'How could we, dear?' the Countess pathetically asked, under drowning lids.
'Papa did not wish it,' sobbed Mrs. Andrew.
'I never shall forgive myself!' said the wife of the Major, drying her cheeks. Perhaps it was not herself whom she felt she never could forgive.
Ah! the man their father was! Incomparable Melchisedec! he might well be called. So generous! so lordly! When the rain of tears would subside for a moment, one would relate an anecdote or childish reminiscence of him, and provoke a more violent outburst.
'Never, among the nobles of any land, never have I seen one like him!' exclaimed the Countess, and immediately requested Harriet to tell her how it would be possible to stop Andrew's tongue in Silva's presence.
'At present, you know, my dear, they may talk as much as they like—they can't understand one another one bit.'
Mrs. Cogglesby comforted her by the assurance that Andrew had received an intimation of her wish for silence everywhere and toward everybody; and that he might be reckoned upon to respect it, without demanding a reason for the restriction. In other days Caroline and Louisa had a little looked down on Harriet's alliance with a dumpy man—a brewer—and had always kind Christian compassion for him if his name were mentioned. They seemed now, by their silence, to have a happier estimate of Andrew's qualities.
While the three sisters sat mingling their sorrows and alarms, their young brother was making his way to the house. As he knocked at the door he heard his name pronounced behind him, and had no difficulty in recognizing the worthy brewer.
'What, Van, my boy! how are you? Quite a foreigner! By George, what a hat!'
Mr. Andrew bounced back two or three steps to regard the dusky sombrero.
'How do you do, sir?' said Evan.
'Sir to you!' Mr. Andrew briskly replied. 'Don't they teach you to give your fist in Portugal, eh? I'll "sir" you. Wait till I'm Sir Andrew, and then "sir" away. You do speak English still, Van, eh? Quite jolly, my boy?'
Mr. Andrew rubbed his hands to express that state in himself. Suddenly he stopped, blinked queerly at Evan, grew pensive, and said, 'Bless my soul! I forgot.'
The door opened, Mr. Andrew took Evan's arm, murmured a 'hush!' and trod gently along the passage to his library.
'We're safe here,' he said. 'There—there's something the matter up-stairs. The women are upset about something. Harriet—' Mr. Andrew hesitated, and branched off: 'You 've heard we 've got a new baby?'
Evan congratulated him; but another inquiry was in Mr. Andrew's aspect, and Evan's calm, sad manner answered it.
'Yes,'—Mr. Andrew shook his head dolefully—'a splendid little chap! a rare little chap! a we can't help these things, Van! They will happen. Sit down, my boy.'
Mr. Andrew again interrogated Evan with his eyes.
'My father is dead,' said Evan.
'Yes!' Mr. Andrew nodded, and glanced quickly at the ceiling, as if to make sure that none listened overhead. 'My parliamentary duties will soon be over for the season,' he added, aloud; pursuing, in an under-breath:
'Going down to-night, Van?'
'He is to be buried to-morrow,' said Evan.
'Then, of course, you go. Yes: quite right. Love your father and mother! always love your father and mother! Old Tom and I never knew ours. Tom's quite well-same as ever. I'll,' he rang the bell, 'have my chop in here with you. You must try and eat a bit, Van. Here we are, and there we go. Old Tom's wandering for one of his weeks. You'll see him some day. He ain't like me. No dinner to-day, I suppose, Charles?'
This was addressed to the footman. He announced:
'Dinner to-day at half-past six, as usual, sir,' bowed, and retired.
Mr. Andrew pored on the floor, and rubbed his hair back on his head. 'An odd world!' was his remark.
Evan lifted up his face to sigh: 'I 'm almost sick of it!'
'Damn appearances!' cried Mr. Andrew, jumping on his legs.
The action cooled him.
'I 'm sorry I swore,' he said. 'Bad habit! The Major's here—you know that?' and he assumed the Major's voice, and strutted in imitation of the stalwart marine. 'Major—a—Strike! of the Royal Marines! returned from China! covered with glory!—a hero, Van! We can't expect him to be much of a mourner. And we shan't have him to dine with us to-day—that's something.' He sank his voice: 'I hope the widow 'll bear it.'
'I hope to God my mother is well!' Evan groaned.
'That'll do,' said Mr. Andrew. 'Don't say any more.'
As he spoke, he clapped Evan kindly on the back.
A message was brought from the ladies, requiring Evan to wait on them. He returned after some minutes.
'How do you think Harriet's looking?' asked Mr. Andrew. And, not waiting for an answer, whispered,
'Are they going down to the funeral, my boy?'
Evan's brow was dark, as he replied: 'They are not decided.'
'Won't Harriet go?'
'She is not going—she thinks not.'
'And the Countess—Louisa's upstairs, eh?—will she go?'
'She cannot leave the Count—she thinks not.'
'Won't Caroline go? Caroline can go. She—he—I mean—Caroline can go?'
'The Major objects. She wishes to.'
Mr. Andrew struck out his arm, and uttered, 'the Major!'—a compromise for a loud anathema. But the compromise was vain, for he sinned again in an explosion against appearances.
'I'm a brewer, Van. Do you think I'm ashamed of it? Not while I brew good beer, my boy!—not while I brew good beer! They don't think worse of me in the House for it. It isn't ungentlemanly to brew good beer, Van. But what's the use of talking?'
Mr. Andrew sat down, and murmured, 'Poor girl! poor girl!'
The allusion was to his wife; for presently he said: 'I can't see why Harriet can't go. What's to prevent her?'
Evan gazed at him steadily. Death's levelling influence was in Evan's mind. He was ready to say why, and fully.
Mr. Andrew arrested him with a sharp 'Never mind! Harriet does as she likes. I'm accustomed to—hem! what she does is best, after all. She doesn't interfere with my business, nor I with hers. Man and wife.'
Pausing a moment or so, Mr. Andrew intimated that they had better be dressing for dinner. With his hand on the door, which he kept closed, he said, in a businesslike way, 'You know, Van, as for me, I should be very willing—only too happy—to go down and pay all the respect I could.' He became confused, and shot his head from side to side, looking anywhere but at Evan. 'Happy now and to-morrow, to do anything in my power, if Harriet—follow the funeral—one of the family—anything I could do: but—a—we 'd better be dressing for dinner.' And out the enigmatic little man went.
Evan partly divined him then. But at dinner his behaviour was perplexing. He was too cheerful. He pledged the Count. He would have the Portuguese for this and that, and make Anglican efforts to repeat it, and laugh at his failures. He would not see that there was a father dead. At a table of actors, Mr. Andrew overdid his part, and was the worst. His wife could not help thinking him a heartless little man.
The poor show had its term. The ladies fled to the boudoir sacred to grief. Evan was whispered that he was to join them when he might, without seeming mysterious to the Count. Before he reached them, they had talked tearfully over the clothes he should wear at Lymport, agreeing that his present foreign apparel, being black, would be suitable, and would serve almost as disguise, to the inhabitants at large; and as Evan had no English wear, and there was no time to procure any for him, that was well. They arranged exactly how long he should stay at Lymport, whom he should visit, the manner he should adopt toward the different inhabitants. By all means he was to avoid the approach of the gentry. For hours Evan, in a trance, half stupefied, had to listen to the Countess's directions how he was to comport himself in Lymport.
'Show that you have descended among them, dear Van, but are not of them. Our beautiful noble English poet expresses it so. You have come to pay the last mortal duties, which they will respect, if they are not brutes, and attempt no familiarities. Allow none: gently, but firmly. Imitate Silva. You remember, at Dona Risbonda's ball? When he met the Comte de Dartigues, and knew he was to be in disgrace with his Court on the morrow? Oh! the exquisite shade of difference in Silva's behaviour towards the Comte. So finely, delicately perceptible to the Comte, and not a soul saw it but that wretched Frenchman! He came to me: "Madame," he said, "is a question permitted?" I replied, "As-many as you please, M. le Comte, but no answers promised." He said: "May I ask if the Courier has yet come in?"—"Nay, M. le Comte," I replied, "this is diplomacy. Inquire of me, or better, give me an opinion on the new glace silk from Paris."—"Madame," said he, bowing, "I hope Paris may send me aught so good, or that I shall grace half so well." I smiled, "You shall not be single in your hopes, M. le Comte. The gift would be base that you did not embellish." He lifted his hands, French-fashion: "Madame, it is that I have received the gift."—"Indeed! M. le Comte."—"Even now from the Count de Saldar, your husband." I looked most innocently, "From my husband, M. le Comte?"—"From him, Madame. A portrait. An Ambassador without his coat! The portrait was a finished performance." I said: "And may one beg the permission to inspect it?"—"Mais," said he, laughing: "were it you alone, it would be a privilege to me." I had to check him. "Believe me, M. le Comte, that when I look upon it, my praise of the artist will be extinguished by my pity for the subject." He should have stopped there; but you cannot have the last word with a Frenchman—not even a woman. Fortunately the Queen just then made her entry into the saloon, and his mot on the charity of our sex was lost. We bowed mutually, and were separated.' (The Countess employed her handkerchief.) 'Yes, dear Van! that is how you should behave. Imply things. With dearest Mama, of course, you are the dutiful son. Alas! you must stand for son and daughters. Mama has so much sense! She will understand how sadly we are placed. But in a week I will come to her for a day, and bring you back.'
So much his sister Louisa. His sister Harriet offered him her house for a home in London, thence to project his new career. His sister Caroline sought a word with him in private, but only to weep bitterly in his arms, and utter a faint moan of regret at marriages in general. He loved this beautiful creature the best of his three sisters (partly, it may be, because he despised her superior officer), and tried with a few smothered words to induce her to accompany him: but she only shook her fair locks and moaned afresh. Mr. Andrew, in the farewell squeeze of the hand at the street-door, asked him if he wanted anything. He negatived the requirement of anything whatever, with an air of careless decision, though he was aware that his purse barely contained more than would take him the distance, but the instincts of this amateur gentleman were very fine and sensitive on questions of money. His family had never known him beg for a shilling, or admit his necessity for a penny: nor could he be made to accept money unless it was thrust into his pocket. Somehow his sisters had forgotten this peculiarity of his. Harriet only remembered it when too late.
'But I dare say Andrew has supplied him,' she said.
Andrew being interrogated, informed her what had passed between them.
'And you think a Harrington would confess he wanted money!' was her scornful exclamation. 'Evan would walk—he would die rather. It was treating him like a mendicant.'
