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A Devotee by Mary Cholmondeley

Wearing the Wilderleigh diamonds


The

idea of society having any claim on her was a new light to Sibyl. She had always considered herself superior to its blandishments. But now that she discovered that Mr. Loftus actually regarded certain social acts as a duty, and this masked ball as one in particular, she immediately changed her opinion, and forthwith looked upon it as a duty also. It was a duty which, as its fulfilment drew near, became less and less unpleasant to anticipate.

She had until now lent a sympathetic ear to the Gresleys when they talked of society as a snare, and had echoed Mr. Gresley's remarks on the same.

'Balls are not wrong in themselves,' Mr. Gresley would say in his chest voice, keeping his hand in before Sibyl and his admiring wife. 'It is only the abuse of them that is blameworthy. Use the world as not abusing it. A carpet dance among young people I should be the last to blame. We cannot keep the bow always at full stretch. But when it comes to ball after ball, party after party, and pleasure is made a business, instead of a recreation, by which I mean that which restores elasticity to the exhausted faculties, recreates us in fact, and renews our energy for our work, then indeed----' And Mr. Gresley would express himself at that length which is apparently the one great compensation of the teacher who has no pupils.

Sibyl enjoyed his conversation very much. She thought Mr. Gresley a very

sensible person, and his opinions were in harmony with her own.

Mrs. Gresley had also declared, after a brief visit to Kensington in July during the 'sales,' that she had neither the means nor the inclination to throw herself into the social whirlpool which she and Mr. Gresley had dispassionately viewed from two green chairs in the Row, and which Mr. Gresley had estimated 'at its true worth.' If she had possessed both the means and the inclination, she would perhaps have discovered that she was no nearer to that vortex than the many thousands who annually make a pilgrimage to London only to be tossed on the outermost ripple of the whirlpool, and who revolve for ever on the rim of society like Saturn's rings, without approaching the central luminary. But that it is difficult to be loved of Society and ensnared by her the Gresleys and Sibyl did not know, any more than that certain crimes require great qualities in order to commit them.

Mr. Loftus might have been able to relieve their ignorance, but, as Sibyl told the Gresleys, he did not care much for conversation.

A habit of silence was certainly growing upon him since his marriage.

CHAPTER IX.

'Et chacun croit fort aisement, Ce qu'il craint.'

LA FONTAINE.

The night of the masked ball had arrived. A large party had assembled at Wilderleigh, including Lady Pierpoint and her daughters, and Doll. It was Doll's first visit to Wilderleigh since Mr. Loftus's marriage, and as he looked down the dinner-table at Sibyl he wondered at his own folly in coming. He thought he had 'got over it,' but to-night he found that he had made a sufficiently grave mistake in supposing so. Unimaginative persons never know when they have got over anything, because they have no fore-knowledge in absence of the stab which a certain presence can inflict. So Doll walked stolidly in--where Mr. Loftus in a remote but not forgotten passage of his own life had feared to tread--and then writhed and bit his lip at the hurt he had inflicted upon himself.

In the days when he had hoped to marry Sibyl, he had often pictured her to himself--his imagination could reach as far as tangible objects, such as furniture and food and raiment--sitting at the head of his table, talking to his guests, wearing the Wilderleigh diamonds, and looking as she looked now; for to-night Sibyl was beautiful. And it had all come about, except one thing--that she was married to Mr. Loftus instead of to him. He turned to look fixedly at Mr. Loftus talking to Lady Pierpoint, and saw as in some new and arid light his thin stooping figure in the carved high-backed chair, the refined profile with the high thin nose and scant brushed-back gray hair, and the bloodless Vandyke hand holding his wine-glass. Mr. Loftus had a very beautiful hand. Doll had not seen Mr. Loftus and Sibyl together except at the altar-rails. And as he looked rage took him. It was a monstrous marriage. The blood rushed to his face, and beat in his temples. And a sudden bitter hatred surged up within him against Mr. Loftus as man against man. He looked at him again in his gray hair and his feebleness, and loathed him.


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