love well. But there one sometimes has a feeling of sadness in thinking of what she was, especially her Rome, which one does not experience here. I am at one with your great Victor Hugo when he says, ‘It is in Paris that the beating of Europe’s heart is felt. Paris is the city of cities. Paris is the city of men. There has been an Athens, there has been a Rome, there is a Paris.'”
Here Vaura seated herself. While speaking in her clear tones with a depth of feeling in her manner and varying expression efface, her beauty was felt by all. There was now a brighter hue than usual in her cheeks, and her dark eyes shone like stars with the excitement of the moment. The immediate family of de Hauteville now came forward offering their congratulations, and many of the guests did her the same honor.
“Will _la belle_ permit one of her most humble admirers to offer his congratulations and offering?” said the voice of Lionel beside her, and with a warm pressure of the hand, he slipped into the holder beside the bouquet three small sprays, one of white pink, one of Peruvian Heliotrope, and a small bit of black thorn. Vaura, an ardent lover of flowers was also mistress of their language, so she read silently commencing at the white pink. “‘I love you,’ ‘fair and fascinating,’ but there is a ‘difficulty.'” “Where and what is the difficulty, I wonder,” she thought, and turning her large bright eyes to his face with a smile in them and on her lips, was how she answered him.
“I must congratulate you on your maiden speech, Mlle. Vernon,” said the small host in his small voice. “When you can make such an excellent impromptu one, I feel sure we men in our efforts would be put to shame, were we to listen to a studied one from _la belle_,” and the little man retired behind madame’s drapery.
“_Merci_, monsieur, my poor little speech did not show you half my gratitude for such undeserved honors.”
The guests having drank the health of the heir and _la belle de la nuit_, began to disperse and soon after warm farewells to the family and heartfelt wishes that they should soon meet again, our friends were in their carriage and rapidly driving to their hotel.
Lionel was very quiet, saying little, but ever and anon with a careful hand drawing Lady Esmondet or Vaura’s wraps around them, not that the night, or rather morning, was cold but Vaura had danced so often and there had been so much of excitement in the night for her, and besides it was delightful to him to have her at last near him where he could feel her presence and know that the others were all away; to feel that when his hand touched her cheek, neck, or arm in his loving care in keeping her from the night air, that she did not shrink from his touch, but rather leaned to it. And he was happy, and so was she, but he did not know it, he only knew he was near her.
THE WEB OF DIFFICULTY.
The morning after the de Hauteville ball Lady Esmondet and Vaura met at the breakfast-table, at noon, Lady Esmondet not looking paler than usual. Vaura was pale for she had slept none, her eyes looking larger and her dainty and flexible lips a deep red. She was quite like her own sweet self though, in spite of fatigue, and her soft cardinal silk morning robe, loose at the throat, and turned down collar of white muslin and lace. In her belt the pink, heliotrope, and black-thorn sprays; and Lionel was content with the picture as he opened the door and came forward. Vaura was pouring out a cup of coffee for Lady Esmondet, her shapely hands, so soft and white, coming from the cuffs of muslin and lace (she never could be seduced into wearing the odious stiff linen collar and cuff’s some women’s souls delight in).
Lionel thought: “Shall I ever call her wife, and when I come in have a right to take these two dear hands in mine and press them to my heart as I bend down to kiss her sweet mouth.” He said, “_Bonjour_, ladies fair. I have come to see how you are feeling after the revels of the past night.”
“And to refresh your own poor tired self with a cup of coffee,” answered Vaura, handing him one.
“You see, Lionel,” said Lady Esmondet, “we are waiting upon ourselves, the maids are doing the necessary packing, as we have not altered our plans to leave Paris at sundown; I hope we are not hurrying you away?”
“Not at all; did you leave me, I should follow by next express; there would be nothing to hold me here, if you were gone.”
“Nothing,” said Vaura softly; “and Paris so full of beautiful, brilliant women.”
“Not now,” he answered, looking into her eyes with a grave look.
Vaura gave one little sigh as she let her eyes stay on his. And this man felt that he must feel this woman in his arms or his heart would break.
There was a tap, tap, at the door and Somers entered, bringing her mistress, letters; there were several from friends, with one from Colonel Haughton to his niece and one from Mrs. Haughton to Capt. Trevalyon, which ran thus:
“MY HEART’S IDOL,–
“The Colonel has written by this mail to Miss Vernon, stating his wish that she and Lady Esmondet come _without fail_ to the Christmas festivities. I am not partial to either of them (this is under the rose) they are too high strung for me; but, my king, I must have you; you don’t know how jolly I can make life for my pets; Blanche won’t look at Sir Peter Tedril and I know it is you she wants, you may have her and her million, you will be near me then; the Colonel, poor sedate old fellow, would not like it, but that don’t signify, because he wishes (now that your secret marriage to Fanny Clarmont has become public talk) that there were a thousand miles between your handsome person and Miss Vernon; I wish you had some of the love for me that the black-bearded Major has; I cannot keep him away, but he _shall_ if you will only come, my king; my king, if you were only with me I should thaw your proud heart in spite of yourself, my haughty, handsome god; come _at once_ on receipt of this; _how_ can you stay with _two icebergs_, when _burning lava_, like my heart, is aching with its long waiting for you.
“In love, yours,
“P.S.–Persuade the icebergs not to come here; tell them Italy was made for them.”
On writing and mailing above, Madame was content, as she sat in her own boudoir with feet on a high stool stretched out. That will bring him; my plot is spreading; ha! ha! ha! I planted it well; nothing like getting scandal well rooted; he has been careless, and society doesn’t forgive that; had he only paid tolls, married somebody’s daughter, given dinners and balls; society would have snapped her fingers at this story, and though Delrose had said to her ‘but he never wed her Kate, at least he said so, but I daresay he lied.’ But she used the scandal, as we have seen, employing the useful firm of Mesdames Grundy & Rumour; giving them also whispers of how poor little Blanche was half engaged to him–if she could bring him to her feet she would love him; if not, she would make her revenge tell. He should not wed Vaura Vernon, if a woman’s tongue sharp as a two-edged sword could cut their lives apart. She would be content to repeat the little act of barter that the young man did for Marguerite with Mephistopheles, for Lionel’s love. She had learned and practised society’s creed, and paid its tolls; surely now she was free to have her pets, and love them too; whether it were a poodle dog or a man, whether it were a trip to her pet club at London of the cane and cigarette, or a drive to Richmond.
And Lionel thought, as he again glanced over his letter:
“What a bore it is that I did not years ago clear myself; delays are dangerous; this woman has already planted a doubt in Haughton’s mind; and heavens, if she succeed in doing it here, my life will be as lonely as was my poor father’s,” and unconsciously, he gave a deep sigh.
Vaura looked up quickly from a letter from Isabel Douglas; and Lady Esmondet said:
“No bad news, I hope, Lionel.”
“No, and yes, dear Lady Esmondet; my opponents hold some good cards, and the play is against me that is all. But Miss Vernon has something pleasant to tell us from her home batch.”
“Lady Esmondet had seen that the letter for Lionel was from Haughton Hall, and guessed his opponent is that woman, and the cards are against him, poor fellow.” And Vaura said:
“Isabel Douglas says firstly that she is going to wed the curate, Rev. Frederick Southby; secondly, they are as gay as butterflies at Haughton Hall; that Madame, newly installed, though she be, leads the fashion to the old gentry, who were, when she was not, both in the cut of her garments, and in the novelties in the manner of her entertainments. She gives me Roland’s opinion. Mrs. Haughton is one of society’s sky-rockets, a high flyer, determined to make her world stare; bold in her daring ascent; but by her glittering colours leading their gaze from the steady quiet shine of the heavenly bodies; though she says ‘all the country people cannot claim to be heaven- born.'”
“But I think Roland’s a good criticism,” said Lady Esmondet.
“She goes on to say,” continued Vaura, “the Hall is restored to its ancient magnificence, the ball and dinners on their return were grand or rather gorgeous, for gorgeous is Mrs. Haughton’s style. Am often there–we are to dance some new dances at Christmas, and there is an importation at the Hall from London, of, as Roland says, ‘a pocket edition of the light fantastic toe;’ really, Vaura, my feet are something to fold up and put away; I am so much ashamed of the flesh and bone nature has given them, when I look at his they are too small; but he could easily carry himself in his own violin case. What are you doing with Sir Tilton Everly? At luncheon, yesterday, at the Hall, someone said they had heard from a friend at Paris that the wee mon had been seen in same box with you at the theatre. Mrs. Haughton looked as black as night at the news, as he was wanted for to-night to represent Cupid to her Venus in the tableaux; don’t weave your spells round the truant, Vaura, dear, else you will gain the dislike of Miss Tompkins and her mother; he belongs to them, one would think they had bought him in the city, as they did their pug dogs. The other day I heard Mrs. Haughton say to Miss Tompkins. “If Everly did not come up to time for to-night, after his tight dress and wings, bow, &c., and my flesh-coloured, spun silk dress, all O.K. from London I’ll play him a trick at Christmas; I’ll write him we are too full, and can’t put him up.””
“Will you? you ain’t going to play all the tricks,’ said Miss Tompkins, as Mrs. Haughton left the room, they did not see me, I was buried in a great big chair reading a note from Fred. But I must close, dear; write me a long letter, and so give pleasure to
“Hotel Liberte le Soleil, Paris.”
“How changed the dear old place must be,” said Lady Esmondet, as Vaura ceased reading, “I would that the place could have been restored by some other means, but if your uncle is content, I, needn’t moan.”
“Whatever else may be said, one thing is sure: that Lincoln Tompkin’s gold could not have been put to better use,” said Lionel.
Here Somers knocked and informed her mistress the carriage waited.
“Bring me my wraps here, Somers. and then continue the packing, and when callers come, Miss Vernon and myself are not at home until dinner hour.”
“Yes, your ladyship.”
“Anything important on the _tapis_ for to-day?” asked Trevalyon.
“Yes,” answered Vaura, consulting her tablets, “Worth’s studio comes first on the list; he sends word he has something aesthetic, thence to purchase music, “Les Folies” Galop, by Ketterer; duet from “Il Trovatore,” “_Vivra Contende il Guibilo_,” “_Mira di Acarbe_,” etc., you must sing with me when we fold our wings for a while in some temporary home at Rome, Capt. Trevalyon.”
“I shall, it will give me very great pleasure.”
“Thank you; oh! yes, I must not forget to look into Monsieur Perrault’s cottage, and leave a parcel for Marie.” So saying, Vaura entered the adjoining-room to robe for the carriage.
