"How much more of this nonsense must we endure?" said Lucian, audibly, as Cashel stopped for breath. Cashel turned and looked at him.
"By Jove!" whispered Lord Worthington to his companion, "that fellow had better be careful. I wish he would hold his tongue."
"You think it's nonsense, do you?" said Cashel, after a pause. Then he raised one of the candles, and illuminated a picture that hung on the wall, "Look at that picture," he said. "You see that fellow in armor—St. George and the dragon, or whatever he may be. He's jumped down from his horse to fight the other fellow—that one with his head in a big helmet, whose horse has tumbled. The lady in the gallery is half crazy with anxiety for St. George; and well she may be. THERE'S a posture for a man to fight in! His weight isn't resting on his legs; one touch of a child's finger would upset him. Look at his neck craned out in front of him, and his face as flat as a full moon towards his man, as if he was inviting him to shut up both his eyes with one blow. You can all see that he's as weak and nervous as a cat, and that he doesn't know how to fight. And why does he give you that idea? Just because he's all strain and stretch; because he isn't at his ease; because he carries the weight of his body as foolishly as one of the ladies here would carry a hod of bricks; because he isn't safe, steady, and light on his pins, as he would be if he could forget himself for a minute, and leave his body to find its proper balance of its own accord. If the painter of that picture had known his business he would never have sent his man up to the scratch in such a figure and condition as that. But you can see with one eye that he didn't understand—I won't say the principles of fighting, but the universal principles that I've told you of, that ease and strength, effort and weakness, go together. Now," added Cashel, again addressing Lucian; "do you still think that notion of mine nonsense?" And he smacked his lips with satisfaction; for his criticism of the picture had produced a marked sensation, and he did not know that this was due to the fact that the painter, Mr. Adrian Herbert, was present.
Lucian tried to ignore the question; but he found it impossible to ignore the questioner. "Since you have set the example of expressing opinions without regard to considerations of common courtesy," he said, shortly, "I may say that your theory, if it can be called one, is manifestly absurd."
Cashel, apparently unruffled, but with more deliberation of manner than before, looked about him as if in search of a fresh illustration. His glance finally rested on the lecturer's seat, a capacious crimson damask arm-chair that stood unoccupied at some distance behind Lucian.
"I see you're no judge of a picture," said he, good-humoredly, putting down the candle, and stepping in front of Lucian. who regarded him haughtily, and did not budge. "But just look at it in this way. Suppose you wanted to hit me the most punishing blow you possibly could. What would you do? Why, according to your own notion, you'd make a great effort. 'The more effort the more force,' you'd say to yourself. 'I'll smash him even if I burst myself in doing it.' And what would happen then? You'd only cut me and make me angry, besides exhausting all your strength at one gasp. Whereas, if you took it easy—like this—" Here he made a light step forward and placed his open palm gently against the breast of Lncian, who instantly reeled back as if the piston-rod of a steam-engine had touched him, and dropped into the chair.
"There!" exclaimed Cashel, standing aside and pointing to him. "It's like pocketing a billiard-ball!"
A chatter of surprise, amusement, and remonstrance spread through the rooms; and the company crowded towards the table. Lucian rose, white with rage, and for a moment entirely lost his self-control. Fortunately, the effect was to paralyze him; he neither moved nor spoke, and only betrayed his condition by his pallor and the hatred in his expression. Presently he felt a touch on his arm and heard his name pronounced by Lydia. Her voice calmed him. He tried to look at her, but his vision was disturbed; he saw double; the lights seemed to dunce before his eyes; and Lord Worthington's voice, saying to Cashel, "Rather too practical, old fellow," seemed to come from a remote corner of the room, and yet to be whispered into his ear. He was moving irresolutely in search of Lydia when his senses and his resentment were restored by a clap on the shoulder.
"You wouldn't have believed that now, would you?" said Cashel. "Don't look startled; you've no bones broken. You had your little joke with me in your own way; and I had mine in MY own way. That's only—"
He stopped; his brave bearing vanished; he became limp and shamefaced. Lucian, without a word, withdrew with Lydia to the adjoining apartment, and left him staring after her with wistful eyes and slackened jaw.
In the meantime Mrs. Hoskyn, an earnest-looking young woman, with striking dark features and gold spectacles, was looking for Lord Worthington, who betrayed a consciousness of guilt by attempting to avoid her. But she cut off his retreat, and confronted him with a steadfast gaze that compelled him to stand and answer for himself.
"Who is that gentleman whom you introduced to me? I do not recollect his name."
"I am really awfully sorry, Mrs. Hoskyn. It was too bad of Byron. But Webber was excessively nasty."
Mrs. Hoskyn, additionally annoyed by apologies which she had not invited, and which put her in the ignominious position of a complainant, replied coldly, "Mr. Byron! Thank you; I had forgotten," and was turning away when Lydia came up to introduce Alice, and to explain why she had entered unannounced. Lord Worthington then returned to the subject of Cashel, hoping to improve his credit by claiming Lydia's acquaintance with him.
"Did you hear our friend Byron's speech, Miss Carew? Very characteristic, I thought."
"Very," said Lydia. "I hope Mrs. Hoskyn's guests are all familiar with his style. Otherwise they must find him a little startling."
"Yes," said Mrs. Hoskyn, beginning to wonder whether Cashel could be some well-known eccentric genius. "He is very odd. I hope Mr. Webber is not offended."
"He is the less pleased as he was in the wrong," said Lydia. "Intolerant refusal to listen to an opponent is a species of violence that has no business in such a representative nineteenth-century drawing-room as yours, Mrs. Hoskyn. There was a fitness in rebuking it by skilled physical violence. Consider the prodigious tact of it, too! One gentleman knocks another half-way across a crowded room, and yet no one is scandalized."
"You see, Mrs. Hoskyn, the general verdict is 'Served him right,'" said Lord Worthington.
"With a rider to the effect that both gentlemen displayed complete indifference to the comfort of their hostess," said Lydia. "However, men so rarely sacrifice their manners to their minds that it would be a pity to blame them. You do not encourage conventionality, Mrs. Hoskyn?"
"I encourage good manners, though certainly not conventional manners."
"And you think there is a difference?"
"I FEEL that there is a difference," said Mrs. Hoskyn, with dignity.
"So do I," said Lydia; "but one can hardly call others to account for one's own subjective ideas."
Lydia went away to another part of the room without waiting for a reply. Meanwhile, Cashel stood friendless in the middle of the room, stared at by most of his neighbors, and spoken to by none. Women looked at him coldly lest it should be suspected that they were admiring him; and men regarded him stiffly according to the national custom. Since his recognition of Lydia, his self-confidence had given place to a misgiving that he had been making a fool of himself. He began to feel lonely and abashed; and but for his professional habit of maintaining a cheerful countenance under adverse circumstances, he would have hid himself in the darkest corner of the room. He was getting sullen, and seeking consolation in thoughts of how terribly he could handle all these distantly-mannered, black-coated gentlemen if he chose, when Lord Worthington came up to him.
"I had no idea you were such an orator, Byron," he said. "You can go into the Church when you cut the other trade. Eh?"
"I wasn't brought up to the other trade," said Cashel; "and I know how to talk to ladies and gentlemen as well as to what you'd suppose to be my own sort. Don't you be anxious about me, my lord. I know how to make myself at home."
"Of course, of course," said Lord Worthington, soothingly. "Every one can see by your manners that you are a gentleman; they recognize that even in the ring. Otherwise—I know you will excuse my saying so—I daren't have brought you here."
Cashel shook his head, but was pleased. He thought he hated flattery; had Lord Worthington told him that he was the best boxer in England—which he probably was—he would have despised him. But he wished to believe the false compliment to his manners, and was therefore perfectly convinced of its sincerity. Lord Worthington perceived this, and retired, pleased with his own tact, in search of Mrs. Hoskyn, to claim her promise of an introduction to Madame Szczymplica, which Mrs. Hoskyn had, by way of punishing him for Cashel's misdemeanor, privately determined not to redeem.
Cashel began to think he had better go. Lydia was surrounded by men who were speaking to her in German. He felt his own inability to talk learnedly even in English; and he had, besides, a conviction that she was angry with him for upsetting her cousin, who was gravely conversing with Miss Goff. Suddenly a horrible noise caused a general start and pause. Mr. Jack, the eminent composer, had opened the piano-forte, and was illustrating some points in a musical composition under discussion by making discordant sounds with his voice, accompanied by a few chords. Cashel laughed aloud in derision as he made his way towards the door through the crowd, which was now pressing round the pianoforte at which Madame Szczymplica had just come to the assistance of Jack. Near the door, and in a corner remote from the instrument, he came upon Lydia and a middle-aged gentleman, evidently neither a professor nor an artist.
"Ab'n'gas is a very clever man," the gentleman was saying. "I am sorry I didn't hear the lecture. But I leave all that to Mary. She receives the people who enjoy high art up-stairs; and I take the sensible men down to the garden or the smoking-room, according to the weather."
"What do the sensible women do?" said Lydia.
