Then, as every one was going, he said: "I am awfully glad to have met you. We must be pals, for the sake of old times," and he gave me his card for me to keep his address, and told me if ever I wanted a friend to send him a line—Colonel Tom Carden, The Albany.
I promised I would.
"You might give me away at my wedding," I said, gayly. "I am thinking of getting married, some day!"
"That I will," he promised; "and, by Jove! the man will be a fortunate fellow."
Lady Ver and I drove after luncheon—me paid some calls, and went in to tea with the Montgomeries, who had just arrived at Brown's Hotel for a week's shopping.
"Aunt Katherine brings those poor girls up always at this time, and takes them to some impossible old dressmaker of her own in the daytime, and to Shakespeare or a concert at night, and returns with them equipped in more hideous garments each year. It is positively cruel," said Lady Ver, as we went up the stairs to their appartement.
There they were, sitting round the tea-table just as at Tryland—Kirstie and Jean embroidering and knitting, and the other two reading new catalogues of books for their work.
Lady Ver began to tease them. She asked them all sorts of questions about their new frocks, and suggested they had better go to Paris once in a way. Lady Katherine was like ice. She strongly disapproved of my being with her niece, one could see.
The connection with the family she hoped would be ended with my visit to Tryland. Malcolm was arriving in town, too, we gathered, and Lady Ver left a message to ask him to dine to-night.
Then we got away.
"If one of those lumps of suet had a spark of spirit they would go straight to the devil," Lady Ver said as we went down the stairs. "Think of it—ties and altar-cloths in London! Mercifully they could not dine to-night. I had to ask them, and they generally come once while they are up—the four girls and Aunt Katherine—and it is with the greatest difficulty I can collect four young men for them if they get the least hint whom they are to meet. I generally secure a couple of socially budding Jews, because I feel the subscriptions for their charities which they will pester whoever they do sit next for are better filched from the Hebrew than from some pretty, needy Guardsman. Oh, what a life!"
She was so kind to me on the way back; she said she hated leaving me alone on the morrow, and that I must settle now what I was going to do or she would not go. I said I would go to Claridge's, where Mrs. Carruthers and I had always stayed, and remain quietly alone with Veronique. I could afford it for a week. So we drove there and made the arrangement.
"It is absolutely impossible for you to go on like this, dear child," she said. "You must have a chaperone; you are far too pretty to stay alone in a hotel. What can I do for you?"
I felt so horribly uncomfortable I was really at my wits' end. Oh, it is no fun being an adventuress, after all, if you want to keep your friends of the world as well.
"Perhaps it won't matter if I don't see any one for a few days," I said. "I will write to Paris. My old mademoiselle is married there to a flourishing poet, I believe—perhaps she would take me as a paying guest for a little."
"That is very visionary—a French poet! Horrible, long-haired, frowsy creature! Impossible! Surely you see how necessary it is for you to marry Christopher as soon as you can, Evangeline, don't you?" she said, and I was obliged to admit there were reasons.
"The truth is, you can't be the least eccentric or unconventional if you are good-looking and unmarried," she continued. "You may snap your fingers at society, but if you do you won't have a good time, and all the men will either foolishly champion you or be impertinent to you."
"Oh, I realize it," I said, and there was a lump in my throat.
"I shall write to Christopher to-morrow," she went on, "and thank him for our outing last night, and I shall say something nice about you and your loneliness, and that he, as a kind of relation, may go and see you on Sunday, as long as he doesn't make love to you, and he can take you to the Zoo—don't see him in your sitting-room. That will give him just the extra fillip, and he will go, and you will be demure, and then by those stimulating lions' and tigers' cages you can plight your troth. It will be quite respectable. Wire to me at once on Monday to Sedgwick, and you must come back to Park Street directly I return on Thursday, if it is all settled."
I thanked her as well as I could. She was quite ingenuous and quite sincere. I should be a welcome guest as Christopher's fiancee, and there was no use my feeling bitter about it—she was quite right.
As I put my hand on Malcolm's skinny arm going down to the dining-room, the only consolation was my fate had not got to be him. I would rather be anything in the world than married to that!
I tried to be agreeable to Sir Charles. We were only a party of six. An old Miss Harpenden, who goes everywhere to play bridge, and Malcolm, and one of Lady Ver's young men, and I. Sir Charles is absent, and brings himself back. He fiddles with the knives and forks, and sprawls on the table rather, too. He looks at Lady Ver with admiration in his eyes. It is true, then, in the intervals of Paris, I suppose, she can make his heart beat.
Malcolm made love to me after dinner. We were left to talk when the others sat down to bridge in the little drawing-room.
"I missed you so terribly, Miss Travers," he said, priggishly, "when you left us that I realized I was extremely attracted by you."
"No, you don't say so!" I said, innocently. "Could one believe a thing like that?"
"Yes," he said, earnestly. "You may, indeed, believe it."
"Do not say it so suddenly, then," I said, turning my head away so that he could not see how I was laughing. "You see, to a red-haired person like me these compliments go to my head."
"Oh, I do not want to flurry you," he said, affably. "I know I have been a good deal sought after—perhaps on account of my possessions"—this with arrogant modesty—"but I am willing to lay everything at your feet if you will marry me."
"Everything?" I asked.
"You are too good, Mr. Montgomerie—but what would your mother say?"
He looked uneasy and slightly unnerved.
"My mother, I fear, has old-fashioned notions, but I am sure if you went to her dressmaker—you—you would look different."
"Should you like me to look different, then? You wouldn't recognize me, you know, if I went to her dressmaker."
"I like you just as you are," he said, with an air of great condescension.
"I am overcome," I said, humbly. "But—but—what is this story I hear about Miss Angela Grey? A lady, I see in the papers, who dances at the Gaiety, is it not? Are you sure she will permit you to make this declaration without her knowledge?"
He became petrified.
"Who has told you about her?" he asked.
"No one," I said. "Jean said your father was angry with you on account of a horse of that name, but I chanced to see it in the list of attractions at the Gaiety, so I conclude it is not a horse; and if you are engaged to her, I don't think it is quite right of you to try and break my heart."
"Oh, Evangeline—Miss Travers!" he spluttered. "I am greatly attached to you—the other was only a pastime—a—a—Oh, we men, you know—young and—and—run after—have our temptations, you know. You must think nothing about it. I will never see her again, except just to finally say good-bye. I promise you."
"Oh, I could not do a mean thing like that, Mr. Montgomerie," I said. "You must not think of behaving so on my account. I am not altogether heartbroken, you know; in fact, I rather think of getting married, myself."
He bounded up.
"Oh, you have deceived me, then!" he said, in self-righteous wrath. "After all I said to you that evening at Tryland, and what you promised then! Yes, you have grossly deceived me."
I could not say I had not listened to a word he had said that night and was utterly unconscious of what I had promised. Even his self-appreciation did not deserve such a blow as that, so I softened my voice and natural anger at his words, and said, quite gently:
"Do not be angry. If I have unconsciously given you a wrong impression I am sorry, but if one came to talking of deceiving, you have deceived me about Miss Grey, so do not let us speak further upon the matter. We are quits. Now, won't you be friends as you have always been?" and I put out my hand and smiled frankly in his face. The mean little lines in it relaxed, he pulled himself together, and took my hand and pressed it warmly. From which I knew there was more in the affair of Angela Grey than met the eye.
"Evangeline," he said. "I shall always love you; but Miss Grey is an estimable young woman—there is not a word to be said against her moral character—and I have promised her my hand in marriage, so perhaps we had better say good-bye."
"Good-bye," I said; "but I consider I have every reason to feel insulted by your offer, which was not, judging from your subsequent remarks, worth a moment's thought."
"Oh, but I love you!" he said, and by his face, for the time, this was probably true. So I did not say any more, and we rose and joined the bridge players. And I contrived that he should not speak to me again alone before he said good-night.
"Did Malcolm propose to you?" Lady Ver asked as we came up to bed. "I thought I saw a look in his eye at dinner."
I told her he had done it in a kind of a way, with a reservation in favor of Miss Angela Grey.
"That is too dreadful!" she said. "There is a regular epidemic in some of the Guards regiments just now to marry these poor, common things with high moral characters and indifferent feet. But I should have thought the cuteness of the Scot would have protected Malcolm from their designs. Poor Aunt Katherine!"
Saturday, November 26th.
