MoboReader > Literature > A Heart-Song of To-day

   Chapter 30 WOMAN AGAINST WOMAN.

A Heart-Song of To-day By Annie Gregg Savigny Characters: 17219

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


They had been luxuriating for about four weeks in the art treasures collected in the Eternal City. Their eyes feasted on so much of loveliness in gazing upon living marbles and speaking forms on canvas that Vaura was often moved to a feeling akin to pain as she thought:

"Oh, the pity of it; the pity of it, that the gods among men, living, breathing men, who created these soul-stiring things should be themselves dead!"

On returning from a long ride one morning Vaura and Lionel found a gay party of callers chatting with Lady Esmondet; amongst them was Vaura's old friend, Robert Douglas. The Duchess of Wyesdale was also there; come with the avowed purpose of calling upon Lady Esmondet and making the acquaintance of Miss Vernon, but in reality to see Captain Trevalyon, whom she had watched for in vain, having expected him to call since the day they had met on the Corso. But "he cometh not," she said, was still the burden of her song, so she determined to "beard the lion in his den," though she would be obliged by so doing to become acquainted with Miss Vernon, and she was one of those women who, invariably envious of a more beautiful sister, keep them at arms' length. She could not but own to herself how beautiful Vaura was. The men raved of her, and she, the faded little dowager duchess, disliked her accordingly. She had already outstayed the bounds of politeness, but being determined to gain her point said, languidly, to her hostess:

"I really must trespass upon your kindness a little longer, dear Lady

Esmondet, I wish so much to meet Miss Vernon."

So that, as it was late when Vaura and Lionel returned, it came to pass that Saunders met her mistress at the hall door with a request from Lady Esmondet that she would come immediately to the morning-room without waiting to change her habit. So Vaura entered, gay, radiant, and with a fresh bloom upon her cheek, engendered partly by gentle caresses of the invigorating air, partly by the warmth in the looks and words of the handsome man by her side.

She made her way in answer to a look from her god-mother at once to her side, where the introduction took place.

"Her complexion is very well got up," thought the petite faded Duchess, as she bowed carelessly, and who had used tints and washes ever since her sixteenth year. "I wonder whose wash she wears," and with a conventional word or two she turned with empressement to Lionel, greeting him warmly, as Vaura crossed the room to where her old playmate sat, giving only a passing word to acquaintances.

Lady Esmondet thought, as she glanced at the Duchess of Wyesdale, roused almost to animation in her reception of Captain Trevalyon, "Lionel is the magnet that has drawn her here; she has not forgotten her old penchant for him."

On seeing his hostess disengaged a young Frenchman, wearing the red ribbon of the Legion of Honour, won by a brave act in the Franco- German war, stepped to her side; he held in his hand a volume he had been admiring,-views of the lovely lake scenery of the British Isles.

They were soon discanting warmly upon their respective beauties, and became so interested that Lady Esmondet scarcely noticed that she was bidding adieu to the fashionable butterflies who had been killing time in her presence for the last hour or two. At last they are all gone with the exception of the Duchess, who has risen to make her exit, and Robert Douglas, who is remaining to luncheon. The Duchess is just saying to Lionel:

"Oh, you are sure to be here, and you won't refuse me, I know; I'd rather be Juliet to your Romeo in my tableaux than-. But, oh, dear, the others have heard us, and I did so hope it would have been a little secret between us, you know."

And Lady Wyesdale affected a childish look of terror as she turned to her hostess, saying:

"You won't think us very dreadful, Lady Esmondet?"

"Oh, dear, no; there's nothing dreadful in a pictured love scene."

But in reality she felt annoyed that this silly woman should pretend to an understanding between Captain Trevalyon and herself.

"And you won't tell Miss Vernon," she continued, beseechingly, "I want her to be surprised."

Vaura and Rev. Robert had joined the group as Captain Trevalyon was saying, laughingly,

"I cannot promise you, Lady Wyesdale, I am in Lady Esmondet's hands; if, as I expect the 12th of January sees her at Haughton Hall, I cannot possibly be with you, unless my photo in the garb you wish will suit."

"Of course he will say so before them," thought the Duchess, aloud, she says tapping him on the arm with her cardcase, "Come to my box at the Theatre to-night, I want to consult you about something, since dear Harold died," and a corner of her handkerchief went to her eyes, "I often feel so alone."

"Thanks, I shall wait upon you as early as possible; to-night I go to the Quirinal."

"So sorry," and making her adieux she added "I cannot have you."

"Yes, Emmanuel is Victor to-night," said Vaura gaily.

The butler announced luncheon, and Priest Robert gave his arm to Miss

Vernon, saying:

"And that is a woman! how are we of the clergy ever going to waken a throb of life into the soul of such!"

"Were you in the pulpit at this moment, Robert, I am inclined to think you would discourse as St. Paul on idle-wandering-about-from-house-to- house-women; he was severe on my sisterhood,"

"They were not your sisterhood, you have no part with such."

"There would be a double lecture from St. Paul," said Lionel as he took the end of the table, "could he enter the Russell Club, Regent Street some day what a Babel of tongues, what tid-bits of gossip would electrify him."