“And what will you do with yourself, Lionel, until we meet at dinner?”
“I shall devote the hours to trying to find out the present home of Fanny Clarmont, for” said Lionel, coming beside his friend, “I _must_ clear myself; my enemies are on the war-path. Haughton’s last letter shows by its tone, they have influenced him; Delrose never liked me, and–“
Vaura entering ended the confidences.
“This letter,” said Vaura, “my maid tells me, was given to your servant, Capt. Trevalyon, by a man in livery, to be handed to me; it is in an unknown hand, I have not one minute to spare it now, will you kindly pocket it, and on our journey you and it will be near me and I can read it at will. Thanks, but you look very weary,” as she put the letter into his hand, she laid her other hand for a moment on his, and looking kindly into his face, “for Lady Esmondet and my sake, go and rest until our return.”
“I cannot, dear Miss Vernon; do you remember,” he said in a low tone, with his hands on the flowers in her belt, “the silent language these flowers speak?”
“Well, I now go out alone to try and unweave the web of difficulty.”
Vaura returned the close pressure of his hands, and the look in his eyes, and he was gone, while she, turning to her god-mother, said quietly, “we had better go, dear.”
They also left the boudoir.
Lionel, without loss of time, walked quickly to the lodgings he knew had been occupied by Fanny Clarmont some years before; but on reaching them, the landlady informed him that five years previously, Madame Rose (as she was known), had left her comfortable quarters, remittances not being so frequent, and had taken cheaper rooms, _numero cinq, Rue St. Basile_; thither Captain Trevalyon journeyed, only to find that Madame Rose had again shifted her quarters; after some difficulty, the address she had left in case Major Delrose should either call or send a cheque, was found; it directed him to miserable lodgings in one of the poorest streets of Paris; on his enquiring for Madame Rose, a woman told him she was gone; she had been very ill and he could gain further information from Father Lefroy, and she directed a little urchin to go and show the gentleman the priest’s house; Trevalyon putting a sovereign into her hand, thanked her and followed the boy. They soon reached their destination, a small, white, many-gabled old-fashioned windowed house, with bright flowers in boxes attached to the window-sill. Father Lefroy was full of hospitality and welcomed Captain Trevalyon, telling him he was ready to tell him of Madame Rose and her movements for the past three years. “Three years ago, the woman with whom you spoke, Monsieur, and who directed you to me, sent for me, saying, ‘Madame Rose is very ill and she and her little boy have no money for food.’ I went at once, and found her words true; the child was crying for bread, and I could see it was want that had brought illness to the poor mother. I had food brought and stimulants to give her temporary strength, then conveyed her and her little son to our convent of St. John, where she was nursed by the good sisters; while there she became a member of our holy faith. You are a friend of hers, Monsieur?”
“Well, she told me her history, and of how nine years ago, this Major Delrose, with whom she eloped–“
Lionel’s heart leaped; “Here is proof,” he thought.
“Deserted her, she then left her comfortable lodgings, went to others and gained a scanty support for herself and boy by giving singing lessons. She has given her boy to us to be educated for the holy priesthood; she herself has taken the veil and is now Sister Magdalen in a London convent, not cloistered, but is one of the sisters of mercy; and now, Monsieur, before I give you her address, tell me truthfully why you want it, your reason will be safe with me.”
Trevalyon told him faithfully, and the priest’s answer was to, write on a slip of paper as follows:
“To the Mother Superior of the Convent of St. Mary,” London, England.
“Grant Captain Trevalyon an interview with sister Magdalen (Madame Rose), and assist him in every way in your power to gain his end, which is good.”
“LEFROY, “Priest of St. John’s Chapel, Paris.”
Here a tap at the door called the priest; returning he said:
“Captain, Trevalyon, I must bid you adieu, my time belongs to the church, and I trust you will find that the church will aid you in making the truth tell.”
“I thank you, Father Lefroy; accept this gold for God’s poor.”
Lionel returned to his hotel with a lighter heart, though as yet he did not quite see how to cope with his enemies, how to make the truth, as the priest had said, tell. He must think it out. The three friends met at the _table d’hote_ in travelling costume, all in good spirits, each anticipating pleasure from the month’s sojourn in Italy. Lady Esmondet was in hopes her health would be materially benefitted, and was going, as we know, also for distraction’s sake; Col. Haughton, as a benedict, was a new situation she had yet to grow accustomed to. A man who is in a woman’s life for many years as he, chief friend, chief adviser, to go out from one suddenly into another life with another woman, gives one a terrible feeling of lonliness; hard, very hard to bear.
Vaura just now had a sweet sense of completeness in being near and leaning on, as it were, Lionel every day, though a latent feeling told her with warning voice that she should not give way. This very morn, an English gipsy in the pay of Mrs. Haughton, having gained admittance to the hotel and to herself; a fierce looking woman richly dressed in the garb of the Bohemian, her face very much muffled, having caught cold she said, crossing the channel, had told her “man with a wife will sue for your hand. Beware of him leddy, for danger and death I read in your hand.” Not that she paid much, if any, heed to the mere words of a gipsy, only this, that the hidden wife story would recur to her memory; but her dear old-time knight was drawing her nearer to himself every day, and because of the mental suffering he was undergoing on account of this very story; and it could not be otherwise with her intensely sympathetic nature, together with her pity for his past griefs; and so she gave herself up to the delicious completeness of her present, hourly deferring to him, leaning on him more and more. “It pleases him, poor fellow, but it will be a terrible awakening for me if this story be true; but I must ease his present pain even though I suffer; it is a necessity of my being” she told herself; so giving up to the hour, she, epicurean-like, let the present suffice.
Before leaving the hotel for the depot, putting a sovereign into the hand of a porter, she desired him to see that the beauteous flowers in their apartments were conveyed to M. Perrault’s cottage. On arriving at the depot, which the electric light made bright as the whitest moonlight, they saw many friends come to say farewell.
“Such an important exodus from our city cannot take place without many a heartfelt _bon voyage_,” said Eau Clair de Hauteville, gallantly.
“And while our heart weeps at our loss, we anticipate with joy your speedy return” said another, holding Vaura’s hand in a tight pressure.
“_Au plaisir, tout a vous_,” said another brokenly in a whisper.
“My table will be lonely,” cried Bertram, “until grace, beauty and wit dine again with my emaciated self.”
“You fill one end of your table, Bertram,” said Trevalyon, “and your cook the other; to be sure, you have the sides, but wings are not bad when tender, and I have no pity for you with a Wingfield near.”
“Ha! ha! ha!” laughed Mrs. Wingfield and Bertram, the former saying:
“Though I am always ready, Captain, to be side-bone-wing or Wingfield to Mr. Bertram’s soup, turbot, or mutton, Eustace is never very near, as now, but he is absent here because I told him he must show with me at a crush in an hour’s time, and as he mortally hates slow crushing, he is truant and I shall have to appear alone.”
“What a tyrant the mighty god _Society_ is,” cried Bertram, “ignores a man’s tastes; expects him to flatten himself at a crush immediately after a good dinner.”
“Try and be ours again at Christmas,” de Vesey was saying to Vaura.
“Without fail” said another “our city is glorious at the birth-day of the Christ.”
“And _la belle_ Vernon should not fail to lend us her beauty at that time,” said Eau Clair, thinking as did the others that her rare loveliness in the white light was as of an angel.
“She goes with the golden summer,” said a southerner.
“The beauteous birds go south in your company, Mile. Vernon, may they sing sweet songs for you as they wing their flight,” echoed a poet.
“I love the birds as I do your sunny climes, and as we journey, should I hear their sweet notes, shall remember your words,” she said softly, her syren voice full of music, as with a last hand-clasp and wave of handkerchief the guard shut the door and the fire horse dashed on his way and from gay Paris.
SLAIN BY A WOMAN.
Our travellers having a carriage to themselves made each other as comfortable as it is possible for human nature of to-day to be, accustomed to the cushion, footstool, and lounge of life.
“Farewell, once more, charming Paris,” said Lady Esmondet, “was there no England with its loved associations and many friends, then would I live my life in thee.”
“So should I,” said Vaura “the French are a dear, delightful people, really living in the flying moments, their gay cheerfulness acting on one as a stimulant; the veriest trifles are said by them in a pleasing manner all their own; yes we have much to envy the versatile Gaul for.”
“I fear,” said Lionel looking tenderly into her face, “I fear you will feel, in our life together once more, a little dull, as if a cloud had crossed the sunbeams, after your recent gaiety, triumphs, conquests, and what not.”
“You do not know my nature” she said, her large dark eyes looking at him reproachfully, “’tis like coming home. Even the gay songsters methinks love to know their nests await them; one’s life spent in the cold glitter of triumphs and conquests would be most unsatisfying, unless one knew of one heart, one’s home to rest at even; one other nature akin to ones own to share one’s inner higher life, that to the world is closed.”
“Yes, natures akin, what bliss,” said her godmother, dreamily partly taking up the refrain of Vaura’s words; partly going with thought which had quickly sped the “injurious distance” to Eric and the woman he has married.
“Just my conviction,” said Trevalyon with feeling, “natures akin; men talk of moulding some woman after marriage to their views of life; women talk of leaning on their husbands, I do not mean physically, for this is womanly, and I love a womanly woman, but mentally, what a drag; now I do not refer to education, for each could in that case give to the other, the information acquired from books being different; but to have constantly to instruct one’s wife into one’s tastes, habits, opinions in natures akin; each is perfect in the other; each goes out in the fulness of sympathy, heart to heart.”
“What! a rest!” said Lady Esmondet, with a sigh.
A grave yet tender look met in the mesmeric eyes of Lionel and the soulful eyes of Vaura, as she said softly:
“Yes, only in natures akin can there be that fulness of sympathy which makes marriage one’s earthly heaven;” and now that same far-away look comes to her eyes, as she thinks “poor fellow, poor, poor Guy;” and yet, ’tis only pity.
There was a lull in the conversation for a few moments, each busy with thought, when Lady Esmondet said, following her reverie,
“Tell us, Vaura, something more of Haughton news; does Isabel mention any of the novelties introduced?”
“Yes, godmother mine, and prepare yourselves at dinner, for Hebe, who waits, will be an equal.”
“Never!” said her companions in same breath.
“‘Tis true, ’tis pity, and pity ’tis ’tis true;’ at some signal or given time, Isabel says the servants are dismissed when some of the ladies wait, bearing the cup, or, etc.”
