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- Marguerite Verne - 50/71 -
"You will be at the reception to-night, my dear?" exclaimed the blonde beauty as she rose to go.
Mrs. Verne glanced at her daughter for answer and was pained to see the utter serenity of the pale but interesting face.
"Miss Verne has been slightly indisposed to-day and I fear that she will plead that as excuse to remain with Muggins."
"You naughty little thing," said her ladyship, poking the said Muggins with the top of her parasol and exciting lively responses from his poodleship, then turning to Mrs. Verne exclaimed, "Mrs. Arnold is looking well. It really seems to me that you Canadians have found the long-sought elixir of youth and beauty."
"You are inclined to flattery Lady Gertrude, but if you should ever visit New Brunswick you will find many pretty women."
"Now, my dear Mrs. Verne, _you_ are inclined to teaze," cried her ladyship. You know full well that it is the gentlemen in whom I am solely interested. What have you to say in _their_ behalf."
"New Brunswick can boast of many handsome, brave and clever men," was the reply, and this time Mrs. Verne spoke the truth.
"Oh well, I shall, perhaps, go and see for myself. Good-bye Mrs. Verne, and you my little rival, adieu until we meet again."
Her ladyship pressed the tips of her dainty fingers and playfully threw a kiss to Marguerite as she leaned against the balustrade and watched her visitor depart.
"What a sweet but sad face," thought the latter, as she was being assisted into the grand old family coach with its richly-caparisoned steeds and gay trappings.
"To Hyde Park, James," then leaning back amid the luxurious cushions the almond-eyed beauty murmured "that girl has a tender spot in her heart which all the pleasures and gaiety of a thousand worlds like this can never heal. Ah, well we women must endure," and with the last remark there arose a sad and weary look that would seem strangely at variance the gay, sporting butterfly who talked and chatted of airy nothings in Mrs. Verne's drawing-room.
And now to Marguerite. She has donned her tasteful gray walking costume and accompanied by Muggins is on the way to Mrs. Arnold's residence, not far distant.
"I am so glad you have come, Madge, I was just going to send for you. My head has ached all morning. I can think of nothing but dear papa. Just imagine him without a cent in the world, and at his age. Oh, it is too horrible for anything."
Mrs. Arnold now drew her elegant lace handkerchief across her eyes to arrest the falling tears.
Marguerite was accustomed to her sister's demonstrations, and was not at all affected as she should be.
"Madge, you are aware, I suppose, of the trouble between mamma and me, and now I have no one but you to offer any sympathy."
Marguerite looked at her sister in surprise.
"You need not look that way, Madge, I mean it, and when you have--" Mrs. Arnold checked herself. She was on the eve of a declaration which she must at all hazards supress. "I say it is most cruel of mamma to treat me in the way that she does. Really, Madge, it makes me feel terribly; and oh! poor, dear, papa! I don't know why it should affect me so strangely, but really, Madge, I cannot get it out of my head but that papa is going to die."
"Oh, Eve!" cried Marguerite, clinging to her chair for support, "pray do not say such a dreadful thing."
"Well, you know, Madge, that grief will sap all the vitality of stronger constitutions than papa's."
Mrs. Arnold sat watching the effect of her words upon her sister, and tried to be engaged assorting some letters that had been misplaced in her desk.
"If it were only in my power to save papa such trouble I would make any sacrifice," cried the latter, suddenly glancing at Marguerite.
"And would I not, too? Oh! Eve," said the girl, with an eager, hungry look upon her face.
"You can _now_, if you wish, Madge," said Mrs. Arnold, in the coolest possible manner.
"Eve, this is too serious a matter for jesting. You know not what you say," cried Marguerite, wildly.
"I know that you can pay every cent of papa's debts if you will only marry Hubert Tracy!"
"Eve! Spare me!" exclaimed Marguerite, turning deadly pale.
