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   Chapter 37 WEE WHITE MOUSE WINS A POINT.

A Heart-Song of To-day By Annie Gregg Savigny Characters: 16106

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


But the reverie and wagging of tongue is over and ceases, to give place to society's mask, for the picturesque lodge with its gabled roof and climbing vines is in sight, and in the twinkling of an eye the great gates are reached, which are wide open, for 'tis the entrance to Liberty Hall under the present regime. Leaning against the door post is a tall military looking figure, smoking vigorously, as men will, if life's springs want oiling. Both ladies see him, and Vaura's face is at the window.

"Halt, John," shouts his master, for the man is a new servant, and driving full speed for the Hall. "My two darlings, how glad I am to see you both," and kisses with long hand-clasps are exchanged.

"And we are more than glad to see you again, dearest uncle."

"Blanche, you here! and Sir Tilton; it was kind of you to meet them."

"Yes, we tripped down, as you had cut and run," tittered Blanche.

Here the Colonel took Sir Tilton's offered seat, who, getting out, said he would prefer to walk up the long avenue.

"You must both make your home with me, dears, else it will not be home," said the Colonel feverishly, as he leaned forward, taking a hand of each, and gazing eagerly first into one face, and then into the other.

"We shall, for a while at least, Eric," said Lady Esmondet tenderly.

"And what do you say, Vaura dear; you will not leave me and Haughton

Hall again?"

This he said with nervous haste, as though even in the rest her return gave him, he must have a surety of it's continuing.

"I shall not even think of leave-taking, dear uncle, but if I should, I shall pack you up and take you with me," she said pityingly, noticing how he leaned on her, and also the reckless tone in which he spoke before Blanche; turning to Miss Tompkins, he continued in same tone:

"Who ran down the hare last night?"

Here was a puzzler for la petite, but she was equal to the occasion, even though she was at London.

"No conundrum, Colonel, with the Major as hare."

"Gad, I must get rid of him; they all see it."

"And they all do it, Colonel," tittered Blanche; "keep cool; the Major keeps cool-to you;" this she said, liking the Colonel, but thinking him, to use her own expression, "soft."

"You see, Alice," he said, turning to his old friend with a half-smile, "the only rose in my path has a D before it."

"A rose without beauty or fragrance, Eric, which will cease to bloom by to-morrow; waste not a thought upon it."

"You give me strength, Alice."

"I should, else friendship's cords would be weak indeed."

"It is very strange that Mrs. Haughton should keep the man about her, if she is aware it is an annoyance to you," said Vaura indignantly.

"Ah! but they were too sweet for anything, even in poppa's life time," said Blanche with her innocent air. Mrs. Haughton would think it too awfully cruel (just to please the Colonel) to tell him good-bye."

"Heartless in me to suppose for one moment, one's husband's feelings to be of more consideration than those of one's male-friend," said Vaura cynically.

"See, Vaura, the changes," said her god-mother, as the end of the avenue reached the Hall, renovated and partly modernised, burst upon their view.

"Verily, old things have passed away, and all become new," said Vaura.

"Excepting the south wing, dear, which is of sufficiently modern date to have contented Mrs. Haughton; also the north tower which I begged off, only allowing it to be strengthened below."

"Dear old tower; yes, 'tis old, and in its clinging dress of ivy; I am glad; but in the language of Sir Tilton, 'here we are again.'"

As the carriage rolled up to the steps of the grand entrance a few ladies and gentlemen, equipped for riding, were on the steps or already mounted. Mrs. Forester, a gay London huntress, Mrs. Cecil Layton, of the same feather, two De Lancy girls, who wished they were the other two, a couple of army men, with one of the matches of the county, whom both sisters were willing to worship, but were too shy to adore, with eyes too prudish to bend the knee.

"The beautiful Miss Vernon! by Wolsley," exclaimed Chancer of the Guards in an undertone to Everett of the Lancers. "Wish I wasn't promised to the huntress for the afternoon."

"Wish she heard you," laughed Everett.

"Which one?" said his friend gaily, as with one bound he is at Vaura's side, not missing his opportunity which he had sworn to take, should it offer, of an introduction; he now stood bareheaded as he tendered the muff she had dropped; his handsome face aglow with satisfaction, as he took Vaura's offered hand as she thanked him, on her uncle presenting him. There was rather more loitering by Vaura's side than the Forester liked, so she, by a sly manoeuvre, caused her horse to rear violently; it had the desired effect, and in a few moments they were careering across the park in the wake of the rest of the party.

"The dear old place! though it is changed I love it, and am glad to be here once more," said Vaura, feelingly, inwardly telling herself, "my love will be here to-night."

"Where is your mistress, William?" inquired his master of a servant in the brown and buff livery of the house.

"In the ball-room, sir."

