Part 5 out of 6
forsaking day by day its loudly-declared allegiance to the Fairy
Queen in favour of her living prototype, deepening gradually to long
intervals of silence, sweeter, more embarrassing, while far more
eloquent than words.
And all the time, Simon, the chivalrous, painted on. I cannot believe
but that, with the jealous instinct of true affection, he must have
perceived the ground slipping away, hour by hour, from beneath his
feet--must have seen the ship that carried all his cargo sailing
farther and farther into a golden distance to leave him desolate on
the darkening shore. How his brain may have reeled, and his heart
ached, it is not for me to speculate. There is a decency of courage,
as there is an extravagance of bravado, and that is the true spirit of
chivalry which bleeds to death unmoved, beneath its armour, keeping
the pale knightly face turned calm and constant towards the foe.
It was a strange trio, that, in the painting-room. The garden of
Eden seems to have been originally intended for two. The third was
doubtless an intruder, and from that day to this how many a paradise
has been lost by admittance of the visitor who completes this uneven
number, unaccountably supposed to be so productive of good fortune.
Curious cross purposes were at work in the three heads grouped so near
each other opposite the painter's glowing canvas. Dick perhaps was the
least perceptive and therefore the happiest of the party. His sense of
well-being, indeed, seemed enhanced by his previous troubles: like a
man who comes out of the cold into the glow of a comforting fire, he
abandoned himself without much reflection to the positive enjoyment of
pleasure and the negative solace of relief from pain.
Simon, always painting, fought hard to keep down that little leavening
of self which constitutes our very identity. Under the cold impassive
vigour he was so determined to preserve, he registered many a noble
vow of fortitude and abnegation on behalf of the friend he valued, of
the woman he loved. Sometimes a pang would shoot through him painfully
enough while he marked a change of Nina's colour, a little flutter of
manner, a little trembling of her hands, and felt that she was already
more affected by the presence of this comparative stranger than she
had ever shown herself by his, who had cared for her so tenderly,
worshipped her so long. Then he bent all his faculties on the picture,
and like a child running to seize its mother's gown, took refuge with
That mistress did not fail him. She never does fail the true
worshipper, who kneels consistently at her shrine. It is not for her
to scorn the homage offered to-day because it has been offered in
faith and loyalty during many a long-past year. It is not for her to
shed on the new votary her sweetest smiles only because he _is_ new.
Woo her frankly, love her dearly, and serve her faithfully, she will
insure you from being cozened out of your reward. Had she not taken
care of Simon at this period, I scarcely know what would have become
Nina, too, lived in a golden dream, from which it was her only fear
that she must soon awake. Ere long, she sometimes thought, she must
ask herself who was this stranger that brought with him a flood
of sunshine into the homely painting-room? that steeped for her,
unconsciously and without effort, every day in happiness, every
morning in hope? She put off asking the question, having perhaps a
wholesome recollection of him who, going to count his treasure of
fairy gold, found it only withered leaves, and let herself float with
the stream, in that enjoyment of the present which is enhanced rather
than modified by misgivings for the future. Nina was very happy, that
is the honest truth, and even her beauty seemed to brighten like the
bloom on a flower, opening to the smile of spring.
Simon marked the change. How could he help it? And still he
"There!" exclaimed the artist, with a sigh of relief, as he stepped
back from his picture, stretching both weary arms above his head. "At
last--at last! If I only like it to-morrow as well as I do now, not
another touch shall go into it anywhere above the chin. It's the
expression I've been trying to catch for months. There it is! Doubt,
sorrow, remorse, and, through it all, the real undying love of
the--Well, that's all can't! I mean--Can't you see that she likes him
awfully even now? Nina, you've been the making of me, you're the best
sitter in the world, and while I look at my picture I begin to think
you're the handsomest. I mustn't touch it again. Stanmore, what do you
Absorbed in contemplation of his work, he paid little attention to the
answer, which was so far fortunate, that Dick, in his preoccupation,
faltered out a string of contradictory criticisms, flattering neither
to the original nor the copy. Nina indeed suggested, with some truth,
that he had made the eyebrows too dark, but this remark appeared to
originate only in a necessity for something to say. These two young
people seemed unusually shy and ill at ease. Perhaps in each of the
three hearts beating there before the picture lurked some vague
suspicion that its wistful expression, so lately caught, may have been
owing to corresponding feelings lately awakened in the model; and, if
so, why should not two of them have thrilled with happiness, though
the third might ache in loneliness and despair?
"Not another stroke of work will I do to-day," said the artist,
affecting a cheerfulness which perhaps he did not feel. "Nina, you've
got to be back early. I'll have a half-holiday for once and take you
home. Put your bonnet on: I shall be ready in five minutes when I've
washed my hands."
Dick's face fell. He had counted on a couple more hours at least.
Women, when they are really disappointed, rarely show it, and perhaps
he felt a little hurt to observe how readily, and with what apparent
goodwill, Miss Algernon resumed her out-of-doors attire. He felt
hardly sure of his ground yet, or he might have begun to sulk in
earnest. No bad plan either, for such little misunderstandings
bring on explanations, reconciliations, declarations, all sorts of
vexations, every day!
