The world is the book
of women. Rousseau.
I needed not to be advised that presently
there would be a meeting of some of the leading men
of the Hudson Bay Company at the little gray stone,
dormer-windowed building on Notre Dame Street.
In this old building in whose vaults at
one time of emergency was stored the entire currency
of the Canadian treasury there still remained
some government records, and now under the steep-pitched
roof affairs were to be transacted somewhat larger
than the dimensions of the building might have suggested.
The keeper of my inn freely made me a list of those
who would be present a list embracing so
many scores of prominent men whom he then swore to
be in the city of Montreal that, had the old Chateau
Ramezay afforded twice its room, they could not all
have been accommodated. For myself, it was out
of the question to gain admittance.
In those days all Montreal was iron-shuttered
after nightfall, resembling a series of jails; and
to-night it seemed doubly screened and guarded.
None the less, late in the evening, I allowed seeming
accident to lead me in a certain direction. Passing
as often as I might up and down Notre Dame Street
without attracting attention, I saw more than one
figure in the semi-darkness enter the low chateau door.
Occasionally a tiny gleam showed at the edge of a
shutter or at the top of some little window not fully
screened. As to what went on within I could only
I passed the chateau, up and down,
at different times from nine o’clock until midnight.
The streets of Montreal at that time made brave pretense
of lighting by virtue of the new gas works; at certain
intervals flickering and wholly incompetent lights
serving to make the gloom more visible. None
the less, as I passed for the last time, I plainly
saw a shaft of light fall upon the half darkness from
a little side door. There emerged upon the street
the figure of a woman. I do not know what led
me to cast a second glance, for certainly my business
was not with ladies, any more than I would have supposed
ladies had business there; but, victim of some impulse
of curiosity, I walked a step or two in the same direction
as that taken by the cloaked figure.
Careless as I endeavored to make my
movements, the veiled lady seemed to take suspicion
or fright. She quickened her steps. Accident
favored me. Even as she fled, she caught her
skirt on some object which lay hidden in the shadows
and fell almost at full length. This I conceived
to be opportunity warranting my approach. I raised
my hat and assured her that her flight was needless.
She made no direct reply to me, but
as she rose gave utterance to an expression of annoyance.
“Mon Dieu!” I heard her say.
I stood for a moment trying to recall
where I had heard this same voice! She turned
her face in such a way that the light illuminated it.
Then indeed surprise smote me.
“Madam Baroness,” said
I, laughing, “it is wholly impossible for you
to be here, yet you are here! Never again will
I say there is no such thing as chance, no such thing
as fate, no such thing as a miracle!”
She looked at me one brief moment;
then her courage returned.
“Ah, then, my idiot,”
she said, “since it is to be our fortune always
to meet of dark nights and in impossible ways, give
me your arm.”
I laughed. “We may as well
make treaty. If you run again, I shall only follow
“Then I am again your prisoner?”
“Madam, I again am yours!”
“At least, you improve!” said she.
“Shall I not call a caleche? the
night is dark.”
“No, no!” hurriedly.
We began a midnight course that took
us quite across the old French quarter of Montreal.
At last she turned into a small, dark street of modest
one-story residences, iron-shuttered, dark and cheerless.
Here she paused in front of a narrow iron gate.
“Madam,” I said, “you
represent to me one of the problems of my life.
Why does your taste run to such quarters as these?
This might be that same back street in Washington!”
She chuckled to herself, at length
laughed aloud. “But wait! If you entered
my abode once,” she said, “why not again?
Her hand was at the heavy knocker
as she spoke. In a moment the door slowly opened,
just as it had done that night before in Washington.
My companion passed before me swiftly. As she
entered I saw standing at the opening the same brown
and wrinkled old dame who had served that night before
For an instant the light dazzled my
eyes, but, determined now to see this adventure through,
I stepped within. Then, indeed, I found it difficult
to stifle the exclamation of surprise which came to
my lips. Believe it or not, as you like, we were
again in Washington!
