“PEARLS IN SILVER SET”
“WHEN did this come, Parker?”
“This aftemoon, Fräulein. It was sent from a jeweller’s.”
“Was there no message – no note?”
“None, Fräulein. It was left for your name, addressed as you see. Can I do anything else for you?”
“No, thank you. You can go downstairs now until the carriage comes for me.”
“Very well, Fräulein.”
This little dialogue took place early in the evening of the last opera night, between the prima-donna and her abigail, who had been arranging the coiffure and superintending the wardrobe of her mistress, and the subject of discussion was a small velvet étui that lay upon the toilette-table, newly despoiled of its outward wrapper. Adelheid sat motionless for some time after the maid had quitted the room, resting her chin upon her clasped hands, and looking down at the jewel-case with a peculiar expression in her Nixie eyes, that was neither exactly displeasure nor wonderment, but a puzzled mixture of both ingredients. While she sat in this attitude a sudden demonstration of brisk swift drumming like a roll-call on the outer paneling of the door announced the imminent proximity of Miss Diana, who, on the receipt of her protégée’s permission to enter, straightway appeared, brilliantly habited and beaming with strongminded satisfaction.
“Just twenty minutes before dinner! So I have come to see how my Darling is getting on! Mind you make yourself as betwitching as possible to-night, and wear your opals in the first act, and don’t let Parker forget your silver clasp! But what,” cried she, suddenly arresting the gushing torrent of her exordium, and stooping over the velvet étui where it lay on the dressing-table, – “What Have We Here!”
Adelheid lifted the satin padded lid in the interior of which the name of one of the most fashionable West-end jewellers was inscribed appropriately in golden letters, and disclosed within the case a parure of pearls, finely selected and artistically disposed. “They were brought here for me this afternoon,” she said, simply.
“My Darling child! How Beautiful!! Who is the donor?”
Adelheid raised her graceful flower-like head, and fixed her penetrative eyes strangely upon Miss Diana’s, as though she would fain have referred the question just propounded to the arbitration of that sapiently minded spinster herself.
“Do you not know, meine Königinn?”
“Vivian?” hesitated Miss Brabazon, flushing.
It was palpably a guess, and Adelheid’s eyes fell.
“I cannot say,” she answered in low meditative tones; “there was no message left with them.”
“They are very beautiful!” said Miss Diana again, admiringly.” The giver, whoever he be, will certainly be at the opera to-night. Shall you wear them?”
Adelheid hesitated for a moment. “If I were sure”, she said, at last with the most child-like simplicity, “that they were really Vivian’s gift I would certainly wear them, but I do not know who sent them, and I should not like to put them on at hazard.”
“Ingenuous Baby!” cried Miss Brabazon, fluttering her delighted wrists “you voluntarily express in one naïve candid sentence, what any other woman would only suffer time or incident to reveal! What a delicious Infant it is in the midst of such a world of Humbug! Come,” she added, lifting the pearls from their velvet nest, and clasping them round the prima-donna’s beautiful throat; “I will tell you what we will do. You shall wear them at dinner, and we will watch Vivian’s face when he sees you enter the room. Let us hope, meanwhile, that he did send them to you. Shall we, Baby?”
Diana laid her white glittering hands on either side of Adelheid’s
face as she spoke, and raising it towards her own, looked earnestly into the crystal-clear Elfin eyes.
“Shall we, Baby?” she repeated.
“I would much rather find that such a gift came from Vivian than from any one else,” said Adelheid, “because Vivian is good and sincere, and he is dear to me; and because –”
There she paused, and a swift bright dye of carmine suffused her whole countenance, as though a sudden light of sunrise had been cast upon it, and her eyelids drooped uneasily beneath the ordeal of Miss Brabazon’s steadfast gaze. That sagacious lady totally mistook the cause of this unwonted confusion, and her cheeks also tingled with emotion, for that minute she firmly believed that her dearest hope was actually upon the eve of fulfilment.
“She certainly loves him,” she thought, “and before we quit this room she will tell me so.”
“Because – what? my precious darling,” she whispered, drawing the fair Germanic face yet nearer to her own until the rich glossy madder of her shaded hair lay in brilliant contrast against her companion’s shining yellow tresses. “Why, my pet is positively embarrassed! what can be the matter, I wonder!”
