And now with a soft hand on each cheek, she continues.
"Love, you dearest, does the sun-flower love its god? Does the mother her first born? Then, do I love thee, my heart's dearest, with an unchanging tender love, and with all the intensity of my woman self."
For answer, she is drawn to a close embrace, and there are ecstatic moments with only throbbing eyes to the rhythm of heart-beats.
At last Vaura breaks the silence, by saying softly:
"'Tis time for you to leave me, Lionel, and yet I cannot spare you."
"I cannot go, my own, mine, mine; oh! darling, you do not know the joy, the paradise I feel as I hold you in my arms, and think that you, my beauty, you, whom men rave of, you actually love me; God be thanked," and the love-warm kisses come to the sweet flexible lips.
At this moment, Lady Esmondet considerately talking to Mars at the door, gave the lovers time to get a conventional number of inches between them, ere she entered.
"I fear it is time you were off, Lionel; it is really too bad you cannot dine with us."
Lionel standing up, and laying one hand on Vaura's head, as it rested on the cushioned back of the sofa, said:
"I feel as if I had drank of the elixir of life; you don't know how courageous I feel, now that I have you both back, when the difficulty is removed, I shall begin to live!"
"How the women will envy me!" she said, looking up lovingly at the handsome face full of grave earnestness, the tired look gone from the mesmeric eyes.
"You will both be wondrously happy, each a gainer in the other," said their friend earnestly.
"Do you think you will be able to go down with us, Lionel dear?"
"No, darling, I am sure not; I cannot say what train I shall take until I reach the monastery; there we decide."
"The plot thickens, a monk makes his entree," said Vaura gaily.
"Yes, and I shall not tell either of you more of the play, the act will be more interesting, only this, tell Col. Haughton that after dinner, on to-morrow evening three unbidden guests will appear with myself, and that we shall carry a more highly spiced dish than any they have partaken of; further, that it is my wish that the Hall guests hear of the ingredients, so that they can tell the recipe to the London world. Good-bye, till to-morrow night, dear friend; good-bye, darling."
"Good-night, Lion, we shall be on the look-out for you; so don't tire our eyes."
"I shall feel your eyes, love, and shall hasten."
"Be sure, Lionel, that you come with winning cards."
"I shall, dear Lady Esmondet; au revoir."
"How greedily the gossips will partake of the dish in preparation for them! What an exciting scene we shall have!" said Vaura, as dinner over and servants dismissed, the friends chatted over a cup of coffee before retiring.
"Yes, indeed, dear; oh! if Lionel could only find this Mrs. Clarmont, with whom they said he eloped, and that she would reveal the facts, what a triumph!"
"But, if in reality; this Major Delrose was her favoured lover, he may yet have influence enough over her to stay her tongue," said Vaura, thoughtfully.
My own fear, dear, especially as I believe there was a child."
"And you say that in the bygone he was an admirer of my uncle's wife?"
"So Dame Rumour hath it."
"So, so, we all aim at something; the Delrose ambition was to pose as king o' hearts. Strange freak of fortune, that this all comes into the Haughton life; we must now only hope that the clouds in our sky will soon disperse. But, god-mother darling, we had best follow the advice of the liege lord of the wilful Katherine, and 'to bed.'"
KNAVES ARE TRUMPS.
Vaura spent the night of the fifth in dreamy wakefulness; Lionel's looks, caresses, and loving words seeming hers still; and to-morrow eve; the glad joy of his presence would be again felt; and her sympathy and love for him were so tender and heartfelt, that she lost herself in an intoxicating sense of languor, sweet beyond expression, and which she could scarcely rouse herself from, when her maid, on the morrow bid her arise.
Both her god-mother and self, being a good deal excited over the coming events, on meeting at breakfast, spoke either in disjointed sentences, or were buried in thought.
"In all your conjectures, ma chere, you have never made one as to your ball dress; if you will like it, and if it is due."
"It is useless, god-mother dear; I always adore Worth, and he is always on time."
"Dear me," said Lady Esmondet an hour later, as they, in travelling gear, awaited the carnage to take them to the Southern station, "how time drags, I wish we were off."
"In our eagerness, we have dressed too soon, god-mother; but still, waiting is insufferable. Poor uncle! I wonder what people are at the Hall? what a scene is on the tapis! and what a bore the expose of truth is and will be to poor Lion! But, thank heaven, here is the carriage."
At the station they meet Mr. Clayton, who has run up to town on business. He will be with them to the next station, when he takes a branch line to the Lord Elton's, where his wife is; later in the day they run down to Haughton Hall for the ball.
"You will see no end of changes at the old place, Miss Vernon; I would give something to see your face as you make your entree. I should, in that case, see as many changes as yourself. At the revels each evening, variety holds full sway."
"Tres bien," she answered carelessly (for she will not lay her heart bare), "some have it that 'variety is the spice of life;' if so, as you and I care nought for a mere existence, we must swallow the spice and smile on the caterer."
"Exactly, as the guests do. By the way some one told me Trevalyon was a good deal with you while abroad, but you may not yet have heard that there has been no end of talk about him; the papers have him; in both Truth and the Daily News I read of the scandal myself, and am shocked beyond expression, that a married man should have been running loose all these years; and to my thinking, it makes matters worse that she was the wife of a friend; it was a traitorous act: did he confide in you while abroad? did he tell you of his base act?"
"Yes, and 'tis all false as the face of society, and hollow of truth as many of her gems; but the false face will soon be torn off, and the ring of the true diamond will be heard," she said, with impulsive fervor.
"Indeed! you surprise me, Miss Vernon; but I shall be really glad if Trevalyon comes out a free man and can prove himself so to the suspicious eye of society."
"Conveniently blind, Mr. Clayton, when she chooses."
"Distended and greedy in Trevalyon's case; he has been too independent of her," he said thoughtfully; "but here is my halting place, sorry to leave you both, but only till to-night."
It was the lightning express, and there was no other stopping place until they reach the village of Haughton, Here they stayed just long enough to allow the Hall people to make a speedy exit. On our friends alighting they were a little surprised to see Blanche Tompkins followed by Sir Tilton Everly (who, on seeing them, looked not unlike a whipped cur), emerge from a second class coach.
"Some of the spice of variety we were to look for," said Vaura, in an undertone.
"Oui, ma chere, and I am sure we are both prepared not to be astonished at the seasoning, no matter what shape it may take."
Blanche was gaily dressed in a seal brown silk suit, trimmed with ermine, a large brown beaver flat with ostrich feathers; the wee white mouse face almost hidden, the sharp little pink eyes—for pink they looked—the rims red as usual, and a cold in the head giving them a swollen appearance. She had not forgotten her golden loves, for, from ears, throat, and wrists, dangled many yellow dollars. With a whispered, "Don't let the cat out of the bag till I bid you, or you're not worth a cent," she stepped over to Lady Esmondet and Vaura, saying: "I'm sure you're too awfully surprised for anything to see me."
"Not at all, Miss Tompkins,"' said Lady Esmondet. Here Sir Tilton came up, lifted his bat, while both ladies shook hands with him.
"You have a truant look about you, Sir Tilton," laughed Vaura; "do you foresee a fair woman's frown for your absence?"
"Don't chaff me, dear Miss Vernon; I can't stand it just now."
"Fact is," said Blanche, with cunning effrontery, "I wanted some gay fixings for the ball, so I took the rail to London, got 'em, stayed all night with the Claytons, and am bringing back to Mrs. Haughton her dear little Sir Tilton."
"Why, we met Mr. Clayton, and he says they are staying at Oak Hall at the Lord Eltons," exclaimed Vaura amusedly, and to see how Blanche would extricate herself.
"See you know too much; but don't say anything, for here is the trap, with the Colonel inside, I suppose, and he's too awfully too, I'll tell you later on; Mrs. Haughton don't do all the tricks."
"But should you have been missed, what then?"
"Oh, that's too easy, Miss Vernon; I've been too awfully busy with my maid; headache, anything that comes first."
"A pupil of Madame would naturally learn how to shuffle the cards," said Lady Esmondet, a trifle cynically, and, sotto voce, "I am too awfully sleepy to take you in, Lady Esmondet," said Blanche, yawning.
A covered carriage with two servants, drives to the steps; the Colonel is not inside; leaving one man to look after their maids and belongings, they enter, and are soon on the well known road.
"I wonder my uncle did not meet us; especially as he must have received our telegram."
"Surely he is not ill! How was he when you left the Hall, Miss Tompkins?" inquired Lady Esmondet.
"A one, and it's too awfully funny he wasn't down. But I remember, whenever he and Mrs. Haughton have a spat, and they had one (this time hare and hounds), he clears out and takes to the lodge, so perhaps he never spotted your telegram."
Lady Esmondet and Vaura, exchanging glances, fell into deep thought, while Blanche and the small Baronet carried on a half-whispered conversation, with a yawning accompaniment from the young woman.
WEE WHITE MOUSE WINS A POINT.
But the reverie and wagging of tongue is over and ceases, to give place to society's mask, for the picturesque lodge with its gabled roof and climbing vines is in sight, and in the twinkling of an eye the great gates are reached, which are wide open, for 'tis the entrance to Liberty Hall under the present regime. Leaning against the door post is a tall military looking figure, smoking vigorously, as men will, if life's springs want oiling. Both ladies see him, and Vaura's face is at the window.
