"God grant it," said his friend earnestly.
"Amen," said the rector: "then the gossips are right, you are about to come to God's altar, to join yourself in matrimony with a wealthy American."
"I am; do you think I am right; tell me as an old and trusty friend,' he said gravely.
"Every man should marry, you should know whom to choose, being a cosmopolitan as you are; the Hall should be occupied; you are a good and faithful steward, giving to the poor with no niggard hand, and out of your present small income; yes, you should decidedly marry and you should as decidedly have an heir," he added smiling.
"As you think it wise, I wish I had put on the shackles before, especially as a home for my darling Vaura is my strongest motive, and now she will marry and I might have had her with me all these years; as for an heir I bother myself very little about it; in my early manhood I loved, and had I been loved in return," he said bitterly; "heirs would now, I expect, have been numerous, and now it is all her fault," he said weakly, "if my venture does not bring me happiness."
"Never mind the past, my dear fellow, we have done with it," said the rector kindly, "be true to the wife you are taking; 'Loyal unto death' (your own motto), or dishonour, which, God save us all from, we have nothing to do with; the man who is loyal to his wife has a right to expect equal devotion on her part."
"Your own wedded life has been very happy," said Trevalyon earnestly.
"It has; heaven grant you both the same! Trevalyon, you will pardon an old friend (and a friend of your father's also); you have said you have been a 'good deal bothered lately,' is it anything you can confide in me—it lightens care to share it?"
"I thank you, Douglas; you are very kind. I have a visit to my place on the tapis, and when this is the case my heart is full of sad memories; my tenants, too, under my late steward's regime, have been extremely disaffected; so I take the Great Northern at sunrise on to-morrow for Northumberland. I have been feeling very much lately the burden of my lonely life, the outcome as it is, of my dear father's blighted hopes; grief-stricken; desertion."
"Pardon me, you are under some promise of celibacy to your father, I believe."
"It was no oath?"
"No, I was glad by a promise to relieve his poor troubled mind, and my knowledge of women made it easy."
"Grant me still another question. I am not, I need scarcely say, actuated by mere idle curiosity?"
"Any question you like, Douglas."
"Have you never met a woman who has caused you to regret your promise."
But a new and strange feeling stirred his heart-strings, that perhaps, had he met the child Vaura, now the woman, he could not answer so. There was a pause on his answering Douglas, with the single word—"Never."
"It is due to you, that I should give a reason for my questions. My son, Roland, writes me, that the story of your elopement with Fanny Clarmont, has been revived, and with a good deal of vim and sensation as to her being your hidden wife thrown in."
"Indeed," said Trevalyon, carelessly, "what a dearth of scandal there must be in Dame Rumour's budget, that she must needs revive one of a dozen years ago."
"Ah," thought the rector, "what a pity it is true." But not so Haughton, who, starting to a sitting posture, said excitedly:
"You take it too coolly, Trevalyon, stamp it out at once, and for ever! you know, you never married her."
"Dame Rumour says I did," he answered with the utmost sang-froid.
"Nonsense; saddle it on the right man, my dear fellow; mark me, 'tis his doing; whatever may be his present reason, he is now, as, then, thoroughly unprincipled, and always your foe."
"Tis true, Haughton; but the weather is too warm for a brawl," he said, lazily.
"Eleven! o'clock," exclaimed the rector, "I must bid you both good-night; Haughton, you have my best wishes; we shall be more glad than I can say to have you among us again, and the other dear ones, Lady Esmondet and our sweet Vaura; good-bye, Trevalyon, I am full of regrets, that in giving you Dame Rumour's words, I have lent an unpleasant tone to your thoughts.
"You have nothing to regret, Douglas, I am too well accustomed to Dame Rumour's pleasantries; she only serves poor Fanny Clarmont up in a new dress; as 'hidden wife,' she has never been presented before. Good-bye; I wish I could remain at the dear old place all night, then we would both stroll across the park with you."
"That would have been pleasant; hoping soon to meet again; good- night, and fare you both well."
The rector gone, the dog-cart is again in requisition; at the station, Haughton says heartily—
"Good-bye, dear old friend; I am sorry you will not be with me to the last, but I shall look forward to your spending a couple of months with me in the autumn, ere going up for the season; good-night, I feel all the better since our talk."
"Good-bye, Eric, good-bye; my heart is to full for many words. God bless you! Farewell."
And with a long, firm pressure of the hand and look from the eyes, the friends, with the friendship of Orestes and Pylades, part.
MADAME AND HER GARDENER.
One word of Mrs. Tompkins, on the up trip to the city, a few hours previous, as she cares for her little plot digging with smiles as sunbeams; frowns as showers. On the guard locking the door, she was astonished to find, besides the strawberries and Sir Peter, her head gardener, who smiled as he stroked his beard in satisfaction; he loved this woman (so like himself) with the strongest passion his heart had ever known, and here she was coming in to him, making his heart throb with joy, while she, more in love with his rival than ever, by this day's social contact, still, in pique at his falling into Haughton's plan to remain, and so (though he knew she loved him) letting her return in other company, gave her a certain relish for this man's bold love-making, and whom she could also use in nourishing her plot to keep Trevalyon free. So now, while instructing Delrose in the manner of the plot, she let him love her with his eyes, while with smiles and caressing words, she bound him in stronger chains than ever.
"When may I come, my beauty?" he whispered feverishly, at the door of No. —— Eaton square.
"Now," she said impulsively, she would so perfect her plot; "and you, my dear little strawberry blondes, with Sir Peter and little Tilton, to whom I owe a sugar-plum, for taking care of Blanche," who yawning said—
"I just hate an English rail-car, locked up like Oscar Wilde's blue china, with only Sir Tilton to talk to."
Major Delrose was in a fool's Paradise, all night, and swore to leave no stone unturned in effectually preventing the marriage of his rival with Miss Vernon, Madame him such was the wish of Trevalyon's heart. Tedril favoured Delrose's suit in every possible way; Haughton Hall was four times the size of Richmondglen. Sir Peter represented his division of the county only on sufferance; and, he knew it right well, should Haughton marry money, he would be persuaded to stand for Surrey, he had refused, heretofore, on the plea of absenteeism and lack of gold; and so he, Tedril, greatly preferred that Delrose should win; but his fierce passions would not brook his, Tedril's, coupling any man's name with hers; but after this run to Surrey, he knew she would wed Haughton, while, as now, throwing dust in his friends eyes. And so it was in four days, the announcement of the marriage of 'Kate Vivian Tompkins, relict of the late Lincoln Tompkins, Esq., of New York, U.S., to Eric, Col. Haughton, of Haughton Hall, Surrey, England,' appeared in the Court Journal and Times, at which Major Delrose raved and swore, said some queer things, which went the round of the clubs, for the usual nine days, then for the time, it was forgotten in, the newer scandal of Captain Trevalyon, one of society's pets, having a "hidden wife."
"Well, the darling is handsome enough to have half-a-dozen," said gay Mrs. Eustace Wingfield.
"I am ready to bet a box of gloves (twelve buttons) that a dozen women have as good as asked him," laughed another butterfly.
"Forestalling the advanced method in Lytton's 'New Utopia,'" said Mrs. Claxton.
"There would be an absence of the usual mother-in-law difficulty," lisped a young Government attache, meekly, who had recently married the only child of her mother.
"Or, if so, she would pose not as Mark Twain's, but as M. Thiers," said Wingfield, jestingly.
"I don't believe a word of it," said Posey Wyesdale, weeping profusely; "it is invented by some person who is jealous of his overwhelming love for me; but I'll let them see I shall marry him all the same."
"Give me your attention, young ladies," said Madame de Lancy, privately, and with a business-like air, to her eight daughters, who were out. "It is commonly reported that Capt. Trevalyon has a 'hidden wife;' but as it may be a complete falsehood, I wish you all—all, remember—for we do not know his style, and one of you will doubtless suit him; I repeat, I wish you all, to be tenderly sympathetic and consoling in your manner towards him; it is unfortunate that the season is just about over; but much may be done in one meeting, and I shall tell your father to invite him to dinner to-morrow; I shall have no one else to distract his attention from yourselves."
And in her own mind she decided that Mrs. Trevalyon should have at least four of her sisters on her hands to settle in life.
VAURA IN A MEDLEY.
The mighty god, Society, having descended from his London throne, and with a despotic wave of the hand bid his slaves forth to some resort where fashion reigned; as a matter of course, you and I, mon ami, must go with the stream if we would not be ostracised altogether; we should dearly love to take a lazy summer jaunt with some of them; our dear Lionel Trevalyon, in his lonely pilgrimage to the North Countree, would be glad of companionship; I wish it had been his pleasant fate to make his exodus with his old friends, the Lady Esmondet and Vaura Vernon; but it was not to be. And so, through the moves of the "miscreator circumstance," we are all separated until now, when I am more than glad to tell you that Lady Esmondet, with Miss Vernon, have arrived this day, 2nd Nov., '77, at Dover, having come up from gay Brighton, and are hourly expecting Col. and Mrs. Haughton, who had left by the White Star Line for New York immediately on their marriage; thence, on sending home the most artistic of American fresco workers and decorators, they spent a month amid the gay revellers at Long Branch and Saratoga; back again to the old shores and Paris, choosing from this great storehouse of the beautiful, gems in art, both to please the senses and delight the cultured and refined. With the face of Trevalyon seldom absent from her thoughts, Mrs. Haughton unconsciously chose much that would have been his own choice also. A page, in the hotel livery, tapping at the door of the sitting-room, en suite with the sleeping apartments engaged by Lady Esmondet, coming forward, hands a telegram.
"This has just arrived, your ladyship; any answer, your ladyship?"
"No; it merely states they have left by one of the new lines."
"We are looking for one to come in very shortly, your ladyship."
"That is convenient; it will allow of their dressing and dining with comfort; and, boy, see that their rooms are warm and lighted."
"Will it please your ladyship to dine here, or at the table d'hote?"
"Here the room is large, warm, and will answer our purpose very well."
"Yes, your ladyship."
"How delightful, Vaura dear, that we shall not be detained, but can leave on to-morrow."
"Yes, godmother darling, the fates have golden threads on their distaff for you and I to-day."
"I trust your uncle will not deny me," said Lady Esmondet, a little absently; "if so, I shall feel doubly lonely just now."
"He has married a wife; therefore cannot refuse to lend me to you until we both go to Haughton Hall hand in hand; do not think for one moment that I shall allow you to go alone to Italy."
"You belong to your uncle as well as to me, dear."
"Yes," she said, slowly; "how much I wish," and she was beside her godmother caressing the smooth bands of fair hair; "how I wish you and he had had enough of love between you to blend your lives in one."
"Do not even think of what now is an impossibility, dear," she answered hurriedly and evasively, while a faint flush came to her cheek as she pressed her hand to her side.
"Ah, poor darling," thought Vaura, "she cared for him;" and with a latent sympathy she said tenderly: "How oft in one's journey through life one closes one's eyes to the shimmer of sunbeams on the grand, majestic ocean, or the calm and peaceful lake; only opening them to the glare of the gas-light, the song of the night bird."
