E-text prepared by Guus van Baalen
1. Words which may seem to be transcriber's typos, or otherwise suspect, but which are reproduced faithfully (archaic spellings, printer's typos—sometimes I couldn't tell):
Ch. I: befel, undigged Ch. III: chaperon Ch. IV: babby, mun, valtz Ch. V: zounded, dimpsey, after'n, ax'n, ax Ch. VI: picquet, damitol Ch. XI: alwaies, Desarts, Eternitie
2. Diphthongs, given as single characters in the printed copy, are transcribed as two separate characters.
ARTHUR THOMAS QUILLER-COUCH
MY DEAR HENRY JAMES,
A spinster, having borrowed a man's hat to decorate her front hall, excused herself on the ground that the house 'wanted a something.' By inscribing your name above this little story I please myself at the risk of helping the reader to discover not only that it wants a something, but precisely what that something is. It wants—to confess and have done with it—all the penetrating subtleties of insight, all the delicacies of interpretation, you would have brought to Dorothea's aid, if for a moment I may suppose her worth your championing. So I invoke your name to stand before my endeavour like a figure outside the brackets in an algebraical sum, to make all the difference by multiplying the meaning contained.
But your consent gives me another opportunity even more warmly desired. And I think that you, too, will take less pleasure in discovering how excellent your genius appears to one who nevertheless finds it a mystery in operation, than in learning that he has not missed to admire, at least, and with a sense almost of personal loyalty, the sustained and sustaining pride in good workmanship by which you have set a common example to all who practise, however diversely, the art in which we acknowledge you a master.
A. T. QUILLER-COUCH
October 25th, 1901
CHAPTER I THE WESTCOTES OF BAYFIELD
CHAPTER II THE ORANGE ROOM
CHAPTER III A BALL, A SNOWSTORM, AND A SNOWBALL
CHAPTER IV ENCOUNTER BETWEEN A HIGH HORSE AND A HOBBY
CHAPTER V BEGINS WITH ANCIENT HISTORY AND ENDS WITH AN OLD STORY
CHAPTER VI FATE IN A LAURELLED POST-CHAISE
CHAPTER VII LOVE AND AN OLD MAID
CHAPTER VIII CORPORAL ZEALLY INTERVENES
CHAPTER IX DOROTHEA CONFESSES
CHAPTER X DARTMOOR
CHAPTER XI THE NEW DOROTHEA
CHAPTER XII GENERAL ROCHAMBEAU TELLS A STORY; AND THE TING-TANG RINGS FOR THE LAST TIME
THE WESTCOTES OF BAYFIELD
A mural tablet in Axcester Parish Church describes Endymion Westcote as "a conspicuous example of that noblest work of God, the English Country Gentleman." Certainly he was a typical one.
In almost every district of England you will find a family which, without distinguishing itself in any particular way, has held fast to the comforts of life and the respect of its neighbours for generation after generation. Its men have never shone in court, camp, or senate; they prefer tenacity to enterprise, look askance upon wit (as a dangerous gift), and are even a little suspicious of eminence. On the other hand they make excellent magistrates, maintain a code of manners most salutary for the poor in whose midst they live and are looked up to; are as a rule satisfied, like the old Athenian, if they leave to their heirs not less but a little more than they themselves inherited, and deserve, as they claim, to be called the backbone of Great Britain. Many of the women have beauty, still more have an elegance which may pass for it, and almost all are pure in thought, truthful, assiduous in deeds of charity, and marry for love of those manly qualities which they have already esteemed in their brothers.
Such a family were the Westcotes of Bayfield, or Bagvil, in 1810. Their "founder" had settled in Axcester towards the middle of the seventeenth century, and prospered—mainly, it was said, by usury. A little before his death, which befel in 1668, he purchased Bayfield House from a decayed Royalist who had lost his only son in the Civil Wars; and to Bayfield and the ancestral business (exalted now into Banking) his descendants continued faithful. One or both of the two brothers who, with their half-sister, represented the family in 1810, rode in on every week-day to their Bank-office in Axcester High Street,—a Georgian house of brick, adorned with a porch of plaster fluted to the shape of a sea-shell, out of which a. Cupid smiled down upon a brass plate and the inscription "WESTCOTE AND WESTCOTE," and on the first floor, with windows as tall as the rooms, so that from the street you could see through one the shapely legs of Mr. Endymion Westcote at his knee-hole table, and through another the legs of Mr. Narcissus. The third and midmost window was a dummy, having been bricked up to avoid the window-tax imposed by Mr. Pitt—in whose statesmanship, however, the brothers had firmly believed. Their somewhat fantastic names were traditional in the Westcote pedigree and dated from, the seventeenth century.
Endymion, the elder, (who took the lead of Narcissus in all, things), was the fine flower of the Westcote stocks, and, out of question, the most influential man in Axcester and for many a mile round justice of the Peace for the county of Somerset and Major of its Yeomanry, he served "our town," (so he called it) as Overseer of the Poor, Governor of the Grammar School, Chairman of Feoffees, Churchwarden, everything in short but Mayor—an office which he left to the tradesmen, while taking care to speak of it always with respect, and indeed to see it properly filled. The part of County Magistrate—to which he had been born—he played to perfection, and with a full sense of its dignified amenity. (It was whispered that the Lord Lieutenant himself stood in some awe of him.) His favourite character, however, was that of plain citizen of his native town. "I'm an Axcester man," he would declare in his public speeches, and in his own way he loved and served the little borough. For its good he held its Parliamentary representation in the hollow of his hand; and, as Overseer of the Poor, had dared public displeasure by revising the Voters' List and defying a mandamus of the Court of King's Bench rather than allow Axcester to fail in its duty of returning two members to support Mr. Percevall's Ministry. In 1800, when the price of wheat rose to 184s a quarter, a poor woman dropped dead in the market place of starvation. At once a mob collected, hoisted a quartern-loaf on a pole with the label—"We will have Bread or Blood," and started to pillage the shop's in High Street. It was Endymion Westcote who rode up single-handed, (they, were carrying the only constable on their shoulders) and faced and dispersed the rioters. It was he who headed the subscription list, prevailed on the purchase a wagon-load of potatoes and persuaded the people to plant them—for even the seed potatoes had been eaten, and the gardens lay undigged. It was he who met the immediate famine by importing large quantities of rice. Finally, it was he, through his influence with the county, who brought back prosperity by getting the French prisoners sent to Axcester.
We shall talk of these French prisoners by and by. To conclude this portrait of Endymion Westcote. He was a handsome, fresh-complexioned man, over six feet in height, and past his forty-fifth year; a bachelor and a Protestant. In his youth he had been noted for gallantry, and preserved some traces of it in his address. His grandfather had married a French lady, and although this union had not sensibly diluted the Westcote blood, Endymion would refer to it to palliate a youthful taste for playing the fiddle. He spoke French fluently, with a British accent which, when appointed Commissary, he took pains to improve by conversation with the prisoners, and was fond of discussing heredity with the two most distinguished of them—the Vicomte de Tocqueville and General Rochambeau.
Narcissus, the younger brother, had neither the height nor the good looks nor the masterful carriage of Endymion, and made no pretence to rival him as a man of affairs. He professed to be known as the student of the family, dabbled in archaeology, and managed two or three local societies and field clubs, which met ostensibly to listen to his papers, but really to picnic. An accident had decided this bent of his —the discovery, during some repairs, of a fine Roman pavement beneath the floor of Bayfield House, At the age of eighteen, during a Cambridge vacation, Narcissus had written and privately printed a description of this pavement, proving not only that its tessellae represented scenes in the mythological story of Bacchus, but that the name "Bayfield," in some old deeds and documents written "Bagvil" or "Baggevil," was neither more nor less than a corruption of Bacchi Villa. Axcester and its neighbourhood are rich in Roman remains—the town stands, indeed, on the old Fosse Way—and, tempted by early success, Narcissus rode his hobby further and further afield. Now, at the age of forty-two, he could claim to be an authority on the Roman occupation of Britain, and especially on the conquests of Vespasian. The circle of—the Westcotes' acquaintance gathered in the fine hall of Bayfield—or, as Narcissus preferred to call it, the atrium—drank tea, admired the pavement, listened to the alleged exploits of Vespasian, and wondered when the brothers would marry. Time went on, repeating these assemblies; and the question became, Will they ever marry? Apparently they had no thought of it, no idea that it was expected of them; and since they had both passed forty, the question might be taken as answered. But that so personable a man as Endymion Westcote would let the family perish was monstrous to suppose. He kept his good looks and his fresh complexion; even now some maiden would easily be found to answer his Olympian nod; and a vein of recklessness sometimes cropped up through his habitual caution, and kept his friends alert for surprises. In the hunting-field, for instance,—and he rode to hounds twice a week,—he made a rule of avoiding fences; but the world quite rightly set this down to a proper care for his person rather than to timidity, since on one famous occasion, riding up to find the whole field hesitating before a "rasper" (they were hunting a strange country that day), he put his horse at it and sailed over with a nonchalance relieved only by his ringing laugh on the farther side. It was odds he would clear the fence of matrimony, some day, with the same casual heartiness; and, in any case, he was masterful enough to insist on Narcissus marrying, should it occur to him to wish it.
