Part 2 out of 6
a dentist's, and the clear, cold voice that greeted him far steadier
than his own. It is a choice of evils, after all, this favourite game
of cross-purposes for two. To care more than the adversary entails
worry and vexation; to care less makes a burden of it, and a bore.
"Thank you so much for coming, Miss Bruce--Maud," said Tom
passionately. "You never fail, and yet I always dread, somehow, that I
shall be disappointed."
"I keep my word, Mr. Ryfe," answered the young lady, with perfect
self-possession; "and I am quite as anxious as you can be, I assure
you. I want so to know how we are getting on."
He showed less discouragement than might have been expected. Perhaps
he was used to the _sang-froid_, perhaps he rather liked it, believing
it, in his ignorance, a distinctive mark of class, not knowing--how
should he?--that, once excited, these thoroughbred ones are, of all
racers, the least amenable to restraint.
"I have bad news," he said tenderly. "Miss Bruce, I hardly like to
tell you that I fear we cannot make our case enough to come into
court. I took the opinion of the first man we have. I am sorry to
say he gives it against us. I am not selfish," he added, with real
emotion, "and I am sorry indeed, for your sake, dearest Miss Bruce."
He meant to have called her "Maud"; but the beautiful lips tightened,
and the delicate eyebrows came down very straight and stern over the
deep eyes in which he had learned to read his fate. He would wait for
a better opportunity, he thought, of using the dear, familiar name.
She took small notice of his trouble.
"Has there been no mismanagement?" she asked, almost angrily; "no
papers lost? no foul play? Have you done your best?"
"I have, indeed," he answered meekly. "After all, is it not for my own
interest as much as yours? Are they not henceforth to be in common?"
She ignored the question altogether; she seemed to be thinking of
something else. While they paced up and down a walk screened from the
Square windows by trees and shrubs already clothed in the tender,
quivering foliage of spring, she kept silence for several seconds,
looking straight before her with a sterner expression than he could
yet remember to have seen on the face he adored. Presently she spoke
in a hard, determined voice--
"I _am_ disappointed. Yes, Mr. Ryfe, I don't mind owning I am bitterly
and grievously disappointed. There, I suppose it's not your fault, so
you needn't look black about it; and I dare say you did the best
you could afford at the price. Well, I don't want to hurt your
feelings--your _very_ best, then. And yet it seems very odd--you were
so confident at first. Of course if the thing's really gone, and
there's no chance left, it's folly to think about it. But what a
future to lose--what a future to lose! Mr. Ryfe, I can't stay with
Aunt Agatha--I can't and I won't! How she could ever find anybody to
marry her! Mr. Ryfe, speak to me. What had I better do?"
Tom would have given a round sum of money at that moment to recall one
of the many imaginary conversations held with Miss Bruce, in which
he had exhausted poetry, sentiment, and forensic ardour for the
successful pleading of his suit. Now he could find nothing better to
say than that "he had hoped she was comfortable with Mrs. Stanmore;
and anybody who didn't make Miss Bruce comfortable must be brutal
and wicked. But--but--if it was really so--and she could be
persuaded--why, Miss Bruce must long have known----" And here
the voice of Tom, the plausible, the prudent, the self-reliant,
degenerated to a husky whisper, because he felt that his very heart
was mounting to his throat.
Miss Bruce cut him exceedingly short.
"You remember our bargain," she said bitterly. "If you don't, I can
remind you of it. Listen, Mr. Ryfe; I am not going to cheat you out of
your dues. You were to win back my fortune from the next of kin--this
cousin who seems to have law on his side. You charged yourself with
the trouble--that counts for nothing, it is in the way of your
business--with the costs--the expenses--I don't know what you call
them--these were to be paid out of the estate. It was all plain
sailing, if we had conquered; and there was an alternative in the
event of failure. I accepted it. But I tell you, not till every
stratagem has been tried, every stone turned, every resource
exhausted, do I acknowledge the defeat, nor--I speak plain English,
Mr. Ryfe--do I pay the penalty."
He turned very pale. "You did not use this tone when we walked
together through the snow in the avenue at Ecclesfield. You promised
of your own accord, you know you did," said poor Tom, trembling all
over; "and I have got your promise in writing locked up in a tin box
She laughed a hard, shrill laugh, not without some real humour in it,
at his obvious distress.
"Keep it safe in your tin box," said she, "and don't be afraid, when
the time comes, that I shall throw you over. Ah! what an odd thing
money is; and how it seems able to do everything!" She was looking
miles away now, totally unconscious of her companion's presence.
"To me this five or six thousand a year represents hope, enjoyment,
position--all that makes life worth having. More, to lose it is to
lose my freedom, to lose all that makes life endurable!"
"And you _have_ lost it," observed Tom doggedly. He was very brave,
very high-minded, very chivalrous in any way; but he possessed the
truly British quality of tenacity, and did not mean to be shaken off
by any feminine vagaries where once he had taken hold.
"Et je payerais de ma personne," replied Miss Bruce scornfully. "I
don't suppose you know any French. You must go now, Mr. Ryfe; my
maid's coming back for me from the bonnet-shop. I can't be trusted,
you see, over fifty yards of pavement and a crossing by myself. The
maid is walking with me now behind these lilac-bushes, you know. Her
name is Ryfe. She is very cross and silent; she wears a well-made
coat, shiny boots, rather a good hat, and carries a nosegay as big
as a chimney-sweep's--you can give it me if you like--I dare say you
bought it on purpose."
How she could twist and turn him at will! three or four playful words
like these, precious all the more that her general manner was so
haughty and reserved, caused Tom to forget her pride, her whims, her
various caprices, her too palpable indifference to himself. He offered
the flowers with humble gratitude, ignoring resolutely the presumption
that she would probably throw them away before she reached her own
"Good-bye, Miss Bruce," said he, bowing reverently over the slim hand
she vouchsafed him, and "Good-bye," echoed the young lady, adding,
with another of those hard little laughs that jarred so on Tom's
nerves, "Come with better news next time, and don't give in while
there's a chance left; depend upon it the money's better worth having
than the client. By the bye, I sent you a card for Lady Goldthred's
this afternoon--only a stupid breakfast--did you forget it?"
"Are you going?" returned Tom, with the clouds clearing from his brow.
"Perhaps we shall, if it's fine," was the reply. "And now I can't wait
any longer. Don't forget what I told you, and do the best you can."
So Tom Ryfe departed from his garden of Eden with sundry misgivings
not entirely new to him, that the fruit he took such pains to ripen
for his own gathering might but be gaudy wax-work after all, or
painted stone, perhaps, cold, smooth, and beautiful, against which he
should rasp his teeth in vain.
The well-tutored Puckers, dressed in faded splendour, and holding a
brown-paper parcel in her hand, was waiting for her young lady at the
corner of the Square.
While thus engaged she witnessed a bargain, of an unusual nature, made
apparently under extraordinary pressure of circumstances. A ragged
boy, established at the crossing, who had indeed rendered himself
conspicuous by his endeavours to ferry Puckers over dry-shod, was
accosted by a shabby-genteel and remarkably good-looking man in the
"On this minnit, off at six, Buster; two bob an' a bender, and a three
of eye-water, in?"
"Done for another joey," replied Buster, with the premature acuteness
of youth foraging for itself in the streets of London.
"Done," repeated the man, pulling a handful of silver from his pocket,
and assuming the broom at once to enter on his professional labours,
ere Puckers had recovered from her astonishment, or Buster could
vanish round the corner in the direction of a neighbouring mews.
Though plying his instrument diligently, the man kept a sharp eye on
the Square gardens. When Tom Ryfe emerged through the heavy iron gate
he whispered a deep and horrible curse, but his dark eyes shone and
his whole face beamed into a ruffianly kind of beauty, when after a
discreet pause, Miss Bruce followed the young lawyer through the same
portal. Then the man went to work with his broom harder than ever. Not
Sir Walter Raleigh spreading his cloak at the feet of his sovereign
mistress lest they should take a speck of mud could have shown more
loyalty, more devotion, than did Gentleman Jim sweeping for bare life,
as Miss Bruce and her maid approached the crossing he had hired for
Maud recognised him at a glance. Not easily startled or surprised, she
bade Puckers walk on, while she took a half-crown from her purse and
put it in the sweeper's hand.
"At least it is an honest trade," said she, looking him fixedly in the
The man turned pale while he received her bounty.
"It's not that, miss," he stammered. "It's not that--I only wanted to
get a look of ye. I only wanted just to hear the turn of your voice
again. No offence, miss, I'll go away now. O! can't ye give a chap a
job? It's my heart's blood as I'd shed for you, free--and never ask no
more nor a kind word in return!"
She looked him over from head to foot once more and passed on. In that
look there was neither surprise, nor indignation, nor scorn, only a
quaint and somewhat amused curiosity, yet this thief and associate of
thieves quivered, as if it had been a sun-stroke. When she passed out
of sight he bit the half-crown till it bent, and hid it away in his
breast. "I'll never part with ye," said he, "never;" unmindful of poor
Dorothea, going about her work tearful and forlorn. Gentleman Jim,
uneducated, besotted, half-brutalised as he was, had yet drunk from
the cup that poisons equally the basest and noblest of our kind. A
well-dressed, good-looking young man, walking on the other side of
the Square, did not fail to witness Tom Ryfe's farewell and Maud's
interview with the crossing-sweeper. He too looked strangely
disturbed, pacing up and down an adjoining street, more than once,
before he could make up his mind to ring a well-known bell. Verily
Miss Bruce seemed to be one of those ladies whose destiny it is to
puzzle, worry, and interest every man with whom they come in contact.
She had certainly succeeded in puzzling Dick Stanmore and already
began to interest him. The worry would surely follow in due time.
Dick was a fine subject for the scalpel--good-humoured, generous,
single-hearted, with faultless digestive powers, teeth, and colour to
correspond, a strong tendency to active exercise, and such a faculty
of enjoyment as, except in the highest order of intellects, seldom
lasts a man over thirty.
Like many of his kind, he _said_ he hated London, but lived there very
contentedly from April to July, nevertheless. He was fresh, just at
present, from a good scenting season in Leicestershire, followed by a
sojourn on the Tweed, in which classical river he had improved many
shining hours, wading waist-deep under a twenty-foot rod, any number
of yards of line, and a fly of various hues, as gaudy, and but little
smaller than a cock pheasant. Now he had been a week in town, during
which period he met Miss Bruce at least once every day. This constant
intercourse is to be explained in a few words.
Mrs. Stanmore, the Aunt Agatha with whom Maud expressed herself so
unwilling to reside, was a sister of the late Mr. Bruce. She had
married a widower with one son, that widower being old Mr. Stanmore,
defunct, that son being Dick. Mrs. Stanmore, in the enjoyment of
a large jointure (which rather impoverished her step-son), though
arbitrary and unpleasant, was a woman of generous instincts, so
offered Maud a home the moment she learned her niece's double
bereavement; which home, for many reasons, heiress or no heiress, Miss
Bruce felt constrained to accept. Thus it came about that she found
herself walking with Tom Ryfe _en cachette_ in the Square gardens;
and, leaving them, recognised the gentleman whom she was to meet at
luncheon in ten minutes, on whose intellect at least, if not his
heart, she felt pretty sure she had already made an impression.
