1839-1908 Ouida.

Strathmore, or, Wrought by his own hand : a life romance online

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gazing on her in that slumber in which Life, becoming at
once ethereal and powerless, escaping from earth, yet lying
at man's mercy, so strangely and so touchingly counter-
feits Death. And while he looked, thoughts arose filling
him with vague reproach, thoughts at which the women
he had just left, the women who knew him in intrigue,
and in pleasure, and in idle flirtations, would have bitterly
marvelled, and as bitterly sneered. The world in which
we live knows nothing of us in our best hours, as it knows
nothing of us in our worst !

They were in strange contrast! the dazzling beauty of
Marion Vavasour, on which he had looked a few hours
before, with a sorceress-lustre glancing from her eyes, and
rare Byzantine jewels flashing on her breast; with this
fair and mournful loveliness, which was before him now,
hushed to rest in the holiness of sleep, with a smile like
a child's upon the tender lips, and with a shadow from the
lamp above falling upon a brow so pure that it might have
been shadowed by an angel's wings. They were in strange
contrast! and he stood beside his Wife, as Launcelot
stood and gazed upon Elaine, while the pure breath of a
stainless love was still upon his soul, and Avhile the subtle
power of Guenevere only stole upon him in the fevered,
vague phantasma of a fleeting dream, unknown and unad-
mitted even there.

He stooped over her, and his lips broke the spell of her
sleep with a caress. She awoke with a low, glad cry, aud



WROUGHT BY HIS OWN HAND.

sprang up (o nestle in his breast, to twine hei arms abou;
him, to murmur her welcome in sweet, joyous words.

" Ah, my better angel," he whispered, fondly yet bitterly,
as he rested against his the cheek which still blushed at
his kiss, speaking rather to his own thoughts than to her,
" why are men so doomed by their own madness, that
they sicken and weary of a pure and sacred love like yours,
on which Heaven itself might smile, and forsake it for a
few short hours of some guilty passion that is as senseless
as the drunkard's delirium !"

And she believed he only spoke but of the sweetness of
their own love, pitying those who had never known such,
and smiled up into his eyes !



CHAPTER XYIII.

THE SILVER SHIELD AND THE CHARMED LANCE.

" Is be to monopolize her for ever? He's kept the field
a cursed long time," said a Secretary of Legation, dropping
his lorgnon one night at the Opera in Paris.

" The deuce he has," said his Grace of Lindenmere : " La
belle is marvellously faithful ; and they say he's as mad
after her now as when he first "

"Taisez rows/ A scandal six months' old is worse than
dining off a rechauffe," broke in the Yicomte de Bele-
spriet: "A naughty story is like a pretty mistress; charm-
ing at the onset, but a great bore when it's lost its novelty.
All Paris chattered itself hoarse over their liaison last
December; what we want to know now is when will it
come to an end?"

" I dare say you do," chuckled the old Earl of Beaume :
" But the succession there will be as dangerous as to the
Polish Viceroyalty ; a smile from her would cost a shot
from him."

"Ah ! sort of man to do that style of thing," yawned
the Duke : " Don't understand it myself, never should. But
he's positively her slave actually."
16*



180 STRATHMORE; OR,

"Plenty of you envy him his slavery; white arms arc
pleasant handcuffs," laughed Lord Beaume: "But that
woman's ruined him. and what's worse, his career. He

crave up the special mission to , because it must have

taken him where her ladyship could not go! A man's
never great in public life till he's ceased to care for
women ! "

" Which is possibly the cause, sir, why the country,
looking to you for great things, has always looked in vain?"
said LiFvdenmere.

The Earl laughed, taking out his tabatiere ; he was good
nature itself, and his Grace was a privileged wit, c'est d
dire, one of that class who have made rudeness "the
thing," and supply the esprit they lack by the impudence
they have ! The fashion has its conveniences ; it is difficult
to be brilliant, but it is so easy to be brusque !

Those whom they discussed were Lady Vavasour and
Strathmore.

