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[-373-]

CHAPTER CXXII.

A CHANGE OF FORTUNE.

IT was about three o'clock in the afternoon that the Earl of Warrington alighted from his horse at the door of Mrs. Arlington's residence in Dover Street.
    Giving his horse in charge to his mounted groom, the nobleman entered the dwelling.
    The Enchantress received him in the drawing- room; but, to her surprise, the air of the earl was cold and formal.
    He seated himself in a chair at a distance from the sofa which Diana occupied; and for some moments he uttered not a word.
    A sentiment of pride prevented her from saying anything to elicit an explanation of his ceremonial manner, because she was not aware that she was guilty of a fault meriting such treatment.
    At length that silence, most embarrassing to both, was broken by the earl.
    "Diana," he said, "we must separate. You have conducted yourself in a manner that has made me the laughing-stock of all who know me."
    "My lord!" exclaimed Diana, perfectly astonished at this accusation; "you must have been misinformed; or you are bantering me."
    "Neither the one nor the other," replied the earl.
    "You may probably conceive whether I am inclined to jest, when I state that your kind consideration towards Sir Rupert Harborough has reached my ears."
    "Indeed, my lord!" cried Diana. "I do not attempt to deny that I forwarded, anonymously, to Sir Rupert Harborough a sum of money to extricate him from a fearful embarrasment."
    "It would be unmanly in me to do more than remind you whence came that money which you could afford to fling away upon an unprincipled profligate," said the Earl of Warrington; "at the same time, you cannot suppose that it is pleasant to my feelings to learn that the world makes itself merry at my expense."
    "Your lordship is aware that I am the last person in existence to do aught to occasion you the slightest uneasiness. Perhaps I was wrong —"
    "You cannot, with your good sense, think otherwise. But let us not dispute upon the point: the thing is done, and cannot be recalled; but its effect is fatal to our connexion."
    "Your lordship does not mean —"
    "I mean that we must separate, Diana," interrupted the nobleman, firmly.
    "Is my fault irreparable in your eyes ?" asked the Enchantress, tears trickling down her cheeks.
    "No man can endure ridicule - and I am particularly sensitive in that respect."
    "But where did you learn that such was the result of my foolish kindness," said Diana, almost bewildered by the suddenness with which this blow had come upon her.
    "I will give you every explanation you require, as in duty bound," replied the earl. "Captain Fitzhardinge, an officer in the Grenadier Guards, is an acquaintance of mine. He is a visitor at the house of Sir Rupert Harborough; and last evening Lady Cecilia Harborough told him what she called a capital anecdote of how she had cheated her husband out of a thousand pounds. Then, it appears, they laughed heartily at this excellent joke; and Lady Cecilia proceeded to inform him that she had discovered whence the handsome subsidy emanated. She concluded, in terms more galling then polite, by ridiculing the Earl of Warrington, who was foolish enough to supply Mrs. Arlington so munificently with money, that she was enabled to spare some for her ancient lovers. You have asked me for the plain truth, and I have told it, as Captain Fitzhardinge stated it to me."
    "And thus a trivial indiscretion on my part has created all this mischief," sobbed the Enchantress.
    "You have acted most unwisely, Diana: I will not go so far as to say that you must have had some particular motive in forwarding that money to one who  —"
    "Heaven knows the purity of my motive!" exclaimed Diana, wiping away her tears, and glancing proudly towards the nobleman.
    "The world will scarcely admit that purity of motive in such a case was possible. Consider the inferences that must be drawn  —"
    "And do you, my lord, believe that any unworthy reason of that kind led me to assist Sir Rupert Harborough ?" demanded the Enchantress.
    "If I may judge by your outward conduct towards me, I should give a decided negative in reply to your question. But we should no longer be happy in each other's society, while the least ground for unpleasant suspicions existed. We will, then, separate - but separate as good friends."
    "Be it so, my lord," said Diana, the flush of in-[-374-]jured pride dyeing her cheeks, while she conquered the emotions that rose in her bosom.
    "The lease of this house, and everything it contains, are yours," continued the earl, after a moment's pause: "in this pocket-book there is a cheque  —"
    "No, my lord," interrupted Diana; "your bounty has already done much for me - more than you seem to think I have deserved: I cannot accept another favour at your lordship's hands."
    The Earl of Warrington was struck by this answer, which proved that his mistress was not selfish; and for a few moments he was upon the point of making overtures for a reconciliation.
    But the dread of ridicule - the fear of being laughed at as a man who kept a mistress for the benefit of others - the horror of being made the laughing-stock of all the rakes and demireps in London, smothered the lenient feelings that had awoke in his breast.
    "You refuse to accept this token of my friendship, Diana ?" he said.
    "I must beg most respectfully to decline it, my lord - with fervent gratitude, nevertheless, for your generosity."
    Again the earl wavered.
    He looked at that beautiful woman who had been so charming and fascinating a companion,-who had advised him as a faithful friend in various matters upon which he had consulted her, - and who, to all appearance, had conducted herself so well towards him, save in this one instance ; - he gazed upon her for a few moments, and his stern resolves melted rapidly away.
    "Diana, he said, "we  —"
    At that moment the sounds of voices in the street caused him to turn his head towards the window; and he perceived Captain Fitzhardinge and another gentleman riding by on horseback.
    They were laughing heartily, and gazing towards the house.
    The Earl of Warrington's sensitive mind instantly suggested to him the idea that the anecdote of the thousand pounds was being again retailed, and most probably accompanied by the intimation that that was, the house of the complaisant Earl of Warrington's mistress!
   
