Page images

is only a capricious way of trying how much I can stand, I tell you candidly that I am at the end of my tether; I will not bear a feather's weight more! Lenore, am I unreasonable? I like a quiet life, and I want to trust my wife absolutely, and to believe in her as I believe in God. Tell me, did you mean the things you said just now, or were you only angry? If you were, I am the last person that has any right to blame you. Oh, my dear, think before you answer me! Our whole two lives hang upon it."

She looks at him. His face is stern and resolute and deeply angered; but is it not also tender? She is all but melted; in a second more she would have been sobbing on his heart, but in the instant of hesitation his former words, "You made me love you," recur to her, bringing profound resentment with them. "I did mean them," she answers passionately. "I do mean them; it is so pleasant to me to find any one to like me spontaneously that I naturally prize their society."


His face pales and changes, it is no longer tender; it is only stern. "All right," he says coldly; "you are at least explicit. It has come to this, then, Lenore-you must choose between Scrope and me. I am far from saying that he is not a fitter mate for you than I. He young, he is good-looking, he is rich, he has everything to catch a woman's eye and gain a woman's heart; and I—-” (looking down and sighing), "well, I suppose I have not much. It has been as great a wonder to me as to the rest of the world what you could have seen in me—you know, I told you before I'm not up to woman's ways-but one thing is certain," (lifting his head again, and speaking with firm emphasis,) " I will go shares with no man; I will have all or none. As long as you are my betrothed wife I forbid you to dance with Scrope."

And I decline to be forbidden," she cries, maddened by rage-by the internal knowledge of being in the wrong, and-oh, far worst, cruellest of all-by the conviction that he does not love her well enough to take her, faults and all-that he will have her on his own terms or not at all, that he is going-if she persist in her pride—to give her up, and that the giving her up will not cost him his life-will not break his heart, or even cause it any very mortal pain. "I deny your right to employ such a word to me; if I were a hundred times your wife I should refuse to be ordered about like a dog. If you expect the tame docility of a slave you had better go to your cousin. for it, for you certainly will not get it from me."

He bows gravely.

"It is fortunate, at least, that we have discovered the discrepancy of our ideas of marriage before it is too late. Thank you, at least, for telling me now, instead of later."

"Yes," she answers, breathing hard and short; her face altered

and contorted by the fatal excitement that is hurrying her to her destruction; "if I made you love me, as you generously say, I will, at least, not make you marry me."

He stands mute, all his face white and quivering, unable to master himself enough to reply to her gibes with calmness, and not willing to descend to the unmanliness of recrimination. Then at length he speaks, with a slow and bitter smile:

"You have given me a lesson that I shall not forget in a hurry. I confess that I had not thought myself a vain man, but to-night has proved me to have been egregiously misled by my own conceit. Do you know-you will hardly believe me-laugh at me, I give you leave -but for the last six months I have been reproaching myself with the thought that, well and heartily as I loved you, you loved me even better that you were giving more than you received? I am disabused! Lenore," (speaking very slowly, and planting each word like a swordthrust in her heart,) "you are incapable of loving anyone but yourself -anything but your own will. I have done with you!"

As he speaks, unmindful of the usages of society, forgetting that she has asked him to take her back to her chaperone, he turns to leave her; at the door he pauses to take one good-bye look at the fair proud woman he has resigned. Her eyes are gazing vacantly at him, and her lips seem moving. In a moment more he is gone. She remains in the same position in which he left her: she does not move a finger. Her great wide eyes keep staring at the door by which he went out, and her lips repeating his last words, "I have done with you-done with you-done with you!" They do not convey the slightest meaning to her mind. By dint of saying them over and over again, they grow to sound unfamiliar, grotesque. She half laughs. How long she remains in this semi-stunned state she does not know; the fiddles squeak distantly, and the people pass and repass, but she heeds neither. She is recalled to herself at last by the entrance of a man, who first looks in uncertainly, and then comes in joyfully— Scrope.

"Why, here you are!" he cries cheerfully. "I have been hunting high and low for you! I thought you were with Le Mesurier; this is our dance-Good God!" (with an abrupt change of tone), "what has happened?"

His voice brings her back to her right mind-brings the bitter, bitter truth rolling over her soul like a black flood. Paul gone-gone for good!-gone with a look of inexorable displeasure on his face, and she herself has thrown him away.

"What has happened?" she says, in a sharp harsh voice. "Do you ask that? Why, just this," (laughing rather wildly,) "I have been amusing myself cutting my own throat. That is what has happened, and I have to thank you for it."



He looks at her in unbounded astonishment. Has she gone mad, as her words seem to imply?

"What do you mean?"

"I mean," she answers, speaking more collectedly, "that Paul is gone he does not like me any longer-he has done with me!" (falling unconsciously into his own form of expression).


"Don't look glad!" she cries excitedly. "How dare you? If you look glad I shall kill you!"

"I am not looking glad. What should I look glad for? I don't know what you are talking about.".

"You have got your wish," she says, rising and speaking with slow vindictiveness. "You have parted us! It is what you have been aiming at all along. I hope you are pleased."

"Do you mean to say that you have been quarrelling about me again ?"


Yes, I do!" she answers, panting, and looking at him always with dilated eyes; "you knew we should. That was why you remained here when I begged you to go, when any gentleman would have died sooner than stay."