Their liaison had been the theme of many buzzing
scandals the autumn before, when on leaving White Ladies
she had returned to Paris, accompanied by him ; but the
buzz had soon exhausted itself, and their connection had
become a fact generally understood and but very little dis-
guised. His place and right had been long unchallenged,
however bitterly envied ; and whatever rumor had said
of her capricious inconstancy, as yet she had showed no
disloyalty to her lover, whatever she showed to her lord.
Either she really loved at last, or her entire dominion over
the man who had scoffed at the sway of women satiated
her delight in' power, for no coquetries ever roused the
jealousy, fierce as an Eastern's, which accompanied his
passion, or flattered the hopes of those who sought to
supplant him. If any magician had had the power t\velve
months before to show him himself as he had now become,
Strathmore would have recognized the revelation as little
as we in youth should recognize our own features could
we see them marked with the corruption they will wear
in death. Men who have been long invulnerable to passion
ever become its abject bond-slaves when they at length
bend to it. Ambition was lulled to forgetfulness in
the sweet languor of his love; had he been offered the
kingship of the earth, he would have renounced it, if to



WROUGHT BY HIS OWN HAND. 187

assume its empire he must have left her side ! This man,
who had long believed that he could rule his will. an<l
mould his life, as though he were, godlike, exempt from
every inevitable weakness or accident of mankind, had
sunk into a woman's arms, and let the golden meshes of
her loveliness enervate him, till every other feeling which
might have combatted or rivalled her power was drowned
and swept away. Passion, often likened by poets unto
flame, does thus resemble it ; that, once permitted dominion,
it can no longer be kept in servitude, but mastering all
before it, devours even that from which it springs. The
strength which he had boasted could break " bonds of
iron even as green withes" had ebbed away into a
voluptuary's weakness; and, under the even brilliant
modern life he had led through these eight months in
Paris, there had rioted in him the same guilty love which
revelled in possession of the Hittite's wife, the same keen
jealousy which slew Mariamne for a doubt, in the days
of old Judea!

Lady Vavasour sat to-night in her loge at the Opera,
Strathmore in attendance on her, as he had been through-
out the winter wherever she went, the Comte de Lorn
and Prince Michel of Tchemeidoff her only visitors; for
the entree to her box, closely as it was besieged, was ever
a privilege as exclusive as the Garter. Scandals, badinage,
dainty flattery, choice wit lying in a single word, rumors
which answered the " Quid Xovi ?" asked as perpetually
in Paris as in the Violet City, circulated in her box; and
she sat there in her dazzling youth, shrouded in black,
perfumed lace, like a Spanish gaditana, with the diamonds
flashing here and there, and gleaming starlike amidst her
lustrous hair. Her coquetry of manner she, could no more
abandon than could a fawn its play, than a sapphire its
sparkle ; but, as I say, she never aroused that deadly
jealousy which lay in wait within him, as a tiger lies
ready to spring; and Strathmore, whose love was a sheei
idolatry, as enthralled by the senses now as in the first
moment when his kiss had touched her lips, begrudged
every glanc^ which fell on another.

" Strath more has the monopoly now, how long will he
k^ep it?" said the Due de Vosges, as he left hor box, while
S A. R. the Prince d'Etoiles entered it: "There are



188 FlIfcATHMORE J OR,

women who have no lovers perhaps (at least for our
mothers' credit we all say so), as there are women who
use no rouge ; but when once they begin to take to eithe;
they add both fresh every day ! "

" Peste ! " said Arthus de Bellus, pettishly, " he has had
it a great deal too long. lie must have bewitched her in
his old English chateau ! If a whole winter is not an
eternal constancy, what is?"

1 'And this is May!" pursued the Due, reflectively; "but
those Ertglishmen are resolute fellows; they hold ther
ground doggedly in battle as in love, there is no shaking
them in either "

"Vrai! There is only shooting them in both! If one
picked a quarrel with my Lord Cecil, par hazard, and had
him out "

"He would shoot you, mon cher, and stand all the
better with madame for it," said the Due, dryly: " Strath-
more is the crack shot of Europe ; he can hit the ruby in
a woman's ring at a hundred yards saw him do it at
Vienna!"

" Look, Cecil ! There is }'our friend ! " said Marion
Vavasour, lifting her lorgnon to her eyes, and glancing at
the opposite side of the house.

"What an indefinite description ! " laughed Strathmore,
lifting his slowly: "We all have a million of friends as
long as we are happily ignorant of what they say of us."

" Tais toi with your epigrams ! All social comfort lies
in self-deception, we know that,'' she laughed, with that
glance beneath her silken lashes which had first fallen on
him under the midsummer stars of Prague, and which
still did with him what it would: " There is your friend,
your brother, your idol the Beau Sabreur, as you all call
him. I hope he will not be shot like his namesake, Murat ;
he is far too handsome! Look! it is he yonder, talking
with Lord Beaume ! "

" Bertie ! so it is. What has he come to Paris for, I
wonder?"

Strath more's eyes lightened with pleasure as he recog-
nized Erroll; his attachment to him was too thorough to
have been cut away by those words, even bitter though
they were, which had been exchanged between them iu
the cedar drawing-room at White Ladies.



