Finally, the unfortunate old man staggered out of the shop, preserved by Leander's unremitting watchfulness from the wrath of the goddess. Yet, such is the ingratitude of human nature, that he left the place vowing to return no more. "I thought I'd got a clown behind me, sir!" he used to say afterwards, in describing it.
Before Leander could recover from the alarm he had been thrown into, another customer had entered; a pale young man, with a glossy hat, a white satin necktie, and a rather decayed gardenia. He, too, was one of Tweddle's regular clients. What his occupation might be was a mystery, for he aimed at being considered a man of pleasure.
"I say, just shave me, will you?" he said, and threw himself languidly into a chair. "Fact is, Tweddle, I've been so doosid chippy for the last two days, I daren't touch a razor."
"Indeed, sir!" said Leander, with respectful sympathy.
"You see," explained the youth, "I've been playing the goat—the giddy goat. Know what that means?"
"I used to," said Leander; "I never touch alcoholic stimulants now, myself."
"Wish I didn't. I say, Tweddle, have you been to the Cosmopolitan lately?"
"I don't go to music-'alls now," said Leander; "I've give up all that now I'm keeping company."
"Well, you go and see the new ballet," the youth exhorted him earnestly; not that he cared whether the hairdresser went or not, but because he wanted to talk about the ballet to somebody.
"Ah!" observed Leander; "is that a good one they've got there now, sir?"
"Rather think so. Ballet called Olympus. There's a regular ripping little thing who comes on as one of Venus's doves." And the youth went on to intimate that the dove in question had shown signs of being struck by his powers of fascination. "I saw directly that I'd mashed her; she was gone, dead gone, sir; and——I say, who's that in the corner over there—eh?"
He was staring intently into the pier-glass in front of him. "That?" said Leander, following his glance. "Oh! that's a statue I've bought. She—she brightens up the place a bit, don't she?"
"A statue, is it? Yes, of course; I knew it was a statue. Well, about that dove. I went round after it was all over, but couldn't see a sign of her; so——That's a queer sort of statue you've got there!" he broke off suddenly; and Leander distinctly saw the goddess shake her arm in fierce menace. "He's said something that's put her out," he concluded. "I wish I knew what it was."
"It's a classical statue, sir," he said, with what composure he might; "they're all made like that."
"Are they, by Jove? But, Tweddle, I say, it moves: it's shaking its fist like old Harry!"
"Oh, I think you're mistaken, sir, really! I don't perceive it myself."
"Don't perceive it? But, hang it, man, look—look in the glass! There! don't you see it does? Dash it! can't you say it does?"
"Flaw in the mirror, sir; when you move your 'ed, you do ketch that effect. I've observed it myself frequent. Chin cut, sir? My fault—my fault entirely," he admitted handsomely.
The young man was shaved by this time, and had risen to receive his hat and cane, when he gave a violent start as he passed the Aphrodite. "There!" he said, breathlessly, "look at that, Tweddle; she's going to punch my head! I suppose you'll tell me that's the glass?"
Leander trembled—this time for his own reputation; for the report that he kept a mysterious and pugnacious statue on the premises would not increase his custom. He must silence it, if possible. "I'm afraid it is, sir—in a way," he remarked, compassionately.
The young man turned paler still. "No!" he exclaimed. "You don't think it is, though? Don't you see anything yourself? I don't either, Tweddle; I was chaffing, that's all. I know I'm a wee bit off colour; but it's not so bad as that. Keep off! Tell her to drop it, Tweddle!"
For, as he spoke, the goddess had made a stride towards him. "Miserable one!" she cried, "you have mangled one of my birds. Hence, or I crush thee!"
"Tweddle! Tweddle!" cried the youth, taking refuge in the other shop, "don't let her come after me! What's she talking about, eh? You shouldn't have these things about; they're—they're not right!"
Leander shut the glass door and placed himself before it, while he tried to assume a concerned interest. "You take my advice, sir," he said; "you go home and keep steady."
"Is it that?" murmured the customer. "Great Scott! I must be bad!" and he went out into the street, shaking.
"I don't believe I shall ever see him again, either," thought Leander. "She'll drive 'em all away if she goes on like this." But here a sudden recollection struck him, and he slapped his thigh with glee. "Why, of course," he said, "that's it. I've downright disgusted her; it was me she was most put out with, and after this she'll leave me alone. Hooray! I'll shut up everything first and get rid of the boy, and then go in and see her, and get away to Matilda."
When the shop was secured for the night, he re-entered the saloon with a light step. "Well, mum," he began, "you've seen me at work, and you've thought better of what you were proposing, haven't you now?"
"Where is the wretched stripling who dared to slay my dove?" she cried. "Bring him to me!"
"What are you a-talking about now?" cried the bewildered Leander. "Who's been touching your birds? I wasn't aware you kept birds."
"Many birds are sacred to me—the silver swan, the fearless sparrow, and, chief of all, the coral-footed dove. And one of these has that monster slain—his own mouth hath spoken it."
"Oh! is that all?" said Leander. "Why, he wasn't talking about a real dove; it was a ballet girl he meant. I can't explain the difference; but they are different. And it's all talk, too. I know him; he's harmless enough. And now, mum, to come to the point; you've now had the opportunity of forming some ideer of my calling. You've thought better of it, haven't you?"
"Better! ay, far better!" she cried, in a voice that thrilled with pride. "Leander, too modestly you have rated yourself, for surely you are great amongst the sons of men."
"Me!" he gasped, utterly overcome. "How do you make that out?"
"Do you not compel them to furnish sport for you? Have I not seen them come in, talking boldly and loud, and yet seat themselves submissively at a sign from you? And do you not swathe them in the garb of humiliation, and daub their countenances with whiteness, and threaten their bared throats with the gleaming knife, and grind their heads under the resistless wheel? Then, having in disdain granted them their worthless lives, you set them free; and they propitiate you with a gift, and depart trembling."
"Well, of all the topsy-turvy contrariness!" he protested. "You've got it all wrong; I declare you have! But I'll put you right, if it's possible to do it." And he launched into a lengthy explanation of the wonders she had seen, at the end of which he inquired, "Now do you understand I'm nobody in particular?"
"It may be so," she admitted; "but what of that? Ere this have I been wild with love for a herdsman on Phrygian hills. Aye, Adonis have I kissed in the oakwood, and bewailed his loss. And did not Selene descend to woo the neatherd Endymion? Wherefore, then, should I scorn thee? and what are the differences and degrees of mortals to such as I! Be bold; distrust your merits no longer, since I, who amongst the goddesses obtained the prize of beauty, have chosen you for my own."
"I don't care what prizes you won," he said, sulkily; "I'm not yours, and I don't intend to be, either." He was watching the clock impatiently all the while, for it was growing very near nine.
"It is vain to struggle," she said, "since not the gods themselves can resist Fate. We must yield, and contend not."
"You begin it, then," he said. "Give me my ring."
"The sole symbol of my power! the charm which has called me from my long sleep! Never!"
"Then," said Leander, knowing full well that his threat was an impossible one, "I shall place the matter in the hands of a respectable lawyer."
"I understand you not; but it is no matter. In time I shall prevail."
"Well, mum, you must come again another evening, if you've no objection," said Leander, rudely, "because I've got to go out just now."
"I will accompany you," she said.
Leander nearly danced with frenzy. Take the statue with him to meet his dear Matilda! He dared not. "You're very kind," he stammered, perspiring freely; "but I couldn't think of taking you out such a foggy evening."
"Have no cares for me," she answered; "we will go together. You shall explain to me the ways of this changed world."
"Catch me!" was Leander's elliptical comment to himself; but he had to pretend a delighted acquiescence. "Well," he cried, "if I hadn't been thinking how lonely it would be going out alone! and now I shall have the honour of your company, mum. You wait a bit here, while I run upstairs and fetch my 'at."
But the perfidious man only waited until he was on the other side of the door, which led from the saloon to his staircase, to lock it after him, and slip out by the private door into the street.
"Now, my lady," he thought triumphantly, "you're safe for awhile, at all events. I've put up the shutters, and so you won't get out that way. And now for Tillie!"
TWO ARE COMPANY
"The shape Which has made escape, And before my countenance Answers me glance for glance."
Leander hastened eagerly to his trysting-place. All these obstacles and difficulties had rendered his Matilda tenfold dearer and more precious to him; and besides, it was more than a fortnight since he had last seen her. But he was troubled and anxious still at the recollection of the Greek statue shut up in his hair-cutting saloon. What would Matilda say if she knew about it; and still worse, what might it not do if it knew about her? Matilda might decline to continue his acquaintance—for she was a very right-minded girl—unless Venus, like the jealous and vindictive heathen she had shown herself to be, were to crush her before she even had the opportunity.
"It's a mess," he thought disconsolately, "whatever way I look at it. But after to-night I won't meet Matilda any more while I've got that statue staying with me, or no one could tell the consequences." However, when he drew near the appointed spot, and saw the slender form which awaited him there by the railings, he forgot all but the present joy. Even the memory of the terrible divinity could not live in the wholesome presence of the girl he had the sense to truly and honestly love.
Matilda Collum was straight and slim, though not tall; she had a neat little head of light brown hair, which curled round her temples in soft rings; her complexion was healthily pale, with the slightest tinge of delicate pink in it; she had a round but decided chin, and her grey eyes were large and innocently severe, except on the rare occasions when she laughed, and then their expression was almost childlike in its gaiety.
