Was either champion born in Kent? An audacious boy proclaimed Kit Ines a man of Kent. Why, of course he was! and that was why the Earl of Fleetwood backed our cocky Kitty, and means to land him on the top of his profession. Ben Todds was shuffled aside; as one of their Londoners, destitute of county savour.
All very well, but have a spy at Benny Todds. Who looks the square man? And hear what that big gentleman of the other lord's party says. A gentleman of his height and weight has a right to his opinion. He 's dead against Kit Ines: it's fists, not feet, he says, 'll do it to-day; stamina, he says. Benny has got the stamina.
Todds' possession of the stamina, and the grand voice of Captain Abrane, and the Father Christmas, roast-beef-of-Old England face of the umpire declared to be on the side of Lord Brailstone's colour blue, darkened the star of Kit Ines till a characteristic piece of behaviour was espied. He dashed his cap into the ring and followed it, with the lightest of vaults across the ropes. There he was, the first in the ring: and that stands for promise of first blow, first blood, first flat knock-down, and last to cry for quarter. His pair of seconds were soon after him. Fleetwood mounted his box.
'Is it to fight?' said Carinthia.
'To see which is the master.'
'They fight to see?'
'Generally until one or the other can't see. You are not obliged to see it; you can be driven away if you wish.'
'I will be here, if you are here.'
'You choose it.'
Fleetwood leaned over to Chumley Potts on the turf. 'Abrane's ruining himself.'
Potts frankly hoped that his friend might be doing so. 'Todds is jolly well backed. He's in prime condition. He's the favourite of the knowing ones.'
'You wouldn't have the odds, if he weren't.'
'No; but the odds are like ten per cent.: they conjure the gale, and be hanged,' said Potts; he swore at his betting mania, which destroyed the pleasure of the show he loved.
All in the ring were shaking hands. Shots of a desire to question and comment sped through Carinthia's veins and hurt her. She had gathered that she spoke foolishly to her husband's ear, so she kept her mouth shut, though the unanswered of her inquisitive ignorance in the strange land pricked painfully at her bosom. She heard the girl behind her say: 'Our colours!' when the colour scarlet unwound with Lord Brailstone's blue was tied to the stake: and her husband nodded; he smiled; he liked to hear the girl.
Potts climbed up, crying: 'Toilets complete! Now for paws out, and then at it, my hearties!'
Choice of corners under the leaden low cloud counted for little. A signal was given; a man outside the ring eyed a watch, raised a hand; the two umpires were on foot in their places; the pair of opposing seconds hurried out cheery or bolt-business words to their men; and the champions advanced to the scratch. Todds first, by the courtesy of Ines, whose decorous control of his legs at a weighty moment was rightly read by his party.
Their hands grasped firmly: thereupon becoming fists of a hostile couple in position. And simply to learn which of us two is the better man! Or in other words, with four simple fists to compass a patent fact and stand it on the historic pedestal, with a little red writing underneath: you never can patent a fact without it. But mark the differences of this kind of contention from all other—especially the Parliamentary: this is positive, it has a beginning and an end; and it is good-humoured from beginning to end; trial of skill, trial of stamina; Nature and Art; Old English; which made us what we are; and no rancours, no vows of vengeance; the beaten man of the two bowing to the bit of history he has helped to make.
Kittites had need to be confident in the skill of their lither lad. His facer looked granite. Fronting that mass, Kit you might—not to lash about for comparisons—call a bundle of bamboo. Ay, but well knitted, springy, alive every inch of him; crafty, too, as you will soon bear witness. He knows he has got his task, and he's the man to do it.
There was wary sparring, and mirrors watched them.
'Bigger fellow: but have no fear,' the earl said over his shoulder to Madge.
She said in return: 'Oh, I don't know, I'm praying.'
Kit was now on his toes, all himself, like one who has found the key. He feinted. Quick as lightning, he landed a bolt on Ben's jib, just at the toll-bar of the bridge, between the eyes, and was off, out of reach, elastic; Ben's counter fell short by a couple of inches. Cheers for first blow.
The earl clucked to Madge. Her gaze at the ring was a sullen intensity.
Will you believe it?—Ben received a second spanking cracker on the spectacles-seat: neat indeed; and, poor payment for the compliment, he managed to dig a drive at the ribs. As much of that game as may suit you, sturdy Ben! But hear the shout, and behold!
First blood to Kit Ines! That tell-tale nose of old Ben's has mounted the Earl of Fleetwood's colours, and all his party are looking Brailstone-blue.
'So far!' said Fleetwood. His grooms took an indication: the hamper was unfastened; sandwiches were handed. Carinthia held one; she tried to nibble, in obedience to her husband's example. Madge refused a bite of food.
Hearing Carinthia say to her: 'I hope he will not be beaten, I hope, I hope,' she made answer: 'You are very good, Miss'; and the young lady flushed.
Gentlemen below were talking up to the earl. A Kentish squire of an estate neighbouring Esslemont introduced a Welsh squire he had driven to see the fun, by the name of Mr. Owain Wythan, a neighbour of the earl's down in Wales. Refreshments were offered. Carinthia submissively sipped the sparkling wine, which stings the lips when they are indisposed to it. The voice of the girl Madge rang on the tightened chords of her breast. Madge had said she was praying: and to pray was all that could be done by two women. Her husband could laugh loudly with Mr. Potts and the other gentlemen and the strangers. He was quite sure the man he supported would win; he might have means of knowing. Carinthia clung to his bare words, for the sake of the girl.
A roaring peal went up from the circle of combat. Kit had it this time. Attacking Ben's peepers, he was bent on defending his own, and he caught a bodyblow that sent him hopping back to his pair of seconds, five clear hops to the rear, like a smashed surge-wave off the rock. He was respectful for the remainder of the round. But hammering at the system he had formed, in the very next round he dropped from a tremendous repetition of the blow, and lay flat as a turbot. The bets against him had simultaneously a see-saw rise.
'Bellows, he appears to have none,' was the comment of Chumley Potts.
'Now for training, Chummy!' said Lord Fleetwood.
'Chummy!' signifying a crow over Potts, rang out of the hollows of Captain Abrane on Lord Brailstone's coach.
Carinthia put a hand behind her to Madge. It was grasped, in gratitude for sympathy or in feminine politeness. The girl murmured: 'I've seen worse.' She was not speaking to ears.
Lord Fleetwood sat watch in hand. 'Up,' he said; and, as if hearing him, Kit rose from the ministering second's knee. He walked stiffly, squared after the fashion of a man taught caution. Ben made play. They rounded the ring, giving and taking. Ben rushed, and had an emollient; spouted again and was corked; again, and received a neat red-waxen stopper. He would not be denied at Kit's door, found him at home and hugged him. Kit got himself to grass, after a spell of heavy fibbing, Ben's game.
It did him no great harm; it might be taken for an enlivener; he was dead on his favourite spot the ensuing round, played postman on it. So cleverly, easily, dancingly did he perform the double knock and the retreat, that Chumley Potts was moved to forget his wagers and exclaim: 'Racket-ball, by Jove!'
'If he doesn't let the fellow fib the wind out of him,' Mallard addressed his own crab eyeballs.
Lord Fleetwood heard and said coolly: 'Tightstrung. I kept him fasting since he earned his breakfast. You don't wind an empty rascal fit for action. A sword through the lungs won't kill when there's no air in them.'
That was printed in the 'Few Words before the Encounter', in the Book Of MAXIMS FOR MEN. Carinthia, hearing everything her husband uttered, burned to remind him of the similarity between his opinions and her father's.
She was learning, that for some reason, allusions to her father were not acceptable. She squeezed the hand of Madge, and felt a pressure, like a scream, telling her the girl's heart was with the fight beneath them. She thought it natural for her. She wished she could continue looking as intently. She looked because her husband looked. The dark hills and clouds curtaining the run of the stretch of fields relieved her sight.
The clouds went their way; the hills were solid, but like a blue smoke; the scene here made them very distant and strange. Those two men were still hitting, not hating one another; only to gratify a number of unintelligible people and win a success. But the earth and sky seemed to say, What is the glory? They were insensible to it, as they are not—they are never insensible to noble grounds of strife. They bless the spot, they light lamps on it; they put it into books of history, make it holy, if the cause was a noble one or a good one.
Or supposing both those men loved the girl, who loved one of them! Then would Carinthia be less reluctantly interested in their blows.
Her infant logic stumbled on for a reason while she repressed the torture the scene was becoming, as though a reason could be found by her submissive observation of it. And she was right in believing that a reason for the scene must or should exist. Only, like other bewildered instinctive believers, she could not summon the great universe or a life's experience to unfold it. Her one consolation was in squeezing the hand of the girl from time to time.
