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A Heart-Song of To-day By Annie Gregg Savigny Characters: 24237

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Christmas Day, the birth-day of Christ, dawned fair, beautiful, and bright, and was ushered in by many a peal of sweet sounding bells.

The heavenly east was so gloriously bright as old Sol mounted upwards, as to cause many a devout Roman (as he wended his steps to worship the Creator, at the altar, in one or other temple whose doors stood wide open, admitting a gleam of sunlight onto the figure of the sleeping babe, and the adoring faces of the worshippers, to cause him) to imagine as he gazed upward, that the heavenly Host caused all this flood of light in the warm, glorious east, by their smiles of approval at man's attempt to adore.

Vaura woke from a late sleep as Saunders tapped at the door; slumber had only come to her by sweet snatches during the hours of the night; but she lay happy in the dreamy quiet; and the face of the man she loved was ever before her. On waking, as her maid knocked, her first feeling was that something was wanting; that something had gone out of her daily life, and she gave a long deep sigh. Then the sweet sense, that she was loved, came to her; not that the knowledge of this man's love was just come to her-she had known it for some time, but they had both reached that stage when mutual pledges of love were craved for, and which to fill their whole being with the fulness of content, with the fulness of a satisfied bliss, had become a necessity.

The first thing that met her eye on rising, were a few crushed flowers on the seat of her favourite chair. Tied around the stalks was a delicate point-lace handkerchief; on the tiny square of muslin was written, in the handwriting she knew so well, Vaura Vernon; among the blossoms were a few written words:

"My heart aches at leaving you without a word of farewell My brain is in a whirl. I feel as though I shall go mad if you give your love to another; save me by writing me. Writing! how cold. God help me!-Your LIONEL."

Capt. Trevalyon, not thinking to see Vaura, had, before going into the garden, gone to her boudoir, and placed this mute farewell on her chair.

"Now my darling knows," she thought as she pressed them to her lips.

There were warm Christmas greetings exchanged between the two women friends, on meeting in the breakfast room. When the servants were released from duty, duty, Lady Esmondet said:

"Dear Lionel has left us something to remember him, at least for to-day, Vaura, ma chere, see here," and she held up two vinaigrettes she had been admiring; on the cover to the stopper of one was the name "Alice Esmondet," on the other, "Vaura Vernon." Both bottles were small and both gold; on one side of Vaura's were the words, "I am weary waiting, L. T.," in very small letters, while a tiny wreath of forget-me-nots encircled the words; blue stones, inlaid, formed the flowers; round each was a slip of paper-with the words: "With love and Christmas wishes, from Lionel Trevalyon. For the crush at St. Peter's."

"Kind and thoughtful, for we shall feel his gift refreshing in the crowd," said Lady Esmondet.

"Poor dear, far away; we shall miss him on this bright Christmas morn," said Vaura, as she read the words, "I am weary waiting."

"But I am forgetting my gift to you, and one from dear Uncle Eric," and Vaura took from a small box a lovely locket, on one side was a miniature copy of Haughton; on the other the lovely face of the giver. "And this from Uncle for you came to me on yesterday;" and Vaura presented a photo of Col. Haughton.

"How sweet it is to be remembered, Vaura, and it's a good likeness of

your dear uncle. And here is a gift from myself, a mere bagatelle, but

I hope you will like it," and she handed Vaura an acknowledgement from

Worth of an order for a ball-dress, to be at Haughton Hall on the 5th

January, 1878.

"Thanks, god-mother mine, your thoughts are always of some one other than of Alice Esmondet."

"Not at all, dear."

"I shall be glad to return to England now," and there was a tender light in Vaura's eyes; "that is, dear god-mother, if you have laid up a sufficient store of strength."

"I have, ma chere, and if the revelry at Haughton isn't too much, I shall be able not only to stand, but enjoy the season; I feel very strong, and had I had a happy life-I mean, dear, had I married where my heart was-all would have been right; this 'eating out the heart alone' is not good for one. I have taken all the tricks I could, and made the most of the cards in my hand, but they have not been to my liking."

"My hand shall follow my heart," said Vaura, earnestly; "how I wish yours had, dear."

"Yes, it has been hard for me; but Fate, the dealer, is giving you good cards."

"How think you, godmother; is the game ours?"

"You will win."

