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That ready-minded lady extricated herself from the pots, and wriggled out of the moral situation. "I was a listener, dear! an unwilling listener; but now I do not regret it. How nobly you behaved!" and with this she came at her with open arms, crying, "My own dear niece."
Her own dear niece recoiled with a shiver, and put up both her hands as a shield.
"Oh, don't touch me, please. I never heard of a lady listening!!!!"
She then turned her back on her aunt in a somewhat uncourtier-like manner, and darted out of the place, every fiber of her frame strung up tight with excitement. She felt she was not the calm, dispassionate being of yesterday, and hurried to her own room and locked herself in.
Mrs. Bazalgette remained behind in a state of bitter mortification, and breathing fury on her small scale. But what could she do? David would be out of her reach in a few minutes, and Lucy was scarce vulnerable.
In the absence of any definite spite, she thought she could not go wrong in thwarting whatever Lucy wished, and her wish had been that David should go. Besides, if she kept him in the house, who knows, she might pique him with Lucy, and even yet turn him her way; so she lay in wait for him in the hall. He soon appeared with his bag in his hand. She inquired, with great simplicity, where he was going. He told her he was going away. She remonstrated, first tenderly, then almost angrily. "We all counted on you to play the violin. We can't dance to the piano alone."
"I am very sorry, but I have got my orders." Then this subtle lady said, carelessly, "Lucy will be au desespoir. She will get no dancing. She said to me just now, 'Aunt, do try and persuade Mr. Dodd to stay over the ball. We shall miss him so.'"
"When did she say that?"
"Just this minute. Standing at the door there."
"Very well; then I'll stay over the ball." And without a word more he carried his bag and violin-case up to his room again. Oh, how La Bazalgette hated him! She now resigned all hope of fighting with him, and contented herself with the pleasure of watching him and Lucy together. One would be wretched, and the other must be uncomfortable.
Lucy did not come down to dinner; she was lying down with headache. She even sent a message to Mrs. Bazalgette to know whether she could be dispensed with at the ball. Answer, "Impossible!" At half-past eight she got up, put on her costume, took it off again, and dressed in white watered silk. Her assumption of a character was confined to wearing a little crown rising to a peak in front. Many of the guests had arrived when she glided into the room looking every inch a queen. David was dazzled at her, and awestruck at her beauty and mien, and at his own presumption.
Her eye fell on him. She gave a little start, but passed on without a word. The carpets had been taken up, and the dancing began.
Mrs. Bazalgette arranged that Lucy and David should play pianoforte and violin until some lady could be found to take her part.
I incline to think Mrs. Bazalgette, spiteful as mortified vanity is apt to be, did not know the depth of anguish her subtle vengeance inflicted on David Dodd.
He was pale and stern with the bitter struggle for composure. He ground his teeth, fixed his eyes on the music-book, and plowed the merry tunes as the fainting ox plows the furrow. He dared not look at Lucy, nor did he speak to her more than was necessary for what they were doing, nor she to him. She was vexed with him for subjecting himself and her to unnecessary pain, and in the eye of society--her divinity.
Another unhappy one was Mr. Fountain. He sat disconsolate on a seat all alone. Mrs. Bazalgette fluttered about like a butterfly, and sparkled like a Chinese firework.
Two young ladies, sisters, went to the piano to give Miss Fountain an opportunity of dancing. She danced quadrilles with four or five gentlemen, including her special admirers. She declined to waltz: "I have a little headache; nothing to speak of."
She then sat down to the piano again. "I can play alone, Mr. Dodd; you have not danced at all."
"I am not in the humor."
This time they played some of the tunes they had rehearsed together that happy evening, and David's lip quivered.
Lucy eyed him unobserved.
"Was this wise--to subject yourself to this?"
"I must obey orders, whatever it costs me--'ri tum ti tum ti tum ti tum.'"
"Who ordered you to neglect my advice?--'ri tum tum tum.'"
"You did--'ri tum ti tum tiddy iddy.'"
A look of silent disdain: "Ri tum, ti tum, tiddy iddy." (Ah! perdona for relating things as they happen, and not as your grand writers pretend they happen.)
Between the quadrilles she asked an explanation.
"Your aunt met me with my bag in my hand, and told me you wanted me to play to the company."
When he said this, David heard a sound like the click of a trigger. He looked up; it was Lucy clinching her teeth convulsively. But time was up: the woman of the world must go on like the prizefighter. The couples were waiting.
"Ri tum ti tum ti tum ti tum tiddy iddy." For all that, she did not finish the tune. In the middle of it she said to David, "'Ri tum ti tum--' can you get through this without me?--'ri tum.'"
"If I can get through life without you, I can surely get through this twaddle: 'ri tum ti tum ti tum ti tum tiddy iddy.'" Lucy started from her seat, leaving David plowing solo. She started from her seat and stood a moment, looking like an angel stung by vipers. Her eye went all round the room in one moment in search of some one to blight. It surprised Mr. Hardie and Mrs. Bazalgette sitting together and casting ironical glances pianoward: "So she has been betraying to Mr. Hardie the secret she gained by listening," thought Lucy. The pair were probably enjoying David's mortification, his misery.
