PERCY DURAND looked out of the window of his compartment,
as the train paused at Montivilliers, and lazily watched the people on
"There is nothing new under the sun," he yawned. "The
world is monotonously alike, go where you will. There are always the same
people hurrying to catch the train, and waiting until they can blockade
the car steps before they bid a lingering farewell to friends. Then there
are the same irritated and baggage-encumbered travelers waiting behind
them, and cursing inwardly, and--upon my soul, what a very pretty girl!"
This irrelevant finale to the idle reverie of the blase
Young American, was caused by the glimpse of a perfect profile, a coil
of yellow hair and a gracefully-poised head under a jaunty hat, passing
by the window. Percy Durand believed that he had exhausted nearly all his
capabilities of enjoyment in this stale world. But his artistic appreciation
of the beautiful still remained to him. The study of a handsome face, whether
on man, woman, or child, was one of his greatest sources of pleasure.
Craning his neck to obtain another glimpse of the lovely
vision, he was suddenly made aware that the door of his compartment had
been thrown open, and that two ladies had entered.
One, the very object of his thoughts; the other, a fine-looking
middle-aged lady, whose dignified expression suddenly gave place to a smile
of recognition, as her eyes fell upon Percy.
"Why, surely this is Mr. Durand--Nora Tracy's Cousin 'Pierre,'
is it not?" she said, holding out her hand. "Ah, I see you have forgotten
"No, indeed, Mrs. Butler, I have not!" cried Percy, giving
the extended hand a thoroughly American "shake"--not the polite touch of
kid-covered finger-tips, but the cordial clasp that means so much to Americans
meeting in a foreign land. "How could I forget the friend and chaperone
of my dear cousin. Only yesterday, in a letter I received, she spoke of
you. and said she hoped it might be my good fortune to run across you.
It is a pleasure I hardly expected however."
Mrs. Butler, after acknowledging the speech with a few
polite words, turned toward her companion.
"Let me introduce you to my protege," she said. "Mr. Durand
: Miss King." And Percy looked into eyes as blue, and cold, as the waters
of some quiet lake sleeping under a winter moon, and saw a face as faultlessly
beautiful as the features of a marble goddess.
There was nothing romantic or unusual, in this very commonplace
meeting between two people whose destinies were to be so tragically interwoven.
Neither was powerfully impressed by, or drawn toward the other. There was
no warning in either heart of the fate to come.
Dolores King,--now in the perfection of her womanhood,
matured by the experiences of travel, contact with the world, wide reading,
and all the many advantages financial independence gives,--regarded Mr.
Percy Durand as a very good looking typical American, in his late twenties.
A little too thin and blond, perhaps, to suit her ideal of masculine beauty,
but a man of fine address, and possessed of a wonderfully musical voice.
She felt a trifle more interest in him than she usually
felt in the chance acquaintances Mrs. Bntler was forever running across,
from the fact that Nora Tracy, now Mrs. Phillips, who had been a great
favorite and pet with Mrs. Butler, was his cousin.
Percy Durand admired the exquisite beauty of Miss King's
face, the graceful dignity of her bearing, and quietly analyzed her after
his usual custom, while he chatted with Mrs. Butler.
"A cold and reserved nature," he thought, "devoid of woman's
usual vanity, proud to the verge of haughtiness, not susceptible to ordinary
flattery ; and she has never loved. When she does--God pity the man!"
Percy Durand was in the habit of regarding women, as students
of the floral world regard flowers, and he botanized them in like manner.
Many years ago, he had idealized the sex; but one woman's perfidy, together
with the vanity and selfishness of many others, had served to disillusion
him. Too finely fibered to ever become a bitter cynic, he was simply an
amused skeptic on the subject of woman's superiority or moral worth. He
had sought the world over for the ideal woman--that mythical personage
of his early dreams. But he had found so much envy, jealousy, and selfishness
marring the sex in general, he had discovered such unsightly blemishes
on some of the most seemingly spotless natures, that he abandoned the search
"Not a marrying man," his friends said, when speaking
of him. Handsome, eligible, and the junior member of a wealthy New York
importing house, he was a desirable conquest for anxious damsels. But Percy
Durand seemed either too heartless, or too selfish, to assume the role
"My cousin, Mrs. Phillips, will be anxious to know particulars
concerning you, Mrs. Butler," he said, as they chatted together,
"Are you chaperoning your usual bevy of young ladies this year?"
"Miss King has been my only charge for nearly four years,"
Mrs.Butler answered, smiling. "Five years ago, she joined a party
of twenty young ladies under my charge. After a few months, she decided
to remain abroad, and easily persuaded me to assume the position of companion
and chaperone. We have led a delightful, bohemian sort
of existence together. A year in Paris; winters in Rome, Genoa, Florence;
summers in Northern Europe--in fact, journeying or lingering wherever my
young friend's impulses led her. Just now we are en route
for the Paris Exposition."
"And I also," said Percy, "with half the world. I hope
you have engaged rooms. I fancy there will be a great rush, and much discomfort."
