Tina, the Little Lacemaker: The Story Begins

Tina , the Little Lacemaker

by Mrs. George Sheldon

This story was published in 1910 by A. L. Burt Publishers. A friend gave me the book, one he’d found in a box of books he’d bought at an auction. I thought it would be fun to serialize it for the PLG newsletter, so the whole group can enjoy it. I’m not going to tell you how it all comes out – you’ll just have to keep reading the future installments!

“A lady to see Monsieur La Fort”
Monsieur La Fort, proprietor of a thriving lace manufactory on Rue St. Honore, Brussels, looked up from his desk of ebony inlaid with pearl, as the door to his luxurious office swung open, and the boy made the above announcement, and then stood aside for a young girl to pass in.
Monsieur saw, with a slight start of surprise, the loveliest face in the world-a face that flushed slightly as he bent his earnest, curious gaze upon it; and the least haughty uplifting of the small, shapely head, with its bright, waving brown hair, warned him that though the lady was both young and unattended, a circumstance which he did not fail to observe, she did not lack spirit or independence to carry her through an interview with him, or, indeed, with any one. However imposing his presence or surroundings might be.
The lace manufacturer’s first expression had been one of annoyance at the interruption, for he had been busily engaged considering an important order; but his brow involuntarily relaxed as he met those brown eyes looking so gravely and calmly into his; as he marked the sweet mouth, around whose delicate lips, bright as a maple-leaf after its first frost-kiss, there played the least tremulousness of anxiety; as he noted the white, graceful throat with its knot of pale pink fastening the neat collar, and which lent a tinge of color to the round, smooth cheek; the straight, slender figure in its closely fitting garments of a dark cloth, and the small, shapely hands, with their neatly fitting gloves, that matched her dress with characteristic French exactness.
The gallant Frenchman arose with alacrity from his velvet chair, and came forward with a bow such as only a Frenchman knows ho to make.
“How can I serve mademoiselle?” he asked politely.
“Monsieur has need of help in his lace factory-I seek employment,” was the response in clear sweet tones, while the tint deepened upon the maiden’s cheek, as she pointed to an advertisement in the paper which she carried in her hand.
“Mon Dieu! I was sure she was some aristocrat come to give an order” monsieur mentally ejaculated, while his suave bearing underwent a sudden change.
The smile faded from his face, and though the look of admiration did not die out of his eyes, as they still rested on the girl’s beautiful countenance, yet the pompous manner with which he received her application plainly indicated that there was a vast difference in his estimation between one suing for a favor and one giving an order for his expensive laces.
“Um! Yes, we need help; but we wish only experienced help. Do you understand lace-making?” monsieur responded, with a doubtful glance at her daintily gloved hands.
“I have made lace since childhood. Will monsieur examine some of my work?” and the girl extended her wrist, around which was gathered a ruffle of soft fine lace of a graceful, delicate pattern.
Monsieur La Fort reached out his white hand and took hers, ostensibly to examine the pretty trifle, but with a familiarity that brought the rich blood surging into the fair face before him.
She drew back from him with a haughty gesture.
“Perhaps monsieur can examine this more to his satisfaction,” she said drawing from one of the pockets of her jacket a bewitching little handkerchief edged with Valenciennes.
The manufacturer’s white teeth gleamed in a smile that was a trifle sinister at the act, but he took the dainty fabric and examined the edge critically.
It was very fine, and a lovely pattern.
“Did you make this?” he asked, in a tone of surprise, and bending a searching glance upon her.
“Yes, monsieur,” was the brief, somewhat cold response.
“Where were you taught?”
“In my own home, monsieur.”
“Ah, mademoiselle’s mother, perhaps, was a lacemaker, and you were brought up to it?” remarked the inquisitive manufacturer.
Mademoiselle made no reply, and neither her manner nor bearing was favorable to further questioning, as she stood awaiting his decision regarding her work.
Monsieur La Fort flushed at this silent rebuff, but his tone was a trifle more respectful as he continued:
“Mademoiselle will please give me her name.”
The young girl gravely drew forth her purse –a pretty and expensive trifle, her observer thought
for one craving employment-and, taking a card from it, placed it in his hand.”
“Cards! Mon Dieu!” the manufacturer again mentally ejaculated, with arching eyebrows, “our pretty applicant assumes the airs of les grande dames.”
But he read, written in a delicate, flowing hand, the name- “Netina Florienz.”
“A pretty name for the pretty maid,” soliloquized monsieur, as his eyes traveled from that bit of pasteboard to the sweet face before him, and then back again, while he turned the question, whether to engage her or not, over in his mind.
Absently he turned the card over, and saw these words written on the back of it:
“MARIE:–Pray let me come to you. I can now explain everything satisfactorily.
“Tina! Ah, that is sweeter yet!” he thought, and again his eyes sought the beautiful face opposite him.
He was startled at the change he saw there.
The young girl had grown suddenly white as a snow-drift, while her brown eyes were fixed with a frightened look upon the words he had just been reading.
“Pardon, monsieur,” she said, in trembling tones, as she reached out her hand and took the card from him. “I was not aware that anything was written upon the card.”
With one quick glance she took in the simple words, and heaved a sigh of relief as she saw the apparently insignificant sentence penciled there.
But Monsieur La Fort had made a note of her emotion; it told him that she had something to conceal.
“There us a mystery here,” he thought; “this pretty one, with the manner of a queen, with her lovely face, her pure French and cultivated language, is not what she would appear. It is a puzzle that I must solve.
“You are Mademoiselle Florienz, then,” he said, and referring with a look to her card again.
She bowed assent.
“Your residence?” he questioned.
“At present in Brussels.”
Monsieur La Fort smiled at her reply. It told him nothing.
“Your lace is very fine, the threads are evenly laid,” he continued, after a moment’s thought,
and returning her handkerchief, which he noticed, emitted a faint odor of heliotrope. “We need help, as I have said; but it must be experienced help. Will you come into the work-room and show me how well you can handle the bobbins? One of our women is absent, and I will test your ability at her pillow.”
Mademoiselle Florienz bowed assent, while a little smile of amusement twinkled in her eyes, and dimpled the corners of her mouth. She was conscious of her ability to perform, and there was no reluctance in her manner as he asked her to prove what she could do.
She drew off her gloves preparatory to accompanying the manufacturer to the work-room, and the quick-sighted individual remarked that her hands were dainty as a queen’s-white and soft, with no mark or stain of labor on them, while the finger-tips were round and smooth, and pink like the heart of a sea-shell.
At this moment the door opened again, and in darted a small, shriveled, queer-looking creature, like a gust of wind from some northern mountain.
She was old and wrinkled, sunburned and freckled, as if she was accustomed to being out in all kinds of weather, while she was clad in the plainest and oldest-fashioned garments imaginable.
She did not see Mademoiselle Florienz at first, but dashed up to Monsieur La Fort, and said in shrill, rapid tones:
“Well, you told me not to come again for a week, but the work’s done, and I cannot be idle; I must have more,” and she unfolded several meters of coarse lace from a napkin as she spoke.
