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bloodless field. Anstruther was already attracted-in another day he might be caught. At present it was mere fancy; but it might at any moment become infatuation. To-day it was a whim-to-morrow it might be a master passion. Nelly's pretty eyes had bewitched him. Florence must set a counter-spell at work. Was he not worth a little ingenuity? Surely, if human art could do it, it was well to bring him to a sounder frame of mind. She bent over a picture-book at Nelly's side, and all her nature seemed to revolt from the idea of repulse at the hands of so slight an antagonist. Woe to the little nature whom ill-luck had brought between a vehement daring woman and the man she chose to love! What were a school-girl's fondness, a sentimental mood, a passing disappointment, an Aprilshower of soon-forgotten tears, to the soul-compelling want, the fierce strong determination that Florence felt nerving her to any cruel act. Nelly no doubt was, or thought she was, in love. But so she would have been with the first handsome fop who chose to court her. She would fret perhaps, and weep a little, as any child might whose toy was taken from it; but her sorrows were too infantile to move compassion; and anyhow Florence's mood was not just then compassionate. Before the men had joined them her mind was made up; and Nelly, as she sat innocently turning over the leaves and chatting to Florence of each new view, was being doomed, in her companion's mind, the necessary victim of an obstinate purpose and unrelenting will.
Anstruther led the vanguard from the dining-room, saw the two sitting together, and forthwith took up his position beside them.
"We fancied that we heard some music,' he said, 'and were afraid of having lost a song.'
'You lost no song,' said Florence. 'The Miss Dangerfields were playing a duet; but,' and she turned to Nelly, you must sing to us, dear, to-night. Will you not?'
'I can sing Excelsior,' said Nelly simply, forgetful by this time of its former non-success.
" The very thing,' cried Florence. 'Here comes Mr. Erle, I know, to make me set you the example. Remember now, no faltering at last!"
Florence went away to the pianoforte, and relieved her turgid spirits by a wild, fierce recitative from Lucrezia. Anstruther, evidently delighted to be rid of her, was lingering still beside her rival. O! for the poisoned cup, or sudden steel, or the dark deep water, safe guardian of inconvenient secrets! 'How was it,' thought the singer, as her glance crept round the room and rested on the delinquents-'how could it ever have been that deeds of bloodthe fitting counterpart of human thoughts-went out of fashion?'
Anstruther called out a careless Bravissima, and forthwith, as if weary of the interruption, resumed confidential talk. Everybody else, however, declared-and with perfect justice--that the song was magnificent, and Florence's conception of the music a master-piece of operatic insight.
Then followed Nelly's turn; and Florence, traitress as she was, sent her away with smiles and words of encouragement; and before Anstruther could decently escape took possession of her deserted seat. Nelly's performance of Excelsior must, to an impartial observer, have seemed extremely tame, or escaped tameness only by conspicuous shortcomings. Tastes however, especially men's tastes, are capricious; and while she was cheerfully floundering about the slippery heights, and committing all sorts of musical outrages upon the mountain's top, Anstruther sat, with honest, lover-like satisfaction, nodding time to the recurring cadence, pleased and more than pleased with all he heard. What angel, striking an immortal strain from golden wires, could have charmed him more? Florence saw that the shrill, untuneful piping pos sessed some secret melodiousness for him; and as he burst into commendation at the ballad's close, forced herself to acknowledge that his case was almost hopeless. One effort, however-and it was a desperate oneshe resolved to make. Anstruther's soft heart might cool beneath a
'You are always mysterious answered the other. Tell me wha
'Well, Florence said, languid playing with her fan, as if ha wrapped in thought, 'I mean th my ideal hero is not a cold, unben ing, unimpassioned struggler wards unearthly sublimity: the i mountain tops are good to look not to live upon.
'And yet, objected the oth
I am, said Florence, unce
'Upon my word,' said Anstrut
'No, insisted Florence, 'I sing no more-I am not in humour. Tell me, Captain struther, does one not, as time on, get to care about success and friendship more??
The hero of Excelsior, said struther, apparently thought I
'I hope,' Florence said, as she arranged the table for her drawing, 'that Captain Anstruther has had the grace to bring down-stairs again. Yes, here it is.'
