It was very hot. Not a breath of air was stirring throughout the western wing of the Greyport Hotel, and the usual feverish life of its four hundred inmates had succumbed to the weather. The great veranda was deserted; the corridors were desolated; no footfall echoed in the passages; the lazy rustle of a wandering skirt, or a passing sigh that was half a pant, seemed to intensify the heated silence. An intoxicated bee, disgracefully unsteady in wing and leg, who had been holding an inebriated conversation with himself in the corner of my window pane, had gone to sleep at last and was snoring. The errant prince might have entered the slumberous halls unchallenged, and walked into any of the darkened rooms whose open doors gaped for more air, without awakening the veriest Greyport flirt with his salutation. At times a drowsy voice, a lazily interjected sentence, an incoherent protest, a long-drawn phrase of saccharine tenuity suddenly broke off with a gasp, came vaguely to the ear, as if indicating a half-suspended, half-articulated existence somewhere, but not definite enough to indicate conversation. In the midst of this, there was the sudden crying of a child.
I looked up from my work. Through the camera of my jealously guarded window I could catch a glimpse of the vivid, quivering blue of the sky, the glittering intensity of the ocean, the long motionless leaves of the horse-chestnut in the road, all utterly inconsistent with anything as active as this lamentation. I stepped to the open door and into the silent hall.
Apparently the noise had attracted the equal attention of my neighbors. A vague chorus of “Sarah Walker,” in querulous recognition, of “O Lord! that child again!” in hopeless protest, rose faintly from the different rooms. As the lamentations seemed to approach nearer, the visitors’ doors were successively shut, swift footsteps hurried along the hall; past my open door came a momentary vision of a heated nursemaid carrying a tumultuous chaos of frilled skirts, flying sash, rebellious slippers, and tossing curls; there was a moment’s rallying struggle before the room nearly opposite mine, and then a door opened and shut upon the vision. It was Sarah Walker!
Everybody knew her; few had ever seen more of her than this passing vision. In the great hall, in the dining-room, in the vast parlors, in the garden, in the avenue, on the beach, a sound of lamentation had always been followed by this same brief apparition. Was there a sudden pause among the dancers and a subjugation of the loudest bassoons in the early evening “hop,” the explanation was given in the words “Sarah Walker.” Was there a wild confusion among the morning bathers on the sands, people whispered “Sarah Walker.” A panic among the waiters at dinner, an interruption in the Sunday sacred concert, a disorganization of the after-dinner promenade on the veranda, was instantly referred to Sarah Walker. Nor were her efforts confined entirely to public life. In cozy corners and darkened recesses, bearded lips withheld the amorous declaration to mutter “Sarah Walker” between their clenched teeth; coy and bashful tongues found speech at last in the rapid formulation of “Sarah Walker.” Nobody ever thought of abbreviating her full name. The two people in the hotel, otherwise individualized, but known only as “Sarah Walker’s father” and “Sarah Walker’s mother,” and never as Mr. and Mrs. Walker, addressed her only as “Sarah Walker”; two animals that were occasionally a part of this passing pageant were known as “Sarah Walker’s dog” and “Sarah Walker’s cat,” and later it was my proud privilege to sink my own individuality under the title of “that friend of Sarah Walker’s.”
It must not be supposed that she had attained this baleful eminence without some active criticism. Every parent in the Greyport Hotel had held his or her theory of the particular defects of Sarah Walker’s education; every virgin and bachelor had openly expressed views of the peculiar discipline that was necessary to her subjugation. It may be roughly estimated that she would have spent the entire nine years of her active life in a dark cupboard on an exclusive diet of bread and water, had this discipline obtained; while, on the other hand, had the educational theories of the parental assembly prevailed, she would have ere this shone an etherealized essence in the angelic host. In either event she would have “ceased from troubling,” which was the general Greyport idea of higher education. A paper read before our Literary Society on “Sarah Walker and other infantile diseases,” was referred to in the catalogue as “Walker, Sarah, Prevention and Cure,” while the usual burlesque legislation of our summer season culminated in the Act entitled “An Act to amend an Act entitled an Act for the abatement of Sarah Walker.” As she was hereafter exclusively to be fed “on the provisions of this Act,” some idea of its general tone may be gathered. It was a singular fact in this point of her history that her natural progenitors not only offered no resistance to the doubtful celebrity of their offspring, but, by hopelessly accepting the situation, to some extent posed as Sarah Walker’s victims. Mr. and Mrs. Walker were known to be rich, respectable, and indulgent to their only child. They themselves had been evolved from a previous generation of promiscuously acquired wealth into the repose of inherited property, but it was currently accepted that Sarah had “cast back” and reincarnated some waif on the deck of an emigrant ship at the beginning of the century.
