Kate had shivered as with a chill at Delrose's words, when Lord Rivers had said:
"Come and take a glass of something warm, you have been standing too long."
"You are kind," she said, recovering herself, "it gives one a chill to lose two men in one night; yes, thank you, a glass of champagne, t'will be a more pleasant sensation than the three brides, but let them beware; I shall have their husbands at my feet again; and now for the dance."
"I shall make you forget them."
"A deserted room; a dim, religious light; a female form too tempting to resist," he said, lazily, and in her ear.
"Well," said Kate, drooping her eyelids, knowing what the result of this speech would be.
"Well, my charmer," and the kiss and embrace were given.
"You naughty man, but I do really need some extra support for my spinal column, and it's awfully pleasant, but dear Grundy won't allow it, so we must wait for our waltz."
And the pair hurried along the corridors and took their places at the head of the room, and the ball was opened.
Col. Haughton, as we are aware, had demanded an explanation of the words of Blanche from Sir Tilton. The rooms had been deserted, save by those to whom a dish of gossip was as the essence of life, and who now listened with itching ears to Sir Tilton's reply, while they tried to remember the extent of the eccentric little bride's wealth. Whether she would buy a house in town; nearly all deciding that they would patronize or cultivate her.
"She is outree and bad form, but she has the dollar and she'll be game for those who havn't," said a London beau to Chancer, who hadn't gone to the ball-room, but was eating his heart out in feverish impatience for his waltz (the third dance on the programme) with Vaura.
"Sorry you didn't like it, Colonel, but Blanche would have our marriage private." He did not add that he said no word to dissuade her; as the Jews would have none of him, and his friends had buttoned up their pockets telling him "to wipe out old scores first."
As it was, wife, trip, special license and all that had cost him not a sou, except the ring, and his freedom, which he considered ample equivalent.
"Yes; it's all my fault, Colonel; but you are too awfully nice to be angry with a bride, you know; and besides," she added in a stage whisper, the pink eyes peering about, a childish look of anxiety coming to the wee white face, as if to protect herself against listeners who would carry her words to Madame in reality; aching to see some of her step-mother's pets within earshot, to be sure her words would carry.
Fire away, little one, 'tis an ancient war you are waging of woman versus woman; make your bullets; many are by who will pelt with true aim.
"And besides, Colonel, Mrs. Haughton is so fond of Sir Tilton she would never, no, never, have let me have him, so I let him make love to her up to the very last, and she—"
At this juncture Colonel Haughton, whose nerves were terribly unstrung, breathed an inward blessing upon Lady Esmondet, who, laying her hand on the shoulder of the little one, said, "Tell us where you were married, dear?"
"Oh, that's all square; at St. Alban's yesterday at Matins; but it was an awful pity; scarcely anyone saw us. Guess it's legal though, eh, Tilton?"
"When did you leave Haughton Hall, Everly?" inquired his host, almost fearing some indiscretion would be brought to light.
"Yesterday, a.m., first train; took carriage for St. Albans; Blanche telephoned for suite of apartments at hotel; left London to-day; so here we are again."
The absence of his hostess and Vaura, also the look of respect in the faces of his creditors all gave the little baronet courage to speak.
"Show me the marriage certificate, Everly. Ah, that's right, and I congratulate you both; Blanche is her own mistress, and—"
"And, Lady Everly, don't give up the situation to anybody," a comical look of importance on the wee face. Any men in the rooms who had the haziest knowledge of the little man about town, now swarmed small Everly with congratulations on his golden future, excepting Tisdale Pollard, M.P., who did not care to have his debt paid by Everly from the pocket of Blanche. But he must not forget himself; he will console himself with the Tottenham money bags; so giving his arm to Cecilia, bosom friend of Blanche, they join the group; the Tottenham pouting.
"What's the matter, Cis?" cried Blanche. "You have a greenery yellowy look, and remind me of Bunthorn and the forlorn maidens all rolled up together and sent in by parcel post."
"If I do, it's your fault, Blanche, and you are extremely unkind," she said, tearfully. "You know you promised only the other day that when you were married I should be first bridesmaid and choose my own frock, and I did, and it just suited my complexion, especially in church, with the lights from the stained windows upon it. I just dreamed of it night and day; it's really too disappointing!"
"Is that all, Cis? I might as well cry because my pug is a shade lighter than my new winter costume I ordered to match his coat. Don't cry and you shall have a chair in my boudoir just to suit your complexion (for I am going to buy an awfully nice town house)."
"Might have said we," thought her husband, but he swelled himself like Froggie in the fable.
"Now, Cis," continued la petite, "isn't that a nice sugar plum for you?"
"Sugar plum for me!" said Stuart, who thoroughly enjoyed a bit of chaff with wee Blanche, "Sugar plum for me! Think I require one to console me for Sir Tilton running off with you?"
"You're too big a humbug to get any from me, Mr. Stuart. Barnum's umbrella wouldn't begin to take you in; if you try and be a good young man, perhaps you'll get one over there," she added irreverently.
"Why, that's in the direction of Mrs. Haughton's boudoir, you very naughty girl," laughed Stuart. "I wonder if I would, though; I must find some one to sympathise with."
"Bunthorn again," laughed Mrs. Wingfield; "you had better apply for the vacant footstool."
