Plain velvet was his dress at dinner. We had a yellow Hock. Temple's meditative face over it, to discover the margravine, or something, in its flavour, was a picture. It was an evening of incessant talking; no telling of events straightforwardly, but all by fits—all here and there. My father talked of Turkey, so I learnt he had been in that country; Temple of the routine of our life at Riversley; I of Kiomi, the gipsy girl; then we two of Captain Jasper Welsh; my father of the Princess Ottilia. When I alluded to the margravine, he had a word to say of Mrs. Waddy; so I learnt she had been in continual correspondence with him, and had cried heavily about me, poor soul. Temple laughed out a recollection of Captain Bulsted's 'hic, haec, hoc'; I jumped Janet Ilchester up on the table; my father expatiated on the comfort of a volume of Shakespeare to an exiled Englishman. We drank to one another, and heartily to the statue. My father related the history of the margravine's plot in duck-and-drake skips, and backward to his first introduction to her at some Austrian Baths among the mountains. She wanted amusement—he provided it; she never let him quit her sight from that moment.
'And now,' he said, 'she has lost me!' He drew out of his pocket-book a number of designs for the statue of Prince Albrecht, to which the margravine's initials were appended, and shuffled them, and sighed, and said:'Most complete arrangements! most complete! No body of men were ever so well drilled as those fellows up at Bella Vista—could not have been! And at the climax, in steps the darling boy for whom I laboured and sweated, and down we topple incontinently! Nothing would have shaken me but the apparition of my son! I was proof against everything but that! I sat invincible for close upon an hour—call it an hour! Not a muscle of me moved: I repeat, the heart in my bosom capered like an independent organ; had it all its own way, leaving me mine, until Mr. Temple, take my word for it, there is a guiding hand in some families; believe it, and be serene in adversity. The change of life at a merry Court to life in a London alley will exercise our faith. But the essential thing is that Richie has been introduced here, and I intend him to play a part here. The grandson and heir of one of the richest commoners in England—I am not saying commoner as a term of reproach—possessed of a property that turns itself over and doubles itself every ten years, may—mind you, may—on such a solid foundation as that!—and as to birth, your Highness has only to grant us a private interview.'
Temple was dazed by this mystifying address to him; nor could I understand it.
'Why, papa, you always wished for me to go into Parliament,' said I.
'I do,' he replied, 'and I wish you to lead the London great world. Such topics are for by-and-by. Adieu to them!' He kissed his wafting finger-tips.
We fell upon our random talk again with a merry rattle.
I had to give him a specimen of my piano-playing and singing.
He shook his head. 'The cricketer and the scholar have been developed at the expense of the musician; and music, Richie, music unlocks the chamber of satinrose.'
Late at night we separated. Temple and I slept in companion-rooms. Deadly drowsy, the dear little fellow sat on the edge of my bed chattering of his wonder. My dreams led me wandering with a ship's diver under the sea, where we walked in a light of pearls and exploded old wrecks. I was assuring the glassy man that it was almost as clear beneath the waves as above, when I awoke to see my father standing over me in daylight; and in an ecstasy I burst into sobs.
'Here, Richie'—he pressed fresh violets on my nostrils—'you have had a morning visitor. Quick out of bed, and you will see the little fairy crossing the meadow.'
I leapt to the window in time to have in view the little Princess Ottilia, followed by her faithful gaunt groom, before she was lost in the shadow of the fir-trees.
OUR RETURN HOMEWARD
We started for England at noon, much against my secret wishes; but my father would not afford the margravine time to repent of her violent language and injustice toward him. Reflection increased his indignation. Anything that went wrong on the first stages of the journey caused him to recapitulate her epithets and reply to them proudly. He confided to me in Cologne Cathedral that the entire course of his life was a grand plot, resembling an unfinished piece of architecture, which might, at a future day, prove the wonder of the world: and he had, therefore, packed two dozen of hoar old (uralt: he used comical German) Hock for a present to my grandfather Beltham, in the hope of its being found acceptable.
'For, Richie,' said he, 'you may not know—and it is not to win your thanks I inform you of it—that I labour unremittingly in my son's interests. I have established him, on his majority, in Germany, at a Court. My object now is to establish him in England. Promise me that it shall be the decided endeavour of your energies and talents to rise to the height I point out to you? You promise, I perceive,' he added, sharp in detecting the unpleasant predicament of a boy who is asked to speak priggishly. So then I could easily promise with a firm voice. He dropped certain explosive hints, which reminded me of the funny ideas of my state and greatness I had when a child. I shrugged at them; I cared nothing for revelations to come by-and-by. My object was to unite my father and grandfather on terms of friendship.
This was the view that now absorbed and fixed my mind. To have him a frequent visitor at Riversley, if not a resident in the house, enlivening them all, while I, perhaps, trifled a cavalry sabre, became one of my settled dreams. The difficult part of the scheme appeared to me the obtaining of my father's consent. I mentioned it, and he said immediately that he must have his freedom. 'Now, for instance,' said he, 'what is my desire at this moment? I have always a big one perched on a rock in the distance; but I speak of my present desire. And let it be supposed that the squire is one of us: we are returning to England. Well, I want to show you a stork's nest. We are not far enough South for the stork to build here. It is a fact, Richie, that I do want to show you the bird for luck, and as a feature of the country. And in me, a desire to do a thing partakes of the impetus of steam.
Well, you see we are jogging home to England. I resist myself for duty's sake: that I can do. But if the squire were here with his yea and his nay, by heavens! I should be off to the top of the Rhine like a tornado. I submit to circumstances: I cannot, and I will not, be dictated to by men.'
'That seems to me rather unreasonable,' I remonstrated.
'It is; I am ashamed of it,' he answered. 'Do as you will, Richie; set me down at Riversley, but under no slight, mark you. I keep my honour intact, like a bottled cordial; my unfailing comfort in adversity! I hand it to you, my son, on my death-bed, and say, "You have there the essence of my life. Never has it been known of me that I swallowed an insult."'
'Then, papa, I shall have a talk with the squire.'
'Make good your ground in the castle,' said he. 'I string a guitar outside. You toss me a key from the walls. If there is room, and I have leisure, I enter. If not, you know I am paving your way in other quarters. Riversley, my boy, is an excellent foothold and fortress: Riversley is not the world. At Riversley I should have to wear a double face, and, egad! a double stomach-bag, like young Jack feeding with the giant—one full of ambition, the other of provender. That place is our touchstone to discover whether we have prudence. We have, I hope. And we will have, Mr. Temple, a pleasant day or two in Paris.'
It was his habit to turn off the bent of these conversations by drawing Temple into them. Temple declared there was no feeling we were in a foreign country while he was our companion. We simply enjoyed strange scenes, looking idly out of our windows. Our recollection of the strangest scene ever witnessed filled us with I know not what scornful pleasure, and laughed in the background at any sight or marvel pretending to amuse us. Temple and I cantered over the great Belgian battlefield, talking of Bella Vista tower, the statue, the margravine, our sour milk and black-bread breakfast, the little Princess Ottilia, with her 'It is my question,' and 'You were kind to my lambs, sir,' thoughtless of glory and dead bones. My father was very differently impressed. He was in an exultant glow, far outmatching the bloom on our faces when we rejoined him. I cried,
'Papa, if the prince won't pay for a real statue, I will, and I'll present it in your name!'
'To the nation?' cried he, staring, and arresting his arm in what seemed an orchestral movement.
'To the margravine!'
He heard, but had to gather his memory. He had been fighting the battle, and made light of Bella Vista. I found that incidents over which a day or two had rolled lost their features to him. He never smiled at recollections. If they were forced on him noisily by persons he liked, perhaps his face was gay, but only for a moment. The gaiety of his nature drew itself from hot-springs of hopefulness: our arrival in England, our interviews there, my majority Burgundy, my revisitation of Germany—these events to come gave him the aspect children wear out a-Maying or in an orchard. He discussed the circumstances connected with the statue as dry matter-of-fact, and unless it was his duty to be hilarious at the dinner-table, he was hardly able to respond to a call on his past life and mine. His future, too, was present tense: 'We do this,' not 'we will do this'; so that, generally, no sooner did we speak of an anticipated scene than he was acting in it. I studied him eagerly, I know, and yet quite unconsciously, and I came to no conclusions. Boys are always putting down the ciphers of their observations of people beloved by them, but do not add up a sum total.
Our journey home occupied nearly eleven weeks, owing to stress of money on two occasions. In Brussels I beheld him with a little beggar-girl in his arms.
'She has asked me for a copper coin, Richie,' he said, squeezing her fat cheeks to make cherries of her lips.
I recommended him to give her a silver one.
'Something, Richie, I must give the little wench, for I have kissed her, and, in my list of equivalents, gold would be the sole form of repayment after that. You must buy me off with honour, my boy.'
I was compelled to receive a dab from the child's nose, by way of a kiss, in return for buying him off with honour.
The child stumped away on the pavement fronting our hotel, staring at its fist that held the treasure.