"Tell her some guests have arrived, and await her in the morning- room; and here, present these cards."

"Always an ideal room of mine if unchanged," said Vaura, entering the well known apartment.

"No, Aurora, still welcome one to her blue and gold bower, with the perfume of flowers about."

"Mrs. Haughton wished it altered; but as the New York renovator or decorator condescended to say: 'if done over, it would be really quite pretty,' she yielded to my wish; I knew, dear, your love for at as it is."

Here the servant returned from Madame, saying: "Mrs. Haughton sends her compliments, and will her ladyship and Mademoiselle excuse her, as she is giving the painter a last sitting for the picture which is to be framed and hung for to-night; and will be happy to welcome their ladyships in the ball-room if not too tired."

"That will do, William, you may go," said his master. "And now that we are alone, let me tell you, you will do anything but admire this painting."

"Is it not true?" asked Lady Esmondet.

"Yes, in every detail; it's not that-you will see."

"What will you do, god-mother mine? Rest here awhile, go to the dining-room and refresh the inner-woman? See, Madame, I protest against; you are too fatigued."

"I am, dear, and prefer to go to my room. Somers may bring me something on a tray. Eric, kindly ring the bell."

William answered, coming in with Somers, to whom he had given the housekeeper's message to show Lady Esmondet "the green room."

The Colonel's brow darkened.

"Are you sure you have Mrs. Haughton's own orders correctly, William?"

"Yes, sir; my mistress gave them to Simpson in my hearing; and Miss

Vernon, please sir, is to have the pink room,-first room, sir."

"There must be some mistake about the green room; it is dark, cold and gloomy; in the east wing, too."

"Never mind, Eric, I shall survive it, with a bright fire, and at

Haughton."

"The pink room is cheerful, large, and with a boudoir," he said, troubled.

"William, show Somers the pink room, that she may conduct her mistress hither; I shall take the green room," said Vaura, decisively, "which I feel sure was the wish of our hostess."

"Go, Somers, and do your bidding," said her mistress; "thank you, Vaura dear, you are always thoughtful for me; and should the green room be gloomy, come and share mine."

"What a restful pair of women you are," said the Colonel, earnestly. "I feel as if I had taken a narcotic, my nerves have become so quiet; they have been going at race-horse speed. Ah!, how much I have needed you!"

"In meeting, one feels what one has lost by parting," said Lady

Esmondet, gently.

"True, Alice, I am at one with you, and feel your words to the last degree of bitterness."

"Come, come," said Vaura, brightly, "see the s

unlight streaming in upon the sky-like walls; so our lives will be happy now in union once more."

"You are a sunbeam, Vaura; and here comes Somers to lead me to the room of pink."

"Which I hope will prove the pink of perfection, god-mother mine; and now, uncle, to see Madame, on and off the canvas, ere I retire to my vernal apartment."

On the way to the ball-room the corridors were almost deserted, the fair sex either closeted with their maids discussing the war-paint for the midnight revels, or wooing the god of slumber with a narcotic; the men flirting with their unwearied sisters anywhere, or killing time with the balls in the billiard-room.

But the ball-room is reached; over the velvet hangings which drape the entrance, and which are of scarlet, on which are painted blue grapes with their green vine leaves; for contrast, the yellow sun-flower, with heavy, many-coloured fringe;-as a heading to the drape are the words in letters of gold formed by leaves of the vine: "Dedicated to Comus and Kate." It was a fitting room for revelry, with its gaily painted walls and ceiling, now with its ropes of natural blossoms festooning windows and chaining gasalier to gasalier. The door of the long conservatories were open, and so the air was redolent of sweetness almost intoxicating.

Vaura's face showed no surprise at the scene which met her gaze. On the dais at the end of the room were grouped Mrs. Haughton, who reclined in the corner of a lounge, her well-shaped feet resting on a footstool; she wore the divided skirt, with loose tunic waist; it was of blue Lyons velvet, richly braided with scarlet silk braid, low shoes of blue velvet with scarlet silk stockings; her black hair in rings on her forehead, meeting brows of gipsy darkness, her white teeth showing as she laughingly drew the cigarette from her mouth on the approach of her husband and his niece.

"It shall be hung for to-night, Mr. --," she said imperiously, if jokingly, in reply to the artist's protest that his work 'would not be dry;' "if," she continued, "it has to be baked dry in the cook's oven, or by the fire in the men's words engendered by their champagne lunch!"

There was a general laugh.

"The dear thing must have her way," lisped the Meltonbury, from the floor where she sat, cross-legged, also in divided skirt.

"My work will be spoiled, then," said the artist, ruefully.

"Then dry it by the flame in the Colonel's eyes as he nears and takes in my trousers, and hang it so he gets a double show," exclaimed Madame, recklessly.

"Or the heat from the orbs of Everly as he gazes on the approaching belle would do the business," echoed Delrose.

