'Well, what do you think, Jack?'
'Yes—it's all right,' Raikes rejoined in most matter-of-course tone, and then he stepped to the window, and puffed a very deep breath indeed, and glanced from the straight line of the street to the heavens, with whom, injured as he was, he felt more at home now that he knew them capable of miracles.
'Is it a bad joke played upon me?' said Evan.
Raikes upset a chair. 'It's quite childish. You're made a gentleman for life, and you ask if it's a joke played upon you! It's maddening! There—there goes my hat!'
With a vehement kick, Mr. Raikes despatched his ancient head-gear to the other end of the room, saying that he must have some wine, and would; and disdainful was his look at Evan, when the latter attempted to reason him into economy. He ordered the wine; drank a glass, which coloured a new mood in him; and affecting a practical manner, said:
'I confess I have been a little hurt with you, Harrington. You left me stranded on the desert isle. I thought myself abandoned. I thought I should never see anything but the lengthening of an endless bill on my landlady's face—my sole planet. I was resigned till I heard my friend "to-lool!" this morning. He kindled recollection. But, this is a tidy Port, and that was a delectable sort of young lady that you were riding with when we parted last! She laughs like the true metal. I suppose you know it 's the identical damsel I met the day before, and owe it to for my run on the downs—I 've a compliment ready made for her.'
'You think that letter written in good faith?' said Evan.
'Look here.' Mr. Raikes put on a calmness. 'You got up the other night, and said you were a tailor—a devotee of the cabbage and the goose. Why the notion didn't strike me is extraordinary—I ought to have known my man. However, the old gentleman who gave the supper—he's evidently one of your beastly rich old ruffianly republicans—spent part of his time in America, I dare say. Put two and two together.'
But as Harrington desired plain, prose, Mr. Raikes tamed his imagination to deliver it. He pointed distinctly at the old gentleman who gave the supper as the writer of the letter. Evan, in return, confided to him his history and present position, and Mr. Raikes, without cooling to his fortunate friend, became a trifle patronizing.
'You said your father—I think I remember at old Cudford's—was a cavalry officer, a bold dragoon?'
'I did,' replied Evan. 'I told a lie.'
'We knew it; but we feared your prowess, Harrington.'
Then they talked over the singular letter uninterruptedly, and Evan, weak among his perplexities of position and sentiment: wanting money for the girl up-stairs, for this distasteful comrade's bill at the Green Dragon, and for his own immediate requirements, and with the bee buzzing of Rose in his ears: 'She despises you,' consented in a desperation ultimately to sign his name to it, and despatch Jack forthwith to Messrs. Grist.
'You'll find it's an imposition,' he said, beginning less to think it so, now that his name was put to the hated monstrous thing; which also now fell to pricking at curiosity. For he was in the early steps of his career, and if his lady, holding to pride, despised him—as, he was tortured into the hypocrisy of confessing, she justly might, why, then, unless he was the sport of a farceur, here seemed a gilding of the path of duty: he could be serviceable to friends. His claim on fair young Rose's love had grown in the short while so prodigiously asinine that it was a minor matter to constitute himself an old eccentric's puppet.
'No more an imposition than it's 50 of Virgil,' quoth the rejected usher.
'It smells of a plot,' said Evan.
'It 's the best joke that will be made in my time,' said Mr. Raikes, rubbing his hands.
'And now listen to your luck,' said Evan; 'I wish mine were like it!' and Jack heard of Lady Jocelyn's offer. He heard also that the young lady he was to instruct was an heiress, and immediately inspected his garments, and showed the sacred necessity there was for him to refit in London, under the hands of scientific tailors. Evan wrote him an introduction to Mr. Goren, counted out the contents of his purse (which Jack had reduced in his study of the pastoral game of skittles, he confessed), and calculated in a niggardly way, how far it would go to supply the fellow's wants; sighing, as he did it, to think of Jack installed at Beckley Court, while Jack, comparing his luck with Evan's, had discovered it to be dismally inferior.
'Oh, confound those bellows you keep blowing!' he exclaimed. 'I wish to be decently polite, Harrington, but you annoy me. Excuse me, pray, but the most unexampled case of a lucky beggar that ever was known—and to hear him panting and ready to whimper!—it's outrageous. You've only to put up your name, and there you are—an independent gentleman! By Jove! this isn't such a dull world. John Raikes! thou livest in times. I feel warm in the sun of your prosperity, Harrington. Now listen to me. Propound thou no inquiries anywhere about the old fellow who gave the supper. Humour his whim—he won't have it. All Fallow field is paid to keep him secret; I know it for a fact. I plied my rustic friends every night. "Eat you yer victuals, and drink yer beer, and none o' yer pryin's and peerin's among we!" That's my rebuff from Farmer Broadmead. And that old boy knows more than he will tell. I saw his cunning old eye on-cock. Be silent, Harrington. Let discretion be the seal of thy luck.'
'You can reckon on my silence,' said Evan. 'I believe in no such folly. Men don't do these things.'
'Ha!' went Mr. Raikes contemptuously.
Of the two he was the foolisher fellow; but quacks have cured incomprehensible maladies, and foolish fellows have an instinct for eccentric actions.
Telling Jack to finish the wine, Evan rose to go.
'Did you order the horse to be fed?'
'Did I order the feeding of the horse?' said Jack, rising and yawning. 'No, I forgot him. Who can think of horses now?'
'Poor brute!' muttered Evan, and went out to see to him.
The ostler had required no instructions to give the horse a feed of corn. Evan mounted, and rode out of the yard to where Jack was standing, bare-headed, in his old posture against the pillar, of which the shade had rounded, and the evening sun shone full on him over a black cloud. He now looked calmly gay.
'I 'm laughing at the agricultural Broadmead!' he said: "'None o' yer pryin's and peerin's!" He thought my powers of amusing prodigious. "Dang 'un, he do maak a chap laugh!" Well, Harrington, that sort of homage isn't much, I admit.'
Raikes pursued: 'There's something in a pastoral life, after all.'
'Pastoral!' muttered Evan. 'I was speaking of you at Beckley, and hope when you're there you won't make me regret my introduction of you. Keep your mind on old Cudford's mutton-bone.'
'I perfectly understood you,' said Jack. 'I 'm Presumed to be in luck. Ingratitude is not my fault—I'm afraid ambition is!'
'Console yourself with it or what you can get till we meet—here or in London. But the Dragon shall be the address for both of us,' Evan said, and nodded, trotting off.
IN WHICH EVAN CALLS HIMSELF GENTLEMAN
The young cavalier perused that letter again in memory. Genuine, or a joke of the enemy, it spoke wakening facts to him. He leapt from the spell Rose had encircled him with. Strange that he should have rushed into his dream with eyes open! But he was fully awake now. He would speak his last farewell to her, and so end the earthly happiness he paid for in deep humiliation, and depart into that gray cold mist where his duty lay. It is thus that young men occasionally design to burst from the circle of the passions, and think that they have done it, when indeed they are but making the circle more swiftly. Here was Evan mouthing his farewell to Rose, using phrases so profoundly humble, that a listener would have taken them for bitter irony. He said adieu to her,—pronouncing it with a pathos to melt scornful princesses. He tried to be honest, and was as much so as his disease permitted.
The black cloud had swallowed the sun; and turning off to the short cut across the downs, Evan soon rode between the wind and the storm. He could see the heavy burden breasting the beacon-point, round which curled leaden arms, and a low internal growl saluted him advancing. The horse laid back his ears. A last gust from the opposing quarter shook the furzes and the clumps of long pale grass, and straight fell columns of rattling white rain, and in a minute he was closed in by a hissing ring. Men thus pelted abandon without protest the hope of retaining a dry particle of clothing on their persons. Completely drenched, the track lost, everything in dense gloom beyond the white enclosure that moved with him, Evan flung the reins to the horse, and curiously watched him footing on; for physical discomfort balanced his mental perturbation, and he who had just been chafing was now quite calm.
Was that a shepherd crouched under the thorn? The place betokened a shepherd, but it really looked like a bundle of the opposite sex; and it proved to be a woman gathered up with her gown over her head. Apparently, Mr. Evan Harrington was destined for these encounters. The thunder rolled as he stopped by her side and called out to her. She heard him, for she made a movement, but without sufficiently disengaging her head of its covering to show him a part of her face.
Bellowing against the thunder, Evan bade her throw back her garment, and stand and give him up her arms, that he might lift her on the horse behind him.
There came a muffled answer, on a big sob, as it seemed. And as if heaven paused to hear, the storm was mute.
Could he have heard correctly? The words he fancied he had heard sobbed were:
The elements hereupon crashed deep and long from end to end, like a table of Titans passing a jest.
Rain-drops, hard as hail, were spattering a pool on her head. Evan stooped his shoulder, seized the soaked garment, and pulled it back, revealing the features of Polly Wheedle, and the splendid bonnet in ruins—all limp and stained.
Polly blinked at him penitentially.
'Oh, Mr. Harrington; oh, ain't I punished!' she whimpered.
In truth, the maid resembled a well-watered poppy.
Evan told her to stand up close to the horse, and Polly stood up close, looking like a creature that expected a whipping. She was suffering, poor thing, from that abject sense of the lack of a circumference, which takes the pride out of women more than anything. Note, that in all material fashions, as in all moral observances, women demand a circumference, and enlarge it more and more as civilization advances. Respect the mighty instinct, however mysterious it seem.
'Oh, Mr. Harrington, don't laugh at me,' said Polly.
Evan assured her that he was seriously examining her bonnet.
'It 's the bonnet of a draggletail,' said Polly, giving up her arms, and biting her under-lip for the lift.
With some display of strength, Evan got the lean creature up behind him, and Polly settled there, and squeezed him tightly with her arms, excusing the liberty she took.
They mounted the beacon, and rode along the ridge whence the West became visible, and a washed edge of red over Beckley Church spire and the woods of Beckley Court.
'And what have you been doing to be punished? What brought you here?' said Evan.