Oddly enough, the gossips who still arranged marriages for the brothers had given over speculating upon their hostess, Miss Dorothea. She could not, of course, perpetuate the name; but this by no means accounted for all the difference in their concern. Dorothea Westcote was now thirty- seven, or five years younger than Narcissus, whose mother had died soon after his birth. The widower had created one of the few scandals in the Westcote history by espousing, some four years later, a young woman of quite inferior class, the daughter of a wholesale glover in Axcester. The new wife had good looks, but they did not procure her pardon; and she made the amplest and speediest amends by dying within twelve months, and leaving a daughter who in no way resembled her. The husband survived her just a dozen years.
Dorothea, the daughter, was a plain girl; her brothers, though kind and fond of her after a fashion, did not teach her to forget it. She loved them, but her love partook of awe: they were so much cleverer, as well as handsomer, than she. Having no mother or friend of her own sex to imitate, she grow into an awkward woman, sensitive to charm in others and responding to it without jealousy, but ignorant of what it meant or how it could be acquired. She picked up some French from her brother Endymion, and masters were hired who taught her to dance, to paint in water colours, and to play with moderate skill upon the harp. But few partners had ever sought her in the ballroom; her only drawings which anyone ever asked to see were half-a-dozen of the Bayfield pavement, executed for Narcissus' monograph; and her harp she played in her own room. Now and then Endymion would enquire how she progressed with her music, would listen to her report and observe: "Ah, I used to do a little fiddling myself." But he never put her proficiency to the test.
Somehow, and long before the world came to the same conclusion, she had resolved that marriage was not for her. She adored babies, though they usually screamed at the sight of her, and she thought it would be delightful to have one of her own who would not scream; but apart from this vague sentiment, she accepted her fate without sensible regret. By watching and copying the mistresses of the few houses she visited she learned to play the hostess at Bayfield, and, as time brought confidence, played it with credit. She knew that people laughed at her, and that yet they liked her; their liking and their laughter puzzled her about equally. For the rest, she was proud of Bayfield and content, though one day much resembled another, to live all her life there, devoted to God and her garden. Visitors always praised her garden.
Axcester lies on the western side and mostly at the foot of a low hill set accurately in the centre of a ring of hills slightly higher-the raised bottom of a saucer would be no bad simile. The old Roman road cuts straight across this rise, descends between the shops of the High Street, passes the church, crosses the Axe by a narrow bridge, and climbing again passes the iron gates of Bayfield House, a mile above the river. So straight is it that Dorothea could keep her brothers in view from the gates until they dismounted before their office door, losing sight of them for a minute or two only among the elms by the bridge. Her boudoir window commanded the same prospect; and every day as the London coach topped the hill, her maid Polly would run with news of it. The two would be watching, often before the guard's horn awoke the street and fetched the ostlers out in a hurry from the "Dogs Inn" stables with their relay of four horses. Miss Dorothea possessed a telescope, too; and if the coach were dressed with laurels and flags announcing a victory, mistress and maid would run to the gates and wave their handkerchiefs as it passed.
Sometimes, too, Polly would announce a post-chaise, and the telescope decide whether the postboys wore the blue or the buff. Nor were these their only causes of excitement; for the great Bayfield elm, a rood below the gates and in full view of them, marked the westward boundary of the French prisoners on parole. Some of these were quite regular in their walks for instance, Rear-Admiral de Wailly-Duchemin and General Rochambeau, who came at three o'clock or thereabouts on Wednesdays and Saturdays, summer and winter. At six paces on the far side of the elm— such was their punctilio—they halted, took snuff, linked arms again and turned back. (Dorothea had entertained them both at Bayfield, and met them at dinner in one or two neighbouring houses.) On the same days, and on Mondays as well, old Jean Pierre Pichou, ex-boatswain of the Didon frigate, would come along arm-in-arm with Julien Carales, alias Frap d'Abord, ex-marechal des logis—Pichou, with his wooden leg, and Frap d'Abord twisting a grey moustache and uttering a steady torrent of imprecation—or so it sounded. These could be counted on; but scores of others stopped and turned at the Bayfield elm, and Polly had names for them all. Moreover, on one memorable day Dorothea had watched one who did not halt precisely at the elm. A few paces beyond it, and on the side of the road facing the grounds, straggled an old orchard, out of which her brother Endymion had been missing, of late, a quantity of his favourite pippins—by name (but it may have been a local one) Somerset Warriors. The month was October, the time about half-past four, the light dusky. Yet Miss Dorothea, lingering by the gate, saw a young man pass the Bayfield elm and climb the hedge; and saw and heard him nail against an apple-tree overhanging the road, a board with white letters on a black ground. When it was fixed, the artist descended to the road and gazed up admiringly at his work. In the act of departing he turned, and suddenly stood still again. His face was toward the Bayfield gate. Dorothea could not tell if he saw her, but he remained thus, motionless, for almost a minute. Then he seemed to recollect himself and marched off briskly down the road. Early next morning she descended and read the inscription, which ran: "Restaurant pour les Aspirants."
She said nothing about it, and soon after breakfast the board was removed.
THE ORANGE ROOM
Some weeks later, on a bright and frosty morning in December, Dorothea rode into Axcester with her brothers. She was a good horsewoman and showed to advantage on horseback, when her slight figure took a grace of movement which made amends for her face. To-day the brisk air and a canter across the bridge at the foot of the hill had brought roses to her cheeks, and she looked almost pretty. General Rochambeau happened to pass down the street as the three drew rein before the Town House (so the Westcotes always called the Bank-office), and, pausing to help her dismount, paid her a very handsome compliment.
Dorothea knew, of course, that Frenchmen were lavish of compliments, and had heard General Rochambeau pay them where she felt sure they were not deserved. Nevertheless she found this one pleasant—she had received so few—and laughed happily. It may have come from the freshness of the morning, but to-day her spirit sat light within her and expectant she could not say of what, yet it seemed that something good was going to happen.
"I have a guess," said the old General, "that Miss Westcote and I are bound on the same errand. Her's cannot be to inspect dull bonds and ledgers, bills of exchange or rates of interest."
He jerked his head towards the house, and Dorothea shook hers.
"I am going to 'The Dogs,' General."
"Eh?" He scented the jest and chuckled. "As you say, 'to the dogs' hein? Messieurs, I beg you to observe and take warning that your sister and I are going to the dogs together."
He offered his arm to Dorothea. Her brothers had dismounted and handed their horses over to the ostler who waited by the porch daily to lead them to the inn stables.
"I will stable Mercury myself," said she, addressing Endymion. She submitted her smallest plans to him for approval.
"Do so," he answered. "After running through my letters, I will step down to the Orange Room and join you. I entrust her to you, General— the more confidently because you cannot take her far."
He laughed and followed Narcissus through the porch. Dorothea saw the old General wince. She slipped an arm through Mercury's bridle-rein and picked up her skirt; the other arm she laid in her companion's.
"You have not seen the Orange Room, Miss Dorothea?"
"Not since the decorations began." She paused and uttered the thought uppermost in her mind. "You must forgive my brother; I am sorry he spoke as he did just now."
"Then he is more than forgiven."
"He did not consider."
"Dear Mademoiselle, your brother is an excellent fellow, and not a bit more popular than he deserves to be. Of his kindness to us prisoners— I speak not of us privileged ones, but of our poorer brothers—I could name a thousand acts; and acts say more than words."
Dorothea pursed her lips. "I am not sure. I think a woman would ask for words too."
"Yes, that is so," he caught her up. "But don't you see that we prisoners are—forgive me—just like women? I mean, we have learned that we are weak. For a man that is no easy lesson, Mademoiselle. I myself learned it hardly. And seeing your brother admired by all, so strong and prosperous and confident, can I ask that he should feel as we who have forfeited these things?"
Before she could find a reply he had harked back to the Orange Room.
"You have not seen it since the decorations began? Then I have a mind to run and ask your brother to forbid your coming—to command you to wait until Wednesday. We are in a horrible mess, I warn you, and smell of turpentine most potently. But we shall be ready for the ball, and then—! It will be prodigious. You do not know that we have a genius at work on the painting?"
"My brother tells me the designs are extraordinarily clever."
