"I say I have, by this time, more than a tolerable experience, not only of French salons, but also of those over which foreign residents in Paris preside. I have watched the American successes in Paris of this season, which is now closing its gilded gates, dismissing the slaves of pleasure to the bitter waters of the German springs and gaming-tables. I have seen our people put aside for Madame de Lhuile de Petrole and the great M. Caligula Shoddy. The beauties of the season have been 'calculating' and 'going round' in the best salons, and they have themselves given some of the most successful entertainments we have had. Dixie's land has been fairyland. Strange and gorgeous Princesses from the East have entered mighty appearances. One has captivated the Prince, said to be the handsomest man in Paris. Russian and Polish great ladies have done the honours—according to the newspapers—with their 'habitual charm.' The Misses Bickers have had their beauties sung by a chorus of chroniqueurs. Here the shoulders of ladies at a party are as open to criticism as the ankles of a stage dancer. The beauties of our blonde Misses have made whole bundles of goose-quills tremble. Paris society is made up not even chiefly of Parisians; the rich of all nations flock to us, and are content to pay a few hundred pounds per month for a floor of glass and gilding. The Emperor has made a show capital as a speculation. All Europe contributes to the grandeur of the fashionable world of Paris. And suddenly what do we hear?
"That we, whose blood is good enough for England; who can speak a few foreign languages in addition to our own; who know our neighbours by having lived among them; who have travelled enough to learn that good breeding is not confined to England or to France, are accused of having destroyed the high tone of the Opera audiences in this city. We are good enough, as to manners, for Her Majesty's Theatre, but not for the Italiens. Tell Mrs. Sandhurst of this: she will be so mad!
"A few nights before La Patti left us, to degrade herself by warbling her wood-notes in the ignorant ears of the Opera public whom Mr. Gye is about to assemble, and on whom the leadership of Costa is thrown away, an unfortunate incident happened at the Italiens. Patti had been announced, and Mdlle. Harris appeared instead. Whereupon there was an uproar that could not be stilled. La Patti wept; la Harris wept also. Finally, the spoilt child appeared, like Niobe, all tears. Who created the uproar? The French chroniqueur answers: a cosmopolitan audience—an audience from the Grand Hotel. He is good enough not to pick us out, but we are included with the rest. The foreign residents have degraded the Opera. The audience which greets Patti is a rabble compared with that which listened to Sontag. 'The exquisite urbanity which is proverbially French,' and which was apparent at the Italiens fifteen or twenty years ago, has disappeared since Paris has become the world's railway terminus. M. Emile Villars, who is so obliging as to make the observation, proceeds to be very clever. Scratch the Russian, and you know what you will find. I answer, a gentleman uninfluenced by a stale proverb; we have a delightful specimen in this very house. M. Villars is great at scratching, since his readers are recommended to grate Peruvians and Javanese. Under the three articles, we are told, lies the one barbarous material! The ladies of these are charming, seductive, irresistible, but they want ton, and lack the delicacy of the monde. We foreigners are too proud of our beauty and our dollars, have an unquenchable thirst for pleasure, and we are socially daring. M. Villars is funny in the fashion of his class. He says that we English-speaking class of foreigners bear aloft a banner with the strange device 'All right.' M. Villars proceeds to remark, 'We take from foreigners what we should leave to them, their feet upon chairs, and their hats upon their heads, as at the Italiens the other night.' He finds that a cosmopolitan invasion has made French society less delicate, less gallant, less polite.
"We are to blame! Belgravia is not refined enough for the Avenue de l'Imperatrice. Clapham, I infer, would not be tolerated at Batignolles. I repeat, I have gone through some arduous times here, in the midst of the foreign invasion of polite society. I have scratched neither Russ, nor German, nor Servian, nor Wallachian. But I must be permitted to observe, that I have found their manners quite equal to any that were native. Shall I go further, Emmy, and speak all my mind? There is a race of the new-rich—of the recently honoured, here, who are French from their shoe-rosettes to their chignons. They come direct from the Bourse, and from the Pereire fortune-manufactory of the Place Vendome. They bring noise and extravagance, but not manners. I have seen many of my countrymen in Parisian drawing-rooms, in the midst of Frenchmen, Russians, Princes of various lands; and, do you know, I have not seen anything much better in the way of bearing, manners, and mental culture and natural refinement than the English gentleman. I feel quite positive that it is not he who has lowered the manners or morals of Napoleon the Third's subjects. I am bold enough to think that a probationary tour through some of our London drawing-rooms would do good to the saucy young seigneurs I see leaning on the balcony of the Jockey Club when we are driving past.
"I will remind M. Villars that his proverb has been parodied, and that it has been said, 'Scratch a Frenchman, and you find a dancing-master.' But I know this proverb to be foolish; and I am candid and liberal enough to say so.
"I hope you are not too lonely, and don't keep too much to your room. Now I know by experience what life in a boarding-house means. How must you feel, dearest Emmy, alone! Je t'embrasse. How gets on the German?
"We have such a specimen of the gandin here—the Vicomte de Gars. I think John Catt had better make haste over.
Miss Carrie Cockayne to Miss Sharp.
"My dearest Emmy,—No answer from you? How unkind! But still I continue to give you my ideas of the moment from this. What do we want? A writer in one of the frivolous sheets which are called newspapers on this side of the Channel, has been giving himself great airs; looking out of his window, with two or three touches of his pen he dismisses the poor women who pass under his balcony, and closes the casement with the conviction that woman's rights and wrongs are put away for another generation. Foolish women! They are plentiful enough, and they muster in fair numbers at the Wauxhall meetings which have been going on here, to the infinite amusement of the superior creatures who drink absinthe, smoke cigars, and gamble, hours after we silly things have gone to bed. I am not writing to deny woman's weakness, nor her vanity, nor the ridiculous exhibition she makes of herself when she takes to "orating"—as the Yankees say—and lecturing, and dressing herself up in her brother's clothes. Do you think, my dear Emmy, there are many women foolish enough to applaud Dr. Mary Walker because she dresses like an overgrown school-girl, and shows her trousers? What is she like in society? Neither man nor woman. But how many have imitated her? How many women in England, France, and America have taken to the platform? One would think that all womankind was in a state of revolution, and about to make a general descent upon the tailors and tobacconists, turning over the lords of the creation to the milliners and the baby-linen warehouses. This is just the way men argue, and push themselves out of a difficulty. This French philosophical pretender, who has been observing us from his window (I can't imagine where he lives), describes one or two social monstrosities—with false complexions, hair, figure,—and morals; brazen in manner, defiant in walk—female intellectual all-in-alls. His model drives, hunts, orates, passes resolutions, dissects—in short does everything except attend to baby. This she leaves to the husband. He takes the pap-bowl, and she shoulders the gun. He looks out the linen while she sharpens her razors. The foolish public laugh all along the boulevards, and say what a charming creature a woman will be when she drives a locomotive, commands a frigate, and storms a citadel!
"Every time a meeting is convened at the Wauxhall to consider how the amount of female starvation or misery may be reduced, the philosopher throws his window open again, and grins while he caricatures, or rather distorts and exaggerates to positive untruth. M. Gill gets fresh food. The chroniqueurs invent a series of absurdities, which didn't happen yesterday, as they allege. I am out of patience when I see all this mischievous misrepresentation, because I see that it is doing harm to a very just and proper cause. We are arguing for more work for our poor sisters who have neither father, husband, brother, nor fortune to depend upon; and these French comic scribblers describe us as unsexed brawlers, who want top-boots. I want no manly rights for women. I am content with the old position, that her head should just reach the height of a man's heart; but I do see where she is not well used—where she is left to genteel dependence, and a life in the darkest corner of the drawing-room, upon the chair with the unsafe leg, over the plate that is cracked, in the bedroom where the visitor died of scarlet fever.
"She is not unsexed wearing her poor heart out against these bars; but she would be a free, bright, instructed creature, helping her rich sister, or a trusty counsellor when the children are ill. She would be unsexed issuing railway tickets or managing a light business; but she is truly womanly while she is helpless and a burden to others.
"Foolish women! Yes, very stupid very often, but hardly in hoping that the defenceless among us may be permitted to become, by fair womanly exertion, independent. I am directed to observe how amusing the Figaro has been recently at our expense, hoping to obtain the suffrages of the really thoughtless of our sex thereby. We are our own worst enemies and well do you men know it. The frivolous are an immense host, and these have reason to laugh at serious women who want to get a little justice and teaching for their dependent sisters—not manly avocations, nor masculine amusements. I go to the Wauxhall, my dear Emmy, not to help my sex to unsex itself, but, I must repeat, to aid my poor sisters who want to work, that, if left without the support of male kindred, they may lead honourable, independent lives; to this end they must have certain rights, and these, and no more, I advocate.
"You see, the old story is told over again. We beg a little independence; and we are answered with ancient jests. You are quite as unjust, and not so amusing or clever in your injustice in England. They have not imitated the medical students in St. James's Hall at this Wauxhall. We have seen no such monstrous spectacle as a host of young men hooting and yelling at one poor, weak, foolish little woman in black pantalettes. Truly, you must be as tired of the comic view of the question as you are ashamed of your medical students. I know what the highly-educated English ladies think on the subject. They detest the orating, blustering, strangely-costumed advocates of woman's rights; but don't fall into the common error of believing that they are not earnest about many of the points we have been discussing here, in the midst of this mocking race. Depend upon it, we are not foolish enough—fond as you men are of crying 'foolish women!'—to unsex ourselves.
"The woman who wants to get into Parliament is, to my thinking, a monster; and I would sentence her to stocking-mending for life. The creature who appears before men in black pantalettes, and other imitations of his dress, should be rigorously held clear of decent houses, until she had learned how to dress herself modestly and becomingly. The Missy who talked about eating her way to the bar, I would doom to the perpetual duty of cooking chops for hungry lawyers' clerks.
"But you will have had enough of this.
"Not a word? and you promised so many. Somebody has whispered a name to me. It is Charles. Is that true? I will never forgive you.
"Ever yours, "CARRIE."
Emmy never answered, poor girl!
"THE PEOPLE OF THE HOUSE."
