Part 4 out of 7
Aminta ceased to recline in her carriage. An idea that an indolent
posture fostered vapourish meditations, counselled her sitting rigidly
upright and interestedly observing the cottages and merry gutter-children
along the squat straight streets of a London suburb. Her dominant
ultimate thought was, 'I, too, can work!' Like her courage, the plea of
a capacity to work appealed for confirmation to the belief which exists
without demonstrated example; and as she refrained from probing to the
inner sources of that mental outcry, it was allowed to stand and remain
among the convictions we store--wherewith to shape our destinies.
Childishly indeed, quite witlessly, she fell into a trick of repeating
the name of Matthew Weyburn in her breast and on her lips, after the
manner of Isabella Lawrence Finchley, when she had inquired for his
Christian name, and went on murmuring it, as if sucking a new bonbon,
with the remark: 'It sounds nice, it suits the mouth.' Little Selina
Collett had told, Aminta remembered, how those funny boys at Cuper's
could not at first get the name 'Aminta' to suit the mouth, but went
about making hideous faces in uttering it. She smiled at the
recollection, and thought, up to a movement of her lips, one is not
tempted to do that in saying Matthew Weyburn!
SHOWING A SECRET FISHED WITHOUT ANGLING
That great couchant dragon of the devouring jaws and the withering
breath, known as our London world, was in expectation of an excitement
above yawns on the subject of a beautiful Lady Doubtful proposing
herself, through a group of infatuated influential friends, to a decorous
Court, as one among the ladies acceptable. The popular version of it
sharpened the sauce by mingling romance and cynicism very happily; for
the numerous cooks, when out of the kitchen, will furnish a piquant dish.
Thus, a jewel-eyed girl of half English origin (a wounded British officer
is amiably nursed in a castle near the famous Peninsula battlefield,
etc.), running wild down the streets of Seville, is picked up by Lord
Ormont, made to discard her tambourine, brought over to our shores, and
allowed the decoration of his name, without the legitimate adornment of
his title. Discontented with her position after a time, she now pushes
boldly to claim the place which will be most effective in serving her as
a bath. She has, by general consent, beauty; she must, seeing that she
counts influential friends, have witchery. Those who have seen her
riding and driving beside her lord, speak of Andalusian grace, Oriental
lustre, fit qualification for the fair slave of a notoriously susceptible
She won a party in the widening gossip world; and enough of a party in
the regent world to make a stream. Pretending to be the actual Countess
of Ormont, though not publicly acknowledged as his countess by the earl,
she had on her side the strenuous few who knew and liked her, some who
were pleased compassionately to patronize, all idle admirers of a
shadowed beautiful woman at bay, the devotees of any beauty in distress,
and such as had seen, such as imagined they had seen, such as could paint
a mental picture of a lady of imposing stature, persuasive appearance,
pathetic history, and pronounce her to be unjustly treated, with a
general belief that she was visible and breathing. She had the ready
enthusiasts, the responsive sentimentalists, and an honest active minor
number, of whom not every one could be declared perfectly unspotted in
public estimation, however innocent under verdict of the courts of law.
Against her was the livid cloud-bank over a flowery field, that has not
yet spoken audible thunder: the terrible aggregate social woman, of man's
creation, hated by him, dreaded, scorned, satirized, and nevertheless,
upheld, esteemed, applauded: a mark of civilization, on to which our
human society must hold as long as we have nothing humaner. She exhibits
virtue, with face of waxen angel, with paw of desert beast, and blood
of victims on it. Her fold is a genial climate and the material
pleasures for the world's sheepy: worshipping herself, she claims the
sanctification of a performed religion. She is gentle when unassailed,
going her way serenely, with her malady in the blood. When the skin
bears witness to it, she swallows an apothecary, and there is a short
convulsion. She is refreshed by cutting off diseased inferior members:
the superior betraying foul symptoms, she covers up and retains;
rationally, too, for they minister to her present existence, and she
lives all in the present. Her subjects are the mixed Subservient; among
her rebellious are earth's advanced, who have cold a morning on their
foreheads, and these would not dethrone her, they would but shame and
purify by other methods than the druggist. She loves nothing.
Undoubtedly, she dislikes the vicious. On that merit she subsists.
The vexatious thing in speaking of her is, that she compels to the use of
the rhetorician's brass instrument. As she is one of the Powers giving
life and death, one may be excused. This tremendous queen of the
congregation has brought discredit on her sex for the scourge laid on
quivering female flesh, and for the flippant indifference shown to misery
and to fine distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad; and
particularly for the undiscriminating hardness upon the starved of women.
We forget her having been conceived in the fear of men, shaped to gratify
them. She is their fiction of the state they would fain beguile
themselves to suppose her sex has reached, for their benefit; where she
may be queen of it in a corner, certain of a loyal support, if she will
only give men her half-the-world's assistance to uplift the fabric
comfortable to them; together with assurance of paternity, case of mind
in absence, exclusive possession, enormous and minutest, etc.; not by any
means omitting a regimental orderliness, from which men are privately
exempt, because they are men, or because they are grown boys--the brisker
at lessons after a vacation or a truancy, says the fiction.
In those days the world had oscillated, under higher leading than its
royal laxity, to rigidity. Tiny peccadilloes were no longer matter of
jest, and the sinner exposed stood 'sola' to receive the brand. A
beautiful Lady Doubtful needed her husband's countenance if she was to
take one of the permanent steps in public places. The party of Lady
Charlotte Eglett called on the livid cloud-bank aforesaid to discharge
celestial bolts and sulphur oil on the head of an impudent, underbred,
ambitious young slut, whose arts had bewitched a distinguished nobleman
not young in years at least, and ensnared the remainder wits of some
principal ancient ladies of the land. Professional Puritans, born
conservatives, malicious tattlers, made up a goodly tail to Lady
Charlotte's party. The epithet 'unbred' was accredited upon the quoted
sayings and doings of the pretentious young person's aunt, repeated
abroad by noblemen and gentlemen present when she committed herself;
and the same were absurd. They carried a laugh, and so they lived and
circulated. Lord Ormont submitted to the infliction of that horrid
female in his household! It was no wonder he stopped short of allying
himself with the family.
Nor was it a wonder that the naturally enamoured old warrior or invalided
Mars (for she had the gift of beauty) should deem it prudent to be out of
England when she and her crazy friends determined on the audacious move.
Or put it the other way--for it is just as confounding right side or
left--she and her friends take advantage of his absence to make the
clever push for an establishment, and socially force him to legalize
their union on his return. The deeds of the preceding reign had
bequeathed a sort of legendary credence to the wildest tales gossip
could invent under a demurrer.
But there was the fact, the earl was away. Lady Charlotte's party buzzed
everywhere. Her ladyship had come to town to head it. Her ladyship laid
trains of powder from dinner-parties, balls, routs, park-processions,
into the Lord Chamberlain's ear, and fired and exploded them, deafening
the grand official. Do you consider that virulent Pagan Goddesses and
the flying torch-furies are extinct? Error of Christians! We have
relinquished the old names and have no new ones for them; but they are
here, inextinguishable, threading the day and night air with their dire
squib-trail, if we would but see. Hissing they go, and we do not hear.
We feel the effects.
Upon the counsel of Mrs. Lawrence, Aminta sent a letter to Lord Ormont
at his hotel in Paris, informing him of the position of affairs. He had
delayed his return, and there had been none of his brief communications.
She wrote, as she knew, as she felt, coldly. She was guided by others,
and her name was up before the world, owing to some half-remembered
impulsion of past wishes, but her heart was numbed; she was not a woman
to have a wish without a beat of the heart in it. For her name she had a
feeling, to be likened rather to the losing gambler's contemplation of a
big stake he has flung, and sees it gone while fortune is undecided; and
he catches at a philosophy nothing other than his hug of a modest little
background pleasure, that he has always preferred to this accursed bad
habit of gambling with the luck against him. Reckless in the cast, she
was reckless of success.
Her letter was unanswered.
Then, and day by day more strongly, she felt for her name. She put a
false heart into it. She called herself to her hearing the Countess of
Ormont, and deigned to consult the most foolish friend she could have
chosen--her aunt; and even listened to her advice, that she should run
about knocking at all the doors open to her, and state her case against
the earl. It seemed the course to take, the moment for taking it. Was
she not asked if she could now at last show she had pride? Her pride ran
stinging through her veins, like a band of freed prisoners who head the
rout to fire a city. She charged her lord with having designedly--oh!
cunningly indeed left her to be the prey of her enemies at the hour when
he knew it behoved him to be her great defender. There had been no
disguise of the things in progress: they had been spoken of allusively,
quite comprehensibly, after the fashion common with two entertaining a
secret semi-hostility on a particular subject; one of them being the
creature that blushes and is educated to be delicate, reserved, and
timorous. He was not ignorant, and he had left her, and he would not
reply to her letter!
So fell was her mood, that an endeavour to conjure up the scene of her
sitting beside the death-bed of Matthew Weyburn's mother, failed to sober
and smooth it, holy though that time was. The false heart she had put
into the pride of her name was powerfuller than the heart in her bosom.
But to what end had the true heart counselled her of late? It had been
a home of humours and languors, an impotent insurgent, the sapper of her
character; and as we see in certain disorderly States a curative
incendiarism usurp the functions of the sluggish citizen, and the work
of re-establishment done by destruction, in peril of a total extinction,
Aminta's feverish anger on behalf of her name went a stretch to vivify
and give her dulled character a novel edge. She said good-bye to
cowardice. 'I have no husband to defend me--I must do it for myself.'
The peril of a too complete exercise of independence was just intimated
to her perceptions. On whom the blame? And let the motively guilty go
mourn over consequences! That Institution of Marriage was eyed. Is it
not a halting step to happiness? It is the step of a cripple,--and one
leg or the other poses for the feebler sex,--small is the matter which!
And is happiness our cry? Our cry is rather for circumstance and
occasion to use our functions, and the conditions are denied to women by
Marriage--denied to the luckless of women, who are many, very many:
denied to Aminta, calling herself Countess of Ormont, for one, denied to
Mrs. Lawrence Finchley for another, and in a base bad manner. She had
defended her good name triumphantly, only to enslave herself for life or
snatch at the liberty which besmirches.
Reviewing Mrs. Lawrence, Aminta's real heart pressed forward at the beat,
in tender pity of the woman for whom a yielding to love was to sin; and
unwomanly is the woman who does not love: men will say it. Aminta found
herself phrasing. 'Why was she unable to love her husband?--he is not
old.' She hurried in flight from the remark to confidences imparted by
other ladies, showing strange veins in an earthy world; after which, her
mind was bent to rebuke Mrs. Pagnell for the silly soul's perpetual
allusions to Lord Ormont's age. She did not think of his age. But she
was vividly thinking that she was young. Young, married, loveless,
cramped in her energies, publicly dishonoured--a Lady Doubtful, courting
one friend whom she liked among women, one friend whom she respected
among men; that was the sketch of her.
