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round him like two dogs round a hedgehog, not admiring their task, having a genuine horror of lunacy, and being enervated, probably, by the epicureanisms of plush-existence. * “ That is a pretty story, my lord, only, unfortunately, it isn't true. Ben travato-but all a bumbug! I am as sane as anybody here; much too sane to have my brain turned because my wife ran away from me. Most men would thank their stars for such a kind deliverance! I am come to claim mine, though, for a little business there is to be done, and she is on your arm now, my lord. She married me nineteen years ago, and made me repent of it before a month was out."
“Dear, dear! how absurd, and get how shocking! Pray send him away,” whispered the Trefusis, clinging to the Earl's arm, looking, it must be confessed, more like a devil than a divinity, for her lips were white and twitching savagely, and the spots of rouge glared scarlet.
“ Do you hear me, fellows? Turn that impudent, rascal out!” swore Morehampton.
" That fellow's wife! Why, she's De Vigne's wife. Everybody knows that!" muttered Leslie Egerton, sticking his glass in his eye. “Saw him married myself, poor wretch !!!
* Mais qu'est ce que c'est donc?” asked Mademoiselle Papillon, edging herself in with a dim delicious idea that it was something detrimental to her rival.
“Kick him out!” “ Turn him out!” “An escaped lunatic !” “Impertinent rascal!" " Ma foi ! qu'a t-il donc !" " Mais comme c'est extraordinaire !” “ Dieu ! qu'est ce que cela veut dire !” resounded on all sides from Morehampton's guests and the Trefusis's adorers.
- Major de Vigne's wife?" repeated Raymond. “ No she's not, gentlemen; he knows it now, too, and thanks Heaven for it. She married me, as I say, nineteen years ago ; more fool I to let her! Ten years ago she married Major de Vigne. So you see, my lord, she is my wife, not his, and I believe what she has done is given a nasty coarse impolite term by law. What I tell you is quite true. Here's Captain Chevasney, my lord, who will tell you the same, and tell it better than I. Come, old girl, you've had a long holiday; you must come with me and work for a little while now."
He spoke with a diabolical grin, and, thus appealed to, I went forward and gave Morehampton as succinctly as I could the outlines of the story. The Trefusis's face grew grey as ashes, save where the rouge remained in two bright crimson spots fixed and unchanged, her eyes glittered in tiger-like fury, in cold, hellish wrath, and her parasol fell to the ground; its ivory handle snapped in two as her hands clenched upon it, only with a violent effort restraining herself from flying at mine or her husband's throat. For the first time in her life, the clever Greek had her own marked card turned against her; her schemes of malice, of vengeance, of ambition, were all swept away like cobwebs, never to be gathered up again. De Vigne was free, and she was caught in her own toils!
She swung round, sweeping her black Chantilly lace round her, and scattering her sandal-wood perfume on the air, laughing:
" And do you believe this cock-and-bull story, Lord Morehampton ?" Her voice came out in a low, fierce hiss, like a serpent's, while her large, sensual, ruby lips curled and quivered with impotent rage. “Do you believe this valet's tale, bribed by a man who would move heaven and earth to prove his lawful marriage false, and the corroborating story told so glibly by a gentleman who, though he calls himself a man of honour, would swear black were white to pleasure his friend ?”
“Come, come there, my lady!” laughed Raymond. “Wait a bit. Don't call us bad names. You can't ride the high horse any more like that, and if you don't take care what you say we'll have you up for libel; we will, I assure you. Come, you used to be wide-awake once, and if you don't keep a civil tongue in your head it may be the worse for you."
"Lord Morehampton, will you endure this? I must appeal,” began the Trefusis, turning again to that noble earl, who, with his double eyeglass in his eye, and his under lip dropped in extreme astonishment, was too much amazed, and too much annoyed, at such an unseemly and untimely interruption to his morning fête to take any part in the proceedings whatever. He was a little shy of her, indeed, and kept edging back slowly and surely. She was trembling now from head to foot with rage at her defeat, terror for the consequences of the esclandre, mad wrath and hatred that her victim had slipped from her fetters, and that De Vigne was free.
Her husband interrupted her with a coarse laugh, before she could finish.
“You appeal to your cavalier servente, madame ? Oh! if my Lord Morehampton likes to keep you, I have no objection ; it will take a good deal of trouble off my hands, and I only wish him joy of his bargain. And next time, Lucy, make sure your chickens are hatched before you count them!"
At so summary a proposition from a husband, the earl involuntarily drew back, blank dismay visible on his purple and supine features. The offer alarmed him! The Trefusis was a deuced handsome woman, but she was a deuced expensive one too, thought he, and he hardly desired to be saddled with her pour toujours. Added to his other expenses, for a permanence, she would go very near to ruin him, not to mention tears, reproaches, and scenes from many other quarters; and “ she is a very vixen of a temper!" reflected the earl, wisely, as he edged a little farther back, and left her standing alone—who is not alone in defeat ?
