"Just as you please," he said, coolly, halting. "May I assure Janet that you wish her to marry me?"
"Most certainly not. I do not wish anyone to marry you, much less my own sister. I am far inferior to Janet; and she deserves a much better husband than I do."
"I quite agree with you, though I don't quite see what that has to do with it. As far as I understand you, you will neither marry me yourself—mind, I am quite willing to fulfil my engagement still—nor let any one else have me. Is that so?"
"You may tell Janet," said Alice, vigorously, her face glowing, "that if we—you and I—were condemned to live forever on a desert isl—No; I will write to her. That will be the best way. Good-morning."
Parker, hitherto imperturbable, now showed signs of alarm. "I beg, Alice," he said, "that you will say nothing unfair to her of me. You cannot with truth say anything bad of me."
"Do you really care for Janet?" said Alice, wavering.
"Of course," he replied, indignantly. "Janet is a very superior girl."
"I have always said so," said Alice, rather angry because some one else had forestalled her with the meritorious admission. "I will tell her the simple truth—that there has never been anything between us except what is between all cousins; and that there never could have been anything more on my part. I must go now. I don't know what that man must think of me already."
"I should be sorry to lower you in his esteem," said Parker, maliciously. "Good-bye, Alice." Uttering the last words in a careless tone, he again pulled up the white horse's head, raised his hat, and sped away. It was not true that he was in the habit of riding in the park every season. He had learned from Janet that Alice was accustomed to ride there in the forenoon; and he had hired the white horse in order to meet her on equal terms, feeling that a gentleman on horseback in the road by the Serpentine could be at no social disadvantage with any lady, however exalted her associates.
As for Alice, she went home with his reminder that Miss Carew was her patron rankling in her. The necessity for securing an independent position seemed to press imminently upon her. And as the sole way of achieving this was by marriage, she felt for the time willing to marry any man, without regard to his person, age, or disposition, if only he could give her a place equal to that of Miss Carew in the world, of which she had lately acquired the manners and customs.
When the autumn set in, Alice was in Scotland learning to shoot; and Lydia was at Wiltstoken, preparing her father's letters and memoirs for publication. She did not write at the castle, all the rooms in which were either domed, vaulted, gilded, galleried, three-sided, six-sided, anything except four-sided, or in some way suggestive of the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments," and out of keeping with the associations of her father's life. In her search for a congruous room to work in, the idea of causing a pavilion to be erected in the elm vista occurred to her. But she had no mind to be disturbed just then by the presence of a troop of stone-masons, slaters, and carpenters, nor any time to lose in waiting for the end of their operations. So she had the Warren Lodge cleansed and lime washed, and the kitchen transformed into a comfortable library, where, as she sat facing the door at her writing-table, in the centre of the room, she could see the elm vista through one window and through another a tract of wood and meadow land intersected by the high-road and by a canal, beyond which the prospect ended in a distant green slope used as a sheep run. The other apartments were used by a couple of maid-servants, who kept the place well swept and dusted, prepared Miss Carew's lunch, answered her bell, and went on her errands to the castle; and, failing any of these employments, sat outside in the sun, reading novels. When Lydia had worked in this retreat daily for two months her mind became so full of the old life with her father that the interruptions of the servants often recalled her to the present with a shock. On the twelfth of August she was bewildered for a moment when Phoebe, one of the maids, entered and said,
"If you please, miss, Bashville is wishful to know can he speak to you a moment?"
Permission being given, Bashville entered. Since his wrestle with Cashel he had never quite recovered his former imperturbability. His manner and speech were as smooth and respectful as before, but his countenance was no longer steadfast; he was on bad terms with the butler because he had been reproved by him for blushing. On this occasion he came to beg leave to absent himself during the afternoon. He seldom asked favors of this kind, and was of course never refused.
"The road is quite thronged to-day," she observed, as he thanked her. "Do you know why?"
"No, madam," said Bashville, and blushed.
"People begin to shoot on the twelfth," she said; "but I suppose it cannot have anything to do with that. Is there a race, or a fair, or any such thing in the neighborhood?"
"Not that I am aware of, madam."
Lydia dipped her pen in the ink and thought no more of the subject. Bashville returned to the castle, attired himself like a country gentleman of sporting tastes, and went out to enjoy his holiday.
The forenoon passed away peacefully. There was no sound in the Warren Lodge except the scratching of Lydia's pen, the ticking of her favorite skeleton clock, an occasional clatter of crockery from the kitchen, and the voices of the birds and maids without. The hour for lunch approached, and Lydia became a little restless. She interrupted her work to look at the clock, and brushed a speck of dust from its dial with the feather of her quill. Then she looked absently through the window along the elm vista, where she had once seen, as she had thought, a sylvan god. This time she saw a less romantic object—a policeman. She looked again, incredulously, there he was still, a black-bearded, helmeted man, making a dark blot in the green perspective, and surveying the landscape cautiously. Lydia rang the bell, and bade Phoebe ask the man what he wanted.
The girl soon returned out of breath, with the news that there were a dozen more constables hiding in the road, and that the one she had spoken to had given no account of himself, but had asked her how many gates there were to the park; whether they were always locked, and whether she had seen many people about. She felt sure that a murder had been committed somewhere. Lydia shrugged her shoulders, and ordered luncheon, during which Phoebe gazed eagerly through the window, and left her mistress to wait on herself.
"Phoebe," said Lydia, when the dishes were removed; "you may go to the gate lodge, and ask them there what the policemen want. But do not go any further. Stay. Has Ellen gone to the castle with the things?"
Phoebe reluctantly admitted that Ellen had.
"Well, you need not wait for her to return; but come back as quickly as you can, in case I should want anybody."
"Directly, miss," said Phoebe, vanishing.
Lydia, left alone, resumed her work leisurely, occasionally pausing to gaze at the distant woodland, and note with transient curiosity a flock of sheep on the slope, or a flight of birds above the tree-tops. Something more startling occurred presently. A man, apparently half-naked, and carrying a black object under his arm, darted through a remote glade with the swiftness of a stag, and disappeared. Lydia concluded that he had been disturbed while bathing in the canal, and had taken flight with his wardrobe under his arm. She laughed at the idea, turned to her manuscript again, and wrote on. Suddenly there was a rustle and a swift footstep without. Then the latch was violently jerked up, and Cashel Byron rushed in as far as the threshold, where he stood, stupefied at the presence of Lydia, and the change in the appearance of the room.
He was himself remarkably changed. He was dressed in a pea-jacket, which evidently did not belong to him, for it hardly reached his middle, and the sleeves were so short that his forearms were half bare, showing that he wore nothing beneath this borrowed garment. Below it he had on white knee-breeches, with green stains of bruised grass on them. The breeches were made with a broad ilap in front, under which, and passing round his waist, was a scarf of crimson silk. From his knees to his socks, the edges of which had fallen over his laced boots, his legs were visible, naked, and muscular. On his face was a mask of sweat, dust, and blood, partly rubbed away in places by a sponge, the borders of its passage marked by black streaks. Underneath his left eye was a mound of bluish flesh nearly as large as a walnut. The jaw below it, and the opposite cheek, were severely bruised, and his lip was cut through at one corner. He had no hat; his close-cropped hair was disordered, and his ears were as though they had been rubbed with coarse sand-paper.
Lydia looked at him for some seconds, and he at her, speechless. Then she tried to speak, failed, and sunk into her chair.
"I didn't know there was any one here," he said, in a hoarse, panting whisper. "The police are after me. I have fought for an hour, and run over a mile, and I'm dead beat—I can go no farther. Let me hide in the back room, and tell them you haven't seen any one, will you?"
"What have you done?" she said, conquering her weakness with an effort, and standing up.
"Nothing," he replied, groaning occasionally as he recovered breath. "Business, that's all."
"Why are the police pursuing you? Why are you in such a dreadful condition?"
Cashel seemed alarmed at this. There was a mirror in the lid of a paper-case on the table. lie took it up and looked at himself anxiously, but was at once relieved by what he saw. "I'm all right," he said. "I'm not marked. That mouse"—he pointed gayly to the lump under his eye-"will run away to-morrow. I am pretty tidy, considering. But it's bellows to mend with me at present. Whoosh! My heart is as big as a bullock's after that run."
"You ask me to shelter you," said Lydia, sternly. "What have you done? Have you committed murder?"
"No!" exclaimed Cashel, trying to open his eyes widely in his astonishment, but only succeeding with one, as the other was gradually closing. "I tell you I have been fighting; and it's illegal. You don't want to see me in prison, do you? Confound him," he added, reverting to her question with sudden wrath; "a steam-hammer wouldn't kill him. You might as well hit a sack of nails. And all my money, my time, my training, and my day's trouble gone for nothing! It's enough to make a man cry."