"They come late," said Mr. Hoskyn, and then laughed at his repartee until he became aware of the vicinity of Cashel, whose health he immediately inquired after, shaking his hand warmly and receiving a numbing grip in return. As soon as he saw that Lydia and Cashel were acquainted, he slipped away and left them to entertain one another.
"I wonder how he knows me," said Cashel, heartened by her gracious reception of a nervous bow. "I never saw him before in my life."
"He does not know you," said Lydia, with some sternness. "He is your host, and therefore concludes that he ought to know you."
"Oh! That was it, was it?" He paused, at a loss for conversation. She did not help him. At last he added, "I haven't seen you this long time, Miss Carew."
"It is not very long since I saw you, Mr. Cashel Byron. I saw you yesterday at some distance from London."
"Oh, Lord!" exclaimed Cashel, "don't say that. You're joking, ain't you?"
"No. Joking, in that sense, does not amuse me."
Cashel looked at her in consternation. "You don't mean to say that you went to see a—a—Where—when did you see me? You might tell me."
"Certainly. It was at Clapham Junction, at a quarter-past six."
"Was any one with me?"
"Your friend, Mr. Mellish, Lord Worthington, and some other persons."
"Yes. Lord Worthington was there. But where were you?"
"In a waiting-room, close to you."
"I never saw you," said Cashel, growing red as he recalled the scene. "We must have looked very queer. I had had an accident to my eye, and Mellish was not sober. Did you think I was in bad company?"
"That was not my business, Mr. Cashel Byron."
"No," said Cashel, with sudden bitterness. "What did YOU care what company I kept? You're mad with me because I made your cousin look like a fool, I suppose. That's what's the matter."
Lydia looked around to see that no one was within earshot, and, speaking in a low tone to remind him that they were not alone, said, "There is nothing the matter, except that you are a grown-up boy rather than a man. I am not mad with you because of your attack upon my cousin; but he is very much annoyed, and so is Mrs. Hoskyn, whose guest you were bound to respect."
"I knew you'd be down on me. I wouldn't have said a word if I'd known that you were here," said Cashel, dejectedly. "Lie down and be walked over; that's what you think I'm fit for. Another man would have twisted his head off."
"Is it possible that you do not know that gentlemen never twist one another's heads off in society, no matter how great may be the provocation?"
"I know nothing," said Cashel with plaintive sullenness. "Everything I do is wrong. There. Will that satisfy you?"
Lydia looked up at him in doubt. Then, with steady patience, she added: "Will you answer me a question on your honor?"
He hesitated, fearing that she was going to ask what he was.
"The question is this," she said, observing the hesitation. "Are you a simpleton, or a man of science pretending to be a simpleton for the sake of mocking me and my friends?"
"I am not mocking you; honor bright! All that about science was only a joke—at least, it's not what you call science. I'm a real simpleton in drawing-room affairs; though I'm clever enough in my own line."
"Then try to believe that I take no pleasure in making you confess yourself in the wrong, and that you cannot have a lower opinion of me than the contrary belief implies."
"That's just where you're mistaken," said Cashel, obstinately. "I haven't got a low opinion of you at all. There's such a thing as being too clever."
"You may not know that it is a low opinion. Nevertheless, it is so."
"Well, have it your own way. I'm wrong again; and you're right."
"So far from being gratified by that, I had rather that we were both in the right and agreed. Can you understand that?"
"I can't say I do. But I give in to it. What more need you care for?"
"I had rather you understood. Let me try to explain. You think that I like to be cleverer than other people. You are mistaken. I should like them all to know whatever I know."
Cashel laughed cunningly, and shook his head. "Don't you make any mistake about that," he said. "You don't want anybody to be quite as clever as yourself; it isn't in human nature that you should. You'd like people to be just clever enough to show you off—to be worth beating. But you wouldn't like them to be able to beat you. Just clever enough to know how much cleverer you are; that's about the mark. Eh?"
Lydia made no further effort to enlighten him. She looked at him thoughtfully, and said, slowly, "I begin to hold the clew to your idiosyncrasy. You have attached yourself to the modern doctrine of a struggle for existence, and look on life as a perpetual combat."
"A fight? Just so. What is life but a fight? The curs forfeit or get beaten; the rogues sell the fight and lose the confidence of their backers; the game ones and the clever ones win the stakes, and have to hand over the lion's share of them to the loafers; and luck plays the devil with them all in turn. That's not the way they describe life in books; but that's what it is."
"Oddly put, but perhaps true. Still, is there any need of a struggle? Is not the world large enough for us all to live peacefully in?"
"YOU may think so, because you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. But if you hadn't to fight for that silver spoon, some one else had; and no doubt he thought it hard that it should be taken away from him and given to you. I was a snob myself once, and thought the world was made for me to enjoy myself and order about the poor fellows whose bread I was eating. But I was left one day where I couldn't grab any more of their bread, and had to make some for myself—ay, and some extra for loafers that had the power to make me pay for what they didn't own. That took the conceit out of me fast enough. But what do you know about such things?"
"More than you think, perhaps. These are dangerous ideas to take with you into English society."
"Hmf!" growled Cashel. "They'd be more dangerous if I could give every man that is robbed of half what he earns twelve lessons—in science."
"So you can. Publish your lessons. 'Twelve lectures on political economy, by Cashel Byron.' I will help you to publish them, if you wish."
"Bless your innocence!" said Cashel: "the sort of political economy I teach can't be learned from a book."
"You have become an enigma again. But yours is not the creed of a simpleton. You are playing with me—revealing your wisdom from beneath a veil of infantile guilelessness. I have no more to say."
"May I be shot if I understand you! I never pretended to be guileless. Come: is it because I raised a laugh against your cousin that you're so spiteful?"
Lydia looked earnestly and doubtfully at him; and he instinctively put his head back, as if it were in danger. "You do not understand, then?" she said. "I will test the genuineness of your stupidity by an appeal to your obedience."
"Stupidity! Go on."
"But will you obey me, if I lay a command upon you?"
"I will go through fire and water for you."
Lydia blushed faintly, and paused to wonder at the novel sensation before she resumed. "You had better not apologize to my cousin: partly because you would only make matters worse; chiefly because he does not deserve it. But you must make this speech to Mrs. Hoskyn when you are going: 'I am very sorry I forgot myself'—"
"Sounds like Shakespeare, doesn't it?" observed Cashel.
"Ah! the test has found you out; you are only acting after all. But that does not alter my opinion that you should apologize."
"All right. I don't know what you mean by testing and acting; and I only hope you know yourself. But no matter; I'll apologize; a man like me can afford to. I'll apologize to your cousin, too, if you like."
"I do not like. But what has that to do with it? I suggest these things, as you must be aware, for your own sake and not for mine."
"As for my own, I don't care twopence: I do it all for you. I don't even ask whether there is anything between you and him."
"Would you like to know?" said Lydia, deliberately, after a pause of astonishment.
"Do you mean to say you'll tell me?" he exclaimed. "If you do, I'll say you're as good as gold."
"Certainly I will tell you. There is an old friendship and cousinship between us; but we are not engaged, nor at all likely to be. I tell you so because, if I avoided the question, you would draw the opposite and false conclusion."
"I am glad of it," said Cashel, unexpectedly becoming very gloomy. "He isn't man enough for you. But he's your equal, damn him!"
"He is my cousin, and, I believe, my sincere friend. Therefore please do not damn him."
"I know I shouldn't have said that. But I am only damning my own luck."
"Which will not improve it in the least."
"I know that. You needn't have said it. I wouldn't have said a thing like that to you, stupid as I am."
"Evidently you suppose me to have meant more than I really did. However, that does not matter. You are still an enigma to me. Had we not better try to hear a little of Madame Szczymplica's performance?"
"I'm a pretty plain enigma, I should think," said Cashel, mournfully. "I would rather have you than any other woman in the world; but you're too rich and grand for me. If I can't have the satisfaction of marrying you, I may as well have the satisfaction of saying I'd like to."
"Hardly a fair way of approaching the subject," said Lydia, composedly, but with a play of color again in her cheeks. "Allow me to forbid it unconditionally. I must be plain with you, Mr. Cashel Byron. I do not know what you are or who you are; and I believe you have tried to mystify me on both points—"
"And you never shall find out either the one or the other, if I can help it," put in Cashel; "so that we're in a preciously bad way of coming to a good understanding."
"True," assented Lydia. "I do not make secrets; I do not keep them; and I do not respect them. Your humor clashes with my principle."
"You call it a humor!" said Cashel, angrily. "Perhaps you think I am a duke in disguise. If so, you may think better of it. If you had a secret, the discovery of which would cause you to be kicked out of decent society, you would keep it pretty tight. And that through no fault of your own, mind you; but through downright cowardice and prejudice in other people."
"There are at least some fears and prejudices common in society that I do not share," said Lydia, after a moment's reflection. "Should I ever find out your secret, do not too hastily conclude that you have forfeited my consideration."
"You are just the last person on earth by whom I want to be found out. But you'll find out fast enough. Pshaw!" cried Cashel, with a laugh, "I'm as well known as Trafalgar Square. But I can't bring myself to tell you; and I hate secrets as much as you do; so let's drop it and talk about something else."
"We have talked long enough. The music is over, and the people will return to this room presently, perhaps to ask me who and what is the stranger who made them such a remarkable speech."