Lucy Rowe would have been fast friends with Carrie Cockayne during their stay in her aunt's house, had Mrs. Cockayne, on the one hand, permitted her daughter to become intimate with anything so low as "the people of the house," and had Mrs. Rowe, on the other, suffered her niece to "forget her place." But they did approach each other, by an irresistible affinity, and by the easy companionship of common tastes. While Sophonisba engaged ardently in all the doings of the house, and was a patient retailer of its scandals; and while Mrs. Cockayne was busy with her evening whist, and morning "looks at the shops"—quiet and retiring Theodosia managed to become seriously enamoured of the Vicomte de Gars, who visited Mrs. Rowe's establishment, as the unexceptionable friend of the Reverend Horace Mohun.
The young Vicomte was a Protestant; of ancient family and limited means. Where the living scions of the noble stock held their land, and went forth over their acres from under the ancestral portcullis, was more than even Mrs. Rowe had been able, with all her penetrating power in scandal, to ascertain. But the young nobleman was Mr. Mohun's friend—and that was enough. There had been reverses in the family. Losses fall upon the noblest lines; and supposing the Count de Gars in the wine trade—to speak broadly, in the Gironde—this was to his honour. The great man struggling with the storms of fate, is a glad picture always to noble minds. Some day he would issue from his cellars, and don his knightly plume once more, and summon the vulgar intruders to begone from the Chateau.
As for Mrs. Cockayne, to deny that she was highly contented at the family's intimacy with a Viscount, would be to falsify my little fragmentary chain of histories. She wrote to her husband that she met the very best society at Mrs. Rowe's, extolled the elegant manners and enclosed the photograph of the Vicomte de Gars, and said she really began to hope that she had persuaded "his lordship" to pay them a visit in London. "Tell Mrs. Sandhurst, my dear Cockayne, that I am sure she will like the Vicomte de Gars."
The Vicomte de Gars was a little man, with long wristbands. Miss Tayleure described him as all eye-glass and shirt-front. Comic artists have often drawn the moon capering on spider-legs; a little filling out would make the Vicomte very like the caricature. He was profound—in his salutations, learned—in lace, witty—thanks to the Figaro. His attentions to Miss Theodosia Cockayne, and to Madame her mother, were of the most splendid and elaborate description. He left flowers for the young lady early in the morning.
It was very provoking that Theodosia had consented to be betrothed to John Catt of Peckham.
"Carrie, my dear," Mrs. Cockayne observed, having called her daughter to her bedroom for a good lecture, "once for all, I WILL NOT have you on such intimate terms with the people of the house. What on earth can you be thinking about? I should have thought you would show more pride. I am quite sure the Vicomte saw you yesterday when you were sitting quite familiarly with Miss Rowe in the bureau. I WILL NOT have it."
"Mamma dear, Lucy Rowe is one of the most sensible and, at the same time, best informed girls I ever knew; and her sentiments are everything that could be desired."
"I will not be answered, Carrie; mind that. I wonder you haven't more pride. A chit like that, who keeps the hotel books, and gives out the sugar."
"Her father was——"
"Never mind what her father was. What is she? I wonder you don't propose to ask her home on a visit."
"She would not disgrace——"
This was too much for Mrs. Cockayne. She stamped her foot, and bore down upon Carrie with a torrent of reasons why Miss Rowe should be held at a distance.
"You wouldn't find Theodosia behaving in such a manner. She understands what's becoming. I dare say she's not so clever as you are——"
"Dear mamma, this is cruel——"
"Don't interrupt me. No, no; I see through most things. This Miss Howe is always reading. I saw her just now with some novel, I've no doubt, which she shouldn't read——"
"It was Kingsley's——"
"Hold your tongue, child. Yes, reading, and with a pen stuck behind her ear."
"She's so very lonely: and Mrs. Howe is so very severe with her."
"I have no doubt it's quite necessary; there, go and dress for the table d'hote, and mind what I say."
Poor Lucy wondered what on earth could have happened that Carrie Cockayne avoided her: and what those furtive nods of the head and stolen smiles at her could mean? On the other hand, how had she offended Mrs. Cockayne? Happily, Mrs. Rowe was on Lucy's side; for it had pleased Mrs. Cockayne to show her social superiority by extravagant coldness and formality whenever she had occasion to address "the landlady." One thing Mrs. Cockayne admitted she could NOT understand—viz., Why Jane the servant took so much upon herself with her mistress; and what all the mystery was about a Mr. Charles, who seemed to be a dark shadow, kept somewhere as far as possible in the background of the house.
Mrs. Rowe, on her side, was amply revenged for Mrs. Cockayne's airs of superiority, when Mr. Cockayne arrived in the company of Mr. John Catt, the betrothed love of Theodosia.
"You must be mad, Mr. Cockayne," was his wife's greeting directly they were alone—"raving mad to bring that vulgar fellow John Catt with you. Didn't you get my letters?"
"I did, my dear; and they brought me over, and John Catt with me. I, at least, intend to act an honourable part."
"Perhaps you will explain yourself, Mr. Cockayne."
"I have travelled from Clapham for that purpose. Who the devil is this Viscount de Gars, to begin with?"
Mrs. Cockayne drew herself up to her full height, and looked through her husband—or meant to look through him—but just then he was not to be cowed even by Mrs. Cockayne.
With provoking coolness and deliberation over the exact relative quantities, Mr. Cockayne mixed himself a glass of grog from his brandy flask; while he proceeded to inform his wife that Mr. John Catt, who had been engaged, with their full consent, to their daughter, had, at his instigation, travelled to Paris to understand what all this ridiculous twaddle about Viscount de Gars meant.
"You will spoil everything," Mrs. Cockayne gasped, "as usual."
"I don't know, madam, that I am in the habit of spoiling anything; but be very certain of this, that I shall not stand by and see my daughter make a fool of a young man of undoubted integrity and of excellent prospects, for the sake of one of these foreign adventurers who swarm wherever foolish Englishwomen wake their appearance. I beg you will say nothing, but let me observe for myself, and leave the young people to come to an understanding by themselves."
In common with many Englishmen of Timothy Cockayne's and John Catt's class, Theodosia's father at once concluded that the poor polite little Vicomte de Gars was an adventurer, and that his coronet was pasteboard, and his shirt studs stolen. Mr. John Catt distinguished himself on his arrival by loud calls for bottled beer, the wearing of his hat in the sitting-room, and by the tobacco-fumes which he liberally diffused in his wake.
When the little Vicomte made his accustomed appearance in the drawing-room, after the table d'hote, he offered the Cockayne ladies his profoundest bows, and was most reverential in his attitude to Mr. Cockayne, who on his side was red and brusque. As neither Mr. nor Mrs. Cockayne could speak a French word, and Mr. John Catt was not in a position to help them, and was, moreover, inclined to the most unfavourable conclusions on the French nobleman, the presentations were on the English side of the most awkward description. The demoiselles Cockayne "fell a giggling" to cover their confusion; and the party would have made a ridiculous figure before all the boarders, had not the Reverend Horace Mohun covered them with his blandness.
Mr. John Catt was not well-mannered, but he was good-hearted and stout-hearted. He was one of those rough young gentlemen who pride themselves upon "having no nonsense about them." He was downright in all things, even in love-making. He took, therefore, a very early opportunity of asking his betrothed "what this all meant about Monsieur de Gars?" and of observing, "She had only to say the word, and he was ready to go."
This was very brutal, and it is not in the least to be wondered at that the young lady resented it.
I am, as the reader will have perceived, only touching now and then upon the histories of the people who passed through Mrs. Rowe's highly respectable establishment while I was in the habit of putting up there. This John Catt was told he was very cruel, and that he might go; Mrs. Cockayne resolutely refused to give up the delights and advantages of the society of the Vicomte de Gars; the foolish girl was—well, just as foolish as her mamma; and finally, in a storm that shook the boarding-house almost to its respectable foundations, the Cockayne party broke up—not before the Vicomte and Miss Theodosia Cockayne had had an explanation in the conservatory, and Mrs. Cockayne had invited "his lordship" to London.
I shall pick up the threads of all this presently.
Poor girl! she was timid, frightened. I saw at once that the man with whom she was, and who packed her feet up so carefully in the travelling rug in her state cabin, was not of her class. She could not have been daintier in mien and shape than she appeared. Hands round and white as pearls, feet as pretty as ever stole from a man's hand to the stirrup; a sweet wee face, that had innocence and heart in it. Country bred, I thought: nested in some Kentish village: a childhood amid the hops: familiar with buttermilk and home-baked bread.
Who has not been blessed by looking upon such an English face: ruddy on the cheek, and white and pink upon the brow and neck: the head poised upon the shoulders with a wondrous delicacy? Such girls issue from honest Englishmen's homes to gladden honeymoon cottages, and perpetuate that which is virtuous and courageous in our Saxon race. She lay muffled in shawls, pillowed upon a carpet-bag, softened with his fur coat, frightened about the sea, and asking every few minutes whether we were near the port.
He fell into conversation with me before we were clear of Folkestone harbour. He was a travelled man, accustomed to do his journeying socially, and not in the surly, self-contained, and selfish manner of our countrymen generally. I confess—and it is a boldness, knowing all I do know now—that I was drawn towards Daker at the outset. He had a winning manner—just that manner which puts you on a friendly footing with a stranger before you have passed an hour in his company. He began, as though it was quite natural that we should become acquainted, in the tone your neighbour at dinner assumes, although you are unacquainted with his name. We were on an exact level: gentlemen, beyond fear or reproach. I repeat emphatically, I liked Daker's manner, for it was easy and polished, and it had—which you don't often get with much polish—warmth. I was attracted by his many attentions to his young wife. Who could be near her, and not feel the chivalry in his soul warm to such a woman? But Daker's attentions were idiosyncrasies. While he was talking to me at the cabin-door, he saw the fur coat slip, and readjusted it. He divined when she wanted to move. He fanned her; and she sought his eyes incessantly with the deep pure blue of hers, and slaked her ever-thirsty love with long, passionate gazing. She took no notice of me: he was all her world.
Daker was in an airy humour—a man I thought without guile or care, passing away from England to happy connubial times along the enchanting shores which the Mediterranean bathes. We fell, as fellow-travellers generally do, upon old stories of the ways of the world we had seen. He had taken wider ranges than my duties had ever entailed on me.
Autumn was cooling to winter; it was early November when we met.
"I have been," he said, "killing time and birds pleasantly enough in Sussex."
Mrs. Daker overheard him, and smiled. Then we shifted carelessly, as far as I was concerned, away. He continued—
"And now we're off on the usual tramp. My wife wants a warm winter, and so do I, for the matter of that."