"They are more than clever, you will allow. The artist I discovered myself—a young man named Charles Raoul. He comes from the South, a little below Avignon, and of good family—in some respects." The General paused and took snuff. "He enlisted at eighteen and has seen service; he tells me he was wounded at Austerlitz. Unhappily he was shipped, about two years ago, on board the Thetis frigate, with a detachment and stores for Martinique. The Thetis had scarcely left L'Orient before she fell in with one of your frigates, whose name escapes me; and here he is in Axcester. He has rich relatives, but for some reason or other they decline to support him; and yet he seems a gentleman. He picks up a few shillings by painting portraits; but you English are shy of sitting—I wonder why? And we—well, I suppose we prefer to wait till our faces grow happier."
Dorothea had it on the tip of her tongue to ask how the General had discovered this genius; but the ring in his voice gave her pause. Twice in the course of their short walk he had shown feeling; and she wondered at it, having hitherto regarded him as a cynical old fellow with a wit which cracked himself and the world like two dry nuts for the jest of their shrivelled kernels. She did not, know that a kind word of hers had unlocked his heart; and before she could recall her question they had reached the stable-yard of "The Dogs." And after stabling Mercury it was but a step across to the inn.
The "Dogs Inn" took its name from two stone greyhounds beside its porch— supporters of the arms of that old family from which the Westcotes had purchased Bayfield; and the Orange Room from a tradition that William of Orange had spent a night there on his march from Torbay. There may have been truth in the tradition; the room at any rate preserved in it window-hangings of orange-yellow, and a deep fringe of the same hue festooning the musicians' gallery. While serving Axcester for ball, rout, and general assembly-room, it had been admittedly dismal—its slate-coloured walls scarred and patched with new plaster, and relieved only by a gigantic painting of the Royal Arms on panel in a blackened frame; its ceiling garnished with four pendants in plaster, like bride- cake ornaments inverted.
To-day, as she stepped across the threshold, Dorothea hesitated between stopping her ears and rubbing her eyes. The place was a Babel. Frenchmen in white paper caps and stained linen blouses were laughing, plying their brushes, mixing paints, shifting ladders, and jabbering all the while at the pitch of their voices. For a moment the din bewildered her; the ferment had no more meaning, no more method, than a schoolboy's game. But her eyes, passing over the chaos of paint-pots, brushes, and step-ladders, told her the place had been transformed. The ceiling between the four pendants had become a blue heaven with filmy clouds, and Cupids scattering roses before a train of doves and a recumbent goddess, whom a little Italian, perched on a scaffolding and whistling shrilly, was varnishing for dear life. Around the walls— sky-blue also—trellises of vines and pink roses clambered around the old panels. The energy of the workmen had passed into their paintings, or perhaps Dorothea's head swam; at any rate, the cupids and doves seemed to be whirling across the ceiling, the vines, and roses mounting towards it, and pushing out shoots and tendrils while they climbed.
But the panels themselves! They were nine in all: three down the long black wall, two narrower ones at the far end, four between the orange- curtained windows looking on the street. (The fourth wall had no panel, being covered, by the musicians' gallery and the pillars supporting it.) In each, framed by the vines and roses, glowed a scene of classical or pseudo-classical splendour; golden sunsets, pale yellow skies, landscapes cleverly imitated from recollections of Claude Lorraine, dotted with temples and small figures in flowing drapery, with here and there a glimpse of naked limbs. Here were Bacchus and Ariadne, with a company of dancing revellers; Apollo and Marsyas; the Rape of Helen; Dido welcoming Aeneas. . . . Dorothea (albeit she had often glanced into the copy of M. Lempriere's Classical Dictionary in her brother's library, and, besides, had picked up something of Greek and Roman mythology in helping Narcissus) did not at once discriminate the subjects of these panels, but her eyes rested on them with a pleasant sense of recognition, and were still resting on them when she heard General Rochambeau say:
"Ah, there is my genius! You must let me present him, Mademoiselle. He will amuse you. Hi, there! Raoul!"
A young man, standing amid a group of workmen and criticising one of the panels between the curtains, turned sharply. Almost before Dorothea was aware, he had doffed his paper cap and the General was introducing him.
She recognised him at once. He was the young prisoner who had nailed the board against her brother's apple-tree.
He bowed and began at once to apologise for the state of the room. He had expected no visitors before Wednesday. The General had played a surprise upon him. And Miss Westcote, alas! was a critic, especially of classical subjects.
He had heard of her drawings for her brother's book.
"Indeed I am no artist. Please do not talk of those drawings. If you only knew how much I am ashamed of them. And besides, they were meant as diagrams to help the reader, not as illustrations. But these are beautiful."
He turned with a pleasant laugh. She had already taken note of his voice, but his laugh was even more musical.
"Daphne pursued by Apollo," he commenced, waving his hand towards the panel in face of her. "Be pleased to observe the lady sinking into the bush; an effect which the ingenious painter has stolen from no less a masterpiece than the Buisson Ardent' of Nicholas Froment."
The General fumbled for the ribbon of his gold eye-glass. M. Raoul moved towards the next panel, and Dorothea followed him.
"Perseus entering the Garden of the Hesperides."
The painting, though slapdash, was astonishingly clever; and in this, as in other panels, no trace of the artist's hurry appeared in the reposeful design. Coiled about the foot of the tree, the dragon Ladon blinked an eye lazily at three maidens pacing hand in hand in the dance, over-hung with dark boughs and golden fruit. Behind them Perseus, with naked sword, halted in admiration, half issuing from a thicket over which stretched a distant bright line of sea and white cliff.
"You like it?" he asked. "But it is not quite finished yet, and Mademoiselle, if she is frank, will say that it wants something."
His voice held a challenge.
"I am sure, sir, I could not guess, even if I possessed—"
"A board, for example?"
She was completely puzzled.
He glanced at her sideways, turned to the panel, and with his forefingers traced the outline of a square upon it, against the tree.
"Restaurant pour les Aspirants," he announced.
He said it quietly, over his shoulder. The sudden challenge, her sudden discovery that he knew, made Dorothea gasp. She had not the smallest notion how to answer him, or even what kind of answer he expected, and stood dumb, gazing at his back. A workman, passing, apologised for having brushed her skirt with the step-ladder he carried. She stammered some words of pardon. And just then, to her relief, her brother Endymion's voice rang out from the doorway:
"Ah, there you are. Well, I declare!" He looked around him. "A Paradise, a perfect Paradise! Indeed, General, your nation has its revenge of us in the arts. You build a temple for us, and on Wednesday I hear you are to provide the music. Tum-tum, ta-ta-ta . . ." He hummed a few bars of Gluck's "Paride ed Elenna," and paused, with the gesture of one holding a fiddle, on the verge of a reminiscence. "There was a time—but I no longer compete. And to whom, General, are we indebted for this—ah—treat?"
General Rochambeau indicated young Raoul, who stepped forward from the wall and answered, with a respectful inclination:
"Well, M. le Commissaire, in the first place to Captain Seymour."
The General bit his moustache; Endymion frowned. The answer merely puzzled Dorothea, who did not know that Seymour was the name of the British officer to whom the Thetis had struck her colours.
"Moreover," the young man went on imperturbably, "we but repay our debt to M. le Commissaire—for the entertainment he affords us."
Dorothea looked up sharply now, even anxiously; but her brother took the shot, if shot it were, for a compliment. He put the awkward idiom aside with a gracious wave of the hand. His brow cleared.
"But we must do something for these poor fellows," he announced,— sweeping all the work-men in a gaze; "in mere gratitude we must. A stall, now, at the end of the room under the gallery, with one or two salesmen whom you must recommend to me, General. We might dispose of quite a number of their small carvings and articles de Paris, with which the market among the townspeople is decidedly overstocked. The company on Wednesday will be less familiar with them: they will serve as mementoes, and the prices, I daresay, will not be too closely considered."
"Sir, I beg of you—" General Rochambeau expostulated.
"They have given their labour—such as it is—in pure gratitude for the kindness shown to them by all in Axcester. That has been the whole meaning of our small enterprise," the old gentleman persisted.
"Still, I don't suppose they'll object if it brings a little beef to their ragouts. Say no more, say no more. What have we here? Eh? 'Bacchus and Ariadne'? I am rusty in my classics, but Bacchus, Dorothea! This will please Narcissus. We have in our house, sir,"— here he addressed Raoul,—"a Roman pavement entirely—ah—concerned with that personage. It is, I believe, unique. One of these days I must give you a permit to visit Bayfield and inspect it, with my brother for cicerone. It will repay you—"
"It will more than repay me," the young man interposed, with his gaze demurely bent on the wall.
"I should have said, it will repay your inspection. You must jog my memory."
It was clear Raoul had a reply on his tongue. But he glanced at Dorothea, read her expression, and, turning to her brother, bowed again. Her first feeling was of gratitude. A moment later she blamed herself for having asked his forbearance by a look, and him for his confidence in seeking that look. His eyes, during the moment they encountered hers, had said, "We under-stand one another." He had no right to assume so much, and yet she had not denied it.
Endymion Westcote meanwhile had picked up a small book which lay face downward on one of the step-ladders.
