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dominoes had surrounded her, and on the arm of one of them she had passed so rapidly out of the Pavillon de Flore, that ere he could follow she was lost in the throng.
Who could she be? Who could know him so well while she was unknown to him? Her air, her voice, her eyes, were half familiar while yet strange, and the mask might have effectually disguised his best-known friend. Yet, as he recalled those who alone could have spoken thus to him, he rejected them all; this mysterious clairvoyante could be none of them. The lost White Domino piqued him. Soft voices challenged him with witty mots, fair maskers kept him talking to them that light, brilliant badinage that women live on, as humming-birds on farina, and bees upon honey; eyes dazzling as hers wooed him tenderly through their masks; but Strathmore was haunted by one woman, to the exclusion of all the rest ; he sought her unceasingly through the Luilhiers' salons, but always in vain. The sweet, sensuous mouth, the luminous eyes, the thrilling, musical voice and laugh, that would have had magic in others, were not what piqued him ; it was the strange knowledge that she had of himself, the unerring fidelity with which she had sketched traits in his character that he himself even had known but in indistinct shadow till the light of her words had streamed in upon them. Had he believed in clairvoyance he would have sworn to it now! He sought the White Domino persistently, ceaselessly, through the crowds that filled the rooms for the Duchesse's fête à la Régence—sought her always in vain. At last, giving up in provoked despair his bootless chase of the azure sapphires and golden bees, that only flashed on his sight in the distance to perpetually elude his approach, he leant against the doorway of one of the conservatories, where a breeze reached him, cooling the air that was hot with the blaze of the myriad lights, and heavy with the odour of per. fumes and flowers; and stood there looking down the long suite of salons, glittering with the moving throng of dominoes, and holding his mask in his hand, so that the light fell full upon the peculiar Vandyke-like character of his head, rendered the more striking by the dark violet of his masquerade dress and the diamonds that studded it. He was provoked, impatient, interested more than ever he had been in his whole life -save once--and he was annoyed with himself that he had so mismanaged the affair as to let the Domino Blanc slip from his hands. He was annoyed with himself, and not less so when, as he stood there, snowy folds swept past him, the jewelled handle of a fan struck his arm, and a soft voice was in his ear:
“ Rêveur ! you look like a portrait of the Old Masters! Are you thinking of the Voltura affair, or of me? You will be foiled with both; Arrelio will not sign, and I shall not unmask! Good night, Strathmore! Perhaps I shall haunt your sleep this morning, as I know a state
The words were scarce whispered before she had passed him! Again she eluded his detention ; again, swift as lightning, he pursued her, this all-mysterious and all-tantalising mask; but destiny was against him. The throng parted them, an Austrian Baroness detained him, the trailing folds of a rose domino entangled him ; she was perpetually at a distance as he followed her through the salons, which she was then leaving on the arm of a black domino to go to her carriage, the golden bees glittering, the snowy dress fluttering, just far enough off to be provokingly near and provokingly distant, as, detained now by this, now by that, he threaded his way through the interminable length of the salons, ante-chambers, cabinets de peinture, and reception-rooms in her wake, and passed out into the staircase at the very moment that she was descending its last step! She had a crowd about her, following her as courtiers follow their Queen, and her sapphires were gleaming and her white domino glittering as she crossed in a blaze of light the marble parquet of the magnificent hall of the Hôtel Luilhiers.
“ A white domino, powdered with gold bees !--can you tell me whose that is, Arthus ?” asked Strathmore, eagerly, where he stretched over the balustrade as Bellus came out of the vestibule, while below, with her masked court about her, she passed on to her carriage.
“A white domino with golden bees !” cried the Vicomte. “ Pardieu ! you have seen her, then ?”
“ Seen her! Seen whom?” .
“Did she take off her mask ?" went on Bellus, not heeding the counterquestion. “ Did you see her face? Did you look at her well? What do you think of her?”
* Her! Whom? I ask you who the white domino is. Lookquick! you will catch her before she has passed out of the hall. Whose domino is that?"
“ That? Nom de Dieu ! that is HERS ?” “ Hers? Curse your pronouns! She must have a name! Whose ?” “Peste! Lady Vavasour! You have seen her, then, at last !"