"How did you know?" she said, softly, coming over to Lady Esmondet, and stooping to kiss her.

"By the great light in his eyes when he bade me adieu, and the heart-shine in your own; it has been the wish, of my life lately; God is giving you a paradise in life, dear."

"He is."

"This plot to damage Lionel's reputation is a something too mean," said Lady Esmondet indignantly; "in Mrs. Clayton's last letter to me she asks me to 'decline to receive him, unless he publicly acknowledges his hidden wife;' she says, though 'the women still will pet him, their husbands are down upon him;' she further says, 'Clayton says he has no right to run loose with a hidden wife somewhere;' she says it has been in two or three papers. I declare, Vaura, if it were not for the feeling I have that we shall be a comfort to your uncle, I do not care to go to Haughton."

"Poor Lionel," said Vaura, thoughtfully, "he has got himself into a wasp's nest. Suppose we don't stay at Haughton, excepting for the ball, then go quietly to your town house."

"Yes, dear, as we pass through London I shall give orders that my house be in readiness any day to receive us; so, dear, if after we stay for a short visit we find it a bore, we shall go up."

"And be voted Goths and Vandals for showing our faces before the season opens; and Mrs. Grundy says 'Come;' what slaves we are!" said Vaura.

Now there is a tap at the door, and a servant enters with contributions from the post.

"Any orders, your ladyship?"

"Yes, the landau is to be at the door to take us to St. Peter's in an hour; at the close of mass we shall drive to the Duchess of Wyesdale, with whom we lunch; further orders there. And here, Barnes," continued Lady Esmondet, taking out her purse, "distribute this gold to the household, excepting to Somers and Saunders, whom I shall attend to personally; and see that no poor go empty-handed from the villa on this, the Day of Days."

"Thank you, your ladyship, you are very kind, and we all wish you and

Mademoiselle a good Christmas."

"Thank you, Barnes."

"The man in bottle-green livery coming to the door," said Vaura, as she left the breakfast-table, "is servant to our friend of Erin."

In a few moments Saunders brought her mistress a beautiful bouquet, with the card of Sir Dennis, on which was written, "A merry Christmas to Miss Vernon."

"What think you of the Irishman?" asked Lady Esmondet.

"Oh, I hardly know; he is a great good-natured creature; if his heart be proportioned to the rest of his frame, the future Lady O'Gormon will require to be intensely lovable."

"The cards are quite artistic this year," said Lady Esmondet; "but of yours, I think the one from poor Marie Perrault the most recherchee."

"She encloses me a few lines; poor girl, she makes a great fuss over the few bits of gold I sent her. I have just read a letter from Mrs. Wingfield; after a good deal of chit-chat she says: We are staying at the Lord Elton's place, Surrey, and are quite lively over the Trevalyon's 'Hidden Wife' story; the men are mad that he runs loose, while they are held in bondage with the fetters that he should be held in also. I declare, god-mother dear, one is inclined to think envy is the motive power that rules the human family."

"Indeed, yes; envy, hatred and malice are a prosperous firm who will not fail for want of capital."

"This Major Delrose, that the Marchmonts named, must be a sworn enemy of poor dear Lionel?"

"He is, and of years."

"Ah! an intuitive feeling told me so; and at Rose Cottage; and the woodland at the outskirts of our grounds hides it from the Hall; and a man and woman could meet and plot unobserved; but, god-mother mine, let us away to dress; the first bells are sounding their sweet musical invitation, and I shall try to forget Mrs. Haughton; for, among Christ's gifts to men, I perhaps have not valued that most excellent gift of charity."

Vaura is first robed, but Lady Esmondet enters the hall from her boudoir in a few moments. They are now in the landau, and rapidly driven to that most stately of modern sanctuaries, a type in its magnificent architecture and strength of the pride, riches, and unity of the wonderful system it represents.

Vaura wears a robe of seal brown velvet and tight jacket of seal fur, a small ecru velvet bonnet with scarlet geraniums among the lace.

