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Harrowfield House, as every one knows, is one of the finest in London;
and with the worst manners, and an inordinate insolence, Lady
Harrowfield ruled her section of society with a rod of iron. Indeed, all
sections coveted the invitations of this disagreeable lady.
Her path was strewn with lovers, and protected by a proud and complacent
husband, who had realized early he never would be master of the
situation, and had preferred peace to open scandal.
She was a woman of sixty now, and, report said, still had her lapses.
But every incident was carried off with a high-handed, brazen daring,
and an assumption of right and might and prerogative which paralyzed
So it was that with the record of a demimondaine--and not one kind
action to her credit--Lady Harrowfield still held her place among the
spotless, and ruled as a queen.
There was not above two years' difference between her age and Lady
Bracondale's; indeed, the latter had been one of her bridesmaids; but
no one to look at them at a distance could have credited it for a
Lady Harrowfield had golden hair and pink cheeks, and her embonpoint
retained in the most fashionable outline. And if towards two in the
morning, or when she lost at bridge, her face did remind on-lookers of a
hideous colored mask of death and old age--one can't have everything in
life; and Lady Harrowfield had already obtained more than the lion's
This night in June she stood at the top of her splendid staircase,
blazing with jewels, receiving her guests, among whom more than one
august personage, English and foreign, was expected to arrive; and an
unusually sour frown disfigured the thick paint of her face.
It all seemed like fairy-land to Theodora as, accompanied by Josiah, and
preceded by Mrs. Devlyn, she early mounted the marble steps with the
rest of the throng.
She noticed the insolent stare of her hostess as she shook hands and
then passed on in the crowd.
She felt a little shy and nervous and excited withal. Every one around
seemed to have so many friends, and to be so gay and joyous, and only
she and Josiah stood alone. For Mrs. Devlyn felt she had done enough
for one night in bringing them there.
It was an immense crowd. At a smaller ball Theodora's exquisite beauty
must have commanded instant attention, but this was a special occasion,
and the world was too occupied with a desire to gape at the foreign king
to trouble about any new-comers. Certainly for the first hour or so.
Josiah was feeling humiliated. Not a creature spoke to them, and they
were hustled along like sheep into the ballroom.
A certain number of men stared--stared with deep interest, and made
plans for introductions as soon as the crowd should subside a little.
Theodora was perfectly dressed, and her jewels caused envy in numbers of
She was too little occupied with herself to feel any of Josiah's
humiliation. This society was hers by right of birth, and did not
disconcert her; only no one could help being lonely when quite
neglected, while others danced.
Presently, a thin, ill-tempered-looking old man made his way with
difficulty up to their corner; he had been speaking to Mrs. Devlyn
across the room.
"I must introduce myself," he said, graciously, to Theodora. "I am your
uncle, Patrick Fitzgerald, and I am so delighted to meet you and make
Theodora bowed without empressement. She had no feeling for these
relations who had been so indifferent to her while she was poor and who
had treated darling papa so badly.
"I only got back to town last night, or I and my wife would have called
at Claridge's before this," he continued. And then he said something
affable to Josiah, who looked strangely out of place among this
For whatever may compose the elements of the highest London society, the
atoms all acquire a certain air after a little, and if within this fine
fleur of the aristocracy there lurked some Jews and Philistines and
infidels of the middle classes, they were not quite new to the game, and
had all received their gloss. So poor Josiah stood out rather by
himself, and Sir Patrick Fitzgerald felt a good deal ashamed of him.
Theodora's fine senses had perceived all this long ago--the contrast her
husband presented to the rest of the world--and it had made her stand
closer to him and treat him with more deference than usual; her generous
heart always responded to any one or anything in an unhappy position.
And through all his thick skin Josiah felt something of her tenderness,
and glowed with pride in her.
Sir Patrick Fitzgerald continued to talk, and even paid his niece some
bluff compliments. Her manner was so perfect, he decided! Gad! he could
be proud of his new-found relation. And though the husband was nothing
but a grocer still, and looked it every inch, by Jove, he was rich
enough to gild his vulgarity and be tolerated among the highest.
