After leaving the army, and when the glittering wings of butterflies and their surroundings wearied him, he would leave the gay cities, and travel much in foreign lands, in cold bleak northern latitudes, or sunny climes, studying human nature, and giving some thought to its many phases, with the different creeds men hold at times on seeing the self sacrificing lives of the sisters of charity, on witnessing noble deeds which should be written in characters of gold, but which they did in the most humble self abnegation. When he looked upon these and knew them to be the outcome of the Roman Catholic Church he would think surely the Church that gives birth to such lives must be the Church for the saving of men. But then some glaring inconsistency of those within her pale would recur to his memory, and he would turn with a sigh from some pictured Christ, or the peaceful beauty of the madonna. Well might Lionel exclaim, "In this age of seeming, what is truth! for what grade of society has not its shams! in what church are there not hypocrites as saints! in what government is there not imperfection! in what political campaign is there not a bribe given! in what age were there so many Churches." In what age was religion so fashionable! Yes, to-day, it is not charity which covers the multitude of sins, it is the cloak of religion, and yet 'tis not the fault of creeds, 'tis errare est humanum. Ah me! we gay nineteenth century butterflies are a favoured generation; we are so respectable you know; we give the Church her innings, and that ancient firm of Bacchus and Comus have their innings also. Such thoughts as the above often came to Lionel, in his lonely wanderings far away from the gay cities, a life which he adorned with such gay abandon when one of them.
And now lady Esmondet awakes to the present with a start (as the carriage stops,) and from her silent thoughts on the past, as she had gathered it from Eric Haughton and from Lionel himself.
Captain Trevalyon assisted his friends to alight in front of a handsome house in a fashionable avenue.
"Can this be the right address," said Lady Esmondet. "It is a private residence et regardez, by the gas-light in the entrance one can see the arms of a noble house cut in the stone."
"Yes," answered Trevalyon, "we are all right; a patrician mansion knocked down by the hammer, now simply numero troisieme, Avenue de l'Imperatrice, and if Bertram is as comfortable inside as he is fashionable outside then we may expect turtle's livers a la Francaise, the choicest of wines in this hot-bed of grapes, this land of vineyards, dishes that would tickle the palate of a Lucullus, the cosiest of after dinner chairs, French coffee, which means a good deal, the brightest of fires, and faces, sweet notes of song," with a glance at Vaura, "and the most delicate of cigarettes, so delicate as not to entail the punishment of banishment from two ladies fair."
"What a luxurious picture you draw, Captain Trevalyon," said Vaura gayly, "and what an epicure! you dwell with such pleasure upon each dish, your livers, your—"
"Pardonnez," answered Trevalyon, laughing; "not mine, the turtle's" and continuing with mock gravity, "I never expect mine to be dressed at Voisin's."
"Horrible! a too warm anticipation of torment," cried Vaura.
"Torment!" said their host, stepping forward as a servant announced them, and tortures are obsolete words in gay Paris and even in the reign of terror, such a fair vision would surely have escaped. "A hundred thousand welcomes," he continued, shaking hands with all, "and I feel sure no bachelor under the McMahon regime is so highly favoured as Edward F. Bertram to-night."
"Listen," cried Vaura, "Mr. Bertram will put to shame the gay gallants of Paris, in the making of pretty speeches; I believe the air of this room is conducive to that sort of thing; I feel inclined to say something complimentary on the beauty and comfort of our host's surroundings myself.
"Relieve my curiosity, Mr. Bertram, and tell me where you are?" said Lady Esmondet, as she leaned back and placed her feet on the softest of fender stools; "we came to dine with a bachelor in something of bachelor, live-by-myself style, and we find ourselves in a noble mansion."
"Yes, Bertram," said Trevalyon; "I was aware of the capacity of a London alderman, in catering to the comfort of his pampered body; but, I repeat Lady Esmondet's question of where are you."
"And I answer," said the voice of gay Mrs. Eustace Wingfield, as she entered, "in one of the most fashionable of French flats on Avenue de l'Imperatrice, the fourth flat of said number Eustace and I are fortunate denizens of, and I can assure you, the inmates are such pleasant people that, yours truly, with Eustace, are oftener to be found in these sunny quarters than at Eaton Square, London."
"You are happy," said Vaura, "never out of the sunshine."
"Yes, I like it," said Mrs. Wingfield; "I can't live in the shade, and Mr. Bertram has me to adore for giving him the sun-light of this dwelling. I saw by the papers he was to make his exodus from London, so I telegraphed him to come here, and bring on a box of French novels we had forgotten."
"One does sometimes forget the most important part of one's luggage," said Vaura.
"But," said Trevalyon, "I'll wager Bertram did not forget your mental food."
"Not he, with his aldermanic taste for spicy dishes," said Vaura.
"No, the temptation would be too much for him, with the piece de resistance, an uninteresting husband, side dish, paragon lover, entree, neglected wife with flavourings thrown in, scandals, duels, etc.," said Trevalyon.
"How well he knows the condiments," remarked their host in sly tones, and rubbing his hands softly; "but talking of condiments, reminds one of dinner, and that Everly should be here."
"I hear a footstep on the hill which doesn't grow fainter, fainter still," said Mrs. Wingfield.
"Here we are again," said Sir Tilton Everly, entering, and shaking hands with all, continued: "I hope, Bertram, I havn't kept your dinner waiting."
"No, no, my dear fellow, my dinner waits for no man."
"You see our gallant host makes an exception in our favour, Sir Tilton," said Lady Esmondet.
"He considers the length of our toilette," said Mrs. Wingfield.
"And train," laughed Vaura, as Trevalyon caught his foot in her trailing skirts, in crossing behind to offer his arm.
"Go where one will," said Trevalyon, covered by the hum of voices; "one is sure to fall in with Everly."
"Yes, uncle Eric says he reminds him of the clown at a circus, with his cherry cry of 'here I am again.'"
"He seemed to me to be a sort of pet monkey of Mrs. Haughton; I hope he will not deem it necessary to transfer his little attentions to you, or I shall feel inclined to tell him that I am your knight pour le present, and show him my colours, in shape of telegram from your uncle (if I may not wear yours)," he added in persuasive tones.
"You can still be my knight errant," and her soulful eyes turn to his face, "he, one of my retainers."
"No divided honours for me, ma belle."
Here their chit-chat is interrupted by the subject of their converse, addressing Miss Vernon, across the table.
"Just come from Haughton Hall, Miss Vernon?"
"All well I hope? more especially my uncle."
"Never saw him looking better; I just ran down for twenty-four hours."
"How is the place looking? I don't mean the exterior, the park and grounds are always beautiful (and thank heaven cannot change), but the interior."
"Gorgeous! never saw anything to equal it."
"The festivities were brilliant, I presume?"
"Should say so; the county were tongue-tied in admiration; couldn't find words."
"You had no time for the birds, Everly, I suppose," said Trevalyon.
"Yes, a couple of hours of it; and what with the ball, dinner, fireworks, hurrahs, &c., and killing of birds—"
"And young women," cried Mrs. Wingfield.
"But in the time," laughed small Everly, "we really made some fine running on the feathered tribe."
"Ostrich feathered?" said Vaura.
"Nay, let him alone for that; else would Mrs. Haughton have made some running or gone for him? excuse the slang," said Mrs. Wingfield, mischievously.
"Many of us would be sportsmen in the case of a rival," said Vaura.
"The divided skirt would come to the front with pistols and coffee for two," cried Bertram.
"Yes, I should give her all the mud my tongue could throw," said gay Mrs. Wingfield.
"There will be sport in Hall as field, when the hounds meet, if I'm not mistaken," said the newsy little baronet.
"Why, how so? Sir Tilton," exclaimed Vaura.
"Well, you see, Miss Vernon, there was a lively discussion at luncheon one day as to the next meet; when Mrs. Haughton announced her intention of following the hounds, the Colonel objected on the ground of non-experience."
"No," said Lady Esmondet; "Rotten Row is her experience, and 'tis scarcely a hunting field."
"Unless for the praise of men," said Vaura.
"Or a husband," cried Mrs. Wingfield.
"But about the field, Sir Tilton; do you think Mrs. Haughton will take it?" asked Vaura.
"I am sure she will, for I overheard her the same day make a bet of L500 that she'd ride grey Jessie with the hounds next meet."
"So, so!" exclaimed Bertram, "the lady means it."
"And who might the favoured participator in her bet be, Everly?" enquired Trevalyon carelessly.
"With Major Delrose, late of the —th Middlesex Lancers."
"With Delrose!" exclaimed Trevalyon, now fully aroused; "is Delrose at Haughton?" and as he spoke he gave a swift glance at Lady Esmondet, who thought silently, "Delrose, the man who was mixed up in some way with Lionel in the Fanny Clarmont scandal; there will be mischief."
"No, left same train as I did, very unwillingly though; extracted a promise from Mrs. Haughton, that if time hangs heavy, he may return; amusing fellow, though the Colonel doesn't seem to take to him."
"Not the same stamp of man," said Bertram.
"But Haughton is right about the field, Everly," said Trevalyon; "one requires other experience than the Row."
"Better not curb her, though," answered Everly sagely.
"She thinks it as easy to run down the hare as the men; but the hare wants other bait than gold," said Lady Esmondet.
"So do we," said Bertram, decidedly.
