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   Chapter 21 LA BELLE VERNON.

A Heart-Song of To-day By Annie Gregg Savigny Characters: 20845

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


The suite of apartments at the de Hauteville mansion in which the family received, were a scene of almost unrivalled splendour. The host, Monsieur Henri Eau Clair de Hauteville, as he stood beside Madame, receiving and welcoming their guests, being a very small and very pale, quiet-mannered man, was almost lost beside the large, handsome woman and merely bowed like a Chinese Mandarin, looking like a tired school-boy, who wanted to be in bed and tucked in comfortably.

"Poor little man, how refreshing the summons to supper will be," said Lady Esmondet, as they waited in the crush to go forward to the smile, bow, and contact of finger tips.

"See how Madame stands it all," remarked Lionel. "It's astonishing what vim gentle women can throw into fatiguing social demonstrations."

"The fragile creature knows society is large-eyed," said Vaura.

On our friends turning to leave the reception room, Eau Clair, the eldest son of the house, for whom, he having attained his majority, this entertainment was given in honour of, came towards them to welcome his mother's old friend, and to tell Miss Vernon of how glad he was at her return to Paris. (He had met Trevalyon before).

"I must congratulate you, my dear boy," said Lady Esmondet, "as well upon your coming of age as upon the brilliancy of the ball."

"Je vous remercie, Lady Esmondet; mais," he added, "I have just come from your Cambridge University, and shall speak in your tongue, which I like well."

Here some old friends came up, and several gay dancing men, Everly amongst them, and Vaura's programme was soon full. She tried to secure a few dances for rest, by this means to give a few minutes to chat with Lionel, but no one would allow it.

"Don't be cruel," said one.

"Your flower-face must go to the ball-room," said another.

"Take pity on us; we don't carry a bouquet," said a third.

"So we will that you are near," said another.

At last she was carried off by Eau Clair.

"How beautiful your ball-room is, Monsieur Eau Clair," said Vaura.

"What multitudes of flowers; how many green-houses have you laid bare?

There will not be one rose-bud in all Paris for the Marshal McMahon's

fete, but that will not grieve you, a Bonapartist."

"Of this I am sure, Mlle. Vernon, if I have left him any roses they are not the sweetest, for well I know the beauteous butterfly of to-day loves their sweet odour."

Dance succeeded dance, and all went merry as a marriage bell, to divine music by two of the most perfect bands in Paris; and now Everly claims his innings, and is happy.

"Have mercy on me, Sir Tilton," laughed Vaura, "and forgive me this dance (besides, we have another together), and you don't know how sweetly amiable I shall be, if you'll find me a seat beside Lady Esmondet."

"Consider yourself seated, and your martyred subject not far off, fair

Mademoiselle."

They found Lady Esmondet with Mrs. Wingfield and Trevalyon in an ideal refreshment room.

"Glad you've found us, ma chere," said Lady Esmondet.

"I need not ask how you are enjoying the ball," remarked Trevalyon, "your eyes tell me."

"And they say true; how could it be otherwise Sir Knight? with music that thrills one, and a light foot treading a measure to the sweet notes," answered Vaura. "Is not this a charming room, Miss Vernon? invisible music, birds and flowers; the Parisian is born for this kind of thing."

"It is just a poem, Capt. Trevalyon."

"And Bob Fudge in the flesh, brings us back to reality," said Mrs. Wingfield; and following the direction of her eyes, they saw a very young man devouring with admiring glances, the delicacies around him.

"I am quite sure," laughed Vaura, "he will go through the bill of fare just as Moore's Bob, of one pate of larks, just to tune up the throat; one's small limbs of chickens, done en papillote, one's erudite cutlets dressed all ways but plain, &c. Oh, dear, he fatigues one," she added gaily; "yes, an ice, Sir Tilton."

"Depend upon it," said Trevalyon laughing, "Dick will receive a letter from Bob, that, 'there's nothing like feeding.'"

Here Eau Clair joined them, having missed Vaura from the ball-room.

"Have you seen the Claytons this evening, Vaura?" enquired Lady

Esmondet.

"Yes, god-mother mine, and dancing with vigour and a sublime indifference to time that was amusing."

"They exchanged partners with another Quakerish looking couple, and have been in the heat of the fight, ever since," said gay Mrs. Wingfield.

"'Merrily danced the Quaker's wife, merrily danced the Quaker,'" sang

Vaura.

Here a Spanish noble came up, and with a courtly bow, reminded Vaura that this was his waltz, and in animated chit-chat, they left the room.

