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A Heart-Song of To-day By Annie Gregg Savigny Characters: 22861

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

After leaving Trevalyon, Vaura, with her attendant cavaliers, bent their steps in the direction of the ball-room, the sweet sounds of distant music sounding louder and yet louder as they moved.

"Woe be to that incarnation of selfishness in yonder boudoir," exclaimed Everly; "if he be the means of my losing this dance with the fair Queen of the Revels," looking admiringly at Vaura's full and rounded neck, throat and arms.

"You won't call it petty larceny, Everly, when you pour maledictions on his head. 'Pon my heart it's too bad of him to carry off the most precious freight of the ballroom; thereby causing two forlorn individuals, whom he has defrauded of their rights, to wonder about like disembodied spirits with distended eyes, and white of visage. I can assure you, Mlle. Vernon, Everly, in our search for your fair person, peered into passages where the darkness might be felt, it was in this way. Passing one of the salons I saw a group of ladies and gentlemen, and thinking you might be one of the number, and the music just striking up for my dance with you, la belle de la nuit, I entered the salon, gazing eagerly amongst them, coming away, as you know, disappointed. Sir Tilton in this way distanced me. I took no thought of the whereabouts of such an insignificant atom as he, continued De Vesey, laughing; but, continuing my search for you, came suddenly upon a queer bit of architecture, a many-sided sort of landing wherefrom there were three staircases and three landings; which was I to choose? I was meditating, when from the wall close beside me proceeded a most plaintive wail, rather, on my honour, like an infantine donkey. I listened going close to the wall, when I discovered the mellifluous accents proceeded from the throat of the missing giant, Sir Tilton. I put my ear to the wall and told the poor boy to speak in accents loud; he confessed that seeing a spring in the wall he touched it-it opened, he entered where he was mantled in Egyptian darkness, and could not make his exit. I was his deliverer. When he emerged, he looked like a ghost, and in feeble accents told me of why he had gone into solitude, which, as I see my partner seated like patience on a monument waiting for me, I shall leave him to be the hero of his own tale; and as I hear, fair Mlle., that you are going to desert Paris and turn your face south, I must needs say bon voyage, though my heart aches at our loss;" and lifting her hand to his lips, the gay Parisien left them to claim his partner.

"At last," said Everly, with fervor, and almost unconsciously his face full of an agitation he could not conceal.

Vaura's practised eye told her what was coming, and fain to escape it, said gayly:

"Yes, at last, Sir Tilton to relieve my curiosity by explaining M. de

Vesey's words."

Here a lively air from a French clock attracted her attention.

"Listen, Sir Tilton, two o'clock."

"Yes, fair queen of the revels, 'tis time I told you another story, my heart is aching for your sympathy," he said brokenly.

"You have my sympathy, Sir Tilton; nay, we must not linger," she added, on his turning into the dreamy light of an ideal little flirting room.

"I pray you to do so, Miss Vernon. I have something I must say to you," he said feverishly.

"Wait until time says now, Sir Tilton, for with the warning notes we have just heard in my ears, I should not be a good listener."

"You are tired of me, and want to give your sweetness to some other man," he said despairingly, yet fiercely.

"Carita! Carita! Sir Tilton," and pitying him she said, knowing just how he was feeling; "see there is one couple you have made happy to-night," as the little prospective bride of Lord Lisleville with her lover passed, with smiles to Sir Tilton.

"Fools' paradise, she belongs to Lord Lisleville; that wouldn't satisfy me."

"You are a spoiled boy, you want too much."

"I want you, my enchantress."

"But you can't have me, Sir Tilton, I belong to the heir of the house for the last dance," she said, wilfully misconstruing his meaning, so gaining time, lost to him.

"You are cruel, you gave up my dance for Trevalyon; you won't give up

De Hauteville's for me."

"Eau Clair made me promise faithfully," and with pretty persuasiveness had her way to the ball-room. "Drop all sentiment, Sir Tilton, I like you best, your own gay care for naught self; see," she added, kindly as they neared the music and revellers, "see the gay butterflies are as chic (even if their wings have lost some of their bloom); the scent of the rose as sweet as at the first dance; be your own gay rollicking self once more."