WROUGHT BY HIS OWN HAND. 189

She, glancing upward at him, saw the smile, and this
woman, rapacious, exacting, merciless, with the panther
nature under her delicate loveliness, permitted no thought
to wander away from her, allowed no single feeling to
share dominion with her! And she prepared his chas-
tisement.

"What is he in Paris for? To see me, I dare say.
N^est ce pas assez ? Go and tell him to come here ; he will
not venture without," she said, carelessly, while she leaned
a little forward, and bowed to Erroll with an envoi from
her fan, for which many men in the House that night would
have paid down ten years of their lives.

How well she knew her lover, and knew her power over
him ! The smile died off Strathmore's face, the dark,
dangerous anger of his race glanced into his eyes :

" Pardon me if I decline the errand. I am not your
laquais de place, Lady Vavasour ! " he said, coldly, as he
leaned over her chair. The answer was too low for those
who were in the box to hear it.

She glanced at him amusedly, and shrugged her shoul
ders slightly :

" Many would think themselves flattered by being even
that! Since you are refractory, there are others more
obedient. M. de Lorn, will you be so good as to tell Major
Erroll he may come and speak to us here ? There he is
with Lord Beaume."

Lorn left the box on his errand, and Lady Vavasour
turned to D'Etoiles, who then entered. She was the
reigning beauty of Paris still ; none dared to dispute with
her the palm of pre-eminence. Sovereign of fashion, she
bent sovereigns to her feet, created a mode with a word,
and saw kings suitors to her for a smile. She must havo
surely loved Strathmore strangely well, with more than
the fleeting, capricious passions rumor accredited to her,
that she allowed him so jealous and undivided a sway
over her; or, perchance, it was that "the dove" still
loved "to peck the estridge," to tame this imperious will
to more than woman's weakness, and see this man, who
boasted himself of bronzo, grow pale if her glance but
wandered from himself!

'' For shame !" she murmured to him, as he bent for an
emera'd which had fallen from her bouquet-holder : "How



190 STRATH MORE ; OR,

rude you were. Do you not know my motto is Xapolcon's,
Qui m'aime me suit?"

" Yes," answered Strathmore, unsatisfied and unap-
peased : "but I do not see why you should care to be
followed by so very many !"

She struck him a fragrant blow with her bouquet of
stephanotis :

" If a vast crowd follow ever in vain, is it not the
greater honor to be singled from so many ? Lu/rat /"

The idolatrous passion that was in him for Marion Va-
vasour, which bound him to her will, and made him hold
his slavery sweeter than all duty, pride, or glory, gleamed
in his eyes as he stooped towards her in the swell of a
chorus of the " Puritan!," which drowned his words to
any ear save hers :

" Ay ! but love grudges the idlest word that is cast to
others, the slightest glance that is bestowed elsewhere.
There is no miser at once so avaricious and unreasonable !"

" Unreasoning indeed ! You are much more fit for the
days of Abelard and Helo'ise than you are for these. No
one loves so now save ourselves!"

For the sweetness of the last word, as it lingered softly
from her lips, murmured in the swell of the music, he
forgave her the arch mockery of the first ; and the sirocco
of jealousy w T hich once risen, never wholly subsides,
lulled, and passed harmless away for the present.

Meanwhile, in Lord Beaume's loge, Erroll received his
message ; received it with so much reluctance, almost
repugnance in his tone and on his face, that Comte cle
Lorn, who had 'only known him a Sir Caledore for cour-
tesy and a very Richelieu for women, stared at him and
shrugged his shoulders.

" Peste ! the greatest beauty of the day sends for you,
and you are no more grateful to her than this ! And one
must stand very well with her, too, to be invited to her
box."

"I have no desire whatever to 'stand well' with
Lady Vavasour," said Erroll, impatiently, forgetting how
strangely his answer must sound, as memories of this wo-
man as he had last seen her at White Ladies stirred up bit-
terly within him ; about her and her alone, passionate words
had passed between him and the man he loved; through



WROUGHT BY HIS OWN HAND. 191

her and her alone that blow had been struck their friend-
ship, from which friendship never rallies, howsoever dexter-
ously that wound be healed.