Generally, and especially in business hours, her pretty face was calm and slightly haughty, and rash male customers who attempted to make the choice of a "button-hole" an excuse for flirtation were not encouraged to persevere. She was seldom demonstrative to Leander—it was not her way—but she accepted his effusive affection very contentedly, and, indeed, returned it more heartily than her principles allowed her to admit; for she secretly admired his spirit and fluency, and, as is often the case in her class of life, had no idea that she was essentially her lover's superior.
After the first greetings, they walked slowly round the square together, his arm around her waist. Neither said very much for some minutes, but Leander was wildly, foolishly happy, and there was no severity in Matilda's eyes when they shone in the lamp-light.
"Well," he said, at last, "and so I've actually got you safe back again, my dear, darling Tillie! It seems like a long eternity since last we met. I've been so beastly miserable, Matilda!"
"You do seem to have got thinner in the face, Leander dear," said Matilda, compassionately. "What have you been doing while I've been away?"
"Only wishing my dearest girl back, that's all I've been doing."
"What! haven't you given yourself any enjoyment at all—not gone out anywhere all the time?"
"Not once—leastwise, that is to say——" A guilty memory of Rosherwich made him bungle here.
"Why, of course I didn't expect you to stop indoors all the time," said Matilda, noticing the amendment, "so long as you never went where you wouldn't take me."
Oh, conscience, conscience! But Rosherwich didn't count—it was outside the radius; and besides, he hadn't enjoyed himself.
"Well," he said, "I did go out one evening, to hear a lecture on Astronomy at the Town Hall, in the Gray's Inn Road; but then I had the ticket given me by a customer, and I reely was surprised to find how regular the stars was in their habits, comets and all. But my 'Tilda is the only star of the evening for me, to-night. I don't want to talk about anything else."
The diversion was successful, and Matilda asked no more inconvenient questions. Presently she happened to cough slightly, and he touched accusingly the light summer cloak she was wearing.
"You're not dressed warm enough for a night like this," he said, with a lover's concern. "Haven't you got anything thicker to put on than that?"
"I haven't bought my winter things yet," said Matilda; "it was so mild, that I thought I'd wait till I could afford it better. But I've chosen the very thing I mean to buy. You know Mrs. Twilling's, at the top of the Row, the corner shop? Well, in the window there's a perfectly lovely long cloak, all lined with squirrel's fur, and with those nice oxidized silver fastenings. A cloak like that lasts ever so long, and will always look neat and quiet; and any one can wear it without being stared after; so I mean to buy it as soon as it turns really cold."
"Ah!" said he, "I can't have you ketching cold, you know; it ain't summer any longer, and I—I've been thinking we must give up our evening strolls together for the present."
"When you've just been saying how miserable you've been without them. Oh, Leander!"
"Without you," he amended lamely. "I shall see you at aunt's, of course; only we'd better suspend the walks while the nights are so raw. And, oh, Tillie, ere long you will be mine, my little wife! Only to think of you keeping the books for me with your own pretty little fingers, and sending out the bills! (not that I give much credit). Ah, what a blissful dream it sounds! Does it to you, Matilda?"
"I'm not sure that you keep your books the same way as we do," she replied demurely; "but I dare say"—(and this was a great concession for Matilda)—"I dare say we shall suit one another."
"Suit one another!" he cried. "Ah! we shall be inseparable as a brush and comb, Tillie, if you'll excuse so puffessional a stimulus. And what a future lies before me! If I can only succeed in introducing some of my inventions to public notice, we may rise, Tilly, 'like an exclamation,' as the poet says. I believe my new nasal splint has only to be known to become universally worn; and I've been thinking out a little machine lately for imparting a patrician arch to the flattest foot, that ought to have an extensive run. I almost wish you weren't so pretty, Tillie. I've studied you careful, and I'm bound to say, as it is there really isn't room for any improvement I could suggest. Nature's beaten me there, and I'm not too proud to own it."
"Would you rather there was room!" inquired Matilda.
"From a puffessional point of view, it would have inspired me," he said. "It would have suggested ideers, and I shouldn't have loved you less, not if you hadn't had a tooth in your mouth nor a hair on your head; you would still be my beautiful Tillie."
"I would rather be as I am, thank you," said Matilda, to whom this fancy sketch did not appeal. "And now, let's talk about something else. Do you know that mamma is coming up to town at the end of the week on purpose to see you?"
"No," said Leander, "I—I didn't."
"Yes, she's taken the whole of your aunt's first floor for a week. (You know, she knew Miss Tweddle when she was younger, and that was how I came to lodge there, and to meet you.) Do you remember that Sunday afternoon you came to tea, and your aunt invited me in, because she thought I must be feeling so dull, all alone?"
"Ah, I should think I did! Do you remember I helped to toast the crumpets? What a halcyon evening that was, Matilda!"
"Was it?" she said. "I don't remember the weather exactly; but it was nice indoors."
"But, I say, Tillie, my own," he said, somewhat anxiously, "how does your ma like your being engaged to me?"
"Well, I don't think she does like it quite," said Matilda. "She says she will reserve her consent till she sees whether you are worthy; but directly she sees you, Leander, her objections will vanish."
"She has got objections, then? What to?"
"Mother always wanted me to keep my affections out of trade," said Matilda. "You see, she never can forget what poor papa was."
"And what was your poor papa?" asked Leander.
"Didn't you know? He was a dentist, and that makes mamma so very particular, you see."
"But, hang it, Matilda! you're employed in a flower-shop, you know."
"Yes, but mamma never really approved of it; only she had to give way because she couldn't afford to keep me at home, and I scorned to go out as a governess. Never mind, Leander; when she comes to know you and hear your conversation, she will relent; her pride will melt."
"But suppose it keeps solid; what will you do, Matilda?"
"I am independent, Leander; and though I would prefer to marry with mamma's approval, I shouldn't feel bound to wait for it. So long as you are all I think you are, I shouldn't allow any one to dictate to me."
"Bless you for those words, my angelic girl!" he said, and hugged her close to his breast. "Now I can beard your ma with a light 'art. Oh, Matilda! you can form no ideer how I worship you. Nothing shall ever come betwixt us two, shall it?"
"Nothing, as far as I am concerned, Leander," she replied. "What's the matter?"
He had given a furtive glance behind him after the last remarks, and his embrace suddenly relaxed, until his arm was withdrawn altogether.
"Nothing is the matter, Matilda," he said. "Doesn't the moon look red through the fog?"
"Is that why you took away your arm?" she inquired.
"Yes—that is, no. It occurred to me I was rendering you too conspicuous; we don't want to go about advertising ourselves, you know."
"But who is there here to notice?" asked Matilda.
"Nobody," he said; "oh, nobody! but we mustn't get into the way of it;" and he cast another furtive rearward look. In the full flow of his raptures the miserable hairdresser had seen a sight which had frozen his very marrow—a tall form, in flowing drapery, gliding up behind with a tigress-like stealth. The statue had broken out, in spite of all his precautions! Venus, jealous and exacting, was near enough to overhear every word, and he could scarcely hope she had escaped seeing the arm he had thrown round Matilda's waist.
"You were going to tell me how you worshipped me," said Matilda.
"I didn't say worship," he protested; "it—it's only images and such that expect that. But I can tell you there's very few brothers feel to you as I feel."
"Brothers, Leander!" exclaimed Matilda, and walked farther apart from him.
"Yes," he said. "After all, what tie's closer than a brother? A uncle's all very well, and similarly a cousin; but they can't feel like a brother does, for brothers they are not."
"I should have thought there were ties still closer," said Matilda; "you seemed to think so too, once."
"Oh, ah! that!" he said. (Every frigid word gave him a pang to utter; but it was all for Matilda's sake.) "There's time enough to think of that, my girl; we mustn't be in a hurry."
"I'm not in a hurry," said Matilda.
"That's the proper way to look at it," said he; "and meanwhile I haven't got a sister I'm fonder of than I am of you."
"If you've nothing more to say than that, we had better part," she remarked; and he caught at the suggestion with obvious relief. He had been in an agony of terror, lest, even in the gathering fog, she should detect that they were watched; and then, too, it was better to part with her under a temporary misconception than part with her altogether.
"Well," he said, "I mustn't keep you out any longer, with that cold."
"You are very ready to get rid of me," said poor Matilda.
"The real truth is," he answered, simulating a yawn with a heavy heart; "I am most uncommon sleepy to-night, and all this standing about is too much for me. So good-bye, and take care of yourself!"
"I needn't say that to you," she said; "but I won't keep you up a minute longer. I wonder you troubled to come out at all."
"Oh," he said, carefully keeping as much in front of the statue as he could, "it's no trouble; but you'll excuse me seeing you to the door this evening?"
"Oh, certainly," said Matilda, biting her lip. She touched his hand with the ends of her fingers, and hurried away without turning her head.
When she was out of sight, Leander faced round to the irrepressible goddess. He was in a white rage; but terror and caution made him suppress it to some extent.
"So here you are again!" he said.
"Why did you not wait for me?" she answered. "I remained long for you; you came not, and I followed."
"I see you did," said the aggrieved Leander; "I can't say I like being spied upon. If you're a goddess, act as such!"
"What! you dare to upbraid me?" she cried. "Beware, or I——"
"I know," said Leander, flinching from her. "Don't do that; I only made a remark."
"I have the right to follow you; I choose to do so."
"If you must, you must," he groaned; "but it does seem hard that I mayn't slip out for a few minutes' talk with my only sister."
"You said you were going to run for business, and you told me you had three sisters."
"So I have; but only one youngest one."
"And why did they not all come to talk with you?"
"I suppose because the other two stayed at home," rejoined Leander, sulkily.
"I know not why, but I doubt you; that one who came, she is not like you!"