"So here is the source of your inspiration? said he. An Ovid? How it brings up old school-days At Winchester—old swishings, too, General, hey?" He held the book open and studied the Ariadne on the wall.
"The source of my inspiration indeed, M. le Commissaire! But you will not find Ariadne in that text, which contains only the Tristia."
"Ah, but, I told you my classics were a bit rusty," replied the Commissary. He made the round of the walls and commended, in his breezy way, each separate panel. "You must take my criticisms for what they are worth, M. Raoul. But my grandmother was a Frenchwoman, and that gives me a kind of—sympathy, shall we say? Moreover, I know what I like."
Dorothea, accustomed to regard her brother as a demigod, caught herself blushing for him. She was angry with herself. She caught M. Raoul's murmur, "Heaven distributes to us our talents, Monsieur," and was angry with him, understanding and deprecating the raillery beneath his perfectly correct attitude. He kept this attitude to the end. When the time came for parting, he bent over her hand and whispered again:
"But it was kind of Mademoiselle not to report me."
She heard. It set up a secret understanding between them, which she resented. There was nothing to say, again; yet she had found no way of rebuking him, she was angry with herself all the way home.
A BALL, A SNOWSTORM, AND A SNOWBALL
Axcester's December Ball was a social event of importance in South Somerset. At once formal and familiar—familiar, since nine-tenths of the company dwelt close enough together to be on visiting terms—it nicely preluded the domestic festivities of Christmas, and the more public ones which began with the New Year and culminated in the great County Balls at Taunton and Bath. Nor were the families around Axcester jaded with dancing, as those in the neighbourhood of Bath, for example; but discussed dresses and the prospects of the Ball for some weeks beforehand, and, when the day came, ordered out the chariot or barouche in defiance of any ordinary weather.
The weather since Dorothea's visit to the Orange Room had included a frost, a fall of snow with a partial thaw, and a second and much severer frost; and by Wednesday afternoon the hill below Bayfield wore a hard and slippery glaze. Endymion, however, had seen to the roughing of the horses. Thin powdery snow began to fall as the Bayfield barouche rolled past the gates into the high road; and Narcissus, who considered himself a weather-prophet, foretold a thaw before morning. Unless the weather grew worse, the party would drive back to Bayfield; but the old caretaker in the Town House had orders to light fires there and prepare the bedrooms, and on the chance of being detained. Dorothea had brought her maid Polly.
In spite of her previous visit, the Orange Room gave her a shock of delight and wonder. The litter had vanished, the hangings were in place; fresh orange-coloured curtains divided the dancing-floor from the recess beneath the gallery, and this had been furnished as a withdrawing-room, with rugs, settees, groups of green foliage plants, and candles, the light of which shone through shades of yellow paper. The prisoners, too, had adorned with varicoloured paperwork the candelabra, girandoles and mirrors which drew twinkles from the long waxed floor, and softened whatever might have been garish in the decorations. Certainly the panels took a new beauty, a luminous delicacy, in their artificial rays; and Dorothea, when, after much greeting and hand-shaking, she joined one of the groups inspecting them, felt a sort of proprietary pleasure in the praises she heard.
Had she known it, she too was looking her best tonight—in an old- maidish fashion, be it understood. She wore a gown of ashen-grey muslin, edged with swansdown, and tied with sash and shoulder-knots of a flame-hued ribbon which had taken her fancy at Bath in the autumn. Her sandal-shoes, stockings, gloves, cap—she had worn caps for six or seven years now,—even her fan, were of the same ash-coloured grey.
Dorothea knew how to dress. She also knew how to dance. The music made her heart beat faster, and she never entered a ball-room without a sense of happy expectancy. Poor lady! she never left but she carried home heart-sickness, weariness, and a discontent of which she purged her soul, on her knees, before lying down to sleep. She had a contrite spirit; she knew that her lot was a fortunate one; but she envied her maid Polly her good looks at times. With Polly's face, she might have dancing to her heart's content. Usually she dropped some tears on her pillow after a night's gaiety.
At Bath, at Taunton, at Axcester, it had always been the same, and with time she had learnt to set her hopes low and steel her heart early to their inevitable disappointment. So tonight she took her seat against the wall and watched while the first three contre-danses went by without bringing her a partner. For the fourth—the "Soldier's joy"— she was claimed by an awkward schoolboy, home for the holidays; whether out of duty or obeying the law of Nature by which shy youths are attracted to middle-aged partners, she could not tell, nor did she ask herself, but danced the dance and enjoyed it more than her cavalier was ever likely to guess. Such a chance had, before now, been looked back upon as the one bright spot in a long evening's experience. Dorothea loved all schoolboys for the kindness shown to her by these few.
She went back to her seat, hard by a group to which Endymion was discoursing at large. Endymion's was a mellow voice, of rich compass, and he had a knack of compelling the attention of all persons within range. He preferred this to addressing anyone in particular, and his eye sought and found, and gathered by instinct, the last loiterer without the charmed circle.
"Yes," he was saying, "it is tasteful, and something more. It illustrates, as you well say, the better side of our excitable neighbours across the Channel. Setting patriotism apart and regarding the question merely in its—ah—philosophical aspect, it has often occurred to me to wonder how a nation so expert in the arts of life, so—how shall I put it?—"
"Natty," suggested one of his hearers; but he waved the word aside.
"—of such lightness of touch, as I might describe it,—I say, it has often occurred to me to wonder how such a nation could so far mistake its destiny and the designs of Providence (inscrutable though they be) as to embark on a career of foreign conquest which can only—ah— have one end."
"Come to grief," put in Lady Bateson, a dowager in a crimson cap with military feathers. She was supposed to cherish a hopeless passion for Endymion. Also, she was supposed to be acting as Dorothea's chaperon tonight; but having with little exertion found partners for a niece of her own, a sprightly young lady on a visit from Bath, felt that she deserved to relax her mind in a little intellectual talk. Endymion accepted her remark with magnificent tolerance.
"Precisely." He inclined towards her. "You have hit it precisely."
Dorothea stole a glance at her brother. Military and hunt uniforms were de rigueur at these Axcester balls, and a Major of Yeomanry more splendid than Endymion Westcote it would have been hard to find in England. He stood with a hand negligently resting on his left hip— the word hip,—his right foot advanced, the toe of his polished boot tapping the floor. His smile, indulgent as it hovered over Lady Bateson, descended to this protruded leg and became complacent, as it had a right to be.
"Well, I've always said so from the start," Lady Bateson announced, "and now I'm sure of it. I don't mind Frenchmen as Frenchmen; but what I say is, let them stick to their fal-de-rals."
"That is the side of them which, in my somewhat responsible position, I endeavour to humour. You see the result." He swept his hand towards the painted panels. "One thing I must say, in justice to my charges, I find them docile."
Dorothea had confidence in her brother's tact and his unerring eye for his audience. Yet she looked about her nervously, to make sure that of the few prisoners selected for invitation to the ball, none was within earshot. The Vicomte de Tocqueville, a stoical young patrician, had chosen a partner for the next dance, and was leading her out with that air of vacuity with which he revenged himself upon the passing hour of misfortune. "Go on," it seemed to say, "but permit me to remind you that, so far as I am concerned, you do not exist." Old General Rochambeau and old Rear-Admiral de Wailly-Duchemin, in worn but carefully-brushed regimentals, patrolled the far end of the room arm-in-arm. The Admiral seemed in an ill humour; and this was nothing new, he grumbled at everything. But the General's demeanour, as he trotted up and down beside his friend (doubtless doing his best to pacify him), betrayed an unwonted agitation. It occurred to Dorothea that he had not yet greeted her and paid his usual compliment.
"Miss Westcote is not dancing tonight?"
The voice was at her elbow, and she looked up with a start—to meet the gaze of M. Raoul.
"Excuse me"—she wished to explain why she had been startled—"I did not expect—"
"To see me here! It appears that they have given the scene-painter a free ticket, and I assume that it carries permission to dance, provided he does not display in an unseemly manner the patch in the rear of his best tunic."
He turned his head in a serio-comic effort to stare down his back. Dorothea admitted to herself that he made a decidedly handsome fellow in his blue uniform with red facings and corded epaulettes; nor does a uniform look any the worse for having seen a moderate amount of service.
"But Mademoiselle was in a—what do you call it?—a brown study, which I interrupted."
"I was wondering why General Rochambeau had, not yet come to speak with me."
"I can account for it, perhaps; but first you must answer my question, Mademoiselle. Are you not dancing tonight?"
"That will depend, sir, on whether I am asked or no."
She said it almost archly, on the moment's impulse; and, the words out, felt that they were over-bold. But she did not regret them when her eyes met his. He was offering his arm, and she found herself joining in his laugh—a happy, confidential little laugh. Dorothea cast a nervous glance towards her brother, but Endymion's back was turned. She saw that her partner noted the look, and half-defiantly she nodded towards the gallery as the French musicians struck into a jolly jigging quick- step with a crash at every third bar.
