How the ensuing hours between this horrible episode and full morning elapsed I do not know. I was dead to all impressions. I woke at last, or rather recovered my senses to see the sunlight pouring pleasantly through the half-drawn curtains at my window, and to find myself in bed in as restful a position as though I had never left it. Was it then merely a vision I had seen?—a ghastly sort of nightmare? If so it was surely the most abhorrent illusion ever evolved from dreamland! It could not be a question of health, for I had never felt better in my life. I lay for some time quiescent, thinking over the matter, with my eyes fixed on that part of the room where those Three Shapes had seemingly stood; but I had lately got into such a habit of cool self-analysis, that by the time my valet brought my early cup of coffee, I had decided that the whole thing was a dreadful fantasy, born of my own imagination, which had no doubt been unduly excited by the affair of Viscount Lynton's suicide. I soon learned that there was no room left for doubt as to that unhappy young nobleman's actual death. A brief account of it was in the morning papers, though as the tragedy had occurred so late at night, there were no details. A vague hint of 'money difficulties' was thrown out in one journal,—but beyond that, and the statement that the body had been conveyed to the mortuary there to await an inquest, there was nothing said either personal or particular. I found Lucio in the smoking-room, and it was he who first silently pointed out to me the short paragraph headed ' Suicide of a Viscount.'
"I told you he was a good shot!" he commented.
I nodded. Somehow I had ceased to feel much interest in the subject. My emotion of the previous evening had apparently exhausted all my stock of sympathy and left me coldly indifferent. Absorbed in myself and my own concerns I sat down to talk, and was not long before I had given a full and circumstantial account of the spectral illusion which had so unpleasantly troubled me during the night. Lucio listened, smiling oddly.
"That old Tokay was evidently too strong for you!'' he said, when I had concluded my story.
"Did you give me old Tokay?" I responded laughing— "Then the mystery is explained! I was already overwrought, and needed no stimulant. But what tricks the imagination plays us to be sure! You have no idea of the distinct manner in which those three phantoms asserted themselves! The impression was extraordinarily vivid."
"No doubt!" And his dark eyes studied me curiously. "Impressions often are very vivid. See what a marvellously real impression this world makes upon us, for example!"
"Ah! But then the world is real!" I answered.
"Is it? You accept it as such, I daresay, and things are as they appear to each separate individual. No two human beings think alike; hence there may be conflicting opinions as to the reality or non-reality of this present world. But we will not take unnecessary plunges into the infinite question of what is, as contrasted with what appears to be. I have some letters here for your consideration. You have lately spoken of buying a country estate—what say you to Willowsmere Court in Warwickshire? I have had my eye on that place for you,—it seems to me just the very thing. It is a magnificent old pile; part of it dates from Elizabeth's time. It is in excellent repair, the grounds are most picturesque; the classic river Avon winds with rather a broad sweep through the park,—and the whole thing, with a great part of the furniture included, is to be sold for a mere song; —fifty thousand pounds cash. I think you had better go in for it; it would just suit your literary and poetic tastes."
Was it my fancy, or had his musical voice the faintest touch of a sneer as he uttered the last words? I would not allow myself to think this possible, and answered quickly,—
"Anything you recommend must be worth looking at, and I'll certainly go and see it. The description sounds well, and Shakespeare's country always appeals to me. But wouldn't you like to secure it for yourself?"
"Not I! I live nowhere for long. I am of a roving disposition, and am never happy tied down to one corner of the earth. But I suggest Willowsmere to you for two reasons, —first, that it is charming and perfectly appointed; secondly, that it will impress Lord Elton considerably if he knows you are going to buy it."
"Why, because it used to be his property"—returned Lucio quietly—"till he got into the hands of the Jews. He gave them Willowsmere as security for loans, and latterly they have stepped in as owners. They've sold most of the pictures, china, bric-a-brac and other valuables. By the way, have you noticed how the legended God still appears to protect the house of Israel? Particularly the 'base usurer' who is allowed to get the unhappy Christian into his clutches nine times out of ten? And no remedy drops from heaven! The Jew always triumphs. Rather inconsistent isn't it, on the part of an equitable Deity!" His eyes flashed strange scorn. Anon he resumed—"As a result of Lord Elton's unfortunate speculations, and the Jews' admirable shrewdness, Willowsmere, as I tell you, is in the market, and fifty thousand pounds will make you the envied owner of a place worth a hundred thousand."
"We dine at the Eltons' to-night, do we not?" I asked musingly.
