A Lotos of the
It was nine o'clock on a night of clear July starlight. The
heat of the day had been intense, and all the guests of The Willows
were assembled on the lawn, intent upon the effort of keeping cool,
if such a thing were at all possible. A hopeless effort it seemed,
however, for the heavy foliage of the trees hung quite motionless,
and the fans which were plied unceasingly made the only possible
approach to a breeze. Everything was so still that the voice of the
river was distinctly audible as it fretted and surged along its rocky
bed, distant at least a mile. The scene was full of the dim,
mysterious look which makes summer starlight so fascinating. White
dresses, shadowy faces, suggestive outlines of form and head, now and
then the glimmer of an ornament: after one had looked long enough it
was even possible to tell who was who, but at first the voices were
the only clue to recognition. Behind the group rose the house, with
light streaming from its lace-draped windows, the pictures and
globe-like lamps of the deserted drawing-room making a charming
Everybody had been silent for some time—that is, for half a
minute, which seems a long time under such circumstances—when
Mrs. Lancaster's voice broke the stillness. "Oh for a whiff
of mountain-air or a sea-breeze!" she said. "I came to
spend two weeks with you, dear Mrs. Brantley, and I have spent a
month—who ever did leave The Willows when they meant to
do so?—but I really must be thinking of taking flight. Suppose
we get up a party for the White Sulphur?—it is always so
tiresome to go away by one's self. Who will join it? Eleanor,
"I am not going to the White Sulphur this year,"
answered Eleanor Milbourne.
"Not going to the White Sulphur!" repeated Mrs.
Lancaster in a tone of surprise. Then she laughed. "How stupid I
am!" she said. "Of course I might have known that the
temptation to break the pledge of total abstinence from flirtation
would be too great in that paradise of flirtation. Besides, Mr.
Brent's yacht is homeward bound, is it not?"
"I am not aware that there is any connection between Mr.
Brent's yacht and my decision about the White Sulphur,"
answered Miss Milbourne haughtily. Then she turned to the person next
her, a recumbent figure lying at full length on the grass. "I
don't know anything of which one grows so weary as of
watering-place life when one has seen much of it," she said.
"Its pettiness, its routine, its vapidity, its gossip, all
oppress one like a hideous nightmare. I don't think I shall ever
go to a watering-place again."
"Take care!" said the recumbent. "Don't make an
abstinence pledge of that kind: you will only be tempted to break it,
for what will you do with yourself in summer?"
"I should like to travel. I am possessed with an intense
desire to see the world and the wonders thereof."
"With a yacht such a desire would be easily
"But I have no yacht," said she with a sharp chord in
her voice. It was an expressive voice at all times, and doubly
expressive in this dim, mysterious starlight.
"Mr. Brent has, however, and I am sure he will be happy to
place it at your service."
"You are very kind to answer for Mr. Brent."
"I answer for him because I judge him by myself. If I had a
fleet it should be subject to your command."
"You are very generous," said she; and now there was a
little ripple as of pleasure in her tone.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Lancaster was calling over the roll of the company
like an orderly sergeant, intent upon beating up recruits for the White Sulphur. "Major
Clare!" she said at last: "where is Major Clare?"
Then, when the gentleman who had just offered Miss Milbourne his airy
fleet responded lazily, "Here!" she added, "You
will go, will you not?"
"I regret to say that it is impossible," he answered.
"I have danced my last galop at the White Sulphur. This
time next month I shall probably be en route for
"For Egypt!" she repeated; and a chorus of voices
instantly echoed the exclamation. "For Egypt! Nonsense! You are
"No, I am not jesting," said Victor Clare, lifting
himself on one elbow: "I am in earnest. I received a letter from
——" (naming a distinguished officer) "to-day,
offering me a position if I would join him in Cairo. I say nothing
about what the position is, because my mind is not yet made up to
accept it; and even if it were, such things should not be published
on the house-tops. But if anybody here has a fancy for joining the
army of the khedive, I may be able to give him a few important
Nobody responded. The gentlemen seemed to prefer enlisting under
Mrs. Lancaster's banner for the White Sulphur. The ladies
shrugged their shoulders and said the idea was dreadful, Victor Clare
sank back in the grass and addressed himself to Miss Milbourne.
"There is nothing else for me to do," he said in an
argumentative tone. "I only waste money on the impoverished
acres of that old place of mine. The house itself is falling down
over my head. What remains, then, but to go forth and tempt Fortune
to do her best—or worst? At least the profession of arms has
been in all ages the calling of a gentleman."
For a minute Eleanor Milbourne did not speak. She sat in the
starlight a graceful, shadowy figure, furling and unfurling her fan
with a slightly nervous motion. Perhaps she was uncertain what to
answer. But at last she spoke in a very low tone: "Yet you said
you had not decided."
"No, I have not decided. In truth, I have been rooted in
idleness and indifference so long that I scarcely feel as if I cared
enough about myself to take advantage of the offer. Then I cannot
bring myself to think of selling Claremont, though I know that a
penniless man has no right to the luxury of sentimental attachments.
If I were in Egypt it would not matter to me that some upstart
speculator owned the old place."