"Mais cela me rend folle," she murmured.
"Do you know the air? It's the 'Bridge of Lodi,' and we are to dance 'Britannia's Triumph' to it. Come, Mademoiselle, since the 'Triumph' is nicely mixed, let your captive lead you."
Those were days of reels, poussettes, ladies' chains, and figure dancing; honest heel-and-toe, hopping and twisting, hands across and down the middle—an art contemned now, worse than neglected, insulted by the vulgar caricature of "kitchen lancers"; but then seriously practised, delighting the eye, bringing blood to the dancers' cheeks. For five minutes and more Dorothea was entirely happy. M. Raoul— himself no mean performer—tasted, after his first surprise, something of the joy of discovery. Who could have guessed that this quiet spinster, who, as a rule, held herself and walked so awkwardly, would prove the best partner in the room? He had not the least doubt of it. Others danced with more abandonment, with more exuberant vigour— "romped" was his criticism—but none with such elan perfectly restrained, covering precision with grace. Hands across, cast off and wheel; as their fingers met again he felt the tense nerves, the throb of the pulse beneath the glove. Her lips were parted, her eyes and whole face animated. She was not thinking of him, or of anyone; only of the swing and beat of the music, the sway of life and colour, her own body swaying to it, enslaved to the moment and answering no other call.
"I understand why they call it the Triumph," he murmured, as he led her back to her seat. She turned her eyes on him as one coming out of a dream.
"I have never enjoyed a dance so much in my life," she said seriously.
"It must have been an inspiration—" he began, and checked himself, with a glance over his shoulder at the painted panel behind them.
"You were saying—" She looked up after a moment.
"Nothing. Listen to the Ting-tang!"
He drew aside one of the orange curtains, and Dorothea heard the note of a bell clanging in a distant street. "Time for all good prisoners to be in bed, and Heaven temper the wind to the thin blanket! It is snowing—snowing furiously."
"Do they suffer much in these winters?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"They die sometimes, though your brother does his best to prevent it. It promises to be a hard season for them."
"I wish I could help; but Endymion—my brother does not approve of ladies mixing themselves up in these affairs."
"Yet he has carried off half-a-dozen to the supper-room, where at a side table three of my compatriots are vending knick-knacks, to add a little beef to their ragouts."
"Is it that which has annoyed General Rochambeau?"
She had recognised the phrase, but let it pass.
She understood. For some reason her brain was unusually clear tonight. At any other time she would have defended, or at least excused, her brother. She knew it, and found time to wonder at her new practicality as she answered:
"I must think of some way to help."
She saw his brow clear—saw that had risen in his esteem—and was glad.
"To you, Mademoiselle, we shall find it easy to be grateful."
"By helping them," she explained, "I may also be helping my brother. You do not understand him as I do, and you sharpen your wit upon him,"
"Be assured it does not hurt him, Mademoiselle."
"No, but it hurts me."
He bowed gravely.
"It shall not hurt you, again. Whom you love, you shall protect."
"Ah! M. Raoul!" Endymion Westcote hailed him from the doorway and crossed the room with Narcissus in tow. "My brother is interested in your panel of Bacchus and Ariadne; he will be glad to discuss it with you. Br-r-r-!"—he shivered—"I have been down to the door, and it is snowing viciously. Some of our friends will hardly find their homes tonight. I hope, by the way, you have brought a great-coat?"
Raoul ignored the question.
"I fear, sir, your learning will discover half-a-dozen mistakes," said he, addressing Narcissus and leading the way towards the panel.
"But whilst I think of it," Endymion persisted, "I saw half-a-dozen old baize chair-covers behind the cloak-room door. Don't hesitate to take one; you can return it to-morrow or next day." Dorothea being his only audience, he beamed a look on her which said: "They come to us in a hurry, these prisoners—no time to collect a wardrobe; but I think of these little things."
"Rest assured, sir, I will turn up my coat-collar," said Raoul; and Dorothea could see him, a moment later, shaking his head good- naturedly, though the Commissary still protested.
Dorothea, left to herself, watched them examining and discussing the panel of Bacchus and Ariadne. The orchestra started another contre- danse, but no partner approached to claim her. The dance began. It was the "Dashing White Sergeant," and one exuberant couple threatened to tread upon her toes. She stood up and, for lack of anything better to do, began to study the panel behind her.
A moment later her hand went up to her throat.
It was the panel on which M. Raoul had sketched an imaginary board with his thumb-nail—the Garden of the Hesperides. But the Perseus was different; he wore the face of M. Raoul himself. And beneath the throat of the nymph on the right, half concealed in the folds about her bosom, hung a locket—a small enamelled heart, edged with brilliants. Just such a trinket—a brooch—had pinned the collar of her close habit three days before, when she and M. Raoul had stood together discussing the panel. It was a legacy from her mother.
Hastily she put out a hand and drew the edge of the orange curtain over nymph and locket.
Soon after supper Endymion Westcote informed his sister that it was hopeless to think of returning to Bayfield. The barouche would convey her back to the Town House; but already the snow lay a foot and a half deep, and was still falling. He himself, after packing her off with Narcissus, would remain and attend to the comfort of the guests, many of whom must bivouac at "The Dogs" for the night as best they could.
At midnight, or a little later, the barouche was announced. It drew up close to the porch, axle-deep in snow. Upstairs the orchestra was sawing out the strains of "Major Malley's Reel," as Endymion lifted his sister in and slammed the door upon her and Narcissus. The noise prevented his hearing a sash-window lifted, immediately above the porch.
The inn-servant who had accompanied the Westcotes turned back to trim a candle flaring in the draughty passage. But it so happened that, in starting, the coachman entangled his off-rein in the trace-buckle. Endymion, in his polished hessians, ran round to unhitch it.
On the window-sill above, two deft hands quickly scooped up and moulded a snowball.
"He should turn up his coat-collar, the pig! V'Ian pour le Commissaire!"
Endymion Westcote did not hear the voice; but as the vehicle rolled heavily forward, out of the darkness a snowball struck him accurately on the nape of the neck.
ENCOUNTER BETWEEN A HIGH HORSE AND A HOBBY
"Your chocolate will be getting cold, Miss."
Dorothea, refreshed with sleep but still pleasantly tired, lay in bed watching Polly as she relaid and lit the fire in the massive Georgian grate. These occasions found the service in the Town House short- handed, and the girl (a cheerful body, with no airs) turned to and took her share in the extra work.
"Have they sent for Mudge?" (Mudge was the Bayfield butler.)
"Lord, no, Miss! Small chance of getting to Mudge, or of Mudge getting to us. Why, the snow is half-way up the front door!"
Bed was deliciously warm, and the air in the room nipping, as Dorothea found when she stretched out her hand for the cup.
"I always like waking in this room. It gives one a sort of betwixt and between feeling—between being at home and on a visit. To be snowed-up makes it quite an adventure."
"Pretty adventure for the gentry at 'The Dogs'! Tom Ryder, the dairyman there, managed to struggle across just now with the milk, and he says that a score of them couldn't get beds in the town for love or money. The rest kept it up till four in the morning, and now they're sleeping in their fine dresses round the fire in the Orange Room."
Dorothea laughed. "They were caught like this just eighteen years ago— let me see—yes, just eighteen. I remember, because it was my second ball. But then there were no prisoners filling up the lodgings, so everyone found a room."
"Some of the French gentlemen gave up their lodgings last night, and are down at 'The Dogs' now keeping themselves warm. There's that old Admiral, for one. I'm sure he never ought to be out of bed, with his rheumatics. It's enough to give him his death. Sam Zeally says that General Rochambeau is looking after him, as tender as a mother with a babby."
Polly mimicked Sam's pronunciation, and laughed. She was Somerset-born herself, but had seen service in Bath.
"Where is Mr. Endymion?"
"I heard him let himself in just as I was going upstairs after undressing you. That would be about one, or a quarter past. But he was up again at six, called for Mrs. Morrish to heat his shaving water, and had a cup of coffee in his room. He and Mr. Narcissus have gone out to see the roll called, and get the volunteers and prisoners to clear the streets. Leastways, that's what Mr. Narcissus is doing. I heard Mr. Endymion say something about riding off to see what the roads are like."
By this time the fire was lit and crackling. Polly loitered awhile, arranging the cinders. She had given up asking with whom her mistress had danced; but Dorothea usually described the more striking gowns, and how this or that lady had worn her hair.
"Well, yes, Polly; a little, but not uncomfortably. I danced several times last night."
Polly pursed her mouth into an O; but her face was turned to the fire, and Dorothea did not see it.
"I hope, Miss, you'll tell me about it later on. But Mrs. Morrish is downstairs declaring that no hen will lay an egg in this weather, to have it snowed up the next moment. 'Not that I blame mun,' she says, 'for I wouldn't do it myself,'"—here Polly giggled. "What to find for breakfast she don't know, and never will until I go and help her."
