Watteau-like groups were already couched in the shade. There were ladies of all sorts: town-bred and country-bred: farmers' daughters and daughters of peers: for this pic-nic, as Lady Jocelyn, disgusting the Countess, would call it, was in reality a 'fete champetre', given annually, to which the fair offspring of the superior tenants were invited the brothers and fathers coming to fetch them in the evening. It struck the eye of the Countess de Saldar that Olympus would be a fitting throne for her, and a point whence her shafts might fly without fear of a return. Like another illustrious General at Salamanca, she directed a detachment to take possession of the height. Courtly Sir John Loring ran up at once, and gave the diplomatist an opportunity to thank her flatteringly for gaining them two minutes to themselves. Sir John waved his handkerchief in triumph, welcoming them under an awning where carpets and cushions were spread, and whence the Countess could eye the field. She was dressed ravishingly; slightly in a foreign style, the bodice being peaked at the waist, as was then the Portuguese persuasion. The neck, too, was deliciously veiled with fine lace—and thoroughly veiled, for it was a feature the Countess did not care to expose to the vulgar daylight. Off her gentle shoulders, as it were some fringe of cloud blown by the breeze this sweet lady opened her bosom to, curled a lovely black lace scarf: not Caroline's. If she laughed, the tinge of mourning lent her laughter new charms. If she sighed, the exuberant array of her apparel bade the spectator be of good cheer. Was she witty, men surrendered reason and adored her. Only when she entered the majestic mood, and assumed the languors of greatness, and recited musky anecdotes of her intimacy with it, only then did mankind, as represented at Beckley Court, open an internal eye and reflect that it was wonderful in a tailor's daughter. And she felt that mankind did so reflect. Her instincts did not deceive her. She knew not how much was known; in the depths of her heart she kept low the fear that possibly all might be known; and succeeding in this, she said to herself that probably nothing was known after all. George Uplift, Miss Carrington, and Rose, were the three she abhorred. Partly to be out of their way, and to be out of the way of chance shots (for she had heard names of people coming that reminded her of Dubbins's, where, in past days, there had been on one awful occasion a terrific discovery made), the Countess selected Olympus for her station. It was her last day, and she determined to be happy. Doubtless, she was making a retreat, but have not illustrious Generals snatched victory from their pursuers? Fair, then, sweet, and full of grace, the Countess moved. As the restless shifting of colours to her motions was the constant interchange of her semisorrowful manner and ready archness. Sir John almost capered to please her, and the diplomatist in talking to her forgot his diplomacy and the craft of his tongue.
It was the last day also of Caroline and the Duke. The Countess clung to Caroline and the Duke more than to Evan and Rose. She could see the first couple walking under an avenue of limes, and near them that young man or monkey, Raikes, as if in ambush. Twice they passed him, and twice he doffed his hat and did homage.
'A most singular creature!' exclaimed the Countess. 'It is my constant marvel where my brother discovered such a curiosity. Do notice him.'
'That man? Raikes?' said the diplomatist. 'Do you know he is our rival? Harry wanted an excuse for another bottle last night, and proposed the "Member" for Fallowfield. Up got this Mr. Raikes and returned thanks.'
'Yes?' the Countess negligently interjected in a way she had caught from Lady Jocelyn.
'Cogglesby's nominee, apparently.'
'I know it all,' said the Countess. 'We need have no apprehension. He is docile. My brother-in-law's brother, you see, is most eccentric. We can manage him best through this Mr. Raikes, for a personal application would be ruin. He quite detests our family, and indeed all the aristocracy.'
Melville's mouth pursed, and he looked very grave.
Sir John remarked: 'He seems like a monkey just turned into a man.'
'And doubtful about the tail,' added the Countess.
The image was tolerably correct, but other causes were at the bottom of the air worn by John Raikes. The Countess had obtained an invitation for him, with instructions that he should come early, and he had followed them so implicitly that the curricle was flinging dust on the hedges between Fallow field and Beckley but an hour or two after the chariot of Apollo had mounted the heavens, and Mr. Raikes presented himself at the breakfast table. Fortunately for him the Countess was there. After the repast she introduced him to the Duke: and he bowed to the Duke, and the Duke bowed to him: and now, to instance the peculiar justness in the mind of Mr. Raikes, he, though he worshipped a coronet and would gladly have recalled the feudal times to a corrupt land, could not help thinking that his bow had beaten the Duke's and was better. He would rather not have thought so, for it upset his preconceptions and threatened a revolution in his ideas. For this reason he followed the Duke, and tried, if possible, to correct, or at least chasten the impressions he had of possessing a glaring advantage over the nobleman. The Duke's second notice of him was hardly a nod. 'Well!' Mr. Raikes reflected, 'if this is your Duke, why, egad! for figure and style my friend Harrington beats him hollow.' And Raikes thought he knew who could conduct a conversation with superior dignity and neatness. The torchlight of a delusion was extinguished in him, but he did not wander long in that gloomy cavernous darkness of the disenchanted, as many of us do, and as Evan had done, when after a week at Beckley Court he began to examine of what stuff his brilliant father, the great Mel, was composed. On the contrary, as the light of the Duke dwindled, Raikes gained in lustre. 'In fact,' he said, 'there's nothing but the title wanting.' He was by this time on a level with the Duke in his elastic mind.
Olympus had been held in possession by the Countess about half an hour, when Lady Jocelyn mounted it, quite unconscious that she was scaling a fortified point. The Countess herself fired off the first gun at her.
'It has been so extremely delightful up alone here, Lady Jocelyn: to look at everybody below! I hope many will not intrude on us!'
'None but the dowagers who have breath to get up,' replied her ladyship, panting. 'By the way, Countess, you hardly belong to us yet. You dance?'
'Indeed, I do not.'
'Oh, then you are in your right place. A dowager is a woman who doesn't dance: and her male attendant is—what is he? We will call him a fogy.'
Lady Jocelyn directed a smile at Melville and Sir John, who both protested that it was an honour to be the Countess's fogy.
Rose now joined them, with Laxley morally dragged in her wake.
'Another dowager and fogy!' cried the Countess, musically. 'Do you not dance, my child?'
'Not till the music strikes up,' rejoined Rose. 'I suppose we shall have to eat first.'
'That is the Hamlet of the pic-nic play, I believe,' said her mother.
'Of course you dance, don't you, Countess?' Rose inquired, for the sake of amiable conversation.
The Countess's head signified: 'Oh, no! quite out of the question': she held up a little bit of her mournful draperies, adding: 'Besides, you, dear child, know your company, and can select; I do not, and cannot do so. I understand we have a most varied assembly!'
Rose shut her eyes, and then looked at her mother. Lady Jocelyn's face was undisturbed; but while her eyes were still upon the Countess, she drew her head gently back, imperceptibly. If anything, she was admiring the lady; but Rose could be no placid philosophic spectator of what was to her a horrible assumption and hypocrisy. For the sake of him she loved, she had swallowed a nauseous cup bravely. The Countess was too much for her. She felt sick to think of being allied to this person. She had a shuddering desire to run into the ranks of the world, and hide her head from multitudinous hootings. With a pang of envy she saw her friend Jenny walking by the side of William Harvey, happy, untried, unoffending: full of hope, and without any bitter draughts to swallow!
Aunt Bel now came tripping up gaily.
'Take the alternative, 'douairiere or demoiselle'?' cried Lady Jocelyn. 'We must have a sharp distinction, or Olympus will be mobbed.'
'Entre les deux, s'il vous plait,' responded Aunt Bel. 'Rose, hurry down, and leaven the mass. I see ten girls in a bunch. It's shocking. Ferdinand, pray disperse yourself. Why is it, Emily, that we are always in excess at pic-nics? Is man dying out?'
'From what I can see,' remarked Lady Jocelyn, 'Harry will be lost to his species unless some one quickly relieves him. He's already half eaten up by the Conley girls. Countess, isn't it your duty to rescue him?'
The Countess bowed, and murmured to Sir John:
'I fear my fascinations, Lady Jocelyn, may not compete with those fresh young persons.'
'Ha! ha! "fresh young persons,"' laughed Sir John for the ladies in question were romping boisterously with Mr. Harry.
The Countess inquired for the names and condition of the ladies, and was told that they sprang from Farmer Conley, a well-to-do son of the soil, who farmed about a couple of thousand acres between Fallow field and Beckley, and bore a good reputation at the county bank.
'But I do think,' observed the Countess, 'it must indeed be pernicious for any youth to associate with that class of woman. A deterioration of manners!'
Rose looked at her mother again. She thought 'Those girls would scorn to marry a tradesman's son!'
The feeling grew in Rose that the Countess lowered and degraded her. Her mother's calm contemplation of the lady was more distressing than if she had expressed the contempt Rose was certain, according to her young ideas, Lady Jocelyn must hold.
Now the Countess had been considering that she would like to have a word or two with Mr. Harry, and kissing her fingers to the occupants of Olympus, and fixing her fancy on the diverse thoughts of the ladies and gentlemen, deduced from a rapturous or critical contemplation of her figure from behind, she descended the slope.
Was it going to be a happy day? The well-imagined opinions of the gentleman on her attire and style, made her lean to the affirmative; but Rose's demure behaviour, and something—something would come across her hopes. She had, as she now said to herself, stopped for the pic-nic, mainly to give Caroline a last opportunity of binding the Duke to visit the Cogglesby saloons in London. Let Caroline cleverly contrive this, as she might, without any compromise, and the stay at Beckley Court would be a great gain. Yes, Caroline was still with the Duke; they were talking earnestly. The Countess breathed a short appeal to Providence that Caroline might not prove a fool. Overnight she had said to Caroline: 'Do not be so English. Can one not enjoy friendship with a nobleman without wounding one's conscience or breaking with the world? My dear, the Duke visiting you, you cow that infamous Strike of yours. He will be utterly obsequious! I am not telling you to pass the line. The contrary. But we continentals have our grievous reputation because we dare to meet as intellectual beings, and defy the imputation that ladies and gentlemen are no better than animals.'
