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Title: Lovers' Knots Author: Marjorie Bowen * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1402341h.html Language: English Date first posted: June 2014 Most recent update: July 2014 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Petulance and impatience rested on the face of Miss Eulalie Montacute, eclipsing a vast natural gaiety; she sat on the Sheraton table and dangled her silk-shod feet above their rose-red reflections in the waxed floor.
Opposite her a window opened into a garden filled with symbols of the season, appropriate roses, neatly white and pink, and a park pretty with the prettiness of July.
Little woolly clouds (the beloved of fan painters) sailed over a milky-blue sky, and the distant trees were as verdant as their portrait in any book of spring poems.
It was decidedly an uninteresting prospect; petulance and impatience deepened as Miss Eulalie glanced from the window and round the mellow-gold room.
A very well-ordered chamber certainly; the walls polished and shining, the light furniture, with its inlaid patterns of seashells, neatly arranged, the white and gold clock and candlesticks standing stiffly at attention on the mantelpiece.
Oval pastels in gilt frames adorned the walls and light yellow silk curtains waved round the open window which stood wide, like a door, into the garden.
Miss Eulalie herself was not in keeping with the room; she was vividly coloured, vividly dressed, alert, with a petulant face.
Her rose-red silk was worn in a dashing manner, a little chip hat lay on the top of her high-piled brown hair, and the strings ended in a bow of black velvet under her round chin.
Eyes of a clear, steady blue under brows most delicately arched, contradicted with their dignity full lips insolently red, and a short, disdainful nose.
Her clear and glowing complexion was set off by a moon-shaped patch near her lower lip, and on the table beside her lay a pink parasol.
Although this was Kent, and five miles from a town, Miss Eulalie was fashionable in her appointments. Her hair was decidedly ‚ la mode, and her gown of the cut sanctioned by Almack's and the Pantheon. The china clock struck twelve; Miss Eulalie's discontent was gathering into a positive frown when she heard a step without.
A superb youth lounged into view along the emerald grass; he languidly swung a cane, to the great danger of the roses, and, seeing Miss Eulalie, swept off his pale silk jampot hat.
She responded with the shadow of a smile and an impatient glance from haughty blue eyes.
"A positive wretch!" she cried.
The youth came to the window and stood leaning against the frame in an attitude of careless grace.
The veiled sun glittered in the curls of his smooth, thick chestnut hair and on the diamond in the folds of his white stock—his elegant figure was attired in faultless clothes, a pale grey coat, the perfection of white breeches, lemon-topped boots, and a cream satin waistcoat curiously embroidered with strawberries and garnished by turquoise enamel buttons.
The countenance was pale, yet of the florid type, well-featured and fresh; his mouth, too full for strength, bore an expression of well-. bred insolence, and the effect of his fine red-brown eyes was spoiled by the heavy droop in one of his lids, which gave the whole face an appearance slightly sinister, slightly repellent.
"A wretch!" exclaimed Miss Eulalie again. "Augustus, you are half an hour late—absolutely—by the clock."
The Hon. Augustus Tollemache gave an oblique glance at the china timepiece as if he bore it malice for being a witness to his misdemeanour.
"Dear Miss," he said, in a voice of languid protest, "I came round by the village—knowing it for the shorter way—and there was such a prodigious crowd assembled round the church that I turned from my way to discover the cause of the commotion."
Miss Eulalie turned uninterested eyes towards the speaker. "I protest, Augustus, this is not a vastly diverting excuse."
"Truth makes it tiresome, dear Miss—an invention would have boasted a more entertaining flavour. As I remarked, there was a crowd gathered about the church. I discovered that the centre of interest was a handbill that had been affixed to the porch. Other copies of this document were being distributed. I obtained one."
Miss Eulalie's short lip curled.
"Some one has lost a purse or a ring, or a passenger on the Maidstone coach has left his luggage behind."
"It is something infinitely more amusing," answered the Hon. Augustus, lazily swinging his cane. "Something that may pleasantly vary a rural charm that, unbroken, might prove monotonous."
"Augustus! I protest that you put me beside myself with curiosity. Augustus, pray, enlighten me."
She bent a little forward, with mittened hands clasped in her lap and the rose-red ribbons in her hat fluttering.
"Augustus, assist me from the table."
He advanced at an elegant saunter and offered his gloved hand, which she took lightly and leaped to the ground.
"You shall take me for our promised walk, and inform me of this prodigious news," said Miss Eulalie. She put her aim through his. Despite her piled-up hair and elevated hat, she came scarcely to his shoulder.
They strolled into the garden.
"It is a forger," said Mr. Tollemache, leaning sideways, indulgently to her shorter stature.
"Ha!" exclaimed Miss Eulalie. "A forger!"
"Positively. I believe he was arrested in London with the counterfeit notes. I believe that he escaped and fled to Maidstone, where he was arrested again. A second time he escaped, and is at large—hiding, I presume—somewhere in the vicinity."
Miss Eulalie caught her stiff skirt out of reach of the heads of the carnations; the gesture was something like a shudder.
"Horrible! Why are there such people? Do you suppose, Augustus, that he will elude the vigilance of the constables?"
"I consider it improbable. There are a hundred guineas on his head. The inhabitants of Marlowe will strive to secure those guineas."
Miss Eulalie was interested. There was a novel element of horror and excitement that fascinated; she glanced up into the indolent face of the Hon. Augustus.
"We will sit down."
She indicated a green wooden seat under some beech trees.
"And, Augustus, you must show me the handbill. Does it contain the description of the forger?"
Mr. Tollemache sank elegantly into the seat, and produced from his pocket a roll of paper; his companion settled her shimmering skirt, and put up her frilled parasol to protect her from the sun that gleamed through the beech leaves.
The Hon. Augustus pulled off his gloves, and with plump, ringed hands unrolled the handbill.
He commenced reading aloud the thick headlines:
"Maidstone—this loth day of July, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight. Whereas one—"
Miss Eulalie interrupted.
"Dear sir, it is not interesting. Proceed to the description."
Mr. Tollemache moved the paper so that it was free from the flickering shadows of the beech leaves.
"The gist of the matter is that this person, giving his name as Conyers Redmond, is guilty of forgery on the Bank of England to the extent of seven thousand pounds (a dull dog, or he would have made it seventy), and there is a hundred guineas to the man who gives information as to his whereabouts."
"An odious wretch!" exclaimed Miss Eulalie. "I pray that some honest man may obtain the reward."
"If you dispense with the adjective, dear Miss, no doubt your wish will be accomplished."
The Hon. Augustus smiled lazily over the heavy folds of his stock; she gave a quick glance over his refined splendour, and her blue eyes flashed with inscrutable expression.
"I vow I will have the description."
He recommenced reading in his slow, studied voice.
"Item one—tall, about five foot eleven." Miss Eulalie nodded.
"Item two—thin and inclined to stoop." Miss Eulalie nodded again.
"Pale, good-looking features, grey eyes, and black hair, worn short."
"La, Augustus! I consider him innocent, and am heartily sorry for him. I adore grey eyes."
She twirled her parasol round and laughed. Mr. Tollemache took no notice.
"Item four—he has a cut across his upper lip, received in a fight with the constables, and a Roman nose scarred across the bridge."
"I loathe Roman noses. I think the fellow is guilty."
"Item five—he is dressed in fashionable but soiled clothes, plum-coloured coat and breeches, green waistcoat, and red stockings."
The Hon. Augustus elevated his eyebrows.
"Red stockings! His taste appears to be as deplorable as his morals."
"And his appearance worse than either," said Miss Eulalie. "But continue, Augustus.
"Item six—he wears a cravat of Limerick lace and a frayed black hat."
"A wretch, obviously." Miss Eulalie glanced with slackened interest at the paper, and then away across the lawn; her parasol cast a delicate rosy shade over her face and throat; the beech leaves made a pleasant rustle overhead, gracefully filling the pause in the converse.
The Hon. Augustus put the handbill into his waistcoat pocket; then, with a face slightly vacant, gazed at his own reflection in the agate knob of his cane.
"Augustus!" Miss Eulalie turned a questioning face. "Does not this description call some one to your mind?"
"My acquaintances," answered Mr. Tollemache, "are numerous, but all, dear Miss, of bon ton."
"Naturally," she assented. "I mean merely a resemblance."
"I know no one," interrupted the Hon. Augustus lazily, "who could wear red stockings with a plum-coloured coat. On my honour."
"I take it, dear sir, that you know no one who would commit a forgery."
"I could not swear to it. I choose my friends for their taste, not their morals. The first is everybody's business, the second decidedly their own."
Miss Eulalie slightly frowned.
"I must pray you, Augustus, to give me your attention."
He bestowed on her a glance of indolent admiration. "Would it be possible to do otherwise?"
"I believe so." Her frown deepened. "You were not, Augustus, attending to me when I spoke. I said that a resemblance seemed to me to exist between this person whom we have read of and some one whom we both know."
Mr. Tollemache elevated his thick red brows.
"Distressing! I cannot imagine who the unfortunate may be."
Her blue eyes opened wide with eagerness.
"Consider—tall, stooping, pale, well-featured, black hair—a Roman nose, Augustus! Who is that like?"
"I cannot conceive, dear Miss."
He tilted his hat so that the narrow brim sheltered his eyes from the sun, and gazed at her from the shadow. She sat erect, looking at him with a half-smile; she laid her fingers delicately on her lips and said:
"By the la!" exclaimed the Hon. Augustus softly. "It is a very picture of Sophia!"
"But it never occurred to you?"
"I was not considering the ladies," smiled Mr. Tollemache. "Certainly the gentleman must be like Sophia. You will hardly suggest it to Beverly?"
"I am not afraid of Sophia," said Miss Eulalie, with a curling lip.
"Beverly is, I think."
"My unfortunate brother is her husband, Augustus. He is bound to consider her. I do not imagine that he is afraid of her."
"Then he dotes on her?" questioned Mr. Tollemache languidly. "'Tis one or the other, dear Miss, the county knows that Sophia rules in Montacute House."
Miss Eulalie twirled her parasol furiously.
"I hate Sophia."
"The county knows that," he smiled.
Miss Eulalie seemed to hesitate in something she was about to say; she swung the parasol rapidly and tapped the bright grass with her foot; then she raised her glowing face.
"Sophia desires me to marry Mr. Champneys."
"Mr. Champneys!" echoed the Hon Augustus in a tone of distress.
Miss Eulalie broke into a frank laugh.
"Positively. Mr. Champneys approached Beverly, Beverly spoke to Sophia, Sophia spoke to me." Her blue eyes danced.
"There are the advantages. Mr. Champneys has a neighbouring estate and five thousand a year; he is not more foolish than most men, nor more ill-favoured; he is very generous, and I (says Sophia) would be a fool to refuse."
"But you have?"
Then she laughed again.
"Do you not consider the whole affair absurd, Augustus?" she demanded, in a lighthearted scorn. "Mr. Champneys! Pray conceive Mr. Champneys! I have ambitions; I put a vast value on myself. Sophia will not be rid of me so easily—nor Beverly. Mr. Champneys! It is diverting."
His red eyes considered her. He balanced his cane carefully over his crossed knees; his expression was serious, reserved; she touched his arm with her finger-tips, still laughing.
"Augustus! Does it not amuse you? This gravity is hardly befitting the subject."
Her dazzling eyes, her smiling lips, the loose locks of her shining hair made a brightness in the shade; the Hon. Augustus did not stir from his languid attitude, but beneath his drooping lids his glance showed interested.
"Mr. Champneys," he said, with a lofty calm, "is a foolish fellow—it was prodigious insolence on his part. Naturally, dear Miss, you have a right to look higher."
Her red lips parted in a charming mockery; she clasped her hands over the satin bow that rose and fell on her bosom.
"Thank you, Augustus!" She looked demurely away. "You may tell Beverly so, if you will."
Still surveying her under the brim of his tilted hat, he answered evenly:
"I will tell Beverly more than that—with your permission."
She faced him again.
He raised himself carelessly into an elegant posture against the side of the seat.
Her eyes flashed, then drooped. She smiled. Mr. Tollemache rose and swept off his hat, showing his hair glittering like copper.
"Miss Eulalie"—he laid his hand above where a nice calculation had told him his heart lay—"I adore you. Will you, my sweet charmer, do me the vast honour of accepting my hand, my heart, my fortune?"
Her tone a little disturbed his serene confidence; he sank gracefully into the scat again and tried to take her hand.
"Eulalie, you will marry me?"
She stared at him a moment, and then she laughed—laughed as frankly as she had done when she spoke of Mr. Champneys.
"Is this serious, dear sir?"
"Upon my honour," he reassured her, inclining easily towards her end of the seat. Miss Eulalie's laughter rose delicately.
"Do you, then, fall so soon into the errors that you condemn in others, Augustus? Do you wish it to be said that Mr. Tollemache is a foolish fellow—it was prodigious insolence on his part?"
The Hon. Augustus Tollemache, the finest match in the county, who had had a fair choice of the beauties of two London seasons, stared at the country miss who had so received his condescension; a slow red mounted to his face, indignation strove with incredulity in his expression. Miss Eulalie laughed the more.
"You look foolish, Augustus—la! near as foolish as Mr. Champneys."
"Madam," he demanded, in a shaking voice, "what am I to understand at your answer?"
The blue eyes shone with amusement.
"I am ambitious; I set a high value on myself," she smiled; "I have hopes of some one vastly different to you—or Mr. Champneys. You are charming as a friend, Augustus, but"—she shrugged her slender shoulders—"how can you be so foolish?" she finished.
"And this is my answer, Madam?"
He had never been so humiliated before in the whole of his elegant life. He rose, clasping his hat to his bosom. Miss Eulalie glanced up into the blue and the pretty little clouds.
"Yes, Augustus, of course." And she added: "If you waited long enough I might one day consider your proposal—but at present—la!"
His eyes shone furiously; he bowed with a frozen courtesy.
"I shall be happy to wait your pleasure," he said, his whole face sneering. "I am always, Madam, your humble servant."
Miss Eulalie looked surprised.
"Are you affronted, Augustus?" she asked innocently. He bowed again till his silk beaver swept the lawn.
"Madam, you must pardon my mistake."
He turned on his heel and walked away with a saunter rather affected than real, and a carelessness of demeanour slightly overacted. Miss Eulalie looked after him in a mischievous amusement; she was not blind to his vanity, and she recalled with satisfaction how foolish she had made him look; it was pleasant to think that she had lowered his inordinate presumption.
"It was absurd!" She laughed as she thought of it—Augustus, whom long usage had made commonplace—Augustus, a most ordinary young man, whom she had always secretly despised, as a person lazy of mind and slow of apprehension.
Certainly, when he had been in London or abroad she had missed him; she admitted that, but she would have missed anyone who had contributed to enliven a society not of itself vastly diverting; his sister Diana had been an equal loss. She had even regretted the absence of Mr. Champneys when he was away from the Manor; he was sometimes amusing, also a distraction from the company of Sophia and the intolerable Beverly.
So now, after a while, she yawned for lack of her companion, and, rising discontentedly, strolled across the garden to the park.
Sophia had forbidden her to go far abroad unattended; this was a stimulus to her gay spirit to roam far across the sun and shadows till Montacute House was lost behind the oaks and elms.
Miss Eulalie walked slowly, trailing the rose-red silk over the grass and daisies, with her parasol daintily over her shoulder, and a smiling, dreaming face.
Miss Eulalie found herself on the outskirts of her brother's land and the boundary of Montjoy Park.
She knew the rusty iron gate very well; she had often peeped through and marked the wildness of the foliage in the deserted spaces beyond. The Marquess of Montjoy had gone to the Americas and the devil long before she could remember; his house was shut up, his property going to waste.
Miss Eulalie had always found an interest in the closed-in park and empty house. It boasted a romantic awe, a suggestiveness of fairy-tale possibilities that the neat grounds of her brother and his neighbours totally lacked.
And now she observed that the gate stood a little open, that the nettles and sorrels growing round the postern were crushed and displaced. With a thrill of excitement she stepped nearer. Who had forced an entry?
There was no sign or sound of a human being in the thick, dark shades of Montjoy Park; the wide, overgrown drive was bare and empty until it became lost in the green shadow of the overhanging trees.
Miss Eulalie gathered up her skirt, furled her parasol, and, slipping through the open gate, entered the sombre desertion of the park.
A pleasant awe quickened her breath, her fearlessness was charmed by the suggestion of gloom and terror; some wood-doves cooed overhead, disturbing the delightful loneliness.
Buttercups, growing tall and strong, the thick-stemmed parsley and flowering grasses bordered the path and now covered it from end to end.
The wild briar had overgrown the low branches of the yew, and brambles trailed and clung to the young trees.
The leaves rustling together made an exquisite whispering; the patches of sky that showed between them glimmered like little blue stars. Miss Eulalie put the encumbering flowers aside with the end of her parasol and advanced leisurely with a delicate step.
The walk curved suddenly, and ended in a low stone wall that was crowned with snapdragon and grown with the ruddy gold of gilliflowers; a long-mouldered door hung on rusty hinges and crumbled under the weight of vivid stonecrop. Miss Eulalie, glowing with a gentle excitement, softly pushed aside the wealth of flowers and crept through the aperture.
She found herself in a rose garden.
All paths or trace of them had been obscured. As far as she could see was a wilderness of roses, buds, full blown, drooping, all colours, from a dead, heavy white to a dark crimson; the air was lovely with the perfume of them, the ground dangerous by reason of their trailing stems and thorns.
As the July breeze swept over them, their slumbering heads nodded, and the various-hued petals flew abroad like dying butterflies, fluttering to the ground.
Miss Eulalie gathered her skirt up for fear of the thorns, and, mindful of her complexion, opened the pink parasol against the unshaded brilliance of the sun.
Recklessly thrusting aside the roses, she came by the moss-grown wall, like a fair rose herself, through the garden and the clinging embraces of green leaves and sharp red thorns, to the door on the further side.
Then she paused, a little breathless with her adventure, and looked down a flight of stone steps into tangled green, and a turreted castle rising behind huge trees.
Surely, if ever promise was fulfilled, some delectable mystery was enshrouded here!
A veritable palace of a fairy tale; the very sunlight seemed to take on a more wonderful tinge of gold. Miss Eulalie descended into the long grass and turned in the direction of the Castle.
She had not gone many paces before she came to a fountain, long dried up; the wide basin was almost covered with the high, wild flowers, but haughtily above the ruin rose the central figure of a rampant griffin holding a shield and gazing defiantly up at the blazing sun. Miss Eulalie drew closer.
Across the shield was an inscription, so deeply cut that even now it was legible. She read with curious eyes:
"Pryde is ye lorde of alle
But we are ye lordes of Pryde."
The motto of the Montjoys. Miss Eulalie, glancing round their desolate domain, sighed as a tribute to a boast miserably unfulfilled; then she started and almost dropped the parasol.
On the other side of the fountain a man was seated in the grass with his back to her; the shade of a little beech tree was over him; he was eating from a handkerchief on his knees. Miss Eulalie stood rigid, observing him. A recollection of the forger transfixed her. Of course, this was the man—a most likely place for him to have hidden.
The loneliness that had been so enticing became discomposing; she longed for the Hon. Augustus, or even Mr. Champneys.
The stranger was not looking at her; she considered that she might escape if she moved cautiously. She had turned for flight when he suddenly looked round and saw her.
All her patrician dignity came to her aid; she faced him with her head a little high and challenging eyes.
He appeared the more startled of the two. He rose to his feet, still holding a lump of bread and a clasp-knife in his hand, and stared at her. Miss Eulalie's courage was restored slightly by observing that he wore neither a plum-coloured coat nor red stockings; his attire was a ragged great coat, opening on a faded scarlet waistcoat, and much-worn riding breeches and boots.
As they stared at each other, and she noted his ragged appearance, she drew further away through the flowers. She reflected that the forger might have changed his clothes.
The stranger broke the stillness.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded. Miss Eulalie flushed at his impudence.
"Indeed, sir," she cried haughtily, "I was about to question your right in these grounds."
"Oh, you was going to question me?" he said, in no friendly tone. He gave her a quick look. "Why?"
He dropped the bread and the knife, and, coming out of the shade, seated himself on the brim of the fountain and stared at her.
Miss Eulalie, too proud to show open fright, retreated a furtive backward step and returned his gaze with defiant eyes. The description of the forger ran in her head. This man was tall, but of a strong, fine build, certainly erect, and, though his eyes were grey, his hair black, he possessed blunt English features, and a nose not by any means to be termed Roman.
She noticed all this in a second, but she was not completely convinced. There might have been some mistakes in the description.
The stranger spoke again.
"Do you come from yonder?" he asked, and waved a ragged sleeve in the direction of Montjoy Castle.
Two things flashed on Miss Eulalie—that he did not know that the Castle was deserted, and that she was a trespasser as himself. She decided not to enlighten him on either point.
"That is the Marquess of Montjoy's house," she said coldly; "and your questions are vastly insolent."
The man smiled.
"The Marquess keeps his grounds in fine repair; it looks as if it had not been touched for a century."
He made a gesture round the wilderness, still with his eyes on her and a smile on his lips. His voice was refined, his face fresh and newly-shaven, the only points, Miss Eulalie thought, in his favour.
"You trespass," she said haughtily; "depart before one of my lord's men finds you."
"How many does my lord keep?" he asked in a galling tone of disbelief.
She disdained to answer. She revolved schemes of dignified retreat as she switched at the ox-eyed daisies with the parasol.
The stranger rose, and, fetching the remains of his meal, deposited them in the basin of the fountain; then, reseating himself on the brim, cut and ate his bread and meat with an easy shamelessness.
"The Marquess neglects his fountain," he remarked, surveying it. "It looks mightily as if it had dried up."
"If you are presuming to address me," she answered in disgust, "I could reply that your comments come vastly ill from a trespasser. These grounds are private."
"Then you do come from the Castle?" he said. "Otherwise you trespass also."
She turned her back on the picture of him, lounging against the griffin and drinking wine from a bottle. Her lip curled. Without looking round, she spoke:
"You had better take care, if you are he I think you are."
He set the bottle down and fell to the food again.
"Who do you think I am?" he asked easily.
"A vagabond!" cried Miss Eulalie, looking over her shoulder.
"Yes, a vagabond."
His composure heightened her annoyance with the situation.
"Then begone, fellow, off my lord's property."
She swung round with her head haughtily high, and a flushed face, rose-pink from head to foot.
"Are you my lady?" demanded the stranger, eyeing her.
She was surprised into a denial.
"No!" Then her flush deepened with vexation. "How dare you question me, fellow?"
He rose with his hands in his pockets.
"How dare you order me off?" he said.
Eulalie noticed that the stranger's clothes were even more ragged than she had thought at first. The red scarf round his throat and his waistcoat positively fluttered with rags, his coat was patched and greasy; he was little better than a beggar.
"Your impudence," she answered, going white, "is vastly impolitic. I dare swear you are he the reward is offered for."
She watched the effect; he dropped the swagger and came a step nearer.
"The reward?" he echoed. As his coat swung back she marked a pistol in his belt; she stood her ground.
"There are handbills posted in the village," she said, "and a reward of a hundred guineas offered for your detection."
He looked up sharply.
"For my detection?" He lifted his dark brows. "Who do you think I am?"
He swung his hat in a puzzled way and looked at her very keenly.
Miss Eulalie grew impatient.
"Some one the law is after, I dare swear, fellow."
His eyes narrowed, but he laughed.
"Whoever is worth a hundred guineas to the law, I am not. Your handbills do not refer to me."
He rose, lazily stretching himself; Miss Eulalie hardened under a demeanour that was easy to insolence; if he would not be warned, if he would give no heed to her, let him meet the fate that he deserved; she was turning away when his laughter made her pause.
"A hundred guineas!" he cried. "To think that some one will be lucky enough to earn honestly a hundred guineas!"
He looked at her quizzically, his hand on his hip.
"What is a hundred guineas?" said Miss Eulalie loftily.
"A prodigious sum when you are in want," he answered.
It occurred to her that a man who would forge would steal; he was in want of money, of course. How could he escape without? He might become desperate; she glanced at her bracelets with a nervous eye, and turned slowly away towards the rose garden.
He frightened her by following and falling into step beside her.
She imagined Sophia's comments on her present situation, and grew furious with herself. Agitation at this stranger's approach slightly ruffled her dignity; she hurried up the steps into the rose garden and was disappearing through the door when there was a sharp rip of silk, and she found herself held by the flounces of her dress that had caught on one of the rusty nails in the doorway.
She gave a cry of vexation; before she could stoop the man behind had bent to disengage her dress, as if he were her equal, and it were the natural thing to do.
Miss Eulalie stiffened and went white with rage. "You dare to touch me!" she cried. Her eyes shone dangerously; she snatched desperately at her skirt and pulled it away, leaving the frill dangling on the wall.
So intense was her gesture and look of repulsion that he seemed taken aback; he stood against the wall, staring at her; she disdained another word and swept through the roses, gathering up her torn dress.
Her sense of the undignified position made her, in her vexation, assume a carriage of frozen haughtiness; heedless of the clinging thorns that impeded her way, she walked rapidly, never looking back till she reached the other end of the rose garden.
Then she paused, out of breath, and leant against the wall with the wealth of gilliflowers and snapdragons.
Over her round white arm a scratch showed red; she stared at it in annoyance, thinking of Sophia; then a step made her draw herself erect as the stranger swung out of the rose garden.
He stopped at sight of her; his face, which was very pale now, awoke some pity in Miss Eulalie. Perhaps he was in great distress, poor wretch, penniless and pursued!
"Our ways lie differently," he said.
His quiet might have been humility. She condescended to be a little sorry for him. Her pretty fingers detached the bag of mauve beads that hung at her side; she recollected that it contained two guineas and the recipe for a complexion wash. This last she drew out and put into her pocket.
He was gazing at her. Decidedly, he was not ill-looking. Miss Eulalie determined on charity; she held out the bead bag elegantly.
"Take it, fellow," she said; "it may preserve you from following your dishonest courses."
"Madam!" he said quietly. He turned on his heel and walked swiftly away down the moss-grown drive.
Miss Eulalie stood stunned, outraged, pale and silent till he was out of sight; then she flung the purse furiously through the buttercups and, turning her face to the wallflowers, cried in such a fury that her sobs burst the laces of the rose-red bodice.
When Miss Eulalie made her slightly-defiant entry into the drawing-room at Montacute House she found Mr. Champneys drinking tea with Sophia.
She seated herself demurely in a corner and watched the two. Sophia's whale-boned gown sat too tightly to her spare figure; her elbows were pointed, her neck lean, but her pale face was handsome in a cold, hard manner.
Mr. Champneys was aggressively fair; there was no escape from the smooth pink of his round face or the dazzling hue of his yellow hair; the fastidious considered his slightly protruding eyes with their fringe of straw-coloured lashes an offence, and the captious likened his figure to the soft lines of a sawdust-stuffed dummy to be burnt on the Fifth of November.
His merits were youth, good humour, and clothes from a London tailor; Sophia considered him eminently desirable.
He gave Eulalie an embarrassed glance; she, gathering her torn frill out of Sophia's sight, encouraged him with a friendly smile; she disdained to be angry with Mr. Champneys.
"Was you out with Mr. Tollemache?" questioned Sophia.
"I saw Augustus this afternoon," answered Eulalie, fencing.
"Why didn't he come home with you?" Eulalie gazed steadily at the tea-urn.
"I protest, Sophia, he was in an ill mood. I sent him home."
To her intense surprise, Sophia made no comment on this, but addressed to Mr. Champneys a random remark about the shortening days. Eulalie stared.
"Where is Beverly?" she asked, gaining confidence.
"I don't know—in the village," said Sophia. Hastily she smoothed out the stiff folds of her large-patterned skirt, and her lips twitched.
"La!" cried Eulalie. "What is Beverly doing in the village?"
"Have you heard of the forger?" asked Mr. Champneys, with a sudden effort, as if speech were a fence that must be taken at a leap; then he grew slowly red, fearful of a fall.
Eulalie smiled, however.
"Yes, sir. Augustus told me. I hope that they will get him; I should rejoice to see him in the stocks." Her eyes shone wickedly. "An odious vagabond—pray, sir, do you not consider him so?"
"A menace to the country," said Mr. Champneys, encouraged—"a scoundrel."
Eulalie untied the velvet bow under her chin.
"Sophia," she said, as she flung off her hat, "I beg you to replenish Mr. Champneys' cup."
Sophia started from absorption in herself. She went red, and when the gentleman had handed the cup of blue and white she continued to pour into it long after it was full and the tea streaming over the saucer and the fine lacquered tray.
"La!" cried Eulalie, with raised eyebrow. "Pray regard what you are doing."
Sophia stared and set the cup down; her colour deepened and she bit her lip; clearly something was amiss with Sophia.
Mr. Champneys eyed the steaming tray and dragged out his lace handkerchief with some idea of something to be done. "Let it be, sir," said Eulalie, not ill pleased at Sophia's discomfiture. "You would never be so impolite as to point a disaster?"
She laughed and he stared guiltily at his handkerchief with a poor pretence of having brought it out to flick a fly from his sleeve. Sophia made an effort to rally herself.
"I have a touch of the vapours," she said. It was a new thing for Sophia.
"Oh!" remarked Eulalie, surveying the tips of her pink shoes.
Mr. Champneys brought the conversation to the subject that had been so successful previously.
"The entire village," he stated, "has turned out in the hunt for the forger."
"It has nothing to do with us, sir," said Sophia. Her voice was rather strained.
"It might have," remarked Eulalie. "He might be discovered on our very grounds—the wretch!"
Sophia gave a little start.
"Monstrous!" she said hastily. "He has probably long since left the neighbourhood." Eulalie smiled bitterly.
"I imagine he has not, Sophia."
"There is great likelihood," said Mr. Champneys, "that he is lurking in the woods."
"Mr. Champneys"—Eulalie gave him a dazzling glance—"it would be vastly diverting if you could find him."
"Eulalie!" Sophia cried angrily. "It is a very unbecoming subject and a foolish request." She paused abruptly, her lips quivered; something was certainly amiss with her.
Eulalie lifted her shoulders lazily.
"Mr. Champneys," she asked, "what do they do to a forger when they catch him?"
"Hang him," he answered, with a kind of virtuous gusto, as if it was pleasant to reflect that people did occasionally meet with their deserts.
Sophia drew her breath quickly.
"Horrible!" she said in a trembling voice. "I desire, Eulalie, that you will discover another topic of converse."
Mr. Champneys' light lashes flickered in a mild amazement at the sharpness of the rebuff; Eulalie's quicker perceptions discovered more agitation than anger in Sophia's thin tones; she looked at her sister-in-law curiously.
An uncomfortable pause was broken by the entrance of Beverly.
As he advanced down the light room he exchanged a quick glance with his wife that Eulalie did not fail to notice, nor did it escape her that he was paler than usual.
Beverly was like his sister, eminently handsome, but the gravity that robbed his face of charm was to-day heightened to sourness.
He gave the briefest greeting to Mr. Champneys, a nod to his sister, and the whole of his attention to his wife.
With a broken excuse very unlike her usual correct behaviour, Sophia rose and followed Beverly out of the room.
Eulalie glanced at the deserted Mr. Champneys; she thought it must be apparent even to him that something was wrong, but his fatuous expression undeceived her. She decided that Sophia was right in ignoring him; he was certainly free from the surmises and curiosity with which she was perplexing herself.
Mr. Champneys shifted his position in an embarrassed manner; Eulalie looked indifferently round the room; Mr. Champneys coughed; her gaze fell to the tea-table; she twisted the strings of her hat round her fingers.
"What was the matter with Sophia?"
Mr. Champneys, red in the face, was speaking. She gave him a tolerant attention, a glance not unmingled with compassion.
"Madam, I am distressed." His eyes started in his nervousness. "I am disconsolate."
"Yes?" said Eulalie gently.
"I say, madam, that—that it gives me the greatest pain that you are unable to accept my proposals."
"It was a great honour to me, sir," she smiled graciously. "I pray that you will believe that my refusal was merely owing to a dislike on my part to enter yet the estate of matrimony."
