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one knows how soon, Countess of Hurstmonceux and Marchioness of Banff! Ah, what a difference that will make!"
And Faustina consoled herself with anticipations of a brilliant future, in which she would reign as a queen over these scornful prudes. But Faustina reckoned without Nemesis, her creditor. And Nemesis was at the door.
It was a wild night. The snowstorm that had been threatening all day long came down like avalanches whirled before the northern blast. It was a night in which no one would willingly go abroad; when everyone keenly appreciated the comfort of shelter.
Very comfortable on this evening was Mrs. Dugald's boudoir. The crimson carpet and crimson curtains glowed ruddy red in the lamplight and firelight. The thundering dash of the sea upon the castle rock below came, softened into a soothing lullaby, to this bower of beauty.
Lord Vincent and Mrs. Dugald were seated at an elegant and luxurious little supper that would have satisfied the most fastidious and dainty epicure. Three courses had been removed. The fourth--the dessert--was upon the table. Rare flowers bloomed in costly vases; ripe fruits blushed in gilded baskets; rich wines sparkled in antique flasks.
On one side of the table Faustina reclined gracefully in a crimson velvet easy-chair. The siren was beautifully dressed in the pure white that her sin-smutted soul, in its falsehood, affected. Her robe was of shining white satin, trimmed with soft white swan's- down; fine white lace delicately veiled her snowy neck and arms; white lilies of the valley wreathed her raven hair and rested on her rounded bosom.
She looked "divine," as her fool of a lover assured her. Yes, she looked "divine"--as the devil did when he appeared in the image of an angel of light.
How did she dare, that guilty and audacious woman, to assume a dress that symbolized purity and humility?
Lord Vincent lolled in the other armchair on the opposite side of the table, and from under his languid and half-tipsy eyelids cast passionate glances upon her.
Mrs. Macdonald had withdrawn her chair from the table and nearer the fire, and had fallen asleep, or complacently affected to do so; for Mrs. MacDonald was the soul of complacency. Mrs. Dugald declared that she was a love of an old lady.
"What a night it is outside! It is good to be here," said Faustina, taking a bunch of ripe grapes and turning towards the fire.
"Yes, my angel," answered the viscount drowsily, regarding her from under his eyelids. "What a bore it is!"
"What is a bore?" inquired Faustina, putting a ripe grape between her plump lips.
"That we are not married, my sweet."
"Eh bien! we soon shall be."
"Then why do you keep me at such a distance, my angel?"
"Ah, bah! think of something else!"
The viscount poured out a bumper of rich port and raised it to his lips.
"Put that wine down, Malcolm, you have had too much already."
He obeyed her and set the glass untasted on the board.
"That's a duck; now you shall have some grapes," she said, and, with pretty, childish grace, she began to pick the ripest grapes from her bunch and to put them one by one into the noble noodle's mouth.
"It is nice to be here, is it not, mon ami?" she smilingly asked.
"Yes, sweet angel!" he sighed languishingly.
"And when one thinks of the black dark and sharp cold and deep snow outside, and of travelers losing their way, and getting buried in the drifts and freezing to death, one feels so happy and comfortable in this warm, light room, eating fruit and drinking wine."
"Yes, sweet angel! but you won't let me have any more wine," said the viscount drowsily.
"You have had more than enough," she smiled, putting a ripe grape between his gaping lips.
"Just as you say, sweet love! You know I am your slave. You do with me as you like," he answered stupidly.
"Now," said Faustina, her thoughts still running on the contrast between the storm without and the comfort within, "what in this world would tempt one to leave the house on such a night as this?
"Nothing in the world, sweet love!"
"Malcolm, I do not think I would go out to-night, even in a close carriage, for a thousand pounds."
"No, my angel, nor for ten thousand pounds should you go."
"I like to think of the people that are out in the cold, though. It doubles my enjoyment," she said, as she put another fine grape in his mouth.
"Yes, sweet love!" he answered drowsily, closing his fingers on her hand and drawing her forcibly towards him.
"Ah! stop!" she exclaimed, under her breath, and directing his attention to Mrs. MacDonald, who sat with her eyes closed in the easy-chair by the chimney corner.
"She is asleep," said the viscount, in a hoarse whisper.
"No, no! you are not certain!" whispered Faustina.
"Come, come! sit close to me!" exclaimed the viscount, with fierce vehemence, drawing her towards him.
"You forget yourself! You are drunk, Malcolm!" cried Faustina, resisting his efforts.
At that moment there came a rap at the door; it was a soft, low tap, yet it startled the viscount like a thunderclap. He dropped the hand of Faustina and demanded angrily:
"Who the fiend is there?"
There was no answer, but the rap was gently repeated.
"Speak, then, can't you? Who the demon are you?" he cried.
"Why don't you tell them to come in?" said Faustina, in a displeased tone.
"Come in, then, set fire to you, whoever you are!" exclaimed Lord Vincent.
The door was opened and old Cuthbert softly entered.
"What the fiend do you want, sir?" haughtily demanded the viscount; for he had lately taken a great dislike to old Cuthbert, as well as to every respectable servant in the house, whose humble integrity was a tacit rebuke to his own dishonor; and least of all would he endure the intrusion of one of them upon his interviews with Faustina.
"What brings you here, I say?" he repeated,
"An'it please your lairdship, there are twa poleecemen downstairs, wi' a posse at their tails," answered the old man, bowing humbly.
"What is their business here?"
"I dinna ken, me laird."
"Something about that stupid murder, I suppose."
Faustina started; she was probably thinking of Katie.
"I dinna think it is onything connected wi' Ailsie's death, me laird."
"What then? What mare's nest have they found now, the stupid Dogberries?"
"I canna tak' upon mesel' to say, me laird. But they are asking for yer lairdship and Mistress Dugald."
This exclamation came from Faustina, who turned deadly pale, and stared wildly at the speaker. Indeed her eyes and her face could be compared to nothing else but two great black set in a marble mask.
"Aye, mem, e'en just for yer ain sel', and na ither, forbye it be his lairdship's sel'," replied the old man, bowing with outward humility and secret satisfaction, for Cuthbert cordially disapproved and disliked Faustina.
"Horror! I see how it is! The dead body of the black woman has been cast up by the sea, as I knew it would be, and we shall be guillotined--no!--hanged, hanged by the neck till we are dead!" she cried, wringing and twisting her hands in deadly terror.
"I wish to Heaven you may be, for an incorrigible fool!" muttered the viscount, in irrepressible anger; for, you see, his passion for this woman was not of a nature to preclude the possibility of his falling into a furious passion with her upon occasions like this. "What madness has seized you now?" he continued. "There is no danger; you have no cause to be alarmed. They have probably come about the murder of Ailsie Dunbar, Satan burn them! Cuthbert, what
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