"Halt, John," shouts his master, for the man is a new servant, and driving full speed for the Hall. "My two darlings, how glad I am to see you both," and kisses with long hand-clasps are exchanged.
"And we are more than glad to see you again, dearest uncle."
"Blanche, you here! and Sir Tilton; it was kind of you to meet them."
"Yes, we tripped down, as you had cut and run," tittered Blanche.
Here the Colonel took Sir Tilton's offered seat, who, getting out, said he would prefer to walk up the long avenue.
"You must both make your home with me, dears, else it will not be home," said the Colonel feverishly, as he leaned forward, taking a hand of each, and gazing eagerly first into one face, and then into the other.
"We shall, for a while at least, Eric," said Lady Esmondet tenderly.
"And what do you say, Vaura dear; you will not leave me and Haughton Hall again?"
This he said with nervous haste, as though even in the rest her return gave him, he must have a surety of it's continuing.
"I shall not even think of leave-taking, dear uncle, but if I should, I shall pack you up and take you with me," she said pityingly, noticing how he leaned on her, and also the reckless tone in which he spoke before Blanche; turning to Miss Tompkins, he continued in same tone:
"Who ran down the hare last night?"
Here was a puzzler for la petite, but she was equal to the occasion, even though she was at London.
"No conundrum, Colonel, with the Major as hare."
"Gad, I must get rid of him; they all see it."
"And they all do it, Colonel," tittered Blanche; "keep cool; the Major keeps cool—to you;" this she said, liking the Colonel, but thinking him, to use her own expression, "soft."
"You see, Alice," he said, turning to his old friend with a half-smile, "the only rose in my path has a D before it."
"A rose without beauty or fragrance, Eric, which will cease to bloom by to-morrow; waste not a thought upon it."
"You give me strength, Alice."
"I should, else friendship's cords would be weak indeed."
"It is very strange that Mrs. Haughton should keep the man about her, if she is aware it is an annoyance to you," said Vaura indignantly.
"Ah! but they were too sweet for anything, even in poppa's life time," said Blanche with her innocent air. Mrs. Haughton would think it too awfully cruel (just to please the Colonel) to tell him good-bye."
"Heartless in me to suppose for one moment, one's husband's feelings to be of more consideration than those of one's male-friend," said Vaura cynically.
"See, Vaura, the changes," said her god-mother, as the end of the avenue reached the Hall, renovated and partly modernised, burst upon their view.
"Verily, old things have passed away, and all become new," said Vaura.
"Excepting the south wing, dear, which is of sufficiently modern date to have contented Mrs. Haughton; also the north tower which I begged off, only allowing it to be strengthened below."
"Dear old tower; yes, 'tis old, and in its clinging dress of ivy; I am glad; but in the language of Sir Tilton, 'here we are again.'"
As the carriage rolled up to the steps of the grand entrance a few ladies and gentlemen, equipped for riding, were on the steps or already mounted. Mrs. Forester, a gay London huntress, Mrs. Cecil Layton, of the same feather, two De Lancy girls, who wished they were the other two, a couple of army men, with one of the matches of the county, whom both sisters were willing to worship, but were too shy to adore, with eyes too prudish to bend the knee.
"The beautiful Miss Vernon! by Wolsley," exclaimed Chancer of the Guards in an undertone to Everett of the Lancers. "Wish I wasn't promised to the huntress for the afternoon."
"Wish she heard you," laughed Everett.
"Which one?" said his friend gaily, as with one bound he is at Vaura's side, not missing his opportunity which he had sworn to take, should it offer, of an introduction; he now stood bareheaded as he tendered the muff she had dropped; his handsome face aglow with satisfaction, as he took Vaura's offered hand as she thanked him, on her uncle presenting him. There was rather more loitering by Vaura's side than the Forester liked, so she, by a sly manoeuvre, caused her horse to rear violently; it had the desired effect, and in a few moments they were careering across the park in the wake of the rest of the party.
"The dear old place! though it is changed I love it, and am glad to be here once more," said Vaura, feelingly, inwardly telling herself, "my love will be here to-night."
"Where is your mistress, William?" inquired his master of a servant in the brown and buff livery of the house.
"In the ball-room, sir."
"Tell her some guests have arrived, and await her in the morning- room; and here, present these cards."
"Always an ideal room of mine if unchanged," said Vaura, entering the well known apartment.
"No, Aurora, still welcome one to her blue and gold bower, with the perfume of flowers about."
"Mrs. Haughton wished it altered; but as the New York renovator or decorator condescended to say: 'if done over, it would be really quite pretty,' she yielded to my wish; I knew, dear, your love for at as it is."
Here the servant returned from Madame, saying: "Mrs. Haughton sends her compliments, and will her ladyship and Mademoiselle excuse her, as she is giving the painter a last sitting for the picture which is to be framed and hung for to-night; and will be happy to welcome their ladyships in the ball-room if not too tired."
"That will do, William, you may go," said his master. "And now that we are alone, let me tell you, you will do anything but admire this painting."
"Is it not true?" asked Lady Esmondet.
"Yes, in every detail; it's not that—you will see."
"What will you do, god-mother mine? Rest here awhile, go to the dining-room and refresh the inner-woman? See, Madame, I protest against; you are too fatigued."
"I am, dear, and prefer to go to my room. Somers may bring me something on a tray. Eric, kindly ring the bell."
William answered, coming in with Somers, to whom he had given the housekeeper's message to show Lady Esmondet "the green room."
The Colonel's brow darkened.
"Are you sure you have Mrs. Haughton's own orders correctly, William?"
"Yes, sir; my mistress gave them to Simpson in my hearing; and Miss Vernon, please sir, is to have the pink room,—first room, sir."
"There must be some mistake about the green room; it is dark, cold and gloomy; in the east wing, too."
"Never mind, Eric, I shall survive it, with a bright fire, and at Haughton."
"The pink room is cheerful, large, and with a boudoir," he said, troubled.
"William, show Somers the pink room, that she may conduct her mistress hither; I shall take the green room," said Vaura, decisively, "which I feel sure was the wish of our hostess."
"Go, Somers, and do your bidding," said her mistress; "thank you, Vaura dear, you are always thoughtful for me; and should the green room be gloomy, come and share mine."
"What a restful pair of women you are," said the Colonel, earnestly. "I feel as if I had taken a narcotic, my nerves have become so quiet; they have been going at race-horse speed. Ah!, how much I have needed you!"
"In meeting, one feels what one has lost by parting," said Lady Esmondet, gently.
"True, Alice, I am at one with you, and feel your words to the last degree of bitterness."
"Come, come," said Vaura, brightly, "see the sunlight streaming in upon the sky-like walls; so our lives will be happy now in union once more."
"You are a sunbeam, Vaura; and here comes Somers to lead me to the room of pink."
"Which I hope will prove the pink of perfection, god-mother mine; and now, uncle, to see Madame, on and off the canvas, ere I retire to my vernal apartment."
On the way to the ball-room the corridors were almost deserted, the fair sex either closeted with their maids discussing the war-paint for the midnight revels, or wooing the god of slumber with a narcotic; the men flirting with their unwearied sisters anywhere, or killing time with the balls in the billiard-room.
But the ball-room is reached; over the velvet hangings which drape the entrance, and which are of scarlet, on which are painted blue grapes with their green vine leaves; for contrast, the yellow sun-flower, with heavy, many-coloured fringe;—as a heading to the drape are the words in letters of gold formed by leaves of the vine: "Dedicated to Comus and Kate." It was a fitting room for revelry, with its gaily painted walls and ceiling, now with its ropes of natural blossoms festooning windows and chaining gasalier to gasalier. The door of the long conservatories were open, and so the air was redolent of sweetness almost intoxicating.
Vaura's face showed no surprise at the scene which met her gaze. On the dais at the end of the room were grouped Mrs. Haughton, who reclined in the corner of a lounge, her well-shaped feet resting on a footstool; she wore the divided skirt, with loose tunic waist; it was of blue Lyons velvet, richly braided with scarlet silk braid, low shoes of blue velvet with scarlet silk stockings; her black hair in rings on her forehead, meeting brows of gipsy darkness, her white teeth showing as she laughingly drew the cigarette from her mouth on the approach of her husband and his niece.
"It shall be hung for to-night, Mr. ——," she said imperiously, if jokingly, in reply to the artist's protest that his work 'would not be dry;' "if," she continued, "it has to be baked dry in the cook's oven, or by the fire in the men's words engendered by their champagne lunch!"
There was a general laugh.
"The dear thing must have her way," lisped the Meltonbury, from the floor where she sat, cross-legged, also in divided skirt.
"My work will be spoiled, then," said the artist, ruefully.
"Then dry it by the flame in the Colonel's eyes as he nears and takes in my trousers, and hang it so he gets a double show," exclaimed Madame, recklessly.
"Or the heat from the orbs of Everly as he gazes on the approaching belle would do the business," echoed Delrose.
"Heat, indeed!" cried madame, "and, Miss Vernon, he's emerald green jealous of you! never mind, dear little Sir Tilton, I'll pet you by- and-by; here, come and lift, down one of my feet, the Major or Sir Peter may have the other; and now adieu to the gay abandon and for the conventionalities, if I can."
"Honours are divided," cried Delrose, lifting down one foot.