"I think it would," said Miss Milbourne.
"No, it would not" was the obstinate reply.
"I should take care to find a lotos as soon as I reached the
Nile. Whoever eats of that forgets his past life, you know. I have
scant reason for wishing to remember mine," he added a little
"Memory is certainly more often a sting than a
pleasure," said Miss Milbourne. "It is strange," she
added, "that we should both have thought of obtaining
forgetfulness through the same means. When Mr. Brent asked me what he
should bring me from Egypt, I said a lotos of the Nile. If he
fulfills his promise I will share it with you."
"I am not sure that I care to be indebted even for
forgetfulness to Mr. Brent," said Victor Clare ungratefully.
He was sorry the moment after for having spoken so curtly, and
would have made amends by promising to accept a dozen lotoses if she
desired to bestow so many upon him; but Miss Milbourne had already
turned to her neighbor on the other side and plunged into
conversation. "Is it not strange that Egypt should be waking
from her sleep of centuries?" she said; and—while the
gentleman whom she addressed took up the theme readily—Mrs.
Lancaster rose and sauntered round the group to where Victor Clare
"Come, Monsieur Indolence, and take a walk," she said.
"I think the policeman's motto is right—'Keep
moving.' When one stops to think about anything, even about the
heat, it makes it worse."
Now, however comfortable a man may be, if he is bidden to rise by
a pretty woman who stands
imperiously over him, the chances are that he obeys. So it was with
Clare. He most assuredly did not want to go with Mrs. Lancaster, and
quite as assuredly he did want to stay just where he was, with
the hem of Eleanor Milbourne's dress touching him and a pervading
sense of her presence near, even when she encouraged stupid people to
expose their ignorance on the Egyptian question. Yet he found himself
walking away with the pretty widow before five minutes had
"I know you are not obliged to me," she said when they
had gone some distance. "But your divinity is talking
commonplaces, or listening to them, which amounts to the same thing;
so I fancied you might spare me ten minutes. I want to know if that
was a mere assertion for effect a minute ago, or if you are in
earnest in thinking of going to Egypt?"
"I never talk for effect," said Victor with a hauteur
that was spoilt by a slight touch of petulance. "I always mean
what I say, and I certainly am in earnest in thinking of going to
"May I ask why?"
"I am surprised that you should need to ask. One's
friends usually know one's affairs at least as well as one's
self—sometimes much better. Everybody who knows me knows that I
am a poor man."
"Not so poor that you need go to Egypt in search of a
fortune, however," said she, stopping short and looking at him
keenly. "Confess," she added, "that you are about to
expatriate yourself in this absurd fashion because Eleanor Milbourne
means to marry Marston Brent."
"Your acuteness has carried you too far," said he
laughing, but not quite naturally. "Miss Milbourne's
matrimonial choice is nothing to me. I have thought of this step for
some time. General ——'s letter is a reply to my
application forwarded months ago. Yet now that the answer has
come," he went on, "I scarcely care to grasp the advantage
it offers. Indifference has infected me like a poison. I feel more
inclined to rust out on the old place than to sound 'Boots and
"But why rust out?" she asked impetuously. "Are
there not careers enough open to you?" Then, after a minute,
"Are there not other women in the world besides Eleanor
"Perhaps so," a little doggedly. "There are other
stars in the heavens besides Venus, but who sees them when she is
above the horizon?"
"How kind and complimentary you are!" said Mrs.
Lancaster with a slight tone of bitterness in her voice.
"Forgive me," said he after a minute. "I am a fool
on this subject, and, like a fool, I always say more than I mean. No
doubt there are other women in the world even more beautiful and more
charming than Eleanor Milbourne, but they are nothing to
"In other words, you are determined to believe that the
grapes above your reach, instead of being sour, are the sweetest in
"At least I harm only myself by such an hallucination, if it
is an hallucination."
"But you may harm yourself more than you imagine," said
she with a nervous cadence, in her voice. "For the sake of a
hopeless passion for a woman who has no more heart than my fan you
will sacrifice more than you are aware of—more, perhaps, than
you can ever regain."
She laid her hand—a pretty, white hand, gleaming with
jewels—on his arm at the last words, and it was fortunate,
perhaps, that she could not tell with what an effort he restrained
himself from shaking it impatiently off. A quick feeling of repulsion
came over him like an electric shock. Hitherto he had been somewhat
flattered, somewhat amused, and only occasionally a little bored, by
the favor which the beautiful and wealthy young widow had so openly
accorded him; but now in a second he felt that thrill of disgust
which always comes to a sensitive man when he sees a woman step
beyond the pale of delicate womanhood. If he had been one shade less
of a gentleman, he would have said something which Mrs. Lancaster could never have
forgotten. As it was, he had sufficient command of himself to speak
carelessly. "I was never quick at reading riddles," he
said. "I am unable to imagine what sacrifice I should make by
indulging the 'hopeless passion' for Miss Milbourne with
which you are kind enough to credit me."
"With which I credit you?" she repeated eagerly.
"Am I wrong, then? If you can tell me that,
But he interrupted her quickly: "You ought to know, Mrs.
