As time flew on, the friends of Lady Roehampton thought and spoke, with anxiety about her reentrance into society. Mr. Sidney Wilton had lent Gaydene to her for the autumn, when he always visited Scotland, and the winter had passed away uninterruptedly, at a charming and almost unknown watering-place, where she seemed the only visitant, and where she wandered about in silence on the sands. The time was fast approaching when the inevitable year of seclusion would expire, and Lady Roehampton gave no indication of any change in her life and habits. At length, after many appeals, and expostulations, and entreaties, and little scenes, the second year of the widowhood having advanced some months, it was decided that Lady Roehampton should reenter society, and the occasion on which this was to take place was no mean one.
Lady Montfort was to give a ball early in June, and Royalty itself was to be her guests. The entertainments at Montfort House were always magnificent, but this was to exceed accustomed splendour. All the world was to be there, and all the world, who were not invited, were in as much despair as if they had lost their fortune or their character.
Lady Roehampton had a passion for light, provided the light was not supplied by gas or oil. Her saloons, even when alone, were always brilliantly illuminated. She held that the moral effect of such a circumstance on her temperament was beneficial, and not slight. It is a rare, but by no means a singular, belief. When she descended into her drawing-room on the critical night, its resplendence was some preparation for the scene which awaited her. She stood for a moment before the tall mirror which reflected her whole person. What were her thoughts? What was the impression that the fair vision conveyed?
Her countenance was grave, but it was not sad. Myra had now completed, or was on the point of completing, her thirtieth year. She was a woman of transcendent beauty; perhaps she might justly be described as the most beautiful woman then alive. Time had even improved her commanding mien, the graceful sweep of her figure and the voluptuous undulation of her shoulders; but time also had spared those charms which are more incidental to early youth, the splendour of her complexion, the whiteness of her teeth, and the lustre of her violet eyes. She had cut off in her grief the profusion of her dark chestnut locks, that once reached to her feet, and she wore her hair as, what was then and perhaps is now called, a crop, but it was luxuriant in natural quantity and rich in colour, and most effectively set off her arched brow, and the oval of her fresh and beauteous cheek. The crop was crowned to-night by a coronet of brilliants.
“Your carriage is ready, my lady,” said a servant; “but there is a gentleman below who has brought a letter for your ladyship, and which, he says, he must personally deliver to you, madam. I told him your ladyship was going out and could not see him, but he put his card in this envelope, and requested that I would hand it to you, madam. He says he will only deliver the letter to your ladyship, and not detain you a moment.”
Lady Roehampton opened the envelope, and read the card, “The Duke of St. Angelo.”
“The Duke of St. Angelo!” she murmured to herself, and looked for a moment abstracted. Then turning to the servant, she said, “He must be shown up.”
“Madam,” said the duke as he entered, and bowed with much ceremony, “I am ashamed of appearing to be an intruder, but my commands were to deliver this letter to your ladyship immediately on my arrival, whatever the hour. I have only this instant arrived. We had a bad passage. I know your ladyship’s carriage is at the door. I will redeem my pledge and not trespass on your time for one instant. If your ladyship requires me, I am ever at your command.”
“At Carlton Gardens?”
“No; at our embassy.”
“His Majesty, I hope, is well?”
“In every sense, my lady,” and bowing to the ground the duke withdrew.
She broke the seal of the letter while still standing, and held it to a sconce that was on the mantel-piece, and then she read:
“You were the only person I called upon when I suddenly left England. I had no hope of seeing you, but it was the homage of gratitude and adoration. Great events have happened since we last met. I have realised my dreams, dreams which I sometimes fancied you, and you alone, did not depreciate or discredit, and, in the sweetness of your charity, would not have been sorry were they accomplished.
“I have established what I believe to be a strong and just government in a great kingdom. I have not been uninfluenced by the lessons of wisdom I gained in your illustrious land. I have done some things which it was a solace for me to believe you would not altogether disapprove.
“My subjects are anxious that the dynasty I have reestablished should not be evanescent. Is it too bold to hope that I may find a companion in you to charm and to counsel me? I can offer you nothing equal to your transcendent merit, but I can offer you the heart and the throne of
Still holding the letter in one hand, she looked around as if some one might be present. Her cheek was scarlet, and there was for a moment an expression of wildness in her glance. Then she paced the saloon with an agitated step, and then she read the letter again and again, and still she paced the saloon. The whole history of her life revolved before her; every scene, every character, every thought, and sentiment, and passion. The brightness of her nursery days, and Hurstley with all its miseries, and Hainault with its gardens, and the critical hour, which had opened to her a future of such unexpected lustre and happiness.
The clock had struck more than once during this long and terrible soliloquy, wherein she had to search and penetrate her inmost heart, and now it struck two. She started, and hurriedly rang the bell.
“I shall not want the carriage to-night,” she said, and when again alone, she sat down and, burying her face in her alabaster arms, for a long time remained motionless.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53