'Somebody drove me to Fallow field to see my poor sister Susan,' returned Polly, half crying.
'Well, did he bring you here and leave you?
'No: he wasn't true to his appointment the moment I wanted to go back; and I, to pay him out, I determined I'd walk it where he shouldn't overtake me, and on came the storm . . . And my gown spoilt, and such a bonnet!'
'Who was the somebody?'
'He's a Mr. Nicholas Frim, sir.'
'Mr. Nicholas Frim will be very unhappy, I should think.'
'Yes, that's one comfort,' said Polly ruefully, drying her eyes.
Closely surrounding a young man as a young woman must be when both are on the same horse, they, as a rule, talk confidentially together in a very short time. His 'Are you cold?' when Polly shivered, and her 'Oh, no; not very,' and a slight screwing of her body up to him, as she spoke, to assure him and herself of it, soon made them intimate.
'I think Mr. Nicholas Frim mustn't see us riding into Beckley,' said Evan.
'Oh, my gracious! Ought I to get down, sir?' Polly made no move, however.
'Is he jealous?'
'Only when I make him, he is.'
'That's very naughty of you.'
'Yes, I know it is—all the Wheedles are. Mother says, we never go right till we 've once got in a pickle.'
'You ought to go right from this hour,' said Evan.
'It's 'dizenzy—[?? D.W.]—does it,' said Polly. 'And then we're ashamed to show it. My poor Susan went to stay with her aunt at Bodley, and then at our cousin's at Hillford, and then she was off to Lymport to drown her poor self, I do believe, when you met her. And all because we can't bear to be seen when we 're in any of our pickles. I wish you wouldn't look at me, Mr. Harrington.'
'You look very pretty.'
'It 's quite impossible I can now,' said Polly, with a wretched effort to spread open her collar. 'I can see myself a fright, like my Miss Rose did, making a face in the looking-glass when I was undressing her last night. But, do you know, I would much rather Nicholas saw us than somebody!
'Miss Bonner. She'd never forgive me.'
'Is she so strict?'
'She only uses servants for spies,' said Polly. 'And since my Miss Rose come—though I'm up a step—I'm still a servant, and Miss Bonner 'd be in a fury to see my—though I'm sure we're quite respectable, Mr. Harrington—my having hold of you as I'm obliged to, and can't help myself. But she'd say I ought to tumble off rather than touch her engaged with a little finger.'
'Her engaged?' cried Evan.
'Ain't you, sir?' quoth Polly. 'I understand you were going to be, from my lady, the Countess. We all think so at Beckley. Why, look how Miss Bonner looks at you, and she's sure to have plenty of money.'
This was Polly's innocent way of bringing out a word about her own young mistress.
Evan controlled any denial of his pretensions to the hand of Miss Bonner. He said: 'Is it your mistress's habit to make faces in the looking-glass?'
'I'll tell you how it happened,' said Polly. 'But I'm afraid I'm in your way, sir. Shall I get off now?'
'Not by any means,' said Evan. 'Make your arm tighter.'
'Will that do?' asked Polly.
Evan looked round and met her appealing face, over which the damp locks of hair straggled. The maid was fair: it was fortunate that he was thinking of the mistress.
'Speak on,' said Evan, but Polly put the question whether her face did not want washing, and so earnestly that he had to regard it again, and compromised the case by saying that it wanted kissing by Nicholas Frim, which set Polly's lips in a pout.
'I 'm sure it wants kissing by nobody,' she said, adding with a spasm of passion: 'Oh! I know the colours of my bonnet are all smeared over it, and I'm a dreadful fright.'
Evan failed to adopt the proper measures to make Miss Wheedle's mind easy with regard to her appearance, and she commenced her story rather languidly.
'My Miss Rose—what was it I was going to tell? Oh!—my Miss Rose. You must know, Mr. Harrington, she's very fond of managing; I can see that, though I haven't known her long before she gave up short frocks; and she said to Mr. Laxley, who's going to marry her some day, "She didn't like my lady, the Countess, taking Mr. Harry to herself like that." I can't a-bear to speak his name, but I suppose he's not a bit more selfish than the rest of men. So Mr. Laxley said—just like the jealousy of men—they needn't talk of women! I'm sure nobody can tell what we have to put up with. We mustn't look out of this eye, or out of the other, but they're up and—oh, dear me! there's such a to-do as never was known—all for nothing!'
'My good girl!' said Evan, recalling her to the subject-matter with all the patience he could command.
'Where was I?' Polly travelled meditatively back. 'I do feel a little cold.'
'Come closer,' said Evan. 'Take this handkerchief—it 's the only dry thing I have—cover your chest with it.'
'The shoulders feel wettest,' Polly replied, 'and they can't be helped. I'll tie it round my neck, if you'll stop, sir. There, now I'm warmer.'
To show how concisely women can narrate when they feel warmer, Polly started off:
'So, you know, Mr. Harrington, Mr. Laxley said—he said to Miss Rose, "You have taken her brother, and she has taken yours." And Miss Rose said, "That was her own business, and nobody else's." And Mr. Laxley said, "He was glad she thought it a fair exchange." I heard it all! And then Miss Rose said—for she can be in a passion about some things"—What do you mean, Ferdinand," was her words, "I insist upon your speaking out." Miss Rose always will call gentlemen by their Christian names when she likes them; that's always a sign with her. And he wouldn't tell her. And Miss Rose got awful angry, and she's clever, is my Miss Rose, for what does she do, Mr. Harrington, but begins praising you up so that she knew it must make him mad, only because men can't abide praise of another man when it's a woman that says it—meaning, young lady; for my Miss Rose has my respect, however familiar she lets herself be to us that she likes. The others may go and drown themselves. Are you took ill, sir?'
'No,' said Evan, 'I was only breathing.'
'The doctors say it's bad to take such long breaths,' remarked artless Polly. 'Perhaps my arms are pressing you?'
It 's the best thing they can do,' murmured Evan, dejectedly.
'Go and drown themselves.'
Polly screwed her lips, as if she had a pin between them, and continued: 'Miss Rose was quite sensible when she praised you as her friend; she meant it—every word; and then sudden what does Mr. Laxley do, but say you was something else besides friend—worse or better; and she was silent, which made him savage, I could hear by his voice. And he said, Mr. Harrington, "You meant it if she did not." "No," says she, "I know better; he's as honest as the day." Out he flew and said such things: he said, Mr. Harrington, you wasn't fit to be Miss Rose's friend, even. Then she said, she heard he had told lies about you to her Mama, and her aunts; but her Mama, my lady, laughed at him, and she at her aunts. Then he said you—oh, abominable of him!'
'What did he say?' asked Evan, waking up.
'Why, if I were to tell my Miss Rose some things of him,' Polly went on, 'she'd never so much as speak to him another instant.'
'What did he say?' Evan repeated.
'I hate him!' cried Polly. 'It's Mr. Laxley that misleads Mr. Harry, who has got his good nature, and means no more harm than he can help. Oh, I didn't hear what he said of you, sir. Only I know it was abominable, because Miss Rose was so vexed, and you were her dearest friend.'
'Well, and about the looking-glass?'
'That was at night, Mr. Harrington, when I was undressing of her. Miss Rose has a beautiful figure, and no need of lacing. But I'd better get down now.'
'For heaven's sake, stay where you are.'
'I tell her she stands as if she'd been drilled for a soldier,' Polly quietly continued. 'You're squeezing my arm with your elbow, Mr. Harrington. It didn't hurt me. So when I had her nearly undressed, we were talking about this and that, and you amongst 'em—and I, you know, rather like you, sir, if you'll not think me too bold—she started off by asking me what was the nickname people gave to tailors. It was one of her whims. I told her they were called snips—I'm off!'
Polly gave a shriek. The horse had reared as if violently stung.
'Go on,' said Evan. 'Hold hard, and go on.'
'Snips—Oh! and I told her they were called snips. It is a word that seems to make you hate the idea. I shouldn't like to hear my intended called snip. Oh, he's going to gallop!'
And off in a gallop Polly was borne.
'Well,' said Evan, 'well?'
'I can't, Mr. Harrington; I have to press you so,' cried Polly; 'and I'm bounced so—I shall bite my tongue.'
After a sharp stretch, the horse fell to a canter, and then trotted slowly, and allowed Polly to finish.
'So Miss Rose was standing sideways to the glass, and she turned her neck, and just as I'd said "snip," I saw her saying it in the glass; and you never saw anything so funny. It was enough to make anybody laugh; but Miss Rose, she seemed as if she couldn't forget how ugly it had made her look. She covered her face with her hands, and she shuddered! It is a word-snip! that makes you seem to despise yourself.'
Beckley was now in sight from the edge of the downs, lying in its foliage dark under the grey sky backed by motionless mounds of vapour. Miss Wheedle to her great surprise was suddenly though safely dropped; and on her return to the ground the damsel instantly 'knew her place,' and curtseyed becoming gratitude for his kindness; but he was off in a fiery gallop, the gall of Demogorgon in his soul.
What 's that the leaves of the proud old trees of Beckley Court hiss as he sweeps beneath them? What has suddenly cut him short? Is he diminished in stature? Are the lackeys sneering? The storm that has passed has marvellously chilled the air.