"So is the skirt," said the Colonel, with grave dignity. "Kate, I wish you would dress in a manner befitting your station."
"Your niece will tell you, Colonel," she said, rising to welcome Vaura "that men's eyes are women's mirrors; what I see there pleases me; you are in the minority and feel considerably sat upon, and not—" she added, laughingly, "so comfortable in your trousers as I in mine; take it coolly Colonel, and the flame in your eyes will die out, 'tis as the flicker of an old-fashioned candle; the electric, light the newest flame for me."
"Pardon, Kate, I accept the trousers; being only your husband and in the minority (as you say), I am old-fashioned; the latest flame puts me out."
And the latent meaning in his words was read by more than the speaker.
"You don't say how you like the painting, Miss Vernon," said Delrose, on being presented, "the divided skirt would suit your style immensely."
"Anything would," said Sir Tilton, almost savagely, and in a half growl.
"'Tis merely the accident of birth, Major Delrose," she said, carelessly; "had I been cradled in the land of the Sultan—the land of trousers—they would fit into my life as my gown by Worth does a present."
And she was so more than lovely as she spoke, and her frock of navy blue velvet trimmed with fox fur, small bonnet blending in hue with her gown, with scarlet geraniums and strings, all becoming to her sweet womanliness, her perfect figure, lithe as a young fawn and rounded as a Venus, held the men's gaze, while the women bit their lips with envy. For we repeat that envy is the motive power that moves and sways their little world, and though they will band themselves together to pull the pedestal from under the feet of a more favoured sister, there would be mutiny in the band did one display a charm.
But Vaura, ever connected in the mind of Mrs. Haughton with Trevalyon, and the wish never dying in her breast to have him at her feet, hence her question, which she would much prefer not to have asked in the presence of Delrose, but, accustomed to obey impulse, she said:
"And Captain Trevalyon, Miss Vernon, what of him? Will he come for the ball, or has he gone to visit his hidden wife of Truth and the News; sly fellow that he is?"
Her tone was too eager to please Delrose. "Confound the fellow, I must lose no time," he thought, savagely, as Vaura replied, laconically:
"Sir Lionel Trevalyon will be here for the ball."
"Trevalyon to be here to-night! You never told me, Vaura."
"I have not had an opportunity, dear uncle," she said, taking his arm, with a "We shall meet again at dinner" to madame; as they left the room she continued: "He bid me tell you, dear, that he comes after dinner with three unbidden guests, and that he wishes that the Hall guests may learn from their words of the ingredients of a dish of scandal, so that they will tell it to the London world!"
"It is of his hidden wife, I presume. Yes, of her ingredients he can now tell; she is his wife. Of the woman previous to the altar knot man knows naught. She is masked!"
"Society is a fencing school, dear uncle; we all have our masks and foils."
"Not all, Vaura; we all pay society's tolls, for we live to enter the arena, but we are not all masked."
"You will be glad to see your old friend again, uncle?" she said questioningly, anxious to know how the man she loved would be welcomed.
"Yes and no, dear; his hand-clasp will strengthen, me but not you. Trevalyon's hand enclosing woman's is weakening to them, and he has been much with you; were it not for this scandal—."
"Which by mid-night," she said quickly, "the nightbirds will have, by the flutter of their wings, blown into the right current, and from poor Lionel."
"So, so, Vaura, you speak warmly; it is as I feared; he has made you care for him."
"I am sorry for you, Vaura, and glad for him; peerless, as you, are, a man should woo you with spotless breastplate; but I love Trevalyon, and if he can in any way clear himself, but I fear he cannot," he said gravely.
"'All's well that ends well,' dear uncle; he will clear himself."
"After dinner, you say?"
"Yes, but no preparations; he wishes to come in with the three unbidden guests unnoticed."
"Yes, but if he or they, I suppose, are to come with 'mouth full of news,' to tell publicly, I think he is wrong not to let it be known, otherwise they (some of them) may not appear until the ball opens."
"Let it be as he wishes, dear uncle; they are epicurean enough not to fail your good board, even though ignorant of the highly seasoned desert. But some one sneezed! we have a listener! yes," she continued breathlessly, "my hearing is very acute, and see! something between a man and woman, gliding softly down the dim corridor."
"Yes, we had better separate; go and rest, dear; we have, I fear, been talking to the Hall through some one else, and I feel somewhat excited over your news and shall smoke it off."
MADAME IN A FELINE MOOD.
A window in the library looked out upon the avenue, and a carriage approaching could be distinctly seen. Vaura, in the long ago, had frequently sat in this window, to watch the return of her uncle; aye, and of the man whom she now loved better than life itself. She was sure she could distinguish a conveyance from the village, and the occupants devoid of the gay trappings of revelry, from the guests in their comfortable carriages. Accordingly, as Madame had changed (for to-night), the dinner hour to half-past nine, at nine o'clock, Vaura, a soft beam of loveliness, with light foot-fall, entered the library and took her station at the watch-tower above mentioned. She was scarcely seated ere she was aware she was not the only occupant of what she had felt sure would be a deserted room; she would have risen, but her heart was there, and the words she heard chained her to the spot; the voices were those of Mrs. Haughton and of Major Delrose.
"I will have my way, Kate!"
"You will, I know; but can't you wait?"
"What for? For you to have Trevalyon fooling round you. Gad, if he comes near you, I'll shoot him."
"I am sorry I told you Melty followed them and heard."
"I'm not, for there's a devilish mystery about his coming; I wish she'd heard more."
"But she didn't, dear George; and that he comes at all does not look well for our plot, eh? She may yet get him, not I; and so you will remember, sweet Georgie; if so you don't win the game."
"Kate, you madden me."
"You do seem a little that way; there, go away, you are crushing my flowers. Heaven knows you ought to be satisfied, I have given you enough."
"I shall have you all to myself."
This he said with such fierce emphasis as to cause Vaura to tremble; not so Madame, for she loved this man for his boldness only (a tamer nature would have palled upon her long ere this), but the feline nature in her triumphed at times, and she tortured him.
"But, dear boy," she continued, "you have not carried out your bargain, and so no reward."
"I know I promised to separate them, and so I have, and shall; you don't see all my hand, my queen, there'll be the devil to pay when I do. I got a letter from New York this summer I shall yet turn to our advantage, even if I do stretch a point."
"Why did you not show this letter you speak of to me? Take your head away, you don't care a fig that my flowers will wear a dissipated recumbence; remember the dinner and ball."
"Hang the flowers, the dinner and everything; I want you."
"But suppose I like queening it among the English nobility a trifle longer. You see Trevalyon is—"
"You rouse the devil in me, Kate; look you, I won't and can't stand this any longer; name that man again to me in that fooling way and by the stars I'll shoot him. You belong to me as much as our—. But you know you do. Heaven is my witness, Kate, if you don't end this humbug I will, and in my own way."
"I sometimes think it would have been better had we never met; you are so fierce and jealous."
"No you don't, for our love is the same, our natures the same. The burning lava of my love suits you better than the, ah, dear me, gentlemanly affection of the Colonel, or than Lincoln Tompkins' innocent pride in you."
"How about the other men?" she said, teasingly.
"Leave them to me, I'll handle them should they cross my path. You shall come with me to-night, my plans are laid; you will never regret it. You would soon tire of the child's play here, no excitement; after the ball I away from Rose Cottage. Our life at New York and elsewhere will be one long draught of champagne. You must come with me to-night, or look you—" and he hissed the words between his teeth, "I'll make you."
"My flowers again,—and the dinner bell; I'll tell you yea—perhaps, by-and-by."
Vaura, with her hand on her heart to still its violent throbbing, lingered until sure of their retreat. She now emerged from the recess in which she had been completely hidden. The others having entered from the end door had seated themselves in the first recess, there being only the double row of book shelves between them. The whole length of the room was in this way, shelves jutting out from either side, and a dim, very dim light pervading.
"Oh, what shall I do? How can I appear with their voices in my ears, their words stamped upon my memory," she murmured, "and yet I must, for my poor darling comes after. I must try to forget their words or my brain will be too full. What a scandal for our house. But to the conventionalities," and with rapid steps she reached her apartments. "Quick, Saunders, a wine glass of Cognac, I am not well. There, that will do; how do I look?"
"Like a picture, Mademoiselle."
TREVALYON THROWS DOWN THE GLOVE.
The dinner on this Twelfth-night, fraught as it was with so much of the effervescence of the champagne of life to so many, was a dinner fit for an emperor. The gold plate, the glassware, each piece a gem. Sweet flowers looked up from their delicate design in moss beside each person, or from elegant vases. The hostess was recklessly gay and abandon, looking like a scarlet poppy with dew upon it, robed as she was in satin of scarlet, the whole front of the dress and corsage being embroidered in poppies from pink to scarlet, their leaves of pearls; her necklet, armlets, and earrings were diamonds, rubies and pearls. A handsome woman, without doubt, loving life and its bon-bons.
"We only make the run once," she would cry, "let us take it effervescing."
Vaura is peerlessly beautiful and brilliant as her diamonds, her large hazel eyes bright as stars, her lips a rose, throat, neck and arms gleam in their whiteness as does the satin of her gown. Ah! Lionel, much as we love you, we are happy in the thought that Vaura is your rest. Colonel Haughton notices that his niece often glances at him, and that beneath her gay repartee or brilliant converse, there underlies some powerful excitement which he attributes wholly to the expose of the truth by Lionel.