The Enchantress, with that keen perception that characterises woman, had seen all that was passing in the earl's mind, - had observed him waver twice, and had felt convinced on the second occasion that he would court a reconciliation.
    But when these voices and that hearty laughter from the street fell upon her ears, and when she saw the blood rush to the earl's countenance as he glanced in that direction, she knew that all was over.
    The earl rose and said, "Give me your hand, Diana: we will part, as I said, good friends; and remember that I shall always be ready to serve you. Farewell!"
    "Farewell, my lord," returned Mrs. Arlington, extending her hand, which the nobleman pressed with lingering tenderness.
    Then, afraid of another accesc of weakness, the Earl of Warrington wrung her hand warmly, and precipitated himself from the room.
    The Enchantress hurried to the window, concealed herself behind the curtain, and watched him as he mounted his horse to depart.
    He did not glance once upwards to the window: perhaps he knew that she was there!
    And yet her pride prompted her to conceal herself in that manner.
    When he was out of sight, she threw herself upon the sofa and wept.
    "Oh! if I had but said one word when his hand pressed mine," she exclaimed, "I might still have retained him! He is gone ! - my best, my only friend!"
    But Diana was not a woman to give way to grief for any length of time. She possessed great mental fortitude, which, though subdued for a short space, soon rose predominant over this cruel affliction.
    Then she began to reflect upon her position. She had a house beautifully furnished; and she possessed a considerable sum of ready money. She had therefore no disquietude for the present, and but a little apprehension for the future; for she knew that her personal beauty and mental qualifications would soon bring another lover to her feet.
    But she seriously thought of renouncing the species of life to which she had for some years been devoted: she longed to live independently and respectably.
    In this frame of mind she passed the remainder of the day, pondering upon a variety of plans in accordance with her new desire.
    She retired early to rest; but, not feeling an inclination to sleep, she amused herself with a book. The candle stood upon a table by the side of the bed; and Diana, luxuriously propped up by the downy pillows, culled the choicest flowers from Byron's miscellaneous poetic wreath.
    An hour elapsed; and at length she grew sleepy. The book fell from her hand, and her eyelids closed.
    Then she remembered no more until she was suddenly aroused by a sensation of acute pain she started up, and found the bed enveloped in flames.
    She sprang upon the floor; but her night dress was on fire : - she threw herself on the carpet, and rolled over and over in terrible agony, piercing screams issuing from her lips.
    Those screams were echoed by loud cries of "Fire!" from the street, and then there was a rush of footsteps upon the stairs.
    The door of the chamber was forced open, and Diana was caught up in the arms of a policeman, who had effected an entry to the house through the ground-floor windows.
    She was carried in a state of insensibility down into the parlour, where a cloak was hastily thrown over her, and she was conveyed to a neighbouring hotel. Fortunately a medical man was passing at the moment; and he tendered his aid.
    Meantime the fire spread with astonishing rapidity. The servants were extricated from the burning pile; but little property was saved.
    A considerable time elapsed before the engines arrived; and when they did reach the spot, an adequate supply of water could not be procured, as the springs were ice-bound by the frost.
    An immense crowd collected in the street; and all was bustle or curiosity.
    The broad red flames shot upward with a roar like that of a furnace: the scene for a good distance round was as light as noon-day; and the heavens immediately above appeared to be on fire.
    At one time the neighbouring houses were endangered; but suddenly the roof of the burning tenement fell in with a terrific crash; and then the conflagration seemed smothered.
    But in few minutes the flame shot upwards once more; and another hour elapsed ere it was completely subdued.
    The newspapers announced next morning that [-375-] Mrs. Arlington's property was not insured, and that the lady herself lay in a most precarious state at the hotel to which she been conveyed.

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