« PreviousContinue »
Miss Burke turns her head away in contempt.
“It certainly is most wonderful,” sighs Rose, who has caught the last word or two of the discussion,“ most extraordinary, how gentlemen do dislike intellect in us! I am sure, for myself, I envy superior women, and I have always wished and wished to be blue; haven't you, Belinda ?"
“I like my natural hue well enough, Rose,” answers the girl pertly. “Still, if I were forced to change, I believe I would as soon be blue as some other colours. Superior women do not usually wear rouge or pearl-powder, do they?" She looks more thoroughly hard, more deliberately, elfishly wicked than ever, as she implants this savage little stab. Alas! where are all the budding graces, where is the soft, shy, dawning womanliness of the “ Lagrimas” of last night?
“But must your choice, of necessity, lie between the two ?” Roger asks, in that quiet tone of his which at once softens and exasperates her. “ Are blue and rouge the only two colours in the world ?"
“ Certainly they are not, Captain Temple. There is sun-tan, for instance; Vandyck brown; the fine natural colour of gamins, beggars, gipsies, and all the great unwashed of nature—my colour."
“Unwashed! You quite pain me with these expressions, Belinda,” says Rose. But you must try not to despair about your complexion, dear. Spencer shall make you some of her milk of roses. She got the receipt from Lady Harriet, and they say the effect is extraordinary ; that sun-tan, and even freckles, can be cured by it. For my part," encouragingly, “I have no great faith in cosmetics. You are fair or you are swarthy by constitution.”
Her last fatal fancy about Colonel Drewe has melted poor Rosie into amiability towards the whole world, Belinda included. So amiable, so elated is her frame of mind, that she has been rash enough to whisper her little budget of hopes and fears and projects into the girl's unsympathetic ear. “An old-ah, if she must confess truly, a dear friend coming after her to St.-Jean de Luz! Could anything be imagined more difficult than the part she would have to play? And Roger so jealous already; that is his weak point, you know, poor fellow, jealousy. And will Belinda find out where Spencer can buy one of those becoming Spanish combs and a mantilla ?” For Rosie's imagination always flies to the millinery department, the stage properties of any coming event, as the imagination of a more highlyendowed woman might fly to what she should say, or feel, or dissemble. If the Colonel make his appearance of a morning, Rose has decided that she will receive him in white cashmere, ever so sparingly relieved by the palest shade of lavender ribbons; if at night, in a high Spanish comb, a lace veil, and jet cross. What could be more appropriate than a lace veil and jet cross to a lovely little widow, who is roaming about the world, breaking the heart of every ill-fated man she comes across ?
It is long before the visit draws to an end; and Captain Temple, doubly guarded by Rosie and Miss Burke, does not exchange another syllable with Belinda. At last, in the middle of one of Miss Burke's finest perorations on Woman's Destiny, the girl brusquely takes her departure from the room, and, accompanying her to the top of the hotel stairs, Roger gets a word or two with her, alone.
“ You are not going to play paume to-day ?" for she has a racketball and schistera, as usual, in her hand.
“Under this broiling sun, Belinda, I will not allow it.”
“Will you not, indeed, Captain Temple? Why not, pray ?”
‘My unwashed complexion, that is to be improved by Lady Harriet's milk of roses ! Isn't it fine to hear Rosie and Miss Burke talk ? What advantages I have had, sir, in being guided by those two extremes of feminine intelligence !"
“Promise me you will not play päume, Belinda, to-day, or any other day."
She hesitates and looks down; a quiver on her lip, a tell-tale blush shining beneath the clear olive of her cheek.
"Lagrimas !” he whispers softly; "will you promise ?"
And then she raises her eyes. They promise ; unconsciously, they promise a world too much to Roger Temple.
A TRANSFORMATION SCENE.
watched an almond-tree flower ? Bare, shivering boughs to-day-to-morrow, under the first warm kiss of April, a cloud of odorous luxuriant blossom. Such change, such sudden miracle of growth, is wrought during the next four days in Belinda. Her cheek gains colour, her figure roundness; her hair, no longer disfigured by the villainous plaits, hangs round her neck in waves of glossy chestnut. Her movements lose their masculine roughness, her dress grows neat. Girlish grace, girlish softness, modesty—all have come to her. Who sball unriddle these things ?”