“Ah madam, you will flood the market, if you work at this rate,” monsieur responded, making a wry face, as he examined her work.
“Who cares, so that the poor fools who like such trumpery get it, and I have money for making it?” she answered, sharply, while her keen eyes watched him narrowly, as he measured off the lace meter by meter.
“But you will break me, madam, at this rate. I shall not have money enough to pay you,” laughed her employer, who evidently enjoyed chaffing her. “But you will break me, madam, at this rate. I shall not have money enough to pay you,” laughed her employer, who evidently enjoyed chaffing her.
“Never fear,” she retorted, “there is no danger of ‘breaking’ a man who loves gold as you love it.”
Monsieur colored at this shaft, but retaliated: “Do you talk to me about loving gold? Why Madame Beza, your own coffers must be overflowing by this time.”
“How do you know?” she demanded, harshly.
“Why, just think how much you earn, and I have never known of your spending a whole franc at one time, during all the years that you have worked for me.”
“Hush!” she said, authoritatively; then glancing round as if fearful some one might have heard, she discovered Tina who had stood in the background listening to the above dialogue, with a good deal of surprise and no small amount of interest.
“Who are you?” Madam Beza demanded sharply, as she ran her quick glance in an instant from the top of Tina’s pretty brown head to the toe of her small boot.
“Only a poor girl who is seeking employment, like yourself, madam,” she replied, respectfully, while her eyes rested kindly upon the unattractive face confronting her.
Madam Beza’s look softened; then she came closer, and peered curiously into the young girl’s countenance.
Something there seemed to hold her spell-bound for a moment; then the tears gathered slowly in her eyes and rolled over her wrinkled cheeks.
“A poor girl seeking employment,” she repeated after her, adding: “Child, you are too pretty to be working for your living. I’m sorry for you-you look like some one whom I used to know. what’s your name?”
“Tina Florienz,” the girl answered, simply, and wondering to see her so moved.
The old woman shook her head, as if disappointed that there was no familiar sound in the name.
“I never knew any one by that name,” she said sadly, “but you are the only young person who has spoken so kindly to me this many a year. If you ever need a friend come to Madam Beza, No. 15 Rue Delphine.”
Monsieur La Fort interrupted her with a loud laugh.
“Madam Beza-the female miser-anybody’s friend,” he said in derision.
“Why not?” she demanded, turning fiercely upon him, her features hardening again. “I’ll wager I’ve more friends now than you, monsieur, with all your boasted wealth; and I’m not always bragging to my left hand of what my right hand does either.”
“No only when you come to me with all this lace, which, I begin to think, the witches help you to make,” he answered, good-humoredly.
“Well what if they do, so that your work is done, and well done? But give me my due, and I’ll be off-I’ve no time to waste in useless tattle with you.”
“What do I owe you?”
“Just twenty francs, monsieur.”
“So much!” he exclaimed.
“So much!” she repeated, mockingly. “You know as well as I that no one ever gets a centime too much out of your close pockets, Monsieur La Fort.”
“There, that is all right,” she added, after she had counted the money, which he dropped into her bony hand piece by piece. “Now, I’ll go to Madame Fouchard for more thread and I’ll bring you a dozen meters more one week from to-day.
She turned to leave the room, and encountered Tina’s gaze again.
“You do not laugh at the queer old woman,” she said abruptly, and pausing before her.
”Why should I laugh, madam?” Tina asked, gently.
“I don’t know why, but they all do, there isn’t a girl in Monsieur la Fort’s shop but makes sport of Barbara Beza. I suppose they think I am cracked, and don’t mind, but the Lord has put everybody’s heart in the same place, and my skin isn’t any thicker than any one else’s, if it isn’t the same color. But old Barbara’s your friend from this time, pretty one, if you choose to make her such,” and with these words the strange creature turned and disappeared.

As soon as the door closed after her, Monsieur La Fort turned to Tina with a light laugh.
“Madame Beza is the greatest natural curiosity in Brussels,” he said. “She has lived here for years, and worked for me for the last ten-no one can make this coarse lace so rapidly or so well as she, with those skinny, yellow fingers of hers. But no one knows any more about her than they did the first day she made her appearance here. She comes when one least expects her, and disappears as suddenly, and is always short, sharp, and crusty. She lives by herself, and no one has ever been inside her house to my knowledge, and she has worn the same garments ever since I knew her.”
“She must be very lonely to be so friendless,” Tina said in a tone of pity.
“Friends! She does not need or want them-she is sufficient unto herself,” monsieur said, shortly, adding: “Come, we will go to the work-room now.”
They passed out of the office into the hall, by which Tina had entered
Turning to the right, Monsieur la Fort led her the length of it, passing on their way an open court, in the midst of which a fountain was playing, and which was surrounded, outside the marble pavement that inclosed it, with palms, ferns, and beautiful blowers in full bloom, while here and there were rustic chairs and tiny tables.
Tina turned eagerly at the sound of the cool waters splashing musically as they fell into the marble basin, and her eyes lingered longingly on the pretty place, while a sigh escaped her lips, as if the sight reminded her of something sad and painful.
Passing on, her companion opened another door, and conducted her into a room in which there were at least fifty girls and women at work. Monsieur La Fort led her to an unoccupied table.
Upon it there was a cushion, to which was attached a piece of parchment, with the pattern of the lace to a wrought traced upon it. Pins were stuck through this into the cushion and around these, following the lines of the pattern,, the filmy threads, wound upon their numerous bobbins, were carried.
“this is quite an intricate pattern, mademoiselle; do you think you can do anything so difficult?” monsieur asked, pointing to the cushion from which about a meter of lovely lace was hanging.
Tina bent forward to examine it more carefully.
“Yes, monsieur,” she answered, quietly.
“will you let me see you weave a little?” he asked courteously.
Something about the fair girl seemed to compel him to address her differently from what he was in the habit of speaking to most of those in his employ.
Tina sat down before the work, a bright flush on her cheek, as she realized that every eye in the room was fixed upon her with eager curiosity.
She gathered some of the bobbins up in her white fingers, and began plying them dexterously back and forth, her every movement full of grace, while monsieur stood by watching her, a look of admiration and deep interest in his eyes.
Suddenly she stopped in her work, bent lower over the cushion, then reaching over she took up the end of the lace that was finished, and examined it carefully.
“Is the pattern to intricate for you?” asked monsieur.
“No, monsieur; but there is a defect in it,” she answered.
“A defect! How so?” he demanded, with a scowl.
Letting the lace slip through her fingers, she touched here and there places where the threads had not been crossed as they should have been around the pins.
“Monsieur will observe,” Tina said, pointing at the pattern, “that here there was a mistake in putting in the pins, and it has made a break all along in the lace. It is not very much, but a critical observer would discover the flaw at once.”
“that is so,” the manufacturer replied, sternly and then beckoned authoritatively to a woman at the opposite side of the room, and who seemed to have the general supervision of the lace-makers.
She responded at once to his gesture, all smiles and suavity.
