Etext by James Rusk, email@example.com. Italics are indicated by the underscore character (_). Accent marks are indicated by a single quote (') after the vowel for acute accents and before the vowel for grave accents. Other accent marks are ignored.
by Charles Reade
"THE Golden Star," Homburg, was a humble hotel, not used by gay gamblers, but by modest travelers.
At two o'clock, one fine day in June, there were two strangers in the salle a' manger, seated at small tables a long way apart, and wholly absorbed in their own business.
One was a lady about twenty-four years old, who, in the present repose of her features, looked comely, sedate, and womanly, but not the remarkable person she really was. Her forehead high and white, but a little broader than sculptors affect; her long hair, coiled tight, in a great many smooth snakes, upon her snowy nape, was almost flaxen, yet her eyebrows and long lashes not pale but a reddish brown; her gray eyes large and profound; her mouth rather large, beautifully shaped, amiable, and expressive, but full of resolution; her chin a little broad; her neck and hands admirably white and polished. She was an Anglo-Dane—her father English.
If you ask me what she was doing, why—hunting; and had been, for some days, in all the inns of Homburg. She had the visitors' book, and was going through the names of the whole year, and studying each to see whether it looked real or assumed. Interspersed were flippant comments, and verses adapted to draw a smile of amusement or contempt; but this hunter passed them all over as nullities: the steady pose of her head, the glint of her deep eye, and the set of her fine lips showed a soul not to be diverted from its object.
The traveler at her back had a map of the district and blank telegrams, one of which he filled in every now and then, and scribbled a hasty letter to the same address. He was a sharp-faced middle-aged man of business; Joseph Ashmead, operatic and theatrical agent—at his wits' end; a female singer at the Homburg Opera had fallen really ill; he was commissioned to replace her, and had only thirty hours to do it in. So he was hunting a singer. What the lady was hunting can never be known, unless she should choose to reveal it.
Karl, the waiter, felt bound to rouse these abstracted guests, and stimulate their appetites. He affected, therefore, to look on them as people who had not yet breakfasted, and tripped up to Mr. Ashmead with a bill of fare, rather scanty.
The busiest Englishman can eat, and Ashmead had no objection to snatch a mouthful; he gave his order in German with an English accent. But the lady, when appealed to, said softly, in pure German, "I will wait for the table-d'hote."
"The table-d'hote! It wants four hours to that."
The lady looked Karl full in the face, and said, slowly, and very distinctly, "Then, I—will—wait—four—hours."
These simple words, articulated firmly, and in a contralto voice of singular volume and sweetness, sent Karl skipping; but their effect on Mr. Ashmead was more remarkable. He started up from his chair with an exclamation, and bent his eyes eagerly on the melodious speaker. He could only see her back hair and her figure; but, apparently, this quick-eared gentleman had also quick eyes, for he said aloud, in English, "Her hair, too—it must be;" and he came hurriedly toward her. She caught a word or two, and turned and saw him. "Ah!" said she, and rose; but the points of her fingers still rested on the book.
"It is!" cried Ashmead. "It is!"
"Yes, Mr. Ashmead," said the lady, coloring a little, but in pure English, and with a composure not easily disturbed; "it is Ina Klosking."
"What a pleasure," cried Ashmead; and what a surprise! Ah, madam, I never hoped to see you again. When I heard you had left the Munich Opera so sudden, I said, 'There goes one more bright star quenched forever.' And you to desert us—you, the risingest singer in Germany!"
"You can't deny it. You know you were."
The lady, thus made her own judge, seemed to reflect a moment, and said, "I was a well-grounded musician, thanks to my parents; I was a very hard-working singer; and I had the advantage of being supported, in my early career, by a gentleman of judgment and spirit, who was a manager at first, and brought me forward, afterward a popular agent, and talked managers into a good opinion of me."
"Ah, madam," said Ashmead, tenderly, "it is a great pleasure to hear this from you, and spoken with that mellow voice which would charm a rattlesnake; but what would my zeal and devotion have availed if you had not been a born singer?"
"Why—yes," said Ina, thoughtfully; "I was a singer." But she seemed to say this not as a thing to be proud of, but only because it happened to be true; and, indeed, it was a peculiarity of this woman that she appeared nearly always to think—if but for half a moment—before she spoke, and to say things, whether about herself or others, only because they were the truth. The reader who shall condescend to bear this in mind will possess some little clew to the color and effect of her words as spoken. Often, where they seem simple and commonplace—on paper, they were weighty by their extraordinary air of truthfulness as well as by the deep music of her mellow, bell-like voice.
"Oh, you do admit that," said Mr. Ashmead, with a chuckle; "then why jump off the ladder so near the top? Oh, of course I know—the old story—but you might give twenty-two hours to love, and still spare a couple to music."
"That seems a reasonable division," said Ina, naively. "But" (apologetically) "he was jealous."
"Jealous!—more shame for him. I'm sure no lady in public life was ever more discreet."
"No, no; he was only jealous of the public."
"And what had the poor public done?"
"Absorbed me, he said."
"Why, he could take you to the opera, and take you home from the opera, and, during the opera, he could make one of the public, and applaud you as loud as the best."
"Yes, but rehearsals!—and—embracing the tenor."
"Well, but only on the stage?"
"Oh, Mr. Ashmead, where else does one embrace the tenor?"
"And was that a grievance? Why, I'd embrace fifty tenors—if I was paid proportionable."
"Yes; but he said I embraced one poor stick, with a fervor—an abandon— Well, I dare say I did; for, if they had put a gate-post in the middle of the stage, and it was in my part to embrace the thing, I should have done it honestly, for love of my art, and not of a post. The next time I had to embrace the poor stick it was all I could do not to pinch him savagely."
"And turn him to a counter-tenor—make him squeak."
Ina Klosking smiled for the first time. Ashmead, too, chuckled at his own wit, but turned suddenly grave the next moment, and moralized. He pronounced it desirable, for the interests of mankind, that a great and rising singer should not love out of the business; outsiders were wrong-headed and absurd, and did not understand the true artist. However, having discoursed for some time in this strain, he began to fear it might be unpalatable to her; so he stopped abruptly, and said, "But there—what is done is done. We must make the best of it; and you mustn't think I meant to run him down. He loves you, in his way. He must be a noble fellow, or he never could have won such a heart as yours. He won't be jealous of an old fellow like me, though I love you, too, in my humdrum way, and always did. You must do me the honor to present me to him at once."
Ina stared at him, but said nothing.
"Oh," continued Ashmead, "I shall be busy till evening; but I will ask him and you to dine with me at the Kursaal, and then adjourn to the Royal Box. You are a queen of song, and that is where you and he shall sit, and nowhere else."
Ina Klosking was changing color all this time, and cast a grateful but troubled look on him. "My kind, old faithful friend!" said she, then shook her head. "No, we are not to dine with you; nor sit together at the opera, in Homburg."
Ashmead looked a little chagrined. "So be it," he said dryly. "But at least introduce me to him. I'll try and overcome his prejudices."
"It is not even in my power to do that."
"Oh, I see. I'm not good enough for him," said Ashmead, bitterly.
"You do yourself injustice, and him too," said Ina, courteously.
"My friend," said she, deprecatingly, "he is not here."
"Not here? That is odd. Well, then, you will be dull till he comes back. Come without him; at all events, to the opera."
She turned her tortured eyes away. "I have not the heart."
This made Ashmead look at her more attentively. "Why, what is the matter?" said he. "You are in trouble. I declare you are trembling, and your eyes are filling. My poor lady—in Heaven's name, what is the matter?"
"Hush!" said Ina; "not so loud." Then she looked him in the face a little while, blushed, hesitated, faltered, and at last laid one white hand upon her bosom, that was beginning to heave, and said, with patient dignity, "My old friend—I—am—deserted."
Ashmead looked at her with amazement and incredulity. "Deserted!" said he, faintly. "You—deserted!!!"
"Yes," said she, "deserted; but perhaps not forever." Her noble eyes filled to the brim, and two tears stood ready to run over.
"Why, the man must be an idiot!" shouted Ashmead.
"Hush! not so loud. That waiter is listening: let me come to your table."
She came and sat down at his table, and he sat opposite her. They looked at each other. He waited for her to speak. With all her fortitude, her voice faltered, under the eye of sympathy. "You are my old friend," she said. "I'll try and tell you all." But she could not all in a moment, and the two tears trickled over and ran down her cheeks; Ashmead saw them, and burst out, "The villain!—the villain!"
"No, no," said she, "do not call him that. I could not bear it. Believe me, he is no villain." Then she dried her eyes, and said, resolutely, "If I am to tell you, you must not apply harsh words to him. They would close my mouth at once, and close my heart."
"I won't say a word," said Ashmead, submissively; "so tell me all."
Ina reflected a moment, and then told her tale. Dealing now with longer sentences, she betrayed her foreign half.
"Being alone so long," said she, "has made me reflect more than in all my life before, and I now understand many things that, at the time, I could not. He to whom I have given my love, and resigned the art in which I was advancing—with your assistance—is, by nature, impetuous and inconstant. He was born so, and I the opposite. His love for me was too violent to last forever in any man, and it soon cooled in him, because he is inconstant by nature. He was jealous of the public: he must have all my heart, and all my time, and so he wore his own passion out. Then his great restlessness, having now no chain, became too strong for our happiness. He pined for change, as some wanderers pine for a fixed home. Is it not strange? I, a child of the theater, am at heart domestic. He, a gentleman and a scholar, born, bred, and fitted to adorn the best society, is by nature a Bohemian.
"One word: is there another woman?"
"No, not that I know of; Heaven forbid!" said Ina. "But there is something very dreadful: there is gambling. He has a passion for it, and I fear I wearied him by my remonstrances. He dragged me about from one gambling-place to another, and I saw that if I resisted he would go without me. He lost a fortune while we were together, and I do really believe he is ruined, poor dear."
