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mieux, with much laughter and a few glum faces: the faded wife, because her husband will keep on flirting with those Hoskyn girls ; Mrs. Hatchard, because her Wenceslas cannot get anywhere near rich Miss Peverel, owing to Lord Baccarat's unremitting attentions; Reginald Dane, Esquire, because Minnie has somehow managed to slip her arm into Jim's, and they are tramping away merrily on in front.
On through the pines and beech, with the soft warm breeze wafting summer perfume around them; on along the dry sandy road, over the springy moss-turf, through the solemn forest shade, gold-flecked by the sun; looking back now and then down into the smiling vale and waving cornfields, away to the gleaming line of sapphire sea-and they find themselves in the flower-dotted glade where stands the chapelle.
Very picturesque is it without, very beautiful within. As they enter the quiet little sanctuary, and, under the guidance of the Curé, admire the exquisite marble Virgin and Child, presented by a wealthy inhabitant of Malaise, the glittering altar with its drapery of white and blue, the poor fishermen's votive offerings brought hither in memory of providential deliverance from storm and sea, and pass the kneeling forms of two peasants, who have turned in here for a few moments of calm, for a few words of humble adoration, their gaiety is hushed, and they tread lightly, unwilling to disturb the soothing stillness of this lamp-illumined clair-obscur.
Why don't you walk fast, my friend?' inquires Minnie, with mild irony, trying to keep up with Jim's tremendous strides. 'If you don't look out, you won't catch that train of yours, you know.' 'Walking too fast for you?' politely dropping into a preternatural crawl.
They are wending their way over the emerald turf towards the distant plashing roar of the cascade. The air is very sultry. The woods are still, save for the intermittent single note of some drowsy bird the heat has not yet lulled into silence. But for the cool green of the leaves, and a fickle little breeze that hardly stirs the feathers on Minnie's hat as it fans her face, movement would be unendurable.
'Don't be so absurd, Jim,' she breaks out, irritated at his affected compliance with her request.
'I wasn't aware of being peculiarly absurd, my dear child,' he drawls.
"You know you are,' she retorts, pouting.
'How so?' with provoking calm.
She looks up quickly at his face, feeling very much inclined for a row; but under the simulated indifference she fancies she can detect a dark shadow she never saw there before. Sorrow she has seen, vexation she has seen; but what is this?
O Jim!' she cries, wondrous soft-hearted now, clasping his unwilling arm with strong little hands, and resting her head against his shoulder, 'do be jolly with me; I've been so miserable all this week.'
'How enviable a control over your facial muscles you must possess!' returns Jim impassively.
You have avoided me,' she continues, holding tighter, as if I was a pest, or a nuisance. You haven't taken me out for a walk once since Dane came.'
Unlucky, rather, the last sentence she speaks.
'Haven't I?' dryly.
'Make it up, Crabs,' pleads the tender voice. 'What have I done? O, do tell me what it is, and I know I can put you right. I'm sure I can.'
He wonders mentally whether she ever looks at Regy like that. Dangerous looks, when a man has made up his mind to stamp out his love for the looker.
'My dear Minnie, don't bother yourself about nothing,' he answers in measured tones; 'your conduct has been perfectly correct, I assure you.'
'O, well,' sighs she, 'you needn't be so angry with me, Jim; I sha'n't be here so very much longer.'
Unlucky again the observation, for it raises wild jealousy in the poor fellow's heart-bitter repinings. She is his; he formed her; he saw her grow from a pretty baby into beauty that maddens him to think of as another's; and now she is going from him to gladden with her presence, with her accomplishments, with her affections, acquaintances and strangers. So he hardens his heart, and determines, as many a man has done before, to crush his passion, to conquer the gnawing pain in his bosom. And in evidence of this his power over himself, he walks up to the cascade with Minnie, talking small talk and cracking dreary jokes, banking up the mighty smouldering fire of his love.