Not stealthily done, it was not objected to by the husband whose eye was on all. But the persistence in doing it sank her from the benignity of her station to the girl's level: it was conduct much too raw, and grated on the deed of the man who had given her his name.
Madge pleased him better. She had the right to be excited, and she was very little demonstrative. She had—well, in justice, the couple of them had, only she had it more—the tone of the women who can be screwed to witness a spill of blood, peculiarly catching to hear;—a tone of every string in them snapped except the silver string. Catching to hear? It is worth a stretching of them on the rack to hear that low buzz-hum of their inner breast . . . By heaven! we have them at their best when they sing that note.
His watch was near an hour of the contest, and Brailstone's man had scored first knock-down blow, a particularly clean floorer. Thinking of that, he was cheered by hearing Chummy Potts, whose opinions he despised, cry out to Abrane:—
'Yeast to him!' For the face of Todds was visibly swelling to the ripest of plums from Kit's deliveries.
Down he went. He had the sturdy legs which are no legs to a clean blow. Odds were offered against him.
'Oh! pretty play with your right, Kit!' exclaimed Mallard, as Kit fetched his man an ugly stroke on the round of the waist behind, and the crowd sent up the name of the great organs affected: a sickener of a stroke, if dealt soundly. It meant more than 4 showed. Kit was now for taking liberties. Light as ever on his pins, he now and then varied his attentions to the yeasty part, delivering a wakener in unexpected quarters: masterly as the skilled cook's carving of a joint with hungry guests for admirers.
'Eh, Madge?' the earl said.
She kept her sight fixed, replying: 'Yes, I think . . .' Carinthia joined with her: 'I must believe it that he will: but will the other man, poor man, submit? I entreat him to put away his pride. It is his—oh, poor man!'
Ben was having it hot and fast on a torso physiognomy.
The voices of these alien women thrilled the fray and were a Bardic harp to Lord Fleetwood.
He dropped a pleasant word on the heads in the curricle.
Mr. Owain Wythan looked up. 'Worthy of Theocritus. It's the Boxing Twin and the Bembrycian giant. The style of each. To the letter!'
'Kit is assiduously fastening Ben's blinkers,' Potts remarked.
He explained to the incomprehensible lady he fancied he had somewhere seen, that the battle might be known as near the finish by the behaviour on board Lord Brailstone's coach.
'It's like Foreign Affairs and the Stock Exchange,' he said to the more intelligent males. 'If I want to know exactly how the country stands, I turn to the Money Article in the papers. That's a barometrical certainty. No use inquiring abroad. Look at old Rufus Abrane. I see the state of the fight on the old fellow's mug. He hasn't a bet left in him!'
'Captain Mountain—Rufus Mus!' cried Lord Fleetwood, and laughed at the penetrative portrait Woodseer's epigram sketched; he had a desire for the presence of the singular vagabond.
The Rufus Mus in the Captain Mountain exposed his view of the encounter, by growing stiller, apparently growing smaller, without a squeak, like the entrapped; and profoundly contemplative, after the style of the absolutely detached, who foresee the fatal crash, and are calculating, far ahead of events, the means for meeting their personal losses.
The close of the battle was on the visage of Rufus Abrane fifteen minutes before that Elgin marble under red paint in the ring sat on the knee of a succouring seconder, mopped, rubbed, dram-primed, puppy-peeping, inconsolably comforted, preparatory to the resumption of the great-coat he had so hopefully cast from his shoulders. Not downcast by any means. Like an old Roman, the man of the sheer hulk with purple eyemounds found his legs to do the manful thing, show that there was no bad blood, stand equal to all forms. Ben Todds, if ever man in Old England, looked the picture you might label 'Bellyful,' it was remarked. Kit Ines had an appearance of springy readiness to lead off again. So they faced on the opening step of their march into English History.
Vanquisher and vanquished shook hands, engaged in a parting rally of good-humoured banter; the beaten man said his handsome word; the best man capped it with a compliment to him. They drink of different cups to-day. Both will drink of one cup in the day to come. But the day went too clearly to crown the light and the tight and the right man of the two, for moralizing to wag its tail at the end. Oldsters and youngsters agreed to that. Science had done it: happy the backers of Science! Not one of them alluded to the philosophical 'hundred years hence.' For when England, thanks to a spirited pair of our young noblemen, has exhibited one of her characteristic performances consummately, Philosophy is bidden fly; she is a foreign bird.
RECORDS A SHADOW CONTEST CLOSE ON THE FOREGOING
Kit Ines cocked an eye at Madge, in the midst of the congratulations and the paeans pumping his arms. As he had been little mauled, he could present a face to her, expecting a wreath of smiles for the victor.
What are we to think of the contrarious young woman who, when he lay beaten, drove him off the field and was all tenderness and devotion? She bobbed her head, hardly more than a trifle pleased, one might say. Just like females. They're riddles, not worth spelling. Then, drunk I'll get to-night, my pretty dear! the man muttered, soured by her inopportune staidness, as an opponent's bruisings could never have rendered him.
She smiled a lively beam in answer to the earl; 'Oh yes I 'm glad. It's your doing, my lord.' Him it was that she thanked, and for the moment prized most. The female riddle is hard to read, because it is compounded of sensations, and they rouse and appeal to the similar cockatrices in us, which either hiss back or coil upon themselves. She admired Kit Ines for his valour: she hated that ruinous and besotting drink. It flung skeletons of a married couple on the wall of the future. Nevertheless her love had been all maternal to him when he lay chastised and disgraced on account of his vice. Pity had done it. Pity not being stirred, her admiration of the hero declared victorious, whose fortunes in uncertainty had stopped the beating of her heart, was eclipsed by gratitude toward his preserver, and a sentiment eclipsed becomes temporarily coldish, against our wish and our efforts, in a way to astonish; making her think that she cannot hold two sentiments at a time; when it is but the fact that she is unable to keep the two equally warm.
Carinthia said to her: 'He is brave.'
'Oh yes, he's brave,' Madge assented.
Lord Brailstone, flourishing his whip, cried out: 'At Canleys to-night?'
The earl nodded: 'I shall be there.'
'You, too, Chummy?' came from Abrane.
'To see you dance,' Potts rejoined, and mumbled
'But will he dance! Old Braney's down on his luck; he's a specimen of a fellow emptier and not lighter. And won't be till supper-time. But, I say, Fleet, how the deuce?—funny sort of proceeding!—You haven't introduced me.'
'The lady bears my name, Mr. Chumley Potts.'
With a bow to the lady's profile and a mention of a glimpse at Baden, Potts ejaculated: 'It happened this morning?'
'You allude to the marriage. It happened this morning.'
'How do I get to Canleys?'
'I drive you. Another team from the Esslemont stables is waiting at the Royal.'
'You stay at Canleys?'
'No? Oh! Funny, upon my word. Though I don't know why not—except that people . . .'
'Count your winnings, Chummy.'
Fleetwood remarked to his bride: 'Our friend has the habit of soliloquizing in company. I forgot to tell you of an appointment of mine at a place called Canleys, about twenty miles or more from here. I gave my word, so I keep it. The landlady at the inn, Mrs. Rundles, motherly kind of woman; she will be attentive. They don't cook badly, for an English inn, I have heard. Madge here will act as your lady's-maid for the time. You will find her serviceable; she's a bruiser's lass and something above it. Ines informed me, Madge, you were going to friends of yours at the Wells. You will stay at the Royal and wait on this lady, who bears my name. You understand?—A girl I can trust for courage, if the article is in request,' he resumed to his bride; and talked generally of the inn and the management of it, and its favoured position outside the village and contiguous to the river, upon which it subsisted.
Carinthia had heard. She was more than ever the stunned young woman she had been since her mounting of the coach, between the village church and Lekkatts.
She said not a word. Why should she? her object was won. Give her that, and a woman's tongue will consent to rest. The dreaded weapon rest, also when she is kept spinning by the whip. She gives out a pleasant hum, too. Her complexion must be pronounced dull in repose. A bride on her travels with an aspect of wet chalk, rather helps to scare mankind from marriage: which may be good or bad; but she reflects a sicklier hue on the captured Chessman calling her his own. Let her shine in privacy.
Fleetwood drew up at the Royal Sovereign, whereof the reigning monarch, in blue uniform on the signboard, curtseyed to his equally windy subjects; and a small congregation of the aged, and some cripples and infants, greeted the patron of Old England's manfullest display, cheering at news of the fight, brought them by many little runners.
'Your box has been conveyed to your room,' he said to his bride.
She bowed. This time she descended the coach by the aid of the ladder.
Ines, victorious in battle, had scant notice from his love. 'Yes, I 'm glad,' and she passed him to follow her newly constituted mistress. His pride was dashed, all the foam of the first draw on the top of him blown off, as he figuratively explained the cause of his gloom to the earl. 'I drink and I gets a licking—that girl nurses and cossets me. I don't drink and I whops my man—she shows me her back. Ain't it encouragement, my lord?'
