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- A Heart-Song of To-day - 30/67 -
"He is learning to love her," thought Lady Esmondet, as she saw that his eyes turned ever towards the door; "and it will be the happiest day of my life (none too happy)," she thought with a sigh, "if I see these two lives blend in one; Vaura is _difficile_, so is he, but she cannot resist him, and their lives would be full of completeness. They would be the happiest couple in London; why did he start as through fear, when Everly mentioned Delrose as a visitor at the Hall; I know there was a scandal some twelve years ago, when they were both mixed up with Fanny Clarmont. I do hope there is nothing in it to cause him real uneasiness. Vaura will make a great sensation this coming season; she has made some conquests to-night, that cream-white satin with her diamonds and these old fashioned gold bands, suit her to perfection. She enjoys wielding the sceptre and she does it with such seeming unconsciousness, and absence of vanity that is very charming, never boasting of her conquests even to me." But where can she be all this time, I wonder, and with whom? so breaking in upon Lionel's reverie, she repeated her question of, "Where and with whom is Vaura? she has missed two or three dances."
"Everly was the happy man not two minutes ago," he said.
"That bird of passage; 'tis a wonder she wastes her sweetness upon him."
"Poor Everly! I am very much inclined to think his heart will be heavy after to-night," said Lionel, thinking of his downcast look as he passed.
"'Tis his own fault; little men are so aspiring,--always on tip-toe," answered Lady Esmondet.
"Yes, I suppose he has himself to blame, the bat cannot gaze at the sun, unless to his own detriment."
"One thinks of an angel and lo! she appears," exclaimed Eau Clair, coming up, "and there's no doubt as to whose colours Everly wears, but by the lilies of France had he detained La Belle Vernon from her rightful sovereignty of the ball-room five minutes longer, I should have hunted the Everlie-in-wait-robber, and have taken from him our belle. But see how _enerve_, embarrassed, the robber looks, the enchantress has been exercising her fatal spells."
Here Vaura with Sir Tilton, looking pale and haggard, approached all three, guessed his whispered question to Vaura, of "Can you give me no hope?" and saw Vaura shake her head as her lips framed the word "no." Then there was one long pressure of the hand, a look from Everly, as of one looking on the face of the dead, and he was gone. Alone, or to wed without love, and for gold! Ah, me! this life of ours teems with bitterness, but on to the merry-makers we do not care to follow Everly. We grow cynical perhaps as to the good there is in life, but we get used to it in time; to this something we have lost as we get used in time, to the unloved partner by our side. Such is life.
Vaura was looking very sweet and lovely, as with a tender pity she took leave of her conquest, Sir Tilton; her face had a soft paleness, and her lips looked a deeper red than usual from the contrast; there was a languor in her movements, and she felt she would like to rest in the easy chair, beside Lady Esmondet, with Lionel near; and dream waking dreams after all the excitement of the night. But there were the conventionalities, her dance with Eau Clair, and then, home, so she said:
"Well, dear god-mother, here at last; are you dying of _ennui_? I feel very wicked, and it has been selfish of me to remain so long, but this is the last, I shall soon be with you."
And taking Eau Clair's arm she was again moving to the enchanting music of the waltz, which tends more to bewitch the souls of men than the music of any other dance, its gentle swaying motion, its soft bewilderingly seductive strains of music, are something to have felt the pleasurable sensation of. As they were moving the length of the room, Vaura noticed Lady Esmondet leave it, as also that her footsteps' were slow and languid as though she was weary; so saying:
"I really must tear myself away, Monsieur Eau Clair, Lady Esmondet has left the room, and I am sure she is fatigued. You will laugh at me for suddenly remembering my dear chaperon at such an opportune moment when our dance is a thing of the past. There seems to be a general exodus, so," she added gaily, "if we follow them, even two such important personages as we are will not be noticed in our absence."
"We shall go with the stream and all will be well."
"But whither do they lead? What is on the _tapis_?"
"They go to take part in an old family custom that tonight must be done."
"And if when done 'twere well, 'twere well 'twere done quickly," answered Vaura.
And they followed the stream and Vaura could not but see that Eau Clair and herself received a good deal of attention as they moved, many eyes following them. They soon reached a suite of elegantly furnished _salons_ gay with flowers, gems of art from the deft fingers of the sculptor, master-pieces from the artistic brush of some of the greatest painters living and dead, decorated the walls or stood in their respective niches, foreign and domestic birds of rare beauty and throats full of song, with the exquisite scent of flowers about them, the brilliant scene, the soft laughter of the incoming guests sounding so similar to some of their own notes, causing the feathered songsters to burst forth into melody, adding another charm. Vaura and Eau Clair were among the last to enter, and they walked up to the end of the room the _cynosure_ of all eyes; as they neared a chair placed alone at the head of the room, Vaura saw Lady Esmondet with a gay coterie of friends with Lionel in the group. Vaura turned her head as she passed with a smile, and the lines to Venus from Pitt's Virgil flashed across Lionel's memory:
"And turning round her neck she showed That with celestial charms divinely glowed."