Such was the child separated from me by this portentous history, a narrow passage, and a closed nursery door. Presently, however, the door was partly opened again as if to admit the air. The crying had ceased, but in its place the monotonous Voice of Conscience, for the moment personated by Sarah Walker’s nursemaid, kept alive a drowsy recollection of Sarah Walker’s transgressions.
“You see,” said the Voice, “what a dreadful thing it is for a little girl to go on as you do. I am astonished at you, Sarah Walker. So is everybody; so is the good ladies next door; so is the kind gentleman opposite; so is all! Where you expect to go to, ’Evin only knows! How you expect to be forgiven, saints alone can tell! But so it is always, and yet you keep it up. And wouldn’t you like it different, Sarah Walker? Wouldn’t you like to have everybody love you? Wouldn’t you like them good ladies next door, and that nice gentleman opposite, all to kinder rise up and say, ‘Oh, what a dear good little girl Sarah Walker is?’” The interpolation of a smacking sound of lips, as if in unctuous anticipation of Sarah Walker’s virtue, here ensued “Oh, what a dear, good, sw-e-et, lovely little girl Sarah Walker is!”
There was a dead silence. It may have been fancy, but I thought that some of the doors in the passage creaked softly as if in listening expectation. Then the silence was broken by a sigh. Had Sarah Walker ingloriously succumbed? Rash and impotent conclusion!
“I don’t,” said Sarah Walker’s voice, slowly rising until it broke on the crest of a mountainous sob, “I don’t want ’em to love me. I don’t want ’em to say what a dear good little girl Sarah Walker is!” She caught her breath. “I want ’em to say what a naughty bad dirty horrid filthy little girl Sarah Walker is so I do. There!”
The doors slammed all along the passages. The dreadful issue was joined. I softly crossed the hall and looked into Sarah Walker’s room.
The light from a half-opened shutter fell full upon her rebellious little figure. She had stiffened herself in a large easy-chair into the attitude in which she had been evidently deposited there by the nurse whose torn-off apron she still held rigidly in one hand. Her shapely legs stood out before her, jointless and inflexible to the point of her tiny shoes a pose copied with pathetic fidelity by the French doll at her feet. The attitude must have been dreadfully uncomfortable, and maintained only as being replete with some vague insults to the person who had put her down, as exhibiting a wild indecorum of silken stocking. A mystified kitten Sarah Walker’s inseparable was held as rigidly under one arm with equal dumb aggressiveness. Following the stiff line of her half-recumbent figure, her head suddenly appeared perpendicularly erect yet the only mobile part of her body. A dazzling sunburst of silky hair, the color of burnished copper, partly hid her neck and shoulders and the back of the chair. Her eyes were a darker shade of the same color the orbits appearing deeper and larger from the rubbing in of habitual tears from long wet lashes. Nothing so far seemed inconsistent with her infelix reputation, but, strange to say, her other features were marked by delicacy and refinement, and her mouth that sorely exercised and justly dreaded member was small and pretty, albeit slightly dropped at the corners.
The immediate effect of my intrusion was limited solely to the nursemaid. Swooping suddenly upon Sarah Walker’s too evident déshabillé, she made two or three attempts to pluck her into propriety; but the child, recognizing the cause as well as the effect, looked askance at me and only stiffened herself the more. “Sarah Walker, I’m shocked.”
“It ain’t his room anyway,” said Sarah, eying me malevolently. “What’s he doing here?”
There was so much truth in this that I involuntarily drew back abashed. The nurse-maid ejaculated “Sarah!” and lifted her eyes in hopeless protest.