Lancaster, that this is a thing which a sensible man only tells to
one woman; but, since you seem to take an interest in the subject,
there is nothing which I need hesitate to acknowledge in the fact
that, however hopeless my passion for Eleanor Milbourne may be, it is
the very essence of my life, and can only end with my life."
"We all think that when we are young and foolish, and very
much in love," said Mrs. Lancaster coolly—whatever stab
his words gave the kindly darkness hid—"but I think you
are more than usually mad. If she is not already engaged to Marston
Brent, she will be as soon as he returns. I know that her family
confidently expect the match, and in any case" (emphatically)
"Eleanor Milbourne is the last woman in the world whom a
penniless man need hope to win."
"I know that as well as you do," said Clare. "I
have no hope of winning her, and I am going to Egypt next
He uttered the last words as if he meant them to end the subject,
but it is doubtful whether they would have done so if they had not at
that moment found themselves close upon the house, having paid little
attention to the path which they were following. As they emerged from
the shrubbery they were both a little surprised to see a carriage
standing in the full glow of the light from the open hall door.
"Who can have arrived?" said Mrs. Lancaster, not sorry,
perhaps, for a diversion. "I did not know that Mrs. Brantley was
expecting any one."
"Who has come, Ellis?" Victor said carelessly to a young
man who emerged from the house as they approached.
"Marston Brent," was the answer. "It seems the
Clytie made a very quick trip, and came into port yesterday; so of
course her owner has come at once to report his safe arrival at
Mrs. Lancaster, whose hand was still on Clare's arm, felt the
quick start which he gave at this information, but she was a discreet
woman, and she said nothing until they were standing on the verandah
steps and he had bidden her good-night, saying that he must ride back
"I understand why you will not remain," she said;
"but do not make any rash resolution about Egypt—above
all, do not commit yourself to anything." Then she bent
forward and touched his hand lightly. "Tell me when you come
again that you will join my party for the White Sulphur," she
said softly. "It will be the wisest thing you can do."
The result of this disinterested advice was, that as soon as he
reached home, after a lonely, starlit ride of six miles, Clare sat
down and wrote to General ——, accepting the position he
had offered, and promising to report in Cairo as soon as
After this it was several days before the future Egyptian soldier
was seen again at The Willows. What went on in that gay abode during
this interval he neither knew nor sought to know. He endeavored to
banish all memory of the place and the people whom it contained from
his mind. They were nothing to him, he told himself. It was
impossible to say whether he shrank most from the pain of meeting
Eleanor Milbourne with her accepted lover by her side, or from the
thrill of disgust with which the mere thought of Mrs. Lancaster
inspired him. He buried himself in listless idleness at Claremont for
some time: then ordered his horse one day, rode to a neighboring town
and made arrangements for the sale of his property with much the same
feeling as if he had ordered the execution of his mother. It was when
he returned weary and depressed from this excursion that he found a note from Mrs. Brantley
"DEAR MAJOR CLARE" (it ran), "why have you forsaken
us? We have looked for you, wished for you and talked of you for
days, but you seem to have determined that we shall learn the full
meaning of the verb 'to disappoint.' Will you not come over
to dinner to-day? I think you have played hermit quite long
"Truly yours, L.M.B."
To say that Clare declined this invitation would be equivalent to
saying that a moth of its own accord kept at a safe distance from the
glowing flame which enticed it. As he read the note his heart gave a
leap. He began to wonder and ask himself why he had remained away so
long. Was it not the sheerest folly and absurdity? What was Eleanor
Milbourne to him that he should banish himself on her account from
the only pleasant house within a radius of twenty miles? A man should
have some self-respect, he thought. He should not let every
inquisitive fool see when and how and where a shaft has wounded him.
Why should he not go? A heartache or two additional would not matter
in Egypt. As for Mrs. Lancaster, he could certainly keep at a safe
distance from her, even if she had not gone to the White
Sulphur, as he hoped to heaven she had.
This devout hope was destined to disappointment. The first person
whom he saw when he entered the well-filled drawing-room of The
Willows was the pretty widow, in radiant looks and radiant spirits,
not to mention a radiant toilette of the lightest possible and most
becoming mourning. Despite his previous resolutions, Clare found
himself gravitating to her side as soon as his respects had been paid
to Mrs. Brantley—a fact which may serve as a small proof of the
weakness of man's resolve, and his general inability to fight
against fate, especially when it is embodied in a woman's bright
"What have you been doing with yourself?" she asked
after the first salutations were over. "Have you been taking
counsel with solitude on the Egyptian question? Or have you decided
like a sensible man to go to the White Sulphur? Whatever has been the
cause of your absence, you have at least been charitable in
furnishing us with a topic of conversation. I scarcely know what we
should have done without the 'Victor Clare disappearance,' as
Mr. Ellis has called it, during the last week."
"I am sure you ought to be obliged to me, then," Clare
said, flushing and laughing. "Assuredly I could not have
furnished you with a topic of conversation for a whole week if I had
"Opinion has been divided concerning the mystery of your
fate," she went on. "One party has maintained that, rushing
away in desperation when you heard of Mr. Brent's arrival, you
started the next day for Suez; the other, that you were hanging about
the grounds, armed to the teeth, and only waiting an opportunity to
dare your rival to deadly combat."
