Page images
PDF
EPUB

“Do not let them send me any new congratulations—any of them," she says, drily; "tell them the old ones will do; they need only alter the initials, as I am doing with my pocket-handkerchiefs.”

Scrope has no father, and Lenore no money, which two facts greatly facilitate the law arrangements. Whether indecently soon or not, the wedding day is drawing on. Lenore has thrown herself into the business of trousseau buying with an ardour more than femininewith the artistic frenzy of a French woman, of a petite maitresse enragée.

“Finery always was my snare,” she says, laughing. “I loved even my cotton gowns and gingham umbrellas tenderly, but nowif being married, entails such a saturnalia of fine clothes, I should like to have a wedding every year.”

Lenore is very lively; she runs about the house all day singing; she walks, she rides, she plays billiards; she studies · Murray' and

Bradshaw' with avidity, making out routes to the ends of the earth; but she never sits still. Her cheeks are rosy red, and her eyes sparkle and glitter like beautifullest great sapphires.

“ You are quite the most eager bride I ever saw,” Sylvia says one day, with a doubtful compliment. “Poor Charlie toils after you in vain. I always imagined that impatience was the monopoly of the gentleman ; I am sure” (sighing and looking down) “it was so in my case. I thought the days raced by-positively raced ; if you remember, Jemima, I said so to you at the time?"

"Did you? I dare say. ”

"Now Lenore, on the contrary, seems anxious to hurry them. Fancy !" casting up her eyes and hands to heaven.

"I am anxious,” says the girl, smiling rather wistfully. "I mean to be so happy—I want to begin. I am sorry it is not en règle ; but I cannot help that. How many more days are there? One, two, three, four, five-bah!” (taking up two parcels that lie on the halltable) “ a couple more ivory prayer books ! Jemima, if there come any more prayer books you must send them back, and say that there is a glut of books of devotion."

The wedding feast is to be gay and large; the house to be crowded and crammed from attic to cellar, chiefly with Scrope's people : mother, unmarried sister, married sister and husband, uncles, unmarried mencousins.

“A perfect horde of barbarians !” says Sylvia, complacently swimming into the drawing-room, on the afternoon of the day on which they are expected, her little figure very upright, head slightly thrown back, and bust protruded, as is her way when the war paint is on. “I have quite a good mind to run away and hide myself in a corner, and leave Tommy, as my deputy, to receive them. Will you, Tommy? How amusing it would be, and how astonished they would look !"

[ocr errors]

“ One could hardly wonder at them,” answers Jemima, drily. Jemima's head and bust are much as usual.

“As long as I have Charlie beside me I don't mind,” continues Mrs. Prodgers, looking at herself over her left shoulder in the glass, in one of Silvy's strained and distorted attitudes ; "he is my sheet anchor. Poor dear old Charlie !” (laughing a little)" to think of his going to be one's brother! It is too ridiculous !"

It is the evening before the wedding; the lit rooms are gaily alive with many guests; not only those staying in the house, but also dinner guests. Many more are expected; some of them already uncloaking outside, for Sylvia has decreed a dance.

“We must have a band," she has said, meditatively, when making the arrangements. “There is no use doing a thing unless you do it well. Yes, a band; they can go so nicely in the recess under the stairs."

"It is dreary work pounding over a carpet, to the tune of a piano, supported only by lemonade and negus,” Jemima says.

When people come on a first visit,” says Sylvia sapiently, “they always come to criticise. Did you notice how they all looked me over from top to toe, when they came in to-day-pricing me, as it were? Well, I wish to be beyond criticism.”

“ Don't have a band,” cries Lenore, hastily; "if you do, I shall go to bed—that is all. I warn you! Those dreadful fiddles squeaking and shrieking, go right through my head. Have a piano, and I will promise to play for you from now till the Judgment Day.”

