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and De Vigne were picking up the pictures with much more diligence than the grandiose Ashton-thanked Violet with a low graceful bow, and was passing on, when she looked up at De Vigne. Her lips parted, her eyes darkened, her face brightened with ecstatic delight. She stood still a minute, then she came back: "Sir Folko!" But De Vigne neither saw nor heard her, his foot was on the step of the barouche. Ashton shut the door with a clang, swung himself up on the footboard, and the carriage rolled away into Pall-Mall.
Violet, Violet! how you forget yourself, my love," whispered Lady Molyneux, scandalised and horror-stricken. "I wish you would not be quite so impulsive. All the gentlemen in White's are staring at you."
"Let them stare, mamma, dear," laughed Violet, merrily. "It is a very innocent amusement, it gives them a great deal of pleasure and does me no harm. What glorious blue eyes that girl had, and such hair -real true gold, there is no colour like it. You should laud me for my magnanimity in praising another girl so pretty."
"For magnanimity in that line is not a virtue of your sex," said De Vigne.
"You cynical man! I don't see why it should not be."
Don't you? Did you, on your honour, then, fair lady, ever speak well of a rival."
"I never had one."
"You never could," whispered Sabretasche, bending forward to tuck the tiger-skin over her.
"But supposing you had ?" persisted De Vigne.
"I hope I should be above maligning her; but I am afraid to think how I should hate her."
She spoke with such unnecessary vehemence, that her mother and De Vigne stared. Violet's eyes met the Colonel's; her colour rose, and he, incongruously enough, turned his head away and sighed.
"If Miss Molyneux treats the visionary things of life so earnestly, what will she do when she comes to the realities?" laughed De Vigne. Lady Molyneux sighed; on occasions she would play at tender maternity, but it did not sit well upon her.
"Ah! Major de Vigne, if we did not find some armour besides our own strength in our life pilgrimage, few of us women would be able to endure to the end of the Via Dolorosa."
"True," said De Vigne, with that sarcasm now grafted in him almost as his second nature. "Britomart soon finds a buckler studded with the diamonds of a good dower, or stiffened with the parchment-skins of handsome settlements; and, tender and gentle as she looks, manages to go through the skirmish very unscathed by dint of the vizor she keeps down so wisely, and the sharp lance of the tongue she keeps always in rest against friend and foe."
"What thrusts of the spear you deserve, Major de Vigne; you are worse than your friend, and he is bad enough!" cried Violet, looking rather lovingly, however, on the Colonel, despite his errors.
"I am sure
if we women do take to lance and vizor, it is only in self-defence, for you would pierce us with your flint-headed arrows of sarcasm if you could find a hole in our armour."
"But here and there is a woman who unhorses us at once, and on
whom it is a shame to draw our swords. Agnes Hotots are very rare, but when we do find them, Ringsdale is safe to go down before them,' said Sabretasche, with his half-mournful, half-amused, wholly eloquent glance.
"I should think you have both of you been conquered or imprisoned some time or other by some Cynisca or Maria de Jesu, whom you cannot forgive, that makes you so bitter upon us all!" laughed Violet.
She said it in the gay innocence of her heart! De Vigne had been in India so long, she had not as yet heard his history. Both he and Sabretasche were silent. Violet instinctively felt that she had trodden on dangerous ground; but they had all of them the easy tact and calm impossibility of dérèglement natural in all good society-and De Vigne laughed, though a curse would have been better in unison with his thoughts.
"Miss Molyneux, with all due deference to your sex, there are few men of our age, I fear, who, if they told you the truth, would not have to confess having found more Blanche Armorys and Becky Sharpes than Artemisias or Antonia Flaxillas. Those warm and charming feelings with which you young ladies start fresh in life have a knack of disappearing in the atmosphere of society, as gold disappears melted and swallowed up in aqua regia."
"Will you let your pure gold be lost in De Vigne's metaphorical aqua regia?" whispered the Colonel, half smiling, half sadly, as he handed her
"You mean it now, but-Well, we shall see!" And Sabretasche led her up the steps with his low, careless laugh. "When you are Madame la Princesse d'Hautecour, or her Grace of Honiton, perhaps you will not smile so kindly on your old friends!"
She turned pale; her large eyes filled with unshed tears. She thought of the violets she had given him a few days before.
"You are unkind and unjust, Colonel Sabretasche," she said, haughtily. "What use was it pretending to wish me to tell you all I think and mean, if you disbelieve me when I do so? I thought you more kind,
"I am neither," said Sabretasche, abruptly for that ultra suave and tender squire of dames. "Ask your mamma for my character, and believe what she will tell you. I would rather you erred in thinking too illthough that people would say is impossible-than too well of me."
"I could never think ill of you" began Violet, vehemently. "You would be wrong, then," said Sabretasche, so gravely, that Violet, who had only seen him a gay nonchalant man of art and fashion, was for the moment awed.
Just then her mother and De Vigne entered, and the Colonel, with his light laugh, turned round to them with some gay jest. Violet could not rally quite so quickly.
That night, at a loo party at Sabretasche's house, De Vigne and I told the other fellows of Violet's impulsive action in St. James's-street; at which they all laughed heartily, of course, except the Colonel, who went on with his game in impassive silence.
"She's a great deal too impulsive; it's horrid bad ton," yawned little Lord Killtime, an utterly blasé gentleman of nineteen.
"I like it," said Curly.
"It's a wonderful treat now-a-days to see a
girl natural and pretty en même temps."
"She is very lovely, there is no doubt about that," said De Vigne. "I dare say they mean to set her up high in the market. Her mother is trying hard for Regalia."
"He's a lost man, then," said Wyndham, who had cut the Lower House and Red Tape for the lighter loves of Pam and Miss. "I never knew the Molyneux, senior, make hard running after any fellow but what she finished him (she's retreated into the bosom of the Church now, and puts up with portly bishops and handsome popular preachers. Women often do when they get passées; the Church is not so difficile as the laity, I presume); but ten or less years ago I vow it was dangerous to come within the signal of her fan, she'd such a clever way of setting at you, and obliging you to make love to her."
"Jockey Jack didn't care," laughed St. Lys, of the Eleventh. "Well! her daughter's no manoeuvrer; she's a nice, natural, animated creature; by George, it's worth a guinea a turn to waltz with her."
"Natural!" sneered Vane Castleton, the youngest son of his Grace of Tiara, the worst of all those by no means incorruptible and very far from stainless pillars of the state, the "Castleton family." "Forward, you mean! By Heaven! I never came across so bold, off-hand, spirited a young filly."
Sabretasche looked up, anger in his languid, tired eyes.
“Permit me to differ from you, Castleton. Your remark, I must say, is as much signalised by knowledge of character and penetration as it is by delicacy and elegance of phraseology! Young fellows like Killtime may make such mistakes of judgment; we who know the world should be wiser."
De Vigne, sitting next him, looked up and raised his eyebrows at the Colonel's unusual interference and warmth.
"Et tu, Brute?"
Sabretasche understood, and gave him an admonitory kick under the table, with the faintest of flushes on his forehead.
"Whose portrait is that, Sabretasche ?" asked De Vigne, to stop Vane Castleton's tongue, pointing to a portrait over the mantelpiece in the inner drawing-room, where we were playing; the portrait of a very pretty woman, with exquisite golden hair, and a brilliant, beaming, happy face.
"My mother, when she was twenty. Didn't you know it? It was taken just before she married. I believe it was an exact likeness. I don't remember her. She was thrown from her horse, riding on the Corso, when I was a little fellow."
"It reminds me of somebody-I cannot think of whom," said De Vigne. "I beg your pardon, I take 'miss." "
"Why will you talk through the game?" said I. "Don't you think the picture is like that girl who occasioned Violet's championship this morning? That's whom you are thinking of, I dare "Who's talking now, I wonder!" said De Vigne. I did not notice that girl; I was too amused to see Miss Molyneux. No, it is somebody else, but who, I cannot think, for the life of me."
"Nor can I help you," said Sabretasche, "for there is not a creature
related to my mother living. But now Arthur mentions it, that little girl was not unlike her; at least, I fancy she had the same coloured hair; that often makes a fancied resemblance. A propos of likenesses, there will be a very pretty picture of Lady Geraldine Ormsby in the Exhibition this year. I saw it, half finished, at Maclise's yesterday."
"Why don't you exhibit, Sabretasche ?" said Wyndham. "You paint a deuced deal better than half those Fellows and Associates !"
"Bien obligé !" cried the Colonel. "I should be particularly sorry to hang up my pets off my easel to be put level with people's boots, or high above their possible vision, or-if honoured with the second row-be flanked by shocking red-haired pre-Raphaelite angels and staring portraits of gentlemen in militia uniform, and criticised by a crowd of would-be cognoscente and dilettante cockneys, with a catalogue in their hand and Ruskin rules in their mind, who go into ecstasies over Millais's great, glaring, wide-mouthed monstrosities, and cottage scenes with all Teniers's vulgarities, and none of Teniers's redeeming talent. Exhibit my pictures? The fates forefend! Wyndham, help yourself to that Chablis, and, De Vigne, there is some of our pet Madeira. How sorry I am Madeira now grows graves instead of grapes! Nonsense! Don't any of you think of going yet. Let us sit down again for a few more rounds."
We did, and we played till the raw February dawn was growing grey in the streets, the guineas, jingling merrily in the pool, changing their owners quick as lightning, while we laughed and talked over Sabretasche's splendid wines and liqueurs-laughs that might have jarred on Violet's refined ears, and talk that might have made her young heart heavy, coming from her hero's lips. But when we were gone, and the wine carafes were emptied and the fire burning low, the master of that exquisite Park-lane temple to Epicurus and Aristippus sat before the dying embers with his dog's head upon his knee, and thought:
"What a fool I am! With every one of the agrémens of life, I am tired of it. Women, wine, cards, art, music, high play-are they all losing their enchantment for me? Are my rose-leaves beginning to lose their scent, and crumble under me? That girl-child she is to mehas been the only one who has had penetration enough to see that the bal masqué has ceased its charm for me. She reads me truer than all of them. She will believe no ill of me. She almost makes me wish there were no ill for her to believe! Poor Violet! she fancies me 'kind' and 'true.' Shall she be the first woman to whom I have shown mercy, the first for whom I have renounced self? I have trodden down flowers enough in my path, I may surely afford to spare this single 'sensitive plant.' Cid, old boy! is your master wholly dead to generosity and honour because the world happens to say he is? No more, perhaps, than he is gay, and careless, and light-hearted, because it is the fashion to consider him so!"
That night Violet Molyneux stood before her glass, in her gossamer ball-dress, just home from a ball given by the Life Guards, though it was not the season, after some amateur theatricals. The brilliant Irish beauty had been the belle of the room; she had had fifty bouquets sent her for it, half the men there had gone and lost their heads after her straightway, she had had more partners to solicit her than she could have written on a dozen tablets, she had waltzed delightedly and un
tiringly as a Willis, and Violet loved waltzing and enjoyed admirationas all women do who are the stuff to win it, only so few confess to the very natural fact-but still, just now, she stood before her glass, and sighed, as her maid detached her bouquet de corsage.
"Mademoiselle," said her maid, as if she divined her young mistress's thoughts, "pendant la soirée cette boîte est venue pour vous de la part de Monsieur le Colonel Sabretasche. Voulez-vous que je la fasse ouvrir ?"
"Non, non, Jeanne, laissez-la ; je l'ouvrirai moi-même," said Violet, hastily.
As soon as Violet's disrobing was over, and her maid dismissed for the night, down on her knees she went before Sabretasche's box. She knew what it was; it was a statuette, modelled from her pet greyhound and its puppy, that the Colonel had done for her with that chisel which Violet, at the least, thought Praxiteles' could never have equalled. It was really a pretty thing in its crimson velvet and ebony box; there was not a word with it, but Violet kissed it, laughed, and could almost have cried over it. "He did remember me, then," she thought, "though he did not come to the ball.”
Violet was very rapid, you see, with her conclusions, and quite as rapid with her forgiveness.
That night De Vigne and I smoked our pipes together over his fire in Grosvenor-place, where, as his troop was quartered in town, he had for the season taken a furnished house. Vigne had been shut up since his mother's death, and he rarely alluded even distantly to his ancestral home, that had been the scene of his folly and his wrongs. I do not think he could have endured to see it, much less to live in it.
"Is Sabretasche really getting épris with that bewitching Irish girl ?" said I to him, as we sat smoking.
"God knows!" said De Vigne. "He was rather touchy about her, wasn't he? But that might only be for the pleasure of setting down. Castleton, a temptation I don't think I could forego myself. According to his own showing, he's never in love with any woman, but, most indisputably, he makes love to almost all he comes across that are worth the exertion."
"Oh yes, he's a deuced fellow where the beaux yeux are concerned; but he might be really caught once, you know, though he's gone scathless all these years."
"Certainly," assented De Vigne ; none are so wise that they may not become fools. Socrates, when he was old, sage as he was, did not read in the same book with a woman without falling in love with her."
"You are complimentary to love! Is it invariably a folly ?"
"I think so. At least, all I wish for is to keep clear of it all the rest of my life. Passion has cost me a vast deal too much for me ever willingly to yield to it again, even supposing I felt it, which I never shall."
Why ?" said I, looking at him, and thinking that if he renounced love women would not renounce it for him.
"Need you ask? From my boyhood I was the fool of my passions. To love a woman was to win her. I stopped for no consideration, no duty, no obstacle; I let nothing come between me and my will. I was