"How often, indeed," said her godmother, sadly; "but by the prancing of steeds in the court yard," she continued, smiling bravely, "one must conclude the steamer has arrived."
"'Tis well one can don society's mask at will," said Vaura.
"Yes, dear, and 'tis quite unnecessary to bare one's heart to the million," she answered, with her usual composure. "You are looking charming, dear; that seal-brown velvet fits you exquisitely."
"Worth says I am curves, not angles," said Vaura, gaily; "he says he would prefer to fit a grasshopper, a la mode, than many women who pine for his scissors."
"You should always bare your arm to the elbow; the shape is perfect, and your old gold jewelry blends both with the warm brown of your gown and the roses and lace at your throat. I wonder a little what Mrs. Haughton, how strange it sounds, but one grows accustomed to, anything, I wonder what your uncle's wife will think of you."
"It matters not," replied Vaura, her beautiful head erect. "I know she is no fit mate for a Haughton and an innate feeling causes me to wish most fervently that she, with the golden dollar bequeathed to her, had never set foot on proud Albion's shores."
"They are in the corridor, dear; make the best of her for your dear uncle's sake," said her god-mother, breathlessly.
"Do not fear for me, dear godmother, especially as poor misguided uncle has wed so that I forsooth, shall find in Haughton Hall a fitting home, and yet, I, above all, should not speak in such tone, our race are capable of a noble self abnegation, even I at fourteen, but I dream aloud, dear godmother, forgive me."
"Surely, dear, with me alone, you may think audibly."
In a few minutes during which Vaura's eyes idly rest on the last beams of the western sun as they kiss the soft bands of hair and bring out the mauve tints in the rich satin robe of her now silent companion, when the door is opened wide, by a page admitting Col. and Mrs. Haughton, with Miss Tompkins, followed by Sir Tilton Everly.
"My dear friend and darling Vaura, how glad, glad I am to see you both; you give the place quite a home look; Mrs. Haughton, Lady Esmondet and my niece Vaura, and here is my wife's step-daughter, Miss Tompkins, a devotee of the American Eagle, and Sir Tilton Everly."
"I should say so," said Blanche, "our Eagle would make short work of the furs of your Lion and not lose a feather."
"He would first be obliged to turn dentist and claw-remover, Miss Tompkins," said Vaura merrily.
"Miss Vernon," said Mrs. Haughton stiffly, "allow me even thus early in our acquaintance to make a request of you which is that you ignore the odious sirname of my step-daughter, simply calling her Blanche."
"Certainly, Mrs. Haughton, though it is out of order, if your step-daughter also wishes it."
"Oh yes, it don't make five cents difference, Miss Vernon; popa had to give up Annabella Elizabeth my real name; Mrs. T. didn't take to it, she only took Tompkins because it was set in diamonds."
This was said with the most child-like expression on the wee white face, but one could detect venom in the tone of voice. For answer there was a frown and an impatient stamp of foot as her step-mother says coldly.
"Lady Esmondet will excuse us, Blanche, while we change our travelling dresses."
Sir Tilton flew to open the door; the Colonel seeing them to their appartments, and their maids in attendance, returned to the loving rest of his home birds.
"Well, uncle dear, how do you feel after your run to and fro?" said Vaura, affectionately, and going behind his chair, drew his head backwards, kissing his face in welcome.
"Passing well, dear; here, take this chair beside me, and let me look at you; the Scotch lakes and sea-bathing have agreed with you, and with Lady Alice also," he added kindly.
"Eric, what did you think of New York," enquired Lady Esmondet, to divert his attention from her personally.
"Oh, it is just a large handsome city, with cosmopolitan cut in its very corner store, representing much wealth in its many fine buildings; there is a good deal of taste displayed in its burying grounds, and parks, and nearly all has a look of rapid growth about it, so different to our London."
"As our old slow-growing Oak in comparison with their Pines," said Vaura; "and what of the people generally?"
"Just what we know them to be, dear, full of energy and active life; sleeping never, I do believe, or if so, with eyes open."
"So full of mercury that it tires one even to think of them," said Vaura lazily.
"A great people though, Miss Vernon; strongly imbued with the spirit of the age, Progress," said Sir Tilton, who, from his corner, had never withdrawn his gaze from Vaura's face since the exit of the other ladies.
"True; but what a spirit of unrest is Progress, always flying, only resting on the wing to scatter to the winds a something new, to take the place of the old," said Vaura, thoughtfully.
"But, Vaura, dear," said Lady Esmondet, "it is astonishing how comfortably we en masse keep pace with your flying spirit, eager to pick up its novelties."
"True, ladies, and elbow each other in the race," said Sir Tilton.
"I know I am old-fashioned," remarked the Colonel, a little sadly; "but our life of to-day does not come up to my ideal, as when a soldier on furlough I used to return to my dear old home; there, if anywhere on this lower sphere, peace and happiness reigned."
"You may well say so, Eric, with your noble father, sainted mother, and Vaura's mother, my dear friend, your sweet sister, Ethel, as inmates;" and in that instant their eyes met, full of sympathy. And be it what it may, an electric spark, the true speech of heart to heart, or what; the knowledge came to him for the first time of what he had lost, and a nervous tremor ran through him such as he had never felt at Delhi or Inkerman under shell or rifle fire. And the woman who had been too proud to show her love unasked, did not know whether she was glad or sorry that he had at last tasted of the tree of knowledge.
Mason here threw open the door for her mistress and Miss Tompkins, who enter, both having made elaborate toilets, the former in a gown of rose pink brocade, the latter wearing sky-blue silk, each lavish in their display of jewels.
"Dressed before you, after all, Miss Vernon," cried Mrs. Haughton, with latent malice. Even small Sir Tilton raised his eyebrows; for one moment Vaura was non-plussed; "underbred poor uncle," was her thought as she said quietly: "I have dined in salons at Brighton in this gown, Mrs. Haughton; I have listened to Patti robed as you see me."
"How mean of step-momma," thought Blanche.
"Never saw anyone to compare with her," thought the little baronet.
"Is it possible, Miss Vernon? You must excuse me, but I really thought it your travelling dress."
Waiters were now busy with the dining table at the end of the room, partially separated by folding doors; tempting entrees, steaming dishes, with delicious dainties, are now arranged.
"Surely, we dine at the table d'hote," said Mrs. Haughton, hastily; "you should have seen to it, Colonel; you know I prefer it."
"Pardon, Kate; I was unaware of this arrangement, dear."
"I am the culprit, Mrs. Haughton," said Lady Esmondet. "I thought we should all be warmer here; the air is chilly this evening."
"Oh, certainly, as you wish it; only when I take the trouble to dress for the table d'hote, I like to be seen," she answered, stiffly; "but we go to the theatre afterwards; and now, Sir Tilton, your arm." And clearing her brow, she seats herself at table, her husband opposite, with his friend on his right.
"You have no hotels at London to compare with ours of New York city, Lady Esmondet," she said.
"You have, Mrs. Haughton, I believe, the verdict of the majority of the travelling public with you; though I have found the Langham, and others among our leading hotels, most comfortable."
"The difference between our system and theirs," said the Colonel, "is that ours savor of the British home, in the being chary of whom we admit, and a trifle pompous; while the French and Americans, as a people, are better adapted to make hotel life a pleasant success."
"Because you are too awfully too, and we are free and easy; that's what's the matter," said Blanche.
"Also," said Vaura, "the hotel and American are both of to-day."
"You havn't given us the newest London scandal, Sir Tilton," said Mrs. Haughton, thinking of her plot.
"Political or social?" he asked, somewhat guardedly.
"Social, of course; I don't care a fig for the country."
"Well, to lead off with, the pretty Miss Fitz-Clayton, who was to have married Lord Menton, instead fell in love with her pater's tallest footman; and on her fortune they have been cooing all summer at the Cap de Juan; next," he hurriedly said, "Capt. Trevalyon's hidden wife is on; last, two separations and a new beauty."
There was a moment's pause, each thinking of Trevalyon, when Vaura said carelessly, to cover her quickened heart-beats:
"Here he comes, with his mouth full of news."
"This story about Trevalyon is a lie direct, Everly," said the Colonel, hastily.
"Dare say, Haughton."
"The prettiest bit of your news, Sir Tilton, is Cap de Juan," said Vaura, apparently absorbed in the delicacies on her plate; but thinking, "can it be true of the ideal knight of my childhood."
"Poor Lionel, how disgusted he will be," said Lady Esmondet, wearily.
"Still, men do do such things; why not he?" said Mrs. Haughton, daringly; "and after all, as none of us are going to marry him, we need not care."
"One feels for one's friends when maligned, that is all," said Vaura, carelessly.
"Well, supposing it be false," continued Mrs. Haughton, with morbid curiosity, watching the beautiful, expressive face of her rival—"which I don't believe, how could he clear himself?"
"I cannot say, Mrs. Haughton; it would be easier to name an antidote for the sting of the snake than for the tongue of Dame Rumour."
"All I can say is, I believe it," said Mrs. Haughton, aggressively; "he is handsome enough to have induced more than one woman to make a clandestine marriage with him."
"I regret to hear you say so, Kate," said her husband, gravely.
"Mrs. Haughton is to be excused, Eric; she does not know Lionel as we do."
"The animal man is the same everywhere," continued Madame, recklessly.
"The serious trouble I see in it for Capt. Trevalyon," said Lady Esmondet, "is, that did he contemplate matrimony, this scandal afloat would be a barrier to his union."
"If he were not so careless, he could stamp it out at once," said the Colonel, impatiently. But he is careless, and Mrs. Haughton exults as she remembers it, and at the success of her plot; for does not Lady Esmondet admit it would be a bar to his union; she feels a morbid pleasure in noting critically the varied charms of her rival, as an innate feeling tells her Miss Vernon might become; and she thinks: "For you he scorned my love; pride, though you die, will keep you apart; he will come to me yet."
VELVET PAWS CONCEAL CLAWS.
"Eric, I have a favour to ask of you," said his friend; "I am going to Rome for a few weeks, and want Vaura with me."
"I had rather you had made any other request of me, Alice; when, and why do you go?"
"On to-morrow, after I have had an interview with Huntingdon, my lawyer (you will know him), who comes from London by appointment; and by the advice of my physician, who declares I require change."
"Change, change, that is always their cry," he answered, regretfully; "take my advice, Alice," he continued, eagerly; "come to Haughton instead."
"Rome first, Eric, thank you; home and Haughton afterwards; a few weeks will soon pass, as you say," she continued, taking his arm from the table. "I wonder what amount of change we can digest; we get nothing else; never at home; what, with the season at London, watering places, or abroad, home only at Christmas, and some of us don't even do that; but you will lend Vaura to me?"
"Yes," and her arm is pressed gently as he finds her a seat; "though it is hard. What do you say, Vaura; but your face tells me you like this change also."
"I regret this catching only a glimpse of you, dear uncle; but we, butterflies, are here to-day, gone to-morrow. I love Haughton, and long for Rome; poor humanity, how unrestful; yet with all our change, the most ennuyee of mortals."
