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striking a fusee and lighting a cigar as he he went-an act that slightly disturbed the pilgrims who had canonised him, and shook their faith as to his saintship: Holy Johannes would never have smoked! As he moved from the spot, he saw the handkerchief lying at his feet, and stooped and raised it; it was of gossamer texture, bordered with delicate lace; it was perfumed with bois-de-sandâle, and in the corner, broidered with fantastic device, was a coronet and an interlaced chiffre, whose initials were too intricately interwoven for him to be at the pains to decipher them. It was a woman's pretty toy; some men would have kept it en souvenir of this Vigil of St. John when a face so marvellously lovely had beamed upon them; he was not one of those ; it was not his way. For a moment he took it up to thrust it in the breast of his waistcoat, more without thought than from any motive in the action; but as he did so he was passing a pretty Bohemian glass-engraver, whose bright black eyes sparkled with eager longing as her pretty brunette's face looked out from her yellow hood, and she saw the dainty scented handkerchief in his hand. He threw it to her, dropping the little gossamer toy, with its broidered coronet, into her bosom.“ It will please you better than me, little beauty," he said, carelessly, as he went on through the thickly-packed crowd, smoking, and not taking in return the caress she would willingly have allowed ; as the pilgrims returned to their prayers, closing over the vacant spot, and the chanted orisons, broken off for a while, rose again in slow-measured harmonies, the litanies ringing out into the silent air, the lights burning on the blazing altars, and the dense crowds bowing down before the shrines throughout the city, while the golden cross of the Teyn church glittered in the light of the stars, and the hushed skies brooded in the twilight of the coming night over the towers and the palaces, the river and the vineyards, the lighted altars, and the frowning fortresses of antique and historic Prague.
A TITIAN PICTURE SEEN BY SUNSET-LIGHT. “ MOUTON qui rêve, are you thinking of Prague and of me, mon ami ?”
A cumbersome Czeschen boat was dropping down the Moldau, its sails idly Alapping in the sultry June night, in which not a breath of wind was stirring, while the mournful music of some of the national lays broke on the air from a little band of musicians playing in the aft of the vessel, wild, sweet, and harmonious, as though they were the melodies of legendary Rubezähl and his Spirit Band. The boat was chiefly filled with peasantry going by water to a fair at Auzig, and bright-eyed glassengravers, with yellow or scarlet kerchiefs on their black-haired heads, were laughing merrily with each other, and casting mischievous glances at the sailors as they passed them. It was such a summer night as you may see any year in Bohemia ; the lazy, silent hour when the hot, toilsome, blazing day is sinking into the warm, still, tranquil night; when the peasantry leave their field-work, chanting fragments of the Niebelungenlied, or some other Sclavonic song; when the engravers put aside their little graving-wheels, and lean out for a breath of air from their single window under the eaves ; when the cattle wind homeward down the hill-side paths, and in the doorways of the Gasthof, under the cherry-trees, the gossipers drink their good night draughts of Läger and Bayerisches. The orchards white with blossom bowered gaily-painted homesteads ; the dark red roofs peeped out of châlets half hidden under hollyhocks; the poppy grounds glowed scarlet, catching the last gleam of the setting sun; and over the rye-fields a low western breeze was blowing from the fir-covered hills as the vessel floated down the stream, passing green wooded creeks, and pine-woods growing between the clefts of riven rocks, and golden glimpses of hazy distance from the banks through which the Moldau wound its way.
“ Mouton qui rêve, are you thinking of Prague and of me, mon ami ?"
The voice was low, and sweet, and rich—that most excellent thing in woman; and the speaker was worthy the voice, where she sat leaning amongst a pile of shawls and cushions with which her servant had covered the rough bench of the boat, as an Odalisque might have leaned amongst the couches of the Odà, with as much Eastern grace and as much Eastern languor. A blonde aux yeux noirs, her eyes were long and dark and lustrous, with a dangerous droop of their thick curling lashes, but her skin was dazzlingly fair, with a delicate rose tendre bloom in her cheeks: the hair was not golden, nor auburn, nor blonde cendré, but what I have only seen once in my life, the “ yellow hair" of the poets, of Edith the Swan-necked, and of Laura of Avignon ; the lips were beautiful-a trifle too full and too sensual feminine detractors would have objected, but Béranger would have sung of them :
pour ma lèvre qui les presse,
C'est un défaut bien attrayant ! and it was a mouth that surely smiled destruction! It was a face, brilliant, tender, marvellously lovely like a face of Titian or of Greuze, as she leant there among her cushions, with a black veil over her hair, thrown there with the grace of a Spanish mantilla ; and her white hands lying on the rough wooden edge of the vessel, with their rings gleaming in the sunset glare. Her eyes were dwelling on the face of a man who leant over the boat-side within a few yards of her, and who was looking down into the water, a cigar in his mouth, and his profile turned towards her ;-dwelling with curiosity, admiration, satisfaction. A woman appreciated better than a man the peculiar and varied meanings of that physiognomy; women will not often see widely, but they always see microscopically; they cannot analyse, but they have invaluable rapid intuition.