'Hurry up, good people,' cries the Morant, as they join the rest of the party assembled on a little rustic bridge; the very sweetest thing in waterfalls !'.
'Fine if a feller could get it-London,' remarks Baccarat intelligently. Proper sort o' showerbath-first thing in mornin'-Sat up late at night, eh ?'
The Baron d'Etrier, who has been discussing the future of le turff français with great command of English sporting slang, to the apparent delectation of the Fusilier and Miss Peverel, is stimulated by her interrogative method of conversation to enter into a full and particular account of how he was led to adopt the British matutinal bath as an ingredient of his toilet.
'Mees, it is my delights to tob. My tob is with me always.
What magnificent tob that cataract! Ah, tob, you are sportman, you are Anglish!'
On one side of the bridge the grim black rocks tower up to the sky, green with wet moss and fern, red with veins of iron, half veiled in a cloud of white spray and prismatic sheen; on the other yawns the ravine, into which thunders the glittering water with ceaseless roar from the mighty heights above; at the bottom lies strangely still the round black pool of the chaudron d'enfer, its surface like a shield of steel, save for the yellow foam that gathers and swirls round the foot of the torrent; gnarled old trunks hang on by the root all over the smooth sable wall, their bright verdancy waving in the wind of the rush of waters, touched here and there by the hot sun and glistening with light and moisture; beyond, a narrow glimpse of the smiling torrid valley through the crags.
'By Jove!' observes the nasal one, not half bad, Miss Peverel,
A decrepit old woman stands behind a white-draped table, on which fresh firm strawberries glow among their leaves, in the shade of a huge beech; cream also does she dispense to the small crowd that besieges her. Of her votaries the Reverend Samuel and the dainty widow are the most devoted.
'Indeed,' he remarks apologetically, his mouth full of the tempting compound, I am quite greedy about some comestibles. This and trifle, Mrs. Morant, in particular. Dear me, I fear I am heathenishly addicted to trifle.' And the worthy man cackles softly and, head on one side, looks archly at his fair companion from under his spectacles.
Presently couples drift off one by one towards the abbaye, distant some quarter of a mile; then a knot, making the still rides gay with laughter round Minnie and Ina; then everybody else.
On the velvety sward, which was once the floor of the monks' refectory, in the midst of the ivy-grown ruins, is spread a goodly repast, and as they come up, the guests take their places as seemeth best in their sight.
Jim tumbles down anywhere, and finds himself by the side of the one of the Hoskyns with whom that reprehensible young married man happens just at present not to be flirting. Halts at the other side the propriétaire.
Assieds-toi, Madame Chalumeau,' he growls. 'Oui, mon ami.'
Down they both go, like paynim Turks.
Latour surpasses himself. He might be ubiquitous, so well does he manage to talk to everybody, help everybody to chicken, keep everybody's glass full. He has taken care to secure welltrained waiters; the mustard is not forgotten, the salad-dressing has not got into the confitures, the champagne is iced to a turn, and there is plenty of it; a most undeniable success, his 'pique-nique.' THIRD SERIES, VOL. V. F.S. VOL. XXV.
'No wonder that wretched Hatchard's a poor man,' thinks Dane, as he fills Mrs. Samuel's plate for the third time of asking; 'wonderful how much some of those thin women can put away.'
Uncharitable of Regy, perhaps; but then, you see, he had intended to occupy that place opposite, next Minnie; whence emanates an uninterrupted flow of swift French, interlarded with an occasional 'anddicapp,' 'monde fashionable,' 'Shockey Club,'' shentelmens-riders.'
