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Great troups of people travelled thitherward Both day and night, of each degree and place.--SPENSER.
Much against their will, Major Delavie and his soi-disant son-in-law set forth for Lady Belamour's entertainment, thinking no opportunity of collecting intelligence was to be despised; while she probably wished to obviate all reports of a misunderstanding as well as to keep them under her own eye.
The reception rooms were less adorned than the lady's private apartment. There were pictures on the walls, and long ranks of chairs ranged round, and card-tables were set out in order. The ladies sat in rows, and the gentlemen stood in knots and talked, all in full dress, resplendent figures in brilliant velvet, gold lace, and embroidery, with swords by their sides, cocked hats, edged with gold or silver lace, under their arms, and gemmed shoe buckles. The order of creation was not yet reversed; the male creature was quite as gorgeous in colour and ornament as the female, who sat in her brocade, powder and patches, fan in hand, to receive the homage of his snuff-box.
Sir Amyas went the round, giving and returning greetings, which were bestowed on him with an ardour sufficient to prove that he was a general favourite. His mother, exquisitely dressed in a rich rose- coloured velvet train, over a creamy satin petticoat, both exquisitely embroidered, sailed up with a cordial greeting to her good cousin, and wanted to set him down to loo or ombre; but the veteran knew too well what the play in her house was, and saw, moreover, Lady Aresfield sitting like a harpy before the green baize field of her spoils. While he was refusing, Sir Amyas returned to him, saying, "Sir, here is a gentleman whom I think you must have known in Flanders;" and the Major found himself shaking hands with an old comrade. Save for his heavy heart, he would been extremely happy in the ensuing conversation.
In the meantime Lady Belamour, turning towards a stout, clumsy, short girl, her intensely red cheeks and huge black eyes staring out of her powder, while the extreme costliness of her crimson satin dress, and profusion of her rubies were ridiculous on the unformed person of a creature scarcely fifteen. If she had been any one else she would have been a hideous spectacle in the eyes of the exquisitely tasteful Lady Belamour, who, detecting the expression in her son's eye, whispered behind her fan, "We will soon set all that right;" then aloud, "My son cannot recover from his surprise. He did not imagine that we could steal you for an evening from Queen's Square to procure him this delight." Then as Sir Amyas bowed, "The Yellow Room is cleared for dancing. Lady Belle will favour you, Amyas."
"You must excuse me, madam," he said; "I have not yet the free use of my arm, and could not acquit myself properly in a minuet."
"I hate minuets," returned Lady Belle; "the very notion gives me the spleen."
"Ah, pretty heretic!" said my Lady, making a playful gesture with her fan at the peony-coloured cheek. "I meant this wounded knight to have converted you, but he must amuse you otherwise. What, my Lord I thought you knew I never meant to dance again. Cannot you open the dance without me? I, who have no spirits!"
The rest was lost as she sailed away on the arm of a gentleman in a turquoise-coloured coat, and waistcoat embroidered with gillyflowers; leaving the Lady Arabella on the hands of her son, who, neither as host nor gentleman, could escape, until the young lady had found some other companion. He stiffly and wearily addressed to her the inquiry how she liked London.
"I should like it monstrously if I were not moped up in school," she answered. "So you have come back. How did you hurt your arm?" she said, in the most provincial of dialects.
"In the fire, madam."
"What? In snatching your innamorata from the flames?"
"Not precisely," he said.
"Come, now, tell me; did she set the room a-fire?" demanded the young lady. "Oh, you need not think to deceive me. My brother Mar's coachman told my mamma's woman all about it, and how she was locked up and ran away; but they have her fast enough now, after all her tricks!"
"Who have? For pity's sake tell me, Lady Belle!"
Loving to tease, she exclaimed: "There, now, what a work to make about a white-faced little rustic!"
"Your ladyship has not seen her."
"Have I not, though? I don't admire your taste."
"Is she in Queen's Square?"
"Do not you wish me to tell you where you can find your old faded doll, with a waist just like a wasp, and an old blue sacque--not a bit of powder in her hair?"
"Lady Belle, if you would have me for ever beholden to you---"
"The cap fits," she cried, clapping her hands. "Not a word to say for her! I would not have such a beau for the world."
"When I have found her it will be time to defend her beauty! If your ladyship would only tell me where she is, you know not what gratitude I should feel!"
"I dare say, but that's my secret. My mamma and yours would be ready to kill me with rage if they knew I had let out even so much."
"They would forgive you. Come, Lady Belle, think of her brave old father, and give some clue to finding her. Where is she?"
"Ah! where you will never get at her!"
"Is she at Queen's Square?"