"Never get a softer seat, Stuart," said small Everly, looking as important as the lords of the Berlin treaty.
"I'm too awfully too ashamed of you, Baronet," said his bride. "You're as demoralized as all the New York theatres rolled in one."
"Lady Everly," said Stuart, solemnly and consulting his tablets, "I am aware of your weakness for small people," with a side glance, "small plots and puzzles. Read this one for me, please: where am I to find Miss Tompkins, to whom I am engaged for this dance?"
"Guess you'll have to put up with Lady Everly," she said, saucily.
"You don't care to go to the ball room yet, Alice; we have so much to say," said Col. Haughton, bending down to the sweet, calm face looking up to his so earnestly, and marking the deepening lines of care and unrest.
"No, Eric; sit down beside me, you look weary; I have seen so little of you of late."
"And the guests come and go or talk in groups of this night of sensation; or in these luxurious soft-lighted salons, give themselves up to the delicious intoxication of some loved presence. How many a passionate heart throb, how many sweet pains are engendered in one's heart, how many sighs given and returned, what tender passages on such nights! And what would a ball be without this undercurrent of what we call flirtation; in reality, this yearning for the one in the multitude.
"Why, Chancer, what's come to you, man? You remind one of a spirit in Elysian fields in search of its mate," said Stuart, as he strolled about with Lady Everly on his arm.
"Pretty scene, Chancer," said Lord Rivers, lazily, and stationing himself in the curtained entrance to look out for some one to kill time with until his hostess is his own again. "Fine show of arm and neck there; pretty woman that; ah, there's an ankle; trust them, they all know their good points. Fine pair of eyes; there's a neck for you; but what's the matter with you, man, now I come to look at you you wear a lost look; is it Fate, Fortune, or one of the Graces?"
"The three in one, Rivers," he said with a half-laugh.
"Did you say you had lost some one, Capt. Chancer? Perhaps I can tell you; I know every nook and corner in the hall," said the Meltonbury, insinuatingly, coming from the other side of the curtains, where she had ensconced herself to watch for the return of Madame on hearing Lady Everly's speech in the stage whisper.
"How angry the dear thing will be," she thought importantly, "when I tell her." And now in her character of social astronomer she levels her glass at Chancer.
"Oh, thank you, I shall be so obliged," he said eagerly; "I am in search of Miss Vernon; our waltz is on."
"So! so! no wonder you are eager," but Chancer is out of hearing, so swiftly has he followed Mrs. Meltonbury to the boudoir of Madame.
"An armful, seductive enough for Epicurus himself," thought Lord Rivers; "and so is my superb hostess, full of fire and great go; the Colonel is too quiet to master her; wonder what attracted them; gad! what a different linking there would be if all existing marriages were somehow declared null and void. Kate Haughton and Vaura Vernon would be the most powerful magnets at London; even as it is, they will. Clarmont will be rather surprised to hear that Delrose was the partner of the fair Fan's flight; gad! he managed that well; Trevalyon is so devilish handsome and distingue, I wonder Delrose won; but I forget, Trevalyon had no penchant that way; believe he has for the fair Vernon though; who wouldn't? If she tell him yea, I wonder what sort of a married woman she will develop into; they say she is perilously seductive and fascinating; but my charmer said she'd have an ice quietly with me in her boudoir, at a quarter to eleven; it's that now; splendid eyes she has, and what a shoulder and arm! but, ah! this won't do; I must look after my interests."
And the lazy epicurean musings give place to eager activeness on seeing in the distance the trailing red satin skirts of Madame; her fine arm in its whiteness resting on the black coat sleeve of Capt. Chancer.
Let retrace our steps and thoughts to the time Lionel, with Sister Magdalen in his arms, the priest at his side, Vaura and the boy, child of Fanny Ponton, made their sensational exit down the long lengths of the luxurious salons. Mason had ushered them into the deserted boudoir of her mistress, where every sense was pandered to; here one was lulled into waking or sleeping dreams by the ever soft light, dim and rose-tinted; or when old Sol rode high in the heavens, triumphant in his gift of day, sending his beams through stained windows or rose-silk hangings. The soft light shone alike upon gems in sculpture and art on the walls painted in dreamy soul-entrancing landscapes, or gay grouping of the Graces; if the pictured female loveliness was clad only in feathery clouds of fleecy drapery, the few thought the painter might have been more lavish of robing; but the room was warm with gay laughter, warm with the sweet breath of warm hearts, with the warmth of the rose-tinted lights clothing the ethereal loveliness on its walls; and now, falling on one of the loveliest women in the kingdom, thought Trevalyon, as laying his burden on a soft velvet lounge, his eyes dwelt on Vaura's beauty, for they are alone once more, Father Lefroy having left the boudoir with Mason to summon Sir Andrew Clarke, as they could not restore the nun unaided.
"In dual solitude once more, my beloved;" and she is in his close embrace; her large eyes in their soft warmth rest on his; one, long kiss is given—one long sigh.
"Save for the boy, darling," Vaura smiles; releasing herself, her quickened heart-beats deepening the rose-tints in her cheeks.
Here the physician entered, having despatched Mason for his servant with medicine case.
