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I. “Not this waltz, nor the next, Eleanor!" exclaimed Paul Fletcher, in a tone of slight reproach.
you not one more dance to spare me this evening?"
“ Two, by-and-by, Paul dear," was the answer ; “but I am engaged to Lord Holmdale for the next, and you know he is a stranger here, and papa is anxious I should be civil to him, and as far as possible make him enjoy the ball. So I can't help myself—and you won't be angry, I know."
Angry? Paul Fletcher angry with her!
He stood leaning in the doorway, watching her as she floated with that swan-movement so peculiar to her towards the upper end of the brilliantly lighted ball-room, never once letting his eyes wander from her over the gay groups among whom she passed; following her with those loving eyes as he ever did with his loving heart.
She stood for a few moments beside her father, a grey-haired man, master of the house, and then the music recommenced, her partner claimed her, and with a momentary pang Paul saw them whirling round the room. Only a momentary pang, however, for he liked to see her enjoying herself; he had such perfect confidence in her, knowing that she was so entirely his own, his betrothed, that it never occurred to him to be jealous.
As they paused in the dance, Eleanor and her partner stood within a few yards of him, and at that moment she looked even unusually lovely. The exercise had tinged her cheek, ordinarily of a transparent paleness, with rose-bloom; her dark grey eyes and high but delicately marked features, her sunny braids of hair, seemed more perfect than ever; while the exquisite pose of her head and neck, and her tall but gracefully rounded figure, in its white flowing dress, stood out against the dark oak panelling of the wall like some cameo from its setting.
Her como panion, Lord Holmdale (the new member for -shire, and heir to the earldom of St. Arvon), was a high-bred looking man of about thirty, spoiling the picture by his want of contrast ; for he, too, had a pallid countenance and finely marked features, with almost colourless eyes, though they came under the denomination of blue ; eyes with no depths in their orbits, and yet shedding a steady intellectual light. His stature was not below the average, but Eleanor's made it appear so.
And now again they glide past, and are lost among the throng of dancers, but not before a bright smile from the girl has made Paul Fletcher's heart beat quicker as she passes. Her smile is so very lovely, and casts such radiance over the face, in general cold and calm almost to a fault.
The night advances, and at length Paul obtains the boon he has craved—the one dance more. But now Eleanor is tired with the arduous
part she has that night performed, the transient flush has faded away, and too dispirited for conversation, she hangs languidly on her lover's arm. Happiness sufficient this for him, though he insists that she shall not weary herself further with dancing merely to gratify him. Tenderly as a mother for a child he cares for her, anxiously watching till the guests shall disperse and leave her to rest. Eleanor Vaughan is only nineteen, but for years she has been mistress of Vaughan and despotic ruler of her father, and of every member of the household besides, individually and collectively. People wondered that Mr. Vaughan allowed his daughter's engagement to Captain Fletcher, who, though doubtless very charming, they said, and of very good family to boot, still every one knew had nothing to live upon but his pay. But when Eleanor had quietly announced to her father that she had promised to marry Paul Fletcher, Mr. Vaughan acquiesced at once, as he always did to anything that she wished. He might have looked higher for her, he said, but he had a great opinion of Captain Fletcher, and if Eleanor liked him—why, she was heiress of Vaughan, and there was plenty for them both to live upon.
“Eleanor, will you walk to the Copsewood with me this morning ?” asked Fletcher, the day after the ball. “ This is such a bright day that it will do you good after your exertions last night; and it's our favourite walk, isn't it ?"
“ Such a charming morning for it, Paul, and I may as well finish that sketch. But, oh! I forgot, I have promised to go through the gardens with Lord Holmdale, and as I'm rather on ceremony with him, I shall have to give up the Copsewood—and Paul.”
“But you can go through the gardens in the afternoon, Eleanor ; and I shan't be here much longer, you know, to torment you,” he said, in a tone of laughing reproach.
“Paul!”—she laid her hand on his arm chidingly—“but in the afternoon papa says we must all ride to Crawland, as Lord Holmdale wants to call there; the Moores exerted themselves so much about this election. You think he might go by himself ?”—for Fletcher's countenance intimated that he did not quite see the necessity of Miss Vaughan and himself returning thanks for the said exertions also. “It would be scarcely civil to let him, and papa wishes us to go. Besides, I want to talk to Milly Moore about her wedding.”