Andrew had to shrink in his brewer's skin.
By some fatality all who were doomed to sit and listen to the Countess de Saldar, were sure to be behindhand in an appointment.
When the young man arrived at the coach-office, he was politely informed that the vehicle, in which a seat had been secured for him, was in close alliance with time and tide, and being under the same rigid laws, could not possibly have waited for him, albeit it had stretched a point to the extent of a pair of minutes, at the urgent solicitation of a passenger.
'A gentleman who speaks so, sir,' said a volunteer mimic of the office, crowing and questioning from his throat in Goren's manner. 'Yok! yok! That was how he spoke, sir.'
Evan reddened, for it brought the scene on board the Jocasta vividly to his mind. The heavier business obliterated it. He took counsel with the clerks of the office, and eventually the volunteer mimic conducted him to certain livery stables, where Evan, like one accustomed to command, ordered a chariot to pursue the coach, received a touch of the hat for a lordly fee, and was soon rolling out of London.
MY GENTLEMAN ON THE ROAD
The postillion had every reason to believe that he carried a real gentleman behind him; in other words, a purse long and liberal. He judged by all the points he knew of: a firm voice, a brief commanding style, an apparent indifference to expense, and the inexplicable minor characteristics, such as polished boots, and a striking wristband, and so forth, which will show a creature accustomed to step over the heads of men. He had, therefore, no particular anxiety to part company, and jogged easily on the white highway, beneath a moon that walked high and small over marble clouds.
Evan reclined in the chariot, revolving his sensations. In another mood he would have called, them thoughts, perhaps, and marvelled at their immensity. The theme was Love and Death. One might have supposed, from his occasional mutterings at the pace regulated by the postillion, that he was burning with anxiety to catch the flying coach. He had forgotten it: forgotten that he was giving chase to anything. A pair of wondering feminine eyes pursued him, and made him fret for the miles to throw a thicker veil between him and them. The serious level brows of Rose haunted the poor youth; and reflecting whither he was tending, and to what sight, he had shadowy touches of the holiness there is in death, from which came a conflict between the imaged phantoms of his father and of Rose, and he sided against his love with some bitterness. His sisters, weeping for their father and holding aloof from his ashes, Evan swept from his mind. He called up the man his father was: the kindliness, the readiness, the gallant gaiety of the great Mel. Youths are fascinated by the barbarian virtues; and to Evan, under present influences, his father was a pattern of manhood. He asked himself: Was it infamous to earn one's bread? and answered it very strongly in his father's favour. The great Mel's creditors were not by to show him another feature of the case.
Hitherto, in passive obedience to the indoctrination of the Countess, Evan had looked on tailors as the proscribed race of modern society. He had pitied his father as a man superior to his fate; but despite the fitfully honest promptings with Rose (tempting to him because of the wondrous chivalry they argued, and at bottom false probably as the hypocrisy they affected to combat), he had been by no means sorry that the world saw not the spot on himself. Other sensations beset him now. Since such a man was banned by the world, which was to be despised?
The clear result of Evan's solitary musing was to cast a sort of halo over Tailordom. Death stood over the pale dead man, his father, and dared the world to sneer at him. By a singular caprice of fancy, Evan had no sooner grasped this image, than it was suggested that he might as well inspect his purse, and see how much money he was master of.
Are you impatient with this young man? He has little character for the moment. Most youths are like Pope's women; they have no character at all. And indeed a character that does not wait for circumstances to shape it, is of small worth in the race that must be run. To be set too early, is to take the work out of the hands of the Sculptor who fashions men. Happily a youth is always at school, and if he was shut up and without mark two or three hours ago, he will have something to show you now: as I have seen blooming seaflowers and other graduated organisms, when left undisturbed to their own action. Where the Fates have designed that he shall present his figure in a story, this is sure to happen.
To the postillion Evan was indebted for one of his first lessons.
About an hour after midnight pastoral stillness and the moon begat in the postillion desire for a pipe. Daylight prohibits the dream of it to mounted postillions. At night the question is more human, and allows appeal. The moon smiles assentingly, and smokers know that she really lends herself to the enjoyment of tobacco.
The postillion could remember gentlemen who did not object: who had even given him cigars. Turning round to see if haply the present inmate of the chariot might be smoking, he observed a head extended from the window.
'How far are we?' was inquired.
The postillion numbered the milestones passed.
'Do you see anything of the coach?'
'Can't say as I do, sir.'
He was commanded to stop. Evan jumped out.
'I don't think I'll take you any farther,' he said.
The postillion laughed to scorn the notion of his caring how far he went. With a pipe in his mouth, he insinuatingly remarked, he could jog on all night, and throw sleep to the dogs. Fresh horses at Hillford; fresh at Fallow field: and the gentleman himself would reach Lymport fresh in the morning.
'No, no; I won't take you any farther,' Evan repeated.
'But what do it matter, sir?' urged the postillion.
'I'd rather go on as I am. I—a—made no arrangement to take you the whole way.'
'Oh!' cried the postillion, 'don't you go troublin' yourself about that, sir. Master knows it 's touch-and-go about catchin' the coach. I'm all right.'
So infatuated was the fellow in the belief that he was dealing with a perfect gentleman—an easy pocket!
Now you would not suppose that one who presumes he has sufficient, would find a difficulty in asking how much he has to pay. With an effort, indifferently masked, Evan blurted:
'By the way, tell me—how much—what is the charge for the distance we've come?'
There are gentlemen-screws: there are conscientious gentlemen. They calculate, and remonstrating or not, they pay. The postillion would rather have had to do with the gentleman royal, who is above base computation; but he knew the humanity in the class he served, and with his conception of Evan only partially dimmed, he remarked:
'Oh-h-h! that won't hurt you, sir. Jump along in,—settle that by-and-by.'
But when my gentleman stood fast, and renewed the demand to know the exact charge for the distance already traversed, the postillion dismounted, glanced him over, and speculated with his fingers tipping up his hat. Meantime Evan drew out his purse, a long one, certainly, but limp. Out of this drowned-looking wretch the last spark of life was taken by the sum the postillion ventured to name; and if paying your utmost farthing without examination of the charge, and cheerfully stepping out to walk fifty miles, penniless, constituted a postillion's gentleman, Evan would have passed the test. The sight of poverty, however, provokes familiar feelings in poor men, if you have not had occasion to show them you possess particular qualities. The postillion's eye was more on the purse than on the sum it surrendered.
'There,' said Evan, 'I shall walk. Good night.' And he flung his cloak to step forward.
'Stop a bit, sir!' arrested him.
The postillion rallied up sideways, with an assumption of genial respect. 'I didn't calc'late myself in that there amount.'
Were these words, think you, of a character to strike a young man hard on the breast, send the blood to his head, and set up in his heart a derisive chorus? My gentleman could pay his money, and keep his footing gallantly; but to be asked for a penny beyond what he possessed; to be seen beggared, and to be claimed a debtor-aleck! Pride was the one developed faculty of Evan's nature. The Fates who mould us, always work from the main-spring. I will not say that the postillion stripped off the mask for him, at that instant completely; but he gave him the first true glimpse of his condition. From the vague sense of being an impostor, Evan awoke to the clear fact that he was likewise a fool.
It was impossible for him to deny the man's claim, and he would not have done it, if he could. Acceding tacitly, he squeezed the ends of his purse in his pocket, and with a 'Let me see,' tried his waistcoat. Not too impetuously; for he was careful of betraying the horrid emptiness till he was certain that the powers who wait on gentlemen had utterly forsaken him. They had not. He discovered a small coin, under ordinary circumstances not contemptible; but he did not stay to reflect, and was guilty of the error of offering it to the postillion.
The latter peered at it in the centre of his palm; gazed queerly in the gentleman's face, and then lifting the spit of silver for the disdain of his mistress, the moon, he drew a long breath of regret at the original mistake he had committed, and said:
'That's what you're goin' to give me for my night's work?'
The powers who wait on gentlemen had only helped the pretending youth to try him. A rejection of the demand would have been infinitely wiser and better than this paltry compromise. The postillion would have fought it: he would not have despised his fare.
How much it cost the poor pretender to reply, 'It 's the last farthing I have, my man,' the postillion could not know.
'A scabby sixpence?' The postillion continued his question.
'You heard what I said,' Evan remarked.
The postillion drew another deep breath, and holding out the coin at arm's length:
'Well, sir!' he observed, as one whom mental conflict has brought to the philosophy of the case, 'now, was we to change places, I couldn't a' done it! I couldn't a' done it!' he reiterated, pausing emphatically.
'Take it, sir!' he magnanimously resumed; 'take it! You rides when you can, and you walks when you must. Lord forbid I should rob such a gentleman as you!'
One who feels a death, is for the hour lifted above the satire of postillions. A good genius prompted Evan to avoid the silly squabble that might have ensued and made him ridiculous. He took the money, quietly saying, 'Thank you.'
Not to lose his vantage, the postillion, though a little staggered by the move, rejoined: 'Don't mention it.'
Evan then said: 'Good night, my man. I won't wish, for your sake, that we changed places. You would have to walk fifty miles to be in time for your father's funeral. Good night.'
'You are it to look at!' was the postillion's comment, seeing my gentleman depart with great strides. He did not speak offensively; rather, it seemed, to appease his conscience for the original mistake he had committed, for subsequently came, 'My oath on it, I don't get took in again by a squash hat in a hurry!'
Unaware of the ban he had, by a sixpenny stamp, put upon an unoffending class, Evan went ahead, hearing the wheels of the chariot still dragging the road in his rear. The postillion was in a dissatisfied state of mind. He had asked and received more than his due. But in the matter of his sweet self, he had been choused, as he termed it. And my gentleman had baffled him, he could not quite tell how; but he had been got the better of; his sarcasms had not stuck, and returned to rankle in the bosom of their author. As a Jew, therefore, may eye an erewhile bondsman who has paid the bill, but stands out against excess of interest on legal grounds, the postillion regarded Evan, of whom he was now abreast, eager for a controversy.
'Fine night,' said the postillion, to begin, and was answered by a short assent. 'Lateish for a poor man to be out—don't you think sir, eh?'
'I ought to think so,' said Evan, mastering the shrewd unpleasantness he felt in the colloquy forced on him.
'Oh, you! you're a gentleman!' the postillion ejaculated.
'You see I have no money.'
'Feel it, too, sir.'
'I am sorry you should be the victim.'