"Too great a strain upon her nerves, poor thing," said Sir Andrew Clarke; "most trying scene for her; then the narcotic administered, as she has informed us, by the servant of her betrayer; I heartily congratulate you, Trevalyon, on the light she has thrown upon this matter, and none too soon, either, as Delrose is leaving England. You have no idea, Miss Vernon, I assure you, of the talk there has been; our newspapers are a great power in all English-speaking lands, and their managers being aware our colonies take their cue from them (in a great measure), do as a rule keep their heel on Rumour's tongue, unless it wags on oath."
"Yes; and as a rule shut their eyes to the yellow sheen from the gold in her palm, Sir Andrew," said Vaura, earnestly thinking of how Lionel had suffered from it all.
"True, most true; but the revival of this scandal with the unwearied persistence of its sensational colouring and reproduction from week to week, lead one to suppose gold lent life and vim to each issue; though again, I am sure, our great papers are above a bribe, and it must have been vouched for on oath. Do you purpose interviewing the newspaper men, Trevalyon?" he inquired, taking the medicine chest from his servant and dismissing him.
"I think not (more than I have done); I dislike paper war and oath was made as to the truth of the lie to the managers; I suppose I am lazy; at all events I am epicurean enough to hug to my breast the rest after unrest;" and the mesmeric eyes meet Vaura's, while Esculapius is searching his medicine case.
"Poor fellow, you do require rest," she said, gently turning her face up to Sir Lionel's, for she is seated at the table, both elbows thereon, chin and cheeks supported in her hands; "if we put ourselves in his place, Sir Andrew, fancy what rest we should have, in the full glare of a stare from Mrs. Grundy, while the unruly member of Dame Rumour wagged in our ear. If I were in your place, Sir Lionel, I should give no more thought to the matter; you have given the truth to-night to gentle woman, who will give it to the London world; Adam will only taste through Eve's palate; and the mighty Labouchere, Lawson & Co. will cry joyfully, 'hear! hear!'"
Both the men laughed.
"You see, my dear surgeon, Eve endorses my policy, and thinks the sisterhood a better mode of communication than telephone or telegraph!"
"Could have no better newsmongers as a rule, Trevalyon; but there are Eve and Eves, and when I have a secret to confide, I shall tell it to your charming supporter; and when I have spoken, shall feel sure ''tis buried, and her fair person the grave of it.'"
"Merci! Sir Andrew, your secret will be safe; and now that I have such a mission, from this hour you are my medical adviser, as you will have a double interest in knowing my pulse beats. But, see, the skill of my Esculapius triumphs."
"'Tis so; the nun revives," echoed Sir Lionel, withdrawing his gaze from Vaura's face.
"Revives! I am glad to hear that," cried Madame, entering, her hand on the arm of Capt. Chancer, whom she had met at the door, and followed by the priest.
"Yes; I am glad she is better, for I want a private word with you, Sir Lionel. Capt. Chancer has come to carry off Miss Vernon; the priest to carry off the nun, and—"
"With all our world in couples linked, her tete-a-tete will be secured," said Vaura to Chaucer's ear, as they made their exit, and banishing thoughts of poor Guy Travers, the sensational events of the evening having for the time blotted from her memory the words of Madame and Delrose in the library before dinner.
"Any newer sensations, Capt. Chancer, since our pleasant little chat in the salons?"
"In my heart—no," he said quickly; "(with you a man must grasp his opportunity to speak of himself, you are in such request); I have the same dull pain engendered by you, and which you alone can heal; do you believe in affinities—love at first sight? yet you must; I am not the only man, others have suffered, and not silently;" and there is a ring of truth in his words which she reads also in his handsome manly face; but she says gently:
"Don't let us talk sentiment in this maddening crowd; there's a dear fellow," returning greetings to right and left; "but listen instead to that waltz, a song of love itself."
"Oh, yes," he said eagerly; "the song you promised you will not deny me?"
"If you care, yes; after our waltz; and now ere we lose ourselves in the soul-stirring music, tell me, did I hear aright, have Blanche Tompkins and Sir Tilton Everly joined their fate together?"
"They have; Lady Everly announced the fact herself."
"Ah! instead of the Morning Post; 'All's well that ends well;' but wee mouse plays a game all hazard, my dear soldier; she has taken the plaything from under the paw of puss; puss will purr, arch her soft neck, look lonely and loving, and win him back."
"What a power you women are! When the great powers met at Berlin, we should have sent you to represent your sex;" and his face is lit up with the flame from his heart as they stand in position, so that step and note will be in rhythm, and his eyes rest on the fair flower face, while he breathes the odour of tea-roses and clematis from her corsage.
We shall leave them so, not an unpleasant parting, and return to the boudoir of Mrs. Haughton.
BLACK DELROSE AS A MARKSMAN.
"And now, reverend sir," she had said, turning quickly and imperiously to Father Lefroy, on the exit of Vaura, and waving her hand towards sister Magdalen, "the left is your right. Ah! Sir Andrew, pardon, I did not see you, you are in great demand in the drawing rooms."
"You flatter me, Mrs. Haughton," he answered, with a shrug of shoulder as he accepted his dismissal.
Sister Magdalen now sat up, saying feebly, "Where am I; oh! yes, I remember it all, how dreadful, my poor head," and turning her pale, grief-stricken face to the priest, said sadly, "When do we leave, father?"
"I go at once, daughter, but the great London physician who has just left the room having restored you to consciousness, says positively, you must remain here until to-morrow; come George, my son, we have no more time to spare here, our duty is done."
