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   Chapter 24 SLAIN BY A WOMAN.

A Heart-Song of To-day By Annie Gregg Savigny Characters: 16466

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


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 regr

et 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.

"Yours,

"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."

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