The young man bites his lip till it bleeds; he clenches his hands convulsively; he writhes under her insults; but he makes no retort. "Was it because you danced with me ?" he asks quietly, after an interval.

[ocr errors]

"You know it was," she answers petulantly. Why do you keep worrying me with these questions? He told me not to dance with you, and I said I would; I thought it was fine to have a spirit-you have always told me, all of you, what a fine spirit I had. Well, God knows" (laughing harshly), "I have been spirited enough to-night!"

A little silence.

"If he had but known," she says, looking scornfully at her companion, "how small the sacrifice was that he asked of me, he would not have insisted so much upon it."

Scrope's endurance fails a little.

"You are making mountains of molehills," he says impatiently. "As far as I can understand, you have had a little misunderstanding-I do not see how any one could well live with you without having them a misunderstanding which you will make up within the first five minutes of your next meeting-that is all."

"It is not all!" she answers persistently. "We have had a hundred such misunderstandings, as you describe-they were always my fault, always—and made them up again; but this was different; when he turned at the door and looked at me, I felt that it was all over with me." As she speaks, she sinks upon the sofa again; her

[ocr errors]

arms fall heavily to her side; the listlessness of despair is expressed in her whole attitude.

"Fiddlesticks!" replies Scrope, brusquely. "A man throw a girl over to whom he is passionately attached, because she says a few nasty things to him-more especially" (smiling, a little maliciously) "when she has rather got into a habit of saying nasty things to everybody! A very likely tale. No, no; though you are engaged to Paul, and I am not, I think I know him a little better than you do, still."

She shakes her head; his words convey neither conviction nor comfort to her mind.

[ocr errors]

"Listen!" says the young man, eagerly, sitting down on the sofa beside her. "Since I came into this room, you have been unciviller to me than ever woman was to man before; once or twice I have felt as if I should like to kill you, or myself, or both; but you said one true thing-it is I that have brought this on you; and so, I suppose (rather ruefully)," the least I can do is to try and put things straight again for you; I will go and look for him-he cannot have gone far; most likely" (smiling a little derisively)" I shall find him in the supper-room—and I will bring him back to you, see if I don't."

"Will you?" she says, with a bitter smile. "There will be two to that bargain!"

Before she can say more he is gone.

The minutes pass: five, ten; she sits with her eyes riveted on the door, saying over to herself: "There is no hope-there is no hope;" but all the while, hope is there. After a space, which the clock announces to be a quarter of an hour, but which is marked on the dial-plate of her heart as ten years, Scrope re-enters-alone.

"I could not find him, anywhere," he says, advancing, with his eyes on the ground; "he has gone. For Heaven's sake, keep up" (seeing her face change and quiver convulsively). "Don't look so miserable! It is only the delay of a few hours-it will be all right tomorrow morning."

"It will never be all right again," she cries, bursting into violent weeping, and throwing her head down on the hard horsehair bolster of the sofa. "Oh, Paul! Paul!"

The sight of her misery sets him beside himself. He flings himself on his knees beside her, catches hold of one of her hands, that is hanging down limp and nerveless, and rashly trusting to her absorption kisses it over and over again. After all, it is only white kid that gets the benefit of his caresses.

His action rouses her-she sits upright; the lightning flashes at him from her drowned eyes; the hot carnation scorches up the tears on her cheeks.

"How dare you?" she cries wildly, tearing her hand out of his grasp. "I shall always hate my hand for having been kissed by

you-you, who have brought me to this! If I did not know that it was useless to ask any favour of you, I would beg you, at least, to relieve me of the sight of you."

He rises to his feet; a spasm contracts his angry beautiful face. "I'm going, never fear. I begin to agree with you, that I cannot be a gentleman, or I should have gone long ago." After a pause: "I have sent for my things from your sister's house; I shall go to London by the next train."

Thank God, at least for that," she says, fiercely. "The last and only boon I have to ask of you is, that I may never set eyes on you again."

He bows: "I promise you that you shall not, unless you send for me!"

She laughs insultingly: "You will wait some time, if you wait for that."

"Lenore!" (taking her hand, whether she will or no, while his eyes burn, savage and passionate, into hers), "you will make some one murder you, some day. Good-bye!"



"QUITE incomprehensible," says Sylvia, slightly shaking her head, and turning the tap of the urn on to the recipient teapot.

We are at breakfast; breakfast after a ball is a languid feast: one looks green, one is yawning, one drinks two cups of tea instead of one. From another evil, to which some people are subject, I am freeI never suffer from the cramps that result from over-dancing. Sylvia and I are the only ones that have yet made our appearance: after all, there are only two more to appear-Paul and Lenore-for Mr. Scrope has gone overnight, or rather this morning, and it is apropos of his departure that Sylvia is, for the fiftieth time, expressing her astonishment, her displeasure, her remorse.

"So ill-bred," she continues, nibbling a piece of toast; "so unlike him. I have always said what a particularly gentlemanlike boy Charlie Scrope was! Do you know, Jemima, it has struck me once or twice that perhaps he was hurt at my refusing so point-blank to sit out in the corridors with him? Very unreasonable of him if he was so, for I meant nothing personal to him; I said the same to them all."

I shake my head with an air of superior information.

"It was not quite such a sudden thought as all that; earlier in the day he had settled to go.'

[ocr errors]

"And never mentioned it to me?" cries my sister, raising her voice a little, and colouring. "Most extraordinary! Now I come to

« PreviousContinue »