'You ought to know them by this time, you dolt,' returned his patron, and complimented him on his bearing in the fight. 'You shall have your two hundred, and something will be added. Hold handy here till I mount. I start in ten minutes.'
Whether to speak a polite adieu to the bride, whose absurd position she had brought on her own head, was debated for half a minute. He considered that the wet chalk-quarry of a beauty had at all events the merit of not being a creature to make scenes. He went up to the sitting-room. If she was not there, he would leave his excuses.
She was there, and seated; neither crying, nor smiling, nor pointedly serious in any way, not conventionally at her ease either. And so clearly was he impressed by her transparency in simplicity of expression, that he took without a spurn at it the picture of a woman half drained of her blood, veiling the wound. And a young woman, a stranger to suffering: perhaps—as the creatures do looking for the usual flummery tenderness, what they call happiness; wondering at the absence of it and the shifty ghost of a husband she has got by floundering into the bog known as Marriage. She would have it, and here she was!
He entered the situation and was possessed by the shivering delicacy of it. Surface emotions were not seen on her. She might be a creature with a soul. Here and there the thing has been found in women. It is priceless when found, and she could not be acting. One might swear the creature had no power to act.
She spoke without offence, the simplest of words, affected no solicitudes, put on no gilt smiles, wore no reproaches: spoke to him as if so it happened—he had necessarily a journey to perform. One could see all the while big drops falling from the wound within. One could hear it in her voice. Imagine a crack of the string at the bow's deep stress. Or imagine the bow paralyzed at the moment of the deepest sounding. And yet the voice did not waver. She had now the richness of tone carrying on a music through silence.
Well, then, at least, he had not been the utterly duped fool he thought himself since the consent was pledged to wed her.
More, she had beauty—of its kind. Or splendour or grandeur, was the term for it. But it bore no name. None of her qualities—if they were qualities—had a name. She stood with a dignity that the word did not express. She endured meekly, when there was no meekness. Pain breathed out of her, and not a sign of pain was visible. She had, under his present observation of her, beauty, with the lines of her face breaking in revolt from beauty—or requiring a superterrestrial illumination to show the harmony. He, as he now saw, had erred grossly in supposing her insensitive, and therefore slow of a woman's understanding. She drew the breath of pain through the lips: red lips and well cut. Her brown eyes were tearless, not alluring or beseeching or repelling; they did but look, much like the skies opening high aloof on a wreck of storm. Her reddish hair-chestnut, if you will—let fall a skein over one of the rugged brows, and softened the ruggedness by making it wilder, as if a great bird were winging across a shoulder of the mountain ridges. Conceived of the mountains, built in their image, the face partook alternately of mountain terror or splendour; wholly, he remembered, of the splendour when her blood ran warm. No longer the chalk-quarry face,—its paleness now was that of night Alps beneath a moon chasing the shadows.
She might be casting her spells again.
'You remember I told you,' he said, 'I have given my word—I don't break it—to be at a Ball. Your uncle was urgent to have the ceremony over. These clashes occur. The people here—I have spoken of that: people of good repute for attention to guests. I am uncertain of the time . . . we have all to learn to wait. So then, good-bye till we meet.'
He was experiencing a novel nip of torment, of just the degree which takes a partial appeasement from the inflicting of it, and calls up a loathed compassion. She might have been in his arms for a step, though she would not have been the better loved.
He was allowed his escape, bearing with him enough of husband to execrate another enslaving pledge of his word, that begat a frenzy to wreak some caresses on the creature's intolerably haunting image. Of course, he could not return to her. How would she receive him? There was no salt in the thought of it; she was too submissive.
However, there would be fun with Chummy Potts on the drive to Canleys; fun with Rufus Abrane at Mrs. Cowper Quillett's; and with the Countess Livia, smothered, struggling, fighting for life with the title of Dowager. A desire for unbridled fun had hold of any amount of it, to excess in any direction. And though this cloud as a dry tongue after much wine craves water, glimpses of his tramp's walk with a fellow tramp on a different road, enjoying strangely healthy vagabond sensations and vast ideas; brought the vagrant philosopher refreshfully to his mind: chiefly for the reason that while in Woodseer's company he had hardly suffered a stroke of pain from the thought of Henrietta. She was now a married woman, he was a married man by the register. Stronger proof of the maddest of worlds could not be furnished.
Sane in so mad a world, a man is your flabby citizen among outlaws, good for plucking. Fun, at any cost, is the one object worth a shot in such a world. And the fun is not to stop. If it does, we are likely to be got hold of, and lugged away to the altar—the terminus. That foul disaster has happened, through our having temporarily yielded to a fit of the dumps and treated a mad world's lunatic issue with some seriousness. But fun shall be had with the aid of His Highness below. The madder the world, the madder the fun. And the mixing in it of another element, which it has to beguile us—romance—is not at all bad cookery. Poetic romance is delusion—a tale of a Corsair; a poet's brain, a bottle of gin, and a theatrical wardrobe. Comic romance is about us everywhere, alive for the tapping.
A daughter of the Old Buccaneer should participate in it by right of birth: she would expect it in order to feel herself perfectly at home. Then, be sure, she finds an English tongue and prattles away as merrily as she does when her old scapegrace of a father is the theme. Son-in-law to him! But the path of wisdom runs in the line of facts, and to have wild fun and romance on this pantomime path, instead of kicking to break away from it, we follow things conceived by the genius of the situation, for the delectation of the fair Countess of Fleetwood and the earl, her delighted husband, quite in the spirit of the Old Buccaneer, father of the bride.
Carinthia sat beside the fire, seeing nothing in the room or on the road. Up in her bedchamber, the girl Madge was at her window. She saw Lord Fleetwood standing alone, laughing, it seemed, at some thought; he threw up his head. Was it a newly married man leaving his bride and laughing? The bride was a dear lady, fit for better than to be driven to look on at a prize-fight—a terrible scene to a lady. She was left solitary: and this her wedding day? The earl had said it, he had said she bore his name, spoke of coming from the altar, and the lady had blushed to hear herself called Miss. The pressure of her hand was warm with Madge: her situation roused the fervid latent sisterhood in the breast of women.
Before he mounted the coach, Lord Fleetwood talked to Kit Ives. He pointed at an upper window, seemed to be issuing directions. Kit nodded; he understood it, whatever it was. You might have said, a pair of burglars. The girl ran downstairs to bid her lover good-bye and show him she really rejoiced in his victory. Kit came to her saying: 'Given my word of honour I won't make a beast of myself to-night. Got to watch over you and your lady.'
Lord Fleetwood started his fresh team, casting no glance at the windows of the room where his bride was. He and the gentlemen on the coach were laughing.
His leaving of his young bride to herself this day was classed among the murky flashes which distinguished the deeds of noblemen. But his laughter on leaving her stamped it a cruelty; of the kind that plain mortals, who can be monsters, commit. Madge conceived a pretext for going into the presence of her mistress, whose attitude was the same as when she first sat in the chair. The lady smiled and said: 'He is not hurt much?' She thought for them about her.
The girl's, heart of sympathy thumped, and her hero became a very minute object. He had spoken previously of the making or not making a beast of himself; without inflicting a picture of the beast. His words took shape now, and in consequence a little self-pity began to move. It stirred to swell the great wave of pity for the lady, that was in her bosom. 'Oh, he!' she said, and extinguished the thought of him; and at once her under-lip was shivering, her eyes filled and poured.
Carinthia rose anxiously. The girl dropped at her feet. 'You have been so good to me to-day, my lady! so good to me to-day! I can't help it—I don't often just for this moment; I've been excited. Oh, he's well, he will do; he's nothing. You say "poor child!" But I'm not; it's only. excitement. I do long to serve you the best I can.'
She stood up in obedience and had the arms of her young mistress pressing her. Tears also were streaming from Carinthia's eyes. Heartily she thanked the girl for the excuse to cry.
They were two women. On the road to Canleys, the coach conveying men spouted with the lusty anecdote, relieved of the interdict of a tyrannical sex.
DOWN WHITECHAPEL WAY
Contention begets contention in a land of the pirate races. Gigs were at high rival speed along the road from the battle-field to London. They were the electrical wires of the time for an expectant population bursting to have report of so thundering an event as the encounter of two champion light weights, nursed and backed by a pair of gallant young noblemen, pick of the whole row of coronets above. London panted gaping and the gigs flew with the meat to fill it.