"No," said Leander, with a great show of candour, "that's what every one says; all our family are like that; we are like in a way, because we're all of us so different. You can tell us anywhere just by the difference. My father and mother were both very unlike: I suppose we take after them."
The goddess seemed satisfied with this explanation. "And now that I have regained you, let us return to your abode," she said; and Leander walked back by her side, a prey to rage and humiliation.
"It is a miserable thing," he was thinking, "for a man in my rank of life to have a female statue trotting after him like a great dorg. I'm d——d if I put up with it! Suppose we happen on somebody as knows me!"
Fortunately, at that time of night Bloomsbury Square is not much frequented; the increasing fog prevented the apparition of a female in classical garments from attracting the notice to which it might otherwise have been exposed, and they reached the shop without any disagreeable encounter.
"She shan't stop in the saloon," he determined; "I've had enough of that! If you've no objections," he said, with a mixture of deference and dictation, "I shall be obliged if you'd settle yourself in the little shrine in the upstairs room before proceeding to evaporate out of your statue; it would be more agreeable to my feelings."
"Ah!" she said, smiling, "you would have me nearer you? Your stubborn heart is yielding; a little while, and you will own the power of Aphrodite!"
"Now, don't you go deceiving yourself with any such ideers," said the hairdresser, irritably. "I shan't do no such thing, so you needn't think it. And, to come to the point, how long do you mean to carry on this little game?"
"Game?" repeated the goddess, absently.
"How long are you going to foller me about in this ridiclous way?"
"Till you submit, and profess your willingness to redeem your promise."
"Oh, and you're coming every evening till then, are you?"
"At nightfall of each day I have power to revisit you."
"Well, come then!" he said, with a fling of impatient anger. "I tell you beforehand that you won't get anything by it. Not if you was to come and bring a whole stonemason's yard of sculptures along with you, you wouldn't! You ought to know better than to come pestering a respectable tradesman in this bold-faced manner!"
She smiled with a languid contemptuous tolerance, which maddened Leander.
"Rave on," she said. "Truly, you are a sorry prize for such as I to stoop to win; yet I will it, nor shall you escape me. There will come a day when, forsaken by all you hold dear on earth, despised, ruined, distracted, you will pray eagerly for the haven of refuge to which I alone can guide you. Take heed, lest your conduct now be remembered then! I have spoken."
They were indeed her last words that evening, and they impressed the hairdresser, in spite of himself. Custom habituates the mind to any marvel, and already he had overcome his first horror at the periodical awakenings of the statue, and surprise was swallowed up by exasperation; now, however, he quailed under her dark threats. Could it ever really come to pass that he would sue to this stone to hide him in the realms of the supernatural?
"I know this," he told himself, "if it once gets about that there's a hairdresser to be seen in Bloomsbury chivied about after dark by a classical statue, I shan't dare to show my face. Yet I don't know how I'm to prevent her coming out after me, at all events now and then. If she was only a little more like other people, I shouldn't mind so much; but it's more than I can bear to have to go about with a tablow vivant or a pose plastique on my arm!"
All at once he started to his feet. "I've got it!" he cried, and went downstairs to his laboratory, to reappear with some camel-hair brushes, grease-paints, and a selection from his less important discoveries in the science of cosmetics; namely, an "eyebrow accentuator," a vase of "Tweddle's Cream of Carnations" and "Blondinette Bloom," a china box of "Conserve of Coral" for the lips, and one of his most expensive chevelures.
He was trembling as he arranged them upon his table; not that he was aware of the enormity of the act he contemplated, but he was afraid the goddess might revisit the marble while he was engaged upon it.
He furnished the blank eye-sockets with a pair of eyes, which, if not exactly artistic, at least supplied a want; he pencilled the eyebrows, laid on several coats of the "Bloom," which he suffused cunningly with a tinge of carnation, and stained the pouting lips with his "Conserve of Coral."
So far, perhaps, he had not violated the canons of art, and may even have restored to the image something of its pristine hues; but his next addition was one the vandalism of which admits of no possible defence, and when he deftly fitted the coiffure of light closely-curled hair upon the noble classical head, even Leander felt dimly that something was wrong!
"I don't know how it is," he pondered; "she looks more natural, but not half so respectable. However, when she's got something on to cover the marble, there won't be anything much to notice about her. I'll buy a cloak for her the first thing to-morrow morning. Matilda was saying something about a shop near here where I could get that. And then, if this Venus must come following me about, she'll look less outlandish at any rate, and that's something!"
A FURTHER PREDICAMENT
"So long as the world contains us both, Me the loving and you the loth, While the one eludes, must the other pursue."
Immediately after breakfast the next day, Leander went out and paid a visit to Miss Twilling's, bringing away with him a hooded cloak of the precise kind he remembered Matilda to have described as unlikely to render its owner conspicuous. With this garment he succeeded in disguising the statue to such a degree, that it was far less likely than before that the goddess's appearance in public would excite any particular curiosity—a result which somewhat relieved his anxiety as to her future proceedings.
But all that day his thoughts were busy with Matilda. He must, he feared, have deeply offended her by his abrupt change on the previous night; and now he could not expect to meet her again for days, and would not know how to explain his conduct if he did meet her.
If he could only dare to tell her everything; but from such a course he shrank. Matilda would not only be extremely indignant (though, in very truth, he had done nothing positively wrong as yet), but, with her strict notions and well-regulated principles, she would assuredly recoil from a lover who had brought himself into a predicament so hideous. He would tell her all when, or if, he succeeded in extricating himself.
But he was to learn the nature of Matilda's sentiments sooner than he expected. It was growing dusk, and he was unpacking a parcel of goods in his front shop—for his saloon happened to be empty just then—when the outer door swung back, and a slight girlish figure entered, after a pause of indecision on the threshold. It was Matilda.
Had she come to break it off—to reproach him? He was prepared for no less; she had never paid him a visit like this alone before; and some doubts of the propriety of the thing seemed to be troubling her now, for she did not speak.
"Matilda," he faltered, "don't tell me you have come in a spirit of unpleasantness, for I can't bear it."
"Don't you deserve that I should?" she said, but not angrily. "You know, you were very strange in behaving as you did last night. I couldn't tell what to make of it."
"I know," he said confusedly; "it was something come over me, all of a sudden like. I can't understand what made me like that; but, oh, Tillie, my dearest love, my 'art was busting with adoration all the time! The circumstances was highly peculiar; but I don't know that I could explain them."
"You needn't, Leander; I have found you out." She said this with a strange significance.
"What!" he almost shrieked. "You don't mean it, Matilda! Tell me, quick! has the discovery changed your feelings towards me? Has it?"
"Yes," she said softly. "I—I think it has; but you ought not to have done it, Leander."
"I know," he groaned. "I was a fool, Tillie; a fool! But I may get out of it yet," he added. "I can get her to let me off. I must—I will!"
Matilda opened her eyes. "But, Leander dear, listen; don't be so hasty. I never said I wanted her to let you off, did I?"
He looked at her in a dazed manner. "I rather thought," he said slowly, "that it might have put you out a little. I see I was mistook."
"You might have known that I should be more pleased than angry, I should think," said Matilda.
"More pleased than——I might have known!" exclaimed the bewildered man. "Oh, you can't reely be taking it as cool as this! Will you kindly inform me what it is you're alludin' to in this way?"
"What is the use of pretending? You know I know. And it is colder, much colder, this morning. I felt it directly I got up."
"Quite a change in the weather, I'm sure," he said mechanically; "it feels like a frost coming on." ("Has Matilda looked in to tell me the weather's changed?" he was wondering within himself. "Either I'm mad, or Matilda is.")
"You dear old goose!" said Matilda, with an unusual effusiveness; "you shan't tease me like this! Do you think I've no eyes and no feelings? Any girl, I don't care how proud or offended, would come round on such proof of devotedness as I've had this evening. When I saw it gone, I felt I must come straight in and thank you, and tell you I shouldn't think any more of last night. I couldn't stop myself."
"When you saw what gone?" cried the hairdresser, rubbing up his hair.
"The cloak," said Matilda; and then, as she saw his expression, her own changed. "Leander Tweddle," she asked, in a dry hard voice, "have I been making a wretched fool of myself? Didn't you buy that cloak?"
He understood at last. He had gone to Miss Twilling's chiefly because he was in a hurry and it was close by, and he knew nowhere else where he could be sure of getting what he required. Now, by some supreme stroke of the ill-luck which seemed to be pursuing him of late, he had unwittingly purchased the identical garment on which Matilda had fixed her affections! How was he to notice that they took it out of the window for him?
All this flashed across him as he replied, "Yes, yes, Tillie, I did buy a cloak there; but are you sure it was the same you told me about?"
"Do you think a woman doesn't know the look of a thing like that, when it's taken her fancy?" said Matilda. "Why, I could tell you every clasp and tassel on that cloak; it wasn't one you'd see every day, and I knew it was gone the moment I passed the window. It quite upset me, for I'd set my heart on it so; and I ran in to Miss Twilling, and asked her what had become of it; and when she said she'd sold it that morning, I thought I should have fainted. You see, it never struck me that it could be you; for how could I dream that you'd be clever enough to go and choose the very one? Leander, it was clever of you!"
"Yes," he said, with a bitter rail against himself. "I'm a clever chap, I am! But how did you find out?"
"Oh, I made Miss Twilling (I often get little things there), I made her describe who she sold it to, and she said she thought it was to a gentleman in the hair-cutting persuasion who lived near; and then, of course, I guessed who bought it."
"Tillie," gasped Leander, "I—I didn't mean you to guess; the purpose for which I require that cloak is my secret."
