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*X «•• •■= ••• .*. ••.ff.
-s-^ir^ir^ir^ir,^, «^, .J, .J. .J. .J. .g.
.ft. .ft. .ft. .ft. .ft.
OUR OWN SET
\K^\ r ':i C 't^^ ^ ^ "^^ L-^ ^ ^•
From the German by CLARA BELL
REVISED AND CORRECTED IN THE UNITED STATES
wujLiam s. gottsberger, publisher
II MURRAY STREET
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1884
BY William S. Gottsberger
ill the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington
THIS TRANSLATION WAS MADE EXPRESSLY FOR THE PUBLISHER
OUR OWN SET
At Rome in 1870. Roman society was already
divided into " Le Monde noir '* and " Le Monde
blanc " which as yet gave no sign of amalgama-
tion into a " Monde gris'^ His Holiness the Pope
had entrenched himself in the Vatican behind his
prestige of martyrdom; and the King already
held his court at the Quirinal.
Among the distinguished Austrians who were
spending the winter in Rome were the Otto
Ilsenberghs. Otto Ilsenbergh, one of the leading^
members of the Austrian feudal aristocracy, was
in Rome pr9fessedly for his health, but in reality
solely in order to avail himself of the resources of
the Vatican library in compiling that work on the
History of Miracle which he has lately given to
2 OUR OWN SET.
the world under a quaint pseudonym. He and his
wife with a troup of red-haired Ilsenberghs, big
and little, inhabited a straggling, historical palazzo
on the Corso, with a glacial stone staircase and
vast drawing-rooms which looked more fit for the
meetings of conspirators than for innocent tea-
drinkings and dances.
The countess was " at home *' every evening
when there was no better amusemeut to be had.
She was by birth a princess Auerstein, of the
Auerstein-Zolling branch, in which — as we all
know — the women are remarkable for their white
eyebrows and their strict morality. The Ilsenbergh
salon was much frequented; the prevailing tone
was by no means formal ; snioking was allowed in
the drawing-room — nay the countess herself
smoked : to be precise she smoked regalias.
It was in the beginning of December ; a wet
evening and the heavy drops splashed against the
window panes. Count Ilsenbergh was sitting in
an immense reception-room decorated with fres-
coes, at a buhl table, evidently constructed for no
more arduous duties than the evolution of love
letters. He was absorbed in the concoction of an
article for " Our Times.** A paper of strictly
aristocratic-conservative tendencies, patronized by
himself, taken in by his fellow-aristocrats, but read
OUR OWN SET. 3
by absolutely no one— excepting the liberal news-
paper writers when in search of reactionary per-
versities. Count Ilsenbergh was in great trouble;
the Austrian Ministry had crowned their dis-
tinguished achievements by one even more
distinguished — for the fourth time within three
years a new era was announced, and in defiance
of prejudice a spick-and-span liberal ministry was
being composed, destined no doubt to establish
the prosperity of the Austrian people on a per-
manent basis — and beyond a doubt to cause a
fresh importation of " Excellencies " into the
fashionable salons of the Ringstrasse at Vienna.
Count Ilsenbergh was prophesying the end of all
The countess was sitting at her ease on a sofa
close to the fire-place, with its Renaissance chimae-
ras of white marble. The handsomest editions of
the works of Ampere and Mommsen lay on the
tables, but she held on her lap a ragged volume of
a novel from a circulating library. She was a tall,
fair woman with a high color and apricot-colored
hair, a languid figure, slender extremities and in-
significant features; she spoke French and German
alike with a strong Viennese accent, dressed un-
fashionably, and moved awkwardly ; still, no one
who knew what was what, could fail to see that she
4 OUR OWN SET.
was a lady and an aristocrat. At all court func-
tions she was an imposing figure, she never stum-
bled over her train and wore the family diamonds
with stately indifference.
The portiere was lifted and General von
KHnger was announced. General von Klinger
was an old Austrian soldier whose good fortune it
had been to have an opportunity of distinguishing
himself with his cavalry at Sadowa, after which,
righteously wroth at the national disaster, he had
laid down his sword and retired with his General's
rank to devote himself wholly to painting. Even
as a soldier he had enjoyed a reputation as a genius
and had covered himself with glory by the way in
which he could sketch, with his gold-cased pencil
on the back of an old letter or a visiting-card,
a galloping horse and a jockey bending over its
mane; a work of art especially admired for the
rapidity with which it was executed. Since then
he had studied art in Paris, had three times had his
pictures refused at the salon and had succeeded in
persuading himself that this was a distinction —
in which he found a parallel in Rousseau, Delacroix
and fifty fellow- victims who had been obliged to
submit to a similar rebuff. Then he had come to
Rome, an unappreciated genius, and had estab-
lished himself in a magnificent studio in the
OUR OWN SET. 5
Piazza Navona, which he threw open to the public
every day from three till five and which became a
popular rendezvous for the fashionable world.
They laughed at the old soldier's artistic preten-
sions, but they could not laugh at him. He was
in every sense of the word a gentleman. Like
many an old bachelor who cherishes the memory
of an unsuccessful love affair in early life, he
covered a sentimental vein by a biting tongue —
a pessimist idealist perhaps describes him. He was
handsome and upright, with a stiffly starched shirt
collar and romantic dark eyes — a thorough old
soldier and a favorite with all the fine ladies of
*' It is very nice of you to have thought of us,"
said the countess greeting him heartily ; ** it is
dreadful weather too — come and warm your-
The count looked up from his writing: " How
are you General ?" he said, and then went on with
his article, adding : " Such an old friend as you
are will allow me to go on with my work ; only a
few lines — half a dozen words. These are grave
times, when every man must hold his own in the
ranks !" — ^and the forlorn hope of the feudal cause
dipped his pen in the ink with a sigh.
The general begged him not to disturb himself.
6 OUR OWN SET.
the countess said a few words about some musical
soiree, and presently her husband ended his page
with an emphatic flourish, exclaiming: "That
will give them something to think about !" and
came to join them by the fire.
A carriage was heard to draw up in the street.
" That may be Truyn, he arrived yesterday/*
observed the countess, and Count Truyn was in
Erich Truyn was at that time a man of rather
more than thirty with hair prematurely gray and
a glance of frosty indifference. People said he
had been iced, for he always looked as though he
had been frozen to the marrow in sublime superi-
ority ; his frigid exterior had won him a reputa-
tion for excessive pride, and totally belied the
man. He was an uncommonly kind and noble-
hearted soul, and what passed for pride was
merely the shrinking of a sensitive nature which
had now and again exposed itself to ridicule, per-
haps by some outburst of high-flown idealism,
and which now sought only to hide its sanctuary
from the desecration of the multitude.
" Ah ! Truyn, at last, and how are you ?" cried
the countess with sincere pleasure.
" Much as ever," replied Truyn.
" And where is your wife ?" asked Ilsenbergh.
OUR OWN SET. 7
"I do not know."
" Is she still at Nice ?"
"I do not know." And as he spoke his
expression was colder and more set than before.
"Are you to be long in Rome?" said the
countess, anxious to divert the conversation into
a more pleasing channel.
" As long as my little companion likes and it
suits her," answered Truyn. His ' little companion '
always meant his only child, a girl of about
"You must bring Gabrielle to see me very
soon," said the lady. " My Mimi and Lintschi are
of the same age.'*
"I will bring her as soon as possible ; unluckily
she is so very shy she cannot bear strangers. But
she has quite lost her heart to the general and to
our cousin Sempaly."
" What, Nicki !" exclaimed the countess. " Do
you mean that he has the patience to devote him-
self to children ?"
" He has a peculiar talent for it. He dined
with us to-day."
" He is an unaccountable creature !" sighed
the countess. " He hardly ever comes near us."
At this moment a quick step was heard out-
side and Count Sempaly was announced.
8 OUR OWN SET.
" Lupus in Fabula / " remarked Ilsenbergh.
The new-comer was a young man of eight or
nine and twenty, not tall, but powerfully though
slightly built ; his remarkably handsome, well-cut
features and clear brown complexion were beauti-
fied by a most engaging smile, and by fine blue
eyes with dark lashes and shaded lids. Under
cover of that smile he could say the most auda-
cious things, and whether the glance of those eyes
were a lightning flash or a sunbeam no one had
ever been quite certain. He gallantly kissed the
tips of the countess's fingers, nodded to the men
with a sort of brusque heartiness, and then seated
himself on a cushion at the lady's feet.
** Well, it is a mercy to be allowed to see you
at last ; you really do not come often enough,
Nicki; and in society I hardly ever meet you,"
complained the countess in a tone of kindly
reproof. " Why do you so seldom appear in the
"Because he is better amused in the other
world !" said Ilsenbergh with a giggle in an under-
But a reproachful glance from his wife warned
liim to be sober.
" I simply have not the time for it," said Sem-
paly half laughing. " I have too much to do."
OUR OWN SET. 9
" Too much to do !" said Truyn with his quiet
irony. . . "In diplomacy? — What is the latest
" A remarkable article in the ' Temps * on the
great washing-basin question,*' replied Sempaly
with mock gravity.
" The washing-basin question !" repeated the
"Yes/' continued Sempaly. "The state of
affairs is this : When, not long since, the young
duke of B. . . was required to serve under the
conscription, his feelings were deeply hurt by the
fact that he had not only to live in barracks, but
to wash at the pump like a common soldier. This
so outraged his mamma that she went to the Min-
ister of War to petition that her son might have a
separate washing-basin ; but after serious discus.-
sion her application was refused. It was decided
that this separate washing-basin would be a breach
of the Immortal Principles of '89."
" It is hardly credible !" observed Truyn ;
Ilsenbergh shrugged his shoulders and the coun-
tess innocently asked:
"What are the immortal principles of '89?"
" A sort of ideal convention between the aris-
tocracy and the canaille," said Sempaly coolly.
" Or if you prefer it, the first steps towards the
ro OUR OWN SET.
abdication of privilege at the feet of the higher
humanity/' he added with a smile.
The countess was no wiser than before, Sem-
paly laughed maliciously as he fanned himself with
a Japanese screen, and Ilsenbergh said : " Then
you are a democrat, Sempaly ?"
" From a bird's-eye point of view," added
Truyn drily ; he had not much faith in his cousin's
"I am always a democrat when I have just
been reading * The Dark Ages,' " said Sempaly —
*The Dark Ages' was the name he chose to give
to Ilsenbergh's newspaper. — " Besides, joking
apart, I am really a liberal, though I own I am
uneasy at the growing power of the radicals. By
the bye, I had nearly forgotten to give you two
items of news that will delight you Fritzi," —
addressing the countess. "The reds have won all
the Paris elections, and at Madrid they have been
shooting at the king."
** Horrible!" exclaimed the countess, and she
shuddered, "we shall see the Commune again
"'93>" said Truyn, with his tone of dry irony.
" We really ought to draw a cordon round the
Austrian throne to protect it against the pestilen-
tial flood of democracy," said Sempaly very
OUR OWN SET. II
gravely. " Ilsenbergh you must petition the upper
" Your jokes are very much out of place/* said
the countess, " the matter is serious."
" Oh, no ! not for us," said Truyn. " Our people
are too long suffering."
"They are sound at the core," interrupted
Ilsenbergh with dramatic emphasis.
"They do not yet know the meaning of
liberty," said Sempaly laughing, "and to them
equality is a mere abstraction — a metaphysical
"They are thoroughly good and loyal !" ex-
claimed Ilsenbergh, "and they know. . ."
" Oh !" cried Sempaly, " they know very little
and that is your safeguard. When once their eyes
are opened your life will cease to be secure. If I
had been a bricklayer I should certainly have been
a socialist," and he crossed his arms and looked
defiantly at his audience.
" A socialist !" cried Ilsenbergh indignantly.
" You ! — never. No, you could not have been a
socialist; your religious feelings would have pre-
served you from such wickedness !"
" Hm !" replied Sempaly suspiciously, and
Truyn said with a twist of his lips :
"As a bricklayer Sempaly might not have
12 OUR OWN SET.
been so religious ; he might have found some dif-
ficulty in worshipping a God who had treated him
** Hush, Truyn !" exclaimed Sempaly, somewhat
anxiously to his cousin. ** You know I dislike all
** True. I remember you wear Catholic blink-
ers and are always nervous about your beliefs ;
and you would not like to feel any doubt as to the
unlimited prolongation of your comfortable little
existence," said Truyn in a tone of grave and
languid banter. For Sempaly was not burthened
with religion, though, like many folks to whom
life is easy, he clung desperately to a hope in a
future life, for which reason he affected " Catholic
blinkers " and would not have opened a page of
Strauss for the world.
"The sword is at our breast!" sighed the
countess still sunk in dark forebodings. '* This new
ministry! ..." And she shook her head.
" It will do no harm beyond producing a few
dreary articles in the papers and inundating us
with new Acts which the crown will not trouble
itself about for a moment," observed Sempaly.
" The Austrian mob are gnashing their teeth
already !" said the lady.
** Nonsense ! The Austrian mob is a very good
OUR OWN SET. 13
dog at bottom; it will not bite till you forbid it to
lick your hands/' said her cousin calmly.
" I should dislike one as much as the other,'*
said the countess, looking complacently at her
slender white fingers.
" But tell us, Nicki," asked Ilsenbergh, " has
not the change of ministry put a stop to your
chances of promotion ?" Sempaly was in fact an
apprentice in the Roman branch of the great
Austrian political incubator.
" Of course," replied Sempaly. " I had hoped
to be sent to London as secretary; but one of our
secretaries here is to go to England, and the
democrats are sending us one of their own proteg&
in his place. My chief told me so this morning."
" Oh ! who is our new secretary ?" asked the
countess much interested. " If he is a protege of
those creatures he must be a terrible specimen."
" He is one Sterzl — and highly recommended ;
he comes from Teheran where he has distinguished
himself greatly," said Sempaly.
" Sterzl !" repeated Ilsenbergh scornfully.
" Sterzl !" cried the lady in disgust. " It is to
be hoped he has no wife, — that would crown all."
" On that point I can reassure you," said the
general; " Sterzl is unmarried."
14 OUR OWN SET.
" You know him ?** murmured the countess
** He is the son of one of my dearest friends —
a fellow- officer," replied the general, " and if he
has grown up as he promised he must be a man
of talent and character — his abilities were bril-
** That is something at any rate," Ilsenbergh
condescended to say.
"Yes, so it strikes me," added Sempaly ; " we
require one man who knows what work means."
" I was promised that my nephew should have
the appointment," muttered the countess. " It is
*' Utterly !" said Sempaly with a whimsical
intonation. ** A foreign element is always intrusive;
we are much more comfortable among ourselves."
Tea was now brought in on a Japanese table
and the secretary and his inferior birth were for
the time forgotten.
Sempaly was not merely affecting the demo-
crat to annoy his cousin the countess ; he firmly
believed himself to be a liberal because he laughed
at conservatism, and regarded the nobility as a
time-honored structure — a relic of the past, like
the pyramids, only not quite so perdurable. But
in spite of his theoretical respect for the rights of
man and his satirical contempt for the claims of
privilege, Sempaly was really less tolerant than his
cousin of "the dark ages." Ilsenbergh, with all
his feudal crotchets, was an aristocrat only from a
sense of fitness while Sempaly was an aristocrat
by instinct ; Ilsenbergh's pride of rank was an af-
fair of party and dignity, Sempaly*s was a matter
of superfine nerves.
A few days after this conversation Sempaly
met the general and told him that the new secre-
tary had arrived, adding with a smile : " I do not
think he will do !"
" Why not ?" asked the general.
" He speaks very bad French and he knows
nothing about bric-a-brac^' replied Sempaly with
1 6 OUR OWN SET.
perfect gravity. ** I introduced him yesterday to
Madame de Gandry and he had hardly turned his
back when she asked me — she is the daughter of
a leather-seller at Lille, you know — ' is he a man
of family ?* — and would you believe it, I could
not tell her. That is the sort of thing I never
know." Then he added with a singular smile:
" His name is Cecil — Cecil Maria. Cecil Maria
Sterzl ! It sounds well do not you think ?"
Cecil Maria ! It was a ridiculous name and
ill-suited the man. His father had been an officer
of dragoons who had retired early to become a
country gentleman — the dearest dream of the
retired officer ; his mother was a faded Fräulein
von . . . . who had all her linen — not merely for
her trousseau but all she ever purchased — marked
with Aer coronet, who stuck up a flag on the turret
of their little country house with Aer arms, and
insisted on being addressed as baroness — which
she never had been — by all her acquaintance.
When, within a year of her marriage, she became
the mother of a fine boy it was a burning question
what his name should be.
" Cecil Maria," lisped the lady.
" Nonsense ! The boy shall be called Anthony
after his grandfather," said his father, and the
mother burst into tears. What man can resist the
OUR OWN SET. 17
tears of the mother of his first-born ? The child
was christened Cecil.
His father died at the early age of forty ; his
youngest child, a little girl whom he worshipped,
was dangerously ill of scarlet fever and he fell a
victim to his devotion to her. Cecil was at that
time a pretty but rather delicate boy, with an in-
tense contempt for the French language which his
sister's governess tried to instil into him, and a
pronounced preference for the society of the stable-
lads and peasant boys ; the baroness was always
complaining that he was dirty and did not care to
keep his hands white. The guardianship of the
orphans devolved on General Sterzl, their father's
elder brother, who honestly did his best for them,
managing their little fortune with care, and con-
scientiously directing their education. After a
brief but keen inspection of the clever spoilt boy,
of his silly mother, and of his cringing tutor, he
shrugged his shoulders over this country gentle-
man's life and placed the lad in the Theresianum,
a college which in the estimation of every Austrian
officer is the first educational establishment in the
world — provided, that is to say, that he himself
was not brought up there.
During the first six months Cecil was bound-
lessly miserable. All his life long till now he had
1 8 OUR OWN SET.
been accustomed to be first ; and it was hard sud-
denly to find himself last. Although his abilities
were superior his neglected education placed him
far below most of his companions, and besides this
he was, as it happened, the only boy not of noble-
birth in this fashionable college, with the exception
of a young Tyrolese whose descent was illegiti-
mate, though he nevertheless was always boasting
of his family. Then his companions laughed at
his provincial accent, at his want of strength and
at his queer name. We have all in our turn had
to submit to this rough jesting. He could not for
a long time get accustomed to it, and during the
first half-year he incessantly plagued his mother
and guardian to release him from what he called a
prison ; but they remained deaf to his entreaties.
The visible outcome, when Cecil went home for
the summer holidays, was a very subdued frame of
mind, and nicely kept, long white nails. The next
term began with his giving a sound thrashing to
the odious Tyrolese who bored the whole school
with his endless bragging and airs. This made him
immensely popular ; then he began to work in
earnest; his masters praised his industry — and
his complaints ceased. Had the subtle poison of
pretentious vanity which infected the whole col-
lege crept into his veins ? Had he begun to find
OUR OWN SET. 19
a charm in hearing Mass read on Sundays and
Highdays by a Bishop ? To be waited on by ser-
vants in livery, to learn to dance from the same
teacher who gave lessons at court, and to call the
titled youth of the empire * du* ? It is difficult
to say. He seemed perfectly indifferent to all these
privileges and assumed no airs or affectations. — His
pride was of a fiercer temper.
He finished his education by learning eastern
languages, passed brilliantly, and, still aided by his
uncle, went in for diplomacy. He was sent to an
Asiatic capital which was just then undergoing a
visitation of cholera and revolution ; there again
he distinguished himself and was decorated with
the order of the Iron Crown.
One thing was soon very evident to every one
in Rome : The new secretary was not a man
whose character could be summed up in an epi-
gram. There was nothing commonplace or pretty
in the man. Externally he was tall and broad
shouldered, with a well set carriage that gave him
the air of a soldier in mufti ; his hair was brown
and close-cropped and his features sharply cut. In
manner he was awkward but perfectly well-bred,
unpretentious and simple. The ambassador's
verdict on the new secretary was very different
from Sempaly's. *' He is my best worker," said
20 OUR OWN SET.
his excellency : " A wonderful worker, and a long
head — extraordinarily capable; but not pliant
enough — not pliant enough. . . ."
Nor was it only with his superiors that he found
favor ; the younger officials with whom he came
in contact were soon on the best terms with him.
He had one peculiarity, very rare in men who
take life so seriously as he did : He never quib-
bled. The embassy at Rome at that time swarmed
to such an extent with handsome, fashionable
idlers that the Palazzo di Venezia was like a
superior school for fine ladies with moustaches —
as Sempaly aptly said. Sterzl looked on at their
feeble doings with indulgent good humor; it was
impossible to hope for any definite views or action
from these young gentlemen ; it would have been
as wise to try to make butterflies do the work of
ants. He himself was always ready to make good
their neglect and gave them every liberty for their
amusements. He wished to work, to make his
mark — that was his business ; to fritter away life
and enjoy themselves was theirs. Thus they agreed
But though his subalterns were soon his de-
voted allies, society at' large was still disposed to
offer him a cold shoulder. His predecessor in
office had never pretended to do anything note-
OUR OWN SET. 21
worthy as a diplomatist, but he had been an ad-
mirable waltzer, and — which was even more
important — he had not disdained that social
diversion; consequently he had been a favorite
with the ladies of Rome who loudly bewailed his
departure and were not cordial to his successor.
Sterzl took no pains to fill his place ; he had no
trace of that obsequious politeness and superficial
amiability which make a man popular in general
society. His blunt conscientiousness and quite
pedantic frankness of speech were displeasing on
first acquaintance. In a drawing-room he com-
monly stood silently observant, or, if he spoke, he
said exactly what he thought and expected the
same sincerity from others. He could never be
brought to understand that the flattery and sub-
terfuge usual in company were merely a degener-
ate form of love for your neighbor; that the
uncompromising truthfulness that he required
must result in universal warfare ; that the limit-
line between sincerity and rudeness, between
deference and hypocrisy, have never been rigidly
defined ; that the naked truth is as much out of
place in a drawing-room as a man in his shirt-
• sleeves ; and that, considering the defects and
deformities of our souls, we cannot be too thank-
ful that custom prohibits their being displayed
22 OUR OWN SET.
without a decent amount of clothing. Merciful
Heaven ! what should we see if they were laid
No, we cannot live without lying. A man
who is used to society demands that it should tell
lies, it is his right, and a courtesy to which he has
every claim. When a man finds that society no
longer thinks him worth lying to his part is played
out and he had better vanish from the scene. In
short, Sterzl had no sort of success with women ;
they dubbed him by the nickname of ' le Paysan
du Danube,^ Men respected him; they only re-
gretted that he had so many extravagant notions,
particularly a morbid touchiness as to matters of
honor ; however, that is a fault which men do not
seriously disapprove of To Sterzl himself it was
a matter of entire indifference what was said of
him by people who were not his personal friends.
For a friend he would go through fire and water,
but he would often neglect even to bow to an
acquaintance in the street as he walked on, straight
to his destination, his head full of grand schemes.
He was fully determined to make his mark : to
do — perhaps to become — something great . . .
but. . . .
Princess Vulpini, who had not escaped the
fashionable complaint — the Morbus Schlieman-
iensiSy had found a treasure no further off .than in
an old-clothes shop in the Via Aracoeli, where she
had bought two wonderful shields from designs,
she was assured, of Benvenuto Cellini's and a
fragment of tapestry said to have been designed
by Raphael, and she had invited a few intimate
friends — Truyn, Sempaly, von Klinger, and
Count Siegburg, an Austrian attache, to give their
opinion as to the genuineness of her find. She was
Truyn's sister and a few years younger than he ;
she had met Prince Vulpini at Vichy when spend-
ing a season there with her invalid father and soon
afterwards had married him, and now for twelve
years she had lived in Rome, loving it well, though
she never ceased railing at it for sundry incon-
veniences, was always singing the praises of
Vienna and would have all her shopping done for
her ** at home ** because she was convinced that
nothing was to be had in Rome but photographs,
antiques and wax- matches.
24 OUR OWN SET.
The company had just finished a lively dinner,
throughout which they had unanimously abused
the new Italian Ministry ; but with the arrival of
the coffee and cigarettes they turned to the con-
sideration of the princess's antiquities which she
had spread out on the floor for inspection. The
gentlemen threw themselves on all-fours to ex-
amine the arras and the shields, and pronounced
their verdict with conscientious frankness. No
one, it seemed, was thoroughly convinced of the
authenticity of the treasures but the Countess
Marie Schalingen, a lady who had been for some
few weeks in Rome as the princess's guest ; all
the others had doubts. The most vigorous sceptic
of them all was Count Siegburg, who, to be sure,
was the one who knew least of such matters, but
who nevertheless spoke of " electrotype casts and
modern imitations " with supreme decisiveness.
Wips, or more correctly Wiprecht Siegburg,
was the spoilt child of the Austrian circle; I
doubt whether he could have invented gunpowder,
have discovered America, or have proved that the
earth goes round, but for work-a-day company he
was certainly pleasanter than Schwarz, Columbus
or Galileo. He had been attached to the embassy
with no hope of his finding a career, but simply
to get him away from Vienna, where his debts
OUR OWN SET. 25
had at last become inconveniently heavy. His
widowed mother, after much meditation, had hit
upon this admirable plan for checking her son in
"You make me quite nervous, Siegburg," said
the princess at length, ** though I know that you
have not the faintest glimmering of knowledge on
" Perhaps you are right," he answered coolly.
** At any rate, I have lost confidence lately in my
critical instincts. I always used to think that the
genuineness of antiquities was in proportion to
their dirt ; but now that I have learnt that even
the dirt is counterfeit I have lost all basis of judg-
They all laughed at this confession, not so
much for its wit as because every one laughed at
Siegburg's little sallies. They were in the smok-
ing-room, a snug apartment, picturesquely and
comfortably furnished with carved wood and
oriental cushions. All the party were on the in-
timate terms of "just ourselves." a mixture of
courteous deference and hearty friendliness. The
conversation was not precisely learned; on the
contrary, there was a certain frivolity in its tone ;
very bad jokes were perpetrated and some anec-
dotes related savoring of Saint-Simon in raciness
26 OUR OWN SET.
without any one being scandalized, for they were
not in the mood to run every jest to earth, to treat
every point by chemical analysis, or take every
word literally. Superficiality is sometimes a
gracious and a blessed thing.
"I feel so thoroughly at home to-day — in
such an Austrian atmosphere. . . .'* exclaimed the
hostess. " But I have a presentiment that it will
not be of long duration. Mesdames de Gandry
and Ferguson are dining in this neighbor-
As she spoke the servant announced Prince
" * Coming events cast their shadows before,' "
quoted Sempaly ; it was well known that when
Prince Norina made his appearance the Countess
de Gandry would soon follow. Norina was fat
and fair, handsome on the barber's block pattern,
and for the last four or five years had been danc-
ing attendance on the French countess. He bowed
to the princess, shook hands with the men and was
instantly seized upon by the master of the house
to listen to a tirade on the latest misdemeanors of
the government. Vulpini was the blackest of the
Black, a strong adherent of the pope, though from
political rather than religious bias— -chiefly indeed
as a fanatically exclusive Roman, who scorned to
OUR OWN SET. 27
make common cause with Italy at large, and re-
garded " Italia unita " as a wild chimera. Prince
Norina, who had no political convictions, listened
to him and nodded assent to anything and every-
The company now adjourned to the drawing-
room, a large uncomfortable room furnished in a
motley style, partly Louis XV. and partly Empire,
and which opened out of the more splendid salon
in which the princess received formally, and the
boudoir to which none but her most intimate
friends were admitted. The conversation had lost
much of its liveliness, and had flattened to a level
at which some of the company had taken refuge
in photographs when Madame de Gandry and
Mrs. Ferguson were announced and rustled in.
Madame de Gandry — a pale brunette, inter-
esting rather than pretty, with a turned-up nose
and hard bright eyes, noisy and coquettish, incon-
siderate and saucy, because she fancied it gave
her style — had for the last five years ruled the
destinies of Prince Norina. Society had, however,
agreed, perhaps for its own convenience, to regard
their intimacy as mere good fellowship. The lady
was looked upon as one of those giddy creatures
who love to sport on the edge of an abyss. Mrs.
Ferguson, the daughter of a hotel-keeper at San
28 OUR OWN SET.
Francisco and wife of a man whose wealth in-
creased daily, was the exact opposite to Madame
de Gandry — white and pink, with large eyes and
sharp little teeth, very slender and flat-figured like
many Americans. She dyed her hair, rouged,
dressed conspicuously, spoke eccentric English
and detestable French, sang Judic's songs, and
had been introduced to Roman society by the
Marchese B. . . who had met her at Nice. Her
friendship with Madame de Gandry had begun
on the strength of a landau they had hired be-
tween them, had culminated in an opera-box on
the same terms, and would probably be destroyed
by a lover — in common too.
A few gentlemen had also arrived : Count de
Gandry, who looked like a hair-dresser and was
suspected of carrying on a covert business as
dealer in antiquities; M. Dieudonne Crespigny
de Bellancourt, a square-built French diplomatist,
the son of a butcher and son-in-law to a duke,
etc., etc. The latest bankruptcy, the climate of
Rome, the excavations, were all discussed. Madame
de Gandry and Mrs. Ferguson submitted at first
to the tedium of a general conversation, but con-
trived at the same time to attract as much of the
men's attention as was possible under the circum-
stances. Soon after eleven the Countess Ilsen-
OUR OWN SET. 29
bergh came in ; she had come from a grand din-
ner and looked bored to death.
" It really is absurd how one meets every one in
Rome/* she said presently, when she had been
questioned as to the how and where of the party
she had just quitted. ** Who do you think I came
across to-day, Marie? — That Lenz girl from
Vienna ; now she is a duchess or a Countess
Montidor — Heaven knows which; once, years
ago, I had something to do with a charity sale she
got up, so now she comes up to me as if I were
an old acquaintance and pretends to be intimate,
talks of 'we Austrians,' and 'at home at Vienna/
— Amusing, rather?"
" Poor Fritzi ! I feel for you !" exclaimed Sem-
paly with a malicious laugh. " But there is a
greater treat in store for you. The Sterzl women,
mother and sister, are coming in a few days."
" Indeed ! that is pleasant certainly!"
"Why ?" asked Madame de Gandry, throwing
herself into the conversation. " Are they objec-
tionable people ?"
" By no means," said the countess quickly. " I
believe they are the most respectable people in the
world, but — it is a bore to be constantly meeting
people here whom one could not possibly recog-
30 OUR OWN SET.
nize in Vienna. You should give him a hint,
Nicki — tell him — explain to him. ..."
" To be sure," said Sempaly laughing, " I
might say : Look here, my good friend, beware
of taking your mother and sister out anywhere ;
my cousin the countess would rather not meet
The countess shrugged her shoulders and
turned away from her flippant interlocutor, tap-
ping her fan impatiently. ** Do you mean to re-
ceive them Marie ?" she asked.
" Whom do I not receive ?" said the princess
in an undertone, with a significant glance.
"Well I cannot — decidedly not," said the
countess excitedly, " though I shall be grieved to
annoy Sterzl. It will be his own fault entirely if
he forces me to explain myself"
" Do as you think proper," replied her friend,
" but you know I am very fond of Sterzl ; he
stands high in my good graces."
" What ! le Paysan du Danube f giggled
Madame de Gandry, who had only partly under-
stood the conversation.
" Sterzl is a man of the highest respectability,"
said the countess icily ; she did not intend to allow
that little French woman to laugh at her fellow-
countryman, though he was not a man of birth.
OUR OWN SET. 31
"Z^ Paysan du Danube is my particular
friend," said the princess with the simple heartiness
that was so peculiarly her own. " I am very
fond of him ; he is quite one of ourselves/'
" He can have no higher reward on earth,"
said her brother with good-humored irony.
" When my small boy fell and broke his arm,
here in this very room, Sterzl picked him up, and
you should have seen how gently he held my poor
darling," added the princess.
** That is ample evidence in favor of the fact
that his woman-kind are presentable," laughed
" But allow me to ask,*' interposed the Madame
de Gandry, "just that I may understand what I
am about — these Sterzls, they are not in good
society in Austria ?"
" Our Austrian etiquette can afford no stand-
point for foreign society," said Truyn with unusual
sharpness, for he could not endure Madame de
Gandry ; " we receive no one who is not by birth
one of ourselves."
" Yes," said Sempaly with a keen glance,
" Austrian society is as exclusive as the House of
Israel, and scorns proselytes." And the leather-
seller's daughter, who had not understood — or
not chosen to understand Truyn's speech, replied
32 OUR OWN SET.
with much presence of mind : " Ah, I am glad to
know what I am about/'
Siegburg, who was sitting behind her, glanced
at Sempaly and made an expressive grimace.
Princess Vulpini looked almost spiteful. " I
will not leave Sterzl in the lurch," she said,
"and if his sister is like his description of
" He has talked to you about his sister ?" in-
" To be sure," said the princess with a smile,
" and to you too, I should not wonder, Nicki ?"
" No indeed, he does not show me his sacred
places, I am not worthy," replied Sempaly. "He
only told me that she was coming, and with a very
singular smile. Hm, Hm ! he seems to set great
store by the young lady and will no doubt look
out for a fine match for her. I should not wonder
if he had got her here for that express purpose.
Norina, take care of yourself — forewarned you
** Mademoiselle Sterzl will hardly aspire to a
prince's crown !" exclaimed Madame de Gandry,
up in arms to defend her property.
" Sterzl will not let his sister go for less," as-
OUR OWN SET. 33
" Do not talk such nonsense," said Truyn, to
check Sempaly's audacity.
But Sempaly was leaning over a table and scrib-
bling on the back of an old letter ; presently he
handed the half sheet to the Countess Ilsenbergh ;
Madame de Gandry peeped over her shoulder.
" Capital !" she exclaimed, " delicious !" Sem-
paly had sketched Sterzl as an auctioneer, the
hammer in one hand and a fashionably-dressed
doll in the other, with all the Princes in Rome
crowded round. In one corner he had written :
" This lot — Fräulein Sterzl — once, twice,
The sketch was handed round ; the likeness of
Sterzl was unmistakable. Soon after the Countess
Ilsenbergh went away, and as the company were
not in the best of humors the two friends also
withdrew shortly after midnight followed by those
gentlemen who had come in their train.
" Fritzi is really a victim to an idee fixe,* the
princess began when this indiscreet group had de-
parted ; ** she wants me to entrench myself in dig-
nified reserve against this poor little thing. What
harm can the child do me ?"
" I cannot imagine," said Siegburg ; " indeed,
if she is pretty and has some money, it strikes me
I will marry her myself — that will set matters
34 OUR OWN SET.
Straight" Siegburg was fond of talking of the
money that his wife must bring him, and liked to
air the selfishness of which he was innocent, as
very rich folks sometimes make a parade of
" And it was really very stupid of Fritzi to
ventilate this idiotic nonsense before those two
women," added the princess, who was apt tp ex-
press herself strongly ; but nothing that she said
•ever sounded badly, on the contrary, she lent a
grace to whatever she said. " Does she think she
can make me turn exclusive !"
"I hope you observed how that pinchbeck
countess was prepared to tread in her footsteps,"
Truyn meanwhile was hunting eagerly about
the chimney-shelf and the tables, assisted by the
master of the house.
^* What are you looking for, Erich ?" asked his
^' For that sketch of Sempaly's. I should not
like to leave the thing about. Excuse me, Nicki,
the caricature was capital, I have nothing to say
against it, if it had only been among ourselves ;
but you really ought not to have shown it to
strangers. You are so heedless, you do not think
of what you are doing."
OUR OWN SET. 35
** And what have I done now ?*' asked Sem-
paly without any trace of annoyance.
" You have simply stamped this young girl as
an adventuress on the look-out for a husband."
"Pooh ! as if so trifling a jest could be taken
in earnest !*' said Sempaly. They searched every-
where for the caricature but in vain.
" I am convinced that wretched woman put it
in her pocket!" cried the princess indignantly.
That wretched woman was of course Madame de
It was true that Princess Vulpini was very fond
of Sterzl, and he returned her regard with almost
rapturous devotion. In spite of an unpolished
and absent manner he had a vein of poetic chiv-
alry and a pure reverence for true and lofty
womanhood. He could not think it worth his
while to offer to any woman that flattery — often
impertinent enough in reality — that gratifies
some of the sex, and he had never learnt the A B
C of modern gallantry; but in his intercourse with
those whom he spoke of as " true women " there
was a touch of chivalrous protection and reserved
deference. His behavior to them was so full of an
36 OUR OWN SET.
old-fashioned courtesy that he was certain to win
their favor ; he treated them partly like children
that must be cared for, and partly like sacred
beings before whom we must bow the knee.
Immediately on his arrival in Rome the prin-
cess found great pleasure in their acquaintance,
she confided to him all her little indignation at
this or that grievance in Rome, and allowed hinl
to take a variety of small cares off her shoulders,
being, as all women of her soft nature are, very
fastidious and utterly unpractical.