"How kind one's friends are, to be sure, especially when
they are in the country, and have nothing in particular with which to
"But what have you been doing? I should like to know,
if you do not object to telling me."
"I have been very busy making my final arrangements for
leaving the country," answered he, stretching a point, it must
"You are really going, then?" she asked after a
minute's silence—a minute during which she was horribly
conscious that her changing countenance might readily have betrayed
to any looker-on how deeply she felt this unexpected blow.
"I wrote to General —— on the night I saw you
last, accepting his offer," Clare answered. "Of course I am
in duty bound, therefore, to report in Cairo as soon as
"And you will sell Claremont?"
"I have no alternative."
She said nothing more, but he saw her hand—the same white jeweled hand that had
gleamed on his arm in the starlight—go to her throat with a
quick, convulsive movement. Instead of the thrill of repulsion which
he had felt before, a sudden sense of pity and regret came over him
now. He was not enough of a puppy to feel a certain keen enjoyment
and gratified vanity in the realization of this woman's folly. He
appreciated, on the contrary, how entirely she had been a spoiled
child of fortune all her life—a queen-regnant, to whom all
things must submit themselves—and he felt how bitter must be
this first sharp proof of her own impotence to secure the toy on
which she had set her heart. It was these thoughts which made his
voice almost gentle when he spoke again: "You must not think
that I am ungrateful for your kind interest in my behalf. You can
imagine, perhaps, how much I hate to part with Claremont, which has
been the seat of my family for generations; but when a thing must be
done there is no use in making a moan over it. I cannot sacrifice my
life to a tradition of the past; and that would be what I should do
if I clung to the old place, instead of cutting loose with one sharp
stroke and swimming boldly out to sea."
"But you might stay if you would," said she with that
tremulous accent which the French call "tears in the
"No, I could not stay," said Clare resolutely.
"I have no money, nor any means of making any in
This ended the discussion. Even Mrs. Lancaster, fast and daring
and willful as she was, could not say, "I have
money—more than I know what to do with: take it." Her eyes
said as much, but Clare did not look at her eyes. A minute longer
passed in embarrassed silence. Then somebody came up, and Victor was
able to walk away. As he crossed the room he saw Eleanor Milbourne
for the first time since his arrival. He had not even inquired if she
was still at The Willows, and her unexpected appearance, for he had
begun to fear that she was gone, filled him with a rush of feelings
of which the first and most prominent was delight. After all, did it
matter whether or not she was engaged to Marston Brent? Simply to
look at her was enough to fill a man's soul with pleasure, to
steep him in that "dewlight of repose" which only a few
rare things on this earth of ours are capable of inspiring. Did any
sane person ever fly from the sight of Venus when she held her court
all alone in the lovely summer heaven, because he could not possess
her magic lustre for his own? The comparison was not at all highflown
to Clare, whatever it may seem to anybody else. He had always
entertained as much hope of winning the star as of winning the woman;
and as for an abstract question of beauty, he would have held that
Venus herself could not have surpassed Eleanor Milbourne. She was an
adorable goddess whom any man might be content to worship from a
distance, he thought; and he was preparing to go and sun himself in
the glance of her eyes, which seemed like bits of heaven in their
blueness and their fairness, when Mrs. Brantley touched his arm and
bade him take a newly-arrived piece of white muslin in to dinner.
Clare looked a little crestfallen, but against the decision of his
hostess on this important subject what civilized man was ever known
to revolt? He took the white muslin in to dinner, and had the
satisfaction of finding himself separated by the length of the table
from Miss Milbourne.
After dinner Mrs. Brantley claimed his attention. It seemed that
there was a plan under discussion for showing the sole lion of the
neighborhood—a hill of considerable eminence known as
Farley's Mount—to the guests of The Willows. But it was
distant twelve miles, What did Major Clare think of their starting
early, breaking the ride by rest and luncheon at Claremont, then
going on to the mountain, making the ascent, and returning by
"It will not do at all," said Victor. "Twenty-four
miles is too much to be undertaken on a July day by a mere party of
pleasure. You would break yourselves down and see nothing. I
propose an amendment: Take two
days instead of one, and spend a night on the mountain. If you have
never camped on a mountain, the novelty is well worth experiencing,
and these midsummer nights have scarcely any length, you know. Then
the sunrise is magnificent."
"That is exactly what we will do," cried Mrs. Brantley,
clapping her hands with childish glee. And the proposal, being
submitted to the company, was unanimously carried.
Meanwhile, Eleanor Milbourne was walking with Mr. Brent in the
soft summer twilight on the lawn.
"You should not press me so hard," she said as they
paced slowly to and fro. "I fear I can never give you what you
desire, but I cannot tell yet. Grant me a little time."
"A little time! But think how much time you have had!"
the gentleman urged, not without reason. "You said when I went
abroad that you were not sure enough of your heart to accept me then,
but that you would give me a final answer when I returned. You had
all the months of my absence to consider what this answer should be,
and when I came for it, spending not so much as an hour in tarrying
on the road, I found that it was not ready for me—that I had
yet longer to wait. Eleanor, is this kind? is it even just?"
