صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

certain trifling yet momentous indications had been given him of this; yet, despite these, and despite his hopes in his kinsman, old Sir Joseph de Quincey Vere, he felt his courage sinking fast, and lower would it have fallen could he have known all that was then passing among some of the ladies of the family.

So prior to the arrival of other guests we will take a peep indoors.

Gertrude, like her sisters, was in her charming dressing-room, arraying herself for conquest, with the assistance of her maid (till she was joined by busy bustling little Rosamund), who had her rich dress and jewels all ready for use, and many of the latter were family heirlooms, only worn on special occasions. The former in hue, with all its rich white lace, became her beauty; her hair was dark brown, with a natural ripple; her skin was snowy, and her features clearly cut and regular; while her eyes of violetblue, though ever soft and sometimes shy, had usually a clear, bright, straightforward expression, that was very winning; and when she smiled, the smile began in her eyes ere it reached her firm pouting lips. Her nose was perhaps too small, yet perfect in form; and she was not without her faults of character, as we shall show-what girl who knows she is pretty is ever without them?-and Gertrude Templeton had perhaps quite as many as some girls.

She was a daughter of a proud race, and, like her sister Maud, she looked it, yet all unconsciously; she had a figure of perfect symmetry, a queenly bearing in her twentieth year, a sweet grace of motion, and a certain ladylike dignity that never deserted her.

You may go now, Phyllis,' said she to her maid, when the last diamond bracelet had been clasped

on her white rounded arm; and she took up her jewelled fan, her laced handkerchief, and bouquet of the rarest flowers that old Davis Dibble could cull for her, and, giving a last glance at herself in the pier-glass, saw reflected there a picture of girlish loveliness, combined with womanly beauty not often equalled; and then she stood for some minutes lost in thought.

Herbert Vere was coming. With every jewel she had placed upon her arms, round her slender neck, and amid the masses of her elaborately-dressed hair, she repeated this to herself; but too well she knew her mother's wishes, for they were openly avowed. Great moral courage was, perhaps, not one of the attributes of the gentle Gertrude, and when an evil she dreaded, like this affaire with Derinzy, was not a proximate one, or at least deferable, she trusted to chance to avert it altogether, or somehow change her fate.

The gold-mounted and elaborately-cut crystal bottles reposing in the blue-velvet trays of a beautifully-jewelled dressing-case had been a Christmas gift from Jocelyn Derinzy, and, as her eyes wandered over it, she thought how would Herbert Vere, poor fellow, have viewed her acceptance thereof from his rival.

But her mother had impetuously forced it upon her; and on the fact as it stood the colonel, naturally vain enough, based some high ulterior hopes indeed.

It is difficult to say precisely what was passing in the heart of the girl. She knew, of course, as we have said, that Vere was coming to-night; more than that, she knew that he loved her, and the desire to shine before him grew coquettishly strong in her heart; yet, knowing Lady Templeton as she did, she dared not acknowledge

to herself any other motive or desire, or any other hope.

She sighed and was about to leave the room, when two slender snowy arms were gently placed round her neck-so gently as not to ruffle her array-and her bright and happy little sister, a beautiful blonde, with shining golden hair, and laughing eyes of violet-blue, with dark eyebrows and darker lashes, a girl who possessed high spirits without the requisite amount of judgment to balance them, kissed Gertrude again and again, and began to talk confidence,' as she phrased it.

'O you silly impulsive little thing!' said Gertrude, readjusting her diamond necklace, which had been displaced.

'Little! I am quite as tall as you, Gerty, and Captain Desborough told me so,' replied the girl, pouting, yet with one of her brightest smiles; for she also had but one thought that night, while arraying herself in an adjoining room: 'He will be here, and will see how others can, and do, admire me!' 'Now, dearest, you look charming, but do you admire me?'

'You look like a veritable queen of the fairies in your blue and lace -it so suits your fair complexion.' 'See, dear old Dibble has got

me

some lily-of-the-valley and stephanotis for my bouquet.'

'Why stephanotis, Rosamund ?' 'Desborough likes the perfume.' 'Always Desborough. I own he is dangerously handsome and taking in manner; but don't let Maud or mamma hear you speak of him.'

'Yet he comes to-night!' urged Rosamund earnestly.

'That matters little-mamma wished for the band of the Eighth.'

The lip of Rosamund curledthe fair Rosamund' she was frequently called-for pride that was unintentional mingled with the

beauty of both the younger Templetons; and in silence she slightly drew up her dress, as she placed for warmth upon the fender a pretty foot, in a slipper so small and faultless that Cinderella might have worn it at the royal ball, while Gertrude looked lovingly at her, and approvingly too.