“How is this, Madame Fouchard? There is a defect in this patter,” Monsieur La Fort said, in an angry tone.
“No; monsieur is mistaken; there is no defect; the pattern is all right,” madam returned, soothingly, but with assurance.
“I tell you there is a defect,” her employer returned, excitedly, “and you are very careless not to have discovered it. Here is more that a meter of fine lace spoiled. The pattern is for Monsieur Jacques, one of my best customers. Who set up this pattern?”
“Monsieur knows that I set up all the difficult patterns, and that I make no mistakes,” asserted Madame Fouchard, confidently, but with an injured air, while her eyes rested somewhat anxiously upon the piece of lace under discussion.
“Well you have made one this time, at all events. See! Here, and there, all along the piece, and that fool of a girl did not know any better than to goon making it, while you have overlooked it. What will we do with it? It is ruined,” and monsieur was very much excited, while madam’s face was also blank with dismay.
“Pardon, but will monsieur tell me how many meters are ordered of this pattern?” Tina here interposed.
“How many meters, madam?” thundered the enraged manufacturer.
“Six, monsieur,” she answered, sullenly.
It did not please her to have this storm break over her head in the presence of a stranger, and of one to whom she began to suspect she was indebted for it.
“Then the defect can be remedied with very little trouble and expense,” Tina said, flushing beneath the woman’s lowering glance.
“How?” monsieur asked, eagerly.
“See, the work is only wrong in this chain of forget-me-nots just in the center of each of the deep scallops. Let a bit of needle-point be inserted there-a tiny knot, as if it were intended; or a couple of inverted leaves-wait, I will show you what I mean,” Tina said, her bright face all alive with interest, and drawing at the same time a card and pencil from her pocket.
With a few strokes she drew the chain of forget-me-nots, inserting the tiny knot of which she had spoken at the point where the mistake had been made, and then passed the card to the amazed lace manufacturer.
Who was this delicate, refined girl, who spoke such pure French, who wrote such a fair, beautiful hand, and who could design patterns for lace-making at a moment” notice, like this?
She became more of a mystery to him every moment.
“Yes, it can be done,” he said, slowly, after carefully examining the design.
“Monsieur will observe it makes the pattern more unique-it breaks the sameness of the chain-it will be richer, and doubtless more acceptable to Monsieur Jacques. It will cost but a trifle, and-and monsieur-really the mistake will prove, after all, a good thing.”
Tina said this eagerly, and turned at the same time with a kind smile to the forewoman, who was still writhing beneath her master’s censure.
She pitied her, and hoped thus to turn the blame from her.
But Madame Fouchard only scowled angrily upon her in return. She was beginning to be jealous of her, and to fear for her own laurels.
“Can you design a knot that will be in proportion to the pattern, and not look as if it were a patch?” asked the manufacturer, somewhat doubtfully.
If she could do it, his beautiful expensive lace would be saved, and made even more elegant than before.
“I will try, monsieur,” Tina answered, with a quiet smile dimpling her pretty cheeks.
She bent her eyes searchingly for a moment upon the lace; then, with her pencil, drew a tiny, graceful knot, and passed it to him.
His face lighted as he saw it.
He turned and gave it to Madame Fouchard, saying authoritatively:
“Count the blunders in this piece of work, make an estimate of how many more there would be if it had been finished as it was begun; take this design to Jeannette, and order her to make the desired number in needle-point, and then see that they are all carefully inserted before the lace goes to Monsieur Jacques.”
Madame bowed assent to his terse commands, and turned abruptly away with a very red face to execute them.
“Are you used to this kind of work?” Monsieur La Fort asked, turning, with a smooth brow and a pleasant smile, to Tina.
“Designing? Oh, yes, I have made many patterns.”
“Have you them with you?”
“No, monsieur.”
“who taught you?”
Tina shrugged her graceful shoulders t this query.
“Ah, monsieur, it is but pastime to me! I see a charming thing in nature, and it has to creep out on paper at my fingers. I love the flowers, the vines, the trees, the birds-everything beautiful, and I must copy them.
The eager light in her eyes, the flush on her cheeks, and the enthusiasm of her manner, told the great lace manufacturer that she was a heaven-born artist, and that she would be invaluable to him in his business.
His resolve was taken-he would secure her service. He had designers to whom he was obliged to pay a ;high price, because he would have his own private pattern.
This girl was poor, doubtless, or she would not be seeking employment. She would not, of course expect the wages of a professional designer, and he would save a small fortune out of her, if she proved what he hoped.
” Will you bring me some of your designs and allow me to examine them?” he asked.
Tina flushed, and cast down her eyes.
“It would be inconvenient; they are not in Brussels. I did not bring them,” she began with some confusion.
The, lifting her head proudly, she added, with a quiet self-possession:
“But, monsieur, I will make you a design in half an hour; something just to show you what I can do.”
“I will try you. Come,” he answered , and he led her from the room, while both were oblivious of the sinister glances which followed them from Madame Fouchard’s snapping eyes.
“I will go in here, if monsieur pleases,” Tina said, as they were about passing the open court before referred to, and which she had noticed with such wistful glances.
“Here are flowers, ferns, and grasses-yonder is a butterfly hovering over a lily, and soon I will give you something both pretty and unique,” she added, entering the court and glancing round with a smile of pleasure.
“Mademoiselle shall do as she pleases,” Monsieur La Fort said, watching her with a beating heart.
She was so pretty, so bright and graceful and withal so simple and unassuming in manner, that he was fast losing both head and heart.
“Sit here,” he said, drawing a light chair to a small table in the most attractive corner of the room, “and I will bring you parchment, pen and ink from the office.”
Tina glided to the seat offered her, sat down and took off her hat, revealing to better advantage her small, finely shaped head, with its wealth of waving brown hair, and the marvelously white forehead above her shining eyes and straight, dark brows.
“The sweetest picture I’ve seen in all my life,” thought the manufacturer, as his glance lingered upon her sitting there among the vines and flowers. “I’ll engage her at any rate, first for the sake of the charm of her presence s,” and then he went for the parchment.
Monsieur La Fort was forty, and the gray threads among his dark locks could not be easily numbered. He had never been in love with anybody or anything in all his life, save himself and his well-filled pocketbook; but his case was becoming critical now-very!

The lace manufacturer on re-entering his office found customers awaiting him, a circumstance which for the first time during his whole business career nettled him, and caused him to give expression to an exclamation of impatience.
He, however, called his office boy, by whom he dispatched the necessary materials to Tina for her designing, and then turned his attention to the strangers-two gentlemen, who having heard of his rare laces, had come to examine and purchase some of them.
He led them into the salesroom, which adjoined the office, where, inviting them to be seated by the velvet-covered table, he began to spread his treasures before them.
Only one of the gentlemen, however, appeared desirous of purchasing.
The other, after passing an indifferent glance over the filmy nothings, arose and strolled listlessly about the room.
The salesroom of Monsieur La Fort was a large apartment running the whole width of the house. It was very handsomely furnished and well lighted by four windows, two overlooking the street, and two opposite, opening into the court, where our fair designer, Tina, was sitting at her work.