“I wish you would speak a little seriously about your own, Eleanor," Paul said, taking her hand. “ Whenever I have alluded to it lately you have put me off with the election occupying you too much at present to think seriously of anything, or this ball, or some equally trilling matter; but now you will have nothing to distract your thoughts you will give a few of them to me? You promised -"
“I promised, Paul,” Miss Vaughan said, a little haughtily, that ought to be enough.”
" It is more than I deserve,” Paul hastened penitently to say, “and indeed I do trust your word, Eleanor, more than anything on earth. I would mistrust myself rather than you ; but be a little indulgent to me !"
A smile fitted over Miss Vaughan's fair features, and she said, more softly,
“Indeed, Paul, I will think seriously of it, and give you a more definite answer soon; only wait till Lord Holmdale is gone, and we are quiet again.”
Paul breathed an inward aspiration that propitious fates would, therefore, speed his lordship's departure, but he said no more to Eleanor. Her last speech had already granted much, and it was he, Paul, who was impatient and exacting, and not Eleanor who was to blame. She always had some good and unselfish motive in all she did; he would not tease her any more for a long time. You must know, reader, that Eleanor Vaughan was Paul's first love, and that his love and reverence for her amounted almost to adoration.
And to put his good resolutions into practice, he even tried not to look disappointed when that afternoon, on their ride to Crawland, Miss Vaughan was under the necessity of doing the honours of the road to the new member, and leaving Paul to ride beside her father, whereas he longed to be at his accustomed place by her bridle-rein. He was sure Mr. Vaughan must have a great many political questions to discuss with Lord Holmdale. However, there would be the ride home.
But after their visit at Crawland was over, and their horses' heads turned homewards, it somehow happened that they all rode abreast, and Paul hardly interchanged a word with his betrothed, Lord Holmdale directing the greater part of his conversation to her. In the evening there was a dinner-party, and of course Lord Holmdale sat next her ; and Paul, who was at the other side of the table, between a portly dowager and a deaf old gentleman, made, we fear, sad blunders in the conversation; for, do what he would, he could not help looking towards where Eleanor sat, and wishing he were near her. Two or three times she also looked towards him and smiled, and then he thought she wished it too. Paul did not think he much liked Lord Holmdale, but his conversation was clever, and seemed amusing at present, and at any rate it would be much pleasanter up there than between these male and female fogies. At last, after they were all gone at night, Eleanor was able to spare him a few words, and to thank him for having exerted himself so much at dinner, (!) when she was sure old Mr. Dozeley and Lady Clucker must have bored him dreadfully.
“What a pleasant change it will be to be quietly by ourselves again, Paul, won't it?" she added.
“ Thank you for expressing my thoughts of this whole day, Eleanor !" Paul answered, his grateful heart speaking in his face. For this speech was a great deal from Eleanor, and he, trusting her so entirely, felt it meant far more than the mere words expressed.
“ But shall we soon be alone again? for you
short." Soon, I hope, dear Paul; but I know you will be patient and good, as you always are." And after that what more was there to be said ? But when the next day, and the day after, Lord Holmdale still remained, without any apparent reason for prolonging his stay—when Paul found that Eleanor's time was still very unequally divided between him and her stranger guest, and that Lord Holmdale's attentions to her became unmistakably marked, even his patience and forbearance gave way.
“ Is this always to go on, Eleanor ?” he asked, when on the third
morning since the ball she had excused herself from fulfilling some request of his, and immediately after complied with one from Lord Holmdale.
“ What?” said Miss Vaughan, innocently.
“This preference given to Lord Holindale in everything," Paul blurted out, turning red as he spoke. “Indeed, I have tried all this time to bear it, but I can't any longer.”
“Jealous, Paul ?" Miss Vaughan said, laughing carelessly. “How silly of you! though it's rather pleasant to see you can be so sometimes.”
“No, no, Eleanor,” Paul went on, hurriedly, “ I'm not jealous; I wouldn't be so unworthy of you as to be jealous, but—but I'm only mortal after all, and-and-that fellow Holmdale, does he know of our position with regard to one another, Eleanor ? If he knows you are my affianced wife, how does he dare
" I suppose he knows it,” Miss Vaughan said very quietly, though her cheek flushed a little; "everybody knows it, and if you mean “how does he dare' speak to me as much as he does, I suppose also he considers that as your affianced wife I am as safe as if I were your real one, and that there can be little danger for any one who loves Paul Fletcher from the society of even a Lord Holmdale."