His sister, the Countess, once explained to him what Demogorgon was, in the sensation it entailed. 'You are skinned alive!' said the Countess. Evan was skinned alive. Fly, wretched young man! Summon your pride, and fly! Fly, noble youth, for whom storms specially travel to tell you that your mistress makes faces in the looking-glass! Fly where human lips and noses are not scornfully distorted, and get thee a new skin, and grow and attain to thy natural height in a more genial sphere! You, ladies and gentlemen, who may have had a matter to conceal, and find that it is oozing out: you, whose skeleton is seen stalking beside you, you know what it is to be breathed upon: you, too, are skinned alive: but this miserable youth is not only flayed, he is doomed calmly to contemplate the hideous image of himself burning on the face of her he loves; making beauty ghastly. In vain—for he is two hours behind the dinner-bell—Mr. Burley, the butler, bows and offers him viands and wine. How can he eat, with the phantom of Rose there, covering her head, shuddering, loathing him? But he must appear in company: he has a coat, if he has not a skin. Let him button it, and march boldly. Our comedies are frequently youth's tragedies. We will smile reservedly as we mark Mr. Evan Harrington step into the midst of the fair society of the drawing-room. Rose is at the piano. Near her reclines the Countess de Saldar, fanning the languors from her cheeks, with a word for the diplomatist on one side, a whisper for Sir John Loring on the other, and a very quiet pair of eyes for everybody. Providence, she is sure, is keeping watch to shield her sensitive cuticle; and she is besides exquisitely happy, albeit outwardly composed: for, in the room sits his Grace the Duke of Belfield, newly arrived. He is talking to her sister, Mrs. Strike, masked by Miss Current. The wife of the Major has come this afternoon, and Andrew Cogglesby, who brought her, chats with Lady Jocelyn like an old acquaintance.
Evan shakes the hands of his relatives. Who shall turn over the leaves of the fair singer's music-book? The young men are in the billiard-room: Drummond is engaged in converse with a lovely person with Giorgione hair, which the Countess intensely admires, and asks the diplomatist whether he can see a soupcon of red in it. The diplomatist's taste is for dark beauties: the Countess is dark.
Evan must do duty by Rose. And now occurred a phenomenon in him. Instead of shunning her, as he had rejoiced in doing after the Jocasta scene, ere she had wounded him, he had a curious desire to compare her with the phantom that had dispossessed her in his fancy. Unconsciously when he saw her, he transferred the shame that devoured him, from him to her, and gazed coldly at the face that could twist to that despicable contortion.
He was in love, and subtle love will not be shamed and smothered. Love sits, we must remember, mostly in two hearts at the same time, and the one that is first stirred by any of the passions to wakefulness, may know more of the other than its owner. Why had Rose covered her head and shuddered? Would the girl feel that for a friend? If his pride suffered, love was not so downcast; but to avenge him for the cold she had cast on him, it could be critical, and Evan made his bearing to her a blank.
This somehow favoured him with Rose. Sheep's eyes are a dainty dish for little maids, and we know how largely they indulge in it; but when they are just a bit doubtful of the quality of the sheep, let the good animal shut his lids forthwith, for a time. Had she not been a little unkind to him in the morning? She had since tried to help him, and that had appeased her conscience, for in truth he was a good young man. Those very words she mentally pronounced, while he was thinking, 'Would she feel it for a friend?' We dare but guess at the puzzle young women present now and then, but I should say that Evan was nearer the mark, and that the 'good young man' was a sop she threw to that within her which wanted quieting, and was thereby passably quieted. Perhaps the good young man is offended? Let us assure him of our disinterested graciousness.
'Is your friend coming?' she asked, and to his reply said, 'I'm glad'; and pitched upon a new song-one that, by hazard, did not demand his attentions, and he surveyed the company to find a vacant seat with a neighbour. Juley Bonner was curled up on the sofa, looking like a damsel who has lost the third volume of an exciting novel, and is divining the climax. He chose to avoid Miss Bonner. Drummond was leaving the side of the Giorgione lady. Evan passed leisurely, and Drummond said 'You know Mrs. Evremonde? Let me introduce you.'
He was soon in conversation with the glorious-haired dame.
'Excellently done, my brother!' thinks the Countess de Saldar.
Rose sees the matter coolly. What is it to her? But she had finished with song. Jenny takes her place at the piano; and, as Rose does not care for instrumental music, she naturally talks and laughs with Drummond, and Jenny does not altogether like it, even though she is not playing to the ear of William Harvey, for whom billiards have such attractions; but, at the close of the performance, Rose is quiet enough, and the Countess observes her sitting, alone, pulling the petals of a flower in her lap, on which her eyes are fixed. Is the doe wounded? The damsel of the disinterested graciousness is assuredly restless. She starts up and goes out upon the balcony to breathe the night-air, mayhap regard the moon, and no one follows her.
Had Rose been guiltless of offence, Evan might have left Beckley Court the next day, to cherish his outraged self-love. Love of woman is strongly distinguished from pure egoism when it has got a wound: for it will not go into a corner complaining, it will fight its duel on the field or die. Did the young lady know his origin, and scorn him? He resolved to stay and teach her that the presumption she had imputed to him was her own mistake. And from this Evan graduated naturally enough the finer stages of self-deception downward.
A lover must have his delusions, just as a man must have a skin. But here was another singular change in Evan. After his ale-prompted speech in Fallow field, he was nerved to face the truth in the eyes of all save Rose. Now that the truth had enmeshed his beloved, he turned to battle with it; he was prepared to deny it at any moment; his burnt flesh was as sensitive as the Countess's.
Let Rose accuse him, and he would say, 'This is true, Miss Jocelyn—what then?' and behold Rose confused and dumb! Let not another dare suspect it. For the fire that had scorched him was in some sort healing, though horribly painful; but contact with the general air was not to be endured—was death! This, I believe, is common in cases of injury by fire. So it befell that Evan, meeting Rose the next morning was playfully asked by her what choice he had made between the white and the red; and he, dropping on her the shallow eyes of a conventional smile, replied, that unable to decide and form a choice, he had thrown both away; at which Miss Jocelyn gave him a look in the centre of his brows, let her head slightly droop, and walked off.
'She can look serious as well as grimace,' was all that Evan allowed himself to think, and he strolled out on the lawn with the careless serenity of lovers when they fancy themselves heart-free.
Rose, whipping the piano in the drawing-room, could see him go to sit by Mrs. Evremonde, till they were joined by Drummond, when he left her and walked with Harry, and apparently shadowed the young gentleman's unreflective face; after which Harry was drawn away by the appearance of that dark star, the Countess de Saldar, whom Rose was beginning to detest. Jenny glided by William Harvey's side, far off. Rose, the young Queen of Friendship, was left deserted on her music-stool for a throne, and when she ceased to hammer the notes she was insulted by a voice that cried from below:
'Go on, Rose, it's nice in the sun to hear you,' causing her to close her performances and the instrument vigorously.
Rose was much behind her age: she could not tell what was the matter with her. In these little torments young people have to pass through they gain a rapid maturity. Let a girl talk with her own heart an hour, and she is almost a woman. Rose came down-stairs dressed for riding. Laxley was doing her the service of smoking one of her rose-trees. Evan stood disengaged, prepared for her summons. She did not notice him, but beckoned to Laxley drooping over a bud, while the curled smoke floated from his lips.
'The very gracefullest of chimney-pots-is he not?' says the Countess to Harry, whose immense guffaw fails not to apprise Laxley that something has been said of him, for in his dim state of consciousness absence of the power of retort is the prominent feature, and when he has the suspicion of malicious tongues at their work, all he can do is silently to resent it. Probably this explains his conduct to Evan. Some youths have an acute memory for things that have shut their mouths.
The Countess observed to Harry that his dear friend Mr. Laxley appeared, by the cast of his face, to be biting a sour apple.
'Grapes, you mean?' laughed Harry. 'Never mind! she'll bite at him when he comes in for the title.'
'Anything crude will do,' rejoined the Countess. 'Why are you not courting Mrs. Evremonde, naughty Don?'
'Oh! she's occupied—castle's in possession. Besides—!' and Harry tried hard to look sly.
'Come and tell me about her,' said the Countess.
Rose, Laxley, and Evan were standing close together.
'You really are going alone, Rose?' said Laxley.
'Didn't I say so?—unless you wish to join us?' She turned upon Evan.
'I am at your disposal,' said Evan.
Rose nodded briefly.
'I think I'll smoke the trees,' said Laxley, perceptibly huffing.
'You won't come, Ferdinand?'
'I only offered to fill up the gap. One does as well as another.'
Rose flicked her whip, and then declared she would not ride at all, and, gathering up her skirts, hurried back to the house.
As Laxley turned away, Evan stood before him.
The unhappy fellow was precipitated by the devil of his false position.
'I think one of us two must quit the field; if I go I will wait for you,' he said.
'Oh; I understand,' said Laxley. 'But if it 's what I suppose you to mean, I must decline.'
'I beg to know your grounds.'
'You have tied my hands.'
'You would escape under cover of superior station?'
'Escape! You have only to unsay—tell me you have a right to demand it.'
The battle of the sophist victorious within him was done in a flash, as Evan measured his qualities beside this young man's, and without a sense of lying, said: 'I have.'
He spoke firmly. He looked the thing he called himself now. The Countess, too, was a dazzling shield to her brother. The beautiful Mrs. Strike was a completer vindicator of him; though he had queer associates, and talked oddly of his family that night in Fallow field.
'Very well, sir: I admit you manage to annoy me,' said Laxley. 'I can give you a lesson as well as another, if you want it.'
Presently the two youths were seen bowing in the stiff curt style of those cavaliers who defer a passage of temper for an appointed settlement. Harry rushed off to them with a shout, and they separated; Laxley speaking a word to Drummond, Evan—most judiciously, the Countess thought—joining his fair sister Caroline, whom the Duke held in converse.
Drummond returned laughing to the side of Mrs. Evremonde, nearing whom, the Countess, while one ear was being filled by Harry's eulogy of her brother's recent handling of Laxley, and while her intense gratification at the success of her patient management of her most difficult subject made her smiles no mask, heard, 'Is it not impossible to suppose such a thing?' A hush ensued—the Countess passed.
In the afternoon, the Jocelyns, William Harvey, and Drummond met together to consult about arranging the dispute; and deputations went to Laxley and to Evan. The former demanded an apology for certain expressions that day; and an equivalent to an admission that Mr. Harrington had said, in Fallow field, that he was not a gentleman, in order to escape the consequences. All the Jocelyns laughed at his tenacity, and 'gentleman' began to be bandied about in ridicule of the arrogant lean-headed adolescent. Evan was placable enough, but dogged; he declined to make any admission, though within himself he admitted that his antagonist was not in the position of an impostor; which he for one honest word among them would be exposed as being, and which a simple exercise of resolution to fly the place would save him from being further.
