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most neutral tones.

"Yes, please." Frank drew a chair to the table like a person in a dream.

"You are quite a stranger," cried arch, unconscious Fan, indicating with
head and spoon the dish from which she proposed to serve him.

Frank nodded acceptance of the proffered fare, but ignored her remark.

Silence fell again upon the party, broken by murmurs from the enamoured
Edward, and the ostentatious clatter of knives and forks on the part of
people who were not eating. Every one, except the plighted lovers, felt
that there was electricity in the air.

At last Frank dropped his fork, abandoning, once for all, the pretence
of supper.

"Miss Lucy," he cried across the table to her, "I have a piece of news."

She looked up, pale, with steady eyes, questioning him.

"I am going abroad to-morrow."

"Oh, where are you going?" cried Fanny, vaguely mystified.

"I am going to Africa."

He did not move his eyes from Lucy as he spoke; her head had drooped
over her plate. "They are sending me out as special from _The Woodcut_,
in the place of poor Leadpoint, who has died of fever. I heard the first
of it last night, and this morning it was finally settled. It makes,"
cried Frank, "an immense difference in my prospects."

Edward Marsh, who objected to Frank as a spoilt puppy, always expecting
other people to be interested in his affairs, asked the young man
bluntly the value of his appointment. But he met with no reply; for
Frank, his face alight, had sprung to his feet, pushing back his chair.

"Lucy, Lucy," he cried in a low voice, "won't you come and speak to me?"

Lucy rose like one mesmerised; took, with a presence of mind at which
she afterwards laughed, the key of the studio from its nail, and
followed Frank from the room, amidst the stupefaction of the rest of the
party.

It was a sufficiently simple explanation which took place, some minutes
later, in the very room where, a few hours before, poor Fred had
received his dismissal.

"But why," said Lucy, presently, "have you been so unkind for the last
fortnight?"

"Ah, Lucy," answered Frank; "you women so often misjudge us, and think
that it is you alone who suffer, when the pain is on both sides. When it
dawned upon me how things stood with you and me - dear girl, you told me
more than you knew yourself - I reflected what a poor devil I was, with
not the ghost of a prospect. (I have been down on my luck lately,
Lucy.) And I saw, at the same time, how it was with Devonshire; I
thought, he is a good fellow, let him have his chance, it may be best in
the end - - "

"Oh, Frank, Frank, what did you think of me? If these are men's
arguments I am glad that I am a woman," cried Lucy, clinging to the
strong young hand.

"Well, so am I, for that matter," answered Frank; and then, of course,
though I do not uphold her conduct in this respect, Lucy told him
briefly of Fred Devonshire's offer and her own refusal.

It was late before these two happy people returned to the sitting-room,
to receive congratulations on the event, which, by this time, it was
unnecessary to impart.

Fanny wondered aloud why she had not thought of such a thing before; and
felt, perhaps, that her own _rechauffé_ love affair was quite thrown
into the shade. Phyllis smiled and made airy jests, submitting her soft
cheek gracefully to a brotherly kiss.

Edward Marsh looked on mystified and rather shocked, and Gertrude
remained in the background, with a heart too full for speech, till the
lovers made their way to her, demanding her congratulations.

"Don't think me too unworthy," said Frank, in all humility.

"I am glad," she said.

Glancing up and seeing the two young faces, aglow with the light of
their happiness, she looked back with a wistful amusement on her own
doubts and fears of the past weeks.

As she did so, the beautiful, familiar words flashed across her
consciousness -

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

* * * * *

Late that night, when the guests had departed and the rest of the
household was asleep, Gertrude heard Lucy moving about in the room
below, and, throwing on her dressing-gown, went down stairs. She found
her sister risen from the table, where she had been writing a letter by
the lamp-light.

"Aren't you coming to bed, Lucy? Remember, you have to be up very
early."

The shadow of the coming separation, which at first had only seemed to
give a more exquisite quality to her happiness, lay on Lucy. She was
pale, and her steadfast eyes looked out with the old calm, but with a
new intensity, from her face.

"Read this," she said, "it seemed only fair."

Stooping over the table, Gertrude read -


"DEAR FRED, - I am engaged to Frank Jermyn, who goes abroad
to-morrow. I am sorry if I seemed unkind, but I was grieved and
shocked by what you said to me. Very soon, when you have quite
forgiven me, you will come and see us all, will you not?
Acknowledge that you made a mistake, and never cease to regard me
as your friend. - L. L."