"And so you enjoyed Rome," said Capt. Chancer to Vaura, who had been assigned to him, so causing him to be the envy of the other men.
"Intensely! dear sun-warm, love-warm Italia."
"Yes, one loves to live and lives to love while there. I hope you did not leave your heart behind you, Miss Vernon."
"Nay, you should congratulate me had I done so, and by your own words of 'one lives to love while there.'"
"Yes, and on my warm heart; for, though old Sol laughs in gay Paris, his temple is in warm Italia," she said, gaily.
"Your eyes tell whether your heart's warmth depends upon the zone you dwell in."
"Are you wise in trusting in truth from woman's eyes?" she said softly, and looking into his face.
"In some cases, yes; they are en verite the language of the soul." And his gaze plainly shows his admiration. "You sing, I am told?"
"A little; it could not be otherwise if one has lived so much in the south as I; the voice of song seems the natural language for one's varying emotions."
"You will sing me one song to-night?"
"Yes, if you care; instead of a waltz."
"I want both."
"And you look like a man who has his way most days."
"In trifles, yes; in things longed for, never!'"
"Well, if so; as the song and waltz are trifles to make your assertion true, you must have them."
"I am in paradise, and shall try to forget that did you consider them things of moment, you would never have granted them," he said, earnestly laying down knife and fork as he turned to gaze wistfully into the face of the fair woman near him at last.
"You have the nattering tongue and eyes of your sex, Capt. Chancer, and you and the other men are to blame if I have promised more than I can perform; for I have been unable to say nay to your pleadings, being in a passive mood to-night."
And the eyelids with their wealth of curled lashes were uplifted, as she smilingly looked into his face, for her thoughts were of Lionel; his, of her.
"Of all women's moods, I love her best in the dreamy languor of passiveness."
"To mould us as wax in your hands, to love us till you tire, as we do a bird or a flower, and then sigh for another mood; you see I know you in all your moods and tenses," she said softly.
"You know us till we meet you," he said earnestly, as a servant refilled his champagne glass.
"Tis Greek meeting Greek" she said gaily, though her heart throbbed wildly, for she alone heard a slight bustle in the hall and the voice of the man she loved.
"No, fairest of women, 'tis the war of love!"
"A pleasant strife with its heart-stir; its weapons, the emotions."
"No wonder, that were we a very Achilles, you rob us of our strength."
Here Trevalyon's servant entering, handed his master's card to Delrose; on the back of which he read: "Are you prepared to own up as to the part you played in the Clarmont escapade? if not, I shall clear myself."
"Tell your master I am neither a babe nor suckling," he answered defiantly, his brow black with hate and rage as he tore the card to pieces, throwing it towards the man.
There being a sort of free-masonry between Madame and Delrose, the movements of each being rarely unobserved by the other, she was about to play into his hands by signalling her sisterhood to rise from the table, when Sir Lionel Trevalyon was announced, who, hastily coming to her side, taking her hand in salutation, said:
"You will kindly give me a few moments, Mrs. Haughton; oblige me, please, by keeping your seat."
Madame was recklessly abandon, and Sir Lionel had asked her with his mesmeric eyes, or she would not have disobeyed the pressure of the Delrose boot upon her fours in scarlet satin, (for she did not pine for the whiteness of the lily in boots or hose), "It is too tame, not chic," she would laugh, and say adding, "a fig for its purity."
"Welcome, thrice welcome, Trevalyon, my dear fellow," cried the Colonel warmly. "Here, Winter," to the butler "attend to the comfort of Sir Lionel Trevalyon'"
"I thank you, Haughton, you are always kind, but I have dined."
There was another pressure of the Delrose boot which, this time, had the desired effect, emphasised as it was by a meaning look.
Lionel, with one hand on the back of Colonel Haughton's chair, smiled his greetings, and as his eyes rested for a moment on Vaura, knowing her intensely emotional nature, and seeing her quickened heart beats, her cheek paling, her lips scarlet by contrast, her large eyes full of sympathy, he was glad to change the scene to the great drawing rooms. On Madame answering the Delrose signal by rising from the table, saying, "Say your say in the greater comforts of the drawing-rooms, Sir Lionel, as you have dined; come away, the gentlemen will not linger to-night; here, give me your arm and I shall be well taken care of between two such gallants as Lord Rivers and yourself."
"As you will, fair Madame, and you I know will not say me nay when I ask you to bid all your guests come, as I have a word to say to them of the 'hidden wife,' society gives me."
"The bait is sufficient," she said laughing, though baffled, "they will all follow like a lot of hungry fish."
"Gad! Trevalyon," cried Lord Rivers jokingly, "she must be old! enough to come out."
"I am relieved that Trevalyon is going to make a clean breast of it; English society is degenerating," said Lord Ponsonby in severe tones to Lady Esmondet.
"Trevalyon looks as he did in the east," said Chancer to Vaura, "when one of the blacks cut poor Cecil Vaughn's throat when he lay dying, then robbed him; Trevalyon caught him in the act as he rode up, Cecil haying asked his orderly to bring him to receive his dying messages."
"No need to tell me the result Capt. Chancer. I read Sir Lionel's expression as you do, treachery lived and was extinct."
"But dear Miss Vernon, who are Cecil and the black this time? I know there has been some by-play, to which I have been oblivious, but no man would blame me."
"Not while I have heard for you," giving him a bewildering smile.
"Which means you have had no ear for me," he said, regretfully seating himself beside her on a tete-a-tete sofa, for they have now reached the salons.
"Not so, cher grumbler, for I have two ears, and while Sir Lionel's rather mournful notes entered first; your pretty nothings were blown in upon them so quickly, by some more mirthful sprite as to send his to my memory, while yours are in my ear still."
"There is so sweet a bewitchment in your healing touch, as to make a man not regret his wound."
"Come, trot her out, Sir Lionel," said Madame saucily, as she passed Vaura and Capt. Chancer, "and after I have opened the ball Lord Rivers can have her, and you and I from a tete-a-tete chair, will pronounce upon candle-moulds and ankles."
"Trevalyon will take the ankles," said Lord Rivers lazily.
"At last we are going to bag our game and I, my gold-mounted riding whip," said the huntress, who with Major Delrose seated themselves near Vaura and her cavalier.
"Why how?" asked Delrose quickly and absently, for he had been intently watching the movements of Mrs. Haughton and her escort's.
"By the bow of Diana, Major, I believe you are off the scent, though you heard me make the bet with Sir Peter Tedril on Trevalyon's wife, I bet my dog against a whip he'd take this ball as a door to trot her out by, and so make his peace with Mrs. Grundy."
"You and your dog are always game, and I take sides with you; if he brings her out at all it will be here," he said, absently. But now a look of savage hate comes to his face on seeing Mrs. Haughton smile caressingly on Trevalyon.
"Confound him," he muttered, "he bags game at will."
"Yes, his eye and touch of his hand bring us down every time. I wonder when he'll introduce her; one thing I'll wager that we women will all be hounds and run her down to, earth."
"Excuse me, Mrs. Forester, I must run over to Rose Cottage, I have a word to say to my servant, Simon."
"Oh, that's too bad! hurry back, Major, ours is the first dance," and turning to Sir Tilton, who had strolled up, "one would think the hounds were after him, instead of poor Sir Lionel Trevalyon, as we have all been lately."
"What a terrible expression came into Major Delrose's face just now, as he looked at Sir Lionel Trevalyon," said Vaura to Chancer, "if ever man was born to hunt something he looked the man."
"Yes? I did not notice, but have always thought there was a latent jealousy and dislike in his breast of Trevalyon."
"One goes hand in hand with the other," she answered.
BLACK DELROSE USES EMPHATIC LANGUAGE.
Delrose flew rather than walked to Rose Cottage muttering curses on Kate and Trevalyon as he ran. "D—- him, he has always had the best of it whenever he and I have crossed lances. Kate has loved him best all along, and did he hold up his finger she'd not go with me to-night. But by the stars she shall! I have got the upper hand of her at last by the help of the coming—. We are a daring, reckless race. Yes, she is mine at last, I can make her come, but curse that fellow, she cares most for him, but she and her gold shall be mine, and I love her as the panther its mate, as the lioness her whelps, for is she not of my blood? though I have not told her what I have known for years that the Capt. Vivian, forsooth, her father, is my first cousin. Vivian Delrose, in our family surnamed the reckless. What is she saying to him now? Heavens how hot my brain is! Gad, how far to the cottage! Even though it be to an expose, I wish I was back. I must not lose sight of her, the two hours before we are off may do me mischief—he may fall in love. She is looking splendid; all fire, gown and all! ha, ha! but," and he hissed the words between his teeth, "let him stand in my way and she woos a corpse. And now to throw as many stones in his path as Satan shows me how," and springing, rather than walking into Rose Cottage he surprised Simon in the act of discussing a bottle of Burgundy with himself. An empty decanter with the remains of some ham sandwiches were on the table. Ellen, the cook, with flushed face lay on the sofa in a deep sleep. Conspicuous on the table embroidered by the aesthetic fingers of Miranda Marchmont, were groups of potato bugs and a vial, on which in the handwriting of Delrose was the word "Chloral."
"What the devil do you mean, Simon," shouted his master, "what fool's game are you after! Nice way you're attending to my orders. What are you playing with this chloral for?"