Polly departed, leaving her mistress cosy in bed and strangely reluctant to rise and part company with her waking thoughts.
Yes; Dorothea had danced twice again with M. Raoul since her discovery of his boldness. He had seen her draw the orange curtain over his offence, had sought her again and apologised for, it. He had done it (he had pleaded) on a sudden impulse—to be a reminder of one kind glance which had brightened his exile. 'No one but she was in the least likely to recognise the trinket; in any case he would paint it out at the first opportunity. And Dorothea had forgiven him. She herself had a great capacity for gratitude, and understood the feeling far too thoroughly to believe for an instant that M. Raoul could be mightily grateful for anything she had said or done. No; whatever the feeling which impels a young gentleman to secrete some little private reminder of its object, it is not gratitude; and Dorothea rejoiced inwardly that it was not. But what then was it? Some attraction of sympathy, no doubt. To find herself attractive in any way was a new experience and delightful. She had forgiven him on the spot. And afterwards they had danced twice together, and he had praised her dancing. Also, he had said something about a pretty foot—but Frenchmen must always be complimenting.
A noise in the street interrupted her thoughts, and reminded her that she must not be dawdling longer in bed. She shut her teeth, made a leap for it, and, running to the window, peered over the blind. Some score of the prisoners in a gang were clearing the pavement with shovels and brushes, laughing and chattering all the while, and breaking off to pelt each other with snowballs. She had discussed these poor fellows with M. Raoul last night. Could she not in some way add to their comfort, or their pleasure? He had dwelt most upon their mental weariness, especially on Sundays. Of material discomfort they never complained, but they dreaded Sundays worse than they dreaded cold weather. Any small distraction now—.
The train of her recollections came to a sudden halt, before a tall cheval-glass standing at an obtuse angle to the fireplace and on the edge of its broad hearthrug. She had been moving aimlessly from the window to the wardrobe in which Polly had folded and laid away her last night's finery, and from the wardrobe back to a long sofa at the bed's foot. And now she found herself standing before the glass and holding her nightgown high enough to display a foot and ankle on which she had slipped an ash-coloured stocking and shoe. A tide of red flooded her neck and face.
* * * * * * * * *
Mrs. Morrish had laid the meal in the ground-floor room, once a library, but now used as a bank-parlour—yet still preserving the d ignified aspect of a private room: for banking (as the Westcote clients were reminded by several sporting prints and a bust of the Medicean Venus) was in those days of scarce money a branch of philanthropy rather than of trade. The good caretaker was in tears over the breakfast. "And I'm sure, Miss, I don't know what's to be done unless you can eat bacon."
"Which I can," Dorothea assured her.
"Well, Miss, I am sure I envy you; for ever since that poor French Captain Fioupi hanged himself from Mary Odling's bacon-rack, two years ago the first of this very next month, I haven't been able to look at a bit."
"Poor gentleman! Why did he do it?"
"The Lord knows, Miss. But they said it was home-sickness."
From the street came the voices of Captain Fioupi's compatriots, merry at their work. Dorothea had scarcely begun breakfast before her brothers entered, and she had to pour out tea for them. Narcissus took his seat at once. Endymion stood stamping his feet and warming his hands by the fire. He bent and with his finger flicked out a crust of snow from between his breeches and the tops of his riding-boots. It fell on the hearthstone and sputtered.
"The roads," he announced, are not very bad beyond the bridge. That is the worst spot, and I have sent down a gang to clear it. Our guests ought to be able to depart before noon, though I won't answer for the road Yeovil Way. One carrier—Allworthy—has come through to the bridge, but says he passed Solomon's van in a drift about four miles back, this side of the Cheriton oak. He reports Bayfield Hill safe enough; but that I discovered for myself."
"It seems quite a treat for them," Dorothea remarked.
His eyebrows went up.
"The guests, do you mean?"
He turned to the fire and picked up the tongs.
"No, I mean the prisoners; I was listening to their voices. Just now they were throwing snowballs."
Endymion dropped the tongs with a clatter; picked them up, set them in place, and faced the room again with a flush which might have come from stooping over the fire.
"Come to breakfast, dear," said Dorothea, busy with the tea-urn. "I have a small plan I want your permission for, and your help. It is about the prisoners. General Rochambeau and M. Raoul—"
"Are doubtless prepared to teach me my business," snapped Endymion, who seemed in bad humour this morning.
"No—but listen, dear! They praise you warmly. For whom but my brother would these poor men have worked as they did upon the Orange Room— and all to show their gratitude? But it appears the worst part of captivity is its tedium and the way it depresses the mind; one sees that it must be. They dread Sundays most of all. And I said I would speak to you, and if any way could be found—"
"My dear Dorothea," Endymion slipped his hands beneath his coat-tails and stood astraddle, "I have not often to request you, to mind your own affairs; but really when it comes to making a promise in my name—"
"Not a promise."
"May I ask you if you seriously propose to familiarise Axcester with all the orgies of a Continental Sabbath? Already the prisoners spend Sunday in playing chess, draughts, cards, dominoes; practices which I connive at, only insisting that they are kept out of sight, but from which I endeavour to wean them—those at least who have a taste for music—by encouraging them to, take part in our Church services."
"But I have heard you regret, dear, that only the least respectable fall in with this. The rest, being strict Roman Catholics, think it wrong."
"Are you quite sure last night did, not over-tire you? You are certainly disposed to be argumentative this morning."
"I think," suggested Narcissus, buttering his toast carefully, "you might at least hear what Dorothea has to say."
"Oh, certainly! Indeed, if she has been committing me to her projects, I have a right to know the worst."
"I haven't committed you—I only said I would ask your advice," poor Dorothea stammered. "And I have no project." She caught Narcissus' eye, and went on a little more firmly: "Only I thought, perhaps, that if you extended their walks a little on Sundays—they are scrupulous in keeping their parole. And, once in a way, we might entertain them at Bayfield—late in the afternoon, when you have finished your Sunday nap. Narcissus might show them the pavement and tell them about Vespasian—not a regular lecture, it being Sunday, but an informal talk, with tea afterwards. And in the evening, perhaps, they might meet in the Orange Room for some sacred music—it need not be called a 'concert'—" Dorothea stopped short, amazed at her own inventiveness.
"H'm. I envy your simplicity, my dear soul, in believing that the— ah—alleged ennui of these men can he cured by a talk about Vespasian. But when you go on to talk of sacred music, I must be permitted to remind you that a concert is none the less a concert for being called by another name. We Britons do not usually allow names to disguise facts. A concert—call it even a 'sacred' concert—in the Orange Room, amid those distinctly—ah—pagan adornments! I can scarcely even term it the thin end of the wedge, so clearly can I see it paving the way for other questionable indulgences. I don't doubt your good intentions, Dorothea, but you cannot, as a woman, be expected to understand how easily the best intentions may convert Axcester, with its French community, into a veritable hot-bed of vice. And, by-the-by, you might tell Morrish I shall want the horse again in half-an-hour's time."
Dorothea left the room on her errand. As she closed the door Narcissus looked up from his toast.
"Hot-bed of fiddlesticks!" said he.
"I—ah—beg your pardon?"
Endymion, in the act of seating himself at table, paused to stare.
"Hot-bed of fiddlesticks!" repeated Narcissus. "You needn't have snapped Dorothea's head off. I thought her suggestions extremely sensible."
"The concert, for instance?"
"Yes! you don't make sacred music irreverent by calling it a concert. Moreover, I really don't see why, as intelligent men, they should not find Vespasian interesting. His career in many respects resembled the Corsican's."
Endymion smiled at his plate.
"Well, well, we will talk about it later on," said he.
He never quarrelled with Narcissus, whose foibles amused him, but for whose slow judgment he had a more than brotherly respect.
* * * * * * * * *
The Westcotes, though (at due intervals and with due notice given) they entertained as handsomely as the Lord Lieutenant himself, were not a household to be bounced (so to speak) into promiscuous or extemporised hospitality. For an ordinary dinner-party, Dorothea would pen the invitations three weeks ahead, Endymion devote an hour to selecting his guests, and Narcissus spend a morning in the Bayfield cellar, which he supervised and in which he took a just pride. And so well was this inelasticity recognised, so clearly was it understood that by no circumstances could Endymion Westcote permit himself to be upset, that none of the snowed-up company at "The Dogs" thought a bit the worse of him for having gone home and left them to shift as best they could.
Dorothea, when at about half-past ten she put on her bonnet and cloak and stepped down to visit them—the prisoners having by that time cleared the pavement—found herself surrounded by a crew humorously apologetic for their toilettes, profoundly envious of her better luck, but on excellent terms with one another and the younger ones, at any rate, who had borne the worst of the discomfort—enjoying the adventure thoroughly.
"But the life and soul of it all was that M. Raoul," confessed Lady Bateson's niece.