“And he needn’t come seeing you,” continued Sarah, lazily rubbing the back of her head against the chair; “my papa don’t allow it. He warned you ’bout the other gentleman, you know.”
I felt it was necessary to say something. “Don’t you want to come with me and look at the sea?” I said with utter feebleness of invention. To my surprise, instead of actively assaulting me Sarah Walker got up, shook her hair over her shoulders, and took my hand.
“With your hair in that state?” almost screamed the domestic. But Sarah Walker had already pulled me into the hall. What particularly offensive form of opposition to authority was implied in this prompt assent to my proposal I could only darkly guess. For myself I knew I must appear to her a weak impostor. What would there possibly be in the sea to interest Sarah Walker? For the moment I prayed for a water-spout, a shipwreck, a whale, or any marine miracle to astound her and redeem my character. I walked guiltily down the hall, holding her hand bashfully in mine. I noticed that her breast began to heave convulsively; if she cried I knew I should mingle my tears with hers. We reached the veranda in gloomy silence. As I expected, the sea lay before us glittering in the sun vacant, staring, flat, and hopelessly and unquestionably uninteresting.
“I knew it all along,” said Sarah Walker, turning down the corners of her mouth; “there never was anything to see. I know why you got me to come here. You want to tell me if I’m a good girl you’ll take me to sail some day. You want to say if I’m bad the sea will swallow me up. That’s all you want, you horrid thing, you!”
“Hush!” I said, pointing to the corner of the veranda.
A desperate idea of escape had just seized me. Bolt upright in the recess of a window sat a nursemaid who had succumbed to sleep equally with her helpless charge in the perambulator beside her. I instantly recognized the infant a popular organism known as “Baby Buckly” the prodigy of the Greyport Hotel, the pet of its enthusiastic womanhood. Fat and featureless, pink and pincushiony, it was borrowed by gushing maidenhood, exchanged by idiotic maternity, and had grown unctuous and tumefacient under the kisses and embraces of half the hotel. Even in its present repose it looked moist and shiny from indiscriminate and promiscuous osculation.
“Let’s borrow Baby Buckly,” I said recklessly.
Sarah Walker at once stopped crying. I don’t know how she did it, but the cessation was instantaneous, as if she had turned off a tap somewhere.
“And put it in Mr. Peters’ bed!” I continued.
Peters being notoriously a grim bachelor, the bare suggestion bristled with outrage. Sarah Walker’s eyes sparkled.
“You don’t mean it! go ’way!” she said with affected coyness.
“But I do! Come.”
We extracted it noiselessly together that is, Sarah Walker did, with deft womanliness carried it darkly along the hall to No. 27, and deposited it in Peters’ bed, where it lay like a freshly opened oyster. We then returned hand in hand to my room, where we looked out of the window on the sea. It was observable that there was no lack of interest in Sarah Walker now.
Before five minutes had elapsed some one breathlessly passed the open door while we were still engaged in marine observation. This was followed by return footsteps and a succession of swiftly rustling garments, until the majority of the women in our wing had apparently passed our room, and we saw an irregular stream of nursemaids and mothers converging towards the hotel out of the grateful shadow of arbors, trees, and marquees. In fact we were still engaged in observation when Sarah Walker’s nurse came to fetch her away, and to inform her that “by rights” Baby Buckly’s nurse and Mr. Peters should both be made to leave the hotel that very night. Sarah Walker permitted herself to be led off with dry but expressive eyes. That evening she did not cry, but, on being taken into the usual custody for disturbance, was found to be purple with suppressed laughter.
This was the beginning of my intimacy with Sarah Walker. But while it was evident that whatever influence I obtained over her was due to my being particeps criminis, I think it was accepted that a regular abduction of infants might become in time monotonous if not dangerous. So she was satisfied with the knowledge that I could not now, without the most glaring hypocrisy, obtrude a moral superiority upon her. I do not think she would have turned state evidence and accused me, but I was by no means assured of her disinterested regard. She contented herself, for a few days afterwards, with meeting me privately and mysteriously communicating unctuous reminiscences of our joint crime, without suggesting a repetition. Her intimacy with me did not seem to interfere with her general relations to her own species in the other children in the hotel. Perhaps I should have said before that her popularity with them was by no means prejudiced by her infelix reputation. But while she was secretly admired by all, she had few professed followers and no regular associates. Whether the few whom she selected for that baleful preeminence were either torn from her by horrified guardians, or came to grief through her dangerous counsels, or whether she really did not care for them, I could not say. Their elevation was brief, their retirement unregretted. It was however permitted me, through felicitous circumstances, to become acquainted with the probable explanation of her unsociability.