Lady Esmondet wishes Lionel could see the sweet face, and the far-away look in the great expressive eyes. The vast building was crowded to the doors; the singing of mass grand to sublimity, and "the holy organ's rolling sound was felt on roof and floor," its vibrations thrilling the hearts of the worshippers. The majestic grandeur of the interior of this stately edifice, with its many altars, was on this holy festival, enhanced by many beautiful decorations, chaste in design and of costly value. Rare gems, vessels of gold, and vessels of silver, the gifts of princes, sparkled on altars of perfect workmanship, while beauteous flowers raised their heads from priceless vases, trying in vain, with their sweet odour to drown the fumes of incense, wafted from the censor in the hands of the acolytes.

High mass being concluded, Lady Esmondet, with Vaura, slowly emerged from the sacred edifice. O'Gormon and a young Italian attached to the Quirinal having waited for them at the door, conducted them to their landau, when with warm Christmas greetings they parted to meat for lunch with the Duchess of Wyesdale. On reaching their destination they found their slender waisted hostess, with her daughter, the Lady Eveline Northingdon, with a few English and Italian notabilities, assembled in the salons. The Duchess looked blank on seeing that Capt. Trevalyon was not in attendance; for to tell the truth, she had only invited Lady Esmondet and Miss Vernon because she could not very well bid Trevalyon to lunch and ignore his hostess.

For though he had only given her a few careless flatteries, they were her food; still he had looked into her eyes and smiled. It was only a way he had, but she was a silly little woman, and vain, telling herself that in the old days she was sure he loved her hopelessly, but the Duke then lived, and British law was in the way, a woman could not marry more than one man at one time. She little knew that the mighty eagle, as he soars to his home in the mountain heights, with his bold glance wooing the sun, would as soon love the puny night hawk as would Lionel Trevalyon waste his heart's strongest feelings on such a frail butterfly as Posey Wyesdale.

So, now, on the entree of our friends without Trevalyon the Duchess, as she greeted them, called out in her thin treble,

"Where's my truant cavalier? You have never come without him? That would be too cruel."

"We have; simply because he has left Rome and Italy."

"Left Rome without bidding me adieu," screamed Posey, "how cruel! Eveline, ring for my drops; the shock makes me feel quite faint. Tell me how, and why, Lady Esmondet?"

"His uncle, Sir Vincent was dying,-is now probably over the border."

"To a death-bed! how unfortunate! What shall I do without him for my tableaux?" she was moved to tears-for the tableaux.

"What a pity the mighty Angel of Death would not stay his hand even for the tableaux of an English Duchess!" said Lady Esmond

et, with veiled cynicism.

"Yes, I think he was very cruel," sobbed the Duchess.

"Never mind, mamma," said Eveline, soothingly "Some one else can take his place, and perhaps Capt. Trevalyon will now be a baronet, and that will be so nice. You like him, so it will make it all right."

"So it will," said Posey, drying her eyes, "if it's so, is it, Lady


"Yes, Lady Wyesdale, Capt. Trevalyon succeeds to the baronetcy."

Lady Esmondet's remark was carried with different variations to the end of the salon, where Vaura sat. She was immediately besieged with questions.

"What is this rumour, Miss Vernon," asked an Englishman; "is Trevalyon to be raised to the peerage?"

"For his looks of an Adonis and many fascinations," cried one.

"No, for his many affaires de coeur," laughed another.

"Or that his 'hidden wife' is coming forth," said a London man, who read the news.

"More likely for some knightly act, by his Queen rewarded," echoed a soft-voiced Italian.

"Or his vote is promised for the war supply," said the London man.

"Carita, carita!" said Vaura, laughingly, and turning to the London man, "You forget the party motto, 'no bribery,' Mr. Howard, and if you all lend an ear, I shall tell you that instead of a peerage, our friend, as far as I know, is plain Capt. Trevalyon."

"Heresy, Miss Vernon, for he is not 'plain,' and you women will have it that he is a peer in our age."

"A peerless way of putting it, Mr. Howard," laughed Vaura.

"Luncheon is served, my lady," said the butler.

"Somebody take in everybody," said the Duchess. "We always go to luncheon sans ceremonie."

And so fate willed Signor Castenelli (the young Italian who had accompanied them to the landau) to Vaura. The table was gay with Sevres china and majolica ware, but the viands were poor and scanty, and the victuals few and far between. One man of healthy appetite could easily have laid bare dishes that had been prepared for seven, when five morning callers having been invited to remain, so lessened the morceau for each guest. The Duchess having decided on getting all her wardrobe from the magic scissors of Worth, had determined to retrench in the matter of wines, etc., not putting faith in the adage that "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

"Believe me," she would say to her butterfly friends, "I know men's tastes, and they would rather feast their eyes than their stomachs."