"I won't show her up," said Dick to his neatest boots, while he
scraped them at his mother's door, "but I _should_ like to know who
that bumptious-looking chap is, and what the h----ll she could have to
say to him in the Square gardens all the same."
Mr. Stanmore's language at the luncheon-table, it is needless to
say, was far less emphatic than that which relieved his feelings in
soliloquy; nor was he to-day quite so talkative as usual. His mother
thought him silent (he always called her "mother," and, to do her
justice, she could not have loved her own son better, nor scolded
him oftener, had she possessed one); Miss Bruce voted him stupid and
sulky. She told him so.
"A merrythought, if you please, and no bread-sauce," said the young
lady, in her calm, imperious manner. "Don't forget I hate bread-sauce,
if you mean to come here often to luncheon; and do _say_ something.
Aunt Agatha can't, no more can I. Recollect we've got a heavy
afternoon before us."
Aunt Agatha always contradicted. "Not heavier than any other
breakfast, Maud," said she severely. "You didn't think that tea at the
Tower heavy last week, nor the ghosts in the mess-room of the Blues.
Lady Goldthred's an old friend of mine, and it was very kind of her to
ask us. Besides, Dick's coming down in the barouche."
Maud's face brightened, and be sure, Dick saw it brighten.
"That accounts for it," said she, with the rare smile in her eyes;
"and he thinks we sha'n't let him smoke, so he sulks beforehand, grim,
grave, and silent as a ghost. Mr. Stanmore, cheer up. You may smoke
the whole way down. _I'll_ give you leave."
"Nonsense, my dear," observed Aunt Agatha sternly. "He don't want
to do anything of the kind. What have you been about, Maud, all
the morning? I looked for you everywhere to help me with the
"Puckers and I took a 'constitutional,'" answered Miss Bruce
unblushingly. "We wanted to do some shopping." But her dark eyes stole
towards Dick, and, although his never met them, she felt satisfied he
had witnessed her interview with Tom Ryfe in the Square gardens.
"I saw you both coming in, Miss Bruce," said Dick, breaking the
awkward pause which succeeded Maud's mis-statement. "I think Puckers
wears twice as smart a bonnet as yours. I hope you are not offended."
Again that smile from the dark eyes. Dick felt, and perhaps she meant
him to feel, that he had lost nothing in her good opinion by ignoring
even to herself that which she wished to keep unknown.
"I think you've very little taste in bonnets, whatever you may have in
faces," answered the young lady; "and I think I shall go and put one
on now that will make you eat your words humbly when I appear in it on
the lawn at Lady Goldthred's."
"I have no doubt there won't be a dry eye in the place," answered
Dick, looking after her, as she left the room, with undisguised
admiration in his honest face--with something warmer and sweeter than
admiration creeping and gathering about his heart.
So they all went down together in the barouche, Dick sitting with his
back to the horses, and gazing his fill on the young beauty opposite,
looking so cool and fair in her fresh summer draperies, so thoroughly
in keeping with the light and sparkle of everything around--the
brilliant sunshine, the spring foliage, the varying scenery, even to
the varnish and glitter of the well-appointed carriage, and the plated
harness on the horses.
Aunt Agatha conversed but sparingly. She was occupied with the phantom
pages of her banker's book; with the shortcomings of a new housemaid;
not a little with the vague sketch of a dress, to be worn at certain
approaching gaieties, which should embody the majesty of the chaperon
without entirely resigning all pretensions to youth. But for one
remark, "that the coachman was driving very badly," I think she
travelled in stately silence as far as Kew. Not so the other
occupants of the barouche. Maud, desirous of forgetting much that was
distasteful to her in the events of the morning, and indeed, in the
course of her daily life, resolved to accept the tangible advantages
of the present, nor scrupled to show that she enjoyed fresh air, fine
weather, and pleasant company. Dick, stimulated by her presence,
and never disinclined to gaiety of spirit, exerted himself to be
agreeable, pouring forth a continuous stream of that pleasant nonsense
which is the only style of conversation endurable in the process of
riding, driving, or other jerking means of locomotion.
It is only when his suit has prospered that a man feels utterly
idiotic and moonstruck in the presence of the woman he adores. Why,
when life is scarce endurable but at her side, he should become a bore
in her presence, is only another intricacy in the many puzzles that
constitute the labyrinth of love. So long as he flutters unsinged
about its flame, the moth is all the happier for the warmth of the
candle, all the livelier for the inspiration of its rays. Dick
Stanmore, turning into the Kensington Road, was the insect basking in
those bright, alluring beams; but Dick Stanmore on the farther side of
Kew felt more like the same insect when its wings have been already
shrivelled and its powers of flight destroyed in the temerity of its
Still it was pleasant, very pleasant. She looked so beautiful, she
smiled so kindly, always with her eyes, sometimes with the perfect,
high-bred mouth; she entered so gaily into his gossip, his fancies,
his jokes, allowing him to hold her parasol and arrange her shawls
with such sweetness and good-humour, that Dick felt quite sorry to
reach the Portugal laurels and trim lawns of their destination, when
the drive was over from which he had derived this new and unforeseen
gratification. Something warned him that, in accordance with that rule
of compensation which governs all terrestrial matters, these delights
were too keen to last, and there must surely be annoyance and vexation
in store to complete the afternoon.
His first twinge originated in the marked admiration called forth by
Miss Bruce's appearance at the very outset. She had scarcely made
her salaam to Lady Goldthred, and passed on through billiard-room,
library, and verandah, to the two dwarfed larches and half-acre of
mown grass which constitute the wilderness of a suburban villa, ere
Dick felt conscious that his could be no monopoly of adoration. Free
trade was at once declared by glances, whispers and inquiries from a
succession of well-dressed young gentlemen, wise doubtless in their
own conceit, yet not wanting in that worldly temerity which impels
fools to rush in where angels fear to tread, and gives the former
class of beings, in their dealings with that sex which is compounded
of both, an immeasurable advantage over the latter.
Miss Bruce had not traversed the archery-ground twenty-five feet, from
target to target, on her way to the refreshment-tent, ere half-a-dozen
of the household troops, a bachelor baronet, and the richest young
commoner of his year were presented by her host, at their own earnest
request. Dick's high spirits went down like the froth in a glass of
soda-water, and he fell back discouraged, to exchange civilities with
That excellent woman, dressed, painted, and wound-up for the occasion,
was volubly delighted with everybody; and being by no means sure of
Dick's identity, dashed the more cordiality into her manner, while
careful not to commit herself by venturing on his name.
"_So_ good of you to come," she fired it at him as she had fired it at
fifty others, "all this distance from town, and such a hot day, to see
my poor little place. But isn't it pretty now? And are we not lucky in
the weather? And weren't you smothered in dust coming down? And you've
brought _the_ beauty with you too. I declare Sir Moses is positively
smitten. I'm getting quite jealous. Just look at him now. But he's not
the only one, that's a comfort."
Dick _did_ look, wondering vaguely why the sunshine should have faded
all at once. Sir Moses, a little bald personage, in a good-humoured
fuss, whom no amount of inexperience could have taken for anything but
the "man of the house," was paying the utmost attention to Miss Bruce,
bringing her tea, placing a camp-stool for her that she might see the
archery, and rendering her generally those hospitable services which
it had been his lot to waste on many less attractive objects during
that long sunny afternoon.
"Sir Moses is always so kind," answered Dick vaguely, "and nobody's
breakfasts are so pleasant as yours, Lady Goldthred."
"I'm _too_ glad you think so," answered his hostess, who, like
a good-hearted woman as she was, took enormous pains with these
festivities, congratulating herself, when she washed off her rouge,
and doffed her robes of ceremony at night, that she had got through
the great penance of her year. "You're always so good-natured. But I
_do_ think men like to come here. The country air, you know, and
the scenery, and plenty of pretty people. Now, there's Lord
Bearwarden--look, he's talking to Miss Bruce, under the cedar--he's
actually driven over from Windsor, and though he's a way of being
so fine and _blase_ and all that, he don't look much bored at this
moment, does he? Twenty thousand a year, they say, and been everywhere
and done everything. Now, I fancy, he wants to marry, for he's much
older, you know, than he looks. To hear him talk, you'd think he was
a hundred, and broken-hearted into the bargain. For my part, I've no
patience with a melancholy man; but then I'm not a young lady. You
know him, though, of course?"
Dick's reply, if he made one, was drowned in a burst of brass music
that deafened people at intervals throughout the afternoon, and Lady
Goldthred's attention wandered to fresh arrivals, for whom, with fresh
smiles and untiring energy, she elaborated many more remarks of a
Dick Stanmore _did_ know Lord Bearwarden, as every man about London
knows every other man leading the same profitable life. There were
many whom he would have preferred as rivals; but thinking he detected
signs of weariness on Maud's face (it had already come to this, that
he studied her countenance, and winced to see it smile on any one
else), he crossed the lawn, that he might fill the place by her side,
to which he considered himself as well entitled as another.
His progress took some little time, what, with bowing to one lady,
treading on the dress of another, and parrying the attack of a third
who wanted him to give her daughter a cup of tea; so that by the time
Dick reached her Lord Bearwarden had left Miss Bruce to the attentions
of another guest, more smart than gentlemanlike, in whose appearance
there was something indefinably out of keeping with the rest. Dick
started. It was the man with whom he had seen Maud walking before
luncheon in the Square.
People were pairing for a dance on the lawn, and Mr. Stanmore, wedged
in by blocks of beauty and mountains of muslin, could neither advance
nor retreat. It was no fault of his that he overheard Miss Bruce's
conversation with the stranger.
"_Will_ you dance with me?" said the latter, in a whisper of
suppressed anger, rather than the tone of loving entreaty with which
it is customary to urge this pleasant request.
"Impossible!" answered Maud energetically. "I'm engaged to Lord
Bearwarden--it's the Lancers, and he's only gone to make up the set."
The man ground his teeth and knit his brows.
"You seem to forget," he muttered--"you carry it off with too high a
hand. I have a right to bid you dance with me. I have a right, if I
chose, to order you down to the river there and row you back to Putney
with the tide; and I _will_, I swear, if you provoke me too far."
She seemed to keep her temper with an effort.
"_Do_ be patient," she whispered, glancing round at the bystanders.
"Surely you can trust me. Hush! here comes Lord Bearwarden."
And taking that nobleman's arm, she walked off with a mournful
pleading look at her late companion, which poor Dick Stanmore would
have given worlds to have seen directed to himself.
There was no more pleasure for him now during the rest of the
entertainment. He did indeed obtain a momentary distraction from his
resolution to ascertain the name of the person who had so spoilt his
afternoon. It helped him very little to be told the gentleman was "a
Mr. Ryfe." Nobody seemed to know any more, and even this information
he extracted with difficulty from Lady Goldthred, who added, in a tone
"Why, you brought him, didn't you?"