"Yes, I do not think by any means that men, as a rule, are sordid."
"Before I met Eustace," said Mrs. Wingfield, "I made up my mind only to marry a horsey man, to make sure of one common interest, which there is often an absence of."
"Mrs. Wingfield! Mrs. Wingfield!" cried Bertram.
"Mr. Bertram! Mr. Bertram! were you a benedict, you would say my forethought was sweetly touching."
"And here have I, a lonely bachelor," he continued; "been regretting the non-existence of my Madame Bertram, though none could grace the head of my table better than the lady now seated there."
"Merci," said Lady Esmondet, "you are such a host in yourself that you leave us nothing to regret in the absence of Mrs. Bertram."
"Why," said Trevalyon sadly, in a low tone to Vaura; "why, will we continually make a jest over those poor creatures unequally yoked together."
"Very frequently, I think," she said softly, "to hide a deeper feeling; though it hurts us painfully to do so."
"I vow I'd rather be a jolly old bachelor like Mr. Bertram, with plenty of money, than husband to the Queen of Sheba, were she not defunct," exclaimed Mrs. Wingfield.
"What a boon to men and society is a woman without marriageable daughters," laughed Vaura.
"Yes," said Everly; "she can air her private opinions on the marriage question."
"With the right one, what a restful paradise it would be," said Trevalyon to Vaura's ear alone. And there was such a weariness in his tone, that she gave him one swift sympathetic glance; for in spite of herself her heartstrings were stirred, but she must not give way, so says lightly, as following Lady Esmondet's signal, they leave the table, the gentlemen refusing to linger:
"To say 'marriage' under any circumstances to be 'bliss,' is rank heresy to your well-known views; but I understand your present impulse is engendered by seeing our dear friend playing hostess."
"Not so altogether; you also are near," and her arm is involuntarily pressed to his side.
"Well, ladies fair and gallants gay," said Mr. Bertram, as he found a comfortable lounging chair for Lady Esmondet, "we have just time for a cup of coffee and a cigarette, ere we roll away in a carrosse to the Theatre Francais."
"To the theatre!" exclaimed Trevalyon; "I was not aware this was on the tapis for this evening."
"Yes," said Lady Esmondet, "Mr. Bertram and I arranged it; M. Octave Feuillet's play, the "Sphynx," is on. I begin to think it was selfish on my part, you all look so comfortable; perhaps we had better abandon it."
"Put it to the vote," cried Mrs. Wingfield.
"And no bribery," echoed Vaura.
"I fear if it is put to the vote," said Lady Esmondet, "mine will be bought, by the beseeching look of Capt. Trevalyon, for a stay at home."
"See what it is to have an expressive face, Trevalyon," said Everly; "it has gained you one vote, in spite of the rule Miss Vernon made of no bribery."
"I thank you for your sympathy, Lady Esmondet; but I fear yours would be the only vote recorded in my favor, so the 'Sphynx' must needs make us her own."
"As she did many an unhappy mortal in days of yore, in her Theban home. I wonder if they looked as resigned in their martyrdom as poor Capt. Trevalyon does," said Vaura.
"I used to think Oedipus finished her," said Trevalyon.
"Only for his day," said Vaura; "'twas too long a look till Octave Feuillet; he should have asked Lynceus to give a glance."
"The Cyclops might have lent him an eye," said Bertram.
"Are you always as indifferent to the stars of the stage Captain?" enquired Mrs. Wingfield, as she gently puffed away her delicate cigarette. "What Eustace would do without his distractions in that way, heaven only knows."
"He will outgrow it; most men have stage fever, as most babies have measles," he answered evasively.
"And now for our mantles and away," said Lady Esmondet, rising.
"And may the mantle of resignation fall on the shoulders of poor Capt. Trevalyon," said Vaura, taking his offered arm, and as the hand leaning on his arm pressed closely, she said in low tones, "you had my unregistered vote."
"Merci," he said, pressing her hand.
They found the theatre crowded from pit to dome. And the advent of our little party, as they took possession of their box, caused no little sensation even in that galaxy of beauty and fashion.
"By the lilies of France," said a Parisian, putting up his glass; "though not the three graces, one of them is there."
"Yes, by the memory of Bonaparte, she is worth a long look," said his companion, gazing at Vaura.
And two of the occupants of Mr. Bertram's box were indulging much the same thought. Lionel's handsome face wore a warmer look than ordinarily, as he chatted to Vaura, leaning on the back of her chair.
"She has the vivacity of the French woman, with a beauty all her own," he thought. "Her voice holds me, and my love of the beautiful is satisfied, as I look on her sweet mouth and warm eyes; but, pshaw, she is a flirt, and I am almost in her toils! what is coming over me?" and he gave a start as he almost spoke the last thought aloud.
"Why, what is the matter Capt, Trevalyon?" asked Vaura; "you started just now as though you had seen a ghost of the departed; a moment ago you seemed to be enjoying the play, but now you look melancholy; go over to Mrs. Wingfield. You see, cher ami, you do not credit to my powers of pleasing; so avaunt. But," she added, "you may come back some other time."
"You deserve better company than I, just now, ma belle, and Everly is aching to be with you." And rising, he took the chair Everly vacated, near Mrs. Wingfield.
"What have you done to Trevalyon? Miss Vernon," said Everly, as he seated himself beside her. "In five minutes his expression changed from unclouded happiness to the blackness of despair; queer fellow to wear such a look beside you."
"What a flattering tongue is yours, Sir Tilton; but I shall not be astonished at any outpourings of that sort from you; considering you have come from Haughton Hall, and the practice you have had in soft nothings while there."
"Had you been there I should have been inspired to say something original."
"It would be a treat, for compliments do grow so hackneyed; I sometimes agree with the poet," she added gaily, "'that there is nothing original in us, excepting original sin.'"
"Your uncle wished for your presence often."
"I take it quiet as a compliment, and his bride so new."
"And many others wished to sun themselves in your presence."
"I am glad they remember me, and if Old Sol will give England plenty of his gleams, and we have a mild winter to suit Lady Esmondet, we shall be at Haughton Hall for the Christmas festivities."
"If the clerk of the weather be a decent fellow, who will take a bribe, Tilton's the boy to stuff him, and my reward will be a waltz at the ball, and do please let me make sure of it now." Taking out his tablets, "just write your name and the date here; oh, thanks abundantly, and I'm sure, the weather fellow will be all square."
"And now I incur the jealousy of woman; cruel man to bring upon me such punishment, but I forgive you as you know nothing of womanly sweetness to woman, so here is my name for number four waltz. But regardez, we have missed a point, every eye is turned to the stage, Mlle. Croizette looks for the moment as though transformed into one of the Furies. So fierce her looks, such terrors from her eyes."
"Poor thing, so she does," said Sir Tilton laughing.
"But really Sir Tilton, I wish we could guess what its about. Another riddle from the Sphynx, you must be a second Oedipus and guess for me; or go over and ask some of the others, they look as though they have been feeding ravenously of the tree of knowledge."
"Draw your chair a little this way, Vaura, ma chere," said Lady Esmondet, who came over as Sir Tilton arose. "We shall all form one little group then, and it will be more pleasant."
Here Sir Tilton coming up, decidedly objected to the move, wishing to monopolise Vaura.
"You are cruel, Lady Esmondet; ask Miss Vernon, if I have not been more amusing than the Sphynx. You know," he said audaciously, "we actually did not see the little by-play between the rivals Mlle. Croizette and Sara Bernhardt, which is a proof we were not doing badly in the way of entertaining each other."
"Fie! Sir Tilton," said Vaura merrily, "acknowledge the compliment paid you, though our gay friends have had the Sphynx, they also have had time to long for our society," and as she drew near a few paces, Everly had time to say softly:
"One thing to be thankful for, we did not miss them."
"Small men make large boasts," thought Vaura amusedly.
"Miss Vernon," said Bertram, "you missed the best thing of the evening, or I suppose so by the fact of Everly having come over with his finger in his mouth to ask what the house came down for."
"You will relieve my woman curiosity," she answered smiling, "of course Sir Tilton will not own to the being curious, save on my account."
"No man could refuse a request of yours, else you deserve a punishment for," he added in a low tone, "making game of small hearts."
"Vaura dear, you have missed such a passage-at-arms, between Croszette And Bernhardt," said Lady Esmondet.
"Oh, such fun," exclaimed Mrs. Wingfield, "in the middle of a telling speech by Mlle. Croizette, the wicked little Bernhardt, came coolly up and asked her 'where she lived?' or something of that sort; Croizette, livid with rage, forgot her part—something we never saw her do before, but answered Sara in words that told, for though triumphant she trembled."
"Her sister Fury trembled and retired," said Trevalyon, "strange freaks rivalry leads its victims into—"
"I could almost imagine," said Vaura, "you all to be mistaken for the Croizette has immense influence at the Conservatory, where they both studied, and is a complete child of the stage, but if your ears have played you no tricks, if I mistake not, Sara has had her fun."
"Not a doubt of it," said Bertram.
"Oh, that is too real," said Lady Esmondet, turning pale and looking from the stage, referring to the death-scene by poison of the wicked heroine of the play.
"Yes, her struggles are so natural as to be anything but pleasant to witness," said Vaura.
"If it were good form for a woman to retire for a stimulant," said Mrs. Wingfield, "then would I make my exit, for I feel quite overcome at the sight."