The Trefusis looked round ou everybody as they hung back from her, leaving a clear space about her, with a searching, defiant glance, her fierce black eyes seeming to smite and wither all they lit on; great savage lines gathered round her mouth and down her brow, that was dark with mortification and impotent chained-up fury. She glanced around, her lips twitching like a snared animal's, her face ashy grey, save where the crimson rouge burned in two oval patches, flaring there like streaks of flame, in hideous contrast to the deathly pallor of the rest. She was defeated, outdone, humiliated; the frauds and schemes of twenty years fruitless and unavailing in the end; her victiin free, her enemies triumphant! She glared upon us all till the boldest women shrank away terrified, and the men shuddered as they thought what a fiend incarnate this their “belle femme" was! Then she gathered her rich lace around her. To do her justice, she was game to the last !
“ Order my carriage!”.
She was beaten, but she would not show it; and to her carriage she swept, her massive Chantilly gathered round her, her silks rustling, her perfume scenting the air, her demie traine brushing the lime-blossoms off the lawn, her step stately and measured, her head defiantly erect, leaving on the grass behind her the fragile ivory handle, symbol of her foiled vengeance and her impotent wrath—her dethroned sovereignty. There was a moment's silence as she swept across the lawn, her tall chasseur, in his dashing green and gold uniform, walking before her, her two footmen with their long white wands behind, and at her side, dogging her footsteps, with his sneer of retribution and his smile of vengeance, the valet who had claimed her as his wife. There was a moment's silence; then the tongues were loosened, and her friends, and her rivals, and her adorers spake.
“Gad?” quoth my Lord of Morehampton," she looked quite ugly, 'pon my soul she did, with those great rouge spots on her cheeks. Curse it! how deuced shocking!"
"Mon Dieu, milor," sneered Mademoiselle Papillon, “je vous félicité sur votre nouvelle amie, peut-être vous voudriez avoir le plaiser de prendre la rôle du troisième mari !"
“Better go and be Queen of the Greeks—deuced sharp woman!” said Lee Philipps.
6 Always said that creature was the very devii. Plucky enough, though!" remarked Leslie Egerton, with his cigarette in his teeth. “What a jolly thing for De Vigne! Prime, ain't it?”
“The biter bit !" chuckled old Fantyre. “Well, she was very useful to me, but she was always a devil, as you say, Leslie; horrid temper! She should have managed her game better. I've no patience with people who don't make sure of their cards. Dear dear! who'll read me to sleep of a night?”
And the others all crowded round me, dirty old Fantyre peering closest of all, with her little bright, cunning, inquisitive eyes.
“Come, tell us, Chevasney, is it true?”. " I say, old fellow, what's the row ?"
So the world talks of us, either in our sorrows or our sins! They were full of curiosity, annoyance, amusement-as it happened to affect them individually ; none of them stopped to regret the great lie, to remember the great wrong, to grieve for the debased human nature, and the bitter satire on the Holy Bond of Marriage, that stood out in such black letters in the new story which I added to their repertoire of scandales. Cancans amuse us; we never stop to recollect the guilt, the sorrow, or the lie that must give them their foundation-stone, their colouring, and their flavour. Mademoiselle Papillon was nearest of all to the moral of the story, when she shrugged her little plump shoulders :
“Mon Dieu ! Qui voudrait se marier! Dans celle loterie bizarre qui peut espérer d'éviter la chicane ? En amour on est un ange-en mariage un démon. Nul homme sage ne l'essayerait !"
* The summer sunshine that lit up the sparkling wines, and glittering toilettes, and gorgeous liveries of the fête at Enghein, shining on the Trefusis’s parure of amethysts and on the rich scarlet rouge of her cheeks - that flag of defiance that flaunted there in defeat as in victory!shone at the same hour through the dark luxuriant foliage of the chesnuts at St. Crucis, on the lilac-boughs heavy with massed blossom, on the half-opened rosebuds clinging round the woodwork of the old brown walls, and on the swallow's nest nestled under the thatch of the eaves. A warm amber light, the light of the coming summer, lay on the earth, and in it the gnats were whirling at their play, and the early butterflies Auttering their saffron wings. The afternoon was perfectly still, no sound breaking in upon its silence except now and then the song of a bird in the branches, the lazy drone of a bee among the lilacs, or the distant chime of a church clock afar off ringing the quarters slowly and softly in the summer air. And out on the dark oaken sill of the window, drooping her head upon her hands, while the light flickered down upon her hair through the network of the leaves, leant a woman, heedless, in the depth of her own thought, of the play of the south wind or the songs of the birds, as both made music about her among the chesnut-blossoms and the lilac-leaves without. Alma had been but a few hours in England, and had come at once to her old home, endeared to her by a thousand associations. She was alone, nothing near her save the bee droning in the cup of the early rose, or the yellow butterfly that settled on her hair unnoticed. Her head was bent, resting on her hand; her face was very pale, save when now and then a deep warm flush passed over it, suddenly to fade again as quickly; her eyes were dark and dreamy, with a yearning tenderness; and on her lips was a smile, mournful yet proud, as, half unconsciously, they uttered the words of her thoughts aloud : “ I will not leave theę, no, nor yet forsake thee. Where thou goest I will go; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God!"
