'Yes, yes, I know; but I thought only of you. I have such news for you! You will and must pardon my coming—that's my first thought, sensitive darling that you are!' She kissed him fondly. 'Juliana Bonner is in town, staying with us!'
'Is that your news?' asked Evan, pressing her against his breast.
'No, dear love—but still! You have no idea what her fortune—Mrs. Bonner has died and left her—but I mustn't tell you. Oh, my darling! how she admires you! She—she could recompense you; if you would! We will put that by, for the present. Dear! the Duke has begged you, through me, to accept—I think it 's to be a sort of bailiff to his estates—I don't know rightly. It's a very honourable post, that gentlemen take: and the income you are to have, Evan, will be near a thousand a year. Now, what do I deserve for my news?'
She put up her mouth for another kiss, out of breath.
'True?' looked Evan's eyes.
'True!' she said, smiling, and feasting on his bewilderment.
After the bubbling in his brain had a little subsided, Evan breathed as a man on whom fresh air is blown. Were not these tidings of release? His ridiculous pride must nevertheless inquire whether Caroline had been begging this for him.
'No, dear—indeed!' Caroline asserted with more than natural vehemence. 'It's something that you yourself have done that has pleased him. I don't know what. Only he says, he believes you are a man to be trusted with the keys of anything—and so you are. You are to call on him to-morrow. Will you?'
While Evan was replying, her face became white. She had heard the Major's voice in the shop. His military step advanced, and Caroline, exclaiming, 'Don't let me see him!' bustled to a door. Evan nodded, and she slipped through. The next moment he was facing the stiff marine.
'Well, young man,' the Major commenced, and, seating himself, added, 'be seated. I want to talk to you seriously, sir. You didn't think fit to wait till I had done with the Directors today. You're devilishly out in your discipline, whatever you are at two and two. I suppose there's no fear of being intruded on here? None of your acquaintances likely to be introducing themselves to me?'
'There is not one that I would introduce to you,' said Evan.
The Major nodded a brief recognition of the compliment, and then, throwing his back against the chair, fired out: 'Come, sir, is this your doing?'
In military phrase, Evan now changed front. His first thought had been that the Major had come for his wife. He perceived that he himself was the special object of his visitation.
'I must ask you what you allude to,' he answered.
'You are not at your office, but you will speak to me as if there was some distinction between us,' said the Major. 'My having married your sister does not reduce me to the ranks, I hope.'
The Major drummed his knuckles on the table, after this impressive delivery.
'Hem!' he resumed. 'Now, sir, understand, before you speak a word, that I can see through any number of infernal lies. I see that you're prepared for prevarication. By George! it shall come out of you, if I get it by main force. The Duke compelled me to give you that appointment in my Company. Now, sir, did you, or did you not, go to him and deliberately state to him that you believed the affairs of the Company to be in a bad condition—infamously handled, likely to involve his honour as a gentleman? I ask you, sir, did you do this, or did you not do it?'
Evan waited till the sharp rattle of the Major's close had quieted.
'If I am to answer the wording of your statement, I may say that I did not.'
'Very good; very good; that will do. Are you aware that the Duke has sent in his resignation as a Director of our Company?'
'I hear of it first from you.'
'Confound your familiarity!' cried the irritable officer, rising. 'Am I always to be told that I married your sister? Address me, sir, as becomes your duty.'
Evan heard the words 'beggarly tailor' mumbled 'out of the gutters,' and 'cursed connection.' He stood in the attitude of attention, while the Major continued:
'Now, young man, listen to these facts. You came to me this day last week, and complained that you did not comprehend some of our transactions and affairs. I explained them to your damned stupidity. You went away. Three days after that, you had an interview with the Duke. Stop, sir! What the devil do you mean by daring to speak while I am speaking? You saw the Duke, I say. Now, what took place at that interview?'
The Major tried to tower over Evan powerfully, as he put this query. They were of a common height, and to do so, he had to rise on his toes, so that the effect was but momentary.
'I think I am not bound to reply,' said Evan.
'Very well, sir; that will do.' The Major's fingers were evidently itching for an absent rattan. 'Confess it or not, you are dismissed from your post. Do you hear? You are kicked in the street. A beggarly tailor you were born, and a beggarly tailor you will die.'
'I must beg you to stop, now,' said Evan. 'I told you that I was not bound to reply: but I will. If you will sit down, Major Strike, you shall hear what you wish to know.'
This being presently complied with, though not before a glare of the Major's eyes had shown his doubt whether it might not be construed into insolence, Evan pursued:
'I came to you and informed you that I could not reconcile the cash-accounts of the Company, and that certain of the later proceedings appeared to me to jeopardize its prosperity. Your explanations did not satisfy me. I admit that you enjoined me to be silent. But the Duke, as a Director, had as strong a right to claim me as his servant, and when he questioned me as to the position of the Company, I told him what I thought, just as I had told you.'
'You told him we were jobbers and swindlers, sir!'
'The Duke inquired of me whether I would, under the circumstances, while proceedings were going on which I did not approve of, take the responsibility of allowing my name to remain—'
'Ha! ha! ha!' the Major burst out. This was too good a joke. The name of a miserable young tailor!' Go on, sir, go on!' He swallowed his laughter like oil on his rage.
'I have said sufficient.'
Jumping up, the Major swore by the Lord, that he had said sufficient.
'Now, look you here, young man.' He squared his finger before Evan, eyeing him under a hard frown, 'You have been playing your game again, as you did down at that place in Hampshire. I heard of it—deserved to be shot, by heaven! You think you have got hold of the Duke, and you throw me over. You imagine, I dare say, that I will allow my wife to be talked about to further your interests—you self-seeking young dog! As long as he lent the Company his name, I permitted a great many things. Do you think me a blind idiot, sir? But now she must learn to be satisfied with people who 've got no titles, or carriages, and who can't give hundred guinea compliments. You're all of a piece-a set of . . .'
The Major paused, for half a word was on his mouth which had drawn lightning to Evan's eyes.
Not to be baffled, he added: 'But look you, sir. I may be ruined. I dare say the Company will go to the dogs—every ass will follow a Duke. But, mark, this goes on no more. I will be no woman's tally. Mind, sir, I take excellent care that you don't traffic in your sister!'
The Major delivered this culminating remark with a well-timed deflection of his forefinger, and slightly turned aside when he had done.
You might have seen Evan's figure rocking, as he stood with his eyes steadily levelled on his sister's husband.
The Major, who, whatever he was, was physically no coward, did not fail to interpret the look, and challenge it.
Evan walked to the door, opened it, and said, between his teeth, 'You must go at once.'
'Eh, sir, eh? what's this?' exclaimed the warrior but the door was open, Mr. Goren was in the shop; the scandal of an assault in such a house, and the consequent possibility of his matrimonial alliance becoming bruited in the newspapers, held his arm after it had given an involuntary jerk. He marched through with becoming dignity, and marched out into the street; and if necks unelastic and heads erect may be taken as the sign of a proud soul and of nobility of mind, my artist has the Major for his model.
Evan displayed no such a presence. He returned to the little parlour, shut and locked the door to the shop, and forgetting that one was near, sat down, covered his eyes, and gave way to a fit of tearless sobbing. With one foot in the room Caroline hung watching him. A pain that she had never known wrung her nerves. His whole manhood seemed to be shaken, as if by regular pulsations of intensest misery. She stood in awe of the sight till her limbs failed her, and then staggering to him she fell on her knees, clasping his, passionately kissing them.
IN WHICH THE COUNTESS STILL SCENTS GAME
Mr. Raikes and his friend Frank Remand, surnamed Franko, to suit the requirements of metre, in which they habitually conversed, were walking arm-in-arm along the drive in Society's Park on a fine frosty Sunday afternoon of midwinter. The quips and jokes of Franko were lively, and he looked into the carriages passing, as if he knew that a cheerful countenance is not without charms for their inmates. Raikes' face, on the contrary, was barren and bleak. Being of that nature that when a pun was made he must perforce outstrip it, he fell into Franko's humour from time to time, but albeit aware that what he uttered was good, and by comparison transcendent, he refused to enjoy it. Nor when Franko started from his arm to declaim a passage, did he do other than make limp efforts to unite himself to Franko again. A further sign of immense depression in him was that instead of the creative, it was the critical faculty he exercised, and rather than reply to Franko in his form of speech, he scanned occasional lines and objected to particular phrases. He had clearly exchanged the sanguine for the bilious temperament, and was fast stranding on the rocky shores of prose. Franko bore this very well, for he, like Raikes in happier days, claimed all the glances of lovely woman as his own, and on his right there flowed a stream of Beauties. At last he was compelled to observe: 'This change is sudden: wherefore so downcast? With tigrine claw thou mangiest my speech, thy cheeks are like December's pippin, and thy tongue most sour!'
'Then of it make a farce!' said Raikes, for the making of farces was Franko's profession. 'Wherefore so downcast! What a line! There! let's walk on. Let us the left foot forward stout advance. I care not for the herd.'
''Tis love!' cried Franko.
'Ay, an' it be!' Jack gloomily returned.
'For ever cruel is the sweet Saldar?'
Raikes winced at this name.