"What inestimable privileges lordly man enjoys," said Vaura.
"What a talented little morceau is Sara," said Trevalyon.
"She is smaller since la Croizette looked to kill," said Lady Esmondet.
"The fire from the eyes of Croizette was too much for her; she has gone to hide within herself," said Vaura.
"No wonder she doesn't show even through a glass," said the little baronet.
"Else," continued Vaura, "the role of 'Forgiving Virtue' is too much for her; she shrinks from it."
"She might be more expansive in the other role," laughed Bertram.
"She is a handful of the essence of talent," said Trevalyon, "and always good form whether the form of a Venus or no."
"True," said Lady Esmondet, though she cannot quote in a personal sense of the "heavy cloak of the body still as weighed against a cultivated intellect, roundness of form is a mere bagatelle."
"I humbly appeal to you all," said Bertram in seriocomic tone, "is my rotundity a mere bagatelle?"
"Lady Esmondet says so, and it must be true," said Trevalyon laughingly.
"Of course it is; anyone to look at you would say the same," said Everly.
"My advice, Bertram," said Trevalyon, "is, on your return to England, to retire to the cool shades of oblivion and try the 'Bantam' system: that is if Owen Cunliffe does not send you there, for having while in Paris been attentive to the fair sex instead of to the interests of our Isle."
"Don't follow any such advice, Mr. Bertram!" exclaimed Mrs. Wingfield.
"Your fat makes you so jolly."
"Fat! did you call me fat, Mrs. Wingfield? If the play was not opportunely over I should be obliged to tear myself away from your fascinating presence, in grief, at such an epithet hurled at my devoted head, I—I mean body. I may well exclaim, 'save me from my friends' when these are the unctuous compliments they pay me," the victim exclaimed with averted face and uplifted hands.
On our friends rising to leave the theatre, Sir Tilton, making sure of escorting Vaura to the carriage, was in the act of putting her cloak over her shoulders, when Lionel offered his arm; Vaura taking it turned her head smiling her sweetest, with a word of thanks to small Everly, who returned it with a look of half-comical disappointment, and with one long step was at Mrs. Wingfield's side, saying:
"Never mind your cloak, Mrs. Wingfield; cool and easy does it; take my arm, Mr. Bertram will probably come up at an opportune moment and robe you, this is the latest and most successful manner of escorting a lady to her carriage."
"There is many a slip 'twixt cup and lip," said Mrs. Wingfield, laughingly; "you had your innings the early part of the evening, it is only fair her preux chevalier should have his revenge."
"Yes, I've been bowled out this time, but Don Juan isn't going to have any more innings if Tilton knows anything."
"What courage the atom has," thought Mrs. Wingfield, but she said, "Don Juan, indeed, 'Satan reproving sin,' what about a certain Mrs. H., that you sigh to the inconstant moon for. But we are nearing the others and the carriage; so a truce to confidentials. Adieu."
On the ladies entering the carrosse, the gentlemen bidding adieu pour le present, saying they would walk, Sir Tilton stepping back a pace enquired of Vaura "If he should have the pleasure of seeing her on that night week at the de Hauteville ball?"
"Yes, we are due there, and make an exception of their ball, we are such friends, but go to no more crushes presided over by Terpsichore while a Paris. Au revoir."
FOR A FAIR WOMAN FACE.
"What an irrepressible fellow Everly is," thought Trevalyon, as he sauntered along the avenue towards his hotel; having heard his question to Vaura (as to the ball), "he manages to get a card for everything. I should not regret his departure for anywhere; our little coterie was perfect without him. Vaura is extremely lovely and fascinating, she, of course, is the magnet that draws him; what a presumptuous little poppet he is, a mere fortune-hunter, hanger-on of society to dare turn his eyes in her direction. But am I not taking too deep an interest in this sweet Vaura Vernon. I must guard my heart; she is a flirt, I must beware. Another tender billet from Mrs. Haughton, and full of this hidden-wife falsehood; I have been careless, never even having told Haughton the truth of the matter. Every seven years, it seems to me, there is a rehash of by-gone villifications; one must only grin and bear it, but I do feel it terribly just now, not because it is what it always was, 'a lie direct,' but because of my close companionship with my dear friend and bewitching Vaura."
Let us now follow small Everly, and read some of his thoughts; with rapid steps he is soon at his destination, where, seating himself in a huge easy chair which almost hides his small body, draws a table to his side, on which are placed his pipe, glass of punch, with some letters.
"Gad, a missive from Aunt Martha," he exclaimed. "Whether it be sugar or vinegar it will keep until I do the others."
One was from his lawyer telling him the Jews were after him; with a muttered exclamation of "they must wait," he threw it aside. The others were from acquaintances—mere chit-chat; "and now for the old girls," he thought, which on opening a bank draft for L50 dropped out. "Gad! almost a holocaust," he said, picking it from the dying embers in the grate. "And now for the letter."
"MY DEAR NEPHEW,—Enclosed you will find a draft for fifty pounds; it is extremely inconvenient to remit you even such a small sum, but I promised your mother on her death-bed to give you all the assistance in our power, as also did your sister Amy; and so please heaven we shall, as we are quite aware that the trifle you inherit from your father is extremely small for the maintenance of an English baronet. Moreover, considering it an honour to the house of Morton that an Everly should have linked himself thereto, we have decided to let you have Johnston's rent for the future, and regularly. But, dear nephew, remember you cannot afford to make a mere love-match; you must marry an heiress. Your setter Hecate has had pups, which we shall nurse tenderly for you, as they represent money. But the school bell rings me away, and, dear nephew, from you I go with my pupils into the mysteries of pounds, shillings and pence. You will laugh and say you and they are always associated in my mind; and it is so, for, you are both things of worth. When you marry some rich young lady (you know whom I tell you you can win), I shall pay a master to take the arithmetic class. Make your old aunts glad with the news of a wealthy marriage being arranged for you. Acknowledge draft.
"With much love, from your affectionate Aunt, "MARTHA MORTON.
"Sir Tilton Everly, "Paris, Hotel European, 2nd Nov., 1887."
"It will please the aunts if I write instanter, so here goes."
"DEAR AUNT MARTHA,—Draft received, came in handy, can assure you. You are a jolly pair of relations for a fellow to have; never wanted the needful more. I know I shall have to marry money; I expect I guess correctly as to the girl you mean, but tallow candles are out of fashion. I know the gilding is thick, and debts are a bother. But you never fear for Tilton, he may yet win a glorious beauty and great expectations from a titled relation. Eureka! I can tell you; aunts you have no idea what a fuss society makes over me. Glad Hecate has done something for a living, or rather for mine. Goodnight or morning, for it is one a.m.
"Your devoted Nephew, "TILTON EVERLY.
"Miss Morton's Seminary, "Bayswater, Suburbs, London Eng. Nov., 5th, 1877."
"Yes, 'pon my life, the old girls are right, I must have the sovereign for my name; pity I was born with a taste for the beautiful; my father was wanting in forethought on my account, or he would never have wed penniless Rose Morton; here am I over head and ears in love with a peerless beauty, with not much or not enough of the needful to keep us both in style; there is not a doubt though that she will inherit from that stately godmother of hers. Never say die, Tilton, my boy; she smiled on you to-night, go in and win; why, the very thought of her sends the blood dancing through my veins; splendid figure, perfect as a Venus. She knows naught of my relations to that young schemer, and if my love by a stern fate says nay, she is too much accustomed to conquests to boast; and the other who is ready to marry me any day will, never know anything to erect her spine about; a week from tonight the de Hauteville ball, I shall there know the best or worst; if I fail it won't be because of aught wanting in myself, but because I cannot win over the Lady of Esmondet; then, if so, I shall hide my groans under an M.P., and the gold of my lemon-face, to whom I shall not exactly play count to her, Miss Kilmansegg, for I could not act such a villain's part; but I must have some hobby to ride, to make up for the sacrifice of self; and now to bed and sleep or dream."
On the morning of the de Hauteville ball, Trevalyon broke his fast somewhat earlier than usual, purposing to indulge in a long ride. In passing the salon of Lady Esmondet and Vaura, the door of which had been pushed open by his dog Mars half an hour previously. Trevalyon made a momentary pause, he could not see Lady Esmondet through the opening, only our sweet Vaura, who listening to her godmother, idly ate of some fresh fruit, while the other fair hand caressed Mars. She looked a very child of the morning, so charmingly bright, in a pale blue quilted satin dressing gown, with low turned down collar; not wishing to interrupt her godmother who read aloud an English letter she spoke to Trevalyon silently, standing in the opening door-way, only with the eyes and her own syren smile; the temptation to linger was too much for him, and he was about to enter when turning, as he heard a step coming quickly along the corridor from the visitors grand elevator, saw Sir Tilton coming towards him carrying a huge bouquet. And knowing for whom it was intended, preferring not to be a witness to the presentation with a "Bonjour, Everly," and "How do, Trevalyon;" they went their different ways, the one into the light of woman's eyes, the other into the lights of the streets of Paris.
Sir Tilton, with a laughing "Any admittance to a devoted subject," and a gay entrez from Vaura was in the boudoir.
"I thought I heard Captain Trevalyon's voice; was he not with you?" enquired Lady Esmondet as she shook hands with Everly.
