Lady Isabel’s carriage continued its way, and deposited her at the residence of Mrs. Levison. Mrs. Levison was nearly eighty years of age, and very severe in speech and manner, or, as Mrs. Vane expressed it, “crabbed.” She looked the image of impatience when Isabel entered, with her cap pushed all awry, and pulling at the black satin gown, for Mrs. Vane had kept her waiting dinner, and Isabel was keeping her from her tea; and that does not agree with the aged, with their health or with their temper.
“I fear I am late,” exclaimed Lady Isabel, as she advanced to Mrs. Levison; “but a gentleman dined with papa today, and it made us rather longer at table.”
“You are twenty-five minutes behind your time,” cried the old lady sharply, “and I want my tea. Emma, order it in.”
Mrs. Vane rang the bell, and did as she was bid. She was a little woman of six-and-twenty, very plain in face, but elegant in figure, very accomplished, and vain to her fingers’ ends. Her mother, who was dead, had been Mrs. Levison’s daughter, and her husband, Raymond Vane, was presumptive heir to the earldom of Mount Severn.
“Won’t you take that tippet off, child?” asked Mrs. Levison, who knew nothing of the new-fashioned names for such articles, mantles, burnous, and all the string of them; and Isabel threw it off and sat down by her.
“The tea is not made, grandmamma!” exclaimed Mrs. Vane, in an accent of astonishment, as the servant appeared with the tray and the silver urn. “You surely do not have it made in the room.”
“Where should I have it made?” inquired Mrs. Levison.
“It is much more convenient to have it brought in, ready made,” said Mrs. Vane. “I dislike the embarass of making it.”
“Indeed!” was the reply of the old lady; “and get it slopped over in the saucers, and as cold as milk! You always were lazy, Emma — and given to use those French words. I’d rather stick a printed label on my forehead, for my part, ‘I speak French,’ and let the world know it in that way.”
“Who makes tea for you in general?” asked Mrs. Vane, telegraphing a contemptuous glance to Isabel behind her grandmother.
But the eyes of Lady Isabel fell timidly and a blush rose to her cheeks. She did not like to appear to differ from Mrs. Vane, her senior, and her father’s guest, but her mind revolted at the bare idea of ingratitude or ridicule cast on an aged parent.
“Harriet comes in and makes it for me,” replied Mrs. Levison; “aye, and sits down and takes it with me when I am alone, which is pretty often. What do you say to that, Madame Emma — you, with your fine notions?”
“Just as you please, of course, grandmamma.”
“And there’s the tea-caddy at your elbow, and the urn’s fizzing away, and if we are to have any tea to-night, it had better be made.”
“I don’t know how much to put in,” grumbled Mrs. Vane, who had the greatest horror of soiling her hands or her gloves; who, in short, had a particular antipathy to doing anything useful.
“Shall I make it, dear Mrs. Levison?” said Isabel, rising with alacrity. “I had used to make it quite as often as my governess at Mount Severn, and I make it for papa.”
“Do, child,” replied the old lady. “You are worth ten of her.”
Isabel laughed merrily, drew off her gloves, and sat down to the table; and at that moment a young and elegant man lounged into the room. He was deemed handsome, with his clearly-cut features, his dark eyes, his raven hair, and his white teeth; but to a keen observer those features had not an attractive expression, and the dark eyes had a great knack of looking away while he spoke to you. It was Francis, Captain Levison.
He was grandson to the old lady, and first cousin to Mrs. Vane. Few men were so fascinating in manners, at times and seasons, in face and in form, few men won so completely upon their hearers’ ears, and few were so heartless in their hearts of hearts. The world courted him, and society honored him; for, though he was a graceless spendthrift, and it was known that he was, he was the presumptive heir to the old and rich Sir Peter Levison.
The ancient lady spoke up, “Captain Levison, Lady Isabel Vane.” They both acknowledged the introduction; and Isabel, a child yet in the ways of the world, flushed crimson at the admiring looks cast upon her by the young guardsman. Strange — strange that she should make the acquaintance of these two men in the same day, almost in the same hour; the two, of all the human race, who were to exercise so powerful an influence over her future life!
“That’s a pretty cross, child,” cried Mrs. Levison as Isabel stood by her when tea was over, and she and Mrs. Vane were about to depart on their evening visit.
