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dead gold of their embroideries in gloom behind him, at the back of his fauteuil. He was a man then of nine-and-twenty or thirty, but who looked something older than he was; he was tall and slightly made, and wore a black velvet morning coat. His face was singularly striking and impressive, more by expression than by feature-it was such a countenance as you see in old Italian portraits, and in some Vandykes, bearing in them power strangely blended with passion, and repose with recklessness; his hair, moustache, and beard were of a dark chesnut hue; his mouth was very beautifully formed, with the smile generous, but rare; the eyebrows were dark, straight, and finely pencilled; the eyes grey. And it was in these, as they lightened to steel-like brilliance or darkened black as night with instantaneous and pitiless anger, that an acute physiognomist would have inferred danger and evil to himself and to others, that would arise from a spring as yet, perhaps, unknown and unsealed; and that an artist studying his face, in which his art would have found no flaw, would have said that this man would be relentless, and might have predicted of him, as the Southern sculptor prophesied of Charles Stuart, “ Something evil will befal him. He carries misfortune on his face."
He lay back in his chair, turning over his letters, looking idly one by one at them, not opening some, and not reading wholly through any; many of them had feminine superscriptions, and scarlet or azure chiffres at the seal, as delicately scented as though they had been brought by some court page, rather than by the rough route of the mail-bag. They afforded him a certain amusement that summer's morning, and Strathmore of White Ladies--this man with the eyes of a Catiline, and the face of a Strafford-had no care greater on his mind for either the present or the future just then than that his keepers had told him the broods were very scanty, and the young birds had died off shockingly in the early parts of the spring; that he was summoned to go on a diplomatic mission to Bulgaria to confer with a crabbed Prince Michel, before he cared to leave England; and that one of his fair correspondents, Nina Montolieu, a Free Companion, whose motto blazoned on her pretty fluttering pennon, was a very rapacious “ tout prendre !” might be a little more troublesome and exigeante then was agreeable, and give him a taste of the tenacious griffes now that he had tired of playing with the pattes de velours. He had nothing graver or darker to trouble him, as he leant back in his fauteuil in the shadow where the sunlight did not come, glancing out now and then to the masses of forest, and the grey cloisters, ivy-hung and crumbling to ruins, that were given to view through the opened casement of the arched windows of his chamber. His face was the face of a State-conspirator of Velasquez, of a doomed Noble of Vandyke; but his life was the easy, nonchalant, untroubled, unchequered life of an English gentleman of our days; and his thoughts were the thoughts that are natural to, and that run in couple with, such a life. “ Born to calamity” would have been as little applicable to Strathmore as it seemed to Charles of England, when he and Villiers looked into the long eyes of the Spanish donnas and drank to the loveliness of Henriette de Bourbon. But in those joyous, brilliant days of Madrid and Paris, the shadow of the future had not fallen across the threshold of Whitehall,-neither as yet had it fallen here across the threshold of White Ladies.
He looked up and turned a little in his chair as the door opened, and the smile that was the more brilliant and the more attractive because extremely rare, lighted his face.
“ You incorrigible fellow! the coffee is cold, and the claret is corked, and the omelettes are overdone, but it's no more than you deserve. Won't you ever be punctual? We were going down to Hurst Warren at nine, and it's now eleven. You are the most idle dog, Erroll, under heaven!”
“You were only down yourself six minutes and a half ago (I asked Craven), so don't you talk, my good fellow. You have been reading the first volume of the ‘Amours d'une Femme,' and sending the rabbits to the deuce; and I've been reading the second, and consigning them to the devil, so nous sommes quittes. A summer morning's made for a French novel in bed, with the window open and the birds singing outside ; pastorals and pruriencies go uncommonly nicely together, rather like lemons and rum, you know. Contrasts are always chic.!”
With which enunciation of doctrine the new comer sat down, rolled his chair up to the table, and began an inspection of some lobster cutlets à la Maréchale, taking a cup of creamy chocolate from the servant behind him, while Strathmore looked at him with a smile still on his lips, and a cordial look in his eyes, as if the mere sound of the other's voice were pleasant to him. The belated guest was a man of his own age, or some few years older; in frame and sinew he was superb; in style he was rather like a dashing Free Lance, a gallant debonnair captain of Bour. bon's Reiters, with his magnificent muscle and reckless brilliance, though he was as gentle as a woman and as lazy as a Circassian girl. He called himself the handsomest man in the Service, and had the palm given him updisputingly; for the frank, clear, azure eyes that grew so soft in love, so trustful in friendship, the long fair hair sweeping off a forehead white as the most delicate blonde's, the handsome features with their sunny candour and their gay sensuous smile, made his face almost as attractive to men as to women. As for the latter, indeed, they strewed his path with the conqueror's myrtle-leaves. His loves were as innumerable as the stars, and by no means so eternal ; and if now and then the beau sexe had the best of the warfare, it was only because they are never compassionate on those who surrender to them at once, and whom they can bind and lead captive at their will, which the least experienced could do at one stroke with Bertie Erroll, as he freely and lamentingly confessed. The Beau Sabreur (as he had been nicknamed, à la Murat, from his cornethood, partly from some back-handed strokes of his in Caffreland, partly from the personal beauty which he inherited from a race whose beauty was all their patrimony) terrifically, as his science could tell when he put the gloves on, and daring, as the chronicles of the Cape decreed him to be in the saddle and the skirmish, was soft as silk in the hands of a beauty, and impressionable and plastic as wax when fairy fingers were at work. He had never in his life resisted a woman, and avowed himself utterly unable to do so. Have you ever known the muscle that brought Laomedon to grief of any avail against the Lydian Queen ?
