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pleased-it's going to be a capital

ball.'

'I thought Lord Bearwarden never went to balls,' replied the young lady, carelessly; but her heart swelled with gratified vanity to think of the attraction that drew him now to every place where he could hear her voice and look upon her beauty.

'There he is,' was her partner's comment, as his lordship's head appeared in the doorway. We'll have one more dance, Miss Bruce-Maud -before the night is over?'

'As many as you please,' was her answer, and still Dick felt he had the race in hand and was winning in a canter.

People go to balls for pleasure, no doubt, but it must be admitted, nevertheless, that the pleasure they scek there is of a delusive kind and lasts but for a few minutes at a time.

Mr. Stanmore's whole happiness was centred in Miss Bruce, yet it was impossible for him to neglect all his stepmother's guests because of his infatuation for one, nor would the usages of society's Draconic laws, that are not to be broken, permit him to haunt that one presence, which turned to magic a

scene

otherwise only ludicrous for an hour or so, and simply wearisome as it went on.

So Dick plunged into the thick of it, and did his duty manfully, diving at partners right and left, yet, with a certain characteristic loyalty, selecting the least attractive amongst the ladies for his attentions. Thus it happened that as the rooms became crowded, and half the smartest people in London surged and swayed upon the staircase, he lost sight of the face he loved for a considerable period, and was able to devote much real energy to the success of his stepmother's ball, uninfluenced by the distraction of Miss Bruce's presence.

This young lady's movements, however, were not unobserved. Puckers, from her position behind the cups and saucers, enjoyed great reconnoitring opportunities, which she did not suffer to escape unimproved-the tea-room, she was

aware, held an important place in the working machinery of society, as a sort of neutral territory, between the cold civilities of the ball-room and the warmer interest fostered by juxtaposition in the boudoir, not to mention a wicked little alcove beyond, with low red velvet seats, and a subdued light suggestive of whispers and provoking question rather than reply.

Puckers was not easily surprised. In the housekeeper's room she often thanked her stars for this desirable immunity, and indeed on the present occasion had furnished a loving couple with tea, whose united ages would have come hard upon a century, without moving a muscle of her countenance, albeit there was something ludicrous to general society in the affectation of concealment with which this long-recognised attachment had to be carried

on.

The gentleman was bald and corpulent. The lady-well, the lady had been a beauty thirty years ago, and dressed the character still. There was nothing to prevent their seeing each other every day and all day long, if they chose, yet they preferred scheming for invitations to the same places, that they might meet en evidence before the public, and dearly loved, as now, a retirement into the tea-room, where they I could enact their role of turtledoves, uninterrupted, yet not entirely unobserved.

Perhaps, after all, this imaginary restraint afforded the little spice of romance that preserved their attachment from decay.

Puckers, I say, marvelled at these not at all, but she did marvel, and admitted it, when Miss Bruce, entering the tea-room, was seen to be attended, not by Mr. Stanmore, but by Lord Bearwarden.

Her dark eyes glittered, and there was an exceedingly becoming flush on the girl's fair face, usually so palo. Her maid thought she had never seen Maud look so beautiful, and to judge by the expression of his countenance, it would appear Lord Bearwarden thought so too. They had been dancing together, and he seemed to be urging her to dance with him again. His lordship's manner was

more eager than common, and in his eyes came an anxious expression that only one woman, the one woman it was so difficult to forget, had ever been able to call into them before.

'Look odd!' he repeated while he set down her cup and gave her back the fan he had been holding. 'I thought you were above all that, Miss Bruce, and did what you liked, without respect to the fools who stare, and can't understand.'

She drew up her head with a proud gesture peculiar to her. How do you know I do like it?' said she, haughtily.

He looked hurt and lowered his voice to a whisper. 'Forgive me,' he said, 'I have no right to suppose it. I have been presumptuous, and you are, entitled to be unkind. I have monopolized you too much, and .you're-you're bored with me. It's my own fault.'

'I never said so,' she answered in the same tone; 'who is unkind now?' Then the dark eyes were raised for one moment to look full in his, and it was all over with Lord Bear warden.

'You will dance with me again before I go,' said he, recovering his former position with an alacrity that denoted some previous practice. 'I shall ask nobody else-why should I? You know I only came here to see you. One waltz, Miss Brucepromise!'

'I promise,' she answered, and again came into her eyes that smile which so fascinated her admirers to their cost. I shall get into horrid disgrace for it, and so I shall for sitting here so long now. I'm always doing wrong. However, I'll risk it if you will.'

Her manner was playful, almost tender; and Puckers, adding another large infusion of tea, wondered to see her look so soft and kind.

A crowded waltz was in course of performance, and the tea-room, but for this preoccupied couple, would have been empty. Two men looked in, as they passed the door, the one hurried on in search of his partner, the other started, scowled, and turned back amongst the crowd. Puckers the lynx-eyed, observing and recognizing both, had sufficient skill in

VOL. XV.-NO. LXXXIX.

physiognomy to pity Mr. Stanmore and much mistrust Tom Ryfe.

