THE PRICE OF THINGS
THE PRICE OF THINGS
THE PRICE OF THINGS
"If one consciously and deliberately desires happiness on this plane"
said the Russian "one must have sufficient strength of will to banish
all thought. The moment that one begins to probe the meaning of things
one has opened Pandora's box and it may be many lives before one
discovers hope lying at the bottom of it."
"What do you mean by thought? How can one not think?" Amaryllis Ardayre's
large grey eyes opened in a puzzled way. She was on her honeymoon in
Paris at a party at the Russian Embassy and until now had accepted
things and not speculated about them. She had lived in the country and
was as good as gold.
She was accepting her honeymoon with her accustomed calm although it was
not causing her any of the thrills which Elsie Goldmore her school
friend had assured her she should discover therein.
Honeymoons! Heavens! But perhaps it was because Sir John was dull. He
looked dull she thought as he stood there talking to the Ambassador. A
fine figure of an Englishman but--yes--dull. The Russian on the
contrary was not dull. He was huge and ugly and rough-hewn--his eyes
were yellowish-green and slanted upwards and his face was frankly
Calmuck. But you knew that you were talking to a personality--to one who
had probably a number of unknown possibilities about him tucked away
John had none of these. One could be certain of exactly what he would do
on any given occasion--and it would always be his duty. The Russian was
observing this charming English bride critically; she was such a perfect
specimen of that estimable race--well-shaped refined and healthy. Chock
full of temperament too he reflected--when she should discover herself.
Temperament and romance and even passion and there were shrewdness and
commonsense as well.
"An agreeable task for a man to undertake her education" and he wished
that he had time.
Amaryllis Ardayre asked again:
"How can one not think? I am always thinking."
He smiled indulgently.
"Oh! no you are not--you only imagine that you are. You have questioned
nothing--you do right generally because you have a nice character and
have been well brought up not from any conscious determination to uplift
the soul. Yes--is it not so?"
She was startled.
"Do you ever ask yourself what things mean? What we are--where we are
going? What is the end of it all? No--you are happy; you live from day
to day--and yet you cannot be a very young ego your eyes are too
wise--you have had many incarnations. It is merely that in this one life
the note of awakening has not yet been struck. You certainly must have
"Many lives? You believe in that theory?"
She was not accustomed to discuss unorthodox subjects. She was
"But of course--how else could there be justice? We draw the reflex of
every evil action and of every good one but sometimes not until the next
incarnation that is why the heedless ones cannot grasp the truth--they
see no visible result of either good or evil--evil in fact seems
generally to win if there is a balance either way."
"Why are we not allowed memory then so that we might profit by
"We should in that case improve from self-interest and not have our
faults eliminated by suffering. We are given no conscious memory of
our last life so we go on fighting for whatever desire still holds
us until its achievement brings such overwhelming pain that the
desire is no more."
"Why do you say that for happiness we must banish thought--that seems
She was a little disturbed.
"I said if one _consciously_ and deliberately desired happiness one must
banish thought to bring oneself back to the condition of hundreds of
people who are happy; many of them are even elementals without souls at
all. They are permitted happiness so that they may become so attached to
the earth plane that they willingly return and gradually obtain a soul.
But no one who is allowed to think is allowed any continued happiness;
there would be no progress. If so we should remain as brutes."
"Then how cruel of you to suggest to me to think. I want to be
happy--perhaps I do not want to obtain a soul."
"That was born long ago--my words may have awakened it once more but the
sleep was not deep."
Amaryllis Ardayre looked at the crowds passing and re-passing in those
"Tell me who is that woman over there?" she asked. "The very pretty one
with the fair hair in jade green--she looks radiantly happy."
"And is--she is frankly an animal--exquisitely preserved damnably
selfish completely devoid of intellect sugar manners the senses of a
harem houri--and the tenacity of a rat."
"You are severe."
"Not at all. Harietta Boleski is a product of that most astonishing
nation across the Atlantic--none other could produce her. It is the
hothouse of the world as regards remarkable types. Here for immediate
ancestry we have a mother from heaven knows what European refuse heap
arrived in an immigrant ship--father of the 'pore white trash' of the
south--result: Harietta fine points beautiful quite a lady for
ordinary purposes. The absence of soul is strikingly apparent to any
ordinary observer but one only discovers the vulgarity of spirit if one
is a student of evolution--or chances to catch her when irritated with
her modiste or her maid. Other nations cannot produce such beings. Women
with the attributes of Harietta were they European would have surface
vulgarity showing--and so be out of the running or they would have real
passion which would be their undoing--passion is glorious--it is aroused
by something beyond the physical. Observe her nostril! There is simple
delightful animal sensuality for you! Look also at the convex curve below
the underlip--she will bite off the cherry whether it is hers by right or
another's and devour it without a backward thought."
"Boleski--that is a Russian name is it not?"