"It is neither," said Eleanor, turning to him with a
strange deprecation on her fair proud face. "I know that you
have been everything that is patient and generous, and I am
sorry—oh I am more than sorry—to have seemed to trifle
with you; but what can I do? Remember that when I decide, it is for
my whole life. You cannot doubt that I will hold fast to my promise
when it is once given."
"I do not doubt it, and therefore I desire that promise above
"But you would not desire the letter without the
spirit?" said she eagerly. "I dare not bind myself—I
dare not—until I am certain of myself."
"But, good Heavens!" said Marston Brent, who, although
usually the most quiet and dignified of human beings, was now fairly
driven to vehemence, "when do you mean to be certain of
yourself? Surely you have had time enough. Can you not love me,
Eleanor?" he asked a little wistfully. "If that is
it—if that is the doubt that holds you back—say so, and
let me go. Anything is better than suspense like this."
But Eleanor was plainly not ready to say that. She stood still for
a moment, then turned to him with a sudden light of resolve in her
eyes. "You are right," she said. "This must end. I may
be weak and foolish, but I have no right to make you suffer for my
weakness and my folly. I pledge myself to tell you to-morrow night
whether or not I can be your wife. You will give me till then, will
you not? It is the last delay I shall ask."
"I wish you would understand that you could not ask anything
which I should not be glad to grant," said he, a little sadly.
"For Heaven's sake, do not think of me as your
persecutor—do not force yourself to answer me at any given
time. I can wait."
"You have waited," said she
gratefully—"waited too long already. Do not encourage me
in my weakness. Believe that I will tell you to-morrow night my final
Later in the evening, Victor Clare was leaving the drawing-room as
Miss Milbourne entered it. They came face to face rather
unexpectedly, and while the gentleman fell back, the lady extended
"Have you stayed away so long that you have forgotten your
friends, Major Clare?" she said with a smile which was bright
but rather tremulous, like a gleam of sunshine on rippling water.
"You have not even said good-evening to me, and yet you have an
air as if you had said good-night to the rest of the
"So I have," answered Victor, smiling in turn, partly
from the pleasure of meeting her, partly from the sheer magnetism of
her glance, "but it is no fault of mine that I have not been
able to speak to you: I have found no
"But I thought you always said that; people made
opportunities when they desired to do so?"
"Then the time has come for me to retract my assertion. As a
general rule, a man cannot make opportunities: he can only take
advantage of them when they come, as I hope to take advantage of the
present," he added smiling.
"But I thought you were going home?"
"I was going home a minute ago, but so long as you
will let me talk to you I shall stay."
"It is a very small favor to grant," said Eleanor,
blushing a little. "But why were you leaving so early?"
"Partly because I had no hope of seeing you; partly because I
am not a 'young duke' to pencil a line to my steward and know
that a princely collation will be served at noon to-morrow for half a
hundred, or even for a dozen or two people."
"What do you mean?" she asked, for though she caught the
allusion to Disraeli's rose-colored romance, the application
"I see you have not heard of our gypsy plan," he
answered, and at once proceeded to detail it.
She was not so much delighted as he expected, but a pretty, lucid
gleam came into her eyes at the mention of Claremont.
"I shall be glad to see your home," she said quietly.
"I have heard so much of its beauty and its antiquity."
"It is pretty, and it is old," said he, "but it
will not be mine much longer. I am negotiating its sale
She started: "What! you were in earnest, then? You are really
going to Egypt?"
"Yes, I am going to Egypt. Why should I stay? What has life
to offer me here save vegetation? There, at least, I can find
She looked at him with a strange, wistful expression which struck
and startled him. He felt as if a prisoned soul suddenly sprang up
and gazed at him out of the clear blue depths of her eyes. "Oh
what a good thing it is to be a man!" she said. "How free
you are! how able to do what you please and go where you
please—to seek action and to find it! Oh, Major Clare, you
ought to thank God night and day that He did not make you a
"I am glad, certainly, that I am a man," said Victor
honestly. "But you are the last woman in the world from whom I
should have expected to hear such rebellious sentiments."
"I am not rebellious," said Eleanor more quietly.
"What is the good of it? All the rebellion in the world could
not make me a man; and I have no fancy to be an unsexed woman. But
nobody was ever more weary of conventional routine, nobody ever
longed more for freedom and action than I do."
It was on the end of Victor's tongue to say, "Then come
with me to Egypt," but he caught himself in time. Was he mad to
imagine that "the beautiful Miss Milbourne"—a woman
at whose feet the most desirable matches of "society" had
been laid—would end her brilliant career by marrying a soldier
of fortune, and expatriating herself from her country and her
kindred? He gave a grim sort of smile which Eleanor did not quite
understand, as he said: "Where is your lotos? It ought to make
you more content with the things that be."
"I have it," Eleanor said with child-like simplicity.
"Mr. Brent remembered and brought it to me. I have not forgotten
my promise to share it with you."
"Take it to the mountain to-morrow night, then," said he
quickly. "Let us eat it together there. I should like to link
you even with my farewell to the past."