'A truce to banter, Franko!' he said sternly: but the subject was opened, and the wound.
'Love!' he pursued, mildly groaning. 'Suppose you adored a fascinating woman, and she knew—positively knew—your manly weakness, and you saw her smiling upon everybody, and she told you to be happy, and egad, when you came to reflect, you found that after three months' suit you were nothing better than her errand-boy? A thing to boast of, is it not, quotha?'
'Love's yellow-fever, jealousy, methinks,' Franko commenced in reply; but Raikes spat at the emphasized word.
'Jealousy!—who's jealous of clergymen and that crew? Not I, by Pluto! I carried five messages to one fellow with a coat-tail straight to his heels, last week. She thought I should drive my curricle—I couldn't afford an omnibus! I had to run. When I returned to her I was dirty. She made remarks!'
'Thy sufferings are severe—but such is woman!' said Franko. 'Gad, it's a good idea, though.' He took out a note-book and pencilled down a point or two. Raikes watched the process sardonically.
'My tragedy is, then, thy farce!' he exclaimed. 'Well, be it so! I believe I shall come to song-writing again myself shortly-beneath the shield of Catnach I'll a nation's ballads frame. I've spent my income in four months, and now I 'm living on my curricle. I underlet it. It 's like trade—it 's as bad as poor old Harrington, by Jove! But that isn't the worst, Franko!' Jack dropped his voice: 'I believe I'm furiously loved by a poor country wench.'
'Morals!' was Franko's most encouraging reproof.
'Oh, I don't think I've even kissed her,' rejoined Raikes, who doubted because his imagination was vivid. 'It 's my intellect that dazzles her. I 've got letters—she calls me clever. By Jove! since I gave up driving I've had thoughts of rushing down to her and making her mine in spite of home, family, fortune, friends, name, position—everything! I have, indeed.'
Franko looked naturally astonished at this amount of self-sacrifice. 'The Countess?' he shrewdly suggested.
'I'd rather be my Polly's prince, Than yon great lady's errand-boy!'
Raikes burst into song.
He stretched out his hand, as if to discard all the great ladies who were passing. By the strangest misfortune ever known, the direction taken by his fingers was toward a carriage wherein, beautifully smiling opposite an elaborately reverend gentleman of middle age, the Countess de Saldar was sitting. This great lady is not to be blamed for deeming that her errand-boy was pointing her out vulgarly on a public promenade. Ineffable disdain curled off her sweet olive visage. She turned her head.
'I 'll go down to that girl to-night,' said Raikes, with compressed passion. And then he hurried Franko along to the bridge, where, behold, the Countess alighted with the gentleman, and walked beside him into the gardens.
'Follow her,' said Raikes, in agitation. 'Do you see her? by yon long-tailed raven's side? Follow her, Franko! See if he kisses her hand-anything! and meet me here in half an hour. I'll have evidence!'
Franko did not altogether like the office, but Raikes' dinners, singular luck, and superiority in the encounter of puns, gave him the upper hand with his friend, and so Franko went.
Turning away from the last glimpse of his Countess, Raikes crossed the bridge, and had not strolled far beneath the bare branches of one of the long green walks, when he perceived a gentleman with two ladies leaning on him.
'Now, there,' moralized this youth; 'now, what do you say to that? Do you call that fair? He can't be happy, and it's not in nature for them to be satisfied. And yet, if I went up and attempted to please them all by taking one away, the probabilities are that he would knock me down. Such is life! We won't be made comfortable!'
Nevertheless, he passed them with indifference, for it was merely the principle he objected to; and, indeed, he was so wrapped in his own conceptions, that his name had to be called behind him twice before he recognized Evan Harrington, Mrs. Strike, and Miss Bonner. The arrangement he had previously thought good, was then spontaneously adopted. Mrs. Strike reposed her fair hand upon his arm, and Juliana, with a timid glance of pleasure, walked ahead in Evan's charge. Close neighbourhood between the couples was not kept. The genius of Mr. Raikes was wasted in manoeuvres to lead his beautiful companion into places where he could be seen with her, and envied. It was, perhaps, more flattering that she should betray a marked disposition to prefer solitude in his society. But this idea illumined him only near the moment of parting. Then he saw it; then he groaned in soul, and besought Evan to have one more promenade, saying, with characteristic cleverness in the masking of his real thoughts: 'It gives us an appetite, you know.'
In Evan's face and Juliana's there was not much sign that any protraction of their walk together would aid this beneficent process of nature. He took her hand gently, and when he quitted it, it dropped.
'The Rose, the Rose of Beckley Court!' Raikes sang aloud. 'Why, this is a day of meetings. Behold John Thomas in the rear-a tower of plush and powder! Shall I rush-shall I pluck her from the aged stem?'
On the gravel-walk above them Rose passed with her aristocratic grandmother, muffled in furs. She marched deliberately, looking coldly before her. Evan's face was white, and Juliana, whose eyes were fixed on him, shuddered.
'I'm chilled,' she murmured to Caroline. 'Let us go.' Caroline eyed Evan with a meaning sadness.
'We will hurry to our carriage,' she said.
They were seen to make a little circuit so as not to approach Rose; after whom, thoughtless of his cruelty, Evan bent his steps slowly, halting when she reached her carriage. He believed—rather, he knew that she had seen him. There was a consciousness in the composed outlines of her face as she passed: the indifference was too perfect. Let her hate him if she pleased. It recompensed him that the air she wore should make her appearance more womanly; and that black dress and crape-bonnet, in some way, touched him to mournful thoughts of her that helped a partial forgetfulness of wounded self.
Rose had driven off. He was looking at the same spot, where Caroline's hand waved from her carriage. Juliana was not seen. Caroline requested her to nod to him once, but she would not. She leaned back hiding her eyes, and moving a petulant shoulder at Caroline's hand.
'Has he offended you, my child?'
Juliana answered harshly:
The wheels rolled on, and Caroline tried other subjects, knowing possibly that they would lead Juliana back to this of her own accord.
'You saw how she treated him?' the latter presently said, without moving her hand from before her eyes.
'Yes, dear. He forgives her, and will forget it.'
'Oh!' she clenched her long thin hand, 'I pray that I may not die before I have made her repent it. She shall!'
Juliana looked glitteringly in Caroline's face, and then fell a-weeping, and suffered herself to be folded and caressed. The storm was long subsiding.
'Dearest! you are better now?' said Caroline.
She whispered: 'Yes.'
'My brother has only to know you, dear—'
'Hush! That's past.' Juliana stopped her; and, on a deep breath that threatened to break to sobs, she added in a sweeter voice than was common to her, 'Ah, why—why did you tell him about the Beckley property?'
Caroline vainly strove to deny that she had told him. Juliana's head shook mournfully at her; and now Caroline knew what Juliana meant when she begged so earnestly that Evan should be kept ignorant of her change of fortune.
Some days after this the cold struck Juliana's chest, and she sickened. The three sisters held a sitting to consider what it was best to do with her. Caroline proposed to take her to Beckley without delay. Harriet was of opinion that the least they could do was to write to her relatives and make them instantly aware of her condition.
But the Countess said 'No,' to both. Her argument was, that Juliana being independent, they were by no means bound to 'bundle' her, in her state, back to a place where she had been so shamefully maltreated: that here she would live, while there she would certainly die: that absence of excitement was her medicine, and that here she had it. Mrs. Andrew, feeling herself responsible as the young lady's hostess, did not acquiesce in the Countess's views till she had consulted Juliana; and then apologies for giving trouble were breathed on the one hand; sympathy, condolences, and professions of esteem, on the other. Juliana said, she was but slightly ill, would soon recover. Entreated not to leave them before she was thoroughly re-established, and to consent to be looked on as one of the family, she sighed, and said it was the utmost she could hope. Of course the ladies took this compliment to themselves, but Evan began to wax in importance. The Countess thought it nearly time to acknowledge him, and supported the idea by a citation of the doctrine, that to forgive is Christian. It happened, however, that Harriet, who had less art and more will than her sisters, was inflexible. She, living in a society but a few steps above Tailordom, however magnificent in expenditure and resources, abhorred it solemnly. From motives of prudence, as well as personal disgust, she continued firm in declining to receive her brother. She would not relent when the Countess pointed out a dim, a dazzling prospect, growing out of Evan's proximity to the heiress of Beckley Court; she was not to be moved when Caroline suggested that the specific for the frail invalid was Evan's presence. As to this, Juliana was sufficiently open, though, as she conceived, her art was extreme.
'Do you know why I stay to vex and trouble you?' she asked Caroline. 'Well, then, it is that I may see your brother united to you all: and then I shall go, happy.'
The pretext served also to make him the subject of many conversations. Twice a week a bunch of the best flowers that could be got were sorted and arranged by her, and sent namelessly to brighten Evan's chamber.
'I may do such a thing as this, you know, without incurring blame,' she said.
The sight of a love so humble in its strength and affluence, sent Caroline to Evan on a fruitless errand. What availed it, that accused of giving lead to his pride in refusing the heiress, Evan should declare that he did not love her? He did not, Caroline admitted as possible, but he might. He might learn to love her, and therefore he was wrong in wounding her heart. She related flattering anecdotes. She drew tearful pictures of Juliana's love for him: and noticing how he seemed to prize his bouquet of flowers, said:
'Do you love them for themselves, or the hand that sent them?'