Thus the uncle was gushing and lavish in his invitations and offers of
friendship. They must come to Beechleigh for Whitsuntide. He would hear
of no refusal. Going home! Oh, what nonsense! Home was a place one could
go to at any time. And he would so like to show them Beechleigh at its
best, where her father had lived all his young life.
Josiah was caught by his affable suggestions. Why should they not go?
Only that morning he had received a letter from his agent at Bessington
Hall to say the place, unfortunately, would not be completely ready for
them. Why, then, should they not accept this pleasant invitation?
Theodora hesitated--but he cut her short.
"I am sure it is very good of you, Sir Patrick, and my wife and I will
be delighted to come," he said.
By this time the excitement of the royal entrance and quadrille had
somewhat subsided, and several people felt themselves drawn to be
presented to the beautiful young woman in white with the really fine
jewels, and before she knew where she was, Theodora found herself
waltzing with a wonderfully groomed, ugly young marquis.
She had meant not to dance--not to leave her husband's side; but fate
and Josiah had ordered otherwise.
"Not dance! What nonsense, my love! Go at once with his lordship," he
had said, when Sir Patrick had presented Lord Wensleydown. And wincing
at the sentence, Theodora had allowed herself to be whirled away.
Her partner was not more than nine-and-twenty; but he had all the blasé
airs of a man of forty. He began to say entreprenant things to
Theodora after three turns round the room.
She was far too unsophisticated to understand their ultimate meaning,
but they made her uncomfortable.
He gazed at her loveliness with that insulting look of sensual
admiration which some men think the highest compliment they can pay to a
woman. And just in the middle of all this, Hector Bracondale arrived
upon the scene. He had been searching for her everywhere; in that crowd
one could miss any one with ease. He stood and watched her before she
caught sight of him--watched her pure whiteness in the clutches of this
beast of prey. Saw his burning looks; noted his attitude; imagined his
whisperings--and murderous feelings leaped to his brain.
How dared Wensleydown! How dared any one! Ah, God! and he was powerless
to prevent it. She was the wife of Josiah Brown over there, smiling and
complacent to see his belonging dancing with a marquis!
"Hector, dearest, what is the matter?" exclaimed Lady Anningford, coming
up at that moment to her brother's side. She was with Colonel Lowerby,
and they had made a tour of the rooms on purpose to see Theodora. "You
appear ready to murder some one. What has happened?"
Hector looked straight at her. She was a very tall woman, almost his
height, and she saw pain and rage and passion were swimming in his eyes,
while his deep voice vibrated as he answered: "Yes, I want to murder some one--and possibly will before the evening is
"Hector! Crow, leave me with him, like the dear you always are," she
whispered to Colonel Lowerby, "and come and find me again in a few
"Hector, what is it?" she asked, anxiously, when they stood alone.
"Look!" said Lord Bracondale. "Look at Wensleydown leaning over
Theodora." He was so moved that he uttered the name without being aware
of it. "Did you ever see such a damned cad as he is? Good God, I cannot
"He--he is only dancing with her," said Anne, soothingly. What had come
to her brother, her whimsical, cynical brother, who troubled not at all,
as a rule, over anything in the world?
"Only dancing with her! I tell you I will not bear it. Where is the
Crow? Why did you send him off? I can't stay with you; I must go and
speak to her, and take her away from this."
"Hector, for Heaven's sake do not be so mad," said Lady Anningford, now
really alarmed. "You can't go up and seize a woman from her partner in
the middle of a waltz. You must be completely crazy! Dear boy, let us
stay here by the door until the music finishes, and then I will speak to
her before they can leave the room to sit out."
She put her hand on his arm to detain him, and started to feel how it
What passion was this? Surely the Crow was right, after all, and it
could only lead to some inevitable catastrophe. Anne's heart sank; the
lights and the splendor seemed all a gilded mockery.