"Nice?" I asked.
A very decided "no" was the answer.
"I shall find some little sleepy Italian country-place, where we shall lay up like dormice, and just give King Frost the go-by for once. Are you bound south?"
"Only to Paris—as prosaic a journey as any cotton-spinner could desire."
"Always plenty to be done in Paris," Daker said; "at least I have never felt at a loss. But it's a bachelor's paradise."
"And a wife's," I interposed.
"Not a husband's, you think?" Daker asked, turning the end of his moustache very tight. "I agree with you."
"I have no experience; but I have an opinion, which I have been at some pains to gather—French society spoils our simple English women."
"Most decidedly," said Daker.
"They are too simple and too affectionate for the artificial, diplomatic—shall I say heartless?—society of the salons. Their ears burn at first at the conversation. They are presented to people who would barely be tolerated in the upper circles of South Bank, St. John's Wood."
"You are right; I know it well," said Daker, very earnestly, but resuming his normal air of liveliness in an instant. "It's a bad atmosphere, but decidedly amusing. The esprit of a good salon is delicious—nothing short of it. I like to bathe in it: it just suits me, though I can't contribute much to it. We Englishmen are not alert enough in mind to hold our own against our nimble neighbours. We shall never fence, nor dance, nor rally one another as they can. We are men who don't know how to be children. It's a great pity!"
"I am not so sure of that," was the opinion I uttered. "We should lose something deeper and better. We don't enjoy life—that is, the art of living—as they do; but we reach deeper joys."
Daker smiled, and protested playfully—
"We are running into a subject that would carry us far, if we would let it. I only know I wish I were a Frenchman with all my heart, and I'm not the first Englishman who has said so. Proud of one's country, and all that sort of thing: plucky, strong, master race of the world. I know it. But I have seen bitter life on that side"—pointing to the faint white line of Dover—"and I have enjoyed myself immensely on that"—pointing to the growing height of Cape Grisnez.
I thought, as he spoke, that he must be an ungrateful fellow to say one word against the country where he had found the sweet little lady whose head was then pillowed upon his rough coat. I understood him afterwards. He started a fresh conversation, after having made a tender survey of the wraps and conveniences of Mrs. Daker, who followed him with the deep eyes as he returned to my side with his open cigar-case, to offer me a cheroot.
"Do you know anything of Amiens?" he said. "Is it a large place—busy, thriving?"
I gave him my impression—a ten-year old one.
"Not a place a man could lose himself in, evidently," he joked; "and they've been mowed down rather smartly by the cholera since you were there."
I could not quite like the tone of this; and yet what tenderness was in the man when he turned to his young wife! "St. Omer, Abbeville, Montreuil, and the rest of the places on the line, are dreary holes, I happen to know. You have been to Chantilly, of course?"
I had lost a round sum of money in that delightful place, where our ambassador was wont to refresh himself after his diplomatic labours and ceremonials.
"I know the place," Daker went on; "I know Chantilly well. It wakes up a curious dream of the long ago in my mind."
"Comme ma poche." Daker knew his Enghien well—and Enghien was profoundly acquainted with Daker. Daker appeared to be a man not yet over his thirtieth year. He was fair, full-blooded, with a bright grey eye, a lithe shapely build, and distinguished in air and movement withal. There were no marks upon his face; his eyes were frank and direct; his speech was firm and of a cheery ring; and emotions seemed to come and go in him as in an unused nature. Yet his conversation, free as it was, and wholly unembarrassed, cast out frequent hints at a copious history and an eventful one, in which he had acted a part. I concluded he was no common man, and that, until now, the world had not treated him over well; albeit he had just received ample compensation for the past in the girlish wife who had crept to his side, and who, the swiftest runner might have read, loved him with all her soul. We all pride ourselves on our skill in reading the characters of our fellow-creatures. A man will admit any dulness except that which closes the hearts of others to him. I was convinced that I had read the character of Daker before we touched the quay at Boulogne: he was a man of fine and delicate nature, whom the world had hit; who had been cheery under punishment; and who had at length got his rich reward in Mrs. Daker. I repeat this confession, and to my cost; for it is necessary as part explanation of what follows.
My conversation with Daker was broken by the call of a sweet voice—"Herbert!" We were crossing the bar at the entrance of Boulogne harbour. The good ship rolled heavily, and Herbert was wanted! When the passengers crowded to the side, pressing and jostling to effect an early landing, and the fishwives were scrambling from the paddles to the deck, I came upon Daker and his wife once more. She glanced shyly and not very good-humouredly at me, and seemed to say, "It was you who diverted the attention of my Herbert from me so long."
"Good morning," Daker said, meaning that there was an end of our fortuitous intercourse, and that he should be just as chatty and familiar with any man who might happen to be in the same carriage with him between Boulogne and Paris. I watched him hand his wife into a basket phaeton, smooth her dress, arrange her little parcels, satisfy her as to her dressing-case, and then seat himself triumphantly at her side, and call gaily to the saturnine Boulounais upon the box, "Allez!" I confess that a pang of jealousy shot through me. It has been observed by La Rochefoucauld that it is astonishing how cheerfully we bear the ills of others; he might well have added that, on the other hand, it is remarkable how we fret over the happiness of our neighbours. I envied Daker when I saw him drive away to the station with the gentle girl at his side; I knew that she was nestling against him, and half her illness was only an excuse to get nearer to his heart. Why should I envy him? Could I have seen through his face into his heart at that moment I should have thanked God, who made me of simpler mould—a lonely, but an honourable man.
We were on our way to Paris in due time. At Amiens, where we enjoyed the usual twenty minutes' rest, Daker offered me a light. I saw him making his way to the carriage in which his wife sat, with a basket of pears and some caramels. The bell rang, and we all hurried to our seats. I remarked that, at the point of starting, there was an unusual stir and noise on the platform. Messieurs les voyageurs were not complete; somebody was missing from one of the carriages. The station-master and the guard kept up a brisk and angry conversation, which ended in an imperious wave of the hand to the engine-driver.
The guard and the commissioner (who travels in the interest of the general vagrant public from London to Paris, making himself generally useful by the way) shrugged their shoulders and got to their places, and we went forward to Creil. Here the carriages were all searched carefully. A lady was inquiring for the gentleman. My French companions laughed, and answered in their native light manner; and again we were en route for Paris. Past Chantilly and Enghien and St. Denis we flew, to where the low line of the fortifications warned us to dust ourselves, fold our newspapers, roll up our rugs, and tell one another that which was obvious to all—that we were in the centre of civilization once more.
It was dark; and I was hungry, and out of humour, and impatient. I had fallen in with unsympathetic companions. That half-hour in the waiting-room, while the porters are arranging the luggage for examination, is trying to most tempers. I am usually free from it; but on this occasion I had some luggage belonging to a friend to look after. I was waiting sulkily.
Presently the guard, the travelling commissioner, and half-a-dozen more in official costume, appeared, surrounding a lady, who was in deep distress. Had I seen a gentleman—fair, &c., &c.? I turned and beheld Mrs. Daker. She darted at me, and I can never forget the look which accompanied the question—
"You were with my husband on the boat. Where is he?"
He was not among the passengers who reached Paris. We telegraphed back to Creil, and to Amiens. No English traveller, who had missed his train, made answer. We questioned all the passengers in the waiting-room; one had seen the blonde Englishman buying pears at Amiens; this was all we could hear. I say "we," because Mrs.
Daker at once fastened upon me: she implored my advice; she narrated all that had passed between her husband and herself while the train was waiting at Amiens. He had begged her not to stir—kind fellow that he was—he had insisted upon fetching fruit and sweetmeats for her. I calmed her fears, for they were exaggerated beyond all reason. He would follow in the next train; I knew what Frenchmen were, and they would not remark a single traveller, unless he had some strong peculiarity in his appearance, and her husband had a travelled air which was cosmopolitan. He spoke French like a Frenchman, she told me; and he had proved, on the boat, that he was familiar with its idioms. I begged her to get her luggage, go to her hotel, and leave me to watch and search. What hotel were they to use? She knew nothing about it. Her husband hadn't told her, for she was an utter stranger to Paris. I recommended the Windsor (I thought it prudent not to say Mrs. Rowe's); and she was a child in my hands. She looked even prettier in her distress than when her happy eyes were beaming, as I first caught sight of them, upon Herbert Daker. The tears trickled down her cheek; the little white hands shook like flower bells in the wind. While the luggage was being searched (fortunately she had the ticket in her reticule), I stood by and helped her.
"But surely, madam, this is not all!" I remarked, when her two boxes had been lightly searched. She caught my meaning. Where was her husband's portmanteau?
"Mr. Baker's portmanteau was left behind at Boulogne—there was some mistake; I don't know what exactly. I——"
At this moment she marked an expression of anxiety in my face. She gave a sharp scream, that vibrated through the gloomy hall and startled the bystanders. "Was madame ill? Would she have some eau sucree?" She had fainted! and her head lay upon my arm!
Unhappy little head, why stir again?
"You must come, my dear fellow. You know, when I promise you a pleasant evening I don't disappoint you. You'll meet everybody. You dine with me. Sole Joinville, at Philippe's—best to be had, I think—and a bird. In the cool, the Madrid for our coffee, and so gently back. I'll drop you at your door—leave you for an hour to paint the lily, and then fetch and take you. You shall not say me nay."
I protested a little, but I was won. I had a couple of days to spend in Paris, and, like a man on the wing, had no particular engagements.
We met, my host and I, at the Napolitain. He knew everybody, and was everybody's favourite. Cosmo Bertram, once guardsman, then fashionable saunterer wherever society was gayest, quietly extravagant and sentimentally dissipated, had, after much flitting about the sunny centres of the Continent, settled down to Paris and a happy place in the English society that has agglomerated in the west of Napoleon's capital. Fortunately for his "little peace of mind"—as he described a shrewd, worldly head—he was put down by the dowagers, after some sharp discussions of his antecedents, as "no match." There was the orphan daughter of a Baronet who had some hundred and twenty a year, and tastes which she hoped one day to satisfy by annexing a creature wearing a hat, and a pocket with ten times that sum. She had thought for a moment of Cosmo Bertram when she had enjoyed her first half-hour of his amusing rattle; but she had been quickly undeceived—Bertram could not have added a chicken to her broth, a pair of gloves to her toilette; so she shut up the thing she called a heart, for lack of some fitter name, and cruised again through the ominous gold rings of her glasses round the salons, and hoped the growing taste for travel might send her some one for annexation at last.