Vaura was accustomed to admiration, so this which looked so much like a march of triumph did not disturb her self-possession; she laughed and chatted with her companion all the length of the _salons_.
"These servants of yours, Monsieur Eau Clair, remind one as they pass in and out so noiselessly among your guests laden with the champagnes and ices they carry so deftly of the automata in the new Utopia they are perfect; but what is not perfect in the de Hauteville mansion."
"Take this chair which I hope will be the perfection of comfort for the belle of our ball."
"Give me a Frenchman for a gallantry," said Vaura gaily, and seating herself comfortably. To her surprise Eau Clair, standing beside her, said as follows:
"_Charmantes Demoiselles, Mesdames et Messieurs_: It has been a time honoured custom in our family for generations, that on the heir to the estate attaining his majority, on his throwing off the careless garb of _garcon_, and donning the somewhat grave habiliments," taking up the corner of his dress-coat with a smile, "of the man. It has been the custom, I say, at the revels given in his honor, that he should elect as the belle the fairest of the fair--a custom that has my warmest approval; _a dieu ne plaise_ that any one of my descendants should be ungallant enough to discontinue it; indeed rather than our fore-fathers should father such an one," he said in gay tones, "I prefer that I, Eau Clair, should be the last of our name. I admit that my predecessors may have at times found the pleasant task of choosing somewhat _difficile_. But for me, _Dieu merci_, Mlle. Vernon's advent in Paris has left me no choice. And without paying any point-blank compliments to her charms, I now present to her as is usual on this occasion, this bagatelle, at the same time expressing the hope that loving our city as she does, she will soon return to us, come with all her beauty and grace, and sojourn among us, leaving her own northern clime," and kneeling on one knee, Eau Clair handed a small box of rare Japanese workmanship to Vaura. He then drew a small, elegant stand to her side and gently taking the box from her hand, laid it on the table, touched a spring when the lid flew open, disclosing to view a bouquet holder and fan, both works of art. The handle of the fan was of gold inlaid with precious stones, the fan of feathers of brilliant hues. The bouquet holder was of elegant design in gold, studded with diamonds and on one side the words "To la belle Vernon, 1877" inlaid in diamonds of larger size, the whole one glitter of brightness. A small bouquet of delicate odeur was here handed by a servant on a salver to his young master, and Eau Clair saying, "Let me be the first to fill the holder with fragrance," put the flowers into the golden receptacle.
Vaura rising and taking Eau Clair by the hand made a step or two forward now loosing his hand said:
"_Cher ami Monsieur Eau Clair, Mesdames et Messieurs_, I feel that a mere conventional _je vous remercie_ would be too cold and lifeless and in every way distasteful to me, on this occasion, and though I have never made a speech heretofore, and this being literally my maiden speech, please forgive me what pleases you not. Though, fair demoiselles, I have been chosen the belle, I feel as I gaze upon the galaxy of beauty around me that I," she added in gay tones, "have no occasion to blush at my own loveliness, for I feel that the gods have been so lavish in their gifts of everything that is lovely that they have surely become bankrupt and have kept no charms for me, and that Monsieur Eau Clair must have looked at my poor graces through rose-coloured spectacles when he called me _la belle_ and made me the recipient of gifts fit for a queen. I little thought, _cher ami_," she continued, turning slightly towards Eau Clair, "when saying to you a few moments ago that this had been an ideal evening, that two such ideal gifts were in store for myself. I need scarcely tell you that they will be always among my most valued treasures, recalling as they will such pleasant reminiscences to my mind of one of the most delightful evenings I have ever spent. And a word to you, fair demoiselles" turning towards the assemblage of guests with a smile, "never turn your bright eyes from your own land for your lovers and husbands, for your men carry the belt from the universe! Yes, from the world for gallantry, and some of the kindest and best husbands I have met are from among the so-called' fickle' Frenchmen. Thanks for your kind wish, Monsieur Eau Clair, that I shall soon return to fair, bright Paris. I do love your city and your land so much that he to whom I may yet give my heart and life will I know, if he love me, come often to your dear shores and Paris. Ere many more suns have risen I turn my face southwards to that old art world, sunny Italy, which I love well. But there one sometimes has a feeling of sadness in thinking of what she was, especially her Rome, which one does not experience here. I am at one with your great Victor Hugo when he says, 'It is in Paris that the beating of Europe's heart is felt. Paris is the city of cities. Paris is the city of men. There has been an Athens, there has been a Rome, there is a Paris.'"
Here Vaura seated herself. While speaking in her clear tones with a
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