Ashmead suppressed all signs of ill-temper, and asked, grimly, "Did he quarrel with you, then?"
"Oh, no; he never said an unkind word to me; and I was not always so forbearing, for I passed months of torment. I saw that affection, which was my all, gliding gradually away from me; and the tortured will cry out. I am not an ungoverned woman, but sometimes the agony was intolerable, and I complained. Well, that agony, I long for it back; for now I am desolate."
"Poor soul! How could a man have the heart to leave you? how could he have the face?"
"Oh, he did not do it shamelessly. He left me for a week, to visit friends in England. But he wrote to me from London. He had left me at Berlin. He said that he did not like to tell me before parting, but I must not expect to see him for six weeks; and he desired me to go to my mother in Denmark. He would send his next letter to me there. Ah! he knew I should need my mother when his second letter came. He had planned it all, that the blow might not kill me. He wrote to tell me he was a ruined man, and he was too proud to let me support him: he begged my pardon for his love, for his desertion, for ever having crossed my brilliant path like a dark cloud. He praised me, he thanked me, he blessed me; but he left me. It was a beautiful letter, but it was the death-warrant of my heart. I was abandoned."
Ashmead started up and walked very briskly, with a great appearance of business requiring vast dispatch, to the other end of the salle; and there, being out of Ina's hearing, he spoke his mind to a candlestick with three branches. "D—n him! Heartless, sentimental scoundrel! D—n him! D—n him!"
Having relieved his mind with this pious ejaculation, he returned to Ina at a reasonable pace and much relieved, and was now enabled to say, cheerfully, "Let us take a business view of it. He is gone—gone of his own accord. Give him your blessing—I have given him mine—and forget him."
"Forget him! Never while I live. Is that your advice? Oh, Mr. Ashmead! And the moment I saw your friendly face, I said to myself, 'I am no longer alone: here is one that will help me.'"
"And so I will, you may be sure of that," said Ashmead, eagerly. "What is the business?"
"The business is to find him. That is the first thing."
"But he is in England."
"Oh, no; that was eight months ago. He could not stay eight months in any country; besides, there are no gambling-houses there."
"And have you been eight months searching Europe for this madman?"
"No. At first pride and anger were strong, and I said, 'Here I stay till he comes back to me and to his senses.'"
"Yes; but month after month went by, carrying away my pride and my anger, and leaving my affection undiminished. At last I could bear it no longer; so, as he would not come to his senses—"
"You took leave of yours, and came out on a wild-goose chase," said Ashmead, but too regretfully to affront her.
"It was," said Ina; "I feel it. But it is not one now, because I have you to assist me with your experience and ability. You will find him for me, somehow or other. I know you will."
Let a woman have ever so little guile, she must have tact, if she is a true woman. Now, tact, if its etymology is to be trusted, implies a fine sense and power of touch; so, in virtue of her sex, she pats a horse before she rides him, and a man before she drives him. There, ladies, there is an indictment in two counts; traverse either of them if you can.
Joseph Ashmead, thus delicately but effectually manipulated, swelled with gratified vanity and said, "You are quite right; you can't do this sort of thing yourself; you want an agent."
"Of course I do."
"Well, you have got one. Now let me see—fifty to one he is not at Homburg at all. If he is, he most likely stays at Frankfort. He is a swell, is he not?"
"Swell!" said the Anglo-Dane, puzzled. "Not that I am aware of." She was strictly on her guard against vituperation of her beloved scamp.
"Pooh, pooh!" said Ashmead; "of course he is, and not the sort to lodge in Homburg."
"Then behold my incompetence!" said Ina.
"But the place to look for him is the gambling-saloon. Been there?"
"Then you must."
"What! Me! Alone?"
"No; with your agent."
"Oh, my friend; I said you would find him."
"What a woman! She will have it he is in Homburg. And suppose we do find him, and you should not be welcome?"
"I shall not be unwelcome. I shall be a change."
"Shall I tell you how to draw him to Homburg, wherever he is?" said Ashmead, very demurely.
"Yes, tell me that."
"And do me a good turn into the bargain."
"Is it possible? Can I be so fortunate?"
"Yes; and as you say, it is a slice of luck to be able to kill two birds with one stone. Why, consider—the way to recover a man is not to run after him, but to make him run to you. It is like catching moths; you don't run out into the garden after them; you light the candle and open the window, and they do the rest—as he will."
"Yes, yes; but what am I to do for you?" asked Ina, getting a little uneasy and suspicious.
"What! didn't I tell you?" said Ashmead, with cool effrontery. "Why, only to sing for me in this little opera, that is all." And he put his hands in his pockets, and awaited thunder-claps.
"Oh, that is all, is it?" said Ina, panting a little, and turning two great, reproachful eyes on him.
"That is all," said he, stoutly. "Why, what attracted him at first? Wasn't it your singing, the admiration of the public, the bouquets and bravas? What caught the moth once will catch it again 'moping' won't. And surely you will not refuse to draw him, merely because you can pull me out of a fix into the bargain. Look here, I have undertaken to find a singer by to-morrow night; and what chance is there of my getting even a third-rate one? Why, the very hour I have spent so agreeably, talking to you, has diminished my chance."
"Oh!" said Ina, "this is driving me into your net."
"I own it," said Joseph, cheerfully; "I'm quite unscrupulous, because I know you will thank me afterward."
"The very idea of going back to the stage makes me tremble," said Ina.
"Of course it does; and those who tremble succeed. In a long experience I never knew an instance to the contrary. It is the conceited fools, who feel safe, that are in danger."
"What is the part?"
"One you know—Siebel in 'Faust,' with two new songs."
"Excuse me, I do not know it."
"Why, everybody knows it."
"You mean everybody has heard it sung. I know neither the music nor the words, and I cannot sing incorrectly even for you."
"Oh, you can master the airs in a day, and the cackle in half an hour."
"I am not so expeditious. If you are serious, get me the book—oh! he calls the poet's words the cackle—and the music of the part directly, and borrow me the score."
"Borrow you the score! Ah! that shows the school you were bred in. I gaze at you with admiration."
"Then please don't, for we have not a moment to waste. You have terrified me out of my senses. Fly!"
"Yes; but before I fly, there is something to be settled—salary!"
"As much as they will give."
"Of course; but give me a hint."
"No, no; you will get me some money, for I am poor. I gave all my savings to my dear mother, and settled her on a farm in dear old Denmark. But I really sing for you more than for Homburg, so make no difficulties. Above all, do not discuss salary with me. Settle it and draw it for me, and let me hear no more about that. I am on thorns."
He soon found the director, and told him, excitedly, there was a way out of his present difficulty. Ina Klosking was in the town. He had implored her to return to the opera. She had refused at first; but he had used all his influence with her, and at last had obtained a half promise on conditions—a two months' engagement; certain parts, which he specified out of his own head; salary, a hundred thalers per night, and a half clear benefit on her last appearance.
The director demurred to the salary.
Ashmead said he was mad: she was the German Alboni; her low notes like a trumpet, and the compass of a mezzo-soprano besides.
The director yielded, and drew up the engagement in duplicate. Ashmead then borrowed the music and came back to the inn triumphant. He waved the agreement over his head, then submitted it to her. She glanced at it, made a wry face, and said, "Two months! I never dreamed of such a thing."
"Not worth your while to do it for less," said Ashmead. "Come," said he, authoritatively, "you have got a good bargain every way; so sign."
She lifted her head high, and looked at him like a lioness, at being ordered.
Ashmead replied by putting the paper before her and giving her the pen.
She cast one more reproachful glance, then signed like a lamb.
"Now," said she, turning fretful, "I want a piano."
"You shall have one," said he coaxingly. He went to the landlord and inquired if there was a piano in the house.
"Yes, there is one," said he.
"And it is mine," said a sharp female voice.
"May I beg the use of it?"
"No," said the lady, a tall, bony spinster. "I cannot have it strummed on and put out of tune by everybody."
"But this is not everybody. The lady I want it for is a professional musician. Top of the tree."
"The hardest strummers going."
"But, mademoiselle, this lady is going to sing at the opera. She must study. She must have a piano.
"But [grimly] she need not have mine.
"Then she must leave the hotel."
"Oh [haughtily], that is as she pleases."
Ashmead went to Ina Klosking in a rage and told her all this, and said he would take her to another hotel kept by a Frenchman: these Germans were bears. But Ina Klosking just shrugged her shoulders, and said, "Take me to her."
He did so; and she said, in German, "Madam, I can quite understand your reluctance to have your piano strummed. But as your hotel is quiet and respectable, and I am unwilling to leave it, will you permit me to play to you? and then you shall decide whether I am worthy to stay or not."
The spinster drank those mellow accents, colored a little, looked keenly at the speaker, and, after a moment's reflection, said, half sullenly, "No, madam, you are polite. I must risk my poor piano. Be pleased to come with me."
She then conducted them to a large, unoccupied room on the first-floor, and unlocked the piano, a very fine one, and in perfect tune.
Ina sat down, and performed a composition then in vogue.
"You play correctly, madam," said the spinster; "but your music—what stuff! Such things are null. They vex the ear a little, but they never reach the mind."
Ashmead was wroth, and could hardly contain himself; but the Klosking was amused, and rather pleased. "Mademoiselle has positive tastes in music," said she; "all the better."
"Yes," said the spinster, "most music is mere noise. I hate and despise forty-nine compositions out of fifty; but the fiftieth I adore. Give me something simple, with a little soul in it—if you can."
Ina Klosking looked at her, and observed her age and her dress, the latter old-fashioned. She said, quietly, "Will mademoiselle do me the honor to stand before me? I will sing her a trifle my mother taught me."
The spinster complied, and stood erect and stiff, with her arms folded. Ina fixed her deep eyes on her, playing a liquid prelude all the time, then swelled her chest and sung the old Venetian cauzonet, "Il pescatore de'll' onda." It is a small thing, but there is no limit to the genius of song. The Klosking sung this trifle with a voice so grand, sonorous, and sweet, and, above all, with such feeling, taste, and purity, that somehow she transported her hearers to Venetian waters, moonlit, and thrilled them to the heart, while the great glass chandelier kept ringing very audibly, so true, massive, and vibrating were her tones in that large, empty room.
