"Yes," said Robert Douglas, "a men and women's club would scarcely agree with his views of what our human nature should live for."
"I hear it is extremely difficult for a pretty woman to become a member of Eve's she is as a rule black-balled; so a fair face does not always win," said Lionel.
"I think it would be extremely stupid to belong to an exclusively women's club; so much of gossip would kill me," said Lady Esmondet.
"I don't know," said Vaura, "whether either of you gentlemen are aware of how by a clever ruse our gay friend Mrs. Eustace Wingfield, notwithstanding her good looks, became a member of Eve's. She told my godmother and I of it soon after the occurrence."
"I have never heard of it," said Robert Douglas.
"Pray tell us," said Lionel.
"'Tis a long story," said Vaura, "in fact a three-volume one, but you shall only have a page or two. Between the President of Eve's the Hon. Miss Silverthorne and Mrs. Eustace Wingfield, there is an old feud dating from their school days."
While at school Mrs. Eustace, then May Raynor, was the very incarnation of fun and mischief, Silverthorne being extremely plain and severe in style. The Wingfield estate bordered on the school property. Eustace, prospective heir to his uncle, often ran down from London, much to the dismay of the lady principal, for he was no end of a flirt. May Raynor's pretty face attracted him from the first, but Silverthorne had a soft spot in her heart for him. Jealous of May she reported her to the principal; for revenge Wingfield cast languishing glances at Silverthorne in church. She never having had a lover actually informed the principal that, when he came to her to sue for her hand, she, as her guardian, was to say him yea. On May being married and out of the school-room, to her adored, she, Silverthorne, vowed revenge, if ever in her power, so that, when two seasons ago, Mr. Wingfield bet May a box, during la Bernhardt saison, against an embroidered dressing gown that she would be black-balled at Eve's, on Mrs. Clayton proposing her, the president, looking black, declared, on its being put to the vote on the following afternoon, she should have her two black balls, Mrs. Clayton informed May. "Now, what shall, be my card," exclaimed May, "for my bet shall be won. I have it," and staining her face yellow with green glasses and unbecoming attire, she attended a woman's right meeting at which her enemy was chairman. Seated immediately in front of the platform, Miss Silverthorne gloated over her changed looks. She was made a member. Her enemy saying to Mrs. Clayton, "How hideous she has become; how he will hate her!"
"What a green-eyed monster is jealousy," said Reverend Robert.
"But our gay friend won her bet and a stare at the Bernhardt, in spite of everything," laughed Trevalyon.
"But I fancy gay Mrs. Wingfield would not often be found at 'Eves;' such an army of plain women would be too many for her," said reverend Douglas.
"Oh! no," said Vaura, taking his arm back to the sunlit morning-room, "she only goes occasionally to throw a white ball for a pretty woman."
"I have sometimes come across her with Wingfield at the 'Abermarle'; she likes a little bass mixed with the treble of her life," said Trevalyon.
"She is right," said Vaura, "one would grow weary of continually piping to the same key."
"Isabel tells me they are very gay at Haughton," said Reverend Robert.
"Incessant revelry seems to be a necessity in the life of Madame," said Lady Esmondet.
"Tastes differ, god-mother dear, the wild game of life that suits her palate would suit ours as badly, as (what she would consider) our tame game would suit her," saying which she joined Lionel, a little apart at a table strewn with music which he wished her to select from.
"Do you believe in presentiments cara mia?"
"Yes; but I am wondrously content and don't want eyen to think of presentiments."
"I don't either, ma chere," he said, a little sadly, leaning his elbows on the table, his head for a moment upon them, "but I have one now that the Fates are putting black threads on their distaff for me."
"Don't look so sorrowful or you will affect me."
"Did you and I live in Pagan times, ma belle, I should be tempted to offer incense at their shrine, so pleasing, that their black threads would give place to gold and silver."
"Your incense would be flattery; they are but women, what would they more," she said smilingly.
"There are women, and woman," he said absently, the grave look still in the eyes resting on her face.
"There is something more than usual troubling you; share it with me, do, and then you know you will only have half to bear," and for one moment her soft hand is on his arm, her eyes full of sympathy on his face.
"It is only a presentiment, ma belle," and his hand is laid on hers.
But now there is a tap at the door, and his servant says:
"Telegram from England, sir."
"My presentiment," he says, in same low tone.
"Face it bravely, it is not, I trust, bad news."
"It is," he says gravely, "for I must leave you."
Vaura turned pale, and Lady Esmondet said:
"No bad news I hope, Lionel?"
"Yes, dear friend, it is from Judith, and states that "Uncle Vincent is no better and wishes to see me," but she does not say at once, or if there be any danger."
"I am sorry, Sir Vincent is no better, but every cloud has its silver lining; you may not really be obliged to go; he may rally," she said kindly.
"Yes, that is true, I shall telegraph my cousin to know if I must go at once; if not, you will be leaving Italy so soon we may yet journey together."
"I hope so," continued Lady Esmondet.
"But 'tis hard for her," said Vaura, "a stranger in a strange land; can I do anything for her, write some of our friends to call upon her, anything, only tell me, the Claytons, are kind," and she is beside him in a moment.
"You are very thoughtful, but Judith is extremely self-reliant."
"Do not give way to depression, Trevalyon," said Reverend Douglas; "our paths cannot all be those of pleasantness."
"Don't go, Robert, I want you to dine with us at seven; only the Marchmonts."
"Thank you, Lady Esmondet, I shall be with you, but for the present, au revoir as I have even-song."
"I am grieved at this," said Lionel sadly, "for something tells me I shall have to go; I have known very little of Uncle Vincent; you are aware, dear Lady Alice, that he and my poor father were not friendly; my cousin is independent; and as I said before self-reliant to the last degree."
"It will not be so hard for her in that case," said Lady Esmondet.
"I am selfish enough to regret we have anyone to dinner, if I am obliged to leave you on to-morrow."
"I was just thinking so," said Lady Esmondet, "our evenings together have been perfect, but alas for changes; and Vaura, dear, the landau is at the door, you know we arranged for a drive."
"Yes, I remember, but let it wait."
"We may not have another opportunity, Lionel, for private converse; you will write; and Vaura and I shall (D.V.) be at London on the 4th or 5th; and shall meet you again at Haughton Hall."
"Yes, I shall meet you there," he answered thoughtfully; "my plans are not yet matured, but I want you to be certain to telegraph me of your return; I shall meet you at London."
"Fate is cruel to send you away, and at Christmas, but I am forgetting your poor uncle," said Vaura kindly.
"I shall telegraph of our return without fail, Lionel; and now about yours to your cousin, had you not best run away and attend to it, we shall only take a short drive, and be here as soon as you."
"Come with us," said Vaura, "it will save time."
"So it will, and to kill the time I feel that is left to me with you, would be a Sacrilege."
"What route do you take, Lionel?" enquired his friend.
"You are aware I have a commission for Clayton, at Florence, so must first go thither, thence to Bologna, then to Turin, Paris, Calais, Dover and London."
"Shall I ring for Somers, godmother dear, to bring your cloak and bonnet, while I go and don my wraps?"
"Thank you, yes."
Trevalyon, now going quickly to do his friend's side, said:
"I have but a moment, but I want you to know that this mischief is brewing for me at the Hall, and it has rapidly fermented; 'society,' tasting of its bubbles."
"I was sure of it, Lionel, and it is the brew of that woman and Major Delrose."
"Yes; and their aim is so to damage my reputation that I cannot gain the woman, and the only one I have ever longed for as my own loved wife."
"Heaven grant that there machiavelian manoevres may end in failure."
Here the sweet face and small white plush bonnet, scarlet strings and feathers appear at the door, so a truce to confidentials.
"I shall be so lonely if Fate takes me out of your life even for a short time," and Vaura's hand is tightly clasped as he assists her into the landau.
"We shall be lonely also."
"I hope so."
"I must say our lives have been very complete at the villa," said Lady Esmondet; "our cup of content has been full."
"To the brim;" and his eyes turn at last from Vaura's face as he says, "you had better drop me here, at the telegraph office while you turn into the Corso," and stepping from the landau, lifting his hat he was gone.
"I wonder," said Vaura, "should poor Sir Vincent die, if Miss Trevalyon will return to New York."
"I am sure of it; Lionel tells me his cousin dislikes English life as much as she likes that of her ain countree."
Vaura fell into a reverie; after some moments, waking to herself, said:
"I did not show you the interesting epistle I received from Mrs. Haughton, in which she says, 'society' hath it that Capt. Trevalyon rejoices in a 'hidden wife.'"
"A pure invention got up to hurt him."
"But why?" she asked with assumed carelessness.
"Because he is not at a certain woman's feet, she has joined herself with black Delrose, his enemy of years, is my surmise, and I think the denouement will prove me correct."
"Poor dear uncle; his life is not an idyl."
"His mistake, Vaura, ma chere, is a weight of care to me, that I try in vain to shake off;" and something very like a tear glistened as she spoke.
The friends were unusually silent in the drive home. Arrived there they separated to dress for dinner; Vaura threw herself on her lounge to rest and think. "Poor, uncle Eric, what a woman he has put on the shackles of matrimony for; and now her attempt to injure our friend; poor Lion, my heart is full of pity for you and you do not know it, because you cannot speak until the "difficulty" is overcome; ah! me, what a world of lies it is, for that this 'hidden wife,' is a myth, and an inspiration from Lucifer to Madame, I am quite sure of. But alas! should their be one grain of truth in the bushel of lies, and that he cannot prove to 'society's' satisfaction that 'twas only a grain of youthful folly, that his manhood in its nobility had nothing to do with it. If he cannot do this, then he will never ask me to be anything more to him than what I shall always be, his friend; poor darling, what with his father's grief at his misguided mother's frailty, he has drank deep of the waters of bitterness; the unruly member set in motion by scandal, envy, hatred, or malice as motive power, is more to be dreaded as agent of evil, than dynamite in any form. But I must ring for Saunders and dress for dinner."
SOCIETY'S VOTARIES SMILE THOUGH THEY DIE.
"Here are some roses, Mademoiselle; the Captain cut them before he went out and bid me keep them fresh for you."
"Very well, Saunders, I shall wear them this evening; that is, the yellow ones; put the others in a vase, or give them to me, I shall, while you get out my ruby velvet; I am pale; it is high waist and no sleeves; take out my gold ornaments and bracelets—the plain gold bands; an old lace collar, with roses, shall be my neck-gear; hand me my vinagrette; I have a slight headache; and please comb my hair gently, it will be pleasant, yes; that will do."