At that moment Morella Winmarleigh advanced with Evermond Le
Mesurier--their uncle Evermond--who, having other views for his own
amusement, left her instantly at Anne's side and disappeared among the
"How impossible to find any one in this crush!" Miss Winmarleigh said.
There was a cackly tone in her voice, especially when raised above the
din of the music, which was peculiarly irritating to sensitive ears.
Hector felt he hated her.
Anne still kept her hand on his arm, and flight was hopeless.
Just then a Royalty passed with their hostess, and claimed Lady
Anningford's attention, so Hector was left sole guardian of Morella
She cackled on about nothing, while his every sense was strained
watching Theodora, to see that she did not leave the room without his
She was whirling still in the maze of the waltz, and each time she
passed fresh waves of rage surged in Hector's breast, as he perceived
the way in which Lord Wensleydown held her.
"Why, there is the woman who was at the opera last night," exclaimed
Morella, at last. "How in the world did an outsider like that get here,
I wonder? She is quite pretty, close--don't you think so, Hector? Oh, I
forgot, you know her, of course; you talked to her last night, I
Hector did not answer; he was afraid to let himself speak.
Morella Winmarleigh was looking her best. A tonged, laced, flounced
best; and she was perfectly conscious of it, and pleased with herself
and her attractions.
She meant to keep Lord Bracondale with her for the rest of the evening
if possible, even if she had to descend to tricks scarcely flattering to
her own vanity.
"Do let us go for a walk," she said. "I have not yet seen the flower
decorations in the yellow salon, and I hear they are particularly
Hector by this time was beside himself at seeing Theodora converging
with her partner towards the large doors at the other end of the
"No," he said. "I am very sorry, but I am engaged for the next dance,
and must go and hunt up my partner. Where can I take you?"
Hector engaged for a dance? An unknown thing, and of course untrue. What
could this mean? Who would he dance with? That colonial creature? This
must be looked into and stopped at once.
Miss Winmarleigh's thin under-lip contracted, and a deeper red suffused
her blooming cheeks.
"I really don't know," she said. "I am quite lost, and I am afraid you
can't leave me until I find some one to take care of me." And she
That such a large cow of a woman should want protection of any sort
seemed quite ridiculous to Hector--maddeningly ridiculous at the present
moment. Theodora had disappeared, having seen him standing there with
Morella Winmarleigh, who she had been told he was going to marry.
He was literally white with suppressed rage. The Royalty had
commandeered Anne, and among the dozens of people he knew there was not
one in sight with whom he could plant Morella Winmarleigh; so he gave
her his arm, and hurried along the way Theodora had disappeared.
"Are you going to Beechleigh for Whitsuntide?" Morella asked. "I am, and
I think we shall have a delightful party."
Hector was not paying the least attention. Theodora was completely out
of sight now, and might be lost altogether, for all they were likely to
overtake her among this crowd and the numberless exits and entrances.
"Beechleigh!" he mumbled, absently. "Who lives there? I don't even know.
I am going home."
"Why, Hector, of course you know! The Fitzgeralds--Sir Patrick and Lady
Ada. Every one does."
Then it came to him. These were Theodora's uncle and aunt. Was it
possible she could be going there, too? He recollected she had told him
in Paris her father had written to this brother of his about her coming
to London. She might be going. It was a chance, and he must ascertain at
Sir Patrick Fitzgerald he knew at the Turf, and now that he thought of
it he knew Lady Ada by sight quite well, and he was aware he would be a
welcome guest at any house. If Theodora was going, he expected the thing
could be managed. Meanwhile, he must find her, and get rid of Morella
Winmarleigh. He hurried her on through the blue salon and the yellow
salon and out into the gallery beyond. Theodora had completely
Miss Winmarleigh kept up a constant chatter of commonplaces, to which,
when he replied at all, he gave random answers.
And every moment she became more annoyed and uneasy.
She had known Hector since she was a child. Their places adjoined in the
country, and she saw him constantly when there. Her stolid vanity had
never permitted the suggestion to come to her that he had always been
completely indifferent to her. She intended to marry him. His mother
shared her wishes. They were continually thrown together, and the
thought of her as a probable ending to his life when all pleasures
should be over had often entered his head.