It sounded very lofty to Caroline, who, accepting its sincerity, replied:
'I cannot do things by halves. I cannot live a life of deceit. A life of misery—not deceit.'
Whereupon, pitying her poor English nature, the Countess gave her advice, and this advice she now implored her familiars to instruct or compel Caroline to follow.
The Countess's garment was plucked at. She beheld little Dorothy Loring glancing up at her with the roguish timidity of her years.
'May I come with you?' asked the little maid, and went off into a prattle: 'I spent that five shillings—I bought a shilling's worth of sweet stuff, and nine penn'orth of twine, and a shilling for small wax candles to light in my room when I'm going to bed, because I like plenty of light by the looking-glass always, and they do make the room so hot! My Jane declared she almost fainted, but I burnt them out! Then I only had very little left for a horse to mount my doll on; and I wasn't going to get a screw, so I went to Papa, and he gave me five shillings. And, oh, do you know, Rose can't bear me to be with you. Jealousy, I suppose, for you're very agreeable. And, do you know, your Mama is coming to-day? I've got a Papa and no Mama, and you've got a Mama and no Papa. Isn't it funny? But I don't think so much of it, as you 're grown up. Oh, I'm quite sure she is coming, because I heard Harry telling Juley she was, and Juley said it would be so gratifying to you.'
A bribe and a message relieved the Countess of Dorothy's attendance on her.
What did this mean? Were people so base as to be guilty of hideous plots in this house? Her mother coming! The Countess's blood turned deadly chill. Had it been her father she would not have feared, but her mother was so vilely plain of speech; she never opened her mouth save to deliver facts: which was to the Countess the sign of atrocious vulgarity.
But her mother had written to say she would wait for Evan in Fallow field! The Countess grasped at straws. Did Dorothy hear that? And if Harry and Juliana spoke of her mother, what did that mean? That she was hunted, and must stand at bay!
'Oh, Papa! Papa! why did you marry a Dawley?' she exclaimed, plunging to what was, in her idea, the root of the evil.
She had no time for outcries and lamentations. It dawned on her that this was to be a day of battle. Where was Harry? Still in the midst of the Conley throng, apparently pooh-poohing something, to judge by the twist of his mouth.
The Countess delicately signed for him to approach her. The extreme delicacy of the signal was at least an excuse for Harry to perceive nothing. It was renewed, and Harry burst into a fit of laughter at some fun of one of the Conley girls. The Countess passed on, and met Juliana pacing by herself near the lower gates of the park. She wished only to see how Juliana behaved. The girl looked perfectly trustful, as much so as when the Countess was pouring in her ears the tales of Evan's growing but bashful affection for her.
'He will soon be here,' whispered the Countess. 'Has he told you he will come by this entrance?'
'No,' replied Juliana.
'You do not look well, sweet child.'
'I was thinking that you did not, Countess?'
'Oh, indeed, yes! With reason, alas! All our visitors have by this time arrived, I presume?'
'They come all day.'
The Countess hastened away from one who, when roused, could be almost as clever as herself, and again stood in meditation near the joyful Harry. This time she did not signal so discreetly. Harry could not but see it, and the Conley girls accused him of cruelty to the beautiful dame, which novel idea stung Harry with delight, and he held out to indulge in it a little longer. His back was half turned, and as he talked noisily, he could not observe the serene and resolute march of the Countess toward him. The youth gaped when he found his arm taken prisoner by the insertion of a small deliciously-gloved and perfumed hand through it. 'I must claim you for a few moments,' said the Countess, and took the startled Conley girls one and all in her beautiful smile of excuse.
'Why do you compromise me thus, sir?'
These astounding words were spoken out of the hearing of the Conley girls.
'Compromise you!' muttered Harry.
Masterly was the skill with which the Countess contrived to speak angrily and as an injured woman, while she wore an indifferent social countenance.
'I repeat, compromise me. No, Mr. Harry Jocelyn, you are not the jackanapes you try to make people think you: you understand me.'
The Countess might accuse him, but Harry never had the ambition to make people think him that: his natural tendency was the reverse: and he objected to the application of the word jackanapes to himself, and was ready to contest the fact of people having that opinion at all. However, all he did was to repeat: 'Compromise!'
'Is not open unkindness to me compromising me?'
'How?' asked Harry.
'Would you dare to do it to a strange lady? Would you have the impudence to attempt it with any woman here but me? No, I am innocent; it is my consolation; I have resisted you, but you by this cowardly behaviour place me—and my reputation, which is more—at your mercy. Noble behaviour, Mr. Harry Jocelyn! I shall remember my young English gentleman.'
The view was totally new to Harry.
'I really had no idea of compromising you,' he said. 'Upon my honour, I can't see how I did it now!'
'Oblige me by walking less in the neighbourhood of those fat-faced glaring farm-girls,' the Countess spoke under her breath; 'and don't look as if you were being whipped. The art of it is evident—you are but carrying on the game.—Listen. If you permit yourself to exhibit an unkindness to me, you show to any man who is a judge, and to every woman, that there has been something between us. You know my innocence—yes! but you must punish me for having resisted you thus long.'
Harry swore he never had such an idea, and was much too much of a man and a gentleman to behave in that way.—And yet it seemed wonderfully clever! And here was the Countess saying:
'Take your reward, Mr. Harry Jocelyn. You have succeeded; I am your humble slave. I come to you and sue for peace. To save my reputation I endanger myself. This is generous of you.'
'Am I such a clever fellow?' thought the young gentleman. 'Deuced lucky with women': he knew that: still a fellow must be wonderfully, miraculously, clever to be able to twist and spin about such a woman as this in that way. He did not object to conceive that he was the fellow to do it. Besides, here was the Countess de Saldar-worth five hundred of the Conley girls—almost at his feet!
Mollified, he said: 'Now, didn't you begin it?'
'Evasion!' was the answer. 'It would be such pleasure to you so see a proud woman weep! And if yesterday, persecuted as I am, with dreadful falsehoods abroad respecting me and mine, if yesterday I did seem cold to your great merits, is it generous of you to take this revenge?'
Harry began to scent the double meaning in her words. She gave him no time to grow cool over it. She leaned, half abandoned, on his arm. Arts feminine and irresistible encompassed him. It was a fatal mistake of Juliana's to enlist Harry Jocelyn against the Countess de Saldar. He engaged, still without any direct allusion to the real business, to move heaven and earth to undo all that he had done, and the Countess implied an engagement to do—what? more than she intended to fulfil.
Ten minutes later she was alone with Caroline.
'Tie yourself to the Duke at the dinner,' she said, in the forcible phrase she could use when necessary. 'Don't let them scheme to separate you. Never mind looks—do it!'
Caroline, however, had her reasons for desiring to maintain appearances. The Countess dashed at her hesitation.
'There is a plot to humiliate us in the most abominable way. The whole family have sworn to make us blush publicly. Publicly blush! They have written to Mama to come and speak out. Now will you attend to me, Caroline? You do not credit such atrocity? I know it to be true.'
'I never can believe that Rose would do such a thing,' said Caroline.' We can hardly have to endure more than has befallen us already.'
Her speech was pensive, as of one who had matter of her own to ponder over. A swift illumination burst in the Countess's mind.
'No? Have you, dear, darling Carry? not that I intend that you should! but to-day the Duke would be such ineffable support to us. May I deem you have not been too cruel to-day? You dear silly English creature, "Duck," I used to call you when I was your little Louy. All is not yet lost, but I will save you from the ignominy if I can. I will!'
Caroline denied nothing—confirmed nothing, just as the Countess had stated nothing. Yet they understood one another perfectly. Women have a subtler language than ours: the veil pertains to them morally as bodily, and they see clearer through it.
The Countess had no time to lose. Wrath was in her heart. She did not lend all her thoughts to self-defence.
Without phrasing a word, or absolutely shaping a thought in her head, she slanted across the sun to Mr. Raikes, who had taken refreshment, and in obedience to his instinct, notwithstanding his enormous pretensions, had commenced a few preliminary antics.
'Dear Mr. Raikes!' she said, drawing him aside, 'not before dinner!'
'I really can't contain the exuberant flow!' returned that gentleman. 'My animal spirits always get the better of me,' he added confidentially.
'Suppose you devote your animal spirits to my service for half an hour.'
'Yours, Countess, from the 'os frontis' to the chine!' was the exuberant rejoinder.
The Countess made a wry mouth.
'Your curricle is in Beckley?'
'Behold!' said Jack. 'Two juveniles, not half so blest as I, do from the seat regard the festive scene o'er yon park palings. They are there, even Franko and Fred. I 'm afraid I promised to get them in at a later period of the day. Which sadly sore my conscience doth disturb! But what is to be done about the curricle, my Countess?'
'Mr. Raikes,' said the Countess, smiling on him fixedly, 'you are amusing; but in addressing me, you must be precise, and above all things accurate. I am not your Countess!'
He bowed profoundly. 'Oh, that I might say my Queen!'
The Countess replied: 'A conviction of your lunacy would prevent my taking offence, though I might wish you enclosed and guarded.'
Without any further exclamations, Raikes acknowledged a superior.