"I cannot! for my star of the night I love you; don't start, it is no new story to you that a man's heart lies crushed at your feet. Since it was my fate to meet you, your face is ever before me. I followed you here, running away from Haughton Hall. I have dreaded Trevalyon as a rival, as well as others, but he in especial. Oh! my heart's light, say you are not going to give your loveliness up to a man they say has a hid-well, well, no more of him, only don't shrink from me, I shan't name him; but my heart only beats for you, heaven." And Vaura feels his whole frame tremble as he says feverishly: "pity me, and make her love me; and now what have you to say to me, you can make my life what you will; for heaven's sake give me hope."

"Poor fellow, your words grieve me more than I can say; I had no idea of anything of the sort; you have my warmest friendship.

"Don't; don't speak of friendship!" he said excitedly, when it is you, you with your warm heart-beats, your love I want; great heavens, why did you ever cross my path?"

"I shall regret the doing so, if it has caused you pain, Sir Tilton, but in time you will forget me."

"You are cruel; and speak as a surgeon to a physically sick man."

"My words are meant kindly, Sir Tilton, though they seem as the lance to the sick man."

"Men say women are cruel, so they are; do you know, for your beauty I have played the traitor to another; but heaven help me," and poor little Sir Tilton groaned; "I could not marry her while I was free to ask you to be my wife, and now I am just good for nothing, and never shall be; God help me!"

Vaura's heart was full of pity for this gay boyish little Sir Tilton, and looking into his face pityingly, said:

"Poor fellow, go back to your bethrothed and be happy in time with her; she, nor none other shall know you ever had a roving fancy for me, and this is a butterfly age and our wings were given us to fly; so n'importe, you need only send your bride to me if she ever scolds, and I shall tell her she has the gayest, kindest little baronet in all Britain."

And so Vaura chatted to give the poor little man time to catch up to his heart-beats.

Here Lionel passed them on his return from the boudoir of Madame, where he had been since Vaura was taken from him, and Del Castello had left him; he heard part of Vaura's remark, and seeing Sir Tilton's downcast attitude, took in the situation at a glance; and as he passed with a grave smile to Vaura and a pressure of his hand on the crushed rose and violets at his breast, he mentally observed:-

"Another life given her to do as she wills with, another heart crushed as she has crushed the life from this rose; ah, well, the saints hath it that they are the weaker vessel, but they are stronger than we after all. Look at me, year after year I have boasted of my strength, and now I am as wax in her hands; I, who thought to bask in her loveliness for an idle hour, only as I might bask in the loveliness on canvas, the creation of some heaven born painter; I, who thought to coolly criticise her acquaintance with this actor who has tried to win her beauty and talents to the stage, ere I asked her to be my wife- ere I put away the prejudices of a lifetime against wedded life. Prejudices! that were the outcome of my mother's sin, my father's blighted life; I know I always loved her as a girl-woman, for she was always womanly. Now I adore her with the love of a life; with a love that has never been frittered away, for I have never loved the soulless creatures whom I have amused myself with." And hastening his steps he was soon by Lady Esmondet's side.

"What a wanderer you have been," said his friend, welcoming her favourite and pleased to see (as she surmised) some of Vaura's violets in his coat.

"Where is Vaura? truant that she is, you were the one to take her away, and I hoped you would bring her back."

She noticed he wore the exhausted look of a man having gone through some very powerful emotional feeling, whether of joy or sorrow she could not tell. His eyes turned ever wistfully towards the grand entrance to the ball-room, and he wore her flowers, so she could only hope there had been no trouble between them. She felt half in love with him herself, as most women did who came under the influence of his rare fascination of manner "his eyes possess some mesmeric power," they said, "to draw their hearts at will." Have we not all felt the wonderful power of such eyes, at least, once in our lives, eyes that once having felt as it were, we always feel; eyes that charm us and bid us look and not forget.

"He is learning to love her," thought Lady Esmondet, as she saw that his eyes turned ever towards the door; "and it will be the happiest day of my life (none too happy)," she thought with a sigh, "if I see these two lives blend in one; Vaura is difficile, so is he, but she cannot resist him, and their lives would be full of completeness. They would be the happiest couple in London; why did he start as through fear, when Everly mentioned Delrose as a visitor at the Hall; I know there was a scandal some twelve years ago, when they were both mixed up with Fanny Clarmont. I do hope there is nothing in it to cause him real uneasiness. Vaura will make a great sensation this coming season; she has made some conquests to-night, that cream-white satin with her diamonds and these old fashioned gold bands, suit her to perfection. She enjoys wielding the sceptre and she does it with such seeming unconsciousness, and absence of vanity that is very charming, never boasting of her conquests even to me." But where can she be all this time, I wonder, and with whom? so breaking in upon Lionel's reverie, she repeated her question of, "Where and with whom is Vaura? she has missed two or three dances."