"Yes, Lady Esmondet, he was outside and lingered a moment, but was able to resist the temptation to enter to which I had to succumb," with an admiring glance at Vaura.
After half an hour spent in gay chit-chat, Lady Esmondet, consulting her watch, reminded Vaura of their purposed drive; and with a promise asked by Sir Tilton, and given by Vaura, that she would wear one of his flowers on that evening, they parted.
In a short time Lady Esmondet and Vaura were seen driving along the fashionable parks and streets of Paris, and no carriage attracted more attention than the one in which they were seated. They met many friends and acquaintances among whom were Mr. and Mrs. Eustace Wingfield.
"One does not often see them together," said Lady Esmondet. "Still, I am sure, they suit each other better than most married people."
"What a queer world it is," remarked Vaura; "even ma chere godmother is rather cynical as regards the happiness of most married lives. What is the reason of it all? Is it that man who, as Charles Reade says, is 'born to hunt something,' is no longer happy when the chase is over. And woman, what of her? Is it that 'tis only the excitement of the hunt we care for, that our heart has no part in the matter."
"You know the world, Vaura, and you know you are right—still you will marry, and be happy; for your heart will go with your hand, and you know your power to make the man you will love happy."
"Sympathy, soul-felt and earnest, is more than love which sometimes changes, or passion and fancy which always evaporate," answered Vaura, seriously; "but," she added, "who, among the butterflies of to-day, cares for all this: A. marries B., because he can give her a title; B. marries A., because she brings him money—it's all a debit and credit system."
"Yes, Vaura, dear, Tennyson says truly, 'we men are a little breed.'"
But a warmer light deepens in Vaura's eyes as a vision of a handsome face, wearing at times a weary look, flashes across her memory, and she thinks some men are worth loving, and are not of the "little breed."
"What a bold-looking woman; I wonder who she is," said Lady Esmondet. "She's passed us several times; that was an aristocratic man beside her, and quite a youth. She wears her rouge too extravagantly."
"She has yet to come to the knowledge that she's anybody," answered Vaura, contemptously; "looks to me like greed and vice, and man is not the worse animal of the two."
"Thanks, Miss Vernon," said the voice of Trevalyon, riding up beside the carriages as he lifted his hat.
"Thanks, though it is rather a doubtful compliment, for I am all at sea as to what animal you are so kind as to give us the preference to."
"I don't know that I shall tell you, Captain Trevalyon, for you men make it your boast, that we only are curious."
Here the same smart turn-out, with its pair of beautiful bays come again towards them, and to the surprise of Lady Esmondet and Vaura, the woman smiled and nodded to Trevalyon. Vaura turning quickly towards him, saw that he took no notice of the recognition and that his face wore a stern look.
Everly driving with a friend, passed them at the moment, saw the nod and smile and of how they were received. "That little smile from Ninon Tournette, puts a spoke into your wheel, my fine fellow," he thought; "no matter though your face did look as though hewn out of stone." Aloud he said, "Miss Vernon will see he is donning the garb of modesty in her honour."
"So Vernon is Mademoiselle's name," said his friend de Vesey; "I saw her at the theatre the other night, and by the lilies of France, she is lovely enough to make a man play the saint for one look from her eyes."
There was a second or two of rather an awkward pause which Lady Esmondet broke by saying—
"The bays are lovely, but I'd rather keep the woman at bay, Lionel; or perhaps she thought you an acquaintance."
"Yes and no, chere Lady Esmondet; a dozen years or so ago, I was going through my stage fever, which most men take to in a natural sort of way, though I scorn to make it any excuse for my folly; for you, dear Lady Esmondet," he added with a weary sigh, "are aware I, above all men, should have given way to no such weakness, it was not that it bore any fascination for me, on the contrary, I was as one who never lays his opera glass aside; but, Old Time was leaning on his staff just then and everything went slow; so to make things more lively, I was persuaded by some men to go in with them into a new scheme, viz., lease a theatre; the woman who has just past then, a handsome young woman, was one of the actresses; I sold out at the close of one season, since, going very occasionally I have seen this woman, la Tournette, act a few times. She has severed her connection or rather the management did with her some six or seven years ago. I know nothing of her life now; she is outree in style and presuming to bow to me, especially in your company."
"Her bow was a feeler to find out where she is, in society, or out," said Lady Esmondet; "and," she continued, "we are to blame; we show her every day that the mighty god society accepts gold."
LA BELLE VERNON.
The suite of apartments at the de Hauteville mansion in which the family received, were a scene of almost unrivalled splendour. The host, Monsieur Henri Eau Clair de Hauteville, as he stood beside Madame, receiving and welcoming their guests, being a very small and very pale, quiet-mannered man, was almost lost beside the large, handsome woman and merely bowed like a Chinese Mandarin, looking like a tired school-boy, who wanted to be in bed and tucked in comfortably.
"Poor little man, how refreshing the summons to supper will be," said Lady Esmondet, as they waited in the crush to go forward to the smile, bow, and contact of finger tips.
"See how Madame stands it all," remarked Lionel. "It's astonishing what vim gentle women can throw into fatiguing social demonstrations."
"The fragile creature knows society is large-eyed," said Vaura.
On our friends turning to leave the reception room, Eau Clair, the eldest son of the house, for whom, he having attained his majority, this entertainment was given in honour of, came towards them to welcome his mother's old friend, and to tell Miss Vernon of how glad he was at her return to Paris. (He had met Trevalyon before).
"I must congratulate you, my dear boy," said Lady Esmondet, "as well upon your coming of age as upon the brilliancy of the ball."
"Je vous remercie, Lady Esmondet; mais," he added, "I have just come from your Cambridge University, and shall speak in your tongue, which I like well."
Here some old friends came up, and several gay dancing men, Everly amongst them, and Vaura's programme was soon full. She tried to secure a few dances for rest, by this means to give a few minutes to chat with Lionel, but no one would allow it.
"Don't be cruel," said one.
"Your flower-face must go to the ball-room," said another.
"Take pity on us; we don't carry a bouquet," said a third.
"So we will that you are near," said another.
At last she was carried off by Eau Clair.
"How beautiful your ball-room is, Monsieur Eau Clair," said Vaura. "What multitudes of flowers; how many green-houses have you laid bare? There will not be one rose-bud in all Paris for the Marshal McMahon's fete, but that will not grieve you, a Bonapartist."
"Of this I am sure, Mlle. Vernon, if I have left him any roses they are not the sweetest, for well I know the beauteous butterfly of to-day loves their sweet odour."
Dance succeeded dance, and all went merry as a marriage bell, to divine music by two of the most perfect bands in Paris; and now Everly claims his innings, and is happy.
"Have mercy on me, Sir Tilton," laughed Vaura, "and forgive me this dance (besides, we have another together), and you don't know how sweetly amiable I shall be, if you'll find me a seat beside Lady Esmondet."
"Consider yourself seated, and your martyred subject not far off, fair Mademoiselle."
They found Lady Esmondet with Mrs. Wingfield and Trevalyon in an ideal refreshment room.
"Glad you've found us, ma chere," said Lady Esmondet.
"I need not ask how you are enjoying the ball," remarked Trevalyon, "your eyes tell me."
"And they say true; how could it be otherwise Sir Knight? with music that thrills one, and a light foot treading a measure to the sweet notes," answered Vaura. "Is not this a charming room, Miss Vernon? invisible music, birds and flowers; the Parisian is born for this kind of thing."
"It is just a poem, Capt. Trevalyon."
"And Bob Fudge in the flesh, brings us back to reality," said Mrs. Wingfield; and following the direction of her eyes, they saw a very young man devouring with admiring glances, the delicacies around him.
"I am quite sure," laughed Vaura, "he will go through the bill of fare just as Moore's Bob, of one pate of larks, just to tune up the throat; one's small limbs of chickens, done en papillote, one's erudite cutlets dressed all ways but plain, &c. Oh, dear, he fatigues one," she added gaily; "yes, an ice, Sir Tilton."
"Depend upon it," said Trevalyon laughing, "Dick will receive a letter from Bob, that, 'there's nothing like feeding.'"
Here Eau Clair joined them, having missed Vaura from the ball-room.
"Have you seen the Claytons this evening, Vaura?" enquired Lady Esmondet.
"Yes, god-mother mine, and dancing with vigour and a sublime indifference to time that was amusing."
"They exchanged partners with another Quakerish looking couple, and have been in the heat of the fight, ever since," said gay Mrs. Wingfield.
"'Merrily danced the Quaker's wife, merrily danced the Quaker,'" sang Vaura.
Here a Spanish noble came up, and with a courtly bow, reminded Vaura that this was his waltz, and in animated chit-chat, they left the room.
"A handsome couple," said Mrs. Wingfield; "and I noticed the Spaniard has had two dances with la belle." News, not too utterly delightful to Trevalyon and Sir Tilton.
"The Marquis admires Miss Vernon, so mother says; and no man can find him at fault," said Eau Clair, rising, and leaving the little group.
"Would you, ladies, like to go to the ball-room?" asked Lionel, anxious to be near Vaura.
"Thank you, yes," answered Lady Esmondet, divining his motive.
"And will you take pity on me, and a risk on my waltzing powers?" asked Sir Tilton of Mrs. Wingfield.
"I would not risk anything so important as a waltz, Sir Tilton; but as I have already tested your capabilities as a dancer away I go on your protecting arms."