Lady Ver went off early to the station to catch her train to Northumberland this morning, and I hardly saw her to say good-bye. She seemed out of temper, too, on getting a note—she did not tell me who it was from or what it was about, only she said immediately after that I was not to be stupid. "Do not play with Christopher further," she said, "or you will lose him. He will certainly come and see you to-morrow. He wrote to me this morning in answer to mine of last night, but he says he won't go to the Zoo, so you will have to see him in your sitting-room, after all. He will come about four."
I did not speak.
"Evangeline," she said, "promise me you won't be a fool."
"I—won't be a fool," I said.
Then she kissed me and was off, and a few moments after I also started for Claridge's.
I have a very nice little suite right up at the top, and if only it were respectable for me, and I could afford it, I could live here very comfortably by myself for a long time.
At a quarter to two I was ringing the bell at 200 Carlton House Terrace—Lady Merrenden's house—with a strange feeling of excitement and interest. Of course, it must have been because once she had been engaged to papa. In the second thoughts take to flash, I remembered Lord Robert's words when I talked of coming to London alone at Branches—how he would bring me here, and how she would be kind to me until I could "hunt round."
Oh, it came to me with a sudden stab. He was leaning over Lady Ver in the northern train by now.
Such a stately, beautiful hall it is when the doors open, with a fine staircase going each way, and full of splendid pictures, and the whole atmosphere pervaded with an air of refinement and calm.
The footmen are tall, and not too young, and even at this time of the year have powdered hair.
Lady Merrenden was up-stairs in the small drawing-room, and she rose to meet me, a book in her hand, when I was announced.
Her manners are so beautiful in her own home—gracious, and not the least patronizing.
"I am so glad to see you," she said. "I hope you won't be bored, but I have not asked any one to meet you, only my nephew Torquilstone is coming. He is a great sufferer, poor fellow, and numbers of faces worry him at times——"
I said I was delighted to see her alone. No look more kind could be expressed in a human countenance than is expressed in hers. She has the same exceptional appearance of breeding that Lord Robert has—tiny ears and wrists and head; even dressed as a char-woman Lady Merrenden would look like a great lady.
Very soon we were talking without the least restraint. She did not speak of people or of very deep things, but it gave one the impression of an elevated mind and a knowledge of books, and wide thoughts. Oh, I could love her so easily.
We had been talking for nearly a quarter of an hour. She had incidentally asked me where I was staying now, and had not seemed surprised or shocked when I said Claridge's, and by myself.
All she said was: "What a lonely little girl! But I dare say it is very restful sometimes to be by one's self, only you must let your friends come and see you, won't you?"
"I don't think I have any friends," I said. "You see, I have been out so little, but if you would come and see me—oh, I should be so grateful."
"Then you must count me as one of your rare friends!" she said.
Nothing could be so rare or so sweet as her smile. Fancy papa throwing over this angel for Mrs. Carruthers! Men are certainly unaccountable creatures.
I said I would be too honored to have her for a friend, and she took my hand.
"You bring back the long ago," she said. "My name is Evangeline, too—Sophia Evangeline—and I sometimes think you may have been called so in remembrance of me."
What a strange, powerful factor love must be! Here were these two women, Mrs. Carruthers and Lady Merrenden—the very opposites of each other—and they had evidently both adored papa, and both, according to their natures, had taken an interest in me in consequence, the child of a third woman who had superseded them both! Papa must have been extraordinarily fascinating, for to the day of her death Mrs. Carruthers had his miniature on her table, with a fresh rose beside it—his memory the only soft spot, it seemed, in her hard heart.
And this sweet lady's eyes melted in tenderness when she spoke of the long ago, although she does not know me well enough yet to say anything further. To me papa's picture is nothing so very wonderful—just a good-looking young Guardsman, with eyes shaped like mine, only gray, and light, curly hair. He must have had "a way with him," as the servants say.
At that moment the Duke of Torquilstone came in. Oh, such a sad sight!
A poor, humpbacked man, with a strong face and head and a soured, suspicious, cynical expression. He would evidently have been very tall but for his deformity—a hump stands out on his back almost like Mr. Punch. He can't be much over forty, but he looks far older; his hair is quite gray.
Not a line or an expression in him reminded me of Lord Robert, I am glad to say.
Lady Merrenden introduced us, and Lord Merrenden came in then, too, and we all went down to luncheon.
It was a rather small table, so we were all near one another and could talk.
The dining-room is immense.
"I always have this little table when we are such a small party," Lady Merrenden said. "It is more cosey, and one does not feel so isolated."
How I agreed with her!
The duke looked at me searchingly, often, with his shrewd little eyes. One could not say if it was with approval or disapproval.
Lord Merrenden talked about politics and the questions of the day. He has a courteous manner, and all their voices are soft and refined. And nothing could have been more smooth and silent than the service.
The luncheon was very simple and very good, but not half the number of rich dishes like at Branches, or Lady Ver's. There was only one bowl of violets on the table, but the bowl was gold, and a beautiful shape, and the violets nearly as big as pansies. My eyes wandered to the pictures—Gainsborough's and Reynolds's and Romney's—of stately men and women.
"You met my other nephew, Lord Robert, did you not?" Lady Merrenden said, presently. "He told me he had gone to Branches, where I believe you lived."
"Yes," I said, and—oh, it is too humiliating to write!—I felt my cheeks get crimson at the mention of Lord Robert's name. What could she have thought? Can anything be so young-ladylike and ridiculous!
"He came to the opera with us the night before last," I continued. "Mr. Carruthers had a box, and Lady Verningham and I went with them." Then, recollecting how odd this must sound in my deep mourning, I added, "I am so fond of music."
"So is Robert," she said. "I am sure he must have been pleased to meet a kindred spirit there."
Sweet, charming, kind lady! If she only knew what emotions were really agitating us in that box that night! I fear the actual love of music was the least of them.
The duke, during this conversation and from the beginning mention of Lord Robert's name, never took his eyes off my face—it was very disconcerting; his look was clearer now, and it was certainly disapproving.
We had coffee up-stairs, out of such exquisite Dresden cups, and then Lord Merrenden showed me some miniatures. Finally it happened that the duke and I were left alone for a minute looking out of a window onto the Mall.
His eyes pierced me through and through. Well, at all events, my nose and my ears and my wrists are as fine as Lady Merrenden's—poor mamma's odd mother does not show in me on the outside, thank goodness! He did not say much, only commonplaces about the view. I felt afraid of him, and rather depressed. I am sure he dislikes me.
"May I not drive you somewhere?" my kind hostess said. "Or, if you have nowhere in particular to go, will you come with me?"
I said I should be delighted. An ache of loneliness was creeping over me. I wanted to put off as long as possible getting back to the hotel. I wanted to distract my thoughts from dwelling upon to-morrow and what I was going to say to Christopher. To-morrow—that seems the end of the world!
She has beautiful horses, Lady Merrenden, and the whole turn-out, except she herself, is as smart as can be. She really looks a little frumpish out-of-doors, and perhaps that is why papa went on to Mrs. Carruthers. Goodness and dearness like this do not suit male creatures as well as caprice, it seems.
She was so good to me, and talked in the nicest way. I quite forgot I was a homeless wanderer, and arrived at Claridge's about half-past four in almost good spirits.
"You won't forget I am to be one of your friends," Lady Merrenden said, as I bid her good-bye.
"Indeed I won't," I replied, and she drove off, smiling at me.
I do wonder what she will think of my marriage with Christopher.
Now it is night. I have had a miserable, lonely dinner in my sitting-room. Veronique has been most gracious and coddling—she feels Mr. Carruthers in the air, I suppose—and so I must go to bed.
Oh, why am I not happy, and why don't I think this is a delightful and unusual situation, as I once would have done? I only feel depressed and miserable, and as if I wished Christopher at the bottom of the sea. I have told myself how good-looking he is, and how he attracted me at Branches, but that was before—Yes, I may as well write what I was going to—before Lord Robert arrived. Well, he and Lady Ver are talking together on a nice sofa by now, I suppose, in a big, well-lit drawing-room, and—Oh, I wish, I wish I had never made any bargain with her—perhaps, now, in that case—Ah, well——
No, I can't bear it. All the morning I have been in a fever, first hot and then cold. What will it be like? Oh, I shall faint when he kisses me. And I know he will be dreadful like that; I have seen it in his eye. He will eat me up. Oh, I am sure I shall hate it. No man has ever kissed me in my life, and I can't judge, but I am sure it is frightful—unless—I feel as if I shall go crazy if I stay here any longer. I can't—I can't stop and wait and face it. I must have some air first. There is a misty fog. I would like to go out and get lost in it, and I will, too! Not get lost, perhaps, but go out in it, and alone. I won't have even Veronique. I shall go by myself into the park. It is growing nearly dark, though only three o'clock. I have got an hour. It looks mysterious, and will soothe me, and suit my mood, and then, when I come in again, I shall perhaps be able to bear it bravely, kisses and all.
