The summer breath of the roses blew
sweetly in through the long windows of the Countess’s
morning-room from the little garden outside as Barker
and Claudius entered. There was an air of inhabited
luxury which was evidently congenial to the American,
for he rubbed his hands softly together and touched
one or two objects caressingly while waiting for the
lady of the house. Claudius glanced at the table
and took up a book, with that singular student habit
that is never lost. It was a volume of English
verse, and in a moment he was reading, just as he stood,
with his hat caught between the fingers that held
the book, oblivious of countesses and visits and formalities.
There was a rustle and a step on the garden walk,
and both men turned towards the open glass door.
Claudius almost dropped the vellum-covered poet, and
was very perceptibly startled as he recognised the
lady of his Heidelberg adventure the woman
who had got, as by magic, a hold over his thoughts,
so that he dreamed of her and wondered about her, sleeping
Dark-eyed Countess Margaret, all clad
in pure white, the smallest of lace fichus just dropped
over her heavy hair, moved smoothly up the steps and
into the room.
“Good morning, Mr. Barker, I
am so glad you have come,” said she, graciously
extending her hand in the cordial Transatlantic fashion.
“Permit me to present my friend,
Professor Claudius,” said Barker. Claudius
bowed very low. The plunge was over, and he recovered
his outward calm, whatever he might feel.
“Mr. Barker flatters me, Madam,”
he said quietly. “I am not a professor,
but only a private lecturer.”
“I am too far removed from anything
learned to make such distinctions,” said the
Countess. “But since good fortune has brought
you into the circle of my ignorance, let me renew
my thanks for the service you did me in Heidelberg
the other day.”
Claudius bowed and murmured something inaudible.
“Or had you not realised that
I was the heroine of the parasol at the broken tower?”
asked Margaret smiling, as she seated herself in a
low chair and motioned to her guests to follow her
example. Barker selected a comfortable seat,
and arranged the cushion to suit him before he subsided
into repose, but the Doctor laid hands on a stern and
solid-looking piece of carving, and sat upright facing
“Pardon me,” said he,
“I had. But it is always startling to realise
a dream.” The Countess looked at Claudius
rather inquiringly; perhaps she had not expected he
was the sort of man to begin an acquaintance by making
compliments. However, she said nothing, and he
continued, “Do you not always find it so?”
“The bearded hermit is no duffer,”
thought Mr. Barker. “He will say grace
over the whole barrel of pork.”
“Ah! I have few dreams,”
replied the Countess, “and when I do have any,
I never realise them. I am a very matter-of-fact
“What matters the fact when
you are the person, Madam?” retorted Claudius,
fencing for a discussion of some kind.
“Immense,” thought Mr.
Barker, changing one leg over the other and becoming
“Does that mean anything, or
is it only a pretty paradox?” asked the lady,
observing that Claudius had thrown himself boldly into
a crucial position. Upon his answer would probably
depend her opinion of him as being either intelligent
or banal It is an easy matter to frame paradoxical
questions implying a compliment, but it is no light
task to be obliged to answer them oneself. Claudius
was not thinking of producing an effect, for the fascination
of the dark woman was upon him, and the low, strange
voice bewitched him, so he said what came uppermost.
“Yes,” said he, “there
are persons whose lives may indeed be matters of fact
to themselves who shall say? but
who are always dreams in the lives of others.”
“Charming,” laughed the
Countess, “do you always talk like that, Professor
“I have always thought,”
Mr. Barker remarked in his high-set voice, “that
I would like to be the dream of somebody’s life.
But somehow things have gone against me.”
The other two laughed. He did
not strike one as the sort of individual who would
haunt the love-sick dreams of a confiding heart.
“I would rather it were the
other way,” said Claudius thoughtfully.
“And I,” rejoined the
American, “would drink perdition to the unattainable.”
“Either I do not agree with
you, Mr. Barker,” said the Countess, “or
else I believe nothing is unattainable.”
“I implore you to be kind, and
believe the latter,” he answered courteously.
“Come, I will show you my garden,”
said Margaret rising. “It is pleasanter
in the open air.” She led the way out through
the glass door, the men walking on her right and left.
“I am very fond of my garden,”
she said, “and I take great care of it when
I am here.” She stopped and pulled two or
three dead leaves off a rosebush to illustrate her
profession of industry.
“And do you generally live here?”
asked Claudius, who was as yet in complete ignorance
of the Countess’s name, title, nationality, and
mode of life, for Mr. Barker had, for some occult
reason, left him in the dark.
Perhaps the Countess guessed as much,
for she briefly imparted a good deal of information.