"Or into them," laughed her partner, as entering the ball-room they went careering at full speed down the small spaces.
"Beg pardon, Lord Lisleville," cried Sir Tilton, as he dashed against an ancient beau with a long rent-roll, who with his fiancee, a pretty little French girl, who had been trying to put him out of step in order to dance with her young Lochinvar. Sir Tilton, knowing the circumstances, pitied the little Parisienne who had been dolefully doing her duty all the evening; so determined to come to her aid, hence the collision, which throwing the noble lord almost on his back, sent his wig flying several yards off which the dancers swept with their trains. The gay petite was wicked enough to put her handkerchief, not to her eyes, but to her mouth, to veil her smiles as she gave herself up to her young lover who had been eating his heart out all the evening. Lord Lisleville, with inward curses on Everly and his own temerity in attempting to dance on a waxed floor, with his gouty leg and bought curls, was a droll figure, as with his handkerchief tied over his head and his face a whirlpool of wrath, he was knocked hither and thither by the dancers in the vain attempt to recover his gay tresses.
Vaura and her partner laughed heartily over the amusing scene.
"How innocent Sir Tilton looked, and one could see it was intentional," laughed Vaura; "no more dinners at the ancestral home of Lord Lisleville; no more shooting for the culprit," she continued.
"How happy the betrothed looks now," said Del Castello, "Cupid's bow is powerful."
"I know myself," said Vaura, "of several cases where young girls have been persuaded to marry old men from the fact being pointed out to them of the happy marriage of M. Thiers. Madame Dosme, poor little Emily's mother, was the woman born for him, only she, unfortunately, was encumbered with a husband."
"It was a most singular household," said Del Castello. "Thiers, though undoubtedly a superior man, had no claims to divinity or to be enshrined on the Dosme altar with three adoring women ever worshipping, while there are many men, could they gain one woman, would be to her alone as constant as the sun. Pardon, Mlle., but I am Spanish and cannot be cold with you. I ever think of Venus and my breast is bare for Cupid's dart."
"The boy is blind," said Vaura, archly.
"I feel him an unerring marksman, though," he said passionately.
Here Sir Tilton, with Mrs. Wingfield, passed them, when Vaura called out gaily:
"Don't you tremble, Sir Tilton, when you think of the wrath of the wigless Adonis?"
"Like an aspen leaf, fair belle, but never mind, I've given him a wigging."
They are now beside Lady Esmondet, and the strains of music changing from the waltz,
"That means our waltz is over, Marquis Del Castello, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly, thanks to your perfect step."
"Your own fairy step had much to do with making our waltz one I shall never forget; may I call tomorrow?"
Trevalyon coming up at the moment, and seeing Vaura in all her lovliness, for lovely she was in cream white satin, sleeves merely a band, neck low, a circlet of gold of delicate workmanship round the throat, fastened in front with a diamond large as a hazel nut, bands of gold in same design, on perfect arms midway between shoulder and elbow; and the poor fellow hungered to have her all to himself for even a few minutes, so with forced gaiety he said:
"Now, Mademoiselle, I, as your guardian, must insist on your taking a little rest and under my protection, for, should I allow you to take it with any other, the gay gallant would have the queen of the night back amidst the revelry.
"But what am I to do, Lady Esmondet—Captain Trevalyon," she said with a sweet sense of willingness about her; "I belong to M. de Vesey for the next dance?"
"Go and rest," said Lady Esmondet; "and if your partner cannot find you it will be his loss."
Lionel had roamed about a good deal during the evening thinking much of a letter he had received that morning from Colonel Haughton, and of the love he was battling against in his own breast, for Vaura. In his walks to and fro he had come across a small conservatory on the other side of the house, far from the busy throng, and entered as well from the grounds as from a boudoir of Madame's; thither he led Vaura, not unwillingly, a sweet sense of being taken care of, a nameless feeling of passive languor, a sense of completeness pervaded her whole being, as Lionel, putting her hand through his arm and for a moment holding it there in a protecting sort of way, led her through long corridors until they reached the luxurious boudoir of their hostess, where, seating Vaura in a lounging chair, the perfection of comfort, and placing a soft foot-stool for her dainty slippered feet, he quietly seated himself near her.
He longed to take her to his heart, and tell her of his great love for her, which had grown so strong as to completely master him, he could scarcely refrain from crushing her in his arms and telling her she must be his; he had suffered much this evening in seeing her, even in the dance, in the arms of other men; ever since he had left Lady Esmondet's side, an hour ago, he had done nothing but pace through lonely corridors thinking of the letter from Eric Haughton, which ran thus:
"Trevalyon, cher ami,—
"Must go to the point at once, as what I hear has troubled me. Mrs. Haughton tells me there is no doubt you are married to Fanny Clarmont, and as Delrose is frequently here and lounging about with her, I suppose he has told her; I know he was mixed up in the affair; I'm sorry for you if it's true, old fellow. She also says, but it's a woman's mistake I am sure, that you are half engaged to Blanche; be careful that you don't make Vaura love you; you were always a sort of hero with her; she is too lovely and lovable to have her life spoiled; take care of my two loved women in your charge.
"Yours as ever, "ERIC HAUGHTON.
"Captain Trevalyon, "Hotel Liberte le Soleil, Paris."
"And now I have passed the Rubicon," he thought, "and know past doubting that she has the love of my life, and that life without her, will be worse than death," this he thought, seated near this fair woman; near, and far, for he must not speak to her with this cloud upon his name; he knew it was false and only spread for revenge, but would not society pity Vaura; pity and he writhed with inward pain, at the thought that his wife would be pitied for having gone to God's altar with a man, whom Dame Rumour said, had a hidden wife; one moment he thought he would fly to England and make Delrose tell the truth at the point of the sword, but he knew his man, and that threats would not avail; again, if he left Vaura now, there were many men about her, one of whom she might choose, and the thought was maddening. If he could only get them into Italy, they would be quieter there. He must mature his plans, see how it was best to cope with his enemies; would he write Haughton the facts? no, he must try and find out Fanny Clarmont's address, and get her to write such a letter as he could publish, exonerating him from all act or part in her elopement; but how to do it, unless he could work on Delrose, but the man never had any feelings, save for himself; he must see. And as he looked on Vaura, as she sat, her head thrown back among the cushions, lips slightly parted, and looking at him from dreamy eyes half closed; a pain came to his heart as he thought, if he could not get Fanny's confession, Vaura would never rest in his arms, for she would not go to him with the truth unproven. And still he thought she shall love me, for, look what she has done for me, she has done what no woman heretofore has been able to do, she has inflamed me with a passionate love for her as untamable as the lion; she belongs to me. And as he thought this he rose, but almost staggered with conflicting emotions, as he stood close to her.
"Vaura, my darling, are you rested?" he said, his voice anything but steady.
"Yes," she answered dreamily; "but why did you break the spell? it is so seductive here, I half thought you a magician and this a scene of enchantment."
"I broke the spell, darling, because I could bear no longer the——"
Here footsteps were heard, both on the gravel walk outside the small conservatory and in the corridor by which they had entered the boudoir. And though the occupants did not see Del Castello, he saw them at the same time as Everly with De Vesey (a gay Paris beau to whom Vaura had been engaged for this dance, now over) crossed the threshold. De Vesey, on seeing the situation, and not caring to be de trop, was for retreating, but Everly was in no mood for this, now that his dance and his only one for the night was on the tapis. He, like any other man, would have feared to leave the woman he loved with a man so fascinating as Trevalyon. Vaura, in the second or two of their hesitation, had time to recover outward composure. Lionel folded his arms, moved a pace or two backwards, and stood like a statue; the muscles of his face throbbed, but in the dim rose-tinted light Everly and De Vesey coming from the glare of the lustres and torches of the ball-room did not see clearly.
"Pardonnez, Mademoiselle, but Sir Tilton Everly would continue his search until our belle of the evening was found," said De Vesey, apologetically.
"Not so loud, Monsieur De Vesey," Vaura answered in a whisper. "This is the temple of the god of Silence, and Captain Trevalyon and I have been worshipping at his shrine. I perceive you are both," she added, moving on tiptoe towards them, "feeling the influence of the place, and you don't look as though you care to pour incense. So let us back to Comus and revelry. Au revoir, Capt. Trevalyon."
Vaura managed while speaking to detach from her corsage some violets and a crushed rose, which, when Everly and De Vesey were not observing, she dropped at Trevalyon's feet; and turning her head as she took Sir Tilton's arm, gave him her own syren smile from eyes and lips—and Lionel was alone. Del Castello who had been a witness to this scene from the outside of the conservatory now entered, and coming forward stood facing Lionel.
One would look far before meeting two as handsome men as these two rivals for the love of one woman. Capt. Trevalyon, with some of the best Saxon blood in his veins, of distingue bearing, tall, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blonde, tawney mustache, short side whiskers, face somewhat bronzed by exposure on the battle field and in travel: a man, a manly man every inch of him, a man whom woman adored and man leaned on, unless when his foes and rivals.
Del Castello truly the nobleman, tall, dark, and handsome.
The Spaniard was the first to speak.