Dick was mystified--worse, he was unhappy. For a few minutes he
wandered about behind the dancers, watching Maud and her partner as
they threaded the intricacies of those exceedingly puzzling evolutions
which constitute the Lancer quadrilles. Lord Bearwarden was obviously
delighted with Maud, and that young lady seemed by no means
unconscious or careless of her partner's approval. I do not myself
consider the measure they were engaged in threading as particularly
conducive to the interchange of sentiment. If my memory serves me
right, this complicated dance demands as close an attention as whist,
and affords almost as few opportunities of communicating with a
partner. Nevertheless, there is a language of the eyes, as of the
lips; and it was not Lord Bearwarden's fault if his looks were
misunderstood by their object. All this Dick saw, and seeing, grew
more and more disgusted with life in general, with Lady Goldthred's
breakfast in particular. When the dance ended, and Dick
Stanmore--hovering about his flame, like the poor moth to which I have
compared him, once singed and eager to be singed again--was hesitating
as to whether he, too, should not go boldly in and try his chance,
behold Mr. Ryfe, with an offensive air of appropriation, walks off
with Miss Bruce arm-in-arm, towards the sequestered path that leads
to the garden-gate, that leads to the shady lane, that leads to the
It was all labour and sorrow now. People who called this sort of thing
amusement, thought Dick, would go to purgatory for pastime, and a
stage farther for diversion. When he broke poor Redwing's back three
fields from home in the Melton steeplechase he was grieved, annoyed,
distressed. When he lost that eleven-pounder in the shallows below
Melrose, because "Aundry," his Scottish henchman, was too drunk to
keep his legs in a running stream, he was angry, vexed, disgusted; but
never before, in his whole life of amusement and adventure, had he
experienced anything like the combination of uncomfortable feelings
that oppressed him now. He was ashamed of his own weakness, too, all
the time, which only made matters worse.
"Hang it!" thought Dick, "I don't see why I should punish myself by
staying here any longer. I'll tell my mother I must be back in London
to dinner, make my bow, jump into a boat, and scull down to Chelsea.
So I will. The scull will do me good, and if--if she _has_ gone on the
water with that snob, why I shall know the worst. What a strange, odd
girl she is! And O, how I wish she wasn't!"
But it takes time to find a lady, even of Mrs. Stanmore's presence,
amongst five hundred of her kind jostled up in half-an-acre of ground;
neither will the present code of good manners, liberal as it is,
bear a guest out in walking up to his hostess _a bout portant_, to
interrupt her in an interesting conversation, by bidding her a solemn
good-bye hours before anybody else has begun to move. Twenty minutes
at least must have elapsed ere Dick found himself in a dainty
outrigger with a long pair of sculls, fairly launched on the bosom of
the Thames--more than time for the corsair, if corsair he should be,
to have sailed far out of sight with false, consenting Maud in the
direction of London Bridge.
Dick was no mean waterman. The exercise of a favourite art, combining
skill with muscular effort, is conducive to peace of mind. A swim, a
row, a gallop over a country, a fencing-bout or a rattling set-to with
"the gloves" bring a man to his senses more effectually than whole
hours of quiescent reflection. Ere the perspiration stood on Dick
Stanmore's brow, he suspected he had been hasty and unjust; by the
time he caught his second wind, and had got fairly into swing, he was
in charity with all the world, reflecting, not without toleration and
self-excuse, that he had been an ass.
So he sculled on, like a jolly young waterman, making capital way with
the tide, and calculating that if the fugitive pair should have done
anything so improbable as to take the water in company, he must have
overhauled, or at least sighted them, ere now.
His spirits rose. He wondered why he should have been so desponding an
hour ago. He had made excuses for himself--he began to make them for
Maud, nay, he was fast returning to his allegiance, the allegiance of
a day, thrown off in five minutes, when he sustained another damper,
such as the total reversal of his outrigger and his own immersion,
head uppermost, in the Thames, could not have surpassed.
At a bend of the river near Putney he came suddenly on one of those
lovely little retreats which fringe its banks--a red-brick house, a
pretty flower-garden, a trim lawn, shaded by weeping-willows, kissing
the water's edge. On that lawn, under those weeping-willows, he
descried the graceful, pliant figure, the raven hair, the imperious
gestures that had made such havoc with his heart, and muttering the
dear name, never before coupled with a curse, he knew for the first
time, by the pain, how fondly he already loved this wild, heedless,
heartless girl, who had come to live in his mother's house. Swinging
steadily along in mid-stream, he must have been too far off, he
thought, for her to recognise his features; yet why should she have
taken refuge in the house with such haste, at an open window, through
which a pair of legs clad in trousers denoted the presence of some
male companion? For a moment he turned sick and faint, as he resigned
himself to the torturing truth. This Mr. Ryfe, then, had been as good
as his word, and she, his own proud, refined, beautiful idol, had
committed the enormity of accompanying that imperious admirer down
here. What could be the secret of such a man's influence over such a
girl? Whatever it was, she must be Dick's idol no longer. And he would
have loved her so dearly!--so dearly!
There were tears in the eyes of this jolly young waterman as he pulled
on. These things hurt, you see, while the heart is fresh and honest,
and has been hitherto untouched. Those should expect rubbers who play
at bowls; if people pull their own chestnuts out of the fire they
must compound for burnt fingers; and when you wager a living, loving,
trustful heart against an organ of wax, gutta-percha, or Aberdeen
granite, don't be surprised if you get the worst of the game all
He had quite given her up by the time he arrived at Chelsea, and
had settled in his own mind that henceforward there must be no more
sentiment, no more sunshine, no more romance. He had dreamt his dream.
Well for him it was so soon over. _Semel insanivimus omnes_. Fellows
had all been fools once, but no woman should ever make a fool of him
again! No woman ever _could_. He should never see another like _her_!
Perhaps this was the reason he walked half-a-mile out of his homeward
way, through Belgrave Square, to haunt the street in which she lived,
looking wistfully into those gardens whence he had seen her emerge
that very day with her mysterious companion--gazing with plaintive
interest on the bell-handle and door-scraper of his mother's
house--vaguely pondering how he could ever bear to enter that house
again--and going through the whole series of those imaginary throes,
which are indeed real sufferings with people who have been foolish
enough to exchange the dignity and reality of existence for a dream.
What he expected I am at a loss to explain; but although, while pacing
up and down the street, he vowed every turn should be the last, he
had completed his nineteenth, and was on the eve of commencing his
twentieth, when Mrs. Stanmore's carriage rolled up to the door,
stopping with a jerk, to discharge itself of that lady and Maud,
looking cool, fresh, and unrumpled as when they started. The revulsion
of feeling was almost too much for Dick. By instinct, rather than with
intention, he came forward to help them out, so confused in his ideas
that he failed to remark how entirely his rapid retreat from the
breakfast had been overlooked. Mrs. Stanmore seemed never to have
missed him. Maud greeted him with a merry laugh, denoting more of
good-humour and satisfaction than should have been compatible with
keen interest in his movements or justifiable pique at his desertion.
"Why, here you are!" she exclaimed gaily. "Actually home before us,
like a dog that one takes out walking to try and lose. Poor thing! did
it run all the way under the carriage with its tongue out? and wasn't
it choked with dust, and isn't it tired and thirsty? and won't it come
in and have some tea?"
What could Dick say or do? He followed her up-stairs to the back
drawing-room, meek and submissive as the dog to which she had likened
him, waiting for her there with a dry mouth and a beating heart while
she went to "take off her things"; and when she reappeared smiling and
beautiful, able only to propound the following ridiculous question
with a gasp--
"Didn't you go on the water then, after all?"
"On the water!" she repeated. "Not I. Nothing half so pleasant,
I assure you. I wish we had! for anything so slow as the whole
performance on dry land, I never yet experienced. I danced five
dances, none of them nice ones--I hate dancing on turf--and I had a
warm-water ice and some jelly that tasted of bees'-wax. What became
of you? We couldn't find you anywhere to get the carriage. However, I
asked Aunt Agatha to come away directly somebody made a move, because
I was cross and tired and bored with the whole business. I think
she liked it much better than I did; but here she is to answer for
Dick had no dinner that day, yet what a pleasant cigar it was he
smoked as he coasted Belgrave Square once more in the sweet spring
evening under the gas-lamps! He had been very unhappy in the
afternoon, but that was all over now. Anxiety, suspicion, jealousy,
and the worst ingredient of the latter, a sense of humiliation, had
made wild work with his spirits, his temper, and indeed his appetite;
yet twenty minutes in a dusky back drawing-room, a cup of weak tea
and a slice of inferior bread-and-butter, were enough to restore
self-respect, peace of mind, and vigour of digestion. He could not
recall one word that bore an unusually favourable meaning, one look
that might not have been directed to a brother or an intimate friend,
and still he felt buoyed up with hope, restored to happiness. The
reaction had come on, and he was more in love with her than ever.
It might have spared Mr. Stanmore a deal of unnecessary discomfort had
the owner of those legs which he saw through the open window at Putney
thought fit to show the rest of his person to voyagers on the river.
Dick would then have recognised an old college friend, would have
landed to greet him with the old college heartiness, and in the
natural course of events would have satisfied himself that his
suspicions of Maud were unfounded and absurd.
Simon Perkins is not a romantic name, nor did the exterior of Simon
Perkins, as seen either within or without the Putney cottage,
correspond with that which fiction assigns to a hero of romance. His
frame was small and slight, his complexion pale, his hair weak and
thin, his manner diffident, awkward, almost ungainly, but that its
thorough courtesy and good-nature were so obvious and unaffected. In
general society people passed him over as a shy, harmless, unmeaning
little man; but those who really knew him affirmed that his courage
was not to be damped, nor his nerve shaken, by extremity of
danger--that he was always ready with succour for the needy, with
sympathy for the sorrowful. In short, as they tersely put it, that
"his heart was in the right place."
For half-a-dozen terms at Oxford he and Dick had been inseparable.
Their intimacy, none the less close for dissimilarity of tastes and
pursuits, since Perkins was a reading man, and Dick a "fast" one, had
been still more firmly soldered by a long vacation spent together in
Norway, and a "thrilling tableau," as Dick called it, to which their
expedition gave rise. Had Simon Perkins's heart been no stouter than
his slender person, his companion must have died a damp death, and
this story would never have been told.
The young men were in one of the most picturesque parts of that wild
and beautiful country, created, as it would seem, for the express
gratification of the fisherman and the landscape painter; Simon
Perkins, an artist in his very soul, wholly engrossed by the sketch of
a mountain, Dick Stanmore equally absorbed in fishing a pool. Scarce
twenty yards apart, neither was conscious, for the moment, of the
other's existence; Simon, indeed, being in spirit some seven thousand
feet above the level of the sea, putting more ochre into the virgin
snow that crested his topmost peak, and Dick deftly dropping a fly,
the size of a pen-wiper, over the nose of a fifteen-pounder that had
already once risen to the gaudy lure.
Poising himself, like a Mercury, on a rock in mid-stream, the angler
had just thrown eighteen yards of line lightly as a silken thread
to an inch, when his foot slipped, and a loud splash, bringing the
painter, like Icarus, out of the clouds with a run, startled his
attention to the place where his companion was not. In another second
Simon had his grip on Dick's collar, and both men were struggling for
dear life in the pool. Stanmore could swim, of course, but it takes
a good swimmer to hold his own in fisherman's boots, encumbered,
moreover, with sundry paraphernalia of his art. Simon was a very mild
performer in the water, but he had coolness, presence of mind, and
inflexible tenacity of purpose. To these qualities the friends owed it
that they ever reached the shore alive. It was a very near thing,
and when they found their legs and looked into each other's faces,
gasping, dripping, spouting water from ears, nose, and mouth, Dick
gathered breath to exclaim, "You trump! I should have been drowned,
to a moral!" Whereat the other, choking, coughing, and sputtering,
answered faintly, "You old muff! I believe we were never out of our
depth the whole time!"