"A handsome couple," said Mrs. Wingfield; "and I noticed the Spaniard has had two dances with la belle." News, not too utterly delightful to Trevalyon and Sir Tilton.

"The Marquis admires Miss Vernon, so mother says; and no man can find him at fault," said Eau Clair, rising, and leaving the little group.

"Would you, ladies, like to go to the ball-room?" asked Lionel, anxious to be near Vaura.

"Thank you, yes," answered Lady Esmondet, divining his motive.

"And will you take pity on me, and a risk on my waltzing powers?" asked Sir Tilton of Mrs. Wingfield.

"I would not risk anything so important as a waltz, Sir Tilton; but as I have already tested your capabilities as a dancer away I go on your protecting arms."

"Or into them," laughed her partner, as entering the ball-room they went careering at full speed down the small spaces.

"Beg pardon, Lord Lisleville," cried Sir Tilton, as he dashed against an ancient beau with a long rent-roll, who with his fiancee, a pretty little French girl, who had been trying to put him out of step in order to dance with her young Lochinvar. Sir Tilton, knowing the circumstances, pitied the little Parisienne who had been dolefully doing her duty all the evening; so determined to come to her aid, hence the collision, which throwing the noble lord almost on his back, sent his wig flying several yards off which the dancers swept with their trains. The gay petite was wicked enough to put her handkerchief, not to her eyes, but to her mouth, to veil her smiles as she gave herself up to her young lover who had been eating his heart out all the evening. Lord Lisleville, with inward curses on Everly and his own temerity in attempting to dance on a waxed floor, with his gouty leg and bought curls, was a droll figure, as with his handkerchief tied over his head and his face a whirlpool of wrath, he was knocked hither and thither by the dancers in the vain attempt to recover his gay tresses.

Vaura and her partner laughed heartily over the amusing scene.

"How innocent Sir Tilton looked, and one could see it was intentional," laughed Vaura; "no more dinners at the ancestral home of Lord Lisleville; no more shooting for the culprit," she continued.

"How happy the betrothed looks now," said Del Castello, "Cupid's bow is powerful."

"I know myself," said Vaura, "of several cases where young girls have been persuaded to marry old men from the fact being pointed out to them of the happy marriage of M. Thiers. Madame Dosme, poor little Emily's mother, was the woman born for him, only she, unfortunately, was encumbered with a husband."

"It was a most singular household," said Del Castello. "Thiers, though undoubtedly a superior man, had no claims to divinity or to be enshrined on the Dosme altar with three adoring women ever worshipping, while there are many men, could they gain one woman, would be to her alone as constant as the sun. Pardon, Mlle., but I am Spanish and cannot be cold with you. I ever think of Venus and my breast is bare for Cupid's dart."

"The boy is blind," said Vaura, archly.

"I feel him an unerring marksman, though," he said passionately.

Here Sir Tilton, with Mrs. Wingfield, passed them, when Vaura called out gaily:

"Don't you tremble, Sir Tilton, when you think of the wrath of the wigless Adonis?"

"Like an aspen leaf, fair belle, but never mind, I've given him a wigging."

They are now beside Lady Esmondet, and the strains of music changing from the waltz,

"That means our waltz is over, Marquis Del Castello, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly, thanks to your perfect step."

"Your own fairy step had much to do with making our waltz one I shall never forget; may I call tomorrow?"

"You may."

Trevalyon coming up at the moment, and seeing Vaura in all her lovliness, for lovely she was in cream white satin, sleeves merely a band, neck low, a circlet of gold of delicate workmanship round the throat, fastened in front with a diamond large as a hazel nut, bands of gold in same design, on perfect arms midway between shoulder and elbow; and the poor fellow hungered to have her all to himself for even a few minutes, so with forced gaiety he said:

"Now, Mademoiselle, I, as your guardian, must insist on your taking a little rest and under my protection, for, should I allow you to take it with any other, the gay gallant would have the queen of the night back amidst the revelry.

"But what am I to do, Lady Esmondet-Captain Trevalyon," she said with a sweet sense of willingness about her; "I belong to M. de Vesey for the next dance?"

"Go and rest," said Lady Esmondet; "and if your partner cannot find you it will be his loss."

Lionel had roamed about a good deal during the evening thinking much of a letter he had received that morning from Colonel Haughton, and of the love he was battling against in his own breast, for Vaura. In his walks to and fro he had come across a small conservatory on the other side of the house, far from the busy throng, and entered as well from the grounds as from a boudoir of Madame's; thither he led Vaura, not unwillingly, a sweet sense of being taken care of, a nameless feeling of passive languor, a sense of completeness pervaded her whole being, as Lionel, putting her hand through his arm and for a moment holding it there in a protecting sort of way, led her through long corridors until they reached the luxurious boudoir of their hostess, where, seating Vaura in a lounging chair, the perfection of comfort, and placing a soft foot-stool for her dainty slippered feet, he quietly seated himself near her.