"We do. You cannot have forgotten that engagement and Lady Sibyl so soon surely!" he answered laughing.
"No, I have not forgotten"—I said at last, after a little silence. "And I will buy this Willowsmere. I will telegraph instructions to my lawyers at once. Will you give me the name and address of the agents?"
"With pleasure, my dear boy!" And Lucio handed me a letter containing the particulars concerning the sale of the estate and other items. "But are you not making up your mind rather suddenly? Hadn't you better inspect the property first? There may be things you object to ''
"If it were a rat-infested barrack," I said resolutely—"I would still buy it! I shall settle the matter at once. I wish to let Lord Elton know this very night that I am the future owner of Willowsmere!"
"Good !"—and my companion thrust his arm through mine as we left the smoking-room together—" I like your swiftness of action, Geoffrey. It is admirable! I always respect determination. Even if a man makes up his mind to go to hell, I honour him for keeping to his word, and going there straight as a die!"
I laughed, and we parted in high good-humour,—he to fulfil a club engagement, I to telegraph precise instructions to my legal friends Messrs Bentham and Ellis, for the immediate purchase in my name at all costs, risks or inconveniences, of the estate known as Willowsmere Court in the county of Warwick.
That evening I dressed with more than common care, giving my man Morris almost as much trouble as if I had been a fidgety woman. He waited upon me however with exemplary patience, and only when I was quite ready did he venture to utter what had evidently been on his mind for some time.
"Excuse me, sir"—he then observed—"but I daresay you've noticed that there's something unpleasant-like about the prince's valet, Amiel?"
"Well, he's rather a down-looking fellow if that's what you mean"—I replied—"But I suppose there's no harm in him."
"I don't know about that, sir"—answered Morris severely; "He does a great many strange things I do assure you. Downstairs with the servants he goes on something surprising. Sings and acts and dances too as if he were a whole music-hall."
"Really!" I exclaimed in surprise—"I should never have thought it."
"Nor should I, sir, but it's a fact."
"He must be rather an amusing fellow then,"—I continued, wondering that my man should take the accomplishments of Amiel in such an injured manner.
"Oh, I don't say anything against his amusingness,"—and Morris rubbed his nose with a doubtful air—"It's all very well for him to cut capers and make himself agreeable if he likes,—but it's the deceit of him that surprises me, sir. You'd think to look at him, that he was a decent sort of dull chap with no ideas beyond his duty, but really, sir, it's quite the contrary, if you'll believe me. The language he uses when he's up to his games downstairs is something frightful! and he actually swears he learnt it from the gentlemen of the turf, sir! Last night he was play acting and taking off all the fashionable folks,—then he took to hypnotising—and upon my word it made my blood run cold."
"Why, what did he do?" I asked with some curiosity.
"Well, sir, he took one of the scullery-maids and set her in a chair and just pointed at her. Pointed at her and grinned, for all the world like a devil out of a pantomime. And though she is generally a respectable sober young woman, if she didn't get up with a screech and commence dancing round and round like a lunatic, while he kept on pointing. And presently she got to jumping and lifting her skirts that high that it was positively scandalous! Some of us tried to stop her and couldn't; she was like mad, till all at once number twenty-two bell rang—that's the prince's room,— and he just caught hold of her, set her down in her chair again, and clapped his hands. She came to directly, and didn't know a bit what she'd been doing. Then twentytwo bell rang again, and the fellow rolled up his eyes like a clergyman and said, 'Let us pray !' and off he went." I laughed.
"He seems to have a share of humour at anyrate"—I said; "I should not have thought it of him. But do you think these antics of his are mischievous?"
"Well that scullery girl is very ill to-day"—replied Morris; "I expect she'll have to leave. She has what she calls the 'jumps' and none of us dare tell her how she got them. No sir, believe me or not as you like, there's something very queer about that Amiel. And another thing I want to know is this—what does he do with the other servants?"
"What does he do with the other servants?" I repeated bewilderedly—"What on earth do you mean?"
"Well sir, the prince has a chef of his own hasn't he?" said Morris enumerating on his fingers—"And two personal attendants besides Amiel,—quiet fellows enough who help in the waiting. Then he has a coachman and groom. That makes six servants altogether. Now none of these except Amiel are ever seen in the hotel kitchens. The chef sends all the meals in from somewhere, in a heated receptacle— and the two other fellows are never seen except when waiting at table, and they don't live in their own rooms all day though they may sleep there,—and nobody knows where the carriage and horses are put up, or where the coachman and groom lodge. Certain it is that both they and the chef board out. It seems to me very mysterious."