“I must say I should object, ‘however bright, however young’ my Hebe,” said Trevalyon; “her train would surely become entangled, and I defy Jupiter to be sweetly calm with iced champagne spilled down his neck or on to his knee.”
“I should say not,” said Lady Esmondet; “a most preposterous novelty to introduce.”
“Isabel says everything at table; takes the usual routine when there is a state dinner.”
“I should hope so.”
“When alone (that is with merely the home guests), she says they frequently wear some fancy costume at dinner.”
“What! changes; but I suppose I am old-fashioned,” said Lady Esmondet.
“And so am I, for I should feel as ill at ease, as the family portraits, could one invest them with speech and hear their lamentations,” said Trevalyon.
“Yes, you both forget this is the age of novelties; I am inclined to think could Solomon of old go to and fro some evening even through our British Isles, he would draw a pen through his time-honoured proverb of ‘There is nothing new under the sun.'”
“Haughton tells me we shall scarcely know the old place; I confess should like to see it much, as it was full of loved associations.”
“Parts of the Hall did really require the tools of the workman; but I hope my dear mother’s rooms have been left undisturbed to any great extent. It is well for us who have not gone to the extreme in our craze for the novelties that those who have cannot plant their ladder to the sky and retint in aesthetic, or according to Oscar Wilde, colours.”
“More letters, Lionel; your friends have not forgotten to remember you.”
“No, nor my foes, for by every mail comes something anonymous, telling me kindly of my blackened reputation; but I should not trouble either of you so much above and beyond the petty scandal making and loving herd; but it is very wearying and wearing to me; I sometimes think I should leave you on account of it, and grapple with this difficulty at once and forever;” the moisture was in Vaura’s eyes as he looked at her wearily with a long drawn sigh.
“You must not play into their hands, poor fellow, by seeming to notice their game,” said Lady Esmondet, musingly, “until you see your own way clear to face them, by telling them and proving it a ‘lie direct.'”
“Yes, dear Lady Esmondet, you are right; I shall not.”
“And depend upon it,” she continued, “unless in very exceptional cases, there is a woman at the bottom of every particle of scandal.”
“What do you say to this charge, Miss Vernon?”
“In the words of one who has written much my sentiments I shall tell you. ‘In days of yore, when the world was young and men were as brave and women fairer than they are to-day, when men to men were as faithful as Orestes to Pylades and women as sisters; when men and women had a simple faith which knew no fainting fits and believed as children in the fairy wand of the fairies, in the power over men’s destinies of the gods and goddesses; in those days it came to pass that Juno, who was jealous of her husband, Jupiter, and quarrelled with him over his many escapades, one day said unto him: Behave thyself and I shall throw the apple of discord and scandal to earth, and it shall come to pass that amongst the mortals my sex, not yours (for to woman, not man, have we given the undying gift of curiosity), shall catch it as it falls, and it shall come to pass that as many as shall eat of it shall hunger and thirst for scandal, and finding none shall form themselves into _clubs_, and meet, not in the Temple of Truth, where Minos, son of Jupiter, sits as supreme judge, and where falsehood and calumny can never approach; but where she who has eaten most greedily of the apple shall throw most mud at all outside sisters who have not eaten, which the listeners with itching ears shall catch up, and repeat on the wings of the wind, and Boreas, Auster, Eurus, and Zephyrus shall carry the refrain over all the land, and so we, with the other immortals, watching the strife among mortals, shall learn to live happily together.’ ‘And what then, fair Juno? you forget it will surely come to pass that the women who eat shall transmit to their offspring an undying thirst for scandal and power of invention therein.’ ‘Amen, O all-wise Jupiter; but it shall come to pass also that she shall only transmit this taste to her own sex; so, _n’importe_, here goes,’ and with a gay ‘_bon voyage_,’ she threw the apple to earth and us; you see, Captain Trevalyon; but thank the fates there are some of us who have not eaten.”
“And you stand out so bright in the loveliness of true women that one forgets that your sex do bespatter themselves with the mud they throw. What a pity it is; how many lives are severed by it,” said Lionel, wearily; “but to something sweeter than my worries. Here is the letter you left in my charge, Miss Vernon, and a few lines to myself from my cousin, telling me she and Uncle Vincent have arrived at London and the Langham.”
“Indeed!” said Lady Esmondet; “quite a change for your cousin.”
“Quite so; Judith has lived her life, I may say, at New York.”
“Has Sir Vincent’s health improved?”
“I regret not materially; though he says, so Judith tells me, that he already feels, the benefit of the change,” he said, somewhat absently, for he is watching Vaura’s changing expression as she reads. Her head is bent toward the letter, the fluffy brown hair in its natural wave meeting the brow; the lovely lips soft and full with a slight quiver in them; the small bonnet is off; the luxuriant hair in a knot behind fastened by pins of gold; her cloak, which he–himself had unfastened and removed, leaves her figure in its perfection of _contour_, robed in its gown of navy blue velvet, a sculptor’s study; her heartbeats are quicker and her cheeks wear a deeper rose as she reads the farewell words of the Marquis Del Castello.
“Peerless Mlle. Vernon, allow me, one of your most devoted admirers, the sad consolation of a last word of farewell. I have silently adored you for several months, and your own heart will tell you that now, suddenly coming to the knowledge that another life is to be made happy in yours, I cannot yet bear to look upon your loveliness as belonging to another. But I want to ask you to accept (from one who would give you all) the shelter of my villa Iberia for yourself and companions, during your stay at Rome; you will find it pleasantly situated, and at such time in the future that I may visit it, there will be a melancholy pleasure to me in the thought that the fairest of Saxon lilies, the most beauteous of English roses, with the warmth of the South in her nature, with the poetry of my own land in her heart, has been among my flowers, paintings, and my books. I feel sure, dearest Mlle. Vernon, that your heart will not deny me this small favour, and may your life be peaceful as an angel’s, and joyous as a butterfly in a garden of roses.–Another captive.
“FERDINAND DEL CASTELLO.
“Paris, November, 1877.”
Vaura was more than slightly agitated on reading the farewell words of her Spanish admirer. It was so unexpected, and she, so sympathetic, feeling for him in his heart-ache, also feeling that had there been no Lionel Trevalyon this Spaniard might have won her heart; and glancing up she saw that the _Saturday Review_ was laid aside, and the tired blue eyes on her face–when is it otherwise now?–and giving one little sigh as she smiled, the sigh being for Del Castello, gone out in his loneliness, and the smile for him. But poor Lionel did not know her heart. Man cannot fathom the depths of woman’s nature. They both may stand on the brink of a deep clear river, as he looks with her into its transparent mirror he only sees the reflection of her loveliness, for her heart is deep as the bed of the river; but when she sees his face reflected, his heart is laid bare. And so Vaura Vernon, being only a woman, knew Lionel had come to love her, for his eyes followed her every movement. The strong man was slain and she was content while he craved for more, he would fain be sure, by feeling her in his arms, and his lips on hers; and so he sighed, for had not her uncle forbidden him on his honour to speak? And she smiled, for she knew before long she would be held to his heart.
She thought it best to tell her companions at once, in part, the drift of Del Castello’s words; so saying, “Neither of you can guess whom the written words I have just perused are from, so I shall tell you. They come from the Marquis Del Castello.”
The rose deepened in her cheek on meeting Lionel’s eye, for she thought, “I wonder if the Marquis suspected the truth?” And a sharp pain came to Trevalyon’s heart in his dread of what her answer would be.
“In his billet,” continued Vaura, “he very kindly offers us the villa Iberia during our stay at Rome; of course in the most gallant and poetic manner of speech, as befits one of his race. During our first dance at the de Hauteville ball he told me it was his intention to go at once to his Italian villa, but it seems he has changed his mind, for in his letter he speaks of going there at some future time. And so, what think you, god-mother mine; do you feel inclined to be a guest of the absent lord and master?”
“It is for you to decide, _ma chere_.”
“Be it so; I feel inclined to please him in this matter; but perhaps our kind escort has made other arrangements,” turning to Trevalyon.
“No, _ma belle_; I had intended sending a telegram from Lyons to the proprietor of my favourite hotel (securing apartments), knowing him to be a very decent fellow; but now, perforce,” he added with an intent look, trying to read her, “my would-be landlord must go to the wall, while the doors of the villa obey the open sesame of yourself and its master.”
“While we make our _entree_,” said Vaura.
“And now as to our route,” said Lady Esmondet.
“I should say,” said Trevalyon, “through the Mount Cenis pass, to Turin, thence, by easy rail stages down to Rome, so that you will not be too fatigued; we should spend a day in the virgin-white, the spotless cathedral at Milan. Florence would be another rest, all among its flowers and time-honoured works of art; also resting a few days at the foot of the mountains, where we could enjoy walks and drives up the magnificent mountain slopes, and through ravines too wondrous in their beauty to be ever blotted from one’s memory.”
“Oh, yes; your route would be delightful,” said Vaura eagerly; “by all means, god-mother dear, let us linger by the way.”
“Yes, we can afford a few days to the pure loftiness of the mountains; the life of to-day is so practical, if full of shams that a day with nature is as a tonic to one’s higher, inner, self.”
“Just as I have felt, dear Lady Esmondet, when the social atmosphere at London has become too narrow for me; you both know, how at times, what has been sufficient for one, suddenly develops the bars, as it were, of a cage, which one must burst to breathe freely. How many months have I spent in these woods upon the mountains, with only my good dog, leaving my man domiciled at some pension below; the terrific grandeur of the peaks resting against the blue heavens, the majestic crags, restful valleys with verdure clad, or awfully steep precipices, all speaking to me of a higher power, were company enough. The beautiful lake of Bourget, has charmed me so that I must stay my steps, and did; gazing long into its mirrored surface. Then from its calm, the mighty torrents, wildly dashing and foaming, held me, when my mood was so; the many views from Chambery, too, woo one to linger. There was one old ruin, which, if we come upon, I think you would greatly admire; it was on the ascent, down near Genoa, and where we could rest. Some Brothers of Saint Gregory, I think, is their order; such a quaint little chapel they have, which you should sketch, _ma belle_.”
“I shall; and many other artist bits, I have ever longed to be so placed as to be able to do so.”
“Lionel, have you ever tasted the Alpine trout? To me they are excellent.”
“Yes, frequently, and always with an appetite. Their home is in a lake 8,290 feet above the sea level.”