"Oh, you silly man, when I've guessed it! And I take it just as kind of you as if it was to be all a surprise. I was wishing as I came along I could afford to buy it at once, it struck so cold coming out of our place; and you had actually bought it for me all the time! Thank you ever so much, Leander dear!"
He had only to accept the position; and he did. "I'm glad you're pleased," he said; "I intended it as a surprise."
"And I am surprised," said Matilda; "because, do you know, last night, when I went home, I was feeling very cross with you. I kept thinking that perhaps you didn't care for me any more, and were trying to break it off; and, oh, all sorts of horrid things I kept thinking! And aunt gave me a message for you this morning, and I was so out of temper I wouldn't leave it. And now to find you've been so kind!"
She stretched out her hand to him across the counter, and he took and held it tight; he had never seen her looking sweeter, nor felt that she was half so dear to him. After all, his blunder had brought them together again, and he was grateful to it.
At last Matilda said, "You were quite right about this wrapper, Leander; it's not half warm enough for a night like this. I'm really afraid to go home in it."
He knew well enough what she intended him to do; but just then he dared not appear to understand. "It isn't far, only to Millman Street," he said; "and you must walk fast, Tillie. I wish I could leave the shop and come too."
"You want me to ask you downright," she said pouting. "You men can't even be kind prettily. Don't you want to see how I look in your cloak, Leander?"
What could he say after that? He must run upstairs, deprive the goddess of her mantle, and hand it over to Matilda. She had evidently made up her mind to have that particular cloak, and he must buy the statue another. It would be expensive; but there was no help for it.
"Certainly," he said, "you shall have it now, dearest, if you'd like to. I'll run up and fetch it down, if you'll wait."
He rushed upstairs, two steps at a time, and, flinging open the door of a cupboard, began desperately to uncloak his Aphrodite. She was lifeless still, which he considered fortunate.
But the goddess seemed to have a natural propensity to retain any form of portable property. One of her arms was so placed that, tug and stretch as he would, Leander could not get the cloak from her shoulders, and his efforts only broke one of the oxidized silver fastenings, and tore part of the squirrel's-fur lining.
It was useless, and with a damp forehead he came down again to his expectant fiancee.
"Why, you haven't got it, after all!" she cried, her face falling.
"Tillie, my own dear girl," he said, "I'm uncommon sorry, upon my soul I am, but you can't have that cloak this evening."
"But why, Leander, why?"
"Because one of the clasps is broke. It must be sent back to be repaired."
"I don't mind that. Let me have it just as it is."
"And the lining's torn. No, Matilda, I shan't make you a present of a damaged article. I shall send it back. They must change it for me." ("Then," he thought, "I can buy my Matilda another.")
"I don't care for any other but that," she said; "and you can't match it."
"Oh, lor!" he thought, "and she knows every inch of it. The goddess must give it up; it'll be all the same to her. Very well then, dearest, you shall have that, but not till it's done up. I must have my way in this; and as soon as ever I can, I'll bring it round."
"Leander, could you bring it me by Sunday," she said eagerly, "when you come?"
"Why Sunday?" he asked.
"Because—oh, that was the message your aunt asked me to bring you; it was in a note, but I've lost it. She told me what was inside though, and it's this. Will you give her the pleasure of your company at her mid-day dinner at two o'clock, to be introduced to mamma? And she said you were to be sure and not forget her ring."
He tottered for a moment. The ring! Yes, there was that to be got off, too, besides the cloak.
"Haven't you got the ring from Vidler's yet?" she said. "He's had it such a time."
He had told her where he had left it for alterations. "Yes," he said, "he has had it a time. It's disgraceful the way that old Vidler potters and potters. I shall go round and 'urry him up. I won't stand it any longer."
Here a customer came in, and Matilda slipped away with a hurried good-bye.
"I've got till Sunday to get straight," the hairdresser thought, as he attended on the new comer, "the best part of a week; surely I can talk that Venus over by that time."
When he was alone he went up to see her, without losing a moment. He must have left the door unlocked in his haste, for she was standing before the low chimney-glass, regarding herself intently. As he came in she turned.
"Who has done all this?" she demanded. "Tell me, was it you?"
"I did take the liberty, mum," he faltered guiltily.
"You have done well," she said graciously. "With reverent and loving care have you imparted hues as of life to these cheeks, and decked my image in robes of costly skins."
"Don't name it, mum," he said.
"But what are these?" she continued, raising a hand to the light ringlets on her brow. "I like them not—they are unseemly. The waving lines, parted by the bold chisel of a Grecian sculptor, resemble my ambrosial tresses more nearly than this abomination."
"You may go all over London," said Leander, "and you won't find a coiffure, though I say it, to set closer and defy detection more naturally than the one you've got on; selected from the best imported foreign hair in the market, I do assure you."
"I accept the offering for the spirit in which it was presented, though I approve it not otherwise."
"You'll find it wear very comfortable," said Leander; "but that cloak, now I come to see it on, it reely is most unworthy of you, a very inferior piece of goods, and, if you'll allow me, I'll change it," and he gently extended his hand to draw it off.
"Touch it not," said the goddess; "for, having once been placed upon my effigy, it is consecrated to my service."
"For mercy's sake, let me get another one—one with more style about it," he entreated; "my credit hangs on it!"
"I am content," she said, "more than content. No more words—I retain it. And you have pleased me by this conduct, my hairdresser. Unknown it may be, even to yourself, your heart is warming in the sunshine of my favour; you are coy and wayward, but you are yielding. Though pent in this form, carved by a mortal hand, I shall prevail in the end. I shall have you for my own."
He rumpled his hair wildly, "'Orrid obstinate these goddesses are," he thought. "What am I to say to Matilda now? If I could only find a way of getting this statue shut up somewhere where she couldn't come and bother me, I'd take my chance of the rest. I can't go on with this sort of thing every evening. I'm sick and tired of it."
Then something occurred to him. "Could I delude her into it?" he asked himself. "She's soft enough in some things, and, for all she's a goddess, she don't seem up to our London ways yet. I'll have a try, anyway."
So he began: "Didn't I understand you to observe, mum, some time back, that the pidgings and sparrers were your birds?"
"They are mine," she said—"or they were mine in days that are past."
"Well," he said, "there's a place close by, with railings in front of it, and steps and pillars as you go in, and if you like to go and look in the yard there you'll find pidgings enough to set you up again. I shouldn't wonder if they've been keeping them for you all this time."
"They shall not lose by it," she said. "Go thither, and bring me my birds."
"I think," he said, "it would be better if you'd go yourself; they don't know me at the British Museum. But if you was to go to the beadle at the lodge and demand them, I've no doubt you'd be attended to; and you'll see some parties at the gates in long coats and black cloth 'elmets, which if you ask them to ketch you a few sparrers, they'll probably be most happy to oblige."
"My beloved birds!" she said. "I have been absent from them so long. Yes, I will go. Tell me where."
He got his hat, and went with her to a corner of Bloomsbury Square, from which they could see the railings fronting the Museum in the steel-tinted haze of electric light.
"That's the place," he said. "Keeps its own moonshine, you see. Go straight in, and tell 'em you're come to fetch your doves."
"I will do so," she said, and strode off in imperious majesty.
He looked after her with an irrepressible chuckle.
"If she ain't locked up soon, I don't know myself," he said, and went back to his establishment.
He had only just dismissed his apprentice and secured the shop for the night, when he heard the well-known tread up the staircase. "Back again! I don't have any luck," he muttered; and with reason, for the statue, wearing an expression of cold displeasure, advanced into his room. He felt a certain sense of guilt as he saw her.
"Got the birds?" he inquired, with a nervous familiarity, "or couldn't you bring yourself to ask for them?"
"You have misled me," she said. "My birds are not there. I came to gates in front of a stately pile—doubtless erected to some god; at the entrance stood a priest, burly and strong, with gold-embroidered garments——"
("The beadle, I suppose," commented Leander.)
"I passed him unseen, and roamed unhindered over the courtyard. It was bare, save for one or two worshippers who crossed it. Presently a winged thing fluttered down to my feet. But though a dove indeed, it was no bird of mine—it knew me not. And it was draggled, begrimed, uncleanly, as never were the doves of Aphrodite. And the sparrows (for these, too, did I see), they were worse. I motioned them from me with loathing. I renounced them all. Thus, Leander, have I fared in following your counsels!"
"Well, it ain't my fault," he said; "it's the London soot makes them like that. There's some at the Guildhall: perhaps they're cleaner."
"No," she said, vehemently; "I will seek no further. This is a city of darkness and mire. I am in a land, an age, which know me not: this much have I learnt already. The world was fairer and brighter of old!"
"You see," said Leander, "if you only go about at night, you can't expect sunshine! But I'm told there's cleaner and brighter places to be seen abroad—if you cared to go there?" he insinuated.
"To one place only, to my Cyprian caves, will I go," she declared, "and with you!"
"We'll talk about that some other time," he answered, soothingly. "Lady Venus, look here, don't you think you've kept that ring long enough? I've asked you civilly enough, goodness knows, to 'and it over, times without number. I ask you once more to act fair. You know it came to you quite accidental, and yet you want to take advantage of it like this. It ain't right!"
She met this with her usual scornful smile. "Listen, Leander," she said. "Once before—how long since I know not—a mortal, in sport or accident, placed his ring as you have done upon the finger of a statue erected to me. I claimed fulfilment of the pledge then, as now; but a force I could not withstand was invoked against me, and I was made to give up the ring, and with it the power and rights I strove to exert. But I will not again be thwarted: no force, no being shall snatch you from me; so be not deceived. Submit, ere you excite my fierce displeasure; submit now, since in the end submit you must!"