Miss Diana was quite prepared for a pretty confession in reply. It would have sounded well just then, for the pose into which she had instinctively beguiled her lovely protégée was one of perfect confidence and interesting agitation, the rippling crispy braids drooping over Miss Brabazon’s supporting arm, the blushing face hidden upon the pillowy shoulder of that fair politician, the two heaving bosoms pressed together in the close embrace of feminine friendship. It was like a picture by Millais – like a full-page illustration in the Cornhill Magazine.
But for once in her life at least, Diana was doomed to severe disappointment, for Adelheid’s confidence was not at all of the sort she had fondly anticipated. The secret of her hesitation was not love but its very reverse.
“Because, meine Königinn, if Vivian be not the giver, I think I know who is, and the thought of that alternative annoys me.”
Miss Brabazon gently lifted Adelheid’s head from her shoulder, and held her away at arm’s length by both her hands, while she scanned the beautiful face narrowly. A terrible suspicion had dawned suddenly upon the emotional mind of Vivian’s sister; a vague dread that it was just possible Adelheid might love someone else after all almost impeded her utterance, and her next query, emphatic and distinct as it was, had no sound above a whisper.
“What – Do – You – Mean – Child?”
“Only,” answered Adelheid, beginning with a quiver in her voice like an incipient sob – “only – that there is lately a gentleman I do not like, who is always everywhere about me, no matter where I may be – at the opera, at the concerts, at the houses where I visit with you, in the park, when we drive out, I see him continually, whenever I lift my eyes he is there, gazing through his lorgnon, entreating me to dance, lifting his hat, smiling, bowing, admiring! Always such flattery too, not like Vivian. Vivian never praises me – so! And this gentleman asked me the other day if I liked pearls, and I said, ‘Oh yes, so much.’ ”
She spoke hurriedly, and the foreign accent, ever dearly perceptible in her articulation, but always strongest in moments of excitement, added a curiously plaintive effect to the indignation of her protest, and appealed straightway to the heart of Diana Brabazon with all the touching force of a helpless simplicity, as though it had been the broken language of an injured child.
“Poor Baby! Do you know the name of this unpleasing gentleman?” “Yes, I know it. But before I tell it you, meine Königinn, we will see, if you please, whether Vivian really sent me this present.” She touched the pearls upon her neck and regarded her patroness with so divine a smile that Diana’s hopes caught fresh fire from its enkindling light, and she wound her arm impulsively about Adelheid’s waist, kissed her with all the brimming affection of her energetic nature, and led her gaily downstairs into the with-drawing room. The bright twinkling radiance
of a score of burning candalabra fell upon them as they entered the apartment, for Diana Brabazon loved to have her rooms brilliantly illuminated. Light of all sorts was dear to her, actually as well as metaphorically.
Vivian stood by a small bookcase glancing over a volume of poems, and as the ladies entered he put it aside and turned his eyes upon Adelheid. But though he saw the circlet of pearls upon her neck, there was no consciousness, no avowal of personal gratification in the glance he threw upon them, and Diana, watching him intently, perceived the fact, and immediately relapsed into abject despondency.
“My dear Fräulen Stern,” said Vivian, leading her to an ottoman, “I hope you intend to electrify us all to-night? You must expect an ovation you know, and a great many bouquets and bracelets!”
Adelheid bent her sparkling eyes keenly on his face.
Somebody has anticipated the appointed hour of my triumph,” she answered, touching her necklace lightly; “I received this present to day.”
“Indeed?” said Vivian, observing it with some interest but no recognition; “I congratulate you! A very handsome gift, for I notice that the pearls are not of any ordinary description. They are exceptionally fine.”
The tone of the voice was indifferent, almost cold, and if Adelheid had but heard it under those particular circumstances which had on one or two occasions associated him with Mrs. Archibald, she would have known its signification well enough. It was suspicious – repellant – annoyed; the tone of a man who struggles to be courteous against an internal sense of vexation. Whose gift, he wondered, were these pearls; these pearls which pleased her so much that she intended to wear them upon the most brilliant occasion of her first season; this rare gift which she treasured so greatly that she would not let it lie an hour undisplayed?
She had not told him, and he was too discreet, or too proud, to solicit her confidence. It did not occur to him for an instant, that the name of the donor was unknown to her.