"Just a word. Promise me that you won't ask any of THEM that."
"Promise you! No. I cannot promise that."
"Oh, Lord!" said Cashel, with a groan.
"I have told you that I do not respect secrets. For the present I will not ask; but I may change my mind. Meanwhile we must not hold long conversations. I even hope that we shall not meet. There is only one thing that I am too rich and grand for. That one thing—mystification. Adieu."
Before he could reply she was away from him in the midst of a number of gentlemen, and in conversation with one of them. Cashel seemed overwhelmed. But in an instant he recovered himself, and stepped jauntily before Mrs. Hoskyn, who had just come into his neighborhood.
"I'm going, ma'am," he said. "Thank you for a pleasant evening—I'm very sorry I forgot myself. Good-night."
Mrs. Hoskyn, naturally frank, felt some vague response within herself to this address. But, though not usually at a loss for words in social emergencies, she only looked at him, blushed slightly, and offered her hand. He took it as if it were a tiny baby's hand and he afraid of hurting it, gave it a little pinch, and turned to go. Mr. Adrian Herbert, the painter, was directly in his way, with his back towards him.
"If YOU please, sir," said Cashel, taking him gently by the ribs, and moving him aside. The artist turned indignantly, but Cashel was passing the doorway. On the stairs he met Lucian and Alice, and stopped a moment to take leave of them.
"Good-night, Miss Goff," he said. "It's a pleasure to see the country roses in your cheeks." He lowered his voice as he added, to Lucian, "Don't you worry yourself over that little trick I showed you. If any of your friends chafe you about it, tell them that it was Cashel Byron did it, and ask them whether they think they could have helped themselves any better than you could. Don't ever let a person come within distance of yon while you're standing in that silly way on both your heels. Why, if a man isn't properly planted on his pins, a broom-handle falling against him will upset him. That's the way of it. Good-night."
Lucian returned the salutation, mastered by a certain latent dangerousness in Cashel, suggestive that he might resent a snub by throwing the offender over the balustrade. As for Alice, she had entertained a superstitious dread of him ever since Lydia had pronounced him a ruffian. Both felt relieved when the house door, closing, shut them out of his reach.
Society was much occupied during Alice's first season in London with the upshot of an historical event of a common kind. England, a few years before, had stolen a kingdom from a considerable people in Africa, and seized the person of its king. The conquest proved useless, troublesome, and expensive; and after repeated attempts to settle the country on impracticable plans suggested to the Colonial Office by a popular historian who had made a trip to Africa, and by generals who were tired of the primitive remedy of killing the natives, it appeared that the best course was to release the captive king and get rid of the unprofitable booty by restoring it to him. In order, however, that the impression made on him by England's short-sighted disregard of her neighbor's landmark abroad might be counteracted by a glimpse of the vastness of her armaments and wealth at home, it was thought advisable to take him first to London, and show him the wonders of the town. But when the king arrived, his freedom from English prepossessions made it difficult to amuse, or even to impress him. A stranger to the idea that a private man could own a portion of the earth and make others pay him for permission to live on it, he was unable to understand why such a prodigiously wealthy nation should be composed partly of poor and uncomfortable persons toiling incessantly to create riches, and partly of a class that confiscated and dissipated the wealth thus produced without seeming to be at all happier than the unfortunate laborers at whose expense they existed. He was seized with strange fears, first for his health, for it seemed to him that the air of London, filthy with smoke, engendered puniness and dishonesty in those who breathed it; and eventually for his life, when he learned that kings in Europe were sometimes shot at by passers-by, there being hardly a monarch there who had not been so imperilled more than once; that the Queen of England, though accounted the safest of all, was accustomed to this variety of pistol practice; and that the autocrat of an empire huge beyond all other European countries, whose father had been torn asunder in the streets of his capital, lived surrounded by soldiers who shot down all strangers that approached him even at his own summons, and was an object of compassion to the humblest of his servants. Under these circumstances, the African king was with difficulty induced to stir out of doors; and he only visited Woolwich Arsenal—the destructive resources of which were expected to influence his future behavior in a manner favorable to English supremacy—under compulsion. At last the Colonial Office, which had charge of him, was at its wit's end to devise entertainments to keep him in good-humor until the appointed time for his departure.
On the Tuesday following Mrs. Hoskyn's reception, Lucian Webber called at his cousin's house in Regent's Park, and said, in the course of a conversation with the two ladies there,
"The Colonial Office has had an idea. The king, it appears, is something of an athlete, and is curious to witness what Londoners can do in that way. So a grand assault-at-arms is to be held for him."
"What is an assault-at-arms?" said Lydia. "I have never been at one; and the name suggests nothing but an affray with bayonets."
"It is an exhibition of swordsmanship, military drill, gymnastics, and so forth."
"I will go to that," said Lydia. "Will you come, Alice?"
"Is it usual for ladies to go to such exhibitions?" said Alice, cautiously.
"On this occasion ladies will go for the sake of seeing the king," said Lucian. "The Olympian gymnastic society, which has undertaken the direction of the part of the assault that is to show off the prowess of our civilians, expects what they call a flower-show audience."
"Will you come, Lucian?"
"If I can be spared, yes. If not, I will ask Worthington to go with you. He understands such matters better than I."
"Then let us have him, by all means," said Lydia.
"I cannot see why you are so fond of Lord Worthington," said Alice. "His manners are good; but there is nothing in him. Besides, he is so young. I cannot endure his conversation. He has begun to talk about Goodwood already."
"He will grow out of his excessive addiction to sport," said Lucian.
"Indeed," said Lydia. "And what will he grow into?"
"Possibly into a more reasonable man," said Lucian, gravely.
"I hope so," said Lydia; "but I prefer a man who is interested in sport to a gentleman who is interested in nothing."
"Much might indubitably be said from that point of view. But it is not necessary that Lord Worthington should waste his energy on horse-racing. I presume you do not think political life, for which his position peculiarly fits him, unworthy his attention."
"Party tactics are both exciting and amusing, no doubt. But are they better than horse-racing? Jockeys and horse-breakers at least know their business; our legislators do not. Is it pleasant to sit on a bench—even though it be the treasury bench—and listen to either absolute nonsense or childish disputes about conclusions that were foregone in the minds of all sensible men a hundred years ago?"
"You do not understand the duties of a government, Lydia. You never approach the subject without confirming my opinion that women are constitutionally incapable of comprehending it."
"It is natural for you to think so, Lucian. The House of Commons is to you the goal of existence. To me it is only an assemblage of ill-informed gentlemen who have botched every business they have ever undertaken, from the first committee of supply down to the last land act; and who arrogantly assert that I am not good enough to sit with them."
"Lydia," said Lucian, annoyed; "you know that I respect women in their own sphere—"
"Then give them another sphere, and perhaps they will earn your respect in that also. I am sorry to say that men, in THEIR sphere, have not won my respect. Enough of that for the present. I have to make some domestic arrangements, which are of more immediate importance than the conversion of a good politician into a bad philosopher. Excuse me for five minutes."
She left the room. Lucian sat down and gave his attention to Alice, who had still enough of her old nervousness to make her straighten her shoulders and look stately. But he did not object to this; a little stiffness of manner gratified his taste.
"I hope," he said, "that my cousin has not succeeded in inducing you to adopt her peculiar views."
"No," said Alice. "Of course her case is quite exceptional—she is so wonderfully accomplished. In general, I do not think women should have views. There are certain convictions which every lady holds: for instance, we know that Roman Catholicism is wrong. But that can hardly be called a view; indeed it would be wicked to call it so, as it is one of the highest truths. What I mean is that women should not be political agitators."
"I understand, and quite agree with you. Lydia is, as you say, an exceptional case. She has lived much abroad; and her father was a very singular man. Even the clearest heads, when removed from the direct influence of English life and thought, contract extraordinary prejudices. Her father at one time actually attempted to leave a large farm to the government in trust for the people; but fortunately he found that it was impossible; no such demise was known to the English law or practicable by it. He subsequently admitted the folly of this by securing Lydia's rights as his successor as stringently as he could. It is almost a pity that such strength of mind and extent of knowledge should be fortified by the dangerous independence which great wealth confers. Advantages like these bring with them certain duties to the class that has produced them—duties to which Lydia is not merely indifferent, but absolutely hostile."
"I never meddle with her ideas on—on these subjects. I am too ignorant to understand them. But Miss Carew's generosity to me has been unparalleled. And she does not seem to know that she is generous. I owe more to her than I ever can repay. At least," Alice added, to herself, "I am not ungrateful."
Miss Carew now reappeared, dressed in a long, gray coat and plain beaver hat, and carrying a roll of writing materials.
"I am going to the British Museum to read," said she.
"To walk!—alone!" said Lucian, looking at her costume.
"Yes. Prevent me from walking, and you deprive me of my health. Prevent me from going alone where I please and when I please, and you deprive me of my liberty—tear up Magna Charta, in effect. But I do not insist upon being alone in this instance. If you can return to your office by way of Regent's Park and Gower Street without losing too much time, I shall be glad of your company."
