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As it was the entr'acte of the opera the lobby of the Casino was filled with a gay and noisy cosmopolitan crowd. All the more, therefore, was it a proof of the celebrity to which Paul Trafford had attained that his entry caused a distinct and general thrill of curiosity. A man who was reckoned the richest in the world could not be other than an object of supreme interest to people whose first cry was money. The fact that he had arrived at Monte Carlo the day before had been as much a topic of conversation as if he had been King Edward or the Czar. Now that he appeared and was recognized, princes, duchesses, and adventurers instinctively fell back a little, making way for him and his party to pass on. Here and there some one claimed the privilege of his acquaintance, and bowed before his nod as before a pope's benediction. Those who followed in his train were besieged with greetings. Mr and Mrs. George Trafford were actually cut off from the procession and made prisoners of war. The Duke of Wiltshire only maintained his position at Miss Trafford's side by being rude to people, and turning his back on them.
As for Paula herself, she passed on, between her father and the man she had almost promised to marry, unmoved by the stir she created. She was aware of it, but she was used to it. Having been so constantly her father's companion during the last four years, she had come to take public attention as a matter of course. At first the interest she inspired had been impersonal—the interest inseparable from one whom the American press called "the greatest heiress on earth." Her fortune was compared with that of the Queen of Holland, and of the daughters of the Rothschild and Rockefeller families, but that was all. Now, however, at twenty-two, she was emerging from the golden mist that had surrounded her, and was assuming personality. The flowering of her beauty had done something towards this. People had found it superfluous that a girl with so much money should have a complexion like rose-petals floating in milk. They resented the fact that her figure had needless grace, and her face an expression of appeal which there was no resisting. Rumors of marriage sprang up wherever she appeared. The girl knew these things without taking actual account of them, or letting them form part of her daily consciousness. At this minute she could ignore the fact that her looks were being criticised and her income appraised, in gazing about her, with amusement, at the novelty of the scene.
"We're now in one of those spots of No-man's-land," said the Duke of Wiltshire, as they entered the first saloon, "which modern civilization likes to set apart as cities of refuge from the rule of caste and conventionality."
Paula turned her soft eyes slowly towards him. They were blue eyes with black lashes—the Celtic eyes inherited from her father's mother—the eyes in which faith is mingled with superstition, in which self-devotion has a dash of insincerity, and in which laughter never wholly hides the mist of tears. Between the brows there was a tiny, perpendicular furrow, like that of a person endeavoring to see through the rights and wrongs of things, and conscientiously trying to be sure. It was this puzzled, inquiring look that the Duke of Wiltshire specially loved in her. It gave him an opportunity for the kind of explanatory work in which he excelled in the House of Lords.
"Haven't you noticed," he went on, in answer to Paula's unspoken interrogation, "that in all the great capitals of the world—London, Paris, and New York, for instance—there are two or three expensive restaurants and luxurious hotels, where on crossing the very threshold one steps outside all the limitations of nationality, moral prejudice, and class distinction?"
"That's very true," Paul Trafford said, in corroboration.
He liked to listen to Wiltshire's reflections on subjects that he himself had never thought about. "He's always widening your mind in some direction where you never looked before," he remarked, now and then, to Paula. The girl was glad to believe it. It was one more attraction of mind, where physical charms were so lacking; it was one more explanation of her willingness to marry him. She liked him. "No one could help liking him," she often told herself; and yet as they moved slowly along amid the crowd, with so many eyes upon them, she regretted the fact that he was shorter than herself, and that he had this air of hopeless mediocrity. The men of her own family were all equipped for command. Her father, who had been a New England farmer's son, and himself a farmer's boy, overtopped most men by a head, and was undeniably handsome. Even her cousin George, who was big and lumbe