And, since an interruption came just then, they parted with this
The next day Major Clare was standing on the terrace of
Claremont—a stately, solidly-built old house, bearing itself
with an air of conscious pride and disdain of modern frippery,
despite certain significant signs of decay—when his guests
arrived in formidable procession. There was something of the
"old school" in his manner of welcoming them—a grace
and courtesy which struck more
than one of them as at once very perfect and very charming.
"The man suits the house, does he not?" said Mrs.
Brantley to Mrs. Lancaster. "It is like a vintage of rare old
wine in an old bottle. We fancy that it has an aroma which it would
lose in a new cut-glass decanter."
"I always thought Major Clare had delightful manners,"
said Mrs. Lancaster, who could not trust herself to say anything
more. She felt with a pang how much she would have liked to bring
wealth and prosperity and elegant hospitality back again to the old
house, if its owner had not been so madly blind to his own interest,
so absurdly in love with Eleanor Milbourne's statue-like face, so
insanely intent upon periling life and limb in the service of the
viceroy of Egypt. The pretty widow gave a sigh as she arranged her
hair before the quaint, old-fashioned mirror in the chamber to which
the ladies had been conducted. If he had only been reasonable, how
different things might be! She walked to a window which overlooked
the garden with its formal walks and terraces, its borders of box and
summer-houses of cedar. "He will change his mind before the
month is out," she thought. "A man cannot surrender all the
associations of his past and the home of his fathers without a
This consideration lost some of its consoling force, however,
when, a few minutes later, two people, walking slowly and evidently
talking earnestly, passed down the vista of one of the garden alleys,
and were lost to sight behind a tall, clipped hedge. Even at that
distance there was no mistaking the figure and bearing of Clare;
neither was there another woman who walked with that free, stately
grace in a riding-habit which Eleanor Milbourne possessed. "If
she is engaged to Marston Brent, he might certainly put an end to
such open flirtation as this," Mrs. Lancaster said between her
teeth. "If he were not blind or mad, he might see that she is so
much in love with Victor that she would go with him to Egypt
to-morrow if he asked her to do so."
An old and sensible proverb with which we are all acquainted says
that it is never well to judge others by ourselves; and if Mrs.
Lancaster had possessed the invisible cap of the prince in the
fairy-tale, and had followed the pair who had just passed out of
sight, she would have received an immediate proof of the truth of
this aphorism. They had paused in a square near the heart of the
garden—a green, shaded spot, in the centre of which an empty
basin bore witness to a departed fountain, though no pleasant murmur
of water had broken the stillness for many a long day. Round the
margin of this still ran a seat on which Eleanor sat down. Victor
remained standing before her. A lime tree near by cast a soft,
flickering shadow over them, and the tall hedges of evergreen which
enclosed the square made a sombre but effective background.
"You see that ruin and decay are all that I have to offer you
here," Victor was saying with a cadence of bitterness in his
voice. "But if you had courage enough to end the life which you
despise, to cut loose from all the ties which bind you in America,
and go with me to Egypt, there I might have a future and a
career for you to share—there at least, you would find
freedom and action and life."
A flush came to Eleanor's cheek, and a light gleamed suddenly
in her eyes, as if the very wildness of this proposal lent it
fascination; but she shook her head, smiling a little sadly.
"You are of my world," she said: "you ought to know
better than that. I am not so brave as you think. I must do what is
expected of me, and I am expected to marry Marston Brent."
"Forget the world and come with me."
"That is impossible. If I had only myself to care for, I
would; but there are others of whom I must think." She was
silent for a moment, then looked up at him piteously. "They have
sacrificed so much for me at home," she said, "and they are
so proud of me. They hope, desire, count on this marriage: I cannot
disappoint them. Mr. Brent himself has been most kind and patient,
and he does not expect very
much. I am a coward, perhaps, but what can I do?"
Again he said, "You can come with me."
Again she answered, "It is impossible. Do you not see that it
is impossible? Starting forth on a new career, it would be insane for
you to burden yourself with a wife. As for me, I am no more fit to
marry a poor man than to be a housemaid. Victor, it is hopeless. For
Heaven's sake, let us talk of it no longer! The only thing we can
do is to forget that we have ever talked of it at all."
"Will that be easy for you? I confess that nothing on earth
could be harder for me."
"No, it will not be easy, but I shall try with all my
strength to do it. God only knows," putting her hand suddenly to
her face, "how I shall live if I am not able to do
it." Then passionately, "Why did you speak? Why did you
make the misery greater by dragging it to the light, so that we could
face it, talk of it, discuss it? Oh why did you do it?"
"Because I wanted to see if you were not made of braver stuff
than other women," said he almost sternly. "In my maddest
hours I never dreamed of speaking, until—what you said last
night. Thinking of that after I came home, I resolved to give you one
opportunity to break through the artificial trammels of your life,
and find the freedom you professed to desire. It was better to do
this, I thought, than to be tormented all my life by a regret, a
doubt, lest I had lost happiness where one bold stroke might have
"And now that you have found that I am not brave, that
I am like all the other conventional women of my class, are you not
sorry that you have inflicted useless pain upon yourself?"
