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Title: Daughters of Belgravia; vol 2 of 3
Author: Fraser, Mrs. Alexander
Language: English
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                        DAUGHTERS OF BELGRAVIA.



                        DAUGHTERS OF BELGRAVIA


                                  BY
                        MRS. ALEXANDER FRASER,

                               Author of

              “THE LAST DRAWING-ROOM,” “A FATAL PASSION,”
         “THE MATCH OF THE SEASON,” “A FASHIONABLE MARRIAGE,”
               “A PROFESSIONAL BEAUTY,” etc., etc., etc.

                “O! Daughters of dreams and of stories
                   That life is not wearied of yet!
                    Faustine! Fragoletta! Dolores!
                    Fèlise and Yolande, Juliette!”

                          _IN THREE VOLUMES._

                              VOLUME II.

                                LONDON:
                          F. V. WHITE & CO.,
                    31, SOUTHAMPTON STREET, STRAND.
                                 1887.

                              PRINTED BY
           KELLY AND CO., GATE STREET, LINCOLN’S INN FIELDS,
                        AND KINGSTON-ON-THAMES.



CONTENTS.


CHAP.                                                               PAGE

I.--LAST NIGHT                                                         1

II.--FLIRTATION                                                       22

III.--“FROGGY WOULD A-WOOING GO”                                      49

IV.--AT THE BAGATELLE THEATRE                                         89

V.--CARYLLON HOUSE                                                    99

VI.--IN THE BALCONY                                                  124

VII.--THE STATE BALL                                                 145

VIII.--“SIMPLE FAITH THAN NORMAN BLOOD”                              174

IX.--LET THE DEAD PAST BE BURIED                                     195



                           “SELECT” NOVELS.

                   _Crown 8vo, cloth, 3s. 6d. each._

                  AT ALL BOOKSELLERS’ AND BOOKSTALLS.


By FLORENCE MARRYAT.

  THE HEIR PRESUMPTIVE.
  THE HEART OF JANE WARNER.
  UNDER THE LILIES AND ROSES.
  MY OWN CHILD.
  HER WORLD AGAINST A LIE.
  PEERESS AND PLAYER.
  FACING THE FOOTLIGHTS.
  MY SISTER THE ACTRESS.


By ANNIE THOMAS (Mrs. Pender Cudlip).

  HER SUCCESS.
  KATE VALLIANT.
  JENIFER.
  FRIENDS AND LOVERS.


By LADY CONSTANCE HOWARD.

  MATED WITH A CLOWN.
  ONLY A VILLAGE MAIDEN.
  MOLLIE DARLING.


By MRS. HOUSTOUN, Author of “Recommended to Mercy.”

  BARBARA’S WARNING.


By MRS. ALEXANDER FRASER.

  THE MATCH OF THE SEASON.
  A FATAL PASSION.
  A PROFESSIONAL BEAUTY.


By IZA DUFFUS-HARDY.

  ONLY A LOVE STORY.
  NOT EASILY JEALOUS.
  LOVE, HONOUR AND OBEY.


By JEAN MIDDLEMASS.

  POISONED ARROWS.


By MRS. LOVETT CAMERON.

  IN A GRASS COUNTRY.
  A DEAD PAST.
  A NORTH COUNTRY MAID.


By DORA RUSSELL. By LADY VIOLET GRENVILLE.

  OUT OF EDEN.
  KEITH’S WIFE.


By NELLIE FORTESCUE HARRISON,

Author of “So runs my Dream.”

  FOR ONE MAN’S PLEASURE.


By EDMUND LEATHES.

  THE ACTOR’S WIFE.


By HARRIETT JAY.

  A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE.



                        DAUGHTERS OF BELGRAVIA.



CHAPTER I.

LAST NIGHT.

    “Trifles light as air
     Are to the jealous confirmation strong
     As proofs of Holy Writ.”


“Allow me to congratulate you, Zai,” Gabrielle says with a sneer.

Zai leans against the casement, idly toying with a spray of deep red
roses she has just plucked from the trails that cover the wall hard by.
She is very pale, and dark shadows underline her pretty eyes, and her
thoughts are evidently far away, for she starts visibly as Gabrielle’s
voice falls on her ear.

“Congratulate me, and what for?” she answers rather bitterly.

Congratulations indeed! when her poor heart is so sore, her spirit so
wounded by Carlton Conway’s apparent defection last night.

“On your conquest of Lord Delaval,” Gabrielle flashes out. “What a
horrid little hypocrite you are, Zai! To think of how you spoke of him
only yesterday morning and how you flung yourself at his head last
night!”

“I don’t understand,” Zai murmurs, but her cheeks are quite flushed now
and her grey eyes droop, for she remembers perfectly how, to pique Carl,
she had flirted, as folks might think, with Lord Delaval.

“Zai! Zai! I thought you never told lies, and now you stand there in
broad daylight uttering a monstrous falsehood.”

Upon this, Zai bursts into an uncontrolable passion of tears, and
flinging herself on the sofa presses down her face on the cushions.

Gabrielle attempts neither soothing nor scolding. To her such emotion is
a display of childishness for which her hard nature has no sympathy. She
rests calm and unmoved in her chair, languidly inhaling Eau de Cologne
and occasionally sprinkling herself with a fragrant shower while she
waits for the tears to subside.

“It seems very foolish spoiling your eyes by crying, Zai,” she remarks
at last contemptuously, when her not too great a stock of patience is,
like the widow’s cruse of oil, exhausted. “Of course I don’t deny that
Lord Delaval flirted with you as much as ever you could wish, and I
suppose if you are engaged to him, it does not much matter if you _did
afficher_ yourself with him so shamefully.”

“Gabrielle, you know I would sooner die than engage myself to that man!”
Zai exclaims impetuously, dashing away her tears and sitting bolt
upright.

“Child, you must surely be joking,” answers Gabrielle, with a
well-feigned accent of surprise, and with a quick uplifting in a curve
of her dark brows.

Gabrielle is a rare actress by nature, and her vocation in life is the
stage assuredly.

“Do you mean to tell me then that you are not engaged to him? If so you
are certainly most indiscreet. All I know is, that if I descend to
_afficher_ myself before society with anyone, I shall take some man I
like, and not one I was always professing to detest!”

“I _do_ detest Lord Delaval!” cries Zai, in as shrill a tone as her
bird-like voice can take. “I don’t profess to detest him, but I detest
him with all my heart and soul, and you know it.”

“How on earth should I know it?” Gabrielle says sarcastically. “In fact
I quite differ with you on this point; you may possibly fancy that you
dislike him, but actions always speak so much louder than words that I
am certainly sceptical.”

“And pray what action of mine has shown any liking for him?” persists
Zai, her eyes blazing angrily.

“Did your proceedings last night show any dislike? Instead of staying in
the ball-room with the rest of the world, you prefer to remain outside.
It was desperately dangerous and sentimental work that, Zai--only the
Chinese lanterns and Lord Delaval’s handsome eyes to keep you company,
while you hung on his arm, and probably arrived at the conclusion that
Lord Delaval is not worse looking than most of his sex!”

“Don’t!”

There is quite a ring of pain in Zai’s voice, and she gives a little
shudder. The whole situation these last words bring so vividly before
her is one she hates to realise, for she knows few would be charitable
enough, and certainly not Carl, to give her credit for real dislike to
such a rare-visaged Lothario as Lord Delaval, whose eyes, though their
expression at times is hard and chilly as marble, can, when he desires,
have an undeniable fascination in their sapphire depths, the bare
outline of whose face is simply superb, and who looks what he is, an
aristocrat all over.

The passionate looks Carlton Conway had given her have been her guiding
star, and she believes that she would unhesitatingly follow their light
into the deadly Styx itself, so it can be imagined how her very soul
revolts as Gabrielle insinuates that she flung herself at Lord Delaval’s
head.

“Oh, Gabrielle, do you really doubt in your heart I would give anything
I possess never to see Lord Delaval again and to be all right with
Carl?”

“I don’t care about going into possibilities,” Gabrielle replies
pettishly, “I prefer restraining myself to simple facts.”

“Perhaps you will be less sceptical of my feelings if I explain a little
about last night, Gabrielle,” Zai murmurs deprecatingly. “You see I
heard what Sir Everard said to you about Carl riding with Crystal
Meredyth and looking ‘awful spoons.’ How those vulgar horrid words cut
me through and through, Gabrielle! Then when we arrived, the first thing
I saw was Carl waltzing with her, and--and--as if he really enjoyed it!
I could not bear the sight of that, so when Lord Delaval proposed to go
and see the illuminated grounds, I was thankful to go. After we had been
out a little while I was anxious to come in, but he told me that Carl
was engaged to Crystal--that he was obliged to marry some one who was
rich, Gabrielle,” and Zai flings herself down at her sister’s feet and
lifts up great pitiful eyes. “Instead of bullying me you ought to feel
for me! I am heart-broken!”

“Heart-broken! You silly child, hearts are tough things and don’t break
so easily, I don’t believe Carl Conway is going to marry that girl, but
if he is, you must know he is a deceitful interested creature not worth
thinking of. Well, what did you say to Lord Delaval in return for his
information?”

“I only insisted on going round the garden by myself. I wanted to be
alone with my wretchedness, and I wanted to call up courage to meet Carl
face to face without betraying all I felt.”

“Well?”

“Lord Delaval would not let me go alone, but I swear I forgot his
existence even!”

Gabrielle gives a short unpleasant laugh at this.

“It is true, Heaven knows. We returned and were just going into the
house when you and Sir Everard spoke about us--we were not a stone’s
throw from you, and of course every word you said fell out clear and
distinct. I confess I was surprised at all I heard, as you know you did
not speak the truth. However we won’t discuss that point now. What I did
hear made me resolve on an explanation with Lord Delaval at once. So I
just told him frankly that I did not care for him and would never marry
him!”

“In other words, you were amiable enough to reject him before he had the
trouble of offering himself,” Gabrielle says with a mocking smile.

“He had told me before that he loved me passionately, Gabrielle!” Zai
murmurs with a hot deprecatory blush.

Her delicacy of character would not have let her reveal this except in
defence of the seemingly fast conduct that has called down Gabrielle’s
sneers. And Gabrielle is well punished for her sneers--for this
revelation of Zai’s drives the colour from her cheek, and makes her
writhe with jealousy.

“Very probably he did,” she answers sharply. “Lord Delaval is a would-be
monopoliser of women’s hearts, and passionate love-making is one of the
tricks of his trade. I don’t believe there was a bit of genuine
sentiment in all he said.”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care if it was so. His protestations hadn’t a
feather’s weight with me. And I never wish to see him again,” Zai says
quietly and truthfully.

“It never appears to strike you what people will say of last night.
Society hasn’t much romance in its composition. Society does not know,
and would not credit that Zai Beranger wanders by day and night, blind
to external influences, with a buckler girded on her heart on which is
written ‘Carlton Conway.’ And if Belgravia cannot comprehend such
high-flown sentiment, is it strange that I, born and bred amongst the
_canaille_, with unlimited faith in the practical and matter-of-fact,
and with a contempt for the foolish and the sickly romance of women,
cannot help doubting and blaming you?”

“Blame has no effect on me,” Zai says rather defiantly, with her little
head erect. She is astonished and irritated at the cool condemnatory way
in which it pleases Gabrielle to speak. It strikes her that there is too
much presumption in it, and her really sweet nature, trodden on, like
the traditional worm, seems inclined to “turn.”

“But Lady Beranger is a slave to _on dits_, and she will lash herself
into a fury if you don’t carry out her scheme of marrying you to Lord
Delaval, after your curious behaviour last night.”

“It is mamma’s fault, and not mine that it happened; she is always
throwing Lord Delaval and me together, and the whole thing is hateful to
me.”

“Fiddlesticks! Mamma and lover being leagued, the odds are too much
against you. You had better make up your mind to marry him; you will
_have_ to do so by-and-bye.”

Lord Delaval’s threat almost verbatim. Zai blanches with a sudden thrill
of fear, and her heart gives a quick bound, but she says lightly:

“_Nous verrons!_”

“_Nous verrons!_” is the answer, and after a moment, Gabrielle goes on
in studied accents: “I think it right to tell you, Zai, that I am
resolved not to persuade you any more to marry Lord Delaval. I am a
soldier of fortune, you know, and have to make my own way in the world;
Lady Beranger deserves no tolerance from me, so I warn you, that I am
going to try and serve myself, and if my interest clashes with anyone
else’s I won’t yield an inch.”

“In other words, Gabrielle, you give me notice that you are going in for
Lord Delaval, yourself! I am sure I wish you _bon voyage_ in your
undertaking. I hope you will find the result, if gained, a happy one.”

“I am not afraid, I never knew what fear was in my life. Cowardice in
man or woman is the biggest crime in my eyes,” Gabrielle says with a
dare-devil glance.

“But,” replies Zai, “why on earth should you consider it necessary to
warn me of your project, I, who have no interest in the matter except
to wish you happy?”

“Simply because I should wish the point made clear to you, so that you
may not think me deceitful in the end. I owe the world--_your_ world of
Belgravia--nothing. But I have determined to take all I can gain from it
by my woman’s wit.”

“Follow Trixy’s example, and sell yourself to the highest bidder you can
find in my world, then!”

“No one has ever bid high enough for me,” Gabrielle cries bitterly, at
the same time tossing her head with the proud air of a De Rohan.
“Pariah, as I am, I have that which many of you Belgravians lack--the
knowledge how to _live. Mon Dieu!_ What a magnificent specimen of a
_grande dame_ I should make! Would that I were a peeress, and rich!”

Zai looks at her wonderingly, then she says quietly:

“I cannot think why people do not consider an inordinate desire for
money sinful. It seems to me that money is at the bottom of every crime
ever since our Lord Himself was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver.”

“Why don’t you preach all this to Trixy, then? She is practical in her
greed for gold. You know all my rhapsodies may be purely theoretical.”

“It would be a waste of time and breath to preach to Trixy. She has not
a tenth part of your common sense, Gabrielle, and she cannot be held so
accountable for her actions. Of course, mamma has literally coerced her
into this awful match. She will endure the existence she has in prospect
better than I should do, however. She won’t think of Mr. Stubbs and his
vulgarity while she has fine dresses and jewels. Sometimes I believe
these things constitute her ideas of real happiness, do you know! But
you, Gabrielle, are so different; if you pretend to lack a heart, at any
rate you don’t lack brains.”

“No, I certainly don’t,” Gabrielle answers conceitedly.

Lack brains! Why it is on these very brains that she relies to bring
honey and roses into her life, to get her luxury and ease, purple and
fine linen, such as she loves actually quite as much as Trixy does: but
has the _savoir faire_, or rather cunning, to keep her petty weaknesses
locked up within the citadel of her own breast.

For a woman--and a young one--few could hanker more greedily after the
flesh-pots and the silken attire of the children of Heth than this girl
does.

To deck her ripe glowing beauty in the splendour of satins and velvets
and soft bright hues, to see her long graceful throat encircled by the
gleam of oriental pearls, her dusky braids crowned with a diadem of
glittering brilliants, has been the dream of her life.

Ever since the old days when she loved to don a faded scarlet bow or a
tarnished gilt brooch, to queen it over her sister _gamins_.

“By the way, Zai, I found out last night, that Baby has accepted old
Archibald Hamilton! It was only by chance, as the little brat wants to
keep the matter a secret from us for a while, I believe.”

“Baby!” cries Zai, in amazement. “And yet I ought not to be surprised,
for I might have read the news in Lord Delaval’s face when he looked up
from beside her at tea last night. I expect he likes _embarrass des
richesses_, and is angry that even one of his worshippers should secede
from her homage.”

“It is no reason, because Baby gives her fat, dimpled hand to old
Hamilton, that she should consider it necessary to close her heart to
the fascination of her quasi lover!” says Gabrielle, with her Balzacian
ideas, ideas that find no response in the pure mind of Zai.

“I can’t stay chattering any longer, Gabrielle,” she says hurriedly, and
in the twinkling of an eye she is gone; and, as Gabrielle looks up
surprised at her summary departure, she sees the tall figure of Lord
Delaval slowly crossing the lawn towards the house, and guesses at once
why Zai has disappeared in such haste. She bends forward, and, with
wildly beating heart and tightly clenched hands, eagerly watches him.

Everyone who knew Gabrielle, sooner or later, asked themselves if she
had a heart; and nobody amongst those most intimate with her, had yet
been able to answer the question at all satisfactorily, excepting Lord
Delaval.

But he did not seem to deem it worth his while to study her at all,
though indirectly, and at all favourable opportunities, he let her be
fully aware through the medium of his handsome eyes and his voice that
he _knew_ she had a heart, and that it was one he read like an open book
and found remarkably interesting.

According to Dickens, there are chords in the human heart--strange
varying strings which are only struck by accident, which will remain
mute and senseless to appeals the most passionate and earnest, and
respond at last to the slightest casual touch.

And so it is with Gabrielle.

She has reached over a quarter of a century.

Her nature is as passionate as that of a daughter of the south, and her
early nurturing has been as wild and free as an Arab’s; but no man’s
hand had struck the keynote of feeling until Lord Delaval put in an
appearance on the scene.

He came, he saw, he conquered; and Gabrielle fell down at once,
helplessly and hopelessly, to worship him.



CHAPTER II.

FLIRTATION.

    “What the years mean--how time dies, and is not slain,
     How love grows, and laughs, and cries and wanes again,
     These were things she came to know and take the measure,
     When her play was played out so for one man’s pleasure.”


Gabrielle’s cheeks grow crimson and her eyes glitter with pleasure, that
for a little while they two will be alone, with no stranger to
intermeddle with their joy, as she watches Lord Delaval approach nearer
and nearer and finally step over the sill of the casement.

There is always a peculiar directness, an odd sort of intimacy in his
manner towards her, whenever they are thrown alone together, that
produces at once a most unconventional effect.

