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   Chapter 17 CHIC AUJOURD'HUI.

A Heart-Song of To-day By Annie Gregg Savigny Characters: 12662

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Captain Trevalyon assisted his friends to alight in front of a handsome house in a fashionable avenue.

"Can this be the right address," said Lady Esmondet. "It is a private residence et regardez, by the gas-light in the entrance one can see the arms of a noble house cut in the stone."

"Yes," answered Trevalyon, "we are all right; a patrician mansion knocked down by the hammer, now simply numero troisieme, Avenue de l'Imperatrice, and if Bertram is as comfortable inside as he is fashionable outside then we may expect turtle's livers a la Francaise, the choicest of wines in this hot-bed of grapes, this land of vineyards, dishes that would tickle the palate of a Lucullus, the cosiest of after dinner chairs, French coffee, which means a good deal, the brightest of fires, and faces, sweet notes of song," with a glance at Vaura, "and the most delicate of cigarettes, so delicate as not to entail the punishment of banishment from two ladies fair."

"What a luxurious picture you draw, Captain Trevalyon," said Vaura gayly, "and what an epicure! you dwell with such pleasure upon each dish, your livers, your-"

"Pardonnez," answered Trevalyon, laughing; "not mine, the turtle's" and continuing with mock gravity, "I never expect mine to be dressed at Voisin's."

"Horrible! a too warm anticipation of torment," cried Vaura.

"Torment!" said their host, stepping forward as a servant announced them, and tortures are obsolete words in gay Paris and even in the reign of terror, such a fair vision would surely have escaped. "A hundred thousand welcomes," he continued, shaking hands with all, "and I feel sure no bachelor under the McMahon regime is so highly favoured as Edward F. Bertram to-night."

"Listen," cried Vaura, "Mr. Bertram will put to shame the gay gallants of Paris, in the making of pretty speeches; I believe the air of this room is conducive to that sort of thing; I feel inclined to say something complimentary on the beauty and comfort of our host's surroundings myself.

"Relieve my curiosity, Mr. Bertram, and tell me where you are?" said Lady Esmondet, as she leaned back and placed her feet on the softest of fender stools; "we came to dine with a bachelor in something of bachelor, live-by-myself style, and we find ourselves in a noble mansion."

"Yes, Bertram," said Trevalyon; "I was aware of the capacity of a

London alderman, in catering to the comfort of his pampered body; but,

I repeat Lady Esmondet's question of where are you."

"And I answer," said the voice of gay Mrs. Eustace Wingfield, as she entered, "in one of the most fashionable of French flats on Avenue de l'Imperatrice, the fourth flat of said number Eustace and I are fortunate denizens of, and I can assure you, the inmates are such pleasant people that, yours truly, with Eustace, are oftener to be found in these sunny quarters than at Eaton Square, London."

"You are happy," said Vaura, "never out of the sunshine."

"Yes, I like it," said Mrs. Wingfield; "I can't live in the shade, and Mr. Bertram has me to adore for giving him the sun-light of this dwelling. I saw by the papers he was to make his exodus from London, so I telegraphed him to come here, and bring on a box of French novels we had forgotten."

"One does sometimes forget the most important part of one's luggage," said Vaura.

"But," said Trevalyon, "I'll wager Bertram did not forget your mental food."

"Not he, with his aldermanic taste for spicy dishes," said Vaura.

"No, the temptation would be too much for him, with the piece de resistance, an uninteresting husband, side dish, paragon lover, entree, neglected wife with flavourings thrown in, scandals, duels, etc.," said Trevalyon.

"How well he knows the condiments," remarked their host in sly tones, and rubbing his hands softly; "but talking of condiments, reminds one of dinner, and that Everly should be here."

"I hear a footstep on the hill which doesn't grow fainter, fainter still," said Mrs. Wingfield.

"Here we are again," said Sir Tilton Everly, entering, and shaking hands with all, continued: "I hope, Bertram, I havn't kept your dinner waiting."

"No, no, my dear fellow, my dinner waits for no man."