"Go," said Lydia, with uncontrollable disgust. "And do not let me see which way you go. How dare you come to me?"
The sponge-marks on Cashel's face grew whiter, and he began, to pant heavily again. "Very well," he said. "I'll go. There isn't a boy in your stables that would give me up like that."
As he spoke, he opened the door; but he involuntarily shut it again immediately. Lydia looked through the window, and saw a crowd of men, police and others, hurrying along the elm vista. Cashel cast a glance round, half piteous, half desperate, like a hunted animal. Lydia could not resist it. "Quick!" she cried, opening one of the inner doors. "Go in there, and keep quiet—if you can." And, as he sulkily hesitated a moment, she stamped vehemently. He slunk in submissively. She shut the door and resumed her place at the writing-table, her heart beating with a kind of excitement she had not felt since, in her early childhood, she had kept guilty secrets from her nurse.
There was a tramping without, and a sound of voices. Then two peremptory raps at the door.
"Come in," said Lydia, more composedly than she was aware of. The permission was not waited for. Before she ceased speaking a policeman opened the door and looked quickly round the room. He seemed rather taken aback by what he saw, and finally touched his helmet to signify respect for Lydia. He was about to speak, when Phoebe, flushed with running, pushed past him, put her hand on the door, and pertly asked what he wanted.
"Come away from the door, Phoebe," said Lydia. "Wait here with me until I give you leave to go," she added, as the girl moved towards the inner door. "Now," she said, turning courteously to the policeman, "what is the matter?"
"I ask your pardon, mum," said the constable, agreeably. "Did you happen to see any one pass hereabouts lately?"
"Do you mean a man only partly dressed, and carrying a black coat?" said Lydia.
"That's him, miss," said the policeman, greatly interested." Which way did he go?"
"I will show you where I saw him," said Lydia, quietly rising and going with the man to the door, outside which she found a crowd of rustics, and five policemen, having in custody two men, one of whom was Mellish (without a coat), and the other a hook-nosed man, whose like Lydia had seen often on race-courses. She pointed out the glade across which she had seen Cashel run, and felt as if the guilt of the deception she was practising was wrenching some fibre in her heart from its natural order. But she spoke with apparent self-possession, and no shade of suspicion fell on the minds of the police.
Several peasants now came forward, each professing to know exactly whither Cashel had been making when he crossed the glade. While they were disputing, many persons resembling the hook-nosed captive in general appearance sneaked into the crowd and regarded the police with furtive hostility. Soon after, a second detachment of police came up, with another prisoner and another crowd, among whom was Bashville.
"Better go in, mum," said the policeman who had spoken to Lydia first. "We must keep together, being so few, and he ain't fit for you to look at."
But Lydia had looked already, and had guessed that the last prisoner was Paradise, although his countenance was damaged beyond recognition. His costume was like that of Cashel, except that he was girt with a blue handkerchief with white spots, and his shoulders were wrapped in a blanket, through one of the folds of which his naked ribs could be seen, tinged with every hue that a bad bruise can assume. A shocking spectacle appeared where his face had formerly been. A crease and a hole in the midst of a cluster of lumps of raw flesh indicated the presence of an eye and a mouth; the rest of his features were indiscernible. He could still see a little, for he moved his puffed and lacerated hand to arrange his blanket, and demanded hoarsely, and with greatly impeded articulation, whether the lady would stand a dram to a poor fighting man wot had done his best for his backers. On this some one produced a flask, and Mellish volunteered, provided he were released for a moment, to get the contents down Paradise's throat. As soon as the brandy had passed his swollen lips he made a few preliminary sounds, and then shouted,
"He sent for the coppers because he couldn't stand another round. I am ready to go on."
The policemen bade him hold his tongue, closed round him, and hid him from Lydia, who, without showing the mingled pity and loathing with which his condition inspired her, told them to bring him to the castle, and have him attended to there. She added that the whole party could obtain refreshment at the same time. The sergeant, who was very tired and thirsty, wavered in his resolution to continue the pursuit. Lydia, as usual, treated the matter as settled.
"Bashville," she said, "will you please show them the way, and see that they are satisfied."
"Some thief has stole my coat," said Mellish, sullenly, to Bashville. "If you'll lend me one, governor, and these blessed policemen will be so kind as not to tear it off my back, I'll send it down to you in a day or two. I'm a respectable man, and have been her ladyship's tenant here."
"Your pal wants it worse than you," said the sergeant. "If there was an old coachman's cape or anything to put over him, I would see it returned safe. I don't want to bring him round the country in a blanket, like a wild Injin."
"I have a cloak inside," said Bashville. "I'll get it for you." And before Lydia could devise a pretext for stopping him, he went out, and she heard him reentering the lodge by the back door. It seemed to her that a silence fell on the crowd, as if her deceit were already discovered. Then Mellish, who had been waiting for an opportunity to protest against the last remark of the policeman, said, angrily,
"Who are you calling my pal? I hope I may be struck dead for a liar if ever I set my eyes on him in my life before."
Lydia looked at him as a martyr might look at a wretch to whom she was to be chained. He was doing as she had done—lying. Then Bashville, having passed through the other rooms, came into the library by the inner door, with an old livery cloak on his arm.
"Put that on him," he said, "and come along to the castle with me. You can see the roads for five miles round from the south tower, and recognize every man on them, through the big telescope. By your leave, madam, I think Phoebe had better come with us to help."
"Certainly," said Lydia, looking steadfastly at him.
"I'll get clothes at the castle for the man that wants them," he added, trying to return her gaze, but failing with a blush. "Now boys. Come along."
"I thank your ladyship," said the sergeant. "We have had a hard morning of it, and we can do no more at present than drink your health." He touched his helmet again, and Lydia bowed to him. "Keep close together, men," he shouted, as the crowd moved off with Bashville.
"Ah," sneered Mellish, "keep close together like the geese do. Things has come to a pretty pass when an Englishman is run in for stopping when he sees a crowd."
"All right," said the sergeant. "I have got that bundle of colored handkerchiefs you were selling; and I'll find the other man before you're a day older. It's a pity, seeing how you've behaved so well and haven't resisted us, that you won't drop a hint of where those ropes and stakes are hid. I might have a good word at the sessions for any one who would put me in the way of finding them."
"Ropes and stakes! Fiddlesticks and grandmothers! There weren't no ropes and stakes. It was only a turn-up—that is, if there was any fighting at all. I didn't see none; but I s'pose you did. But then you're clever, and I'm not."
By this time the last straggler of the party had disappeared from Lydia, who had watched their retreat from the door of the Warren Lodge. When she turned to go in she saw Cashel cautiously entering from the room in which he had lain concealed. His excitement had passed off; he looked cold and anxious, as if a reaction were setting in.
"Are they all gone?" he said. "That servant of yours is a good sort. He has promised to bring me some clothes. As for you, you're better than—What's the matter? Where are you going to?"
Lydia had put on her hat, and was swiftly wrapping herself in a shawl. Wreaths of rosy color were chasing each other through her cheeks; and her eyes and nostrils, usually so tranquil, were dilated.
"Won't you speak to me?" he said, irresolutely.
"Just this," she replied, with passion. "Let me never see you again. The very foundations of my life are loosened: I have told a lie. I have made my servant—an honorable man—an accomplice in a lie. We are worse than you; for even your wild-beast's handiwork is a less evil than the bringing of a falsehood into the world. This is what has come to me out of our acquaintance. I have given you a hiding-place. Keep it. I will never enter it again."
Cashel, appalled, shrank back with an expression such as a child wears when, in trying to steal sweet-meats from a high shelf, it pulls the whole cupboard down about its ears. He neither spoke nor stirred as she left the lodge.
Finding herself presently at the castle, she went to her boudoir, where she found her maid, the French lady, from whose indignant description of the proceedings below she gathered that the policemen were being regaled with bread and cheese, and beer; and that the attendance of a surgeon had been dispensed with, Paradise's wounds having been dressed skilfully by Mellish. Lydia bade her send Bashville to the Warren Lodge to see that there were no strangers loitering about it, and ordered that none of the female servants should return there until he came back. Then she sat down and tried not to think. But she could not help thinking; so she submitted and tried to think the late catastrophe out. An idea that she had disjointed the whole framework of things by creating a false belief filled her imagination. The one conviction that she had brought out of her reading, observing, reflecting, and living was that the concealment of a truth, with its resultant false beliefs, must produce mischief, even though the beginning of that mischief might be as inconceivable as the end. She made no distinction between the subtlest philosophical misconception and the vulgarest lie. The evil of Cashel's capture was measurable, the evil of a lie beyond all measure. She felt none the less assured of that evil because she could not foresee one bad consequence likely to ensue from what she had done. Her misgivings pressed heavily upon her; for her father, a determined sceptic, had taught her his own views, and she was, therefore, destitute of the consolations which religion has for the wrongdoer. It was plainly her duty to send for the policeman and clear up the deception she had practised on him. But this she could not do. Her will, in spite of her reason, acted in the opposite direction. And in this paralysis of her moral power she saw the evil of the lie beginning. She had given it birth, and nature would not permit her to strangle the monster.