Lady Jocelyn enjoyed the fun, and still more the serious way in which her relatives regarded it.
'This comes of Rose having friends, Emily,' said Mrs. Shorne.
There would have been a dispute to arrange between Lady Jocelyn and Mrs. Shorne, had not her ladyship been so firmly established in her phlegmatic philosophy. She said: 'Quelle enfantillage! I dare say Rose was at the bottom of it: she can settle it best. Defer the encounter between the boys until they see they are in the form of donkeys. They will; and then they'll run on together, as long as their goddess permits.'
'Indeed, Emily,' said Mrs. Shorne, 'I desire you, by all possible means, to keep the occurrence secret from Rose. She ought not to hear of it.'
'No; I dare say she ought not,' returned Lady Jocelyn; 'but I wager you she does. You can teach her to pretend not to, if you like. Ecce signum.'
Her ladyship pointed through the library window at Rose, who was walking with Laxley, and showing him her pearly teeth in return for one of his jokes: an exchange so manifestly unfair, that Lady Jocelyn's womanhood, indifferent as she was, could not but feel that Rose had an object in view; which was true, for she was flattering Laxley into a consent to meet Evan half way.
The ladies murmured and hummed of these proceedings, and of Rose's familiarity with Mr. Harrington; and the Countess in trepidation took Evan to herself, and spoke to him seriously; a thing she had not done since her residence in Beckley. She let him see that he must be on a friendly footing with everybody in the house, or go which latter alternative Evan told her he had decided on. 'Yes,' said the Countess, 'and then you give people full warrant to say it was jealousy drove you hence; and you do but extinguish yourself to implicate dear Rose. In love, Evan, when you run away, you don't live to fight another day.'
She was commanded not to speak of love.
'Whatever it may be, my dear,' said the Countess, 'Mr. Laxley has used you ill. It may be that you put yourself at his feet'; and his sister looked at him, sighing a great sigh. She had, with violence, stayed her mouth concerning what she knew of the Fallow field business, dreading to alarm his sensitiveness; but she could not avoid giving him a little slap. It was only to make him remember by the smart that he must always suffer when he would not be guided by her.
Evan professed to the Jocelyns that he was willing to apologize to Laxley for certain expressions; determining to leave the house when he had done it. The Countess heard and nodded. The young men, sounded on both sides, were accordingly lured to the billiard-room, and pushed together: and when he had succeeded in thrusting the idea of Rose from the dispute, it did seem such folly to Evan's common sense, that he spoke with pleasant bonhommie about it. That done, he entered into his acted part, and towered in his conceit considerably above these aristocratic boors, who were speechless and graceless, but tigers for their privileges and advantages.
It will not be thought that the Countess intended to permit her brother's departure. To have toiled, and yet more, to have lied and fretted her conscience, for nothing, was as little her principle, as to quit the field of action till she is forcibly driven from it is that of any woman.
'Going, my dear,' she said coolly. 'To-morrow? Oh! very well. You are the judge. And this creature—the insolvent to the apple-woman, who is coming, whom you would push here—will expose us, without a soul to guide his conduct, for I shall not remain. And Carry will not remain. Carry—-!' The Countess gave a semisob. 'Carry must return to her brute—' meaning the gallant Marine, her possessor.
And the Countess, knowing that Evan loved his sister Caroline, incidentally related to him an episode in the domestic life of Major and Mrs. Strike.
'Greatly redounding to the credit of the noble martinet for the discipline he upholds,' the Countess said, smiling at the stunned youth.
'I would advise you to give her time to recover from one bruise,' she added. 'You will do as it pleases you.'
Evan was sent rushing from the Countess to Caroline, with whom the Countess was content to leave him.
The young man was daintily managed. Caroline asked him to stay, as she did not see him often, and (she brought it in at the close) her home was not very happy. She did not entreat him, but looking resigned, her lovely face conjured up the Major to Evan, and he thought, 'Can I drive her back to her tyrant?' For so he juggled with himself to have but another day in the sunshine of Rose.
Andrew, too, threw out genial hints about the Brewery. Old Tom intended to retire, he said, and then they would see what they would see! He silenced every word about Lymport; called him a brewer already, and made absurd jokes, that were serviceable stuff nevertheless to the Countess, who deplored to this one and to that the chance existing that Evan might, by the urgent solicitations of his brother-in-law, give up diplomacy and its honours for a brewery and lucre!
Of course Evan knew that he was managed. The memoirs of a managed man have yet to be written; but if he be sincere he will tell you that he knew it all the time. He longed for the sugar-plum; he knew it was naughty to take it: he dared not for fear of the devil, and he shut his eyes while somebody else popped it into his mouth, and assumed his responsibility. Being man-driven or chicaned, is different from being managed. Being managed implies being led the way this other person thinks you should go: altogether for your own benefit, mind: you are to see with her eyes, that you may not disappoint your own appetites: which does not hurt the flesh, certainly; but does damage the conscience; and from the moment you have once succumbed, that function ceases to perform its office of moral strainer so well.
After all, was he not happier when he wrote himself tailor, than when he declared himself gentleman?
So he now imagined, till Rose, wishing him 'Good night' on the balcony, and abandoning her hand with a steady sweet voice and gaze, said: 'How generous of you to forgive my friend, dear Evan!' And the ravishing little glimpse of womanly softness in her, set his heart beating. If he thought at all, it was that he would have sacrificed body and soul for her.
SECOND DESPATCH OF THE COUNTESS
We do not advance very far in this second despatch, and it will be found chiefly serviceable for the indications it affords of our General's skill in mining, and addiction to that branch of military science. For the moment I must beg that a little indulgence be granted to her.
'Purely business. Great haste. Something has happened. An event? I know not; but events may flow from it.
'A lady is here who has run away from the conjugal abode, and Lady Jocelyn shelters her, and is hospitable to another, who is more concerned in this lady's sad fate than he should be. This may be morals, my dear: but please do not talk of Portugal now. A fine-ish woman with a great deal of hair worn as if her maid had given it one comb straight down and then rolled it up in a hurry round one finger. Malice would say carrots. It is called gold. Mr. Forth is in a glass house, and is wrong to cast his sneers at perfectly inoffensive people.
'Perfectly impossible we can remain at Beckley Court together—if not dangerous. Any means that Providence may designate, I would employ. It will be like exorcising a demon. Always excuseable. I only ask a little more time for stupid Evan. He might have little Bonner now. I should not object; but her family is not so good.
'Now, do attend. At once obtain a copy of Strike's Company people. You understand—prospectuses. Tell me instantly if the Captain Evremonde in it is Captain Lawson Evremonde. Pump Strike. Excuse vulgar words. Whether he is not Lord Laxley's half-brother. Strike shall be of use to us. Whether he is not mad. Captain E——'s address. Oh! when I think of Strike—brute! and poor beautiful uncomplaining Carry and her shoulder! But let us indeed most fervently hope that his Grace may be balm to it. We must not pray for vengeance. It is sinful. Providence will inflict that. Always know that Providence is quite sure to. It comforts exceedingly.
'Oh, that Strike were altogether in the past tense! No knowing what the Duke might do—a widower and completely subjugated. It makes my bosom bound. The man tempts me to the wickedest Frenchy ideas. There!
We progress with dear venerable Mrs. Bonner. Truly pious—interested in your Louisa. She dreads that my husband will try to convert me to his creed. I can but weep and say—never!
'I need not say I have my circle. To hear this ridiculous boy Harry Jocelyn grunt under my nose when he has led me unsuspectingly away from company—Harriet! dearest! He thinks it a sigh! But there is no time for laughing.
'My maxim in any house is—never to despise the good opinion of the nonentities. They are the majority. I think they all look up to me. But then of course you must fix that by seducing the stars. My diplomatist praises my abilities—Sir John Loring my style—the rest follow and I do not withhold my smiles, and they are happy, and I should be but that for ungrateful Evan's sake I sacrificed my peace by binding myself to a dreadful sort of half-story. I know I did not quite say it. It seems as if Sir A.'s ghost were going to haunt me. And then I have the most dreadful fears that what I have done has disturbed him in the other world. Can it be so? It is not money or estates we took at all, dearest! And these excellent young curates—I almost wish it was Protestant to speak a word behind a board to them and imbibe comfort. For after all it is nothing: and a word even from this poor thin mopy Mr. Parsley might be relief to a poor soul in trouble. Catholics tell you that what you do in a good cause is redeemable if not exactly right. And you know the Catholic is the oldest Religion of the two. I would listen to the Pope, staunch Protestant as I am, in preference to King Henry the Eighth. Though, as a woman, I bear him no rancour, for his wives were—fools, point blank. No man was ever so manageable. My diplomatist is getting liker and liker to him every day. Leaner, of course, and does not habitually straddle. Whiskers and morals, I mean. We must be silent before our prudish sister. Not a prude? We talk diplomacy, dearest. He complains of the exclusiveness of the port of Oporto, and would have strict alliance between Portugal and England, with mutual privileges. I wish the alliance, and think it better to maintain the exclusiveness. Very trifling; but what is life!
'Adieu. One word to leave you laughing. Imagine her situation! This stupid Miss Carrington has offended me. She has tried to pump Conning, who, I do not doubt, gave her as much truth as I chose she should have in her well. But the quandary of the wretched creature! She takes Conning into her confidence—a horrible malady just covered by high-neck dress! Skin! and impossible that she can tell her engaged—who is—guess—Mr. George Up———! Her name is Louisa Carrington. There was a Louisa Harrington once. Similarity of names perhaps. Of course I could not let her come to the house; and of course Miss C. is in a state of wonderment and bad passions, I fear. I went straight to Lady Racial, my dear. There was nothing else for it but to go and speak. She is truly a noble woman—serves us in every way. As she should!—much affected by sight of Evan, and keeps aloof from Beckley Court. The finger of Providence is in all. Adieu! but do pray think of Miss Carrington! It was foolish of her to offend me. Drives and walks-the Duke attentive. Description of him when I embrace you. I give amiable Sir Franks Portuguese dishes. Ah, my dear, if we had none but men to contend against, and only women for our tools! But this is asking for the world, and nothing less.