At the first verse that cross-grained spinster, with real likes and dislikes, put a bony hand quietly before her eyes. At the last, she made three strides, as a soldier marches, and fell all of a piece, like a wooden mannequin, on the singer's neck. "Take my piano," she sobbed, "for you have taken the heart out of my body."
Ina returned her embrace, and did not conceal her pleasure. "I am very proud of such a conquest," said she.
From that hour Ina was the landlady's pet. The room and piano were made over to her, and, being in a great fright at what she had undertaken, she studied and practiced her part night and day. She made Ashmead call a rehearsal next day, and she came home from it wretched and almost hysterical.
She summoned her slave Ashmead; he stood before her with an air of hypocritical submission.
"The Flute was not at rehearsal, sir," said she, severely, "nor the Oboe, nor the Violoncello."
"Just like 'em," said Ashmead, tranquilly.
"The tenor is a quavering stick. He is one of those who think that an unmanly trembling of the voice represents every manly passion."
"Their name is legion."
"The soprano is insipid. And they are all imperfect—contentedly imperfect, How can people sing incorrectly? It is like lying."
"That is what makes it so common—he! he!"
"I do not desire wit, but consolation. I believe you are Mephistopheles himself in disguise; for ever since I signed that diabolical compact you made me, I have been in a state of terror, agitation, misgiving, and misery—and I thank and bless you for it; for these thorns and nettles they lacerate me, and make me live. They break the dull, lethargic agony of utter desolation."
Then, as her nerves were female nerves, and her fortitude female fortitude, she gave way, for once, and began to cry patiently.
Ashmead the practical went softly away and left her, as we must leave her for a time, to battle her business with one hand and her sorrow with the other.
IN the Hotel Russie, at Frankfort, there was a grand apartment, lofty, spacious, and richly furnished, with a broad balcony overlooking the Platz, and roofed, so to speak, with colored sun-blinds, which softened the glare of the Rhineland sun to a rosy and mellow light.
In the veranda, a tall English gentleman was leaning over the balcony, smoking a cigar, and being courted by a fair young lady. Her light-gray eyes dwelt on him in a way to magnetize a man, and she purred pretty nothings at his ear, in a soft tone she reserved for males. Her voice was clear, loud, and rather high-pitched whenever she spoke to a person of her own sex; a comely English blonde, with pale eyelashes; a keen, sensible girl, and not a downright wicked one; only born artful. This was Fanny Dover; and the tall gentleman—whose relation she was, and whose wife she resolved to be in one year, three years, or ten, according to his power of resistance—was Harrington Vizard, a Barfordshire squire, with twelve thousand acres and a library.
As for Fanny, she had only two thousand pounds in all the world; so compensating Nature endowed her with a fair complexion, gray, mesmeric eyes, art, and resolution—qualities that often enable a poor girl to conquer landed estates, with their male incumbrances.
Beautiful and delicate—on the surface—as was Miss Dover's courtship of her first cousin once removed, it did not strike fire; it neither pleased nor annoyed him; it fell as dead as a lantern firing on an iceberg. Not that he disliked her by any means. But he was thirty-two, had seen the world, and had been unlucky with women. So he was now a divorce', and a declared woman-hater; railed on them, and kept them at arm's-length, Fanny Dover included. It was really comical to see with what perfect coolness and cynical apathy he parried the stealthy advances of this cat-like girl, a mistress in the art of pleasing—when she chose.
Inside the room, on a couch of crimson velvet, sat a young lady of rare and dazzling beauty. Her face was a long but perfect oval, pure forehead, straight nose, with exquisite nostrils; coral lips, and ivory teeth. But what first struck the beholder were her glorious dark eyes, and magnificent eyebrows as black as jet. Her hair was really like a raven's dark-purple wing.
These beauties, in a stern character, might have inspired awe; the more so as her form and limbs were grand and statuesque for her age; but all was softened down to sweet womanhood by long, silken lashes, often lowered, and a gracious face that blushed at a word, blushed little, blushed much, blushed pinky, blushed pink, blushed roseate, blushed rosy; and, I am sorry to say, blushed crimson, and even scarlet, in the course of those events I am about to record, as unblushing as turnip, and cool as cucumber. This scale of blushes arose not out of modesty alone, but out of the wide range of her sensibility. On hearing of a noble deed, she blushed warm approbation; at a worthy sentiment, she blushed heart-felt sympathy. If you said a thing at the fire that might hurt some person at the furthest window, she would blush for fear it should be overheard, and cause pain.
In short, it was her peculiarity to blush readily for matters quite outside herself, and to show the male observer (if any) the amazing sensibility, apart from egotism, that sometimes adorns a young, high-minded woman, not yet hardened by the world.
This young lady was Zoe Vizard, daughter of Harrington's father by a Greek mother, who died when she was twelve years of age. Her mixed origin showed itself curiously. In her figure and face she was all Greek, even to her hand, which was molded divinely, but as long and large as befitted her long, grand, antique arm; but her mind was Northern—not a grain of Greek subtlety in it. Indeed, she would have made a poor hand at dark deceit, with a transparent face and eloquent blood, that kept coursing from her heart to her cheeks and back again, and painting her thoughts upon her countenance.
Having installed herself, with feminine instinct, in a crimson couch that framed her to perfection, Zoe Vizard was at work embroidering. She had some flowers, and their leaves, lying near her on a little table, and, with colored silks, chenille, etc., she imitated each flower and its leaf very adroitly without a pattern. This was clever, and, indeed, rather a rare talent; but she lowered her head over this work with a demure, beaming complacency embroidery alone never yet excited without external assistance. Accordingly, on a large stool, or little ottoman, at her feet, but at a respectful distance, sat a young man, almost her match in beauty, though in quite another style. In height about five feet ten, broad-shouldered, clean-built, a model of strength, agility, and grace. His face fair, fresh, and healthy-looking; his large eyes hazel; the crisp curling hair on his shapely head a wonderful brown in the mass, but with one thin streak of gold above the forehead, and all the loose hairs glittering golden. A short clipped mustache saved him from looking too feminine, yet did not hide his expressive mouth. He had white hands, as soft and supple as a woman's, a mellow voice, and a winning tongue. This dangerous young gentleman was gazing softly on Zoe Vizard and purring in her ear; and she was conscious of his gaze without looking at him, and was sipping the honey, and showed it, by seeming more absorbed in her work than girls ever really are.
Matters, however, had not gone openly very far. She was still on her defense: so, after imbibing his flatteries demurely a long time, she discovered, all in one moment, that they were objectionable. "Dear me, Mr. Severne," said she, "you do nothing but pay compliments."
"How can I help it, sitting here?" inquired he.
"There—there," said she: then, quietly, "Does it never occur to you that only foolish people are pleased with flatteries?"
"I have heard that; but I don't believe it. I know it makes me awfully happy whenever you say a kind word of me."
"That is far from proving your wisdom," said Zoe; "and, instead of dwelling on my perfections, which do not exist, I wish you would tell me things."
"How can I tell till I hear them? Well, then, things about yourself."
"That is a poor subject."
"Let me be the judge."
"Oh, there are lots of fellows who are always talking about themselves: let me be an exception."
This answer puzzled Zoe, and she was silent, and put on a cold look. She was not accustomed to be refused anything reasonable.
Severne examined her closely, and saw he was expected to obey her. He then resolved to prepare, in a day or two, an autobiography full of details that should satisfy Zoe's curiosity, and win her admiration and her love. But he could not do it all in a moment, because his memory of his real life obstructed his fancy. Meantime he operated a diversion. He said, "Set a poor fellow an example. Tell me something about yourself—since I have the bad taste, and the presumption, to be interested in you, and can't help it. Did you spring from the foam of the Archipelago? or are you descended from Bacchus and Ariadne?"
"If you want sensible answers, ask sensible questions," said Zoe, trying to frown him down with her black brows; but her sweet cheek would tint itself, and her sweet mouth smile and expose much intercoral ivory.
"Well, then," said he, "I will ask you a prosaic question, and I only hope you won't think it impertinent. How—ever— did such a strangely assorted party as yours come to travel together? And if Vizard has turned woman-hater, as he pretends, how comes he to be at the head of a female party who are not all of them—" he hesitated.
"Go on, Mr. Severne; not all of them what?" said Zoe, prepared to stand up for her sex.
"That is a very cautious statement, and—there—you are as slippery as an eel; there is no getting hold of you. Well, never mind, I will set you an example of communicativeness, and reveal this mystery hidden as yet from mankind."
"Speak, dread queen; thy servant heareth."
"Ha! ha! ha! Mr. Severne, you amuse me."
"You only interest me," was the soft reply.
Zoe blushed pink, but turned it off. "Then why do you not attend to my interesting narrative, instead of— Well, then, it began with my asking the dear fellow to take me a tour, especially to Rome."
"You wanted to see the statues of your ancestors, and shame them."
"Much obliged; I was not quite such a goose. I wanted to see the Tiber, and the Colosseum, and Trajan's Pillar, and the Tarpeian Rock, and the one everlasting city that binds ancient and modern history together."
She flashed her great eyes on him, and he was dumb. She had risen above the region of his ideas. Having silenced her commentator, she returned to her story, "Well, dear Harrington said 'yes' directly. So then I told Fanny, and she said, 'Oh, do take me with you?' Now, of course I was only too glad to have Fanny; she is my relation, and my friend."
"Be quiet, please. So I asked Harrington to let me have Fanny with us, and you should have seen his face. What, he travel with a couple of us! He— I don't see why I should tell you what the monster said."
"Oh, yes, please do."
"You won't go telling anybody else, then?"
"Not a living soul, upon my honor."