Perkins did not go up for his degree, and the men lost sight of one
another in a few years, cherishing, indeed, a kindly remembrance each
of his friend, yet taking little pains to refresh that remembrance by
renewed intercourse. How many intimacies, how many attachments outlast
a twelvemonth's break? There are certain things people go on caring
for, but I fear they are more intimately connected with self in daily
life than either the romance of friendship or the intermittent fever
of love. The enjoyment of luxury, the pursuit of money-making, seem to
lose none of their zest with advancing years, and perhaps to these we
may add the taste for art.
Now to Simon Perkins art was as the very air he breathed. The greatest
painter was, in his eyes, the greatest man that lived. When he left
Oxford, he devoted himself to the profession of painting with
such success as rendered him independent, besides enabling him to
contribute largely to the comfort of two maiden aunts with whom he
Not without hard work; far from it. There is no pursuit, perhaps,
which demands such constant and unremitting exertion from its
votaries. The ideal to which he strains can never be reached, for his
very successes keep building it yet higher, and a painter is so far
like a baby his whole life through that he is always learning to
Simon was still learning to see on the afternoon Dick Stanmore sculled
by his cottage windows--studying the effect of a declining sun on the
opposite elms, not entirely averting his looks from that graceful
girl, who ran into the house to the oarsman's discomfiture, and
missing her more than might have been expected when she vanished
up-stairs. Was not the sun still shining bright on that graceful
feathery foliage? He did not quite think it was.
Presently there came to the door a rustle of draperies, and an elderly
lady, not remarkable for beauty, entered the room. Taking no notice
of Simon, she proceeded to arrange small articles of furniture with a
restless manner that denoted anxiety of mind. At last, stopping short
in the act of dusting a china tea-cup, with a very clean cambric
handkerchief, she observed, in a faltering voice, "Simon, dear, I feel
so nervous I know I shall never get through with it. Where's your Aunt
Jemima?" Even while she spoke there appeared at the door another lady,
somewhat more elderly, and even less remarkable for beauty, who seated
herself bolt upright in an elbow-chair without delay, and, looking
austerely round, observed in an impressive voice, "Susannah, fetch me
my spectacles; Simon, shut the door."
Of all governments there must be a head. It was obvious that in this
deliberative assembly Miss Jemima Perkins assumed the lead. Both
commands being promptly obeyed, she pulled her spectacles from their
case and put them on, as symbols of authority, forthwith.
"I want your advice, Simon," said this strong-minded old lady, in a
hard, clear voice. "I dare say I sha'n't act upon it, but I want it
all the same. I've no secrets from either of you; but as the head of
the family I don't mean to shirk responsibility, and my opinion is,
she must go. Susannah, no weakness. My dear, you ought to be ashamed
of yourself. Nina, run up-stairs again, we don't want you just now."
This to a pretty head with raven hair, that popped saucily in, and as
Simon looked wistfully after the pretty head, and relapsed into a
day-dream. Was he thinking what a picture it would make, or what a
reality it was? His aunt's voice recalled him to facts.
"Simon," she repeated, "my opinion is she must go."
"Go!" said her nephew vacantly, "what do you mean,
"Why that girl we're all so fond of," replied Miss Jemima, growing
every moment more severe. "Mr. Algernon used to come here twice every
quarter, usedn't he? Never missed the day, did he? and paid his money
as regular as clockwork. Susannah, how long is it since he's been to
"That's no answer," pursued the inflexible speaker. "Tomorrow week it
will be ten months since we have seen him; and tomorrow week it will
be ten months since we've had a scrap of his handwriting. Is that girl
to remain here, dependent on the bounty of a struggling artist and two
old maids? My opinion is that she ought to go out and gain her own
livelihood; my feeling is that--that--I couldn't bear to think of the
poor dear in any home but this."
Here the old lady, whose assumption of extreme fortitude had
been gradually leading to the inevitable catastrophe, broke down
altogether, while Susannah, giving rein to her emotions, lifted up her
voice and wept.
"You knew who she was all along, Jemima," said the latter, gulping
sadly at her syllables: "you know you did; and it's cruel to harrow up
our feelings like this."
Simon said nothing, but on his homely features gathered an expression
of resolve, through which there gleamed the bright radiance of hope.
Miss Perkins wiped her eyes and then her spectacles. Resuming her
dignity, she proceeded in a calmer voice--
"I will not conceal from you, Susannah, nor from you, Simon, that I
have had my suspicions for several years. Those suspicions became a
certainty some time ago. There can be no doubt now of the relationship
existing between our Nina and the Mr. Algernon, as he called himself,
who took such an interest in the child's welfare. When I saw Mr.
Bruce's death in the paper, I knew that our pet had lost her father.
What was I to do? When I consented to take charge of the child twenty
years ago--and a sweet pretty babe she was--I perfectly understood
there must be a mystery connected with her birth. As head of the
family, I imparted my suspicions to neither of you, and I kept my
conjectures and my disapproval to myself. This seemed only fair to
my correspondent, only fair to the child. When I learned Mr. Bruce's
death, it came upon me like a shot, that he was the Mr. Algernon who
used to visit here, and who furnished such liberal means for the
support and education of that girl up-stairs--Susannah, I cannot make
myself understood if you will persist in blowing your nose!--Since Mr.
Bruce's death no Mr. Algernon has darkened our doors, no remittances
have come to hand with the usual signature. Simon, my impression is
that no provision whatever has been made for the poor thing, and that
our Nina is--is utterly destitute and friendless."
Here Miss Susannah gave a little scream, whereat her sister glared
austerely, and resumed the spectacles she had taken off to dry.
"Not friendless, aunt," exclaimed Simon, in a great heat and fuss;
"never friendless so long as we are all above ground. I am perfectly
willing to--stay, Aunt Jemima, I beg your pardon, what do you think
ought to be done?"
The old lady smoothed her dress, looking round with placid dignity.
"I will first hear what you two have to propose. Susannah, leave off
crying this minute, and tell us what you think of this--this _very_
It is possible that but for the formidable adjective Susannah might
have originated, and indeed expressed some idea of her own; but to
confront a position described by her sister as "embarrassing" was
quite beyond her powers, and she could only repeat feebly, "I'll give
her half my money--I'll give her half my money. We can't drive her
out into the cold." This with sobs and tears, and a hand pressed
helplessly to her side.
Miss Jemima turned from her with contempt, declaring, in an audible
whisper, she had "more than half a mind to send the foolish thing to
bed;" then looked severely at her nephew.
"This girl," said he, "has become a member of our family, just as
if she were a born relation. It seems to me there is no question of
feeling or sentiment or prejudice in the matter. It is a mere affair
of duty. We are bound to treat Nina Algernon exactly as if she were a
His aunt took his face in both her hands, squeezed it hard, and
flattened his nose with a grim kiss. After this feat she looked more
severe than ever.
"I believe you are right," she said; "I believe this arrangement is a
special duty sent on purpose for us to fulfil. I had made up my mind
on the subject before I spoke to you, but it is satisfactory to
know that you both think as I do. When we give way to our feelings,
Susannah, we are sure to be injudicious, sometimes even unjust. But
duty is a never-failing guide, and--O! my dears, to part with that
darling would be to take the very heart out of my breast; and, Simon,
I'm so glad you agree with me; and, Susannah, dear, if I spoke harshly
just now, it was for your own good; and--and--I'll just step upstairs
into the storeroom, and look out some of the house-linen that wants
mending. I had rather you didn't disturb me. I shall be down again to
So the old lady marched out firmly enough, but sister and nephew both
knew right well that kindly tears, long kept back from a sense of
dignity, would drop on the half-worn house-linen, and that in the
solitude of her storeroom she would give vent to those womanly
feelings she deemed it incumbent on her, as head of the family, to
restrain before the rest.
Miss Susannah entertained no such scruples. Inflicting on her nephew a
very tearful embrace, she sobbed out incoherent congratulations on the
decision at which her eldest sister had arrived.
"But we mustn't let the dear girl find it out," said this sensitive,
weak-minded, but generous-hearted lady. "We should make no sort of
difference in our treatment of her, of course, but we must take great
care not to let anything betray us in our manner. I am not good at
concealment, I know, but I will undertake that she never suspects
anything from mine."
The fallacy of this assertion was so transparent that Simon could not
forbear a smile.
"Better make a clean breast of it at once," said he. "Directly there's
a mystery in a family, Aunt Susannah, you may be sure there can be
no union. It need not be put in a way to hurt her feelings. On the
contrary, Aunt Jemima might impress on her that we count on her
assistance to keep the pot boiling. Why, she's saving us pounds and
pounds at this moment. Where should I get such a model for my Fairy
Queen, I should like to know? It ought to be a great picture--a great
picture, Aunt Susannah, if I can only work it out. And where should I
be if she left me in the lurch? No--no; we won't forget the bundle of
sticks. I'll to the maul-stick, and you and Aunt Jemima shall be as
cross as two sticks; and as for Nina, with her bright eyes, and her
pleasant voice, and her merry ways, I don't know what sort of a stick
we should make of her." "A fiddlestick, I should think," said that
young lady, entering the room from the garden window, having heard, it
is to be hoped, no more than Simon's closing sentence. "What are
you two doing here in the dark? It's past eight--tea's ready--Aunt
Jemima's down--and everything's getting cold."
Candles were lit in the next room, and the tea-things laid. Following
the ladies, and watching with a painter's eye the lights and shades as
they fell on Nina's graceful beauty, Simon Perkins felt, not for the
first time, that if she were to leave the cottage, she would carry
away with her all that made it a dear and happy home, depriving him at
once of past, present, and future, taking from him the very cunning of
his handicraft, and, worse still, the inspiration of his art.
It was no wonder she had wound herself round the hearts of that quiet
little family in the retired Putney villa. As like Maud Bruce in form
and feature, as though she had been her twin sister, Nina Algernon
possessed the same pale, delicate features, the same graceful form,
the same dark, pleading eyes and glossy raven hair; but Mr. Bruce's
elder and unacknowledged daughter had this advantage over the younger,
that about her there was a sweetness, a freshness, a quiet gaiety, and
a _bonhomie_ such as spring only from kindliness of disposition and
pure unselfishness of heart. Had she been an ugly girl, though she
might have lacked admirers, she could not have long remained without a
lover. Being as handsome as Maud, she seemed calculated to rivet more
attachments, while she made almost as many conquests. Between the
sisters there was a similitude and a difference. One was a costly
artificial flower, the other a real garden rose.
THE USUAL DIFFICULTY
Maud's instincts, when, soon after her father's death, she felt a
strong disinclination to live with Aunt Agatha, had not played her
false. As inmates of the same house, the two ladies hit it off badly
enough. Perhaps because in a certain imperiousness and hardness of
character they were somewhat alike, their differences, though only on
rare occasions culminating in a battle royal, smouldered perpetually,
breaking out, more often than was seemly, in brisk skirmish and rapid
passage of arms.