"We're jigging on pretty much as usual," Bertram said at Philippe's. "Plenty of scandal and plenty of reason for it. The demand creates the supply—is that sound political economy?"
"I am surprised that political economy, together with an intimate acquaintance with hydrostatics, are not exacted in these mad examination days from a queen's messenger; but I am not bound not to be a fool in political economy, so I elect to be one."
"Ay; and about ice?"
"My dear Q. M., when you have had a headache, has it ever fallen to your lot to be in the company of a pretty woman?"
"Else had I been one of the most neglected of men."
"Well, she has fetched the Eau-de-Cologne, bathed your manly brow, and then blown her balmy breath over your temples. That sweet coolness, my dear fellow, is my idea of the proper temperature for Chablis."
"It's a great bit of luck to pounce upon you, Bertram, when a man has only a few hours to spend in Paris, after a year or two's absence. Nearly upon two years have passed since I was here. Yes, November, '62—now August, '64."
"In that time, my dear Q. M., reputations have been made and lost by the hundred. I have had a score of eternal friendships. You can run through the matrimonial gauntlet, from courtship to the Divorce Court, in that time. We used to grieve for years: now we weep as we travel; shed tears, as we cast grain, by machinery. Two years! Why, I have passed through half-a-dozen worlds. My bosom friend of '62 wouldn't remember me if I met him to-morrow. I met old Baron Desordres, who has made such a brilliant fiasco for everybody except himself, yesterday; I knew him in '62 with poor little Bartle, who lent him a couple of thousands. Bartle died last month. In '62 Desordres and Bartle were inseparable. I said to the Baron yesterday, 'You know poor little Bartle is dead.' The Baron, picking his teeth, murmured, turning over the leaves of his memory, 'Bartel! Bartel! I remember—un petit gros, vrai?' and the leaves of the Baron's memory were turned back, and Bartle was as much forgotten in five minutes as the burnt end of a cigarette. I daresay his sisters are gone as governesses for want of the thousands the Baron ate. Two years! Two epochs!"
"I suppose so. While the light burns, and the summer is on, the moths come out. Tragedy, comedy, and farce elbow each other through the rooms. I have seen very much myself, for bird of passage. I took part in a strange incident when I passed through last time."
"Tell your story, and drink your Roederer, my dear Q. M."
"Story! I want to get at the story. I travelled with a man and his wife from Folkestone to Paris. On the boat he was the most attentive of husbands; at the terminus he had disappeared. Poor woman in tears; fell into my arms, sir, by Jove!"
"No story!" cried Bertram, winking at the floating air-beads in his glass. "No story! my good, simple Q.M. Egad! what would you have? Pray go on."
"Go on! I've finished. I was off in the afternoon by the Marseilles mail. Of course, I did my utmost to find the husband. She went to the Windsor; I thought it would be quiet for her. I went to the police, paid to have inquiries kept up in all the hotels; and lastly, put her in communication with a good business man—Moffum, you know; and left her, a wreck of one of the prettiest creatures I have ever seen."
"What kind of fellow was the husband? You got his name, of course?"
"Daker—Herbert Daker. Man of good family. A most agreeable, taking, travelled companion; light and bright as——"
"The light-hearted Janus of Lamb," Bertram interrupted, his words dancing lightly as the beads in his glass.
The association of Daker with Wainwright struck me sharply. For how genial and accomplished a man was the criminal! a stranger conglomeration of graces and sins never dwelt within one human breast. I was started on wild speculations.
"I've set you dreaming. You found no clue to a history?"
"None. She had been married three months to Daker. She was a poor girl left alone, with a few hundreds, I apprehend. She would not say much. A runaway match, I concluded. Not a word about her family. When I left Paris, after dinner, he had made no sign. She promised to write to me to Constantinople. I gave her my address in town. I told her Arthur's here would reach me. But not a word, my dear boy. That woman had the soul of truth in voice and look, or I never read Eve's face yet."
"Ha! ha!" Bertram laughed. "I wish I had not got beyond the risk of being snared by the un-gloving of a hand. You only pass through, I live in Paris."
"Paris or London, a heart may be read, if you will only take the trouble. I shall never hear, in all human probability, what has become of Mrs. Daker, or her husband; she may be an intrigante, and he a card-sharper now; all I know, and will swear, is that she loved that man to distraction then, and it was a girl in love."
Bertram's suspicions seemed to be fixed on Daker, whom he had never seen; although I had described his eminently prepossessing qualities.
"I can't understand why you should suspect Daker of villany, as I see you do, Bertram."
"I tell you he was a most accomplished, prepossessing villain, my dear Q.M. Your upper class villains are always prepossessing. Manners are as necessary to them as a small hand to a pickpocket."
"Sharp, but unfair—only partly true, like all sweeping generalizations. I think, as I hope, that the wife found the husband, and that they are nestling in some Italian retreat."
"And never had the grace to write you a word! No, no, you say they had manners. That, at any rate, then, is not the solution of the mystery."
Bertram was right here. Then what had become of Mrs. Daker? Daker, if alive, was a scoundrel, and one who had contrived to take care of himself. But that sweet country face! Here was a heart that might break, but would never harden.
"Mystery it must and will remain, I suppose."
"One of many," was Bertram's gay reply. "How they overload these matches with sulphur!"
He was lighting his cigar. His phaeton was at the door. A globule of Chartreuse; a compliment for the chef, a bow to the dame de comptoir, and we were on our way to the Bois, at a brisk trot, for the great world had cleared off to act tragedy and comedy by the ocean shore, or the invalid's well, or the gambler's green baize.
Bertram—one of that great and flourishing class of whom Scandal says "she doesn't know how they do it, or who pays for it"—albeit a bad match, even for Miss Tayleure, was, as I have said, in good English and French society, and drove his phaeton. He was saluted on his way along the Champs Elysees and by the lake, by many, and by some ladies who were still unaccountably lingering in Paris. A superb little Victoria passed. Bertram raised his hat.
"An Irish girl," he said, "of superb beauty."
At the Madrid we met a few people we knew; and, driving home, Bertram saluted Miss Tayleure, who was crawling round the lake with her twin sister, and was provoked to be recognised by a man of fashion in a hack vehicle in the month of August.
"Charming evening they're having," said Bertram: "taking out their watches every two minutes to be quite sure they shall get back within the hour and a half which they have made up their minds to afford. Beastly position!"
"What! living for appearances?"
"Just so; with women especially. Their dodges are extraordinary. Tayleure would cheapen a penny loaf, and run down the price of a box of lucifer matches. There's a chance for you! She would be an economical wife; but then, my dear fellow, she would spend all the savings on herself. Her virtue is like Gibraltar!"
"And would be safe as unintrenched tableland, I should think."
"Hang it!" Bertram handsomely interposed, "let us drop poor Tayleure. She believes that her hour of happiness has to be rung in yet; and she is always craning out of the window to catch the first silver echoes of the bells. The old gentlewoman is happy."
"Suppose you tell me something about your Irish beauty," I suggested.
"Quite a different story, my good Q.M. Wait till I get clear of this clumsy fellow ahead. So, so, gently. Now, Miss Trefoil; the Trefoil is a girl whose success I can understand perfectly. To begin with—the girl is educated. In the second place, she is, beyond all dispute, a beautiful woman. There is not another pair of violet eyes in all Paris—I mean in the season—to be matched with hers. Milk and roses—nothing more—for complexion: and no paint; which makes her light sisters—accomplished professors of the art of maquillage—hate her. A foot!" Bertram kissed the tip of his glove, by way of description. "A voice that seems to make the air rich about her."
"Gently, Bertram. We must be careful how we approach your queen, I see."
"Not a bit of it. I am telling you just what you would hear in any of the clubs. She has a liberal nature, my boy, and loves nobody, that I can find, in particular. What bewitches me in talking to her is a sort of serious background. I hate a woman all surface as I hate a flat house. The Trefoil—queer name, isn't it?—can put a tremor in her voice suddenly. The Trefoil has memories—a fact: something which she doesn't give to the world, generous as she is. It is the shade to her abounding and sparkling passages of light. Only her deep art, I dare say; but devilish pleasant and refreshing when you get tired of laughing—gives a little repose to facial muscles. The Trefoil has decidedly made a sensation. At the races she was as popular as the winner. She must have got home with a chariot full of money. Of course, when she bet, she won—or she didn't pay. A pot of money is to be made on that system: and the women, bless 'em, how kindly they've taken to it!"
This kind of improving discourse employed us to my gate. Bertram dropped me to return for "the painted lily" in an hour.
I am no squeamish man, or I should have passed a wretched life. The man who is perpetually travelling must bear with him a pliant nature that will adapt itself to any society, to various codes of morals, habits of thought, rules of conduct, and varieties of temperament. I can make myself at home in most places, but least in those regions which the progress of civilization, or the progress of something, has established in every capital of Europe, and to the description of which the younger Dumas has devoted his genius. The atmosphere of the demi-monde never delighted me. I see why it charms; I guess why it has become the potent rival of good society; the reason why men of genius, scholars, statesmen, princes, and all the great of the earth take pleasure in it, is not far to seek; silly women at home are to blame in great part. This new state of the body social is very much to be regretted; but I am not yet of those who think that good, decent society—the converse of honourable men with honourable women—is come or coming to an end. I am of the old-fashioned, who have always been better pleased and more diverted with the society of ladies than with that of the free graces who allow smoke and indulge in it, and who have wit but lack wisdom. I was not in high glee at the prospect of accompanying Cosmo Bertram to his free dancing party.
They are all very much alike. The fifteen sous basket, to use Dumas' fine illustration, in Paris, is very like the Vienna, the Berlin, or the London basket. The ladies are beautiful, exquisitely dressed, vivacious, and, early in the evening, well-mannered. At the outset you might think yourself at your embassy; at the close you catch yourself hoping you will get away safely. Shrill voices pipe in corners of the room. "On sautera!" People are jumping with a vengeance. The paint is disturbed upon your partner's face. Pretty lips speak ugly words. Honi soit qui mal y pense; but then the gentleman is between two and three wines, and the lady is rallying him because he has sense enough left to be a little modest. A couple sprawl in a waltz. A gentleman roars a toast. The hostess prays for less noise. An altercation breaks out in the antechamber. Two ladies exchange slaps on the face, and you thank madame for a charming evening.
