Chapter 32




LIONS.

    The helmet of darkness Pallas donned,
    To hide her presence from the sight of man.--Derby's HOMER.


The next morning Loveday returned with orders from Lady Belamour that Miss Delavie should translate the French recipe, and make a fair copy of it. It was not an easy task, for the MS. was difficult and the French old; whereas Aurelia lived on the modern side of the Acadamie, her French was that of Fenelon and Racine.

However, she went to work as best she could in her cool corner, guessing at many of the words by lights derived from Comenius, and had just made out that the chief ingredients were pounded pearls and rubies, mixed with white of eggs laid by pullets under a year old, during the waxing of the April moon, when she heard voices chattering in the hall, and a girlish figure appeared in a light cloak and calash, whom Loveday seemed to be guiding, and yet keeping as much repressed as she could.

"Gracious Heavens!" were the first words to be distinguished; "what a frightful old place; enough to make one die of the dismals! I won't live here when I'm married, I promise Sir Amyas! Bless me, is this the wench?"

"Your Ladyship promised to be careful," entreated Loveday, while Aurelia rose, with a graceful gesture of acknowledgment, which, however remained unnoticed, the lady apparently considering herself unseen.

"Who are these little girls?" asked she, in a giggling whisper. "Little Waylands? Then it is true," she cried, with a peal of shrill laughter. "There are three of them, only Lady Belamour shuts them up like kittens--I wonder she did not. Oh, what sport! Won't I tease her now that I know her secret!"

"Your ladyship!" intreated Loveday in distress in an audible aside, "you will undo me." Then coming forward, she said, "You did not expect me at this hour, madam; but if your French copy be finished, my Lady would like to have it at once."

"I have written it out once as well as I could," said Aurelia, "but I have not translated it; I will find the copy."

She rose and found the stranger full before her in the doorway, gazing at her with an enormous pair of sloe-black eyes, under heavy inky brows, set in a hard, red-complexioned face. She burst into a loud, hoydenish laugh as Loveday tried to stammer something about a friend of her own.

"Never mind, the murder's out, good Mrs. Abigail," she cried, "it is me. I was determined to see the wench that has made such a fool of young Belamour. I vow I can't guess what he means by it. Why, you are a poor pale tallow-candle, without a bit of colour in your face. Look at me! Shall you ever have such a complexion as mine, with ever so much rouge?"

"I think not," said Aurelia, with one look at the peony face.

"Do you know who I am, miss? I am the Lady Bella Mar. The Countess of Aresfield is my mamma. I shall have Battlefield when she dies, and twenty thousand pounds on my wedding day. The Earl of Aresfield and Colonel Mar are my brothers, and a wretched little country girl like you is not to come between me and what my mamma has fixed for me; so you must give it up at once, for you see he belongs to me."

"Not yet, madam," said Aurelia.

"What do you say? Do you pretend that your masquerade was worth a button?"

"That is not my part to decide," said Aurelia. "I am bound by it, and have no power to break it."

"You mean the lawyers! Bless you, they will never give it to you against me! You'd best give it up at once, and if you want a husband, my mamma has one ready for you."

"I thank her ladyship," said Aurelia, with simple dignity, "but I will not give her the trouble."

She glanced at her wedding ring, and so did Lady Belle, who screamed, "You've the impudence to wear that! Give it to me."

"I cannot," repeated Aurelia.

"You cannot, you insolent, vulgar, low"--

"Hush! hush, my lady," entreated Loveday. "Come away, I beg of your ladyship!"

"Not till I have made that impudent hussy give me that ring," cried Belle, stamping violently. "What's that you say?"

"That your ladyship asks what is impossible," said Aurelia, firmly.

"Take that then, insolent minx!" cried the girl, flying forward and violently slapping Aurelia's soft cheeks, and making a snatch at her hair.