At last her maid returned and informed her that the canaille had gone away. When she was again alone, she rose and walked slowly to and fro through the room, forgetting the lapse of time in the restless activity of her mind, until she was again interrupted, this time by Bashville.
He was daunted by her tone; for he had never before heard her speak haughtily to a servant. He did not understand that he had changed subjectively, and was now her accomplice.
"He's given himself up."
"What do you mean?" she said, with sudden dismay.
"Byron, madam. I brought some clothes to the lodge for him, but when I got there he was gone. I went round to the gates in search of him, and found him in the hands of the police. They told me he'd just given himself up. He wouldn't give any account of himself; and he looked—well, sullen and beaten down like."
"What will they do with him?" she asked, turning quite pale.
"A man got six weeks' hard labor, last month, for the same offence. Most probably that's what he'll get. And very little for what's he's done, as you'd say if you saw him doing it, madam."
"Then," said Lydia, sternly, "it was to see this"—she shrank from naming it—"this fight, that you asked my permission to go out!"
"Yes, madam, it was," said Bashville, with some bitterness. "I recognized Lord Worthington and plenty more noblemen and gentlemen there."
Lydia was about to reply sharply; but she checked herself; and her usual tranquil manner came back as she said, "That is no reason why you should have been there."
Bashville's color began to waver, and his voice to need increased control. "It's in human nature to go to such a thing once," he said; "but once is enough, at least for me. You'll excuse my mentioning it, madam; but what with Lord Worthington and the rest of Byron's backers screaming oaths and abuse at the other man, and the opposite party doing the same to Byron—well, I may not be a gentleman; but I hope I can conduct myself like a man, even when I'm losing money."
"Then do not go to such an exhibition again, Bashville. I must not dictate to you what your amusements shall be; but I do not think you are likely to benefit yourself by copying Lord Worthington's tastes."
"I copy no lord's tastes," said Bashville, reddening. "You hid the man that was fighting, Miss Carew. Why do you look down on the man that was only a bystander?"
Lydia's color rose, too. Her first impulse was to treat this outburst as rebellion against her authority, and crush it. But her sense of justice withheld her.
"Would you have had me betray a fugitive who took refuge in my house, Bashville? YOU did not betray him."
"No," said Bashville, his expression subdued to one of rueful pride. "When I am beaten by a better man, I have courage enough to get out of his way and take no mean advantage of him."
Lydia, not understanding, looked inquiringly at him. He made a gesture as if throwing something from him, and continued recklessly,
"But one way I'm as good as he, and better. A footman is held more respectable than a prize-fighter. He's told you that he's in love with you; and if it is to be my last word, I'll tell you that the ribbon round your neck is more to me than your whole body and soul is to him or his like. When he took an unfair advantage of me, and pretended to be a gentleman, I told Mr. Lucian of him, and showed him up for what he was. But when I found him to-day hiding in the pantry at the Lodge, I took no advantage of him, though I knew well that if he'd been no more to you than any other man of his sort, you'd never have hid him. You know best why he gave himself up to the police after your seeing his day's work. But I will leave him to his luck. He is the best man: let the best man win. I am sorry," added Bashville, recovering his ordinary suave manner with an effort, "to inconvenience you by a short notice, but I should take it as a particular favor if I might go this evening."
"You had better," said Lydia, rising quite calmly, and keeping resolutely away from her the strange emotional result of being astonished, outraged, and loved at one unlooked-for stroke. "It is not advisable that you should stay after what you have just—"
"I knew that when I said it," interposed Bashville hastily and doggedly.
"In going away you will be taking precisely the course that would be adopted by any gentleman who had spoken to the same effect. I am not offended by your declaration: I recognize your right to make it. If you need my testimony to further your future arrangements, I shall be happy to say that I believe you to be a man of honor."
Bashville bowed, and said in a low voice, very nervously, that he had no intention of going into service again, but that he should always be proud of her good opinion.
"You are fitted for better things," she said. "If you embark in any enterprise requiring larger means than you possess, I will be your security. I thank you for your invariable courtesy to me in the discharge of your duties. Good-bye."
She bowed to him and left the room. Bashville, awestruck, returned her salutation as best he could, and stood motionless after she disappeared; his mind advancing on tiptoe to grasp what had just passed. His chief sensation was one of relief. He no longer dared to fancy himself in love with such a woman. Her sudden consideration for him as a suitor overwhelmed him with a sense of his unfitness for such a part. He saw himself as a very young, very humble, and very ignorant man, whose head had been turned by a pleasant place and a kind mistress. Wakened from his dream, he stole away to pack his trunk, and to consider how best to account to his fellow-servants for his departure.
Lydia resumed her work next day with shaken nerves and a longing for society. Many enthusiastic young ladies of her acquaintance would have brought her kisses and devotion by the next mail in response to a telegram; and many more practical people would have taken considerable pains to make themselves agreeable to her for the sake of spending the autumn at Wiltstoken Castle. But she knew that they would only cause her to regret her former solitude. She shrank from the people who attached themselves to her strength and riches even when they had not calculated her gain, and were conscious only of admiration and gratitude. Alice, as a companion, had proved a failure. She was too young, and too much occupied with the propriety of her own behavior, to be anything more to Lydia than an occasional tax upon her patience. Lydia, to her own surprise, thought several times of Miss Gisborne, and felt tempted to invite her, but was restrained by mistrust of the impulse to communicate with Cashel's mother, and reluctance to trace it to its source. Eventually she resolved to conquer her loneliness, and apply herself with increased diligence to the memoir of her father. To restore her nerves, she walked for an hour every day in the neighborhood, and drove out in a pony carriage, in the evening. Bashville's duties were now fulfilled by the butler and Phoebe, Lydia being determined to admit no more young footmen to her service.
One afternoon, returning from one of her daily walks, she found a stranger on the castle terrace, in conversation with the butler. As it was warm autumn weather, Lydia was surprised to see a woman wearing a black silk mantle trimmed with fur, and heavily decorated with spurious jet beads. However, as the female inhabitants of Wiltstoken always approached Miss Carew in their best raiment, without regard to hours or seasons, she concluded that she was about to be asked for a subscription to a school treat, a temperance festival, or perhaps a testimonial to one of the Wiltstoken curates.
When she came nearer she saw that the stranger was an elderly lady—or possibly not a lady—with crimped hair, and ringlets hanging at each ear in a fashion then long obsolete.
"Here is Miss Carew," said the butler, shortly, as if the old lady had tried his temper. "You had better talk to her yourself."
At this she seemed fluttered, and made a solemn courtesy. Lydia, noticing the courtesy and the curls, guessed that her visitor kept a dancing academy. Yet a certain contradictory hardihood in her frame and bearing suggested that perhaps she kept a tavern. However, as her face was, on the whole, an anxious and a good face, and as her attitude towards the lady of the castle was one of embarrassed humility, Lydia acknowledged her salutation kindly, and waited for her to speak.
"I hope you won't consider it a liberty," said the stranger, tremulously. "I'm Mrs. Skene."
Lydia became ominously grave; and Mrs. Skene reddened a little. Then she continued, as if repeating a carefully prepared and rehearsed speech, "It would be esteemed a favor if I might have the honor of a few words in private with your ladyship."
Lydia looked and felt somewhat stern; but it was not in her nature to rebuff any one without strong provocation. She invited her visitor to enter, and led the way to the circular drawing-room, the strange decorations of which exactly accorded with Mrs. Skene's ideas of aristocratic splendor. As a professor of deportment and etiquette, the ex-champion's wife was nervous under the observation of such an expert as Lydia; but she got safely seated without having made a mistake to reproach herself with. For, although entering a room seems a simple matter to many persons, it was to Mrs. Skene an operation governed by the strict laws of the art she professed, and one so elaborate that few of her pupils mastered it satisfactorily with less than a month's practice. Mrs Skene soon dismissed it from her mind. She was too old to dwell upon such vanities when real anxieties were pressing upon her.
"Oh, miss," she began, appealingly, "the boy!"
Lydia knew at once who was meant. But she repeated, as if at a loss, "The boy?" And immediately accused herself of insincerity.