'Poor pet wee drab of it!' exclaimed my father. 'One is glad, Richie, to fill a creature out of one's emptiness. Now she toddles; she is digesting it rapidly. The last performance of one's purse is rarely so pleasant as that. I owe it to her that I made the discovery in time.'
In this manner I also made the discovery that my father had no further supply of money, none whatever. How it had run out without his remarking it, he could not tell; he could only assure me that he had become aware of the fact while searching vainly for a coin to bestow on the beggar-girl. I despatched a letter attested by a notary of the city, applying for money to the banker to whom Colonel Goodwin had introduced me on my arrival on the Continent. The money came, and in the meantime we had formed acquaintances and entertained them; they were chiefly half-pay English military officers, dashing men. One, a Major Dykes, my father established in our hotel, and we carried him on to Paris, where, consequent upon our hospitalities, the purse was again deficient.
Two reasons for not regretting it were adduced by my father; firstly, that it taught me not to despise the importance of possessing money; secondly, that we had served our country by assisting Dykes, who was on the scent of a new and terrible weapon of destruction, which he believed to be in the hands of the French Government. Major Dykes disappeared on the scent, but we had the satisfaction of knowing that we had done our best toward saving the Navy of Great Britain from being blown out of water. Temple and I laughed over Major Dykes, and he became our puppet for by-play, on account of his enormous whiskers, his passion for strong drinks, and his air of secresy. My father's faith in his patriotic devotedness was sufficient to withhold me from suspicions of his character. Whenever my instinct, or common sense, would have led me to differ with my father in opinion fun supervened; I was willing that everything in the world should be as he would have it be, and took up with a spirit of laughter, too happy in having won him, in having fished him out of the deep sea at one fling of the net, as he said, to care for accuracy of sentiment in any other particular.
Our purse was at its lowest ebb; he suggested no means of replenishing it, and I thought of none. He had heard that it was possible to live in Paris upon next to nothing with very great luxury, so we tried it; we strolled through the lilac aisles among bonnes and babies, attended military spectacles, rode on omnibuses, dined on the country heights, went to theatres, and had a most pleasurable time, gaining everywhere front places, friendly smiles, kind little services, in a way that would have been incomprehensible to me but for my consciousness of the magical influence of my father's address, a mixture of the ceremonious and the affable such as the people could not withstand.
'The poet is perhaps, on the whole, more exhilarating than the alderman,' he said.
These were the respective names given by him to the empty purse and the full purse. We vowed we preferred the poet.
'Ay,' said he, 'but for all that the alderman is lighter on his feet: I back him to be across the Channel first. The object of my instructions to you will be lost, Richie, if I find you despising the Alderman's Pegasus. On money you mount. We are literally chained here, you know, there is no doubt about it; and we are adding a nail to our fetters daily. True, you are accomplishing the Parisian accent. Paris has also this immense advantage over all other cities: 'tis the central hotel on the high-road of civilization. In Paris you meet your friends to a certainty; it catches them every one in turn; so now we must abroad early and late, and cut for trumps.' A meeting with a friend of my father, Mr. Monterez Williams, was the result of our resolute adoption of this system. He helped us on to Boulogne, where my father met another friend, to whom he gave so sumptuous a dinner that we had not money enough to pay the hotel bill.
'Now observe the inconvenience of leaving Paris,' said he. 'Ten to one we shall have to return. We will try a week's whistling on the jetty; and if no luck comes, and you will admit, Richie—Mr. Temple, I call your attention to it—that luck will scarcely come in profuse expedition through the narrow neck of a solitary seaport, why, we must return to Paris.'
I proposed to write to my aunt Dorothy for money, but he would not hear of that. After two or three days of whistling, I saw my old friend, Mr. Bannerbridge, step out of the packetboat. On condition of my writing to my aunt to say that I was coming home, he advanced me the sum we were in need of, grudgingly though, and with the prediction that we should break down again, which was verified. It occurred only a stage from Riversley, where my grandfather's name was good as coin of the realm. Besides, my father remained at the inn to guarantee the payment of the bill, while Temple and I pushed on in a fly with the two dozen of Hock. It could hardly be called a break-down, but my father was not unwilling for me to regard it in that light. Among his parting remarks was an impressive adjuration to me to cultivate the squire's attachment at all costs.
'Do this,' he said, 'and I shall know that the lesson I have taught you on your journey homeward has not been thrown away. My darling boy! my curse through life has been that the sense of weight in money is a sense I am and was born utterly a stranger to. The consequence is, my grandest edifices fall; there is no foundation for them. Not that I am worse, understand me, than under a temporary cloud, and the blessing of heaven has endowed me with a magnificent constitution. Heaven forefend that I should groan for myself, or you for me! But digest what you have learnt, Richie; press nothing on the squire; be guided by the advice of that esteemed and admirable woman, your aunt Dorothy. And, by the way, you may tell her confidentially of the progress of your friendship with the Princess Ottilia. Here I shall employ my hours in a tranquil study of nature until I see you.' Thus he sped me forward.
We sighted Riversley about mid-day on a sunny June morning. Compared with the view from Bella Vista, our firs looked scanty, our heath-tracts dull, as places having no page of history written on them, our fresh green meadows not more than commonly homely. I was so full of my sense of triumph in my adventurous journey and the recovery of my father, that I gazed on the old Grange from a towering height. The squire was on the lawn, surrounded by a full company: the Ilchesters, the Ambroses, the Wilfords, Captain and Squire Gregory Bulsted, the Rubreys, and others, all bending to roses, to admire, smell, or pluck. Charming groups of ladies were here and there; and Temple whispered as we passed them:
'We beat foreigners in our women, Richie.'
I, making it my business to talk with perfect unconcern, replied
'Do you think so? Perhaps. Not in all cases'; all the while I was exulting at the sweet beams of England radiating from these dear early-morning-looking women.
My aunt Dorothy swam up to me, and, kissing me, murmured:
'Take no rebuff from your grandpapa, darling.'
My answer was: 'I have found him!'
Captain Bulsted sang out our names; I caught sight of Julia Rippenger's face; the squire had his back turned to me, which reminded me of my first speech with Captain Jasper Welsh, and I thought to myself, I know something of the world now, and the thing is to keep a good temper. Here there was no wire-coil to intercept us, so I fronted him quickly.
'Hulloa!' he cried, and gave me his shoulder.
'Temple is your guest, sir,' said I.
He was obliged to stretch out his hand to Temple.
A prompt instinct warned me that I must show him as much Beltham as I could summon.
'Dogs and horses all right, sir?' I asked.
Captain Bulsted sauntered near.
'Here, William,' said the squire, 'tell this fellow about my stables.'
'In excellent condition, Harry Richmond,' returned the captain.
'Oh! he 's got a new name, I 'll swear,' said the squire.
'Then what have you got of your trip, eh?'
'A sharper eye than I had, sir.'
'You've been sharpening it in London, have you?'
'I've been a little farther than London, squire.'
'Well, you're not a liar.'
'There, you see the lad can stand fire!' Captain Bulsted broke in. 'Harry Richmond, I'm proud to shake your hand, but I'll wait till you're through the ceremony with your grandad.'
The squire's hands were crossed behind him. I smiled boldly in his face.
'Shall I make the tour of you to get hold of one of them, sir?' He frowned and blinked.
'Shuffle in among the ladies; you seem to know how to make friends among them,' he said, and pretended to disengage his right hand for the purpose of waving it toward one of the groups.
I seized it, saying heartily, 'Grandfather, upon my honour, I love you, and I'm glad to be home again.'
'Mind you, you're not at home till you've begged Uberly's pardon in public, you know what for,' he rejoined.
'Leaving the horse at that inn is on my conscience,' said I.
The squire grumbled a bit.
'Suppose he kicks?' said I; and the captain laughed, and the squire too, and I was in such high spirits I thought of a dozen witty suggestions relative to the seat of the conscience, and grieved for a minute at going to the ladies.
All the better; keep him there Captain Bulsted convoyed me to pretty Irish-eyed Julia Rippenger. Temple had previously made discovery of Janet Ilchester. Relating our adventures on different parts of the lawn, we both heard that Colonel Goodwin and his daughter had journeyed down to Riversley to smooth the way for my return; so my easy conquest of the squire was not at all wonderful; nevertheless, I maintained my sense of triumph, and was assured in my secret heart that I had a singular masterfulness, and could, when I chose to put it forth, compel my grandfather to hold out his hand to my father as he had done to me.
Julia Rippenger was a guest at Riversley through a visit paid to her by my aunt Dorothy in alarm at my absence. The intention was to cause the squire a distraction. It succeeded; for the old man needed lively prattle of a less childish sort than Janet Ilchester's at his elbow, and that young lady, though true enough in her fashion, was the ardent friend of none but flourishing heads; whereas Julia, finding my name under a cloud at Riversley, spoke of me, I was led to imagine by Captain Bulsted, as a ballad hero, a gloriful fellow, a darling whose deeds were all pardonable—a mere puff of smoke in the splendour of his nature.
'To hear the young lady allude to me in that style!' he confided to my ear, with an ineffable heave of his big chest.