Chumley Potts offered Ambrose Mallard fair odds that the neat little trap of the chief sporting journal, which had a reputation to maintain, would be over one or other of the bridges crossing the Thames first. Mallard had been struck by the neat little trap of an impudent new and lower-priced journal, which had a reputation to gain. He took the proffered odds, on the cry as of a cracker splitting. Enormous difficulties in regard to the testimony and the verifications were discussed; they were overcome. Potts was ready for any amount of trouble; Mallard the same. There was clearly a race. There would consequently be a record. Visits to the offices of those papers, perhaps half a day at the south end of London or on Westminster bridge, examining witnesses, corner shopmen, watermen, and the like, would or should satisfactorily establish the disputed point.
Fleetwood had his fun; insomuch that he laughed himself into a sentiment of humaneness toward the couple of donkeys and forgot his contempt of them. Their gamblings and their bets increased his number of dependents; and imbeciles were preferable to dolts or the dry gilt figures of the circle he had to move in. Matter for some astonishment had been furnished to the latter this day; and would cause an icy Signor stare and rather an angry Signora flutter. A characteristic of that upper circle, as he knew it, is, that the good are dull, the vicious very bad. They had nothing to please him but manners. Elsewhere this land is a land of no manners. Take it and make the most of it, then, for its quality of brute honesty: which is found to flourish best in the British prize-ring.
His irony landed him there. It struck the country a ringing blow. But it struck an almost effacing one at the life of the young nobleman of boundless wealth, whose highest renown was the being a patron of prizefighters. Husband of the daughter of the Old Buccaneer as well! perchance as a result. That philosopher tramp named her 'beautiful Gorgon.' She has no beauty; and as for Gorgon, the creature has a look of timid softness in waiting behind her rocky eyes. A barbaric damsel beginning to nibble at civilization, is nearer the mark; and ought she to be discouraged?
Fleetwood's wrath with his position warned him against the dupery of any such alcove thoughts. For his wrath revenged him, and he feared the being stripped of it, lest a certain fund of his own softness, that he knew of; though few did, should pull him to the creature's feet. She belonged to him indeed; so he might put her to the trial of whether she had a heart and personal charm, without the ceremony of wooing—which, in his case, tempted to the feeling desperately earnest and becoming enslaved. He speculated upon her eyelids and lips, and her voice, when melting, as women do in their different ways; here and there with an execrable—perhaps pardonable—art; one or two divinely. The vision drew him to a headlong plunge and swim of the amorous mind, occupying a minute, filling an era. He corrected the feebleness, and at the same time threw a practical coachman's glance on peculiarities of the road, requiring some knowledge of it if traversed backward at a whipping pace on a moonless night. The drive from Canleys to the Royal Sovereign could be done by good pacers in an hour and a half, little more—with Ives and the stables ready, and some astonishment in a certain unseen chamber. Fleetwood chuckled at a vision of romantic devilry—perfectly legitimate too. Something, more to inflict than enjoy, was due to him.
He did, not phrase it, that a talk with the fellow Woodseer of his mountains and his forests, and nature, philosophy, poetry, would have been particularly healthy for him, almost as good as the good counsel be needed and solicited none to give him. It swept among his ruminations while he pricked Potts and Mallard to supply his craving for satanical fare.
Gower Woodseer; the mention of whom is a dejection to the venerable source of our story, was then in the act of emerging from the Eastward into the Southward of the line of Canterbury's pilgrims when they set forth to worship, on his homeward course, after a walk of two days out of Dover. He descended London's borough, having exactly twopence halfpenny for refreshment; following a term of prudent starvation, at the end of the walk. It is not a district seductive to the wayfarer's appetite; as, for example, one may find the Jew's fry of fish in oil, inspiriting the Shoreditch region, to be. Nourishment is afforded, according to the laws of England's genius in the arts of refection, at uninviting shops, to the necessitated stomach. A penn'orth of crumb of bread, assisted on its laborious passage by a penn'orth of the rinsings of beer, left the natural philosopher a ha'penny for dessert at the stall of an applewoman, where he withstood an inclination toward the juicy fruit and chose nuts. They extend a meal, as a grimace broadens the countenance, illusorily; but they help to cheat an emptiness in time, where it is nearly as offensive to our sensations as within us; and that prolonged occupation of the jaws goes a length to persuade us we are filling. All the better when the substance is indigestible. Tramps of the philosophical order, who are the practically sagacious, prefer tough grain for the teeth. Woodseer's munching of his nuts awakened to fond imagination the picture of his father's dinner, seen one day and little envied: a small slice of cold boiled mutton-flesh in a crescent of white fat, with a lump of dry bread beside the plate.
Thus he returned to the only home he had, not disheartened, and bearing scenes that outvied London's print-shops for polychrome splendour, an exultation to recall. His condition, moreover, threw his father's life and work into colour: the lean Whitechapel house of the minister among the poor; the joy in the saving of souls, if he could persuade himself that such good labour advanced: and at the fall of light, the pastime task of bootmaking—a desireable occupation for a thinker. Thought flies best when the hands are easily busy. Cobblers have excursive minds. Their occasional rap at the pegs diversifies the stitchings and is often happily timed to settle an internal argument. Seek in a village for information concerning the village or the state of mankind, you will be less disappointed at the cobbler's than elsewhere, it has been said.
As Gower had anticipated, with lively feelings of pleasure, Mr. Woodseer was at the wonted corner of his back room, on the stool between two tallow candleflames, leather scented strongly, when the wanderer stood before him, in the image of a ball that has done with circling about a stable point.
'Back?' the minister sang out at once, and his wrinkles gleamed:
Their hands grasped.
'Hungry, sir, rather.'
'To be sure, you are. One can read it on your boots. Mrs. Jones will spread you a table. How many miles to-day? Show the soles. They tell a tale of wear.'
They had worn to resemble the thin-edged layers of still upper cloud round the peep of coming sky.
'About forty odd to-day, sir. They've done their hundreds of miles and have now come to dock. I 'll ask Mrs. Jones to bring me a plate here.'
Gower went to the housekeeper in the kitchen. His father's front door was unfastened by day; she had not set eyes on him yet, and Mr. Woodseer murmured:
'Now she's got the boy. There 's clasping and kissing. He's all wild Wales to her.'
The plate of meat was brought by Mary Jones with Gower beside her, and a sniffle of her happiness audible. She would not, although invited to stay and burning to hear Gower, wait in the room where father and son had to talk together after a separation, long to love's counting. She was a Welshwoman of the pure blood, therefore delicately mannered by nature.
'Yes, dear lad, tobacco helps you on to the marrow of your story, and I too will blow the cloud,' said Mr. Woodseer, when the plate was pushed aside and the pipe appeared.
So Gower's recital of his wanderings began, more puffs than speech at the commencement. He was alternately picturesque and sententious until he reached Baden; there he became involved, from thinking of a revelation of beauty in woman.
Mr. Woodseer rapped the leather on his block.
'A place where they have started public gambling, I am told.'
'We must look into all the corners of the world to know it, sir, and the world has to be riddled or it riddles us.'
'Ah. Did you ever tell a lie, Gower Woodseer?'
'You played. The Lord be thanked you have kept your straight tongue! The Lord can always enter a heart of truth. Sin cannot dwell with it. But you played for gain, and that was a licenced thieving; and that was a backsliding; and there will have to be a climbing up. And what that means, your hold on truth will learn. Touch sin and you accommodate yourself to its vileness. Ay, you love nature. Nature is not anchorage for vessels like men. If you loved the Book you would float in harbour. You played. I do trust you lost.'
'You have your wish, sir.'
'To have won their money, Gower! Rather starve.'
'Your reason for playing, poor lad?'
'The reason eludes reason.'
'Not in you.'
'Sight of the tables; an itch to try them—one's self as well; a notion that the losers were playing wrong. In fine, a bit of a whirl of a medley of atoms; I can't explain it further.'
'Ah. The tippler's fumes in his head! Spotty business, Gower Woodseer. "Lead us not into temptation" is worldly wisdom in addition to heavenly.'
After listening to an extended homily, with a general assent and tobacco's phlegm, Gower replied to his father's 'You starved manfully?' nodding: 'From Baden to Nancy. An Alsatian cottager at times helped me along, milk and bread.'
'Wholesome for body and for soul.'
'Entering Nancy I subscribed to the dictum of our first fathers, which dogs would deliver, if they could speak: that there is no driver like stomach: and I went head on to the College, saw the Principal: plea of urgency. No engagement possible, to teach either French or English. But he was inquisitive touching the urgency. That was my chance. The French are humane when they are not suspicious of you. They are generous, if you put a light to their minds. As I was dealing with a scholarly one, I made use of such ornamental literary skill as I possessed, to prove urgency. He supplied me with bread, fruit, and wine. In the end he procured me pupils. I lodged over a baker's shop. I had food walks, and learnt something of forestry there—a taking study. When I had saved enough to tramp it home, I said my adieux to that good friend and tramped away, entering London with about the same amount in small coin as when I entered Nancy. A manner of exactly hitting the mark, that some would not find so satisfactory as it is to me.'