Now, as he walks up towards the sofa where she sits, the orthodox smile
of greeting is lacking on his handsome face, the ordinary hand-clasp is
unoffered, and Gabrielle does not even attempt to rise from her nest of
downy cushions, while her face droops away a little from his gaze.

There is just a softer gleam in the big black eyes, a quick, nervous
pressure of the even white teeth on the full, red underlip, and these
are the only signs that she recognises his presence on the scene.

But Lord Delaval--confident and complacent--requires no spoken welcome.
He has come in not knowing who he may find in the room, but finding
Gabrielle, is ready, _faute de mieux_, to make love to her in the
underhand way that does not compromise a man, and passes away an hour.

Ever since Baby’s marriage to Archibald Hamilton had been hinted at by
Lady Beranger, and he had suspected Zai’s weakness for the popular
actor, he had insinuated a passion, if he had not one, for Gabrielle. It
may be that her evident liking for him, and her undeniable personal
attraction, had touched him; but--probably it was only a selfish
gratification he is given to seeking.

“I am so glad to find you alone. I wanted to see you so much,” he says
in a quiet outspoken fashion, that to a girl who hates what she terms
the insincerity and shams of society is, in itself, fascinating.

“You wanted to see me, and you are glad to find me alone!” she repeats,
then, to cover the nervousness his proximity always brings, she adds
flippantly:

“Really, Lord Delaval, if Lady Beranger heard you she would drop at such
a breach of the _convenances_.”

“Possibly,” he answers coolly, “but hang the _convenances_. Don’t you
know that there are times in every fellow’s life when he comes into
collision with the conventionalities, and either breaks them, or else
risks being broken by keeping them? So long as I can run with my
Juggurnauth, alias ‘Society,’ I am content, but I cannot throw myself
before it and get mangled. Do you know I rather fancied I had a chance
of finding you alone here, and so I determined to make chance a
certainty?”

Gabrielle gives him a quick glance of surprise, while her heart throbs
faster than it has ever done before in the six-and-twenty years she has
lived.

Lord Delaval has often _looked_ love at her--hinted at love, but he has
never gone as far as this.

She has met him by appointment once or twice; still, nothing has been
said to make her believe he really cared for her.

Now she reddens like a rose, and feels a nervous tremor run through her,
and yet his manner is scarcely like a lover’s. There is, in fact,
nothing in what he says that could not pass as the ordinary talk of
Society, yet the conversation seems lifted out from an ordinary
atmosphere. They two, Lord Delaval and herself, are alone, and he talks
to her just as if they were disembodied spirits. There are men
occasionally in this world who have the power of bringing a woman they
approach into direct contact with their own natures. They have a special
gift of penetration, and one feels that in whatever relation one meets
them, it is sustained by one’s _real_ self towards an equally _real_
individuality on the other side.

Lord Delaval always makes Gabrielle feel this, and his intense manner
adds to the feeling, but, with the supreme wilfulness of her nature, she
refuses to yield to the magnetic influence he has over her without, at
any rate, a struggle.

“You can have nothing to say to _me_, Lord Delaval, that all the world
and the world’s wife cannot hear. Are you mistaking me by chance for
Zai?” she asks, carelessly, but she has no control over her features,
and the excitement of his presence lends them a flashing, bewildering
beauty, that positively dazzles him--_pro tem.!_

He fixes his deep blue eyes on her with an expression of fervid
admiration, and her lids fall beneath the passion of his glance, but she
lifts them bravely, and meets his gaze full.

“You really look as if you thought I did not mean what I say!”

“And no more you do, _ma belle_,” he answers quietly. Outside the sun
shines down furiously; the air is warm as an Indian summer. Up and down,
up and down, the butterflies skim over the flowers, and a lazy rose-twig
gives an inert tap on the window pane. Gabrielle does not reply. She
feels shy, and as shyness is foreign to her, it is not only an
uncomfortable, but a painful sensation.

“You snubbed Aylmer last evening,” he says.

“Yes!” she answers laconically.

“But why? Did you forget how many good things he has to offer you? Most
women would jump at such a match.”

“_Soit!_ but _I_ don’t,” she answers indifferently.

“Of course not,” he tells her. “I know you better than you know
yourself--no one will ever know you as well as I do--and, still more,
Gabrielle, no one will ever love you as _I_ love you! No, don’t start!”

For she rises from her seat, feelings of various kinds surge over her,
and she clasps her fingers tightly together.

“Gabrielle, I have been longing to tell you this,” he goes on, in a
concentrated voice, which has a deal of suppressed passion in it; “I see
no reason for denying myself the expression of what is strong within me.
I don’t want you to tell me that you love me, for I should hate to evoke
from your sweet lips words that your _heart_ doesn’t force through them,
in spite of _convenances_! I only want you to listen to me when, instead
of dilating on the beauty of the weather, and so forth, I lay bare _my_
heart to you.”

Gabrielle believes he is laughing at her, and the belief lashes her into
fury.

“Please, Lord Delaval, reserve your amusement for some one else. I am
not of sufficiently elevated position for you to waste your breath on.
Do you forget that Lady Beranger looks on me as a sort of social pariah,
and almost a gutter-girl!” she flares out scornfully, her lips
trembling, and looking doubly tempting in their wrath.

Perhaps Lord Delaval, with his worship for pretty things, feels their
increased attraction, for as his eyes fall on them, his manner grows
really more impassioned. He moves closer to her side on the sofa, but
she averts her head, and piques him by a feigned coldness.

“I can’t see your face, Gabrielle! And I _want_ to see it while I talk
to you,” he pleads quite tenderly.

The tone touches her, not because she credits its sincerity, but because
she has never dreamed that _he_ could ever speak to her thus.

“Gabrielle, do you believe in affinities?”

“I believe in sympathy,” she answers, wondering what he is going to say
now.

“I am a firm believer in affinities, and don’t believe in the
possibility of love existing between two persons devoid of affinity.
Tell me, Gabrielle! do you follow me at all?”

She makes a slight gesture of assent, but she doesn’t in the slightest
comprehend what he is driving at. No matter, he is close besides her. If
she likes, she can touch him, and this is enough to put this impassioned
child of Eve into a fever of delight.

“I don’t believe that anyone can give another anything that does not
belong to that other. He may withhold it to a certain degree, but it
_must_ be given in the end. Perfect love is when one meets someone to
whom one can give all, and from whom one desires all.”

“Imperfect affinities are all that most people in _our_ world know of
love, and, Gabrielle, Belgravia is horribly ignorant, do you know?
Being so, they call a part of such and such a thing the whole, and
demand allegiance of one’s whole nature to a feeling that belongs to,
and feeds but a small part of it! Now, Gabrielle--my beautiful, tempting
Gabrielle! you and I have this in common, that we hate sham, and never
pretend to fine sentimental feelings unless we possess them. Isn’t it
true?”

Lord Delaval bends over her till his face nearly touches hers, and he
smiles conceitedly as he notices how rosy red the cheek near him grows
by his proximity.

“I knew when I first saw you that you and I were exactly alike in our
ideas and feelings. Somehow I felt it directly we spoke. I knew that you
would never give to any man that which was not his--for you are
dreadfully proud and cold and hard at the core, and when I found out, a
day or two ago, that unconsciously I had learned to love you--do you
hear me?--to love you with my whole being--when I found out that nothing
short of an entire surrender of your soul--_of yourself_--would satisfy
me, I trembled at the vision of bliss or torture that possibly lies
before me--look at me, Gabrielle!”

There is a quiet command in his voice which she never attempts to
resist. To everyone else sharp, caustic, cold, and full of sneers, to
this man she is the humblest of slaves; his, to do with as he wills. A
daughter of Belgravia, with Lady Beranger’s worldly-wise notions dinned
into her ears, and with worldly, ambitious women examples for her in
daily life--of this man she wants nothing, only _himself_; to gain his
love, and above all, to be let to love him, she would fling all other
considerations to the four winds without a murmur or a regret.

In a sort of maze, she lifts up a pair of big, incredulous black eyes to
him now--eyes so soft and wistful--so filled with newborn light that no
one would believe they belonged to Gabrielle Beranger.

She forgets everything but him and the giant fact that he is hers. In
spite of her peculiar nature and practical turn, she has pictured, like
most of her sex, a paradise of love about this man, and lost in the
golden vision of Love’s paradise gained, she lets her usual scepticism
slip out of her mind, and only knows that Lord Delaval, whom she has
worshipped for three years with the feverish fierceness of her Bedouin
nature, _is_ wooing her--strangely and abruptly, but in the sweetest,
subtlest way that a man can woo. Gabrielle is sharp as a needle, yet it
never crosses her brain in her lovesick frenzy that _real_ feeling is
_not_ eloquent in expression, and that when a man _really_ craves
anything and trembles lest he should not grasp it, flowers of rhetoric
are usually denied to his tongue.

She sits spellbound, with drooping lids. Literally _nothing_ seems to
live in her, save a vivid sense of his words, and the intensity of their
meaning. Her keen intelligence is lulled to sleep, her habit of doubting
is dead, _pro tem_. She does not try to subject his protestations to any
analytical process; they only seem to float through her mind in a kind
of soft mist, and she sits white now and silent, and feeling, as she
thinks she can never feel again, content, almost in a dream, and yet
full, awfully full, of an intensified vitality.

“I want to tell you, Gabrielle,” Lord Delaval says very low, while his
audacious arm steals round her magnificent shoulders and her crimson
cheek is pillowed on his breast, “that I love you as no one has ever
loved you, and that I am _determined_ to win from you all that I wish! I
have _never_ been baulked yet, if I determined to reach anything. If I
preserve my will intact, I shall not accept anything but the _whole_
from you, the _whole_, sweetheart--do you hear? Of your heart and soul
and body I will have all--_all!_ or die unsatisfied. My hope to gain all
this is by knowledge of your nature. It is you--_you_ that I love, not a
part of you, not an ideal being of you, not what you represent to other
men’s eyes, but what you are with your thousand imperfections, even
blots. Nothing, Gabrielle, will change me towards you, for I have only
given you what is yours by the law of affinity, and you,
Gabrielle--well, I _defy_ you to say that you are not wholly and solely
_mine_.”

It is masterful wooing this, insolent in fact, and it would revolt most
women. Zai and even Baby, with her fast proclivities, would not
understand it, and it would jar on their thoroughbred natures, but
Gabrielle likes it.

The whole thing fascinates her--a visible shiver runs over her. Lord
Delaval feels the shiver, and his arm draws her more closely to him,
while the ghost of a cynical smile crosses his mouth. He stoops his head
and looks full into her eyes, and then his lips rest upon hers, long and
passionately, while her heart beats as wildly as a bird in the grasp of
a fowler.

Luckily for her she _has_ been partially imbued with a respect for Lady
Beranger’s beloved _convenances_ and _bienséances_. Luckily for her,
Belgravian morals, though they may be lax, are too worldly-wise not to
know a limit.

Even while Lord Delaval’s kiss lingers on her mouth she pulls herself
away from him, angry with herself that she has allowed that long
passionate caress, and yet feeling that she would have been more than
mortal if she had resisted it. But she resolves to sift him, _au fond_,
to find out at once if in truth the man is only laughing at her or
whether, oh blessed thought, she has caught his errant fancy or “love”
as she calls it.

“Lord Delaval!” she says, in a voice in which pride and shame mingle
strangely together, “because I am a woman, with a woman’s weak nature,
do you believe me to be a fool? Do you think for a moment I deceive
myself or let your words deceive me? Only last night you flirted
horribly with Zai. Before, it was in Baby’s ear you whispered your soft
nothings. It was Baby’s hand I have seen you furtively clasp. I know
therefore that the love you profess for me is all stuff and nonsense!
that playing with women’s feelings is delicious food for your vanity.
But _why_ you should pick me out, why _I_ should be a butt for you, I am
sure I can’t guess! I don’t care to believe that because I am what Lady
Beranger thinks me, that _you_ want to insult me!”

A look of pain crosses her brow, and an appeal for forbearance, dumb but
very taking, goes up from her eyes. Lord Delaval seizes her hands and
holds them fast while his gaze bears steadily down on her.

“You should not doubt, Gabrielle! I have told you the truth, upon my
soul! No woman’s face can tempt me from you now. Whatever the past may
have been, I swear I belong to you now and for ever! While I wait to
claim you as my wife before the world, and I _must_ wait, for reasons
which will be satisfactory when I tell you them, you will go on doing as
you do, draining men dry to the one drop of their souls that you can
assimilate. But that is not love, though they may lay their lives and
fortunes at your feet. Aylmer would never satisfy your heart, Gabrielle,
but you may flirt with him if you like, and drive him mad by these sweet
eyes, these soft red lips,” and he lifts up her face and studies it for
a moment, “so long as when _I_ want you, you come to me at once. It will
be no sacrifice on your part, for you will only be obeying the law of
your nature in loving me and I--I shall take you not as a gift, but as
a right, my Gabrielle!”

Before she can answer him, he has taken her into his arms, and rained
down kisses on her brow and cheeks and lips and is gone, with the
conviction in his mind that, if he wishes it at any time, it will not
require much pressing on his part to mould _this_ girl’s future to his
will.

True he does not care a snap of his fingers for her, but any woman,
beautiful of face and form, is not an object to be disdained or
rejected, and Lord Delaval is not the only voluptuary among the Upper
Ten.

Alone with the gathering shadows, and still wrapped in the presence that
has left her, Gabrielle sits for an hour undisturbed. In the latter days
she has thought several times that Lord Delaval had begun to recognise
her claims to admiration, in spite of his flirtations with Baby and Zai,
and alas! for Belgravian nurturing, it is a truth that the consciousness
that her attraction for the man is _only a physical one_, in which her
brains and soul bear no perceptible part, is far from being an
unpleasant sensation.

“How very shocking!” a few prim spinsters may exclaim, but it is
nevertheless the truth and nothing but the truth. It may be that most
women love to conquer with the legitimate weapon, _beauty_, of the sex.

Poor plain Madame de Staël would willingly have exchanged all the
laurels men laid at her feet for the tiniest, meanest blossom offered in
a spirit of “_love_” or “passion” by them to women whom she justly
regarded as her inferiors.

Gabrielle forgets her cross, her mother’s low birth, Lady Beranger’s
taunts and everything else unpleasant, as she positively revels in a
sense of Lord Delaval’s admiration.

Rising from the lounge, she walks to the mantelpiece, and placing her
elbows on it stares in a fixed, almost fierce way, into the mirror.

The shadows that flit over the room are broken here and there by a few
last dying sunbeams, and her beauty is improved by the flickering light.
The sweet eyes and soft red lips to which he had alluded, gain fresh
merit since they are decoys to his erratic fancy, and have fanned the
spark she has tried to ignite into a flame that has at last burst into
words.

Then between her and the mirror the superb face of her lover rises up,
and the cheek that has just been pressed against his breast glows a
lovely carmine, that is wasted on the unappreciative dusk, as she
clenches her little fist, and swears in true and forcible Bohemian
fashion to bring all her woman’s wit to aid in winning this man for her
husband.

Just at this moment Lady Beranger walks in, and without noticing her
stepdaughter by word or look, throws herself a little wearily into an
arm-chair.

“What are you thinking of, _belle mere_?” Gabrielle asks after a little.

“Thinking of! There is plenty to think of I am sure,” Lady Beranger
retorts curtly. “I shall never be at rest till the girls are safely off
my hands; unmarried daughters are the greatest responsibility
breathing.”

“I will try and lessen your burden,” Gabrielle says, in a bland voice,
but with a curl of her lip which the dusk hides, “I’ll promise not to
say ‘no’ if anyone asks me to marry him.”

Lady Beranger laughs a sharp unpleasant laugh.

“It is not likely _you_ will lessen my burden!” she says sharply.
“Everard Aylmer, who was my forlorn hope for you, told me he was off
directly for a tour in India, so _he_ is not going to ask you.”

“May be, but then you see, there are other fools beside Sir Everard
Aylmer, in this world, Lady Beranger,” Gabrielle answers flippantly, as
she saunters out of the room.

“Hateful girl!”

And having relieved herself of this, Lady Beranger settles herself more
comfortably, and begins to build castles in which Zai and Lord Delaval,
Trixy and the fascinating Stubbs, and Baby with her elderly _inamorato_
figure.

“That actor fellow showed his cards well last night,” she soliloquises.
“He is after the Meredyth filthy lucre of course, so now there’s every
chance of Zai catching Delaval. Trixy is thrown away on that dreadful
cub, but after all, it doesn’t much matter who one marries. After a
month or so, now-a-days, the women think twice as much of other people’s
husbands as of their own. Baby will be all right in Archibald Hamilton’s
keeping. That child really frightens me by her defiance of everything,
and I shall be truly thankful to wash my hands of her before she goes to
the furthest end of her tether. As for Gabrielle,” a frown puckers her
ladyship’s patrician brow, “I wonder who she has got running in her
head? I _hope_ it is not Delaval; a neck to neck race between her and
Zai would end in her winning by several lengths. Zai, though she is my
own child, is the biggest little fool, with the primitive notions of the
year One, and I _can’t_ alter her, worse luck!”



CHAPTER III.

“FROGGY WOULD A WOOING GO.”

    “Gold, gold, gold, gold,
     Bright and yellow, hard and cold;
     Molten, graven, hammered and roll’d,
     Heavy to get, and light to hold,
     Price of many a crime untold.”


“Poor Mr. Stubbs,” sneers Gabrielle.

“Poor Mr. Stubbs,” says Zai.

“Poor Mr. Stubbs,” laughs Baby.

And with very good reason.

It is his eighth visit.

Trixy has deserted her downy nest among her cerulean cushions, and sits
bolt upright on a tall-backed chair. To-day is devoted by her to the
personification of “Mary Anderson.”