“When Count Alexis, my husband,
was alive, we lived a great deal in Russia. But
I am an American like Mr. Barker, and I occasionally
make a trip to my native country. However, I
love this place in summer, and I always try to be
here. That is my friend, Miss Skeat, who lives
Miss Skeat was stranded under a tree
with a newspaper and several books. Her polished
cheekbones and knuckles glimmered yellow in the shade.
By her side was a long cane chair, in which lay a
white silk wrap and a bit of needlework, tumbled together
as the Countess had left them when she went in to
receive her visitors. Miss Skeat rose as the party
approached. The Countess introduced the two men,
who bowed low, and they all sat down, Mr. Barker on
the bench by the ancient virgin, and Claudius on the
grass at Margaret’s feet. It was noonday,
but there was a light breeze through, the flowers
and grasses. The conversation soon fell into
pairs as they sat.
“I should not have said, at
first sight, that you were a very imaginative person,
Dr. Claudius,” said the Countess.
“I have been dreaming for years,”
he answered. “I am a mathematician, and
of late I have become a philosopher in a small way,
as far as that is possible from reading the subject.
There are no two branches of learning that require
more imagination than mathematics and philosophy.”
she replied, “but mathematics I thought
that was an exact science, where everything was known,
and there was no room for dreaming.”
“I suppose that is the general
impression. But do you think it requires no imagination
to conceive a new application of knowledge, to invent
new methods where old ones are inadequate, to lay
out a route through the unknown land beyond the regions
of the known?”
“Ordinary people, like me, associate
mathematics with measurement and figures and angles.”
“Yes,” said Claudius,
“but it is the same as though you confused religion
with its practical results. If the religion is
true at all, it would be just as true if man did not
exist, and if it consequently had no application to
“I understand the truth of that,
though we might differ about the word. So you
have been dreaming for years and what were
your dreams like?” The Countess looked down
earnestly at Claudius, who in his turn looked at her
with a little smile. She thought he was different
from other men, and he was wondering how much of his
dreams he might tell her.
“Of all sorts,” he answered,
still looking up into her face. “Bitter
and sweet. I have dreamed of the glory of life
and of mind-power, of the accomplishment of the greatest
good to the greatest number; I have believed the extension
of science possible ’beyond the bounds of all
imaginable experience’ into the realms of the
occult and hidden; I have wandered with Hermes by
the banks of the Nile, with Gautama along the mud-flats
of the Ganges. I have disgusted myself with the
writings of those who would reduce all history and
religion to solar myths, and I have striven to fathom
the meaning of those whose thoughts are profound and
their hearts noble, but their speech halting.
I have dreamed many things, Countess, and the worst
is that I have lived to weary of my dreams, and to
say that all things are vanity all save
one,” he added with hesitation. There was
a momentary pause.
“Of course,” Mr. Barker
was saying to Miss Skeat, with a fascinating smile,
“I have the greatest admiration for Scotch heroism.
John Grahame of Claver-house. Who can read Macaulay’s
“Ah,” interrupted the
old gentlewoman, “if you knew how I feel about
these odious calumnies!”
“I quite understand that,”
said Barker sympathetically. He had discovered
Miss Skeat’s especial enthusiasm.
Margaret turned again to the Doctor.
“And may I ask, without indiscretion,
what the one dream may be that you have refused to
relegate among the vanities?”
“Woman,” answered Claudius, and was silent.
The Countess thought the Doctor spoke
ironically, and she laughed aloud, half amused and
half annoyed. “I am in earnest,” said
Claudius, plucking a blade of grass and twisting it
round his finger.
“Truly?” asked she.
“Foi de gentilhomme!” he answered.
“But Mr. Barker told me you lived like a hermit.”
“That is the reason it has been a dream,”
“You have not told me what the
dream was like. What beautiful things have you
fancied about us?”
“I have dreamed of woman’s
mission, and of woman’s love. I have fancied
that woman and woman’s love represented the ruling
spirit, as man and man’s brain represent the
moving agent, in the world. I have drawn pictures
of an age in which real chivalry of word and thought
and deed might be the only law necessary to control
men’s actions. Not the scenic and theatrical
chivalry of the middle age, ready at any moment to
break out into epidemic crime, but a true reverence
and understanding of woman’s supreme right to
honour and consideration; an age wherein it should
be no longer coarsely said that love is but an episode
in the brutal life of man, while to woman it is life
itself. I have dreamed that the eternal womanhood
of the universe beckoned me to follow.”
The Countess could not take her eyes
off Claudius. She had never met a man like him;
at least she had never met a man who plunged into this
kind of talk after half an hour’s acquaintance.
