No, tempt me not—love’s sweetest flower Hath poison in its smile; Love only woos with dazzling power, To fetter hearts the while. I will not wear its rosy chain, Nor e’en its fragrance prove; I fear too much love’s silent pain— No, no! I will not love.

Through the cool and airy corridor, with its cabinets full of Sèvres
jars, Indian bowls, and sculptured marble busts—on one side the Marli
horses in full career crowning a buhl pedestal; on the other a bronze
Laocoon, with his two sons, in the coils of the brazen serpents—we
proceeded to the drawing-room, a merry and laughing party, for it was
impossible to resist the influence of a good dinner, good wines, and
jovial company.

On entering we found the ladies variously engaged. A graceful group was
about the piano; the Countess of Chillingham was half hidden in the soft
arms of a vast velvet chair, where she was playing indolently with her
fan, and watching her daughter; others were busy with books of
engravings, and some were laughing at the pencil sketches of a local
artist, who portrayed the wars of the Celts and Anglo-Saxons, and other
nude barbarians, while old Binns and two powdered lacqueys served the
tea and coffee on silver trays.

I had hoped to meet Lady Louisa’s eye on entering, but the first smile
that greeted me was the sweet one of Cora, who, approaching me, put her
plump little arm through mine, and said, half reproachfully and half
jestingly—

“How long you have lingered over that odious wine, and you have not been
here for six years, Newton. Think of that—for six years.”

“How many may elapse before I am here again? Do you reproach me, Cora?”
I was beginning, for her voice and smile were very alluring.

“Yes, very much,” she said, with playful severity.

“Your papa, my good uncle, is somewhat of a stickler for etiquette,
consequently I could not rise before the seniors; and then this is the
festive season of the year. But hush; Lady Louisa is about to sing, I
think.”

“A duet, too.”

“With whom?”

“Mr. Berkeley. They are always practising duets.”

“Always?”

“Yes; she dotes on music.”

“Ah, and he pretends to do so, too.”

Spreading her ample flounces over the carved walnut-wood piano stool,
Lady Louisa ran her white fingers rapidly and with some brilliancy of
execution—certainly with perfect confidence—over the keys of a sonorous
grand piano; while Berkeley stood near, with an air of considerable
affectation and satisfaction, to accompany her, his delicate hands being
cased in the tightest of straw-coloured kid gloves; and all the room
became hushed into well-bred silence, while they favoured us with the
famous duet by _Leonora_ and the _Conde di Luna_, “Vivra! Contende il
Guibilo.”

Berkeley acquitted himself pretty well; so well, that I regretted my own
_timbre_ tones. But I must confess to being enchanted while Louisa
sang; her voice was very seductive, and she had been admirably trained
by a good Italian master. I remained a silent listener, full of
admiration for her performance, and not a little for the contour of her
fine neck and snowy shoulders, from which her maize-coloured opera cloak
had fallen.

“Lady Loftus,” said Berkeley, “your touch upon the piano is like—like——”

“What, Mr. Berkeley? Now tax your imagination for a new compliment.”

“The fingers—haw—of a tenth muse.”

She uttered a merry laugh, and continued to run those fingers over the
keys.

“Homely style of thing, the baronet’s dinner,” I heard him whisper, as
he stooped over her, with a covert smile in his eyes.

“Ah, you prefer the continental mode we are adopting so successfully in
England?”

“The dinner _à la Russe_; exactly.”

“Ah, you will get dinners enough of that kind in the Crimea, more than
you may have appetite for,” she replied, with a manner so quiet, that it
was difficult to detect a little satire.

“Most likely,” drawled Berkeley, as he twirled his moustaches, without
seeing the retort to his bad taste; and then, without invitation, the
fair musician gave us a song or two from the “Trovatore;” till her
watchful mother advancing, contrived to end her performance, and,
greatly to my satisfaction, marched her into the outer drawing-room.

“Cora must sing something now,” said I; “her voice has long been strange
to me.”

“I cannot sing after Lady Loftus’s brilliant performance,” she said,
nervously and hurriedly. “Don’t ask me, pray, Newton, dear.”

