Page images

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!"

[blocks in formation]

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.

[ocr errors]

"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 me!"

She laughs insultingly: "You will wait some time, if

send for

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."

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

think of it, Jemima, he has been very odd and distrait for a week past; several times when I spoke to him, he answered quite à tort et à travers, and once or twice he did not answer at all."

I shrug my shoulders.

"They are all alike; determination of Lenore to the brain; when Lenore is in the room they never answer me. I am quite used to it; are not you? For the last five years I have walked through life with a gooseberry-bush in my hand."

"She is very nice-looking, of course," says Sylvia, in a rather demurring voice, not seeming particularly to relish the being put, by implication, in the same boat with me. "I am sure I am the last person to gainsay that; nobody can accuse me of not being willing to admit other people's good looks; but there is no denying that she is on too large a scale to suit some people's tastes: many men prefer something more petite and mignonne."

"Do they?" say I, sceptically. "I do not know. It seems to me that most men like a woman that there is a good deal of.”

"I do not think I quite liked the way she did her hair last night," says Sylvia, taking some honey and looking at it pensively, as it slides in a long string from the spoon; "too much scratched off her face."

With what clever stroke of caustic wit or incisive irony I might have parried this thrust will never now be certainly known, for at this moment a footman enters with a note, which he hands to Sylvia. She opens it and reads; apparently it does not take long to peruse.

"Are all the people run mad?" she cries, in a tone of peevish astonishment, tossing it over to me. I pick it up :

"DEAR MRS. PRODGERS,-I must apologise to you for leaving your house so suddenly and at so untimely an hour; but the fact is, I am unavoidably called away. Thank you over and over again for all the kindness and hospitality you have shown me.

"I remain, yours very truly,


"Is Mr. Le Mesurier gone?" cry I to the footman, who is in the act of leaving the room.

"Yes, 'm."

"What time did he go?"

"About seven, 'm. I heard him telling the driver that he must catch the 7.25 up-train from Norley."

"I wonder did he and Charlie travel together?" say I, sotto voce, tickled, despite myself, by the notion of the rivals boxed up together, within the narrow precincts of a smoking-carriage, for all the long transit between Norley and London.

"Did he leave nothing besides this ?" cries Sylvia, in indignant excitement, holding up the little billet between her finger and thumb; no message-nothing?"

"I believe, 'm, there was a letter for Miss Lenore."

"Where is it ?—what has become of it? Bring it here."

"If you please, 'm, I think Nicholls took it up to Miss Lenore an hour ago."

He retires, inwardly amused, interested, compassionate, no doubt; outwardly as absolutely indifferent to the joys, the sorrows, the deaths, the marriages, the jiltings, and being-jilteds of his family, as is incumbent on any servant who wishes to keep his situation.

The urn sputters and fizzes; the pug sits on his haunches, with his blear eyes rolling, and gives a short suppressed bark, that means, "Muffin." We stare at one another.

"I thought there was something wrong last night, when Lenore said he had gone home with a headache," say I, with that sort of backhanded prophecy-that "told-you-so" wisdom-for which women are so remarkable.

"So did I," says Sylvia, determined not to be behindhand in sapience.

Again we stare at one another, with our toast dropped from our fingers, and our tea quickly cooling in the frosty morning air.

"I think I will go and see how she is getting on," I say, rising. "So will I," says Sylvia, rising too.

This is not quite what I wish; but it cannot be helped. As we pass the nursery, the children, hearing our footsteps, shoot out like bombshells, and join us.

By the time we reach Lenore's door we form a quite considerable cortége, both as to noise and numbers.

I knock-no answer. I knock again. "Lenore, may I come in?" Still no answer. I try the handle-it is locked. I announce the


"How very odd!" says Sylvia, rattling the "Lenore! Lenore! we are all come to see you.

handle in her turn. Let us in!"

I do not myself think this form of request likely to invite compliance, but whether it is or not, it meets with no better success than its predecessors.

"Do you think she can have got out of the window?" suggests my sister, beginning to look rather tragic.

"Absurd! Why should she?"

Again we knock and rattle, each one in turn, and then all together. No result.

Suppose you look through the keyhole, Jemima ?" says Sylvia. I comply. A keyhole is an unsatisfactory vehicle for exercising sight. At my first glance, I see nothing; at my second, I dimly

discern what looks like a rose-coloured heap lying on the hearthrug -Lenore has a rose-coloured dressing-gown.

"She is lying on the hearthrug," I announce, in a whisper. "Poor soul! I am afraid that she is taking it sadly to heart."

"Lying on the hearthrug!" repeats Sylvia, turning rather pale, and clutching my arm. "Good heavens! Jemima, I hope she has not -has not-put-put an end to herself ?"

"Fiddlesticks!" cry I, angrily. "Why should she? How could she? Swallowed the poker, I suppose, or cut her throat with a smalltooth comb."

Sylvia applies her eye, in turn, to the keyhole.

"Lenore!" (raising her voice) "why are you lying on the hearthrug? What are you doing? You are frightening us all out of our wits. Open the door this instant!"

We hear a noise inside; in a moment more the door is flung roughly open, and Lenore confronts us in her dressing-gown-her undressed hair falling in a long, bright brown shower about her face, which is ash-white. Her eyes are red, and her eyelids redder-the first are half and the latter double their normal size.

"What do you want?" she says, hoarsely. "Why are you making this noise? What has brought you all here?"

A daunted silence falls upon us for a moment-then Sylvia speaks:


Nothing particular, dear; we only wanted to know what has made Paul take himself off so suddenly, and we thought you might be able to tell us?"

"I neither know nor care," she answers, fiercely; but I see both lips and eyelids twitching.

Aunty Lenore, how red your nose is!" cries Bobby, with all that delicacy for other's feelings, that charming reticence, so characteristic of infancy staring at her the while, with eyes as black and round as the plums in a Christmas pudding. The last straw breaks the camel's back.

"Had not you better send for the servants and the stablemen, the dogs and the parrot ?" cries Lenore, turning savagely to Sylvia. "It is a pity that you should not have every living thing in the house to gape at me.'

"Go downstairs," say I, pleadingly, "and take the children with you. I will be down directly; perhaps she will let me speak to her myself."

With many demurrings, both of word and look, Sylvia complies, and retires with her offspring. I follow Lenore into her room, and close the door.

"Is it true?" I say compassionately, taking her hot reluctant hand. "Is what true ?"

« PreviousContinue »