That was in truth the outline, as much as Aminta dared sketch of herself
without dragging her down lower than her trained instinct would bear to
look. Our civilization shuns nature; and most shuns it in the most
artificially civilized, to suit the market. They, however, are always
close to their mother nature, beneath their second nature's mask of
custom; and Aminta's unconscious concluding touch to the sketch: 'My
husband might have helped me to a footing in Society,' would complete
it as a coloured picture, if writ in tones.
She said it, and for the footing in Society she had lost her taste.
Mrs. Lawrence brought the final word from high quarters: that the
application must be deferred until Lord Ormont returned to town. It was
known before, that such would be the decision. She had it from the
eminent official himself, and she kicked about the room, setting her
pretty mouth and nose to pout and sniff, exactly like a boy whose chum
has been mishandled by a bully.
'Your dear good man is too much for us. I thought we should drive him.
'C'est un ruse homme de guerre.' I like him, but I could slap him. He
stops the way. Upon my word, he seems tolerably careless of his
treasure. Does he suppose Mrs. Paggy is a protection? Do you know she's
devoted to that man Morsfield? He listens to her stories. To judge by
what he shouts aloud, he intends carrying you off the first opportunity,
divorcing, and installing you in Cobeck Hall. All he fears is, that your
lord won't divorce. You should have seen him the other day; he marched
up and down the room, smacking his head and crying out: "Legal measures
or any weapons her husband pleases!" For he has come to believe that the
lady would have been off with him long before, if her lord had no claim
to the marital title. "It 's that husband I can't get over! that
husband!" He reminded me, to the life, of Lawrence Finchley with a
headache the morning after a supper, striding, with his hand on the
shining middle of his head: "It's that Welsh rabbit! that Welsh rabbit!"
He has a poor digestion, and he will eat cheese. The Welsh rabbit chased
him into his bed. But listen to me, dear, about your Morsfield. I told
you he was dangerous.'
'He is not my Morsfield,' said Aminta.
'Beware of his having a tool in Paggy. He boasts of letters.'
'Mine? Two: and written to request him to cease writing to me.'
'He stops at nothing. And, oh, my Simplicity! don't you see you gave
him a step in begging him to retire? Morsfield has lived a good deal
among our neighbours, who expound the physiology of women. He anatomizes
us; pulls us to pieces, puts us together, and then animates us with a
breath of his "passion"--sincere upon every occasion, I don't doubt. He
spared me, although he saw I was engaged. Perhaps it was because I 'm of
no definite colour. Or he thought I was not a receptacle for "passion."
And quite true,--Adder, the dear good fellow, has none. Or where should
we be? On a Swiss Alp, in a chalet, he shooting chamois, and I milking
cows, with 'ah-ahio, ah-ahio,' all day long, and a quarrel at night over
curds and whey. Well, and that 's a better old pensioner's limp to his
end for "passion" than the foreign hotel bell rung mightily, and one of
the two discovered with a dagger in the breast, and the other a don't-
look lying on the pavement under the window. Yes, and that's better than
"passion" splitting and dispersing upon new adventures, from habit, with
two sparks remaining of the fire.'
Aminta took Mrs. Lawrence's hands. 'Is it a lecture?'
She was kissed. 'Frothy gabble. I'm really near to "passion" when I
embrace you. You're the only one I could run away with; live with all
alone, I believe. I wonder men can see you while that silly lord of
yours is absent, and not begin Morsfielding. They're virtuous if they
resist. Paggy tells the world . . . well?' Aminta had reddened.
'What does my aunt tell the world?'
Mrs. Lawrence laid her smoothing hand absently on a frill of lace fichu
above a sternly disciplined bosom at half-heave. 'I think I can
judge now that you're not much hurt by this wretched business of the
presentation. The little service I could do was a moral lesson to me on
the subject of deuce-may-care antecedents. My brother Tom, too, was
always playing truant, as a boy. It 's in the blood.'
She seemed to be teasing, and Aminta cried: 'My aunt! Let me hear.
She tells the world--?'
'Paggy? ah, yes. Only that she says the countess has an exalted opinion
of Mr. Secretary's handwriting--as witnessed by his fair copy of the
Memoirs, of course.'
'Poor woman! How can she talk such foolishness! I guessed it.'
'You wear a dark red rose when you're guessing, 'ma mie,'--French for, my
'But consider, Isabella, Mr. Weyburn has just had the heaviest of losses.
My aunt should spare mention of him.'
'Matthew Weyburn! we both like the name.' Mrs. Lawrence touched at her
friend and gazed. 'I've seen it on certain evenings--crimson over an
olive sky. What it forebodes, I can't imagine; but it's the end of a
lovely day. They say it threatens rain, if it begins one. It 's an
'You make me,' said Aminta. 'I must redden if you keep looking at me so
'Now frown one little bit, please. I love to see you. I love to see a
secret disclose itself ingenuously.'
'But what secret, my dear?' cried Aminta's defence of her innocence; and
she gave a short frown.
'Have no fear. Mr. Secretary is not the man to be Morsfielding. And he
can enjoy his repast; a very good sign. But is he remaining long?'
'He is going soon, I hear.'
'He's a good boy. I could have taken to him myself, and not dreaded a
worrying. There 's this difference between you and me, though, my
Aminta; one of us has the fireplace prepared for what's-his-name--
"passion." Kiss me. How could you fancy you were going to have a woman
for your friend and keep hidden from her any one of the secrets that
blush! and with Paggy to aid! I am sure it means very little.
Admiration for good handwriting is--' a smile broke the sentence.
'You're astray, Isabella.'
'Not I, dear, I'm too fond of you.'
'You read what is not.'
'What is not yet written, you mean.'
'What never could be written.'
'I read what is in the blood, and comes out to me when I look. That lord
of yours should take to study you as I have done ever since I fell in
love with you. He 's not counselling himself well in keeping away.'
'Now you speak wisely,' said Aminta.
'Not a particle more wisely. And the reason is close at hand--see.
You are young, you attract--how could it be otherwise?--and you have
"passion" sleeping, and likely to wake with a spring whether roused or
not. In my observation good-man t'other fellow--the poet's friend--is
never long absent when the time is ripe--at least, not in places where we
gather together. Well, one is a buckler against the other: I don't say
with lovely Amy May,--with an honourable woman. But Aminta can smell
powder and grow more mettlesome. Who can look at you and be blind to
passion sleeping! The sight of you makes me dream of it--me, a woman,
cool as a wine-cellar or a well. So there's to help you to know yourself
and be on your guard. I know I'm not deceived, because I've fallen in
love with you, and no love can be without jealousy, so I have the needle
in my breast, that points at any one who holds a bit of you. Kind of
sympathetic needle to the magnet behind anything. You'll know it, if you
don't now. I should have felt the thing without the aid of Paggy. So,
then, imagine all my nonsense unsaid, and squeeze a drop or two of 'sirop
de bon conseil' out of it, as if it were your own wise meditations.' The
rest of Mrs. Lawrence's discourse was a swallow's wing skimming the city
stream. She departed, and Aminta was left to beat at her heart and ask
whether it had a secret.
But if there was one, the secret was out, and must have another name.
It had been a secret for her until she heard her friend speak those pin-
points that pricked her heart, and sent the blood coursing over her face,
like a betrayal, so like as to resemble a burning confession.
But if this confessed the truth, she was the insanest of women.
No woman could be surer that she had her wits. She had come to see
things, previously mysteries, with surprising clearness. As, for example,
that passion was part of her nature; therefore her very life, lying
tranced. She certainly could not love without passion such an
abandonment was the sole justification of love in a woman standing where
she stood. And now for the first time she saw her exact position before
the world; and she saw some way into her lord: saw that he nursed a
wound, extracted balm from anything enabling him to show the world how he
despised it, and undesigningly immolated her for the petty gratification.
It could not, in consequence, be the truth. To bear what she had borne
she must be a passionless woman; and she was glad of her present safety
in thinking it. Once it was absolutely true. She swam away to the
golden-circled Island of Once; landed, and dwelt there solitarily and
blissfully, looking forward to Sunday's walk round the park, looking back
on it. Proudly she could tell herself that her dreams of the Prince of
the island had not been illusions as far as he was concerned; for he had
a great soul. He did not aim at a tawdry glory. He was a loss to our
army--no loss to his country or the world. A woman might clasp her
feeling of pride in having foreseen distinction for him; and a little,
too, in distinguishing now the true individual distinction from the
feathered uniform vulgar. Where the girl's dreams had proved illusions,
she beheld in a title and luxuries, in a loveless marriage.
That was perilous ground. Still it taught her to see that the
substantial is the dust; and passion not being active, she could reflect.
After a series of penetrative flashes, flattering to her intelligence the
more startling they were, reflection was exhausted. She sank on her
nature's desire to join or witness agonistic incidents, shocks,
wrestlings, the adventures which are brilliant air to sanguine energies.
Imagination shot tap, and whirled the circle of a succession of them; and
she had a companion and leader, unfeatured, reverently obeyed, accepted
as not to be known, not to be guessed at, in the deepest hooded inmost of
her being speechlessly divined.
The sudden result of Aminta's turmoil was a determination that she must
look on Steignton. And what was to be gained by that? She had no idea.
And how had she stopped her imaginative flight with the thought of
looking on Steignton? All she could tell was, that it would close a
volume. She could not say why the volume must be closed.
Her orders for the journey down to Steignton were prompt. Mrs. Pagnell
had an engagement at the house of Lady Staines for the next day to meet
titles and celebrities, and it precluded her comprehension of the
project. She begged to have the journey postponed. She had pledged her
word, she said.
'To Mr. Morsfield?' said Aminta.
Her aunt was astounded.
'I did tell him we should be there, my dear.' 'He appears to have a
pleasure in meeting you.' 'He is one of the real gentlemen of the land.'
'You correspond with him?'
'I may not be the only one.'
'Foolish aunty! How can you speak to me in that senseless way?' cried
Aminta. 'You know the schemer he is, and that I have no protection from
his advances unless I run the risk of bloodshed.'
'My dear Aminta, whenever I go into society, and he is present, I know I
shall not be laughed at, or fall into that pit of one of their dead
silences, worse for me to bear than titters and faces. It is their way
of letting one feel they are of birth above us. Mr. Morsfield--purer
blood than many of their highest titles--is always polite, always
deferential; he helps me to feel I am not quite out of my element in the
sphere I prefer. We shall be travelling alone?'
'Have you any fear?'
'Not if nothing happens. Might we not ask that Mr. Weyburn?'
'He has much work to do. He will not long be here. He is absent
Mrs. Pagnell remarked: 'I must say he earns his money easily.'
Aminta had softened herself with the allusion to the shortness of his
time with them. Her aunt's coarse hint, and the thought of his loss,
and the banishment it would be to her all the way to Steignton, checked
a sharp retort she could have uttered, but made it necessary to hide her
eyes from sight. She went to her bedroom, and flung herself on the bed.
Even so little as an unspoken defence of him shook her to floods of
ALONG TWO ROADS TO STEIGNTON
Unaccountable resolutions, if impromptu and springing from the female
breast, are popularly taken for caprices; and even when they divert the
current of a history, and all the more when they are very small matters
producing a memorable crisis. In this way does a lazy world consign
discussion to silence with the cynical closure. Man's hoary shrug at a
whimsy sex is the reading of his enigma still.