"Well, then," he said—she began to blush like a rose—"that he looked on me as a mere female in embryo; I had not yet developed the vices of my sex. But Fanny Dover was a ripe flirt, and she would set me flirting, and how could he manage the pair? In short, sir, he refused to take us, and gave his reasons, such as they were, poor dear! Then I had to tell Fanny. Then she began to cry, and told me to go without her. But I would not do that, when I had once asked her. Then she clung round my neck, and kissed me, and begged me to be cross and sullen, and tire out dear Harrington."
"That is like her."
"How do you know?" said Zoe sharply.
"Oh, I have studied her character."
"When, pray?" said Zoe, ironically, yet blushing a little, because her secret meaning was, "You are always at my apron strings, and have no time to fathom Fanny."
"When I have nothing better to do—when you are out of the room."
"Well, I shall be out of the room very soon, if you say another word."
"And serve me right, too. I am a fool to talk when you allow me to listen."
"He is incorrigible!" said Zoe, pathetically. "Well, then, I refused to pout at Harrington. It is not as if he had no reason to distrust women, poor dear darling. I invited Fanny to stay a month with us; and, when once she was in the house, she soon got over me, and persuaded me to play sad, and showed me how to do it. So we wore long faces, and sweet resignation, and were never cross, but kept turning tearful eyes upon our victim."
"Ha! ha! How absurd of Vizard to tell you that two women would be too much for one man."
"No, it was the truth; and girls are artful creatures, especially when they put their heads together. But hear the end of all our cunning. One day, after dinner, Harrington asked us to sit opposite him; so we did, and felt guilty. He surveyed us in silence a little while, and then he said, 'My young friends, you have played your little game pretty well, especially you, Zoe, that are a novice in the fine arts compared with Miss Dover.' Histrionic talent ought to be rewarded; he would relent, and take us abroad, on one condition: there must be a chaperone. 'All the better,' said we hypocrites, eagerly; 'and who?'"
"'Oh, a person equal to the occasion—an old maid as bitter against men as ever grapes were sour. She would follow us upstairs, downstairs, and into my lady's chamber. She would have an eye at the key-hole by day, and an ear by night, when we went up to bed and talked over the events of our frivolous day.' In short, he enumerated our duenna's perfections till our blood ran cold; and it was ever so long before he would tell us who it was— Aunt Maitland. We screamed with surprise. They are like cat and dog, and never agree, except to differ. We sought an explanation of this strange choice. He obliged us. It was not for his gratification he took the old cat; it was for us. She would relieve him of a vast responsibility. The vices of her character would prove too strong for the little faults of ours, which were only volatility, frivolity, flirtation— I will not tell you what he said."
"I seem to hear Harrington talking," said Severne. "What on earth makes him so hard upon women? Would you mind telling me that?"
"Never ask me that question again," said Zoe, with sudden gravity.
"Well, I won't; I'll get it out of him."
"If you say a word to him about it, I shall be shocked and offended."
She was pale and red by turns; but Severne bowed his head with a respectful submission that disarmed her directly. She turned her head away, and Severne, watching her, saw her eyes fill.
"How is it," said she thoughtfully, and looking away from him, "that men leave out their sisters when they sum up womankind? Are not we women too? My poor brother quite forgets he has one woman who will never, never desert nor deceive him; dear, darling fellow!" and with these three last words she rose and kissed the tips of her fingers, and waved the kiss to Vizard with that free magnitude of gesture which belonged to antiquity: it struck the Anglo-Saxon flirt at her feet with amazement. Not having good enough under his skin to sympathize with that pious impulse, he first stagnated a little while; and then, not to be silent altogether, made his little, stale, commonplace comment on what she had told him. "Why, it is like a novel."
"A very unromantic one," replied Zoe.
"I don't know that. I have read very interesting novels with fewer new characters than this: there's a dark beauty, and a fair, and a duenna with an eagle eye and an aquiline nose."
"Hush!" said Zoe: "that is her room;" and pointed to a chamber door that opened into the apartment.
Oh, marvelous female instinct! The duenna in charge was at that moment behind that very door, and her eye and her ear at the key-hole, turn about.
Severne continued his remarks, but in a lower voice.
"Then there's a woman-hater and a man-hater: good for dialogue."
Now this banter did not please Zoe; so she fixed her eyes upon Severne, and said, "You forget the principal figure—a mysterious young gentleman who looks nineteen, and is twenty-nine, and was lost sight of in England nine years ago. He has been traveling ever since, and where-ever he went he flirted; we gather so much from his accomplishment in the art; fluent, not to say voluble at times, but no egotist, for he never tells you anything about himself, nor even about his family, still less about the numerous affaires de coeur in which he has been engaged. Perhaps he is reserving it all for the third volume."
The attack was strong and sudden, but it failed. Severne, within the limits of his experience, was a consummate artist, and this situation was not new to him. He cast one gently reproachful glance on her, then lowered his eyes to the carpet, and kept them there. "Do you think," said he, in a low, dejected voice, "it can be any pleasure to a man to relate the follies of an idle, aimless life? and to you, who have given me higher aspirations, and made me awfully sorry, I cannot live my whole life over again. I can't bear to think of the years I have wasted," said he; "and how can I talk to you, whom I reverence, of the past follies I despise? No, pray don't ask me to risk your esteem. It is so dear to me."
Then this artist put in practice a little maneuver he had learned of compressing his muscles and forcing a little unwilling water into his eyes. So, at the end of his pretty little speech, he raised two gentle, imploring eyes, with half a tear in each of them. To be sure, Nature assisted his art for once; he did bitterly regret, but out of pure egotism, the years he had wasted, and wished with all his heart he had never known any woman but Zoe Vizard.
The combination of art and sincerity was too much for the guileless and inexperienced Zoe. She was grieved at the pain she had given, and rose to retire, for she felt they were both on dangerous ground; but, as she turned away, she made a little, deprecating gesture, and said, softly, "Forgive me."
That soft tone gave Severne courage, and that gesture gave him an opportunity. He seized her hand, murmured, "Angel of goodness!" and bestowed a long, loving kiss on her hand that made it quiver under his lips.
"Oh!" cried Miss Maitland, bursting into the room at the nick of time, yet feigning amazement.
Fanny heard the ejaculations, and whipped away from Harrington into the window. Zoe, with no motive but her own coyness, had already snatched her hand away from Severne.
But both young ladies were one moment too late. The eagle eye of a terrible old maid had embraced the entire situation, and they saw it had.
Harrington Vizard, Esq., smoked on, with his back to the group. But the rest were a picture—the mutinous face and keen eyes of Fanny Dover, bristling with defense, at the window; Zoe blushing crimson, and newly started away from her too-enterprising wooer; and the tall, thin, grim old maid, standing stiff, as sentinel, at the bedroom door, and gimleting both her charges alternately with steel-gray orbs; she seemed like an owl, all eyes and beak.
When the chaperon had fixed the situation thoroughly, she stalked erect into the room, and said, very expressively, "I am afraid I disturb you."
Zoe, from crimson, blushed scarlet, and hung her head; but Fanny was ready.
"La! aunt," said she, ironically, and with pertness infinite, "you know you are always welcome. Where ever have you been all this time? We were afraid we had lost you."
Aunt fired her pistol in reply: "I was not far off—most fortunately."
Zoe, finding that, even under crushing circumstances, Fanny had fight in her, glided instantly to her side, and Aunt Maitland opened battle all round.
"May I ask, sir," said she to Severne, with a horrible smile, "what you were doing when I came in?"
Zoe clutched Fanny, and both awaited Mr. Severne's reply for one moment with keen anxiety.
"My dear Miss Maitland," said that able young man, very respectfully, yet with a sort of cheerful readiness, as if he were delighted at her deigning to question him, "to tell you the truth, I was admiring Miss Vizard's diamond ring."
Fanny tittered; Zoe blushed again at such a fib and such aplomb.
"Oh, indeed," said Miss Maitland; "you were admiring it very close, sir."
"It is like herself—it will bear inspection."
This was wormwood to Miss Maitland. "Even in our ashes live their wonted fires;" and, though she was sixty, she disliked to hear a young woman praised. She bridled, then returned to the attack.
"Next time you wish to inspect it, you had better ask her to take it off, and show you."
"May I, Miss Maitland?" inquired the ingenuous youth. "She would not think that a liberty?"
His mild effrontery staggered her for a moment, and she glared at him, speechless, but soon recovered, and said, bitterly, "Evidently not." With this she turned her back on him rather ungraciously, and opened fire on her own sex.
"Yes, aunt " (faintly).
"Tell your brother—if he can leave off smoking—I wish to speak to him."
Zoe hung her head, and was in no hurry to bring about the proposed conference.
While she deliberated, says Fanny, with vast alacrity, "I'll tell him, aunt."
"Oh, Fanny!" murmured Zoe, in a reproachful whisper.
"All right!" whispered Fanny in reply, and whipped out on to the balcony. "Here's Aunt Maitland wants to know if you ever leave off smoking;" and she threw a most aggressive manner into the query.
The big man replied, composedly, "Tell her I do—at meals and prayers; but I always sleep with a pipe in my mouth—heavily insured!"
"Well, then, you mustn't; for she has something very particular to say to you when you've done smoking."
"Something particular! That means something disagreeable. Tell her I shall be smoking all day to-day."
Fanny danced into the room and said, "He says he shall be smoking all day, under the circumstances."
Miss Maitland gave this faithful messenger the look of a basilisk, and flounced to her own room. The young ladies instantly stepped out on the balcony, and got one on each side of Harrington, with the feminine instinct of propitiation; for they felt sure the enemy would tell, soon or late.
"What does the old cat want to talk to me about?" said Harrington, lazily, to Fanny.
It was Zoe who replied:
"Can't you guess, dear?" said she, tenderly—"our misconduct." Then she put her head on his shoulder, as much as to say, "But we have a more lenient judge here."
"As if I could not see that without her assistance!" said Harrington Vizard. (Puff!) At which comfortable reply Zoe looked very rueful, and Fanny burst out laughing.
