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thankful. She took the good things, and strove to be thankful; but the blight of her husband's indifference was over it all, and her dreamy, imaginative temperament aggravated the evil.
“Always Miss Heathcote !" she thought, as she wandered aimlessly through “ the sinuous paths of lawn and of moss”—“always that bad, bold woman! It is best that we go to Charlwood-anywhere out of her reach.”
And then she went on to think how she could best act to win back what she had never really had. She would have preferred harsher words than she ever got from Colonel Home, if alternated with sweet reconciliation, to the chill, half-contemptuous, half-indulgent indifference which he did not try to conceal. She was still so very young, and had sent out her all in this venture, and now that she knew it was gone, life looked very grey and mournful to her; and for higher aid in her trouble
, Laura had too poetic and pure a mind not to feel, as well as know, that there is help for the weak and comfort for the sorrowful, if it be only sought earnestly; but, like many another, the world—her world—was too much with her to make her faith a stay and “present help.”
The Venetian bravos were wont to veil the faces of their images of the Madonna when any fresh piece of villany was afoot, but when the crime was accomplished, the reward secured, and detection and punishment on the trail, the muffied saint was uncovered, and the penitent prostrated himself with tears and cries before it, imploring protection and assistance. In this nineteenth century, and these civilised islands, we do much the same with our religion. “ The world, the flesh, and the devil,” have our best years, our strongest aspirations, and bravest struggles. It takes many a hard blow to bring water from the rock, and many a wound from our chosen allies—the triad before mentioned-ere we learn that our Comforter in affliction is our surest guide in happiness.
But this is not a sermon, but a story; and Laura was a very unhappy woman, as indeed she had ample cause (of which she knew nothing) to be. She thought she knew quite enough ; but, nevertheless, the result of her morning walk was to send her in more cheerful and happy than she went out. Apart from some few mortal agonies, which are only aggravated by the sweet sights and sounds of nature, there are not many heartaches which may not be lightened by open air and exercise ; at least, one is better fitted to face and bear them when one feels refreshed and calmed by the thousand beneficent influences which our great Mother brings to bear on her children. They had their effect on Laura, and as she dressed for dinner she had some faint dawning of an idea that, after all, there might be worse misery in the world than she had yet felt
, and that in any case an outward show of unhappiness would not tend to remedy any evils which existed. Her husband had admired her singing, and liked to listen to it, but he had one night told her not to sing a particular song, as he had been accustomed to hear it perfectly sung, and he could not bear to have it murdered. And some time afterwards they dined out at some place where they met the Heathcotes, and there Magdalen, transfigured by the passion and pathos that were in her, had sung this same song in such a way as to move every heart that heard her; and when, amongst others, Colonel Home had offered his thanks, Laura heard the syren reply in a voice intended only for his ear:
“You know I always sing that when you are by. I do not forget how you used to like to have me sing it to you.”
So, from that day, Laura had only sung when she was alone; and, to say truth, her husband had never missed her music or asked for it. But now she resolved not to mar her own happiness by any pettish folly of this kind, and as Colonel Home had not come by the time she was dressed, she sat down to the piano and tried her fresh rich voice, which seemed to have improved during its time of idleness.
Colonel Home was blithe and pleasant when he returned, for he was conscious he had been behaving particularly badly, and he meant to make atonement for his sins by being very agreeable to his wife.
“What a pretty dress, Laura !” he said, admiring the countless yards of silvery vaporous tulle, or tarlatane, or some such light material, which floated round her. “You are uncommonly well got up to-night. I wish you could always wear that I can't bear you in your morning dress.”
“ I am glad you like it,” she said, pleased with his admiring anything belonging to her. " But,” she added, " it is exactly like a dress you condemned last month. I had two quite the same. I liked them so much, and now I began to wear this in order to get rid of it, as it did not please you.”
“Impossible, dear! I must have been dreaming, or the dress was made differently, or something ; but no matter now. I very much admire that. I heard you singing while I dressed. Will you sing to me tonight ?"