"You see our gallant host makes an exception in our favour, Sir

Tilton," said Lady Esmondet.

"He considers the length of our toilette," said Mrs. Wingfield.

"And train," laughed Vaura, as Trevalyon caught his foot in her trailing skirts, in crossing behind to offer his arm.

"Go where one will," said Trevalyon, covered by the hum of voices; "one is sure to fall in with Everly."

"Yes, uncle Eric says he reminds him of the clown at a circus, with his cherry cry of 'here I am again.'"

"He seemed to me to be a sort of pet monkey of Mrs. Haughton; I hope he will not deem it necessary to transfer his little attentions to you, or I shall feel inclined to tell him that I am your knight pour le present, and show him my colours, in shape of telegram from your uncle (if I may not wear yours)," he added in persuasive tones.

"You can still be my knight errant," and her soulful eyes turn to his face, "he, one of my retainers."

"No divided honours for me, ma belle."

Here their chit-chat is interrupted by the subject of their converse, addressing Miss Vernon, across the table.

"Just come from Haughton Hall, Miss Vernon?"

"Yes."

"All well I hope? more especially my uncle."

"Never saw him looking better; I just ran down for twenty-four hours."

"How is the place looking? I don't mean the exterior, the park and grounds are always beautiful (and thank heaven cannot change), but the interior."

"Gorgeous! never saw anything to equal it."

"The festivities were brilliant, I presume?"

"Should say so; the county were tongue-tied in admiration; couldn't find words."

"You had no time for the birds, Everly, I suppose," said Trevalyon.

"Yes, a couple of hours of it; and what with the ball, dinner, fireworks, hurrahs, &c., and killing of birds-"

"And young women," cried Mrs. Wingfield.

"But in the time," laughed small Everly, "we really made some fine running on the feathered tribe."

"Ostrich feathered?" said Vaura.

"Nay, let him alone for that; else would Mrs. Haughton have made some running or gone for him? excuse the slang," said Mrs. Wingfield, mi

schievously.

"Many of us would be sportsmen in the case of a rival," said Vaura.

"The divided skirt would come to the front with pistols and coffee for two," cried Bertram.

"Yes, I should give her all the mud my tongue could throw," said gay

Mrs. Wingfield.

"There will be sport in Hall as field, when the hounds meet, if I'm not mistaken," said the newsy little baronet.

"Why, how so? Sir Tilton," exclaimed Vaura.

"Well, you see, Miss Vernon, there was a lively discussion at luncheon one day as to the next meet; when Mrs. Haughton announced her intention of following the hounds, the Colonel objected on the ground of non-experience."

"No," said Lady Esmondet; "Rotten Row is her experience, and 'tis scarcely a hunting field."

"Unless for the praise of men," said Vaura.

"Or a husband," cried Mrs. Wingfield.

"But about the field, Sir Tilton; do you think Mrs. Haughton will take it?" asked Vaura.

"I am sure she will, for I overheard her the same day make a bet of

L500 that she'd ride grey Jessie with the hounds next meet."

"So, so!" exclaimed Bertram, "the lady means it."

"And who might the favoured participator in her bet be, Everly?" enquired Trevalyon carelessly.

"With Major Delrose, late of the -th Middlesex Lancers."

"With Delrose!" exclaimed Trevalyon, now fully aroused; "is Delrose at Haughton?" and as he spoke he gave a swift glance at Lady Esmondet, who thought silently, "Delrose, the man who was mixed up in some way with Lionel in the Fanny Clarmont scandal; there will be mischief."

"No, left same train as I did, very unwillingly though; extracted a promise from Mrs. Haughton, that if time hangs heavy, he may return; amusing fellow, though the Colonel doesn't seem to take to him."

"Not the same stamp of man," said Bertram.

"But Haughton is right about the field, Everly," said Trevalyon; "one requires other experience than the Row."

"Better not curb her, though," answered Everly sagely.

"She thinks it as easy to run down the hare as the men; but the hare wants other bait than gold," said Lady Esmondet.