I began to feel quite unreasonably irritated.
"Look here, Morris," I said—"There's nothing more useless or more harmful than the habit of inquiring into other people's affairs. The prince has a right to live as he likes, and do as he pleases with his servants—I am sure he pays royally for his privileges. And whether his cook lives in or out, up in the skies or down in a cellar, is no matter of mine. He has been a great traveller, and no doubt has his peculiarities; and probably his notions concerning food are very particular and fastidious. But I don't want to know anything about his menage. If you dislike Amiel, it's easy to avoid him, but for goodness' sake don't go making mysteries where none exist."
Morris looked up, then down, and folded one of my coats with special care. I saw I had effectually checked his flow of confidence.
"Very well, sir,"—he observed, and said no more.
I was rather diverted than otherwise at my servant's solemn account of Amiel's peculiarities as exhibited among his own class,—and when we were driving to Lord Elton's that evening I told something of the story to Lucio. He laughed.
"Amiel's spirits are often too much for him"—he said— "He is a perfect imp of mischief and cannot always control himself."
"Why, what a wrong estimate I have formed of him!" I said—"I thought he had a peculiarly grave and somewhat sullen disposition."
"You know the trite saying—appearances are deceptive?" went on my companion lightly—"It's extremely true. The professed humourist is nearly always a disagreeable and heavy man personally. As for Amiel, he is like me in the respect of not being at all what he seems. His only fault is a tendency to break the bounds of discipline, but otherwise he serves me well, and I do not inquire further. Is Morris disgusted or alarmed?"
"Neither I think," I responded laughing—"He merely presents himself to me as an example of outraged respectability."
"Ah then, you may be sure that when the scullery-maid was dancing, he observed her steps with the closest nicety," said Lucio. "Very respectable men are always particular of inspection into these matters! Soothe his ruffled feelings, my dear Geoffrey, and tell him that Amiel is the very soul of virtue! I have had him in my service for a long time, and can urge nothing against his character as a man. He does not pretend to be an angel. His tricks of speech and behaviour are the result of a too constant repression of his natural hilarity, but he is really an excellent fellow. He dabbled in hypnotic science when he was with me in India; I have often warned him of the danger there is in practising this force on the uninitiated. But—a scullery-maid!— heavens, there are so many scullery-maids! One more or less with the 'jumps' will not matter. This is Lord Elton's." The carriage stopped before a handsome house situated a little back from Park Lane. We were admitted by a manservant gorgeous in red plush, white silk hose, and powdered wig, who passed us on majestically to his twin-brother in height and appearance, though perhaps a trifle more disdainful in bearing, and he in his turn ushered us upstairs with the air of one who should say, "See to what ignominious degradation a cruel fate reduces so great a man!" In the drawingroom we found Lord Elton, standing on the hearth-rug with his back to the fire, and directly opposite him, in a low armchair, reclined an elegantly attired young lady with very small feet. I mention the feet because as I entered they were the most prominent part of her person, being well stretched out from beneath the would-be concealment of sundry flounced petticoats towards the warmth of the fire, which the Earl rather inconsiderately screened from view. There was another lady in the room sitting bolt upright with hands neatly folded on her lap, and to her we were first of all introduced when Lord Elton's own effusive greetings were over.
"Charlotte, allow me,—my friends, Prince Lucio Rimanez; Mr Geoffrey Tempest; gentlemen, my sister-in-law, Miss Charlotte Fitzroy."
We bowed; the lady gave us a dignified bend of the head. She was an imposing looking spinster, with a curious expression on her features which was difficult to construe. It was pious and prim; but it also suggested the idea that she must have seen something excessively improper once in her life and had never been able to forget it. The pursed-up mouth, the round pale-coloured eyes and the chronic air of insulted virtue which seemed to pervade her from head to foot all helped to deepen this impression. One could not look at Miss Charlotte long without beginning to wonder irreverently what it was that had, in her long past youth, so outraged the cleanly proprieties of her nature as to leave such indelible traces on her countenance. But I have since seen many English women look so, especially among the particularly 'high bred,' old and plainfeatured of the "upper ten." Very different was the saucy and bright physiognomy of the younger lady to whom we were next presented, and who, raising herself languidly from her reclining position, smiled at us with encouraging familiarity as we made our salutations.