There had been few sweeter girls in the
Vienna world than the Countess Marie Truyn in
her day, and there was not now in all Rome a
more lovable woman than the Princess Vulpini.
When in the afternoons she drove out in her open
carriage, with her four or five children that looked
as though they had been stolen straight out of one
of Kate Greenaway's picture books, along the
Corso to the Villa Borghese, her fashionable ac-
quaintance, who had brought out their most
recent or most fashionable bosom-friend instead of
their children, would exclaim : " Here comes true
happiness !" And the men bowed to her with par-
ticular respect, eager to win the friendly and
gracious smile that warmed all hearts like a ray of
spring sunshine. She had never been a regular
OUR OWN SET. 37
beauty and had early lost her youthful freshness
and the slim figure that had been almost prover-
bial. Nevertheless her charm was undiminished ;
her chief ornament, a wonderful abundance of
bright brown hair, was as fine as ever and she wore
it still, as when a girl of sixteen, simply combed
back and gathered into a knot low down at the
back. In spite of her faded complexion there was
a childlike sweetness in her small round face, with
its kind little eyes, its delicate turned-up nose, and
soft lips that had no beauty till they smiled. All
her movements were simple and graceful and her
whole appearance conveyed the impression of ex-
quisite refinement and the loftiest womanliness.
Her dress was apt to be a little out of fashion, the
latest chic never suited her. She was a great
reader, even of very solid books, especially affect-
ing natural science ; but she retained nevertheless
the literal faith of her infancy, and this innocent
orthodoxy was part and parcel of the simple fer-
vency of her character. Sempaly, who was sin-
cerely attached to her, always spoke of her devout
piety as one of her most engaging qualities ; he
declared that a woman to be truly sympathetic
must be religious ; that a man may allow himself
to profess free thought, but that a sceptical woman
was as odious as a woman with a hump. To this
38 OUR OWN SET.
observation, which Sempaly once threw out in the
presence of Sterzl, Cecil took great exception,
though he himself was as devoid of religious be-
liefs as Sempaly himself; he thought it imperti-
** Men do not jest about the women whose
names are sacred to them," he said with the
pedantic chivalry, which always provoked his col-
league's opposition. However, Sempaly only
retorted with a sneering smile and a shrug.
A FEW days after the evening when Sempaljr
had given such brilliant proof of his talent as a
caricaturist, General von Klinger was sitting in his
studio on a divan covered with a picturesque
Persian rug and endeavoring — having for the
moment nothing better to do — to teach his par-
rot to sing the Austrian anthem — a loyal task
which the bird, perched on the top of its cage,,
persistently refused to learn. It was a gorgeous
studio, with a coved ceiling painted in fresco and
a rococo plaster cornice, the walls hung with old
tapestry, eastern stuffs and other "properties.'' It
was so large that men looked like dwarfs in it, and
the general's works of art like illustrations cut out
of a picture book. The scirocco brooded in the
atmosphere and the general was out of sorts ; he
could not get on with his painting, and though it
was now a quarter to five not a visitor had he
seen Usually by this hour he had a number —
nay sometimes too many. The general often
grumbled — to himself of course — at the inter-
ruption ; but he always enjoyed the little dissipa-
40 OUR OWN SET.
tiön ; it made him melancholy to be left to him-
He was thinking just now how difficult it was
to get on as a painter; his coloring was capital —
so all his artist friends assured him ; but that his
drawing left much to be desired he himself con-
fessed. His two strong points were a harmonious
effect of grey tone and horses seen from behind.
All his pictures returned to him from the exhibi-
tions unsold, excepting one which was purchased
by the emperor in consideration of the general's
former merits as a soldier rather than of his talents
as an artist. The painters who came to smoke
his cigarettes accounted for this by saying that his
artistic aims were too independent, that he made
no concessions to public taste and so could not
hope for popularity.
He was in the very act of whistling the national
anthem for the sixteenth time to the recalcitrant
bird, when he heard a knock at the door ; he rose
to open it and Sempaly came in. He had called
to inform the general that he had discovered a
very fine though much damaged piece of tapestry
in a convent, and had bought it for a mere song ;
he had in fact purchased it for the general because
he knew that it was just such a specimen as he
had long wished for. " But if you do not care to
OUR OWN SET. 41
take it I shall be very glad to keep it," he added.
No one had the art of doing an obliging thing
with a better grace than he ; it was one of his little
When they had settled their business Sempaly
broke into loud lamentations that he was obliged
to dine that day at the British embassy, and then
to dance at the French ambassador's, and raved
about the ideal life led by his friend — he only
wished he could lead such a life — in which there
were no evening parties, routs, balls or dinners.
Next he wandered round the room looking at all
the studies that hid their faces against the wall.
*' Charming !" " Superb !" he kept exclaiming in
French, with his Austrian accent, from a sheer
impulse to say something pleasant — he always
tried to make himself pleasant. " Why do not
you work that thing up ?" he said at length, point-
ing to a sketch on canvas of a group of bashi-
" It might sell," replied the artist whose great
difficulty always lay in the * working up,' *' but you
know I am independent in my aims, I set my face
against making concessions to the vulgar ; I must
work on my own principles and not to pander to
Sempaly smiled at this profession of faith.
42 OUR OWN SET.
" As it is a mere whim with you ever to sell at
all," he answered, " my advice is that you should
never attempt it, but leave all your works to the
nation, so that we may have a Musee Wierz at
The general assured him that he was quite in
earnest in his desire to sell his pictures, but Sem-
paly smiled knowingly.
" There was once upon a time," he began, " a
cobbler who was a man of genius, but he prided
himself on his sense of beauty and his artistic
convictions, and he heeded not the requirements
of his customers — he would make nothing but
Greek sandals. He died a beggar, but happy in
the consciousness of never having made a con-
cession to the vulgar."
The general was on the point of making an
indignant reply to this malicious anecdote, when
the loud rap was again heard which seems to be
traditional at a studio door ; it is supposed to be
necessary to arouse the artist from his absorption in
his work. The general went to admit his visitor.
There was a small ante-room between the
studio and the stairs. The door was no sooner
opened than in flitted a slender creature, fair and
blooming, tall, slim, and bewitchingly pretty, in a
dark dress and a sealskin jacket.
OUR OWN SET. 43
" What, you Zinka !*' cried the old general de-
lightedly. " This is a surprise ! How long have
you been in Rome ?"
" Only since this morning," answered a gay
" And are you alone ?" asked the artist in as-
tonishment, as Zinka shut the door and went for-
ward into the atelier.
" Yes, quite alone," she said calmly. " I left
the maid at home ; she and mamma are fast asleep,
resting after their journey. I came alone in a
carriage — it was very nice of me do not you
think ? — Why, what a face to make ! . . . And
why have you not given me a kiss. Uncle Klin-
ger ?" She stood before him bright and confident,
her head a little thrown back, her hands in a tiny
muff, gazing at him with surprise in her frank
'* My dear Zinka. ..." the general began —
for, like all conscientious old gentlemen with
romantic memories, he was desperately punctilious
as to the proprieties when any lady in whom he
took an interest was implicated, " I am charmed,
delighted to see you. . . . But in a strange place,
where you know no one, and in a strange house
"Oh, now I understand," cried the girl. " It
44 OUR OWN SET.
IS not proper !....! shall live to be a hundred
before I know exactly what is proper ; it is very
odd, but Uncle Sterzl used always to say that it
was of no use to worry about it ; that if people
were ladies and gentlemen everything was proper,
and if they were not why it was all the same. But
he «did not know what he was talking about, it
would seem !*' and she turned sharply on her heel
and made for the door.
"But, my dear Zinka," cried the general hold-
ing her back, "tell me at least where you are
living before you whisk off like a whirlwind. Do
not be so utterly unreasonable."
" I am perfectly reasonable," she retorted. She
was both embarrassed and angry; her cheeks
were scarlet and her eyes full of tears. " It never
would have occurred to me certainly that there
was anything improper in calling on an old gen-
tleman," and she emphasized the words quite
viciously, " in his studio. Oh, the vanity of men !
Who can foresee its limits ! — But I am perfectly
reasonable, I acknowledge my mistake — simple-
ton that I am ! . , . . And I have been looking
forward all day to taking you by surprise. I
meant to ask you to dine with us. at the Hotel
de I'Europe and to come with me first to the
Pincio to see the sunset. And these are the
OUR OWN SET. 45
thanks I get ! . . . . Do not trouble yourself to get
your hat, it is waste of trouble ; I do not want
you now. Good-bye." And she flew off, her head
in the air, without looking back once at the gen-
eral who dutifully escorted her to the carriage.
The old man came back much crest-fallen. A
voice greeted him cheerfully :
"Quite in disgrace, general!"
It was Sempaly, who had witnessed the whole
scene from a recess, and whom the general had
" So it seems,** said he shortly, beginning to
scrape his palette.
" But tell me who is this despotic little prin-
" Who ? My god-daughter, Zinka Sterzl.*'
Thunderbolts are out of date, no one believes
in them now-a-days ; nevertheless it is a fact,
which Sempaly himself never contradicted, that he
fell in love with Zinka at first sight. And when
a few days after Zinka*s irruption into the gen-
eral's studio the old gentleman accepted an in-
vitation to dine with the Baroness Sterzl at the
Hotel de TEurope, on entering the room he found.
46 OUR OWN SET.
eagerly employed in looking over a quantity of
photographs with the young lady — Count Sem-
The two gentlemen were the only guests, and
yet — or perhaps in consequence — the little party
was as gay and pleasant as was possible with so
affected and formal a hostess as the " Baroness."
This lady, a narrow and perverse soul as ever
lived, was the very essence of vanity and affecta-
tion. She imagined — Heaven alone knows on
what grounds — that the general had formerly
loved her hopelessly, and she always treated him
accordingly with a consideration that was intoler-
ably irritating. She had made great strides in
the airs of refinement since she and the general
had last met — at a time before she, or rather her
children, had become rich through an advantage-
ous sale of part of their land, and this of course
added to the charms of her society. She was
perpetually complaining in a tone of feeble ele-
gance — the sleeping-carriages were intolerable,
the seats were so badly stuffed, Rome was so
dirty, the hotels were so bad, the conveyances so
miserable ; she brought in the names of all the
aristocratic acquaintances they had made at Nice,
at Meran, and at Biarritz, and asked — the next
day being a saint's day — which church was fit
OUR OWN SET. 47
to go to. The vehement old general answered
hotly that " God was in them all." But Sempaly
informed her with the politest gravity that Car-
dinal X. . . . read mass in the morning at St.
Peter's and that the music was splendid. " I
advise you to try St. Peter's."
" Indeed, is St. Peter's possible on a saint's
day?" she asked. "The company is usually so
mixed in those large churches."
The general fairly blushed for her follies on
her children's account.
" Have you forgiven me, Zinka ?" he said to
change the conversation.
** As if I had time to trouble myself about
your strait-laced proprieties !" exclaimed she,
coloring slightly ; she evidently did not like this
allusion to her little indiscretion : ** I have some-
thing much worse to think about."
" Why — what is the matter, sweetheart ?"
asked her brother, who took everything seriously.
" I have lost something," she said in a tone of
deep melancholy which evidently covered some
" Not a four-leaved shamrock or a medal
blessed by the pope ?" asked the general.
" Oh, no ! something much more important."
" Your purse !" exclaimed the baroness hastily.
48 OUR OWN SET.
But Zinka burst out laughing. " No, no, some-
thing much greater — you will never guess :
On which Sterzl, who could never make out
what his fascinating little sister would be at, only
said : ** That is beyond me."
But Sempaly was sympathetic. "I see you
are terribly disappointed," he said, and Zinka
went on like a person accustomed to be listened
" Yes, ever since I could think at all I have
dreamed of Rome and longed to see it. My Rome
was a suburb of Heaven, but this Rome is a
suburb of Paris. My Rome was glorious and this
Rome is simply hideous."
" Do not be flippant, Zinka," said the general,
who always upheld traditional worship.
" Well, as a city Rome is really very ugly,"
interposed her brother, " it is more interesting as
a museum of antiquities with life-size illustrations.
Still, you do not know it yet. You have seen
nothing as yet. ..."
" But lodgings, you mean," retorted Zinka,
casting down her eyes with sanctimonious sauci-
*' It is dreadful !" the baroness began, ** we
have been here five days and cannot find an apart-
OUR OWN SET. 49
ment fit to live in. Wherever we go there is some
drawback ; the stairs are too dark, or the entrance
is bad, or there is only one door to the salon, or
the servants' rooms. ..."
*' But my dear Zinka," interrupted the gen-
eral, " if you really have seen nothing of Rome
excepting the lodgings in the Corso, of course. . ."
" Oh ! but I have seen something else," cried
Zinka, " indeed, I know my way about Rome
'* In your dreams ?"
*' No, I went yesterday ; mamma had a sick
'* Olr! those headaches !" sighed the baroness
putting her salts to her nose, " I am a perfect
martyr to them !"
To have sick headaches and be a strict Catholic
were marks of good style in the baroness's estima-
tion. Sempaly put on a sympathetic expression,
but returned at once to the subject in hand.
*' Yes, I know Rome very well," Zinka went
on : " You have only to ask the driver of the
street cab No. 1203, and he will tell you. I drove
about with him for three hours yesterday. You
see, to have been in Rome a whole week and to
have seen nothing but furnished lodgings was
really too bad, so I took advantage of the oppor-
50 OUR OWN SET.
tunity when mamma was in bed ; I slipped out —
you need not make that face. Uncle, I took the
maid with me — we meant to walk everywhere
with a map. Of course we lost our way, cela va sans
dire, and as we were standing helpless, each hold-
ing the map by a corner, a driver signed to us —
so, with his first finger. In we got and he asked
us where we wished to go, but as I had no answer
ready he said with the most paternal air: *Ah!
the signora wants to see Rome — good, I will
show her Rome !' And he set off, round and round
and in and out, all through the city. I was posi-
tively giddy with this waltz round all the sights of
Rome. He showed me a perfect forest of fallen
pillars, with images of gods and fragments of
sculpture carefully heaped round them, like Christ-
mas boxes for lovers of antiquities — * the Campo
Vaccino* he called it — I believe it was the Forum;
then he pointed out the palace of Beatrice Cenci,
the Jews' quarter, the Theatre of Marcellus, the
Temple of Vesta; and every time he showed me
anything he added : * Now am I not a capital
guide ? Many a driver would only take you from
place to place, and what would you see ? Nothing
.... a heap of stones .... but I tell you : that is
the Colisseum, and this is the Portico of Octavia,
and then the stones have some meaning.' And at
OUR OWN SET. 51
last he set me down at the door of the hotel and
said quite seriously : ' Now the signora has seen
They were now at dessert ; the baroness looked
anything rather than pleased.
"Allow me to request," she said, ** that for the
future in the first place you will not make friends
with a common driver and in the second, that you
will not drive about Rome in a Botta (a one horse
carriage) ; it is not at all the thing. You have no
sense of fitness whatever."
Zinka, who was both sensitive and spoilt,
"Let her be, mother, why should she not learn
a little Italian and ride in a Botta V said Sterzl,
who rubbed his mother the wrong way from morn-
ing till night. Sempaly took prompt advantage
of the situation to whisper to Zinka:
" I cannot promise to be as good company as
your Botta driver, but if you will allow me, I will
do my best to help you to find the Rome you
" Are you sure you know your way about ?"
asked the girl with frank incivility.
" I am the laquais de place of the Embassy I
assure you," replied Sempaly laughing ; *' my only
52 OUR OWN SET.
serious occupation consists in showing strangers
the sights of Rome."
After this the evening passed gaily; the
baroness made a few idiotic speeches but Sempaly
forbore to be ironical ; he was on his very best
behavior, and the baroness was quite taken in by
his elaborate reserve. Not so Sterzl, who was
himself too painfully alive to her aristocratic airs
and pretensions. However, the society of his
sister, whom he adored, had put him into the best
of humors ; he launched forth a few bitter epi-
grams against the priesthood, and was satirical
about the society of Rome, but Zinka stopped
him every time with some engaging nonsense,
and in listening to her chatter he forgot his bitter-
At last he asked her to sing a Moravian popu-
lar song; she seated herself at the hotel piano
and began. There was something mystical in the
low veiled tones of her voice like an echo of the
past, as she sang the melancholy, dreamy strains
of her native land. Sterzl, who always yawned
all through an opera, listened to her singing, his
head resting on his hand, in a sort of ecstasy. In
Sempaly too, who in spite of his Hungarian name
was by birth a Moravian, Zinka's simple melody
roused the half-choked echoes of his youth, and
OUR OWN SET. 53
when she ceased he thanked her with genuine
Zinka's was an April weather nature. After
bringing the tears into the eyes of her hearers,
nay into her own, with her song, she suddenly
struck up an air by Lecocq that she had heard
Judic sing at Nice. The words, as was perfectly
evident to all the party, were Hebrew to the girl,
but the baroness was beside herself
"Zinka!" she exclaimed in extreme consterna-
tion, "you really are incredible — what must these
gentlemen think of you !"
" Do not be in the least uneasy," said the
general. But Zinka stopped short ; her face was
pale and quivering ; Sterzl interposed :
" It is often a little difficult to follow my sister's
vagaries," he said turning to Sempaly ; then he
tenderly stroked her golden head with his large,
firm hand, saying : " Do not be unhappy, sweet-
heart ; but you are a little too much of a goose
for your age."
When presently Sempaly had quitted the hotel
with the general his first words were : " Tell me,
how is it that with such a fool of a mother that
child has remained so angelically fresh — so BoU
A MINE somewhere in Poland or Bohemia
came to grief about this time by some accidental
visitation, and five hundred families were left
destitute through the disaster. Of course the
opportunity was immediately seized upon for
charitable dissipations, for qualifying for Orders of
Merit by liberal donations, and for attracting the
eyes of Europe by the most extravagant display
of philanthropy. After much deliberation Countess
Ilsenbergh had arrived at the conviction that, as
both the ambassadors' families were hindered by
mourning from giving any public entertainment,
the duty of taking the lead devolved upon her.
The rooms in her Palazzo were made on purpose
for grand festivities, and after endless discussion it
was decided that the entertainment should be
dramatic. An Operetta, a Proverbe by Müsset,
and a series of Tableaux Vivants were finally put
in rehearsal and a collection was to be made after
Madame de Gandry threw herself into the
undertaking with the most commendable ardor.
OUR OWN SET. 55
She was on intimate terms with the leading spirits
at the Villa Medici — the French Academy of
Arts at Rome — and she interested herself in the
painting of the scenes, and in the artistic design-
ing of the dresses in which she proved invaluable.
Up to a certain point all went smoothly. The
operetta — an unpublished effort of course — by a
Russian amateur of rank who was very proud of
not even knowing his notes, was soon cast. It
needed only three performers and led up to the
introduction of an elaborate masquerade and of
certain suggestive French songs. Mrs. Ferguson,
who never let slip an opportunity of powdering
her hair and sticking on patches, was to sing the
soprano part ; Crespigny took that of a husband
or a guardian in a nightcap or flowered dressing-
gown, and a young French painter, M. Barillat,
who was at all times equally ready to sketch or to
wear a becoming costume, was to fill that of the
lover. The cast of the little French play was equally
satisfactory ; but when the arrangement of the
tableaux came to be considered difficulties arose.
In the first place all the ladies were eager to dis-
play their charms under the becoming light of a
tableau vivant; and the number of volunteers
was quite bewildering to the committee of man-
agement that met every day at the Ilsenberghs'
56 OUR OWN SET.
house. Then squabbles and dissatisfaction arose;
the ladies did not approve of the choice of sub--
jects, they thought their dresses unbecoming, their
positions disadvantageous ; each one to whom a
place at the side was 'assigned was deeply ag-
grieved; an unappreciated beauty who prided
herself on her profile from the left would not for
worlds be seen from the right, etc., etc. And
above all — an insuperable diflSculty — almost all
the available men of the set manifested the great-
est objection to * making themselves ridiculous '
and positively rejected the most flattering bland-
ishments of the ladies' committee. Sempaly, who
had been asked to appear as a Roman emperor,
would not hear of putting on flesh-colored tights
and a wreath of vine ; and Truyn had shrugged
his shoulders at the proposal that he should don a
wig with long curls.
Siegburg — little Siegburg, as he was always
called, though he was nearly six feet high — after
defending himself with considerable humor, good-
naturedly agreed to stand as Pierrot, in a Watteau
scene in which the Vulpini children were to appear;
and Sterzl, being personally requested by his am-
bassador, submitted, though with an ill grace, to
be the executioner in Delaroche's picture of Lady
Jane Grey. This tableau was to be the crowning
OUR OWN SET. 57
glory of the performance ; Barillat had taken in-
finitely more pains with it than with any other ;
the part of Lady Jane was to be filled . by a fair
English girl, Lady Henrietta Stair; and then,
within a few days of the performance, Lady Hen^
rietta fell ill of the measles.
The committee were in despair when this news
reached them, and all who were concerned in the
performance were summoned to meet at the
Palazzo that evening to talk the matter over.
Hardly any one was absent ; only Sterzl, who de-
tested the whole charity scramble, as he called it,
sent his excuses. Every lady present expected
to find herself called upon to stand — or rather to
kneel — as Lady Jane Grey ; but Mrs. Ferguson
was the first to give utterance to the thought, and
to offer herself heroically as Lady Henrietta's
substitute. To the astonishment of all the company
Sempaly, whose interest in the work of benevo-
lence had hitherto displayed itself only in satirical
remarks, and suggestions as to the representation
of Makart's * entrance of Charles V.' or of Siemi-
radzky's 'living torches,' took an eager part in the
"Your self-sacrifice, Mrs. Ferguson," said he,
"is more admirable every day."
" Dear me," replied the lady innocently.
58 OUR OWN SET.
" where is the self-sacrifice in having an old gown
cut up into a historical costume ?"
" That, indeed, would be no sacrifice," said
Sempaly coolly. " But it must be a sacrifice for
a lady to appear in a part that suits her so re-
Mrs. Ferguson smiled rather like some pretty
little wild beast showing its teeth.
" Ah !" she said, " I suppose you think I have
none of that pathetic grace that M. Barillat is so
fond of talking about."
" No more than of saving grace," said Sem-
paly solemnly. Then, while the women were dis-
puting over the matter, he found an opportunity
of whispering a few words to Barillat; Barillat
looked up delighted. At this moment they were
joined by Countess Ilsenbergh.
" I have another suggestion to offer Madame
la Comtesse ; I have thought of some one. . ."
" Some newly-imported American," laughed
Madame de Gandry, *' or a painter's model with
studied grace and yellow hair?"
" You may rest assured that I should not for
an instant think of proposing to employ a model,"
Barillat emphatically declared ; " no, the lady in
question is a very charming person: Fräulein
Sterzl. I saw her the day before yesterday at
OUR OWN SET. 59
Lady Julia Ellis's; she is an Austrian — you
must know her surely ?*'
" I have not that pleasure," said the countess
" You do not think she will do ?" murmured
the artist abashed. The countess cleared her
"Bless me !" cried Madame de Gandry furious
at the pride of her Austrian friend, " you take the
matter really too much in earnest. Why on earth
should not the girl act with us ? On these oc-
casions, in Vienna, as I have been informed, even
actors are invited to help."
" That is quite different," said the countess.
Madame de Gandry shrugged her shoulders
and turned away and the countess beckoned to
her cousin Sempaly. " I am heartily sick of the
whole business," she exclaimed. "At home I have
got this sort of thing up a score of times, and
everything has gone well . . . while here. . ."
" Yes, there is more method among us " replied
" The people here are so unmanageable ; eVtry
one wants to play the best parts," said the coun-
" That is the result of the republican element,"
60 OUR OWN SET.
" And now there is all this difficulty about the
Lady Jane Grey tableau," sighed the countess.
*' Why need that English girl take the measles
now, just when she is wanted."
"The English are always so inconsiderate," said
" Do you happen to have met this little Sterzl
"What does she look like?"
" Well, she looks like a very pretty girl. . ."
" And besides that ?"
" Besides that she looks very much like our
own girls ; it is really a most extraordinary freak
of nature ! She seems to be very presentable on
further acquaintance; Princess Vulpini is quite in
love with her."
" Indeed ! — Well, Barillat is possessed with
the idea of having her to play the part of Lady
Jane Grey and in Heaven's name let him have his
own way!" cried the countess. " If Marie Vul-
pini will bring her here I will make the best of
" What, you mean to say that you will let her
figure in your tableau and not invite her mother?"
" Invite her ! — to the performance of course.
OUR OWN SET. 6 1
I invite Tom, Dick, and Harry, and all the English
parsons and all the foreign artists/'
** And all their families. Fritzi, you are an
admirable woman !" retorted Sempaly ironically.
" But the rehearsals are so perfectly intimate. . "
she murmured. Time pressed however. " Well,
have it so for all I care ;" said the countess re-
signedly and next morning she paid a polite
call on the Baroness Sterzl to request Zinka's as-
sistance ; and as she had as much tact as pride
she had soon reconciled not only Zinka, but her
sensitive thin-skinned brother, to the fact that the
young girl had only been asked at the last moment
and under the pressure of necessity to take part
in the performance. Cecil did not altogether like
the idea of displaying his pretty sister in a tableau
and only consented because he did not like to de-
prive Zinka of the pleasure which she looked for-
ward to with great delight. He adored the child
and could refuse her nothing.
The evening of the festival arrived ; the per-
formances took place in a vast room almost lined
with mirrors and lighted by wonderful Venetian
chandeliers that hung from the decorated ceiling
where frescoes were framed in tasteless gilt scroll
work. In spite of its size the room was crowded ;
the most illustrious of the company sat in solitary
62 OUR OWN SET.
dignity in the front row, and behind them was
packed a fashionable but somewhat mixed crowd.
Manly forms of consummate elegance were
squeezed against the walls, and the assembly
sparkled like a sea of sheeny silks and glittering
jewels. Princess Vulpini, who was helping the
countess to do the honors, hovered on the margin,
graceful and kindly, but a little pale and tired, and
the countess herself reigned supreme in that regal
dignity which she could so becomingly assume on
fitting occasions. There were very few women
who could wear a diamond coronet with such good
grace as Fritzi Ilsenbergh — even her intractable
cousin Sempaly did her that much justice.
The great success of the evening was not the
little French play, in which Madame de Gandry
and the all-accomplished Barillat made and parried
their hits after the accepted methods of the
Theatre Frangais; it was not the operetta, in
which Mrs. Ferguson looked bewitchingly pretty
and sang ^le Sentier convert^ to admiration; it was
not even the children's tableau, in which the
little Vulpinis looked like a bunch of freshly-
gathered roses ; the great success of the evening
was the tableau of Lady Jane Grey. SterzFs
face in this scene was a perfect tragedy, all the
misery of an executioner who adores his victim
OUR OWN SET. 63
was legible there. And Zinka ! — gazing up to
heaven with ecstatic pathos, her whole attitude
expressive of sacred resignation and childlike awe,
she was the very embodiment of the hapless and
innocent being before whom the executioner
lowers his gaze. A string quartet played the
allegretto from Beethoven's seventh symphony
and the melancholy music heightened the effect of
the poetical tableau, thrilling the audience like a
lullaby sung by angels to soothe the struggling,
suffering human soul.
The whole artistic corps who had been invited
from the Villa Medici, with the director at their
head, unanimously decided that this performance
far excelled all that had gone before, and Countess
Ilsenbergh forgot in its success all the annoyance
it had occasioned her. After the collection, which
produced a magnificent sum, most of the company
dispersed. Ilsenbergh, with his most feudal smile,
expressed his thanks to all the performers in turn
and presented elegant bouquets to the ladies. The
entertainment lost its formal character and became
a sociaj gathering.
Zinka was sitting in a side room, surrounded
by a host of young Romans and Frenchmen. As
she was one of those rare natures who derive not
the smallest satisfaction from the homage of men
64 OUR OWN SET.
for whom they have no regard, she listened to their
enthusiastic compliments with absolute indiffer-
She had asked for an ice and Norina had offered
it to her on his knees, remaining in that position to
pour out a string of high-flown compliments.
Zinka, unaccustomed to this Southern effusive-
ness, was remonstrating with some annoyance but
without the slightest effect, when Sempaly came
in and exclaimed in the abrupt tone he commonly
used to younger men : " Get up, Norina, do you not
see that your devotion is not appreciated."
The prince rose with a scowl, Sempaly drew a
seat to Zinka's side and in five minutes had, as
usual, entirely monopolized her.
'* My cousin the countess owes everything to
you," he said in his most musical tones; " you
saved the whole thing. I detest all amateur per-
formances, but that tableau of Lady Jane Grey
was really beautiful."
" I liked the French play very much. Madame
de Gandry's acting was full of spirit."
'* Bah ! I have had more than enough of such
" Indeed !" laughed she, " it seems to me that
you are suffering from general weariness of life.
You are blase.'
OUR OWN SET. 65
" What do you understand by being blasd ?"
" Why, that exhaustion of heart and soul
which comes of the fatigue produced by a life of
perpetual enjoyment ; it is I believe an essential
element in the character of a man of fashion."
'* Something between a malady and an affecta-
tion," remarked Sempaly.
** Just so ; in short, to be blas^ is the heart-
sickness of a fop."
Sempaly glanced at her keenly. " Your defi-
nition is admirable," he said, *' I will make a note
of it ; but the cap does not fit me. I am not blase,
I am not indifferent to anything. Shams, hypoc-
risy, and meretriciousness irritate me, but when I
meet with anything really good or lovely or
genuine I can recognize it and admire it — more
perhaps than most men."
Meanwhile the winner of the musical prize
from the Villa Medici had sat down to the piano
and plunged straightway out of a maundering
improvisation into a waltz by Strauss. The
countess had no objection if they liked to dance,
and several couples were soon spinning under the
Sempaly rose : " May I have the honor ?" he
66 OUR OWN SET.
said to Zinka, and they went together into the
Zinka had the pretty peculiarity of turning
pale rather than red as she danced; her move-
ments were not sprightly, but gliding and dreamy;
in fact she waltzed with uncommon grace. Sem-
paly had long since lost the subaltern's delight in
a dance; he only asked ladies who had some
special interest or charm for him, and every one
" Hm !" said Siegburg, shaking his head as he
went up to General von Klinger who was watch-
ing the graceful couple from a recess, " my little
game has come to nothing it seems to me.**
** Have you retired then ?" asked the general.
" By no means — quite the contrary ; but my
chances are small enough at present I fancy;
what do you say ?*' He looked straight into the
old man's eyes ; he understood and said nothing.
"She dances beautifully, I never saw a girl
dance better. How well she holds her head," he
murmured. Suddenly a flash of amusement
lighted up his eyes. " Look at Fritzi's face !" he
exclaimed : " What a horrified expression ! a per-
Sempaly's intimacy with the Sterzls grew
daily ; he did the honors of Rome to Zinka, and
dined with them as a fourth two or three times a
week. After the tableaux at the Ilsenberghs*
Zinka was asked everywhere; all the men were
at her feet, and all the ladies wanted to learn her
songs. The men she treated with the utmost in-
difference and to the ladies she was always oblig-
ing, particularly to those whom no one else would
take the pains to be civil to, all of which greatly
added to her popularity. Truyn's little girl — a
spoilt, shy thing, who quarrelled with her maid
three times a week regularly and insisted on learn-
ing everything from Latin to water-color drawing,
though she would submit to no teacher but her
father, perfectly worshipped Zinka and to her was
as docile as a lamb. Princess Vulpini was delighted
at her influence on her little niece and declared
that Zinka was a real treasure; and Lady Julia
Ellis, who had made the young girl's acquaintance
two years since at Meran, was proud to take her
out. Whenever the baroness could not go the
68 OUR OWN SET.
English lady was always ready to chaperon Zinka,
and when Lady Julia was ' at home ' Zinka had to
help her to receive her guests and to make tea.
Countess Schalingen, a Canoness devoted to
painting, full of sentimentality and romance, whose
ideas had not yet got beyond Winterhalter, called
Zinka 'quite delicious,' took her on excursions,
dragged her to all the curiosity-dealers, and finally
painted her portrait on a handscreen for Princess
Vulpini — ^her head and shoulders in gauzy drapery
coming out of a lily. Before the end of a fort-
night a rich American had enquired about her
rank and extraction, and the handsome Crespigny
had learnt all about her fortune. Norina paid his
court to her when his tyrant's back was turned
and Mrs. Ferguson did her the honor of being
But all this did not turn her head, it did not
seem even to astonish her ; she had always been
spoilt and wherever she had gone she had
found friends and admirers. When people were
kind to her she was delighted, but she would have
been much more astonished if they had not been
kind. Sempaly had called her "a Botticelli^'' but
the word was only applicable to her mind ; in ap-
pearance she had none of the ascetic grace of the
pre-Raphaelites. She was more like the crayon
OUR OWN SET. 69
figures of Latour, or that typical beauty of the
eighteenth century, la Lamballe. She had not the
bloom of pink and white, but was pale, even in
her youthful freshness with soft shadows under
her eyes ; and her hair, which was thick and waved
naturally had reddish lights in the brown. A
tender down softened its outline on her temples
without shading her forehead, and gave her face a
look of peculiar innocence. She was slight but
not angular, her arms were long and thin, her
hands small and sometimes red. Her moods varied
between dreamy thoughtfulness and saucy high
spirits, her gait was usually free and light but oc-
casionally a little awkward, " like an angel with its
wingp clipped," Sempaly said. She had a low veiled
voice in speaking that reminded one of the vibrat-
ing tones of an Amati violin. She was as wild as a
boy, as graceful as a water nixie, and as innocent
as a child — with the crude innocence of a girl who
has been brought up chiefly by men — and all her
ideas had the stamp of dreamy seclusion and fervid
She had had French and English governesses
and had even been to school in a convent for a
year ; still, the ruling influence in her life had been
that of her guardian. General Sterzl — an eccen-
tric being with an intense horror of sentimental
JO OUR OWN SET.
school-friendships and of the conventional propri-
ety that comes of too eariy familiarity with the
worid. It was to him that Zinka owed the one
good word which Countess Ilsenbergh spoke in
her favor :
'' One thing must be admitted ; sh^ is not
affected, she is as natural as one of our own
" Poor Coralie !" the baroness would frequently
exclaim, " what a pity that she is not here ; what
a treat it would be for her !"
" Yes," Sterzl would answer in his dry way,
"she was in too great a hurry." And the
baroness would cast her eyes up to heaven.
Coralie was her eldest and favorite daughter.
Disappointed in her love of some hard-hearted
gentleman she had renounced the vanities of the
world some three years since, but — like her
mother's worthy daughter — even in the depth of
her disappointment and despair she had taken
care to choose a convent where the recluses were
divided into ladies and sisters, where the children
who came to school there played hide and seek
under a French name, and where being a boarder
was called being en pension.
OUR OWN SET. 71
" Poor Coralie !" the baroness would sigh ; and
then seating herself at her writing-table she would
scribble endless letters about the delights of a
residence at Rome to all her friends in Austria»
and especially to her sister, the Baroness Wol-
Baroness Sterzl was a typical specimen of a
class of nobility peculiar to Austria, and called
there, Heaven knows why, " the onion nobility "
(zwiebelnoblesse). It is a circle that may be de-
scribed as a branch concern of the best society ; a
half-blood relation; a mixture of the elements
that have been sifted out of the upper aristocracy
and of the parvenus from below, who find that
they can be reciprocally useful ; a circle in which
almost every man is a baron, and every woman»
without exception, is a baroness. Its members are
for the most part poor, but refined beyond expres-
sion. The mothers scold their children in bad
French and talk to their friends in fashionable
slang ; they give parties, at which there is nothing
to eat — but the family plate is displayed, and
where the company always consists of the same
old bachelors who dye their hair and know the
Almanack de Gotha by heart. Everyone is well
informed about the doings of the world — how
many shifts Minnie N. had in her trousseau, why
72 OUR OWN SET.
the engagement between Fritz O. and Lori P.
was broken off, and much more to the same effect
Of late years the 'onion-nobility/ with various
other offshoots of the higher culture, has been
swamped by the advance of the liberals, that is to
say, by the progress of the financial classes.
Only a year since the baroness herself had
stood on the stairs of the opera-house to watch
the occupants of the grand tier — at that time
appropriated to the cream of the aristocracy — to
take note of aristocratic dresses, and to hear aris-
tocratic nothings from aristocratic lips. Now, in
Rome, she was living in the whirl of society.
Her satisfaction knew no bounds, and she made
daily progress in exclusiveness ; the Countess II-
senbergh, as compared to her, was a mere bungler.
But she was never so amusing to watch as when
she met some fellow-countrymen of untitled rank.
It happened that this winter there was in Rome a
certain Herr Brauer, an old simpleton with a very
handsome wife who laid herself open for the ad-
miration of all the young men of any pretensions.