I say that I was confronted by the
identical arrangement, the identical objects of furnishing,
which had marked the luxurious boudoir of Helena von
Ritz in Washington! The tables were the same,
the chairs, the mirrors, the consoles. On the
mantel stood the same girandoles with glittering
crystals. The pictures upon the walls, so far
as I could remember their themes, did not deviate
in any particular of detail or arrangement. The
oval-backed chairs were duplicates of those I had seen
that other night at midnight. Beyond these same
amber satin curtains stood the tall bed with its canopy,
as I could see; and here at the right was the same
low Napoleon bed with its rolled ends. The figures
of the carpets were the same, their deep-piled richness,
soft under foot, the same. The flowered cups
of the sconces were identical with those I had seen
before. To my eye, even as it grew more studious,
there appeared no divergence, no difference, between
these apartments and those I had so singularly visited and
yet under circumstances so strangely akin to these in
the capital of my own country!
“You are good enough to admire
my modest place,” said a laughing voice at my
shoulder. Then indeed I waked and looked about
me, and saw that this, stranger than any mirage of
the brain, was but a fact and must later be explained
by the laborious processes of the feeble reason.
I turned to her then, pulling myself
together as best I could. Yes, she too was the
same, although in this case costumed somewhat differently.
The wide ball gown of satin was gone, and in its place
was a less pretentious robing of some darker silk.
I remembered distinctly that the flowers upon the
white satin gown I first had seen were pink roses.
Here were flowers of the crocus, cunningly woven into
the web of the gown itself. The slippers which
I now saw peeping out as she passed were not of white
satin, but better foot covering for the street.
She cast over the back of a chair, as she had done
that other evening, her light shoulder covering, a
dark mantle, not of lace now, but of some thin cloth.
Her jewels were gone, and the splendor of her dark
hair was free of decoration. No pale blue fires
shone at her white throat, and her hands were ringless.
But the light, firm poise of her figure could not
be changed; the mockery of her glance remained the
same, half laughing and half wistful. The strong
curve of her lips remained, and I recalled this arch
of brow, the curve of neck and chin, the droop of the
dark locks above her even forehead. Yes, it was
she. It could be no one else.
She clapped her hands and laughed
like a child as she turned to me. “Bravo!”
she said. “My judgment, then, was quite
“In regard to what?”
“You do not show curiosity!
You do not ask me questions! Good! I think
I shall ask you to wait. I say to you frankly
that I am alone here. It pleases me to live as
pleases me! You are alone in Montreal. Why
should we not please ourselves?”
In some way which I did not pause
to analyze, I felt perfectly sure that this strange
woman could, if she cared to do so, tell me some of
the things I ought to know. She might be here
on some errand identical with my own. Calhoun
had sent for her once before. Whose agent was
she now? I found chairs for us both.
An instant later, summoned in what
way I do not know, the old serving-woman again reappeared.
“Wine, Threlka,” said the baroness; “service
for two you may use this little table.
Monsieur,” she added, turning to me, “I
am most happy to make even some slight return for the
very gracious entertainment offered me that morning
by Mr. Calhoun at his residence. Such a droll
man! Oh, la! la!”
“Are you his friend, Madam?” I asked bluntly.
“Why should I not be?”
I could frame neither offensive nor
defensive art with her. She mocked me.
In a few moments the weazened old
woman was back with cold fowl, wine, napery, silver.
“Will Monsieur carve?”
At her nod the old woman filled my glass, after my
hostess had tasted of her own. We had seated ourselves
at the table as she spoke.
“Not so bad for a black midnight,
eh?” she went on, “ in a strange
town and on a strange errand? And again
let me express my approbation of your conduct.”
“If it pleases you, ’tis
more than I can say of it for myself,” I began.
“Because you ask no questions.
You take things as they come. I did not expect
you would come to Montreal.”
“Then you know but of course, I told
“Have you then no question?”
she went on at last. Her glass stood half full;
her wrists rested gently on the table edge, as she
leaned back, looking at me with that on her face which
he had needed to be wiser than myself, who could have
“May I, then?”
“Yes, now you may go on.”
“I thank you. First, of
course, for what reason do you carry the secrets of
my government into the stronghold of another government?
Are you the friend of America, or are you a spy upon
America? Are you my friend, or are we to be enemies
She flung back her head and laughed
delightedly. “That is a good beginning,”
“You must, at a guess, have
come up by way of the lakes, and by batteau from La
Prairie?” I ventured.
She nodded again. “Of course. I have
been here six days.”