“No wonder Roland Douglas has spoken so highly of them,” said Vaura gaily; “their relations of the sea are quite under-bred. What stupendous pieces of work the mountain passes are,” she continued; “I wonder, could Hannibal see them, what he would think of dynamite _versus_ vinegar, to blast rocks with.”
“Or poor, untiring Napoleon and his weary soldiers,” said Lady Esmondet.
“What men there were in the bygone,” said Lionel with twice our strength, twice our endurance; we are weary; though making the run cushion at back, stimulant in hand.”
“We want backbone; our spinal column has given way, by reason of our fore-fathers’ energy,” said Vaura, laughingly.
“We certainly could manage an extra backbone very well,” said her god-mother; “ah! what strength I had, when I journeyed South in seventy-five, I remember we went by rail from Bale to Milan, _via_ the St. Gotthard road; words are lifeless in describing the scenery along this route, being grandly, magnificent; one winds in and out among the mountains; at times in gazing out the coach windows, one’s breath is a prayer, one trembles so at the terrific peaks soaring up and up so far above one.”
IN THE SUNBEAMS.
Our friends having reached Lyons, where they had business, and would rest for the night, we shall leave them and meet them again on the mountains. Suffice it to say they enjoyed the varied grandeur, beauty and magnificence of the scenes through which they passed, as natures alive to the beauties of natural scenery alone can; the weather was charming, the coach not uncomfortable, and three happier in each other, or handsomer faces, had never before looked out upon the many charms of landscape. The snow-topped mountains, the small white fleecy clouds chasing each other across the blue sky, and looking as though gathered from the snow-flakes on their peaks. The varied tints of the trees, looking from a distance like a huge bouquet in the hand of Dame Nature; again, a mountain stream dashing headlong down, down, gathering strength as it rolls until lost in some sudden curve or wild projection. A gleaming crag with belts of pine now burst upon the view, in its rich dark dress, while here we have the delicate tints of the valley. Let us kneel here as we gaze on the giants of the forest, as they spread their huge arms and rear their proud heads to the sky, and thank heaven that in some favoured spots the timber is not the prey of the ruthless destroyer, man. What new country in God’s world but has been shorn of its beauty to gratify man’s unsatiable love of clearing; and the ignorant clod is not the only despoiler, for peer and peasant rival the great Liberal Leader in wielding the axe, the one to pay his debts, the other because he is only a clod; and Mother Earth is made barren, and her heart dry and hard, and she cannot give nourishment to the seedlings committed to her care.
For a few days of pure mountain air and scenery, we again meet Lady Esmondet and her companions, lingering at a small town east of Genoa; on the last day of their stay, they have taken a conveyance and, Sims as driver, in descending by another road they came suddenly upon one of those mediaeval castles, or rather its ruins, the greater part having fallen to decay.
“Eureka,” exclaimed Lionel; “the quaint spot I have wished to see again; and which you should sketch, Miss Vernon.”
The Brothers of Saint Gregory had, with tool and hammer, made the most of the ruins remaining; and here some twenty lived, sheltering the weary traveller. Our friends were almost close to the ruin ere observing it, it being hidden partly by a magnificent belt of pine, partly by a freak of nature, in shape of huge upheavals of rock, thrown up as it were from the earth’s bowels, and in the clefts of which rocks, beautiful moss, hardy trailing plants, and ferns grew luxuriantly. Here the Brothers had built a tiny chapel, one side and part of roof being formed of these rocks, the other side, remainder of roof, and western entrance, were of stone and marble. The eastern end of beautiful specimens of Italian marble, the altar of pure white, its many coloured background throwing it out in all its purity; seats of rude stone; the floor strewn with sweet scented leaves and twigs, sending up when crushed by one’s foot, a sweet odour as of incense. On our travellers nearing, a magnificent voice full of melody, fell upon the air.
“What a grand singer!” exclaimed Vaura, as they with one consent, deserted the carriage.
It was a Christmas anthem, “_Regina coeli loetare, alleluia, quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia, etc._”
“‘Tis a beautiful spot, and a great and rich voice,” said Lady Esmondet; “I wonder if petticoats are admitted.”
“Even if not,” said Vaura, “we can sit on the rocks or grassy seats and fill our ears with music, which, after we descend, will lift us to the heights once more.”
In following a narrow, irregular path, which led to the iron gate of the garden, Lady Esmondet, becoming separated from her companions, Vaura climbed to a rock; just a foot-hold, to endeavour to ascertain her whereabouts; Lionel overtook her, as becoming dizzy, she would have fallen.
“Spring into my arms; there, that is it; do not fear,” he said breathlessly.
“I was foolish to attempt it when you were not near,” she said softly, as he loosened his hold on the level path.
“How glad I was to be in time, and you cannot know how my heart leaped when you had to come, to me and I held you in my arms, even for a moment,” he says brokenly.
They come now to a few yards of narrow path, a steep precipice at one side. With a whispered “may I?” his arm is around her in guiding her steps; no word is spoken and we all know the silent ecstasy of such moments. A turn in the path and they come upon Lady Esmondet, seated on a rocky seat (she having taken a safer way) and listening to the sweet voice still singing.
“I wonder if they will admit us,” said Lady Esmondet.
“I can try,” answered Lionel, and moving down the few natural steps to the iron gate of the garden, rang the bell.
The gate was opened by a priest, an elderly man, severe of aspect, but courteous in manner, and a man of letters from his intellectual cast of countenance. In very good English, he said:
“In the name of Saint Gregory, I welcome you; whether you come for food for the soul or body, our prayers are yours, and our poor fare awaits you.”
“Thank you, sir priest,” said Lady Esmondet; “we shall just admire your chapel and garden and go on our way.”
“We were attracted from the direct path by a magnificent voice within your walls,” said Vaura.
“Yes, Brother Thomas is greatly gifted; well for him that his great powers are given to good, rather than to evil. The sacred festival of the birth of the Christ is so near, and our brother sings at Paris the joyful songs of his nativity. This being a Saint’s day, some of the younger brothers of our order have begged our sweet singer of the churches to pour forth the notes of his melody, that they also, may feel as the Parisiens, the wonderful power and charm of his song.”
“Such melody stirs one’s very soul!” said Vaura earnestly, her large eyes full of moisture as the music thrills her.
“What a lull there seems!” said Lady Esmondet, “now that his voice is still.”
“Yes!” said Vaura, “as if nature herself had been listening.”
Lady Esmondet now introduced to Father Ignatius herself and companions, and as they followed the winding path from the chapel to the ruins, whither to the habitable wing they are bending their steps to partake of some slight refreshment, they come suddenly upon the owner of the throat, full of song, who is now kneeling beside a large urn, in which are some live coals, upon which he has just laid some elegantly bound volumes; he is pale and emaciated, but with the remains of wonderful beauty; with folded hands and eyes closed turned heavenward, on hearing footsteps he looks and would have started to his feet and flown, but by a visible effort restrained himself. On observing his agitation, Trevalyon suggested the turning into another path, but the stern priest objected.
“Yes! pray do,” said Lady Esmondet, “there is a lovely shrub I should like a nearer view of.”
“Be it so; I perceive, Monsieur, I mean,” checking herself, “Brother Thomas is not yet free from the pride that lacks humility, that you being of the world he has left forever, have still power to stir his feelings, he was ashamed of his garb, but must steel his heart against such emotion.”
“Poor fellow,” said Vaura, in pitying tones, “he looks ill, and is perhaps weak and nervous, his habiliments look stiff and new, not seeming a part of him as yours, he has perhaps but lately joined your brotherhood, and all is strange as yet.”
“You are right, Mlle. Vernon, his garb is as new as it is new for him to lift up his voice in the church, and while you partake of our poor fare, I shall pass away the time in telling you something of him.”
They now enter the noble vaulted stone entrance with its ancient workmanship and massive proportions, seeming in its substantial build to defy the destroying hand of time. The spacious hall has been converted by the brothers into a refectory; the priest bidding them to the table on which were dried fruits from the northern, with fresh from the southern climes, English walnuts and biscuits, with a bottle of old French wine. Before his guests partook of the food, the priest kneeling, made the sign of the cross, asked a blessing, then seating himself a little apart, spoke as follows:
A MOUNTAIN IDYL, OR AN ALPINE ROMANCE.
“About eight months ago at last Easter-tide, and while the ladies of Sainte Marie were attending mass in their little chapel, situated about a quarter of a mile east from the road by which you descend to Italia, a traveller was carried into their midst more dead than alive, in a faint, having been struck down by the fell hand of disease suddenly, and while making his way over the mountains; the hireling who drove the conveyance had carried him in, well knowing the convent and hospital to be a harbour of rest for the sick and weary, having deposited his living freight upon one of the rude benches of the chapel, bringing also his luggage, left him in God and our Lady’s hands. The mother superior at the close of mass, hastily summoned the strong-armed portress, who with the assistance of the officiating priest, carried him to the adjoining hospital. You all doubtless observed traces of unusual beauty in Brother Thomas, but in the emaciated form you have seen, can form no conception of his comeliness, ere wasted by slow lingering fever; yes! he was handsome, wondrously so. In critical cases of illness, the mother is wont to call me to aid, I having studied the science of healing in the great schools of Europe and England, ere taking the vows of our order; in the character of physician I saw much of Monsieur–I mean Brother Thomas. As a penance for evil, wrought by him upon mankind, he has permitted me to tell his story, but as he is dead to his own former world, and as a punishment, to no more speak his name. Suffice it to say he is a man of culture, a man of letters. You have heard his voice, and he was born among the great. Alas! when one sees to what base ends education is applied plied, one is inclined to regret the early days. At one time in the strangers illness, he was so nearly passing through the valley of the Shadow of Death, as to make it incumbent upon me to open his luggage in order to ascertain his name and address, whereby to communicate with his friends; in an iron box I was horror-struck to find volume after volume, his own work, which rivalled Voltaire in its teachings. I trembled to think of such godless productions within the walls of a holy convent and of the awful responsibility resting upon myself; should I allow such instruments of evil to exist? did it not seem providential, my being placed in such a position as to be able in a few minutes, by the aid of fire, to destroy the labour of years, and so give to the church another victory over Satan?
