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who also has no right to anybody present, march in together. During soup, he tries to make feverish and unnatural love to me, which I rightly attribute to the fact of Lenore's blue ribbons and sweet peas being fluttering and flowering opposite; but as I indignantly decline to be the victim of any such imposture, he relapses into a sulky silence, and I into my usual trite vein of moralizing.
If people could but hear the comments made on them. For instance, if Miss Webster had but lurked behind the window-curtains at luncheon to-day, how clothed and lowered and quiet would her shoulders be. I look : they are still playfully shrugged and lifted in all their lean and virgin nakedness.
It is evening. Tea has re-united those whom claret parted. The footmen have wheeled in the card-table, and are now clearing another table for a round game—that noisy refuge of those who cannot talkwhereat loud and inarticulate sounds, like to the bray of the ass, the shrill clucking and calling of a distracted hen-roost, take the place of low-voiced and rational conversation. We are all making our selection between the two games: there are far more candidates for the boisterous mirth of the one than for the silent dignity of the other. The infantry, and their attendant houris, the Websters, in short all the externes, distinctly decline a rubber.
Major Webster has arrived at the age when a man insists on being classed among “the young people.” Being ten years his sister's senior, he is almost as old for a man as she for a woman. He likes to get near the youngest girl in the company–he loves bread and butter, that surest sign of advancing age--to bank with her, look over her cards, and tell her all about himself. Paul chooses whist: I am amused to hear Lenore (the amount of whose knowledge of the game I am acquainted with) follow suit. Mr. Scrope does the same; so does Sylvia. As for me, I am nobody. I have been a spectator all my life. I am a spectator still. Laura has walked over to a cabinet, close to where I am sitting, to look for some whist-markers. Scrope has followed her on the same pretence.
Why do not you join the round game ?" I hear her ask him hurriedly, in a low voice. "I wish you would—three-lived commerce and a pony-just the game for a nice little schoolboy.”
" Just” (flushing a little and looking rather mulish).
“ Do! there's a good boy!" she says, almost imploringly, “ I'm really in earnest."
"I will play bézique, if you like,” he says, eagerly; " let me get the little round table; you shall deal every.
time.” She does not speak in answer, but only turns down the corners of her mouth, with an expression of the completest scorn.
“What are you two whispering about over there ?” cries Sylvia, playfully, from the table; " no whispering allowed !"
“Let us cut for partners,” says Scrope, eagerly advancing.
“It is not much use,” replies Lenore, bluntly; "for whoever I cut with, I mean to play with Paul.”
They begin. It is Sylvia's deal-Lenore to lead. It is some time before she realises this fact.
“Oh! is it me? What a bore! What on earth shall I play? I have no more idea —— Paul, I wish you would suggest something ?"
Paul looks resolutely, gravely impenetrable.
Trumps!" (with an expression of profound contempt). “Very likely !—as if I did not know that one ought always to keep them to the very end."
Having half-played several cards, and withdrawn them—having gazed imploringly at Paul, who ill-naturedly will not lift his eyes having tried to look over Scrope's hand, she at length embarks on the ace of diamonds. The others play little ones to it, and the trick is hers.
“Oh! it is mine again, is it?" (with a tone of annoyance). “If I had thought of that, I would not have played it. Now it is all to come over again. I suppose ” (looking vaguely round for counsel) " that it is not a bad plan to play all one's big ones out first, is it?"
Paul conscientiously tries to veil the expression of extreme dissent that this proposition calls into his countenance, and so successfully, that the ace of hearts instantly and confidently follows his brother. He is succeeded by the ace of spades.
“ You have every ace in the pack,” Sylvia says, pettishly.
“That I have not !" answers Lenore, glancing up with a mischievous gaiety at Scrope. “You know better than that, do not you, Charlie ?"
At the unnecessary and illegal candour displayed by the first half of the sentence, Paul shudders slightly; but at the familiar abbreviation of his friend's name he forgets all about his cards. He would not look at his betrothed before, when she sought mute counsel from him. He looks at her quickly enough now, with an expression of the most unfeigned, displeased surprise. But, unluckily, she does not see it. Her gaze has strayed to the other table, and she is whispering to Scrope.
“ Look at the Major—we always call him. The Major,' as if there was only one in the world. He is telling that little Miss beside him how a cricket-ball once hit him in the left eye, and asking her to look in and see the mark.”
“How on earth can you tell at this distance ?” asks Scrope, eagerly, answering in the same tone, and playing at haphazard the first card
“I know his little ways,” she says, laughing. “Once I used to be invited to look into his eye. Ah! 'Nous avons changé tout cela. I am too old now."
“Would you mind going on, when you are quite ready ?” Paul asks, with an extreme politeness of tone a little contradicted by the unamiable expression of his countenance. Let those who blame him recollect that he loved strict whist, and the rules of the game, with a love hardly inferior to that of the renowned Mrs. Battle.
My turn !" cries Lenore, returning to the consideration of her cards. “You do not say so! It is always my turn. Now what next ? Have spades ever been out before ? Surely not.”
She herself, as I have before observed, led the ace three minutes ago, and Sylvia threw away her queen on it. She now boldly advances her king, wbich is naturally trumped. At this catastrophe she expresses the extremest surprise, which she calls upon Paul to share. In another quarter of an hour, not only the game, but the rubber is ended.
“ Absolutely thrown away !” cries Paul, tossing down his last card, with a gesture of unrestrained irritation. “Two by honours, and excellent playing cards! It is enough to make a saint swear!"
