THE HOUSE BY THE RIVER.
[BY IURBAIU KENT."
CHAPTER XL AT APpLETII OItT E . It was more than a week later ; a breezy, August afternoon, that presaged a cool, delightful night. The table was sot for afternoon tea in the pretty pink drawing room at Applcthorpe. Bebe, among the crape pillows heaped on the low, bamboo couch, wa3 idly swinging her dainty slippered foot to and fro as she watched Vida, so pretty in her cool," white Indian silk dress, presiding over the spirit-lamp on the oval lace-draped table. ' It's just this way,' said Bebu, her pretty forehead gathered iv a frown, her blue eyes full of discontent, her soft, curling gold-brown hair ruffled by the constant movement of her uneasy head, ' he doesn't like me, and lie doesn't want to kn - jw me. My selfesteem tells me he must be a fool to feel tills way, as I flatter myself I am worth knowing ; but he doesn't mean to come. Any one with half an eye can see that.'
Vida went to her side with a little gold-and-white cup of fragrant Pekoe, in which a bit of lemon in the shape- of a half-moon floated, and smiling in her Hushed face, said, merrily : ' Well, my dear, I have a pair of very good, clear-sighted eyes, and I don't see that at all.'
' Then why hasn't he come ?' demanded Bebe, as if that question settled tho whole matter.
' Perhaps he's out oE town.' ' Well, he shouldn't have gone ! If ever a man acted as if he were smitten on a girl, that man was Felix Love. Why, when we were at the farmhouse he scarcely took his eyes off my face ; talked of the days when we were to be chums—know each other so well : said there was an affinity between us—and —and—that he could feel it—and all that rot,' burst out Bebe, in a mixture of regret and disgust. ' And when we fairly knock our heads together on Fifth Ayenue, and he has a chance of meeting you and Sid, gets an invitation to call, nearly rings my hand off, looks unutterable things he simply disappears—doesn't come near me ! Ha hasn't even been in the neighborhood !' ' Why, how do you know that ?' and Yida lifted her level, Greek brows, while her eyes filled with quizzical questioning. 'Now, how on earth can you make the sweeping assertion that Mr Love has not been in the neighborhood ? Are you a sphinx, a bit of a clairvoyant, or — you pretty, willful creature—are you just trying to make yourself as miserable as possible ?' and Vida laid her finger under her sister-in-law's chin, and looked deeply and long into the eyes that were so marmarvelously like Sidney's. ' How do I know 7' asked Bebe, slowly, a dimple coming suddenly into her cheek as she sat up, a coquettish mixture of tumbled laceg, tumbled bronze-gold hair, her eyes half ashamed and half defiant. ' Well—just to make a clean breast of it—l've been on horseback up and down the boulevards for hours and hours every day—just— hoping to catch a glimpse of him ; I've walked my feet off ; I've kept my eyes rolling, trying to look both directions at once ; but there hasn't been the ghost of him— there /' She flung her arms round Vida's neck and, between angry little bursts of laughter and sounds that were suspiciously like sobs, called herself a fool, a creature without pride, and that it would be no wonder at all if Vida hated her, and that she supposed she did. A tenderness that swept like a veil over Vida's beautiful eyes made them look like great, velvet pansics, as she laid her cool, white hand on the childish head and touch all that was visible of the flushed cheek. ' Dear child, you may tell me ! Bebe—Bebe—do you care for him so much 7' she asked in a whisper that invited a young heart's secret. There was no answer, no movement, but the half-sad laughter ceased. ' You don't want to tell me ? Well, never mind. But remember, Bebe, remember always that I love you dearly, and that I want you to bo happy. Remember a week is a little while to a man whose life is crowded with business details, as your young friend's may be. He will come to Applethorpe yet, I feel sure of it. Besides—l hate to say it—but you know, dearie, he may have been ill—it's been such wretchedly hot weather until this morning.' Bebe looked up, her face all contrition and concern. ' Ob, do you think so, Vida ? 11l ? The poor dear, and I abusing him this way ! Couldn't we find out some way if ho were ill, and send him some— some jelly?' she quavered. It was hard for Vida to remain properly serious, but she managed it. ' I'll see, dear ; I'll ask Sidney about the jelly.' ' Oh, no, no ! Not for worlds !' 