Soon after this Fanny gave Zoe a look, and they retired to their rooms; and Zoe said she would never come out again, and Fanny must stay with her. Fanny felt sure ennui would thaw that resolve in a few hours; so she submitted, but declared it was absurd, and the very way to give a perfect trifle importance.
"Kiss your hand!" said she, disdainfully—"that is nothing. If I was the man, I'd have kissed both your cheeks long before this."
"And I should have boxed your ears and made you cry," said Zoe, with calm superiority.
So she had her way, and the deserted Severne felt dull, but was too good a general to show it. He bestowed his welcome company on Mr. Vizard, walked with him, talked with him, and made himself so agreeable, that Vizard, who admired him greatly, said to him, "What a good fellow you are, to bestow your sunshine on me. I began to be afraid those girls had got you, and tied you to their apron-strings altogether."
"Oh, no!" said Severne: "they are charming; but, after all, one can't do without a male friend: there are so few things that interest ladies. Unless you can talk red-hot religion, you are bound to flirt with them a little. To be sure, they look shy, if you do, but if you don't—"
"They are bored; whereas they only looked shy. I know 'em. Call another subject, please."
"Well, I will; but perhaps it may not be so agreeable a one."
"That is very unlikely," said the woman-hater, dryly.
"Well, it is Tin. I'm rather short. You see, when I fell in with you at Monaco, I had no idea of coming this way; but, meeting with an old college friend—what a tie college is, isn't it? There is nothing like it; when you have been at college with a man, you seem never to wear him out, as you do the acquaintances you make afterward."
"That is very true," said Vizard warmly.
"Isn't it? Now, for instance, if I had only known you of late years, I should feel awfully shy of borrowing a few hundreds of you—for a month or two."
"I don't know why you should, old fellow."
"I should, though. But having been at college together makes all the difference. I don't mind telling you that I have never been at Homburg without taking a turn at the table, and I am grizzling awfully now at not having sent to my man of business for funds."
"How much do you want? That is the only question."
"Glad to hear it," thought Severne. "Well, let me see, you can't back your luck with less than five hundred."
"Well, but we have been out two months; I am afraid I haven't so much left. Just let me see." He took out his pocket-book, and examined his letter of credit. "Do you want it to-day?"
"Why, yes; I do."
"Well, then, I am afraid you can only have three hundred. But I will telegraph Herries, and funds will be here to-morrow afternoon."
"All right," said Severne.
Vizard took him to the bank, and exhausted his letter of credit: then to the telegraph-office, and telegraphed Herries to enlarge his credit at once. He handed Severne the three hundred pounds. The young man's eye flashed, and it cost him an effort not to snatch them and wave them over his head with joy: but he controlled himself, and took them like two-pence-halfpenny. "Thank you, old fellow," said he. Then, still more carelessly, "Like my I O U?"
"As you please," said Vizard, with similar indifference; only real.
After he had got the money, Severne's conversational powers relaxed—short answers—long reveries.
Vizard observed, stopped short, and eyed him. "I remember something at Oxford, and I am afraid you are a gambler; if you are, you won't be good for much till you have lost that three hundred. It will be a dull evening for me without you: I know what I'll do—I'll take my hen-party to the opera at Homburg. There are stalls to be got here. I'll get one for you, on the chance of your dropping in."
The stalls were purchased, and the friends returned at once to the hotel, to give the ladies timely intimation. They found Fanny and Zoe seated, rather disconsolate, in the apartment Zoe had formally renounced: at sight of the stall tickets, the pair uttered joyful cries, looked at each other, and vanished.
"You won't see them any more till dinner-time," said Vizard. "They will be discussing dress, selecting dress, trying dresses, and changing dresses, for the next three hours." He turned round while speaking, and there was Severne slipping away to his own bedroom.
Thus deserted on all sides, he stepped into the balcony and lighted a cigar. While he was smoking it, he observed an English gentleman, with a stalwart figure and a beautiful brown beard, standing on the steps of the hotel. "Halloo!" said he, and hailed him. "Hi, Uxmoor! is that you?"
Lord Uxmoor looked up, and knew him. He entered the hotel, and the next minute the waiter ushered him into Vizard's sitting-room.
Lord Uxmoor, like Mr. Vizard, was a landed proprietor in Barfordshire. The county is large, and they lived too many miles apart to visit; but they met, and agreed, at elections and county business, and had a respect for each other.
Meeting at Frankfort, these two found plenty to say to each other about home; and as Lord Uxmoor was alone, Vizard asked him to dine. "You will balance us," said he: "we are terribly overpetticoated, and one of them is an old maid. We generally dine at the table-d'hote, but I have ordered dinner here to-day: we are going to the opera at Homburg. You are not obliged to do that, you know. You are in for a bad dinner, that is all."
"To tell the truth," said Lord Uxmoor, "I don't care for music."
"Then you deserve a statue for not pretending to love it. I adore it, for my part, and I wish I was going alone, for my hens will be sure to cackle mal 'a propos, and spoil some famous melody with talking about it, and who sung it in London, instead of listening to it, and thanking God for it in deep silence."
Lord Uxmoor stared a little at this sudden sally, for he was unacquainted with Vizard's one eccentricity, having met him only on county business, at which he was extra rational, and passed for a great scholar. He really did suck good books as well as cigars.
After a few more words, they parted till dinner-time.
Lord Uxmoor came to his appointment, and found his host and Miss Maitland, whom he knew; and he was in languid conversation with them, when a side-door opened, and in walked Fanny Dover, fair and bright, in Cambridge blue, her hair well dressed by Zoe's maid in the style of the day. Lord Uxmoor rose, and received his fair country-woman with respectful zeal; he had met her once before. She, too, sparkled with pleasure at meeting a Barfordshire squire with a long pedigree, purse, and beard—three things she admired greatly.
In the midst of this, in glided Zoe, and seemed to extinguish everybody, and even to pale the lights, with her dark yet sunlike beauty. She was dressed in a creamy-white satin that glinted like mother-of-pearl, its sheen and glory unfrittered with a single idiotic trimming; on her breast a large diamond cross. Her head was an Athenian sculpture—no chignon, but the tight coils of antiquity; at their side, one diamond star sparkled vivid flame, by its contrast with those polished ebon snakes.
Lord Uxmoor was dazzled, transfixed, at the vision, and bowed very low when Vizard introduced him in an off-hand way, saying, "My sister, Miss Vizard; but I dare say you have met her at the county balls."
"I have never been so fortunate," said Uxmoor, humbly.
"I have," said Zoe; "that is, I saw you waltzing with Lady Betty Gore at the race ball two years ago."
"What!" said Vizard, alarmed. "Uxmoor, were you waltzing with Lady Betty Gore?"
"You have it on too high an authority for me to contradict."
Finding Zoe was to be trusted as a county chronicle, Vizard turned sharply to her, and said, "And was he flirting with her?"
Zoe colored a little, and said, "Now, Harrington, how can I tell?"
"You little hypocrite," said Vizard, "who can tell better?
At this retort Zoe blushed high, and the water came into her eyes.
Nobody minded that but Uxmoor, and Vizard went on to explain, "That Lady Betty Gore is as heartless a coquette as any in the county; and don't you flirt with her, or you will get entangled."
"You disapprove her," said Uxmoor, coolly; "then I give her up forever." He looked at Zoe while he said this, and felt how easy it would be to resign Lady Betty and a great many more for this peerless creature. He did not mean her to understand what was passing in his mind; he did not know how subtle and observant the most innocent girl is in such matters. Zoe blushed, and drew away from him. Just then Ned Severne came in, and Vizard introduced him to Uxmoor with great geniality and pride. The charming young man was in a black surtout, with a blue scarf, the very tint for his complexion.
The girls looked at one another, and in a moment Fanny was elected Zoe's agent. She signaled Severne, and when he came to her she said, for Zoe, "Don't you know we are going to the opera at Homburg?"
"Yes, I know," said he, "and I hope you will have a pleasanter evening than I shall."
"You are not coming with us?"
"No," said he, sorrowfully.
"You had better," said Fanny, with a deal of quiet point, more, indeed, than Zoe's pride approved.
"Not if Mr. Severne has something more attractive," said she, turning palish and pinkish by turns.
All this went on sotto voce, and Uxmoor, out of good-breeding, entered into conversation with Miss Maitland and Vizard. Severne availed himself of this diversion, and fixed his eyes on Zoe with an air of gentle reproach, then took a letter out of his pocket, and handed it to Fanny. She read it, and gave it to Zoe.
It was dated from "The Golden Star," Homburg.
"DEAR NED—I am worse to-day, and all alone. Now and then I almost fear I may not pull through. But perhaps that is through being so hipped. Do come and spend this evening with me like a good, kind fellow.
"Poor fellow," said Ned; "my heart bleeds for him."
Zoe was affected by this, and turned liquid and loving eyes on "dear Ned." But Fanny stood her ground. "Go to 'S. T.' to-morrow morning, but don't desert 'Z. V.' and 'F. D.' to-night." Zoe smiled.
"But I have telegraphed!" objected Ned.
"Then telegraph again—not," said Fanny firmly.
Now, this was unexpected. Severne had set his heart upon rouge et noir, but still he was afraid of offending Zoe; and, besides, he saw Uxmoor, with his noble beard and brown eyes, casting rapturous glances at her. "Let Miss Vizard decide," said he. "Don't let me be so unhappy as to offend her twice in one day."
Zoe's pride and goodness dictated her answer, in spite of her wishes. She said, in a low voice, "Go to your sick friend."
"There," said Severne.
"I hear," said Fanny. "She means 'go;' but you shall repent it."
"I mean what I say," said Zoe, with real dignity. "It is my habit." And the next moment she quietly left the room.