There was a thrill of feeling in her smooth deep voice
when she answered: “If all men thought
as you think, the world would be a very different place.”
“It would he a better place
in more ways than one,” he replied.
“And yet you yourself call it
a dream,” said Margaret, musing.
“It is only you, Countess, who
say that dreams are never realised.”
“And do you expect to realise yours?”
“Yes I do.”
He looked at her with his bold blue eyes, and she thought
“Tell me,” she asked,
“are you going to preach a crusade for the liberation
of our sex? Do you mean to bring about the great
change in the social relations of the world?
Is it you who will build up the pedestal which we
are to mount and from which we shall survey countless
ranks of adoring men?”
“Do you not see, as you look
down on me from your throne, from this chair, that
I have begun already?” answered Claudius, smiling,
and making a pretence of folding his hands.
“No,” said the Countess,
overlooking his last speech; “if you had any
convictions about it, as you pretend to have, you would
begin at once and revolutionise the world in six months.
What is the use of dreaming? It is not dreamers
who make history.”
“No, it is more often women.
But tell me, Countess, do you approve of my crusade?
Am I not right? Have I your sanction?”
Margaret was silent. Mr. Barker’s
voice was heard again, holding forth to Miss Skeat.
“In all ages,” he said,
with an air of conviction, “the aristocracy of
a country have been in reality the leaders of its
thought and science and enlightenment. Perhaps
the form of aristocracy most worthy of admiration
is that time-honoured institution of pre-eminent families,
the Scottish clan, the Hebrew tribe ”
Claudius overheard and opened his
eyes. It seemed to him that Barker was talking
nonsense. Margaret smiled, for she knew her companion
well, and understood in a moment that the American
had discovered her hobby, and was either seeking to
win her good graces, or endeavouring to amuse himself
by inducing her to air her views. But Claudius
returned to the charge.
“What is it to be, Countess?”
he asked. “Am I to take up arms and sail
out and conquer the universe, and bring it bound to
your feet to do you homage; or shall I go back to
my turret chamber in Heidelberg?”
“Your simile seems to me to
be appropriate,” said Margaret. “I
am sure your forefathers must have been Vikings.”
“They were,” replied Claudius,
“for I am a Scandinavian. Shall I go out
and plunder the world for your benefit? Shall
I make your universality, your general expression,
woman, sovereign over my general expression, man?”
“Considering who is to be the
gainer,” she answered, laughing, “I cannot
well withhold my consent. When will you begin?”
“How should I begin,”
said he, a smile on his face, and the light dancing
in his eyes, “except by making myself the first
Margaret was used enough to pretty
speeches, in earnest and in jest, but she thought
she had never heard any one turn them more readily
than the yellow-bearded student.
“And Mr. Barker,” she asked, “will
you convert him?”
“Can you look at him at this
moment, Countess, and say you really think he needs
She glanced at the pair on the bench,
and laughed again, in the air, for it was apparent
that Mr. Barker had made a complete conquest of Miss
Skeat. He had led the conversation about tribes
to the ancient practices of the North American Indians,
and was detailing their customs with marvellous fluency.
A scientific hearer might have detected some startling
inaccuracies, but Miss Skeat listened with rapt attention.
Who, indeed, should know more about Indians than a
born American who had travelled in the West?
The Countess turned the conversation
to other subjects, and talked intelligently about
books. She evidently read a great deal, or rather
she allowed Miss Skeat to read to her, and her memory
was good. Claudius was not behind in sober criticism
of current literature, though his reading had been
chiefly of a tougher kind. Time flew by quickly,
and when the two men rose to go their visit had lasted
“You will report the progress
of your conquest?” said the Countess to Claudius
as she gave him her hand, which he stooped to kiss
in the good old German fashion.
“Whenever you will permit me, Countess,”
“I am always at home in the
middle of the day. And you too, Mr. Barker, do
not wait to be asked before you come again. You
are absolutely the only civilised American I know
“Don’t say that, Countess.
There is the Duke, who came with me yesterday.”
“But he is English.”
“But he is also American.
He owns mines and prairies, and he emigrates semi-annually.
They all do now. You know rats leave a sinking
ship, and they are going to have a commune in England.”
“Oh, Mr. Barker, how can you!” exclaimed
“But I am only joking, of course,”
said he, and pacified her. So they parted.
Mr. Barker and Claudius stood on the
front door-step, and the former lit a cigar while
the carriage drove up.
“Doctor,” said he, “I
consider you the most remarkable man of my acquaintance.”
“Why?” asked Claudius as he got into the
“Well, for several reasons.
