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   Chapter 1 A PRETTY WOMAN LAYS A PLOT, AND HIRES A GARDENER.

A Heart-Song of To-day By Annie Gregg Savigny Characters: 20591

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


"By Jove! I have missed her; you are a very Circe, Mrs. Tompkins."

The speaker, one of the handsomest men I have ever seen, started to his feet as a beautiful Italian mantel clock rang in silver chimes the hour of midnight.

"Sit down again my dear Captain, I have not told you all, and am a wilful woman and must have my way. I know whom you have missed," she said truly, for Sir Tilton Everly has informed her, out-come her woman wit to prevent the meeting. "Is she anything to you?"

"No, and yes, as all women beautiful or fascinating are, I love you all."

"You have large capacities, Captain Trevalyon, but I must make you love one woman and only one, or I cannot sleep content," and the black amorous eyes rest on his face.

"Ye gods! a confession," thought Trevalyon. "Awkward for me as I want Haughton to have the innings; she is good fun and doesn't bore one, but I've missed Vaura again, fool I was to come."

"You don't seem curious" continued Mrs. Tompkins, rolling a small table on which was the debris of a petit champagne supper, from between them.

"Curious! a prerogative of your sex, fair madame, though any of your secrets would be chic enough to tempt a man to encroach," he answered gaily, drawing a chair near his own.

"Especially when 'tis of a woman who lives for him alone," and the handsome wealthy widow sank into the chair opposite him.

"Yes, for an hour, for a day, and 'tis pleasant so you see I know you gay butterflys," he said, lazily placing a foot-stool under the pretty feet of his companion.

"Not so," she said slowly, and with a new tenderness in her tones.

"Not so; but first I brought you here to tell you your friend Colonel

Haughton made me an offer of marriage this moaning. What say you;

would you regret my fetters and wish me free? It shall be as you say."

Only that Mrs. Tompkins' attention was wholly given to her companion, she would have noticed the heavy curtains opposite her and separating her boudoir from a small morning-room pushed aside, and a pair of wrathful blazing eyes watching her every movement; had either been near enough, they would have heard a muttered oath at her last words.

"As I wish! 'tis well I am his friend, chere madame, for there are not many men would bid you to the altar with another, but I say take him, there is not a better fellow in the kingdom, and here is my benediction," and he laughingly lifted her hand to his lips.

"And is that all you care for me? Heavens! what different stuff we are made of, you can bid me to another, while I could kill. Nay, don't start. Yes, could kill a woman you might love. And the speaker looked her words, while there was almost a sob in her voice as her bosom heaved convulsively.

"My dear Mrs. Tompkins, you honor me too much; believe me, 'tis but a passing fancy on your part."

"Passing fancy, never! Listen; you say you love no woman in especial, wed me; love begets love; I am the wooer I know, but you are as handsome as a god, and I have been always one to speak as I feel; yea, and get what I want most days," she added, leaning forward and smiling into his mesmeric eyes. "Come to me," and her heart was in her words. "Come, you are poor in wealth, men say I have millions in gold, try and love me and-"

"And-and what next-Kate-by gad, a pretty speech, allow me to congratulate you. How do, Trevalyon; at your old game of slaughtering hearts?" The speaker had come from behind the curtains and was the owner of the wrathful eyes; a heavily built man of medium weight, a bold man with a handsome black beard, though the top of his head was bald. "You were always a good shot, Trevalyon, when the target was a heart," he repeated savagely.

"'Twas you, who bagged the delicate game, if I remember you aright, Delrose," said Trevalyon, with the utmost sang-froid as he leaned backwards and with his right hand fondled his long tawny moustache.

"George Delrose, what makes you here? You are Lucifer himself, I believe," said Mrs. Tompkins wrathfully, pushing his hand from her shoulder and starting to her feet.

"I gave strict orders to Peter to admit no one to my presence. I shall discharge Him, and at once."

"Take it easy, Kate, I have promoted him to my service."

"From gold lo brass is no promotion; he knows not the value of metals."

"Jove! how like they are, the same bold handsome style, reckless to the last degree," thought Trevalyon.

"They are both a passport to society! all a man wants to-day! so, my pretty Kate don't look so severe, I have one, you have the other," said Delrose audaciously, and attempting to take her hand.

"No, I won't take your hand, go away this moment," and a decided foot went down, "leave Captain Trevalyon and myself to conclude our interview."

"You forget the proprieties, Kate, and though I like not the fruit, I'll play gooseberry," and seating himself he coolly poured out a glass of champagne.