She said it very gracefully, putting her head a little to one side as she spoke, and smiling one of her own rare, beautiful smiles at poor Paul as she held out her hand. Paul clasped it between both his own, half blaming himself again for precipitancy, and wholly glad that it had called forth so much expression of feeling from this cold, proud Eleanor.
“But is he soon going away?” Paul began again, after a few moments' pause,
my leave expires in three days, and I have hardly seen you at all, and I can't be back again till Christmas.”
“ Poor dear Paul!" the girl answered, as if she were soothing a child, “it has been very hard upon us both ; but I think he goes tomorrow.”
And to-morrow, fortunately for Paul, he did go, and the two days that followed were, perhaps, all the happier to him from his previous disappointment. Eleanor was charming, gentler than usual, and doing all she could to make up to him for his temporary vexation; and when Paul Fletcher's turn came to say good-by, he felt that never had he loved her as he now did --never had his life's happiness seemed more bound up in her.
Paul's regiment was quartered in Ireland, and there he spent the autumn as best he could, hearing frequently from his betrothed, who once or twice inentioned Lord Holmdale's" having been with them. Only a day or two at a time, it seemed, and so openly did Eleanor speak of him, that Paul's jealous fears did not reawaken. His anxiety, however, was once excited, for at the beginning of the winter a long interval without letters made him think that Eleanor must be ill; but just as, in a distracted frame of mind, he was going to write to Mr. Vaughan, a long letter arrived explaining her silence. They had had the house so full of people—all her cousins the Lesters, and Caroline Ellis, and Lord Holmdale ; and they had had charades (she wished so much he had been there!); and then Milly Moore's marriage to Captain Heathcote had taken place, &c. &c. That was the reason her time
had been so much taken up as to prevent her writing to him; and he should scold her when he came at Christmas, which would be very soon now. It was still three weeks to Christmas, but Paul did not hear again from her in the mean time. However, owing to a brotherofficer's illness, he was very busy in the interim, and soon the time had hurried away, and he found himself once more at dear old Vaughan. Eleanor received him most cordially—in fact, with more empressement than usual ; but after the first excitement of happiness had subsided, Paul remarked wonderingly that her whole manner had undergone some change. Only so close an observer as he could remark it; to others, Miss Vaughan appeared as cold and calm as usual. But when Paul's eyes rested lovingly on her, a slight flush would pass over her face; if they sought hers, her eyelids dropped beneath the look, and a perceptible restlessness of manner when Paul was alone with her told him that some change had passed over her since they last met. It was not always so, and often he accused himself of being fanciful; but fight against it as he would, an undefined fear rose up in his heart. he could not tell her of this feeling, for there was no thorough confidence between them; even in their most unreserved intercourse, and when Paul felt that she really loved him, and had told her all that lay in his heart, Eleanor's had still remained in her own keeping-fast locked. Now, if he had spoken, she would have chidden him for want of trust, laughed at his foolish susceptibility. As it was, whenever he ventured to alludeto the subject of their marriage, a chilling reserve crept over Miss Vaughan's manner, or again Aushing (she never blushed), she would give the conversation an immediate turn. Paul Fletcher was not happy.
One morning they sat together in the library, which Mr. Vaughan had just quitted. “I know you and Paul like to have the morning to yourselves, my dear,” the placid old man had said, patting Eleanor on the shoulder, as he left the room. But if this were the case it seemed difficult to tell why, for Paul sat in a window-recess reading, and Eleanor was busily employed at the table writing indefatigably, the scratch of her pen accompanied by the monotonous ticking of the clock. It was the day after Christmas, and as Paul now and then looked through the window-panes the prospect without was not enlivening. A dull leaden sky spread overhead, not a leafless twig dared to stir if the stillness, and even the robins crept quietly in under thick fir branches, scarcely chirping a renonstrance against the snow that was coming. Paul let his book drop, got up, yawned, and sat down again. Still Eleanor's pen scratched unceasingly
Pity the sorrows of an idle man, Eleanor," Paul at length said, laughing. “I can't read any more ; the book is dull, and the sky is dull, and I am dull. I want my sunshine.”
“One moment, Paul dear! I have just done.” And the pen squeaked along another line. “What a nice long letter to get, Eleanor !” Paul went on.
.66 Who are you writing to ?” And, without thinking much of what he was saying, Paul turned from the window, and coming to the table knelt down by Eleanor's side and put his arm round her.
“Caroline Ellis," Eleanor answered, folding up the letter and ad