Her attire is of virgin white, not flowing in undulating waves of Indian
muslin, or ornamented by tucks _à l’enfant_, but falling in severe
satin-like folds round her beautifully moulded figure; her wealth of
yellow hair is gathered at the back of her dainty head in a classical
knot, traversed by a long gold arrow. She wears no bracelets or rings to
mar the perfect whiteness of her arm and fingers, and while one hand
toys lazily with a mother o’ pearl paper-knife, the other rests on a
well-thumbed copy of “The Lady of Lyons.”

Opposite her, but at a discreet distance, her Claude perches nervously
on the edge of his chair; his face has acquired more flesh and blood
with his increased importance as the _fiancé_ of the beautiful Miss
Beranger, and his puffy cheeks glow like holly-berries under her glance.

Not that her glance by any means shows the odalisque softness, of which
mention has been made; on the contrary, there is an incipient loathing
in it, that she tries to conceal under the shelter of her long golden
lashes.

But everything nearly has two sides, and the white drooping lids find
favour in her adorer’s sight, for he attributes them to the delicate
shyness peculiar to the _china_ beings of the Upper Ten, and unknown to
the coarse delf of his own class.

Once, and once only, has he ventured to lift the lissom white fingers to
his hungry lips very respectfully, _bien entendu_.

It was the day when, Lady Beranger standing by, Trixy agreed to barter
her youth and beauty for:

    “Gold, gold, gold, gold,
     Bright and yellow, hard and cold;
     Molten, graven, hammered and roll’d,
     Heavy to get, and light to hold,
     Price of many a crime untold.”

But she had drawn back her fingers before they arrived at his desired
goal, with a sudden hauteur that almost petrified him into a stone.

It was the first time he had been thrown in such close contact with
“high life,” and when it bristled up in aggrieved delicacy it appalled
him; but the next moment, he awoke to a profound admiration for the
maidenly reserve that was, of course, part and parcel of a refined
nature.

Poor Mr. Stubbs! well may the Beranger girls pity him. He little dreams
of the melting glances Trixy’s sweet blue eyes have given to Carlton
Conway, or how eagerly the hand like a snowdrift has gone out to nestle
in Carlton Conway’s clasp, and how the faint blush rose on her cheek has
deepened into damask bloom when in the old days Carlton Conway whispered
in her ear, nor how, tell it not in Gath! her pretty mouth had even
pouted for Carlton Conway’s caress.

But we all know that where ignorance is bliss, etc., etc. Ever since Mr.
Stubbs has been duly installed in the dignified position of “future,” to
Lady Beranger’s eldest daughter, he makes periodical visits to Belgrave
Square.

As it has been told, to day is his eighth visit, but he approaches no
whit nearer to his divinity as regards heart--in fact he has decidedly
made a retrograde movement in her opinion.

Trixy fully realises the truth of the old saw, “distance lends
enchantment to the view,” and the nearer she sees him the more difficult
it seems to her to swallow this big bitter pill, although it is heavily
gilded. Still, she is determined to marry him somehow, for as regards
more substantial things their hearts and such obsolete absurdities--she
has fully realised the advantages and benefits this horrible sacrifice
of herself, as she styles it, is likely to bestow.

What daughter of Belgravia hesitates long between love and ambition?
That is, if she has been properly brought up? and how often are the
marriages solemnised at St. George’s or St. Peter’s--marriages _du
cœur_? A popular author writes of modern love--

    “Though Cupid may seek for sweet faces,
       From ugliness fly as a curse,
     May sacrifice much for the Graces,
       He’ll sacrifice more for the--_purse_.
     The priest, if inclined for truth’s rigour,
       Might write on each conjugal docket,
     ‘When a lover’s in love with the figure,
       The figure must be in--the _pocket_!’”

And he is very nearly right.

Trixy has on a table that stands beside her two open morocco cases. In
one, a magnificent necklet of diamonds sparkles and scintillates in the
daylight, flashing back glances at a set of pigeon-blood hued rubies
that repose alongside.

When her eyes rest on these the odalisque softness steals back to her
limpid glance.

“Do you approve of the ornaments?” the millionaire asks nervously of his
“liege ladye.” He would not have ventured to say “Do you like me?” for
all the world.

He is brimming over with gratification at his sumptuous gift being
accepted, although Trixy has not had the grace to say even “thank you.”

But then she is so sure of him that she does not trouble about common
politeness.

“I have not yet learnt your exact taste, you know,” he mumbles a little
sheepishly, reddening to the roots of his more than auburn hair,
possibly with the pleasurable vision of the time when he _will_ know
Trixy’s taste better.

_Poor_ Mr. Stubbs!

At present she is still “doing” Mary Anderson, and may be a statue of
Galatea for aught he can find in her of warmth, or learn of her tastes
and feelings.

“The ornaments are very well,” answers this often-to-be-met-with type of
Belgravian daughters, with an insolent indifference which is quite
assumed, for such costly baubles are her heart’s delight. “I should
certainly have preferred sapphires to rubies. They suit blondes so very
much better.”

Poor Mr. Stubbs feels and looks extremely disappointed, and crestfallen.
He has paid such a very large sum for the rubies. He has ransacked all
the leading jewellers’ shops that the stones may be large, and flawless,
and the exact colour of pigeon’s blood, and here is his reward.

For a moment it seems to him that there is something a little
disheartening and depressing in aristocratic coldness and ingratitude,
and that some of the gushing thanks of little Imogene of the Vivacity,
or pretty Vi Decameron of the Can-Can Theatre would not be amiss, but
only for one moment does his tuft-hunting soul turn traitor to the high
life it adores, and he quickly brightens up.

“If you will allow me, I will take back the rubies, and desire sapphires
to be sent instead.”

“Oh, no, no! it would scarcely be worth the trouble of changing them,
these will do very well,” she answers in a tone of languor, but she
remembers the vulgar old adage of “a bird in hand is worth two in the
bush,” and to put a bar on any chance of losing the disparaged rubies,
she quietly clasps the morocco cases, and locks them into an ivory and
ebony Indian box.

The big drawing-room in Belgrave Square is very dull. From outside comes
the rush of vehicles, and the June sunshine tries to peer through the
closed jalousies that fine ladies love. The clock ticks rather
obtrusively, but Trixy likes to hear it, for it tells of the flight of
time; a prospect she has at heart at this moment, and a short silence
falls upon as ill-assorted a pair as ever a longing for the world’s
vanities has brought together. Looking at them, the story of Beauty and
the Beast presents itself, excepting that the Beast is not likely to
turn out anything else, save as far as riches are concerned. From the
day Mr. Stubbs popped the question, as Baby has it, and Trixy accepted
him, Lady Beranger has thankfully thrown off the onus of chaperonage,
which a rigid adherence to her beloved _convenances_ insisted on before,
and long _tête-à-têtes_ are vouchsafed to the “happy young couple,” as
she calls them (Extract from the Stubbs’ family bible--Peter Robinson
Stubbs, born July 12th, 1820, rather upsets the word young), but her
ladyship cannot stand the man in spite of his youth and happiness, and
slips out of the way whenever his loud knock resounds through the
mansion. She has no fear that Trixy will prove refractory now that the
die is cast, and the match has been announced formally in the columns
of the Court Journal and other Society papers. Besides, a dissolution of
the contract would involve a return of very expensive presents,
including the despised rubies, and Lady Beranger’s insight into human
nature, or rather into her eldest daughter’s nature, leads her to think
rightly. Trixy is her mother’s child to the backbone.

In spite of her utter loathing for the man to whom she is going to swear
glibly love and eternal fealty, she has received too heavy substantial
tokens of his regard to allow her golden calf to drift away. She has
thoroughly made up her mind--such as it is--to cast away all romantic
nonsense, _i.e._, her adoration of Carlton Conway, for the sake of
worldly benefits, and now it is ten to one, that if the all-conquering
C. C. came in his noble person to woo her, she would deliberately weigh
against his undeniable fascination the prospect of being a leader of
Society, with magnificent diggings in Park Lane, and the very
comfortable sensation of a heavy balance at Coutts’.

“You think you really would prefer Park Lane to Carlton Gardens?” Mr.
Stubbs inquires deferentially.

Under the powerful glamour of Trixy’s beauty he feels as if he could buy
up the Fiji Isles, or even that very uncomfortable residence, Bulgaria,
if she wills it. Of course, she likes the big house in Park Lane. What
woman, especially a daughter of Belgravia, would not? with its superb
array of balconies, and galleries, and conservatories, and its vast
reception rooms, where Trixy fully intends to queen it over other
leaders of Society, but she just bends her pretty little yellow-crowned
head in assent.

One may have a dancing bear, but one is not forced to converse with him,
she thinks, and she gives him a long, level look, wondering what animal
he is really like. Gabrielle had likened him to a frog, but he is too
bulky for that; a bear or a buffalo, she decides, and while she does so,
he has come to the decision that no cage can be too gorgeous for his
radiant Bird of Paradise, and he glances, but covertly, at her in a sort
of maze at the curious freak of fortune that is going to bestow on him
such a _rara avis_.

He looks sideways at her sweet scarlet lips, and marvels what he has
ever done in his prosy money-making life to make him worthy of their
being yielded to him--not yet, no, _certainly_--not yet, he is aware of
that, but perhaps, some day! He gloats with an elderly gentleman’s
gloating on the supple young form and perfect face, and quite a
delightful awe creeps over him at the very idea of the future presence
of this flesh and blood divinity at his hearth and board.

Nature has not been munificent to him in the way of looks. He has a
broad, florid, rather flaccid physiognomy, and his proportions are not
symmetrical, but taking him all round, he is not a bad sort, and he has
a good heart.

True it beats beneath a huge mountain of flesh, but, never mind, it
beats all the same with a good deal of honest warmth. His feelings
towards his fair autocrat are a mixture of profound admiration and
profound gratitude--the last sentiment being born of the first.

Gratitude is in fact an intensely tame word to express what he feels for
Trixy’s munificent gift to him of herself. With all these feelings rife
in his very broad breast, feelings that would gush forth eloquently in
most men, Mr. Stubbs remains strictly practical and common-place, and
fortunately his wife elect is better able to sympathise with him as he
is than if Cupid spoke from his lips in flowers of rhetoric.

“And the furniture? From Jackson and Graham’s, I suppose?” he asks
deprecatingly, as if it was _her_ money and not his that was to pay for
it.

“From Jackson and Graham’s of course! You surely are not thinking of
going to Tottenham Court Road, Mr. Stubbs?” Trixy says raspily, with a
little sniff of her Greek nose.

“No, no! _of course_ not!” he murmurs alarmed.

“Remember, I cannot have any hangings but _blue_--blue suits my
complexion, you know; not _dark_ blue, mind, but _bleu de ciel_!”

“Blue, certainly,” he answers humbly, much more humbly probably than
Jackson and Graham’s foreman would.

“And Mr. Stubbs, pray don’t forget that I hate anything modern. I like
everything _old_, in _furniture_ I mean!” she says, warming up with her
subject. “Chippendale and all that sort of thing.”

“Florid carving you would like of course?”

“Florid! Horrid! Plain chairs, with shields at the back for the----”

She stops suddenly, while a look of disappointment and dismay creeps
over her face.

“But you haven’t a crest, have you?” she adds, with as much solemnity as
if she were asking “Have you hopes of salvation?”

“A crest?--of course I have!” he replies jauntily, not a bit offended at
her doubt on the subject. “A sweet little crest. It has a little
turretted house on the top, with what they call in heraldry a martinet
perched on it. I don’t understand much about birds, but in plain
English, I expect it’s a swallow, or maybe a tom-tit. And the motto is a
very nice one, and very applicable too--_Fortes fortuna juvat_,” and he
smiles complacently.

Trixy has a horrible suspicion that he also winks.

“I don’t understand Latin,” she says scornfully. “You see, they don’t
teach it at fashionable schools. It is a language that does very well
for prescriptions and things, and is only fit for doctors.”

“I know a little Latin, and my motto in English is ‘Fortune favours the
brave!’” he explains pleasantly, with another affable smile and meaning
look, which are quite lost on Trixy, whose worst enemies cannot accuse
her of any undue ’cuteness, as the Yankees have it. She has no more idea
that the man is alluding to himself and herself than if he was speaking
Greek, which is another of the languages she knows nothing of.

The only thing that strikes her is how funny he would look if his
bravery was called into account, and how slowly his short stout legs
would carry him, if he ever wanted to run away from an enemy.

“You say the crest has a castle with a bird on it. That will do I fancy
on the furniture. People don’t trouble much about the subject, so long
as there _is_ a crest to make the things look more aristocratic. Can’t
the Beranger motto be added to yours? It is French, and everybody knows
French.”

“May I ask what it is?” he asks wondering how he can have overlooked it
in his diligent researches into “Lodge” and “Burke “ and “De Brett,”
works that, bound in velvet and gold, have prominent positions in his
library.

“It is ‘_Noblesse oblige_,’ ‘Nobility forces,’ you know.”

Mr. Stubbs reddens as he thinks the addition she suggests will very
likely provoke a smile from ill-natured people, who _might_ fancy that
the Hon. Trixy Beranger’s finances forced her to become the Hon. Mrs.
Stubbs.

“I don’t see how it can be done,” he remarks. “It would be going
against the rules of heraldry I am afraid.”

“What does _that_ matter?” she cries captiously. “It would be very hard
if I really set my heart on anything, to be done out of it just because
some stupid sign-painter’s ideas did not coincide with mine.”

“Heraldry is not exactly sign-painting, it is a science,” he ventures to
remonstrate, anxious to smooth down her ruffled feathers.

“Really, Mr. Stubbs, you seem to think my education has been dreadfully
neglected! I was five years at Mrs. Washington de Montmorency’s _élite_
establishment for daughters of the nobility only! Then I was at Madame
Thalia de Lydekerke Beaudesert’s finishing academy for _la crême de la
crême_ only, and Lord and Lady Beranger have spared no expense in
educating me! Signor il Conte Almaviva taught me Italian, Rubenstein
considers me his show pupil, Patti was heard to say that she envied me
my voice, and--and--of course I know that heraldry is a science, but
science or no science, I cannot see why I should not have exactly what I
want carved on the backs of my own chairs and sofas. However, it really
isn’t worth the trouble of discussing,” and Trixy half-closes her eyes
and falls into languor, a manner beneath which he invariably feels the
social gulf widen between them.

He cannot, even if he tries, affect this supreme indifference, this
delightful repose that sits so easily on Lady Beranger and her
belongings.

Leaning back against the _Prie Dieu_ chair, with half-closed eyes, Trixy
looks like a marble effigy of Resignation, but she does not show the
gentleness and patience with which the virtue of resignation is
generally invested. She is rather a cold, hard martyr to untoward
circumstances, with a big wall of ice raised up around her that seems to
freeze up her companion.

Surreptitiously he glances at a monster watch, like a bed-warmer, with
half-a-dozen gaudy seals and charms attached to it. He really is anxious
to find that the three-quarters of an hour, which Lady Beranger had
hinted to him was the proper term of a courtship, are up; but time has
not flown on the wings of love, there are yet ten minutes wanting, so he
settles himself in his seat, and just escapes the sight of Trixy’s
pretty mouth elongated in a long yawn.

He commences a sort of auctioneer’s catalogue of the worldly goods and
chattels she will possess directly she is mistress of Park Lane,
divining that this is a subject which really interests her, and hoping
to make her forget about the crests and mottoes.

Thoroughly mercenary himself, he quite understands how pleasant it must
be for her to know all she will gain as his wife. Exchange and barter
are household words to him. Ever since he was in knickerbockers and
short pants he has been buying and selling, and he sees nothing at all
extraordinary or revolting in this young person giving him her youth and
beauty in exchange for his money.

Love! Well, love to his fancy is an excellent thing for boys and girls,
but Mr. Stubbs has reached an age when passion _ought_ to lose most of
its fierceness and glamour, and a placid liking sound more comfortable.

He has given up business now, so he knows he will be usually at hand to
guard his beautiful wife from the impudent swells--idle,
good-for-nothing specimens of the _genus homo_--to whom morality is an
unknown word, and whom he dislikes thoroughly, though he is deferential
to their faces.

So that on the whole his matrimonial scheme bears a remarkably smooth
aspect.

“There are one or two other little things on which I should like your
opinion before I write my directions.”

Hearing which she brightens up at once into an attitude of interest.

“Did’nt you say the other day that you preferred a brougham to a
clarence?”

“A brougham by all means, and it _must_ be by Peters.”

“Have you a particular fancy for Peters?”

“Yes, yes. He is the only maker who is _chic_. Most of the others turn
out heavy lumbering vehicles, with not the style about them that would
suit _me_; but then you see, we have always been considered to be so
very _difficile_ in our tastes, and the brougham _must_ be green.”

“With scarlet under carriage, and body well picked out with broad
scarlet lines?”

“No, no! Picked out with black,” she says very decidedly, wondering at
the awful taste of the man. And there is not a doubt but that his taste
_is_ showy, he wears at this identical moment a miniature yacht in full
sail, in gold and enamel, as a scarf pin, and a tie of violet satin,
with orange stripes; orange is in fact his pet colour, from rhubarb
down to the primrose of his gloves.

“Yes,” she says, as if reflecting deeply, “the brougham must be green, a
_very_ dark green, and picked out with black, and brass mountings.”

“A little sombre, don’t you think?” he suggests timidly.

“Good heavens, Mr. Stubbs! Do you want me to drive out only on the ninth
of November and look as if I was a part of the Lord Mayor’s show?” she
asks excitedly, raising her voice and causing him to give a little jump
on his chair.

It is the first time she has displayed any variation of feeling, and the
spice of devilry in her eyes, though it does away with Mary Anderson,
heightens her beauty. Usually Trixy Beranger resembles a large waxen
doll, with yellow hair and pink and white cheeks.