Miss Bruce's education during the lifetime of her parents had been
little calculated to fit her for the position of a dependent, and with
all her misgivings, which, indeed, vexed her sadly, she could not yet
quite divest herself of an idea that her inheritance had not wholly
passed away. Under any circumstances she resolved before long to go at
the head of an establishment of her own, so that she should assume her
proper position, which she often told herself, with _her_ attractions
and _her_ opportunities was a mere question of will.
Then, like a band of iron tightening round her heart, would come the
thought of her promise to Tom Ryfe, the bitter regret for her
own weakness, her own overstrained notions of honour, as she now
considered them, in committing that promise to writing. She felt
as people feel in a dream, when, step which way they will, an
insurmountable obstacle seems to arise, arresting their progress, and
hemming them in by turns on every side.
It was not in the best of humours that, a few days after Lady
Goldthred's party, Maud descended to the luncheon-table fresh from an
hour's consideration of her grievances, and of the false position
in which she was placed. Mrs. Stanmore, too, had just sent back a
misfitting costume to the dressmaker for the third time; so each lady
being, as it were, primed and loaded, the lightest spark would suffice
to produce explosion.
While the servants remained it was necessary to keep the peace,
but cutlets, mashed potatoes, and a ration of sherry having been
distributed, the room was cleared, and a fair field remained for
immediate action. Dick's train was late from Newmarket, and he was
well out of it.
To do her justice, Maud had meant to intrench herself in sullen
silence. She saw the attack coming, and prepared to remain on the
defensive. Aunt Agatha began quietly enough--to borrow a metaphor from
the noble game of chess, she advanced a pawn.
"I don't know how I'm to take you to Countess Monaco's to-night, Maud;
that stupid woman has disappointed me again, and I've got literally
nothing to go in. Besides, there will be such a crush we shall never
get away in time for my cousin's ball. I promised her I'd be early if
Now Miss Bruce knew, I suppose because he had told her, that Lord
Bearwarden would be at Countess Monaco's reception, but would not be
at the said ball. It is possible Mrs. Stanmore may have been aware
of this also, and that her pawn simply represented what ladies call
Maud took it at once with her knight. "I don't the least care about
Countess Monaco's, aunt," said she. "Dick's not going because he's not
asked, and I'm engaged to dance the first dance with him at the other
place. It's a family bear-fight, I conclude; but though I hate the
kind of thing, Dick is sure to take care of _me_."
Check for Aunt Agatha, whom this off-hand speech displeased for more
reasons than one. It galled her to be reminded that her step-son had
received no invitation from the smart foreign countess; while that
Maud should thus appropriate him, calling him "Dick" twice in a
breath, was more than she could endure. So she moved her king out of
"Talking of balls," said she, in a cold, civil voice, "reminds me that
you danced three times the night before last with Lord Bearwarden, and
twice with Dick, besides going down with him to supper. I don't like
finding fault, Maud, but I have a duty to perform, and I speak to you
as if you were my own child."
"How can you be sure of that?" retorted incorrigible Maud. "You never
This was a sore point, as Miss Bruce well knew. Aunt Agatha's line of
battle was sadly broken through, and her pieces huddled together on
the board. She began to lose her head, and her temper with it.
"You speak in a very unbecoming tone, Miss Bruce," said she angrily.
"You force me into saying things I would much rather keep to myself. I
don't wish to remind you of your position in this house."
It was now Maud's turn to advance her strongest pieces--castles,
rooks, and all.
"You remind me of it often enough," she replied, with her haughtiest
air--an air which, notwithstanding its assumption of superiority,
certainly made her look her best; "if not in words, at least in
manner, twenty times a day. You think I don't see it, Mrs. Stanmore,
or that I don't mind it, because I've too much pride to resent it as
it deserves. I am indebted to you, certainly, for a great deal--the
roof that shelters me, and the food I eat. I owe you as much as your
carriage-horses, and a little less than your servants, for I do my
work and get no wages. Never fear but I shall pay up everything some
day; perhaps very soon. You had better get your bill made out, so as
to send it in on the morning of my departure. I wish the time had come
to settle it now."
Mrs. Stanmore was aghast. Very angry, no doubt, but yet more
surprised, and perhaps the least thing cowed. Her cap, her laces,
the lockets round her neck, the very hair of her head, vibrated with
excitement. Maud, cool, pale, impassable, was sure to win at last,
waiting, like the superior chess-player, for that final mistake which
gives an adversary checkmate.
It came almost immediately. Mrs. Stanmore set down her sherry, because
the hand that held her glass shook so she could not raise it to her
lips. "You are rude and impertinent," said she; "and if you really
think so wickedly, the sooner you leave this house the better, though
you _are_ my brother's child; and--and--Maud, I don't mean it. But how
can you say such things? I never expected to be spoken to like this."
Then the elder lady began to cry, and the game was over. Before the
second course came in a reconciliation took place. Maud presented a
pale, cold cheek to be kissed by her aunt, and it was agreed that
they should go to Countess Monaco's for the harmless purpose, as they
expressed it, of "just walking through the rooms," leaving thereafter
as soon as practicable for the ball; and Mrs. Stanmore, who was
good-hearted if bad-tempered, trusted "dear Maud would think no more
of what she had said in a moment of irritation, but that they would be
better friends than ever after their little tiff."
None the less, though, for this decisive victory did the young lady
cherish her determination to settle in life without delay. Lord
Bearwarden had paid her considerable attention on the few occasions
they had met. True, he was not what the world calls a "marrying man";
but the world, in arranging its romances, usually leaves out that very
chapter--the chapter of accidents--on which the whole plot revolves.
And why should there not be a Lady Bearwarden of the present as of the
past? To land so heavy a fish would be a signal triumph. Well, it was
at least possible, if not probable. This should be a matter for future
consideration, and must depend greatly on circumstances.
In the meantime, Dick Stanmore would marry her tomorrow. Of that she
felt sure. Why? O, because she did! I believe women seldom deceive
themselves in such matters. Dick had never told her he cared for her;
after all, she had not known him many weeks, yet a certain deference
and softness of tone, a diffidence and even awkwardness of manner,
increasing painfully when they were alone, betrayed that he was her
slave. And she liked Dick, too, very much, as a woman could hardly
help liking that frank and kindly spirit. She even thought she could
love him if it was necessary, or at any rate make him a good wife, as
wives go. He would live in London, of course, give up hunting and all
that. It really might do very well. Yes, she would think seriously
about Dick Stanmore, and make up her mind without more delay.
But how to get rid of Tom Ryfe? Ignore it as she might--strive as she
would to forget it in excitement, dissipation, and schemes for the
future, none the less was the chain always round her neck. Even while
it ceased to gall her she was yet sensible of its weight. So long as
she owed him money, so long as he held her written promise to repay
that debt with her hand, so long was she debarred all chances for the
future, so long was she tied down to a fate she could not contemplate
without a shudder. To be a "Mrs. Ryfe" when on the cards lay such a
prize as the Bearwarden coronet, when she need only put out her hand
and take Dick Stanmore, with his brown locks, his broad shoulders, his
genial, generous heart, for better or worse! It was unbearable. And
then to think that she could ever have fancied she liked the man;
that, even now, she had to give him clandestine meetings, to see him
at unseasonable hours, as if she loved him dearly, and was prepared
to make every sacrifice for his sake! Her pride revolted, her whole
spirit rose in arms at the reflection. She knew he cared for her too;
cared for her in his own way very dearly; and "c'est ce que c'est
d'etre femme," I fear she hated him all the more! So long as a woman
knows nothing about him, her suspicion that a man likes her is nine
points out of ten in his favour; but directly she has fathomed his
intellect and probed his heart; squeezed the orange, so to speak, and
resolved to throw away the rind, in proportion to the constancy of his
attachment will be her weariness of its duration; and from weariness
in such matters there is but one short step to hatred and disgust.
Tom Ryfe must be paid his money. To this conclusion, at least, Maud's
reflections never failed to lead. Without such initiatory proceeding
it was useless to think of demanding the return of that written
promise. But how to raise the funds? After much wavering and
hesitation, Miss Bruce resolved at last to pawn her diamonds. So
dearly do women love their trinkets, that I believe, though he never
knew it, Tom Ryfe was more than once within an ace of gaining the
prize he longed for, simply from Maud's disinclination to part with
her jewels. How little he dreamt that the very packet which had helped
to cement into intimacy his first acquaintance with her should prove
the means of dashing his cherished hopes to the ground, and raising
yet another obstacle to shut him out from his lovely client!
While Maud is meditating in the back drawing-room, and Aunt Agatha,
having removed the traces of emotion from her eyes and nose, is trying
on a bonnet up-stairs, Dick Stanmore has shaken off the dust of a
railway journey, in his lodgings, dressed himself from top to toe,
and is driving his phaeton merrily along Piccadilly, on his way to
Belgrave Square. How his heart leaps as he turns the well-known
corner! how it beats as he skips into his step-mother's house!--how
it stops when he reaches the door of that back drawing-room, where,
knowing the ways of the establishment, he hopes to find his treasure
alone! The colour returns to his face. There she is in her usual
place, her usual attitude, languid, graceful, indolent, yet glad to
see him nevertheless.
"I'm in luck," said Dick, blushing like a school-boy. "My train was
late, and I was so afraid you'd be gone out before I could get here.
It seems so long since I've seen you. And where have you been, and
how's my mother, and what have you been doing?"
"What have _you_ been doing, rather?" repeats the young lady, giving
him a cool and beautiful hand that he keeps in his own as long as he
dares. "Three days at Newmarket are long enough to make 'a man or
a mouse,' as you call it, of a greater capitalist than you, Mr.
Stanmore. Seriously, I hope you've had a good week."
"Only lost a pony on the whole meeting," answered Dick triumphantly.
"And even that was a 'fluke,' because Bearwarden's Bacchante filly was
left at the post."
"I congratulate you," said Maud, with laughter gleaming in her dark
eyes. "I suppose you consider that tantamount to winning. Was Lord
Bearwarden much disappointed, and did he swear horribly?"
"Bearwarden never swears," replied Dick. "He only told the starter he
wondered he could get them off at all; for it must have put him out
sadly to see all the boys laughing at him. I've no doubt one or two
were fined in the very next race, for the official didn't seem to like
Maud pondered. "Is Lord Bearwarden very good-tempered?" said she.
"Well, he never breaks out," answered Dick. "But why do you want to
"Because you and he are such friends," said this artful young lady.
'"Because I can't make him out--because I don't care whether he is or
not! And now, Mr. Stanmore, though you've not been to see your mamma
yet, you've behaved like a good boy, considering; so I've got a little
treat in store for you. Will you drive me out in your phaeton?"
"Will a duck swim?" exclaimed Dick, delighted beyond measure, with but
the one drawback to supreme happiness, of a wish that his off-horse
had been more than twice in harness.
"Now before I go to put my bonnet on," continued Miss Bruce,
threatening him with her finger like a child, "you must promise to do
exactly what you're told--to drive very slow and very carefully, and
to set me down the instant I'm tired of you, because Aunt Agatha won't
hear of our going for more than half-an-hour or so, and it will take
some diplomacy to arrange even that."