"Miss Diana Chesney," said the Earl glibly. "You perhaps know her father, prince,—you must have heard of him at any rate,—the famous Nicodemus Chesney, one of the great railway-kings."
"Of course I know him," responded Lucio warmly. "Who does not! I have met him often. A charming man, gifted with most remarkable humour and vitality,—I remember him perfectly. We saw a good deal of each other in Washington."
"Did you, though?" said Miss Chesney with a somewhat indifferent interest. "He's a queer sort of man to my thinking; rather a cross between the ticket-collector and customhouse officer combined, you know! I never see him but what I feel I must start on a journey directly—railways seem to be written all over him. I tell him so. I say, 'Pa, if you didn't carry railway-tracks in your face you'd be better looking.' And you found him humorous, did you?"
Laughing at the novel and free way in which this young person criticised her parent, Lucio protested that he did.
"Well I don't," confessed Miss Chesney: "But that may be because I've heard all his stories over and over again, and I've read most of them in books besides,—so they're not much account to me. He tells some of them to the Prince of Wales whenever he can get a chance,—but he don't try them off on me any more. He's a real clever man too; he's made his pile quicker than most. And you're quite right about his vitality,—my !—his laugh takes you into the middle of next week!"
Her bright eyes flashed merrily as she took a comprehensive survey of our amused faces.
"Think I'm irreverent, don't you?" she went on. "But you know Pa's not a 'stage parent,' all dressed out in lovely white hair and benedictions,—he's just an accommodating railway-track, and he wouldn't like to be reverenced. Do sit down, won't you?" Then turning her pretty head coquettishly towards her host,—" Make them sit down, Lord Elton, —I hate to see men standing. The superior sex you know! Besides, you're so tall," she added, glancing with unconcealed admiration at Lucio's handsome face and figure, "that it's like peering up an apple-tree at the moon to look at you!"
Lucio laughed heartily and seated himself near her; I followed his example; the old Earl still kept his position, legs a-straddle, on the hearth-rug, and beamed benevolence upon us all. Certainly Diana Chesney was a captivating creature; one of those surface-clever American women who distinctly divert men's minds, without in the least rousing their passions.
"So you're the famous Mr Tempest?" she said, surveying me critically. "Why, it's simply splendid for you, isn't it? I always say it's no use having a heap of money unless you're young,—if you're old, you only want it to fill your doctor's pockets while he tries to mend your tuckered-out constitution. I once knew an old lady who was left a legacy of a hundred thousand pounds when she was ninety-five. Poor old dear, she cried over it. She just had sense enough to understand what a good time she couldn't have. She lived in bed, and her only luxury was a halfpenny bun dipped in milk for her tea. It was all she cared for.''
"A hundred thousand pounds would go a long way in buns!" I said smiling.
"Wouldn't it just!" and the fair Diana laughed. "But I guess you'll want something a little more substantial for your cash, Mr Tempest. A fortune in the prime of life is worth having. I suppose you're one of the richest men about just now, aren't you?"
She put the question in a perfectly naive frank manner, and seemed to be unconscious of any undue inquisitiveness in it.
"I may be one of the richest," I replied, and as I spoke the thought flashed suddenly across me how recently I had been one of the poorest!—"but my friend here, the prince, is far richer than I."
"Is that so!" and she stared straight at Lucio, who met her gaze with an indulgent, half satirical smile. "Well now! I guess Pa's no better than a sort of pauper after all! Why, you must have the world at your feet !''
"Pretty much so," replied Lucio composedly. "But then, my dear Miss Chesney, the world is so very easily brought to one's feet. Surely, you know that?"
And he emphasized the words by an expressive look of his fine eyes.
"I guess you mean compliments," she replied unconcernedly. "I don't like them as a rule, but I'll forgive you this once!"
"Do!" said Lucio with one of his dazzling smiles that caused her to stop for a moment in her voluble chatter, and observe him with mingled fascination and wonderment.
"And you too are young, like Mr Tempest," she resumed presently.
"Pardon me!" interrupted Lucio; "I am many years older."
.'Really!" exclaimed Lord Elton at this juncture. "You don't look it,—does he, Charlotte?"
Miss Fitzroy, thus appealed to, raised her elegant tortoiseshell-framed glasses to her eyes and peered critically at us both.
"I should imagine the prince to be slightly the senior of Mr Tempest," she remarked in precise, high-bred accents, —"but only very slightly."
'"Anyhow," resumed Miss Chesney, "you're young enough to enjoy your wealth, aren't you?"