“Indeed? you have badly beaten me
in our little race.”
She flashed on me a sudden glance.
“Why do you not ask me outright why I
“Well, then, I do! I do
ask you that. I ask you how you got access to
that meeting to-night for I doubt not you
She gazed at me deliberately again,
parting her red lips, again smiling at me. “What
would you have given to have been there yourself?”
“All the treasures those vaults ever held.”
“So much? What will you give me, then,
to tell you what I know?”
“More than all that treasure, Madam. A
“Ah! a ‘place in the heart
of a people!’ I prefer a locality more restricted.”
“In my own heart, then; yes, of course!”
She helped herself daintily to a portion
of the white meat of the fowl. “Yes,”
she went on, as though speaking to herself, “on
the whole, I rather like him. Yet what a fool!
Ah, such a droll idiot!”
“How so, Madam?” I expostulated.
“I thought I was doing very well.”
“Yet you can not guess how to persuade me?”
“No; how could that be?”
“Always one gains by offering
some equivalent, value for value especially
with women, Monsieur.”
She went on as though to herself.
“Come, now, I fancy him! He is handsome,
he is discreet, he has courage, he is not usual, he
is not curious; but ah, mon Dieu, what a fool!”
“Admit me to be a fool, Madam,
since it is true; but tell me in my folly what equivalent
I can offer one who has everything in the world wealth,
taste, culture, education, wit, learning, beauty?”
“Go on! Excellent!”
“Who has everything as against my nothing! What
“Why, gentle idiot, to get an answer ask a question,
“I have asked it.”
“But you can not guess that
I might ask one? So, then, one answer for
another, we might do what you Americans
call some business eh? Will you answer
“Ask it, then.”
“Were you married that other
So, then, she was woman after all,
and curious! Her sudden speech came like a stab;
but fortunately my dull nerves had not had time to
change my face before a thought flashed into my mind.
Could I not make merchandise of my sorrow? I
pulled myself into control and looked her fair in
“Madam,” I said, “look at my face
and read your own answer.”
She looked, searching me, while every
nerve of me tingled; but at last she shook her head.
“No,” she sighed. “I can not
yet say.” She did not see the sweat starting
on my forehead.
I raised my kerchief over my head.
“A truce, then, Madam! Let us leave the
one question against the other for a time.”
“Excellent! I shall get
my answer first, in that case, and for nothing.”
“I shall only watch you.
As we are here now, I were a fool, worse than you,
if I could not tell whether or not you are married.
None the less, I commend you, I admire you, because
you do not tell me. If you are not, you
are disappointed. If you are, you are eager!”
“I am in any case delighted that I can interest
“Ah, but you do! I have
not been interested, for so long! Ah, the great
heavens, how fat was Mr. Pakenham, how thin was Mr.
Calhoun! But you come, Monsieur, the
night is long. Tell me of yourself. I have
never before known a savage.”
“Value for value only, Madam!
Will you tell me in turn of yourself?”
“All?” She looked at me curiously.
“Only so much as Madam wishes.”
I saw her dark eyes study me once
more. At last she spoke again. “At
least,” she said, “it would be rather vulgar
if I did not explain some of the things which become
your right to know when I ask you to come into this
home, as into my other home in Washington.”
“In Heaven’s name, how
many of these homes have you, then? Are they all
“Five only, now,” she
replied, in the most matter-of-fact manner in the
world, “and, of course, all quite alike.”
“In Paris, in Vienna, in London,”
she answered. “You see this one, you see
them all. ’Tis far cooler in Montreal than
in Washington in the summer time. Do you not
“The arrangement could not be surpassed.”
“Thank you. So I have thought.
The mere charm of difference does not appeal to me.
Certain things my judgment approves. They serve,
they suffice. This little scheme it has pleased
me to reproduce in some of the capitals of the world.
It is at least as well chosen as the taste of the
Prince of Orleans, son of Louis Philippe, could advise.”
This with no change of expression. I drew a long
She went on as though I had spoken.
“My friend,” she said, “do not despise
me too early. There is abundant time. Before
you judge, let the testimony be heard. I love
men who can keep their own tongues and their own hands
“I am not your judge, Madam,
but it will be long before I shall think a harsh thought
of you. Tell me what a woman may. Do not
tell me what a secret agent may not. I
ask no promises and make none. You are very beautiful.
