It was a pretty scene: and he was young, and eager, and curious, and he enjoyed it. After standing about for half an hour or so, he got into a corner from which, in quiet, he could better see the brilliant picture as a whole: the bright, harmonious dresses; the glimpses of beautiful eyes and blooming complexions; the masses of foxgloves which Lady Beauregard had as the only floral decoration of the evening; the pale canary-colored panels and silver-fluted columns of the walls; and over all the various candelabra, each bearing a cluster of sparkling and golden stars. But there was something wanted. Was it the noble and silver-haired lady of Castle Dare whom he looked for in vain in that brilliant crowd that moved and murmured before him? Or was it the friendly and familiar face of his cousin Janet, whose eyes he knew, would be filled with a constant wonder if she saw such diamonds, and silks and satins? Or was it that ignis fatuus—that treacherous and mocking fire—that might at any time glimmer in some suddenly presented face with a new surprise? Had she deceived him altogether down at Prince’s Gate? Was her real nature that of the wayward, bright, mischievous, spoiled child whose very tenderness only prepared her unsuspecting victim for a merciless thrust? And yet the sound of her sobbing was still in his ears. A true woman’s heart beat beneath that idle raillery: challenged boldly, would it not answer loyally and without fear?
Psychological puzzles were new to this son of the mountains; and it is no wonder that, long after he had bidden good bye to his friend Ogilvie, and as he sat thinking alone in his own room, with Oscar lying across the rug at his feet, his mind refused to be quieted. One picture after another presented itself to his imagination: the proud-souled enthusiast longing for the wild winter nights and the dark Atlantic seas; the pensive maiden, shuddering to hear the fierce story of Maclean of Lochbuy; the spoiled child, teasing her mamma and petting her canary; the wronged and weeping woman, her frame shaken with sobs, her hands clasped in despair; the artful and demure coquette, mocking her lover with her sentimental farewells. Which of them all was she? Which should he see in the morning? Or would she appear as some still more elusive vision, retreating before him as he advanced?
Had he asked himself, he would have said that these speculations were but the fruit of a natural curiosity. Why should he not be interested in finding out the real nature of this girl, whose acquaintance he had just made? It has been observed, however, that young gentlemen do not always betray this frantic devotion to pyschological inquiry when the subject of it, instead of being a fascinating maiden of twenty, is a homely-featured lady of fifty.
Time passed; another cigar was lit; the blue light outside was becoming silvery; and yet the problem remained unsolved. A fire of impatience and restlessness was burning in his heart; a din as of brazen instruments—what was the air the furious orchestra played?—was in his ears; sleep or rest was out of the question.