The former, indeed, felt a sharp keen pang, when he saw the face that so haunted him in close proximity to another face belonging to one who, if he should enter for the prize, could not but prove a dangerous rival. Nevertheless, the man's generous instincts stifled and kept down so unworthy a suspicion, forcing himself to argue against his own conviction that, at this very moment, the happiness of his life was hanging by a thread. He resolved to ignore everything of the kind. Jealousy was a bad beginning for a lover, and after all, if he should allow himself to be jealous of every man who admired and danced with Maud, life would be unbearable. How despicable, besides, would she hold such a sentiment! With her disposition, how would she resent anything like espionage or surveillance! How unworthy it seemed both of herself and of him! In two minutes he was heartily ashamed of his momentary discomfiture, and plunged energetically once more into the duties of the ball-room. Nevertheless, from that moment, the whole happiness of the evening had faded out for Dick.

There is a light irradiating all such gatherings which is totally irrespective of gas or wax-candles. It can shed a mellow lustre on dingy rooms, frayed carpets, and shabby furniture; nay, I have seen its tender rays impart a rare and spiritual beauty to an old, worn, long-loved face; but on the other hand, when this magic light is quenched or even temporarily shaded, not all the illuminations of a royal birthday are brilliant enough to dispel the gloom its absence leaves about the heart.

Mr. Stanmore, though whirling a very handsome young lady through a waltz, began to think it was not such a good ball after all.

Tom Ryfe, on the other hand, congratulated himself on his tactics in having obtained an invitation, not without considerable pressure put upon Miss Bruce, for a gathering, of which his social standing hardly entitled him to form a part. He

2 H

was now, so to speak, on the very ground occupied by the enemy, and though he saw defeat imminent, could at least make his own effort to avert it. After all his misgivings as regarded Stanmore, it seemed that he had been mistaken, and that Lord Bearwarden was the rival he ought to dread. In any case but his own, Mr. Ryfe was a man of the world quite shrewd enough to have reasoned that in this duality of admirers there was encouragement and hope. But Tom had lost his heart, such as it was, and his head, though of much better material, had naturally gone with it. Like other gamblers, he determined to follow his ill-luck to the utmost, bring matters to a crisis, and so know the worst. In all graver affairs of life, it is doubtless good sense to look a difficulty in the face; but in the amusements of love and play practised hands leave a considerable margin for that uncertainty which constitutes the very essence of both pastimes; and this is why, perhaps, the man in earnest has the worst chance of winning at either game.

So Tom Ryfe turned back into the crowd and waited his opportunity for a few minutes' conversation with Miss Bruce.

It came at last. She had danced through several engagements, the night was waning, and a few carriages had already been called up. Maud occupied the extreme end of a bench, from which a party of ladies had just risen to go away; she had declined to dance, and for the moment was alone. Tom slipped into the vacant seat by her side and thus cut her off from the whole surrounding world. A waltz requiring much terrific accompaniment of brass instruments pealed out its deafening strains within ten feet of them, and in no desert island could there have been less likelihood that their conversation would be overheard.

Miss Bruce looked very happy, and in thorough good-humour. Tom Ryfe opened the trenches quietly enough.

'You haven't danced with me the whole evening,' said he, with only rather a bitter inflection of voice.

'You never asked me,' was the natural rejoinder.

'And I'm not going to ask you now,' proceeded Mr. Ryfe; you and I, Miss Bruce, have something more than a mere dancing acquaintance, I think.'

An impatient movement, a slight curl of the lip, was the only answer.

'You may drop an acquaintance when you are tired of him, or a friend when he gets troublesome. It's done every day. It's very easy, Miss Bruce.'

He spoke in a tone of irony that roused her.

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'Not so easy,' she answered, with tightening lips, when people have no tact-when they are not gentlemen.'

The taunt went home. The beauty of Mr. Ryfe's face was at no time in its expression-certainly not now. Miss Bruce, too, seemed well disposed to fight it out. Obviously it must be war to the knife!

'Did you get my letter?' said he, in low, distinct syllables. 'Do you believe I mean what I say? Do you believe I mean what I write?

She smiled scornfully. A panting couple who stopped just in front of them imagined they were interrupting a flirtation, and, doing as they would be done by, twirled

on.

'I treat all begging-letters alike,' answered Maud, and make yours no exception, because they contain threats, and abuse into the bargain. You have chosen the wrong person to try and frighten, Mr. Ryfe. It only shows how little you understand my character.'

He would have caught at a straw even then. 'How little chance I have had of studying it!' he exclaimed. 'It is not my fault. Heaven knows I have been kept in ignorance, uncertainty, suspense, till it almost drove me mad. Miss Bruce, you have known the worst of me; only the worst of me, indeed, as yet.'

The man was pleading for his life, you see. Was it pitiable, or only ludicrous, that his voice and manner had to be toned down to the staid pitch of general conversa

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