Being furnished with a few letters of introduction
he and his fascinating partner disported themselves
very contentedly in the outer circle — the suburbs,
so to speak — of good society without having a
suspicion how far they were from the centre.
OUR OWN SET. 73
Baroness Sterzl could never cease wondering **how
those people could be tolerated."
She was always well dressed, she gave capital
little dinners, she had the neatest coup^ and the
most comfortable landau, and her coachman had
the cleanest shaved imperial face and the smartest
livery in Rome. Her manners were somewhat
changeable, since she was constantly endeavoring
to appropriate the airs and graces of the most
fashionable women she met. She was extremely
unpopular and consequently bored to death wher-
ever she went ; she was never quite easy as to her
footing in society and lived in the discomfort of a
person who is always trying to walk on tiptoe.
Her sole unqualified pleasure during this period
— which, however, she always spoke of as the
happiest of her life — was the writing of the
above-mentioned letters home, and especially as
has been said, to her sister the Baroness Wolnitzka
She craved a public to* witness her success and,
like all mean natures, she knew no greater joy
than that of exciting envy ; she would often read
these epistles to Zinka, for she was very proud of
her wordy style. Zinka was somewhat disturbed
by these flowery compositions which always ended
with these words : " What a pity it is that you
74 OUR OWN SET.
should not be here. It would give us the greatest
pleasure to have you with us."
" Take care, mamma," said the girl, "they will
take you at your word and descend upon us."
"What are you dreaming of?" said the
baroness folding her letter with the utmost philoso-
phy; "they have no money."
Hovels deep sunk in the ground, moss-grown
thatched roofs, here and there an old lime-tree or
a tall pear-tree with crabbed branches standing
out black and bare against the wintry sky, slimy
puddles, a pond full to the brim in which three
forlorn-looking geese are sadly paddling, a swampy
road along which a procession of ploughs are
splashing their way at the heels of the muddy,
unkempt teams — in short, a Bohemian village,
with a shabby manor-house beyond. Over the
tumble-down gate-way, with a pigsty on one
side and a dog-kennel on the other, hangs a coat
of arms. The mansion — a square house with a
steep shingle roof — stands, according to the un-
romantic custom of the country, with one side
looking on to the farm-yard; and the drawing-
room windows open exactly over an enormous
dung heap which a party of women are in the very
act of turning with pitch-forks, under the superin-
tendence of a short stout man in a weather-beaten
hunting-hat and shooting-coat with padded silk
sleeveä out of which the wadding is peeping at a
^6 OUR OWN SET.
hundred holes. He is smoking a pipe with a
china bowl decorated with a mincing odalisque.
His face is broad and red, his ears purple, and his
aspect is anything rather than aristocratic as he
stands giggling and jesting with the damsels of the
This is Baron Wolnitzky, a man who, like a
good many others, got himself a good deal talked
about in 1848 and then vanished from the scene
without leaving a trace behind.
Often when we see some dry and barren tree
shedding its sere and mouldy leaves in the autumn
we find it hard to believe that it bore blossoms in
the spring; and the baron was like such a tree. In
the spring- tide of 1848 — an over-teeming spring
throughout Europe — his soul too had blossomed.
He had had patriotic visions and had uttered them
in rhyme, and his country had hailed him as a
prophet — perhaps because it needed an idol, or
perhaps because in those agitated times it could
not tell black from white. In those days he had
displayed hiihself in a magnificent national cos-
tume with sleeves of the most elaborate cut, had
married a patriotic wife who always dressed in the
Slav colors : blue, white, and red, and who got
two young men, also dressed in Slav costume, to
lount guard at the door of her house. He was
OUR OWN SET. ^^
descended from a Polish family that had immi-
grated many generations since and his connections
were as far as possible from being aristocratic,
while he owed his little fortune entirely to his
father who had put no ' baron ' before his name,
and who had earned it honestly as a master baker.
In feudal times it would hardly have occurred to
him to furbish up this very doubtful patent of
nobility ; but in the era of liberty it might pass
muster and prove useful. A very shy pedigree
serves to shed glory on a democratic martyr.
During the insurrection of June he fled with
his wife in picturesque disguise ; at first to Dres-
den, and then to Switzerland where he lived for
some time in a boarding-house at Geneva, receiv-
ing homage as a political refugee, and horrifying
the mistress by his enormous appetite. At length
he returned to Bohemia where the events of forty-
eight and its picturesquely aparelled leaders had
fallen into oblivion. He retired to his little estate
and turned philosopher — philosophy, ever since
the days of Diogenes, has been the acknowledged
refuge of shipwrecked hopes and pretensions.
There he went out walking in his shirt sleeves,
played cards with the peasants and grew more
vulgar, fatter, and hungrier every day ; and if he
ever had an idea it was unintentionally, in a bad
78 OUR OWN SET.
dream after eating too much of some national deli-
His wife, a robust and worthy soul, though
full of absurdities, bore a strong resemblance to
the mother of the Regent Orleans in as much as
she had a sound understanding combined with a
very sentimental nature, was utterly devoid of tact,
bitter to the verge of cynicism, thoroughly indis-
creet and a great chatterbox.
She resigned herself without demur to the
new order of things and brought a new tribe of
children into the world, most of whom died young.
Three survived ; two sons, who so far broke through
the traditions of the family as to become infantry
officers, and one daughter, in whom patriotic
romance once more flickered into fanaticism.
This girl had been christened Bohuslawa, a name
which was commonly shortened into Slawa, which
in the more important dialects of the Slav tongue
means Fame. She, like her mother, was of stal-
wart build, but her features were regular though
statuesque and heavy — she was said to be like liie
Apollo Belvedere. She had already had four
suitors but neither of them had met her views and
now at twenty — having been bom in forty-eight
— she was spending the winter, unmarried and
■)rely discontented, in the country, wHere she
OUR OWN SET. 79
occupied herself with serious studies and accepted
the attentions of a needy young Pole who was
devoted to her and in whom she condescended to
take some slight interest
But Baron Wolnitzky is still standing by the
midden ; the great black dog, which till this mo-
ment has never ceased barking at the door of his
kennel, now, to introduce some variety into the
programme, jumps on to its roof, from which ad-
vantageous standpoint he still barks without pause.
Everything is dripping from the recently-thawed
snow, and the air is full of the splash and gurgle
of dropping and trickling water; the grey February
twilight sinks upon the world and everything looks
dingy and soaked.
A sound of creaking wheels is heard approach-
ing, and a dung-cart appears in the gate- way.
"Well, what. is going on in the town?" says
the baron to the man who comes up to him,
wrapped in an evil-smelling sheepskin and with the
ears of his fur cap tied under his chin, to kiss his
master*s elbow. " Have you brought the news-
" Yes, your Grace, my Lord Baron," says the
man, "and a letter too." And he draws a packet
tied up in a red and white Ij^ndkerchief out of a
pocket in his sheepskin. The baron looks at the
80 OUR OWN SET.
documents. "Another letter from Rome already," .
he mutters, grinning; " I must take it in at once
that the women may have something to talk
The women, that is to say his wife and
daughter, were sitting in the dining-room at a
long table covered with a flowered cloth, on which
stood the tea things, a paraffine lamp, and a bread-
basket of dull silver filagree work. The lamp was
smoking and the table looked as uncomfortable
and dingy as the village outside, half-buried in
manure. The baroness, in a tan-colored loose
gown, in which she looked squarer than ever,
without a cap, her thin grey hair cut short, was
hunting for the tenth time to-day, on and under
every article of furniture, for the key of the store-
room. Bohuslawa, meanwhile sat still, with a
volume of Mickiewicz in her hand, out of which
she was reading aloud in rather stumbling Polish,
with a harsh voice. A young man with a sharp-
cut sallow face and long black hair, in a Polish
braided coat, wide collar and olive-coloured satin
cravat, corrected her pronunciation now and then.
He was her Polish adorer. He was one of that
familiar species, thq teacher of languages with a
romance in the background ; he lived in the neigh-
ouring town and came every Saturday to the
OUR OWN SET. 8 1
village, four railway stations off, to instruct Bohu-
slawa in Polish and spend Sunday with the family.
When the union of these two patriots — ^which
had already been secretly discussed — was to take
place, depended on a mysterious law-suit that the
young Pole was carrying on against the Russian
government. His name was Vladimir de Matu-
schowsky, his grandmother had been a Potocka,
and when he was not giving lessons, he was medi-
"Is there nothing else for tea?'* asked the
baron, casting a doubtful eye on the stale-looking
rolls in the bread-basket.
"No, the dogs have eaten up the cakes,"
replied the baroness coolly. She was at the mo-
ment on all-fours under the piano, hunting for the
key behind the pedal.
" You will get an apoplexy," said Bohuslawa
crossly but without anxiety, and without making
the smallest attempt to assist the old lady. But
at this instant a housemaid came in with the
sought-for key on a bent and copper-colored
"Oh, thank Heaven!" cried the baroness,
" where was the wretched thing ?"
"In the dog kennel, — your grace, my lady
baroness, the puppy had dragged it there."
82 OUR OWN SET.
In her love for dogs again the baroness resem-
bled the Duchess of Orleans ; she always had a
litter of half a dozen puppies to bring up, and the
kennel was a well-known hiding place for every-
thing that could not be found in its right place.
" The little rascals !" she exclaimed, with an
admiring laugh at the ingenious perversity of her
mischievous pets. ** Bring the sugar then,
" I have a surprise for you," growled her hus-
band, " a letter from Rome," and he produced the
document, with its mixed odors of patchouli and
damp sheepskin, and pushed it across to his wife,
while he took up the r,um bottle to flavor his tea.
" From Rome !" exclaimed the baroness, "that
is delightful. Where, oh where are my specta-
cles ?" And she felt and patted herself all over
till the superfluous substance shook like a jelly.
" Ah, here they are — I am sitting on them —
now then, children," and she began to read the
" Dear Lotti, you must not take it ill that I so
seldom write to you " — the baroness looked up
over her spectacles — " so seldom ! . . . she never in
her life wrote to me so often as from Rome " —
** but you cannot imagine the turmoil in which we
Mve. A dinner-party every day, two evening
OUR OWN SET. 83
parties and a ball. We are spending the carnival
with the crime de la crime of Roman society.
To-morrow we dine with Princess Vulpini — she
was a Truyn and is the sister of Truyn of R. The
next day we have theatricals, etc., etc. Zinka is
an immense success. Nicki Sempaly among others
— ^the brother of Prince Sempaly, the great landed
proprietor — is very attentive to her. ..."
Here she was interrupted by her husband.
** Well, I never thought the old goose was quite
such a simpleton !" he exclaimed, drumming his
fingers angrily on the red and white flowered
" I cannot imagine how Clotilde allows it !"
cried the baroness — " and still less do I under*
"Take my advice, Lotti, go to Rome," ob-
served the baron ironically; "go and set their
heads straight on their shoulders."
" With the greatest pleasure," replied his wife,
taking his irony quite seriously, "but unfortu-
nately we have not the money."
Then she read the letter to the end ; like all
Clotilde's epistles it ended with the words; "What
a pity it is that you should not be here too ; it
would give us the greatest pleasure to have you
84 OUR OWN SET.
Tea was done ; the maid servant cleared the
table with a great clatter of cups and spoons, the
baron retired to play Bulka with his neighbors in
the village inn-parlor ; the three who were left sat
in meditative mood.
" I must confess that I should like to go to
Rome/' said the baroness, as she swept the crumbs
off her lap on to the floor, " and it would be
pleasant, too, to have relations there — for their
grand acquaintance I own I do not care a straw."
" I do not see why we should avoid all society
if we were there," exclaimed Slawa hotly.
" Well, you could do as you liked about it, of
course," said the baroness, who held her daughter
in the deepest respect, " I could stay at home ;
you see, my dear Vladimir," she added almost
condescendingly to her son-in-law in spe^ " I am
uncomfortable in any company where I cannot get
into my slippers in the evening. . ."
" Mamma !" cried her daughter beside herself,
" you really are ! . . ."
The baroness sat abashed and silent — no one
spoke. There was not a sound in the room but
the crackling of the fire in the huge tiled stove and
the snoring of the big hunting-dog that lay sleep-
ing on the tail of his mistress's skirt.
" If we only could sell the Bernini !" murmured
OUR OWN SET, 85
the baroness presently, resuming the thread of
The Bernini was a bust of Apollo that the
baroness had inherited from her mother's family —
said to be an adaptation by Bernini from the head
of the Apollo Belvedere. Whenever the Wol-
nitzkys were in any financial straits the Bernini was
packed off to some dealer in objects of vertu^ from
which excursions it invariably returned unsold.
Not many days previously the travelled Apollo-
he had seen New York, London, and St Peters-
burg — had come home from a visit to Meyer of
" By the bye, Vladimir, you have not seen it
yet," said Slawa, ** I must show you the bust."
" Is it the head that is said to be so strikingly
like you? — that will interest me greatly," said
the young Pole, casting an adoring eye on
" Bring the lamp, the bust is in the drawing-
Vladimir, carrying the lamp, led the way into
the drawing-room, a large, scantily-furnished
room which was never dusted more than once a
month. There, on a marble plinth in a corner,
stood the radiant god — a copy from the Belve-
dere Apollo no doubt — but by Bernini. . . ?
86 , OUR OWN SET.
" The likeness is extraordinary !'* cried Vladi-
mir ecstatically, and gazing alternately at the bust
and at Slawa. " Oh, it is a gem, a masterpiece !
you ought never to part with it."
" Well, but I must say I should very much
like to go. to Rome," sighed the baroness; but
Slawa only bit her lips.
** And what shall we do to-morrow?" Sempaly
would ask Zinka almost every evening when he
met her, fresh and smiling, at some party ; he had
made it his task to help her to find her lost Rome
and devoted himself to it with praiseworthy dili-
The disappointment that she had experienced
in her expedition under the guidance of the botta
driver to the ruins of the capital of the Caesars is
a common enough phenomenon; it comes over
almost everyone who sets out with his fancy
crammed with the mystical cobwebs that recent
literature has spun round the name of Rome, to
see for the first time that dense mass of splendor
and rubbish among the bare modern houses. And
the disappointment is greatest in those who come
from a long stay in Venice or Verona. Rome has
none of the seductive charm of those North
Italian cities. Its architecture is sombre and
heavy, and the prevailing hues in winter are a
sober grey and a dull bluish-green, more sugges-
tive of a subtly toned tempera picture than of a
88 OUR OWN SET.
glowing oil painting. It is vain to look for the
sheen of the shimmering lagoons or the fantastic
outline of the campaniles against the sky of
Venice ; for the half- ruined frescoes, or amber
sunshine of Verona.
** After the cities of North Italy Rome has the
effect of a severe choral by Handel after a noc-
turne by Chopin. The first impression is crush-
ing," said Sempaly to Zinka ; " but one wearies
of the nocturne, and never of the choral."
To which Zinka replied : " But the choral is
so drowned by trivial hurdy-gurdy tunes that I
find it very difficult to follow." To which he
laughed and said : " We will speak of that again
in a fortnight."
By the end of the fortnight Zinka had thrown
two soldi into the Fountain of Trevi to make sure
that she should some day see Rome again, and in
fanaticism for Rome she outdid even the fanatical
General von Klingen Sempaly had contributed
mainly to her conversion. Nothing could be
more amusing or more interesting than to explore
every nook of the city of ruins under his escort.
He was constantly remembering this or that won-
derful thing that he must positively show to
Zinka. An artistic bas-relief that had been built
to some queer orange-colored house above a
OUR OWN SET. 89
tobacconist's, or a heathen divinity which had had
wings attached to its shoulders to qualify it for
admission as an angel into a Christian church.
He rode out with her into the Campagna, and
pointed out all the most picturesque parts of the
Trastevere, and he could find a ridiculous sugges-
tion even in the most reverend things. The halls of
the Vatican in which the liberal minded Vicars of
Christ have granted a refuge to the pensioners of
antiquity, he called the Poor-house of the gods ;
and always spoke of St. Peter's, which is commonly
known as la Parocchia dei Forestieri, as the Papal
Grand Hotel. There was not a fountain, a frag-
ment of sculpture, or a picturesque heap of ruins
of which he could not relate some history, comic
or pathetic, or he invented one; but he never
produced the impression that he was giving a
lecture. He had in fact a particularly unpretend-
ing way of telling an appropriate and not too
lengthy anecdote ; he never handed it round on a
waiter, as it were, for examination, but let it drop
quietly out of his pocket. His knowledge of art
was but shallow, but his feeling for it, like all his
instincts, was amazingly keen. His information
on all subjects was miscellaneous and slender,
not an article of his intellectual wardrobe — as
Charles Lamb has it — was whole ; but he draped
90 OUR OWN SET.
himself in the rags with audacious grace and
made no attempt to hide the holes.
Truyn and his little daughter often joined them
in these expeditions, and sometimes Cecil, but only '
when his mother did not choose to go out, and
his demeanor on these occasions — 'peripatetic
aesthetics' he called their walks — was highly
characteristic. He would walk by the side of his
sister and Sempaly, or a few steps behind them,
sunk in silence but always sharply observant.
From time to time he would correct their cicerone
in his dates, which Sempaly took with sublime in-
difference and for which — taking off his hat —
he invariably thanked him with princely courtesy.
Sterzl only sympathized with the classical style
of the Renaissance ; the real antiques which Zinka
raved about he smiled at as caricatures ; Guido on
the other hand — for whom Sempaly had a weak-
ness, as a Chopin among painters — Sterzl de-
tested. He declared that the Beatrice Cenci had
a cold wet bandage on her head, and that the
picture was nothing more than a study apparently
made from an idiot in a mad-house. When Zinka
talked of her favorite antiques or other works in
the mystical and sentimental slang of the clique,
he laughed at her, but quite good-naturedly. He
scorned all extravagance and raptures as cant and
OUR OWN SET. 91
aflfectation. Still he was merciful to his sister, and
when she turned from a Francia with tears in her
eyes, or turned pale as she quoted Shelley, or
spoke of Leonardo's Medusa in Florence, he did no
more than shrug his shoulders and say : " Zinka,
you are crazy,*' or gently pull her by the ear.
Everything in Zinka was right, even her want of
sound common sense.
The baroness had at last found a lodging,
almost to her mind: a small palazzo in a side
street, off the Corso, " furnished in atrocious taste,
but otherwise very nice." The palazetto was in
fact a gem in its way, with a simple and elegant
stone front and a court surrounded by a colonnade
with red camellia shrubs and a fountain in the
midst. There were several much injured antique
statues too, one of which was a famous and very
beautiful Amazon at whose feet a rose-bush
bloomed profusely. This Amazon struck Zinka
as remarkably picturesque and she sketched
her from every point of view without ever reading
the warning in her sad face. Alas! Zinka had
gazed at the sun and it had blinded her.
But how could Cecil allow this daily-growing
intimacy between Sempaly and his sister ? Sem-
paly's elder brother, Prince Sempaly, had been
married ten years and was childless, so the
92 OUR OWN SET.
attach^, as heir presumptive, was in duty bound
to make a brilliant marriage. Did not Sterzl
Jcnow this? Yes, he knew it, but he did not
trouble his head about it He was under no
illusion as to the singularity, not to say the im-
probability of Sempaly marrying a girl of inferior
birth ; he had no desire that it should be otherwise.
He was no democrat ; on the contrary, his was a
particularly conservative and old world nature,
equally remote from cringing or from envy.
That Sempaly should marry any other girl not his
•equal in rank would have struck him as altogether
wrong, but Zinka — Zinka was different He
worshipped her as only a strong elder brother
call worship a much younger weaker sister and
there was no social elevation of which he deemed
her unworthy. And when he saw Sempaly smile
. down so tenderly and at the same time so respect-
fully on his * butterfly,' as he called her, he was
rejoiced at her good fortune and never for an in-
stant doubted it Zinka was not sentimental. For
a long time there was no tinge of any feeling
stronger than good fellowship in her intercourse
with Sempaly; her talk was all fun, her glance
saucy and wilful. By degrees, however, a change
came over her ; her whole manner softened, there
was a gentle dreaminess even in her caprice and
OUR OWN SET. 95
when she smiled it was often with tears in her
Sempaly was not regular in his visits to the
palazetto; sometimes for two or three days he
failed to appear, then he would call very early —
at noon perhaps, join the family unceremoniously
at their breakfast, go out driving with the ladies,
accept an invitation to stay to dinner, and if Zinka
was looking pale or out of spirits, he would pay
her fifty kind little attentions to conjure a smile ta
her lips. Occasionally he would fall into the mel-
ancholy vein and talk of his loveless youth, and
let her pity hifn for it. He would tell her about
his elder brother, praising his many noble qualities,,
and then add with a shrug : " Yes, he is a splendid
fellow, but ... he has ideas !" When Zinka
asked what sort of ideas, Sempaly sighed : " I
hope you may some day know him and then you
can judge for yourself."
But this was in a low tone and he seemed to
regret having said it. Then he would frequently
allude to this or that picture in his brother's
house at Vienna, or to some curious family relic,
and say how much he should like some day to
show it to Zinka. His favorite theme, however,
was Erzburg, the old castle which for numberless
generations had been the family summer-retreat
94 OUR OWN SET.
of the Sempalys and of which he was passionately
fond. Excepting as regards this estate he was
singularly free from all false or family pride ; he
declared that his brother's Vienna palace was an
unhealthy barrack, scouted at the Sempaly breed
of horses, laughed at the Sempaly nose, and
praised the traditional Sempaly tokay more in
irony than in good faith — but then he came
round to Erzburg again and simply raved about
it Not about the oriental luxury with which
part of the castle was fitted up — not in the best
taste — of that he never spoke ; indeed, he said
more about its deficiencies than its perfections, but
in a tone of such loving excuse ! He talked of the
large bare rooms where, for years, he had watched
for the apparition of the white lady, half longing,
half dreading to see her ; of the doleful groaning
of the weather-cock of the rococo statues in the
grounds, and of the gloomy pools with their low
sad murmur, and their carpet of white water-
lilies. The statues were bad, the pools unhealthy
he admitted, and yet, as he said it, his usually
mocking glance was soft and almost devout
Once, when Zinka had grown quite dismal over
his reminiscences, he took her hand and pressed
it tenderly to his lips : ** Yoa must see Erzburg
some day," he murmured.
OUR OWN SET. 95
His behavior to her was that of a man who is
perfectly clear as to his own intentions but who
for some reason is not immediately free to sue for
the hand of a girl whom in his heart of hearts he
already regards as his own. What did he mean
by all this ? What was he thinking of? I believe
absolutely nothing. He went with the tide.
There are many men like him, selfish, luxurious
natures who swim with the stream of life and
never attempt to steer ; they have for the most
part happy tempers, they are content with any
harbor so long as they reach it without effort or
damage, and if in their passive course they run
down any one else they exclaim with their usual
amiable politeness : " Oh ! I beg your pardon !"
and are quite satisfied that the mishap was due to
fate and not to any fault of theirs.
It was in the end of February, shortly before
the close of the carnival. Truyn, going to the
Sterzls* with his little girl to take a walk with
Zinka, saw at the. door of the palazetto a hackney
carriage with a small portmanteau on the top.
Sterzl's man-servant, an elegant person with close-
cut hair, shaved all but a short beard, and wearing
an impressive watch-chain, was condescending to
exchange a few words with the driver blinking in
The drawing-room into which Truyn and his
daughter were admitted unannounced was in the
full blaze of light. The motes danced their aim-
less rainbow-colored dance; in the middle of
the room stood Zinka with both hands on
a table over which she was bending to gaze at
a magnificent basket of flowers. There was some-
thing in her attitude, quaint but graceful, in the
elegant line of her bust, the pathetic joy of her
radiant face, the soft flow of her plain long dress,
which stamped the picture once and for ever on
Truyn's memory. A sunbeam wantoned in her
OUR OWN SET. 97
hair turning it to gold and her whole figure was the
embodiment of sweet and happy spring delight
The basket of flowers, too, was a masterpiece of its
kind — a capriccio of lilies of the valley, gardenias,
snow-flakes, and pale-tinted roses, that k)oked as
though the wayward west- wind had blown them
into company. Sterzl was standing by, with a
pleased smile, and the baroness, in an attitude of
affected astonishment, stood a little apart with a
visiting-card in her hand. Neither Cecil nor his
sister -T- she absorbed in the flowers and he in
gazing at her — had heard Truyn arrive. When
he knocked at the door the baroness said " come
in," and gave him the tips of her fingers ; then,
with a wave of her hand towards the basket, she
lisped out: "Did you ever se^ such extrava-
Zinka looked up and welcomed him and so did
Sterzl. " It is perfect folly . . . quite reckless.. . ."
sighed the baroness, " such a basket of flowers
costs a fortune. Why, only one gardenia. . ."
Zinka's underlip pouted impatiently and Steril
said in his dry way :
. " My dear mother, do not destroy Zinka's il-
lusions ; the basket fell from heaven expressly for
her and she does not want to believe that it was
bought, just like any other, in the Via Condotti or \
98 OUR OWN SET.
Babuino. What do you say, Count ? Sempaly sent
it to her to console her for the departure of her
brother. The reason is too absurd, do not you
think ? I do not believe you would miss me par-
ticularly for a few days, child ?'* and he put his
hand affectionately under her chin.
" Where are you off to so suddenly ?" asked
Truyn very seriously.
" To Naples. Franz Arnsperg has telegraphed
to me to ask me to meet him there ; he is on his
way to Paris from Constantinople, and he is a great
friend of mine and has come by way of Naples on
purpose that we may meet."
"The Arnsperg- Meiringens ; you know their
property adjoins ours," the baroness explained.
Sterzl, who knew very well that Truyn was far
better informed as to the Arnsperg- Meiringens
than his mother, was annoyed and uncomfortable.
However, he kissed her hand and then turned to
his sister :
" God shield you, my darling butterfly — write
me a few lines, or is that too much to ask ?" Then
he kissed her and whispered : " Mind you have
not lost those bright eyes by the time I return."
Truyn accompanied him to the carriage with a
very long face ; he and General von Klinger had
- watched Sempaly *s conduct with much disquietude.
OUR OWN SET. 99
they knew him to be susceptible but not impres-
sionable, alive to every new emotion ; and Truyn
would ere this have spoken to Sempaly on the
subject if he had not been sure that it would
merely provoke and irritate him without producing
any good effect ; the general, on the other hand,
could not make up his mind to open Sterzl's eyes
to the state of affairs because, like Baron Stock-
mar, he had an invincible dislike to interfering in
matters that did not concern him. Like that
famous man, not for worlds would he have com-
mitted an indiscretion to save a friend for whom
he would have sacrificed his life ; and this terror
of being indiscreet is a form of cowardice which is
considered meritorious in the fashionable world.
-7 * ' -^ " : :^ :
^ w J
It is Shrove Tuesday. The sorriest jade of the
wretchedest botta has a paper rose stuck behind
his ear, though during the hours sacred to the
carnival they are pariahs and outcasts from the
Corso. Two-horse carriages are dressed in gar-
lands and the horses have plumes on their heads.
The Piazza di Spagna is alive with pedlars and
hawkers, selling flowers and little tapers (moccoli),
and with buyers of every nation doing their best '
to cheapen them. Baskets full of violets, roses,
anemones, snowflakes — baskets full of indescriba-
ble bunches of greenery — the ammunition of the
mob which have already done duty for two or
three days and are like nothing on earth but the
wisps of rushes with which the boards are rubbed
in some parts of Austria. The sellers of coral
and tortoise-shell cry out to you to buy — "^
carnevaie. . ." and in the side streets — for misery
dares not show its head in the main thoroughfares
to-day — the beggars crowd more closely than
ever round the pedestrian with their perpetual cry:
: t * muojo di fame.
OUR OWN SET. 10 1
The houses on the Corso wear their gay car-
nival trappings to-day for the last time. A smart
dress flutters on every balcony, several stands
have been erected and all the window-sills are
covered, some with colored chintz and some with
gold brocade. All Thursday, Saturday, and Mon-
day Zinka and Gabrielle had driven unweariedly
up and down the Corso with Count Truyn, fling-
ing flowers at all their acquaintances and at a good
many strangers. To-day, however, they had
agreed to look on from the windows of the Palazzo
Vulpini, for the close of the carnival is apt to be
somewhat riotous. Every one who lives on the
Corso seizes the opportunity of paying long owing
debts of civility and offers ä place in a window to
as^many friends as can possibly be squeezed in.
There was a large party at the Vulpinis', for
the most part Italians and relations of the prince's.
Madame de Gandry and Mrs. Ferguson had in-
vited themselves, and Zinka, with Gabrielle Truyn,
was to see the turmoil in the Corso from the bal-
cony of the palazzo. The baroness had "tic
douloureux " which kept her at home, — and which
no one regretted. At six o'clock, before the be-
ginning of the moccoliy all the company were to
go to the * Falcone^* a well-known and especially
Roman restaurant where they would dine more
J02 OUR OWN SET.
comfortably and easily than at home. From thence
they were to adjourn to the Teatro Costanzi.
Prince Vulpini had drawn up this thoroughly car-
nival programme for the special benefit of the
Countess Schalingen who had a passion for "local
color," and who was enchanted. The princess was
resigned ; local color had no interest for her and
she was somewhat prejudiced against Italian
native dishes and masked festivities of all kinds.
It was three o'clock. Baskets of flowers and
whole heaps of sweet little sugar-plum boxes were
ready piled in the windows for ammunition. The
little Vulpinis, who entirely filled the large centre
window, and their shy English governess in her
black gown, had just come into the room, skipping
about and pulling each other's hair for sheer im-
patience and excitement ; and when their govern-
ess reproved them for behaving so roughly " ma i
carnevale " is thought sufficient excuse ; the com-
pany laughed and the English girl said no more.
All the party had assembled. Madame de Gan-
dry and Mrs. Ferguson were both looking pretty
and picturesque ; the former had stuck on a fez,
and the other a quaintly-folded handkerchief of
oriental stuff, in honor of the carnival, when eccen-
tricity of costume is admissible and conventional
head-gear are contemned.
OUR OWN SET. 103
From the windows down to the carriages, from
the carriages up to the windows the war was
eagerly waged ; bunches of flowers, and bonbori-
nieres from Spillman's and Nazzari's fly in all
directions and scraps of colored paper fall like
snow through the air. Then the blare and pipe of
a military band came up from the Piazza di
Venezia and the maskers crowded in among the
carriages. One of the liveliest groups along the
Corso was certainly that where the Vulpini chil-
dren were grouped, with Zinka in their midst, she
having undertaken the charge of them at their
own earnest entreaty. She and Gabrielle were
both laughing with glee, but at the height of their
fun they remembered to pay all sorts of little civil-
ities to the half-scared English governess and
had stuck a splendid bunch of lilies of the valley
in front of her camphor-scented black silk dress.
What especially interested the children was watch-
ing for Norina's carriage, for they not only recog-
nized the prince who was driving, but knew all
his party : Truyn. Siegburg, Sempaly, and as it
passed with its four bays the little Vulpinis jumped
with delight and chirped and piped like a tree full
of birds ; the gentlemen waved their hands, smiled,
and gallantly aimed bouquets without end at the
windows of the palazzo. But all the finest flowers
104 OVK OWN SET.
that day were, beyond a doubt, aimed at Zinka.
The floor all round her was heaped with snow-
flakes, and violets, and roses. In her hand she
had caught a huge bunch of roses flung up to her
" Oh, oh r* cried Madame de Gandry, retiring
from the window to rest for a few minutes and re-
fresh herself with a sip of wine. " Ah, mademoi-
selle !" glancing enviously at the mass of blossoms
strewn round Zinka, " you have as many bouquets
as a prima donna!" Zinka nodded; then, con-
templating her hat, which she had thrown off" in
her excitement, with a whimsical air of regret and
pulling the feather straight she said with a mockery
" My poor hat will be glad to rest on Ash
" It is perfect, Marie, really perfect, this
Roman carnival — a thing never to be forgotten !'*
exclaimed the Countess Schalingen, coming in from
the window. She was a genuine Austrian, always
ready to go into ecstasies of enthusiasm.
" It is horrid," answered the princess impa-
tiently. " Under the new government it is nothing
but an amusement for the strangers and street
OUR OWN SET. 105
The Barberi have rushed past, and the proces-
sion has once more begun to move on but its in-
terest and excitenjent are over ; the crowd in the
road begins to thin, and Sempaly, Truyn, Norina,
Siegburg, and the general have come in, as agreed,
to escort the ladies to the * Falcone/ The children
have all been kissed and sent off to their dinner
at home; Gabrielle somewhat ill- pleased at not
being allowed to go with the elder party and
Truyn himself not liking to part with his little
companion. Zinka wishes to comfort Gabrielle
by remaining with the little ones, but this was not
to be heard of.
" Only too many of us would wish to follow
your example," whispers Princess Vulpini, to
whom this dinner at a Roman restaurant is de-
" They are to go on foot, but they are so long
getting ready after this little delay that the one
peaceful half-hour before the moccoli is lost ; by
the time they sally into the street the crowd,
which had dispersed, is getting denser every
minute. The darkness comes on rapidly, like a
grey curtain let down suddenly from the skies ;
the gaudy hangings are being taken in from the
windows lest they should catch fire ; the carnival
is putting on its ball-dress. Now the first twink-
I06 OUR OWN SET.
ling tapers are seen here and there, like glow-
worms in the dusk, and are instantly pelted with
mazetti and bunches of greenery, mostly picked
up from the pavement ** Fuori f fuorif" is the
monotonous cry on every side, and presently:
" senza moccolof vergognaf" — the death cries of
The Austrian gentlemen find their position
anything rather than pleasant, for it is impossible
to protect the ladies effectually against being
jostled and pushed, still less against hearing much
rough jesting. At last they are out of the Corso
and have divided in the narrow streets; some
having turned into the Via Maddalena, while
others have crossed the Piazza Capranica to the
Piazza della Rotunda ; but at last they are all met
after various small adventures at the * Falcone,'
The ladies* toilets have suffered a little and Prin-
cess Vulpini looks very unhappy.
The * Falcone' is a very unpretending restaur-
ant where the waiters wear white jackets; the
tariff is moderate and the risotto celebrated.
Vulpini orders a thoroughly Italian dinner in an
Suddenly Truyn exclaims in dismay : " What
has become of Zinka and Sempaly ?*'
"They have lingered talking on the way,"
OUR OWN SET. 107
says Madame de Gandry with pinched lips as she
leans back in her chair and pulls off her gloves.
" People always walk slowly when they have so
much to say to each other."
Truyn 'frowned. " I am afraid they have got
entangled in the crowd and have not been able to
make their way out. I have hated this expedition
from the first. I cannot imagine, Marie, what
could have put such a plan into your head. . ."
"Mine !" says his sister in an undertone and
with a meaning glance. But she says no more.
He knows perfectly well that she is as innocent of
the scheme as the angels in heaven.
"Why, what on earth is the matter?" asks
Vulpini pouring huge quantities of grated cheese
into his soup, while Mrs. Ferguson complains that
she is dying of hunger, which is singular, consider-
ing the enormous number of bonbons she has
eaten in the course of the day. Madame de
Gandry asks for a series of French dishes which
the * Falcone * has never heard of Countess
Schalingen is loud in her praises of the Italian
cookery and is only sorry that she has no appetite.
Truyn and the general sat gazing at the door
in growing anxiety ; Zinka and Sempaly do not
make their appearance — Truyn can hardly con-
ceal his alarm.
I08 OUR OWN SET.
" I certainly cannot understand what you are
so uneasy about," says Madame de Gandry with a
perfidious smile ; ''if Fräulein Zinka has been
mobbed and hindered Sempaly is in the same
predicament and will take good care of her. If
she were with any one less trustworthy, less com-
petent, with whom she was less intimate . . . then
I coiild understand. . .'* Truyn passes his hand
over his grey hair in extreme perplexity and mut-
ters in his mother tongue : '* This woman will be
the death of me !'' and then he again blames his
Yet another quarter of an hour ; though the
waiters are not nimble they have got to the des-
sert and still no signs of Sempaly and Zinka.
" I am beginning to feel very anxious/' says
Marie. " I only hope the child has not fainted in
Madame de Gandry makes a meaning grimace.
** It is perhaps the cleverest thing she could have
done," she says. Truyn hears and bites his lip.
The door just now opens and Zinka and Sem-
paly come in ; she calm and sweet, he dark and
*' Thank God !" cries Truyn.
" What in the world has happened ?" asks the
princess, while Truyn draws a chair to the table
OUR OWN SET. 109
for Zinka, next to himself. " What has happened ?"
repeated Sempaly. " The most obvious thing in
the world. We got into the thick of the mob and
could not get through."