Mr. Champneys visibly brightened.
"I may be permitted to infer, madam, that if ever you should be induced to alter your mind, I should stand some chance?" he said.
Eulalie glanced wickedly at the pink shoes.
"La, sir—who knows?" she answered.
He looked rather baffled, appeared to strive after words in which to express his feelings.
"It was a heavy disappointment to me," he said slowly, "and to my aunt, Miss Fanshawe."
Then he grew uncomfortable under her sparkling eyes, and strove still further to explain himself.
"She finds the Manor difficult to—to—"
"The housekeeping taxes her abilities?" said Miss Eulalie gravely. "I swear I am grieved to have caused Miss Fanshawe any inconvenience. Pray, sir, convey to her the expressions of my esteem."
Mr. Champneys rose with an impulse to retreat; she encouraged him to take his departure, and when, after elaborate leave-takings, he had gone, she sighed and yawned with relief.
Then, finding herself alone, she carried out what had been her longing ever since her return, namely, went over to the mirror on the mantel-shelf and surveyed herself.
She fancied that she could still see traces of tears; her hair was untidy, her fichu torn. Sophia was certainly absorbed, unusually absorbed, not to have noticed this dishevelment.
Eulalie thought she would rearrange herself before Sophia's eyes had another chance of studying her. She went softly from the room and upstairs with her mouth set bitterly at the thought of the vagabond in Montjoy Park; the remembrance that he had gone off with the last word, and that an insult, made her tingle to her finger-tips; she felt that she could have seen him whipped or set in the stocks with pleasure; she longed to see him again that she might look through him with a perfect haughtiness.
She had reached her room at the top of the house—only the disused garrets higher, when a slight sound made her glance from her door up the stairs that led to them.
She was in time to see the flash of a purple skirt disappearing above.
Sophia! What was Sophia doing ascending to the attics? Eulalie hesitated a second, but a second only; she slipped off her shoes and ran softly up the garret stairs, heedless of the possibilities of dust to her pink stockings.
Trepidation made her catch her breath guiltily; the spirit of adventure and the joy of the unknown urged her on. She saw Sophia enter the door of the attic at the stair-head, and following a-tip-toe, found it left ajar. In a flash she saw a strange scene.
Beverly was there—Beverly still in his riding-coat, looking stern and worried, staring at his feet with frowning blue eyes. On a broken chair beside him sat Sophia, with the absurd red flower dangling from her hair, and an expression of miserable distress on her sharp face. She was looking at the third occupant of the room, a man who leant against the wall, with folded arms, and a sneer on his face.
He was marvellously like Sophia, and Eulalie trembled with excitement to see that he wore red stockings and a plum-coloured coat...
She waited for no more—in a sudden terror of detection, she turned, fled noiselessly, and gained her chamber with a heart beating high. The discovery was agitating, to a degree overwhelming; Eulalie slipped into the wide window seat, and stared through the muslin blinds at the purple sunset that glowed behind the Park trees.
A relation of Sophia! She reflected that she knew marvellously little of Sophia's relatives, and the likeness was unmistakable; a cousin—possibly—a brother!
Suddenly she recollected the man in Mont-joy Park; her surmise, there, then, had been a hideous mistake; the blood flew to her face as she recalled some of her remarks.
The fellow might be honest; she considered the offer of her purse, and her cheeks burnt. She hastily dismissed the subject from her thoughts. A heavy step past her door told her that Beverly had descended.
Eulalie slipped on her shoes and followed him downstairs into the drawing-room; she was desirous of observing Beverly's manner under this misfortune.
He appeared displeased at her entry; he was standing by the long window with his hands clasped behind him under his buff overcoat; he still wore his spurs, and now and then viciously thrust them against the white wainscoting.
Eulalie, oblivious of her torn dress, flung herself into one of the satin chairs and opened the attack:
"I protest, Beverly, that I am vastly interested in the news Augustus told me—pray, when you was in the village, did you observe anything of the forger?"
The spurs ground against the wall; Beverly's blue eyes shone cold and angry.
"Hold your tongue, Miss," he retorted. Eulalie enjoyed his expression.
"La!" she cried, "I did not know that you was cross, Beverly. What is the matter?"
He gave her a sharp look.
"There is this the matter, Miss: you was a fool to refuse Francis Champneys."
At the quick change of subject, she tossed her head pettishly.
"Mr. Champneys is insufferable," she declared. "Absolutely."
"And you are a spoilt little minx," said Beverly impatiently. "What do you think is to become of you? Do you intend to live here for ever?"
Her great eyes flashed.
"I imagine, Beverly, that I have a right to reside in my father's house."
"And I have a right to command your obedience," he answered harshly. "You must either marry or behave yourself more befittingly—Sophia—"
"Oh! I entreat, do not quote Sophia," interrupted Eulalie scornfully. "Sophia! You, Beverly, may be afraid of her, but I dare assure you that I am not."
Beverly strode towards the door; his face was dark with vexation; with his hand on the door knob, he paused to face her:
"I'll not be troubled with you much longer, Miss."
By the next afternoon Eulalie had neatly arranged her coming behaviour in these unforeseen but delightful circumstances.
Beverly, distracted as she knew him to be, had spoken to her again of Mr. Champneys; she imagined that he wished to provide something to divert her attention, that she might not notice Sophia's altered demeanour or her frequent absences.
Miss Eulalie behaved discreetly. She managed to ascertain that the stranger still occupied the garret; a peep through the crack of the door showed her that, and discovered that he had exchanged his clothes for one of Beverly's suits.
When Eulalie saw him, he was playing cards with a dummy, and the glimpse she had of his lean face was not calculated to move her to pity.
She felt a deep disgust towards Sophia for having such relations, a contempt for Beverly. She determined that she would seize this opportunity to regain her old footing in the household and to place Sophia in a position of obligation towards her.
She surmised that they were waiting till the constables should have ceased to search the neighbourhood to convey the man abroad; she admired the skill of all concerned in thus bringing him to the house and hiding him with no suspicions aroused save her own, and, with a throb of triumph in outwitting their cleverness, she resolved on the course that was to bring Montacute House to her feet.
Briefly, Miss Eulalie intended to inform, in no measured terms, both Sophia and her husband that she knew what they were concealing; she intended to enjoy their confusion, their distress, to bring them to beg her pity and her alliance, and then graciously to grant them both.
She put on her hat and went through the garden, considering the scheme.
Sophia would be furious, but she would have to be humble; Beverly would storm, but he would come to asking her mercy, and neither of them would dare to mention her "insolence" or "impudence."
She approached the cornfields that lay beyond the estate, and seated herself on the stile that divided them from the park.
A large elder tree shaded her from the sun; the top step of the stile was smooth and wide, a pleasant seat. Eulalie rested her elbow on her knee and her chin in her palm while she rehearsed to herself the precise words that she would use to vanquish Sophia. The pale blue ribbons of her grey lutestring dress fluttered in the warm breeze, and the gold buckles in her shoes cast off rays of light in the sunshine.
The sky, the trees, and the air appeared of one hue with the dusky yellow wheat, so completely did the glimmer of heat envelop everything. The corn had been cut and stood in stacks about the fields, save close to Eulalie, where it lay in sheaves along the stubble.
In the fields beyond the red-gold grain still stood and the reapers were at work, but here was no one. All was silent save for a song of a lark and the buzzing of the bees in the bramble flowers along the edge.
Suddenly Miss Eulalie was startled by a sound as of some one suppressing laughter.
She leant from the shade of the elder and glanced up the field.
Quite close to her, seated easily on the edge of the ditch, was a man engaged in twisting bands for the sheaves.
The vagabond of yesterday.
He looked at her boldly, with no contrition in his grey eyes, and Eulalie, in a rush of rage, confusion and embarrassment, cried out:
"Was you laughing, fellow?"
"What made you think so?" he answered a trifle haughtily. He had discarded the ragged coat and waistcoat, and wore a faded blue shirt above his leather breeches. Eulalie noticed this improvement in his appearance.
"I heard some one laugh," she said coldly. "You disturb me; will you depart?"
"No," he answered calmly, biting off the end of a straw.
Eulalie drew herself up furiously.
"These are my brother's fields," she said. "You will please to do as I bid you."
She held back the elder blossoms as she spoke; the blue rosettes on her hat trembled with her indignation as she flung up her head.
He glanced round the sunny expanse of stubble. "I choose to remain in the shade," he remarked. "I am paid to bind the sheaves, not to kill myself with sunstroke."
"Uncivil brute!" cried Eulalie hotly.
"There is no pleasing you," he remarked coolly. "I should have thought that you would have been rejoiced to see me earning an honest livelihood." He gave her a mocking glance, and Eulalie flushed crimson.
"You offend my sight," she said, dropping the elder bough between them; yet somehow so dropping it that whereas she had not seen him before, the wretch was visible now. "I should rejoice to see you in the stocks, the place for vagrants!"
He picked up some more straw and commenced plaiting it.
"Have you never heard of the ducking stool for scolds?" he remarked calmly.
Eulalie was speechless; with dilated eyes she stared at him through the elder leaves. He laughed a little in a pleasant manner. "If I deserve one, you deserve the other," he said. "You are a perfect shrew."
"Insolent!" cried Eulalie bitterly.
Had it not been for the difficulty of gracefully dismounting the stile, she would long ago have departed; her face was white with vexation, she tapped her foot impatiently. Suddenly he put the straw down, and picking up his hat, rose.
He came slowly towards her, his hand on his hip, and Eulalie's gaze fell horrified to his hat. Round the brim was a twist of pink silk—the frill that she had left hanging on the wall of the rose garden.
Eulalie sprang to her feet as he approached, drew away with the utmost haughtiness, then, treading on her skirt in her agitation, lost her balance and fell forward through the elder blossom, slipped from the stile into the ditch of flowers, crushing the hemlock and poppies.
The man stood gravely surveying her, making no effort to assist. She of herself scrambled into a sitting posture and looked up, the tears of mortification plain in her eyes.
Her toy hat was knocked on one side, her hair disarranged.
"The sight of you brings humiliation," she said with a quivering lip, then, with a brave attempt at haughtiness, "Why was you standing there, fellow, instead of trying to save me? I might have broken my neck."
She rose, shaking out her tumbled dress.
"I remembered my repulse yesterday," he answered.
"Wretch!" said Eulalie. Her tears overflowed, the sobs rose in her throat, she sank on the lowest step of the stile.
"Pride goes before a fall," he said with a smile.
"Wretch!" she sobbed again. She resolutely commenced climbing up the stile.
He suddenly stepped forward with a change of manner and held out his hand.
"May I not assist you now?"
In answer, she turned on the top of the stile and let the bough she was holding back fly out into his face. As it stung him across the cheeks she heard him exclaim, but never looking back she vaulted from the stile and ran swiftly across the Park.
It was a retreat, but a victorious one. She shook the burrs and the leaves off her dress and her eyes gleamed angrily.
For the second time she had been humiliated before this stranger; for the second time her tears had risen; they rose again.
She had to confess that it was owing largely to her own mistake; she could not but see that the man was neither a criminal nor a common vagabond; his address had not been come by under hedgerows, but she comforted herself with the reflection that a person reduced from a superior position to rags and penury must have forfeited that position through some action either disgraceful or foolish.
Breathless, she reached the house and flew to her room. She had intended this evening to be the scene of Sophia's discomfiture, and she distracted her mind from unpleasant thoughts by a minute mental rehearsal of the incident.
Sophia and Beverly would be in the drawing-room before dinner, they would be consulting together on this very subject. She would enter, come at once to the point, and dictate her own terms of silence and assistance. Sophia would be vastly enraged!
Eulalie effaced with powder the traces of her angry tears, and carefully dressed the bright brown hair into a pyramid of curls, of which two hung down her back to her waist and one fell over her shoulder. Into this she pinned a bow of deep rose satin ribbon, and spent some moments surveying the effect in her mirror by the aid of an ivory hand-glass.
The result was more than satisfactory. Eulalie laid the mirror down gravely and surveyed herself full length in the long cheval glass.
The light was beginning to fade. Eulalie gave herself a last look and went out on to the landing.
With a half smile on her lips and a firm step she descended to the drawing-room.
No one was there.
The candles were not lit, and the summer dusk obscured the objects in the room to a pleasant dimness; the folding doors that led into the back room and the garden were a little way open, and a delicate breeze cuffed the silk hangings.
Eulalie found this chamber also empty. She crossed it, came out on the terrace, and there found Sophia walking up and down before the stone vases of geraniums, and twitching her handkerchief in her fingers.
She looked round, seemed startled, and spoke crossly.
"What are you doing here, Miss?" she demanded.
Eulalie swept a curtsey.
"La! I didn't know—I protest—that I was forbidden on the terrace."
"Don't be impudent," said Sophia sharply. Eulalie answered with an indifferent air.
"And don't you be indiscreet, ma'am."
"Indiscreet?" echoed Sophia, on a rising note. "What is the matter with you?"
"Oh, Sophia," said Eulalie, mockingly, "it is you who have been strange this last day or so, not I. What is the matter with you?"
Mrs. Montacute appeared nonplussed.
"Don't stare so," smiled Eulalie pertly. "I vow you quite discompose me. I was wondering about the forger, and who it is you have in the garret—"
"In the garret! What are you speaking of? And the constables this moment in the house!"
Eulalie was startled herself.
The door behind them was pushed wide, and Beverly appeared on the terrace.
"What is this?" he demanded furiously; "the men have overheard you—they were just leaving the house—"
"Oh, la!" said Eulalie, overwhelmed.
If Sophia had behaved with some restraint even then the situation might have been saved, but she lost her head and her temper.
"You treacherous hussy!" she cried. "You wretch! What do you imagine the end of this will be? He will be transported or hanged."
Beverly endeavoured to silence her, but the thing was done.
Eulalie drew a deep breath. Her brother turned into the room to face the Maidstone constables, who were not now, on any threat or persuasion, to be prevented from searching the house.
Sophia flung herself against the vase of geraniums and went into strong hysterics.
Even at that moment Eulalie felt scorn for the vulgar abandonment of her behaviour.
"For pity's sake be silent," she said. "How was I to know the constables were in the house? I am sorry," she added, "vastly sorry."
Sophia looked up.
"Sorry!" she seized on the word viciously. "Sorry! you bare-faced baggage!"
With that she dashed past Eulalie and into the house.
Eulalie stood quite still for a moment and stared across the dusk.
She was for once rather frightened; she hoped that they would not get the man, but she very much feared that they would: and even if she was overlooked for the moment afterwards she would have to face both Sophia and Beverly.
"How unfortunate," she murmured.
She crept down the terrace steps and across the garden.
There was a scene taking place in the house, she knew—a positive scene!
Having no desire to be involved, she quickened her step; it was almost dark, but she did not think of that at all.
She hastened on till she reached the high road, passed out of her brother's gates and seated herself on the mounting block just without, soberly enough.
She felt more dashed than she had done for a great while; she drew her grey silk skirts over her feet and clasped her hands round her knees, more than half inclined to cry.
But really she could not see that it was her fault—if people would have low relations—besides, if Sophia had conducted herself with more control—and, after all, there was a great deal of impropriety in owning a relation like that—so ugly, too—and was it not prodigious impertinent of him to come seeking shelter in Beverly's house?
"It all comes," Eulalie decided, "of having a brother who marries a woman like Sophia." She justified herself to her own e: faction; but she did not quite care to go home.
Seven and then eight struck from the village church; it began to grow a little chilly on the mounting block—but Eulalie did not move.
The moon gave a faint glimmer through the twilight; a faery mingling of day and night; opposite, behind a belt of firs, the last colours of the sunset flushed dusky rose and liquid purple.
Some one came along the high road singing—and singing in French.
Eulalie was surprised and rather interested; she peered down the long white line of road as the singer came nearer.
Interest changed, however, to disgust when he showed himself to be none other than the vagabond of Lord Montjoy's park.
It was not so dusk that she could not be sure of him, and not so dusk that he did not instantly see her and pause.
"You again!" he said.
Eulalie was silent.
"What are you doing here?" he asked, in no way abashed.
It seemed to her that he was amused; in some annoyance she answered:
"I was regarding the splendours of the sunset."
"I should have thought," he returned, "that you could have seen it as well from Montacute Park."
She was offended that he should stop and speak to her.
"It is no concern at all of yours," she said loftily.
"No," he agreed; "but do not you think, ma'am, that you owe me an apology?"
He came a little nearer the mounting block. "An apology?" she repeated haughtily.
"The forger has been arrested," he answered, easily swinging a hazel switch to and fro.
"You seem distressed," he remarked. "Yes the gentleman has been driven to Maidstone in a neat chaise, with handcuffs on his wrists."
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Eulalie in vexation.
"So I think you owe me an apology," persisted the stranger. "You see I am not the man for whom the hundred guineas was offered."
"I suppose not," she admitted. "But how was I to know? It was quite an excusable error. However," she added grandly, "I do not mind saying I regret the mistake."
He bowed gravely.
"Did—did you see the forger?" she asked reluctantly.
"In the village—being driven away." Eulalie sighed; she was thinking of Sophia. "Why don't you go home?" asked the stranger shrewdly.
"It isn't at all late," she answered hastily.
He was not satisfied.
"It seems to me," he said, "that you are in disgrace."
"Indeed, sir," she said loftily, "I am not a child."
The dusk had encroached so that they could scarcely see each other; Eulalie rose from the mounting block.
"As it happens, I am going home this minute," she said with a great air of indifference.
"Not very willingly though, I swear," he answered, and laughed annoyingly.
Eulalie turned on him.
"I do not know by what right you address me," she declared stiffly. "You are quite a low fellow, after all."
"Appearances are against me, I confess." She tilted her chin still higher.
"If you was a gentleman once, as I suppose you was, it is more shameful that you have come to this pass."
"What pass?" he asked calmly.
She stamped her foot.
"Don't be vexatious—you take a pleasure in annoying me."
"Indeed," he said, rather earnestly, "I do not."
"Then go away," she answered, dangerously near losing her dignity in tears.
"Nay," he said, not moving. "Am I so detestable as all that? And that is the last of me—to-morrow I go to London."
"Why not, ma'am?
"What will you do in London?" she demanded.
"I don't know."
"I wish I could go to London." She forgot her grievance against him. "Perhaps you have a wife there?" she added suddenly.
"No; I was married once—in France."
"Oh!" again, with a different intonation.
"Where is she now?"
"I hope in heaven—but she had a vile temper."
"Ah—she isn't alive then?"
"Was she pretty?"
"I'm sorry," said Eulalie.
He did not seem to be concerned.
"I think it was a merciful release; she died of spleen and a surfeit of lobster."
"Oh!" Eulalie was shocked. "What was she angered about?"
"Her husband, I think."
Eulalie gathered up her skirts.
"I shall be late for supper," she said.
"Good-night," he laughed very pleasantly.
"I hope we may meet in London."
She was silent a moment, then she said:
"La, sir, I don't care if we do."
And with that swept through the gates of her brother's park.
Before she reached the house her spirits had sunk considerably.
Put what face she would on it, she was afraid to meet Beverly and Sophia.
But the moment had to be gone through.
They were both in the withdrawing-room; Beverly standing by the hearth and Sophia lying on the sofa with her eyes closed and a bottle of smelling salts in her hand.
Eulalie entered softly.
"Well, Miss," said Beverly grimly, "what have you to say for yourself?"
"About what?" she answered with a high-beating heart.
"About this scandal you've caused."
"La!" she cried with a daring that surprised herself. "Did I cause a scandal?"
By now Sophia was sitting up and joining in with her husband; the candle-light showed her bloodless and vindictive; a fright, Eulalie decided maliciously.
"You dare to talk like that," she exclaimed in a high voice. "You dare!"
Her tone gave Eulalie courage.
"How was I to know the constables was in the house?"
"Oh, you knew well enough," said Beverly angrily.
Sophia sprang off the sofa.
"Knew! of course she knew!"
"I swear I did not," protested Eulalie with heat.
"You did!" shrieked Sophia.
"Do you give me the lie, ma'am?" Eulalie set her lips.
"Beverly," exclaimed Sophia, "I wonder how you can endure such insolence!—the minx is glorying in what she has done—glorying!"
Eulalie's eyes flashed; she was no longer at all afraid.
"Don't speak to me as if I was your waiting-maid," she said haughtily, "for I'll not endure that, ma'am."
"How dare you be so insolent, Eulalie? Do you know what you have done?"
"Put you both in a temper it seems," she retorted. "And it isn't becoming."
Sophia went off into hysterics; Beverly cursed. "Oh, fie!" said Eulalie.
Beverly flared up.
"Now, Miss—I've had enough of your pertness, quite enough—"
"Either she or I leave the house, Beverly!"
"Oh, Sophia!" said Eulalie with disdain.
"This won't save you, Miss," answered her brother furiously.
They all lost their temper at once and violently.
"Scandal!" cried Eulalie. "Scandal and disgrace—you ma'am—have shamed us with your low relations."
Beverly had to support Sophia, who was in convulsions of passion.
"You ain't going to faint," said Eulalie disdainfully. "Leave shrieking for your salts—I vow your clamour is giving me a headache."
"I'll turn you out on to the road if you are not quiet," stormed the distracted Beverly.
"You're only here on charity," gasped Sophia, clinging to her husband.
Eulalie glanced from one to the other; she held herself erect.
"I think I had better go," she said to her brother. "I'll not intrude on Sophia's establishment."
"If you don't," sobbed Sophia, "I shall!" Eulalie smiled.
"Do not distress yourself, madam—I have been weary of both of you a great while; goodnight."
She turned about coolly and stepped out of the open window on to the terrace with an air of victory.
Eulalie laughed as she ran across the garden; the sheer daring at her own act inspired her, and to be free of Sophia was a pure delight.
The moon was up, hanging about Montacute House and lighting the world with silver. Eulalie looked up at the stars and laughed again; she had neither hat, gloves, nor wrap, and not a penny piece in her pocket, but she did not give a thought to that as she walked swiftly between the box edges and the flowers in the direction of the cornfields. The air was warm and redolent of mignonette and lavender, and as she passed the southernwood gave forth a strong sweet scent to mingle with the perfume of the roses that showed so strange and luminous through the veil of moonshine.
Eulalie opened the gate of the garden and stepped gaily into the park.
Long grass, wet with dew, brushed her skirt and soaked her shoes; she smiled joyously to think that Sophia would have no opportunity to scold her for damp feet.
When she reached the stile where she had sat that afternoon, she paused, and, gazing over the dim moonlit fields, leant against the wooden post, while she reflected on her course. She would have to marry Mr. Champneys; it was unfortunate but inevitable; she considered the prospect with philosophy. Mr. Champneys would easily be led; Mrs. Fanshawe could be dismissed, and there would be admirable opportunities of flouting Sophia.
It was a pity. Ah! certainly it was a pity that Mr. Champneys was not a little more worthy this honour, but he was not utterly hopeless; given some schooling, he would pass shirt rose and fell with his calm breathing.
Eulalie looked and wondered. In his sleep his face showed reckless, a little scornful; there was also scorn in her eyes as she gazed. Had he once worn a sword and come to this?
She despised him; she eyed the pink band round his hat, and only fear of his waking prevented her from regaining possession of it; then, disdainful of herself that she had even stopped to look at him, she pushed open the gate and hurried through the wood.
So very well she knew the way that, even without the moonlight, she could have found it; a few moments brought her within sight of the high road; a few more within sight of the Manor House.
The white lodge gates were still open; she passed through unchallenged and up the long, quiet, dark drive.
The Manor House was long and squat, with a fine terrace in front; Eulalie swept grandly up to the porticoed entrance and pulled the bell-handle.
Quiet enshrouded everything; she heard her ring echoing through silence, and the swish of her dress as she moved became painfully distinct.
The cloudy wreaths of jessamine and honeysuckle round the porch waved in the night breeze and touched her hair and shoulders; there was a glint of distant water through the trees; a bat flew by noiselessly through the stillness.
Eulalie rang again and listened for the tinkles of the bell. A footstep sounded within; bolts were drawn and the door cautiously opened.
Eulalie tapped her foot with impatience; she inwardly vowed that they should not retire so early when she was mistress.
An old servant peeped out.
"I desire to see Mr. Champneys," said Eulalie haughtily, with resentment at being kept waiting.
At that he flung the door wide open and stared. "Miss Montacute!" he cried.
"Yes. Tell your master I wish to see him." But her sudden appearance at this hour so dazed the man that he merely gaped:
"Are you alone, Miss?"
Eulalie grew impatient.
"I am; and I desire to see your master."
"You mean you wish to see Mrs. Fanshawe?" said the bewildered servant.
"I said Mr. Champneys, fellow!" cried Eulalie peremptorily; "on most important affairs—at once."
He shook his head in a dazed manner, and invited her entrance.
"There has been some disaster at Montacute House—that's what it is," he muttered as she swept past him. Eulalie glanced round the dark hall.
"Is every one a-bed?" she asked.
"Master is," said the servant, "or, at least, he is getting into bed."
"Well, he must get out again," declared Eulalie. "Do you hear, fellow? He must come down and see me at once."
"Oh deary, deary!" cried the old man. "Who is dead or dying—what's the terrible news that brings you here at this time of night?"
Eulalie gazed on his bewilderment with haughty eyes.
"You are very uncivil," she said. "Show me upstairs."
He obeyed in a shaking hurry and ushered her into the drawing-room.
Eulalie sank into the first chair, and watched while the servant lit a couple of candles on the table.
"Make haste!" she commanded.
"Oh, Lord help us, Miss," he groaned. "What is the matter?"
"Go and fetch your master," said Eulalie.
With an anxious glance at her he left the room, and she heard his stumbling steps ascending the stairs.
By the light of the two candles Eulalie surveyed the room; it was familiar, but she considered it now with different eyes.
The heavy furniture, she decided, was old-fashioned, and the massive pewter on the sideboard in barbarous taste; she would change all that.
Then the ceiling required painting, and the hideous portraits of departed Champneys were, of course, unendurable; one such face in the house was enough. The great black table was gloomy to a degree; she would sell that and buy one of satinwood with a shell pattern such as Sophia had, and the wood panelling, a horrible black oak, she would have painted in white enamel and decorated with wreaths of roses.
Her reflections were disturbed by the abrupt entrance of Mr. Champneys. She rose and curtsied, and her blue eyes flashed over him.
A shock made her slightly blench; Mr. Champneys was even more indebted to his tailor than she had imagined.
He wore a vivid flowered dressing-gown; and odd slippers thrust on in his agitation; his shining blond hair was twisted with curl-papers that circled his head; the candle he carried cast them in wild shadows upon the wall, his eyes were starting as if some one held him by the throat.
"In Heaven's name what has happened?" he gasped.
Eulalie tried to ignore the curl-papers; she looked steadily at the candles and their long reflections in the black table.
"I had no idea you was in bed," she said a little doubtfully.
"It is ten o'clock," answered the bewildered Mr. Champneys, "and whatever—"
"Well," said Eulalie, interrupting him, "I've come to say that I will accept you." Her untroubled eyes lifted to his face. "You see, I've quarrelled with Beverly. I've left Montacute House—I'm never going back."
Mr. Champneys fell back against the wall.
"You've quarrelled with Beverly?" he ejaculated. The curl-papers bobbed foolishly; Eulalie looked away.
"Yes, and so I'll have you. Francis, I suppose I must say."
"Well," said Mr. Champneys slowly, "well."
"I shall send for my maid and my things in the morning," announced Eulalie, "meanwhile you must please tell Mrs. Fanshawe that I'm here."
Mr. Champneys put his hand to his head.
"You've quarrelled with Beverly?" he murmured.
Her glance fell unwittingly on his slippers—one red leather, the other of yellow worsted. A feeling of annoyance filled her.
"I said I've left home," she repeated with some asperity. "I am never going back. Beverly, of course, will not give me a penny; I have to marry some one."
This, as if in vindication of her choice and with a scornful flutter of her lids, but Mr. Champneys was too dazed to notice contempt.
"Beverly flung you out without a penny?" he cried.
"Francis, I protest that you are dropping the wax."
She rose with an impatient quickness.
"I thought some one was dead," he said, foolishly, staring at her.
A quiet anger made her smile.
"You are vastly gallant, sir. Has your good fortune turned your head?"
"My good fortune? I thought you said that you had no fortune?"
"I do you a vast honour, sir. Can't you understand that I am willing to be your wife?" He still stared vacantly.
"Have you forgotten how you entreated me?" smiled Eulalie.
"The circumstances," said Mr. Champneys heavily, "were different."
She put her hand to her bosom, and her blue eyes shone dangerously. As he gazed at her bright loveliness in the candlelight he shook himself with some animation.
"But I'm willing to marry you, Eulalie, even though you haven't a penny—if—that is—I must have time to think."
"Think!" she laughed. "I require no time to think. Good even!"
She walked to the door, and would have gone had he not hurried after her, dazed, panting.
"But you came here—what did you say? You came here to say that you would marry me?"
She opened the door.
"Well, I hadn't seen you in curl-papers," she smiled, "and I didn't know of those odious slippers."
Down the dark stairs, through the hall and the great door, into the night again. She gave a sigh of relief as she crossed the terrace. How could she have ever considered Mr. Champneys? She thought of Sophia's comments on this action of hers, and laughed again as she passed down the dark drive, and pictured the round, foolish face of Francis Champneys in its halo of curl-papers.
The beautiful darkness stirred her blood; she began singing again as she came into the high road. At a steady, buoyant pace, she set out for Dreven House; the Hon. Augustus was more tolerable than Mr. Champneys, after all, and she was quite fond of Diana.
How different everything looked by night, she thought; she neared the village, it seemed a fairy place; the inn with the dangling sign, the thatched cottages with the strong shadows cast under the eaves over the whitewashed fronts, the latticed windows, the flower-pots, the roses in the garden were all silvered and still. "It is," said Eulalie, stepping lightly, "vastly pretty."
As she passed the high churchyard wall her eye was caught by a fluttering sheet nailed there.
The proclamation for the apprehension of the forger. Eulalie stood still.
For the first time since the commencement of the adventure she saw what she had done from his point of view.
Mr. Champneys had said that forgers were hanged!
She went rather pale, and gazed at the paper fluttering on the moonlit churchyard wall.
Then it occurred to her that Augustus could obtain the fellow's pardon; her notions of the law and of the administration of the law were vague, but she felt certain that Augustus, whose father was Earl of Dreven and Ambassador to Russia, could accomplish the release of a criminal.
It would be a generous action, fully making amends for her indiscretion in revealing the secret; pleased with the thought, she continued her way, past the churchyard, through the last straggling houses of the village, and into the bare shining high road again.
When she reached Dreven House she was quite weary, in spite of having taken a short cut through the fields that brought her out on the lawn at the back of the house.
The windows were flung open on a terrace grown with roses; a faint lamplight streamed over the grass, revealing the carved border to the low steps.
A harp was being played within, and the thin music came very prettily through the moonlight. Eulalie mounted the terrace and stepped softly between the pots of the rose bushes to the long windows. The white curtains were drawn; Eulalie peeped into a pale room filled with soft lamplight; at one end hung a dull gold curtain, from behind which came the melody of the harp. Eulalie delicately pushed the window further open and then paused.
In a corner of the room stretched elegantly on a satin settee, lay the Hon. Augustus. The bright azure of his silk coat was reflected in the glimmering floor, his bronze hair and the blue ribbon in it were vivid against the white cushions. In an idle manner he played with the carnation that hung in his buttonhole, and his gaze was fixed, rather disdainfully, on the opposite wall.
Eulalie stepped into the room. The night breeze, following her through the open window, ruffled her hair, and the grey lutestring dress; she gave a little excited laugh.
"Augustus!" she said softly.
He sat up sharply with his fingers at his dangling glass.
"By the la!" he ejaculated.
Eulalie, with one hand still on the window frame, laughed again. "Augustus!" her white teeth showed charmingly between her red lips. "I have changed my mind. I said I might—did I not?"