And now that the heavier ingredients of the collation have been disposed of, now that the lordly pasty yawns forth emptiness, that the pâtés de foie gras look silly, that the volaille is but a carcass, Veuve Cliquot and Jules Mumm oil the wheels of conversation, and it goes trundling along; now led by the shrill and precise courtesy of Mademoiselle de la Radotte, now by the gruff British bass of the jolly Colonel; broken by peals of laughter, turned aside by a stray feather of chaff, lighting upon some quiet convive from the shuttlecock of quip and repartee, which flies fast and strong, bandied the circle, with one hot corner specially held by Ina Morant; proceeding bravely, anyhow, to the popping of corks and the tinkling of glasses.
'Homage to amiabity, to beauty!' proposes the bright little host, holding a bumper high over his white pate. 'Messieurs, to the health of those ladies!'
Great enthusiasm; cheers; much imbibing of champagnemuch more.
Chalumeau fills his glass to the brim; and saying, as a definition of the toast or sentiment he is celebrating, 'Ourah-ladies! 'Ourah-ladies!' twice very rapidly, empties it with uplifted elbow; then, as if inspired by the wine, he fills it again, and adds, in a stentorian growl, 'Ourah-Latour!'
Having elicited by those words great excitement, more cheers, and a brilliant little speech from Camille, he slowly divests himself of the napkin he had tucked into his shirt-collar to preserve a waistcoat which, had it existed in those remote times, would have proved a formidable rival to Joseph's best dittos, and turning towards the partner of his joys, breathes forth, with his commanding and placid eye softened by the moisture of happiness and a good deal of champagne, a sigh of satisfaction.
'J'ai bien dîné, Madame Chalumeau.'
'Mon ami, tu as fait bien.'
The subtle fragrance of some of Latour's choicest begins to mingle with the sweet summer air, as the servants hand round cigars; and Jim, as he lights his weed and finishes his fizz, fancies he would not object to a quiet stroll with a pretty companion; and, though he makes for the Morant with the ostensible purpose of honouring her with his company, chance or inclination, or both,
send him off towards the cascade in somewhat confidential and close converse with Minnie Goring.
The voices from the abbaye fade into the distance: so, also, do Jim's good, self-denying resolutions with every step he takes beside that intoxicating loveliness. In a moment like this every accessory has its power: the generous sparkling wine, the rare cabana, the enervating forest calm, the splendour of the setting sun. The evil time will come all too soon. Do not they grant the condemned one ruddy draught before his last dread journey? Why should he deny himself the short bliss of this one hour, gift of the gods?
'Min,' he says at last, remembering her tender words and his cold answers with deep compunction, do you think me an awful beast?'
Ah-h!'-in a long breath. So you have just found out that you may possibly have been rather cruel to poor little me?' 'Look here, Min,' he whispers, 'I'm sorry. Forget it.' The great loving eyes give him sweetest pardon, and she nestles up close to him-too close, perhaps, for his peace of mind.
'Quite friends again, Crabs ?' very softly.
'Quite,' with much decision.
I fear that if even Regy had walked up just then his reception would have been but a cold one.
'What a lovely day we've had!' remarks Jim, as they halt by a grassy knoll that overlooks the cascade, with an intense admiration in his voice that redeems the observation of its commonplace.
'What a shame it is to have wasted such a "lovely day" in sour speeches and sourer looks; eh, Jim ?' Minnie retorts, settling down on the turf. O, by the way, concerning those said sour looks? You haven't told me why, yet.'
Jim looks somewhat disconcerted.
'Never mind that, little woman,' he sighs; 'time enough to bother our heads about disagreeables to-morrow. Let's be happy
while we can.'
'My dear old man again; aren't you, Jim ?' very fondly.
The whole sky is glorious with crimson and gold—the magnificence of a dying king. Faintly visible gleams the silver crescent, heir to all this wealth of colour. The sound of waters, and the shrill chirping of the crickets, make the sweet evening stillness doubly still.
Suddenly, from the opposite side of the bridge, comes the sonorous twang of a guitar; a few chords, and a splendid male voice fills the silent air with melody.
'Listen, Jim; how delicious!' murmurs she, entranced.
'Entends-tu les gondoles