Loveday screamed, Letty cried, but Fidelia and Bob both rushed forward to Aurelia's defence, one with her little fists clenched, beating Lady Belle back, the other tearing at her skirts with his teeth. At that moment a man's step was heard, and a tall, powerful officer was among them, uttering a fierce imprecation. "You little vixen, at your tricks again," he said, taking Belle by the waist, while she kicked and screamed in vain. She was like an angry cat in his arms. "Be quiet, Belle," he said, backing into the sitting-room. "Let Loveday compose your dress. Recover your senses and I shall take you home: I wish it was to the whipping you deserve."

He thrust her in, waved aside Loveday's excuses about her ladyship not being denied, and stood with his back to the door as she bounced shrieking against it from within.

"I fear this little devil has hurt you, madam," he said.

"Not at all, I thank you, sire." said Aurelia, though one side of her face still tingled.

"She made at you like a little game-cock," he said. "I am glad I was in time. I followed when I found she had slipped away from Lady Belamour's, knowing that her curiosity is only equalled by her spite. By Jove, it is well that her nails did not touch that angel face!"

Aurelia could only curtsey and thank him, hoping within herself that Lady Belle would soon recover, and wondering how he had let himself in. There was something in his manner of examining her with his eyes that made her supremely uncomfortable. He uttered fashionable expletives of admiration under his breath, and she turned aside in displeasure, bending down to Fidelia. He went on, "You must be devilishly moped in this dungeon of a place! Cannot we contrive something better?"

"Thank you, sir, I have no complaint to make. Permit me to see whether the Lady Arabella is better."

"I advise you not. Those orbs are too soft and sparkling to be exposed to her talons. 'Pon my honour, I pity young Belamour. But there is no help for it, and such charms ought not to be wasted in solitude on his account. These young lads are as fickle as the weather-cock, and have half-a-dozen fancies in as many weeks. Come now, make me your friend, and we will hit on some device for delivering the enchanted princess from her durance vile."

"Thank you, sir, I promised Lady Belamour to make no attempt to escape."

At that moment out burst Lady Belle, shouting with laughter: "Ho! ho! Have I caught you, brother, gallanting away with Miss? What will my lady say? Pretty doings!"

She had no time for more. Her brother fiercely laid hold of her, and bore her away with a peremptory violence that she could not resist, and only turning at the hall door to make one magnificent bow.

Loveday was obliged to follow, and the children were left clinging to Aurelia and declaring that the dreadful young lady was as bad as the lions; while Aurelia, glowing with shame and resentment at what she felt as insults, had a misgiving that her protector had been the worse lion of the two.

She had no explanation of the invasion till the next morning, when Loveday appeared full of excuses and apologies. From the fact of Lady Aresfield's carriage having been used on Aurelia's arrival, her imprisonment was known, and Lady Belle, spending a holiday at Lady Belamour's, had besieged Loveday with entreaties to take her to see her rival. As the waiting-woman said, for fear of the young lady's violent temper, but more probably in consideration of her bribes, she had yielded, hoping that Lady Belle would be satisfied with a view from the window, herself unseen. However, from that moment all had been taken out of the hands of Loveday, and she verily believed the Colonel had made following his sister an excuse for catching a sight of Miss Delavie, for he had been monstrously smitten even with the glimpse he had had of her in the carriage. And now, as his sister had cut short what he had to say, he had written her a billet. And Loveday held out a perfumed letter.

Aurelia's eyes flashed, and she drew herself up: "You forget, Loveday, I promised to receive no letters!"

"Bless me, ma'am, they, that are treated as my lady treats you, are not bound to be so particular as that."

"O fie, Loveday," said Aurelia earnestly, "you have been so kind, that I thought you would be faithful. This is not being faithful to your lady, nor to me."

"It is only from my wish to serve you, ma'am," said Loveday in her fawning voice. "How can I bear to see a beautiful young lady like you, that ought to be the star of all the court, mewed up here for the sake of a young giddy pate like his Honour, when there's one of the first gentlemen in the land ready to be at your feet?"

"For shame! for shame!" exclaimed Aurelia, crimson already. "You know I am married."

"And you will not take the letter, nor see what the poor gentleman means? May be he wants to reconcile you with my lady, and he has power with her."

Aurelia took the letter, and, strong paper though it was, tore it across and across till it was all in fragments, no bigger than daisy flowers. "There," she said, "you may tell him what I have done to his letter."