Certain good influences, at any rate, preserved the squire from threatening to disinherit me. Colonel Goodwin had spoken to him very manfully and wisely as to my relations with my father. The squire, it was assumed by my aunt, and by Captain Bulsted and Julia, had undertaken to wink at my father's claims on my affection. All three vehemently entreated me to make no mention of the present of Hock to him, and not to attempt to bring about an interview. Concerning the yellow wine I disregarded their advice, for I held it to be a point of filial duty, and an obligation religiously contracted beneath a cathedral dome; so I performed the task of offering the Hock, stating that it was of ancient birth. The squire bunched his features; he tutored his temper, and said not a word. I fancied all was well. Before I tried the second step, Captain Bulsted rode over to my father, who himself generously enjoined the prudent course, in accordance with his aforegone precepts. He was floated off, as he termed it, from the inn where he lay stranded, to London, by I knew not what heaven-sent gift of money, bidding me keep in view the grand career I was to commence at Dipwell on arriving at my majority. I would have gone with him had he beckoned a finger. The four-and-twenty bottles of Hock were ranged in a line for the stable-boys to cock-shy at them under the squire's supervision and my enforced attendance, just as revolutionary criminals are executed. I felt like the survivor of friends, who had seen their blood flow.
He handed me a cheque for the payment of debts incurred in my recent adventures. Who could help being grateful for it? And yet his remorseless spilling of the kindly wine full of mellow recollections of my father and the little princess, drove the sense of gratitude out of me.
NEWS OF A FRESH CONQUEST OF MY FATHER'S
Temple went to sea. The wonder is that I did not go with him: we were both in agreement that adventures were the only things worth living for, and we despised English fellows who had seen no place but England. I could not bear the long separation from my father that was my reason for not insisting on the squire's consent to my becoming a midshipman. After passing a brilliant examination, Temple had the good fortune to join Captain Bulsted's ship, and there my honest-hearted friend dismally composed his letter of confession, letting me know that he had been untrue to friendship, and had proposed to Janet Ilchester, and interchanged vows with her. He begged my forgiveness, but he did love her so!—he hoped I would not mind. I sent him a reproachful answer; I never cared for him more warmly than when I saw the letter shoot the slope of the postoffice mouth. Aunt Dorothy undertook to communicate assurances of my undying affection for him. As for Janet—Temple's letter, in which he spoke of her avowed preference for Oriental presents, and declared his intention of accumulating them on his voyages, was a harpoon in her side. By means of it I worried and terrified her until she was glad to have it all out before the squire. What did he do? He said that Margery, her mother, was niggardly; a girl wanted presents, and I did not act up to my duty; I ought to buy Turkey and Tunis to please her, if she had a mind for them.
The further she was flattered the faster she cried; she had the face of an old setter with these hideous tears. The squire promised her fifty pounds per annum in quarterly payments, that she might buy what presents she liked, and so tie herself to constancy. He said aside to me, as if he had a knowledge of the sex—'Young ladies must have lots of knickknacks, or their eyes 'll be caught right and left, remember that.' I should have been delighted to see her caught. She talked of love in a ludicrous second-hand way, sending me into fits of disgusted laughter. On other occasions her lips were not hypocritical, and her figure anything but awkward. She was a bold, plump girl, fond of male society. Heriot enraptured her. I believed at the time she would have appointed a year to marry him in, had he put the question. But too many women were in love with Heriot. He and I met Kiomi on the road to the race-course on the Southdowns; the prettiest racecourse in England, shut against gipsies. A bare-footed swarthy girl ran beside our carriage and tossed us flowers. He and a friend of his, young Lord Destrier, son of the Marquis of Edbury, who knew my father well, talked and laughed with her, and thought her so very handsome that I likewise began to stare, and I suddenly called 'Kiomi!' She bounded back into the hedge. This was our second meeting. It would have been a pleasant one had not Heriot and Destrier pretended all sorts of things about our previous acquaintance. Neither of us, they said, had made a bad choice, but why had we separated? She snatched her hand out of mine with a grin of anger like puss in a fury. We had wonderful fun with her. They took her to a great house near the race-course, and there, assisted by one of the young ladies, dressed her in flowing silks, and so passed her through the gate of the enclosure interdicted to bare feet. There they led her to groups of fashionable ladies, and got themselves into pretty scrapes. They said she was an Indian. Heriot lost his wagers and called her a witch. She replied, 'You'll find I'm one, young man,' and that was the only true thing she spoke of the days to come. Owing to the hubbub around the two who were guilty of this unmeasured joke upon consequential ladies, I had to conduct her to the gate. Instantly, and without a good-bye, she scrambled up her skirts and ran at strides across the road and through the wood, out of sight. She won her dress and a piece of jewelry.
With Heriot I went on a sad expedition, the same I had set out upon with Temple. This time I saw my father behind those high red walls, once so mysterious and terrible to me. Heriot made light of prisons for debt. He insisted, for my consolation, that they had but a temporary dishonourable signification; very estimable gentlemen, as well as scamps, inhabited them, he said. The impression produced by my visit—the feasting among ruined men who believed in good luck the more the lower they fell from it, and their fearful admiration of my imprisoned father—was as if I had drunk a stupefying liquor. I was unable clearly to reflect on it. Daily afterwards, until I released him, I made journeys to usurers to get a loan on the faith of the reversion of my mother's estate. Heriot, like the real friend he was, helped me with his name to the bond. When my father stood free, I had the proudest heart alive; and as soon as we had parted, the most amazed. For a long while, for years, the thought of him was haunted by racketballs and bearded men in their shirtsleeves; a scene sickening to one's pride. Yet it had grown impossible for me to think of him without pride. I delighted to hear him. We were happy when we were together. And, moreover, he swore to me on his honour, in Mrs. Waddy's presence, that he and the constable would henceforth keep an even pace. His exuberant cheerfulness and charming playfulness were always fascinating. His visions of our glorious future enchained me. How it was that something precious had gone out of my life, I could not comprehend.
Julia Rippenger's marriage with Captain Bulsted was, an agreeable distraction. Unfortunately for my peace of mind, she went to the altar poignantly pale. My aunt Dorothy settled the match. She had schemed it, her silence and half-downcast look seemed to confess, for the sake of her own repose, but neither to her nor to others did that come of it. I wrote a plain warning of the approaching catastrophe to Heriot, and received his reply after it was over, to this effect:
'In my regiment we have a tolerable knowledge of women. They like change, old Richie, and we must be content to let them take their twenty shillings for a sovereign. I myself prefer the Navy to the Army; I have no right to complain. Once she swore one thing, now she has sworn another. We will hope the lady will stick to her choice, and not seek smaller change. "I could not forgive coppers"; that 's quoting your dad. I have no wish to see the uxorious object, though you praise him. His habit of falling under the table is middling old-fashioned; but she may like him the better, or she may cure him. Whatever she is as a woman, she was a very nice girl to enliven the atmosphere of the switch. I sometimes look at a portrait I have of J. R., which, I fancy, Mrs. William Bulsted has no right to demand of me; but supposing her husband thinks he has, why then I must consult my brother officers. We want a war, old Richie, and I wish you were sitting at our mess, and not mooning about girls and women.'
I presumed from this that Heriot's passion for Julia was extinct. Aunt Dorothy disapproved of his tone, which I thought admirably philosophical and coxcombi-cally imitable, an expression of the sort of thing I should feel on hearing of Janet Ilchester's nuptials.
The daring and success of that foreign adventure of mine had, with the aid of Colonel and Clara Goodwin, convinced the squire of the folly of standing between me and him I loved. It was considered the best sign possible that he should take me down on an inspection of his various estates and his great coal-mine, and introduce me as the heir who would soon relieve him of the task.
Perhaps he thought the smell of wealth a promising cure for such fits of insubordination as I had exhibited. My occasional absences on my own account were winked at. On my return the squire was sour and snappish, I cheerful and complaisant; I grew cold, and he solicitous; he would drink my health with a challenge to heartiness, and I drank to him heartily and he relapsed to a fit of sulks, informing me, that in his time young men knew when they were well off, and asking me whether I was up to any young men's villanies, had any concealed debts perchance, because, if so—Oh! he knew the ways of youngsters, especially when they fell into bad hands: the list of bad titles rumbled on in an underbreath like cowardly thunder:—well, to cut the matter short, because, if so, his cheque-book was at my service; didn't I know that, eh? Not being immediately distressed by debt, I did not exhibit the gush of gratitude, and my sedate 'Thank you, sir,' confused his appeal for some sentimental show of affection.
I am sure the poor old man suffered pangs of jealousy; I could even at times see into his breast and pity him. He wanted little more than to be managed; but a youth when he perceives absurdity in opposition to him chafes at it as much as if he were unaware that it is laughable. Had the squire talked to me in those days seriously and fairly of my father's character, I should have abandoned my system of defence to plead for him as before a judge. By that time I had gained the knowledge that my father was totally of a different construction from other men. I wished the squire to own simply to his loveable nature. I could have told him women did. Without citing my dear aunt Dorothy, or so humble a creature as the devoted Mrs. Waddy, he had sincere friends among women, who esteemed him, and were staunch adherents to his cause; and if the widow of the City knight, Lady Sampleman, aimed openly at being something more, she was not the less his friend. Nor was it only his powerful animation, generosity, and grace that won them.