You may be very wise, Posey Wyesdale, but trust me, a man has no eyes for either you or your gown, if after a long ride or much calling he finally, in an evil hour, succumbs to your invitation to lunch and you give him a mouthful of chicken and one slice of wafer-like bread and butter, the mighty whole washed down with a cup of weak tea or thin wine; rather would he (curled darling though he be) return to the primitive custom of his forefathers and feed the inner man at the much-despised mid-day dinner on steaming slices of venison or beef, while he slaked his thirst in a bumper of British beer. But as O'Gormon said to Castenelli, on dining with him on that same evening: "Faith, all that was on the table of Lady Wyesdale wouldn't add to the hips of a grasshopper."

"No, a fellow wouldn't have to try your larding system to get himself into waltzing shape; did your little. English duchess cater for him," had laughed Castenelli.

But let us return to the Duchess of Wyesdale and her guests.

It seemed to Lady Esmondet, who was seated near her hostess, who plied her with questions as to Captain Trevalyon's whereabouts and possible doings, an insufferable bore to be there. To Vaura, who was more pleasantly placed; it seemed as though a few sentences were said, a few mouthfuls eaten, and the feast over.

"How is your noble king; Signor Castenelli," inquired Vaura.

"Our beauteous flowers will not bloom, nor our sweet-song birds sing another summer for him; my heart weeps as I say it, Signora."

"Yes; he is a fit king for so fair a land, and I sincerely trust for your sake and Italy, your fears will not be realized. The gentle Pius IX. is also stricken down."

"Yes, Signora, but our Holy Father's loss could be more easily replaced than that of our beloved temporal sovereign."

"Yes; a few solitary closetings of the Cardinals, a few ballots taken, a few volumes of smoke, and the Pope lives again."

"You like my city, Signora?"

"I love it. Ah! how much have you here to enoble, to refine, to educate; what great souls have expanded in an atmosphere laden with the breath of a long, never-dying line of poets, orators, sculptors and painters. Yes, Signor Castenelli, it is a noble heritage to be Roman-born."

"Thanks, Signora Vernon, for your gracious tribute to my country. But alas, we are fast becoming inoculated with the progressive spirit of the age; the American is among us."

"You should extol him, Signor Castenelli, it is the fashion with us to welcome him, his note-book and his gold."

"He is too energetic for me," said the Italian, as Vaura taking his arm followed others to the salons and from the feast.

"He is a man of his time; you and I, Signor, are old-fashioned in regretting that many of the old land-marks are doomed; the spirit of the age is insatiable and his votaries are never idle in sacrificing in his honour, and if we'd be happy we must not weep. I confess I regret that your historic, not over clean, but picturesque Jews quarter, the Ghetto, is to give place to your new palace of justice; it is rather an incongruity (to me) that it should rise as if from the ashes of hearth-stones round which in days of yore figures sat to whom justice had been very imperfectly meted out."

"True, true, Signora Vernon, and I don't like to see them all go, and your sympathy is sweet. The American is a giant in his time; but we are not as they, he is literally a man of to-day; he has to be always in a hurry to make his name tell. We have done all that, but he is wrong to say we are dreamers," and his eyes flashed; "our blood is as full of fire as in the days of the Gracchi, the Caesars."

"Theirs was a grand age, but ours is gay, and could we be promoted backwards, I fear me," she added gaily, "we would long for our telephone, our electric light, our novels, our mutual club life, our great Worth, our lounging chairs, and many other pet luxuries."

"True, Signora," answered Castenelli, in the same tone, "and I can answer for myself; were a belle of those days to step from the canvas for my approval, I should tell her to sleep on, and give place to her more beautiful and gay sister of my own day."

"In the name of the butterflies of to-day, I thank you," said Vaura gaily.

"How long do you grace Rome with your presence?"

"One short week and a day, Signor; and I shall not leave your sun-warm Italia without regret, replete as it is with so much that charms the mind and senses, none so soulless I hope, but would feel as I shall on bidding adieu to one of the choicest gardens Dame Nature revels in."

"Why leave us so soon?"