'Victim!' the postillion seized on an objectionable word. 'I ain't no victim, unless you was up to a joke with me, sir, just now. Was that the game?'
Evan informed him that he never played jokes with money, or on men.
'Cause it looks like it, sir, to go to offer a poor chap sixpence.' The postillion laughed hollow from the end of his lungs. 'Sixpence for a night's work! It is a joke, if you don't mean it for one. Why, do you know, sir, I could go—there, I don't care where it is!—I could go before any magistrate livin', and he'd make ye pay. It's a charge, as custom is, and he'd make ye pay. Or p'rhaps you're a goin' on my generosity, and 'll say, he gev back that sixpence! Well! I shouldn't a' thought a gentleman'd make that his defence before a magistrate. But there, my man! if it makes ye happy, keep it. But you take my advice, sir. When you hires a chariot, see you've got the shiners. And don't you go never again offerin' a sixpence to a poor man for a night's work. They don't like it. It hurts their feelin's. Don't you forget that, sir. Lay that up in your mind.'
Now the postillion having thus relieved himself, jeeringly asked permission to smoke a pipe. To which Evan said, 'Pray, smoke, if it pleases you.' And the postillion, hardly mollified, added, 'The baccy's paid for,' and smoked.
As will sometimes happen, the feelings of the man who had spoken out and behaved doubtfully, grew gentle and Christian, whereas those of the man whose bearing under the trial had been irreproachable were much the reverse. The postillion smoked—he was a lord on his horse; he beheld my gentleman trudging in the dust. Awhile he enjoyed the contrast, dividing his attention between the footfarer and moon. To have had the last word is always a great thing; and to have given my gentleman a lecture, because he shunned a dispute, also counts. And then there was the poor young fellow trudging to his father's funeral! The postillion chose to remember that now. In reality, he allowed, he had not very much to complain of, and my gentleman's courteous avoidance of provocation (the apparent fact that he, the postillion, had humbled him and got the better of him, equally, it may be), acted on his fine English spirit. I should not like to leave out the tobacco in this good change that was wrought in him. However, he presently astonished Evan by pulling up his horses, and crying that he was on his way to Hillford to bait, and saw no reason why he should not take a lift that part of the road, at all events. Evan thanked him briefly, but declined, and paced on with his head bent.
'It won't cost you nothing-not a sixpence!' the postillion sang out, pursuing him. 'Come, sir! be a man! I ain't a hintin' at anything—jump in.'
Evan again declined, and looked out for a side path to escape the fellow, whose bounty was worse to him than his abuse, and whose mention of the sixpence was unlucky.
'Dash it!' cried the postillion, 'you're going down to a funeral—I think you said your father's, sir—you may as well try and get there respectable—as far as I go. It's one to me whether you're in or out; the horses won't feel it, and I do wish you'd take a lift and welcome. It's because you're too much of a gentleman to be beholden to a poor man, I suppose!'
Evan's young pride may have had a little of that base mixture in it, and certainly he would have preferred that the invitation had not been made to him; but he was capable of appreciating what the rejection of a piece of friendliness involved, and as he saw that the man was sincere, he did violence to himself, and said: 'Very well; then I'll jump in.'
The postillion was off his horse in a twinkling, and trotted his bandy legs to undo the door, as to a gentleman who paid. This act of service Evan valued.
'Suppose I were to ask you to take the sixpence now?' he said, turning round, with one foot on the step.
'Well, sir,' the postillion sent his hat aside to answer. 'I don't want it—I'd rather not have it; but there! I'll take it—dash the sixpence! and we'll cry quits.'
Evan, surprised and pleased with him, dropped the bit of money in his hand, saying: 'It will fill a pipe for you. While you 're smoking it, think of me as in your debt. You're the only man I ever owed a penny to.'
The postillion put it in a side pocket apart, and observed: 'A sixpence kindly meant is worth any crown-piece that's grudged—that it is! In you jump, sir. It's a jolly night!'
Thus may one, not a conscious sage, play the right tune on this human nature of ours: by forbearance, put it in the wrong; and then, by not refusing the burden of an obligation, confer something better. The instrument is simpler than we are taught to fancy. But it was doubtless owing to a strong emotion in his soul, as well as to the stuff he was made of, that the youth behaved as he did. We are now and then above our own actions; seldom on a level with them. Evan, I dare say, was long in learning to draw any gratification from the fact that he had achieved without money the unparalleled conquest of a man. Perhaps he never knew what immediate influence on his fortune this episode effected.
At Hillford they went their different ways. The postillion wished him good speed, and Evan shook his hand. He did so rather abruptly, for the postillion was fumbling at his pocket, and evidently rounding about a proposal in his mind.
My gentleman has now the road to himself. Money is the clothing of a gentleman: he may wear it well or ill. Some, you will mark, carry great quantities of it gracefully: some, with a stinted supply, present a decent appearance: very few, I imagine, will bear inspection, who are absolutely stripped of it. All, save the shameless, are toiling to escape that trial. My gentleman, treading the white highway across the solitary heaths, that swell far and wide to the moon, is, by the postillion, who has seen him, pronounced no sham. Nor do I think the opinion of any man worthless, who has had the postillion's authority for speaking. But it is, I am told, a finer test to embellish much gentleman-apparel, than to walk with dignity totally unadorned. This simply tries the soundness of our faculties: that tempts them in erratic directions. It is the difference between active and passive excellence. As there is hardly any situation, however, so interesting to reflect upon as that of a man without a penny in his pocket, and a gizzard full of pride, we will leave Mr. Evan Harrington to what fresh adventures may befall him, walking toward the funeral plumes of the firs, under the soft midsummer flush, westward, where his father lies.
MOTHER AND SON
Rare as epic song is the man who is thorough in what he does. And happily so; for in life he subjugates us, and he makes us bondsmen to his ashes. It was in the order of things that the great Mel should be borne to his final resting-place by a troop of creditors. You have seen (since the occasion demands a pompous simile) clouds that all day cling about the sun, and, in seeking to obscure him, are compelled to blaze in his livery at fall of night they break from him illumined, hang mournfully above him, and wear his natural glories long after he is gone. Thus, then, these worthy fellows, faithful to him to the dust, fulfilled Mel's triumphant passage amongst them, and closed his career.
To regale them when they returned, Mrs. Mel, whose mind was not intent on greatness, was occupied in spreading meat and wine. Mrs. Fiske assisted her, as well as she could, seeing that one hand was entirely engaged by her handkerchief. She had already stumbled, and dropped a glass, which had brought on her sharp condemnation from her aunt, who bade her sit down, or go upstairs to have her cry out, and then return to be serviceable.
'Oh! I can't help it!' sobbed Mrs. Fiske. 'That he should be carried away, and none of his children to see him the last time! I can understand Louisa—and Harriet, too, perhaps? But why could not Caroline? And that they should be too fine ladies to let their brother come and bury his father. Oh! it does seem——'
Mrs. Fiske fell into a chair, and surrendered to grief.
'Where is the cold tongue?' said Mrs. Mel to Sally, the maid, in a brief under-voice.
'Please mum, Jacko——!'
'He must be whipped. You are a careless slut.'
'Please, I can't think of everybody and everything, and poor master——'
Sally plumped on a seat, and took sanctuary under her apron. Mrs. Mel glanced at the pair, continuing her labour.
'Oh, aunt, aunt!' cried Mrs. Fiske, 'why didn't you put it off for another day, to give Evan a chance?'
'Master 'd have kept another two days, he would!' whimpered Sally.
'Oh, aunt! to think!' cried Mrs. Fiske.
'And his coffin not bearin' of his spurs!' whimpered Sally.
Mrs. Mel interrupted them by commanding Sally to go to the drawing-room, and ask a lady there, of the name of Mrs. Wishaw, whether she would like to have some lunch sent up to her. Mrs. Fiske was requested to put towels in Evan's bedroom.
'Yes, aunt, if you're not infatuated!' said Mrs. Fiske, as she prepared to obey; while Sally, seeing that her public exhibition of sorrow and sympathy could be indulged but an instant longer, unwound herself for a violent paroxysm, blurting between stops:
'If he'd ony've gone to his last bed comfortable! . . . If he'd ony 've been that decent as not for to go to his last bed with his clothes on! . . . If he'd ony've had a comfortable sheet! . . . It makes a woman feel cold to think of him full dressed there, as if he was goin' to be a soldier on the Day o' Judgement!'
To let people speak was a maxim of Mrs. Mel's, and a wise one for any form of society when emotions are very much on the surface. She continued her arrangements quietly, and, having counted the number of plates and glasses, and told off the guests on her fingers, she, sat down to await them.
The first one who entered the room was her son.
'You have come,' said Mrs. Mel, flushing slightly, but otherwise outwardly calm.
'You didn't suppose I should stay away from you, mother?'
Evan kissed her cheek.
'I knew you would not.'
Mrs. Mel examined him with those eyes of hers that compassed objects in a single glance. She drew her finger on each side of her upper lip, and half smiled, saying:
'That won't do here.'
'What?' asked Evan, and proceeded immediately to make inquiries about her health, which she satisfied with a nod.
'You saw him lowered, Van?'
'Then go and wash yourself, for you are dirty, and then come and take your place at the head of the table.'
'Must I sit here, mother?'
'Without a doubt—you must. You know your room. Quick!'
In this manner their first interview passed.
Mrs. Fiske rushed in to exclaim:
'So, you were right, aunt—he has come. I met him on the stairs. Oh! how like dear uncle Mel he looks, in the militia, with that moustache. I just remember him as a child; and, oh, what a gentleman he is!'
At the end of the sentence Mrs. Mel's face suddenly darkened: she said, in a deep voice:
'Don't dare to talk that nonsense before him, Ann.'
Mrs. Fiske looked astonished.
'What have I done, aunt?'
'He shan't be ruined by a parcel of fools,' said Mrs. Mel. 'There, go! Women have no place here.'
'How the wretches can force themselves to touch a morsel, after this morning!' Mrs. Fiske exclaimed, glancing at the table.
'Men must eat,' said Mrs. Mel.
The mourners were heard gathering outside the door. Mrs. Fiske escaped into the kitchen. Mrs. Mel admitted them into the parlour, bowing much above the level of many of the heads that passed her.