" So much the better for you, for nobody has a chance
of rivalling your friend, it seems. Allons ! you will
hardly send her such a message back as that?" said the
Frenchman, as he thought, "Ah-ha! the fox and the
grapes ! Us sont trop verts dit-il et bon pour les gougdfs /"

Erroll wavered a moment, uncertain how best to evade
her summons ; he felt an invincible reluctance in truth,
did it not seem too exaggerated and cowardly a word,
almost a dread to enter this woman's presence ? He
recognized her sorceress-power and feared it ; he knew her
influence over Strathmore, and resented it; he believed it
wisdom to shun, foolhardihood to brave her; he abhorred
her nature, and he acknowledged her loveliness. Down
at White Ladies, even whilst he had hated her for the
dominion she exercised over Strathmore, and loathed her
for the wanton passions she veiled beneath her delicate
and poetic language, her soft and refined grace, he had felt
the dazzling charm of that divine beauty sweep over and
stagger him, as though her eyes had some necromantic
spell. Now, with all the stories that were rife of the utter
bondage in which she held Strathmore, hatred is scarce
too fierce a word for what Erroll felt for Marion Vavasour.
Had there been a plausible pretext for leaving the house
to avoid her, he would have taken it ; already on his lips
was an excuse to Lorn for his attendance to her loge, when,
as she leaned forward to lorgner the prima donna, her
glance met his, and he saw her, with the diamonds
glancing in her bosom and her hair, and her lustrous eyes
outshining the jewels. He hated her, condemned her,
feared her, approached her with aversion ; but that enchant-
ment which Marion Vavasour exercised at Avill over
temperaments the most diverse, hearts the most steeled
to her, stole upon him as the syren's sea-song stole upou
the mariners of Greece, though they turned their prow
from the fatal music, as the fumes of wine steal perforce
upon a man, though he refuse to put wine even to his lips.

It seemed impossible to evade her summons ; he turned
and followed the Comte de Lorn, as in this life we ever follow
the slender thread of Accident, which leaves us to our fate



192 STRATiniORE; OR,

"What has brought you to Paris ? Anything especial?"
asked Strathmore, when Lady Vavasour, having given
him a smile and a few words of negligent graceful cour-
tesy, continued her conversation with D'Etoiles.

The hot words that had passed between them had been
allowed to drop into oblivion by both freely forgiven by
the one who had had right on his side; not so freely by
the one who had been in error, for it was one of the worst
traits among many darker that belonged to men of his race
and blood, that a Strathmore never pardoned.

"My uncle's illness," answered Erroll: "He was
knocked over at Auteuil by paralysis ; they telegraphed
for me some days ago, but this is the first time I have left
him. It will prove a fatal, they tell me, though perhaps
a lingering affair."

" i\Iy dear fellow, I must be 'extremely glad and vastly
sorry ' in one breath the first for your inheritance, the
last for your uncle !" smiled Strathmore : " Poor Sir Arthur
I wonder I never heard of it; will he last long?"

" He may die any day ; he may linger on for many
months ; so the doctors say nt least, but they always hedge
admirably in their prognostications, so that, whether their
patients be cured or killed, the;/ are always in the right!
I fear there can be no chance for him."

" Fear, Bertie! on your honor, now ?" said Strathmore.

All the old baronet's estates were willed by him to Erroll
(his title he naturally succeeded to) ; a property not exten-
sive, but of high value to a cavalryman in debt and in
difficulties.

" On my honor ! What will come to me will set free in
very many ways ; but to rejoice in a man's death because
you reap by it, would be semi-murder."

"My dear fellow," cried Strathmore, "we all break the
Decalogue in our thoughts every hour with impunity, and
in our acts, too, if we're not detected :

'Le scandale du mnnde est ce qni fait 1'offence,
Et ce n'est pas p6cher que pecher en silence !'

TartufTe's the essence of modern ethics!"

"Ethics! Murder! Death! Quelle horreurl What
are you talking about?" interrupted Lady Vavasour,
catching fragmentary sentences, and turning her head,



WROUGHT BY HIS OWN HAND. 193

with her eyebrows arched in surprised inquiry, as the
Royal Duke bowed his conge and left her to go to the box
of a sftircely more notorious, though a less legitimate
lionne, who had not a coronet to leaven her frailties :
" What horrible words to bring into my presence ! Are
you going to quit the world and organize a new La Trappe,
Major Erroll ?"

" Xot exactly ! Though truly there are living beauties
that might drive us to as fatal a despair, as the dead love-
liness of the Duchcsse de Montbazon awoke in the, Trap-
pist founder!" answered Erroll, almost involuntarily.
The eyes that dwelt on him, the subtle spell that stole
about him, seemed to wrench homage from him to this
woman in the very teeth of his aversion and his con-
demnation of her, as if to justify the taunt and the sus-
picion that Strathmorc had thrown in his teeth at White
Ladies, and to make him by his own words prove himself
a liar !

