The Fate of Fenella/Chapter 5

CHAPTER V.

BY MAY CROMMELIN.

Weep not, my wanton, smile upon my knee.
When thou art old, there's grief enough for thee.
The wanton smiled, father wept.
Mother cried, baby leapt.
More he crowed, more we cried.
Nature could not sorrow hide.

Greene (1560-92).

"I've wired for him!" Fenella imparted in a startling burst of confidence. "Ronny and I got up early and ran down to the telegraph office."

"My goodness!" Jacynth stared in resentful dismay at her sparkling eyes. "Well! you have made a nice complication, now."

The girl laid a beseeching hand on his arm.

"Don't look so furious; and do—do stand by me in everything as you promised. Remember, you are my only friend here—except Ronny."

"I have promised," he said solemnly. "But you might consult me as a friend. And why do anything so rash—mad?"

"Because all my life I have taken my own way. Because if he comes here to vex me, when we were all quite happy"—she set her small white teeth—"and flaunts that creature before my very face, I will show him the red rag he hates worst! Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander."

"Not always. Take care."

"Besides, I want to convince you—everyone—that on my side there is nothing to blame, nothing—while, Frank—oh, there"—with a pathetic little break in her voice that makes Clitheroe wretched—"after having forgotten this miserable business very nearly—I hardly slept last night—thinking."

"You are fond of him still, then?" said Jacynth, very low.

"No! no! I hate him now," she exclaimed passionately, apostrophizing the rocks and trees around. "I should like to divorce him, and—and—see that poisonous serpent crushed alive."

"Come, don't say such terrible things. And divorce is no such easy matter."

Jacynth's heart beat hard as he soothed the headstrong girl. If she were indeed free! Down, down, wild hope! Was he not her true friend and faithful counselor? "So this accounts for your silence as we drove here. You meant to spring this surprise on me."

Fenella nodded, mischief simply brimming over in her suddenly transformed little face.

"If I get into a scrape, you've got to get me out. It's a duel, you see, between four of us, with you and Lord Castleton for seconds, and I come of a fighting family," her feet breaking under her into a few steps of war dance. "Oh, look there!"

Her shriek rang far and shrill through the Knaresborough rocks, as, stiffened suddenly to stone, she stood with outstretched arms, her straining eyes gazing up at the cliff. A small object had hurtled through some brushwood overhead, and, rolling downward, was now stopped half-way. It was a little boy, clinging desperately to a bush at which he had caught.

Before the last sounds had left her parted lips, Jacynth bounded forward and was clambering, springing as best he could, up from foothold to ledge. Many holidays of mountain-climbing stood him in good stead. Higher still—ah! there! The bush is giving way slowly at the roots. A little shower of earth falls down on Fenella's upturned face; she has somehow tottered with quaking knees onward.

Safe—safe! Just as the terrified child feels his hold giving way, a strong arm catches him round the waist.

"Thank God!" exclaims a well-known man's voice. Fenella feels a little group about her, summoned by her echoing shriek, but her filming vision sees nothing till Ronny is placed, pale but plucky, in her arms. Presently, with the boy hugging her neck, and her own tight grasp proving he has no bones broken, she turns to find Frank, looking strangely excited, holding out a hand to Jacynth.

"Let me thank you. That was splendidly done. You saved the boy's life, and I am—I——" he stammered and stopped, reddening.

"No thanks are needed. I could not tell but that it was my own little scamp of a nephew. Where is Grandison?" Jacynth frigidly answered, looking round. He had driven Fenella and the two boys out here, because she wished to avoid meeting her husband and his probable companion. And, lo! tricksome fate had drawn these two hither as by some irresistible attraction.

Lucille was meanwhile looking on with intense apprehension. The child—the child was the sole remaining link between this man and wife, but that one how strong! She must interfere rapidly.

Next moment she had dropped on her knees beside Ronny, who now stood leaning against his mother, and had tenderly lifted his hand.

"Poor infant—chéri! He is bleeding, see!"

And she softly wiped some trickling drops from a graze on the chubby, childish fist.

"How dare you? Leave my child alone!" blazed out Fenella, withdrawing as if from the touch of a reptile.

Lucille rose with an air of dignified humility, and looked full at Onslow, with surely a sudden moisture in her beautiful dark eyes.

"I have made a mistake, it is true. But I am a woman, and only remembered that a child was hurt—your child!" The last words were murmured only for his ear.