"Well, you see, sir, cook's been spoons on me ever since you and I put up here. She was so dead gone on me when she know'd we was to go to-night—"
"You scoundrel! didn't I tell you you were to keep dark as to our leaving?"
"Please, sir, I only told her to see how she'd stare, and then I drugged her so she can't blab, out of that bottle I've seen you use, sir (with a cunning leer), more nor once. She wants to come with us, sir, she's so gone on me, sir."
"And you are gone on that bottle, or you wouldn't gabber like a fool; it's my belief you were born in a wine cask and nursed on a bottle; here, drop that glass," and snatching it from his servant's hands, he threw the contents out of the open casement; "what's that! moving away from under the window; look here, you fool, something white! only I know everyone is at the Hall, I'd say it was a girl or woman."
"No, sir; it's only the white goat as Miss Marchmont pets; she's startled me afore now, sir."
"Very well, listen; I have work for you to do, hark you, for I shall not tell it twice: Sir Lionel Trevalyon has arrived at the Hall; you know my feelings towards him."
"You don't exactly doat on him, sir."
"No; well, mark me, he has brought some people with him to swear falsely, and to clear him of all part in running off with Col. Clarmont's wife (some twelve years ago); he wants to father her on to me; as his game is to marry the new beauty, Miss Vernon; but, my man, if you will stick to it that he was the man (that all the regiment had it so), not I, your wages are doubled next quarter. And now, look you, the work I have for you since you know so well how to use this bottle, is, to get with all speed to the Hall; they will be having refreshments; you add a good sound sleep, on the plea of getting a cup of strong coffee which will steady you; force your way into whatever room they are; I wish you had not been such an ass as to take to the bottle to-night; your game is to say nothing of Paris, or of the part I played with that little fool of a Clarmont. And now away."
"Yes, sir; and I'll not fail you; it's work I like; and if I can do his cup, there will be no harm, I suppose, sir?"
"None; and you'll not regret it; only don't make a blundering idiot of yourself with all that Burgundy inside of you; put the chloral in your pocket carefully. And now for the Hall at once, and with me."
With rapid strides (Simon rather unsteady in his gait, but a wholesome dread of his master sobering him at every step) they are soon within range of the illuminated windows, and now separate to make their entree at doors for big and little flies.
AN EXPOSE, SOCIETY ON TIP-TOE.
Immediately after dinner, Blanche, who wished to perfect her own little plot, had commanded the attendance of that squire of dames, Everly, down at Rose Cottage, for half an hour, saying to him:
"Everyone will be at the Hall; cook Ellen is my friend; her plot being that I marry the Major; she is sure he talks to Mrs. Haughton for my sake (shows how perfect their tricks have been), and she (Ellen) is to be my maid and marry Simon; she's a good creature, Baronet, so she won't have her way; they never do down here; we gobble up all the bon-bons; so you be up to time; slip off after you lead Cis back from dinner; my plot wants trimming; and walls have ears here; there won't be a soul down there, or a body which would be worse."
"But I shall be missed," whined small Everly.
"Spoken like an English baronet, who don't see how small it is; you've got to come to help me fix my plot."
So after dinner, and in the corridor to the salons the wee white mouse excusing herself to her cavalier, flew softly to a cloak-room; it was only a minute, and the cloak enveloped la petite; when, with hood drawn well over the forehead, and the satin-dressed feet pushed into over-boots, she is off. Quickly she sped in and out among the trees, the wind blowing her cloak open, giving her the appearance in the shadow of a white-breasted bird on the wing, now flying, now resting in the shade, to listen for the footsteps of her expected companion when within a stone's throw of the cottage she stood.
"He's too utterly mean for anything; I see I shall have to bribe him every time," she thought; "but here he comes; I'll give him a fright," and throwing her cloak off, though chilled, she hid in the shadow and waited; but, no; it is not the expected, but Delrose flying, as we have seen him, to speak to his man.
"What's to pay now? I'll step in and hide, and not pad my ears either; he's expected too, I see, for the parlour is lit up."
In a moment Everly is forgotten in her loved game of detective. First, under the window where she was almost discovered by Delrose (as we are aware), next, the back door is entered, housemaid and small boy at the Hall, no one sees her enter, Ellen's loud breathing covering her footstep; in a few seconds she is in a pantry between dining-room and parlour. Here she heard every word that passed between them, master and man.
"The plot thickens, you bet; what a lovely time I am having, and what a thunder and lightning wretch the Major is; I don't suppose I can save those poor people, they have got ahead of me this time, in more ways than one," murmured wee Blanche, now leaving the cottage, only having given the others time to be out of sight. Half way to the Hall she meets the tardy little Everly, to whom Mrs. Forester had said, "What's up, Sir Tilton? you're as absent as a hound that's lost the scent; you are all cut up, your eyes are Miss Vernon's, your personality is the sofa's, away and find yourself, you're too tame for me, and send me Major Delrose."
"How awfully late you are," exclaimed Blanche, breathlessly, "here give me your arm."
"I regret what has been unavoidable, so many men buttonholed me" (he did not say they were duns).
"All right, Baronet, we havn't time to talk much, I'm out of breath, but I am going to have that show tonight."
"Oh! Blanche, I do wish you would wait, say even for a day or two," implored small Everly.
"Well, I guess perhaps I will," she said cunningly, not meaning to defer her intention for even an hour, "but you must do something for me then."
"Anything, anything," he cried eagerly.
"That's all O.K.; first, I must have surgeon Strange from the village double quick."
"Why, you are not ill! if so, Sir Andrew Clarke is—"
"I know he is at the Hall; don't interrupt me, he is too big a man for what I want; you must send one of the servants for Strange; I know he is to come to the ball, but if he hasn't come, fetch him right along; next, you are to be too awfully sweet for anything to Mrs. Haughton."
"Oh! Blanche, not too pronounced. I owe half the men money and want to keep in the back ground."
"I'll pay them all off to-morrow."
"Well, I suppose I must; first, you want Strange, but you don't seem ill, too bad if you have to miss the dance."
"Oh, he'll fix me up in no time; there, ta-ta, you go that way to the stables; mind, right along to me, that will fetch him."
And the wee innocent-faced this time, white mouse is in the salons quicker than it takes to tell it, even though she had first paid a flying visit to the apartments of Mrs. Haughton. "Wonder if the Colonel will dream on the cake, or take to tragedy," was her mental ejaculation on what she saw there.
Just as she entered the drawing-rooms, Trevalyon, who had evidently had a word with Delrose, judging from the look of defiance on the face of the latter as he left his side, now walked up to Colonel Haughton, seated at the end of the rooms beside Lady Esmondet, with whom he had been conversing earnestly, and said:
"Haughton, dear friend, kindly ask your guests to give me their attention for a few minutes."
On the Colonel complying with his request, Trevalyon meanwhile glancing at the gems of art around him; behind him in a niche stood a statue of Venus smiling down upon the blind god who had been making a target of her breast in which were many arrows. Vaura giving him strength by being so near, what woman whom Lionel Trevalyon would love, but would be near him. Ah! heaven, thou hast given such bliss to a few of us, as makes us long for immortality.
But Lionel is about to speak; looking around him, a settled purpose in his handsome face, he said in his musical voice:
"One could not, even in one's dreams, picture a fairer garden of society's flowers as listeners, while one tells of a plot nourished by the sting of its wasp, and smiles of its beauteous butterflies; each of our plots has its name, you all know the name of your last, you have given it to the News and Truth, and have designated it 'Trevalyon's hidden wife;' while I have come to the conclusion that, here and now, I shall introduce the wife you have given me; her entree and recital of how you have come to give her to me will be as fragrant spice to your dish of small talk, as you tread a measure in yonder ball-room."
On Trevalyon speaking of his purpose to introduce his 'hidden wife,' Delrose, who seemed to have lost all control over himself, with muttered oath, left Mrs. Forester's side, and, with rapid strides, went down the room and seated himself behind a small sofa on which were seated Mrs. Haughton and Lord Rivers, seeming too comfortable, Delrose thought; overhearing Rivers say lazily, "I wish we lived in Utah," pressing the hand concealed in the folds of scarlet satin.
"I wonder how Lady Rivers would like me; as the last, the dearest one," had said Madame, her white teeth showing.
Lord Rivers gave her a side-long glance.
"There'd be the devil to pay," said Delrose, savagely, as he sank heavily into the chair behind them; folding his arms on the back of their sofa, and between them, and leaning forward.
"You look black enough to be his dun," said Lord Rivers, carelessly.
As Sir Lionel ceased speaking, a lady, in the garb of a cloistered nun, and closely veiled, had entered with slow, uncertain step; Sir Andrew Clarke, stepping forward, offered a seat, saying, "Allow me; you seem about to faint."
"No; I thank you," she said hurriedly, "I feel quite well again, with the exception of a slight dizziness."
But in a moment, Trevalyon is beside her, whose arm she quietly takes, while he led her up the long drawing rooms, the cynosure of all eyes, giving her at the head of the room, an easy chair. At the first sound of the voice of the nun, Delrose had started violently, muttering,
"By thunder, her voice, but no! not from behind a nun's veil."
"Unveil the statue, Delrose," whispered Lord Rivers; for society was watching and listening with itching ears for more, and a pinfall could have been heard.