"Shall I make my adieux, Mrs. Tompkins; it grows late?" said

Trevalyon, about to rise from his chair.

"No, stay awhile," said his hostess softly, for she thought Delrose might go and she might so act on the feelings of Trevalyon by the magnets love and gold as to win. In the meantime he thought as he stroked his moustachs lazily, "a dashingly handsome woman, pity she has let that dare-devil Delrose get some hold over her."

Major Delrose drank like a thirsty man, then folding his arms glared defiantly at Kate who returned his gaze while trembling with wrath, her eyes flashing.

"George Delrose, you are a coward to force yourself into a woman's presence. Go this moment! I command you, or I shall summon the household. Are you going?"

"No, by the Horse Guards! I am not!" and the flush of anger deepened on his cheek. "I tell you, Kate, I am not a man to be made a football of; don't, if you have a remnant of pity in your heart, drive me mad by talk of marriage with another."

"And why not, pray?" inquired Mrs. Tompkins, recklessly, the next instant regretting her foolhardiness, and before the eyes of the men, one of whom she had a passion for; the other who had a passion for herself, that she had outlived; and now with quick resolve and latent meaning, knowing the intruder's love for coins, continued: "Even did the Sultan of Turkey fancy me to adorn his harem, when I pined for freedom, he would not despise the American eagle done in gold as an exchange for my liberty."

"Cold, glittering metal versus warm, loving heart of woman, and such an one as you, never!" he answered, following her cue and looking her in the eyes.

"I care not, he cannot afford to offend me," thought Mrs. Tompkins, and so only showing a velvet paw, making a step towards him, her rich crimson robes of velvet trailing after her, now offered her hand. "Here is my hand, George, bid me good-night, and like a good fellow go at once, and I forgive you."

"Dismiss Trevalyon first, I am an older friend than he," he answered sulkily.

"I shall not; this is my boudoir, and, thank fate, I am my own mistress."

"Then, by the stars, I stir not one inch!"

Both reckless, both determined, how would it end? and so Trevaylon thought, as he said, coolly:

"What is the use of acting like this, Delrose? You certainly made your entree later than I, if you are making a point of that; but a soldier is usually more yielding to woman's wish."

"Not often, Trevalyon, when her wish is the will of a rival," he answered hotly.

"The fancy of a woman a present," thought Trevalyon. "But I must end this, for he won't. I am in no mood for trifling, I have again missed seeing Vaura. Mrs. Tompkins is charming in a tete-a-tete, but with the entree of a soldier on the war-path," and stepping towards his hostess he said gallantly: "So fair a foe, dear Mrs. Tompkins, surrounded by soldiers, is unfair; I beat a retreat. May I carry a comforting message to the gentleman who called upon you this morning?" and the blue mesmeric eyes rested on her face as he bent his handsome Saxon head for her reply.

Her dark eyes met his in a pleading way, but she read no weakness there, and thought as she gave him her hand:

"A man with an unsatisfied longing for another woman is difficult to subdue, but if George had not intruded himself, I should not have let him go till I had brought him to my feet, but I shall be revenged on him, and win my love yet," and her hand lingered in his, while she said:

"You may, he is your friend; you will be much with us."

"Thank you, for the two-fold kindness. Now gladly shall I be your

Mercury. Good-night," and lifting her hand to his lips, he was gone.

"Then you really mean to wed Colonel Haughton?" enquired Delrose in unsteady tone.

"Come and sit beside me, Kate; you sat beside that other man. Gad! I feel like shooting the follow."

"Mere bravado; gentlemen only meet their equals."

"Don't take that tone with me Kate, or by heaven he shall suffer."

"Good-night Major Delrose," she said mockingly. "I leave your presence, sans ceremonie as you entered mine."

And with the gas-light lighting up red-robes, jewels, coal-black tresses and a smile all cruel, she was about to leave him.

"Stay, Kate, I command you. How will it be when I set the London world on their ear, over your parentage, daughter of a nobody, your gold from the Cosmopolitan Laundry."

Kate winced.

"It would be then a Haughton's turn to leave sans ceremonie; make up friends, Kate," and his face softened, and going over he led her, though unwillingly, to a seat beside his own.

"What a bore a persistent lover with a long memory is," thought Kate.

"But I cannot afford to quarrel with him."

"You are not serious, Kate. You will never sever the tie that binds us?"

And bold man, though he was, his voice trembled as leaning forward he strove to read the inmost thoughts of the woman who has played with his affections at will.

