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banks of flowers between each of the windows; at the end of the ballroom the conservatory was a blaze of rich colour, relieved by tender green; opening out of the ballroom was the boudoir; opening out of the conservatory the library. You could wander from room to room, and then, crossing the hall, enter other apartments. You could leave the music behind till its tones grew fainter and fainter; and then, coming out upon the terrace from quite another direction, be again in a moment in the midst of the gay scene. A garden flooded with moonlight; a ballroom filled with fair women and handsome men flitting past dreamily in the mazy dance; the most seductive strains of music; the most delicate of perfumes; life presented in its most graceful and refined and luxurious aspect.
Sir John Moffat looked around him and sighed. Never before had the words of the Preacher seemed to find so true an echo in his heart-that weary, weary heart, vexed with all the storms, tossed with the repentance, of over twenty long years:
mad it ?'
I said of laughter, It is and of mirth, What doeth
Above the strains of the music he could hear the sobbing of the winter wind. Across the calm stillness of the summer night there came borne to his ear the death-cry of one in agony. As in the old Irish stories, wherever a doomed man went, or whatever he chanced to be doing, he beheld the banshee of his race or heard her moaning cry, so Sir John was haunted by the memory of a face he could not forget, of a voice whose tones rang distinctly adown the long interval of years that stretched between the present and the past.
It was a gay scene that on which his eyes rested. The manyhued dresses, the sparkling jewels, the bright fans, the exquisite flowers, the fine rooms, the terrace crowded with laughing guests, the garden flooded with moonlight, the grounds of Kensington so quiet and so lonely just beyond. But he looked on as though he were a mere spectator, as though in it all he had nor part nor lot, as if from a different world he were regarding the pastimes and fripperies and follies of this.
Papa broke in a troubled voice upon his reverie, a voice sweet and low, and yet with a wonderful virtue of distinctness about it. Papa, what are we to do? There are such numbers of girls without partners, and there is no person to introduce them to any one. Will you come and help?'
Certainly, my dear; if you tell me now what I must do.'
'O, just look up the gentlemen a little, I suppose. They are standing out on the terrace; and you know I cannot go amongst them, and if I could I am not sure of their names.'
'Neither am I, Rachel. I do not know even by sight one quarter of the people who are here to-night.'
'Will you allow me to try and be of some assistance?' asked a third person at this juncture, and there appeared from behind a small thicket of palms a gentleman who was a stranger to both. 'I was not eavesdropping, Miss Moffat,' he added. But I heard what you said. I know a great number of the gentlemen who are "out on the terrace;" and, though I do not dance myself, I have no doubt I can set them dancing.'
A spare ascetic-looking man; a man thin as a devotee, with a face too stern and cold, till a
smile broke over it, when the whole expression changed.
They were friends in a minute.
'Thank you,' said Sir John heartily. We shall be grateful for your help. I confess this sort of thing is quite new to me.'
'And it is new to me,' answered the other. I think I have only once before been at a ball in my life. My name is Woodham,' he went on, introducing himself quite easily and naturally; and I used to know your brother, Sir John, when I was a curate in Lancashire.'
There came a dull red glow into Sir John's usually pale face; but he only said, stretching out his hand, that he was glad to see Mr. Woodham, and was sorry not to have been able to make his acquaintance sooner.
'And you, Miss Moffat,' said Mr. Woodham, looking down at the pretty young creature, dressed out in her harmless finery, with youth and beauty still hers, and the great indefinite future stretching all before. I feel as if you and I were quite old friends. I have heard so much about you from Mrs. Hemans. I never see her that she does not tell me you have taken her down tea and sugar.'
I am afraid she likes the tea and sugar much better than she does me,' answered Rachel, laughing.
'Perhaps so; but we cannot always dissociate the gift from the giver.'
He gave her his arm, and they went together through the flowers and foliage on to the terrace, leaving Sir John to make his way into the ballroom.
Remember I do not dance,' said Mr. Woodham, looking down with a man's natural admiration for what was good to the sight and pleasant to the mind; sc I
must not monopolise you one moment longer than we can avoid.'
'O, thank you; but I should not like to dance,' she answered, in her pretty modest way, 'with so many guests sitting still. I left my last partner as soon as I could, and went round by the other rooms to find papa.'
How sweet and simple she was! How fair, how innocent, how unselfish!
'What, are you not dancing?' thus Mr. Woodham addressed one group of young men.
