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An Old Meerschaum by David Christie Murray

She makes excuses for the absent Barndale


Therewith

he went his way again, and the darkness shrouded him.

CHAPTER IV.

What should bring fashion, and wealth, and beauty in one charming person up to London from the country at the latter end of August? The town house long since dismantled for the grand tour now finished--the charms of the season abandoned for peaceful Suffolk--why should Lilian care to return thus at the fag end of London's feast of folly? Has the bronzed and bearded Barndale anything to do with it? Lady Dives Luxor gives a ball; and Lady Dives, being Lilian's especial patroness and guardian angel and divinity, insists on Lilian being present thereat. This ball is designed as the crowning festivity of a brilliant year; and to Lilian, blest with youth and beauty and high spirits, and such a splendid lover, shall it not be a night to remember until the grey curtain fall on the close of the last season, and nothing is any more remembered? But a cloud of sadness settles on Lilian's charming face when she misses the bronzed and bearded. Lady Dives knows all about the engagement, and is enthusiastic over it; and, when Lilian has a second's time to snatch an enquiry concerning the absent one, she answers, 'He has never been near me once. I wrote him a special note, and told him you were coming. He will be here.' So Lady Dives strives to chase the cloud. Barndale does not come, having never, in point of fact, received

that special note which Lady Dives had despatched to him. So the ball is a weariness, and Lilian goes back with mamma to the hotel with quite drooping spirits. She makes excuses for the absent Barndale, but fancies all manner of things in her feminine fashion, preferring to believe in fevers and boat accidents and other horrors rather than think that a valet has been lazy or a postman inaccurate.

Papa Leland, who is here to take care of his womankind, has ideas of his own on some matters.

'Hang your swell hotels,' says Papa Leland; 'I always stop at the Westminster, It's near the House, and quite convenient enough for anywhere.'

It was thus that Lilian found herself under the same roof with Thecla Perzio, who lived there with a sore and frightened heart, waiting for that shallow lover who had caught her in love's toils, and broken up her life for her, and who now left her poor appeal unanswered.

Poor indiscreet little Thecla had a suite of rooms on the first floor, and lived alone within them with her Greek maid, and agonised. She was for ever peering furtively through the door when any manly step sounded in the corridor, but she never saw the form she waited for. But it chanced, the morning after the ball, that she opened her door and looked out upon the corridor at the sound of Papa Leland's footstep. Papa Leland went by briskly; but Lilian caught sight of her and knew her in a moment, and stayed to speak. The two girls had been too closely engaged with their respective love-makings to form any very close acquaintance with each other; but during a week's imprisonment on board ship the friendships of women, and especially of young and gentle-hearted women, advance very rapidly. They had parted with a great deal of mutual liking, and met again now with mutual pleasure. In a minute Lilian was seated in the poor little Greek's big and dreary parlour. She was a proud


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