Evan blushed, for it had been a struggle for him to receive them, as he thought, from Rose in secret. The flowers lost their value; the song that had arisen out of them, 'Thou livest in my memory,' ceased. But they came still. How many degrees from love gratitude may be, I have not reckoned. I rather fear it lies on the opposite shore. From a youth to a girl, it may yet be very tender; the more so, because their ages commonly exclude such a sentiment, and nature seems willing to make a transition stage of it. Evan wrote to Juliana. Incidentally he expressed a wish to see her. Juliana was under doctor's interdict: but she was not to be prevented from going when Evan wished her to go. They met in the park, as before, and he talked to her five minutes through the carriage window.
'Was it worth the risk, my poor child?' said Caroline, pityingly.
Juliana cried: 'Oh! I would give anything to live!'
A man might have thought that she made no direct answer.
'Don't you think I am patient? Don't you think I am very patient?'she asked Caroline, winningly, on their way home.
Caroline could scarcely forbear from smiling at the feverish anxiety she showed for a reply that should confirm her words and hopes.
'So we must all be!'she said, tend that common-place remark caused Juliana to exclaim: 'Prisoners have lived in a dungeon, on bread and water, for years!'
Whereat Caroline kissed her so tenderly that Juliana tried to look surprised, and failing, her thin lips quivered; she breathed a soft 'hush,' and fell on Caroline's bosom.
She was transparent enough in one thing; but the flame which burned within her did not light her through.
Others, on other matters, were quite as transparent to her.
Caroline never knew that she had as much as told her the moral suicide Evan had committed at Beckley; so cunningly had she been probed at intervals with little casual questions; random interjections, that one who loved him could not fail to meet; petty doubts requiring elucidations. And the Countess, kind as her sentiments had grown toward the afflicted creature, was compelled to proclaim her densely stupid in material affairs. For the Countess had an itch of the simplest feminine curiosity to know whether the dear child had any notion of accomplishing a certain holy duty of the perishable on this earth, who might possess worldly goods; and no hints—not even plain speaking, would do. Juliana did not understand her at all.
The Countess exhibited a mourning-ring on her finger, Mrs. Bonner's bequest to her.
'How fervent is my gratitude to my excellent departed friend for this! A legacy, however trifling, embalms our dear lost ones in the memory!'
It was of no avail. Juliana continued densely stupid. Was she not worse? The Countess could not, 'in decency,' as she observed, reveal to her who had prompted Mrs. Bonner so to bequeath the Beckley estates as to 'ensure sweet Juliana's future'; but ought not Juliana to divine it?—Juliana at least had hints sufficient.
Cold Spring winds were now blowing. Juliana had resided no less than two months with the Cogglesbys. She was entreated still to remain, and she did. From Lady Jocelyn she heard not a word of remonstrance; but from Miss Carrington and Mrs. Shorne she received admonishing letters. Finally, Mr. Harry Jocelyn presented himself. In London, and without any of that needful subsistence which a young gentleman feels the want of in London more than elsewhere, Harry began to have thoughts of his own, without any instigation from his aunts, about devoting himself to business. So he sent his card up to his cousin, and was graciously met in the drawing-room by the Countess, who ruffled him and smoothed him, and would possibly have distracted his soul from business had his circumstances been less straitened. Juliana was declared to be too unwell to see him that day. He called a second time, and enjoyed a similar greeting. His third visit procured him an audience alone with Juliana, when, at once, despite the warnings of his aunts, the frank fellow plunged, 'medias res'. Mrs. Bonner had left him totally dependent on his parents and his chances.
'A desperate state of things, isn't it, Juley? I think I shall go for a soldier—common, you know.'
Instead of shrieking out against such a debasement of his worth and gentility, as was to be expected, Juliana said:
'That's what Mr. Harrington thought of doing.'
'He! If he'd had the pluck he would.'
'His duty forbade it, and he did not.'
'Duty! a confounded tailor! What fools we were to have him at Beckley!'
'Has the Countess been unkind to you Harry?'
'I haven't seen her to-day, and don't want to. It's my little dear old Juley I came for.'
'Dear Harry!' she thanked him with eyes and hands. 'Come often, won't you?'
'Why, ain't you coming back to us, Juley?'
'Not yet. They are very kind to me here. How is Rose?'
'Oh, quite jolly. She and Ferdinand are thick again. Balls every night. She dances like the deuce. They want me to go; but I ain't the sort of figure for those places, and besides, I shan't dance till I can lead you out.'
A spur of laughter at Harry's generous nod brought on Juliana's cough. Harry watched her little body shaken and her reddened eyes. Some real emotion—perhaps the fear which healthy young people experience at the sight of deadly disease—made Harry touch her arm with the softness of a child's touch.
'Don't be alarmed, Harry,' she said. 'It's nothing—only Winter. I'm determined to get well.'
'That's right,' quoth he, recovering. 'I know you've got pluck, or you wouldn't have stood that operation.'
'Let me see: when was that?' she asked slyly.
Harry coloured, for it related to a time when he had not behaved prettily to her.
'There, Juley, that 's all forgotten. I was a fool-a scoundrel, if you like. I 'm sorry for it now.'
'Do you want money, Harry?'
'Have you repaid Mr. Harrington yet?'
'There—no, I haven't. Bother it! that fellow's name's always on your tongue. I'll tell you what, Juley—but it's no use. He's a low, vulgar adventurer.'
'Dear Harry,' said Juliana, softly; 'don't bring your aunts with you when you come to see me.'
'Well, then I'll tell you, Juley. It's enough that he's a beastly tailor.'
'Quite enough,' she responded; 'and he is neither a fool nor a scoundrel.'
Harry's memory for his own speech was not quick. When Juliana's calm glance at him called it up, he jumped from his chair, crying: 'Upon my honour, I'll tell you what, Juley! If I had money to pay him to-morrow, I'd insult him on the spot.'
Juliana meditated, and said: 'Then all your friends must wish you to continue poor.'
This girl had once been on her knees to him. She had looked up to him with admiring love, and he had given her a crumb or so occasionally, thinking her something of a fool, and more of a pest; but now he could not say a word to her without being baffled in an elderly-sisterly tone exasperating him so far that he positively wished to marry her, and coming to the point, offered himself with downright sincerity, and was rejected. Harry left in a passion. Juliana confided the secret to Caroline, who suggested interested motives, which Juliana would not hear of.
'Ah,' said the Countess, when Caroline mentioned the case to her, 'of course the poor thing cherishes her first offer. She would believe a curate to be disinterested! But mind that Evan has due warning when she is to meet him. Mind that he is dressed becomingly.'
Caroline asked why.
'Because, my dear, she is enamoured of his person. These little unhealthy creatures are always attracted by the person. She thinks it to be Evan's qualities. I know better: it is his person. Beckley Court may be lost by a shabby coat!'
The Countess had recovered from certain spiritual languors into which she had fallen after her retreat. Ultimate victory hung still in the balance. Oh! if Evan would only marry this little sufferer, who was so sure to die within a year! or, if she lived (for marriage has often been as a resurrection to some poor female invalids), there was Beckley Court, a splendid basis for future achievements. Reflecting in this fashion, the Countess pardoned her brother. Glowing hopes hung fresh lamps in her charitable breast. She stepped across the threshold of Tailordom, won Mr. Goren's heart by her condescension, and worked Evan into a sorrowful mood concerning the invalid. Was not Juliana his only active friend? In return, he said things which only required a little colouring to be very acceptable to her.
The game waxed exciting again. The enemy (the Jocelyn party) was alert, but powerless. The three sisters were almost wrought to perform a sacrifice far exceeding Evan's. They nearly decided to summon him to the house: but the matter being broached at table one evening, Major Strike objected to it so angrily that they abandoned it, with the satisfactory conclusion that if they did wrong it was the Major's fault.
Meantime Juliana had much on her conscience. She knew Evan to be innocent, and she allowed Rose to think him guilty. Could she bring her heart to join them? That was not in her power: but desiring to be lulled by a compromise, she devoted herself to make his relatives receive him; and on days of bitter winds she would drive out to meet him, answering all expostulations with—'I should not go if he were here.'
The game waxed hot. It became a question whether Evan should be admitted to the house in spite of the Major. Juliana now made an extraordinary move. Having the Count with her in the carriage one day, she stopped in front of Mr. Goren's shop, and Evan had to come out. The Count returned home extremely mystified. Once more the unhappy Countess was obliged to draw bills on the fabulous; and as she had recommenced the system, which was not without its fascinations to her, Juliana, who had touched the spring, had the full benefit of it. The Countess had deceived her before—what of that? She spoke things sweet to hear. Who could be false that gave her heart food on which it lived?
One night Juliana returned from her drive alarmingly ill. She was watched through the night by Caroline and the Countess alternately. In the morning the sisters met.
'She has consented to let us send for a doctor,' said Caroline.
'Her chief desire seems to be a lawyer,' said the Countess.
'Yes, but the doctor must be sent for first.'
'Yes, indeed! But it behoves us to previse that the doctor does not kill her before the lawyer comes.'