She sat down in her bedroom, mortified and alarmed. What! Had it come to this, that she felt her heart turn cold just because that young man said he could not accompany her—on a single evening! Then first she discovered that it was for him she had dressed, and had, for once, beautified her beauty—for him; that with Fanny she had dwelt upon the delights of the music, but had secretly thought of appearing publicly on his arm, and dazzling people by their united and contrasted beauty.
She rose, all of a sudden, and looked keenly at herself in the glass, to see if she had not somehow overrated her attractions. But the glass was reassuring. It told her not one man in a million could go to a sick friend that night, when he might pass the evening by her side, and visit his friend early in the morning. Best loved is best served. Tears of mortified vanity were in her eyes; but she smiled through them at the glass; then dried them carefully, and went back to the dining-room radiant, to all appearance.
Dinner was just served, and her brother, to do honor to the new-comer, waved his sister to a seat by Lord Uxmoor. He looked charmed at the arrangement, and showed a great desire to please her, but at first was unable to find good topics. After several timid overtures on his part, she assisted him, out of good-nature, She knew by report that he was a very benevolent young man, bent on improving the home, habits, wages, and comforts of the agricultural poor. She led him to this, and his eyes sparkled with pleasure, and his homely but manly face lighted, and was elevated by the sympathy she expressed in these worthy objects. He could not help thinking: "What a Lady Uxmoor this would make! She and I and her brother might leaven the county."
And all this time she would not even bestow a glance on Severne. She was not an angel. She had said, "Go to your sick friend;" but she had not said, "I will smart alone if you do."
Severne sat by Fanny, and seemed dejected, but, as usual, polite and charming. She was smilingly cruel; regaled him with Lord Uxmoor's wealth and virtues, and said he was an excellent match, and all she-Barfordshire pulling caps for him. Severne only sighed; he offered no resistance; and at last she could not go on nagging a handsome fellow, who only sighed, so she said, "Well, there; I advise you to join us before the opera is over, that is all."
"I will, I will!" said he, eagerly. "Oh, thank you."
Dinner was dispatched rather rapidly, because of the opera.
When the ladies got their cloaks and lace scarfs, to put over their heads coming home, the party proved to be only three, and the tickets five; for Miss Maitland pleaded headache.
On this, Lord Uxmoor said, rather timidly, he should like to go.
"Why, you said you hated music," said Vizard.
Lord Uxmoor colored. "I recant," said he, bluntly; and everybody saw what had operated his conversion. That is a pun.
It is half an hour, by rail, from Frankfort to Homburg, and the party could not be seated together. Vizard bestowed Zoe and Lord Uxmoor in one carriage, Fanny and Severne in another, and himself and a cigar in the third. Severne sat gazing piteously on Fanny Dover, but never said a word. She sat and eyed him satirically for a good while, and then she said, cheerfully, "Well, Mr. Severne, how do you like the turn things are taking?"
"Miss Dover, I am very unhappy."
"Serves you right."
"Oh, pray don't say that. It is on you I depend."
"On me, sir! What have I to do with your flirtations?"
"No; but you are so clever, and so good. If for once you will take a poor fellow's part with Miss Vizard, behind my back; oh, please do—pray do," and, in the ardor of entreaty, he caught Fanny's white hand and kissed it with warm but respectful devotion. Indeed, he held it and kissed it again and again, till Fanny, though she minded it no more than marble, was going to ask him satirically whether he had not almost done with it, when at last he contrived to squeeze out one of his little hysterical tears, and drop it on her hand.
Now, the girl was not butter, like some of her sex; far from it: but neither was she wood—indeed, she was not old enough for that—so this crocodile tear won her for the time being. "There—there," said she; "don't be a baby. I'll be on your side tonight; only, if you care for her, come and look after her yourself. Beautiful women with money won't stand neglect, Mr. Severne; and why should they? They are not like poor me; they have got the game in their hands." The train stopped. Vizard's party drove to the opera, and Severne ordered a cab to The Golden Star, meaning to stop it and get out; but, looking at his watch, he found it wanted half an hour to gambling time, so he settled to have a cup of coffee first, and a cigar. With this view he let the man drive him to The Golden Star.
INA KLOSKING worked night and day upon Siebel, in Gounod's "Faust," and upon the songs that had been added to give weight to the part.
She came early to the theater at night, and sat, half dressed, fatigued, and nervous, in her dressing-room.
Crash!—the first coup d'archet announced the overture, and roused her energy, as if Ithuriel's spear had pricked her. She came down dressed, to listen at one of the upper entrances, to fill herself with the musical theme, before taking her part in it, and also to gauge the audience and the singers.
The man Faust was a German; but the musical part Faust seems better suited to an Italian or a Frenchman. Indeed, some say that, as a rule, the German genius excels in creation and the Italian in representation or interpretation. For my part, I am unable to judge nations in the lump, as some fine fellows do, because nations are composed of very different individuals, and I know only one to the million; but I do take on me to say that the individual Herr who executed Doctor Faustus at Homburg that night had everything to learn, except what he had to unlearn. His person was obese; his delivery of the words was mouthing, chewing, and gurgling; and he uttered the notes in tune, but without point, pathos, or passion; a steady lay-clerk from York or Durham Cathedral would have done a little better, because he would have been no colder at heart, and more exact in time, and would have sung clean; whereas this gentleman set his windpipe trembling, all through the business, as if palsy were passion. By what system of leverage such a man came to be hoisted on to such a pinnacle of song as "Faust" puzzled our English friends in front as much as it did the Anglo-Danish artist at the wing; for English girls know what is what in opera.
The Marguerite had a voice of sufficient compass, and rather sweet, though thin. The part demands a better actress than Patti, and this Fraulein was not half as good: she put on the painful grin of a prize-fighter who has received a staggerer, and grinned all through the part, though there is little in it to grin at.
She also suffered by having to play to a Faust milked of his poetry, and self-smitten with a tremolo which, as I said before, is the voice of palsy, and is not, nor ever was, nor ever will be, the voice of passion. Bless your heart, passion is a manly thing, a womanly thing, a grand thing, not a feeble, quavering, palsied, anile, senile thing. Learn that, ye trembling, quavering idiots of song!
"They let me down," whispered Ina Klosking to her faithful Ashmead. "I feel all out of tune. I shall never be able. And the audience so cold. It will be like singing in a sepulcher."
"What would you think of them, if they applauded?" said Ashmead.
"I should say they were good, charitable souls, and the very audience I shall want in five minutes."
"No, no," said Ashmead, "all you want is a discriminating audience; and this is one. Remember they have all seen Patti in Marguerite. Is it likely they would applaud this tin stick?"
Ina turned the conversation with feminine quickness. "Mr. Ashmead, have you kept your promise; my name is not in the programme?"
"It is not; and a great mistake too."
"I have not been announced by name in any way?"
"No. But, of course, I have nursed you a bit."
"Nursed me? What is that? Oh, what have you been doing? No charlatanerie, I hope."
"Nothing of the kind," said Ashmead, stoutly; "only the regular business."
"And pray what is the regular business?" inquired Ina, distrustfully.
"Why, of course, I sent on the manager to say that Mademoiselle Schwaub had been taken seriously ill; that we had been fearing we must break faith with the public for the first time; but that a cantatrice, who had left the stage, appreciating our difficulty, had, with rare kindness, come to our aid for this one night: we felt sure a Humbug audience—what am I saying?—a Homburg audience would appreciate this, and make due allowance for a performance undertaken in such a spirit, and with imperfect rehearsals, etc.—in short, the usual patter; and the usual effect, great applause. Indeed, the only applause that I have heard in this theater to-night. Ashmead ahead of Gounod, so far."
Ina Klosking put both hands before her face, and uttered a little moan. She had really a soul above these artifices. "So, then," said she, "if they do receive me, it will be out of charity."
"No, no; but on your first night you must have two strings to your bow."
"But I have only one. These cajoling speeches are a waste of breath. A singer can sing, or she can not sing, and they find out which it is as soon as she opens her mouth."
"Well, then, you open your mouth—that is just what half the singers can't do—and they will soon find out you can sing."
"I hope they may. I do not know. I am discouraged. I'm terrified. I think it is stage-fright," and she began to tremble visibly, for the time drew near.
Ashmead ran off and brought her some brandy-and-water. She put up her hand against it with royal scorn. "No, sir! If the theater, and the lights, and the people, the mind of Goethe, and the music of Gounod, can't excite me without that, put me at the counter of a cafe', for I have no business here."
The power, without violence, and the grandeur with which she said this would have brought down the house had she spoken it in a play without a note of music; and Ashmead drew back respectfully, but chuckled internally at the idea of this Minerva giving change in a cafe'.
And now her cue was coming. She ordered everybody out of the entrance not very ceremoniously, and drew well back. Then, at her cue, she made a stately rush, and so, being in full swing before she cleared the wing, she swept into the center of the stage with great rapidity and resolution; no trace either of her sorrowful heart or her quaking limbs was visible from the front.
There was a little applause, all due to Ashmead's preliminary apology, but there was no real reception; for Germany is large and musical, and she was not immediately recognized at Homburg. But there was that indescribable flutter which marks a good impression and keen expectation suddenly aroused. She was beautiful on the stage for one thing; her figure rather tall and stately, and her face full of power: and then the very way she came on showed the step and carriage of an artist at home upon the boards.
She cast a rapid glance round the house, observed its size, and felt her way. She sung her first song evenly, but not tamely, yet with restrained power; but the tones were so full and flexible, the expression so easy yet exact, that the judges saw there was no effort, and suspected something big might be yet in store to-night. At the end of her song she did let out for a moment, and, at this well-timed foretaste of her power, there was applause, but nothing extravagant.
She was quite content, however. She met Ashmead, as she came off, and said, "All is well, my friend, so far. They are sitting in judgment on me, like sensible people, and not in a hurry. I rather like that."
"Your own fault," said Joseph. "You should have been announced. Prejudice is a surer card than judgment. The public is an ass."
"It must come to the same thing in the end," said the Klosking firmly. "One can sing, or one cannot."