“I saw him from time to time, and as it proved to be a low wasting fever, he was with the sisters four long months. Among the nuns who attend the sick, is a beautiful young English girl, of patrician face and mien. And now a word of her; eighteen years ago, it was a _fete_ day at Rome, and among the seductions offered to the senses of man, was that of the stage; one of your most gifted of English stars held men chained in fetters wrought by her beauty and talent, night after night, in their boxes at the theatre, while the priests of the Lord wept at the altar, because of the deserted sanctuary; but it was carnival time, and men, at that season, forget the God who gave them power to enjoy. In one of the churches, at midnight, a lady closely veiled, entered, carrying a bundle, and going up to the altar, without reverence and in haste, deposited her burden at the foot of the cross. The officiating priest directed one of the sextons to follow her in haste, but the lady was too quick for him. A carriage was in waiting, which a gentleman with hat over brow, and muffled about throat, speedily drove off, almost before the lady was seated; they were soon lost in the maddening crowd, for humanity held high revel; the jester was abroad, and theatre, with amusement and music hall, poured forth their devotees, though the ball, both in palace and street, would be kept rolling all night. The emissaries of the church learned that your star of the London stage left Rome closely veiled, and attended by a stranger, a gentleman, at midnight. Enough said; only this, that her business manager and waiting woman had been sent on to Venice, the next scene of triumph, the morning of the same day. The child, a lovely girl infant, wore robes of wealth, rich muslin and lace, and was lolled in a carriage rug of the skin of the seal, five hundred pounds, in English gold, was pushed loosely into the bosom of her dress, and three lines of writing were found there also, which read as follows: ‘Communicate, in case of infant’s death, with —-‘ giving name of banking house at London; ‘until that time we have instructions to pay L200 yearly, for her benefit, _if not_ annoyed by efforts to ascertain her parentage.’ That child is the young Saxon nun, now at the convent of Ste. Marie; a convent has been ever her home, and she loves its life, early showing a strong inclination for the study of medicine, for the past five years she has been an apt pupil of mine; with great beauty, cleverness, and persuasive manner, she, at the sick-bed, has gained already many souls within the true pale. And now, to continue of the illness of Monsieur, now Brother Thomas, as I have already made you aware, a low fever caused him to remain at the convent for the space of four months. Sister Fidele, a French nun, shared the fatigue and duty of ministering to the sick man’s wants, with the young Saxon sister, whose life I have told you of. She is with us Sister Faith; a name given to her by his Holiness, Pope Pius, her child-like belief and peaceful beauty of expression, suggesting it.
“But to proceed, Sister Fidele, seeing her patient was ever restless and unsatisfied during the absence of Sister Faith, informed the Mother Abbess, saving: ‘He is a heretic, mother, and if you permit Sister Faith to be more with him her prayers, zeal and gentle pious converse may impress his godless soul.’
“Thus it was that Sister Faith spent all her time not devoted to necessary rest at the bedside of Monsieur. But, alas for the weakness of man, instead of the piety of her teachings impressing his soul, or the sacredness of her office shielding her from such passions, her great beauty had kindled in his heart the flame of a moral love. I as her father confessor learned of the unlawful words spoken to her; my indignation and sorrow were great. But when she assured me that to her he was only a soul to be saved, that her life was only happy in doing good for the beloved Church, that no earthly love could ever enter her soul; moreover, that she firmly believed the stranger was beginning to feel the beauties of our holy faith I abandoned my resolve to bring him hither, and instead left him in her hands. At first he tried every fascination of which he was master to make her love him and fly with him. I need not tell you without avail. Then her gentle piety seemed to have touched his heart. He permitted her to send for me. I obeyed the summons joyfully, for I well knew what a triumph over Satan his conversion would be, and his own wish or consent to see me made me hopeful. We conversed by the hour on knotty theological questions, he talking well and seeming at times half persuaded to be a Christian, but as if too proud to humble himself. The blessed saints made intercession for him, for our prayers were heard; and I had the great triumph of baptising and administering to him the blessed sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. After he had received he begged of me a private interview, and then implored of me to give him Sister Faith to wife. He said her great faith and gentle converse had made him think, ‘If these things be, how great is my condemnation.’ It was she who had taught him to say or think it possible he might ever say: ‘Whereas I was blind I now see.’ He said he had great wealth, and if she was his they would give much gold to the Church.
“But I could not grant his wish. Six months before his advent amongst us our sweet-faced sister had taken, the black veil; had she been in her novitiate I might by personal application to his Holiness have granted his prayer. He bowed his head in grief. I told him of the unchanging vow of celibacy of priest and nun, and of the immovableness of the Church; I feared he would have a relapse and removed him hither, where he has since taken our vows, and is now a brother. You have heard his wondrous power of song, and, as I told you, goes soon to Paris. He grieves yet to the very heart that Sister Faith cannot be his, but his penances are severe, and I am in hopes the saints will strengthen him to subdue the flesh altogether to the spirit; ’tis so new to him to sing the songs of the Church that he practices at whatever hour allowed him; but has been anxious to destroy his infidel writings that I have given him an hour to-day and tonight at midnight for the work.
“Such, noble guests, is a page in our new brother’s life,” concluded the priest.
“And a most interesting page, reverend father,” said Lady Esmondet.
“What a checkered life his has been,” said Lionel thoughtfully, as they wended their way from the quiet seclusion of the monastery out to the carriage which was to convey them once more to the busy life of the world.
“Yes, none more so,” said the priest; “how kind is Providence to lead this wayward soul at last, and in its great pride to the cross, and through the piety of a young maiden.”
Here the heavy, iron gate of the garden is reached and they bid the hospitable, though austere, monk adieu.
“Could we see the beautiful Sister Faith?” enquired Vaura; “if we in our descent into Italy, call at the convent of Ste. Marie, I feel so interested in her, she deserves perfect happiness; do you think reverend Father, that she is so?”
“Your own lovely face, Mademoiselle, looks as if it had never been clouded by sorrow. The face of Sister Faith is unclouded as your own, and we know that the trials of the world can never reach her, the protecting arms of the church enfold her; I am full of regrets that you cannot see her, she is now praying devotedly to the saints that Brother Thomas may be given strength to banish her image altogether from his heart, as well as attending two cases of fever among the inmates.”
“Are you not afraid, in her great self-abnegation, that her own health will give way?” inquired Lady Esmondet.
“No, she is gifted with wonderful health and strength, one quiet hour in the cell restores the vigour lost in days and nights of fatigue; and now adieu, and may the blessing of St. Gregory go with you, and I thank you in the name of Christ’s poor, for the gold you have given.”
“Adieu, adieu, farewell!”.
And our friends are again _en route_.
“Depend upon it,” said Lionel, “in ages to come, the good Sister Faith will be Ste. Faith of the Alpine mountains.”
“Poor young creature, I cannot but think,” said Vaura, her eyes suffused with tears, “that she would be happier in the bright world, loved and loving, than in the cloister.”
“What a gifted couple they would have been,” observed Lady Esmondet.
“Brother Thomas has lived and knows what life is, and I cannot help thinking the cloister, will not bring him peace,” said Lionel.
“What a power in the church the nuns are,” said Vaura; “not in her grand ceremonial, not in her unity, not in her much gold dwelleth her greatest and most powerful arm, but in her gentle sisterhood.”
“True,” said Lionel; “though I cannot but think, that the church would have gained more had they united the Saxon nun with the now Brother Thomas; what a power their united lives, and with much gold; his influence will not tell immurred in a cell.”
“I am sure we shall not soon forget the story of poor Brother Thomas and Sister Faith,” remarked Vaura.
“There was a time,” said Lionel, “when I used to wonder that so many fellows gave up this life of ours and buried themselves in a monastry, but as I listened to the priest I felt that if a man is feeling that the love of the one woman he craves can never be his, that, as an escape from the speculative eye of Mrs. Grundy, a cell might look inviting.”
“So you give Mrs. Grundy credit for a speculative eye, Lionel,” said Lady Esmondet, amusingly.
“What else is she but a speculator? she is ever busy, always alive and speculating with some unfortunate beings, name or fame,” said Lionel bitterly.
“I am glad we have run away from her; she cannot be with us on the mountains, so rest easy for to-day, Lionel,” answered Lady Esmondet.
“No,” said Vaura, earnestly; “the Alpine heights are too pure and too lofty for her, she loves the heated gaslit _salon_, with the music of many voices; but we are all the better for an outing with Dame Nature, I do love her so, with her sunlit air, her breezy fan, her robes of green, while her children, the brook and field, sing and laugh, they are so merry and so rich; yes, I love her so, I should just like to take her in my arms; see the birds in the trees as we pass, she rocks them to sleep, for as she breathes she sways the branches to and fro, and so gives a tuneful accompanyment to their song ere they rest.”
And so in gay chit-chat or more serious converse, the descent into fair Italia is made. The grand passion of Trevalyon’s life becoming more earnest, and completely mastering him for this sweet woman; the companion of his journey; for not only her grace and rich beauty made him her captive, but her tender womanliness, underlying her vivacity, charmed him, and his eyes were seldom off her face as she sat opposite him; he was never tired of watching the ever-warying expression of her countenance; and poor Lionel, subdued at last, felt he must clear himself to Eric Haughton, and have her ever beside him.
Her grey eyes were luminous as stars with a warmer light as they sometimes rested on his; there was a wild rose bloom on her cheeks painted by nature, with the invigorating air of the mountains. Sometimes, with a gay _abandon_, she tossed aside head-gear and cloak, and with Lionel, descended from the carriage to cull some rare moss or late flower, or make the ascent of a higher spot to view some lovelier scene; just now she is looking more than usually lovely. In this prelude to real love-making, as was now taking place daily between Lionel and Vaura; what a magical softening of expression there is, what a sweetness of languor in the eyes, a tremulous sighing from the waiting heart; and yet, she is blissfully happy, for she knows that she is loved by a man whom she will love, aye, does, with all the sympathy and passion of her nature.
GRUNDY’S LASH CAUSES HEART-ACHE.
On the evening of the sixth day, our friends leisurely arrived in the city of the Caesars; on coming in at the depot, Trevalyon, hiring a landau, they, with Sims and the maids following, proceeded to the villa Iberia. They learned that the noble owner had been there three days previously, and had then given his own servants a holiday, hiring English in their stead, thinking the comfort of his guests would be better attended to by this arrangement.
“The Marquis must have come here immediately after the ball,” said Lady Esmondet, “I heartily wish he were here to welcome us.”
Her companions were silent, both busy with thought; Trevalyon’s were not altogether pleasant, his proud spirit recoiling from self at the part he had played in the boudoir of Madame de Hauteville.