" I cannot understand how that should have
occurred," says Madame de Gandry. "We all
" You may perhaps recollect that we were the
last of the party, countess ; we had hardly gone
twenty yards when the crowd had become a com-
pact mass, we pressed on, determined to get
through at any cost — alone I could have managed
it — but with a lady — suddenly we were in the
thick of a furious squabble — curses, blows, and
knives. I cannot tell you how miserable I was at
finding myself out in the street with a lady — a
young girl. . ."
*' Fräulein Sterzl seems to take it all much
more coolly than you do. Count Sempaly," inter-
poses Madame de Gandry spitefully; "she does
not appear to have been at all terrified by the
"Fräulein Zinka was very brave," replied
" Goodness me ! what was there to be afraid
of;" says Zinka with the simplicity of childish in-
no OUR OWN SET.
nocence. "The responsibility was Count Sem-
paly's not mine."
The French woman laughs «harply. "We
must be moving now," she says, " if we mean to
go to Costanzi's," and there is a clatter of chairs
and a little scene of confusion in which no one
can find the right shawl or wrap for each lady.
But Princess Vulpini makes no attempt to
move : " I am going nowhere else this evening,"
she says with unwonted determination. " I will
not take Zinka to Constanzi's. I will wait till she
has eaten her beef-steak and then I will take her
home. I hope you will all enjoy yourselves."
Zinka eats her beef-steak with the greatest
calmness and an unmistakably good appetite; she
is perfectly sweet and docile and natural ; she has
no suspicion that her name will to-morrow mor-
ning be in every mouth. Truyn is as pale as
death ; he has heard Madame de Gandry's whisper
to her friend : " After this he must make her an
** I AM glad to have found you,*' cried Truyn
next morning as he entered Sempaly's room in
the Palazzo di Venezia, and discovered him sipping
his coffee after his late breakfast, with a book in
" I am delighted that you should for once have
taken the trouble to climb up to me. I must
show you my Francia — the dealer who sold it to
me declares it is a Francia. But you look
worried. What has brought you here?"
" I only wanted to know — ^to ask you whether
you will drive out to Frascati with us to-day ?"
"To Frascati! — ^This afteriioon? What an
idea !" exclaimed Sempaly; "and in any case I
cannot join you for I am going to the Palatine at
three o'clock with the Sterzls."
"Yes?" said Truyn looking uncommonly
112 OUR OWN SET.
"May I offer you a cup of coffee?" asked
'* No thank you," replied Truyn shortly. He
was evidently uneasy, and began examining the
odds and ends at the table to give himself coun-
tenance ; by accident he took up the book that
Sempaly had been reading when he came in. It
was Charles Lamb's Essays, and on the first page
was written in a large, firm hand : " In friendly
remembrance of a terrible quarrel, Zinka Sterzl."
" The child lost a bet with me not long since,"
Sempaly explained. "Another bet is still un-
settled and is to be decided to day at the Palatine."
Truyn shut the book sharply and threw it down ;
then, setting his elbows on the table at which they
were sitting, and fixing his eyes keenly on Sem-
paly's face he said :
" Do you intend to marry Zinka Sterzl ?"
Sempaly started, " What do you mean ?" he
exclaimed; "what are you dreaming of?" But
as Truyn said no more, simply gazing fixedly at
him, he took up an attitude of defiance. He
looked Truyn straight in the face with an angry
glare and retorted :
" And suppose I do ?"
" Then I can only hope you will have enough
resolution to carry out your intentions," said
OUR OWN SET. 113
Truyn, " for to stop half-way in such a case is a
He drew a deep breath and looked at the
ground. But Sempaly's face, instead of clearing,
grew darker ; he was prepared for vehement oppo-
sition and his cousin's calm consent, not to say
encouragement, put him in the position of a man
who, after straining every muscle to lift a heavy
weight suddenly discovers that it is a piece of
painted pasteboard. It completely threw him
off his balance.
"Well, I must say!" he began in a tone of
extreme annoyance, " you speak of it as if it were
a no more serious question than the dancing of a
cotillon. In plain terms the thing is impossible.
What are we to live on ? I have long since run
through all my fortune, if I took what my brother
would regard as so monstrous a step he would cut
off all supplies, and Zinka is not of age. I might
to be sure take to selling dripping to maintain my
wife, which would have the additional advantage
that my mother-in-law would cut me in conse-
quence. Or perhaps you would advise me to let
Dame Clotilde Sterzl keep us till Zinka comes into
her money ?"
"Well," says Truyn calmly, "if you can take
such a reasonable view of the impossibility of your
114 OUR OWN SET.
marriage with Zinka Sterzl, your behavior to her
is perfectly inexplicable."
Truyn was still sitting by the little table on
which the pretty coffee service was set out, while
Sempaly, his hands in his pockets, was walking
up and down the room, kicking and shoving the
furniture with all the irritation of a man who
Icnows himself to be in the wrong.
" Upon my soul I cannot make out what you
would be at !" he suddenly exclaimed, standing
still and facing his cousin. "Sterzl has never
found any fault with my behavior and it is much
more his affair than yours."
Truyn changed color a little, but did not lose
his presence of mind.
" Sterzl, with all his dryness of manner, is an
idealist," he said, ** who would fetch the stars from
heaven for his sister if he could. He has never
for an instant doubted that your intentions with
regard to her were quite serious.!'
'* That is impossible I" cried Sempaly.
** But it is so," Truyn asserted. " He is too
blind to think his sister beneath any one's notice.*'
''And he is right !" exclaimed Sempaly, "per-
fectly right — but the pressure of circumstances —
of position — the duties I have inherited. . . ."
He had seated himself on the deep inner ledge
OUR OWN SET. 115
of one of the windows, with his elbows on his
knees and his chin between his hands, and was
staring thoughtfully at the floor.
" Allow me to ask you," he said, " what in-
duced you to mix yourself up in the affair ?"
" It has weighed on my mind for a long time,"
said Truyn, " but what especially moved me to
speak of it to-day is the circumstance that last
evening, before you came into the ' Falcone^ Mes-
dames De Gandry and Ferguson allowed them-
selves to speak in a way which convinced me that
your constant intimacy with Zinka is beginning to
do her no good."
^ " Oh ! of course, if you listen to the gossip
of every washerwoman," Sempaly interrupted
angrily. And he muttered a long speech in which
the words: 'Sacred responsibility — due regard
for the duties imposed by Providence,' were freely
thrown in. Truyn's handsome face flushed with
contempt and at length he broke into his cousin's
harangue, to which for a few minutes he had listen-
ed in silence :
" No swagger nor bluster. . . . The matter is
quiet simple : Do you love Zinka ?" The attache
"Yes," he said fiercely.
" Then it is only that you have not the courage:
Il6 OUR OWN SET.
to face the annoyances that a marriage with her
would involve you in ?"
Sempaly was dumb,
"Then, my dear fellow, there is no choice;
you must break off the intimacy, as gently but
as immediately as possible."
"That I neither can nor will attempt," cried
Sempaly, stamping his foot.
" If within three days you have not taken the
necessary steps to secure your removal from
Rome, I shall feel myself compelled to give Sterzl
a hint — or your brother — whichever you prefer."
Truyn spoke quite firmly. "And now good-bye."
" Good-bye," said Sempaly without moving,
and Truyn went to the door ; there he paused and
said hesitatingly : ** Do not take it amiss, Nicki —
I could do no less. Remember that though the
right is a bitter morsel, it has a good after- taste."
" Poor child, poor sweet little girl !" Truyn
murmujred to himself as he descended the grey
stone stairs of the Palazzo de Venezia. " Is this
a time to be talking of inherited responsibilities
and the duties of position — now ! Good heavens!"
He lighted a cigar and then flung it angrily away.
" Good heavens ! to have met a girl like Zinka —
to have won her love — and to be free I . . . ."
: : He hurried out into the street, leaving the
OUR OWN SET. 117
gate-porter astonished that the count, who was
usually so courteous, should have taken no notice
of his respectful bow; such a thing had never
He was a strange man, this grey-haired young
Count Truyn ; he had grown up as one of a very
happy family and when still quite young he had
been hurried, much against his will, into a marriage
with the handsome Gabrielle Zinsenburg. He
had never been able to reconcile himself to the
empty wordliness of his life in her society; she
was a heartless, superficial woman, some few
years older than himself, who had staked every-
thing on her hope of achieving a marriage with
him. Within a few years they had separated,
quite amiably, by mutual consent ; he had given
her his name and she gave him his child. His
life was spoilt. He had a noble and a loving
heart but he might not bestow it on any woman ;
he must carry it about in his breast where it grew
heavy to bear. His love for his little girl, devoted
as he was to her, was not enough to live by, and
a bitter sense of craving lurked in his spirit. For
many years he had lived a great deal abroad ; his
mind had expanded and he had shed several of
his purely Austrian prejudices. At home he was
still regarded as a staunch conservative because "
Il8 OUR OWN SET.
he always passively voted on that side; but he
was only indifferent, absolutely indifferent, to all
political strife, and smiled alike at the reckless-
ness of the 'left' and the excitability of the
'right,' while in his inmost soul he regarded
the perfecting of government as mere labor lost ;
for he was no optimist, and thought that to heal
the woes of humanity nothing would avail but its
thorough regeneration, and that men have no
mind for such regeneration ; all they ask is to be
allowed to cry out when they are hurt, and shift
their sins on to each other's shoulders.
It afforded him no satisfaction to cry out. His
weary soul found no rest but in unbounded benev-
olence, and Sempaly's nature — experimental,
groping his way through life — had seemed to
him to-day more odious than ever.
" How can a man be at once so tender and
such a coward ?" he asked himself, *' He is the
most completely selfish being I ever met with — a
thorough epicurean in sentiment, and has only
just heart enough for his own pleasure and enjoy-
^ The bet outstanding between Zinkai and Sem-
tp^ly was not decided that afternoon. Sempaly
OUR OWN SET. 119
did not go to the Palatine, but excused himself at
the last moment in a little note to Zinka. Truyn's
words, though he would not have admitted it to
himself, had made a very deep impression, and
though he fought against it he could no longer
avoid looking the situation in the face. To get
himself transferred to some other capital, to give
up all his pleasant idle habits here — the idea was
intolerable ! He felt exactly like a man who has
been suddenly roused from a slumber bright with
pleasant dreams. He did not want to wake, or to
rub his eyes clear of the vision.
Was everything at an end then ? Truyn had,
to be sure, suggested an alternative : if he could
but call up sufficient energy it rested only with
himself to turn the sweet dream into a still sweeter
and lovelier reality, arid his whole being thrilled
with ecstasy as this delightful possibility flattered
his fancy. He was long past the age at which a
man commits some matrimonial folly believing that
he can reclaim the morals of some disrespectable
second-rate actress, or that his highest happiness
is to devote his life to his sister's governess who is
a dozen years older than himself; when he con-
templated the possibility of his marrying Zinka
Sterzl after all, it was with the certainty that his
feeling for her was not a mere transient madness^
I20 OUR OWN SET.
but that it had its roots in the depths of his nature.
Every form and kind of enjoyment had been at
his command and he had hated them all. Things
in which other men of his age and position could
find excitement and interest roused his fastidious
nature to disgust. Life had long since become to
him a vain and empty show, when he had met
Zinka .... Then all the sweetest spirits of spring
had descended fluttering into his vacant heart ; a
magical touch had made it a garden of flowers and
filled it with fair, mad dreams of love. All the
*' sweet sorrow " of life was revealed to him in a
new form. . . And now was he to tread the blos-
soms into dust ? " Give up seeing her — get my-
self sent away — never ! I cannot and I will not
do it," he muttered to himself indignantly as he
thought it all over. "What business is it of
Truyn's ? What right has he to issue his orders
to me ?'*
But when he had resolved simply to go on
with Zinka as he had begun, to sun himself as
heretofore in her smile, her gentleness, and her
beauty, he was still uncomfortable. He felt that
it would not be the same. Till now his heart had
simply been content, now it could speak and ask
for more ; to try to satisfy it with this shadow of
delight was like attempting to slake a raging thirst
OUR OWN SET. 121
with the dew off a rosebud. He loved her now —
suddenly and madly. Interesting women had
hitherto utterly failed to interest him ; they were
like brooklets filled by the rain : the muddiness
of the water prevented their shallowness being im-
mediately perceptible ; the storms of life had spoilt
their clearness and purity; Zinka, on the contrary,
was like a mountain lake whose waters are so
transparent that near the shore every pebble is
visible ; and though, in the middle, the bottom is
no longer seen, it is because they are deep and
not because they are turbid, till their crystalline
opacity reflects the sky overhead. And in the
depths of that lake, he thought, lay a treasure
which one alone, guided and blest by God, might
hope to find. How he longed to sound it.
She was made for him ; never for an instant had
he been dull in her society ; she satisfied both his
head and his heart ; all the bewitching inconsis-
tency and contradictions of her nature captivated
him ; * he had said of her that *' she was like a little
handbook to the study of women," she was made
up of such a variety of characteristics. In the
midst of her childlike moods she had such unex-
pected depth of thought, such flashes of wisdom ;
her wildest vagaries were so original and often
ended so suddenly in wistful reverie; her little
122 OUR OWN SET.
selfish caprices were the converse of such devoted
self-sacrifice ; her grace was so spontaneous, her
voice so soft and appealing . . . Well, but should
he? . . . No, it must not be. Truyn had said it —
he must quit Rome — ^^the sooner the better.
He took his hat and went out to call on the
ambassador and discuss the matter with him. His
excellency was not at home and Sempaly betook
himself to the club, where he lost several games at
ecartd — he was greatly annoyed. Then he went
home and sat looking constantly at the clock as
though he were expecting some one ; his irritation
increased every minute.
•* Bright May — the sweetest month of Spring;
The trees and fields with flowers are strown —
Dear Heart, to thee Life's May I bring ;
Take it and keep it for thine own —
Nay — draw the knife ! — I will not start,
Pierce if thou wilt, my willing breast.
There thou shalt find my faithful heart
Whose truth in death shall stand confessed."
These words, sung in the Roman dialect to a
very simple air, came quavering out of the open
window of the drawing-room of the Sterzls* pal-
azetto as Sempaly passed by it that evening ; he
had gone out to pay some visits, to divert his
mind, and though his way did not take him along
the side street in which the palazetto stood, he had
not been able to resist the temptation to make a
detour. It was a mild evening and the tones
floated down like an invitation ; he recognized
Zinka's voice as she sang one of the melancholy
Stornelli in which the peasants of the Campagna
give utterance to their loves. It ceased, and he
was just moving away, when another even sweeter
and more piercing lament broke the warm
124 OUR OWN SET.
" Or shall I die ? — Poison itself could have
No terrors if I took it from thy hand.
Thy heart should be my death-bed and my grave."
The passionate words were sung with subdued
vehemence to a rather monotonous tune — like a
faded wreath of spring flowers borne along by
some murmuring stream. He turned back, and
listened with suspended breath. The song ended
on a long, full note ; he felt that he would give
God knows how much to hear the last line once
^ La sepoltura mia sara il tuo seno .^. . . '
Now Zinka was speaking — it vexed him be-
yond measure that he could not hear what she
was saying. It was maddening. . .Good heavens!
what a fool he was to stand fretting outside !
When he went into the drawing-room to his
great surprise he was met by Sterzl.
" Back so soon ?" he exclaimed as he shook
hands with him.
" Yes, Arnstein had only two days to spare in
Naples,'* replied Sterzl ; " I was delighted to see
him again, but — well, I must be growing very old,
OUR OWN SET. 125
I was so glad to find myself at home again," and
he drew his sister to him and lightly stroked her
pretty brown hair. His brotherly caress added
to Sempaly's excitement "No wonder that
you like your home !" he was saying, when the
baroness appeared with an evening wrap on her
shoulders, a fan and scent-bottle in her hand, and,
as usual, dying of refinement and airs.
** Not ready yet, Zena'ide ? Ah, my dear
Sempaly, how very sweet of you !" and she gave
him the tips of her fingers. — " We were quite
anxious about you when you so suddenly excused
yourself from joining us. ZinTca was afraid you
had taken the Roman fever," she said sentimen-
" Zinka has an imagination that feeds- on hor-
rors," said Sterzl smiling.
" I did think that you must have some very
urgent reason," said Zinka hastily and in some
Sempaly looked into her eyes : " I was doing
Ash-Wednesday penance, that was all," he said in
a low voice.
" Well, to complete the mortification come
now to Lady Dalrymple's," the baroness sug*
" Oh, be merciful ! Grant me a dispensation.
126 ^ OUR OWN SET.
I should SO much enjoy a quiet evening," cried
" And I too," added Zinka. " I am utterly
sick of soirees and routs. These performances
give me the impression of a full-dress review, at
which such and such fashionable regiments are
" Give us a holiday, mother ; remember, it is
Ash- Wednesday, and we are good Catholics," said
'" I had some scruples myself, but the Duchess
of Otranto is going," lisped the baroness.
However, when Sempaly had assured her that
the Duchess of Otranto was by no means a stan-
dard authority in Roman society she yielded to
the common desire that they should remain at
home, and withdrew to her room to write some
letters before tea.
Most men have senses and nerves only in their
brain while women, as is well known, have them
all over the body ; in this respect Sempaly was
like a woman. He had senses even in his finger
tips — as a Frenchman had once said, of him : "il
avait les sens poete !" (a poet's nerves). The most
trifling external conditions gave him dispropor-
tionate pleasure or pain. The smallest detail of
ugliness was enough to spoil his appreciation of
OUR OWN SET. 127
the noblest and grandest work of art ; he would
not have felt the beauty of Faust if he had first
read it in a shabby or dirty copy. Now, when
the baroness had left the room, there was no de-
tail that could disturb his enjoyment in being with
Sterzl had taken up his newspaper ; Zinka, at
Sempaly's request, had seated herself at the piano.
She always accompanied herself by heart and sat
with her head bowed a little over the keys and
half-shut dreamy eyes. The sober tone of the
room, with its tapestried walls and happy medley
of knick-knacks, broad-leaved plants, Japanese
screens, and comfortable furniture, formed a har-
monious background to her slight, white figure.-
The light of the one lamp was moderated by its
rose-colored shade ; a subdued mezza-väce tone of
color prevailed in the room which was full of the
scent of roses and violets, and the heavy perfume
seemed in sympathy with the gloomy sentiment
of the popular love songs. Sempaly's whole na-
ture thrilled with rapturous suspense, such as few
men would perhaps quite understand. At his
desire Zinka sang one after another of the Stor-
nelli . . . her voice grew fuller and deeper . . .
" Do not sing too long, Zini, it will tire you,"
said her brother.
128 OUR OWN SET.
" Only one more — the one I heard from out-
side," begged Sempaly, and she sang :
" La sepoltura mia sara il tuo seno . . . ."
The words trembled on her lips ; her hands slipped
off the last notes into her lap. Sempaly took the
warm, soft little hands in his own ; a sort of de-
lightful giddiness mounted to his brain as he
'* Zinka," he said, " tell me, do you feel a little
of what your voice expresses ?"
Her eyes met his — and she blinked, as we
blink at a strong, bright light ; she shrank back a
little, as we shrink from too great and sudden joy.
Her answer was fluttering on her lips when the
door opened — the Italian servant pronounced
some perfectly unintelligible gibberish by way of
a name, and in marched — followed by her
daughter and their Polish swain — the Baroness
" Oh, thank goodness, I have found you at
home I" she exclaimed. " We counted on finding
you at home on Ash-Wednesday. God bless you,
Zinka was petrified. Mamma Sterzl rushed
in from an adjoining room at the sound of those
OUR OWN SET. 129
"Charlotte!" was all she could stammer out,
" Char . . . lotte . . . you . . . here !"
*' Quite a surprise, is it not, Clotilde ? Yes,
the most unhoped-for things sometimes happen.
We arrived to-day at three o'clock and called here
this afternoon but you were out ; so then we de-
cided to try in the evening. It is rather late, to
be sure, and I, for my part, should have been here
long ago, but Slawa insisted on dressing— for
such near relations ! Quite absurd . . . but I do
not like to contradict her, she is so easily put out
— so I waited to dress too."
And the baroness, after embracing her sister
and her niece, plumped down uninvited on a very
She had dressed with a vengeance : a black
lace cap was perched on the top of her short, grey
hair, with lappets that hung down over her ears.
Her massive person was squeezed into a violet
satin gown, which she had evidently out-grown,
and a lace scarf picturesquely thrown ovisr her
shoulders was intended to conceal its defects ; her
lavender-colored gloves were very short and much
too tight, and burst at all the button-holes. Slawa
had a general effect of tricolor, and she wore some
old jewelry that she had bought of ä dealer in an-
tiquities at Verona. She had curled and piled up
I30 OUR OWN SET.
her hair after the antique and kept her head con-
stantly turned over her left shoulder, to be as
much like the Apollo as possible, at the same time
making a grimace as if she were being photo-
graphed and wished to look bewitching.
Vladimir Matuschowsky's tall, slouching figure
was buttoned into a braided coat ; he held a
low-crowned hat with tassels in his hand, and
glared at the plain dress-coats of the other two
men as though they were a personal insult.
" Monsieur Vladimir de Matuschowsky," said
the baroness introducing him, " a. . . a. . .friend of
the family." But she said it in French: when
the Baroness Wolnitzka was at all at a loss she
commonly spoke French.
Her sister, who by this time had got over her
astonishment, now began to wish to dazzle the
** Count Sempaly," she said, presenting the at-
tach^ ; " a friend of our family . . . my sister, the
Baroness Wolnitzka. You have no doubt heard
of the famous Slav leader Baron Wolnitzky, who
was so conspicuous a figure in forty-eight."
Sempaly bowed without speaking ; Baroness
Wolnitzka rose and politely offered him her hand :
" I am delighted to make your acquaintance," she
said. " I have heard a great deal about you ; my
OUR OWN SET. 131
sister has mentioned you in all her letters and I
am quite au courant''
Again Sempaly bowed in silence and then, re-
tiring into the background while the mistress of
the house turned to address Slawa, he said to
" I will take an opportunity of slipping away —
a stranger is always an intruder at a family meet-
ing/' His manner was suddenly cold and stiff and
his tone intolerably arrogant.
Sterzl nodded : "Go by all means/' he replied.
But Baroness Sterzl perceiving his purpose ex-
"No, no, my dear Sempaly, you really must
not run away — you are not in the least de trop —
and a stranger you certainly can never be."
" It would look as though we had frightened you
away, and that I will not imagine,*' added her
So Sempaly stayed; only, perhaps, from the
impulse that so often prompts us to drink a bitter
cup to the dregs.
" Pray command yourself a little, Zini," whis-
pered Cecil to his sister. "The interruption is
unpleasant ; but you should not show your annoy-
ance so plainly."
Tea was now brought in ; Sterzl devoted him-
132 OUR OWN SET.
self in an exemplary manner to his cousin Slawa,
so as to give his spoilt little sister as much liberty
as possible. Slawa treated him with the greatest
condescension and kept glancing over her huge
Japanese fan at Sempaly, who was sitting by Zinka
on a small sofa, taciturn and ill-pleased, while he
helped her to pour out the tea.
Baroness Wolnitzka gulped down one cup after
another, eat up almost all the tea-cake, and never
ceased an endless medley of chatter. The young
Pole sat brooding gloomily, ostentatiously refused
all food and spoke not a word ; his arms crossed
on his breast he sat the image of the Dignity of
Man on the defensive.
*' I am desperately hungry," Madame Wol-
nitzka confessed. "We are at a very good hotel —
Hotel della Stella, in Via della Pace ; we were told
of it by a priest with whom we met on our journey.
It is not absolutely first-class — still, only people
of the highest rank frequent it ; two Polish counts
dined at the table d'hote and a French marquise ;
— in her case I must own I thought I could smell
a rat — I suspect she is running away with her
lover from her husband, or from her creditors."
Out of deference to the " highest rank " the
baroness had put her hand up to her mouth on the
side nearest to the young people as she made this
OUR OWN SET. 133
edifying communication. " The dinner was very
good," she went on, "capital, and we pay six
francs a day for our board."
" Seven," corrected Slawa.
" Seven, mamma."
And a discussion of the deepest interest to the
rest of the party ensued between the mother and
daughter as to this important point. Slawa re-
mained master of the field ; " and with wax-lights
and service it comes to eight," she added trium-
" I let her talk," whispered her mother, again
directing her words with her hand, " she is very
peculiar in that way ; everything cheap she thinks
must be bad. However, what I was going to say
was that, to tell the truth, I did not get enough to
eat at dinner — there were flowers on the table,"
— and she reached herself a slice of plum-cake.
At this moment the door opened to admit
"Good evening," he began — "seeing you so
brightly lighted up I could not resist the tempta-
tion to come in and see how you were spending
your Ash- Wednesday."
He glanced around at the three strangers and
instantly grasped the situation ; but, far from tak-
134 OUR OWN SET.
ing the tragical view of it, he at once determined
to get as much fun out of it as possible. After
being introduced he placed himself in a position
from which he could command the whole party,
Sempaly included, and converse both with Madame
Wolnitzka and her daughter. He addressed him-
self first to the latter.
** The name of Wolnitzky is known to fame,'*
" Yes, my father played a distinguished part in
forty-eight," replied Slawa.
"Siegburg — Siegburg? ..." Madame Wol-
nitzka was meanwhile murmuring to herself.
"Which of the Siegburgs? The Siegburgs of
Budow, or of Waldau, or. . . ?"
" The Waldau branch," said Baroness Sterzl.
" His mother was a Princess Hag," and she leaned
back on her cushions.
" Ah ! the Waldau Siegburgs ! quite the best
Siegburgs !" remarked her sister in a tone of as-
" Of course," replied Baroness Sterzl with great
coolness, as though she had never in her life spoken
to anyone less than "the best Siegburgs." .
Madame Wolnitzka arranged her broad face in
the most affable wrinkles she could command, and
sat smiling at the young count, watching for an
OUR OWN SET. 13s
Opportunity of putting in a word. For the pre-
sent, however, this did not offer, for her sister
addressed her, asking, in a bitter-sweet voice:
" And what made you decide on coming to
" Can you ask ? I have wished for years to
see Rome, and you wrote so kindly and so con-
stantly, Clotilde — ^so at length ..." and here fol-
lowed the history of the Bernini. "You re-
member our Bernini, Clotilde ?"
Her sister nodded.
"Well, I had the Apollo, the head only, a
copy by Bernini. It is a work of art that has been
in our family for generations," she continued, turn-
ing to Siegburg as she saw that he was listening to
" For centuries," added Madame Sterzl.
" I must confess that I could hardly bear to part
with it," her sister went on. ** However, I made
up my mind to do so when Tulpe, the great anti-
quary from Vienna, came one day and bid for it."
Sterzl, to whom the god*s wanderings were
known, made some allusion to them in his dry
way ; on which the Baroness Wolnitzka shuffled
herself a little nearer to Siegburg and addressed
herself to him.
" You see, count, it was something like what
136 OUR OWN SET
often happens with a girl : you drag her about^ to
balls for years, take her from one watering-place
to another, and never get her off your hands ;
then you settle down quietly at home and sud-
denly, when you least expect it, a suitor turns up.
I could hardly bear to see the last of the bust I
" It must indeed have been a harrowing part-
ing," said Siegburg with much feeling.
"Terrible!" said the baroness, "and doubly
painful because" — and here she leaned over to
whisper in Siegburg*s ear — "Slawa is so amazingly
like the Bernini. Does not her likeness to the
Apollo strike you ?"
"I saw it at once — as soon as I came in,"
Siegburg declared without hesitation.
" Every one says so — well then, you can un-
derstand what a sacrifice it was ... it cuts me to
the heart only to think of it. Oh ! these great
emotions ! Excuse me if I take off my cap . . . "
and she hastily snatched off the black lace struc-
ture and passing her fingers through her thin
grey hair with the vehemence of a genius she ex-
claimed: "Merciful God! How we poor women
are ill-used! crushed, fettered ..."
" Yes, a woman's lot is not a happy one ; " said
OUR OWN SET. 137
*' You are quite an original !" exclaimed hef
sister, giggling rather uncomfortably — for in
good society it is quite understood that when we
are suffering under relations devoid of manners,
and whom, if we dared, we should shut up at
once in a mad-house, we may do what we can to
render them harmless by ticketing them with this
title — "Quite an original. Are you still always
ready to break a lance for the emancipation of
" No," replied Madame Wolnitzka, " no, my
dear Clotilde, I have given that up. Since I learnt
by experience that every woman is ready to set
aside the idea of emancipation as soon as she has
a chance of marrying I have lost my sympathy
with the cause."
" The emancipation of women of course can
only be interesting to those who cannot marry,"
observed Sterzl, who had not long since read an
article on this much ventilated question.
" And as there are undoubtedly more women
than men in the world, legalized polygamy is the
only solution of the difficulty," his aunt asserted*
" Mamma ! you really are ! . . . " said Slawa
with an angry flare.
" Your views are necessarily petty and nar-
row," retorted her mother. " If I were speaking of
138 OUR OWN SET.
the subject in a light and frivolous tone I could
understand your indignation ; but I am looking at
the matter from a philosophical point of view —
you understand me, I am sure, Count Siegburg.*'
"Perfectly, my dear madam," Siegburg as-
sured her with grave dignity. " You look at tiie
question from the point of national and political
economy and from that point of view improprie-
ties have no existence."
Sempaly sat twirling his moustache ; Zinka first
blushed and then turned pale, while the mistress
of the house patted her sister on the shoulder, say-
ing with a sharp, awkward laugh : " Quite an
original — quite an original."
But Sterzl, seeing that Siegburg was exces-
sively entertained by the old woman's absurdities,
and was on the point of amusing himself still
further at her expense by laying some fresh trap
for her folly, happily bethought him that the only
way to procure silence would be to ask Slawa to
sing. So he begged his cousin to give them some
national air. Siegburg joined in the request, but
Slawa tried to excuse herself on a variety of pre-
texts : the piano was too low, the room was bad
to sing in, and so forth and so forth ... at last,
however, she was persuaded to sing some patriotic
songs in which Matuschowsky accompanied her.
OUR OWN SET. 139
Her tall, Walkure-like figure swayed and
trembled with romantic emotion, and faithful to
the traditions of the *' art fretnissant'' — the
thrilling school — she held a piece of music fast in
both hands for the sake of^ effect, though it had
not the remotest connection with the song she was
singing. Her mother sat in breathless silence;
tears of admiration ran down her cheeks; like
many other mothers, she only recognized those of
Slawa's defects which came into conflict with her
own idiosyncracy and admired everything else.
When Slawa had shouted the last verse of the
latest revolutionary ditty, which would have been
prohibited in forty-eight, and Sterzl was still ask-
ing himself whether it was worse to listen to the
mother's tongue or the daughter's singing,
Matuschowsky, whose chagrin at the small ap-
proval bestowed on his and Slawa's musical efforts
had reached an unendurable pitch, observed that
it was growing late and that the ladies must be
needing rest after all their exertions and fatigues.
Madame Wolnitzka hastened to devour the last
slice of tea-cake, brushed the crumbs away from
her purple satin lap on to the carpet, rose slowly,
and made her way with many bows and courtesies
towards the door, taking at least half an hour be-
fore she was fairly gone.
I40 OUR OWN SET.
When his relatives had at length disappeared
Sterzl accompanied the two gentlemen, who had
also bid the ladies good- night, into the hall, and
said good-humoredly to Siegburg :
" You, I fancy, are the only one of the party
who has really enjoyed the evening." Siegburg
colored ; then looking up frankly at his friend he
said : " You are not offended ?"
" Well — perhaps, just a little," replied Sterzl,
with a smile, " but I must admit that the tempta-
tion was a strong one."
"And really and truly I am very sorry for
you," Siegburg went on, with that ingenuous want
of tact that never lost him a friend. " There is
nothing in the world so odious as to have a posse
of disagreeable relations who suddenly appear and
cling on to your coat-tails. I know it by experi-
ence. Last spring, at Vienna, half a dozen old
aunts of my mother's came down upon us from
Bukowina like a snow-storm. . ." Sempaly mean-
while had buttoned himself into his fur-lined coat
and said nothing.
The three days have gone by in which Truyn
had desired his cousin to make up his mind —
three days since the sudden descent of Baroness
Wolnitzka scared away the sweet vision that till
then had dwelt in Sempaly's soul and checked the
declaration actually on his lips — but he has not
yet requested to be removed from Rome. Truyn's
eye has been upon him all through these three days,
has constantly met his own with grave questioning,
as though to say: "Have you decided?"
No, he had not decided. To a man like Sem-
paly there is nothing in the world so difficult as a
decision; fate decides for him — he for himself I
His encounter with the preposterous baroness
might silence the avowal he was on the verge of
uttering, but it was not so powerful as to banish
Zinka's image once and for all from his mind. The
silly old woman's chatter he had by this time for-
gotten ; the Stornelli that Zinka had been singing
still rang in his ears. For two days he had had
the resolution to avoid the Palazetto, but he had
142 OUR OWN SET.
seen Zinka for a moment, by accident, yesterday
on the Corso. She was in the carriage with Marie
Vulpini — she had on a grey velvet dress and a
broad-brimmed mousquetaire hat that threw a
shadow on her forehead and her golden-brown
hair ; she held a large bouquet of flowers and was
chatting merrily with the little Vulpinis and
Gabrielle Truyn ; what pretty merry ways she had
with children ! His blood fired in his veins as their
eyes met, and she blushed as she returned his bow.
It was the first time she had blushed at seeing
him. All that night he dreamed the wildest
dreams, — and now he was taking a solitary early
walk in the spring sunshine, on the Pincio, lost in
thought, but snapping the twigs as he passed along
to vent his irritation. More and more he felt that
marriage with Zinka was a sine qua non of his ex-
istence. He had never in his life denied himself a
pleasure, and now. ...
The brilliant March sun flooded the Piazza di
Spagna, the waters of the Baracaccia sparkled and
danced, reflecting the radiant blue sky, against
which the towers of the Trinita dei Monti stood
out sharp and clear. All over the shallow steps
OUR OWN SET. 143
of the church models were lounging in the regu-
lation peasant costumes, and blind beggars inces-
santly muttering their prayers. In front of the
Hotel de V Europe the cab-drivers were sweetly
slumbering under the huge patched umbrellas
stuck up behind their coach-boxes for protection
against the sun or rain. Flower-sellers were
squatted on every door-step, and here and there
sat a brown-eyed, snub-nosed white Pomeranian
dog. The Piazza was swarming with tourists, and
Beatrice di Cenci gazed with the saddest eyes in
the world out of a photographer's shop at the
motley crowd and bustle.
Siegburg, in happy unconsciousness of coming
evil, had just come out of Law's, the money
changer's, and was inhaling with peculiar satisfac-
tion the delicious pervading scent of hyacinths,
when his eye was accidentally attracted by the
fine figure of a young English woman who passed
him in a closely fitting jersey. He was still watch-
ing her when a harsh voice close to him ex-
" Good morning, Count, — what luck !"
He turned round and recognized, under a vast
shady hat, the broad, dark face of the Baroness
Wolnitzka. Though the day was splendidly fine
she had on that most undressed of garments, orig-
144 OVK OWN SET.
inally meant as a protection against rain but
subsequently adopted to conceal every conceivable
defect of costume, and long since known to the
mocking youth of Paris as a * cacAe-mzsere,' or —
to render it freely — a slut-cover; and, though
the pavement was perfectly dry, under this water-
proof she held up the gown it hid, so high that
her wide feet, in their untidy boots with elastic
sides, were plainly displayed.
" Ah, baroness !" he said lifting his hat, " I
really did not ..."
"No, you did not recognize me," she said
calmly, "that was why I spoke to you. What
luck ! But you are in the embassy too ?"
"That is the very thing — I have a request to
make then. My daughter is most anxious to have
an audience of His Holiness. Slawa, you must
know, is a fervent Catholic, though, between you
and me, it is a mere matter of fashion. Now I, for
my part, take a philosophical view of religious
matters. At the same time I should be very
much interested in seeing the Pope. ..."
" But the Pope is unfortunately more inaccess-
ible than ever," said Siegburg, "besides, as I do
not belong to the Papal Embassy I cannot, I re-
gret to say, give you the smallest assistance."
OUR OWN SET. 145
"That is what my nephew says — it is disas-
trous, positively disastrous/' At this moment
Slawa joined them, emerging from Piale's library,
in an eccentric directoire costume, with a peaked
hat and feather, and a pair of gloves, no longer
clean, drawn far up over her elbows.
. " Ah, goo.d morning," said she, offering the
count her finger tips while Matuschowsky, who
was in attendance, sulkily bowed.
By this time Siegburg, hemmed in on all sides,
began to think the situation unpleasant.
" It is so delightful to meet with a fellow-coun-
tryman in a foreign land. ..." Slawa began.
