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VERONICA
BY THE AUTHOR OF " AUNT MARGARET'S TROUBLE."
IN FIVE BOOKS.
BOOK III.
CHAPTER VIII. CATCHING AT A STRAW.

DURING the first three weeks of his stay
at Naples, Sir John Gale appeared to be
better than he had been for a long time
previous. He did not pay many visits, but
he received a considerable number of guests
twice a week. The guests were chiefly
gentlemen, but a few ladies came also.

Veronica's magnificent toilets were criticised
by the women, and her striking beauty
discussed by the men. She received homage
and flattery enough to satisfy even her
appetite for such tribute. She drove out daily
in an elegant equipage. She had servants
at her command. Her vanity and indolence
were ministered to as assiduously as though
she had been the most pampered sultana
who ever dyed her fingers with henna. But
although these things did afford her real
delight at moments, they utterly failed to
make her happy. A ceaseless under-current
of anxiety ran through her life. She passed
hours of suffering from unspeakable
apprehension of evils to come.

Her pain of mind spurred her on to pursue
the one object she had in view, with a
courage and energy which she wondered
at herself. The prospect of humiliation,
exposure, and contempt, in lieu of homage,
flattery, and envy, was unbearable. It
roused in her a passion of terror: and
passion is powerful.

The strange indisposition which had so
suddenly seized Sir John at the Villa Chiari,
had suggested to her the thought that he
might die suddenly. For a time, that
anxiety was appeased by the improvement
in his health after they first reached Naples:
it was appeased, but still it lived.

Her feelings towards him underwent
strange revulsions. Sometimes she told
herself that she hated him with all her
heart; at other times she clung to him from
the sheer necessity of having some human
creature to cling to. She was unable to
live solitarily self-sustained, and there were
moments when she would rather have been
reviled in anger than made to feel that she
was an object of indifference.

But, to Sir John at least, she was not
the latter. She occupied more of his
thoughts than she was aware of. He had
not forgotten the look of intelligence he
had seen on its way from Veronica's eyes
to Barletti's. He often thought of it:
especially as he got better, and had leisure to
direct some of his private meditations
towards other objects than himself.

When he thought of that look, Sir John
was jealous: jealous not so much with the
jealousy of Love, as with the jealousy of
Power. He would have been jealous of
Paul, if he had suspected him of diverting
any of the attentions due to his master, into
another channel. It was not displeasing
to Sir John that Barletti should admire
Veronica. Sir John liked that everything
belonging to him should be admired. It
amused him to see Veronica play off her
pretty airs on the prince, and treat him
with an alternation of condescending smiles,
and stares of cold hauteur. But that look
he had intercepted, implied no playing off
of pretty airs: it expressed a confidential
understanding, appeal, and reliance.

Veronica had been so perfectly prudent,
that it was difficult for Sir John to
conjecture what opportunity there could have
been for the establishment of anything like
a confidence between her and Barletti. She

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