“Had I not,” he told himself, “had I not bowed to Del Castello’s question of ‘are you anything to her?’ he would have been here to do his wooing; we, at an hotel, and yet, it was only human, but, bah! how mean; but was I to give up any place I may have in her heart, and yield her to the influence of his southern tongue, merely because I am held in honour not to speak, and am just now a foot-ball for Dame Rumour. God help me, darling, I couldn’t; you might, in _pique_ at my silence, have given way to his warm words; you belong to me; I have only you, and should I lose you, one of two courses would be mine; either to make an endless beast of myself for distraction’s sake, or become misanthrope, like my poor father.” So thinking, he unfastened the cloak of the woman whose beauty and sweet womanliness, had made him captive.
In the hall, the butler saying:
“Dinner will await your ladyship’s pleasure in half an hour; our master, his noble lordship, commanded cook to have it ready every evening, on arrival of nine o’clock express, so your ladyships and the English gentleman would find comfort.”
“Your master is very thoughtful,” said Lady Esmondet.
One of the household now ushered them to their respective apartments.
“What an air of complete comfort pervades the whole place, said Vaura.
“Yes,” said Lady Esmondet, “I am rather _difficile_ in such matters, but I must confess, the place is charming in its warmth and luxury.”
Here they parted to dress, Lady Esmondet being conducted to a luxurious room on the ground floor, opening on to a verandah; there was a suspicion of chilliness in the air, so a bright fire burned in the open fire-place; fresh flowers bloomed in old Roman jars, while the walls were gay in the brightness of a few choice paintings.
“Yes, one could pass a winter very comfortably here,” mused the occupant, as Somers fastened her robe of pearl-gray satin, “and that we are so well placed is all the outcome of the beauty of face and form of one woman.”
Miss Vernon was led by a maid up a few steps, covered in the softest of velvet pile, so deep and rich as to cause one not to feel the pressure of the sole of one’s foot, and now into two rooms built out in a projection, and the villa Iberia, being located on a knoll, commanding one of the finest views of the Eternal City, the occupant of these rooms feasted his eyes on a scene unrivalled in Italy. Here also, a cheerful fire glowed in the fire-place; the long, narrow windows were hung in a pale, blue tinted satin, the walls painted in choice studies by deft Italian fingers; the opening between the rooms was hung in unison with the windows, and on the satin, clusters of the rose in every hue were embroidered; easy chairs, lounge, satin bed coverlid, and soft carpet, were of the same soft tint, with the warmth of the rose thereon. The air was fragrant, for the hyacinth, rose, and many a gay foreign sister, vied with each other in perfumed welcome to the flower face bending over them, and drinking in their sweets.
“And he has done all this for me,” she mused, giving herself up to Saunders to have her hair dressed. “How glad I am,” she thought looking dreamily at her reflection in the mirror, for a very passible loveliness, “but Lionel was always my ideal cavalier, he loves me now,” and she smiled softly, “and has brought into existence in my heart a passionate love he little dreams of, poor fellow; I have hitherto played with men’s hearts, so they say, but not intentionally; Heaven knows I merely enjoyed their free submission, their love, as my natural food; I always enjoyed dainties, and men’s hearts were as such to me; I could never endure the bread and butter of life, but I wrong myself or I am of little worth; one is apt to have luxurious inclinations, at an hour and in a scene like this,” she thought as she toyed with one of the gold perfume bottles, in the form of a Cupid, standing on the breast of a sleeping man, and aiming for his heart. “I know I have drunk in the pleasure their looks of love and warmth of words have given me, not thinking perhaps enough of to what end it might lead, but if I dream here any longer, I shall experience much the same sensation as sleeping Richard at Bosworth Field, while my ghosts of the departed, rise up before me, and while I think pityingly of poor Cyril and many more, let me also remember the deserved cut I gave Sir Edward Hatherton, when he laid his insignificant title, his supreme vanity and egotism, with his mean heart at my feet, while boasting of his broad acres, making too sure he had but to ask, and be accepted with thanks. Yes, though I have hurt some brave manly hearts, I have given a check to the vanity of that man that will send him into the corner to think that there are some women, even in this age of barter, who, though they love acres of the dear warm mother earth, they will not give their loveliness and powers of loving for the broad acres of which he is lord.”
And so fair Vaura pondered, as Saunders with deft fingers performed her easy task of robing her mistress, and now she has finished, and both maid and our sweet Mlle. Vernon are satisfied with the result. And well they may, for her cardinal satin robe fits her full bust and figure like a glove, her eyes are full of dark and tender depths, her lips red as the rose, while the rose bloom of the mountain air has not faded from her cheeks, and neck and arms being bare gleam in their whiteness.
Trevalyon met her at the foot of the steps to lead her to the dining-room whither Lady Esmondet has already gone; they immediately seat themselves ami do justice to the tempting little dinner awaiting them.
The room is handsome and furnished with a mixture of English comfort and solidness with French brightness the furniture being of carved oak, while the carpet and hangings are of a gay Paris pattern, the table bright with silver and decorated with flowers, its dinner service of old Sevres china, each piece of beautiful delicate design, while the dishes would have tempted an anchorite from his cave. Over the mantel-piece of purest white marble was a painting, evidently the work of a master, representing Bacchus riding in a chariot, and on his head among his curls vine leaves, in his hand a cup. The whole painting had a warmth of color and gay dashing style, with a life-like look about it very pleasing.
“One almost expects to see the merry god lift the cup to his lip,” said Vaura; “he looks so life-like.”
“It is a remarkably well executed thing,” said Trevalyon.
“The whole villa,” echoed Lady Esmondet, “has a cheerful brightness pervading it that would dispel the chronic grumbling of a Diogenes or an Englishman.”
“Even Gladstone,” cried Vaura, gaily, “would here forget that Beaconsfield wants a ‘war supply.'”
“And I, Trevalyon, shall so lose myself in the intoxicating sweetness of the hour as to forget that on my return to England I have to enter the arena of the strife of tongues, and combat Dame Rumour in facing a ‘difficulty.'” At the last word be looked meaningly at Vaura, and with quickened heart-beats she remembered his flowers, and knew what would come when the ‘difficulty’ was faced and removed.
“The absent Marquis likes well the form of the god of wine,” said Lady Esmondet, directing her companion’s gaze towards a group of statuary on a small inlaid stand, and reflected in a pier glass, representing Anacreon smilingly advancing, carrying in his arms the infants Bacchus and Cupid.
“‘Tis a pretty group, extremely _chic_,” said Vaura.
“What think you, Vaura, of the painting behind you?” inquired Lady Esmondet.
On turning slightly she saw the pictured face of the owner of the villa, the eyes of her admirer seemed so steadfast in their gaze that a faint blush suffused her cheek as she said:
“A true likeness of a true friend, for we are most comfortably placed by his kindness; indeed I think when the day comes to leave the villa we would fain remain.”
“It is a handsome face,” said Trevalyon.
“It is,” said Vaura, as she played with the dainties on her plate and sipped her glass of sparkling Moselle.
“On leaving here it will be for either the crush of the London season or Haughton Hall under the new _regime_,” said Lady Esmondet, “and I know just how I shall feel: as a man who, coming home after a day with the hounds, is enjoying a pipe in slippered feet when reminded by madame of the state dinner he has forgotten.”
“Either London or the dear old place will be an awakening,” said Vaura, as they wend their way to the _salons_.
“Yes.” said Trevalyon, “for nowhere could one better enjoy the _dolce far niente_ of Italian languor than here. Del Castello, I fancy, lives his life.”
“_Dum vivimus vivamus_,” said Vaura.
The salons are a suite of three; taken separately, of medium dimensions; but when the heavy hangings are drawn aside which divide the apartments they form one long handsome room, extending the entire length of the villa, at one end of which is a conservatory where bloom flowers of great beauty, the tiny structure being in miniature form of the villa; it was entered from the _salon_ by sliding doors of stained glass; a smiling statue of Flora was placed near the entrance and seemed to welcome one’s approach.
“It is a bower of beauty,” said Vaura. The moonlight streaming in from the heaven-illumined gardens outside, bringing into life the scarlet blossoms of the camelia and the satin of her gown, and lending to her beauty a transparent softness, her eyes seeming darker and with a tender light, as she says, looking out upon the garden:
“It is a living idyl in the white moon light; did I gaze long enough, strange fancies would come to me, the statuary would be living marbles, while the leaves of the palm-tree and olive would sing to me of their story as given by the dead poets.”
“We must revel in the beauties of the gardens, when to-morrow comes, Vaura: I am going to be very early tonight,” said Lady Esmondet.
“It must have been a great disappointment to Del Castello,” said Trevalyon, inwardly applying the lash, “to winter elsewhere.”
“_N’importe_,” said Lady Esmondet, seeing the sadness of expression, “we, have so much of the London fog; he, has his villa and the south always.”
“But he could have been here with all his elegant _recherche_ surroundings, only for me,” and as he silently thought the lash went down.
In the villa, many things beautiful and rare occupied their attention; in the small library were some deep German and English books on philosophy, with Tennyson in every style of dress; also Byron, with novels of all tone and colour; as Vaura moved about among the treasures of the absent Marquis, Trevalyon, watching her intently, tortured himself by imagining that she handled everything lovingly, read snatches from his books tenderly.
“What a couple they would have been,” he thought, as Vaura’s syren voice read aloud some marked passages from the poets; “even if I can clear myself of this hateful scandal, I have only the gloomy ‘towers’ to offer her, while he has his sunny palaces in the lands or climes she loves so well.”
And Lady Esmondet seeing his intent gaze following Vaura, and observing his quiet thought,
“He is unhappy, and dreads lest she come to love the handsome Spaniard, while daily amongst his treasures, with his silent pictured face watching her from the walls; I wonder how it is; has she refused him, and accepted the villa as slight atonement, or is this the beginning of the end, and that she will give herself to him; alas for dear Lionel if so.”