"You will, I suppose, take Miss Vernon up with you for the season, Lady Esmondet?" asked Mrs. Haughton, eager to know if her wish to rid herself of Vaura companionship would be gratified.
"Yes, if her uncle will give her to me; for myself, I have set my heart on having her with me at Park Lane."
"I am glad of that, and the Colonel must agree, for I have not my plans matured; if we are at No. 2 Eaton Square, my house will be full as a box of sardines. You are sure to come for the season, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes! habit, habit; I could not miss my—every thing (I was going to say) that London gives; the crush at the balls, seated comfortably with some pleasant people about me, chatting of the newest flirtations, if those (among the unmarried) of last season ended in matrimony; if so, what then? a pleasant yokedom or no? What divorce or separation is on the tapis; bits of club gossip, &c."
"With some racy scraps, political, which you would take to as for your dinner entrees," cried Vaura gaily.
"True, Vaura, and any new passage at arms between our good Queen Victoria's prophet, Earl Beaconsfield and that earnest defender of the Liberal faith, Gladstone; and, this winter, if I mistake not, we shall have stirring times, we are getting ourselves into a tight place; England will have to keep one eye on the East, the other on her Armoury."
"I wish the war party were stronger," said Colonel Haughton, earnestly, "we shall have no soldiers among the rising generation, if Bright's policy be carried out continuously."
"War is too horrid for anything; one has no one to flirt with," cried Mrs. Haughton.
"You forget our older men and boys, Mrs. Haughton," said Vaura, gaily, "who, when not given a chance for the cold steel of the battle field, are ever ready to bare the breast for the warm dart of Cupid.
"Wouldn't give five cents for 'em," cried Mrs. Haughton, "I want the soldiers; so if this man Bright pleases me in this matter, though I care not a dime for politics, I am with him."
"Hear! hear!" exclaimed Everly. "I was beginning to think I was alone in the field, and, though a Bright man from the crown of my head to the sole of my foot, I was commencing to feel rather flat, in fact, anything but bright. What is the use of civilization? if we are to go on butchering our neighbours, or allowing them to make targets of us for every imaginary cause. Why be civilized in some matters, and in others remain savages? If a man strike me I shall knock him down, if he strike someone else even, in whom I am interested, he must fight his own battles, and let me look after my own interests. So, with England; I don't want to see the sons of the soil turned out to fight like dogs, when there is no occasion for it, by so doing, allowing the commercial and agricultural interests of the country go to ruin, and saddle us with an enormous debt. No! a thousand times no."
"You grow eloquent, Sir Tilton," said Vaura "and were you only with us, I should congratulate you on your power of speech. As it is, I can only lament that so much earnestness is lost to us; do, Sir Tilton, go in an unbiased mood to the House next session, give close attention to the arguments of Beaconsfield on this question, and then, I have no doubt, a man of your sense will come out in the right colours next election, and you will laugh at the time you did not want to see the dear Czar, or Sultan, blister their hands, or soil mother earth, while our brave fellows gave it them in the Balkans, or at Constantinople."
"No, no, I believe, I am a Whig; I know I am a Liberal, and it is the right side for our day."
"Now I think," continued Vaura, "one should be a stronger Tory than ever to-day; what with Fenianism, Socialism, Nihilism, if we would see a monarchy left standing, our peers with a voice, we must, even though inwardly acknowledging the other opinions to suit the progressive spirit, we must stand firm; we are not yet advanced, or you, or not I should say, Sir Tilton, to give us anything as perfect to take the place of our British Parliament."
"You have taken your first step towards us, Miss Vernon. I congratulate you on being a Liberal-Conservative," exclaimed Sir Tilton, gleefully.
"Ah! I should not have named my flying spirit," said Vaura, laughingly.
"No, that's where you were weak, dear," said her uncle, "you forgot your party."
"The carriage is waiting, sir," said the Colonel's man.
"Very well, Tims; tell the maids to bring wraps for their mistresses."
"The warmth of the fire is inviting," said Lady Esmondet, for they have been sipping their coffee by a bright fire.
"Which means you think the opposing element outside the reverse, godmother mine."
"Yes, Vaura, what do you say to keeping me company."
"With pleasure; I dare say we have seen whatever is on."
"Twelfth night," said Blanche; "I guess I'll stay too; Sir Tilton; a game at euchre."
"With pleasure, Miss Tompkins, though the game is new to me," he said, seating himself where he could have a good view of Vaura.
"Kate, dear, do you care to go?" enquired her husband.
"No; the play is not to my taste; Shakespeare is heavy."
"Heresy, heresy!" exclaimed Vaura; "surely, Mrs. Haughton, you don't condemn, 'As you like it,' 'Much ado about nothing,' and the bill for to-night—and with brilliant Neilson! for their heaviness—I doubt if Rosalind, Beatrice, or Viola would agree with you, unless it be Viola, who may have found the Duke; so, thank Fate, our lovers are more quick witted."
"I should have jilted him, at once and for ever!" cried Mrs. Haughton.
"One would think the keen eye of love could have penetrated her disguise," said Mrs. Haughton.
"Especially in pleading the love of an imaginary sister," said Vaura; "our men would have suggested making love to the lips that were by."
"All I have to say is," said Mrs. Haughton, suppressing a yawn, "that the way the Duke went a wooing would never have suited me; I like a man with a spice of boldness in his love-making; a sort of stand and deliver fellow."
"Who would not take no," said the Colonel.
"Yes, not like the poor victimised Quakeress we hear of; a man looked her way for seven years, then said grace before he took the first kiss."
"What an abstainer," laughed her husband; "as for the lazy Duke, he should have stormed the castle and ran off with Viola."
"After which, I should have wished him a good night's rest; as I do all and each of you," said Lady Esmondet, rising, and moving towards the door.
"Not a bad idea," echoed the Colonel, "as we leave for Surrey in the morning, that is, if you can manage the early, Kate?"
"Yes, though rising early is a relic of serfdom, still it is better than vegetating here all day."
"Thank you;" turning wistfully to Vaura, he continues—
"I am really sorry you are not going with us, dear; but, promise me, Alice, that you will both be with us for the ball and Christmas festivities?"
"It's a long look till Christmas, Eric; but, should the 'miscreator circumstance' not prevent; consider us with you; and, now good-night, you, and all; and a restful sleep."
"Good night, everyone," said Vaura, "pleasant dreams; my own dear uncle, good night," and with a soft, white hand on each cheek, her beautiful face is turned upwards for his kiss.
"Blanche, you little gambler, away with you," said her step-mother.
"Good night, Sir Tilton, think it over: and what merriment you will miss, and of how I shall miss you, if you don't come down with us."
"Don't think it possible just yet, but first day I can; with thanks, yours, good night."
And now the small baronet alone, and not yet inclined for rest, throws himself back in an easy chair, his hands in his pockets, and shoulders in his ears, thinks himself into such a deep thought that the clock striking two causes him to start.
"So late," he murmured, mechanically winding his watch. "What a reverie I have been in! three-quarters of an hour since they left me! Ah, Tilton, this wandering will never do, one cannot have everything, and the other one is true, and makes sure of me. What a ripe, rare loveliness; tut, tut, keep your eyes from her, my boy."
And he, too, has gone to the quiet of his chamber and leaves the room to silence and gloom, save for the fitful gleam of an expiring coal in the grate.
ON THE WING.
The god of slumber did not long hold sway over the senses of our friends, but even so, time, the relentless, striding ever along, did not leave them any spare minutes. Breakfasting at nine, with the exception of Lady Esmondet, and Mrs. Haughton, who partook of their first meal in their own apartments, the one being rather delicate, the other accustomed to indulge the body; all were more or less eagerly active; poor Lady Esmondet in sympathy with her old love, each now thinking by change, to divert the mind from the might have been; Mrs. Haughton loved the prospect of her throne at the Hall, and of daily wooing the love of her idol to be domesticated there. Blanche, the wee white mouse, longed for the greater freedom to be alone, or to play detective over others, that a large estate would give her.
Everly just now had so many conflicting emotions he scarcely knew which was uppermost. As for Vaura, she looked forward with intense pleasure to a lengthened sojourn in the immortal city; knowing life at Haughton under the present regime would be distasteful to her.
"The gentleman from London, my lady," said Somers, entering and presenting the card of Mr. Huntingdon.
"Very well; he is, I suppose, in our sitting room?"
"Yes, my lady."
"Now, Vaura, ma chere, take flight to Poppingay's, and bring your maid, who can carry my parcels. You will find what I require at his shop. I am so glad to know you are with me for some time, dear."
"Au revoir! I shall be fleet as a deer."
Now Lady Esmondet, turning her steps in the direction of the Haughton apartments, entering, said:
"I have come to wish you bon voyage; my lawyer is here; I know there will be a general exodus of you all soon, while I am closeted with him—he is a little bit of a tyrant and cross as a bear, if interrupted."
"A man would be a bear if he could be cross to you, Alice," said Col. Haughton, noting, regretfully, how delicate she looked.
"So that he does not give me a bear's hug, I shall survive it."
"It would be very pleasant this raw morning. Farewell, Lady Esmondet, a gay trip to you," said Mrs. Haughton.
"Good-bye, Alice," and her hand is held tightly; "take care of yourself; I know you will of Vaura. Remember Christmas at Haughton."
"Farewell, Eric; I shall not forget," and the blue eyes met his kindly.
"Awful fuss you make over that woman, Colonel."
"She is a very old friend, Kate."
"Yes, I know, and as cold and polished as your grand-mother's diamonds. If she does respond to your warm invite, she will freeze us all, so we shall have to use all the timber to thaw out."
"You do not know her yet, dear."
Vaura only returned in time to say a few hurried words of parting. The carriage in which Mrs. Haughton and Blanche are seated is waiting her uncle at the door, watch in hand.
"Only a minute, and we are off," he cried, on seeing Vaura and her maid appear. "God bless you, darling; good-bye, good-bye," he said, kissing her affectionately; "do not fall in love with any Italian, I want you to marry at home."
"Not even Garibaldi," said Vaura archly, though a tear glistened. "Just fancy my home, a lone isle of the sea. Good-bye, dear uncle; take good care of him, Mrs. Haughton. Good-bye, Blanche; there is a mine of pleasure in store for you at Haughton; bon voyage all."
"She is lovely enough to win even Garibaldi from thoughts of Italy, past and present," said her uncle, lovingly.
"Colonel, I wish you would press Sir Tilton to come with us," said his wife; "I have grown so accustomed to him, I could do without Mason easier."
It was rather of a bore to the Colonel, this running in couples; when he married a wife, he did not marry this acquaintance of hers; but just now he feels that he himself deserves the lash as the fair face of the lost Alice arises before him, and knowing that the Hall would not now be open for guests only for his wife's gold. So the answer the son and inheritor of the estate makes to the daughter of the ballet-dancer is,
"Certainly, dear; anyone that will give you pleasure;" and turning to Sir Tilton, who is driving to the station with them, says: "You had better run down with us, Everly, if you have nothing else in view."