The very hot weather culminated one afternoon in a dead faint of earth and sea and sky. An Alpine cloudland of snow that had mocked the upturned eyes of Greyport for hours, began to darken under the folding shadow of a black and velvety wing. The atmosphere seemed to thicken as the gloom increased; the lazy dust, thrown up by hurrying feet that sought a refuge, hung almost motionless in the air. Suddenly it was blown to the four quarters in one fierce gust that as quickly dispersed the loungers drooping in shade and cover. For a few seconds the long avenue was lost in flying clouds of dust, and then was left bare of life or motion. Raindrops in huge stars and rosettes appeared noiselessly and magically upon the sidewalks gouts of moisture apparently dropped from mid-air. And then the ominous hush returned.
A mile away along the rocks, I turned for shelter into a cavernous passage of the overhanging cliff, where I could still watch the coming storm upon the sea. A murmur of voices presently attracted my attention. I then observed that the passage ended in a kind of open grotto, where I could dimly discern the little figures of several children, who, separated from their nurses in the sudden onset of the storm, had taken refuge there. As the gloom deepened they became silent again, until the stillness was broken by a familiar voice. There was no mistaking it. It was Sarah Walker’s. But it was not lifted in lamentation, it was raised only as if resuming a suspended narrative.
“Her name,” said Sarah Walker gloomily, “was Kribbles. She was the only child of of orphaned parentage, and fair to see, but she was bad, and God did not love her. And one day she was separated from her nurse on a desert island like to this. And then came a hidgeous thunderstorm. And a great big thunderbolt came galumping after her. And it ketehed her and rolled all over her so! and then it came back and ketched her and rolled her over so! And when they came to pick her up there was not so much as that left of her. All burnt up!”
“Wasn’t there just a little bit of her shoe?” suggested a cautious auditor.
“Not a bit,” said Sarah Walker firmly. All the other children echoed “Not a bit,” indignantly, in evident gratification at the completeness of Kribbles’ catastrophe. At this moment the surrounding darkness was suddenly filled with a burst of blue celestial fire; the heavy inky sea beyond, the black-edged mourning horizon, the gleaming sands, each nook and corner of the dripping cave, with the frightened faces of the huddled group of children, started into vivid life for an instant, and then fell back with a deafening crash into the darkness.
There was a slight sound of whimpering. Sarah Walker apparently pounced upon the culprit, for it ceased.
“Sniffling ’tracts ’lectricity,” she said sententiously.
“But you thaid it wath Dod!” lisped a casuist of seven.
“It’s all the same,” said Sarah sharply, “and so’s asking questions.”
This obscure statement was however apparently understood, for the casuist lapsed into silent security. “Lots of things ’tracts it,” continued Sarah Walker. “Gold and silver, and metals and knives and rings.”
“And pennies most of all! Kribbles was that vain, she used to wear jewelry and fly in the face of Providence.”
“But you thaid ”
“Will you? There! you hear that?” There was another blinding flash and bounding roll of thunder along the shore. “I wonder you didn’t ketch it. You would only I’m here.”
All was quiet again, but from certain indications it was evident that a collection of those dangerous articles that had proved fatal to the unhappy Kribbles was being taken up. I could hear the clink of coins and jingle of ornaments. That Sarah herself was the custodian was presently shown. “But won’t the lightning come to you now?” asked a timid voice.
“No,” said Sarah, promptly, “’cause I ain’t afraid! Look!”