Her next song was encored, and she came off flushed with art and gratified pride. "I have no fears now," said she, to her Achates, firmly. "I have my barometer; a young lady in the stalls. Oh, such a beautiful creature, with black hair and eyes! She applauds me fearlessly. Her glorious eyes speak to mine, and inspire me. She is happy, she is. I drink sunbeams at her. I shall act and sing 'Le Parlate d'Amor' for her—and you will see."
Between the acts, who should come in but Ned Severne, and glided into the vacant stall by Zoe's side.
She quivered at his coming near her; he saw it, and felt a thrill of pleasure himself.
"How is 'S. T.'?" said she, kindly.
"'S. T.'?" said he, forgetting.
"Why, your sick friend, to be sure."
"Oh, not half so bad as he thought. I was a fool to lose an hour of you for him. He was hipped; had lost all his money at rouge et noir. So I lent him fifty pounds, and that did him more good than the doctor. You forgive me?"
"Forgive you? I approve. Are you going back to him?" said she, demurely.
"No, thank you, I have made sacrifices enough."
And so indeed he had, having got cleaned out of three hundred pounds through preferring gambling to beauty.
"Singers good?" he inquired.
"Wretched, all but one; and she is divine."
"Indeed. Who is she?"
"I don't know. A gentleman in black came out—"
"No—how dare you?—and said a singer that had retired would perform the part of 'Siebel, to oblige; and she has obliged me for one. She is, oh, so superior to the others! Such a heavenly contralto; and her upper notes, honey dropping from the comb. And then she is so modest, so dignified, and so beautiful. She is fair as a lily; and such a queen-like brow, and deep, gray eyes, full of sadness and soul. I'm afraid she is not happy. Once or twice she fixed them on me, and they magnetized me, and drew me to her. So I magnetized her in return. I should know her anywhere fifty years hence. Now, if I were a man, I should love that woman and make her love me."
"Then I am very glad you are not a man," said Severne, tenderly.
"So am I," whispered Zoe, and blushed. The curtain rose.
"Listen now, Mr. Chatterbox," said Zoe.
Ned Severne composed himself to listen; but Fraulein Graas had not sung many bars before he revolted. "Listen to what?" said he; "and look at what? The only Marguerite in the place is by my side."
Zoe colored with pleasure; but her good sense was not to be blinded. "The only good black Mephistophe-less you mean," said she. "To be Marguerite, one must be great, and sweet, and tender; yes, and far more lovely than ever woman was. That lady is a better color for the part than I am; but neither she nor I shall ever be Marguerite."
He murmured in her ear. "You are Marguerite, for you could fire a man's heart so that he would sell his soul to gain you."
It was the accent of passion and the sensitive girl quivered. Yet she defended herself—in words, "Hush!" said she. "That is wicked—out of an opera. Fanny would laugh at you, if she heard."
Here were two reasons for not making such hot love in the stalls of an opera. Which of the two weighed most with the fair reasoner shall be left to her own sex.
The brief scene ended with the declaration of the evil spirit that Marguerite is lost.
"There," said Zoe, naively, "that is over, thank goodness: now you will hear my singer."
Siebel and Marta came on from opposite sides of the stage. "See!" said Zoe, "isn't she lovely?" and she turned her beaming face full on Severne, to share her pleasure with him. To her amazement the man seemed transformed: a dark cloud had come over his sunny countenance. He sat, pale, and seemed to stare at the tall, majestic, dreamy singer, who stood immovable, dressed like a velvet youth, yet looking like no earthly boy, but a draped statue of Mercury,
"New lighted on a heaven-kissing hill."
The blood left his lips, and Zoe thought he was faint; but the next moment he put his handkerchief hastily to his nose, and wriggled his way out, with a rush and a crawl, strangely combined, at the very moment when the singer delivered her first commanding note of recitative.
Everybody about looked surprised and disgusted at so ill-timed an exit; but Zoe, who had seen his white face, was seriously alarmed, and made a movement to rise too, and watch, or even follow him; but, when he got to the side, he looked back to her, and made her a signal that his nose was bleeding, but it was of no great consequence. He even pointed with his finger out and then back again, indicating he should not be long gone.
This re-assured her greatly; for she had always been told a little bleeding of that sort was good for hot-headed young people. Then the singer took complete hold of her. The composer, to balance the delightful part of Marguerite, has given Siebel a melody with which wonders can be done; and the Klosking had made a considerable reserve of her powers for this crowning effort. After a recitative that rivaled the silver trumpet, she flung herself with immediate and electrifying ardor into the melody; the orchestra, taken by surprise, fought feebly for the old ripple; but the Klosking, resolute by nature, was now mighty as Neptune, and would have her big waves. The momentary struggle, in which she was loyally seconded by the conductor, evoked her grand powers. Catgut had to yield to brains, and the whole orchestra, composed, after all, of good musicians, soon caught the divine afflatus, and the little theater seemed on fire with music; the air, sung with a large rhythm, swelled and rose, and thrilled every breast with amazement and delight; the house hung breathless: by-and-by there were pale cheeks, panting bosoms, and wet eyes, the true, rare triumphs of the sovereigns of song; and when the last note had pealed and ceased to vibrate, the pent-up feelings broke forth in a roar of applause, which shook the dome, followed by a clapping of hands, like a salvo, that never stopped till Ina Klosking, who had retired, came forward again.
She courtesied with admirable dignity, modesty, and respectful gravity, and the applause thundered, and people rose at her in clusters about the house, and waved their hats and handkerchiefs at her, and a little Italian recognized her, and cried out as loud as he could, "Viva la Klosking! viva!" and she heard that, and it gave her a thrill; and Zoe Vizard, being out of England, and, therefore, brave as a lioness, stood boldly up at her full height, and, taking her bouquet in her right hand, carried it swiftly to her left ear, and so flung it, with a free back-handed sweep, more Oriental than English, into the air, and it lighted beside the singer; and she saw the noble motion, and the bouquet fly, and, when she made her last courtesy at the wing, she fixed her eyes on Zoe, and then put her hand to her heart with a most touching gesture that said, "Most of all I value your bouquet and your praise."
Then the house buzzed, and ranks were leveled; little people spoke to big people, and big to little, in mutual congratulation; for at such rare moments (except in Anglo-Saxony) instinct seems to tell men that true art is a sunshine of the soul, and blesses the rich and the poor alike.
One person was affected in another way. Harrington Vizard sat rapt in attention, and never took his eyes off her, yet said not a word.
Several Russian and Prussian grandees sought an introduction to the new singer. But she pleaded fatigue.
The manager entreated her to sup with him, and meet the Grand Duke of Hesse. She said she had a prior engagement.
She went quietly home, and supped with her faithful Ashmead, and very heartily too; for nature was exhausted, and agitation had quite spoiled her dinner.
Joseph Ashmead, in the pride of his heart, proposed a bottle of champagne. The Queen of Song, with triumph flushed, looked rather blue at that. "My friend," said she, in a meek, deprecating way, "we are working-people: is not Bordeaux good enough for us?"
"Yes; but it is not good enough for the occasion," said Joseph, a little testily. "Well, never mind;" and he muttered to himself, "that is the worst of good women: they are so terribly stingy."
The Queen of Song, with triumph flushed, did not catch these words, but only a little growling. However, as supper proceeded, she got uneasy. So she rang the bell, and ordered a pint: of this she drank one spoonful. The remainder, co-operating with triumph and claret, kept Ashmead in a great flow of spirits. He traced her a brilliant career. To be photographed tomorrow morning as Siebel, and in plain dress. Paragraphs in Era, Figaro, Galignani, Inde'pendance Belge, and the leading dailies. Large wood-cuts before leaving Homburg for Paris, London, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and New York."
"I'm in your hands," said she, and smiled languidly, to please him.
But by-and-by he looked at her, and found she was taking a little cry all to herself.
"Dear me!" said he, "what is the matter?"
"My friend, forgive me. He was not there to share my triumph."
AS the opera drew to an end, Zoe began to look round more and more for Severne; but he did not come, and Lord Uxmoor offered his arm earnestly. She took it; but hung back a moment on his very arm, to tell Harrington Mr. Severne had been taken ill.
At the railway station the truant emerged suddenly, just as the train was leaving; but Lord Uxmoor had secured three seats, and the defaulter had to go with Harrington. On reaching the hotel, the ladies took their bed-candles; but Uxmoor found time to propose an excursion next day, Sunday, to a lovely little lake—open carriage, four horses. The young ladies accepted, but Mr. Severne declined; he thanked Lord Uxmoor politely, but he had arrears of correspondence.
Zoe cast a mortified and rather a haughty glance on him, and Fanny shrugged her shoulders incredulously.
These two ladies brushed hair together in Zoe's room. That is a soothing operation, my masters, and famous for stimulating females to friendly gossip; but this time there was, for once, a guarded reserve. Zoe was irritated, puzzled, mortified, and even grieved by Severne's conduct. Fanny was gnawed by jealousy, and out of temper. She had forgiven Zoe Ned Severne. But that young lady was insatiable; Lord Uxmoor, too, had fallen openly in love with her—openly to a female eye. So, then, a blonde had no chance, with a dark girl by: thus reasoned she, and it was intolerable. It was some time before either spoke an atom of what was uppermost in her mind. They each doled out a hundred sentences that missed the mind and mingled readily with the atmosphere, being, in fact, mere preliminary and idle air. So two deer, in duel, go about and about, and even affect to look another way, till they are ripe for collision. There be writers would give the reader all the preliminary puffs of articulated wind, and everybody would say, "How clever! That is just the way girls really talk." But I leave the glory of photographing nullities to the geniuses of the age, and run to the first words which could, without impiety, be called dialogue.
"Don't you think his conduct a little mysterious?" said Zoe, mal 'a propos of anything that had been said hitherto.
"Well, yes; rather," said Fanny, with marked carelessness.
"First, a sick friend; then a bleeding at the nose; and now he won't drive to the lake with us. Arrears of correspondence? Pooh!"