They were the words of an oath-an oath to whose keeping she would dedicate her life, even though, to so keep it, that life would be in the world's eyes condemned and sacrificed. She leant there, against the dark woodwork, alone, the silence unbroken that reigned about her, save when the wind swept through the fragrant branches above, or the rush of a bird's delicate wings cleft the air. Suddenly-in the stillness, while yet it was so distant that no other ear could have heard it-she caught a footfall while its sound was so faint that it did not break the silence, as the spaniel catches the step of his master while yet afar off; she lifted her head with the wild, eager grace that was natural to her as is its freedom to a flower, her eyes growing dark and humid in their expectancy and their great joy, her colour changing swiftly with the force of a joy so keen that it trenched on anguish, with the hot vivid Aush of a love strong as the life in which it is embedded and entwined. Then, with a low, glad cry, she sprang, swift as an antelope, to meet him, and to cling to him as she would have clung to him through evil and adversity, through the scorch of shame and the throes of death, through the taunts of the world and the ghastly terrors of the grave.
For many moments De Vigne could find no words even to tell her that which she never dreamed of, that which panted on his lips; he held her in his arms, crushing her in one long, close embrace, meeting as those meet who would not spend one hour of their lives asunder. For many moments he bent over her, speechless, breathless, straining her madly to him, spending on her lips the passion that found no fitting utterance in words; then, stifled and hoarse in its very agony of joy, his voice broke out:
“ You will be my wife-this day—this hour! Alma !-thank God with me,I am free !"
The day stole onward : faintly from the far distance swung the silvery sound of evening bells ; the low south winds stirred amongst the lilacblossoms, shaking their rich fragrance out upon the air ; the bees hummed themselves to slumber in the hearts of folded roses; the mellow amber light grew deeper and clearer, while the first stars were coming out in the west, the day was passing onward, ere long to fade into twilight, ere long to sink into night. And as the rays of the western sun swept through the parted network of the leaves, and fell about his feet, shining in the eyes of the woman he loved, and bathing her hair in light where it swept across his breast, De Vigne bowed his head in thanksgiving too deep for words ; not alone for the passionate joy in which his life was steeped, not alone for his freedom from that deadly curse that had been on him for so long-fruits of an early marriage-but for that hour, past yet still 60 dear; so near that still he sickened at it, as men at the memory of some horrible death they have but by a hair’s-breadth escaped. That hour when, for the first time in all his wayward, headlong, vehement manhood, he had resisted and Aung off from him the temptation that, yielded to but for one brief fleeting instant, would, though never tracked or known by man, have made him taste fire in every kiss of the lips he loved, quail before the light of the fairest day that dawned, and start in the sweat of agony, and wake in the terror of remembered guilt from his sweetest rest, his most delicious sleep ;-that hour in the forest solitude, when, goaded, taunted, reviled, maddened, he had been face to face with what he loathed, parted by her from what he loved, he had had strength to Aling her from him, untouched, unharmed, unchastised—that hour which had been the crowning temptation of Granville De Vigne's life. He had had strength to cast it behind him with a firm hand, and had had strength to flee from it-fearing himself, as the wisest and holiest amongst us need do in those dark hours that come to all when there is but a plank between us and the fathomless abyss of some great guilt.
And while the starlit night of the early summer stole onwards towards the earth, De Vigne bowed his head over the woman who had cleaved to him through all, and would so have cleaved howsoever his life had turned, whose arms were close about him, and whose warm lips were on his; and while a deep and delicious joy steeped his present and his future in its own golden and voluptuous delight, he looked backward for one instant to his Past, and thanked God.
The history is told! It is one simple enough and common enough in this world, and merely traces out the evil that accrued to two men in the same station of life and in similar circumstances, although of widely different temperaments, from an error of judgment—the most fatal error that man can make--an Early Marriage. Both my friends took advantage of this liberty, you see, to tie themselves again! I don't say in that respect, “Go thou and do likewise,” ami lecteur, if you be similarly situated, but rather, if you are free-keep so! A wise man, they say, knows when he is well off!