But ask if she has the ordinary pumping heart in that riddle of a breast:
and then, as the organ cannot avoid pursuit, we may get hold of it, and
succeed in spelling out that she is consequent, in her fashion. She is a
creature of the apparent moods and shifts and tempers only because she is
kept in narrow confines, resembling, if you like, a wild cat caged.
Aminta's journey down to Steignton turned the course of other fortunes
besides her own; and she disdained the minor adventure it was, while
dreaming it important; and she determined eagerly on going, without
wanting to go; and it was neither from a sense of duty nor in a spirit
of contrariety that she went. Nevertheless, with her heart in hand,
her movements are traceably as rational as a soldier's before the enemy
or a trader's matching his customer.
The wish to look on Steignton had been spoken or sighed for during long
years between Aminta and her aunt, until finally shame and anger clinched
the subject. To look on Steignton for once was now Aminta's phrasing of
her sudden resolve; it appeared as a holiday relief from recent worries,
and it was an expedition with an aim, though she had but the coldest
curiosity to see the place, and felt alien to it. Yet the thought,
never to have seen Steignton! roused phantoms of dead wishes to drive
the strange engine she was, faster than the living would have done. Her
reason for haste was rationally founded on the suddenness of her resolve,
which, seeing that she could not say she desired to go, seemed to come of
an external admonition; and it counselled quick movements, lest her
inspired obedience to the prompting should as abruptly breathe itself
out. 'And in that case I shall never have seen Steignton at all,' she
said, with perfect calmness, and did not attempt to sound her meaning.
She did know that she was a magazine of a great storage of powder. It
banked inoffensively dry. She had forgiven her lord, owning the real
nobleman he was in courtesy to women, whom his inherited ideas of them so
quaintly minimized and reduced to pretty insect or tricky reptile. They,
too, had the choice of being ultimately the one or the other in fact; the
latter most likely.
If, however, she had forgiven her lord, the shattering of their union was
the cost of forgiveness. In letting him stand high, as the lofty man she
had originally worshipped, she separated herself from him, to feel that
the humble she was of a different element, as a running water at a
mountain's base. They are one in the landscape; they are far from one
in reality. Aminta's pride of being chafed at the yoke of marriage.
Her aunt was directed to prepare for a start at an early hour the next
morning. Mrs. Pagnell wrote at her desk, and fussed, and ordered the
posting chariot, and bewailed herself submissively; for it was the
Countess of Ormont speaking when Aminta delivered commands, and the only
grievance she dared to mutter was 'the unexpectedness.' Her letters
having been despatched, she was amazed in the late evening to hear Aminta
give the footman orders for the chariot to be ready at the door an hour
earlier than the hour previously appointed. She remonstrated. Aminta
simply observed that it would cause less inconvenience to all parties.
A suspicion of her aunt's proceedings was confirmed by the good woman's
flustered state. She refrained from smiling.
She would have mustered courage to invite Matthew Weyburn as her escort,
if he had been at hand. He was attending to his affairs with lawyers--
mainly with his friend Mr. Abner. She studied map and gazetteer till
late into the night. Giving her orders to the postillion on the pavement
in the morning, she named a South-westerly direction out of London, and
after entering the chariot, she received a case from one of the footmen.
'What is that, my dear?' said Mrs. Pagnell.
Aminta unlocked and laid it open. A pair of pistols met Mrs. Pagnell's
'We shan't be in need of those things?' the lady said anxiously.
'One never knows, on the road, aunt.'
'Loaded? You wouldn't hesitate to fire; I'm sure.'
'At Mr. Morsfield himself, if he attempted to stop me.'
Mrs. Pagnell withdrew into her astonishment, and presently asked, in a
tone of some indignation: 'Why did you mention Mr. Morsfield, Aminta?'
'Did you not write to him yesterday afternoon, aunt?'
'You read the addresses on my letters!'
'Did you not supply him with our proposed route and the time for
'Pistols!' exclaimed Mrs. Pagnell. 'One would fancy you think we are in
the middle of the last century. Mr. Morsfield is a gentleman, not a
'He gives the impression of his being a madman.'
'The real madman is your wedded husband, Aminta, if wedding it was!'
It was too surely so, in Aminta's mind. She tried, by looking out of the
window, to forget her companion. The dullness of the roads and streets
opening away to flat fields combined with the postillion's unvarying jog
to sicken her thoughts over the exile from London she was undergoing, and
the chance that Matthew Weyburn might call at a vacant house next day, to
announce his term of service to the earl, whom he had said he much wanted
to see. He said it in his sharp manner when there was decision behind
it. Several times after contemplating the end of her journey, and not
perceiving any spot of pleasure ahead, an emotion urged her to turn back;
for the young are acutely reasoning when their breasts advise them to
quit a road where no pleasure beckons.
Unlike Matthew Weyburn, the tiptoe sparkle of a happy mind did not leap
from her at wayside scenes, a sweep of grass, distant hills, clouds in
flight. She required, since she suffered, the positive of events or
blessings to kindle her glow.
Matthew Weyburn might call at the house. Would he be disappointed? He
had preserved her letters of the old school-days. She had burnt his.
But she had not burnt the letters of Mr. Morsfield; and she cared nothing
for that man. Assuredly she merited the stigma branding women as crack-
brained. Yet she was not one of the fools; she could govern a household,
and she liked work, she had the capacity for devotedness. So, therefore,
she was a woman perverted by her position, and she shook her bonds in
revolt from marriage. Imagining a fall down some suddenly spied chasm
of her nature, she had a sisterly feeling for the women named sinful.
At the same time, reflecting that they are sinful only with the sinful,
she knelt thankfully at the feet of the man who had saved her from such
danger. Tears threatened. They were a poor atonement for the burning of
his younger letters. But not he--she was the sufferer, and she whipped
up a sensation of wincing at the flames they fell to, and at their void
of existence, committing sentimental idiocies worthy of a lovesick girl,
consciously to escape the ominous thought, which her woman's perception
had sown in her, that he too chafed at a marriage no marriage: was true
in fidelity, not true through infidelity, as she had come to be. The
thought implied misery for both. She entered a black desolation, with
the prayer that he might not be involved, for his own sake: partly also
on behalf of the sustaining picture the young schoolmaster at his task,
merry among his dear boys, to trim and point them body and mind for their
business in the world, painted for her a weariful prospect of the life
she must henceforth drag along.
Is a woman of the plain wits common to numbers ever deceived in her
perception of a man's feelings for her? Let her first question herself
whether she respects him. If she does not, her judgement will go easily
astray, intuition and observation are equally at fault, she has no key;
he has charmed her blood, that is all. But if she respects him, she
cannot be deceived; respect is her embrace of a man's character.
Aminta's vision was clear. She had therefore to juggle with the fact
revealed, that she might keep her heart from rushing out; and the process
was a disintegration of her feminine principle of docility under the
world's decrees. At each pause of her mental activity she was hurled
against the state of marriage. Compassion for her blameless fellow in
misery brought a deluge to sweep away institutions and landmarks.
But supposing the blest worst to happen, what exchange had she to bestow?
Her beauty? She was reputed beautiful. It had made a madman of one man;
and in her poverty of endowments to be generous with, she hovered over
Mr. Morsfield like a cruel vampire, for the certification that she had a
much-prized gift to bestow upon his rival.
But supposing it: she would then be no longer in the shiny garden of the
flowers of wealth; and how little does beauty weigh as all aid to an
active worker in the serious fighting world! She would be a kind of
potted rose-tree under his arm, of which he must eventually tire.
A very cold moment came, when it seemed that even the above supposition,
in the case of a woman who has been married, is shameful to her, a sin
against her lover, and should be obliterated under floods of scarlet.
For, if she has pride, she withers to think of pushing the most noble of
men upon his generosity. And, further, if he is not delicately
scrupulous, is there not something wanting in him? The very cold wave
passed, leaving the sentence: better dream of being plain friends.
Mrs. Pagnell had been quietly chewing her cud of the sullens, as was the
way with her after a snub. She now resumed her gossip of the naughty
world she knelt to and expected to see some day stricken by a bolt from
overhead; containing, as it did, such wicked members as that really
indefensible brazen Mrs. Amy May, who was only the daughter of a half-pay
naval captain, and that Marquis of Collestou, who would, they say,
decorate her with his title to-morrow, if her husband were but somewhere
else. She spread all sorts of report, about Mr. Morsfield, and he was
honour itself in his reserve about her. 'Depend upon it, Aminta--he was
not more than a boy then, and they say she aimed at her enfranchisement
by plotting the collision, for his Yorkshire revenues are immense,
and he is, you know, skilful in the use of arms, and Captain May has no
resources whatever: penury! no one cares to speculate how they contrive!
---but while that dreadful duelling--and my lord as bad as any in his
day-exists, depend upon it, an unscrupulous good-looking woman has as
many lives for her look of an eye or lift of a finger as a throned
Ottoman Turk on his divan.'
Aminta wished to dream. She gave her aunt a second dose, and the lady
Power to dream had gone. She set herself to look at roadside things,
cottage gardens, old housewives in doorways, gaffer goodman meeting his
crony on the path, groups of boys and girls. She would take the girls,
Matthew Weyburn the boys. She had lessons to give to girls, she had
sympathy, pity, anticipation. That would be a life of happy service.
It might be a fruitful trial of the system he proposed, to keep the boys
and girls in company as much as possible, both at lessons and at games.
His was the larger view. Her lord's view appeared similar to that of her
aunt's 'throned Ottoman Turk on his divan.' Matthew Weyburn believed in
the bettering of the world; Lord Ormont had no belief like it.
Presently Mrs. Pagnell returned to the charge, and once more she was
nipped, and irritated to declare she had never known her niece's temper
so provoking. Aminta was launching a dream of a lass she had seen in a
field, near a white hawthorn, standing upright, her left arm aloft round
the pole of a rake, the rim of her bonnet tipped on her forehead; an
attitude of a rustic.
Britannia with helmet heeling at dignity. The girl's eyes hung to the
passing chariot, without movement of her head. It was Aminta who looked
back, and she saw the girl looking away. Among the superior dames and
damsels she had seen, there was not one to match that figure for stately
air, gallant ease, and splendour of pose. Matthew Weyburn would have
admired the girl. Aminta did better than envy, she cast off the last
vestiges of her bitter ambition to be a fine lady, and winged into the
bosom of the girl, and not shyly said 'yes' to Matthew Weyburn, and to
herself, deep in herself: 'A maid has no need to be shy.' Hardly
blushing, she walks on into the new life beside him, and hears him say:
'I in my way, you in yours; we are equals, the stronger for being
equals,' and she quite agrees, and she gives him the fuller heart for
his not requiring her to be absorbed--she is the braver mate for him.
Does not that read his meaning? Happiest of the girls of earth, she has
divined it at once, from never having had the bitter ambition to be a
slave, that she might wear rich tissues; and let herself be fettered,
that she might loll in idleness; lose a soul to win a title; escape
commonplace to discover it ghastlier under cloth of gold, and the animal
crowned, adored, fattened, utterly served, in the class called by consent
of human society the Upper.