"It is a face of Vandyke ! so much repose, with so much passion. I like it. It tells a story, but a story whose leaves are uncut,” she thought to herself, as she leaned forwards, touched his arm with a branch of cherry-blossoms she held, and challenged him with her laughing words, “ Mouton qui rêve !" He turned; he had not seen her there before, though both had been on board some hours; and as the light blow of the cherry-blossoms struck his arm, scattering their snowy petals, and her low, soft laugh fell on his ear, he recognised the face that he had seen a few days before in the gas glare of the Vigil of St. John, whose oroidered handkerchief he had dropped into the bosom of a Bohemian peasant girl, instead of treasuring it en souvenir of one so fair. Such a woman would have won courteous welcome and recognition from a Stagyrite or a nonogenarian; and he took the hand she extended to him soft, warm, and small, with sapphires and pearls gleaming on its ungloved fingers, lifting his hat to her with answering words of gratified acknowledgments. He had not been thinking of her, but Diogenes himself would pot have had discourtesy enough to have told her so; and of a summer's evening, dropping down a river in a slow, tedious passage, such a rencontre to while away the time could not choose but be acceptable to any
“Ah, monsieur !" she said, softly, as he drew near to her, “how brave you were that night. To dare to stop those horses in full flight !—it was marvellous; it was heroic! You saved my life; how can I ever thank you well enough ?-ever show you half my gratitude ?”
“Hush, madame, I entreat you !” he said, with a smile, that was rather the calm conventional smile of courtesy than the warmer one she was used to see lighten at her glance. “ You have thanked me abundantly; if you do more, you will make me ashamed of having served you so little. Few men would not envy me so rich a recompense as lies in having won the smallest title to your gratitude !"
La blonde aux yeux noirs looked up at him searchingly through her silky lashes, and laughed a pretty, mocking, airy laugh.
“Graceful words! but are they meant ?''
“Ah, madame!” he answered, laughing, as he seated himself beside the fair stranger, into whose path accident had thrown him so agreeably. “Perhaps that is a question that it is always wisest never to ask of any words at all !”
“What an odd man!” thought the lovely Odalisque of the Moldau, letting her eyes rest on the countenance that had for her, as it had for most women, a peculiar fascination, while she laughed again. “ Very true! Some women will tell you, monsieur, they do not like compliments -never believe them; it is only that the raisins sont verts. I like flattery. I live on it as children live on bonbons ; if it be not sincere, it is nothing to me, the blame lies on the bad taste of the flatterers. I must have my dragées, and, as long as they are sweet, what matter whether they are real sugar or only French chalk ?”
“ All offered to you must be genuine--you need have no fear!” he answered her—and he meant it. As he looked down on the dazzling incognita, whose insouciant freedom had yet all the grace and charm taught by the breeding of courts and beaux mondes, though critical and very difficult to please, he confessed to himself that he had never seen anything more lovely out of the pastelles of La Tour, or the dreams of Titian, than this young and brilliant creature found thus strangely out of place, and alone, in a Bohemian boat that was carrying a load of peasant passengers to Auzig Fair!
Who could she be ?-a lady of rank, laissez faire and untrammelled, amusing herself with the romances and caprices of a momentary incogpita; a Princess of the Tuileries, or of the Quartier Breda ; a Serene Highness of some Sesquipedalian-Strelitz, sans state and sans suite; or a Comtesse sans Châteaux (save en Espague), with a face and a grace more fatal to her prey than her vin mosseux and her skilful écarté? As yet it was impossible to tell, and with a lovely woman so ungracious an
interrogation can never be put as the insolent question, “Who are
She looked up and met his eyes bent on her, as the light of the sun setting behind the pine-woods lit up her face and form, as she leaned among her cushions, into Reuben-like richness, with a bright touch of Fra Angelo and Carlo Dolce softness about the tableau.
“How strangely we meet, monsieur, on this clumsy little Czeschen boat! I came by water, because the night was so warm; and you came from the same reason? Ah! C'est le destin, monsieur! We were fated to meet again.”
“If fate will always serve me as kindly I will become a predestinarian to-morrow, and go in leading-strings with blind contentment !"
God help us !-how rashly we say things in this world. Long years afterwards we remember those idle, careless, unmeant words gaily uttered, and they come back to us like the distant mocking laughs of devils ! devils who tempted us, and now riot in their work.