The next morning you are besieged, at your club, for news about Aspasia's reception. She did the honours en souveraine; but it is really a pity she will not be less attentive to the champagne. Everything would have gone off splendidly if that little diablesse Titi had not revived her feud with Fanchette. You are not surprised to hear that Aspasia's goods were seized this morning. The duke must have had more than enough of it by this time, and has, of course, discovered that he has been the laughing-stock of his friends for a long time past. Over the absinthe tripping commentary Aspasia sinks from the Chasusee d'Antin to the porter's lodge. A little creve taps his teeth with the end of his cane, blinks his tired, wicked eyes, like a monkey in the sun, through his pince-nez, and opines, with a sharp relish, that Aspasia is destined to sweep her five stories—well.
Pah! What kind of discourse is all this for born and bred gentlemen to hold in these days, when the portals of noble knowledge lie wide open, and every man may grace his humanity with some special wisdom of his own!
Bertram, a ribbon in his buttonhole, and arrayed to justify his fame as one of the best-dressed men in Paris, came in haste for me.
"We are late, my dear Q.M. This is not carnival time, remember. We jump early."
The rooms were—but I cannot be at the pains of describing them. The reader knows what Sevres and Aubusson, St. Gobain, Barbedienne, Fourdinois, Jeanseline, Tahan, and the rest, can do for a first floor within a stone's throw of the Boulevard des Italiens. The fashion in all its most striking aspects is here. The presents lie thick as autumn leaves. The bonne says you might fill a portmanteau with madame's fans. Bertram is recognised by a dozen ladies at once. The lady of the house receives me with the lowest curtsey. No ambassadress could be more gracieuse. The toilettes are amazing. It is early, after all Bertram's impatience. The state is that of a duchesse for the present. Bertram leaves me and is lost in the crowd. The conversation is measured and orderly. The dancing begins, and I figure in the quadrille of honour. I am giving my partner—a dark-eyed, vivacious lady—an ice, when I am tapped upon the shoulder by Cosmo Bertram. Bertram has a lady on his arm. He turns to her, saying—
"Permit me to present my friend to you, Madame Trefoil——"
"What! Mrs. Daker!" I cried.
Mrs. Daker's still sweet eyes fell upon me; and she shook my hand; and by her commanding calmness smothered my astonishment, so that the bystanders should not see it.
Later in the evening she said—passing me in the crowd—"Come and see me."
I did not—I could not—next morning, tell Lucy nor Mrs. Rowe.
I had an unfortunate friend at Boulogne in the year 1865—then and many years before. He lived on the ramparts in the upper town; had put on that shabby military air, capped with a naval couvre-chef (to use a Paris street word that is expressive, as street words often are), which distinguishes the British inhabitant of Boulogne-sur-mer; and was the companion of a group of majors and skippers, sprinkled with commercial men of erratic book-keeping tendencies. He had lost tone. He took me to his club; nothing more than a taproom, reserved to himself and men with whom he would not have exchanged a cigar light in London. The jokes were bad and flat. A laid-up captain of an old London boat—sad old rascal was he!—led the conversation. Who was drunk last night? How did the Major get the key into the lock? Who paid for Todger's last go? "My word," said I, to my friend, who had liquored himself out of one of the snuggest civil berths I know, "how you can spend your time with those blackguards, surpasses my comprehension." They amused him, he said. He must drink with them, or play whist with another set, whose cards—he emphatically added, giving me to understand much thereby—he did not like. It was only for a short time, and he would be quit of them. This was his day dream. My friend was always on the point of getting rid of Boulogne; everything was just settled; and so, buoyed with a hope that never staled, death caught him one summer's afternoon, in the Rue Siblequin, and it was the bibulous sea captain and the very shady major who shambled after him, when he was borne through those pretty Petits Arbres to the English section of the cemetery. Wrecks of many happy families lie around him in that narrow field of rest; and passing through on my state errands, I have thought once or twice, what sermons indeed are there not in the headstones of Boulogne cemetery.
I was with my poor friend in the December of 1865. I was on way home to pass a cheery Christmas with my own people—a luxury which was not often reserved for me—and he had persuaded me to give him a couple of days. It would have been hard to refuse Hanger, who had been gazing across Channel so many weary months, seeing friends off whither he might not follow; and wondering when he should trip down the ladder, and bustle with the steward in the cabin, and ask the sailors whether we shall have a fine passage. To see men and women and children crowding home to their English Christmas from every corner of Europe, and to be left behind to eat plum-pudding in a back parlour of an imitation British tavern, with an obsolete skipper, and a ruined military man, whose family blushed whenever his name was mentioned, was trying. Hanger protested he had no sentiment about Christmas, but he nearly wrung my hand off when he took leave of me.
It was while we were sauntering along the port, pushing hard against a blustering northerly wind, and I was trying to get at the truth about Hanger's affairs, advising him at every turn to grasp the bull by the horns, adopt strong measures, look his creditors full in the face—the common counsel people give their friends, but so seldom apply in their own instance—that we were accosted by a man who had just landed from the Folkestone boat. He wanted a place—yes, a cheap place—where they spoke English and gave English fare. Hanger hastened to refer him to his own British tavern, and, turning to me, said, "Must give Cross a good turn—a useful fellow in an emergency."
I returned with Hanger to the tavern, much against my will; but he insisted I should not give myself airs, but consent to be his guest to the extent of some bitter ale. Cross's new client was before a joint of cold beef, on the merits of which, combined with pickled onions, pickled by the identical hands of Mrs. Cross, Cross could not be prevailed upon to be quiet.
"Not a bad bit of beef," said the stranger, helping himself to a prodigious slice. "Another pint of beer."
Cross carried off the tankard, and returned, still muttering—"Not bad beef, I should think not—nor bad ale neither. Had the beef over from the old country."
The stranger brought his fist with tremendous force upon the table, and roared—"That's right, landlord; that's it; stick to that."
Cross, thus encouraged, would have treated the company to a copious dissertation on the merits of British fare, had not the company chorused him down with—"Now Cross is off! Cross on beef! Cross on beer!"
In a furious passion Cross left the room, rowing that he would be even with "the captain" before the day was over. Hanger considered himself bound to ask the stranger whether he was satisfied with his recommendation.
"Couldn't be better, thankee," the stranger answered; "but the landlord doesn't seem to know much about the place. New comer, I suppose?"
"Was forty years ago," the old captain said, looking round for a laugh; "but he doesn't go out of the street once a month."
"I asked him where Marquise was, and be hanged if he could tell me. I want to know particularly."
The major glanced at the captain, and the captain at a third companion. Was somebody wanted? Who was hiding at Marquise?
"Thought every fool knew that," the captain said, in the belief that he had made a palpable hit.
"Every fool who lives in these parts, leastwise," the stranger retorted. "Perhaps you'll direct me?'
"Now, look you here, sir," the captain was proceeding, leisurely emphasizing each word with a puff of tobacco smoke.
But the stranger would not be patient. He changed his tone, and answered, fiercely—
"I'm in no mind for fun or chaff. I've got d——d serious business on hand; and if you can tell me how to get to Marquise, tell me straight off, and ha' done with it—and I shall be obliged to you." With this he finished his second tankard of ale.
Hanger, feeling some responsibility about the man he had introduced, approached him with marked urbanity, and offered his services—
"I know Marquise and Wimille."
"Wimille! that's it!" the stranger cried. "Right you are. That's my direction. This is business. Yes, between Marquise and Wimille."
"Precisely," Hanger continued, as we proceeded towards the door.
I heard the major growl between his teeth in our rear—"Hanger's got him well in tow."
I should have been glad to show the man his way, and leave him to follow it; but Hanger, who could not resist an adventure, drew me aside and said—"We may as well drive to Marquise as anywhere else. We shall be back easily for the table d'hote." The expedition was not to my taste; but I yielded. The stranger was glad of our company, for the reason, which he bluntly explained, that we might be of some use to him; for the place was not exactly at Marquise nor at Wimille. We hired a carriage, and were soon clattering along the Calais road, muffled to our noses to face the icy wind.
The stranger soon communicated his name, saying, "My name is Reuben Sharp, and I don't care who knows it. Ask who Reuben Sharp is at Maidstone: they'll tell you."
Reuben Sharp was a respectable farmer—it was not necessary for him to tell us that. He was a man something over fifty: sharp eyes, round head, ruddy face, short hair flaked with white, which he matted over his forehead at intervals with a flaming bandanna; a voice built to call across a field or two; limbs equal to any country work or sport. In short, an individual as peculiar to England as her chalk cliffs. When he found that we knew something—and more than something—of the hunting-field, and that I knew his country, including Squire Lufton, to say nothing of the Lion at Farningham (one of the sweetest and most charming hostelries in all England), he took me to his heart, and told me his mission and his grief.
"I don't know how I shall meet him," Reuben Sharp said; "I'm not quite certain about myself. The man I'm going to see—this Matthew Glendore—has done me and mine a bitter wrong. The villain brought dishonour on my family. I knew he was in difficulties when he came into our parts, and took two rooms in Mother Gaselee's cottage. But he was a gentleman, every inch of it, in appearance. A d—d good shot; rode well; and—you know what fools girls are!"
I could only listen: any question might prove a most indiscreet one. Hanger was not quite so sensitive. "Fools!" he cried—"they are answerable for more mischief in the world than all the men and children, and the rest of the animal creation put together."
"And yet no man's worth a woman's little finger, if you know what I mean," Reuben Sharp went on, struggling manfully to get clear expression for the tumult of painful feeling that was in him. "They don't know what the world is; you cannot make 'em understand. The best fall into the hands of the worst men. She was the best, and he was the worst: the best, that she was. And I sent him to her, where she was living like an honest woman, and learning to be a lady, in London."
"And who is this Matthew Glendore, whom you are going to see?"
"The worst of men—the basest; and he's on his death-bed! and I'm to forgive him! I!
"Where is she? where is she, Glendore? for I know you through your disguise."
We stared at the farmer while he raved, lit his cigar, and then, in the torrent of his passion, let it out again. As we dipped to the hollow in which Wimille lay, passing carts laden with iron ore, Sharp became more excited.
"We cannot be far off now. He's lying at one of the iron-masters' houses, half a mile beyond this Wimille. Let's stop: I must have some brandy-and-water."