“ Belinda is not going to be so unfortunately plain, I do believe,” Rose will remark complacently to her lover. “She has quite made up her mind to marry Mr. Jones-quite; and you see how she brightens up at the prospect of riches. I am afraid I was right about that poor thing from the first, Roger. Belinda has no heart."
Miss Burke accounts for the transformation otherwise. "A nature like Belinda's,” says Miss Burke, “can only develope from one frivolity to another. Her childish love of play outgrown, and Bedinda takes to—what? Earnest work, higher culture, recognition
of the world's wants and miseries? No! To muslins, ribbons, and laces; the livery, the badge, of woman's degradation in the social scale."
So think these ladies. What does Roger Temple think?
Roger Temple is in the frame of mind, reader, when we all of us are apt to shun self-communion, to keep the eyes of the spirit shut. By nature the most chivalrously loyal of men, Roger is drifting, daily, hourly, drifting into disloyalty. He is more attentive, more devoted than ever to Rosie during the hours that he is at her feet poor, unconscious Rosie, perpetually devising toilettes for Colonel Drewe, who as yet comes not. But there are a great many hours of the day when he is not at Rosie's feet. The adorers of mature beauty are generally debarred from adoration during the forenoon, that sacred, mysterious time for women to whom heaven hath given one face and who manufacture to themselves another. Till eleven or twelve o'clock every morning Roger is free, and Belinda also. After the casino ball at night he is free again, and then, in the starlight, “ Lagrimas” steals out upon the balcony (so fatally near his own) of the Maison Lohobiague.
Miss Burke, absorbed in the Women of the Future,' sees nothing. Rosie, enrapt in lavender ribbons, Spanish combs, and agitated suspense about that elegant creature Stanley, suspects nothing. And then, under this southern sky, in this do-nothing life, the path-no difficult one in any climate-that leads from flirtation to friendship, from friendship to a warmer feeling, is so easy. Conscience? Why, 'tis too hot in St.-Jean de Luz for such compunctious visitings of nature. The mere act of existing is a lethe ; a dream of sapphire skies and sapphire sea, of romance, music, passion-flowers on a balcony, and one exquisite girl's face shining from amidst them. Alas the pity, that to dreams so flattering sweet comes invariably awakening so substantial! Four glowing nightless days pass by like one : Miss Burke engaged philosophically, Rose making futile millinery preparation for Colonel Drewe, Roger Temple and Belinda falling about as desperately in love with each other as ever two people fell on this contradictory earth. For the fifth day Rosie has planned an eight-hours' excursion into Spain-Hendaye, Fontarabia, home through the mountain-pass of Behobia by moonlight. Mr. Jones is to return early in the morning from his tour, and as a matter of course will accompany them.“ Two pairs of lovers! I never heard of anything so ridiculous," says Rosie. With Miss Burke, note-book in hand, as duenna, or fifth wheel of the coach.
Such is the day's plan; a plan, like the great Frederic's “fort beau sur le papier,” but destined to vary considerably from the original rough draft, as the fairest mortal projects do, when reduced to the harsh reality of practice.
And in the first place, as regards Mr. Jones. Augustus arrives
punctually by the early morning train from Bayonne, and with loverlike ardour makes his way at once under the broiling sun to the Maison Lohobiague, where Belinda, already equipped for the day's excursion, meets bim just outside the house. Forgotten Jones, during his absence, she has not, nor her own quasi encouragement of his suit, having, indeed, been pointedly reminded of both about six times during each twenty-four hours, by Rose. But just at this present moment, dressed, poor little girl, in a summer frock and hat that Spencer has condescendingly made up for her, a flower in her waist-belt, the sunshine that human lives know only once in its extremest brightness shining from every feature of her face—at this particular moment, I say, the sudden apparition of Augustus, more blistered than ever after his journey, more mosquito-bitten, more amative, comes upon Belinda with all the cold chill of an unexpected misfortune. She changes colour painfully, does not offer to take his outstretched hand, and can find no utterance of welcome more flattering, more lover-like, than the monosyllable “ You!”
