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- A Heart-Song of To-day - 2/67 -


"Curious! a prerogative of your sex, fair madame, though any of your secrets would be _chic_ enough to tempt a man to encroach," he answered gaily, drawing a chair near his own.

"Especially when 'tis of a woman who lives for him alone," and the handsome wealthy widow sank into the chair opposite him.

"Yes, for an hour, for a day, and 'tis pleasant so you see I know you gay butterflys," he said, lazily placing a foot-stool under the pretty feet of his companion.

"Not so," she said slowly, and with a new tenderness in her tones. "Not so; but first I brought you here to tell you your friend Colonel Haughton made me an offer of marriage this moaning. What say you; would you regret my fetters and wish me free? It shall be as you say."

Only that Mrs. Tompkins' attention was wholly given to her companion, she would have noticed the heavy curtains opposite her and separating her boudoir from a small morning-room pushed aside, and a pair of wrathful blazing eyes watching her every movement; had either been near enough, they would have heard a muttered oath at her last words.

"As I wish! 'tis well I am his friend, _chere_ madame, for there are not many men would bid you to the altar with another, but I say take him, there is not a better fellow in the kingdom, and here is my benediction," and he laughingly lifted her hand to his lips.

"And is that all you care for me? Heavens! what different stuff we are made of, you can bid me to another, while I could _kill_. Nay, don't start. Yes, could kill a woman you might love. And the speaker looked her words, while there was almost a sob in her voice as her bosom heaved convulsively.

"My dear Mrs. Tompkins, you honor me too much; believe me, 'tis but a passing fancy on your part."

"Passing fancy, never! Listen; you say you love no woman in especial, wed me; love begets love; I am the wooer I know, but you are as handsome as a god, and I have been always one to speak as I feel; yea, and get what I want most days," she added, leaning forward and smiling into his mesmeric eyes. "Come to me," and her heart was in her words. "Come, you are poor in wealth, men say I have millions in gold, try and love me and--"

"And--and what next--Kate--by gad, a pretty speech, allow me to congratulate you. How do, Trevalyon; at your old game of slaughtering hearts?" The speaker had come from behind the curtains and was the owner of the wrathful eyes; a heavily built man of medium weight, a bold man with a handsome black beard, though the top of his head was bald. "You were always a good shot, Trevalyon, when the target was a heart," he repeated savagely.

"'Twas you, who bagged the delicate game, if I remember you aright, Delrose," said Trevalyon, with the utmost _sang-froid_ as he leaned backwards and with his right hand fondled his long tawny moustache.

"George Delrose, what makes you here? You are Lucifer himself, I believe," said Mrs. Tompkins wrathfully, pushing his hand from her shoulder and starting to her feet.

"I gave strict orders to Peter to admit no one to my presence. I shall discharge Him, and at once."

"Take it easy, Kate, _I_ have _promoted_ him to _my_ service."

"From gold lo brass is no promotion; he knows not the value of metals."

"Jove! how like they are, the same bold handsome style, reckless to the last degree," thought Trevalyon.

"They are both a passport to society! all a man wants to-day! so, my pretty Kate don't look so severe, I have one, you have the other," said Delrose audaciously, and attempting to take her hand.

"No, I won't take your hand, go away this moment," and a decided foot went down, "leave Captain Trevalyon and myself to conclude our interview."

"You forget the proprieties, Kate, and though I like not the fruit, I'll play gooseberry," and seating himself he coolly poured out a glass of champagne.

"Shall I make my adieux, Mrs. Tompkins; it grows late?" said Trevalyon, about to rise from his chair.

"No, stay awhile," said his hostess softly, for she thought Delrose might go and she might so act on the feelings of Trevalyon by the magnets love and gold as to win. In the meantime he thought as he stroked his moustachs lazily, "a dashingly handsome woman, pity she has let that dare-devil Delrose get some hold over her."

Major Delrose drank like a thirsty man, then folding his arms glared defiantly at Kate who returned his gaze while trembling with wrath, her eyes flashing.