Sunday evening, November 27th.
I have a great deal to write, and yet it is only a few hours since I shut up this book and replaced the key on my bracelet.
By a quarter-past three I was making my way through Grosvenor Square. Everything was misty and blurred, but not actually a thick fog—or any chance of being lost. By the time I got into the park it had lifted a little. It seemed close and warm, and as I went on I got more depressed. I have never been out alone before—that in itself seemed strange, and ought to have amused me.
The image of Christopher kept floating in front of me; his face seemed to have the expression of a satyr. Well, at all events, he would never be able to break my heart like "Alicia Verney's"—nothing could ever make me care for him. I tried to think of all the good I was going to get out of the affair, and how really fond I was of Branches.
I walked very fast; people loomed at me, and then disappeared in the mist. It was getting almost dusk, and suddenly I felt tired and sat down on a bench.
I had wandered into a side path where there were no chairs. On the bench before mine I saw, as I passed, a tramp huddled up. I wondered what his thoughts were, and if he felt any more miserable than I did. I dare say I was crouching in a depressed position, too.
Not many people went by, and every moment it grew darker. In all my life, even on the days when Mrs. Carruthers taunted me about mamma being nobody, I have never felt so wretched. Tears kept rising in my eyes, and I did not even worry to blink them away. Who would see me, and who in the world would care if they did see?
Suddenly I was conscious that a very perfect figure was coming out of the mist towards me, but not until he was close to me, and stopping, with a start, peered into my face, did I recognize it was Lord Robert.
"Evangeline!" he exclaimed, in a voice of consternation. "I—what, oh! what is the matter?"
No wonder he was surprised. Why he had not taken me for some tramp, too, and passed on, I don't know.
"Nothing," I said, as well as I could, and tried to tilt my hat over my eyes. I had no veil on, unfortunately.
"I have just been for a walk. Why do you call me Evangeline and why are you not in Northumberland?"
He looked so tall and beautiful, and his face had no expression of contempt or anger now, only distress and sympathy.
"I was suddenly put on guard yesterday, and could not get leave. I am going to-morrow," he said, not answering the first part, "but, oh, I can't bear to see you sitting here alone and looking so, so miserable. Mayn't I take you home? You will catch cold in the damp."
"Oh no, not yet. I won't go back yet," I said, hardly realizing what I was saying. He sat down beside me and slipped his hand into my muff, pressing my clasped fingers, the gentlest, friendliest caress a child might have made in sympathy. It touched some foolish chord in my nature, some want of self-control inherited from mamma's ordinary mother, I suppose; anyway the tears poured down my face. I could not help it. Oh, the shame of it! To sit crying in the park, in front of Lord Robert, of all people in the world, too!
"Dear, dear little girl," he said, "tell me about it," and he held my hand in my muff with his strong, warm hand.
"I—I have nothing to tell," I said, choking down a sob. "I am ashamed for you to see me like this, only—I am feeling so very miserable."
"Dear child!" he said. "Well, you are not to be—I won't have it. Has some one been unkind to you? Tell me, tell me." His voice was trembling with distress.
"It's—it's nothing," I mumbled.
I dared not look at him, I knew his eyebrows would be up in that way that attracts me so dreadfully.
"Listen," he whispered almost, and bent over me. "I want you to be friends with me so that I can help you. I want you to go back to the time we packed your books together. God knows what has come between us since—it is not of my doing. But I want to take care of you, dear little girl, to-day. It—oh, it hurts me so to see you crying here!"
"I—would like to be friends," I said. "I never wanted to be anything else, but I could not help it, and I can't now."
"Won't you tell me the reason?" he pleaded. "You have made me so dreadfully unhappy about it. I thought all sorts of things. You know I am a jealous beast."
There can't in the world be another voice as engaging as Lord Robert's, and he has a trick of pronouncing words that is too attractive; and the way his mouth goes when he is speaking, showing his perfectly chiselled lips under the little mustache! There is no use pretending. I was sitting there on the bench going through thrills of emotion and longing for him to take me in his arms. It is too frightful to think of. I must be bad, after all.
"Now you are going to tell me everything about it," he commanded. "To begin with: what made you suddenly change at Trylands after the first afternoon—and then, what is it that makes you so unhappy now?"
"I can't tell you either," I said, very low. I hoped the common grandmother would not take me as far as doing mean tricks to Lady Ver.
"Oh, you have made me wild!" he exclaimed, letting go my hand and leaning both elbows on his knees, while he pushed his hat to the back of his head—"perfectly mad with fury and jealousy! That brute Malcolm! And then looking at Campion at dinner, and, worst of all, Christopher in the box at 'Carmen'! Wicked, naughty little thing! And yet underneath I have a feeling it is for some absurd reason, and not for sheer devilment. If I thought that, I would soon get not to care. I did think it at 'Carmen.'"
"Yes, I know," I said.
"You know what?" he looked up, startled; then he took my hand again and sat close to me.
"Oh, please, please don't, Lord Robert!" I said.
It really made me quiver so with the loveliest feeling I have ever known, that I knew I should never be able to keep my head if he went on.
"Please, please don't hold my hand," I said. "It—it makes me not able to behave nicely."
"Darling," he whispered, "then it shows that you like me, and I sha'n't let go until you tell me every little bit."
"Oh, I can't, I can't!" I felt too tortured, and yet, waves of joy were rushing over me. That is a word, "darling," for giving feelings down the back.
"Evangeline," he said, quite sternly, "will you answer this question, then: Do you like me, or do you hate me? Because, as you must know very well, I love you."
Oh, the wild joy of hearing him say that! What in the world did anything else matter? For a moment there was a singing in my ears, and I forgot everything but our two selves. Then the picture of Christopher waiting for me, with his cold cynic's face and eyes blazing with passion, rushed into my vision, and the duke's critical, suspicious, disapproving scrutiny, and I felt as if a cry of pain, like a wounded animal, escaped me.
"Darling, darling, what is it? Did I hurt your dear little hand?" Lord Robert exclaimed, tenderly.
"No," I whispered, brokenly; "but I cannot listen to you. I am going back to Claridge's now, and I am going to marry Mr. Carruthers."
He dropped my hand as if it stung him.
"Good God! Then it is true," was all he said.
In fear I glanced at him, his face looked gray in the quickly gathering mist.
"Oh, Robert!" I said, in anguish, unable to help myself. "It isn't because I want to. I—I—oh, probably I love you, but I must; there is nothing else to be done."
"Isn't there?" he said, all the life and joy coming back to his face. "Do you think I will let Christopher, or any other man in the world have you, now that you have confessed that?" and, fortunately, there was no one in sight, because he put his arms round my neck and drew me close and kissed my lips.
Oh, what nonsense people talk of heaven! Sitting on clouds and singing psalms and things like that! There can't be any heaven half so lovely as being kissed by Robert. I felt quite giddy with happiness for several exquisite seconds, then I woke up. It was all absolutely impossible, I knew, and I must keep my head.
"Now you belong to me," he said, letting his arm slip down to my waist, "so you must begin at the beginning, and tell me everything."
"No, no," I said, struggling feebly to free myself, and feeling so glad he held me tight. "It is impossible, all the same, and that only makes it harder. Christopher is coming to see me at four, and I promised Lady Ver I would not be a fool, and would marry him."
"A fig for Lady Ver," he said, calmly. "If that is all, you leave her to me—she never argues with me."
"It is not only that; I—I promised I would never play with you."
"And you certainly never shall," he said, and I could see a look in his eye as he purposely misconstrued my words, and then he deliberately kissed me again. Oh, I like it better than anything else in the world! How could any one keep their head with Robert quite close, making love like that?
"You certainly never—never—shall," he said again, with a kiss between each word. "I will take care of that. Your time of playing with people is over, mademoiselle. When you are married to me, I shall fight with any one who dares to look at you."
"But I shall never be married to you, Robert," I said, though as I could only be happy for such a few moments I did not think it necessary to move away out of his arms. How thankful I was to the fog! and no one passing! I shall always adore fogs.
"Yes, you will," he announced, with perfect certainty, "in about a fortnight, I should think. I can't and won't have you staying at Claridge's by yourself. I shall take you back this afternoon to Aunt Sophia. Only all that we can settle presently; now for the moment I want you to tell me you love me, and that you are sorry for being such a little brute all this time."
"I did not know it until just now, but I think—I probably do love you—Robert," I said.
He was holding my hand in my muff again, the other arm round my waist. Absolutely disgraceful behavior in the park. We might have been Susan Jane and Thomas Augustus, and yet I was perfectly happy, and felt it was the only natural way to sit.
A figure appeared in the distance—we started apart.
"Oh, really, really—" I gasped—"we—— you—must be different."
He leaned back and laughed.
"You sweet darling! Well, come, we will go for a drive in a hansom; we will choose one without a light inside. Albert Gate is quite close—come!" and he rose, and taking my arm, not offering his to me, like in books, he drew me on down the path.
I am sure any one would be terribly shocked to read what I have written, but not so much if they knew Robert, and how utterly adorable he is, and how masterful, and simple, and direct. He does not split straws or bandy words. I had made the admission that I loved him, and that was enough to go upon.
As we walked along I tried to tell him it was impossible, that I must go back to Christopher, that Lady Ver would think I had broken my word about it. I did not, of course, tell him of her bargain with me over him, but he probably guessed that, because before we got into the hansom even, he had begun to put me through a searching cross-examination as to the reasons for my behavior at Tryland, and Park Street, and the opera. I felt like a child with a strong man, and every moment more idiotically happy and in love with him.
He told the cabman to drive to Hammersmith, and then put his arm round my waist again, and held my hand, pulling my glove off backward first. It is a great, big, granny muff of sable I have, Mrs. Carruthers's present on my last birthday. I never thought then to what charming use it would be put.
"Now I think we have demolished all your silly little reasons for making me miserable," he said. "What others have you to bring forward as to why you can't marry me in a fortnight?"
I was silent—I did not know how to say it—the principal reason of all.
"Evangeline, darling," he pleaded. "Oh, why will you make us both unhappy? Tell me, at least."
"Your brother, the duke," I said, very low. "He will never consent to your marrying a person like me, with no relations."
He was silent for a second, then: "My brother is an awfully good fellow," he said; "but his mind is warped by his infirmity. You must not think hardly of him; he will love you directly he sees you, like every one else."
"I saw him yesterday," I said.
Robert was so astonished.
"Where did you see him?" he asked.
Then I told him about meeting Lady Merrenden, and her asking me to luncheon, and about her having been in love with papa, and about the duke having looked me through and through with an expression of dislike.
"Oh, I see it all," said Robert, holding me closer. "Aunt Sophia and I are great friends, you know; she has always been like my mother, who died when I was a baby. I told her all about you when I came from Branches, and how I had fallen deeply in love with you at first sight, and that she must help me to see you at Tryland; and she did, and then I thought you had grown to dislike me, so when I came back she guessed I was unhappy about something, and this is her first step to find out how she can do me a good turn. Oh, she is a dear!"
"Yes, indeed, she is," I said.
"Of course she is extra interested in you if she was in love with your father. So that is all right, darling; she must know all about your family, and can tell Torquilstone. Why, we have nothing to fear!"
"Oh yes, we have," I said. "I know all the story of what your brother is toque about. Lady Ver told me. You see, the awkward part is mamma was really nobody; her father and mother forgot to get married, and although mamma was lovely and had been beautifully brought up by two old ladies at Brighton, it was a disgrace for papa marrying her. Mrs. Carruthers has often taunted me with this."
"Darling!" he interrupted, and began to kiss me again, and that gave me such feeling I could not collect my thoughts to go on with what I was saying for a few minutes. We both were rather silly, if it is silly to be madly, wildly happy, and oblivious of everything else.
"I will go straight to Aunt Sophia now, when I take you back to Claridge's," he said, presently, when we had got a little calmer.
I wonder what kisses do that it makes one have that perfectly lovely sensation down the back, just like certain music does, only much, much more so. I thought they would be dreadful things when it was a question of Christopher, but Robert! Oh, well, as I said before, I can't think of any other heaven.
"What time is it?" I had sense enough to ask presently.
He lit a match and looked at his watch.
"Ten minutes past five," he exclaimed.
"And Christopher was coming about four," I said; "and if you had not chanced to meet me in the park by now I should have been engaged to him, and probably trying to bear his kissing me."
"My God!" said Robert, fiercely; "it makes me rave to think of it," and he held me so tight for a moment I could hardly breathe.
"You won't have any one else's kisses ever again in this world, and that I tell you," he said, through his teeth.
"I—I don't want them," I whispered creeping closer to him. "And I never have had any, never any one but you, Robert."
"Darling," he said, "how that pleases me!"
Of course, if I wanted to I could go on writing pages and pages of all the lovely things we said to each other, but it would sound, even to read to myself, such nonsense that I can't, and I couldn't make the tone of Robert's voice, or the exquisite fascination of his ways—tender, and adoring, and masterful. It must all stay in my heart, but oh! it is as if a fairy with a wand had passed and said "bloom" to a winter tree. Numbers of emotions that I had never dreamed about were surging through me—the floodgates of everything in my soul seemed opening in one rush of love and joy. While we were together nothing appeared to matter, all barriers melted away.
Fate would be sure to be kind to lovers like us.
We got back to Claridge's about six, and Robert would not let me go up to my sitting-room until he had found out if Christopher had gone.
Yes, he had come at four, we discovered, and had waited twenty minutes, and then left, saying he would come again at half-past six.
"Then you will write him a note, and give it to the porter for him, saying you are engaged to me and can't see him," Robert said.
"No, I won't do that. I am not engaged to you, and cannot be until your family consent and are nice to me," I said.
"Darling!" he faltered, and his voice trembled with emotion. "Darling, love is between you and me—it is our lives. However, that can go. The ways of my family—nothing shall ever separate you from me or me from you, I swear it! Write to Christopher."
I sat down at a table in the hall and wrote:
"DEAR MR. CARRUTHERS,—
"I am sorry I was out," then I bit the end of my pen. "Don't come and see me this evening. I will tell you why in a day or two.
"Will that do?" I said, and I handed it to Robert, while I addressed the envelope.
"Yes," he said, and waited while I sealed it up and gave it to the porter. Then, with a surreptitious squeeze of the hand, he left me to go to Lady Merrenden.
I have come up to my little sitting-room a changed being. The whole world revolves for me upon another axis, and all within the space of three short hours.
Sunday night, November 27th.
Late this evening, about eight o'clock, when I had relocked my journal, I got a note from Robert. I was just going to begin my dinner.
I tore it open, inside was another; I did not wait to look who from, I was too eager to read his. I paste it in:
"CARLTON HOUSE TERRACE.
"I have had a long talk with Aunt Sophia, and she is everything that is sweet and kind, but she fears Torquilstone will be a little difficult (I don't care, nothing shall separate us now). She asks me not to go and see you again to-night as she thinks it would be better for you that I should not go to the hotel so late. Darling, read her note, and you will see how nice she is. I shall come round to-morrow, the moment the beastly stables are finished, about twelve o'clock. Oh, take care of yourself! What a difference to-night and last night! I was feeling horribly miserable and reckless, and to-night! Well, you can guess. I am not half good enough for you, darling beautiful queen, but I think I shall know how to make you happy. I love you.
"Good-night my own.
"Do please send me a tiny line by my servant. I have told him to wait."
I have never had a love-letter before. What lovely things they are. I felt thrills of delight over bits of it. Of course I see now that I must have been dreadfully in love with Robert all along, only I did not know it quite. I fell into a kind of blissful dream, and then I roused myself up to read Lady Merrenden's. I sha'n't put hers in, too; it fills up too much, and I can't shut the clasp of my journal. It is a perfectly sweet little letter, just saying Robert had told her the news, and that she was prepared to welcome me as her dearest niece, and to do all she could for us. She hoped I would not think her very tiresome and old-fashioned suggesting Robert had better not see me again to-night, and, if it would not inconvenience me, she would herself come round to-morrow morning and discuss what was best to be done.
Veronique said Lord Robert's valet was waiting outside the door, so I flew to my table and began to write. My hand trembled so I made a blot, and had to tear that sheet up; then I wrote another. Just a little word. I was frightened; I couldn't say loving things in a letter; I had not even spoken many to him—yet.