"You said you loved me once, Kate, but I fear your heart had no part in the matter, my devotion amused you, my bold wooing was a novelty, the soldier in me was a change after the King of Laundry?"

"How dare you name the source of my wealth and to me!" she said haughtily.

"Because, my dear, I know your weak point; and even though I anger you,

anything to turn your thoughts to myself; you must admit, Kate, that it is hard lines for me; marry me, dear, and I am your slave, my love for you will never change; it is as fierce and passionate as ever."

And leaning forward his hands on her knees, he strove in vain to imprison hers.

"While mine has changed," she said coldly; "love would indeed be a tyrant, could we not roam at will."

And a vision of mesmeric eyes with a smile, sweet as a woman's came to her. At her words Delrose buried his face in her hands and groaned heavily, as though his heart would break. Then looking up into her face, he said in thick tones.

"Have you no pity for me?"

"None, you have crossed my path, you have clouded my sky."

Had she pity for him, fool that he was to ask. Has the owner of the favourite at Goodwood pity for the jockey who swoons in a death-sickness, causing the next to come in a head's length? Has the eagle pity for the young mother's wail for her babe as he carried it aloft to feed the young? No, she told herself she had spoiled him, allowing him the entree to her presence for the past seven or eight years at will. She cared for him too for his bold, fierce, passionate nature, that is-in a way, if only he would not insist on monopoly, but she would be willing to barter one clasp of the hand, one look from the eyes of gay, genial, handsome, fascinating Captain Trevalyon for the total banishment of her bold wooer.

"I have crossed your path, clouded your sky, and is this all the comfort you give me for years of devotion?" he said slowly, and in a broken voice. "Crossed your path because my love lives, while yours for me is dead; crossed your path, clouded your sky, because I am constant and wish to have you for my wife; wish to keep you in my arms. Lincoln Tompkins never knew; our world never knew; crossed your path? By the stars, Kate, I will not give you up!" And there is a sudden fierceness in his tones, while his breath comes hard and fast. "Crossed your path? 'tis Trevalyon who has again crossed mine. Gad! how I hate him." And he set his teeth. "To think, too, that with your high spirit, you should plead to him for his love."

"George Delrose, dare to repeat one word of a conversation you played the sneak to listen to, and you shall come to grief."

And she started to her feet, receding several paces from him in rage and mortification.

"Kate, dear, forgive me," and he is beside her; and strong man that he is, he holds her by force in his arms until she is still.

"It is my love for you that maddens me. My queen, my beauty, come back to me. Give your thoughts to me-you must, you shall."

"What shall I do with him?" she thought. "I love the other man, but if

I cannot win him, I shall gratify my ambition by marrying Haughton

Hall, and in petting my idol gratify myself; and so to pet my old love

until it's all over."

And now puss begins to purr.

"There, George dear, I give in; you leave no room for other fetters than your arms. Let me go."

"Yes, my beauty, in a minute. You have been so cold to me of late, I am famished. You will only marry me, Kate, only me. Say yes, dear; Haughton would never suit you. But I cannot speak calmly of him or of any other man in connection with yourself."

And he grew again fearfully excited.

"As for that fellow, Trevalyon, the club gossips have it that for years he has had a hidden wife, and, depend upon it, it's true, these curled darlings generally do that sort of trick."

"Stop; I may turn this to my future advantage," thought Kate, quickly; "let me go, George, and you may sit beside me. There, that is better. I wonder if this story is true; I remember you told it me at New York as false; but I dare say at that time, not being jealous of him, you were, after the manner of men, letting him down easily. Yes, we shall take it for granted it is true. He is handsome enough to have got into some matrimonial scrape ere now."

"I am regaining my old influence over her," thought simple Simon.

"Listen, George, a minute longer; you have seen this Miss Vernon,

Vaura Vernon, niece to Colonel Haughton. Describe her."

"Hang it, Kate! Leave the Haughton connection alone," he said, jealously. "Talk about ourselves."

"I am just starving for a kind word."

"Which you won't get till I please. What makes you here? Just think of that, and then say would any other woman be as kind. Now run over the Vernon charms, if any."

"When she will, she will," he said sulkily. "I have only seen her in the 'row' and that once, she was ahead of me so I did not see her face, but she sat her horse well and her figure is perfect. I overheard Wingfield at the 'Russell' club rooms, telling Chaucer of the Guards (who is wild to meet her) that there is nothing to compare with her in the kingdom, that she is a perfect goddess. Now are you satisfied.

"Yes, yes; let me think a minute."