Rosamund was in all the bloom, freshness, glory, and happiness of the first season. Gertrude had seen three in town, and she could recall her simplicity, her little blunders, that were to others sweet and attractive; her charming naïveté, which all men said was peculiarly her own; and she could remember how soon all this passed away! How the thrill at the opera, the little flirty meetings at the Royal Academy, the open-eyed wonder at the theatre, were erelong followed by languor and listlessness; how the anticipated joy of the ballroom became replaced-from its very iteration-by weariness and ennui; and how even the daily ride in the Row, or a drive through the noblest park in the world, became only an unexhilarating bore, till— till that sunny garden-party, at which she first met a man so different from all those about herHerbert Vere, to whose decided preference for herself a piquancy was now given by the spirit of opposition with which her mother had viewed it since the family came to Ringwood Hall at the close of the season.

'Well,' said Rosamund, adjusting the last button of a glove, the night of the ball has come now; all the important and irritating consultations as to who should, and who should not, be invited are long since over (how I detested mamma's boudoir at that time, Gerty!), and the gloom of the house will now pass away.'

'Gloom, Rosamund ?'

'Yes. How scarce visitors have

been for weeks past! Those we invited did not call because we had done so, and those who were not invited have naturally stayed away in a pet, lest it might be supposed they came to fish for cards. But mamma is now in the drawingroom; let us join her.'

As the sisters passed on, Gertrude, used though she had been. from infancy to the stately old house of her ancestors, now all brilliantly lighted up for the fête, was struck by its internal aspect, with something of the same hopeless ideas that occurred to Vere when, some time after, he and laughing Kyrle Desborough drove up the avenue in a hired fly from the camp. Warmth, fragrance, and grandeur were everywhere around her. There were the stately staircase, with its broad steps covered with crimson cloth, its chastened tints and shadowy full-length portraits contrasting with the white statues that upheld lamps on every landing, and the great jardinières or majolica vases, that contained rare flowers which filled the long corridors with their perfume; the shadowy corridors themselves, with all the feudal relics and statuary; and the vast double drawing-room, furnished singularly with black ebony inlaid with ivory, the walls covered with blue silk and satin damask, softly floored with a gorgeous carpet, and having old portraits of some determined-looking fellows in half armour, frowning or glancing proudly askance from their antique frames.

From all this, as if by association of ideas, her mind reverted to the comfortless huts in the Infantry Camp, with their red-painted walls, odious roofs, and general air of wigwam-like squalor; and a shiver, caused by what she could scarcely define, passed over her, especially when she met the cold, inquiring, and yet approving glitter of her

mother's eye-approving because she saw her toilette, like that of Rosamund, was perfect on all points.

Still handsome, stately, and even graceful, though past middle age, the perfectly regular face of the dowager was singularly younglooking to have a daughter of the age of the Honourable Maud, and she seemed to possess the valuable faculty of belying her years and never growing older. Her eyes were as bright as when she was sixteen, though doubtless their expression was harder and colder than in those days. The contour of her features was eminently aristocratic, but they were smooth, colourless, and destitute of a single line that was indicative of thought or care, reflection or even kindness of heart. Her face was but a handsome mask, and yet behind it lurked more than, to any casual or even close observer, met the eye; for, with all her apparent wealth, her undoubted position in good society, and her perfectly unruffled bearing and calm passionless exterior, Lady Templeton was not without 'her skeleton in the house.'

As the two girls entered, their sister Maud was with their mother, and though they would never again celebrate her thirtieth birthday, Maud was armed for conquest too. Her white sloping shoulders and slender throat were perfect in form and colour, and set off by her dress of rose-coloured silk with white lace, and all her movements were graceful; but her bearing was haughty; her pale-gray eyes looked out with a species of serene stateliness upon the world; her lips had a scornful expression, and too often words of scorn, that bordered on decidedly bad taste, dwelt on them.

She had the reputation of being a quietly-working mischief-maker, and it was alleged that she was never so happy as when, by art,

innuendo, or otherwise, she succeeded in detaching a man from a woman he loved or admired, even though she failed to attach him to herself.

Since the failure in 'hooking' the young peer, season after season had passed, and, whether inspired by jealousy or honest emulation, Maud had certainly done. her best. But still no sound of marriage bells came to her ears, and she had now, perhaps, ceased to care greatly; yet she still spoke of herself and her sisters as 'we girls,' and was not above studying little airs and graces, rounding her arms-which she knew to be undeniably handsome-while coquettishly arranging a bracelet, or getting a glove buttoned by some man who was not so young as he had been.

Educated as they had been, the three sisters could not fail to have much of their mother's absurd, almost snobbish,' pride of birth; but the two younger had certainly none of her matchless selfishness and hardness of heart, nor had they caught her spirit of matchmaking, though eligible parties were her incessant theme; and now, prior to the appearance of some guests who were staying with them, she and Maud had been discussing the old topic.