"Thank you, Colonel; have pressing business at London;" to quiet his duns, which he did not deem necessary to communicate; "but can and will be with you a month from now."
"You are very disagreeable, Sir Tilton, and not worth a cent."
"You are right," thought the small baronet.
"I want you to teach my pug tricks," continued Blanche poutingly.
"Come soon, dear baronet," said Mrs. Haughton; "by-by; remember me."
"Could a man do otherwise? Pleasant trip; goodbye."
And the iron horse is off, leaving the man about town who plays his cards with a winning hand, alone on the platform.
"I shall hasten back to the hotel, they may not yet have left;" meaning by 'they,' Lady Esmondet and Vaura. "It will look quite natural to see them, and say the others are safely away." Hurrying along, he reached the hotel to hear they had left "ten minutes previously; just leaving twenty minutes till she sails, sir," said the porter.
Hailing a passing cab, Everly offered double fare if in time. Fortune favoured him in allowing him to be in time to assist another gentleman (whom he thought to be on tantalizing intimate terms) in looking after the comfort of the travellers.
"Delighted I'm in time to be of any service, Miss Vernon," he said, heartily; "afraid you are going to have rain.
"I am protected, Sir Tilton," she said, smilingly, and holding up her arm in water-proof ulster.
"Many women, when they don the armour of protection, so ill become it, that we are fain to see them unprotected; but you are born to wear anything, and look so well we don't want any new fashion."
"Always allowing, Sir Tilton, for the natural changeableness of man, which would assert itself in spite of a momentary wish."
"You could hold us at will," he said, picking up a rose that had fallen from her bouquet; "may I?" and it is carefully put on his coat.
"Trust me, Sir Tilton," she said, gaily; "I have made your sex (loving it, as I do) a study. Charles Reade was right; you are 'born to hunt something;' it certainly is not the old, which is past, but the new; yes, say what you will, an innate love of variety—even to our gown," she added, merrily, "is an inherent part of your nature."
"Vaura, come, or you will be left on the dock in the enforced guardianship of Sir Tilton Everly," said Lady Esmondet.
"Adieu, Sir Tilton," said Vaura; "breathe a prayer to Neptune that our wardrobe is complete without day or night caps."
"Bon voyage; shall be at Haughton Hall to welcome you;" and, lifting his hat, he was again left to his own devices, while Vaura, taking the arm of Mr. Roland Douglas, went aboard the boat.
"Who is your handy little man. Vaura?" asked he.
"Sir Tilton Everly."
"Of everywhere, my dear boy."
"Might be going there now, judging from the way he is tearing up the street."
"Perhaps he is on a mad tear after Mrs. Haughton."
"It's all very well, Vaura, to try, now the dear little fellow is away, to shunt him off on to Mrs. Haughton, he's not on a mad tear after them; you mow 'em down, tares and wheat, together."
"I feel quite agricultural," said Vaura, laughing, as they joined Lady Esmondet, who was talking to a Government attache, from London. "Mr. Douglas calls me a mowing machine."
Here, Mr. Bertram came forward to shake hands with Vaura.
"I was beginning to think you would not cross to-day, Vaura," said Lady Esmondet. "Sir Tilton seemed unable to tear himself away."
"It's getting too much for my feelings, Vaura," said Douglas, in serio-comic tones; "tares again."
"What's the joke?" asked Bertram; "the fellow had a green and yellow melancholy look about him, I noticed."
"Again! pile on the agony, tares and wheat are green and yellow."
"Tares and wheat," remarked Bertram. "If that's your text, Douglas, I shall tear myself away, and pace the deck alone, if Lady Esmondet, or Miss Vernon, won't take pity on me; I don't care for sermons, nor to be classed with the tares. Who is the mannikin, Douglas," continued Bertram.
"What's his name, and where's his hame; she dinna choose to tell," said Douglas.
"You are a greater tease than ever, Roland; I did tell you, but on the way you lost it; but now again give ear—"
"Not only mine ear," he interrupted, "but my whole being, fairest of Surrey enslavers."
"Well, Roland, the irrepressible, from the lips of the women who love him, the mannikin is, dear or cara mia before Tilton Everly to his men friends, and Sir Tilton Everly to society; art satisfied?"
"By no means," he said slyly.
"He is only a gay little sunflower," said Lady Esmondet.
"Sunning himself in woman's smiles, and perhaps, who knows, laying up somewhere out at interest, the smiles he gives in return, but, Roland mon cher, Vaura is not his banker (she has always a hand full of trumps and they are hearts)."
"Yes, there are many bankrupts on your hands, Vaura. I'm beginning to think you've no heart, that's why the mowing business is done," said Roland, half jestingly.
"Happy thought, my dearest boy; at my birth, Cupid, being short of hearts, sent word by Mercury that Vaura Vernon would have to go without, until such time in her life as she was able to win the hearts of some half dozen men; as it would take so many to make a good-sized womanly organ called a heart. Mercury further said I must send so many men away heartless, I would suddenly find myself in possession, of that lovable piece of palpitation; I would then find that piece of feminine sighs too much for me, and would immediately exchange it for a manly one; so you, see, Roland, I cannot have worked enough yet with the agricultural implement; it's hard lines, you cruel boy, and you only jest about, the mower," this she said in mock earnest tones; and continued laughingly, "but then, I shall love only one; now, it is awfully pleasant to love you all."
"From all I hear at home and abroad the mower has been in sure hands," remarked Bertram smilingly.
"Dame Rumour hath many ears to fill," replied Vaura.
"By the way, Vaura, did Sir Tilton Everly say the Haughtons took the 10.30?" asked Lady Esmondet.
"Yes, Dover has been deserted for Surrey; and the untiring little, baronet follows in a month, and confided to me that he would be at my uncle's to welcome us."
"The plot thickens," laughed Roland.
"But Roland Douglas," said Lady Esmondet, "he should be there; he belongs, in some sort of way, to the wife of the Lord of the Manor, in a 'do-as-I-bid-you' kind of way; in their relations towards each other, one sees the advertisement for a person to 'make himself generally useful,' clearly defined; fashionable women of to-day affect such relations with men, and I suppose it is all right, as fashion has made it orthodox.'"
"We find it a too pleasant fashion to object to it," answered Bertram; "still rumour has it that Mrs. Haughton has been a great flirt, and if I were in Haughton's shoes, I should turn the cold shoulder to this Everly, or any other man; should they stay much at the Hall, time may, with the ponderous hospitalities of the county, hang heavy to one who has lived at New York pace, and just for pastime, she may flirt."
"I should think no woman married to Col. Haughton could, or would, think to kill time with any other man," said Vaura, warmly, a slight curl on her perfect lips.
"Bravo, Vaura," said her godmother; "a woman is of very slight value if, when she marry a man worth going to the altar with, she, after a few moons wane, looks about like Moore's 'Lesbia,' for some one to keep ennui at bay."
"Hear, hear," said Bertram; "but to-day we have so many marriages of convenience that the society of some affinity is sought for distraction's sake."
"It's awfully nice to have an affinity for some one else's wife; but, by Jove," said Douglas, "if I were married, and caught a fellow hanging about my wife, I'd just want to handle one of Vulcan's heaviest, and tap him on the head."
"Spoken like a Briton on his preserves," laughed Vaura.
"How these fellows without an income manage to keep to the front is more than I can tell," said Douglas; "now, this Everly, though he doesn't exactly wax fat and shine, he isn't one of the lean kine either."
"I bet my life," said Bertram, "he is angling in his aunt's flower garden for a gold-fish."
"A boarding school would be a good field," said Lady Esmondet.
"Just the spot," cried Douglas; "and the gilded fair who would pay his debts would win all the school prices from the gushing aunts."
"I read," said Bertram, "the other day, a good story in the Scottish American, entitled 'Endless Gold.' A fellow, Brown hadn't a sou, but always declared he would win an heiress; his friends laughed at him; but one evening, on a great cotton lord, Sir Calico Twill, making a speech, he put in 'hear, hear' at the right time. The old man, pleased, invited him home to supper; there he met his heiress, fell in love (to make a long story short), proposed, and was referred to papa."
"'What is your fortune?'" enquired the pater.
"'Well, I don't exactly know,' said Brown; being uncertain whether it was a three-penny or four-penny bit under his tobacco jar. 'But, give me your daughter, and I promise she shall have endless gold.'
"'Come, don't exaggerate, Brown,'" said the tickled Twill.
"'Scarcely in my case,' said Brown; 'as be we ever so extravagant, we should never be able to set through it.'"
"'Are you telling me truth?'
"'Truth; I swear it.'
"'Then take her, my boy, and her eight thousand a year; how pleased I am she has been saved from fortune-hunters.'
"They were married; Brown made the money fly; bills came in. Scene: Sir Calico in a rage.
"'Where is the endless gold you promised?'
"'Here,' said Brown, coolly, taking his wife's hand and showing her wedding-ring; 'and what just fits one of my Wife's taper fingers I am quite sure we could never get through.'"
"'There is one thing in our favour, papa,' said his daughter; 'no one can say I have married a fool.'"
"Not bad," laughed Douglas.
"Henceforth," said Vaura, merrily, "I shall, in imagination, see small Everly and his kind labelled 'Endless Gold.'"
"That little Tompkins will be in the market again this coming season," said Bertram; "I wonder who the successful angler will be."
"Unhappy heiresses," said Douglas, mockingly; "Cupid's darts are not for thee."
"Thank heaven," said Vaura; "the man who takes my hand for the walk through life will not take it for the gold he will find in its palm."
"The knowledge that the soft hand in his was his own," said Bertram, "would so fill him with ecstacy, with one look at the face, that the precious metal would be only in his thoughts as a setting for the pearl he had won."
"Bravo, Bertram," said Douglas.
"Merci, Monsieur," said Vaura, smiling; "you flatter my poor charms; but we cannot deceive ourselves; this is, as Mark Twain says, the 'gilded age,' and in going to the altar one of the two must have the yellow sovereign."
"Yes, Vaura, you are right; one or other, it matters not, must have a full hand," said her godmother.
SOARING!—THENCE TO THINGS OF EARTH.
"By the way, Roland, cher garcon have your people yet returned to Surrey?" enquired Vaura.
"The first detachment, consisting of the governor, with mother, now delight the flock with their presence; and the paters, pipe, flock and sermons again occupy his attention. The damsel Isabel is still at Paris, whither yours truly is journeying to carry the child home to our parents."
"I suppose Robert is still at Oxford?" said Lady Esmondet.
"No, at Rome; by the way, you and Vaura will see him; he is incumbent of St. Augustine's."
"How strange it will be to see my old playmate (sad, wound up in himself kind of boy he was) doing clergyman's duty," said Vaura.