'Open again,' she pursues. 'Dear Carry just come in. There are fairies, I think, where there are dukes! Where could it have come from? Could any human being have sent messengers post to London, ordered, and had it despatched here within this short time? You shall not be mystified! I do not think I even hinted; but the afternoon walk I had with his Grace, on the first day of his arrival, I did shadow it very delicately how much it was to be feared our poor Carry could not, that she dared not, betray her liege lord in an evening dress. Nothing more, upon my veracity! And Carry has this moment received the most beautiful green box, containing two of the most heavenly old lace shawls that you ever beheld. We divine it is to hide poor Carry's matrimonial blue mark! We know nothing. Will you imagine Carry is for not accepting it! Priority of birth does not imply superior wits, dear—no allusion to you. I have undertaken all. Arch looks, but nothing pointed. His Grace will understand the exquisite expression of feminine gratitude. It is so sweet to deal with true nobility. Carry has only to look as she always does. One sees Strike sitting on her. Her very pliability has rescued her from being utterly squashed long ere this! The man makes one vulgar. It would have been not the slightest use asking me to be a Christian had I wedded Strike. But think of the fairy presents! It has determined me not to be expelled by Mr. Forth—quite. Tell Silva he is not forgotten. But, my dear, between us alone, men are so selfish, that it is too evident they do not care for private conversations to turn upon a lady's husband: not to be risked, only now and then.
'I hear that the young ladies and the young gentlemen have been out riding a race. The poor little Bonner girl cannot ride, and she says to Carry that Rose wishes to break our brother's neck. The child hardly wishes that, but she is feelingless. If Evan could care for Miss Bonner, he might have B. C.! Oh, it is not so very long a shot, my dear. I am on the spot, remember. Old Mrs. Bonner is a most just-minded spirit. Juliana is a cripple, and her grandmother wishes to be sure that when she departs to her Lord the poor cripple may not be chased from this home of hers. Rose cannot calculate—Harry is in disgrace—there is really no knowing. This is how I have reckoned; L10,000 extra to Rose; perhaps L1000 or nothing to H.; all the rest of ready-money—a large sum—no use guessing—to Lady Jocelyn; and B. C. to little Bonner—it is worth L40,000 Then she sells, or stops—permanent resident. It might be so soon, for I can see worthy Mrs. Bonner to be breaking visibly. But young men will not see with wiser eyes than their own. Here is Evan risking his neck for an indifferent—there's some word for "not soft." In short, Rose is the cold-blooded novice, as I have always said, the most selfish of the creatures on two legs.
'Adieu! Would you have dreamed that Major Nightmare's gallantry to his wife would have called forth a gallantry so truly touching and delicate? Can you not see Providence there? Out of Evil—the Catholics again!
'Address. If Lord Lax—-'s half-brother. If wrong in noddle. This I know you will attend to scrupulously. Ridiculous words are sometimes the most expressive. Once more, may Heaven bless you all! I thought of you in church last Sunday.
'I may tell you this: young Mr. Laxley is here. He—but it was Evan's utter madness was the cause, and I have not ventured a word to him. He compelled Evan to assert his rank, and Mr. Forth's face has been one concentrated sneer since THEN. He must know the origin of the Cogglesbys, or something. Now you will understand the importance. I cannot be more explicit. Only—the man must go.
'P.S. I have just ascertained that Lady Jocelyn is quite familiar with Andrew's origin!! She must think my poor Harriet an eccentric woman. Of course I have not pretended to rank here, merely gentry. It is gentry in reality, for had poor Papa been legitimized, he would have been a nobleman. You know that; and between the two we may certainly claim gentry. I twiddle your little good Andrew to assert it for us twenty times a day. Of all the dear little manageable men! It does you infinite credit that you respect him as you do. What would have become of me I do not know.
'P.S. I said two shawls—a black and a white. The black not so costly—very well. And so delicate of him to think of the mourning! But the white, my dear, must be family—must! Old English point. Exquisitely chaste. So different from that Brussels poor Andrew surprised you with. I know it cost money, but this is a question of taste. The Duke reconciles me to England and all my troubles! He is more like poor Papa than any one of the men I have yet seen. The perfect gentleman! I do praise myself for managing an invitation to our Carry. She has been a triumph.'
Admire the concluding stroke. The Countess calls this letter a purely business communication. Commercial men might hardly think so; but perhaps ladies will perceive it. She rambles concentrically, if I may so expound her. Full of luxurious enjoyment of her position, her mind is active, and you see her at one moment marking a plot, the next, with a light exclamation, appeasing her conscience, proud that she has one; again she calls up rival forms of faith, that she may show the Protestant its little shortcomings, and that it is slightly in debt to her (like Providence) for her constancy, notwithstanding. The Protestant you see, does not confess, and she has to absolve herself, and must be doing it internally while she is directing outer matters. Hence her slap at King Henry VIII. In fact, there is much more business in this letter than I dare to indicate; but as it is both impertinent and unpopular to dive for any length of time beneath the surface (especially when there are few pearls to show for it), we will discontinue our examination.
The Countess, when she had dropped the letter in the bag, returned to her chamber, and deputed Dorothy Loring, whom she met on the stairs, to run and request Rose to lend her her album to beguile the afternoon with; and Dorothy dances to Rose, saying, 'The Countess de Lispy-Lispy would be delighted to look at your album all the afternoon.'
'Oh what a woman that is!' says Rose. 'Countess de Lazy-Lazy, I think.'
The Countess, had she been listening, would have cared little for accusations on that head. Idlesse was fashionable: exquisite languors were a sign of breeding; and she always had an idea that she looked more interesting at dinner after reclining on a couch the whole of the afternoon. The great Mel and his mate had given her robust health, and she was able to play the high-born invalid without damage to her constitution. Anything amused her; Rose's album even, and the compositions of W. H., E. H., D. F., and F. L. The initials F. L. were diminutive, and not unlike her own hand, she thought. They were appended to a piece of facetiousness that would not have disgraced the abilities of Mr. John Raikes; but we know that very stiff young gentlemen betray monkey-minds when sweet young ladies compel them to disport. On the whole, it was not a lazy afternoon that the Countess passed, and it was not against her wish that others should think it was.
The August sun was in mid-sky, when a troop of ladies and cavaliers issued from the gates of Beckley Court, and winding through the hopgardens, emerged on the cultivated slopes bordering the downs. Foremost, on her grey cob, was Rose, having on her right her uncle Seymour, and on her left Ferdinand Laxley. Behind came Mrs. Evremonde, flanked by Drummond and Evan. Then followed Jenny Graine, supported by Harry and William Harvey. In the rear came an open carriage, in which Miss Carrington and the Countess de Saldar were borne, attended by Lady Jocelyn and Andrew Cogglesby on horseback. The expedition had for its object the selection of a run of ground for an amateur steeple-chase: the idea of which had sprung from Laxley's boasts of his horsemanship: and Rose, quick as fire, had backed herself, and Drummond and Evan, to beat him. The mention of the latter was quite enough for Laxley.
'If he follows me, let him take care of his neck,' said that youth.
'Why, Ferdinand, he can beat you in anything!' exclaimed Rose, imprudently.
But the truth was, she was now more restless than ever. She was not distant with Evan, but she had a feverish manner, and seemed to thirst to make him show his qualities, and excel, and shine. Billiards, or jumping, or classical acquirements, it mattered not—Evan must come first. He had crossed the foils with Laxley, and disarmed him; for Mel his father had seen him trained for a military career. Rose made a noise about the encounter, and Laxley was eager for his opportunity, which he saw in the proposed mad gallop.
Now Mr. George Uplift, who usually rode in buckskins whether he was after the fox or fresh air, was out on this particular morning; and it happened that, as the cavalcade wound beneath the down, Mr. George trotted along the ridge. He was a fat-faced, rotund young squire—a bully where he might be, and an obedient creature enough where he must be—good-humoured when not interfered with; fond of the table, and brimful of all the jokes of the county, the accent of which just seasoned his speech. He had somehow plunged into a sort of half-engagement with Miss Carrington. At his age, and to ladies of Miss Carrington's age, men unhappily do not plunge head-foremost, or Miss Carrington would have had him long before. But he was at least in for it half a leg; and a desperate maiden, on the criminal side of thirty, may make much of that. Previous to the visit of the Countess de Saldar, Mr. George had been in the habit of trotting over to Beckley three or four times a week. Miss Carrington had a little money: Mr. George was heir to his uncle. Miss Carrington was lean and blue-eyed.
Mr. George was black-eyed and obese. By everybody, except Mr. George, the match was made: but that exception goes for little in the country, where half the population are talked into marriage, and gossips entirely devote themselves to continuing the species. Mr. George was certain that he had not been fighting shy of the fair Carrington of late, nor had he been unfaithful. He had only been in an extraordinary state of occupation. Messages for Lady Racial had to be delivered, and he had become her cavalier and escort suddenly. The young squire was bewildered; but as he was only one leg in love—if the sentiment may be thus spoken of figuratively—his vanity in his present office kept him from remorse or uneasiness.
He rode at an easy pace within sight of the home of his treasure, and his back turned to it. Presently there rose a cry from below. Mr. George looked about. The party of horsemen hallooed: Mr. George yoicked. Rose set her horse to gallop up; Seymour Jocelyn cried 'fox,' and gave the view; hearing which Mr. George shouted, and seemed inclined to surrender; but the fun seized him, and, standing up in his stirrups, he gathered his coat-tails in a bunch, and waggled them with a jolly laugh, which was taken up below, and the clamp of hoofs resounded on the turf as Mr. George led off, after once more, with a jocose twist in his seat, showing them the brush mockingly. Away went fox, and a mad chase began. Seymour acted as master of the hunt. Rose, Evan, Drummond, and Mrs. Evremonde and Dorothy, skirted to the right, all laughing, and full of excitement. Harry bellowed the direction from above. The ladies in the carriage, with Lady Jocelyn and Andrew, watched them till they flowed one and all over the shoulder of the down.
