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- A Heart-Song of To-day - 60/67 -
"Leave me out, Tedril, please," said Lord Rivers lazily; "I'd rather be all eyes and ears just at present," drawing closer to Madame, and being for the moment proprietor of her fine arm, lace wraps telling no tales. "I vote Delrose kiss and make up, so we see the statue unveil." At this there was laughter, when Rivers continued: "Don't look black as a storm-tossed sky, Delrose, as the veiled lady hath it. I dare say honours were divided between you and Trevalyon."
"Both soldiers, they went to war and vanquished a woman, eh, Georgie?" said Kate, still laughing; "they all do it. Even my spouse, Saint Eric, is laying siege to that women in violet velvet."
"While scarlet is our colour," cried Everly, gallantly, as Mrs. Forester and others joined the group, while the huntress exclaimed--
"Speak, Major; say you deny the wooing and the wooer. Black isn't our colour, so for fun we'll pelt the robed one."
Delrose, pushed to it and full of hate to Trevalyon, excited, and as was usual, reckless (knowing also what his plot was for this very night; knowing, too, how that act would be canvassed at dawn; when society! in her chaste morning robe would look shocked at what she would wink at at midnight, and in her _robe de chambre_), electrified the groups of wasps and butterflies, in their musical mur-mur and whirr-whirr, by standing up and saying, in a tone of bravado--
"A pretty plot and well got up for a fifth-rate theatre, but not for a drawing-room in Belgravia I need scarcely say I deny the charge, the object of which is to free a man from a 'hidden wife' to enable him to wed a new beauty with us to-night. (Sensation). Sir Lionel Trevalyon has lately come into the possession of much gold; the Church of Rome hath a fancy for the yellow metal; if the woman robed as a nun be a nun, then she is only adding to the coffers of the church by speaking the words we have heard. If she even be the one-time wife of poor Colonel Clarmont, society, knowing a thing or two (excuse the slang), will place no reliance on the story of such an one."
To attempt to describe the effects of the words of Delrose on the gay groups of revellers would be impossible. Butterflies and wasps forgot for a moment their beauty and their sting. It was as though Dame Rumour and Mrs. Grundy were struck blind and dumb, their lovers faithless, or Worth dead! But now the Babel of tongues fills the air, and silence lays down her sceptre to go forth into the night alone.
"Isn't it too delightful! a double scandal!" cried one.
"Alas! alas! that my day should be in such an age," said Lord Ponsonby.
"I wonder who it is darling Sir Lionel wishes to marry," said another. At this remembering rivalry got on the war path, as each looked critically at the other.
"Trevalyon would be a decent fellow enough if you did not all kneel to him," growled a county magnate. "I wish he would go to Salt Lake city and take his harem with him."
"I wonder if he has his eye on me," cried gay Mrs. Wingfield; "you men do sometimes take a fancy to other men's belongings. If he does I shall have to succumb instanter. Eustace, dear fellow, has rather a consumptive look, now I come to notice him."
"He may drop off in time," laughed the huntress; "but I am afraid I've lost my whip," she added, dolefully, brushing past Colonel Haughton, standing beside Lady Esmondet, and conversing in an undertone with Claxton and Trevalyon.
"Lost your whip!" exclaimed her host with forced gaiety; "that dare-devil has picked it up, then."
"Say that he only has the whip-hand _pour le present_, dear Sir Lionel,” said Mrs. Wingfield, taking both his hands in a pretty, beseeching way.
"Or we women shall eat our hearts out in pity for your chains," said Vaura softly, coming near him.
"You are a pretty group of gamblers," he said, thinking there had been a wager among them; "but I must win when fair hands throw the dice."
Delrose had unconsciously given his foe some ecstatic moments, for the crowd so pressed about him to hear what answer he would make to the bold denial of the black-bearded Major that Vaura was close enough to hear his heart-beats, and to whom he whispered brokenly--
"All the nun's words will not avail, darling, after his false denial; I must bring on my other proofs for both our sakes, beloved."
"Poor, tired Lion.; I wish I could help you," she whispered from behind her fan, and he felt her yield to the pressure of the crowd and come closer.
"You do, sweet; I feel _just now_ strong and weak; you understand?"
One glance up from her fan and he is satisfied.