Gertrude thought: "Then I shall not have to tell Conny, after all."

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER XV.

CRESSIDA.

_Beauty like hers is genius._
D. G. ROSSETTI.


Lucy slept little that night. At the first flush of the magnificent
summer dawn she was astir, making her preparations for the traveller's
breakfast.

She had changed suddenly, from a demure and rather frigid maiden to a
loving and anxious woman. Perhaps the signet-ring on her middle finger
was a magic ring, and had wrought the charm.

Frank's notice to quit had been so short, that he had been obliged to
apply for various necessaries to Darrell, who, with Lord Watergate, had
supplied him with the main features of a tropical outfit. His ship
sailed that day, at noon, so there was little time to be lost. He came
over at an unconscionably early hour to Number 20B, for there was much
to be said and little opportunity for saying it.

Lucy, displaying a truly feminine mixture of the tender and the
practical, packed his bag, strapped his rugs, and put searching
questions as to his preparations for travel. Already, womanlike, she had
taken him under her wing, and henceforward the minutest detail of his
existence would be more precious to her than anything on earth.

Gertrude, when she had kissed the vivid young face in sisterly farewell,
saw the lovers drive off to the station and wondered inwardly at their
calmness.

Later in the day, coming into the studio, she found Lucy quietly engaged
in putting a negative into the printing-frame.

"It is his," she said, looking up with a smile; "I never felt that I had
a right to do it before."

At luncheon, Phyllis reminded her that to-night was the night of Mr.
Darrell's _conversazione_ at the Berkeley Galleries, for which he had
sent them two tickets.

"It's no good expecting Lucy to go; you will have to take me, Gerty,"
she announced.

Gertrude had a great dislike to going, and she said -

"Can't Fanny take you?"

"Edward and I are dining at the Septimus Pratts'," replied Fanny.

After much hesitation, she and her betrothed had had to resign
themselves to the inevitable, and dispense with the services of a
chaperon; a breach of decorum which Mr. Marsh, in particular, deplored.

"Are you very anxious about this party?" pleaded Gertrude.

"Oh Gerty, of course. And if you won't take me, I'll go alone," cried
Phyllis, with unusual vehemence.

Gertrude was indignant at her sister's tone; then reflected that it was,
perhaps, hard on Phyllis, to cut off one of her few festivities.

Phyllis, indeed, had not been very well of late, and demanded more
spoiling than ever. She coughed constantly, and her eyes were
unnaturally bright.

Gertrude ended by submitting to the sacrifice, and at ten o'clock she
and Phyllis found themselves in Bond Street, where the rooms were
already thronged with people.

Phyllis had blazed into a degree of beauty that startled even her
sister, and made her the frequent mark for observation in that brilliant
gathering.

Her grey dress was cut low, displaying the white and rounded slenderness
of her shoulders and arms; the soft brown hair was coiled about the
perfect head in a manner that afforded a view of the neck and its
graceful action; her eyes shone like stars; her cheeks glowed
exquisitely pink. Wherever she went, went forth a sweet strong
fragrance, the breath of a great spray of tuberose which was fastened in
her bodice, and which had arrived for her that day from an unnamed
donor.

Darrell's greeting to both the sisters had been of the briefest. He had
shaken hands unsmilingly with Phyllis; he and Gertrude had brought their
finger-tips into chill and momentary contact, without so much as lifting
their eyes, and Gertrude had felt humiliated at her presence there.

She had not seen Darrell since his Private View, more than six weeks
ago; and now, as she stood talking to Lord Watergate, her eye, guided by
a nameless curiosity, an unaccountable fascination, sought him out. He
was looking ill, she thought, as she watched him standing in his host's
place, near the doorway, chatting to an ugly old woman, whom she knew to
be the Duchess of Kilburne; ill, and very unhappy. Happiness indeed, as
she instinctively felt, is not for such as he - for the egotist and the
sensualist.

Her acute feminine sense, sharpened perhaps by personal soreness, had
pierced to the second-rateness of the man and his art. Beneath his
arrogance and air of assured success, she read the signs of an almost
craven hunger for pre-eminence; of a morbid self-consciousness; an
insatiable vanity. And for all the stupendous cleverness of his
workmanship, she failed to detect in his work the traces of those
qualities which, combined with far less skill than his, can make
greatness.