"I loved your note," I began; "and I think Lady Merrenden is quite right. I will be here at twelve, and very pleased to see you." I wanted to say I loved him, and thought twelve o'clock a long way off, but of course one could not write such things as that, so I ended with just,
Then I read it over, and it did sound "missish" and silly. However, with the man waiting there in the passage, and Veronique fussing in and out of my bedroom, besides the waiters bringing up my dinner, I could not go tearing up sheets and writing others, it looked so flurried, so it was put into an envelope. Then, in one of the seconds I was alone, I nipped off a violet from a bunch on the table and pushed it in, too. I wonder if he will think it sentimental of me! When I had written the name, I had not an idea where to address it. His was written from Carlton House Terrace, but he was evidently not there now, as his servant had brought it. I felt so nervous and excited, it was too ridiculous—I am very calm as a rule. I called the man, and asked him where was his lordship now? I did not like to say I was ignorant of where he lived.
"His Lordship is at Vavasour House, madam," he said, respectfully, but with the faintest shade of surprise that I should not know. "His lordship dines at home this evening with his grace."
I scribbled a note to Lady Merrenden. I would be delighted to see her in the morning at whatever time suited her. I would not go out at all, and I thanked her. It was much easier to write sweet things to her than to Robert.
When I was alone I could not eat. Veronique came in to try and persuade me. I looked so very pale, she said, she feared I had taken cold. She was in one of her "old-mother" moods, when she drops the third person sometimes, and calls me "mon enfant."
"Oh, Veronique, I have not got a cold; I am only wildly happy," I said.
"Mademoiselle is doubtless fiancee to Mr. Carruthers. Oh, mon enfant adoree," she cried, "que je suis contente!"
"Gracious, no!" I exclaimed. This brought me back to Christopher with a start. What would he say when he heard?
"No, Veronique, to some one much nicer—Lord Robert Vavasour."
Veronique was frightfully interested. Mr. Carruthers she would have preferred, to me, she admitted, as being more solid, more "range," "plus a la fin de ses betises," but, no doubt, "milor" was charming too, and for certain one day mademoiselle would be duchess. In the meanwhile what kind of coronet would mademoiselle have on her trousseau?
I was obliged to explain that I should not have any, or any trousseau, for an indefinite time, as nothing was settled yet. This damped her a little.
"Un frere de duc, et pas de couronne!" After seven years in England she was yet unable to understand these strange habitudes, she said.
She insisted upon putting me to bed directly after dinner, "to be prettier for milor demain!" and then when she had tucked me up, and was turning out the light in the centre of the room, she looked back. "Mademoiselle is too beautiful like that," she said, as if it slipped from her. "Mon Dieu! il ne s'embeterai pas, le monsieur!"
I wonder how I lived before I met Robert. I wonder what use were the days. Oh, and I wonder, I wonder, if the duke continues to be obdurate about me, if I shall ever have the strength of mind to part from him so as not to spoil his future.
Such a short time ago—not yet four weeks—since I was still at Branches, and wondering what made the clock go round, the great, big clock of life.
Oh, now I know. It is being in love—frightfully in love, as we are. I must try and keep my head, though, and remember all the remarks of Lady Ver about things and men. Fighters all of them, and they must never feel quite sure. It will be dreadfully difficult to tease Robert, because he is so direct and simple, but I must try, I suppose. Perhaps being so very pretty as I am, and having all the male creatures looking at me with interest, will do, and be enough to keep him worried, and I won't have to be tiresome myself. I hope so, because I really do love him so extremely, I would like to let myself go, and be as sweet as I want to.
I am doing all the things I thought perfectly silly to hear of before. I kissed his letter, and slept with it on the pillow beside me, and this morning woke at six, and turned on the electric light to read it again. The part where the "darlings" come is quite blurry, I see, in daylight—that is where I kissed most, I know.
I seem to be numb to everything else. Whether Lady Ver is angry or not does not bother me. I did play fair. She could not expect me to go on pretending when Robert had said straight out he loved me. But I am sure she will be angry, though, and probably rather spiteful about it.
I will write her the simple truth in a day or two, when we see how things go. She will guess by Robert not going to Sedgwick.
At half-past eleven this morning Lady Merrenden came, and the room was all full of flowers that Robert had sent, bunches and bunches of violets and gardenias. She kissed me, and held me tight for a moment, and we did not speak. Then she said, in a voice that trembled a little:
"Robert is so very dear to me—almost my own child—that I want him to be happy; and you, too, Evangeline—I may call you that, may not I?"
I squeezed her hand.
"You are the echo of my youth, when I, too, knew the wild spring-time of love. So, dear, I need not tell you that you may count upon my doing what I can for you both."
Then we talked and talked.
"I must admit," she said at last, "that I was prejudiced in your favor for your dear father's sake, but in any case my opinion of Robert's judgment is so high, I would have been prepared to find you charming, even without that. He has the rarest qualities, he is the truest, most untarnished soul in this world.
"I don't say," she went on, "that he is not just as the other young men of his age and class; he is no Galahad, as no one can be with truth who is human and lives in the world. And I dare say kind friends will tell you stories of actresses and other diversions, but I who know him tell you, you have won the best and greatest darling in London."
"Oh, I am sure of it," I said. "I don't know why he loves me so much, he has seen me so little; but it began from the very first minute, I think, with both of us. He is such a nice shape."
She laughed. Then she asked me if she was right in supposing all these contretemps we had had were the doing of Lady Ver. "You need not answer, dear," she said. "I know Ianthe. She is in love with Robert herself; she can't help it; she means no harm, but she often gets these attacks, and they pass off. I think she is devoted to Sir Charles, really."
"Yes," I said.
"It is a queer world we live in, child," she continued, "and true love and suitability of character are such a rare combination, but from what I can judge, you and Robert possess them."
"Oh, how dear of you to say so!" I exclaimed.
"You don't think I must be bad, then, because of my coloring?"
"What a ridiculous idea, you sweet child!" she laughed. "Who has told you that!"
"Oh, Mrs. Carruthers always said so—and—and the old gentlemen, and—even Mr. Carruthers hinted I probably had some odd qualities. But you do think I shall be able to be fairly good—don't you?"
She was amused, I could see, but I was serious.
"I think you probably might have been a little wicked if you had married a man like Mr. Carruthers," she said, smiling, "but with Robert I am sure you will be good. He will never leave you a moment, and he will love you so much you won't have time for anything else."
"Oh, that is what I shall like—being loved," I said.
"I think all women like that," she sighed. "We could all of us be good if the person we love went on being demonstrative. It is the cold, matter-of-fact devotion that kills love, and makes one want to look elsewhere to find it again."
Then we talked of possibilities about the duke. I told her I knew his toquade, and she, of course, was fully acquainted with mamma's history.
"I must tell you, dear, I fear he will be difficult," she said. "He is a strangely prejudiced person, and obstinate to a degree, and he worships Robert, as we all do."
I would not ask her if the duke had taken a dislike to me, because I knew he had.
"I asked you to meet him on Saturday on purpose," she continued. "I felt sure your charm would impress him, as it had done me, and as it did my husband, but I wonder now if it would have been better to wait. He said after you were gone that you were much too beautiful for the peace of any family, and he pitied Mr. Carruthers if he married you. I don't mean to hurt you, child; I am only telling you everything, so that we may consult how best to act."
"Yes, I know," I said, and I squeezed her hand again; she does not put out claws like Lady Ver.
"How did he know anything about Mr. Carruthers"—I asked—"or me, or anything?" She looked ashamed.
"One can never tell how he hears things. He was intensely interested to meet you, and seemed to be acquainted with more of the affair than I am. I almost fear he must obtain his information from the servants."
"Oh, does not that show the housemaid in him? Poor fellow!" I said. "He can't help it, then, any more than I could help crying yesterday before Robert in the park. Of course we would neither of us have done these things if it were not for the tache in our backgrounds, only, fortunately for me, mine wasn't a housemaid, and was one generation farther back, so I would not be likely to have any of those tricks."
She leaned back in her chair and laughed. "You quaint, quaint child, Evangeline," she said.
Just then it was twelve o'clock, and Robert came in.
Oh, talk of hearts beating! If mine is going to go on jumping like this every time Robert enters a room, I shall get a disease in it in less than a year.
He looked too intensely attractive. He was not in London clothes; just serge things, and a guard's tie, and his face was beaming, and his eyes shining like blue stars.
We behaved nicely—he only kissed my hand, and Lady Merrenden looked away at the clock even for that. She has tact.
"Isn't my Evangeline a darling, Aunt Sophia?" he said. "And don't you love her red hair?"
"It is beautiful," said Lady Merrenden.
"When you leave us alone I am going to pull it all down"; and he whispered, "Darling, I love you," so close that his lips touched my ear, while he pretended he was not doing anything. I say, again, Robert has ways that would charm a stone image.