There was a dreadful force in the sonorous tones which made him shiver; a rigid inflexible will lurked in this form, with all its subtle curves and feminine grace. If goddesses really retained any power in these days, there could be no doubt that she would use hers to the full.
Yet he still struggled. "I can't make you give up the ring," he said; "but no more you can't make me leave my—my establishment, and go away underground with you. I'm an Englishman, I am, and Englishmen are free, mum; p'r'aps you wasn't aware of that? I've got a will of my own, and so you'll find it!"
"Poor worm!" she said pityingly (and the hairdresser hated to be addressed as a poor worm), "why oppose thy weak will to mine? Why enlist my pride against thyself; for what hast thou of thine own to render thy conquest desirable? Thou art bent upon defiance, it seems. I leave thee to reflect if such a combat can be equal. Farewell; and at my next coming let me find a change!"
And the spirit of the goddess fled, as before, to the mysterious realms from which she had been so incautiously evoked, leaving Leander almost frantic with rage, superstitious terror, and baffled purposes.
"I must get the ring off," he muttered, "and the cloak, somehow. Oh! if I could only find out how——There was that other chap—he got off; she said as much. If I could get out how he managed it, why couldn't I do the same? But who's to tell me? She won't—not if she knows it! I wonder if it's in any history. Old Freemoult would know it if it was—he's such a scholar. Why, he gave me a name for that 'airwash without having to think twice over it! I'll try and pump old Freemoult. I'll do it to-morrow, too. I'll see if I'm to be domineered over by a image out of a tea-garden. Eh? I—I don't care if she did hear me!"
So Leander went to his troubled pillow, full of this new resolution, which seemed to promise a way of escape.
BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP SEA
"Some, when they take Revenge, are Desirous the party should know whence it cometh: This is the more Generous."—BACON.
In the Tottenham Court Road was a certain Commercial Dining-room, where Leander occasionally took his evening meal, after the conclusion of his day's work, and where Mr. Freemoult was accustomed to take his supper, on leaving the British Museum Library.
To this eating-house Leander repaired the very next evening, urged by a consuming desire to learn the full particulars of the adventure which his prototype in misfortune had met with.
It was an unpretending little place, with the bill of fare wafered to the door, and red curtains in the windows, setting off a display of joints, cauliflowers, and red herrings. He passed through into a long, low room, with dark-brown grained walls, partitioned off in the usual manner; and taking a seat in a box facing the door, he ordered dinner from one of the shirtsleeved attendants.
The first glance had told him that the man he wished to see was not there, but he knew he must come in before long; and, in fact, before Leander's food could be brought, the old scholar made his appearance.
He was hardly a man of attractive exterior, being of a yellow complexion, with a stubbly chin, and lank iron-grey locks. He wore a tall and superannuated hat with a staring nap, and the pockets of his baggy coat bulged with documents. Altogether he did not seem exactly the person to be an authority on the subject of Venus.
But, as the hairdresser was aware, he had the reputation of being a mine of curious and out-of-the-way information, though few thought it worth their while to work him. He gained a living, however, by hackwork of various descriptions, and was in slightly better circumstances than he allowed to appear.
As he passed slowly along the central passage, in his usual state of abstraction, Leander touched him eagerly on the sleeve. "Come in 'ere, Mr. Freemoult, sir," he said; "there's room in this box."
"It's the barber, is it?" said the old man. "What do you want me to eat with you for, eh?"
"Why, for the pleasure of your company, sir, of course," said Leander, politely.
"Well," said the old gentleman, sitting down, while documents bristled out of him in all directions, "there are not many who would say that—not many now."
"Don't you say so, Mr. Freemoult, sir. I'm sure it's a benefit, if only for your conversation. I often say, 'I never meet Mr. Freemoult without I learn somethink;' I do indeed."
"Then we must have met less often than I had imagined."
"Now, you're too modest, sir; you reelly are—a scholar like you, too! Talking of scholarship, you'll be gratified to hear that that title you were good enough to suggest for the 'Regenerator' is having a quite surprising success. I disposed of five bottles over the counter only yesterday." ("These old scholars," was his wily reflection, "like being flattered up.")
"Does that mean you've another beastly bottle you want me to stand godfather to?" growled the ungrateful old gentleman.
"Oh no, indeed, sir! It's only——But p'r'aps you'll allow me previously the honour of sending out for whatever beverage you was thinking of washing down your boiled beef with, sir."
"Do you know who I am?" Mr. Freemoult burst out. "I'm a scholar, and gentleman enough still to drink at my own expense!"
"I intended no offence, I'm sure, sir; it was only meant in a friendly way."
"That is the offence, sir; that is the offence! But, there, we'll say no more about it; you can't help your profession, and I can't help my prejudices. What was it you wanted to ask me?"
"Well," said Leander, "I was desirous of getting some information respecting—ahem—a party by the name of (if I've caught the foreign pronounciation) Haphrodite, otherwise known as Venus. Do you happen to have heard tell of her?"
"Have I had a classical education, sir, or haven't I? Heard of her? Of course I have. But why, in the name of Mythology, any hairdresser living should trouble his head about Aphrodite, passes my comprehension. Leave her alone, sir!"
"It's her who won't leave me alone!" thought Leander; but he did not say so. "I've a very particular reason for wishing to know; and I'm sure if you could tell me all you'd heard about her, I'd take it very kind of you."
"Want to pick my brains; well, you wouldn't be the first. But I am here, sir, to rest my brain and refresh my body, not to deliver peripatetic lectures to hairdressers on Grecian mythology."
"Well," said Leander, "I never meant you to give your information peripatetic; I'm willing to go as far as half a crown."
"Conf——But, there, what's the good of being angry with you? Is this the sort of thing you want for your half-crown?—Aphrodite, a later form of the Assyrian Astarte; the daughter, according to some theogonies, of Zeus and Dione; others have it that she was the offspring of the foam of the sea, which gathered round the fragments of the mutilated Uranos——"
"That don't seem so likely, do it, sir?" said Leander.
"If you are going to crop in with idiotic remarks, I shall confine myself to my supper."
"Don't stop, Mr. Freemoult, sir; it's most instructive. I'm attending."
But the old gentleman, after a manner he had, was sunk in a dreamy abstraction for the moment, in which he apparently lost the thread, as he resumed, "Whereupon Zeus, to punish her, gave her in wedlock to his deformed son, Hephaestus."
"She never mentioned him to me," thought Leander; "but I suppose she's a widow goddess by this time; I'm sure I hope so."
"Whom," Mr. Freemoult was saying, "she deceived upon several occasions, notably in the case of ——" And here he launched into a scandalous chronicle, which determined Leander more than ever that Matilda must never know he had entertained a personage with such a past.
"Angered by her indiscretions, Zeus inspired her with love for a mortal man."
"Poor devil!" said Leander, involuntarily. "And what became of him, sir?"
"There were several thus distinguished; amongst others, Anchises, Adonis, and Cinyras. Of these, the first was struck by lightning; the second slain by a wild boar; and the third is reputed to have perished in a contest with Apollo."
"They don't seem to have had no luck, any of them," was Leander's depressed conclusion.
"Aphrodite, or Venus, as you choose to call her, took a prominent part in the Trojan war, the origin of which ten years' struggle may be traced to a certain golden apple."
"What an old rag-bag it is!" thought Leander. "I'm only wasting money on him. He's like a bran-pie at a fancy fair: what you get out of him is always the thing you didn't want."
"No, no, Mr. Freemoult," he said, with some impatience; "leave out about the war and the apple. It—it isn't either of them as I wanted to hear about."
"Then I have done," said the old man, curtly. "You've had considerably more than half a crown's worth, as it is."
"Look here, Mr. Freemoult," said the reckless hairdresser, "if you can't give me no better value, I don't mind laying out another sixpence in questions."
"Put your questions, then, by all means; and I'll give you your fair sixpenn'orth of answers. Now, then, I'm ready for you. What's your difficulty? Out with it."
"Why," said Leander, in no small confusion, "isn't there a story somewhere of a statue to Venus as some young man (a long time back it was, of course) was said to have put his ring on? and do you know the rights of it? I—I can't remember how it ended, myself."
"Wait a bit, sir; I think I do remember something of the legend you refer to. You found it in the Earthly Paradise, I make no doubt?"
"I found it in Rosherwich Gardens," Leander very nearly blurted out; but he stopped himself, and said instead, "I don't think I've ever been there, sir; not to remember it."
"Well, well! you're no lover of poetry, that's very evident; but the story is there. Yes, yes; and Burton has a version of it, too, in his Anatomy. How does it go? Give my head a minute to clear, and I'll tell you. Ha! I have it! It was something like this: There was a certain young gentleman of Rome who, on his wedding-day, went out to play tennis; and in the tennis-court was a brass statue of the goddess Venus——"
("Mine ought to be brass, from her goings on," thought Leander.)
"And while he played he took off his finger-ring and put it upon the statue's hand; a mighty foolish act, as you will agree."
"Ah!" said Leander, shaking his head; "you may say that! What next, sir?" He became excited to find that he really was on the right track at last.
"Why, when the game was over, and he came to get his ring, he found he couldn't get it off again. Ha! ha!" and the old man chuckled softly, and then relapsed once more into silence.
"Yes, yes, Mr. Freemoult, sir! I'm a-listening; it's very funny; only do go on!"
"Go on? Where was I? Hadn't I finished? Ah, to be sure! Well, so Paris gave her the apple, you see."
"I didn't understand you to allude to no apple," said his puzzled hearer; "and it was at Rome, I thought, not Paris. Bring your mind more to it, sir; we'd got to the ring not coming off the statue."