She alluded to a golden cross, set with seven emeralds, which Isabel wore on her neck. It was of light, delicate texture, and was suspended from a thin, short, gold chain.
“Is it not pretty?” answered Isabel. “It was given me by my dear mamma just before she died. Stay, I will take it off for you. I only wear it upon great occasions.”
This, her first appearance at the grand duke’s, seemed a very great occasion to the simply-reared and inexperienced girl. She unclasped the chain, and placed it with the cross in the hands of Mrs. Levison.
“Why, I declare you have nothing on but that cross and some rubbishing pearl bracelets!” uttered Mrs. Vane to Isabel. “I did not look at you before.”
“Mamma gave me both. The bracelets are those she used frequently to wear.”
“You old-fashioned child! Because your mamma wore those bracelets, years ago, is that a reason for your doing so?” retorted Mrs. Vane. “Why did you not put on your diamonds?”
“I— did — put on my diamonds; but I— took them off again,” stammered Isabel.
“What on earth for?”
“I did not like to look too fine,” answered Isabel, with a laugh and a blush. “They glittered so! I feared it might be thought I had put them on to look fine.”
“Ah! I see you mean to set up in that class of people who pretend to despise ornaments,” scornfully remarked Mrs. Vane. “It is the refinement of affectation, Lady Isabel.”
The sneer fell harmlessly on Lady Isabel’s ear. She only believed something had put Mrs. Vane out of temper. It certainly had; and that something, though Isabel little suspected it, was the evident admiration Captain Levison evinced for her fresh, young beauty; it quite absorbed him, and rendered him neglectful even of Mrs. Vane.
“Here, child, take your cross,” said the old lady. “It is very pretty; prettier on your neck than diamonds would be. You don’t want embellishing; never mind what Emma says.”
Francis Levison took the cross and chain from her hand to pass them to Lady Isabel. Whether he was awkward, or whether her hands were full, for she held her gloves, her handkerchief, and had just taken up her mantle, certain it is that it fell; and the gentleman, in his too quick effort to regain it, managed to set his foot upon it, and the cross was broken in two.
“There! Now whose fault was that?” cried Mrs. Levison.
Isabel did not answer; her heart was very full. She took the broken cross, and the tears dropped from her eyes; she could not help it.
“Why! You are never crying over a stupid bauble of a cross!” uttered Mrs. Vane, interrupting Captain Levison’s expression of regret at his awkwardness.
“You can have it mended, dear,” interposed Mrs. Levison.
Lady Isabel chased away the tears, and turned to Captain Levison with a cheerful look. “Pray do not blame yourself,” she good-naturedly said; “the fault was as much mine as yours; and, as Mrs. Levison says, I can get it mended.”
She disengaged the upper part of the cross from the chain as she spoke, and clasped the latter round her throat.
“You will not go with that thin string of gold on, and nothing else!” uttered Mrs. Vane.
“Why not?” returned Isabel. “If people say anything, I can tell them an accident happened to the cross.”
Mrs. Vane burst into a laugh of mocking ridicule. “‘If people say anything!’” she repeated, in a tone according with the laugh. “They are not likely to ‘say anything,’ but they will deem Lord Mount Severn’s daughter unfortunately short of jewellery.”
Isabel smiled and shook her head. “They saw my diamonds at the drawing-room.”
“If you had done such an awkward thing for me, Frank Levison,” burst forth the old lady, “my doors should have been closed against you for a month. There, if you are to go, Emma, you had better go; dancing off to begin an evening at ten o’clock at night! In my time we used to go at seven; but it’s the custom now to turn night into day.”
“When George the Third dined at one o’clock upon boiled mutton and turnips,” put in the graceless captain, who certainly held his grandmother in no greater reverence than did Mrs. Vane.
He turned to Isabel as he spoke, to hand her downstairs. Thus she was conducted to her carriage the second time that night by a stranger. Mrs. Vane got down by herself, as she best could, and her temper was not improved by the process.
“Good-night,” said she to the captain.
“I shall not say good-night. You will find me there almost as soon as you.”
“You told me you were not coming. Some bachelor’s party in the way.”
“Yes, but I have changed my mind. Farewell for the present, Lady Isabel.”
“What an object you will look, with nothing on your neck but a schoolgirl’s chain!” began Mrs. Vane, returning to the grievance as the carriage drove on.