"Our boy, ma'am. Cashel."
"Mrs. Skene!" said Lydia, reproachfully.
Mrs. Skene understood all that Lydia's tone implied. "I know, ma'am," she pleaded. "I know well. But what could I do but come to you? Whatever you said to him, it has gone to his heart; and he's dying."
"Pardon me," said Lydia, promptly; "men do not die of such things; and Mr. Cashel Byron is not so deficient either in robustness of body or hardness of heart as to be an exception to THAT rule."
"Yes, miss," said Mrs. Skene, sadly. "You are thinking of the profession. You can't believe he has any feelings because he fights. Ah, miss, if you only knew them as I do! More tender-hearted men don't breathe. Cashel is like a young child, his feelings are that easily touched; and I have known stronger than he to die of broken hearts only because they were unlucky in their calling. Just think what a high-spirited young man must feel when a lady calls him a wild beast. That was a cruel word, miss; it was, indeed."
Lydia was so disconcerted by this attack that she had to pause awhile before replying. Then she said, "Are you aware, Mrs. Skene, that my knowledge of Mr. Byron is very slight—that I have not seen him ten times in my life? Perhaps you do not know the circumstances in which I last saw him. I was greatly shocked by the injuries he had inflicted on another man; and I believe I spoke of them as the work of a wild beast. For your sake, I am sorry I said so; for he has told me that he regards you as his mother; and—"
"Oh, no! Far from it, miss. I ask your pardon a thousand times for taking the word out of your mouth; but me and Ned is no more to him than your housekeeper or governess might be to you. That's what I'm afraid you don't understand, miss. He's no relation of ours. I do assure you that he's a gentleman born and bred; and when we go back to Melbourne next Christmas, it will be just the same as if he had never known us."
"I hope he will not be so ungrateful as to forget you. He has told me his history."
"That's more than he ever told me, miss; so you may judge how much he thinks of you."
A pause followed this. Mrs. Skene felt that the first exchange was over, and that she had got the better in it.
"Mrs. Skene," said Lydia then, penetratingly; "when you came to pay me this visit, what object did you propose to yourself? What do you expect me to do?"
"Well, ma'am," said Mrs. Skene, troubled, "the poor lad has had crosses lately. There was the disappointment about you—the first one, I mean—that had been preying on his mind for a long time. Then there was that exhibition spar at the Agricultural Hall, when Paradise acted so dishonorable. Cashel heard that you were looking on; and then he read the shameful way the newspapers wrote of him; and he thought you'd believe it all. I couldn't get that thought out of his head. I said to him, over and over again—"
"Excuse me," said Lydia, interrupting. "We had better be frank with one another. It is useless to assume that he mistook my feeling on that subject. I WAS shocked by the severity with which he treated his opponent."
"But bless you, that's his business," said Mrs. Skone, opening her eyes widely. "I put it to you, miss," she continued, as if mildly reprobating some want of principle on Lydia's part, "whether an honest man shouldn't fulfil his engagements. I assure you that the pay a respectable professional usually gets for a spar like that is half a guinea; and that was all Paradise got. But Cashel stood on his reputation, and wouldn't take less than ten guineas; and he got it, too. Now many another in his position would have gone into the ring and fooled away the time pretending to box, and just swindling those that paid him. But Cashel is as honest and high-minded as a king. You saw for yourself the trouble he took. He couldn't have spared himself less if he had been fighting for a thousand a side and the belt, instead of for a paltry ten guineas. Surely you don't think the worse of him for his honesty, miss?"
"I confess," said Lydia, laughing in spite of herself, "that your view of the transaction did not occur to me."
"Of course not, ma'am; no more it wouldn't to any one, without they were accustomed to know the right and wrong of the profession. Well, as I was saying, miss, that was a fresh disappointment to him. It worrited him more than you can imagine. Then came a deal of bother about the match with Paradise. First Paradise could only get five hundred pounds; and the boy wouldn't agree for less than a thousand. I think it's on your account that he's been so particular about the money of late; for he was never covetous before. Then Mellish was bent on its coming off down hereabouts; and the poor lad was so mortal afraid of its getting to your ears, that he wouldn't consent until they persuaded him you would be in foreign parts in August. Glad I was when the articles were signed at last, before he was worrited into his grave. All the time he was training he was longing for a sight of you; but he went through with it as steady and faithful as a man could. And he trained beautiful. I saw him on the morning of the fight; and he was like a shining angel; it would have done a lady's heart good to look at him. Ned went about like a madman offering twenty to one on him: if he had lost, we should have been ruined at this moment. And then to think of the police coming just as he was finishing Paradise. I cried like a child when I heard of it: I don't think there was ever anything so cruel. And he could have finished him quarter of an hour sooner, only he held back to make the market for Ned." Here Mrs. Skene, overcome, blew her nose before proceeding. "Then, on the top of that, came what passed betwixt you and him, and made him give himself up to the police. Lord Worthington bailed him out; but what with the disgrace and the disappointment, and his time and money thrown away, and the sting of your words, all coming together, he was quite broken-hearted. And now he mopes and frets; and neither me nor Ned nor Fan can get any good of him. They tell me that he won't be sent to prison; but if he is"—here Mrs. Skene broke down and began to cry—"it will be the death of him, and God forgive those that have brought it about."
Sorrow always softened Lydia; but tears hardened her again; she had no patience with them.
"And the other man?" she said. "Have you heard anything of him? I suppose he is in some hospital."
"In hospital!" repeated Mrs. Skene, checking her tears in alarm. "Who?"
"Paradise," replied Lydia, pronouncing the name reluctantly.
"He in hospital! Why, bless your innocence, miss, I saw him yesterday, looking as well as such an ugly brute could look—not a mark on him, and he bragging what he would have done to Cashel if the police hadn't come up. He's a nasty, low fighting man, so he is; and I'm only sorry that our boy demeaned himself to strip with the like of him. I hear that Cashel made a perfect picture of him, and that you saw him. I suppose you were frightened, ma'am, and very naturally, too, not being used to such sights. I have had my Ned brought home to me in that state that I have poured brandy into his eye, thinking it was his mouth; and even Cashel, careful as he is, has been nearly blind for three days. It is not to be expected that they could have all the money for nothing. Don't let it prey on your mind, miss. If you married—I am only supposing it," said Mrs. Skene in soothing parenthesis as she saw Lydia shrink from the word—"if you were married to a great surgeon, as you might be without derogation to your high rank, you'd be ready to faint if you saw him cut off a leg or an arm, as he would have to do every day for his livelihood; but you'd be proud of his cleverness in being able to do it. That's how I feel with regard to Ned. I tell you the truth, ma'am, I shouldn't like to see him in the ring no more than the lady of an officer in the Guards would like to see her husband in the field of battle running his sword into the poor blacks or into the French; but as it's his profession, and people think so highly of him for it, I make up my mind to it; and now I take quite an interest in it, particularly as it does nobody any harm. Not that I would have you think that Ned ever took the arm or leg off a man: Lord forbid—or Cashel either. Oh, ma'am, I thank you kindly, and I'm sorry you should have given yourself the trouble." This referred to the entry of a servant with tea.
"Still," said Lydia, when they were at leisure to resume the conversation, "I do not quite understand why you have come to me. Personally you are quite welcome; but in what way did you expect to relieve Mr. Byron's mind by visiting me? Did he ask you to come?"
"He'd have died first. I came down of my own accord, knowing what was the matter with him."
"And what then?"
Mrs. Skene looked around to satisfy herself that they were alone. Then she leaned towards Lydia, and said in an emphatic whisper,
"Why won't you marry him, miss?"
"Because I don't choose, Mrs. Skene," said Lydia, with perfect good-humor.