Then she tripped up-stairs, leaving the door open, so that Dick,
looking at himself in the glass, wondering, honest fellow, what she
could see in him to like, and thinking what a lucky dog he was,
overheard the following conversation at the threshold of his
step-mother's chamber on the floor above.
A light tap--a smothered "Who's there?" and the silvery tones of the
voice he loved--
"Aunt Agatha--may Mr. Stanmore drive me to Rose and Brilliant's in his
Something that sounded very like "Certainly not."
"But please, Aunt Agatha," pleaded the voice, "I've got a headache,
and an open carriage will do me so much good, and you can call for me
afterwards, whenever you like, to do our shopping. I sha'n't be five
minutes putting my bonnet on, and the wind's changed, and it's such a
Here a door opened, whispers were exchanged, it closed with a bang, a
bell rang, an organ in the street struck up "The Marseillaise," and
ere it had played eight bars, Maud was on the stairs again looking, to
Dick's admiring eyes, like an angel in a bonnet coming straight down
In after-days he often thought of that happy drive--of the pale
beautiful face, in its transparent little bonnet, turned confidingly
upwards to his own, of the winning ways, the playfully imperious
gestures, the sweet caressing voice--of the hope thrilling to his very
heart that perhaps for him might be reserved the blissful lot of thus
journeying with her by his side through life.
As they passed into the Park at Albert Gate, two of his young
companions nodded and took off their hats, elbowing each other, as who
should say, "I suppose that's a case!" How proud Dick felt, and how
happy! The quarter of a mile that brought him to Apsley House seemed
a direct road to Paradise; the man who is always watering the
rhododendrons shone like a glorified being, and the soft west wind
fanned his temples like an air from heaven. How pleasant she was, how
quaint, how satirical, how amusing! Not the least frightened when that
off-horse shied in Piccadilly--not the least impatient (neither, be
sure, was he) when a block of carriages kept them stationary for ten
minutes in the narrow gorge of Bond Street. Long before they stopped
at Rose and Brilliant's it was all over with Dick.
"You're not to get out," said Maud, while they drew up to the door of
that fashionable jeweller. "Yes, you may, just to keep my dress off
the wheel, but you mustn't come in. I said I'd a treat for you; now
tell me without prevarication--will you have sleeve-links with a
cipher or a monogram? Speak up--in one word--quick!"
Sleeve-links! and from _her_! A present to be valued and cherished
more than life itself. He could hardly believe his senses. Far too
bewildered to solve the knotty point of cipher _versus_ monogram, he
muttered some incoherent syllables, and only began to recover when he
had stared blankly for a good five minutes at the off-horse's ears,
from the driving-seat of his phaeton.
It took a long time apparently to pick out those sleeve-links. Perhaps
the choicest assortment of such articles remained in the back shop,
for thither Miss Bruce retired; and it is possible she may have
appealed to the proprietor's taste in her selection, since she was
closeted with that gentleman in earnest conference for three-quarters
of an hour. Dick had almost got tired of waiting, when she emerged at
last to thank him for her drive, and to present him, as she affirmed,
with the results of her protracted shopping.
"There is a design on them already," said she, slipping a little box
of card into his hand with her pleasantest smile, "so I could not have
your initials engraved, but I dare say you won't lose them all the
Dick rather thought _not_, hiding the welcome keepsake away in his
waistcoat-pocket, as near his heart as the construction of that
garment would permit; but his day's happiness was over now, for Mrs.
Stanmore had arrived in her brougham to take his companion away for
the rest of the afternoon.
That night, before he went to bed, I think he was fool enough to kiss
the insensible sleeve-links more than once. They were indeed choice
little articles of workmanship, bearing on their surface two quaint
and fanciful designs, representing a brace of Cupids in difficulty,
the one singed by his own torch, the other crying over a broken bow.
At the same hour Maud was enclosing an order for a large sum of money
in a letter which seemed to cost her much study and vexation. Even
Miss Bruce found some difficulty in explaining to a lover that she
valued truth, honour, and fidelity at so many hundred pounds, while
she begged to forward him a cheque for the amount in lieu of the goods
marked "damaged and returned."
THE FAIRY QUEEN
I have said that Simon Perkins was a painter to the tips of his
fingers. Just as a carpenter cannot help looking at a piece of wood
with a professional glance it is impossible to mistake--a glance that
seems to embrace at once its length, depth, thickness, toughness,
and general capabilities--so a painter views every object in nature,
animate or inanimate, as a subject for imitation and study of his art.
The heavens are not too high, the sea too deep, nor the desert too
wide to afford him a lesson; and the human countenance, with its
endless variety of feature and expression, is a book he never wearies
of learning by heart. When his professional interest in beauty is
enhanced by warmer feelings, it may be imagined that vanity could
require no fuller tribute of admiration than the worship of one whose
special gift it is to decide on the symmetry of outward form.
As a painter, Simon Perkins approved of Nina Algernon--as a man he
loved her. Lest his position should not prove sufficiently fatal, she
had become of late practically identified with his art, almost as
completely as she was mixed up with his every-day life. For many
months, perhaps even for years, the germ of a great work had taken
root in his imagination. Slowly, almost painfully, that germ developed
itself, passing through several stages, sketch upon sketch, till it
came to maturity at last in the composition of a large picture on
which he was now employed.
The subject afforded ample scope for liberty of fancy in form and
grouping--for the indulgence of a gorgeous taste in colouring and
costume. It represented Thomas the Rhymer in Fairyland, at the moment
when its glamour is falling from his eyes, when its magic lustre is
dying out on all that glittering pageantry and the elfin is fading to
a gnome. The handsome wizard turns from a crowd of phantom shapes,
half lovely, half grotesque--for their change is even now in
progress--to look wistfully and appealingly on the queen.
There is a pained expression in his comely features, of hurt
affection, and trust betrayed, yet not without a ray of pride and
triumph, that, come what might to the others, she is still unchanged.
Around him the fairies are shedding their glory as trees in autumn
shed their leaves. Here a sweet laughing face surmounts the hideous
body of an imp, there the bright scales of an unearthly armour shrivel
to rottenness and dust. The dazzling robes are turning blank and
colourless, the emerald rays waning to a pale, sad light, the flashing
diadem is dulled and dim. Yet on the fairy queen there lowers no
shadow of change, there threaten no symptoms of decay.
Bathed in the halo of a true though hapless love, she is still
the same as when he first saw her all those seven long years ago,
glistening in immortal charms, and knelt to her for the queen of
heaven, where she rode--"under the linden tree."
It is obvious that on her countenance, besides the stamp of exceeding
beauty, there must appear sorrow, self-reproach, fortitude, majesty,
and undying tenderness. All these the painter thought he read in Nina
Algernon's girlish face.
So she sat to him dutifully enough for a model of his fairy queen, and
if she wearied at times, as I think she must, comforted herself with
the remembrance that in this way she helped the family who gave her
For the convenience of sitters, Simon Perkins had his painting-room in
Berners Street: thither it was his custom to resort in the morning,
by penny steamer or threepenny omnibus, and there he spent many happy
hours working hard with palette and brush. Not the least golden seemed
those in which Nina accompanied him to sit patiently while he studied,
and drew her, line by line, feature by feature. The expeditions to and
fro were delightful, the labour was pleasure, the day was gone far too
A morning could not but be fine, when, emerging from an omnibus at
Albert Gate, Simon walked by the side of his model through Hyde Park
on their way to Berners Street; but about this period one morning
seemed even finer than common, because that Nina, taking his arm as
they crossed Rotten Row, thought fit to confide to him an interview of
the day before with Aunt Jemima, in which she extorted from that dear
old lady with some difficulty the fact of her own friendless position
in the world.
"And I don't mind it a bit," continued the girl, catching her voice
like a child, as was her habit when excited, "for I'm sure you're all
so kind to me that I'd much rather not have any other friends. And I
don't want to be independent, and I'll never leave you, so long as
you'll keep me. And O, Simon, isn't it good of your aunts, and you
too, to have taken care of me ever since I was quite a little thing?
For I'm no relation, you know--and how can I ever do enough for you? I
can't. It's impossible. And you don't want me to, if I could!"
Notwithstanding the playful manner which was part of Nina's self,
there were tears of real feeling in her eyes, and I doubt if Simon's
were quite dry while he answered--
"You belong to us just as much as if you _were_ a relation, Nina. My
aunts have said so ever since I can remember, and as for me, why you
used to ride on my foot when you were in short frocks! What a little
romp it was! Always troublesome, and always will be--and that's
why we're so fond of you." He spoke lightly, but his voice shook
"So you ought to be," she answered. "For you know how much I love you
"What, even stern Aunt Jemima?" said this blundering young man,
clumsily beating about the bush, and thus scaring the bird quite as
much as if he had thrust his hand boldly into the nest.
"Aunt Jemima best of all," replied Nina saucily, "because she's the
eldest, and tries to keep me in order, but she can't."
"And which of us next best, Nina?" continued he, turning away with
extraordinary interest in a mowing-machine.
"Aunt Susannah, of course." This very demurely, while tightening her
pretty lips to keep back a laugh.
"Then I come last," he observed gently; but there was something in the
tone that made her glance sharply in his face.
She pressed his arm. "You dear old simple Simon," said she kindly.
"Surely you must know me by this time. I love you very dearly, just as
if you were my brother. Brother, indeed! I don't think if I'd a father
I could be much fonder of him than I am of you."
What a bright morning it had been five minutes ago, and now the sky
seemed clouded all at once. Simon even thought the statue of Achilles
looked more grim and ghostly than usual, lowering there in his naked
She had wounded him very deeply, that pretty unconscious archer. These
random shafts for which no interposing shield makes ready are sure
to find the joints in our harness. A tough hard nature such as
constitutes the true fighter only presses more doggedly to the front,
but gentler spirits are fain to turn aside out of the battle, and go
home to die. There came a dimness before Simon's eyes, and a ringing
in his ears. He scarcely heard his companion, while she asked--
"Who are those men bowing? Do you know them? They must take me for
"Those men bowing" were two no less important characters than Lord
Bearwarden and Tom Ryfe, the latter in the act of selling the former
a horse. Such transactions, for some mysterious reason, always take
place in the morning, and whatever arguments may be adduced against
a too enthusiastic worship of the noble animal, at least it promotes
Tom Ryfe was one of those men rarely seen in the saddle or on the box,
but who, nevertheless, always seem to have a horse to dispose of,
whatever be the kind required. Hack, hunter, pony, phaeton-horse, he
was either possessor of the very animal you wanted, or could suit you
with it at twenty-four hours' notice; yet if you met him by accident
riding in the Park, he was sure to tell you he had been mounted by
a friend; if you saw him driving a team--and few could handle four
horses in a crowded thoroughfare with more neatness and precision--you
might safely wager it was from the box of another man's coach.
He was supposed to be a very fine rider over a country, and there were
vague traditions of his having gone exceedingly well through great
runs on special occasions; but these exploits had obviously lost
nothing of their interest in the process of narration, and were indeed
enhanced by that obscurity which increases the magnitude of most
things, in the moral as in the material world.
Mr. Ryfe knew all the sporting men about London, but not their wives.