Caroline looked at Louisa, and said: 'Are you ignorant?'
'No—what?' cried the Countess eagerly.
'Evan has written to tell Lady Jocelyn the state of her health, and—'
'And that naturally has aggravated her malady!' The Countess cramped her long fingers. 'The child heard it from him yesterday! Oh, I could swear at that brother!'
She dropped into a chair and sat rigid and square-jawed, a sculpture of unutterable rage.
In the afternoon Lady Jocelyn arrived. The doctor was there—the lawyer had gone. Without a word of protest Juliana accompanied her ladyship to Beckley Court. Here was a blow!
But Andrew was preparing one more mighty still. What if the Cogglesby Brewery proved a basis most unsound? Where must they fall then? Alas! on that point whence they sprang. If not to Perdition—Tailordom!
REVEALS AN ABOMINABLE PLOT OF THE BROTHERS COGGLESBY
A lively April day, with strong gusts from the Southwest, and long sweeping clouds, saluted the morning coach from London to Lymport. Thither Tailordom triumphant was bearing its victim at a rattling pace, to settle him, and seal him for ever out of the ranks of gentlemen: Society, meantime, howling exclusion to him in the background: 'Out of our halls, degraded youth: The smiles of turbaned matrons: the sighs of delicate maids; genial wit, educated talk, refined scandal, vice in harness, dinners sentineled by stately plush: these, the flavour of life, are not for you, though you stole a taste of them, wretched impostor! Pay for it with years of remorse!'
The coach went rushing against the glorious high wind. It stirred his blood, freshened his cheeks, gave a bright tone of zest to his eyes, as he cast them on the young green country. Not banished from the breath of heaven, or from self-respect, or from the appetite for the rewards that are to follow duties done! Not banished from the help that is always reached to us when we have fairly taken the right road: and that for him is the road to Lymport. Let the kingdom of Gilt Gingerbread howl as it will! We are no longer children, but men: men who have bitten hard at experience, and know the value of a tooth: who have had our hearts bruised, and cover them with armour: who live not to feed, but look to food that we may live! What matters it that yonder high-spiced kingdom should excommunicate such as we are? We have rubbed off the gilt, and have assumed the command of our stomachs. We are men from this day!
Now, you would have thought Evan's companions, right and left of him, were the wretches under sentence, to judge from appearances. In contrast with his look of insolent pleasure, Andrew, the moment an eye was on him, exhibited the cleverest impersonation of the dumps ever seen: while Mr. Raikes was from head to foot nothing better than a moan made visible. Nevertheless, they both agreed to rally Evan, and bid him be of good cheer.
'Don't be down, Van; don't be down, my boy,' said Andrew, rubbing his hands gloomily.
'I? do I look it?' Evan answered, laughing.
'Capital acting!' exclaimed Raikes. 'Try and keep it up.'
'Well, I hope you're acting too,' said Evan.
Raikes let his chest fall like a collapsing bellows.
At the end of five minutes, he remarked: 'I've been sitting on it the whole morning! There's violent inflammation, I'm persuaded. Another hour, and I jump slap from the summit of the coach!'
Evan turned to Andrew.
'Do you think he'll be let off?'
'Mr. Raikes? Can't say. You see, Van, it depends upon how Old Tom has taken his bad luck. Ahem! Perhaps he'll be all the stricter; and as a man of honour, Mr. Raikes, you see, can't very well—'
'By Jove! I wish I wasn't a man of honour!' Raikes interposed, heavily.
'You see, Van, Old Tom's circumstances'—Andrew ducked, to smother a sort of laughter—'are now such that he'd be glad of the money to let him off, no doubt; but Mr. Raikes has spent it, I can't lend it, and you haven't got it, and there we all are. At the end of the year he's free, and he—ha! ha! I'm not a bit the merrier for laughing, I can tell you.'
Catching another glimpse of Evan's serious face, Andrew fell into louder laughter; checking it with doleful solemnity.
Up hill and down hill, and past little homesteads shining with yellow crocuses; across wide brown heaths, whose outlines raised in Evan's mind the night of his funeral walk, and tossed up old feelings dead as the whirling dust. At last Raikes called out:
'The towers of Fallow field; heigho!'
And Andrew said:
'Now then, Van: if Old Tom's anywhere, he's here. You get down at the Dragon, and don't you talk to me, but let me go in. It'll be just the hour he dines in the country. Isn't it a shame of him to make me face every man of the creditors—eh?'
Evan gave Andrew's hand an affectionate squeeze, at which Andrew had to gulp down something—reciprocal emotion, doubtless.
'Hark,' said Raikes, as the horn of the guard was heard. 'Once that sound used to set me caracoling before an abject multitude. I did wonders. All London looked on me! It had more effect on me than champagne. Now I hear it—the whole charm has vanished! I can't see a single old castle. Would you have thought it possible that a small circular bit of tin on a man's person could produce such changes in him?'
'You are a donkey to wear it,' said Evan.
'I pledged my word as a gentleman, and thought it small, for the money!' said Raikes. 'This is the first coach I ever travelled on, without making the old whip burst with laughing. I'm not myself. I'm haunted. I'm somebody else.'
The three passengers having descended, a controversy commenced between Evan and Andrew as to which should pay. Evan had his money out; Andrew dashed it behind him; Evan remonstrated.
'Well, you mustn't pay for us two, Andrew. I would have let you do it once, but—'
'Stuff!' cried Andrew. 'I ain't paying—it 's the creditors of the estate, my boy!'
Evan looked so ingenuously surprised and hurt at his lack of principle, that Andrew chucked a sixpence at a small boy, saying,
'If you don't let me have my own way, Van, I 'll shy my purse after it. What do you mean, sir, by treating me like a beggar?'
'Our friend Harrington can't humour us,' quoth Raikes. 'For myself, I candidly confess I prefer being paid for'; and he leaned contentedly against one of the posts of the inn till the filthy dispute was arranged to the satisfaction of the ignobler mind. There Andrew left them, and went to Mrs. Sockley, who, recovered from her illness, smiled her usual placid welcome to a guest.
'You know me, ma'am?'
'Oh, yes! The London Mr. Cogglesby!'
'Now, ma'am, look here. I've come for my brother. Don't be alarmed. No danger as yet. But, mind! if you attempt to conceal him from his lawful brother, I'll summon here the myrmidons of the law.'
Mrs. Sockley showed a serious face.
'You know his habits, Mr. Cogglesby; and one doesn't go against any one of his whimsies, or there's consequences: but the house is open to you, sir. I don't wish to hide him.'
Andrew accepted this intelligent evasion of Tom Cogglesby's orders as sufficient, and immediately proceeded upstairs. A door shut on the first landing. Andrew went to this door and knocked. No answer. He tried to open it, but found that he had been forestalled. After threatening to talk business through the key-hole, the door was unlocked, and Old Tom appeared.
'So! now you're dogging me into the country. Be off; make an appointment. Saturday's my holiday. You know that.'
Andrew pushed through the doorway, and, by way of an emphatic reply and a silencing one, delivered a punch slap into Old Tom's belt.
'Confound you, Nan!' said Old Tom, grimacing, but friendly, as if his sympathies had been irresistibly assailed.
'It 's done, Tom! I've done it. Won my bet, now,' Andrew exclaimed. 'The women-poor creatures! What a state they're in. I pity 'em.'
Old Tom pursed his lips, and eyed his brother incredulously, but with curious eagerness.
'Oh, Lord! what a face I've had to wear!' Andrew continued, and while he sank into a chair and rubbed his handkerchief over his crisp hair, Old Tom let loose a convinced and exulting, 'ha! ha!'
'Yes, you may laugh. I've had all the bother,' said Andrew.
'Serve ye right—marrying such cattle,' Old Tom snapped at him.
'They believe we're bankrupt—owe fifty thousand clear, Tom!'
'Brewery stock and household furniture to be sold by general auction, Friday week.'
'Not a place for any of us to poke our heads into. I talked about "pitiless storms" to my poor Harry—no shelter to be had unless we go down to Lymport, and stop with their brother in shop!'
Old Tom did enjoy this. He took a great gulp of air for a tremendous burst of laughter, and when this was expended and reflection came, his features screwed, as if the acidest of flavours had ravished his palate.
'Bravo, Nan! Didn't think you were man enough. Ha! ha! Nan—I say—eh? how did ye get on behind the curtains?'
The tale, to guess by Andrew's face, appeared to be too strongly infused with pathos for revelation.
'Will they go, Nan, eh? d' ye think they 'll go?'
'Where else can they go, Tom? They must go there, or on the parish, you know.'
'They'll all troop down to the young tailor—eh?'
'They can't sleep in the parks, Tom.'
'No. They can't get into Buckingham Palace, neither—'cept as housemaids. 'Gad, they're howling like cats, I'd swear—nuisance to the neighbourhood—ha! ha!'
Old Tom's cruel laughter made Andrew feel for the unhappy ladies. He stuck his forehead, and leaned forward, saying: 'I don't know—'pon my honour, I don't know—can't think we've—quite done right to punish 'em so.'