There occurred when I was a little past twenty, already much in his confidence, one of those strange crucial events which try a man publicly, and bring out whatever can be said for and against him. A young Welsh heiress fell in love with him. She was, I think, seven or eight months younger than myself, a handsome, intelligent, high-spirited girl, rather wanting in polish, and perhaps in the protecting sense of decorum. She was well-born, of course—she was Welsh. She was really well-bred too, though somewhat brusque. The young lady fell hopelessly in love with my father at Bath. She gave out that he was not to be for one moment accused of having encouraged her by secret addresses. It was her unsolicited avowal—thought by my aunt Dorothy immodest, not by me—that she preferred him to all living men. Her name was Anna Penrhys. The squire one morning received a letter from her family, requesting him to furnish them with information as to the antecedents of a gentleman calling himself Augustus Fitz-George Frederick William Richmond Guelph Roy, for purposes which would, they assured him, warrant the inquiry. He was for throwing the letter aside, shouting that he thanked his God he was unacquainted with anybody on earth with such an infernal list of names as that. Roy! Who knew anything of Roy?
'It happens to be my father's present name,' said I.
'It sounds to me like the name of one of those blackguard adventurers who creep into families to catch the fools,' pursued the squire, not hearing me with his eyes.
'The letter at least must be answered,' my aunt Dorothy said.
'It shall be answered!' the squire worked himself up to roar. He wrote a reply, the contents of which I could guess at from my aunt's refusal to let me be present at the discussion of it. The letter despatched was written by her, with his signature. Her eyes glittered for a whole day.
Then came a statement of the young lady's case from Bath.
'Look at that! look at that!' cried the squire, and went on, 'Look at that!' in a muffled way. There was a touch of dignity in his unforced anger.
My aunt winced displeasingly to my sight: 'I see nothing to astonish one.'
'Nothing to astonish one!' The squire set his mouth in imitation of her.
'You see nothing to astonish one? Well, ma'am, when a man grows old enough to be a grandfather, I do see something astonishing in a child of nineteen—by George! it's out o' nature. But you women like monstrosities. Oh! I understand. Here's an heiress to fifteen thousand a year. It's not astonishing if every ruined gambler and scapegrace in the kingdom's hunting her hot! no, no! that's not astonishing. I suppose she has her money in a coal mine.'
The squire had some of his in a coal-mine; my mother once had; it was the delivery of a blow at my father, signifying that he had the scent for this description of wealth. I left the room. The squire then affected that my presence had constrained him, by bellowing out epithets easy for me to hear in the hall and out on the terrace. He vowed by solemn oath he was determined to save this girl from ruin. My aunt's speech was brief.
I was summoned to Bath by my father in a curious peremptory tone implying the utmost urgent need of me.
I handed the letter to the squire at breakfast, saying, 'You must spare me for a week or so, sir.'
He spread the letter flat with his knife, and turned it over with his fork.
'Harry,' said he, half-kindly, and choking, 'you're better out of it.'
'I'm the best friend he could have by him, sir.'
'You're the best tool he could have handy, for you're a gentleman.'
'I hope I shan't offend you, grandfather, but I must go.'
'Don't you see, Harry Richmond, you're in for an infernal marriage ceremony there!'
'The young lady is not of age,' interposed my aunt.
'Eh? An infernal elopement, then. It's clear the girl's mad-head's cracked as a cocoa-nut bowled by a monkey, brains nowhere. Harry, you're not a greenhorn; you don't suspect you're called down there to stop it, do you? You jump plump into a furious lot of the girl's relatives; you might as well take a header into a leech-pond. Come! you're a man; think for yourself. Don't have this affair on your conscience, boy. I tell you, Harry Richmond, I'm against your going. You go against my will; you offend me, sir; you drag my name and blood into the mire. She's Welsh, is she? Those Welsh are addle-pated, every one. Poor girl!'
He threw a horrible tremour into his accent of pity.
My aunt expressed her view mildly, that I was sent for to help cure the young lady of her delusion.
'And take her himself!' cried the squire. 'Harry, you wouldn't go and do that? Why, the law, man, the law—the whole country 'd be up about it. You'll be stuck in a coloured caricature!'
He was really alarmed lest this should be one of the consequences of my going, and described some of the scourging caricatures of his day with an intense appreciation of their awfulness as engines of the moral sense of the public. I went nevertheless.
A PROMENADE IN BATH
I found my father at his hotel, sitting with his friend Jorian DeWitt, whom I had met once before, and thought clever. He was an ex-captain of dragoons, a martyr to gout, and addicted to Burgundy, which necessitated his resorting to the waters, causing him, as he said, between his appetites and the penance he paid for them, to lead the life of a pendulum. My father was in a tempered gay mood, examining a couple of the county newspapers. One abused him virulently; he was supported by the other. After embracing me, he desired me to listen while he read out opposing sentences from the columns of these eminent journals:
'The person calling himself "Roy," whose monstrously absurd pretensions are supposed to be embodied in this self-dubbed surname . . .'
'—The celebrated and courtly Mr. Richmond Roy, known no less by the fascination of his manners than by his romantic history . . .'
'—has very soon succeeded in making himself the talk of the town . . '
'—has latterly become the theme of our tea-tables . . .'
'—which is always the adventurer's privilege . . .'
'—through no fault of his own . . '
'—That we may throw light on the blushing aspirations of a crow-sconced Cupid, it will be as well to recall the antecedents of this (if no worse) preposterous imitation buck of the old school . . .'
'—Suffice it, without seeking to draw the veil from those affecting chapters of his earlier career which kindled for him the enthusiastic sympathy of all classes of his countrymen, that he is not yet free from a tender form of persecution . . .'
'—We think we are justified in entitling him the Perkin Warbeck of society . . .'
'—Reference might be made to mythological heroes . . .'
Hereat I cried out mercy.
Captain DeWitt (stretched nursing a leg) removed his silk handkerchief from his face to murmur,
'The bass stedfastly drowns the treble, if this is meant for harmony.'
My father rang up the landlord, and said to him,
'The choicest of your cellar at dinner to-day, Mr. Lumley; and, mind you, I am your guest, and I exercise my right of compelling you to sit down with us and assist in consuming a doubtful quality of wine. We dine four. Lay for five, if your conscience is bad, and I excuse you.'
The man smirked. He ventured to say he had never been so tempted to supply an inferior article.
My father smiled on him.
'You invite our editorial advocate?' said Captain DeWitt.
'Our adversary,' said my father.
I protested I would not sit at table with him. But he assured me he believed his advocate and his adversary to be one and the same, and referred me to the collated sentences.
'The man must earn his bread, Richie, boy! To tell truth, it is the advocate I wish to rebuke, and to praise the adversary. It will confound him.'
'It does me,' said DeWitt.
'You perceive, Jorian, a policy in dining these men of the Press now and occasionally, considering their growing power, do you not?'
'Ay, ay! it's a great gossiping machine, mon Roy. I prefer to let it spout.'
'I crave your permission to invite him in complimentary terms, cousin Jorian. He is in the town; remember, it is for the good of the nation that he and his like should have the opportunity of studying good society. As to myself personally, I give him carte blanche to fire his shots at me.'
Near the fashionable hour of the afternoon my father took my arm, Captain DeWitt a stick, and we walked into the throng and buzz.
'Whenever you are, to quote our advocate, the theme of tea-tables, Richie,' said my father, 'walk through the crowd: it will wash you. It is doing us the honour to observe us. We in turn discover an interest in its general countenance.'
He was received, as we passed, with much staring; here and there a lifting of hats, and some blunt nodding that incensed me, but he, feeling me bristle, squeezed my hand and talked of the scene, and ever and anon gathered a line of heads and shed an indulgent bow along them-; so on to the Casino. Not once did he offend my taste and make my acute sense of self-respect shiver by appearing grateful for a recognition, or anxious to court it, though the curtest salute met his acknowledgement.
The interior of the Casino seemed more hostile. I remarked it to him. 'A trifle more eye-glassy,' he murmured. He was quite at his easy there.
'We walk up and down, my son,' he said, in answer to a question of mine, 'because there are very few who can; even walking is an art; and if nobody does, the place is dull.'
'The place is pretty well supplied with newspapers,' said Captain DeWitt.
'And dowagers, friend Jorian. They are cousins. 'Tis the fashion to have our tattle done by machinery. They have their opportunity to compare the portrait with the original. Come, invent some scandal for us; let us make this place our social Exchange. I warrant a good bold piece of invention will fit them, too, some of them. Madam,'—my father bowed low to the beckoning of a fan, 'I trust your ladyship did not chance to overhear that last remark I made?'
The lady replied: 'I should have shut my eyes if I had. I called you to tell me, who is the young man?'
'For twenty years I have lived in the proud belief that he is my son!'