Assembled were Messrs. Barnes, Kilne, and Grossby, whom we know; Mr. Doubleday, the ironmonger; Mr. Joyce, the grocer; Mr. Perkins, commonly called Lawyer Perkins; Mr. Welbeck, the pier-master of Lymport; Bartholomew Fiske; Mr. Coxwell, a Fallow field maltster, brewer, and farmer; creditors of various dimensions, all of them. Mr. Goren coming last, behind his spectacles.
'My son will be with you directly, to preside,' said Mrs. Mel. 'Accept my thanks for the respect you have shown my husband. I wish you good morning.'
'Morning, ma'am,' answered several voices, and Mrs. Mel retired.
The mourners then set to work to relieve their hats of the appendages of crape. An undertaker's man took possession of the long black cloaks. The gloves were generally pocketed.
'That's my second black pair this year,' said Joyce.
'They'll last a time to come. I don't need to buy gloves while neighbours pop off.'
'Undertakers' gloves seem to me as if they're made for mutton fists,' remarked Welbeck; upon which Kilne nudged Barnes, the butcher, with a sharp 'Aha!' and Barnes observed:
'Oh! I never wear 'em—they does for my boys on Sundays. I smoke a pipe at home.'
The Fallow field farmer held his length of crape aloft and inquired: 'What shall do with this?'
'Oh, you keep it,' said one or two.
Coxwell rubbed his chin. 'Don't like to rob the widder.'
'What's left goes to the undertaker?' asked Grossby.
'To be sure,' said Barnes; and Kilne added: 'It's a job': Lawyer Perkins ejaculating confidently, 'Perquisites of office, gentlemen; perquisites of office!' which settled the dispute and appeased every conscience.
A survey of the table ensued. The mourners felt hunger, or else thirst; but had not, it appeared, amalgamated the two appetites as yet. Thirst was the predominant declaration; and Grossby, after an examination of the decanters, unctuously deduced the fact, which he announced, that port and sherry were present.
'Try the port,' said Kilne.
'Good?' Barnes inquired.
A very intelligent 'I ought to know,' with a reserve of regret at the extension of his intimacy with the particular vintage under that roof, was winked by Kilne.
Lawyer Perkins touched the arm of a mourner about to be experimental on Kilne's port—
'I think we had better wait till young Mr. Harrington takes the table, don't you see?'
'Yes,-ah!' croaked Goren. 'The head of the family, as the saying goes!'
'I suppose we shan't go into business to-day?' Joyce carelessly observed.
Lawyer Perkins answered:
'No. You can't expect it. Mr. Harrington has led me to anticipate that he will appoint a day. Don't you see?'
'Oh! I see,' returned Joyce. 'I ain't in such a hurry. What's he doing?'
Doubleday, whose propensities were waggish, suggested 'shaving,' but half ashamed of it, since the joke missed, fell to as if he were soaping his face, and had some trouble to contract his jaw.
The delay in Evan's attendance on the guests of the house was caused by the fact that Mrs. Mel had lain in wait for him descending, to warn him that he must treat them with no supercilious civility, and to tell him partly the reason why. On hearing the potential relations in which they stood toward the estate of his father, Evan hastily and with the assurance of a son of fortune, said they should be paid.
'That's what they would like to hear,' said Mrs. Mel. 'You may just mention it when they're going to leave. Say you will fix a day to meet them.'
'Every farthing!' pursued Evan, on whom the tidings were beginning to operate. 'What! debts? my poor father!'
'And a thumping sum, Van. You will open your eyes wider.'
'But it shall be paid, mother,—it shall be paid. Debts? I hate them. I'd slave night and day to pay them.'
Mrs. Mel spoke in a more positive tense: 'And so will I, Van. Now, go.'
It mattered little to her what sort of effect on his demeanour her revelation produced, so long as the resolve she sought to bring him to was nailed in his mind; and she was a woman to knock and knock again, till it was firmly fixed there. With a strong purpose, and no plans, there were few who could resist what, in her circle, she willed; not even a youth who would gaily have marched to the scaffold rather than stand behind a counter. A purpose wedded to plans may easily suffer shipwreck; but an unfettered purpose that moulds circumstances as they arise, masters us, and is terrible. Character melts to it, like metal in the steady furnace. The projector of plots is but a miserable gambler and votary of chances. Of a far higher quality is the will that can subdue itself to wait, and lay no petty traps for opportunity. Poets may fable of such a will, that it makes the very heavens conform to it; or, I may add, what is almost equal thereto, one who would be a gentleman, to consent to be a tailor. The only person who ever held in his course against Mrs. Mel, was Mel,—her husband; but, with him, she was under the physical fascination of her youth, and it never left her. In her heart she barely blamed him. What he did, she took among other inevitable matters.
The door closed upon Evan, and waiting at the foot, of the stairs a minute to hear how he was received, Mrs. Mel went to the kitchen and called the name of Dandy, which brought out an ill-built, low-browed, small man, in a baggy suit of black, who hopped up to her with a surly salute. Dandy was a bird Mrs. Mel had herself brought down, and she had for him something of a sportsman's regard for his victim. Dandy was the cleaner of boots and runner of errands in the household of Melchisedec, having originally entered it on a dark night by the cellar. Mrs. Mel, on that occasion, was sleeping in her dressing-gown, to be ready to give the gallant night-hawk, her husband, the service he might require on his return to the nest. Hearing a suspicious noise below, she rose, and deliberately loaded a pair of horse-pistols, weapons Mel had worn in his holsters in the heroic days gone; and with these she stepped downstairs straight to the cellar, carrying a lantern at her girdle. She could not only load, but present and fire. Dandy was foremost in stating that she called him forth steadily, three times, before the pistol was discharged. He admitted that he was frightened, and incapable of speech, at the apparition of the tall, terrific woman. After the third time of asking he had the ball lodged in his leg and fell. Mrs. Mel was in the habit of bearing heavier weights than Dandy. She made no ado about lugging him to a chamber, where, with her own hands (for this woman had some slight knowledge of surgery, and was great in herbs and drugs) she dressed his wound, and put him to bed; crying contempt (ever present in Dandy's memory) at such a poor creature undertaking the work of housebreaker. Taught that he really was a poor creature for the work, Dandy, his nursing over, begged to be allowed to stop and wait on Mrs. Mel; and she who had, like many strong natures, a share of pity for the objects she despised, did not cast him out. A jerk in his gait, owing to the bit of lead Mrs. Mel had dropped into him, and a little, perhaps, to her self-satisfied essay in surgical science on his person, earned him the name he went by.
When her neighbours remonstrated with her for housing a reprobate, Mrs. Mel would say: 'Dandy is well-fed and well-physicked: there's no harm in Dandy'; by which she may have meant that the food won his gratitude, and the physic reduced his humours. She had observed human nature. At any rate, Dandy was her creature; and the great Mel himself rallied her about her squire.
'When were you drunk last?' was Mrs. Mel's address to Dandy, as he stood waiting for orders.
He replied to it in an altogether injured way:
'There, now; you've been and called me away from my dinner to ask me that. Why, when I had the last chance, to be sure.'
'And you were at dinner in your new black suit?'
'Well,' growled Dandy, 'I borrowed Sally's apron. Seems I can't please ye.'
Mrs. Mel neither enjoined nor cared for outward forms of respect, where she was sure of complete subserviency. If Dandy went beyond the limits, she gave him an extra dose. Up to the limits he might talk as he pleased, in accordance with Mrs. Mel's maxim, that it was a necessary relief to all talking creatures.
'Now, take off your apron,' she said, 'and wash your hands, dirty pig, and go and wait at table in there'; she pointed to the parlour-door: 'Come straight to me when everybody has left.'
'Well, there I am with the bottles again,' returned Dandy. 'It 's your fault this time, mind! I'll come as straight as I can.'
Dandy turned away to perform her bidding, and Mrs. Mel ascended to the drawing-room to sit with Mrs. Wishaw, who was, as she told all who chose to hear, an old flame of Mel's, and was besides, what Mrs. Mel thought more of, the wife of Mel's principal creditor, a wholesale dealer in cloth, resident in London.
The conviviality of the mourners did not disturb the house. Still, men who are not accustomed to see the colour of wine every day, will sit and enjoy it, even upon solemn occasions, and the longer they sit the more they forget the matter that has brought them together. Pleading their wives and shops, however, they released Evan from his miserable office late in the afternoon.
His mother came down to him,—and saying, 'I see how you did the journey—you walked it,' told him to follow her.
'Yes, mother,' Evan yawned, 'I walked part of the way. I met a fellow in a gig about ten miles out of Fallow field, and he gave me a lift to Flatsham. I just reached Lymport in time, thank Heaven! I wouldn't have missed that! By the way, I've satisfied these men.'
'Oh!' said Mrs. Mel.
'They wanted—one or two of them—what a penance it is to have to sit among those people an hour!—they wanted to ask me about the business, but I silenced them. I told them to meet me here this day week.'
Mrs. Mel again said 'Oh!' and, pushing into one of the upper rooms, 'Here's your bedroom, Van, just as you left it.'
'Ah, so it is,' muttered Evan, eyeing a print. 'The Douglas and the Percy: "he took the dead man by the hand." What an age it seems since I last saw that. There's Sir Hugh Montgomery on horseback—he hasn't moved. Don't you remember my father calling it the Battle of Tit-for-Tat? Gallant Percy! I know he wished he had lived in those days of knights and battles.'
'It does not much signify whom one has to make clothes for,' observed Mrs. Mel. Her son happily did not mark her.
'I think we neither of us were made for the days of pence and pounds,' he continued. 'Now, mother, sit down, and talk to me about him. Did he mention me? Did he give me his blessing? I hope he did not suffer. I'd have given anything to press his hand,' and looking wistfully at the Percy lifting the hand of Douglas dead, Evan's eyes filled with big tears.
'He suffered very little,' returned Mrs. Mel, 'and his last words were about you.'
'What were they?' Evan burst out.
'I will tell you another time. Now undress, and go to bed. When I talk to you, Van, I want a cool head to listen. You do nothing but yawn yard-measures.'
The mouth of the weary youth instinctively snapped short the abhorred emblem.
'Here, I will help you, Van.'
In spite of his remonstrances and petitions for talk, she took off his coat and waistcoat, contemptuously criticizing the cloth of foreign tailors and their absurd cut.
'Have you heard from Louisa?' asked Evan.
'Yes, yes—about your sisters by-and-by. Now, be good, and go to bed.'
She still treated him like a boy, whom she was going to force to the resolution of a man.