Ladies are stanch believers in luck, and leave much to chance with a
devout faith that it will serve them at their need. I imagine Nina
thought it quite in the natural course of events that a dirty boy
should enter the room at this juncture and deliver a note to Simon,
which called forth all his energies and sympathies in a moment. The
note, folded in a hurry, written with a pencil, was from a brother
artist, and ran thus--
Dear Simon, "Come and see me if you _can_. On my back! Two doctors.
Not going to be rubbed out, but beastly seedy all the same."
"When was he taken ill? Who's attending him? Anybody taking care of
him? What o'clock is it now? Tell him I'll be there in five minutes."
Simon delivered himself of these sentences in a breath, and then
glanced from Nina to Dick Stanmore.
"I dare say you wouldn't mind," said he. "I _must_ go to this poor
fellow, and if I find him very ill I may be detained till evening. If
you've time, Stanmore, could you see Miss Algernon as far as the boat?
She'll do very well then, but we don't like her to be wandering about
London by herself."
It is possible this idea may have suggested itself to the persons most
concerned, for all that they seemed so supremely unconscious, and as
if the arrangement, though a sensible one and convenient, no doubt,
were a matter of perfect indifference to themselves.
Dick "would be delighted," of course; though he tried not to look so;
and Nina "couldn't think of giving Mr. Stanmore so much trouble."
Nevertheless, within ten minutes the two were turning into Oxford
Street in a hansom cab; and although they said very little, being
indeed in a vehicle which jolted, swung, and rattled inordinately, I
have not the least doubt they enjoyed their drive.
They enjoyed the river steamer too, which seems equally strange,
with its narrow deck, its tangible smoke, its jerks and snorts, and
throbbing vibrations, as it worked its way against the tide. They
had never before been alone together, and the situation, though
delightful, was at first somewhat embarrassing, because they were in
earnest. The restraint, however, soon wore off, and with tongues
once loosened there was no lack of matter for their employment. How
beautiful, how interesting, how picturesque everything seemed to have
grown all at once: the Houses of Parliament--the bridges--the dull,
broad surface of the river, grey, with a muddy tinge--the low,
level banks--the blunt-nosed barges--their fellow-passengers--the
engineer--the boy with the mop--and the dingy funnel of the steamer
How mysterious the charm that lurks in association of ideas! What
magic it imparts to the commonest actions, the most vulgar objects of
life! What a heart-ache on occasions has it not caused you or me! One
of us cannot see a woman fitting on her gloves without a pang. To
another there is a memory and a sorrow in the flirt of a fan, the
rustle of a dress, the grinding of a barrel-organ, or the slang of a
street song. The stinging-nettle crops up in every bed of flowers we
raise; the bitter tonic flavours all we eat and drink. I dare say
Werther could not munch his bread-and-butter for years in common
comfort because of Charlotte. Would it not be wiser for us to ignore
the Charlottes of life altogether, and stick to the bread-and-butter?
Too soon that dingy steamer reached its place of disembarkation--too
soon, at least, for certain of its passengers; and yet in their short
voyage up the river each of these two had passed the portal of
a paradise, through which, amongst all its gaudy and luxuriant
vegetation, you may search for the tree of knowledge in vain. Not a
word was spoken by either that could bear the direct interpretation of
love-making, yet each felt that the Rubicon had been passed which must
never be recrossed dryshod again.
Dick paid his respects, as seemed but right and proper, to the Misses
Perkins, who voted him an exceedingly agreeable young man; and this
was the more tolerant on their part that he found very little to say,
and had the good taste to be a very short time in saying it. They
asked him, indeed, to remain for dinner, and, notwithstanding their
hospitable inclinations, were no doubt relieved when he declined. He
had gained some experience, you see, from his previous worship of Miss
Bruce, which now stood him in good stead, for in affairs of love,
as of honour, a man conducts his second with more skill and _savoir
faire_ than his first.
The world seemed to have changed by magic while he went back to
London. It felt like the breaking up of a frost, when all is warmth
and softness and vitality once more. He could have talked to himself,
and laughed aloud for very joy.
But Nina went to her room, and cried as she had not cried since she
was a little child, shedding tears of mingled sweetness and sorrow,
rapture and remorse. Her eyes were opened now in her new-found
happiness, and she foresaw the crushing blow that happiness must
inflict on the oldest, kindest, dearest of friends.
For the first time in her life she took herself to task and examined
her own heart. What a joyous heart it was! And yet how could she be
so inhuman as to admit a pleasure which must be cruelly productive of
another's pain? Here was a person whom she had known, as it were, but
yesterday, and his lightest word or glance had already become dearer
to her than the wealth of care and affection which tended her from
childhood, which would be about her to her grave. It was infamous! she
told herself, and yet it was surpassingly sweet! Yes, she loved this
man--this brown-haired, broad-shouldered Mr. Stanmore, of whose
existence a fortnight ago she had been perfectly unconscious, and
in that love she learned to appreciate and understand the affection
loyal, true-hearted Simon lavished on herself. Was he to be sacrificed
to this mere stranger? Never! Rather she would sacrifice herself. But
the tears flowed faster to think that it would indeed be a sacrifice,
an offering up of youth, beauty, hope, happiness for life. Then she
dried her eyes, and went down on her knees to pray at her bedside; and
so rose up, making certain stern resolutions, which it is only fair to
state she afterwards kept--like a woman!
