bridegroom-elect, I shall also drink to the time,— not far distant perhaps,—when I shall see some of you, if not all of you again, and enjoy even more of your charming company than I have done to-day!"
He ceased amid a perfect hurricane of applause,—and then everyone rose and turned towards the table where I sat with Sibyl, and naming our names aloud, drank wine, the men joining in hearty shouts of " Hip, hip, hip hurrah!" Yet,— as I bowed repeatedly in response to the storm of cheering, and while Sibyl smiled and bent her graceful head to right and left, my heart sank suddenly with a sense of fear. Was it my fancy—or did I hear peals of wild laughter circling round the brilliant pavilion and echoing away, far away into distance? I listened, glass in hand. "Hip, hip, hip hurrah!" shouted my guests with gusto. "Ha—ha—! ha—ha!" seemed shrieked and yelled in my ears from the outer air. Struggling against this delusion, I got up and returned thanks for myself and my future bride in a few brief words which were received with fresh salvos of applause,—and then we all became aware that Lucio had sprung up again in his place and was standing high above us all with one foot on the table and the other on the chair, confronting us with a fresh glass of wine in his hand, filled to the brim. What a face he had at that moment!—what a smile!
"The parting cup, my friends!" he exclaimed. "To our next merry meeting!"
With plaudits and laughter the guests eagerly and noisily responded,—and as they drank, the pavilion was flooded by a deep crimson illumination as of fire! Every face looked blood-red,—every jewel on every woman flashed like a living flame !—for one brief instant only,—then it was gone; and there followed a general stampede of the company,—everybody hurrying as fast as they could into the carriages that waited in long lines to take them to the station, the last two 'special' trains to London being at one A.m. and one-thirty. I bade Sibyl and her father a hurried good-night. Diana Chesney went in the same carriage with them, full of ecstatic thanks and praise to me for the splendours of the day, which she described in her own fashion as "knowing how to do it." And then the departing crowd of vehicles began to thunder down the avenue. As they went, an arch of light suddenly spanned Willowsmere Court from end to end of its red gables, blazing with all the colours of the rainbow, in the middle of which appeared letters of pale blue and gold, forming what I had hitherto considered as a funereal device—
Sic transit gloria mundi! Vale I
But, after all, it was as fairly applicable to the ephemeral splendours of a fete as it was to the more lasting marble solemnity of a sepulchre, and I thought little or nothing about it. So perfect were all the arrangements, and so admirably were the servants trained, that the guests were not long in departing, and the grounds were soon not only empty but dark. Not a vestige of the splendid illuminations was left anywhere,—and I entered the house fatigued and with a dull sense of bewilderment and fear on me which I could not explain. I found Lucio alone in the smokingroom at the further end of the oak-panelled hall, a small cosily curtained apartment with a deep bay window which opened directly on to the lawn. He was standing in this embrasure with his back to me, but he turned swiftly round as he heard my steps and confronted me with such a wild, white, tortured face, that I recoiled from him, startled.
"Lucio, you are ill!" I exclaimed; "you have done too much to-day."
"Perhaps I have !" he answered in a hoarse unsteady voice, and I saw a strong shudder convulse him as he spoke; then, gathering himself together as it were by an effort, he forced a smile,—"Don't be alarmed, my friend!—it is nothing,— nothing but the twinge of an old deep-seated malady,—a troublesome disease that is rare among men, and hopelessly incurable."
"What is it?" I asked anxiously, for his death-like pallor alarmed me. He looked at me fixedly, his eyes dilating and darkening, and his hand fell with a heavy pressure on my shoulder.
"A very strange illness!" he said, in the same jarring accents. "Remorse! Have you never heard of it, Geoffrey? Neither medicine nor surgery are of any avail,—it is 'the worm that dieth not, and the flame that cannot be quenched.' Tut!—let us not talk of it,—no one can cure me,—no one will! I am past hope."
"But remorse—if you have it, and I cannot possibly imagine why, for you have surely nothing to regret—is not a physical ailment!" I said wonderingly.