"Come away," said Onslow briefly, but consolingly.

A very thunder-cloud, charged with electricity, overhung the end of one of the long dinner tables in the Prospect Hotel that evening.

Lord Castleton presided at the foot, the post of honor. On his right hand, seated thus low, as befitted new guests, were Lord Francis Onslow, and, "by Jove! Mme. de Vigny herself." To his left Jacynth, faithful to his place beside Fenella, who had asked the head-waiter some days ago not to move her seat higher, in usual hotel progression, opposite a sour-faced set of ladies, with side-ringlets and warming-pan brooches, who whispered inuendoes about herself that palled as a diversion. She had then innocently preferred new arrivals. So Castleton looked at four freezingly expressionless faces, four pairs of eyes bottling up lightnings.

"In for a storm!" he chuckled to himself, rubbing his plump hands under the table. "But who is my lady keeping that empty place for on her other side?"

Just then a slight young man, with blond curls clustering thickly on his head, well-waxed mustaches, and a slightly foreign military air about the cut of his clothes and the stiffness of his shoulders, came down the long room with a buoyant step, Fenella's eyes gleamed as she held out her hand in greeting, which the newcomer pressed with that mingled homage and effusion betraying a stranger to English customs.

Onslow's dark face grew suddenly livid with passion. He made a movement as if about to rise, but was restrained by an imploring touch on his arm, and a murmured entreaty from his companion to be calm.

"You see! I obeyed your message on the instant," said the newcomer to Fenella, in an undertone, audible in the fell silence around. "Last week you said don't come—it is stupeed. Now you say, come!"

"Ah, but we have had some new visitors since then, and it is much more amusing."

After which really impudent remark, Fenella leant back, and with a look of infantile innocence on her piquante face, indicated Jacynth.

"I want to make you two acquainted. I like my friends to like each other. Mr, Jacynth—Count de Mürger."

The two men's eyes met. Clitheroe's gaze gravely observant, De Mürger momentarily taken aback, then bowing with gay readiness, as who should say, "A rival? Come on! measure swords."

Next he looked across and started.

It was only a slight start, yet Castleton's cheeks at once puffed with suppressed mirth. Lucille gave the faintest inclination of her handsome dark head. But Onslow, laying his arms on the table with a cool superiority that in a less well-bred man might be offensive, stared at his enemy full, not stirring a muscle.

The cut was direct, cutting De Mürger short in an instinctively begun bow of politely cold recognition. A brilliant smile instantly lightened the young Austrian's face. He had suspected a trap, but now he knew his ground.

An awkward silence ensued. Then Castleton demanded, in nervous accents:

"What fish is this, waiter—eh?"

"Tom Dory, milord," answered the recently imported Teuton with suave readiness.

A little buzz of talk began at once; the spell was loosed. Under cover of this Castleton bent forward, irresistibly thirsting to confide in Jacynth.

"I say, what a game! Would you think De Mürger is one of the greatest gamblers going, and a tremendous duelist?"

"That boy! He looks as if dancing was his strong point."

"So it is. He is a favorite leader of cotillons—invented that figure for Lady Birmingham's ball of shooting with Cupid's bows and arrows—you know."

"No, I don't. I am too old for much ball-going," answered the barrister curtly.

Meanwhile, though Fenella never once looked his way, she felt that her husband's eyes were stabbing her with glances like daggers. It hurt; but she had the sweet revenge of knowing she was wounding his pride in return, though the false Circe by his side might try to pour in balm. So, looking a picture of girlish sweetness in her delicious white gown, so simple seemingly, so costly—a white bud of a little creature in contradistinction to the darker, maturer charms of her handsome rival, she listened with apparent eagerness to De Mürger.

"Yes, I should regret not going to Vienna this summer, if I were not here. You do not know it. Ah, how I should like to show you our Prater. And the life, the gayety. How you would enjoy it!"

"Do you know Vienna?" asked Mme. de Vigny of Onslow in clear tones, as if her neighbors were dummies. "It is—how do you say it in English?—la ville la plus dévergondée in Europe."

At the inference that this abandoned capital will suit herself, in madame's evident opinion, Fenella's pale small cheeks take a sudden rosy tint, her tawny eyes gleam with quite a tigerish flash. She throws up her head, challenging Onslow mutely to dare countenance the insult. But Frank's French is that of Eton, and he merely ejaculates an "Ah!" impassively.