"You should have heard," said Douglas, eagerly, "the pitched battles he and I fought at vacation over the vexed question of High and Low Church. I just went for him; and anyone overhearing would have thought me an itinerant pedlar of theology—in the vulgar tongue, street preacher—scorning all form as Papal; one would have thought me encased in Gladstonian armour of Disestablishment, to have heard my harangue. Poor Bob; in vain he expatiated on the glories of the ancient fathers; in vain he took all the saints out for an airing; in vain he talked of the ritual coming to us from the Jews of old; in vain he asserted that Ritualism had brought life and vigour into a slumbering church; in vain he talked of the old fox-hunting clergy; in vain he talked of what a glorious thing for our church to give in a little, and Rome to give in less; of how union would be strength, and of the brave front we would show to all Christendom; of all we could do in stamping out infidelity and rationalism; in fact, he was sanguine of taking in everybody; all dissenters were to join us en masse. Upon my word, Bob was eloquent; I assure you, he was so enthusiastic, that in my mind's eye I saw the whole human family— black, white, and copper-coloured, London belles and factory girls, swells and sweeps—all with one voice singing the most pronounced of High Church hymns, a cross in every hand, and all clothed, not by Worth or a London tailor, but in the garb of monk and nun. His earnestness so carried me away that I did not awake to myself and things of earth until I felt the pins sticking into my flesh under my monkish robe. I then thought it time to don the armour of the Low Churchman, and come to the rescue of the human family, engaged, clothed and ornamented as above. So, to slaughter the vision, I fell to by telling him he belonged to the Anglo-Catholics; was as one with the Greek Catholics, and any liberal Catholics in the Latin Church who did not accept extreme Roman Catholic views."
"And what answer did you receive from Father Douglas?" enquired Bertram; "did he acknowledge the truth of your charge?"
"Yes, by Jove, he did; he acknowledged that the union of the Anglican with the Roman communion was the dearest wish of his heart; that he would strain every nerve in the struggle to bring about its fulfilment; that though, no doubt, infidelity was making rapid strides, still churchmen generally united in thinking that before long, and for the common good, petty differences would be sunk in the grand magnitude of the act of the union of the churches, when infidelity would be drowned in the waves of truth."
"And a grand, majestic scheme," said Vaura; "but we are too easy-going in our religious paces to carry it out; to be sure, we all go to church to-day; but why? Because, forsooth, it is respectable and fashionable. But, I believe that where the ceremonial is conducted in the most imposing manner—and the worship of the King of Kings could not be conducted with too much splendour—that there, we gay butterflies of to-day, are compelled to think of whose presence we are in, are awed into the thought of whose honour all this is done in. Yes, one there has other thoughts than one's neighbour's tout ensemble."
"There is something in what you and Robert say, Vaura," said her godmother; "but, to tell the truth, I bother myself very little as to our church differences. Disestablishment, by Hon. Gladstone, is a real unrest to me."
"Oh, I don't know; let it stand or fall by its own merit," said Douglas.
"Yes, I go with Gladstone," cried Bertram; "that 'stand and deliver' tithe business has given the church a bad odour in the nostrils of dissenters."
"Still, I fear, should we sever Church and State," said Vaura, "that other old institutions will topple over. Events seem every day to be educating us up to preparing us for greater changes than disestablishment. 'Tis, indeed, 'a parting of the ways.' The Church Established seemed a strong wall or fortress supporting other (some would say) old fancies. I must confess in this, our very pleasant age of novelties, I like to know there is something old still in its niche of time."
"Yes, I see; I must now sing a requiem over the departing forms of Miss Vernon and Father Douglas, as they pass into the arms of Pope Pius at Rome," said Roland, jestingly.
"Not over me, my dear boy; I am too comfortable where I am. I expect you, Mr. Bertram, are this moment wondering that a woman of to-day can interest herself in anything so old as the Church; but methinks even the butterfly (that we are named after) is in a quieter mood when the sun is behind a cloud, and he cannot see the beauteous flowers; we, too, have our dreamy quiet."
"Yes, yes; you, at all events, are not a soulless woman," said Bertram, earnestly.
"There are many of us, Mr. Bertram," said Lady Esmondet, "who actually never think of anything old unless it be our old relations."
"And then, only, if they are on the top rung," laughed Douglas.
"You people are for once forgetting our old china," said Vaura, gaily; "our love's all blue."
"The governor told me to ask you, Bertram," said Douglas, "how you get on with Royalton at Saint Dydimus?"
"We don't get on at all; he has no more inclination for the church, than I have; I pity these younger sons just ran into some fat living as a dernier ressort."
"He is just the fellow," said Douglas "to hail as a godsend disestablishment, when he will be compelled to graze in more palatable pastures."
"Oh, when Church and State are severed, primogeniture will follow; then he will get a slice of the estate of the pater," said Vaura.
"And for the younger sons a more comfortable dinner than of herbs," said Bertram.
"Then you think the 'stalled ox' brings one more content in our age of comforts," said Lady Esmondet.
"And I am at one with you," continued Lady Esmondet, "for it means a full hand, a full purse, without which one might as well be extinct; for one could not pay Society's tolls; yes, the yellow sovereign is all powerful; one may do as one pleases if one fills Grundy's mouth with sugar-plums; she will then shut her eyes and see with ours, for have we not paid our tribute-money? Yes, gold is the passport to society; a chimney sweep, with pots of gold, would find a glad welcome where the beggared son of a belted earl would be driven forth. But, after all, 'tis an amusing age, and one must adapt oneself to one's time. I own there are some unpleasantnesses, as when one meets, as Mrs. Ross-Hatton did, a maid-servant from her mother's household; one would grow used to these mongrels in time, I suppose, as this is the age of progress."
"If no secret, where was the field of action for mistress and maid, godmother mine?"
"No secret whatever, dear; they met at the Lord Elton's, Prospect Hall; you know they are considered exclusive, and, as usual, there were some of the best set there. At one of their dinners a Sir Richard and Lady Jones were invited; my friend did not see their entree, being seated in a deep recess with Lord Elton, admiring some rare gems in bric-a-brac. She was so intently engaged that, merely glancing upwards as her host stepped forward in welcoming them, to her amazement a coarse, underbred woman stepping towards her, offered her hand, saying: 'I am Lady Jones; I have met you somewhere before.' My friend, giving her a calm British stare, without noticing the hand, said haughtily: 'Yes, I have seen you as one of my mother's household; as under-cook, or something in that way.'"
"By Jove, what a send-off," laughed Douglas.
"I expect at the moment she devoutly wished she had never climbed to a higher rung; but for the denouement, godmother."
"Lady Jones beat a retreat immediately, Sir Richard following. Lord Elton, after a word of apology to my friend, told her he was aware they were nouveaux riches when invited; but that Jones, a newly-fledged M.P., had also much influence, and he wished to make use of him; so had persuaded Lady Elton to send them cards. 'It does not signify, my dear Lord Elton,' my friend replied; 'I have before now met the most outre people with comparative indifference; if the woman had been silent she would, with her vulgar pretensions, be with you now; too bad for you that I have been in the way, dear old friend; I have hopes I shall outgrow this class prejudice, though somewhat faint ones.'"
"'You will, dear Mrs. Ross-Hatton, should you keep pace with our age,' Lord Elton replied.
"Your friend showed a good deal of courage," said Bertram, "to give so direct a cut. I forget who she was, I was abroad at the time of Ross-Hatton's marriage."
"She was a Sutherland; Fido Sutherland, a beauty and a belle, and proud as Lucifer," answered Lady Esmondet.
"And brave as a lion," said Vaura; "for 'tis the fashion to fall down, as the Israelites did in days of yore, and worship the golden calf."
"I fear we are not going to have a passage altogether free from storm," remarked Bertram; "see to the west, that black cloud rolling towards us."
"I think we shall have passed its line of travel ere it catches up to us," said Lady Esmondet.
"By the way, Bertram, did you hear that Capt. Liddo, of the Grenadiers, made this trip in six hours in a small canoe. What do you think of that?" asked Douglas.
"Good enough; though I'd rather make the run in the usual time in our present company. When did Liddo do it?"
"On last Derby day."
"So, so. How long a stay do you make at Paris, Lady Esmondet?"
"I have not decided."
"Ah, that is too bad; I enjoy anticipation, and should like to dwell on the thought of many pleasant hours with you and Miss Vernon."
"We shall be able to manage many hours together at all events, for we can patronize the same hotel," replied Lady Esmondet.
"It is that I know such pleasant arrangement to be impossible that I speak, some friends having taken a French flat for me."
"Ah, I do regret this is the case," said Lady Esmondet.
"At all events, Bertram, we can enter the gates together hand-in- hand, four-in-hand; so cheer up, old fellow," cried Douglas.
"Roland, mon cher," said Vaura, "you must bring Isabel from Madame Rochefort's to our hotel, even for a few days, ere your return to Surrey."
"Exactly my plan, fair demoiselle."
"That is" she continued, merrily, "if you promise to be submissive, and not become a monopolist; for when you, Isabel, and myself are together, I feel as if I had lost myself; I don't know to whom I belong; you want me, Isabel wants me, until I don't know where I am."
"Belong to me, Vaura dear," he said, earnestly, and only heard by her, "and all will be well;" aloud he said: "Submissive! yea, as a lamb; by the beard of the Prophet I swear it."
"It would not be such a long look to swear by your own; you have a very handsome one."
"Merci, dear Lady Esmondet; I shall take greater pride than ever in it, now it has developed a new use."
"Or, being a true believer, you might have used Aaron's," said Vaura; "only that then would the Prophet have no rest, even in the tomb."
"One requires rest there," said her godmother; "for the demon of unrest hath got us in this lower sphere."
"And it's quite right that it should be so, godmother mine; and in keeping with our ceaseless song of 'I'd be a butterfly.'"
"You are a clever actress, Miss Vernon," said Bertram; "but I am inclined to think there is a latent depth of character, a womanliness in you that our gay butterflies of fashion lack."
"You flatter me, Mr. Bertram."
"Not so, Miss Vernon; in our day there is much to make even a woman think; you are a thinking woman, still one has but to look at your eyes to know that in spite of your graver moods you have a keen zest for what is pleasant in—"
"In this 'Vale of Tears,'" put in Douglas.
Vaura's bright expressive eyes smiled, as looking upwards, she said, feelingly:
"Yes, even though 'much salt water here doth go to waste,' one must— some think, not I—support the weeping human who named our pleasant world a 'Vale of Tears.' No, 'tis better to let one's thoughts dwell on the song of the nightingale than the voice of the night-bat; We fear too much, and hope too little; 'tis best to dwell in the sunlight while we may."
"Yes, 'tis better to laugh than be crying," said Lady Esmondet; "and though one must go through life with one's eyes open, one need not follow the example of Matthew Arnold's 'Sick King in Bokhara,' and keep them only open to the saddening sights of sin, sorrow, and despair, that the world we know, somewhere, has so much of; one can only do what one can for those in distress; give one's mite, and give it with a kindly smile, in our world of so much to do."
"So many worlds so much to do, so little done such things to be," half sang Vaura; "but here we are at the French port, and so soon."
"One does not often find this a short trip," said Lady Esmondet; "but time has flown, all because of congenial companionship."
"Yes, he has gone too quickly for once," said Bertram; "everyone for his own pleasure; so, as I have a through ticket, I trust none of you wish to linger."