" Quite delightful," replied Siegburg, thinking
to himself: " How am I to get out of this ?" when
suddenly the absurdity of the thing came upon
him afresh, for he heard the baroness once more :
" Good morning, Count, what luck !" and at the
same moment she bore down on no less a man
than Sempaly, who had just come down the sun-
lit steps, and was crossing the Piazza lost in
sullen meditation. "I beg your pardon," he
muttered somewhat startled, " I really did not
recognize you," and he gazed helplessly into the
distance as though he looked for a rescue. But
the baroness went on :
" I am so delighted to have met you — I have
146 OUR OWN SET.
a particular request to make : could you not pro-
cure me admission to the Farnesina ? The Duke
di Ripalda is said to be all powerful ..."
" I am sorry to say it is quite im . . . "
But at this instant a party of foreigners caught
Sempaly's eye — two young ladies with a maid.
The two girls, tall and straight as pine-trees, both
remarkably handsome and dressed in neatly- fitting
English linen dresses, were eagerly bargaining
with an Italian who had embroidered cambric
trimmings for sale, and they seemed to think it a
delightful adventure to buy something in the
" Two charming girls ! surely I know them,"
cried Madame Wolnitzka. " Are they not the
One of the young ladies, looking up, called
out : " Nicki, Nicki !" half across the Piazza, with
the frank audacity of people who have grown up
in the belief that the world was created ex-
pressly for their use.
" Excuse me," said Sempaly with a bow to the
baroness, " my cousins . . ." and without more ado
he made his escape.
" How long have you been here ? Where are
you staying ?"
" We arrived this morning — Hotel de Londres
OUR OWN SET. 147
— mamma wrote to you at once to the em-
bassy . . . Ah, here is another Austrian !" for
Siegburg had contrived to join them. " Rome is
but a suburb of Vienna after all ! But tell me,
who on earth were that old fortune-teller and her
extraordinary daughter to whom you were both
devoting yourselves so attentively ?**
The Wolnitzky trio had in the meantime
moved away. The baroness very gracious, Slawa
very haughty, as became the living representa-
tive of the Apollo Belvedere — past the two hand-
some girls and down the Via Condotti. Suddenly
Baroness Wolnitzka stopped :
" I quite forgot to ask Count Sempaly to get
me an invitation to the international artists' festi-
val !" she exclaimed, striking her forehead, and
she promptly turned about, evidently intending to
repair the omission ; only Matuschowsky's decided
interference preserved Sempaly from her return to
The scene is now the Pincio — between five
and six in the afternoon, the hour when the band
plays every day on the great terrace, while the
crowd collects to watch the sun set behind St.
148 OUR OWN SET.
Peter's. The reflection of the glow gilds the
gravel, glints from the lace on the uniforms and
the brass instruments, and throws golden sparks
on the water in the wide basin behind the band-
stand. The black shadows rapidly lengthen on
the grass, and the palmettos, yuccas, and evergreen
oaks stand out in rich, deep tones against the sky
that fades from crimson to salmon and grey. A
special set of visitors haunt the shady side of the
Pincio; not the fashionable world: governesses
and nurses with their charges, and priests — ^priests
of every degree : the illustrious Monsignori with
their finely chiselled features, their upright bearing
and their elegant hands ; monks, with their bearded
faces comfortably framed in their cowls, and whole
regiments of priestlings from the Seminaries in
their uniforms of every hue; lank, lean figures,
with. sallow, unformed features.
Separated from these only by a leafy screen
the beauty and fashion of Rome drive up and
down — the residents in handsome private car-
riages, the foreigners in hired vehicles of varying
degrees of respectability, or even in the humble,
one-horse, hackney cab. The crowd grows denser
every minute as the stream of Roman rank and
wealth swells along the Via Borghese, across the
Piazza del Popolo, and up the hill. On the top
OUR OWN SET. 149
of the Pincio the carriages come to a stand-still ;
gentlemen on foot gather round them, bowing and
smiling, the ladies talk across from one victoria to
another — all sorts of trivial small- talk, unintelli-
gible to the uninitiated. Up from the gardens
which line the road from the Via Margutta, comes
a fragrance of budding and growing spring ; dowA
below lies Rome, and lording it grandly over the
labyrinthine mass of houses and ruins, solemn and
severe, its crown touched by the last rays of the
vanished sun, stands St Peter's.
Countess Ilsenbergh's carriage was drawn up
side by side with that of Princess Vulpini ; the
newly-arrived party of the Jatinskys was divided
between them ; the countess mother reclining in-
dolently with a gracious smile on her lips by the
side of Countess Ilsenbergh, while the princess
had undertaken to chaperon the young ladies.
On the front seat, by his cousin Eugenie —
Nini they called her — sat Sempaly. Sieg-
burg was leaning over the carriage door, talking
all sorts of nonsense, and relating all the gossip
of Rome that was fit for maiden ears to the
two new-comers ; they, infinitely amused, laugh-
ed till their simple merriment infected even
Sempaly, who had taken the seat coveted of all
the golden youth of Rome — the seat next his
ISO OUli OWN SET.
beautiful cousin — in a very gloomy and taciturn
Presently there was an evident sensation among
the public; every one was looking in the same
"What is happening?" asked Polyxena, the
elder of the two Jatinska girls.
" It must be the Dorias* new drag, or the King/'
said Princess Vulpini, screwing up her short-sighted
eyes. " No," saifl Siegburg, looking back, "neither.
It is Baroness Wolnitzka !"
And in fact, Madame Sterzl's pretty landau,
which she had placed at the disposal of her sister for
the afternoon, was coming up the roadj in it the
Wolnitzkas, mother and daughter, both in their
finest array. Slawa was leaning back, elegantly
languid, while her mother stood up in the carriage
and surveyed the world of Rome through an
opera-glass. From time to time, either to rest, or
because she suddenly lost her balance, she sat
down ; and then she filled up her time by exam-
ining every detail of the trimming and lining of
the landau. It was this singular demeanor, com-
bined with her very conspicuous person, that at-
tracted so much attention to the Sterzls' vehicle —
an attention which both mother and daughter, of
OUR OWN SET. 151
course ascribed to Slawa's extraordinary resem-
blance to the Belvedere Apollo.
** Baroness Wolnitzka ! the wonderful old
woman we saw with you yesterday in the Piazza
di Spagna ?** cried Polyxena.
" Only think, Nicki," she went on to Sempaly,
*' mamma knows hfer ?"
" Who is it that I know ?" asked her mother
from the other carriage.
" Baroness Wolnitzka, mamma ; do you see
her — out there?"
" Heaven preserve me !" exclaimed the coun-
tess fervently. " I do not feel secure of my life
when I am near her. She fell upon me to-day in
the Villa Wolkonsky."
" How on earth do you happen to know the
old woman, aunt ?" asked Sempaly irritably.
" Oh ! my husband had some political connec-
tion with hers," the countess explained. ** She is
not to be borne, she stuck to me like a leech for
half an hour."
** Your conversation must have been very in-
teresting," said Siegburg.
" It did not interest me," replied the counters
rather sharply. " She told me how much her jour-
ney had cost her, what she pays a day for carriage-
152 OUR OWN SET.
hire, and that when she was young she had singing-
lessons of Cicimara. And she chattered endlessly
about her sister Sterzl who is living here ' in the
first style and knows absolutely none but the-
creme de la creme ' — you laugh ! . . .*'
" Well, mamma, you must confess that the as-
sociation of such a name as Sterzl with the cream
of society is irresistibly funny," cried Polyxena.
**"It was anything rather than funny to me,"
said the countess ruefully. " By the way, though,
she did tell me one thing — that her niece
Zenaide Sterzl . . . Well, what is there to laugh at
" Zenaide Sterzl ! the name is a poem in itself,"
cried Polyxena; "it is as though an English woman
were named Belinda Brown, or a French girl
called Roxalane Dubois."
" Well, it seems from what the old woman told
me that the fair Zenaide is about to relinquish the
graceless name of Sterzl for one of the noblest
names in Austria — that is the old idiot's story. It
has not yet been made public, so she could not
tell me the bridegroom's name, but Zenaide is as
good as betrothed to a young count — an attach^
to the Austrian embassy. Who on earth can it be ?
— You ought to know !"
** Ah, ah ! Is it you ?" said Polyxena turning
OUR OWN SET. 153
to Siegburg. But Siegburg shook his head, strok-
ing his yellow moustache to conceal a malicious
smile as he watched Sempaly's conspicuous annoy-
ance. ** Or is it you, Nicki ?*' the young countess
went on — "I congratulate you on marrying into
such a delightful family !*'
But such a marked effect of embarrassment
was produced by her speech that she was suddenly
** I know nothing of it," said Sempaly with a
gloomy scowl. " That old chatterbox's imagina-
tion is positively stupendous."
The play of light on the gold lace of the uni-
forms and the brass instruments is fast fading away
and the sheen of the glossy-leaved evergreens is
almost extinct. **Gran dio morir si giovane/*' is
the tune the band is playing. The sun is down,
the day is dead, night shrouds the scene ; the only
color left is a dull glow behind St Peter's like a
"At the Ellis' this evening," Siegburg calls
out to the ladies as he lifts his hat and turns away.
The carriages make their way down the hill, past
the Villa Medici, back into Rome, and their steady
roar is like that of a torrent rushing to join the
Mr. and Lady Julia Ellis —r she was an
earl's daughter — English people of enormous
wealth and amazing condescension, had for many-
years spent the winters in Rome. In former times
the lady's eccentricities had given rise to much
discussion ; now she was an old lady with white
hair, fine regular features and much too fat arms.
Like all English women of her day she appeared
in a low gown on all occasions of full dress, and
was fond of decking her head with a pink feather.
Her husband was younger than she was and had a
handsome, thoroughly English face, with a ^hort
beard and very picturesque curly white hair. His
profile was rather like that of Mendelssohn, a fact of
which he was exceedingly proud. Besides this he
was proud of two other things : of his wife, who
had been admired in her youth by King George
IV. and of a very old umbrella, because Felix
Mendelssohn had once borrowed it. He had a
weakness for performing on the concertina and
had musical evenings once a week.
It happened that on the occasion when the
OUR OWN SET. 155
Jatinskys first went to one of these parties Tulpin
the Russian genius whose great work had served
as the introduction to the Ilsenbergh tableaux, was
elaborating a new opera to a French libretto on a
national Russian story. He was, of course, one
of those Russians who combine a passionate devo-
tion to the national Slav cause with a fervent wish
to be mistaken for born Parisians wherever they
appear. The piano groaned under his hands^
while sundry favorite phrases from Orphee aux
Enfers and other well-known works were heard
above the rolling sea of tremolos. From time to
time the performer threw in a word to elucidate
the situation: "The czar speaks. . ." "The bojar
speaks. . ." "The peasant speaks. . ." "The sigh-
ing of the wind in the Caucasus. . ." " The foam-
ing of the torrent. . ." While Mr. Ellis, who be-
lieved implicitly in the opera, was heard murmuring:
" Splendid ! . . . magnificent ! The opera must be
worked out — it must not remain unperformed !"
" Worked out !" sighed Tulpin with melancholy
irony. " That is no concern of mine. We — we
have the ideas, the working out we leave to — to—
to others, in short. You must remember that I can-
not read a note of music — literally, not a note,"
he repeated with intense and visible satisfaction,
and he flung off a few stumbling arpeggios, while
156 OUR OWN SET.
Mr. Ellis cried: ** Astonishing !" and compared
him with Mendelssohn, which Tulpin, who believed
only in the music of the future, took very much
amiss. A Grand Prix de Musique, from the
French academy of arts at the Villa Medici, who
had been waiting more than an hour to perform
his "Arab symphony," muttered to himself:
^* Good heavens ! leave music to us, and let us be
thankful that we are not great folks !"
At last Lady Julia took pity on her guests and
invited them to go to take tea ; every one was
only too glad to accept, and in a few minutes the
music room was almost empty. Madame Tulpin,
out of devotion, the Grand Prix out of spite, and
Mr. Ellis out of duty were all that remained
within hearing. In the adjoining room every one
had burst into conversation over their tea ; still,
a certain gloom prevailed. Melancholy seemed to
have fallen upon the party like an epidemic, and
the subject that was most eagerly discussed was
the easiest mode of suicide.
Tulpin rattled and thumped on ; suddenly he
stopped — the Jatinskys had come in, and their ad-
vent was such a godsend that even the genius
abandoned the piano in their honor. They all
three were smiling in the most friendly — it might
almost be said the most reassuring manner ; for
OUR OWN SET. 157
Countess Ilsenbergh had not failed to impress
upon them the very mixed character of Roman
society, and, feeling their own superiority, they
were able to cover their self-consciousness with
the most engaging amiability. The two younger
ladies were surrounded — besieged — and the
strange thing was that the women paid them even
greater homage than the men. Everything about
them was admired : their small feet, their finely-
cut profiles, their incredibly slender waists, the
color of their hair, the artistic simplicity of their
dresses — and bets were laid as to whether these
were the production of Fanet or of Worth. But
now there was the little commotion in the next
room that is caused by the arrival of some very
popular person. Zinka, without her mother,
under her brother's escort only, came in and gave
her slim hand with an affectionate greeting to the
lady of the house.
" You are an incorrigible truant, you always
come too late ;" said Lady Julia in loving re-
" Like repentance and the police," said Zinka
merrily ; and then Lady Julia introduced her to
" But you must help me with the tea ; you
know I always reckon on you for that,'* Lady Julia
IS8 OUR OWN SET.
went on. " Give your charming countrywomen
some, will you ?"
Polyxena and Nini were sitting a yard or two
off, surrounded by all the young men of Rome ;
Zinka was going towards them with her winning
grace of manner when Sempaly happened to come
up, and found himself so unexpectedly face to face
with her that he had no alternative but to shake
hands, and he could not avoid saying a few words.
Of course —* like any other man in his place —
he made precisely the most unlucky speech he
could possibly have hit upon :
" We have not met for some time."
She looked him in the face but of half-shut
eyes, with her head slightly thrown back, and re-
plied, with very becoming defiance :
" You have carried out the penance you began
on Ash- Wednesday !"
" Perhaps,*' and he could not help smiling.
She shrugged her shoulders : " I had intended
to break off our friendship," she went on, " but
now that I see the cause of your faithlessness," —
and she glanced at the handsome young coun-
tesses — "I quite understand it. Will you at any
rate do me the favor of introducing me to the
" Fräulein Sterzl — " said Sempaly ; but hardly
OUR OWN SET. 159
had he uttered the words when a scarcely sup-
pressed smile curled Polyxena's lip. Zinka saw
the smile, and she saw too that Sempaly's man-
ner instantly changed ; he put on an artificial ex-
pression of intolerable condescension.
Zinka turned very pale, her eyes flashed indig-
nantly as she hastily returned the young Austri-
ans* bow and at once went back to her post
Sterzl, who was talking to Truyn in a recess and
saw the little scene from a distance, frowned
darkly. Sempaly meanwhile seated himself on a
stool by his cousins and with his back to the tea-
table where Zinka was busying herself
" So this is the far-famed Zinka Sterzl V* ex-
claimed Polyxena: ** She does credit to your
taste, Nicki. But she allows herself to speak to
you in a very extraordinary manner ; it is really
rather too much !" Sempaly made no reply.
" She treats you already as if you were her own
"But Xena," said Nini, trying to moderate
her sister's irony, "at least do not speak so loud."
In a few minutes Mr. Ellis came to announce
that Monsieur B. was about to play his 'Arab
symphony,* and the company moved back into
The evening had other treats in store ; when
l6o OUR OWN SET.
Monsieur B. had done his place was taken by a
young Belgian count who devoted all his spare time
to the composition of funeral marches, who could
also play songs and ballads, such as are usually
confined to the streets of Florence or the cafes
chantants of Paris, arranged for the piano, and
who gave a duet between a cock and hen with
so much feeling and effect that all the audience
applauded heartily, especially the Jatinskys to
whom this style of thing was quite a novelty.
Then Mrs. Ferguson sang her French couplets,
Mr. Ellis played an adagio by Beethoven on the
concertina, and then Zinka was asked to sing.
" What am I to sing ? You know the extent
of my collection," she said with rather forced
brightness to Mr. Ellis.
** Oh ! a Stornello. We beg for a Stornello,*'
said Siegburg following her to the piano — " vieni
tnaggiOy vieni primaverUy' and Lady Julia sec-
onded the request.
Zinka laid her hands on the keys and began.
Her voice sounded through the room a little husky
at first, but very sweet, like the note of a forest
Never before had she sat down to sing with-
out bringing him to her side, even from the re-
motest corner of the room, at the very first notes ;
OUR OWN SET. I6l
and now, involuntarily, she looked up to meet his
gaze — but he was sitting by Polyxena, on a
small sofa, in a very familiar attitude, leaning
back, holding one foot on the other knee, and
laughing at something that she was whispering to
him. Zinka lost her self-command and was sud-
denly paralyzed with self-consciousness. She
could not sing that song before him. Her voice
broke ; she forgot the accompaniment ; felt about
the notes, struck two or three wrong chords and
at length rose with an awkward laugh :
" I cannot remember anything this evening !"
Polyxena had some spiteful comment to make,
of course, and Sempaly grew angry ; he was on
the point of rising to go to Zinka and console her
for her failure, but before he could quite make up
his mind to move, Nini had risen. In spite of her
shyness she made her way straight across the
room to Zinka and said something kind to her.
Sempaly stayed where he was ; but as they were
leaving, he put on Nini's cloak for her, and said
in a low tone : " Nini, you are a good fellow !'*
and he kissed her hand
Sempaly's attentions had made Zinka the fash-
1 62 OUR OWN SET.
ion ; his sudden discontinuance, not merely of at-
tentions, but of any but the barest civilities, of
course, made her the laughing-stock of all their
circle. The capital caricature that Sempaly had
drawn of Sterzl and his sister that evening at the
Vulpinis' was remembered once more ; Madame
de Gandry, to whom Sempaly had been very civil
till he had neglected her for Zinka, showed the
sketch to air her acquaintance, with a plentiful sea-
soning of spiteful insinuations. Every one was
ready to laugh at the "little adventuress" who had
come to Rome to bid for a prince's coronet and
who had been obliged to submit to such condign
The leaders of foreign society vied with each
other in doing honor to the Jatinskys. Madame
de Gandry set the example by giving a party at
which Ristori was engaged to recite ; Sterzl was
of course, invited ; his mother and sister were left
out. It was the first time since Zinka's appearance
at the Ilsenberghs' that she had been omitted
from any entertainment, however select. Many
ladies of the international circle followed Madame
de Gandry's lead, wishing like her to make a
parade before the Austrians of their own exclu-
siveness, and at the same time to be revenged on
Zinka for many a saucy speech she had ventured
OUR OWN SET. 163
to make when she was still one of the initiated —
of the sacred inner circle. The Italian society of
Rome did not of course trouble itself about all
these trumpery subtleties, and behaved to Zinka
with the same superficial politeness as before.
She, for her part, took no more note of their
amenities than she did of the pin-pricks from the
other side. If her feelings had not been so deeply
engaged by Sempaly she would no doubt have
taken all these petty social humiliations very
hardly ; but her anguish of soul had dulled her
shallower feelings. There is a form of suffering
which deadens the senses and which mockery can-
not touch. It was all the same to her whether
she was invited or not — she could not bear- to go
an5rwhere. The idea of meeting Sempaly with
his cousins was as terrible as death itself She was
an altered creature. A shy, scared smile was al-
ways on her Ups, like the ghost of departed joys,
her movements had lost all their elasticity, and
her gait v/2ls more than ever like that of an angel
whose wings have been clipped.
Baroness Sterzl, of course, still drove out
regularly on the Corso, and made the most praise-
worthy attempts to keep up a bowing acquain-
tance with her former friends, and as often as she
could she went out in the evening — alone. There
1 64 OUR OWN SET.
was some consolation too in the proud consctous-
ness of having quarrelled with Madame de Gan-
dry and being on visiting terms with all the
Roman duchesses. The only thing that caused
her any serious discomfort was her sister Wol-
nitzka's persistent and indiscreet catechism as to
the state of affairs between Zinka and Sempaly.
She herself, out of mere idle bragging, had told
Charlotte the first day of her arrival in Rome that
Zinka's engagement was not yet made public.
Her aunt's coarse remarks and hints were fast
driving Zinka crazy when Siegburg fortunately —
perhaps intentionally, out of compassion for her —
so frightened the mother and daughter, one evening
when he met them at the palazetto, by his ac-
count of the Roman fever that they were panic-
stricken, and fled the very next morning to
The member of the family who was most
keenly alive to the change in their social relations,
oddly enough, was Cecil. He had been wont to feel
himself superior to these silly class-jealousies, and at
the same time had a reasonable and manly dignity
of his own that had preserved him from that mor-
bid petulance which sometimes stands in arms
against all friendly advances from men who, after
all, cannot help the fact of their superior birth.
OUR OWN SET. 165
Democratic touchiness is a disease to which, in
the old-world countries where hereditary rank is
still a living fact, every man who is not a toady is
liable — from Werther downwards — when fate
brings him into contact with aristocratic circles.
Sterzl had moved in them so long that he was accli*
matized ; or rather, it had attacked him late in life,
and, as is always the case when grown-up men
take infantine complaints, with aggravated severity.
He attributed all his sister's misery, not to his own
want of caution and Sempaly's weakness of char-
acter, but to the tyranny of social prejudice ; and
he turned against society with vindictive contempt,
making himself perfectly intolerable wherever he
went Being a well-bred man, accustomed all his
life to the graces of politeness, he could not be-
come absolutely ill-mannered — but as ill-man-
nered as he could be he certainly was : assertive,
irritable, always on the defensive, he was constantly
involved in some argument or dispute.
Even at home he was not the same ; his pride
was deeply nettled by Zinka's total inability to
hide her suffering, while he felt it humiliating to be
able to do nothing to comfort her. At first, in the
hope of diverting her thoughts, he would bring
her tickets for concerts or the theatre, and give
her a thousand costly trinkets, old treasures of
1 66 OUR OWN SET.
porcelain, carved ivory, and curiosities of art, such
as she had once loved. She used to rejoice over
these pretty trifles — now she smiled as a sick man
smiles at some dainty he no longer has any appe-
tite for. He could see how sincerely she tried to
be delighted, but the tears were in her eyes all the
This drove Sterzl to desperation. At first he
religiously avoided mentioning Sempaly in her
presence, but as days and weeks passed and she
brought no change in her crushed melancholy, he
waxed impatient. He took it into his head that it
would be well to open Zinka's eyes with regard to
Sempaly. Sterzl himself was energetic, always
looking to the future ; he had it out with his dis-
appointments and got rid of them, however hard he
might have been hit. He had always let things roll
if they would not stand, and then set to work to
begin again. His great point in life was to see
things as they were. Truth was his divinity, and
he could not understand that to a creature consti-
tuted like Zinka, illusion was indispensable ; that
she still laid no blame on Sempaly, but only on the
alteration in his circumstances — on her own un-
worthiness — on anything and everything but
himself; that it was a necessity of her nature to be
able still to love him, even though she knew that
OUR OWN SET. 167
he was lost to her forever. His austere nature
could not enter into Zinka's soft and impressible
So when he took to speaking slightingly or
contemptuously of Sempaly on every possible op-
portunity she never answered him, but listened in
silence, looking at him with frightened, astonished
eyes and a pale face, like a martyr to whom her
tormentors try to prove that there is no God. The
result of Cecil's well-meant but injudicious pro-
ceedings was a temporary coolness between him-
self and his sister — a coolness which, on his part,
lay only on the surface, but which froze her spirit
to its depths, and all this naturally tended to add
fuel to Sterzl's detestation of Sempaly. The two
men were in daily intercourse, and now in a state
of constant friction. Sterzl would make biting
remarks over the smallest negligence or oversight
of which Sempaly might be guilty, and was bitterly
sarcastic as to the incompetence of a young con-
nection of the Sempalys who had not long since
been attached to the embassy.
'*To be sure," he ended by declaring, "in
Austria it is a matter of far greater importance
that an attache should be a man of family than
that he should know how to spell." To such depths
of clumsy rudeness could he descend.
1 68 OUR OWN SET.
Sempaly, without losing his supercilious good
humor, would only smile, or answer in his most
piping tones :
"You are very right; the view we take of
privilege is quite extraordinary. We should form
ourselves on the model of the French corps
diplomatique ; do not you think so ?" For, a few
days previously, the Figaro had published a satiri-
cal article on the presentation of a plebeian repre-
sentative of the republic at some foreign court.
Well, Sempaly might have retorted in a much
haughtier key — but the lighter his irony the more
it exasperated Sterzl.
Countess Jatinska spent almost the whole
of her stay in Rome on her sofa. When she was
asked what she thought of Rome she replied that
she found it very fatiguing ; when the same ques-
tion was put to her daughters they, on the con-
trary, declared themselves enchanted. Sempaly
knew full well that in all Rome there was nothing
they liked better than their ne'er-do-weel cousin.
He displayed for their benefit all his most amia-
ble graces; criticised or admired their dresses,
touched up their coiffure with his own light hand,
faithfully reported to them all their conquests, and
made them presents of cigarettes and of trinkets
When there was nothing else to be done he
was ready to attend them — of course, under the
charge of some older lady — to see galleries and
churches, Polyxena had a way, that was highly
char actef istJC, of rushing past the greatest works
with her nose in the air and laughing as she re-
peated some imbecile remark that she had over-
heard, or pointed out some eccentricity of tourist
170 OUR OWN SET.
costume. Nini took art more seriously, looked
carefully at everything by the catalogue, and even
kept a diary. Xena was commonly thought the
handsomer and the more brilliant of the sisters,,
and Sempaly apparently devoted himself chiefly to
her, but he decidedly liked Nini best. The hours
that he did not spend with his cousins he passed
at the club, where he gambled away large sums.
Meanwhile, he was looking very ill and complained
of a return of old Roman fever.
And what did the world say to his behavior ?
The phlegmatic Italians did not trouble themselves
about the matter ; Madame de Gandry and Mrs.
Ferguson laughed over it ; Siegburg pronounced it
disgraceful, and Ilsenbergh called it bad taste to
say the least. That he ought to have arranged to
leave Rome everybody agreed. Princess Vulpini
held long and lamentable conferences with Gen-
eral von Klinger — reproaching herself bitterly for
not having seen the position of affairs long ago —
but she had never attached any importance to
Sempaly's marked attentions, having had no eyes
for anything but Siegburg's devotion to Zinka, and
she had taken a quite motherly interest in what
she regarded as a good match for both.
Truyn was perfectly furious with Sempaly. All
that he was to Zinka during these weeks can only
OUR OWN SET. 171
be divined by those who have passed through such
a time of grief and humiliation, with the conscious-
ness of having a high-souled and tender friend in
the back-ground. He was the only person who
never aggravated her wound. He had the gentle
touch, the delicate skill, which the best man or
woman can only acquire through the ordeal of an
aching heart. He came every afternoon with his
little girl to take Zinka for a walk, for he knew
that the regular drive on the Corso could only
bring her added pain; and while the baroness,
with outspread skirts, drove in the wake of fashion
up to the Villa Borghese and the Pincio, these
three — with the general, not unfrequently, for a
fourth — would wander through silent and deserted
cloisters or take long walks across the Campagna.
Not once did Truyn bring a secret tear to her eye;
if some accidental remark or association brought
the hot color to her thin cheek he could always
turn the subject so as to spare her.
One sultry afternoon, late in spring, Truyn and
his two daughters — as he was wont to call Zinka
and Gabrielle — with the soldier-artist were saun-
tering home, after a long walk, through the som-
bre and picturesque streets that surround the
Pantheon. The neighborhood is humble and
wretched, but over a garden wall rose a mulberry
1/2 OUR OWN SET.
tree in whose green branches a blackbird was
singing, and a few red geraniums blazed behind
rusty window-bars, bright specks in the monoto-
nous brown ; above the roofs bent the deep blue
sky; the air was heavy and hot, and full of obscure
smells of gutters and stale vegetables. Somewhere,
in an upstairs room, a woman sang a love-song of
melancholy longing. Suddenly the blackbird and
the woman ceased singing at the same time ; a dis-
mal howl and groan echoed through the street,
and a mass of black shadows darkened the scene.
Zinka, who had lately become excessively nervous,
started and shuddered.
**Itis nothing — only a funeral," Truyn ex-
plained, taking off his hat.
That was all — a Roman funeral, grim but pic-
turesque — a long procession of mysteriously-
shrouded figures, only able to see through two slits
in the sack- like cowls that covered their heads,
ropes round their waists, and torches or mystical
banners in their hands — banners with the em-
blems of death. These were followed by a troop
of barefooted friars, and last came the bier covered
with a bright yellow pall, carried by four more of
the shrouded figures, who bent under its weight
as they shuffled along. The ruddy flare and the
black smoke wreaths, the groan-like chant, the
OUR OWN SET. 173
uncanny glitter of the men's eyes out of the form-
less hoods — ghastly, ghostly, and exhaling • a
savor of mouldiness and incense, like the resur-
rection of a fragment of the middle ages — the
procession defiled through the narrow street.
Zinka, half-fainting, clung to Truyn; Gabrielle,
whose childish nerves were less shocked, watched
them with intense curiosity and began to question
a woman who stood near her in the crowd that
had collected, in her fluent, bungling Italian :
" Who is it they are burying ?" she asked at
" A woman," was the answer.
** Was she young ?"
" And what did she die of? of fever ?"
" No," said the Roman shrugging her shoul-
ders ; and then she added, in the slow musical
drawl of the Roman peasant :
" Di passioned*
The procession had passed, the chanting had
died away ; the blackbird was singing lustily once
more ; they went on their way — Truyn first,
with Zinka hanging wearily on to his arm, behind
them Gabrielle and the general.
'*Passione/ is that a Roman illness?" she
asked with her insatiable inquisitiveness.
174 OUR OWN SET.
" No, it occurs in most parts of the world,*'
said the general drily.
"But only among poor people, I suppose?'*
said the child.
" No, it is known to the better classes too, but
it is not called by the same name,** said the old
man with some bitterness, more to himself than to
" Then it is wrong — a shameful thing to die
of?** she asked with wide, astonished eyes.
Suddenly the general perceived that Zinka
was listening ; her head drooped as she heard the
child*s heedless catechism. He, under the cir-
cumstances, would have felt paralyzed — he would
not have known what to say to the poor crushed
soul ; but not so Truyn. He turned to his com-
panion and said something in a low tone. What,
the general could not hear, but it must have been
something kind and helpful — something which,
without any direct reference to the past, conveyed
his unalterable respect and regard, for she
answered him almost brightly. Then he went on
talking of trifles, remembering little incidents of
his boyhood, characteristic anecdotes of his
parents, and such small matters as may divert a
sick and weary spirit, till, when they parted at
the door of the palazetto, Zinka was smiling.
OUR OWN SET. 175
" That he has the brains of a genius I will not
say, but he has genius of heart, I dare swear !"
thought the soldier.
Truyn had gone out riding with her two or
three times across the Campagna, and she had en-
joyed it ; but one day they met Sempaly, gallop-
ing with his two handsome cousins over the
anemone-strewn sward. From that day she made
excuses for avoiding the Campagna — as though
she thus avoided the chance, almost the certainty,
of meeting him and them. Why then did she re-
main in Rome at all ? Sterzl would not hear of
her quitting it, because he thought that the world
of Rome would regard it as a flight after defeat.
His mother too, on different grounds, set her face
against any such abridgment of their stay in
Rome. Had she not taken the palazetto till the
fifteenth of May ?
And did Zinka, in fact, wish to go ? She often
spoke of longing to be at home again, but when-
ever their departure was seriously discussed it
gave her a shock. She dreaded meeting him —
and longed for it all the same. And in the even-
ing when a few old friends dropped in to call —
Truyn every evening and Siegburg very fre-
quently — Truyn noticed that every time there
was a ring she sat with her eyes fixed in eager
176 OUR OWN SET.
expectation on the door. She still cherished a
sort of hope — a broken, moribund hope that
was in fact no more than unrest — the vitality of
Passion- WEEK in Rome, and in all the glory
and glow of an Italian spring. The glinting radi-
ance brightens even the mystical gloom of St.
Peter's, sparkles for an instant on the holy-water
in the basins, wanders from the heads of the gigan-
tic cherubs and the colossal statues down to the
inlaid pavement, with the cold sheen of sunlight
on polished marble. The hours glide on — the
long solemn hours of Holy-Thursday in Rome ;
the last gleam of daylight has faded away, the
vast cathedral is filled with almost palpable
twilight and its magnificence seems shrouded in a
transparent veil of crape. The stone walls look
dim and distant, the fane seems built of shadows,
and sacred mystery falls as it were from heaven,
deeper and more solemn as the minutes slip by,
to sanctify the spot.
In the papal chapel Zinka is kneeling with
178 OUR OWN SET.
Truyn and Gabrielle, her eyes fixed on her hands
which are convulsively clasped, and praying with
the passion of a youthful nature whose yearning
has found no foothold on earth and seeks a home
in heaven. On both sides sit the prelates and
dignitaries of the church in their carved stalls, in-
quisitive and prayerless foreigners crowd at their
feet. The tragedy of the passion is being recited
in a monotonous, inconclusive chant that dies
away in the dim corners of the chapel.
The last of the twelve tapers on the altar is
extinguished. . . ** Miserere met'' the choristers cry
with terrible emphasis ; and then, awful but most
sweet, beginning as a mere breath and rising to
a mighty wail of grief, comes a voice like the
utterance of the anguish of the God of Love over
the misery from which He can never release man-
kind. And before the majesty of that divine and
selfless sorrow human sorrow bows in silence.
Zinka bends her head. — It is ended, the last
sound has died away in a sob, the crowd rises to
follow the procession which, with a cardinal at the
head, wends its way through the church.
Truyn and the two girls quit the chapel ;
behind them the steps of the priests and choristers,
drowned in their own echoes, sound like the rust-
ling of angelic wings ; the brooding, melancholy
OUR OWN SET. 179
peacefulness has lulled Zinka's heart to rest ; for
the first time for many weeks she has forgot-
ten. . .
" Most interesting, but the bass was hoarse !"
It was Polyxena Jatinsky who pronounced this
summary criticism of the solemn ceremonial, close
to Zinka. Zinka looked round ; Sempaly with
his aunt and cousins were at her side. They had
attended the service in reserved places in the
choir. Involuntarily yielding to an impulse of
pain Zinka pressed forward, but Gabrielle had
flown to join them ; then she was obliged to stay
and talk. The Jatinskys were perfectly friendly,
Polyxena giving her her hand — Sempaly alone
held aloof On going out the air struck' chill,
almost cold, on Zinka'* face and she shivered. A
well-known voice close behind her said rather
'* You are too lightly dressed and there is fever
in the air. Put this round you," and Sempaly
threw over her shoulders a scarf that he was carry-
ing for one of the ladies.
" Thank you, I am not cold ; these ladies will
want the scarf," said Zinka hastily and repellently.
Polyxena said nothing ; perhaps she may have
thought it strange that in his anxiety for this little
stranger, her cousin should forget to consider that
l8o OUR OWN SET,
one of them might take cold. But Nini ex-
claimed : '* No, no, Fräulein Sterzl : we are well
At this juncture Truyn's servant, who had
been seeking them among the crowd, told them
where the carriage was waiting.
While Zinka, wrapped in Nini's China-crape
shawl, is borne along between the splashing
fountains, across the bridge of St. Angelo, and
through the empty, ill-lighted streets to the pala-
zetto, all her pulses are dancing and throbbing —
and the stars in the sky overhead seem un-
naturally bright. It is the resurrection of her pain
and with it of the lovely mocking vision of the
joys she has lost. Good God ! how vividly she
remembers them all — how keenly ! — the long
dreamy afternoons on the Palatine, the delicious
hours in the Corsini garden — under the plane-
trees by the fountain, where he talked about Erz-
burg while the perfume of violets and lilies fanned
her with their intoxicating breath ; the sound of
his voice — the touch of his light, thin hand, his
smile — his way of saying particular words, of
looking at her in particular moments . . .
She is walking with him once more in the Vati-
can, in rapt enjoyment of the beauty of the statues ;
the Belvedere fountain trickled and splashed in
OUR OWN SET. l8l
dreamy monotony ; golden sunbeams fleck the
pavement like footmarks left by the Gods before
they mounted their pedestals ; there is a myste-
rious rustle and whisper in the lofty corridors as of
far, far distant ghostly voices, — and then, sud-
denly, she is in front of Sant' Onofrio's ; the air
is thick with a pale mist. At her feet, veiled in
the thin haze, indistinct and mirage-like, the very
ghost of departed splendor, lies Rome — the vast
reliquary of the world ; Rome, on whose monu-
ments and ruins every conceivable crime and
every imaginable virtue have set their stamp;
where the tragedies of antiquity cry out to the
Sacrifice on Calvary.
They had stood together a long time looking
down on it ; then she had lost a little bunch of
violets which she had been wearing and as she
turned round to seek them she had perceived that
he had picked them up and was holding them to
his lips. Their eyes had met. . . .