"Everly was the happy man not two minutes ago," he said.

"That bird of passage; 'tis a wonder she wastes her sweetness upon him."

"Poor Everly! I am very much inclined to think his heart will be heavy after to-night," said Lionel, thinking of his downcast look as he passed.

"'Tis his own fault; little men are so aspiring,-always on tip-toe," answered Lady Esmondet.

"Yes, I suppose he has himself to blame, the bat cannot gaze at the sun, unless to his own detriment."

"One thinks of an angel and lo! she appears," exclaimed Eau Clair, coming up, "and there's no doubt as to whose colours Everly wears, but by the lilies of France had he detained La Belle Vernon from her rightful sovereignty of the ball-room five minutes longer, I should have hunted the Everlie-in-wait-robber, and have taken from him our belle. But see how enerve, embarrassed, the robber looks, the enchantress has been exercising her fatal spells."

Here Vau

ra with Sir Tilton, looking pale and haggard, approached all three, guessed his whispered question to Vaura, of "Can you give me no hope?" and saw Vaura shake her head as her lips framed the word "no." Then there was one long pressure of the hand, a look from Everly, as of one looking on the face of the dead, and he was gone. Alone, or to wed without love, and for gold! Ah, me! this life of ours teems with bitterness, but on to the merry-makers we do not care to follow Everly. We grow cynical perhaps as to the good there is in life, but we get used to it in time; to this something we have lost as we get used in time, to the unloved partner by our side. Such is life.

Vaura was looking very sweet and lovely, as with a tender pity she took leave of her conquest, Sir Tilton; her face had a soft paleness, and her lips looked a deeper red than usual from the contrast; there was a languor in her movements, and she felt she would like to rest in the easy chair, beside Lady Esmondet, with Lionel near; and dream waking dreams after all the excitement of the night. But there were the conventionalities, her dance with Eau Clair, and then, home, so she said:

"Well, dear god-mother, here at last; are you dying of ennui? I feel very wicked, and it has been selfish of me to remain so long, but this is the last, I shall soon be with you."

And taking Eau Clair's arm she was again moving to the enchanting music of the waltz, which tends more to bewitch the souls of men than the music of any other dance, its gentle swaying motion, its soft bewilderingly seductive strains of music, are something to have felt the pleasurable sensation of. As they were moving the length of the room, Vaura noticed Lady Esmondet leave it, as also that her footsteps' were slow and languid as though she was weary; so saying:

"I really must tear myself away, Monsieur Eau Clair, Lady Esmondet has left the room, and I am sure she is fatigued. You will laugh at me for suddenly remembering my dear chaperon at such an opportune moment when our dance is a thing of the past. There seems to be a general exodus, so," she added gaily, "if we follow them, even two such important personages as we are will not be noticed in our absence."

"We shall go with the stream and all will be well."

"But whither do they lead? What is on the tapis?"

"They go to take part in an old family custom that tonight must be done."

"And if when done 'twere well, 'twere well 'twere done quickly," answered Vaura.

And they followed the stream and Vaura could not but see that Eau Clair and herself received a good deal of attention as they moved, many eyes following them. They soon reached a suite of elegantly furnished salons gay with flowers, gems of art from the deft fingers of the sculptor, master-pieces from the artistic brush of some of the greatest painters living and dead, decorated the walls or stood in their respective niches, foreign and domestic birds of rare beauty and throats full of song, with the exquisite scent of flowers about them, the brilliant scene, the soft laughter of the incoming guests sounding so similar to some of their own notes, causing the feathered songsters to burst forth into melody, adding another charm. Vaura and Eau Clair were among the last to enter, and they walked up to the end of the room the cynosure of all eyes; as they neared a chair placed alone at the head of the room, Vaura saw Lady Esmondet with a gay coterie of friends with Lionel in the group. Vaura turned her head as she passed with a smile, and the lines to Venus from Pitt's Virgil flashed across Lionel's memory:

"And turning round her neck she showed

That with celestial charms divinely glowed."