"Your hair is a fortune to you Mademoiselle, so long and thick."
"Yes, it is, but I like it best because of its fluffiness; it is no trouble; weatherproof and waterproof.
"So it is, Mademoiselle."
"Now for my gown."
"It fits beautiful, Mademoiselle."
"Yes, I am quite satisfied with it."
And well she may be, for the robe might have grown on the perfect form, every curve and roundness of figure being followed by the close clinging velvet; and the arms, bare to the shoulder, fit models for a sculptor, shone fair as the flesh of a child-blonde against the rich ruby of the velvet, The perfumed bath had refreshed her, and though a trifle pale, from heart emotion as to Lionel's probable leave-taking; her lips always wore a "pretty redness," her eyes had a tender look, while the fluffy bronze hair had its own beauty as it shaded the brow.
"You are looking charming, ma chere," said Lady Esmondet, whom Vaura met in the hall.
"Thank you, dear, your eyes are partial, I fear."
"No, no, not as you imply."
As they entered the drawing-room, Robert Douglas came from a comfortable corner where he had been studying a small work of Thomas a Kempis, which he quietly returned to his pocket saying smiling:
"You see I am here to welcome you; I made myself at home and came here immediately at the close of even-song."
"We feel complimented that you prefer our society to those very ecclesiastical looking quarters of yours," said Lady Esmondet.
"And where the ancient fathers look from the walls in wonderment at the priest of to-day, as he pores over printed records of their bygone lives."
"Why, Vaura, how did you know that the pictured fathers grace the walls of my humble retreat?"
"Ah, I wondered, for my study is never entered by a strange foot, it is my rest."
"Is not your rest a misnomer, Robert? for from all I hear, you literally rest nowhere," inquired Lady Esmondet.
"In my opinion, Lady Esmondet, a priest of the church should never rest, but always have his armour on, for there is 'so little done, so much to do.' Thank God we are waking up at last; look at the priest of to-day (I say it in all humility) as compared with the priest of fifty years ago."
"True, true," answered Lady Esmondet, "but, don't you think that the zealous Low Church clergy are doing as much for the human race as you are?"
"Undoubtedly, for the human race; but not for the church, for their people often lapse into dissent."
"I don't believe in extremes; I respect the man who is thorough," said Vaura, seeing that Capt. Trevalyon had entered and seated himself beside her god-mother, evidently wishing to talk with her, and so, to help him, taking up the thread of the argument herself.
"But Vaura," said the priest, "don't you think that in the Ritualist, you have the man who is thorough?"
"Not exactly, he is extreme; the man who is thorough has no uncertain sound; he neither culls from Rome her vestments, nor from Dissent her hymns; both Rome and Dissent are thorough, why shouldn't he. But a truce to argument, a gentleman's trap stops the way," she said smiling, "is even now at the steps; his back is this way, so I cannot name him; he talks to his servant, in bottle green livery, who has a decidedly Hibernian countenance."
"Oh," said Capt. Trevalyon, starting to his feet, "Lady Esmondet, it must be an Irishman, an acquaintance of mine, Sir Dennis O'Gormon, who wanted very much to make the acquaintance of the ladies of the villa Iberia. I had forgotten all about my asking him for to-day."
"It makes no difference, Lionel, 'tis little wonder you forgot such a small matter in the many more important you have had."
Here a servant announced Sir Denis O'Gormon.
"Ah, O'Gormon, glad to see you. Lady Esmondet, permit me to present to you Sir Dennis O'Gormon. Miss Vernon allow me to introduce Sir Dennis; Douglas, I believe you and O'Gormon have met before."
Lady Esmondet and Miss Vernon shook hands with and welcomed their guest, Lady Esmondet saying graciously, "Any friend of Captain Trevalyon is always welcome."
"Thank you, Lady Esmondet, but by my faith, Trevalyon's a lucky fellow, and one whom I have always envied but never more so than now," he continued laughingly, "when with all my fascinations I am only welcomed by two charming women for his sake."
Mrs. Marchmont and Miss Marchmont were now announced. The two ladies floated in the most approved style towards their hostess, who rose to welcome them. They were ethereal in every respect, clad in a thin material of pale green, neck bare and elbow sleeves, and looking more like sisters than mother and daughter. Sandy of complexion, blue eyed sharp of feature; the mother having the advantage in flesh, the daughter being all the angles joined in one.
"I hate a thin woman," was the whispered criticism of Sir Dennis to Trevalyon, with a suppressed emphasis on the word "hate."
Trevalyon smiled, giving a side glance at Vaura's rounded form, as she bent gracefully with extended hand in welcome.
"Faith, you may well look in that direction," remarked the Irishman, detecting him. "She's fair enough to seduce a look from His Holiness himself."
Here Lady Esmondet introduced Sir Dennis O'Gormon to the Marchmonts; Trevalyon and Douglas having met them before.
The butler now announced dinner, when Lady Esmondet taking the arm of Sir Dennis assigned Mrs. Marchmont to Trevalyon, when Douglas handed in Vaura and Miss Marchmont.
Lady Esmondet found Sir Dennis a pleasant neighbour, who devoted himself equally to Vaura on his left and to his hostess at the head of the table. As usual the table was decorated with the rarest of flowers, which sent forth their delicate perfume from a large stand, the design of which was an imitation of the famed terraced gardens of Semiramis: the shrubs and trees represented in miniature by the most delicate ferns and mosses; the whole a triumph of nature and art. Choice flowers stood in a tiny bed of moss in front of each person. Many delicate desert dishes were not only tempting to the palate, but pleasing to the eye, while the wines in the cellar of the noble Don Ferdinand were well known and appreciated.
"Del Castello has a snug place here, Lady Esmondet," observed Sir Dennis.
"Extremely so, Sir Dennis. We are much more comfortably placed by the kindness of the Marquis than we should have been at an hotel."
"He is a fine generous soul, always remembering that he is not the only member of the human race," said Sir Dennis (who had met him).
"It is a charming little winter home," said Vaura. "I shall regret to leave it."
"You won't, I hope, leave for some time yet?"
"Yes; much as we love it," she answered; smiling, "we go north ere spring has thawed the sceptre out of the frozen hand of winter."
"I am sorry to hear that. But you don't surely go as soon as my friend Trevalyon?"
Vaura hesitated a moment, not wishing to be a messenger of death at a dinner table, when Trevalyon came to her aid, cutting Mrs. Marchmont short in a dissertation on the merits of shaded wool versus plain, by saying,
"Pardon me, Miss Vernon. I may be obliged, O'Gormon, to leave for England sooner than I expected; if so, it will be alone."
"One of the penalties of bachelorhood, Trevalyon; by my faith, 'tis a lonely loneliness."
"I thought most of you glory in the freedom of winging your flight when you please, without having to say, by your leave," said Vaura, gaily.
"Not always," said Trevalyon, quietly.
"What do you say, Lady Esmondet. Don't you think a fellow is happier and less lonely when he cuts bachelor life?"
"Depends on the cards in his hands, and how he plays them, Sir Dennis," answered his host, laconically.
"True, Lady Esmondet, and if the cards are his, the game is won, the difficulty over," said Trevalyon, with a glance at Vaura, "and bliss secured."
"Faith, you're right, Trevalyon."
Here Miss Marchmont's shrill voice was distinctly heard above the general hum, in animated discussion, saying,
"Oh, I'm sure he comes from the East."
The Rev. Douglas was evidently much amused and disputing the point; Miss Marchmont continued,
"The dear creature has such a beautiful colour—so bronzed."
"I'll lay any wager 'the dear creature' means a soldier," said Trevalyon to Vaura.
Vaura smilingly assented.
"A soldier," exclaimed Mrs. Marchmont in horror; "oh no, Capt. Trevalyon, nothing so naughty; it's Miranda's last pet."
"But we women are given to petting the red-coats, Mrs. Marchmont," said Vaura with a laugh in her voice.
"They're too wild for dear Miranda," said Marchmont mater; "the pet you mean is the last sweet insect you have collected; is it not, my dear child?" she said, anxious for the fair fame of the owner of the fine exhibit in elbow and collar bone.
"Yes, mamma, you are right, but I am so sorry Mr. Douglas is not at one with me; I feel convinced the dear potato bug comes from the east; he is of brilliant colouring and luxurious habit."
Rev. Robert Douglas laughingly shook his head, and Sir Dennis said:
"Miss Marchmont, you cannot imagine the wager Capt. Trevalyon was laying when you talked about the 'bronzed beauty;' he wanted some one to take him up at ten to one you meant a dashing cavalry man, or a 'go-as-he-please' infantry."
"Order! order! O'Gormon," interrupted Trevalyon, laughing.
"Oh! I'm shocked, Capt. Trevalyon," cried Miss Marchmont seriously, "that my dear potato bug, with all his innocent ways, its care of its eggs,—."
Here a general laugh went round the table, except from Marchmont mere, who tried in vain to catch the fair Miranda's eye, who continued bravely, "should be taken for anything so wild as a soldier, who doesn't do anything so useful. But I must convert you, Mr. Douglas," she continued, returning to the siege; "it would be such a sweet study for a clergyman; I shall lend you Cassels' Natural History, and you must promise to read it for my sake," she said gushingly.
Meanwhile, Trevalyon tried in vain to catch the drift of conversation between Vaura and her neighbour, but no, Mrs. Marchmont, though inwardly afraid of this squire of dames; and of his intellect, determined to appear at ease, and so talked on the one engrossing idea of her life; the last conundrum in fancy work, the last fashionable incongruity in the blending of colours. And poor, victimized Lionel longed to breathe in Vaura's refreshing breadth of thought; on his tormentor pausing to recover breath, it was not as balm to a wound to hear Sir Dennis say pleadingly:
"The gardens of the Collona palace are looking lovely in their tints of emerald; it will transport me to my loved isle, Miss Vernon, if you'll walk with me there some day; though our damsels are not fair as the companion I desire, and her rich beauty would add grace to the spot."
"Come, come, Sir Dennis, no flattery, I am jealous for the beauty of those gardens, and do not want to hear, even in jest, my poor looks would add to their charm," she answered gaily, and evading his question.
Here Lady Esmondet, feeling for Lionel's torture, catching Mrs. Marchmont's eye, rose from the table, leaving the gentlemen to discuss the merits of bottles of no plebeian length of neck.
"How sweetly English the fire in the grate looks," observed Mrs. Marchmont.
"Yes, it does; but while at home we really require it to keep away cold, here it is more to remind us of the warm sun gone to rest," said Lady Esmondet.
"There's no doubt the dear Spaniard, the Marquis Del Castello, has an eye for luxurious comfort," said Vaura, as she sank into the corner of a tete-a-tete sofa and fell into a reverie of Lionel's probable leave-taking.
While Mrs. Marchmont seated herself in an Elizabethan chair, Miranda placing herself on a footstool by her side and laying her head with its thin sandy curls on her knee.
"What a child you are still, Miranda," said her mother, sentimentally, as she fondled the high cheek-bone.
"You are quite companions," said Lady Esmondet.
"We are bosom friends; more than sisters since the departure of my dear husband."
"Mr. Marchmont has been dead some time, I believe."
"Yes, some twelve years; but, dear Lady Esmondet, Miranda will tell you that I always speak of dear Charles as departed, gone before; more as if he had gone out to buy me some new fancy work, you know; the word 'dead' upsets my nerves so," and the sandy head drooped and a hand was laid on the forehead.
"Yes; dear mamma has such refined feelings."
"Yes," said her hostess, absently, for she heard a messenger arrive, a tap at the door of the dining-room, and knew the message was for the temporary master of the house, an answer to his telegram, and wished the Marchmonts back to their own quarters, so that the complete little trio were alone; but she is forgetting Madame Grundy, so says:
"I believe you intend wintering in Italy."
"Yes, we have rented Rose Cottage to a friend of Mrs. Haughton's, a Major Delrose, late of the —th Lancers."
"Oh, it's your cottage he has rented," said Lady Esmondet, awaking to interest.
"Yes; Major Delrose took an awful fancy to it, and Mrs. Haughton, dear thing, took a good deal of trouble in making our arrangements; neither Miranda or myself are strong."
"Strong! What an odious word to apply to us. It smells of milk and milk-maids; we would be uninteresting without our pet ailments."
"Excuse me, my child, I know a zephyr could waft us away."
"Pull-backs would be rather in the way of the onward movement of the zephyr, don't you think?" inquired Vaura, ironically, and glancing at the figure of the speaker, who with her daughter wore, at the instigation of Mrs. Haughton (who laughed with her men friends at the objects they were), skin-tight chamois under-clothing, and with only one narrow underskirt beneath the dress, express the figure so that nothing is left to imagination.
"Ah! Miss Vernon, don't be severe; Mrs. Haughton, dear thing, says you have no pet sins, but if you will only wear tights, I shall send in my own name for them," she said coaxingly.
"Merci! madame," said Vaura lightly, "but Worth has not yet told me my pleasure in life would be enhanced by the encasing of my body in tights, so I shall content myself with myself, as you see me."
"I'm so sorry you won't."
"Yes; but I believe I interrupted you; you were saying something about Mrs. Haughton having kindly smoothed away difficulties in the way of your wintering in Italy;" this she said roused to interest for her uncle's sake, "and this Major Delrose, how was he mixed up with Mrs. Haughton?"
"Oh! yes, Miss Vernon, the dear tights put everything else out of my head; well, as I was saying, Major Delrose longed to be near the Hall, and as the Colonel does not take to him, you see he is a little attentive to Mrs. Haughton, and the dear thing likes him, dear Charles was just like the Colonel, if men have handsome wives they don't like men to admire them; so Mrs. Haughton, dear thing, hit upon this plan, and they both arranged it with us one day they were in, and we were not strong, I mean we were delicate, so we remain as long as the Major wants Rose cottage, then we go to London to my sister, Mrs. Meltonbury, for the season."
"Ah! I understand, quite a friendly arrangement," answered Vaura, a trifle sarcastically. Here a diversion was caused by the entrance of the gentlemen.
The fair Miranda raised her sandy head from her mother's knee and looked languishingly at the priest, who smiled as he took a seat beside her.
"I am so glad we have you in Rome during our stay," observed Mrs. Marchmont, gushingly, "you will be such company for Miranda while I am embroidering; the sweet child was saying she should so much like to go to you for confession."
"Confessing! who is confessing?" said Sir Dennis, as he entered, "faith for once I would not say no to playing priest where there is a lovely penitent to shrive," and he glanced at Vaura and was making for the sofa beside her, but Lionel with one long step gained their mutual goal, saying:
"Priest Douglas will not allow you to entrench upon his preserves, O'Gorman."
"Faith! you wouldn't either," said the Irishman with a side glance at the sofa.
"But tell me," continued Trevalyon, "confess, reverent Father, dost thou at confession bestow the gentle kiss of reconciliation?"
"You should not disclose the secrets of the confessional, Robert," said Lady Esmondet, coming to his aid.
"No! trust me," answered Robert, and Miss Marchmont hung her head and blushed.
"It would be a pleasant little denouement when the penitent was a pretty woman," said Trevalyon laughingly.
"A propos of the confessional, did any of you ever come under the torture of that modern Inquisition, the 'Confession Book?'" said Vaura.
"Yes, yes," cried the gentlemen simultaneously.
"Oh! don't denounce them, Miss Vernon," exclaimed Miss Marchmont pathetically. "I could not exist without mine; it is so interesting to read aloud from at a picnic, tennis party, or five o'clock tea. Indeed, my confession book was one of the chief sources of pleasure at Rose Cottage, wasn't it, mamma?" and she stroked her mother's hand caressingly.
"It was, Miranda; and Miss Vernon must promise to write down all her secrets in your book on her return to England; Blanche Tompkins has it in charge; you will promise to write, Miss Vernon, won't you?" and the thin lips were pursed into a smile.
"The saints forbid," laughed Vaura, "that I should put the surgical knife, as it were, to my heart, and lay bare all its latent workings for the express delectation of five o'clock teas—and women!"
"Oh! do, dear Miss Vernon," said Miss Marchmont coaxingly, "your heart would be so interesting."
The gentlemen laughed.
"Nearly as much so as the potato bug," said Vaura in an undertone to Trevalyon; aloud, she said gaily:
"No, I rebel, and most solemnly affirm, that, as you tell me Mrs. Haughton says I cultivate no pet sins, and as she is your oracle, I abide by her decision; with no pet sins, what could I say? that, as to colours, Worth supplies me. That, though I be ostracised by Mrs. Grundy, I still have the courage left in me to affirm that I don't and won't climb the dizzy heights or flights, to pour incense on that shrine alone. And that, were I on the rack, I should gasp forth that the woman who invented torture-books has not my heart-felt love."
"Hear! hear!" said O'Gormon, clapping his hands, "'when found, make a note on,' Miss Marchmont, and you have Miss Vernon's confession."
"Yes now I should never have thought of that; you Irish think like lightning; let me see if I can recall what Miss Vernon said," and the sandy locks are thrown backwards as the blue eyes dwell on the painted ceiling.
"But, Miss Marchmont," said Trevalyon, in pretended earnest, "it would be unorthodox, and spoil your book, unless you extract a promise from Miss Vernon, only to pour incense at the feet of the brilliant Earl."
"Oh certainly, thank you, Capt. Trevalyon; pardon me, Miss Vernon," cried the owner of the torture-book, in great dismay, "excuse me, but everyone contributing to my book, must admire the dear Earl more than anyone departed or with us (Gladstone after, if you wish); of course," she added apologetically, "one does not care to remember he has Jewish blood, yet against that fact is, that he has never eaten pork, such a nasty, vulgar meat."
"Remember, Miranda sweet, that Miss Vernon, having spent so much of her life in France, cannot perhaps know that it is the fashion to worship the Earl."
"From Earl Beaconsfield to music is a long look, but let us take it," said Lady Esmondet; "Miss Marchmont, will you sing for us?"
As Miranda asked Rev. Robert what it should be, Vaura said in an undertone to Trevalyon:
"I do admire the clever Earl immensely, and not only because it is the decree of the god of fashion."
"I wish we had the evening to ourselves," he murmured, "what do you think of the Irishman?"
"He is lavish of the superlative degree; is good-hearted as his race; and for the time being, feels intensely," she answered.
Miss Marchmont, now asking her mother to join her in the duet, "Come where my love lies dreaming," they glided arm in arm to the piano, and now Miss Marchmont implored of some one to come where her love lay dreaming, in a shrill treble, while her mother repeated the request in a very fair alto.
O'Gormon challenged Vaura to a game at chess.
Lionel fell into a brown study of his future plans to undo the mischief done by a woman's tongue. The poor fellow often glanced at Vaura in all her loveliness, and a pain came to his heart as he looked, for he thought of how he was leaving her, not knowing if she loved him, and with other men about her; and of how, with the torture that he might lose her weighing him down, he was going out from her alone to find Sister Magdalen, and see if she would openly reveal all. She had been reticent and guarded for years, and he was not in a mood to hope much.
But now he hears the clear voice of Vaura cry, "checkmate," and O'Gormon leads her to the piano.
Vaura gave them a gem of Mozart's, then some gay opera airs, then, in response to their pleading for some song, gave "Il Bacio," in her full rich tones.
Sir Dennis stood by the piano and looked his admiration.
"You seem fond of music, Sir Dennis," said the fair musician, as she leisurely turned over the music with him in search for a song from "Traviata."
"Fond of it! I adore it, and sometimes the musician."
"A double tax on your powers of adoring," said Vaura, gaily, as Sir Dennis placed the song before her, but though her notes were clear and sweet as a bird's, her heart was sad at the thought of the parting between Lionel and herself, and just now she had no sympathy with the free-from-care spirit of the song "Gaily Thro' Life I Wander."
During the song Capt. Trevalyon was summoned from the room. It is a telegram, and runs thus:
"THE LANGHAM HOTEL, "LONDON, England, Dec. 24th.
"My father cannot live, and wishes to see you. Physician says come at once." JUDITH TREVALYON.
"Capt. Trevalyon, "Villa Iberia, Rome, Italy."
"Sims, this telegram calls me to England. You say there is an express at midnight. It is now 10.30, go at once and take some necessary refreshment; pack my luggage, leaving out my travelling gear; get your own box, and have them conveyed to the depot, express them through to London, to the Langham, and be ready to leave with me by the midnight train; and don't forget Mars."
"Yes sir; and what time, sir, shall I order the trap to take you to the depot, sir?"
"At 11.30 sharp, Sims."
Captain Trevalyon hurried back to the salons just as Vaura finished her song. He made his way to Lady Esmondet, in order to get a word in her ear, as Sir Dennis monopolised Vaura; but Mrs. Marchmont was full of a new folding screen Mrs. Haughton had ordered from London.