'I would not disturb it for the world.' She did me the honour to inspect me from the lowest waistcoat button to the eyebrows. 'Bring him to me to-night. Captain DeWitt, you have forsaken my whist-tables.'
'Purely temporary fits of unworthiness, my lady.'
'In English, gout?'
'Not gout in the conscience, I trust,' said my father.
'Oh! that's curable,' laughed the captain.
'You men of repartee would be nothing without your wickedness,' the lady observed.
'Man was supposed to be incomplete—' Captain DeWitt affected a murmur.
She nodded 'Yes, yes,' and lifted eyes on my father. 'So you have not given up going to church?'
He bent and spoke low.
She humphed her lips. 'Very well, I will see. It must be a night in the early part of the week after next, then: I really don't know why I should serve you; but I like your courage.'
'I cannot consent to accept your ladyship's favour on account of one single virtue,' said he, drooping.
She waved him to move forward.
During this frothy dialogue, I could see that the ear of the assembly had been caught by the sound of it.
'That,' my father informed me, 'is the great Lady Wilts. Now you will notice a curious thing. Lady Wilts is not so old but that, as our Jorian here says of her, she is marriageable. Hence, Richie, she is a queen to make the masculine knee knock the ground. I fear the same is not to be said of her rival, Lady Denewdney, whom our good Jorian compares to an antiquated fledgeling emerging with effort from a nest of ill construction and worse cement. She is rich, she is sharp, she uses her quill; she is emphatically not marriageable. Bath might still accept her as a rival queen, only she is always behindhand in seizing an occasion. Now you will catch sight of her fan working in a minute. She is envious and imitative. It would be undoubtedly better policy on her part to continue to cut me: she cannot, she is beginning to rustle like December's oaks. If Lady Wilts has me, why, she must. We refrain from noticing her until we have turned twice. Ay, Richie, there is this use in adversity; it teaches one to play sword and target with etiquette and retenue better than any crowned king in Europe. For me now to cross to her summons immediately would be a gross breach of homage to Lady Wilts, who was inspired to be the first to break through the fence of scandal environing me. But I must still show that I am independent. These people must not suppose that I have to cling to a party. Let them take sides; I am on fair terms with both the rivals. I show just such a nuance of a distinction in my treatment of them just such—enough, I mean, to make the flattered one warm to me, and t' other be jealous of her. Ay, Richie, these things are trivial things beyond the grave; but here are we, my boy; and, by the way, I suspect the great campaign of my life is opening.'
Captain DeWitt said that if so it would be the tenth, to his certain knowledge.
'Not great campaign!' my father insisted: 'mere skirmishes before this.'
They conversed in humorous undertones, each in turn seeming to turn over the earth of some amusing reminiscence, so rapt, that as far as regarded their perception of it, the assembly might have been nowhere. Perhaps, consequently, they became observed with all but undivided attention. My father's hand was on my shoulder, his head toward Captain DeWitt; instead of subduing his voice, he gave it a moderate pitch, at which it was not intrusive, and was musical, to my ear charming, especially when he continued talking through his soft laughter, like a hunter that would in good humour press for his game through links of water-nymphs.
Lady Denewdney's fan took to beating time meditatively. Two or three times she kept it elevated, and in vain: the flow of their interchangeing speech was uninterrupted. At last my father bowed to her from a distance. She signalled: his eyelids pleaded short sight, awakening to the apprehension of a pleasant fact: the fan tapped, and he halted his march, leaning scarce perceptibly in her direction. The fan showed distress. Thereupon, his voice subsided in his conversation, with a concluding flash of animation across his features, like a brook that comes to the leap on a descent, and he left us.
Captain DeWitt and I were led by a common attraction to the portico, the truth being that we neither of us could pace easily nor talk with perfect abandonment under eye-fire any longer.
'Look,' said he to me, pointing at the equipages and equestrians: 'you'll see a sight like this in dozens—dozens of our cities and towns! The wealth of this country is frightful.'
My reply, addressed at the same time mentally to Temple at sea, was:
'Well, as long as we have the handsomest women, I don't care.'
Captain DeWitt was not so sure that we had. The Provencal women, the women of a part of South Germany, and certain favoured spots of Italy, might challenge us, he thought. This was a point I could argue on, or, I should rather say, take up the cudgels, for I deemed such opinions treason to one's country and an outrage to common sense, and I embarked in controversy with the single-minded intention of knocking down the man who held them.
He accepted his thrashing complacently.
'Now here comes a young lady on horseback,' he said; 'do you spy her? dark hair, thick eyebrows, rides well, followed by a groom. Is she a Beauty?'
In the heat of patriotism I declared she was handsome, and repeated it, though I experienced a twinge of remorse, like what I should have felt had I given Minerva the apple instead of Venus.
'Oh!' he commented, and stepped down to the road to meet her, beginning, in my hearing, 'I am the bearer of a compliment—' Her thick eyebrows stood in a knot, then she glanced at me and hung pensive. She had not to wait a minute before my father came to her side.
'I knew you would face them,' she said.
He threw back his head like a swimmer tossing spray from his locks.
'You have read the paper?' he asked.
'You have horsewhipped the writer?' she rejoined.
'Oh! the poor penster!'
'Nay, we can't pretend to pity him!'
'Could we condescend to offer him satisfaction?'
'Would he dare to demand it?'
'We will lay the case before Lady Wilts to-night.'
'You are there to-night?'
'At Lady Denewdney's to-morrow night—if I may indulge a hope?'
'Both? Oh! bravo, bravo! Tell me nothing more just now. How did you manage it? I must have a gallop. Yes, I shall be at both, be sure of that.'
My father introduced me.
'Let me present to your notice my son, Harry Lepel Richmond, Miss Penrhys.'
She touched my fingers, and nodded at me; speaking to him:
'He has a boy's taste: I hear he esteems me moderately well-favoured.'
'An inherited error certain to increase with age!'
'Now you have started me!' she exclaimed, and lashed the flanks of her horse.
We had evidently been enacting a part deeply interesting to the population of Bath, for the heads of all the strolling groups were bent on us; and when Miss Penrhys cantered away, down dropped eyeglasses, and the promenade returned to activity. I fancied I perceived that my father was greeted more cordially on his way back to the hotel.
'You do well, Richie,' he observed, 'in preserving your composure until you have something to say. Wait for your opening; it will come, and the right word will come with it. The main things are to be able to stand well, walk well, and look with an eye at home in its socket: I put you my hand on any man or woman born of high blood.—Not a brazen eye!—of the two extremes, I prefer the beaten spaniel sort.—Blindfold me, but I put you my hand on them. As to repartee, you must have it. Wait for that, too. Do not,' he groaned, 'do not force it! Bless my soul, what is there in the world so bad?' And rising to the upper notes of his groan: 'Ignorance, density, total imbecility, is better; I would rather any day of my life sit and carve for guests—the grossest of human trials—a detestable dinner, than be doomed to hear some wretched fellow—and you hear the old as well as the young—excruciate feelings which, where they exist, cannot but be exquisitely delicate. Goodness gracious me! to see the man pumping up his wit! For me, my visage is of an unalterable gravity whenever I am present at one of these exhibitions. I care not if I offend. Let them say I wish to revolutionize society—I declare to you, Richie boy, delightful to my heart though I find your keen stroke of repartee, still your fellow who takes the thrust gracefully, knows when he's traversed by a master-stroke, and yields sign of it, instead of plunging like a spitted buffalo and asking us to admire his agility—you follow me?—I say I hold that man—and I delight vastly in ready wit; it is the wine of language!—I regard that man as the superior being. True, he is not so entertaining.'
My father pressed on my arm to intimate, with a cavernous significance of eyebrow, that Captain DeWitt had the gift of repartee in perfection.
'Jorian,' said he, 'will you wager our editor declines to dine with us?'
The answer struck me as only passable. I think it was:
'When rats smell death in toasted cheese.'
Captain DeWitt sprang up the staircase of our hotel to his bedroom.
'I should not have forced him,' my father mused. 'Jorian DeWitt has at times brilliant genius, Richie—in the way of rejoinders, I mean. This is his happy moment—his one hour's dressing for dinner. I have watched him; he most thoroughly enjoys it! I am myself a quick or slow dresser, as the case may be. But to watch Jorian you cannot help entering into his enjoyment of it. He will have his window with a view of the sunset; there is his fire, his warmed linen, and his shirt-studs; his bath, his choice of a dozen things he will or will not wear; the landlord's or host's menu is up against the looking-glass, and the extremely handsome miniature likeness of his wife, who is in the madhouse, by a celebrated painter, I forget his name. Jorian calls this, new birth—you catch his idea? He throws off the old and is on with the new with a highly hopeful anticipation. His valet is a scoundrel, but never fails in extracting the menu from the cook, wherever he may be, and, in fine, is too attentive to the hour's devotion to be discarded! Poor Jorian. I know no man I pity so much.'
I conceived him, I confessed, hardly pitiable, though not enviable.
'He has but six hundred a year, and a passion for Burgundy,' said my father.