'And, now, attend to me,' said the Countess. 'Listen:
You go yourself, or send your friends instantly to Fallow field. Bring with you that girl and her child. Stop: there is such a person. Tell her she is to be spoken to about the prospects of the poor infant. I leave that to your inventive genius. Evan wishes her here. Bring her, and should you see the mad captain who behaves so oddly, favour him with a ride. He says he dreams his wife is here, and he will not reveal his name! Suppose it should be my own beloved husband! I am quite anxious.'
The Countess saw him go up to the palings and hold a communication with his friends Franko and Fred. One took the whip, and after mutual flourishes, drove away.
'Now!' mused the Countess, 'if Captain Evremonde should come!' It would break up the pic-nic. Alas! the Countess had surrendered her humble hopes of a day's pleasure. But if her mother came as well, what a diversion that would be! If her mother came before the Captain, his arrival would cover the retreat; if the Captain preceded her, she would not be noticed. Suppose her mother refrained from coming? In that case it was a pity, but the Jocelyns had brought it on themselves.
This mapping out of consequences followed the Countess's deeds, and did not inspire them. Her passions sharpened her instincts, which produced her actions. The reflections ensued: as in nature, the consequences were all seen subsequently! Observe the difference between your male and female Generals.
On reflection, too, the Countess praised herself for having done all that could be done. She might have written to her mother: but her absence would have been remarked: her messenger might have been overhauled and, lastly, Mrs. Mel—'Gorgon of a mother!' the Countess cried out: for Mrs. Mel was like a Fate to her. She could remember only two occasions in her whole life when she had been able to manage her mother, and then by lying in such a way as to distress her conscience severely.
'If Mama has conceived this idea of coming, nothing will impede her. My prayers will infuriate her!' said the Countess, and she was sure that she had acted both rightly and with wisdom.
She put on her armour of smiles: she plunged into the thick of the enemy. Since they would not allow her to taste human happiness—she had asked but for the pic-nic! a small truce! since they denied her that, rather than let them triumph by seeing her wretched, she took into her bosom the joy of demons. She lured Mr. George Uplift away from Miss Carrington, and spoke to him strange hints of matrimonial disappointments, looking from time to time at that apprehensive lady, doating on her terrors. And Mr. George seconded her by his clouded face, for he was ashamed not to show that he did not know Louisa Harrington in the Countess de Saldar, and had not the courage to declare that he did. The Countess spoke familiarly, but without any hint of an ancient acquaintance between them. 'What a post her husband's got!' thought Mr. George, not envying the Count. He was wrong: she was an admirable ally. All over the field the Countess went, watching for her mother, praying that if she did come, Providence might prevent her from coming while they were at dinner. How clearly Mrs. Shorne and Mrs. Melville saw her vulgarity now! By the new light of knowledge, how certain they were that they had seen her ungentle training in a dozen little instances.
'She is not well-bred, 'cela se voit',' said Lady Jocelyn.
'Bred! it's the stage! How could such a person be bred?' said Mrs. Shorne.
Accept in the Countess the heroine who is combating class-prejudices, and surely she is pre-eminently noteworthy. True, she fights only for her family, and is virtually the champion of the opposing institution misplaced. That does not matter: the Fates may have done it purposely: by conquering she establishes a principle. A Duke adores her sister, the daughter of the house her brother, and for herself she has many protestations in honour of her charms: nor are they empty ones. She can confound Mrs. Melville, if she pleases to, by exposing an adorer to lose a friend. Issuing out of Tailordom, she, a Countess, has done all this; and it were enough to make her glow, did not little evils, and angers, and spites, and alarms so frightfully beset her.
The sun of the pic-nic system is dinner. Hence philosophers may deduce that the pic-nic is a British invention. There is no doubt that we do not shine at the pic-nic until we reflect the face of dinner. To this, then, all who were not lovers began seriously to look forward, and the advance of an excellent county band, specially hired to play during the entertainment, gave many of the guests quite a new taste for sweet music; and indeed we all enjoy a thing infinitely more when we see its meaning.
About this time Evan entered the lower park-gates with Andrew. The first object he encountered was John Raikes in a state of great depression. He explained his case:
'Just look at my frill! Now, upon my honour, you know, I'm good-tempered; I pass their bucolic habits, but this is beyond bearing. I was near the palings there, and a fellow calls out, "Hi! will you help the lady over?" Holloa! thinks I, an adventure! However, I advised him to take her round to the gates. The beast burst out laughing. "Now, then," says he, and I heard a scrambling at the pales, and up came the head of a dog. "Oh! the dog first," says I. "Catch by the ears," says he. I did so. "Pull," says he. "'Gad, pull indeed!", The beast gave a spring and came slap on my chest, with his dirty wet muzzle on my neck! I felt instantly it was the death of my frill, but gallant as you know me, I still asked for the lady. "If you will please, or an it meet your favour, to extend your hand to me!" I confess I did think it rather odd, the idea of a lady coming in that way over the palings! but my curst love of adventure always blinds me. It always misleads my better sense, Harrington. Well, instead of a lady, I see a fellow—he may have been a lineal descendant of Cedric the Saxon. "Where's the lady?" says I. "Lady?" says he, and stares, and then laughs: "Lady! why," he jumps over, and points at his beast of a dog, "don't you know a bitch when you see one?" I was in the most ferocious rage! If he hadn't been a big burly bully, down he'd have gone. "Why didn't you say what it was?" I roared. "Why," says he, "the word isn't considered polite!" I gave him a cut there. I said, "I rejoice to be positively assured that you uphold the laws and forms of civilization, sir." My belief is he didn't feel it.'
'The thrust sinned in its shrewdness,' remarked Evan, ending a laugh.
'Hem!' went Mr. Raikes, more contentedly: 'after all, what are appearances to the man of wit and intellect? Dress, and women will approve you: but I assure you they much prefer the man of wit in his slouched hat and stockings down. I was introduced to the Duke this morning. It is a curious thing that the seduction of a Duchess has always been one of my dreams.'
At this Andrew Cogglesby fell into a fit of laughter.
'Your servant,' said Mr. Raikes, turning to him. And then he muttered 'Extraordinary likeness! Good Heavens! Powers!'
From a state of depression, Mr. Raikes—changed into one of bewilderment. Evan paid no attention to him, and answered none of his hasty undertoned questions. Just then, as they were on the skirts of the company, the band struck up a lively tune, and quite unconsciously, the legs of Raikes, affected, it may be, by supernatural reminiscences, loosely hornpiped. It was but a moment: he remembered himself the next: but in that fatal moment eyes were on him. He never recovered his dignity in Beckley Court: he was fatally mercurial.
'What is the joke against this poor fellow?' asked Evan of Andrew.
'Never mind, Van. You'll roar. Old Tom again. We 'll see by-and-by, after the champagne. He—this young Raikes-ha! ha!—but I can't tell you.' And Andrew went away to Drummond, to whom he was more communicative. Then he went to Melville, and one or two others, and the eyes of many became concentrated on Raikes, and it was observed as a singular sign that he was constantly facing about, and flushing the fiercest red. Once he made an effort to get hold of Evan's arm and drag him away, as one who had an urgent confession to be delivered of, but Evan was talking to Lady Jocelyn, and other ladies, and quietly disengaged his arm without even turning to notice the face of his friend. Then the dinner was announced, and men saw the dinner. The Countess went to shake her brother's hand, and with a very gratulatory visage, said through her half-shut teeth.
'If Mama appears, rise up and go away with her, before she has time to speak a word.' An instant after Evan found himself seated between Mrs. Evremonde and one of the Conley girls. The dinner had commenced. The first half of the Battle of the Bull-dogs was as peaceful as any ordinary pic-nic, and promised to the general company as calm a conclusion.
THE BATTLE OF THE BULL-DOGS. PART II.
If it be a distinct point of wisdom to hug the hour that is, then does dinner amount to a highly intellectual invitation to man, for it furnishes the occasion; and Britons are the wisest of their race, for more than all others they take advantage of it. In this Nature is undoubtedly our guide, seeing that he who, while feasting his body allows to his soul a thought for the morrow, is in his digestion curst, and becomes a house of evil humours. Now, though the epicure may complain of the cold meats, a dazzling table, a buzzing company, blue sky, and a band of music, are incentives to the forgetfulness of troubles past and imminent, and produce a concentration of the faculties. They may not exactly prove that peace is established between yourself and those who object to your carving of the world, but they testify to an armistice.
Aided by these observations, you will understand how it was that the Countess de Saldar, afflicted and menaced, was inspired, on taking her seat, to give so graceful and stately a sweep to her dress that she was enabled to conceive woman and man alike to be secretly overcome by it. You will not refuse to credit the fact that Mr. Raikes threw care to the dogs, heavy as was that mysterious lump suddenly precipitated on his bosom; and you will think it not impossible that even the springers of the mine about to explode should lose their subterranean countenances. A generous abandonment to one idea prevailed. As for Evan, the first glass of champagne rushed into reckless nuptials with the music in his head, bringing Rose, warm almost as life, on his heart. Sublime are the visions of lovers! He knew he must leave her on the morrow; he feared he might never behold her again; and yet he tasted bliss, for it seemed within the contemplation of the Gods that he should dance with his darling before dark-haply waltz with her! Oh, heaven! he shuts his eyes, blinded. The band wheels off meltingly in a tune all cadences, and twirls, and risings and sinkings, and passionate outbursts trippingly consoled. Ah! how sweet to waltz through life with the right partner. And what a singular thing it is to look back on the day when we thought something like it! Never mind: there may be spheres where it is so managed—doubtless the planets have their Hanwell and Bedlam.