("Quarrels are so upsetting to one's digestion," was Castleton's thought. Yet not for anything would he have missed the human interest of the scene, which was "as good as a play." Still the lull of talk was ominous, so he desperately addressed the only person from whom no explosion was to be feared.)

"What is coming next, waiter?"

"Suckie-pig, sir," responded the gentle German.

Ronny's curly pate appearing on a level with the table-cloth, and nestling between his mother and Jacynth confidingly, was a welcome diversion. All eyes turned with relief on the rosy, roguish face, alone unconscious of hidden trouble among them.

"It will soon be dessert-time; I may stay, mayn't I, mummy?" coaxed the child confidently.

Then to beguile the time, he produced some glass marbles from his pocket, aiming at the salt-cellar, where his friend Jacynth fielded and sent them back. With her arm around her son, Fenella was chatting animatedly to De Mürger, rejoicing inwardly in her immense superiority over her opposite foes in possessing Ronny. A vagrant ball escaping the latter's fingers, cannoned off a dish and flew straight into madame's lap. With a secret honeyed glance at Ronny, she feigned to detain it.

"No, you mustn't! That would be stealing, and then you would be put in prison," remonstrated the child. Then looking at her with the sweet familiarity of one of Raphael's cherubs, "Were you ever in prison?"

Mme. de Vigny, who was just lifting a full glass of claret to her lips, started, so that some wine was spilt. She raised her delicate brows, with a glance of charming dismay at Onslow's gloomy face.

Castleton and Jacynth, noticing the accident, exchanged furtive, surprised looks. But Ronny, no more heeding that red splash than if he had slopped over his glass of milk, announced in joyous tones, "Because I was—very nearly. Grandison and me were very naughty once, and his nurse tried to give us to a p'leeceman, but we pulled at her dress so hard she couldn't; and the p'leeceman shook his finger at me and said, 'Next time!'—Oh, I say!"

Suddenly diving, so that his little body eluded Fenella's grasp, to her surprise he rushed round the table and flung himself against Frank, who had annexed the truant marble, and was ostentatiously secreting it in his own pocket.

"Give it me! It's mine! You must! Please!"

Frank held the treasure nearer, then embracing the boy's shoulders with one caressing arm, stooped and deliberately kissed the sweet, childish face.

"Take it, there. Why, you will soon be old enough to go to school."

Raising his head, he looked straight at Fenella with such defiance that the wrathful jealousy, boiling within her at so flagrant a show of authority, suddenly cooled.

With a shiver at the warning, she nevertheless had spirit to retort with cool, decisive command: "Ronny, come here. You must stay by me, dear, and not go to—other people." Then she rustled from the table with superb displeasure at Frank's unwarrantable liberty. Both De Mürger and Jacynth sprang up, too, in quick rivalry, as her bodyguard. They were soon followed by Castleton, who found it poor fun to watch only Onslow's lowering face, and Jezebel, as he secretly politely designated Mme. de Vigny.

Before the hotel door the night was still and cool; stars had begun to twinkle in the "blue vaults, magnificently deep."

"So you have to suffer such insults," De Mürger impetuously whispers in Fenella's ear. "Let me avenge you. Ah! you did right to send for me."

"No, no, you must not take your own way to help me. Wait—-I must just ask Mr. Jacynth to do something for me. Then I will come back and talk to you, murmurs Fenella, frightened, therefore sweetly deceitful. Then drawing her mentor apart, while Castleton eagerly fastens on the prey she has left, she entreats: "Help me. Keep the count and Frank from fighting; anything but that!"

"For goodness' sake get rid of De Mürger. He is so embroiling," counseled Jacynth.

"How can I? After bringing him here a long journey to-day, can I whistle him away to-morrow?" she responds with naive indignation. "It is as bad as putting back the bottle-imp."

"Then you—some of us must leave. The situation is too strained."

"You advise flight; and I, who am just spoiling for a fight, as the Irish say ———" she was actually laughing again, it was too bad.

"If you will stay, let me make you acquainted with my sister Helen, Grandison's mother," said Jacynth softly, pity stirring his heart-strings for this young creature. "She is a good sort—a genuine woman."

"Thank you," said Fenella absently, looking round. "What is the count about; and where is Ronny?"