"Yes," said Robert Douglas, "a men and women's club would scarcely agree with his views of what our human nature should live for."

"I hear it is extremely difficult for a pretty woman to become a member of Eve's she is as a rule black-balled; so a fair face does not always win," said Lionel.

"I think it would be extremely stupid to belong to an exclusively women's club; so much of gossip would kill me," said Lady Esmondet.

"I don't know," said Vaura, "whether either of you gentlemen are aware of how by a clever ruse our gay friend Mrs. Eustace Wingfield, notwithstanding her good looks, became a member of Eve's. She told my godmother and I of it soon after the occurrence."

"I have never heard of it," said Robert Douglas.

"Pray tell us," said Lionel.

"'Tis a long story," said Vaura, "in fact a three-volume one, but you shall only have a page or two. Between the President of Eve's the Hon. Miss Silverthorne and Mrs. Eustace Wingfield, there is an old feud dating from their school days."

While at school Mrs. Eustace, then May Raynor, was the very incarnation of fun and mischief, Silverthorne being extremely plain and severe in style. The Wingfield estate bordered on the school property. Eustace, prospective heir to his uncle, often ran down from London, much to the dismay of the lady principal, for he was no end of a flirt. May Raynor's pretty face attracted him from the first, but Silverthorne had a soft spot in her heart for him. Jealous of May she reported her to the principal; for revenge Wingfield cast languishing glances at Silverthorne in church. She never having had a lover actually informed the principal that, when he came to her to sue for her hand, she, as her guardian, was to say him yea. On May being married and out of the school-room, to her adored, she, Silverthorne, vowed revenge, if ever in her power, so that, when two seasons ago, Mr. Wingfield bet May a box, during la Bernhardt saison, against an embroidered dressing gown that she would be black-balled at Eve's, on Mrs. Clayton proposing her, the president, looking black, declared, on its being put to the vote on the following afternoon, she should have her two black balls, Mrs. Clayton informed May. "Now, what shall, be my card," exclaimed May, "for my bet shall be won. I have it," and staining her face yellow with green glasses and unbecoming attire, she attended a woman's right meeting at which her enemy was chairman. Seated immediately in front of the platform, Miss Silverthorne gloated over her changed looks. She was made a member. Her enemy saying to Mrs. Clayton, "How hideous she has become; how he will hate her!"

"What a green-eyed monster is jealousy," said Reverend Robert.

"But our gay friend won her bet and a stare at the Bernhardt, in spite of everything," laughed Trevalyon.

"But I fancy gay Mrs. Wingfield would not often be found at 'Eves;' such an army of plain

women would be too many for her," said reverend Douglas.

"Oh! no," said Vaura, taking his arm back to the sunlit morning-room, "she only goes occasionally to throw a white ball for a pretty woman."

"I have sometimes come across her with Wingfield at the 'Abermarle'; she likes a little bass mixed with the treble of her life," said Trevalyon.

"She is right," said Vaura, "one would grow weary of continually piping to the same key."

"Isabel tells me they are very gay at Haughton," said Reverend Robert.

"Incessant revelry seems to be a necessity in the life of Madame," said Lady Esmondet.

"Tastes differ, god-mother dear, the wild game of life that suits her palate would suit ours as badly, as (what she would consider) our tame game would suit her," saying which she joined Lionel, a little apart at a table strewn with music which he wished her to select from.

"Do you believe in presentiments cara mia?"

"Yes; but I am wondrously content and don't want eyen to think of presentiments."

"I don't either, ma chere," he said, a little sadly, leaning his elbows on the table, his head for a moment upon them, "but I have one now that the Fates are putting black threads on their distaff for me."

"Don't look so sorrowful or you will affect me."

"Did you and I live in Pagan times, ma belle, I should be tempted to offer incense at their shrine, so pleasing, that their black threads would give place to gold and silver."

"Your incense would be flattery; they are but women, what would they more," she said smilingly.

"There are women, and woman," he said absently, the grave look still in the eyes resting on her face.

"There is something more than usual troubling you; share it with me, do, and then you know you will only have half to bear," and for one moment her soft hand is on his arm, her eyes full of sympathy on his face.

"It is only a presentiment, ma belle," and his hand is laid on hers.

But now there is a tap at the door, and his servant says:

"Telegram from England, sir."

"My presentiment," he says, in same low tone.

"Face it bravely, it is not, I trust, bad news."

"It is," he says gravely, "for I must leave you."

Vaura turned pale, and Lady Esmondet said:

"No bad news I hope, Lionel?"

"Yes, dear friend, it is from Judith, and states that "Uncle Vincent is no better and wishes to see me," but she does not say at once, or if there be any danger."

"I am sorry, Sir Vincent is no better, but every cloud has its silver lining; you may not really be obliged to go; he may rally," she said kindly.

"Yes, that is true, I shall telegraph my cousin to know if I must go at once; if not, you will be leaving Italy so soon we may yet journey together."

"I hope so," continued Lady Esmondet.