Loveday stared for a minute, then exclaimed, "You are in the right, my dear lady. Oh, I am a wretch--a wretch--" and she went away sobbing.

Aurelia hoped the matter was ended. It had given her a terrible feeling of insecurity, but she found to her relief that Madge was really more trustworthy than Loveday. She overheard from the court a conversation at the back door in which Madge was strenuously refusing admission to some one who was both threatening and bribing her, all in vain; but she was only beginning to breathe freely when Loveday brought, not another letter, but what was less easy to stop, a personal message from "that poor gentleman."

"Loveday, after what you said yesterday, how can you be so--wicked?" said Aurelia.

"Indeed, miss, 'tis only as your true well-wisher."

Aurelia turned away to leave the room.

"Yes, it is, ma'am! On my bended knees I will swear it," cried Loveday, throwing herself on them and catching her dress. "It is because I know my lady has worse in store for you!"

"Nothing can be worse than wrong-doing," said Aurelia.

"Ah! you don't know. Now, listen, one moment. I would not--indeed I would not--if I did not know that he meant true and honourable-- as he does, indeed he does. He is madder after you then ever he was for my lady, for he says you have all her beauty, and freshness and simplicity besides. He is raving. And you should never leave me, indeed you should not, miss, if you slipped out after me in Deb's muffler--and we'd go to the Fleet. I have got a cousin there, poor fellow--he is always in trouble, but he is a real true parson notwithstanding, and I'd never leave your side till the knot was tied fast. Then you would laugh at my lady, and be one of the first ladies in the land, for my Lord Aresfield is half a fool, and can't live long, and when you are a countess you will remember your poor Loveday."

"Let me go. You have said too much to a married woman," said Aurelia, and as the maid began the old demonstrations of the invalidity of the marriage, and the folly of adhering to it when nobody knew where his honour was gone, she said resolutely, "I shall write to Lady Belamour to send me a more trustworthy messenger."

On this Loveday fairly fell on the floor, grovelling in her wild entreaty that my Lady might hear nothing of this, declaring that it was not so much for the sake of the consequences to herself as to the young lady, for there was no guessing what my lady might not be capable of if she guessed at Colonel Mar's admiration of her prisoner. Aurelia, frightened at her violence, finally promised not to appeal to her ladyship as long as Loveday abstained from transmitting his messages, but on the least attempt on her part to refer to him, a complaint should certainly be made to my lady.

"Very well, madam," said Loveday, wiping her eyes. "I only hope it will not be the worse for you in the end, and that you will not wish you had listened to poor Loveday's advice."

"I can never wish to have done what I know to be a great sin," said Aurelia gravely.

"Ah! you little know!" said Loveday, shaking her head sadly and ominously.

Something brought to Aurelia's lips what she had been teaching the children last Sunday, and she answered,

"My God, in Whom I have trusted, is able to deliver me out of the mouth of lions, and He will deliver me out of thy hand."

"Oh! if ever there were one whom He should deliver!" broke out Loveday, and again she went away weeping bitterly.

Aurelia could not guess what the danger the woman threatened could be; so many had been mentioned as possible. A forcible marriage, incarceration in some lonely country place, a vague threat of being taken beyond seas to the plantation--all these had been mentioned; but she was far more afraid of Colonel Mar forcing his way in and carrying her off, and this kept her constantly in a state of nervous watchfulness, always listening by day and hardly able to sleep by night.

Once she had a terrible alarm, on a Sunday. Letty came rushing to her, declaring that Jumbo, dear Jumbo, and a gentleman were in the front court. Was it really Jumbo? Come and see! No, she durst not, and Fay almost instantly declared that Madge had shut them out. The children both insisted that Jumbo it was, but Aurelia would not believe that it could be anything but an attempt of her enemies. She interrogated Madge, who had grown into a certain liking for one so submissive and inoffensive. Madge shook her head, could not guess how such folks had got into the court, was sure they were after no good, and declared that my Lady should hear of all the strange doings, and the letters that had been left with her. Oh, no, she knew better than to give them, but my Lady should see them.




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