Thus a friendship arose which, in the course of time, became a very close one. Colonel Esmond’s house was luxurious and pleasant, and everybody’s heart opened to a favorite of Georgie’s. Accordingly, Lisbeth’s niche in the family was soon found. It was rather agreeable to go among people who admired and were ready to love her, so she went pretty often. In fact, Georgie kept firm hold upon her. There appeared always some reason why it was specially necessary that Lisbeth should be with her. She had visitors, or she was alone and wanted company; she had some new music and wanted Lisbeth’s help, or she had found some old songs Lisbeth must try—Lisbeth, whose voice was so exquisite. Indeed, it was Lisbeth, Lisbeth, Lisbeth, from week to week, until more than one of Miss Esmond’s admirers wished that there had been no such person as Miss Crespigny in the world. As Anstruthers had said, Miss Georgie Esmond was quite a belle, in this the first year of her 62 reign, and if she had been so inclined, it was generally believed that she might have achieved some very brilliant social triumphs, indeed. But I am afraid that she had the bad taste not to aspire as she might have done.
“I don’t want to be uncharitable,” she had said, innocently, to her friend. “And I don’t in the least believe the things people often say about society—the things Hector says, for instance; but really, Lisbeth, I have sometimes thought that the life behind all the glare and glitter was just the least bit stupid and hollow. I know I should get dreadfully tired of it, if I had nothing else to satisfy me; no real home-life, and no true, single-hearted, close friends to love, like you and mamma.”
It made Lisbeth wince, this pretty speech. Georgie Esmond often made her wince.
And Mr. Hector Anstruthers discovered this fact before any great length of time had passed, and the discovery awakened in him divers new sensations.
He had looked on at the growing friendship with a secret sneer; but the sneer was not at Georgie. Honestly, he liked the girl something the better for her affectionate credulity; nothing could contaminate her, not even Lisbeth Crespigny. But sometimes, just now and then, 63 he found it a trifle difficult to control himself, and resist the impulse to be openly sarcastic.
He encountered this difficulty in special force one evening about a month after the studio luncheon. The girls had spent the afternoon together, and, dinner being over, Lisbeth was singing one of Georgie’s favorite songs. It was a love song, too, for though Miss Georgie had as yet had no practical experience in the matter of love, she had some very pretty ideas of that tender passion, and was very fond of love songs, and poems, and love stories, such as touched her heart, and caused her to shed a few gentle tears. And this song was a very pretty one, indeed. “All for love, and the world well lost,” was the burden of its guileless refrain. All for love, love which is always true, and always tender, and never deceives us. What is the world, it demanded, what is life, what rest can we find if we have not love? The world is our garden, and love is the queen of roses, its fairest bloom. Let us gather what flowers we may, but, oh, let us gather the rose first, and tend it most delicately. It will give its higher beauty to our lives; it will make us more fit for heaven itself; it will shame our selfishness, and help us to forget our sordid longings. All for love, and the 64 world well lost. And so on, through three or four verses, with a very sweet accompaniment, which Georgie played with great taste.
And Lisbeth was singing, and, as she had a trick of doing, was quite forgetting herself. And her exquisite, full-toned voice rose and fell with a wondrous fervor, and her immense dark eyes glared, and her small pale face glowed, and a little pathetic shadow seemed to rest upon her. So well did she sing, indeed, that one might have fancied that she had done nothing, all her life, but sing just such sweetly sentimental songs, and believe every word of them implicitly; and when she had finished, Georgie’s eyes were full of tears.
“Oh, Lisbeth!” she cried, looking up at her affectionately, “you make everything sound so beautiful and—and true. I could never, never sing in that way. It must be because you can feel beautiful, tender things so deeply, so much more deeply than other people do.”
Lisbeth awoke from her dream suddenly. Hector Anstruthers, who had been standing at the other side of the piano, looked at her with a significance which would have roused her at any time. Their eyes met, and both pair flashed; his with the very intensity of contempt; hers with defiance. 65
“My dear Georgie,” he said, “I admire your enthusiasm, but scarcely think you quite understand Miss Crespigny. She is one of those fortunate people who cannot help doing things well. It is a habit she has acquired. No sentiment would suffer in her hands, even a sentiment quite opposite to the one she has just illustrated the force of so artistically.”