'And who may the poor hunted animal be?' inquired the Countess.
'George Uplift,' said Lady Jocelyn, pulling out her watch. 'I give him twenty minutes.'
'Providence speed him!' breathed the Countess, with secret fervour.
'Oh, he hasn't a chance,' said Lady Jocelyn. 'The squire keeps wretched beasts.'
'Is there not an attraction that will account for his hasty capture?' said the Countess, looking tenderly at Miss Carrington, who sat a little straighter, and the Countess, hating manifestations of stiff-backedness, could not forbear adding: 'I am at war with my sympathies, which should be with the poor brute flying from his persecutors.'
She was in a bitter state of trepidation, or she would have thought twice before she touched a nerve of the enamoured lady, as she knew she did in calling her swain a poor brute, and did again by pertinaciously pursuing:
'Does he then shun his captivity?'
'Touching a nerve' is one of those unforgivable small offences which, in our civilized state, produce the social vendettas and dramas that, with savage nations, spring from the spilling of blood. Instead of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, we demand a nerve for a nerve. 'Thou hast touched me where I am tender thee, too, will I touch.'
Miss Carrington had been alarmed and hurt at the strange evasion of Mr. George; nor could she see the fun of his mimicry of the fox and his flight away from instead of into her neighbourhood. She had also, or she now thought it, remarked that when Mr. George had been spoken of casually, the Countess had not looked a natural look. Perhaps it was her present inflamed fancy. At any rate the Countess was offensive now. She was positively vulgar, in consequence, to the mind of Miss Carrington, and Miss Carrington was drawn to think of a certain thing Ferdinand Laxley had said he had heard from the mouth of this lady's brother when ale was in him. Alas! how one seed of a piece of folly will lurk and sprout to confound us; though, like the cock in the eastern tale, we peck up zealously all but that one!
The carriage rolled over the turf, attended by Andrew, and Lady Jocelyn, and the hunt was seen; Mr. George some forty paces a-head; Seymour gaining on him, Rose next.
'Who's that breasting Rose?' said Lady Jocelyn, lifting her glass.
'My brother-in-law, Harrington,' returned Andrew.
'He doesn't ride badly,' said Lady Jocelyn. 'A little too military. He must have been set up in England.'
'Oh, Evan can do anything,' said Andrew enthusiastically. 'His father was a capital horseman, and taught him fencing, riding, and every accomplishment. You won't find such a young fellow, my lady—'
'The brother like him at all?' asked Lady Jocelyn, still eyeing the chase.
'Brother? He hasn't got a brother,' said Andrew.
Lady Jocelyn continued: 'I mean the present baronet.'
She was occupied with her glass, and did not observe the flush that took hold of Andrew's ingenuous cheeks, and his hurried glance at and off the quiet eye of the Countess. Miss Carrington did observe it.
Mr. Andrew dashed his face under the palm of his hand, and murmured:
'Oh-yes! His brother-in-law isn't much like him—ha! ha!'
And then the poor little man rubbed his hands, unconscious of the indignant pity for his wretched abilities in the gaze of the Countess; and he must have been exposed—there was a fear that the ghost of Sir Abraham would have darkened this day, for Miss Carrington was about to speak, when Lady Jocelyn cried: 'There's a purl! Somebody's down.'
The Countess was unaware of the nature of a purl, but she could have sworn it to be a piece of Providence.
'Just by old Nat Hodges' farm, on Squire Copping's ground,' cried Andrew, much relieved by the particular individual's misfortune. 'Dear me, my lady! how old Tom and I used to jump the brook there, to be sure! and when you were no bigger than little Miss Loring—do you remember old Tom? We're all fools one time in our lives!'
'Who can it be?' said Lady Jocelyn, spying at the discomfited horseman. 'I'm afraid it's poor Ferdinand.'
They drove on to an eminence from which the plain was entirely laid open.
'I hope my brother will enjoy his ride this day,' sighed the Countess. 'It will be his limit of enjoyment for a lengthened period!'
She perceived that Mr. George's capture was inevitable, and her heart sank; for she was sure he would recognize her, and at the moment she misdoubted her powers. She dreamed of flight.
'You're not going to leave us?' said Lady Jocelyn. 'My dear Countess, what will the future member do without you? We have your promise to stay till the election is over.'
'Thanks for your extreme kind courtesy, Lady Jocelyn,' murmured the Countess: 'but my husband—the Count.'
'The favour is yours,' returned her ladyship. 'And if the Count cannot come, you at least are at liberty?'
'You are most kind,' said the Countess.
'Andrew and his wife I should not dare to separate for more than a week,' said Lady Jocelyn. 'He is the great British husband. The proprietor! "My wife" is his unanswerable excuse.'
'Yes,' Andrew replied cheerily. 'I don't like division between man and wife, I must say.'
The Countess dared no longer instance the Count, her husband. She was heard to murmur that citizen feelings were not hers:
'You suggested Fallow field to Melville, did you not?' asked Lady Jocelyn.
'It was the merest suggestion,' said the Countess, smiling.
'Then you must really stay to see us through it,' said her ladyship. 'Where are they now? They must be making straight for break-neck fence. They'll have him there. George hasn't pluck for that.'
It was the Countess who requested to know the name of this other piece of Providence Mr. George Uplift was deficient in.
'Pluck-go,' said her ladyship hastily, and telling the coachman to drive to a certain spot, trotted on with Andrew, saying to him: 'I'm afraid we are thought vulgar by the Countess.'
Andrew considered it best to reassure her gravely.
'The young man, her brother, is well-bred,' said Lady Jocelyn, and Andrew was very ready to praise Evan.
Lady Jocelyn, herself in slimmer days a spirited horsewoman, had correctly estimated Mr. George's pluck. He was captured by Harry and Evan close on the leap, in the act of shaking his head at it; and many who inspected the leap would have deemed it a sign that wisdom weighted the head that would shake long at it; for it consisted of a post and rails, with a double ditch.
Seymour Jocelyn, Mrs. Evremonde, Drummond, Jenny Graine, and William Harvey, rode with Mr. George in quest of the carriage, and the captive was duly delivered over.
'But where's the brush?' said Lady Jocelyn, laughing, and introducing him to the Countess, who dropped her head, and with it her veil.
'Oh! they leave that on for my next run,' said Mr. George, bowing civilly.
'You are going to run again?'
Miss Carrington severely asked this question; and Mr. George protested.
'Secure him, Louisa,' said Lady Jocelyn. 'See here: what's the matter with poor Dorothy?'
Dorothy came slowly trotting up to them along the green lane, and thus expressed her grief, between sobs:
'Isn't it a shame? Rose is such a tyrant. They're going to ride a race and a jump down in the field, and it's break-neck leap, and Rose won't allow me to stop and see it, though she knows I'm just as fond of Evan as she is; and if he's killed I declare it will be her fault; and it's all for her stupid, dirty old pocket handkerchief!'
'Break-neck fence!' said Lady Jocelyn; 'that's rather mad.'
'Do let's go and see it, darling Aunty Joey,' pleaded the little maid. Lady Jocelyn rode on, saying to herself: 'That girl has a great deal of devil in her.' The lady's thoughts were of Rose.
'Black Lymport'd take the leap,' said Mr. George, following her with the rest of the troop. 'Who's that fellow on him?'
'His name's Harrington,' quoth Drummond.
'Oh, Harrington!' Mr. George responded; but immediately laughed—'Harrington? 'Gad, if he takes the leap it'll be odd—another of the name. That's where old Mel had his spill.'
'Who?' Drummond inquired.
'Old Mel Harrington—the Lymport wonder. Old Marquis Mel,' said Mr. George. 'Haven't ye heard of him?'
'What! the gorgeous tailor!' exclaimed Lady Jocelyn. 'How I regret never meeting that magnificent snob! that efflorescence of sublime imposture! I've seen the Regent; but one's life doesn't seem complete without having seen his twin-brother. You must give us warning when you have him down at Croftlands again, Mr. George.'
'Gad, he'll have to come a long distance—poor old Mel!' said Mr. George; and was going on, when Seymour Jocelyn stroked his moustache to cry, 'Look! Rosey 's starting 'em, by Jove!'
The leap, which did not appear formidable from where they stood, was four fields distant from the point where Rose, with a handkerchief in her hand, was at that moment giving the signal to Laxley and Evan.
Miss Carrington and the Countess begged Lady Jocelyn to order a shout to be raised to arrest them, but her ladyship marked her good sense by saying: 'Let them go, now they're about it'; for she saw that to make a fuss now matters had proceeded so far, was to be uncivil to the inevitable.
The start was given, and off they flew. Harry Jocelyn, behind them, was evidently caught by the demon, and clapped spurs to his horse to have his fling as well, for the fun of the thing; but Rose, farther down the field, rode from her post straight across him, to the imminent peril of a mutual overset; and the party on the height could see Harry fuming, and Rose coolly looking him down, and letting him understand what her will was; and her mother, and Drummond, and Seymour who beheld this, had a common sentiment of admiration for the gallant girl. But away went the rivals. Black Lymport was the favourite, though none of the men thought he would be put at the fence. The excitement became contagious. The Countess threw up her veil. Lady Jocelyn, and Seymour, and Drummond, galloped down the lane, and Mr. George was for accompanying them, till the line of Miss Carrington's back gave him her unmistakeable opinion of such a course of conduct, and he had to dally and fret by her side. Andrew's arm was tightly grasped by the Countess. The rivals were crossing the second field, Laxley a little a-head.
'He 's holding in the black mare—that fellow!' said Mr. George. 'Gad, it looks like going at the fence. Fancy Harrington!'