“How selfish I am,” said Vaura, impulsively closing the book from which she had read aloud a few marked passages in the sadly sweet “Prisoner of Chillon.” “You both look weary, how is it I did not notice it before? come away god-mother mine; uncle Eric would say I am not redeeming my promise to take care of you; goodnight, Captain Trevalyon,” giving him her hand, the soft touch of which seemed as a new revelation to him, reinvigorating him as it were, but only in the contact, for alone he is again a prey to gloomy forebodings which crowd upon him, so as to seem to stifle him; loosening his collar and tie, and throwing himself on the bed, he tells himself, “What am I, in comparison to him? his unclouded life, at least as far as human eye can tell, with the looks of an Adonis, his immense wealth, his southern blood, eloquent tongue, and life in climes kissed by the sun. I fear he will woe her again; and is it in woman to come to me; even though I give the love of my life in preference to all that the Fates give in him; alas! my knowledge of them tells me no; yes, I know she has smiled tenderly on me, bat is not this because of her old remembrance of me–as part of her by-gone life in her loved home; yes I fear it is, or because she is playing with my heart as she has with others; heavens, how unmanned I am, Father,” and his hands are clasped reverently, “pity me, steep my soul in forgetfulness, and let me remember naught, save that Thou ruleth all,” when, as if in answer to his imploring cry, slumber, fitful it is true and broken by dreams came to him; when now fully awake again in slippered feet, and with his pipe, he noiselessly steps out into the night, pacing the verandah to and fro, or leaning against one of its columns, thinks on of the past and present, when in the dim future, the vast unknown, he feels the necessity of calm; else this scandal will so overwhelm him in the waves of unrest, as to cause his life to be a wreck, and Vaura to be indeed, and in truth, lost to him forever more. In the determined quiet of a man controling self, he now again, this time undressing, takes to his bed and gains an hour’s sleep ere it is time to rise for a new day.
HEART-STIRS TO DIVINE MUSIC.
At break of day, springing from bed, and after a cold plunge bath, feeling more like himself, he went out into the half slumbering city; but the sunbeams give their roseate kiss and mists roll up the great mountain slopes, and the lazy Italian rubs his black eyes not seeing the beauties in nature that surround him–they are part of his life– but only wondering how easiest he can pass the day, while Trevalyon bending his steps to a favourite restaurant, after a pretty fair breakfast, for the fresh air of the morning has given him an appetite, hiring a horse, goes for a long ride, and turning his horse’s head for the country, determines by getting away with nature to find that old self that he has lost, or by thinking out his plan to how best use the information received from Father Lefroy, recover his customary tranquility of mind, for just now he is torn by doubts and fears; he should be in England, but dreads to leave Vaura, lest the Marquis hearing of his departure would endeavour personally to press his suit. And so putting spurs to his horse he is nearer the pure lofty mountains on whose breast he hopes to find peace.
While at the villa, the woman he loves, after a somewhat sleepless night in which she is haunted by the faces of her Spanish admirer and the hero of her early girlhood, descends from her room to find Lady Esmondet not yet up, though it is luncheon hour, and Trevalyon away for the day. The afternoon is occupied until it is time to dress for dinner by visitors. With dinner comes Lady Esmondet, Trevalyon not having returned it is a _tete-a-tete_ affair; afterwards in the salons, the conversation drifts from fair Italia, the after-luncheon visitors, and the London _Times_ to Lionel.
“Poor fellow, one can easily see how unsettled and worried he is at times over this wretched scandal,” said Lady Esmondet.
“I should treat the whole matter with perfect contempt,” Vaura answered haughtily.
“In this instance it won’t answer.”
“Why not? if he is sure it is false.”
“Vaura! Vaura, you know it is false.”
“The fact is, god-mother, I know nothing about it, nor do I care to, unless he tells me himself; my life, that is my woman life as you know, has been spent _a_ Paris, and so my ears have not been a receptacle for London scandal.”
“Dear Lionel has been too independent.”
“Yes, god-mother, that’s just it; it’s his character; had he had a town house, a French cook, and given half a dozen big dinners during the season, he might indulge in secret marriage if his fancy ran that way, and society would smile at him through rose-coloured spectacles.”
“Too true, Vaura, _ma chere_; Madame Grundy is an odd mixture of inconsistencies; should a vulgar _parvenu_ pay society’s tolls in shape of boastful charities, balls and dinners, he is one of the pets of the season, and is allowed any latitude as to his little weaknesses. Had Lionel made atonement by marriage, all would have been forgiven; but he has dared to please himself, and so they at the first chance pelt their idol.”
“Their idol, yes,” said Vaura, musingly; “could this falsehood be the invention of some disappointed woman who has taken for her motto the words of Honorius, that ‘there is a sweeter strain than that of grief-revenge, that drowns it.'”
As she ceased speaking, the voice of Trevalyon is heard quieting Mars, who is leaping wildly in welcome. And now he is with them; and as with smiles and warm hand-clasps he is welcomed, he feels that this is home. Vaura, who has been colouring some photographs, lets her hands fall idly to her lap, as she listens to the manly voice which, coming in and joining its music with their own, she feels makes their life complete.
“Yes, I have dined, thank you, and do feel more like myself than I have done since the weight of this scandal has been upon me; but I shall not worry myself or you with naming it. I turned my horse’s head east, and always find a day with Nature so exalts and uplifts my whole being that life, again is filled with the calm, clear star of hope, and that my burden of care falls to the dust under my horse’s feet; my spirit is again buoyant; I again live. And what have you both, my charming home angels, been about? you look yet as if a sun-warm bath would be your best medicine, Lady Alice.”
“You are right, Lionel; you have had the sunbeams to-day; I must bask in them on to-morrow (D.V.) I feel fatigued even yet, though lazy enough to have kept my room until dinner hour.”
“You have explored the gardens, I suppose, _ma belle_.”
“No, that is a pleasure to come; I, too, was lazy today.”
“I am selfish enough to be almost glad, as we can roam there to-morrow together,” and there is a lingering emphasis on the last word as his blue eyes in a long gaze rest on her face.
“Come, Lionel, you and Vaura give me some music; draw the screen between my eyes and the firelight; I shall lie on this lounge and listen.”
“Is not this an ideal music-room?” said Vaura, “opening as it does into the conservatory; and see Euterpe, standing in her niche, with flute and cornet at her feet, violin and guitar on either side, and the perfection of pianos, with this sweet-stringed harp;” and, sinking into the low chair beside it, she drew her fingers over the strings.
“I perceive,” said Lionel, handling the flute, “your friend is a maker of sweet sounds.”
“Awake the echo.”
“To hear is to obey, _ma belle_.”
Whereupon Lionel, looking down at the face upturned to him as her head lay on the cushioned chair-back, or droops as she draws her fingers across the harp-strings; and with the fever of love hot within him he sang in his sweet tenor the songs of Italia with the passion of a living love breathing in their every note and word.
Thus song after song was softly sung, Vaura sometimes blending her voice with his, and he was so near, and it was an intoxicating hour; and Trevalyon, bound in honour not to speak his love, forgot that one of our poets, Sterne I think, says that “talking of love is making it,” and sings on, as he drinks in fresh draughts from the warmth of her eyes, and her face is pale with emotion, her lips, that “thread of scarlet,” and her neck, gleams in its whiteness as her bosom heaves with her quickened heart-beats, as she feels his meaning in his warm words; and fearing for herself, she is so sympathetic, and knows it is only because of the “difficulty,” that he has not spoken, starts to her feet, laying her hand gently on his arm, says softly:
“You must be tired.”
“Tired! no; this hour has been so perfect, my heart yearns for many such.”
“See, my god-mother has deserted us unnoticed; ah! what a spell is there in music.”
“The magnetism of your dear presence; ah, Circe! Circe what spells you weave,” and there is a tender light in his eyes. She lets him look so, for a second, when she says gently, giving him her hand in good-night; “it would not do to leave you all the power of witchery,” and she lets him put her hand through his arm and lead her to the foot of her stairs, where, with a silent hand-clasp they part for the night.
Dismissing her maid, whom she found asleep on the rug before the fire:
“I dare say you are tired, Saunders; you may retire; give me my dressing gown; there, that will do, I shall comb out my hair.”
And, arrayed in dainty dressing gown, of white embroidered flannel, the combing of the bright tresses is a lengthy affair, for thought is busy; “Yes, this intense sympathy, this earnest tenderness, this languor and sweet sense of a new joy in living, all mean that I love him; and, as ’tis so, I am not at one with the poet when he says, ”tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all;’ lost! lost! what a world of loneliness it would be to me, what a world of loneliness in the very word; my love, your mesmeric eyes seem to be on me now; I wonder,” and a smile comes to the dark eyes and the sweet mouth, “I wonder what you would think of me in this robe; but what nonsense I am dreaming,” and the _robe de nuit_ is on; the short, fluffy hair pushed up a little from the eyes, which close as the soft cheek presses the pillow, and Somnus, the sleepy god, claims his dues.
THE UNRULY MEMBER IS HEARD.
The following morn is bright and glorious, the mountains, ah! the grandeur of them, their peaks in changing hues as the sun’s breath grows warmer, cut the azure of the heavens, and rest there; one involuntarily feels on a morning like this one cannot love nature intensely enough; and now, Old Sol, giving his brightest beams to the Italian, who loves him, shines into every corner of the Eternal City, from the King in his palace, and the Pope in the palace of the Vatican, to the peasant stretched on his door-step; for the good king Victor Emmanuel is sick, and the bright beams shining through his window, cheer him; and he thinks of his people who are poor and ill, and also welcomes the sunbeams for their sake. And his gentle Holiness, Pius IX, in walking past the great painting of the Transfiguration, thinks “how glorious it looks in the sun’s rays,” and he too was glad. And the lazy peasant lying in the sun, stretched himself and was glad, for surely many noble ladies and gentlemen would be abroad in the sweet warm air, and he would beg many _soldi_ and buy macaroni.
Vaura, usually an early riser, but not having slept until dawn, was only awakened an hour ago by a sunbeam opening her eyelids, so that it was luncheon hour ere she made her appearance in the aesthetic little morning-room, whither Lady Esmondet had ordered it to be brought; on entering kissed her god-mother, and giving her hand to Lionel, her eyes drooping under his long gaze,
“You look quite yourself, god-mother mine, after your nights rest,” she said.
“Yes, I am feeling very well to-day; but your roses are of a pale tint, how is that?”
“Whose roses could bloom with undimmed lustre surrounded by flowers of such brilliant colouring?” she answered, evasively, indicating by a gesture the floral beauties filling the vases and jars, not wishing to own before Lionel her sweet sleeplessness of the night.
Captain Trevalyon’s man now brought letters from the post-office.
“Ah,” said Vaura, taking her share, “one from Haughton Hall in the handwriting of madame, and to me.”
On opening it a very well-executed photograph of the Hall fell to the floor, which Lionel picked up, while Vaura read aloud as follows:
“DEAR MISS VERNON,–
“I enclose you a photo of the Hall as I have made it. It was a perfect barracks when I saw it first; see what money can do. The American eagle is a great bird, eh? You must marry money. I shall have a gentleman here at Christmas with lots of land and a title. The Duchess of Hatherton would sound well.”
