Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

whom he loved, anxious to know if the supreme moment had come, he faintly inquired, “ Am I dragging my anchors ?” On being answered in the affirmative, he rejoined, with marked emphasis, “ All is wellall is well,” and resigning his soul into the hands of Him who gave it, he sank gently back and expired.

Thus passed away at the ripe age of sixty-seven, in the calm dignity and faith of a Christian philosopher, this great pioneer of meteorological science : his eye was not dim nor his mental force abated. And it is said that they whose privilege it was to listen to his conversation and counsels during his last long illness would find it very difficult to turn away from his tomb without the irrepressible conviction that

“Though his body's under hatches,

His soul has gone aloft.”

VOL. XXXVIII.

F

[66]

A Vagabond Heroine.

BY MRS. EDWARDES,
AUTHOR OF 'ARCHIE LOVELL,' 'Ought WE TO VISIT HER ? &c.

CHAPTER VI.

MRS. GRUNDY, SIR.”

A PINEWOOD ball-room, wide open on three sides to the sea; an orchestra, composed of harp and piano; a second smaller room for écarté and tresillo—such is the St. Jean de Luz casino. Hither, evening after evening, resorts as motley a crowd as you will anywhere meet in your travels: the bluest blood of Castile side by side with Jew shopkeepers from Burgos; heads crowned and de-crowned; wandering artists; respectabilities and other respectabilities—all jostled together in the delightful republicanism of watering-place life. Hither, when the absence of Miss Burke gives her freedom by night as well as by day, comes Belinda.

Not within the precincts, sacred to payers, of the ball-room. A terrace of sand extends round the whole area of the building, and from this terrace Belinda, with other waifs and strays like herself, is accustomed to watch the dancers, the dresses, the pretty women, the flirtations inside; I am afraid not without some occasional sharp pangs of envy at her heart.

Once, and once only, has the poor little girl been asked to dance. Maria José de Seballos, the beringed and bergamotted young Seville wine merchant, who, as we have seen, still holds a place in her dreams, did, on one never-to-be-forgotten evening, the last before he left St. Jean de Luz, invite her for a waltz. And Belinda, in her shabby dress and espadrilles, was, for the space of about eight minutes, in Paradise, whirling, blissfully whirling, among ladies in silks and flowers and jewels, the arm of a real grown-up partner supporting her, the whispers, sweet to vanity, though redolent of garlic to the senses, of a real grown-up partner in her ear.

Such a stroke of fortune, she knows, is not likely to befall her again. Maria José talked nonsense to her in plenty (such nonsense as men of all nations do talk when they dance with unfledged girls); bade her remember him in her prayers till the day came when he should return and carry her away for good to Seville, and so on. But Maria José, let Belinda dream as she may, is gone for ever.

Mr.

Jones, the only other young man she knows in the world, does not dance round dances, and certainly would not choose a partner in a black frock and frayed-out sandals if he did. Her lot in life is to look on; a wallflower not yet seventeen, with pulses beating madly to the mus:c, and nimble feet that will not hold themselves still, and eyes that say, “Dance with me! dance with me!” to all the smart young gentlemen as they lounge up and down the ball-room ; smart young gentlemen who, if they see Belinda at all, see in her only an ugly child in pigtails and a torn frock, and whose coldly indifferent glances her heart, older than her looks, is not slow to interpret.

She haunts the terrace, as is her wont, Costa at her heels, between nine and ten o'clock on this first evening of Rosie's arrival. It is an unusually gay little ball at the Casino; some near connection of exSpanish royalty present; and the dancing-room is thronged. Swanlike throats and delicate complexions from Madrid ; Oriental eyes and Titian-like colouring from Seville; marble whiteness and chiselled Grecian features from Cadiz. Oh, what pretty women these Spaniards are! What a jest is life to them! A song, a waltz, a flirtation in their earlier years, and then tresillo and prayers to the end. As re sponsible, examination-passing, degree-taking human creatures, women of Anglo-Saxon race have everything to be proud of-thankful for; but, knowing nothing, like children, and like children enjoying everything, how thoroughly unconsciously charming are these soft-faced women of the South!

They are in full dress, almost without exception, this evening. On occasions when a Parisian woman of fashion will drape her meagre charms to the chin, a Spanish one will invariably appear bravely bare-shouldered. And this not in the ball-room or on the balcony only. Of a moonlight night, here in St. Jean de Luz you will meet them by dozens, full dressed—yes, and in satin slippers, with flowers in their hair-calmly promenading along the streets or in the public gardens of the town. And what a becoming full-dress it is! The national veil and high comb, à la manola, which a short time back were things well nigh of the past throughout the Peninsula, are the highest mode among the Spanish aristocracy to-day. So can the party whose motto is Fuera el estrangero mutely protest against the intruder now profaning the sacred throne of the Castiles. How fervently every painter must hope that no political revulsion will send these graceful malcontents back to the trailing skirts and towering head-gear and ever-changing milliners' modes, each one more inartistic than the last, of Paris and London !