"The dear thing wanted something novel, so had the three 'Graces' painted on a sky-blue plush ground, suspended in the air; over them (as it were) hangs an open umbrella in rose-pink; oh! it's too lovely for anything, Lady Esmondet; you will be entranced when you see it, Captain Trevalyon," and she folded her hands and turned her pale blue eyes upwards.
To Captain Trevalyon's relief, Vaura asked him to sing something, and seeing it was hopeless just now, to have a word with Lady Esmondet, he hoped when his song was over and their glass of champagne drank, there would be a general exodus ere it was time for him to leave; so he moved towards the piano, and playing his own accompaniment, sang one of Moore's melodies, "Farewell, but whenever you welcome the hour."
Vaura sat at a small table near the piano. Sir Dennis, with the sanguineness of his race, thought she was interested in his chit-chat and in a book of Italian views, but her thoughts were with Lionel, for she caught his eye, and "minds run in grooves," and he knew that she under stood, his silent farewell; she felt her heart ache, and would have risen and gone to him, but "men may suffer and women may weep," but the conventionalities must be attended to, or the mighty god, society, stares and frowns; and so Lionel sung parting words to the woman he loved, and to his friend; and surely Moore would have been moved to tears had he heard the depth of feeling thrown into his words. When he was singing, the silver chimes softly rang eleven o'clock, so knowing he had no time to lose, he quietly left the room.
Vaura's heart throbbed quickly for she thought, "he has gone."
But the Marchmonts, much to her relief and Lady Esmondet, saying they must "really tear themselves away," a rather prolonged leave-taking took place between Reverend Robert Douglas and Miss Marchmont, into which Mrs. Marchmont was drawn.
"Well, I don't know, Miranda sweet," she says, "that I can promise to take you to St. Augustine service tomorrow afternoon. I am going to high mass at St. Peter's, and shall be fatigued."
Vaura, who was standing near, listening to O'Gormon's adieux, and anxious to do anything to hasten their leave-taking, said quickly:
"I shall likely go, and shall call at your hotel for Miss Marchmont."
Miss Marchmont was gushing in her thanks.
"Oh! don't forget, Miss Vernon, I wouldn't miss hearing Mr. Douglas intone the service for worlds."
"The creature, not the creator," thought Vaura. But now at last the guests have departed and the friends are alone.
Lionel sees them go from the garden walk which he is pacing up and down, ready to go and waiting for the trap. He has gone out urged by conflicting emotions, head aching, and in the air hoping to gain calm. It is now 11.15; fifteen minutes yet. "If I could only see her alone."
Fortune favours him, for Lady Esmondet having heard from Saunders (while Vaura is engaged with the Marchmonts) that Captain Trevalyon is about somewhere, as he does not go until eleven thirty, taking in the situation, tells Vaura to go to the salons for a little while and she will join her after she gives some directions to her maid.
So Vaura returns and, wishing to be quite alone before Lady Esmondet joins her, steps into the conservatory, but there her sense of loneliness is so complete, that she returns to the salon immediately adjoining, and drawing the heavy brocade curtains dividing it from the others, she feels that she can give herself up to thoughts of Lionel; she knows now that he is gone; she would give worlds to have him by her side; she throws herself onto a lounge with her great white arms in a favourite attitude thrown above her head. But in the moment of her entrance into the conservatory, Lionel had seen her from the garden and came in noiselessly to make sure; she is alone, and he is now gazing at her through the glass door; her bosom heaves, her flower face is lovely in its transparent soft paleness, and her eyelids are wet with the tear-drops she will not let fall, her lips move and he opens the door on its noiseless hinges, she says softly:
"Oh, darling, why did you go?" and she throws herself on her side and buries her face in her arms. Now Lionel fearing to hear the wheels of the trap to take him away, makes a noise with the door as if he had only come, and so Vaura thinks as she starts to a sitting posture and her heart beats wildly as she says, putting both hands to her side, "Oh, you are not gone, I am so glad."
"But I am going, and in a few minutes, Vaura darling," and he seated himself beside her; "you must know I love you with the whole pent-up love of my life," and his arm was round her. "You know, darling, I told you of a difficulty and I did not mean to speak until it was removed, but my heart has ached and I am so unmanned I have not known sometimes what to do or how to bear up; I have been in torture, darling, lest other men should win your love. Oh! my love, my beautiful darling, say you will not give your heart to another, that you will wait until I can plead my cause."
"I shall wait, dear Lionel."
"God, is it so, darling, darling?" and the soft hand was pressed and the lovely head was drawn to his breast and the rose-mouth was kissed again and again.
"There, that will do, won't it, Lionel, for to-night; we have waited so long," and the large grey eyes with their warm love-light, looked into the tired blue of the eyes so near her own now with a great passionate love looking from them.
"Darling love," and his cheek was on hers, "I feel so full of bliss and content, and my nerves all throbbing, I don't think I can ever let you go; oh, you don't know how I love you. I used to boast of my strength with women beauty; but with you in my arms, heaven, what bliss! Vaura, darling, I feel half delirious; and yet a full rich joy in living and loving could not turn a man's brain."
And now the hall bell is pulled furiously; Vaura starts up and to her feet.
"Put your soft arms around my neck, darling, and give me a good-bye kiss; it will be a talisman from evil and help me through my lonely travels."
And her arms are clasped tightly round his neck, and his head bends down to the sweet lips.
"Good-bye, dearest Lion," and the eyes rest on his and she whispers, "I am not sorry I came back alone to the salons."
"My love; how can I leave you."
And Lady Esmondet calls and Lionel hurries to the ball, and with a tight hand-clasp with his friend and a whispered, "I shall and most conquer my enemies."
"You will, Lionel."
And Lady Esmondet knew by the light in his eyes that he had spoken and she was glad.
Having promised Vaura to join her she now turned her steps towards the salons, but thinking, "No, she will not want me to-night," retraced her steps to her own room; and while her maid disrobed her, the lonely woman thought: "What a perfect union theirs will be; both handsome, gifted, and with much gold, for I shall settle L3,000 per annum on Vaura. Sir Vincent will do something for dear Lionel. Ah, me; what I have missed in my wedded life, I who could have loved a husband of my own choice so fondly, so truly. Eric, Eric, you alone would have made me happy; but I am growing old, I am looking back; it is folly. Alice Esmondet, you must not give way to melancholy, life is sweet to you even if you are not a winner of all good in life's game—. Give me a few drops of red lavender, Somers; there, that will do; now leave me and go to rest."
Vaura's whole being was filled with such intense happiness as she sank into a corner of the sofa where Lionel had found her a short time before that she would not move and so perhaps break the spell.
Emotional natures will know how she felt; as one does on waking from a dream of the night, so rich, so full of sweetness, so full of delicious languor one does not move a muscle lest the sensation pass.
At last she moves with a great sigh. "My darling, mine," she thought, "and he loves me; come back to me, Lion," and the great fair arms were clasped at the back of her head, then thrown down to the knees, and the hands go together, while a smile, oh, how sweet and tender, comes to the mouth, and the eyes are wet with their warmth and feeling.
"I'm glad you spoke before the 'difficulty,' is overcome, for if you can never undo it you will know that I always loved you. Men who would have satisfied most women have wooed me in vain. And now could any one of them who have charged me with cruelty see me. Yes, dearest Lion, I am every inch a woman and am subdued at last, and longing, longing, dear heart, to feel your arms about me and see the light in your mesmeric eyes. I have been waiting for you so long, love; come back to me, for I cannot do without the sweet, grave smile, the look from the tired eyes. Do you know, darling, as you are whirling away to northern climes that I am dreaming the hours away thinking of you; it is one o'clock, love, good night."
And Vaura, in all her loveliness, and full of a dreamy languor, went to her chamber. Saunders heard the light step in the silent household and followed her mistress.
"You must be sleepy, Saunders; put away my robe, lace, and jewels, and go."
"I am not tired, Mademoiselle; I have just had a nap in the house- keeper's room; you'd best let me run the comb through your hair, Mademoiselle."
"Very well, Saunders, but be quick; I am tired."
"The household are sorry, Miss, that the Captain is away; we were proud to have such a handsome master, and so free-handed; but it wasn't for what the Captain gave; it was his own kind ways, and we'll be wishing his servant back too, Mademoiselle; he was so merry. But his master was so kind, Sims could but be happy."
"Even the hirelings love him," thought her mistress; aloud she says:
"I am quite sure Capt. Trevalyon was a kind master, Saunders, and Sims was a faithful servant, and looked the essence of good humour. Good-night, you can go now,"
"Good-night, ma'am; what time shall I call you for your bath, ma'am?"
"At half-past nine."
And the white robe de nuit is on, and this sweet woman glances at the mirror, and smiles at the fair face with the bright brown curls on the brow, the throat as fair as the soft robe of muslin, all a mystery of embroidery and shapely clingingness.
TREVALYON GONE, VAURA KILLS TIME.
Christmas Day, the birth-day of Christ, dawned fair, beautiful, and bright, and was ushered in by many a peal of sweet sounding bells.
The heavenly east was so gloriously bright as old Sol mounted upwards, as to cause many a devout Roman (as he wended his steps to worship the Creator, at the altar, in one or other temple whose doors stood wide open, admitting a gleam of sunlight onto the figure of the sleeping babe, and the adoring faces of the worshippers, to cause him) to imagine as he gazed upward, that the heavenly Host caused all this flood of light in the warm, glorious east, by their smiles of approval at man's attempt to adore.
Vaura woke from a late sleep as Saunders tapped at the door; slumber had only come to her by sweet snatches during the hours of the night; but she lay happy in the dreamy quiet; and the face of the man she loved was ever before her. On waking, as her maid knocked, her first feeling was that something was wanting; that something had gone out of her daily life, and she gave a long deep sigh. Then the sweet sense, that she was loved, came to her; not that the knowledge of this man's love was just come to her—she had known it for some time, but they had both reached that stage when mutual pledges of love were craved for, and which to fill their whole being with the fulness of content, with the fulness of a satisfied bliss, had become a necessity.
The first thing that met her eye on rising, were a few crushed flowers on the seat of her favourite chair. Tied around the stalks was a delicate point-lace handkerchief; on the tiny square of muslin was written, in the handwriting she knew so well, Vaura Vernon; among the blossoms were a few written words:
"My heart aches at leaving you without a word of farewell My brain is in a whirl. I feel as though I shall go mad if you give your love to another; save me by writing me. Writing! how cold. God help me!—Your LIONEL."
Capt. Trevalyon, not thinking to see Vaura, had, before going into the garden, gone to her boudoir, and placed this mute farewell on her chair.