"Pardon my intrusion, Monsieur, but I cannot rest until I know the truth; I have seen Mademoiselle Vernon several times walking and driving at places of public amusement, but never have been fortunate enough to obtain an introduction to her until to-night, though I have made repeated efforts so to do. Her beauty and grace had made a deep impression upon me, which now that I have had the great joy of conversing and dancing with her has ripened into love so strong as not to be subdued, and which, excuse me, Monsieur, for saying, I believe only a Spaniard or perhaps an Italian could feel. You English are so cold; Mademoiselle is not, but reminds me of the women of my own love-warm, sun-lit land. It was my intention to have called upon Mademoiselle Vernon at her hotel on to-morrow ere the sun had set, to ask her if she would be the light of my life by doing me the great honour of accepting my name, hand and fortune. I had been roaming through the grounds meditating upon her many charms, and of how best I could make my offer so as not to agitate her by its seeming prematureness, when I was very much troubled on coming to the conservatory (meaning to enter) to see you, a powerful rival, in the blissful retirement of this boudoir with the woman I have, perhaps unfortunately, conceived, such passionate love for. I was as if chained to the spot and, when you were alone, determined to enter and ask you if my worst fears are true. Are you a successful suitor for the hand of Mademoiselle Vernon? Are you, Monsieur, anything to her?"
This had been, to say the least of it, a very trying night for Lionel—and it seemed his troubles were not yet over. He knew the Marquis Del Castello to be a parti the bluest blood in his own land would be more than satisfied with. He was the possessor of a noble and princely estate, and this man, with all these advantages, was a suitor for the hand of the woman he loved with an overwhelming passion. And the Spaniard had said she could not be loved as he loved her. Ah, well! what does man know of man? Only this, what he chooses more than "language," as Talleyrand says, "was given us to conceal our thoughts;" for we smile when the heart is breaking; we weep to conceal the joy we are feeling; and Lionel listened and suffered. He had never been a man to make his moan into the ear of men and women, for the sympathy of society is curiosity! and man listens and forgets, and woman listens and talks; she cannot help it, poor thing. Can the snake do other than charm—then sting?
And Vaura had conquered and enslaved him, but was still unsubdued—so he thought,—and though peerless among her sex, she is only a woman. And how will it be if I allow this man to pour his love tale into her ear with all the impassioned eloquence his countrymen possess. "Oh, darling!" and he groaned inwardly, "I cannot put you to the test; I cannot speak yet;" and he must not. All this poor Lionel thought, as with folded arms he listened to the Spaniard, and to his concluding words of "Are you anything to Mademoiselle Vernon?" he merely bowed. The temptation to dismiss this smooth-tongued Southerner, with the warmth of the south in his words, with the looks of an Adonis, ere Vaura should listen to his pleadings, was too much for him. Ah, well, though we love him much, this Lionel Trevalyon, he is only mortal. "After I have made her love me, I shall tell her of this man's proposal of marriage," he said to his aggrieved conscience. After all is there not an instinctive leaning in the hearts of most of us towards the Roman Catholic doctrine of penance? Immediately on our conscience becoming seared as with a red-hot iron through some act its sensitiveness shrinks from, we, feeling this inward shrinking away as if from our lower nature invariably bring out the whip and lash our poor weak flesh by way of atonement. And so Lionel thought now as he bowed to Del Castello's question of "are you anything to her?" and thought while doing what hurt his conscience—"I shall tell her after."
"Then my worst fears are realized," said Del Castello to Lionel's bow. "But, Monsieur, you cannot expect me with my heart's great loneliness fresh upon me to congratulate you on being before me in your wooing. Adieu, I shall leave Paris at sunrise, and it will be a sorrowful gratification to me to know that the incomparable Mlle. Vernon will, from your lips, learn why I fly." And saying this, the Marquis left Lionel to the solitude of Madame's boudoir.
THE BLIND GOD TAKES SURE AIM.
After leaving Trevalyon, Vaura, with her attendant cavaliers, bent their steps in the direction of the ball-room, the sweet sounds of distant music sounding louder and yet louder as they moved.
"Woe be to that incarnation of selfishness in yonder boudoir," exclaimed Everly; "if he be the means of my losing this dance with the fair Queen of the Revels," looking admiringly at Vaura's full and rounded neck, throat and arms.
"You won't call it petty larceny, Everly, when you pour maledictions on his head. 'Pon my heart it's too bad of him to carry off the most precious freight of the ballroom; thereby causing two forlorn individuals, whom he has defrauded of their rights, to wonder about like disembodied spirits with distended eyes, and white of visage. I can assure you, Mlle. Vernon, Everly, in our search for your fair person, peered into passages where the darkness might be felt, it was in this way. Passing one of the salons I saw a group of ladies and gentlemen, and thinking you might be one of the number, and the music just striking up for my dance with you, la belle de la nuit, I entered the salon, gazing eagerly amongst them, coming away, as you know, disappointed. Sir Tilton in this way distanced me. I took no thought of the whereabouts of such an insignificant atom as he, continued De Vesey, laughing; but, continuing my search for you, came suddenly upon a queer bit of architecture, a many-sided sort of landing wherefrom there were three staircases and three landings; which was I to choose? I was meditating, when from the wall close beside me proceeded a most plaintive wail, rather, on my honour, like an infantine donkey. I listened going close to the wall, when I discovered the mellifluous accents proceeded from the throat of the missing giant, Sir Tilton. I put my ear to the wall and told the poor boy to speak in accents loud; he confessed that seeing a spring in the wall he touched it—it opened, he entered where he was mantled in Egyptian darkness, and could not make his exit. I was his deliverer. When he emerged, he looked like a ghost, and in feeble accents told me of why he had gone into solitude, which, as I see my partner seated like patience on a monument waiting for me, I shall leave him to be the hero of his own tale; and as I hear, fair Mlle., that you are going to desert Paris and turn your face south, I must needs say bon voyage, though my heart aches at our loss;" and lifting her hand to his lips, the gay Parisien left them to claim his partner.
"At last," said Everly, with fervor, and almost unconsciously his face full of an agitation he could not conceal.
Vaura's practised eye told her what was coming, and fain to escape it, said gayly:
"Yes, at last, Sir Tilton to relieve my curiosity by explaining M. de Vesey's words."
Here a lively air from a French clock attracted her attention.
"Listen, Sir Tilton, two o'clock."
"Yes, fair queen of the revels, 'tis time I told you another story, my heart is aching for your sympathy," he said brokenly.
"You have my sympathy, Sir Tilton; nay, we must not linger," she added, on his turning into the dreamy light of an ideal little flirting room.
"I pray you to do so, Miss Vernon. I have something I must say to you," he said feverishly.
"Wait until time says now, Sir Tilton, for with the warning notes we have just heard in my ears, I should not be a good listener."
"You are tired of me, and want to give your sweetness to some other man," he said despairingly, yet fiercely.
"Carita! Carita! Sir Tilton," and pitying him she said, knowing just how he was feeling; "see there is one couple you have made happy to-night," as the little prospective bride of Lord Lisleville with her lover passed, with smiles to Sir Tilton.
"Fools' paradise, she belongs to Lord Lisleville; that wouldn't satisfy me."
"You are a spoiled boy, you want too much."
"I want you, my enchantress."
"But you can't have me, Sir Tilton, I belong to the heir of the house for the last dance," she said, wilfully misconstruing his meaning, so gaining time, lost to him.
"You are cruel, you gave up my dance for Trevalyon; you won't give up De Hauteville's for me."
"Eau Clair made me promise faithfully," and with pretty persuasiveness had her way to the ball-room. "Drop all sentiment, Sir Tilton, I like you best, your own gay care for naught self; see," she added, kindly as they neared the music and revellers, "see the gay butterflies are as chic (even if their wings have lost some of their bloom); the scent of the rose as sweet as at the first dance; be your own gay rollicking self once more."
"I cannot! for my star of the night I love you; don't start, it is no new story to you that a man's heart lies crushed at your feet. Since it was my fate to meet you, your face is ever before me. I followed you here, running away from Haughton Hall. I have dreaded Trevalyon as a rival, as well as others, but he in especial. Oh! my heart's light, say you are not going to give your loveliness up to a man they say has a hid—well, well, no more of him, only don't shrink from me, I shan't name him; but my heart only beats for you, heaven." And Vaura feels his whole frame tremble as he says feverishly: "pity me, and make her love me; and now what have you to say to me, you can make my life what you will; for heaven's sake give me hope."
"Poor fellow, your words grieve me more than I can say; I had no idea of anything of the sort; you have my warmest friendship.
"Don't; don't speak of friendship!" he said excitedly, when it is you, you with your warm heart-beats, your love I want; great heavens, why did you ever cross my path?"
"I shall regret the doing so, if it has caused you pain, Sir Tilton, but in time you will forget me."
"You are cruel; and speak as a surgeon to a physically sick man."
"My words are meant kindly, Sir Tilton, though they seem as the lance to the sick man."
"Men say women are cruel, so they are; do you know, for your beauty I have played the traitor to another; but heaven help me," and poor little Sir Tilton groaned; "I could not marry her while I was free to ask you to be my wife, and now I am just good for nothing, and never shall be; God help me!"
Vaura's heart was full of pity for this gay boyish little Sir Tilton, and looking into his face pityingly, said:
"Poor fellow, go back to your bethrothed and be happy in time with her; she, nor none other shall know you ever had a roving fancy for me, and this is a butterfly age and our wings were given us to fly; so n'importe, you need only send your bride to me if she ever scolds, and I shall tell her she has the gayest, kindest little baronet in all Britain."