"By George!" echoed the schoolboy who had danced the "Soldier's Joy" with Dorothea, "I wouldn't have believed it of a Frenchy."
For some reason Dorothea was not too well pleased.
"But I do not see M. Raoul."
"Oh, he's down by the bridge, helping the relief party. One would guess him worn out. He ran from lodging to lodging, turning the occupants out of their beds and routing about for fresh linen. They say he even carried old Mrs. Kekewich pick-a-back through the snow."
"And tucked her in bed," added the schoolboy. "And then he came back, wet almost to the waist, and danced."
He looked roguishly at Lady Bateson's niece, and the pair exploded in laughter.
They ran off as General Rochambeau, jaded and unshaven, approached and saluted Dorothea.
"Until Miss Westcote appeared, we held our own against the face of day. Now, alas, the conspiracy can no longer be kept up."
"You had no compliment for me last night, General."
"Forgive me, Mademoiselle." He lowered his voice and spoke earnestly. "I have a genuine one for you to-day—I compliment your heart. M. Raoul has told me of your interest in our poor compatriots, and what you intend—"
"I fear I can do little," Dorothea interrupted, mindful of her late encounter and (as she believed) defeat. "By all accounts, M. Raoul appears to have made himself agreeable to all," she added.
The old gentleman chuckled and took snuff.
"He loves an audience. At about four in the morning, when all the elders were in bed—(pardon me, Mademoiselle, if I claim to reckon myself among les jeunes; my poor back tells me at what cost)—at about four in the morning the young lady who has just left you spoke of a new dance she had seen performed this season at Bath. Well, it appears that M. Raoul had also seen it a—valtz they called it, or some such name. Whereupon nothing would do but they must dance it together. Such a dance, Mademoiselle! Roll, roll—round and round— roll, roll—but perpendicularly, you understand. By-and-by the others began to copy them, and someone asked M. Raoul where he had found this accomplishment. 'Oh, in my travels,' says he, and points to one of the panels; and there, if you will believe me, the fellow had actually painted himself as Perseus in the Garden of the Hesperides."
Poor Dorothea glanced towards the panel.
"Ah, you remember it! But he must have painted in the face after showing it to us the other day, or I should have recognised it at the time. You must come and see it; really an excellent portrait!"
He led her towards it. The orange curtain no longer hid the third nymph. But the blood which had left Dorothea's face rushed back as she saw that the trinket had been roughly erased.
"It was quite a coup, but M. Raoul loves an audience."
Shortly before noon the road by the bridge was reported to be clear. Carriages were announced, and the guests shook hands and were rolled away—the elder glum, their juniors in boisterous spirits. As each carriage passed the bridge, where M. Raoul stood among the workmen, handkerchiefs fluttered out, and he lifted his hat gaily in response.
BEGINS WITH ANCIENT HISTORY AND ENDS WITH AN OLD STORY
"Ubicunque vicit Romanus habitat,—Where the Roman conquered he settled—and it is from his settlements that to-day we deduce his conquests. Of Vespasian and his second legion the jejune page of Suetonius records neither where they landed nor at what limit their victorious eagles were stayed. Yet will the patient investigator trace their footprints across many a familiar landscape of rural England, led by the blurred imperishable impress he has learned to recognise. The invading host sweeps forward, and is gone; but behind it the homestead arises and smiles upon the devastated fields, arms yield to the implements and habiliments of peace, and the colonist, who supersedes the legionary, in time furnishes the sole evidence of his feverish and ensanguined transit . . ."
Narcissus was enjoying himself amazingly. His audience endured him because the experience was new, and their ears caught the rattle of tea-cups in the adjoining library.
Dorothea sat counting her guests, and assuring herself that the number of teacups would suffice. She had heard the lecture many times before, and with repetition its sonorous periods had lost hold upon her, although her brother had been at pains to model them upon Gibbon.
But the scene impressed her sharply, and she carried away a very lively picture of it. The old Roman villa had been built about a hollow square open to the sky, and this square now formed the great hall of Bayfield. Deep galleries of two stories surrounded it, in place of the old colonnaded walk. Out of these opened the principal rooms of the house, and above them, upon a circular lantern of clear glass, was arched a painted dome. Sheathed on the outside with green weather-tinted copper, and surmounted by a gilt ball, this dome (which could be seen from the Axcester High Street when winter stripped the Bayfield elms) gave the building something of the appearance of an observatory.
On the north side of the hall a broad staircase descended from the gallery to the tiled floor, in the midst of which a fountain played beneath a cupola supported by slender columns. On the west the recess beneath the gallery had been deepened to admit a truly ample fireplace, with a flat hearthstone and andirons. Here were screens and rich Turkey rugs, and here the Bayfield household ordinarily had the lamps set after dinner and gathered before the fire, talking little, enjoying the long pauses filled with the hiss of logs and the monotonous drip and trickle of water in the penumbra.
To-day the prisoners—two hundred in all—crowded the floor, the stairs, even the deep gallery above; but on the south side, facing the staircase, two heavy curtains had been looped back from the atrium, and there a ray of wintry sunshine fell through the glass roof upon the famous Bayfield pavement and the figure of Narcissus gravely expounding it.
He had reached his peroration, and Dorothea, who knew every word of it by heart, was on the alert. At its close the audience held their breath for a second or two and then—satisfied, as their hostess rose, that he had really come to an end—tendered their applause, and, breaking into promiscuous chatter, trooped towards the tea-room. Narcissus lingered, with bent head, oblivious, silently repeating the last well- worn sentences while he conned his beloved tessellae.
A voice aroused him from his brown study; he looked up, to find the hall deserted and M. Raoul standing at his elbow.
"Will you remember your promise, Monsieur, and allow me to examine a little more closely? Ah, but it is wonderful! That Pentheus! And the Maenad there, carrying the torn limb! Also the border of vine-leaves and crossed thyrsi; though that, to be sure, is usual enough. And this next? Ah, I remember—'Tu cum parentis regna per arduum'; but what a devil of a design! And, above all, what mellowness! You will, I know, pardon the enthusiasm of one who comes from the Provence, a few miles out of Arles, and whose mother's family boasts itself to be descended from Roman colonists."
"To you then, M. Raoul, after your Forum and famous Amphitheatre, our pavement must seem a poor trifle—though it by no means exhausts our list of interesting remains. The praefurnium, for instance; I must show you our praefurnium."
"The house would be remarkable anywhere—even in my own Provence—so closely has it kept the original lines. In half-an-hour one could reconstruct—"
"Ay!" chimed in the delighted Narcissus. "You shall try, M. Raoul, you shall try! I promise to catch you tripping."
"Yonder runs the Fosse Way, west by south. The villa stands about two hundred yards back from it, facing the south-east—"
"A little east of south. The outer walls did not run exactly true with the enclosed quadrangle."
"You say that the front measured two hundred feet, perhaps a little over. Clearly, then, it was a domain of much importance, and the granaries, mills, stables, slaves' dwellings would occupy much space about it—an acre and a half, at least."
"Portions of a brick foundation were unearthed no less than three hundred yards away. A hypocaust lay embedded among them, much broken but recognisable."
"What puzzles me," mused M. Raoul, is how these southern settlers managed to endure the climate."
"But that is explicable." Narcissus was off now, in full cry. "The trees, my dear sir, the trees! I have not the slightest doubt that our Bayfield elms are the ragged survivors of an immense forest—a forest which covered the whole primaeval face of Somerset on this side of the fens, and through which Vespasian's road-makers literally hewed their way. Given these forests—which, by the way, extended over the greater part of England—we must infer a climate totally unlike ours of this present day, damper perhaps, but milder. Within his belt of trees the colonist, secure from the prevailing winds, would plant a garden to rival your gardens of the South—'primus vere rosam atque autumno carpere Poma.'"
"Yes," added M. Raoul, taking fire; "and, perhaps, a plant of helichryse or a rose-cutting from Paestum, to twine about the house- pillars and comfort his exile."
"M. Raoul?" Dorothea's voice interrupted them. She stood by the looped curtain, and reproached Narcissus with a look. "He has had no tea yet; it was cruel of you to detain him. My brother, sir," she turned to Raoul, "has no conscience when once set going on his hobby; for, of course, you were discussing the pavement?"
"We were talking, Mademoiselle, at that moment of the things which brighten and comfort exile."
She lowered her eyes, conscious of a blush, and half angry that it would not be restrained.
"And I was talking of tea, if that happens to be one of them," she replied, forcing a laugh.
"Well, well," said Narcissus, "take M. Raoul away and give him his tea; but he must come with me afterwards, while there is light, and we will go over the site together. I must fetch my map."
He hurried across the hall.
"Come, M. Raoul," said Dorothea, stepping past her guest and leading the way, "by a small detour we can reach that end of the library which is least crowded."