Lucian decorously suppressed his eagerness to comply by looking at his watch and pretending to consider his engagements. In conclusion, he said that he should be happy to accompany her.
It was a fine summer afternoon, and there were many people in the park. Lucian was soon incommoded by the attention his cousin attracted. In spite of the black beaver, her hair shone like fire in the sun. Women stared at her with unsympathetic curiosity, and turned as they passed to examine her attire. Men resorted to various subterfuges to get a satisfactory look without rudely betraying their intention. A few stupid youths gaped; and a few impudent ones smiled. Lucian would gladly have kicked them all, without distinction. He at last suggested that they should leave the path, and make a short cut across the green-sward. As they emerged from the shade of the trees he had a vague impression that the fineness of the weather and the beauty of the park made the occasion romantic, and that the words by which he hoped to make the relation between him and his cousin dearer and closer would be well spoken there. But he immediately began to talk, in spite of himself, about the cost of maintaining the public parks, of the particulars of which he happened to have some official knowledge. Lydia, readily interested by facts of any sort, thought the subject not a bad one for a casual afternoon conversation, and pursued it until they left the turf and got into the Euston Road, where the bustle of traffic silenced them for a while. When they escaped from the din into the respectable quietude of Gower Street, he suddenly said,
"It is one of the evils of great wealth in the hands of a woman, that she can hardly feel sure—" His ideas fled suddenly. He stopped; but he kept his countenance so well that he had the air of having made a finished speech, and being perfectly satisfied with it.
"Do you mean that she can never feel sure of the justice of her title to her riches? That used to trouble me; but it no longer does so."
"Nonsense!" said Lucian. "I alluded to the disinterestedness of your friends."
"That does not trouble me either. Absolutely disinterested friends I do not seek, as I should only find them among idiots or somnambulists. As to those whose interests are base, they do not know how to conceal their motives from me. For the rest, I am not so unreasonable as to object to a fair account being taken of my wealth in estimating the value of my friendship."
"Do you not believe in the existence of persons who would like you just as well if you were poor?"
"Such persons would, merely to bring me nearer to themselves, wish me to become poor; for which I should not thank them. I set great store by the esteem my riches command, Lucian. It is the only set-off I have against the envy they inspire."
"Then you would refuse to believe in the disinterestedness of any man who—who—"
"Who wanted to marry me? On the contrary: I should be the last person to believe that a man could prefer my money to myself. If he wore independent, and in a fair way to keep his place in the world without my help, I should despise him if he hesitated to approach me for fear of misconstruction. I do not think a man is ever thoroughly honest until he is superior to that fear. But if he had no profession, no money, and no aim except to live at my expense, then I should regard him as an adventurer, and treat him as one—unless I fell in love with him."
"Unless you fell in love with him!"
"That—assuming that such things really happen—would make a difference in my feeling, but none in my conduct. I would not marry an adventurer under any circumstances. I could cure myself of a misdirected passion, but not of a bad husband."
Lucian said nothing; he walked on with long, irregular steps, lowering at the pavement as if it were a difficult problem, and occasionally thrusting at it with his stick. At last he looked up, and said,
"Would you mind prolonging your walk a little by going round Bedford Square with me? I have something particular to say."
She turned and complied without a word; and they had traversed one side of the square before he spoke again, in these terms:
"On second thoughts, Lydia, this is neither the proper time nor place for an important communication. Excuse me for having taken you out of your way for nothing."
"I do not like this, Lucian. Important communications—in this case—corrupt good manners. If your intended speech is a sensible one, the present is as good a time, and Bedford Square as good a place, as you are likely to find for it. If it is otherwise, confess that you have decided to leave it unsaid. But do not postpone it. Reticence is always an error—even on the treasury bench. It is doubly erroneous in dealing with me; for I have a constitutional antipathy to it."
"Yes," he said, hurriedly; "but give me one moment—until the policeman has passed."
The policeman went leisurely by, striking the flags with his heels, and slapping his palm with a white glove.
"The fact is, Lydia, that—I feel great difficulty—"
"What is the matter?" said Lydia, after waiting in vain for further particulars. "You have broken down twice in a speech." There was a pause. Then she looked at him quickly, and added, incredulously, "Are you going to get married? Is that the secret that ties your practised tongue?"
"Not unless you take part in the ceremony."
"Very gallant; and in a vein of humor that is new in my experience of you. But what have you to tell me, Lucian? Frankly, your hesitation is becoming ridiculous."
"You have certainly not made matters easier for me, Lydia. Perhaps you have a womanly intuition of my purpose, and are intentionally discouraging me."
"Not the least. I am not good at speculations of that sort. On my word, if you do not confess quickly, I will hurry away to the museum."
"I cannot find a suitable form of expression," said Lucian, in painful perplexity. "I am sure you will not attribute any sordid motive to my—well, to my addresses, though the term seems absurd. I am too well aware that there is little, from the usual point of view, to tempt you to unite yourself to me. Still—"
A rapid change in Lydia's face showed him that he had said enough. "I had not thought of this," she said, after a silence that seemed long to him. "Our observations are so meaningless until we are given the thread to string them on! You must think better of this, Lucian. The relation that at present exists between us is the very best that our different characters will admit of. Why do you desire to alter it?"
"Because I would make it closer and more permanent. I do not wish to alter it otherwise."
"You would run some risk of simply destroying it by the method you propose," said Lydia, with composure. "We could not co-operate. There are differences of opinion between us amounting to differences of principle."
"Surely you are not serious. Your political opinions, or notions, are not represented by any party in England; and therefore they are practically ineffective, and could not clash with mine. And such differences are not personal matters."
"Such a party might be formed a week after our marriage—will, I think, be formed a long time before our deaths. In that case I fear that our difference of opinion would become a very personal matter."
He began to walk more quickly as he replied, "It is too absurd to set up what you call your opinions as a serious barrier between us. You have no opinions, Lydia. The impracticable crotchets you are fond of airing are not recognized in England as sane political convictions."
Lydia did not retort. She waited a minute in pensive silence, and then said,
"Why do you not marry Alice Goff?"
"Oh, hang Alice Goff!"
"It is so easy to come at the man beneath the veneer by expertly chipping at his feelings," said Lydia, laughing. "But I was serious, Lucian. Alice is energetic, ambitious, and stubbornly upright in questions of principle. I believe she would assist you steadily at every step of your career. Besides, she has physical robustness. Our student-stock needs an infusion of that."
"Many thanks for the suggestion; but I do not happen to want to marry Miss Goff."
"I invite you to consider it. Yon have not had time yet to form any new plans."
"New plans! Then you absolutely refuse me—without a moment's consideration?"
"Absolutely, Lucian. Does not your instinct warn you that it would be a mistake for you to marry me?"
"No; I cannot say that it does."
"Then trust to mine, which gives forth no uncertain note on this question, as your favorite newspapers are fond of saying."
"It is a question of feeling," he said, in a constrained voice.
"Is it?" she replied, with interest. "You have surprised me somewhat, Lucian. I have never observed any of the extravagances of a lover in your conduct."
"And you have surprised me very unpleasantly, Lydia. I do not think now that I ever had much hope of success; but I thought, at least, that my disillusion would be gently accomplished."
"What! Have I been harsh?"
"I do not complain."
"I was unlucky, Lucian; not malicious. Besides, the artifices by which friends endeavor to spare one another's feelings are pretty disloyalties. I am frank with you. Would you have me otherwise?"
"Of course not. I have no right to be offended."
"Not the least. Now add to that formal admission a sincere assurance that you ARE not offended."
"I assure you I am not," said Lucian, with melancholy resignation.
They had by this time reached Charlotte Street, and Lydia tacitly concluded the conference by turning towards the museum, and beginning to talk upon indifferent subjects. At the corner of Russell Street he got into a cab and drove away, dejectedly acknowledging a smile and wave of the hand with which Lydia tried to console him. She then went to the national library, where she forgot Lucian. The effect of the shock of his proposal was in store for her, but as yet she did not feel it; and she worked steadily until the library was closed and she had to leave. As she had been sitting for some hours, and it was still light, she did not take a cab, and did not even walk straight home. She had heard of a bookseller in Soho who had for sale a certain scarce volume which she wanted; and it occurred to her that the present was a good opportunity to go in search of him. Now, there was hardly a capital in western Europe that she did not know better than London. She had an impression that Soho was a region of quiet streets and squares, like Bloomsbury. Her mistake soon became apparent; but she felt no uneasiness in the narrow thoroughfares, for she was free from the common prejudice of her class that poor people are necessarily ferocious, though she often wondered why they were not so. She got as far as Great Pulteney Street in safety; but in leaving it she took a wrong turning and lost herself in a labyrinth of courts where a few workmen, a great many workmen's wives and mothers, and innumerable workmen's children were passing the summer evening at gossip and play. She explained her predicament to one of the women, who sent a little boy wilh her to guide her. Business being over for the day, the street to which the boy led her was almost deserted. The only shop that seemed to be thriving was a public-house, outside which a few roughs were tossing for pence.