And so Vaura chatted to give the poor little man time to catch up to his heart-beats.
Here Lionel passed them on his return from the boudoir of Madame, where he had been since Vaura was taken from him, and Del Castello had left him; he heard part of Vaura's remark, and seeing Sir Tilton's downcast attitude, took in the situation at a glance; and as he passed with a grave smile to Vaura and a pressure of his hand on the crushed rose and violets at his breast, he mentally observed:—
"Another life given her to do as she wills with, another heart crushed as she has crushed the life from this rose; ah, well, the saints hath it that they are the weaker vessel, but they are stronger than we after all. Look at me, year after year I have boasted of my strength, and now I am as wax in her hands; I, who thought to bask in her loveliness for an idle hour, only as I might bask in the loveliness on canvas, the creation of some heaven born painter; I, who thought to coolly criticise her acquaintance with this actor who has tried to win her beauty and talents to the stage, ere I asked her to be my wife— ere I put away the prejudices of a lifetime against wedded life. Prejudices! that were the outcome of my mother's sin, my father's blighted life; I know I always loved her as a girl-woman, for she was always womanly. Now I adore her with the love of a life; with a love that has never been frittered away, for I have never loved the soulless creatures whom I have amused myself with." And hastening his steps he was soon by Lady Esmondet's side.
"What a wanderer you have been," said his friend, welcoming her favourite and pleased to see (as she surmised) some of Vaura's violets in his coat.
"Where is Vaura? truant that she is, you were the one to take her away, and I hoped you would bring her back."
She noticed he wore the exhausted look of a man having gone through some very powerful emotional feeling, whether of joy or sorrow she could not tell. His eyes turned ever wistfully towards the grand entrance to the ball-room, and he wore her flowers, so she could only hope there had been no trouble between them. She felt half in love with him herself, as most women did who came under the influence of his rare fascination of manner "his eyes possess some mesmeric power," they said, "to draw their hearts at will." Have we not all felt the wonderful power of such eyes, at least, once in our lives, eyes that once having felt as it were, we always feel; eyes that charm us and bid us look and not forget.
"He is learning to love her," thought Lady Esmondet, as she saw that his eyes turned ever towards the door; "and it will be the happiest day of my life (none too happy)," she thought with a sigh, "if I see these two lives blend in one; Vaura is difficile, so is he, but she cannot resist him, and their lives would be full of completeness. They would be the happiest couple in London; why did he start as through fear, when Everly mentioned Delrose as a visitor at the Hall; I know there was a scandal some twelve years ago, when they were both mixed up with Fanny Clarmont. I do hope there is nothing in it to cause him real uneasiness. Vaura will make a great sensation this coming season; she has made some conquests to-night, that cream-white satin with her diamonds and these old fashioned gold bands, suit her to perfection. She enjoys wielding the sceptre and she does it with such seeming unconsciousness, and absence of vanity that is very charming, never boasting of her conquests even to me." But where can she be all this time, I wonder, and with whom? so breaking in upon Lionel's reverie, she repeated her question of, "Where and with whom is Vaura? she has missed two or three dances."
"Everly was the happy man not two minutes ago," he said.
"That bird of passage; 'tis a wonder she wastes her sweetness upon him."
"Poor Everly! I am very much inclined to think his heart will be heavy after to-night," said Lionel, thinking of his downcast look as he passed.
"'Tis his own fault; little men are so aspiring,—always on tip-toe," answered Lady Esmondet.
"Yes, I suppose he has himself to blame, the bat cannot gaze at the sun, unless to his own detriment."
"One thinks of an angel and lo! she appears," exclaimed Eau Clair, coming up, "and there's no doubt as to whose colours Everly wears, but by the lilies of France had he detained La Belle Vernon from her rightful sovereignty of the ball-room five minutes longer, I should have hunted the Everlie-in-wait-robber, and have taken from him our belle. But see how enerve, embarrassed, the robber looks, the enchantress has been exercising her fatal spells."
Here Vaura with Sir Tilton, looking pale and haggard, approached all three, guessed his whispered question to Vaura, of "Can you give me no hope?" and saw Vaura shake her head as her lips framed the word "no." Then there was one long pressure of the hand, a look from Everly, as of one looking on the face of the dead, and he was gone. Alone, or to wed without love, and for gold! Ah, me! this life of ours teems with bitterness, but on to the merry-makers we do not care to follow Everly. We grow cynical perhaps as to the good there is in life, but we get used to it in time; to this something we have lost as we get used in time, to the unloved partner by our side. Such is life.
Vaura was looking very sweet and lovely, as with a tender pity she took leave of her conquest, Sir Tilton; her face had a soft paleness, and her lips looked a deeper red than usual from the contrast; there was a languor in her movements, and she felt she would like to rest in the easy chair, beside Lady Esmondet, with Lionel near; and dream waking dreams after all the excitement of the night. But there were the conventionalities, her dance with Eau Clair, and then, home, so she said:
"Well, dear god-mother, here at last; are you dying of ennui? I feel very wicked, and it has been selfish of me to remain so long, but this is the last, I shall soon be with you."
And taking Eau Clair's arm she was again moving to the enchanting music of the waltz, which tends more to bewitch the souls of men than the music of any other dance, its gentle swaying motion, its soft bewilderingly seductive strains of music, are something to have felt the pleasurable sensation of. As they were moving the length of the room, Vaura noticed Lady Esmondet leave it, as also that her footsteps' were slow and languid as though she was weary; so saying:
"I really must tear myself away, Monsieur Eau Clair, Lady Esmondet has left the room, and I am sure she is fatigued. You will laugh at me for suddenly remembering my dear chaperon at such an opportune moment when our dance is a thing of the past. There seems to be a general exodus, so," she added gaily, "if we follow them, even two such important personages as we are will not be noticed in our absence."
"We shall go with the stream and all will be well."
"But whither do they lead? What is on the tapis?"
"They go to take part in an old family custom that tonight must be done."
"And if when done 'twere well, 'twere well 'twere done quickly," answered Vaura.
And they followed the stream and Vaura could not but see that Eau Clair and herself received a good deal of attention as they moved, many eyes following them. They soon reached a suite of elegantly furnished salons gay with flowers, gems of art from the deft fingers of the sculptor, master-pieces from the artistic brush of some of the greatest painters living and dead, decorated the walls or stood in their respective niches, foreign and domestic birds of rare beauty and throats full of song, with the exquisite scent of flowers about them, the brilliant scene, the soft laughter of the incoming guests sounding so similar to some of their own notes, causing the feathered songsters to burst forth into melody, adding another charm. Vaura and Eau Clair were among the last to enter, and they walked up to the end of the room the cynosure of all eyes; as they neared a chair placed alone at the head of the room, Vaura saw Lady Esmondet with a gay coterie of friends with Lionel in the group. Vaura turned her head as she passed with a smile, and the lines to Venus from Pitt's Virgil flashed across Lionel's memory:
"And turning round her neck she showed That with celestial charms divinely glowed."
Vaura was accustomed to admiration, so this which looked so much like a march of triumph did not disturb her self-possession; she laughed and chatted with her companion all the length of the salons.
"These servants of yours, Monsieur Eau Clair, remind one as they pass in and out so noiselessly among your guests laden with the champagnes and ices they carry so deftly of the automata in the new Utopia they are perfect; but what is not perfect in the de Hauteville mansion."
"Take this chair which I hope will be the perfection of comfort for the belle of our ball."
"Give me a Frenchman for a gallantry," said Vaura gaily, and seating herself comfortably. To her surprise Eau Clair, standing beside her, said as follows:
"Charmantes Demoiselles, Mesdames et Messieurs: It has been a time honoured custom in our family for generations, that on the heir to the estate attaining his majority, on his throwing off the careless garb of garcon, and donning the somewhat grave habiliments," taking up the corner of his dress-coat with a smile, "of the man. It has been the custom, I say, at the revels given in his honor, that he should elect as the belle the fairest of the fair—a custom that has my warmest approval; a dieu ne plaise that any one of my descendants should be ungallant enough to discontinue it; indeed rather than our fore-fathers should father such an one," he said in gay tones, "I prefer that I, Eau Clair, should be the last of our name. I admit that my predecessors may have at times found the pleasant task of choosing somewhat difficile. But for me, Dieu merci, Mlle. Vernon's advent in Paris has left me no choice. And without paying any point-blank compliments to her charms, I now present to her as is usual on this occasion, this bagatelle, at the same time expressing the hope that loving our city as she does, she will soon return to us, come with all her beauty and grace, and sojourn among us, leaving her own northern clime," and kneeling on one knee, Eau Clair handed a small box of rare Japanese workmanship to Vaura. He then drew a small, elegant stand to her side and gently taking the box from her hand, laid it on the table, touched a spring when the lid flew open, disclosing to view a bouquet holder and fan, both works of art. The handle of the fan was of gold inlaid with precious stones, the fan of feathers of brilliant hues. The bouquet holder was of elegant design in gold, studded with diamonds and on one side the words "To la belle Vernon, 1877" inlaid in diamonds of larger size, the whole one glitter of brightness. A small bouquet of delicate odeur was here handed by a servant on a salver to his young master, and Eau Clair saying, "Let me be the first to fill the holder with fragrance," put the flowers into the golden receptacle.