"By no means, with fair Paris our goal," cried Vaura.
"Why, surely, Bertram, you heard the solemn compact entered into on our arrival at Paris hand-in-hand, and the bearded oath I swore to be as amenable to the wishes of la belle Vernon as though I were a Jack on wires; and, I appeal to all, could I promise more?"
"Yes," laughed Vaura; "you could promise to be quiet for five minutes, and endeavour to bear a slight semblance to a stolid, deliberate, dignified, wrapt-up-in-himself Briton."
"Alas! and alas for a transformation scene," sighed Douglas.
"Vaura, dear," said Lady Esmondet, "I forgot to tell you I received a note from Felicite, saying they have not as yet left for Normandy, and that we shall find them at their house in the Avenue de l'Imperatrice."
"Ah! that will be pleasant; I love the de Hautervilles root and branch; and wondered a little at their meditating a trip, with the ball for Eau Clair on the tapis."
Our friends being safely in the rail coach en route for the city of cities, a word of Roland Douglas; he is eldest son of the Rector of Haughton (whose acquaintance we made in earlier days on the lawn at Haughton, in chat with Col. Haughton and Trevalyon); his father is a Scotchman, who had accepted an English living at the request of his English wife. Roland, heir to a fine property from a Scotch uncle, had, since leaving Cambridge, been left to his own devices, they all frequently spending their holidays at his place, Atholdale, Dunkeld; but his home was with them, he telling them "he was too gregarious a fellow to live alone," that if the ghosts at Atholdale would be agreeable and change their hours of liveliness from midnight to midday, "he might manage to live there." And the rectory was glad to have the life of its circle in its midst.
The three Douglas children, with Vaura Vernon, had been playmates, and the days spent at Haughton Hall were among their most pleasant reminiscences. Bright, merry Roland, with courtly Guy Travers, were favourites of Vaura, each vieing with the other to win her favour, fighting her battles with biped and quadruped, both boys coming to love her with the whole strength of manhood, only to eat their hearts out alone, as others, now in her womanhood, were doing, while Vaura would tell herself, not without a heart-ache, that, "it grieved her to say them nay, but she cared for them only in the dance, only in the sunshine; that in the quieter walks of life, she would long for a spirit more in kinship with her quieter, her higher nature."
Vaura had spent so much of her life with her uncle and godmother, that the men they loved to have about them had probably spoilt her taste for the very young men of to-day. Both she and her godmother, had many friendships among men, believing the interchange of thought to be mutually improving. Indeed, in most cases they trusted their faithfulness, their sincerity, more than that of their own sex. And, alas! with good reason, men having a larger share of that greatest of gifts, charity! their knowledge of human nature making them rarely censorious, their education giving them larger, broader views; how many women, alas, are essentially censorious, uncharitable and narrow-minded. Yes, nature has been lavish in gifts to Adam, as opposed to Eve.
Roland Douglas had not as yet told his love to Vaura, a great dread mastering him lest he had not won her love, for her merry banter and kind sisterly manner led him to fear her heart, that he coveted beyond all that earth could give, was not for him, but he told himself he must speak, and that soon, for longer suspense was more than he could endure; he hoped that her sympathetic nature might tell in his favour, and that in pitying his great loneliness, she would come to him.
OF LIONEL TREVALYON.
Meanwhile our friends are rapidly nearing Paris, and, even as we speak, their train is at the depot.
"Ah, here we are, and our pleasant journeying pour le present a thing of the past," said Lady Esmondet.
"How long a stay do you make here?" asked Bertram, giving her his arm to a carrosse.
"The Fates only know; la belle Paris offers so many attractions, that I have decided not to make up my mind in the matter, for I always am seduced into staying a much longer time than I had previously intended; there is always so much to amuse one."
"And such a legion of people to see," said Vaura; "there is no place like Paris for enchaining one, and causing one to love one's chains."
"Look, quick," cried Lady Esmondet, hurriedly, "some one; is that Captain Trevalyon over there, evidently looking for some one, or is it his spirit?"
"It is he in the flesh; and looking anything but spirituel," said Vaura as she thought, "Yes, she would know him anywhere; her knight; so different to any other man she meets."
Yes, Vaura, so we all think when our king comes; beware, guard your heart, if you would not yield to this fascinating man who slays at will.
"Stay, foolish heart," thought on Vaura, "you are even now feeling less interest in Roland, who would die for you; fill thy whole being with a careless gaiety, and leave no room for a softer feeling to master thee; remember the 'hidden wife,' and even should she not exist, remember hearts are his game."
"Ah, the dear fellow sees us, and is pushing his way towards us," said Lady Esmondet.
"The dear fellow," said Douglas. "that's the way all you ladies speak of Trevalyon, lucky fellow."
"And he, from what I hear, takes their homage as his right," said Bertram.
"Oh! yes, as coolly as possible," said Vaura, gayly; "he's a bit of philosopher, you know; I remember I used to wonder if he had feelings like common mortals, and if all his loves were platonic; I vow I have a great notion to become a disciple of Plato myself; 'twould save one a world of heart-ache."
"Treason, treason," laughed Douglas; "better be a follower of Epicurus."
"What nonsense you people do talk," said Bertram, in mock reproof, "and neither of you mean a word of what you say. I now prophesy; that out of revenge, Cupid will wound your large heart, Miss Vernon, and you will give up to some thrice fortunate man; as for you, Douglas I prophesy many a bumping heart-ache."
"And how long, oh prophet, do you give us of freedom; how long before our chains are forged?" enquired Vaura, jestingly.
"Ere the chill of winter is felt in our land," Bertram answered in mock earnestness.
"And the cry of the farmer is heard, as he sees the black frost on the spring wheat," laughed Douglas.
"Delighted to see you, Lady Esmondet," said Trevalyon, taking off his hat and shaking hands; "and you also, Miss Vernon, it is more than ages since I have had any more than a glimpse at you. Allow me to welcome you all to fair Paris; Colonel Haughton assigned me the very pleasant role of attendant cavalier during your stay here, as also body guard to your royal highnesses on your journey to the Immortal city, whither I too am bound; why, Douglas, you here, and wherefore? I thought you had not yet deserted your winged loves at Atholdale; any good shooting this season?"
"Yes, pretty fair," answered Douglas, disappointed at the way things were turning out, and wishing Trevalyon at South Africa, or any where, so he was not by Vaura's side. He knew Trevalyon to be a man of cultivated intellect, with a fascination of manner all women succumbed to, with fully ten years more experience of life than his own, and with a nice knowledge of all types of women. He knew him to be the dread of all mothers with marriageable daughters, both for themselves as disturbing their calm resignation as to what husband Fate had given them, as also the sad havoc he made among their brood; of how they plumed their feathers at his coming and drooped them at his going, causing many an eligible suitor to retire from the field. Society wondered that Trevalyon did not range himself, seeing so many beautiful women his conquests. He shrugged his shoulders when chaffed by his men friends as to his flirtations and cruelty, and would say:
"A slave of the ring is not a role I have any wish to play; at all events none of the pretty women I have flirted with so far have had the power to hold me as her own. And until I meet a woman who can hold me, and keep me from a wish to rove, I shall keep my freedom."
Then he would laugh and say: "After all, mon ami, I am not as cruel, cold, or flirting as yourself. Your motto after as well as before marriage is: Si l'amour a des ailes n'est-ce pas pour voltiger. Better to act on that principle prior to (as you say I do), than after marriage, as I know you all do; better not put the shackles on until one meets a woman who will cause one not to feel them. As to your charge of heartlessness against me, trust me; you say I know them; under the amiable exterior of some of the most gentle-voiced and loveliest, there throbs a cruel heartlessness.
"After all there is a good deal of the feline in woman, witness the many marriages, ninety-nine out of every hundred are made by our fashionable women, for money or position? Yes, they like the warm corner, it matters not who gives it; and the man who loves them, and whom they love—in a way, may eat his heart out alone; for no, they will not listen to his pleadings, he has no gold. And they marry a man to whom they are perfectly indifferent, not so to his belongings, these they love with all the love of their feline hearts. No, I am not cruel, I only amuse myself as you do, and in the way each likes best."
He acknowledges there must be women who are heroines, and perhaps he may yet meet them, but as yet, he "only knows in God's world there must be women men might worship."
"Sans doute," he says: "When petticoat does remain tender and true, it is hard upon her that her lord should prove false and fickle, given the warm corner our fair 'sisters, cousins, and our aunts,' are content to purr; they shine in society, and have gained what is the very end and aim of their existence, a wealthy marriage."
It is no wonder that poor Douglas, knowing the manner of man Trevalyon was, dreaded his companionship for Vaura; what if she should charm, as she certainly could if she would, the game would all be up for him; and even should Vaura, knowing his reputation as a successful male flirt, be on her guard. If Trevalyon determined to win her, the many fascinations of manner he was master of, he having made woman a study, would cause her, he feared, to succumb at the last. He felt unmanned, and decided to leave them and go at once for Isabel, and proceed back to England. For of one thing he felt sure, and that was that Trevalyon would be attracted by Vaura, if it were only for her originality, the freshness of her thoughts, her gay droll cynicism with no malice in it, merely showing she went through life with open eyes; her sunny temperament and gay conversation, to say nothing of her dear loveable self, and as he turned to look at her, her laughing grey eyes looking like stars, and a smile on her perfect lips, as she chatted gayly, he inwardly moaned at what he might never call his own.
"Come, Roland," Vaura cried, "there's room for thee, most grave and reverend seigneur; for you do look as grave as an owl this moment. Is thy favourite pipe missing, or hast lost thy pet brand of that panacea for thy every ill, tobacco?"
"No, I am not bereft of my old friend, my meerschaum pipe; but, being only a mere sham," he added with a forced laugh, "I don't expect it to develop qualities that will console me at parting with you and Lady Esmondet, whose remembrance of me, I hope, will prove more than a sham."
"A pretty speech, Roland," said Vaura, stepping from the carriage to speak to him; "but I protest against this parting."
"You forget, Vaura, what my mission, at least my avowed mission, was," he said, in an undertone, "incoming to Paris; I shall now go for Isabel. And away, you have a man with you now who never thinks or cares for the hunger and thirst of the men near him; he drinks the cup of sweets to the dregs himself. Good-bye; think of me sometimes, for you must know you are always in my thoughts."
And stepping forward with Vaura, he placed her in the carriage, and wishing all good-bye and much enjoyment, saying to Vaura and Lady Esmondet: "Don't fail to make the Hall blithe and gay at Christmas by your presence;" lifted his hat and was gone. Trevalyon was not slow to see this little by-play, and his mental conclusion was:
"Another fellow gone, stricken by a fair woman face, well I don't wonder, by Jove; for the beautiful little girl has developed into a lovelier woman, a man need not be ashamed to be the conquest of a face figure, and I've heard men say, mind, like Vaura Vernon possesses; heaven be praised for the retreat of the Douglas, though had the Douglas been wise he'd have kept the field, or tried to, but now I, while guarding my heart, shall talk to her; it will be a pleasant way to kill time, and her vivacity, merry banter, chit-chat, or grave to gay, or who knows, tender humours, will be a pleasant study in Rome for the next month or two."
