FictionForest

Chapter 5 – A Hero

Louisa May AlcottNov 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

Light off Small Medium Large

Four years had passed, and Lillian was fast blooming into a lovely
woman: proud and willful as ever, but very charming, and already a belle
in the little world where she still reigned a queen. Owing to her
mother’s ill health, she was allowed more freedom than is usually
permitted to an English girl of her age; and, during the season, often
went into company with a friend of Lady Trevlyn’s who was chaperoning
two young daughters of her own. To the world Lillian seemed a gay,
free-hearted girl; and no one, not even her mother, knew how well she
remembered and how much she missed the lost Paul. No tidings of him had
ever come, and no trace of him was found after his flight. Nothing was
missed, he went without his wages, and no reason could be divined for
his departure except the foreign letter. Bedford remembered it, but
forgot what postmark it bore, for he had only been able to decipher
"Italy." My lady made many inquiries and often spoke of him; but when
month after month passed and no news came, she gave him up, and on
Lillian’s account feigned to forget him. Contrary to Hester’s fear, she
did not seem the worse for the nocturnal fright, but evidently connected
the strange visitor with Paul, or, after a day or two of nervous
exhaustion, returned to her usual state of health. Hester had her own
misgivings, but, being forbidden to allude to the subject, she held her
peace, after emphatically declaring that Paul would yet appear to set
her mind at rest.

"Lillian, Lillian, I’ve such news for you! Come and hear a charming
little romance, and prepare to see the hero of it!" cried Maud
Churchill, rushing into her friend’s pretty boudoir one day in the
height of the season.

Lillian lay on a couch, rather languid after a ball, and listlessly
begged Maud to tell her story, for she was dying to be amused.

"Well my, dear, just listen and you’ll be as enthusiastic as I am,"
cried Maud. And throwing her bonnet on one chair, her parasol on
another, and her gloves anywhere, she settled herself on the couch and
began: "You remember reading in the papers, some time ago, that fine
account of the young man who took part in the Italian revolution and did
that heroic thing with the bombshell?"

"Yes, what of him?" asked Lillian, sitting up.

"He is my hero, and we are to see him tonight."

"Go on, go on! Tell all, and tell it quickly," she cried.

"You know the officers were sitting somewhere, holding a council, while
the city (I forget the name) was being bombarded, and how a shell came
into the midst of them, how they sat paralyzed, expecting it to burst,
and how this young man caught it up and ran out with it, risking his own
life to save theirs?"

"Yes, yes, I remember!" And Lillian’s listless face kindled at the
recollection.

"Well, an Englishman who was there was so charmed by the act that,
finding the young man was poor and an orphan, he adopted him. Mr. Talbot
was old, and lonely, and rich, and when he died, a year after, he left
his name and fortune to this Paolo."

"I’m glad, I’m glad!" cried Lillian, clapping her hands with a joyful
face. "How romantic and charming it is!"

"Isn’t it? But, my dear creature, the most romantic part is to come.
Young Talbot served in the war, and then came to England to take
possession of his property. It’s somewhere down in Kent, a fine place
and good income, all his; and he deserves it. Mamma heard a deal about
him from Mrs. Langdon, who knew old Talbot and has seen the young man.
Of course all the girls are wild to behold him, for he is very handsome
and accomplished, and a gentleman by birth. But the dreadful part is
that he is already betrothed to a lovely Greek girl, who came over at
the same time, and is living in London with a companion; quite
elegantly, Mrs. Langdon says, for she called and was charmed.
This girl has been seen by some of our gentlemen friends, and they
already rave about the ‘fair Helene,’ for that’s her name."

Here Maud was forced to stop for breath, and Lillian had a chance to
question her.

"How old is she?"

"About eighteen or nineteen, they say."

"Very pretty?"

"Ravishing, regularly Greek and divine, Fred Raleigh says."

"When is she to be married?"

"Don’t know; when Talbot gets settled, I fancy."

"And he? Is he as charming as she?"

"Quite, I’m told. He’s just of age, and is, in appearance as in
everything else, a hero of romance."

"How came your mother to secure him for tonight?"

"Mrs. Langdon is dying to make a lion of him, and begged to bring him.
He is very indifferent on such things and seems intent on his own
affairs. Is grave and old for his years, and doesn’t seem to care much
for pleasure and admiration, as most men would after a youth like his,
for he has had a hard time, I believe. For a wonder, he consented to
come when Mrs. Langdon asked him, and I flew off at once to tell you and
secure you for tonight."