He was at home on the Downs and the Heath, in the pavilion at Lord's,
and behind the traps of the Red House. He dined pretty frequently at
the barracks of the household troops, welcome to the genial spirits
of his entertainers, chiefly for those qualities with which they
themselves credited him; and he called Bearwarden "My lord," wherefore
that nobleman thought him a snob, and would perhaps have considered
him a still greater if he had _not_. The horse in question showed
good points and fine action. Mr. Ryfe walked, trotted, cantered,
and finally reined him up at the rails on which Lord Bearwarden was
"Rather a flat-catcher, Tom," said that nobleman, between the whiffs
of a cigar. "Too much action for a hunter, and too little body. He
wouldn't carry my weight if the ground was deep, though he's not a bad
goer, I'll admit."
"Exactly what I said at first, my lord," answered Tom, slipping the
reins through his fingers, and letting the horse reach over the iron
bar against his chest to crop the tufts of grass beneath, an attitude
in which his fine shoulders and liberty of frame showed to great
advantage. "I never thought he was a fourteen-stone horse, and I never
told you so."
"And I never told _you_ I rode fourteen stone, did I?" replied Lord
Bearwarden, who was a little touchy on that score. "Thirteen five at
the outside, and not so much as that after deer-stalking in Scotland.
He's clean thoroughbred, isn't he?"
The purchaser was biting, and Tom understood his business as if he had
been brought up to it.
"Clean," he answered, passing his leg over the horse's neck, and
sliding to the ground, thus leaving his saddle empty for the other.
"But he's thrown away on a heavy man. His place is carrying thirteen
stone over high Leicestershire. Nothing could touch him there amongst
the hills. Jumping's a vulgar accomplishment. Plenty of them can jump
if one dare ride them, but he's really an extraordinary fencer. Such a
mouth, too, and such a _gentleman_! Why he's the pleasantest hack in
London. You like a nice hack, my lord. Get up and feel him. It's like
riding a bird."
So Lord Bearwarden jumped on, and altered the stirrups, and crammed
his hat down, ere he rode the horse to and fro, trying him in all
his paces, and probably falling in love with him forthwith, for he
returned with a brightened eye and higher colour to Tom Ryfe on the
It was at this juncture both gentlemen started and took their hats off
to the lady who walked some fifty paces off, arm-in-arm with Simon
Perkins, the painter.
Their salute was not returned. The lady, indeed, to whom it was
addressed seemed to hurry on all the faster with her companion. It was
remarkable, and both remarked it, that neither made any observation on
this lack of courtesy, but finished their bargain without apparently
half so much interest in sale or purchase as they felt five minutes
"You'll dine with us, Tom, on the 11th?" said Bearwarden, when they
parted opposite Knightsbridge Barracks, but he was obviously thinking
of something else.
"On the 11th," repeated Tom--"delighted, my lord--at eight o'clock,
I suppose," and turned his horse's head soberly towards Piccadilly,
proceeding at a walk, as one who revolved certain reflections, not of
the most agreeable, in his mind. A dinner at the barracks was usually
rather an event with Mr. Ryfe, but on the present occasion he forgot
all about it before he had gone a hundred yards.
Lord Bearwarden, rejecting the temptation of luncheon in the
mess-room, ran up-stairs to his own quarters to think--of course he
smoked at the same time.
This nobleman was one of the many of his kind who, to their credit be
it said, are not spoiled by sailing down the stream with the wind in
their favour. He had been "a good fellow" at Eton, he remained "a good
fellow" in the regiment. With general society he was not perhaps quite
so popular. People said he "required knowing"; and for those who
didn't choose to take the trouble of knowing him he was a little
reserved; with men, even a little rough. His manner was of the world,
worldly, and gave the idea of complete heartlessness and _savoir
faire_; yet under this seemingly impervious covering lurked a womanly
romance of temperament, a womanly tenderness of heart, than which
nothing would have made him so angry as to be accused of possessing.
His habits were manly and simple, his chief ambition was to
distinguish himself as a soldier, and so far as he could find
opportunity he had seen service with credit on the staff. A keen
sportsman, he could ride and shoot as well as his neighbours, and
this is saying no little amongst the young officers of the Household
Anything but a "ladies' man," there was yet something about
Bearwarden, irrespective of his income and his coronet, that seemed
to interest women of all temperaments and characters. They would turn
away from far handsomer, better dressed, and more amusing people to
attract his notice when he entered a room, and the more enterprising
would even make fierce love to him on further acquaintance,
particularly after they discovered what up-hill work it was. Do they
appreciate a difficulty the greater trouble it requires to surmount,
or do they enjoy a scrape the more, that they have to squeeze
themselves into it by main force? I wonder if the sea-nymphs love
their Tritons because those zoophytes must necessarily be so cold! It
is doubtless against the hard impenetrable rock that the sea-waves
dash themselves again and again. Bearwarden responded but faintly to
the boldest advances. There must be a reason for it, said the fair
assailants. Curiosity grew into interest, and, flavoured with a dash
of pique, formed one of those messes with which, in stimulating their
vanity, women fancy they satisfy their hunger of the heart.
Bearwarden was a man with a history; of this they were quite sure, and
herein they were less mistaken than people generally find themselves
who jump to conclusions. Yes, Bearwarden had a history, and a sad one,
so far as the principal actor was concerned. Indeed he dared not
think much about it even yet, and drove it--for he was no weak, silly
sentimentalist--by sheer force of will out of his mind. Indeed, if it
had not wholly changed his _real_ self, it had encrusted him with that
hardness and roughness of exterior which he turned instinctively to
the world. The same thing had happened to him that happens to most of
us at one time or another. Just as the hunting man, sooner or later,
is pretty sure to be laid up with a broken collar-bone, so in the
career of life must be encountered that inevitable disaster which
results in a wounded spirit and a sore heart. The collar-bone, we all
know, is a six weeks' job; but injuries of a tenderer nature take
far longer to heal. Nevertheless, the cure of these, too, is but a
question of time, though, to carry on the metaphor, I think in
either case the hapless rider loses some of the zest and dash which
distinguished his earlier performances, previous to discomfiture.
"Only a woman's hair," wrote Dean Swift on a certain packet hidden
away in his desk. And thus a very dark page in Lord Bearwarden's
history might have been headed "Only a woman's falsehood." Not much to
make a fuss about, surely; but he was kind, generous, of a peculiarly
trustful disposition, and it punished him very sharply, though he
tried hard to bear his sorrow like a man. It was the usual business.
He had attached himself to a lady of somewhat lower social standing
than his own, of rather questionable antecedents, and whom the world
accepted to a certain extent on sufferance, as it were, and under
protest, yet welcomed her cordially enough, nevertheless. His
relations abused her, his friends warned him against her; of course
he loved her very dearly, all the more that he had to sacrifice many
interests for her sake, and so resolved to make her his wife.
For reasons of her own she stipulated that he should leave his
regiment, and even in this, though he would rather have lost an arm,
he yielded to her wish.
The letter to his colonel, in which he requested permission to send in
his papers, actually lay sealed on the table, when he received a note
in a well-known hand that taught him the new lesson he had never
expected to learn. The writer besought his forgiveness, deploring her
own heartlessness the while, and proceeded to inform him that there
was a Somebody else in the field to whom she was solemnly promised
(just as she had been to him), and with whom she was about to unite
her Lot--capital L. She never could be happy, of course, but it was
her destiny: to fight against it was useless, and she trusted Lord B.
would forget her, etc., etc. All this in well-chosen language, and
written with an exceedingly good pen.
It was lucky his letter to the colonel had not been sent. In such
sorrows as these a soldier learns how his regiment is his real home,
how his comrades are the staunchest, the least obtrusive, and the
sincerest of friends.
Patting his charger's neck at the very next field-day, Bearwarden
told himself there was much to live for still; that it would be
unsoldierlike, unmanly, childish, to neglect duty, to wince from
pleasure, to turn his back on all the world had to offer, only because
a woman followed her nature and changed her mind.
So he bore it very well, and those who knew him best wondered he cared
so little: and all the while he never heard a strain of music, nor
felt a ray of sunshine, nor looked on beauty of any kind whatever,
without that gnawing cruel pain at his heart. Thus the years passed
on, and the women of his family declared that Bearwarden was a
confirmed old bachelor.
When he met Miss Bruce at Lady Goldthred's, no doubt he admired her
beauty and approved of her manner, but it was neither beauty nor
manner, nor could he have explained what it was, that caused the
pulses within him to stir, as they stirred long ago--that brought back
a certain flavour of the old draught he had quaffed so eagerly, to
find it so bitter at the dregs. Another meeting with Maud, a dance
or two, a whisper on a crowded staircase, and Lord Bearwarden told
himself that the deep wound had healed at last; that the grass was
growing fresh and fair over the grave of a dead love; that for him
too, as for others, there might still be an interest in the chances of
the great game.
Surely the blind restored to sight is more grateful, more joyous, more
triumphant, than he who, born in darkness, finds himself overwhelmed
and dazzled with the glare of his new gift!
Some men are so strangely constituted that they like a woman all the
better for "snubbing" them. Lord Bearwarden had never felt so grave
an interest in Miss Bruce as when he entered the barracks under the
impression she had cut him dead, without the slightest pretext or
Not so Tom Ryfe. In that gentleman's mind mingled the several
disagreeable sensations of surprise, anger, jealousy, and disgust. Of
these he chewed the bitter cud while he rode home, wondering with whom
Miss Bruce could thus dare to parade herself in public, maddened at
the open rebellion inferred by so ignoring his presence and his love,
vowing to revenge himself without delay by tightening the curb and
making her feel, to her cost, the hold he possessed over her person
and her actions. By the time he reached his uncle's house, he had
made up his mind to demand an explanation, to come to a final
understanding, to assert his authority, and to avenge his pride. He
turned pale to see Maud's monogram on the envelope of a letter that
had arrived during his absence; paler still, when from this letter a
thin slip of stamped paper fluttered to the floor--white to the very
lips while he read the sharp, decisive, cruel lines that accounted for
its presence in the missive, and that bade him relinquish at a word
all the hope and happiness of his life. Without unbuttoning his coat,
without removing the hat from his head, or the gloves from his hands,
he sat fiercely down, and wrote his answer.
"You think to get rid of me, Miss Bruce, as you would get rid of an
unsuitable servant, by giving him his wages and bidding him to go
about his business. You imagine that the debt between us is such as a
sum of money can at once wipe out: that because you have been able to
raise this money (and how you did so I think I have a right to ask)
our business connection ceases, and the _lover_, inconvenient, no
doubt, from his priority of claim, must go to the wall directly the
_lawyer_ has been paid his bill. You never were more mistaken in your
life. Have you forgotten a certain promise I hold of yours, written in
your own hand, signed with your own signature, furnished, as itself
attests, of your own free will? and do you think I am a likely man to
forego such an advantage? You might have had me for a friend--how dear
a friend I cannot bear to tell you now. If you persist in making me an
enemy, you have but yourself to blame. I am not given to threaten; and
you know that I can generally fulfil what I promise. I give you fair
warning then: so surely as you try, in the faintest item, to elude
your bargain, so surely will I cross your path, and spoil your game,
and show you up before the world. Mine you are, and mine you shall be.
If of free will, happily; if not, then to your misery and my own. But,
mark me, always _mine_!"