"But consider a little, miss. Where will you ever get such another chance? Only think what a man he is! champion of the world and a gentleman as well. The two things have never happened before, and never will again. I have known lots of champions, but they were not fit company for the like of you. Ned was champion when I married him; and my family thought that I lowered myself in doing it, although I was only a professional dancer on the stage. The men in the ring are common men mostly; and so, though they are the best men in the kingdom, ladies are cut off from their society. But it has been your good luck to take the fancy of one that's a gentleman. What more could a lady desire? Where will you find his equal in health, strength, good looks, or good manners? As to his character, I can tell you about that. In Melbourne, as you may suppose, all the girls and women were breaking their hearts for his sake. I declare to you that I used to have two or three of them in every evening merely to look at him, and he, poor innocent lad, taking no more notice of them than if they were cabbages. He used to be glad to get away from them by going into the saloon and boxing with the gentlemen; and then they used to peep at him through the door. They never got a wink from him. You were the first, Miss Carew; and, believe me, you will be the last. If there had ever been another he couldn't have kept it from me; because his disposition is as open as a child's. And his honesty is beyond everything you can imagine. I have known him to be offered eight hundred pounds to lose a fight that he could only get two hundred by winning, not to mention his chance of getting nothing at all if he lost honestly. You know—for I see you know the world, ma'am—how few men would be proof against such a temptation. There are men high up in their profession—so high that you'd as soon suspect the queen on her throne of selling her country's battles as them—that fight cross on the sly when it's made worth their while. My Ned is no low prize-fighter, as is well known; but when he let himself be beat by that little Killarney Primrose, and went out and bought a horse and trap next day, what could I think? There, ma'am, I tell you that of my own husband; and I tell you that Cashel never was beaten, although times out of mind it would have paid him better to lose than to win, along of those wicked betting men. Not an angry word have I ever had from him, nor the sign of liquor have I ever seen on him, except once on Ned's birthday; and then nothing but fun came out of him in his cups, when the truth comes out of all men. Oh, do just think how happy you ought to be, miss, if you would only bring yourself to look at it in the proper light. A gentleman born and bred, champion of the world, sober, honest, spotless as the unborn babe, able to take his own part and yours in any society, and mad in love with you! He thinks you an angel from heaven and so I am sure you are, miss, in your heart. I do assure you that my Fan gets quite put out because she thinks he draws comparisons to her disadvantage. I don't think you can be so hard to please as to refuse him, miss."
Lydia leaned back in her chair and looked at Mrs. Skene with a curious expression which soon brightened into an irrepressible smile. Mrs. Skene smiled very slightly in complaisance, but conveyed by her serious brow that what she had said was no laughing matter.
"I must take some time to consider all that you have so eloquently urged," said Lydia. "I am in earnest, Mrs. Skene; you have produced a great effect upon me. Now let us talk of something else for the present. Your daughter is quite well, I hope."
"Thank you kindly, ma'am, she enjoys her health."
"And you also?"
"I am as well as can be expected," said Mrs. Skene, too fond of commiseration to admit that she was perfectly well.
"You must have a rare sense of security," said Lydia, watching her, "being happily married to so celebrated a—a professor of boxing as Mr. Skene. Is it not pleasant to have a powerful protector?"
"Ah, miss, you little know," exclaimed Mrs. Skene, falling into the trap baited by her own grievances, and losing sight of Cashel's interests. "The fear of his getting into trouble is never off my mind. Ned is quietness itself until he has a drop of drink in him; and then he is like the rest—ready to fight the first that provokes him. And if the police get hold of him he has no chance. There's no justice for a fighting man. Just let it be said that he's a professional, and that's enough for the magistrate; away with him to prison, and good-by to his pupils and his respectability at once. That's what I live in terror of. And as to being protected, I'd let myself be robbed fifty times over sooner than say a word to him that might bring on a quarrel. Many a time when we were driving home of a night have I overpaid the cabman on the sly, afraid he would grumble and provoke Ned. It's the drink that does it all. Gentlemen are proud to be seen speaking with him in public; and they come up one after another asking what he'll have, until the next thing he knows is that he's in bed with his boots on, his wrist sprained, and maybe his eye black, trying to remember what he was doing the night before. What I suffered the first three years of our marriage none can tell. Then he took the pledge, and ever since that he's been very good—I haven't seen him what you could fairly call drunk, not more than three times a year. It was the blessing of God, and a beating he got from a milkman in Westminster, that made him ashamed of himself. I kept him to it and made him emigrate out of the way of his old friends. Since that, there has been a blessing on him; and we've prospered."
"Is Cashel quarrelsome?"
At the tone of this question Mrs. Skene suddenly realized the untimeliness of her complaints. "No, no," she protested. "He never drinks; and as to fighting, if you can believe such a thing, miss, I don't think he has had a casual turnup three times in his life—not oftener, at any rate. All he wants is to be married; and then he'll be steady to his grave. But if he's left adrift now, Lord knows what will become of him. He'll mope first—he's moping at present—then he'll drink; then he'll lose his pupils, get out of condition, be beaten, and—One word from you, miss, would save him. If I might just tell him—"
"Nothing," said Lydia. "Absolutely nothing. The only assurance I can give you is that you have softened the hard opinion that I had formed of some of his actions. But that I should marry Mr. Cashel Byron is simply the most improbable thing in the world. All questions of personal inclination apart, the mere improbability is enough in itself to appal an ordinary woman."
Mrs. Skene did not quite understand this; but she understood sufficiently for her purpose. She rose to go, shaking her head despondently, and saying, "I see how it is, ma'am. You think him beneath you. Your relations wouldn't like it."
"There is no doubt that my relatives would be greatly shocked; and I am bound to take that into account for—what it is worth."
"We should never trouble you," said Mrs. Skene, lingering. "England will see the last of us in a month of two."
"That will make no difference to me, except that I shall regret not being able to have a pleasant chat with you occasionally." This was not true; but Lydia fancied she was beginning to take a hardened delight in lying.
Mrs. Skene was not to be consoled by compliments. She again shook her head. "It is very kind of you to give me good words, miss," she said; "but if I might have one for the boy you could say what you liked to me."
Lydia considered far before she replied. At last she said, "I am sorry I spoke harshly to him, since, driven as he was by circumstances, I cannot see how he could have acted otherwise than he did. And I overlooked the economic conditions of his profession. In short, I am not used to fisticuffs; and what I saw shocked me so much that I was unreasonable. But," continued Lydia, checking Mrs. Skene's rising hope with a warning finger, "how, if you tell him this, will you make him understand that I say so as an act of justice, and not in the least as a proffer of affection?"
"A crumb of comfort will satisfy him, miss. I'll just tell him that I've seen you, and that you meant nothing by what you said the other day; and—"
"Mrs. Skene," said Lydia, interrupting her softly; "tell him nothing at all as yet. I have made up my mind at last. If he does not hear from me within a fortnight you may tell him what you please. Can you wait so long?"
"Of course. Whatever you wish, ma'am. But Mellish's benefit is to be to-morrow night; and—"
"What have I to do with Mellish or his benefit?"
Mrs. Skene, abashed, murmured apologetically that she was only wishful that the boy should do himself credit.
"If he is to benefit Mellish by beating somebody, he will not be behindhand. Remember you are not to mention me for a fortnight. Is that a bargain?"
"Whatever you wish, ma'am," repeated Mrs. Skene, hardly satisfied. But Lydia gave her no further comfort; so she begged to take her leave, expressing a hope that things would turn out to the advantage of all parties. Then Lydia insisted on her partaking of some solid refreshment, and afterwards drove her to the railway station in the pony-carriage. Just before they parted Lydia, suddenly recurring to their former subject, said,
"Does Mr. Byron ever THINK?"
"Think!" said Mrs. Skene emphatically. "Never. There isn't a more cheerful lad in existence, miss."
Then Mrs. Skene was carried away to London, wondering whether it could be quite right for a young lady to live in a gorgeous castle without any elder of her own sex, and to speak freely and civilly to her inferiors. When she got home she said nothing of her excursion to Mr. Skene, in whose disposition valor so entirely took the place of discretion that he had never been known to keep a secret except as to the whereabouts of a projected fight. But she sat up late with her daughter Fanny, tantalizing her by accounts of the splendor of the castle, and consoling her by describing Miss Carew as a slight creature with red hair and no figure (Fanny having jet black hair, fine arms, and being one of Cashel's most proficient pupils).
"All the same, Fan," added Mrs. Skene, as she took her candlestick at two in the morning, "if it comes off, Cashel will never be master in his own house."
"I can see that very plain," said Fanny; "but if respectable professional people are not good enough for him, he will have only himself to thank if he gets himself looked down upon by empty-headed swells."
Meanwhile, Lydia, on her return to the castle after a long drive round the country, had attempted to overcome an attack of restlessness by setting to work on the biography of her father. With a view to preparing a chapter on his taste in literature she had lately been examining his favorite books for marked passages. She now resumed this search, not setting methodically to work, but standing perched on the library ladder, taking down volume after volume, and occasionally dipping into the contents for a few pages or so. At this desultory work the time passed as imperceptibly as the shadows lengthened. The last book she examined was a volume of poems. There were no marks in it; but it opened at a page which had evidently lain open often before. The first words Lydia saw were these:
"What would I give for a heart of flesh to warm me through Instead of this heart of stone ice-cold whatever I do; Hard and cold and small, of all hearts the worst of all."