"And physical ailments are the only ones worth troubling about, you think?" he queried, still smiling that strained and haggard smile. "The body is our chief care,—we cosset it, and make much of it, feed it and pamper it, and guard it from so much as a pin-prick of pain if we can,—and thus we flatter ourselves that all is'well,—all must be well! Yet it is but a clay chrysalis, bound to split and crumble with the growth of the moth-soul within,—the moth that flies with blind instinctiveness straight into the Unknown and is dazzled by excess of light! Look out here," he went on with an abrupt and softer change of tone. "Look out at the dreamful shadowy beauty of your gardens now! The flowers are asleep,—the trees are surely glad to be disburdened of all the gaudy artificial lamps that lately hung upon their branches,—there is the young moon pillowing her chin on the edge of a little cloud and sinking to sleep in the west,— a moment ago there was a late nightingale awake and singing. You can feel the breath of the roses from the trellis yonder! All this is Nature's work,—and how much fairer and sweeter it is now than when the lights were ablaze and the blare of band music startled the small birds in their downy nests! Yet 'society' would not appreciate this cool dusk, this happy solitude,—' society' prefers a false glare to all true radiance. And what is worse, it tries to make true things take a second place as adjuncts to sham ones,—and there comes in the mischief."
"It is just like you to run down your own indefatigable labours in the splendid successes of the day," I said, laughing. "You may call it a ' false glare' if you like, but it has been a most magnificent spectacle,—and certainly in the way of entertainments it will never be equalled or excelled."
"It will make you more talked about than even your 'boomed' book could do!" said Lucio, eyeing me narrowly.
"Not the least doubt of that!" I replied. "Society prefers food and amusement to any literature,—even the greatest. By-the-by, where are all the 'artistes,'—the musicians and dancers?"
"Gone !" I echoed amazedly. "Already! Good heavens! have they had supper?"
"They have had everything they want, even to their pay," said Lucio, a trifle impatiently. "Did I not tell you, Geoffrey, that when I undertake to do anything I do it thoroughly or not at all?"
I looked at him,—he smiled, but his eyes were sombre and scornful.
"All right!" I responded carelessly, not wishing to offend him. "Have it your own way! But, upon my word, to me it is all like devil's magic!"
"What is?" he asked imperturbably.
"Everything!—the dancers, the number of servants and pages—why, there must have been two or three hundred of them,—those wonderful 'tableaux,' the illuminations, the supper,—everything, I tell you !—and the most astonishing part of it now is that all these people should have cleared ou* so soon!"
"Well, if you elect to call money devil's magic, you are right," said Lucio.
"But surely in some cases not even money could procure such perfection of detail," I began.
"Money can procure anything!" he interrupted, a thrill of passion vibrating in his rich voice,—" I told you that long ago- It is a hook for the devil himself. Not that the devil could be supposed to care about world's cash personally, but he generally conceives a liking for the company of the man who possesses it;—possibly he knows what that man will do with it. I speak metaphorically of course,—but no metaphor can exaggerate the power of money. Trust no man or woman's virtue till you have tried to purchase it with a round sum in hard cash! Money, my excellent Geoffrey, has done everything for you,—remember that!—you have done nothing for yourself."
"That's not a very kind speech," I said somewhat vexedly.
"No? And why? Because it's true? I notice most people complain of 'unkindness' when they are told a truth. It is true, and I see no unkindness in it. You've done nothing for yourself, and you're not expected to do anything— except"—and he laughed—"except just now to get to bed, and dream of the enchanting Sibyl!"
"I confess I am tired," I said, and an unconscious sigh escaped me. "And you?"
His gaze rested broodingly on the outer landscape.
"I also am tired," he responded slowly. "But I never get away from my fatigue, for I am tired of myself. And I always rest badly. Good-night!"
"Good-night!" I answered, and then paused, looking at him. He returned my look with interest.
"Well?" he asked expressively.
I forced a smile.
"Well!" I echoed—" I do not know what I should say,— except—that I wish I knew you as you are. I feel that you were right in telling me once that you are not what you seem." He still kept his eyes fixed upon me.
"As you have expressed the wish," he said slowly, "I promise you, you shall know me as I am, some day. It may be well for you to know,—for the sake of others who may seek to cultivate my company."
I moved away to leave the room.
"Thanks for all the trouble you have taken to-day," I said in a lighter tone; "though I shall never be able to express my full gratitude in words."
'' If you want to thank anybody, thank God that you have lived through it!" he replied.
"Why?" I asked, astonished.
"Why? Because life hangs on a thread,—a society crush is the very acme of boredom and exhaustion,—and that we escape with our lives from a general guzzle and giggle is matter for thanksgiving,—that's all! And God gets so few thanks as a rule, that you may surely spare Him a brief one for to-day's satisfactory ending."
I laughed, seeing no meaning in his words beyond the usual satire he affected. I found Amiel, waiting for me in my bedroom, but I dismissed him abruptly, hating the look of his crafty and sullen face, and saying I needed no attendance. Thoroughly fatigued, I was soon in bed and asleep,—and the terrific agencies that had produced the splendours of the brilliant festival at which I had figured as host were not revealed to me by so much as a warning dream!