“A _bete noire_ of yours,” said Lady Esmondet.
“Yes,” said Vaura, carelessly, with a shrug of shoulders, going on with the letter.
“I must also settle Blanche this coming season. You observed, I suppose, how, much flesh she had; well, she loses weight every month; secret pining I expect for that naughty”–and Vaura stopped short as she saw the name, a curl of contempt coming to her lip as she read silently–“Trevalyon. She thought by his attentions that he loved her, poor thing; but the Colonel and myself would or could never hear of such a match, as he has a snug little wife hid away somewhere. I have Major Delrose a good deal with me. Your uncle doesn’t care for him, neither would you; but the Colonel, dear man, is considerate, and don’t expect everyone to be cut after his cloth; and as you will never be able to come north in the cold weather you won’t meet him. Give my love to the willowy Marchmonts. We are the gayest of butterflies.
“Haughton Hall, Surrey, England.
“The villa Iberia,
To Delrose at Haughton madame, after mailing above, had said:
“I have settled Miss Vernon at all events; she will not show up at Christmas. I know she hates the Duke of Hatherton so I told her he is coming, and I don’t know as yet whether he is. It takes a woman to outwit a woman.”
“I cannot see,” Delrose had answered, “why you don’t want her, Kate.”
“Because you are blind, you goose; if she came Trevalyon might, and you don’t want him; and I don’t want her, and so I please you, you ungrateful man.”
To Trevalyon by same mail came:
“My own idol, come to me and Delrose shall go; I have written Miss Vernon that he is here, because I _don’t want_ her freezing ladyship. Everyone says you are so naughty in having a hidden wife; they will cut you I am sure; but I _love you all the more for your naughtiness_; only come to yours evermore.–KATE HAUGHTON.”
Trevalyon, giving a weary sigh on reading above, tearing it in two, tossed it into the fire; now opening one from his cousin Judith, he read as follows:
“DEAR COUSIN,–Father is not at all well; the trip across, as I feared, has been too much for him; the suburbs of New York, our home, suited him better than foggy London; however, dear father was obliged to come on business, as he has informed you when last able to write. He wishes me to enclose to you a scrap from the ‘society’ columns of _one_ of _our_ New York newspapers. ‘We give a tid-bit of scandal (from a London paper), in brief, as the hero is a nephew of our Sir Vincent Trevalyon, of —-. Capt. Trevalyon (of the Towers, Northumberland), a gay society man, fascinating and handsome, is about to bring from her seclusion, his hidden wife; some years ago he had eloped with a friend’s spouse, friend now has shuffled off mortal coil; outcome, my Lady Trevalyon, who will be the sensation of the coming season.’ Father says to tell him on you honour, what truth there is in above–and I am,
“Yours very sincerely,
“The Langham, London, Nov. 77.
“The Villa Iberia,
On reading above, Trevalyon, with sudden impulse, and craving for sympathy, handed it to his old friend.
“Too bad, too bad, Lionel; how grieved I am for you.”
At the same time, Vaura, who had turned again to her lines from Madame, on reading over, said as she discussed her luncheon.
“This bit of duck will be a palatable _morceau_ as compared with my letter from Haughton; Madame does not write to please, she merely pleases to write.”
Seeing Trevalyon very grave and silent, she said with kindly intent, and to change the current of his thought. “I suppose, god-mother, you have sketched out your plans for the day long before I joined you.”
“No, we could come to no decision, so have left it for you to arrange.”
“_Tres bien_ if so, from the glimpse I have through the window, I suggest that our first trip be to the gardens.”
“Happy thought; Lionel, will you ring the bell like a good fellow?”
Somers answering, her mistress said:
“Bring me suitable wraps for the garden, please, and tell Saunders to do likewise for Miss Vernon.”
The maids now appear with out-door robings; Lady Esmondet is made comfortable, when Lionel goes to Vaura’s assistance; ’tis a pretty red-riding-hood and cloak attached, and contrasts charmingly with her soft gray cashmere gown, her short brown hair and sweet face look well coming from the warm red setting of the hood.
“Never mind it; it was never meant to fasten,” she says, seeing his grave eyes on her face, instead of the fastening; he does not speak but only thinks, “My enemies will not let me call her mine;” she is sure he can see the colour come and go in her face as her heart beats irregularly, and says gently, putting up her soft hands, “never mind it;” for answer he allows the hook and eye to fasten holding her hands for a moment in his. They then followed their friend through the French window down the few stone steps to the gardens. There were many flowers in bloom and the green of the orange and lemon trees was as rich as when the year was young. The villa of white marble was built on a gentle rising knoll, prettily wooded, at the foot of which running through a glade was a tiny streamlet clear as crystal, which with its ripple and the singing of the birds lent music to the air. On the highest garden site was built a tower from whence an extensive view of the city is gained, with its spires and palaces, together with the violet sea, and the ever changing majestic mountains. The lower part of the tower is an arbour covered with roses and vines. The orchard was on the high plateau on which the villa stood, laying in part at the back and side of the mansion; the lawn and flower garden were separated from the orchard by a smiling wood nymph and grim satyr who each held an end of a chain of silver.
“The laughing nymph looks as if bent on making the grim satyr give way to mirth,” said Vaura.
“It is a pretty idea,” said Lady Esmondet, “the having one’s orchard so laid out as to be an ornament to one’s grounds, instead of as we do, merely as a place to grow fruit.”
“Yes, I think so,” said Lionel, “and at my place the lawn is strewn by acorn, apple and the pear.”
“The apple blossom is beautiful,” said Vaura; “but whom have we here,” catching sight of a statue through the trees.
“None other,” said Lionel, “than the powerful Populonia who protects the fruit from storms.”
“And placed high enough!” said Vaura “to see the storm a brewing, with us it would be a great dog _versus_ a small boy.”
They now descend terraced steps arched by trellised roses and come to a fountain fed by a spring down in the deep cool dell.
“Shall we drink from the brook by the way?” half sang Vaura, and stooping, picked up from a small projection a silver goblet, filling she handed to Lady Esmondet; there was another which, taking herself, said, “and now for my toast, ‘May the absent Marquis, who has an eye for the beautiful in Nature and Art be always surrounded by both.'”
“Amen,” responded Trevalyon, “which is the best I can do, seeing Del Castello did not remember me in providing two goblets only.”
“Dual solitude,” said Vaura in low tones, her god-mother having gone on.
“The very mention of it makes my heart throb,” he whispered.
“What delightful gardens,” said Lady Esmondet returning “beside this fountain, under the shade of olive trees, it must be delightfully cool the hottest of summer days, and a favourite spot, if one may judge from the number of seats about.”
“‘Tis another Eden,” said Vaura, “from the mountains yonder to the green shade of myrtles, olives, and orange trees, lit up by the pink and red blossoms at their feet.”
“You will revel here in the early morning, _ma belle_, if you have the taste of your childhood.”
“You remember me, then?” and the dark eyes look up from under the red hood.
“I have never forgotten,” he says, quietly.
“Don’t you think, Vaura, dear?” said Lady Esmondet, “we had better return to the villa and decide what we shall do with the rest of the day.”
“Yes, I suppose so, dear; though one would fain linger here longer.”
As they retrace their steps, Trevalyon, decided for them, that the air being delightfully warm and balmy, a drive up and down the Corso, would be pleasant. The fresh air and new scene dispelled all Vaura’s languor, and heightened the spirits of her companions.
“The Corso is even gayer than usual,” observed Lady Esmondet.
“And with its best bib and tucker on, if I am any judge of _la toilette_,” said Lionel.
“To receive three _distingues_ travellers,” laughed Vaura; “I wonder who society will jot us down as in her huge note book.”
“As the Briton abroad,” said Lady Esmondet, “to revel in the sunbeams, which our gold cannot buy from our leaden skies.”
A carriage now passed, in which were seated two ladies, evidently English, who bowed and smiled to Lady Esmondet and Trevalyon.
“Who are your friends?” enquired Vaura; “I have seen them somewhere, but forget when and where.”
“They are the Duchess of Wyesdale and her daughter, the Lady Eveline Northingdon,” answered Trevalyon, as Lady Esmondet bowed to other acquaintances.
“The little Duchess, who is insane enough to think Lionel in love with her,” thought his friend, remembering gay Mrs. Wingfield’s gossip, and that her name had been coupled with Trevalyon’s; it was only that she was a foolish little woman, and let society see that she had a penchant for Captain Trevalyon. At that time the Duke was alive to bear the title and represent the estate in Wiltshire, the Scottish moors and shooting box, with the town house in London; very useful in that way, so his Duchess told herself, and in truth, only in that character, did the fair, frivolous Lady Wyesdale appreciate her easygoing fox-hunting spouse.
“You can run the season very well without me,” he would say, “while I do a little shooting; you are just cut out for London, while the conventionalities bore me.”
And so it came to pass, that at their London house, Irene, the Duchess, (or, as she was commonly called, Posey, from her maiden name of Poseby, and from her habit of posing on all occasions), reigned in her own way. In the autumn of ’76, the Duke had been called to his long home; he had been knocking down birds on the Scottish moors. Coming home late one night to dinner in high spirits, and exultant over his full bag, he found a telegram from his friend, Gerald Elton, a keen sportsman, asking him to “telegraph him _immediately_ at Edinburgh, if he was at the ‘Bird cage;’ if so, he would join him at once.” “Bless my life,” said poor Wyesdale to a friend with him; “Elton is the very man we want, no end of a shot, and rare fun; but I must send my telegram off at once, or I’ll lose him; but how am I to come at pen and ink in the ‘cage’ is more than I know; oh, yes, I remember when I came down last, Posey would have me take pen and ink (and a great bore it was) in order to telegraph her of my return; don’t know why women are such a bundle of nerves, they oughtn’t to be nervous at the return of a husband; but where did I put it, hang me if I know; if I find it the boy can ride over with it, if not I must go myself; oh! I remember, it’s in the other room on a shelf with collars and cuffs; birds are not particular, so I never wear ’em;” without a light he went in, feeling along the shelves with his hand, unluckily for him overturning the inkstand, knocking the penhandle against the wall, and the rusty pen full of ink, into the palm of his right hand, where it broke; he and his friend extracted most of it, putting sticking plaster over the wound. He would not trust a verbal message to his sleepy keeper, now full of beer; so soon on horseback and away.
Elton arrived in due course, to find his friend with his arm in a sling, swollen and painful.