"No, I shall not go with you," cried the boy, going over to Lionel, taking his hand.
"You must, you are under age," said the priest sternly; "your mother has given you to us."
"Then, she is my dear mother no more," and one could see that he strove manfully to swallow the lump in his throat, "and if you force me I'll cut and run."
Here Mason entered.
"Do you know whether the house-keeper has a vacant room, Mason," inquired her mistress hastily.
"No, ma'am," she said, "just now we are full ma'am."
"Very well, give orders instantly that Sir Tilton Everly's traps be taken to Miss Tompkins' appartments. Assist this lady to Sir Tilton's room, the boy also, and bid a servant drive this clergyman to the village. Admit no one to my presence."
"Yes ma'am," said the discreet maid, not moving a muscle of her face.
"I shall send for you both ere this time to-morrow," said the priest, shaking hands kindly with Lionel.
"You would make a good general officer, fair madame, where speedy dispatch was necessary," said Lionel gallantly.
"Twas easy, a man and woman sleep-double, a priest and a nun are parted; make yourself comfortable on yonder lounge, I am coming to look at and talk to you, my long lost star, my king."
"Most fellows would envy me," he thought, stretching, himself on the lounge for he was really fatigued, and if he is made prisoner, may as well rest.
"George would kill me, could he see me," thought Kate, seating herself on a pile of cushions close to his chest, "but what did he tease me about going off with a Cousin for, I know it was false, but if I can even now win the love of this man, I shall defy him and pretend to have taken him literally." And letting her lace wraps fall about her, sinking into the cushions, leaning forward, both arms folded on his chest, this recklessly, impulsive; black-browed woman looked her prisoner full in the eyes. Being a man, his face softened. She saw it, and there was a moment's silence save for the cooing of the lovebirds hanging in their gilded cage in the roseate light.
"Could I not content you my king? you have been cruel to me; cease to be so, and though I can be fierce, cruel, and vindictive to others, I shall be always gentle to you; you know by my letters that my love is unchanged, let me rest here, my king," and the head with its shining black tresses sank to his chest, "and I shall teach you so to love me that you will lose even the memory of other women. Speak, my king, but only to tell me you accept my all," and her voice sank to a whisper.
"How can I, you poor little woman?" and he smiled, but sadly, for he thought for one moment of how weak is poor humanity, with the boy Cupid's fingers on one's heartstrings; the next, he determined to heal the wounded heart at his feet—though with the lance.
"Your fancy, will pass, chere madame, and your husband is my friend," and he added in her ear, "you have a man whom you honour with especial favor."
"But why do I?" she said, almost fiercely and starting to a sitting posture, "why, I only admitted him for distraction's sake; you know full well 'twas you I loved and not the man I have married, or the lover you credit me with," she said, in an aggrieved tone, forgetting the years ere she had met him. "I hoped by so doing to drink of the waters of Lethe; but it has not been so, though losing myself at times in a whirl of excitement; your name, your face, with your wonderful eyes, from nearly every album I handled, and I was again in subjection; perchance you had been recalled to my memory by some idle word in the moonlight when I became an iceberg to my companion, and my whole being going out to meet yours, when, for return, an aching loneliness. Listen, my king, my master," and she started to her feet powerfully agitated, every pulse throbbing, Trevalyon stood up quickly, coming to her side, taking her hand in his while one arm supported her, for she trembled.
"Calm yourself, you poor little woman, this passion will soon pass; I shall be away, other men will teach you to forget me, be kind to poor Haughton for my sake (if I may say so) and your own, and now, dear, that your passionate heart is beating slower, let me bring you to the salons ere you are missed."
"Your voice is full of music, else I would not stay so still," and again he feels her tremble for she thinks of the flying moments of her losing game, and of her fierce lover as victor. "But there is no time to be-so sweetly still," and her voice sinks to a whisper, "or else I could be forever so, see, I kneel to you; nay, you must let me be," and the words came brokenly and more passionately than any ever having passed her lips, "you, and you only, have ever had the power to subdue me." Here her face changed to a sickly pallor as of faintness, a tremor ran through her whole frame, and saying in a breathless whisper, "Great heavens! your life is in danger, follow my cue; will you take care of the boy?"
"I will, Mrs. Haughton; pray arise."
While he was speaking, crash, crash, went the plate glass in the window behind him, and black Delrose, looking like a very fiend, bounded in, taking up a bronze statue of Achilles, hurled it at Trevalyon, who only escaped from the fact of having stooped with the utmost apparent sang-froid to pick up a rose his fair companion had dropped from her corsage. Achilles, instead of his head, shattering the greater part of a costly mirrored wall, with ornaments on a Queen Anne mantel-piece.
"This will settle him," he now yelled furiously, and about to fire from, a pocket pistol.
"Hold!" cried Kate, "'twas no love scene."
"By heaven, 'tis well, or he had been a dead man," he said furiously, lowering his arm. "Explain yourself, Trevalyon, or you—"
"Beware, George," said Kate, breathlessly.
"I shall not, Kate; you have maddened me and by the stars he shall say why you knelt to him. I suppose you would like me, forsooth! to admire the nonchalante manner of his posing at the time," and turning like a madman to Trevalyon, shaking his clenched fist in his face, said fiercely, "by the stars you shall speak. Why did she kneel to you?"
"Calm yourself, Delrose," he answered quietly, for the first time pitying this passionate woman, "Mrs. Haughton is the wife of my friend!"
"Men always respect such facts," sneered Delrose; "no, that won't go down; Kate, you or he shall tell me or I shall not answer for the consequences."
Kate, fearing for Trevalyon, answered quickly:
"I was imploring him to look after your boy, and not allow the priest to spoil him for a soldier."
"You swear this?"
"You, I know, are satisfied with nothing else."
"That won't do; do you swear you asked him to do this as you knelt," he said, slowly and jealously.
"And what says this squire des dames?" he continued sneering and turning suspiciously to Trevalyon.
"That Mrs. Haughton has condescended to explain the situation or I shouldn't, and that a gentleman never questions the word of a lady," he answered coolly, and haughtily continuing, "may I be your escort back to the salons, Mrs. Haughton."
Kate seeing the look of impatient hate settling in the eyes of her lover, said hastily,
"Thanks; no, Sir Lionel;" she would have added more but for the jealous gaze of Delrose, who said as she went to Trevalyon's assistance in opening the spring lock.
"Yes; go, Kate, to your last act in the farces of Haughton Hall, you must then come to my assistance with the drop curtain." While he speaks the hands of the man, impatient to be with the love of his life, and of the woman, sorry to let him go, meet in the folds of the hangings, the woman sighing as she presses his hand to her heart and so they part.
DISCORD ENDS; HEART'S-EASE AT LAST.
With quick steps and eager glances at the groups of gay revellers, whom he passes with a few hurried words of greeting and thanks for their congratulations on his "hidden wife," he looks in vain for Vaura. At last, and his handsome face and mesmeric eyes are lit with happiness, her voice comes to him from a music-room. He pushes his way through the crowds, for poor Chancer has been doomed to disappointment in his wish to have this fair woman sing to him alone, for when the now full rich notes, now sweet to intoxication, of her mezzo-soprano voice fell on the air, the languid, sentimental or gay stayed their steps to listen.
Lionel has now reached the piano, and stands beside Lord Rivers, who leans on his arms, noting with critical and admiring eye Vaura's unequalled charms.
"Yes," was his mental verdict, "never saw more lovely bust and shoulders; then her throat, poise of her head, like a goddess, glorious eyes, lips full and velvety as a peach."
A warmer light comes to the large dark eyes and tender curves to the lips as the sweet singer meets the gaze of her betrothed husband. One look and he feels that the words are for him: "Thou can'st with thy sunshine only calm this tempest of my heart."
More than one man were at one with Lord Rivers and Chancer in feeling the advent of Trevalyon to be extremely inopportune, when at the closing words he drew nearer, and Vaura, with her own bewildering smile, allowed him to carry her off. Just as they move away Everly hurried towards them, handing to Vaura a tiny three-cornered note, with a whispered "from Blanche," and he was gone. The recipient, glancing in the direction, sees in the distance the pink eyes and wee mouse-face peering through the crowd and gesticulating distinctly to Vaura to "read at once." Her written words were:
"Bid Sir Lionel take you to the north tower instanter; it's all O.K., warm as toast and lighted, so the ghosts won't have a show; but you will. Such a picnic! As soon as I can tire out, Sir Peter in our waltz I'll be on hand. B. EVERLY."
"Well, darling, what say you?" and the handsome Saxon head is bent for her reply.
"Yes, Lion, dear, and at once. It just occurs to me it may throw some light on a mysterious conversation I overheard in the library, and which the excitement of the night had well nigh caused me to forget."
"Indeed; then we shall hasten, love."
And turning their steps in the direction of the tower, first through corridors bright with the light from myriads of gas jets, which lit up Vaura's warm beauty and the brown sheen of her hair, followed by admiring, loving, or envious eyes, they now reach the more dimly-lighted halls, and turn into one at the foot of the spiral staircase, which they ascend slowly, Lionel's arm around his fair companion, her trail skirts thrown over her left arm. The stairway is lighted as Blanche had said.
"Not even a ghost, my own," and his face is bent to hers.
"Only one of a past longing, dearest; how I longed for you in the tower of St. Peter's. Oh! the view from the top, Lion."
"I know it well, love; but say you missed me, my love, ascending with yours, even this arm supporting you."
"I did dearest, even there, and you know it well, as also I longed for the sympathy of heart to heart, soul to soul in a view which lifts one to the heavens, and would take a poet to describe."
"My own feelings, love; the majesty of the view, and from such a height, overpowers one. Yes, sweet; dual solitude, as now, is paradise. Do the stairs fatigue you, my own?"
"No, Lion," and for a moment they stand still, his arm around her. The soft white hands draw his face near her own, "no, darling," and the sweet tones are a whisper, "'tis only the languor of intense happiness; in ecstatic moments, as now, one feels so."
For answer his lips press hers in a long kiss, and she is taken up in his strong arms and not loosed until the ascent is made and the octagon room reached; there he leads her to a seat, and throws himself on a cushion at her feet.