They were now in the fourth field, a smooth shorn meadow. Laxley was two clear lengths in advance, but seemed riding, as Mr. George remarked, more for pace than to take the jump. The ladies kept plying random queries and suggestions: the Countess wishing to know whether they could not be stopped by a countryman before they encountered any danger. In the midst of their chatter, Mr. George rose in his stirrups, crying:
'Bravo, the black mare!'
'Has he done it?' said Andrew, wiping his poll.
'He? No, the mare!' shouted Mr. George, and bolted off, no longer to be restrained.
The Countess, doubly relieved, threw herself back in the carriage, and Andrew drew a breath, saying: 'Evan has beat him—I saw that! The other's horse swerved right round.'
'I fear,' said Mrs. Evremonde, 'Mr. Harrington has had a fall. Don't be alarmed—it may not be much.'
'A fall!' exclaimed the Countess, equally divided between alarms of sisterly affection and a keen sense of the romance of the thing.
Miss Carrington ordered the carriage to be driven round. They had not gone far when they were met by Harry Jocelyn riding in hot haste, and he bellowed to the coachman to drive as hard as he could, and stop opposite Brook's farm.
The scene on the other side of the fence would have been a sweet one to the central figure in it had his eyes then been open. Surrounded by Lady Jocelyn, Drummond, Seymour, and the rest, Evan's dust-stained body was stretched along the road, and his head was lying in the lap of Rose, who, pale, heedless of anything spoken by those around her, and with her lips set and her eyes turning wildly from one to the other, held a gory handkerchief to his temple with one hand, and with the other felt for the motion of his heart.
But heroes don't die, you know.
TRIBULATIONS AND TACTICS OF THE COUNTESS
'You have murdered my brother, Rose Jocelyn!'
'Don't say so now.'
Such was the interchange between the two that loved the senseless youth, as he was being lifted into the carriage.
Lady Jocelyn sat upright in her saddle, giving directions about what was to be done with Evan and the mare, impartially.
'Stunned, and a good deal shaken, I suppose; Lymport's knees are terribly cut,' she said to Drummond, who merely nodded. And Seymour remarked, 'Fifty guineas knocked off her value!' One added, 'Nothing worse, I should think'; and another, 'A little damage inside, perhaps.' Difficult to say whether they spoke of Evan or the brute.
No violent outcries; no reproaches cast on the cold-blooded coquette; no exclamations on the heroism of her brother! They could absolutely spare a thought for the animal! And Evan had risked his life for this, and might die unpitied. The Countess diversified her grief with a deadly bitterness against the heartless Jocelyns.
Oh, if Evan dies! will it punish Rose sufficiently?
Andrew expressed emotion, but not of a kind the Countess liked a relative to be seen exhibiting; for in emotion worthy Andrew betrayed to her his origin offensively.
'Go away and puke, if you must,' she said, clipping poor Andrew's word about his 'dear boy.' She could not help speaking in that way—he was so vulgar. A word of sympathy from Lady Jocelyn might have saved her from the sourness into which her many conflicting passions were resolving; and might also have saved her ladyship from the rancour she had sown in the daughter of the great Mel by her selection of epithets to characterize him.
Will it punish Rose at all, if Evan dies?
Rose saw that she was looked at. How could the Countess tell that Rose envied her the joy of holding Evan in the carriage there? Rose, to judge by her face, was as calm as glass. Not so well seen through, however. Mrs. Evremonde rode beside her, whose fingers she caught, and twined her own with them tightly once for a fleeting instant. Mrs. Evremonde wanted no further confession of her state.
Then Rose said to her mother, 'Mama, may I ride to have the doctor ready?'
Ordinarily, Rose would have clapped heel to horse the moment the thought came. She waited for the permission, and flew off at a gallop, waving back Laxley, who was for joining her.
'Franks will be a little rusty about the mare,' the Countess heard Lady Jocelyn say; and Harry just then stooped his head to the carriage, and said, in his blunt fashion, 'After all, it won't show much.'
'We are not cattle!' exclaimed the frenzied Countess, within her bosom. Alas! it was almost a democratic outcry they made her guilty of; but she was driven past patience. And as a further provocation, Evan would open his eyes. She laid her handkerchief over them with loving delicacy, remembering in a flash that her own face had been all the while exposed to Mr. George Uplift; and then the terrors of his presence at Beckley Court came upon her, and the fact that she had not for the last ten minutes been the serene Countess de Saldar; and she quite hated Andrew, for vulgarity in others evoked vulgarity in her, which was the reason why she ranked vulgarity as the chief of the deadly sins. Her countenance for Harry and all the others save poor Andrew was soon the placid heaven-confiding sister's again; not before Lady Jocelyn had found cause to observe to Drummond:
'Your Countess doesn't ruffle well.'
But a lady who is at war with two or three of the facts of Providence, and yet will have Providence for her ally, can hardly ruffle well. Do not imagine that the Countess's love for her brother was hollow. She was assured when she came up to the spot where he fell, that there was no danger; he had but dislocated his shoulder, and bruised his head a little. Hearing this, she rose out of her clamorous heart, and seized the opportunity for a small burst of melodrama. Unhappily, Lady Jocelyn, who gave the tone to the rest, was a Spartan in matters of this sort; and as she would have seen those dearest to her bear the luck of the field, she could see others. When the call for active help reached her, you beheld a different woman.
The demonstrativeness the Countess thirsted for was afforded her by Juley Bonner, and in a measure by her sister Caroline, who loved Evan passionately. The latter was in riding attire, about to mount to ride and meet them, accompanied by the Duke. Caroline had hastily tied up her hair; a rich golden brown lump of it hung round her cheek; her limpid eyes and anxiously-nerved brows impressed the Countess wonderfully as she ran down the steps and bent her fine well-filled bust forward to ask the first hurried question.
The Countess patted her shoulder. 'Safe, dear,' she said aloud, as one who would not make much of it. And in a whisper, 'You look superb.'
I must charge it to Caroline's beauty under the ducal radiance, that a stream of sweet feelings entering into the Countess made her forget to tell her sister that George Uplift was by. Caroline had not been abroad, and her skin was not olive-hued; she was a beauty, and a majestic figure, little altered since the day when the wooden marine marched her out of Lymport.
The Countess stepped from the carriage to go and cherish Juliana's petulant distress; for that unhealthy little body was stamping with impatience to have the story told to her, to burst into fits of pathos; and while Seymour and Harry assisted Evan to descend, trying to laugh off the pain he endured, Caroline stood by, soothing him with words and tender looks.
Lady Jocelyn passed him, and took his hand, saying, 'Not killed this time!'
'At your ladyship's service to-morrow,' he replied, and his hand was kindly squeezed.
'My darling Evan, you will not ride again?' Caroline cried, kissing him on the steps; and the Duke watched the operation, and the Countess observed the Duke.
That Providence should select her sweetest moments to deal her wounds, was cruel; but the Countess just then distinctly heard Mr. George Uplift ask Miss Carrington.
'Is that lady a Harrington?'
'You perceive a likeness?' was the answer.
Mr. George went 'Whew!—tit-tit-tit!' with the profound expression of a very slow mind.
The scene was quickly over. There was barely an hour for the ladies to dress for dinner. Leaving Evan in the doctor's hand, and telling Caroline to dress in her room, the Countess met Rose, and gratified her vindictiveness, while she furthered her projects, by saying:
'Not till my brother is quite convalescent will it be adviseable that you should visit him. I am compelled to think of him entirely now. In his present state he is not fit to be, played with.'
Rose, stedfastly eyeing her, seemed to swallow down something in her throat, and said:
'I will obey you, Countess. I hoped you would allow me to nurse him.'
'Quiet above all things, Rose Jocelyn!' returned the Countess, with the suavity of a governess, who must be civil in her sourness. 'If you would not complete this morning's achievement—stay away.'
The Countess declined to see that Rose's lip quivered. She saw an unpleasantness in the bottom of her eyes; and now that her brother's decease was not even remotely to be apprehended, she herself determined to punish the cold, unimpressionable coquette of a girl. Before returning to Caroline, she had five minutes' conversation with. Juliana, which fully determined her to continue the campaign at Beckley Court, commence decisive movements, and not to retreat, though fifty George Uplofts menaced her. Consequently, having dismissed Conning on a message to Harry Jocelyn, to ask him for a list of the names of the new people they were to meet that day at dinner, she said to Caroline:
'My dear, I think it will be incumbent on us to depart very quickly.'
Much to the Countess's chagrin and astonishment, Caroline replied:
'I shall hardly be sorry.'
'Not sorry? Why, what now, dear one? Is it true, then, that a flagellated female kisses the rod? Are you so eager for a repetition of Strike?'
Caroline, with some hesitation, related to her more than the Countess had ventured to petition for in her prayers.
'Oh! how exceedingly generous!' the latter exclaimed. How very refreshing to think that there are nobles in your England as romantic, as courteous, as delicate as our own foreign ones! But his Grace is quite an exceptional nobleman. Are you not touched, dearest Carry?'
Caroline pensively glanced at the reflection of her beautiful arm in the glass, and sighed, pushing back the hair from her temples.
'But, for mercy's sake!' resumed the Countess, in alarm at the sigh, 'do not be too—too touched. Do, pray, preserve your wits. You weep! Caroline, Caroline! O my goodness; it is just five-and-twenty minutes to the first dinner-bell, and you are crying! For God's sake, think of your face! Are you going to be a Gorgon? And you show the marks twice as long as any other, you fair women. Squinnying like this! Caroline, for your Louisa's sake, do not!'
Hissing which, half angrily and half with entreaty, the Countess dropped on her knees. Caroline's fit of tears subsided. The eldest of the sisters, she was the kindest, the fairest, the weakest.