"Young enough, or old enough,—just as you please," said Lucio with a careless shrug. "But, as it happens, I do not enjoy it."
Miss Chesney's whole aspect now expressed the most lively astonishment.
"What does money do for you?" went on Lucio, his eyes dilating with that strange and wistful expression which had often excited my curiosity. "The world is at your feet, perhaps; yes—but what a world! What a trumpery clod of kickable matter! Wealth acts merely as a kind of mirror to show you human nature at its worst. Men skulk and fawn about you, and lie twenty times in as many hours, in the hope to propitiate you and serve their own interests; the princes of the blood willingly degrade themselves and their position to borrow cash of you,—your intrinsic merit (if you have any) is thought nothing of,—your full pockets are your credentials with kings, prime ministers and councillors. You may talk like a fool, laugh like a hyena and look like a baboon, but if the chink-chink of your gold be only sufficiently loud, you may soon find yourself dining with the Queen if such be your ambition. If, on the contrary you happen to be truly great, brave, patient, and enduring, with a spark in you of that genius which strengthens life and makes it better worth living, —if you have thoughts which take shape in work that shall endure when kingdoms are swept away like dust before the wind,—and if, with all this you are yet poor in current coin, —why then, you shall be spurned by all the crowned dummies of the world,—you shall be snubbed by the affluent starchmaker, and the Croesus who lives on a patent pill,—the tradesman from whom you buy bedsteads and kitchen ware can look down upon you with lordly scorn, for does he not, by virtue of his wealth alone, drive a four-in-hand, and chat on easy and almost patronizing terms with the Prince of Wales? Trie\
/ wealthy denizens of Snob-land delight in ignoring Nature's!
I elected noblemen.".
^~—"But supposing," said Miss Chesney quickly, "you happen to be a Nature's nobleman yourself, and have the advantage of wealth besides, surely you must fairly allow that to be rather a good thing, mustn't you?" Lucio laughed a little.
"I will retort upon you in your own words, fair lady, and say, 'I guess you mean compliments.' What I venture to imply, however, is that even when wealth does fall to the lot of one of these 'Nature's noblemen,' it is not because of his innate nobility that he wins social distinction. It is simply because he is rich. That is what vexes me. I, for example, have endless friends who are not my friends so much as the friends of my income. They do not trouble to inquire as to my antecedents,—what I am, or where I came from, is of no importance. Neither are they concerned in how I live or what I do; whether I am sick or well, happy or unhappy, is equally with them a matter of indifference. If they knew more about me, it would perhaps be better in the long run. But they do not want to know,—their aims are simple and unconcealed,— they wish to make as much out of me, and secure as much advantage to themselves by their acquaintance with me as possible. And I give them their full way,—they get all they want,—and more!"
His musical voice lingered with a curiously melancholy impressiveness on the last word,—and this time, not only Miss Chesney, but we all, looked at him as though drawn by some irresistible magnetic spell, and for a moment there was silence.
"Very few people have any real friends," said Lord Elton presently. "And in that respect I suppose we're none of us worse off than Socrates, who used to keep two chairs only in his house,—' one for myself and another for a friend—when I find him!' But you are a universal favourite, Lucio,—a most popular fellow,—and I think you're rather hard on your set. People must look after themselves you know—eh?"
Lucio bowed his head gravely.
"They must indeed," he replied; "especially as the latest news of science is that God has given up the business."
Miss Fitzroy looked displeased, but the Earl laughed uproariously. At that moment a step was heard outside, approaching the open doorway of the drawing-room, and Miss Chesney's quick ears caught the sound. She shook herself out of her reclining attitude instantly and sat erect.
"It's Sibyl!" she said with a half-laughing, half-apologetic flash of her brown eyes at us all. "I never can loll before Sibyl."
My heart beat fast, as the woman whom poets might have called the goddess of their dreams, but whom I was now disposed to consider as an object of beauty lawfully open to my purchase, entered, clad in simple white, unrelieved by any ornaments save a golden waistbelt of antique workmanship, and a knot of violets nestled among the lace at her bosom. She looked far lovelier than when I had first seen her at the theatre; there was a deeper light in her eyes and a more roseate flush on her cheeks, while her smile as she greeted us was positively dazzling. Something in her presence, her movements, her manner, sent such a tide of passion through me that for a moment my brain whirled in a dizzy maze, and despite the cold calculations I had made in my own mind as to the certainty I had of winning her for my wife, there was a wondrous charm of delicate dignity and unapproachableness about her that caused me for the moment to feel ashamed, and inclined to doubt even the power of wealth to move this exquisite lily of maidenhood from her sequestered peace. Ah, what fools men are! How little do we dream of the canker at the hearts of these women 'lilies' that look so pure and full of grace!