Reason whispered a reminder of facts to her.
'But I am not the Countess of Ormont!' she said. She felt herself the
girl, her sensations were so intensely simple.
Proceeding to an argument, that the earl did not regard her as the
Countess of Ormont, or the ceremony at the British Embassy as one serious
and binding, she pushed her reason too far: sweet delusion waned. She
waited for some fresh scene to revive it.
Aminta sat unwittingly weaving her destiny.
While she was thus engaged, a carriage was rolling on the more westerly
road down to Steignton. Seated in it were Lady Charlotte Eglett and
Matthew Weyburn. They had met at Arthur Abner's office the previous day.
She went there straight from Lord Ormont's house-agent and upholsterer,
to have a queer bit of thunderous news confirmed, that her brother was
down at Steignton, refurnishing the house, and not for letting. She
was excited: she treated Arthur Abner's closed-volume reticence as a
corroboration of the house-agent's report, and hearing Weyburn speak of
his anxiety to see the earl immediately, in order to get release from his
duties, proposed a seat in her carriage; for down Steignton way she meant
to go, if only as excuse for a view of the old place. She kept asking
what Lord Ormont wanted down at Steignton refurnishing the house, and not
to let it! Her evasions of answers that, plain speculation would supply
were quaint. 'He hasn't my feeling for Steignton. He could let it--
I couldn't. Sacrilege to me to have a tenant in my old home where I was
born. He's furnishing to raise his rent. His country won't give him
anything to do, so he turns miser. That's my brother Rowsley's way of
taking on old age.'
Her brother Rowsley might also be showing another sign of his calamitous
condition. She said to Weyburn, in the carriage, that her brother
Rowsley might like having his hair clipped by the Philistine woman; which
is one of the ways of strong men to confess themselves ageing. 'Not,'
said she, with her usual keen justness 'not that I've, a word against
Delilah. I look upon her as a patriot; she dallied and she used the
scissors on behalf of her people. She wasn't bound to Samson in honour,
--liked a strong man, probably enough. She proved she liked her country
better. The Jews wrote the story of it, so there she stands for
posterity to pelt her, poor wretch.'
'A tolerably good analogy for the story of men and women generally,' said
'Ah, well, you've a right to talk; you don't run miauling about women.
It 's easy to be squashy on that subject. As for the Jews, I don't go by
their history, but now they 're down I don't side with the Philistines,
or Christians. They 're good citizens, and they 've got Samson in the
brain, too. That comes of persecution, a hard education. They beat the
world by counting in the head. That 's because they 've learnt the value
of fractions. Napoleon knew it in war, when he looked to the boots and
great-coats of his men; those were his fractions. Lord Ormont thinks he
had too hard-and-fast a system for the battle-field.'
'A greater strategist than tactician, my lady? It may be,' said Weyburn,
smiling at her skips.
'Massing his cannon to make a big hole for his cavalry, my brother says;
and weeding his infantry for the Imperial Guard he postponed the moment
'Waterloo. I believe Lord Ormont would--there! his country 's lost him,
and chose it. They 'll have their day for repentance yet. What a
rapture to have a thousand horsemen following you! I suppose there never
was a man worthy of the name who roared to be a woman. I know I could
have shrieked half my life through to have been born male. It 's no
matter now. When we come to this hateful old age, we meet: no, we 're no
sex then--we 're dry sticks. I 'll tell you: my Olmer doctor--that 's an
impudent fellow who rode by staring into my carriage. The window's down.
He could see without pushing his hat in.'
Weyburn looked out after a man cantering on.
'A Mr. Morsfield,' he said. 'I thought it was he when I saw him go by.
I've met him at the fencing-rooms. He 's one of the violent fencers,
good for making his point, if one funks an attack.'
'That man Morsfield, is it? I wonder what he's doing on the road here.
He goes over London boasting--hum, nothing to me. But he 'll find Lord
Ormont's arm can protect a poor woman, whatever she is. He'd have had it
before, only Lord Ormont shuns a scandal. I was telling you, my Olmer
doctor forbade horse-riding, and my husband raised a noise like one of my
turkeycocks on the wing; so I 've given up the saddle, to quiet him. I
guessed. I went yesterday morning to my London physician. He sounded
me, pushed out his mouth and pulled down his nose, recommended avoidance
of excitement. "Is it heart?" I said. He said it was heart. That was
the best thing an old woman could hear. He said, when he saw I wasn't
afraid, it was likely to be quick; no doctors, no nurses and daily
bulletins for inquirers, but just the whites of the eyes, the laying-out,
the undertaker, and the family-vault. That's one reason why I want to
see Steignton before the blow that may fall any day, whether my brother
Rowsley's there or no. But that Olmer doctor of mine, Causitt, Peter
Causitt, shall pay me for being a liar or else an ignoramus when I told
him he was to tell me bluntly the nature of my disease.'
A horseman, in whom they recognized Mr. Morsfield, passed, clattering on
the road behind them.
'Some woman here about,' Lady Charlotte muttered. Weyburn saw him joined
by a cavalier, and the two consulted and pointed whips right and left.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
As well ask (women) how a battle-field concerns them!
Boys who can appreciate brave deeds are capable of doing them
Careful not to smell of his office
Chose to conceive that he thought abstractedly
Consign discussion to silence with the cynical closure
Convictions we store--wherewith to shape our destinies
Death is only the other side of the ditch
Didn't say a word No use in talking about feelings
Enthusiast, when not lyrical, is perilously near to boring
He took small account of the operations of the feelings
Her duel with Time
Hopeless task of defending a woman from a woman
I hate old age It changes you so
Ignorance roaring behind a mask of sarcasm
Men bore the blame, though the women were rightly punished
Never nurse an injury, great or small
No love can be without jealousy
Old age is a prison wall between us and young people
Orderliness, from which men are privately exempt
People were virtuous in past days: they counted their sinners
Regularity of the grin of dentistry
That pit of one of their dead silences
The beat of a heart with a dread like a shot in it
The good life gone lives on in the mind
The shots hit us behind you
The spending, never harvesting, world
The terrible aggregate social woman
Venus of nature was melting into a Venus of art
XVII. LADY CHARLOTTE'S TRIUMPH
XVIII. A SCENE ON THE ROAD BACK
XIX. THE PURSUERS
XX. AT THE SIGN OF THE JOLLY CRICKETERS
XXI. UNDER-CURRENTS IN THE MINDS OF LADY CHARLOTTE AND LORD ORMONT
XXII. TREATS OF THE FIRST DAY OF THE CONTENTION OF BROTHER AND SISTER
XXIII. THE ORMONT JEWELS
LADY CHARLOTTE'S TRIUMPH
One of the days of sovereign splendour in England was riding down the
heavens, and drawing the royal mantle of the gold-fringed shadows over
plain and wavy turf, blue water and woods of the country round Steignton.
A white mansion shone to a length of oblong lake that held the sun-ball
suffused in mild yellow.
'There's the place,' Lady Charlotte said to Weyburn, as they had view of
it at a turn of the park. She said to herself--where I was born and
bred! and her sight gloated momentarily on the house and side avenues,
a great plane standing to the right of the house, the sparkle of a little
river running near; all the scenes she knew, all young and lively. She
sprang on her seat for a horse beneath her, and said, 'But this is
healthy excitement,' as in reply to her London physician's remonstrances.
'And there's my brother Rowsley, talking to one of the keepers,' she
cried. 'You see Lord Ormont? I can see a mile. Sight doesn't fail with
me. He 's insisting. 'Ware poachers when Rowsley's on his ground! You
smell the air here? Nobody dies round about Steignton. Their legs wear
out and they lie down to rest them. It 's the finest air in the world.
Now look, the third window left of the porch, first floor. That was my
room before I married. Strangers have been here and called the place
home. It can never be home to any but me and Rowsley. He sees the
carriage. He little thinks! He's dressed in his white corduroy and
knee-breeches. Age! he won't know age till he's ninety. Here he comes
marching. He can't bear surprises. I'll wave my hand and call.'
She called his name.
In a few strides he was at the carriage window. 'You, Charlotte?'
'Home again, Rowsley! Bring down your eyebrows, and let me hear you're
glad I 've come.'
'What made you expect you would find me here?'
'Anything-cats on the tiles at night. You can't keep a secret from me.
Here's Mr. Weyburn, good enough to be my escort. I 'll get out.'
She alighted, scorning help; Weyburn at her heels. The earl nodded to
him politely and not cordially. He was hardly cordial to Lady Charlotte.
That had no effect on her. 'A glorious day for Steignton,' she said.
'Ah, there's the Buridon group of beeches; grander trees than grow at
Buridon. Old timber now. I knew them slim as demoiselles. Where 's the
ash? We had a splendid ash on the west side.'
'Dead and cut down long since,' replied the earl.
'So we go!'
She bent her steps to the spot: a grass-covered heave of the soil.
'Dear old tree!' she said, in a music of elegy: and to Weyburn: 'Looks
like a stump of an arm lopped off a shoulder in bandages. Nature does it
so. All the tenants doing well, Rowsley?'
'About the same amount of trouble with them.'
'Ours at Olmer get worse.'
'It's a process for the extirpation of the landlords.'
'Then down goes the country.'
'They 've got their case, their papers tell us.'
'I know they have; but we've got the soil, and we'll make a, fight of
'They can fight too, they say.'
'I should be sorry to think they couldn't if they're Englishmen.'
She spoke so like his old Charlotte of the younger days that her brother
'Parliamentary fighting 's not much to your taste or mine. They 've lost
their stomach for any other. The battle they enjoy is the battle that
goes for the majority. Gauge their valour by that.'
'To be sure,' said his responsive sister. She changed her note. 'But
what I say is, let the nobles keep together and stick to their class.
There's nothing to fear then. They must marry among themselves, think
of the blood: it's their first duty. Or better a peasant girl! Middle
courses dilute it to the stuff in a publican's tankard. It 's an
adulterous beast who thinks of mixing old wine with anything.'
'Hulloa!' said the earl; and she drew up.
'You'll have me here till over to-morrow, Rowsley, so that I may have one
clear day at Steignton?'
He bowed. 'You will choose your room. Mr. Weyburn is welcome.'
Weyburn stated the purport of his visit, and was allowed to name an early
day for the end of his term of service.
Entering the house, Lady Charlotte glanced at the armour and stag
branches decorating corners of the hall, and straightway laid her head
forward, pushing after it in the direction of the drawing room. She went
in, stood for a minute, and came out. Her mouth was hard shut.
At dinner she had tales of uxorious men, of men who married mistresses,
of the fearful incubus the vulgar family of a woman of the inferior
classes ever must be; and her animadversions were strong in the matter of
gew-gaw modern furniture. The earl submitted to hear.