"The wisest clerks are not the wisest men." It is a bad plan ever to
drive a woman into a corner; and with all his knowledge of law, I
think Mr. Ryfe could hardly have written a more ill-advised and
injudicious letter than the above to Miss Bruce.
IN THE SCALES
It was a declaration of war. Of all women in the world--and this is
saying a great deal--Maud was perhaps the least disposed to accept
anything like usurpation, or assumption of undue authority, especially
on the part of one in whose character she had detected an element of
weakness. Tom Ryfe, notwithstanding his capabilities, was a fool, like
most others, where his feelings were touched, and proved it by the
injudicious means he used to attain the end he so desired.
Locked in her own room, she read his letter over and over again, with
a bitter curl of her lip, that denoted hatred, scorn, even contempt.
When a man has been unfortunate enough to excite the last of these
amiable feelings, he should lose no time in decamping, for the game is
wholly and irretrievably lost. Mr. Ryfe would have felt this, could
he have seen the gestures of the woman he loved, while she tore his
letter into shreds--could he have marked the carriage of her haughty
head, the compression of her sweet, resolute lips, the fierce energy
of her white, cruel hands. Maud paced the floor for some half-dozen
turns, opened the window, arranged the bottles on her toilet-table,
the flowers on her chimney-piece, even took a good long look at
herself in the glass, and sat down to think.
For weeks she had been revolving in her mind the necessity of breaking
with Tom Ryfe, the policy of securing position and freedom by an early
marriage. That odious letter decided her; and now it only remained to
make her choice. There are women--and these, though sometimes the
most fascinating, by no means the most trustworthy of their sex--who
possess over mankind a mesmeric influence, almost akin to witchcraft.
Without themselves feeling deeply, perhaps for the very reason that
they do _not_, they are capable of exercising a magic sway over those
with whom they come in contact; and while they attract more admirers
than they know what to do with, are seldom very fortunate in their
selection, or happy in their eventual lot. Miss Bruce was one of these
witches, far more mischievous than the old conventional hags we used
to burn under the sapient government of our first Stuart, and she knew
a deal better than any old woman who ever mounted a broom-stick the
credulity of her victims, the dangerous power of her spells. These she
had lately been using freely. It was time to turn their exercise to
"Mr. Stanmore _would_, in a moment," thought Maud, "if I only gave him
the slightest hint. And I like him. Yes, I like him very much indeed.
Poor Dick! What a fool one can make a man look, to be sure, when he's
in love, as people call it! Aunt Agatha wouldn't much fancy it, I
suppose; not that I should care two pins about that. And Dick's very
easy to manage--too easy, I think. He seems as if I couldn't make him
angry. I made him _sorry_, though, the other day, poor fellow! but
that's not half such fun. Now Lord Bearwarden _has_ got a temper, I'm
sure. I wonder, if we were to quarrel, which would give in first. I
don't think I should. I declare it would be rather nice to try. He's
good-looking--that's to say, good-looking for a _man_. It's an ugly
animal at best. And they tell me the Den is such a pretty place in the
autumn! And twenty thousand a year! I don't care so much about the
money part of it. Of course one must have money; but Selina St. Croix
assured me that they called him The Impenetrable; and there wasn't a
girl in London he ever danced with twice. _Wasn't_ there? He danced
with me three times in two hours; but I didn't say so. I suppose
people _would_ open their eyes. I've a great mind--a _very_ great
mind. But then, there's Dick. He'd be horribly bored, poor fellow! And
the worst of it is, he wouldn't _say_ anything; but I know exactly how
he'd look, and I should feel I was a least! What a bother it all is!
But something must be done. I can't go on with this sort of life; I
can't stand Aunt Agatha much longer. There she goes, calling on the
stairs again! Why can't she send my maid up, if she wants me?"
But Miss Bruce ran down willingly enough when her aunt informed her,
from the first floor, that she must make haste, and Dick was in the
She found mother and son, as they called themselves, buried in a
litter of cards, envelopes, papers of every description referring to
"Peerage," "Court Guide," visiting-list--all such aids to memory--the
charts, as it were, of that voyage which begins in the middle of
April, and ends with the last week in July. As usual on great
undertakings, from the opening of a campaign to the issuing of
invitations for a ball, too much had been left to the last moment;
there was a great deal to do, and little time to do it.
"We can't get on without _you_, Miss Bruce," said Dick, with rising
colour and averted eyes, that denoted how much less efficient an
auxiliary he would prove since she had come into the room. "My mother
has mislaid the old visiting-list, and the new one only goes down to
T: so that the U's, and the V's, and W's will be all left out. Think
how we shall be hated in London next week! To be sure it's what my
mother calls 'small and early' like young potatoes, and I hear there
are three hundred cards sent out already."
"You'll only hinder us, Mr. Stanmore," said Maud. "Hadn't you better
go away again?" but observing Dick's face fall, the smiling eyes
added, plainly as words could speak, "if you _can_!" She looked pale
though, and unhappy, he thought. Of course he felt fonder of her than
"Hinder you!" he repeated. "Why, I'm the mainstay of the whole
performance. Don't I bring you eight-and-twenty dancing men? all at
once if you wish it, in a body, like soldiers."
"Nonsense, my dear," interrupted Aunt Agatha. "The staircase will be
crowded enough as it is."
"But are they _real_ dancing men?" she asked, "not 'dummies,'
'duffers,'--what do you call them? people who only stand against the
wall and look idiotic. They're no use unless they work regularly
through, as if it was a match or a boat-race. I don't call it dancing
to hover about, and be always wanting to go down to tea or supper, and
to haunt one and look cross if one behaves with common propriety--like
some people I know."
Dick accepted the imputation.
"_I'm_ not a dancing man," said he, "though my eight-and-twenty
friends are. I cannot see the pleasure of being hustled about in a hot
room with a girl I never saw before in my life, and never want to see
again,--who is looking beyond me all the time, watching the door for
another fellow who never comes."
"Then why on earth do you go?" asked Miss Bruce simply.
"_You_ know why," he answered in a low voice, without raising his eyes
to her face.
"O! I dare say," replied Maud; but though it was couched in a tone of
banter, the smile that accompanied this pertinent remark seemed to
afford Dick unbounded satisfaction.
Mrs. Stanmore looked up from her writing-table.
"I can't get on while you two are jabbering in that corner." (She had
not heard a word either of them said.) "I'll take my visiting-list
up-stairs. You can put these cards in envelopes and direct them. It
will help me a little, but you're neither of you much use."
She gathered her materials together, and was leaving the room. Dick's
heart began beating to some purpose; but his step-mother stopped at
the door and addressed her niece.
"By the bye, Maud, I'd almost forgotten. I'm going to Rose and
Brilliant's. Fetch me your diamonds, and I'll take them to be cleaned.
I can see the people myself, you know, and make sure of your having
them back in time for the ball."
The girl turned white. Dick saw it, though his mother did not. He
observed, too, that she gasped as if she was trying to form words
which would not come.
"I am not going to wear them." She got it out at last with difficulty.
"Not wear them! nonsense!" was the reply. "Bring them down, my dear,
at any rate, and let me look them over. If you don't want it, you
might lend me the collar--it would go very well with my mauve satin."
Maud's eyes turned here and there as if to look for help, and it was
Dick's nature to throw himself in the gap.
"I'll take them, mother," said he. "My phaeton's at the door now.
You've plenty to do, and it will save you a long drive. Besides, I can
blow the people up more effectually than a lady."
"I'm not so sure of that," answered Mrs. Stanmore. "However, it's a
sensible plan enough. Maud can fetch them down for you, and you may
come back to dinner if you're disengaged."
So speaking, Mrs. Stanmore sailed off, leaving the young people alone.
Maud thanked him with such a look as would have repaid Dick for a far
longer expedition than from Belgravia to Bond Street.
"What should I do without you, Mr. Stanmore?" she said. "You always
come to the rescue just when I want you most."
He coloured with delight.
"I like doing things for _you_," said he simply; "but I don't know
that taking a parcel a mile and a half is such a favour after all. If
you'll bring it, I'll start directly you give the word."
Miss Bruce had been very pale hitherto, now a burning blush swept over
her face to the temples.
"I--I can't bring you my diamonds," said she, "for the first of those
thirty reasons that prevented Napoleon's general from bringing up his
guns--I haven't got them: they're at Rose and Brilliant's already."
"Maud!" he exclaimed, unconsciously using her Christian name--a
liberty with which she seemed in nowise offended.
"You may well say 'Maud'!" she murmured in a soft, low voice. "If you
knew all, you'd never call me Maud. I don't believe you'd ever speak
to me again." "Then I'd rather not know all," he replied. "Though it
would have to be something very bad indeed if it could make me think
ill of you! Don't tell me anything, Miss Bruce, except that you would
like your diamonds back again."
"They _must_ be got back!" she exclaimed. "I _must_ have them back by
fair means or foul. I can't face Aunt Agatha, now that she knows, and
can't appear at her ball without them. O! Mr. Stanmore, what shall I
do? Do you think Rose and Brilliant's would _lend_ them to me only for
Dick began to suspect something, began to surmise that this young lady
had been "raising the wind," as he called it, and to wonder for what
mysterious purpose she could want so large a sum as had necessitated
the sacrifice of her most valuable jewels; but she seemed in such
distress that he felt this was no time for explanation.
"Do!" he repeated cheerfully, and walking to the window that he might
not seem to notice her trouble. "Why do as I wish you had done all
through. Leave everything to _me_. I was going to say 'trust me,' but
I don't want to be trusted. I only want to be made use of."
Her better nature was conquering her fast.
"But indeed I _will_ trust you," she murmured. "You deserve to be
trusted. You are so kind, so good, so true. You will despise me, I
know--very likely hate me, and never come to see me again; but I don't
care--I can't help it. Sit down, and I will tell you everything."
He did not blush nor stammer now, his voice was very firm, and he
stood up like a man.
"Miss Bruce," said he, "Maud--yes, I'm not afraid to call you Maud--I
won't hear another word. I don't want to be told anything. Whatever
you have done makes no difference to me. Some day, perhaps, you'll
remember how I believed in you. In the meantime tell my mother that
the diamonds will be back in time for her ball. How late it is! I must
be off like a shot. Those horses will be perfectly wild with waiting.
I'm coming to dinner. Good-bye!"
He hurried away without another look, and Maud, burying her head in
the sofa-cushions, burst out crying, as she had not cried since she
was a child.
"He's too good for me!--he's too good for me!" she repeated, between
the sobs she tried hard to keep back. "How wicked and vile I should be
to throw him over! He's too good for me!--too good for me by far!"
"A CRUEL PARTING"
The phaeton-horses went off like wildfire, Dick driving as if he was
drunk. Omnibus-cads looked after him with undisguised admiration,
and hansom cabmen, catching the enthusiasm of pace, found themselves
actually wishing they were gentlemen's servants, to have their beer
found, and sit behind such steppers as those!
The white foam stood on flank and shoulder when the pair were pulled
up at Rose and Brilliant's door.
Dick bustled in with so agitated an air that an experienced shopman
instantly lifted the glass from a tray containing the usual assortment
"I'm come about some diamonds," panted the customer, casting a wistful
glance towards these implements of coercion the while. "A set of