"The Argonauts" by Eliza Orzeszkowa (translated by Jeremiah Curtin). Published by Good Press. Good Press publishes a wide range of titles that encompasses every genre. From well-known classics & literary fiction and non-fiction to forgotten−or yet undiscovered gems−of world literature, we issue the books that need to be read. Each Good Press edition has been meticulously edited and formatted to boost readability for all e-readers and devices. Our goal is to produce eBooks that are user-friendly and accessible to everyone in a high-quality digital format.
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It was the mansion of a millionaire. On the furniture and the walls of drawing-rooms, colors and gleams played as on the surface of a pearl shell. Mirrors reflected pictures, and inlaid floors shone like mirrors. Here and there dark tapestry and massive curtains seemed to decrease the effect, but only at first sight, for, in fact, they lent the whole interior a dignity which was almost churchlike. At some points everything glistened, gleamed, changed into azure, scarlet, gold, bronze, and the various tints of white peculiar to plaster-of-Paris, marble, silk, porcelain. In that house were products of Chinese and Japanese skill; the styles of remote ages were there, and the most exquisite and elegant among modern styles, lamps, chandeliers, candlesticks, vases, ornamental art in its highest development. Withal much taste and skill was evident, a certain tact in placing things, and a keenness in disposing them, which indicated infallibly the hand and the mind of a woman who was far above mediocrity.
The furnishing of this mansion must have cost sums which to the poor would seem colossal, and very considerable even to the wealthy.
Aloysius Darvid, the owner of this mansion, had not inherited his millions; he had won them with his own iron labor, and he toiled continually to increase them. His industry, inventiveness, and energy were inexhaustible. To him business seemed to be what water is to a fish: the element which gives delight and freedom. What was his business? Great and complicated enterprises: the erection of public edifices, the purchase, sale, and exchange of values of various descriptions, exchanges in many markets and corporations. To finish all this business it was necessary to possess qualities of the most opposite character: the courage of the lion and the caution of the fox, the talons of the falcon and the elasticity of the cat. His life was passed at a gaming-table, composed of the whole surface of a gigantic State; that life was a species of continuous punting at a bank kept by blind chance rather frequently; for calculation and skill, which meant very much in his career, could not eliminate chance altogether, that power which appears independently. Hence, he must not let chance overthrow him; he might drop to the earth before its thrusts and contract a muscle, but only to parry, make an elastic spring, and seize new booty. His career was success rising and falling like a river, it was also a fever, ceaselessly bathed in cool calculation and reckoning.
As to the rest, post-wagons, railways, bells at railway stations, urging to haste, glittering snows of the distant North, mountains towering on the boundary between two parts of the world, rivers cutting through uninhabited regions, horizons marked with the gloomy lines of Siberian forests, solitary since the beginning of ages. Then, as a change: noise, glitter, throngs, the brilliancy of capitals, and in those capitals a multitude of doors, some of which open with freedom, while others are closed hermetically; before doors of the second sort the pliancy of the cat's paw is needed; this finds a hole where the broad way is impossible.
He was forced to be absent from his family for long months, sometimes for whole years, and even when living under the same roof with the members of it he was a rare guest, never a real confiding companion. For permanence, intimacy, tender feeling in relations, with even those who were nearest him, Darvid had not the time, just as he had not the time to concentrate his thoughts on any subject whatever unless it was connected with his lines, dates, and figures, or with the meshes of that net in which he enclosed his thoughts and his iron labor.
As to amusements and delights of life, they were at intervals love-affairs, flashing up on a sudden, transient, fleeting, vanishing with the smoke of the locomotive which rushed forward, at times luxuries of the table peculiar to various climates, or majestic scenery which forced itself on the eye by its grandeur and disappeared quickly, or some hours of animated card-playing; but, above all, relations with social magnates, who were on the one hand of use, and on the other an immensely great honor to his vanity. Money and significance, these were the two poles around which all Darvid's thoughts, desires, and feelings circled; or, at least, it might seem all, for who can be certain that nothing exists in a man save that which is manifest in his actions? Surely no one, not the man himself even.
After three years' absence, Darvid had returned only a few months before to his native city, and to his own house, where he was as ever a rare and inattentive guest. Pie was laboring again. In the first week, on the first day almost, he discovered a new field; he was very anxious to seize this field, and begin his Herculean efforts on it. But the seizure depended on a certain very highly placed personage to whom, up to that time, he had not been able to gain admittance.
The cat's paw had played about a number of times to open a crevice in the closed door, but in vain! He desired a confidential talk of two hours, but could not obtain it.
He turned then to a method which had given him real service frequently.