"No Polish--she secured our Stanislass a great man in his
country--last year in Berlin having divorced a no longer required
but worthy German husband who had held some post in the American
"Is that old man standing obediently beside her your Stanislass?--he
looks quite cowed."
"A sad sight is it not? Stanislass though is not old barely forty. He
had a _beguin_ for her. She put his intelligence to sleep and bamboozled
his judgment with a continuous appeal to the senses; she has vampired him
now. Cloying all his will with her sugared caprices she makes him scenes
and so keeps him in subjection. He was one of the Council de l'Empire for
Poland; the aims of his country were his earnest work but now ambition
is no more. He is tired he has ceased to struggle; she rules and eats
his soul as she has eaten the souls of others. Shall I present her to
you? As a type she is worthy of your attention."
"It sounds as if she had the evil eye as the Italians say" Amaryllis
"Only for men. She is really an amiable creature--women like her. She
is so frankly simple since for her there are never two issues--only to
be allowed her own desires--a riot of extravagance the first
place--and some one to gratify certain instincts without too many
refinements when the mood takes her. For the rest she is kind and
good-natured and 'jolly' as you English say and has no notion that
she is a road to hell. But they are mostly dead her other spider
mates and cannot tell of it."
"I am much interested. I should like to talk to her. You say that she
"Obviously--she is an elemental--she never thinks at all except to plan
some further benefit for herself. I do not believe in this life that she
can obtain a soul--her only force is her tenacious will."
"Such force is good though?"
"Certainly. Even bad force is better than negative Good. One must first
be strong before one can be serene."
"You are strong."
"Yes but not good. Hardly a fit companion for sweet little English
brides with excellent husbands awaiting them."
"I shall judge of that."
"_Tiens!_ So emancipated!"
"If you are bad how does your theory work that we pay for each action?
Since by that you must know that it cannot be worth while to be bad."
"It is not--I am aware of it but when I am bad I am bad deliberately
knowing that I must pay."
"That seems stupid of you."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"I take very severe exercise when I begin to think of things I should not
and I become savage when I require happiness--now is our chance for
making you acquainted with Harietta she is moving our way."
Madame Boleski swept towards them on the arm of an Austrian Prince and
the Russian Verisschenzko said with suave politeness:
"Madame let me present you to Lady Ardayre. With me she has been
admiring you from afar."
The two women bowed and with cheery disarming simplicity the American
made some gracious remarks in a voice which sounded as if she smoked too
much; it was not disagreeable in tone nor had she a pronounced
Amaryllis Ardayre found herself interested. She admired the superb
attention to detail shown in Madame Boleski's whole person. Her face was
touched up with the lightest art not overdone in any way. Her hair of
that very light tone bordering on gold which sometimes goes with hazel
eyes was quite natural and wonderfully done. Her dress was
perfection--so were her jewels. One saw that her corsetiere was an
artist and that everything had cost a great deal of money. She had taken
off one glove and Amaryllis saw her bare hand--it was well-shaped save
that the thumb turned back in a remarkable degree.
"So delighted to meet you" Madame Boleski said. "We are going over to
London next month and I am just crazy to know more of you delicious
They chatted for a few moments and then Madame Boleski swept onwards. She
was quite stately and graceful and had a well-poised head. Amaryllis
turned to the Russian and was startled by the expression of fierce
sardonic amusement in his yellow-green eyes.
"But surely she can see that you are laughing at her?" she exclaimed
"It would convey nothing to her if she did."
"But you looked positively wicked."
"Possibly--I feel it sometimes when I think of Stanislass; he was a very
good friend of mine."
Sir John Ardayre joined them at this moment and the three walked towards
the supper room and the Russian said good-night.
"It is not good-bye Madame. I too shall be in your country soon and I
also hope that I may see you again before you leave Paris."
They arranged a dinner for the following night but one and said
An hour later the Russian was seated in a huge English leather chair in
the little salon of his apartment in the rue Cambon when Madame Boleski
very softly entered the room and sat down upon his knee.
"I had to come darling Brute" she said. "I was jealous of the English
girl" and she fitted her delicately painted lips to his. "Stanislass
wanted to talk over his new scheme for Poland too and as you know that
always gets on my nerves."
But Verisschenzko threw his head back impatiently while he
"I am not in the mood for your chastisement to-night. Go back as you
came I am thinking of something real something which makes your
body of no use to me--it wearies me and I do not even desire your
Then he kissed her neck insolently and pushed her off his knee.
She pouted resentfully. But suddenly her eyes caught a small case lying
on a table near--and an eager gleam came into their hazel depths.
"Oh Stepan! Is it the ruby thing! Oh! You beloved angel you are going
to give it to me after all! Oh! I'll rush off at once and leave you if
you wish it! Good-night!"
And when she was gone Verisschenzko threw some incense into a silver
burner and as the clouds of perfume rose into the air:
"Wough!" he said.
"What are you doing in Paris Denzil?"