"What a Hercules I am about to bestow my fair person upon," she said, gaily, "for I am no light weight for a maiden. Ah! poor Guy; that reminds me, darling, I have something to tell you which—"
"Which will have to wait until you are my own dear wife, for," and his head is wearily laid on her knees, "I can wait no longer. You know, Vaura, dear, what my life has been, since as a little fellow in jacket and frilled collar, a child of about seven, my father was deserted by her to whom he had trusted his name and the honour of our house. But I cannot speak of it, it brings my poor half-crazed father back to earth, and I see him again before me, a victim to his trust in a woman. Then, my storm-tossed life; living now wholly for a pleasure that palled upon me, again, losing myself in dreams of what my life might have been with a loving wife, part of myself, making me a more perfect man by her sympathy in a oneness of thought, for you know, beloved, I could never have loved a woman who, for love of me, or because I had moulded her character, had adopted my views of life. No, woman is too fickle for that. I, in meeting your inner self, for we nearly all have those inner thoughts, life, and aspirations, in you, I know, our natures are akin, we can when we will, and just as our mood is, talk or be silent; look into life more closely, or only at its seeming; discuss and try to solve old, deep, and almost insoluble questions that, in our inner life, have puzzled us more than once, my own, or my bright twin-spirit of the morn," he added, brightening. "We can only see and look no further (when our mood is so) than from the cloudless sky to the sunbeams or starlight reflected in our own eyes. Yes, beloved, I have earned my rest; my spirit has at last found its mate. You will make my life perfect, love, by giving yourself to me. To-morrow, come down quietly to the rectory, our old friend will make us one. My place at the north is lonely without us; say yes, sweet?"
"In one little week, Lion, I shall have you here all the time. It will be bliss for us, after your unrest and mine; for you if you were obliged to leave here for any reason that may develop," and a look of startled anxiety comes to the lovely face, "but, no; she would never leave him; another flash of thought comes to me, darling, of the 'mysterious conversation' I spoke to you of, but it cannot have had any real meaning. I shall again banish the dreadful thought."
"Do, beloved; it has been a trying night for all of us," and he rises from the cushioned seat, and seating himself beside her draws the dear head to his chest.
"It has, Lion; and now I must tell you of an episode in my life in days of yore, in which poor Guy Travers took a prominent part. Poor fellow, he is dead, and, perhaps, as the poet hath it, sees me 'with larger other eyes,'" and a slight pallor comes to the sweet face.
"Thank God, he has taken him, darling, whatever it is you have to tell me; for it is not cruel in me to say so, as had you loved him you would have wed, and had he lived he would have eaten his heart out in loneliness, for I have been told he loved you. Say on, my own, though I care not to know, save that you wish to speak. I am in a perfect rapture of bliss, and shall listen, if only to hear your voice, the sweetest music I have ever known."
"You will remember, Lion, when I was about fifteen, you came here from the east, expecting to meet uncle Eric. But, alas! as you are aware, he was held in the fascinations at Baden-Baden, with debts accumulating, the place going to ruin. He wrote saying, unless he married money he would have to shut up the Hall, but for my sake he was willing to enter an unloved alliance. Ah, how long ago these days seem; and now, in this rest, dearest, pillowed so, I almost lose myself in the dear present."
"Do, love, forget all about the past, tell me no more."
"I must, and in a few words, for, hark! the clocks tell the last quarter before midnight, Blanche, whom we have forgotten, will be with us, and so, to hasten; you left me sorrowfully to go to him and see what could be done. Poor Guy was guest of the Douglas family. You are perhaps aware that from Guy's French mother came all their wealth; but, to hasten, Guy was nearly eighteen, a handsome boy, and in love with my child self. I liked him, as I did Roland Douglas, though I can never remember the time, darling, that those magnetic eyes of yours and dear, kind face didn't haunt me. Guy never left my side, and Roland being of same mind there were many battles over the proprietorship of my small person. At last Gay triumphed, in this wise; I had confided my troubles to him, when he persuaded me to elope (nay, don't start, darling, 'twas only a two days' trip), in this, way (as he said) I would be a heroine, and save the Hall for my dear uncle, else he would wed for my sake some outree manufacturer's daughter and make himself wretched in a mesalliance. I could save my uncle. What joy! With no thought of self we went to Gretna Green and were married, and not by the blacksmith, but by a dissenting clergyman; the next day we, as conquering heroes, were on our return to the Hall, when Guy's mother, with Uncle Eric, to whom she had telegraphed, met us, not with smiles, but frowns. In short, dearest, our marriage was declared null and void. Guy's mother, whom it appeared, wished him on coming of age to wed a Parisian heiress, declared she would stop his allowance, but, as a matter of course, with no legal tie binding us, we were again in our old position. And so my dream to free Haughton was frustrated by a woman, but, oh, Lion, my love, for my eventual good; for try as I have I could never have given my woman heart to poor Guy. He loved me throughout his life, and with wealth poured his all at my feet. But no more, dearest, I hear Blanche."
"How wretched the poor fellow must have been, beloved; and how blest am I."
"Hush, dear, here they are;" and Vaura is at one of the windows as Everly says:
"Here we are again."
"Guess you're just about tired out waiting; but I see you hav'nt been here long enough to read this," said the white mouse, taking a card from a stand; "it says 'if you miss supper, down stairs.'"
"Here it is, Blanche, all right."
"We were, I suppose, to rise to it," said Vaura.