A frightened protest from the children here ensued, but the next instant she appeared at the entrance of the grotto and ran down the rocks towards the sea. Skipping from bowlder to bowlder she reached the furthest projection of the ledge, now partly submerged by the rising surf, and then turned half triumphantly, half defiantly, towards the grotto. The weird phosphorescence of the storm lit up the resolute little figure standing there, gorgeously bedecked with the chains, rings, and shiny trinkets of her companions. With a tiny hand raised in mock defiance of the elements, she seemed to lean confidingly against the panting breast of the gale, with fluttering skirt and flying tresses. Then the vault behind her cracked with three jagged burning fissures, a weird flame leaped upon the sand, there was a cry of terror from the grotto, echoed by a scream of nurses on the cliff, a deluge of rain, a terrific onset from the gale and Sarah Walker was gone? Nothing of the kind! When I reached the ledge, after a severe struggle with the storm, I found Sarah on the leeward side, drenched but delighted. I held her tightly, while we waited for a lull to regain the cliff, and took advantage of the sympathetic situation.
“But you know you were frightened, Sarah,” I whispered; “you thought of what happened to poor Kribbles.”
“Do you know who Kribbles was?” she asked confidentially.
“Well,” she whispered, “I made Kribbles up. And the hidgeous storm and thunderbolt and the burning! All out of my own head.”
The only immediate effect of this escapade was apparently to precipitate and bring into notoriety the growing affection of an obscure lover of Sarah Walker’s, hitherto unsuspected. He was a mild inoffensive boy of twelve, known as “Warts,” solely from an inordinate exhibition of these youthful excrescences. On the day of Sarah Walker’s adventure his passion culminated in a sudden and illogical attack upon Sarah’s nurse and parents while they were bewailing her conduct, and in assaulting them with his feet and hands. Whether he associated them in some vague way with the cause of her momentary peril, or whether he only wished to impress her with the touching flattery of a general imitation of her style, I cannot say. For his lovemaking was peculiar. A day or two afterwards he came to my open door and remained for some moments bashfully looking at me. The next day I found him standing by my chair in the piazza with an embarrassed air and in utter inability to explain his conduct. At the end of a rapid walk on the sand one morning, I was startled by the sound of hurried breath, and looking around, discovered the staggering Warts quite exhausted by endeavoring to keep up with me on his short legs. At last the daily recurrence of his haunting presence forced a dreadful suspicion upon me. Warts was courting me for Sarah Walker! Yet it was impossible to actually connect her with these mute attentions. “You want me to give them to Sarah Walker,” I said cheerfully one afternoon, as he laid upon my desk some peculiarly uninviting crustacea which looked not unlike a few detached excrescences from his own hands. He shook his head decidedly. “I understand,” I continued, confidently; “you want me to keep them for her.” “No,” said Warts, doggedly. “Then you only want me to tell her how nice they are?” The idea was apparently so shamelessly true that he blushed himself hastily into the passage, and ceased any future contribution. Naturally still more ineffective was the slightest attempt to bring his devotion into the physical presence of Sarah Walker. The most ingenious schemes to lure him into my room while she was there failed utterly. Yet he must have at one time basked in her baleful presence. “Do you like Warts?” I asked her one day bluntly. “Yes,” said Sarah Walker with cheerful directness; “ain’t he got a lot of ’em? though he used to have more. But,” she added reflectively, “do you know the little Ilsey boy?” I was compelled to admit my ignorance. “Well!” she said with a reminiscent sigh of satisfaction, “He’s got only two toes on his left foot showed ’em to me. And he was born so.” Need it be said that in these few words I read the dismal sequel of Warts’ unfortunate attachment? His accidental eccentricity was no longer attractive. What were his evanescent accretions, subject to improvement or removal, beside the hereditary and settled malformations of his rival?