“ Letters! Why will they write them ?” he said, as he glanced at the small heap of feminine correspondence piled beside his plate. “It's such a pity!—it only makes us feel bearish, bored, and miserably ungrateful ; wastes an hour to get through them religiously, or hangs a millstone of unperformed duty and unexpiated debt about our necks for the livelong day, till post-time comes round again and makes bad worse!”
“Why will they write them ?" echoed Strathmore, giving a contemptuous push of his elbow to Nina Montolieu's envelope, a souvenir of the past season, with which he could very well have dispensed. “Our Brinvilliers poison us with patchouli paper, and stab us with a crowquill. One might like to die of a rose in aromatic pain,' but I would rather not die of a billet of three scented sheets crossed! Correspondence is cruel—with women. If you don't answer them, you feel sinful and discourteous; if you do answer them, you only supply them with ammunition to fire on to you afresh with fifty more rounds of grape and canister. They love to spend their whole mornings skimming over a thousand lines, and winding up with Toujours à toi !' They love to write honey to you with one pen, and gall about you with another; they love to address their dearest friends on a rose-tinted sheet, and blot it to damn them on a cream-coloured one. Writing is women's métier ; but it is deucedly hard that they will inflict the results upon us!"
“It's an odd psychological fact that women will write on for a twelve. month unanswered, as religiously as they wipe their pens, omit their dates, and believe in the acceleration of postal speed, by an immediate' on the envelope," put in Phil Danvers from the bottom of the table, helping himself to some Strasbourg pâté. “Some of them write de. lightfully, though— Tricksey Bellevoix does. Her notes are the most delicious olla podrida of news, mots, historiettes, and little tit-bits of confidence imaginable; she always tells you, too, mischievous things of the people you don't like, instead of scandalising people you do, after the ordinary fashion. Her letters are not bad fun at all when you're smoking, and want something to look at for ten minutes.”
“I'll tell her how you rate them! She's going to Charlemont next week. See if you get any more letters, Phil !" cried Erroll.
“My dear fellow, if we turned king's evidence on one another, I don't think we should get any more feminine favours at all !" laughed Strathmore. “Very few of them would relish the chit-chat about them if they'd correct reports from the club windows and short-hand notes from the smoking-rooms. Would you be let in again to the violet boudoir in Bruton-street if Lady Fitz knew you'd told me last night that she had the very devil's own temper? and would Con be called ' ami choisi de mon cæur,' if Madame la Baronne knew that when he gets her notes he says, • Deuce take the woman !-how she bothers,' audibly in White's ? Try that grilse, Langston—it was in the river yesterday."
** And is prime. It would have been worth Georgie's trolling."
“Georgie lost all her rings last week in the Dee-five thousand pounds' worth in diamonds and sapphires-serve her perfectly right! What business has she with March browns and dun governors ?” said the host of White Ladies, drawing a plate of peaches to him. “I cannot conceive what women are about when they take up that line of thing. How can they imagine an ill-done replica of ourselves can attract us! A fast
July-VOL. CXXVIII. NO. DXI.
woman is an anomaly, and all anomalies are jarring and bizarre. To kiss lips that smell of smoke-to hear one's belle amie welcome one with
All serene!'-to see her bugle eyeball and her cheek of cream' only sparkle and flush for a tan gallop and a Rawcliffe yearling—to have her boudoir as horsy as the Corner, and her walk a cross between a swing and a strut! Pah! give me women as soft, and as delicate, and as velvet as my peaches !”
“ Peaches ?put in Erroll. “Ominous simile! Your soft women have an uncommonly hard stone at their coré, aud a kernel that's poison under the velvet skin, mon cher Cis !".