While Henri Beauhamais turned over Monsieur La Fort’s rich laces, trying in vain to decide upon something to buy, his friend was making a tour of the room. He passed an glanced out of the windows looking upon the street, but saw nothing there to attract his attention. The Rue St. Honore was a very quiet street, through which there was comparatively little passing, except when aristocratic people came to purchase monsieur’s costly fabrics.

He slowly turned away, paced the length of the room, parted the lace curtains from one of the opposite windows, and looked out, expecting to see nothing there; but he stopped as if suddenly spell-bound, and stood within the shadow of the draperies apparently oblivious of all that was transpiring about him. This was the picture that held him there, and which he never forgot during all the years of his life: An open court, surrounded on every side with choice vines and tropical plants, interspersed with many brilliant-hued blossoms, while a fountain of marble and crystal threw a glittering jet of water high into the air. Among the vines and ferns in one corner there sat a slender, graceful figure, bending low over a table, upon which lay a piece of parchment, while her white hand glided over it with a n ease and grace which to say the least was simply fascinating to the young man looking upon the scene. The face of the maiden was the fairest he had ever seen, while the bright, eager eyes, the flushed cheek, and the parted crimson lips, plainly bespoke the absorbing interest she felt in her work.
“Ernest, come here, and help me select a shawl for Olive,” suddenly called out Henri Beauhamais, with an impatient glance at the motionless figure by the window.
The young man started guiltily and flushed.
“Nonsense, Henri,” he returned, after a moment. “I know nothing about laces, and your offerings to your fair sister will surely be scorned, if you depend upon my judgment in selecting them.”
“Then come here and take lessons from my experience, that you may know how to buy for yourself when you have that duty to perform,” replied his friend, who was determined to secure his attention, if possible.
“I do not imagine that my duties in that direction will ever be very onerous,” indifferently responded he who had been addressed as Ernest, and without removing from his post.
At his instant Tina lifted her bright head perching it daintily upon one side, like some graceful bird, and taking up the parchment upon which she had been so busily engaged, held it off at a little distance to mark the effect of the delicate tracery thereon.
A smile of pleasure broke over her face; her red lips parted, just disclosing the tips of her white teeth, while her eyes were filled with delight over her achievement.
“By Jove! What a face! Delicate and beautiful as that of the Venus de Medici; and a hand fit for the model of Michael Angelo, were he living. There isn’t a beauty in the royal court of Belgium, nor of England, either, that can compare with her,” muttered the young man at the window to himself, as he watched this pretty pantomime.
There must have been some magnetism in his glance, for, without the slightest change in her attitude, or warning, Tina’s eyes were slowly raised until they rested full upon that handsome face looking out upon her.
He had never seen just such eyes before.
They were large and full , and when raised like this had an earnest, searching gravity in them that thrilled him until he fairly trembled.
Man of the world though he was, and accustomed to mingle with the most celebrated beauties of his own country and of foreign lands he had never been so moved by any one before.
What “silver link”-what “silken tie”-held them thus eye to eye, spell-bound, fascinated, as it were, until each lost all sense of time or place-of everything but the presence of the other?
The young girl was the first to recover herself.
The rich blood began to mantle her face; a troubled, startled look leaped into her eyes, and suddenly warned the young stranger of his rudeness, unconscious though it had been.
He bowed gravely and deferentially; then, dropping the curtains over the window, he reluctantly turned away and went back to his companion’s side.
“What has interested you so deeply outside, Ernest?” Henry Beauharnais asked, as he folded a costly fichu of point and laid it upon the top of a pile of other laces.
“Interested ? did I appear interested” was the evasive query.
“Interested or stupid; I never saw such a muff as you are about this finery,” was the impatient rejoinder.
“Thank you,” the young man said, absently.
His companion laughed.
“Old fellow, what has come over you? I know you did not want to accompany me, but the time will come when you will wish you had given better attention while I bought these,” Henri said, pointing to his pile of costly nothings.
“yes,” he continued, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, “the day will come when a certain fair lady whom I know will be asking you to purchase these same articles for her.”
“I think I shall allow the ‘certain fair lady.’ Whoever she ,may be, to make her own purchase in that line.”
“Whoever she may be?” repeated his friend, mockingly, and with a light laugh, “judging from the events of the past fortnight, I imagine it would not be very difficult to point her out. I fear the beautiful Lady Viola Alford would not feel complimented by the forced indifference that you have manifested today.”
Ernest Holborn-who, by the way, was a young English Lord-laughed lightly, although he colored a trifle at the imputation of his friend, while his eyes involuntarily wandered again to the window at which he had been standing a few moments before.
Through the lace curtains he could trace the outline of the graceful figure still sitting there, but now bending low over her work, and he wondered if he should ever in the future meet the fair girl, and how.
The purchases of Henri Beauharnais were at last completed, and having received his change from the bland and smiling Monsieur La Fort, who did not often find a readier customer, the two young men took their departure.
As they were passing through monsieur’s office Ernest Holborn, impelled by some impulse for which he could not account, stooped and picked up a card from the carpet, reading as he did so, the name of “Netina Florienz,” written upon it in a delicate hand.
Monsieur La Fort, observing the act remarked with a smile, as he held out his hand for the card:
“Ah, the card of a new applicant for employment! I must have dropped it.”
“Indeed!” his lordship said, appearing not to see the extended hand, and examining the card more closely. “Is not the writing remarkably delicate for one who is obliged to toil for a living?”
“Perhaps,” the lace manufacturer returned; “but this is an exceptional case. Mademoiselle has the touch of a fairy in her fingers, and if monsieur will return at no distant day it will five me pleasure to show him some of her designs,” concluded the voluble Frenchman with an eye to business.
“Ah!” Lord Holborn said to himself, “doubtless that was the pretty designer whom I saw in the court.
“Thanks! He remarked aloud, experiencing a deep ad sudden interest in the art of lace-making. “Your laces are very elegant, monsieur. I will recommend them to my mother and sister, who, doubtless, will give you an early call, as they will be in the city in a few days. Perhaps you will allow me to visit your factory and see how your laces are made?”
“With pleasure,” smiled the delighted Frenchman, as he bowed the young men out; yet his eyes lingered wistfully upon the card which Lord Holborn still retained. But he would not risk giving offense to a future customer by asking for it, the key to a mystery which he might some day wish to unravel.

Tina’s wonderful skill in designing as well as lace-making so won the admiration of Monsieur La Fort that he was anxious to secure her services. He told her that he would give her five francs a day; but she refused this offer, saying that her work was certainly worth double that sum. After much parleying, La Fort reluctantly engaged her at ten francs a day.
It was decided that she was to live at a pension, a boarding-house connected with the factory.
When these arrangements had been concluded in Monsieur La Fort’s office, he told her of an important order he had received for some wedding finery, explained what would be required, and asked if she thought she could design something that would do him honor and meet the requirements of his customer.
“I will try, monsieur,” Tina said simply. “I will make you a design in miniature, and if you should approve, I can easily enlarge upon it.”