Once only, in this brief summer episode, did Sarah Walker attract the impulsive and general sympathy of Greyport. It is only just to her consistency to say it was through no fault of hers, unless a characteristic exposure which brought on a chill and diphtheria could be called her own act. Howbeit, towards the close of the season, when a sudden suggestion of the coming autumn had crept, one knew not how, into the heart of a perfect day; when even a return of the summer warmth had a suspicion of hectic, on one of these days Sarah Walker was missed with the bees and the butterflies. For two days her voice had not been heard in hall or corridor, nor had the sunshine of her French marigold head lit up her familiar places. The two days were days of relief, yet mitigated with a certain uneasy apprehension of the return of Sarah Walker, or more alarming thought! the Sarah Walker element in a more appalling form. So strong was this impression that an unhappy infant who unwittingly broke this interval with his maiden outcry was nearly lynched. “We’re not going to stand that from you, you know,” was the crystallized sentiment of a brutal bachelor. In fact, it began to be admitted that Greyport had been accustomed to Sarah Walker’s ways. In the midst of this, it was suddenly whispered that Sarah Walker was lying dangerously ill, and was not expected to live.
Then occurred one of those strange revulsions of human sentiment which at first seem to point the dawning of a millennium of poetic justice, but which, in this case, ended in merely stirring the languid pulses of society into a hectic fever, and in making sympathy for Sarah Walker an insincere and exaggerated fashion. Morning and afternoon visits to her apartment, with extravagant offerings, were de rigueur; bulletins were issued three times a day; an allusion to her condition was the recognized preliminary to all conversation; advice, suggestions, and petitions to restore the baleful existence, flowed readily from the same facile invention that had once proposed its banishment; until one afternoon the shadow had drawn so close that even Folly withheld its careless feet before it, and laid down its feeble tinkling bells and gaudy cap tremblingly on the threshold. But the sequel must be told in more vivid words than mine.
“Whin I saw that angel lyin’ there,” said Sarah Walker’s nurse, “as white, if ye plaze, as if the whole blessed blood of her body had gone to make up the beautiful glory of her hair; speechless as she was, I thought I saw a sort of longin’ in her eyes.
“‘Is it anythin’ you’ll be wantin’, Sarah darlint’, sez her mother with a thremblin’ voice, ‘afore it’s lavin’ us ye are? Is it the ministher yer askin’ for, love?’ sez she.
“And Sarah looked at me, and if it was the last words I spake, her lips moved and she whispered ‘Scotty.’
“‘Wirra! wirra!’ sez the mother, ‘it’s wanderin’ she is, the darlin’;’ for Scotty, don’t ye see, was the grand barkeeper of the hotel.
“‘Savin’ yer presence, ma’am,’ sez I, ‘and the child’s here, ez is half a saint already, it’s thruth she’s spakin’ it’s Scotty she wants.’ And with that my angel blinks wid her black eyes ‘yes.’
“‘Bring him,’ says the docthor, ‘at once.’
“And they bring him in wid all the mustachios and moighty fine curls of him, and his diamonds, rings, and pins all a-glistening just like his eyes when he set ’em on that suffering saint.
“‘Is it anythin’ you’re wantin,’ Sarah dear?’ sez he, thryin’ to spake firm. And Sarah looks at him, and then looks at a tumbler on the table.
“‘Is it a bit of a cocktail, the likes of the one I made for ye last Sunday unbeknownst?’ sez he, looking round mortal afraid of the parents. And Sarah Walker’s eyes said, ‘It is.’ Then the ministher groaned, but the docthor jumps to his feet.
“‘Bring it,’ sez he, ‘and howld your jaw, an ye’s a Christian sowl.’ And he brought it. An’ afther the first sip, the child lifts herself up on one arm, and sez, with a swate smile and a toss of the glass:
“‘I looks towards you, Scotty,’ sez she.
“‘I observes you and bows, miss,’ sez he, makin’ as if he was dhrinkin’ wid her.
“‘Here’s another nail in yer coffin, old man,’ sez she winkin’.
“‘And here’s the hair all off your head, miss,’ sez he quite aisily, tossin’ back the joke betwixt ’em.
“And with that she dhrinks it off, and lies down and goes to sleep like a lamb, and wakes up wid de rosy dawn in her cheeks, and the morthal seekness gone forever.”
. . . . .
Thus Sarah Walker recovered. Whether the fact were essential to the moral conveyed in these pages, I leave the reader to judge.
I was leaning on the terrace of the Kronprinzen-Hof at Rolandseck one hot summer afternoon, lazily watching the groups of tourists strolling along the road that ran between the Hof and the Rhine. There was certainly little in the place or its atmosphere to recall the Greyport episode of twenty years before, when I was suddenly startled by hearing the name of “Sarah Walker.”
