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"You need not urge me. Have I not said
today?— and see, the grey is already in the sky!"

She bade him good night abruptly, and went
along the silent corridors to her own room, far
away. But the grey had paled to white, and
the white had turned to sunlight, before she
took the flowers from her hair, or the bracelets
from her arms, or even seemed to remember
that it would be well to seek an hour or two of
sleep. What wonder, then, that when at last
she threw herself, half dressed, upon the bed,
her eyes looked worn and hollow, and her cheek
scarcely less white than the pillow against which
it was laid?

CHAPTER XXXII. HOW SAXON IMPROVED THE
WEATHERCOCK AT CASTLETOWERS.

"WHAT the deuce can we do to amuse all
these people?" said Lord Castletowers to
Major Vaughan, as they met on the stairs before
breakfast, the morning after the party. " The
Eshers, I know, go early, and my mother will
take care of the ladies; out here are six or eight
men in the house, none of whom are likely to
leave before night. What is to be done?"

"Billiards?"

"Well enough for an hour or two: but
apr├Ęs?"

"We might ride over to Guildford, and beat
up the quarters of those Forty-second men who
were here last night."

"Impossible. There are only five riding
horses in the stables, including yours and
Trefalden's; and I haven't even guns enough to
take them out shooting, if there were anything
to shoot, except rookswhich there isn't!" said
the Earl, in desperation.

"Then I don't know what we can do, unless
we put on the gloves; but here comes the
Arcadianperhaps he can suggest something."

The Arcadian meant Saxon. This nickname
had befallen him of late, no one knew how.
The difficulty was no sooner explained to him,
than he proposed a way out of it.

"Let us organise a Volks-fest in the Swiss
fashion," said he. " We can shoot at a mark,
leap, and run foot races; and invite the ladies
to award the prizes."

"A famous idea!" exclaimed the Earl. "The
very thing for a bright, cool day, like this."

"We must choose a space of level sward to
begin with," said the major, "and improvise a
grand stand for the ladies."

"And elect an umpire," said Saxon.

"And look up some prizes," added the Earl.
"I will give that bronze cup in the libraryit
is an antique from Pompeii."

"And I, my inlaid pistols," said Saxon.

"And I. ... bah, I am such a poor devil,"
said Vaughan. "I possess nothing of any value
except my sword and my horse."

"The best riches of a soldier, Major Vaughan,"
said Mademoiselle Colonna. "May I ask why
this parliament is being held upon the stairs?"

She had just come, unheard, along the
carpeted corridor, and stood waiting, a few steps
higher than the trio in consultation. She wore
a delicate grey dress of some soft material,
trimmed with black velvet, and a little linen
collar fastened at the throat by a circular brooch
of Roman gold. Behind her, fell the folds of a
crimson curtain; whilst, through the uppermost
roses of a huge Gothic window that reached
from nearly the top to the bottom of the great
oak staircase, a stream of vivid sunshine poured
down upon her head, so that she stood in the
midst of it, in her pale, proud beauty, as if
enclosed in a pillar of light.

The three men looked up, dazzled, almost
breathless, as if in presence of some glorified
apparition; and for a moment none replied.

Mademoiselle Colonna, divining, perhaps, with
her fine womanly instinct, the spell by which
they were bound, moved a step lower, out of
the sunshine, and said:

"All silent? Nay, then, I fear it is not a
parliament, but a plot."

"It is a plot, signora," replied Vaughan.
"We are planning some out-of-door sports for
this afternoon's entertainment. Will you be
our Queen of Beauty, and graciously condescend
to distribute the prizes."

The Earl coloured, and bit his lip.

"Vaughan's promptitude," said he, "bears
hardly upon those whose wit, or audacity, is
less ready at command. I had myself intended
to solicit this grace at Miss Colonna's hands."

"The race, my dear fellow, is to the swift,
and the battle to the strong, in the affairs of
life," replied Vaughan, carelessly. "But what
says our sovereign lady?"

"That she dares not pledge her royal word
too hastily. Mine, you know, is not an honorary
secretaryship; and I know not what work this
morning's post may bring for my pen. Besides, I
must hear what arrangements Lady Castletowers
may have in contemplation."

"I don't think my mother will make any that
shall deprive us of the light of her countenance
on such an important occasion," said the Earl.
"But there goes the gong. We must adjourn
this debate till after breakfast."

Lady Castletowers was pleased to approve her
son's scheme, and promised not only to honour
the course with her presence at half-past two
o'clock, but to bring with her two young ladies
who had slept at the house, and were to have been
driven home early in the morning. These were
the daughters of a poor clergyman who lived
about twelve miles off, and, being very young and
timid, looked up to the stately Countess as though
she were the queen of heaven. Miss Colonna,
being urged thereto by Lady Castletowers herself,
was induced to accept the royal office; and,
although Viscount and Lady Esher were, of course,
too magnificent to alter their plans, and drove
away behind their four horses shortly after
breakfast, the patronage of the little fete
promised to be quite brilliant enough to stimulate
the ambition of the candidates.

It was a happy thought, and gave ample
occupation to everybody concerned. There were six
young men that day at Castletowers besides Sir
Charles Burgoyne, Major Vaughan, and Saxon