We were four at table. The editor came, and his timidity soon wore off in the warmth of hospitality. He appeared a kind exciteable little man, glad of his dinner from the first, and in due time proud of his entertainer. His response to the toast of the Fourth Estate was an apology for its behaviour to my father. He regretted it; he regretted it. A vinous speech.
My father heard him out. Addressing him subsequently,
'I would not interrupt you in the delivery of your sentiments,' he said. 'I must, however, man to man, candidly tell you I should have wished to arrest your expressions of regret. They convey to my mind an idea, that on receipt of my letter of invitation, you attributed to me a design to corrupt you. Protest nothing, I beg. Editors are human, after all. Now, my object is, that as you write of me, you should have some knowledge of me; and I naturally am interested in one who does me so much honour. The facts of my life are at your disposal for publication and comment. Simply, I entreat you, say this one thing of me: I seek for justice, but I never complain of my fortunes. Providence decides:—that might be the motto engraven on my heart. Nay, I may risk declaring it is! In the end I shall be righted. Meanwhile you contribute to my happiness by favouring me with your society.'
'Ah, sir,' replied the little man, 'were all our great people like you! In the country—the provinces—they treat the representatives of the Fourth Estate as the squires a couple of generations back used to treat the parsons.'
'What! Have you got a place at their tables?' inquired Captain DeWitt.
'No, I cannot say that—not even below the salt. Mr. Richmond—Mr. Roy, you may not be aware of it: I am the proprietor of the opposition journals in this county. I tell you in confidence, one by itself would not pay; and I am a printer, sir, and it is on my conscience to tell you I have, in the course of business, been compelled this very morning to receive orders for the printing of various squibs and, I much fear, scurrilous things.'
My father pacified him.
'You will do your duty to your family, Mr. Hickson.'
Deeply moved, the little man pulled out proof-sheets and slips.
'Even now, at the eleventh hour,' he urged, 'there is time to correct any glaring falsehoods, insults, what not!'
My father accepted the copy of proofs.
'Not a word,—not a line! You spoke of the eleventh hour, Mr. Hickson. If we are at all near the eleventh, I must be on my way to make my bow to Lady Wilts; or is it Lady Denewdney's to-night? No, to-morrow night.'
A light of satisfaction came over Mr. Hickson's face at the mention of my father's visiting both these sovereign ladies.
As soon as we were rid of him, Captain DeWitt exclaimed,
'If that's the Fourth Estate, what's the Realm?'
'The Estate,' pleaded my father, 'is here in its infancy—on all fours—'
'Prehensile! Egad, it has the vices of the other three besides its own. Do you mean that by putting it on all fours?'
'Jorian, I have noticed that when you are malignant you are not witty. We have to thank the man for not subjecting us to a pledge of secresy. My Lady Wilts will find the proofs amusing. And mark, I do not examine their contents before submitting them to her inspection. You will testify to the fact.'
I was unaware that my father played a master-stroke in handing these proof-sheets publicly to Lady Wilts for her perusal. The incident of the evening was the display of her character shown by Miss Penrhys in positively declining to quit the house until she likewise had cast her eye on them. One of her aunts wept. Their carriage was kept waiting an hour.
'You ask too much of me: I cannot turn her out', Lady Wilts said to her uncle. And aside to my father, 'You will have to marry her.'
'In heaven's name keep me from marriage, my lady!' I heard him reply.
There was sincerity in his tone when he said that.
CONCLUSION OF THE BATH EPISODE
The friends of Miss Penrhys were ill advised in trying to cry down a man like my father. Active persecution was the breath of life to him. When untroubled he was apt to let both his ambition and his dignity slumber. The squibs and scandal set afloat concerning him armed his wit, nerved his temper, touched him with the spirit of enterprise; he became a new creature. I lost sight of certain characteristics which I had begun to ponder over critically. I believed with all my heart that circumstances were blameable for much that did not quite please me. Upon the question of his magnanimity, as well as of his courage, there could not be two opinions. He would neither retort nor defend himself. I perceived some grandeur in his conduct, without, however, appreciating it cordially, as I did a refinement of discretion about him that kept him from brushing good taste while launched in ostentatious displays. He had a fine tact and a keen intuition. He may have thought it necessary to throw a little dust in my eyes; but I doubt his having done it, for he had only, as he knew, to make me jealous to blind me to his faults utterly, and he refrained.
In his allusions to the young lady he was apologetic, affectionate; one might have fancied oneself listening to a gracious judge who had well weighed her case, and exculpated her from other excesses than that of a generous folly. Jorian DeWitt, a competent critic, pronounced his behaviour consummate at all points. For my behoof, he hinted antecedent reverses to the picture: meditating upon which, I traced them to the fatal want of money, and that I might be able to fortify him in case of need, I took my own counsel, and wrote to my aunt for the loan of as large a sum as she could afford to send. Her eagerness for news of our doings was insatiable. 'You do not describe her,' she replied, not naming Miss Penrhys; and again, 'I can form no image of her. Your accounts of her are confusing. Tell me earnestly, do you like her? She must be very wilful, but is she really nice? I want to know how she appears to my Harry's mind.'
My father borrowed these letters, and returning them to me, said, 'A good soul! the best of women! There—there is a treasure lost!' His forehead was clouded in speaking. He recommended me to assure my aunt that she would never have to take a family interest in Miss Penrhys. But this was not deemed perfectly satisfactory at Riversley. My aunt wrote: 'Am I to understand that you, Harry, raise objections to her? Think first whether she is in herself objectionable. She is rich, she may be prudent, she may be a forethoughtful person. She may not be able to support a bitter shock of grief. She may be one who can help. She may not be one whose heart will bear it. Put your own feelings aside, my dearest. Our duties cannot ever be clear to us until we do. It is possible for headstrong wilfulness and secret tenderness to go together. Think whether she is capable of sacrifice before you compel her to it. Do not inflict misery wantonly. One would like to see her. Harry, I brood on your future; that is why I seem to you preternaturally anxious about you.'
She seemed to me preternaturally anxious about Miss Penrhys.
My father listened in silence to my flippant satire on women's letters.
He answered after a pause,
'Our Jorian says that women's letters must be read like anagrams. To put it familiarly, they are like a child's field of hop-scotch. You may have noticed the urchins at their game: a bit of tile, and a variety of compartments to pass it through to the base, hopping. Or no, Richie, pooh! 'tis an unworthy comparison, this hopscotch. I mean, laddie, they write in zigzags; and so will you when your heart trumpets in your ear. Tell her, tell that dear noble good woman—say, we are happy, you and I, and alone, and shall be; and do me the favour—she loves you, my son—address her sometimes—she has been it—call her "mother"; she will like it she deserves—nothing shall supplant her!'
He lost his voice.
She sent me three hundred pounds; she must have supposed the occasion pressing. Thus fortified against paternal improvidence, I expended a hundred in the purchase of a horse, and staked the remainder on him in a match, and was beaten. Disgusted with the horse, I sold him for half his purchase-money, and with that sum paid a bill to maintain my father's credit in the town. Figuratively speaking, I looked at my hands as astonished as I had been when the poor little rascal in the street snatched my cake, and gave me the vision of him gorging it in the flurried alley of the London crowd.
'Money goes,' I remarked.
'That is the general experience of the nature of money,' said my father freshly; 'but nevertheless you will be surprised to find how extraordinarily few are the people to make allowance for particular cases. It plays the trick with everybody, and almost nobody lets it stand as a plea for the individual. Here is Jorian, and you, my son, and perhaps your aunt Dorothy, and upon my word, I think I have numbered all I know—or, ay, Sukey Sampleman, I should not omit her in an honourable list—and that makes positively all I know who would commiserate a man touched on the shoulder by a sheriff's officer—not that such an indignity is any longer done to me.'
'I hope we have seen the last of Shylock's great-grandnephew,' said I emphatically.
'Merely to give you the instance, Richie. Ay! I hope so, I hope so! But it is the nature of money that you never can tell if the boarding's sound, once be dependent upon it. But this is talk for tradesmen.' Thinking it so myself, I had not attempted to discover the source of my father's income. Such as it was, it was paid half-yearly, and spent within a month of the receipt, for the most signal proof possible of its shameful insufficiency. Thus ten months of the year at least he lived protesting, and many with him, compulsorily. For two months he was a brilliant man. I penetrated his mystery enough to abstain from questioning him, and enough to determine that on my coming of age he should cease to be a pensioner, petitioner, and adventurer. He aimed at a manifest absurdity.
In the meantime, after the lesson I had received as to the nature of money, I saw with some alarm my father preparing to dig a great pit for it. He had no doubt performed wonders. Despite of scandal and tattle, and the deadly report of a penniless fortune-hunter having fascinated the young heiress, he commanded an entrance to the receptions of both the rival ladies dominant. These ladies, Lady Wilts and Lady Denewdney, who moved each in her select half-circle, and could heretofore be induced by none to meet in a common centre, had pledged themselves to honour with their presence a ball he proposed to give to the choice world here assembled on a certain illuminated day of the calendar.