"Miss King had her usual apartments reserved for her.
She left them all furnished when we went to Genoa. I hope if Nora--Mrs.
Phillips I should say--comes abroad, she will come directly to us. We could
make her very comfortable, could we not, Dolores?"
"Certainly," answered Dolores. "And I should be pleased
to meet her. Mrs. Butler makes me almost jealous by her frequent references
to your cousin, Mr. Durand."
"You are very kind; but Mrs. Phillips is not coming abroad
this year. She is kept at home by her two children. She is the happiest
wife and mother I ever saw. To a man of my skeptical ideas on the subject
of marriage, the occasional sight of true domestic happiness, is all that
saves me from absolute cynicism. Whenever I am tempted to doubt the existence
of that congenial mating of two souls, of which we read so much, and see
so little, I think of my cousin, and realize that it does exist,
at least in one instance."
Just at this juncture, Miss King, who had begun to be
absorbed in a book, leaving the two friends to chat, lifted her eyes with
a slight amused smile in their depths.
"Pardon me," she said, "but how long has your cousin been
"Four years." Percy answered.
"Ah! I fancied so. You see, she has hardly yet passed
beyond the experimental period," laughed Dolores. "You know the serpent
did not enter Paradise until sometime after it was created. But he always
comes in one shape or another, and the Eden is always destroyed. It never
" Now you have touched upon Miss King's hobby, .you see,"
Mrs. Butler said, in response to Percy's surprised look. "She is the most
absolute cynic on the subject of love and marriage which the world contains,
Mr. Durand. However, I live in hopes of her reformation. You know when
unbelievers are converted, the make most devout worshipers."
"I shall never be converted from my settled convictions
on this subject," Miss King replied, good naturedly. "There are people
who are only fitted for a life of perfect freedom. I am one of them."
"And I, Miss King, am another!" added Percy. "A more confirmed
bachelor never lived. Marriage seems to me a pitiful bondage, always for
one, often for both. And a happy union is merely a fortunate accident.
Whenever I hear the ringing of marriage bells, I think with Byron, that
' Each stroke peals for a hope the less--the funeral note
Of love deep buried without resurrection
In the grave of possession.'"
A smile that warmed her features like a burst of sunlight
illumined Miss King's lovely face.
"I am sure we should agree famously on this subject, at
least, Mr. Durand," she said. "It is seldom I meet a gentleman whose ideas
accord so perfectly with my own."
"You are two foolish children," interposed Mrs. Butler,
"and your ideas are quite too extreme. Marriage is not the wretched bondage
you describe it. Some one has said very truthfully, 'If nothing is perfect
in this world, marriage is perhaps the best thing amid much evil. If a
fickle husband goes, he returns : but the lover--once gone he never returns.'
I am sure, Mr. Durand, that you would make some woman ail excellent husband."
Percy shook his head. "That is because you do not know
me," he replied. "Whatever my nature was originally, my experiences in
the world have left me incapable of unselfish devotion, or absorbing love."
"Oh, oh!" cried Mrs. Butler, "I will not hear you so malign
yourself. Any man who was so kind as you were to your cousin, must have
"Perhaps I had, once upon a time. But there is such a
thing as frittering away one's best emotions. Certainly, now, I cannot
imagine a woman so good, so beautiful, or so endowed with graces, that
I should wish to make her my wife. If I did, I know her goodness would
be a reproach to me, her beauty would pall upon me, and her constancy would
irritate me. And yet, the absence of any of these qualities would displease
me. So you see I am better off single. I think my cousin considers me a
good sort of relative! I am sure I am faithful in my friendships
: but the requisites of a desirable husband, I do not possess. Besides,
begging the pardon of both my lady listeners, I must say, while I have
so little faith in myself, I have even less in womankind. I do not
care to risk my future in the hands of an unreliable woman."
"A man of your experience and judgment would not be apt
to make that error," Mrs. Butler replied. "And women are proverbially faithful
by nature, you know--even clinging to the men who maltreat them."
"Judgment and experience are not of the slightest use
in selecting a wife or husband," responded Percy. "First, because it is
only in the daily intimacies of constant companionship that we can learn
another's peculiarities; and secondly--in the case of the woman, at least--the
maiden and wife are two distinct beings. I have seen the most amiable and
charming girl develope into a veritable Xantippe of a wife. Then, as for
the proverbial faithfulness of woman--it is the poet's idea of the sex,
I know, but it is not verified in reality. Women are quite as faulty as
men, and even more easily assailed by temptation. But they are more discreet,
and make a greater show of good qualities than we do. Men boast of their
infidelities, women conceal them."
"Rouen!" shouted the guard, flinging open the door of
"Impossible!" cried Percy, springing up--"and I am obliged
to stop here! This is altogether too bad. But I hope you will kindly
send your address to me at the Grand Hotel, where I shall register next
week. I shall be glad to be of any service to you I can, during my
few weeks in Paris."
And with that inimitable grace of the polished New Yorker,
Percy bowed himself from the presence of the ladies.
And the first chapter was written in a romance which was
to end in a tragedy.