“They are not exactly bad-looking,” says Rose, glancing about her coldly; "not quite such an orange yellow as I expected. But their style is distressingly theatrical, is it not, Mr. Jones?” Rosie has come to the Casino ball well escorted; Mr. Jones, who is also staying at the Hotel Isabella, on one side ; her legitimate slaveI mean her future lord and master on the other.

Captain Temple,” she runs on, to Roger, "you say you think these creatures handsome! How would you like to see any one you cared for, any Englishwoman, dance in public with a bare neck and a short skirt as they do ?”

“The short skirts display admirable ankles, Rose,” replies Roger. “Are introductions necessary in these parts of the world, I wonder ? I should like to tempt my fate with that little blonde in pink satin, if I dared. Or will you waltz with me yourself, Rosie ?” In a whisper, this. “For the sake of old days, my love. We have never waltzed together since that night-you remember it ?—at the Hanover Square Rooms.”

But Rosie, a good many years ago, gave up round dancing, finding that exercise, indeed, physically incompatible with the maintenance of a waist of twenty-two inches. She enforces her position now upon the very rigidest moral and æsthetic grounds.

“I never waltz, on principle, Roger. I do not approve of fast dances. I think it the worst possible taste for a woman who has experienced the serious sorrows of life to take part in such frivolity. But dance, pray, if you like. Think of your own amusement, not of mine. I understood that we came here to look on. But it does not matter. Nothing matters. Amuse yourself! I dare say Mr. Jones will not mind having to take care of me while you are away."

Tears are in Mrs. O'Shea's eyes; and Roger, of course, remains. It is no very great sacrifice for him to make. The little blonde in pink satin is distractingly pretty; she is glancing at him above her fan at this moment; but a man who has passed the dozen best years of his life in Madras can scarcely be enthusiastic about waltzing with the thermometer at ninety-eight. And it is better—a dozen times daily Roger tells himself this—better far to get broken thoroughly and at once, to the bit which he has voluntarily taken between his teeth. A man choosing a bride of Rosie's age must learn to “look on " at most of life's amusements, and by her side. Poor Rosie! Would the dear little woman be as dear, as lovable, as thoroughly a woman as she is, if she possessed strength of mind sufficient to be devoid of jealousy? Is he not only too lucky a fellow to have won her, charming feminine weaknesses and all, as his own?

The dear little woman, though she will not accord the objectionable pleasure of waltzing to her lover, sees no evil in an occasional mild flirtation or two on her own account. Augustus Jones is her devoted attendant. Augustus introduces, ere long, some other young Britons, much of his own stamp, picked up at the table d'hôte of the Hotel Isabella. Rose is “surrounded ;" Frenchmen and Spaniards turning to look at the passée pretty English woman, as she smiles and chirrups, and casts up her eyes with all the well-considered airs and graces of mature coquetry at her loud-talking young compatriots.

Roger takes himself quietly off among the crowd. Waltz he will not, as Rosie on such high grounds disapproves of waltzing; but, though his limbs be fettered, no embargo as yet is laid upon his eyesight. For a short time longer in this mortal life Roger Temple may at least admire. He comes across the blonde in pink satin, whose eyes and fan make play at him as only the eyes and fan of a Spanish woman can; comes across other blondes, other brunettes. Finally he reaches the end of the room that stands open to the seashore, goes out for a breath of cooler air, probably not without dreams of a consolatory pipe under the starlight, and finds himself face to face with his future daughter.

“What, Belinda, my dear! Alone, in the dark, and no partner ? Let me take you to Rosie."

“Not if I know it, sir! I come here to watch the amusements of my betters, not to show myself. Think of Rose's face of horror if I walked across the ball-room to her like this,” holding out a fold of her ragged frock with a gesture in which there is to the full as much pride as humility.

“Rosie is far too kind-hearted to take notice of your dress,” says Roger. “All Rosie cares for is to see other people made happy.”

"H’m! I see you are an excellent judge of character, Captain Temple."

"And then she could introduce you to partners—I take it for granted you like dancing ?

like dancing ? Rosie has got hold of some young men from the hotel, who would, I am sure, be only too happy

“To take pity on my forlorn condition if my mamma did her best to make them ? Captain Temple, do you think, seriously, I would dance with any of those horrible English snobs Rose is talking to ?”

“One of those horrible English snobs is the rich Mr. Jones," says Roger, stroking his moustache, and remembering the lesson in matchmaking he received before dinner from Rose. “I thought Mr. Jones was an admirer of yours, Belinda ?” he adds, looking inquiringly into the girl's upturned face.

“An admirer-I suppose Rose told you that? As if I went in for admirers—I! Do I look as if that kind of rubbish was in my line of life?"

Roger hesitates. His heart goes out towards this poor neglected child, with her tattered clothes and shaky morals, and sweet imploring women's eyes; but, with the best will in the world, he finds it difficult to be kind to her. Every look, every tone, every smallest gesture of Belinda O'Shea's so utterly sets patronage or compassion at defiance.

“And Mr. Jones cannot dance round dances," she goes on pre

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »