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'Blanche is tired, and cannot dance again,' said Mrs. Ellerton, rather stiffly, with a very foreign accent. This is her first ball, you know.'
'Is Mrs. Ellerton a Frenchwoman?' he asked, in surprise, after they had passed through the room and gone downstairs.
A French Canadian. ally talks French, I believe. She always speaks as if her daughter were extremely delicate, but I can see no signs of illness about her.'
Spencer followed the mother and daughter down stairs, and soon learned from the young lady all he wanted to know. She was not especially shy, but frank and childlike, and told him how her mornings were spent in riding in the Campagna, and her afternoons in walking on the Pincio.
'So that I may hope to see you every day,' he said, with a look in his eyes which, though it brought no blush to the girl's face, evidently made the mother think it was time to interfere.
'Blanche's life is scarcely so idle as she says,' said Mrs. Ellerton, gravely. She is obliged to be out in the air a great deal, but when she is at home I expect her to study.'
'I may call at your house and see if you have recovered from your fatigue?' he said, looking inquiringly at Mrs. Ellerton, while he put Blanche's cloak carefully over her shoulders.
Mrs. Ellerton hesitated; but while he had been talking to her daughter she had been making inquiries about him, the replies to which were too satisfactory for her to wish to receive the advances of the handsome young Englishman coldly.
'I will promise not to interrupt her studies, Mrs. Ellerton; so you will, I trust, make me an exception to general rules,' he said, gaily.
He stood looking after the carriage long after it had driven away, and then wandered slowly home, to dream of Blanche's lovely face, and to long for the morrow and the chance of seeing her again.
I wish it were possible for me to describe Blanche Ellerton as I saw her a few weeks after she had made acquaintance with Spencer Carlton.
It was a bright and sunny morning, such as Italian mornings often are, even in the middle of winter. Blanche was sitting on the floor, surrounded by different pieces of coloured silk. Occasionally a strong sunbeam pierced through the outside blinds, which were carefully closed, and rested on her head, tinging her soft brown hair with a golden hue. Though she was very fair she had not the fâde look that often belongs to fair people; indeed, her marked eyebrows and long eyelashes gave a character to her face; and those wonderful large grey eyes, that seemed as if some hidden fire was burning behind them, completely took away from her any appearance of insipidity. Every one spoke of her eyes as wonderful. People did not say they were lovely or beautiful, but always wonderful; and, in truth, her eyes looked strange and out of keeping with that small child-like face. There was a happy smile on the girl's face as she examined one bright-coloured silk after another, and her mother sat watching her with a less anxious expression than usual.
"Why, Blanche, your whole heart seems wrapped up in your dress to-day. You have let the morning slip away so that now you will have no time for your ride.'
I am so sorry, mamma; but I do care about my dress, as I may choose it myself, and this ball is to be such a good one. It is given for the Russian Princes. I should like to be very fine,' said Blanche, apologetically.
So that a Russian Prince may fall in love with you or your gown, and carry you off to St. Petersburgh. You would not like that, Blanche.'
'Of course not, mamma. I shall never marry.'
'Did you never see any one that you thought it would be possible to marry, Blanche?' asked her mother, curiously.
'Certainly not; at least I don't think so. But now I only care about my gown, and you think that so foolish, mamma.'
'No, not at all. I wish you to be well dressed, especially as the Principessa Valerio has been so kind and civil. I wonder if this will become you,' said her mother, holding a rich green silk, embroidered in gold, up to the girl's face.
They had been too busily engaged to hear the door open and a visitor announced; and both mother and daughter started when a voice said close to them
'Not green; she must not wear green,' and Spencer Carlton stood before them.
How you frightened me!' said Blanche, laughing. I hoped that you were some one come to take these away. They have sent me half the shop to choose from, you see.'
'Have you chosen?' he asked, looking at her with undisguised admiration. I wish you would let me choose.'
"We are so perplexed that it would be a good thing for any one to decide for us,' said Mrs. Ellerton. 'I shall never get Blanche out today. Which do you recommend?'
Certainly not green. This is the best,' he said, lifting up a pale blue silk embroidered in silver. This is the only one fit for you. The others are too tranchante.
'You are quite right,' said Mrs. Ellerton, approvingly. I did not know you were an authority in ladies' dress.'
'I saw you first in blue,' he said in a low voice to Blanche. 'I shall never like you to wear any other colour.'
'I like this best myself. It is for the ball that the Principessa Valerio is to give to the Russians. Shall you be there?'
'Certainly, if it is possible to procure an invitation.'
It is needless to say that Spencer Carlton did procure an invitation, and that he scarcely left Blanche's side all the evening. He had now become so passionately in love with her that he made no attempt to conceal it, and followed her like a
shadow. He would walk by the side of her pony in the Campagna for hours; he sought the brightest and freshest flowers to bring her every morning. If she expressed the slightest wish, it was attended to at once. But Blanche seldom did express a wish, and the difficulty of reading her mind was the only thing that cast a shadow over the state of intoxicated happiness in which Spencer Carlton was living. He never could tell if his words made any impression on her. She seemed to take them so completely as a matter of course. She received his admiration with a bright smile, but all seemed on the surface. If a day passed in which they did not meet, she never appeared to be annoyed or even to notice it. Her coolness and the indifference of her manner nearly drove him to despair. If she were ever angry or vexed,' he thought; and yet she seldom talked to other men-he did not reflect that his absorption of her effectually kept all others aloof- but it is the strange way she receives all I do as a matter of course. I must speak to her mother; she may give me the key by which to understand her.'
Accordingly one day he went to the hotel with the express purpose of speaking to Mrs. Ellerton. It was the day after the ball which had been given in honour of the Russian Princes, at which Blanche had worn the blue and silver dress Spencer Carlton had chosen for her, and where she was acknowledged by all to be the belle of the evening. He had hovered round her, following her like a shadow, not in the least heeding how evident his admiration was to the rest of the world, even if it was not to Blanche. He had spoken plainly to her that very evening, yet she scarcely seemed to understand. Blanche is so young,' he said to himself. It is to her mother that I must go.'
The next day he went early to the hotel, and finding Mrs. Ellerton alone, asked anxiously for her daughter, inquiring whether she was ill or over-fatigued with the ball.
'I fear so, for she is very unwell to-day,' was the reply. She is subject to violent attacks of tic in her face and head, which, while they last, completely disable her, and make her almost frantic with the pain. It is this that obliges me to guard her as carefully as I do, and is mainly the cause of her extreme delicacy.'
'How terrible for her!' said Spencer, in a tone of great concern. 'Cannot anything be done?'
'I fear not. It was on account of these attacks that we left America. I was told that the Italian climate might cure her, and, till now, I fancied she was better.'
'And do they last long?' he inquired, anxiously, for he could not bear to think of his idolized Blanche racked with pain when he could neither comfort her nor alleviate it.
Always two or three days; so I think it would, perhaps, be better if you did not call here till I can tell you that she is better. Anything that agitates is so bad for her.'
'But I would not agitate her. Pray do not keep me away. Oh! Mrs. Ellerton, it was to speak to you about her that I came here today. I would give my life to keep pain and sorrow away from her. You must know-you must have seen what she is to me. I would not speak to her without your permission; but surely she must be aware how devotedly, how ardently I love her;' and he looked anxiously into Mrs. Ellerton's face for an
But he could read nothing there beyond an expression of pain while he was speaking; and now she seemed struggling to overcome some emotion that kept her silent. At last she spoke :
'I am glad that you have not said anything to Blanche as yet. She is so young that
'But I may speak to her? You will let me tell her all I feel, and implore her to return my love? Mrs. Ellerton, I cannot live without her. The one hope of my life is to call her mine.'
Still Mrs. Ellerton hesitated, and remained silent.
'You do not think that any one else'said Spencer Carlton, turning very pale.
That Blanche has already given her heart to another? Certainly not. She, poor child, is heart-whole, I feel sure,' said Mrs. Ellerton, sadly.
'Then you think she will listen to me?' he pleaded, anxiously; 'for as yet I have not been able to ascertain whether she understood my feelings.'
That I do not know, and you can hardly expect me to be able to answer you, Mr. Carlton. But you have my permission to ask her yourself;' and Mrs. Ellerton held out her hand to him.
He pressed it warmly. And when may I see her?' he asked, eagerly.