"Yes, my dear--I knew full well that you could not make such a sacrifice. Why did I mention it. Forgive me, dear Madge, I shall never mention the subject again. I told Hubert that I knew it was useless for him to urge the suit."
"And he has spoken of it lately?" cried Marguerite.
"Not later than this morning, my dear. He called a few moments after you went away, and seemed to be in great distress at papa's misfortune. Poor fellow, he was deeply moved, and said that if you would only consent to be his wife that his immense fortune would be at your entire control. What a pity, dear Madge, that you cannot treat him as he deserves--he is such a generous-hearted fellow."
Marguerite Verne was, indeed, an object of pity as she sat with her eyes fixed upon the wall opposite, while a look of anguish now settled down upon her features, and made them rigid as death.
"Don't worry, darling. I cannot bear to see you thus. If Hubert Tracy is not willing to settle papa's affairs without sacrificing your happiness, why let it go. Papa may get over it, and if he has to face the world and earn his living by drudgery, it may do him good in the end; if not, we cannot help it, my dear: So don't worry any longer." And Mrs. Arnold swept across the room with the air of an empress, while with her lace handkerchief she wiped the tears from Marguerite's eyes.
"Has Hubert Tracy the full control of his estates, Eve?"
"Yes, Madge. He has had ever since his uncle died, which was more than three months ago."
"Poor dear papa," murmured the girl in very bitterness of soul.
"She will come to it yet," thought Mrs. Arnold, "nothing succeeds like moderation," and with the most consummate adroitness commenced asking questions concerning her mother.
"You know, Madge, that mamma is so much wrapped up in Sir Arthur, the ugly old bore, that she can listen to no one else, and for no other reason than to have you addressed as 'my lady.'"
"Oh Eve, do not say that."
"I _will_ say it Madge, and more than that I will say that mamma has no more respect for her children's feeling than for those of her meanest servant. She would think it splendid to marry you to a gouty old baronet old enough to be your father, yes your grandfather, while I would not insist upon your favoring a handsome young man with wealth and a large heart into the bargain."
"Eve, you do mamma a great injustice," cried Marguerite, who be it said to her credit, always defended the absent one, "she already knows my feelings towards Sir Arthur and has used no coercion since and now that we are soon going home there is no need of referring to the affair."
Marguerite was annoyed and her sister saw that she had said enough, so with diplomatic tact, she became doubly tractable and tried to appear in sympathy with every word that the girl uttered.
"Are you going to accompany us to the opera this evening, Madge? My amiable husband, anxious to make reparation for past neglect, has formed a set and I must certainly go."
Marguerite was pained at her sister's composure and thought of the protestations of grief she had hitherto exhibited.
"Is it possible," thought she, "that Eve can dissemble so much?" Then turning to her sister she exclaimed: "Eve, I cannot go; I am miserable enough already and--"
"I see how it is, Madge, you are inclined to be selfish, and cannot bear to see the happiness of others."
"Happiness!" murmured the girl, "as if there is much happiness under all this false glittering surface." But Mrs. Arnold heeded not the remark and added:
"Poor mamma, I know she feels badly, I will ask Montague to call and invite her to join us. I know I did wrong to say so much, but at times you know, dear Madge, I have an ungovernable temper."
"I am going now," said Marguerite rising and holding out her hand to Mrs. Arnold.
"I know Madge well enough to perceive that she will have no peace of mind this night. How she will brood over what I nave said!" and turning to the spacious mirror Mrs. Arnold exclaimed, "Ah! madame, you can dupe more clever minds than that of your confiding little sister."
In the quiet of her own room Marguerite Verne gave full vent to her pent-up feelings in an outburst of tears. Hers was not a nature that could endure with fortitude the ills that oftentimes befall humanity; but like the fragile reed that bends with the storm, and when the force of nature has spent itself raises its head heavenward.
And now the girl was prostrated, and bowed her head in keenest agony. She wished not the interruption of mother or friends, but
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