The Hon. Augustus rose; the crimson carnation fell from his coat; he looked at her, and the sinister droop in his eyelid was very noticeable.
"Changed your mind?" he repeated with lifted brows.
She held out her tiny hand with an exquisite air of graciousness.
"You may have it now, Augustus."
A curious expression sprang into his face; he came a step forward; Eulalie came towards him.
"I have quarrelled with Beverly—I protest I am very tired. I will accept you now, Augustus—la! don't be so slow! Don't you understand?"
With an obvious effort he slipped into his usual indolent manner.
"Fortune has smiled charmingly upon me," he said slowly, "charmingly."
He took her finger tips and gazed at her with half shut eyes.
"Quarrelled with Beverly—so you came to me?" he asked in tones curiously level.
"There was nobody else, Augustus," she answered frankly. "And I swear I am quite fond of you."
He pressed his hand over his shirt ruffles. "You are too good," he smiled.
"I'm tired," said Eulalie, with a glance at her soiled shoes. "Where is Diana?"
He fingered his watch-chain slowly, still with that steady gaze at her.
"Yes, I could never go back there. I will tell you about it in the morning. Ah, Diana!"
The gold curtain had been drawn, and a lady in a dress of magpie black and white velvet stood behind it, a tall young man beside her.
"Eulalie?—at this hour!"
Augustus lifted his chin from the folds of the white stock and looked at his sister; Eulalie waited for him to speak.
"Eulalie has left Montacute House," he said. He glanced at her sideways. "We are going to be married."
Diana Tollemache advanced into the room and stared from one to the other.
"It was arranged a great while ago," continued the Hon. Augustus indolently. "And when she is turned out of Beverly's house, where could she come but here?"
"Of course," said Diana doubtfully.
Eulalie smiled at her.
"Are you not pleased to see me, Diana?"
She went very prettily up to her and laid her head on the other's shoulder among the red-brown curls.
"I'm vastly pleased to see you, dear," Diana responded. "Only surprised—I never knew."
She glanced at Augustus, still bewildered. She was large, majestic, of splendid colouring and with her brother's red eyes; Eulalie only reached to her pearl earring.
"Eulalie is tired," said Augustus.
He picked up the red carnation and looked at it idly. Diana, despairing of an explanation from his unconcern, gave a half-nervous laugh and turned to the gentleman behind her.
"Good-night, Justin," she said; then, suddenly, to Eulalie: "This is Mr. St. Leger, dear."
Eulalie curtsied without looking at him; her eyes were upon Augustus, who pulled at his flower with averted gaze.
Augustus was almost too disinterested, she thought, and then her glance lifted to Mr. St. Leger.
She looked at him a moment; he stood under the lamplight, which fell softly over his gold and black satin; he had an air of remarkable quietness and control; Eulalie noticed also that his face was undeniably handsome; too handsome, she decided.
A silence fell; Diana, baffled by Augustus's quiet acceptance of an extraordinary situation, looked again from one to the other; Justin St. Leger stood behind her, immovable, composed, and Eulalie bit her lip and gazed at Augustus, who leant against the settee and indolently pulled the petals of the carnation.
"Well," said Eulalie at last, with a sudden lift of her shoulders, "let us get to bed, Diana."
As she spoke, Mr. St. Leger raised his eyes and surveyed her. He did this so slowly, and his eyes were so dark and brilliant under his powdered hair, that Eulalie chafed at it as a piece of affectation and display. It served to put her further out of humour.
"Good night, Augustus," she said, a little haughtily.
He inclined his head with an indifferent gravity.
"Good night, Eulalie,"
She swept the lightest curtsey to Mr. St. Leger, and, hanging on Diana's arm, crossed the room with her.
Then, with a rustle of flowered silks and satins, they paused, Diana to arch her eyebrows in wonder at the impassive St. Leger, who opened the door for them, Eulalie to glance back at Augustus, to see nothing however, save the long, glittering red curls on the sky-blue coat; he had his back to her.
She pouted and dragged Diana away.
"I am prodigiously tired," she said, as the door closed.
"Oh, yes," answered Miss Tollemache, a little vaguely. "And what is that about you and Beverly?"
"La! I will tell you about it in the morning," sighed Eulalie. "This, my dear Diana, has been a night of extraordinary adventures."
Diana, placid and a little slow of comprehension, was still confused, but too courteous to press the matter.
Eulalie had often stayed at Dreven House.
"You can have your old room," said Diana. "Aunt Kate is a-bed now—but you may see her in the morning"—she paused—"and explain."
Eulalie was not afraid of Aunt Kate, the Earl's sister, who ruled his house when he was abroad; she smiled; then, attracted by a rustling sound below, leant over the bannisters.
A lady of dazzlingly fair appearance was crossing the hall.
"Who is she?" asked Eulalie.
"Mademoiselle de Boulainvilliers," said Diana. "She is become my father's ward—an orphan—poor soul. I was coming to-morrow to tell you of her."
"Oh!" said Eulalie, mounting the stairs again; she had noticed a bunch of crimson carnations in Mademoiselle de Boulainvilliers' dress. "I did not imagine," she continued, "that you had company."
They entered the chamber, and Diana rang for candles. "Oh not company, I swear," she said, turning to Eulalie in the moonlight, "only Athenšis—who is one of us now—and Mr. St. Leger."
"I have not seen him before," remarked Eulalie, sitting at the end of the bed.
Diana pulled the curtains across the glamour of the moonshine.
"No," she said placidly. "We met him in London."
Eulalie yawned, and kicked off the damaged shoes.
"A friend of Augustus?" she asked.
"Yes," said Diana, putting her hair back. "And we are to be married in the autumn."
"Oh!" said Eulalie. "Diana, I am vastly pleased; he is a mighty pretty young man."
"Yes," was the calm answer. "He has a fine estate in Surrey."
Eulalie yawned again. The entry of the servant with the candles chased the moonlight from the room and showed her leaning wearily against the shining head-post; she lifted sleepy blue eyes and gazed at Diana.
When they were alone again she spoke.
"Is Mademoiselle de Boulainvilliers pretty?"
"She is a beauty," answered Miss Tollemache in her placid manner.
"Oh!" said Eulalie; she turned slowly her head and looked at herself in the round mirror on the wall.
"I look a fright," she remarked peevishly; "covered with dust, I swear—"
She pulled angrily at the disordered curls that framed her flushed face.
Diana came up to her and with her slow movements kissed her gravely, but Eulalie flung her soft arms impulsively round her neck and returned the caress with a warmth that a little unbent the stateliness of the earl's daughter.
"Good-night, dear," she said; "and ring for anything you want." With that she disengaged herself, and the rustling black and white satins swept from the room.
Eulalie looked again at the mirror; now that she was alone in the spacious, elegant chamber the strangeness of it all came over her like a sudden shock.
An extraordinary adventure indeed!
She laughed at herself in a half-frightened manner, then, recollecting the carnation, frowned.
Miss Eulalie was so absorbed in writing a letter that she did not notice Mr. St. Leger leaning against the frame of the open window.
It was warm, even for July, and Miss Eulalie, in borrowed muslins, panted over her epistle, unconscious that her back, the lines of her shoulders through the fichu, the curls touching the ribbon round her slender waist, were provoking admiration in the heart of Justin St. Leger.
Having finished her letter, she read it over to herself with a frown of abstraction.
"Deer Beverly,—I am heer I am to marry Augustus He said you have done Badly will you send my portmantles and my made all ye cloathes in ye littel cup-bord on ye stairs are mine I doe not want ye rede Dresse Sophia gave mee I hope She is better of her Temper I want ye glasse over my bede there are 2 smalle and ye laste littel cat wee had is mine.
"Augustus his man takes this hee will bring ye things plese be sure of ye glasse.
"P.S.—Do not truble about ye forger I am sorry I discovered him but it is a Sad Shame to have low fellows for relashuns and Augustus will get him offe out of jail soe plese do not truble."
Eulalie sighed, and looked with disgust at an inkstain on her fingers, then with a half pride at the letter, which she proceeded to fold and seal.
Finally, she turned and saw Mr. St. Leger.
"Oh!" she exclaimed in a half doubtful manner; then, after a pause which he made no effort to break, "Where are the others, sir?" she said.
"Diana," he answered, "is engaged with the servants, also the aunt; Augustus is in the garden; Mademoiselle has her breakfast in bed and has not yet left her room."
Eulalie studied him. There was something provoking in the absolute quiet of his voice and manner; in her heart she accused him of a fear of disturbing the lines of his handsome face by any approach to expression.
"I dislike the middle of the morning," she said at a tangent, playing with her letter. "It is so monstrously dull."
"Yes," replied Mr. St. Leger gravely. Eulalie tapped her foot.
"It is always dull here. We are going to town in a few days—you know, of course?"
Eulalie's eyes sparkled with anger.
"Won't you be delighted, sir, to leave the country?"
She resisted the desire to make an angry face at him, though, at the same time, she abandoned the conversation as hopeless; sufficiently piqued, however, to gaze at him intently in a covert manner.
The profile was towards her, and she could not deny that the line of it was perfection, and that his hair curled back from his ear in a wonderful manner, like the locks of the little Hermes Beverly had brought from Italy.
As she was considering that he possessed the handsomest face that she ever beheld outside a picture, he turned and looked at her. Eulalie blushed.
Mr. St. Leger glanced away again.
"You have vastly little to do," cried Eulalie. "Sir, you will be dead of weariness by dinner."
"Upon my soul," he answered, "I wonder if it is worth while to keep alive till then?" And he stifled a yawn.
Eulalie thought of Diana and spoke coldly. "Is that intended for wit, sir?"
"Oh, no—it was an expression of deep feeling."
Eulalie swung round on her chair so that she faced him.
"You meant it?" she asked.
He flicked a flight of gnats away with his handkerchief.
"The weather," he remarked, "is absolutely intolerable."
"Why, 'tis divine!" cried Eulalie. "'Tis you, sir, who—"
She caught sight of something that caused her to break off suddenly.
Up the garden path came Augustus, and gracefully hanging to his arm was Mademoiselle de Boulainvilliers.
Her gown was of fine lawn that fell round her in clouds; she wore a pink silk jacket that caught the sun in its folds as she walked, and a wide hat trimmed with heavy white roses; her face scarf floated against her companion's fawn-coloured coat, and the dazzle of her skin and hair made Eulalie sit silent. They came along the terrace, and Mademoiselle was laughing.
Eulalie rose, her letter in her hand, and came to the window.
Augustus saw her, a slight figure in muslin beside Mr. St. Leger, and he bowed lazily.
Eulalie was marking, very swiftly, the elegance and grace of his companion, the perfection of her dress, her incomparable face.
"Augustus," she said hastily, "I desire to speak to you."
Mademoiselle disengaged her arm from his and smiled in a bewilderingly charming manner from one to the other.
"Eulalie," said Mr. Tollemache, "allow me to present to you my father's ward—Mademoiselle de Boulainvilliers."
They curtsied low to each other.
"Ah, but you are exquisite!" said Mademoiselle, in a voice very caressing. "You have the so lovely English face. I shall so love you."
Eulalie stiffened at the foreign outspokenness. Feeling mightily rustic and foolish, she stood staring at her feet.
Mademoiselle's hand, cool and fragrant, took her under the chin and raised her face. Mademoiselle, in a humble manner, looked at the two gentlemen with wonderful large pale-grey eyes.
"Is she not so charming?" she cried with a half sigh. "But yes!—we do not get such complexions in France. Ah, but she is adorable!"
Eulalie, blushing and unwarrantably annoyed, drew away from the other's touch.
"La, ma'am!" she said, with a toss of her curls. "You can afford these compliments." Mademoiselle smiled sweetly.
"The English manner, also!" she said. "Ah! I am going to be very fond of you."
"It is good of you, ma'am," said Eulalie, with a straight look. "Augustus, may I speak to you?"
"Why, of course," he answered.
Mademoiselle moved across the terrace, with her marvellous gold locks floating back from her shoulders.
"Mr. St. Leger," she said, in an infinitely
LOVERS' KNOTS 75 gracious manner, "we are not wanted. Is it not so? Will you come with me?"
She gathered her fine lawn skirts out of the reach of the jasmine, and, smiling upon Eulalie swept off on the arm of Mr. St. Leger.
The Hon. Augustus, gazing after her, lounged against the balustrade, and, as Mr. St. Leger had just done, stifled a yawn.
Eulalie also observed Mademoiselle departing, but tacitly there was no remark.
"I should like this letter," said Eulalie, "taken to Beverly."
He nodded lazily.
"I told you before breakfast," she continued, "why I left Beverly—about Sophia's vastly low brother, I mean—"
She paused with a half-frown.
"It was a most disagreeable incident for any family," remarked Mr. Tollemache. Eulalie lifted her head higher.
"In a manner," she said, "it was my fault."
"Undoubtedly," he acquiesced.
"The men had a warrant to search the house, but they would have taken Beverly's word if I had not discovered the secret."
She looked at him.
"Naturally, I must make amends," she continued.
The Hon. Augustus appeared to be roused to a deeper interest than he had yet shown. "Amends?" he questioned.
"Yes," said Eulalie; "I want you, Augustus, to get Sophia's brother out of gaol."
"My dear child!" he protested.
Her blue eyes opened wide.
"And at once, Augustus."
He moved from his inert position.
"Eulalie, be reasonable," he smiled.
"Reasonable?" she repeated; "I want you to get Sophia's brother out of gaol."
"'Tis purely impossible," he said, "and an extraordinary request."
She answered indignantly:
"Why? You are not vastly polite, sir."
He waved his hand in an impatient manner.
"My dear, 'tis utterly foolish—and your brother's affair—he must look after his own black sheep. By the la! he must."
Her breast was heaving dangerously.
"This is the first favour I have asked you, Augustus—and do you not see that—it must be done?"
He smiled between vexation and amusement.
"Eulalie, consider—what do you imagine I can do? Why, interference on my part is not to be considered."
She bit her lip.
"Mr. Champneys said that—they—hanged forgers," she remarked.
The Hon. Augustus shrugged his shoulders.
"Why, certainly they do."
Her eyes flashed.
"Then surely you can understand that I cannot permit it?"
"I can understand that you cannot prevent it."
"That is for you to do," she answered.
"This is absurd," said Mr. Tollemache. "You must understand, my dear, that I cannot break prisons or pardon criminals whenever I please."
She regarded him indignantly.
"Will you not take so much trouble for me?" she demanded.
He lifted his red brows.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked. She now became vague.
"Obtain a pardon or—something," she answered. "Anything so that he be not hanged."
"And how am I to obtain a pardon before the trial and sentence?" he asked. "And what excuse have I for interesting myself in this fellow? It is absurd."
"Surely," said Eulalie, flushed and on the verge of tears, "you have influence with judges—and that kind of person."
Mr. Tollemache smiled.
"Endeavour to understand things, Eulalie. This is purely folly!"
Her mouth trembled piteously. She was reduced from haughtiness to supplication. Visions of being the cause of the disgraceful end of Sophia's brother tormented her cruelly.
"You could rescue him," she suggested, with pleading eyes. "Drug the gaoler, Augustus—or ah!—I know you could think of something mighty clever."
"Nothing clever enough, I fear," he answered with an amused tolerance. "I'm afraid the fellow must hang for me."
At that her tears overbrimmed.
"Oh, what shall I do?" she said, in a stifled voice. "What shall I do?"
Mr. Tollemache slowly roused himself and put his hand on her shoulder.
"By the la, child, don't cry! It ain't no use! Your brother will do all that can be done."
Panting, she looked up through wet lashes. "But I do not want Beverly to do it—I want to do it—to make—to make amends." The Hon. Augustus looked at her coldly.
"That is a silly whim," he announced.
She shrank away. "You do not understand," she quivered. "Augustus, can you not see why I so desire him saved?"
He shrugged his shoulders and gave her that side glance his drooping lid made sinister.
"Whatever your motives, I'm afraid I cannot gratify them, Eulalie."
She drew herself up with a return of pride, despite the tears glittering on her cheeks.
"You refuse to help?" she remarked grandly.
"I have said—'tis purely impossible."
"I thank you, sir," she answered, red in the face. "I will discover some one else."
Proudly she moved away. She heard him calling after her as she stepped through the window.
"Ah, your letter!"
She clutched it tight against her bosom and strove to render her voice steady.
"I have to alter the post-scriptum," she said.
Heavily she seated herself on the gold settee within the shaded room, and flung the letter down beside her. Augustus had behaved in an intolerable manner. As she reflected on it fresh tears flowed over those drying on her cheeks.
She was deeply hurt; his lazy indifference, his way of speaking to her, his cold refusal of her request had confused her estimate of men and things; her conscious confidence in herself was checked, and behind everything lurked the dread of Sophia's brother being hanged—or saved by another agency than her own.
It lay heavily on her mind. She had had such absolute trust in Augustus; she knew no one else to whom she could appeal, and her own helpless ignorance weakened even her courage.
She revolved the situation in her mind, and considered scheme after scheme of daring impossibility. It was a thing that had to be done, but the difficulties were mountains high. She did not even know where the wretch was, to what prison he had been taken.
She sobbed in her throat, but her eyes were flashing with a brilliant anger against Augustus.
Into the room came Diana Tollemache, heavy and slow of movement, with a prim white cap on her splendid hair and a basket of cut roses in her arm. She began arranging them in the yellow beaupot on the table.
"We journey to London a fortnight from to-day," she said, in a matter-of-fact tone. "You will be ready, Eulalie?"
"Yes," said Eulalie, greatly abstracted.
"Augustus wrote to father to-day," continued Diana. "I suppose you know?" She gave her a glance of half-puzzled doubt.
"He did not mention it." said Eulalie.
"I suppose you will be married when we are." Diana spoke slowly, swinging the last rose. "It is to be on the fifth of August, at St. Martin's—it will be very quiet—Justin is not rich."
Diana placed the last rose in the beaupot. Eulalie gazed past her at the garden, and her lips were a little compressed.
The Hon. Augustus walked leisurely along the box-bordered paths with Mademoiselle de Boulainvilliers on his arm.
In the thick shade of the elms of Dreven Park Eulalie sat alone and unsmiling.
Beyond the soft shadow the sunshine of afternoon lay over the grass. Vistas, dim and faint, showed at the end of the wide, quiet avenue. Against the pearly-blue of a still sky the trees softly rustled in the slumbrous haze of summer.
A wood dove was faintly cooing.
Eulalie pulled a daisy from the grass at her side and idly looked at it and idly sighed.
She had received an answer from Beverly that had still further increased the load upon her mind.
He wrote bitterly, declared that he had no wish to see her again, and that she must abide by the course that she had chosen, but he uttered no reproaches, and he enclosed a draft on his bankers for five hundred pounds.
Eulalie, grateful that she had not to ask Augustus for her wedding dress, tortured herself anew over the fate of Sophia's brother.
She had ascertained that he was in New-gate, awaiting trial. Beyond that she was ignorant alike of the details of his crime or the chances of his escape. She knew that Beverly would do all in his power, but she passionately nearly approaching her own; but innate loyalty prevented her from openly endorsing it.
"She is vastly civil to me," she said.
"Oh, to most people," he broke off abruptly.
Eulalie did not speak. They looked away from each other to the still distant trees. The wood dove's cooing grew louder.
Eulalie suddenly turned to her companion.
"Sir," she said earnestly, "could you get a man out of Newgate Gaol?"
He returned her glance with equal gravity. "For what reason, madam?"
Encouraged, she blushed and answered:
"Why, 'twas I got him in there, not meaning to, and I want to make amends."
She was half afraid that he would laugh as Augustus had done, but his handsome face remained unmoved.
"Perhaps you have heard," she continued. "It is, I fear, over the countryside—about Sophia's brother."
She told him the story and he listened quietly. When she had finished:
"Do you think that it would be possible to get that man out?" she asked wistfully.
"Why, I do think so," he answered, gazing at her.
She coloured with pleasure.
"La! You do!" she cried. "Augustus said—"
"Miss Montacute"—Mr. St. Leger sat upright on the grass and spoke earnestly—"would you ask me to undertake this for you?"
Their glance met and Eulalie unaccountably blushed.
"I have no right," she answered in a confused manner. "Indeed, I have no right to your services."
He surveyed her calmly.
"Will you not do me the favour?" he said. Her glance roved away under the steadiness of his handsome eyes.
"It should be Augustus," she murmured. "I could not, sir, trouble you with my affairs."
"Miss Montacute," he answered, still with that air of grave eagerness, "I am the younger son of a younger son, but my influence is not so slender as my fortune. I think I could do this thing for you."
She looked round.
"Oh," she cried, and drew a little fluttering breath.
"You will permit me?" he asked.
Eulalie's little fingers played amongst the daisies at her side. She appeared to consider.
"Come," he said, "I have your permission, Miss Montacute?" His face belied the formality of the request. Eulalie busied herself over the daisies.
"I will ask Diana," she replied.
"Then you will make too much of it, and anger Augustus," he said quickly. "Believe me, it is better to say nothing until it is accomplished."
"Oh, no," said Eulalie. "No."
The sudden vehemence in her voice startled herself. She rose, scattering the daisies from her lap.
"Why, what is the matter?" asked Mr. St. Leger.
She made no answer. With her back to him she shook out her crumpled skirts.
"Why are you so vexed with me?" he said, rising. He came up to where she stood by the elm trunk.
"We have only known each other for a week," he continued, "but we have been much together."
She turned with a laugh.
"It is not true!" she said. "I have seen mighty little of you. You have been with Diana."
Mr. St. Leger smiled for the second time, and bowed.
"You correct me. Yet I fancied I might offer to assist you."
"I would rather you did not. I—I—will discover other means—I will again ask Augustus."
"Pardon me if I remark that it will be useless."
She bit her lip and stared at the ground. Mr. St. Leger, grave and formal in voice and manner, but alluring in the expression of his intent face, stood silent, waiting. The pink ribbons on her dress fluttered out against his buff coat; he pressed his ruffles down to his knuckles with an absorbed air.
Without looking up, he spoke.
"May I not do you this service?" he asked again.
Her blue eyes lifted; she swept a sudden curtsey.
"Sir, I cannot permit it," she said grandly. "I beg you will not again mention the subject."
He glanced up, flushed and breathing fast. She went on at once, hastily, as if to prevent his protestations.
"Shall we not go back to the house, sir?" For the third time their eyes met and held each other; then she quickly moved away. "Here are the others," she said abruptly. So absorbed in each other had they been that they had not noticed the three riders coming up the avenue.
Mr. St. Leger picked up his hat and stick from the grass and moved away in a leisurely fashion; Eulalie looked covertly at his slender and graceful height in the close lines of his elegant coat, and her face became troubled, and her fingers pulled at the frills of her muslin skirt.
Mr. St. Leger, flourishing his cane very calmly, approached the newcomers.
The three drew up their horses on the verge of the even shadow. Mademoiselle, a little ahead of the others, was dazzlingly impossible to overlook.
Her habit, cut like a gentleman's, the more to enhance the delicacy of her figure, was white and gold braided, the fine lace of her cravat hung like a cloud over her bosom, and, under the splendour of her burnished curls, drooped two-hued feathers from her three-cornered hat.
She seemed graciously unconscious of her beauty, as if it were an obvious thing she need not flaunt; Eulalie, glancing at her loveliness on the white horse, felt an unaccountable dislike strengthen unreasonably.
"Ah! we have so missed you," said Mademoiselle sweetly. "We are so happy now to meet you. But you have not been lonely?"
She spoke with a little gesture of her tiny gauntleted hand that included Mr. St. Leger.
The Hon. Augustus gave his sister a look, and his lip perceptibly curled.
Eulalie lifted her head and laughed; her eyes were brilliant, her cheeks flushed.
"Mr. St. Leger and I are monstrously poor company," she said. "We have nothing in common."
Diana Tollemache flicked her whip impatiently.
"You might have joined us," she remarked, "both of you." And her eyes were angrily on Mr. St. Leger.
That gentleman faced all three with an unsmiling gravity.
"I have decided," he announced, "to go to London to-night."
"To London!" said Mr. Tollemache sharply.
"On important business," was the answer. "I received a letter this morning. I have decided I must return to town for a day or so."
Diana directed a glance at Eulalie.
"'Tis vastly sudden," she said slowly.
Mr. St. Leger bowed.
"'Tis vastly important."
The Hon. Augustus frowned impatiently.
"By the la! St. Leger, this is fool's talk—London to-night and no reason to give."
Mr. St Leger looked at him straightly.
"My affairs," he remarked coolly, "are my own."
Mr. Tollemache flushed and bowed haughtily in silence, but his sister spoke.
"Justin," she said, "cannot you tell us why you are going? It seems so foolish"—she gave an uneasy laugh—"and so purely unnecessary."
"Madam," he answered gravely, "I am not at liberty, as my business involves another."
A little pause fell. Mademoiselle's dainty voice pointed it unpleasantly.
"A lady?" she asked, with delicately raised brows.
Eulalie felt her blood rushing to her heart and choking her; she drew further into the shadow, and her eyes sparkled with hate of the loveliness on the white horse.
Mr. St. Leger's answer was cold.
"That does not affect it, Madam."
Mademoiselle smiled divinely; she was utterly free from the restraint and embarrassment that marked the others.
"Ah! we shall be so sorry to lose you," she said; "but it is so sudden—and little Eulalie will be so sorry. You have been such a companion to her all these days—hťlas! I fear she will be lonely."
The words fell softly, in a caressing manner, but they caused the two women's cheeks to flame hotly, and the gentleman addressed set his lips dangerously. Before he could answer, Eulalie had rallied from the shade.
"La! what difference should it make to me, ma'am!" she cried, coming forward. "You flatter Mr. St. Leger, f protest. Augustus, it is becoming vastly chilly; will you not take me home?"
She flashed indignation at Mr. St. Leger that he did not go to Diana, did not speak nor turn the intolerable pause; anything but stand in this indifferent silence, with this composed face.
Mademoiselle gave a light laugh and shook her rosy plumes; her luminous eyes glanced meaningly at Mr. Tollemache.
"Augustus," said Eulalie, desperate, "give Mr. St. Leger your horse, so that he may ride with Diana, and walk home with me."
In answer, he shrugged his shoulders and dismounted.
"Perhaps," said Diana coldly, "Mr. St. Leger is an unwilling escort."
"It would seem an unwelcome one," he answered drily.
But Eulalie, with tears of anger in her eyes, flashed at Diana. "Diana, do not be purely unreasonable!"
Mr. St. Leger, mounting Mr. Tollemache's horse, placed himself alongside his silent and cold betrothed. Mademoiselle smiled upon all.
"I am de trot," she said, "I will go home."
She gathered up the reins and touched up her horse, displaying her fine seat and the grace of her erect figure as she lightly cantered down the avenue, white and gold, with the rosy feathers floating behind her. Diana and Mr. St. Leger followed at a leisurely pace; he, as usual, grave and calmly silent, she cold and heavily annoyed.
Eulalie, watching them depart, felt her heart sink.
She looked round to see the Hon. Augustus watching her with an inscrutable expression.
"Augustus"—her voice fell—"take me home."
He offered his arm in silence and she clung to it; the sun was setting, and, as they left the shade of the elm, their own shadows were cast long before them over the grass.
She found it difficult to speak; she was conscious of a coldness in his bearing, a restraint in his demeanour, and in her heart she blamed the insidious sweetness of Mademoiselle. Indignation filled her, as she thought of the lovely voice that had so softly tried to make mischief—Mr. St. Leger—had she been much with Mr. St. Leger?—he had said so—a wave of terror, of shame rushed over her—the times he had sat beside her in the house, the times he had met her in the park in the space of this short week rose before her so many deadly accusations—and now—why was he going to London—would he dare put her under this obligation—would he dare?
She clung tightly to the arm of the silent Mr. Tollemache, for a deadly faintness was creeping over her heart. What she had done unconsciously she reviewed consciously, and a sense of shame possessed her. The very thought of Mr. St. Leger was suddenly something to make her wince. Could she have banished him from her memory she would have done so—gladly—ah, how gladly!
The even quality of her companion's voice broke the silence.
"It is astonishing," he remarked, "how the trees have kept considering the prodigious lack of rain."
Eulalie felt grateful to him.
"Oh, yes," she answered, "yes, indeed."
Her fingers tightened on his coat sleeve; she glanced up shyly into his impassive face; his eyes were mere lines of red under his drooping lids; he held his riding-stock in his free hand, and swung it carelessly through the tall grass.
"An astonishing thing St. Leger should have such sudden business in town," he said indifferently.
The name gave her an extraordinary stab; she could not keep the colour from flying to her face—what had happened to her?—what had happened?
"He gave you no hint, my dear, of what it was?" asked Augustus, in a kindly fashion.
Should she tell what she feared? Dared she voice her dread? Had she a right? No, she knew nothing—nothing.
"La, Augustus, why should he tell me?" she said, and felt the blood burn hotter in her cheeks.
"Why, indeed?" he answered drily, and fell into an inscrutable silence.
Eulalie said no more. When they reached the house she slipped from Augustus and went up to her own room.
She felt that nothing would be so terrible as to meet Mr. St. Leger. What had happened? She sat by the window and clasped her hands tightly over her heart. She stared at her lap, seeing nothing, and the blushes burnt furiously on her cheeks.
At the sound of the door opening she started as at a pistol shot.
It was Diana in her riding habit, with her whip in her hand, and her red-brown eyes not so sleepy as was their wont.
"Eulalie," she said, in a heavy, slow manner.
"This is—Eulalie, I wanted to ask you—"
"What?" Eulalie spoke with a breathless effort for composure.
"It seems so curious that—Justin should leave us like this
"Is it any matter of mine, my dear?"
"Why, that is what I came to ask you," said Diana, with a sudden flush. "He was with you—you have been very urgently desiring Augustus to—to save Sophia's brother—I wondered if you had spoken of it to him."
"Should that cause him to journey to London?" said Eulalie, unsteadily.
"That is what I have come to ask you," answered Diana Tollemache. "Have you sent him on any—mission of yours?"
"No," she said. "No. I know nothing of Mr. St. Leger's going to London—nothing—why should I, Diana?" And her voice was an appeal. "Why should I?"
Miss Tollemache twisted her riding whip uneasily.
"I suppose I am foolish," she said, in a hesitating way. "Of course, it must be private affairs. I only thought perhaps he went—on your service."
"No," said Eulalie; "it is foolish, dear, indeed."
Diana Tollemache gave her a long, dubious look.
"Well, come downstairs when you are ready—Justin departs before dinner."
She went, leaving Eulalie smitten with the guilt of lying. For Mr. St. Leger was departing for her, and she knew it—she knew.
With hands strangely trembling she pushed back the tumbled curls from her face; she sat down resolutely in the chintz-cushioned window.
She half schooled herself into calm, convinced herself that nothing had happened that affected her in the least. She hummed to herself indifferently, and, taking a mob cap from the work-basket at her side, she began most industriously threading apple-green ribbons through the cambric.
The last red glow of the sunset shone through the muslin curtains and over her hands; the sound of horses' hoofs came clearly up to her. Her absorption in the green ribbons deepened. Why should she trouble to turn her head because Mr. St. Leger rode to London?
She heard the little clank of the bridle when he settled in the saddle. The ribbons fell from her fingers. Was it riot, after all, more natural that she should look? How prodigious foolish to remain seated there as if she was afraid to see him!
She rose. Cap and ribbons fell to the ground. She drew aside the fluttering curtains and looked down, in the most careless and indifferent manner. Of course, he was below, mounted on a slim chestnut horse, his servant was at the mounting-block behind him, busy with his saddle girths.
Across the pure flushed sky a flight of rooks rose from the dark elms. Mr. St. Leger was studying the velvet cuff of his neat roquelaure, as if it were a matter of great moment; the horse shook his head impatiently; the whole scene was very peaceful, still and lonely.
Eulalie did not move from the window, nor cease from gazing at the rider below; she assured herself that it was the most natural thing in the world for her to do.
The servant mounted; his master suddenly looked up.