"So do we," said Bertram, decidedly.

"Yes, I do not think by any means that men, as a rule, are sordid."

"Before I met Eustace," said Mrs. Wingfield, "I made up my mind only to marry a horsey man, to make sure of one common interest, which there is often an absence of."

"Mrs. Wingfield! Mrs. Wingfield!" cried Bertram.

"Mr. Bertram! Mr. Bertram! were you a benedict, you would say my forethought was sweetly touching."

"And here have I, a lonely bachelor," he continued; "been regretting the non-existence of my Madame Bertram, though none could grace the head of my table better than the lady now seated there."

"Merci," said Lady Esmondet, "you are such a host in yourself that you leave us nothing to regret in the absence of Mrs. Bertram."

"Why," said Trevalyon sadly, in a low tone to Vaura; "why, will we continually make a jest over those poor creatures unequally yoked together."

"Very frequently, I think," she said softly, "to hide a deeper feeling; though it hurts us painfully to do so."

"I vow I'd rather be a jolly old bachelor like Mr. Bertram, with plenty of money, than husband to the Queen of Sheba, were she not defunct," exclaimed Mrs. Wingfield.

"What a boon to men and society is a woman without marriageable daughters," laughed Vaura.

"Yes," said Everly; "she can air her private opinions on the marriage question."

"With the right one, what a restful paradise it would be," said Trevalyon to Vaura's ear alone. And there was such a weariness in his tone, that she gave him one swift sympathetic glance; for in spite of herself her heartstrings were stirred, but she must not give way, so says lightly, as following Lady Esmondet's signal, they leave the table, the gentlemen refusing to linger:

"To say 'marriage' under any circumstances to be 'bliss,' is rank heresy to your well-known views; but I understand your present impulse is engendered by seeing our dear friend playing hostess."

"Not so altogether; you also are near," and her arm is involuntarily pressed to his side.

"Well, ladies fair and gallants gay," said Mr. Bertram, as he found a comfortable lounging chair for Lady Esmondet, "we have just time for a cup of coffee and a cigarette, ere we roll away in a carrosse to the Theatre Francais."

"To the theatre!" exclaimed Trevalyon; "I was not aware this was on the tapis for this evening."

"Yes," said Lady Esmondet, "Mr. Bertram and I arranged it; M. Octave Feuillet's play, the "Sphynx," is on. I begin to think it was selfish on my part, you all look so comfortable; perhaps we had better abandon it."

"Put it to the vote," cried Mrs. Wingfield.

"And no bribery," echoed Vaura.

"I fear if it is put to the vote," said Lady Esmondet, "mine will be bought, by the beseeching look of Capt. Trevalyon, for a stay at home."

"See what it is to have an expressive face, Trevalyon," said Everly; "it has gained you one vote, in spite of the rule Miss Vernon made of no bribery."

"I thank you for your sympathy, Lady Esmondet; but I fear yours would be the only vote recorded in my favor, so the 'Sphynx' must needs make us her own."

"As she did many an unhappy mortal in days of yore, in her Theban home. I wonder if they looked as resigned in their martyrdom as poor Capt. Trevalyon does," said Vaura.

"I used to think Oedipus finished her," said Trevalyon.

"Only for his day," said Vaura; "'twas too long a look till Octave

Feuillet; he should have asked Lynceus to give a glance."

"The Cyclops might have lent him an eye," said Bertram.

"Are you always as indifferent to the stars of the stage Captain?" enquired Mrs. Wingfield, as she gently puffed away her delicate cigarette. "What Eustace would do without his distractions in that way, heaven only knows."

"He will outgrow it; most men have stage fever, as most babies have measles," he answered evasively.

"And now for our mantles and away," said Lady Esmondet, rising.

"And may the mantle of resignation fall on the shoulders of poor Capt. Trevalyon," said Vaura, taking his offered arm, and as the hand leaning on his arm pressed closely, she said in low tones, "you had my unregistered vote."

"Merci," he said, pressing her hand.

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