She was, however, keenly attentive whenever he proffered any item of
information touching Steignton. After dinner Weyburn strolled to the
points of view she cited as excellent for different aspects of her old
He found her waiting to hear his laudation when he came back; and in the
early morning she was on the terrace, impatient to lead him down to the
lake. There, at the boat-house, she commanded him to loosen a skiff and
give her a paddle. Between exclamations, designed to waken louder from
him, and not so successful as her cormorant hunger for praise of
Steignton required, she plied him to confirm with his opinion an opinion
that her reasoning mind had almost formed in the close neighbourhood of
the beloved and honoured person providing it; for abstract ideas were
unknown to her. She put it, however, as in the abstract:--
'How is it we meet people brave as lions before an enemy, and rank
cowards where there's a botheration among their friends at home? And
tell me, too, if you've thought the thing over, what's the meaning of
this? I 've met men in high places, and they've risen to distinction by
their own efforts, and they head the nation. Right enough, you'd say.
Well, I talk with them, and I find they've left their brains on the
ladder that led them up; they've only the ideas of their grandfather on
general subjects. I come across a common peasant or craftsman, and he
down there has a mind more open--he's wiser in his intelligence than his
rulers and lawgivers up above him. He understands what I say, and I
learn from him. I don't learn much from our senators, or great lawyers,
great doctors, professors, members of governing bodies--that lot. Policy
seems to petrify their minds when they 've got on an eminence. Now
explain it, if you can.'
'Responsibility has a certain effect on them, no doubt,' said Weyburn.
'Eminent station among men doesn't give a larger outlook. Most of them
confine their observation to their supports. It happens to be one of the
questions I have thought over. Here in England, and particularly on a
fortnight's run in the lowlands of Scotland once, I have, like you, my
lady, come now and then across the people we call common, men and women,
old wayside men especially; slow-minded, but hard in their grasp of
facts, and ready to learn, and logical, large in their ideas, though
going a roundabout way to express them. They were at the bottom of
wisdom, for they had in their heads the delicate sense of justice, upon
which wisdom is founded. That is what their rulers lack. Unless we have
the sense of justice abroad like a common air, there 's no peace, and no
steady advance. But these humble people had it. They reasoned from it,
and came to sound conclusions. I felt them to be my superiors. On the
other hand, I have not felt the same with "our senators, rulers, and
lawgivers." They are for the most part deficient in the liberal mind.'
'Ha! good, so far. How do you account for it?' said Lady Charlotte.
'I read it in this way: that the world being such as it is at present,
demanding and rewarding with honours and pay special services, the men
called great, who have risen to distinction, are not men of brains, but
the men of aptitudes. These men of aptitudes have a poor conception of
the facts of life to meet the necessities of modern expansion. They are
serviceable in departments. They go as they are driven, or they resist.
In either case, they explain how it is that we have a world moving so
sluggishly. They are not the men of brains, the men of insight and
outlook. Often enough they are foes of the men of brains.'
'Aptitudes; yes, that flashes a light into me,' said Lady Charlotte.
'I see it better. It helps to some comprehension of their muddle. A man
may be a first-rate soldier, doctor, banker--as we call the usurer now-a
-days---or brewer, orator, anything that leads up to a figure-head, and
prove a foolish fellow if you sound him. I 've thought something like
it, but wanted the word. They say themselves, "Get to know, and you see
with what little wisdom the world is governed!" You explain how it is.
I shall carry "aptitudes" away.'
She looked straight at Weyburn. 'If I were a younger woman I could kiss
you for it.'
He bowed to her very gratefully.
'Remember, my lady, there's a good deal of the Reformer in that
'I stick to my class. But they shall hear a true word when there's one
abroad, I can tell them. That reminds me---you ought to have asked; let
me tell you I'm friendly with the Rev. Mr. Hampton-Evey. We had a
wrestle for half an hour, and I threw him and helped him up, and he
apologized for tumbling, and I subscribed to one of his charities, and
gave up about the pew, but had an excuse for not sitting under the
sermon. A poor good creature. He 's got the aptitudes for his office.
He won't do much to save his Church. I knew another who had his aptitude
for the classics, and he has mounted. He was my tutor when I was a girl.
He was fond of declaiming passages from Lucian and Longus and Ovid. One
day he was at it with a piece out of Daphnis and Chloe, and I said, "Now
translate." He fetched a gurgle to say he couldn't, and I slapped his
check. Will you believe it? the man was indignant. I told him, if he
would like to know why I behaved in "that unmaidenly way," he had better
apply at home. I had no further intimations of his classical aptitudes;
but he took me for a cleverer pupil than I was. I hadn't a notion of the
stuff he recited. I read by his face. That was my aptitude--always has
been. But think of the donkeys parents are when they let a man have a
chance of pouring his barley-sugar and sulphur into the ears of a girl.
Lots of girls have no latent heckles and prickles to match his villany.
--There's my brother come back to breakfast from a round. You and I 'll
have a drive before lunch, and a ride or a stroll in the afternoon.
There's a lot to see. I mean you to get the whole place into your head.
I 've ordered the phaeton, and you shall take the whip, with me beside
you. That's how my husband and I spent three-quarters of our honeymoon.'
Each of the three breakfasted alone.
They met on the terrace. It was easily perceived that Lord Ormont stood
expecting an assault at any instant; prepared also to encounter and do
battle with his redoubtable sister. Only he wished to defer the
engagement. And he was magnanimous: he was in the right, she in the
wrong; he had no desire to grapple with her, fling and humiliate. The
Sphinx of Mrs. Pagnell had been communing with himself unwontedly during
the recent weeks.
What was the riddle of him? That, he did not read. But, expecting an
assault, and relieved by his sister Charlotte's departure with Weyburn,
he went to the drawing-room, where he had seen her sniff her strong
suspicions of a lady coming to throne it. Charlotte could believe that
he flouted the world with a beautiful young woman on his arm; she would
not believe him capable of doing that in his family home and native
county; so, then, her shrewd wits had nothing or little to learn. But
her vehement fighting against facts; her obstinate aristocratic
prejudices, which he shared; her stinger of a tongue: these in ebullition
formed a discomforting prospect. The battle might as well be conducted
through the post. Come it must!
Even her writing of the pointed truths she would deliver was an
unpleasant anticipation. His ears heated. Undoubtedly he could crush
her. Yet, supposing her to speak to his ears, she would say: 'You
married a young woman, and have been foiling and fooling her ever since,
giving her half a title to the name of wife, and allowing her in
consequence to be wholly disfigured before the world--your family
naturally her chief enemies, who would otherwise (Charlotte would
proclaim it) have been her friends. What! your intention was (one could
hear Charlotte's voice) to smack the world in the face, and you smacked
your young wife's instead!'
His intention had been nothing of the sort. He had married, in a foreign
city, a young woman who adored him, whose features, manners, and carriage
of her person satisfied his exacting taste in the sex; and he had
intended to cast gossipy England over the rail and be a traveller for the
remainder of his days. And at the first she had acquiesced, tacitly
accepted it as part of the contract. He bore with the burden of an
intolerable aunt of hers for her sake. The two fell to work to conspire.
Aminta 'tired of travelling,' Aminta must have a London house. She
continually expressed a hope that 'she might set her eyes on Steignton
some early day.' In fact, she as good as confessed her scheme to plot for
the acknowledged position of Countess of Ormont in the English social
world. That was a distinct breach of the contract.
As to the babble of the London world about a 'very young wife,' he
scorned it completely, but it belonged to the calculation. 'A very
handsome young wife,' would lay commands on a sexagenarian vigilance
while adding to his physical glory. The latter he could forego among
a people he despised. It would, however, be an annoyance to stand
constantly hand upon sword-hilt. There was, besides, the conflict with
his redoubtable sister. He had no dread of it, in contemplation of the
necessity; he could crush his Charlotte. The objection was, that his
Aminta should be pressing him to do it. Examine the situation at
present. Aminta has all she needs--every luxury. Her title as Countess
of Ormont is not denied. Her husband justly refuses to put foot into
English society. She, choosing to go where she may be received,
dissociates herself from him, and he does not complain. She does
complain. There is a difference between the two.
He had always shunned the closer yoke with a woman because of these
vexatious dissensions. For not only are women incapable of practising,
they cannot comprehend magnanimity.
Lord Ormont's argumentative reverie to the above effect had been pursued
over and over. He knew that the country which broke his military career
and ridiculed his newspaper controversy was unforgiven by him. He did
not reflect on the consequences of such an unpardoning spirit in its
operation on his mind.
If he could but have passed the injury, he would ultimately--for his
claims of service were admitted--have had employment of some kind.
Inoccupation was poison to him; travel juggled with his malady of
restlessness; really, a compression of the warrior's natural forces.
His Aminta, pushed to it by the woman Pagnell, declined to help him in
softening the virulence of the disease. She would not travel; she would
fix in this London of theirs, and scheme to be hailed the accepted
Countess of Ormont. She manoeuvred; she threw him on the veteran
soldier's instinct, and it resulted spontaneously that he manoeuvred.
Hence their game of Pull, which occupied him a little, tickled him and
amused. The watching of her pretty infantile tactics amused him too much
to permit of a sidethought on the cruelty of the part he played. She had
every luxury, more than her station by right of birth would have
But he was astonished to find that his Aminta proved herself clever,
though she had now and then said something pointed. She was in awe of
him: notwithstanding which, clearly she meant to win and pull him over.
He did not dislike her for it; she might use her weapons to play her
game; and that she should bewitch men--a, man like Morsfield--was not
wonderful. On the other hand, her conquest of Mrs. Lawrence Finchley
scored tellingly: that was unaccountably queer. What did Mrs. Lawrence
expect to gain? the sage lord asked. He had not known women devoid of a
positive practical object of their own when they bestirred themselves to
do a friendly deed.
Thanks to her conquest of Mrs. Lawrence, his Aminta was gaining ground
--daily she made an advance; insomuch that he had heard of himself as
harshly blamed in London for not having countenanced her recent and
rather imprudent move. In other words, whenever she gave a violent tug
at their game of Pull, he was expected to second it. But the world of
these English is too monstrously stupid in what it expects, for any of
its extravagances to be followed by interjections.
All the while he was trimming and rolling a field of armistice at
Steignton, where they could discuss the terms he had a right to dictate,
having yielded so far. Would she be satisfied with the rule of his
ancestral hall, and the dispensing of hospitalities to the county?
No, one may guess: no woman is ever satisfied. But she would have to
relinquish her game, counting her good round half of the honours.
Somewhat more, on the whole. Without beating, she certainly had
accomplished the miracle of bending him. To time and a wife it is no
disgrace for a man to bend. It is the form of submission of the bulrush
to the wind, of courtesy in the cavalier to a lady.
'Oh, here you are, Rowsley,' Lady Charlotte exclaimed at the drawing room
door. 'Well, and I don't like those Louis Quinze cabinets; and that
modern French mantelpiece clock is hideous. You seem to furnish in
downright contempt of the women you invite to sit in the room. Lord help
the wretched woman playing hostess in such a pinchbeck bric-a-brac shop,
if there were one! She 's spared, at all events.'
He stepped at slow march to one of the five windows. Lady Charlotte went
to another near by. She called to Weyburn--
'We had a regatta on that water when Lord Ormont came of age. I took an
oar in one of the boats, and we won a prize; and when I was landing I
didn't stride enough to the spring-plank, and plumped in.'
Some labourers of the estate passed in front.