Dandy's sleeping-room was on the same floor as Evan's. Thither, when she had quitted her son, she directed her steps. She had heard Dandy tumble up-stairs the moment his duties were over, and knew what to expect when the bottles had been in his way; for drink made Dandy savage, and a terror to himself. It was her command to him that, when he happened to come across liquor, he should immediately seek his bedroom and bolt the door, and Dandy had got the habit of obeying her. On this occasion he was vindictive against her, seeing that she had delivered him over to his enemy with malice prepense. A good deal of knocking, and summoning of Dandy by name, was required before she was admitted, and the sight of her did not delight him, as he testified.
'I 'm drunk!' he bawled. 'Will that do for ye?'
Mrs. Mel stood with her two hands crossed above her apron-string, noting his sullen lurking eye with the calm of a tamer of beasts.
'You go out of the room; I'm drunk!' Dandy repeated, and pitched forward on the bed-post, in the middle of an oath.
She understood that it was pure kindness on Dandy's part to bid her go and be out of his reach; and therefore, on his becoming so abusive as to be menacing, she, without a shade of anger, and in the most unruffled manner, administered to him the remedy she had reserved, in the shape of a smart box on the ear, which sent him flat to the floor. He rose, after two or three efforts, quite subdued.
'Now, Dandy, sit on the edge of the bed.'
Dandy sat on the extreme edge, and Mrs. Mel pursued:
'Now, Dandy, tell me what your master said at the table.'
'Talked at 'em like a lord, he did,' said Dandy, stupidly consoling the boxed ear.
'What were his words?'
Dandy's peculiarity was, that he never remembered anything save when drunk, and Mrs. Mel's dose had rather sobered him. By degrees, scratching at his head haltingly, he gave the context.
"'Gentlemen, I hear for the first time, you've claims against my poor father. Nobody shall ever say he died, and any man was the worse for it. I'll meet you next week, and I'll bind myself by law. Here's Lawyer Perkins. No; Mr. Perkins. I'll pay off every penny. Gentlemen, look upon me as your debtor, and not my father."'
Delivering this with tolerable steadiness, Dandy asked, 'Will that do?'
'That will do,' said Mrs. Mel. 'I'll send you up some tea presently. Lie down, Dandy.'
The house was dark and silent when Evan, refreshed by his rest, descended to seek his mother. She was sitting alone in the parlour. With a tenderness which Mrs. Mel permitted rather than encouraged, Evan put his arm round her neck, and kissed her many times. One of the symptoms of heavy sorrow, a longing for the signs of love, made Evan fondle his mother, and bend over her yearningly. Mrs. Mel said once: 'Dear Van; good boy!' and quietly sat through his caresses.
'Sitting up for me, mother?' he whispered.
'Yes, Van; we may as well have our talk out.'
'Ah!' he took a chair close by her side, 'tell me my father's last words.'
'He said he hoped you would never be a tailor.'
Evan's forehead wrinkled up. 'There's not much fear of that, then!'
His mother turned her face on him, and examined him with a rigorous placidity; all her features seeming to bear down on him. Evan did not like the look.
'You object to trade, Van?'
'Yes, decidedly, mother-hate it; but that's not what I want to talk to you about. Didn't my father speak of me much?'
'He desired that you should wear his militia sword, if you got a commission.'
'I have rather given up hope of the Army,' said Evan.
Mrs. Mel requested him to tell her what a colonel's full pay amounted to; and again, the number of years it required, on a rough calculation, to attain that grade. In reply to his statement she observed: 'A tailor might realize twice the sum in a quarter of the time.'
'What if he does-double, or treble?' cried Evan, impetuously; and to avoid the theme, and cast off the bad impression it produced on him, he rubbed his hands, and said: 'I want to talk to you about my prospects, mother.'
'What are they?' Mrs. Mel inquired.
The severity of her mien and sceptical coldness of her speech caused him to inspect them suddenly, as if she had lent him her eyes. He put them by, till the gold should recover its natural shine, saying: 'By the way, mother, I 've written the half of a History of Portugal.'
'Have you?' said Mrs. Mel. 'For Louisa?'
'No, mother, of course not: to sell it. Albuquerque! what a splendid fellow he was!'
Informing him that he knew she abominated foreign names, she said: 'And your prospects are, writing Histories of Portugal?'
'No, mother. I was going to tell you, I expect a Government appointment. Mr. Jocelyn likes my work—I think he likes me. You know, I was his private secretary for ten months.'
'You write a good hand,' his mother interposed.
'And I'm certain I was born for diplomacy.'
'For an easy chair, and an ink-dish before you, and lacqueys behind. What's to be your income, Van?'
Evan carelessly remarked that he must wait and see.
'A very proper thing to do,' said Mrs. Mel; for now that she had fixed him to some explanation of his prospects, she could condescend in her stiff way to banter.
Slightly touched by it, Evan pursued, half laughing, as men do who wish to propitiate common sense on behalf of what seems tolerably absurd: 'It 's not the immediate income, you know, mother: one thinks of one's future. In the diplomatic service, as Louisa says, you come to be known to Ministers gradually, I mean. That is, they hear of you; and if you show you have some capacity—Louisa wants me to throw it up in time, and stand for Parliament. Andrew, she thinks, would be glad to help me to his seat. Once in Parliament, and known to Ministers, you—your career is open to you.'
In justice to Mr. Evan Harrington, it must be said, he built up this extraordinary card-castle to dazzle his mother's mind: he had lost his right grasp of her character for the moment, because of an undefined suspicion of something she intended, and which sent him himself to take refuge in those flimsy structures; while the very altitude he reached beguiled his imagination, and made him hope to impress hers.
Mrs. Mel dealt it one fillip. 'And in the meantime how are you to live, and pay the creditors?'
Though Evan answered cheerfully, 'Oh, they will wait, and I can live on anything,' he was nevertheless floundering on the ground amid the ruins of the superb edifice; and his mother, upright and rigid, continuing, 'You can live on anything, and they will wait, and call your father a rogue,' he started, grievously bitten by one of the serpents of earth.
'Good heaven, mother! what are you saying?'
'That they will call your father a rogue, and will have a right to,' said the relentless woman.
'Not while I live!' Evan exclaimed.
'You may stop one mouth with your fist, but you won't stop a dozen, Van.'
Evan jumped up and walked the room.
'What am I to do?' he cried. 'I will pay everything. I will bind myself to pay every farthing. What more can I possibly do?'
'Make the money,' said Mrs. Mel's deep voice.
Evan faced her: 'My dear mother, you are very unjust and inconsiderate. I have been working and doing my best. I promise—what do the debts amount to?'
'Something like L5000 in all, Van.'
'Very well.' Youth is not alarmed by the sound of big sums. 'Very well—I will pay it.'
Evan looked as proud as if he had just clapped down the full amount on the table.
'Out of the History of Portugal, half written, and the prospect of a Government appointment?'
Mrs. Mel raised her eyelids to him.
'In time-in time, mother!'
'Mention your proposal to the creditors when you meet them this day week,' she said.
Neither of them spoke for several minutes. Then Evan came close to her, saying:
'What is it you want of me, mother?'
'I want nothing, Van—I can support myself.'
'But what would you have me do, mother?'
'Be honest; do your duty, and don't be a fool about it.'
'I will try,' he rejoined. 'You tell me to make the money. Where and how can I make it? I am perfectly willing to work.'
'In this house,' said Mrs. Mel; and, as this was pretty clear speaking, she stood up to lend her figure to it.
'Here?' faltered Evan. 'What! be a ——'
'Tailor!' The word did not sting her tongue.
'I? Oh, that's quite impossible!' said Evan. And visions of leprosy, and Rose shrinking her skirts from contact with him, shadowed out and away in his mind.
'Understand your choice!' Mrs. Mel imperiously spoke. 'What are brains given you for? To be played the fool with by idiots and women? You have L5000 to pay to save your father from being called a rogue. You can only make the money in one way, which is open to you. This business might produce a thousand pounds a-year and more. In seven or eight years you may clear your father's name, and live better all the time than many of your bankrupt gentlemen. You have told the creditors you will pay them. Do you think they're gaping fools, to be satisfied by a History of Portugal? If you refuse to take the business at once, they will sell me up, and quite right too. Understand your choice. There's Mr. Goren has promised to have you in London a couple of months, and teach you what he can. He is a kind friend. Would any of your gentlemen acquaintance do the like for you? Understand your choice. You will be a beggar—the son of a rogue—or an honest man who has cleared his father's name!'
During this strenuously uttered allocution, Mrs. Mel, though her chest heaved but faintly against her crossed hands, showed by the dilatation of her eyes, and the light in them, that she felt her words. There is that in the aspect of a fine frame breathing hard facts, which, to a youth who has been tumbled headlong from his card-castles and airy fabrics, is masterful, and like the pressure of a Fate. Evan drooped his head.
'Now,' said Mrs. Mel, 'you shall have some supper.'
Evan told her he could not eat.
'I insist upon your eating,' said Mrs. Mel; 'empty stomachs are foul counsellors.'
'Mother! do you want to drive me mad?' cried Evan.
She looked at him to see whether the string she held him by would bear the slight additional strain: decided not to press a small point.
'Then go to bed and sleep on it,' she said—sure of him—and gave her cheek for his kiss, for she never performed the operation, but kept her mouth, as she remarked, for food and speech, and not for slobbering mummeries.
Evan returned to his solitary room. He sat on the bed and tried to think, oppressed by horrible sensations of self-contempt, that caused whatever he touched to sicken him.
There were the Douglas and the Percy on the wall. It was a happy and a glorious time, was it not, when men lent each other blows that killed outright; when to be brave and cherish noble feelings brought honour; when strength of arm and steadiness of heart won fortune; when the fair stars of earth—sweet women—wakened and warmed the love of squires of low degree. This legacy of the dead man's hand! Evan would have paid it with his blood; but to be in bondage all his days to it; through it to lose all that was dear to him; to wear the length of a loathed existence!—we should pardon a young man's wretchedness at the prospect, for it was in a time before our joyful era of universal equality. Yet he never cast a shade of blame upon his father.
The hours moved on, and he found himself staring at his small candle, which struggled more and more faintly with the morning light, like his own flickering ambition against the facts of life.