“Nonsense! she shall sing us something. We were talking about snobbish
people in the other room,” said honest, old blundering Sir Nigel. “I
have observed it is a peculiarity of that style of society in Scotland
to banish alike national music and national songs. But such is not our
_rôle_ in Calderwood Glen. A few of our girls certainly attempt with
success such glorious airs as those we have just heard, or those from
“Roberto il Diavolo” and “Lucia;” but I have heard men, who might sing a
plain Scottish song fairly enough, and with credit, make absolute
maniacs of themselves by attempting to howl like _Edgardo_ in the
churchyard, or like _Manrico_ at the prison-gate—an affectation of
operatic excellence with which I have no patience.”

“To take out in fashion what we lose in genuine amusement and enthusiasm
is an English habit becoming more common in Scotland every day,” said
the general.

“So, Cora, darling, sing us one of our songs. Give Newton the old
ballad of ’The Thistle and the Rose.’ I am sure he has not heard it for
many a day.”

“Not since I was last under this roof, dear uncle,” said I.

This ballad was one of the memories of our childhood, and a great
favourite with the old Tory baronet; so I led Cora to the piano.

“It will sound so odd—so primitive, in fact—to these people, especially
after what we have heard, Newton,” she urged, in a whisper; “but then
papa is so obstinate.”

“But to please me, Cora.”

“To please you, Newton, I would do anything,” she replied, with a blush
and a happy smile.

I stood by her side while she sang a simple old ballad, that had been
taught her by my mother. The air was plaintive, and the words were
quaint. By whom they were written I know not, for they are neither to
be found in Allan Ramsay’s “Miscellany,” or any other book of Scottish
songs that I have seen. Cora sang with great sweetness, and her voice
awakened a flood of old memories and forgotten hopes and fears, with
many a boyish aspiration, for music, like perfume, can exert a wonderful
effect upon the imagination and on the memory.

THE THISTLE AND THE ROSE.

It was in old times,
When trees composed rhymes,
And flowers did with elegy flow;
In an old battle-field,
That fair flowers did yield,
A rose and a thistle did grow.

On a soft summer day,
The rose chanced to say,
“Friend thistle, I’ll with you be plain;
And if you’d simply be
But united to me,
You would ne’er be a thistle again.”

The thistle said, “My spears
Shield me from all fears,
While you quite unguarded remain;
And well, I suppose,
Though I were a rose,
I’d fain be a thistle again.”

“Dearest friend,” quoth the rose,
“You falsely suppose—
Bear witness ye flowers of the plain!—
You’d take so much pleasure
In beauty’s vast treasure,
You’d ne’er be a thistle again.”

The thistle, by guile,
Preferred the rose’s smile
To all the gay flowers of the plain;
She threw off her sharp spears,
Unarmed she appears—
And then were united the twain.

But one cold, stormy day,
While helpless she lay,
No longer could sorrow refrain;
She gave a deep moan,
And with many an “Ohone!
Alas for the days when a Stuart filled the throne—
OH! WERE I A THISTLE AGAIN!”

Sir Nigel clapped his hands in applause, and said to the M.P.—

“Lickspittal, my boy, I consider that an anti-centralization song—but,
of course, your sympathies and mine are widely apart.”

“It is decidedly behind the age, at all events,” said the member,
laughing.

“You have a delightful voice, Cora—soft and sweet as ever,” said I in
her ear.

“Thanks, Cora,” added Sir Nigel, patting her white shoulder with his
strong embrowned hand. “Newton seems quite enchanted; but you must not
seek to captivate our lancer.”

“Why may I not, papa?”

“Because, as Thackeray says, ’A lady who sets her heart on a lad in
uniform, must prepare to change lovers pretty quickly, or her life will
be but a sad one.’”

“You are always quoting Thackeray,” said Cora, with a little perceptible
shrug of her plump shoulders.

“Is such really the case, Mr. Norcliff?” asked Lady Louisa, who had
approached us; “are you gentlemen of the sword so heartless?”

“Nay, I trust that, in this instance, the author of ’Esmond’ rather
quizzes than libels the service,” said I. “How beautiful the
conservatory looks when lighted up,” I added, drawing back the crimson
velvet hangings that concealed the door, which stood invitingly open.

“Yes; there are some magnificent exotics here,” said the tall, pale
beauty, as she swept through, accompanied by Cora and myself.

I had hoped to have a single moment for a tête-à-tête with her; but in
vain, for the pertinacious Berkeley, with his slow, invariable saunter,
lounged in after us, and, with all the air of a privileged man, followed
us from flower to flower as we passed critically along, displaying much
vapid interest, and some ignorance alike of botany and floriculture.
Without the conservatory, the clear, starry sky of a Scottish winter
night arched its blue dome above the summits of the Lomonds; and within,
thanks to skill and hot-water pipes, were the yellow flowering cactus,
the golden Jobelia, the scarlet querena, the slender tendrils and blue
flowers of the liana, the oranges and grapes of the sunny tropics.