With the view, doubtless, of putting these in practice, she induced
Simon to walk with her on the lawn after tea, while the stars were
twinkling dimly through a soft, misty sky, and the lazy river lapped
and gurgled against the garden banks. He accompanied her, nothing
loth, for he too had spent the last hour in hard painful conflict,
making, also, stern resolutions, which he kept--like a man! "You found
him better," she said, alluding to the cause of his delay in returning
home. "I'm so glad. If he hadn't been, you'd have stayed with him all
night, I know. Simon, I think you're the best and the kindest person
in the world."
Here was an opening. Was she disappointed, or not, that he took so
little advantage of it? "We must all help each other, Nina," said he;
"that's the way to make life easy and to stifle sorrows, if we have
them, of our own."
"_You_ ought never to have a sorrow," she broke in. "_You_, who always
think of others before yourself--you deserve to be so happy. And,
Simon, sometimes I think you're not, and it makes me wretched; and I'd
do anything in the world to please you; anything, if--if it wasn't
_too_ hard a task, you know."
She had been so eager to make her sacrifice and get it over that she
hurried inconsiderately to the brink,--then, like a timid bather,
stopped short, hesitating--the water looked so cold and dark and deep.
The lightest touch from his hand would have plunged her in, overhead.
He would have held it in the fire rather, like the Roman hero, till it
shrivelled into ashes.
"My happiness can never be apart from yours," he said, tenderly and
sadly. "Yet I think I know now that yours is not entirely bound up in
mine. Am I right, Nina?"
"I would do anything in the world for you--anything," she murmured,
taking refuge, as we all do at such times, in vain repetition.
They had reached the drawing-room window, and she turned aside, as if
she meant to go in. He took her hand lightly in his own, and led her
back towards the river. It was very dark, and neither could read the
expression of the other's face.
"I have but one earnest desire in the world," said he, speaking
distinctly, but very low. "It is to see you happily settled in life.
I never had a sister nor a daughter, Nina. You have stood me in the
stead of both; and--and I shall never have a wife."
She knew what he meant. The quiet, sad, yet uncomplaining tone cut
her to the heart. "It's a shame! it's a shame!" she murmured. "Simon,
Simon. Tell me; don't you think me the worst, the most ungrateful, the
most horrible girl in the world?"
He spoke cheerfully now, and even laughed. "Very ungrateful," he
repeated, pressing her hand kindly; "and very detestable, unless
you tell me the truth. Nina, dear Nina, confide in me as if I was
your--well--your grandmother! Will that do? I think there's a somebody
we saw to-day who likes you very much. He's a good fellow, and to be
trusted, I can swear. Don't you think, dear, though you haven't
known him long, that _you_ like _him_ a little--more than a little,
"O, Simon, what a brute I am, and what a fool!" answered the girl,
bursting into tears. And then the painter knew that his ship had gone
down, and the waters had closed over it for evermore. That evening his
aunts thought Simon in better spirits than usual. Nina, though
she went to bed before the rest, had never found him kinder, more
cheerful, more considerate. He spoke playfully, good-humouredly, on
various subjects, and kissed the girl's forehead gravely, almost
reverently, when she wished him good-night. It was such a caress as a
man lays on the dead face that shall never look in his own again. The
painter slept but little--perhaps not at all. And who shall tell how
hard he wrestled with his great sorrow during those long hours of
darkness, "even to the breaking of the day"? No angel sat by his bed
to comfort him, nor spirit-voices whispered solace in his ear, nor
spirit-sympathy poured balm into the cold, aching, empty heart; but
I have my own opinion on such matters, and I would fain believe that
struggles and sufferings like these are neither wasted nor forgotten,
but are treasured and recorded by kindred beings of a higher nature,
as the training that alone fits poor humanity, then noblest, when most
sorrowful, to enter the everlasting gates and join the radiant legions
Lord Bearwarden finds himself very constantly on guard just at
present. Her ladyship is of opinion that he earns his pay more
thoroughly than any day-labourer his wages. I do not myself consider
that helmet, cuirass, and leather breeches form the appropriate
appliances of a hero, when terminating in a pair of red morocco
slippers. Nevertheless, in all representations purporting to be
life-like, effect must be subservient to correctness of detail; and
such was the costume in which his lordship, on duty at the Horse
Guards, received a dispatch that seemed to cause him considerable
surprise and vexation.
The guard coming off was mustering below. The relief coming on was
already moving gallantly down Regent Street, to the admiration of all
beholders. Armed was his lordship to the teeth, though not to
the toes, for his batman waited respectfully with a pair of high
jack-boots in his hand, and still his officer read, and frowned, and
pulled his moustache, and swore, as the saying is, like a trooper,
which, if he had only drawn on his boots, would not have been so much
out of character at the time.