This acted like cold water on Old Tom's delight. He pitched it back in the shape of a doubt of what Andrew had told him. Whereupon Andrew defied him to face three miserable women on the verge of hysterics; and Old Tom, beginning to chuckle again, rejoined that it would bring them to their senses, and emancipate him.
'You may laugh, Mr. Tom,' said Andrew; 'but if poor Harry should find me out, deuce a bit more home for me.'
Old Tom looked at him keenly, and rapped the table. 'Swear you did it, Nan.'
'You promise you'll keep the secret,' said Andrew.
'Never make promises.'
'Then there's a pretty life for me! I did it for that poor dear boy. You were only up to one of your jokes—I see that. Confound you, Old Tom, you've been making a fool of me.'
The flattering charge was not rejected by Old Tom, who now had his brother to laugh at as well. Andrew affected to be indignant and desperate.
'If you'd had a heart, Tom, you'd have saved the poor fellow without any bother at all. What do you think? When I told him of our smash—ha! ha! it isn't such a bad joke-well, I went to him, hanging my head, and he offered to arrange our affairs—that is—'
'Damned meddlesome young dog!' cried Old Tom, quite in a rage.
'There—you're up in a twinkling,' said Andrew. 'Don't you see he believed it, you stupid Old Tom? Lord! to hear him say how sorry he was, and to see how glad he looked at the chance of serving us!'
'Serving us!' Tom sneered.
'Ha!' went Andrew. 'Yes. There. You're a deuced deal prouder than fifty peers. You're an upside-down old despot!'
No sharper retort rising to Old Tom's lips, he permitted his brother's abuse of him to pass, declaring that bandying words was not his business, he not being a Parliament man.
'How about the Major, Nan? He coming down, too?'
'Major!' cried Andrew. 'Lucky if he keeps his commission. Coming down? No. He's off to the Continent.'
'Find plenty of scamps there to keep him company,' added Tom. 'So he's broke—eh? ha! ha!'
'Tom,' said Andrew, seriously, 'I'll tell you all about it, if you 'll swear not to split on me, because it would really upset poor Harry so. She 'd think me such a beastly hypocrite, I couldn't face her afterwards.'
'Lose what pluck you have—eh?' Tom jerked out his hand, and bade his brother continue.
Compelled to trust in him without a promise, Andrew said: 'Well, then, after we'd arranged it, I went back to Harry, and begged her to have poor Van at the house told her what I hoped you'd do for him about getting him into the Brewery. She's very kind, Tom, 'pon my honour she is. She was willing, only—'
'Well, she was so afraid it'd hurt her sisters to see him there.'
Old Tom saw he was in for excellent fun, and wouldn't spoil it for the world.
'So I went to Caroline. She was easy enough; and she went to the Countess.'
'Well, and she—?'
'She was willing, too, till Lady Jocelyn came and took Miss Bonner home to Beckley, and because Evan had written to my lady to fetch her, the Countess—she was angry. That was all. Because of that, you know. But yet she agreed. But when Miss Bonner had gone, it turned out that the Major was the obstacle. They were all willing enough to have Evan there, but the Major refused. I didn't hear him. I wasn't going to ask him. I mayn't be a match for three women, but man to man, eh, Tom? You'd back me there? So Harry said the Major 'd make Caroline miserable, if his wishes were disrespected. By George, I wish I'd know, then. Don't you think it odd, Tom, now? There's a Duke of Belfield the fellow had hooked into his Company; and—through Evan I heard—the Duke had his name struck off. After that, the Major swore at the Duke once or twice, and said Caroline wasn't to go out with him. Suddenly, he insists that she shall go. Days the poor thing kept crying! One day, he makes her go. She hasn't the spirit of my Harry or the Countess. By good luck, Van, who was hunting ferns for some friends of his, met them on Sunday in Richmond Park, and Van took her away from the Duke. But, Tom, think of Van seeing a fellow watching her wherever she went, and hearing the Duke's coachman tell that fellow he had orders to drive his master and a lady hard on to the sea that night. I don't believe it—it wasn't Caroline! But what do you think of our finding out that beast of a spy to be in the Major's pay? We did. Van put a constable on his track; we found him out, and he confessed it. A fact, Tom! That decided me. If it was only to get rid of a brute, I determined I 'd do it, and I did. Strike came to me to get my name for a bill that night. 'Gad, he looked blanker than his bill when he heard of us two bankrupt. I showed him one or two documents I'd got ready. Says he: "Never mind; it'll only be a couple of hundred more in the schedule." Stop, Tom! he's got some of our blood. I don't think he meant it. He is hard pushed. Well, I gave him a twentier, and he was off the next night. You 'll soon see all about the Company in the papers.'
At the conclusion of Andrew's recital, Old Tom thrummed and looked on the floor under a heavy frown. His mouth worked dubiously, and, from moment to moment, he plucked at his waistcoat and pulled it down, throwing back his head and glaring.
'I 've knocked that fellow over once,' he said. 'Wish he hadn't got up again.'
'One good thing, Nan. He never boasted of our connection. Much obliged to him.'
'Yes,' said Andrew, who was gladly watching Old Tom's change of mood with a quiescent aspect.
'Um!—must keep it quiet from his poor old mother.'
Andrew again affirmatived his senior's remarks. That his treatment of Old Tom was sound, he presently had proof of. The latter stood up, and after sniffing in an injured way for about a minute, launched out his right leg, and vociferated that he would like to have it in his power to kick all the villains out of the world: a modest demand Andrew at once chimed in with; adding that, were such a faculty extended to him, he would not object to lose the leg that could benefit mankind so infinitely, and consented to its following them. Then, Old Tom, who was of a practical turn, meditated, swung his foot, and gave one grim kick at the imaginary bundle of villains, discharged them headlong straight into space. Andrew, naturally imitative, and seeing that he had now to kick them flying, attempted to excel Old Tom in the vigour of his delivery. No wonder that the efforts of both were heating: they were engaged in the task of ridding the globe of the larger half of its inhabitants. Tom perceived Andrew's useless emulation, and with a sound translated by 'yack,' sent his leg out a long way. Not to be outdone, Andrew immediately, with a still louder 'yack,' committed himself to an effort so violent that the alternative between his leg coming off, or his being taken off his leg, was propounded by nature, and decided by the laws of gravity in a trice. Joyful grunts were emitted by Old Tom at the sight of Andrew prostrate, rubbing his pate. But Mrs. Sockley, to whom the noise of Andrew's fall had suggested awful fears of a fratricidal conflict upstairs, hurried forthwith to announce to them that the sovereign remedy for human ills, the promoter of concord, the healer of feuds, the central point of man's destiny in the flesh—Dinner, was awaiting them.
To the dinner they marched.
Of this great festival be it simply told that the supply was copious and of good quality—much too good and copious for a bankrupt host: that Evan and Mr. John Raikes were formally introduced to Old Tom before the repast commenced, and welcomed some three minutes after he had decided the flavour of his first glass; that Mr. Raikes in due time preferred his petition for release from a dreadful engagement, and furnished vast amusement to the company under Old Tom's hand, until, by chance, he quoted a scrap of Latin, at which the brothers Cogglesby, who would have faced peers and princes without being disconcerted, or performing mental genuflexions, shut their mouths and looked injured, unhappy, and in the presence of a superior: Mr. Raikes not being the man to spare them. Moreover, a surprise was afforded to Evan. Andrew stated to Old Tom that the hospitality of Main Street, Lymport,—was open to him. Strange to say, Old Tom accepted it on the spot, observing, 'You're master of the house—can do what you like, if you 're man enough,' and adding that he thanked him, and would come in a day or two. The case of Mr. Raikes was still left uncertain, for as the bottle circulated, he exhibited such a faculty for apt, but to the brothers, totally incomprehensible quotation, that they fled from him without leaving him time to remember what special calamity was on his mind, or whether this earth was other than an abode conceived in great jollity for his life-long entertainment.
The sick night-light burned steadily in Juliana's chamber. On a couch, beside her bed, Caroline lay sleeping, tired with a long watch. Two sentences had been passed on Juliana: one on her heart: one on her body: 'Thou art not loved'; and, 'Thou must die.' The frail passion of her struggle against her destiny was over with her. Quiet as that quiet which Nature was taking her to, her body reposed. Calm as the solitary night-light before her open eyes, her spirit was wasting away. 'If I am not loved, then let me die!' In such a sense she bowed to her fate.
At an hour like this, watching the round of light on the ceiling, with its narrowing inner rings, a sufferer from whom pain has fled looks back to the shores she is leaving, and would be well with them who walk there. It is false to imagine that schemers and workers in the dark are destitute of the saving gift of conscience. They have it, and it is perhaps made livelier in them than with easy people; and therefore, they are imperatively spurred to hoodwink it. Hence, their self-delusion is deep and endures. They march to their object, and gaining or losing it, the voice that calls to them is the voice of a blind creature, whom any answer, provided that the answer is ready, will silence. And at an hour like this, when finally they snatch their minute of sight on the threshold of black night, their souls may compare with yonder shining circle on the ceiling, which, as the light below gasps for air, contracts, and extends but to mingle with the darkness. They would be nobler, better, boundlessly good to all;—to those who have injured them to those whom they have injured. Alas! for any definite deed the limit of their circle is immoveable, and they must act within it. The trick they have played themselves imprisons them. Beyond it, they cease to be.
