Page:Court Royal.djvu/160

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CHAPTER XXI.
HOME-THRUSTS.

The Marquess of Saltcombe sat in his pretty room of gold and peacock blue and green, in an easy-chair, holding a book in his hand, without reading it. On the table was a zither. Every now and then he put the book down and struck a few chords on the instrument, but he could not play a melody through. The zither demands much practice, and Lord Saltcombe could not or would not devote time to mastering the instrument.

At his side was a desk, open. He put his hand into one of the drawers, from which issued a scent of rose-leaves, and drew forth a red miniature case. He touched the spring, with a sigh, and exposed a portrait on ivory. The portrait represented a young and beautiful woman, with large lustrous dark eyes, full of dreamy idealism. The ivory lent the face a pearly whiteness, and gave brilliance to the coral of the lips. The painter had succeeded in giving to the countenance an expression of tender yearning, tinged with melancholy; it was one of those exquisitely expressive faces which is sometimes given by nature to angels, but sometimes also, in irony, to beings with little of heaven in their souls. The picture, as a work of art, was a masterpiece; the original, unless greatly idealised, must have been irresistible. The face combined in it the simplicity of the child and the earnest of an eager mind, the charm of perfect beauty and the promise of a gifted soul, liveliness and pathos blent together.

Lord Saltcombe looked long at the lovely picture, and his brow clouded. Then he closed the morocco case, laid it on his knee in his hand, and looked dreamily before him into space. The past rose before him, full of pleasure and of pain. Presently he sighed, put his hand to his brow, made a motion of again opening the case, refrained from doing so, and replaced it in the drawer of his desk, which he closed and locked.

He was removing the key from the lock, when Beavis came in.

Lord Saltcombe was sufficiently man of the world to have control over his features. Every trace of his late sadness departed, and his face cleared to meet Beavis’ eye. No one would