Lydia's guide, having pointed out her way to her, prepared to return to his playmates. She thanked him, and gave him the smallest coin in her purse, which happened to be a shilling. He, in a transport at possessing what was to him a fortune, uttered a piercing yell, and darted off to show the coin to a covey of small ragamuffins who had just raced into view round the corner at which the public-house stood. In his haste he dashed against one of the group outside, a powerfully built young man, who turned and cursed him. The boy retorted passionately, and then, overcome by pain, began to cry. When Lydia came up the child stood whimpering directly in her path; and she, pitying him, patted him on the head and reminded him of all the money he had to spend. He seemed comforted, and scraped his eyes with his knuckles in silence; but the man, who, having received a sharp kick on the ankle, was stung by Lydia's injustice in according to the aggressor the sympathy due to himself, walked threateningly up to her and demanded, with a startling oath, whether HE had offered to do anything to the boy. And, as he refrained from applying any epithet to her, he honestly believed that in deference to Lydia's sex and personal charms, he had expressed himself with studied moderation. She, not appreciating his forbearance, recoiled, and stepped into the roadway in order to pass him. Indignant at this attempt to ignore him, he again placed himself in her path, and was repeating his question with increased sternness, when a jerk in the pit of his stomach caused him a severe internal qualm, besides disturbing his equilibrium so rudely that he narrowly escaped a fall against the curb-stone. When he recovered himself he saw before him a showily dressed young man, who accosted him thus:
"Is that the way to talk to a lady, eh? Isn't the street wide enough for two? Where's your manners?"
"And who are you; and where are you shoving your elbow to?" said the man, with a surpassing imprecation.
"Come, come," said Cashel Byron, admonitorily. "You'd better keep your mouth clean if you wish to keep your teeth inside it. Never you mind who I am."
Lydia, foreseeing an altercation, and alarmed by the threatening aspect of the man, attempted to hurry away and send a policeman to Cashel's assistance. But, on turning, she discovered that a crowd had already gathered, and that she was in the novel position of a spectator in the inner ring at what promised to be a street fight. Her attention was recalled to the disputants by a violent demonstration on the part of her late assailant. Cashel seemed alarmed; for he hastily retreated a step without regard to the toes of those behind him, and exclaimed, waving the other off with his open hand,
"Now, you just let me alone. I don't want to have anything to say to you. Go away from me, I tell you."
"You don't want to have nothink to say to me! Oh! And for why? Because you ain't man enough; that's why. Wot do you mean by coming and shoving your elbow into a man's bread-basket for, and then wanting to sneak off? Did you think I'd 'a' bin frightened of your velvet coat?"
"Very well," said Cashel, pacifically; "we'll say that I'm not man enough for you. So that's settled. Are you satisfied?"
But the other, greatly emboldened, declared with many oaths that he would have Cashel's heart out, and also that of Lydia, to whom he alluded in coarse terms. The crowd cheered, and called upon him to "go it." Cashel then said, sullenly,
"Very well. But don't you try to make out afterwards that I forced a quarrel on you. And now," he added, with a grim change of tone that made Lydia shudder, and shifted her fears to the account of his antagonist, "I'll make you wish you'd bit your tongue out before you said what you did a moment ago. So, take care of yourself."
"Oh, I'll take care of myself," said the man, defiantly. "Put up your hands."
Cashel surveyed his antagonist's attitude with unmistakable disparagement. "You will know when my hands are up by the feel of the pavement," he said, at last. "Better keep your coat on. You'll fall softer."
The rough expressed his repudiation of this counsel by beginning to strip energetically. A thrill of delight passed through the crowd. Those who had bad places pressed forward, and those who formed the inner ring pressed back to make room for the combatants. Lydia, who occupied a coveted position close to Cashel, hoped to be hustled out of the throng; for she was beginning to feel faint and ill. But a handsome butcher, who had made his way to her side, gallantly swore that she should not be deprived of her place in the front row, and bade her not be frightened, assuring her that he would protect her, and that the fight would be well worth seeing. As he spoke, the mass of faces before Lydia seemed to give a sudden lurch. To save herself from falling, she slipped her arm through the butcher's; and he, much gratified, tucked her close to him, and held her up effectually. His support was welcome, because it was needed.
Meanwhile, Cashel stood motionless, watching with unrelenting contempt the movements of his adversary, who rolled up his discolored shirt-sleeves amid encouraging cries of "Go it, Teddy," "Give it 'im, Ted," and other more precise suggestions. But Teddy's spirit was chilled; be advanced with a presentiment that he was courting destruction. He dared not rush on his foe, whose eye seemed to discern his impotence. When at last he ventured to strike, the blow fell short, as Cashel evidently knew it would; for he did not stir. There was a laugh and a murmur of impatience in the crowd.
"Are you waiting for the copper to come and separate you?" shouted the butcher. "Come out of your corner and get to work, can't you?"
This reminder that the police might balk him of his prey seemed to move Cashel. He took a step forward. The excitement of the crowd rose to a climax; and a little man near Lydia cut a frenzied caper and screamed, "Go it, Cashel Byron."
At these words Teddy was terror-stricken. He made no attempt to disguise his condition. "It ain't fair," he exclaimed, retreating as far as the crowd would permit him. "I give in. Cut it, master; you're too clever for me." But his comrades, with a pitiless jeer, pushed him towards Cashel, who advanced remorselessly. Teddy dropped on both knees. "Wot can a man say more than that he's had enough?" he pleaded. "Be a Englishman, master; and don't hit a man when he's down."
"Down!" said Cashel. "How long will you stay down if I choose to have you up?" And, suiting the action to the word, he seized Teddy with his left hand, lifted him to his feet, threw him into a helpless position across his knee, and poised his right fist like a hammer over his upturned face. "Now," he said, "you're not down. What have you to say for yourself before I knock your face down your throat?"
"Don't do it, gov'nor," gasped Teddy. "I didn't mean no harm. How was I to know that the young lady was a pal o' yourn?" Here he struggled a little; and his face assumed a darker hue. "Let go, master," he cried, almost inarticulately. "You're ch—choking me."
"Pray let him go," said Lydia, disengaging herself from the butcher and catching Cashel's arm.
Cashel, with a start, relaxed his grasp; and Teddy rolled on the ground. He went away thrusting his hands iuto his sleeves, and out-facing his disgrace by a callous grin. Cashel, without speaking, offered Lydia his arm; and she, seeing that her best course was to get away from that place with as few words as possible, accepted it, and then turned and thanked the butcher, who blushed and became speechless. The little man whose exclamation had interrupted the combat, now waved his hat, and cried,
"The British Lion forever! Three cheers for Cashel Byron."
Cashel turned upon him curtly, and said, "Don't you make so free with other people's names, or perhaps you may get into trouble yourself."
The little man retreated hastily; hut the crowd responded with three cheers as Cashel, with Lydia on his arm, withdrew through a lane of disreputable-looking girls, roughs of Teddy's class, white-aproned shopmen who had left their counters to see the fight, and a few pale clerks, who looked with awe at the prize-fighter, and with wonder at the refined appearance of his companion. The two were followed by a double file of boys, who, with their eyes fixed earnestly on Cashel, walked on the footways while he conducted Lydia down the middle of the narrow street. Not one of them turned a somersault or uttered a shout. Intent on their hero, they pattered along, coming into collision with every object that lay in their path. At last Cashel stopped. They instantly stopped too. He took some bronze coin from his pocket, rattled it in his hand, and addressed them.
"Boys!" Dead silence. "Do you know what I have to do to keep up my strength?" The hitherto steadfast eyes wandered uneasily. "I have to eat a little boy for supper every night, the last thing before to bed. Now, I haven't quite made up my mind which of you would be the most to my taste; but if one of you comes a step further, I'll eat HIM. So, away with you." And he jerked the coin to a considerable distance. There was a yell and a scramble; and Cashel and Lydia pursued their way unattended.
Lydia had taken advantage of the dispersion of the boys to detach herself from Cashel's arm. She now said, speaking to him for the first time since she had interceded for Teddy,
"I am sorry to have given you so much trouble, Mr. Cashel Byron. Thank you for interfering to protect me; but I was in no real danger. I would gladly have borne with a few rough words for the sake of avoiding a disturbance."
"There!" cried Cashel. "I knew it. You'd a deal rather I had minded my own business and not interfered. You're sorry for the poor fellow I treated so badly; ain't you now? That's a woman all over."
"I have not said one of these things."
"Well, I don't see what else you mean. It's no pleasure to me to fight chance men in the streets for nothing: I don't get my living that way. And now that I have done it for your sake, you as good as tell me I ought to have kept myself quiet."
"Perhaps I am wrong. I hardly understand what passed. You seemed to drop from the clouds."
"Aha! You were glad when you found me at your elbow, in spite of your talk. Come now; weren't you glad to see me?"
"I was—very glad indeed. But by what magic did you so suddenly subdue that man? And was it necessary to sully your hands by throttling him?"
"It was a satisfaction to me; and it served him right."
"Surely a very poor satisfaction! Did you notice that some one in the crowd called out your name, and that it seemed to frighten the man terribly?"
"Indeed? Odd, wasn't it? But you were saying that you thought I dropped from the sky. Why, I had been following you for five minutes before! What do you think of that? If I may take the liberty of asking, how did you come to be walking round Soho at such an hour with a little ragged boy?"