You have wealth. I call you `Madam.’
You are married?”
“I was married at fifteen.”
“At fifteen! And your husband died?”
“Your own country was Austria?”
“Call me anything but Austrian!
I left my country because I saw there only oppression
and lack of hope. No, I am Hungarian.”
“That I could have guessed.
They say the most beautiful women of the world come
from that country.”
“Thank you. Is that all?”
“I should guess then perhaps you went to Paris?”
“Of course,” she said,
“of course! of course! In time reasons existed
why I should not return to my home. I had some
little fortune, some singular experiences, some ambitions
of my own. What I did, I did. At least,
I saw the best and worst of Europe.”
She raised a hand as though to brush
something from before her face. “Allow
me to give you wine. Well, then, Monsieur knows
that when I left Paris I felt that part of my studies
were complete. I had seen a little more of government,
a little more of humanity, a little more of life, a
little more of men. It was not men but mankind
that I studied most. I had seen much of injustice
and hopelessness and despair. These made the
fate of mankind in that world.”
“I have heard vaguely of some
such things, Madam,” I said. “I know
that in Europe they have still the fight which we
sought to settle when we left that country for this
She nodded. “So then, at
last,” she went on, “still young, having
learned something and having now those means of carrying
on my studies which I required, I came to this last
of the countries, America, where, if anywhere, hope
for mankind remains. Washington has impressed
me more than any capital of the world.”
“How long have you been in Washington?”
“Now you begin to question now
you show at last curiosity! Well, then, I shall
answer. For more than one year, perhaps more than
two, perhaps more than three!”
“Impossible!” I shook
my head. “A woman like you could not be
concealed not if she owned a hundred hidden
places such as this.”
“Oh, I was known,” she
said. “You have heard of me, you knew of
I still shook my head. “No,”
said I, “I have been far in the West for several
years, and have come to Washington but rarely.
Bear me out, I had not been there my third day before
I found you!”
We sat silent for some moments, fixedly
regarding each other. I have said that a more
beautiful face than hers I had never seen. There
sat upon it now many things youth, eagerness,
ambition, a certain defiance; but, above all, a pleading
pathos! I could not find it in my heart, eager
as I was, to question her further. Apparently
she valued this reticence.
“You condemn me?” she
asked at length. “Because I live alone,
because quiet rumor wags a tongue, you will judge
me by your own creed and not by mine?”
I hesitated before I answered, and
deliberated. “Madam, I have already told
you that I would not. I say once more that I accredit
you with living up to your own creed, whatever that
may have been.”
She drew a long breath in turn.
“Monsieur, you have done yourself no ill turn
“It was rumored in diplomatic
circles, of course, that you were in touch with the
ministry of England,” I ventured. “I
myself saw that much.”
“Naturally. Of Mexico also!
At least, as you saw in our little carriage race,
Mexico was desirous enough to establish some sort of
communication with my humble self!”
“Calhoun was right!” I
exclaimed. “He was entirely right, Madam,
in insisting that I should bring you to him that morning,
whether or not you wished to go.”
“Whim fits with whim sometimes.
`Twas his whim to see me, mine to go.”
“I wonder what the Queen of
Sheba would have said had Solomon met her thus!”
She chuckled at the memory. “You
see, when you left me at Mr. Calhoun’s door
in care of the Grand Vizier James, I wondered somewhat
at this strange country of America. The entresol
was dim and the Grand Vizier was slow with candles.
I half fell into the room on the right. There
was Mr. Calhoun bolt upright in his chair, both hands
spread out on the arms. As you promised, he wore
a red nightcap and long gown of wool. He was
asleep, and ah! how weary he seemed. Never have
I seen a face so sad as his, asleep. He was gray
and thin, his hair was gray and thin, his eyes were
sunken, the veins were corded at his temples, his hands
were transparent. He was, as you promised me,
old. Yet when I saw him I did not smile.
He heard me stir as I would have withdrawn, and when
he arose to his feet he was wide-awake. Monsieur,
he is a great man; because, even so clad he made no
more apology than you do, showed no more curiosity;
and he welcomed me quite as a gentleman unashamed as
a king, if you please.”
“How did he receive you, Madam?” I asked.
“I never knew.”