Once again he read it from end to end ere he crumpled the note in
under his cuirass for future consideration. It ran as follows--
"Your lordship's manly and generous character has obtained for you
many well-wishers. Of these the writer is one of the most sincere. It
grieves and angers him to see your lordship's honest nature deceived,
your domestic happiness destroyed, your noble confidence abused. The
writer, my lord, is your true friend. Though too late for rescue, it
is not too late for redress; and he has no power of communicating to
your lordship suspicions which now amount to certainty but by the
means at present employed. Anonymous letters are usually the resource
of a liar and slanderer; but there is no rule without exception; and
the writer can bring _proof_ of every syllable he asserts. If your
lordship will use your own eyes, watch and wait. She has deceived
others; why not _you_? Berners Street, Oxford Street, is no crowded
thoroughfare. Why should your lordship abstain from walking there any
afternoon between four and five? Be wary. Watch and wait."
* * * * *
"Blast his impudence!" muttered Lord Bearwarden, now booted to the
thigh, and clattering down-stairs to take command of his guard.
With zealous subalterns, an experienced corporal-major, well-drilled
men, and horses that knew their way home, it required little military
skill to move his handful of cavalry back to barracks, so Lord
Bearwarden came off duty without creating scandal or ridicule in the
regiment; but I doubt if he knew exactly what he was doing, till he
arrived in plain clothes within a few paces of his own door. Here he
paused for a few minutes' reflection before entering his house, and
was surprised to see at the street corner a lady extremely like his
wife in earnest conversation with a man in rags who had the appearance
of a professional beggar. The lady, as far as he could judge at that
distance, seemed to be offering money, which the man by his actions
obviously refused. Lord Bearwarden walked briskly towards them, a good
deal puzzled, and glad to have his attention distracted from his own
It was a long street, and the couple separated before he reached
them, the man disappearing round the corner, while the lady advanced
steadily towards himself. When within a few paces she lifted a thick
double veil, and he found he had not been mistaken.
Maud was pale and calm as usual, but to those who knew her well recent
agitation would have been betrayed by the lowering of her eyebrows,
and an unusual compression of the lines about her mouth.
He knew her better than she thought, and did not fail to remark these
signs of a recent storm, but, as usual, refrained from asking for the
confidence it was his right to receive.
"You're out early, my lady," said he, in a careless tone. "Been for an
appetite against luncheon-time, eh? That beggar just now didn't seem
hungry, at any rate. It looked to me as if you were offering him
money, and he wouldn't take it. That's quite a new trick in the
She glanced quickly in his face with something almost of reproach.
It was a hateful life this, and even now, she thought, if he would
question her kindly, she could find it in her heart perhaps to tell
him all. All! How she had deceived him, and promised herself to
another, and to get rid of that other, only for a time, had rendered
herself amenable to the law--had been guilty of actual crime--had sunk
to feel the very slave of a felon, the lowest refuse of society. How
she, Lady Bearwarden, had within the last ten minutes been threatened
by this ruffian, been compelled to submit to his insolence, to make
terms with his authority, and to promise him another interview that
very afternoon. How every hour of her life was darkened by terror of
his presence and dread of his revenge. It was unheard-of! unbearable!
She would make a clean breast of it on the first opportunity.
"Let's go in, dear," she said, with more of softness and affection
than was her habit when addressing her husband. "Luncheon is almost
ready. I'm so glad you got away early from barracks. I see so little
of you now. Never mind. It will be all right next week. We shall have
two more captains back from leave to help us. You see I'm beginning to
know the roster almost as well as the Adjutant himself."
It pleased him that she should show an interest in these professional
details. He liked to hear such military terms of the orderly room from
those pretty lips, and he would have replied with something unusually
affectionate, and therefore exceedingly precious, but that, as husband
and wife reached their own door, they found standing there to greet
them the pale wasted face and attenuated figure of Tom Ryfe.
He saluted Lady Bearwarden gravely, but with perfect confidence, and
she was obliged to give him her hand, though she felt as if she could
have strangled him with pleasure, then and there, by the scraper. Her
husband clapped him heartily on the back. "Glad to see you, Tom," said
he; "I heard you were ill and called to inquire, but they wouldn't let
me disturb you. Been devilish seedy, haven't you? Don't look _quite_
in form yet. Come in and have some luncheon. Doctors all tell one to
keep up the system now-a-days."
Poor Lady Bearwarden! Here was another of her avengers, risen, as
it seemed, from the dead, and she must speak kind words, find false
smiles, bid him to her table, and treat him as an honoured guest.
Whatever happened, too, she could not endure to leave him alone with
Bearwarden. Who could tell what disclosures might come out? She was
walking on a mine, so she backed her husband's invitation, and herself
led the way into the dining-room where luncheon was ready, not daring
even to go up-stairs and take her bonnet off before she sat down.
Mr. Ryfe was less communicative than usual about himself, and spoke as
little to her ladyship as seemed compatible with the ordinary forms of
politeness. His object was to lull her suspicions and put her off her
guard. Nevertheless, with painful attention she watched every glance
of his eye, every turn of his features, hanging eagerly, nervously, on
every word he said.
Tom had laid his plan of attack, and now called on the lately-married
couple, that he might reconnoitre his ground before bringing up his
forces. It is not to be supposed that a man of Mr. Ryfe's resources
would long remain in ignorance of the real truth, after detecting, as
he believed at the time, Lady Bearwarden and Dick Stanmore side by
side in a hansom cab.