INTRODUCES AN ECCENTRIC
At the Aurora—one of those rare antiquated taverns, smelling of comfortable time and solid English fare, that had sprung up in the great coffee days, when taverns were clubs, and had since subsisted on the attachment of steady bachelor Templars there had been dismay, and even sorrow, for a month. The most constant patron of the establishment—an old gentleman who had dined there for seven-and-twenty years, four days in the week, off dishes dedicated to the particular days, and had grown grey with the landlady, the cook, and the head-waiter—this old gentleman had abruptly withheld his presence. Though his name, his residence, his occupation, were things only to be speculated on at the Aurora, he was very well known there, and as men are best to be known: that is to say, by their habits. Some affection for him also was felt. The landlady looked on him as a part of the house. The cook and the waiter were accustomed to receive acceptable compliments from him monthly. His precise words, his regular ancient jokes, his pint of Madeira and after-pint of Port, his antique bow to the landlady, passing out and in, his method of spreading his table-napkin on his lap and looking up at the ceiling ere he fell to, and how he talked to himself during the repast, and indulged in short chuckles, and the one look of perfect felicity that played over his features when he had taken his first sip of Port—these were matters it pained them at the Aurora to have to remember.
For three weeks the resolution not to regard him as of the past was general. The Aurora was the old gentleman's home. Men do not play truant from home at sixty years of age. He must, therefore, be seriously indisposed. The kind heart of the landlady fretted to think he might have no soul to nurse and care for him; but she kept his corner near the fire-place vacant, and took care that his pint of Madeira was there. The belief was gaining ground that he had gone, and that nothing but his ghost would ever sit there again. Still the melancholy ceremony continued: for the landlady was not without a secret hope, that in spite of his reserve and the mystery surrounding him, he would have sent her a last word. The cook and head-waiter, interrogated as to their dealings with the old gentleman, testified solemnly to the fact of their having performed their duty by him. They would not go against their interests so much as to forget one of his ways, they said-taking oath, as it were, by their lower nature, in order to be credited: an instinct men have of one another. The landlady could not contradict them, for the old gentleman had made no complaint; but then she called to memory that fifteen years back, in such and such a year, Wednesday's, dish had been, by shameful oversight, furnished him for Tuesday's, and he had eaten it quietly, but refused his Port; which pathetic event had caused alarm and inquiry, when the error was discovered, and apologized for, the old gentleman merely saying, 'Don't let it happen again.' Next day he drank his Port, as usual, and the wheels of the Aurora went smoothly. The landlady was thus justified in averring that something had been done by somebody, albeit unable to point to anything specific. Women, who are almost as deeply bound to habit as old gentlemen, possess more of its spiritual element, and are warned by dreams, omens, creepings of the flesh, unwonted chills, suicide of china, and other shadowing signs, when a break is to be anticipated, or, has occurred. The landlady of the Aurora tavern was visited by none of these, and with that beautiful trust which habit gives, and which boastful love or vainer earthly qualities would fail in effecting, she ordered that the pint of Madeira should stand from six o'clock in the evening till seven—a small monument of confidence in him who was at one instant the 'poor old dear'; at another, the 'naughty old gad-about'; further, the 'faithless old-good-for-nothing'; and again, the 'blessed pet' of the landlady's parlour, alternately and indiscriminately apostrophized by herself, her sister, and daughter.
On the last day of the month a step was heard coming up the long alley which led from the riotous scrambling street to the plentiful cheerful heart of the Aurora. The landlady knew the step. She checked the natural flutterings of her ribbons, toned down the strong simper that was on her lips, rose, pushed aside her daughter, and, as the step approached, curtsied composedly. Old Habit lifted his hat, and passed. With the same touching confidence in the Aurora that the Aurora had in him, he went straight to his corner, expressed no surprise at his welcome by the Madeira, and thereby apparently indicated that his appearance should enjoy a similar immunity.
As of old, he called 'Jonathan!' and was not to be disturbed till he did so. Seeing that Jonathan smirked and twiddled his napkin, the old gentleman added, 'Thursday!'
But Jonathan, a man, had not his mistress's keen intuition of the deportment necessitated by the case, or was incapable of putting the screw upon weak excited nature, for he continued to smirk, and was remarking how glad he was, he was sure, and something he had dared to think and almost to fear, when the old gentleman called to him, as if he were at the other end of the room, 'Will you order Thursday, or not, sir?' Whereat Jonathan flew, and two or three cosy diners glanced up from their plates, or the paper, smiled, and pursued their capital occupation.
'Glad to see me!' the old gentleman muttered, querulously. 'Of course, glad to see a customer! Why do you tell me that? Talk! tattle! might as well have a woman to wait—just!'
He wiped his forehead largely with his handkerchief; as one whom Calamity hunted a little too hard in summer weather.
'No tumbling-room for the wine, too!'
That was his next grievance. He changed the pint of Madeira from his left side to his right, and went under his handkerchief again, feverishly. The world was severe with this old gentleman.
'Ah! clock wrong now!'
He leaned back like a man who can no longer carry his burdens, informing Jonathan, on his coming up to place the roll of bread and firm butter, that he was forty seconds too fast, as if it were a capital offence, and he deserved to step into Eternity for outstripping Time.
'But, I daresay, you don't understand the importance of a minute,' said the old gentleman, bitterly. 'Not you, or any of you. Better if we had run a little ahead of your minute, perhaps—and the rest of you! Do you think you can cancel the mischief that's done in the world in that minute, sir, by hurrying ahead like that? Tell me!'
Rather at a loss, Jonathan scanned the clock seriously, and observed that it was not quite a minute too fast.
The old gentleman pulled out his watch. He grunted that a lying clock was hateful to him; subsequently sinking into contemplation of his thumbs,—a sign known to Jonathan as indicative of the old gentleman's system having resolved, in spite of external outrages, to be fortified with calm to meet the repast.
It is not fair to go behind an eccentric; but the fact was, this old gentleman was slightly ashamed of his month's vagrancy and cruel conduct, and cloaked his behaviour toward the Aurora, in all the charges he could muster against it. He was very human, albeit an odd form of the race.
Happily for his digestion of Thursday, the cook, warned by Jonathan, kept the old gentleman's time, not the Aurora's: and the dinner was correct; the dinner was eaten in peace; he began to address his plate vigorously, poured out his Madeira, and chuckled, as the familiar ideas engendered by good wine were revived in him. Jonathan reported at the bar that the old gentleman was all right again.
One would like here to pause, while our worthy ancient feeds, and indulge in a short essay on Habit, to show what a sacred and admirable thing it is that makes flimsy Time substantial, and consolidates his triple life. It is proof that we have come to the end of dreams and Time's delusions, and are determined to sit down at Life's feast and carve for ourselves. Its day is the child of yesterday, and has a claim on to-morrow. Whereas those who have no such plan of existence and sum of their wisdom to show, the winds blow them as they list. Consider, then, mercifully the wrath of him on whom carelessness or forgetfulness has brought a snap in the links of Habit. You incline to scorn him because, his slippers misplaced, or asparagus not on his table the first day of a particular Spring month, he gazes blankly and sighs as one who saw the End. To you it may appear small. You call to him to be a man. He is: but he is also an immortal, and his confidence in unceasing orderly progression is rudely dashed.
But the old gentleman has finished his dinner and his Madeira, and says: 'Now, Jonathan, "thock" the Port!'—his joke when matters have gone well: meant to express the sound of the uncorking, probably. The habit of making good jokes is rare, as you know: old gentlemen have not yet attained to it: nevertheless Jonathan enjoys this one, which has seen a generation in and out, for he knows its purport to be, 'My heart is open.'
And now is a great time with this old gentleman. He sips, and in his eyes the world grows rosy, and he exchanges mute or monosyllable salutes here and there. His habit is to avoid converse; but he will let a light remark season meditation.
He says to Jonathan: 'The bill for the month.'
'Yes, sir,' Jonathan replies. 'Would you not prefer, sir, to have the items added on to the month ensuing?'
'I asked you for the bill of the month,' said the old gentleman, with an irritated voice and a twinkle in his eye.
Jonathan bowed; but his aspect betrayed perplexity, and that perplexity was soon shared by the landlady for Jonathan said, he was convinced the old gentleman intended to pay for sixteen days, and the landlady could not bring her hand to charge him for more than two. Here was the dilemma foreseen by the old gentleman, and it added vastly to the flavour of the Port.
Pleasantly tickled, he sat gazing at his glass, and let the minutes fly. He knew the part he would act in his little farce. If charged for the whole month, he would peruse the bill deliberately, and perhaps cry out 'Hulloa?' and then snap at Jonathan for the interposition of a remark. But if charged for two days, he would wish to be told whether they were demented, those people outside, and scornfully return the bill to Jonathan.
A slap on the shoulder, and a voice: 'Found you at last, Tom!' violently shattered the excellent plot, and made the old gentleman start. He beheld Mr. Andrew Cogglesby.
'Drinking Port, Tom?' said Mr. Andrew. 'I 'll join you': and he sat down opposite to him, rubbing his hands and pushing back his hair.
Jonathan entering briskly with the bill, fell back a step, in alarm. The old gentleman, whose inviolacy was thus rudely assailed, sat staring at the intruder, his mouth compressed, and three fingers round his glass, which it' was doubtful whether he was not going to hurl at him.
'Waiter!' Mr. Andrew carelessly hailed, 'a pint of this Port, if you please.'
Jonathan sought the countenance of the old gentleman.
'Do you hear, sir?' cried the latter, turning his wrath on him. 'Another pint!' He added: 'Take back the bill'; and away went Jonathan to relate fresh marvels to his mistress.
Mr. Andrew then addressed the old gentleman in the most audacious manner.
'Astonished to see me here, Tom? Dare say you are. I knew you came somewhere in this neighbourhood, and, as I wanted to speak to you very particularly, and you wouldn't be visible till Monday, why, I spied into two or three places, and here I am.'
You might see they were brothers. They had the same bushy eyebrows, the same healthy colour in their cheeks, the same thick shoulders, and brisk way of speaking, and clear, sharp, though kindly, eyes; only Tom was cast in larger proportions than Andrew, and had gotten the grey furniture of Time for his natural wear. Perhaps, too, a cross in early life had a little twisted him, and set his mouth in a rueful bunch, out of which occasionally came biting things. Mr. Andrew carried his head up, and eyed every man living with the benevolence of a patriarch, dashed with the impudence of a London sparrow. Tom had a nagging air, and a trifle of acridity on his broad features. Still, any one at a glance could have sworn they were brothers, and Jonathan unhesitatingly proclaimed it at the Aurora bar.