"Now my darling knows," she thought as she pressed them to her lips.
There were warm Christmas greetings exchanged between the two women friends, on meeting in the breakfast room. When the servants were released from duty, duty, Lady Esmondet said:
"Dear Lionel has left us something to remember him, at least for to-day, Vaura, ma chere, see here," and she held up two vinaigrettes she had been admiring; on the cover to the stopper of one was the name "Alice Esmondet," on the other, "Vaura Vernon." Both bottles were small and both gold; on one side of Vaura's were the words, "I am weary waiting, L. T.," in very small letters, while a tiny wreath of forget-me-nots encircled the words; blue stones, inlaid, formed the flowers; round each was a slip of paper—with the words: "With love and Christmas wishes, from Lionel Trevalyon. For the crush at St. Peter's."
"Kind and thoughtful, for we shall feel his gift refreshing in the crowd," said Lady Esmondet.
"Poor dear, far away; we shall miss him on this bright Christmas morn," said Vaura, as she read the words, "I am weary waiting."
"But I am forgetting my gift to you, and one from dear Uncle Eric," and Vaura took from a small box a lovely locket, on one side was a miniature copy of Haughton; on the other the lovely face of the giver. "And this from Uncle for you came to me on yesterday;" and Vaura presented a photo of Col. Haughton.
"How sweet it is to be remembered, Vaura, and it's a good likeness of your dear uncle. And here is a gift from myself, a mere bagatelle, but I hope you will like it," and she handed Vaura an acknowledgement from Worth of an order for a ball-dress, to be at Haughton Hall on the 5th January, 1878.
"Thanks, god-mother mine, your thoughts are always of some one other than of Alice Esmondet."
"Not at all, dear."
"I shall be glad to return to England now," and there was a tender light in Vaura's eyes; "that is, dear god-mother, if you have laid up a sufficient store of strength."
"I have, ma chere, and if the revelry at Haughton isn't too much, I shall be able not only to stand, but enjoy the season; I feel very strong, and had I had a happy life—I mean, dear, had I married where my heart was—all would have been right; this 'eating out the heart alone' is not good for one. I have taken all the tricks I could, and made the most of the cards in my hand, but they have not been to my liking."
"My hand shall follow my heart," said Vaura, earnestly; "how I wish yours had, dear."
"Yes, it has been hard for me; but Fate, the dealer, is giving you good cards."
"How think you, godmother; is the game ours?"
"You will win."
"How did you know?" she said, softly, coming over to Lady Esmondet, and stooping to kiss her.
"By the great light in his eyes when he bade me adieu, and the heart-shine in your own; it has been the wish, of my life lately; God is giving you a paradise in life, dear."
"This plot to damage Lionel's reputation is a something too mean," said Lady Esmondet indignantly; "in Mrs. Clayton's last letter to me she asks me to 'decline to receive him, unless he publicly acknowledges his hidden wife;' she says, though 'the women still will pet him, their husbands are down upon him;' she further says, 'Clayton says he has no right to run loose with a hidden wife somewhere;' she says it has been in two or three papers. I declare, Vaura, if it were not for the feeling I have that we shall be a comfort to your uncle, I do not care to go to Haughton."
"Poor Lionel," said Vaura, thoughtfully, "he has got himself into a wasp's nest. Suppose we don't stay at Haughton, excepting for the ball, then go quietly to your town house."
"Yes, dear, as we pass through London I shall give orders that my house be in readiness any day to receive us; so, dear, if after we stay for a short visit we find it a bore, we shall go up."
"And be voted Goths and Vandals for showing our faces before the season opens; and Mrs. Grundy says 'Come;' what slaves we are!" said Vaura.
Now there is a tap at the door, and a servant enters with contributions from the post.
"Any orders, your ladyship?"
"Yes, the landau is to be at the door to take us to St. Peter's in an hour; at the close of mass we shall drive to the Duchess of Wyesdale, with whom we lunch; further orders there. And here, Barnes," continued Lady Esmondet, taking out her purse, "distribute this gold to the household, excepting to Somers and Saunders, whom I shall attend to personally; and see that no poor go empty-handed from the villa on this, the Day of Days."
"Thank you, your ladyship, you are very kind, and we all wish you and Mademoiselle a good Christmas."
"Thank you, Barnes."
"The man in bottle-green livery coming to the door," said Vaura, as she left the breakfast-table, "is servant to our friend of Erin."
In a few moments Saunders brought her mistress a beautiful bouquet, with the card of Sir Dennis, on which was written, "A merry Christmas to Miss Vernon."
"What think you of the Irishman?" asked Lady Esmondet.
"Oh, I hardly know; he is a great good-natured creature; if his heart be proportioned to the rest of his frame, the future Lady O'Gormon will require to be intensely lovable."
"The cards are quite artistic this year," said Lady Esmondet; "but of yours, I think the one from poor Marie Perrault the most recherchee."
"She encloses me a few lines; poor girl, she makes a great fuss over the few bits of gold I sent her. I have just read a letter from Mrs. Wingfield; after a good deal of chit-chat she says: We are staying at the Lord Elton's place, Surrey, and are quite lively over the Trevalyon's 'Hidden Wife' story; the men are mad that he runs loose, while they are held in bondage with the fetters that he should be held in also. I declare, god-mother dear, one is inclined to think envy is the motive power that rules the human family."
"Indeed, yes; envy, hatred and malice are a prosperous firm who will not fail for want of capital."
"This Major Delrose, that the Marchmonts named, must be a sworn enemy of poor dear Lionel?"
"He is, and of years."
"Ah! an intuitive feeling told me so; and at Rose Cottage; and the woodland at the outskirts of our grounds hides it from the Hall; and a man and woman could meet and plot unobserved; but, god-mother mine, let us away to dress; the first bells are sounding their sweet musical invitation, and I shall try to forget Mrs. Haughton; for, among Christ's gifts to men, I perhaps have not valued that most excellent gift of charity."
Vaura is first robed, but Lady Esmondet enters the hall from her boudoir in a few moments. They are now in the landau, and rapidly driven to that most stately of modern sanctuaries, a type in its magnificent architecture and strength of the pride, riches, and unity of the wonderful system it represents.
Vaura wears a robe of seal brown velvet and tight jacket of seal fur, a small ecru velvet bonnet with scarlet geraniums among the lace.
Lady Esmondet wishes Lionel could see the sweet face, and the far-away look in the great expressive eyes. The vast building was crowded to the doors; the singing of mass grand to sublimity, and "the holy organ's rolling sound was felt on roof and floor," its vibrations thrilling the hearts of the worshippers. The majestic grandeur of the interior of this stately edifice, with its many altars, was on this holy festival, enhanced by many beautiful decorations, chaste in design and of costly value. Rare gems, vessels of gold, and vessels of silver, the gifts of princes, sparkled on altars of perfect workmanship, while beauteous flowers raised their heads from priceless vases, trying in vain, with their sweet odour to drown the fumes of incense, wafted from the censor in the hands of the acolytes.
High mass being concluded, Lady Esmondet, with Vaura, slowly emerged from the sacred edifice. O'Gormon and a young Italian attached to the Quirinal having waited for them at the door, conducted them to their landau, when with warm Christmas greetings they parted to meat for lunch with the Duchess of Wyesdale. On reaching their destination they found their slender waisted hostess, with her daughter, the Lady Eveline Northingdon, with a few English and Italian notabilities, assembled in the salons. The Duchess looked blank on seeing that Capt. Trevalyon was not in attendance; for to tell the truth, she had only invited Lady Esmondet and Miss Vernon because she could not very well bid Trevalyon to lunch and ignore his hostess.
For though he had only given her a few careless flatteries, they were her food; still he had looked into her eyes and smiled. It was only a way he had, but she was a silly little woman, and vain, telling herself that in the old days she was sure he loved her hopelessly, but the Duke then lived, and British law was in the way, a woman could not marry more than one man at one time. She little knew that the mighty eagle, as he soars to his home in the mountain heights, with his bold glance wooing the sun, would as soon love the puny night hawk as would Lionel Trevalyon waste his heart's strongest feelings on such a frail butterfly as Posey Wyesdale.
So, now, on the entree of our friends without Trevalyon the Duchess, as she greeted them, called out in her thin treble,
"Where's my truant cavalier? You have never come without him? That would be too cruel."
"We have; simply because he has left Rome and Italy."
"Left Rome without bidding me adieu," screamed Posey, "how cruel! Eveline, ring for my drops; the shock makes me feel quite faint. Tell me how, and why, Lady Esmondet?"
"His uncle, Sir Vincent was dying,—is now probably over the border."
"To a death-bed! how unfortunate! What shall I do without him for my tableaux?" she was moved to tears—for the tableaux.
"What a pity the mighty Angel of Death would not stay his hand even for the tableaux of an English Duchess!" said Lady Esmondet, with veiled cynicism.
"Yes, I think he was very cruel," sobbed the Duchess.
"Never mind, mamma," said Eveline, soothingly "Some one else can take his place, and perhaps Capt. Trevalyon will now be a baronet, and that will be so nice. You like him, so it will make it all right."
"So it will," said Posey, drying her eyes, "if it's so, is it, Lady Esmondet?"
"Yes, Lady Wyesdale, Capt. Trevalyon succeeds to the baronetcy."
Lady Esmondet's remark was carried with different variations to the end of the salon, where Vaura sat. She was immediately besieged with questions.
"What is this rumour, Miss Vernon," asked an Englishman; "is Trevalyon to be raised to the peerage?"
"For his looks of an Adonis and many fascinations," cried one.
"No, for his many affaires de coeur," laughed another.
"Or that his 'hidden wife' is coming forth," said a London man, who read the news.
"More likely for some knightly act, by his Queen rewarded," echoed a soft-voiced Italian.
"Or his vote is promised for the war supply," said the London man.
"Carita, carita!" said Vaura, laughingly, and turning to the London man, "You forget the party motto, 'no bribery,' Mr. Howard, and if you all lend an ear, I shall tell you that instead of a peerage, our friend, as far as I know, is plain Capt. Trevalyon."
"Heresy, Miss Vernon, for he is not 'plain,' and you women will have it that he is a peer in our age."
"A peerless way of putting it, Mr. Howard," laughed Vaura.
"Luncheon is served, my lady," said the butler.
"Somebody take in everybody," said the Duchess. "We always go to luncheon sans ceremonie."