Lord Ormont gave out a broken laugh. 'See those fellows walk! That 's
the raw material of the famous English infantry. They bend their knees
five-and-forty degrees for every stride; and when you drill them out of
that, they 're stiff as ramrods. I gymnasticized them in my regiment.
I'd have challenged any French regiment to out-walk or out-jump us, or
any crack Tyrolese Jagers to out-climb, though we were cavalry.'
'Yes, my lord, and exercised crack corps are wanted with us,' Weyburn
replied. 'The English authorities are adverse to it, but it 's against
nature--on the supposition that all Englishmen might enrol untrained in
Caesar's pet legion. Virgil shows knowledge of men when he says of the
row-boat straining in emulation, 'Possunt quia posse videntur.''
He talked on rapidly; he wondered that he did not hear Lady Charlotte
exclaim at what she must be seeing. From the nearest avenue a lady had
issued. She stood gazing at the house, erect--a gallant figure of a
woman--one hand holding her parasol, the other at her hip. He knew her.
She was a few paces ahead of Mrs. Pagnell, beside whom a gentleman
The cry came: 'It's that man Morsfield! Who brings that man Morsfield
here? He hunted me on the road; he seemed to be on the wrong scent. Who
are those women? Rowsley, are your grounds open every day of the week?
She threatens to come in!'
Lady Charlotte had noted that the foremost and younger of 'those women'
understood how to walk and how to dress to her shape and colour. She
inclined to think she was having to do with an intrepid foreign-bred
Aminta had been addressed by one of her companions, and had hastened
forward. It looked like the beginning of a run to enter the house.
Mrs. Pagnell ran after her. She ran cow-like.
The earl's gorge rose at the spectacle Charlotte was observing.
With Morsfield he could have settled accounts at any moment, despatching
Aminta to her chamber for an hour. He had, though he was offended, an
honourable guess that she had not of her free will travelled with the man
and brought him into the grounds. It was the presence of the intolerable
Pagnell under Charlotte's eyes which irritated him beyond the common
anger he felt at Aminta's pursuit of him right into Steignton. His mouth
locked. Lady Charlotte needed no speech from him for sign of the
boiling; she was too wary to speak while that went on.
He said to Weyburn, loud enough for his Charlotte to heir. 'Do me the
favour to go to the Countess of Ormont. Conduct her back to London. You
will say it is my command. Inform Mr. Morsfield, with my compliments, I
regret I have no weapons here. I understand him to complain of having to
wait. I shall be in town three days from this date.'
'My lord,' said Mr. Weyburn; and actually he did mean to supplicate. He
could imagine seeing Lord Ormont's eyebrows rising to alpine heights.
Lady Charlotte seized his arm.
'Go at once. Do as you are told. I'll have your portmanteau packed and
sent after you--the phaeton's out in the yard--to Rowsley, or Ashead, or
Dornton, wherever they put up. Now go, or we shall have hot work. Keep
your head on, and go.'
He went, without bowing.
Lady Charlotte rang for the footman.
The earl and she watched the scene on the sward below the terrace.
Aminta listened to Weyburn. Evidently there was no expostulation.
But it was otherwise with Mrs. Pagnell. She flung wild arms of a
semaphore signalling national events. She sprang before Aminta to stop
her retreat, and stamped and gibbed, for sign that she would not be
driven. She fell away to Mr. Morsfield, for simple hearing of her
plaint. He appeared emphatic. There was a passage between him and
'I suspect you've more than your match in young Weyburn, Mr. Morsfield,'
Lady Charlotte said, measuring them as they stood together. They turned
'You shall drive back to town with me, Rowsley,' said the fighting dame.
She breathed no hint of her triumph.
A SCENE ON THE ROAD BACK
After refusing to quit the grounds of Steignton, in spite of the
proprietor, Mrs. Pagnell burst into an agitation to have them be at
speed, that they might 'shake the dust of the place from the soles of
their feet'; and she hurried past Aminta and Lord Ormont's insolent
emissary, carrying Mr. Morsfield beside her, perforce of a series of
imperiously-toned vacuous questions, to which he listened in rigid
politeness, with the ejaculation steaming off from time to time, 'A
He shot glances behind him.
Mrs. Pagnell was going too fast. She, however, world not hear of a halt,
and she was his main apology for being present; he was excruciatingly
attached to the horrid woman.
Weyburn spoke the commonplaces about regrets to Aminta.
'Believe me, it's long since I have been so happy,' she said.
She had come out of her stupefaction, and she wore no theatrical looks of
'I regret that you should be dragged away. But, if you say you do not
mind, it will be pleasant to me. I can excuse Lord Ormont's anger.
I was ignorant of his presence here. I thought him in Paris. I supposed
the place empty. I wished to see it once. I travelled as the niece of
Mrs. Pagnell. She is a little infatuated. . . . Mr. Morsfield heard
of our expedition through her. I changed the route. I was not in want
of a defender. I could have defended myself in case of need. We slept
at Ashead, two hours from Steignton. He and a friend accompanied us, not
with my consent. Lord Ormont could not have been aware of that. These
accidental circumstances happen. There may be pardonable intentions on
She smiled. Her looks were open, and her voice light and spirited;
though the natural dark rose-glow was absent from her olive cheeks.
Weyburn puzzled over the mystery of so volatile a treatment of a serious
matter, on the part of a woman whose feelings he had reason to know were
quick and deep. She might be acting, as women so cleverly do.
It could hardly be acting when she pointed to peeps of scenery, with a
just eye for landscape.
'You leave us for Switzerland very soon?' she said.
'The Reversion I have been expecting has fallen in, besides my
inheritance. My mother was not to see the school. But I shall not
forget her counsels. I can now make my purchase of the house and
buildings, and buy out my partner at the end of a year. My boys are
jumping to start. I had last week a letter from Emile.'
'Dear little Emile!'
'You like him?'
'I could use a warmer word. He knew me when I was a girl.'
She wound the strings of his heart suddenly tense, and they sang to their
'You will let me hear of you, Mr. Weyburn?'
'I will write. Oh! certainly I will write, if I am told you are
interested in our doings, Lady Ormont.'
'I will let you know that I am.'
'I shall be happy in writing full reports.'
'Every detail, I beg. All concerning the school. Help me to feel I am a
boarder. I catch up an old sympathy I had for girls and boys. For boys!
any boys! the dear monkey boys! cherub monkeys! They are so funny. I am
sure I never have laughed as I did at Selina Collett's report, through
her brother, of the way the boys tried to take to my name; and their
sneezing at it, like a cat at a deceitful dish. "Aminta"--was that their
'Something--the young rascals!'
'But please repeat it as you heard them.'
He subdued the mouthing.
'It didn't, offend me at all. It is one of my amusements to think of it.
But after a time they liked the name; and then how did they say it?'
He had the beloved Aminta on his lips.
He checked it, or the power to speak it failed. She drew in a sharp
'I hope your boys will have plenty of fun in them. They will have you
for a providence and a friend. I should wish to propose to visit your
school some day. You will keep me informed whether the school has
vacancies. You will, please, keep me regularly informed?'
She broke into sobs.
Weyburn talked on of the school, for a cover to the resuming of her
fallen mask, as he fancied it.
She soon recovered, all save a steady voice for converse, and begged him
to proceed, and spoke in the flow of the subject; but the quaver of her
tones was a cause of further melting. The tears poured, she could not
explain why, beyond assuring him that they were no sign of unhappiness.
Winds on the great waters against a strong tidal current beat up the wave
and shear and wing the spray, as in Aminta's bosom. Only she could know
that it was not her heart weeping, though she had grounds for a woman's
weeping. But she alone could be aware of her heart's running counter to
Her agitation was untimely. Both Mrs. Pagnell and Mr. Morsfield observed
emotion at work. And who could wonder? A wife denied the admittance to
her husband's house by her husband! The most beautiful woman of her time
relentlessly humiliated, ordered to journey back the way she had come.
They had reached the gate of the park, and had turned.
Mr. Morsfield renewed his interjection vehemently, for an apology to his
politeness in breaking from Mrs. Pagnell.
Joining the lady, whose tears were of the nerves, he made offer of his
devotion in any shape; and she was again in the plight to which a
desperado can push a woman of the gentle kind. She had the fear of
provoking a collision if she reminded him, that despite her entreaties,
he had compelled her, seconded by her aunt as he had been, to submit to
his absurd protection on the walk across the park.
He seemed quite regardless of the mischief he had created; and,
reflecting upon how it served his purpose, he might well be. Intemperate
lover, of the ancient pattern, that he was, his aim to win the woman
acknowledged no obstacle in the means. Her pitiable position appealed to
the best of him; his inordinate desire of her aroused the worst. It was,
besides, an element of his coxcombry, that he should, in apeing the
utterly inconsiderate, rush swiftly to impersonate it when his passions
were cast on a die.
Weyburn he ignored as a stranger, an intruder, an inferior.
Aminta's chariot was at the gate.
She had to resign herself to the chances of a clash of men, and, as there
were two to one, she requested help of Weyburn's hand, that he might be
A mounted gentleman, smelling parasite in his bearing, held the bridle of
The ladies having entered the chariot, Morsfield sprang to the saddle,
and said: 'You, sir, had better stretch your legs to the inn.'
'There is room for you, Mr. Weyburn,' said Aminta.
Mrs. Pagnell puffed.
'I can't think we've room, my dear. I want that bit of seat in front for
Morsfield kicked at his horse's flanks, and between Weyburn and the
chariot step, cried: 'Back, sir!'
His reins were seized; the horse reared, the unexpected occurred.
Weyburn shouted 'Off!' to the postillion, and jumped in.
Morsfield was left to the shaking of a dusty coat, while the chariot
rolled its gentle course down the leafy lane into the high-road.
His friend had seized the horse's bridle-reins; and he remarked: 'I say,
Dolf, we don't prosper to-day.'
'He pays for it!' said Morsfield, foot in stirrup. 'You'll take him and
trounce him at the inn. I don't fight with servants. Better game. One
thing, Cumnock: the fellow's clever at the foils.'
'Foils to the devil! If I tackle the fellow, it won't be with the
buttons. But how has he pushed in?'
Morsfield reported 'the scandal!' in sharp headings.
'Turned her away. Won't have her enter his house--grandest woman in all
England! Sent his dog to guard. Think of it for an insult! It's insult
upon insult. I 've done my utmost to fire his marrow. I did myself a
good turn by following her up and entering that park with her. I shall
succeed; there 's a look of it. All I have--my life--is that woman's.
I never knew what this devil's torture was before I saw her.'
His friend was concerned for his veracity. 'Amy!'
'A common spotted snake. She caught me young, and she didn't carry me
off, as I mean to carry off this glory of her sex--she is: you've seen
her!--and free her, and devote every minute of the rest of my days to
her. I say I must win the woman if I stop at nothing, or I perish; and
if it 's a failure, exit 's my road. I 've watched every atom she
touched in a room, and would have heaped gold to have the chairs, tables,
cups, carpets, mine. I have two short letters written with her hand.
I 'd give two of my estates for two more. If I were a beggar, and kept
them, I should be rich. Relieve me of that dog, and I toss you a
thousand-pound note, and thank you from my soul, Cumnock. You know
what hangs on it. Spur, you dolt, or she'll be out of sight.'