"You are late, Sibyl!" said her aunt severely.
"Am I?" she responded with languid indifference. "So sorry! Papa, are you an extemporized fire-screen ?''
Lord Elton hastily moved to one side, rendered suddenly conscious of his selfish monopoly of the blaze.
"Are you not cold Miss Chesney?" continued Lady Sibyl in accents of studied courtesy. "Would you not like to come nearer the fire ?''
Diana Chesney had become quite subdued, almost timid in fact.
"Thank you!" she murmured, and her eyes dropped with what might have been called retiring maiden modesty, had not Miss Chesney's qualities soared far beyond that trite description.
"We heard some shocking news this morning, Mr Tempest," said Lady Sibyl, looking at Lucio rather than at me. "No doubt you read it in the papers: an acquaintance of ours, Viscount Lynton, shot himself last night."
I could not repress a slight start. Lucio gave me a warning glance, and took it upon himself to reply.
"Yes, I read a brief account of the affair—terrible indeed! I also knew him slightly."
"Did you? Well, he was engaged to a friend of mine," went on Lady Sibyl. "I myself think she has had a lucky escape, because though he was an agreeable man enough in society, he was a great gambler, and very extravagant, and he would have run through her fortune very quickly. But she cannot be brought to see it in that light,—she is dreadfully upset. She had set her heart on being a Viscountess."
"I guess," said Miss Chesney demurely, with a sly sparkle of her eyes, "it's not only Americans who run after titles. Since I've been over here I've known several real nice girls marry downright mean dough-heads just for the sake of being called 'my lady' or 'your grace.' I like a title very well myself—but I also like a man attached to it."
The Earl smothered a chuckling laugh. Lady Sibyl gazed meditatively into the fire, and went on as though she had not heard.
"Of course my friend will have other chances,—she is young and handsome; but I really think, apart from the social point of view, that she was a little in love with the Viscount"
"Nonsense! nonsense!" said her father somewhat testily; "you always have some romantic notion or other in your head, Sibyl,—one 'season' ought to have cured you of sentiment —ha-ha-ha! She always knew he was a dissolute rascal, and she was going to marry him with her eyes wide open to the fact. When I read in the papers that he had blown his brains out in a hansom, I said, 'Bad taste, bad taste! spoiling a poor cabby's stock-in-trade to satisfy a selfish whim!' ha-ha! but I thought it was a good riddance of bad rubbish. He would have made any woman's life utterly miserable."
"No doubt he would!" responded Lady Sibyl listlessly. "But, all the same, there is such a thing as love sometimes." She raised her beautiful liquid eyes to Lucio's face, but he was not looking her way, and her stedfast gaze met mine instead. What my looks expressed I know not; but I saw the rich blood mantle warmly in her cheeks, and a tremor seemed to pass through her frame,—then she grew very pale. At that moment one of the gorgeous footmen appeared at the doorway.
"Dinner is served, my lud."
"Good !" and the Earl proceeded to ' pair' us all. "Prince, will you take Miss Fitzroy,—Mr Tempest, my daughter falls to your escort,—I will follow with Miss Chesney."
We set off in this order down the stairs, and as I walked behind Lucio with Lady Sibyl on my arm, I could not help smiling at the extreme gravity and earnestness with which he was discussing church matters with Miss Charlotte, and the sudden enthusiasm that apparently seized that dignified spinster at some of his remarks on the clergy, which took the form of the most affectionate and respectful eulogies, and were totally the reverse of the ideas he had exchanged with me on the same subject. Some spirit of mischief was evidently moving him to have a solemn joke with the high-bred lady he escorted, and I noted his behaviour with a good deal of inward amusement.
"Then you know the dear Canon?" I heard Miss Charlotte say.
"Most intimately!" replied Lucio with fervour; "and I assure you I am thankful to have the privilege of knowing him. A truly perfect man !—almost a saint—if not quite!"
"So pure-minded!" sighed the spinster.
"So free from every taint of hypocrisy!" murmured Lucio with intense gravity.
"Ah, yes! Yes, indeed! And so"
Here they passed into the dining-room and I could hear no more. I followed with my beautiful partner, and in another minute we were all seated at table.