Mr. Andrew's hands were working together, and at them, and at his face, the old gentleman continued to look with a firmly interrogating air.
'Want to know what brings me, Tom? I'll tell you presently. Hot,—isn't it?'
'What the deuce are you taking exercise for?' the old gentleman burst out, and having unlocked his mouth, he began to puff and alter his posture.
'There you are, thawed in a minute!' said Mr. Andrew. 'What's an eccentric? a child grown grey. It isn't mine; I read it somewhere. Ah, here's the Port! good, I'll warrant.'
Jonathan deferentially uncorked, excessive composure on his visage. He arranged the table-cloth to a nicety, fixed the bottle with exactness, and was only sent scudding by the old gentleman's muttering of: 'Eavesdropping pie!' followed by a short, 'Go!' and even then he must delay to sweep off a particular crumb.
'Good it is!' said Mr. Andrew, rolling the flavour on his lips, as he put down his glass. 'I follow you in Port, Tom. Elder brother!'
The old gentleman also drank, and was mollified enough to reply: 'Shan't follow you in Parliament.'
'Haven't forgiven that yet, Tom?'
'No great harm done when you're silent.'
'Capital Port!' said Mr. Andrew, replenishing the glasses. 'I ought to have inquired where they kept the best Port. I might have known you'd stick by it. By the way, talking of Parliament, there's talk of a new election for Fallow field. You have a vote there. Will you give it to Jocelyn? There's talk of his standing.
'If he'll wear petticoats, I'll give him my vote.'
'There you go, Tom!'
'I hate masquerades. You're penny trumpets of the women. That tattle comes from the bed-curtains. When a petticoat steps forward I give it my vote, or else I button it up in my pocket.'
This was probably one of the longest speeches he had ever delivered at the Aurora. There was extra Port in it. Jonathan, who from his place of observation noted the length of time it occupied, though he was unable to gather the context, glanced at Mr. Andrew with a sly satisfaction. Mr. Andrew, laughing, signalled for another pint.
'So you've come here for my vote, have you?' said Mr. Tom.
'Why, no; not exactly that,' Mr. Andrew answered, blinking and passing it by.
Jonathan brought the fresh pint, and Tom filled for himself, drank, and said emphatically, and with a confounding voice:
'Your women have been setting you on me, sir!'
Andrew protested that he was entirely mistaken.
'You're the puppet of your women!'
'Well, Tom, not in this instance. Here's to the bachelors, and brother Tom at their head!'
It seemed to be Andrew's object to help his companion to carry a certain quantity of Port, as if he knew a virtue it had to subdue him, and to have fixed on a particular measure that he should hold before he addressed him specially. Arrived at this, he said:
'Look here, Tom. I know your ways. I shouldn't have bothered you here; I never have before; but we couldn't very well talk it over in business hours; and besides you're never at the Brewery till Monday, and the matter's rather urgent.'
'Why don't you speak like that in Parliament?' the old man interposed.
'Because Parliament isn't my brother,' replied Mr. Andrew. 'You know, Tom, you never quite took to my wife's family.'
'I'm not a match for fine ladies, Nan.'
'Well, Harriet would have taken to you, Tom, and will now, if you 'll let her. Of course, it 's a pity if she 's ashamed of—hem! You found it out about the Lymport people, Tom, and, you've kept the secret and respected her feelings, and I thank you for it. Women are odd in those things, you know. She mustn't imagine I 've heard a whisper. I believe it would kill her.'
The old gentleman shook silently.
'Do you want me to travel over the kingdom, hawking her for the daughter of a marquis?'
'Now, don't joke, Tom. I'm serious. Are you not a Radical at heart? Why do you make such a set against the poor women? What do we spring from?'
'I take off my hat, Nan, when I see a cobbler's stall.'
'And I, Tom, don't care a rush who knows it. Homo—something; but we never had much schooling. We 've thriven, and should help those we can. We've got on in the world . . .'
'Wife come back from Lymport?' sneered Tom.
Andrew hurriedly, and with some confusion, explained that she had not been able to go, on account of the child.
'Account of the child!' his brother repeated, working his chin contemptuously. 'Sisters gone?'
'They're stopping with us,' said Andrew, reddening.
'So the tailor was left to the kites and the crows. Ah! hum!' and Tom chuckled.
'You're angry with me, Tom, for coming here,' said Andrew. 'I see what it is. Thought how it would be! You're offended, old Tom.'
'Come where you like,' returned Tom, 'the place is open. It's a fool that hopes for peace anywhere. They sent a woman here to wait on me, this day month.'
'That's a shame!' said Mr. Andrew, propitiatingly. 'Well, never mind, Tom: the women are sometimes in the way.—Evan went down to bury his father. He's there now. You wouldn't see him when he was at the Brewery, Tom. He's—upon my honour! he's a good young fellow.'
'A fine young gentleman, I've no doubt, Nan.'
'A really good lad, Tom. No nonsense. I've come here to speak to you about him.'
Mr. Andrew drew a letter from his pocket, pursuing: 'Just throw aside your prejudices, and read this. It's a letter I had from him this morning. But first I must tell you how the case stands.'
'Know more than you can tell me, Nan,' said Tom, turning over the flavour of a gulp of his wine.
'Well, then, just let me repeat it. He has been capitally educated; he has always been used to good society: well, we mustn't sneer at it: good society's better than bad, you'll allow. He has refined tastes: well, you wouldn't like to live among crossing-sweepers, Tom. He 's clever and accomplished, can speak and write in three languages: I wish I had his abilities. He has good manners: well, Tom, you know you like them as well as anybody. And now—but read for yourself.'
'Yah!' went old Tom. 'The women have been playing the fool with him since he was a baby. I read his rigmarole? No.'
Mr. Andrew shrugged his shoulders, and opened the letter, saying: 'Well, listen'; and then he coughed, and rapidly skimmed the introductory part. 'Excuses himself for addressing me formally—poor boy! Circumstances have altered his position towards the world found his father's affairs in a bad state: only chance of paying off father's debts to undertake management of business, and bind himself to so much a year. But there, Tom, if you won't read it, you miss the poor young fellow's character. He says that he has forgotten his station: fancied he was superior to trade, but hates debt; and will not allow anybody to throw dirt at his father's name, while he can work to clear it; and will sacrifice his pride. Come, Tom, that's manly, isn't it? I call it touching, poor lad!'
Manly it may have been, but the touching part of it was a feature missed in Mr. Andrew's hands. At any rate, it did not appear favourably to impress Tom, whose chin had gathered its ominous puckers, as he inquired:
'What's the trade? he don't say.'
Andrew added, with a wave of the hand: 'Out of a sort of feeling for his sisters—I like him for it. Now what I want to ask you, Tom, is, whether we can't assist him in some way! Why couldn't we take him into our office, and fix him there, eh? If he works well—we're both getting old, and my brats are chicks—we might, by-and-by, give him a share.'
'Make a brewer of him? Ha! there'd be another mighty sacrifice for his pride!'
'Come, come, Tom,' said Andrew, 'he's my wife's brother, and I'm yours; and—there, you know what women are. They like to preserve appearances: we ought to consider them.'
'Preserve appearances!' echoed Tom: 'ha! who'll do that for them better than a tailor?'
Andrew was an impatient little man, fitter for a kind action than to plead a cause. Jeering jarred on him; and from the moment his brother began it, he was of small service to Evan. He flung back against the partition of the compound, rattling it to the disturbance of many a quiet digestion.
'Tom,' he cried, 'I believe you're a screw!'
'Never said I wasn't,' rejoined Tom, as he finished his glass. 'I 'm a bachelor, and a person—you're married, and an object. I won't have the tailor's family at my coat-tails.'
Do you mean to say, Tom, you don't like the young fellow? The Countess says he's half engaged to an heiress; and he has a chance of appointments—of course, nothing may come of them. But do you mean to say, you don't like him for what he has done?'
Tom made his jaw disagreeably prominent. ''Fraid I'm guilty of that crime.'
'And you that swear at people pretending to be above their station!' exclaimed Andrew. 'I shall get in a passion. I can't stand this. Here, waiter! what have I to pay?'
'Go,' cried the time-honoured guest of the Aurora to Jonathan advancing.
Andrew pressed the very roots of his hair back from his red forehead, and sat upright and resolute, glancing at Tom. And now ensued a curious scene of family blood. For no sooner did elderly Tom observe this bantam-like demeanour of his brother, than he ruffled his feathers likewise, and looked down on him, agitating his wig over a prodigious frown. Whereof came the following sharp colloquy; Andrew beginning:
I 'll pay off the debts out of my own pocket.'
'You can make a greater fool of yourself, then?'
'He shan't be a tailor!'
'He shan't be a brewer!'
'I say he shall live like a gentleman!'
'I say he shall squat like a Turk!'
Bang went Andrew's hand on the table: 'I 've pledged my word, mind!'
Tom made a counter demonstration: 'And I'll have my way!'
'Hang it! I can be as eccentric as you,' said Andrew.
'And I as much a donkey as you, if I try hard,' said Tom.
Something of the cobbler's stall followed this; till waxing furious, Tom sung out to Jonathan, hovering around them in watchful timidity, 'More Port!' and the words immediately fell oily on the wrath of the brothers; both commenced wiping their heads with their handkerchiefs the faces of both emerged and met, with a half-laugh: and, severally determined to keep to what they had spoken, there was a tacit accord between them to drop the subject.
Like sunshine after smart rain, the Port shone on these brothers. Like a voice from the pastures after the bellowing of the thunder, Andrew's voice asked: 'Got rid of that twinge of the gout, Tom? Did you rub in that ointment?' while Tom replied: 'Ay. How about that rheumatism of yours? Have you tried that Indy oil?' receiving a like assurance.
The remainder of the Port ebbed in meditation and chance remarks. The bit of storm had done them both good; and Tom especially—the cynical, carping, grim old gentleman—was much improved by the nearer resemblance of his manner to Andrew's.
Behind this unaffected fraternal concord, however, the fact that they were pledged to a race in eccentricity, was present. They had been rivals before; and anterior to the date of his marriage, Andrew had done odd eclipsing things. But Andrew required prompting to it; he required to be put upon his mettle. Whereas, it was more nature with Tom: nature and the absence of a wife, gave him advantages over Andrew. Besides, he had his character to maintain. He had said the word: and the first vanity of your born eccentric is, that he shall be taken for infallible.
Presently Andrew ducked his head to mark the evening clouds flushing over the court-yard of the Aurora.