Ere twenty-four hours had elapsed he had learned the exact state of
the case, and had satisfied himself of the extraordinary resemblance
between Miss Algernon and the woman he had resolved to persecute
without remorse. In this resemblance he saw an engine with which he
hoped to work her ladyship's utter destruction, and then (Tom's heart
leapt within him even now at the thought), ruined, lonely, desolate,
when the whole world turned from her, she might learn to appreciate
his devotion, might take shelter at last with the only heart open to
receive her in her shame.
It is hard to say whether Tom's feelings for the woman he so admired
were of love or hate.
He saw through Lord Bearwarden's nature thoroughly, for of him, too,
he had made it his business to inquire into all the tendencies, all
the antecedents. A high fastidious spirit, jealous, because sensitive,
yet far too proud to admit, much less indulge that jealousy, seemed of
all others the easiest to deceive. The hide of the rhinoceros is no
contemptible gift, and a certain bluntness, I might say coarseness
of character, enables a man to go through the world comfortably and
happily, unvexed by those petty stings and bites and irritations that
worry thinner skins to death. With Lord Bearwarden to suspect was to
fret and ponder and conceal, hating and despising himself the while.
He had other points, besides his taste for soldiering, in common with
On such a man an anonymous letter acted like a blister, clinging,
drawing, inflaming all round the affected part. Nobody in theory so
utterly despised these productions. For nobody in practice did they
produce so disastrous an effect. And then he had been deceived once
before. He had lost his trust, not so much in the other sex (for
all men think every woman false but one) as in himself. He had been
outraged, hurt, humbled, and the bold confidence, the _dash_ with
which such games should be played were gone. There is a buoyancy
gradually lost as we cross the country of life, which is perhaps worth
more than all the gains of experience. And in the real pursuit, as
in the mimic hurry of the chase, it is wise to avoid too hazardous a
venture. The hunter that has once been overhead in a brook never faces
water very heartily again.
Tom could see that his charm was working, that the letter he had
written produced all the effect he desired. His host was obviously
preoccupied, absent in manner, and even flurried, at least for _him_.
Moreover, he drank brown sherry out of a claret-glass, which looked
like being uncomfortable somewhere inside. Lady Bearwarden, grave and
unusually silent, watched her husband with a sad, wistful air, that
goaded Tom to madness. How he had loved that pale, proud face, and it
was paler and prouder and lovelier than ever to-day!
"I've seen some furniture you'd like to look at, my lord," said Tom,
in his old, underbred manner. "There's a chair I'd buy directly if I'd
a house to put it in, or a lady to sit on it; and a carved ebony frame
it's worth going all the distance to see. If you'd nothing to do this
afternoon, I'll be proud to show them you. Twenty minutes' drive from
here in a hansom."
"Will you come?" asked Lord Bearwarden, kindly, of his wife. "You
might take us in the barouche."
She seemed strangely agitated by so natural a proposal, and neither
gentleman failed to remark her disorder.
"I shall like it very much," she stammered. "At least I should. But I
can't this afternoon. I--I've got an engagement at the other end of
"Which _is_ the other end of the town?" said Lord Bearwarden,
laughing. "You've not told us _your_ end yet, Tom;" but seeing his
wife's colour fade more and more, he purposely filled Tom's glass to
distract his attention.
Her engagement was indeed of no pleasant nature. It was to hold
another interview with "Gentleman Jim," in which she hoped to prevail
on him to leave the country by offering the largest sum of money
she could raise from all her resources. Once released from his
persecutions, she thought she could breathe a little, and face Tom
Ryfe well enough single-handed, should he try to poison her husband's
mind against her--an attempt she thought him likely enough to make. It
was Jim she feared--Jim, whom drink and crime, and an infatuation of
which she was herself the cause, had driven almost mad--she could see
it in his eye--who was reckless of her character as of his own--who
insisted on her giving him these meetings two or three times a week,
and was capable of any folly, any outrage, if she disappointed
him. Well, to-day should end it! On that she was determined. If he
persisted in refusing her bribe, she would throw herself on Lord
Bearwarden's mercy and tell him the whole truth.
Maud had more self-command than most women, and could hold her own
even in so false a position as this.
"I must get another gown," she said, after a moment's pause, ignoring
Tom's presence altogether as she addressed her husband across the
table. "I've nothing to wear at the Den, if it's cold when we go down
next week, so I _must_ call at Stripe and Rainbow's to-day, and I
won't keep you waiting in the carriage all the time I'm shopping."
He seemed quite satisfied. "Then I'll take Ryfe to my sulking-room,"
said he, "and wish you good-bye till dinner-time. Tom, you shall have
the best cigar in England--I've kept them five years, and they're
strong enough to blow your head off now."
So Tom, with a formal bow to Lady Bearwarden, followed his host into a
snug but dark apartment at the back, devoted, as was at once detected
by its smell, to the consumption of tobacco.
While he lit a cigar, he could not help thinking of the days, not so
long ago, when Maud would have followed him, at least with her eyes,
out of the room, but consoled himself by the reflection that his
turn was coming now, and so smoked quietly on with a firm, cruel
determination to do his worst.