They cantered upon application of the spur. Captain Cumnock was an
impecunious fearless rascal, therefore a parasite and a bully duellist;
a thick-built north-countryman; a burly ape of the ultra-elegant; hunter,
gamester, hard-drinker, man of pleasure. His known readiness to fight
was his trump-card at a period when the declining custom of the duel
taxed men's courage to brave the law and the Puritan in the interests of
a privileged and menaced aristocracy. An incident like the present was
the passion in the dice-box to Cumnock. Morsfield was of the order of
men who can be generous up to the pitch of their desires. Consequently,
the world accounted him open-handed and devoted when enamoured. Few men
liked him; he was a hero with some women. The women he trampled on; the
men he despised. To the lady of his choice he sincerely offered his
fortune and his life for the enjoyment of her favour. His ostentation
and his offensive daring combined the characteristics of the peacock and
the hawk. Always near upon madness, there were occasions when he could
eclipse the insane. He had a ringing renown in his class.
Chariot and horsemen arrived at the Roebuck Arms, at the centre of the
small town of Ashead, on the line from Steignton through Rowsley. The
pair of cavaliers dismounted and hustled Weyburn in assisting the ladies
The ladies entered the inn; they declined refection of any sort. They
had biscuits and sweetmeats, and looked forward to tea at a farther
stage. Captain Cumnock stooped to their verdict on themselves, with
marvel at the quantity of flesh they managed to put on their bones from
'By your courtesy, sir, a word with you in the inn yard, if you please,'
he said to Weyburn in the inn-porch.
Weyburn answered, 'Half a minute,' and was informed that it was exactly
the amount of time the captain could afford to wait.
Weyburn had seen the Steignton phaeton and coachman in the earl's light-
blue livery. It was at his orders, he heard. He told the coachman to
expect hire shortly, and he followed the captain, with a heavy trifle of
suspicion that some brew was at work. He said to Aminta in the passage--
'You have your settlement with the innkeeper. Don't, I beg, step into
the chariot till you see me.'
'Anything?' said she.
'Our posting horses will be harnessed soon, I hope. I burn to get away.'
Mrs. Pagnell paid the bill at the bar of the inn. Morsfield poured out
for the injured countess or no-countess a dram of the brandy of passion,
under the breath.
'Deny that you singled me once for your esteem. Hardest-hearted of the
women of earth and dearest! deny that you gave me reason to hope--and
now! I have ridden in your track all this way for the sight of you, as
you know, and you kill me with frost. Yes, I rejoice that we were seen
together. Look on me. I swear I perish for one look of kindness. You
have been shamefully used, madam.'
'It seems to me I am being so,' said Aminta, cutting herself loose from
the man of the close eyes that wavered as they shot the dart.
Her action was too decided for him to follow her up under the observation
of the inn windows and a staring street.
Mrs. Pagnell came out. She went boldly to Morsfield and they conferred.
He was led by her to the chariot, where she pointed to a small padded
slab of a seat back to the horses. Turning to the bar, he said:--
My friend will look to my horse. Both want watering and a bucketful.
There!'--he threw silver--'I have to protect the ladies.'
Aminta was at the chariot door talking to her aunt inside.
'But I say I have been insulted--is the word--more than enough by Lord
Ormont to-day!' Mrs. Pagnell exclaimed; 'and I won't, I positively refuse
to ride up to London with any servant of his. It's quite sufficient that
it's his servant. I'm not titled, but I 'in not quite dirt. Mr.
Morsfield kindly offers his protection, and I accept. He is company.'
Nodding and smirking at Morsfield's approach, she entreated Aminta to
step up and in, for the horses were coming out of the yard.
Aminta looked round. Weyburn was perceived; and Morsfield's features
cramped at thought of a hitch in the plot.
'Possession,' Mrs. Pagnell murmured significantly. She patted the seat.
Morsfield sprang to Weyburn's place.
That was witnessed by Aminta and Weyburn. She stepped to consult him.
He said to the earl's coachman--a young fellow with a bright eye for
'Drive as fast as you can pelt for Dornton. I'm doing my lord's
'Trust yourself to me, madam.' His hand stretched for Aminta to mount.
She took it without a word and climbed to the seat. A clatter of hoofs
rang out with the crack of the whip. They were away behind a pair of
steppers that could go the pace.
For promptitude, the lady, the gentleman, and the coachman were in such
unison as to make it a reasonable deduction that the flight had been
Never did any departure from the Roebuck leave so wide-mouthed a body of
spectators. Mrs. Pagnell's shrieks of 'Stop, oh! stop!' to the backs of
the coachman and Aminta were continued until they were far down the
street. She called to the innkeeper, called to the landlady and to
invisible constables for help. But her pangs were childish compared with
Morsfield's, who, with the rage of a conceited schemer tricked and the
fury of a lover beholding the rape of his beautiful, bellowed impotently
at Weyburn and the coachman out of hearing, 'Stop! you!' He was in the
state of men who believe that there is a virtue in imprecations, and he
shot loud oaths after them, shook his fist, cursed his friend Cumnock,
whose name he vociferated as a summons to him,--generally the baffled
plotter misconducted himself to an extreme degree, that might have
apprised Mrs. Pagnell of a more than legitimate disappointment on his
Pursuit was one of the immediate ideas which rush forward to look
back woefully on impediments and fret to fever over the tardiness of
operations. A glance at the thing of wrinkles receiving orders to buckle
at his horses and pursue convinced them of the hopelessness; and
Morsfield was pricked to intensest hatred of the woman by hearing the
dire exclamation, 'One night, and her character's gone!'
'Be quiet, ma'am, if you please, or nothing can be done,' he cried.
'I tell you, Mr. Morsfield--don't you see?--he has thrown them
together. It is Lord Ormont's wicked conspiracy to rid himself of her.
A secretary! He'll beat any one alive in plots. She can't show her face
in London after this, if you don't overtake her. And she might have seen
Lord Ormont's plot to ruin her. He tired of her, and was ashamed of her
inferior birth to his own, after the first year, except on the Continent,
where she had her rights. Me he never forgave for helping make him the
happy man he might have been in spite of his age. For she is lovely!
But it's worse for a lovely woman with a damaged reputation. And that 's
his cunning. How she could be so silly as to play into it! She can't
have demeaned herself to look on that secretary! I said from the first
he seemed as if thrown into her way for a purpose. But she has pride: my
niece Aminta has pride. She might well have listened to flatterers--she
had every temptation--if it hadn't been for her pride. It may save her
yet. However good-looking, she will remember her dignity--unless he's a
villain. Runnings away! drivings together! inns oh! the story over
London! I do believe she has a true friend in you, Mr. Morsfield; and I
say, as I have said before, the sight of a devoted admirer would have
brought any husband of more than sixty to his senses, if he hadn't hoped
a catastrophe and determined on it. Catch them we can't, unless she
repents and relents; and prayers for that are our only resource. Now,
start, man, do!'
The postillion had his foot in position to spring. Morsfield bawled
Cumnock's name, and bestrode his horse. Captain Cumnock emerged from the
inn-yard with a dubitative step, pressing a handkerchief to his nose,
blinking, and scrutinizing the persistent fresh stains on it.
Stable-boys were at the rear. These, ducking and springing, surcharged
and copious exponents of the play they had seen, related, for the benefit
of the town, how that the two gentlemen had exchanged words in the yard,
which were about beastly pistols, which the slim gentleman would have
none of; and then the big one trips up, like dancing, to the other one
and flicks him a soft clap on the check--quite friendly, you may say;
and before he can square to it, the slim one he steps his hind leg half a
foot back, and he drives a straight left like lightning off the shoulder
slick on to t' other one's nob, and over he rolls, like a cart with the
shafts up down a bank; and he' a been washing his 'chops' and threatening
bullets ever since.
The exact account of the captain's framework in the process of the fall
was graphically portrayed in our blunt and racy vernacular, which a
society nourished upon Norman-English and English-Latin banishes from
print, largely to its impoverishment, some think.
By the time the primary narrative of the encounter in the inn yard had
given ground for fancy and ornament to present it in yet more luscious
dress, Lord Ormont's phaeton was a good mile on the road. Morsfield and
Captain Cumnock--the latter inquisitive of the handkerchief pressed
occasionally at his nose--trotted on tired steeds along dusty wheel-
tracks. Mrs. Pagnell was the solitary of the chariot, having a horrid
couple of loaded pistols to intimidate her for her protection, and the
provoking back view of a regularly jogging mannikin under a big white hat
with blue riband, who played the part of Time in dragging her along, with
worse than no countenance for her anxieties.
News of the fugitives was obtained at the rampant Red Lion in Dudsworth,
nine miles on along the London road, to the extent that the Earl of
Ormont's phaeton, containing a lady and a gentleman, had stopped there
a minute to send back word to Steignton of their comfortable progress,
and expectations of crossing the borders into Hampshire before sunset.
Morsfield and Cumnock shrugged at the bumpkin artifice. They left their
line of route to be communicated to the chariot, and chose, with
practised acumen, that very course, which was the main road, and rewarded
them at the end of half an hour with sight of the Steignton phaeton.
But it was returning. A nearer view showed it empty of the couple.
Morsfield bade the coachman pull up, and he was readily obeyed. Answers
Although provincial acting is not of the high class which conceals the
art, this man's look beside him and behind him at vacant seats had
incontestable evidence in support of his declaration, that the lady and
gentleman had gone on by themselves: the phaeton was a box of flown
'Where did you say they got out, you dog?' said Cumnock.
The coachman stood up to spy a point below. 'Down there at the bottom of
the road, to the right, where there's a stile across the meadows, making
a short cut by way of a bridge over the river to Busley and North
Tothill, on the high-road to Hocklebourne. The lady and gentleman
thought they 'd walk for a bit of exercise the remains of the journey.'
'Can't prove the rascal's a liar,' Cumnock said to Morsfield, who rallied
him savagely on his lucky escape from another knock-down blow, and tossed
silver on the seat, and said--
'We 'll see if there is a stile.'
'You'll see the stile, sir,' rejoined the man, and winked at their backs.
Both cavaliers, being famished besides baffled, were in sour tempers,
expecting to see just the dead wooden stile, and see it as a grin at
them. Cumnock called on Jove to witness that they had been donkeys
enough to forget to ask the driver how far round on the road it was to
the other end of the cross-cut.
Morsfield, entirely objecting to asinine harness with him, mocked at his
invocation and intonation of the name of Jove.
Cumnock was thereupon stung to a keen recollection of the allusion to his
knock-down blow, and he retorted that there were some men whose wit was
Morsfield complimented him over the exhibition of a vastly superior and
more serviceable wit, in losing sight of his antagonist after one trial
Cumnock protested that the loss of time was caused by his friend's
dalliance with the Venus in the chariot.
Morsfield's gall seethed at a flying picture of Mrs. Pagnell, coupled
with the retarding reddened handkerchief business, and he recommended
Cumnock to pay court to the old woman, as the only chance he would have
of acquaintanceship with the mother of Love.