“Me,” says Mr. Jones, ungrammatically tender. “I have not kept you waiting, I hope? You have not been expecting me long ?”
“Expecting? Well, certainly not. I don't know that I expected you at all,” answers Belinda drily. 6. You have seen Rose ?"
No; Augustus has not yet had that pleasure. He found a note from Mrs. O'Shea on his table, inviting him to accompany them for the day into Spain, and then—"then, of course, I rushed off at once to see you, Belinda,” he adds, in tenderer accents than before. “ Has time hung heavy on your hands ?" Mr. Jones has an unhappy knack of composing sentences brimful of murdered aspirates. “Has your heart told you that—that some one you cared for a little was away during the last four days ?”
“My time has not hung in the least heavily on my hands,” answers Belinda, coldly emphasising every “h.” “But I have been aware of your absence, if you mean that.”
“And what have you been doing with yourself? No paume playing, I hope ?"
"I have given up paume playing for ever,” she exclaims, her cheeks glowing, a sudden shame coming into her eyes as she makes the confession.
“My dear Belinda--this delightful compliance with my wishes ” — begins Augustus.
“ Your wishes !" she interrupts him quickly. “What do you mean by that, sir? What do you suppose your wishes have had to do in the matter ?”
“A good deal, I should hope, considering how we stand to each other as—as engaged people, and that,” says young Crosus, purpling.
Belinda turns from him impetuously—she trifles with the flower in her belt; she stoops and pats Costa, who, with an air of dignified triumph, sits in the sunshine, eyeing the discomfitare of his enemy askance.
“I did not think you would begin any of that ridiculous nonsense again, Mr. Jones,” she remarks, after a minute's silence. “Engaged ! What for, pray ?
Macaroons at Harranbour's ? We shall have time enough to get some, I dare say, before we start for Spain.”
Without answering a word, Jones shifts his position from one leg to the other, then stands critically gazing into the transparent girlish face before him. Wounded vanity has intuitions, keen as those of love itself; nay, in nine times out of ten, I would say, has intuitions that come a thousandfold straighter and swifter to the mark! Wounded vanity is flooding Mr. Jones's intelligence with a curious amount of light at this moment.
“I don't know how it is, but it seems to me that you have altered a good deal since I went away, Miss Belinda. Upon my word, you look three, four, any number of years older.”
“ That is not a very complimentary speech to make to a young lady, is it ?” cries Belinda, but in a faltering ill-assured voice, with the traitor blood still deepening on her cheeks.
“And your dress—all those refined female elegancies with which I have so often wished to see you invested,” says Augustus pompously. “But I suppose, as you expected me to-day, I may, without vanity, attribute a little of that to”.
“Pray don't hesitate."
“To the very laudable desire of giving me pleasure, my dearest Belinda.”
Upon this she lifts her eyes and returns his gaze unflinchingly. “I have taken to refined elegancies, as I have given up paume playing, to suit my own taste. I never thought for one moment of giving you or any one else pleasure-never.”
The natural expression, by no means an angelic one, of Mr. Jones's face replaces in a second all the oily tenderness which, as a suitor, he has thought it wise, of late, to dissemble. Truth, he feels, is going to be told between him and this keen-tongued little vixen at last; and he is quite determined to render truth as unpalatable to her as may be. "Well, Miss O'Shea,” looking at his watch as he speaks, “ you are not in a particularly complimentary mood this morning, it seems, so the sooner we wish each other good-bye the better. As regards your party into Spain, you will mention to Mrs. O'Shea, perbaps, that circumstances do not allow of my accompanying you
?" “I will deliver any message you like to send by me, Mr. Jones.”
“I have received a letter that calls me back at once to London, and shall leave this cursed hole with only too much pleasure by the