So a piano it is. The dancing has not yet begun, but we all stand about in an unsettled way, that shows that something is imminent. Détachments of people are being taken to be shown the wedding presents. The hot red roses have to-night left Lenore's cheeks; she is very white-deadly white, one would say ; only that it is a dishonour to the warm, milk whiteness of living loveliness, to liken it to the hue that is our foe's ensign. She is pale, but her eyes outblaze the star that quivers and lightens in Mrs. Scrope's grey head.

"I am so glad you are not a Mourning Bride,says Scrope's eldest sister, Mrs. Lascelles, a frisky young matron, pretty as hair like floss silk, Paris clothes falling off her soft fat shoulders, and English jewels, can make her, looking with a sort of inquisitive admiration at the restless pale beauty of her future sister-in-law's face. “Not that I can say anything ” (laughing lightly);“I cried for three whole days before my wedding. Mamma said that my eyes looked as if they had been sewn in with red worsted ; did not you mamma?"

Mrs. Scrope smiles the placid smile of prosperous stall-fed maturity.

"I did more than that,” continues the other, still laughing, “I cried for a fortnight afterwards! We went to Brittany(making a disgusted face), “and Regy was ill all the way from Sonthampton to St. Malo. I tried to look as if he did not belong to me. I am sure even the waiters at the hotels were sorry for me-I looked so dejected !

At the mention of Brittany Lenore winces, and then begins to talk quickly and laughingly:

Must one cry? I hope not. If it is indispensable I will try; but I am afraid I shall not succeed. I am not a good hand at crying. I never cry.”

They are to dance in the hall; the oak floor has been polished and doctored to the last pitch of slipperiness; the stags' head have mistletoe wreaths. Plenty of light, plenty of warmth, plenty of space, plenty of men: what more can any rabidest dance-lover desire? To the general surprise, Lenore sits down to the piano ; everybody remonstrates.

“ Usurping my place,” says Jemima, cheerfully, putting her hands on her sister's shoulders. “Off with you."

“ On the contrary,” returns Lenore, with a perverse smile, “I mean to adorn this stool till two o'clock to-morrow morning. Go away -dance-caper about, if it amuses you; as for me, I hate it. Va t'en!

“Come on!” cries Scrope, half in and half out of his grey gloves, and looking radiantly happy and handsome. “What do you mean by settling yourself there? Jemima is going to play; she always does ; she likes it. Don't you, Jemima ?”

Jemima smiles grimly. All very well to be conscious that your life mission is to pipe for other people to dance, but a little hard to be expected to express enjoyment of the role !"

“I am not going to. Come on !'” answers Lenore, pettishly. “I mean to stay here. Go away!"

" Go away !" cries the young fellow, leaning his arms on the piano, and looking desperately sentimental ; "a very likely story!"

“For Heaven's sake, put your head straight !" she says, crossly. “When you cock it on one side like that, you look like a bullfinch about to pipe. I hate dancing!—there!"

“Since when ?” he asks incredulously. “Not long ago you told me that you loved it better than anything else in life.”

“ Not so very long ago, when I was cutting my teeth, I loved sucking an indiarubber ring better than anything else in life. Do you insist on my sucking it still ?" she says drily, turning over a heap of music. “Don't be a nuisance. Go away !"

He goes. In five minutes, all, not incapacitated by age and fat, and some even that lie under these disabilities, are scampering round. As there are plenty of men, several of the chaperones condescend to tread a measure. Lenore plays on dreamily; it is an air that the band played at Dinan one night last summer; as the brisk, gay melody fills her ears, the room, the people, the wax lights vanish; she is in the Place Duguesclin again. How dark it is! The lights from the hotel shew small and red; the sabots clump past. How close to our faces the green lime flowers swing !

[blocks in formation]

She is roused by an eager voice at her ear.

“One turn-only one! I have danced with everything that has any pretensions to age, weight, or ugliness. Pay me for it!-only one turn !”

Scrope stands by her, panting a little. His broad chest heaves, and his wide blue eyes glitter with a passionate excitement. She shrugs her shoulders, but, as though it were too much trouble to argue the point, complies. Jemima takes her place and they set off. After flying silently round for a few minutes they stop. Scrope, even in stopping, unwilling to release her from his arms, gazes into her face with a passionate rapture, to see whether the delight he feels is at all shared.

