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He stops, and turns to her, his face bright with love, and takes in every detail of her perfection in one long glad look.
By Jove!' after a moment, I should think I had! And an inexhaustible topic it is, too!' taking her hand and repeating the smoothing performance. Could I ever tell you how divinely beautiful you are in my eyes, how I love you?' passing his mighty arm round her waist. Min darling-I mean Minnie-say it again; say you are going to be my own pet wife.'
'Well, Mr. Dane,' laughs she, 'as you are good enough to wish it, I suppose you must not be disappointed.'
'But will you, Minnie,' he resumes, 'really and truly, will you ?' 'Yes, Regy, I will, really and truly.'
In all sincerity she says it. Is she not lonely and sad, and is not he, her dear friend, asking her to let him cheer her, care for her on her road through life?
Silence on both sides for a while.
'I can't tell you how happy you have made me,' bending over her possessively; I don't know how to express it. But this I do know, that I have just sworn to myself, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart, that with my knowledge you shall never shed a tear for anything I may do.'
Minnie stammers out her gratitude for his good intentions towards her, feeling rather uncomfortable at his unaccustomed solemnity. She is picking the white petals of a daisy.
Loves me loves me not!' she cries at last, holding up the evidence of his deceit to her lover.
The daisy tells a lie,' he exclaims hotly; 'I love you now— I shall love you for ever.'
'That's a long time,' with silver laughter.
Will you love me always,' he continues with eagerness,'always, Minnie ?'
'Can't promise,' looking up out of sparkling eyes; 'you know the song?'
The rich full tones of her voice rise in the sultry air:
And so the hot summer afternoon slips on, and the velvet bees' hum amid the flowers, and a man, lying at a woman's feet, forgets time and place and all but her in the knowledge of his great happi
MERRY AS A MARRIAGE BELL.'
'Do at Rome as the Romans do,' is a saying which the Briton, as a rule, holds in unmitigated contempt; and Colonel Ferrers, being of Albion undiluted, sticks to his islandic manners and customs with a tenacity worthy of a better cause. So, then, he sits in his place a full hour after the ladies have rustled from the dinner-table to the salon, making good way with his port, and bringing to a triumphant close a somewhat lengthy story of what happened to one of our men when we were quartered at the Curragh.'
'Well, gentlemen,' he concludes, holding his ruddy glass up to the light, 'next morning it was all over the place that the widow had bolted with O'Leary, and left poor little Charlie in the lurch. I was at a dance that night, and met her sister. "Come, Ferrers," says she, "the regiment can't complain; she's run away with O'Leary, but she's left you what she could-her dear little Charlie." A twinkle in the Colonel's beaming eye: 'I couldn't resist the temptation; he's called "the Widow's Mite" to this day.'
And the glasses ring again as he gives out his venerable joke with a cavernous roar of merriment. Camille follows suit in a succession of explosions, each of which leaves him weaker than the last, till he sinks back into his chair and wipes his eyes with his napkin.
Ah, Djems! has he spirit, your Colonel? Ah, pouf!'
Jim, who has been playing meditatively with his fork, looks up, and smiles the feeble smile of courtesy, and relapses into thought. Dane fidgets visibly on his chair, and looks towards the door.
'I say, Colonel,' emptying his big green glass, 'I see you've demolished your regulation dose; suppose we join the ladies ?'
'Listen to him,' laughs the old man, rising and hooking on to Jim. Doesn't he say it innocently, as if he didn't much care whether we went or not, you know?'
Jim, finding himself expected to say something, shakes his head and observes, Ah!'
'You lucky dog!' continues the Colonel; 'I wish I had got such a pretty girl to sit and talk to me all the evening. Why, what with you and Jim here, who has fascinated Mrs. Morant, I'm reduced to the society of my wife.'
'You're right there, by Jove!' says Regy heartily, as he opens the door of the salon; I am a lucky dog, I don't mind confessing it.'
Mrs. Ferrers has already drawn the irrepressible Latour into the place of honour, between herself and Miss Peverel, on the sofa ; her lord and master has ambled up to the piano, where Ina Morant THIRD SERIES, VOL. V. F.S. VOL. XXV.
is trying to recall' a dreamy German waltz, and seems likely to become a fixture.
Jim is moving towards the sofa when he catches sight of Regy, his hands busy with some photographs on the table, his gaze fixed upon Minnie as she sits listlessly by a window open on to the sultry night. Somehow or other the self-control that has been so often. and so sorely tried within these first days of the engagement fails him now as he stands by the man whom he bade God-speed,' and sees his lips frame a repetition of the exultant words that already are rankling in an unclosed wound. He turns on his heel, and strides across the room.
'Well, Min,' flinging himself almost defiantly into a low chair by her side, a penny for your thoughts.'
'My thoughts?' looking down with a deepened colour. Rather an embarrassing proposal, n'est-ce pas ?' turning towards him with a nervous little laugh.
'It doesn't matter,' he says impatiently, his brows meeting-a way they have of late; don't tell me I don't want to know.' pause. What a pretty waltz Mrs. Morant is playing!'
'I was thinking,' not noticing his last remark, just when you came up
How well somebody looks in his dress-clothes, eh, Min?' with artificial banter. 'So he does, my dear; he's a credit to his tailor.' Their eyes meet, the eyes of those two, formed by Nature for each other; separated by a scruple which the great mother did not foresee. But men persist somehow in considering themselves wiser than Nature.