Adelheid quitted her seat, crossed the room, and, pausing by Diana's chair, murmured softly:
“Come with me to my boudoir, for ten minutes. There is just time before we dine.”
And Miss Brabazon, to whom the will of this beautiful girl was ever indisputed law rose immediately, and followed Adelheid with swift steps along the lighted corridor into the little fairy chamber with its gold and buhl and toy-like garniture, glinting here and there in the dim misty sheen of the moonlight that peered through the close-drawn curtains. Adelheid drew aside the rich drapery, and furled the silken blind behind it; and in a moment, all around and about her, the full flood of blue silent glory poured, tinting her sparkling hair with a brighter scintillation and steeping her upturned face in a refulgence like that which gleams perhaps upon the features of meditative angels.
Adelheid was the very creature for a moonlight sonata. She looked as she stood motionless in the midst of that grave religious light, like a living poem by Schiller, – like a musical inspiration of Beethoven’s or Mendelssohn’s; so much a part of the moonlight, that to separate her from it would have seemed impossible – she was the incarnation of its loveliness – its majesty – its weird unearthly purity. And upon her white serene bosom the circlet of pearls rose and fell like gleaming cresset-lights upon a peaceful tide, themselves a precious tangible embodiment of the spiritual radiance which illuminated them. Pearls and moonlight seem to have an affinity, they suit one another so well, and are alike so suggestive of passionless thought and hopeful tranquility.
Adelheid stood for a little while neither speaking or moving, only gazing up into the liquescent arc of the clear open night, as though her fairy soul were holding mysterious communion with the spirits of the higher firmament. Such a wild fancy indeed suggested itself to the mind of Diana Brabazon, and as she stood apart in the dense shadow of the curtain beside the beautiful singer, and marked the divine expression of her fathomless eyes and the rapture of her parted lips, it was a fancy which she almost believed to be actual truth.
Who was she, in reality – this strange supernaturally-lovely being, this gifted woman with her wondrous voice and crystal eyes, this waif and stray without kindred or home, whom Diana had lighted on more than ten years since, dancing and singing to an audience of gaping peasantry in the market-place of a German village? She had had her story to tell of course, but it had been wildly improbable, as all children’s stories are, and Di Brabazon had put it down as sheer romance at once, and gave no more credence to it in her practical strong-minded common-sense than she would have accorded to the nursery-legends of Red Riding Hood or Margery Daw. But after all – who was she – this modern Undine, without human parents or natural home – this strange enchanting Enigma, who looked a goddess and spoke with the voice of an angel, and moved as though her limbs and her robes were pliant shapes of undulating æther?
An expression, almost of dread, crept over Di Brabazon’s nervous countenance while she stood watching her protégée, and as her eyes wandered involuntarily from the pale illumined face to the violet-coloured folds of drapery that lay motionless about the feet of Adelheid, she thought with a shudder, that the glance had been given in instinctive expectation of beholding the long robe, not resting on the floor, but floating downward and the form that wore it suspended in the unsubstantial stream of ghostly light.
A sweet lingering intonation that might fitly have represented the glamour of the moon translated into sound, thrilled through the tiny chamber breaking the strange spell of gloomy silence which had already begun to press itself somewhat appallingly upon the lively senses of Miss Diana.
“What a glorious night it is! I am glad to think that the moon should shine so upon the night of my last opera! I shall sing the better for knowing that outside the walls of the theatre the skies are luminous and the stars looking down over the world, and the way to Heaven clear and open!”
Di Brabazon came forward from the shadow and twined her arm about Adelheid’s neck, with a gesture of mingled affection and reverence.
“I believe you were not intended to be an inhabitant of this gross
planet, Adelheid,” she murmured in subdued tones, for the influence of the hour was strong upon her mind, and it seemed to her that to speak with her customary energy would have been an outrage to the moonlight. “I think you ought to have been one of the people in Mercury or Venus!”