Yes ! he had loved her ! he loved her still —
he must — she knew it. She told herself that,
impulsive and excitable as he was, the merest
trifle would suffice to bring him back to her ; but
whether it was worth while to long so desperately
for a man who could be turned by the slightest
breath — that she did not ask herself
1 82 OUR OWN SET.
And through all the torturing whirl of these
memories, above the clatter of the horses' hoofs
and the rattle of the wheels over the wretched
pavement, she heard the cry *' miserere mei^ But
her thoughts turned no more to the God sacrificed
for Man — the strongest angels* wings cannot bear
us quite to heaven so long as our heart dwells on
" Good-night," she said, kissing Gabrielle as
the carriage drew up at the door of the palazetto.
" Will you let me have Nini's scarf for Gabri-
elle ?" said Truyn. " I am afraid my little com-
panion may catch cold."
" Oh ! of course," cried Zinka, and she wrap-
ped the child carefully in the shawl and kissed her
again ; " when shall I learn to think of anyone
but myself?" she added vexed with herself
Easter- Monday. All the bells in the churches
of Rome are once more wagging their brazen
tongues after their week of dumb mourning, and
images of the Resurrection in every conceivable
form — sugar, wax, soap — decorate all the shop
Baroness Wolnitzka had returned fresher.
OUR OWN SET. 183
gayer and more enterprising than ever from her
visit to Naples, where she not only had had herself
photographed in a lyric attitude leaning on a pil-
lar in the ruins of Pompeii, but, in spite of her
huge size which was very much against her taking
such excursions, she had with the help of two
guides and a remarkably vigorous mule, reached
the top of Vesuvius. Thanks, too, to a cardinal's
nephew with whom she had scraped acquaintance
on her journey, with a view to making him useful,
she had succeeded in obtaining — not indeed a
private audience of the pope — but leave to at-
tend a private mass — and receive the communion,
in company with three hundred other orthodox
souls, from his sacred hand.
This morning she had been to the palazetto to
take leave of her sister — to ask once more after
Sempaly — to give a full and particular account of
the service at the Vatican — and to deliver a dis-
course on the philosophical value of the mass.
Slawa, whose orthodoxy had been fanned to
bigotry, and who on Easter eve had duly climbed
the sania scala on her knees, had supplemented
her mother's narrative with a variety of interesting
" It was most exclusive, quite our own set, and
few families of the Polish colony — I wore my
1 84 OUR OWN SET.
black satin dress beaded with jet and I heard a
gentleman behind me say : ' That is the only-
woman whose veil is put on with any taste.' "
Sterzl had kept out of the way during their
visit ; Zinka had smiled amiably but had not at-
tended : Baroness Clotilde had plied her sister
with questions. Then the Wolnitzkas had left to
go to the consecration of a bishop — also by in-
vitation from the cardinal's nephew — the ladies
were to be admitted to the sacristy and be pre-
sented with flowers and refreshments.
It was about six o'clock in the evening when
General von Klinger was shown into the drawing-
room of the palazetto. The room was not so
pretty as it used to be ; the furniture was all set
out squarely against the walls by the symmet-
rical taste of the servants, and the flower vases
that were always so gracefully arranged now never
held anything but bunches of magnolias or
violets ; Zinka no longer cared to arrange them.
'* I am so glad you happen to have come to-
day," she cried as he came in. The brilliancy of
her eyes and the redness of her lips showed that
she was already suffering from that terrible spring
fever which makes havoc with young creatures in
the warm days of April and May. She was sit-
ting by her brother on a low red sofa, as she had
OUR OWN SET. I8S
SO often sat with Sempaly; the baroness was
lounging in an arm-chair fanning herself; there
was a sort of triumphant solemnity in her manner.
Even Cecil, too, was evidently in some excitement
though his air was just as frank and natural as
" Good evening, general, what hot, trying
weather !" drawled the baroness. " It is an ex-
traordinary event to find us all at home together
at this hour but we all have a sacred horror of the
mob in the streets on a holiday afternoon.
"Oh, mamma!*' interrupted Zinka, *'it is not
only the crowd — we wanted to enjoy our good
fortune together; did not we, Cecil?"
He nodded and stroked her hair. " Yes, little
" Only think. Uncle Klinger — you knew, of
course, that Cecil's book on Persia had attracted
a great deal of attention — but that is not all. He
has been appointed Charge d'affaires at Constan-
The general offered his congratulations and
shook hands warmly with the young man.
" I could wish for nothing more exactly to my
mind," said Cecil. "There is always something
to do there ; a man always has a chance of mak-
ing his mark and getting on." He was sincerely
1 86 OUR OWN SET.
and frankly satisfied and affected no indifference to
the distinction he had earned.
" In five years we shall see you ambassador/^
exclaimed the general, with the happy exaggera-
tion that is irresistible on such occasions;
" We do not go quite so fast as that," laughed
Sterzl. " However, I hope to rise in due time.
Will not you be proud of me, Butterfly, when I am
'your excellency !' "
" I am proud of you already," said Zinka, ** and
you know how vain I am, and how much I value
It was the first time for some weeks that the
general had seen the two so happy together and
it rejoiced his heart.
"And the climate is good," Sterzl went on,
" one of the best in Europe ; the foreign colony is
friendly and pleasant. You will enjoy studying
oriental manners from a bird's-eye view, Zini ; and
the change of air will do you good ?"
" You will take me too ?" she said turning pale.
" Why, of course. The bay pf Constantinople
is lovely and we can often sail out on it ; then, in
the autumn, if I have time, we will make an ex-
cursion in Greece. You will be quite a travelled
person." He put his finger under her chin and
looked with tender anxiety into her thin face ; .
OUR OWN SET. 187
every trace of color had suddenly faded from it,
and the light that her brother's success had
kindled in her eyes had died out.
"It will be very nice — '* she said wearily;
" delightful — thank you, Cecil — you are always
so kind. . . when are we to start ?"
" You might get off in about a week ; the sea-
voyage will not over-tire you, and you can stop
to rest at Athens. In the hot season we can go
up to the hills — "then suddenly he glanced
sharply in her face and his whole expression
changed ; he added roughly, with a scowl: "but
you need not come unless you like — stay here if
you choose — I do not want to force you."
At this instant the maid appeared to announce
the arrival of a case from the railway.
"The new ball-dresses !" cried the baroness in
great excitement. " I am thankful they have come
in time. I was quite in despair for fear I should
not have my new gown in time for the ball at the
Brancaleone's. It would have seemed so uncour-
teous to the princess. . . Now let us see what
Fanet has hit upon that is new. . . " And she
rustled out of the room.
Zinka sat still, with a frozen smile, looking like
a criminal to whom the day of execution had just
been announced, and uneasily twisting her fingers-
1 88 OUR OWN SET.
" Of course, I like it, Cecil . . . how can you
think . . , and on Wednesday week we can start —
Wednesday will be best . . . now I must go and see
what my new dress is like ... do not laugh at me
uncle ; I must make myself look as nice as I can
for my last appearance." And she hurried off; but
on her way she stumbled against a table and a
book fell to the ground. She stopped, picked the
book up, turned over the leaves and laid it down ;
then, as if she wished to make up to her brother
for some unkindness, she went back to Cecil and
put her hand on his shoulder.
" I do really thank you very much," she said,
*^ and I am glad — really and truly glad, and very
proud of you. . . "
He looked up in her face and their eyes met —
his lips quivered with rage — the rage of a lofty,
generous, and masterful nature at finding itself in-
capable of making a woman dear to it happy.
Zinka shrank into herself ** My ball-dress !"
she faintly exclaimed, and she slipped out of the
For a few minutes the two men were silent.
Presently the general spoke :
" Zinka is going to the Brancaleones' to-mor-
'* Yes," replied Sterzl ; "at least, she has prom-
OUR OWN SET. 189
ised to go. Whether she will change her mind at
the last moment and stay at home, of course I
'* But she really seems to care about it this
time," said the general. '* At least she took an
interest in her dress."
** Her dress ! . . . she did not even know what
she was talking about. She fled that we might
not see her tears. . . " Sterzl broke out, losing all
his self-control. Then he looked sternly at his
friend as though he thought he had betrayed a
secret But the old man's sad face reassured
him. " It is of no use to try to act before you," he
went on ; "you are not blind — you must see how
wretched she is — it is all over, general, she is
utterly broken. . ." He started to his feet and after
pacing the room two or three times stood still and
with a helpless wave of the hands and a desperate
shrug, he exclaimed : " There is nothing to be
done — nothing !" Then he sat down again and
buried his face in his hands.
Von Klinger cleared his throat, paused for a
word and could find nothing better to say than :
" In time — things will mend ; you must have
" Patience !" echoed Sterzl with an indescrib-
able accent. '* Patience ! — yes, if I could only
190 OUR OWN SET.
hope that things would mend. At first it pro-
voked me that she should let everybody see...
know ... I thought she might have more
spirit and self-command. But now. — Good
heavens ! she does all she can and it is killing
her. . .that is not her fault. If only she were re-
sentful — but she never complains ; she is always
content with everything, she never even contra-
dicts my mother now. And then, what is worst
of all, I hear her at night — her room is over
mine — walking up and down, very softly as if
she were afraid of waking anyone — up and down
for hours ; and often I hear her sobbing — she
never sheds a tear by day ! . . ." he sighed. "And
then — if it were for a man who was worth it all !"
he went on. " But that blue-eyed, boneless, good-
for-nothing simpleton ! . . . I ought never to have
allowed her to step out of her own sphere — I
ought never to have allowed them to become inti-
mate ! I knew he was not worthy of her, even
when, as I believed — but you will laugh at my
simplicity perhaps — he condescended to be in
earnest. — You cannot imagine what it is now to
have to meet him every day, — to hear him ask
every day : ' how are you all at home ?* — I feel
ready to choke ... I could crush him under foot
like a worm ! . . . and I am bound to be civil.
OUR OWN SET. 191
I may not even tell him that he has insulted
The baroness here came back.
" Lovely !" she exclaimed, with her affected
giggle, " quite perfect ! Zinka has never had a
dress that suited her so well."
" That is well !" said Sterzl vaguely, " where is
"She is gone to lie down; she has a bad head-
ache," minced the baroness. " The young girls of
the present day have no stamina. Why, at her
age I. . . ."
The general was not in the mood to listen to her
sentimental reminiscences and he took his leave.
In the hall he once more wrung Cecil's hand :
^' Fortune has favored you," he said ; " you have
a splendid career before you, and in her new and
pleasant home Zinka will forget. — I congratulate
you on your new start in life."
Aye — his new start in life !
The Brancaleone Palace, on the slope of the
Quirinal, is one of the finest in Rome, and particu-
larly famous for its gardens, laid out in terraces
down the side of the hill, with the lower rooms
of the palazzo opening on to the uppermost level.
The dancing was in a large, almost square, room
adjoining a long vaulted corridor full of old pictures
relieved here and there by the cold severity of an
antique marble statue. It was lighted by marvellous
chandeliers of Venetian glass that hung from the
ceiling. At the end of the corridor two steps led
down into an anteroom, dividing it from a smaller
sanctuary where the gems of the Brancaleone col-
lection were displayed — mixed up, unfortunately,
with several modern monstrosities — and from this
room a door opened into the garden.
Zinka arrived late. A transient and feverish
expectancy lent her pinched features the brilliancy
they had lost while her timid reserve gave her
even more charm than her former innocent self-
confidence, and her dress was certainly wonderfully
becoming. Nor had she lost all her old popular-
OUR OWN SET. 193
ity, for she was soon surrounded by a little crowd
of Roman ' swells ; ' one or two even of the
Jatinskas' admirers deserted to Zinka.
Truyn was not present ; the cold his little girl
had caught at St. Peter's had developed into a
serious illness, and he could not leave her.
Zinka, with her gliding grace, her small head
held a little high, and her softened glance, was
still pretty to watch as she danced, and attracted
general attention. The music, the splendor of the
entertainment, the consciousness of looking well
put her into unwonted spirits. She sent a search-
ing glance round the room — no, he was not there.
Sterzl stood talking with the general, delighted
with her little triumph and charming appearance ;
then he was congratulated by several men of dis-
tinction on his recent promotion. He thanked
them with characteristic simplicity and sincerity —
the evening was a success for him too. Not long
after midnight he left to attend to pressing busi-
ness — matters were in a very unsettled state —
and went to the embassy.
Within a short time Sempaly came in. He
had spent the previous night, as was very generally
known, at cards — this was a new form of dissi*
pation for him — he had lost a great deal of money,
and he looked worn and out of spirits. He did
194 OUR OWN SET.
not care for' dancing and came so late to ask his
handsome cousins for the cotillon that they were
both engaged — a, result to' which he was so mani-
festly indifferent that Nini actually wiped away a
secret tear. He was now standing with his fingers
in his waistcoat pockets and his glass in his eye,
exchanging impertinent comments with a number
of other young men, on the figure of this woman
or that girl, and trying to imagine himself in the
position of the fabulous savage who found himself
for the first time in a civilized ball-room.
Suddenly he was silent — something had ar-
rested his attention.
The band was playing a waltz at that time
very popular : " Stringi mi,** by Tosti. The room
was very hot ; it was the moment when the curls
of the young ladies begin to straighten, and their
movements — at first a little prim — begin to gain
in freedom ; when there is an electrical tension in
the air suggestive of possible storms and the most
indifferent looker-on is aware of an obscure ex-
citement. Crespigny and Zinka spun past him —
Zinka pale and cool in the midst of the emotional
stir around her. She was not living in the present
— she was in a dream. Suddenly Crespigny, who
was not a good dancer, stumbled against another
couple, caught his foot in a lady's train and fell
OUR OWN SET. 195
with his partner. Sempaly pushed his way
through the dancers with blind force and was the
first to help Zinka to her feet. Without thinking
for a moment of the hundred eyes that were fixed
upon him he leaned over the young girl — ^her power
over him had risen from the dead. She, bewildered
by her fall, did not perhaps at first see who it
was that had helped her to rise ; she clung to his
arm with half-shut eyes ; then, as he whispered a
few sympathizing words, she looked up, started,
colored, and shrank from him.
" A very unpleasant accident,** said some of
Sempaly had taken possession of Zinka's
slender hand and drew it with gentle insistence
through his arm ; then he led her out of the heated
ball-room into the adjoining gallery.
The accident for which she had besieged
Heaven with prayers had happened — the accident
which threw him once more in her way. His old
passion was awake again ; she saw it — she could
read it in his eyes. She summoned up all her
self-command to conceal her happiness — not so
much out of deliberate calculation as from genu-
196 OUR OWN SET.
ine timidity and womanly pride. He talked —
saying all sorts of eager, sympathetic things —
she asked only the coldest and simplest questions.
He had fetched her a wrap and with the white
shawl thrown around her he led her from one
room to another among the fan-palms and creamy
yellow statues. Now and then she spoke to some
acquaintance whom they met wandering like
themselves, but these were fewer and fewer. The
supper-room was thrown open and every one was
gone to the buffet.
Zinka's coldness, for which he was not at all
prepared, provoked Sempaly greatly. He felt with
sudden conviction that there could be no joy on
earth to compare with that of once holding her in
his arms and kissing her — devouring her with
kisses. This image took entire possession of him
and beyond the possible fulfilment of that dream
he did not look. That joy must be his at any cost>
if the whole world were to crumble at his feet.
"Zinka," he said in a low tone, "Zinka —
Lent is over — Easter is come."
" Yes ? what do you mean ?*' she said coldly^
** I mean," he said, and he looked her straight
in the face, ** that I have fasted and that now I will
feast, and be happy."
OUR OWN SET. 197
They were in a small room — a sort of raised
recess divided from the ball-room by a row of
pillars ; they were alone.
A joy so acute as to be almost pain came over
Zinka. It blinded and stunned her ; she did not
speak, she did not smile, she did not even look
up at him ; she could not have stirred even if she
had wished it — she was paralyzed. He thought
she would not hear him.
** Zinka," he urged, " can you not forgive me
for having jingled the fool's cap for six weeks till
I could not hear the music of the spheres ? Can
you not forgive me — for the sake of the misery I
have endured ? I can bear it no longer — I con-
fess and yield unconditionally — I cannot live
without you. ..."
Zinka was not strong enough to bear such
emotion ; the terrible tension to which for the last
quarter of an hour her pride had compelled her
gave way ; she tottered, put out her hands, and
was falling. He put his arm round her and with
the other hand pushed open a glass door that led
into the garden.
** Come out, the air will do you good," he said
scarcely audibly, and they went out on to the de-
serted terrace. His arm clasped her more closely
and drew her to him. Involuntarily he waited till
198 OUR OWN SET.
she should make some effort to free herself from
his hold; but she was quite passive; she only-
raised a tear-bedewed face with a blissful gaze into
his eyes, and whispered : " I ought not to forgive
you so easily. . .*' and then, with no more distrust
or fear than a child clinging to its mother, she let
her head fall on his shoulder and sobbed for hap-
piness. A strange reverence came over him ; the
sound of some church bell came up from the city.
He kissed her with solemn tenderness on the fore-
head and only said :
" My darling, my sacred treasure !" She was
When the general came out of the card-room
to look once more at the dancers before he with-
drew, the cotillon, with its fanciful figures and
lavish distribution of ribbons and flowers, was
" What a cruel idea !" he heard in a lamentable
voice from one of a row of chaperons, " to give
a ball in such heat as this !"
It was the baroness, who was searching all
round the room with her eye-glass and a very sour
and puckered expression of face. Siegburg, who,
as the general knew, was to have danced the
cotillon with Zinka, was sitting out; when von
Klinger asked him the reason he answered very
OUR OWN SET. • T99
calmly, that " he believed Zinka had felt tired and
had gone home/' But the way in which he said
it roused the old man's suspicions that he put for-
ward this hypothesis to prevent any further search
being made for Zinka. He had seen her last in
the corridor with Sempaly, and he hurried off to
find her. He sought in vain in all the nooks
hidden by the plants ; in vain in the recesses be-
hind the pillars — but the door to the garden was
open. This filled him with apprehension — he
went out, sure that he must be following them.
The air was oppressively sultry and damp ; it
crushed him with a sense of hopeless anxiety.
The scirocco had cast its baleful spell over Rome.
Northerners who have never been in Rome
have no idea of the nature of the scirocco ; they
suppose it to be a storm of hot wind. No .... it is
when the air is still and damp, when it distils but
does not waft a heavy perfume that the scirocco
diffuses its poison: a subtle influence compounded
of the scent of flowers that it forces into life only
to destroy them — of the mists from the Tiber
whose yellow flood — like mud mixed with gold,
which rolls over the corpses and treasure that lie
buried in its depths — of the exhalations from the
graves, and the perennial incense from all the
churches of Rome. The scirocco cheats the soul
200 OUR OWN SET.
with delusive fancies and fills the heart with gloom
and oppression ; it inspires the imagination with
dreams of splendid achievement and stretches the
limbs on a couch in languor and exhaustion. It
penetrates even the cool seclusion of the cloister
and breathes on the pale cheek of the young nun
who is struggling for devout aspiration, reminding
her of long forgotten dreams.
All that is melancholy, all that is cruel and
wicked in Rome — much, too, that is beautiful —
is engendered by the scirocco. It is creative of
glorious conceptions and of hideous deeds. One
feels inclined to fancy that on the day when Caesar
fell under the dagger of Brutus Scirocco and Tra-
montane fought their last fight for the mastery
of Rome — and Scirocco won the day.
A dense grey cloud hung over the city and
veiled the sinking moon. A cascade that tumbled
from basin to basin, down the terraced slope of
the Quirinal, plashed weirdly in the deep twilight
of the earliest dawn, which was just beginning
shyly to vie with the dying moon. Light and
shade had ceased to exist ; the whole scene pre-
sented the dim, smudged effect of a rubbed char-
The general sent a peering glance through the
laurel-hedged alleys that led down the hill.
OUR OWN SET. 20 1
Above the clipped evergreens, rose huge ilexes,
wreathed to the very top with ivy and climbing
roses. Here and there something white gleamed
dimly in the grey — he rushed to meet it — it was
a statue or a white blossomed shrub. Roses and
magnolias opened their blossoms to the solitude,
and the scent of orange-flowers filled the heavy
air, stronger than all the other perfumes of the
morning. Now and then, like a faint sigh, a
shiver ran through the leaves — the fall of a dying
The old man held his breath to listen; he
called : " Zinka — Sempaly !" No answer.
Suddenly he heard low voices in a path known
as the alley of the Sarcophagus and thither he
bent his steps. The sullen light fell through a
gap in the leafy wall on Sempaly and Zinka,
seated on a bench, hand in hand, and talking
familiarly, forgetful of all the world besides.
Zinka was the first to see him ; she was not in
the least disconcerted.
"Oh! Uncle Klinger!" she exclaimed. "Mam-
ma is waiting for me, I dare say ! — but do not
scold m6, I entreat you — ."
Thank God for those happy innocent eyes that
looked so frankly into his ! — On purity like hers
202 OUR OWN SET.
Scirocco could have no power! No — he could
not be angry with her. — But he I
"Sempaly!" cried the old man indignantly:
" What possesses you ?"
*'I have at length made up my mind to be
happy," said Sempaly with feeling, and he raised
Zinka's hand to his lips. "That is all."
"And I ought not to have forgiven him so
easily — ought I ?" murmured Zinka, quailing at
the general's stern frown, and her head drooped.
" Zinka has been missed, you know how
spiteful people are !" exclaimed von Klinger
angrily, ignoring the sentimentality of the situ-
ation. Sempaly interrupted him with vehement
" What I should like to do," he said half to
himself,. " is to go straight back to the ball-room,
and tell my most intimate friends at once of our
engagement !" But even as he spoke he recon-
sidered the matter ; " but I cannot," he went on,
"unfortunately I cannot. I must even entreat
you, Zinka, to keep it a secret even from your own
" Come, at once, with me," said the general
drily, " my carriage is waiting in the Piazza. If I
am not mistaken there is a little gate here which
leads on to it. . . Yes, here it is. I will tell your
OUR OWN SET. 203
mother, so that others shall hear it, that you felt
ill and left before the cotillon began and that Lady
Julia took you home."
When Zinka was safely on her way to the pala-
zetto in charge of the general's trusty old coach«
man, the two men looked each other in the face.
" Outrageous !" growled the general furiously.
Sempaly turned upon him quickly :
" Think what you will of me," he said, " but do
not let the shadow of a suspicion rest on Zinka.
You know that if you hold up a cross to the devil
himself, his power is quelled."
Without answering a word the general hurried
past Sempaly and straight into the ball-room ; but
he found time to lock behind him the alcove door
leading into the garden. In the ball-room he
was met by the baroness who anxiously asked
" Where is Zinka ? have you seen Zinka ?"
" Zinka felt shaken and upset by her fall —
she went away a long time since, with Lady Julia
who took her home."
He spoke very distinctly and in French, so
that several persons who were standing near might
hear him. " She might have let me know," ex-
claimed the baroness peevishly.
" We looked for you, but could nowhere find
204 OUR OWN SET.
you," said the general. Never in his life before
had he told a lie.
At some unearthly hour next morning he
called on Lady Julia to confide to her the mystery
of the night's adventure, that she might not con-
tradict his story; as he had actually put Zinka into
her carriage there seemed to be no other danger.
Though she disliked the falsehood as much as he
did, she was quite ready to confirm the fiction ; at
the same time she could not help saying again and
" Poor little thing ! I hope it may all come
** Dearest Zinka, my own sweet littie love,
" My brother arrived in Rome last night ; he is
on his way to Australia and I am thankful to say
stays only a few days. So long as he is here I
must make every sacrifice and hardly see you at
all, for he must know nothing of our engagement.
Now, shall I tell you the real sordid reason why I
cannot speak to him of my happiness ? — during
these last few miserable weeks, simply and solely
to kill the time, I have gambled and have always
been unlucky, and I have got deeply into debt.
My brother will pay, as he always has done, so
long as the conditions remain unchanged. But. . .
however, it is not a matter to write about. Believe
this much only : that his narrow views can never
affect my feelings towards you ; 'though I may
seem to yield, for I think it useless to provoke his
antagonism. As soon as he has sailed there will
be nothing in the way of our engagement and we
will be married immediately. To an accomplished
fact he must surrender. If I possibly can, I will
see you this evening at the palazetto — just to
206 OUR OWN SET.
have one kiss and a loving word. Till then I can
only implore you to keep this absolutely secret.
" Your perfectly devoted
This was the note that Zinka received the
morning after the ball, as she was breakfasting
alone in her own room, rather later than usual,
but with a convalescent appetite. The color
mounted to her cheeks, and her eyes flashed in-
dignantly. Coldness and neglect she had borne —
but the meanness and weakness — the moral
cowardice — that this note betrayed, degraded
him in her eyes till she almost scorned him. She
felt as though a sudden glar^ had shown her the
real Sempaly — as though the man she loved was
not he, but some one else. The man she had
loved was a lofty young god who had chosen to
descend from his high estate to break the heart of
an insignificant girl who ought to have thought
herself happy only to have gazed upon him ; but
this was a boneless, nerveless mortal, who could
stoop to petty subterfuge for fear of having to face
the wrath of his brother.
She was furious ; all the pride that had been
crushed into silence by her dejection was roused
to arms. She went to her desk and wrote as fol-
OUR OWN SET. 207
" I am prepared to marry you in defiance of
your brother's will, but I could never think of be-
coming your wife behind his back. I am ready
to defy him, but I do not choose to cheat him. It
is of no use to come to the house this evening
unless you are quite clear on this point. I could
not think of marrying you unless I were perfectly
sure that I was more indispensable to your happi-
ness than your brother's good will. You must
therefore consider yourself released from every
tie, and regard the words you spoke yesterday in
a moment of excitement as effaced from my
memory. Ever yours,
Zinka enclosed this peremptory note in an en-
velope, addressed it, rang for her maid and desired
her to have it sent immediately to the Palazzo di
" And shall I say there is an answer ?" asked
" No," said Zinka shortly.
No sooner had the maid gone on her errand
than the hapless Zinka felt utterly wretched and
almost repented of having written so indignantly. . .
She might have said all that was in the note with-
out expressing herself so bitterly. She thought
the words over, knit her brows, shook her head —
208 OUR OWN SET.
and at that moment her eye fell on another letter
which had been brought to her with Sempaly's,
and which she had forgotten to open. She saw
that the writing was Truyn's. She hastily read
the note which was a short one.
" Dear Zinka : — My poor little girl has been
much worse and the doctor gives me very little
hope. She constantly asks for you, both when
she is conscious and in her delirium. Come to
her if you can. Your old friend,
" P. S. It is nothing catching — inflammation
of the lungs."
Zinka started up — she forgot everything —
her happiness, her grief, Sempaly himself — re-
membering only Truyn's indefatigable kindness
and the sorrow that threatened him.
" Nothing catching. . . ." she repeated to her-
self: " poor man ! he thinks of others even now —
it is just like him. While I . . . I ?" She colored
deeply, for she recollected how that evening the
child had sat shivering by her side and she had
not noticed it.
" I had my head turned by a kind word from
him. ..." she thought vexed with her own folly.
In a very few minutes she was hurrying across
OUR OWN SET. 209
the Corso towards the Piazza di Spagna. Her maid
had some difficulty in keeping up with her. Zinka
almost flew, heeding nothing and looking at no
one, till, in the Piazza di Spagna, she came upon
a group of persons coming out of the Hotel de
Londres and felt a light hand on her arm. Look-
ing round she saw Nini.
"Good-morning. Where are you off to in
such a hurry ?" asked the young countess pleas-
" Good-morning," said Zinka hastily, " I am
in a great hurry — I am going to the Hotel de
TEurope ; Gabrielle Truyn is very ill — she wants
to see me."
But at this moment Zinka perceived a tall,
broad-shouldered man, with a very handsome face
and haughty expression, standing close to Nini.
He was gazing at her with perfectly well-bred ad-
miration, and Nini introduced him as Prince Sem-
paly. Then she saw that Nicklas Sempaly was
just behind, with Polyxena. His eyes met hers
with a passionate flash, but he only bowed
with distant formality. Zinka had no time to
think about his manner, she was hardly conscious
of his presence — all she felt was that she was
" You must excuse me," she said, smiling an
2IO OUR OWN SET.
apology to Nini and shaking hands warmly wath
her without stopping to think of the formalities of
caste. "Poor Count Truyn is expecting me."
And she hurried on again.
" Who is that sweet-looking girl, Nini ?" asked
the prince, " for, of course, you omitted to men-
tion her name."
" Fräulein Sterzl," replied Nini, " the sister of
one of the secretaries to the embassy."
" Sterzl," repeated the prince somewhat flatly.
"Zenaide Sterzl!" said Polyxena over her
But the ironical accent emphasis she laid on
the odd mixture of the romantic and the com-
monplace was thrown away upon Prince Sempaly,
who was much too fine a gentleman to laugh at his
inferiors ; all he said was :
" Sterzl ? I seem to know the name. Sterzl —
I served for a time under a Colonel Sterzl of the
Uhlans. He was a very superior man."
Zinka meanwhile was flying on to the Hotel de
TEurope. In the sun-flooded court- yard stood two
rose-trees, a white and a red — two brown curly-
headed little boys were fighting a duel with walk-
ing-sticks in a shady corner — ^two English families
were packing themselves into roomy landaus for
an excursion and sending the servants in and out to
OUR OWN SET. -211
fetch things that they had forgotten. The air was
full of the scent of roses, and sunshine, and laughter;
but one of the Englishwomen hushed her com-
panion who had laughed rather loudly and point-
ing up to one of the windows said : " Remember
the sick child.'*
A cold chill fell on Zinka's heart — she ran up
the familiar stairs. In Truyn's drawing-room sat
Gabrielle's English governess — anxious but help-
" May I go in ?" asked Zinka.
"No, wait a minute — the doctor is there."
At this moment Truyn came out of the child's
room with Dr. E the German physician, and
conducted him down-stairs. Truyn had the fixed,
calm, white face of a man who is accustomed to
bear his sorrows alone.
When he returned he went up to Zinka and
took her hand : " She asks for you constantly,'* he
said, " but do you think you can prevent her see-
ing that you are unhappy and alarmed ?"
<« Yes — indeed you may trust me," said Zinka
bravely, wiping away her tears ; and she went
into the child's room " as silent and bright as a
Some one must have seen Zinka and Sempaly
in the course of their moonlight walk or else have
found out something about it in spite of the gen-
eral's precautions ; this was made evident by an
article which came out on the Friday after the ball
in a French ' society paper* published weekly in
Rome. The title of the article was " a moonlight
cotillon ;" it began with an exact description of
Zinka, of whom it spoke as Fräulein Z . . . a
S .... 1, the sister of a secretary in the Austrian
Embassy ; referred to the sensation produced by
her appearance as Lady Jane Grey, spoke of her
as an elegant adventuress — "a professional
beauty** — and hinted at her various unsuccessful
schemes for winning a princely coronet ; schemes
which had culminated in a moonlight walk, a few
nights since, during a ball at the house of a dis-
tinguished member of Roman society, and which
had outdone in audacity all that had ever been
known to the chronique scandaleuse of Rome.
" Will she earn her reward in the form of a coro-
net and will the pages of " High Life'* ere long an-
OUR OWN SET. 213
nounce a fashionable marriage in which this young
lady will fill a part? — that is the question," so
the article ended.
" High Life," — this was the name of the paper
graced by this effusion — was scouted, abused
and condemned by everybody, covertly main-
tained by several, and read by most — with dis-
gust and indignation it is true, but still read. On
this fateful Friday every copy of " High Life" was
sold in no time, and before the sun had set Zinka's
name was in every mouth.
What said the world of Rome ? Lady Julia
cried, had some tea, and went to bed ; Mr. Ellis
said " shocking !" assured his wife that he was
convinced of Zinka's innocence, and that it would
certainly triumph over calumny ; after which he
quietly went about his business and spent two
whole hours in practising a difRcult passage on the
It was the Brauers — the Sterzls' old neigh-
bors before mentioned — who contributed chiefly
to the diffusion of the article, supplementing it
with their own comments. They had some
acquaintance among the " cream " of Rome,
though they had not been invited to the ball at
the Brancaleone palace. Frau Brauer assumed a
tone of perfidious compassion : it was a terrible
214 OUR OWN SET.
affair for a young girl's reputation, though, for her
part, she could see nothing extraordinary in a
moonlight wandering with an intimate friend.
Her husband, to whom the Sterzl family had paid
very little attention — the baroness out of conceit,
and Cecil and Zinka because he was in fact in-
tolerably affected, pompous and patronizing —
said with a sneering smile that he had never seen
anything to admire in that little adventuress, with
her free and easy innocence — pushing herself into
society she was not born to. He had always
thought it most unbecoming ; and it must be a
pleasant thing indeed for the Duchess of Bran«
caleone to have such a scandalous business take
place in her house — she would be more careful
for the future whom she invited !
Madame de Gandry and Mrs. Ferguson
thought the article very amusingly written — not
that they would ever have said a word about such
a piece of imprudence — for really no one was
safe ! To be sure any evil that might be written
against them would be a lie — a pure invention —
which in Zinka's case was quite unnecessary . . .
So they sent the paper round to all their friends
as a warning against rushing into acquaint-
ance with strangers: '* One cannot be too care-
ful." Zinka had seemed to them suspicious from
OUR OWN SET. 215
the first, for after all she was not " the real
All these spiteful and cruel insinuations they
even ventured to utter in the presence of Princess
Vulpini, in the general's atelier, the spot where all
that circle concentrated whenever anything had
occurred to excite or startle it, and they made the
" I am an Austrian myself," she said, " and
was brought up with ideas of exclusiveness which
are as much above suspicion as they are beyond
your comprehension. .1 am strictly conservative
in all my views. But Zinka is elect by nature —
an exceptional creature before whom all such laws
give way. I should have regarded it as pure folly
to sacrifice the pleasure of her acquaintance for
the sake of a social dogma."
"Exceptions always fare badly," murmured the
Countess Ilsenbergh, who was as strict on points
of honor as she was on matters of etiquette, was
deeply aggrieved by the article; she expressed
herself briefly but strongly on the subject of the
freedom of the press, and confessed that, whether
Zinka were innocent or guilty, things looked very
ugly for Sempaly.
The count rushed into eloquence giving an
2l6 OUR OWN SET.
exhaustive discourse on the whole social ques-
" Princess Vulpini is quite right," he said.
" Fräulein Sterzl is a bewitching creature, quite an
exception — and if any departure from traditional
law is ever permissible it would be so in her case.
But the general too is right ; exceptions must al-
ways fare badly in the world, and we cannot en-
danger the very essence and being of social
stability in order to improve the position of any
single individual. Above all, we must never
create a precedent." And he proceeded to enlarge
on the horrible consequences which must result
from such a mixture of classes, referred to the
example of France, and proposed the introduction
of the Hindoo system of caste, in its strictest ap-
plication, as a further bulwark for the protection
of society in Europe and the coercion of ambitious
spirits. His wife, at this juncture, objected that
European society had not yet reached such a sum-
mit of absolute exclusiveness as he would assume,
and that, consequently what was immediately
needed was not any such far-reaching scheme for
its protection, but some plan for dealing with the
disagreeable circumstances in which its imperfec-
tion had at this time placed them.
He replied that the matter lay in a nutshell ;
OUR OWN SET. 217
either the story in * High Life' was a lie, in which
case Sempaly had nothing to do but to deny it
categorically, to prove an alibi at the hour men-
tioned and to horsewhip the editor — or, the facts
stated were true, and then — under the circum-
stances — there was nothing for it — but . . . the
lady's previous character was quite above suspicion
— there was nothing for it — but. . ." and he
shrugged his shoulders.
" But to make Fräulein Sterzl Countess Sem-
paly !" cried Madame de Gandry. " Well, I must
say I do think it rather too much to give an adven-
turous little chit a coronet as a reward for sheer
impudence. But I beg your pardon, general, — I
had forgotten that you are a friend of the family."
" And I," exclaimed the general beside himself,
and quite pale with rage, " I, madame, was within
an ace of forgetting that I was listening to a
Princess Vulpini interposed : " You yourself
said, madame, that you had always avoided any
acquaintance with Zinka ; now I have known her
intimately, and seen her almost every day ; I have
observed her demeanor with men — with young
men — and heard her conversation with other
girls, and I can assure you that the word impu-
dence is no more applicable to her conduct than
2l8 OUR OWN SET.
to that of my little girl of three. — And if she did,
in fact, go into the garden with my cousin the
night of the ball, it is a proof simply of romantic
thoughtlessness, of such perfect, unsuspicious in-
nocence that it ought of itself avail to protect her
against slander. I spent last night with Zinka,
by the bedside of my little niece who is ill, and no
girl with a stain on her conscience could look so
sweetly pure or smile with such childlike sincer-
ity. I would put my hand in the fire for her spot-
less innocence !"