“I do not know what you mean?” cried Lenore, reddening. “I am sure I did nothing wrong, did I ?” (appealing to her adversaries). “I did not revoke, and I returned his lead whenever I remembered what it was, and I led out all my big things. One cannot expect to do much with those little nasty twos and threes!"
“Let us change partners,” cries Scrope, his broad blue eyes flashing eagerly. “I am the worst player in Europe.”
By all means," says Lenore, with empressement, glaring angrily across at Paul, though there are tears in her treacherous eyes. “I should like nothing better."
“Not for worlds !” says Sylvia, with a little emphasis on the words, rising, and gathering together her gloves, fan, and scent bottle. “I would not expose my poor little manæuvres to Paul's criticism for any earthly consideration; I do not mind you ; you are a child; you are nobody!"
The guests are gone—“Good-night time” has come—we discreetly issue forth into the hall, and drink claret and sherry-and-water, while Paul and Lenore are saying it in the drawing-room. They do not, however, speak very low, as I overhear them.
“One thing is certain, Paul,” says Lenore, playfully, but with a sort of uneasy dignity in her tone, "and that is, that when we are married we will not play cards; I wish you would not be cross to me before people. I do not mind when we are by ourselves."
“I wish you would not call men by their Christian names under my very nose,” Paul answers, in a tone that sounds half-jealous, halfashamed.
“Do you ?" (rather coquettishly). “Lenore, how many men do you call by their Christian names ?”
She laughs mischievously. “Ever so many; but I only do as I am done by; almost every man I know calls me Lenore. No! no!! no!!!” (her tone suddenly changing to one of repentant alarm); “ do not look so furious—I am only joking; nobody does that I am aware of-hardly anybody!"
WHAT JEMIMA SAYS.
“ A CHILD might play with me to-night, I feel so bland,” says Lenore. «Tommy, Bobby, now is your time; never, probably, will you find Aunty Lenore in such a frame of mind again ; drive her hair-pins into her skull, throttle her with your fat arms, ride roughshod over her prostrate body; she will not utter a groan!"
It is the day following Sylvia’s dinner-party. Lenore is sitting on the white hearthrug of our sister's boudoir, an immoral-looking little upstairs room. Looped rose curtains; lazy low chairs ; mirrors gleaming through festooned white muslin; flowers that give out their scent delicately yet heavily to the warmed air; and outside the storm-rain scouring the pane, and the wind shaking the shutters with its strong rude hands. “Had ever any one better cause to be happy than I ?" says the girl, while her eyes dance in the firelight. “I am nineteen, I am handsome, I am going to a ball, and shall dance all night, and eat ices, and sit in corners with the dearest fellow in all the world, who is extremely pleased with me."
“Instinct tells me that he dances like a pair of tongs,” reply I, amiably.
“Poor Jemima !" she says, with a sort of resentful pity. “No wonder you say spiteful things! You are twenty-nine ; you are first with nobody! how can you bear to go on living? what can you have to think about all day and all night ?”
“Think about !” repeat I, cynically. “Oh! I do not know. Sometimes my latter end, and sometimes my dinner.”
“Poor old Jemima !"
“It is a mercy,” continue I, reflectively, “ that one's palate outlives one's heart; one can still relish red mullet when one has lost all appetite for moonshine.”
“Bravo, Miss Herrick,' cries a voice, as Scrope emerges from behind the portiere, which hides a little inner room, and lounges with something of his old sleepy manner to the fire. We both start.
"Who gave you leave to come here?" asks Lenore, sharply.
“Why did not you cough, or sneeze, or sigh, to let us know you were there, instead of meanly listening to all we had to say ?"
“Neither of you said anything either confidential, or that demanded contradiction,” replies the young man, leaning his back against the chimney-piece, and looking down with insouciant defiance on the girl at his feet. “ You, Miss Lenore, modestly observed that you were nineteen and very handsome, while Miss Jemima remarked that red mullet were better than moonshine, and that Le Mesurier danced like a pair of tongs; in both cases I have the good fortune to agree with her.”
“ You have, have you ?"
“You are roasting all the life out of that bit of deutzia in your dress,” says the young man, indicating with a slight motion of the hand the white flower that, resting on Lenore's breast, contrasts the dark folds of her serge gown; "suppose you give it mo?"
Suppose I do not !" “ You will really, won't you ?” (stooping forward a little, and stretching out his hand to receive the demanded gift).
“ Most certainly not!"
“All right!" (resuming his former position, and speaking with languid indifference); "it is a half-withered little vegetable, and I am not sure that I would take it now if you offered it me; but all the same, I have a conviction that before the evening is over it will be mine.”
"You have, have you ?" cries Lenore, with flashing eyes; “sooner than that
should ever have it-look here !" She runs to the window, unbolts the shutters, and opening the casement throws the flower out into the wild sleet. Thrice the winter's cold gust drives it back against her, but the third time it disappears. Then she shuts the window, and returns to the fire.
What a fine thing it is to have a spirit !” says Scrope, walking to the door. He does not look particularly vexed, but his cheek is flushed.
When he is gone, I retire behind the portiere to write letters; Lenore maintains her former position, thinking, smiling to herself, and curling the pug's tight fawn tail round her fingers. In about ten minutes the door re-opens, and Mr. Scrope again enters. His boots are miry, his shooting-coat is drenched, large rain drops shine and glisten on his bare gold curls, but in his hand he holds the bit of deutzia, muddied, stained, dis-petaled almost past recognition, but still the identical spray that floated out on the storm blast through the opened window.
"My presentiments seldom deceive me, says the young man, advancing to the fire, speaking with his old drawl, and wiping the luckless flower with his pocket-handkerchief ; “ feel how wet I am" (extending his coat sleeve).