"Just the woman to attract; I must get her out of my path and separate her from my haughty handsome idol, my king, my love," she thought slowly, her black eyes wearing an intent look, her large lips tightly compressed. Her companion did not break upon her reverie, he sat quiet, studying her profile as he had often done before; there was a certain witchery in the hour, the lateness, the stillness, the roseate lights above them, then what we have all felt, the sweet bliss of sitting in enforced quiet beside a loved one; our brain is quiet, our hands idle; we dread to break the spell, we then as at no other time literally live in the present.

Delrose scarcely moved a muscle; from shoulder to elbow the red velvet of her gown mingled with his black coat sleeve. For some time she had seemed to be drifting away from him, and their present tete-a-tete, though compulsory on her part, was to him paradise. During the season when the London world knew no monarch, save the king of revels. She had laughed at his prayers for a quiet half hour, tossing him instead, as she did to her parrot, now a few careless words, now a sugar plum. At present the season is waning, and a great dread has taken possession of him, lest she should slip away from him altogether, for Dame Rumour has given the widow of the American millionaire in marriage to more than one. The demon of unrest hath gat hold on him and every night ere going to one or other of the many distractions open to him, he paces the square opposite her windows to see who is admitted. More than once Col. Haughton and the man he most fears, Trevalyon, have alighted from the handsome dog-cart of the latter; to-night as we know, he, with the madness of jealousy upon him, on seeing his hated rival enter at eleven p.m., bribes a servant to admit him one hour later. Eve had not confided in him that Trevalyon had come only on a written invitation from herself couched in such terms as he could not refuse. And the woman beside him thought silently, seemingly oblivious of his presence. "I fear I have no chance with him; he is pre-occupied with her; a man always is until he tires of one. I must marry the Colonel. Household gods are permitted in Christendom; he is my god and shall be then as now my idol."

And with a little laugh and a sigh she turned her face quickly, brushing his beard (he was so near), and had laid his hand on hers as she sighed.

"My queen," he whispered eagerly, "of whom have you been thinking all this time? Say of me, and not of him."

"You men all go in for monopoly, George dear, but who is the obnoxious 'he' this time?"

"Trevalyon, of course; did I not hear you-"

"Stop! or we shall quarrel; if you must know, my thoughts were of you; and I thought you were not such a bad fellow after all as Trevalyon; it would be a terrible thing, George dear, did he inveigle Miss Vernon, for whom he seems inclined, into a marriage with him."

"What the deuce need you care? She is nothing to you. Ah! I begin to see," he continued thoughtfully; "you would not regret had he a taste of the Tantalus punishment."

"I have some conscience left," she said merrily, "which is paying you an indirect compliment, and if you wish to please me you will revive this old scandal, so as to prevent this naughty fellow posing as bigamist; and now promise me and tell me good-night."

"And you forgive me everything and restore me to favour, my queen, while I swear he shall never marry Miss Vernon nor any other woman he covets."

"Yes, you may come to me for your reward, if you effectually prevent Miss Vernon posing as his wife. I shall be sweeter than honey in the honey-comb to you then. But till then, pleasant dreams."

"Before I leave, you must tell me when I may see you alone, for this banishment is killing me."

"Killing you! indeed; all gammon; never saw a man look as though he enjoyed his beef and beer better; no, go do my bidding, and in your effort to keep out Mormonism you will punish your foe and I shall reward you."

"But when, Kate, when; you don't tell me; may I come to-morrow?" persisted her lover, eagerly.

"No, I am steeped to the lips in engagements."

"But I must, Kate; a soldier is accustomed to daily pay."

"Don't be persistent, George, or you shall be off duty forever."

"You know you have your foot on my neck, dear, and you take advantage."

"Most men would not object to its shape or weight," she said saucily drawing her robe, exposing a very pretty foot encased in cream hose, and a black satin boot fitting as perfectly as any Madame Vestris ever wore.

"I am conquered, my queen," he said softly; "only let me come, and in your own time."

"Well put, and now be off; I'll write you, as the letter writer says, at my earliest convenience."

"Good-night; may it come soon."

"Remember your mission."

"I shall revive it with a vengeance."

And bending down something very like a lovers' parting took place. Passing into the hall he stepped noiselessly out into the night; the closing of the door roused the sleeping footman, who, as he locked the door and saw his mistress pass from her boudoir to her sleeping apartments, thought sleepily as he put out the lights-

"Peter won't get the sack for letten' him in after all; my lady is sweet on him, I'm thinking, and I'm not in for Pete's place."

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