Before he met Theodora, if he had ever analyzed his views about Morella,
they probably would have been that she was a safe bore with a great
many worldly advantages. A woman who you could be sure would not take a
lover a few years after you had married her, and whom he would probably
marry if she were still free when the time came.
His flittings from one pretty matron to another had not caused her grave
anxieties. He could not marry them, and he never talked with girls or
possible rivals. So she had always felt safe and certain that fate would
ultimately make him her husband.
But this was different--he had never been like this before. And
uneasiness grabbed at her well-regulated heart.
"Ah, there is my mother!" he exclaimed, at last, with such evident
relief that Morella began to feel spiteful.
They made their way to where Lady Bracondale was standing. She beamed
upon them like a pleased pussy-cat. It looked so suitable to see them
"Dearest," she said to Morella, "is not this a lovely ball? And I can
see you are enjoying yourself."
Miss Winmarleigh replied suitably, and her stolid face betrayed none of
"Mother," said Hector, "I wish you would introduce me to Lady Ada
Fitzgerald when you get the chance. I see her over there."
This was so obvious that Morella, who never saw between the lines,
preened with pleasure. After all, he wished to spend Whitsuntide with
her, and this anxiety to find Lady Bracondale had been all on that
account. Lady Bracondale, who was acquainted with Miss Winmarleigh's
plans, made the same interruption, and joy warmed her being.
She was only too pleased to do whatever he wished. And the affair was
Hector made himself especially attractive, and Lady Ada Fitzgerald
decided he was charming.
The way paved for possible contingencies, he escaped from this crowd of
women, and once more began his search for Theodora. She would certainly
return to Josiah some time. To go straight to him would be the best
Josiah was standing absolutely alone by one of the windows in the
ballroom, and looked pitiably uncomfortable and ill at ease in his
knee-breeches and silk stockings.
He had experienced such pleasure when he had tried them on, and had
enjoyed walking through the hall at Claridge's to his carriage, knowing
the people there would be aware it meant he was going to meet the most
But now he felt uncomfortable, and kept standing first on one leg, then
on the other. Theodora had not returned to him yet: the next dance had
This great world contained discomfort as well as pleasure, he decided.
Hector walked straight over to him and was excessively polite and
agreeable, and Josiah's equanimity was somewhat restored.
What could have happened to Theodora? Where had that beast Wensleydown
taken her? Not to supper--surely not to supper?--were Lord Bracondale's
And then with the first notes of the next dance she reappeared. It
seemed to him she was looking superbly lovely: a faint pink suffused her
cheeks, and her eyes were shining with the excitement of the scene.
A mad rush of passion surged over Hector; his turn had come, he thought.
Lord Wensleydown seemed loath to release her, and showed signs of
staying to talk awhile. So Hector interposed at once.
"May I not have this dance? I have been looking for you everywhere," he
Theodora told him she was tired, and she stood close to her husband;
tired--and also she was quite sure Josiah would be bored left all alone,
so she wished to stay with him.
But Mrs. Devlyn made a reappearance just then, and as they spoke they
saw Josiah give her his arm and lead her away.
Thus Theodora was left standing alone with Lord Bracondale.
Fate seemed always to nullify her good intentions.
It was an exquisite waltz, and the music mounted to both their brains.
For one moment the room appeared to reel in front of her, and then she
found herself whirling in his arms. Oh, what bliss it was, after this
long week of separation! What folly and maddening bliss!
Her senses were tingling; her lithe, exquisite, willowy body thrilled
and quivered in his embrace. And they both realized what a waltz could
be, as a medium for joy.
"We will only have two turns until the crowd gets impossible again," he
whispered, "and then I will take you to supper."
Lady Anningford had been rejoined by the Crow, and now stood watching
them. She and her companion were silent for a moment, and then: "By Jove!" Colonel Lowerby said. "She is certainly worth going to hell
for, to look at even--and they don't appear as if they would take long
on the road."