“C'est le destin !" she said, smiling, her fair face, with its luminous eyes, looking the lovelier for that beaming coquettish smile, half languid, half moqueur. “But, monsieur, you have been my deliverer, may I not ask to know, who is it I have to thank for so daring a rescue as I owed to you in Prague ?”
“ Assuredly. My name is Strathmore---Cecil Strathmore."
“Strathmore!" she repeated, musingly. “ It is a very pretty name, and a good one. Then you are English, monsieur? And if so, you are thinking, of course, what a strange incorrect whim of mine it is for me to be travelling alone with only my maid in a little Czeschen boat in the evening ? You English are so raides, so prudish!"
Strathmore laughed, as he wound the shawls about her that had dropped aside.
- The English are (though I am neither of the two, believe me), but they generally verify Swift's aphorism, that "a nice man is a man of nasty ideas;' the chill iceing is only to conceal dirty water, and they freeze to hide what lies below! But may not I claim similar confidence, and entreat to know by name one whom no name is needed, it is true, to make one remember her?”
She laughed, and shook her head in denial so charming that it was worth fifty assents.
“No, I am travelling incognita. I cannot reveal that secret. I like Romance and Caprice, monsieur, they are feminine privileges, and following them I have found far more amusement than if I had gone in one beaten track between two blank walls of Custom and Prudence. It may have made me enemies; but, bah! who goes through life without them ?”
“ None! and never those who awaken envy. Dulness and mediocrity may live unmolested and unattacked, but people never tire of finding spots on a sun whose brilliance blinds them.
“Never !" she answered, with a naïve and amusing personal appropriation of his words. “If I had been born plain like some poor women, I should not have had so many siffleurs; but then, on the other hand, my claque would not have been so loud nor so strong; and the cheers always drown the hisses."
" You have had siffleurs ? They must have bandaged their eyes, then, before taking so ungracious a rôle! Surely society hissed them for such atrocity ?” said Strathmore, noticing the dazzling fairness of her skin and the exquisite contour of her form, and thinking to himself, “ The deuce! she makes me talk as absurd nonsense as the Sabreur !"
“Of course it did, but siffleurs hiss on through all opposition, you know, monsieur- ".
“ Because it pays them !"
“No doubt. But, what do a few hisses matter, more or less, as long as one enjoys oneself in one's youth-one's delicious, irrecoverable youth? I suppose if I live long enough my hair will be white and my skin yellow, but I do not spoil my present by looking into the future. If it must come, let it take care of itself. It may never come—why mourn about it? Those people are bécasses, who work, and toil, and wear away all their beaux jours, and live hardly and joylessly only to hoard money to buy tisane, and nurses, and crutches, when all the zest of existence is gone from them, and given to a new generation that has pushed them out of their places? Doesn't Balzac say, that whether one sweeps the streets with a broom or the Tuileries with a velvet robe, it comes to much the same thing when one is old; the salt is equally out of the soup whether it is eaten in a Maison Dieu or in a ducal château !"
“ Almost thou persuadest me to be an Epicurean !" smiled Strathmore, as he thought to himself, “ who the deuce can she be?” and gazed down into her soft, laughing, lustrous eyes, languid yet coquettish, like the eyes of the women of Seville. “But I do not hold with you there, ma belle inconnue; to me it seems that with years alone can be gained what is worth gaining-power. The butterfly pleasure of youth can very well be spared for the ambitions that can only be reaped with maturity. A man has only become of real value, and able to grasp real sway, when he is near his grave.”
“Ah, for your sex that is all very well, your youth lasts to your tomb, but with us-nous autres femmes ! --with our beauty fies our sceptre. How can we reign after youth, without youth? You will not care for a mistress who is wrinkled !” cried the belle blonde, impatiently, the im. patience of a lovely coquette incensed to be contradicted. “So, you think power the only thing worth having? Then you do not care for love, monsieur, I presume?”
" Well!--I must confess, not much.”
It was rank heresy in the presence of so fair a priestess of the soft religion, it was a fatal challenge to the one who heard it, though Strathmore spoke the cold, careless, simple truth, and did not heed whether he offended or piqued a chance acquaintance of the hour by it.
“And yet that man will love, fiercely, imperiously, bitterly, one day !" thought the Neriad of the Moldau, who, a stranger to him, as he to her, read his character by a woman of the world's clairvoyante perception, as he failed to read hers by a man of the world's trained penetration. “For shame !" she said, aloud, striking him a fragrant blow with her sprigs of cherry-blossom. “If you are heretical enough to feel so, mon ami, you should not be unchivalric enough to say so! Your bay wreaths will be very barren and withered if you don't weave some roses with them. Cæsar knew that. So you admire age because it will give you power;