But she recovers her temper directly. It strikes her that this
glittering fish may prove a slippery one if she allows the stormy side
of her character to burst out before the matrimonial noose is tied.

“But, of course, I know you were only joking about the colours for the
brougham. I am _sure_ your taste is similar to my own, and that you
think nothing can be too quiet to be aristocratic. Mamma rather wants me
at four o’clock, have you any idea what the time is?”

He glances once more at the leviathan timekeeper he carries, and
discovers that he has outstayed his limit fifteen minutes, and that his
regular constitutional before feeding time will have to be curtailed.

“I, too, have numerous letters to write, so I think I’ll say _au
revoir_.”

Trixy sticks out five fingers carelessly, and he takes them in silence,
but he is not bold enough to squeeze them ever so little, and he
breathes more freely directly he is outside the big drawing-room door.

His broad back turned, Trixy steals out on tip-toe upon the landing, and
when he is fairly out of the house, she opens the ivory and ebony box,
takes out the two morocco cases, and walking up to the large mirror
opposite, she leisurely puts the chain of brilliants and the band of
rubies round her snowy throat. Rubies flash in her ears, and a huge
bracelet of the same gems gleams blood-red on her rounded arm.

For a minute or two she gazes enraptured at herself, then she rushes up
the stairs, two steps at a time, like a tomboy, and bursts like a
whirlwind into what is called Baby’s school-room.

Baby has for some time given up instructive books for more refreshing
waters of literature in the shape of French romances; but she still
clings, with the small amount of tenacity there is in her nature, to the
old ink-stained table and hard chairs, in whose company she tottled up
four and four, and invariably made them nine, and wept bitter tears over
the dry food provided for her mind by Miss Jenkinson, a staid
sanctimonious old spinster that Lady Beranger had picked up out of the
_Guardian_, and who, for twenty pounds a year and her laundress, agreed
to the herculean task of bringing up the youngest Miss Beranger in the
way she should go, so that when she was old she would not depart from
it.

Alas! Miss Jenkinson’s counsels have fallen on stony ground, for Baby is
the biggest young reprobate that ever danced through life in kittenish
glee and kittenish mischief.

The school-room, now that Miss Jenkinson is gone, probably through
worry, to a premature grave, is used as a sort of _omnium gatherum_ for
all the Miss Berangers, and here they gather usually when not _en
toilette_ and _en evidence_.

“Look at me,” cries Trixy in a shrill voice, “and admire me.”

And jumping on to the centre of the table she stands with a
half-conscious, half-comical expression on her face that elicits a burst
of laughter from the other three.

“How _can_ old Stubbs make such a fool of himself? He _must_ know you
are only marrying him for those things!” Gabrielle says contemptuously.

Trixy takes no notice. Gabrielle is not a pet or a pal of hers, and
Gabrielle’s wits are too sharp for her.

“I say, Zai, what _wouldn’t_ you give for such beauties as these?”

“Nothing! I don’t care a bit for jewels, and I wouldn’t accept such
costly gifts from a man I did not care about for anything,” Zai answers
quietly, going on with her drawing.

“Grapes are sour, my lass. The man you _did_ care for might not be able
to give you them,” Trixy says spitefully.

“_I_ would accept them fast enough if I had the chance,” Baby confesses
ruefully, climbing on to the table as well, and enviously examining the
brilliants and rubies. “Just fancy, that old Hamilton has never offered
a thing but that!” and she sticks out her third finger, on which reposes
an old-fashioned ring, with a bit of Archibald Hamilton’s sandy hair
shining through the crystal. “Scotch are such screws, I hate them. Do
you know, girls, that I have nearly made up my mind to give the old
gentleman the slip, and to elope with Gladstone Beaconsfield
Hargreaves.”

“Heavens! what a name for a common village Veterinary,” Gabrielle says,
with a curl of her scarlet lip. “And to think of his awful people having
the audacity to mention Beaconsfield in the same breath with
_Gladstone_!”

“Rather mentioning Gladstone in the same breath as _Beaconsfield_!”
cries Zai, horror-struck. She is a thorough little Conservative to the
back-bone, and even goes to sleep in her dainty white-curtained bed
with a badge of the Primrose League upon her bosom.

“A very good name it is!” flashes Baby, taking up the cudgels in defence
of her rustic admirer. “I think his godfather and godmother were
sensible people, and had no narrow-minded party-feeling and that sort of
rubbish in their heads. Real Liberal-Conservatives they were, of course.
I can’t stand politics, Trixy, can you?”

“Can’t abide them,” Trixy murmurs lazily. “I hate everything it gives
one trouble to understand.”

“Politics make me quite ill,” Baby goes on, as she jumps off the table
and flings herself full-length on the hearth-rug. “When the governor and
Lord Delaval begin at them, I always feel inclined to roar. The governor
shuts up one eye, and tries to look so awfully clever, you know.

“‘Dolly Churchill, my dear fellow, is the man--_the man_! Our _only_
hope in these days of misguided, dangerous democrats. Our _only_ stay!
The Liberal Government have been the very devil--they have played ducks
and drakes with everybody and everything, and if they had lasted one day
longer--_one day longer! mark my words!_--we should have been
at--at--well, _not where we are now_!’

“And Delaval, who is a red-hot Republican at heart, just smiles that
beautiful cynical smile of his, and thinks the governor a regular
jackass, and so _do I_.”

“You shouldn’t speak so of Papa, you irreverent monkey,” Zai says
gravely.

“Shouldn’t I _really_!” Baby replies, mimicking her voice. “Well, then,
I _will_. I love my Papsey. He is a dear old boy, but all the same, I
don’t think he will ever set the Thames on fire with his brilliancy.
Why, ever since he has been in the House he has never said anything but
‘hear, hear!’ or joined in the ironical cheers.”

“Lord Salisbury thinks a lot of the governor. I heard him say to Count
Karoly the other night that Beranger was one of the most reliable men in
the House, and so very cautious,” Zai says quietly.

“No wonder, as he never opens his mouth,” Baby laughs. “What do they
have a lot of dummies for in Parliament?”

“Oh, just to make the whole thing look more imposing than it is, I
suppose,” Trixy drawls languidly. “Very likely they prefer most of the
members not speaking, as the stupid ones might let out the secrets to
the Opposition.”

“_Gladstone speaks!_” Gabrielle announces solemnly, as if it is not a
remarkably well-known fact. “He has been known to speak for three days
and three nights without pausing to take breath even, and his eloquence
has so overwhelmed the House----”

“With sleep, that no one ever got at the real meaning of his speeches,”
interrupts incorrigible Baby. “Any way, the Irish didn’t. My Hargreaves
is an Irishman (that is why he was christened Gladstone Beaconsfield I
dare say. The Irish muddle up politics so, you know), and he told me
that in Paddy land _Gladstone_ is the new name for _Blarney-stone_.”

“I wish you would not regale us with the imbecile witticisms of your
Vet, Mirabelle,” Gabrielle mutters crossly, for she worships the G.O.M.,
and feels a slash at him acutely. And Baby knows she is wroth, for it is
in ire only that she calls her Mirabelle, but Baby cares for nothing or
nobody.

“My Hargreaves is _not_ a vet, now. He is assistant riding-master to the
great Challen.”

“Baby, is this why you coaxed the governor into letting you have
riding-lessons?” Zai questions anxiously.

Baby springs up from the hearth-rug, and turning a pirouette, pauses
beside her pet sister.

Leaning over she whispers in her ear:

“It is, but if you promise not to peach, Zai, I’ll tell you something
about----”

“Who?” Zai whispers back, colouring vividly.

“C. C., but not before Gabrielle and Trixy.”

Zai blushes more deeply still as she bends over her drawing, and wonders
if the letters C. C. will always send the blood surging over her face
and set her pulses throbbing.

In spite of his heartless conduct at Elm Lodge she loves him dearly
still, and lives from day to day in the hope that the clouds will clear
away, and give her back the sunshine of life--Carl’s love and presence.

And as she sits and drops off into a sweet waking dream, Gabrielle’s
voice startles her, and drags her back into everyday existence.

“Seven o’clock! We must be off and dress for dinner. There goes the
first bell. Zai, there’s a treat in store for you to-night.”

Zai looks up, the dreamy expression still lingering in her eyes. A
treat! For one moment she really fancies “he” is going to appear
somewhere or somehow, but the next instant she fully awakens to her
folly.

“Lord Delaval dines with us to-night, and afterwards we are all going to
the theatre.”

“_What_ theatre?” Zai asks quickly.

“The Bagatelle, to see ‘Hearts _versus_ Diamonds.’”

“And ‘_him_!’” Zai thinks to herself, waxing white as a lily at such an
ordeal with Lord Delaval’s mocking smile before her, and Lord Delaval’s
cold, keen gaze watching her face.

“Who sent the box for to-night?” she asks, for she knows Lady Beranger
never spends her money on such things.

“Lord Delaval.”

Zai colours again, and stoops down on pretence of picking up her pencil.
She _feels_ that Gabrielle is looking at her.

“That man has sent it on purpose to vex me,” she thinks. “I detest
him.”



CHAPTER IV.

AT THE BAGATELLE THEATRE.

    “Why did she love him? Curious fool, be still,
     Is human love the growth of human will?”


When Lady Beranger and her party enter a large stage-box and settle
themselves noiselessly in their seats, the first act of ‘Hearts _versus_
Diamonds’ has begun, and the big bass is booming out a lugubrious
overture to Ferdinand--the deserted lover’s reproaches to his faithless
and diamond-worshipping Lady Yolande.

On the whole Carlton Conway looks superbly handsome and effective, when,
as Ferdinand, he takes up a highly picturesque pose right in the centre
of the stage. His head erect, his chest well thrown out, a little after
Kyrle Bellew; his shirt-front ample; his tail-coat, and waistcoat and
trousers, his patent leather boots, unimpeachable; and a gardenia from
Hooper’s, in Oxford Street, although he can ill-afford the half-a-crown
paid for it, fresh and snowy and fragrant, reposing on his broad breast.

With one white hand uplifted, the forefinger pointing in scorn; the
third finger sparkling with a tiny but pure brilliant (Zai’s gift), he
hurls:

    “Oh, cursed hunger of pernicious gold,
     What bands of faith can impious lucre hold?”

in a deep, impassioned voice, that fairly electrifies his audience, but
makes very little impression apparently on the Lady Yolande, who has
quite made up her mind to give up love and poverty for a comfortable
mansion in Mayfair and plenty of diamonds and money.

Miss Flora Fitzallan, as the Lady Yolande, is at her best to-night. She
looks, in fact, as if a whole page of “Debrett” was devoted to her
ancestry, thereby proving that we are not what we seem, and often seem
what we are not.

In the palest of blue brocades, heavily embroidered with silver, and a
tuft of pale blue ostrich tips placed jauntily a little on one side of
her head, and a long Court train, edged with the very best imitation
ermine, she looks quite good enough for a leader of Society.

On the finger of scorn being pointed at her, the Lady Yolande laughs
tragically, and with an artistic twirl of her skirt swoops down close to
the foot-lights, and while her glance roves over the _jeunesse dorée_
gathered in the stalls, cries in a contralto voice:

    My name is Blue-blood! In the House of Lords
    My father sits and has his say;
    My mother was a Mistress of the Robes,
    Before those awful Tories had their sway!
    Thou forgettest, Ferdinand, that sangre azul flows
    Through all my veins; that in my face
    Not only love, but high ambition glows,
    With which, alas! thou never canst keep pace!
    Lapped in soft luxury, born in marble halls,
    Vassals and serfs to answer to my calls,
    I could not brave the humiliating woe
    Of in this world coming down so low.
    Ferdinand, forgive me! and let me go!
    Without my purse full, I should surely pine,
    I love good dinners, and I love good wine;
    My beauty decked in velvets, satins, lace,
    A jewelled diadem to crown my face.
    Ferdinand, I leave thee! heart-broken, with a sigh,
    But without gold and diamonds I should die!--die!

Upon this confession Ferdinand shows the laceration of his feelings by
striking another attitude, an attitude of giant but picturesque despair.
He folds his arms tightly across his chest, strides heavily towards
her, and wears generally a depressed appearance.

“Oh!” he exclaims, lifting up his fine eyes to the gods in the gallery.
“Lend me, I pray, strength to bear her perfidy.”

As his glance slowly travels earthwards he espies Zai, and starts
slightly, but the sight of her sweet face gives real pathos and
eloquence to his voice as he murmurs tenderly:

“Yolande! Beloved Yolande! Thou knowest not the vulture that gnaws my
heart, or thou would’st pause in thy fiendish work. False Yolande! Thou
hast _never_ known what heart is, but--

    “‘I will tell thee what it is to love.
      It is to build with human thoughts a shrine,
      Where Hope sits brooding like a beauteous dove,
      Where life seems young and like a thing divine.
      All tastes, all pleasures, all desires combine,
      To consecrate this sanctuary of bliss.
      Above, the stars in cloudless beauty shine.
      Around, the streams their flowery margins kiss,
      And if there’s Heaven on earth--that Heaven is surely this!’”

Carl Conway is really a very fair actor, and his voice is both musical
and _entrainante_, and he spouts these lines with a wonderful passion
and softness that appeal to all the women present, and as he speaks
them, ever and anon his handsome brown eyes rest a second on the
stage-box where poor little Zai sits well back in her corner.

Her eyes fixed on the beloved face, she forgets the existence of anyone
else, her cheeks are flushed with excitement, her heart throbs fast, and
a suspicion of a tear shines on her long lashes. Not a word does she
utter, not a word does she hear; engrossed in this, the first love of
her life, the play itself goes on without her taking in the gist of it.
All she sees is Carl--Carl, with his superb face, and with his eyes full
of the old, old passion as they linger on her and seem loth to turn
away.

The curtain falls and rises twice over, and she thanks Providence that
for once her people leave her alone so that she may gaze her fill. Who
knows when they two will meet again--and how?

The girl’s poor heart grows cold as ice when the _dénouement_ of the
play comes, and Ferdinand, praying for the boon of a last kiss, the Lady
Yolande yields her proud lips to him.

Yields them _con amore_, too, it seems to Zai, as she shrinks back from
the sight with a jealous pang that makes her shiver and clasp her
little hands desperately together.

Then the curtain falls for the last time, and she looks up and catches
Lord Delaval’s eye.

It seems to be searching her very soul with a fixed, keen gaze that has
something regretful about it, though his lips have a half-mocking smile.

“That fellow, Conway, really acts tolerably,” he says aloud to
Gabrielle. “Did you notice the ring of pathos and truth in his voice?
And yet those sort of chaps lead such a hollow life of shams and tricks,
that they can’t possibly have a genuine feeling in them. What do you
think of Flora Fitzallan, Miss Beranger?”

“Just what one thinks of such creatures,” Gabrielle answers
contemptuously, “outside all paint and powder. Inside----”

“Pray don’t give your opinion on people like Miss Fitzallan, Gabrielle.
They are not fit subjects for your discussion; at any rate before me and
my daughters!” Lady Beranger remarks severely.

Gabrielle elevates her brows and shrugs her shoulders. Then, as her
stepmother sweeps away, she says:

“I think one thing about Miss Fitzallan, Lord Delaval. I think she has a
_grande passion_ for Carl Conway, and I expect she does not try to hide
it--_off the stage_!”

And Zai hearkens in bitterness of spirit, but does not love Carl one
whit the less.

“I say, Zai, did you see that Lady Yolande kiss Carl? She kissed him
_right on the mouth_. And I have heard that it is not _convenable_ to
do that sort of thing on the stage!” Baby whispers.

And still Zai holds her tongue, but as she listens, it seems to her that
it is the last straw to break the camel’s back.

[Illustration: text decoration]



CHAPTER V.

CARYLLON HOUSE.

    “You loved me, and you loved me not
       A little, much, and over much;
     Will you forget, as I forgot?
       Let all dead things lie dead--such
           Are not soft to touch.”


Fanchette, having arrayed Trixy and Baby for the Duchess of Caryllon’s
fancy ball, finally seeks Zai. Zai--who still lies dreaming her love’s
young dream in the soft twilight, while a star or two peeps down
inquisitively through the open window upon the increased loveliness that
love has called up on her sweet face.

Regretfully she rises at Fanchette’s entrance, and certainly no fairer
daughter of Belgravia ever tripped through Belgravian _salons_. When her
toilette is complete, Fanchette does wonders with her little artistic
touches here and there, and Zai’s costume, though simple, is exquisitely
picturesque.

The bodice is long-waisted; the stomacher thickly embroidered in pearls;
the Vandyke corsage is low in front, with a high ruffle behind, and the
whole makes a beau-ideal of the old time Maestros; ropes of glistening
pearls go round the slim throat and are wreathed in the chestnut hair.
The dress of Blanche of Navarre is marvellously becoming, and would be
becoming to a plain woman. What, then, must it be to this daughter of
Belgravia, to whom Nature has been lavish in seductive tints?--this girl
with a beauty so very fair that

    “If to her share some human errors fall,
     Look in her face and you’ll forget them all,”

and who is very proud of herself, as she thinks that Carlton Conway will
be at Caryllon House to-night, and will see how “nice” she looks.

Let us own that a woman must be composed of very strange materials who
does not feel that it is charming to be young and pretty, considering
that youth and beauty are the recognised weapons for slaughtering men’s
hearts.

Lady Beranger has always a fancy for “her own party” when she goes to a
ball, and on this occasion the dinner in Belgrave Square has three
additions to the family circle--Mr. Stubbs, Archibald Hamilton, and
Percy Rayne--a connection of Lord Beranger’s--a clerk in the Foreign
Office, good-looking, harum-scarum, a pauper, and a detrimental. Lord
Delaval was asked, of course, but had another engagement. When all her
brood is gathered together, Lady Beranger, in silver _moire_, with the
Beranger diamonds (but no! not the Beranger diamonds, for they are under
safe lock and key and surveillance of one of the many Attenboroughs--but
the duplicates in finished Parisian paste, which are quite as lovely and
costly to the uninitiated eye), steps into the family landau.