Looked up without hesitancy straight to her window, looked up without possibility of mistake or doubt to where she stood, leaning forward and gazing down. She remained motionless, robbed of all power of movement, for his expression was different—ah, so different from the calm gravity she had known as always his—gay, assured, triumphant; his black eyes lit and changed his face—so he looked up smiling.
Eulalie, expressionless still, stared down, the jasmine leaves and stars strayed across her throat and hair.
With a deepening of his smile, he lifted his hat, and the hoofs of the slim chestnut horse cantered down the drive.
Motionless, Eulalie stared into emptiness, not seeing the trees or the sunset sky, conscious of nothing but her poor pretence swept away, revealing beyond doubt—
Suddenly and sharply she turned from the window and tottered to her knees, and so face downwards on to the floor, without a sound, as if a swift shot had touched her heart.
The Hon. Miss Tollemache flung a letter to the ground and lifted her fair shoulders disdainfully.
"From Justin," she said briefly to her brother. "He says he is returning to-day."
She picked up the novel she had been reading, as if the subject were an indifferent one easily dismissed, but Eulalie, dutifully helping Aunt Katherine arrange her basket of silks, bent low to hide her face.
Mr. Tollemache raised his red brows and looked at her.
"He has been sparing of his letters," he remarked.
Mademoiselle, charmingly idle on the gold settee, laughed in her sweet, pointed way.
"Perhaps," she said slowly, "he has been very busy; he may have gone on a difficult errand." And, she, too, glanced at Eulalie.
Diana Tollemache put down the book that had been screening her face. She was pale.
"I do not know," she said coldly, "why Justin puts himself to the trouble of returning, considering that we all journey to London so soon."
Eulalie glanced up again. Augustus was gazing at her with the considering expression he wore so often of late, an expression inscrutable, like his easy actions and his easy talk. To Eulalie he was unfathomable. She could guess nothing of his thoughts from his cool demeanour.
In the silence, Eulalie, with unsteady hands, held the end of the tangled silk Aunt Katherine was placidly unravelling. Mademoiselle beckoned to Mr. Tollemache with a little movement of her fan, and he crossed the room to sit beside her on the gold settee.
With one swift, sideway look, Eulalie marked this, and how he leant towards her and how he smiled. Then she turned once more to the twisted silks.
Diana gazed down at the letter lying on the hem of her dress, and her lips were set.
Into this quiet company came Mr. St. Leger, booted and spurred, as ever neat and elegant in attire, cool and composed in manner.
The Hon. Augustus gave him brief greeting from the settee, Mademoiselle flickered a smile. She did not waste too much of her sweetness on such comprehending unresponsiveness as his.
Bowing to this, Mr. St. Leger came to kiss Diana's hand.
"Your business is accomplished?" she said coldly.
He had noticed his letter, flung crumpled at her feet.
"Permit me," he said, and handed it to her, his face unchanged and serene.
"You have been gone a great while," she said. "I hope, sir, your affairs were successful?"
"Perfectly," he answered.
Eulalie looked up—an instant merely, yet the two on the settee noticed it and exchanged a glance. Diana, with her hand on an angry, heaving bosom, flashed impatience at Mr. St. Leger's gravity.
"Is it to remain a mystery?" she asked. "Am I to know nothing of this affair that has kept you too prodigiously busy to write?"
"Upon my soul," he replied lazily, "it is not interesting—a mere service to a friend."
"A very near friend, surely," said Diana bitterly. "Some one you put, sir, before—me.
"Purely a trifle," he answered, "yet something I may not divulge."
Diana rose abruptly, crushing his letter in her hand, and, without a word, left the room.
"By the la," said Mr. Tollemache, "you do not take much pains to make yourself agreeable, St. Leger."
The gentleman rebuked glanced at the two so close together on the sofa and bestowed one of his rare smiles.
"It can hardly be remarked of you, sir," he answered.
The Hon. Augustus withdrew the hand that had been lying along the head of the settee in close neighbourhood of Mademoiselle's curls.
He flushed with annoyance, but she laughed above the waving gold butterflies. "La!" she cried. "You was always witty, sir."
Eulalie made her excuses to Aunt Katherine and laid down the finished ball of silk and rose. It had become unbearable, intolerable. One of the long, open windows was close to her. She stepped through it into the terrace and so rapidly through the garden.
What did Augustus mean? He ignored her. Left her to herself—appeared a very slave to the Frenchwoman's sweet malice. He was to blame for it all!
She left the garden and struck across the park with slower steps, the summer wind ruffling the mauve muslin and the bright brown hair. She did not dare to think; she was to marry Augustus, Diana was to marry Mr. St. Leger—that was all that mattered, that was to be held to loyally. Think—oh, certainly she must not think!
On the confines of Dreven Park the grass sloped to a little lake shaded with shivering ash trees. Among these was a low stone seat not far from the water's edge.
There Eulalie sank, weary through sheer agitation. It was a lovely, silent place, full of shade and murmuring leaves and the perfume of the untrodden grass. The sharp green leaves and purple blossoms of the iris grew along the bank and were doubled in the clear water. In the centre of the lake a few water-lilies floated.
The air was very warm and soft, scattered decks of sunshine lay over the grass and water, and trembled in Eulalie's fair curls.
With her hand on her heart she gave a little gasping sigh, then suddenly sat erect with startled eyes.
A footstep broke the stillness. Desperately summoning her courage, she looked round.
He was coming towards her; he had followed her. In a moment he was beside the stone seat.
"Mr. St. Leger!" she cried, and rose with proudly downcast eyes.
"Mrs. Montacute's brother is free," he said. "By now in France. You can tell Mr. Montacute that you have redeemed your promise."
She moved a step away from him.
"Then you went—for me?" she exclaimed.
"I do think you knew it," he answered.
How could she deny what her eyes had admitted.
"I gave you no permission, sir," she said proudly, "to put me under this obligation."
"I did it without permission, as I did it without thanks," he answered. "Are you not pleased that it is done?"
That aspect she had hardly thought of.
"Yes," she said faintly. She sat down on the stone bench. "How did you do it, sir?"
It was merely a remark to gain time. She had infinite faith and unquestioning belief in his powers. From the moment she had seen him ride away she had known the thing done.
"Why, I have some influence," he replied, "and some friends. The gentleman's escape was connived at. It was not easy, but, as I said, it was possible."
She sat tongue-tied. To express gratitude was to emphasize the service; to ignore it seemed unnatural. Not daring to look at him, she stared at the calm surface of the lake.
Mr. St. Leger seated himself upon the other end of the bench.
"Have I pleased you?" he asked softly. Eulalie still kept her eyes away.
"Did you do it for that?" she demanded. "To please me?"
"Yes," he answered, looking at her.
"Oh! Do you know what you are saying?"
"Believe me, yes." And his face lit into the fervour she had seen there once before. "I know, and I want you to know."
"Mr. St. Leger!"
She glanced at him now.
"Do you not think," she remarked, "that we might with advantage change the subject? Where are the others—Augustus, Mademoiselle, and Diana?"
She slightly stressed the last word.
"They have gone out—for the day."
"For the day?"
"Without asking me or you?"
"Without asking either of us, ma'am."
"Oh!" said Eulalie, with an air of reflection. "Diana is rather cross today.
"I have remarked it."
They both gazed into the lake.
"Then we are alone?" asked Eulalie.
Eulalie half pouted.
"It will be very dull."
"Do you think so?" he questioned.
"It will be very dull here," she said. "What are you going to do?"
"Whatever you ask me."
Her small shoe tapped the grass.
"It was rather impolite of them to go off like that."
Eulalie glanced at him again with an expression of meditation.
"It might not be so dull in Maidstone," she remarked.
Mr. St. Leger was interested and eager.
"Would you care to go?"
"Well," said Eulalie gravely, "I do want a new hat. I suppose, sir, you would not care to see a lady buy a hat?"
"I should like it," he declared, "of all things. If you would let me accompany you to Maidstone I should never be able to thank you sufficiently for your condescension."
"I owe you something—really I do," said
Eulalie, "and I protest I do not know what we should do here all day, and, really, I want a new hat."
She gave him a shy and adorable half smile. Mr. St. Leger rose.
"I will order the chariot at once."
"Before dinner?" Then she answered herself. "Yes, and we can have dinner at Maidstone. Beverly took us to an inn there, which was purely delightful, and we can walk by the river afterwards—if you like the river."
Mr. St. Leger looked vastly elated.
"I like the river above all things," he declared fervently.
"It is rather pretty," said Eulalie demurely. She rose from the seat.
"It will be quite an adventure," she smiled. "I love adventures."
"So do I," agreed Mr. St. Leger.
Then they looked away from each other.
"Of course," remarked Eulalie, "it is a vast pity Diana couldn't come too; but she should not have left like that—should she?"
"Yes," he said gravely. "I do regret Miss Tollemache's company. But what is the use, ma'am?"
"Yes, what is the use?" echoed Eulalie. "Did they take the coach?" she added brightly.
"Yes, there is the little chariot."
"Room for us and the servant," said Eulalie unconcernedly; "and it goes very smoothly, that little chariot."
She looked at the lake again.
Mr. St. Leger said nothing, he was gazing at her profile.
Suddenly she glanced round.
"Don't you think we lose time?" she suggested.
He blushed a little.
"I leave at once—and you? Shall I find you in the withdrawing room?"
"Yes, sir—in about half an hour."
He bowed and disappeared.
Eulalie moved aside the meadow-sweet growing at the edge of the water, and looked at the reflection of her face.
"I am afraid," she said thoughtfully, "this is not quite fair to Diana."
"After all," Mr. St. Leger said, "a groom was unnecessary." He had, too, a curious prejudice against other people's servants. Also the chariot was very small.
So they went alone.
Eulalie had no objection.
She was dressed very stylishly in a white gown flowered with lilac, an over-skirt of blue silk, a muslin tucker of fine needlework, and a straw hat trimmed with forget-me-nots and fastened under her chin with lavender strings; she had white silk mittens and blue leather shoes with square silver buckles, a white parasol with lace frills, and a pelisse of violet taffeta over her arm.
Mr. St. Leger's glance approved her. She kept her eyes averted for the most part, but she saw that.
It was about noon, not too hot, but cloudless and serene, when they started along the Maidstone road.
The white horse was fresh and joyous, the chariot beautifully swung on its great delicate wheels, the hedges to right and left full of honeysuckle, wild roses, meadow-sweet, and mint, the road shaded by beech, oak, and elm. Eulalie sighed in pure contentment.
For a little while neither of them spoke; then Mr. St. Leger said:
"You will be glad to go to London?"
"I don't know," answered Eulalie.
"I thought you was tired of the country," said Justin St. Leger lightly.
"It is very pretty now," she replied demurely. "But I doubt not, sir, that you grow sick of it."
"I? I would stay here always if I could."
Eulalie fixed her eyes on the ever-widening strip of road before them.
"Then you do not feel as bored as you did the other day?" she inquired.
"Bored! I think I shall never be bored again," he answered.
"I am glad."
"You will like London."
She rested her eyes now on his two neatly-gloved hands holding the reins.
"Perhaps," she said doubtfully.
"Augustus has a fine house there."
"A fine house is not everything," said
Eulalie, in the same tone.
"You do not think so?" inquired Mr. St.
"No," she answered rather sharply. "Do you think me prodigious mercenary?"
Mr. St. Leger laughed.
"That was monstrous impolite," she said angrily.
At once he was humble.
"Forgive me. I was thinking of myself."
He looked down at her, and she gazed steadily at the horse's ears.
"Yes, of myself."
"Oh—are you mercenary?"
Eulalie's fingers curled together in her lap.
"Perhaps I was, too," she admitted. "I thought it was rather nice to have a deal of money."
"And I thought it was necessary."
"But I've changed lately."
"So have I," said Mr. St. Leger with emphasis.
"How strange!" murmured Eulalie.
The chariot swept round a smart turn in the road.
Maidstone and the river were to be seen in the distance.
"It is very ignoble to marry for money," remarked Justin St. Leger.
"And very foolish."
"And unfair to—the person with the money."
"You speak," said Eulalie innocently, "as if you was thinking of some one in particular."
Mr. St. Leger was silent a moment, then he said:
"Diana Tollemache has a large fortune."
"Yes," replied Eulalie, opening her eyes and looking at him. "What a good thing she did not become betrothed to a fortune-hunter, but is going to marry some one who really cares for her."
Mr. St. Leger gave her a sharp look.
"Does that hold good with Augustus?"
Eulalie pursed up her lips.
"He is not marrying me for my money, I swear, because I haven't any."
"But he has."
"Well?" she challenged.
"What can you see in him?" asked Mr.
St. Leger angrily.
"Oh, la! Don't you consider him vastly good looking?"
"Well enough," said Justin St. Leger drily.
"But I should not have thought a lady would have married Augustus Tollemache for his looks."
"I don't think a lady would!"
"Then?" He was rather breathless.
"Oh, sir, consider his character."
Mr. St. Leger was openly contemptuous.
"He is so polite," she smiled.
"To Athenšis de Boulainvilliers, yes," he responded bitterly.
But Mr. St. Leger made no expression of regret. She glanced at his handsome profile and saw it was obstinate in expression.
She sighed, then said sweetly:
"I am wondering what new fashions Miss Stevens will have. I have never been to her before; Diana gave me the name."
He was silent.
"If you are going to be unreasonable and angry with me," said Eulalie firmly, "I—well, I shall wish that I had not come."
He turned in his seat with a start.
"I—angry with you?"
She forgave him at once for his flattering if dangerous intonation.
"I am glad you are not," she said.
"How could I be?" asked Mr. St. Leger, rather fiercely.
"They must be vastly ill-tempered, then," declared Justin St. Leger.
The first houses began to show among the fields, white farms and thatched cottages, children in coloured pinafores, and lines of white garments drying among the orchards glimpsed through the foliage to right and left.
A little more and they were driving down the high street.
The number of people about and the way they stared made Eulalie feel conspicuous.
She rather hoped that they would meet no one who knew her; not that it really mattered, of course, still if they asked where Augustus was how foolish it would sound to say he was out with Mademoiselle de Boulainvilliers!
They drove over the arched stone bridge that spanned the Medway, and Eulalie looked down at the flat barges lying alongside the wharves and the men journeying to and from them with empty sacks on their heads and full sacks on their shoulders, all stained a gold colour from the dust of the hops.
To-day it seemed even more like a faery town than usual.
"The shop is somewhere in the High Street," she said as they crossed the bridge.
Mr. St. Leger looked at his watch.
"Will you go there at once?" he asked. "How long does it take to buy a hat?"
"Oh, a great while. If you are thinking of dinner we will go there first."
"Which is the inn, ma'am?"
He did not know the town at all, and, laughing, drew up the horse as he spoke.
Eulalie laughed too.
"The Woolpack—it is just round the corner. La! how these people stare!"
Mr. St. Leger appeared gratified by this attention, but Eulalie was discomposed. Suddenly she remembered the landlord; he knew her, of course.
"I—I don't think I want to go there," she said; "not to that inn, I mean."
"Why?" asked St. Leger, surprised.
"They never have anything but eggs," she answered hurriedly, "and I can't bear eggs."
"Nothing at all but eggs?" he repeated. "No, really, let us go somewhere else, and please drive on, these people are staring so."
"I cannot blame them," said Mr. St. Leger, looking at her.
She coloured at that. She felt horribly exposed in the high chariot. When she had been before she had always been decorously closed into a coach with Sophia and Sophia's maid. She began to realize the daring impropriety of her present expedition.
"What would Sophia say?"
She shivered with inward pleasure and dread at her boldness.
There were two more inns in the High Street; one was rejected by Mr. St. Leger on account of the farmers gathered about the door, the other by Eulalie because she thought the landlady looking through the window was terrifyingly grim.
At last they found a place in a side street near the river.
Near the outskirts of the town, too, and fragrantly quiet.
It was a modest place, but elegant, too, in its way; its name, The Carp and Candle, took Eulalie's fancy.
They were received with great respect and some sympathetic curiosity; the chambermaid looked at them positively tenderly.
"Oh, la!" thought Eulalie desperately, "I do believe they think we have eloped!"
They were shown into a parlour at the back which looked on to a garden with bee-hives and a sundial, pinks, phlox, sweet williams, and gilliflowers.
There was a tall clock in the room, two china cows on the mantelshelf, in the fire-place a framed sampler of the sacrifice of Isaac, a white cloth on the table, and in the centre a blue glass holding a spray of southern-wood and a single red rose.
"It is really charming," murmured Eulalie, a little timidly. "Don't you think so, sir?"
"It is the most beautiful place I have ever been in," he declared gravely.
He had taken off his hat and his overcoat; his hair was a little disordered by the wind; he no longer looked grave, severe, or scornful of smiles.
Eulalie stole a glance at him. Unbidden the thought flashed over her.
"Diana never brought that expression to his face—his eyes!"
Justice made her add that she had scarcely brought it to the languid eyes of Augustus. She paled a little as she considered the tangle. Justin St. Leger was quick to notice her downcast look.
"Does not the place please you, after all?" he asked anxiously.
"Oh, yes," her depression was but momentary. She seated herself at the table, rested her elbow on the cloth and locked her hands under her chin, an attitude Sophia had often reproved; but Mr. St. Leger seemed to admire it, she thought.
"What is there for dinner, sir?"
The inn provided a fair choice; it was really astonishing how their tastes agreed; everything Eulalie liked Mr. St. Leger approved, and what he ventured to recommend she had always been fond of; this charming similarity in their views was quite overwhelming.
"We should never have known it," said Mr. St. Leger boldly, "if we had not come to Maidstone to-day—this visit is going to be memorable."
"It depends," said Eulalie.
Mr. St. Leger laid down the slate on which was written the bill of fare.
"On what?" he asked eagerly.
"On the hat," answered Eulalie, looking at the cloth. "If I like the hat I buy I shall remember to-day with pleasure—if I don't—well, I shall be sorry I came."
"Nay, you do not mean that, I swear." Eulalie's eyes flashed.
"Oh, I swear I do—have we not come here to buy a hat?" her red lips were resolute and rather cruel.
"Of course," said Mr. St. Leger; but he smiled.
The dinner was prompt, and they both decided the best they had ever tasted; the beef, the pudding, the apples, the honey were better than any Sophia had ever provided, or Diana either.
The water and the cider seemed flavoured with nectar—of a quite extraordinary quality of sparkle and joyous bubble. Neither had they ever seen anything quite so lovely as the view through the open diamond-paned window; the flowers blowing together, of all melting hues and mingled fragrance, the straw hives, the young beeches, and beyond the rustic gate an orchard with thick grass and the sheep moving under the apple boughs; beyond that still a bright space of river moving between trunks and boughs, now and then obscured by a sail of garnet or gold colour that seemed to belong to a barque bound straight for fairyland.
"There are such beautiful places on the river," said Eulalie, "near the lock—the other side, you cross on a plank, no more—is a bluebell wood—you cannot imagine—nothing but bluebells, as high as your waist almost, overhead, all dark with trees—and so you go on. Then presently there is a little valley in the wood, and if you are early enough you may see the primroses—always in clusters with the grass between, pale and delicious to see and touch and smell; and beyond that wild, wild places where last year's teazles grow, old and brown and fierce when you approach them—and here you must stop. What they guard I do not know—perhaps the Sleeping Beauty—it is always so silent, save for the wood-doves, and methinks their note hath always a frightening sound."
"Oh, take me there," said Mr. St. Leger. "All my days I have looked for such a place—and such a guide."
Eulalie smiled faintly.
"I have always loved the river—there are long walks along the banks. Once I picked a flower there—a yellow iris—it opened in my hand. Then there is the old church with a square tower like ours at home, but all grown with ivy, and in the churchyard wall the gilliflowers grow, and from the churchyard wall one may look down at the river and see the yellow foam in clots by the brickwork; in the church are the old banners of the knights, painted and torn—you would like that—they were brave gentlemen."
Justin St. Leger flushed and smiled.
"My father was a soldier—he died at Sarragossa."
"Oh," said Eulalie, and her tone said that she was glad.
Then very quickly she added in an altered tone:
"Positively I must not forget the hat—we will go there at once, I think, sir."
"I will order the chariot."
But Eulalie negatived the chariot; she would, she thought, be less noticeable on foot.
It gave her an extraordinary thrill to see Mr. St. Leger pay the bill—it was almost stranger than sitting down to dinner alone with him, to see him pay for her.
And then he did an unforgivable thing; he coolly asked the host where they might find Miss Stevens, the milliner.
Eulalie blushed fiercely, and tried to maintain an expression between the indifferent and the severe.
Miss Stevens was easy to find, it appeared, being right in the centre of the High Street and having hats and bonnets in the window.
"And I think your lady will like her, sir," said the landlord; "she is both modish and genteel."
Eulalie was angry, the more so that Mr. St. Leger appeared calm and rather pleased; she went stiffly out of the inn for fear of what else they might say, and intended to bear herself haughtily to her companion in revenge for the odious mistake.
But he followed her, and with a half shy air pointed out the row of swallows seated on the sign-board.
In face of such a sight it was impossible for her to retain her ill-humour.
She looked and smiled; her sole reproof was a murmured:
"I could have found the shop—quite easily."
"I thought you had never been there before," he answered in the same tone.
"No—no; but I could have found it." Mr. St. Leger resorted to the swallows again.
"Do not they look intelligent grave and wise as judges, yet their sole thought is to secure a gnat or a fly!"
"A shame for the gnats," said Eulalie. "But they are nice—I should like to have one to stroke."
They walked down the long quiet streets, Eulalie with her parasol unfurled; the few passers-by turned to look at them curiously.
Not much converse passed between them; if Mr. St. Leger was conscious of the attention they excited he did not betray it, and Eulalie ignored the glances sent after them.
Some of the people must know her, she felt sure, and she needed to keep assuring herself again and again that there was no harm if they did, that she was engaged on quite a reputable expedition, before she could reconcile herself with any degree of easiness to the fact that somewhat strange reports might reach the ears of Augustus—to say nothing of Diana.
She was glad when they reached the shop—if anything so genteel as the establishment of Miss Stevens could be called a shop.
Over the door was a neat card with the lady's name, and in the big bow window one peerless hat.
One only, against a curtain of dark green, a blue velvet hat, with a large rose of a silvery azure colour at the side; a hat at once soft and rich and modest, calculated to enhance beauty unobtrusively and put plainness to the blush; a hat of dignity and distinction, yet of the most perfect good taste.
Eulalie at once wanted that hat more than anything she had ever seen before; wanted it to the exclusion of every other feeling; at that moment she would willingly have exchanged Mr. St. Leger for Diana or any other lady—she wanted to talk to some one who could understand.
"I like that," she said firmly.
Mr. St. Leger liked it too.
"Blue is my favourite colour," he said; but secretly he preferred the straw she was wearing, and something of his lukewarm admiration showed in his tone.
Eulalie, being absolutely on her own ground, was no longer embarrassed.
"Let us go in," f she said.'
Mr. St. Leger followed her meekly into the shop.
The show-room was on the first floor; the carpet was a discreet shade of green, the window looked on to the High Street, the walls were white with gilt ribbings on the panels, and about the walls were numerous mirrors of all sizes, tilted, straight, folding and plain.
And on slender, rod-like stands were the hats.
Over the chairs, and peeping out of drawers and bandboxes, were fragments of silk velvet and tissue, feathers, ribbons, flowers, and mysterious skeletons of hats in black and white wire.
A young girl in a grey dress received them, placed a chair for Justin St. Leger, who walked cautiously like a wayfarer in a strange country, and turned to Eulalie.
"I want," said that lady, "the blue hat you have below."
The girl curtsied and withdrew for a moment to dispatch another assistant downstairs.
"And while you are waiting, ma'am, will you try some of these?"
Eulalie looked tempted, but answered resolutely.
"I prefer the blue hat below."
"Yet try some of these," said Mr. St. Leger. "Some of them are prodigious modish."
He looked so interested that she gave in, and took off her little chip straw.
In the bewildering variety of hats before her she almost forgot the azure rose and blue velvet in the window.
Miss Stevens was patronized by all the ladies of the county, and was as well furnished with fashions as any establishment in the Exchange.
There were muslin turbans with coloured ribbons, huge shapes of satin with a curtain of lace, plain hats of straw with flowers, little hats of velvet to be worn tilted, lace caps and quilted hoods.
Eulalie, standing with bare curls in the centre of the room, her face a little flushed with excitement, and her bright eyes roving from one attraction to another, was the prettiest of pretty pictures, and Mr. St. Leger held his breath to watch.
After a little hesitation she selected a fantastic creation of spotted muslin with long streamers of lemon-coloured ribbons behind and a fairy-tale flower of yellow and green in front.
She looked so charming in it that it did not seem possible to Mr. St. Leger that she could look more charming in anything else.
But she blushed, declared herself a flight, and took it off.
"This is very new, ma'am," said the girl, "of the fashion the Queen of France wears."
"I doubt it is too majestic," said Eulalie dubiously.
"It" was a turban of claret-coloured velvet, twisted with a silver veil and ornamented with a cluster of violet plumes.
"One needs to have one's hair on a pillow, ma'am."
"La, it is a monstrous size."
She placed it on her head, and Mr. St. Leger was forced to admit his former judgment was wrong; Eulalie looked even more entrancing than before with her glittering ringlets escaping from under the soft folds of velvet, and the silver tissue gleaming over her white brow.
But she herself seemed far from satisfied. With an embarrassed laugh she removed the regal turban, and it was carefully placed back on its stand.
The next essay was a fawn-coloured felt with gold cords and a paste buckle.
It was instantly rejected.
"It makes me look a hundred and one," said Eulalie.
The attendant produced a huge fine straw trimmed with bows of ribbon striped in blue and violet and satin flowers of a green tint. Eulalie consented to be half pleased with that.
While she had it on her head and was gazing at the back effect in a hand mirror, the other maid came back with the announcement that the hat in the window was not for sale.
"Not for sale!" cried Eulalie.
Her face clouded.
"Why?" demanded Eulalie.
"Ma'am, it was made on order for my Lady Lisle, Miss Stevens says, and she could not, she fears, copy it."
Eulalie sat down on one of the striped gilt chairs. She gave Mr. St. Leger a glance that told him he witnessed a tragedy.
He endeavoured to come to the rescue.
"Is the lady so very set on that hat?" he asked.
"She ordered it, sir."
"But has she seen it?"
"Not yet, sir; we send it home to-morrow."
"Well, cannot you send her another one?" The girl shook her head.
"Miss Stevens made that one for her, sir; the colour is to go with a gown she has."
"Another hat of the same colour then," suggested Mr. St. Leger hopefully.
"Oh, yes, we could make another of the same colour for you, ma'am," she turned to Eulalie.
"I liked the shape better than the colour," said that lady crossly.
"I meant," continued Mr. St. Leger, "could you not send the other hat to your other customer?"
"I don't think so, sir."
"Oh, la," exclaimed Eulalie impatiently, "if she ain't seen it she won't know what she has missed."
"We couldn't sell it," repeated the girl firmly.
The light of combat shone in Eulalie's blue eyes.
"Could you take the rose off?" she asked.
The rose was, however, unique, and the making of the hat; it was made of real silver wire and had come especially from Paris—there was not another one like it in England.
Miss Stevens herself appeared. She was a middle-aged lady, very delicate and neat, with her hair dressed in ringlets, a black dress, and a thimble on her finger.
Mr. St. Leger went to the matter at once. "Madam, we was wanting to purchase the blue hat you have below."
She curtsied and smiled.
"It isn't for sale, sir."
"So we hear, but what is the price of it, ma'am?"
Miss Stevens shook her head gently.
"It isn't a question of money, sir, the hat is promised."
Mr. St. Leger smiled too.
"We will give you double what the lady is paying."
Miss Stevens looked from one to the other with interest. They were the very handsomest couple she had had in her rooms; she felt very kindly towards them.
"Could not you fancy something else, ma'am?" she asked Eulalie. "I'll swear you are not difficult to suit."
"Her whims are more difficult to suit than her face," smiled Mr. St. Leger, "and she has set her heart on the blue hat; could not you, ma'am, be so good-natured as to let her have it?"
Eulalie blushed. At any other moment she would have resented the boldness, not to say familiarity of Mr. St. Leger's speech, but now her whole mind was set on one thing, the blue hat.
"Might I try it on?" she said in a coaxing voice.
The smile in Mr. St. Leger's black eyes urged her request.
Miss Stevens hesitated and was lost.
"Bring the hat up," she said to one of the girls. Then she made a brave attempt to recover lost ground.
"There are many here just as modish," she said, "if you would just condescend to look at them, ma'am."
"Yes, I know," said Eulalie heartlessly. "But I prefer the other."
"It was cruel of you, madam," remarked
Mr. St. Leger, "to put such a firebrand in the window—since it was already disposed of."
"Well," smiled the milliner, "I had no idea any lady would take a liking to it—like this."
At this moment the blue hat arrived, carefully carried by the younger assistant.
Eulalie rose, and Miss Stevens's smile deepened. She could not be displeased at the success of her handiwork.
She pulled the silver paper out of the crown. Four pairs of eyes were fixed on the folds of velvet and the gorgeous, impossible rose.
Eulalie sat down again.
Miss Stevens placed the creation on her head and stepped back.
Eulalie smiled triumphantly—and the thing was done.
The hat was turban shaped, not large, and untrimmed save for the rose; it fitted close to Eulalie's curls, and matched her eyes to a shade.
"Would you have the heart to separate them, madam?" asked Mr. St. Leger.
Lady Lisle was rather plain. She would not do such a creation of elegance and simplicity justice. Miss Stevens became conscienceless.
"I could not refuse," she said, with a curtsey.
"Oh, thank you," cried Eulalie eagerly.
She paused a moment, then looked at Justin St. Leger with a sudden air of diffidence.
"Do not you like it, sir?"
"I like it better than anything I have seen even you wear."
Eulalie glanced at him, and took off the hat, rather gravely.
"Where am I to send it to?" asked Miss Stevens.
Eulalie blushed again. She could not possibly give her name.
Miss Montacute, and recommended by Miss Tollemache, betrothed to the gentleman with her!
"We have come a long way," she said hastily, "and we can take it ourselves in the chariot."
She reflected that this meant carrying a bandbox through the streets of Maidstone, but decided that was the preferable of two evils.
She sat rather silent as the hat was swathed in tissue paper and consigned to its box. She tied on her own hat and studied herself in the delightful quantity of mirrors.
Then she had a shock.
"Six guineas, sir," said Miss Stevens.
She actually and naturally turned to him for the money, and he actually and naturally paid it.
"Thank you for your complaisance, madam," he said, smiling.
"Well," she answered, "I have to face the cost yet, sir. But I think your lady was made to be spoilt."
"I think so too, madam."
Eulalie did not know how she got out of the room.
Mr. St. Leger, in the best of spirits, followed her with the bandbox.
Eulalie was silent when they reached the street.
"Shall we leave this at the inn?" he asked. "We had better go home," said Eulalie, looking down.
"Not yet, dear Miss, surely. We have not been by the river."
She was grave and quiet, her high spirits suddenly dashed.
But she came without complaint to the Carp and Candle, where the precious hat was left in charge of the chambermaid, and afterwards through the town and beyond it to the towpath by the river.
There, when they were free of every one and quite alone in the placid sunshine, she pulled a bead purse from her bosom and held it out.
Her eyes flashed and her lips trembled.
"You will take that, sir. You should not have done it."
He looked at her masterfully.
"You know. Take it."
He took the outstretched little hand and kissed it, but did not touch the purse.
Angry tears shone in Eulalie's blue eyes.
"You make fun of me! You had no right to do it! Do you think I would have suggested it—if—if—"
She made a valiant effort over her sobs.
"Perhaps you think I have no money; but Beverly saw to that. I am not dependent even on Augustus."
"Dearest girl, it was the natural thing to do—common courtesy."
"I wonder if Diana would think so?" said
She bit her lip. It went against every instinct to thrust money on a gentleman; but this time it must be done.
"Please to take it," she said, going very pale.
"Indeed, I will not," said Mr. St. Leger quite gaily.
Her bosom heaved. She was very much in earnest.
"I say I will not," he smiled.