“That is good, mademoiselle-you shall go to work at once: here, you shall sit by this window in my own private office, where no one shall interrupt pr disturb you,” and the eager proprietor wheeled a chair to a large table by a window, while his eyes glanced admiringly over the girl’s supple figure, and lingered upon her fair face. It would be pleasant for him to see her there.
Mademoiselle Florienz caught the look, and her lithe figure straightened, her small head assumed a haughty poise, and the glance she bestowed upon him in return seemed to make him suddenly dwindle into insignificance-figuratively speaking-before her.
“Will monsieur tell me for whom the designs are to be made?” Tina asked as he brought pens, ink and paper to her, adding: ”Knowing something of the person might suggest ideas to me.”
“Certainly-mademoiselle can know. The wedding veil and flounce are for her royal highness, the Princess Marie Charlotte,” monsieur replied.
“The princess-Marie Charlotte?” repeated Tina mechanically, every particle of color receding from her cheeks at the name, while she caught hold of the table as if for support.
“Yes, the young princess, who is to marry Maximilian, the Arch-duke of Austria,” Monsieur La Fort replied, with his keen eyes fixed upon the white face before him, while he noted the painful quiver of her lips, the tears that leaped involuntarily to her beautiful eyes, and the violent trembling-amounting almost to a shudder-that shook her slight frame, and which she was struggling hard to overcome.
“Is Mademoiselle Florienze ill?” The lace manufacturer asked, in a tone of concern.
“No, I am not ill,” Tina answered, briefly, and turning away from his searching gaze with something like a gesture of impatience.
“Aha! la belle is not what she would appear-la petite stranger has some secret which she is striving to guard well,” thought the manufacture; “but that secret shall be mine also ere many weeks have passed. Those white perfect hands, that aristocratic face and proud bearing do not belong to the life she is leading and it shall go hard with me if I do not fathom the mystery. Meantime I must make the most of my opportunity.
“Will mademoiselle be comfortable here? Will the light be sufficient?” he asked kindly, as he raised the curtain higher.
“Thanks, Monsieur, yes I shall do very well,” she answered, as she removed her jacket and hat, and laid them one side.
With that painful quiver and a grieved expression still hovering about her lips, she sat down by the table, took up her pen, and drew the parchment before her. But when a few moments later, monsieur left the room, and all necessity for restraint was removed, she bowed her bright head upon the table with a sob of pain.
It was only for a moment, however; she seemed to realize that it would not do to lose her self-possession and she sat suddenly upright and struggled for composure
But something had evidently moved her deeply, for her chest heaved, and her heart beat with great, heavy throbs, that made the color come and go in her face with startling rapidity.
She took up her pen, dipped it in the ink, and held it suspended above the parchment, but her hand trembled so that she knew it would be useless for her to attempt to begin her work until she was calmer.
Laying it aside again, she pushed back her chair, arose, and walked rapidly up and down the room.
The door leading to the salesroom was open, and as she passed it, she involuntarily glanced within.
There was no one there, for monsieur himself usually waited upon his customers; but something attracted Tina’s eye as she paused in her walk-something bright and glittering, that lay just inside the lace curtains of one of the windows which overlooked the court, where she had sat while making the design for monsieur.
She stepped within and picked it up, feeling assured that it was some bauble belonging to him who had so recently been standing there and watching her so intently become detached from a gentleman’s watch-chain.
It was a beautiful onyx set in finely wrought gold, and surrounded with small diamonds, while in the center was a monogram composed of the initials E.H. Turning it over, the young girl say a coat-of-arms, representing a dove bearing an olive branch in its beak, with a laurel wreath above.
A bright blush dyed Tina’s fair face, and something like a thrill pervaded her as she remembered that handsome face looking out upon her, with that earnest admiring glance in the eyes which had held her spell-bound only a little while before.
“It must belong to him; what shall I do with it?” she murmured to herself, while the glittering thing lying in her hand seemed almost like a link between her and the attractive stranger.
But she heard monsieur coming through the hall, and she stole softly back to her chair, the costly jewel clasped tightly in her hand, feeling half-guilty of some wrong, yet with an unaccountable aversion to mentioning her discovery to the lace manufacturer.
Monsieur entered, saw the bright head bowed intently over the parchment, sat down to his desk without disturbing her, and after waiting half an hour in silence called his office boy, and, giving him several letters, said:
“Take these to the post, then go to the Hotel de Europe, and get a list of the recent arrivals.”
The boy took the letters, bowed, and withdrew.
Half an hour later he returned and gave a folded paper to his master.
Monsieur unfolded it, and ran his eyes quickly over the names written there.
“This must be the name that I want,” he said aloud; “it is the only English one among them. It sounds well, too-Ernest, Viscount of Holborn, Herefordshire, England. Now for a catalogue to his lordship to remind him to bring his lady mother and sister.”
Monsieur folded and addressed one of his handsomely illustrated catalogues, and dispatched it forthwith to the above address.

“Ernest Holborn, an English lord!” quoth the listening, brown-eyed Tina to herself, while a quiet little smile of satisfaction played around her red lips. “That is the address that I want, too, I imagine; but it will be best to make sure.
“What did monsieur observe?” she asked, glancing over her shoulder, as if she thought he was speaking to her.
“Nothing, mademoiselle; I was but repeating the name of a gentleman who was here an hour ago, and who is to come again soon,’ replied the unsuspicious manufacturer.
Tina nodded her bright head reflectively.
“He is English, I am sure; there can be no mistake. Besides, the initials are the same.”
A short time after, when she was alone again, she drew from her pocket a small box, from which she took two beautiful rings, which she carefully put into her purse. In their place she laid the costly seal which she had found, and wrapping it in a sheet of letter paper that she took from monsieur’s desk, she wrote upon it in her delicate hand, Lord Holborn’s name and address.
When the day began to fade, and she could no longer see to work upon her design, she stole out, and seeking the nearest express office, dispatched her little package to its destination, breathing a hearty wish that it might reach its owner in safety; while as she let it go an unaccountable feeling of sadness crept over her and she wondered if she would ever see him or look into those magnetic eyes again.
Then she went back to make her first appearance at the table among the other occupants of Monsieur La Fort’s pension.
The morning following the incidents just related, while Earnest, Lord Holborn, was sitting over his breakfast with his friend, Count Henri Beauhamais, a servant came to him, bringing a tiny package upon a salver.
“What may this dainty thing be?” his lordship said, as he took it, a look half-surprise, half-curiosity upon his face.
Then, as he instantly recognized that delicate tracery upon the wrapper, as identical with that upon the card that he had picked up in Monsieur La Fort’s office the day before, the blood tingled to his very finger-tips, and leaped to the roots of his dark hair.
He tore it open, wondering what it could contain, and lo!-There lay his seal-a highly prised gift from his mother. He had only that morning discovered his loss. He held it out to his friend with a smile of pleasure.
“I never thought to see it again,” he said.
“Who has found it? Who has returned it?” questioned the count.