Vaura was accustomed to admiration, so this which looked so much like a march of triumph did not disturb her self-possession; she laughed and chatted with her companion all the length of the salons.

"These servants of yours, Monsieur Eau Clair, remind one as they pass in and out so noiselessly among your guests laden with the champagnes and ices they carry so deftly of the automata in the new Utopia they are perfect; but what is not perfect in the de Hauteville mansion."

"Take this chair which I hope will be the perfection of comfort for the belle of our ball."

"Give me a Frenchman for a gallantry," said Vaura gaily, and seating herself comfortably. To her surprise Eau Clair, standing beside her, said as follows:

"Charmantes Demoiselles, Mesdames et Messieurs: It has been a time honoured custom in our family for generations, that on the heir to the estate attaining his majority, on his throwing off the careless garb of garcon, and donning the somewhat grave habiliments," taking up the corner of his dress-coat with a smile, "of the man. It has been the custom, I say, at the revels given in his honor, that he should elect as the belle the fairest of the fair-a custom that has my warmest approval; a dieu ne plaise that any one of my descendants should be ungallant enough to discontinue it; indeed rather than our fore-fathers should father such an one," he said in gay tones, "I prefer that I, Eau Clair, should be the last of our name. I admit that my predecessors may have at times found the pleasant task of choosing somewhat difficile. But for me, Dieu merci, Mlle. Vernon's advent in Paris has left me no choice. And without paying any point-blank compliments to her charms, I now present to her as is usual on this occasion, this bagatelle, at the same time expressing the hope that loving our city as she does, she will soon return to us, come with all her beauty and grace, and sojourn among us, leaving her own northern clime," and kneeling on one knee, Eau Clair handed a small box of rare Japanese workmanship to Vaura. He then drew a small, elegant stand to her side and gently taking the box from her hand, laid it on the table, touched a spring when the lid flew open, disclosing to view a bouquet holder and fan, both works of art. The handle of the fan was of gold inlaid with precious stones, the fan of feathers of brilliant hues. The bouquet holder was of elegant design in gold, studded with diamonds and on one side the words "To la belle Vernon, 1877" inlaid in diamonds of larger size, the whole one glitter of brightness. A small bouquet of delicate odeur was here handed by a servant on a salver to his young master, and Eau Clair saying, "Let me be the first to fill the holder with fragrance," put the flowers into the golden receptacle.

Vaura rising and taking Eau Clair by the hand made a step or two forward now loosing his hand said:

"Cher ami Monsieur Eau Clair, Mesdames et Messieurs, I feel that a mere conventional je vous remercie would be too cold and lifeless and in every way distasteful to me, on this occasion, and though I have never made a speech heretofore, and this being literally my maiden speech, please forgive me what pleases you not. Though, fair demoiselles, I have been chosen the belle, I feel as I gaze upon the galaxy of beauty around me that I," she added in gay tones, "have no occasion to blush at my own loveliness, for I feel that the gods have been so lavish in their gifts of everything that is lovely that they have surely become bankrupt and have kept no charms for me, and that Monsieur Eau Clair must have looked at my poor graces through rose-coloured spectacles when he called me la belle and made me the recipient of gifts fit for a queen. I little thought, cher ami," she continued, turning slightly towards Eau Clair, "when saying to you a few moments ago that this had been an ideal evening, that two such ideal gifts were in store for myself. I need scarcely tell you that they will be always among my most valued treasures, recalling as they will such pleasant reminiscences to my mind of one of the most delightful evenings I have ever spent. And a word to you, fair demoiselles" turning towards the assemblage of guests with a smile, "never turn your bright eyes from your own land for your lovers and husbands, for your men carry the belt from the universe! Yes, from the world for gallantry, and some of the kindest and best husbands I have met are from among the so-called' fickle' Frenchmen. Thanks for your kind wish, Monsieur Eau Clair, that I shall soon return to fair, bright Paris. I do love your city and your land so much that he to whom I may yet give my heart and life will I know, if he love me, come often to your dear shores and Paris. Ere many more suns have risen I turn my face southwards to that old art world, sunny Italy, which I 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.

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