He found an individual who had the art of squeezing into all places, of winning everyone, of digging from under the earth circumstances, relations, influences. Individuals of this kind are generally dubious in character, but this concerned Darvid in no way. He considered that at the bottom of life dregs are found as surely as slime is in rivers which have golden sand. He thought of life's dregs and smiled contemptuously, but did not hesitate to handle those dregs, and see if there were golden grains in them. He called his dubious assistants hounds, for they tracked game in thickets inaccessible to the hunter. Small, almost invisible, they were still better able than he to contract muscles, creep up or spring over. He had let out such a hound a few days before to gain the desired audience, and had received no news from him thus far. This disturbed and annoyed Darvid greatly. He would rush into the new work like a lion into an arena, and spring at fresh prey.
The evening twilight came down into the series of great and small chambers. Darvid, in his study, furnished with such dignified wealth that it was almost severe in the rich lamp-light, received men who came on affairs of various descriptions: with reports, accounts, requests, proposals.
In that study everything was dark-colored, massive, grand in its proportions, of great price, but not flashy. Not the least object was showy or fantastic; nothing was visible save dignity and comfort. There were books behind the glass of a splendid bookcase, two great pictures on the wall, a desk with piles of papers, in the middle of the room a round table covered with maps, pamphlets, thick volumes; around the table, heavy, deep and low armchairs. The room was spacious with a lofty ceiling, from which hung over the round table a splendid lamp, burning brightly.
Darvid's remote prototype, the Argonaut Jason, must have had quite a different exterior when he sailed on toward Colchis to find the golden fleece. Time, which changes the methods of contest, changes the forms of its knights correspondingly. Jason trusted in the strength of his arm and his sword-blade. Darvid trusted in his brain and his nerves only. Hence, in him, brain and nerves were developed to the prejudice of muscles, creating a special power, which one had to know in order to recognize it in that slender and not lofty figure, in that face with shrunken cheeks, covered with skin which was dry, pale, and as mobile as if quivering from every breeze which carried his bark toward the shores which he longed for. On his cheeks shone narrow strips of whiskers, almost bronze-hued; the silky ends of these fell on his stiff, low collar; ruddy mustaches, short and firm, darkened his pale, thin lips, which had a smile in the changeableness of which was great expression; this smile encouraged, discouraged, attracted, repelled, believed, doubted, courted or jeered-jeered frequently. But the main seat of power in Darvid seemed to be his eyes, which rested long and attentively on that which he examined. These eyes had pupils of steel color, cold, very deep, and with a fullness of penetrating light which was often sharp, under brows which were prominent, whose ruddy lines were drawn under a high forehead, increased further by incipient baldness-a forehead which was smooth and had the polish of ivory; between the brows were numerous wrinkles, like a cloud of anxiety and care. His was a cold, reasoning face, energetic, with the stamp of thought fixed between the brows, and lines of irony which had made the mouth drawn.
A jurist, one of the most renowned in that great city, held in his hand an open volume of the Code, and was reading aloud a series of extracts from it. Darvid was standing and listening attentively, but irony increased in his smile, and, when the jurist stopped reading, he began in a low voice. This voice with its tones suppressed, as it were, through caution, was one of Darvid's peculiarities.
"Pardon me, but what you have read has no relation to the point which concerns us." Taking the book he turned over its pages for a while and began then to read from it. In reading he used glasses with horn-rims; from these the yellowish pallor of his lean face became deeper. The renowned jurist was confused and astonished.
"You are right," said he. "I was mistaken. You know law famously." How was he to avoid knowing it, since it was his weapon and safety-valve! The jurist sat down on one of the broad and low armchairs in silence, and now the architect unrolled on the table the plan of a public edifice to which the last finish was to be given during winter and before work began in spring.
Darvid listened again in silent thought, looking at the plan with his steel-colored eyes, in which at times there flashed sparks of ideas coming from the brain-ideas which, after a while, he presented to the trained architect. He spoke in a voice low and fluent; he spoke connectedly and very clearly. The architect answered with respect, and, like, the jurist who had preceded, not without a certain astonishment. Great God! this man knows everything; he moves as freely in the fields of architecture, mathematics, and law as in his own chamber! Darvid noticed the astonishment of those around him, and irony settled on his thin lips. Did those men imagine that he could begin such undertakings and be like a blind man among colors? Some begin thus but are ruined! He understood that in our time immense knowledge is the only foundation for pyramidal fortunes, and his memory alone knew the long series of nights which had passed above his head while it was sleepless in winning knowledge.