"What would you do if you thought she was? Get a constable and come and search? Oh, what a rage Madam would be in! Goodness me, what sport!" and she fell back in a violent giggling fit; but the two matrons were so delighted to see the young people talking to one another, that there was no attempt to repress her. Sir Amyas made another attempt to elicit whether Aurelia were really at the school in Queen's Square, but Lady Arabella still refused to answer directly. Then he tried the expedient of declaring that she was only trying to tease him, and had not really seen the lady. He pretended not to believe her, but when she insisted, "Hair just the colour of Lady Belamour's," his incredulity vanished; but on his next entreaty, she put on a sly look imitated from the evil world in which she lived, and declared she should not encourage naughty doings. The youth, who though four years older, was by far the more simple and innocent of the two, replied with great gravity, "It is the Lady Belamour, my own wife, that I am seeking."
"That's just the nonsense she talks!"
"For Heaven's sake, what did she say?"
But Belle was tired of her game, and threw herself boisterously on a young lady who had the "sweetest enamel necklace in the world," and whose ornaments she began to handle and admire in true spoilt-child fashion.
Sir Amyas then betook himself to the Major, who saw at once by his eye and step that something was gained. They took leave together, Lady Belamour making a hurried lamentation that she had seen so little of her dear cousin, but accepting her son's excuse that he must return to his quarters; and they walked away together escorted by Palmer and Grey, as well as by two link-boys, summer night though it was.
Sir Amyas repaired first to the hotel, where Mr. Belamour and Betty were still sitting, for even the fashionable world kept comparatively early hours, and it was not yet eleven o'clock. The parlor where they sat was nearly dark, one candle out and the other shaded so as to produce the dimness which Mr. Belamour still preferred, and they were sitting on either side of the open window, Betty listening to her companion's reminiscences of the evenings enlivened by poor Aurelia, and of the many traits of her goodness, sweet temper, and intelligence which he had stored up in his mind. He had, he said, already learned through her to know Miss Delavie, and he declared that the voices of the sisters were so much alike that he could have believed himself at Bowstead with the gentle visitor who had brought him new life.
The tidings of Lady Arabella's secret were eagerly listened to, and the token of the mouse-coloured hair was accepted; Sir Amyas comparing, to every one's satisfaction, a certain lock that he bore on a chain next his heart, and a little knot, surrounded with diamonds, in a ring, which he had been still wearing from force of habit, though he declared he should never endure to do so again.
It was evident that Lady Belle had really seen Aurelia; and where could that have been save at the famous boarding-school in Queen's Square, where the daughters of "the great" were trained in the accomplishments of the day? The Major, with rising hopes, declared that he had always maintained that his cousin meant no ill by his daughter, and though it had been cruel, not to say worse, in her, to deny all knowledge of the fugitive, yet women would have their strange ways.
"That is very hard on us women, sir," said Betty.
"Ah! my dear, poor Urania never had such a mother as you, and she has lived in the great world besides, and that's a bad school. You will not take our Aurelia much into it, my dear boy," he added, turning wistfully to Sir Amyas.
"I would not let a breath blow on her that could touch the bloom of her charming frank innocence," cried the lad. "But think you she can be in health? Lady Belle spoke of her being pale!"
"Look at my young lady herself!" said the Major, which made them all laugh. They were full of hope. The Major and his daughter would go themselves the next day, and a father's claim could not be refused even though not enforced according to Lady Arabella's desire.
Their coach--for so Sir Amyas insisted on their going--was at the door at the earliest possible moment that a school for young ladies could be supposed to be astir; long before Mr. Belamour was up, for he retained his old habits so much that it was only on great occasions the he rose before noon; and while Eugene, under the care of Jumbo and Grey, was going off in great felicity to see the morning parade in St. James's Park.
One of the expedients of well-born Huguenot refugees had been tuition, and Madame d'Elmar had made here boarding-school so popular and fashionable that a second generation still maintained its fame, and damsels of the highest rank were sent there to learn French, to play the spinnet, to embroider, to dance, and to get into a carriage with grace. It was only countrified misses, bred by old-fashioned scholars, who attempted to go any farther, such as that lusus naturae, Miss Elizabeth Carter, who knew seven languages, or the Bishop of Oxford's niece, Catherine Talbot, who even painted natural flowers and wrote meditations! The education Aurelia Delavie had received over her Homer and Racine would be smiled at as quite superfluous.
There was no difficulty about admission. The coach with its Belamour trappings was a warrant of admittance. The father and daughter were shown into a parlour with a print of Marshal Schomberg over the mantelpiece, and wonderful performances in tapestry work and embroidery on every available chair, as well as framed upon the wainscoted walls.
A little lady, more French than English, moving like a perfectly wound up piece of mechanism, all but her bright little eyes, appeared at their request to see Madame. It had been agreed before-hand that the Major should betray neither doubt nor difficulty, but simply say that he had come up from the country and wished to see his daughter.