She turned her face away and stared into the silver currents of the Medway.
"I shall never wear the hat," she announced.
He blenched a little.
"You are cruel."
"No—it is you who are cruel."
"You do not understand."
"Again—it is you who do not understand."
An ominous silence fell. They walked along, not looking at each other nor noticing the trees, the flowers, the grass, and the running water.
At last Eulalie sat down on a sloping bank facing the river (her heels were too high to allow of her walking far in comfort), and Mr. St. Leger sat beside her with a diffident air.
"Are you angry with me?" he asked. She turned to him suddenly.
"Oh, sir! I am under such a vast obligation to you already."
"By heaven, no!"
"Yes, yes—in the matter of Sophia's brother."
"Do not shame me by mention of such a slight service."
"I took it," she said in a shamed voice; "but I cannot take this?"
"What is the difference?" he demanded, trying to make her look at him. But she kept her eyes on the river.
"You must see," she replied. "At least I can be firm here. I will not take it!"
He was silent.
She held out the purse on her open palm again.
"You wish to teach me my place," said Justin St. Leger sombrely.
"Please take it."
Her tone was cold.
He looked at her and frowned.
"You mean it?"
Her eyes flashed to his.
"Indeed I do."
His cheeks darkened with a flush. He took the purse and coldly counted out six guineas from it.
Eulalie watched him timidly.
"Are you content now, ma'am?"
She said nothing.
He handed back the purse in silence, and they sat staring in front of them at the river.
She could not bear it for long.
"Have I angered you?" she ventured in a soft voice of conciliation.
"You have hurt me," he answered, "as you meant to."
She turned quickly.
"I would not for the world," she said, with a tenderness not to be restrained.
She was startled by the effect her sentence had produced.
"I mean it."
"And you would not anger me?"
She looked at him with adorable boldness.
"I—should like to please you."
"You cannot help doing that—every minute of the day."
"Then you are not displeased with me now?"
He kissed her hands.
"I am glad you are not cross any longer, sir."
"I never was, not for an instant," he declared warmly.
"Oh!" said Eulalie. Then she repeated, "I would not for the world have angered you."
With that the magic of a tender silence fell.
Neither looked at the other, but both at the beautiful moving water, the trees opposite, and the flowers bending in the wind.
The place was remote yet not lonely. Presently the sound of a woodpecker's tapping came clearly across the river; a lizard darted through the grass, and a fish rose to the surface, sending widening rings to either bank.
A faint little cloud, no larger than a distant dove, floated across the sky and was mirrored in the Medway.
Mr. St. Leger sighed.
"We must go home," said Eulalie.
She rose primly and walked along the towing path, he beside her, silent.
The perfume of mint and thyme, of wild briar and wild rose, rose with every stirring of the breeze that ran low and softly through the grass.
They did not say a word until they reached the town. Slowly they passed along the sunny, placid street.
"We shall be late," said Eulalie timidly. "We must be back to dinner."
Mr. St. Leger swung his cane with an abstracted air.
"Oh, dear," cried Eulalie suddenly. She directed his attention to a tragedy being enacted against a wooden paling that shut off a garden from the street.
A small and rather plain child was crying quietly over an ugly wooden doll in a tarlatan dress whose head had become dissevered from its body.
"Poor thing!" said Eulalie, stopping.
Mr. St. Leger paused too. He went over to the child, who was quite poorly dressed.
"This lady would like you to get another doll," he said quickly. He gave Eulalie a half defiant glance, and laid her six golden pieces on the little girl's lap. "She gives you this."
Eulalie flushed, the child stared, half frightened, and they passed on in a mutual confusion.
"That was very foolish," said Eulalie, with an attempt at severity. "Whatever will she do with such a deal of money?"
He did not seem to care greatly; he had fallen on a silent mood. Not till they were in the chariot again, with the blue hat in a bandbox behind, did she get more than a few words from him.
Then he said, as they drove over the bridge and out into the open country road:
Park and swept up to the entrance of the house.
Diana was on the terrace.
"Good evening," said coldly. "I have not seen you all day."
"No," answered Mr. St. Leger. "You abandoned us, Diana."
Eulalie looked wistful.
"We have been in Maidstone buying a hat," she said coaxingly. "I do wish, Diana, that you had been there."
Miss Tollemache looked from one to the other.
"Do you?" she said.
Eulalie wore the blue velvet hat with the azure rose.
She sat on the edge of a stream that ran through Dreven Park; a book of poetry was balanced on her knee, her bare hands clasped round her fine muslin skirts.
A large chestnut tree grew on the opposite bank, and the reflection of the green leaves was clear as in a mirror, only broken here and there with the pure white of water-lilies.
Behind Eulalie were willows, tall sedges, broken flags, and meadow-sweet.
She leant forward a little and watched the long trails of water plants growing at the bottom of the stream and waving like strands of hair in the direction of the current.
When she at last turned it was to look up into the charming face of Justin St. Leger.
"La! I did not know you were there!" He wore a sapphire-coloured overcoat and carried his hat under his arm.
"I am going to London, madam."
"So you said yesterday."
"Well, I am going.
"Is it not sudden, sir?"
"And—and a little unmannerly?"
"Do you think so? If you ask me, madam, I will stay."
"Why?" answered Eulalie quickly. "It has nothing to do with me."
Justin St. Leger leant against the willow trunk and gazed before him; he appeared rather haggard and frowning.
"You know that it has a great deal to do with you."
She pressed her hand to her bosom and stared up at him.
"La, sir, you take me by surprise!"
"Ah, you will not comprehend me!" he said bitterly. "And so I will go."
Eulalie rose; she was rather pale.
"Perhaps it would be better if you did," she said coldly. "You do not seem very contented here."
"You have every reason to make you so—Diana—"
He gave her an angry look.
"You must say that out of malice, madam, knowing as you do—"
Eulalie pulled the long leaves off the willow. "Knowing what?" she challenged.
"Knowing," said Mr. St. Leger straightly and fiercely, "that I have utterly and entirely lost my heart to you."
Eulalie trembled with agitation.
"It—it is not very thoughtful of you to say so!" she declared. "Just when—when we are all—pretending—"
Her blue eyes melted into tears; her voice choked; she turned and walked rapidly away.
"My heart!" exclaimed Justin St. Leger passionately, and turned also and hastened after her; but she very skilfully eluded him.
The white gown and the blue hat disappeared among the trees.
Mr. St. Leger hastened with a glowing heart, turned a corner, and found himself face to face with Diana Tollemache.
There was an exclamation from him, a cold glance from her.
She wore a green dress and a black shawl; by a pink ribbon she led a small white dog.
Mr. St. Leger abandoned Eulalie and bowed with the best grace possible.
"So you are going to London!" said the lady calmly.
She raised her red brows.
"I wonder why!"
"The reason would not interest you."
He looked troubled.
"I assure you—"
She flung out a white hand.
"Assure me nothing—it is safest."
"Protest nothing—and escape perjury."
"Madam—it is only a few days before we shall all be in London."
"And not so many to our wedding."
"Augustus will be married first—it is to be quite privately—at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields."
Her sleepy eyes glanced over him.
"Will you be there, sir!"
He paled a little.
"Will you!" he returned.
Mr. St. Leger made no answer.
Miss Tollemache stooped and picked up her dog.
"You cannot claim to be a very attentive cavalier," she remarked.
"I am at your service," he returned, rather haughtily.
"I do not think that is true," said Diana. "I think you are very much more at the service of another lady."
"What do you mean, madam!" he looked dangerous.
Diana's eyes were no longer sleepy, they shone rather wrathfully.
"I mean," she said, "that I am glad, sir, that my heart is not involved in this affair—if I am a fortune, you are heir to a dukedom—and so on both sides it is a mariage de convenance."
With that and a low curtsey she left him standing wrathful and silent under the chestnut trees.
In a few moments she came upon Mademoiselle, for once without Augustus.
Diana's face did not soften. She did not think she liked Mademoiselle.
"Have you seen Miss Montacute?" asked that lady sweetly.
"No," Diana stiffened at mention of the name.
"I wish to speak with her," said Athenšis, smiling.
"I believe," returned Miss Tollemache, "she is somewhere in the park," and passed on caressing her little white dog.
Athenšis shrugged her shoulders, gathered up her delicate skirts afresh, and continued her search.
After a little while she found Eulalie on a seat under an elm tree, dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief.
"Dear," said Athenšis, "I so want to talk with you."
This was unusual. Eulalie looked up surprised, not altogether pleased.
Athenšis sank gracefully on the seat. She wore a pale mauve silk, beautifully embroidered with wreaths of roses in pink and gold, a scarf of silver tissue, and a black velvet hat with long strings.
"What about!" said Eulalie rather bluntly. "The whole thing," said Athenšis. "I have seen so little of you."
"It was not my fault."
"No—Mr. St. Leger—he absorbs your time."
"Isn't that correct!"
Eulalie's cheeks flamed.
"How about you and Augustus!"
"That is what I wish to speak of."
"Do not be foolish; you know what I mean, dear."
"Indeed I do not," said Eulalie, very stately and angry.
The lovely face of Athenšis was turned towards her.
"Why has Mr. St. Leger gone to town to-day?" she asked.
Eulalie's bosom heaved.
"I do not know."
"Ah, fie—it is because of you."
Eulalie flared up.
"You have no right to say so—you always disliked me."
Athenšis was calm and authoritative.
"My dear," she said, "we are each a great deal too pretty to be really friendly."
"That is horrible!" flashed Eulalie.
"It is true, but there is no reason why we should not help each other."
Eulalie, outraged and confused, drew herself erect on the seat.
"Help each other!"
"Mr. Tollemache, he does not love you."
"Oh! How dare you!"
"Because he is in love with me."
"You make me blush!" cried Eulalie vehemently. "How can you be so shameless!"
"And Mr. St. Leger," continued Athenšis unmoved, "is not in love with Diana."
"Or you," said Eulalie tartly, "if you are so sure Augustus would go with you."
"Ma foi!" Athenšis looked angry. "Do you doubt it! I had two Englishmen fight for me once—one was a Marquess; I have his picture here." She touched her bosom. "If he had lived I should have loved him—but he is dead, and one cannot love an angel."
"If you are so keen on a title," said Eulalie, "I wonder you didn't marry your Marquess; and as for Augustus, I suppose he is silly enough for anything."
"Silly enough to love me, certainly," said Athenšis resentfully.
"Maybe, but you shan't run away with him," declared Eulalie fiercely. "Why?
"Why, indeed! Because he is going to marry me, ma'am."
"But wouldn't you rather marry Mr. St. Leger?"
"You seem to forget Diana," said Eulalie sarcastically.
"Diana!—she is nothing!"
"Oh, yes, she is, she is betrothed to Mr. St. Leger and happens to be my friend, ma'am."
"That has nothing to do with it," declared Athenšis.
"She shan't be jilted for me."
Athenšis laughed disdainfully.
"How foolish you are! Diana is no friend to you, she dislikes you."
"Well, she used to like me," said Eulalie remorsefully. "I am afraid I have behaved rather badly."
"Be not so foolish."
"I couldn't do it, ma'am. I doubt she loves Mr. St. Leger; your suggestion is prodigious, unfeeling, and indelicate."
"I won't hear another word on the subject—you are just a mischief-maker with your French ways."
"But you will be sorry you insult me," she breathed.
"Oh, I care not!" cried Eulalie recklessly. "I think you insulted me by broaching such a scheme."
"You will wish you had taken my advice," said Athenšis darkly.
"Maybe I shall and maybe I shan't," returned Eulalie. "Maybe, also, I can hold my own against any foreign madams."
Athenšis blushed with anger.
"Maybe you can hold Augustus!" she sneered, tossing her head.
"He is plighted to me," answered Eulalie, "and he is honourable."
Athenšis smiled gallingly.
Eulalie tapped her foot angrily on the soft grass.
"You are simply a hussy," she declared. "I wish I had never seen you."
They stood a yard or so apart with heaving bosoms, burning cheeks, and angry fires darting from their eyes.
"And you are just a rustic," retorted Athenšis disdainfully. "And I do not care for you one little bit."
With that she turned her back and walked slowly and disdainfully away.
Eulalie felt very near tears, deserted, lonely, and in the wrong. If she had only paid a little more attention to Augustus the shameless Athenšis would not have got such a hold on him. This state of affairs was a fit punishment for her interference with Diana's match.
"Oh, dear," she sighed again and again. "Oh, dear; oh, dear!"
By now Mr. St. Leger was on the London road, riding away from all of them, in his blue overcoat and tall white hat, with the wind stirring the little close curls on his brow and his black eyes sombre and sad.
And Diana was lonely like herself, righteously angry and cold, while the wretched Augustus was probably with Athenšis.
"I really wish," said Eulalie aloud, "that I had married Mr. Champneys—even with the curl-papers."
She looked up through the boughs and leaves of the elms to the very far away sparkles of blue sky.
"And yet no!" she smiled, clasping her hands over her heart. "I really do not!"
Before a tall mirror in a room in Mr. Tollemache's town house, Eulalie stood in her wedding gown.
Her maid on her knees beside her was arranging the folds of heavy white silks; it was the day before the wedding.
Eulalie looked at herself in the long glass; her tumbled brown curls and the thick lace over her bodice obscured her white arms and shoulders; she saw her face very pale, her eyes very blue and bright; the mantua-maker who had brought the dress, standing in anxious admiration over her own handiwork, assured her that she would not know herself to-morrow with her hair powdered and a hoop under her petticoats.
Eulalie listened languidly; she felt that she was some doll they were dressing up; she had no interest in what they made of her, her head was giddy with their talk of whalebone and lutestring.
Diana held herself aloof, Augustus had taken Mademoiselle de Boulainvilliers to Vauxhall; as there was no other one to care what she looked like in her wedding gown, how could she trouble herself?
Patiently, she allowed them to pin and lace, stick and cut, spread her skirts out on the floor and drape the lace over her petticoat.
At her own desire, because she had neither relations nor friends to support her, the wedding was to be a quiet one; Lord Dreven was abroad; few were to be asked beyond Diana, Mademoiselle, Aunt Kate, and Mr. St. Leger.
Her courage would permit of no complaint, but, at times, she regretted Beverly; he was in London also, she believed; she had not written to him to tell him that Sophia's brother was free; her joy in that was gone. She could not say: "Augustus has done this for me." She dared not say the truth. So she knew nothing of her brother nor he of her.
Her glance travelled idly again to the glass; it was the ante-chamber to the ball-room she stood in, chosen because of the number of mirrors it contained; it was a dull room, a sunless day. Eulalie sighed, disarranging the lace on her bosom.
The maid and the mantua-maker stepped back to consider her, and she stood meekly gazing at herself.
She looked very lovely in her pallor and her shimmering white silk, with her round bare arms showing under the lace and her bosom heaving under the muslin fichu; her eyes shone dark and bright, and the brown curls of her hair, caught back by a white ribbon, showed a dusky chestnut against the glittering silk.
There was a little pause; then the door was opened and a gentleman entered.
Mr. St. Leger.
Eulalie turned; she had not seen him alone since they came to London; the last colour faded from her face as she gazed at him; he also was very pale, a little haggard, neither so serene nor calm as usual; his riding clothes were, for him, almost careless, his spotless cravat a little tumbled, his boots a little dusty.
"I may speak to you, Miss Montacute?" he said. "I was informed you were here."
Eulalie felt suddenly sick and giddy with standing; she caught the nearest chair and sank into it. She dismissed the outraged mantua-maker and maid, bidding them return presently.
"You see me in my wedding dress," she said when the door had closed upon them. He stared at her.
"Where is Augustus?" he demanded. Eulalie answered, gazing straight in front of her:
"With the Frenchwoman?"
"And you will endure it?" he cried. Eulalie slowly turned her head and looked at him.
"Oh, I do beseech you not to importune me! There is only the one thing to do." Mr. St. Leger drew an impatient breath.
"Where are Tollemache's friends?" he asked. "Where are the preparations for this wedding? Why does he leave you for that woman's company? By Heaven! I do not trust Augustus Tollemache."
"What can he do?" said Eulalie bewildered. "He is to marry me to-morrow."
St. Leger paced the room in obvious agitation.
"I do not know Mr. Tollemache. He is no friend of mine."
"But of mine," cried Eulalie. "I have known him all my life."
He stopped by her chair.
"My sweetest girl—you are a child—you do not see," he said brokenly.
"Oh!" she whispered, her head drooping, "I do see the mistake now. But we must pay for that mistake."
Mr. St. Leger flushed and paled.
"You shall come with me—now. I can make you my wife within a few hours."
"And Augustus?" she said, "and Diana?"
"Oh, the lady will not weep, and I can come to accounts with the gentleman," answered. "But I do not think of either, but of you—you!"
"And I think of them," said Eulalie, "because I must." And she sighed.
"There is still time," he said ardently. "I came for you. You'll come, Eulalie, you'll come?"
She dragged away her hand.
"No," she murmured piteously. "No." He flung from her, and walked up and down the room again.
He laughed suddenly.
"You cannot desire me to be at the wedding," he said hotly.
"I desire nothing of you but that you should leave me," she answered coldly. She rose, averting her face.
"Good-bye, Mr. St. Leger."
She heard his breath come fast.
"So you mean it?" he asked.
"Good-bye," she repeated, without looking round.
In silence he turned on his heel, crossed the room, and was gone.
Eulalie, very white, but with the gleaming eyes of a victor, rang the bell for the return of the mantua-maker.
In a composed, still fashion she stood staring at her pale reflection. She turned calmly when she heard the door open, but as she saw who entered she started.
Not the mantua-maker, but Miss Tollemache, with a high colour in her face and unwonted energy in her bearing.
Neither spoke until she had crossed to Eulalie's chair, the very spot where Mr. St. Leger had stood a moment before.
"I met Justin leaving the house," she said. "He has been—and without seeing me."
She paused a moment, and Eulalie felt her heart beat so she thought it must be heard in the silence.
"He has been with you?" asked Diana Tollemache.
"He has been in this room," answered Eulalie proudly; "but through no desire nor request of mine."
"But he came to see you?" asked Diana unsteadily.
"I do not know. He came—finding me here; he spoke to me."
Diana Tollemache burst into a slight laugh. "He is very devoted to me, is he not—this gentleman whom in a week I am to marry?"
"He has your brother's example," said Eulalie quietly, but with gleaming eyes.
Diana stared at her.
"So you take exception to Augustus's behaviour?" she exclaimed, in a curious manner, at once infinitely scornful and infinitely pitying.
"I should not have spoken of it," returned Eulalie, "but that you taunted me, but that you have been, Diana, hard to me, and cold, ever since I came to Dreven House."
Miss Tollemache's eyes dwelt upon her coldly proud.
"It is unkind," continued Eulalie trembling, "for I am vastly alone—and whatever you may think of me—whatever you may imagine—it is not true. Oh, I protest, Diana, it is not true."
She raised, half angry, half pleading eyes.
Miss Tollemache stood immovable.
"Diana, we have been friends all our lives." She paused, then said, with great simplicity: "Don't you believe in me, Diana? Don't you believe that I would put you first—that I would never—oh, never do anything—a friend of yours might not do?"
She half held out her hands, the bride lace slipping from her shoulders, and her eyes feverishly bright in her pale face.
Diana Tollemache moved a step back.
"Why, I accuse you of nothing," she answered, in a strange, hard voice, "of nothing. What should you do with Mr. St. Leger's indifference? What should it matter that he should come to see you and not me?—that at Dreven House I sat alone, while he walked with you—that he went to town on your errand—oh, I know it—and would not tell me—that he shows it in his looks, his gestures, his words. Ah! what should any of this have to do with you?"
"Diana! Diana!" cried Eulalie.
Miss Tollemache continued in the same level, unimpassioned manner:
"These are things difficult to put into words. Oh, I accuse you of nothing!" The calm voice shook with bitterness. "If Mr. St. Leger comes to you, can you help it?—You have never enticed him—you have never—"
"Diana," she said passionately, "I am going to marry your brother to-morrow. I shall be the wife of Augustus. Do you—can you think, imagine—" Her voice choked, she struggled to put the impossible into words—"Can you for one instant fear me when I am Augustus's wife? And Mr. St. Leger will be your husband."
"I thank you for the assurance," answered Miss Tollemache, clenching her hands. "I am indebted to you for your consideration."
"Diana!—oh, Diana!" Eulalie turned in despair. "I have not deserved this from you!"
"La!" cried Diana Tollemache. "Deserved what? I vow I express myself with great moderation. I accuse you of nothing, and the mantua-maker will be tired of waiting."
Eulalie, white as her wedding dress, clasped her hands desperately.
"Diana, believe me!"
Miss Tollemache waved aside the piteous appeal with no softening of her hard face.
"Your mantua-maker will be tired," she repeated in the same tone. She curtsied as if she took leave of a stranger, and left.
Eulalie sprang up with the red in her face; she wished they were men that she might follow and demand satisfaction for Diana's insolence.
"There must be pleasure in a sword!" she cried aloud.
"I doubt I have been too particular," mused Eulalie dubiously. "If I had run away with Mr. St. Leger there had been none of this bother, and Diana could not have been more cross than she is now, nor Augustus more neglectful."
The mantua-maker was gone, Aunt Kate asleep, Diana shut in her room; Eulalie yawned alone in the big withdrawing room and gazed between the velvet curtains at the sunny, empty square. She kicked her satin heels against the chair-rails, she sighed and pouted, then at last sprang up impetuously.
This dullness was quite too unendurable.
She looked at herself in the great mirror that hung beside her, and nodded at her own bright reflection.
"You are not going to stay here, my dear, moping yourself to death—and that French minx enjoying herself at Vauxhall—no, indeed!"
Conscious of a guilty purpose, she stole softly upstairs, changed her shoes, put on a cornflower-coloured cloak, and hesitated over the hat with the azure rose.
It awakened memories that filled her eyes with tears; she put it tenderly aside and tied a plain chip straw somewhat defiantly under her chin.
Pulling on her mittens, she crept nervously downstairs, opened the great front door, and stepped out on to the steps.
As she closed the massive door gently behind her she felt frightened.
She knew no one at all in London, and it seemed very vast and rather unfriendly.
But she gathered all her courage and walked boldly round the square, without the least idea what she was going to do with her liberty.
No one passed her, and the fact served to raise her spirits. She was turning out of the square with quite an assured gait when she almost ran into a gentleman coming in the opposite direction.
There was an exclamation between them.
They paused and surveyed each other. Eulalie looked quite needlessly pretty and Mr. Champneys quite tolerable.
He blushed and looked sheepish. She smiled—after a moment's consideration.
"I did not know that you was in town, sir," she said.
"I came up yesterday," he returned awkwardly. "I was going to call on Miss Tollemache."
"Oh!" says Eulalie, with a somewhat chilling accent.
"But—it doesn't matter," he added in confusion.
He coloured even more violently.
"I mean I did not know. I protest that you were—"
"I am to be married to-morrow."
"But Augustus is occupied to-day, so I have time on my hands."
"Are you going out alone?" He visibly brightened as he spoke.
"Yes," said Eulalie, quite graciously.
"Then—may—I—would you condescend to let me take you—say to Vauxhall?" he asked eagerly.
He really looked most presentable. He wore a well-fitting mauve velvet coat, white breeches, and a grey hat with a paste buckle. Eulalie decided to waive the memory of the curl-papers, the whole painful incident of their last meeting.
Augustus and Athenšis were at Vauxhall, too, this afternoon.
"La, sir!" smiled Eulalie, "but what of Miss Tollemache?"
"I made no promise. I said I might come—nothing definite, ma'am, I dare assure you."
He appeared absurdly flattered and happy at her consent. Eulalie decided that this was certainly a turn of luck.
"Then, sir, I am pleased to accept." She gave him the full dazzle of her eyes and smile, and Mr. Champneys was quite overcome by this sudden sunshine.
"But I have no carriage," he said, dashed and distressed.
"A hackney coach?" she suggested, sweetly.
"Oh, ma'am, could I put you in a hackney coach?"
"A chair then?"
"Nor a public chair!"
"Could we walk?"
"Not to be thought of, ma'am!"
"I think I could, though."
"I could not permit it!"
Eulalie was impatient.
"Well, what then?"
"I will hire a chariot."
"That would be vastly pleasant."
She smiled again.
Mr. Champneys, rather red in the face, offered her his arm. She took it with a demure air and secretly hoped Diana was looking out of the window.
They went to a livery stable in St. James's Street, and Mr. Champneys hired the smartest curricle in the shop.
Eulalie deigned to approve it.
"It is much nicer than that Augustus has," she announced.
"I will buy it you for a wedding present," said the delighted Francis Champneys, as he mounted beside her; and then he sighed, thinking, as she rightly conjectured, of his own lost chance.
She was very amiable; she had seen so little of London that to drive through it like this was a pleasure in itself. Mr. Champneys was much less nervous and much more pleasant than he had ever been under the eye of Sophia and Beverly.
Eulalie ventured to ask for news of home.
"Beverly is in London?"
"Yes, ma'am—has been this last fortnight."
"For the season."
"Had a monstrous fit of the vapours."
"And was really ill."
"With spleen, I dare swear."
"No doubt, ma'am."
"She is in London?"
"Does she ever let Beverly out of her sight?" asked Mr. Champneys.
"Poor Beverly!" sighed Eulalie. "He was so nice before he married, wasn't he?"
She glanced at her companion.
"But you like Sophia?"
He was indignant.
"Well, you was always coming to the house, sir."
"Not to see Mrs. Montacute," he protested vehemently.
"I see—because of Beverly?"
"Because of some one else, madam, and you know who."
Eulalie ignored that.
"Well, you were a favourite of Sophia, anyway."
"I am not flattered. Mrs. Montacute would be a misfortune in any neighbourhood," he declared.
"Poor Sophia!" smiled Eulalie. "Well, I suppose I shall never have much to do with her again."
"No," said Francis Champneys gloomily.
"Not after you are married."
"That will be one advantage," answered
Mr. Champneys looked at her eagerly.
She flashed him a bright look.
"In my wedding."
A dazed expression came over his flushed, fair face.
"Ma'am, you don't mean?"
"Oh, la!" cried Eulalie impatiently, "I don't mean anything at all, of course."
Mr. Champneys was crushed at once. Eulalie, extremely interested in the streets through which they drove, did not trouble much about him nor his silence.
"I have never been to Vauxhall," she said at length.
"No? Did not Augustus—"
"He did not," replied Eulalie calmly.
Mr. Champneys was puzzled, but did not dare to say so. He made a heroic effort to rise to the situation.
"I think you will admire it, ma'am. It is very fine—the walks, the music, and the pavilions. Of course, it is more diverting in the evening."
"It is very amiable of you to take me, dear sir."
Mr. Champneys was overwhelmed.
"It is vastly obliging of you to have come," he murmured.
They arrived at the gardens, left the chariot, and entered.
For a while Eulalie was really dazzled.
It was the hour of sunset, the whole western sky was pale and clear, with scarlet and yellow above the trees, and mingled with this radiant light was the glow of the manifold lamps swung in festoons across the branches and bordering the paths.
The sound of distant music filled the air, that was silent otherwise with a sense of expectant festivity. Through the trellised arbours might be seen a glimpse of cool, pure fountains splashing against a background of clipped foliage, lakes with fairy-like boats on them, with lanterns shaking coloured lights at the prow, parterres of flowers and long level spaces of sward, surrounded by high rose bushes, on which couples in delicate dresses were dancing.
Others passed up and down the paths; they were mostly masked and mostly laughing.
The elusive and fragrant witchery of the place was not to be resisted; the deceptive and lovely light made even Mr. Champneys appear romantic.
"There is a concert in the Rotunda, I think," he said. "Would you like to go there now, madam?"
"Oh, yes," answered Eulalie, quite bewildered by the world she had stepped into out of the long quiet streets of brick houses.
They passed down a walk set with stone seats and statues, and came out on to an opening of green, built round with elaborate boxes filled with ladies in the most gorgeous attire, who were applauding a couple of harlequins who danced on the lamp-lit grass.
Mr. Champneys ignored this spectacle in favour of the Rotunda. Eulalie hung on his arm, obedient and rather overawed.
Every hoop that brushed by in the half-dispelled dusk, every gallant whose curls showed white under his cocked hat, she took for Athenšis or Augustus.
She was not in the least afraid of meeting them, but she rather shivered at the anticipation, being a little disarmed by the strange splendours about her.
"It is not very full," said Mr. Champneys, who was in the highest of spirits and appeared at his best. "But I doubt there will be a big crowd at the Rotunda."
As he spoke they came in sight of that wonderful building, illuminated with the glory of a thousand coloured lamps, and rising up against the darkening sky like a dome of ivory.
There was a vast number of people entering the wide doors, and Mr. Champneys had some difficulty in procuring seats.
He obtained a box at last and triumphantly conducted Eulalie through the pink-carpeted corridor.
The Rotunda was a revelation.
Eulalie had never been inside a theatre of any kind. Unknown to her were the splendours of the Pantheon, Carlisle House, Drury Lane, the Haymarket, or the famous music room in Panton Street.
"Oh!" she said.
The Rotunda was circular, and the domed ceiling appeared to be lined with light, it blazed so with swinging lamps.
Statues, mirrors, and pink silk hangings decorated the boxes; the seats in the pit were gilt, and the walls painted with fantastical scenes.
Card tables were arranged in alcoves that opened on to terraces overlooking artificial water with swans, and a courtyard with a fountain; the porters and candle-snuffers wore a white and gold livery, and a fierce and foreign-looking orchestra in a strange uniform of blue and yellow sat below the platform.
The Rotunda, Mr. Champneys explained, had lately come under new management and was doing very well; but then these foreign singers charged such sums that they swallowed all the profits.
"Not that they are worth it, mind you," added Mr. Champneys, frankly, "but then they are the mode."
"Yes," said Eulalie.
She wished, as she saw the audience filling the house, that she was more richly dressed, that her hair was powdered and her skirts on a hoop.
But Mr. Champneys seemed quite satisfied.
The platform was almost covered with flowers—roses, lilies, and trails of green. The background was a velvet curtain of a dull violet, looped with silver cords.
Eulalie kept her eyes fixed on it. The programme gave the name of a singer. She did not know the lady, and could not pronounce the name.
"They think a prodigious deal of her," was Mr. Champneys' comment.
"She is not English?"
"No, ma'am, Italian."
"What will she sing?"
"I don't know—never can understand a word."
As he spoke the house stirred to an elegant applause, the violet curtain was moved, and a tall lady stepped on to the platform.
She wore a straight, classical gown of a deep pink colour, and in her dark hair a chaplet of gems.
She seemed rather haughty. She half bowed, the orchestra began to play, the singer pressed one hand to her bosom, and for the first time Eulalie heard "Che faro senza Eurydice."
Mr. Champneys looked a great deal more at Eulalie than at the singer.
"I am vastly tired of that song," he said.
Eulalie was silent. Secretly she was greatly impressed; she feared, however, that it was rustic to say so.
"Is it French?" she asked—"the song."
"Well, I suppose it is. Quite the mode in Paris, anyhow, sung by a girl as a boy."
"La! how shocking!" said Eulalie, blushing, and at that moment her eyes fixed on a lady entering by one of the gilt, rose-curtained side doors.
She seemed to float in her swaying white hoop frilled with lace and wreaths of violets. She carried a fan of pale plumes, and a silver gauze scarf glittered over her bosom; her hair was powdered high and twisted with a black velvet ribbon.
Her quite dazzling loveliness filled Eulalie with a swift sense of mortification, especially as she saw the perfidious Augustus following this triumphant beauty.
She sat still, not heeding the singing nor the applause; there was a pout on her lips and a slight frown on her brow.
Mr. Champneys, stupid, of course, did not notice anything.
Another lady came on the platform; her father took his seat at the harpsichord and the Rotunda shook with the clapping of hands.
Mr. Champneys mentioned a famous name, which, however, meant nothing to Eulalie.
The singer was English, young and of a great loveliness, gentle yet wild in expression. She wore a white muslin gown, her brown hair loose on her shoulders, without a single ribbon or flower.