The minister sighed. 'There comes in the "philosophy," I suppose. When will you understand, that this "philosophy" is only the passive of a religious faith? It seems to suit you gentlemen of the road while you are young. Work among the Whitechapel poor. It would be a way for discovering the shallows of your "philosophy" earlier.'
Gower asked him: 'Going badly here, sir?'
'Murders, robberies, misusage of women, and misconduct of women!—Drink, in short: about the same amount. Drink is their death's river, rolling them on helpless as corpses, on to—may they find mercy! I and a few stand—it's in the tide we stand here, to stop them, pluck them out, make life a bit sweet to them before the poor bodies go beneath. But come! all's not dark, we have our gleams. I speak distressed by one of our girls: a good girl, I believe; and the wilfullest that ever had command of her legs. A well-favoured girl! You'll laugh, she has given her heart to a prize-fighter. Well, you can say, she might have chosen worse. He drinks, she hates it; she loves the man and hates his vice. He swears amendment, is hiccupping at night; fights a match on the morrow, and gets beaten out of formation. No matter: whenever, wherever, that man goes to his fight, that girl follows to nurse him after it. He's her hero. Women will have one, and it's their lottery. You read of such things; here we have it alive and walking. I am led to think they 're an honest couple. They come of established families. Her mother was out of Caermarthen; died under my ministration, saintly, forgiving the drunkard. You may remember the greengrocer, Tobias Winch? He passed away in shrieks for one drop. I had to pitch my voice to the top notes to get hearing for the hymn. He was a reverent man, with the craving by fits. That should have been a lesson to Madge.'
'A little girl at the greengrocer's hard by? She sold me apples; rather pretty,' said Gower.
'A fine grown girl now—Madge Winch; a comely wench she is. It breaks her sister Sarah's heart. They both manage the little shop; they make it prosper in a small way; enough, and what need they more? Then Christopher Ines has on one of his matches. Madge drives her cart out, if it 's near town. She's off down into Kent to-day by coach, Sarah tells me. A great nobleman patronizes Christopher; a Lord Fleetwood, a lord of wealth. And he must be thoughtful for these people: he sent Sarah word that Christopher should not touch drink. You may remember a butcher Ines in the street next to us. Christopher was a wild lad, always at "best man" with every boy he met: went to sea—ran away. He returned a pugilist. The girl will be nursing him now. I have spoken to her of him; and I trust to her; but I mourn her attachment to the man who drinks.'
'The lord's name?' said Gower.
'Lord Fleetwood, Sarah named him. And so it pleases him to spend his money!'
'He has other tastes. I know something of him, sir. He promises to be a patron of Literature as well. His mother was a South Wales woman.'
'Could he be persuaded to publish a grand edition of the Triads?' Mr. Woodseer said at once.
'No man more likely.'
'If you see him, suggest it.'
'Very little chance of my meeting him again. But those Triads! They're in our blood. They spring to tie knots in the head. They push me to condense my thoughts to a tight ball. They were good for primitive times: but they—or the trick of the mind engendered by them—trip my steps along the lines of composition. I produce pellets instead of flowing sheets. It'll come right. At present I 'm so bent to pick and perfect, polish my phrase, that I lose my survey. As a consequence, my vocabulary falters.'
'Ah,' Mr. Woodseer breathed and smote. 'This Literature is to be your profession for the means of living?'
'Nothing else. And I'm so low down in the market way of it, that I could not count on twenty pounds per annum. Fifty would give me standing, an independent fifty.'
'To whom are you crying, Gower?'
'Not to gamble, you may be sure.'
'You have a home.'
'Good work of the head wants an easy conscience. I've too much of you in me for a comfortable pensioner.'
'Or is it not, that you have been living the gentleman out there, with just a holiday title to it?'
Gower was hit by his father's thrust. 'I shall feel myself a pieman's chuckpenny as long as I'm unproductive, now I 've come back and have to own to a home,' he said.
Tea brought in by Mrs. Mary Jones rather brightened him until he considered that the enlivenment was due to a purchase by money, of which he was incapable, and he rejected it, like an honourable man. Simultaneously, the state of depression threw critic shades on a prized sentence or two among his recent confections. It was rejected for the best of reasons and the most discomforting: because it racked our English; signifying, that he had not yet learnt the right use of his weapons.
He was in this wrestle, under a placid demeanour, for several days, hearing the shouts of Whitechapel Kit's victory, and hearing of Sarah Winch's anxiety on account of her sister Madge; unaffected by sounds of joy or grief, in his effort to produce a supple English, with Baden's Madonna for sole illumination of his darkness. To her, to the illimitable gold-mist of perspective and the innumerable images the thought of her painted for him, he owed the lift which withdrew him from contemplation of himself in a very disturbing stagnant pool of the wastes; wherein often will strenuous youth, grown faint, behold a face beneath a scroll inscribed Impostor. All whose aim was high have spied into that pool, and have seen the face. His glorious lady would not let it haunt him.
The spell she cast had likewise power to raise him clean out of a neighbourhood hinting Erebus to the young man with thirst for air, solitudes, and colour. Scarce imaginable as she was, she reigned here, in the idea of her, more fixedly than where she had been visible; as it were, by right of her being celestially removed from the dismal place. He was at the same time not insensible to his father's contented ministrations among these homes of squalor; they pricked the curiosity, which was in the youthful philosopher a form of admiration. For his father, like all Welshmen, loved the mountains. Yet here he lived, exhorting, ministering, aiding, supported up to high good cheer by some, it seemed, superhuman backbone of uprightness;—his religious faith? Well, if so, the thing might be studied. But things of the frozen senses, lean and hueless things, were as repellent to Gower's imagination as his father's dishes to an epicure. What he envied was, the worthy old man's heart of feeling for others: his feeling at present for the girl Sarah Winch and her sister Madge, who had not been heard of since she started for the fight. Mr. Woodseer had written to her relatives at the Wells, receiving no consolatory answer.
He was relieved at last; and still a little perplexed. Madge had returned, he informed Gower. She was well, she was well in health; he had her assurances that she was not excited about herself.
'She has brought a lady with her, a great lady to lodge with her. She has brought the Countess of Fleetwood to lodge with her.'
Gower heard those words from his father; and his father repeated them. To the prostrate worshipper of the Countess of Fleetwood, they were a blow on the head; madness had set in here, was his first recovering thought, or else a miracle had come to pass. Or was it a sham Countess of Fleetwood imposing upon the girl? His father was to go and see the great lady, at the greengrocer's shop; at her request, according to Madge. Conjectures shot their perishing tracks across a darkness that deepened and made shipwreck of philosophy. Was it the very Countess of Fleetwood penitent for her dalliance with the gambling passion, in feminine need of pastor's aid, having had report from Madge of this good shepherd? His father expressed a certain surprise; his countenance was mild. He considered it a merely strange occurrence.
Perhaps, in a crisis, a minister of religion is better armed than a philosopher. Gower would not own that, but he acknowledged the evidences, and owned to envy; especially when he accompanied his father to the greengrocer's shop, and Mr. Woodseer undisturbedly said:
'Here is the place.' The small stuffed shop appeared to grow portentously cavernous and waveringly illumined.
THE GIRL MADGE
Customers were at the counter of the shop, and these rational figures, together with the piles of cabbages, the sacks of potatoes, the pale small oranges here and there, the dominant smell of red herrings, denied the lurking of an angelical presence behind them.
Sarah Winch and a boy served at the counter. Sarah led the Mr. Woodseers into a corner knocked off the shop and called a room. Below the top bars of a wizened grate was a chilly fire. London's light came piecemeal through a smut-streaked window. If the wonderful was to occur, this was the place to heighten it.
'My son may be an intruder,' Mr. Woodseer said. 'He is acquainted with a Lord Fleetwood . . .'
'Madge will know, sir,' replied Sarah, and she sent up a shrill cry for Madge from the foot of the stairs.
The girl ran down swiftly. She entered listening to Sarah, looking at Gower; to whom, after a bob and pained smile where reverence was owing, she said, 'Can you tell me, sir, please, where we can find Lord Fleetwood now?'
Gower was unable to tell. Madge turned to Mr. Woodseer, saying soon after: 'Oh, she won't mind; she'll be glad, if he knows Lord Fleetwood. I'll fetch her.'
The moments were of the palpitating order for Gower, although his common sense lectured the wildest of hearts for expecting such a possibility as the presence of his lofty lady here.
And, of course, common sense proved to be right: the lady was quite another. But she struck on a sleeping day of his travels. Her face was not one to be forgotten, and to judge by her tremble of a smile, she remembered him instantly.
They were soon conversing, each helping to paint the scene of the place where they had met.
'Lord Fleetwood has married me,' she said.
Gower bent his head; all stood silent.