They are late, and the crush of the room is uncomfortable beyond
description, like all London crushes. But great as it is, Zai makes a
decided sensation as she wades through the crowd on Percy Bayne’s arm.
Gabrielle is a Spanish gipsy; Trixy, Fair Rosamond; Baby, with her pink
and white skin, golden hair, and white short draperies showered with
rosebuds--a delicious piece of “Dresden”--but Zai to-night put every
one into the shade. There is the usual quantum of sea-nymphs and
flower-girls, characters from history and characters from fiction, of
piquant costumes and of costumes which are chiefly remarkable for being
_bizarre_.

As she and Percy Rayne fall into the line which just now is promenading
the long room in the interludes of dancing, the Foreign Office clerk is
conscious of that pleasant thrill of complacency--a sort of moral and
even physical inflation--which a man feels when escorting a woman whose
beauty glorifies her escort.

Zai’s card is soon full--so full that only one waltz remains, which she
guards pertinaciously. She is determined to valse it with Carl, even if
the heavens fall. Several ask for it, but she laughingly says she is
keeping it for a friend. That friend does not, however, seem in any
haste to take advantage of her generosity.

She has been nearly an hour in the room before she even sees him, and
then he is talking earnestly to Miss Crystal Meredyth, and only
acknowledges _her_ by a formal bow; and to add to this, Crystal Meredyth
makes a very lovely Ondine to-night. How strange it seems to her that he
should bow like this, when only a week or two before he looked at her
with all his soul in his eyes, at the Bagatelle Theatre!

Zai’s heart is full to bursting, and her red lips quiver a little; but
while a weeping and gnashing of teeth is carried on inwardly, she
returns his bow with one still more frigid.

And at this inopportune moment, Lord Delaval comes up to her.

“I think the next dance is mine?” he says, rather stiffly, offering his
arm.

“You mistake,” Zai answers.

She does not wish to go off with one man when she can stand here, the
centre of a group of _jeunesse dorée_--all begging for “one turn,” and
this within earshot of Carl.

She would give anything to pique him now that he is so engrossed with
this girl who has money.

“The next dance is Mr. Bayne’s; at least his name is on my card,” she
goes on.

Lord Delaval bows--not a bow like the one Carlton Conway has given her
just now, but a bow on the Grandison model. His taste and tact are
perfect; nothing would induce him to dispute a point of this kind; but a
look steals over his handsome face which is not common to it when Zai
is its object--a look of cold hauteur, a look that has even a _soupçon_
of dislike in it.

“I understood the dance was mine,” he says, and quietly turning on his
heel, he walks away. There are visible surprise and satisfaction among
the butterfly youths at this little rebuff to the best match in
Town--for lords of the creation, noble animals though they be, are yet
creatures of weak mould.

But Zai’s conscience smites her.

That the dance is Lord Delaval’s she knew quite well when she allowed
Percy Bayne to write his name over his. At the moment she felt a sort of
perverse defiance of displeasure on the part of any man. But now she
regrets having sullied her lips by a white lie, and she feels
ashamed--as one always feels ashamed--when one has taken shabby
advantage of the immunity which is chivalrously permitted a woman to do
or say uncivil things by Society. It is a retributive justice perhaps,
which accords her nothing for her incivility, for Carlton Conway, who is
standing not far off, and alone--Miss Meredyth having gone off to
dance--presently moves off too, without even a glance in her direction.
It is really too much!

Blanche of Navarre’s grey eyes sadly follow his retreating figure, and
with a decidedly sinking heart, and forlorn spirit, she sees him a few
moments after, careering “_au grand galop_” with his arm round Miss
Meredyth’s supple waist. Always that Miss Meredyth!

She feels wickedly vindictive against this girl--almost ghoulish, as
though she would willingly scrunch her up, bones and all--this dollish
beauty who has lured away her lover.

Zai grinds her to powder (mentally), under her high military heel, and
turning to one of her adorers, asks for a pencil and deliberately writes
down Lord Delaval’s name for the dance she has reserved for Carl.

It is some time, however, before this tardy reparation becomes known.
Lord Delaval feels that he has borne as much as aristocratic flesh and
blood can stand from this girl, who seems so little aware of the
magnificent distinction he has conferred upon her, and that it is full
time to assert his dignity.

He asserts it therefore in the ordinary fashion of men who are
_épris_--by bestowing his attention upon other women, of whom there are
a multitude willing--and Gabrielle in particular--to accept everything
or anything he chooses to offer, this Prince of Beauty, with his blond
hair and ultramarine eyes.

Like so many poor boxes, they are ready to receive the smallest
donation--a smile--a word--his arm for a promenade--or his hand for a
dance. Yet even while apparently engrossed in wholesale flirtations with
the fairest of the sex in the room, even while lavishing soft nothings,
pressing fingers, he finds himself covertly looking again and again, and
fervently admiring the slender figure in its old-fashioned quaint
costume, the fair sweet face of the girl who he knows is over head and
ears in love with “that actor fellow.” Despite himself and his anger he
cannot help secretly owning that never did woman exist more fitted to
wear the purple, and to don the Delaval coronet than this one, and he
resolves to win her--somehow.

Having “put down his foot” on this point, he feels that all flirtations
with Carlton Conway, Rayne and all others must end, that he must clearly
make it understood that such doings must stop.

Flirt though he has been himself ever since he dropped round jackets and
donned the _toga virilis_, and flirt though he probably intends to
remain until the very end of the chapter, he has not the slightest idea
of allowing his wife to indulge in the same amusement.

No! no! no! a thousand times no!

The woman of his choice must be an exceptional being, and a very
different stamp of woman to the puppets of the Belgravian _salons_,
with whom he has been in the habit of dallying and associating, and with
whom he has passed so many hours of agreeable foolery.

Cæsar himself may of course do what he likes, but we all know what is
expected from Cæsar’s wife.

It is an old, old story--carried down from generation to generation, and
alas! for the honour of Society, a story infinitely more theoretical
than practical.

The hours go on towards midnight--the crowd is suffocating, the heat
intense, the gaiety at its height.

Since they entered the room, all the Beranger girls have been dancing,
they are not the sort to personate wallflowers, none of them, and Zai in
particular has not been five minutes under her mother’s ample wing.

Instead of looking worn out, however, she seems in higher beauty and
gayer spirits then usual, when Lord Delaval again approaches her.

“You are only just in time,” she says, meeting his vexed eyes with a
little laugh which he would think the most delicious in the world if he
had not heard it bestowed upon any number of the golden youths during
the last hour. “I have put your name down for this very waltz, and I was
reflecting a moment ago whether I should have to send Percy to look you
up, or whether I should give it to the multitude who are begging for
it!”

Zai says all this with an air of delightful coquetry which is perfectly
foreign to her. Poor child, she is of course only playing a part to hide
her misery and mortification about Carl, but she plays it extremely
well, and the coquettishness is remarkably becoming to her.

“I wonder you hesitated over the alternative, when there are so many to
whom you could give the dance with satisfaction, no doubt, to both
sides;” he answers a little sulkily.

“Yes! there _are_ a good many,” Zai admits with ingenuous frankness.
“But, then, you see, I thought you really wanted it! If you don’t----”

“You know I do!” he cries, quite unable to resist the pure, soft, sweet
face uplifted to him.

All his mighty vexation is scattered to the four winds as he looks down
on her.

In this world everything repeats itself.

Like the judges of old--whose fiat was stayed by fair Phryne’s face and
form--so Zai’s pretty grey eyes, snowlidded and blacklashed, and her
smile, even though it be forced, disperse this man’s anger in a trice.

As he speaks the band strikes up “Bitter Sweet,” and putting his arm
around her elaborately whaleboned waist, yet a dainty lissom waist in
spite of whalebone, he whirls her away.

It is a glorious waltz--the room is lengthy, the floor well waxed, the
lights glitter, and the music peals out an exhilarating strain, and
these two have danced often enough together to know well the other’s
step and peculiarities.

It is also the end--though they don’t know it--of butterfly flirtation.

A very fitting end, too, for flirtations.

In the end of some serious love affairs, so much faith and hope go down
for ever that we might well play over them that _Marche Funébre_ of
Chopin--that charming old Listz called the _Mélopée_, so funereal, so
full of desolating woe.

But for the end of flirtations, what can, we ask, be more appropriate
than the light, gay, and entrancing strains of the Bitter Sweet Waltz?

“You must be awfully tired! You had better let me take you somewhere to
rest!” Lord Delaval says, rather tenderly. Zai is tired, and does not
demur; and he takes her out of the ball-room into a long corridor, in
which the waxlights are a little dim, and in which fewer flirting
couples than usual are to be seen.

Like a huge maelstrom, the _salle de danse_ has engulphed them, so there
is not much difficulty in finding the quiet and secluded corner, free
from interruption, of which Lord Delaval is in search.

He wheels a cosy velvet-cushioned chair near an open window, and when
she has dropped into it he settles himself opposite her on the window
sill.

Zai shuts her eyes, it may be from physical fatigue, or it may be that
she does not care to meet the keen searching gaze--anyway, a short
silence follows, during which she slowly fans herself, and he--well--he
is considering how to plunge at once into the subject nearest his
heart--for he hates to wait for anything.

“I don’t care to talk about myself,” he says, after a minute or two. “If
there is an abomination in the world, it is an egotistical man; but I
should like to know if you have ever heard things about me which have
caused you to shun my society at times? I know I have a number of kind
friends in Town ready to tell you that I am a flirt, and worship myself
only.”

“Yes,” she answers, truthfully. “I have certainly heard your friends say
both things of you.”

“Perhaps in one thing they were right enough--I have flirted desperately
in my life--every man who has never felt a strong exclusive attachment
does flirt, you know, but never more! never more! I shall never flirt
again--for----”

He bends forward until his face almost touches hers, and whispers low--

“The strong exclusive attachment has come to me!”

Zai does not answer, though she flushes in spite of herself.

“You cannot doubt that I love you, Zai!” he pleads, passionately, “and
that I shall be the happiest man on earth if I can persuade you to
marry me. Zai, do you think you will ever care for me enough to do
that?”

He catches hold of her hands, and holds them as in a vice, and though
she draws them away, she does not rebuke him for calling her “Zai.”
Perhaps she scarcely heeds that he does so. She is sore at heart about
Carl. She would give a good deal to show him that if he does not
appreciate her there are others who do; and what could be a greater
triumph for her than to leave the Duchess of Caryllon’s ball the future
Countess of Delaval. She would be more than the bright, gay, and rather
spoilt girl Belgravia has made her if she did not hesitate before she
rejects this triumph over Carl and “that Miss Meredyth,” who, of course,
knows that she has usurped Carl’s heart. Zai has considered herself
bound in honour to Carl; but he himself, by his conduct in the latter
days, has given her back the freedom she did not want. There is really
nothing to prevent her accepting Lord Delaval except--and that is a
great deal--her own wilful rebellious soul, that clings to Carl with a
tenacity stronger than herself.

“You will not press me, Lord Delaval! for an answer, will you?” she
asks, quietly. “I should like to think a little, to reflect. One can’t
make up one’s mind in a minute you know,” she winds up more hastily.

“On condition that you won’t keep me too long in suspense. Will you let
me know my fate at the State Ball on Friday? That is two whole days.”

“Yes,” she answers, gravely; then she jumps up from her chair.

“I have promised Percy Rayne, Number 24,” she says, examining her ivory
tablets, “and I hear it beginning. 24. _Le Premier Baiser._ It is such a
delicious air that I never miss it.”

He rises and offers his arm in silence.

“It was Rayne who suggested your fancy dress, I suppose? I know he is
great at such things,” he says, a trifle sullenly.

“Yes; do you like it?”

“No!”

“No! How very rude of you, Lord Delaval! I thought you were the pink of
politeness,” she replies, laughing.

“I don’t like it because I feel as if you belonged to me, and I don’t
care for you to wear what any other man suggests.”

“But I don’t belong to you,” she blurts out, on the spur of the moment.
“Your feelings make a great mistake if they tell you I do.”

“They tell me that you will belong to me, however,” he answers, in a
masterful tone, and Zai feels a thrill pass through her--a thrill of
fear almost. It is not the first time she has felt it when this man has
had a possessive ring in his voice.

Five minutes afterwards she has thrown off the feeling, and is dancing
away as if her heart was as light as her feet; but when the waltz is
over, she leans back against the wall, and wishes that she was dead.

“If you have one dance left, Miss Beranger, will you give it to me?”
says a voice beside her.

Zai starts, the colour flames into her face, her limbs tremble, and her
heart beats so that she places her hand unconsciously on it as if to
stay the throbs.

“Yes, I have a dance--this one,” she says hurriedly, almost
incoherently, and unseen by her people or Lord Delaval, she passes
through the swaying crowd on Carlton Conway’s arm.

“Come out of the room, Zai, we can’t talk here.”

Ah! how his voice seems to bring back life and hope and happiness to the
love-sick girl. To think! to think! that after all Carl has not thrown
her over--that she has been doubting him, doing him injustice all this
time.

And as they reach the same corridor in which Lord Delaval has just asked
her to be his wife, but passing out of it enter a deserted balcony, the
moonbeams fall on her face uplifted to her lover’s.

“Once more,” Carl murmurs with genuine feeling. “Oh, my love, my
own--own love! I have wearied for this!”

And clasping her in his arms, he kisses her--kisses her with the old,
old passion--on her sweet lips, that smile and quiver with bliss at his
touch.

“It was not true, Carl, what they told me?” she says very low, with her
eyes so wistful and one white arm round his neck.

“What did they tell you, Zai?” he asks brokenly. For fickle and light of
nature--he cannot look on these sweet wistful eyes--he cannot feel the
clinging clasp of this white arm unnerved.

“They told me you were going to marry--Miss Meredyth, Carl.”

Her heart throbs so fast he can hear it, but though he knows suspense is
a terrible thing, for a few moments Carlton Conway gives no answer.



CHAPTER VI.

IN THE BALCONY.

                        “But you!
    If you saw with your soul what man am I,
    You would praise me at least that my soul all through
    Clove to you--loathing the lives that lie.
      The souls and lips that are bought and sold,
      The smiles of silver and the kisses of gold!”


Zai looks up hastily at her lover, and her eyes meet his.

It is not only at the touching of the lips that spirits rush together,
as many believe. Who has not seen the soul leap up into the eyes, and
utter there its immortal language far plainer than mortal speech can
interpret it--when pride, or honour, or duty, or interestedness has laid
an iron hand across the mouth.

At such a moment we seem to realise with startling force the existence
of the divine spark prisoned in its house of clay. The power of spirit
over matter, the subtle imagination which, without words, can lay bare

    “All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
     Whatever stirs this mortal frame.”

Before Carl can utter a sentence, he half forgets everything in the
sweetness of the grey eyes, in the fairness of his young love’s face.

“My darling--my own darling,” he whispers, straining her again to his
heart, which, to do him justice, he verily believes is devoted to her.
“Why have you forgotten me for--Delaval, Zai?”

Zai starts and flushes.

“But I ought not to blame you,” he goes on; “after all, class should
mate with class, and I am not good enough for you--nor rich enough. I
have plenty of shortcomings, I know, Zai, but you must not think worse
of me than I deserve.”

Her heart flutters like a bird at this, and her eyes glisten through
unshed but irrepressible tears.

“Worse of you than you deserve, Carl!” she falters, while her arm clings
closer to his neck, and she feels that this man is a king among his
kind, and that she may well be forgiven if she worships him. “Why should
you imagine that I think any ill of you?”

“Because I merit it after the brutal way I treated you at the
Meredyths’, and even in the beginning of this evening, my Zai. I doubted
you, you see, and when one suffers one is apt to be unreasonable, and
wounded vanity is quick to come to the side of wounded love, and after
all what is more natural than that you should not love me?” he asks, but
clasping her even closer and kissing the bright chesnut hair that gleams
up so ruddy under the moonbeams. “What more natural than that you should
love--Delaval!”

But in his heart he does not for a moment believe that she or any other
woman could pause between any other man and _him_.

“Nothing more natural, I suppose,” Zai answers, nestling her hand into
his, and feeling her spirits rise and her courage rear its crest aloft
as she thinks Carl has only acted thus out of jealousy. “But natural
things do not always come to pass, do they? There are exceptions to all
rules, you know. I told you before, Carl, that I was the exception to
the rule in the Beranger family of being dazzled by Lord Delaval’s
fascinations. Have you forgotten this?”

“I thought _you_ had forgotten it!” Carlton Conway murmurs in his most
melodious and reproachful accents.

“Why should you have thought so?” she asks wistfully.

“It would be wiser to ask why I should have thought otherwise,” he
returns, a little drily. “Your sweet face has bewitched me until I have
had no sense left I think, but still I am not _quite_ mad. I know my
superiors, and am not surprised when fate and fortune compel me to bow
to them.”

“But Lord Delaval is _not_ your superior, Carl!” she cries earnestly,
“not in any respect--except that he is a little richer, perhaps.”

“I did not mean to imply that he is my superior because he is a swell,”
he observes rather haughtily, “but the very point of which you speak is
the very one that makes his superiority, probably, in _your_ eyes.”

“In my eyes!” she answers in amazement. “Oh, Carl, I am sorry you should
give me credit for such things. I don’t think that kind of superiority
worth anything--_anything_!” she goes on scornfully. “I don’t think that
money and position and all that sort of thing makes people really
happy!”

“Everyone in Town thinks you mean to make the experiment, anyhow!” he
replies.

“But _you_ didn’t. Surely you didn’t, Carl! You know I don’t care for
Lord Delaval--and that I love _you_!” she whispers, _les larmes au
voix_.