Too glad to be asked, Laura went to the piano and sang song after song, encouraged by her husband's applause. One song, Beethoven's passionate, thrilling Adelaide," had been Colonel Home's favourite in the days of their brief courtship, and Laura sang it now with a power and expression she had never equalled. She felt that she was doing the song justice, and gave full scope to her beautiful voice, which rang through the lofty room with a wonderful power and sweetness when the last despairing chords of the accompaniment died away. She turned round, smiling for her meed of praise, but Colonel Home was asleep. Softly closing the piano, Laura took her book, and seated herself at the table. By-and-by the gentleman awoke.
“Oh! I really believe I fell asleep, Laura. Your music quite lulled me
Lapped me in Elysian dreams. How does it go? You really have a lovely voice. When we go to
must have lessons. It's a pity we did not go to the Heathcotes' to-day; they have that young Mrs. Esterly, who is staying at Larchfield, and I hear she is another St. Cecilia, besides being such a pretty woman.”
“She is very pretty," quoth Laura ; "and such a sweet, innocent, child-like manner!"
“ Innocent! My dear girl, she is the wickedest little flirt in the three kingdoms.”
“ I hate to hear of married women flirting.”
“ He can scarcely expect another man to fret about it."
“ Married or single, a flirt repels me, and I dislike the male flirt quite as much as the female."
“Oh! do you ?" With a very conscious smile, and running his white fingers through his dark close rings of hair. “Well, suppose we postpone the discussion sine die, and suppose you go to bed; you look tired and pale ; I shall go to my den for half an hour, and have a cigar."
So he did ; and his thoughts while he smoked, though self-complacent enough, were not particularly comfortable. It has been said that he could
not endure not being first with every woman he thought worthy of his admiration, and his vanity was flattered by finding that Magdalen Heathcote still remembered her old love; but he had by no means calculated on her memory being quite so good; still he had not had the mana liness and moral courage to draw back as she had become more and more confiding and tender, and now that special invention of the devil, a Platonic friendship, was fast merging into its usual termination. Fortunately, Magdalen's great beauty had gone with her youth, and, equally fortunately, Colonel Home's affections (if we can call them so) were by no means unwavering; but he had spent two hours that morning philandering with Magdalen in very shady places-morally shady, as well as actually so —and he had seen more of Magdalen's heart in those two hours than he had done since those long bygone days.
The view could not fail to be in some measure pleasant to one of his kind, for he was flattered and softened; but had Magdalen been younger and handsomer, and quite a new love, instead of being a réchauffée of an old one, the effect produced by the partly involuntary display of her love would have been much greater. Despite those drawbacks, however, their talk had been very tender, and, as the colonel sat alone, his thoughts were divided between pity for Miss Heathcote, pleasure at the thought of going away and ridding himself of possible embarrassment and unpleasantness—at least for a time—and amusement at Laura's efforts to be dignified and cool with him.
Over all, too, was a delightful consciousness that he was still quite irresistible; and last, but strongest of all his feelings, was regret that he had married. He by no means undervalued the
increased importance which increase of fortune and a good matrimonial connexion had given him, still he assured himself that he had been bought too cheaply, and that, were it to do again, he would either take care to get a price nearer to his value, or, still more likely, defer the sacrifice altogether until age and infirmity had rendered a nurse necessary to him.
To lead an open, thoroughly pure life, without intrigues more or less innocent, was impossible to him; excitement he must have, at any price, and that most congenial to him was flirtation. He rose up and stretched himself wearily, finishing his cogitations in this wise : “ I'm afraid I shall have some trouble with Magdalen. Who'd have thought she would have remembered so long and so well ? Women are such fools! And Laura is horribly jealous. Well, we go in a week, and, when we come back, Thornicroft will be filled for the shooting. In any case, things must arrange themselves ; they always do, if one is but supine enough, and I am not going to forestal trouble ; let the women battle it out amongst them."
SKETCHES OF SUNNY SCENES AND SOCIAL
SCIENCE IN SWITZERLAND.
But that the title, already long, would stretch beyond all reasonable limits, our alliterative heading might go on to tell of 6 soaking showers" also, for of these we had a few during the seven weeks of our wanderings in that country, of which a recent writer has truly said, that, “ despite its narrow limits, in Switzerland new beauties are incessantly being found, new adventures occur, and new conveniences are provided for visiting the most striking scenes.”