"Well, here we are snug at last," said Lady Esmondet, as they rolled along to their hotel in a comfortable carriage; "and I am not sorry, for je suis tres fatiguee. But I am really sorry Roland has gone; you will have to exert yourself, Lionel, if you don't want us to miss him, for we shall be altogether at your tender mercy."
"It is such seductive happiness the knowing you are leaning upon me, that I, Trevalyon, warn you both I shall do all I can to cause you not to regret the Douglas."
"You forget, ma chere godmother," said Vaura, "that we also have Mr. Bertram; he is a man of weight," she added laughingly, "and can surely share the weighty matter of our amusement with Captain Trevalyon."
Mr. Bertram has his weighty agency on his mind, you know; he is one of the agents sent by government to attend to our interests at the coming exposition, and as the Prince of Wales, heaven bless him, has personally interested himself to make the huge show one great success, they will all vie with each other in their different departments; indeed, I expect Mr. Bertram will only now have time to fly in occasionally to have a look at us. How about your lazy club life, Mr. Bertram?"
"Yes, Bertram, your luxurious go-as-you-please existence is at London; you a Paris," said Trevalyon gayly.
"I fully expect my gossips at the club won't know me on my return; I shall be a skeleton frame, rack and bones, and my aldermanic rotundity will be in the streets and audience chambers of Paris."
"A man of your size, Bertram, won't regret a few pounds of flesh weighed in the balance as against the success of our exhibits," said Trevalyon.
"Not while I remember," answered Bertram, "Gladstone's remarks in the Fortnightly Review, his almost prediction (unless we bestir ourselves): That England's daughter, the Great United States of America, may yet in the near future wrest from us our position in manufacturing of Head servant to the household of the world. Many of we British want a rough reminder like that."
"Yes," said Vaura, "some of our manufacturers forget that younger nations are wide-awake and eager to pass us by at a hand-galop, while we go dozing through time with our night-caps on."
"We are England, that's enough, and we cannot realize that the world moves. We plume ourselves upon the time when we handed from our docks everything to poor indolent Europe, or only for the ignorant colonies," said Lady Esmondet, ironically.
"N'importe, chere Lady Esmondet," answered Trevalyon, merrily. "Our manufacturers will wake with a start in 1878, and forego both night- caps; they won't have time to brew the one or don the other in surprise at exhibits from the poor colonies and the ingenious Americans."
"I have no doubt our manufacturers with myself will not be off with our old loves, while we can keep them; my comforts are safe, for I seduced one of the cooks from the club to come here with me; so night or day caps are to the fore," said Bertram.
"I thought," replied Trevalyon, "for a man of your taste, you had a most contentedly jolly look; no wonder, when we know the way to the aldermanic heart is through the aldermanic stomach."
"Capt. Trevalyon," laughingly said Vaura, "besides the recherche little dinner Mr. Bertram has bid us to, I want you to cater to— another sense and let us see the immense Hotel Continental!"
"Consider the Continental on the programme, my dear Miss Vernon; Mr. Bertram's chef de cuisine will cater to the inner man," answered Trevalyon.
"Women sometimes eat," said Vaura, demurely.
"How gay the streets look," remarked Lady Esmondet, "it is always a fete day a Paris."
"A month or two ago the bands in the parks filled the air with music," said Vaura; "now it is filled with the murmur of many voices, see the little chesnut-seller doing his part."
"Here we are, Hotel Liberte le Soleil," said Trevalyon, as the carriage stopped.
"And here we part," said Bertram, "not, in the language of the poet, 'to meet no more,' but to meet on to-morrow eve at my appartments, and I shall inform my cook that three of England's epicures honour me, and to get up something better than frogs' legs."
"We shall expect ambrosia," laughed Lady Esmondet.
"Tres bien, I shall not forget," said Bertram, as he made his adieux.
"Au revoir, Bertram," cried Trevalyon. "And for your life don't forget a dish of turtle's liver from Voisin's.
"We have teased him enough at all events," said Lady Esmondet; "but as for turtle's liver, I am rather chary of it as yet. But do my eyes deceive me, or is it petticoat government here?"
"Yes, feminine rule is the order of the day," replied Trevalyon.
"How important we look in possession of office, desk and stool; I was not aware we had mounted so high anywhere outside the United States," said Lady Esmondet.
Here a man in neat livery stepped forward to show them to their suite of apartments, which Trevalyon, at the written request of his friend, had secured, who now seeing his companions en route for their rooms, bent his steps in the direction of the office to complete the necessary business arrangements.
As our friends followed the servant, a child's cry proceeded from one of the salons as they passed; the page had a comedy face, and Vaura thinking his reply might amuse, asked:
"Do the babies take care of each other?"
With a farcical expression, the man answered unlocking the doors:
"Women crow everywhere, for men are no where, and babies anywhere." The maids seeing to bath and toilette, their mistresses met in the comfortable salon which was entered on either side from each sleeping chamber and small boudoir; soon in pleasant converse, or pauses of quiet, as friends who know and love each other can indulge in; Lady Esmondet and Vaura passed the time until the entree of Trevalyon to escort them to the salle a manger and table d'hote; as he sees them he thinks, "how charming they look refreshed and re-robed, each wearing gown and neck-gear, artistic in draping and colour. How is it that some women have (Vaura always had it), some innate gift in robing, causing one's eyes to rest on them and not tire, again both possess a subtle charm of manner; Vaura has as veil a voice that woos one as she speaks. Haughton shall have my warmest thanks for giving me such companionship; dear old fellow, he did not forget my request." And stepping to Vaura, he hands her a bouquet of sweet tea-roses, saying:
"You see, Miss Vernon, your Knight of the Lion Heart, as in days of yore you dubbed me, has not forgotten the button-hole bouquets you used to make as child hostess; it is not aesthetic, as from your fingers; this is only from the basket of one of the people."
"Merci; as your unfashionably retentive memory bring me so much of sweetness, then am I happy in your being unfashionable." And as she fastened a few to her corsage, placing the remainder in a vase, she continued: "See, god-mother dear, my sweet tea-roses with their perfumed voice will remind us of our usual excursion on to-morrow."
"And may I know what this usual excursion is?" asked Trevalyon, as he seated himself between his companions at table.
"Surely, yes," said Vaura; "one we almost invariably make on coming abroad, should we be located at an hotel for many days, where they don't as a rule, cater to one's olfactory nerves, we journey to some of the conservatories and rob them of many odorous blossoms, to brighten our temporary home; this time we carry a large order for Haughton Hall, so large indeed, that I should not wonder; did the vendors take us for market gardeners; robbing sweet sunny Paris to brighten and perfume our London fog."
"Or perhaps," said Lady Esmondet, "as there is so much discussion is Canadian newspapers over Free Trade versus Protection; the great unread may mix us so up that we buy before duty is laid."
"Take my word for it, Lady Alice, did the Frenchman look upon you as despoilers, in the long run, he would not even try to resist making your purse as trash for to-day."
"Were I a flower vendor," said Vaura, "I should be a follower of Bastiat, and gather my roses while I may, by selling cheap as I could and buying cheap."
"Are you feeling better, Lady Alice, though to my eyes you are looking much as when last I saw you; Haughton tells me you are going to Italy for change," he said kindly.
"Yes, I don't feel quite myself, Lionel; and Italy will be sun-warm, what I require, my physician tells me; but the air on the water has given me such an apetite, I feel better already."
"The very scene we are in is enough to cure one; so bright, so gay, chic in every way," said Vaura.
"Yes, 'tis brimful of animation," said Trevalyon; and the salle a manger is preferable to privacy; when one travels, 'tis more of a change to live its life, the continuous noise, bustle and excitement take one out of oneself."
"Which is a panacea for all one's ills," said Vaura.
"You have not yet told us your experience in the office; was the major-domo very peremptory?" asked Lady Esmondet.
"No; on the whole she bore her high seat meekly enough."
"Now to me," said Vaura, "it is more preferable to, as women did in days of yore, buckle on the armour for some brave Knight, see that helmet and breast-plate are secure, and send him forth into the world's turmoil; yes, I am content to live my woman life."
"Because you know your power and feel it sweet, is why you are content," he said in low tones, letting his mesmeric eyes rest on her beautiful face.
"But is it true, Lionel," said Lady Esmondet, (as they left the table, followed by many eyes), "is it true that at Bordeaux, Lyons, Marseilles, &c., women fill manly offices?"
"True, 'tis true, and I must tell you a funny incident bearing on this question. My friend, Ross Halton, was over at New York immediately after their recent monster elections; a friend of his was defeated; his agent telling him there was foul play somewhere, for numerous votes promised him were eventually polled for the other side; passing the house of a party man, out of curiosity he went in to ascertain if he had been true to his colours; on asking him, the man looking sheepish, hanging his head, said: 'The wife's democrat, sir,' while a quick determined, little woman stepped forward, saying: 'he,' pointing to her husband, 'sees you or your agent once a year, when you come to buy his vote; he lives with me!'"
"Whither are we drifting?" said Lady Esmondet, sinking into a chair.
"Whither are we drifting," echoed Vaura, with animation, "as sure as Fate, into the 'Gy' and 'An' of Bulwer's New Utopia; but talking of woman's rights, reminds me of the rights of man. Did you say dear uncle gave you your charter to meet us so opportunely, and locate us so pleasantly.".
"I did, ma belle; but you scarcely heard, as at the time you were listening to the adieux of the Douglas."
"Ah, yes, poor Roland," and Trevalyon saw that a little sigh was given, but there is no sadness in the dark eyes turned again to him, as she says, "and poor uncle; I wonder what the county people will think of Madame."
"She can make herself popular if she will; she at all events has the wherewithal to buy their vote," said Lady Esmondet, as she buried herself in London Truth.
"Yes, that's true, I suppose she will take," said Vaura, musingly.
"You don't know how delightful I find the being again with you, Miss Vernon," said Trevalyon, earnestly. "Such a lapse of time since the old life at Haughton."
"Yes, I remember well," and the rose deepened in her soft cheek, "so well the last time I saw you there."
"Do you; I am glad you do not forget what I never shall," and he leaned forward, looking at her almost gravely.
Vaura too, in her long look backward, had a tremulous softness in her expression, with a far-away look in the eyes, vividly recalling the lovely child-woman to his memory. Rousing herself, she says: "Lady Esmondet, ma chere, you should bury yourself in your couch instead of Truth, it grows late; and I am to take care of you."
"In a few moments, dear, I am on something that interests me," she said, without raising her eyes from the paper.
"And I," said Trevalyon, "am forgetting a friend in my apartments; lonely and alone in a strange place."
"Your friend," said Vaura, with a swift thought to the hidden wife, "must think you the extreme of fashionable to receive at the witching hour of midnight."
"My friend does not care whether I be fashionable, but worships me, and would be with me morning, noon and night."