He looks down at her sweet downcast face. It is a face bathed in
blushes. For Zai always blushes when she tells him all that is in her
heart. But she need say nothing. He has only to look at her face, which
tells its story of love with exceeding clearness and sweetness to his
vain, incense-loving eyes.

“Zai! do you really love me so very much?”

He asks the question from sheer selfishness and a desire for incense to
his overweening vanity. He knows he has sought this opportunity to tell
her something which will break her heart. But no--hearts are tough
things, and do not break easily. But something which will surely wreck
her implicit child-like faith in the fidelity and sincerity of all men.
Never after to-night will Zai Beranger perhaps feel that loving words
and honest words are twins. Rather she will shrink from them, knowing
that they may be uttered only to betray.

Now she believes in Carlton Conway with her whole soul. And when he
asks:

“Zai! do you really love me so very much?”

She lets both white arms form a circle for his neck, and woos him to
touch her red lips.

For one moment she forgets her maidenly reserve, and only remembers that
in her own eyes she is his wife--in heart, if not in name.

“Oh Carl! Carl! let us marry at once--dear! and then no one can come
between us two!”

“We cannot!” he says hastily.

Zai starts as if she were shot, and covers her face with her two little
hands, while a burning blush surges over it.

It comes to her suddenly, the terrible, terrible shame, of _her_ having
asked--of _his_ rejection--and then the colour leaves her cheek.

She leans against the balustrade, with the moonlight falling on a face
white as undriven snow. Her eyes have a dumb misery in their depths, and
her mouth quivers like a child’s.

“Oh Zai! forgive me if I hurt you by saying we cannot marry!” he
whispers brokenly, for her white face and trembling lips move him
strangely, worldling as he is. “You know very well how I am placed! I
have nothing but my salary, and that is dependent on health; and if I
don’t marry some girl with money, I don’t know what will become of me,
Zai!”

A deep silence ensues for a minute or two. Up above the glorious moon
sails serenely along, and a few feathery clouds float athwart the great
sapphire plain of sky. From within, the sound of music is carried out on
the fragrant night, but human eyes and human voices are nowhere near.

These two are alone, entirely alone, on this isolated balcony, and they
have for many months played at making love.

Listen then in what passionate words Belgravians and worldlings say
farewell, if farewell must be said by them.

We all know that Romeo and Juliet would not have said it, but they were
foolish inconsequent young people, who fortunately did not live to test
the agreeabilities of a narrow income.

“Then I suppose you are going to marry Miss Meredyth?” Zai asks in a low
voice, that has a hardness in it which no one has heard before.

“Zai! can you blame me? Can you think it possible for me to act
otherwise?”

“No! I don’t blame you!” and again bitterness mars the sweet voice.

“Of course you cannot blame me!” he answers, “for you know _you_ are
forbidden fruit, Zai. You have been reared in certain social conditions,
which of course it would be sheer wickedness on my part to ask you to
resign!”

This is a very different sentiment to what he has expressed before; and
even she, much as she loves him, feels indignant.

There is a sudden flash in her grey eyes as she lifts them to his.

“You know that you ought not to say this, Carl! It is not my interests
you are thinking of, but you have made up your mind not to marry anyone
who has no money!”

“Granted!” he replies quietly, though a crimson flush dyes his face, and
he bites his lip hard. “But though you seem to reproach me, you know why
it is so! You know that people in _your_ world cannot subsist on
sentiment, or on a few paltry hundreds a year. I am, I avow, one of
those miserable devils to whom the bitter irony of fate has given the
tastes and habits of a gentleman, without the means of supporting them.
You are the corresponding woman. Common sense--the commonest sense--will
tell you whether or not it would be sheer madness for us two to marry,
although we love each other so passionately, Zai!”

Zai does not answer. There cannot be the least doubt, she knows, but
that common sense _does_ tell her that marriage with her would not suit
Carl Conway; but it is none the less true that common sense is not what
she cares to listen to now. In the most vapid soul that sojourn in
Belgravia ever starved, there is still some small lodging left for that
divine folly that men call “Love.”

And Zai, born and bred in Belgravia, is as desperately and honestly in
love with this man, who has played fast and loose with her, as a
milk-maid could be.

She longs--how she longs--for just one crumb of comfort, just one little
word of sweetness from his lips.

Only a quarter of an hour ago he held her to him and kissed her with
apparently the old, old passion in his soul, and now he stands a little
apart, calm and cold as a statue.

Conway is a wonderfully handsome man, and Zai worships his beauty. The
more she looks at him the more she craves for a gleam of love in his
brown eyes--the stronger grows her desire to listen to love from his
well-cut lips; but she listens in vain.

“Yes, I know all that,” she says very wearily, with a dreadfully
heart-sick feeling of disappointment, “it was hardly worth while you
telling me. I have heard papa and mamma, and Gabrielle, and all the
others talk of ‘common sense,’ but one grows tired sometimes of hearing
the same thing.”

The tone of her voice tells more than her words; there is a betraying
quiver in it that makes him turn quickly and look at her.

The eyes that meet his own have great glittering tears in them. Never in
her life has Zai looked more lovely or more lovable than at this
moment, and Carl recognises fully all that he is sacrificing for money.

“Forgive me for having repeated anything then that wearies you,” he says
softly, clasping her cold white hand in his own, and Zai lets him. Even
now--even now! in spite of his falsity--his avariciousness--the touch of
his hand thrills her through and through, and her white lissom fingers
linger in his grasp. “Zai, my darling! you _must_ feel that it is as
hard--much more hard indeed--for me to utter than for you to hear. Good
Heavens! do you imagine I am thinking of myself? (For a moment, perhaps,
he really fancies he is not.) It is of you, my dearest, that I think.
How can I be so cruel--so selfish as to ask you to give up for me
everything that you have been taught all your life to consider worth
possessing? But if you really wish to do so, Zai, I can only say that
you will make me very happy. And, darling, you know I shall strive very
earnestly to keep you from regretting it!”

Brave words these are and bravely spoken, with not a single falter in
the tone--not a sign of what they cost, but a swift pallor sweeping
across his face.

Let us do this worldling credit--let us confess that it is very well
done for a man to whom nothing could be more ruinous than to be taken at
his word.

But frankly, Carlton Conway has not reckoned without his host. It is a
curious rather than an absurd sense of honour that forces him to risk
this declaration; but he knows the girl beside him too well not to be
_almost_ certain of her reply.

The event justifies the expectation. Zai loves him to distraction, and
the loss of him will create a void in her life which she believes no
one on this earth will fill up--not if she lives to be as old as Mount
Horeb.

Carl’s handsome captivating face tempts her--the most genuine love that
a woman can feel tempts her to keep him at any cost.

But it is only for a moment she wavers.

She knows that Mammon and Cupid have run a race in Carl’s heart and that
the former has beat by several lengths.

Young, ignorant of guile, and innocent, a sort of instinct teaches her
this.

“It is impossible!” she falters, with the sharp thrill in her soul
echoing in her voice. “You are perfectly right, Carl, in all you have
said, and I--I know it as well as you do. I have been reared under
certain conditions and for certain ends, and perhaps I could not put
them entirely aside. I am fit for nothing but Society, and Society would
not recognise me if I was poor and struggling, so we should simply mar
each other’s lives and render each other miserable. And, Carl,” she
tries to speak calmly but the effort is terrible, “I could not bear
poverty and neither can you, though----” She breaks down completely,
large tears chase one another down her cheeks, but she dashes them away,
wroth at herself for her weakness and want of pride. “Therefore we must
not think of marrying, of course!”

Another dead pause. Madam Diana sails along more brilliantly than
before, this time with an enormous court of glittering stars around her.
The cool night air passes quietly by, lifting up the chesnut tendrils of
hair that stray on to Zai’s brow and fanning her poor hot temples. The
time is flying by, and someone will be coming this way, but nevertheless
Carlton Conway cannot end this interview without a few more words.

“And you will of course let Lady Beranger persuade you into marrying
Delaval?” he asks, jealously--angrily.

Like the dog in the manger, he does not want the girl himself but he
grudges her to another man.

Jealousy is a passion that is often wonderfully independent of the
passion of true love.

Carl is very loth indeed that Lord Delaval, whom he has always hated,
shall have this lovely piece of nature’s handiwork for his.

“I don’t know,” Zai murmurs wearily. Then she calls up all the high
spirit she has in her and says quietly--“After all, the matter might be
worse--for Lord Delaval everyone says is charming, you know.”

“But you care nothing for him, Zai! You care for _me_!” he exclaims
passionately, with almost a mind to claim her sooner than she should
pass out of his life in this manner.

“I know--and yet----”

“And yet you _may_ become Countess of Delaval?”

“I may.”

Upon this Carl releases her hand pettishly and subsides into silence. He
is not of a nature to ponder deeply on social or any other kind of
evils, but just now the sordidness of this strikes him very forcibly,
and he wonders how such girls as the Berangers hold themselves even a
degree better than the Circassian and Eastern females who sell
themselves for filthy lucre.

“Zai, tell me the honest truth. Do you care for Delaval the least bit in
the world?” he asks earnestly, longing for her to deny the existence of
any liking for his rival, to protest the enormous height and depth and
width of her love for himself.

“Not yet--but,” Zai adds slowly and meditatively, “if I marry him I
shall do my best to care for him, and even if I didn’t--what of it? Do
people in our world deem it necessary to care for the man or the woman
whom they marry?”

And Carl Conway cannot honestly affirm that they do.



CHAPTER VII.

THE STATE BALL.

    “I have hidden my soul out of sight and said
     Let none take pity upon thee. None
     Comfort thy crying--for lo! thou art dead.
     Lie still now, safe out of the sight of the sun;
     Have I not built thee a grave, and wrought
     Thy grave-clothes on thee of grievous thought?”


The June sun is full of pranks to-day. There it is, scorching up the
leaves in the square, broiling the toilers on the white pavements,
shining down on everything with a lurid glare that makes one wink and
blink, and generally uncomfortable, and now it is peering into the
windows of Baby’s schoolroom, showing up the short-comings of the faded
carpet, the ink stains on the old table, and streaming full on to a
corner where, before her easel, Zai stands, palette and brush in hand,
but idle.

“Oh, it is hot! hot!” she cries impatiently, throwing down her painting
apparatus and pushing her hair back from her forehead.

“Here’s something to cool you!” Gabrielle says, throwing across the
_Morning Post_, and then she has the good feeling to pick up a book and
pretend to be buried in its contents, while Zai reads what she considers
her death warrant.

“A marriage has been arranged and will shortly take place between Miss
Meredyth, daughter of John Meredyth, Esq., of Eaton Place, and Carlton
Conway, Esq.”

Three times Zai reads the announcement over--mechanically spelling each
word--then she drops the paper on the floor, and going up to the open
window, looks out.

She does not find the sun hot now, although it is dancing on her
chesnut hair, and turning each tress to fire. Her heart lies so
dreadfully cold within her breast that it seems to ice her whole frame,
and though her eyes face the strong yellow beams, they do not shrink
from them.

Since she read the words in to-day’s _Post_, she seems to be blind and
deaf to everything, save the fact that Miss Meredyth has won from her
that which she valued most in life.

“Well, Zai?”

Zai has been standing at the window perfectly motionless for half an
hour, her slight figure almost rigid, her head a little thrown back, her
face white as marble and almost as impassive, her two little hands
clasped behind her as in a vice, and Gabrielle thinks it high time to
recall her to a sense of everyday life with all its ills.

“Well, Gabrielle!”

The girl turns and faces her step-sister; her eyes look as if she were
stunned, but her lips smile.

Gabrielle stares at her for a moment, then she bends over her volume
again.

“There, child, don’t act with only me for an audience!” she says
quietly, “You have had enough of acting and actors, goodness knows. What
a brute the man has been!”

“Why?” Zai asks defiantly.

“Why?--because he pretended to love you, and he _knew_ you loved him,
and yet he has quietly bowled you over for that doll of a thing.”

“He cannot help himself, Gabrielle!”

“Why cannot he help himself, pray?”

“Because Carl is so poor. Oh, Gabrielle! Gabrielle!” and, the tension
passed, Zai throws herself down on Baby’s favourite hearth-rug and sobs
as if her heart would burst. “What an awful, _awful_ thing money is!”

“The _want_ of it, you mean! But that man Conway knew he was poor
always. Why did he ever spoon you as he has done?”

“He loved me so--he could not help it!” Zai says tenderly, “And we love
each other dreadfully--_dreadfully_--still, but he thinks I should
suffer so if I did not have the luxury I have been accustomed to all my
life!”

“And he does not think about himself, poor dear unselfish fellow!”
Gabrielle says with a little sneer. “Zai, take my advice, and don’t
waste another thought on him. He is going to marry Miss Meredyth for her
money, let him, and don’t let Miss Meredyth have the pleasure of seeing
that you envy her her husband!”

“I must try and forget Carl,” Zai murmurs feebly. “It would be a sin to
love him when he is married, but I don’t know how to begin. He seems to
run in my head and my heart so!”

“Let some other _genus homo_ turn him out of them. There’s heaps of
eligibles about. Lord Walsingham, for instance, he is young,
good-looking and tolerably well off.”

“Why he squints, Gabrielle! and has red hair!” Zai protests mildly.

“Never mind. What does it matter whether one’s husband has red hair and
a squint? All one wants is a nice house, and fine carriages and horses,
plenty of diamonds etc. Is there no other man you know who could make
you forget that actor fellow?”

“No one!”

Zai blushes crimson. There is meaning lurking in Gabrielle’s manner and
eyes, although her words are simple enough, and she remembers that this
step-sister of hers has resolved to win Lord Delaval for herself.

Let her, Zai thinks; she has never felt so much distaste to accepting
Lord Delaval’s offer as she does at this moment, when her heart is so
sore and her spirit so humiliated.

“I won’t cry any more!” she exclaims, feigning to be indifferent, but in
reality anxious to change the subject. “I must look well before the
Royalties to-night, you know! The Prince was very nice to me at Caryllon
House, and said I was the belle of the room! What are you going to wear,
Gabrielle?”

“Black lace--and you, I suppose, are going to wear sackcloth and ashes!”

“No I am not!” Zai answers lightly. “Mamma coaxed Swaebe out of another
six months’ credit, and so Trixy and Baby and I have loves of pale blue
faille and white illusion, and water lilies trailing all over us. I want
to look beautiful to-night for a reason.

“What reason?” Gabrielle asks, suspiciously.

“Only because---- But no; it’s a secret for the present.” And Zai,
running out hastily, rushes up to her bedroom, and, double locking her
door, cries to her heart’s content.

They are about the last tears dedicated to the memory of Carlton Conway;
but, by-and-by, she bathes her eyes in cold water and smoothes her hair,
and putting on her hat, goes out into the Square. But the Square is
associated in her mind indelibly with that evening when she stole out
from Lady Beranger’s ball to meet her faithless lover, and rising
hastily from the bench, she walks home again.

“Go and lie down, Zai, and rest yourself; you look like a ghost!” Lady
Beranger says harshly, meeting her on the stairs. “Or better still, put
on your white chip hat with the pink roses, and come with me to the
Park. The air will beautify you, perhaps.”

And Zai--who has learned by this time that Lady Beranger’s suggestions
are really fiats--goes up and adorns herself, and is quite bewitching in
the chip and roses by the time the Victoria is at the door.

Lady Beranger leans back, a trifle pale, and with the _soupçon_ of a
frown on her brow, and the carriage is just at Hyde Park Gate before she
volunteers a remark.

“You have seen the _Post_ to-day?” she says, carelessly.

“Yes, Mamma, and I am so glad to see Mr. Conway is going to be married;
Crystal Meredyth is very nice, and awfully rich, you know.”

Lady Beranger turns round slowly and fixes her keen searching eyes on
her daughter.

But Zai has not been born and bred in Belgravia for nothing.

Not a lash quivers--not a change of colour comes--under the scrutiny.

“I always said Carlton Conway was a cad!” her ladyship observes coldly;
“and I am very glad you have found it out too.”

“But I haven’t, Mamma, not the least in the world. I think quite as well
of Mr. Conway as ever.”

Zai’s self-possession amazes and almost annoys Lady Beranger. She is
positively out-Heroding Herod! But she only says, in a cold, hard voice:

“Think as well of him as you like, Zai, so long as you keep it to
yourself. His sort of people are all very nice in their proper places,
but I have never advocated their being in Society. There _is_ the
individual in question!”

Zai looks eagerly round, and her cheeks glow crimson and then wax pale,
and she bites her lips to stay their trembling, as the Meredyths’ high
Barouche with stepping roans dashes by, having for its freight only Miss
Meredyth and her _fiancé_! (Mrs. Meredyth, not so scrupulous as Lady
Beranger about the _bienséances_, thinks there is no harm in an engaged
couple being seen alone in the Park.)

Miss Meredyth, dressed in rose colour, with a sailor’s hat perched
coquettishly on her fair hair, looks uncommonly pretty, and so Carlton
Conway seems to think, for he is so engrossed in regarding her that the
Berangers’ Victoria is passed unnoticed.

“I thought it was the Meredyth girl’s money the man was after, but he
seems to be _énormément épris_,” Lady Beranger remarks indifferently,
hoping the shaft will fly straight home and cure all remaining nonsense
in her daughter’s head, or heart, or wherever it may be.

Zai answers nothing. With a sharp pang of misery and jealousy, she, too,
has noticed how devoted Carl seems. _Après cela le Déluge._

She is thankful when her mother orders “Home.” She is sick of bowing and
smiling when she would like to lie down and die; but nevertheless she
trips airily down to the dining-room, eats more dinner than is her
habit, and after this goes into the conservatory and plucks a couple of
the reddest roses she can find.

“Fanchette, make me awfully pretty to-night!” she coaxes, and the _femme
de chambre_ is nothing loth. Zai has every “possibility,” as she calls
it, of being _belle comme un ange_, and more than satisfies her
exquisite Parisian taste when her toilette is complete.