'So I have now possession of Bath, Richie,' said he, twinkling to propitiate me, lest I should suspect him of valuing his achievements highly. He had, he continued, promised Hickson of the Fourth Estate, that he would, before leaving the place, do his utmost to revive the ancient glories of Bath: Bath had once set the fashion to the kingdom; why not again? I might have asked him, why at all, or why at his expense; but his lead was irresistible. Captain DeWitt and his valet, and I, and a score of ladies, scores of tradesmen, were rushing, reluctant or not, on a torrent. My part was to show that I was an athlete, and primarily that I could fence and shoot. 'It will do no harm to let it be known,' said DeWitt. He sat writing letters incessantly. My father made the tour of his fair stewardesses from noon to three, after receiving in audience his jewellers, linen-drapers, carpenters, confectioners, from nine in the morning till twelve. At three o'clock business ceased. Workmen then applying to him for instructions were despatched to the bar of the hotel, bearing the recommendation to the barmaid not to supply them refreshment if they had ever in their lives been seen drunk. At four he dressed for afternoon parade. Nor could his enemy have said that he was not the chief voice and eye along his line of march. His tall full figure maintained a superior air without insolence, and there was a leaping beam in his large blue eyes, together with the signification of movement coming to his kindly lips, such as hardly ever failed to waken smiles of greeting. People smiled and bowed, and forgot their curiosity, forgot even to be critical, while he was in sight. I can say this, for I was acutely critical of their bearing; the atmosphere of the place was never perfectly pleasing to me.
My attitude of watchful reserve, and my reputation as the heir of immense wealth, tended possibly to constrain a certain number of the inimical party to be ostensibly civil. Lady Wilts, who did me the honour to patronize me almost warmly, complimented me on my manner of backing him, as if I were the hero; but I felt his peculiar charm; she partly admitted it, making a whimsical mouth, saying, in allusion to Miss Penrhys, 'I, you know, am past twenty. At twenty forty is charming; at forty twenty.'
Where I served him perhaps was in showing my resolution to protect him: he had been insulted before my arrival. The male relatives of Miss Penrhys did not repeat the insult; they went to Lady Wilts and groaned over their hard luck in not having the option of fighting me. I was, in her phrase, a new piece on the board, and checked them. Thus, if they provoked a challenge from me, they brought the destructive odour of powder about the headstrong creature's name. I was therefore of use to him so far. I leaned indolently across the rails of the promenade while she bent and chattered in his ear, and her attendant cousin and cavalier chewed vexation in the form of a young mustachio's curl. His horse fretted; he murmured deep notes, and his look was savage; but he was bound to wait on her, and she would not go until it suited her pleasure. She introduced him to me—as if conversation could be carried on between two young men feeling themselves simply pieces on the board, one giving check, and the other chafing under it! I need not say that I disliked my situation. It was worse when my father took to bowing to her from a distance, unobservant of her hand's prompt pull at the reins as soon as she saw him. Lady Wilts had assumed the right of a woman still possessing attractions to exert her influence with him on behalf of the family, for I had done my best to convince her that he entertained no serious thought of marrying, and decidedly would not marry without my approval. He acted on her advice to discourage the wilful girl.
'How is it I am so hateful to you?' Miss Penrhys accosted me abruptly. I fancied she must have gone mad, and an interrogative frown was my sole answer.
'Oh! I hear that you pronounce me everywhere unendurable,' she continued. 'You are young, and you misjudge me in some way, and I should be glad if you knew me better. By-and-by, in Wales.—Are you fond of mountain scenery? We might be good friends; my temper is not bad—at least, I hope not. Heaven knows what one's relatives think of one. Will you visit us? I hear you have promised your confidante, Lady Wilts.'
At a dancing party where we met, she was thrown on my hands by her ungovernable vehemence, and I, as I had told Lady Wilts, not being able to understand the liking of twenty for forty (fifty would have been nearer the actual mark, or sixty), offered her no lively sympathy. I believe she had requested my father to pay public court to her. If Captain DeWitt was to be trusted, she desired him to dance, and dance with her exclusively, and so confirm and defy the tattle of the town; but my father hovered between the dowagers. She in consequence declined to dance, which was the next worse thing she could do. An aunt, a miserable woman, was on her left; on her right she contrived, too frequently for my peace of mind, to reserve a vacant place for me, and she eyed me intently across the room, under her persistent brows, until perforce I was drawn to her side. I had to listen to a repetition of sharp queries and replies, and affect a flattered gaiety, feeling myself most uncomfortably, as Captain DeWitt (who watched us) said, Chip the son of Block the father. By fixing the son beside her, she defeated the father's scheme of coldness, and made it appear a concerted piece of policy. Even I saw that. I saw more than I grasped. Love for my father was to my mind a natural thing, a proof of taste and goodness; women might love him; but the love of a young girl with the morning's mystery about her! and for my progenitor!—a girl (as I reflected in the midst of my interjections) well-built, clear-eyed, animated, clever, with soft white hands and pretty feet; how could it be? She was sombre as a sunken fire until he at last came round to her, and then her sudden vivacity was surprising.
Affairs were no further advanced when I had to obey the squire's commands and return to Riversley, missing the night of the grand ball with no profound regret, except for my father's sake. He wrote soon after one of his characteristic letters, to tell me that the ball had, been a success. Immediately upon this announcement, he indulged luxurious reflections, as his manner was:
'To have stirred up the old place and given it something to dream of for the next half century, is a satisfaction, Richie. I have a kindness for Bath. I leave it with its factions reconciled, its tea-tables furnished with inexhaustible supplies of the chief thing necessary, and the persuasion firmly established in my own bosom that it is impossible to revive the past, so we must march with the age. And let me add, all but every one of the bills happily discharged, to please you. Pray, fag at your German. If (as I myself confess to) you have enjoyment of old ways, habits, customs, and ceremonies, look to Court life. It is only in Courts that a man may now air a leg; and there the women are works of Art. If you are deficient in calves (which my boy, thank heaven! will never be charged with) you are there found out, and in fact every deficiency, every qualification, is at once in patent exhibition at a Court. I fancy Parliament for you still, and that is no impediment as a step. Jorian would have you sit and wallow in ease, and buy (by the way, we might think of it) a famous Burgundy vineyard (for an investment), devote the prime of your life to the discovery of a cook, your manhood to perfect the creature's education—so forth; I imagine you are to get five years of ample gratification (a promise hardly to be relied on) in the sere leaf, and so perish. Take poor Jorian for an example of what the absence of ambition brings men to. I treasure Jorian, I hoard the poor fellow, to have him for a lesson to my boy. Witty and shrewd, and a masterly tactician (I wager he would have won his spurs on the field of battle), you see him now living for one hour of the day—absolutely twenty-three hours of the man's life are chained slaves, beasts of burden, to the four-and-twentieth! So, I repeat, fag at your German.
'Miss Penrhys retires to her native Wales; Jorian and I on to London, to the Continent. Plinlimmon guard us all! I send you our local newspapers. That I cut entrechats is false. It happens to be a thing I could do, and not an Englishman in England except myself; only I did not do it. I did appear in what I was educated to believe was the evening suit of a gentleman, and I cannot perceive the immodesty of showing my leg. A dress that is not indecent, and is becoming to me, and is the dress of my fathers, I wear, and I impose it on the generation of my sex. However, I dined Hickson of the Fourth Estate (Jorian considers him hungry enough to eat up his twentieth before he dies—I forget the wording of the mot), that he might know I was without rancour in the end, as originally I had been without any intention of purchasing his allegiance. He offered me his columns; he wished me luck with the heiress; by his Gods, he swore he worshipped entrechats, and held a silk leg the most admirable work of the manufactures. "Sir, you're a gentleman," says he; "you're a nobleman, sir; you 're a prince, you 're a star of the first magnitude." Cries Jorian, "Retract that, scum! you see nothing large but what you dare to think neighbours you," and quarrels the inebriate dog. And this is the maker and destroyer of reputations in his day! I study Hickson as a miraculous engine of the very simplest contrivance; he is himself the epitome of a verdict on his period. Next day he disclaimed in his opposition penny sheet the report of the entrechats, and "the spectators laughing consumedly," and sent me (as I had requested him to do) the names of his daughters, to whom I transmit little comforting presents, for if they are nice children such a parent must afflict them.
'Cultivate Lady Wilts. You have made an impression. She puts you forward as a good specimen of our young men. 'Hem! madam.
'But, my dear boy, as I said, we cannot revive the past. I acknowledge it. Bath rebukes my last fit of ambition, and the experience is very well worth the expense. You have a mind, Richie, for discussing outlay, upon which I congratulate you, so long as you do not overlook equivalents. The system of the world is barter varied by robbery. Show that you have something in hand, and you enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you were not robbed. I pledge you my word to it—I shall not repeat Bath. And mark you, an heiress is never compromised. I am not, I hope, responsible for every creature caught up in my circle of attraction. Believe me, dear boy, I should consult you, and another one, estimable beyond mortal speech! if I had become involved—impossible! No; I am free of all fresh chains, because of the old ones. Years will not be sufficient for us when you and I once begin to talk in earnest, when I open! To resume—so I leave Bath with a light conscience. Mixed with pleasant recollections is the transient regret that you were not a spectator of the meeting of the Wilts and Denewdney streams. Jorian compared them to the Rhone and the—I forget the name of the river below Geneva—dirtyish; for there was a transparent difference in the Denewdney style of dress, and did I choose it I could sit and rule those two factions as despotically as Buonaparte his Frenchmen. Ask me what I mean by scaling billows, Richie. I will some day tell you. I have done it all my life, and here I am. But I thank heaven I have a son I love, and I can match him against the best on earth, and henceforward I live for him, to vindicate and right the boy, and place him in his legitimate sphere. From this time I take to looking exclusively forward, and I labour diligently. I have energies.