She walked very slowly down the room to this couple. She looked them long and full in the face with that confronting yet overlooking glance which women of the world can command on great occasions. It fell, and pressed on them both like lead, they could not have told you why. They looked at one another ruefully when she had passed them, and then their eyes followed her. They saw her walk straight up to her uncle, and sit down by him, and take his hand. They exchanged another uneasy look.
"Uncle," said Lucy, speaking very quickly, "you are unhappy. I am the cause. I am come to say that I promise you not to marry anyone my aunt shall propose to me."
"My dear girl, then you won't marry that shopkeeper there?"
"What need of names, still less of epithets? I will marry no friend of hers."
"Ah! now you are my brother's daughter again."
"No, I love you no better than I did this morning; but the--"
Celestial happiness diffused itself over old Fountain's face, and Lucy glided back to the piano just as the quadrille ended.
"Give me your arm, Mr. Dodd," said she, authoritatively. She took his arm, and made the tour of the room leaning on him, and chatting gayly.
She introduced him to the best people, and contrived to appear to the whole room joyous and flattered, leaning on David's arm.
The young fellows envied him so.
Every now and then David felt her noble white arm twitch convulsively, and her fingers pinch the cloth of his sleeve where it was loose.
She guided him to the supper-room. It was empty. "Oblige me with a glass of water."
He gave it her. She drank it.
"Mr. Dodd, the advice I gave you with my own lips I never retracted. My aunt imposed upon you. It was done to mortify you. It has failed, as you may have observed. My head aches so, it is intolerable. When they ask you where I am, say I am unwell, and have retired to my room. I shall not be at breakfast; directly after breakfast go to your sister, and tell her your friend Lucy declined you, though she knows your value, and would not let you be mortified by nullities and heartless fools. Good-by, Mr. Dodd; try and believe that none of us you leave in this house are worth remembering, far less regretting."
She vanished haughtily; David crept back to the ball-room. It seemed dark by comparison now she who lent it luster was gone. He stayed a few minutes, then heavy-hearted to bed.
The next morning he shook hands with Mr. Bazalgette, the only one who was up, kissed the terrible infant, who, suddenly remembering his many virtues, formally forgave him his one piece of injustice, and, as he came, so he went away, his bag on his shoulder and his violin-case in his hand.
He went to Cousin Mary and asked for Eve. Cousin Mary's face turned red: "You will find her at No. 80 in this street. She is gone into lodgings." The fact is, the cousins had had a tiff, and Eve had left the house that moment.
Oh! my sweet, my beloved heroines--you young vipers, when will you learn to be faultless, like other people? You have turned my face into a peony, blushing for you at every fourth page.
David came into her apartment. He smiled sweetly, but sadly. "Well, it is all over. I have offered, and been declined."
At seeing him so quiet and resigned, Eve burst out crying.
"Don't you cry, dear," said David. "It is best so. It is almost a relief. Anything before the suspense I was enduring."
Then Eve, recovering her spirits by the help of anger, began to abuse Lucy for a cold-hearted, deceitful girl; but David stopped her sternly.
"Not a word against her--not a word. I should hate anyone that miscalled her. She speaks well of you, Eve; why need you speak ill of her? She and I parted friends, and friends let us be. There is no hate can lie alongside love in a true heart. No, let nobody speak of her at all to me. I shan't; my thoughts, they are my own. 'Go to your sister,' said she, and here I am; and I beg your pardon, Eve, for neglecting you as I have of late."
"Oh, never mind that, David; our affection will outlast this folly many a long year."
"Please God! Your hand in mine, Eve, my lamb, and let us talk of ourselves and mother: the time is short."
They sat hand in hand, and never mentioned Lucy's name again; and, strange to say, it was David who consoled Eve; for, now the battle was lost, her spirit seemed to have all deserted her, and she kept bursting out crying every now and then irrelevantly.
It was three in the afternoon. David was sitting by the window, and Eve packing his chest in the same room, not to be out of his sight a minute, when suddenly he started up and cried, "There she is," and an instinctive unreasonable joy illumined his face; the next moment his countenance fell.
The carriage passed down the street.
"I remember now," muttered David, "I heard she was to go sailing, and Mr. Talboys was to be skipper of the boat. Ah! well."
"Well, let them sail, David. It is not your business."
"That it is not, Eve--nobody's less than mine.
"Eve, there is plenty of wind blowing up from the nor'east."
"Is there? I am afraid that will bring your ship down quick."
"Yes; but it is not that. I am afraid that lubber won't think of looking to windward."
"Nonsense about the wind; it is a beautiful day. Come, David, it is no use lighting against nature. Put on your hat, then, and run down to the beach, and see the last of her; only, for my sake, don't let the others see you, to jeer you."
"And mind and be back to dinner at four. I have got a nice roast fowl for you."
A little before four o'clock a sailor brought a note from David, written hastily in pencil. It was sent up to Eve. She read it, and clasped her hands vehemently.
"Oh, David, she was born to be your destruction."
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