“What is that dangling from the vine branch overhead?” asked Lady
Louisa.

“Just above us?” said Cora, laughing, as she looked up with a charming
smile on her bright girlish face.

“Haw—mistletoe, by Jove!” exclaimed Berkeley, looking up too, with his
glass in his eye, and his hands in his pockets.

I am not usually a very timid fellow in matters appertaining to that
peculiar parasite; yet I must own that when I saw Lady Loftus, in all
the glory of her aristocratic loveliness, so pale and yet so dark, with
cousin Cora standing coquettishly by her side, under the gifted branch,
that my heart failed me, and its pulses fairly stood still.

“My privilege, cousin,” said I, and kissed Cora, as I might have done a
sister, ere she could draw back; and the usually laughing girl trembled,
and grew so deadly pale, that I surveyed her with surprise.

Lady Louisa hastily drew aside, as I bent over her hand, and barely
ventured to touch it with my lips; but judge of my rage and her hauteur
when my cool and sarcastic brother officer, Mr. Berkeley, came languidly
forward, and claiming what he termed “the privilege of the season,” ere
she could avoid it, somewhat brusquely pressed his well-moustached lip
to her cheek.

Though affecting to smile, she drew haughtily back, with her nether lip
quivering, and her black eyes sparkling dangerously.

“The season, as you term it, for these absurdities is over, Berkeley,”
said I, gravely. “Moreover, this house is not a casino, and that trophy
should have been removed by the gardener long since.”

I twitched down the branch, and tossed it into a corner. Berkeley only
uttered one of his quiet, almost noiseless, laughs, and, without being
in the least put out of countenance, made a species of pirouette on the
brass heels of his glazed boots, which brought him face to face with the
Countess, who at that moment came into the conservatory after her
daughter, whom she rarely permitted to go far beyond the range of her
eyeglass.

“Lady Chillingham,” said he, resolved at once to launch into
conversation, “have you heard the rumour that our friend, Lord Lucan, is
to command a brigade in the Army of the East?”

“I have heard that he is to command a division, Mr. Berkeley, but Lord
George Paget is to have a brigade,” replied the Countess, coldly and
precisely.

“Ah, Paget—haw—glad to hear it,” said he, as he passed loungingly away;
“he was an old chum of my father’s—haw—doocid glad.”

It was a weakness of Berkeley’s to talk thus; indeed, it was a common
mess-room joke with Wilford, Scriven, Studhome, and others of ours, to
bring the peerage on the _tapis_, at a certain hour of the evening, and
“trot him out;” but on hearing him speak thus of his father, who—honest
man—began life as a drayman, it was too much for me, and I fairly
laughed aloud.

The salute he had so daringly given Lady Loftus was to me a keen source
of jealous anger and annoyance, which I could neither readily forgive
nor forget, and had the old duelling fashion still been extant, the
penalty might have proved a dear one. I had the bitter consciousness
that she whose hand I had barely ventured to touch with a lip that
trembled with suppressed emotion had been brusquely saluted—-actually
kissed before my face—by one for whom I had rather more, if possible,
than a profound contempt.

What she thought of the episode I know not. A horror of what all
well-bred people deem a scene no doubt prevailed, for she took her
mother’s arm, and passed away, while Cora and I followed them.

Jealousy suggested that much must have passed between them prior to my
arrival, otherwise Berkeley, with all his assurance, dared not have
acted as he did. This supposition was to me a source of real torture
and mortification.

“When love steals into the nature,” says a writer, “day by day
infiltrating its sentiments, as it were, through every crevice of the
being, it will enlist every selfish trait into the service, so that he
who loves is half enamoured of himself; but where the passion comes with
the overwhelming force of a sudden conviction, when the whole heart is
captivated at once, self is forgotten, and the image of the loved one is
all that presents itself.”

Sleepless that night I lay, tormenting myself with the “trifles light as
air,” that to young men in my condition are “confirmations strong as
proofs of Holy Writ.”

At last I slept; but my dreams—those visions that come before the
sleeping mind and eye towards the hours of morning—were not of her I
loved, but of my pretty and playful cousin, fair-skinned and dark-haired
Cora Calderwood.

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