"George Delrose, you are a coward to force yourself into a woman's presence. Go this moment! I command you, or I shall summon the household. Are you going?"

"No, by the Horse Guards! _I am not_!" and the flush of anger deepened on his cheek. "I tell you, Kate, I am not a man to be made a football of; don't, if you have a remnant of pity in your heart, drive me mad by talk of marriage with another."

"And why not, pray?" inquired Mrs. Tompkins, recklessly, the next instant regretting her foolhardiness, and before the eyes of the men, one of whom she had a passion for; the other who had a passion for herself, that she had outlived; and now with quick resolve and latent meaning, knowing the intruder's love for coins, continued: "Even did the Sultan of Turkey fancy me to adorn his harem, when I pined for freedom, he would not despise the American eagle done in gold as an exchange for my liberty."

"Cold, glittering metal _versus_ warm, loving heart of woman, and such an one as you, never!" he answered, following her cue and looking her in the eyes.

"I care not, he cannot afford to offend me," thought Mrs. Tompkins, and so only showing a velvet paw, making a step towards him, her rich crimson robes of velvet trailing after her, now offered her hand. "Here is my hand, George, bid me good-night, and like a good fellow go at once, and I forgive you."

"Dismiss Trevalyon first, I am an older friend than he," he answered sulkily.

"I shall not; this is my boudoir, and, thank fate, I am my own mistress."

"Then, by the stars, I stir not one inch!"

Both reckless, both determined, how would it end? and so Trevaylon thought, as he said, coolly:

"What is the use of acting like this, Delrose? You certainly made your _entree_ later than I, if you are making a point of that; but a soldier is usually more yielding to woman's wish."

"Not often, Trevalyon, when her wish is the will of a rival," he answered hotly.

"The fancy of a woman _a present_," thought Trevalyon. "But I must end this, for he won't. I am in no mood for trifling, I have again missed seeing Vaura. Mrs. Tompkins is charming in a _tete-a-tete_, but with the _entree_ of a soldier on the war-path," and stepping towards his hostess he said gallantly: "So fair a foe, dear Mrs. Tompkins, surrounded by soldiers, is unfair; I beat a retreat. May I carry a comforting message to the gentleman who called upon you this morning?" and the blue mesmeric eyes rested on her face as he bent his handsome Saxon head for her reply.

Her dark eyes met his in a pleading way, but she read no weakness there, and thought as she gave him her hand:

"A man with an unsatisfied longing for another woman is difficult to subdue, but if George had not intruded himself, I should not have let him go till I had brought him to my feet, but I shall be revenged on him, and win my love yet," and her hand lingered in his, while she said:

"You may, he is your friend; you will be much with us."

"Thank you, for the two-fold kindness. Now gladly shall I be your Mercury. Good-night," and lifting her hand to his lips, he was gone.

"Then you really mean to wed Colonel Haughton?" enquired Delrose in unsteady tone.

"Come and sit beside me, Kate; you sat beside that other man. Gad! I feel like shooting the follow."

"Mere bravado; gentlemen only meet their equals."

"Don't take that tone with me Kate, or by heaven he shall suffer."

"Good-night Major Delrose," she said mockingly. "I leave your presence, _sans ceremonie_ as you entered mine."

And with the gas-light lighting up red-robes, jewels, coal-black tresses and a smile all cruel, she was about to leave him.

"Stay, Kate, I command you. How will it be when I set the London world on their ear, over your parentage, daughter of a nobody, your gold from the Cosmopolitan Laundry."

Kate winced.

"It would be then a Haughton's turn to leave _sans ceremonie_; make up friends, Kate," and his face softened, and going over he led her, though unwillingly, to a seat beside his own.

"What a bore a persistent lover with a long memory is," thought Kate. "But I cannot afford to quarrel with him."

"You are not serious, Kate. You will never sever the tie that binds us?"

And bold man, though he was, his voice trembled as leaning forward he strove to read the inmost thoughts of the woman who has played with


A Heart-Song of To-day - 2/67

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