TWO NIGHT PICTURES—BY WAXLIGHT, AND BY MOONLIGHT. MARION Lady Vavasour and Vaux sat before her dressing-room fire (which, born in the West Indies, she had lighted in summer or winter), watching the embers play, nestled in the cozy depths of her luxurious chair, with a novel open in her lap, and her long shining tresses unbound and hanging in as loose, rippled luxuriance as the hair of the Vénus à la Coquille. No toilette was so becoming as the azure negligé of softest Indian texture, with its profusion of gossamer lace about the arms and bosom, that she wore; no chaussure more bewitching than the slipper, fantastically broidered with gold and pearls, into which the foot she held out to the fire to warm was slipped; no sanctuary for that belle des belles fitter and more enticing than the dressing-room, with its rose tendre hangings, its silver swinging lamps, its toilette-table shrouded in lace, its mirrors framed in Dresden, its jasper tazze filled with jewels, its gemmed vases full of flowers, its crystal carafes of perfumes and bouquets, its thousand things of luxury and grace. Here, perhaps, Marion, Lady Vavasour, who had rarest loveliness at all hours, looked her loveliest of all; and here she sat now, thinking, while the firelight shone on the dazzling whiteness of her skin, on the luminous depths of her eyes, on the shining unbound tresses of her hair, and on the diamond-studded circlet on her fair left hand that was the badge of her allegiance to one lord, and the signet of her title to reign, a Queen of Society and a Marchioness of Vavasour and Vaux. Her thoughts might well be sunny ones; she was in the years of her youth and the height of her beauty ;
she had not a caprice she could not carry out, nor a wish she could not gratify. Her world, delirious with her fascination and duetile to her magic, let her place her foot on its neck and rule it as she would; she was censed with the purple incense of worship wherever she moved, and gave out life and death with her smile and her frown, with a soft whispered word, or a moue boudeuse. From a station of comparative obscurity, when her existence had threatened to pass away in insular monotony and colonial obscurity, her beauty had lifted her to a dazzling rank, and her tact had taught her to grace it, so that none could carp at, but all bowed before her; so that in a thorough-bred exclusive set she gave the law and made the fashion, and conquests unnumbered strewed her path “thick as the leaves in Vallambrosa.”
On her first appearance as Lady Vavasour and Vaux, which had been made some six years before this at St. Petersburg, women had murmured at, and society been shy to receive, this exquisite creature, come none knew whence, born from no one knew whom, with whom the world in general conceived that my lord Marquis had made a wretched mésalliance; the Marquis being a man sans reproche as far as “ blood” went, if upon some other score he was not quite so stainless as might have been. But the world in very brief time gave way before her: with the sceptre of a matchless loveliness, and the skill of a born tactician, she cleared all obstacles, overruled all opponents, bore down all hesitations, silenced all sneers. She created a furore, she became the mode; women might slander her as they would, they could do nothing against her; and in brief time, from her debut by finesse, by witchery, by the double right of her own resistless fascination, and the dignity of her lord's name, Marion Marchioness of Vavasour and Vaux was a Power in the world of fashion, and an acknowledged leader in her own spheres of ton, pleasure, and coquetry. “Woman's wit” can do anything if it be given free run and free scope, and with that indescribable yet priceless quality of her ses she was richly endowed. How richly, you will conceive when I say that now, she had so effectually silenced and bewitched society, that in society (save here and there, where two or three very malicious grandes dames, whom she had outrivalled, were gathered together for spleen, slander, and Souchong) the question of her Origin was never now mooted. It would, indeed, have been as presumptuous to have debated such a question with her as for the Hours to have asked Aphrodite of her birth when the amber-dropping golden tresses and the snowy shoulders rose up from the white sea-foam. Lady Vavasour was Herself, and was all-sufficient for herself. Her delicate azure veins were her sangre azul, her fair white hands were her seize quartiers, her shining tresses were her bezants d'or, and her luminous eyes her blazonry. Garter King-at-Arms himself, looking on her, would have forgotten heraldry, flung the bare, lifeless skeleton of pedigree to the winds before the living beauty, and allowed that Venus needs no Pursuivant's marshalling.
She sat looking into the dressing-room fire, while the gleam of the waxlights was warm on her brow, and played in the depths of her dazzling eyes; a pleased smile lingered about her lovely lips, and her fingers idly played with the leaves of her novel-her thoughts were more amusing than its pages. She was thinking over the triumphs of the past night and day; of how she had wooed from the Marquis d'Arrelio, for pure in
souciant curiosity, state secrets that honour and prudence alike bade him withhold, but which he was powerless to deny before her magical witchery; of how Constantine of Lanaris had followed her from Athens, to lay at her feet the sworn homage of a Prince, and be rewarded with a tap of a fan painted by Watteau ; of the imperial sables Duke Nicholas Tchemi. doff had flung down à la Raleigh on a damp spot on the Terrace des Feuillans, where, otherwise, her dainty brodequins would have been set on some moist fallen leaves, as they had strolled there together; of the pieces of Henri Deux and Rose Berri ware, dearer to him than his life, which that king of connoisseurs, Lord Weiverden, had presented to her, sacrificing his Faïence for the sake of a smile ; of the words which men had whispered to her in the perfumed demie-lumière of her violet-hung boudoir, while her eyes laughed and lured them softly and resistlessly to their doom; of all the triumphs of the past twelve hours, since the doors of her hotel in the Place Vendôme had first been opened at two o'clock in the day to her crowding court, to now, when she had quitted the bal masqué of her friend Louise de Luilhier, and was inhaling again in memory the incense on which she lived. For the belle Marquise was a finished coquette, never sated with conquest; and it was said, in certain circles antagonistic to her own, that neither her coquetries nor her conquests were wholly harmless. But every flower, even the fairest, has its shadow beneath it as it swings in the sunlight!