The surpassing beauty of this lady, her rapturous reception and her air of detachment from her brilliant surroundings, caused Eulalie to notice her to the exclusion of Athenšis, and rather lessened her desire for hoops and powder.
In a pure, still and rather sad voice the lady, with her hands clasped behind her back, began to sing "Angels, Ever Bright and Fair."
Eulalie had never heard anything like it in her life. She trembled and shivered in her seat, leant far out of the box to gaze on the singer as the unearthly music and ethereal voice winged their way above the hushed crowd, and clasped her hands tight in an ecstasy of enjoyment.
The song ended, and Eulalie, drawing back with a sigh, was speedily brought to earth by the sight of Augustus staring up at her through his glass.
"Mr. Champneys, Augustus is down there."
His exclamation rose through the enthusiastic applause.
"'Pon my honour!" ejaculated Mr. Champneys, staring.
"That is Athenšis de Boulainvilliers. Is she not pretty?"
"Well, I don't know," said Francis Champneys. "She ain't so pretty that I admire his taste in bringing her to Vauxhall the day before his wedding—with you, ma'am."
Eulalie was grateful.
"Perhaps he will not be pleased to see me here," she smiled.
"Then he can come up and say so," returned Mr. Champneys.
The Hon. Augustus was stilt looking up at them incredulously.
Eulalie was pleased to see that Athenšis appeared surprised and rather vexed than otherwise.
"La!" she said, "but they seem vastly startled, sir!"
With that she kissed her hand over the edge of the box.
The couple below were further amazed by this piece of audacity.
But Mr. Champneys bowed; then Augustus slowly bent his head, and Athenšis made a little motion with her fan.
"I had no idea he was here," said Mr. Champneys, wondering.
"It is most strange!"
"I suppose it is."
Eulalie seemed indifferent.
"Who is the lady?"
"A ward of the Earl."
Mr. Champneys studied her through his glass carefully.
"A bold jade, I'll swear."
"French," said Eulalie, scornful.
"Ah, I thought there was a kind of flaunting about her."
"I suppose it isn't her fault," said Eulalie.
"She is just made that way."
"Not my style of looks," declared Mr.
"Not in the least."
"She is really very lovely."
"By this light," he returned, with the air of one jaded in connoisseurship.
Augustus was talking very intimately to
Eulalie smiled graciously on Francis Champneys' attentions.
"It is so warm," she said, "and so pleasant outside. Might we not go?"
"When you wish, of course?"
"Well, now, then, I think, if it does not disoblige you, sir."
He was all eagerness to please.
"Disoblige?" he stammered in his desire to be gallant. "Ma'am, we will leave at once, before the next song."
Augustus was looking up again.
Eulalie fluttered her programme. She felt she had made the better appearance. She smiled with quite an air of virtuous repose and calm.
She took Mr. Champneys' arm, and they passed out of the theatre to the terraces with the fountains.
The moon was up and sparkling in the murmuring silvery water.
Faint music came from under the lamplit trees, and two ladies in white were dancing a minuet on the sward that was suffused with the rosy glow of the lights round the basins of the fountains.
The walks were all edged with low hedges of sweet-smelling roses, pinks and lilies, white and crimson.
Eulalie was silent.
Mr. Champneys sighed—sighed so violently that she was moved to say:
"What is the matter, sir?"
"Dear!" exclaimed Eulalie.
"I feel melancholy."
"So do I."
She was thinking of Justin St. Leger.
"The music is very sad," said Mr. Champneys gloomily.
Eulalie sighed now.
"Like—like—a nightingale," suggested Francis Champneys.
"I have never heard one."
"Not exactly—but in poetry, you know."
"Ah, yes, in poetry."
They sighed together.
"What a beautiful night!" said Mr. Champneys, in a sentimental tone.
Eulalie sighed for the third time.
They walked round and round the arboured walks. Mr. Champneys roused himself and suggested some of the other attractions of the gardens—a collection of Laplanders and a white bear that had just been brought back from the North Pole—some tight-rope dancers, or an Italian gentleman who went up every half hour in a rose-coloured balloon and flew from it when it had reached the height of Bow Church.
Eulalie chose the last, and they turned slowly down one of the long, mysterious paths faintly lit with the enthralling light of soft-hued lamps.
Masked figures in velvet cloaks were seen dimly moving through the trees, the dark tops of which rose still against the stars.
At every turn the fresh sound of running water broke the quiet; glittering bubbles broke and fell over the edges of half-obscured marble basins.
Statues showed faintly against the rich foliage, and faint calls of pipes answered each other down the long, open glades; slender shapes whisked in and out of the bushes—fairies—Eulalie thought.
The sky was clear as opal, with a faint red stain about the moon and a few sombre clouds beyond it, edged with pure silver fire.
Passing petticoats made a coaxing whisper on the grass, and little wizard-like bats circled silently overhead.
Eulalie was rather tired. Excitement braced her, but still her eyelids drooped and she was inclined to yawn behind her fan. She had not the least idea what time it was, but they seemed to have been in the gardens hours, and she had a secret feeling that she had never been out of bed so late before.
She sat at a small table half screened by trees. Opposite was Mr. Champneys, towards whom she felt really friendly. He was not Justin, of course, but he was more presentable than a good many gallants there, and his manners were greatly improved now she had him to herself.
Sophia must have had a very bad effect on him; Sophia had on most people.
They had finished their supper, seen the balloonist and the Laplanders (who had a horrid smell), had their fortunes told, and been rowed in a white boat on the lake.
Mr. Champneys had bought comfits, flowers and confetti in profusion. Eulalie contrasted his recklessness with the behaviour of Augustus, who had not as much as given her a single rose.
She rather hoped her laggard lover might come upon them again, so that he could observe how some one else fÍted the charms he affected to overlook.
As for Francis Champneys, melancholy seemed to seize him again. He looked gloomily at the wine in his glass.
"I've been very unlucky," he announced suddenly.
"Oh?" questioned Eulalie, with kindly sympathy.
She was surprised.
"Has anything happened?"
"A great deal."
Mr. Champneys repeated sombrely:
"I am a most unfortunate man, madam, I assure you."
"I don't think so," said Eulalie cheerfully.
"You have really all you want."
"Have I?"—with some sarcasm.
"Well, haven't you?"
"No, ma'am, I ain't got what I want," he replied bitterly.
"I'm sorry," murmured Eulalie.
"It is my own fault."
"Yes, I lost my chance."
"Lost your chance?"
"Of—of what I wanted."
She eyed him dubiously.
"The evening you ran out of my house," he said, with surprising boldness.
Eulalie was silent.
Mr. Champneys leant across the frail table.
"Ma'am, I've never worn curl-papers since," he declared, in a low earnest tone of entreaty.
"How nice of you," murmured Eulalie.
"I hope I wasn't rude—but they were—ugly, weren't they?"
"Madam," he answered solemnly, "they were."
"And the slippers?" said Eulalie.
"I burnt them."
"Yes, both of them, when aunt was not observing. She made them."
"Then it was sentiment—not taste?"
Mr. Champneys brightened.
"The whole affair was the fault of that vastly foolish old man," he began explaining with some warmth. "He came running up. 'Some one is dead at Montacute House,' he said, and sent me all of a tremble."
"Please do not apologize, sir," said Eulalie sweetly. "It is all over."
"Yes, that is the worst of it."
He stared gloomily into the foliage. Eulalie twirled her fan.
"I think no worse of you for it," she consoled.
He looked at her eagerly.
"You don't despise me?"
"Oh, no—I swear."
"You are very good."
"Why should I?" she returned.
He sighed again.
"I have been very wretched ever since," he declared. "When I heard you was going to marry Augustus Tollemache I looked so wild they thought I was going to shoot myself. Aunt will tell you I did."
"La! sir, you make me feel quite faint!"
He warmed to his subject.
"I rose up, overturning the coffee-urn, and rushed from the room. I was white as curd. 'Leave me alone,' I said, 'I might kill some one.'"
"I had no notion—"
"That was how I felt—desperate."
He frowned furiously.
"That is how I feel now," he added.
"Oh, dear, I hoped you was enjoying yourself."
He spoke bitterly.
"I'm sorry," murmured Eulalie, on a sigh, with a soft glance of blue eyes.
"As for Augustus Tollemache—" began Mr. Champneys fiercely.
"I am going to marry him to-morrow," reminded Eulalie.
"I shall not love him any better when he is your husband."
"Well," sighed the lady. "It can't any of it be helped."
"It could have been," he responded gloomily.
"Oh, yes, it could have been."
"It might be now," he ventured. "You—you are not keen on Augustus Tollemache, ma'am?"
"Oh, I do not know."
"He has behaved vastly ill."
"I—do not know."
Mr. Champneys leant further across the table and seized her hands.
She fluttered a protest.
"Dearest Miss—it ain't too late, you know—"
"Indeed—indeed it is!"
She thought of Justin St. Leger flinging out of Dreven House.
"Too late!" she repeated.
But Mr. Champneys was ardent. He did not release her hands.
"No, ma'am; there is time yet—why do you want to marry that red-haired stock?"
"I'm just as good a fortune," he pleaded. "And I couldn't, I protest, be more fond of you, dear ma'am."
"Indeed," she answered, "I think, sir, you would make a better husband than he—but—I promised—"
"Is that the only objection?" he cried. Eulalie was evasive.
"It is enough."
"No—it ain't—a promise!"
"Indeed, I cannot—"
She tried to free her hands, then gave a half-shriek, for sauntering through the bushes was the Hon. Augustus himself.
Between were scattered idle people passing to and fro, but he saw her—ah, he saw her at once!
Francis Champneys let free her hands and stared in the direction of her startled gaze.
Augustus made a movement as if he would have crossed to them, but Athenšis was at his side. She held his arm, said something quickly to him, and with a frown he turned sharply on his heel and swept her away.
"How uncivil!" said Eulalie, rather faintly. Mr. Champneys looked excited.
LOVERS' KNOTS 175
"Well, after that," he asked, "won't you think better of it?"
She drooped a little.
"Oh, we had better go home!"
"Will you tolerate Augustus Tollemache? he insisted.
"There is no necessity."
But there was another gentleman. It occurred to her that she was not half as severe to Mr. Champneys as she had been to Mr. St. Leger. She felt remorseful, though her gentleness was merely indifference, and strove to be stern.
"Please do not talk of it any more. We must go home now."
At the change in her tone he was instantly crushed, and rose so obediently, with such a blushing face, that Eulalie was sorry.
"Oh, dear," she said, vexed with herself. "Indeed, I did not mean to be unkind. But it must be late, and Diana—"
Her heart rather failed when she thought of Diana.
"Just as you please," he said meekly, waiting.
Eulalie rose, and fastened her mantle and pulled on her mittens, stifling a foolish, annoying desire to yawn.
They were rather silent as they walked back through the gardens, which were, Eulalie noticed, beginning to empty, and on the way home she nearly fell asleep on the comfortable cushions of the chariot seat.
She saw the overhead street lights, the stars and the moon, through a pleasant haze of drowsiness, and only pulled herself together with a shock when Mr. Champneys pulled up.
"Are we home?"
"Yes, ma'am," he returned gloomily. Eulalie glanced up at the dark front of the house. There was a light in the drawing-room. Mr. Champneys sprang out and helped her to alight.
On the doorstep she turned to him.
"Thank you—ah, thank you so much! I have enjoyed myself vastly. I hope to see more of you, sir."
He stood speechless. Eulalie rang the bell. "It was delightful," she repeated. "I had no idea of anything so entertaining."
She held out her hand, he grasped it, the door opened, and Mr. Champneys fled, stammering.
Eulalie crossed the threshold with a regretful sigh.
"Miss Tollemache is in the drawing-room, madam," said the servant in a dreary tone. Eulalie glanced at him.
"Well, I think I will go to bed, and not into the drawing-room."
"Miss Tollemache is sitting up for you, ma'am."
"Sitting up for me?"
"And particularly requested that you were to see her."
"Very well," said Eulalie, with dignity.
She went upstairs, not feeling in the least sleepy now, and flung open the drawing-room door.
Diana was there, and Aunt Kate. They sat side by side on a settee, and the younger lady looked as if she had been crying.
On the mantelshelf five candles burnt in a branched stand; a quantity of fancy work was scattered over the table.
The great, fine room looked chill and bare; the atmosphere was ominous.
"Good even," said Eulalie.
Miss Tollemache and her aunt looked at the black marble clock.
Eulalie gave it a glance too.
It was nearly one o'clock.
"Oh, la!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," said Aunt Kate caustically, "it is rather late, is it not?"
"I had no idea."
"Where have you been?"
The tone galled Eulalie. After all, Diana had no right this time. Mr. Champneys was at present public property.
Aunt Kate threw up her hands.
"Yes, ma'am. And why not?
"Alone?" asked Diana.
"No, with Mr. Champneys."
"I knew it!" cried Miss Tollemache.
"Well, if you did, Diana?" demanded Eulalie. "There was no need to ask if you knew. I suppose you saw us meet at the corner?"
"Yes, I did."
"Well, he asked me to go to Vauxhall, and I went."
"Eulalie Montacute," said Aunt Kate, "you are quite shameless!"
Eulalie threw herself into the chair by the hearth. She was very tired, and her head was full of the strange things she had seen that night—mysterious alleys, lamplit trees, the moon above the Rotunda, a man flying from a rose-coloured balloon, and a lovely creature in a white gown singing "Angels, Ever Bright and Fair." Diana and Aunt Kate seemed both tiresome and cross.
She made, however, an effort to explain.
"It was vastly dull here. I had nothing to do, so I went out to amuse myself, and met Francis Champneys, who is quite presentable, and he took me to Vauxhall, and we went into the Rotunda, and saw the Laplanders, and it was very pleasant."
Aunt Kate was witheringly scornful.
"Very pleasant!" she echoed. "And what will Augustus say?"
"Not much," retorted Eulalie. "He can't—he was there himself with Athenšis de Boulainvilliers."
"No wonder—when you behave like this," was the retort.
"He started it," said Eulalie. "If he had taken me I should not have needed to go with Francis Champneys."
She crossed her blue velvet shoes with an air of defiance.
Diana took up the accusation.
"You had simply no right to go anywhere with Francis Champneys."
"He was coming to see me."
"Well, he could have done. I did not ask him to come with me."
"Impudent!" cried Diana. "What else could he do, meeting you alone in the street in that disgraceful way?"
"Why, he could have come on here if he had wished to."
"He did wish to. I was expecting him."
"I did not know," said Eulalie truthfully. "Of course not," answered Diana bitterly. "He never told me," repeated Eulalie flushing; "and I saw no reason why I should not have an agreeable time."
"It was a scandalous and indelicate thing," struck in Aunt Kate.
"Oh, la!" said Eulalie disdainfully. "I have known Francis Champneys all my life, and even Sophia never minded my going about with him."
"But not in London—Vauxhall!"
"What is the difference?" inquired Eulalie. "I think you are vastly foolish."
Aunt Kate gurgled, and Diana answered with eyes that flashed.
"And you are without conscience."
"Well, really," returned Eulalie, "what has Francis Champneys to do with you? A while ago you was complaining of—of—some one else; but you ain't engaged to Mr. Champneys."
Diana rose stormily.
"One is not always most interested in one's future husband, as you must know," she said indignantly.
A new light broke on Eulalie. Did Diana's affections stray too—and from Justin St. Leger to Francis Champneys? It was not possible!
"Why, Diana," she exclaimed, "you do not mean that—"
"I mean you had no right." Diana was on the verge of tears.
"You are not in love with Francis, are you?" asked Eulalie in surprise. "Well, you should see him in curl-papers!"
"Curl-papers!" echoed both the ladies, horrified.
"Yes, but he did say he never wore them now," she added honestly.
"Curl-papers!" repeated Aunt Kate in an awful tone. "And when did you see Mr. Champneys in curl-papers?"
"The night I told him I would marry him. I had to go somewhere, but then the curl-papers, and the slippers, and he being so foolish put me off, and I came on to Dreven House; but now you are all so disobliging I am sorry for it. Mr. Champneys is good-natured, at least."
Aunt Kate gasped.
"I never heard anything so disgraceful."
"You are as bad as Sophia," returned Eulalie; "and I doubt if I have bettered myself after all."
"Come along," said Diana sternly. She caught her aunt by the arm, and the two went from the room with their heads high. Eulalie looked after them dubiously.
"I suppose I am very injudicious," she said to herself. "They will tell Augustus the whole thing, and he will be quite unbearable. Ah, dear!"
She was half-inclined to cry, but on looking at the time decided that it was too late.
There was an excitement in being up at such an hour that braced her against all thought of tears.
She yawned herself up to bed. As she reached the landing outside her room she heard a coach drive up, and peered from the window. Augustus and Athenšis!
She heard them go into the drawing-room. Diana joined them; the door was shut.
Eulalie suspected plots, but slept nevertheless and dreamt of a rose-coloured balloon.
Eulalie, in her wedding dress, Diana and Aunt Kate, alighted at St. Martin's-in-the Fields.
They were all wrapped in a frozen silence. Eulalie, far more finely dressed than she had ever been before—rouged, powdered, and her hair dressed on a pillow, looked round for Augustus.
She saw only a tall man in a light grey coat buying forget-me-nots from a woman seated on the steps of the church.
But the next minute the bridegroom appeared, driving a gay blue chariot.
With Athenšis de Boulainvilliers leaning back on the cushions beside him, shading her delicate head with a gold-fringed parasol.
"Augustus!" exclaimed Eulalie. Her bosom heaved dangerously.
He drew up, but made no attempt to alight.
"Miss Montacute," he said, "I have no intention of getting married to-day. Once I was not good enough for you"—his sinister red eyes gleamed—"now I don't want you. You are just a little too heartless a jade; you will get on better with one of the other fools."
Eulalie stood immovable, staring.
Athenšis broke into a light laugh.
"You had better to take my advice, dear, eh?"
The Hon. Augustus touched up the horses, and the blue chariot flashed out of sight, the sunlight on the lady's fringed parasol and the shining wheels.
"Diana!" cried Eulalie, clasping her hands. "What did you expect?" answered that lady coldly.
"Don't call on me, miss, it ain't no use. Mr. St. Leger isn't here, nor Francis Champneys, to champion you."
"You planned this?"
"Yes," said Aunt Kate. "I hope it will be a lesson."
They passed into the coach and left Eulalie standing alone at the foot of the steps. There was no one there but the flower woman and the man in the light-grey coat. Eulalie would not have cared if there had been.
The incredible had happened!
Augustus! Augustus to do this!
And Diana! Diana, for whose sake she had repulsed Justin St. Leger.
A passing milkmaid paused to stare at her, then a watercress seller, a couple of youths, and a soldier.
From nowhere the crowd gathered, attracted by this extraordinary spectacle of the bride standing alone on the steps.
She did not see them nor hear their comments.
The face of Augustus, the smile of Athenšis were still before her eyes.
Oh, Augustus! Oh, Diana! Oh, unbelievable baseness and cruelty.
Even now she could scarcely believe it.
She stood erect with the sun gleaming in her bridal dress and her wide blue eyes gazing down the road. She stood so, motionless, with her shadow over the steps and one hand hanging over her side as Miss Tollemache had cast it from her, and the other pressed tightly to her side.
The man with the bunch of forget-me-nots stepped forward from where he had stood, and savagely ordered back the louts who were closing round Eulalie.
He came up to her as they fell away from him.
"Miss Montacute," he said.
Slowly, still rigid, she turned and stared at him with unchanged eyes. She did not see him; he was a mere blur before her; she heard her name and did not wonder that he knew it.
"Miss Montacute," he repeated—he laid his hand on her shoulder—"what are you going to do?"
"I am going," she said haughtily, "to find a man to fight Augustus Tollemache for me."
He flashed into a reckless response.
"Miss Montacute, will you marry me—here and now?"
"You heard what he said—you saw what he did; will you tell him he was a liar and a coward?" she said, in a low voice.
"Yes; give me the right, Miss Montacute."
She held out her hand to this stranger, blindly, passionately. In a silence of elation he took it and led her up the steps.
The crowd had seen nothing but a quick, whispered converse. Eager for a new development of a pretty scandal, they followed up the steps.
But the man with the blue flowers, passing after Eulalie into the church, closed the door in their faces with a resolute calm that disarmed their curiosity.
Then he turned to the old pew-opener who had been gaping from the porch.
"This lady and I are to be married," he said, in a sudden, imperious manner. "Where is the clergyman?"
He came, having also been employed in gazing from a discreet distance at the dramatic end of a runaway wedding, as he considered it.
He stared now rather confusedly at the fashionable bride, in her silk and powder, ghastly pale under her rouge, supporting herself on the arm of a tall, grey-eyed gentleman in a light overcoat, who carried a bunch of forget-me-nots.
"It seems to me that there has been a disgraceful scene on the church steps," he said.
"The merest trifling mistake," said the grey-eyed gentleman. "Only emphasized by the intolerable curiosity of your parishioners, my good sir."
His masterful air overawed the clergyman; he was used to private weddings and sudden weddings, but a little puzzled by the appearance of a bride so splendidly dressed and so utterly alone, and a bridegroom who wore top boots and a riding-coat.
"In a few moments, sir," said that gentleman resolutely, "your devout congregation will be arriving."
He put his hand in his pocket and drew out more money than was consistent with the plainness of his attire.
"Your fee," he said, and slipped it into the clergyman's practised hand.
Eulalie saw none of this, heard nothing; her eyes were fixed ahead of her in the dull interior of the church with the vivid windows gleaming in coloured fire from the sun; the pure passions of rage, shame, a bewildered wrong, of wonder, held her rigid, silent. Augustus, the man she had known all her life and never known until now! Augustus to do this thing!
With a little shock through her absorption, she discovered herself at the altar rails. The man beside her held her hand and was slipping a ring from his own finger on to hers. It was too large. Mechanically she closed her hand. She was marrying this man. What did it matter? He would revenge her on Augustus.
They left the altar; she remembered nothing of what had happened there—whether she had spoken or had been silent. She felt the ring cold on her finger.
They stood in the vestry, and she saw the man in the light overcoat lay the bunch of blue flowers on the bench while he bent over a book and wrote something. He turned to her, put the pen in her hand, and told her to put her name beneath his. She obeyed, seeing his for the first time as she affixed hers.
"Stephen Brunton," he had written in a fair gentleman's hand. Stephen Brunton—the name was utterly strange to her.
The pew-opener and the verger signed; Eulalie stared at them, then at the man. He had picked up the forget-me-nots. He was looking at her. For the first time she saw and realized his face.
The vagabond—the haymaker at Kent. Different through the different dress, but the same man with the reckless grey eyes.
The fumes of passion cleared suddenly from Eulalie's brain. She saw everything very distinctly—the four grey walls of the vestry; the verger in his rusty black; the register with its thick leaves—the clergyman, the man she had—
She was cold, faint and trembling, exhausted as after a fit of madness.
"What have I done?" she whispered. Terror came into her eyes; she held to the edge of the table.
"My wife and I," said Stephen Brunton, "will leave by the back entrance. I suppose it is possible to obtain a hackney coach?"
His wife! His wife!
She let go of the table, her strength suddenly wrenched from her, and she fell on to the vestry floor in a piteous, senseless heap at her husband's feet.
When Eulalie recovered her senses she felt a mist about her. She struggled from darkness to light and imagined some one was holding her hand and kissing it.
The mist clearing showed her she must have been mistaken, for she was alone in the vestry, save for the gentleman in the light overcoat, and he stood the other side of the table.
Eulalie sat up in the wicker chair.
"O-o-h!" she said, "I have had an attack of the vapours."
She looked round her in a dazed manner. The door was closed; there was the muffled sound of an organ. Eulalie noticed the drooping bunch of forget-me-nots on the table.
"I remember," she said. Then she gazed at the other occupant of the room. "Are you," she demanded, in a trembling voice, "my husband?"
He answered her by pouring some wine from the decanter beside him and handing it to her.
"To finally demolish the vapours," he remarked.
She took it a little doubtfully, eyeing him with suspicion.
"I am afraid," she said, as she returned him the glass, "that you are my husband."
"Well, we need not talk about it," he replied considerately, "not, I would say, if it distresses you."
He seated himself opposite, the table between them.
Her blue eyes flashed.
"Do you mean to declare that I really married you?" she cried with withering contempt.
"I repeat," he said unmoved, "that we can let the subject drop."
"Of course," said Eulalie haughtily, "I did not in the least know what I was doing."
"So I imagined," he returned.
"It was the vile behaviour of that wretch," continued Eulalie, with growing indignation. "I swear it sent me off my head. I did not realize what was happening!"
"Very naturally," he answered.
Her eyes began to fill with tears.
"It was vastly inconsiderate of you to take advantage of it," she said angrily. "If you had waited—I should never—never—have done a thing so mad."
"My reason for not waiting," he replied, in no way moved from his composure.
Eulalie crimsoned, and the tears were dangerously near to overflowing.
"You are quite odious," she said. "I do not like you in the least, and I consider it was vastly impertinent of you to thrust yourself forward when I did not know what I was about."
"Now, that is quite unfair, I protest." His grey eyes sparkled gaily. "You said you would marry me, if I would fight Mr. Tollemache."
"Don't mention that villain's name to me," she cried bitterly.
"But I will challenge him," he answered. "Shall I not be some use that way?"
She turned her shoulder.
"I do not require, sir, your services." Her chin lifted. "I have friends."
"It was their misfortune not to be present to-day," he said drily. "And your misfortune, for I assure you had there been another to champion you, you would not have been troubled with me."
"It was a vast pity." She tossed her head. "Oh, my hair!" she cried.
The elaborate powdered structure that she was not used to carry had become disarranged in her faint, and now, as she flung up her head, fell on her shoulders in masses of pomaded curls twisted with feathers and ribbons.
"I dare swear I look a fine sight," she said, ready to cry with vexation, "and your clumsiness is to blame for it all."
She put up her hands and struggled with the pins.
"My clumsiness?" he echoed.
She stamped her foot.
"You must have knocked my head about when I was in the vapours—it was a lovely head!"
"Believe me," he declared, "you look better without it—better with the brown curls you showed in Kent—better a thousand times without that paint on your face."
She reddened furiously.
"I did not put the odious stuff on," she answered, and began a fruitless search for her pocket-handkerchief. He offered her his and, though it was as white and fine as her own, it was refused indignantly.
She found hers and wiped her face and lips vigorously, flinging the rouge-stained scrap of cambric on to the floor.
Silence fell as she strove to untwist the scarf and feathers from her hair, but the hairdresser's arts were too much for her. She darted an indignant glance at the gentleman on the other side of the table.
"I should have imagined that you might have offered to help me!" she said.
He rose gravely.
"I was repulsed in the matter of the handkerchief," he replied.
"Well," said Eulalie coldly, "you may take these things out of my hair."
He came up behind her and removed a pink ostrich tip, a white ostrich tip, a pair of lace lapels, and a flowered silk scarf from the powdered locks, besides any amount of hairpins.
"It looks infinitely better without them," he said, as he gravely disposed these articles on the table.
"You know nothing whatever of the fashions," said Eulalie sharply.
"Nothing," he assented, "but a great deal of ladies, and when their own curls become them best."
"You are insufferable," she answered, sitting with her back to him, "and what am I to do with that?" she added, picking up the heavy hair that fell to her waist.
He turned and looked at her.
"Why, what is the matter with it?" he asked.
"O-o-h!" said Eulalie, with a sob in her throat, "of course it is ruining my dress with all the powder, and, of course you don't care if it is—and—and—you have absolutely no right here at all."
"Suppose we waive that for the moment?" he suggested. "What do you want? What can I get?"
"Oh, this is prodigiously civil of you, sir!" she answered haughtily, "but I swear that you are not the least good at all—and I would much rather you did not speak to me"—then in the same breath—"what I do want is a comb and a mirror."
He went in silence to the cupboard where the vestures were kept and produced a brush, black, clerical-looking, severe, and a small hand mirror.
"You profit, madam, by the vanity of the holy gentleman," he remarked; "but I do not observe a comb."
She looked over her shoulder and eyed him with disfavour.
"The brush will do," she conceded.
He placed that and the mirror on the table beside her. The last she snatched up eagerly.
"Oh! what a hideous fright I look!" she exclaimed. "I was never such a colour in my life, I protest "; she banged the offending glass face downwards on the table and caught up the brush.
"When you are ready," he said, looking at her, "we will get into the fresh air—it is purely close in here."
"We!" echoed Eulalie, pausing in the act of brushing the powder out of her hair. "I hope you don't imagine, sir, that I am going with you—anywhere—you can depart as soon as you desire—you are really no use, I swear."
"That is a misfortune," he answered calmly, "but I happen to be your husband, you see, madam."
She flung down the brush, and rose.
"That was a mistake," she said, very pale. He faced her steadily.
"Not on my part, madam."
Her breath came quickly and her eyes shone. "I wonder—how—you—dared!"
He smiled at her.
"I risked a great deal, did I not?—but I was born reckless. I became more reckless since I met you in Montjoy Park. I watched you from a distance, I learnt of you from servants—I heard that you were to be married to-day and here."
"It was a vast presumption," breathed Eulalie.
"Oh! you cannot call it presumption to take the chance the gods give you."
Eulalie drew away from him in disgust; she remembered the appearance he had made in Kent when he had worked in her brother's corn.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
"A gentleman," he answered, with a flash in his grey eyes.
She lifted her shoulders, and her proud face did not soften; she turned her back on him and twisted her hair into her neck and pinned it; he picked up the bunch of forget-me-nots, eyeing her the while; suddenly she swung round on him, aversion, scorn, holding her exquisitely aloof.
"What is your wretched name?" she asked with downcast eyes.
Anger for a moment leapt to his eyes; then he answered composedly, his hands in his coat-pockets:
"Josiah Jenkins, at your service, madam." At that she started and looked up.
"Oh, no!" she echoed in horror, "I saw your name in the odious book there, and it was not that."
"But you cannot remember it?" he said pleasantly. "Well, I assure you that you are Mrs. Josiah Jenkins."
Eulalie went paler.
"It cannot be possible," she murmured, "that I have married a wretch by the name of Jenkins! Yet, what could I expect from a farm labourer!" She sank faintly into the chair, averting her face from him.
"My name is merely my misfortune," he said gravely, "it certainly is not my fault—and as for you—why, I protest Eulalie Jenkins hath a pretty sound."
She flashed him a look of utter contempt and struggled to her feet.
"Mr.—Mr. Jenkins," she panted, "you will please go about your business, for you are quite unendurable. I am going to write to the King—or the Parliament or the Archbishop of Canterbury—or—or—some one—for a divorce—and I am going away now—and—and—you are not to be so prodigiously insolent as to follow me—because I won't bear it—Mr.—Mr. Jenkins."
She caught the bridal train of her gown and stepped haughtily to the door.
"Pardon me—but the church is full, and the people of this parish are curious."
"Very well," she replied flushing, "I shall wait till the service is over."
"And then," he came towards her, "where will you go?"
He spoke gently, half under his breath, but the words were a shock to Eulalie; where was she going indeed? She knew no one in London; for a second, she considered Beverly's town house as a refuge, but the humiliation of returning in this plight was not to be thought of.
"Indeed, indeed—" she began with a faltering courage.
"Indeed, I think you have nowhere to go," he finished.
"How do you know so much of me, sir?" she demanded indignantly.
"I have said—I have followed your diverting history," he smiled.
"My diverting history!" her eyes flashed wide. "La! what insolence!"
"My own has been even more entertaining," he answered. "But we evade the point. Having decided you have nowhere else to go, I take it that you will be willing to follow me."
"You may take it as nothing of the kind," said Eulalie trembling. "I am not your wife—how can I be when I knew, I swear, nothing about it till it was all over?" Then, the sense of her loneliness, her desolation, overcame her; she began, very softly, to cry. "And to consider that your intolerable name is Jenkins!" she sobbed.
He came up to her, impulsively, at the sight of her tears.
"Now, by Heaven, my dear," he said, rather red in the face, "that was merely to tease you—my name is Stephen Brunton."