Lydia hastily stepped down from the ladder, and recoiled until she reached a chair, where she sat and read and reread these lines. The failing light roused her to action. She replaced the book on the shelf, and said, as she went to the writing-table, "If such a doubt as that haunted my father it will haunt me, unless I settle what is to be my heart's business now and forever. If it be possible for a child of mine to escape this curse of autovivisection, it must inherit its immunity from its father, and not from me—from the man of emotion who never thinks, and not from the woman of introspection, who cannot help thinking. Be it so."
Before many days had elapsed a letter came for Cashel as he sat taking tea with the Skene family. When he saw the handwriting, a deep red color mounted to his temples.
"Oh, Lor'!" said Miss Skene, who sat next him. "Let's read it."
"Go to the dickens," cried Cashel, hastily baffling her as she snatched at it.
"Don't worrit him, Fan," said Mrs. Skene, tenderly.
"Not for the world, poor dear," said Miss Skene, putting her hand affectionately on his shoulder. "Let me just peep at the name—to see who it's from. Do, Cashel, DEAR."
"It's from nobody," said Cashel. "Here, get out. If you don't let me alone I'll make it warm for you the next time you come to me for a lesson."
"Very likely," said Fanny, contemptuously. "Who had the best of it to-day, I should like to know?"
"Gev' him a hot un on the chin with her right as ever I see," observed Skene, with hoarse mirth.
Cashel went away from the table, out of Fanny's reach; and read the letter, which ran thus:
"Regent's Park. "Dear Mr. Cashel Byron,—I am desirous that you should meet a lady friend of mine. She will be here at three o'clock to-morrow afternoon. You would oblige me greatly by calling on me at that hour.
There was a long pause, during which there was no sound in the room except the ticking of the clock and the munching of shrimps by the ex-champion.
"Good news, I hope, Cashel," said Mrs. Skene, at last, tremulously.
"Blow me if I understand it," said Cashel. "Can you make it out?" And he handed the letter to his adopted mother. Skene ceased eating to see his wife read, a feat which was to him one of the wonders of science.
"I think the lady she mentions must be herself," said Mrs. Skene, after some consideration.
"No," said Cashel, shaking his head. "She always says what she means."
"Ah," said Skene, cunningly; "but she can't write it though. That's the worst of writing; no one can't never tell exactly what it means. I never signed articles yet that there weren't some misunderstanding about; and articles is the best writing that can be had anywhere."
"You'd better go and see what it means," said Mrs. Skene.
"Right," said Skene. "Go and have it out with her, my boy."
"It is short, and not particularly sweet," said Fanny. "She might have had the civility to put her crest at the top."
"What would you give to be her?" said Cashel, derisively, catching the letter as she tossed it disdainfully to him.
"If I was I'd respect myself more than to throw myself at YOUR head."
"Hush, Fanny," said Mrs. Skene; "you're too sharp. Ned, you oughtn't to encourage her by laughing."
Next day Cashel rose early, went for a walk, paid extra attention to his diet, took some exercise with the gloves, had a bath and a rub down, and presented himself at Regent's Park at three o'clock in excellent condition. Expecting to see Bashville, he was surprised when the door was opened by a female servant.
"Miss Carew at home?"
"Yes, sir," said the girl, falling in love with him at first sight. "Mr. Byron, sir?"
"That's me," said Cashel. "I say, is there any one with her?"
"Only a lady, sir."
"Oh, d—n! Well, it can't be helped. Never say die."
The girl led him then to a door, opened it, and when he entered shut it softly without announcing him. The room in which he found himself was a long one, lighted from the roof. The walls were hung with pictures. At the far end, with their backs towards him, were two ladies: Lydia, and a woman whose noble carriage and elegant form would, have raised hopes of beauty in a man less preoccupied than Cashel. But he, after advancing some distance with his eyes on Lydia, suddenly changed countenance, stopped, and was actually turning to fly, when the ladies, hearing his light step, faced about and rooted him to the spot. As Lydia offered him her hand, her companion, who had surveyed the visitor first with indifference, and then with incredulous surprise, exclaimed, with a burst of delighted recognition, like a child finding a long-lost plaything, "My darling boy!" And going to Cashel with the grace of a swan, she clasped him in her arms. In acknowledgment of which he thrust his red, discomfited face over her shoulder, winked at Lydia with his tongue in his cheek, and said,
"This is what you may call the voice of nature, and no mistake."
"What a splendid creature you are!" said Mrs. Byron, holding him a little way from her, the better to admire him. "Do you know how handsome you are, you wretch?"
"How d'ye do, Miss Carew," said Cashel, breaking loose, and turning to Lydia. "Never mind her; it's only my mother. At least," he added, as if correcting himself, "she's my mamma."
"And where have you come from? Where have you been? Do you know that I have not seen you for seven years, you unnatural boy? Think of his being my son, Miss Carew. Give me another kiss, my own," she continued, grasping his arm affectionately.
"What a muscular creature you are!"
"Kiss away as much as you like," said Cashel, struggling with the old school-boy sullenness as it returned oppressively upon him. "I suppose you're well. You look right enough."
"Yes," she said, mockingly, beginning to despise him for his inability to act up to her in this thrilling scene; "I AM right enough. Your language is as refined as ever. And why do you get your hair cropped close like that? You must let it grow, and—"
"Now, look here," said Cashel, stopping her hand neatly as she raised it to rearrange his locks. "You just drop it, or I'll walk out at that door and you won't see me again for another seven years. You can either take me as you find me, or let me alone. Absalom and Dan Mendoza came to grief through wearing their hair long, and I am going to wear mine short."
Mrs. Byron became a shade colder. "Indeed!" she said. "Just the same still, Cashel?"
"Just the same, both one and other of us," he replied. "Before you spoke six words I felt as if we'd parted only yesterday."
"I am rather taken aback by the success of my experiment," interposed Lydia. "I invited you purposely to meet one another. The resemblance between you led me to suspect the truth, and my suspicion was confirmed by the account Mr. Byron gave me of his adventures."
Mrs. Byron's vanity was touched. "Is he like me?" she said, scanning his features. He, without heeding her, said to Lydia with undisguised mortification,
"And was THAT why you sent for me?"
"Are you disappointed?" said Lydia.
"He is not in the least glad to see me," said Mrs. Byron, plaintively. "He has no heart."
"Now she'll go on for the next hour," said Cashel, looking to Lydia, obviously because he found it much pleasanter than looking at his mother. "However, if you don't care, I don't. So, fire away, mamma."
"And you think we are really like one another?" said Mrs. Byron, not heeding him. "Yes; I think we are. There is a certain—Are you married, Cashel?" with sudden mistrust.
"Ha! ha! ha!" shouted Cashel. "No; but I hope to be, some day," he added, venturing to glance again at Lydia, who was, however, attentively observing Mrs. Byron.
"Well, tell me everything about yourself. What are you? Now, I do hope, Cashel, that you have not gone upon the stage."
"The stage!" said Cashel, contemptuously. "Do I look like it?"
"You certainly do not," said Mrs. Byron, whimsically—"although you have a certain odious professional air, too. What did you do when you ran away so scandalously from that stupid school in the north? How do you earn your living? Or DO you earn it?"
"I suppose I do, unless I am fed by ravens, as Elijah was. What do you think I was best fitted for by my education and bringing up? Sweep a crossing, perhaps! When I ran away from Panley, I went to sea."
"A sailor, of all things! You don't look like one. And pray, what rank have you attained in your profession?"
"The front rank. The top of the tree," said Cashel, shortly.
"Mr. Byron is not at present following the profession of a sailor; nor has he done so for many years," said Lydia.
Cashel looked at her, half in appeal, half in remonstrance.
"Something very different, indeed," pursued Lydia, with quiet obstinacy. "And something very startling."
"CAN'T you shut up?" exclaimed Cashel. "I should have expected more sense from you. What's the use of setting her on to make a fuss and put me in a rage? I'll go away if you don't stop."
"What is the matter?" said Mrs. Byron. "Have you been doing anything disgraceful, Cashel?"
"There she goes. I told you so. I keep a gymnasium, that's all. There's nothing disgraceful in that, I hope."
"A gymnasium?" repeated Mrs. Byron, with imperious disgust. "What nonsense! You must give up everything of that kind, Cashel. It is very silly, and very low. You were too ridiculously proud, of course, to come to me for the means of keeping yourself in a proper position. I suppose I shall have to provide you with—"
"If I ever take a penny from you, may I—" Cashel caught Lydia's anxious look, and checked himself. He paused and got away a step, a cunning smile flickering on his lips. "No," he said; "it's just playing into your hands to lose temper with you. You think you know me, and you want to force the fighting. Well, we'll see. Make me angry now if you can."