“There is no message, no name-nothing to tell me who the finder was,” Ernest Holborn replied, examining the wrapper with rising color; and yet in his own mind he was convinced that he was indebted to no other than the lovely girl in whom he had been so deeply interested the day before.
“Doubtless, it dropped from my chain while we were at the lace manufactory yesterday’” he added, ”and some one has expressed it to me from there.”
“But it is addressed in a lady’s hand, and such a pretty hand, too, upon my word,” returned his friend reaching out and taking the paper from him.
“It was doubtless directed by monsieur’s orders, by some one in his employ,” said the young lord.
“But how would any one know that you were the loser?” persisted Count Beauhamais, with a puzzled look.
“My initials and coat-of-arms are engraven on the seal,” responded Lord Holborn, who was also puzzled by the same question.
“But I did not introduce you, how should they know you, or where to send it?”
“We will not trouble ourselves as to the ’how’ of the matter so long as I have the seal once more,” Ernest replied, with more indifference than he really felt, while he refastened the trinket in its place upon his chain. But for several days the incident was not absent from his mind, while he, too. strove to solve the mystery of its having been sent to its proper destination.
Meanwhile, Tina was busily engaged upon her designs for the royal finery, and they grew and blossomed into such beauty that the lace manufacturer could scarcely contain his delight and exultation.
He decided that Tina should direct and control the operatives in the working of her own designs. This plan virtually displaced Madame Fouchard, as far as Tina’s designs were concerned, and of course, the older employee was highly indignant. She remonstrated with Monsieur La Fort, and threatened to give up her position. This threat, however, proved of no force whatever; therefore Madame Fouchard reconsidered her determination, and concluded to remain. She solaced herself by vowing vengeance against the unsuspecting Tina.

In a luxurious room of one of the imperial palaces of Belgium, there sat, one day, a few weeks before the opening of our story, two maidens, engaged in an excited and bitter controversy.
Both were apparently of the same age, although there was really three years difference in the date of their birth- one being sixteen, the other nineteen.
One was a bright, beautiful girl, whose every movement was full of grace and vivacity; although at this time her face was overcast with sadness and anxiety, while her eyes were suffused with tears.
Her companion, on the other hand, was rather plain, and just now, with the expression of anger and jealousy upon her face, she was absolutely repulsive.
“I tell you,” she cried, to the fair girl opposite her “you are just as treacherous as you can be. He never would have bestowed upon you this munificent gift if you had not worked upon his feelings, and artfully wound and insinuated yourself into his favor. Perhaps you are trying to supersede me in his regard-perhaps you even aspire to become his grace’s bride-you!” and the scornful laugh which accompanied this bitter sentence brought the bright color in a sudden wave to the fair face of her listener.
“Marie, how can you wrong me so?” the elder girl returned, gently, yet with dignity; “you well know that his grace feels only a friendly interest in me upon your account, and, perhaps, for the slight favor which it befell me to render him. Indeed, I had given you the credit of having confided to him my orphanage and state of dependence, and had even suggested the nature of the gift.”
“Not I, for I have long seen through your arts; you have seized every opportunity to put yourself in his way, and have practiced your airs and graces upon him, as you do upon every one, until, if this thing goes on, he will soon give me-his betrothed-the cold shoulder. Are you not ashamed of yourself-you, who, but for the generosity of others would be an outcast and a beggar?” passionately retorted the enraged girl.
“I am a gentlewoman, your ladyship, and with some of the proudest blood of the land in my veins, as you very well know,” quietly returned the maiden who had been so abused.
“Ha, ha! Granted on your mother’s side; but what of your father, my would-be lady?” retorted the Princess Marie Charlotte, for the angry, bitter words which we have recorded proceeded from no other than she; and it was in her boudoir-a charming room, all furnished in blue and silver, in King Leopold’s summer palace-that this conversation occurred.
“It is true,” she resumed, after pausing to take breath, for she was extremely excited, “that you are the child of my mother the queen’s, cousin-her most intimate and dearly beloved friend; but who, to her sorrow, disgraced herself, while residing in Florence, by eloping with an unknown artist. You have been told all the incidents of that disgraceful escapade, but I do not wish you to forget either them or yourself. Where is your gratitude for the past, that you should turn against me and try to steal my lover from me?-where is your sense of honor that you wrong me thus?”
The elder girl-who was known at the court of Belgium as the Lady Althea Demaire-a distant relative and protegee of the queen-arose at those last bitter words, and gliding to the side of the princess, knelt upon an ottoman there.
Laying one white hand gently upon her shoulder, she said, pleadingly:
“Marie, you and I have loved each other too fondly during the years that we have lived together, to quarrel and be at enmity during this, the last one that we shall probably ever spend in each other’s society. What has come over you?-you are not wont to be so unjust, so unkind! Never before have you taunted me with the unhappy mystery surrounding my birth. But you are excited, and I will not mind it, dear; only I pray you let nothing come between us now. I declare to you that I have had no thought of wrong in my heart toward you-that I have never dreamed of striving to usurp your place in the favor of his grace, the Arch-duke of Austria. How could you imagine such a thing?”
“I have not imagined it,” interrupted the princess sullenly.
“Hear me out, dear , please,” returned the Lady Althea gently, “I have rejoiced with you over your promising future, and that your hand had been solicited of the king by one so noble and worthy as the duke, and I have prayed-I do pray daily-for your happiness. Dearest Marie, believe me, and let us be at peace.”
“At Peace!” was the bitter reply; “you are trying to cheat me even now, with your soft glances and your smoothly spoken words;” and the young princess shrugged that white hand rudely from her shoulder.
“I know you are false to me,” she resumed, but avoiding those sweet, reproachful eyes; “yes, to me but for whom, since my royal mother’s death, you would have been homeless and alone in the world and now your treachery-“
“Marie, I swear-“
“You need not swear; for I have the evidence of my own eyes. I saw you engaged in earnest, private conversation with his grace, the duke, at the entrance to the witches’ grotto last night.”
The Lady Althea colored, and a slight start betrayed the surprise that this information caused her.
“Yes, we did stop for a moment before the grotto last night, but only for a moment; we had been to see the illumination of the palm-house with some of the royal guests, as you know, and on our way back we lingered to look at the fountain-“
“To look at the fountain!” interrupted the princess with a scornful laugh.
“Yes, it was very pretty with the colored lights from the palm-house shining on it,” Lady Althea replied, quietly, although the deepening flush upon her cheek betrayed that she was not wholly at her ease.
“Do you suppose that I believe this absurd story, Althea Demaire? I was in the witches’ grotto when you paused before it with your noble escort last night,” said the young princess, bending toward her companion, her eye s ablaze with anger.
“You, Marie,” cried the girl at her side, with a startled look; “ but you sent me word, when I dispatched a servant to ask you to accompany us, that you were unable to go out into the evening air.”