But the conjectures as to whether Sir Lionel will or can reply to Delrose are put to rest by his voice again filling the air--
"To seem, and to be, are as unlike as are the hastily constructed bulwarks of the savage tribes as compared with a solid British fortress; we soldiers know this, and that Major Delrose. should still entrench himself behind the flimsy _seeming_ of days of yore, where he was safe through my careless good-nature (we shall call it), in allowing it to be supposed that I had robbed Colonel Clarmont of his wife, submitting to the stigma so that his act would not stand in the way of his promotion as this poor nun has told you; you will wonder why I was careless. Because, for reasons of my own, I had forsworn matrimony, as I then thought, for all time. But Madame Grundy has lately revived this scandal, making a lash for my back with it for the hands of Dame Rumour. I have determined to stamp it out at once, and for ever! And now to pull down the bulwarks of Major Delrose." And holding up his hand, a signal agreed on with his servant, Sims at once ushered a priest and a small boy, who was masked, and who walked, as if asleep, up to the head of the room. Father Lefroy, saying a word to the nun in an undertone, lifted the boy to a chair beside her; now, standing beside them, in calm measured tones, he spoke as follows:--
"We priests of the church have too many strange experiences to be very much astonished at any new one, yet I must say that to hear the words, on oath, of one of our pious sisterhood doubted is a novel sensation. Major Delrose is unwise in his present course of action, as he has by such prolonged a most painful duty on the part of the church. Sir Lionel Trevalyon will pardon me for saying he was wrong in wearing the mantle of dishonour for another; the lining, a good motive, was unseen by the jealous eye of society, hence, when the lash was put into her hands by revenge or envy, her motive power, it, the lash, went down; Sir Lionel Trevalyon has had his punishment. With unwearied exertion he has found Sister Magdalene through Paris, at London, and she has spoken the truth, and Major Delrose knows it. Moreover, and in connection with his name, we have examined papers, letters to Sister Magdalene, previous to and after her elopement, thus proving her words. Again, I may say here, for I have grave doubts of his having done so, six months ago I received from Father O'Brien, of New York city, same mail as he wrote Major Delrose, whose acquaintance he had made in that city in 1873, and believing by his words that he was an intimate friend of the house of Haughton, wrote him, as I say, of dying messages, and a few lines to a niece of Colonel Haughton, by name Vaura Vernon, and from Guy Cyril Travers."
At this, Vaura started, turned pale and visibly trembled, putting her hand to her side, when half a dozen men started to their feet; but Lionel quietly put her arm within his and led her to a seat behind a large stand covered with rare orchids and beautiful ferns, where, did she not revive, the open doors of the conservatory lent a means of speedy retreat.
"My own love, be brave; it was six months ago," he whispered, bending over her, and puzzled at her great emotion; "I know it, dear; and yet dead, poor, poor Guy: I have been always unpitying towards him. But did he say he was dead! let me hear; he will tell more; but in this crowd!" And she leaned forward, her large eyes glistening, the rose mouth quivering. Lady Esmondet silently joined her, as did her uncle, who, ever and anon shot fiery glances of contempt at Delrose, who, with bold recklessness, still leaned forward on his folded arms, between Madame and Lord Rivers. But the priest, instead of continuing aloud, came to Vaura's side, saying quickly and in low tones:
"Pardon; this is; yes, I see it is society's rarest flower--Miss Vernon; you have been hidden from me by those who would sun themselves in your smiles; else had I seen you, whom I know from the London shop-windows: should have told you quietly of Father O'Brien's letter, as I see by your emotion, black Delrose has been faithless to his trust."
"He has; tell me of poor Guy; did you say he is dead?" she asked, in broken accents, her eyes full; "tell me quickly; now, here; I can bear it."
"It was only a scrawl; he was dying, and signed your--your husband; he had been stricken down by fever; your name was ever on his lips; he said you loved Paris, and he would be buried there; he had loved you all his life; he was glad to go; you were not to shed one tear for him, but to make some one blest by your love; your miniature was to be buried with him; he is in paradise; you must not weep for him, and so cause others to weep for you."
"I shall not forget to remember your kindness," she said, giving her hand, the tears welling her eyes; "Sir Lionel Trevalyon will perhaps bring me out to your monastery."
"I thank you, and for our Order," and moving away to his former position, he continued:
"I have now finished my task, self-imposed and in the ends of justice; Sir Lionel Trevalyon is free to go to God's altar with the proudest and fairest woman in the world; and may the blessing of heaven rest upon his union. Had he not exposed the facts, he could not have wed, while your lips framed the word--bigamist!"
Here the boy started violently, put up his hands to his face, tearing off the mask, and rubbing his eyes.
"Where am I, Father Lefroy? you're not on the square; you said I was going to see my mother; come, own up; what did you say I was coming where every one wore masks for?" and he stamped on the one he had torn off (and which they thought it best he should wear, so that at a certain point, if necessary, his strong resemblance to his father should be suddenly revealed).
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