I confess that the hand here writing is not insensible to the effects of that first glass of champagne. The poetry of our Countess's achievements waxes rich in manifold colours: I see her by the light of her own pleas to Providence. I doubt almost if the hand be mine which dared to make a hero play second fiddle, and to his beloved. I have placed a bushel over his light, certainly. Poor boy! it was enough that he should have tailordom on his shoulders: I ought to have allowed him to conquer Nature, and so come out of his eclipse. This shall be said of him: that he can play second fiddle without looking foolish, which, for my part, I call a greater triumph than if he were performing the heroics we are more accustomed to. He has steady eyes, can gaze at the right level into the eyes of others, and commands a tongue which is neither struck dumb nor set in a flutter by any startling question. The best instances to be given that he does not lack merit are that the Jocelyns, whom he has offended by his birth, cannot change their treatment of him, and that the hostile women, whatever they may say, do not think Rose utterly insane. At any rate, Rose is satisfied, and her self-love makes her a keen critic. The moment Evan appeared, the sickness produced in her by the Countess passed, and she was ready to brave her situation. With no mock humility she permitted Mrs. Shorne to place her in a seat where glances could not be interchanged. She was quite composed, calmly prepared for conversation with any one. Indeed, her behaviour since the hour of general explanation had been so perfectly well-contained, that Mrs. Melville said to Lady Jocelyn:
'I am only thinking of the damage to her. It will pass over—this fancy. You can see she is not serious. It is mere spirit of opposition. She eats and drinks just like other girls. You can see that the fancy has not taken such very strong hold of her.'
'I can't agree with you,' replied her ladyship. 'I would rather have her sit and sigh by the hour, and loathe roast beef. That would look nearer a cure.'
'She has the notions of a silly country girl,' said Mrs. Shorne.
'Exactly,' Lady Jocelyn replied. 'A season in London will give her balance.'
So the guests were tolerably happy, or at least, with scarce an exception, open to the influences of champagne and music. Perhaps Juliana was the wretchedest creature present. She was about to smite on both cheeks him she loved, as well as the woman she despised and had been foiled by. Still she had the consolation that Rose, seeing the vulgar mother, might turn from Evan: a poor distant hope, meagre and shapeless like herself. Her most anxious thoughts concerned the means of getting money to lockup Harry's tongue. She could bear to meet the Countess's wrath, but not Evan's offended look. Hark to that Countess!
'Why do you denominate this a pic-nic, Lady Jocelyn? It is in verity a fete!'
'I suppose we ought to lie down 'A la Grecque' to come within the term,' was the reply. 'On the whole, I prefer plain English for such matters.'
'But this is assuredly too sumptuous for a pic-nic, Lady Jocelyn. From what I can remember, pic-nic implies contribution from all the guests. It is true I left England a child!'
Mr. George Uplift could not withhold a sharp grimace: The Countess had throttled the inward monitor that tells us when we are lying, so grievously had she practised the habit in the service of her family.
'Yes,' said Mrs. Melville, 'I have heard of that fashion, and very stupid it is.'
'Extremely vulgar,' murmured Miss Carrington.
'Possibly,' Lady Jocelyn observed; 'but good fun. I have been to pic-nics, in my day. I invariably took cold pie and claret. I clashed with half-a-dozen, but all the harm we did was to upset the dictum that there can be too much of a good thing. I know for certain that the bottles were left empty.'
'And this woman,' thought the Countess, 'this woman, with a soul so essentially vulgar, claims rank above me!' The reflection generated contempt of English society, in the first place, and then a passionate desire for self-assertion.
She was startled by a direct attack which aroused her momentarily lulled energies.
A lady, quite a stranger, a dry simpering lady, caught the Countess's benevolent passing gaze, and leaning forward, said: 'I hope her ladyship bears her affliction as well as can be expected?'
In military parlance, the Countess was taken in flank. Another would have asked—What ladyship? To whom do you allude, may I beg to inquire? The Countess knew better. Rapid as light it shot through her that the relict of Sir Abraham was meant, and this she divined because she was aware that devilish malignity was watching to trip her.
A little conversation happening to buzz at the instant, the Countess merely turned her chin to an angle, agitated her brows very gently, and crowned the performance with a mournful smile. All that a woman must feel at the demise of so precious a thing as a husband, was therein eloquently expressed: and at the same time, if explanations ensued, there were numerous ladyships in the world, whom the Countess did not mind afflicting, should she be hard pressed.
'I knew him so well!' resumed the horrid woman, addressing anybody. 'It was so sad! so unexpected! but he was so subject to affection of the throat. And I was so sorry I could not get down to him in time. I had not seen him since his marriage, when I was a girl!—and to meet one of his children!—But, my dear, in quinsey, I have heard that there is nothing on earth like a good hearty laugh.'
Mr. Raikes hearing this, sucked down the flavour of a glass of champagne, and with a look of fierce jollity, interposed, as if specially charged by Providence to make plain to the persecuted Countess his mission and business there: 'Then our vocation is at last revealed to us! Quinsey-doctor! I remember when a boy, wandering over the paternal mansion, and envying the life of a tinker, which my mother did not think a good omen in me. But the traps of a Quinsey-doctor are even lighter. Say twenty good jokes, and two or three of a practical kind. A man most enviable!'
'It appears,' he remarked aloud to one of the Conley girls, 'that quinsey is needed before a joke is properly appreciated.'
'I like fun,' said she, but had not apparently discovered it.
What did that odious woman mean by perpetually talking about Sir Abraham? The Countess intercepted a glance between her and the hated Juliana. She felt it was a malignant conspiracy: still the vacuous vulgar air of the woman told her that most probably she was but an instrument, not a confederate, and was only trying to push herself into acquaintance with the great: a proceeding scorned and abominated by the Countess, who longed to punish her for her insolent presumption. The bitterness of her situation stung her tenfold when she considered that she dared not.
Meantime the champagne became as regular in its flow as the Bull-dogs, and the monotonous bass of these latter sounded through the music, like life behind the murmur of pleasure, if you will. The Countess had a not unfeminine weakness for champagne, and old Mr. Bonner's cellar was well and choicely stocked. But was this enjoyment to the Countess?—this dreary station in the background! 'May I emerge?' she as much as implored Providence.
The petition was infinitely tender. She thought she might, or it may be that nature was strong, and she could not restrain herself.
Taking wine with Sir John, she said:
'This bowing! Do you know how amusing it is deemed by us Portuguese? Why not embrace? as the dear Queen used to say to me.'
'I am decidedly of Her Majesty's opinion,' observed Sir John, with emphasis, and the Countess drew back into a mingled laugh and blush.
Her fiendish persecutor gave two or three nods. 'And you know the Queen!' she said.
She had to repeat the remark: whereupon the Countess murmured, 'Intimately.'
'Ah, we have lost a staunch old Tory in Sir Abraham,' said the lady, performing lamentation.
What did it mean? Could design lodge in that empty-looking head with its crisp curls, button nose, and diminishing simper? Was this pic-nic to be made as terrible to the Countess by her putative father as the dinner had been by the great Mel? The deep, hard, level look of Juliana met the Countess's smile from time to time, and like flimsy light horse before a solid array of infantry, the Countess fell back, only to be worried afresh by her perfectly unwitting tormentor.
'His last days?—without pain? Oh, I hope so!' came after a lapse of general talk.
'Aren't we getting a little funereal, Mrs. Perkins?' Lady Jocelyn asked, and then rallied her neighbours.
Miss Carrington looked at her vexedly, for the fiendish Perkins was checked, and the Countess in alarm, about to commit herself, was a pleasant sight to Miss Carrington.
'The worst of these indiscriminate meetings is that there is no conversation,' whispered the Countess, thanking Providence for the relief.
Just then she saw Juliana bend her brows at another person. This was George Uplift, who shook his head, and indicated a shrewd-eyed, thin, middle-aged man, of a lawyer-like cast; and then Juliana nodded, and George Uplift touched his arm, and glanced hurriedly behind for champagne. The Countess's eyes dwelt on the timid young squire most affectionately. You never saw a fortress more unprepared for dread assault.
'Hem!' was heard, terrific. But the proper pause had evidently not yet come, and now to prevent it the Countess strained her energies and tasked her genius intensely. Have you an idea of the difficulty of keeping up the ball among a host of ill-assorted, stupid country people, who have no open topics, and can talk of nothing continuously but scandal of their neighbours, and who, moreover, feel they are not up to the people they are mixing with? Darting upon Seymour Jocelyn, the Countess asked touchingly for news of the partridges. It was like the unlocking of a machine. Seymour was not blythe in his reply, but he was loud and forcible; and when he came to the statistics—oh, then you would have admired the Countess!—for comparisons ensued, braces were enumerated, numbers given were contested, and the shooting of this one jeered at, and another's sure mark respectfully admitted. And how lay the coveys? And what about the damage done by last winter's floods? And was there good hope of the pheasants? Outside this latter the Countess hovered. Twice the awful 'Hem!' was heard. She fought on. She kept them at it. If it flagged she wished to know this or that, and finally thought that, really, she should like herself to try one shot. The women had previously been left behind. This brought in the women. Lady Jocelyn proposed a female expedition for the morrow.
'I believe I used to be something of a shot, formerly,' she said.
'You peppered old Tom once, my lady,' remarked Andrew, and her ladyship laughed, and that foolish Andrew told the story, and the Countess, to revive her subject, had to say: 'May I be enrolled to shoot?' though she detested and shrank from fire-arms.
'Here are two!' said the hearty presiding dame. 'Ladies, apply immediately to have your names put down.'