“She wants but two little wings to make her a veritable angel,”
Fanchette says to the English maid who assists her in her duties. “Mees
Zai is the flower of the house!”

“Flower of the _flock_, you mean,” Jane corrects.

“No, I do not,” Fanchette replies, offended. “I have _never_ heard of
flowers in a flock. I have heard of a flock of goose--and _you_ are one
of them.”

Meanwhile, Zai stands before her mirror. Her eyes are so sad--so sad,
that they look too large for her small white face.

“Oh, Carl! Carl!” she says, half aloud, “you have forgotten me quite!
And I love you--love you so much that my heart is broken, Carl!”

“Zai, the carriage is ready,” cries Baby, drumming her knuckles on the
closed door.

Zai starts guiltily. What right has she to be murmuring love words to a
man who will soon be another woman’s husband!

She clasps a pearl necklace round her throat, fastens a pearl star into
her bonnie brown hair, then pauses one moment.

It is the first time in her life that she has ever had recourse to the
foreign aid of ornament, and it seems quite an awful thing to her. But
no one must guess at her feelings from her wan face to-night. She had
not been proud with Carl because she loved him so, but she must be proud
with the world, and not wear her poor desolate heart on her sleeve for
daws to peck at.

She takes the two roses she plucked, pulls off their petals mercilessly,
then rubs them on her cheeks, and flinging on her cloak she runs
downstairs.

Lady Beranger is putting the finishing touches to her elaborate dress of
primrose satin and _point de Flandre_, in which she looks like an
empress, and only the three girls are assembled in the hall when Zai
appears.

“How do I look?” she asks, throwing off her wrap. “Fanchette says I look
_belle comme un ange_, and I want to be especially beautiful to-night!”

“What for?” three voices ask at once. “It’s only a State Ball, on the
pattern of all the others we have been to. The Queen won’t be there to
make anything different. So what on earth does it signify how you look?”

“I’ll tell you!” Zai says slowly and deliberately and unflinchingly. The
rose petals hide the pallor on her cheeks, and the smile on her lips
does away with the sadness in her eyes. “But, girls, you must keep it a
secret from the Governor and Mamma. I want to look my very best
to-night, because I intend to make my bow before the Princess as a
future _Peeress_!”

Lady Beranger enters at this moment.

The State Ball is worth seeing after all, though the Beranger girls had
said that it was exactly on the same pattern as its predecessors, and
that Her Gracious Majesty was not going to shed the light of her august
presence to make it any different.

Seldom within four walls has more beauty been gathered than to-night. Of
course everyone admires the Princess most, but of feminine loveliness
there is every possible variety to suit every possible taste.

There is also a good deal of the feminine element which is not lovely.
But, as if to atone for Dame Nature’s shortcomings, it is generally
expensively dressed.

Zai soon has cause to forget or despise Fanchette’s soothing doctrine of
the fitness of things, and to feel that her pale blue _faille_ and white
illusion, garnished with water lilies, are chiefly remarkable for their
fresh simplicity, as she views the superb silks and satins and laces
that do honour to Royalty.

She dances away with half-a-dozen of the Household Brigade, with the
Duke of Shortland, Lord Walsingham, and several Belgravian _habitués_,
and then she walks through the room with Percy Rayne.

He is quite as good as a catalogue in a ball-room. Ever since he was a
small boy Fate has hung him about the Court of St. James’. He has the
names of the upper current, and all the social celebrities, on the tips
of his well-shaped nails, and faces he never forgets. Added to these, he
has all the fashionable gossip on his tongue, for in the interludes of
“business” at the F.O., as well as at the other “O’s,” they enjoy a dish
of scandal as much as the softer sex do.

He points out the Beauties now to Zai, who, in spite of her
heart-broken condition, regards them with admiring interest.

“There!” he says, “is an American, Mrs. Washington Ulysses Trotter,
called the Destroying Angel, because she kills everyone dead, from
Princes downward, by a glance of her beautiful eyes; but, unfortunately
for her, her triumphal car will be probably stopped in its career. The
Yankees are going out of fashion, you know. Royalty has decreed it. For
Royalty, like common flesh, is liable to get bothered with being run
after and accosted as if it were Jack or Tom or Harry. But Mrs.
Washington Ulysses Trotter does not mind much. She knows her little
outing at Buckingham Palace is quite enough to get her the _entrée_ into
all the Fifth Avenue houses. She will talk about the Prince--

“Oh my, isn’t he elegant, and so chatty! I felt just like talking to
Cyrus Hercules Hopkins--that’s my cousin down Chicago way, you know. And
the Princess! well, certainly, _she_ isn’t proud! It was just like being
at home in our English basement brown stone house, Maddison Avenue--at
Buckingham Palace!”

Zai laughs, and he rattles on.

“That’s one of our big financier’s daughters. Ugly, isn’t she? I hate
the type. The _parure_ of brilliants isn’t bad, and those yards of
lace--_point D’ Alençon_, isn’t it--that trail about her are worth more
than my year’s salary. But they are so devilish stingy in the Offices.
We work like slaves, and get neither tin nor _kudös_. And you would not
believe it, Zai, but the Foreign Secretary hasn’t more responsibility on
his back than I have on mine! See! there’s the famous wife of one of
the Ministers--Count Schoen. She has been a celebrated beauty in her
day, and cannot forget it. And they say she enamels and bakes her face
in an oven. What do you think a cousin of mine--an _ingénue_ from the
country--did, at the Caledonian Ball? She went up to the end of the
room, and after intently examining Count and Countess Schoen, said
aloud,

“‘How funny that they have Madame Tussaud’s figures here.’

“Imagine the horror of her partner!”

Zai laughs again. But this time the laugh is forced, and she catches her
breath hard.

Through the swaying crowd she espies Gabrielle among the bevy of
beauties.

Gabrielle holds her own to-night. Her black lace dress becomes her white
creamy skin admirably. Scarlet japonicas burn and gleam in her
coal-black hair and on her bosom. On her cheeks, the bright pink flush
lends increased lustre to her large dark eyes. As she sweeps along she
has that supreme unconsciousness of manner which is never seen save in a
woman who feels she is well dressed and able to defy the criticism of
her own sex.

Gabrielle does not see Zai or Percy Rayne looking at her, for her eyes
are mostly cast down on the fan she carries, neither does Lord Delaval,
on whose arm she leans, observe them, for he is bending and speaking
very low under the sweep of his long fair moustache, while his glance
rests on the undeniably very handsome face near his shoulder.

“Don’t they make a good looking couple?” asks Rayne. “What a pity they
don’t arrange to walk through life together--they look so well doing it
through a ball-room.”

“They are both handsome,” Zai answers indifferently, but she is, spite
of her, a little piqued.

This man--to whom her answer has to be given to-night--has not even
deemed it worth his while to ask for it, though the evening is wearing
on. His neglect hurts her more, sore and suffering so lately from
Carlton Conway’s behaviour, and poor little Zai feels that she would
like to hide her diminished head for ever.

“I am very tired,” she says to her partner; “Do you think I could get a
seat somewhere?”

“Yes; but come out of this crowd. It’s awfully hot, and you look like
the whitest lily, Zai--we’ll find a seat somewhere.”

So they go out, and he finds a chair for her in a vestibule, where a
little cool air revives her.

“I _must_ go. I have to dance this with Lady Vernon. Do you mind sitting
here quietly till I come back?” he asks kindly, seeing how weary and wan
she looks.

“I should like to stay quiet here very much,” Zai answers gratefully;
“and don’t hurry back for me.”

She half closes her eyes, and fans herself slowly, and feels
desolate--so desolate.

Her womanly triumph over Miss Meredyth has evidently fallen to the
ground; Lord Delaval has either changed his mind, or else he was only
laughing at her at Caryllon House--and as she thinks thus, Zai shivers
with mortification and shame, and leaning her head against the wall,
grows lost to external things.

She does not know how long she has sat here, and she does not care--all
she yearns for is the solitude of her own room; but the ball is not half
over, and hours--dreary hours--lie before her.

“Zai! is it to be--Yes?”

She starts up, flushing red as a rose--her heart beating wildly, her
eyes with a dumb wonder in them.

She is but a bit of a girl, she has been cruelly jilted by the man she
loves, and she craves for a little incense to her _amour propre_, even
though it be dearly bought.

“It is--yes,” she almost whispers; then in a sort of mist she sees Lord
Delaval’s face light up, and the colour creeps warmly over his blond
skin.

“Thank you, my darling!” he says very low, bending over her, and she
feels his lips touch her bare shoulder. Then she puts her hand on his
arm, and without another word they walk back into the ball-room, and up
to Lady Beranger.

“Let me present to you the future Lady Delaval!” he says quietly, and
Zai slips her ice-cold fingers into her mother’s clasp, and for the
first time her mother looks at her with positive affection in her
glance.

“Is it true, Zai!” she asks, eagerly.

“Quite true, Mamma,” Zai answers without a falter.

A little later the news has been told to the Royalties, and with kindly
smiles and words they give their congratulations on her future
happiness.

But though the Royalties know of the match in prospective, Zai pleads
that it may be kept a secret from her sisters for the present. It may be
that the death and burial of her first love is too recent to permit of
matrimonial rejoicings just now, or it may be that she wants to realise
what has come to pass, and to resign herself to the future before the
others touch upon the subject, and probe not too quietly the still open
wound made by Carlton Conway. Lord and Lady Beranger are too well
pleased that matters have turned out so satisfactorily to refuse her
request.

And, as for Lord Delaval himself, perhaps he feels a little
uncomfortable at appearing on the scene as a devoted lover before
Gabrielle--Gabrielle, who has told him, in the passionate words that
rush unchecked to her scarlet lips, that the day of his marriage to any
other woman will be the day of her death.

She is not one to kill herself; she is not romantic enough for folly of
that kind; what she means is probably a social and moral death; but Lord
Delaval--with the innate vanity of his sex--believes that Gabrielle’s
handsome face and superb figure will be found floating on the turbid
bosom of old Father Thames, and he shrinks more from the scandal of the
thing than from the remorse likely to rise up in his breast. Zai’s
desire, then, that the engagement shall be kept quiet for a while, meets
with his approval. After all, he can find chances to gather honey (if
not all the day) from his betrothed’s sweet lips--and stolen sweets have
always been nicer to his thinking than any others.

When they say good-night, he contents himself by squeezing five very
cold fingers, and slipping a magnificent brilliant on to the third one,
which pledge of her bondage Zai does not even glance at before she drops
it into her pocket.

“Did you like the ball, Zai?” Trixy asks, as they brush their hair
before going to bed.

“I hated it,” Zai answers, giving her chesnut tresses an impatient pull.
“I wish I had never gone to it!”

[Illustration: text decoration]



CHAPTER VIII.

“SIMPLE FAITH THAN NORMAN BLOOD.”

    “You’ll look at least on love’s remains;
     A grave’s one violet!
     Your look? that soothes a thousand pains.
     What’s Death? You’ll love me yet!”


“Just be careful who mounts that chesnut to-day, Hargreaves,” Challen,
the riding-master, says, pausing on his way at the door of the stable,
and passing a keen glance over the horse in question. The chesnut is a
big, good-looking hack, with a sleek satin coat, and just what would
take a woman’s fancy, but there is a look about his eye that Challen
does not like. “Put Miss Edwards on him, she has pluck enough to ride to
the devil, but mind none of the new pupils go near him.”

Hargreaves assents, but he does not look content.

“She wants to ride the chesnut,” he says to himself. “She’s set her mind
on it, and I hate to disappoint her! Bless her heart! Why, what’s the
matter with you?” he continues aloud, going up to the chesnut, and
passing his hand over the long, lean head. “I like you, because she
likes you! You’d never think of hurting her, I’ll be bound, no more than
anyone would, I know! My pretty one! I’d kill myself if any harm came to
you--that I would!”

And Gladstone Beaconsfield Hargreaves, quasi village veterinary, but now
assistant-master of the Belgravian riding-school, pulls out a tiny
locket from his breast and kisses it a dozen times, then holds it up to
the light reverentially as if it was the holiest thing to him on earth.

“Just like a bit of gold it is, for all the world! The same colour that
angels’ hair is. Oh! my pretty one; my sweet one! There’s never a night
I don’t go down on my knees and thank God that you don’t scorn me!”

It is the morning after the State Ball, and while the other Beranger
girls take an extra hour or two of slumber, Baby, fresh as a lark, dons
her dark-blue habit that fits her lovely little figure like wax--and is
off for a riding lesson.

The weather is true summer, and the little lazy breeze that floats
across the Serpentine is a boon to man and beast. Right away in the
upper portion of Kensington Gardens, the trees throw down some grateful
shade, and Challen’s riding-school wend their way down the broad walk at
a snail’s pace, for the heat is awful.

Up above there is not even a cloudlet to temper the sun’s rays; the sky
is as clear and as blue as Baby’s own eyes, and everything around looks
as bright as her smiles.

There are not as many aspirants to equestrian honours as usual to-day.
The season is on the wane, and the Ball and Reception givers pile on the
agony fast and strong, so that the young _débutantes_, fagged and worn
out by nocturnal exertions, find the arms of Morpheus more to their
liking than the caresses of Boreas.

Miss Juliana Edwards, a strong-minded, steel-nerved brunette, and
Challen’s show pupil, is here, well to the front of the small cavalcade,
but she does not ride the chesnut.

Her dare-devil propensities find but small play, for her mount is a
dapple-grey gelding, who looks as if neither whip nor spur will rouse
him out of riding-school jog-trot.

There are only eight riders in all, and the first lot go in threes,
while some little distance in the rear Hargreaves keeps close to the
chesnut, on whose back is Baby.

“You’ll kindly look to the other ladies, Miss Edwards, won’t you?” he
had said on starting, with a deprecatory smile. “I think I had better
keep an eye to Miss Mirabelle Beranger’s horse. She doesn’t ride like
_you_ do, you know!”

And Miss Juliana Edwards, to whom a compliment on her horsemanship is
dearer than anything, smiles in return at the handsome assistant, and
agrees to keep a sharp look-out.

The chesnut goes steadily enough--so steadily in fact, that Baby, who is
an awful little coward, forgets all about him, and gives her whole
attention to her teacher, who, in the neatest of grey tweed suits, and
with an unimpeachable wide-a-wake perched jauntily on his curly head,
looks quite _the gentleman_.

“I _wish_ you had been at the State Ball last night!” she says, with a
beaming smile, that almost takes the young fellow’s breath away.

“_I!_ fancy me at a State Ball, Miss Mirabelle!”

“Why not? I am sure there was no one so good-looking as you there!” she
cries, looking admiringly at the trim, slight figure, and the straight
features and undeniably winsome eyes of her companion. “I _wish_ you
would not call me _Miss_ Mirabelle!” she adds with a little pout of her
charming red lips.

He reddens visibly as he hearkens.

“I _dare_ not call you anything else, Miss Mirabelle!” he almost
whispers, his heart throbbing violently under his tweed waistcoat.

“There it is again! _Miss_ Mirabelle! why can’t you say ‘Mirabelle,’
when--when--we are _quite_ alone?” she asks impatiently, throwing a
covert glance towards the other riders to see if they are out of
earshot.

“Oh! _I couldn’t!_” he murmurs very low--shy of speech--but his large
hazel eyes are eloquent enough. “I would as soon think of calling the
angels by their names!” he goes on nervously.

“I have heard of Michael as the name of an archangel, but I don’t think
the female angels _have_ any names,” Baby says irreverently. “Do you
think _me_ an angel? because I’m not, not the very least bit in the
world. The governor calls me a little devil, and I know my sisters don’t
think me an angel!” she laughs.

“You are an angel to _me_, anyhow!”

A little pause, while she looks straight into his eyes, with the
prettiest, faintest pink colour creeping over her cheeks.

“I say, Hargreaves, how long are we going on like this?” she asks
abruptly.

He gazes at her amazed, and Baby laughs again, a little, low, musical
laugh that entrances him.

“I mean that--that--as we care for one another, why should we pretend
not to?” she asks in a hushed voice, putting her hand on her pommel, for
the chesnut pricks up his ears and frightens her. Hargreaves’ hand is on
hers in a second. He is really rather nervous about the horse after
Challen’s warning, and besides, it is Heaven to him to feel the soft
velvety skin of the dainty little hand that gleams up like a morsel of
alabaster statuary under the sunlight.

“Miss Mirabelle, for God’s sake don’t go and make me forget what I am. I
try night and day to remember the distance between us, and though I
could go down on my knees and worship you all my life--though I could
die for you willingly--_willingly_, I know I dare not _live_ for you! I
love you--_there!_ Only God knows _how_ I love you, but it isn’t a love
like a fellow gives to his sweetheart! It’s a love like a faithful dog,
that would lick your pretty hand and be content; that would watch over
you so that no harm came near you; that would just lie down and die by
the side of _your_ grave.”

Baby listens with an involuntary tear twinkling in her eye. She is only
seventeen, but she has been too long in a Belgravian world not to know
that this young fellow loves her with a beautiful, unselfish, honest
love--the like of which no Belgravian fine gentleman would feel. This
primitive, self-abnegatory sort of courtship is so novel that it has a
glamour for her, and Baby is--undoubtedly--a little fast.

“I would rather _live_ and find out how much you _do_ love me,
Hargreaves,” she answers, with a tender smile; “do you think you love me
to--to--the extent--of--marrying me?”

“Miss Mirabelle!” he gasps.

The veins swell on his forehead, his eyes fix on her with a bewildered
look, and his breath comes quick and fast. Then he droops his head, and
a forlorn expression sweeps over his white face.

“Don’t laugh at me, for my dead mother’s sake,” he whispers in a hoarse
tone.

“I am _not_ laughing,” she says slowly, “not laughing one little bit,
Hargreaves. Would you think it very fast of me if I said
something--something quite out of the way, you know?”