"A thousand thanks. I meant to rest, for Mamma frets about my being so
gay; but she won’t object to a quiet evening with you. What shall we
wear?" And here the conversation branched off on the all-absorbing topic
of dress.

When Lillian joined her friend that evening, the hero had already
arrived, and, stepping into a recess, she waited to catch a glimpse of
him. Maud was called away, and she was alone when the crowd about the
inner room thinned and permitted young Talbot to be seen. Well for
Lillian that no one observed her at that moment, for she grew pale and
sank into a chair, exclaiming below her breath, "It is Paul – my Paul!"

She recognized him instantly, in spite of increased height, a dark
moustache, and martial bearing. It was Paul, older, graver, handsomer,
but still "her Paul," as she called him, with a flush of pride and
delight as she watched him, and felt that of all there she knew him best
and loved him most. For the childish affection still existed, and this
discovery added a tinge of romance that made it doubly dangerous as well
as doubly pleasant.

Will he know me? she thought, glancing at a mirror which reflected a
slender figure with bright hair, white arms, and brilliant eyes; a
graceful little head, proudly carried, and a sweet mouth, just then very
charming, as it smiled till pearly teeth shone between the ruddy lips.

I’m glad I’m not ugly, and I hope he’ll like me, she thought, as she
smoothed the golden ripples on her forehead, settled her sash, and shook
out the folds of her airy dress in a flutter of girlish excitement.
"I’ll pretend not to know him, when we meet, and see what he will do,"
she said, with a wicked sense of power; for being forewarned she was
forearmed, and, fearing no betrayal of surprise on her own part, was
eager to enjoy any of which he might be guilty.

Leaving her nook, she joined a group of young friends and held herself
prepared for the meeting. Presently she saw Maud and Mrs. Langdon
approaching, evidently intent on presenting the hero to the heiress.

"Mr. Talbot, Miss Trevlyn," said the lady. And looking up with a
well-assumed air of indifference, Lillian returned the gentleman’s bow
with her eyes fixed full upon his face.

Not a feature of that face changed, and so severely unconscious of any
recognition was it that the girl was bewildered. For a moment she
fancied she had been mistaken in his identity, and a pang of
disappointment troubled her; but as he moved a chair for Maud, she saw
on the one ungloved hand a little scar which she remembered well, for he
received it in saving her from a dangerous fall. At the sight all the
happy past rose before her, and if her telltale eyes had not been
averted they would have betrayed her. A sudden flush of maidenly shame
dyed her cheek as she remembered that last ride, and the childish
confidences then interchanged. This Helen was the little sweetheart
whose picture he wore, and now, in spite of all obstacles, he had won
both fortune and ladylove. The sound of his voice recalled her thoughts,
and glancing up she met the deep eyes fixed on her with the same steady
look they used to wear. He had addressed her, but what he said she knew
not, beyond a vague idea that it was some slight allusion to the music
going on in the next room. With a smile which would serve for an answer
to almost any remark, she hastily plunged into conversation with a
composure that did her credit in the eyes of her friends, who stood in
awe of the young hero, for all were but just out.

"Mr. Talbot hardly needs an introduction here, for his name is
well-known among us, though this is perhaps his first visit to England?"
she said, flattering herself that this artful speech would entrap him
into the reply she wanted.

With a slight frown, as if the allusion to his adventure rather annoyed
him, and a smile that puzzled all but Lillian, he answered very simply,
"It is not my first visit to this hospitable island. I was here a few
years ago, for a short time, and left with regret."

"Then you have old friends here?" And Lillian watched him as she spoke.

"I had. They had doubtless forgotten me now," he said, with a sudden
shadow marring the tranquillity of his face.

"Why doubt them? If they were true friends, they will not forget."

The words were uttered impulsively, almost warmly, but Talbot made no
response, except a polite inclination and an abrupt change in the
conversation.

"That remains to be proved. Do you sing, Miss Trevlyn?"

"A little." And Lillian’s tone was both cold and proud.

"A great deal, and very charmingly," added Maud, who took pride in her
friend’s gifts both of voice and beauty. "Come, dear, there are so few
of us you will sing, I know. Mamma desired me to ask you when Edith had
done."

To her surprise Lillian complied, and allowed Talbot to lead her to the
instrument. Still hoping to win some sign of recognition from him, the
girl chose an air he taught her and sang it with a spirit and skill that
surprised the listeners who possessed no key to her mood. At the last
verse her voice suddenly faltered, but Talbot took up the song and
carried her safely through it with his well-tuned voice.

"You know the air then?" she said in a low tone, as a hum of
commendation followed the music.