As for her own relations to Darrell, the positions of the two had
shifted a little since the first. In the brief flashes of intercourse
which they had known, a drama had silently enacted itself; a war
without words or weapons, in which, so far, she had come off victor. For
Sidney had ceased to regard her as merely ridiculous; and she, on her
part, was no longer cowed by his aggressive personality, by the
all-seeing, languid glance, the arrogant, indifferent manner. They stood
on a level platform of unspoken, yet open distaste; which, should
occasion arise, might blaze into actual defiance.

Lord Watergate, as I have said, was talking to Gertrude; but his glance,
as she was quick to observe, strayed constantly toward Phyllis. She had
wondered before this, as to the measure of his admiration for her
sister; it seemed to her that he paid her the tribute of a deeper
interest than that which her beauty and her brightness would, in the
natural course of things, exact.

As for Phyllis, she was enjoying a triumph which many a professional
beauty might have envied. People flocked round her, scheming for
introductions, staring at her in open admiration, laughing at her
whimsical sallies.

"That young person has a career before her."

"Who is she?"

"Oh, one of Darrell's discoveries. Works at a photographer's, they say."

"Darrell is painting her portrait."

"No, not her portrait; but a study of 'Cressida.'"

"Cressida!


"'There's language in her eye, her cheek, her lip;
Nay, her foot speaks - - '"


"Hush, hush!"

Such floating spars of talk had drifted past Gertrude's corner, and had
been caught, not by her, but by her companion.

Lord Watergate frowned, as he mentally finished the quotation, which
struck him as being in shocking taste. He had adopted, unconsciously, a
protective attitude towards the Lorimers; their courage, their
fearlessness, their immense ignorance, appealed to his generous and
chivalrous nature. He made up his mind to speak to Darrell about that
baseless rumour of the Cressida.

Gertrude, on her part, was not too absorbed in conversation to notice
what her sister was doing. She saw at once that, in spite of some
thrills of satisfied vanity, Phyllis was not enjoying herself. There was
a restless, discontented light in her eyes, a half-weary recklessness in
her pose, as she leant against the edge of a tall screen, which filled
Gertrude with wonder and anxiety. She felt, as she had felt so often
lately, that Phyllis, her little Phyllis, whom she had scolded and
petted and yearned over for eighteen years, was passing beyond her ken,
into regions where she could never follow.

The evening wore itself away as such evenings do, in aimless drifting to
and fro, half-hearted attempts at conversation, much mutual staring, and
a determined raid on the refreshment buffet, on the part of people who
have dined sumptuously an hour ago.

"Our English social institutions," Darrell said aside to Lord Watergate;
"the private view, where every one goes; the _conversazione_, where no
one talks."

Lord Watergate laughed, and went back to Gertrude, to propose an attack
on the buffet, by way of diversion; and Sidney, with his inscrutable air
of utter purposelessness, made his way through the crowd to where
Phyllis stood in conversation with two young men.

Some paces off from her he paused, and stood in silence, looking at her.

Phyllis shot her glance to his, half-petulant, half-supplicating, like
that of a child.

It was late in the evening, and this was the first attempt he had made
to approach her. Darrell advanced a step or two, and Phyllis lowered her
eyes, with a sudden and vivid blush.

"At last," said Darrell, in a low voice, as the two young men
instinctively moved off before him.

"You are just in time to say 'good-night' to me, Mr. Darrell."

Darrell smiled, with his face close to hers. His smile was considered
attractive -


"Seeming more generous for the coldness gone."


"It is not 'good-night,' but 'good-bye,' that I have come to say."

The brilliant and rapid smile had passed across his face, leaving no
trace.

"What do you mean, Mr. Darrell?"

"I mean that I am going away to-morrow."

"For ever and ever?" Phyllis laughed, as she spoke, turning pale.

"For several months. I have important business in Paris."

"But you haven't finished my portrait, Mr. Darrell."

Sidney looked down, biting his lip.

"Shall you be able to finish it in time for the Grosvenor?"

"Possibly not."

"Now you are disagreeable," cried Phyllis, in a high voice; "and
ungrateful, too, after all those long sittings."

"Not ungrateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Under cover of the
crowd he had taken both her hands, and was pressing them fiercely at
each repetition, while his miserable eyes looked imploringly into hers.

"You are hurting me." Her voice was low and broken. She shrank back
afraid.

"Good-bye - Phyllis."