Thus it came to pass that, before they had finished their cigars,
these gentlemen heard the roll of her ladyship's carriage as it took
her away; also that a few minutes later, passing Stripe and Rainbow's
in a hansom cab, they saw the same carriage, standing empty at the
door of that gorgeous and magnificent emporium.
"Don't get out, Tom," said his, lordship, stopping the hansom, "I only
want to ask a question--I sha'n't be a minute;" and in two strides he
was across the pavement and within the folding-doors of the shop.
Perhaps the question he meant to ask was of his own common-sense, and
its answer seemed hard to accept philosophically. Perhaps he never
expected to find what he meant to look for, yet was weak enough to
feel disappointed all the same--for he had turned very pale when he
re-entered the cab, and he lit another cigar without speaking.
Though her carriage stood at the door, he had searched the whole of
Stripe and Rainbow's shop for Lady Bearwarden in vain.
Tom Ryfe was not without a certain mother-wit, sharpened by his
professional education. He suspected the truth, recalling the
'agitated manner of his hostess at luncheon, when her afternoon's
employment came under notice. Will it be believed that he experienced
an actual pang, to think she should have some assignation, some secret
of which his lordship must be kept in ignorance--that he should have
felt more jealous of this unknown, this possible rival, than of her
lawful husband now sitting by his side! He was no bad engineer,
however, and having laid his train, waited patiently for the mine to
explode at its proper time.
"What an outlandish part of the town we are getting to," observed Lord
Bearwarden, after several minutes' silence; "your furniture-man seems
to live at the other end of the world."
"If you want to buy things at first hand you must go into Oxford
Street," answered Tom. "Let's get out and walk, my lord; it's so
crowded here, we shall make better way."
So they paid their hansom, and threading the swarms of passengers on
the footway, turned into Berners Street arm-in-arm.
Tom walked very slowly for reasons of his own, but made himself
pleasant enough, talking on a variety of subjects, and boasting his
own good taste in matters of curiosity, especially old furniture.
"I wish you could have induced the viscountess to come with us," said
Tom, "we should have been all the better for her help. But ladies have
so many engagements in the afternoon we know nothing about, that it's
impossible to secure their company without several days' notice. I'll
be bound her ladyship is in Stripe and Rainbow's still."
There was something in the casual remark that jarred on Lord
Bearwarden, more than Tom's absurd habit of thus bestowing her full
title on his wife in common conversation, though even that provoked
him a little too; something to set him thinking, to rouse all the
pride and all the suspicion of his nature. "The viscountess," as Tom
called her, was _not_ in Stripe and Rainbow's, of that he had made
himself perfectly certain less than half-an-hour ago; then where
_could_ she be? Why this secrecy, this mystery, this reserve, that had
been growing up between them day by day ever since their marriage?
What conclusion was a man likely to arrive at who had lived in the
world of London from boyhood, and been already once so cruelly
deceived? His blood boiled; and Tom, whose hand rested on his arm,
felt the muscles swell and quiver beneath his touch.
Mr. Ryfe had timed his observation well; the two gentlemen were now
proceeding slowly up Berners Street, and had arrived nearly opposite
the house that contained Simon's painting-room, its hard-working
artist, its frequent visitor, its beautiful sitter, and its Fairy
Queen. Since his first visit there Tom Ryfe, in person or through
his emissaries, had watched the place strictly enough to have become
familiar with the habits of its inmates.
Mr. Stanmore's trial trip with Miss Algernon proved so satisfactory,
that the journey had been repeated on the same terms every day: this
arrangement, very gratifying to the persons involved, originated
indeed with Simon, who now went regularly after work to pass a few
hours with his sick friend. Thus, to see these two young people
bowling down Berners Street in a hansom cab, about five o'clock,
looking supremely happy the while, was as good a certainty as to meet
the local pot-boy, or the postman.
Tom Ryfe manoeuvred skilfully enough to bring his man on the ground
precisely at the right moment.
Still harping on old furniture, he was in the act of remarking that
"he should know the shop again, though he had forgotten the number,
and that it must be a few doors higher up," when his companion
started, uttered a tremendous execration, and struggling to free
himself from Tom's arm, holloaed at an unconscious cab-driver to stop.
"What's the matter? are you ill, my lord?" exclaimed his companion,
holding on to him with all his weight, while affecting great anxiety
"D--n you! let me go!" exclaimed Lord Bearwarden, nearly flinging Tom
to the pavement as he shook himself free and tore wildly down the
street in vain pursuit.
He returned in a minute or two, white, scared, and breathless. Pulling
his moustache fiercely, he made a gallant effort to compose himself;
but when he spoke, his voice was so changed, Tom looked with surprise
in his face.
"You saw it too, Tom!" he said at last, in a hoarse whisper.
"Saw it!--saw what?" repeated Tom, with an admirable assumption of
ignorance, innocence, and dismay.
"Saw Lady Bearwarden in that cab with Dick Stanmore!" answered his
lordship, steadying himself bravely like a good ship in a breeze, and
growing cooler and cooler, as was his nature in an emergency.
"Are you sure of it?--did you see her face? I fancied so myself, but
thought I must be mistaken. It was Mr. Stanmore, no doubt, but it
cannot possibly have been the viscountess."
Tom spoke with an air of gravity, reflection, and profound concern.