Lying in this utter stillness, Juliana thought of Rose; of her beloved by Evan. The fever that had left her blood, had left it stagnant, and her thoughts were quite emotionless. She looked faintly on a far picture. She saw Rose blooming with pleasures in Elburne House, sliding as a boat borne by the river's tide to sea, away from her living joy. The breast of Rose was lucid to her, and in that hour of insight she had clear knowledge of her cousin's heart; how it scoffed at its base love, and unwittingly betrayed the power on her still, by clinging to the world and what it would give her to fill the void; how externally the lake was untroubled, and a mirror to the passing day; and how within there pressed a flood against an iron dam. Evan, too, she saw. The Countess was right in her judgement of Juliana's love. Juliana looked very little to his qualities. She loved him when she thought him guilty, which made her conceive that her love was of a diviner cast than Rose was capable of. Guilt did not spoil his beauty to her; his gentleness and glowing manhood were unchanged; and when she knew him as he was, the revelation of his high nature simply confirmed her impression of his physical perfections. She had done him a wrong; at her death news would come to him, and it might be that he would bless her name. Because she sighed no longer for those dear lips and strong arms to close about her tremulous frame, it seemed to her that she had quite surrendered him. Generous to Evan, she would be just to Rose. Beneath her pillow she found pencil and paper, and with difficulty, scarce seeing her letters in the brown light, she began to trace lines of farewell to Rose. Her conscience dictated to her thus, 'Tell Rose that she was too ready to accept his guilt; and that in this as in all things, she acted with the precipitation of her character. Tell her that you always trusted, and that now you know him innocent. Give her the proofs you have. Show that he did it to shield his intriguing sister. Tell her that you write this only to make her just to him. End with a prayer that Rose may be happy.'
Ere Juliana had finished one sentence, she resigned the pencil. Was it not much, even at the gates of death, to be the instrument to send Rose into his arms? The picture swayed before her, helping her weakness. She found herself dreaming that he had kissed her once. Dorothy, she remembered, had danced up to her one day, to relate what the maids of the house said of the gentleman—(at whom, it is known, they look with the licence of cats toward kings); and Dorothy's fresh careless mouth had told how one observant maid, amorously minded, proclaimed of Evan, to a companion of her sex, that, 'he was the only gentleman who gave you an idea of how he would look when he was kissing you.' Juliana cherished that vision likewise. Young ladies are not supposed to do so, if menial maids are; but Juliana did cherish it, and it possessed her fancy. Bear in your recollection that she was not a healthy person. Diseased little heroines may be made attractive, and are now popular; but strip off the cleverly woven robe which is fashioned to cover them, and you will find them in certain matters bearing a resemblance to menial maids.
While the thoughts of his kiss lasted, she could do nothing; but lay with her two hands out on the bed, and her eyelids closed. Then waking, she took the pencil again. It would not move: her bloodless fingers fell from it.
'If they do not meet, and he never marries, I may claim him in the next world,' she mused.
But conscience continued uneasy. She turned her wrist and trailed a letter from beneath the pillow. It was from Mrs. Shorne. Juliana knew the contents. She raised it unopened as high as her faltering hands permitted, and read like one whose shut eyes read syllables of fire on the darkness.
'Rose has at last definitely engaged herself to Ferdinand, you will be glad to hear, and we may now treat her as a woman.'
Having absorbed these words, Juliana's hand found strength to write, with little difficulty, what she had to say to Rose. She conceived it to be neither sublime nor generous: not even good; merely her peculiar duty. When it was done, she gave a long, low sigh of relief.
Caroline whispered, 'Dearest child, are you awake?'
'Yes,' she answered.
Caroline reached her hand over to her, and felt the paper. 'What is this?'
'My good-bye to Rose. I want it folded now.'
Caroline slipped from the couch to fulfil her wish. She enclosed the pencilled scrap of paper, sealed it, and asked, 'Is that right?'
'Now unlock my desk,' Juliana uttered, feebly. 'Put it beside a letter addressed to a law-gentleman. Post both the morning I am gone.'
Caroline promised to obey, and coming to Juliana to mark her looks, observed a faint pleased smile dying away, and had her hand gently squeezed. Juliana's conscience had preceded her contentedly to its last sleep; and she, beneath that round of light on the ceiling, drew on her counted breaths in peace till dawn.
Have you seen a young audacious spirit smitten to the earth? It is a singular study; and, in the case of young women, a trap for inexperienced men. Rose, who had commanded and managed every one surrounding her since infancy, how humble had she now become!—how much more womanly in appearance, and more child-like at heart! She was as wax in Lady Elburne's hands. A hint of that veiled episode, the Beckley campaign, made Rose pliant, as if she had woven for herself a rod of scorpions. The high ground she had taken; the perfect trust in one; the scorn of any judgement, save her own; these had vanished from her. Rose, the tameless heroine who had once put her mother's philosophy in action, was the easiest filly that turbaned matron ever yet drove into the straight road of the world. It even surprised Lady Jocelyn to see how wonderfully she had been broken in by her grandmother. Her ladyship wrote to Drummond to tell him of it, and Drummond congratulated her, saying, however: 'Changes of this sort don't come of conviction. Wait till you see her at home. I think they have been sticking pins into the sore part.'
Drummond knew Rose well. In reality there was no change in her. She was only a suppliant to be spared from ridicule: spared from the application of the scourge she had woven for herself.
And, ah! to one who deigned to think warmly still of such a disgraced silly creature, with what gratitude she turned! He might well suppose love alone could pour that profusion of jewels at his feet.
Ferdinand, now Lord Laxley, understood the merits of his finger-nails better than the nature of young women; but he is not to be blamed for presuming that Rose had learnt to adore him. Else why did she like his company so much? He was not mistaken in thinking she looked up to him. She seemed to beg to be taken into his noble serenity. In truth she sighed to feel as he did, above everybody!—she that had fallen so low! Above everybody!—born above them, and therefore superior by grace divine! To this Rose Jocelyn had come—she envied the mind of Ferdinand.
He, you may be sure, was quite prepared to accept her homage. Rose he had always known to be just the girl for him; spirited, fresh, and with fine teeth; and once tied to you safe to be staunch. They walked together, rode together, danced together. Her soft humility touched him to eloquence. Say she was a little hypocrite, if you like, when the blood came to her cheeks under his eyes. Say she was a heartless minx for allowing it to be bruited that she and Ferdinand were betrothed. I can but tell you that her blushes were blushes of gratitude to one who could devote his time to such a disgraced silly creature, and that she, in her abject state, felt a secret pleasure in the protection Ferdinand's name appeared to extend over her, and was hardly willing to lose it.
So far Lady Elburne's tact and discipline had been highly successful. One morning, in May, Ferdinand, strolling with Rose down the garden made a positive appeal to her common sense and friendly feeling; by which she understood that he wanted her consent to his marriage with her.
'Who would have me?'
Ferdinand spoke pretty well, and ultimately got possession of her hand. She let him keep it, thinking him noble for forgetting that another had pressed it before him.
Some minutes later the letters were delivered. One of them contained Juliana's dark-winged missive.
'Poor, poor Juley!' said Rose, dropping her head, after reading all that was on the crumpled leaf with an inflexible face. And then, talking on, long low sighs lifted her bosom at intervals. She gazed from time to time with a wistful conciliatory air on Ferdinand. Rushing to her chamber, the first cry her soul framed was:
'He did not kiss me!'
The young have a superstitious sense of something incontestably true in the final protestations of the dead. Evan guiltless! she could not quite take the meaning this revelation involved. That which had been dead was beginning to move within her; but blindly: and now it stirred and troubled; now sank. Guiltless all she had thought him! Oh! she knew she could not have been deceived. But why, why had he hidden his sacrifice from her?
'It is better for us both, of course,' said Rose, speaking the world's wisdom, parrot-like, and bursting into tears the next minute. Guiltless, and gloriously guiltless! but nothing—nothing to her!
She tried to blame him. It would not do. She tried to think of that grovelling loathsome position painted to her by Lady Elburne's graphic hand. Evan dispersed the gloomy shades like sunshine. Then in a sort of terror she rejoiced to think she was partially engaged to Ferdinand, and found herself crying again with exultation, that he had not kissed her: for a kiss on her mouth was to Rose a pledge and a bond.
The struggle searched her through: bared her weakness, probed her strength; and she, seeing herself, suffered grievously in her self-love. Am I such a coward, inconstant, cold? she asked. Confirmatory answers coming, flung her back under the shield of Ferdinand if for a moment her soul stood up armed and defiant, it was Evan's hand she took.
To whom do I belong? was another terrible question. In her ideas, if Evan was not chargeable with that baseness which had sundered them he might claim her yet, if he would. If he did, what then? Must she go to him?
Impossible: she was in chains. Besides, what a din of laughter there would be to see her led away by him. Twisting her joined hands: weeping for her cousin, as she thought, Rose passed hours of torment over Juliana's legacy to her.