'Not,' said the blandishing Countess, when Caroline's face was clearer, 'not that my best of Carrys does not look delicious in her shower. Cry, with your hair down, and you would subdue any male creature on two legs. And that reminds me of that most audacious Marquis de Remilla. He saw a dirty drab of a fruit-girl crying in Lisbon streets one day, as he was riding in the carriage of the Duchesse de Col da Rosta, and her husband and duena, and he had a letter for her—the Duchesse. They loved! How deliver the letter? "Save me!" he cried to the Duchesse, catching her hand, and pressing his heart, as if very sick. The Duchesse felt the paper—turned her hand over on her knee, and he withdrew his. What does my Carry think was the excuse he tendered the Duke? This—and this gives you some idea of the wonderful audacity of those dear Portuguese—that he—he must precipitate himself and marry any woman he saw weep, and be her slave for the term of his natural life, unless another woman's hand at the same moment restrained him! There!' and the Countess's eyes shone brightly.
'How excessively imbecile!' Caroline remarked, hitherto a passive listener to these Lusitanian contes.
It was the first sign she had yet given of her late intercourse with a positive Duke, and the Countess felt it, and drew back. No more anecdotes for Caroline, to whom she quietly said:
'You are very English, dear!'
'But now, the Duke—his Grace,' she went on, 'how did he inaugurate?'
'I spoke to him of Evan's position. God forgive me!—I said that was the cause of my looks being sad.'
'You could have thought of nothing better,' interposed the Countess. 'Yes?'
'He said, if he might clear them he should be happy!
'In exquisite language, Carry, of course.'
'No; just as others talk.'
'Hum!' went the Countess, and issued again brightly from a cloud of reflection, with the remark: 'It was to seem business-like—the commerciality of the English mind. To the point—I know. Well, you perceive, my sweetest, that Evan's interests are in your hands. You dare not quit the field. In one week, I fondly trust, he will be secure. What more did his Grace say? May we not be the repository of such delicious secresies?'
Caroline gave tremulous indications about the lips, and the Countess jumped to the bell and rang it, for they were too near dinner for the trace of a single tear to be permitted. The bell and the appearance of Conning effectually checked the flood.
While speaking to her sister, the Countess had hesitated to mention George Uplift's name, hoping that, as he had no dinner-suit, he would not stop to dinner that day, and would fall to the charge of Lady Racial once more. Conning, however, brought in a sheet of paper on which the names of the guests were written out by Harry, a daily piece of service he performed for the captivating dame, and George Uplift's name was in the list.
'We will do the rest, Conning-retire,' she said, and then folding Caroline in her arms, murmured, the moment they were alone, 'Will my Carry dress her hair plain to-day, for the love of her Louisa?'
'Goodness! what a request!' exclaimed Caroline, throwing back her head to see if her Louisa could be serious.
'Most inexplicable—is it not? Will she do it?'
'Flat, dear? It makes a fright of me.'
'Possibly. May I beg it?'
'But why, dearest, why? If I only knew why!'
'For the love of your Louy.'
'Plain along the temples?'
'And a knot behind.'
'And a band along the forehead?'
'Gems, if they meet your favour.'
'But my cheek-bones, Louisa?'
'They are not too prominent, Carry.'
'Curls relieve them.'
'The change will relieve the curls, dear one.'
Caroline looked in the glass, at the Countess, as polished a reflector, and fell into a chair. Her hair was accustomed to roll across her shoulders in heavy curls. The Duke would find a change of the sort singular. She should not at all know herself with her hair done differently: and for a lovely woman to be transformed to a fright is hard to bear in solitude, or in imagination.
'Really!' she petitioned.
'Really—yes, or no?' added the Countess.
'So unaccountable a whim!' Caroline looked in the glass dolefully, and pulled up her thick locks from one cheek, letting them fall on the instant.
'She will?' breathed the Countess.
'I really cannot,' said Caroline, with vehemence.
The Countess burst into laughter, replying: 'My poor child! it is not my whim—it is your obligation. George Uplift dines here to-day. Now do you divine it? Disguise is imperative for you.'
Mrs. Strike, gazing in her sister's face, answered slowly, 'George? But how will you meet him?' she hurriedly asked.
'I have met him,' rejoined the Countess, boldly. 'I defy him to know me. I brazen him! You with your hair in my style are equally safe. You see there is no choice. Pooh! contemptible puppy!'
'But I never,'—Caroline was going to say she never could face him. 'I will not dine. I will nurse Evan.'
'You have faced him, my dear,' said the Countess, 'and you are to change your head-dress simply to throw him off his scent.'
As she spoke the Countess tripped about, nodding her head like a girl. Triumph in the sense of her power over all she came in contact with, rather elated the lady.
Do you see why she worked her sister in this roundabout fashion? She would not tell her George Uplift was in the house till she was sure he intended to stay, for fear of frightening her. When the necessity became apparent, she put it under the pretext of a whim in order to see how far Caroline, whose weak compliance she could count on, and whose reticence concerning the Duke annoyed her, would submit to it to please her sister; and if she rebelled positively, why to be sure it was the Duke she dreaded to shock: and, therefore, the Duke had a peculiar hold on her: and, therefore, the Countess might reckon that she would do more than she pleased to confess to remain with the Duke, and was manageable in that quarter. All this she learnt without asking. I need not add, that Caroline sighingly did her bidding.
'We must all be victims in our turn, Carry,' said the Countess. 'Evan's prospects—it may be, Silva's restoration—depend upon your hair being dressed plain to-day. Reflect on that!'
Poor Caroline obeyed; but she was capable of reflecting only that her face was unnaturally lean and strange to her.
The sisters tended and arranged one another, taking care to push their mourning a month or two ahead and the Countess animadverted on the vulgar mind of Lady Jocelyn, who would allow a 'gentleman to sit down at a gentlewoman's table, in full company, in pronounced undress': and Caroline, utterly miserable, would pretend that she wore a mask and kept grimacing as they do who are not accustomed to paint on the cheeks, till the Countess checked her by telling her she should ask her for that before the Duke.
After a visit to Evan, the sisters sailed together into the drawing-room.
'Uniformity is sometimes a gain,' murmured the Countess, as they were parting in the middle of the room. She saw that their fine figures, and profiles, and resemblance in contrast, produced an effect. The Duke wore one of those calmly intent looks by which men show they are aware of change in the heavens they study, and are too devout worshippers to presume to disapprove. Mr. George was standing by Miss Carrington, and he also watched Mrs. Strike. To bewilder him yet more the Countess persisted in fixing her eyes upon his heterodox apparel, and Mr. George became conscious and uneasy. Miss Carrington had to address her question to him twice before he heard. Melville Jocelyn, Sir John Loring, Sir Franks, and Hamilton surrounded the Countess, and told her what they had decided on with regard to the election during the day; for Melville was warm in his assertion that they would not talk to the Countess five minutes without getting a hint worth having.
'Call to us that man who is habited like a groom,' said the Countess, indicating Mr. George. 'I presume he is in his right place up here?'
'Whew—take care, Countess—our best man. He's good for a dozen,' said Hamilton.
Mr. George was brought over and introduced to the Countess de Saldar.
'So the oldest Tory in the county is a fox?' she said, in allusion to the hunt. Never did Caroline Strike admire her sister's fearful genius more than at that moment.
Mr. George ducked and rolled his hand over his chin, with 'ah-um!' and the like, ended by a dry laugh.
'Are you our supporter, Mr. Uplift?'
'Tory interest, ma—um—my lady.'
'And are you staunch and may be trusted?'
''Pon my honour, I think I have that reputation.'
'And you would not betray us if we give you any secrets? Say "'Pon my honour," again. You launch it out so courageously.'
The men laughed, though they could not see what the Countess was driving at. She had for two minutes spoken as she spoke when a girl, and George—entirely off his guard and unsuspicious—looked unenlightened. If he knew, there were hints enough for him in her words.
If he remained blind, they might pass as air. The appearance of the butler cut short his protestation as to his powers of secresy.
The Countess dismissed him.
'You will be taken into our confidence when we require you.' And she resumed her foreign air in a most elaborate and overwhelming bow.
She was now perfectly satisfied that she was safe from Mr. George, and, as she thoroughly detested the youthful squire, she chose to propagate a laugh at him by saying with the utmost languor and clearness of voice, as they descended the stairs:
'After all, a very clever fox may be a very dull dog—don't you think?'
Gentlemen in front of her, and behind, heard it, and at Mr. George's expense her reputation rose.
Thus the genius of this born general prompted her to adopt the principle in tactics—boldly to strike when you are in the dark as to your enemy's movements.
IN WHICH THE DAUGHTERS OF THE GREAT MEL HAVE TO DIGEST HIM AT DINNER
You must know, if you would form an estimate of the Countess's heroic impudence, that a rumour was current in Lymport that the fair and well-developed Louisa Harrington, in her sixteenth year, did advisedly, and with the intention of rendering the term indefinite, entrust her guileless person to Mr. George Uplift's honourable charge. The rumour, unflavoured by absolute malignity, was such; and it went on to say, that the sublime Mel, alive to the honour of his family, followed the fugitives with a pistol, and with a horsewhip, that he might chastise the offender according to the degree of his offence. It was certain that he had not used the pistol: it was said that he had used the whip. The details of the interview between Mel and Mr. George were numerous, but at the same time various. Some declared that he put a pistol to Mr. George's ear, and under pressure of that persuader got him into the presence of a clergyman, when he turned sulky; and when the pistol was again produced, the ceremony would have been performed, had not the outraged Church cried out for help. Some vowed that Mr. George had referred all questions implying a difference between himself and Mel to their mutual fists for decision. At any rate, Mr. George turned up in Fallow field subsequently; the fair Louisa, unhurt and with a quiet mind, in Lymport; and this amount of truth the rumours can be reduced to—that Louisa and Mr. George had been acquainted. Rumour and gossip know how to build: they always have some solid foundation, however small. Upwards of twelve years had run since Louisa went to the wife of the brewer—a period quite long enough for Mr. George to forget any one in; and she was altogether a different creature; and, as it was true that Mr. George was a dull one, she was, after the test she had put him to, justified in hoping that Mel's progeny might pass unchallenged anywhere out of Lymport. So, with Mr. George facing her at table, the Countess sat down, determined to eat and be happy.