Lydia explained. When she finished, it was nearly dark, and they had reached Oxford Street, where, like Lucian in Regent's Park that afternoon, she became conscious that her companion was an object of curiosity to many of the young men who were lounging in that thoroughfare.
"Alice will think that I am lost," she said, making a signal to a cabman. "Good-bye; and many thanks. I am always at home on Fridays, and shall be very happy to see you."
She handed him a card. He took it, read it, looked at the back to see if there was anything written there, and then said, dubiously,
"I suppose there will be a lot of people."
"Yes; you will meet plenty of people."
"Hm! I wish you'd let me see you home now. I won't ask to go any further than the gate."
Lydia laughed. "You should be very welcome," she said; "but I am quite safe, thank you. I need not trouble you."
"But suppose the cabman bullies you for double fare," persisted Cashel. "I have business up in Finchley; and your place is right in any way there. Upon my soul I have," he added, suspecting that she doubted him. "I go every Tuesday evening to the St. John's Wood Cestus Club."
"I am hungry and in a hurry to got home," said Lydia. "'I must be gone and live, or stay and die.' Come if you will; but in any case let us go at once."
She got into the cab, and Cashel followed, making some remark which she did not quite catch about its being too dark for any one to recognize him. They spoke little during the drive, which was soon over. Bashville was standing at the open door as they came to the house. When Cashel got out the footman looked at him with interest and some surprise, But when Lydia alighted he was so startled that he stood open-mouthed, although he was trained to simulate insensibility to everything except his own business, and to do that as automatically as possible. Cashel bade Lydia good-bye, and shook hands with her. As she went into the house, she asked Bashville whether Miss Goff was within. To her surprise, he paid no attention to her, but stared after the retreating cab. She repeated the question.
"Madam," he said, recovering himself with a start, "she has asked for you four times."
Lydia, relieved of a disagreeable suspicion that her usually faultless footman must be drunk, thanked him and went up-stairs.
One morning a handsome young man, elegantly dressed, presented himself at Downing Street, and asked to see Mr. Lucian Webber. He declined to send in a card, and desired to be announced simply as "Bashville." Lucian ordered him to be admitted at once, and, when he entered, nodded amiably to him and invited him to sit down.
"I thank you, sir," said Bashville, seating himself. It struck Lucian then, from a certain strung-up resolution in his visitor's manner, that he had come on some business of his own, and not, as he had taken for granted, with a message from his mistress.
"I have come, sir, on my own responsibility this morning. I hope yon will excuse the liberty."
"Certainly. If I can do anything for you, Bashville, don't be afraid to ask. But be as brief as you can. I am so busy that every second I give you will probably be subtracted from my night's rest. Will ten minutes be enough?"
"More than enough, sir, thank you. I only wish to ask one question. I own that I am stepping out of my place to ask it; but I'll risk all that. Does Miss Carew know what the Mr. Cashel Byron is that she receives every Friday with her other friends?"
"No doubt she does," said Lucian, at once becoming cold in his manner, and looking severely at Bashville. "What business is that of yours?"
"Do YOU know what he is, sir?" said Bashville, returning Lucian's gaze steadily.
Lucian changed countenance, and replaced a pen that had slipped from a rack on his desk. "He is not an acquaintance of mine," he said. "I only know him as a friend of Lord Worthington's."
"Sir," said Bashville, with sudden vehemence, "he is no more to Lord Worthington than the racehorse his lordship bets on. I might as well set up to be a friend of his lordship because I, after a manner of speaking, know him. Byron is in the ring, sir. A common prize-fighter!"
Lucian, recalling what had passed at Mrs. Hoskyn's, and Lord Worthington's sporting habits, believed the assertion at once. But he made a faint effort to resist conviction. "Are you sure of this, Bashville?" he said. "Do you know that your statement is a very serious one?"
"There is no doubt at all about it, sir. Go to any sporting public-house in London and ask who is the best-known fighting man of the day, and they'll tell you, Cashel Byron. I know all about him, sir. Perhaps you have heard tell of Ned Skene, who was champion, belike, when you were at school."
"I believe I have heard the name."
"Just so, sir. Ned Skene picked up this Cashel Byron in the streets of Melbourne, where he was a common sailor-boy, and trained him for the ring. You may have seen his name in the papers, sir. The sporting ones are full of him; and he was mentioned in the Times a month ago."
"I never read articles on such subjects. I have hardly time to glance through the ones that concern me."
"That's the way it is with everybody, sir. Miss Carew never thinks of reading the sporting intelligence in the papers; and so he passes himself off on her for her equal. He's well known for his wish to be thought a gentleman, sir, I assure you."
"I have noticed his manner as being odd, certainly."
"Odd, sir! Why, a child might see through him; for he has not the sense to keep his own secret. Last Friday he was in the library, and he got looking at the new biographical dictionary that Miss Carew contributed the article on Spinoza to. And what do you think he said, sir? 'This is a blessed book,' he says. 'Here's ten pages about Napoleon Bonaparte, and not one about Jack Randall; as if one fighting man wasn't as good as another!' I knew by the way the mistress took up that saying, and drew him out, so to speak, on the subject, that she didn't know who she had in her house; and then I determined to tell you, sir. I hope you won't think that I come here behind his back out of malice against him. All I want is fair play. If I passed myself off on Miss Carew as a gentleman, I should deserve to be exposed as a cheat; and when he tries to take advantages that don't belong to him, I think I have a right to expose him."
"Quite right, quite right," said Lucian, who cared nothing for Bashville's motives. "I suppose this Byron is a dangerous man to have any personal unpleasantness with."
"He knows his business, sir. I am a better judge of wrestling than half of these London professionals; but I never saw the man that could put a hug on him. Simple as he is, sir, he has a genius for fighting, and has beaten men of all sizes, weights, and colors. There's a new man from the black country, named Paradise, who says he'll beat him; but I won't believe it till I see it."
"Well," said Lucian, rising, "I am much indebted to you, Bashville, for your information; and I will take care to let Miss Carew know how you have—"
"Begging your pardon, sir," said Bashville; "but, if you please, no. I did not come to recommend myself at the cost of another man; and perhaps Miss Carew might not think it any great recommendation neither." Lucian looked quickly at him, and seemed about to speak, but checked himself. Bashville continued, "If he denies it, you may call me as a witness, and I will tell him to his face that he lies—and so I would if he were twice as dangerous; but, except in that way, I would ask you, sir, as a favor, not to mention my name to Miss Carew."
"As you please," said Lucian, taking out his purse. "Perhaps you are right. However, you shall not have your trouble for nothing."
"I couldn't, really, sir," said Bashville, retreating a step. "You will agree with me, I'm sure, that this is not a thing that a man should take payment for. It is a personal matter between me and Byron, sir."
Lucian, displeased that a servant should have any personal feelings on any subject, much more one that concerned his mistress, put back his purse without comment and said, "Will Miss Carew be at home this afternoon between three and four?"
"I have not heard of any arrangement to the contrary, sir. I will telegraph to you if she goes out—if you wish."
"It does not matter. Thank you. Good-morning."
"Good-morning, sir," said Bashville, respectfully, as he withdrew. Outside the door his manner changed. He put on a pair of primrose gloves, took up a silver-mounted walking-stick that he had left in the corridor, and walked from Downing Street into Whitehall. A party of visitors from the country, who were standing there examining the buildings, guessed that he was a junior lord of the Treasury.
He waited in vain that afternoon for Lucian to appear at the house in Regent's Park. There were no callers, and he wore away the time by endeavoring, with the aid of a library that Miss Carew had placed at the disposal of her domestics, to unravel the philosophy of Spinoza. At the end of an hour, feeling satisfied that he had mastered that author's views, he proceeded to vary the monotony of the long summer's day by polishing Lydia's plate.
Meanwhile, Lucian was considering how he could best make Lydia not only repudiate Cashel's acquaintance, but feel thoroughly ashamed of herself for having encouraged him, and wholesomely mistrustful of her own judgment for the future. His parliamentary experience had taught him to provide himself with a few well-arranged, relevant facts before attempting to influence the opinions of others on any subject. He knew no more of prize-fighting than that it was a brutal and illegal practice, akin to cock-fighting, and, like it, generally supposed to be obsolete. Knowing how prone Lydia was to suspect any received opinion of being a prejudice, he felt that he must inform himself more particularly. To Lord Worthington's astonishment, he not only asked him to dinner next evening, but listened with interest while he descanted to his heart's content on his favorite topic of the ring.
As the days passed, Bashville became nervous, and sometimes wondered whether Lydia had met her cousin and heard from him of the interview at Downing Street. He fancied that her manner towards him was changed; and he was once or twice on the point of asking the most sympathetic of the housemaids whether she had noticed it. On Wednesday his suspense ended. Lucian came, and had a long conversation with Lydia in the library. Bashville was too honorable to listen at the door; but he felt a strong temptation to do so, and almost hoped that the sympathetic housemaid might prove less scrupulous. But Miss Carew's influence extended farther than her bodily presence; and Lucian's revelation was made in complete privacy.