'You are right, Maud,' Gertrude heard her mother say, as she and Rosamund drew near the fireplace; 'he is so poor that I greatly regret having asked him.'

Then Gertrude's heart told her that Herbert Vere was referred to, and she pressed her open fan, which was made of the white plumage of some tropical bird, upon her breast to conceal its heaving less from the eyes of her mother than those of Maud.

'Of whom are you talking, mamma?' asked Rosamund, in all innocence.

'Of that-of Mr. Vere,' replied Lady Templeton, with a scarcely perceptible glance at Gertrude.

'Mr. Vere has more than his pay,' said Rosamund.

'I should hope so, child.'

'He has private means, mamma.' 'Yes,' said Maud; 'but so very private that no one knows anything about them.'

'O Maud-such a tone to adopt!' urged Rosamund, to whom Gertrude felt intensely grateful; ‘if Mr. Vere is far from rich, he has good expectations, and has come

[ocr errors]

'Of poor but respectable parents, like Robinson Crusoe and ever so many other heroes,' said Lady Templeton.

'And he occupies a hut like Robinson Crusoe-a hut in the Infantry Camp,' added Maud, laughing, and showing nearly all her glittering teeth.

'There is a baronetcy in the family,' said Lady Templeton; 'but ever so many stand between it and him.'

'So you have been looking in Debrett, mamma ?' asked Gertrude timidly.

'Yes,' replied her mother, with a cold steely glitter in her eyes that was meant for a smile; though I seldom look among the baronets, for I know no greater sticklers for their rank and precedence than they are, those tiresome little baronets.'

'Then how comes Sir Ayling Aldwinkle to be your especial favourite, mamma ?' asked Gertrude pointedly.

'Think of his enormous wealth, my dear!'

'Among the "casuals" who are coming here to-night,' said Maud, in her mocking tone, with a furtive glance at Rosamund, there are Clive, Finch, and Desborough, all of the Eighth-'

[ocr errors]

Finch is only a younger son,' observed Lady Templeton.

'And younger sons you deem a mistake in the scheme of Nature, mamma,' laughed Maud, who saw that Rosamund had changed colour at the name of Desborough. How little could that handsome heedless fellow really know, or perhaps care, that the mere utterance of his name possessed a magic power to stir her heart! And yet, as Vere had more than once told him, 'the half of Rosamund's heart was worth the whole of another girl's.' The wealth of Desborough might find him favour even with you, mamma,' resumed Maud; 'but though an admirer he is barely a dangler, Rosamund, and I fear you are doomed to be an old man's darling, after all.'

6

'I must trust perhaps to your experience, Maud,'said Rosamund; 'you are twice as old as I am nearly, and so must be twice as wise; yet I do hope you may be mistaken, after all.'

Never had the girl spoken so bitterly before, but she felt that her sister referred mockingly to a foregone conclusion. And now the rolling of wheels, the jarring of hoofs on the gravelled terrace without, and certain noises and voices in the hall and great staircase, announced the arrival of guests; after which the drawing-rooms filled rapidly, and the buzz of insipid commonplaces was heard on all sides.

Now the band of the Eighth was in the vestibule adjoining the dancing-room, and they were preparing for the 'Lucknow Quadrille,' a composition of the bandmaster, and so named from the last achievement on the regimental colours, and the ball in all its brilliance was beginning, while the rooms were fast becoming crowded.

Vere and Desborough entered together, and the first on whom the eyes of the former fell was Gertrude, who, giving place to the

guests, declined dancing as yet. Of those who were present there is no need to trouble the reader, who may never meet with them again, save one or two exceptions.

As he drew near her, none could have guessed that these two were more to each other than the merest acquaintances or friends; yet their eyes told tales that each could read in those of the other, and their pulses quickened as their hands

met.

With something of royal condescension Lady Templeton gave Vere her hand; then waving her fan involuntarily, almost as a seeming hint that nothing more was required of her, she turned to address an elderly but fashionable-looking man who was stooping confidentially over her chair-Sir Ayling Aldwinkle-and of whom we shall hear more anon.

If anything could have clouded a man's hopes of the future, it would have been the prospect of such a mother-in-law as Lady Templeton; but Vere's love for Gertrude was strong and earnest. And yet, with all his knowledge of life and the world, and all his experience thereof, he felt himself speaking huskily as he addressed the girl, and as if his lips were parched, as perhaps they were; for on the events of that night too probably hung his fate, or what he considered to be such. So, with his mind thus preoccupied, he found himself gazing into the depths of her dark-blue eyes, and talking the merest commonplace the while how unluckily the frost had stopped the hunting; whether there would be rain to-morrow, and of the weather peculiar to Hants in general and the vicinity of Aldershot in particular; the mud of the common, and the dust of the Long Valley.

:

Yet few men had a greater power of pleasing a woman he admired

« السابقةمتابعة »