Indeed, our first “sketch” on our way there must be in water colours, for it is taken in Paris on the night of the emperor's fête, when the rain, which all the afternoon had fallen more and more plentifully, filling with water the thousands of coloured lamps intended to illuminate the avenues of the Tuileries' gardens, soaking the bright-coloured drapeaux that hung from every building till they clung in their weight of moisture to the walls over which they should have proudly waved, came down by eight o'clock in a steady pour, threatening to extinguish even the gas-lighted globes of white and rose colour which hung in graceful festoons on each side of the entire length of the Champs Elysées. But both these and the gaiety of the light-hearted Parisians were proof against all the rain's attacks; no break appeared in the bright chain that linked the Place de la Concorde to the Barrière d'Etoile; no murmur of displeasure was heard to damp the merriment of the laughing crowds among whom we found ourselves, although the constant cry of “A bas ! les parapluies,” left every head exposed to the pitiless shower, and made our condition not unlike that of the bronze figures over which the electrically lighted fountains played in the Place beneath us. We stationed ourselves on the rising ground above the Place de la Concorde, and, taking advantage of the pressing. offers of the chair proprietors, “ chaises à louer, vingt sous pièce,” established ourselves on two of these, beneath the partial shelter of a tree, a few minutes before the first glittering group of rockets rose, on our left, from the Champ de Mars. There was plenty to amuse us while we waited for the fireworks; Bengal fires, red, green, and blue, alternately clothed the scene around us in varied lights; the waters of the fountains looked like showers of diamonds falling on flowers embedded in soft green moss; the obelisk in the centre of the Place had for some days been encased in a delicate tracery of tubing, and was intended to shine with a blaze of gas-leaves and mottoes in honour of the emperor; but, although attempts to produce this were continually
made, and lighted tow, drawn up by ropes, floated like a firewinged bird round and round the pillar, the little flames were swept out by wind and rain as soon as they appeared, and the shouts of laughter from the merry crowds below made one think that they derived even more amusement from these repeated failures than they would, perhaps, have enjoyed had the illumination been as perfect as it was intended to be.
The rocking of the chair on which I stood, and the pressure of a soft but weighty substance against my back, made me turn round, anxious to contradict the assertion, “ Mais, mon ami, je suis si légère,” made by a fat little damsel, who, with the assistance of her cavalier, was mounting its railed back. I remonstrated; but the smile with which she stood her ground was so pleasant, that I, like her lover, was beguiled by it into giving her the necessary support, while we looked together at the showers of golden fire that now rose in quick succession before us.
By ten o'clock the rain ceased, and the fireworks were over; so, following the crowds making their muddy way through the still illuminated Champs Elysées, we returned to our hotel, passing windows hung with Chinese lanterns that would have been lighted had the rain not fallen, and seeing groups of men, women, and children refreshing themselves at the cafés, after their day of dripping pleasure, almost à l'Anglaise; for the little decanters of anisette, and its accompaniments of sugar and water, appeared now to be quite superseded among the Parisians by glasses of frothing beer—a beverage certainly more suitable than eau sucrée for such weather as Paris saw on the day of the emperor's fête. Starting from Paris by the Lyons railway, we drove through a wide, open, but not picturesque country to Fontainebleau, passing the hot, white town of Villeneuve St. George, with its yellow church and gardens of still yellower pumpkins, and seeing in the stunted vines about Montgeron the first indications of the wine-producing country towards which we were travelling. The rivers Seine and Marne ran with us, the former crossed near Villeneuve by a handsome suspension-bridge, and the green waters of the latter made picturesque by low bridges crossing it at intervals, and by large rafts which floated softly down the stream. We will leave the old palace of Fontainebleau, with its gorgeous memories of Francis I. and Louis XIV., and its more melancholy ones of Napoleon, whose farewell to his Guards ere he quitted them for Elba is here remembered in the Cour des Adieux, with but a passing mention; we will not disturb by a visit the two-hundred-year-old carp which still rise, they say, from a pond in the gardens, and open their lazy gills for the amusement of those who care to summon them. Our sketch shall be taken in the forest, where, after driving through its light sandy avenues bearing the names of beauties in the court of the “Grand Monarque,” and having mounted the Fort de