“Oh, Mrs. Vane, what does it signify? I can only think of my broken cross. I am sure it must be an evil omen.”
“An evil — what?”
“An evil omen. Mamma gave me that cross when she was dying. She told me to let it be to me as a talisman, always to keep it safely; and when I was in any distress, or in need of counsel, to look at it and strive to recall what her advice would be, and to act accordingly. And now it is broken — broken!”
A glaring gaslight flashed into the carriage, right into the face of Isabel. “I declare,” uttered Mrs. Vane, “you are crying again! I tell you what it is, Isabel, I am not going to chaperone red eyes to the Duchess of Dartford’s, so if you can’t put a stop to this, I shall order the carriage home, and go on alone.”
Isabel meekly dried her eyes, sighing deeply as she did so. “I can have the pieces joined, I dare say; but it will never be the same cross to me again.”
“What have you done with the pieces?” irascibly asked Mrs. Vane.
“I folded them in the thin paper Mrs. Levison gave me, and put it inside my frock. Here it is,” touching the body. “I have no pocket on.”
Mrs. Vane gave vent to a groan. She never had been a girl herself — she had been a woman at ten; and she complimented Isabel upon being little better than an imbecile. “Put it inside my frock!” she uttered in a torrent of scorn. “And you eighteen years of age! I fancied you left off ‘frocks’ when you left the nursery. For shame, Isabel!”
“I meant to say my dress,” corrected Isabel.
“Meant to say you are a baby idiot!” was the inward comment of Mrs. Vane.
A few minutes and Isabel forgot her grievance. The brilliant rooms were to her as an enchanting scene of dreamland, for her heart was in its springtide of early freshness, and the satiety of experience had not come. How could she remember trouble, even the broken cross, as she bent to the homage offered her and drank in the honeyed words poured forth into her ear?
“Halloo!” cried an Oxford student, with a long rent-roll in prospective, who was screwing himself against the wall, not to be in the way of the waltzers, “I thought you had given up coming to these places?”
“So I had,” replied the fast nobleman addressed, the son of a marquis. “But I am on the lookout, so am forced into them again. I think a ball-room the greatest bore in life.”
“On the lookout for what?”
“For a wife. My governor has stopped supplies, and has vowed by his beard not to advance another shilling, or pay a debt, till I reform. As a preliminary step toward it, he insists upon a wife, and I am trying to choose one for I am deeper in debt than you imagine.”
“Take the new beauty, then.”
“Who is she?”
“Lady Isabel Vane.”
“Much obliged for the suggestion,” replied the earl. “But one likes a respectable father-in-law, and Mount Severn is going to smash. He and I are too much in the same line, and might clash, in the long run.”
“One can’t have everything; the girl’s beauty is beyond common. I saw that rake, Levison, make up to her. He fancies he can carry all before him, where women are concerned.”
“So he does, often,” was his quiet reply.
“I hate the fellow! He thinks so much of himself, with his curled hair and shining teeth, and his white skin; and he’s as heartless as an owl. What was that hushed-up business about Miss Charteris?”
“Who’s to know? Levison slipped out of the escapade like an eel, and the woman protested that he was more sinned against than sinning. Three-fourths of the world believed them.”
“And she went abroad and died; and Levison here he comes! And Mount Severn’s daughter with him.”
They were approaching at that moment, Francis Levison and Lady Isabel. He was expressing his regret at the untoward accident of the cross for the tenth time that night. “I feel that it can never be atoned for,” whispered he; “that the heartfelt homage of my whole life would not be sufficient compensation.”
He spoke in a tone of thrilling gentleness, gratifying to the ear but dangerous to the heart. Lady Isabel glanced up and caught his eyes gazing upon her with the deepest tenderness — a language hers had never yet encountered. A vivid blush again arose to her cheek, her eyelids fell, and her timid words died away in silence.
“Take care, take care, my young Lady Isabel,” murmured the Oxonian under his breath, as they passed him, “that man is as false as he is fair.”
“I think he is a rascal,” remarked the earl.
“I know he is; I know a thing or two about him. He would ruin her heart for the renown of the exploit, because she’s a beauty, and then fling it away broken. He has none to give in return for the gift.”
“Just as much as my new race-horse has,” concluded the earl. “She is very beautiful.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14