The possibility of an expedition of ladies now struck Seymour vividly, and said he: 'I 'll be secretary'; and began applying to the ladies for permission to put down their names. Many declined, with brevity, muttering, either aloud or to themselves, 'unwomanly'; varied by 'unladylike': some confessed cowardice; some a horror of the noise close to their ears; and there was the plea of nerves. But the names of half-a-dozen ladies were collected, and then followed much laughter, and musical hubbub, and delicate banter. So the ladies and gentlemen fell one and all into the partridge pit dug for them by the Countess: and that horrible 'Hem!' equal in force and terror to the roar of artillery preceding the charge of ten thousand dragoons, was silenced—the pit appeared impassable. Did the Countess crow over her advantage? Mark her: the lady's face is entirely given up to partridges. 'English sports are so much envied abroad,' she says: but what she dreads is a reflection, for that leads off from the point. A portion of her mind she keeps to combat them in Lady Jocelyn and others who have the tendency: the rest she divides between internal-prayers for succour, and casting about for another popular subject to follow partridges. Now, mere talent, as critics say when they are lighting candles round a genius, mere talent would have hit upon pheasants as the natural sequitur, and then diverged to sports—a great theme, for it ensures a chorus of sneers at foreigners, and so on probably to a discussion of birds and beasts best adapted to enrapture the palate of man. Stories may succeed, but they are doubtful, and not to be trusted, coming after cookery. After an exciting subject which has made the general tongue to wag, and just enough heated the brain to cause it to cry out for spiced food—then start your story: taking care that it be mild; for one too marvellous stops the tide, the sense of climax being strongly implanted in all bosoms. So the Countess told an anecdote—one of Mel's. Mr. George Uplift was quite familiar with it, and knew of one passage that would have abashed him to relate 'before ladies.' The sylph-like ease with which the Countess floated over this foul abysm was miraculous. Mr. George screwed his eye-lids queerly, and closed his jaws with a report, completely beaten. The anecdote was of the character of an apologue, and pertained to game. This was, as it happened, a misfortune; for Mr. Raikes had felt himself left behind by the subject; and the stuff that was in this young man being naturally ebullient, he lay by to trip it, and take a lead. His remarks brought on him a shrewd cut from the Countess, which made matters worse; for a pun may also breed puns, as doth an anecdote. The Countess's stroke was so neat and perfect that it was something for the gentlemen to think over; and to punish her for giving way to her cleverness and to petty vexation, 'Hem!' sounded once more, and then: 'May I ask you if the present Baronet is in England?'
Now Lady Jocelyn perceived that some attack was directed against her guest. She allowed the Countess to answer:
'The eldest was drowned in the Lisbon waters'
And then said: 'But who is it that persists in serving up the funeral baked meats to us?'
Mrs. Shorne spoke for her neighbour: 'Mr. Farnley's cousin was the steward of Sir Abraham Harrington's estates.'
The Countess held up her head boldly. There is a courageous exaltation of the nerves known to heroes and great generals in action when they feel sure that resources within themselves will spring up to the emergency, and that over simple mortals success is positive.
'I had a great respect for Sir Abraham,' Mr. Farnley explained, 'very great. I heard that this lady' (bowing to the Countess) 'was his daughter.'
Lady Jocelyn's face wore an angry look, and Mrs. Shorne gave her the shade of a shrug and an expression implying, 'I didn't!'
Evan was talking to Miss Jenny Graine at the moment rather earnestly. With a rapid glance at him, to see that his ears were closed, the Countess breathed:
'Not the elder branch!—Cadet!'
The sort of noisy silence produced by half-a-dozen people respirating deeply and moving in their seats was heard. The Countess watched Mr. Farnley's mystified look, and whispered to Sir John: 'Est-ce qu'il comprenne le Francais, lui?'
It was the final feather-like touch to her triumph. She saw safety and a clear escape, and much joyful gain, and the pleasure of relating her sufferings in days to come. This vista was before her when, harsh as an execution bell, telling her that she had vanquished man, but that Providence opposed her, 'Mrs. Melchisedec Harrington!' was announced to Lady Jocelyn.
Perfect stillness reigned immediately, as if the pic-nic had heard its doom.
'Oh! I will go to her,' said her ladyship, whose first thought was to spare the family. 'Andrew, come and give me your arm.'
But when she rose Mrs. Mel was no more than the length of an arm from her elbow.
In the midst of the horrible anguish she was enduring, the Countess could not help criticizing her mother's curtsey to Lady Jocelyn. Fine, but a shade too humble. Still it was fine; all might not yet be lost.
'Mama!' she softly exclaimed, and thanked heaven that she had not denied her parent.
Mrs. Mel did not notice her or any of her children. There was in her bosom a terrible determination to cast a devil out of the one she best loved. For this purpose, heedless of all pain to be given, or of impropriety, she had come to speak publicly, and disgrace and humiliate, that she might save him from the devils that had ruined his father.
'My lady,' said the terrible woman, thanking her in reply to an invitation that she should be seated, 'I have come for my son. I hear he has been playing the lord in your house, my lady. I humbly thank your ladyship for your kindness to him, but he is nothing more than a tailor's son, and is bound a tailor himself that his father may be called an honest man. I am come to take him away.'
Mrs. Mel seemed to speak without much effort, though the pale flush of her cheeks showed that she felt what she was doing. Juliana was pale as death, watching Rose. Intensely bright with the gem-like light of her gallant spirit, Rose's eyes fixed on Evan. He met them. The words of Ruth passed through his heart. But the Countess, who had given Rose to Evan, and the Duke to Caroline, where was her supporter? The Duke was entertaining Caroline with no less dexterity, and Rose's eyes said to Evan: 'Feel no shame that I do not feel!' but the Countess stood alone. It is ever thus with genius! to quote the numerous illustrious authors who have written of it.
What mattered it now that in the dead hush Lady Jocelyn should assure her mother that she had been misinformed, and that Mrs. Mel was presently quieted, and made to sit with others before the fruits and wines? All eyes were hateful—the very thought of Providence confused her brain. Almost reduced to imbecility, the Countess imagined, as a reality, that Sir Abraham had borne with her till her public announcement of relationship, and that then the outraged ghost would no longer be restrained, and had struck this blow.
The crushed pic-nic tried to get a little air, and made attempts at conversation. Mrs. Mel sat upon the company with the weight of all tailordom.
And now a messenger came for Harry. Everybody was so zealously employed in the struggle to appear comfortable under Mrs. Mel, that his departure was hardly observed. The general feeling for Evan and his sisters, by their superiors in rank, was one of kindly pity. Laxley, however, did not behave well. He put up his glass and scrutinized Mrs. Mel, and then examined Evan, and Rose thought that in his interchange of glances with any one there was a lurking revival of the scene gone by. She signalled with her eyebrows for Drummond to correct him, but Drummond had another occupation. Andrew made the diversion. He whispered to his neighbour, and the whisper went round, and the laugh; and Mr. Raikes grew extremely uneasy in his seat, and betrayed an extraordinary alarm. But he also was soon relieved. A messenger had come from Harry to Mrs. Evremonde, bearing a slip of paper. This the lady glanced at, and handed it to Drummond. A straggling pencil had traced these words:
'Just running by S.W. gates—saw the Captain coming in—couldn't stop to stop him—tremendous hurry—important. Harry J.'
Drummond sent the paper to Lady Jocelyn. After her perusal of it a scout was despatched to the summit of Olympus, and his report proclaimed the advance in the direction of the Bull-dogs of a smart little figure of a man in white hat and white trousers, who kept flicking his legs with a cane.
Mrs. Evremonde rose and conferred with her ladyship an instant, and then Drummond took her arm quietly, and passed round Olympus to the East, and Lady Jocelyn broke up the sitting.
Juliana saw Rose go up to Evan, and make him introduce her to his mother. She turned lividly white, and went to a corner of the park by herself, and cried bitterly.
Lady Jocelyn, Sir Franks, and Sir John, remained by the tables, but before the guests were out of ear-shot, the individual signalled from Olympus presented himself.
'There are times when one can't see what else to do but to lie,' said her ladyship to Sir Franks, 'and when we do lie the only way is to lie intrepidly.'
Turning from her perplexed husband, she exclaimed:
Captain Evremonde lifted his hat, declining an intimacy.
'Where is my wife, madam?'
'Have you just come from the Arctic Regions?'
'I have come for my wife, madam!'
His unsettled grey eyes wandered restlessly on Lady Jocelyn's face. The Countess standing near the Duke, felt some pity for the wife of that cropped-headed, tight-skinned lunatic at large, but deeper was the Countess's pity for Lady Jocelyn, in thinking of the account she would have to render on the Day of Judgement, when she heard her ladyship reply—
'Evelyn is not here.'
Captain Evremonde bowed profoundly, trailing his broad white hat along the sward.
'Do me the favour to read this, madam,' he said, and handed a letter to her.
Lady Jocelyn raised her brows as she gathered the contents of the letter.
'Ferdinand's handwriting!' she exclaimed.
'I accuse no one, madam,—I make no accusation. I have every respect for you, madam,—you have my esteem. I am sorry to intrude, madam, an intrusion is regretted. My wife runs away from her bed, madam, and I have the law, madam, the law is with the husband. No force!' He lashed his cane sharply against his white legs. 'The law, madam. No brute force!' His cane made a furious whirl, cracking again on his legs, as he reiterated, 'The law!'
'Does the law advise you to strike at a tangent all over the country in search for her?' inquired Lady Jocelyn.
Captain Evremonde became ten times more voluble and excited.
Mrs. Mel was heard by the Countess to say: 'Her ladyship does not know how to treat madmen.'
Nor did Sir Franks and Sir John. They began expostulating with him.
'A madman gets madder when you talk reason to him,' said Mrs. Mel.