The sobs ceased a little.
"'Twas a joke in odious bad taste," she murmured.
"Outrageous," agreed Mr. Brunton, "but you might have remembered—and do I look like a man by the name of Jenkins?"
She glanced at his strong, good-looking face in silence.
"I am glad," smiled he, "to see that you consider I do not."
"I never said so," she flashed.
"It was unnecessary," said Mr. Brunton. "Now are you ready?"
Eulalie sat silent; her eyes a little red, her face a little pale, and her hair an untidy mass of half powdered curls falling on to the gorgeous bridal dress.
Mr. Brunton picked up his hat.
"I imagine the service is over," he remarked.
"Very well, Mr. Brunton," said Eulalie icily. "You can go, but I am not coming with you. I do not consider that I am your wife."
"It happens that I consider that I am your husband," he answered firmly: "and other people will consider so too, I fancy."
"It is utterly absurd!" cried Eulalie.
"It is also monstrously hot in here," said Mr. Brunton; "and, as you have certainly recovered, there is no occasion to remain."
She turned and looked at him, but under his steady gaze her own defiant eyes drooped and faltered. Here was a man not easily mastered. She bit her lip in silence.
"I will go and call a hackney coach," he remarked, advancing to the door.
At that her wrath rose.
"A hackney coach!" she cried. "So you imagine that I could enter a hackney coach! And in this dress?"
"In that dress, madam," he returned, "you could hardly walk the streets. Have you never been in a hackney coach? I swear it is quite pleasant."
She faced him valiantly.
"I declare I will not ride in a low public conveyance."
"I mentioned a hackney coach."
"I swear I will not enter one!" she answered haughtily.
"And I," said Mr. Brunton, quite pleasantly, "I swear that you will do whatever I choose to tell you."
"This," cried Eulalie, "is an outrage! I will not endure it! I will call the people about."
"They would help me carry you into the coach, madam," he replied. "You are my wife."
"I am not," she declared hotly. "And you will go in your odious coach alone."
Mr. Brunton, with his hand on the door, looked at her over his shoulder.
"You will come," he said, "and you will come quietly, and you will be thankful that your husband can offer you a hackney coach; and while I am calling the coach you will reflect upon the duties of wives, which I think it is time you began to consider."
"O-o-h!" exclaimed Eulalie, overawed. "The duties of wives!"
"Principally obedience," answered Mr. Brunton, with a grave face but smiling eyes. And with that he left.
Eulalie cautiously opened the door closed on her, and, holding it ajar, watched the tall figure in the light overcoat mingling with the departing congregation.
He was an astounding gentleman! Her astonishment at him almost swallowed her wrath at the Hon. Augustus. And he called her his wife! That, of course, was ridiculous. Eulalie was convinced that that hasty ceremony did not constitute a marriage. She certainly did not remember having said "yes" at the altar, and she knew that was part of the wedding service. But of what use was it to argue with Mr. Stephen Brunton? She had her private convictions, but she felt it hopeless to insist on them to him.
And, since she could do it in no other way, she must circumvent him by the way of guile.
What a wretched tangle it was! But the undaunted spirit of the gamester rose in Eulalie's breast, and, as a sudden inspiration, there came to her the name of Justin St. Leger. Of course, he was her hero, her champion. Why, ah! why, had he not been there to-day?
That he ought to have been was very obvious; that he was not, was very distressing. Still, he would hear of it; he would rage against Augustus. Eulalie smiled to herself. She was not bound to any loyalty to Diana now. Here was her way out of the confusion; here was the thing to be done—to fly to the arms of Justin St. Leger!
When Mr. Stephen Brunton returned she rose in a cold silence and followed him down the church, and, though she shivered with disgust at the hackney coach and its greasy driver and raw-boned horse, she entered it without a word of protest.
She had consolations in her heart, both for the hackney coach and the company of Mr. Brunton, which last she tried to ignore by staring out of the window. The gentleman, on his side, made no attempt at conversation, but in an admirable composure pulled away the dead leaves from the bunch of forget-me-nots.
And Eulalie was wondering whether Mr. St. Leger's lodgings were 51 or 52 St. Jermyn Street.
They arrived at a fine mansion in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Eulalie, waiting disdainfully on the steps while Mr. Brunton paid the coachman, observed that grass grew in the courtyard, and that the outside of the house was in obvious disrepair; the windows, too, were all shuttered. She concluded that this was the residence of some rich kinsman who allowed his poor relative shelter.
Mr. Brunton joined her on the steps, and the despised hackney rolled away round the empty square. He rang the bell, regardless of her back turned towards him.
The door was opened by an elderly serving man in black more than a little rusty.
Mr. Brunton motioned to Eulalie to enter; then, as he followed her into the hall:
"My wife, Peter," he said pleasantly to the servant. "Will you put another cover on the table."
Peter appeared to be kept well in hand. Save one wild glance at Eulalie's gorgeous attire, he gave no sign that his master did not bring home a wife every day in the same unexpected manner. Mr. Brunton flung aside his coat and hat.
"I live upstairs," he remarked, "because the house is unfurnished."
Eulalie still preserved her aloof silence. She came obediently up the fine, wide, dark stairway, strange contrast of blooming youth and bright loveliness with the sombre, dark, deserted house. Her light steps on the polished boards, her glittering, trailing dress against the wainscot seemed rare things here.
Mr. Brunton led the way into a chamber at the top of the house. It had little furniture, but the beauty Of the panelled walls, the majestic carved mantelshelf, the glowing hues of the painted ceiling, the elegant lines of the tall window required no adorning. It was a fine room—large, lordly.
In one corner stood a table covered with books and papers, among which was a tall glass filled with red roses.
Another table in the centre was laid for a meal. There were one or two chairs about, and that was all. Eulalie sank into the first seat that offered.
"Is this your house?" she asked curiously. "Yes."
"I wonder—" she began.
"You wonder why," he finished, "when I possess a mansion in Lincoln's Inn, I disport myself in Kent in the fashion you have seen? For many reasons, madam; principally, I think, because I am a vagabond at heart."
He arranged the forget-me-nots among the red roses, and looked at her over them with a sudden smile wholly delightful.
"Who are you?" demanded Eulalie, curiosity struggling with disdain.
"Ah! a number of things; among others, an author. I am newly returned from France, where philosophy is distinctly the fashion. I am engaged in writing a treatise on The Principles of Logic as opposed to the Instincts of the Heart."
He smiled again.
"Your presence here, madam, proves that the principles of logic stand a poor chance against the instincts of the heart."
"My presence here," answered Eulalie with trembling lips, "is no fault of mine, and I have always detested people who write books."
"So have I," responded Mr. Brunton. "I have learnt, however, to make exceptions, as you will doubtless do, madam."
This with the unflinching glance of grey eyes that had roused her wrath on their first encounter in Montjoy Park. Eulalie, gathering herself for some fitting reply, was checked by the entry of a waiting-woman with the dinner. Mr. Brunton presented Eulalie with the same gravity he had used to her husband. Eulalie accepted it in the same silence, and seated herself languidly at the table.
For all her indifference, she eyed the food and the table appointments, and reluctantly admitted their fine quality—to herself; she even condescended to eat a little, though she refused to be led into any conversation.
Mr. Stephen Brunton, easy at the head of the table, was imperturbable to her coldness.
"The house is fortunately large," he remarked, gazing in an absorbed way at the painted ceiling; "you can see just as little of me as you choose, there being ample room for both of us."
Eulalie made no answer; her brows were gathered in an absorbed frown. Was Mr. St. Leger's number fifty-one, fifty-two, or even fifteen—something with a five and a one or a five and a two?
"Are you tired, my dear?" asked Mr. Brunton suddenly.
She slowly turned and considered him.
"No," she said, in a half-doubting manner.
"What are you thinking of?" he asked again, leaning forward towards her.
Eulalie broke into unexpected, adorable smiles.
"I was thinking—" She paused prettily, elevating her eyebrows and looking at him in a way that a little shook his calm.
"What was you thinking?" he demanded.
"Well"—she laid her hand on the white cloth, within easy reach of his, and he could not but notice what a small elegant hand it was—"I was considering that I had left two lovely feathers and a Lyons silk scarf behind in that odious church."
"Do you want them?" he asked eagerly, put completely off his guard by this sudden change of manner.
She leant over the arms of her chair, closer to him, in a charming, unconscious manner.
"Yes, I do," she said. "They were vastly pretty feathers." And she sighed, with an inviting upward glance of innocent blue eyes.
Mr. Brunton rose, on fire.
"I will return for them at once. You shall have them within the hour."
He smiled at her, and she graciously returned it, sitting languorously, idly back in her chair until he had gone, until the door had some moments been closed on him.
Then she sat up, alert and eager, sprang to the window and watched him, from the safe concealment of the heavy curtains, pass rapidly round the square.
So she had got rid of him. Her breath came a little quickly; there would not be much time. She considered the servants, she glanced with dismay at her splendid wedding dress; but the thought of Justin St. Leger steeled her courage to face these difficulties.
She crept from the room into the wide silent staircase; she could hear nobody moving about. Resolutely, but with a pale face, she slipped off her high-heeled satin shoes. As she leant forward, something flew out from her bodice and struck against the banisters—a ring tied to the white ribbons of her dress.
Eulalie stared at it. The ring the astonishing Mr. Brunton had put on her finger; that had fallen off, of course, and that he had had the impertinence to fasten to her gown when she was unconscious.
She untied it and laid it coldly on the top of the stairs; then, gathering her dress about, her, she crept noiselessly into the hall.
Gasping with the excitement of the adventure, she slipped on her shoes again, then she glanced cautiously round. She noticed a long black coat hanging against the wall.
Unhesitatingly she took it down and put it on. Effectually it concealed the white wedding dress, and, though it was heavy, cumbrous, and she disdained it as belonging to Mr. Brunton, still it served her purpose.
Now there was a heavy door to unbolt.
With fearful glances over her shoulder and trembling fingers, she accomplished this, opened the door just wide enough to slip out, and stood on the other side, breathless while she cautiously closed it.
Alone for the first time in the streets, her terror increased; she looked nervously up and down, then, gathering her courage anew, fled across the courtyard and started at a rapid walk towards Holborn.
She imagined that she knew the way to St. Jermyn Street, but by the time she had traversed the silent sunny streets as far as the Tyburn Road, she was utterly at a loss and most extraordinarily tired. Half reluctantly she remembered the hackney coach of the morning, and seeing one coming towards her, imperiously commanded the driver to stop.
"Do you know St. Jermyn Street?" she asked as the coach drew alongside the posts.
The man nodded, staring.
"Well," said Eulalie consideringly, "drive to fifty-one." She entered, sank wearily into the worn seat, and the hackney started at a leisurely pace.
Eulalie felt dazed and confused. How tired she was, and how miserable a sensation it seemed to be, alone—alone in a hackney. Tears of self-pity rose to her eyes, but Mr. St. Leger was a beacon to lead her on. She yearned for him, longed for him; once she could find him there would be no need to trouble about anything. She had infinite faith in Justin St. Leger. Her thoughts were interrupted by the hackney stopping in front of a tall house, one of a prim row exactly similar.
Eulalie alighted and rang the bell. To her infinite surprise the coachman called something after her. His money! Of course he wanted money, these people always did; she had not a farthing about her.
"I will procure your fare when I enter the house," she said from the step, a little defiantly. As she spoke the door opened.
"Does Mr. St. Leger have his lodgings here?" she asked.
The servant gaped.
Eulalie returned dolefully to the coach.
"To fifty-two," she said, as she entered it.
"It's next door, ma'am," answered the man with a grin, and Eulalie, disconcerted, redescended and rang, rather desperately, at number fifty-two.
"Mr. St. Leger?" she demanded faintly as the door opened.
The man answered:
"Yes," and studied her with no small amount of astonishment.
"Ah!" cried Eulalie, "is he within?"
"Why, I don't know, madam," was the cautious reply.
"Will you go and ascertain? Tell him that it is Miss Montacute. No, stay, I must go up myself, and at once. Pay the coachman, if you please."
She entered as she spoke with an air of authority, yet of agitation.
"Is Mr. St. Leger expecting you, ma'am?" asked the servant, and the hackney driver was recommencing his demands for attention.
"Oh, I do not know," she cried wildly. "I swear I shall faint in another moment. For Heaven's sake where is Mr. St. Leger?"
"Upstairs," answered the servant, distracted between her and the coachman, and she waited for no more but sped up the stairs and flung open the first door she saw.
The room was empty. Eulalie dashed into the next, entered it impetuously.
Mr. St. Leger sat within in an elegant pose of despair, his elbows resting on a gilt table, his head in his hands. At the sound of her voice he sprang up, scattering a blue snuff-box and its contents over the Aubusson carpet.
"Eulalie!" He stared at her. The extraordinary appearance of her in her bridal dress—a little tumbled by now—with the gentleman's riding-coat flung over it, the fallen, half-powdered hair, the pale face. And she should be the Hon. Mrs. Tollemache by now.
"Oh, Justin!"—her voice broke piteously—"I am so tired, so distracted. Oh, la! I declare I shall swoon." She came a step forward and sank into his arms, her cheek against the brilliant buttons on his coat.
"My dearest girl." Mr. St. Leger's voice was faint with agitation. "What has occurred? Pray enlighten me, I am bewildered."
"Oh, why was you not present this morning!" cried Eulalie. "Justin, conceive the situation. Augustus, oh Augustus!"
"Good Heavens!" interrupted Mr. St. Leger, "you are not married?"
"No," she answered, panting; "no, Augustus. Oh, Justin, assist me to a seat, I feel monstrously feeble."
Mr. St. Leger helped her to a sofa and sat beside her.
"Eulalie," he cried, "you mean that Mr. Tollemache—"
"Jilted me at the church door—absolutely—conceive it!" breathed Eulalie. "Diana also—they had, I imagine, planned it!"
Mr. St. Leger went white.
"Publicly!" cried Eulalie, seizing his hand, "and with Mademoiselle at his side."
"It is unbelievable," said Mr. St. Leger.
"It is true," she answered excitedly. "Will you—"
He stopped her, a quick red rushing over his pallor.
"My dearest, do not ask me; imagine it done; I will challenge that rogue and villain, that coward to-day, as soon as possible, my sweetest; I will avenge you."
He started up, on the impulse, to go to his bureau, then turned back to her.
"But first, Eulalie, there is no obstacle now. Ah! if you had listened to me before." He flung himself on the settee and clasped her hands eagerly. "Eulalie, my charmer, there is no thought of Diana to come between us now."
"No!" she answered with flashing eyes; "there is absolutely nothing now, Justin."
"Eulalie!" he caught her up to him and embraced her passionately; "I am confused with happiness—positively—you will marry me to-day—at once. Ah! this is beyond belief. I will send for the Chaplain of St. James's. I know him, Eulalie dearest, loveliest. Augustus must be mad."
He raved. Love for her and rage against Mr. Tollemache had swept away his usual containment. He kissed her hands again and again.
"I swear I love you very dearly," murmured Eulalie, leaning against him; "and I am very weary—and—and so monstrously pleased to be here, Justin." With a tender little smile she held up her face and gazed into his ardent black eyes. She sighed and half laughed together.
Mr. St. Leger, trembling, bent and kissed her lips. Eulalie, trembling, too, hid her face on his grey satin shoulder.
"Did I not say you cared all the time?" he asked softly.
"I do think you knew," she whispered, "that I loved you utterly with my whole heart, with my whole soul. But how could I ever have told you so—before that villain?"
"Thank the gods for villains!" cried Mr. St. Leger, kissing her again.
Eulalie drew away from him and lifted her warm, rosy face.
"Justin, you will make him apologize on his knees?" she asked eagerly.
"Grovelling at your feet," he answered. "But, my love, the reason for the madness? Never have I admired Mr. Tollemache; yet I considered him a gentleman."
"Mademoiselle de Boulainvilliers and—you, were the reasons," said Eulalie; "but I will hear no more of the horrid subject."
Mr. St. Leger sprang up and went to the inlaid bureau, elegant and severe, like the rest of the furniture. He wrote a note and hastened from the room with it.
He entered as impetuously as he had left.
"My dearest," he was beside her again with his arm about her. "I have sent for the Chaplain of St. James's. We will be married—like her Grace of Devonshire, at an hour's notice! I have also sent for a friend, Verschoyle, to take a challenge to Mr. Tollemache."
The Chaplain of St. James's had come and gone; a crystal lamp with a rosy shade dispersed the twilight in Mr. St. Leger's rooms and shone over him, slender, exquisitely clothed, elate, and his newly, suddenly acquired wife, who sat opposite him at the glittering supper-table.
The white panelled walls with their slender wreaths of flowers, the gilt and cream furniture, the mirrors supported by cupids, the rose-coloured carpets and settees made a charming background for Eulalie's pale loveliness. Mr. St. Leger could look at nothing else, and she was very content to gaze back at him; her round arm, with the sleeve flung back, lay across the table, and he had his hand over her finger-tips.
Lamplight shone in Mr. St. Leger's brooch and buttons, but these—diamonds—shone no more brightly than his eyes. The little chain of brilliants round Eulalie's throat glittered as she moved, and her pearl ear-rings trembled as she breathed.
From enthralling speech they fell to enthralling silence, gazing at each other with moods charmingly attuned; a silent idyll in love and satin. The enchantment of the still lamplit twilight was interrupted by the opening of the door and the prosaic entry of the servant.
Eulalie withdrew her hand and fondled a peach; Mr. St. Leger frowned.
"There is a gentleman below, sir, who insists upon seeing you; he will not give his name."
"I will see no one but Verschoyle," answered Mr. St. Leger. "What is this stranger's business?"
The servant's face was supernaturally grave.
"He says, sir, that he has come for his wife."
"His wife! It is a monstrous mistake!"
Mr. St. Leger smiled.
But Eulalie looked up with a sudden pang. For the first time since she had left him she recollected Mr. Brunton and his impertinent assertions; if he should possibly have discovered her!
"Tell the gentleman," condescended Mr. St. Leger, "that there is no lady in the house but the one who is my own wife." As he spoke Eulalie gave a little cry, for, unceremoniously waving the servant aside, Mr. Stephen Brunton entered, stepped into the room, and closed the door in the man's face.
"This," said Mr. St. Leger, rising, "is a liberty."
"On your part," answered Mr. Brunton, "and a very unwarrantable one—I have come for my wife."
Mr. St. Leger grew red in the face.
"My good fellow, you're crazy."
The second gentleman advanced in leisurely fashion to the table.
"Perhaps," he said coolly, "the lady who is doing you the honour to sup with you has not yet told you that she was married this morning—and to me."
Eulalie, pale with dismay, pressed her hand to her heart and looked from one to another.
"I do not know your name," continued Mr. Brunton with a level glance. "I have traced my wife by means of the hackney she hired, but I have met you before in Kent."
"I am Justin St. Leger." Mr. St. Leger's voice shook with agitation. "I have no recollection of you, and you take an unpardonable tone."
"I find," interrupted Mr. Brunton, "that you have done an unpardonable thing—how dare you have my wife here?—and you, madam, how dared you come?"
Eulalie had no answer; she stared blankly with wide eyes and parted lips.
"That lady," cried Mr. St. Leger, flaming, "is my wife, and you, sir, are mad or intoxicated. Leave my house this instant."
"I have every desire," Mr. Brunton bowed. "I do not depart, however, without my wife." Mr. St. Leger turned to Eulalie.
"My dearest, tell this insolent fellow that you have never seen him before."
They both looked at her, Mr. Brunton in a grave, contained manner.
"But—I—have," faltered Eulalie. "Oh, la, but it—is monstrously provoking." Her eyes filled with tears; she flashed indignation at Mr. Brunton. "How can you be so ungallant, sir, as to follow me when I fled from you?"
"Fled from him!" echoed Mr. St. Leger, paling.
"I dislike you prodigiously," sobbed Eulalie, hiding her face in her hands, "and—and I told you so—and it is vastly cruel for you to—follow me—when I was—so happy."
Mr. Brunton watched her with calm grey eyes, but Mr. St. Leger's beautiful face went as white as his cravat.
"Good Heavens, madam! what do you mean? This is insufferable! and you, sir, explain this intolerable statement of yours."
"Leave the story to the lady," said Mr. Brunton; "let her explain how she came to marry me."
"Heavens! but she has married me within the last hour! We were married by the Chaplain of St. James's this afternoon!"
"And we were married this morning at St. Martin's," replied Mr. Brunton pleasantly. "Weren't we, my dear?"
He turned to Eulalie, and she looked up desperately.
"Oh! I swear I don't know. You—you said so, but I didn't believe it. Justin!"
She rose with appealing eyes. "I didn't know what I was doing—Augustus jilted me."
"And you came straight here?" cried Mr. St. Leger.
"No-o," murmured Eulalie in distress, looking away. "This wretch came up—and said—"
"The wretch said," interrupted Mr. Brunton easily, "' can I be of any service?' Then he said: 'What are you going to do?' and you answered: 'Find a man to fight Augustus Tollemache,' upon which the wretch says: 'Will you marry me here and now?' and you answer: 'Yes.'"
"Eulalie!" cried Mr. St. Leger, "this is a lie?"
She winced under his reproachful, distracted eyes. The rosy lamplight concealed her pallor, but her trembling was obvious.
"I don't remember what I said," she answered. "Something occurred—I vow I don't know"—her glance rested defiantly on Mr. Brunton. "I fainted he said I had married him—I thought I had, and then I thought I hadn't—and—and—then I thought of you, Justin, and conceived the idea of slipping to you."
"Good Heavens!" cried Mr. St. Leger.
"Little liar!" murmured Mr. Brunton placidly.
"I believe I wrote my name in a book," continued Eulalie in a faltering voice. "Then—oh—I came here—and I forgot all about—Mr. Brunton."
There was a painful pause; then Mr. Brunton spoke.
"Are you convinced now, sir?"
Mr. St. Leger, leaning on the back of his gilt chair, pressed his hand to his heart and gasped.
"I am distracted," he said wildly. He turned to Mr. Brunton. "You have behaved hatefully," he raged, white to his rolled side curls. "How dared you force yourself on this lady, at a moment when she did not know what she did? Who are you? This marriage was no marriage—"
Mr. Brunton interrupted.
"Permit me," he answered, "the lady knew perfectly well what she was about—the marriage was duly witnessed and registered, as you may see for yourself, sir, whenever you desire. With your permission, my wife and I will depart."
"Wretch!" cried Eulalie, and she flung herself on Mr. St. Leger's breast.
"Now this," said Mr. Brunton, "is becoming intolerable."
He drew his sword in a quiet manner; Eulalie, seeing the flash of it in the lamplight, shrieked; Mr. St. Leger put her into a chair and swung out his rapier.
"You don't remember me?" questioned the other leisurely; "I am Stephen Brunton, and we met in Dreven Park."
"That vagabond!" exclaimed Mr. St. Leger.
"That vagabond—at your service," was the answer, "and, for the sake of the glass, sir, I pray you come further this way"—and he stepped into the open space, near the window.
"Justin! Justin!" wailed Eulalie, "don't fight—ah!—for pity's sake!"
She slipped from the chair on to her knees on the floor.
"My dearest!" cried Mr. St. Leger wildly, "I am still confused—I do not know what has occurred."
Mr. Brunton bowed over his bare sword.
"Madam, you have two husbands—it is our duty to see you widowed of one—whoever will survive will marry the widow of the other," he laughed. "Very logical and easy!"
Mr. St. Leger's black eyes blazed.
"Curse your crazy jests!" he cried. "Defend yourself!"
Their swords rose and crossed; Eulalie hearing for the first time the music of rapiers clashing, sprang up in a blind terror.
Both fenced well, Mr. St. Leger with the greater elegance, Mr. Brunton with the greater skill; the first was the quicker in his movements, the second the stronger man.
Eulalie caught hold of the table and stared at the crossing lines of light.
So absorbed was she that, oblivious as the duellists, she did not notice the door open and the quick entry of Mr. Florian Verschoyle.
This gentleman, seeing his friend fencing in his coat with an utter stranger, and a lady in white satin standing a terrified and mute spectator, paused inside the door.
"Heavens, St. Leger!" he exclaimed. "What is this?"
Mr. St. Leger, turning, saw his friend, remembered sending to him, and answered without pausing.
"Keep out of the way."
But Eulalie foresaw intervention and aid in this stranger's appearance.
"Sir, I entreat you," she cried, "to stop these gentlemen!"
Mr. Verschoyle, blonde and handsome, seized the romantic situation at a glance.
"They fight on your behalf, madam?" he said advancing.
"They are my husbands," sobbed Eulalie, in a confusion of distress—"at least, one of them, sir—he will be killed—oh! part them, sir, I entreat you!"
Mr. Verschoyle, knowing his friend unmarried and betrothed to Diana Tollemache, concluded the stranger to be the husband referred to.
"But why did St. Leger send for me?" he muttered, gazing at the intent duelists.
Eulalie, observing that Mr. St. Leger showed signs of exhaustion, flung herself on her knees before Mr. Verschoyle and shrieked to him to interfere.
"Gentlemen, do you want me to call the watch?" he cried. "Put your swords up before that lady. And you, madam," he said to Eulalie, "on whose behalf is this anxiety?"
"Justin's," moaned Eulalie. "I vow he will be killed!"
"And your unfortunate husband?" demanded Mr. Verschoyle drily.
"Justin is my husband."
Eulalie, seeing Mr. St. Leger's wrist ruffles stained suddenly red, struggled to her feet with a shriek, stepped on the tablecloth and the train of her dress, and fell forward, dragging the lamp, the china, the glass, the whole contents of the table on the floor.
A hideous crash, wild screams and complete darkness. The duellists dropped their swords. Mr. St. Leger fell back again, Mr. Verschoyle caught Eulalie, a dead weight, in his arms. Mr. Brunton cursed pleasantly.
"My dear," he called through the dark, "I swear that if the light had not gone out you would have been widowed of your second husband."
"Are you all mad!" cried Mr. Verschoyle. Mr. St. Leger staggered from the wall and crashed against a chair.
"Lights!" he said faintly. "I am wounded." Eulalie gasped, and clung to Mr. Verschoyle.
"Oh! what has happened?" she kept crying, "what has happened? Why don't some one bring a light?"
Mr. Brunton fumbled for the bell; Mr. St. Leger fell across the sofa, murmuring:
Mr. Florian Verschoyle, treading among some broken glass and china, dragged Eulalie to the door and flung it open.
The light from the stairs showed the wrecked room, the spilt wine, the fallen fruit rolling over the carpet. Eulalie saw the dim form of Mr. Brunton advancing towards her.
She disengaged herself from Mr. Verschoyle and darted through the door down the stairs and out into the street.
Gathering her skirts about her, she ran for a while, aimlessly and swiftly; then, remembering in a sudden inspiration the mantua-maker who had fashioned her wedding dress, and whom she had visited at her house close here, she directed her flight in that direction.
Good Heavens! what an adventure!—panting, breathless, afraid of the empty streets, afraid of pursuers, she arrived at the mantua-maker's door.
Eulalie after two days of peaceful seclusion in the dwelling of the mantua-maker, in whose heart commiseration had been aroused by a frank avowal of her misfortunes, began seriously to consider the future, the somewhat complicated prospects of which caused her brows to wrinkle and frown with distress.
She realized that, being penniless, she could not bribe her hostess to conceal her retreat for ever; she foresaw that eventually she would be betrayed to some one capable of meeting her bill; she had taken the precaution to conceal Mr. Brunton's address, but she was at the mercy of the mantua-maker in the matter of the others.
Therefore, it was with more indignation than surprise that she viewed the interruption to her reveries this second morning in the person of Diana Tollemache.
Eulalie, in the tabby silk she had exchanged for her wedding dress, rose from her seat at the window in a grand silence.
The Hon. Miss Tollemache appeared nervous, pale and disturbed; she closed the door and remained standing in front of it.
"I have just been told you were here," she began; then as if the effort at calm was too much for her: "Oh, Eulalie! the whole thing is monstrously horrible. Good Heavens! what a confusion we have all made of it!"
She sank down on the low wicker chair inside the door and pressed her handkerchief to her lips.
Eulalie turned blazing blue eyes on her.
"I do not know why you have come," she said. "I cannot conceive, madam, what you can have to say to me; you have behaved vastly ill, and, since you cannot amend that, it were more fitting, I vow, if you had stayed away."
"I had good excuse," she returned, "and I was over persuaded, led away by Athenšis de Boulainvilliers. Of course, you will have guessed Augustus is to marry her?"
"I have no desire to hear who Mr. Tollemache is marrying," said Eulalie haughtily.
"Oh, la!" cried Diana, with a desperate glance at her proud face, "he may not survive to marry anybody. He is to fight two duels to-day. I hardly know whether I am on my head or on my heels, with the excitement and the confusion. That perfidious wretch Justin St. Leger has challenged Augustus."
"Ah!" cried Eulalie, with flashing eyes.
"And another man, Mr. Brunton, who says he is your husband. Eulalie, the confusion of it all!"
Eulalie was silent; she went a little pale.
"And your brother Beverly is in town," continued Diana, "and he is certain to hear of this; then he will challenge Augustus, I suppose—what is the end of it to be?"
She threw up her hands with a gesture of despair; there was no softening of Eulalie's face, nor did she answer.
Diana spoke again, in an agitated manner.
"Of course, I have broken finally with Mr. St. Leger—you have accomplished that—you have come between us, my dear. Oh, but I do not regret him; you may imagine that I consider myself well rid of the insolent wretch."
The colour rose in Eulalie's face.
"You did not behave in a manner calculated to preserve his affections," she remarked coldly. "You would never, Diana, have lost him through me—it was your own jealousy, your own—spite, my dear."
Diana Tollemache tossed her head.
"That is as it may be. I don't consider that we have any cause to throw stones at each other. I don't consider either that Justin St. Leger is worth contending for."
"Because I have won him?" flashed Eulalie. "It is very sweet of you, my dear, to depreciate what you have lost."
Diana stared at her in a slow moment, then shrugged her shoulders in her usual heavy way.
"I suppose I behaved rather badly to you, Eulalie, but you were vastly provoking." Then she broke out into what had obviously brought her, a quarrel with Mademoiselle. "That French girl was at the bottom of it all! A minx! and Augustus is completely under her thumb—a fine brew she has made of it all—for a miss out of a convent at St. Cloud she has a fine worldly wit. I vow I could smack her silly face for her."
Eulalie agreed, though she was not prepared to accept Diana as an ally; still she tolerated her when she spoke so of the detestable Athenšis de Boulainvilliers.
"Of course," continued Diana, full of her own grievance, "she is after the title—a designing little hussy—I shall not be able to abide her as Augustus's wife. What are we going to do? I feel absolutely incoherent, but there must be some way out of it all."
"Out of what?" demanded Eulalie calmly, gazing out of the window.
Diana Tollemache was roused to as much impatience as she ever showed.
"Out of the whole confusion," she cried. "What do you intend to do? You cannot go on living here—do you mean to go back to Beverly?—and what of this man who says he is your husband—and what of Mr. St. Leger?"
"You cause my head to go round," protested Eulalie desperately.
"Mine has been going ever since Sunday," answered Diana. "Who is this Mr. Brunton?"
"I protest I do not know," said Eulalie, with her hand on her heart. "A wretched person—I saw him—once—twice—in Kent; he appears to have means, yet he is a vagabond. I do not desire his further acquaintance."
"Yet you married him," cried Diana, puzzled.
"I don't know," answered Eulalie reluctantly. "He forced himself—you are the last person should question me ."
"But that odious St. Leger vows you married him?"
"So I did."
"Good Heavens! you cannot have married two men at once!"
"Oh, la!" cried Eulalie pettishly, "cannot you let me be, Diana? The whole thing is your fault—absolutely—I protest I don't know which of them is my husband—and that is why I am here—but I do know well enough which is going to be my husband—whatever I have to do to achieve it."
Diana stared at her blankly.
"But what are you going to do?" she repeated in a dazed manner.
"Did you come here to ask me?" demanded Eulalie.