Hanger joyfully fell in with this proposition, vowing that he was frozen, and really could not stand the cold without, unless he had something warm within, any longer. We alighted at the village cabaret, and drew near the sweet-smelling wood fire, from which the buxom landlady drove two old men for our convenience. I protested they should not be disturbed; but they went off shivering, as they begged us to do them the honour of taking up their post in the chimney-corner.
We threw our coats off, and the grog was brought. The woman produced a little carafon of brandy.
"Tell her to bring the bottle," Sharp shouted, impatiently. "Does she take us to be school girls? Let the water be boiling. Ask her—Does she know anything of this Matthew Glendore?"
The farmer mixed himself a stiff glass of brandy-and-water, while he watched Hanger questioning the landlady with many bows and smiles.
"Plenty of palavering," Sharp muttered; then shouted—"Does she know the scoundrel?"
"One minute, my friend," Hanger mildly observed, meaning to convey to Sharp that he was asking a favour of gentlemen, not roaring his order to slaves. "Permit me to get the good woman's answers. Yes; she knows Monsieur Glendore."
"Mounseer Glendore! She knows no good of him."
"On the contrary," mildly pursued Hanger, sipping his grog, and nicely balancing it with sugar to his taste—"on the contrary, my good sir, she says he is a brave fellow—what she calls a brave garcon."
"Doesn't know him then, Mounseer Glendore! I wonder how many disguises he has worn in his life—how many women he has trapped and ruined! Ask her how long he has been here?"
The landlady answered—"Two years about the middle of next month."
"And he has never left this since?" Sharp went on, mixing himself by this time a second glass of brandy-and-water.
The landlady had never been a day without seeing him. He came to play his game of dominoes in the evening frequently. The dominoes exasperated the farmer. He would as soon see a man with crochet needles.
"D—n him!" Sharp shouted; "just like him."
I now ventured to interfere. Reuben Sharp was becoming violent with passion inflamed by brandy. The landlady was certain poor Monsieur Glendore would never rise from his bed again. I said to Sharp—"Whatever the wrong may be this man has done you, Mr. Sharp, pray remember he is dying. He is passing beyond your judgment."
"Is he? Passing from my grip, is he? No—no—Herbert Daker."
Sharp had sprung from his chair, and was shaking his fist in the air.
"Daker! Herbert Daker!" I seized Reuben Sharp by the shoulder, and shook him violently. "What do you know about Herbert Daker?"
Sharp turned upon me a face shattered with rage, and hissed at me. "What do I know about him? What do you about him? Are you his friend?"
"I am not: never will, nor can be," was my reply. Sharp wrung my hand till it felt bloodless. "Herbert Daker is Matthew Glendore—Mounseer Glendore. When did you meet him?"
"On the Boulogne steamer, about three years ago, when he was crossing with his wife."
"Then!" Sharp exclaimed, and again he took a draught of brandy-and-water.
At this moment Hanger, who had been talking with the landlady, joined us, and whispered—"Be calm, gentlemen; this is a time for calmness. Glendore is at hand—in a little cottage on Monsieur Guibert's works. Madame says if we wish to see him alive, we had better lose no time. The clergyman from Boulogne arrived about an hour ago, and is with him now. His wife!——"
"His wife!" Sharp was now a pitiable spectacle. He finished his glass, and caught Hanger by the collar of his coat—staring into his face to get at all the truth. "Glendore's wife!"
Hanger was as cool as man could be. He disengaged himself deliberately from the farmer's grip, put the table between them, and went smoothly on with the further observation he had to make!
"I repeat, according to the landlady, whose word we have no reason to doubt, his wife is with him—and his mother!"
Sharp struck the table and roared that it was impossible. I stood in hopeless bewilderment.
"Would it be decent to intrude at such a moment?"
"Decent!" Sharp was frantically endeavouring to button up his coat.
"D—n it, decent! Which is the way? My girl—my poor girl!"
"Show him," I contrived to say to Hanger, and he took the landlady's directions, while I passed my arm through Reuben Sharp's. We stumbled and blundered along in Hanger's footsteps, round muddy corners, past heaps of yellow ore, Sharp muttering and cursing and gesticulating by the way. We came suddenly to a halt at the little green door of a four-roomed cottage.
"Knock! knock!" Sharp shouted, pressing with his whole weight against the door. "Let me see her!—the villain!—Mounseer Glendore!—No, no, Herbert Daker!"
The power of observation is at its quickest in moments of intense excitement. I remember looking with the utmost calmness at Sharp's face and figure, as he stood gasping before the door of Herbert Daker's lodging. It was the head of a satyr in anger.
"Daker—Herbert Daker!" Sharp cried.
The door was suddenly thrown open, and an English clergyman, unruffled and full of dignity, stood in the entrance. Sharp was a bold, untutored man; but he dared not force his way past the priest.
"Quiet, gentlemen—be quiet. Step in—but quiet—quiet."
We were in the chamber of Matthew Glendore in a moment. A lady rose from the bedside. Humble, and yet stately, a white face with red and swollen eyelids, eyes with command in them. We were uncovered, and in an instant wholly subdued.
"My child—my girl!" Reuben Sharp moaned.
The clergyman approached him, and laid his hand upon him.
"Whom do you want?"
The pale lady, full of grief, advanced a step, and looking full in the face of Reuben Sharp, said, "I, sir, am Mrs. Daker."
I had never seen that lady before.
"You!" Sharp shouted, shaking with rage.
But the minister firmly laid his hand upon him now, saying, "Hush! in the chamber of death! His mother is at his bedside; spare her."
At this, a little figure with a ghastly face rose from the farther side of the bed.
"Mrs. Rowe!" I cried.
She had not the power left to scream; and her head fell heavily upon the pillow of the dying man.
"Enough, enough!" the clergyman said with authority—closing the door of the chamber wherein Herbert Daker, the "Mr. Charles" of the Rue Millevoye, lay dead!
Cosmo Bertram was at a very low ebb. No horse. Had moved off to Batignolles. Had not been asked to the Embassy for a twelvemonth. When he ventured into the Tuileries gardens in the afternoon, it somehow happened that the backs of the ladies' chairs were mostly turned towards him. He was still dapper in appearance; but a close observer could see a difference. Management was perceptible in his dress. He had no watch; but the diamond remained on his finger—for the present; and yet society had nothing seriously compromising to say against him. It was rumoured that he had seen the interior of Clichy twice. So had Sir Ronald, who was now the darling of the Faubourg; but then, note the difference. Sir Ronald had re-issued with plenty of money—or credit, which to society is the same thing; while poor Bertram had stolen down the hill by back streets to Batignolles, where he had found a cheap nest, and whence he trudged to his old haunts with a foolish notion that people would believe his story about a flying visit to England, and accept his translation to Batignolles as a sanitary precaution strongly recommended by his physician. If society be not yet civilized enough to imitate the savages, who kill the old members of the community, it has studied the philosophy of the storks in Jutland, who get rid of their ailing, feeble brother storks, at the fall of the year. Bertram was a bird to be pecked to pieces, and driven away from the prosperous community, being no longer prosperous.
First among the sharp peckers was Miss Tayleure, who always had her suspicions of Captain Bertram, although she was too good-natured to say anything. The seasons had circled three or four times since she had had the honour of being introduced to the gentleman, and yet the lady was waiting to see what the improved facilities for travel might bring her in the matrimonial line. She had, her dearest friends said, almost made up her mind to marry into commerce.
"Poor Tayleure!" one of the attaches said, at the Cafe Anglais, over his Marennes oysters, after the opera; "doomed to pig-iron, I'm afraid. Must do it. Can't carry on much longer. Another skein of false hair this season, by Jove."
In a society so charmingly constituted, the blows are dealt with an impartial hand; and it is so mercifully arranged, that he who is doubling his fist seldom feels the blow that is falling upon his own back. It was a belief which consoled the poor Baronet's orphan through her dreary time at the boarding-house—that, at least, she was free from damaging comment. Her noble head was many inches out of water; the conviction gave her superb confidence when she had to pass an opinion on her neighbour.
Two old friends of Cosmo Bertram are lounging in the garden of the Imperial Club.
"Hasn't old Tayleure got her knife into Bertram! Poor dear boy. It's all up with him. Great pity. Was a capital fellow."
"Don't you know the secret? The old girl had designs on Bertram when he first turned up; and the Daker affair cast her plot to the winds. Mrs. Daker, you remember, was at old Tayleure's place—Rue d'Angouleme!"
"A pretty business that was. But who the deuce was Daker?"
The threads of this story lay in a tangle—in Paris, in Boulogne, and in Kent! I never laboured hard to unravel them; but time took up the work, and I was patient. Also, I was far away from its scenes, and only passed through them at intervals—generally at express speed. It so happened, however, that I was at hand when the crisis and the close came.
Mrs. Daker was living in a handsome apartment when I called upon her on the morrow of the ball. She wept passionately when she saw me. She said—"I could have sunk to the earth when I saw you with Bertram—of all men in the world." I could get no answers to my questions save that she had heard no tidings of her husband, and that she had never had the courage to write to her father. Plentiful tears and prayers that I would forget her; and never, under any temptation, let her people, should I come across them, know her assumed name, or her whereabouts. I pressed as far as I could, but she shut her heart upon me, and hurried me away, imploring me never to return, nor to speak about her to Cosmo Bertram. "He will never talk about me," she added, with something like scorn, and something very like disgust.
I left Paris an hour or two after this interview; and when I next met Bertram—at Baden, I think, in the following autumn—great as my curiosity was, I respected Mrs. Baker's wish. He never touched upon the subject; and, since I could not speak, and my suspicions affected him in a most painful manner, I did not throw myself in his way, nor give him an opportunity of following me up. Besides, he was in a very noisy, reckless set, and was, I could perceive before I had talked to him ten minutes, on the way to the utter bad. When I remembered our conversation about Daker, his light, airy, unconcerned manner, and the consummate deceit which effectually conveyed to me the idea that he had never heard the name of Daker, I was inclined to turn upon him, and let him know I was not altogether in the dark. Again, at the ball, he had carried off the introduction to Mrs. Trefoil with masterly coolness, making me a second time his dupe. Had we met much we should have quarrelled desperately; for I recollected the innocent English face I had first seen on the Boulogne boat, and the unhappy woman who had implored me not to speak her name to him. The days follow one another and have no resemblance, says the proverb. I passed away from Baden, and Bertram passed out of my mind. I had not seen him again when I spent those eventful few days at Boulogne with Hanger.