Next appeared before the table a young man, lean and slender; his dark eyes expressed genius, his clothing was threadbare, his gestures almost vulgar. This was a sculptor, young but already famous. The man had incipient consumption, which brought excessive ruddiness to his face, a glitter to his eyes, and a short, rasping cough from his breast.
He spoke of the sculptures which he was to finish for the edifices reared by the great contractor; he showed the drawings of them, and explained his ideas; he rose to enthusiasm; he spoke more loudly, and coughed at more frequent intervals. Darvid raised his head; the sensitive skin on his cheeks quivered with a delicate movement; he touched the shoulder of the artist with the tips of two white, slender fingers.
"Best," said he; "it hurts you to speak too long."
"My younger daughter coughs in just this way," remarked he to the other men present, "and it troubles me somewhat."
"Perhaps a visit to Italy," said the architect.
"Yes, I have thought of that, but the doctors note nothing dangerous so far." Then he turned to the sculptor:
"You ought to visit Italy, for its collections of art and—its climate." The artist, not pleased with this interruption, did not answer directly, but went on showing his projects and explaining them; though his short breath and the cough, which was repeated oftener, made his conversation more difficult. Thereupon Darvid straightened himself.
"I know very little of art," said he. "Not because I despise it; on the contrary, I think art a power, since the world does it homage, but because I lack time. Trouble yourself no further to exhibit plans and ideas here. I confirm them beforehand, knowing well what I do. Prince Zeno, whose good taste and intellect I admire, advised me to turn to you. At his house, moreover, I have seen works of your chisel which charmed me. Some declare that we men of finance and business represent only matter, and have no concern with Psyche (the soul). But I say that your Psyche, now in Prince Zeno's palace, produced on me the impression that I am not matter only."
Irony covered his lips, but with increased amiability he added:
"Let us fix the amount of your honorarium, permit me to take the initiative," said he, hurriedly.
In a tone of inquiry he mentioned a sum which was very considerable. The sculptor bowed, unwilling, or unable to conceal his delight and astonishment. Darvid touched him lightly on the arm, and conducted him to a great desk, one drawer of which he opened. The jurist and the architect at the round table exchanged glances.
"A protege of the prince!" whispered one.
"Cleverness! advertising!" whispered the other.
"I know from report," said Darvid, to the young artist, "that sculptors must spend considerable sums before they begin a given work. Here is an advance. Do not hesitate. Money should be at the service of talent."
The sculptor was astonished. He had imagined the millionaire as entirely different.
"Money should be at the service of talent!" repeated he.
"I hear this for the first time from a man having money! Do you really think so?" Darvid smiled, but his face clouded immediately.
"My dear sir," said he, "I would give, I think, much money if a cough like yours were not in the world."
"Because of your daughter—" began the sculptor, but Darvid had grown cold now, ceremonious, and he turned toward the round table.
At the same moment a servant announced from the door a new guest.
"Pan Arthur Kranitski."
The guest entered immediately after the servant, and passed the outgoing sculptor in the door.
This guest was a man who carried his fifth decade of years with youthful elasticity of movement, and with a pleasant, winning expression on his still handsome face. In general he seemed to be clothed with remnants of great manly beauty, from behind which, like soiled lining through rents in a once splendid robe, appeared, carefully concealed, old age, which was premature, perhaps.
A tall man with a shapely oval face, he had dark whiskers, and the black curls of his hair did not cover successfully the bald spot appearing on the back of his head; his mustache was curled upward, in the fashion of young men, above ruddy lips; he passed through the study with a youthful step, and had the express intention of greeting the master of the house in a cordial and intimate manner. But in the cold eyes of Darvid appeared flashes well-nigh threatening; he barely touched with his finger-tips the hand extended by the guest-a hand really aristocratic, white, slender, and greatly cared for.
"Pardon, pardon, dear Pan Aloysius, that I come at this hour, just the hour of thy important, immense, colossal occupations! But on receiving thy invitation I hastened."
"Yes," said Darvid, "I need to talk with you a little—will you wait a while?"
He turned toward the two men standing by the table, who when he greeted Kranitski looked at him with a curiosity impossible to conceal.
Every meeting of Darvid with that eternal guest, that offshoot of aristocratic families, roused the curiosity of people. For a good while Darvid did not know this, but at last he discovered it, and now his quick glance caught on the lips of the famous jurist a barely discernible smile, to meet which a similar smile appeared on the lips of the architect. He discoursed a few minutes more with the two men. When they turned to go he conducted them to the door; when that was closed he turned to Kranitski and said:
"Now I am at your service."