"Unveil her, she'll let you, if she have any charms to show," he continued lazily.
"My dear boy, do keep quiet; or perhaps you'd like to run away till the farce is over," said Madame, caressingly, for she has a penchant for the peer beside her; he is a new distraction and will amuse her until she can secure a tete-a-tete with the man who has some rare fascination for her, as Lionel Trevalyon has for many. But no, Delrose will not stir from beside the woman who has magnetised him for years. And as he keeps his position, he mentally curses Lord Rivers for his temporary monopoly of her.
Trevalyon had stepped over to Vaura on pretence, or with the excuse of borrowing her fan for the nun, he not feeling strong enough to wait any longer for a pressure of the hand; as she turned her exquisite face upwards, oh, the torture that he could not take her to his heart; but, his "hidden wife," and all the eyes. But he managed while, as if learning how to open the fan and while the attention of Chancer was momentarily engaged, to whisper, "oh darling, this ordeal is too much, why did I not fly away with you."
"My own darling," was all her eyes and lips could silently frame. But his hand brushed her arm, and with a sweet pain from heart to heart, he went from her side strengthened for the fight.
"Shall I introduce you, sister, to Mrs. Haughton and a few of my personal friends?"
"Not so, Sir Lionel, I thank you; I am dead to the world and am only here to perform a duty; the hearing of names would stir sad memories in my heart and unfit me for my task," and motioning him to bend down towards her, she said in tones only heard by him:
"Your kind heart requires sympathy; go and stay near that lovely lady you spoke to just now."
"I shall, and shall be near you also."
And though by this time half a dozen men had grouped themselves about the beauty, he got into a corner behind her, where, when they spoke, her breath fanned his cheek, or in turning, the soft bronze of her hair brushed his face.
The nun now standing up, spoke in quick, nervous tones, as follows:
"You all know why I am here; an odd figure truly in such a scene. I have been one of you, so know exactly how out of place is one in my garb, where all is gold lace and revelry. I regret to have detained you, but you gentlemen will not mind when beauty and grace are so near; and you ladies will not tire, as curiosity, your strongest trait (pardon, I, too, am a woman) is about to be gratified in my words. Vanity has been my curse, and even now it hurts me to humiliate myself to you all, so much so, that, though I pity a man who has wrongfully suffered condemnation through me for many years, I would not exonerate him were it not at the command of the church. Twelve years ago I was a young bride, and with my husband, an officer high in rank in our army, was at London. I was called pretty; I know I was worldly, foolish and vain. My husband, a very superior man (as I see men now), might have done something with me had I submitted to his guidance, but I was but seventeen, if that is any excuse for my wickedness. The officers of our regiment were as gay as their kind. I thought them all in love with me; I know men well enough since to be aware that their love was winged, and lighted where fancy willed, and pour passer le temps. My own fickle fancy," and her voice faltered, "was held by two men, antipodes each of the other; the one fair as an angel of day, who, had he bid me to his arms, ah well' though I shame to tell you, his will would have only been my wish."
Here Delrose's face grew black as he muttered, "there, too."
"The other man, dark as a storm-tossed sky, bewitched me also, and he did will that I should be wholly his, and conquered; I, at last, giving him my whole heart, and passionately loving him and him alone." Here the slight figure swayed and would have fallen, but Vaura and others were beside her; in a moment she again stood erect, waving them away saying: "'Tis the weakness of the flesh; but let me do my poor weak nature justice, I could conquer my feelings better, but that the wine I drank on entering after my journey, and to nerve me to my task, was drugged."—sensation—"but to my penance; I consented to leave my husband, and with the man of whom I last spoke; on pretence of visiting friends, I went to Paris; my lover obtaining leave of absence at the same time for himself, and with deep cunning, inducing his brother officer to do likewise; for though unlike, still, both as gay society men and of the same regiment, were a good deal together. The one honourable, the other, as I have found him to my sorrow. The one 'in all his gay affaires de coeur, never desecrating a hearth-stone;' this he told me on seeing" here her voice broke, "on seeing my love for him; I hope he will forgive my breach of confidence; this was previous to my dark lover having gained my heart. We lived as man and wife at Paris; he, returning to his regiment before his leave had expired, told me I must write to his brother officer at his hotel to come and see me on a certain day; I obeyed blindly; he came, and my lover managed so that his own servant should call at the same time with messages from England, bogus and with no reference to himself. The servant (the same man who drugged my wine to-night) returned to his regiment with the information that I was living a Paris with the other officer, who, returning to England, on his furlough lapsing, was called out by my husband, who was worsted in the duel. My lover was waited on by the man he had wronged (I mean his brother officer, not my husband), who implored him to own up. My lover said it would ruin him; he had nothing but his sword; he must get his promotion; he would marry me as soon as his Colonel secured a divorce, etc. The other man consented to bear the stigma, as it would be best for me, and until a divorce was obtained, the man of honour sold out; my lover was promoted. So does the green bay tree flourish. The divorce was obtained; my lover, though visiting me frequently, and always unsuspected, at each visit swore to marry me at the next, but instead, deserted me just three months previous to the birth of our child, with no means of support, moving from lodging to lodging, living by the sale of my jewels; at last when these failed, getting bread for myself and child by giving a few music lessons to the poor people's children. But now, hearing that the man for whom I had given up all, had sold out, and now the avowed admirer of a wealthy American at New York, U.S.A., I gave up; my pitiable loneliness, poverty, failing health were too much and I completely broke down. You will wonder how I, in my retirement, heard of his unfaithfulness. Just about eight years ago, a creature who had once paid me compliments, a dissolute man, found me out, telling me my lover had sent him; he renewed his odious addresses. Some of my women hearers will be shocked to hear me tell of declarations of love of this kind, but when a woman takes the step I did, she must accept such; one cannot play with pitch and escape defilement, and though I loathed the messenger and his words it would have been an incongruity to say so; so when he said I had best take the sunny side of life's boulevard with him, with forced calmness I refused and decidedly. On his taking a reluctant leave, I fell into a death-like swoon, and so, good Father Lefroy, the parish priest found me. But to hasten (you can easily I believe I had been an extremely careless religionist). The kind sisters of a neighbouring convent brought me and my little son to their hospital, and nursed me back to more than my former health. I embraced their faith, and at my earnest entreaty they accepted me as a member of their order, and I trust by zeal in good works to atone for the wickedness of my past life. My boy, I have given as a sin offering to the church. And now the penance imposed upon me is finished, save in a few concluding words. I say most solemnly, upon oath, that what I have said and am about to say is the truth. The man I spoke of at first, as handsome as an angel of day, and to whom you have given me as hidden wife, is Sir Lionel Trevalyon. The man with whom I eloped, and who finally won my love, is the father of my child and is Major Delrose; for I am none other than Fanny Ponton, at one time wife to Colonel Clarmont." At these words, the poor thing gave way, but the wee white mouse, who had gradually from pillar to post reached the head of the room is beside her, first sending Everly to the side of Madame, saying, "Make love to her openly, to-night, and to my banker to-morrow." And now the pink eyes peer through the black veil as she whispers, "you'll have another 'pick me up;' where's the small bottle? I saw them and the priest is aching to come right along. What a dear little boy, but the bottle, quick!"
"You are very kind; it is in my pocket." A wine-glass is brought and the contents swallowed.
In the meantime Colonel Haughton, Claxton, Wingfield, and others came forward, congratulating Sir Lionel, while some of the loveliest women, glad of his freedom, did likewise. Meanwhile Sir Peter Tedril had "come hastily to the little group around Madame, just as she was saying jestingly to Delrose—
"Come, George, own up, you and the nun are a black pair. Hadn't I better go and pat and purr over dear Sir Lionel?"
"None of your chaff, Kate, I am in no mood to stand it; the ball is at his feet now, it will be at mine ere sunrise," he said savagely, and with latent meaning.
"That's right, Delrose," said Tedril, mistaking his purpose. "Whether she is yours or his does not signify; throw down the gauntlet; give her the lie; tell her she is an adventuress; anything! to put a spoke in Trevalyon's wheel; all the women go with him; a man has no chance," drawing himself up to his full height of five feet five inches, and pulling his whiskers furiously; "even with a handle to his name, and an M.P.; if you don't care to go in yourself, let Rivers, Everly, or myself be your spokesman."
"Leave me out, Tedril, please," said Lord Rivers lazily; "I'd rather be all eyes and ears just at present," drawing closer to Madame, and being for the moment proprietor of her fine arm, lace wraps telling no tales. "I vote Delrose kiss and make up, so we see the statue unveil." At this there was laughter, when Rivers continued: "Don't look black as a storm-tossed sky, Delrose, as the veiled lady hath it. I dare say honours were divided between you and Trevalyon."
"Both soldiers, they went to war and vanquished a woman, eh, Georgie?" said Kate, still laughing; "they all do it. Even my spouse, Saint Eric, is laying siege to that women in violet velvet."
"While scarlet is our colour," cried Everly, gallantly, as Mrs. Forester and others joined the group, while the huntress exclaimed—
"Speak, Major; say you deny the wooing and the wooer. Black isn't our colour, so for fun we'll pelt the robed one."