And now the Countess stepped forward to Lady Jocelyn, and hoped she would not be thought impertinent in offering her opinion as to how this frantic person should be treated. The case indeed looked urgent. Many gentlemen considered themselves bound to approach and be ready in case of need. Presently the Countess passed between Sir Franks and Sir John, and with her hand put up, as if she feared the furious cane, said:
'You will not strike me?'
'Strike a lady, madam?' The cane and hat were simultaneously lowered.
'Lady Jocelyn permits me to fetch for you a gentleman of the law. Or will you accompany me to him?'
In a moment, Captain Evremonde's manners were subdued and civilized, and in perfectly sane speech he thanked the Countess and offered her his arm. The Countess smilingly waved back Sir John, who motioned to attend on her, and away she went with the Captain, with all the glow of a woman who feels that she is heaping coals of fire on the heads of her enemies.
Was she not admired now?
'Upon my honour,' said Lady Jocelyn, 'they are a remarkable family,' meaning the Harringtons.
What farther she thought she did not say, but she was a woman who looked to natural gifts more than the gifts of accidents; and Evan's chance stood high with her then. So the battle of the Bull-dogs was fought, and cruelly as the Countess had been assailed and wounded, she gained a victory; yea, though Demogorgon, aided by the vindictive ghost of Sir Abraham, took tangible shape in the ranks opposed to her. True, Lady Jocelyn, forgetting her own recent intrepidity, condemned her as a liar; but the fruits of the Countess's victory were plentiful. Drummond Forth, fearful perhaps of exciting unjust suspicions in the mind of Captain Evremonde, disappeared altogether. Harry was in a mess which threw him almost upon Evan's mercy, as will be related. And, lastly, Ferdinand Laxley, that insufferable young aristocrat, was thus spoken to by Lady Jocelyn.
'This 'letter addressed to Lawson, telling him that his wife is here, is in your handwriting, Ferdinand. I don't say you wrote it—I don't think you could have written it. But, to tell you the truth, I have an unpleasant impression about it, and I think we had better shake hands and not see each other for some time.'
Laxley, after one denial of his guilt, disdained to repeat it. He met her ladyship's hand haughtily, and, bowing to Sir Franks, turned on his heel.
So, then, in glorious complete victory, the battle of the Bull-dogs ended!
Of the close of the pic-nic more remains to be told.
For the present I pause, in observance of those rules which demand that after an exhibition of consummate deeds, time be given to the spectator to digest what has passed before him.
IN WHICH EVANS LIGHT BEGINS TO TWINKLE AGAIN
The dowagers were now firmly planted on Olympus. Along the grass lay the warm strong colours of the evening sun, reddening the pine-stems and yellowing the idle aspen-leaves. For a moment it had hung in doubt whether the pic-nic could survive the two rude shocks it had received. Happily the youthful element was large, and when the band, refreshed by chicken and sherry, threw off half-a-dozen bars of one of those irresistible waltzes that first catch the ear, and then curl round the heart, till on a sudden they invade and will have the legs, a rush up Parnassus was seen, and there were shouts and laughter and commotion, as over other great fields of battle the corn will wave gaily and mark the reestablishment of nature's reign.
How fair the sight! Approach the twirling couples. They talk as they whirl. 'Fancy the run-away tailor!' is the male's remark, and he expects to be admired for it, and is.
'That make-up Countess—his sister, you know—didn't you see her? she turned green,' says Creation's second effort, almost occupying the place of a rib.
'Isn't there a run-away wife, too?'
'Now, you mustn't be naughty!'
They laugh and flatter one another. The power to give and take flattery to any amount is the rare treasure of youth.
Undoubtedly they are a poetical picture; but some poetical pictures talk dreary prose; so we will retire.
Now, while the dancers carried on their business, and distance lent them enchantment, Rose stood by Juliana, near an alder which hid them from the rest.
'I don't accuse you,' she was saying; 'but who could have done this but you? Ah, Juley! you will never get what you want if you plot for it. I thought once you cared for Evan. If he had loved you, would I not have done all that I could for you both? I pardon you with all my heart.'
'Keep your pardon!' was the angry answer. 'I have done more for you, Rose. He is an adventurer, and I have tried to open your eyes and make you respect your family. You may accuse me of what you like, I have my conscience.'
'And the friendship of the Countess,' added Rose.
Juliana's figure shook as if she had been stung.
'Go and be happy—don't stay here and taunt me,' she said, with a ghastly look. 'I suppose he can lie like his sister, and has told you all sorts of tales.'
'Not a word—not a word!' cried Rose. 'Do you think my lover could tell a lie?'
The superb assumption of the girl, and the true portrait of Evan's character which it flashed upon Juliana, were to the latter such intense pain, that she turned like one on the rack, exclaiming:
'You think so much of him? You are so proud of him? Then, yes! I love him too, ugly, beastly as I am to look at! Oh, I know what you think! I loved him from the first, and I knew all about him, and spared him pain. I did not wait for him to fall from a horse. I watched every chance of his being exposed. I let them imagine he cared for me. Drummond would have told what he knew long before—only he knew there would not be much harm in a tradesman's son marrying me. And I have played into your hands, and now you taunt me!'
Rose remembered her fretful unkindness to Evan on the subject of his birth, when her feelings toward him were less warm. Dwelling on that alone, she put her arms round Juliana's stiffening figure, and said: 'I dare say I am much more selfish than you. Forgive me, dear.'
Staring at her, Juliana replied, 'Now you are acting.'
'No,' said Rose, with a little effort to fondle her; 'I only feel that I love you better for loving him.'
Generous as her words sounded, and were, Juliana intuitively struck to the root of them, which was comfortless. For how calm in its fortune, how strong in its love, must Rose's heart be, when she could speak in this unwonted way!
'Go, and leave me, pray,' she said.
Rose kissed her burning cheek. 'I will do as you wish, dear. Try and know me better, and be sister Juley as you used to be. I know I am thoughtless, and horribly vain and disagreeable sometimes. Do forgive me. I will love you truly.'
Half melting, Juliana pressed her hand.
'We are friends?' said Rose. 'Good-bye'; and her countenance lighted, and she moved away, so changed by her happiness! Juliana was jealous of a love strong as she deemed her own to overcome obstacles. She called to her: 'Rose! Rose, you will not take advantage of what I have told you, and repeat it to any one?'
Instantly Rose turned with a glance of full contempt over her shoulder.
'To whom?' she asked.
'To any one.'
'To him? He would not love me long if I did!'
Juliana burst into fresh tears, but Rose walked into the sunbeams and the circle of the music.
Mounting Olympus, she inquired whether Ferdinand was within hail, as they were pledged to dance the first dance together. A few hints were given, and then Rose learnt that Ferdinand had been dismissed.
'And where is he?' she cried with her accustomed impetuosity. 'Mama!—of course you did not accuse him—but, Mama! could you possibly let him go with the suspicion that you thought him guilty of writing an anonymous letter?'
'Not at all,' Lady Jocelyn replied. 'Only the handwriting was so extremely like, and he was the only person who knew the address and the circumstances, and who could have a motive—though I don't quite see what it is—I thought it as well to part for a time.'
'But that's sophistry!' said Rose. 'You accuse or you exonerate. Nobody can be half guilty. If you do not hold him innocent you are unjust!' Lady Jocelyn rejoined: 'Yes? It's singular what a stock of axioms young people have handy for their occasions.'
Rose loudly announced that she would right this matter.
'I can't think where Rose gets her passion for hot water,' said her mother, as Rose ran down the ledge.
Two or three young gentlemen tried to engage her for a dance. She gave them plenty of promises, and hurried on till she met Evan, and, almost out of breath, told him the shameful injustice that had been done to her friend.
'Mama is such an Epicurean! I really think she is worse than Papa. This disgraceful letter looks like Ferdinand's writing, and she tells him so; and, Evan! will you believe that instead of being certain it's impossible any gentleman could do such a thing, she tells Ferdinand she shall feel more comfortable if she doesn't see him for some time? Poor Ferdinand! He has had so much to bear!'
Too sure of his darling to be envious now of any man she pitied, Evan said, 'I would forfeit my hand on his innocence!'
'And so would I,' echoed Rose. 'Come to him with me, dear. Or no,' she added, with a little womanly discretion, 'perhaps it would not be so well—you're not very much cast down by what happened at dinner?'
'My darling! I think of you.'
'Of me, dear? Concealment is never of any service. What there is to be known people may as well know at once. They'll gossip for a month, and then forget it. Your mother is dreadfully outspoken, certainly; but she has better manners than many ladies—I mean people in a position: you understand me? But suppose, dear, this had happened, and I had said nothing to Mama, and then we had to confess? Ah, you'll find I'm wiser than you imagine, Mr. Evan.'
'Haven't I submitted to somebody's lead?'
'Yes, but with a sort of "under protest." I saw it by the mouth. Not quite natural. You have been moody ever since—just a little. I suppose it's our manly pride. But I'm losing time. Will you promise me not to brood over that occurrence? Think of me. Think everything of me. I am yours; and, dearest, if I love you, need you care what anybody else thinks? We will soon change their opinion.'
'I care so little,' said Evan, somewhat untruthfully, 'that till you return I shall go and sit with my mother.'
'Oh, she has gone. She made her dear old antiquated curtsey to Mama and the company. "If my son has not been guilty of deception, I will leave him to your good pleasure, my lady." That's what she said. Mama likes her, I know. But I wish she didn't mouth her words so precisely: it reminds me of—' the Countess, Rose checked herself from saying. 'Good-bye. Thank heaven! the worst has happened. Do you know what I should do if I were you, and felt at all distressed? I should keep repeating,' Rose looked archly and deeply up under his eyelids, "'I am the son of a tradesman, and Rose loves me," over and over, and then, if you feel ashamed, what is it of?'