When he entered the library he looked so serious that she asked him whether he had neuralgia, from which he occasionally suffered. He replied with some indignation that he had not, and that he had a communication of importance to make to her.
"Yes, another," he said, with a sour smile; "but this time it does not concern myself. May I warn you as to the character of one of your guests without overstepping my privilege?"
"Certainly. But perhaps you mean Vernet. If so, I am perfectly aware that he is an exiled Communard."
"I do not mean Monsieur Vernet. You understand, I hope, that I do not approve of him, nor of your strange fancy for Nihilists, Fenians, and other doubtful persons; but I think that even you might draw the line at a prize-fighter."
Lydia lost color, and said, almost inaudibly, "Cashel Byron!"
"Then you KNEW!" exclaimed Lucian, scandalized.
Lydia waited a moment to recover, settled herself quietly in her chair, and replied, calmly, "I know what you tell me—nothing more. And now, will you explain to me exactly what a prize-fighter is?"
"He is simply what his name indicates. He is a man who fights for prizes."
"So does the captain of a man-of-war. And yet society does not place them in the same class—at least, I do not think so."
"As if there could be any doubt that society does not! There is no analogy whatever between the two cases. Let me endeavor to open your eyes a little, if that be possible, which I am sometimes tempted to doubt. A prize-fighter is usually a man of naturally ferocious disposition, who has acquired some reputation among his associates as a bully; and who, by constantly quarrelling, has acquired some practice in fighting. On the strength of this reputation he can generally find some gambler willing to stake a sum of money that he will vanquish a pugilist of established fame in single combat. Bets are made between the admirers of the two men; a prize is subscribed for, each party contributing a share; the combatants are trained as racehorses, gamecocks, or their like are trained; they meet, and beat each other as savagely as they can until one or the other is too much injured to continue the combat. This takes place in the midst of a mob of such persons as enjoy spectacles of the kind; that is to say, the vilest blackguards whom a large city can afford to leave at large, and many whom it cannot. As the prize-money contributed by each side often amounts to upwards of a thousand pounds, and as a successful pugilist commands far higher terms for giving tuition in boxing than a tutor at one of the universities does for coaching, you will see that such a man, while his youth and luck last, may have plenty of money, and may even, by aping the manners of the gentlemen whom he teaches, deceive careless people—especially those who admire eccentricity—as to his character and position."
"What is his true position? I mean before he becomes a prize-fighter."
"Well, he may be a handicraftsman of some kind: a journeyman butcher, skinner, tailor, or baker. Possibly a soldier, sailor, policeman, gentleman's servant, or what not? But he is generally a common laborer. The waterside is prolific of such heroes."
"Do they never come from a higher rank?"
"Never even from the better classes in their own. Broken-down gentlemen are not likely to succeed at work that needs the strength and endurance of a bull and the cruelty of a butcher."
"And the end of a prize-fighter. What is that like?"
"He soon has to give up his trade. For, if he be repeatedly beaten, no one will either bet on him or subscribe to provide him with a stake. If he is invariably successful, those, if any, who dare fight him find themselves in a like predicament. In either case his occupation is gone. If he has saved money he opens a sporting public-house, where he sells spirits of the worst description to his old rivals and their associates, and eventually drinks himself to death or bankruptcy. If, however, he has been improvident or unfortunate, he begs from his former patrons and gives lessons. Finally, when the patrons are tired of him and the pupils fail, he relapses into the laboring class with a ruined constitution, a disfigured face, a brutalized nature, and a tarnished reputation."
Lydia remained silent so long after this that Lucian's expression of magisterial severity first deepened, then wavered, and finally gave way to a sense of injury; for she seemed to have forgotten him. He was about to protest against this treatment, when she looked at him again, and said,
"Why did Lord Worthington introduce a man of this class to me?"
"Because you asked him to do so. Probably he thought that if you chose to make such a request without previous inquiry, you should not blame him if you found yourself saddled with an undesirable acquaintance. Recollect that you asked for the introduction on the platform at Wiltstoken, in the presence of the man himself. Such a ruffian would be capable of making a disturbance for much less offence than an explanation and refusal would have given him."
"Lucian," said Lydia, in a tone of gentle admonition, "I asked to be introduced to my tenant, for whose respectability you had vouched by letting the Warren Lodge to him." Lucian reddened. "How does Lord Worthington explain Mr. Byron's appearance at Mrs. Hoskyn's?"
"It was a stupid joke. Mrs. Hoskyn had worried Worthington to bring some celebrity to her house; and, in revenge, he took his pugilistic protege."
"I do not defend Worthington. But discretion is hardly to be expected from him."
"He has discretion enough to understand a case of this kind thoroughly. But let that pass. I have been thinking upon what you tell me about these singular people, whose existence I hardly knew of before. Now, Lucian, in the course of my reading I have come upon denunciations of every race and pursuit under the sun. Very respectable and well-informed men have held that Jews, Irishmen, Christians, atheists, lawyers, doctors, politicians, actors, artists, flesh-eaters, and spirit-drinkers are all of necessity degraded beings. Such statements can be easily proved by taking a black sheep from each flock, and holding him up as the type. It is more reasonable to argue a man's character from the nature of his profession; and yet even that is very unsafe. War is a cruel business; but soldiers are not necessarily bloodthirsty and inhuman men. I am not quite satisfied that a prize-fighter is a violent and dangerous man because he follows a violent and dangerous profession—I suppose they call it a profession."
Lucian was about to speak; but she interrupted him by continuing,
"And yet that is not what concerns me at present. Have you found out anything about Mr. Byron personally? Is he an ordinary representative of his class?"
"No; I should rather think—and hope—that he is a very extraordinary representative of it. I have traced his history back to his boyhood, when he was a cabin-boy. Having apparently failed to recommend himself to his employers in that capacity, he became errand-boy to a sort of maitre d'armes at Melbourne. Here he discovered where his genius lay; and he presently appeared in the ring with an unfortunate young man named Ducket, whose jaw he fractured. This laid the foundation of his fame. He fought several battles with unvarying success; but at last he allowed his valor to get the better of his discretion so far as to kill an Englishman who contended with him with desperate obstinacy for two hours. I am informed that the particular blow by which he felled the poor wretch for the last time is known in pugilistic circles as 'Cashel's killer,' and that he has attempted to repeat it in all his subsequent encounters, without, however, achieving the same fatal result. The failure has doubtless been a severe disappointment to him. He fled from Australia and reappeared in America, where he resumed his victorious career, distinguishing himself specially by throwing a gigantic opponent in some dreadful fashion that these men have, and laming him for life. He then—"
"Thank you, Lucian," said Lydia rather faintly. "That is quite enough. Are you sure that it is all true?"
"My authority is Lord Worthington, and a number of newspaper reports which he showed me. Byron himself will probably be proud to give you the fullest confirmation of the record. I should add, in justice to him, that he is looked upon as a model—to pugilists—of temperance and general good conduct."
"Do you remember my remarking a few days ago, on another subject, how meaningless our observations are until we are given the right thread to string them on?"
"Yes," said "Webber, disconcerted by the allusion.
"My acquaintance with this man is a case in point. He has obtruded his horrible profession upon me every time we have met. I have actually seen him publicly cheered as a pugilist-hero; and yet, being off the track, and ignorant of the very existence of such a calling, I have looked on and seen nothing."
Lydia then narrated her adventure in Soho, and listened with the perfect patience of indifference to his censure of her imprudence in going there alone.
"And now, Lydia," he added, "may I ask what you intend to do in this matter?"
"What would you have me do?"
"Drop his acquaintance at once. Forbid him your house in the most explicit terms."
"A pleasant task!" said Lydia, ironically. "But I will do it—not so much, perhaps, because he is a prize-fighter, as because he is an impostor. Now go to the writing-table and draft me a proper letter to send him."
Lucian's face elongated. "I think," he said, "you can do that better for yourself. It is a delicate sort of thing."
"Yes. It is not so easy as you implied a moment ago. Otherwise I should not require your assistance. As it is—" She pointed again to the table.
Lucian was not ready with an excuse. He sat down reluctantly, and, after some consideration, indited the following:
"Miss Carew presents her compliments to Mr. Cashel Byron, and begs to inform him that she will not be at home during the remainder of the season as heretofore. She therefore regrets that she cannot have the pleasure of receiving him on Friday afternoon."
"I think you will find that sufficient," said Lucian.
"Probably," said Lydia, smiling as she read it. "But what shall I do if he takes offence; calls here, breaks the windows, and beats Bashville? Were I in his place, that is what such a letter would provoke me to do."
"He dare not give any trouble. But I will warn the police if you feel anxious."
"By no means. We must not show ourselves inferior to him in courage, which is, I suppose, his cardinal virtue."
"If you write the note now, I will post it for you."
"No, thank you. I will send it with my other letters."
Lucian would rather have waited; but she would not write while he was there. So he left, satisfied on the whole with the success of his mission. When he was gone, she took a pen, endorsed his draft neatly, placed it in a drawer, and wrote to Cashel thus:
"Dear Mr. Cashel Byron,—I have just discovered your secret. I am sorry; but you must not come again. Farewell. Yours faithfully,
Lydia kept this note by her until next morning, when she read it through carefully. She then sent Bashville to the post with it.