"There is not the slightest reason for anger," said Mrs. Byron, angry herself. "Your temper seems to have become ungovernable—or, rather, to have remained so; for it was never remarkable for sweetness."
"No," retorted Cashel, jeering good-humoredly. "Not the slightest occasion to lose my temper! Not when I am told that I am silly and low! Why, I think you must fancy that you're talking to your little Cashel, that blessed child you were so fond of. But you're not. You're talking—now for a screech, Miss Carew!—to the champion of Australia, the United States, and England, holder of three silver belts and one gold one (which you can have to wear in 'King John' if you think it'll become you); professor of boxing to the nobility and gentry of St. James's, and common prize-fighter to the whole globe, without reference to weight or color, for not less than five hundred pounds a side. That's Cashel Byron."
Mrs. Byron recoiled, astounded. After a pause she said, "Oh, Cashel, how COULD you?" Then, approaching him again, "Do you mean to say that you go out and fight those great rough savages?"
"Yes, I do."
"And that you BEAT them?"
"Yes. Ask Miss Carew how Billy Paradise looked after standing before me for an hour."
"You wonderful boy! What an occupation! And you have done all this in your own name?"
"Of course I have. I am not ashamed of it. I often wondered whether you had seen my name in the papers."
"I never read the papers. But you must have heard of my return to England. Why did you not come to see me?"
"I wasn't quite certain that you would like it," said Cashel, uneasily, avoiding her eye. "Hullo!" he exclaimed, as he attempted to refresh himself by another look at Lydia, "she's given us the slip."
"She is quite right to leave us alone together under the circumstances. And now tell me why my precious boy should doubt that his own mother wished to see him."
"I don't know why he should," said Cashel, with melancholy submission to her affection. "But he did."
"How insensible you are! Did you not know that you were always my cherished darling—my only son?"
Cashel, who was now sitting beside her on an ottoman, groaned and moved restlessly, but said nothing.
"Are you glad to see me?"
"Yes," said Cashel, dismally, "I suppose I am. I—By Jingo," he cried, with sudden animation, "perhaps you can give me a lift here. I never thought of that. I say, mamma; I am in great trouble at present, and I think you can help me if you will."
Mrs. Byron looked at him satirically. But she said, soothingly, "Of course I will help you—as far as I am able—my precious one. All I possess is yours."
Cashel ground his feet on the floor impatiently, and then sprang up. After an interval, during which he seemed to be swallowing some indignant protest, he said,
"You may put your mind at rest, once and for all, on the subject of money. I don't want anything of that sort."
"I am glad you are so independent, Cashel."
"So am I."
"Do, pray, be more amiable."
"I am amiable enough," he cried, desperately, "only you won't listen."
"My treasure," said Mrs. Byron, remorsefully. "What is the matter?"
"Well," said Cashel, somewhat mollified, "it is this. I want to marry Miss Carew; that's all."
"YOU marry Miss Carew!" Mrs. Byron's tenderness had vanished, and her tone was shrewd and contemptuous. "Do you know, you silly boy, that—"
"I know all about it," said Cashel, determinedly—"what she is, and what I am, and the rest of it. And I want to marry her; and, what's more, I will marry her, if I have to break the neck of every swell in London first. So you can either help me or not, as you please; but if you won't, never call me your precious boy any more. Now!"
Mrs. Byron abdicated her dominion there and then forever. She sat with quite a mild expression for some time in silence. Then she said,
"After all, I do not see why you should not. It would be a very good match for you."
"Yes; but a deuced bad one for her."
"Really, I do not see that, Cashel. When your uncle dies, I suppose you will succeed to the Dorsetshire property."
"I the heir to a property! Are you in earnest?"
"Of course. Don't you know who your people are?"
"How could I? You never told me. Do you mean to say that I have an uncle?"
"Old Bingley Byron? Certainly."
"Well, I AM blowed. But—but—I mean—Supposing he IS my uncle, am I his lawful heir?"
"Yes. Walford Byron, the only other brother of your father, died years ago, while you were at Moncrief's; and he had no sons. Bingley is a bachelor."
"But," said Cashel, cautiously, "won't there be some bother about my—at least—"
"My dearest child, what are you thinking or talking about? Nothing can be clearer than your title."
"Well," said Cashel, blushing, "a lot of people used to make out that you weren't married at all."
"What!" exclaimed Mrs. Byron, indignantly. "Oh, they DARE not say so! Impossible. Why did you not tell me at once?"
"I didn't think about it," said Cashel, hastily excusing himself. "I was too young to care. It doesn't matter now. My father is dead, isn't he?"
"He died when you were a baby. You have often made me angry with you, poor little innocent, by reminding me of him. Do not talk of him to me."
"Not if you don't wish. Just one thing, though, mamma. Was he a gentleman?"
"Of course. What a question!"
"Then I am as good as any of the swells that think themselves her equals? She has a cousin in the government office; a fellow who gives out that he is the home secretary, and most likely sits in a big chair in a hall and cheeks the public. Am I as good as he is?"
"You are perfectly well connected by your mother's side, Cashel. The Byrons are only commoners; but even they are one of the oldest county families in England."
Cashel began to show signs of excitement. "How much a year are they worth?" he demanded.
"I do not know how much they are worth now. Your father was always in difficulties, and so was his father. But Bingley is a miser. Five thousand a year, perhaps."
"That's an independence. That's enough. She said she couldn't expect a man to be so thunderingly rich as she is."
"Indeed? Then you have discussed the question with her?"
Cashel was about to speak, when a servant entered to say that Miss Carew was in the library, and begged that they would come to her as soon as they were quite disengaged. When the maid withdrew he said, eagerly,
"I wish you'd go home, mamma, and let me catch her in the library by herself. Tell me where you live, and I'll come in the evening and tell you all about it. That is, if you have no objection."
"What objection could I possibly have, dearest one? Are you sure that you are not spoiling your chance by too much haste? She has no occasion to hurry, Cashel, and she knows it."
"I am dead certain that now is my time or never. I always know by instinct when to go in and finish. Here's your mantle."
"In such a hurry to get rid of your poor old mother, Cashel?"
"Oh, bother! you're not old. You won't mind my wanting you to go for this once, will you?"
She smiled affectionately, put on her mantle, and turned her cheek towards him to be kissed. The unaccustomed gesture alarmed him; he retreated a step, and involuntary assumed an attitude of self-defence, as if the problem before him were a pugilistic one. Recovering himself immediately, he kissed her, and impatiently accompanied her to the house door, which he closed softly behind her, leaving her to walk in search of her carriage alone. Then he stole up-stairs to the library, where he found Lydia reading.
"She's gone," he said.
Lydia put down her book, looked up at him, saw what was coming, looked down again to hide a spasm of terror, and said, with a steady severity that cost her a great effort, "I hope you have not quarrelled."
"Lord bless you, no! We kissed one another like turtle-doves. At odd moments she wheedles me into feeling fond of her in spite of myself. She went away because I asked her to."
"And why do you ask my guests to go away?"
"Because I wanted to be alone with you. Don't look as if you didn't understand. She's told me a whole heap of things about myself that alter our affairs completely. My birth is all right; I'm heir to a county family that came over with the Conqueror, and I shall have a decent income. I can afford to give away weight to old Webber now."
"Well," said Lydia, sternly.
"Well," said Cashel, unabashed, "the only use of all that to me is that I may marry if I like. No more fighting or teaching now."
"And when you are married, will you be as tender to your wife as you are to your mother?"
Cashel's elation vanished. "I knew you'd think that," he said. "I am always the same with her; I can't help it. She makes me look like a fool, or like a brute. Have I ever been so with you?"
"Yes," said Lydia. "Except," she added, "that you have never shown absolute dislike to me."
"Ah! EXCEPT! That's a very big except. But I don't dislike her. Blood is thicker than water, and I have a softness for her; only I won't put up with her nonsense. But it's different with you. I don't know how to say it; I'm not good at sentiment—not that there's any sentiment about it. At least, I don't mean that; but—You're fond of me in a sort of way, ain't you?"
"Yes; I'm fond of you in a sort of way."
"Well, then," he said, uneasily, "won't you marry me? I'm not such a fool as you think; and you'll like me better after a while."
Lydia became very pale. "Have you considered," she said, "that henceforth you will be an idle man, and that I shall always be a busy woman, preoccupied with the work that may seem very dull to you?"
"I won't be idle. There's lots of things I can do besides boxing. We'll get on together, never fear. People that are fond of one another never have any difficulty; and people that hate each other never have any comfort. I'll be on the lookout to make you happy. You needn't fear my interrupting your Latin and Greek: I won't expect you to give up your whole life to me. Why should I? There's reason in everything. So long as you are mine, and nobody else's, I'll be content. And I'll be yours and nobody else's. What's the use of supposing half a dozen accidents that may never happen? Let's sign reasonable articles, and then take our chance. You have too much good-nature ever to be nasty."