Chiefly because though you have lived in a ‘three
pair back’ for years, and never seen so much
as a woman’s ear, by your own account, you nevertheless
act as if you had never been out of a drawing-room
during your life. You are the least shy man I
“Shy?” exclaimed Claudius,
“what a funny idea! Why should I be shy?”
“No reason in the world, I suppose,
after all. But it is very odd.” And
Mr. Barker ruminated, rolling his cigar in his mouth.
“Besides,” he added, after a long pause,
“you have made a conquest.”
“Nonsense. Now, you have
some right to flatter yourself on that score.”
“Miss Skeat?” said Mr. Barker. “Sit
still, my heart!”
They drove along in silence for some
time. At last Mr. Barker began again,
“Well, Professor, what are you going to do about
“Why, about the conquest. Shall you go
“Very likely.” Claudius
was annoyed at his companion’s tone of voice.
He would have scoffed at the idea that he loved the
Countess at first sight; but she nevertheless represented
his ideal to him, and he could not bear to hear Mr.
Barker’s chaffing remarks. Of course Barker
had taken him to the house, and had a right to ask
if Claudius had found the visit interesting.
But Claudius was determined to check any kind of levity
from the first. He did not like it about women
on any terms, but in connection with the Countess
Margaret it was positively unbearable. So he
answered curtly enough to show Mr. Barker he objected
to it. The latter readily understood and drew
his own inferences.
A different conversation ensued in
the Countess’s garden when the visitors were
“Well, Miss Skeat,” said
Margaret, “what do you think of my new acquaintances?”
“I think Mr. Barker is the most
agreeable American I ever met,” said Miss Skeat.
“He has very sound views about social questions,
and his information on the subject of American Indians
is perfectly extraordinary.”
“And the Doctor? what do you think of him?”
“He dresses very oddly,”
said the lady companion; “but his manners seem
everything that could be desired, and he has aristocratic
“I did not notice his dress
much. But he is very handsome. He looks like
a Scandinavian hero. You know I was sure I should
meet him again that day in Heidelberg.”
“I suppose he really is very
good-looking,” assented Miss Skeat.
“Shall we have them to dinner
some day? I think we might; very quietly, you
“I would certainly advise it,
dear Countess. You really ought to begin and
see people in some way besides allowing them to call
on you. I think this solitude is affecting your
“Oh no; I am very happy at
least, as happy as I can be. But we will have
them to dinner. When shall it be?”
“To-morrow is too soon.
Say Thursday, since you ask me,” said Miss Skeat.
“Very well. Shall we read
a little?” And Tourgueneff was put into requisition.
It was late in the afternoon when
the Countess’s phaeton, black horses, black
liveries, and black cushions, swept round a corner
of the drive. Claudius and Barker, in a hired
carriage, passed her, coming from the opposite direction.
The four people bowed to each other the
ladies graciously, the men with courteous alacrity.
Each of the four was interested in the others, and
each of the four felt that they would all be thrown
together in the immediate future. There was a
feeling among them that they had known each other
a long time, though they were but acquaintances of
to-day and yesterday.
“I have seldom seen anything
more complete than that turn-out,” said Mr.
Barker. “The impression of mourning is perfect;
it could not have been better if it had been planned
by a New York undertaker.”
“Are New York undertakers such
great artists?” asked Claudius.
“Yes; people get buried more
profusely there. But don’t you think it
is remarkably fine?”
“Yes. I suppose you are
trying to make me say that the Countess is a beautiful
woman,” answered Claudius, who was beginning
to understand Barker. “If that is what
you want, I yield at once. I think she is the
most beautiful woman I ever saw.”
you think perhaps that Miss Skeat acts as an admirable
“Such beauty as that requires
no foil. The whole world is a foil to her.”
“Wait till you come to America.
I will show you her match in Newport.”
“I doubt it. What is Newport?”
“Newport is the principal watering-place
of our magnificent country. It is Baden, Homburg,
Bigorre, and Biarritz rolled into one. It is a
terrestrial paradise, a land of four-in-hands and houris
and surf-bathing and nectar and ambrosia. I could
not begin to give you an idea of it; wait till you
“A society place, I suppose,
then?” said Claudius, not in the least moved
by the enthusiastic description.
“A society place before all
things. But you may have plenty of solitude if
“I hardly think I should care
much for Newport,” said Claudius.
“Well, I like it very much.
My father has a place there, to which I take the liberty
of inviting you for the season, whenever you make up
your mind to enjoy yourself.”
“You are very good, I am sure;
and if, as you say, I ever go to America, which seems
in your opinion paramount to enjoying myself, I will
take advantage of your kind invitation.”
“Really, I hope you will. Shall we go and