Delrose, pushed to it and full of hate to Trevalyon, excited, and as was usual, reckless (knowing also what his plot was for this very night; knowing, too, how that act would be canvassed at dawn; when society! in her chaste morning robe would look shocked at what she would wink at at midnight, and in her robe de chambre), electrified the groups of wasps and butterflies, in their musical mur-mur and whirr-whirr, by standing up and saying, in a tone of bravado—
"A pretty plot and well got up for a fifth-rate theatre, but not for a drawing-room in Belgravia I need scarcely say I deny the charge, the object of which is to free a man from a 'hidden wife' to enable him to wed a new beauty with us to-night. (Sensation). Sir Lionel Trevalyon has lately come into the possession of much gold; the Church of Rome hath a fancy for the yellow metal; if the woman robed as a nun be a nun, then she is only adding to the coffers of the church by speaking the words we have heard. If she even be the one-time wife of poor Colonel Clarmont, society, knowing a thing or two (excuse the slang), will place no reliance on the story of such an one."
To attempt to describe the effects of the words of Delrose on the gay groups of revellers would be impossible. Butterflies and wasps forgot for a moment their beauty and their sting. It was as though Dame Rumour and Mrs. Grundy were struck blind and dumb, their lovers faithless, or Worth dead! But now the Babel of tongues fills the air, and silence lays down her sceptre to go forth into the night alone.
"Isn't it too delightful! a double scandal!" cried one.
"Alas! alas! that my day should be in such an age," said Lord Ponsonby.
"I wonder who it is darling Sir Lionel wishes to marry," said another. At this remembering rivalry got on the war path, as each looked critically at the other.
"Trevalyon would be a decent fellow enough if you did not all kneel to him," growled a county magnate. "I wish he would go to Salt Lake city and take his harem with him."
"I wonder if he has his eye on me," cried gay Mrs. Wingfield; "you men do sometimes take a fancy to other men's belongings. If he does I shall have to succumb instanter. Eustace, dear fellow, has rather a consumptive look, now I come to notice him."
"He may drop off in time," laughed the huntress; "but I am afraid I've lost my whip," she added, dolefully, brushing past Colonel Haughton, standing beside Lady Esmondet, and conversing in an undertone with Claxton and Trevalyon.
"Lost your whip!" exclaimed her host with forced gaiety; "that dare-devil has picked it up, then."
"Say that he only has the whip-hand pour le present, dear Sir Lionel," said Mrs. Wingfield, taking both his hands in a pretty, beseeching way.
"Or we women shall eat our hearts out in pity for your chains," said Vaura softly, coming near him.
"You are a pretty group of gamblers," he said, thinking there had been a wager among them; "but I must win when fair hands throw the dice."
Delrose had unconsciously given his foe some ecstatic moments, for the crowd so pressed about him to hear what answer he would make to the bold denial of the black-bearded Major that Vaura was close enough to hear his heart-beats, and to whom he whispered brokenly—
"All the nun's words will not avail, darling, after his false denial; I must bring on my other proofs for both our sakes, beloved."
"Poor, tired Lion.; I wish I could help you," she whispered from behind her fan, and he felt her yield to the pressure of the crowd and come closer.
"You do, sweet; I feel just now strong and weak; you understand?"
One glance up from her fan and he is satisfied.
But the conjectures as to whether Sir Lionel will or can reply to Delrose are put to rest by his voice again filling the air—
"To seem, and to be, are as unlike as are the hastily constructed bulwarks of the savage tribes as compared with a solid British fortress; we soldiers know this, and that Major Delrose. should still entrench himself behind the flimsy seeming of days of yore, where he was safe through my careless good-nature (we shall call it), in allowing it to be supposed that I had robbed Colonel Clarmont of his wife, submitting to the stigma so that his act would not stand in the way of his promotion as this poor nun has told you; you will wonder why I was careless. Because, for reasons of my own, I had forsworn matrimony, as I then thought, for all time. But Madame Grundy has lately revived this scandal, making a lash for my back with it for the hands of Dame Rumour. I have determined to stamp it out at once, and for ever! And now to pull down the bulwarks of Major Delrose." And holding up his hand, a signal agreed on with his servant, Sims at once ushered a priest and a small boy, who was masked, and who walked, as if asleep, up to the head of the room. Father Lefroy, saying a word to the nun in an undertone, lifted the boy to a chair beside her; now, standing beside them, in calm measured tones, he spoke as follows:—
"We priests of the church have too many strange experiences to be very much astonished at any new one, yet I must say that to hear the words, on oath, of one of our pious sisterhood doubted is a novel sensation. Major Delrose is unwise in his present course of action, as he has by such prolonged a most painful duty on the part of the church. Sir Lionel Trevalyon will pardon me for saying he was wrong in wearing the mantle of dishonour for another; the lining, a good motive, was unseen by the jealous eye of society, hence, when the lash was put into her hands by revenge or envy, her motive power, it, the lash, went down; Sir Lionel Trevalyon has had his punishment. With unwearied exertion he has found Sister Magdalene through Paris, at London, and she has spoken the truth, and Major Delrose knows it. Moreover, and in connection with his name, we have examined papers, letters to Sister Magdalene, previous to and after her elopement, thus proving her words. Again, I may say here, for I have grave doubts of his having done so, six months ago I received from Father O'Brien, of New York city, same mail as he wrote Major Delrose, whose acquaintance he had made in that city in 1873, and believing by his words that he was an intimate friend of the house of Haughton, wrote him, as I say, of dying messages, and a few lines to a niece of Colonel Haughton, by name Vaura Vernon, and from Guy Cyril Travers."
At this, Vaura started, turned pale and visibly trembled, putting her hand to her side, when half a dozen men started to their feet; but Lionel quietly put her arm within his and led her to a seat behind a large stand covered with rare orchids and beautiful ferns, where, did she not revive, the open doors of the conservatory lent a means of speedy retreat.
"My own love, be brave; it was six months ago," he whispered, bending over her, and puzzled at her great emotion; "I know it, dear; and yet dead, poor, poor Guy: I have been always unpitying towards him. But did he say he was dead! let me hear; he will tell more; but in this crowd!" And she leaned forward, her large eyes glistening, the rose mouth quivering. Lady Esmondet silently joined her, as did her uncle, who, ever and anon shot fiery glances of contempt at Delrose, who, with bold recklessness, still leaned forward on his folded arms, between Madame and Lord Rivers. But the priest, instead of continuing aloud, came to Vaura's side, saying quickly and in low tones:
"Pardon; this is; yes, I see it is society's rarest flower—Miss Vernon; you have been hidden from me by those who would sun themselves in your smiles; else had I seen you, whom I know from the London shop-windows: should have told you quietly of Father O'Brien's letter, as I see by your emotion, black Delrose has been faithless to his trust."
"He has; tell me of poor Guy; did you say he is dead?" she asked, in broken accents, her eyes full; "tell me quickly; now, here; I can bear it."
"It was only a scrawl; he was dying, and signed your—your husband; he had been stricken down by fever; your name was ever on his lips; he said you loved Paris, and he would be buried there; he had loved you all his life; he was glad to go; you were not to shed one tear for him, but to make some one blest by your love; your miniature was to be buried with him; he is in paradise; you must not weep for him, and so cause others to weep for you."
"I shall not forget to remember your kindness," she said, giving her hand, the tears welling her eyes; "Sir Lionel Trevalyon will perhaps bring me out to your monastery."
"I thank you, and for our Order," and moving away to his former position, he continued:
"I have now finished my task, self-imposed and in the ends of justice; Sir Lionel Trevalyon is free to go to God's altar with the proudest and fairest woman in the world; and may the blessing of heaven rest upon his union. Had he not exposed the facts, he could not have wed, while your lips framed the word—bigamist!"
Here the boy started violently, put up his hands to his face, tearing off the mask, and rubbing his eyes.
"Where am I, Father Lefroy? you're not on the square; you said I was going to see my mother; come, own up; what did you say I was coming where every one wore masks for?" and he stamped on the one he had torn off (and which they thought it best he should wear, so that at a certain point, if necessary, his strong resemblance to his father should be suddenly revealed).
"So they do wear masks, my son, though you do not see them."
"I am not your son; this is my father," he said with emphasis and pride, drawing from his pocket a miniature of Delrose; "we're square now; you hid this from me, but I found it out; you cannot put me on bread and water, for I've good as cut and run."
"George, dear, be a good boy; I am your mother," said the poor nun, tearfully.
"You! well, it is your voice; but why didn't you speak to a fellow in the coach, and lift up that nasty black veil; here, I will."
And before she could stop him, he had mounted the chair and torn the whole head-gear off, exposing the face of one-time Mrs. Clarmont.
"'Tis she! 'tis she!" echoed many voices;—girls, now matrons, remembered the pretty little thing in their first season as Mrs. Clarmont; chaperons and men, who had and hadn't flirted with her, remembered her as Fanny Ponton.
"Let me go to her," said Vaura, gently; "what is my grief to hers?"
"Ah, poor thing, what a sad fate has yours been; do not hide your face again from your poor little boy and us; dear me, what a weight it is; one would almost smother beneath its folds."
"Oh, I must veil," cried the poor thing.
"No; leave it off, daughter; it is my wish society shall see in you Trevalyon's 'hidden wife;' all have heard your words; mine and this lad's," said the priest, sternly.