"It would be a hard bargain," she said, doubtfully; "for you would have to give up your occupation; and I should give up nothing but my unfruitful liberty."
"I will swear never to fight again; and you needn't swear anything. If that is not an easy bargain, I don't know what is."
"Easy for me, yes. But for you?"
"Never mind me. You do whatever you like; and I'll do whatever you like. You have a conscience; so I know that whatever you like will be the best thing. I have the most science; but you have the most sense. Come!"
Lydia looked around, as if for a means of escape. Cashel waited anxiously. There was a long pause.
"It can't be," he said, pathetically, "that you are afraid of me because I was a prize-fighter."
"Afraid of you! No: I am afraid of myself; afraid of the future; afraid FOR you. But my mind is already made up on this subject. When I brought about this meeting between you and your mother I determined to marry you if you asked me again."
She stood up, quietly, and waited. The rough hardihood of the ring fell from him like a garment: he blushed deeply, and did not know what to do. Nor did she; but without willing it she came a step closer to him, and turned up her face towards his. He, nearly blind with confusion, put his arms about her and kissed her. Suddenly she broke loose from his arms, seized the lapels of his coat tightly in her hands, and leaned back until she nearly hung from him with all her weight.
"Cashel," she said, "we are the silliest lovers in the world, I believe—we know nothing about it. Are you really fond of me?"
She recovered herself immediately, and made no further demonstration of the kind. He remained shy, and was so evidently anxious to go, that she presently asked him to leave her for a while, though she was surprised to feel a faint pang of disappointment when he consented.
On leaving the house he hurried to the address which his mother had given him: a prodigious building in Westminster, divided into residential flats, to the seventh floor of which he ascended in a lift. As he stepped from it he saw Lucian Webber walking away from him along a corridor. Obeying a sudden impulse, he followed, and overtook him just as he was entering a room. Lucian, finding that some one was resisting his attempt to close the door, looked out, recognized Cashel, turned white, and hastily retreated into the apartment, where, getting behind a writing-table, he snatched a revolver from a drawer. Cashel recoiled, amazed and frightened, with his right arm up as if to ward off a blow.
"Hullo!" he cried. "Drop that d—d thing, will you? If you don't, I'll shout for help."
"If you approach me I will fire," said Lucian, excitedly. "I will teach you that your obsolete brutality is powerless against the weapons science has put into the hands of civilized men. Leave my apartments. I am not afraid of you; but I do not choose to be disturbed by your presence."
"Confound your cheek," said Cashel, indignantly; "is that the way you receive a man who comes to make a friendly call on you?"
"Friendly NOW, doubtless, when you see that I am well protected."
Cashel gave a long whistle. "Oh," he said, "you thought I came to pitch into you. Ha! ha! And you call that science—to draw a pistol on a man. But you daren't fire it, and well you know it. You'd better put it up, or you may let it off without intending to: I never feel comfortable when I see a fool meddling with firearms. I came to tell you that I'm going to be married to your cousin. Ain't you glad?"
Lucian's face changed. He believed; but he said, obstinately, "I don't credit that statement. It is a lie."
This outraged Cashel. "I tell you again," he said, in a menacing tone, "that your cousin is engaged to me. Now call me a liar, and hit me in the face, if you dare. Look here," he added, taking a leather case from his pocket, and extracting from it a bank note, "I'll give you that twenty-pound note if you will hit me one blow."
Lucian, sick with fury, and half paralyzed by a sensation which he would not acknowledge as fear, forced himself to come forward. Cashel thrust out his jaw invitingly, and said, with a sinister grin, "Put it in straight, governor. Twenty pounds, remember."
At that moment Lucian would have given all his political and social chances for the courage and skill of a prize-fighter. He could see only one way to escape the torment of Cashel's jeering and the self- reproach of a coward. He desperately clenched his fist and struck out. The blow wasted itself on space; and he stumbled forward against his adversary, who laughed uproariously, grasped his hand, clapped him on the back, and exclaimed,
"Well done, my boy. I thought you were going to be mean; but you've been game, and you're welcome to the stakes. I'll tell Lydia that you have fought me for twenty pounds and won on your merits. Ain't you proud of yourself for having had a go at the champion?"
"Sir—" began Lucian. But nothing coherent followed.
"You just sit down for a quarter of an hour, and don't drink anything, and you'll be all right. When you recover you'll be glad you showed pluck. So, good-night, for the present—I know how you feel, and I'll be off. Be sure not to try to settle yourself with wine; it'll only make you worse. Ta-ta!"
As Cashel withdrew, Lucian collapsed into a chair, shaken by the revival of passions and jealousies which he had thought as completely outgrown as the school-boy jackets in which he had formerly experienced them. He tried to think of some justification of his anger—some better reason for it than the vulgar taunt of a bully. He told himself presently that the idea of Lydia marrying such a man had maddened him to strike. As Cashel had predicted, he was beginning to plume himself on his pluck. This vein of reflection, warring with his inner knowledge that he had been driven by fear and hatred into a paroxysm of wrath against a man to whom he should have set an example of dignified self-control, produced an exhausting whirl in his thoughts, which were at once quickened and confused by the nervous shock of bodily violence, to which he was quite unused. Unable to sit still, he rose, put on his hat, went out, and drove to the house in Regent's Park.
Lydia was in her boudoir, occupied with a book, when he entered. He was not an acute observer; he could see no change in her. She was as calm as ever; her eyes were not even fully open, and the touch of her hand subdued him as it had always done. Though he had never entertained any hope of possessing her since the day when she had refused him in Bedford Square, a sense of intolerable loss came upon him as he saw her for the first time pledged to another—and such another!
"Lydia," he said, trying to speak vehemently, but failing to shake off the conventional address of which he had made a second nature, "I have heard something that has filled me with inexpressible dismay. Is it true?"
"The news has travelled fast," she said. "Yes; it is true." She spoke composedly, and so kindly that he choked in trying to reply.
"Then, Lydia, you are the chief actor in a greater tragedy than I have ever witnessed on the stage."
"It is strange, is it not?" she said, smiling at his effort to be impressive.
"Strange! It is calamitous. I trust I may be allowed to say so. And you sit there reading as calmly as though nothing had happened."
She handed him the book without a word.
"'Ivanhoe'!" he said. "A novel!"
"Yes. Do you remember once, before you knew me very well, telling me that Scott's novels were the only ones that you liked to see in the hands of ladies?"
"No doubt I did. But I cannot talk of literature just—"
"I am not leading you away from what you want to talk about. I was about to tell you that I came upon 'Ivanhoe' by chance half an hour ago, when I was searching—I confess it—for something very romantic to read. Ivanhoe was a prize-fighter—the first half of the book is a description of a prize-fight. I was wondering whether some romancer of the twenty-fourth century will hunt out the exploits of my husband, and present him to the world as a sort of English nineteenth-century Cyd, with all the glory of antiquity upon his deeds."
Lucian made a gesture of impatience. "I have never been able to understand," he said, "how it is that a woman of your ability can habitually dwell on perverse and absurd ideas. Oh, Lydia, is this to be the end of all your great gifts and attainments? Forgive me if I touch a painful chord; but this marriage seems to me so unnatural that I must speak out. Your father made you one of the richest and best-educated women in the world. Would he approve of what you are about to do?"
"It almost seems to me that he educated me expressly to some such end. Whom would you have me marry?"
"Doubtless few men are worthy of you, Lydia. But this man least of all. Could you not marry a gentleman? If he were even an artist, a poet, or a man of genius of any kind, I could bear to think of it; for indeed I am not influenced by class prejudice in the matter. But a—I will try to say nothing that you must not in justice admit to be too obvious to be ignored—a man of the lower orders, pursuing a calling which even the lower orders despise; illiterate, rough, awaiting at this moment a disgraceful sentence at the hands of the law! Is it possible that you have considered all these things?"
"Not very deeply; they are not of a kind to concern me much. I can console you as to one of them. I have always recognized him as a gentleman, in your sense of the word. He proves to be so—one of considerable position, in fact. As to his approaching trial, I have spoken with Lord Worthington about it, and also with the lawyers who have charge of the case; and they say positively that, owing to certain proofs not being in the hands of the police, a defence can be set up that will save him from imprisonment."
"There is no such defence possible," said Lucian, angrily.
"Perhaps not. As far as I understand it, it is rather an aggravation of the offence than an excuse for it. But if they imprison him it will make no difference. He can console himself by the certainty that I will marry him at once when he is released."