“I could not think ill of you, no matter what came,” he replies
earnestly.

“Well then, here goes! I am ready to be Mrs. Hargreaves as soon as you
like.”

He stares at her like a man in a dream, and as he lifts his eyes to her
lovely little face, Baby’s snowy lids droop over her cerulean orbs,
while her mouth twitches with something between a quiver and a smile.

He is not a gentleman born and bred, but he has a heart that can love.
Blue blood may not flow in his veins, but honest, devoted, even
chivalric feelings live in his breast, and he _knows_ that this girl--in
spite of the words she has just spoken--is a thing he dare not grasp.

No, if her love and her presence are Heaven, the loss of her undying
misery and regret, he does not dream of hesitating between them for her
dear sake.

She has offered herself to him--the sweetest, most precious gift he
could have on earth--but sooner than take her, sooner than drag his
dainty high-born darling down to his own level, he would shoot himself.

“No, no, Miss Mirabelle! I should be a rascal, a cur, if I thought you
were in earnest. I have no right to love you; but love is a thing that
comes alike to all, and I may feel it so long as I don’t let it harm
you, Miss Mirabelle. God bless you for liking me, for speaking to me
kindly; but I ask no more than that--only--_only_--may I just kiss your
hand--_once_--Miss Mirabelle.”

He raises a white, stricken face as he speaks. He has made up his mind
to throw up his situation this very night and to go away--to
America--Australia--anywhere so that she may never see him again, and
regret perhaps that she has spoken to him thus. He will pass right away
out of her life, but he wants one kiss of her little white hand to take
away with him; that kiss and the locket that holds a bit of her shining
hair--his two priceless treasures.

Baby’s eyes are full of tears now. The young fellow’s voice has such a
ring of pathos in it--a ring she has never heard in the voices of
Belgravia--but she says nothing, only pulls off the gauntlet from her
right hand and holds it towards him.

“_Good-bye_,” he whispers so incoherently that she doesn’t catch the
word, and stooping, Hargreaves fastens his trembling lips on the soft
white flesh, _when_----

The Chesnut has started forward, and, off her guard and terrified out of
her senses, his hapless rider loses all presence of mind and clings on
as the horse careers madly along.

The rest of the school have turned to the right and disappeared from
view. Hargreaves, horror-struck, almost stunned, does not follow for a
moment, and only the Chesnut with its helpless burden dashes on and on.
Turning sharply to the left he gallops furiously--so furiously that all
obstacles give way before him. On and on, on and on! till the gardens
are left long behind, and the road by the Park is reached, while the
poor pale little rider clings desperately on with all her might and main
for dear life.

Suddenly the horse swerves to the right down a narrow street, and losing
her hold, the girl falls off.

Pray God that the horror of her fate is over! _but no!_

The tiny foot is entangled in the stirrup, and for nearly thirty yards
the brute drags her along, when all at once he stops dead short,
frightened and quivering, and the jerk snaps the stirrup leather in two.

_But it is a little too late!_

They pick her up, a little white dainty thing. Her hat has fallen off,
and her long hair--angels’ hair, as Hargreaves has called it--streams
down in such long rich shining waves that it seems to envelop the small
slender figure in an armour of burnished gold.

She is not dead--her blue eyes, blue as the sunny sky--are quite wide
open, and some one, a slight young fellow, who has just ridden
breathlessly up, falls down prone on his shaking knees and looks into
them with the poor piteous look of a faithful hound.

“Miss Mirabelle, Miss Mirabelle!” he calls in wild despairing tones.

But she cannot rebuke him now for his formal address, poor little soul!

Presently her eyelids droop, and the long curling lashes rest close
against cheeks that are almost ashy now.

They lift her up gently and carry her--“Home,” the home she had left
only two hours before gay and blithesome as a bird and so full of life,
and when it is reached they take her straight into the library, the
door of which is ajar, and laying her down on the couch, they leave her,
all but one, and he does not enter the room that contains her, but
stands trembling near the threshold.

Another moment and the awful thing that has happened is known to all in
the house, and Hargreaves shrinks away still further as father, mother,
sisters of the girl he loves pass him with scared faces and stricken
hearts to find Baby--_so!_

Not a word is spoken. At such a moment what word can be said? Even Lady
Beranger bows her proud head beneath the fiat of Heaven, while Lord
Beranger sobs aloud over this little one--this brightest, merriest one
of all the flock.

After a moment, revived by a stimulant, Baby opens her pretty blue eyes.

“Don’t cry, governor!” she says in a voice so faint--_so faint!_--that
it seems to come already from that distant shore. “It serves me right! I
was going to leave you--I was----”

She stops, struggling for breath.

“Let me just see her, my lady! Oh, for God’s sake let me just go near
her! I won’t dare to touch her--I won’t even dare to say _good-bye_!” a
voice whispers so hoarsely, so brokenly, that my lady starts and turns
round, but does not understand.

But Baby has heard, through the faint mists that are rising up around
her; the voice of the man who loves her finds an echo in her heart.

“_Let_ him come near, governor,” she says slowly, with an effort. “He
isn’t a gentleman, but I loved him and asked him to marry me, but he
wouldn’t, governor. He said he wouldn’t hurt me by doing it.”

“Quite right of him,” Lord Beranger falters through the tears that roll
down his cheeks. “Hargreaves, come closer.”

He draws closer and kneels down beside the couch, and taking up one
long, glittering tress, he puts his quivering lips to it.

“You may kiss me, Hargreaves,” Baby murmurs, with a half smile on her
pale lips. “There are no _convenances_ where I’m going!”

He rises from his knees and, bending over, kisses her for the first and
_the very last time_.

“Good--bye--all!” she gasps. “I have--had--a--jolly--time--but--I’m--not
sorry--to--go! Go--od--bye!”

Her eyes close, a grey hue runs round the pretty lips and the shadow of
the Angel of Death falls on her little face.

Only a few hours more and Baby is gone!--gone with her smiles and her
wiles, her coaxing ways and her naughty ways--gone to that land which
only faith can pierce and where only love can follow.

There is not a dry eye in the household, when with awesome spirit and
noiseless tread they go in to see the last of her.

She lies like an exquisite waxen image, her sweet voice silenced, her
blithe laugh hushed, her slender white arms crossed on her stilled
heart, and a snowy Eucharis lily resting upon her breast.

“Oh, my lord! put this somewhere near her from _me_!” poor Hargreaves
had said through blinding tears.

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,” and Lord Beranger,
knowing with what a true, honest, unselfish love this young fellow had
loved his lost child, places the lily on her breast with his own hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

The day after Baby is laid to rest, Hargreaves is found near the
Beranger vault; one hand grasps a locket with a bit of golden hair in
it, near the other hand is the revolver with which he has shot himself.
It was true what he had said, that he loved her with the love of a dog,
that would just lie down and die beside her grave.

But the matter is at once hushed up, for the _convenances_ do not allow
of _canaille_ even _killing_ themselves for the sake of daughters of
Belgravia.



CHAPTER IX.

LET THE DEAD PAST BE BURIED.

    “Let this be said between us here,
       One love grows green when one turns grey,
     This year knows nothing of last year,
       To-morrow has no more to say to yesterday.”


“The pomps and vanities and sinful lusts of the flesh” being put a stop
to by poor little Baby’s untimely death, Lady Beranger has elected to
mourn in sackcloth and ashes among the sylvan shades of Sandilands. It
would be dreadful to assert that this worldly mother does not lament to
a certain degree the gap in the domestic circle, or that now and again
the memory of Baby’s sweet pretty face and winsome, kittenish ways does
not bring a mist into her fine eyes, but this much is true, that she
leaves Belgravia with regret, especially as the season is not quite
dead. And now that three months have nearly gone by since

                         “MIRABELLE BERANGER,

                               Aged 17,”

went away to the angels, Lady Beranger, knowing that mitigated
affliction in the shape of jet and bugles are always becoming, has “just
one or two intimate friends” come down to share the quiet of the country
and to sympathise with the family woe.

It need not be said that, with that worldly wisdom that looks sharp
after its own interests, these intimate friends are Lord Delaval and Mr.
Stubbs.

Of course such glittering fish must not be lost sight of before they
are safely landed.

It is not unusual in the Upper Ten, as has recently been proved, for the
_noblesse_ to rise from the funeral baked-meats to sit down to
wedding-cake.

Anyway, as the _convenances_ are not rigid on this score, it is on the
cards that before Trixy’s crape grows rusty she will don the orange and
myrtle.

And now that Sandilands offers no flirting material with which she can
keep her hand in and show off her power, save “poor Mr. Stubbs,” she
goes with less reluctant feet towards the altar of Moloch than she did
in Town, where her “future” cut such a comical appearance among the
golden youths that she really hated the very sight of him.

“It’s rather a bore that one can’t go and get married respectably at
St. Peter’s,” she remarks pettishly to Zai. “I might as well be a
housemaid, to walk across the garden path to that paltry little church,
and hear old Boresome gabble a few words by which Stubbs and I shall be
made--_one_! Ugh! Do you know, Zai, I expect we shall be very much
_two_! We haven’t a single idea in common, and only one
pleasure--contradicting one another.”

“Don’t marry him, then, for goodness sake, Trixy! You’ll be a wretched
girl if you do. If you _can’t love_ a man, you must at any rate respect
him, or look up to him as having a superior intellect to your own,” Zai
replies, thinking of Lord Delaval; then she frowns and chases away the
thought of him as fast as she can.

“Well, I don’t love Stubbs--(he asked me this morning to call him
_Peter_, but I _couldn’t_, I really _couldn’t_)--and I don’t respect
him particularly, and I certainly don’t consider his intellect superior
to mine, but I intend to marry him all the same. Love and respect! Good
heavens, Zai! Such things are all very well in their way, but you don’t
suppose that I should think of balancing them with that lovely suite
from Jackson and Graham’s? Why, those white and gold chairs, with the
crests carved on the backs, are ten times more worth having than all
that fiddle-faddle of love and respect!”

Zai does not answer. She knows, perhaps, that some of Trixy’s notions
are unanswerable, and is simply conscious of the fact that she rather
envies her her sentiments.

“And what’s the good of having _point de Venise_ on my dress for the
gardeners and stable boys to gape at?” Trixy goes on, peevishly. “I
think it is too bad to be done out of everything like this! I had made
up my mind to have a fine wedding, all the good-looking men in town, a
lot of bridesmaids, and--why, what’s the matter, Zai?”

The matter is that Zai has allowed a sob to break in on her talk.

“Nothing,” she says, in a low voice; “only your speaking of bridesmaids
made me think of _Baby_!”

“You were always a wet blanket, Zai. Whenever one is trying to look on
the bright side of things, you are sure to say something horrible,”
Trixy replies, in a tone of martyrdom. “_I_ think of Baby too; but I
drive away the thought because it is my bounden duty. Mamma says I’m not
to make myself ugly with crying and fretting, and, Zai, do you know, I
don’t think there’s much to grieve about Baby. _She’s escaped marrying
a--Mr. Stubbs!_”

It strikes Zai again that Trixy’s ideas are a little out of the way, and
wiping her tears, she takes up a book.

“I say Zai! I want to tell you something,” Trixy announces suddenly, in
a half whisper. “It’s a secret, a dead secret, and you will have to
swear you will keep it.”

“I promise,” Zai answers quietly, wondering what important thing is to
be divulged, as Trixy crosses the room and comes close up to her.

“No, no! you must swear.”

“I never swear; but my promise holds as good.”

“Well, then, listen. Gabrielle told me this morning that there is
something between you and Lord Delaval.”

“Well, if there is, what of it?”

“Only that Gabrielle went down on her knees on the damp grass, and swore
(she swears awfully, you know) that if he married you, she would destroy
herself, body and soul!”

“I am sure she is welcome to him if she wants him so very much,” Zai
flashes impetuously; “but I _must_ say that if Gabrielle really fancies
he is going to be her brother-in-law, she ought to curb her feelings for
him!”

Trixy opens her big blue eyes wide with amazement.

“You don’t mean to tell me, Zai, that there is the very least bit of
foundation for Gabrielle’s fancies?”

“Yes, I do,” Zai blurts out, “a very great deal of foundation. I have
been engaged to Lord Delaval ever since the State Ball, and I suppose I
shall marry him some day.”

“And you really accepted him in cold blood, although you have always
said you disliked him so?”

Zai reddens to the roots of her chesnut hair.

“Women are allowed to change their minds, I suppose?”

“You didn’t change your mind, Zai. You have only accepted Lord Delaval
out of pique. It’s all because that dishonourable fellow, Conway,
pitched you over for Crystal Meredyth. Oh! Zai! _cannot_ you arrange to
be married the same day as I am? It would make me so much jollier to
know I had a fellow-sufferer! It is quite a month to it--lots of time to
gallop through the trousseau--and then people won’t say that you only
married Lord Delaval when Carl had put a Mrs. Conway between you and
him.”

Zai looks up at her sister rather piteously; her grey eyes are dimmed
with tears, her face is very pale, and there is a falter in her voice as
she asks:

“When is Mr. Conway’s wedding to be?”

“Just six weeks hence.”

A pause. The September sun shines down hot and glary, but under its
broiling rays Zai shivers. Her heart is cold, her hands are cold, and it
seems to her that life altogether is awfully cold. Still in this moment
she makes up her mind.

“All right, Trixy!” she cries, in ringing accents, just as if she was as
blithe as the sunbeams and the birds; “the same day shall make us
both--wives--on two conditions. One is that you will not tell Gabrielle
a word about our little arrangements until I give you permission. The
other condition is----” She pauses a second and turns away her face, and
when she speaks again her voice is so husky that Trixy wonders--“that
you will never mention Mr. Conway’s name to me again! Before I marry
Lord Delaval, I should like to bury my dead past for ever and for ever
out of sight.”

“But Mamma must know of our arrangement, and she will tell Gabrielle, of
course.”

“Oh, no, she won’t; not if I ask her. Look here, Trixy. We are a set of
paupers! Even our mourning for Baby--” in spite of her she falters--“is
all on credit. I heard May’s man say ‘Crape’s a very dear article, my
lady; and the deeper the affliction the more it costs, in course! So
it’s only the quality, my lady, as can _really_ indulge in mourning; the
commonality mourn usually in narrow frills or small pleats, _but the
quality, to be fashionable, must mourn in deep kilts_. Sorrow cannot be
better shown than by as little silk as possible, and full crape
draperies, the buttons to be covered in crape, in course, and crape
collars and cuffs, and jabot on the bodice.’ ‘The mourning must be deep,
of course. I suppose, in your very large way of business, you do not
trouble to make up the account but once in a year or so, do you?’ Mamma
asked, in her most benign voice. ‘The mourning must be sent home with as
little delay as possible, and of course if it inconveniences you to
wait, I will give you a cheque in advance.’”

“Good gracious!” cries Trixy, “what a state of funk the mater must have
been in for fear he’d take her at her word!”

“Yes; but he didn’t. ‘No, no, my lady. We can afford to wait quite
well. We are in no hurry whatever; in fact, we shall be only too pleased
and honoured by having your ladyship’s name on our books, so long as
your ladyship will allow us;’ and it was only in this way that we got
this outward and visible sign of our grief for Baby, and it is only in
this way that we get our bread and butter, you know. The Governor and
Mamma are delighted at your marrying Mr. Stubbs, and the idea of my
catching Lord Delaval has filled their cup of bliss to the brim; so they
won’t do anything to make us turn rusty. Besides, Mamma knows better
than to tell Gabrielle anything, in case she should put a spoke in my
wheel of matrimony. She is so much in love with my _fiancé_.”

“And does he care for her?”

“What a question!” cries Zai, flushing a little. “Now is it likely that
he should want to marry me if he cares for my step-sister?”

“_Cela selon!_” Trixy replies carelessly, “Men don’t much mind that sort
of thing. I heard Charlie Wentwaite only made love to Virginia South
because he admired her mother!”

“You shouldn’t listen to such things, Trixy. Lord Delaval may have
talked nonsense to Gabrielle, because she encouraged him, but I am sure
he only cares for _me_!”

“And you--are you in love with him?” Trixy asks in a solemn voice,
putting her hand on her sister’s shoulder, and staring at her fixedly.

But Zai cannot or will not meet this enquiring gaze.

She springs up from her chair and throwing up the window sash looks out
on the fair world, the glowing fragrant roses and the clear blue sky
overhead. There isn’t a fleecy cloud on the azure surface. Somehow all
these things have a subtle charm of their own, and bring her an impetus
to bury her dead past as fast as she can, and to begin a new era. So
instead of answering Trixy, she plucks a rose with a deep blood-red
heart and flings it deliberately at somebody who is lying his full
length of six feet two inches on the sward, his straw hat thrown aside,
and the daylight falling full on his very handsome blond face. His lids
are closed, and he looks the picture of laziness--but a picture that
most women would take the trouble to look at several times. As the rose
falls full on the tip of his aquiline nose, he slowly opens his
ultramarine eyes, and looks up at the face at the window with a depth of
admiration and tenderness in the look that makes Zai blush and hastily
withdraw her head.

“Yes Trixy!” she cries with quite a beaming smile. “I believe I _am_ in
love with him, anyway I intend to be directly I am Countess of Delaval!”
And five minutes afterwards Trixy sees her on a rustic bench under a big
elm tree, and Lord Delaval lying at her feet. Trixy watches them a
moment. What a handsome couple they make. She sighs as she looks at
them, and rather envies Zai the good looks of her lover. Then she turns
away and murmurs in a tone of resignation:

“A handsome man always wants worshipping, while I like to be worshipped
myself, and another thing, poor old Stubbs won’t ever make me jealous!”

                           END OF VOLUME II.

                              PRINTED BY
           KELLY AND CO., GATE STREET, LINCOLN’S INN FIELDS,
                        AND KINGSTON-ON-THAMES.





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