No one had ever seen service so icy cold, and having in it the shade of a restrained threat. Kranitski in view of this spent more time than was needed in placing his hat on one of the pieces of furniture, besides an expression of alarm covered his face, now bent forward, and, in the twinkle of an eye, the wrinkling of his forehead and the dropping of his cheeks, made him look ten years older. Still with grace which was unconscious, since it had passed long before into habit, he turned to Darvid.
"Thou hast written to me, dear Pan Aloysius—"
"I have called you," interrupted Darvid, "for the purpose of proposing a certain condition, and a change."
From a thick, long book he cut out a page, on which, previously, he had written a few words in haste, and giving it to Kranitski, he said:
"Here is a bank check for a considerable sum. Your affairs, as I hear, are in a very disagreeable condition."
Kranitski's face grew radiant from delight, and became ten years younger. Taking the check presented to him he began, with a certain hesitation:
"Dear Pan Aloysius, this service, really friendly, which thou art rendering me, even without request on my part, is truly magnanimous, but be assured that the moment income from my property increases—"
Darvid interrupted him a second time.
"We know each other so long that I cannot be ignorant of what your property is, and what income you receive from it. You have no property. You own a little village, the income from which has never sufficed to satisfy even one half of your needs. In that little village you would have passed your life unknown to the great world if your mother had not been a relative of Prince Zeno, and some other coronets of nine quarterings. But since you had relationship so brilliant through your mother, high society did not suffer from the loss of your presence. I know all that relates to you, you need not try to lead me into error—I know everything."
On the last words he put an emphasis which seemed to bring Kranitski into a profound confusion, which he could not master.
"Parole d'honneur," began he, "I do not understand such a real friendly service with such a tone."
"You will understand at once. This sum offered you is not a friendly service, but a simple commercial transaction. To begin with, I insist that for the future you cut short all relations with my son Maryan."
Kranitski stepped back a number of paces.
"With Maryan!" exclaimed he, as if not wishing to believe his own ears. "I break all relations with him! Is it possible? Why? How can that be? But you yourself—"
"That is true, I myself began this. I wished that my family, which, during my frequent absences, resided here permanently, should move in that social sphere which I considered most desirable, and I asked you to be the link between my family and that sphere—"
"I did what you desired," interrupted Kranitski in turn, and raising his head.
Darvid, looking firmly into his face, said in a low voice, slowly, but the ice of his tones seemed at moments to break from the boiling of passion confined beneath them.
"Yes, but you, sir, have demoralized my son. Of himself he would never have gone to such a degree of corruption and idleness. You drew him from study, you led him into all kinds of sport, you took him to all places of amusement, from the highest to the lowest. On returning, after three years' absence, I found Maryan withered morally. Luckily he is a child yet, twenty-three years of age, it is possible to save him. The process of salvation I begin by forbidding you to have any further relations whatever with my son."
Darvid grew terrible during his remaining words. His fingers were sinking into the table, on which he rested his hand. The cluster of wrinkles between his brows became deeper, his eyes had the flash of steel in them; he was all hatred, anger, contempt. But Kranitski, who at first listened to him as if unable to move from astonishment, boiled up also with anger.
"What do you say?" cried he. "Does not my hearing deceive me? You reproach me! Me, who during your ceaseless occupations and absences have been for many years, one may say, the only guardian of your family, and director of your son. Well! Then do you not remember our former intimacy, and this, that it was I who made you acquainted with the highest families of this city, and all this country? Do you not remember your confidential statements to me that you wished to give your daughters in marriage within those circles to which my connections might be a convenient bridge for you? Do you not remember your requests that I should introduce Maryan into the best society, and teach him the manners prevailing there? Very well! You were making your millions in peace, going after them to the ends of the earth, while I did everything that you wished, and now I meet with reproaches, which, at the very least, are expressed without delicacy—des reproches, des grossieretes—Mais ca n'a pas de nom! c'est inoui! This demands the satisfaction of honor."
His indignation was genuine and heartfelt; it brought out a deep flush on his still shapely face. A stony amazement fell on Darvid. True, true, that man spoke the truth.
He, Darvid, had used him for his purposes; he had liked the man, almost loved him; he had given him great confidence. He had not looked into his character; he had not tried to know him, though he had found time to analyze and know men who took no part in his business. But the fact in this case was, that whatever had happened, had happened with his own will. From the depth of his bosom, from out their mysterious den, came a coil of snakes, and a repulsive coldness and slime rose toward his throat, still he reared his head.
"There is much truth in what you say; still my decisive and repeated wish is that you cease to appear in my house."