“No,” answered Adelheid dreamily; “they are too near the Sun for me. And the rest of the planets have too many moons at night. I like best our own Earth as it is, with its single light like the clear steadfast eye of One great-hearted God. It is the singleness of the light that makes the beautiful shadows down in the deeps of the sky, and if it were not for those shadows we should know nothing of the Infinity that outlies the moon and the stars. That is why I love the night so much, – because by means of the darkness it shows us the grandeur of space. In the day-time we see nothing of that; there is a curtain of woven sunshine or of variegated cloud stretched above us, and all round we see bright colours, and hear human noises, and the homely cheerful sounds of life. But when the night comes, God draws the curtain away from between His face and ours, the sounds of the earth pass, the colours of earth dissolve, and instead of them we hear the silent sound of the Immensity, we behold the solemn shadows in the deep of Eternity. My soul seems to go forth at night, as though the Power of the universe drew it out from my lips, to lose itself in the fathomless sea of the pure firmament, and to drink in the meaning of the grand wordless language which God speaks at night when smaller tongues are mute. For the tremendous silence of that divine discourse which vibrates from the great Heart of God in the naked open darkness before all the palpitating worlds, is infinitely more majestic and splendid than any of the day’s pageants and carols, which are after all only easy translations of the original language of the Night, and are, as it were, put into little chapters and words of one syllable, for the use of those who are just beginning to learn the speech of Deity. But there are no words in any tongue of men that are able to express the force and the vastness and the power of these sublime hieroglyphs that lie before and above us! The things are infinitely above description, infinitely greater than words can convey. If only we could speak silence,
then l think something worthy of them might be said, but all sound is poor and impotent, in the presence, of Immensity; – all the grandest and noblest doings of God are wrought in profound stillness.”
She ceased, and turned her glowing eyes upon the watchful face of Diana Brabazon, who yet stood beside her, her arm resting softly upon Adelheid’s white curved throat, and her broad bosom heaving with a fierce desire that this unearthlike being might one day bear to her a nearer relationship than she had dreamed of when ten years ago she had first beheld the exquisite beauty, and heard the marvellous voice of the vagabond child in the streets of Germany. And with the reawakening of that desire came the remembrance of the words in which that evening Adelheid had spoken of Vivian – “He is dear to me.” And she glanced at the pearl necklace.
Fräulein Stern followed the look, and without uttering a word, raised her hands to her neck, unclasped the beautiful ornament, and laid it gently aside upon a little inlaid marqueterie table.
“I shall not wear it to-night,” she said, fixing Diana with her shining eyes; “it was not Vivian who sent it to me. Before I go to-night to my singing, I shall put it again in its case, seal it up and send it back to the jeweller from whose house it came here. And I want you to see me do it.”
“Why?” asked Diana, monosyllabic with much bewilderment and a little fright.
“Because,” answered the actress, touching the parure gently with the tips of her gleaming fingers, “you will then be able to bear witness, if ever I should come to need such evidence from anyone, that I accepted no gift from the man who sent me this.”
“Who is he then?” gasped Di Brabazon. And an indefinable horror stole in upon her and made her articulation tremulous – “who is he, my dearest?”
“He is a gentleman,” returned Adelheid, “from whose lips I have already heard enough to have just reasons for avoiding his attentions. And you know him well.” She laid her finger upon a silver clarion-bell to summon her attendant.
“One moment!” cried” Diana arresting the intended action with her own hand; “before you call your maid, answer me one question more. You told me this evening, darling, that Vivian was dear to you. Suppose now that he loved you, Adelheid, – that you were more to him than any other woman in the world; how would you return such a love, – how would you feel towards him?”
“As a sister,” answered the beautiful German, steadily. The question raised no blush upon her pale face nor mingled the least embarrassment in the inflexion of her musical voice, and Miss Brabazon, regarding her with wonder, thought that had the inquiry been addressed to any other woman than Adelheid, she would at least have betrayed some confusion, whether she loved or not.
“No more than that?” said Diana presently, – “Never any more than that? Never as a Wife?
She listened eagerly for the reply, with all her heart in her earnest dilated eyes.
“No, Herzenskönigin. Never as a wife, – as a sister – always.
And with that Adelheid turned her lovely face once more into the streaming glory of heavenly luminance, where it poured in like a living tide through the embrasured window beside her, but Diana could look at her no longer now; she stood still and covered her fallen eyes with her hand. For she was bitterly disappointed.
The argent tinkling ring of the clarion pierced the moony stillness, and revived her thoughts, and the silver bangles trembled responsive to no ordinary emotion as Diana laid her white quivering hand upon Adelheid’s shoulder.
“And you will not tell me the name of the man who sent you the pearls?” she said.
“I would rather not, Herzenskönigin. It will be sufficient that you know they are returned to him.”