Madame, in perfectly good English, excused herself, but begged to hear the name again.
There must be some error, no young lady of the name of Delavie was there.
They looked at one another, then Betty asked, "Has not a young lady been placed here by Lady Belamour?"
"No, madam, Lady Belamour once requested me to receive her twin daughters, but they were mere infants; I receive none under twelve year old."
"My good lady," cried the Major, "if you are denying my daughter to me, pray consider what you are doing. I am her own father, and whatever Lady Belamour may tell you, I can enforce my claim."
"I am not in the habit of having my word doubted, sir," and the little lady drew herself up like a true Gascon baroness, as she was.
"Madam, forgive me, I am in terrible perplexity and distress. My poor child, who was under Lady Belamour's charge, has been lost to us these three weeks or more, and we have been told that she has been seen here."
"Thus," said Betty, seeing that the lady still needed to be appeased, "we thought Lady Belamour might have deceived you as well as others."
"May I ask who said the young lady had been seen here?" asked the mistress coldly.
"It was Lady Arabella Mar," said Betty, "and, justly speaking, I believe she did not say it was here that my poor sister was seen, but that she had seen her, and we drew the conclusion that it was here."
"My Lady Arabella Mar is too often taken out by my Lady Countess," said Madame d'Elmar.
"Could I see her? Perhaps she would tell me where she saw my dear sister?" said Betty.
"She went to a rout last evening and has not returned," was the reply. "Indeed my lady, her mother, spoke as if she might never come back, her marriage being on the tapis. Indeed, sir, indeed, madam, I should most gladly assist you," she said as a gesture of bitter grief and disappointment passed between father and daughter, both of whom were evidently persons of condition. "If it will be any satisfaction to the lady to see all my pupils, I will conduct her through my establishment."
Betty caught at this, though there was no doubt that the mistress was speaking in good faith. She was led to a large empty room, where a dozen young ladies were drawn up awaiting the dancing master--girls from fourteen to seventeen, the elder ones in mob caps, those with more pretensions to fashion, with loose hair. Their twelve curtsies were made, their twenty-four eyes peeped more or less through their lashes at the visitor, but no such soft brown eyes as Aurelia's were among them.
"Madame," said Betty, "may I be permitted to ask the ladies a question?" She spoke it low, and in French, and her excellent accent won Madame's heart at once. Only Madame trusted to Mademoiselle's discretion not to put mysteries into their minds, or they would be all tete montee.
So, as discretely as the occasion would permit, Betty asked whether any one had seen or heard Lady Belle speak of having seen any one--a young lady?
Half-a-dozen tongues broke out, "We thought it all Lady Belle's whimsical secrets," and as many stories were beginning, but Madame's awful little hand waved silence, as she said, "Speak then, Miss Staunton."
"I know none of Lady Belle's secrets, ma'am--ask Miss Howard."
Miss Howard looked sulky; and a little eager, black-eyed thing cried, "She said it was an odious girl whom Lady Belamour keeps shut up in a great dungeon of an old house, and is going to send beyond seas, because she married two men at once in disguise."
"Fie, Miss Crawford, you know nothing about it."
"You told me so, yourself, Miss Howard."
"I never said anything so foolish."
"Hush, young ladies," said Madame. "Miss Howard, if you know anything, I request you to speak."
"It would be a great kindness," said Betty. "Might I ask the favour of seeing Miss Howard in private?"
Madame consented, and Miss Howard followed Betty out of hearing, muttering that Belle would fly at her for betraying her.
"I do not like asking you to betray your friend's confidence," said Betty.
"Oh, as to that, I'm not her friend, and I believe she has talked to a half-a-dozen more."
"I am this poor young lady's sister," said Betty. "We are afraid she has fallen into unkind hands; and I should be very thankful if you could help me to find her. Where do you think Lady Belle saw her?"
"I thought it was in some old house in Hertfordshire," said Miss Howard, more readily, "but I am not sure; for it was last Sunday, which she spent with her mamma. She came back and made it a great secret that she had seen the girl that had taken in Sir Amyas Belamour, who was contracted to herself, to marry him and his uncle both at once in disguise, and then had set the house a-fire. Belle had got some one to let her see the girl, and then she went on about her being not pretty."
"What did she say about sending her beyond seas?"
"Oh! that Miss Crawford made up. She told me that they were going to find a husband for her such as a low creature like that deserved. And she protests she is to be married to Sir Amyas very soon, and come back here while he makes the grand tour. I hope she won't. She will have more spiteful ways than ever."
This was all that Betty could extract. She saw Miss Crawford alone, but her tiding melted into the vaguest second-hand hearsay. The inquiry had only produced a fresh anxiety.
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