Kranitski's forehead was flushed with blood, and the words were hissing on his lips when he cried:
"In view of such feelings of yours toward me, how am I to explain the service rendered just now?"
"As pay for service which you have rendered me, or my family. I pay, we are at quits, and part forever." "You are not the only power in this world!" cried Kranitski; "not your will alone can open or close the doors of this house to me."
Darvid, so pale that even his thin lips did not seem to possess a drop of blood, took from a letter-case and showed Kranitski, between two fingers, a letter in a small elegant envelope, bearing the address of Pani Malvina Darvid.
The dark flush vanished from Kranitski without a trace; he became very pale and rested his hand on the arm of the chair; his eyes opened widely. Silence lasted some seconds; between those two men with faces as pale as linen hung the terror of a discovered secret. Darvid, with a voice so stifled that it was barely audible, was the first to speak.
"How this letter came into my hands we need not explain! Simply by chance. Such chances are very common, and they have in them only this good, that at times they put an end to deceit and—villainy!"
Kranitski, still very pale except that red spots were coming out on his forehead, looked very old all at once; he advanced some steps and stood before Darvid, the round table alone was between them. With stifled voice, but fixing his black, flashing eyes boldly on Darvid's face, he said:
"Deceit! villainy! those words are said easily! Do you not know that in early youth your wife was almost my betrothed?"
Darvid's lips were covered with irony, and he said:
"You deserted her at command of your mother, when she sent you to this capital in search of the golden fleece."
"And when you went to the ends of the earth for it," answered Kranitski, "you thought proper to place me to guard the woman whom I loved formerly. You considered yourself invincible, even when separated by hundreds or thousands of miles from her—"
"Let us stop this ridiculous discussion," said Darvid.
"As for me," put in Kranitski, with animation, "I will finish it by offering you any satisfaction which you may demand. I await your seconds."
Darvid laughed loudly and sharply.
"A duel! Do you think that the world would not know the cause of it? Your former betrothed would appear in the matter. For that I should care less, though I must care, for she bears my name, but I have daughters, and I have business—"
He was silent a while, then he finished:
"A scandal might injure my business, and most assuredly would injure the future of my daughters; therefore I will neither challenge you to a duel, nor will I direct my servants to thrash you!"
A trembling shook Kranitski from head to foot, as if from the effects of a blow; he straightened himself, he became manful, and crushing in his hand the bank check which he had received, hurled that paper bullet into Darvid's face so directly that it hit him at the top of his bronze colored whiskers and fell to his feet. Then with elastic movement, and with a grace which was unconscious and uncommon, he turned toward the door and strode out. Darvid remained alone. In that spacious, lofty chamber, richly furnished, in the abundant light of a costly lamp, he remained alone. Clasping his inclined head with both hands, he squeezed it with his white, lean fingers, as with pincers. How many vexations and troubles had met him here after an absence of years! There was something greater still than even these vexations and troubles. The coil of serpents rose in his breast and crawled up to his very throat.
That was torture mixed with a feeling of unendurable disgust. But Darvid avoided high-sounding phrases, and would never think or say: torture, disgust. That was a manner of speaking for idlers and poets. He, a man of iron industry, knew only the words vexation, trouble. What is he to do now with that woman? Throw her out like a beast which, bathed in milk and honey by its owner, has bitten him to the blood? Impossible. His children, especially his daughters, his business, his position, his house—scandals are harmful in every way. So he must live on under the same roof with her; meet the sight of her face, her eyes—those eyes which on a time were for him—yes, it cannot be otherwise.
He must endure that and master himself; master himself mightily, so as not to let things reach a scene, or reproaches, or explanation. Naturally, no scenes, disputes, or explanations. For, first of all, what can they profit? Nothing save a useless expense of energy, and he needs energy so much.
Besides, the very best punishment for that woman is unbroken silence, which will raise between her and him an impenetrable wall. From words, even though they be as sharp as sword-edges, some sound may be got, some slight hope of salvation; but silence, concealing hidden knowledge of a deed, is a coffin in which, from the first hour of each day to the end of it, that woman's pride will be placed with all that in her may still be human. Contempt as silent as the grave! She will eat of his millions, seasoned with his contempt. She will array herself in his millions, interwoven with his hatred. Hatred? Oh, beyond doubt he hates her with passion, and only at times does her name move marvellously through his brain with such sounds as if they were the echo of things very dear, things lost forever and irreplaceable. Can it be? Is it possible that she did that? Malvina, once an ideal maiden, and ten years later a woman so loving that when he was going on a journey she threw herself on her knees and wept, and then besought him not to go from her! He remembers the scene perfectly.