'Why did I doubt him?' she cried, jealous that any soul should have known and trusted him better. Jealous and I am afraid that the kindling of that one feature of love relighted the fire of her passion thus fervidly. To be outstripped in generosity was hateful to her. Rose, naturally, could not reflect that a young creature like herself, fighting against the world, as we call it, has all her faculties at the utmost stretch, and is often betrayed by failing nature when the will is still valiant.
And here she sat-in chains! 'Yes! I am fit only to be the wife of an idle brainless man, with money and a title,' she said, in extreme self-contempt. She caught a glimpse of her whole life in the horrid tomb of his embrace, and questions whether she could yield her hand to him—whether it was right in the eyes of heaven, rushed impetuously to console her, and defied anything in the shape of satisfactory affirmations. Nevertheless, the end of the struggle was, that she felt that she was bound to Ferdinand.
'But this I will do,' said Rose, standing with heat-bright eyes and deep-coloured cheeks before the glass. 'I will clear his character at Beckley. I will help him. I will be his friend. I will wipe out the injustice I did him.' And this bride-elect of a lord absolutely added that she was unworthy to be the wife of a tailor!
'He! how unequalled he is! There is nothing he fears except shame. Oh! how sad it will be for him to find no woman in his class to understand him and be his helpmate!'
Over, this sad subject, of which we must presume her to be accurately cognizant, Rose brooded heavily. By mid-day she gave her Grandmother notice that she was going home to Juliana's funeral.
'Well, Rose, if you think it necessary to join the ceremony,' said Lady Elburne. 'Beckley is bad quarters for you, as you have learnt. There was never much love between you cousins.'
'No, and I don't pretend to it,' Rose answered. 'I am sorry poor Juley's gone.'
'She's better gone for many reasons—she appears to have been a little venomous toad,' said Lady Elburne; and Rose, thinking of a snakelike death-bite working through her blood, rejoined: 'Yes, she isn't to be pitied she 's better off than most people.'
So it was arranged that Rose should go. Ferdinand and her aunt, Mrs. Shorne, accompanied her. Mrs. Shorne gave them their opportunities, albeit they were all stowed together in a carriage, and Ferdinand seemed willing to profit by them; but Rose's hand was dead, and she sat by her future lord forming the vow on her lips that they should never be touched by him.
Arrived at Beckley, she, to her great delight, found Caroline there, waiting for the funeral. In a few minutes she got her alone, and after kisses, looked penetratingly into her lovely eyes, shook her head, and said: 'Why were you false to me?'
'False?' echoed Caroline.
'You knew him. You knew why he did that. Why did you not save me?'
Caroline fell upon her neck, asking pardon. She spared her the recital of facts further than the broad avowal. Evan's present condition she plainly stated: and Rose, when the bitter pangs had ceased, made oath to her soul she would rescue him from it.
In addition to the task of clearing Evan's character, and rescuing him, Rose now conceived that her engagement to Ferdinand must stand ice-bound till Evan had given her back her troth. How could she obtain it from him? How could she take anything from one so noble and so poor! Happily there was no hurry; though before any bond was ratified, she decided conscientiously that it must be done.
You see that like a lithe snake she turns on herself, and must be tracked in and out. Not being a girl to solve the problem with tears, or outright perfidy, she had to ease her heart to the great shock little by little—sincere as far as she knew: as far as one who loves may be. The day of the funeral came and went. The Jocelyns were of their mother's opinion: that for many reasons Juliana was better out of the way. Mrs. Bonner's bequest had been a severe blow to Sir Franks. However, all was now well. The estate naturally lapsed to Lady Jocelyn. No one in the house dreamed of a will, signed with Juliana's name, attested, under due legal forms, being in existence. None of the members of the family imagined that at Beckley Court they were then residing on somebody else's ground.
Want of hospitable sentiments was not the cause that led to an intimation from Sir Franks to his wife, that Mrs. Strike must not be pressed to remain, and that Rose must not be permitted to have her own way in this. Knowing very well that Mrs. Shorne spoke through her husband's mouth, Lady Jocelyn still acquiesced, and Rose, who had pressed Caroline publicly to stay, had to be silent when the latter renewed her faint objections; so Caroline said she would leave on the morrow morning.
Juliana, with her fretfulness, her hand bounties, her petty egoisms, and sudden far-leaping generosities, and all the contradictory impulses of her malady, had now departed utterly. The joys of a landed proprietor mounted into the head of Sir Franks. He was up early the next morning, and he and Harry walked over a good bit of the ground before breakfast. Sir Franks meditated making it entail, and favoured Harry with a lecture on the duty of his shaping the course of his conduct at once after the model of the landed gentry generally.
'And you may think yourself lucky to come into that catalogue—the son of a younger son!' said Sir Franks, tapping Mr. Harry's shoulder. Harry also began to enjoy the look and smell of land. At the breakfast, which, though early, was well attended, Harry spoke of the adviseability of felling timber here, planting there, and so forth, after the model his father held up. Sir Franks nodded approval of his interest in the estate, but reserved his opinion on matters of detail.
'All I beg of you is,' said Lady Jocelyn, 'that you won't let us have turnips within the circuit of a mile'; which was obligingly promised.
The morning letters were delivered and opened with the customary calmness.
'Letter from old George,' Harry sings out, and buzzes over a few lines. 'Halloa!—Hum!' He was going to make a communication, but catching sight of Caroline, tossed the letter over to Ferdinand, who read it and tossed it back with the comment of a careless face.
'Read it, Rosey?' says Harry, smiling bluntly.
Rather to his surprise, Rose took the letter. Study her eyes if you wish to gauge the potency of one strong dose of ridicule on an ingenuous young heart. She read that Mr. George Uplift had met 'our friend Mr. Snip' riding, by moonlight, on the road to Beckley. That great orbed night of their deep tender love flashed luminously through her frame, storming at the base epithet by which her lover was mentioned, flooding grandly over the ignominies cast on him by the world. She met the world, as it were, in a death-grapple; she matched the living heroic youth she felt him to be, with that dead wooden image of him which it thrust before her. Her heart stood up singing like a craven who sees the tide of victory setting toward him. But this passed beneath her eyelids. When her eyes were lifted, Ferdinand could have discovered nothing in them to complain of, had his suspicions been light to raise: nor could Mrs. Shorne perceive that there was the opening for a shrewd bodkin-thrust. Rose had got a mask at last: her colour, voice, expression, were perfectly at command. She knew it to be a cowardice to wear any mask: but she had been burnt, horribly burnt: how much so you may guess from the supple dissimulation of such a bold clear-visaged girl. She conquered the sneers of the world in her soul: but her sensitive skin was yet alive to the pangs of the scorching it had been subjected to when weak, helpless, and betrayed by Evan, she stood with no philosophic parent to cry fair play for her, among the skilful torturers of Elburne House.
Sir Franks had risen and walked to the window.
'News?' said Lady Jocelyn, wheeling round in her chair.
The one eyebrow up of the easy-going baronet signified trouble of mind. He finished his third perusal of a letter that appeared to be written in a remarkably plain legal hand, and looking as men do when their intelligences are just equal to the comprehension or expression of an oath, handed the letter to his wife, and observed that he should be found in the library. Nevertheless he waited first to mark its effect on Lady Jocelyn. At one part of the document her forehead wrinkled slightly.
'Doesn't sound like a joke!' he said.
Sir Franks, apparently quite satisfied by her ready response, turned on his heel and left the room quickly.
An hour afterward it was rumoured and confirmed that Juliana Bonner had willed all the worldly property she held in her own right, comprising Beckley Court, to Mr. Evan Harrington, of Lymport, tailor. An abstract of the will was forwarded. The lawyer went on to say, that he had conformed to the desire of the testatrix in communicating the existence of the aforesaid will six days subsequent to her death, being the day after her funeral.
There had been railing and jeering at the Countess de Saldar, the clever outwitted exposed adventuress, at Elburne House and Beckley Court. What did the crowing cleverer aristocrats think of her now?
On Rose the blow fell bitterly. Was Evan also a foul schemer? Was he of a piece with his intriguing sister? His close kinship with the Countess had led her to think baseness possible to him when it was confessed by his own mouth once. She heard black names cast at him and the whole of the great Mel's brood, and incapable of quite disbelieving them merited, unable to challenge and rebut them, she dropped into her recent state of self-contempt: into her lately-instilled doubt whether it really was in Nature's power, unaided by family-portraits, coats-of-arms, ball-room practice, and at least one small phial of Essence of Society, to make a Gentleman.
CONTAINS A WARNING TO ALL CONSPIRATORS
This, if you have done me the favour to read it aright, has been a chronicle of desperate heroism on the part of almost all the principal personages represented. But not the Countess de Saldar, scaling the embattled fortress of Society; nor Rose, tossing its keys to her lover from the shining turret-tops; nor Evan, keeping bright the lamp of self-respect in his bosom against South wind and East; none excel friend Andrew Cogglesby, who, having fallen into Old Tom's plot to humiliate his wife and her sisters, simply for Evan's sake, and without any distinct notion of the terror, confusion, and universal upset he was bringing on his home, could yet, after a scared contemplation of the scene when he returned from his expedition to Fallow field, continue to wear his rueful mask; and persevere in treacherously outraging his lofty wife.
He did it to vindicate the ties of blood against accidents of position. Was he justified? I am sufficiently wise to ask my own sex alone.