"All Italians sing it, though few do it like yourself," he answered
quietly, restoring the fan he had held while standing beside her.

Provoking boy! why won’t he know me? thought Lillian. And her tone was
almost petulant as she refused to sing again.

Talbot offered his arm and led her to a seat, behind which stood a
little statuette of a child holding a fawn by a daisy chain.

"Pretty, isn’t it?" she said, as he paused to look at it instead of
taking the chair before her. "I used to enjoy modeling tiny deer and
hinds in wax, as well as making daisy chains. Is sculpture among the
many accomplishments which rumor tells us you possess?"

"No. Those who, like me, have their own fortunes to mold find time for
little else," he answered gravely, still examining the marble group.

Lillian broke her fan with an angry flirt, for she was tired of her
trial, and wished she had openly greeted him at the beginning; feeling
now how pleasant it would have been to sit chatting of old times, while
her friends dared hardly address him at all. She was on the point of
calling him by his former name, when the remembrance of what he had been
arrested the words on her lips. He was proud; would he not dread to have
it known that, in his days of adversity, he had been a servant? For if
she betrayed her knowledge of his past, she would be forced to tell
where and how that knowledge was gained. No, better wait till they met
alone, she thought; he would thank her for her delicacy, and she could
easily explain her motive. He evidently wished to seem a stranger, for
once she caught a gleam of the old, mirthful mischief in his eye, as she
glanced up unexpectedly. He did remember her, she was sure, yet was
trying her, perhaps, as she tried him. Well, she would stand the test
and enjoy the joke by-and-by. With this fancy in her head she assumed a
gracious air and chatted away in her most charming style, feeling both
gay and excited, so anxious was she to please, and so glad to recover
her early friend. A naughty whim seized her as her eye fell on a
portfolio of classical engravings which someone had left in disorder on
a table near her. Tossing them over she asked his opinion of several,
and then handed him one in which Helen of Troy was represented as giving
her hand to the irresistible Paris.

"Do you think her worth so much bloodshed, and deserving so much
praise?" she asked, vainly trying to conceal the significant smile that
would break loose on her lips and sparkle in her eyes.

Talbot laughed the short, boyish laugh so familiar to her ears, as he
glanced from the picture to the arch questioner, and answered in a tone
that made her heart beat with a nameless pain and pleasure, so full of
suppressed ardor was it:

"Yes! ‘All for love or the world well lost’ is a saying I heartily agree
to. La belle Helene is my favorite heroine, and I regard Paris as the
most enviable of men."

"I should like to see her."

The wish broke from Lillian involuntarily, and she was too much confused
to turn it off by any general expression of interest in the classical
lady.

"You may sometime," answered Talbot, with an air of amusement; adding,
as if to relieve her, "I have a poetical belief that all the lovely
women of history or romance will meet, and know, and love each other in
some charming hereafter."

"But I’m no heroine and no beauty, so I shall never enter your poetical
paradise," said Lillian, with a pretty affectation of regret.

"Some women are beauties without knowing it, and the heroines of
romances never given to the world. I think you and Helen will yet meet,
Miss Trevlyn."

As he spoke, Mrs. Langdon beckoned, and he left her pondering over his
last words, and conscious of a secret satisfaction in his implied
promise that she should see his betrothed.

"How do you like him?" whispered Maud, slipping into the empty chair.

"Very well," was the composed reply; for Lillian enjoyed her little
mystery too much to spoil it yet.

"What did you say to him? I longed to hear, for you seemed to enjoy
yourselves very much, but I didn’t like to be a marplot."

Lillian repeated a part of the conversation, and Maud professed to be
consumed with jealousy at the impression her friend had evidently made.

"It is folly to try to win the hero, for he is already won, you know,"
answered Lillian, shutting the cover on the pictured Helen with a sudden
motion as if glad to extinguish her.

"Oh dear, no; Mrs. Langdon just told Mamma that she was mistaken about
their being engaged; for she asked him and he shook his head, saying
Helen was his ward."

"But that is absurd, for he’s only a boy himself. It’s very odd, isn’t
it? Never mind, I shall soon know all about it."

"How?" cried Maud, amazed at Lillian’s assured manner.

"Wait a day or two and, I’ll tell you a romance in return for yours.
Your mother beckons to me, so I know Hester has come. Good night. I’ve
had a charming time."

And with this tantalizing adieu, Lillian slipped away. Hester was
waiting in the carriage, but as Lillian appeared, Talbot put aside the
footman and handed her in, saying very low, in the well-remembered tone:

"Good night, my little mistress."

 

Leave a Reply