Her hair of pale gold, dropping then in disorder to her shoulders and bosom—her magnificent hair, surrounded by which the tears flowing down her face glistened like diamonds! He raised his head, straightened himself. What stupidity! On what sentiment and exaltation is he losing time and energy! He needs them for something else. He needs to concentrate all his forces to bring his new designs to the desired culmination. Why does "that hound" not show himself and bring the answer needed? Ah, if he could only get one hour of that conversation, he would convince; he would capture; he would overcome rivals, and seize into his own sole possession new fields of industry and speculation! There are hindrances, intrigues, dangerous rivalries, he knows of them, and these oppositions it is precisely which attract him most of all. Now especially, with those vexations and troubles, victory and the new work would be as a spoonful of hashish to him, or a glass of strong, invigorating wine. He must go to the club. A game of cards, to which he devotes some night hours frequently, is not specially pleasant, but he plays with persons of high position in society, or with those who are needed in his business. He will find perhaps, also, that man for whom he has been waiting, vainly, some days.
He was extending his hand to the button of the electric bell when from behind the portieres which half hid the door opening to the interior of the mansion a thin and timid voice came; one could hardly tell whether it was the voice of a child or a young lady:
"Is it permitted to enter?"
Darvid went to the door hurriedly, saying, also hurriedly:
"It is! It is!"
At that moment, from the darkness which filled the adjoining room, into the abundant light of the study, came a maiden of fifteen years, in a bright dress; she was tall and very slender, with a small waist and narrow breast. An immense wealth of pale, golden hair seemed to bend back with its weight her small, shapely head somewhat; her oval face, with its delicate features, had the blush of spring on it; her lips were like cherries, and under the arches of her dark brows were large dark eyes. Right behind the bright dress of the girl came a small shaggy creature, a ball of ash colored silk, a little dog.
"Cara!" cried Darvid, "well, you are here, little one! How often have I asked you to come always boldly. How do you feel to-day? You have not coughed much, I think? Have you taken your daily walk? With whom did you go? With Miss Mary, or Irene? Come, come, sit here in this armchair."
He held her small hand in his and led her toward the table, which was surrounded with armchairs. In his movements there was something polished and exquisite, as it were delicacy toward a person who was very dear and not much known, pushed to the degree where it might be called gallantry. Joined with this was a feeling of delight. She was pleased and smiling, but she was blushing and embarrassed. Advancing with short steps at his side, she bent to his hand every moment and kissed it. Her act was full of a timid charm, half capricious. They both looked like persons who were greatly pleased at meeting, but who remained on a footing of ceremony with each other. He received her in his study as a queen; he seated her in an armchair, then, sitting very near, he held her hands in his. Between them, on the edge of his mistress's skirt, sat the dog with the ash-colored coat, in a posture of disquiet and uncertainty; it was evident that he was not accustomed to visit that room. Cara also, with an expression of timid happiness on her lips which were open, cast her glance with a smile on the vases and the walls, uncertain whether she was to speak, not knowing if she might say something; she bore herself very simply; her small hands rested without motion between her father's palms. At last she said, in a very low voice:
"I was so anxious to see you, father, dear; I wished so much to speak with you that I have come."
"You have done excellently, my little one. Why not come oftener? Your coming gives me great pleasure."
While speaking he looked all the time into her face, which was almost that of a little child. She was so like her mother, that Malvina's youth was simply renewed in Cara.
But Malvina, when he made her acquaintance, was considerably older; the hair was just the same, very bright, and the eyes with dark brows and pupils, the same shape of forehead. With a deepening of the wrinkles between his brows he repeated:
"Why not come offener?"
"You are always so occupied, father," whispered she.
"What of that?" answered he hurriedly and abruptly.
"There is reproach in your voice. Are my occupations a crime? But labor is service, it is the value of a man. My children should esteem my labor more than others, since I toil for them as much, or even more, than for myself."
He did not even think of speaking to that child with a voice so abrupt, and with such a cloud on his forehead; but that cloud came to him from some place within, from a distant feeling of something which he had never looked at directly before. But he hardly knew the girl! When he went away the last time she was a child; now she was almost full grown. But she, in the twinkle of an eye, slipped from the low armchair to the carpet, and kneeling with clasped hands began to speak passionately and quickly:
"Your child is on her knees before you, father. When you were far away she revered you, did you homage, longed for you; when you are here she loves you greatly, above everything—"
Here she turned and removed from her dress the ball of ash-colored silk, which was climbing to her shoulder.
"Go away, Puffie, go away! I have no time for thee now."