She nodded adieu, laughing at her own idea of her great worth; an idea very firmly fixed in her fair bosom, notwithstanding. Mrs. Melville said of her, 'I used to think she had pride.' Lady Jocelyn answered, 'So she has. The misfortune is that it has taken the wrong turning.'
Evan watched the figure that was to him as that of an angel—no less! She spoke so frankly to them as she passed: or here and there went on with a light laugh. It seemed an act of graciousness that she should open her mouth to one! And, indeed, by virtue of a pride which raised her to the level of what she thought it well to do, Rose was veritably on higher ground than any present. She no longer envied her friend Jenny, who, emerging from the shades, allured by the waltz, dislinked herself from William's arm, and whispered exclamations of sorrow at the scene created by Mr. Harrington's mother. Rose patted her hand, and said: 'Thank you, Jenny dear but don't be sorry. I'm glad. It prevents a number of private explanations.'
'Still, dear!' Jenny suggested.
'Oh! of course, I should like to lay my whip across the shoulders of the person who arranged the conspiracy,' said Rose. 'And afterwards I don't mind returning thanks to him, or her, or them.'
William cried out, 'I 'm always on your side, Rose.'
'And I'll be Jenny's bridesmaid,' rejoined Rose, stepping blithely away from them.
Evan debated whither to turn when Rose was lost to his eyes. He had no heart for dancing. Presently a servant approached, and said that Mr. Harry particularly desired to see him. From Harry's looks at table, Evan judged that the interview was not likely to be amicable. He asked the direction he was to take, and setting out with long strides, came in sight of Raikes, who walked in gloom, and was evidently labouring under one of his mountains of melancholy. He affected to be quite out of the world; but finding that Evan took the hint in his usual prosy manner, was reduced to call after him, and finally to run and catch him.
'Haven't you one single spark of curiosity?' he began.
'What about?' said Evan.
'Why, about my amazing luck! You haven't asked a question. A matter of course.'
Evan complimented him by asking a question: saying that Jack's luck certainly was wonderful.
'Wonderful, you call it,' said Jack, witheringly. 'And what's more wonderful is, that I'd give up all for quiet quarters in the Green Dragon. I knew I was prophetic. I knew I should regret that peaceful hostelry. Diocletian, if you like. I beg you to listen. I can't walk so fast without danger.'
'Well, speak out, man. What's the matter with you?' cried Evan, impatiently.
Jack shook his head: 'I see a total absence of sympathy,' he remarked. 'I can't.'
'Then stand out of the way.'
Jack let him pass, exclaiming, with cold irony, 'I will pay homage to a loftier Nine!'
Mr. Raikes could not in his soul imagine that Evan was really so little inquisitive concerning a business of such importance as the trouble that possessed him. He watched his friend striding off, incredulously, and then commenced running in pursuit.
'Harrington, I give in; I surrender; you reduce me to prose. Thy nine have conquered my nine!—pardon me, old fellow. I'm immensely upset. This is the first day in my life that I ever felt what indigestion is. Egad, I've got something to derange the best digestion going!
'Look here, Harrington. What happened to you today, I declare I think nothing of. You owe me your assistance, you do, indeed; for if it hadn't been for the fearful fascinations of your sister—that divine Countess—I should have been engaged to somebody by this time, and profited by the opportunity held out to me, and which is now gone. I 'm disgraced. I 'm known. And the worst of it is, I must face people. I daren't turn tail. Did you ever hear of such a dilemma?'
'Ay,' quoth Evan, 'what is it?'
Raikes turned pale. 'Then you haven't heard of it?' 'Not a word.'
'Then it's all for me to tell. I called on Messrs. Grist. I dined at the Aurora afterwards. Depend upon it, Harrington, we're led by a star. I mean, fellows with anything in them are. I recognized our Fallow field host, and thinking to draw him out, I told our mutual histories. Next day I went to these Messrs. Grist. They proposed the membership for Fallow field, five hundred a year, and the loan of a curricle, on condition. It 's singular, Harrington; before anybody knew of the condition I didn't care about it a bit. It seemed to me childish. Who would think of minding wearing a tin plate? But now!—the sufferings of Orestes—what are they to mine? He wasn't tied to his Furies. They did hover a little above him; but as for me, I'm scorched; and I mustn't say where: my mouth is locked; the social laws which forbid the employment of obsolete words arrest my exclamations of despair. What do you advise?'
Evan stared a moment at the wretched object, whose dream of meeting a beneficent old gentleman had brought him to be the sport of a cynical farceur. He had shivers on his own account, seeing something of himself magnified, and he loathed the fellow, only to feel more acutely what a stigma may be.
'It 's a case I can't advise in,' he said, as gently as he could. 'I should be off the grounds in a hurry.'
'And then I'm where I was before I met the horrid old brute!' Raikes moaned.
'I told him over a pint of port-and noble stuff is that Aurora port!—I told him—I amused him till he was on the point of bursting—I told him I was such a gentleman as the world hadn't seen—minus money. So he determined to launch me. He said I should lead the life of such a gentleman as the world had not yet seen—on that simple condition, which appeared to me childish, a senile whim; rather an indulgence of his.'
Evan listened to the tribulations of his friend as he would to those of a doll—the sport of some experimental child. By this time he knew something of old Tom Cogglesby, and was not astonished that he should have chosen John Raikes to play one of his farces on. Jack turned off abruptly the moment he saw they were nearing human figures, but soon returned to Evan's side, as if for protection.
'Hoy! Harrington!' shouted Harry, beckoning to him. 'Come, make haste! I'm in a deuce of a mess.'
The two Wheedles—Susan and Polly—were standing in front of him, and after his call to Evan, he turned to continue some exhortation or appeal to the common sense of women, largely indulged in by young men when the mischief is done.
'Harrington, do speak to her. She looks upon you as a sort of parson. I can't make her believe I didn't send for her. Of course, she knows I 'm fond of her. My dear fellow,' he whispered, 'I shall be ruined if my grandmother hears of it. Get her away, please. Promise anything.'
Evan took her hand and asked for the child.
'Quite well, sir,' faltered Susan.
'You should not have come here.'
Susan stared, and commenced whimpering: 'Didn't you wish it, sir?'
'Oh, she's always thinking of being made a lady of,' cried Polly. 'As if Mr. Harry was going to do that. It wants a gentleman to do that.'
'The carriage came for me, sir, in the afternoon,' said Susan, plaintively, 'with your compliments, and would I come. I thought—'
'What carriage?' asked Evan.
Raikes, who was ogling Polly, interposed grandly, 'Mine!'
'And you sent in my name for this girl to come here?' Evan turned wrathfully on him.
'My dear Harrington, when you hit you knock down. The wise require but one dose of experience. The Countess wished it, and I did dispatch.'
'The Countess!' Harry exclaimed; 'Jove! do you mean to say that the Countess—'
'De Saldar,' added Jack. 'In Britain none were worthy found.'
Harry gave a long whistle.
'Leave at once,' said Evan to Susan. 'Whatever you may want send to me for. And when you think you can meet your parents, I will take you to them. Remember that is what you must do.'
'Make her give up that stupidness of hers, about being made a lady of, Mr. Harrington,' said the inveterate Polly.
Susan here fell a-weeping.
'I would go, sir,' she said. 'I 'm sure I would obey you: but I can't. I can't go back to the inn. They 're beginning to talk about me, because—because I can't—can't pay them, and I'm ashamed.'
Evan looked at Harry.
'I forgot,' the latter mumbled, but his face was crimson. He put his hands in his pockets. 'Do you happen to have a note or so?' he asked.
Evan took him aside and gave him what he had; and this amount, without inspection or reserve, Harry offered to Susan. She dashed his hand impetuously from her sight.
'There, give it to me,' said Polly. 'Oh, Mr. Harry! what a young man you are!'
Whether from the rebuff, or the reproach, or old feelings reviving, Harry was moved to go forward, and lay his hand on Susan's shoulder and mutter something in her ear that softened her.
Polly thrust the notes into her bosom, and with a toss of her nose, as who should say, 'Here 's nonsense they 're at again,' tapped Susan on the other shoulder, and said imperiously: 'Come, Miss!'
Hurrying out a dozen sentences in one, Harry ended by suddenly kissing Susan's cheek, and then Polly bore her away; and Harry, with great solemnity, said to Evan:
''Pon my honour, I think I ought to! I declare I think I love that girl. What's one's family? Why shouldn't you button to the one that just suits you? That girl, when she's dressed, and in good trim, by Jove! nobody 'd know her from a born lady. And as for grammar, I'd soon teach her that.'
Harry began to whistle: a sign in him that he was thinking his hardest.
'I confess to being considerably impressed by the maid Wheedle,' said Raikes.
'Would you throw yourself away on her?' Evan inquired.
Apparently forgetting how he stood, Mr. Raikes replied:
'You ask, perhaps, a little too much of me. One owes consideration to one's position. In the world's eyes a matrimonial slip outweighs a peccadillo. No. To much the maid might wheedle me, but to Hymen! She's decidedly fresh and pert—the most delicious little fat lips and cocky nose; but cease we to dwell on her, or of us two, to! one will be undone.'
Harry burst into a laugh: 'Is this the T.P. for Fallow field?'
'M.P. I think you mean,' quoth Raikes, serenely; but a curious glance being directed on him, and pursuing him pertinaciously, it was as if the pediment of the lofty monument he topped were smitten with violence. He stammered an excuse, and retreated somewhat as it is the fashion to do from the presence of royalty, followed by Harry's roar of laughter, in which Evan cruelly joined.
'Gracious powers!' exclaimed the victim of ambition, 'I'm laughed at by the son of a tailor!' and he edged once more into the shade of trees.