'Not to boast, darling old son, I tell truth; I am only happy when my heart is beating near you. Here comes the mother in me pumping up. Adieu. Lebe wohl. The German!—the German!—may God in his Barmherzigkeit!—Tell her I never encouraged the girl, have literally nothing to trace a temporary wrinkle on my forehead as regards conscience. I say, may it please Providence to make you a good German scholar by the day of your majority. Hurrah for it! Present my humble warm respects to your aunt Dorothy. I pray to heaven nightly for one of its angels on earth. Kunst, Wissenschaft, Ehre, Liebe. Die Liebe. Quick at the German poets. Frau: Fraulein. I am actually dazzled at the prospect of our future. To be candid, I no longer see to write. Gruss' dich herzlich. From Vienna to you next. Lebe wohl!'
My aunt Dorothy sent a glance at the letter while I was folding it evidently thinking my unwillingness to offer it a sign of bad news or fresh complications. She spoke of Miss Penrhys.
'Oh! that's over,' said I. 'Heiresses soon get consoled.'
She accused me of having picked up a vulgar idea. I maintained that it was my father's.
'It cannot be your father's,' said she softly; and on affirming that he had uttered it and written it, she replied in the same tone, more effective than the ordinary language of conviction, 'He does not think it.'
The rage of a youth to prove himself in the right of an argument was insufficient to make me lay the letter out before other eyes than my own, and I shrank from exposing it to compassionate gentle eyes that would have pleaded similar allowances to mine for the wildness of the style. I should have thanked, but despised the intelligence of one who framed my excuses for my father, just as the squire, by abusing him, would have made me a desperate partisan in a minute. The vitality of the delusion I cherished was therefore partly extinct; not so the love; yet the love of him could no longer shake itself free from oppressive shadows.
Out of his circle of attraction books were my resource.
MY TWENTY-FIRST BIRTHDAY
Books and dreams, like the two rivers cited by my father, flowed side by side in me without mixing; and which the bright Rhone was, which the brown Arve, needs not to be told to those who know anything of youth; they were destined to intermingle soon enough. I read well, for I felt ground and had mounting views; the real world, and the mind and passions of the world, grew visible to me. My tutor pleased the squire immensely by calling me matter-of-fact. In philosophy and history I hated speculation; but nothing was too fantastic for my ideas of possible occurrences. Once away from books, I carried a head that shot rockets to the farthest hills.
My dear friend Temple was at sea, or I should have had one near me to detect and control the springs of nonsense. I was deemed a remarkably quiet sober thoughtful young man, acquiescent in all schemes projected for my welfare. The squire would have liked to see me courting the girl of his heart, as he termed Janet Ilchester, a little more demonstratively. We had, however, come to the understanding that I was to travel before settling. Traditional notions of the importance of the Grand Tour in the education of gentlemen led him to consent to my taking a year on the Continent accompanied by my tutor. He wanted some one, he said, to represent him when I was out over there; which signified that he wanted some one to keep my father in check; but as the Rev. Ambrose Peterborough, successor to the Rev. Simon Hart, was hazy and manageable, I did not object. Such faith had the quiet thoughtful young man at Riversley in the convulsions of the future, the whirlwinds and whirlpools spinning for him and all connected with him, that he did not object to hear his name and Janet's coupled, though he had not a spark of love for her.
I tried to realize to myself the general opinion that she was handsome. Her eyebrows were thick and level and long; her eyes direct in their gaze, of a flinty blue, with dark lashes; her nose firm, her lips fullish, firm when joined; her shape straight, moderately flexible. But she had no softness; she could admire herself in my presence; she claimed possession of me openly, and at the same time openly provoked a siege from the remainder of my sex: she was not maidenly. She caught imagination by the sleeve, and shut it between square whitewashed walls. Heriot thought her not only handsome, but comparable to Mrs. William Bulsted, our Julia Rippenger of old. At his meeting with Julia, her delicious loss of colour made her seem to me one of the loveliest women on earth. Janet never lost colour, rarely blushed; she touched neither nerve nor fancy.
'You want a rousing coquette,' said Heriot; 'you won't be happy till you 've been racked by that nice instrument of torture, and the fair Bulsted will do it for you if you like. You don't want a snake or a common serpent, you want a Python.'
I wanted bloom and mystery, a woman shifting like the light with evening and night and dawn, and sudden fire. Janet was bald to the heart inhabiting me then, as if quite shaven. She could speak her affectionate mind as plain as print, and it was dull print facing me, not the arches of the sunset. Julia had only to lisp, 'my husband,' to startle and agitate me beyond expression. She said simple things—'I slept well last night,' or 'I dreamed,' or 'I shivered,' and plunged me headlong down impenetrable forests. The mould of her mouth to a reluctant 'No,' and her almost invariable drawing in of her breath with a 'Yes,' surcharged the everyday monosyllables with meanings of life and death. At last I was reduced to tell her, seeing that she reproached my coldness for Janet, how much I wished Janet resembled her. Her Irish eyes lightened: 'Me! Harry'; then they shadowed: 'She is worth ten of me.' Such pathetic humility tempted me to exalt her supremely.
I talked like a boy, feeling like a man: she behaved like a woman, blushing like a girl.
'Julia! I can never call you Mrs. Bulsted.'
'You have an affection for my husband, have you not, Harry?'
Of a season when this was adorable language to me, the indication is sufficient. Riding out perfectly crazed by it, I met Kiomi, and transferred my emotions. The squire had paid her people an annual sum to keep away from our neighbourhood, while there was a chance of my taking to gipsy life. They had come back to their old camping-ground, rather dissatisfied with the squire.
'Speak to him yourself, Kiomi,' said I; 'whatever you ask for, he can't refuse anything to such eyes as yours.'
'You!' she rallied me; 'why can't you talk sensible stuff!'
She had grown a superb savage, proof against weather and compliments. Her face was like an Egyptian sky fronting night. The strong old Eastern blood put ruddy flame for the red colour; tawny olive edged from the red; rare vivid yellow, all but amber. The light that first looks down upon the fallen sun was her complexion above the brows, and round the cheeks, the neck's nape, the throat, and the firm bosom prompt to lift and sink with her vigour of speech, as her eyes were to flash and darken. Meeting her you swore she was the personification of wandering Asia. There was no question of beauty and grace, for these have laws. The curve of her brows broke like a beaten wave; the lips and nostrils were wide, tragic in repose. But when she laughed she illuminated you; where she stepped she made the earth hers. She was as fresh of her East as the morning when her ancient people struck tents in the track of their shadows. I write of her in the style consonant to my ideas of her at the time. I would have carried her off on the impulse and lived her life, merely to have had such a picture moving in my sight, and call it mine.
'You're not married?' I said, ludicrously faintly.
'I 've not seen the man I'd marry,' she answered, grinning scorn.
The prizefighter had adopted drinking for his pursuit; one of her aunts was dead, and she was in quest of money to bury the dead woman with the conventional ceremonies and shows of respect dear to the hearts of gipsies, whose sense of propriety and adherence to customs are a sentiment indulged by them to a degree unknown to the stabled classes. In fact, they have no other which does not come under the definite title of pride;—pride in their physical prowess, their dexterity, ingenuity, and tricksiness, and their purity of blood. Kiomi confessed she had hoped to meet me; confessed next that she had been waiting to jump out on me: and next that she had sat in a tree watching the Grange yesterday for six hours; and all for money to do honour to her dead relative, poor little soul! Heriot and I joined the decent procession to the grave. Her people had some quarrel with the Durstan villagers, and she feared the scandal of being pelted on the way to the church. I knew that nothing of the sort would happen if I was present. Kiomi walked humbly with her head bent, leaving me the thick rippling coarse black locks of her hair for a mark of observation. We were entertained at her camp in the afternoon. I saw no sign of intelligence between her and Heriot. On my asking her, the day before, if she remembered him, she said, 'I do, I'm dangerous for that young man.' Heriot's comment on her was impressed on me by his choosing to call her 'a fine doe leopard,' and maintaining that it was a defensible phrase.
She was swept from my amorous mind by Mabel Sweetwinter, the miller's daughter of Dipwell. This was a Saxon beauty in full bud, yellow as mid-May, with the eyes of opening June. Beauty, you will say, is easily painted in that style. But the sort of beauty suits the style, and the well-worn comparisons express the well-known type. Beside Kiomi she was like a rich meadow on the border of the heaths.