"But 'tis hard for her," said Vaura, "a stranger in a strange land; can I do anything for her, write some of our friends to call upon her, anything, only tell me, the Claytons, are kind," and she is beside him in a moment.

"You are very thoughtful, but Judith is extremely self-reliant."

"Do not give way to depression, Trevalyon," said Reverend Douglas; "our paths cannot all be those of pleasantness."

"Don't go, Robert, I want you to dine with us at seven; only the

Marchmonts."

"Thank you, Lady Esmondet, I shall be with you, but for the present, au revoir as I have even-song."

"I am grieved at this," said Lionel sadly, "for something tells me I shall have to go; I have known very little of Uncle Vincent; you are aware, dear Lady Alice, that he and my poor father were not friendly; my cousin is independent; and as I said before self-reliant to the last degree."

"It will not be so hard for her in that case," said Lady Esmondet.

"I am selfish enough to regret we have anyone to dinner, if I am obliged to leave you on to-morrow."

"I was just thinking so," said Lady Esmondet, "our evenings together have been perfect, but alas for changes; and Vaura, dear, the landau is at the door, you know we arranged for a drive."

"Yes, I remember, but let it wait."

"We may not have another opportunity, Lionel, for private converse; you will write; and Vaura and I shall (D.V.) be at London on the 4th or 5th; and shall meet you again at Haughton Hall."

"Yes, I shall meet you there," he answered thoughtfully; "my plans are not yet matured, but I want you to be certain to telegraph me of your return; I shall meet you at London."

"Fate is cruel to send you away, and at Christmas, but I am forgetting your poor uncle," said Vaura kindly.

"I shall telegraph of our return without fail, Lionel; and now about yours to your cousin, had you not best run away and attend to it, we shall only take a short drive, and be here as soon as you."

"Come with us," said Vaura, "it will save time."

"So it will, and to kill the time I feel that is left to me with you, would be a Sacrilege."

"What route do you take, Lionel?" enquired his friend.

"You are aware I have a commission for Clayton, at Florence, so must first go thither, thence to Bologna, then to Turin, Paris, Calais, Dover and London."

"Shall I ring for Somers, godmother dear, to bring your cloak and bonnet, while I go and don my wraps?"

"Thank you, yes."

Trevalyon, now going quickly to do his friend's side, said:

"I have but a moment, but I want you to know that this mischief is brewing for me at the Hall, and it has rapidly fermented; 'society,' tasting of its bubbles."

"I was sure of it, Lionel, and it is the brew of that woman and Major

Delrose."

"Yes; and their aim is so to damage my reputation that I cannot gain the woman, and the only one I have ever longed for as my own loved wife."

"Heaven grant that there machiavelian manoevres may end in failure."

Here the sweet face and small white plush bonnet, scarlet strings and feathers appear at the door, so a truce to confidentials.

"I shall be so lonely if Fate takes me out of your life even for a short time," and Vaura's hand is tightly clasped as he assists her into the landau.

"We shall be lonely also."

"I hope so."

"I must say our lives have been very complete at the villa," said Lady

Esmondet; "our cup of content has been full."

"To the brim;" and his eyes turn at last from Vaura's face as he says, "you had better drop me here, at the telegraph office while you turn into the Corso," and stepping from the landau, lifting his hat he was gone.

"I wonder," said Vaura, "should poor Sir Vincent die, if Miss

Trevalyon will return to New York."

"I am sure of it; Lionel tells me his cousin dislikes English life as much as she likes that of her ain countree."

Vaura fell into a reverie; after some moments, waking to herself, said:

"I did not show you the interesting epistle I received from Mrs. Haughton, in which she says, 'society' hath it that Capt. Trevalyon rejoices in a 'hidden wife.'"

"A pure invention got up to hurt him."

"But why?" she asked with assumed carelessness.

"Because he is not at a certain woman's feet, she has joined herself with black Delrose, his enemy of years, is my surmise, and I think the denouement will prove me correct."

"Poor dear uncle; his life is not an idyl."

"His mistake, Vaura, ma chere, is a weight of care to me, that I try in vain to shake off;" and something very like a tear glistened as she spoke.

The friends were unusually silent in the drive home. Arrived there they separated to dress for dinner; Vaura threw herself on her lounge to rest and think. "Poor, uncle Eric, what a woman he has put on the shackles of matrimony for; and now her attempt to injure our friend; poor Lion, my heart is full of pity for you and you do not know it, because you cannot speak until the "difficulty" is overcome; ah! me, what a world of lies it is, for that this 'hidden wife,' is a myth, and an inspiration from Lucifer to Madame, I am quite sure of. But alas! should their be one grain of truth in the bushel of lies, and that he cannot prove to 'society's' satisfaction that 'twas only a grain of youthful folly, that his manhood in its nobility had nothing to do with it. If he cannot do this, then he will never ask me to be anything more to him than what I shall always be, his friend; poor darling, what with his father's grief at his misguided mother's frailty, he has drank deep of the waters of bitterness; the unruly member set in motion by scandal, envy, hatred, or malice as motive power, is more to be dreaded as agent of evil, than dynamite in any form. But I must ring for Saunders and dress for dinner."

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