"Fate wills it, and there are home revels to which we are bid, and the crush of the season after, where we shall only see our wings glisten by Edisons or the now doomed gas-shine, for fog reigns supreme in the day-time, and poor old Sol is hid from us."

"London belles would shine by their own beauty even in Egyptian darkness."

For the Italian took pleasure in the beauty of the fair woman beside him, her expressive face changing as some word touched her heart, or again gay, reflecting a nature ever ready to respond in sympathy with the feeling of those who pleased her.

"One of your countrymen writes me from your metropolis," taking a letter from his pocket; "I shall read you a line or two: 'Our city will soon be bright with the beauty of fair women, handsome men, superb robings, gay equipages, prancing steeds. Rumour hath it that one of our favourite belles is sunning herself in your land. Don't mar the beauty of our constellation by detaining her with you after the season opens for we must have la belle Vernon.' Would that I had the power, was my thought as I read."

"Your friend exaggerates my poor charms, Signor."

"With so much of beauty to choose from, mademoiselle, London society is critical, and my friend only endorses its verdict."

"Well, Signor, London will have something of weightier matter to decide this coming season than the passing beauty of woman. Our parliament have the vote on the war supply, and as Beaconsfield cannot go into the strife empty-handed on the issue of that vote hangs the destiny of many lives."

"Think you the Bright or peace party will be strong enough to prevail?"

"No; England's sons are ever jealous of their country's honour. There is a strong popular feeling against any encroachments by the Russian Bear. Our young officers are ever eager for a chance to distinguish themselves, and our men," she added gaily, "have fists all knuckles, always doubled for a good hard blow."

"Well, it seems to me an expensive undertaking that your bold countrymen meditate. Turkey is lazy and luxurious."

"Yes; not a fit sentinel for a dangerous post; still, what are we to do? We cannot uproot them and plant in their place the trusty Scot or brave Celt; no, we must even pay high wages to bad servants until wiser heads than ours in some future generation devise some better way of guarding our eastern possessions. But our pleasant chat is over, Signor, Lady Esmondet is making her adieux."

"And you leave so soon, Signora; I am jealous of London. May I see you again?"

"Surely, Signor; we go many places to take a last loving glance."

"Give me something definite, I pray you."

"Well, the palace of the Vatican on to-morrow morning. I must have another long look at the painting of the Transfiguration. In the afternoon a drive in the gardens of the Borghesian villa. In the evening the theatre and the exquisite voice of Patti. And now what say you, grave and reverend Signor; will you remember your lesson while I say au revoir," and with a gay smile and a warm pressure of the hand from Castenelli Miss Vernon, after saying her farewell to Lady Wyesdale and her daughter, followed her god-mother to the landau.

"You seem to have enjoyed your chat with Signor Castenelli," said Lady Esmondet, as they drove away; Miss Vernon to pick up Miss Marchmont for even-song at the Church of St. Augustine, Lady Esmondet for home.

"Yes, he is pleasant to me, as most of his countrymen are; there is a fervor about them, with all their languor, that is refreshing after our stoical Briton; I fear me you were not so well placed, the little Duchess seemed to fasten upon you."

"She did, and entertained me with an unceasing catechism as to Lionel's whereabouts, his deeds past and present; seems to fear his cousin, Judith Trevalyon; in fact, plainly shows her old predilection, is as aforetime, alive in her breast; is anxious to know how we became so intimate with him; whether he goes to Haughton Hall; whither the woman your uncle has married has invited her; says she does not leave Rome until the middle of January; wants to know if we shall be there for the Twelfth-night ball; wonders if Lionel will retire for a fashionable six weeks' mourning. Says there is a rumour that he is engaged to half a dozen women, and has a wife and children somewhere; is crazy (to use her own expression) to know if you are, as report says, engaged to Del Castello, etc., etc., and asked me point-blank, if I like dear Mrs. Haughton."

"What a whirl the brain of the slender waist Duchess must be in, and what a bore she was to you; so she also goes to Haughton. Fancy uncle on one side, and Major Delrose, the Rose Cottage people, Mrs. Meltonbury, Peter Tedril, Hatherton, etc., on the other; Madame well knows how to mix up the brandy cocktail and poker of midnight, with sober 9 o'clock whist and old port, but the scales are weightier on one side. But behold the naturalist, waiting at the door with prayer book in hand, ready for her devotions."

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