He longed to take her to his heart, and tell her of

his great love for her, which had grown so strong as to completely master him, he could scarcely refrain from crushing her in his arms and telling her she must be his; he had suffered much this evening in seeing her, even in the dance, in the arms of other men; ever since he had left Lady Esmondet's side, an hour ago, he had done nothing but pace through lonely corridors thinking of the letter from Eric Haughton, which ran thus:

"Trevalyon, cher ami,-

"Must go to the point at once, as what I hear has troubled me. Mrs. Haughton tells me there is no doubt you are married to Fanny Clarmont, and as Delrose is frequently here and lounging about with her, I suppose he has told her; I know he was mixed up in the affair; I'm sorry for you if it's true, old fellow. She also says, but it's a woman's mistake I am sure, that you are half engaged to Blanche; be careful that you don't make Vaura love you; you were always a sort of hero with her; she is too lovely and lovable to have her life spoiled; take care of my two loved women in your charge.

"Yours as ever,

"ERIC HAUGHTON.

"Captain Trevalyon,

"Hotel Liberte le Soleil, Paris."

"And now I have passed the Rubicon," he thought, "and know past doubting that she has the love of my life, and that life without her, will be worse than death," this he thought, seated near this fair woman; near, and far, for he must not speak to her with this cloud upon his name; he knew it was false and only spread for revenge, but would not society pity Vaura; pity and he writhed with inward pain, at the thought that his wife would be pitied for having gone to God's altar with a man, whom Dame Rumour said, had a hidden wife; one moment he thought he would fly to England and make Delrose tell the truth at the point of the sword, but he knew his man, and that threats would not avail; again, if he left Vaura now, there were many men about her, one of whom she might choose, and the thought was maddening. If he could only get them into Italy, they would be quieter there. He must mature his plans, see how it was best to cope with his enemies; would he write Haughton the facts? no, he must try and find out Fanny Clarmont's address, and get her to write such a letter as he could publish, exonerating him from all act or part in her elopement; but how to do it, unless he could work on Delrose, but the man never had any feelings, save for himself; he must see. And as he looked on Vaura, as she sat, her head thrown back among the cushions, lips slightly parted, and looking at him from dreamy eyes half closed; a pain came to his heart as he thought, if he could not get Fanny's confession, Vaura would never rest in his arms, for she would not go to him with the truth unproven. And still he thought she shall love me, for, look what she has done for me, she has done what no woman heretofore has been able to do, she has inflamed me with a passionate love for her as untamable as the lion; she belongs to me. And as he thought this he rose, but almost staggered with conflicting emotions, as he stood close to her.

"Vaura, my darling, are you rested?" he said, his voice anything but steady.

"Yes," she answered dreamily; "but why did you break the spell? it is so seductive here, I half thought you a magician and this a scene of enchantment."

"I broke the spell, darling, because I could bear no longer the--"

Here footsteps were heard, both on the gravel walk outside the small conservatory and in the corridor by which they had entered the boudoir. And though the occupants did not see Del Castello, he saw them at the same time as Everly with De Vesey (a gay Paris beau to whom Vaura had been engaged for this dance, now over) crossed the threshold. De Vesey, on seeing the situation, and not caring to be de trop, was for retreating, but Everly was in no mood for this, now that his dance and his only one for the night was on the tapis. He, like any other man, would have feared to leave the woman he loved with a man so fascinating as Trevalyon. Vaura, in the second or two of their hesitation, had time to recover outward composure. Lionel folded his arms, moved a pace or two backwards, and stood like a statue; the muscles of his face throbbed, but in the dim rose-tinted light Everly and De Vesey coming from the glare of the lustres and torches of the ball-room did not see clearly.

"Pardonnez, Mademoiselle, but Sir Tilton Everly would continue his search until our belle of the evening was found," said De Vesey, apologetically.

"Not so loud, Monsieur De Vesey," Vaura answered in a whisper. "This is the temple of the god of Silence, and Captain Trevalyon and I have been worshipping at his shrine. I perceive you are both," she added, moving on tiptoe towards them, "feeling the influence of the place, and you don't look as though you care to pour incense. So let us back to Comus and revelry. Au revoir, Capt. Trevalyon."