On the other side, be it said (since in our modern days every hero must have his weak heel), that now he had gone this distance it was difficult to recede. It would be no laughing matter to tell his solemn Harriet that he had been playing her a little practical joke. His temptations to give it up were incessant and most agitating; but if to advance seemed terrific, there was, in stopping short, an awfulness so overwhelming that Andrew abandoned himself to the current, his real dismay adding to his acting powers.
The worst was, that the joke was no longer his: it was Old Tom's. He discovered that he was in Old Tom's hands completely. Andrew had thought that he would just frighten the women a bit, get them down to Lymport for a week or so, and then announce that matters were not so bad with the Brewery as he had feared; concluding the farce with a few domestic fireworks. Conceive his dismay when he entered the house, to find there a man in possession.
Andrew flew into such a rage that he committed an assault on the man. So ungovernable was his passion, that for some minutes Harriet's measured voice summoned him from over the banisters above, quite in vain. The miserable Englishman refused to be taught that his house had ceased to be his castle. It was something beyond a joke, this! The intruder, perfectly docile, seeing that by accurate calculation every shake he got involved a bottle of wine for him, and ultimate compensation probably to the amount of a couple of sovereigns, allowed himself to be lugged up stairs, in default of summary ejection on the point of Andrew's toe into the street. There he was faced to the lady of the house, who apologized to him, and requested her husband to state what had made him guilty of this indecent behaviour. The man showed his papers. They were quite in order. 'At the suit of Messrs. Grist.'
'My own lawyers!' cried Andrew, smacking his forehead; and Old Tom's devilry flashed on him at once. He sank into a chair.
'Why did you bring this person up here?' said Harriet, like a speaking statue.
'My dear!' Andrew answered, and spread out his hand, and waggled his head; 'My—please!—I—I don't know. We all want exercise.'
The man laughed, which was kindly of him, but offensive to Mrs. Cogglesby, who gave Andrew a glance which was full payment for his imbecile pleasantry, and promised more.
With a hospitable inquiry as to the condition of his appetite, and a request that he would be pleased to satisfy it to the full, the man was dismissed: whereat, as one delivered of noxious presences, the Countess rustled into sight. Not noticing Andrew, she lisped to Harriet: 'Misfortunes are sometimes no curses! I bless the catarrh that has confined Silva to his chamber, and saved him from a bestial exhibition.'
The two ladies then swept from the room, and left Andrew to perspire at leisure.
Fresh tribulations awaited him when he sat down to dinner. Andrew liked his dinner to be comfortable, good, and in plenty. This may not seem strange. The fact is stated that I may win for him the warm sympathies of the body of his countrymen. He was greeted by a piece of cold boiled neck of mutton and a solitary dish of steaming potatoes. The blank expanse of table-cloth returned his desolate stare.
'Why, what's the meaning of this?' Andrew brutally exclaimed, as he thumped the table.
The Countess gave a start, and rolled a look as of piteous supplication to spare a lady's nerves, addressed to a ferocious brigand. Harriet answered: 'It means that I will have no butcher's bills.'
'Butcher's bills! butcher's bills!' echoed Andrew; 'why, you must have butcher's bills; why, confound! why, you'll have a bill for this, won't you, Harry? eh? of course!'
'There will be no more bills dating from yesterday,' said his wife.
'What! this is paid for, then?'
'Yes, Mr. Cogglesby; and so will all household expenses be, while my pocket-money lasts.'
Resting his eyes full on Harriet a minute, Andrew dropped them on the savourless white-rimmed chop, which looked as lonely in his plate as its parent dish on the table. The poor dear creature's pocket-money had paid for it! The thought, mingling with a rush of emotion, made his ideas spin. His imagination surged deliriously. He fancied himself at the Zoological Gardens, exchanging pathetic glances with a melancholy marmoset. Wonderfully like one the chop looked! There was no use in his trying to eat it. He seemed to be fixing his teeth in solid tears. He choked. Twice he took up knife and fork, put them down again, and plucking forth his handkerchief, blew a tremendous trumpet, that sent the Countess's eyes rolling to the ceiling, as if heaven were her sole refuge from such vulgarity.
'Damn that Old Tom!' he shouted at last, and pitched back in his chair.
'Mr. Cogglesby!' and 'In the presence of ladies!' were the admonishing interjections of the sisters, at whom the little man frowned in turns.
'Do you wish us to quit the room, sir?' inquired his wife.
'God bless your soul, you little darling!' he apostrophized that stately person. 'Here, come along with me, Harry. A wife's a wife, I say—hang it! Just outside the room—just a second! or up in a corner will do.'
Mrs. Cogglesby was amazed to see him jump up and run round to her. She was prepared to defend her neck from his caress, and refused to go: but the words, 'Something particular to tell you,' awakened her curiosity, which urged her to compliance. She rose and went with him to the door.
'Well, sir; what is it?'
No doubt he was acting under a momentary weakness he was about to betray the plot and take his chance of forgiveness; but her towering port, her commanding aspect, restored his courage. (There may be a contrary view of the case.) He enclosed her briskly in a connubial hug, and remarked with mad ecstasy: 'What a duck you are, Harry! What a likeness between you and your mother.'
Mrs. Cogglesby disengaged herself imperiously. Had he called her aside for this gratuitous insult? Contrite, he saw his dreadful error.
'Harry! I declare!' was all he was allowed to say. Mrs. Cogglesby marched back to her chair, and recommenced the repast in majestic silence.
Andrew sighed; he attempted to do the same. He stuck his fork in the blanched whiskerage of his marmoset, and exclaimed: 'I can't!'
He was unnoticed.
'You do not object to plain diet?' said Harriet to Louisa.
'Oh, no, in verity!' murmured the Countess. 'However plain it be! Absence of appetite, dearest. You are aware I partook of luncheon at mid-day with the Honourable and Reverend Mr. Duffian. You must not look condemnation at your Louy for that. Luncheon is not conversion!'
Harriet observed that this might be true; but still, to her mind, it was a mistake to be too intimate with dangerous people. 'And besides,' she added, 'Mr. Duffian is no longer "the Reverend." We deprive all renegades of their spiritual titles. His worldly ones let him keep.'
Her superb disdain nettled the Countess.
'Dear Harriet!' she said, with less languor, 'You are utterly and totally and entirely mistaken. I tell you so positively. Renegade! The application of such a word to such a man! Oh! and it is false, Harriet quite! Renegade means one who has gone over to the Turks, my dear. I am almost certain I saw it in Johnson's Dictionary, or an: improvement upon Johnson, by a more learned author. But there is the fact, if Harriet can only bring her—shall I say stiff-necked prejudices to envisage it?'
Harriet granted her sister permission to apply the phrases she stood in need of, without impeaching her intimacy with the most learned among lexicographers.
'And is there no such thing as being too severe?' the Countess resumed. 'What our enemies call unchristian!'
'Mr. Duffian has no cause to complain of us,' said Harriet.
'Nor does he do so, dearest. Calumny may assail him; you may utterly denude him—'
'Adam!' interposed Andrew, distractedly listening. He did not disturb the Countess's flow.
'You may vilify and victimize Mr. Duffian, and strip him of the honours of his birth, but, like the Martyrs, he will still continue the perfect nobleman. Stoned, I assure you that Mr. Duffian would preserve his breeding. In character he is exquisite; a polish to defy misfortune.'
'I suppose his table is good?' said Harriet, almost ruffled by the Countess's lecture.
'Plate,' was remarked in the cold tone of supreme indifference.
'Hem! good wines?' Andrew asked, waking up a little and not wishing to be excluded altogether.
'All is of the very best,' the Countess pursued her eulogy, not looking at him.
'Don't you think you could—eh, Harry?—manage a pint for me, my dear?' Andrew humbly petitioned. 'This cold water—ha! ha! my stomach don't like cold bathing.'
His wretched joke rebounded from the impenetrable armour of the ladies.
'The wine-cellar is locked,' said his wife. 'I have sealed up the key till an inventory can be taken by some agent of the creditors.'
'What creditors?' roared Andrew.
'You can have some of the servants' beer,' Mrs. Cogglesby appended.
Andrew studied her face to see whether she really was not hoisting him with his own petard. Perceiving that she was sincerely acting according to her sense of principle, he fumed, and departed to his privacy, unable to stand it any longer.
Then like a kite the Countess pounced upon his character. Would the Honourable and Reverend Mr. Duflian decline to participate in the sparest provender? Would he be guilty of the discourtesy of leaving table without a bow or an apology, even if reduced to extremest poverty? No, indeed! which showed that, under all circumstances, a gentleman was a gentleman. And, oh! how she pitied her poor Harriet—eternally tied to a most vulgar little man, without the gilding of wealth.
'And a fool in his business to boot, dear!'
'These comparisons do no good,' said Harriet. 'Andrew at least is not a renegade, and never shall be while I live. I will do my duty by him, however poor we are. And now, Louisa, putting my husband out of the question, what are your intentions? I don't understand bankruptcy, but I imagine they can do nothing to wife and children. My little ones must have a roof over their heads; and, besides, there is little Maxwell. You decline to go down to Lymport, of course.'