No; but we should like to dance,' they answered almost with one voice, pointing the sentence with a look at Rachel. Still, we can't go up to a young lady and ask her for the next valse without an introduction.'
Sir John will be only too happy to introduce you, I am sure of that. We shall find him in the ballroom, shall we not, Miss Moffat?'
Yes, Sir John was not far distant Close by one of the windows they found him talking to a City lady, the mother of two nice daughters.
It was wonderful how easy Mr. Woodham seemed soon to make it for them, and how willing all the gentlemen were to take even unpromising partners when Rachel smiled her thanks.
'That eldest daughter is a nice girl,' said mothers approvingly. It is a pity she is not the hostess. As for Lady Moffat, she has not taken the slightest trouble to find a partner for any one.'
It was true. Having got her guests together, Lady Moffat thought they could amuse each other, or rather she did not concern herself about the matter in the least. Surrounded in her boudoir with a little court, she neither knew nor cared whether
pretty Alice Gresham, who had 'so counted' upon this ball, was sitting in a corner ready to cry her bright eyes out with vexation, or gliding swiftly over the floor, her card already full of engagements.
Poor Rachel, though she knew so little of society, possessed the finest instincts of hospitality, and it would have seemed as dreadful to her to be helped first at table with visitors present as to continue dancing herself and see guests waiting for partners unnoticed.
When she ran round to seek her father she could have shed tears of shame; but now it was all right. Every one was getting to know everybody; people were talking pleasantly even without having been introduced. Pretty Alice Gresham was admiring the flowers in the conservatory in company with an officer who could tell her stories about the Court; and she squeezed Rachel's fingers as she passed by, and whispered,
Your father is a darling!' Miss Banks, to do her justice, had worked hard; but then, as she said pitifully afterwards,
"What could one woman do, and she not the hostess?'
She came now up to Rachel and her escort, with Edwina-bright, flushed, hair-tossed, saucy, happy.
'Mr. Woodham,' she began, 'will you try to keep this naughty girl quiet for five minutes? She is trying to kill herself. Take her for a turn round the garden.'
With the greatest pleasure,' said Mr. Woodham demurely, if you and she think it would be prudent.'
'O, I am not going out into the garden,' said the girl, with more than an imitation of her mother's rudeness. I prefer gaslight to moonlight any day.'
Is not that somewhat of a
bull?' asked Mr. Woodham, while Rachel stole an entreating hand upon her arm, and Miss Banks remarked, Well, you ought not to dance any more at present, I think, my dear;' then to Rachel, 'Sir John is looking for you.'
'Ah, I thought so,' said the girl; but I did not know where to find him. Would you kindly tell him I will wait here till he comes?' she added, as Miss Banks, having achieved the business which brought her, turned away.
'How I do hate that woman!" said Edwina, looking after her retreating skirts.
'Eddy, Eddy, Eddy !' entreated her sister softly.
'Rachel, Rachel, Rachel !' retorted the young hoyden. What business was it of hers whether I was dancing too much or not? or why did she ask you to take me round the garden, I should like to know?' she added, looking with handsome fearless eyes into Mr. Woodham's face.
He laughed outright.
'You need not be afraid,' he said, 'of my taking you out into the garden or anywhere else against your own free will.'
'I do not mind now,' she answered; ' I should like to go,' she went on, taking his arm uninvited, as Rachel, exclaiming, 'Here is papa,' relinquished it with a little graceful movement and grateful smile. 'Let us go, by all means;' and she drew a shawl closer round her throat, and led the way to the terrace-steps.You are not afraid of catching cold, are you?' she asked.
'Not in the least,' replied Mr. Woodham, amused at, if not attracted by, the naïveté of this half child, half woman.
They went down the steps, they paced the first walk, they looked up at the moon, and they glanced back at the ballroom.
'Don't you hate Miss Banks?' asked his companion, reverting to her latest grievance.
'No,' he said; 'I hope I hate no one.'
'Do you love Miss Banks, then?' she asked, changing her front.
'I am afraid,' he said, 'I do not know enough of the many good qualities I hope Miss Banks possesses to go so far as that.'
'What a funny person you are!' she exclaimed; but do you know, I think I like you.'
"I feel highly honoured. You are too kind.'
'Now don't mock me. I cannot bear being mocked; that is the great reason I am so fond of Rachel. She never mocks any one.' 'I should say not.'
'You might say not if you lived with her. Do you see any resemblance in her to papa ?
'No; I fail to trace any.' 'I fancy there is sometimes, particularly in manner. You know she is his pet and companion; and if people are always together they must get to talk and look like each other.'