"I may settle with _him_, at any rate!" said Lord Bearwarden. "Tom,
you're a true friend; I can trust you like myself. It's a comfort to
have a friend, Tom, when a fellow's smashed up like this. I shall bear
it well enough presently; but it's an awful facer, old boy. I'd have
done anything for that woman--I tell you, anything! I'd have cut off
my right hand to please her. And now!--It's not because she doesn't
care for me--I've known that all along; but to think that she's
like--like those poor painted devils we met just now. Like
them!--she's a million times worse! O, it's hard to bear! Damnation! I
_won't_ bear it! Somebody will have to give an account for this!"
"You have my sympathy," said Tom, in a low respectful voice, for he
knew his man thoroughly; "these things won't stand talking about; but
you shall have my assistance too, in any and every way you require.
I'm not a swell, my lord, but I'll stick by you through thick and
The other pressed his arm. "We must do something at once," said he.
"I will go up to barracks now: call for me there in an hour's time; I
shall have decided on everything by then."
So Lord Bearwarden carried a sore heart back once more to the old
familiar scenes--through the well-known gate, past the stalwart
sentry, amongst all the sights and sounds of the profession by which
he set such store. What a mockery it seemed!--how hard, how cruel, and
But this time at least, he felt, he should not be obliged to sit down
and brood over his injuries without reprisals or redress.
Lady Bearwarden's carriage had, without doubt, set her down at Stripe
and Rainbow's, to take her up again at the same place after waiting
there for so long a period as must have impressed on her servants the
importance of their lady's toilet, and the careful study she bestowed
on its selection. The tall bay horses had been flicked at least a
hundred times to make them stand out and show themselves, in the form
London coachmen think so imposing to passers-by. The footman had
yawned as often, expressing with each contortion an excessive longing
for beer. Many street boys had lavished their criticisms, favourable
and otherwise, on the wheels, the panels, the varnish, the driver's
wig, and that dignitary's legs, whom they had the presumption to
address as "John." Diverse connoisseurs on the pavement had appraised
the bay horses at every conceivable price--some men never can pass a
horse or a woman without thinking whether they would like to bargain
for the one or make love to the other; and the animals themselves
seemed to have interchanged many confidential whispers, on the
subject, probably, of beans,--when Lady Bearwarden re-appeared, to
seat herself in the carriage and give the welcome order, "Home!"
She had passed what the French call a very "bad little quarter of an
hour," and the storm had left its trace on her pale brow and delicate
features. They bore, nevertheless, that firm, resolute expression
which Maud must have inherited from some iron-hearted ancestor. There
was the same stem clash of the jaw, the same hard, determined frown
in this, their lovely descendant, that confronted Plantagenet and his
mailed legions on the plains by Stirling, that stiffened under the wan
moonlight on Culloden Moor amongst broken claymores and riven targets,
and tartans all stained to the deep-red hues of the Stuart with his
Softened, weakened by a tender, doubting affection, she had yielded
to an ignoble, unworthy coercion; but it had been put on too hard of
late, and her natural character asserted itself under the pressure.
She was in that mood which makes the martyr and the heroine, sometimes
even the criminal, but on which, deaf to reason and insensible to
fear, threats and arguments are equally thrown away.
She had met "Gentleman Jim," according to promise, extorted from her
by menaces of everything that could most outrage her womanly feelings
and tarnish her fair fame before the world--had met him with as much
secrecy, duplicity, and caution as though he were really the favoured
lover for whom she was prepared to sacrifice home, husband, honour,
and all. The housebreaker had mounted a fresh disguise for the
occasion, and flattered himself, to use his own expression, that he
looked "quite the gentleman from top to toe." Could he have known how
this high-bred woman loathed his tawdry ornaments, his flash attire,
his silks and velvets, and flushed face, and dirty, ringed hands and
Could he have known! He _did_ know, and it maddened him till he forgot
reason, prudence, experience, commonsense--forgot everything but the
present torture, the cruel longing for the impossible, the accursed
conviction (worse than all the stings of drink and sin and remorse)
that this one wild, hopeless desire of his existence could never be
Therefore, in the lonely street to which a cab had brought her from
the shop where her carriage waited, and which they paced to and fro,
this strangely-assorted pair, he gave vent to his feelings, and broke
out in a paroxysm that roused all his listener's feelings of anger,
resistance, and disgust. She had just offered him so large a sum
of money to quit England for ever, as even Jim, for whom, you must
remember, every sovereign represented twenty shillings' worth of
beer, could not refuse without a qualm. He hesitated, and Maud's face
brightened with a ray of hope that quivered in her eyes like sunlight.
"To sail next week," said he slowly; "to take my last look of ye
to-day. Them's the articles. My last look. Standing there in the
daylight--a _real_ lady! And never to come back no more!"
She clasped her hands--the delicate gloved hands, with their heavy
bracelets at the wrists--and her voice shook while she spoke. "You'll
go; won't you? It will make your fortune; and--and--I'll always think
of you kindly--and--gratefully. I _will_ indeed; so long as you keep
He sprang like a horse to the lash. "It's h----ll!" he exclaimed. "Put
back your cursed money. I won't do it!"