Strathmore's eyes flashed swiftly on him, and a sneering
smile came upon his face. The thought that prompted it
did Erroll as rank an injustice as evil judgment ever
wrought in a world where its wrong verdicts are as many
as the sands of the sea, and its restitutions so tardy, that
they are rarely offered, save to the dead.

Marion Vavasour smiled her moqueur, radiant, resist-
less smile.

" Well, it is a proof of woman's omnipotence that love
for her was even the cause and the corner-stone of the
most rigid monastic establishment, that ever abjured her 1
Have you been long in Paris?"

" Only a few days. I am staying in attendance on an
invalid relative at Auteuil."

" Auteuil ! Ah, we go there in a week or so to my
maisonette. We shall be charmed to see you, Major
Erroll, whenever you can make your escape from your
melancholy duty !"

He bowed, and thanked her. For the few words of
invitation many peers of France and England would have
laid clown half the trappings of their rank! He acknow-
ledged them, but chilly ; he could not pardon her for her
work; he could not forgive her the estrangement. between
him and the man he held closer than a brother: he could
17



194 STRATHMORE; OH,

not see Strathmore under the dominance and by the side
of the -woman who ensnared and enslaved him, yithout
bitterness of heart. He read her aright, this sorceress,
who could summon at will every phase of womanhood ;
and his instinct and his reason alike allied to give out
against her an uncompromising verdict. With but cold
comiesy he made his adieux, and left her box as soon as
it was possible to do so, having satisfied the bare obliga-
tions of politeness her message had entailed on him.
And yet, despite all this, as Erroll drove away from the Opera
towards the Maison Doree that night, the remembrance
which involuntarily uprose to him of a pure and childlike
loveliness, dedicated solely to him, which he had often
watched when hushed in the repose of a sleep whose very
dreams were haunted by no other image, and murmured
of no other name than his own, Avas rivalled and thrust
aside by what he strove to put away from him the
memory of the glance which had just met his, like the
blinding rays of a dazzling light. Strong and close about
him was the treasure of a warm and holy love ; but if
ever such a love be a silver shield in hours of temptation
to the man who wears it (though rarely, I deem, is it as
charmed an one as poets picture and as women dream), it
could not ward off the charmed lance of Marion Vavasour's
fascination. Her memory followed him through the gas-
lit streets to the Maison Doree; her memory haunted him
still when he left the laughing companions of his opera-
supper, and drove through the grey dawn of the early
June morning back to Auteuil. Are we masters of our
own fate? or are we not rather playthings in the hands of
circumstances and chance, floated by them against our will,
as thistle-down upon the winds that waft it? It is an
open question ! Half the world mar their own lives, and
the other half arc marred by life.

"Now, Cecil, what cause was there for you to look as
stern as Othello, and to assert that you were not my
laquais de place, to-night, when I merely paid an ordi-
nary courtesy to your friend because he is your friend ?
You are as jealous as a Spaniard, and as ungrateful as a
man always is for that matter, so there is no need for a
simile!" said Lady Vavasour that night, after her own
opera-supper, when Etoilcs, the Due de Vosgee, and others



WROUGHT BY HIS OWN HAND. 195

who had formed her guests at that most charming of all
soupers d, minuet had left.

The light shone down upon her where she leanea back
on a dormouse, her perfumed hair drooping off her snowy
shoulders, and the diamonds glancing above her fair Greek-
like brow. They were alone ; the Marquis was as polite
a host to Strathmore as the Marquis du Chatelet to Vol-
taire ; and Strathmore bent his head and kissed the
fragrant lips that mocked him with such sweet laughter.

" Ma belle ! there is cold love where there is no jealousy !
Love waits for no reason in its acts; it only knows that
it hates those who rob it of the simplest word, and is
jealous of the very brute that wins a touch or smile !"

" She laughed, as his hand pushed away from her a little
priceless toy-dog, gift of the Prince d'Etoiles, which had
nestled in her lace.

" I tell you you are fit for the old days of Venice, when
a too daring look was revenged with the dagger ! Nobody
loves so now, we are too languid, and too wise ; and two
years ago you would have sworn never to love so yourself,
Cecil."

" Even so. But two years ago I had not met you."

" No. How strangely we met, too, those ' summer
evenings in Bohemia ! I told you it was Destiny."

He smiled:

"My loveliest! I do not think there is much 'destiny'
in this life beyond that which men's hands fashion for



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