'Why not?' ' Why, couldn't you see that Sid didn't like him ?' '1 he words aroused a tormenting doubt, a sense of unrest that of late had tormented Vida. Was this true? Did Sidney dislike Felix Love ? If so. why ? What hidden event in the past were they both thinking of that day in Dclmonico's when they were so icily, ominously polite to each other ? She had thought at first that this might be her fancy, but since Bebe noticed it too, it did exist. For days after that meetuig she had tortured herself—for Vida was as jealous as a Spaniard where she loved —she had fretted her heart in questions that gave back no answer. Then she had remembered that crimson evening by the sen when she had clung to her lover, kept him at her side, promising to trust him blindly, to ask no questions, to believe in the face of all doubts, if he would but slay with her. Surely that was a compact that no passing suspicion could break down ! She had kept him when lie would have gone on some vital, secret errand—she had promised to believe in him, and she would. But a woman's heart ! Is there in life anything more inconsistent, more illogical than that very necessary organ ? Oh, what allegiance to this vow was costing her! Like Fatima, who risked her life to peep into Bluebeard's secret chamber, passing by all the others without interest, so the question kept haunting Vida ; ' What leaf in my husband's life is turned down to me ? What is the secret ? Who are his enemies 1 Who is Felix Love, and does ho know of Sidney's past ? Is the secret shameful for him, or for another 1 Is it the old story of cherchoz la famine 'I Will the shadow ever lie lifted from our otherwise perfect love 1 Shall I ever know? Will be tell me some ilcy ? Will he tell me ?' Before she could reply to Bebe, the footman entered. ' If you please, mum, thoro's a person here wants to sco Mr Baritan.' ' Have you tho gentleman's card V 'No, mum,' replied the cockney servant, his chin well up. ' This hain't n, gentleman —this is :i pusson. I think he's come to lieugngo hisself to Mr
Raritan. He's furrin—l might say that he's French.' ' Oh, it's probably the new valet,' said Vida, languidly. ' I'll see him here, Buggies.' ' Yes, mum, quite so.' He withdrew, and after a moment there entered a funny little man that almost made Bebe laugh outright. He was a creature of shrugs and grimaces. From the most pointed hair standing upright with pomatum, to the tips of his highly polished little boots, he was indeed a Frenchman. ' You have come to see Mr Raritan in regard to his advertisement for a valet, I suppose ?' asked Vida, standing up straight in her slender, regal beauty and looking at tho affected little man without a grain of the amusement she felt showing in her eyes. ' A leetle more zan zat. Oh, yes ! Meester Eairitan have sent me a lettair to call—yes, madame—and I present myself for hees inspection. So i And he bowed very low with impressive dignity. ' Ah, indeed ! What's your tiaoio V ' Etienne Oudry.' ' I suppose you have references and experience V she asked. Old certainement, madame. Voila !' And he plunged into his pocket, keeping his small, pompous little body bent almost to right angles as he did so. ' That will do. I merely wanted to know. Mr Baritan will engage you if you are satisfactory. He may not be home until dinner, but you may stay and see him. Ruggles will take care of you,' She rang the bell, and Ruggles, I wearing his most condescending ex- ! pression, appeared. ' This man come? as the new valet. j See that he has dinner with you, if by that time Mr Raritan has not arrived,' she said. And the Frenchman bowed himself out. ' What a queer-looking man !' said Bebe, with a little laugh. 'I say, Vida, you'll never let him curl the front of cidney's bronze locks that way, will you V ' You absurd child! For all his affected airs, I shouldn't wonder if he made a splendid servant. These Frenchmen generally do. Have another cup of tea ?' As she settled herself among the pillows Bebe ran from the window and whispered excitedly : ' There's a man just come up the garden walk ! I wonder if it might be—he ?' 1 Dear mo 1 Has ifc come to pronouns ?' laughed Vida. ' It's always a bad sign, my dear, when a woman, be she young or old, begins to talk as if there were but one man in the world ; that ho had no name, being labelled just 'he' in capitals.' There wag a step at the door— Ruggles again, this time with a card. '"Mr Clyde Hastings !' The delicate color flew to Vida's soft, oval cheek as she read that name. Why did lie come uninvited to Applethorpe ! She did not like him. fche did not want him. Yet when he appeared, dark, pale, the marks of suffering around his eyes, a faint turob of pity for him did animate Vida's heart. It was love—a vain love for her—that had saddened his face. She knew that. While she had no touch of sympathy with him, this knowledge, now that she was quite happy herself, did lend him some interest in her eyes. 1 You did not ask mo to come,' he said, as he bent orer