Florence gave her the book. Fifty pages on-she knew right wellNelly must come upon something which would startle her more effectually than the best-contrived fictitious scene. How natural that at the end of the trial, where Anstruther left off last night, the missing envelope-yes, and half the letter too, it seemed-should have been left, in a careless mood, between the pages, the last drowsy act of a wearied reader! It lay open in its resting-place, sure to catch the eye, a lurking serpent ready, as Nelly's unsuspicious foot should tread upon its lair, to spring to light, and dart a deadly wound.
Nelly tried, and tried in vain, to throw herself into the tale. How suddenly its interest had died away. What were Lady Mason's fears or Sir Peregrine's perturbing love to the sharp, cruel anxiety that, while she pretended to ignore it, was every instant taking fuller possession of her mind? She read the lines resolutely through, and for all the ideas they brought her she might as well have read them backward. She looked at the pictures, and she saw only a single figure-kind, gentle, tender, and O, how far handsomer than the best that ever Mr. Millais drew! She made believe that nothing was hurting her, and all the while there was a little thought that stung and stung till the agony was too keen to bear in silence. A
wood-and there sit, quiet and tearless, and fearful of even Margaret's intrusion, face to face with a trouble the very sight of which had seemed almost to stun her, and which, as she looked at it, grew every moment darker and blacker and more entirely unendurable. Florence meanwhile, before she finished her sketch, took good care that the missing document, its function now fulfilled, should be transferred to a safer custody than the pages of Orley Farm, and was pleased to see Anstruther when next he came into the room, hopelessly turning over its leaves in despairing search of that which half an hour ago she had placed safely away under lock and key.
'I give it up,' he cried at last, sitting down beside her, and assuming the sort of confidential air which to some women is the worst of compliments. 'And pray where is your companion?'
Up stairs, learning her catechism,' Florence answered with a laugh. 'Would you like me to hear you yours?'
'By all means,' cried Anstruther. 'What is it that you want to know?'
'But first,' said the other, 'you must be christened. Let me see, I think you shall be Baby-hunter.'
'Anything you please,' said Anstruther; only what does Babyhunter mean?'
'La chasse aux enfants -a favourite amusement with enterprising sportsmen of the Household Brigade. You were baby-hunting, you know, when you came in here.'
To be sure,' answered Anstruther, no longer pretending not to know the point of Florence's attack. And the prey unluckily is fled. Well, you will admit that the babies are sometimes very interesting.'
could have looked forward with more thorough consternation to the encounter than did Nelly to the prospect of reappearing in public, and having to behave as though the morning's discovery were cancelled from her thoughts. It is terrible, no doubt, to be eaten alive; but
'O, so interesting,' cried Florence -the scornfullest irony ringing through her tones. 'Dear little creatures! The first germ of intellect, how nice to watch it! and all their pretty ways!'
'Yes,' Anstruther said, resolved to be quits with his companion; 'and then their simplicity, what a charm it is!'
'So far more picturesque than common-sense,' Florence broke in, as if warming with a congenial theme. 'Everything is eloquence that comes from rosy lips; and the babies shine so in conversation.
'Listens my homely little dove, Mistakes the point, and laughs for love.'
'Oh, but,' cried Anstruther, there are some little doves who don't mistake the point, and who laugh precisely where they ought.'
Dear me,' said Florence, how I should like to have one to put in a cage!'
And then the rest coming into the room, the conversation broke suddenly off; and Florence, unconscious of the blindness of an honest passion, flattered herself that she had done something effectual to prepare her patient's mind for the subtle poison of contempt with which she hoped, even now, to neutralize his love.
FLORENCE AND MARGARET.
Sing of the nature of women, and then the song shall be surely full of variety, old crotchets, and most sweet closes: it shall be humorous, grave, fantastic, amorous, melancholy, sprightly, one in all, and all in one.
O timorous martyr descending
there are degrees of shyness for which any form of death, however tragical, would scarcely be a bad exchange. Besides her heaviness of heart, Nelly felt exquisitely embarrassed. The catastrophe which had overtaken her seemed too sudden, overwhelming, tremendous, not to be discernible to other eyes besides her own. Florence knew,