Vaura managed while speaking to detach from her corsage some violets and a crushed rose, which, when Everly and De Vesey were not observing, she dropped at Trevalyon's feet; and turning her head as she took Sir Tilton's arm, gave him her own syren smile from eyes and lips-and Lionel was alone. Del Castello who had been a witness to this scene from the outside of the conservatory now entered, and coming forward stood facing Lionel.

One would look far before meeting two as handsome men as these two rivals for the love of one woman. Capt. Trevalyon, with some of the best Saxon blood in his veins, of distingue bearing, tall, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed, blonde, tawney mustache, short side whiskers, face somewhat bronzed by exposure on the battle field and in travel: a man, a manly man every inch of him, a man whom woman adored and man leaned on, unless when his foes and rivals.

Del Castello truly the nobleman, tall, dark, and handsome.

The Spaniard was the first to speak.

"Pardon my intrusion, Monsieur, but I cannot rest until I know the truth; I have seen Mademoiselle Vernon several times walking and driving at places of public amusement, but never have been fortunate enough to obtain an introduction to her until to-night, though I have made repeated efforts so to do. Her beauty and grace had made a deep impression upon me, which now that I have had the great joy of conversing and dancing with her has ripened into love so strong as not to be subdued, and which, excuse me, Monsieur, for saying, I believe only a Spaniard or perhaps an Italian could feel. You English are so cold; Mademoiselle is not, but reminds me of the women of my own love-warm, sun-lit land. It was my intention to have called upon Mademoiselle Vernon at her hotel on to-morrow ere the sun had set, to ask her if she would be the light of my life by doing me the great honour of accepting my name, hand and fortune. I had been roaming through the grounds meditating upon her many charms, and of how best I could make my offer so as not to agitate her by its seeming prematureness, when I was very much troubled on coming to the conservatory (meaning to enter) to see you, a powerful rival, in the blissful retirement of this boudoir with the woman I have, perhaps unfortunately, conceived, such passionate love for. I was as if chained to the spot and, when you were alone, determined to enter and ask you if my worst fears are true. Are you a successful suitor for the hand of Mademoiselle Vernon? Are you, Monsieur, anything to her?"

This had been, to say the least of it, a very trying night for Lionel-and it seemed his troubles were not yet over. He knew the Marquis Del Castello to be a parti the bluest blood in his own land would be more than satisfied with. He was the possessor of a noble and princely estate, and this man, with all these advantages, was a suitor for the hand of the woman he loved with an overwhelming passion. And the Spaniard had said she could not be loved as he loved her. Ah, well! what does man know of man? Only this, what he chooses more than "language," as Talleyrand says, "was given us to conceal our thoughts;" for we smile when the heart is breaking; we weep to conceal the joy we are feeling; and Lionel listened and suffered. He had never been a man to make his moan into the ear of men and women, for the sympathy of society is curiosity! and man listens and forgets, and woman listens and talks; she cannot help it, poor thing. Can the snake do other than charm-then sting?

And Vaura had conquered and enslaved him, but was still unsubdued-so he thought,-and though peerless among her sex, she is only a woman. And how will it be if I allow this man to pour his love tale into her ear with all the impassioned eloquence his countrymen possess. "Oh, darling!" and he groaned inwardly, "I cannot put you to the test; I cannot speak yet;" and he must not. All this poor Lionel thought, as with folded arms he listened to the Spaniard, and to his concluding words of "Are you anything to Mademoiselle Vernon?" he merely bowed. The temptation to dismiss this smooth-tongued Southerner, with the warmth of the south in his words, with the looks of an Adonis, ere Vaura should listen to his pleadings, was too much for him. Ah, well, though we love him much, this Lionel Trevalyon, he is only mortal. "After I have made her love me, I shall tell her of this man's proposal of marriage," he said to his aggrieved conscience. After all is there not an instinctive leaning in the hearts of most of us towards the Roman Catholic doctrine of penance? Immediately on our conscience becoming seared as with a red-hot iron through some act its sensitiveness shrinks from, we, feeling this inward shrinking away as if from our lower nature invariably bring out the whip and lash our poor weak flesh by way of atonement. And so Lionel thought now as he bowed to Del Castello's question of "are you anything to her?" and thought while doing what hurt his conscience-"I shall tell her after."

"Then my worst fears are realized," said Del Castello to Lionel's bow. "But, Monsieur, you cannot expect me with my heart's great loneliness fresh upon me to congratulate you on being before me in your wooing. Adieu, I shall leave Paris at sunrise, and it will be a sorrowful gratification to me to know that the incomparable Mlle. Vernon will, from your lips, learn why I fly." And saying this, the Marquis left Lionel to the solitude of Madame's boudoir.

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