In the road below me were three figures, a lady, a gentleman, and a little girl. As the latter turned towards the lady who addressed her, I recognized the unmistakable copper-colored tresses, trim figure, delicate complexion, and refined features of the friend of my youth! I seized my hat, but by the time I had reached the road, they had disappeared.
The utter impossibility of its being Sarah Walker herself, and the glaring fact that the very coincidence of name would be inconsistent with any conventional descent from the original Sarah, I admit confused me. But I examined the book of the Kronprinzen-Hof and the other hotels, and questioned my portier. There was no “Mees” nor “Madame Walkiere” extant in Rolandseck. Yet might not Monsieur have heard incorrectly? The Czara Walka was evidently Russian, and Rolandseck was a resort for Russian princes. But pardon! Did Monsieur really mean the young demoiselle now approaching? Ah! that was a different affair. She was the daughter of the Italian Prince and Princess Monte Castello staying here. The lady with her was not the Princess, but a foreign friend. The gentleman was the Prince. Would he present Monsieur’s card?
They were entering the hotel. The Prince was a little, inoffensive-looking man, the lady an evident countrywoman of my own, and the child was, yet was not, Sarah! There was the face, the outline, the figure but the life, the verve, the audacity, was wanting! I could contain myself no longer.
“Pardon an inquisitive compatriot, madam,” I said; “but I heard you a few moments ago address this young lady by the name of a very dear young friend, whom I knew twenty years ago Sarah Walker. Am I right?”
The Prince stopped and gazed at us both with evident affright; then suddenly recognizing in my freedom some wild American indecorum, doubtless provoked by the presence of another of my species, which he really was not expected to countenance, retreated behind the portier. The circumstance by no means increased the good-will of the lady, as she replied somewhat haughtily:
“The Principessina is named Sarah Walker, after her mother’s maiden name.”
“Then this IS Sarah Walker’s daughter!” I said joyfully.
“She is the daughter of the Prince and Princess of Monte Castello,” corrected the lady frigidly.
“I had the pleasure of knowing her mother very well.” I stopped and blushed. Did I really know Sarah Walker very well? And would Sarah Walker know me now? Or would it not be very like her to go back on me? There was certainly anything but promise in the feeble-minded, vacuous copy of Sarah before me. I was yet hesitating, when the Prince, who had possibly received some quieting assurance from the portier, himself stepped forward, stammered that the Princess would, without doubt, be charmed to receive me later, and skipped upstairs, leaving the impression on my mind that he contemplated ordering his bill at once. There was no excuse for further prolonging the interview. “Say good-by to the strange gentleman, Sarah,” suggested Sarah’s companion stiffly. I looked at the child in the wild hope of recognizing some prompt resistance to the suggestion that would have identified her with the lost Sarah of my youth but in vain. “Good-by, sir, said the affected little creature, dropping a mechanical curtsey. “Thank you very much for remembering my mother.” “Good-by, Sarah!” It was indeed good-by forever.
For on my way to my room I came suddenly upon the Prince, in a recess of the upper hall, addressing somebody through an open door with a querulous protest, whose wild extravagance of statement was grotesquely balanced by its utter feeble timidity of manner. “It is,” said the Prince, “indeed a grave affair. We have here hundreds of socialists, emissaries from lawless countries and impossible places, who travel thousands of miles to fall upon our hearts and embrace us. They establish an espionage over us; they haunt our walks in incredible numbers; they hang in droves upon our footsteps; Heaven alone saves us from a public osculation at any moment! They openly allege that they have dandled us on their knees at recent periods; washed and dressed us, and would do so still. Our happiness, our security ”
“Don’t be a fool, Prince. Do shut up!”
The Prince collapsed and shrank away, and I hurried past the open door. A tall, magnificent-looking woman was standing before a glass, arranging her heavy red hair. The face, which had been impatiently turned towards the door, had changed again to profile, with a frown still visible on the bent brow. Our eyes met as I passed. The next moment the door slammed, and I had seen the last of Sarah Walker.