Another year had gone, and I had often thought over the death scene of Daker, and Sharp's trudges about Paris in search of his niece. I could not help him, for I was homeward bound at the time, and shortly afterwards was despatched to St. Petersburg. But I gave him letters. There was one hope that lingered in the gloom of this miserable story; perhaps Mrs. Daker had won the love of some honest man, and, emancipated by Daker's deceit and death, might yet spend some happy days. And then the figure of Cosmo Bertram would rise before me—and I knew he was not the man to atone a fault or sin by a sacrifice.
I was in Paris again at the end of 1866. I heard nothing, save that Sharp had returned home, having tried in vain to find the child to whom he had been a father since the death of his brother. He had identified her as Mrs. Trefoil; he had discovered that shame had come upon her and him; and he had made out the nature of the relations between his niece and Captain Cosmo Bertram. But Captain Bertram was not in Paris; Mrs. Trefoil had disappeared and left no sign. So many exciting stories float about Paris in the course of a season, that such an event as the appearance of a Kentish farmer in search of Mrs. Daker, afterwards Mrs. Trefoil, and the connexion of Captain Bertram with her name, is food for a few days only. This is a very quiet humdrum story, when it is compared with the dramas of society, provincial and Parisian, which the Gazette des Tribunaux is constantly presenting to its readers.
When I reached Paris it was forgotten. Miss Tayleure had moved off to Tours—for economy some said; to break new ground, according to others. There had been diplomatic changes. The English society had received many accessions, and suffered many secessions. I went to my old haunts and found new faces. I was met with a burst of passionate tears by Lucy Rowe, end honest Jane, the servant. Mrs. Rowe was lying, with all her secrets and plots, in Pere Lachaise—to the grief, among others, of the Reverend Horace Mohun, who would hardly be comforted by Lucy's handsome continuance of the buttered toast and first look at the Times. Lucy, bright and good Lucy, had become queen and mistress of the boarding-house—albeit she had not a thimbleful of the blood of the Whytes of Battersea in her veins. But of the Rue Millevoye presently.
I came upon Bertram by accident by the Montmartre cemetery, whither I had been with a friend to look at a new-made grave. As I have observed, Bertram had reached a very low ebb. He avoided his old thoroughfares. He had discovered that all the backs of the Tuileries chairs were towards him. Miss Tayleure had had her revenge before she left. He had heard that "the fellows were sorry for him," and that they were not anxious to see him. The very waiters in his cafe knew that evil had befallen him, and were less respectful than of old. No very damaging tales, as I have said, were told against him; but it was made evident to him that Paris society had had enough of him for the present, and that his comfortable plan would be to move off.
Cosmo Bertram had moved off accordingly; and when I met him at Montmartre he had not been heard of for many months. I should have pushed on, but he would not let me. A man in misfortune disarms your resentment. When the friend who has been always bright and manly with you, approaches with a humble manner, and his eyes say to you, while he speaks, "Now is not the time to be hard," you give in. I parted with my fellow-mourner, and joined Bertram, saying coldly—"We have not met, Bertram, for many months—it seems years. What has happened?"
The man's manner was completely changed. He talked to me with the cowed manner of a conscious inferior. He was abashed; as changed in voice and expression as in general effect.
"Ruin—nothing more," he answered me.
"Baden—Homburg, I suppose?"
"No; tomfoolery of every kind. I'm quite broken. That friend of yours didn't recognise me, did he?"
"Had never seen you before, I'm quite sure."
I took him into a quiet cafe and ordered breakfast. His face and voice recalled to me all the Daker story; and I felt that I was touching another link in it. He avoided my eye. He grasped the bottle greedily, and took a deep draught. The wine warmed him, and loosed "the jesses of his tongue." He had a long tale to tell about himself! He disburdened his breast about Clichy; of all the phases of his decline from the fashionable man in the Bois to the shabby skulker in the banlieue, he had something to say. He had been everybody's victim. The world had been against him. Friends had proved themselves ungrateful, and foes had acted meanly. Nobody could imagine half his sufferings. While he dwelt on himself with all the volubility and wearying detail of a wholly selfish man, I was eager to catch the least clue to a history that interested me much more deeply than his; and in which I had good reason to suspect he had not borne an honourable part. The gossips had confirmed the fears which Mrs. Daker had created. I had picked up scraps here and there which I had put together.
"I am obliged to keep very dark, my dear Q.M.," Bertram said at last, still dwelling on the inconvenience to himself. "Hardly dare to move out of the quarter. Disgusting bore."
"A debt?" I asked.
"What then, an entanglement; the old story, petticoats?"
"Precisely. To-day I ought to be anywhere but here; the old boy is over, or will be, in a few hours."
The whole story was breaking upon me; Bertram saw it, and my manner, become icy to him, was closing the sources upon me. I resolved to get the mystery cleared up. I resumed my former manner with him, ordered some Burgundy, and entreated him to proceed.
"You remember," he said, "your story about the girl you met travelling with her husband on the Boulogne boat—Mrs. Daker." His voice fell as he pronounced the name. "I deceived you, my dear Q. M., when I affected unconcern and ignorance."
"I know it, Bertram," was my answer. "But that is unimportant: go on."
"I met Mrs. Daker at her hotel, very soon after she arrived in Paris. She talked about you; and I happened to say that I knew you. We were friends at once."
"More than friends."
"I see," Bertram continued, much relieved at finding his revelation forestalled in its chief episodes; "I see there is not much to tell you. You are pretty well posted up. I cannot see why you should look so savage; Mrs. Daker is no relation of yours."
"No!" I shouted, for I could not hold my passion—"had she been——"
"You would have the right to call me to account. As it is," Bertram added, rising, "I decline to tell you more, and I shall wish you good-day."
After all Bertram was right; I had no claim to urge, no wrong to redress. Besides, by my hastiness, I was letting the thread slip through my fingers.
"Sit down, Bertram; you are the touchiest man alive. It is no concern of mine, but I have seen more than you imagine—I have seen Daker; I have been with Sharp."
Bertram grasped my arm.
"Tell me all, then; I must know all. You don't know how I have suffered, my dear Q. M. Tell me everything."
"First let me ask you, Bertram, have you been an honourable man to Mrs. Daker?"
"Where is she? Her uncle has broken his heart!"
"All I need say is, that she is with me, and that it is I who have sacrificed almost my honour in keeping her with me, after——"
I understood the case completely now.
"You found the prey at the right moment, Bertram. Poor forsaken woman! You took it; you lost it; it falls into your hands again—broken unto death."
"Unto death!" Bertram echoed.
I related to him my adventure in Boulogne; and when I came to Baker's end, and his bigamy, Bertram exclaimed—
"The villain! My dear Q. M., I loved—I do love her; she might have been my wife. The villain!"
"You say she is with you, Bertram. Where? Can I see her?"
"You cannot, she's very ill So ill, I doubt——"
"And you are here, Bertram?"
"Her uncle—Sharp—is with her by this time. She implored me not to be in the way. There would be a row, you know, and I hate rows."
It was Bertram to the last. He hated rows! I suddenly turned upon him with an idea that flashed through my mind.
"Bertram, you owe this poor woman some reparation. You love her, you say—or have loved her."
"Do love her now."
"She is a free woman; indeed, poor soul, she has always been. Marry her—take her away—and get to some quiet place where you will be unknown. You will be happy with her, or I have strangely misread her."
"Can't," Bertram dolefully answered. "Not a farthing."
"I'll help you."
Bertram grasped my hand. His difficulty was removed.
I continued rapidly, "Give me your address. I'll see Sharp, and, if they permit me, Mrs. Daker. Let us make an effort to end this miserable business well. You had better remain behind till I have settled with Sharp."
Bertram remained inert, without power of thinking or speaking, in his seat. I pushed him, to rouse him. "Bertram, the address—quick."
"Too late, my dear Q. M.—much too late. She's dying—I am sure of it."
The address was 102 in the next street to that in which we had been breakfasting. I hurried off, tearing myself, at last, by force from Bertram. I ran down the street, round the corner, looking right and left at the numbers as I ran. I was within a few doors of the number when I came with a great shock against a man, who was walking like myself without looking ahead. I growled and was pushing past, when an iron grip fell upon my shoulder. It was Reuben Sharp. He was so altered I had difficulty in recognising him. At that moment he looked a madman; his eyes were wild and savage; his lips were blue; his face was masked by convulsive twitches.
"I was running to see you. Come back," I said.
"It's no use—no use. They can ill-treat her no more. My darling Emmy! It's all over—all over—and you have been very kind to me."
The poor man clapped his heavy hands upon me like the paws of a lion, and wept, as weak women and children weep.
Yea, it was all over.
It was on New Year's Day, 1867, I supported Reuben Sharp, following a hearse to the cemetery hard by. Lucy Rowe accompanied us—at my urgent request—and her presence served to soften and support old Reuben's honest Kentish heart in his desolate agony. As they lowered the coffin a haggard face stretched over a tomb behind us. Sharp was blinded with tears, and did not see it.
THE FIRST TO BE MARRIED.
It will happen so—and here is our moral—the bonnets of Sophonisba and Theodosia, bewitching as they were, and archly as these young ladies wore them, paling every toilette of the Common, were not put aside for bridal veils. Carrie, who was content with silver-grey, it was who returned to Paris first, sitting at the side of the writer of the following letters, sent, it is presumed, to his bachelor friend:—
"Paris, 'The Leafy Month of June.'
"MY DEAR MAC,—I will be true to my promise. I will give you the best advice my experience may enable me to afford you. Friendship is a sacred thing, and I will write as your friend. Only ten days ago Caroline murmured those delicious sounds at the altar, which announce a heaven upon earth to man. I see you smile, you rogue, as you read this, but I repeat it—that announce a heaven upon earth to man.