Gertrude, coming back from the refreshment-room a minute later, found
Phyllis standing by herself, in an angle formed by one of the screens,
pale to the lips, with brilliant, meaningless eyes.

"We are going home," said Gertrude, walking up to her.

"Oh, very well," she answered, rousing herself; "the sooner the better.
I am not well." She put her hand to her side. "I had that pain again
that I used to have."

Lord Watergate, who stood a little apart, watching her, came forward and
gave her his arm, and they all three went from the room.

In the cab Phyllis recovered something of her wonted vivacity.

"Isn't it a nuisance," she said, "Mr. Darrell is going away for a long
time, and doesn't know when he will be able to finish my portrait."

Gertrude started.

"Well, I suppose you always knew that he was an erratic person."

"You speak as if you were pleased, Gerty. I am very disappointed."

"Put not your trust in princes, Phyllis, nor in fashionable artists, who
are rather more important than princes, in these days," answered
Gertrude, secretly hoping that their relations with Darrell would never
be renewed. "He has tired of his whim," she thought, indignant, yet
relieved.

Mrs. Maryon opened the door to them herself.

Phyllis shuddered as they went upstairs. "That bird of ill-omen!" she
cried, beneath her breath.

"Poor Mrs. Maryon. How can you be so silly?" said Gertrude, who herself
had noted the long and earnest glance which the woman had cast on her
sister.

In the sitting-room they found Lucy sewing peacefully by the lamplight.

"You hardly went to bed at all last night; you shouldn't be sitting up,"
said Gertrude, throwing off her cloak; while Phyllis carefully detached
the knot of tuberose from her bodice, as she delivered herself for the
second time of her grievance.

Afterwards, going up to the mantelpiece, she placed the flowers in a
slender Venetian vase, its crystal flecked with flakes of gold, which
Darrell had given her; took the vase in her hand, and swept upstairs
without a word.

"I do not know what to think about Phyllis," said Gertrude.

"You are afraid that she is too much interested in Mr. Darrell?"

"Yes."

"She does not care two straws for him," said Lucy, with the conviction
of one who knows; "her vanity is hurt, but I am not sure that that will
be bad for her."

"He is the sort of person to attract - - " began Gertrude; but Lucy
struck in -

"Why, Gerty, what are you thinking of? he must be forty at least; and
Phyllis is a child."

Something in her tones recalled to Gertrude that clarion-blast of
triumph, in the wonderful lyric -


"Oh, my love, my love is young!"


"At any rate," she said, as they prepared to retire, "I am thankful that
the sittings are at an end. Phyllis was getting her head turned. She is
looking shockingly unwell, moreover, and I shall persuade her to accept
the Devonshires' invitation for next month."

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER XVI.

A WEDDING.

_A human heart should beat for two,
Whate'er may say your single scorners;
And all the hearths I ever knew
Had got a pair of chimney-corners._
F. LOCKER: London Lyrics.


The next day, at about six o'clock, just as they had gone upstairs from
the studio, Constance Devonshire was announced, and came sailing in, in
her smartest attire, and with her most gracious smile on her face.

"I have come to offer my congratulations," she cried, going up to Lucy;
"you know, I have always thought little Mr. Jermyn a nice person."

Lucy laughed quietly.

"I am glad you have brought your congratulations in person, Conny. I
rather expected you would tell your coachman to leave cards at the
door."

Conny turned away her face abruptly.

"What is the good of coming to see such busy people as you have been
lately?... And with so much love-making going on at the same time! What
does Mrs. Maryon think of it all?"

"Oh, she finds it very tame and hackneyed, I am afraid."

"You see," added Phyllis, who lounged idly in an arm-chair by the
window, pale but sprightly, "the course of true love runs so
monotonously smooth in this household. And Mrs. Maryon has a taste for
the dramatic."

Conny laughed; and at this point the door was thrown open to admit Aunt
Caroline, whose fixed and rigid smile was intended to show that she was
in a gracious mood, and was accepted by the girls as a signal of truce.

"What is this a little bird tells me, Lucy?" she cried archly, for Mrs.
Pratt shared the liking of her sex for matters matrimonial.

Fanny, who was, in fact, none other than the little bird who had broken
the news, put her head on one side in unconsciously avine fashion, and
smiled benevolently at her sister.

"I am engaged to Mr. Jermyn," said Lucy, her clear voice lingering
proudly over the words.