Now, Fanny's suspicions were deeper than Zoe's; she had observed Severne keenly: but it was not her cue to speak. She yawned and said, "What does it matter?"
"Don't be unkind, Fanny. It matters to me."
"Not it. You have another ready."
"What other? There is no one that I— Fanny."
"Oh, nonsense! The man is evidently smitten, and you keep encouraging him."
"No, I don't; I am barely civil. And don't be ill-natured. What can I do?"
"Why, be content with one at a time."
"It is very rude to talk so. Besides, I haven't got one, much less two. I begin to doubt him; and, Lord Uxmoor! you know I cannot possibly care for him—an acquaintance of yesterday."
"But you know all about him—that he is an excellent parti," said Fanny, with a provoking sneer.
This was not to be borne.
"Oh!" said Zoe, "I see; you want him for yourself. It is you that are not content with one. You forget how poor Harrington would miss your attentions. He would begin to appreciate them—when he had lost them."
This stung, and Fanny turned white and red by turns. "I deserve this," said she, "for wasting advice on a coquette."
"That is not true. I'm no coquette; and here I am, asking your advice, and you only snub me. You are a jealous, cross, unreasonable thing."
"Well, I'm not a hypocrite."
'I never was called so before," said Zoe, nobly and gently.
"Then you were not found out, that is all. You look so simple and ingenuous, and blush if a man says half a word to you; and all the time you are a greater flirt than I am."
"Oh, Fanny!" screamed Zoe, with horror.
It seems a repartee may be conveyed in a scream; for Fanny now lost her temper altogether. "Your conduct with those two men is abominable," said she. "I won't speak to you any more."
"I beg you will not, in your present temper," said Zoe, with unaffected dignity, and rising like a Greek column.
Fanny flounced out of the room.
Zoe sat down and sighed, and her glorious eyes were dimmed. Mystery—doubt—and now a quarrel. What a day! At her age, a little cloud seems to darken the whole sky.
Next morning the little party met at breakfast. Lord Uxmoor, anticipating a delightful day, was in high spirits, and he and Fanny kept up the ball. She had resolved, in the silent watches of the night, to contest him with Zoe, and make every possible use of Severne, in the conflict.
Zoe was silent and distraite, and did not even try to compete with her sparkling rival. But Lord Uxmoor's eyes often wandered from his sprightly companion to Zoe, and it was plain he longed for a word from her mouth.
Fanny observed, bit her lip, and tacked internally, " 'bout ship," as the sailors say. Her game now, conceived in a moment, and at once put in execution, was to encourage Uxmoor's attentions to Zoe. She began by openly courting Mr. Severne, to make Zoe talk to Uxmoor, and also make him think that Severne and she were the lovers.
Her intentions were to utilize the coming excursion: she would attach herself to Harrington, and so drive Zoe and Uxmoor together; and then Lord Uxmoor, at his present rate of amorous advance, would probably lead Zoe to a detached rock, and make her a serious declaration. This good, artful girl felt sure such a declaration, made a few months hence in Barfordshire, would be accepted, and herself left in the cold. Therefore she resolved it should be made prematurely, and in Prussia, with Severne at hand, and so in all probability come to nothing. She even glimpsed a vista of consequences, and in that little avenue discerned the figure of Fanny Dover playing the part of consoler, friend, and ultimately spouse to a wealthy noble.
THE letters were brought in; one was to Vizard, from Herries, announcing a remittance; one to Lord Uxmoor. On reading it, he was surprised into an exclamation, and his face expressed great concern.
"Oh!" said Zoe— "Harrington!"
Harrington's attention being thus drawn, he said, "No bad news, I hope?"
"Yes," said Uxmoor, in a low voice, "very bad. My oldest, truest, dearest friend has been seized with small-pox, and his life is in danger. He has asked for me, poor fellow. This is from his sister. I must start by the twelve o'clock train."
"Small-pox! Why, it is contagious," cried Fanny; "and so disfiguring!"
"I can't help that," said the honest fellow; and instantly rang the bell for his servant, and gave the requisite orders.
Zoe, whose eye had never left him all the time, said, softly, "It is brave and good of you. We poor, emotional, cowardly girls should sit down and cry."
"You would not, Miss Vizard," said he, firmly, looking full at her. "If you think you would, you don't know yourself."
Zoe colored high, and was silent.
Then Lord Uxmoor showed the true English gentleman. "I do hope," said he, earnestly, though in a somewhat broken voice, "that you will not let this spoil the pleasure we had planned together. Harrington will be my deputy."
"Well, I don't know," said Harrington, sympathizingly. Mr. Severne remarked, "Such an occurrence puts pleasure out of one's head." This he said, with his eyes on his plate, like one repeating a lesson. "Vizard, I entreat you," said Uxmoor, almost vexed. "It will only make me more unhappy if you don't."
"We will go," cried Zoe, earnestly; "we promise to go. What does it matter? We shall think of you and your poor friend wherever we are. And I shall pray for him. But, ah, I know how little prayers avail to avert these cruel bereavements." She was young, but old enough to have prayed hard for her sick mother's life, and, like the rest of us, prayed in vain. At this remembrance the tears ran undisguised down her cheeks.
The open sympathy of one so young and beautiful, and withal rather reserved, made Lord Uxmoor gulp, and, not to break down before them all, he blurted out that he must go and pack: with this he hurried away.
He was unhappy. Besides the calamity he dreaded, it was grievous to be torn away from a woman he loved at first sight, and just when she had come out so worthy of his love: she was a high-minded creature; she had been silent and reserved so long as the conversation was trivial; but, when trouble came, she was the one to speak to him bravely and kindly. Well, what must be, must. All this ran through his mind, and made him sigh; but it never occurred to him to shirk—to telegraph instead of going—nor yet to value himself on his self-denial.
They did not see him again till he was on the point of going, and then he took leave of them all, Zoe last. When he came to her, he ignored the others, except that he lowered his voice in speaking to her. "God bless you for your kindness, Miss Vizard. It is a little hard upon a fellow to have to run away from such an acquaintance, just when I have been so fortunate as to make it."
"Oh, Lord Uxmoor," said Zoe, innocently, "never mind that. Why, we live in the same county, and we are on the way home. All I think of is your poor friend; and do please telegraph—to Harrington."
He promised he would, and went away disappointed somehow at her last words.
When he was gone, Severne went out on the balcony to smoke, and Harrington held a council with the young ladies. "Well, now," said he, "about this trip to the lake."
"I shall not go, for one," said Zoe, resolutely.
"La!" said Fanny, looking carefully away from her to Harrington; "and she was the one that insisted."
Zoe ignored the speaker and set her face stiffly toward Harrington. "She only said that to him."
Fanny. "But, unfortunately, ears are not confined to the noble."
Zoe. "Nor tongues to the discreet."
Both these remarks were addressed pointedly to Harrington.
"Halloo!" said he, looking from one flaming girl to the other; "am I to be a shuttlecock, and your discreet tongues the battledoors? What is up?"
"We don't speak," said the frank Zoe; "that is up."
"Why, what is the row?"'
"No matter" (stiffly).
"No great matter, I'll be bound. 'Toll, toll the bell.' Here goes one more immortal friendship—quenched in eternal silence."
Both ladies bridled. Neither spoke.
"And dead silence, as ladies understand it, consists in speaking at one another instead of to."
"That is well-bred taciturnity."
"The dignified reserve that distinguishes an estrangement from a squabble."
"Well, I admire permanent sentiments, good or bad; constant resolves, etc. Your friendship has not proved immortal; so, now let us see how long you can hold spite—SIEVES!" Then he affected to start. "What is this? I spy a rational creature out on yonder balcony. I hasten to join him. 'Birds of a feather, you know;" and with that he went out to his favorite, 'and never looked behind him.
The young ladies, indignant at the contempt the big man had presumed to cast upon the constant soul of woman, turned two red faces and four sparkling eyes to each other, with the instinctive sympathy of the jointly injured; but remembering in time, turned sharply round again, and presented napes, and so sat sullen.
By-and-by a chilling thought fell upon them both at the same moment of time. The men were good friends as usual, safe, by sex, from tiffs, and could do without them; and a dull day impended over the hostile fair.
Thereupon the ingenious Fanny resolved to make a splash of some sort and disturb stagnation. She suddenly cried out, "La! and the man is gone away: so what is the use?" This remark she was careful to level at bare space.
Zoe, addressing the same person—space, to wit—inquired of him if anybody in his parts knew to whom this young lady was addressing herself.
"To a girl that is too sensible not to see the folly of quarreling about a man—when he is gone," said Fanny.
"If it is me you mean," said Zoe stiffly, "really I am surprised. You forget we are at daggers drawn."
"No, I don't, dear; and parted forever."
Zoe smiled at that against her will.
"Come cuddle me quick!"
Zoe was all round her neck in a moment, like a lace scarf, and there was violent kissing, with a tear or two.
Then they put an arm round each other's waist, and went all about the premises intertwined like snakes; and Zoe gave Fanny her cameo brooch, the one with the pearls round it.
The person to whom Vizard fled from the tongue of beauty was a delightful talker: he read two or three newspapers every day, and recollected the best things. Now, it is not everybody can remember a thousand disconnected facts and recall them apropos. He was various, fluent, and, above all, superficial; and such are your best conversers. They have something good and strictly ephemeral to say on everything, and don't know enough of anything to impale their hearers. In my youth there talked in Pall Mall a gentleman known as "Conversation Sharpe." He eclipsed everybody. Even Macaulay paled. Sharpe talked all the blessed afternoon, and grave men listened, enchanted; and, of all he said, nothing stuck. Where be now your Sharpiana? The learned may be compared to mines. These desultory charmers are more like the ornamental cottage near Staines, forty or fifty rooms, and the whole structure one story high. The mine teems with solid wealth; but you must grope and trouble to come to it: it is easier and pleasanter to run about the cottage with a lot of rooms. all on the ground-floor.