Upon that Cumnock confessed in humility to his not being wealthy.
Morsfield looked a willingness to do the deed he might have to pay for in
tenderer places than the pocket, and named the head as a seat of poverty
Cumnock then yawned a town fop's advice to a hustling street passenger to
apologize for his rudeness before it was too late. Whereat Morsfield,
certain that his parasitic thrasyleon apeing coxcomb would avoid
extremities, mimicked him execrably.
Now this was a second breach of the implied convention existing among the
exquisitely fine-bred silken-slender on the summits of our mundane
sphere, which demands of them all, that they respect one another's
affectations. It is commonly done, and so the costly people of a single
pattern contrive to push forth, flatteringly to themselves, luxuriant
shoots of individuality in their orchidean glass-house. A violation of
the rule is a really deadly personal attack. Captain Cumnock was
particularly sensitive regarding it, inasmuch as he knew himself not the
natural performer he strove to be, and a mimicry affected him as a
He burst out: 'Damned if I don't understand why you're hated by men and
Morsfield took a shock. 'Infernal hornet!' he muttered; for his
conquests had their secret history.
'May and his wife have a balance to pay will trip you yet, you 'll find.'
'Reserve your wrath, sir, for the man who stretched you on your back.'
The batteries of the two continued exchangeing redhot shots, with the
effect, that they had to call to mind they were looking at the stile.
A path across a buttercup meadow was beyond it. They were damped to
some coolness by the sight.
'Upon my word, the trick seems neat!' said Cumnock staring at the
'Whose trick?' he was asked sternly.
'Here or there 's not much matter; they 're off, unless they 're under a
An ache of jealousy and spite was driven through the lover, who groaned,
and presently said--
'I ride on. That old woman can follow. I don't want to hear her
gibberish. We've lost the game--there 's no reckoning the luck. If
there's a chance, it's this way. It smells a trick. He and she--by all
the devils! It has been done in my family--might have been done again.
Tell the men on the plain they can drive home. There's a hundred-pound
weight on your tongue for silence.'
Cumnock cried: 'But we needn't be parting, Dolf! Stick together. Bad
luck's not repeated every day. Keep heart for the good.'
'My heart's shattered, Cumnock. I say it's impossible she can love a
husband twice her age, who treats her--you 've seen. Contempt of that
By heaven! once in my power, I swear she would have been sacred to me.
But she would have been compelled to face the public and take my hand.
I swear she would have been congratulated on the end of her sufferings.
Worship!--that's what I feel. No woman ever alive had eyes in her head
like that lady's. I repeat her name ten times every night before I go to
sleep. If I had her hand, no, not one kiss would I press on it without
her sanction. I could be in love with her cruelty, if only I had her
near me. I 've lost her--by the Lord, I 've lost her!'
'Pro tem.,' said the captain. 'A plate of red beef and a glass of port
wine alters the view. Too much in the breast, too little in the belly,
capsizes lovers. Old story. Horses that ought to be having a mash
between their ribs make riders despond. Say, shall we back to the town
behind us, or on? Back's the safest, if the chase is up.'
Morsfield declared himself incapable of turning and meeting that chariot.
He sighed heavily. Cumnock offered to cheer him with a song of Captain
Chanter's famous collection, if he liked; but Morsfield gesticulated
abhorrence, and set out at a trot. Song in defeat was a hiss of derision
He had failed. Having failed, he for the first time perceived the
wildness of a plot that had previously appeared to him as one of the
Yorkshire Morsfields' moves to win an object. Traditionally they stopped
at nothing. There would have been a sunburst of notoriety in the capture
and carrying off of the beautiful Countess of Ormont.
She had eluded him during the downward journey to Steignton. He came on
her track at the village at the junction of the roads above Ashead, and
thence, confiding in the half-connivance or utter stupidity of the fair
one's duenna, despatched a mounted man-servant to his coachman and
footmen, stationed ten miles behind, with orders that they should drive
forthwith to the great plain, and be ready at a point there for two
succeeding days. That was the plot, promptly devised upon receipt of
Mrs. Pagnell's communication; for the wealthy man of pleasure was a
strategist fit to be a soldier, in dexterity not far from rivalling the
man by whom he had been outdone.
An ascetic on the road to success, he dedicated himself to a term of hard
drinking under a reverse; and the question addressed to the chief towns
in the sketch counties his head contained was, which one near would be
likely to supply the port wine for floating him through garlanding dreams
of possession most tastily to blest oblivion.
He was a lover, nevertheless, honest in his fashion, and meant not worse
than to pull his lady through a mire, and wash her with Morsfield soap,
and crown her, and worship. She was in his blood, about him, above him;
he had plunged into her image, as into deeps that broke away in
phosphorescent waves on all sides, reflecting every remembered, every
imagined, aspect of the adored beautiful woman piercing him to extinction
with that last look of her at the moment of flight.
Had he been just a trifle more sincere in the respect he professed for
his lady's duenna, he would have turned on the road to Dornton and a
better fortune. Mrs. Pagnell had now become the ridiculous Paggy of Mrs.
Lawrence Finchley and her circle for the hypocritical gentleman; and he
remarked to Captain Cumnock, when their mutual trot was established:
'Paggy enough for me for a month--good Lord! I can't stand another dose
of her by herself.'
'It's a bird that won't roast or boil or stew,' said the captain.
They were observed trotting along below by Lord Ormont's groom of the
stables on promotion, as he surveyed the country from the chalk-hill rise
and brought the phaeton to a stand, Jonathan Boon, a sharp lad, whose
comprehension was a little muddled by 'the rights of it' in this
adventure. He knew, however, that he did well to follow the directions
of one who was in his lordship's pay, and stretched out the fee with the
air of a shake of the hand, and had a look of the winning side, moreover.
A born countryman could see that.
Boon watched the pair of horsemen trotting to confusion, and clicked in
his cheek. The provincial of the period when coaches were beginning to
be threatened by talk of new-fangled rails was proud to boast of his
outwitting Londoners on material points; and Boon had numerous tales of
how it had been done, to have the laugh of fellows thinking themselves
such razors. They compensated him for the slavish abasement of his whole
neighbourhood under the hectoring of the grand new manufacture of wit in
London:--the inimitable Metropolitan PUN, which came down to the country
by four-in-hand, and stopped all other conversation wherever it was
reported, and would have the roar--there was no resisting it. Indeed,
to be able to see the thing smartly was an entry into community with the
elect of the district; and when the roaring ceased and the thing was
examined, astonishment at the cleverness of it, and the wonderful
shallowness of the seeming deep hole, and the unexhausted bang it had to
go off like a patent cracker, fetched it out for telling over again; and
up went the roar, and up it went at home and in stable-yards, and at the
net puffing of churchwardens on a summer's bench, or in a cricket-booth
after a feast, or round the old inn's taproom fine. The pun, the
wonderful bo-peep of double meanings darting out to surprise and smack
one another from behind words of the same sound, sometimes the same
spelling, overwhelmed the provincial mind with awe of London's occult and
Yet down yonder you may behold a pair of London gentlemen trotting along
on as fine a fool's errand as ever was undertaken by nincompoops bearing
a scaled letter, marked urgent, to a castle, and the request in it that
the steward would immediately upon perusal down with their you-know-what
and hoist them and birch them a jolly two dozen without parley.
Boon smacked his leg, and then drove ahead merrily.
For this had happened to his knowledge: the gentleman accompanying the
lady had refused to make anything of a halt at the Red Lion, and had said
he was sure there would be a small public-house at the outskirts of the
town, for there always was one; and he proved right, and the lady and he
had descended at the sign of the Jolly Cricketers, and Boon had driven on
for half an hour by order.
This, too, had happened, external to Boon's knowledge: the lady and the
gentleman had witnessed, through the small diamond window-panes of the
Jolly Cricketers' parlour, the passing-by of the two horsemen in pursuit
of them; and the gentleman had stopped the chariot coming on some fifteen
minutes later, but he did not do it at the instigation of the lady.
AT THE SIGN OF THE JOLLY CRICKETERS
The passing by of the pair of horsemen, who so little suspected the
treasure existing behind the small inn's narrow window did homage in
Aminta's mind to her protector's adroitness. Their eyes met without a
smile, though they perceived the grisly comic of the incident. Their
thoughts were on the chariot to follow.
Aminta had barely uttered a syllable since the start of the flight from
Ashead. She had rocked in a swing between sensation and imagination,
exultant, rich with the broad valley of the plain and the high green
waves of the downs at their giant's bound in the flow of curves and sunny
creases to the final fling-off of the dip on sky. Here was a twisted
hawthorn carved clean to the way of the wind; a sheltered clump of
chestnuts holding their blossoms up, as with a thousand cresset-clasping
hands; here were grasses that nodded swept from green to grey; flowers
yellow, white, and blue, significant of a marvellous unknown through the
gates of colour; and gorse-covers giving out the bird, squares of young
wheat, a single fallow threaded by a hare, and cottage gardens, shadowy
garths, wayside flint-heap, woods of the mounds and the dells, fluttering
leaves, clouds: all were swallowed, all were the one unworried
significance. Scenery flew, shifted, returned; again the line of the
downs raced and the hollows reposed simultaneously. They were the same
in change to an eye grown older; they promised, as at the first,
happiness for recklessness. The whole woman was urged to delirious
recklessness in happiness, and she drank the flying scenery as an
indication, a likeness, an encouragement.
When her wild music of the blood had fallen to stillness with the stopped
wheels, she was in the musky, small, low room of the diamond window-
panes, at her companion's disposal for what he might deem the best: he
was her fate. But the more she leaned on a man of self-control, the more
she admired; and an admiration that may not speak itself to the object
present drops inward, stirs the founts; and if these are repressed, the
tenderness which is not allowed to weep will drown self-pity, hardening
the woman to summon scruples in relation to her unworthiness. He might
choose to forget, but the more she admired, the less could her feminine
conscience permit of an utter or of any forgetfulness that she was not
the girl Browny, whom he once loved--perhaps loved now, under some
illusion of his old passion for her--does love now, ill-omened as he is
in that! She read him by her startled reading of her own heart, and she
constrained her will to keep from doing, saying, looking aught that would
burden without gracing his fortunes. For, as she felt, a look, a word, a
touch would do the mischief; she had no resistance behind her cold face,
only the physical scruple, which would become the moral unworthiness if
in any way she induced him to break his guard and blow hers to shreds.
An honourable conscience before the world has not the same certificate in
love's pure realm. They are different kingdoms. A girl may be of both;
a married woman, peering outside the narrow circle of her wedding-ring,
should let her eyelids fall and the unseen fires consume her.
Their common thought was now, Will the chariot follow?
What will he do if it comes? was an unformed question with Aminta.
He had formed and not answered it, holding himself, sincerely at the
moment, bound to her wishes. Near the end of Ashead main street she had
turned to him in her seat beside the driver, and conveyed silently, with
the dental play of her tongue and pouted lips, 'No title.'
Upon that sign, waxen to those lips, he had said to the driver, 'You took
your orders from Lady Charlotte?
And the reply, 'Her ladyship directed me sir, exonerated Lord Ormont so