"You speak as if you believe," she said, veiling her eyes, and idly picking off the leaves of the roses.
"Yes, past doubting; not being a Christian, I am the only god my friend worships."
"Women have spoiled you, Capt. Trevalyon; you boast of our idolatry." For the first time he partly reads her latent thought; and saying, hurriedly, "Stay here five minutes," rising quickly, left the boudoir.
"What has he gone away so hastily for?" enquired Lady Esmondet, turning from the newspaper. "Lionel, dear fellow, is usually so easy in his gait."
"To see some one who worships at his shrine; said he would return in five minutes;" she answered, carelessly.
"Oh! he did not say who?"
"No, it might have been awkward."
"Why? what do you mean, ma chere?"
"It might relate to the hidden wife story."
"Nonsense, Vaura; mark my words, he has no more a hidden wife than you have a hidden husband."
"Yes, yes, I know, and should not be hasty, for errare est humanum," she said quickly, brushing something very like a tear from her bright eyes.
"I am so glad, dear," said Lady Esmondet, apparently not noticing her emotion, "that your uncle hit upon this plan of Lionel being our travelling companion, there is so much adaptability in him, he gives one quite a restful feeling."
"Own at once," she answered, recovering herself, "that 'tis pleasant to have a man about one, and that we have not drawn a blank in our present squire des dames."
"Just my thought, dear; but he is coming, or it may be they, for Lionel is talking to some one."
"The deity and his votary; now do you forgive my faith and credulity, Miss Vernon," he said, sauntering in with a noble dog at his heels.
"Splendid fellow," cried Vaura, impulsively, drawing his head to her knee, laying her cheek against it; looking up at his master she said: "Forgive me, I misunderstood you; remembering you only as my old-time Knight of the Lion Heart, I feared the world of women had spoiled you."
"You know how to heal when you wound," he answered gently.
"Is he not a Leonberg?" said Lady Esmondet, as the dog went to her side to be caressed.
"Yes, and they are the best dogs in existence; dear old Mars, it would be strange indeed were I not attached to him, he never tires; in all my wanderings is always faithful."
"And 'man is the god of the dog,' which a moment ago I did not remember; you will not have to remind us of the old adage, 'love me, love my dog,' for we shall love the dear old fellow for his own sake," said Vaura.
"Yes, indeed, Lionel," said Lady Esmondet; "you need have no fear of banishment on his account."
"Thank you," he said, receiving and giving to both a warm hand-clasp. "Depend upon it, if Mars has any battles to fight for you, he will not put to shame his name; and now we leave you to woo the god of slumber."
LIFTING THE VAIL.
The following morn the sun arose and smiled his greeting on gay Paris—methinks Old Sol weeps, when clouds come between his beams and the gayest of cities. Lady Esmondet and Vaura enjoyed their drive through the beautiful boulevards out into the suburbs, and to one of the largest public conservatories; the gardens were a scene of enchanting loveliness, laid out in the perfection of artistic taste; the friends roamed whither their will led, revelling in the perfumed air and beauty of colouring.
"Here," said Vaura, "one could be content to sing, 'I'd be a butterfly,' all day long."
"Yes, but only, ma chere, for a summer day."
"I am afraid you are right, godmother mine, and that when winter with the gay season came on the boards of life, I should prove faithless and sing, Oh, for the sights and the sounds of the season for me!"
"But we cannot linger longer, Vaura; we must go to the office and leave our order."
Having left an order that astonished the clerk, they took a reluctant leave of this lovely floral nest. They ordered the man drive towards the city in the immediate vicinity, of which Vaura alighted at a neat cottage to visit a blind protegee, one Marie Perrault, daughter of a one-time actor of no mean repute, who had taught elocution at the Seminaire where Miss Vernon had finished her education. Monsieur Perrault had assisted Vaura in the getting up of theatricals, she having developed such excellent histrionic powers. Perrault secretly hoped she would yet make her debut from the boards of his favourite Lyceum Theatre Francais.
Marie was overjoyed at the pleasant surprise of a visit from her benefactress, whose face, lovely as it was, and lit up with the joy of living, gay chit-chat, and sweet-scented blossoms she carried seemed to brighten, as with sunbeams, her darkened life. Vaura stayed long enough to leave her gifts of fruit, flowers, and kind words for M. Perrault; and left for the Seminaire of Madame Rocheforte, there she lunched, and learned that Isabel Douglas had left for England, immediately on the arrival of Roland.
"Isabel is a sweet girl, and her brother a noble fellow," said Madame, earnestly; "and I conclude from what she tells me that her brother loves you with one great love. I feel for you like a mother, Vaura, so you will understand my speaking, and I hope love will creep into your heart for him."
"I trust you are mistaken, Madame, for it would grieve me very much, more indeed than I can express to cause him pain."
"I hope you will change, ma chere; woman is fickle; and when he pleads, as I am sure he can, you will not look on his handsome face unmoved."
"He has made a conquest of you, chere madame," said Vaura, gravely kissing her on both cheeks in adieu.
"Oui, ma chere, but,—for you."
"N'importe, madame; remember 'that men have died and worms have eaten them, but not for love.'"
"You know better, Vaura."
And as she walked in the direction of her hotel (attended by one of the school servants) she told herself that there was not always truth in the words, witness dear Guy and others; poor Roland too; she hoped he would not take it to heart. On entering the hotel her maid met her with a message from Lady Esmondet bidding her dress at once for Mr. Bertram's dinner. Vaura, telling Saunders to be expeditious—she would wear her biscuit colored satin, old lace, coral ornaments—is soon robed; her fluffy hair, almost bronze in its brightness and so luxuriant giving her maid no trouble, is as an old time saint hath it, 'a glory to her,' while the warm tints of her rich beauty is set off by the colour of her gown.
"You are a treasure, Saunders," said her mistress; "I find you have dressed me so quickly I shall have time for a little reading; go tell Lady Esmondet I now await her pleasure to leave."
"You are so easy to dress, miss; you see, Mademoiselle, your eyes and complexion don't want doing up; now when I was maid to the Misses Verlingham—"
"Spare me the mysteries of the toilette, Saunders, and do my bidding; mysteries indeed," thought she, half-laughing, "what would the poor men say could they see the war-paint putting on for their slaughter," and picking up one of W. H. Mallock's novels she sank into a cosy corner. In half an hour Saunders returned, saying that Lady Esmondet with Capt. Trevalyon were waiting in the salon. Enveloped in a carriage wrap of white wool, with the dainty hood of satin of her gown covered with old lace, she joins her companions, with a "may I." Capt. Trevalyon loosens the fleecy wrap and fastens with a diamond pin some damask-roses and yellow pansies to her corsage. As they roll speedily along, Lady Esmondet calls on Vaura to give an account of herself in the hours of her absence.
"I was beginning to think, dear, that M. Perrault was renewing his entreaties that you should take to the boards of the Theatre Francais."
"I did not meet him, else doubtless he would," she answered.
On Lady Esmondet's remark, she thought (in the flickering light) a cloud came to Trevalyon's brow, and now that a converse sweet, broken and changeful was taking place between Vaura and he; Lady Esmondet gave herself up to thoughts of the past engendered by the cloud on the brow of her friend, usually so calmly careless, and she thought he naturally would dread one so lovely and gifted living the life of theatres, if it were only that in his interest in her, she would drift away from them; and home life in the fascinations of an actress existence. And a divorce suit of some thirty years ago, which as a very young girl of fourteen, she remembered—all now came again to her memory,—in which the principal actors were Lionel's father, Hugh Trevalyon and his beautiful wife Nora. Both were passionate lovers of the drama; the Trevalyons frequently wintered at Paris, where they made the acquaintance of one of the principal actors of the day. He was a handsome man with a charm of manner none could resist, and as fate would have it, living at the same hotel, he so ingratiated himself into favour with both, who in their admiration of his talents almost deified him, that he was the recipient of an invitation in his idle days to the Towers; while there, an overwhelming passion for his beautiful hostess completely mastered him. She, always fascinated by his seductive manner, when he pleaded, gave way, feeling that she had met her master; accustomed to worship his talents, she simply felt she was his if he willed; finally at the close of a night of revelry, ball and theatricals at the Towers she gave up, consenting, nay willing, to elope at his wish, with only a passing thought to her little boy and once loved husband; she was his; he was her god, and she never dreamed of the man she had taken for better or for worse; her husband sued for and obtained a divorce, the actor marrying his love at once, but she only lived for two short years passing in her beauty and frailty from the judgment of society to the judgment of high heaven. "Poor fool," said many a fair dame with a contemptuous shrug of shoulders, "why was she so verdant as to elope? with a husband as adoring she might easily have kept her place in society and her actor too." And so when they met they passed her by, she not having the wisdom of the world. And Lady Esmondet from the corner of the carriage thought on; of how Lionel's father on his wife's desertion of him had gone to the dogs, rushing into all kinds of mad dissipation up to the time of his wife's death, when he became a confirmed misanthrope, living in absolute seclusion until his own death some two years agone; while going to destruction for distraction's sake, poor man, he had reduced his income to about L8,000 per annum. Before his death he had imbued Lionel with a distrust of women, endeavouring to extract an oath of celibacy from the son whom he loved, and who loved him. "Never trust one of the frail sex with your name and honor, my son," he would never tire of saying. Lionel did not make an oath as his father prayed, but said wearily, "Never fear, father, I shall trust none of the gay butterflies further than I can see the brightness of their wings; much less give them, any one of them, the chance to sully our escutcheon with another blot," and continuing he would woo his poor father to quiet by saying, "No, I know them too well; our motto is theirs, they are "always the same, always. Toedet tandem, eadem fecisse," and again he would woo him to quiet by "No, do not grieve for me, father, I shall not wed unless an angel descends for my benefit; but did she, she would be then a fallen angel," and the poor, broken-hearted man died in his son's arms, contented in his wish. But even now, Lionel feels that as the child Vaura had a charm for him, so the fair woman opposite him has, and that if he but yields to it, it may master him; for his race are "always the same, always" in one thing which is, a love lasting as time for one woman; though having many affaires de coeur; they feel one grande passion, one wedded love, never marrying a second time. And the carrosse rolls along, and Lionel with an irresistible craving, even if he comes to grief, which he tells himself there is no fear of, feels the pulse, as it were, of Vaura's heart, to see if the world has left unspoiled the tender, sympathetic, true and loving nature of the child he knew so well. "You are right, Capt. Trevalyon, sympathy, true, soul-felt, and earnest, never dies; it is the root of wedded happiness; alas, how many lives are wrecked through the absence of it," she says sadly, but he feels, and not without a heartache, that she is oblivious almost of his presence; her lovely face in its frame-work of lace is turned from him, as she thinks, "and yet, pity is divine! yet; knowing this, what have I shown poor Guy." The erratic life poor Lionel led, and which had been almost compulsory, the weary cynicism which was the outcome of the life enforced upon him, by his mother's frailty and his father's lasting grief thereat, often palled upon his real nature. But as he never expected to meet a woman who could hold him, he frequently gave himself, epicurean-like, to the pleasure of the hour.