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A Devotee by Mary Cholmondeley

For 'Les esprits faibles ne sont jamais sinceres


He

realized that for the purpose of winnowing its friendships the various events of life may be relied on to furnish the fitting occasions. Those who do not wish to offend others by leaving them need make no effort, for they will certainly be presently deserted by those who have never grasped the meaning of the character which has been the object of their transient admiration. 'If he is unequal he will presently pass away.' Mr. Loftus neither hurried the unequal, self-constituted friend, nor sought to detain him. But when he departed, shaking the dust from off his feet, the door was noiselessly closed behind him, and his knock, however loud, was not heard when he returned again.

A small batch of uneasy admirers left him on the occasion of his engagement. They said openly that they were much disappointed in him, and that he had shaken their belief in human nature.

'Will Sibyl also pass away?' Mr. Loftus wondered, as he sat on the terrace at Wilderleigh on his return from London. 'Yes, she, too, will presently pass away; but I shall not give her time to do so. She will be absorbed by her first love for a few years, and I shall only remain a few years at longest. By the time it wanes I shall be gone, and my departure will pain her but very slightly.'

His face softened as he thought of Sibyl. His nature, which, in its far-away youth, had been imaginative and romantic, had remained

sympathetic. He gauged, as few others could have done had they been the object of it, the measure of her romantic attachment to himself. It was perhaps safer in his hands than in those of a younger man. For youth perpetrates many murders and mutilations in the name of love, as the schoolboy's love of a butterfly finds expression in a pin and a cork. But it would have cut Sibyl to the heart if she had even guessed that his tranquil mind took for granted that her adoration would not last until the stars fell from heaven and the earth fell into the sun. For 'Les esprits faibles ne sont jamais sinceres.' That is a hard saying, but alas! and alas! that it is only the weak who believe that it is not true. The strong know better, but if they are merciful they are silent.

'And so my second wife is also to be an _esprit faible_,' said Mr. Loftus to himself, looking at the past through half-closed eyes. 'But in the meanwhile I have learnt a lesson in natural history. I shall not expect my butterfly to hew wood and draw water. And this time I shall not break my heart because pretty wings are made to flutter with.'

And the remembrance slid through his mind of Millais's picture of the dying cavalier, and the butterfly perched upon the drawn sword in the ardent sunshine. And he thought of the drawn sword of Damocles hanging over his own life, and Sibyl's love preening itself for one brief second upon it. And at the thought he smiled.

CHAPTER V.

'Je suis l'amante, dit-elle. Cueillez la branche de houx.'

VICTOR HUGO.

'When all the world like some vast tidal wave withdraws.'--BUCHANAN.

Many persons prophesied that the marriage between Mr. Loftus and Sibyl would not take place, but it did.


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