He followed without lifting his eyes, apparently lost in thought. The atrium on this side opened on a corridor which crossed the front door, and was closed by a door at either end—the one admitting to the service rooms, the other to the library. Flat columns relieved the blank wall of this passage, with monstrous copies of Raphael's cartoons filling the interspaces; on the other hand four tall windows, two on either side of the door, looked out upon the porte cochere, the avenue, and the rolling hills beyond Axcester. By one of these windows M. Raoul halted—and Dorothea halted too, slightly puzzled.
"Ah, Mademoiselle, but there is one thing your brother forgets! What became of his happy colonists in the end? He told us that early in the fifth century the Emperor Honorius—was it not?—withdrew his legions, and wrote that Britain must henceforth look after itself. I listened for the end of the story, but your brother did not supply it. Yet sooner or later one and the same dreadful fate must have overtaken all these pleasant scattered homes—sack and fire and slaughter— slaughter for all the men, for the women slavery and worse. Does one hear of any surviving? Out of this warm life into silence—" He paused and shivered. "Very likely they did not guess for a long while. Look, Mademoiselle, at the Fosse Way, stretching yonder across the hills: figure yourself a daughter of the old Roman homestead standing here and watching the little cloud of dust that meant the retreating column, the last of your protection. You would not guess what it meant—you, to whom each day has brought its restful round; who have lived only to be good and reflect the sunshine upon all near you. And I—your slave, suppose me, standing beside you—might guess as little."
He took a step and touched her hand. His face was still turned to the window.
"Time! time!" he went on in a low voice, charged with passion. "It eats us all! Brr—how I hate it! How I hate the grave! There lies the sting, Mademoiselle—the torture to be a captive: to feel one's best days slipping away, and fate still denying to us poor devils the chance which even the luckiest—God knows—find little enough." He laughed, and to Dorothea the laugh sounded passing bitter. "You will not understand how a man feels; how even so unimportant a creature as I must bear a sort of personal grudge against his fate."
"I am trying to understand," said Dorothea, gently.
"But this you can understand, how a prisoner loves the sunshine: not because, through his grating, it warms him; but because it is the sunshine, and he sees it. Mademoiselle, I am not grateful; I see merely, and adore. Some day you shall pause by this window and see a cloud of dust on the Fosse Way—the last of us prisoners as they march us from Axcester to the place of our release; and, seeing it, you shall close the book upon a chapter, but not without remembering"—he touched her hand again, but now his fingers closed on it, and he raised it to his lips,—"not without remembering how and when one Frenchman said, 'God bless you, Mademoiselle Dorothea!'"
Dorothea's eyes were wet when, a moment later, Narcissus came bustling through the atrium with a roll of papers in his hand.
"Ah, this is luck!" he cried. "I was starting to search for you."
He either assumed that they had visited the tea-room or forgot all about it; and M. Raoul's look implored Dorothea not to explain.
"Suppose we take the triclinium first, on the north side of the house. That, sir, will tell you whether I am right or wrong about the climate of those days. A summer parlour facing north, and with no trace of heating-flues! . . ."
He led off his captive, and Dorothea heard his expository tones gather volume as the pair crossed the great hall beneath the dome. Then she turned the handle of the library door, and was instantly deafened by the babel within.
The guests took their departure a little before sunset. M. Raoul was not among the long train which shook hands with her and filed down the avenue at the heels of M. de Tocqueville and General Rochambeau. Twenty minutes later, while the servants were setting the hall in order, she heard her brother's voice beneath the window of her boudoir, explaining the system on which the Romans warmed their houses.
She had picked up a religious book, but found herself unable to fix her attention upon it or even to sit still. Her hand still burned where M. Raoul's lips had touched it. She recalled Endymion's prophecy that these entertainments would throw the domestic mechanism—always more delicately poised on Sundays than on weekdays—completely oft its pivot. She had pledged herself to prevent this, and had made a private appeal to the maidservants with whose Sunday-out they interfered. They had responded loyally.
Still, this was the first experiment; she would go down to the hall again and make sure that the couches were in position, the cushions shaken up, the pot-plants placed around the fountain so accurately that Endymion's nice eye for small comforts could detect no excuse for saying, "I told you so."
As she passed along the gallery her eyes sought the pillar beside which M. Raoul had stood during the lecture. By the foot of it a book lay face downwards—a book cheaply bound between boards of mottled paper. She picked it up and read the title; it was a volume of Rousseau's Confessions—a book of which she remembered to have heard. On the flyleaf was written the owner's name in full—"Charles Marie Fabien de Raoul."
Dorothea hurried downstairs with it and past the servants tidying the hall.
She looked to find M. Raoul still buttonholed and held captive by Narcissus at the eastern angle of the house. But before she reached the front door she happened—though perhaps it was not quite accidental— to throw a glance through the window by which he had stood and talked with her, and saw him striding away down the avenue in the dusk.
She returned to her room and summoned Polly.
"You know M. Raoul? He has left, forgetting this book, which belongs to him. Run down to the small gate, that's a good girl—you will overtake him easily, since he is walking round by the avenue—and return it, with my compliments."
Polly picked up her skirts and ran. A narrow path slanted down across the slope of the park to the nurseries—a sheltered corner in which the Bayfield gardener grew his more delicate evergreens—and here a small wicket-gate opened on the high road.
The gate stood many feet above the road, which descended the hill between steep hedges. She heard M. Raoul's footstep as she reached it, and, peering over, saw him before he caught sight of her; indeed, he had almost passed with-out when she hailed him.
"Holloa!" He swung almost rightabout and smiled up pleasantly. "Is it highway robbery? If so, I surrender."
Polly laughed, showing a fine set of teeth.
"I'm 'most out of breath," she answered. "You've left your book behind, and my mistress sent it after you with her compliments." She held it above the gate.
He sprang up the bank towards her. "And a pretty book, too, to be found in your hands! You haven't been reading it, I hope."
"La, no! Is it wicked?"
"Much depends on where you happen to open it. Now if your sweetheart—"
"Who told you I had one?"
"Tut-tut-tut! What's his name?"
"Well, if you must know, I'm walking out with Corporal Zeally. But what are you doing to the book?" For M. Raoul had taken out a penknife and was slicing out page after page—in some places whole blocks of pages together.
"When I've finished, I'm going to ask you to take it back to your mistress; and then no doubt you'll be reading it on the sly. Here, I must sit down: suppose you let me perch myself on the top bar of the gate. Also, it would be kind of you to put up an arm and prevent my overbalancing."
"I shouldn't think of it."
"Oh, very well!" He climbed up, laid the book on his knee and went on slicing. "I particularly want her to read M. Rousseau's reflections on the Pont du Gard; but I don't seem to have a book marker, unless you lend me a lock of your hair."
"Were you the gentleman she danced with, at 'The Dogs,' the night of the snowstorm?"
"The Pont du Gard, my dear, is a Roman antiquity, and has nothing to do with dancing. If, as I suppose, you refer to the 'Pont de Lodi,' that is a totally different work of art."
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"And I don't intend that you shall."
He cut a small strip of braid from his coat, inserted it for a bookmarker, and began to fold away the excised pages. "That's why I am keeping these back for my own perusal, and perhaps Corporal Zeally's."
"Do you know him?" She reached up to take the book he was holding out in his left hand, and the next instant his right arm was round her neck and he had kissed her full on the lips. "Oh, you wretch!" she cried, breaking free; and laughed, next moment, as he nearly toppled off the gate.
"Know him? Why of course I do." M. Raoul was reseating himself on his perch, when he happened to throw a look down into the road, and at once broke into immoderate laughter. "Talk of the wolf—"
Polly screamed and ran. Below, at a bend of the road, stood a stoutish figure in the uniform of the Axcester Volunteers—scarlet, with white facings. It was Corporal Zeally, very slowly taking in the scene.
M. Raoul skipped off the gate and stepped briskly past him. "Good- evening, Corporal! We're both of us a little behind time, this evening!" said he as he went by.
The Corporal pivoted on his heels and stared after him.
"Dang my living buttons!" he said, reflectively. "Couldn't even wait till my back was turned, but must kiss the maid under my nose!" He paused and rubbed his chin. "Her looked like Polly and her zounded like Polly . . . Dang this dimpsey old light, I've got a good mind to run after'n and ax'n who 'twas!" He took a step down the hill, but thought better, of it. "No, I won't," he said; "I'll go and ax Polly."
FATE IN A LAURELLED POST-CHAISE
All the tongues of Rumour agreed that the Bayfield entertainment had been a success, and Endymion Westcote received many congratulations upon it at the next meeting of magistrates.
"Nonsense, nonsense!" he protested lightly. "One must do something to make life more tolerable to the poor devils, and 'pon my word 'twas worth it to see their gratitude. They behaved admirably. You see, two- thirds of them are gentlemen, after a fashion; not, perhaps, quite in the sense in which we understand the word, but then the—ah—modicum of French blood in my veins counteracts, I dare say, some little insular prejudices."