her hand, ' but I dared to make my way hero uninvited, nevertheless. It is not too late to congratulate you on your marriage, is ifc ?' he asked. And just for a second an expression of agony and bitterness looked from his eyes that thrilled her almost with fear. ' 1 hope it will never be too late for that,' she said, in her mellow, velvety tones ; and, turning to Bebe, presented them. Clyde Hastings's glance swept over the young girl, but it was sphinx-like. No one, to watch him, would ever dream how ranch he had heard of Bebe from poor Felix during tho past week. ' Pretty ?' he thought, as he looked at the unlined face, the dreamy, childish eyes of little Bebe. ' Well. I suppose so ! If you want a complexion of rose and snow, there it is for you ; big, blue eyes, with trailing lashes— you have them, too ; dear, rosy, babyish mouth—it's right before you ; a round, satiny chin, cleft by a dimple, a fuzz of gold-bronze hair above a low, white brow—yes, dainty Miss Raritan has all those delightful and fortunate gifts. I suppose it's only natural that Felix should have fallen in love with her—the young fool ! Love !' he thought, bitterly. ' As if he was beginning to know what it means in its deepest sense! To know love, one must have suffered until the agony mounts a voiceless protest to heaven. I have loved—l know 1' ' You'll have a cup of tea ?' asked A r ida. ' It's Pekoe, fragrant as a rose.' ' Thanks, I will' Tea ? As if ho would not have drunk poison from thoso hands almost as willingly. His haggard eyes watched Vida as she bent over the pretty table, a heap of pink roses on the mantel behind her making an entrancing background for her golden head, pale, cameo-like profile, and graceful, white-robed figure. "' Is Mr Raritan at home V he askcl, as he took the pretty Wedgewood cup from her hands, while Bebe at tho piano in the shaded corner trilled out soft melodies liwt breathed of love and passion. •* ' No, he will be in shortly,' she said, seating herself and, picking up a big fan, commenced to wave it slowly to and fro. ' I may as well toll you,' said Clyde, watching Vida narrowly, as he stirred his tea, ' that Sidney likes me none too well. But I want to change all that—now that he is your husband ! Do you understand V he asked, passionately, eagerly. 'Hardly,' and there was a slight chill in Vida's tone. ' I can fancy Sidney being sought for himself alone.' ' Ah, well, he is a good fellow ! I'm willing to let bygones be bygones, if he is,' and he looked down mysteriously at the pattern of the Persian rug at his feet. 'Do you mean that you and ho had quarrelled ? I did not know that.' 'We had a few words—when I f oun d—well, to be candid, when I found he was a suitor of yours. I tf.untcd him with something in his past.' He let it appear that tho words had slipped out unconsciously, looked down ns if in chagrin and confusion, while all tho while he noted the stern whiteness that settled around the mobile, curved lips of this woman he loved so madly, so hopelessly. ' In his past !' Tho words were like a torrent in Vida's brain. Was this something that she might not know to rise and confront her at every turn ? As much as possible she hid the knowledge of how deeply his words had cut. ' Please say no more, Mr Hastings,' and her dark eyes Hashed. ' What you may have felt for me belongs irretrievably to the past. Even to speak of it as in tho past offends me now. As for my husband, please understand that I am quite satisfied with his past and present. Ills friends aro mine ; his enemies mine.'
How beautiful she looked as these cold, scornful words left her lips, and
how mournful the music came from the shaded niche where Bebe sat. The Rcene affected Hastings strongly. Villain though he was, there was one real feeling in his life—the love for this woman, that is no more conquered than is tho lion which is made a captive by force, who lies silent and brooding merely because lie sees no promise of freedom before him. But Clyde Hastings had come to Applcthorpe that afternoon with a well-conceived plan in his mind. He was going to get the entree of the house ; lie was going to insinuate his way into Vida's confidence. The time would come when he would be her friend.
Her friend ! The man who would quietly and relentlessly ruin and brand her husband ! Her friend—the snake in her Eden ! He had not despaired yet.
Vida was proud and cold now, hut when tho world had turned its fickle back upon her, the wife of a convicted murderer, how would it be then !
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THE HOUSE BY THE RIVER., Daily Telegraph, Issue 7366, 15 May 1895
THE HOUSE BY THE RIVER. Daily Telegraph, Issue 7366, 15 May 1895
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