“ He did not remember Me!” thought the Venus Aphrodite of the rose-hung dressing-room, looking with a smile into the flames of the fire, which it was her whim to have even in so warm a night as was this one. “My voice should have told him; it is a terribly bad compliment! However, he shall pay for it! A woman who knows her power can always tax any negligence to her as heavily as she likes. How incomprehensibly silly those women must be who become their lovers' slaves, who hang on their words and seek their tenderness, and make themselves miserable at their infidelities. I cannot understand it; if there be a thing in the world easier to manage than another, it is a man! Weak, obstie Date, vain, wayward, loving what they cannot get, slighting what they hold in their hand, adoring what they have only on an insecure tenure, trampling on anything that lies at their mercy, always capricious to a constant mistress and constant to a capricious-men are all alike, there is nothing easier to keep in leading-strings when once you know their foibles! Those swift, silent Strathmores, they are very cold, they say, and love very rarely; but when they love, it must be imperiously, passionately, madly, tout au rien. I should like to see him roused. Shall I rouse him? Perhaps ! He could not resist me if I chose to wind him round my fingers. I should like to supplant his ambition, to break down his pride, to shatter his coldness, to bow him down to what he defies. Those facile conquests are no honour; those men who sigh at the first sight of one's eyebrow, and lose their heads at the shadow of a smile ; I am tired of them-sick of them! Toujours perdrix! And the birds so easily shot! Shall I choose? Yes! No man living could defy me not even Lord Ceeil Strathmore!"
And as she thought this last vainglorious but fully-warranted thought, Marion Lady Vavasour, lying back in her fauteuil, with her head resting negligently on her arm, that in its turn rested on the satin-cushions,
with that grace which was hier peculiar charm, as the firelight shone on her loosened hair and the rose-leaf flush of her delicate cheeks, glanced at her own reflexion in a mirror standing near, on whose surface the whole matchless tableau was reproduced with its dainty and brilliant colouring, and smiled-a smile of calm security, of superb triumph. Could she not vanquish, whom and when and where she would ?
That night, far across the sea, under the shadow of English woodlands that lay dark, and fresh, and still beneath the brooding summer skies, a woman stood within the shelter of a cottage-porch, looking down the forest-lane that stretched into the distance, with the moonbeams falling across its moss-grown road between the boles of the trees, and the silent country lying far beyond hushed, and dim, and shrouded in a white mist. She was young, and she had the light of youth-love-in her eyes as she gazed wistfully into the gloom, vainly seeking to pierce through the dense foliage of the boughs and the darkness of the night, and listened, thirstily and breathlessly, for a step beloved to break the undisturbed silence. The scarlet folds of a cloak fell off her shoulders, her head was uncovered, and the moon bathed her in its radiance where she stood, the branches above her, as the wind stirred amongst them, shaking silver drops of dew from their moistened leaves on her brow and into her bosom. She loved, and listened for that which she loved; listened patiently, yet eagerly and long, while the faint summer clouds swept over the dark azure heavens, the stars shining through their mist, and the distant chimes of a church clock from an old grey tower bosomed in the woods tolled out the quarters, one by one, as the hours of the night stole onward.
Suddenly she heard that for which she longed-heard ere other ears could have caught it—a step falling on the moss that covered the forest road, and coming towards her ; then-she sprang forward in the darkness, the dew shaking from her hair, and the tears of a great gladness glancing in her eyes, as she twined her arms close about him whom she met, and clung to him as though no earthly power should sever them.
“ You are come at last! Ah, if you knew how bitter your absence is, if you knew how I grudge you to the cruel world that robs me so long, so often of you—
He laughed, and looked down fondly on her where she clung to him, wreathing her arms about his neck.
“Silly child! I am not worth your worship, still less worth the consecration of your life, when I repay it so little, recompense it so ill."
She laid her hand upon his lips and gazed up into his eyes, clinging but the more closely to him, and laughing and weeping in her joy :
“Hush, hush ! Pay it ill? Have I not the highest, best, most precious payment in your love ? I care for no other, you know that so
He stroked her hair caressingly, perhaps repentantly (few men can meet the eyes of a woman who loves them purely and faithfully, after a long absence, without some pangs of conscience, without some contrast of the quality of her fidelity and their own), and kissed the lips uplifted to his own; the love that he read in her eyes, and that trembled in her voice, saddened him, he could not have told why, even whilst he recognised it as something unpurchasable in the world he had quitted, where