"Yes," answered Diana, lifting her red-brown eyes. "You have carried a very high hand all along, Eulalie—you have always known so vastly well what to do—you have embroiled us all prodigiously—well, how are you going to get yourself—and us—out of it?"
Eulalie drew herself erect and pushed back defiantly the little curls on her forehead.
"If you and your brother, my dear, had left me alone, I should have fulfilled all that was expected of me—I should have been Augustus's dutiful wife by now, and you would have kept Justin St. Leger. As it is—la, Diana—you can see for yourself that I am going my own way—that I owe no obligations to you or your brother."
Miss Tollemache rose.
"It isn't the question," she said. "What about this duel to-day?"
"Well," answered Eulalie, her blue eyes blazed. "You don't imagine that I could, or would, interfere?"
"I don't imagine you want to see Justin St. Leger hurt."
"I have every confidence in him," replied Eulalie, but her colour had faded a little.
"Augustus is a perfect swordsman," replied Diana, gazing at her, "and Justin—Mr. St. Leger—is wounded in the right wrist."
Eulalie drew a rapid breath.
"And Mr. Brunton?"
"Augustus is to fight him afterwards—Eulalie—it is to be this very day—this afternoon—on Blackheath."
"Oh!" cried Eulalie, then was silent.
Diana, twisting her hands together, stared at her with wide, anxious eyes; Eulalie turning suddenly and meeting this gaze, spoke sharply.
"La!" she cried, tossing her head, "what do you think I can do?"
"Prevent it," said Diana, with her fingers nervously clutched in her ruffles.
Eulalie turned her head away; Diana came a little closer.
"He is fighting for you—he is in love with you—with all the glossings in the world, my dear, he has jilted me because of you—it is not too much to ask that you—you—" her voice faltered, fell, she moved away. "Augustus must be prevented from fighting!"
"How can I prevent it?" cried Eulalie in a desperate fashion. "Do you suppose that they would any of them listen to me?"
"Eulalie! you could make the endeavour!" Their eyes met.
"If anything should happen to Augustus," said Diana Tollemache in a stifled tone.
Eulalie blushed and made a little sound of distress; a half sob in her throat.
"Diana! Oh, Diana!" she flung out her hands, "I entreat you do not look at me like that! I have been cruel—cruel!"
Diana Tollemache stood pale and silent.
Tears came into Eulalie's voice; she stepped forward; after all, she had been the first cause of mischief.
"Diana, we will go together."
Her voice broke into sobs; Miss Tollemache took her into her arms and embraced her warmly.
Eulalie and Diana dismounted from the coach at the edge of the heath and proceeded on foot to the meeting place of the duellists.
A beautiful afternoon, the sky like pale satin, the trees fresh and darkly green against it, the air fresh and clear.
They held each other's hands as they made their way between the gorse and bramble bushes.
"I do not know in the least what we can do," murmured Eulalie nervously. "Gentlemen do so dislike interference in their affairs."
"It is vastly likely they will be furious," answered Diana. "When I first heard of it from Mr. St. Leger"—her reserved tone hinted at an unpleasant scene—"and I—taxed Augustus with it—he commanded me to keep away and say nothing of it—though Mademoiselle, of course, knows—she obtains everything from Augustus."
"We must select the right moment," said Eulalie. "If we concealed ourselves at first—"
"Hush!" whispered Diana. "We must be close to the rendezvous. Mr. St. Leger said Blackheath—not far from Lord Chesterfield's house."
They were walking through a scattered group of fir trees that edged a little used and narrow road; suddenly and prettily the ground dipped to a slope of bare grass, fringed with gorse and a tangle of low growing bushes.
Pausing on the top and crown of this little slope and peeping between the straight fir trunks, Eulalie and Diana, catching (rather nervously) at each other's hands, saw beneath them a group of gentlemen.
Mr. Stephen Brunton, with his hat well over his eyes to preserve them from the sun, and seated very comfortably on a fallen log, with his back against a tree, was engaged in reading a book whose leather back and gilt tooling glistened in the sunshine.
He was very finely dressed; Eulalie marked a waistcoat of pink Manchester velvet frogged with silver showing under his black satin coat.
"A most extraordinary wretch!" she murmured.
Opposite Mr. Brunton stood Mr. St. Leger, in a somewhat gloomy fashion, rubbing up the silver of his sword-hilt with his handkerchief; he looked pale, a little wild, a little haggard; he had lost his perfect neatness, his stock was awry, his hair quite undressed and uncurled.
"Oh, alas!" whispered Eulalie, observing him.
In the background paced the florid Mr. Verschoyle, gazing somewhat impatiently at his watch.
"Augustus," whispered Diana, "has not arrived."
"No," returned Eulalie with a great sigh of relief; "my dear, perhaps he will not come at all."
"Oh, hush!" murmured Diana.
For Mr. St. Leger was speaking.
"Sir," he said to Mr. Brunton, "Mr. Tollemache is cursedly late."
"I am glad," was the pleasant answer, "that I brought a volume to pass the time."
"Sir," answered Mr. St. Leger, who appeared to be distracted almost beyond bearing, "there is no occasion for you to wait."
"Pardon me," Mr. Brunton laid his book down, "but I am to fight Mr. Tollemache, by my wife's orders. It is your championship, sir, that is so unnecessary."
Mr. St. Leger groaned aloud.
"You do not dispute," asked Mr. Brunton in an amiable fashion, "that she is my wife?"
Mr. St. Leger, pacing about, groaned again.
"After you have seen the register in St. Martin's," continued Mr. Brunton pleasantly, "after you have yourself questioned the clergyman and the witnesses."
"No more!" raved Mr. St. Leger, striding to and fro. "After I have fought Mr. Tollemache I'll fight you. I'll have your blood for this."
"By the la!" interrupted Mr. Brunton easily, "why in the name of Heaven, sir, should I fight you?"
"Because," answered Mr. St. Leger, "you have behaved like a ruffian and a scoundrel to the loveliest and the dearest woman on earth!"
"Haven't I proved the lady is my wife?" answered Mr. Brunton coolly.
Mr. St. Leger trembled with passion.
"You have, sir; you have behaved infamously; you are, sir, a cowardly villain!"
"And you, sir," returned the other indolently, "are very impudent!"
Eulalie, with a gasp and a sob, broke from Diana, and ran down the slope and flung herself between them, a flutter of silk.
"My dearest Justin!" she panted; but Mr. Brunton caught hold of her and swung her aside.
"It is the fair deceiver herself!" cried Mr. St. Leger.
"Mrs. Brunton," corrected the other gentleman, "where have you been all this while, my dear?"
"Low wretch!" cried Eulalie, flashing indignation at him, "I have been in hiding from your vile practices!"
"Not, I hope, madam, with a third husband?" asked Mr. Brunton, still holding her resolutely away from Mr. St. Leger. "And how did you know I was here?"
"You!" she replied scornful. "I didn't desire to see you again, sir. I came—that is, Diana brought me to see to—oh! Justin!" She struggled towards him.
"Don't appeal to me, madam," he said in a wild reproach. "You deceived me. By Heaven, I cannot forget it!"
"But Justin, I married you!"
"You first married the wretch who holds you now!" he answered in a tone of despair.
"You hear, my dear?" said Mr. Brunton, "so you had better reconcile yourself to the situation."
"Never!" cried Eulalie. "Never as long as I live! Oh, never!"
Mr. Brunton helped her to the log where he had been sitting. She sank upon it in an attitude of despair.
Diana Tollemache had joined Mr. Verschoyle in the background; Mr. St. Leger paced up and down, raving against heaven and earth, all the gods and Stephen Brunton.
That gentleman remained absolutely calm.
"Mr. Tollemache," he remarked, "appears to make a habit of breaking appointments."
"Don't talk to me of Mr. Tollemache," cried Eulalie angrily. "What is to become of me? Heavens! What a fate!"
"Mine?" questioned Mr. Brunton.
"Odious wretch!" answered Eulalie, "don't talk to me—what a situation!"
"It is at least novel," said Mr. Brunton. "Justin!" cried Eulalie, "take me away!" He raved the louder.
"What can I do? You deceived me. Heavens! Why did you ever submit to it? I am helpless. You are the man's wife!"
"You hear him?" said Mr. Brunton. "He is, you see, convinced."
"Oh!" exclaimed Eulalie, and collapsed with her head in her hands.
"This display is vastly unflattering," remarked Mr. Brunton, "and also of absolutely no use. And, as I don't intend to wait here all day for Mr. Tollemache's pleasure, I think, my dear, we will go home."
"Home!" cried Eulalie from behind her hands, "I declare I shall faint!"
Diana Tollemache came forward; Mr. St. Leger, flushing a little, stepped aside at sight of her.
But she put up her glass and surveyed him calmly.
"There appears to be a prodigious confusion here, my friend," she remarked.
"Madam," he answered, bowing, "you behold me disarmed with despair."
Meanwhile, Mr. Brunton, with slight but obvious signs of a rising impatience, was repeating his commands to Eulalie to rise from the log and come home with him. Diana, hearing this, turned her gaze from Mr. St. Leger.
"Sir, you cannot be so barbarous as to force this lady."
He lifted his grey eyes and looked at her steadily, in an unmoved, assured way, more than a little disconcerting.
"Do you suggest, madam," he asked her, "that I should leave my wife here on Blackheath?"
"She may come back with me," said Diana quietly.
"To the house of Mr. Tollemache?" smiled Mr. Brunton.
Diana had nothing to say.
"And you can hardly suppose that I should consider the alternative of leaving her to Mr. St. Leger's protection," continued Mr. Brunton, still smiling.
The gentleman mentioned groaned and walked away towards Mr. Verschoyle, impatient in the background. Diana Tollemache sighed.
"There is really nothing for you,' Eulalie," she said. "You see, no one can interfere—you will have to go with him, my dear."
Eulalie looked up, flushed of face, and pushed back her tumbled hair.
"Oh! never!" she said through clenched teeth. Then, with her hand clutched on her heart, she vowed it again: "Oh, never!"
Diana, distracted, began to lose the sweetness of her manner.
"Good Heavens, my dear," she answered, "why did you ever so embroil yourself? Having married the man, you must endeavour to make the best of him—and, really, I don't imagine that it could be so difficult," and she curtsied to Mr. Brunton.
"Thank you, madam," said he easily, "and you are quite right, too. I am the most amiable, the most gentle, the most sweet-tempered of men."
"I am sure," said Eulalie, subdued by Diana's desertion, "that you may be, but, you see, I purely prefer Justin."
"Mr. St. Leger," corrected Mr. Brunton in no way ruffled. "That is really a matter of small moment."
Her eyes flashed dangerously.
"I love him!" she exclaimed grandly.
"Yes," said Mr. Brunton, "but it passes—I have been in love so many times."
"Sir," said Eulalie indignantly, sitting erect on her log.
He raised his fine eyebrows.
"Why not, my dear?"
"But you are married to me!" said Eulalie, "and how dare you tell me that you have been in love many times before."
"Before?" repeated Mr. Brunton pleasantly. "I don't remember, my dear, that I ever said I was in love now."
"Oh!" said Eulalie and Diana together.
"I am married," he bowed. "A different thing—and I am quite fond of you."
"But you have loved other ladies," interrupted Eulalie wrathfully.
"Of course; what did you suppose, my dear?" he answered. "Some of them were not nearly as pretty as you—one was—vastly prettier."
Eulalie was speechless for a moment flushing and paling by turns.
"I wish," she said at last, in a voice stifled with tears, and clasping her heaving bosom, "that you had married one of these odious ladies."
Mr. Brunton looked up to the pale sky.
"I did," he said absently. "I told you so—in Kent."
Eulalie was silent; she remembered.
"You have been married before?" cried Diana.
"In France," he answered smiling.
"Poor thing!" said Eulalie, with an air of infinite disdain for him.
"She died soon after," said Mr. Brunton. "I hope she is in heaven; one cannot do more than hope against one's beliefs. Her temper was hardly as angelic as her face. However, the moral, my dear, is that you and Mr. St. Leger would probably quarrel before the first month was out, whereas, with me, you will begin to discover I am quite an agreeable person at the end of a week."
"I shall not," answered Eulalie.
"At least, you must come and try," he said.
Eulalie wailed aloud.
"Oh, Justin, Justin!"
At that Mr. St. Leger came across the grass, white and composed, with Mr. Verschoyle behind him.
"Sir," he declared, "I challenge you to fight me, here and now. I will not—I cannot—see that lady forced away under my very eyes."
Mr. Brunton glanced towards the trees that fringed the road.
"That gentleman has a prior claim," he said.
The Hon. Augustus was descending from the elegant blue chariot. He came down the slope with Mr. Francis Champneys beside him. As usual, he was perfectly dressed, and appeared a little bored. He raised his cream-coloured silk hat and bowed to the company. The faint sun gleamed in his copper hair that waved into the black ribbon, and sparkled in the emerald buttons of his green brocaded waistcoat.
"I vow I am distracted to be so late," he said, putting up his glass, "But, by the la! I have had a difficulty in getting away at all." He turned to his sister. "What are you doing here, Diana? There appears to be a prodigious gathering of ladies. Athenšis is in the chariot, she would by no means be left at home."
"I suppose she delayed you, sir?" said Mr. St. Leger.
"She was concerned very naturally for my safety."
"It is unheard of," interrupted Mr. Brunton, "to bring ladies to witness an affair of honour."
The Hon. Augustus stared at Eulalie, sitting forlornly on the log.
"And who, pray, then, brought that lady?" he demanded, twirling the ribbon of his glass. Mr. St. Leger sprang forward.
"Sir, you will please not to speak of her nor look at her.
"Is she your wife?" asked Mr. Tollemache easily.
"Mine," said Mr. Brunton, "and we are purely wasting time. You and Mr. St. Leger, sir, have, I believe, the first engagement."
He seated himself beside Eulalie, while Mr. Verschoyle and Mr. Champneys, who kept staring at Eulalie over his shoulder in a bewildered way, measured the ground.
Mr. Tollemache and his opponent took off their coats.
The sky had clouded over, and a chill little wind was blowing over the heath; through the fir trees they could see the azure sides of the chariot and the edge of rose-wreathed muslin skirt showing from the hood. Mademoiselle, said the Hon. Augustus, had promised to remain in the chariot if she might be permitted to accompany him.
"You will catch cold, my dear," remarked Mr. Brunton to Eulalie.
She looked up and saw Mr. Verschoyle handing Justin St. Leger his sword.
"I will not," she cried, wringing her hands, "be a witness to this. I vow I cannot bear it, Justin!" She slipped from the log to her knees on the grass, and, catching hold of Mr. Brun-ton's hands, besought him in the liveliest terms to stop the duel.
"It is," he answered, "impossible."
"There is no help for it," said Diana, endeavouring to raise her. "We should not, I suppose, have come."
"I told you so," sobbed Eulalie. "I said we should be no use, and it ends in our merely watching some one killed."
Here the seconds ordered the ladies further off, and Mr. Brunton ushered them back among the trees, near to the blue chariot.
"I don't know," cried Eulalie, writhing under his grasp, "why you are here at all."
"Why, my dear, if Mr. Tollemache survives Mr. St. Leger, I am to fight him, as I promised you," he added.
"Where is your second, sir?" asked Diana. "Probably," smiled Mr. Brunton, "I forgot to ask one."
"But the gentleman who took the challenge?"
"I took it," said Mr. Brunton, "myself."
"He certainly," thought Diana Tollemache, "is very extraordinary."
It was growing ominously dark; low clouds were gathering over the heath and the trees shook and shuddered.
They heard Mr. Verschoyle's signal, and saw through the fir trees the swords rise and meet so rapidly that they appeared thin lines of light detached from those wielding them. Eulalie found herself wondering that they could be deadly, these swords, so innocent and delicate they appeared. Then she hid her face on Diana's shoulder and refused to look for fear of seeing the grass run with blood or Justin St. Leger suddenly fall dead.
Mr. Brunton still held her arm, and rage at this affront mingled with her terror.
Clouds, heavy with rain, sailed closer, the chilly breeze gathered strength.
"Ah!" said Diana, and Eulalie looked up to see a sword flying up against the dark sky and sinking glittering into the grass.
"Justin!" she shrieked.
There was an echoing cry from the blue chariot of "Augustus!"
And Mademoiselle, unable to restrain herself, appeared on the step.
"I vow it is Justin slain!" cried Eulalie.
"Mercy! it is the so dear Augustus!" screamed Mademoiselle, and she sprang from the chariot to the grass, a figure a mist of muslin and roses, with carnation ribbons flying from her chip straw hat.
Mr. Champneys, distracted by the shrieks, came running through the trees; Mr. Brunton suddenly let go of Eulalie. Mademoiselle, hastening forward, caught sight of him for the first time, gave a scream that startled the air like a pistol shot.
"Ah! C'est le Marquess!" she cried. "It is my husband!"
Mr. Brunton was remarkably pale, otherwise unmoved.
"Ah, Madame," he said. "What would you have? Everybody is here."
"You are the Marquess!" cried Mademoiselle, heedless of the blank astonishment in every one's face.
"Certainly," answered Mr. Brunton, without agitation.
Mademoiselle screamed: "Then I am your wife! They told me you were dead! How dreadful! Oh, I shall go mad!"
"And I also," he said. "They said you died last year. I am married again."
The Hon. Augustus coming up cut short the hurried exchange of words that Eulalie and Diana were too bewildered to interrupt. Mademoiselle, at sight of him, flung herself, to his extreme astonishment, into his arms.
"Mon cher ami!" she cried hysterically, "I have found my husband!"
Mr. Brunton stepped forward.
"Permit me," he said, "this lady is my wife."
"Good Heavens, sir!" cried Mr. Tollemache "are you married to every lady present?" Mr. Brunton bowed.
"Unfortunately no—only two."
"Mademoiselle de Boulainvilliers," said the Hon. Augustus, crimsoning with fury, "is contracted to me, sir, and if you don't cease your buffoonery—"
Mademoiselle interposed with looks of evident terror at Mr. Brunton.
"I am his wife, truly—ah, forgive me, Monsieur le Marquess. I am so—sorry—I did not know." She wrung her hands and wailed.
"I entreat you, madam," said Mr. Brunton hastily, "don't make so much of it."
"But," said Mr. Tollemache hoarsely, "it is a thing, sir, to be made a great deal of—in Heaven's name, madam"—he turned to Mademoiselle—"who is this gentleman?"
"Monsieur le Marquess de Montjoie," she answered trembling, "et moi, je suis sa femme—I am his wife."
"Is this," cried Eulalie with sparkling eyes, "true?"
Stephen Brunton, Marquess of Montjoy, gave her a look of mingled feelings.
"It is," he said briefly.
"Then, I am married to Justin!" exclaimed Eulalie.
"I fear," said the Marquess, "that you are," and he gazed up to the sky, evolving curious and delicate curses.
"Then to whom am I married?" demanded the Hon. Tollemache utterly bewildered.
"Curse me, I mean, who am I to marry?" His wrath flamed higher, "and who is Verschoyle married to? And where is Diana's husband? And where is anybody's wife? And where is the fool that—that started the nonsense—and—hang it all!—it is pouring."
The cloud had indeed burst directly over their heads, and the rain was descending with a violence only equal to its suddenness.
In a few second the whole heath was blotted out with the blinding downfall.
The pressing necessity for shelter caused a truce to be called. The wrath of the Hon. Augustus was silenced if not appeased by the violence of the rain discharged over his immaculate clothes. Mademoiselle, wet to the skin in a second, called on her gods piteously; Eulalie and Diana ran to Mr. St. Leger, who stood silent with the sting of defeat, under the firs.
Mr. Verschoyle and Mr. Champneys cursed each other and the fools that had brought them here, in an absorbed and perfectly friendly fashion; and the Marquess, the only one with a greatcoat, put it on and turned up the collar. All agreed in looking out for a shelter.
Mr. Verschoyle knew of an inn, further on, near the river; the information was snatched ungratefully. Mr. St. Leger struggled into his coat; Mr. Tollemache unfurled a fashionable umbrella; Diana lamented the coach she had ordered to return; Mr. Champneys protested loudly that if anyone knew of an inn he considered it mightily unfeeling of them not to show the way; the Marquess asked who was going to occupy the chariot?
It held two—painful question!
Mr. St. Leger hotly protested that Eulalie and Diana should have it. But the chariot belonged to Athenšis, and she very humbly offered it to her husband.
"Offer it to the ladies," said the Marquess, and Athenšis, miserably draggled and soaked in her muslin already, dutifully and timidly offered the chariot to Diana and Eulalie.
"No," declared Eulalie firmly, "I cannot bring myself to enter a vehicle so fraught with painful recollections, ma'am."
"And I would prefer to walk," said Diana coldly.
"Meanwhile," said the Hon. Augustus, gazing upwards into his umbrella, "we are all getting cursedly wet."
"Obvious remarks," commented Mr. Verschoyle, "are singularly provoking."
Athenšis looked forlornly round the group. She was shivering with agitation.
"You will come, monsieur—with me?" she murmured to Mr. Champneys, evidently driven to it by the stern eye of the Marquess turned on her.
"Hang me if I won't," returned that gentleman, "and, for pity's sake, madam, let us make haste about it."
And he turned with no hesitation, to the blue chariot.
"You know the way to the inn, Champneys?" cried Mr. Verschoyle.
"No, I don't," was the not wholly amiable answer, and Mr. Champneys, not waiting for the lady, swung himself with something of an effort into the chariot. But the footman behind volunteered that he did; Athenšis mounted beside Mr. Champneys and the carriage rolled away down the road.
"Come under my umbrella, Diana," said the Hon. Augustus resignedly, offering her his arm, "and how far, Verschoyle, is this pernicious inn?"
"About half an hour of walk," and Mr. Verschoyle tactfully attached himself to Eulalie leaving the Marquess and Mr. St. Leger to follow behind together.
In silence the three couples made their way over the desolate heath. Not a soul passed them, and the rain fell straight and steadily, soaking them from head to foot. Eulalie felt her thin shoes parting at the soles and her skirts clinging about her in a forlorn and miserable fashion. She almost wished she had gone in the chariot when she felt her hat bending on to her nose under its weight of wet artificial roses, but she was comforted by the sight of Mr. Verschoyle's beaver that had drooped into a most unaccountable shape, and his uncurled feathers were decidedly unbecoming.
The Marquess, clothed in his overcoat and (it appeared) a fine selfishness, was moved to sudden mirth by the aspect of the rest of the party, and particularly by the figure of Mr. Tollemache walking haughtily ahead, under an umbrella that boasted a thick fringe that, heavy with water, discharged a cascade down the backs of the Hon. Augustus and his unfortunate sister.
At the sound of the Marquess's fresh and singularly pleasant laughter, Mr. Verschoyle and Eulalie laughed too; but Mr. St. Leger was in no mood for humour.
"I marvel, sir," he cried indignantly, "that the extraordinary situation you find yourself in permits you to discover amusement in the misfortunes of others."
"I have," answered the Marquess, "found myself in such a number of extraordinary situations that they begin to lose, sir, their absorbing interest; but I have never lost the peculiar zest to be found in other people's misfortunes," and he laughed again; "a defect, no doubt."
Mr. St. Leger, very wet and sick with agitation, shivered and answered with chattering teeth.
"This pose is by no means admirable, sir."
The Marquess shrugged his shoulders, sighed, smiled, lifted his grey eyes.
"I've lost a wife and found a wife," he said. "Both the ladies are, I believe, in love with other gentlemen—so there is not much to choose there. Ah, well! I did not take a vast amount of trouble to make certain Athenšis was dead; so perhaps it is not so surprising to discover that she is still alive."
"A very unfeeling remark," flashed Mr. St. Leger.
"And a very tiresome lady," said the Marquess; "and I wonder what the devil she sees in Augustus Tollemache."
And he fell to reflecting on that as they tramped through the rain. None of them spoke any more until they reached the inn; the steadiness of the downpour was too depressing; once or twice the Hon. Augustus cursed under his breath; personal discomfort was to him the most terrible thing in the world. He could have watched the country going to ruin or his best friend absorbed in disasters with heroic calm, but the trickle of the rain down his back and a broken feather in his eyes reduced him to primitive fury.
At the door of the inn stood the blue chariot in the hands of a couple of ostlers, and Athenšis waited in the porch in a cotton frock and her wonderful hair on her shoulders.
The Hon. Augustus, checking with a cold glance the dawning grins of the ostlers, furled his umbrella and strode over the threshold. Athenšis took no notice of him; her humble anxiety appeared to be for the Marquess, perhaps because he was eyeing her in a not wholly pleasant fashion.
A chambermaid hurried forward; Eulalie and Diana, streaming pools of water from their clothes, mud to the ankles, and hesitating between laughter and tears, were swept away to the upper regions.
The gentlemen, entering the parlour, were confronted by the annoying sight of Mr. Champneys, dry and comfortable, over the fire, preparing punch with a disgusting enjoyment depicted on his fat face.
"What a monstrous age you have been!" cried Mr. Champneys, with a virtuous air of having been very quick himself.
"Don't be purely provoking," cried Mr. Tollemache pettishly.
"And give us a morsel of the fire," demanded Mr. Verschoyle impatiently.
Mr. St. Leger sank down beside the grandfather's clock and wrung the water out of his coat.
The Marquess, flinging his roquelaure to the servants, discovered himself dry beneath, and turned leisurely to contemplate Athenšis, leaning tremblingly in her print gown against the plaster wall. The rain had brought a wild rose colour into her cheeks, and her hair, naturally curly, fell, for all the damp, in quite distracting ringlets about her neck.
"Ah, Madame," said the Marquess, "you are very much alive," and he made her a bow as if he had said, "and very charming."
A rush of words came to her tongue; flushed to the temples, and with clasped hands, she was answering when Mr. Tollemache interposed.
"Won't you come to the fire, Mademoiselle?" he said with a meaning look at the Marquess.
Athenšis clasped her hands tighter in a frightened manner.
"My dear sir," answered the Marquess, "this lady is unfortunately my wife."
"Ah, unfortunately!" she murmured.
"My dear, I have remarked it." He turned easily to Mr. Tollemache. "You had better understand it at once. I married Mademoiselle two years ago in Poitou—among a number of other crazy things—and as we—quarrelled—shall I say, my dear?—she returned to her convent and nobody was any the wiser."
"An extraordinary flimsy tale," commented the Hon. Augustus.
"But it is true!" said Athenšis, "and I did hear that he was dead. I got a letter, I have it still. An English gentleman brought it. He said 'Monsieur le Marquis is dead in Paris; he ask me to send this.' Then I did think I would tell no one." She paused, looking from one to another in agitation. "I do not understand," she said.
"It is very simple," answered the Marquess dryly. "I had a mind to leave France. I considered I might as well inform you that I was dead."
"Ah!" she cried; "you invent this tale?"
"I did," he answered, "and as soon as I had sent it I received a piteous letter from a young lady who said that her friend and confidant, Mademoiselle de Boulainvilliers, was suddenly dead!"
"Ah!" cried Athenšis, "I invent that!" They stared at each other a moment.
"Diable!" said the Marquess softly, "and might I ask you why?"
"Because I also was going to England, and I did not want you to follow me!"
"By the la!" said Mr. Tollemache, "this is positively distracting!"
The Marquess turned on him rather sharply.
"My dear sir," he said, "you had really better go and change your clothes; I should be vastly concerned to see you with an ague."
The Hon. Augustus had assumed his usual indolent manner; he bowed.
"May I ask your name, sir?"
"Your neighbour," was the pleasant answer, "Montjoy."
"The Marquess of Montjoy! But he went to the devil years ago!" cried Mr. Verschoyle.
"And it is, sir, because he found the devil such pleasant company that he did not return before!"
Mr. Tollemache shrugged his shoulders and gracefully accepted the situation.
"I never had a head for Euclid, my lord, so that I cannot attempt to follow all these intricate relationships; but I withdraw from the contest, and will take your advice, and change my clothes."
He gave one glance under his drooping lid at Athenšis and left the room.
Mr. Verschoyle and Mr. Champneys turned from their places at the fire to stare at the Marquess.
"Your estates have gone to ruin, my lord!" cried the latter, "you ought to have come home a little sooner."
The Marquess smiled inscrutably at the ceiling, Athenšis surveyed him covertly in a humble manner.
Mr. Verschoyle, standing over his steaming coat and drying his shirt ruffles, spoke wonderingly.
"You don't appear to vastly care, my lord."
"No, I don't," said the Marquess. "I think the place looks charmingly"—then, on a sudden recollection coming to him—"do you like roses, my lady?"
"Yes—oh! mais oui," she answered very dutifully.
"Why, have you seen the place?" cried Mr. Champneys.
"I was there this summer, sir."
At this moment Eulalie and Diana, in dresses faked from the wardrobe of the landlord's daughter, entered.
"Mr. Champneys," said Miss Tollemache at the door, "my brother has procured a coach—will you please to come with us?"
And as he rose she curtsied to the company and kissed Eulalie on the cheek.
"I hope to see you in Dreven House," she said, and left the room with Mr. Champneys.
Eulalie seated herself on the end of the settee by the fire.
There was a pause.
They all looked at the window, where, between the pots of geraniums and the muslin blinds, they could see Diana, Mr. Champneys, and the Hon. Augustus mount the coach in a stately silence and drive off.
The rain had nearly ceased; Mr. Verschoyle declared his intention of walking home, and took his leave.
After he had gone, another pause.
Eulalie spoke first.
"I declare I am hungry," she said timidly.
Mr. St. Leger came from the seat by the grandfather's clock. Eulalie rose and came forward to meet him.
"I suppose," she said, she stopped, very flushed; Mr. St. Leger flushed also and gazed at her. "I suppose," finished Eulalie lamely, "that we can get something to eat?"
Justin St. Leger appeared tongue-tied, but the Marquess answered.
"Shall I ring the bell, Mrs. St. Leger?" he said gravely.
"Oh!" cried Eulalie.
"My adored one," murmured Mr. St. Leger. "He is right—you are my wife," and he pressed his hands on his heart.
"Yes," answered Eulalie, "I—I—thought I must be—I was waiting for you to say so." She glanced at the Marquess and smiled.
"It so vastly delightful of you to have been married before," she said.
"I am charmed to have been of any service," answered Lord Montjoy drily, and his wife shrank further into the corner.
"Oh, Justin!" murmured Eulalie.
He kissed her hands speechlessly.
"One thing," said the Marquess, "before I ring the bell. Were not you my lady, she who sat behind the pink parasol when Mr. Tollemache disgraced himself?"
"Oh, mercy!" she cried. "I was there, but monsieur—"
"You're a little vixen, my lady. I shall have a monstrous deal of trouble with you."
"No, monsieur, no," she protested.
"Well, prove it, my dear," he said, "by telling that lady that you regret your odious behaviour."
Eulalie stared with amazement to see her actually come across the room. There was none of her former self-possessed insolence about her; her very loveliness appeared to have taken another character; it was obvious that she was in awe of her newly-found lord.
"I am sorry," she faltered, "forgive me—I would not wish—"
"Oh, yes!" cried Eulalie, quite overcome. "I implore you, do not say any more."
Athenšis looked at the Marquess timidly.
"I will now ring the bell," he said
Eulalie and Mr. St. Leger sat down on the chintz-covered settee. When the servant appeared, the Marquess ordered dinner for two, and the blue chariot.
The Marquess helped his wife into the chariot; it was a beautiful evening after the rain, and the sky was rose and pearl colour in the west.
Athenšis looked into the window of the inn parlour, where Justin St. Leger and Eulalie sat over their dinner.
"They love each other very much," she murmured.
"What would you have, madam?" smiled the Marquess: "they are very young, and a little foolish."
"Ah, no," sighed Athenšis.
He gathered up the reins.
"Of course," he said, "you also are in love—with Mr. Tollemache, is it not?"
"Not at all," she answered hastily. "Augustus, no, not now—once."
"So you were in love with him once?" said the Marquess, turning his grey eyes on her. He touched the horse up. "And now?"
She clasped her hands, her bosom heaved under the print gown; the blue chariot started.
"I adore you," she said shamelessly.
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