'I beg your pardon,' continues Jim, changing his tone, 'I am interrupting you.'
I was thinking,' Minnie resumes quietly, of you.'
He breaks into harsh laughter.
Thinking of the devil, I suppose, has much the same effect as talking of his satanic majesty ?'
She glances down at his set face and curled lip. Very strange is it all to her.
'The other day'-speaking quickly-' you refused Mrs. Ferrers' invitation to come and stay at the Lodge with us; and this morning I thought I heard you talk to Camille about Egypt, and some appointment out there. It set me thinking, Jim, and I've got it into my head that the two things are connected.'
'And then ?' with much unconcern.
It makes me very sad,' raising her great eyes to his. Is it his fancy, or has the shadow grown deeper under those lashes since her betrothal ?
'What nonsense, child!' he stammers; I can't get away just now, that's all. And as to the Egyptian arrangement, it's true I
have had an offer of a berth in the Khedive's service-most handsome offer-but that's a matter for consideration.'
You wouldn't go, Jim ?' eagerly.
Why not?' tugging at his moustache.
do; make a fortune in no time over there.'
'Best thing I could
'You wouldn't go,' she repeats in a low voice, 'till after-till after the
A flash and glitter of diamonds, as she twists the heavy ring on her fourth finger; Regy has sealed his engagement right royally, as befits her future position.
'Well, you see,' coughing down the difficulty in his utterance, if I go at all, it must be within a month. And I suppose,' with a forced laugh, that, even loving couple as you are, you will hardly care to be spliced as soon as that.'
Poor humanity, that can compass a mighty sacrifice, but is not strong enough to hide the bitterness within! Jim tries hard to bridle his tongue, and keep it along the beaten track of converse; but do what he may, it breaks off every now and then into acrid speech and satirical; speech unwonted in Minnie's presence; speech that to her is exquisitely painful.
She cannot understand the change in him. True, she has made her great mistake, and is prepared to abide by its consequences; but has she more to suffer? If she cannot have his love, is the close and tender friendship that once made her so fully, so purely happy to be denied her? Must it be far from her heart's desire this life that she has to live-this colourless, purposeless existence -this eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage?
My friends, if we could read each other's hearts, we should no doubt, as a rule, be sadder and wiser men. But if one gentle bosom had been laid open to Jim's gaze, there never would have been need of the self-imposed misery he is undergoing for the woman at his side. Would he have thought for her of wealth, of social success, as compared to a life's happiness? I trow not. But, then, we cannot read each other's hearts; and he, poor fellow, did not know how little she wanted to make her happy.
'I'm afraid,' he continues, I really shall have to depute the Colonel to give you away, Min. I don't see how I possibly could
She rises and passes out on to the balcony; Jim follows her. There is no moon to-night, and but for the lamp over the hotel door the quay would be in darkness.
and keep silence a while.
The two lean over the balustrade,
'Jim dear,' she says at last, very low, are you going awaybecause of the marriage ?'
He shivers slightly, as if a chill was passing through him.
'Don't go, Jim,' she pleads softly. Remember, I asked you not to go. Look'-taking some sweet heavy-scented tuberoses out of her white heaving breast-these flowers will remind you that you are to stay-for my sake.'
Her last words are almost inaudible; to Jim they come borne on the subtle perfume of the flowers and of her beauty. with a brusque movement, he finds his voice:
Tremendously pretty, little woman; but it would be a shame. to take them from you. Spoil the general effect, you know.' A dull pause; then from her:
'Poor little nosegay! poor little nosegay!' and dropping the flowers, she moves back into the room.
Strange that he should pick them up and kiss them so madly! Strange that he should lean over the balcony, and murmur such passionate words to them! Strange that they should glisten, as if a hot tear had plashed down on them, when they are being hidden in his bosom !
GREAT NEWS TOO LATE.
MAIS voyons donc, mon ami!' exclaims Camille, for the third time trying to attract Jim's attention, and as ineffectually as before.
They are alone in the coffee-room of a dingy, old-fashioned, little hotel, just out of the roar of the City. The London dust still clings to their garments, and parches their throats. They have not long returned from a wearisome tramp in quest of various necessaries for a sojourn in the East.
Speaker gives way to a sigh of dejection; Captain Tregarvan is sitting opposite him at a table by the window, resting his head on one hand, his eyes fixed vacantly on a glass of sherry-and-bitters that he called for some ten minutes ago.
At last Camille gets up, and, hiding a yawn with three polite fingers, makes for the glass over the heavy oak mantelpiece, where he proceeds to brush off the smuts which have settled on his face; then turns and stands watching Jim's motionless figure long and earnestly, with a pained look in his friendly old eyes. 'Ah, mon Dieu !' he mutters to himself; douleur !'
comme ça brise, la
A faded waiter, in
Time elapses to the ticking of the clock. cashmere boots and a chronic smirk, trips in, arranges some newspapers on the sideboard, makes a feeble pretence of dusting a chair with his napkin, coughs once or twice in a deprecating and persuasive key, and, apparently finding the unbroken silence too much for his nerves, trips out again as limply as he tripped in.
My faith of honour!' with another big sigh, it does me