"Some men take a wife carelessly, as they select a dinner at their club, as though they were catering only to satisfy the whim of the hour. Others adopt all the homely philosophy of Dr. Primrose, and reflect how the wife will wear, and whether she have the qualities that will keep the house in order. Others, again, are lured into matrimony by the tinkling of the pianoforte, or the elaboration of a bunch of flowers upon a Bristol board. Remember Calfsfoot. His wife actually fiddled him into the church. Was there ever an uglier woman? Two of her front teeth were gone, and she was bald. Fortunately for her, Beauty draws us with a single hair, or she had not netted Calfsfoot. Now what a miserable time he has of it. She is a vixen. You know what fiddle-strings are made of; well, I'm told she supplies her own. But why should I dwell on infelicitous unions of this kind? It was obvious to every rational creature from the first—and to him most concerned—that Mrs. Calfsfoot would fiddle poor C. into a lunatic asylum. And if he be not there yet, depend upon it he's on the high road.
"Between Mrs. Calfsfoot and my Caroline (you should have seen her hanging upon my shoulder, her auburn ringlets tickling my happy cheek, begging me to call her Carrie!)—between Mrs. Calfsfoot and my Carrie, then, what a contrast! As I sat last evening in one of the shady nooks of the Bois de Boulogne, watching the boats, with their coloured lights, floating about the lake, my Carrie's hand trembling like a caught bird in mine, I thought, can this sweet, amiable, innocent creature have anything in common with that assured, loud-voiced, pretentious Mrs. Calfsfoot. Calfsfoot told me that he was very happy during the honeymoon. But, then, people's notions of happiness vary, and I cannot for the life of me conceive how a man of Calfsfoot's sense—for he has sound common sense on most points—could have looked twice at the creature he took to his bosom. I have heard of people who like to nurse vipers; can friend C. be of this strange band? Now, I am happy—supremely happy, I may say, because I honestly believe my Carrie to be the most adorable creature on the face of God's earth. A man who could not be happy with her would not deserve felicity. You should see her at the breakfast-table, in a snow-white dress, with just a purple band about her dainty waist, handling the cups and saucers! The first time she asked me whether I would take two lumps of sugar (I could have taken both of them from her pretty lips, and I'll not say whether I did or did not), was one of those delicious moments that happen seldom, alas, in the chequered life of man. And then, when she comes tripping into the room after breakfast, in her little round hat, and, putting her hand upon my shoulder, asks me in the most musical of voices whether I have finished with my paper, and am ready for a walk, I feel ashamed that I have allowed myself to distract my attention even for ten minutes from her charming self, to read stupid leading articles and wretched police cases. But men are utterly without sentiment. Reading the Times in the honeymoon! I wonder how the delightful creatures can give us two minutes' thought. Carrie, however, seems to live only for your unworthy humble servant. Shall I ever be worthy of her? Shall I ever be worthy of the glorious sky overhead, or of the flowers at my feet? My dear Mac, I feel the veriest worm as I contemplate this perfect creature, who, with that infinite generosity which belongs to goodness and beauty, has sworn to love, honour, and obey me. That she loves me I know full well; that she obeys my lightest wish, I allow, on my knees. But how shall she honour me? To all this you will answer, puffing your filthy pipe the while, 'Tut! he has been married only ten short days!"
"My dear Mac, life is not to be measured by the hour-glass. There are minutes that are hours, there are hours that are years, there are years that are centuries. Again, some men are observant, and some pay no better compliment to the light of day than moles. You did me the honour of saying one evening, when we were having a late cigar at the Trafalgar (we should have been in bed hours before), that you never knew a more quick-sighted man, nor a readier reader of the human heart than the individual who now addresses you. It would ill become me to say that you only did me justice; but permit me to remark, that having closely watched myself and compared myself with others, for years, I have come to the conclusion that I am blessed with a rapid discernment. Before Mrs. Flowerdew (I have written the delightful name on every corner of my blotting-paper) honoured me with her hand, I brought this power to bear on her incessantly. Under all kinds of vexatious circumstances I have been witness of her unassailable good temper. I have seen her wear a new bonnet in a shower of rain. These clumsy hands of mine have spilled lobster-salad upon her dress. That little wretch of a brother of hers has pulled her back hair down. Her sister Sophonisba has abused her. Still has she been mild as the dove!
"Then, her common sense is astonishing. She says any woman can manage with three bonnets and half-a-dozen good dresses. I wanted to buy her a bracelet the other day, price ten guineas. 'No,' she answered; 'here is one at only six guineas, quite good enough for me in our station of life;' and the dear creature was content with it.
"As for accomplishments, she may vie with any fine lady in the land. Last night she played me a piece from Mendelssohn, and her little hands danced like lightning about the keys. It was rather long, to be sure; but I could not help stealing from behind her and kissing the dear fingers when it was over.
"She has written some exquisite verses, much in the style of Byron—a poet not easily imitated, you will remember. She has read every line of Thackeray; and during one of our morning walks, she proved to me, who am not easily moved from my point, that Carlyle has only one idea. Let me recommend you to peruse this writer's 'French Revolution' again, and you will be satisfied that my Carrie is right.
"I trouble you, my dear fellow, with all these details, that you may not run away with the notion that Flowerdew is blindly in love. My faculties were never more completely about me than they are at this moment. I am at a loss to imagine why a man should throw his head away when he yields his heart. I can look dispassionately at my wife, and if she had a fault, I am confident that I should be the first to see it. But, que voulez-vous? she has not yet given me the opportunity.
"Marriage is a lottery. In a lottery, somebody must draw the prize; if I have drawn it, am I to be ashamed of my luck? No; let me manfully confess my good fortune, and thank my star.
"I have snatched the time to write you these hurried lines, while the worshipped subject of them has been trying on some new—but I forgot; I am writing to a bachelor. I have still a few minutes; let me make use of them.
"My dear Mac, when I return to foggy London—(I hear you have had terrible weather there)—you will see little or nothing of me. My Carrie allows me to smoke (she permits me everything), but I should be a mean brute if I took advantage of her boundless generosity. I smoke one cigar per diem, and no more. And as for wine—the honey of the loved one's lips is the true grape of the honeymoon. I must tell you that Carrie and I have made a solemn compact. Her head was nestled against my waistcoat as we made it. We are not going to live for the world, like foolish people whom we know. For society my little wife needs me; and I, happy man, shall be more than content for ever while the partner of my bosom deigns to solace me with her gentle voice. She has friends without number who will mourn her loss to society. Her dear friends the Barcaroles will be inconsolable; her sister Theodosia will break her heart. Life has its trials, however, which must be bravely borne; and Carrie's friends must be consoled when they learn that she is happy with the man of her choice. In the same way, be comforted, my dear Mac (for I know how warmly you regard me), when I tell you that henceforth we shall meet only at rare intervals. My life is bound up in that of the celestial being who is knitting in the window, not an arm's length from me.
"My dear Mac, we have drank our last gin-sling together. Recal me affectionately to the memory of Joe Parkes, and young Square, and all friends of her Majesty's Pugilistic Department; and may they all speedily be as happy as I am. How the wretches will laugh when you tell them that Flowerdew has reformed his ways, and has blackened his last Milo; but I think, my dear fellow, I have convinced you that I write after cool reflection. We have taken a cottage four miles south of my office. A sixpenny omnibus will take me back at four o'clock daily, to my little haven. My Carrie is fond of a garden; and I shall find her, on summer afternoons, waiting at the gate for me, in her garden hat, and leaning upon the smartest little rake in the world. You, and Joe, and the Pugilistic Department fellows may laugh; but this is the happy life I have chalked out for myself. As I have told you, some men marry with their eyes shut; but I live only to congratulate myself on my sagacity. To think that I, of all men, should have won Caroline Cockayne!
"We shall remain here for another week, when we go to Fontainebleau, and thence we return to London. I may write to you from our next stage; but if not, expect to hear from me on my return, when, if I can persuade my love to brave the presence of a stranger, for friendship's sake, you shall have a peep at our felicity.
"Your old friend, "HAPPY TOM FLOWERDEW."
Mr. Mac's observations on the foregoing were, no doubt, to this effect: "He'll come to his senses by-and-by. I shouldn't like to be compelled to buy all the cigars he'll smoke before he turns his toes up."
Flowerdew, from Fontainebleau.
"Fontainebleau, July 1.
"MY DEAR MAC,—I am tempted to send you a few lines from this wonderful place. You have heard of Fontainebleau grapes—you have tasted them; but you have not seen Fontainebleau. My dear Mac, when you marry (and, as your friend, I say, lose no time about it)—yes, when you marry, take the cara sposa to Fontainebleau. Let her see the weeping rock, in that wonderful battle between granite and trees, they call the forest. Let her feed the fat carp with galette behind the Palace in the company of those Normandy nurses (brown and flat as Normandy pippins), and their squalling basked-capped charges. Give her some of that delicious iced currant-water, which the dragoons who are quartered here appear to drink with all the relish the children show for it. Never fear that she will look twice at these soldiers, in their sky-blue coats and broad red pantaloons, and their hair cut so close that their eyes must have watered under the operation. Imagine dragoons drinking currant-water; and playing dominoes for shapeless sous, which they rattle incessantly in their preposterous trousers! I am meditating a book on the French army, in which I shall lay great stress on the above, I flatter myself, rather acute bit of observation. Carrie (she grows prettier daily) rather inclines to the idea that the moderation of these French dragoons is in their favour; and this is the first time I have found her judgment at fault. But then it would be unreasonable indeed to hope that on military subjects she could have that clear insight which she displays with such charming grace, whether we are contemplating the Marriage of Cana, in the Louvre, or thinking over the scenes some of those orange-trees in the Tuileries gardens have shed leaves upon. For, let me tell you, my dear Mac, there are trees there, the flowers of which have trembled at the silver laugh of unhappy Antoinette. Sallow Robespierre has rubbed against them. They were in their glory on that July day when the mob of blouses tasted of the cellars of a King.
"But you can get in Murray all I can tell you of the wonderful place in which it has been my fortune to find myself with my little wife. When, on the morning after our arrival, I threw my bedroom window open, the air was, I thought, the sweetest that had ever refreshed my nostrils. The scene would have been perfect, had it not been for swarms of wasps that dashed their great bodies, barred, as Carrie said, like grooms' waistcoats (wasn't it clever of her?) into the room. If everything were not flavoured with garlic (peaches included), I should say without hesitation, that our hote is THE cordon bleu of the country. Omelettes, my dear Mac, as light as syllabub; wild strawberries frosted with the finest white sugar I ever put to my lips; coffee that would make a Turk dance with delight; only, in each and all of these dainties, there is just a pinch of garlic. But love makes light of these little drawbacks. Carrie has made a wry face once or twice, it is true, but only in the best of humours, and when the garlic was very strong indeed.