'May I?' said Madge to her. 'It is Lord Fleetwood's wedded wife, sir. He drove her from her uncle's, on her wedding day, the day of a prize-fight, where I was; he told me to wait on his lady at an inn there, as I 've done and will. He drove away that evening, and he hasn't'—the girl's black eyebrows worked: 'I've not seen him since. He's a great nobleman, yes. He left his lady at the inn, expenses paid. He left her with no money. She stayed on till her heart was breaking. She has come to London to find him. She had to walk part of the way. She has only a change of linen we brought in a parcel. She's a stranger to England: she knows nobody in London. She had no place to come to but this poor hole of ours she 's so good as let welcome her. We can't do better, and it 's no use to be ashamed. She 's not a lady to scorn poor people.'
The girl's voice hummed through Gower.
He said: 'Lord Fleetwood may not be in London,' and chafed at himself for such a quaver.
'It's his house we want, sir, he has not been at his house in Kent. We want his London house.'
'My dear lady,' said Mr. Woodseer; 'it might be as well to communicate the state of things to your family without delay. My son will call at any address you name; or if it is a country address, I can write the items, with my assurances of your safety under my charge, in my house, which I beg you to make your home. My housekeeper is known to Sarah and Madge for an excellent Christian woman.'
Carinthia replied: 'You are kind to me, sir. I am grateful. I have an uncle; I would not disturb my uncle; he is inventing guns and he wishes peace. It is my husband I have come to find. He did not leave me in anger.'
She coloured. With a dimple of tenderness at one cheek, looking from Sarah to Madge, she said: 'I would not leave my friends; they are sisters to me.' Sarah, at these words, caught up her apron. Madge did no more than breathe deep and fast.
An unoccupied cold parlour in Mr. Woodseer's house that would be heated for a guest, urged him to repeat his invitation, but he took the check from Gower, who suggested the doubt of Mary Jones being so good an attendant upon Lady Fleetwood as Madge. 'And Madge has to help in the shop at times.'
Madge nodded, looked into the eyes of her mistress, which sanctioned her saying: 'She will like it best here, she is my lady and I understand her best. My lady gives no trouble: she is hardy, she's not like other ladies. I and Sarah sleep together in the room next. I can hear anything she wants. She takes us as if she was used to it.'
Sarah had to go to serve a customer. Madge made pretence of pricking her ears and followed into the shop.
'Your first visit to London is in ugly weather, Lady Fleetwood,' said Gower.
'It is my first,' she answered.
How the marriage came about, how the separation, could not be asked and was not related.
'Our district is not all London, my dear lady,' said Mr. Woodseer. 'Good hearts are here, as elsewhere, and as many, if one looks behind the dirt. I have found it since I laboured amongst them, now twenty years. Unwashed human nature, though it is natural to us to wash, is the most human, we find.'
Gower questioned the naturalness of human nature's desire to wash; and they wrangled good-humouredly, Carinthia's eyes dwelling on them each in turn; until Mr. Woodseer, pursuing the theme started by him to interest her, spoke of consolations derived from his labours here, in exchange for the loss of his mountains. Her face lightened.
'You love the mountains?'
'I am a son of the mountains.'
'Ah, I love them! Father called me a daughter of the mountains. I was born in the mountains. I was leaving my mountains on the day, I think it yesterday, when I met this gentleman who is your son.'
'A glorious day it was!' Gower exclaimed.
'It was a day of great glory for me,' said Carinthia. 'Your foot did not pain you for long?'
'The length of two pipes. You were with your brother.'
'With my brother. My brother has married a most beautiful lady. He is now travelling his happy time—my Chillon!'
There came a radiance on her under-eyelids. There was no weeping.
Struck by the contrast between the two simultaneous honeymoons, and a vision of the high-spirited mountain girl, seen in this place a young bride seeking her husband, Gower Woodseer could have performed that unphilosophical part. He had to shake himself. She seemed really a soaring bird brought down by the fowler.
Lord Fleetwood's manner of abandoning her was the mystery.
Gower stood waiting for her initiative, when the minister interposed: 'There are books, books of our titled people-the Peers, books of the Peerage. They would supply the address. My son will discover where to examine them. He will find the address. Most of the great noblemen have a London house.'
'My husband has a house in London,' Carinthia said.
'I know him, to some degree,' said Gower.
She remarked: 'I have heard that you do.'
Her lips were shut, as to any hint at his treatment of her.
Gower went into the shop to speak with Madge. The girl was talking in the business tone to customers; she finished her commission hurriedly and joined him on the pavement by the doorstep. Her voice was like the change for the swing of a door from street to temple.
'You've seen how brave she is, sir. She has things to bear. Never cries, never frets. Her marriage day—leastways . . . I can't, no girl can tell. A great nobleman, yes. She waited, believing in him; she does. She hasn't spoken to me of what she's had to bear. I don't know; I guess; I'm sure I'm right—and him a man! Girls learn to know men, call them gentlemen or sweeps. She thinks she has only to meet him to persuade him she 's fit to be loved by him. She thinks of love. Would he—our tongues are tied except among ourselves to a sister. Leaves her by herself, with only me, after—it knocks me dumb! Many a man commits a murder wouldn't do that. She could force him to—no, it isn't a house she wants, she wants him. He's her husband, Mr. Woodseer. You will do what you can to help; I judge by your father. I and Sarah 'll slave for her to be as comfortable—as we—can make her; we can't give her what she 's used to. I shall count the hours.'
'You sold me apples when your head was just above the counter,' said Gower.
'Did I?—you won't lose time, sir?' she rejoined. 'Her box is down at the beastly inn in Kent. Kind people, I dare say; their bill was paid any extent, they said. And he might do as he liked in it—enter it like a thief, if it pleased him, and off like one, and they no wiser. She walked to his big house Esslemont for news of him. And I'm not a snivelling wench either; but she speaks of him a way to make a girl drink her tears, if they ain't to be let fall.'
'But you had a victory down there,' Gower hinted congratulations.
'Ah,' said she.
'Christopher Ines is all right now?'
'I've as good as lost my good name for Kit Ines, Mr. Woodseer.'
'Not with my dad, Madge.'
'The minister reads us at the heart. Shall we hear the street of his house in London before night?'
'I may be late.'
'I'll be up, any hour, for a rap at the shutters. I want to take her to the house early next morning. She won't mind the distance. She lies in bed, her eyes shut or open, never sleeping, hears any mouse. It shouldn't go on, if we can do a thing to help.'
'I'm off,' said Gower, unwontedly vexed at his empty pocket, that could not offer the means for conveyance to a couple of young women.
The dark-browed girl sent her straight eyes at him. They pushed him to hasten. On second thoughts, he stopped and hailed her; he was moved to confirm an impression of this girl's features.
His mind was directed to the business burning behind them, honestly enough, as soon as he had them in sight again.
'I ought to have the address of some of her people, in case,' he said.
'She won't go to her uncle, I 'm sure of that,' said Madge. 'He 's a lord and can't be worried. It 's her husband to find first.'
'If he's to be found!—he's a lord, too. Has she no other relatives or friends?'
'She loves her brother. He's an officer. He's away on honeymoon. There 's an admiral down Hampshire way, a place I've been near and seen. I'd not have you go to any of them, sir, without trying all we can do to find Lord Fleetwood. It's Admiral Fakenham she speaks of; she's fond of him. She's not minded to bother any of her friends about herself.'
'I shall see you to-night,' said Gower, and set his face Westward, remembering that his father had named Caermarthen as her mother's birthplace.
Just in that tone of hers do Welshwomen talk of their country; of its history, when at home, of its mountains, when exiled: and in a language like hers, bare of superlatives to signify an ardour conveyed by the fire of the breath. Her quick devotion to a lady exciting enthusiasm through admiring pity for the grace of a much-tried quiet sweetness, was explained; apart from other reasons, feminine or hidden, which might exist. Only a Welsh girl would be so quick and all in it, with a voice intimating a heated cauldron under her mouth. None but a Welsh-blooded girl, risking her good name to follow and nurse the man she considered a hero, would carry her head to look virgin eyes as she did. One could swear to them, Gower thought. Contact with her spirited him out of his mooniness.
He had the Cymric and Celtic respect of character; which puts aside the person's environments to face the soul. He was also an impressionable fellow among his fellows, a philosopher only at his leisure, in his courted solitudes. Getting away some strides from this girl of the drilling voice,—the shudder-voice, he phrased it,—the lady for whom she pleaded came clearer into his view and gradually absorbed him; though it was an emulation with the girl Madge, of which he was a trifle conscious, that drove him to do his work of service in the directest manner. He then fancied the girl had caught something of the tone of her lady: the savage intensity or sincerity; and he brooded on Carinthia's position, the mixture of the astounding and the woful in her misadventure. One could almost laugh at our human fate, to think of a drop off the radiant mountain heights upon a Whitechapel greengrocer's shop, gathering the title of countess midway.