Nearly every inmate of the long rooms had eagerly and excitedly pushed and crowded, squeezed and crushed as near as possible to the principal actors in the scenes they had witnessed, making very conspicuous the attitude taken by the group in and about the curtained recess; namely, the scarlet-robed hostess; Lord Rivers, pleasantly placed, and too lazy and epicurean to move; Delrose, in the blackness of alternate rage, hate and defiance, longing to cut the scene, but unwilling to leave the field to Lord Rivers, and those he termed his foes; Kate, afraid to stir, for he had said between his teeth, "You won't go near them." Tedril, with the huntress, stood beside them; while small Everly, accustomed to the role and remembering the mutual promise of Blanche and himself, sat at the feet of Madame, alternating fanning or saying something pretty to her, nerved to his task by the fact that Tisdale Follard, who had just bought his M.P., had told him "he must and would have his money at dawn."
But the boy with eager eyes is pushing his way through the crowds and down to the sofa of Madame; all gazing after him; but nothing abashed, he elbows his way (a bold fearless boy, a very Delrose, with nothing of his mother in him); now with an intent stare at his father, then a long look at the miniature, said with a great sigh and slowly:
"No; I suppose you're not my pater; when I find him he won't scowl at a fellow," with a loving glance at the likeness, which was of Delrose in full-dress uniform, smiling and handsome, taken with his thoughts full of his triumphant affaire de coeur with Mrs. Clarmont.
"I am no mean sneak, sir; so I'll show you the likeness of my father to excuse my staring at you like a cad;" and he handed it to Delrose who did not take it, Kate doing so, but he had recognised the case on the boy taking it from his breast.
"Thanks, no;" he said, with affected bravado, for society eyed him; "the young monkey plays his part well; if the thing even is of me, light fingers at times lighten one's belongings."
"It is of you, dear Georgie," said Kate, recklessly; "your family is increasing."
"If you say so, it must be so," he said, his bold black eyes meeting hers.
Mrs. Haughton now handed the miniature back to the boy, who, after returning it carefully to his pocket, said proudly, and looking fixedly at his father:
"If you were a boy, I'd give you one right out from the shoulder for what you've said of me;" and turning on his heel, he was making his way for the head of the room, when Madame, obeying impulse, called out laughingly:
"How have your owners called you my little man?"
"George Delrose Ponton is my name, Madame;" and with one hand to his breast, where the miniature lay, he again pushed his way through the groups of revellers.
"A speech from the throne could not have been given with more dignity than the poor fatherless little fellow gives his name," said Vaura, pityingly.
"My dear mother has fainted, sir;" the boy said, ignoring priest and women, and instinctively choosing the face full of strength and sweetness, the face men and children trusted and women loved—that of Lionel Trevalyon.
"Poor boy, poor thing, so she has while our attention has been diverted."
The meeting of father and son had been more than she could bear, and at the answer of Delrose to their child, she had fallen back in her chair in a dead faint.
"Poor creature, no wonder she gave way, I must get her out of this crowd."
"Bring her to my boudoir, Sir Lionel; touch that bell, Sir Tilton, please," cried Mrs. Haughton, thinking exultantly, "now is my opportunity to have him to myself, I shall open the ball with Lord Rivers at once, and then—" Mason appearing "lead the way to my boudoir and attend to this lady who has fainted."
"When she revives she will like some one besides a strange maid with her," said Colonel Haughton, as Lionel picked, the nun up in his strong arms; "you had better go too, Vaura dear."
Trevalyon looked his approval saying "come."
"Yes, you come, too," and the boy's hand slipped into hers.
And so Vaura, her trailing skirts of cream satin, front width richly embroidered in gold floss, with the perfume of tea roses from her corsage and bouquet she carried, in all the fulness of her rich beauty, with proud head bent as she chatted with the dark-eyed, black-haired boy beside her, followed Trevalyon with his burden and the priest who walked at his side.
ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE.
"Outwitted this time," mused Madame, greatly mortified at seeing Vaura retire with the group, "but I must make one more appeal to him alone," and tapping Lord Rivers on the arm with her fan, said gaily, "To the halls of Comus; we want a change of scene, black is a trying colour."
At this moment Blanche, her hand on Everly's arm, entered from the dining-room, whither with cunning forethought she had told him just five minutes previously she wished to go, with "I feel played out after all this sensation, we had best go for something exhilirating," thinking, as she returned "he'll stand it better now, and I'm not one moment too soon," leading her unsuspecting escort up to Madame, who stood leaning on the arm of Lord Rivers, her husband near welcoming late arrivals; and the air was sweet with perfume, and laden with the ceaseless murmur and everlasting whir-whir with the music of the laughter of the beautiful, the noble, and the fair, and as they follow, and crowd around Madame, their goal, the ball-room, some condole with others on their later entree, saying, "Oh, darling! what! you have missed such a sensation!" or "Oh! you should have been here earlier, Lady Eldred, our pet of pets, Sir Lionel Trevalyon, is free;" or "a nun nobodys child, and no end of fun, Stuart," again, "no end of a time, Delrose has posed as Lucifer, Trevalyon, as all the angels."
"Vaura Vernon is here, I am among her slain; she's a nymph, a goddess and a woman; she's the only one for me," said Chancer, feelingly.
"All the others are frocks and frizzes," laughed his friend, who had never seen her. "Listen, Chancer, what's the go now? that little girl with all the tin, red eyes, pads and bustles, is getting up a row of some sort; let's get in."
The face of Mrs. Haughton was a study and the groups about her reflected the various emotions depicted there. For Blanche had said, the white mouse, wearing her innocent air "Oh, step-moma darling!"
"Never used a term of endearment before; going to say something nasty," thought Mrs. Haughton.
Oui, ma chere Madame; yours is an unerring instinct; does not puss purr, then scratch? does not the snake charm, then sting? And so the white mouse said, "Oh, step-moma darling, just one minute, I've been up to a lark, and now present myself to you as Lady Everly; of course you will feel too awfully small for anything, when I take precedence of you; but you are so fond of the Baronet, it was nice of me to keep him in the family;" this she said without a shadow; of self-consciousness, so intent was she in watching the effect of her words on her Step-mother, using her pocket-handkerchief at every word, her escapade in the park adding to the red of the eyes and tiny nose, looking too as if her robes would fall off the green satin waist, so low, and velvet train so heavy. Oblivious was she of even the small baronet, on whose arm she leaned, and who trembled with nervousness and mortification at the manner blanche had chosen to offer them up to Mrs. Grundy. The wedding cards the lady of Everly had presented, ere making her little speech, were dropped to the floor, while madame said haughtily.
"Blanche Tompkins, you are mad to parade yourself in this manner," and smiling cynically, "your attendant cavalier wears quite a jubilant air, looking so proud of his proximity to such a conventional belle of the evening. What with 'hidden wife,' and this little farce, the place smells of brimstone; let us all away," she said with a forced laugh, "to the halls of Comus and a purer sphere; Lord Rivers, your arm."
"Everly," demanded his host, "what is the meaning of all this?" having heard from Tisdale Follard, not two hours before, that Mrs. Haughton had given him permission to press his suit with Miss Tompkins, Madame always considering Everly her own property.
"Allow me one moment," said Delrose following Kate in her exit. "I find I must bid you and the Colonel adieu; I go to London by the midnight, from whence I think, across the water."
In spite of herself the colour came and went in Kate's cheeks.
"Are they all mad," she thought; "is he acting or what?"
The Colonel, relieved, and still feeling that he did not much care, now that he had the sympathetic friendship of Alice Esmondet near, whether he remained at Rose cottage or no, still said, giving his hand.
"I wish you a pleasant trip."
"I doubt it," said Delrose inwardly; outwardly, "thank you," and being a born actor, continued carelessly, "I shall be as happy and free from care as the waves on the sportive ocean, for congratulate me, I bring my bride with me, no 'hidden wife,' though the News and Daily will have us; Truth also, will have a hand in," and he added lightly, "when a man knows editors and that ilk will shortly wet their pens for him, he may as well whet the appetite of society by saying only this and nothing more. In my bride of the sea, you will see a fair cousin of my own, the daughter of Vivian Delrose," and turning to Kate, whom he had furtively watched said, as he bid her adieu, "by gaining a wife I lose a hostess, who has won my heart." With a few careless words to the others, this man than whom no other ever held his own through life and in spite of fate better, now made his exit.
WEE DETECTIVE PLAYS A WINNING CARD.
From the time Fanny Clarmont has appeared like a ghost of the departed, Delrose determined to get rid of the bother of it all by going at once to Rose Cottage; the huntress to whom he had been engaged for the first dance he handed over to Tedril. He would write Kate from the cottage, but first, he would punish her for torturing him, by lingering with Trevalyon and giving her smiles to Lord Rivers, by a public little speech as to his leave-taking, and keep her preoccupied by his avowal as to who was to accompany him, (she knowing naught of their relationship) as to give her no taste for flirtation. (Simple Simon could not read her, she is a woman!)
"It is now nearly eleven o'clock, I shall keep her in suspense for half an hour or so, then she is mine. Gad! I have won a prize, a fierce, passionate, untamable, flesh-and-blood beauty, full of love or full of hate, strong in body, mind and appetite; and she does care for my devotion, we were born for each other; what a life we shall have, thank fate I never was foolish enough to throw myself away on that little, timid, shrinking, silly Fanny Clarmont," and he leaped and ran to Rose Cottage, some times with a loud laugh, startling the night birds, as he thought of the woman and her gold.