"How was Torquilstone last night?" Lady Merrenden asked, "and did you tell him anything?"
"Not a word," said Robert. "I wanted to wait and consult you both which would be best. Shall I go to him at once, or shall he be made to meet my Evangeline again, and let her fascinate him, as she is bound to do, and then tell him?"
"Oh, tell him straight!" I exclaimed, remembering his proclivities about the servants and that Veronique knows. "Then he cannot ever say we have deceived him."
"That is how I feel," said Robert.
"You take Evangeline to lunch, Aunt Sophia, and I will go back and feed with him, and tell him, and then come to you after."
"Yes, that will be best," she said, and it was settled that she should come in again and fetch me in an hour, when Robert should leave to go to Vavasour House. He went with her to the lift, and then he came back.
No—even in this locked book I am not going to write of that hour—it was too divine. If I had thought just sitting in the park was heaven, I now know there are degrees of heaven, and that Robert is teaching me up towards the seventh.
Monday afternoon. (Continued.)
I forgot to say a note came from Christopher by this morning's post—it made me laugh when I read it, then it went out of my head; but when Lady Merrenden returned for me, and we were more or less sane again—Robert and I—I thought of it; so apparently did he. "Did you by chance hear from Christopher, whether he got your note last night or no?" he said.
I went and fetched it from my bedroom when I put on my hat. Robert read it aloud:
"'Souvent femme varie—fol qui se fie!' Hope you found your variation worth while!
"What dam cheek!" he said, in his old way. He hasn't used any "ornaments to conversation" since we have been—oh, I want to say it—engaged!
Then his eyes flashed. "Christopher had better be careful of himself! He will have to be answerable to me now."
"Do be prudent, Evangeline dear," Lady Merrenden said, gayly, "or you will have Robert breaking the head of every man in the street who even glances at you. He is frantically jealous."
"Yes, I know I am," said Robert, rearranging the tie on my blouse with that air of sans gene and possession that pleases me so.
I belong to him now, and if my tie isn't as he likes he has a perfect right to retie it, no matter who is there. That is his attitude—not the least ceremony or stuff, everything perfectly simple and natural.
It does make things agreeable. When I was, "Miss Travers" and he "Lord Robert," he was always respectful and unfamiliar—except that one night when rage made him pinch my finger. But now that I am his Evangeline and he is my Robert (thus he explained it to me in our paradise hour), I am his queen and his darling, but at the same time his possession and belonging, just the same as his watch or his coat—I adore it—and it does not make me the least "uppish," as one might have thought.
"Come, come, children," Lady Merrenden said at last, "we shall all be late."
So we started, dropping Robert at Vavasour House on our way. It is a splendid place, down one of those side streets looking on the Green Park, and has a small garden that side. I had never been down to the little square where it is before, but, of course, every one can see its splendid frontage from St. James's Park, though I had never realized it was Vavasour House.
"Good luck!" whispered Lady Merrenden as Robert got out, and then we drove on.
Several people were lunching at Carlton House Terrace: cabinet ministers, and a clever novelist, and the great portrait painter, besides two or three charming women—one as pretty and smart as Lady Ver, but the others more ordinary looking, only so well mannered. No real frumps like the Montgomeries. We had a delightful lunch, and I tried to talk nicely and do my best to please my dear hostess. When they had all left I think we both began to feel excited, and long apprehensively for the arrival of Robert. So we talked of the late guests.
"It amuses my husband to see a number of different kinds of people," she said; "but we had nothing very exciting to-day, I must confess, though sometimes the authors and authoresses bore me, and they are often very disappointing—one does not any longer care to read their books after seeing them."
I said I could quite believe that.
"I do not go in for budding geniuses," she continued. "I prefer to wait until they have arrived, no matter their origin; then they have acquired a certain outside behavior on the way up, and it does not froisse one so. Merrenden is a great judge of human nature, and variety entertains him. Left to myself, I fear I should be quite contented with less gifted people who were simply of one's own world."
In all her talk one can see her thought and consideration for Lord Merrenden and his wishes and tastes.
"I always feel it is so cruel for him, our having no children," she said. "The earldom becomes extinct, so I must make him as happy as I can."
What a dear and just woman!
At last we spoke of Robert, and she told me stories of his boyhood, amusing Eton scrapes, and later feats. And how brave and splendid he had been in the war; and how the people all adored him at Torquilstone; and of his popularity and influence with them. "You must make him go into Parliament," she said.
Then Robert came into the room. Oh, his darling face spoke, there was no need for words. The duke, one could see, had been obdurate.
"Well," said Lady Merrenden.
Robert came straight over to me and took my face in his two hands. "Darling," he said, "before everything I want you to know I love you better than anything else in the world, and nothing will make any difference," and he kissed me deliberately before his aunt. His voice was so moved, and we all felt a slight lump in our throats I know; then he stood in front of us, but he held my hand.
"Torquilstone was horrid, I can see," said Lady Merrenden. "What did he say, Robert? Tell us everything. Evangeline would wish it too, I am sure, as well as I."
Robert looked very pale and stern; one can see how firm his jaw is in reality, and how steady his dear, blue eyes.
"I told him I loved Evangeline, whom I understood he had met yesterday, and that I intended to marry her."
"And he said?" asked Lady Merrenden, breathless.
I only held tighter Robert's hand.
"He swore like a trooper, he thumped his glass down on the table and smashed it—a disgusting exhibition of temper—I was ashamed of him. Then he said never, as long as he lived and could prevent it; that he had heard something of my infatuation, so as I am not given that way he had made inquiries, and found the family was most unsatisfactory. Then he had come here yesterday on purpose to see you—darling," turning to me, "and that he had judged for himself. The girl was a 'devilish beauty' (his words, not mine), with the naughtiest, provoking eyes, and a mouth—No, I can't say the rest, it makes me too mad," and Robert's eyes flashed.
Lady Merrenden rose from her seat and came and took my other hand. I felt as if I could not stand too tall and straight.
"The long and short of it is, he has absolutely refused to have anything to do with the matter, says I need expect nothing further from him, and we have parted for good and all."
"Oh, Robert!" It was almost a cry from Lady Merrenden.
Robert put his arms round me, and his face changed to radiance.
"Well, I don't care; what does it matter? A few places and thousands in the dim future—the loss of them is nothing to me if I only have my Evangeline now."
"But, Robert dearest," Lady Merrenden said, "you can't possibly live without what he allows you—what have you of your own? About eighteen hundred a year, I suppose, and you know, darling boy, you are often in debt. Why, he paid five thousand for you as lately as last Easter. Oh, what is to be done?" and she clasped her hands.
I felt as if turned to stone. Was all this divine happiness going to slip from my grasp? Yes, it looked like it, for I could never drag Robert into poverty and spoil his great future.
"He can't leave away Torquilstone, and those thousands of profitless acres," Lady Merrenden went on; "but, unfortunately, all the London property is at his disposition. Oh, I must go and talk to him!"
"No," said Robert. "It would not be the least use, and would look as if we were pleading." His face had fallen to intense sadness as Lady Merrenden spoke of his money.
"Darling," he said, in a broken voice. "No, it is true it would not be fair to make you a beggar. I should be a cad to ask you. We must think of some way of softening my brother after all."
Then I spoke.
"Robert," I said, "if you were only John Smith I would say I would willingly go and live with you in a cottage, or even in a slum; but you are not, and I would not for anything in the world drag you down out of what is your position in life. That would be a poor sort of love. Oh, my dear," and I clasped tight his hand, "if everything fails, then we must part and you must forget me."
He folded me in his arms, and we heard the door shut. Lady Merrenden had left us alone. Oh, it was anguish and divine bliss at the same time the next half-hour.
"I will never forget you, and never in this world will I take another woman, I swear to God!" he said, at the end of it. "If we must part, then life is finished for me of all joy."
"And for me, too, Robert!"
We said the most passionate vows of love to each other, but I will not write them here; there is another locked book where I keep them—the book of my soul.
"Would it be any good if Colonel Tom Carden went and spoke to him?" I asked, presently. "He was best man at papa's wedding, and knows all there is to be known of poor mamma; and do you think that as mamma's father was Lord de Brandreth—a very old barony I believe it is—oh, can it make any difference to the children's actual breeding, their parents not having been through the marriage ceremony? I—I—don't know much of that sort of things."
"My sweet," said Robert, and through all our sorrow he smiled and kissed me—"my sweet, sweet Evangeline."