It was a strange sight for Harry's relatives to see him arm-in-arm with the man he should have been kicking, challenging, denouncing, or whatever the code prescribes: to see him talking to this young man earnestly, clinging to him affectionately, and when he separated from him, heartily wringing his hand. Well might they think that there was something extraordinary in these Harringtons. Convicted of Tailordom, these Harringtons appeared to shine with double lustre. How was it? They were at a loss to say. They certainly could say that the Countess was egregiously affected and vulgar; but who could be altogether complacent and sincere that had to fight so hard a fight? In this struggle with society I see one of the instances where success is entirely to be honoured and remains a proof of merit. For however boldly antagonism may storm the ranks of society, it will certainly be repelled, whereas affinity cannot be resisted; and they who, against obstacles of birth, claim and keep their position among the educated and refined, have that affinity. It is, on the whole, rare, so that society is not often invaded. I think it will have to front Jack Cade again before another Old Mel and his progeny shall appear. You refuse to believe in Old Mel? You know not nature's cunning.
Mrs. Shorne, Mrs. Melville, Miss Carrington, and many of the guests who observed Evan moving from place to place, after the exposure, as they called it, were amazed at his audacity. There seemed such a quietly superb air about him. He would not look out of his element; and this, knowing what they knew, was his offence. He deserved some commendation for still holding up his head, but it was love and Rose who kept the fires of his heart alive.
The sun had sunk. The figures on the summit of Parnassus were seen bobbing in happy placidity against the twilight sky. The sun had sunk, and many of Mr. Raikes' best things were unspoken. Wandering about in his gloom, he heard a feminine voice:
'Yes, I will trust you.'
'You will not repent it,' was answered.
Recognizing the Duke, Mr. Raikes cleared his throat.
'A-hem, your Grace! This is how the days should pass. I think we should diurnally station a good London band on high, and play his Majesty to bed—the sun. My opinion is, it would improve the crops. I'm not, as yet, a landed proprietor—'
The Duke stepped aside with him, and Raikes addressed no one for the next twenty minutes. When he next came forth Parnassus was half deserted. It was known that old Mrs. Bonner had been taken with a dangerous attack, and under this third blow the pic-nic succumbed. Simultaneously with the messenger that brought the news to Lady Jocelyn, one approached Evan, and informed him that the Countess de Saldar urgently entreated him to come to the house without delay. He also wished to speak a few words to her, and stepped forward briskly. He had no prophetic intimations of the change this interview would bring upon him.
THE HERO TAKES HIS RANK IN THE ORCHESTRA
The Countess was not in her dressing-room when Evan presented himself. She was in attendance on Mrs. Bonner, Conning said; and the primness of Conning was a thing to have been noticed by any one save a dreamy youth in love. Conning remained in the room, keeping distinctly aloof. Her duties absorbed her, but a presiding thought mechanically jerked back her head from time to time: being the mute form of, 'Well, I never!' in Conning's rank of life and intellectual capacity. Evan remained quite still in a chair, and Conning was certainly a number of paces beyond suspicion, when the Countess appeared, and hurling at the maid one of those feminine looks which contain huge quartos of meaning, vented the cold query:
'Pray, why did you not come to me, as you were commanded?'
'I was not aware, my lady,' Conning drew up to reply, and performed with her eyes a lofty rejection of the volume cast at her, and a threat of several for offensive operations, if need were.
The Countess spoke nearer to what she was implying 'You know I object to this: it is not the first time.'
'Would your ladyship please to say what your ladyship means?'
In return for this insolent challenge to throw off the mask, the Countess felt justified in punishing her by being explicit. 'Your irregularities are not of yesterday,' she said, kindly making use of a word of double signification still.
'Thank you, my lady.' Conning accepted the word in its blackest meaning. 'I am obliged to you. If your ladyship is to be believed, my character is not worth much. But I can make distinctions, my lady.'
Something very like an altercation was continued in a sharp, brief undertone; and then Evan, waking up to the affairs of the hour, heard Conning say:
'I shall not ask your ladyship to give me a character.'
The Countess answering with pathos: 'It would, indeed, be to give you one.'
He was astonished that the Countess should burst into tears when Conning had departed, and yet more so that his effort to console her should bring a bolt of wrath upon himself.
'Now, Evan, now see what you have done for us-do, and rejoice at it. The very menials insult us. You heard what that creature said? She can make distinctions. Oh! I could beat her. They know it: all the servants know it: I can see it in their faces. I feel it when I pass them. The insolent wretches treat us as impostors; and this Conning—to defy me! Oh! it comes of my devotion to you. I am properly chastized. I passed Rose's maid on the stairs, and her reverence was barely perceptible.'
Evan murmured that he was very sorry, adding, foolishly: 'Do you really care, Louisa, for what servants think and say?'
The Countess sighed deeply: 'Oh! you are too thickskinned! Your mother from top to toe! It is too dreadful! What have I done to deserve it? Oh, Evan, Evan!'
Her head dropped in her lap. There was something ludicrous to Evan in this excess of grief on account of such a business; but he was tender-hearted and wrought upon to declare that, whether or not he was to blame for his mother's intrusion that afternoon, he was ready to do what he could to make up to the Countess for her sufferings: whereat the Countess sighed again: asked him what he possibly could do, and doubted his willingness to accede to the most trifling request.
'No; I do in verity believe that were I to desire you to do aught for your own good alone, you would demur, Van.'
He assured her that she was mistaken.
'We shall see,' she said.
'And if once or twice, I have run counter to you, Louisa—'
'Abominable language!' cried the Countess, stopping her ears like a child. 'Do not excruciate me so. You laugh! My goodness! what will you come to!'
Evan checked his smile, and, taking her hand, said:
'I must tell you; that, on the whole, I see nothing to regret in what has happened to-day. You may notice a change in the manners of the servants and some of the country squiresses, but I find none in the bearing of the real ladies, the true gentlemen, to me.'
'Because the change is too fine for you to perceive it,' interposed the Countess.
'Rose, then, and her mother, and her father!' Evan cried impetuously.
'As for Lady Jocelyn!' the Countess shrugged:
'And Sir Franks!' her head shook: 'and Rose, Rose is, simply self-willed; a "she will" or "she won't" sort of little person. No criterion! Henceforth the world is against us. We have to struggle with it: it does not rank us of it!'
'Your feeling on the point is so exaggerated, my dear Louisa', said Evan, 'one can't bring reason to your ears. The tattle we shall hear we shall outlive. I care extremely for the good opinion of men, but I prefer my own; and I do not lose it because my father was in trade.'
'And your own name, Evan Harrington, is on a shop,' the Countess struck in, and watched him severely from under her brow, glad to mark that he could still blush.
'Oh, heaven!' she wailed to increase the effect, 'on a shop! a brother of mine!'
'Yes, Louisa. It may not last . . . I did it—is it not better that a son should blush, than cast dishonour on his father's memory?'
'Rose has pardoned it, Louisa—cannot you? I find that the naturally vulgar and narrow-headed people, and cowards who never forego mean advantages, are those only who would condemn me and my conduct in that.'
'And you have joy in your fraction of the world left to you!' exclaimed his female-elder.
Changeing her manner to a winning softness, she said:
'Let me also belong to the very small party! You have been really romantic, and most generous and noble; only the shop smells! But, never mind, promise me you will not enter it.'
'I hope not,' said Evan.
'You do hope that you will not officiate? Oh, Evan the eternal contemplation of gentlemen's legs! think of that! Think of yourself sculptured in that attitude!' Innumerable little prickles and stings shot over Evan's skin.
'There—there, Louisa!' he said, impatiently; 'spare your ridicule. We go to London to-morrow, and when there I expect to hear that I have an appointment, and that this engagement is over.' He rose and walked up and down the room.
'I shall not be prepared to go to-morrow,' remarked the Countess, drawing her figure up stiffly.
'Oh! well, if you can stay, Andrew will take charge of you, I dare say.'
'No, my dear, Andrew will not—a nonentity cannot—you must.'
'Impossible, Louisa,' said Evan, as one who imagines he is uttering a thing of little consequence. 'I promised Rose.'
'You promised Rose that you would abdicate and retire? Sweet, loving girl!'
Evan made no answer.
'You will stay with me, Evan.'
'I really can't,' he said in his previous careless tone.
'Come and sit down,' cried the Countess, imperiously.
'The first trifle is refused. It does not astonish me. I will honour you now by talking seriously to you. I have treated you hitherto as a child. Or, no—' she stopped her mouth; 'it is enough if I tell you, dear, that poor Mrs. Bonner is dying, and that she desires my attendance on her to refresh her spirit with readings on the Prophecies, and Scriptural converse. No other soul in the house can so soothe her.'
'Then, stay,' said Evan.
'Unprotected in the midst of enemies! Truly!'
'I think, Louisa, if you can call Lady Jocelyn an enemy, you must read the Scriptures by a false light.'
'The woman is an utter heathen!' interjected the Countess. 'An infidel can be no friend. She is therefore the reverse. Her opinions embitter her mother's last days. But now you will consent to remain with me, dear Van!'
An implacable negative responded to the urgent appeal of her eyes.
'By the way,' he said, for a diversion, 'did you know of a girl stopping at an inn in Fallow field?'
'Know a barmaid?' the Countess's eyes and mouth were wide at the question.
'Did you send Raikes for her to-day?'
'Did Mr. Raikes—ah, Evan! that creature reminds me, you have no sense of contrast. For a Brazilian ape—he resembles, if he is not truly one—what contrast is he to an English gentleman! His proximity and acquaintance—rich as he may be—disfigure you. Study contrast!'