Georgie looked a little amazed. She did not liked to be chilled when all her gentle emotions were in full play; and, apart from this, did not such a speech sound as if it suggested a doubt of the sincerity of her beloved Lisbeth?
“People cannot teach themselves to be innocent and loving,” she said, almost indignantly. “At least, they cannot be artistically loving and innocent. You cannot make art of truth and faith, and you cannot be generous and kind through nothing but habit. Your heart must be good before you can be good yourself. At least, that is my belief, and I would rather have my beliefs than your cynicisms; and so would Lisbeth, I am sure, even if they are not so brilliant and popular. You are too sarcastic, sir, and you have quite spoiled our pretty song.”
“I did not mean to spoil it,” he answered. “Forgive me, I beg,” with a satirical bow, 66 “and pray favor me with another, that I may learn to believe. Perhaps I shall. I am inclined to think Miss Crespigny could convince a man of anything.”
“You don’t deserve another,” said Georgie. “Does he, Lisbeth?”
“Hardly,” said Lisbeth, who was turning over some music, with an indifferent face. But she sang again nevertheless, and quite as well as she had done before, though it must be admitted that she influenced Georgie to a choice of songs of a less Arcadian nature.
The following morning Anstruthers called to see Mrs. Despard, and found that lady absent, and Miss Crespigny in the drawing-room. Consequently, it fell to Miss Crespigny’s lot to entertain him during his brief visit. He made it as brief as possible; but when he rose to take his leave, to his surprise Lisbeth detained him.
“There is something I should like to say to you,” she began, after she had risen with him.
He paused, hat in hand.
“It is about Georgie—Miss Esmond,” she added. 67“You were very kind to speak to her of me as you did last night. It was very generous. I feel that I ought to thank you for trying to make her despise me.” And her eyes flashed with an expression not easy to face.
“I ask pardon,” he returned, loftily. “If I had understood that your friendship was of such a nature——”
“If its object had been a man, instead of an innocent girl, you would have understood easily enough, I have no doubt,” she interposed, angrily.
He bowed, with the suspicion of a sneer upon his face.
“Perhaps,” he answered.
“Thank you,” said she. “However, since you need the matter explained, I will explain it. I am fond of Georgie Esmond, and she is fond of me, and I do not choose to lose her affection; so I must resort to the poor expedient of asking you to deny yourself the gratification of treating me contemptuously in her presence. Say what you please when we are alone, as we are sometimes forced to be; but when we are with your cousin, be good enough to remember that she is my friend, and trusts me.”
It was so like the girl Lisbeth, this daring, summary course, this confronting and settling the matter at once, without the least sign of hesitation or reluctance, that he began to feel very uncomfortable. Had he really behaved 68 himself so badly, indeed? Was it possible that he had allowed himself to appear such a rampant brute as her words implied? He, who so prided himself upon his thoroughbred impassibility?
“I treat you contemptuously!” he exclaimed.
“It is not you I care for,” she answered him. “It is Georgie Esmond.”
He had no resource left but to accept his position, the very humiliating position of a man whose apologies, if he offered any, would be coolly set aside, whose humiliation was of no consequence, and who was expected to receive punishment, like a culprit whose sensations were not for a moment to be regarded.
He left the house feeling angry and helpless, and returning to his chambers, wrote a stinging criticism of a new book. Poor Blanke, who had written the book, received the benefit of the sentiments Miss Crespigny had roused.
On her part, Lisbeth resorted to one of her “humors,” to use Mrs. Despard’s expression. She was out of patience with herself. She had lost her temper almost as soon as she had spoken her first words; and she had been so sure of perfect self-control before she began. That was her secret irritant. Why could she not have managed it better? It was not usual 69 with her to give way when she was sure of herself.
“Somebody has been here,” said Mrs. Despard, when she came in, and found her sitting, alone with her sewing. “Some one you do not like, or some one who has said something awkward or unpleasant to you.”
“Hector Anstruthers has been here,” was Lisbeth’s answer, but she deigned no further explanation, and did not even lift her eyes as she spoke.