Nothing on earth is so pleasant as being a little in love; nothing on earth so destructive as being too much so; and as Cecil, in the idle enjoyment of the former gentle luxury, flirted with his liege lady that night; lying back in the softest of lounging-chairs, with his dark, dreamy, handsome eyes looking all the eloquence in the world, and his head drooped till his mustaches were almost touching her laces, his Queen of Beauty listened with charmed interest, and to look at him he might have been praying after the poet:
How is it under our
To love or not to love?
In real truth he was gently murmuring:
“Such a pity that you missed to-day! Hounds found directly; three of the fastest things I ever knew, one after another; you should have seen the ‘little ladies’ head him just above the Gorse! Three hares crossed us and a fresh fox; some of the pack broke away after the new scent, but old Bluebell, your pet, held on like death, and most of them kept after her—you had your doubts about Silver Trumpet’s shoulders; they’re not the thing, perhaps, but she ran beautifully all day, and didn’t show a symptom of rioting.”
Cecil could, when needed, do the Musset and Meredith style of thing to perfection, but on the whole he preferred love a la mode; it is so much easier and less exhausting to tell your mistress of a ringing run, or a close finish, than to turn perpetual periods on the luster of her eyes, and the eternity of your devotion.
Nor did it at all interfere with the sincerity of his worship that the Zu-Zu was at the prettiest little box in the world, in the neighborhood of Market Harborough, which he had taken for her, and had been at the meet that day in her little toy trap, with its pair of snowy ponies and its bright blue liveries that drove so desperately through his finances, and had ridden his hunter Maraschino with immense dash and spirit for a young lady who had never done anything but pirouette till the last six months, and a total and headlong disregard of “purlers” very reckless in a white-skinned, bright-eyed, illiterate, avaricious little beauty, whose face was her fortune; and who most assuredly would have been adored no single moment longer, had she scarred her fair, tinted cheek with the blackthorn, or started as a heroine with a broken nose like Fielding’s cherished Amelia. The Zu-Zu might rage, might sulk, might even swear all sorts of naughty Mabille oaths, most villainously pronounced, at the ascendancy of her haughty, unapproachable patrician rival—she did do all these things—but Bertie would not have been the consummate tactician, the perfect flirt, the skilled and steeled campaigner in the boudoirs that he was, if he had not been equal to the delicate task of managing both the peeress and the ballet-dancer with inimitable ability; even when they placed him in the seemingly difficult dilemma of meeting them both, with twenty yards between them, on the neutral ground of the gathering to see the Pytchley or the Tailby throw off—a task he had achieved with victorious brilliance more than once already this season.