"But does the duke know all the details of the history?" I asked, when I could speak; one can't when one is being kissed.
"Every little bit, it seems. He says he will not discuss the matter of that—I must know it is quite enough, as I have always known his views; but if it was not sufficient, your wild, wicked beauty is. You would not be faithful to me for a year, he said. I could hardly keep from killing him when he hurled that at my head."
I felt my temper rising. How frightfully unjust—how cruel! I went over and looked in the glass—a big mirror between the windows—drawing Robert with me.
"Oh, tell me, tell me, what is it? Am I so very bad looking? It is a curse, surely, that is upon me."
"Of course you are not bad looking, my darling!" exclaimed Robert. "You are perfectly beautiful—a slender, stately, exquisite tiger-lily—only—only—you don't look cold—and it is just your red hair, and those fascinating green eyes, and your white, lovely skin and black eyelashes that, that—Oh, you know, you sweetheart! You don't look like bread-and-butter, you are utterly desirable, and you would make any one's heart beat."
I thought of the night at "Carmen."
"Yes, I am wicked," I said; "but I never will be again—only just enough to make you always love me, because Lady Ver says security makes yawns. But even wicked people can love with a great, great love, and that can keep them good. Oh, if he only knew how utterly I love you, Robert, I am sure, sure, he would be kind to us!"
"Well, how shall we tell him?"
Then a thought came to me, and I felt all over a desperate thrill of excitement.
"Will you do nothing until to-morrow?" I said. "I have an idea which I will tell to no one. Let us go back to Claridge's now, and do not come and see me again until to-morrow at twelve. Then, if this has failed we will say good-bye. It is a desperate chance."
"And you won't tell me what it is?"
"No. Please trust me; it is my life as well as yours, remember."
"My queen!" he said. "Yes, I will do that, or anything else you wish, only never, never good-bye. I am a man, after all, and have numbers of influential relations. I can do something else in life just be a Guardsman, and we shall get enough money to live quite happily on, though we might not be very grand people. I will never say good-bye—do you hear? Promise me you will never say it, either."
I was silent.
"Evangeline, darling!" he cried in anguish, his eyebrows right up in the old way, while two big tears welled up in his beautiful eyes. "My God! won't you answer me?"
"Yes, I will," I said, and I threw all my reserve to the winds, and flung my arms round his neck, passionately.
"I love you with my, heart and soul, and pray to God we shall never say good-bye."
When I got back to Claridge's, for the first time in my life I felt a little faint. Lady Merrenden had driven me back herself, and left me with every assurance of her devotion and affection for us. I had said good-bye to Robert for the day at Carlton House Terrace.
They do not yet know me, either of them, quite; or what I can and will do.
I felt to carry out my plan I must steady my mind a little, so I wrote my journal, and that calmed me.
Of all the things I was sure of in the world, I was most sure that I loved Robert far too well to injure his prospects. On the other hand, to throw him away without a struggle was too cruel to both of us. If mamma's mother was nobody, all the rest of my family were fine old fighters and gentlemen, and I really prayed to their shades to help me now.
Then I rang and ordered some iced water, and when I had thought deeply for a few minutes while I sipped it, I sat down to my writing-table. My hand did not shake, though I felt at a deadly tension. I addressed the envelope first, to steady myself:
"To "His Grace "The Duke of Torquilstone, "Vavasour House, "St. James's, S.W."
Then I put that aside.
"I am Evangeline Travers who writes," I began, without any preface; "and I ask if you will see me—either here in my sitting-room this evening, or I will come to you at Vavasour House. I understand your brother, Lord Robert, has told you that he loves me and wishes to marry me, and that you have refused your consent, partly because of the history of my family, but chiefly because my type displeases you. I believe, in days gone by, the prerogative of a great noble like you was to dispense justice. In my case it is still your prerogative by courtesy, and I ask it of you. When we have talked for a little, if you then hold to your opinion of me, and convince me that it is for your brother's happiness, I swear to you on my word of honor I will never see him again."
I put it hastily in the envelope and fastened it up. Then I rang the bell, and had it sent by a messenger in a cab, who was to wait for an answer. Oh, I wonder if in life I shall ever have to go through another twenty-five minutes like those that passed before the waiter brought a note up to me in reply.
Even if the journal won't shut I must put it in:
"VAVASOUR HOUSE, ST. JAMES'S
"November 28th. "DEAR MADAM,—
"I have received your letter, and request you to excuse my calling upon you at your hotel this evening, as I am unwell; but if you will do me the honor to come to Vavasour House on receipt of this, I will discuss the matter in question with you, and trust you will believe that you may rely upon my justice.
"I remain, madam,
"His grace's brougham is waiting below for you, madam," the waiter said, and I flew to Veronique.
I got her to dress me quickly. I wore the same things, exactly, as he had seen me in before—deep mourning they are, and extremely becoming.
In about ten minutes Veronique and I were seated in the brougham and rolling on our way. I did not speak.
I was evidently expected, for as the carriage stopped the great doors flew open and I could see into the dim and splendid hall.
A silver-haired, stately old servant led me along through a row of powdered footmen, down a passage all dimly lit with heavily shaded lights. (Veronique was left to their mercies.) Then the old man opened a door, and without announcing my name, merely, "The lady, your grace," he held the door, and then went out and closed it softly.
It was a huge room splendidly panelled with dark, carved boiserie Louis XV., the most beautiful of its kind I had ever seen—only it was so dimly lit with the same shaded lamps one could hardly see into the corners.
The duke was crouching in a chair and looked fearfully pale and ill, and had an inscrutable expression on his face. Fancy a man so old-looking, and crippled, being even Robert's half-brother.
I came forward—he rose with difficulty, and this is the conversation we had.
"Please don't get up," I said. "If I may sit down opposite you."
"Excuse my want of politeness," he said, pointing to a chair; "but my back is causing me great pain to-day."
He looked such a poor, miserable, soured, unhappy creature, I could not help being touched.
"Oh, I am so sorry!" I said. "If I had known you were ill I would not have troubled you now."
"Justice had better not wait," he replied, with a whimsical, cynical, sour smile. "State your case."
Then he suddenly turned on an electric lamp near me, which made a blaze of light in my face. I did not jump, I am glad to say; I have pretty good nerves.
"My case is this: To begin with, I love your brother better than anything else in the world."
"Possibly—a number of women have done so," he interrupted. "Well?"
"And he loves me," I continued, not noticing the interruption.
"Agreed. It is a situation that happens every day among young fools. You have known each other about a month, I believe."
"Under four weeks," I corrected.
"It cannot be of such vital importance to you, then, in that short time."
"It is of vital importance to me, and you know your brother's character; you will be able to judge as well as I if, or not, it is a matter of vital importance to him."
He frowned. "Well, your case?"
"First, to demand on what grounds you condemned me as a 'devilish beauty'? And why you assume that I should not be faithful to Robert for a year?"
"I am a rather good judge of character," he said.
"You cannot be, or you would see that whatever accident makes me have this objectionable outside, the me that lives within is an honest person who never breaks her word."
"I can only see red hair, and green eyes, and a general look of the devil."
"Would you wish people always to judge by appearances, then?" I said; "because, if so, I see before me a prejudiced, narrow-minded, cruel-tempered, cynical man—jealous of youth's joys. But I would not be so unjust as to stamp you with these qualities because of that!"
He looked straight at me, startled. "I may be all these things," he said. "You are probably right."
"Then, oh, please don't be!" I went on quickly. "I want you to be kind to us. We—oh, we do, do so wish to be happy, and we are both so young, and life will be so utterly blank and worthless for all those years to the end if you part us now."
"I did not say I would part you," he said, coldly. "I merely said I refused to give Robert any allowance, and I shall leave everything in my power away from the title. If you like to get married on those terms you are welcome to."
Then I told him that I loved Robert far too much to like the thought of spoiling his future.
"We came into each other's lives," I said. "We did not ask it of fate, she pushed us there, and I tried not to speak to him because I had promised a friend of mine I would not, as she said she liked him herself, and it made us both dreadfully unhappy; and every day we mattered more to each other until yesterday, when I thought he had gone away for good and I was too miserable for words, we met in the park, and it was no use pretending any longer. Oh, you can't want to crush out all joy and life for us, just because I have red hair! It is so horribly unjust."
"You beautiful siren!" he said. "You are coaxing me. How you know how to use your charms and your powers, and what man could resist your tempting face!"
I rose in passionate scorn.