"Of myself I do not think at all, and even when I think of
you I cannot regret having spoken. Let the misery be what it will, it
is something to have faced it together—it is everything to know
that you love me, though you refuse to share my life."
"You must not say that," said she, starting and
shrinking as if from a blow. "How can I venture to acknowledge
that I love you when I am going to marry Marston Brent?"
"Are you going to marry him?"
"Have I not told you so?"
He turned from her and took one short, quick turn across the
square. Like every man in his position, he felt outraged and
indignant, without pausing to consider how infinitely more inexorable
the laws of society are with regard to women than to men. He
could put Mrs. Lancaster's fortune aside and go his way—to
Egypt or to the dogs—without anybody crying out against his
criminal folly, his criminal disregard of the duties and traditions
of his class. But if Eleanor Milbourne put Marston Brent's
princely fortune aside and disappointed all her friends, what
remained to her but the bitter condemnation of those friends in
particular and of society in general?
When he came back she rose to meet him, making a picture worth
remembering as she stood in her graceful youth and picturesque habit
by the broken fountain, with the sombre cedar hedge behind and the
intense azure of the summer sky above.
"Let us go," she said. "By prolonging this we only
give ourselves useless pain. All is said that can be said. Nothing
remains now but to forget; and that can best be done in silence.
Victor, let us go."
There was a tone of pathos, a tone as if she was not quite sure of
herself, in those last words, which made Clare refrain from answering
her. He turned silently, and they entered a green alley which led to
the foot of the terrace surrounding the house. As they walked along,
Marston Brent's figure appeared at the end of the vista,
advancing toward them, and it was this apparition which first made
Clare speak: "If you will not think me fanciful—I am sure
you will not think me presumptuous—promise me that before you
give that man his answer you will share the lotos with me of which
you have spoken. I may be superstitious, but I feel as if we shall gain new strength with
which to face the future after we have together renounced the
She shook her head. "I am not superstitious enough to think
that it will enable us to forget one pang," she said. "But
if you desire it, I promise."
When the afternoon shadows were lengthening the party from The
Willows set forth again, and reached the foot of the mountain a
little before sunset, making the ascent in time to see the
day-god's last radiance streaming over the fair, broad expanse of
country beneath them. There was a small cabin on the summit which was
to be devoted to the ladies, and round the camp-fire which was soon
sparkling brightly the gentlemen proposed to spend the night on the
blankets with which they were all plentifully provided. Meanwhile,
the party, dividing into groups and pairs, were soon scattered here
and there, perched on the highest points of rock, enjoying the cool,
fresh air which came as a message of love from the glowing west, and
chattering like a chorus of magpies.
When the evening collation was over—a gypsy-like repast for
which every one seemed to have an excellent appetite—Mr. Brent
asked Eleanor if she would not accompany him to the eastern side of
the mountain to see the moon rise. While she hesitated, uncertain
what to say, Clare's voice spoke quietly at her side. "Miss
Milbourne has an engagement with me," he said. "I
fear you must defer the pleasure of admiring the moon in her society
for a little while, Mr. Brent." Then to Eleanor, "Shall we
She assented, and they walked away. Mr. Brent, thus left behind,
naturally felt aggrieved, and turned to Mrs. Brantley with some
slight irritation stirring his usually courteous repose.
"It strikes me that Major Clare's manners decidedly lack
polish," he said with an air of grave reprehension. "Is it
true, as I am told, that he is going to sell that fine old place
where we spent the day, and emigrate to Egypt?"
"He is quite ready for a lunatic asylum," said Mrs.
Lancaster, who was standing near. "But, whatever his folly may
be, I certainly do not agree with you, Mr. Brent, in thinking that
his manners need any improvement."
Meanwhile, Eleanor was saying, "You should not have spoken so
curtly to Mr. Brent."
"If I can avoid it, I shall never speak to him again,"
Clare answered. "Don't let us talk of him. I did not bring
you away to discuss anybody we have left behind, or anything of which
we have talked before. We are to be like immortals—to forget
the past and live only in the present."
"Where are we going?" she asked.
"Round to a point from whence we can overlook
She said nothing more, and he led her to the eastern side of the
mountain, where, near the verge of an almost precipitous descent,
they sat down together under the shadow of a great gray rock. From
this point the view was more extensive than any they had commanded
before. The rolling country, with the sunset glory fading from it,
lay like a panorama at their feet—shadowy woods melting into
blue distance, streams glancing here and there into sight, fields
rich with cultivation bounded by fences that looked like a
spider's thread. To the left Claremont, seated above its
terraces, made an imposing landmark. Behind it the moon was rising
majestically in a cloudless sky. After they had been silent for some
time, Clare turned and looked at his companion. "How beautiful
you are!" he said abruptly. "I wish I had a picture of you
as you sit there now. It would be worth everything else in the world
to me. But perhaps, after all, the best pictures are those which are
taken on the heart."
"You have forgotten," said Eleanor, trying to smile,
"that we are going to eat the lotos in order to efface all
"Nay," said he. "I thought it was to enable us to
forget everything but the present, and this is the
"But it will be the past in a little while," said she,
"and we must forget it, like all the rest. Victor, we
must forget! They say
that all things are possible to resolution: let us resolve to do
For some time longer they sat silent. Then Clare said, with
something like a groan, "Would to God I could die here and now,
or else that there was some spell by which one could make
memory a blank!"