I cannot tell you now,' she replied, sorrowfully. Indeed, with her extreme delicacy, I hardly know whether I am justified in allowing such a question to be put to her, for some time at all events.'
'Indeed you are, Mrs. Ellerton. Who would watch her and tend her as I should? It will be the happiness of my life to share your responsibility.'
She turned away, but Spencer Carlton could see that it was to hide. her tears.
Some days elapsed before Blanche was well enough to see him; but as soon as he was allowed to do so he lost no time in pleading his cause feeling that
He either fears his fate too much,
To win or lose it all.'
So, in a few earnest words he told her how ardently he loved her, and asked her if she would trust her happiness in his keeping.
She had evidently been prepared to expect this, for she showed no surprise, though her murmured reply,
Mamma says you will always be kind to me,' was scarcely an expression of her own feelings towards him. To a less enraptured lover her reply would not have been satisfactory; but as it was, he felt delighted at her childlike manner, and clasping her in his arms, renewed his protestations of affection; and
from that day Blanche Ellerton and Spencer Carlton were acknowledged and affianced lovers.
As yet Spencer Carlton had never mentioned Blanche Ellerton's name in his letters to his mother and sister; but now he felt that he must not delay doing so any longer. He sat up late the same night, telling them that he could not bear to speak of his happiness till it was certain. His letter was full of praises of Blanche's gentleness and extreme beauty, saying how ardently he longed for the time when he could bring her home to be welcomed by them as a daughter and sister.
It struck both Mrs. Carlton and Laura that Spencer's letter was singularly reticent as to Miss Ellerton's family, and that he spoke much more of himself than of her. They had no idea whether she was
A penniless lass wi' a lang pedigree,' or the daughter of some rich man who had made his own fortune, and whose connections were very different to theirs.
'So, you see, Annie Travers was right, mamma,' said Laura, after reading her letter over twice, attentively.
Dear Spencer!' said Mrs. Carlton, with tears in her eyes. How thankful I feel that he is so happy! But I wish he had told us a little more.'
'Well, mamma, I don't know what your letter may say. Mine simply rings the changes on his own happiness and the young lady's extraordinary beauty. I, for one, shall soon tire of that, if, as I suspect, she has no other especial charm,' said Laura, a little petulantly.
'My dear Laura,' remonstrated her mother, 'I thought you had a higher opinion of your brother, than to think that he could be won merely by a pretty face.'
'I have the highest possible opinion of him, mamma; only all this has been so strange, and he has behaved in a way so unlike himself in never telling us till it was all settled.'
'Yes; I cannot understand it, but
he probably has some good reason. One never knows.'
'Never, indeed,' thought Laura, as with very mingled feelings she sat down to congratulate her brother, enclosing a note of welcome to her future sister-in-law. Both met with a warm response. Not so Mrs. Carlton's wish that they should all come over, so that her son might be married in England. This was negatived at once.
The marriage took place in Rome in the early spring, and the next few months were spent in travelling about Italy, so as to visit several of the Italian cities that, as yet, Blanche had not seen. It was arranged, that Mrs. Ellerton should meet them at Florence, from whence Spencer and his wife were to proceed to England, while she went in search of some German waters that she fancied were necessary for her health, promising to join them in England before the ensuing winter.
'Are you well, my darling? You look beautiful-so well and bright,' said her mother, fondly kissing her, when they met at Florence.
'Quite well, mamma, and so glad to see you. We have had delightful weather, and have seen so many things. Spencer must tell you all we have done.'
Mrs. Ellerton turned to her sonin-law, who was standing, looking silently through the window, apparently not noticing anything that had been said. He looked pale and care worn, and had not at all the joyous expression that characterized his wife's countenance. Mrs. Ellerton looked at him anxiously.
'You are well, I hope? and have enjoyed yourself as much as Blanche?'
'I am very well, and am glad that you approve Blanche's looks. I have done my best to take care of her,' he said, gravely.
Mrs. Ellerton sighed.
'Blanche looks quite strong now," she said, nervously. Tell me your plans. I am thinking of going to Paris before I go to Homburg, and have taken a house there for six months. I hope you are both coming with me.'
Oh! how delightful, mamma! I shall like so much to see Paris!'