"I know, sir; I know. My mind's clear enough, let me tell you. That very night (as I was about to say, if you'd had patience to hear me) Venus stepped in and parted the unfortunate pair——"
"It was a apple just now, you aggravating old muddle 'ed!" said Leander, internally.
"Venus informed the young man that he had betrothed himself to her by that ring" ("Same game exactly," thought the pupil), "and—and, in short, she led him such a life for some nights, that he could bear it no longer. So at length he repaired to a certain mighty magician called——Let me see, what was his name again? It wasn't Agrippa—was it Albertus? Odd; it has escaped me for the moment."
"Never mind, sir; call him Jones."
"I will not call him Jones, sir! I had it on my tongue—there, Palumbus! Palumbus it was. Well, Palumbus told him the goddess would never cease to trouble him, unless he could get back the ring—unless he could get back the ring."
Leander's heart began to beat high; the solution of his difficulty was at hand. It was something to know for certain that upon recovery of the ring the goddess's power would be at an end. It only remained to find out how the other young man managed it. "Yes, Mr. Freemoult?" he said interrogatively; for the old gentleman had run down again.
"I was only thinking it out. To resume, then. No sooner had the magician (whose name as I said was Apollonius) come to the wedding, than he promptly conjectured the bride to be a serpent; whereupon she vanished incontinently, after the manner of serpents, with the house and furniture."
"Haven't you missed out a lot, sir?" inquired Leander, deferentially; "because it don't seem to me to hook on quite. What became of Venus and the ring?"
"How the dickens am I to tell you, if you will interrupt? Ring! What ring? Why, yes; the magician gave the young man a certain letter, and told him to go to a particular cross-road outside the city, at dead of night, and wait for Saturn to pass by in procession, with his fallen associates. This he did, and presented the magician's letter; which Saturn, after having read, called Venus to him, who was riding in front, and commanded her to deliver up the ring."
Here he stopped, as if he had nothing to add.
"And did she, sir?" asked Leander, breathlessly.
"Did she what? give up the ring? Of course she did. Haven't I been saying so? Why not?"
"Well," observed Leander, "so that's how he got out of it, was it? Hah! he was a lucky chap. Those were the days when magicians did a good trade, I suppose? Should you say there were any such parties now, on the quiet like, eh, sir?"
"Bah! Magic is a lost art, degraded to dark seances and juvenile parties—the last magician dead for more than two hundred years. Don't expose your ignorance, sir, by any more such questions."
"No," said Leander; "I thought as much. And so, if any one was to get into such a fix nowadays—of course, that's only my talk, but if they did—there ain't a practising magician anywhere to help him out of it. That's your opinion, ain't it, sir?"
"As the danger of such a contingency is not immediate," was the reply, "the want of a remedy need not, in my humble opinion, cause you any grave uneasiness."
"No," agreed Leander, dejectedly. "I don't care, of course. I was only thinking that, in case—but there, it's no odds! Well, Mr. Freemoult, you've told me what I was curious to know, and here's your little honnyrarium, sir—two shillings and two sixpences, making three shillings in all, pre-cisely."
"Keep your money, sir," said the old man, with contemptuous good humour. "My working hours are done for the day, and you're welcome enough to any instruction you're capable of receiving from my remarks. It's not saying much, I dare say."
"Oh, you told it very clear, considering, sir, I'm sure! I don't grudge it."
"Keep it, I tell you, and say no more about it."
So, expressing his thanks, Leander left the place; and, when he was outside, felt more keenly than ever the blow his hopes had sustained.
He knew the whole story of his predecessor in misfortune now, and, as a precedent, it was worse than useless.
True, for an instant a wild idea had crossed his mind, of seeking some lonely suburban cross-road at dead of night, just to see if anything came of it. "The last time was several hundred years ago, it seems," he told himself; "but there's no saying that Satan mightn't come by, for all that. Here's Venus persecuting as lively as ever, and I never heard the devil was dead. I've a good mind to take the tram to the Archway, and walk out till I find a likely-looking place."
But, on reflection, he gave this up. "If he did come by, I couldn't bring him a line—not even from the conjuror in High 'Oborn—and Satan might make me put my hand to something binding, and I shouldn't be no better off. No; I don't see no way of getting back my ring and poor Tillie's cloak, nor yet getting rid of that goddess, any more than before. There's one comfort, I can't be any worse off than I am."
Oppressed by these gloomy reflections, he returned to his home, expecting a renewal of his nightly persecution from the goddess; but from some cause, into which he was too grateful to care to inquire, the statue that evening showed no sign of life in his presence, and after waiting with the cupboard open for some time in suspense, he ventured to make himself some coffee.
He had scarcely tasted it, however, before he heard, from the passage below, a low whistle, followed by the peculiar stave by which a modern low-life Blondel endeavours to attract attention. The hairdresser paid no attention, being used, as a Londoner, to hearing such signals, and not imagining they could be intended for his ear.
But presently a handful of gravel rattled against his window, and the whistle was repeated. He went to the window cautiously, and looked out. Below were two individuals, rather carefully muffled; their faces, which were only indistinctly seen, were upturned to him.
He retreated, trembling. He had had so much to think of lately, that the legal danger he was running, by harbouring the detested statue, was almost forgotten; but now he remembered the Inspector's words, and his legs bent beneath him. Could these people be detectives?
"Is that Mr. Tweddle up there?" said a voice below—"because if it is, he'd better come down, double quick, and let us in, that's all!"
"'Ere, don't you skulk up there!" added a coarser voice. "We know y'er there; and if yer don't come down to us, why, we'll come up to you!"
This brought Leander forward again. "Gentlemen," he said, leaning out, and speaking in an agitated whisper, "for goodness' sake, what do you want with me?"
"You let us in, and we'll tell you."
"Will it do if I come down and speak to you outside?" said Leander.
There was a consultation between the two at this, and at the end of it the first man said: "It's all the same to us, where we have our little confabulation. Come down, and look sharp about it!"
Leander came down, taking care to shut the street door behind him. "You ain't the police?" he said, apprehensively.
They each took an arm, and walked him roughly off between them towards Queen Square. "We'll show you who we are," they said.
"I—I demand your authority for this," gasped Leander. "What am I charged with?"
They had brought him into the gloomiest part of the square, where the houses, used as offices in the daytime, were now dark and deserted. Here they jammed him up against the railings, and stood guard over him, while he was alarmed to perceive a suppressed ferocity in the faces of both.
"What are you charged with? Grr——! For 'arf a pint I'd knock your bloomin 'ed in!" said the coarser gentleman of the two—an evasive form of answer which did not seem to promise a pleasant interview.
Leander was not naturally courageous, and what he had gone through lately had shaken his nerves. He thought that, for policemen, they showed too strong a personal feeling; but who else could they be? He could not remember having seen either of them before. One was a tall, burly, heavy-jawed man; the other smaller and slighter, and apparently the superior of the two in education and position.
"You don't remember me, I see," said the latter; and then suddenly changing his tone to a foreign accent, he said: "Haf you been since to drink a glass of beer at your open-air gardens at Rosherwich?"
Leander knew him then. It was his foreign customer of Monday evening. His face was clean-shaven now, and his expression changed—not for the better.
"I think," he said, faintly, "I had the privilege of cutting your 'air the other evening."
"You did, my friend, and I admired your taste for the fine arts. This gentleman and I have, on talking it over, been so struck by what I saw that evening, that we ventured to call and inquire into it."
"Look 'ere, Count," said his companion, "there ain't time for all that perliteness. You leave him to me; I'll talk to him! Now then, you white-livered little airy-sneak, do you know who we are?"
"No," said Leander; "and, excuse me calling of your attention to it, but you're pinching my arm!"
"I'll pinch it off before I've done," said the burly man. "Well, we're the men that have planned and strived, and run all the risk, that you and your gang might cut in and carry off our honest earnings. You infernal little hair-cutting shrimp, you! To think of being beaten by the likes of you! It's sickening, that's what it is, sickening!"
"I don't understand you—as I live, gentlemen, I don't understand you!" pleaded Leander.
"You understand us well enough," said the ex-foreigner, with an awful imprecation on all Leander's salient features; "but you shall have it all in black and white. We're the party that invented and carried out that little job at Wricklesmarsh Court."
"Burglars! Do you mean you're burglars?" cried the terrified Leander.
"We started as burglars, but we've finished by being made cat's-paws of—by you, curse you! You didn't think we should find you out, did you? But if you wanted to keep us in the dark, you made two awkward little slips: one was leaving your name and address at the gardens as the party who was supposed to have last seen the statue, and the other was keeping the said statue standing about in your hair-cutting room, to meet the eye of any gentleman calling out of curiosity, and never expecting such a find as that."
"What's the good of jawing at him, Count? That won't satisfy me, it won't. 'Ere, I can't 'old myself off him any longer. I must put a 'ed on him."
But the other interposed. "Patience, my good Braddle. No violence. Leave him to me; he's a devilish deep fellow, and deserves all respect." (Here he shook Leander like a rat.) "You've stolen a march on us, you condemned little hairdressing ape, you! How did you do it? Out with it! How the devil did you do it?"
"For the love of heaven, gents," pleaded Leander, without reflecting that he might have found a stronger inducement, "don't use violence! How did I do what?"
"Count, I can't answer for myself," said the man addressed as Braddle. "I shall send a bullet into him if you don't let me work it off with fists; I know I shall!"
"Keep quiet," said his superior, sternly. "Don't you see I'm quiet?" and he twisted his knuckles viciously into Leander's throat. "If you call out you're a corpse!"