"And something worth mounting for, and not to be sneezed at either," cried Lady Everly, as her husband rolled a small table from a recess.
"If this is the picnic you promised us, Blanche, commend me to your choice of dishes," said Vaura, inwardly hoping nothing unpleasant would transpire relative to Mrs. Haughton.
"And now that we are comfortably placed," said Blanche, excusing herself to fly to the window giving a view of Rose Cottage. "Now," she said cheerfully, "we shall each propose a toast; mine being, success to the plans and plots of this evening."
"Amen," said Trevalyon, thinking of Vaura and himself.
"Excepting one," said Vaura earnestly.
"Excepting one!" echoed Everly.
"No, I shan't be left," cried Blanche quickly, and in a low tone to her spouse, "you cannot refer to the one we are here to witness."
There was no reply.
"Miss Vernon, your exception has nothing to do with Mrs. Haughton?" continued la petite inquiringly.
"It has; but I am imaginative; tell me, did Mrs. Haughton appear in the supper-room?"
"I should just say so, and as gay as a lark, with Lord Rivers."
"But, Blanche, you know you only looked in, and Mrs. Haughton may have done likewise."
"You're a goose, Tilton; Capt. Stuart and I had gone through a dish or two before you all came in; I was born hungry."
"Believe you," laughed her husband.
"My poppa's pet name for me at dinner was ostrich," said wee mouse, rapidly discussing breast and wing of duck, etc. "Sir Lionel, here's a conundrum for you; what is the thirstiest animal?"
"Man," he answered demurely.
"One for you; you are placed, Tilton," and the pink eyes peered at a window.
"I hope you feel comfortable in your niche, Sir Tilton," laughed Vaura; "ask another, Blanche, and place Mrs. Haughton a present; I cannot get her off my mind."
"All O.K.; I only have waited until you had refreshed the inner man."
"Women never eat," said Vaura, with an amused glance at the little one.
"One didn't just now," said the small Baronet.
"How observant you are, Tilton; and now for Mrs. Haughton, did she remain long in the supper-room, Baronet?"
"No, she excused herself just as you and Stuart made your exit; one plea, finger hurt; some point of her jewellery entered."
"Which she made a point of and didn't return, eh?"
"Excuse me," she said quickly, and going to a window giving an open view down into Rose Cottage, and throwing the heavy curtains behind her; the windows of the cottage being all aglow with lights, the interior of parlour and dining-room could be distinctly seen.
"Sir Lionel, come quick! look over there," she cried, giving him the field-glass.
"Great heavens, what does it mean?" he exclaimed. "Move, Blanche, Lion, one of you, and make room for me quick," cried Vaura, breathlessly.
"No, darling; you had better stay where you are," he said excitedly, forgetting at such a time their companions were ignorant of their engagement.
"Poor Haughton, surely, Lady Everly, you do not consider yonder scene a fitting subject to make game of?"
"Yes and no; if you knew how the poor dear Colonel has been sold, and my poppa before him, you'd say 'tis best. She has been too many for them; yes, it's better ended by an elopement."
"Then my worst fears are realized; and their words were no idle seeming, as I half hoped," said Vaura in quick, nervous tones. "You may as well gratify me, Lion dear, by giving me a glance at how a blot is put upon the escutcheon of a heretofore stainless name," she said despairingly, yet haughtily.
"It will be too much for you, darling; let me take you down stairs; I must go to poor Haughton. We should prevent this."
"You can't and I am glad; I've known it for hours, but I wouldn't let any one know; if you stop them now, what do you gain?"
"Quite a scandal," said small Everly, regretfully, for Vaura's sake, whom, as she stands helpless to prevent, wishing to fly to her uncle, yet dreading the scandal, shall fall without warning, and the house full of guests, upon his dear head. In proud despair she looks pleadingly at Lionel for sympathy, and Everly, his heart beating, longs to do something for her.
"Can I help you in any way, dear Miss Vernon? Shall I ring the great alarm bell, rouse the village and the Hall. Only let me be of use to you," he says hurriedly.
"I thank you, Sir Tilton, make room for me at the window. Ah, heavens! It is too true. Go down at once, Lion. Though I don't know for what, still go. But don't go near that man, darling; tell Mr. Claxton and the old butler, as well as my uncle's man; see what they say," she cried, breathlessly.
"I cannot bear to leave you, love; will you be brave?"
"I will! I am!" but her voice trembled.
"Sit down and rest; you tremble," and leading her to the window, he brings her to a cushioned seat, pressing the hand on his arm to his side, whispering,
"Be brave, darling; remember your poor uncle was not happy, so he is spared much. Come down when you feel calm enough to face Mrs. Grundy."
He is gone and bounds down one hundred and seventy-five steps between his heaven and a lower sphere.
Vaura throws herself face downwards, making every effort to meet the inevitable with calmness.
"I'll read off their movements, Miss Vernon," said wee Blanche, "and so keep you from going to sleep. Melty enters with furs, Mrs. Haughton stands as you saw, her red robes thrown off, the D—-rose laughingly assists the maiden fastening a dark travelling robe, evidently in haste, consulting his watch; points to the table, showing his teeth, meaning he is laughing; he, I expect, gives the feast as a reason of their delay; and he's about right, for thereon stand long-necked bottles and dishes. Melty leaves the room; he tells Mrs. Haughton something that astonishes and pleases her, for she gives him a hug; goes to a side-table puts yellow money, cannot tell the coin from here, in a sort of pattern. "Can you see what it means, Tilton, my eyes are tired," and the pink eyes are rubbed red. "No, I cannot decipher the words. Yes, the last is, 'cousin;' stay, I've got another, 'my,' that's all I can make out, the other words are in the shadow.""