“ Soit! I only brush the bloom, and taste the sweetness !" yawned Strathmore. “A wise man never lingers long enough over the same to have time to come to the core. With peaches and women, it's only the side next the sun that's tempting ; if you find acid in either, leave them for the downy blush of another! How poetic we grow! Is it the Rhenish? That rich, old, amber, mellow wine always has a flavour of Hoffmann's fancies and Jean Paul's verse about it; it smells of the Rheingau! I don't wonder Schiller took his inspirations from it. I say, Erroll, I heard from Rokeby this morning. "He doesn't say a word about the Sartory betting, nor yet of the White Duchess scandal. He is only full of two things : La Pucelle's chances of the Prix de Rastatt at Baden, and of this beauty he's raving of, something superb, according to him, a Creole, I think he says-Lady Vavasour! "Really one's bored to death with ecstasies about that woman! Have you heard the name? I have lots of times, but I've always missed her."
“Vavasour? Vavasour? The deuce, I have—rather!" said Erroll, thrown into a beatific vision by the mere name of the lady under discussion, stroking his soft, silky moustache, while he stirred some more cream into his chocolate.
“ Who is she ?” asked Langton, who was only just back from a ten years' campaign in Scinde, curling a loose leaf round his Manilla.
“ More than I can tell you, tres-cher. I believe it's more than any. body knows. She sprang into society like Aphrodite from the sea-foam. One may as well be graceful in metaphor, eh? You mean a Creole, Strathmore, made a tremendous row at St. Petersburg—came nobody knew precisely whence—hadn't been seen till she appeared as Lady Vavasour and Vaux tooling a six-in-hand pony-trap, with pages of honour in lapis-lazuli liveries, that created a furore in Longchamps, and made the Pré Catalan crowded to get a glimpse of her. Ever since then all Europe's been at her feet!”
“ That's the woman !" broke in Danvers. “Oh, she's divine, they say! Everybody goes mad after her, and can't help himself! Scrope Waverley raved of her; he saw her at Biarritz, and swears she's quite matchless. She's the most capricious coquette, too, that ever broke hearts with a fan-handle !"
“ Hearts ! Faugh!" sneered Strathmore; and, when he sneered, his face was very cold-a coldness strangely at variance with the swift, dark passions that slumbered in his eyes. My good fellow, don't give us a réchauffé of Scrope Waverley's sentimental nonsense de grâce! The man must be weaker than the fan-handle if he be ruled by it."
Erroll lifted his eyebrows, and sighed:
“ May be! But the little ivory sticks play the deuce with us when they're well managed.”
- Speak for yourself! Don't make your confessions in the plural, that their bêtise may sound general, pray !"
“ Oh, you—you're a confounded cold fellow! Wear chained armour, wrap yourself in asbestos, and all that sort of thing, larva kisses' wouldn't melt you, and Helen wouldn't move you unless you chose !"
Strathmore laughed a little as he brushed a goat off the velvet sleeve of his coat:
“ Why should they? It is only fools who go in fetters. I can not comprehend that madness about a woman—to lie at her feet and come at her call, and take her caresses one minute and her neglect the next, as if you were her spaniel, with nothing better to do than to live in her bondage! It is miserably contemptible! What is weakness if that isn't one, eh?”
Erroll Aung the envelope with the scarlet chiffre, lying on the table within reach of his hand, at his host and friend, as proof and reproof of the nullity of his doctrines.
“ Most noble lord ! you have the cheek to talk coldly and disdainfully like that, while you know you are in the griffes of the Montolieu, and Heaven knows how many others besides !"
Strathmore laughed as the envelope fluttered down on the ground, falling short of him where he lay back in his fauteuil :
“ Bécasse ! that is a very different affair. Nina is a dashing little lawless lady, and knows how to pillage with both hands; one must pay if one dallies with the Free Companions. You don't suppose she ever held me in her bondage, or flattered herself she did for an hour, do you? No one was ever in love with that sort of women after twenty; one makes love to them, en parenthese as it were, of course, but that's quite another thing. It is how you lose your hearts, how you hang on a smile, how you let yourselves be marked and hit and brought down like the silliest noddy-bird that ever sat to be shot at, how you go mad after one woman, and that one woman with, nine times out of ten, nothing worth wor-' shipping about her—it is that which I can't understand."
“Tant mieux pour vous !” said Erroll, softly, and with a profound sigh of envy. “Go about with your noli me tangere shield, and be piously thankful you've got it then. Only the .haughty in their strength,' et cætera, you know—what's the rest of the scriptural warning ? — unbelievers do come to grief sometimes for their hardened heterodoxy! This superb Vavasour, I want dreadfully to see her. They say she is the best thing we have had for a long time, since the Duchesse d'Ivore was in her first prime.”
“ She must be the same I heard so much about in Paris last winter; she was passing the season in Rome, so I missed seeing her. She has the most wayward caprices, they say, of any living woman,” said Danvers, turning over the leaves of the morning papers; “but the caprices d'une belle femme are always bewitching and always permissible. A great beauty has no sins; she may do what she likes, and we forgive her, even with the leopard elaws in our skin. The pretty panther! it looks so handsome and so soft; its very crimes are only mischief."