The princess spoke with such dignity and
warmth, and while she spoke she fixed such a
scathing eye on Madame de Gandry, that the
Frenchwoman, abashed in spite of herself, could
only mutter some incoherent answer and with-
draw with Mrs. Ferguson in her wake.
The four Austrians were alone.
" The person who puzzles me in this business/'
said the princess, "is Nicki Sempaly. As soon
as this wretched paper came into my hands I sent
it to his rooms. There I heard that he had just
gone out with the Jatinskys. I went to the Hotel
de TEurope to talk it over with my brother, but
he had gone to lie down and I had not the heart
to wake him. Besides, he could have done no
good, and I could not bear to disturb his happi-
OUR OWN SET. 219
ness over his child's amendment. — So I came to
unburden my heart to you, general."
*' Sempaly cannot have seen it yet/' suggested
Ilsenbergh. The princess shrugged her shoulders.
Countess Ilsenbergh once more expressed her opin-
ion that " it was a very unpleasant afTair and that
she had foreseen it all from the first/' after which,
finding that it would be difficult to prevent her
husband from delivering another lecture, she rose
At this instant Prince Vulpini came into the
studio with a beaming countenance. '* Ah ! here
you are ! I saw the carriage at the door as I was
passing. — Have you heard the latest news?'*
" Sempaly is engaged to Zinka ?'* cried his
" No !*' cried the prince; " the wind last night
tore down the national flag on the Quirinal. Hur-
rah for the Tramontana !"
A few minutes later the general was alone ;
after a moment's hesitation he took up his hat and
hurried off to the palazetto to see how matters
stood there. He was one of those who had been
the latest to hear of the slanderous article and at
220 OUR OWN SET.
the same time to be the most deeply wounded by-
it. But perhaps by this time Sempaly had en-
gaged himself to Zinka, he said to himself, and he
hastened his pace.
It was the baroness's day at home. The silly
woman was sitting dressed and displayed — a grey
glove on one hand, while with the other she pre-
tended to arrange a dish of bonbons.
" How kind of you ! — " she exclaimed as the
general entered the room. The stereotyped
formula came piping out of her thin lips without
the smallest variation to every fresh visitor, as
chilling and as colorless as snow.
He had hardly greeted the baroness when he
looked round for Zinka — at first without seeing
her ; it was not till a bright voice exclaimed :
" Here I am, uncle, come and give me a kiss,"
that he discovered her, in the darkest corner of the
room, leaning back in a deep arm-chair and look-
ing rather tired and sleepy but wonderfully pretty
and unwontedly happy.
" I am so tired, so tired ! — you cannot think
how tired I am," she said, laying his hand coax-
ingly against her cheek, " and mamma is so cruel
as to insist on my staying in the drawing-room
because it is her day at home, and I was sound
asleep when you came in, for thank heaven ! we
OUR OWN SET. 221
have had no visitors yet. I sat with Gabrielle all
last night and the night before without closing my
eyes ; but then I was so glad to think that the
little pet would not take her medicine from any-
one but me ; and last night, at length, in the mid-
dle of one of my stories, she fell asleep on my
shoulder. But then in order not to disturb her I
sat quite still for six hours. I felt as if I had been
nailed to a cross — and to-day I am so stiff I can
hardly move." And she stretched her arms and
curled herself into her chair again with a pretty ca-
ressing action of her shoulders. " You ought to
have stayed in bed," said the general paternally.
" Oh dear no ! why I slept on till quite late in the
morning. Besides, my being tired is of no real im-
portance ; the great point is that Gabrielle is out
of danger: Oh, if anything had happened to
her! ..." and she shuddered; " I cannot bear to
think of it. Count Truyn is firmly convinced that
I have contributed in some mysterious way to the
child's amendment, and when I came away this
morning he kissed my hands in gratitude as if I
had been the holy Bambino himself I laughed
and cried both at once, and now I am so happy —
my heart feels as light as one of those air balls the
children carry tied by a string, that they may not
fly off up to the clouds. But why do you look so
222 OUR OWN SET.
grave? are you not as glad as I am, uncle
that. . . "
The baroness who had been looking at her
watch here expressed her surprise that not a liv-
ing soul had come near them to-day.
" You are evidently not a living soul, uncle —
nothing but my dear grumpy old friend," said
Zinka with her pathetic little laugh. There was
something peculiarly caressing and touching about
her to-day ; the old man's eyes were moist and
his heart bled for the sweet child.
Outside the door they heard a heavy swift
step — the step of a man in pressing but crushing
trouble ; the door was torn open and Sterzl,
breathless, green rather than pale, foaming with
rage, stormed in — a newspaper in his hand.
"What is the matter — what has happened?"
cried Zinka dismayed. He came straight up to
her and stared at her with dreadful eyes.
" Were you really in the garden with Sempaly
during the cotillon ?" he said hoarsely.
'* Yes," she said trembling.
He gave a little start and shuddered — tot-
tered — then he pulled himself up and flung the
newspaper at her feet — at hers — his butterfly,
his darling I
" Read that," he said.
OUR OWN SET. 223
Von Klinger tried to seize the paper, but Sterzl
held him with a firm hand. " Your leniency is
out of place," he said dully ; " she may read any-
Zinka read; suddenly she sprang up with a
cry of horror and the paper fell out of her hand.
Even now she did not understand the matter, —
exactly what she was accused of she did not
know ; only that it was something unwomanly and
" Cecil !" she began, looking into his face,
" Cecil. . ." and then she covered her face, which
from white had turned crimson, with her hands.
He meanwhile had felt the absolute innocence of
the girl, and was repenting of his rash and cruel
"Zini," he cried, "forgive me — I was mad
with rage — mad." And he tried to put his arm
round her. But she held him off.
" Leave me, leave me," she said. ** No, I can-
not forgive you. Oh Cecil ! if all the newspapers
in the world had said you had cheated, for in-
stance — do you think I should have believed
He bent his head before her with a certain
reverence : " But this is different, Zini," he said
very gently ; " I do not say it as an excuse for
224 OUR OWN SET.
myself, but it is different. You do not see how
different because you are a child — an angel —
poor, sweet, little butterfly," and he drew her
strongly to his breast and laid his lips on the
golden head; she however would not surrender
and insisted on freeing herself
"What on earth is going on?" the baroness
asked again, for the twentieth time. Getting, even
now, no reply, she picked up the newspaper that
was lying on the floor, caught sight of the article,
read a few lines of it, and broke out into railing
complaints of Zinka — enumerating all the sins of
which Zinka had been guilty from her earliest
years and particularly within her recent memory,
and ending with the words : " And you will ruin
Cecil yet in his career."
"Be quiet, mother;" said Cecil sternly. "My
career is not the present question — we must think
of our honor and of her happiness," and leaning
over the fragile and trembling form of his sister,
he said imploringly :
"Tell me, Zini, exactly what happened."
She had freed herself from his clasp and was
standing before him with her arms folded across —
rigid though tremulous — and her voice was cold
and monotonous as she obeyed him and gave with
naiVe exactitude her short and simple report,
OUR OWN SET. 225
blushing as she spoke. When she had ended Cecil
drew a^ deep breath. '
** And since that you have heard nothing of
Sempaly ?'* he asked.
** The next morning he sent me a note."
" Zinka, do not be angry with me . . . show
me that note.*'
She left the room and soon returned with the let-
ter which she handed to Sterzl. He read it through
with great gravity and marked attention then knit-
ting his brows he slowly folded it up and turned it
*' And you answered him ?" he asked.
" And what did you say ?"
"Very little — that I was quite prepared to
m^rry him without his brother's consent, but be-
hind his brother's back? — No !"
In the midst of his trouble a flash of pride
lighted up Sterzl's weary eyes. " Bravo, Zini !"
he murmured, "and he took this answer in
Zinka paused to think:
" Yes. . ." she said ; " but no. — He sent me a
note to the Hotel de TEurope."
" And what does he say in that ?"
" I have not read it yet ; it came just at the
226 OUR OWN SET.
moment when Gabrielle was at the worst and then
I forgot it — but here it is. . ." and she drew it out
of the pocket of her blue serge dress. Sterzl
shook his head and glanced with a puzzled air at
his sister; then he opened the note. It was as
" My darling little treasure, my haughty in-
dignant little sweetheart:
*' Immediately on the receipt of your note I
rushed to see you. The porter told me that you
were not at home but with your poor little friend
Gabrielle. Of course I cannot think of intruding
on you there, though I would this day give a
few years of my life for a sight of you — for one
kiss. Sooner than lose you I am ready to throw
up everything. Command and I obey . . . but
no, I must be wise for us both ; I must wait till
my affairs are somewhat in order. There is no
help for it — I can only ask your forgiveness. I
kiss your hands and the hem of your garment —
I am utterly unworthy of you, but I love you
When Sterzl had read this highly characteris-
tic letter he slowly paced the room two or three
times, and finally stood still in front of his sister.
OUR OWN SET. 227
Then, taking her hand and kissing it fondly, he
" Forgive me, Zini — I am really proud of you.
You have behaved like an angel . . . but he — he
is a contemptible sneak.*'
But this she could not stand. " I do not de-
fend him," she exclaimed vehemently, "but at
any rate he loves me, and he understands me. —
He, at any rate, would never have suspected me. . .
and . . . and. . ." But it was in vain that she
paused for a word — she could say nothing more
in his favor ; but she called up all her pride, and
holding her head very high she left the room ; as
soon as she was outside they could hear her sob
The baroness rose to follow her, but Cecil stood
in her way.
" Where are you going ?" he asked sternly..
'* To Zinka ; I really must make her see what
mischief she has done. It is outrageous . . . why,
at thirteen I should have known better !" Sterzl
smiled bitterly :
" Very likely," he said, " but I must beg you
to leave Zinka to herself; she is miserable enough
" And are we to submit to her heedlessness
228 OUR OWN SET.
without even reproving her for it ?'* said the baron-
"Yes, mother," he said decidedly ; "our busi-
ness now is not to reprove her, but to protect and
At this juncture dinner was announced. Sterzl
begged the general to remain and dine with them^
for he had, he said, several things to talk over with
him. He evidently wished above everything to
avoid being alone with his mother. Before sitting
down he went to Zinka's room to see whether she
would not eat at least a little soup ; but he came
back much distressed.
" She would hardly speak to me," he said ;
"she is quite beside herself/' And he himself sat in
silence, eating nothing, drinking little, crumbling
his bread and playing with his napkin. Each time
the door opened he looked anxiously round.
The meal was short and uncomfortable ; when
they had returned to the drawing-room and were
drinking their coffee the servant brought Sterzl a
letter. Cecil took it hastily, looked at the address,
and, not recognizing the writing, at last opened it.
It contained only a half-sheet of note-paper, with
a cleverly sketched caricature : Sterzl himself as
auctioneer, the hammer in one hand a doll in the
other, and before him the coroneted heads of
OUR OWN SET. 229
Rome. Sterzl at once recognized the likeness,
though his lank figure was absurdly exaggerated,
and his whole appearance made as grotesque as
possible. He only shrugged his shoulders and
said indifferently :
" Does any one really think that such a thing
as this can hurt or vex me now? Look, gen-
eral — Sempaly, no doubt, is the ingenious artist
of this masterpiece."
The general took the paper, and would
have torn it across to prevent Sterzl from examin-
ing it any further; but before he could do so
Cecil, looking over his shoulder, had snatched it
out of his hand.
" There is something written on it !" he said,
deciphering the scribble in one corner, in Sem-
paly's weak, illegible hand-writing : " Mademoi-
selle Sterzl, going — going — gone — ! . . . Ah !
I understand !**
His face grew purple and he breathed with
" To send you this is contemptible," cried the
general ; " Sempaly drew this before he had ever
seen Zinka ... I know it, I was present at the
''What difference does that make ?" said Sterzl;
" if this is the view people took of me and my pro-
230 OUR OWN SET.
ceedings ! Well, and after all they were right —
I should have liked to see my lister brilliantly
married — I meant it well . . . and I have made
myself ridiculous and have been the ruin of the
His rage and misery were beyond control ; he
walked up and down, then suddenly stood stilly
looking out of the open window ; then again he
paced the room.
" Sempaly is incomprehensible," he began,
*' quite incomprehensible ! I had no very high
opinion of his character — particularly lately; but
I could not have supposed him capable of such
baseness and cruelty. What do you gather from
his not coming here to-day ?"
"He simply has not happened to see the
paper," the general suggested. " He is gone on
some expedition with his brother and his c6usin3."
" Well, but even supposing that he has not
read this article," said Sterzl, "it still is very
strange that, as matters stand between him and
Zinka, he should have let two days go by without
making any attempt to see her."
The general was silent
" You know him better than I do," Cecil began
again presently, " and, as Zinka tells me, you were
OUR OWN SET. ^ 231
present during some part of this romantic moon-
light promenade. Do you think he seriously in-
tends to marry her V
** I know that he is madly in love with her,
and even the Ilsenberghs, who were discussing the
matter at my house with the Princess Vulpini, saw
no alternative for him — irrespective of his attach-
ment to her — but to make her an offer."
" We shall see/' murmured Sterzl. He looked
at the clock : '* half past nine !'* he exclaimed.
** This is becoming quite mysterious. I will try
once more to see him at his rooms ; his chasseur
will perhaps know when he is expected to return
home. Would you mind remaining here?" he
added in a low voice ; ** keep my mother from
going to Zinka ; the poor child cannot bear it ;"
and he hurried off.
In about half an hour he returned.
** Well ?" asked the general.
" He set out at one o'clock for Frascati, with
the prince, the Jatinskys, and Siegburg," said
Sterzl gloomily. *' When I asked whether he was
to be back this evening the man said certainly, for
he was to set off to-morrow morning with his ex-
cellency the ambassador. He has been afraid to
declare his engagement for fear of a scene with
his brother — he is gone out of Rome for fear of
232 OUR OWN SET.
a scene with me — * High Life * was lying open on
They heard the light rustle of a dress. Sterzl
looked round — behind him stood Zinka with
tumbled hair and anxious, eager, tear-dimmed
" Zinka !" he cried, stepping forward to catch
her; for her gaze was fixed, she staggered, put
out her hands with a helpless gesture and fell into
his arms. He laid her head tenderly on his
shoulder and carried her away.
Sempaly's nervous system was very sensitive
and his ear remarkably delicate ; he had in con-
sequence a horror — a perfect mania of aversion —
for any scene which might involve excitement and
loud talking. Besides this he had the peculiarity —
common enough with the spoilt children of for-
tune — of always ignoring as far as possible the
inevitable difficulties of life in the hope that some
deus ex machina would interfere to set matters
straight for him.
His passion for Zinka was perfectly genuine, at
once vehement and tender ; far from diminishing, it
had, if possible, increased during these last three
days. Though that hour of sentimental and guileless
talk with Zinka under the midnight moon had for
the time satisfied her, it had only fevered him ; and
while his cowardly double-dealing had lowered
him in her esteem, her straightforward pride had
raised her infinitely in his. He was utterly miser-
able, but this did not prevent him from allowing
his good-natured senior to pay his enormous debts,
nor — in order to propitiate him — from paying
234 OUR OWN SET.
Specious attentions to his cousins. It must, how-
ever, be said in extenuation, that this flirtation was
not so much deliberate as instinctive, for he was a
man whose untutored and unbounded impulse to
make himself agreeable led him irresistibly to do
his utmost to produce a pleasant impression, even
at the sacrifice of his honor. If, only once, dur-
ing these three days, he had had an opportunity of
speaking to Zinka all might perhaps have turned
out differently. He would probably have found it
easy, with his wonderful fascination of person, to
recover the ground he had lost ; and her proud
rectitude might 'possibly have influenced him to
take a bolder course of action. But, in the first
instance, he could not intrude on Zinka while she
was sitting by her little friend Gabrielle, and the
idea of rushing into an explanation with Sterzl did
not smile on his fancy.
Thus he let the hours slip by, till, on the Fri-
day morning, the luckless copy of ' High Life ' was
brought into him addressed in a feigned hand.
This made him furious, and he was on the point of
rushing off to the palazetto when he remembered
that he had promised to be ready to join the party
to Frascati at one o'clock. He had dipped his pen
and prepared the paper to send an excuse to the
Hotel de Londres when there was a knock, and
OUR OWN SET. 235
Prince Sempaly, with his two cousins, walked in,
half an hour before the appointed time.
" What a surprise ! . . . An unexpected honor !"
he exclaimed somewhat disconcerted.
"That is what we intended," said Polyxena
laughing. " Hum ! there is a rather pronounced
perfume of latakia in your room — but the whole
effect is pretty, very pretty," while Nini looked
timidly about her with her fawn-like eyes. A
bachelor's quarters are, as is well known, one of
the most interesting mysteries that ever exercise
the curious imagination of a young lady.
" The girls insisted on seeing your den," the
prince explained, " so I had to bring them, whether
or no, while Siegburg amuses their mamma."
*' Why, you yourself proposed it, Oscar !" cried
Sempaly bowed. ** From this time henceforth
this room is consecrated ground," he said gal-
lantly — and "High Life "was lying on his desk
all the time and an iron fist seemed clenched upon
his heart If his brother had but come alone . . .
but with these two girls ... it was crucial.
Xena began to touch and examine all his odds
and ends, to open his books, and at last to hover
round his writing-table where, with graceful imper-
tinence, she was about to take up the fatal sheet.
236 OUR OWN SET.
" Stop, Stop !" cried Nicki, ** that is not for
your eyes, Xena."
" Look, but touch not," said the prince, with a
good-natured laugh ; " young maidens like you
are not permitted to inspect the secrets of a
bachelor's rooms too closely. You might seize a
scorpion before we could interfere. Besides, we
must not keep your mother waiting any longer,
children; make haste and get ready, Nicki."
For a moment Sempaly tried to think of an
excuse; then he reflected that it really was not
worth while to spoil the pleasure of Oscar's last
day — all might be set right afterwards. So he
only asked for time to write a note, and scribbled
a few lines to Sterzl in which he formally pro-
posed for Zinka. This note he confided to a por-
, ter desiring him to carry it at once to the secre-
After this he was for a time very much pleased
with himself; but, as the afternoon wore on, the
more uneasy he became, and it- was to this unrest
that most of the tender glances were due that the
prince cast alternately on him and on Nini. He
felt more and more as if he were being driven into
a trap ; in the Villa Aldobrandini he found an
issue from some of his difficulties. Suddenly, as
they were standing by the great fountain, Nini and
OUR OWN SET. 237
he found themselves tete-a-tete, a circumstance
arising from the consentaneous willingness of the
rest of the party to give them such an opportu-
nity. He seized the propitious moment to dis-
burden his soul. He addressed her as his sister, con-
fessed his secret betrothal, and implored her kind
interest for Zinka. Nini, who felt as though she had
been stabbed to the heart, was brave as became
her and for sheer dread of betraying her own feel-
ings, she tried to take a pleasure she was far from
feeling in the success of his love affair. He kissed
her hand and kept near her for the rest of the day.
His brother, who perceived that the young couple
had come to an understanding, communicated his
observations to Countess Jatinska with extreme
satisfaction. He was himself a man of strong
and lofty feeling, free from all duplicity, and he
could not conceive that a young man could
have anything to say to a very handsome girl
in private but to make love to her.
The day was at an end. With that want of
precaution of which only foreigners in Rome can
be guilty, they set out homewards much too late
and did not reach the hotel before ten. Here
Nemesis overtook Sempaly. At the end of sup-
per, which the little party had served to them in
the countess' private sitting-room, and at which
238 OUR OWN SET.
the confidential footing on which Sempaly stood ^
with regard to his cousin was thrown into greater
relief, the prince, with a frank smile of self-satisfac-
tion at his powers of divination, raised his glass and
said: "To the health of the happy couple."
Nini turned crimson ; Nicki turned pale. He
was in the trap now. Brought to bay he could do
nothing but turn upon the foe whom he could not
evade. He was possessed by a wild impulse to
snatch the odious mask from his own face.
** And who are the happy couple ?** he asked.
" You need not be so mysterious about it,
Nicki," cried his brother warmly. "Of you
and. . . " but a glance at Nini reduced him to
" Of me and Fräulein Zinka Sterzl," said Semr
paly with vehement emphasis.
The blood flew to the prince's head ; rage and
horror faWy deprived him of speech. Countess
Jatinska laughed awkwardly, Polyxena pursed her
lips disdainfully while Nini gave her cousin her
hand and said loyally :
"Your bride shall always find a friend in me."
But now the prince's wrath broke loose — he
was furious; he swore that this insane marriage
should never take place, and could not conceive
how his brother — a man old enough to know
OUR OWN SET. 239
better — could have allowed such a piece of mad-
cap folly to enter his head.
The ladies rose and withdrew; Sempaly, who
till within a few minutes had been so weak and
vacillating, had suddenly become rigid in obstinacy
and he desired the waiter to bring him the fateful
number of * High Life*. The prince read it, but
his first observation was: "Well! and a pretty state
the world would soon come to if every man who
lets a charming adventuress entrap him into an in-
discretion were to pay for it by marrying her !"
At this insulting epithet applied to Zinka,
Sempaly fired up. He did not attempt to screen
himself, he defended Zinka as against himself, with
the most unsparing self-accusation. Egotistical,
sensitive, and morally effete as he was, he was still
a gentleman, and he now set no limits to his self-
indictment ; it seemed as though he thought that
by heaping invective on his own head he could
expiate the baseness into which he had been be-
trayed during the last few days. He told the whole
story : that he had loved Zinka from the first time
of seeing her : that he had been on the point of
making her an offer when an accidental interrup-
tion had suddenly snatched him from the heaven
of hope and bliss : that he had neglected and for-
saken her : that his constant intimacy with his
240 OUR OWN SET.
handsome cousins had raised a barrier between
him and Zinka ; then, how he had met her that
night at the Brancaleones', and how, as he helped
her to rise after her tumble, his passion had taken
entire possession of him — all this he told, down
to the moment when she had laid her head on his
shoulder. " And before such guileless trust what
man is there that would not bow in reverence !*'
he ended, "all Rome can bear witness to her
sweetness and goodness ; ask whom you will -*-
Marie Vulpini, Truyn, even the Ilsenberghs — or
The prince turned to Siegburg.
*' I can make neither head nor tail of the mat-
ter," he said. " Is all he says of this girl true, or
mere raving ?"
Siegburg's answer was simple, eager, and plain ;
it is, at all times, a difficult thing for a young man
to praise a girl without reflecting on her in any
way, but Siegburg's testimony in Zinka's favor
was a little masterpiece of genuine and respectful
enthusiasm. Prince Sempaly's face grew darker
as he spoke.
**And the young lady in question is the girl
we met the other day in the Piazzi ?" he said.
"The sister of the secretary of legation whom
OUR OWN SET. 241
the ambassador introduced to me yesterday, and
the niece of my old colonel ?*'
" And from what you tell me not only an ab-
solutely blameless creature, but universally be-
For a minute the prince was silent. Every
fibre of his being had its root in the traditions of
the caste into which he had been born, and a con-
nection between Zinka Sterzl and a Sempaly was
to him simply monstrous. He had in the highest
degree a respect for his past — " le respect des
ruines" — but they must be grand ruins, of a noble
past, or they did not touch him at all. With his
head resting on his hand he sat silent by the sup-
per-table, which was not yet cleared and where the
lights sparkled in the half-empty champagne-
glasses, and the flowers placed for the ladies still
lay by their plates. Suddenly he looked up, and
pointing to the newspaper, he asked:
" Had you seen that article when we came to
fetch you from your rooms this morning ?"
The prince sat bolt upright.
" And you did not stay in Rome to defend the
girl ?" His black eyes looked straight into his
242 OUR OWN SET.
brother's blue ones. " You came with us ? You
left this young lady to be, for the whole day, the
victim of the slander of all the evil tongues of
Rome, for fear of an unpleasant explanation —
for fear of a few high words with me ? — ^You have
behaved in a base and unmanly way throughout
this affair, both to this young lady and to the poor
sweet creature in there. . ." and he pointed to the
door behind which the two young countesses dis-
appeared with their mother. " Of course I shall
not let you starve ; your allowance shall be paid
to you regularly as heretofore — but beyond that
we have no further connection ; we have nothing
in common, you and I. Go !"
The deus ex machina had failed to appear.
The dreaded scene with his brother had been
postponed for a few hours, but it had come at last
and Sempaly had gained nothing by his procras-
tination and duplicity. He had provoked not
merely his brother's anger but his scorn as well,
while his marriage with Zinka, when he had at
last found himself compelled to announce it to
his brother, had altogether lost its startling and in-
teresting aspect as a chivalrous romance, and had
OUR OWN SET. 243
come down to a mere act of reparation to satisfy
Sempaly rose rather earlier than usual next
morning, his nerves still conscious of the remem-
brance of this unsatisfactory scene and of the
sleepless night that had been the consequence.
Vexed with himself; at once surprised and touched
by his brother's lofty indignation; ashamed to
think of the calumny to which his irresolution
and his absence must have exposed Zinka — he
was in that state of sensitive irritability in which
a man holds all the world in some degree responsi-
ble for his own shortcomings, and is ready to re-
venge himself on the first man he meets for the
misery he is enduring.
While he was waiting for his breakfast, walk-
ing up and down the sitting-room — half drawing-
room, half smoking-room — the general came in.
For the first time in his life Sempaly greeted the
old man as an intruder.
" Good-morning," he cried, " what procures
me the honor of such an early visit ?"
"Well," said Von Klinger hotly, "it can
scarcely surprise you that I, as Zinka's god-father
and oldest friend, should come to ask you what
you mean by your extraordinary conduct"
244 OUR OWN SET.
** That, it seems to me, is her brother's busi-
ness," said Sempaly roughly.
** It is on purpose to prevent a collision between
you and Sterzl that I have come so early," replied
the general, who was cut out for an officer of
dragoons rather than for a diplomatist. " Sterzl
is beside himself with fury, and I know that your
intentions with regard to Zinka are perfectly hon-
orable, and so. . ."
But at this moment the general's eye fell on a
travelling-bag that the luxurious young attach^
was wont to carry with him on short journeys,
and which lay packed on the divan. "You are
going away ?'* asked the old man surprised.
" I had intended to accompany my brother as
far as Ostia to-day and return early to-morrow ;
but that is at an end — the prince and I have
quarrelled — yes, I have quarrelled past all possi-
bility of a reconciliation with my noble and gen-
erous brother. Are you satisfied ?" and he stamped
" And is the want of judgment that has led to
your parting any fault of mine pray ?" exclaimed
the general angrily.
There was a hasty rap at the door ; on Sem-
paly*s answering: '* come in," Sterzl walked in. He
did not take Sempaly's offered hand but drew a
OUR OWN SET. 24s
newspaper out of his pocket, held it out in front of
Sempaly, and asked abruptly :
" Have you read this article ?*
"Yes," said Sempaly from between his teeth.
"Yesterday — before you went out?*' Sterzl
This word-for-word repetition of the prince's
question touched all Sempaly's most painful and
shameful recollections of the scene to the quick.
His eyes flashed, but he said nothing.
Sterzl could contain himself no longer. All
the bitter feelings of the last six weeks seethed in
his blood, and the luckless travelling-bag caught
his eye. This was too much. .
What happened next ? . . .
The general saw it all in a flash of time — un-
expected, and inevitable.
Sterzl took one stride forward and struck Sem-
paly in the face with the newspaper. At the same
moment Sempaly's servant came in with the
A few minutes later Sterzl and the general
went down the stairs of the embassy in silence,
not even looking at each other. When they were
outside the younger man stopped and drew a deep
"Sempaly will send you his seconds in the
246 OUR OWN SET.
course of the morning," he said ; " I must ask you
to act for me."
The general nodded but did not speak.
** I will send word to Crespigny too, and then
you can do whatever you think proper."
Still the general said nothing, and his silence
** I could bear it no longer," he muttered as if
in delirium ; " what ... do you suppose . . . too
much. . ."
By this time they were in the Corso. Towards
them came Siegburg, as bright and gay as ever,
his hat pushed back on his head.
" I am happy to be the first to congratulate
you, Sterzl," he cried.
" On what pray ?" said Sterzl fiercely.
" On your sister's engagement to Sempaly —
whatl then you really did know nothing about it?"
Sterzl was bewildered: "What is it — what
are you talking about ? — I do not understand,"
"What, have you not heard ?" Siegburg began;
" the bomb fell last evening ; Nicki declared his
engagement. Oscar, to whom the whole business
was news . . . come into this caf<6 and I will tell
you exactly all about it ; it does not do to discuss
such things in the street"
OUR OWN SET. 247
"I — I have not time," muttered Sterzl with
a fixed vacant stare; and, as he spoke, he shot
past Siegburg ; but his gait was unsteady and he
ran up against a passer-by.
" What on earth ails him ?*' said Siegburg
looking after him. *' I thought he would be
pleased and — well ! the ways of man are past
finding out. This marriage will create a sensation
in Vienna, eh, general ? But I approve — I en-
tirely approve. We are on the threshold of a new
era, as Schiller — or some one has said, Bismarck
very likely — and we shall live to tell our children
how we stood by and looked on. But what is the
matter with you both — you and Sterzl ? To be
sure — you were coming from the Palazzo di Vene-
zia — have Nicki and Sterzl quarrelled — a chal-
lenge !" The general nodded. " But it can be
amicably arranged now," said Siegburg consol-
On his return home Sterzl found Sempaly's
note of the day before. The porter had taken it,
as he was ordered, to the secretary's office, but as
Sterzl had not gone there all day it had lain un-
opened ; till, this morning, one of the messengers
had thought it well to bring it to the palazetto.
Sterzl read it and hid his face in his hands.
Within a short time Sempaly's seconds were
announced — Siegburg and a military attache from
the Russian embassy.
No, it could not be amicably arranged — under
the circumstances there was but one way of satis-
fying the point of honor. This point of honor —
what is it ? A social dogma of the man of the
world, and the whole creed of the southern aris-
Sterzl was to start that night by the eleven
o'clock train for Vienna, on matters of business,
before setting out for Constantinople. The affair
must therefore be settled at once. Beyond fixing the
hour Sterzl left everything to his seconds. Swords,
OUR OWN SET 249
at seven that evening, among the ruins opposite
the tomb of the Metellas was finally agreed on.
Soon after six, Sterzl and his seconds set out.
The carriage bore them swiftly along, through the
gloomy, stuffy streets which lead to the Forum,
along the foot of the Palatine, and past the Colos-
seum, through the arch of Constantine into the
Via Appia, on and on, between grey moss-grown
walls, over which they caught glimpses of ruins
and tall dark cypresses. Then the walls disap-
peared and bushy green hedge-rows, covered with
creepers, bordered the road, and presently the
Campagna lay before them, an endless, rolling,
green carpet, with its attractive melancholy, and
the poisonous beauty of orchids and asphodels
with which each returning spring decks its waste
monotony, like a wilderness in a fevered dream.
Sterzl sat in silence on the back seat, facing
his two friends. He did not even pretend to be
cheerful. A brave man may sometimes face death
with indifference, but hardly with a light heart.
Death is a great king to whom we must need do
homage. His soul was heavy ; but his two com-
panions, who knew not only his '^staunch nature
but all the circumstances of the duel, knew that it
was not from anxiety as to his own fate. He could
not forget that this catastrophe was, at last, due
250 OUR OWN SET.
solely and entirely to his own violence and loss of
self-command. He never once reflected that this
engagement — brought about by a series of make-
shifts and accidents — could hardly have resulted
in a happy marriage; he had forgotten Sempaly's
sins and remembered one thing only : that his sis-
ter might have had the moon she had longed for,
and that he alone had snatched it from her grasp.
A powerful fragrance filled the air, coming up
from the orchids, from the blossoming hedges,
from the fresh greenery of the gardens, like the
very soul of the spring, bringing a thousand mem-
ories to his brooding brain and aching heart. It
reminded him of the great untended orchard at
home, and of one morning in the last May he had
spent there before going to school. The apple-
trees were clothed with rosy blossom ; butterflies
were flitting through the air, and the first forget-
me-nots peeped bluely among the trailing bram-
bles on the brink of the brook that danced across
the garden, murmuring sleepily to the shadowy,
whispering alders. There was a fragrance of the
soil, of the trees, of the flowers — just as there was
now — and Zinka, then a mere baby, had come
tripping to meet him and had said with her little
confidential and important air :
" I do believe that God must have set the
OUR OWN SET. 251
gates of heaven open for once, there is such a good
smell." He could see her now, in her white pina-
fore and long golden hair, clinging to her big
brother with her soft, weak little hands. And he
had lifted her up and said : " Yes, God left the
door open and you slipped out my- little cherub.*'
With what large, wondering eyes she had looked
into his face.
She had always been his particular pet ; his
father had given her into his special charge and
now ..." poor, sweet butterfly ! " he said to him-
self, half audibly.
"Do not be too strict in your fence," said a
deep voice close to him. It was Crespigny who
thus startled him from his dream of the past: —
" Do not be too scientific. You have everything
in your favor — practice, skill, and strength ; but
Sempaly — I know his sword-play well — has one
dangerous peculiarity : you never know what he
will be at." Sterzl looked over his shoulder. The
tomb of Cecilia Metella was standing before them.
Opposite the tomb of Cecilia Metella is a de-
serted and half-ruined early Gothic structure, a
singular mixed character of heathen grandeur and
252 OUR OWN SET.
of mediaeval strength, lonely and roofless under
the blue sky. A weather-beaten cross, let into
the crumbling stone- work above the door- way, be-
tokens it a sanctuary of the primitive Christian
times ; on entering we see a still uninjured apse
where the altar table once stood. No ornament
of any kind, not even a scrap of bas-relief, is to be
seen; nothing but frail ferns — light plumes of
maiden hair that deck the old walls with their
emerald fronds. The floor is smooth and covered
with fine turf, from which, in spring-time, white
and red daisies smile up at the sky, and dead net-
tles grow from every chink and along the foot of
The other party were already on the spot;
Sempaly was talking unconcernedly, but with no
affectation of levity, to the Russian, and bowed
politely to the three men as they came in. His
manner and conduct were admirable ; in spite of
his irritable nervousness, there were moments
when he had — and in the highest degree — that
unshaken steadfastness which is part of the dis-
cipline of a man of the world, to whom it is a
matter of course that under certain circumstances
he must fight, just as under certain others he must
take off* his hat.
Siegburg changed color a good deal; the
OUR OWN SET. 253
Others were quite cool. They made a careful
survey lest some intruding listener should be
within hearing, but all was still as death. The
vineyard behind the little chapel was deserted.
The formalities were soon got through ; Sem-
paly and Sterzl took off their coats and waistcoats,
and took the places assigned to them by their
The signal was given. — The word of com-
mand was heard in the silence and, immediately
after, the first click of the swords as they en-
Any one who has lived through the prolonged
anticipation of a known peril or ordeal, knows that,
when the decisive moment has arrived, the ten-
sion of the nerves suddenly relaxes; anxiety
seems lifted from the soul, fear vanishes and all
that remains is a sort of breathless curiosity. This
was the case with the general and Siegburg ; they
watched the sword-play attentively, but almost
calmly. Sempaly was the first to attack, and was
extraordinarily nimble. Sterzl stood strictly on the
defensive. He fenced in the German fashion, giv-
ing force to his lunge with the whole weight of
his body ; and this, with his skill and care, gave
him a marked advantage over his lighter adversary.
The sense of superior strength seemed at first to
254 OUR OWN SET.
hinder his freedom ; in fact, the contest, from a
mere technical point of view, was remarkably in-
teresting. Sempaly displayed a marvellous and
— as Crespignyhad said— quite irresponsible sup-
pleness, which had no effect against Sterzl's im-
perturbable coolness. It was evident that he
hoped to weary out his antagonist and then to
end the duel by wounding him slightly. He had
pricked Sempaly just under the arm, but Sempaly
would not be satisfied; it was nothing he said,
and after a short pause they began again.
Sempaly was beginning to look pale and ex-
hausted, his feints were short, straight, and violent ;
Sterzl, on the contrary, looked fresher. Like every
accomplished swordsman, in the course of a long
fight he had warmed to his work and was fighting
as he would have done with the foils, without duly
calculating the strength of his play ; things looked
ill for Sempaly.
Suddenly, through the silence, a song was
heard in the distance, in a boy's thin piping
" Bright May — the sweetest month of Spring;
The trees and fields with flowers are strown — "
It sent a thrill through SterzFs veins, remind-
ing him of the evening when Zinka had sung
OUR OWN SET. 25s
those words to Sempaly. The romantic element
that was so strong in him surged to his brain ; he
lost his head ; fearing to wound Sempaly mortally,
he forgot to cover himself and for a second he
suddenly stood as awkward and exposed as though
he had never had a sword in his hand.
The seconds rushed forward — too late.