"I wasn't thinking of calling out, indeed I wasn't. I'm quite satisfied with being where I am," said Leander, "if you'd only leave me a little more room to choke in, and tell me what I've done to put you both in such tremenjous tempers."
"Done? You cur, when yer know well enough you've taken the bread out of our mouths—the bread we'd earned! D'ye suppose we left out that statue in the gardens for the like of you? Who put you up to it? How many were there in it? What do you mean to do now you've got it? Speak out, or I swear I'll cut your heart out, and throw it over the railings for the tom-cats; I will, you ——!"
The man called Braddle, as he uttered this threat, looked so very anxious to execute it, that Leander gave himself up for lost.
"As true as I stand here, gentlemen, I didn't steal that statue."
"I doubt you're not the build for taking the lead in that sort of thing," said the Count; "but you were in it. You went down that Saturday as a blind. Deny it if you dare."
Leander did not dare. "I could not help myself, gentlemen," he faltered.
"Who said you could? And you can't help yourself now, either; so make a clean breast of it. Who are you standing in with? Is it Potter's lot?"
If Leander had declared himself to be alone, things might have gone harder with him, and they certainly would never have believed him; so he said it was Potter's lot.
"I told you Potter was after that marble, and you wouldn't have it, Count," growled Braddle. "Now you're satisfied."
The Count comprised Potter and his lot in a new and original malediction by way of answer, and then said to Leander, "Did Potter tell you to let that Venus stand where all the world might see it?"
"I had no discretion," said the hairdresser. "I'm not responsible, indeed, gents."
"No discretion! I should think you hadn't. Nor Potter either, acting the dog in the manger like this. Where'll he find his market for it, eh? What orders have you got? When are you going to get it across?"
"I've no notions. I haven't received no directions," said Leander.
"A nice sort o' mug you are to be trusted with a job like this," said Braddle. "I did think Potter was better up in his work, I did. A pretty bungle he'll make of it!"
"It would serve him right, for interfering with fellow-professionals in this infernal unprincipled manner. But he shan't have the chance, Braddle, he shan't have the chance; we'll steal a march on him this time."
"Is the coast clear yet?" said Braddle.
"We must risk it. We shall find a route for it, never fear," was the reply. "Now, you cursed hairdresser, you listen to what I'm going to tell you. That Venus is our lawful property, and, by ——, we mean to get her into our hands again. D'ye hear that?"
Leander heard, and with delight. So long as he could once get free from the presence of the statue, and out of the cross-fire of burglars and police, he was willing by this time to abandon the cloak and ring.
"I can truly say, I hope you'll be successful, gents," he replied.
"We don't want your hopes, we want your help. You must round on Potter."
"Must I, gents?" said Leander. "Well, to oblige you, whatever it costs me, I will round on Potter."
"Take care you stick to that," said Braddle. "The next pint, Count, is 'ow we're to get her."
"Come in and take her away now," said Leander, eagerly. "She'll be quiet. I—I mean the house'll be quiet now. You'll be very welcome, I assure you. I won't interfere."
"You're a bright chap to go in for a purfession like ours," said Mr. Braddle, with intense disgust. "How do yer suppose we're to do it—take her to pieces, eh, and bring her along in our pockets? Do you think we're flats enough to run the chance of being seen in the streets by a copper, lugging that 'ere statue along?"
"We must have the light cart again, and a sack," said the Count. "It's too late to-night."
"And it ain't safe in the daytime," said Braddle. "We're wanted for that job at Camberwell, that puts it on to-morrow evening. But suppose Potter has fixed the same time."
"Here, you know. Has Potter fixed the same time?" the Count demanded from Leander.
"No," said Leander; "Potter ain't said nothing to me about moving her."
"Then are you man enough to undertake Potter, if he starts the idea? Are you? Come!"
"Yes, gents, I'll manage Potter. You break in any time after midnight, and I engage you shall find the Venus on the premises."
"But we want more than that of you, you know. We mustn't lose any time over this job. You must be ready at the door to let us in, and bear a hand with her down to the cart."
But this did not suit Leander's views at all. He was determined to avoid all personal risks; and to be caught helping the burglars to carry off the Aphrodite would be fatal.
He was recovering his presence of mind. As his tormentors had sensibly relaxed, he was able to take steps for his own security.
"I beg pardon, gents," he said, "but I don't want to appear in this myself. There's Potter, you see; he's a hawful man to go against. You know what Potter is, yourselves." (Potter was really coming in quite usefully, he began to think.)
"Well, I don't suppose Potter would make more bones about slitting your throat than we should, if he knew you'd played him false," said the Count. "But we can't help that; in a place like this it's too risky to break in, when we can be let in."
"If you'll only excuse me taking an active part," said Leander, "it's all I ask. This is my plan, gentlemen. You see that little archway there, where my finger points? Well, that leads by a small alley to a yard, back of my saloon. You can leave your cart here, and come round as safe as you please. I'll have the winder in my saloon unfastened, and put the statue where you can get her easy; but I don't want to be mixed up in it further than that."
"That seems fair enough," said the Count, "provided you keep to it."
"But suppose it's a plant?" growled Braddle. "Suppose he's planning to lay a trap for us? Suppose we get in, to find Potter and his lot on the look-out for us, or break into a house that's full of bloomin' coppers?"
"I did think of that; but I believe our friend knows that if he doesn't act square with me, his life isn't worth a bent pin; and besides, he can't warn the police without getting himself into more or less hot water. So I think he'll see the wisdom of doing what he's told."
"I do," said Leander, "I do, gentlemen. I'd sooner die than deceive you."
"Well," said the Count, "you'd find it come to the same thing."
"No," added Braddle. "If you blow the gaff on us, my bloomin', I'll saw that pudden head of yours right off your shoulders, and swing for it, cheerful!"
Leander shuddered. Amongst what desperate ruffians had his unlucky stars led him! How would it all end, he wondered feebly—how?
"Well, gentlemen," he said, with his teeth chattering, "if you don't want me any more, I'll go in; and I'm to expect you to-morrow evening, I believe?"
"Expect us when you 'ear us," said Braddle; "and if you make fools of us again——" And he described consequences which exceeded in unpleasantness the worst that Leander could have imagined.
The poor man tottered back to his room again, in a most unenviable frame of mind; not even the prospect of being delivered from the goddess could reconcile him to the price he must pay for it. He was going to take a plunge into downright crime now; and if his friend the inspector came to hear of it, ruin must follow. And, in any case, the cloak and the ring would be gone beyond recovery, while these cut-throat housebreakers would henceforth have a hold over him; they might insist upon steeping him in blacker crime still, and he knew he would never have the courage to resist.
As he thought of the new difficulties and dangers that compassed him round about, he was frequently on the verge of tears, and his couch that night was visited by dreadful dreams, in which he sought audience of the Evil One himself at cross-roads, was chased over half London by police, and dragged over the other half by burglars, to be finally flattened by the fall of Aphrodite.
"Does not the stone rebuke me For being more stone than it?"
"Yet did he loath to see the image fair, White and unchanged of face, unmoved of limb!"
Leander's hand was very tremulous all the next day, as several indignant clients discovered, and he closed as early as he could, feeling it impossible to attend to business under the circumstances.
About seven o'clock he went up to his sitting-room. A difficult and ungrateful task was before him. To facilitate her removal, he must persuade the goddess to take up a position in the saloon for the night; and, much as he had suffered from her, there was something traitorous in delivering her over to these coarse burglars.
He waited until the statue showed signs of returning animation, and then said, "Good evening, mum," more obsequiously than usual.
She never deigned to notice or return his salutations. "Hairdresser," she said abruptly, "I am weary of this sordid place."
He was pleased, for it furthered his views. "It isn't so sordid in the saloon, where you stood the other evening, you know," he replied. "Will you step down there?"
"Bah!" she said, "it is all sordid. Leander, a restlessness has come upon me. I come back night after night out of the vagueness in which I have lain so long, and for what? To stand here in this mean chamber and proffer my favour, only to find it repulsed, disdained. I am tired of it—tired!"
"You can't be more tired of it than I am!" he said.
"I ask myself," she went on, "why, having, through your means, ascended once more to the earth, which I left so fair, I seek not those things which once delighted me. This city of yours—all that I have seen of it—revolts me; but it is vast, vaster than those built by the mortals of old. Surely somewhere there must be brightness in it and beauty, and the colour and harmony by which men knew once to delight the gods themselves. It cannot be that the gods of old are all forgotten; surely, somewhere there yet lingers a little band of faithful ones, who have not turned from Aphrodite."
"I can't say, I'm sure," said Leander; "I could inquire for you."
"I myself will seek for them," she said proudly. "I will go forth this very night."
Leander choked. "To-night!" he cried. "You can't go to-night."
"You forget yourself," she returned haughtily.
"If I let you go," he said hesitatingly, "will you promise faithfully to be back in half an hour?"
"Do you not yet understand that you have to do with a goddess—with Aphrodite herself?" she said. "Who are you, to presume to fetter me by your restrictions? Truly, the indulgence I have shown has turned your weak brain."
He put his back against the door. He was afraid of the goddess, but he was still more afraid of the burglars' vengeance if they arrived to find the prize missing.
"I'm sorry to disoblige a lady," he said; "but you don't go out of this house to-night."
In another minute he was lying in the fender amongst the fireirons—alone! How it was done he was too stunned to remember; but the goddess was gone. If she did not return by midnight, what would become of him? If he had only been civil to her, she might have stayed; but now she had abandoned him to certain destruction!
A kind of fatalistic stupor seized him. He would not run away—he would have to come home some time—nor would he call in the police, for he had a very vivid recollection of Mr. Braddle's threat in such a contingency.