“Why, took my hand in both his,
and bowed as though I indeed were queen, he a king.”
“Then you got on well?”
“Truly; for he was wiser than
his agent, Monsieur. He found answers by asking
“Ah, you were kinder to him than to me?”
“For instance, he asked ”
“What had been my ball gown
that night who was there how
I enjoyed myself! In a moment we were talking
as though we had been friends for years. The
Grand Vizier brought in two mugs of cider, in each
a toasted apple. Monsieur, I have not seen diplomacy
such as this. Naturally, I was helpless.”
“Did he perhaps ask how you
were induced to come at so impossible a time?
My own vanity, naturally, leads me to ask so much as
“No, Mr. Calhoun confined himself
to the essentials! Even had he asked me I could
not have replied, because I do not know, save that
it was to me a whim. But at least we talked,
over our cider and toasted apples.”
“You told him somewhat of yourself?”
“He did not allow me to do that, Monsieur.”
“But he told you somewhat of this country?”
“Ah, yes, yes! So then
I saw what held him up in his work, what kept him
alive. I saw something I have not often seen a
purpose, a principle, in a public man. His love
for his own land touched even me, how or why I scarcely
know. Yes, we spoke of the poor, the oppressed,
of the weary and the heavy laden.”
“Did he ask you what you knew of Mexico and
“Rather what I knew of the poor
in Europe. I told him some things I knew of that
hopeless land, that priest-ridden, king-ridden country my
own land. Then he went on to tell me of America
and its hope of a free democracy of the people.
Believe me, I listened to Mr. Calhoun. Never
mind what we said of Mr. Van Zandt and Sir Richard
Pakenham. At least, as you know, I paid off a
little score with Sir Richard that next morning.
What was strangest to me was the fact that I forgot
Mr. Calhoun’s attire, forgot the strangeness
of my errand thither. It was as though only our
minds talked, one with the other. I was sorry
when at last came the Grand Vizier James to take Mr.
Calhoun’s order for his own carriage, that brought
me home my second and more peaceful arrival
there that night. The last I saw of Mr. Calhoun
was with the Grand Vizier James putting a cloak about
him and leading him by force from his study to his
bed, as I presume. As for me, I slept no more
that night. Monsieur, I admit that I saw the
purpose of a great man. Yes; and of a great country.”
“Then I did not fail as messenger,
after all! You told Mr. Calhoun what he desired
“In part at least. But
come now, was I not bound in some sort of honor to
my great and good friend, Sir Richard? Was it
not treachery enough to rebuke him for his attentions
to the Dona Lucrezia?”
“But you promised to tell Mr.
Calhoun more at a later time?”
“On certain conditions I did,” she assented.
“I do not know that I may ask those?”
“You would be surprised if I
told you the truth? What I required of Mr. Calhoun
was permission and aid still further to study his extraordinary
country, its extraordinary ways, its extraordinary
ignorance of itself. I have told you that I needed
to travel, to study, to observe mankind and
those governments invented or tolerated by mankind.”
“Since then, Madam,” I
concluded, stepping to assist her with her chair,
as she signified her completion of our repast, “since
you do not feel now inclined to be specific, I feel
that I ought to make my adieux, for the time at least.
It grows late. I shall remember this little evening
all my life. I own my defeat. I do not know
why you are here, or for whom.”
“At what hotel do you stop?”
“The little place of Jacques
Bertillon, a square or so beyond the Place d’Armes.”
“In that case,” said she,
“believe me, it would be more discreet for you
to remain unseen in Montreal. No matter which
flag is mine, I may say that much for a friend and
comrade in the service.”
“But what else?”
She looked about her. “Be
my guest to-night!” she said suddenly. “There
is danger ”
“For me?” I laughed. “At my
hotel? On the streets?”
“No, for me.”
“And of what, Madam?”
“Of a man; for the first time I am afraid, in
spite of all.”
I looked at her straight. “Are you not
afraid of me?” I asked.
She looked at me fairly, her color
coming. “With the fear which draws a woman
to a man,” she said.
“Whereas, mine is the fear which causes a man
to flee from himself!”
“But you will remain for my
protection? I should feel safer. Besides,
in that case I should know the answer.”
“How do you mean?”
“I should know whether or not you were married!”