"I came over for a bit of racing. Awfully glad to see you. Can't we dine
together? I go back to-morrow." Verisschenzko put his arm through Denzil
Ardayre's and drew him in to the Cafe de Paris at the door of which they
had chanced to meet.
"I had another guest but she can be consoled with some of Midas' food
and I want to talk to you; were you going to eat alone?"
"A fellow threw me over; I meant to have just a snack and go on to a
theatre. It is good running across you--I thought you were miles away!"
Verisschenzko spoke to the head waiter and gave him directions as to the
disposal of the lovely lady who would presently arrive and then he went
on to his table rather at the top in a fairly secluded corner.
The few people who were already dining--it was early on this May
night--looked at Denzil Ardayre--he was such a refreshing sight of health
and youth so tall and fit and English with his brown smooth head and
fearless blue eyes gay and debonnaire. One could see that he played
cricket and polo and any other game that came along and that not a
muscle of his frame was out of condition. He had "soldier" written upon
him--young gallant cavalry soldier. Verisschenzko appreciated him;
nothing complete human or inanimate left him unconscious of its
meaning. They knew one another very well--they had been at Oxford and
later had shot bears together in the Russian's far-off home.
They talked for a while of casual things and then Verisschenzko said:
"Some relations of yours are here--Sir John Ardayre and his particularly
attractive bride. Shall we eat what I had ordered for Collette or have
you other fancies after the soup?"
Denzil paid only attention to the first part of the speech--he looked
surprised and interested.
"John Ardayre here! Of course he married about ten days ago--he is the
head of the family as you are aware but I hardly even know him by sight.
He is quite ten years older than I am and does not trouble about us the
poor younger branch--" and he smiled showing such good teeth. "Besides
as you know I have been for such a long time in India and the leaves
were for sport not for hunting up relations."
Verisschenzko did not press the matter of his guest's fancies in food
and they continued the menu ordered for Collette without further delay.
"I want to hear all that you know about them the girl is an exquisite
thing with immense possibilities. Sir John looks--dull."
"He is really a splendid character though" Denzil hastened to assure
him. "Do you know the family history? But no of course not we were too
busy in the old days enjoying life to trouble to talk of such things!
Well it is rather strange in the last generation--things very nearly
came to an end and John has built it all up again. You are interested in
"Naturally--what is the story?"
"Our mutual great-grandfather was a tremendous personage in North
Somerset--the place Ardayre is there. My father was the son of the
younger son who had just enough to do him decently at Eton and enable
him to scrape along in the old regiment with a pony or two to play with.
My mother was a Willowbrook as you know and a considerable heiress
that is how I come out all right but until John's father Sir James
squandered things the head of the family was always very rich and full
of land--and awfully set on the dignity of his race. They had turned the
cult of it into regular religion."
"The father of this man made a _gaspillage_ then--well?"
"Yes he was a rotter--a hark-back to his mother's relations; she was a
Cranmote--they ruin any blood they mix with. I am glad that I come from
the generation before."
Denzil helped himself to a Russian salad and went on leisurely. "He
fortunately married Lady Mary de la Paule--who was a saint and so John
seems to have righted and takes after her. She died quite early she had
had enough of Sir James I expect he had gambled away everything he
could lay hands upon. Poor John was brought up with a tutor at home for
some reason--hard luck on a man. He was only about thirteen when she died
and at seventeen went straight into the city. He was determined to make a
fortune it has always been said and redeem the mortgages on
Ardayre--very splendid of him wasn't it?"
"Yes--well all this is not out of the ordinary line--what comes next?"
Denzil laughed--he was not a good raconteur.
"The poor lady was no sooner dead than the old boy married a Bulgarian
snake charmer whom he had picked up in Constantinople! You may well
smile"--for Verisschenzko had raised his eyebrows in a whimsical
way--this did sound such a highly coloured incident!
"It was an unusual sort of thing to do I admit but the tale grows more
lurid still when I tell you that five months after the wedding she
produced a son by the Lord knows who one of her own tribe probably and
old Sir James was so infatuated with her that he never protested and
presently when he and John quarrelled like hell he pretended the little
brute was his own child--just to spite John."
Verisschenzko's Calmuck eyes narrowed.
"And does this result of the fusion of snake charmers figure in the
family history? I believe I have met him--his name is Ferdinand is it
not and he is or was in some business in Constantinople?"
"That is the creature--he was brought up at Ardayre as though he were the
heir and poor John turned out of things. He came to Eton three years
before I left but even there they could not turn him into the outside
semblance of a gentleman. I loathed the little toad and he loathed
me--and the sickening part of the thing is that if John does not have a
son by the English law of entail Ferdinand comes into Ardayre and will
be the head of the family. Old Sir James died about five years ago
always protesting this bastard was his own child though every one knew
it was a lie. However by that time John had made enough in the city to
redeem Ardayre twice over. He had tremendous luck after the South African
War so he came into possession and lives there now in great state--I do
really hope that he will have a son."
"You too have the instinct of the family then--this pride in