She pushed away the little dog, which sat on the carpet some steps distant. Darvid felt a stream of pleasant warmth flooding into his breast from the words of his daughter; but on principle he did not like enthusiasm. In feelings and the expression of them he esteemed moderation beyond everything. He raised with both hands the girl's head, which was bending toward his knees.
"Be not excited, be not carried away. Repose is beautiful, it is indispensable; without repose no calculation can be accurate, no work complete. Your attachment makes me happy; but compose yourself, rise from your knees, sit comfortably."
She put her hands together as in prayer.
"Let me stay as I am, father, at your knee. I imagined that on your return I should be able to talk often and long with you; to ask about everything, learn everything from you."
She coughed. Darvid took her in his arms, and, without raising her from her knees, he drew her to his breast.
"See! your cough lasts! Do you cough much? Well, do not speak, do not speak! let it pass. Does this cough pass quickly?"
It had passed. She stopped coughing, laughed. Her teeth glittered like pearls between her red lips. A gleam of delight shot through Darvid's eyes.
"It has gone already! I do not cough often, only rarely. I am perfectly well. I was very sick when I got chilled at an open window while you were away, father."
"I know, I know. Your enthusiastic little head thought of opening the window on a winter night, so as to peep out and see how the garden looked covered with snow in the moonlight."
"The trees, father, the trees!" began she, smiling and with vivacity; "not the whole garden, just the trees, which, covered with snow and frost in the moonlight, were like pillars of marble, alabaster, crystal, set with diamonds, hung with laces; and whenever the slightest breeze moved, a rain of pearls was scattered on the ground." "Great God!" exclaimed Darvid, "marbles, alabasters, laces, diamonds, pearls! But there was nothing of all this in fact! There was nothing but dry trunks, branches, snow, and hoar-frost. That is exaltation! And you see how destructive it may be! It brought you acute inflammation of the lungs, the traces of which are not gone yet."
"They are!" answered she, in passing, and then she spoke seriously. "My father, is it exaltation to worship something which is very beautiful, or to love some one greatly with all our strength? If it is—then I am given to exaltation, but without exaltation what could we live for?"
An expression of wonder, meditation, thoughtfulness filled her eyes and covered her finely cut face with a freshness like that of a wild rose. With a movement of wonder she opened her arms, and repeated:
"What do we live for?"
"I see that your head is turned a little, but you are a child yet, and your trouble will pass."
Stroking her pale, golden hair, he continued:
"Homage, love, and like things of the sensational sort, are very nice, very beautiful, but should not occupy the first place."
Cara listened so eagerly that her mouth was open somewhat, and she became motionless as a statue.
"But what should stand in the first place, father?"
Darvid did not answer at once. What? What should stand in the first place?
"Duty," said he.
"What duty, father?"
Again he was silent a while. What duty? Yes, what kind of duty?
"Naturally the duty of labor, hard labor."
The flush on Cara's face increased; she was all curiosity, all eagerness to hear her father's words.
"Labor, for what, father, dear?"
"How? for what?"
"For what purpose? For what purpose? because no one labors for the labor itself. For what purpose?"
For what purpose? How that child pushed him to the wall with her questions! With hesitation in his voice, he answered:
"There are various purposes—"
"But you, father, for what are you working?" continued she, with eager curiosity.
He knew very well for what purpose he wished now to undertake the gigantic labor of erecting a multitude of buildings for the residence of an army, but could he explain that to this child? Meanwhile the dark eyes of the child were fastened on his face, urging him to an answer.
"What is it?" said he. "I—labor gives me considerable, sometimes immense profits."
"In money?" asked she.
She made a motion with her head, signifying that she knew that this long time.
"But I," began she, "if I wanted to work, should not know what to work for, I should not know for what object I could work."
"You will not need to work; I will work for you, and instead of you." "Well, father!" exclaimed she, with a resonant laugh, "what can I do? To worship, to love, is exaltation—duty is labor, but if I may not labor, what am I to do?"
Again she opened her small hands with astonishment and inquiry; her eyes were flashing, her lips trembling.
Darvid, with marks of disagreeable feeling on his face, reached for his watch.
"I have no time," said he; "I must go to the club."
At that moment the servant announced from the antechamber, through the open door:
"Prince Zeno Skirgello."
Delight burst forth on Darvid's face. Cara sprang up from her knees, and looking around, called:
"Puff! Puff! Come, let us be off! doggy."
"Where is the prince?" asked Darvid, hurriedly. "Is he here, or in the carriage?"
"In the carriage," answered the servant.
"Beg him to come in, beg him to come in!"