With the scarcely audible sound that the sharp
steel makes as it pierces the flesh, Sempaly's sword
ran into his adversary's side. SterzFs flannel shirt
was dyed with blood — his eyes glazed — he stag-
gered forward a step or two — then he fell sense-
less. The duel was over.
A quarter of an hour later and the wound
had been bound up as best it might, and in the
closed landau, which they had made as comforta-
ble as they could by arranging the cushions so as
to form a couch — the general supporting the
groaning man's head on his arm, and opposite to
him the surgeon — they were driving homewards*
slowly — slowly.
Dusk had fallen on the Campagna, from time
to time the general looked out anxiously to see
how far they were still from Rome. The road was
2 $6 OUR OWN SET.
emptier and more deserted every minute ; a cart
rattled past them full of peasants, shouting and
singing at the top of their voices ; then they met
a few white-robed monks, wending their way witli
flaring torches to some church ; and then the road
was perfectly empty. The cypresses stood up tall
and black against the dull-hued sky and the wide
plain was one stretch of grey.
At last the arch of Constantine bends over
them for a minute and the horses hoofs clatter on
the stones — slowly — slowly. . The lamps of
Rome twinkle in the distance — they have reached
the Corso, at this hour almost empty of vehicles
but crowded with idlers, and the caf^s.are bril-
liantly lighted up. The slowly-moving landau
excites attention, the gapers crowd into knots, and
stare and whisper. At last they reach the palaz-
etto, turn into the court-yard and get out. The
porter comes out of his den, his dog at his heels
" Hush, silence !** says the general — the ser-
vants come rushing down, the women begin to
sob and cry, and again the general says :
" Hush, hush !" as if it were worth while to
keep Zinka in ignorance for a minute more or
With some difficulty the heavy man is lifted
OUR OWN SET. 257
out and carried up-stairs — the heavy shuffling
steps sound loud in the silence. Suddenly they
hear Zinka's voice loud in terror, then the baron-
ess's in harsh reproof — a door is flung open and
Zinka rushes out to meet them — a half-smothered
cry of anguish breaks from her very heart — the
cry with which we wake from a hideous dream.
They carried him into his room, and while they
carefully settled him in bed the servant announced
Dr. E . . . , the famous German physician of whom
mention has already been made. Sempaly, who
had driven back at full speed and had reached
Rome more than an hour sooner than the general
with the wounded man, had sent him at once. Dr.
E . . . examined the patient with the greatest care,
adjusted the bandage with admirable skill, wrote
a prescription, and ordered the application of ice.
He gave a sympathetic hand to each of the ladies,
who were standing anxiously at the door as he left
the room, and reassured them with an encouraging
smile ; promising them, with that kindly hopeful-
ness to which he owed half his fashionable prac-
tice, that the wounded man would pass a quiet
But when he was face to face with the general,
who escorted him down stairs, the smile vanished.
"The wound is dangerous?" asked the old man
258 OUR OWN SET.
with a trembling heart. The surgeon shook his
" Are you a relation ?*' he asked.
" No, but a very old friend."
"It is mortal," said Dr. E . . . "I maybe mis-
taken — of course, I may be wrong . . . nature
sometimes works miracles and the patient has a
splendid physique. What fine limbs ! I have
rarely seen so powerful a man — but so far as
human science can foresee ..." and he left the
death-warrant unspoken. " It is always a comfort
to the survivors to know that all that can be done
has been done ; I will come early to-morrow morn-
ing to enquire. Send the prescription to the
French chemist's — it is the best. Good-night."
And he got into the carriage that was waiting for
The general gave the prescription to the por-
ter, who, with the readiness and simplicity that are
so characteristic of the Italians, rushed off at once
without his hat. As if there were really any
hurry ! . . .
The old soldier, composing himself by an effort,
returned to the bedroom. Zinka was standing very
humbly at the foot of the bed, pale and tearless,
but trembling from head to foot. The baroness
was pacing the room and sobbing violently, wring-
OUR OWN SET. 259
ihg her hands and pushing her hair back from her
temples. Of course she flew at the general with
questions as to the surgeon's prognosis. His eva-
sive answers were enough to fill her with unreason-
able hope and to revive the worldly instincts which
her terrors had for a moment cast into the back-
'*Yes, yes, he will pass a quiet night," she
whimpered; "he will get well again — it would
have been too bad with such a brilliant career
before him; — but this is an end to Constanti-
nople. . ."
Zinka, on the contrary, had turned still paler
at the general's report but she said nothing.
That there had been a duel she and her mother
had of course understood. What did she infer
from that? What did she' think — what did she
feel? She herself never rightly knew; in her soul
all was dark — in her heart all was cold. Her
whole being was concentrated in horror.
After much and urgent persuasion the general
succeeded in inducing the baroness to leave the
room and to lie down for a time, "to spare herself
for her son's sake."
She had hardly closed the door when the ser-
vant came quietly in and said that Count Truyn
had come. Zinka looked up.
260 OUR OWN SET.
" Shall I let him come in ?" asked the general.
Siegburg had told him, and though it was now
eleven Truyn had hurried off to the palazetto. He
came into the room without speaking and straight
up to Zinka. The simple ifeeling with which he
took her hands in both his, the deep and tender
sorrow at being unable to help or to reassure her
that spoke in his eyes comforted and warmed her
heart ; the frozen horror that had held her in its
clasp seemed to thaw ; tears started to her eyes,
a tremulous sob died on her lips ; then, controlling
herself with great difficulty, she murmured intel-
ligibly : " There is no hope — no hope !"
His mother's loud lam&ntations had not roused
the wounded man but the first sound from Zinka
recalled him to consciousness ; he began to move
uneasily and opened his sunken eyes. The whites
shone dimly, like polished silver, as he fixed them
on his sister's face ; from thence they wandered to a
blood-stained handkerchief that had been forgot-
ten, and then to the general. Slowly and painfully
he seemed to comprehend the situation. He strug-
gled for breath, with an impatient movement of
his hands and shoulders, and then shivered as
with a spasm. He was conscious now, and sighed
OUR OWN SET. 261
The first thing that occurred to him was his
" Have you sent word to the ambassador ?" he
asked the general almost angrily.
" No, not yet"
" Then make haste, pray ; they must telegraph
" Yes, yes," said Von Klinger soothingly, *' I
will see to it at once. Would you be good
enough to stay till I return ?" he added to Truyn
and he hurried away.
For a few minutes not a word was spoken, then
Sterzl began :
" Do you know how it all happened, Count ?"
Truyn bowed. " And you, Zini ?" asked Cecil,
looking sadly at the girl's white face. " I know
that you are suffering — that is all I want to
know," she replied.
" Oh I Zini. . . " Sterzl struggled for breath
and held out his hand to Zinka, then he went on
in a hoarse and hardly audible voice : " Zini . . .
Butterfly ... it was all my doing ... I have spoilt
your life ... I did it . ."
She tried to stop him : " You must not excite
yourself," she said, leaning over him tenderly;
** forget all that till you are better — '- 1 know that
you have always loved me and that you would
262 OUR OWN SET.
have fetched the stars from heaven for me if you
cotrid have reached them."
He shuddered convulsively : " No, Zini, no. . .
you might have had the stars/' he said in a pant-
ing staccato ; " the finest stars. Sempaly was not
to blame . . . only I . . . the prince had agreed . . .
but I ... I forgot myself . . . and I spoilt it all . . .
oh, a drink of water, Zini, please ! . . ."
She gave him the water and he drank it
greedily ; but when she gently tried to stop his
mouth with her hand he pushed it away, and went
on eagerly, though with a fast failing voice:
" No ... I must tell you ... it is a weight upon
my soul. There, in my desk . . . Count ... in the
little pocket on the left . . . there is a letter for
Zinka. — Give it her. . ."
Truyn did his bidding. The letter was sealed
and addressed to Zinka in Cecil's fine firm hand.
She opened it ; it contained the note that Sem-
paly had written before starting for Frascati and
Sterzl had added a few words of explanation in
case it should not fall into Zinka's hands till after
She read it all while the dying man anxiously
watched her face, but her expression did not alter
by a shade. Sempaly's words glided over her
heart without touching it; even when she had
OUR OWN SET. 263
read both notes she did not speak. Two red
flames burnt in her pale cheeks.
'* I got . . . the note . . . too late/* said Sterzl
sadly, " the general . . . can tell you how . . . how
it all happened ... I lost my head . . . but he ... ,
he is safe, so you must forgive me . . . and do . . .
act ... as if I had never existed . . .then . . . I
shall rest ... in peace . . . and be happy in . . .
my grave ... if I know . . . that you are . . .
Still she did not speak ; her eyes were strangely
overcast; but it was not with grief for her lost
happiness. Suddenly she tore the note across and
dropped the pieces on the floor.
" If he had written ten letters," she cried, " it
would have made no difference now ; do not let
that worry you, Cecil — it is all at an end. Even
if there were no gulf between us I could never be
his wife ! I have ceased to love him. — How mean
he is in my eyes — compared with you !"
And so the brother and sister were at one
again ; the discord was resolved.
For more than four and twenty hours Cecil
wrestled with death and Zinka never left his side.
The certainty of their mutual and complete devo-
tion was a melancholy consolation in the midst of
this cruel parting. The pain he suffered was agoniz-
264 OUR OWN SET.
ing ; particularly during the night and the early-
morning ; but he bore it with superb fortitude and
it was only by the nervous clenching of his hands
and the involuntary distortion of his features that
he betrayed his suffering. He hardly for a moment
slept ; he refused the opiate sent by the surgeon ;
he wished to " keep his head" as long as possible.
When Zinka — with a thousand tender circum-
locutions — suggested to him that he should re-
ceive the last sacraments of the Church he agreed.
** If it will be any comfort to you, Butterfly," he
sighed ; and he received the priest with reverent
In the afternoon he was easier — Zinka began
"You are better," she whispered imploringly,
" you are better, are you not ?"
" I am in less pain," he said, and then she be-
gan making plans for the future — he smiled
No man could die with a better grace, and yet
it was hard to die.
The catastrophe had roused universal sympathy.
The terrible news had spread like wildfire through
the city and a sort of panic fell on the rank and
fashion of Rome. No one, that day, who had
ever spoken a spiteful or a flippant word against
OUR OWN SET. 265
Sterzl or his sister, failed to feel a prick of remorse.
Every one came or sent to the palazetto to enquire
for them. Now and again the baroness would
come in triumphantly, in her hand a particularly
distinguished visiting-card with its comer turned
down, and rustle up to the bedside : " Ilsenbergh
came himself to the door to ask after you !*'
Late in the day he fell into an uneasy sleep ;
Zinka and the general did not quit the room. The
window was open but the air that blew in through
the Venetian blinds was damp and sultry. The
street was strewn with straw ; the roll of the car-
riages in the Corso came, dulled by distance, up to
the chamber of death. Then twilight fell and the
rumbling echoes were still. Presently, the slow ir-
regular tramp of a crowd broke the silence, with
the accompaniment of a solemn but dismal chant
Zinka sprang up to close the window ; but she was
not quick enough. The sleeper had opened his
weary eyes and was listening — : '* A funeral !"
After this he could not rest, and his sufferings
began once more. He tossed on his pillow, talked
of his will, begging the general to make a note of
certain trifling alterations ; and when Zinka en-
treated him not to torment himself but to think of
that by-and-bye, he shook his head, and mur-
266 OUR OWN SET.
mured in a voice that was hoarse and tremulous
with pain : " No, I am in a hurry . . . time
presses , . . railway fever . . . railway fever ..."
When Zinka, unable to control herself, was
leaving the room to hide her tears, he desired her
to remain :
" Only stop by me ... do not leave me, Zini,"'
he said. " Cry if it is a relief to you . . . but stay
here . . . poor little Butterfly I . . . yes, you will miss
me. . .
Once only did he lose his self-command. It
was late in the evening. He had begged them to-
send to the embassy for an English newspaper
which would give some information as to a certaia
political matter in which he was particularly inter-
ested ; the ambassador himself brought it to his
" How are you ?. . . how are you now ?" he asked
with sincere emotion ..." You were quite right,
Sterzl. Ignatiev has done exactly as you Sciid ;
you have a wonderful power of divination ... I
shall miss you desperately when you go to Con-^
stantinople. . ." and his excellency fairly broke
There was a painful pause. " I am going fur-
ther than Constantinople. . .*' Sterzl murmured at
length. " I should like to know who will get my^
OUR OWN SET. 267
place . . ." His voice failed him and he groaned
as he hid his face in the pillow.
The end came at midnight. Dr. E . . . had
warned the general that it would be terrible ; but
it was in vain that they tried to persuade Zinka to
leave the room. The whole night through she
knelt by the dying man's bed in her tumbled
white dressing-gown — praying.
At about five in the morning his moaning
ceased. Was all over ? No, he spoke again ; a
strange, far-away look, peculiar to the dying, came
into his eyes. " Do not cry, little one — it will all
come right ..." and then he felt about with his hands
as if he were seeking for something — for some
idea that had escaped him. He gazed at his sister.
"Go to bed, Zini — I am better . . . sleepy . . .
Constanti. . ." He turned his head to the wall and
breathed deeply. He had started on his journey.
The general closed his eyes and drew Zink^.
away. Outside in the corridor stood a crushed
and miserable man — it was Sempaly. Pale,
wretched, and restless, he had stolen into the pal-
azetto, and as he stood aside his hands trembled,
his eyes were haggard. She did not shrink from
him as she went by — she did not see him !
A glorious morning shone on the little garden-
court. In a darkly-shady corner a swarm of blue
268 OUR OWN SET.
butterflies were fluttering over the grass like atoms
fallen from the sky. It was the corner in which
the Amazon stood.
Thanks to Siegburg*s always judicious indis-
cretion all Rome knew ere long that Prince Sem-
paly had consented to Zinka's marriage with his
brother the evening before the duel, and at the
same time it heard of Sterzl's burst of anger and
its fearful expiation. Princess Vulpini's unwaver-
ing friendship, which during these few days she
took every opportunity of displaying, silenced evil
tongues and saved Zinka's good name. Now, in-
deed, there was a general and powerful revulsion
of feeling in Sterzl's favor. It suddenly became
absurd, petty, in the very worst taste, to doubt
Zinka — Zinka and Cecil had always been excep-
tional natures ...
Sterzl had expressed a wish to be buried at
home ; the body was embalmed and laid in a large
empty room, where, once upon a time, the
OUR OWN SET. 269
baroness had wanted to give a ball. There were
flowers against the wall, and on the floor. The
bier was covered with them ; it was a complete
Roman Infiorata, The windows were darkened
with hangings and the dim ruddy light of dozens
of wax-tapers filled the room. Countess Ilsenbergh
and the Jatinskys came to this lying in state ; dis-
tinguished company, in ceremonial black, crowded
round the cofiin. Never had the baroness had so full
a *day ' and her sentimental graces showed that,
even under these grim circumstances, she felt this
as a satisfaction. She stood by the bier in flowing
robes loaded with crape, a black-bordered hand-
kerchief in her hand, and a tear on each cheek,
and — received her visitors. They pressed her
hand and made sympathetic speeches and she
murmured feebly : " You are so good — it is so
Having spoken to the mother, they turned to
look for the sister ; every one longed to express,
or at least to show, their sincere sympathy for her
dreadful sorrow. But she was not in the crowd —
not to be seen, till a lady whispered : " There she
is," and in a dark recess. Princess Vulpini was dis-
covered with a quivering, sobbing creature, as pale
as death and drowned in tears ; but no one ven-
tured to intrude on her grief No one but Nini,
270 OUR OWN SET.
who looked almost as miserable as Zinka herself,
and who went up to her, and put her arms round
her, and kissed her.
Next day mass was performed in the chapel of
San-Marco, adjoining the embassy, and a quartette
of voices sang the same pathetic allegretto from
the seventh symphony that had been played,
hardly three months since, for the ' Lady Jane
Grey ' tableau.
A week later the Sterzls quitted Rome. Up
to the very last the baroness was receiving visits
of condolence, and to the very last she repeated
her monotonous formula of lament :
" And on the threshold of such a splendid
Zinka was never in the drawing-room, and very
few ventured to go to her little boudoir. Wasted
to a shadow, with sunken, cried-out eyes and
pinched features, it was heart-rending to see her ;
and after the first violence of her grief was spent
she seemed even more inconsolable. It is so with
deep natures. Our first sorrow over the dead is
always mixed with a certain rebellion against
fate — it is a paroxysm in which we forget every-
thing — even the cause of our passionate tears. It
is not till we have dried our eyes and our heart has
raged itself into weariness — not till we have at
OUR OWN SET. 271
last said to ourselves : " submit," that we can
measure the awful gap that death has torn in our
life, or know how empty and cold and silent the
world has become.
Every day made Zinka feel more deeply what
it was that she had lost. She was always feeling
for the strong arm which had so tenderly sup-
ported her. The general and Princess Vulpini
did everything in their power to help her through
this trying phase, but the person with whom she
felt most at her ease was Truyn ; and very often,
after seven in the evening, when she was sure of
meeting no one, she stole off to visit Gabrielle ; it
was touching to see how the little girl understood
the trouble of her older friend, and how sweetly
she would caress and pet her.
On the morning of their departure Truyn and
the general saw them off from the station. After
the ladies were in the carriage Truyn got in too,
to open or close the windows and blinds ; when he
had done this Zinka put out her hand :
" God bless you, for all your kindness," she
said, and as she spoke she put up her face to give
him a kiss.
For an instant he hesitated then he signed her
forehead with a cross, and bending down touched
her hair with his lips.
272 OUR OWN SET.
" Au revoir,'* he murmured in a half-choked
voice, he bowed to the baroness and jumped out.
As he watched the train leave the station his face
was crimson and his eyes sparkled strangely ; and
he stood bareheaded to catch the last glimpse of a
pale little face at the window.
" If only I had the right to care for her and
protect her/* he muttered.
And now to conclude.
Baroness Sterzl was one of those happily rare
natures who have not one redeeming point. In her
Moravian estate, whither they now retired, she was
sick of her life, and treated Zinka with affectionate
austerity. Bored and embittered, she was always
bewailing herself and made every one miserable
by her sour mien and doleful, appearance. When
the year of mourning was ended she began to
crave for some excitement ; she made excursions
to watering places, and to Vienna, where she
gathered round her the fragmentary remains of
her old circle of acquaintance and tried to aston-
ish them by magnificent reminiscences of her
sojourn in Rome. At the same time she still
wore deep furbelows of crape, and wrote her invi-
tations on black-edged paper ; she talked inces-
santly of her broken mother's-heart wearing, as it
were, a sort of Niobe nimbus ; while, in fact, her
display of mourning was nothing more than a last
foothold for her vanity. General von Klinger
274 OUR OWN SET.
always declared that at the bottom of her heart
she was very proud of her son having been run
through by a Sempaly.
She died, about three years after the catas-
trophe, of bronchitis, which only proved fatal
because, though she already had a severe cold,
nothing could dissuade her from going on a keen
April morning to see the ceremony of washing
the beggars feet at the Burg, with a friend from
the convent of the Sacred Heart.
Zinka felt the loss of her mother more deeply
than could have been expected. Year after year
she spent summer and winter in her country
house, where Gabrielle Truyn, with her English
governess, sometimes passed a few weeks with
her — her only visitors. Truyn very rarely went
to see her, and never stayed more than a few
hours ; and the sacrifice it was to him to lend his
little companion for those visits can only be appre-
ciated by those who have understood how com-
pletely his life was bound up in hers.
With Princess Vulpini Zinka kept up an affec-
tionate correspondence. Very, very, slowly did
her grief fade into the background ; but — as is
always the case with a noble nature — it elevated
and strengthened her. She gave up her whole
time to acts of kindness and benevolence ; the only
OUR OWN SET. 27s
pleasure in which, for years, she could find any-
real comfort was alleviating the woes of others.
Not long after the death of the baroness, Gen-
eral von Klinger left Europe to travel, and did not
return till the following spring twelvemonths. He
disembarked at Havre and proceeded to Paris,
where he proposed spending a few days to see the
Salon before going home. By the obliging inter-
vention of a friend he was admitted to the " vernis
sage'' — varnishing day, or, more properly, the
private view — the day before the galleries were
opened to the public. Among the little crowd of
fashionable ladies who had gained admittance by
the good offices of a drawing- master or an artist
friend, he observed a remarkably pretty young girl
who, with her nose in the air, was skipping from
one picture to another with a light and vigorous
step, and pronouncing judgment on the works
exhibited with the inexorable severity and inno-
cent conceit of a fanatical novice. This fair young
critic was so thoroughly aristocratic in her bear-
ing, there was something so engaging in her
girlish arrogance, so like a spoilt child in her
confidential chat with her companion — an elderly
276 OUR OWN SET.
man, and one of the best known artists of Paris —
that the old soldier-painter could not help watch-
ing her with kindly interest. Presently she hap-
pened to see him ; scrutinized him for a moment,
and came to meet him with gay familiarity.
"Why, General ! are you back at last? How
glad papa will be — and you have not altered in
the very least !. . ."
" I cannot say the same of you. Countess
Gabrielle," he replied.
" Well, of course. We last met four years ago
at Zini's I think, . . ."she chattered on. "Then
I was a child, and now I am grown up ; and I will
tell you something. General, I have exhibited a
picture — quite a small water color drawing," and
she blushed, which made her look like her father,
" you will come and look at it will you not ?"
" Of course," he declared; and then, glancing
at her dress: "You are in mourning?" he said
"Yes," she replied, " in half mourning now —
for poor mamma; it is nearly a year since she
died.. ." and a shade crossed her face — "ah,
there is papa !" she exclaimed, suddenly brighten-
ing, "we are always losing each other — our tastes
are different — papa is old fashioned you know —
quite behind the times ..."
OUR OWN SET. 277
Truyn greeted the general very heartily;
Gabrielle stood looking from one to the other;
little roguish dimples played in her cheeks, and at
last she stood on tiptoe and whispered something
to her father. At first he seemed doubtful, and it
was not without a. shade of embarrassment that he
*' We are going on to the Hotel Bristol, where
we are to breakfast with my sister. It will, I am
sure, give her the greatest pleasure if you will join
The general made some excuses — it was an
intrusion, and so forth — but he allowed himself
to be persuaded and drove off with them through
the flowery and well-watered alleys of the Champs
Elysees to the hotel in the Place Vendome.
" Aunt Marie,'* said Gabrielle as she danced
into the room, " guess who is here with us !"
" Ah, General !" said the princess warmly,
*' you are the right man in the right place."
But another figure caught his eye — a little way
behind his hostess stood Zinka. The sorrow she
had experienced had stamped its lines indelibly on
her face; still, there was in her eyes a light of
calm and assured happiness that blended very
sweetly with the traces of past grief The bright
May-morning of her life had been brief and it
2/8 OUR OWN SET.
was past, but there was so tender a charm in her
face and manner that even Gabrielle, with the
radiance of eighteen, could not vie with her.
Truyn went up to her and there was an awk-
ward silence. Then Gabrielle began to laugh
"And cannot you guess. General?" she ex-
*' It is not yet announced to the world," Truyn
stammered out, " but you have always taken such a '
kind interest. . ." and he took Zinka's hand. The
old man's face beamed — he positively hugged
Zinka and shook hands vehemently with Truyn.
But Zinka burst into tears — : "Oh, uncle,'*
she said, " if only Cecil were here !"
And Sempaly ?
After the catastrophe he vanished from the
scene — went to the East, and there again came
to the surface. A Sempaly may do anything. He
is now considered one of our most brilliant diplo-
But he has gone through a singular change ;
from a dandified, frivolous attach^ he became a
hard-and-fast official. He looks if possible more
OUR OWN SET. 279
distinguished than ever and his features are more
sharply cut. He is irritable, arrogant and ruthless ;
never sparing man or woman the biting sarcasms
that dwell on the tip of his tongue, and yet, still —
nay, more than ever — he exercises an almost ir-
resistible spell over all who come in contact with
One day, when the general was waiting at
some frontier station in Hungary for a train to
Vienna, he was struck by the full rich voice of a
traveller in a seal-skin coat, with a fur cap pulled
down over his brows, who was giving peremptory
orders to his servant. The old man looked round
and his eyes met those of the stranger — it was
Sempaly, also on his way to Vienna, from the
East. They spoke — exchanging a few common-
place remarks, but without any cordiality. Pres-
ently Sempaly began with the abruptness for
which his name was a by- word :
" You have just come from Paris. You were
present at the wedding ? What do you think of
Truyn's marriage ?"
" I am delighted at it," said the general.
" Well, everybody seems satisfied. Marie Vul-
pini is enchanted, and Gabrielle pleaded for her
papa — so I hear. — So everything is for the best
in this best of all possible worlds !" he added in
280 OUR OWN SET.
his sharp, hasty tones — " and Zinka — how is she
looking ? The papers said she was lovely."
" She is still very charming," said the general,
with the facile garrulity of old age, " and happi-
ness always beautifies a woman — she had but one
regret: that Cecil had not lived to see it."
He was suddenly conscious of his stupendous
want of tact; so, to put the conversation on
neutral ground, he eagerly began to compliment
Sempaly on the wonderful rapidity of his advance-
ment, remarking that it must afford him great
satisfaction to have so fitting a sphere for the ex-
ercise of his peculiar talents.
Sempaly looked at him keenly, and shrugging
his shoulders, with a singular smile, he said :
"It is a strange thing, General — when we are
young we claim happiness at the hands of Destiny,
as if it were our right ; as we grow older we hum-
bly sue, only for peace, as an alms. — We get
what we demand more easily than what we beg
for — but it slips through our fingers."
THE AMAZON. — An Art-Novel, by Carl Vosmaer,
from the Dutch by E. J. Irving, with frontispiece by Alma
Tadema, R. A., and preface by Georg Ebers. In one voL
Paper, 40 cts. Cloth, 75 cts,
" Among the poets who never overstep the limits of probability
and yet aspire to realize the ideal, in whose works we breathe a
purer air, who have power to enthral and exalt the reader's soul,
to stimulate and enrich his mind, we must number the Nether-
"The Novel 'Amazon,' which attracted great and just attention
in the author's fatherland, has been translated into our tongue at
my special request. In Vosmaer we find no appalling incident,
no monstrous or morbid psychology, neither is the worst side of
human nature portrayed in glaring colots. The reader is afforded
ample opportunity of delighting himself with delicate pictures of
the inner life and spiritual conflicts of healthy-minded men and
women. In this book a profound student of ancient as well as
modern art conducts us from Paestum to Naples, thence to Rome,
making us participators in the highest and greatest the Eternal
City can offer to the soul of man.
** Vosmaer is a poet by the grace of God, as he has proved by
poems both grave and gay; by his translation of the Iliad into
Dutch hexameters, and by his lovely epos * Nanno,' His numer-
ous essays on aesthetics, and more especially his famous * Life of
Rembrandt,* have secured him an honorable place among the art-
historians of our day. As Deputy Recorder of the High Court
of Justice he has, during the best years of his life (he was born
March 20, 1826), enjoyed extensive opportunities of acquiring a
thorough insight into the social life of the present, and the laby-
rinths of the human soul. That *The Amazon,' perhaps the ma-
turest work of this author, should — like Vosmaer's other writings —
be totally unknown outside Holland, is owing solely to the circum-
stance that most of his works are written in his mother-tongue, and
are therefore accessible only to a very small circle of readers.
" It is a painful thing for a poet to have to write in a language
restricted to a small area ; ana it is the bounden duty of the lover
of literature to bring what is excellent in the literature of other
lands within the reach of his own countrymen. Among these
excellent works Vosmaer's 'Amazon' must unquestionably be
reckoned. It introduces us to those whom we cannot fail to
consider an acquisition to our circle of acquaintances. It permits
us to be present at conversations which — and not least when they
provoke dissent — stimulate our minds to reflection. No one who
listens to them can depart without having gained something; for
Vosmaer's novel is rich in subtle observations and shrewd re-
marks, in profound thoughts and beautifully-conceived situations."
JExtract from Georg Ebers* Preface to the German Edition,
FBIDOLLN'S MYSTICAL. MARRIAGE,— A Study
of an Original, founded on Reminiscences of a Friend, by
Adolf Wilbrandty from the German by Clara Bell. One
vol. Paper, 50 cts. Cloth, 90 cts.
"One of the most entertaining of the recent translations of
German fiction is * Fridolin*s Mystical Marriage,' by Adolf Wil-
brandt. The author calls it ' a study of an original, founded on
reminiscences of a friend,* and one may easily believe that the
whimsical, fascinating, brilliant heir must have been drawn more
lar|[ely from life than fancy. He is a professor of art, who re-
mams single up to his fortieth year because he is, he explains to a
friend 'secretly married.' * When you consider all the men of
your acquaintance,' he says, *does it strike you that every man is
thorougnly manly and every woman thoroughly womanly ? Or,
on the contrary, do you not find singular deviations and excep-
tions to the normal type ? If we place all the men on earth in a
series, sorting them by the shades of difference in their natural
dispositions, from the North Pole, so to speak, of stalwart manli-
ness to the South Pole of perfect womanhood, and if you then cast
a piercing glance into their souls, you would perceive . . . beings
with masculine intellect and womanly feelings, or womanly gifts
and masculine character.' The idea is very cleverly worked out
that in these divided souls marriage is possible only between the
two natures, and that whenever one of the unfortunates given this
mixed nature, cannot contract an outward alliance. How the
events of the story overthrow this ingenious theory need not be
told here, but the reader will find entertainment in discovery for
himself." — Courier, Boston,
** A quaint, dry and highly diverting humor pervades the book,
and the characters are sketcned with great force and are admira-
bly contrasted. The unceasing animation of the narrative, the
crispness of the conversations, and the constant movement of the
plot hold the interest of the reader in pleasant attention through-
out. It provides very bright and unfatiguing reading for a dull
summer day." — Gazette, Boston,
**The scenes which are colored by the art atmosphere of the
studio of Fridolin, a professor of art and the principal character,
are full of pure humor, through the action and situations that the
theory brings about. But no point anywhere for effective humor
is neglected. It runs through the story, or comedy, from begin-
ning to end, appearing in every available spot. And the charac-
terization is evenly strong. It is an uncommonly clever work in
its line, and will be deliciously enjoyed by the best readers."
CLiümA« — A Romance of the Sixteenth Century, by
Greorge Taylor, from the German by Mary J. Safford,
in one vol. Paper, 50 cts. Cloth, 90 cts.
" If report may be trusted * George Taylor,* though
writing in German, is an Englishman by race, and not
merely by the assumption of a pseudonym. The state-
ment is countenanced by the general physiognomy of
his novels, which manifest the artistic qualities in which
German fiction, when extending beyond the limits of a
short story, is usually deficient. * Antinous ' was a re-
markable book ; ' Clytia ' displays the same talent, and
is, for obvious reasons, much better adapted for general
circulation. Notwithstanding its classical title, it is a
romance of the post-Lutheran Reformation in the sec-
ond half of the sixteenth century. The scene is laid
in the Palatinate ; the hero, Paul Laurenzano, is, like
John Inglesant, the pupil, but, unlike John Inglesant,
the proselyte and emissary, of the Jesuits, who send him
to do mischief in the disguise of a Protestant clergy-
man. He becomes confessor to a sisterhood of re-
formed nuns, as yet imperfectly detached from the old
religion, and forms the purpose of reconverting them.
During the process, however, he falls in love with one
of their number, the beautiful Clytia, the original, Mr.
Taylor will have it, of the lovely bust in whose genuine-
ness he will not let us believe. Clytia, as is but reason-
able, is a match for Loyola ; the man in Laurenzano
overpowers the priest, and, after much agitation of
various kinds, the story concludes with his marriage. It
is an excellent novel from every point of view, and, like
* Antinous ' gives evidence of superior culture and
though tfulness." — T/ie London Saturday Review,
William S, Gottsberger^ Publisher^ New York.
TBAFALGAR.-^A Tale, by B. Perez Galdös, from
the Spanish by Clara Bell, in one vol. Paper, 50 cents.
Cloth, 90 cents.
" This is the third story by Galdös in this series, and
it is not inferior to those which have preceded it,
although it differs from them in many particulars, as
it does from most European stories with which we are
acquainted, its interest rather depending upon the action
with which it deals than upon the actors therein. To
subordinate men to events is a new practice in art, and if
Galdös had not succeeded we should have said that
success therein was impossible. He has succeeded
doubly, first as a historian, and then as a novelist, for
while the main interest of his story centres in the
great sea-fight which it depicts — the greatest in which
the might of England has "figured since her destruction
of the Grand Armada — there is no lack of interest in
the characters of his story, who are sharply individual-
ized, and painted in strong colors. Don Alonso and his
wife Doiia Francisca — a simple-minded but heroic old
sea-captain, and a sharp-minded, shrewish lady, with a
tongue of her own, fairly stand out on the canvas.
Never before have the danger and the doom of battle
been handled with such force as in this spirited and
picturesque tale. It is thoroughly characteristic of the
writer and of his nationality." — The Mail and Express^
William S. Gottsbergery Publisher ^ New l^ork.
A ORAY£YABD FLOWER. — By Wilhelmine
von HUllem» from the German by Clara Bell, in one
vol, Paper, 40 cts. Cloth, 75 cts.
" The pathos of this story is of a t3rpe too delicate
to be depressing. The tale is almost a poem, so fine is
its imagery, so far removed from the commonplace.
The character of Marie is merely suggested, and yet
she has a most distinct and penetrating individuality.
It is a fine piece of work to place, without parade or
apparent intention, at the feet of this ideal woman, three
loves so widely different from each other. There is
clever conception in the impulse that makes Marie turn
from the selfish, tempestuous love of the Count, and
the generous, holy passion of Anselmo, to the narrower
but nearer love of Walther, who had perhaps fewer
possibilities in his nature than either of the other two.
The quality of the story is something we can only de-
scribe by one word — spirituelle. It has in it strong
suggestions of genius coupled with a rare poetic feel-
ing, which comes perhaps more frequently from Ger-
many than from anywhere else. The death of Marie
and the sculpture of her image by Anselmo, is a passage
of great power. The tragic end of the book does not
come with the gloom of an unforeseen calamity; it
leaves with it merely a feeling of tender sadness, for it
is only the fulfilment of our daily expectations. It is in
fact the only end which the tone of the story would
render fitting or natural." — Godeys Lady's Book,
William S, Gottsberger, Publisher^ New York.
PRU81AS. — A Romance of Ancient Rome under the Republic,
by iiSmst fiCksteill» from the German by Clara Bell.
Authorized edition. In two vols. Paper, $1.00. Cloth, $1.75.
" The date of * Prusias ' is the latter half of the first century
B. C. Rome is waging her tedious war with Mithridates. There
are also risings in Spain, and the home army is badly depleted.
Prusias comes to Capua as a learned Armenian, the tutor of a
noble pupil in one of the aristocratic households. Each member
of this circle is distinct. Some of the most splendid traits of
human nature develop among these grand statesmen and their
dignified wives, mothers, and daughters. The ideal Roman maiden
is Psyche ; but she has a trace of Greek blood and of the native
gentleness. Of a more interesting type is Fannia, who might,
minus her slaves and stola, pass for a modern and saucy New York
beauty. Her wit, spirit, selfishness, and impulsive magnanimity
might easilv have been a nineteenth-century evolution. In the
family to wnich Prusias comes are two sons, one of military lean-
ings, the other a student. Into the ear of the latter Prusias whis-
pers the real purpose of his coming to Italv. He is an Armenian
and in league witn Mithridates for the reduction of Roman rule.
The unity which the Senate has tried to extend to the freshly-con-
quered provinces of Italy is a thing of slow growth. Prusias by
his strategy and helped by Mithridates*s gold, hopes to organize
slaves and disaffected provincials into a force which will oblige
weakened Rome to make terms, one of which shall be complete
emancipation and equality of every man before the law. His har-
angues are in lofty strain, and, save that he never takes the coarse,
belligerent tone of our contemporaries, these speeches might have
been made by one of our own Abolitionists. The one point that
Prusias never forgets is personal dignity and a regal consideration
for his friends. But after all, this son of the gods is befooled by
a woman, a sinuous and transcendently ambitious Roman belle,
the second wife of the dull and trustful prefect of Capua ; for
this tiny woman had all men in her net whom she found it useful
to have there.
"The daughter of the prefect — hard, homely-featured, and hat-
ing the supple stepmother with an unspeakable hate, tearing her
beauty at last like a tigress and so causing her death — is a repul-
sive but very strong figure. The two brothers who range them-
selves on opposite sides in the servile war make another unforget-
table picture ; and the beautiful slave Brenna, who follows her
noble lover into camp, is a spark of light against the lurid back-
ground. The servile movement is combined with the bold plans
of the Thracian Spartacus. He is a good fip^ure and perpetually
surprises us with his keen foresight and disciplinary power.
"The book is stirring, realistic in the even German way, and
full of the fibre and breath of its century. " Boston Ev*g Transcript,