"Heat, indeed!" cried madame, "and, Miss Vernon, he's emerald green jealous of you! never mind, dear little Sir Tilton, I'll pet you by- and-by; here, come and lift, down one of my feet, the Major or Sir Peter may have the other; and now adieu to the gay abandon and for the conventionalities, if I can."

"Honours are divided," cried Delrose, lifting down one foot.

"So is the skirt," said the Colonel, with grave dignity. "Kate, I wish you would dress in a manner befitting your station."

"Your niece will tell you, Colonel," she said, rising to welcome Vaura "that men's eyes are women's mirrors; what I see there pleases me; you are in the minority and feel considerably sat upon, and not-" she added, laughingly, "so comfortable in your trousers as I in mine; take it coolly Colonel, and the flame in your eyes will die out, 'tis as the flicker of an old-fashioned candle; the electric, light the newest flame for me."

"Pardon, Kate, I accept the trousers; being only your husband and in the minority (as you say), I am old-fashioned; the latest flame puts me out."

And the latent meaning in his words was read by more than the speaker.

"You don't say how you like the painting, Miss Vernon," said Delrose, on being presented, "the divided skirt would suit your style immensely."

"Anything would," said Sir Tilton, almost savagely, and in a half growl.

"'Tis merely the accident of birth, Major Delrose," she said, carelessly; "had I been cradled in the land of the Sultan-the land of trousers-they would fit into my life as my gown by Worth does a present."

And she was so more than lovely as she spoke, and her frock of navy blue velvet trimmed with fox fur, small bonnet blending in hue with her gown, with scarlet geraniums and strings, all becoming to her sweet womanliness, her perfect figure, lithe as a young fawn and rounded as a Venus, held the men's gaze, while the women bit their lips with envy. For we repeat that envy is the motive power that moves and sways their little world, and though they will band themselves together to pull the pedestal from under the feet of a more favoured sister, there would be mutiny in the band did one display a charm.

But Vaura, ever connected in the mind of Mrs. Haughton with Trevalyon, and the wish never dying in her breast to have him at her feet, hence her question, which she would much prefer not to have asked in the presence of Delrose, but, accustomed to obey impulse, she said:

"And Captain Trevalyon, Miss Vernon, what of him? Will he come for the ball, or has he gone to visit his hidden wife of Truth and the News; sly fellow that he is?"

Her tone was too eager to please Delrose. "Confound the fellow, I must lose no time," he thought, savagely, as Vaura replied, laconically:

"Sir Lionel Trevalyon will be here for the ball."

"Trevalyon to be here to-night! You never told me, Vaura."

"I have not had an opportunity, dear uncle," she said, taking his arm, with a "We shall meet again at dinner" to madame; as they left the room she continued: "He bid me tell you, dear, that he comes after dinner with three unbidden guests, and that he wishes that the Hall guests may learn from their words of the ingredients of a dish of scandal, so that they will tell it to the London world!"

"It is of his hidden wife, I presume. Yes, of her ingredients he can now tell; she is his wife. Of the woman previous to the altar knot man knows naught. She is masked!"

"Society is a fencing school, dear uncle; we all have our masks and foils."

"Not all, Vaura; we all pay society's tolls, for we live to enter the arena, but we are not all masked."

"You will be glad to see your old friend again, uncle?" she said questioningly, anxious to know how the man she loved would be welcomed.

"Yes and no, dear; his hand-clasp will strengthen, me but not you. Trevalyon's hand enclosing woman's is weakening to them, and he has been much with you; were it not for this scandal-."

"Which by mid-night," she said quickly, "the nightbirds will have, by the flutter of their wings, blown into the right current, and from poor Lionel."

"So, so, Vaura, you speak warmly; it is as I feared; he has made you care for him."

"He has."

"I am sorry for you, Vaura, and glad for him; peerless, as you, are, a man should woo you with spotless breastplate; but I love Trevalyon, and if he can in any way clear himself, but I fear he cannot," he said gravely.

"'All's well that ends well,' dear uncle; he will clear himself."

"After dinner, you say?"

"Yes, but no preparations; he wishes to come in with the three unbidden guests unnoticed."

"Yes, but if he or they, I suppose, are to come with 'mouth full of news,' to tell publicly, I think he is wrong not to let it be known, otherwise they (some of them) may not appear until the ball opens."

"Let it be as he wishes, dear uncle; they are epicurean enough not to fail your good board, even though ignorant of the highly seasoned desert. But some one sneezed! we have a listener! yes," she continued breathlessly, "my hearing is very acute, and see! something between a man and woman, gliding softly down the dim corridor."

"Yes, we had better separate; go and rest, dear; we have, I fear, been talking to the Hall through some one else, and I feel somewhat excited over your news and shall smoke it off."

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