“That is very true; but my recovery was very rapid when I saw you leave the palace accompanied by my lover-why does he always seek you when I am out of sight? I stole out- I followed you, and hid in the witches’ grotto until your return. I heard his grace speak to you of his gift, asking you to accept it as a slight token of his appreciation of the great service you had rendered him and for the favor which you were yet to grant him. I heard him, too, charge you that it should remain a secret from me. Have I not the right to believe you false, treacherous, double-tongued, when you will meet my lover in secret, and connive against me? What is this secret between you two? I demand it of you now, and unless you are the cheat and coquette that I believe you, you will tell me what it means.”
“Marie, this is very unfortunate-I am sorry that you should be so annoyed and disturbed when there is no occasion,” the Lady Althea said, regretfully. “His grace did confide a harmless little secret to me, and I would gladly relieve your mind regarding it, but I have pledged my word to him, and I do not feel at liberty to tell you what he requested me not to reveal.”
“Then I denounce you as a traitress,” began the exasperated princess, who was fast losing all control over herself.
She was naturally kind-hearted and generous, and she had always dearly loved this beautiful girl, whom she now so unjustly abused. But she possessed a passionate and jealous temperament, which had not been improved by unlimited indulgence, and this had now been aroused beyond all reason, by the belief that the lovely Lady Althea was winning the regard of her royal lover away from her.
“Don’t, Marie,” the maiden interrupted, in a deeply pained tone; “believe me, dear, there is no wrong intended you-you will know all in time. I entreat, let nothing disturb our friendship.”
“Then tell me-I command you,” was the imperious reply.
“And break my word!” Althea Demarie said, a grave surprise in her uplifted eyes.
The princess colored.
Truthfulness and honor were virtues that had been strenuously impressed upon every member of King Leopold’s household.
“What right have you to share a secret with my betrothed?” she demanded, and evading her companion’s glance.
“None, if it was a secret in which there was even a shadow of wrong,” the maiden returned, adding: “And since this is likely to prove so disastrous to our mutual peace, I will go at once to the duke and ask him to release me from my promise; then I will come and tell you all, Marie.”
She half arose from the ottoman, where she had been kneeling, as she spoke, as if to put her word into execution. But the princess seized her rudely by the arm.
“Never!” she cried, fiercely; “do you suppose I wish him to think that I am jealous of you? It is a very little thing that I ask of you, and if there is no harm in what you know, there can be none in your telling it to clear yourself from my suspicions.”
“I cannot tell you, Marie, without first consulting the duke,” the lovely girl said, firmly but sadly, though she winces with pain from the rude grasp upon her arm.
“Then leave my presence and never enter it again,” she commanded haughtily. “I forbid you ever to address me again until you will tell me.”
“It cannot be that your royal highness really means the words that you utter?” Lady Althea returned, growing very pale, and speaking with a sharp pain in her voice.
“There is but one alternative-you can choose.”
“I cannot compromise my truth and my honor.”
“Then I withdraw my favor and friendship from you, from this time forth,” the princess answered, coldly, adding, as she pointed toward the door:
“Go! My trust, my confidence in you has departed.”
“Marie, you are unjust,” pleaded Lady Althea, with quivering lips and heaving bosom, as she arose from the ottoman.
“And you are untrue,” was the cruel retort.
“I am not untrue,” the fair girl said, proudly, drawing herself to her full height, her eyes meeting those of the princess unfalteringly, while a vivid scarlet sprang into her cheeks. “I am not untrue; I have never wronged you by so much as a single thought, and some day you will realize it and repent of your injustice to me.”
She turned as she spoke, and walked proudly across the room.
As her white hand swept aside the portiere, she turned again, with a beseeching glance in her dark eyes.
“Do you relent?” demanded the young princess, who was closely watching her movement.
“I cannot, Marie.”
“Then do not forget that you are under sentence of banishment. Do not look at me, do not speak to me, do not come to me, until you will tell me what I wish to know.”
The Lady Althea bowed and moved on, the draperies fell softly between her and the angry princess, the door opened and closed, and then her royal highness, finding herself alone, threw herself back in her chair and gave vent to her feelings in a passionate burst of tears.

After leaving the room of the young princess, the Lady Althea stood thoughtfully outside for a few moments. Then lifting her head with an air of resolution, she swept onward through the lofty corridor, down the grand staircase, and through the grand hall below, to the great library of the palace.
It was a magnificent room, its vaulted ceiling frescoed in richest designs and colors, and furnished in olive brown and gold; while its ebony book-cases reaching from floor to arching roof, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl and gold, were filled with elegantly bound books of every description.
Here, in a luxurious chair, deeply engrossed by a popular review, sat a fine-looking young man of apparently twenty-five years.
Lady Althea’s sad face lighted a trifle as she saw him, and she crossed the room with rapid steps, going directly to his side.
The young duke-for it was he-looked up at her approach with a smile of pleasure.
He arose and bowed, as she stopped, a few paces from him, and then, as he saw by her troubled face that something had grieved her, he respectfully waited for her to speak.
“My lord duke,” she began with averted eyes and scarlet cheeks, “I have come to ask you to release me from the agreement which I made with you last evening. I find that circumstances will not admit my keeping it.”
“Ah, you cannot accompany me to assist in the selection of suitable jewels as a gift to my royal betrothed!” the young duke said, with a smile, yet wondering at her embarrassment, and what circumstances had combined to prevent her from keeping the engagement that she had made.
Lady Althea bowed.
“So be it, then, fair lady,” he said, lightly, as if to reassure her. “I shall be obliged to grant your request if such be your desire; but I shall deeply regret not being able to avail myself of your faultless taste and judgement in the matter. Do not be disturbed,” he added, half-laughing, as he feared she was over-sensitive at being obliged to refuse what he had asked, “I absolve you from all your vows.”
“Thanks, your grace!” she said looking up now, and giving him a bright look, as if her mind was greatly relieved, :and allow me to suggest that the Marchioness of Earlescliff has exquisite taste and rare judgement in the selection of jewels.”
“Your suggestions shall not go unheeded, my lady; the services of the marchioness shall be secured if possible,” he answered, while he searched her lovely face, for he had discovered the little quiver about her lips; he had noted the slight sparkling eyes. “Will you be seated?” he asked, pointing to the chair from which he had just risen.
“Thanks, no,” she answered, with the constraint still in her tones. “I have some writing to do, if your grace will excuse me.”
She made him a graceful obeisance and then retired from the room.
The young duke’s face clouded as she disappeared.
“The beautiful Lady Althea is in trouble, I fear; if she would but confide in me, I should delight to do her service. I can never repay her for the gift of my life, which but for her would have been destroyed, and I cut off from the earth at the very beginning of my career.”
The event to which he referred, and which had so aroused his gratitude and esteem for the fair Lady Althea Demaire, was this:
A small party from the royal household had been, one day, to visit some noted ruins a few miles from the palace.
They were on horseback, and when about to return they were overtaken by a heavy shower, and they sought refuge in a small hostelry of a village near by.
Night came on, and the storm raged unabated.
The duke, who was among the party, and who was suffering from a violent headache, brought on by the electricity in the atmosphere, proposed that they should send a servant back to the palace to relieve all fears on their account , and remain where they were until morning.