Cashel's pupils frequently requested him to hit them hard—not to play with them—to accustom them to regular, right down, severe hitting, and no nonsense. He only pretended to comply; for he knew that a black eye or loosened tooth would be immoderately boasted of if received in combat with a famous pugilist, and that the sufferer's friends would make private notes to avoid so rough a professor. But when Miss Carew's note reached him he made an exception to his practice in this respect. A young guardsman, whose lesson began shortly after the post arrived, remarked that Cashel was unusually distraught. He therefore exhorted his instructor to wake up and pitch into him in earnest. Immediately he received a blow in the epigastrium that stretched him almost insensible on the floor. Rising with his complexion considerably whitened, he recollected an appointment which would prevent him from finishing his lesson, and withdrew, declaring in a somewhat shaky voice that that was the sort of bout he really enjoyed.
Cashel did not at first make any profitable use of the leisure thus earned. He walked to and fro, cursing, and occasionally stopping to read the letter. His restlessness only increased his agitation. The arrival of a Frenchman whom he employed to give lessons in fencing made the place unendurable to him. He changed his attire, went out, called a cab, and bade the driver, with an oath, drive to Lydia's house as fast as the horse could go. The man made all the haste he could, and was presently told impatiently that there was no hurry. Accustomed to this sort of inconsistency, he was not surprised when, as they approached the house, he was told not to stop but to drive slowly past. Then, in obedience to further instructions, he turned and repassed the door. As he did so a lady appeared for an instant at a window. Immediately his fare, with a groan of mingled rage and fear, sprang from the moving vehicle, rushed up the steps of the mansion, and rang the bell violently. Bashville, faultlessly dressed and impassibly mannered, opened the door. In reply to Cashel's half-inarticulate inquiry, he said,
"Miss Carew is not at home."
"You lie," said Cashel, his eyes suddenly dilating. "I saw her."
Bashville reddened, but replied, coolly, "Miss Carew cannot see you to-day."
"Go and ask her," returned Cashel sternly, advancing.
Bashville, with compressed lips, seized the door to shut him out; but Cashel forced it back against him, sent him reeling some paces by its impact, went in, and shut the door behind him. He had to turn from Bashville for a moment to do this, and before he could face him again he was clutched, tripped, and flung down upon the tessellated pavement of the hall.
When Cashel gave him the lie, and pushed the door against him, the excitement he had been suppressing since his visit to Lucian exploded. He had thrown Cashel in Cornish fashion, and now desperately awaited the upshot.
Cashel got up so rapidly that he seemed to rebound from the flags. Bashville, involuntarily cowering before his onslaught, just escaped his right fist, and felt as though his heart had been drawn with it as it whizzed past his ear. He turned and fled frantically up-stairs, mistaking for the clatter of pursuit the noise with which Cashel, overbalanced by his ineffectual blow, stumbled against the banisters.
Lydia was in her boudoir with Alice when Bashville darted in and locked the door. Alice rose and screamed. Lydia, though startled, and that less by the unusual action than by the change in a familiar face which she had never seen influenced by emotion before, sat still and quietly asked what was the matter. Bashville checked himself for a moment. Then he spoke unintelligibly, and went to the window, which he opened. Lydia divined that he was about to call for help to the street.
"Bashville," she said, authoritatively: "be silent, and close the window. I will go down-stairs myself."
Bashville then ran to prevent her from unlocking the door; but she paid no attention to him. He did not dare to oppose her forcibly. He was beginning to recover from his panic, and to feel the first stings of shame for having yielded to it.
"Madam," he said: "Byron is below; and he insists on seeing you. He's dangerous; and he's too strong for me. I have done my best—on my honor I have. Let me call the police. Stop," he added, as she opened the door. "If either of us goes, it must be me."
"I will see him in the library," said Lydia, composedly. "Tell him so; and let him wait there for me—if you can approach him without running any risk."
"Oh, pray let him call the police," urged Alice. "Don't attempt to go to that man."
"Nonsense!" said Lydia, good-humoredly. "I am not in the least afraid. We must not fail in courage when we have a prize-fighter to deal with."
Bashville, white, and preventing with difficulty his knees from knocking together, went down-stairs and found Cashel leaning upon the balustrade, panting, and looking perplexedly about him as he wiped his dabbled brow. Bashville approached him with the firmness of a martyr, halted on the third stair, and said,
"Miss Carew will see you in the library. Come this way, please."
Cashel's lips moved, but no sound came from them; he followed Bashville in silence. When they entered the library Lydia was already there. Bashville withdrew without a word. Then Cashel sat down, and, to her consternation, bent his head on his hand and yielded to an hysterical convulsion. Before she could resolve how to act he looked up at her with his face distorted and discolored, and tried to speak.
"Pray be calm," said Lydia. "I am told that you wish to speak to me."
"I don't wish to speak to you ever again," said Cashel, hoarsely. "You told your servant to throw me down the steps. That's enough for me."
Lydia caught from him the tendency to sob which he was struggling with; but she repressed it, and answered, firmly, "If my servant has been guilty of the least incivility to you, Mr. Cashel Byron, he has exceeded his orders."
"It doesn't matter," said Cashel. "He may thank his luck that he has his head on. If I had planted on him that time—but HE doesn't matter. Hold on a bit—I can't talk—I shall get my second wind presently, and then—" Cashel stopped a moment to pant, and then asked, "Why are you going to give me up?"
Lydia ranged her wits in battle array, and replied,
"Do you remember our conversation at Mrs. Hoskyn's?"
"You admitted then that if the nature of your occupation became known to me our acquaintance should cease. That has now come to pass."
"That was all very fine talk to excuse my not telling you. But I find, like many another man when put to the proof, that I didn't mean it. Who told you I was a fighting man?"
"I had rather not tell you that."
"Aha!" said Cashel, with a triumph that was half choked by the remnant of his hysteria. "Who is trying to make a secret now, I should like to know?"
"I do so in this instance because I am afraid to expose a friend to your resentment."
"And why? He's a man, of course; else you wouldn't be afraid. You think that I'd go straight off and murder him. Perhaps he told you that it would come quite natural to a man like me—a ruffian like me—to smash him up. That comes of being a coward. People run my profession down; not because there is a bad one or two in it—there's plenty of bad bishops, if you come to that—but because they're afraid of us. You may make yourself easy about your friend. I am accustomed to get well paid for the beatings I give; and your own common-sense ought to tell you that any one who is used to being paid for a job is just the last person in the world to do it for nothing."
"I find the contrary to be the case with first-rate artists," said Lydia.
"Thank you," retorted Cashel, sarcastically. "I ought to make you a bow for that. I'm glad you acknowledge that it IS an art."
"But," said Lydia seriously, "it seems to me that it is an art wholly anti-social and retrograde. And I fear that you have forced this interview on me to no purpose."
"I don't know whether it's anti-social or not. But I think it hard that I should be put out of decent society when fellows that do far worse than I are let in. Who did I see here last Friday, the most honored of your guests? Why, that Frenchman with the gold spectacles. What do you think I was told when I asked what HIS little game was? Baking dogs in ovens to see how long a dog could live red hot! I'd like to catch him doing it to a dog of mine. Ay; and sticking a rat full of nails to see how much pain a rat could stand. Why, it's just sickening. Do you think I'd have shaken hands with that chap? If he hadn't been a guest of yours I'd have given him a notion of how much pain a Frenchman can stand without any nails in him. And HE'S to be received and made much of, while I am kicked out! Look at your relation, the general. What is he but a fighting man, I should like to know? Isn't it his pride and boast that as long as he is paid so much a day he'll ask no questions whether a war is fair or unfair, but just walk out and put thousands of men in the best way to kill and be killed?—keeping well behind them himself all the time, mind you. Last year he was up to his chin in the blood of a lot of poor blacks that were no more a match for his armed men than a feather-weight would be for me. Bad as I am, I wouldn't attack a feather-weight, or stand by and see another heavy man do it. Plenty of your friends go pigeon-shooting to Hurlingham. THERE'S a humane and manly way of spending a Saturday afternoon! Lord Worthington, that comes to see you when he likes, though he's too much of a man or too little of a shot to kill pigeons, thinks nothing of fox-hunting. Do you think foxes like to be hunted, or that the people that hunt them have such fine feelings that they can afford to call prize-fighters names? Look at the men that get killed or lamed every year at steeple-chasing, fox-hunting, cricket, and foot-ball! Dozens of them! Look at the thousands killed in battle! Did you ever hear of any one being killed in the ring? Why, from first to last, during the whole century that prize-fighting has been going on, there's not been six fatal accidents at really respectable fights. It's safer than dancing; many a woman has danced her skirt into the fire and been burned. I once fought a man who had spoiled his constitution with bad living; and he exhausted himself so by going on and on long after he was beaten that he died of it, and nearly finished me, too. If you'd heard the fuss that even the oldest fighting men made over it you'd have thought that a baby had died from falling out of its cradle. A good milling does a man more good than harm. And if all these—dog-bakers, and soldiers, and pigeon-shooters, and fox-hunters, and the rest of them—are made welcome here, why am I shut out like a brute beast?"