And so fate willed Signor Castenelli (the young Italian who had accompanied them to the landau) to Vaura. The table was gay with Sevres china and majolica ware, but the viands were poor and scanty, and the victuals few and far between. One man of healthy appetite could easily have laid bare dishes that had been prepared for seven, when five morning callers having been invited to remain, so lessened the morceau for each guest. The Duchess having decided on getting all her wardrobe from the magic scissors of Worth, had determined to retrench in the matter of wines, etc., not putting faith in the adage that "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
"Believe me," she would say to her butterfly friends, "I know men's tastes, and they would rather feast their eyes than their stomachs."
You may be very wise, Posey Wyesdale, but trust me, a man has no eyes for either you or your gown, if after a long ride or much calling he finally, in an evil hour, succumbs to your invitation to lunch and you give him a mouthful of chicken and one slice of wafer-like bread and butter, the mighty whole washed down with a cup of weak tea or thin wine; rather would he (curled darling though he be) return to the primitive custom of his forefathers and feed the inner man at the much-despised mid-day dinner on steaming slices of venison or beef, while he slaked his thirst in a bumper of British beer. But as O'Gormon said to Castenelli, on dining with him on that same evening: "Faith, all that was on the table of Lady Wyesdale wouldn't add to the hips of a grasshopper."
"No, a fellow wouldn't have to try your larding system to get himself into waltzing shape; did your little. English duchess cater for him," had laughed Castenelli.
But let us return to the Duchess of Wyesdale and her guests.
It seemed to Lady Esmondet, who was seated near her hostess, who plied her with questions as to Captain Trevalyon's whereabouts and possible doings, an insufferable bore to be there. To Vaura, who was more pleasantly placed; it seemed as though a few sentences were said, a few mouthfuls eaten, and the feast over.
"How is your noble king; Signor Castenelli," inquired Vaura.
"Our beauteous flowers will not bloom, nor our sweet-song birds sing another summer for him; my heart weeps as I say it, Signora."
"Yes; he is a fit king for so fair a land, and I sincerely trust for your sake and Italy, your fears will not be realized. The gentle Pius IX. is also stricken down."
"Yes, Signora, but our Holy Father's loss could be more easily replaced than that of our beloved temporal sovereign."
"Yes; a few solitary closetings of the Cardinals, a few ballots taken, a few volumes of smoke, and the Pope lives again."
"You like my city, Signora?"
"I love it. Ah! how much have you here to enoble, to refine, to educate; what great souls have expanded in an atmosphere laden with the breath of a long, never-dying line of poets, orators, sculptors and painters. Yes, Signor Castenelli, it is a noble heritage to be Roman-born."
"Thanks, Signora Vernon, for your gracious tribute to my country. But alas, we are fast becoming inoculated with the progressive spirit of the age; the American is among us."
"You should extol him, Signor Castenelli, it is the fashion with us to welcome him, his note-book and his gold."
"He is too energetic for me," said the Italian, as Vaura taking his arm followed others to the salons and from the feast.
"He is a man of his time; you and I, Signor, are old-fashioned in regretting that many of the old land-marks are doomed; the spirit of the age is insatiable and his votaries are never idle in sacrificing in his honour, and if we'd be happy we must not weep. I confess I regret that your historic, not over clean, but picturesque Jews quarter, the Ghetto, is to give place to your new palace of justice; it is rather an incongruity (to me) that it should rise as if from the ashes of hearth-stones round which in days of yore figures sat to whom justice had been very imperfectly meted out."
"True, true, Signora Vernon, and I don't like to see them all go, and your sympathy is sweet. The American is a giant in his time; but we are not as they, he is literally a man of to-day; he has to be always in a hurry to make his name tell. We have done all that, but he is wrong to say we are dreamers," and his eyes flashed; "our blood is as full of fire as in the days of the Gracchi, the Caesars."
"Theirs was a grand age, but ours is gay, and could we be promoted backwards, I fear me," she added gaily, "we would long for our telephone, our electric light, our novels, our mutual club life, our great Worth, our lounging chairs, and many other pet luxuries."
"True, Signora," answered Castenelli, in the same tone, "and I can answer for myself; were a belle of those days to step from the canvas for my approval, I should tell her to sleep on, and give place to her more beautiful and gay sister of my own day."
"In the name of the butterflies of to-day, I thank you," said Vaura gaily.
"How long do you grace Rome with your presence?"
"One short week and a day, Signor; and I shall not leave your sun-warm Italia without regret, replete as it is with so much that charms the mind and senses, none so soulless I hope, but would feel as I shall on bidding adieu to one of the choicest gardens Dame Nature revels in."
"Why leave us so soon?"
"Fate wills it, and there are home revels to which we are bid, and the crush of the season after, where we shall only see our wings glisten by Edisons or the now doomed gas-shine, for fog reigns supreme in the day-time, and poor old Sol is hid from us."
"London belles would shine by their own beauty even in Egyptian darkness."
For the Italian took pleasure in the beauty of the fair woman beside him, her expressive face changing as some word touched her heart, or again gay, reflecting a nature ever ready to respond in sympathy with the feeling of those who pleased her.
"One of your countrymen writes me from your metropolis," taking a letter from his pocket; "I shall read you a line or two: 'Our city will soon be bright with the beauty of fair women, handsome men, superb robings, gay equipages, prancing steeds. Rumour hath it that one of our favourite belles is sunning herself in your land. Don't mar the beauty of our constellation by detaining her with you after the season opens for we must have la belle Vernon.' Would that I had the power, was my thought as I read."
"Your friend exaggerates my poor charms, Signor."
"With so much of beauty to choose from, mademoiselle, London society is critical, and my friend only endorses its verdict."
"Well, Signor, London will have something of weightier matter to decide this coming season than the passing beauty of woman. Our parliament have the vote on the war supply, and as Beaconsfield cannot go into the strife empty-handed on the issue of that vote hangs the destiny of many lives."
"Think you the Bright or peace party will be strong enough to prevail?"
"No; England's sons are ever jealous of their country's honour. There is a strong popular feeling against any encroachments by the Russian Bear. Our young officers are ever eager for a chance to distinguish themselves, and our men," she added gaily, "have fists all knuckles, always doubled for a good hard blow."
"Well, it seems to me an expensive undertaking that your bold countrymen meditate. Turkey is lazy and luxurious."
"Yes; not a fit sentinel for a dangerous post; still, what are we to do? We cannot uproot them and plant in their place the trusty Scot or brave Celt; no, we must even pay high wages to bad servants until wiser heads than ours in some future generation devise some better way of guarding our eastern possessions. But our pleasant chat is over, Signor, Lady Esmondet is making her adieux."
"And you leave so soon, Signora; I am jealous of London. May I see you again?"
"Surely, Signor; we go many places to take a last loving glance."
"Give me something definite, I pray you."
"Well, the palace of the Vatican on to-morrow morning. I must have another long look at the painting of the Transfiguration. In the afternoon a drive in the gardens of the Borghesian villa. In the evening the theatre and the exquisite voice of Patti. And now what say you, grave and reverend Signor; will you remember your lesson while I say au revoir," and with a gay smile and a warm pressure of the hand from Castenelli Miss Vernon, after saying her farewell to Lady Wyesdale and her daughter, followed her god-mother to the landau.
"You seem to have enjoyed your chat with Signor Castenelli," said Lady Esmondet, as they drove away; Miss Vernon to pick up Miss Marchmont for even-song at the Church of St. Augustine, Lady Esmondet for home.
"Yes, he is pleasant to me, as most of his countrymen are; there is a fervor about them, with all their languor, that is refreshing after our stoical Briton; I fear me you were not so well placed, the little Duchess seemed to fasten upon you."
"She did, and entertained me with an unceasing catechism as to Lionel's whereabouts, his deeds past and present; seems to fear his cousin, Judith Trevalyon; in fact, plainly shows her old predilection, is as aforetime, alive in her breast; is anxious to know how we became so intimate with him; whether he goes to Haughton Hall; whither the woman your uncle has married has invited her; says she does not leave Rome until the middle of January; wants to know if we shall be there for the Twelfth-night ball; wonders if Lionel will retire for a fashionable six weeks' mourning. Says there is a rumour that he is engaged to half a dozen women, and has a wife and children somewhere; is crazy (to use her own expression) to know if you are, as report says, engaged to Del Castello, etc., etc., and asked me point-blank, if I like dear Mrs. Haughton."
"What a whirl the brain of the slender waist Duchess must be in, and what a bore she was to you; so she also goes to Haughton. Fancy uncle on one side, and Major Delrose, the Rose Cottage people, Mrs. Meltonbury, Peter Tedril, Hatherton, etc., on the other; Madame well knows how to mix up the brandy cocktail and poker of midnight, with sober 9 o'clock whist and old port, but the scales are weightier on one side. But behold the naturalist, waiting at the door with prayer book in hand, ready for her devotions."
WARM WORDS BRIDGE CRUEL DISTANCE.
Lady Esmondet, Vaura, and Robert Douglas ate their Christmas dinner quietly together. "I shall feel lonely when you leave Rome," said the priest, as he bade them a warm goodnight.
"Naturally, you will miss us; we are almost a part of your old home," said Lady Esmondet.
"I have no doubt, Roberto, that the Marchmonts will be very kind to you when we are gone," said Vaura, smilingly.
"Yes, she will be good to a lonely priest," he answered absently; then recovering himself, "but I should not say lonely; have I not the Church."
As a footman fastened the hall-door after the Rev. Robert, Vaura said:
"The Church will soon not be sufficient to fill up his life; at least the naturalist will make him feel so."
"How differently cher Roland would range himself," said Lady Esmondet, thinking of his hopeless love for Vaura; "that girl with her bugs and beetles, her sandy locks and sharp elbows, would drive him distracted. I wonder what affinity Robert can have with such an one."
"Why doth he love her? 'Curious fool, be still; is human love the growth of human will?' saith the poet. So, god-mother dear, for aught we can say, they must e'en join the legion of impossible unions. But we are both weary, and had best to bed and sleep or dreams."
"Yes, 'tis late; good night, dear; we have both missed Lionel to-day."
"We have; he little dreams how much."
And as Vaura's robes were unfastened, and the deft fingers of her maid made her comfortable for the night, a tall figure and handsome face, tawny moustache, shading lips sweet yet firm in expression, tired eyes that were generally grave, but could flash or be tenderly loving, rose before her.
"'Twas only last night," she though, as she laid her soft cheek on the pillow, "he was with us, and I feel as though we had been parted for ages; and he suffers by all these rumours; and my dearest is in a tangled web of difficulty and I am not near to give him my sympathy, and poor dear uncle is not happy either; and it's a woman's work, but this making of moans is unnatural to me; I must make Time fly, and when I am once in England, my aim shall be to make those two men regain their old happiness; good-night, Lionel, I am weary to see your face again, to hear your words of love and feel your arms about me, for the sweet feeling that I belong to you seems only a dream; come back, come."