But nothing of the ludicrous touched her; no, and if we bring reason to scan our laugh at pure humanity, it is we who are in the place of the ridiculous, for doing what reason disavows. Had he not named her, Carinthia, Saint and Martyr, from a first perusal of her face? And Lord Fleetwood had read and repeated it. Lord Fleetwood had become the instrument to martyrize her? That might be; there was a hoard of bad stuff in his composition besides the precious: and this was a nobleman owning enormous wealth, who could vitiate himself by disposing of a multitude of men and women to serve his will, a shifty will. Wealth creates the magician, and may breed the fiend within him. In the hands of a young man, wealth is an invitation to devilry. Gower's idea of the story of Carinthia inclined to charge Lord Fleetwood with every possible false dealing. He then quashed the charge, and decided to wait for information.
At the second of the aristocratic Clubs of London's West, into which he stepped like an easy member, the hall-porter did not examine his clothing from German hat to boots, and gave him Lord Fleetwood's town address. He could tell Madge at night by the door of the shuttered shop, that Lord Fleetwood had gone down to Wales.
'It means her having to wait,' she said. 'The minister has been to the coach-office, to order up her box from that inn. He did it in his name; they can't refuse; no money's owing. She must have a change. Sally has fifteen pounds locked up in case of need.'
Sally's capacity and economy fetched the penniless philosopher a slap.
'You've taken to this lady,' he said.
'She held my hand, while Kit Ines was at his work; and I was new to her, and a prize-fighter's lass, they call me:—upon the top of that nobleman's coach, where he made me sit, behind her, to see the fight; and she his wedded lady that morning. A queer groom. He may keep Kit Ines from drink, he's one of you men, and rides over anything in his way. I can't speak about it; I could swear it before a judge, from what I know. Those Rundles at that inn don't hear anything it suits him to do. All the people down in those parts are slaves to him. And I thought he was a real St. George before,—yes, ready I was to kiss the ground his feet crossed. If you could, it's Chinningfold near where Admiral Fakenham lives, down Hampshire way. Her friends ought to hear what's happened to her. They'll find her in a queer place. She might go to the minister's. I believe she's happier with us girls.'
Gower pledged his word to start for Chinningfold early as the light next day. He liked the girl the better, in an amicable fashion, now that his nerves had got free of the transient spell of her kettle tone—the hardly varied one note of a heart boiling with sisterly devotion to a misused stranger of her sex;—and, after the way of his race, imagination sprang up in him, at the heels of the quieted senses, releasing him from the personal and physical to grasp the general situation and place the protagonist foremost.
He thought of Carinthia, with full vision of her. Some wrong had been done, or some violation of the right, to guess from the girl Madge's molten words in avoidance of the very words. It implied—though it might be but one of Love's shrewder discords—such suspected traitorous dealing of a man with their sister woman as makes the world of women all woman toward her. They can be that, and their being so illuminates their hidden sentiments in relation to the mastering male, whom they uphold.
But our uninformed philosopher was merely picking up scraps of sheddings outside the dark wood of the mystery they were to him, and playing imagination upon them. This primary element of his nature soon enthroned his chosen lady above their tangled obscurities. Beneath her tranquil beams, with the rapture of the knowledge that her name on earth was Livia, he threaded East London's thoroughfares,—on a morning when day and night were made one by fog, to journey down to Chinningfold, by coach, in the service of the younger Countess of Fleetwood, whose right to the title he did not doubt, though it directed surprise movements at his understanding from time to time.
STUDIES IN FOG, GOUT, AN OLD SEAMAN, A LOVELY SERPENT, AND THE MORAL EFFECTS THAT MAY COME OF A BORROWED SHIRT
Money of his father's enabled Gower to take the coach; and studies in fog, from the specked brown to the woolly white, and the dripping torn, were proposed to the traveller, whose preference of Nature's face did not arrest his observation of her domino and petticoats; across which blank sheets he curiously read backward, that he journeyed by the aid of his father's hard-earned, ungrudged piece of gold. Without it, he would have been useless in this case of need. The philosopher could starve with equanimity, and be the stronger. But one had, it seemed here clearly, to put on harness and trudge along a line, if the unhappy were to have one's help. Gradual experiences of his business among his fellows were teaching an exercised mind to learn in regions where minds unexercised were doctorial giants beside it.
The study of gout was offered at Chinningfold. Admiral Fakenham's butler refused at first to take a name to his master. Gower persisted, stating the business of his mission; and in spite of the very suspicious glib good English spoken by a man wearing such a hat and suit, the butler was induced to consult Mrs. Carthew.
She sprang up alarmed. After having seen the young lady happily married and off with her lordly young husband, the arrival of a messenger from the bride gave a stir the wrong way to her flowing recollections; the scenes and incidents she had smothered under her love of the comfortable stood forth appallingly. The messenger, the butler said, was no gentleman. She inspected Gower and heard him speak. An anomaly had come to the house; for he had the language of a gentleman, the appearance of a nondescript; he looked indifferent, he spoke sympathetically; and he was frank as soon as the butler was out of hearing. In return for the compliment, she invited him to her sitting-room. The story of the young countess, whom she had seen driven away by her husband from the church in a coach and four, as being now destitute, praying to see her friends, in the Whitechapel of London—the noted haunt of thieves and outcasts, bankrupts and the abandoned; set her asking for the first time, who was the man with dreadful countenance inside the coach? A previously disregarded horror of a man. She went trembling to the admiral, though his health was delicate, his temper excitable. It was, she considered, an occasion for braving the doctor's interdict.
Gower was presently summoned to the chamber where Admiral Fakenham reclined on cushions in an edifice of an arm-chair. He told a plain tale. Its effect was to straighten the admiral's back, and enlarge in grey glass a pair of sea-blue eyes. And, 'What's that? Whitechapel?' the admiral exclaimed,—at high pitch, far above his understanding. The particulars were repeated, whereupon the sick-room shook with, 'Greengrocer?' He stunned himself with another of the monstrous points in his pet girl's honeymoon: 'A prizefight?'
To refresh a saving incredulity, he took a closer view of the messenger. Gower's habiliments were those of the 'queer fish,' the admiral saw. But the meeting at Carlsruhe was recalled to him, and there was a worthy effort to remember it. 'Prize-fight!—Greengrocer! Whitechapel!' he rang the changes rather more moderately; till, swelling and purpling, he cried: 'Where's the husband?'
That was the emissary's question likewise.
'If I could have found him, sir, I should not have troubled you.'
'Disappeared? Plays the man of his word, then plays the madman! Prize-fight the first day of her honeymoon? Good Lord! Leaves her at the inn?'
'She was left.'
'When was she left?'
'As soon as the fight was over—as far as I understand.'
The admiral showered briny masculine comments on that bridegroom.
'Her brother's travelling somewhere in the Pyrenees—married my daughter. She has an uncle, a hermit.' He became pale. 'I must do it. The rascal insults us all. Flings her off the day he married her! It 's a slap in the face to all of us. You are acquainted with the lady, sir. Would you call her a red-haired girl?'
'Red-gold of the ballads; chestnut-brown, with threads of fire.'
'She has the eyes for a man to swear by. I feel the loss of her, I can tell you. She was wine and no penalty to me. Is she much broken under it?—if I 'm to credit . . . I suppose I must. It floors me.'
Admiral Baldwin's frosty stare returned on him. Gower caught an image of it, as comparable, without much straining, to an Arctic region smitten by the beams.
'Nothing breaks her courage,' he said.
'To be sure, my poor dear! Who could have guessed when she left my house she was on her way to a prizefight and a greengrocer's in Whitechapel. But the dog's not mad, though his bite 's bad; he 's an eccentric mongrel. He wants the whip; ought to have had it regularly from his first breeching. He shall whistle for her when he repents; and he will, mark me. This gout here will be having a snap at the vitals if I don't start to-night. Oblige me, half a minute.'
The admiral stretched his hand for an arm to give support, stood, and dropped into the chair, signifying a fit of giddiness in the word 'Head.'
Before the stupor had passed, Mrs. Carthew entered, anxious lest the admittance of a messenger of evil to her invalid should have been an error of judgement. The butler had argued it with her. She belonged to the list of persons appointed to cut life's thread when it strains, their general kindness being so liable to misdirection.
Gower left the room and went into the garden. He had never seen a death; and the admiral's peculiar pallor intimated events proper to days of cold mist and a dripping stillness. How we go, was the question among his problems:—if we are to go! his youthful frame insistingly added.