"What does it mean? 'my cousin,'" said the young detective; "oh! I have it, he said he was going to marry a cousin. I thought he romanced when be said so, but I suppose they are the cousins. Well, pity to spoil two houses with them say I, but they are off. Both hug Melty, Mrs. Haughton waves hand in the direction of the dollar. By-by, step- momma. By the shade of Lincoln, how Melty claps her hands in glee on seeing her wages in gold; she hastily pockets; one or two pieces roll to the floor. Ellen, the cook, enters, lamp in hand, unsteady of gait; Melty stoops to conquer the gold, picks up a shower- stick to get it from a corner, knocks with one end the lamp out of the shaky hand of the maid."
"Jove, what a blaze!" exclaimed Everly, who had been alternately flattening his nasal organ against the window pane, or gazing around at Vaura, who, at his last words, starts to a sitting posture, and says, controlling herself to speak calmly:—"
"I am going down stairs at once; what a terrific blaze. Are you coming, Blanche, or Sir Tilton?"
"Yes, yes; come, Blanche."
"I wonder what is known by the guests and household, and if Sir Lionel has had them pursued?" cried Vaura brokenly, as they rapidly descend the stairs.
"Some of the men In the house guessed what Delrose's game was," said Everly, "and we thought the only women in the secret were Mrs. Meltonbury and Mason, the maid, but Blanche seems to have been aware of their plot."
"I am surprised at you, Blanche, seeming to be au fait in the matter, and keeping it secret; but I forget, you thought it best they should fly."
"Yes, it was for the best, Miss Vernon, and the small white mouse can keep dark when she chooses; the tongues of the other women were bought," she said cunningly.
"Yes, tied by a gold bit. Sir Tilton, you are tied to a born detective, said Vaura.
"He is," says the wee creature laconically.
Here they meet Trevalyon, out of breath and racing up for Vaura.
"How do you feel now, darling?" he says pantingly.
"Rest a minute, Lion, you are out of breath; Sir Tilton, kindly open that casement."
"There is no way of opening this one; bad fix. Trevalyon is very short of breath."
"Unloose his collar," she said hastily, and taking a diamond solitaire off her finger, handing it to Everly, said quickly, "cut the pane."
Trevalyon had sank on to a step; Vaura drew his head to her knee while Blanche held her vinaigrette to his nose; in a minute or two his breathing came naturally and he said:
"Too bad to have frightened you, darling, and you too Lady Everly, but really, it was scarcely my fault," with a half smile, "you must blame the stairs, they seemed all at once to become too cramped and stifling. Ah! I thank you Everly, that air is refreshing; I am quite myself again," and he would have stood up.
"No, no; rest a minute," said Vaura gently.
"Yes, sit still; you are our patient, and all the patience we have till we hear from you all about Melty's fire-works," said Blanche eagerly.
"Rather Lucifer's bonfire over the old Adam in that woman," said Vaura, contemptuously.
"Clayton was dreadfully shocked when I told him, and we decided not to name their flight until to-morrow; he and I, with my man and the butler (trump of an old fellow he is), fairly ran to Rose Cottage and succeeded in getting out, unharmed, Mrs. Meltonbury and a maid; we sent my man to the village to hurry up the firemen, and then I flew back to you, dearest, knowing you would be anxious as to your uncle. I left him looking more like himself than I have seen him for years, quietly talking to Lady Esmondet and Mrs. Claxton; in my haste to be with you I out-ran breath and then had to wait her pleasure to catch up to me. No fear of the revellers suspecting anything; the ball is at its height and the hells were not rung. They took the midnight express through to Liverpool; thence they sail to New York."
"Did you compel Melty to own up to that much?" said the little detective, her tiny, white race full of interest.
"We did; and pursuit would he useless."
"When a Haughton weds and is dishonoured, divorce, not pursuit, will lie his action," said Vaura, her beautiful head erect; and now for our revenge, a sweeter strain than that of grief; we shall descend and so cover their retreat by our sparkling wit, and gay smiles, that they shall not be missed."
"Mrs. Haughton would get left anyway," said Blanche; "for the crowd all want to stare at you."
"Flashes of light and warm tints in a golden summer sky versus evening in her red robes sinking to the west," said Trevalyon, pressing Vaura to his side as they follow their companions.
"One for you, Sir Lionel," cried la petite looking over her shoulder.
And Lionel bends his handsome head down to the fair woman whose face is unturned to his. He says, whisperingly, while his face is illumined with happiness.
"A few days, beloved, and then we shall lead, till I weary my wife with the intensity of my love, the life of the lotus-eaters."
"Yes, my own tired love, yes; our home, until our world bids us forth, shall be a very 'castle of indolence,' 'a pleasing land of drowsy head, 'twill be of dreams that wave before our half-closed eyes, and of gay castles in the clouds that pass forever flashing round our summer sky.'"
And the large dark eyes are full of love's warm light, as the ayren voice dies away to a murmur.