The following day the programme of which Vaura had spoken to Castenelli, was gone through. But as Vaura wished just now that the days would quickly join themselves to the great past, we shall not linger; but say, that on nearing the painting of the Transfiguration, a figure caught her eye, it was that of the young Italian Castenelli, who, with the dark rich colouring, clear cut features and soft brown eyes that Roman blood gives, looked as though he might have stepped from the canvas on the wall.
The painting in its glorious beauty held them in silent admiration for some time. Vaura drew a long breath as she turned away, saying:
"The man who painted the figure of the Christ in its God-like sanctity of expression, must have been inspired. What a volume of sermons it preaches!"
As the Italian had tickets of admission to the Tower of St. Peter's, Vaura decided to make the ascent. The double walls of the dome are passed through as quickly as possible, as Vaura's time is short. But the view from the top! who can describe it? Not I; my pen falls lifeless; it would take a Moore to sing of; a Byron to immortalise; a Longfellow, a Whittier or a Tennyson to make an idyl of; it has sent artists wild; the eye rests lovingly on the hill-crests of the Sabine, Volscian and Albano on the one side, then turns to the city with its temples, its palaces, the historic past showing in their very stones. Then the Coliseum and the Forum, each speaking their own story; then the eye turns to the winding Tiber; and finally rests on the deep calm waters of the violet Mediterranean in the far away.
"Ah, Signor Castenelli, it is too much for one day; 'tis no wonder the Italian is a poet. You dwell in a maze of beauty in nature and art. Dame nature with you wears such a rich warm dress; 'tis little wonder your canvas, aye, and your own faces show such sun-warm tints."
"You should dwell with us, Signora; you feel the poetry of our land."
On parting from the Italian he tendered to Vaura for herself and Lady Esmondet his box at the theatre, as being more favourably situated than the only one Captain Trevalyon had been able to procure, and at Vaura's invitation he dined at the villa Iberia, escorting them afterwards to hear the wonderful voice of Patti.
On the morning of the 28th a telegram arrived from Lionel which read as follows:
"To Lady Esmondet. "Villa Iberia, Rome, Italy.
"Sir Vincent Trevalyon died at 11 p.m. the 27th inst. Shall write to-day.
"LIONEL TREVALYON, "The Langham, London, England. "28th December, 1877."
"Poor Sir Vincent gone. And so generations pass. When death bowls out one man another takes the bat; so now Captain is Sir Lionel Trevalyon," said Lady Esmondet, as she read the telegram.
"Yes. None shall triumph for a whole life long, for death is one and the Fates are three," said Vaura.
On the 30th came from Lionel two letters, extracts from which we shall give.
"DEAR LADY ESMONDET,—
"Every moment of my time is occupied, but know you will be interested in my doings, so drop you a line. My cousin with my lawyer and self read the will. By it my uncle bequeaths to me $500,000 in gold. I was surprised at his generosity. The whole of his fortune would be mine if I and Judith could marry; that would not suit either of us as we are totally unsuited to each other. Judith leaves by steamer The Queen for New York on the 1st January. My poor uncle lived for three hours after my arrival. He was in great pain, suffering from Bright's disease, but brain clear; seemed to cling to me; he told me he wished I could persuade Judith to marry me and try and make her more womanly and live at my place in the north; but God forbid that our lives should be linked together. What a contrast she is to Vaura. Should Judith ever be guilty of giving up her freedom it will be to a man who admires the divided skirt, etc., etc."
EXTRACTS FROM LIONEL'S TO VAURA.
"....Yes, darling, the words I have written, what are their worth in telling you of my great love for you! You don't know how I hunger to look again into your warm, expressive eyes, to hold you to my heart. If you were only with me, my love, I should drink so freely of your tender sympathy, that with it as a tonic to my weary waiting heart, I could go forth into the midst of the news-mongers, into the nest of wasps, and conquer and untangle the web of difficulty in a few short days. But you, alas! are far away, and I have only a few minutes of past bliss to feed on when I kissed your sweet lips, when you made life a paradise by leaning your dear head on my breast. My love, my love, I cannot be long without you. You must come to me whether I can prove to society, with its shams, that Mrs. Grundy has lied in giving me a hidden wife or no; you must come to be my own love, no matter who says nay. My heart, my heart, you are mine; mine by right of the subjection the fetters you have placed me in, and woven for me. Mine by right, for you have taken my boasted strength from me. Mine, mine, no matter what the world may say. My life, my love, write to me; I am half delirious. I am in torture; full of jealous fears less you may forget me. I regret once and again that I left you. Remember, darling, I shall be always jealous, for I know the magnetic force of your charms. I am mad, I know I am, when I think you are so far, such 'lengths of miles' from me. Ask Lady Esmondet to come on at once and stay a day or two at her house here (it is well warmed—I have been to see) in pity to the man you have slain, and who loves you past all you can know; love, come. I am doing all I can, my own, to conquer the difficulty; I have already been to the offices of our great daily, and one editor apologized, saying the news of my 'hidden wife' was a temptation to him in the 'silly season.' For heaven's sake, my heart's darling, don't let anything you may hear against me turn your heart from me. The very thought of such a triumph for Mrs. Grundy in her role of social astronomer, as she sits in her watch tower, telescope in hand, turns my brain. My heart aches for a letter, for though my written words seem to me cold; I shall devour yours, simply as coming from your pen. Come to me quick, my love; I must have a letter and I must have you. In a stationer's to-day I saw a photo of you in a case with those of Mrs. Cornwallis West, Langtry and Wheeler, there were just the four; you all sold, my darling, at five shillings each. The stationer said, condescendingly, 'that you would all bring a higher figure, but he merely wished to educate the masses to a high standard of beauty. His monetary benefit was quite a minor consideration.' The fellow's manner amused me; but you see, love, that the future Lady Trevalyon in thus educating the masses reigns in the heart of mankind, and not only in the heart of the man who only lives in her love...."
"I am more than glad, Vaura, ma chere, that Dame Fortune is playing so smilingly into dear Lionel's hands," said Lady Esmondet, as she read aloud the letter she had received from Trevalyon on the morning of the 30th. Yes, more than glad, for the legacy of $500,000 and the title, will do more to close the gaping eyes of society, and lips of Dame Rumour, than any red-tapeism in the form of libel suits; or living proofs, from living truthful lips."
"True, god-mother dear, and 'tis well we are women of our day, or the knowledge that a man may, if he will, live the life of a Mormon in Utah, on the quiet; and if he present a wife well gilt with gold, and a title, to society; society will fall prostrate; or this knowledge might mystify us."
"Yes, we hive eaten of the tree of knowledge, Vaura dear; we know society's deal and the cards she bids us play; no matter though we don't like our hand."
"Poor Lionel does not relish the play just now, manly, brave, and true as he is," said Vaura, pityingly.
The morrow dawned, fair and bright, and Vaura looked as bright and fresh as a goddess of day, as she stepped, from the door of the villa, robed in a gown of blue velvet, tight jacket of same, and a small bonnet of a lighter shade, with long tan kid gloves; her cheek was warm with the colour her quickened heart-beats gave, and the love- light shone in her eyes, for she had again just re-read Lionel's loving words, and knew her own would soon make his heart glad.
O'Gormon came up the walk as she descended the verandah steps.
"Good morning, Miss Vernon."
"Bonjour, Sir Dennis; sorry I am deserting the villa as you are making your entree."
"Fortune favours me, in that you are not already gone. May I not be your escort, and attend you?"
"Well, I scarcely know; I am not going to the Colonna gardens," she answered gaily.
"No matter, I am only too willing to follow you blindly; whither thou goest I go; thy will shall be my will; thy goal my goal."
"Then to the dusty shop of Pedro; to the rescue of some trifles in the matter of bric-a-brac."
"But, am I not sufficient escort without yon trim female; give her a holiday to go buy ribbons to 'tie up her bonny brown hair.'"
"You may take an hour's pleasure, Saunders; I do not require your further attendance."
And now they bend their steps in the direction of the old town, and turning into a short, narrow street, ascend the high stone steps of an old house; so old one wondered it held together; in fact, many stones had fallen from the front wall, giving it a hollow-eyed appearance. The whole quartier in which they now are, presents a dilapidated front. But when they enter the old, mouldy apartment, lit up with so much of the beautiful, they forgot the gloomy, damp street; the uninviting exterior of the building; the weird old man in charge; everything but the gems by which they are surrounded. Here were some rare bits of Sevres and Dresden china, there some modern tile painting, here some old Roman jugs, jars, and vases; there the sweet face of a Madonna looks down, as if in pity, on a Greek dancing girl. Here a goblet, fit for a kingly gift; there a zone to win the good graces of some pretty little ballet dancer. Here were Romish missals in rare old inlaid coverings, side by side with garters studded with precious stones, destined for the leg of woman.
Vaura, an ardent admirer of the choice in bric-a-brac, was in her element amid this confusion of beauty, while her companion preferred the living charms of a lovely woman more than anything the world of art could show; so, not a purchaser, he seated himself on a chair with more carving than comfort to recommend it, and watching Vaura, fell into a reverie: "She is the most priceless gem in the casket, and though my governor left me as heritage the waste acres, and nothing but an income of debts to keep up Castletruan, unless I marry money, by my faith a fellow could live on love with Vaura Vernon, better than on stalled ox without her."
Here he gave a start knocking down a porcelain vase at the weird voice of Pedro from behind, saying:
"You don't examine my poor wares, mi lord.'
"The shattered remains of that vase are typical of the denouement of the idle dreams I was dreaming," he muttered, as the wily Italian, full of regrets, picked up the fragments, naming double the value of the vase, and thinking,
"He would not have spent a soldi, the Signora occupies all his thoughts; so Pedro, you are in good fortune that the English lord was startled at the sound of thy voice; the intention was good, Pedro, so is the result."
Vaura now signified to the Italian her wish to purchase bric-a-brac to the extent of a golden goblet, beautiful in design and of early Roman handiwork. A group of statutory, representing Venus and Adonis, at once piquant and charming, with an exquisite painting of the Dying Gladiator pathetic in the extreme.
"He is a grand athlete," said Sir Dennis.