Conny winced suddenly; then turned to gaze through the window at the
blank casements above the auctioneer's shop.

"Then you have found out who Mr. Jermyn _is_?" went on Aunt Caroline,
still in her most conciliatory tones.

"We never wanted to know," said Lucy, unexpectedly showing fight.

Aunt Caroline flushed, but she had come resolved against hostile
encounter, in which, hitherto, she had found herself overpowered by
force of numbers; so she contented herself with saying -

"And have you any prospect of getting married?"

"Frank has gone to Africa for the present," said Lucy.

Aunt Caroline looked significant.

"I only hope," she said afterwards to Fanny, who let her out at the
street-door, "that your sister has not fallen into the hands of an
unscrupulous adventurer. It will be time when the young man comes home,
if he ever does, for Mr. Pratt to make the proper inquiries."

Fanny had risen into favour since her engagement; Mr. Marsh, also, had
won golden opinions at Lancaster Gate.

"I believe," Fanny replied, speaking for once to the point, "that Frank
Jermyn is going to write, himself, to Mr. Pratt, at the first
opportunity."

Meanwhile, upstairs in the sitting-room, Conny was delivering herself of
her opinion that they had all behaved shamefully to Aunt Caroline.

"She had a right to know. And it is very good of her to trouble about
such a set of ungrateful girls at all," she cried. "You can't expect
every one besides yourselves to look upon Frank Jermyn as dropped from
heaven."

"Aunt Caroline is cumulative - not to be judged at a sitting," pleaded
Gertrude.

Very soon Constance herself rose to go.

"I shall not see you again unless you come down to us; which, I suppose,
you won't," she said. "We go to Eastbourne on Friday; and afterwards to
Homburg. Mama is going to write and invite you in due form."

"It is very kind of Mrs. Devonshire. Lucy and I cannot possibly leave
home, but Phyllis would like to go," answered Gertrude; a remark of
which Phyllis herself took no notice.

"Well then, good-bye. Lucy, Fred sends his congratulations. Phyllis, my
dear, we shall meet ere long. Fanny, I shall look out for your wedding
in the paper. Come on, Gerty, and let a fellow out!"

On the other side of the door her manner changed suddenly.

"Do come home and dine, Gerty."

"I can't, Con, possibly."

"Gerty, of course I can guess about Fred. I knew it was no good, but I
can't help being sorry."

"It was out of the question, poor boy."

"Oh, don't pity him too much. He'll get over it soon enough. His is not
a complaint that lasts."

There was a significant emphasis on the last words, that did not escape
Gertrude.

"You look better, Conny, than when I last saw you."

"Oh, I'm all right. There's nothing the matter with me but too many
parties."

"I think dancing has agreed with you."

"I don't know about dancing. I have taken to sitting in conservatories
under pink lamps. That is better sport, and far more becoming to the
complexion."

"I shouldn't play that game, Conny. It never ends well."

"Indeed it does. Often in St. George's, Hanover Square. You are shocked,
but I do not contemplate matrimony just at present. But I see you agree
with _Chastelard_ -


"'I do not like this manner of a dance;
This game of two and two; it were much better
To mix between the dances, than to sit,
Each lady out of earshot with her friend.'"


"Have you been taking to literature?"

"Yes; to the modern poets and the French novelists particularly. When
next you hear of me, I shall have taken probably to slumming; shall have
found peace in bearing jellies to aged paupers. Then you might write a
moral tale about me."

Gertrude sighed, as the door closed on Constance. It was the Devonshires
who, throughout their troubles, had shown them the most unwavering
kindness; and on the Devonshires, it seemed, they were doomed to bring
misfortune.

At the end of August, Fanny was quietly married at Marylebone Church.
She would have dearly liked a "white wedding;" and secretly hoped that
her sisters would suggest what she dared not - a white satin bride and
white muslin bridesmaids. Truth to tell, such an idea never entered the
heads of those practical young women; and poor Fanny went soberly to the
altar in a dark green travelling dress, which was becoming if not
festive.

Aunt Caroline and Uncle Septimus came up from Tunbridge Wells for the
wedding, and the Devonshires, who were away, lent their carriage. It was
a sober, middle-aged little function enough, and every one was glad when
it was over.

Aunt Caroline said little, but contented herself with sending her hard,
keen eyes into every nook and corner, every fold and plait, every dish
and bowl; while she mentally appraised the value of the feast.

One result of the encounters with her nieces was this, that she was more


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