He went, instead, into the dark saloon, and sat down in a chair to wait. He wondered how he could explain the statue's absence. If he told the burglars it had gone for a stroll, they would tear him limb from limb. "I was so confoundedly artful about Potter," he thought bitterly, "that they'll never believe now I haven't warned him!"
At every sound outside he shook like a leaf; the quarters, as they sounded from the church clock, sank like cold weights upon his heart. "If only Venus would come back first!" he moaned; but the statue never returned.
At last he heard steps—muffled ones—on the paved alley outside. He had forgotten to leave the window unfastened, after all, and he was too paralysed to do it now.
The steps were in the little yard, or rather a sort of back area, underneath the window. "It may be only a constable," he tried to say to himself; but there is no mistaking the constabulary tread, which is not fairy-like, or even gentle, like that he heard.
A low whistle destroyed his last hope. In a quite unpremeditated manner he put out the gas and rolled under a leather divan which stood at the end of the room. He wished now, with all his heart, that he had run away while he had the chance; but it was too late.
"I hope they'll do it with a revolver, and not a knife," he thought. "Oh, my poor Matilda! you little know what I'm going through just now, and what'll be going through me in another minute!"
A hoarse voice under the window called out, "Tweddle!"
He lay still. "None o' that, yer skulker; I know yer there!" said the voice again. "Do yer want to give me the job o' coming after yer?"
After all, Leander reflected, there was the window and a thick half-shutter between them. It might be best not to provoke Mr. Braddle at the outset. He came half out of his hiding-place. "Is that you, Mr. Braddle?" he quavered.
"Ah!" said the voice, affirmatively. "Is this what you call being ready for us? Why, the bloomin' winder ain't even undone!"
"That's what I'm here for," said poor Leander. "Is the—the other gentleman out there too?"
"You mind your business! You'll find something the Count give me to bring yer; I've put it on the winder-sill out 'ere. And you obey horders next time, will yer?"
The footsteps were heard retreating. Mr. Braddle was apparently going back to fetch his captain. Leander let down the shutter, and opened the window. He could not see, but he could feel a thick, rough bundle lying on the window-sill.
He drew this in, slammed down the window, and ran up the shutter in a second, before the two could have had time to discover him.
"Now," he thought, "I will run for it;" and he groped his way out of the dark saloon to the front shop, where he paused, and, taking a match from his pocket, struck a light. His parcel proved to be rough sackcloth, on the outside of which a paper was pinned.
Why did the Count write, when he was coming in directly? Curiosity made him linger even then to ascertain this. The paper contained a hasty scrawl in blue chalk. "Not to-night," he read; "arrangements still uncomplete. Expect us to-morrow night without fail, and see that everything is prepared. Cloth sent with this for packing goods. P—— laid up with professional accident, and safe for a week or two. You must have known this—why not say so last night? No trifling, if you value life!"
It was a reprieve—at the last moment! He had a whole day before him for flight, and he fully intended to flee this time; those hours of suspense in the saloon were too terrible to be gone through twice.
But as he was turning out his cashbox, and about to go upstairs and collect a few necessaries, he heard a well-known tread outside. He ran to the door, which he unfastened with trembling hands, and the statue, with the hood drawn closely round her strange painted face, passed in without seeming to heed his presence.
She had come back to him. Why should he run away now, when, if he waited one more night, he might be rescued from one of his terrors by means of the other?
"Lady Venus!" he cried hysterically. "Oh, Lady Venus, mum, I thought you was gone for ever!"
"And you have grieved?" she said almost tenderly. "You welcome my return with joy! Know then, Leander, that I myself feel pleasure in returning, even to such a roof as this; for little gladness have I had from my wanderings. Upon no altar did I see my name shine, nor the perfumed flame flicker; the Lydian measures were silent, and the praise of Cytherea. And everywhere I went I found the same senseless troubled haste, and pale mean faces of men, and squalor, and tumult. Grace and joyousness have fled—even from your revelry! But I have seen your new gods, and understand: for, all grimy and mis-shapen and uncouth are they as they stand in your open places and at the corners of your streets. Zeus, what a place must Olympus now be! And can any men worship such monsters, and be gladsome?"
Leander did not perceive the very natural mistake into which the goddess had fallen; but the fact was, that she had come upon some of our justly renowned public statues.
"I'm sorry you haven't enjoyed yourself, mum," was all he could find to say.
"Should I linger in such scenes were it not for you?" she cried reproachfully. "How much longer will you repulse me?"
"That depends on you, mum," he ventured to observe.
"Ah! you are cold!" she said reproachfully; "yet surely I am worthy of the adoration of the proudest mortal. Judge me not by this marble exterior, cunningly wrought though it be. Charms are mine, more dazzling than any your imagination can picture; and could you surrender your being to my hands, I should be able to show myself as I really am—supreme in loveliness and majesty!"
Unfortunately, the hairdresser's imagination was not his strongest point. He could not dissociate the goddess from the marble shape she had assumed, and that shape he was not sufficiently educated to admire; he merely coughed now in a deferential manner.
"I perceive that I cannot move you," she said. "Men have grown strangely stubborn and impervious. I leave you, then, to your obstinacy; only take heed lest you provoke me at last to wrath, for my patience is well-nigh at an end!"
And she was gone, and the bedizened statue stood there, staring hardly at him with the eyes his own hand had given her.
"This has been the most trying evening I've had yet," he thought. "Thank my stars, if all goes well, I shall get rid of her by this time to-morrow!"
The next day passed uneventfully enough, though the unfortunate Leander's apprehensions increased with every hour. As before, he closed early, got his apprentice safely off the premises, and sat down to wait in his saloon. He knew that the statue (which he had concealed during the day behind a convenient curtain) would probably recover consciousness for some part of the evening, as it had rarely failed to do, and prudence urged him to keep an eye over the proceedings of his tormentress.
To his horror, Aphrodite's first words, after awaking, expressed her intention of repeating the search for homage and beauty, which had been so unsuccessful the night before!
"Seek not to detain me, Leander," she said; "for, goddess as I am, I am drooping under this persistent obduracy. Somewhere beyond this murky labyrinth, it may be that I shall find a shrine where I am yet honoured. I will go forth, and never rest till I have found it, and my troubled spirits are revived by the incense for which I have languished so long. I am weary of abasing myself to such a contemptuous mortal, nor will I longer endure such indignity. Stand back, and open the gates for me! Why do you not obey?"
He knew now that to attempt force would be useless; and yet if she left him this time, he must either abandon all that life held for him, and fly to distant parts from the burglars' vengeance—or remain to meet a too probable doom!
He fell on his knees before her. "Oh, Lady Venus," he entreated, "don't leave me! I beg and implore you not to! If you do, you will kill me! I give you my honest word you will!"
The statue's face seemed irradiated by a sudden joy. She paused, and glanced down with an approving smile upon the kneeling figure at her feet.
"Why did you not kneel to me before?" she said.
"Because I never thought of it," said the hairdresser, honestly; "but I'll stay on my knees for hours, if only you won't go!"
"But what has made you thus eager, thus humble?" she said, half in wonder and half in suspicion. "Can it be, that the spark I have sought to kindle in your breast is growing to a flame at last? Leander, can this thing be?"
He saw that she was gratified, that she desired to be assured that this was indeed so.
"I shouldn't be surprised if something like that was going on inside of me," he said encouragingly.
"Answer me more frankly," she said. "Do you wish me to remain with you because you have learnt to love my presence?"
It was a very embarrassing position for him. All depended upon his convincing the goddess of his dawning love, and yet, for the life of him, he could not force out the requisite tenderness; his imagination was unequal to the task.
Another and a more creditable feeling helped to tie his tongue—a sense of shame at employing such a subterfuge in order to betray the goddess into the lawless hands of these housebreakers. However, she must be induced to stay by some means.
"Well," he said sheepishly, "you don't give me a chance to love you, if you go wandering out every evening, do you?"
She gave a low cry of triumph. "It has come!" she exclaimed. "What are clouds of incense, flowers, and homage, to this? Be of good heart; I will stay, Leander. Fear not, but speak the passion which consumes you!"
He became alarmed. He was anxious not to commit himself, and yet employ the time until the burglars might be expected.
"The fact is," he confessed, "it hasn't gone so far as that yet—it's beginning; all it wants is time, you know—time, and being let alone."
"All Time will be before us, when once your lips have pronounced the words of surrender, and our spirits are transported together to the enchanted isle."
"You talk about me going over to this isle—this Cyprus," he said; "but it's a long journey, and I can't afford it. How you come and go, I don't know; but I've not been brought up to it myself. I can't flash across like a telegram!"
"Trust all to me," she said. "Is not your love strong enough for that?"
"Not quite yet," he answered; "it's coming on. Only, you see, it's a serious step to take, and I naturally wish to feel my way. I declare, the more I gaze upon the—the elegant form and figger which I see before me, the stronger and the more irresistible comes over me a burning desire to think the whole thing carefully over. And if you only allowed me a little longer to gaze (I've no time to myself except in the evenings), I don't think it would be long before this affair reached a 'appy termination—I don't indeed!"
"Gaze, then," she said, smiling—"gaze to your soul's content."
"I mean no offence," he represented, having felt his way to a stroke of supreme cunning, "but when I feel there's a goddess inside of this statue, I don't know how it is exactly, but it puts me off. I can't fix my thoughts; the—the passion don't ferment as it ought. If, supposing now, you was to withdraw yourself and leave me the statue? I could gaze on it, and think of thee, and Cyprus, and all the rest of it, more comfortable, so to speak, than what I can when you're animating of it, and making me that nervous, words can't describe it!"