In the delight which the unexpected arrival of the prince caused him at that time, he did not notice the expression of regret on Cara's face. Raising the little dog from the floor and holding him in her arms, she whispered:
"This is the third time, or the fourth—it is unknown which time it is!" Darvid sprang toward her.
"You may remain! You know the prince—"
"Oh, no, father, I flee—I am not dressed!"
Her white robe with blue dots had the shape of a wrapper, and her hair was somewhat dishevelled. With the dog on her arm she ran to the door beyond which was darkness.
"Wait!" cried Darvid, and he took one of the candles which were burning on the desk in tall candlesticks. The prince was coming up the stairs slowly. "I will light you through the dark chambers."
Saying this he walked with her to the second chamber, and when passing through that, she, while going at his side with the dog on her arm, and with her short step, which gave her tall form the charm of childhood, repeated:
"This is the fourth time, perhaps—it is unknown how many times it will be in this way!"
"What will be in this way?"
"Just when I begin to talk with you. Paf! something hinders!"
"What is to be done?" answered he, with a smile; "since your father is not a hermit, nor a small person on this world's chessboard."
They went hurriedly, and passed through the second chamber. The flame of the candle which Darvid carried cast passing flashes on the gold and polish of the walls, and the furniture. These were like tricky gnomes, appearing and vanishing in the silence, darkness, and emptiness.
"How dark it is here, and deserted!" Cara divined this thought, as it were, and said:
"Mamma and Ira are invited to dine to-day at—"
She gave the name of one of the financial potentates, and added:
"After dinner they will come to dress for the theatre."
"And thou?" inquired Darvid.
"I? I do not go into society yet, and so far the doctor forbids me to go to the theatre. I will read or talk with Miss Mary, and amuse myself with Puff."
She stroked with her palm the silky head of the little dog. Darvid halted at the door of the third chamber, and gave Cara the light, from the weight of which her slight arm bent somewhat.
"Go on alone; I must hurry to the prince."
She bent down to his hands, covered them with hurried, ardent kisses. With the flame of the candle before her rosy face, with the dog at her breast, and the pale, golden hair pushed back on her shoulders, she advanced in the darkness. Darvid returned through that darkness in the opposite direction, and when he had passed the two spacious chambers hastily, he felt in the twinkle of an eye as if from behind, from that interior, some weight had been placed on his shoulders. He looked around. There was nothing but vacancy, obscurity, and silence.
"Stupid! I must have the house lighted!" thought Darvid, and he hurried into the study, where, with movements a little too vivacious, with a fondling smile, and with repeated declarations that he felt happy, he greeted the prince, a man of middle age, of agreeable exterior, affable and pleasant in speech. When they had sat down in armchairs, the prince declared the object of his visit, which was to invite Darvid to a hunt which was to take place soon on one of his estates. Darvid accepted the invitation with expressions of pleasure, a little too prompt and hearty. But he was never so well able to measure his words and movements in presence of those high-born people as in presence of others. He felt this himself, still he had not the power to refrain. In presence of them he found himself under the influence of one of his passions, and it carried him too far. The prince spoke of the sculptor, whose gifts he esteemed highly; the young man had gone directly from Darvid to him and told of all that he had heard, and what he had experienced.
"I was really affected by your kindness toward this youthful genius, and am delighted that he found in you a patron so magnanimous."
Darvid thought that in every case his arrows always struck the mark. To that act of his he was surely indebted for this unusual visit of the prince, and the invitation. With a smile, in which honey was overflowing, he said:
"That young man seems very ill. A visit to more favorable climates might save him. I must try that he does not reject the means which I shall offer him for that purpose. I foresee resistance, but I shall do what I can to overcome it, out of regard for art, and through good-will for a young man who, besides many sympathetic traits, has this on his side, that he rejoices in the exceptional favor of Prince Zeno."
Had he been able, Darvid would have kissed himself for that phrase, he felt so well satisfied with it; especially when the prince answered with animation:
"This, in the full sense of the words, means speaking and acting beautifully! You use the gifts of fortune in a manner truly noble."
"Not fortune, prince, not fortune!" exclaimed Darvid, "but iron labor."
"Such toilers as you are the knights of the contemporary world," answered the prince, with vivacity; "the Du Guesclins and Cids of the present century."
He rose and, while pressing the hand of that Cid, fixed again in his memory the date of the hunt, which was not distant. Prince Zeno was an aristocrat of the purest blood, possessing a wide popularity which was fairly well deserved.
Darvid was radiant. While accompanying the prince to the door of the antechamber he looked as if no coil of serpents had ever crawled up in his bosom, which was now beating with delight and with pride. The prince halted still a moment at the door, as if to recall something.
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