The proposition was favorably received, and the party, feeling somewhat forlorn in the cheerless place, retired early to court sleep and escape the noise and din of the elements.
All save Lady Althea, who, always exhilarated by a thunder-storm, remained below alone in the small parlor of the inn, where, extinguishing the candles, she sat down by a window to watch the lightening.
A couple of hours later, as she was proceeding to her room, she was startled by the smell and sight of smoke issuing from that occupied by his grace, the duke.
Half of the door was composed of glass, across which a curtain of some crimson stuff had been hung.
This was in flames!
Without a thought, save that the life of the duke was in danger, she dashed her hands against the glass, broke it into atoms, and tearing the curtain from its place, drew it forth and trampled out the flames with her feet.
The noise of the breaking glass aroused the household and the royal guests, who hastened from their rooms to discover the cause of the disturbance.
The tableau which met their astonished gaze was, to say the least, striking, and one not easily to be forgotten.
The beautiful girl stood in the midst of the hall, her face and lips as colorless as marble, a frightened but determined expression in her eyes, her hands cut and bleeding from their violent contact with the broken glass, but all unheeded in their eagerness to trample to death the fire-fiend that had threatened all their lives.
The curtain had probably been ignited by the candle of a careless servant, who half-dazed by the unexpected presence of royalty, had attended the duke to his chamber.
No further damage was done, but his grace’s room was filled with smoke, and he declared that but for the Lady Althea and her presence of mind he should have probably been smothered to death, for he had taken a powerful anodyne to quiet his nerves and aching head, and in a little while it would have been too late to save him.
“You have saved my life, Lady Althea,” he had said taking her bleeding hands and wrapping then in his fine handkerchief, while his voice trembled with suppressed feelings. “Every drop of this blood shed for me will be a burden on my heart while I live. I cannot be too grateful to you.”
And the Lady Althea looked up into his eyes, her own shining like two stars from excitement, and though her nerves were strained to their utmost tension, she gave a clear, sweet laugh, full of graceful joy.
“It is nothing,” she said, merely glancing at her hands; “they will soon heal and they have performed a deed for which I shall never need to blush.”
“I should say not,” returned the duke, feelingly, and bending to touch them with his lips.
And thus having learned something of the history of the beautiful girl-that she was an orphan and a dependent, although she had been reared in the household of the king, and almost upon an equal footing with the young princess-he had felt privileged to make out a deed to her and ask her acceptance of a lovely little villa upon the banks of the Rhine, together with a handsome annuity that would render her independent during the remainder of her life.
After leaving the presence of the duke, the Lady Althea slowly reascended the stairs, passing through the upper hall with bent head and thoughtful mein until she reached her own apartments.
Entering, she walked to the center-table, picked up a card which was lying there, and drawing a jeweled pencil from her pocket, hastily wrote something upon it. She then rang her bell.
“Take this to her royal highness, the princess,” she said to the servant who appeared in answer to her summons as she handed him a small golden salver with the card upon it.
The man bowed low and retired.
He returned ere five minutes had elapsed, and replacing the slaver upon the table, the card undisturbed upon it, he said: “Her royal highness is engaged, and can admit no one at present.”
“Did she not read the message?” Lady Althea asked pointing to the card.
“No, my lady; she simply glanced at it and remarked that her mind-her commands were unchanged.”
Lady Althea’s beautiful lips quivered slightly at this reply, but she motioned to the servant to retire, and when she was once more alone she bowed her bright head upon the table and gave way unrestrained to her grief.
Half an hour passed, and there was no sound but the low sobbing and long-drawn sighs in that lofty and elegant room.
At length the maiden grew more composed, and rising, went to a window, pushed aside the rich draperies, and looked out.
The daylight was beginning to fade and it would soon be dark.
A sad, wistful look came into those dark eyes gazing out upon the varied landscape-upon the beautiful surrounding of the palace, the lofty and picturesque hills beyond, and the broad river, that she could discern among the heavy foliage, and which under the soft gray of the sky seemed like a sheet of silver.
“There remains nothing else for me to do,” she murmured, with a sobbing sigh, then turning quickly away from the fair scene without, as if the sight was too much for her, she passed into a room beyond, where she hastily exchanged her silken robes and filmy laces for darker and simpler clothing.
That evening a company assembled in the grand salon of the palace, but the beautiful Lady Althea-she who had always been the life of the household-was not among them, and many inquiries as to the cause of her absence.
“She is indisposed,” briefly explained the Princess Marie, when questioned upon the subject, while she cast a suspicious, resentful glance at the duke, her betrothed, who was standing a short distance from her, beside on the magnificent Sevres vases that were placed on either side of the archway leading into an antechamber.
He noted the glance, marked the cold, hard tomes of her voice, and remembering his recent interview with Lady althea, her sadness and embarrassment, and her strange request, he instantly drew his own conclusions regarding the matter.
The princess had doubtless observed that he had sought her out several times of late, and realizing the vast difference in their personal appearance, feared that his regard might be won from her, and becoming jealous, had perhaps unjustly censured the lovely girl for what she was in no way to blame.
Later in the evening he approached the princess as she sat by the marble fire-place, which at this season was always a mass of flowers artistically arranged.
“Will your royal highness promenade with me in the great hall for a while?” he asked, bowing respectfully before her, and speaking with his most winning smile.
She instantly arose and placed her hand upon his arm, and the royal couple passed quietly from the room.
“I trust the Lady althea is not seriously indisposed,” the arch-duke remarked, after they had taken one or two turns through the hall, and conversed upon indifferent topics, while as he spoke he bent a searching glance upon his companion’s face.
The princess’ brow darkened, and her lip curled instantly.
“Not so seriously but that she will survive, I imagine,” she answered, ungraciously.
“I tryst that her ladyship has done nothing to incur your royal highness’ displeasure,” the duke pursued, quietly.
“My displeasure! In what way?” the princess said, in assumed surprise.
“In no way, I hope,” he answered, with his frank smile, that disarmed her again immediately.
Then he added: “By the way, perhaps I should have mentioned to your highness that I have solicited the assistance and advice of the Lady Althea in a delicate little matter, about which I am very particular.”
As he concluded, his eyes dropped critically to the hand that rested upon his arm, as if he were taking the dimensions of its small fingers.
The young princess started.
In an instant she comprehended everything.
It was her own betrothal gift that he referred to, and which he had asked Althea to help him select, knowing her faultless taste and judgement, and also that she would best understand what would please her.
This was the innocent little secret that she had tried ruthlessly to wrest from her, and which every feeling of her sensitive nature revolted against betraying, until the duke should have the pleasure of putting into her own hands his gift.
How cruel and unjust she had been to her!
How coarsely and heartlessly she had taunted her with her misfortune, her dependence, and her poverty, and driven on by her excitable temper and jealousy, of seeking to win the regard of her noble lover away from her.
She was covered with shame and confusion, and tortured with remorse for what she had done and said.
She dearly loved her beautiful relative-they had , as the Lady Althea said, grown up together in confidence and affections, and although there was something of a my

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