"How dare you say such things to me!" I said. "I would not stoop to coax you. I will not again ask you for any boon. I only wanted you to do me the justice of realizing you had made a mistake in my character—to do your brother the justice of conceding the point that he has some right to love whom he chooses. But keep your low thoughts to yourself—evil, cruel man! Robert and I have got something that is better than all your lands and money—a dear, great love, and I am glad—glad he will not in the future receive anything that is in your gift. I shall give him the gift of myself, and we shall do very well without you;" and I walked to the door, leaving him huddled in the chair.
Thus ended our talk on justice.
Never has my head been so up in the air. I am sure had Cleopatra been dragged to Rome in Augustus's triumph she would not have walked with more pride and contempt than I through the hall of Vavasour House.
The old servant was waiting for me, and Veronique, and the brougham.
"Call a hansom, if you please," I said, and stood there like a statue while one of the footmen had to run into St. James's Street for it.
Then we drove away, and I felt my teeth chatter while my cheeks burned. Oh, what an end to my scheme and my dreams of, perhaps, success!
But what a beast of a man! What a cruel, warped, miserable creature. I will not let him separate me from Robert—never, never! He is not worth it. I will wait for him—my darling—and if he really loves me, some day we can be happy, and if he does not—but, oh, I need not fear.
I am still shaking with passion, and shall go to bed. I do not want any dinner.
Tuesday morning, November 29th.
Veronique would not let me go to bed, she insisted upon my eating, and then after dinner I sat in an old but lovely wrap of white crepe, and she brushed out my hair for more than an hour—there is such a tremendous lot of it, it takes time.
I sat in front of the sitting-room fire and tried not to think. One does feel a wretch after a scene like that. At about half-past nine I heard noises in the passage of people, and with only a preliminary tap Robert and Lady Merrenden came into the room. I started up, and Veronique dropped the brush in her astonishment, and then left us alone.
Both their eyes were shining and excited, and Robert looked crazy with joy; he seized me in his arms, and kissed me, and kissed me, while Lady Merrenden said, "You darling Evangeline! you plucky, clever girl! Tell us all about it!"
"About what?" I said, as soon as I could speak.
"How you managed it."
"Oh, I must kiss her first, Aunt Sophia!" said Robert. "Did you ever see anything so divinely lovely as she looks with her hair all floating like this, and it is all mine, every bit of it!"
"Yes, it is," I said, sadly, "and that is about all of value you will get."
"Come and sit down," said Robert, "Evangeline, you darling—and look at this."
Upon which he drew from his pocket a note. I saw at once it was the duke's writing, and I shivered with excitement. He held it before my eyes.
"Dear Robert," it began. "I have seen her. I am conquered. She will make a magnificent duchess. Bring her to lunch to-morrow. Yours, TORQUILSTONE."
I really felt so intensely moved I could not speak.
"Oh, tell us, dear child, how did it happen, and what did you do, and where did you meet!" said Lady Merrenden.
Robert held my hand.
Then I tried to tell them as well as I could, and they listened breathlessly. "I was very rude, I fear," I ended with, "but I was so angry."
"It is glorious," said Robert. "But the best part is that you intended to give me yourself with no prospect of riches. Oh, darling, that is the best gift of all!"
"Was it disgustingly selfish of me?" I said. "But when I saw your poor brother so unhappy-looking, and soured, and unkind, with all his grandeur, I felt that to us, who know what love means, to be together was the thing that matters most in all the world."
Lady Merrenden then said she knew some people staying here who had an apartment on the first floor, and she would go down and see if they were visible. She would wait for Robert in the hall, she said, and she kissed us good-night and gave us her blessing.
What a dear she is! What a nice pet, to leave us alone!
Robert and I passed another hour of bliss, and I think we must have got to the sixth heaven by now—Robert says the seventh is for the end, when we are married. Well, that will be soon. Oh, I am too happy to write coherently!
I did not wake till late this morning, and Veronique came and said my sitting-room was again full of flowers. The darling Robert is!
I wrote to Christopher and Lady Ver in bed, as I sipped my chocolate. I just told Lady Ver the truth, that Robert and I had met by chance and discovered we loved each other, so I knew she would understand, and I promised I would not break his heart. Then I thanked her for all her kindness to me, but I felt sad when I read it over; poor, dear Lady Ver—how I hope it won't really hurt her, and that she will forgive me!
To Christopher I said I had found my "variation" worth while, and I hoped he would come to my wedding some day soon.
Then I sent Veronique to post them both.
To-day I am moving to Carlton House Terrace. What a delight that will be! and in a fortnight—or at best three weeks—Robert says we shall quietly go and get married, and Colonel Tom Carden can give me away after all.
Oh, the joy of the dear, beautiful world, and this sweet, dirty, entrancing, fog-bound London! I love it all—even the smuts!
CARLTON HOUSE TERRACE,
Robert came to see me at twelve, and he brought me the loveliest, splendid diamond and emerald ring, and I danced about like a child with delight over it. He has the most exquisite sentiment, Robert—every little trifle has some delicate meaning, and he makes me feel and feel.
Each hour we spend together we seem to discover some new bit of us which is just what the other wants. And he is so deliciously jealous and masterful and—oh, I love him—so there it is!
I am learning a lot of things, and I am sure there are lots to learn still.
At half-past one Lady Merrenden came and fetched us in the barouche, and off we went to Vavasour House, with what different feelings to last evening!
The pompous servants received us in state, and we all three walked on to the duke's room.
There he was, still huddled in his chair, but he got up—he is better to-day.
Lady Merrenden went over and kissed him.
"Dear Torquilstone," she said.
"Morning, Robert," he mumbled, after he had greeted his aunt. "Introduce me to your fiancee."
And Robert did, with great ceremony.
"Now, I won't call you names any more," I said, and I laughed in his face. He bent down and kissed my forehead.
"You are a beautiful tiger-cat," he said; "but even a year of you would be well worth while."
Upon which Robert glared, and I laughed again, and we all went in to lunch.
He is not so bad, the duke, after all.
CARLTON HOUSE TERRACE,
Oh, it is three weeks since I wrote, but I have been too busy and too happy for journals. I have been here ever since, getting my trousseau, and Veronique is becoming used to the fact that I can have no coronet on my lingerie.
It is the loveliest thing in the world being engaged to Robert.
He has ways! Well, even if I really were as bad as I suppose I look, I could never want any one else. He worships me, and lets me order him about, and then he orders me about, and that makes me have the loveliest thrills. And if any one even looks at me in the street—which of course they always do—he flashes blue fire at them, and I feel—oh, I feel, all the time!
Lady Merrenden continues her sweet kindness to us, and her tact is beyond words, and now I often do what I used to wish to—that is, touch Robert's eyelashes with the tips of my fingers.
It is perfectly lovely.
Oh, what in the world is the good of anything else in life but being frantically in love as we are!
It all seems, to look back upon, as if it were like having porridge for breakfast, and nothing else every day, before I met Robert.
Perhaps it is because he is going to be very grand in the future, but every one has discovered I am a beauty, and intelligent. It is much nicer to be thought that than just to be a red-haired adventuress.
Lady Katherine, even, has sent me a cairngorm brooch and a cordial letter. (I should now adorn her circle!)
But oh, what do they all matter—what does anything matter but Robert! All day long I know I am learning the meaning of "to dance and to sing and to laugh and to live."
The duke and I are great friends. He has ferreted out about mamma's mother, and it appears she was a Venetian music-mistress of the name of Tonquini, or something like that, who taught Lord de Brandreth's sisters—so perhaps Lady Ver was right after all, and far, far back in some other life I was the friend of a Doge.
Poor, dear Lady Ver! She has taken it very well after the first spiteful letter, and now I don't think there is even a tear at the corner of her eye.
Lady Merrenden says it is just the time of the year when she usually gets a new one, so perhaps she has now, and so that is all right.
The diamond serpent she has given me has emerald eyes—and such a pointed tongue.
"It is like you, snake-girl," she said; "so wear it at your wedding."
The three angels are to be my only bridesmaids.
Robert loads me with gifts, and the duke is going to let me wear all the Torquilstone jewels when I am married, besides the emeralds he has given me himself. I really love him.
Christopher sent me this characteristic note with the earrings which are his gift, great big emeralds set with diamonds:
"So sorry I shall not see you on the happy day, but Paris, I am fortunate enough to discover, still has joys for me.
"Wear them; they will match your eyes."
And to-morrow is my wedding-day, and I am going away on a honeymoon with Robert—away into the seventh heaven. And oh, and oh, I am certain, sure, neither of us will yawn!