I hate it !” she says irritably. “It tears my dress; it loosens my hair; it takes away my breath. Let us go to some cool place.”

They saunter away to the conservatory. The Chinese lanterns swing aloft, their flames spiring up in dangerous proximity to the pink and green walls of their frail prisons. The daphnes and narcissi and lilies of the valley are uniting their various odours in one divinest harmony of scent, like a concert of noblest voices. Lenore throws herself wearily into a garden chair and begins to fan herself.

“Let me fan you," says her lover tenderly, taking the fan out of her hand and leaning over her, “it will save you trouble. My darling, you look pale to-night.”

My darling, you look red to-night,retorts she, with a mockery more bitter than playful, glancing up at the flushed beauty of his face. “For Heaven's sake, don't let us register the variations in each other's complexions."

An arrow shoots through the young man's bounding heart. Is she going to change her mind ? Now that the prize is almost within his hand, must he lose it at this last moment?

“ Have I done anything to vex you ?” he asks anxiously, kneeling down on the stone pavement at her feet. “You know how idiotically fond I am of you ; for Heaven's sake, do not take advantage of it to play tricks with me! What is the matter with you to-night? You are out of spirits.”

"What do you mean ?" she cries angrily. “I never was in better spirits in my life; everybody remarks it-everybody says how lively I am. I talk all day, and I laugh more than I ever did in my life before. Would you have one always grinning like a Cheshire cat ?"

“ You talk and laugh, it is true,” he answers, with a grave air of

[ocr errors]

anxiety, “ but you are much thinner than you were. Look at this arm” (touching the round white limb, as it lies listlessly across her lap); "it is not half the size it was three weeks ago."

So much the better,” she answers with a laugh ; "my arms were much too big before. Sylvia was always abusing them; it is much more refined to have smaller arms.”

“ You will be all right when we get to Italy,” he says fondly; "you will like that, will not you? Oh! sweet!" (leaning over her, with a passion of irrepressible exultation); “can I believe that I am waking, when I think that long before this time to-morrow you will be my wife?-that at last-at last--we shall belong to one another, for "always ?"

She shivers a little. “To-day is to-day, and to-morrow is tomorrow,” she says, sententiously; "to-day, let us talk of to-day; we may both be dead by to-morrow."

Both !(smiling a little); " that is hardly likely.”

“One of us, then; only the other day I read in the Times of a bride who was found dead in her bed on her wedding morning. Oh, my God!" (ilinging out her arms, and then throwing her head down on her knees,)“ if I had but the very slightest chance of going to heaven, how I wish I could be found dead in my bed!”

“What are you talking about ?” cries Scrope, shocked and astonished at this unlooked-for outburst. “Lenore! look me in the face and say you did not mean it. I know

you
have a random

way

of talking, sometimes ---Jemima says so; but, do you know, when you say such things you break my heart ?"

“Do I?" she says, lifting her wild white face, unsoftened by any tears. “I am glad. Why should not I break it? I have broken my own-you know that well enough-why should not you suffer too? As for me, I suffer—I suffer always—all day and all night. I am glad to hear of any one else being miserable too. What have I done, that I should have a monopoly of it?" He stares at her, in a stony silence. “There,” she says, after a pause, with a sickly smile, pushing her hair off her forehead, “I am all right now! I was only-onlyjoking! Pay no attention to anything I said; I was only ranting. I think I have been overdoing myself a little the last few days. Suppose you go? I shall get well quicker if I am by myself.”

So he goes, slowly and heavily. She has taken all the lightness out of his feet and out of his heart; it feels like a pound of lead. He makes his way up to the piano. “Jemima,” he says, in a low voice, “ my sister will play for you; I want you to go to Lenore; she is not very well, I think-rather hysterical; she is in the conservatory, she would not let me stay with her.”

So Jemima goes.

« PreviousContinue »