"Let us try the lotos," said Eleanor. "See, I
brought it as you told me."
From her pocket she drew a paper which, being opened, proved to
contain the dried petals of a flower, evidently an aquatic plant.
Yellow and lifeless as it was, Eleanor looked at it with wistful
reverence. "It came from Egypt," she said: then she added,
"where you are going."
"We will see if there is any magic in it," said
So, together they took the dried petals and began to eat them,
smiling a little sadly at each other as they did so.
"Herodotus says that when the Nile is full, 'and all the
grounds round it are a perfect sea, there grows a vast quantity of
lilies which the Egyptians call lotos, in the water,'" said
Clare. "He adds that this flower, especially the root of it, is
very sweet. If this is the same, it has certainly changed its flavor
since that time."
"It is not disagreeable," said Eleanor. "But I fear
we shall not find the effect for which we have hoped. It is of the
lotos fruit that Homer and Tennyson have written."
"And the lotos flower of mythology is an East Indian, not an
Egyptian, aquatic; but since we desire to link our fancy with
the flower of the Nile, we will ignore the poets and the Brahmins.
After all, we only desire it as a symbol of the renunciation of the
past on which we have agreed. Eleanor, what if we should indeed
resolve to leave the past behind us from this hour, and face our
He looked at her imploringly and passionately, but instead of
replying she put her hand to her head. "How strangely dizzy I
am!" she said. "Can it—do you think it can be the
"Dizzy!" he repeated. "Then I must take you from
the edge of this precipice. Perhaps it is that which affects you. It
could not have been the lotos, or I should feel it too. Come, let me
lead you round the rock."
But when he attempted to rise he found that to him, too, a sudden
strange dizziness came. A constriction seemed gathering about his
heart, a mist seemed rising before his eyes. Before he had half risen
he sank back against the rock.
"Do you feel it too?" she asked quickly.
"Yes," he said slowly, putting his hand also to his
head. "What can it mean? Could there have been anything wrong in
that plant? The lotos itself is harmless, either flower or fruit.
Eleanor, my darling!" he cried with sudden alarm. "Good
Heavens! what is the matter? How pale you look!"
"I—I do not think it could have been the lotos. It must
have been some poisonous plant," said she faintly. "This
giddiness and numbness increase." Then she held out her hands
tremulously. "Hold me," she said. "The earth seems
slipping away from me. Oh, Victor, what if it should be
"Do not imagine such a thing," he said. "It is
impossible! The plant has probably some narcotic property which
affects you temporarily. Lean on me until it is over. My God! how mad
I was to have suffered you to eat it!"
"Do not blame yourself," she said, clinging to him, her
fair head drooping heavily on his breast. "It was I who spoke of
it—who sent for it—"
She stopped, gasping a little, and pressing her hand to her heart,
where an iron clutch seemed arresting the circulation. A glance at
her face filled Clare with a terror which he had not felt before.
Partly this, partly his own sensations, told him that the poison of
the plant which they had shared between them was
fatal—one of the swift and terrible agents of death which
abound in the East—and a sense too horrible to be dwelt upon
came to him, warning him that aid, to avail at all, must be summoned
But how? The summit of the mountain was large, the rest of the
party were far from them. He
had purposely led his companion to this remote spot, where, even if
he had been able to raise his voice, there was none to hear. As for
leaving her, he doubted his own ability to walk ten steps. He felt
sure that if he succeeded in gaining his feet he should reel and fall
like a drunken man.
Still, the attempt must be made, and that instantly. Every second
lessened the hope of its success—with every pulse-beat he felt
the awful, reeling numbness increase. How much longer he could retain
his consciousness he could not tell. He saw plainly that Eleanor was
"My darling," he said, striving vainly to unclasp the
arms that clung to him, "I must go—I must call assistance:
this may be more serious than I thought. Try to rouse yourself,
Eleanor: I must go!"
Alas! it was easy to say—it was awfully impossible to do.
Even when Eleanor relaxed her already half-unconscious embrace, and
he strove to rise, he found that not even desperation could give the
requisite power. He literally could not gain his feet. Every effort
failed: he sank back hopelessly.
Then he tried to raise his voice in a cry for help, but it refused
to obey his bidding. He was not able to speak above a broken whisper.
Finding this to be the case, he turned in an agony of despair to the
girl beside him—the girl whom, with a last effort, he drew to
"Eleanor," he said, "it is hopeless. If this
is poison we must die! Oh, my darling, can you forgive me? O
my God, send us help! Eleanor, can you hear me? Eleanor, will you not
speak to me?"
For a minute all was silence. Then the fair head raised itself,
and the lids slowly and heavily lifted from the blue, flower-like
eyes. The moon, which had now risen high in the cloudless July
heaven, shone full on her face as she said, "Kiss me."
For the first time their lips met: when they parted both were
Still clinging together, they were found. At their feet lay a
fragment of the deadly-poisonous Egyptian river-plant which Marston
Brent had ignorantly plucked for a lotos.