'Time to be off, Tom,' he said: 'wife at home.'
'Ah!' Tom answered. 'Well, I haven't got to go to bed so early.'
'What an old rogue you are, Tom!' Andrew pushed his elbows forward on the table amiably. 'Gad, we haven't drunk wine together since—by George! we'll have another pint.'
'Many as you like,' said Tom.
Over the succeeding pint, Andrew, in whose veins the Port was merry, favoured his brother with an imitation of Major Strike, and indicated his dislike to that officer. Tom informed him that Major Strike was speculating.
'The ass eats at my table, and treats me with contempt.'
'Just tell him that you're putting by the bones for him. He 'll want 'em.'
Then Andrew with another glance at the clouds, now violet on a grey sky, said he must really be off. Upon which Tom observed: 'Don't come here again.'
'You old rascal, Tom!' cried Andrew, swinging over the table: 'it's quite jolly for us to be hob-a-nobbing together once more. 'Gad!—no, we won't though! I promised—Harriet. Eh? What say, Tom?'
'Nother pint, Nan?'
Tom shook his head in a roguishly-cosy, irresistible way. Andrew, from a shake of denial and resolve, fell into the same; and there sat the two brothers—a jolly picture.
The hour was ten, when Andrew Cogglesby, comforted by Tom's remark, that he, Tom, had a wig, and that he, Andrew, would have a wigging, left the Aurora; and he left it singing a song. Tom Cogglesby still sat at his table, holding before him Evan's letter, of which he had got possession; and knocking it round and round with a stroke of the forefinger, to the tune of, 'Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, 'pothecary, ploughboy, thief'; each profession being sounded as a corner presented itself to the point of his nail. After indulging in this species of incantation for some length of time, Tom Cogglesby read the letter from beginning to end, and called peremptorily for pen, ink, and paper.
THE COUNTESS IN LOW SOCIETY
By dint of stratagems worthy of a Court intrigue, the Countess de Saldar contrived to traverse the streets of Lymport, and enter the house where she was born, unsuspected and unseen, under cover of a profusion of lace and veil and mantilla, which only her heroic resolve to keep her beauties hidden from the profane townspeople could have rendered endurable beneath the fervid summer sun. Dress in a foreign style she must, as without it she lost that sense of superiority, which was the only comfort to her in her tribulations. The period of her arrival was ten days subsequent to the burial of her father. She had come in the coach, like any common mortal, and the coachman, upon her request, had put her down at the Governor's house, and the guard had knocked at the door, and the servant had informed her that General Hucklebridge was not the governor of Lymport, nor did Admiral Combleman then reside in the town; which tidings, the coach then being out of sight, it did not disconcert the Countess to hear; and she reached her mother, having, at least, cut off communication with the object of conveyance.
The Countess kissed her mother, kissed Mrs. Fiske, and asked sharply for Evan. Mrs. Fiske let her know that Evan was in the house.
'Where?' inquired the Countess. 'I have news of the utmost importance for him. I must see him.'
'Where is he, aunt?' said Mrs. Fiske. 'In the shop, I think; I wonder he did not see you passing, Louisa.'
The Countess went bolt down into a chair.
'Go to him, Jane,' said Mrs. Mel. 'Tell him Louisa is here, and don't return.'
Mrs. Fiske departed, and the Countess smiled.
'Thank you, Mama! you know I never could bear that odious, vulgar little woman. Oh, the heat! You talk of Portugal! And, oh! poor dear Papa! what I have suffered!'
Flapping her laces for air, and wiping her eyes for sorrow, the Countess poured a flood of sympathy into her mother's ears and then said:
'But you have made a great mistake, Mama, in allowing Evan to put his foot into that place. He—beloved of an heiress! Why, if an enemy should hear of it, it would ruin him—positively blast him—for ever. And that she loves him I have proof positive. Yes; with all her frankness, the little thing cannot conceal that from me now. She loves him! And I desire you to guess, Mama, whether rivals will not abound? And what enemy so much to be dreaded as a rival? And what revelation so awful as that he has stood in a—in a—boutique?'
Mrs. Mel maintained her usual attitude for listening. It had occurred to her that it might do no good to tell the grand lady, her daughter; of Evan's resolution, so she simply said, 'It is discipline for him,' and left her to speak a private word with the youth.
Timidly the Countess inspected the furniture of the apartment, taking chills at the dingy articles she saw, in the midst of her heat. That she should have sprung from this! The thought was painful; still she could forgive Providence so much. But should it ever be known she had sprung from this! Alas! she felt she never could pardon such a dire betrayal. She had come in good spirits, but the mention of Evan's backsliding had troubled her extremely, and though she did not say to herself, What was the benefit resulting from her father's dying, if Evan would be so base-minded? she thought the thing indefinitely, and was forming the words on her mouth, One Harrington in a shop is equal to all! when Evan appeared alone.
'Why, goodness gracious! where's your moustache?' cried the Countess.
'Gone the way of hair!' said Evan, coldly stooping to her forehead.
'Such a distinction!' the Countess continued, reproachfully. 'Why, mon Dieu! one could hardly tell you; as you look now, from the very commonest tradesman—if you were not rather handsome and something of a figure. It's a disguise, Evan—do you know that?'
'And I 've parted with it—that 's all,' said Evan. 'No more disguises for me!'
The Countess immediately took his arm, and walked with him to a window. His face was certainly changed. Murmuring that the air of Lymport was bad for him, and that he must leave it instantly, she bade him sit and attend to what she was about to say.
While you have been here, degenerating, Evan, day by day—as you always do out of my sight—degenerating! no less a word!—I have been slaving in your interests. Yes; I have forced the Jocelyns socially to acknowledge us. I have not slept; I have eaten bare morsels. Do abstinence and vigils clear the wits? I know not! but indeed they have enabled me to do more in a week than would suffice for a lifetime. Hark to me. I have discovered Rose's secret. Si! It is so! Rose loves you. You blush; you blush like a girl. She loves you, and you have let yourself be seen in a shop! Contrast me the two things. Oh! in verity, dreadful as it is, one could almost laugh. But the moment I lose sight of you, my instructions vanish as quickly as that hair on your superior lip, which took such time to perfect. Alas! you must grow it again immediately. Use any perfumer's contrivance. Rowland! I have great faith in Rowland. Without him, I believe, there would have been many bald women committing suicide! You remember the bottle I gave to the Count de Villa Flor? "Countess," he said to me, "you have saved this egg-shell from a crack by helping to cover it"—for so he called his head—the top, you know, was beginning to shine like an egg. And I do fear me he would have done it. Ah! you do not conceive what the dread of baldness is! To a woman death—death is preferable to baldness! Baldness is death! And a wig—a wig! Oh, horror! total extinction is better than to rise again in a wig! But you are young, and play with hair. But I was saying, I went to see the Jocelyns. I was introduced to Sir Franks and his lady and the wealthy grandmother. And I have an invitation for you, Evan—you unmannered boy, that you do not bow! A gentle incline forward of the shoulders, and the eyes fixed softly, your upper lids drooping triflingly, as if you thanked with gentle sincerity, but were indifferent. Well, well, if you will not! An invitation for you to spend part of the autumn at Beckley Court, the ancestral domain, where there will be company the nobles of the land! Consider that. You say it was bold in me to face them after that horrible man committed us on board the vessel? A Harrington is anything but a coward. I did go and because I am devoted to your interests. That very morning, I saw announced in the paper, just beneath poor Andrew's hand, as he held it up at the breakfast-table, reading it, I saw among the deaths, Sir Abraham Harrington, of Torquay, Baronet, of quinsy! Twice that good man has come to my rescue! Oh! I welcomed him as a piece of Providence! I turned and said to Harriet, "I see they have put poor Papa in the paper." Harriet was staggered. I took the paper from Andrew, and pointed it to her. She has no readiness. She has had no foreign training. She could not comprehend, and Andrew stood on tiptoe, and peeped. He has a bad cough, and coughed himself black in the face. I attribute it to excessive bad manners and his cold feelings. He left the room. I reproached Harriet. But, oh! the singularity of the excellent fortune of such an event at such a time! It showed that our Harrington-luck had not forsaken us. I hurried to the Jocelyns instantly. Of course, it cleared away any suspicions aroused in them by that horrible man on board the vessel. And the tears I wept for Sir Abraham, Evan, in verity they were tears of deep and sincere gratitude! What is your mouth knitting the corners at? Are you laughing?'
Evan hastily composed his visage to the melancholy that was no counterfeit in him just then.
'Yes,' continued the Countess, easily reassured, 'I shall ever feel a debt to Sir Abraham Harrington, of Torquay. I dare say we are related to him. At least he has done us more service than many a rich and titled relative. No one supposes he would acknowledge poor Papa. I can forgive him that, Evan!' The Countess pointed out her finger with mournful and impressive majesty, 'As we look down on that monkey, people of rank and consideration in society look on what poor dear Papa was.'
This was partly true, for Jacko sat on a chair, in his favourite attitude, copied accurately from the workmen of the establishment at their labour with needle and thread. Growing cognizant of the infamy of his posture, the Countess begged Evan to drive him out of her sight, and took a sniff at her smelling-bottle.
She went on: 'Now, dear Van, you would hear of your sweet Rose?'
'Not a word!' Evan hastily answered.
'Why, what does this indicate? Whims! Then you do love?'
'I tell you, Louisa, I don't want to hear a word of any of them,' said Evan, with an angry gleam in his eyes. 'They are nothing to me, nor I to them. I—my walk in life is not theirs.'
'Faint heart! faint heart!' the Countess lifted a proverbial forefinger.
'Thank heaven, I shall have the consolation of not going about, and bowing and smirking like an impostor!' Evan exclaimed.
There was a wider intelligence in the Countess's arrested gaze than she chose to fashion into speech.
'I knew,' she said, 'I knew how the air of this horrible Lymport would act on you. But while I live, Evan, you shall not sink in the sludge. You, with all the pains I have lavished on you! and with your presence!—for you have a presence, so rare among young men in this England! You, who have been to a Court, and interchanged bows with duchesses, and I know not what besides—nay, I do not accuse you; but if you had not been a mere boy, and an English boy-poor Eugenia herself confessed to me that you had a look—a tender cleaving of the underlids—that made her catch her hand to her heart sometimes: it reminded her so acutely of false Belmarafa. Could you have had a greater compliment than that? You shall not stop here another day!'