Vaura rising and taking Eau Clair by the hand made a step or two forward now loosing his hand said:
"Cher ami Monsieur Eau Clair, Mesdames et Messieurs, I feel that a mere conventional je vous remercie would be too cold and lifeless and in every way distasteful to me, on this occasion, and though I have never made a speech heretofore, and this being literally my maiden speech, please forgive me what pleases you not. Though, fair demoiselles, I have been chosen the belle, I feel as I gaze upon the galaxy of beauty around me that I," she added in gay tones, "have no occasion to blush at my own loveliness, for I feel that the gods have been so lavish in their gifts of everything that is lovely that they have surely become bankrupt and have kept no charms for me, and that Monsieur Eau Clair must have looked at my poor graces through rose-coloured spectacles when he called me la belle and made me the recipient of gifts fit for a queen. I little thought, cher ami," she continued, turning slightly towards Eau Clair, "when saying to you a few moments ago that this had been an ideal evening, that two such ideal gifts were in store for myself. I need scarcely tell you that they will be always among my most valued treasures, recalling as they will such pleasant reminiscences to my mind of one of the most delightful evenings I have ever spent. And a word to you, fair demoiselles" turning towards the assemblage of guests with a smile, "never turn your bright eyes from your own land for your lovers and husbands, for your men carry the belt from the universe! Yes, from the world for gallantry, and some of the kindest and best husbands I have met are from among the so-called' fickle' Frenchmen. Thanks for your kind wish, Monsieur Eau Clair, that I shall soon return to fair, bright Paris. I do love your city and your land so much that he to whom I may yet give my heart and life will I know, if he love me, come often to your dear shores and Paris. Ere many more suns have risen I turn my face southwards to that old art world, sunny Italy, which I love well. But there one sometimes has a feeling of sadness in thinking of what she was, especially her Rome, which one does not experience here. I am at one with your great Victor Hugo when he says, 'It is in Paris that the beating of Europe's heart is felt. Paris is the city of cities. Paris is the city of men. There has been an Athens, there has been a Rome, there is a Paris.'"
Here Vaura seated herself. While speaking in her clear tones with a depth of feeling in her manner and varying expression efface, her beauty was felt by all. There was now a brighter hue than usual in her cheeks, and her dark eyes shone like stars with the excitement of the moment. The immediate family of de Hauteville now came forward offering their congratulations, and many of the guests did her the same honor.
"Will la belle permit one of her most humble admirers to offer his congratulations and offering?" said the voice of Lionel beside her, and with a warm pressure of the hand, he slipped into the holder beside the bouquet three small sprays, one of white pink, one of Peruvian Heliotrope, and a small bit of black thorn. Vaura, an ardent lover of flowers was also mistress of their language, so she read silently commencing at the white pink. "'I love you,' 'fair and fascinating,' but there is a 'difficulty.'" "Where and what is the difficulty, I wonder," she thought, and turning her large bright eyes to his face with a smile in them and on her lips, was how she answered him.
"I must congratulate you on your maiden speech, Mlle. Vernon," said the small host in his small voice. "When you can make such an excellent impromptu one, I feel sure we men in our efforts would be put to shame, were we to listen to a studied one from la belle," and the little man retired behind madame's drapery.
"Merci, monsieur, my poor little speech did not show you half my gratitude for such undeserved honors."
The guests having drank the health of the heir and la belle de la nuit, began to disperse and soon after warm farewells to the family and heartfelt wishes that they should soon meet again, our friends were in their carriage and rapidly driving to their hotel.
Lionel was very quiet, saying little, but ever and anon with a careful hand drawing Lady Esmondet or Vaura's wraps around them, not that the night, or rather morning, was cold but Vaura had danced so often and there had been so much of excitement in the night for her, and besides it was delightful to him to have her at last near him where he could feel her presence and know that the others were all away; to feel that when his hand touched her cheek, neck, or arm in his loving care in keeping her from the night air, that she did not shrink from his touch, but rather leaned to it. And he was happy, and so was she, but he did not know it, he only knew he was near her.
THE WEB OF DIFFICULTY.
The morning after the de Hauteville ball Lady Esmondet and Vaura met at the breakfast-table, at noon, Lady Esmondet not looking paler than usual. Vaura was pale for she had slept none, her eyes looking larger and her dainty and flexible lips a deep red. She was quite like her own sweet self though, in spite of fatigue, and her soft cardinal silk morning robe, loose at the throat, and turned down collar of white muslin and lace. In her belt the pink, heliotrope, and black-thorn sprays; and Lionel was content with the picture as he opened the door and came forward. Vaura was pouring out a cup of coffee for Lady Esmondet, her shapely hands, so soft and white, coming from the cuffs of muslin and lace (she never could be seduced into wearing the odious stiff linen collar and cuff's some women's souls delight in).
Lionel thought: "Shall I ever call her wife, and when I come in have a right to take these two dear hands in mine and press them to my heart as I bend down to kiss her sweet mouth." He said, "Bonjour, ladies fair. I have come to see how you are feeling after the revels of the past night."
"And to refresh your own poor tired self with a cup of coffee," answered Vaura, handing him one.
"You see, Lionel," said Lady Esmondet, "we are waiting upon ourselves, the maids are doing the necessary packing, as we have not altered our plans to leave Paris at sundown; I hope we are not hurrying you away?"
"Not at all; did you leave me, I should follow by next express; there would be nothing to hold me here, if you were gone."
"Nothing," said Vaura softly; "and Paris so full of beautiful, brilliant women."
"Not now," he answered, looking into her eyes with a grave look.
Vaura gave one little sigh as she let her eyes stay on his. And this man felt that he must feel this woman in his arms or his heart would break.
There was a tap, tap, at the door and Somers entered, bringing her mistress, letters; there were several from friends, with one from Colonel Haughton to his niece and one from Mrs. Haughton to Capt. Trevalyon, which ran thus:
"MY HEART'S IDOL,—
"The Colonel has written by this mail to Miss Vernon, stating his wish that she and Lady Esmondet come without fail to the Christmas festivities. I am not partial to either of them (this is under the rose) they are too high strung for me; but, my king, I must have you; you don't know how jolly I can make life for my pets; Blanche won't look at Sir Peter Tedril and I know it is you she wants, you may have her and her million, you will be near me then; the Colonel, poor sedate old fellow, would not like it, but that don't signify, because he wishes (now that your secret marriage to Fanny Clarmont has become public talk) that there were a thousand miles between your handsome person and Miss Vernon; I wish you had some of the love for me that the black-bearded Major has; I cannot keep him away, but he shall if you will only come, my king; my king, if you were only with me I should thaw your proud heart in spite of yourself, my haughty, handsome god; come at once on receipt of this; how can you stay with two icebergs, when burning lava, like my heart, is aching with its long waiting for you.
"In love, yours, "KATE.
"P.S.—Persuade the icebergs not to come here; tell them Italy was made for them."
On writing and mailing above, Madame was content, as she sat in her own boudoir with feet on a high stool stretched out. That will bring him; my plot is spreading; ha! ha! ha! I planted it well; nothing like getting scandal well rooted; he has been careless, and society doesn't forgive that; had he only paid tolls, married somebody's daughter, given dinners and balls; society would have snapped her fingers at this story, and though Delrose had said to her 'but he never wed her Kate, at least he said so, but I daresay he lied.' But she used the scandal, as we have seen, employing the useful firm of Mesdames Grundy & Rumour; giving them also whispers of how poor little Blanche was half engaged to him—if she could bring him to her feet she would love him; if not, she would make her revenge tell. He should not wed Vaura Vernon, if a woman's tongue sharp as a two-edged sword could cut their lives apart. She would be content to repeat the little act of barter that the young man did for Marguerite with Mephistopheles, for Lionel's love. She had learned and practised society's creed, and paid its tolls; surely now she was free to have her pets, and love them too; whether it were a poodle dog or a man, whether it were a trip to her pet club at London of the cane and cigarette, or a drive to Richmond.
And Lionel thought, as he again glanced over his letter:
"What a bore it is that I did not years ago clear myself; delays are dangerous; this woman has already planted a doubt in Haughton's mind; and heavens, if she succeed in doing it here, my life will be as lonely as was my poor father's," and unconsciously, he gave a deep sigh.
Vaura looked up quickly from a letter from Isabel Douglas; and Lady Esmondet said:
"No bad news, I hope, Lionel."
"No, and yes, dear Lady Esmondet; my opponents hold some good cards, and the play is against me that is all. But Miss Vernon has something pleasant to tell us from her home batch."
"Lady Esmondet had seen that the letter for Lionel was from Haughton Hall, and guessed his opponent is that woman, and the cards are against him, poor fellow." And Vaura said:
"Isabel Douglas says firstly that she is going to wed the curate, Rev. Frederick Southby; secondly, they are as gay as butterflies at Haughton Hall; that Madame, newly installed, though she be, leads the fashion to the old gentry, who were, when she was not, both in the cut of her garments, and in the novelties in the manner of her entertainments. She gives me Roland's opinion. Mrs. Haughton is one of society's sky-rockets, a high flyer, determined to make her world stare; bold in her daring ascent; but by her glittering colours leading their gaze from the steady quiet shine of the heavenly bodies; though she says 'all the country people cannot claim to be heaven- born.'"