The fog down a wet laurel-walk contracted his mind with the chilling of his blood, and he felt that he would have to see the thing if he was to believe in it. Of course he believed, but life throbbed rebelliously, and a picture of a desk near a lively fire-grate, books and pen and paper, and a piece of writing to be approved of by the Hesper of ladies, held ground with a pathetic heroism against the inevitable. He got his wits to the front by walking faster; and then thought of the young countess and the friend she might be about to lose. She could number her friends on her fingers. Admiral Fakenham's exclamations of the name of the place where she now was, conveyed an inky idea of the fall she had undergone. Counting her absent brother, with himself, his father, and the two Whitechapel girls, it certainly was an unexampled fall, to say of her, that they and those two girls had become by the twist of circumstances the most serviceable of her friends.
Her husband was the unriddled riddle we have in the wealthy young lord,—burning to possess, and making, tatters of all he grasped, the moment it was his own. Glints of the devilish had shot from him at the gamingtables,—fine haunts for the study of our lower man. He could be magnificent in generosity; he had little humaneness. He coveted beauty in women hungrily, and seemed to be born hostile to them; or so Gower judged by the light of the later evidence on unconsidered antecedent observations of him. Why marry her to cast her off instantly? The crude philosopher asked it as helplessly as the admiral. And, further, what did the girl Madge mean by the drop of her voice to a hum of enforced endurance under injury, like the furnace behind an iron door? Older men might have understood, as he was aware; he might have guessed, only he had the habit of scattering meditation upon the game of hawk and fowl.
Dame Gossip boils. Her one idea of animation is to have her dramatis persona in violent motion, always the biggest foremost; and, indeed, that is the way to make them credible, for the wind they raise and the succession of collisions. The fault of the method is, that they do not instruct; so the breath is out of them before they are put aside; for the uninstructive are the humanly deficient: they remain with us like the tolerated old aristocracy, which may not govern, and is but socially seductive. The deuteragonist or secondary person can at times tell us more of them than circumstances at furious heat will help them to reveal; and the Dame will have him only as an index-post. Hence her endless ejaculations over the mystery of Life, the inscrutability of character,—in a plain world, in the midst of such readable people! To preserve Romance (we exchange a sky for a ceiling if we let it go), we must be inside the heads of our people as well as the hearts, more than shaking the kaleidoscope of hurried spectacles, in days of a growing activity of the head.
Gower Woodseer could not know that he was drawn on to fortune and the sight of his Hesper by Admiral Fakenham's order that the visitor was to stay at his house until he should be able to quit his bed, and journey with him to London, doctor or no doctor. The doctor would not hear of it. The admiral threatened it every night for the morning, every morning for the night; and Gower had to submit to postponements balefully affecting his linen. Remonstrance was not to be thought of; for at a mere show of reluctance the courtly admiral flushed, frowned, and beat the bed where he lay, a gouty volcano. Gower's one shirt was passing through the various complexions, and had approached the Nubian on its way to negro. His natural candour checked the downward course. He mentioned to Mrs. Carthew, with incidental gravity, on a morning at breakfast, that this article of his attire 'was beginning to resemble London snow.' She was amused; she promised him a change more resembling country snow. 'It will save me from buttoning so high up,' he said, as he thanked her. She then remembered the daily increase of stiffness in his figure: and a reflection upon his patient waiting, and simpleness, and lexicographer speech to expose his minor needs, touched her unused sense of humour on the side where it is tender in women, from being motherly.
In consequence, she spoke of him with a pleading warmth to the Countess Livia, who had come down to see the admiral 'concerning an absurd but annoying rumour running over London.' Gower was out for a walk. He knew of the affair, Mrs. Carthew said, for an introduction to her excuses of his clothing.
'But I know the man,' said Livia. 'Lord Fleetwood picked him up somewhere, and brought him to us. Clever: Why, is he here?'
'He is here, sent to the admiral, as I understand, my lady.'
'Sent by whom?'
Having but a weak vocabulary to defend a delicate position, Mrs. Carthew stuttered into evasions, after the way of ill-armed persons; and naming herself a stranger to the circumstances, she feebly suggested that the admiral ought not to be disturbed before the doctor's next visit; Mr. Woodseer had been allowed to sit by his bed yesterday only for ten minutes, to divert him with his talk. She protected in this wretched manner the poor gentleman she sacrificed and emitted such a smell of secresy, that Livia wrote three words on her card, for it to be taken to Admiral Baldwin at once. Mrs. Carthew supplicated faintly; she was unheeded.
The Countess of Fleetwood mounted the stairs—to descend them with the knowledge of her being the Dowager Countess of Fleetwood! Henrietta had spoken of the Countess of Fleetwood's hatred of the title of Dowager. But when Lady Fleetwood had the fact from the admiral, would she forbear to excite him? If she repudiated it, she would provoke him to fire 'one of his broadsides,'—as they said in the family, to assert its and that might exhaust him; and there was peril in that. And who was guilty? Mrs. Carthew confessed her guilt, asking how it could have been avoided. She made appeal to Gower on his return, transfixing him.
Not only is he no philosopher who has an idol, he has to learn that he cannot think rationally; his due sense of weight and measure is lost, the choice of his thoughts as well. He was in the house with his devoutly, simply worshipped, pearl of women, and his whole mind fell to work without ado upon the extravagant height of the admiral's shirt-collar cutting his ears. The very beating of his heart was perplexed to know whether it was for rapture or annoyance. As a result he was but histrionically master of himself when the Countess Livia or the nimbus of the lady appeared in the room.
She received his bow; she directed Mrs. Carthew to have the doctor summoned immediately. The remorseful woman flew.
'Admiral Fakenham is very ill, Mr. Woodseer, he has had distracting news. Oh, no, the messenger is not blamed. You are Lord Fleetwood's friend and will not allow him to be prejudged. He will be in town shortly. I know him well, you know him; and could you hear him accused of cruelty—and to a woman? He is the soul of chivalry. So, in his way, is the admiral. If he were only more patient! Let us wait for Lord Fleetwood's version. I am certain it will satisfy me. The admiral wishes you to step up to him. Be very quiet; you will be; consent to everything. I was unaware of his condition: the things I heard were incredible. I hope the doctor will not delay. Now go. Beg to retire soon.'
Livia spoke under her breath; she had fears.
Admiral Baldwin lay in his bed, submitting to a nurse-woman-sign of extreme exhaustion. He plucked strength from the sight of Gower and bundled the woman out of the room, muttering: 'Kill myself? Not half so quick as they'd do it. I can't rest for that Whitechapel of yours. Please fetch pen and paper: it's a letter.'
The letter began, 'Dear Lady Arpington.'
The dictation of it came in starts. Atone moment it seemed as if life's ending shook the curtains on our stage and were about to lift. An old friend in the reader of the letter would need no excuse for its jerky brevity. It said that his pet girl, Miss Kirby, was married to the Earl of Fleetwood in the first week of last month, and was now to be found at a shop No. 45 Longways, Whitechapel; that the writer was ill, unable to stir; that he would be in London within eight-and-forty hours at furthest. He begged Lady Arpington to send down to the place and have the young countess fetched to her, and keep her until he came.
Admiral Baldwin sat up to sign the letter.
'Yes, and write "miracles happen when the devil's abroad"—done it!' he said, sinking back. 'Now seal, you'll find wax—the ring at my watch-chain.'
He sighed, as it were the sound of his very last; he lay like a sleeper twitched by a dream. There had been a scene with Livia. The dictating of the letter took his remainder of strength out of him.
Gower called in the nurse, and went downstairs. He wanted the address of Lady Arpington's town house.
'You have a letter for her?' said Livia, and held her hand for it in a way not to be withstood.
'There's no superscription,' he remarked.
'I will see to that, Mr. Woodseer.'
'I fancy I am bound, Lady Fleetwood.'
'By no means.' She touched his arm. 'You are Lord Fleetwood's friend.'
A slight convulsion of the frame struck the admiral's shirt-collar at his ears; it virtually prostrated him under foot of a lady so benign in overlooking the spectacle he presented. Still, he considered; he had wits alive enough, just to perceive a duty.
'The letter was entrusted to me, Lady Fleetwood.'
'You are afraid to entrust it to the post?'
'I was thinking of delivering it myself in town.'
'You will entrust it to me.'
'Anything on earth of my own.'
'The treasure would be valued. This you confide to my care.'
'It is important.'
'Indeed it is.'
'Say that it is, then. It is quite safe with me. It may be important that it should not be delivered. Are you not Lord Fleetwood's friend? Lady Arpington is not so very, very prominent in the list with you and me. Besides, I don't think she has come to town yet. She generally sees out the end of the hunting season. Leave the letter to me: it shall go. You, with your keen observation missing nothing, have seen that my uncle has not his whole judgement at present. There are two sides to a case. Lord Fleetwood's friend will know that it would be unfair to offer him up to his enemies while he is absent. Things going favourably here, I drive back to town to-morrow, and I hope you will accept a seat in my carriage.'