'I am afraid I cannot quite agree with you there, Miss-Miss-I want to know your Christian name, please.'
'Edwina,' she said; 'mamma's choice, I am told, and a dreadful choice too, I think. You know mamma, don't you ?'
No; I have seen her, though, and am hoping for the pleasure of an introduction.'
'You don't think Rachel like her, I suppose?'
'Certainly no resemblance occurred to me.'
In mind, body, or estate?' suggested Edwina (a most audacious young person, Mrs. Woodham would have decided); 'that is what you say in church, is it not, Mr. Woodham?
'Well, not exactly in the sense you mean, I fancy,' he answered. 'Nevermind, it does not signify. What I mean is that Rachel is not like mamma one bit in any way, or like me, or like anything that is not nicest of nice.'
'Are you not nice, Miss Edwina?'
'I daresay I am after a sort of fashion; but I am not like Rachel; nobody is like Rachel, Mr. Woodham.'
They were standing by the light iron railing, or rather hurdle, which is all that divides the royal grounds from the garden of Holyrood House.
'I suppose everybody will soon be out of London ? she remarked. 'Everybody who is anybody,' he answered.
'We are bound for Scarborough,' she said, of course implying she and her people were amongst the 'somebodies;' 'that is, mamma and I and the boys. Rachel has an invitation into Surrey-I am sure I wish I had-and papa means to visit his brother, I think.'
'Not going with you?'
'No; I fancy he has about enough- she paused, and he could see she crimsoned at the slip she had so nearly made. If she had not coloured furiously he might not have been able so readily to complete the sentence for himself, as was the case.
Of course, knowing Sir John's relations, he understood in a vague sort of way there must be some reason why his family did not visit his wife, and why they never mentioned her name when they could possibly avoid doing so. He had heard rumours of her ungovernable temper, and hints that a good deal of stormy weather had to be put up with in the establishment. The drift of Miss Edwina's chatter also showed him that Lady
Moffat's faults did not lie on the side of over-amiability, and he had seen for himself that she neglected the first duty of a hostess; but then, to be sure, he had seen that so often before in the case of other ladies, that he was not astonished to find the mistress of Holyrood House thought of no person's comfort save her own.
For all these reasons, and also a nameless something in the expression of Sir John's face, he guessed that Miss Edwina had as nearly as possible blundered out, 'I fancy he has about enough of mamma at home,' but he only said,
'Yes; I think Scarborough must be very like London. I cannot imagine any one going there who requires rest. Now your uncle's place is delightfully quiet.'
'Is it? I have never been there,' she answered; and Mr. Woodham felt he had wandered on uncertain ground.
Shall we go in?' asked the girl. It is a little chilly.'
She shivered, and in a fatherly sort of manner he wrapped the light shawl she wore closer round her shoulders.
'You ought not to have come out,' he said. 'I was wrong to allow it. You were so warm with dancing.'
There was a tone in his voice, and a look in his eyes, which made her regard him with quite a new interest.
'He is nice,' she thought; and I believe he is good. If he would only fall in love with Rachel, now! O Mr. Woodham,' she added aloud, there is that galop, which I do think would make me dance if I was dead. Let us make haste, please. I promised it to Mr. Lassils, and I am sure he is looking for me everywhere.'
Now Mr. Lassils happened to
be the partner from whom Mis Banks had carried off the young lady she and Lady Moffat desired to see established as the future possible Viscountess Chesunt.
MR. LASSILS MAKES A NEW
THE hours went by, but the dancers did not seem to weary. Chaperons and others, whose 'dancing days were over,' grew tired and sleepy, and yawned behind their fans; but young eyes were bright as ever, and young hearts kept as true time to the strains of the enchanting dancemusic as did eager and tireless limbs.
Flower and bouquets began to droop; not so, however, the human flowers grouped in such captivating profusion; dresses became limp, their first glory had departed; but with their wearers the case was different.
Now, when the time was approaching that they must separate, people were getting to know each other the utter strangers of an earlier period were becoming close acquaintances; girls, who once thought no partner would ever come to claim them, found themselves engaged for many dances still to follow. Young men were talking recklessly and whispering soft flatteries, some of which had perhaps better never have been spoken, into pretty ears, all too willing to listen.
Cupid was very busy that night in Palace Gardens. He came straight thither, without stopping at the Palace in Kensington, which was wrapped in slumber, and which in truth for the last few centuries he has found a trifle dull, to Holyrood House, where some