"Yes, and a land-mark of Home, in the by-gone. Ah! Sir Dennis, there has been more martyr's blood shed in the immortal city than that of the early Christians; when one thinks of the use the Coliseum was put to, when one thinks of the Roman women with their warm beauty, of their men beautiful as gods, who graced with their presence scenes where men like that met a death of torture, one weeps for human nature with its stains, its blots. Ah! well, even the flowers one loves best are bespattered in the mire, and soiled by the skirts of mortals with not too clean a record, and the pure snow-flake as it falls goes down with smut from the chimney upon it, it is only the trail of the serpent which is over all."
"The wells of pity in your eyes are deep and full enough to take in more than the Dying Gladiator; he is dead; there are living men," said the Irishman with the susceptibility of his race.
"Why, Sir Knight of Erin," said Vaura gaily, as she turned from the painting, "you are not going to ask me to weep over all suffering humanity, from the Pole, not North but Siberian; the Sultan, whose siesta, is disturbed by the call to arms; to your own Pat with his real or imaginary wrongs."
"To the shades of oblivion with Pat and the Pole,—they don't fill the world."
"And in the meantime the shades of evening will be upon us if we don't hasten. Pedro, you will send my purchases with the vases and model of St. Peter's Lady Esmondet bought yesterday, to the Villa Iberia, and be expeditious, as the servants are now packing our belongings for England."
"Already packing!" said the Irishman, as they turned their steps homeward, "that sounds like the first note of a fare-thee-well."
"A true and fairly-well made remark, oh, Son of Erin!"
"Your voice is glad as the bird-notes of my own Isle, which means you'll smile as you say farewell."
And so in gay chit-chat Time seemed as naught until the villa was reached. Sir Dennis lunching with them when as afterwards the ladies having P.P.C.'s to make, he took a reluctant leave.
The following three days were spent in leave-takings to the beauties abounding in and around the city; sometimes attended by Signer Castenelli, sometimes by the warm-hearted Irishman, and again by Priest Douglas; they walked again and lingered in the gardens of the Colonna palace they loved; the dear warm earth which was kissed so lovingly by the sun's rays as not to be cold to the bare brown feet of the child-peasant; and sent up such bright flowers for the vase of the King. Their glance rested often on the deep blue of the heavens above them, as though to carry its majestic arch with them to lift the leaden clouds from off the spires of London, which seemed as though weighed down to earth, as the souls the bells in their tower called to worship, were weighted with the clouds in the struggle of life.
And so Father Time, who to Vaura for once seemed to walk with stealthy step, still with inevitable tread brought the world and humanity to the fourth day of a new year.
On the third a letter had come from Col. Haughton to Lady Esmondet, which ran thus:
"MY DEAR OLD FRIEND,—
"Your letters are so full of health that I don't think I'm selfish in saying to let nothing tempt you and my hearts-light, Vaura, to stay away any longer; when you come you will not blame me for wanting you both; my married life has not been of very long duration, and yet, and yet my new made wife ... but you will see if there is anything to see; you are not a curious woman, Alice, God forbid; but you will know in the social atmosphere which surrounds me, if I needlessly fear for the honour of my name.
"The preparations for the ball are on a gorgeous scale and my bete noire, Major Delrose, is up to the neck in, floral decorations. And my lady's gown, mine and yours, too; did we say him yea; his nose is broad enough to enter into everybody's business; and his back is broad enough to bear anything I may write you.
"Be sure and be here on the morning of the sixth, so you can rest for the night's frolic; and Vaura, whose health is too splendid to feel much fatigue, can chat with me and look about her.
"I see by the Daily News that Trevalyon has succeeded to the baronetcy; he writes me he will be here for the ball; I feel just now in the humour for a long talk with my old friend.
"I'm really grieved he should have got himself into such a mess as to have married some years ago some female he has been hiding ever since. It is common gossip here; some name her as a ballet dancer; some as pretty daughter of his late father's lodge-keeper; some, as wife of a friend; in whatever dress Dame Rumour presents her, she's a toothsome bit for Mrs. Grundy. Whatever truth there's in it the wasps sting Trevalyon all they can; but the butterflies smile and say: 'if he has, he's handsome enough to take out a license for anything.' I have regretted since hearing the news and seeing it in the papers, that he was in daily intercourse with Vaura; but again, if he is bound as I fear, I can trust to his honour not to endeavour to gain her affections.
"Isabel Douglas was married on New Year's' day; we were invited; Blanche and I went; the laughs at the Hall were the loudest, so Mrs. Haughton remained. Isabel looked hopeful and happy, and an ideal Scotch lassie as she is. I am writing in the recess at the end of the library, and merry voices and gay laughter reach me here; but the sounds come not from any of my personal friends; none are with me as yet; we have Mrs. Meltonbury, the Fitz-Lowtons, two De Lancy girls, Peter Tedril, Everly, and Major Delrose at Rose Cottage—means Major Delrose at the Hall. So you see, Alice, a congenial spirit would be congenial. Read above to Vaura; she is a woman of the world, and knows its walks and ways. Come soon. And from
"Yours, "ERIC HAUGHTON, "Haughton Hall, Surrey, England.
"To both, love and kind thoughts, "January 2nd, 1878."
"TO LADY ESMONDET, "Villa Iberia, Rome, Italy."
The outcome of above letter was to cause Lady Esmondet and Vaura to make immediate preparations to reach Haughton Hall.
"We should be there; the hand Madame holds is too full of tricks," said Lady Esmondet, energetically, as she finished reading the letter aloud.
"We can go to-night by the midnight express," said Vaura, impulsively.
"I should like it, dear, but you are full of engagements for to- morrow, and we are due at the Opera tonight."
"Trifles, all; as you are willing, we shall be on the wing to-night."
Tres bien ma chere; I shall give the orders, but there will be three or four pairs of wistful eyes looking for your entree at the opera, to-night."
"Yes, until the curtain rises," said Vaura gaily.
On the afternoon of the same day (the third) Castenelli, with a couple of friends, also O'Gormon, on calling at the villa, heard a rumour of the departure from the servants (who were all astir, their ladies being out driving), the Italian p'shawed and said to his friends:
"It is not so, the beautiful Signora told me she would be at the Duchess of Wyesdale on the night of the fourth for a concert and ball; they leave at sunrise on the fifth." And so was content that the servants were mistaken. Not so O'Gormon, who hearing the same story, and knowing their intention to attend the opera went thither, and not seeing them was for leaving, but the Wyesdale signaled him to her side, and so off duty only at the close; saw her party to the carriage, and throwing his toga over his evening dress, hurried to the depot. And none too soon, Lady Esmondet was already in the coach and Vaura about to follow, when the tall figure of the Irishman came up hurriedly.
"Surely you are not going to leave us, Miss Vernon, and so hush our heart-beats as we listen in vain for your footfall."
"I am, and my heart is a trifle sad, as I say so."
"And has a great gladness, or you would not make us sad by going."
"Well, yes, Sir Dennis, glad and sorry; I go home! You are Irish and will know the feeling; one loves with one's whole heart, and one's life, one's home and friends; one loves with passion; and for a year, or a day, fair warm Italia, where one has met loving words and kind hearts, and yours is one Sir Knight of Erin," she added with feeling, as she returned his tight hand clasp.
"The last whistle, by my faith, I wish it were for me too."
And the guard locked the door and in a few minutes, miles separated these two who had so lately spoken, Sir Dennis still staring at space, while a new pain came to his heart.
HEART TO HEART.
We shall not accompany our friends on their home-bound journey. Time will fly with greater speed if we relate not the talks and incidents by the way, but simply meet them at London, whither Lady Esmondet had telegraphed Trevalyon of their arrival. Accordingly, on their coming in at the station at 9 p.m., on the evening of the 5th, Lionel, all eagerness, met them.
"So kind of you to meet us, Sir Lionel," said Lady Esmondet, for Madame Grandy was about.
"Only a pleasure, dear Lady Esmondet. Someone told me you and Miss Vernon were due," and turning to his servant, "Here, Sims, are the checks; get the luggage stowed safely away until to-morrow morning, and send the maids on to Park Lane."
"Yes, sir; all right, sir."
"You look tired, poor fellow," said Vaura, sympathetically, as they were driven to Park Lane.
"Tired, yes, waiting for you. God only knows how I have missed you, darling."
"How about the nun you spoke of in your letter, Lionel?" inquired Lady Esmondet, "will she aid you? What a long story you have to tell us."
"Yes, and one until lately I had will nigh forgotten, for in spite of Dame Rumour's falseness I have not been the principal actor in it. For to-night only does she triumph, ere, to-morrow's sun has set I hope to be at or very near Haughton Hall with those who will lift the veil from the past, and put in Dame Rumour's hands another version of the scandal."
"We shall have a long evening together, Lionel; you can stay with us, I suppose."
"Only until I see you comfortably settled, dear Lady Esmondet, in still untangling the web of 'difficulty,'" and Vaura's hand is pressed. "I have a twelve-mile drive in a suburban train to the monastery of St. Sebastian."
"Nuns and monks, the denouement will be interesting," said Vaura.
"Will they win, that's the question; the other hand is full of knaves and tricks," said Lady Esmondet.
"They shall," answered Lionel, earnestly, and holding Vaura's hand, "I hold a hand that gives me strength to win."
Park Lane is now reached, the servants are in the hall to welcome their mistress, when the house-keeper says:
"If it will suit your ladyship, dinner will be served in twenty minutes or half an hour."
"Say half an hour, Grimes."
"Surely you can stay and dine with us, Lionel?" said his friend.
"You know, dear Lady Alice, how much I would wish it, but I must be off in less than half an hour."
Whereupon remembering the "Golden Rule," saying she would go and talk with the housekeeper, and so again these two who feel such completeness in each other, such fulness of satisfaction, such an ecstasy of love, are alone in the sweetest of solitude, dual solitude, and in silence, save for the deep full heart-beats.
"Let me take off your jacket, my own darling."
"I can, dear Lionel; you look too tired to do anything but rest."
But he does as he wills, the jacket of seal, and bonnet of velvet are off, the long tan gloves laid aside, the fluffy hair is caressed, a strong arm is about her, the perfect shaped head is again on his chest, and the sweet mouth and warm eyes are kissed rapturously.
"Rest; yes, love, I want rest, and can only rest so, with you in my arms; away from you I am nervous and agitated, afraid lest some one take you from me; my life, my love, oh! darling, darling, you don't know how dependent I am on you; on your love, your sympathy; you have not told me and I long to hear you say so; tell me if you love me, darling."
"Love you!" and she started to a sitting posture, "bend your face towards me, dearest, that you may read the truth in my eyes."