"You won't do it?"
There was such quiet despair in her accents as drove him to fury.
"I won't do it!" he repeated in a low voice that frightened her. "I'll
rot in a gaol first!--I'll swing on a gallows!--I'll die in a ditch!
Take care as _you_ don't give me something to swing for! Yes, _you_,
with your pale face, and your high-handed ways, and your cold, cruel
heart that can send a poor devil to the other end o' the earth with
a 'pleasant trip, and here's your health, my lad,' like as if I was
goin' across to Lambeth. And yet you stand there as beautiful as a
hangel; and I--I'm a fool, I am! And--and I don't know what keeps me
from slippin' my knife into that white throat o' yourn, except it is
as you don't look not a morsel dashed, nor skeared, you don't; no more
than you was that first night as ever I see your face. And I wish my
eyes had been lime-blinded first, and I'd been dead and rotting in my
With anything like a contest, as usual, Maud's courage came back.
"I am not in your power yet," said she, raising her haughty head.
"There stands the cab. When we reach it I get in, and you shall never
have a chance of speaking to me after to-day. Once for all. Will you
take this money, or leave it? I shall not make the offer again."
He took the notes from her hand, with a horrible oath, and dashed them
on the ground; then growing so pale she thought he must have fallen,
seemed to recover his temper and his presence of mind, picked them up,
returned them very quietly, and stood aside on the narrow pavement to
let her pass.
"You are right," said he, in a voice so changed, she looked anxiously
in his white face, working like that of a man in a fit. "I was a fool
a while ago. I know better now. But I won't take the notes, my lady.
Thank ye kindly just the same. I'll wish ye good-mornin' now. O, no!
Make yourself easy. I'll never ask to see ye again."
He staggered while he walked away, and laid hold of an area railing as
he turned the street corner; but Maud was too glad to get rid of her
tormentor at any price to speculate on his meaning, his movements, or
the storm that raged within his breast.
And now, sitting back in her carriage, bowling home-ward, with the
fresh evening breeze in her face, the few men left to take their hats
off looked in that face, and while making up their minds that after
all it was the handsomest in London, felt instinctively they had never
coveted the ownership of its haughty beauty so little as to-day. Her
husband's cornet, walking with a brother subaltern, and saluting Lady
Bearwarden, or, rather, the carriage and horses, for her ladyship's
eyes and thoughts were miles away, expressed the popular feeling
perhaps with sufficient clearness when he thus delivered himself, in
reply to his companion's loudly-expressed admiration--
"The best-looking woman in London, no doubt, and the best turned out.
But I think Bruin's got a handful, you know. Tell ye what, my boy, I'm
generally right about women. She looks like the sort that, if they
once _begin_ to kick, never leave off till they've knocked the
splinter-bar into toothpicks and carried away the whole of the front
Maud, all unconscious of the light in which she appeared to this young
philosopher, was meanwhile hardening her heart with considerable
misgivings for the task she had in view, resolved that nothing should
now deter her from the confession she had delayed too long. She
reflected how foolish it was not to have taken advantage of the first
confidences of married life by throwing herself on her husband's
mercy, telling him all the folly, imprudence, crime of which she had
been guilty, and imploring to be forgiven. Every day that passed made
it more difficult, particularly since this coolness had arisen between
them, which, although she felt it did not originate with herself, she
also felt a little pliancy on her part, a little warmth of manner, a
little expressed affection, would have done much to counteract and put
away. She had delayed it too long; but "Better late than never." It
should be done to-day; before she dressed for dinner; the instant she
got home. She would put her arms round his neck, and tell him that the
worst of her iniquities, the most unpardonable, had been committed for
love of _him_! She could not bear to lose him (Maud forgot that in
those days it was the coronet she wanted to capture). She dreaded
falling in his esteem. She dared all, risked all, because without
him life must have been to her, as it is to so many, a blank and a
mistake. But supposing he put on the cold, grave face, assumed the
conventional tone she knew so well, told her he could not pardon such
unladylike, such unwomanly proceedings, or that he did not desire to
intrude on confidences so long withheld; or, worse than all, that
they did very well as they were, got on--he had hinted as much once
before--better than half the married couples in London, why, she must
bear it. This would be part of the punishment; and at least she could
have the satisfaction of assuring him how she loved him, and of loving
him heartily, humbly, even without return.
Lady Bearwarden had never done anything humbly before. Perhaps she
thought this new sensation might be for her good--might make her a
changed woman, and in such change happier henceforth.
Tears sprang to her eyes. How slow that man drove; but, thank heaven!
here she was, home at last.
On the hall-table lay a letter in her husband's hand-writing,
addressed to herself. "How provoking!" she muttered, "to say he dines
out, of course. And now I must wait till to-morrow. Never mind."
Passing up-stairs to her boudoir, she opened it as she entered the
room, and sank into a chair, with a faint passionate cry, like that of
a hare, or other weak animal, struck to the death. She had courage,
nevertheless, to read it over twice, so as thoroughly to master the
contents. During their engagement they used to meet every day. They
had not been parted since their marriage. It was the first, literally
the very first, letter she had ever received from him.
"I have no reproaches to make," it said, "nor reasons
to offer for my own decision. I leave both to your sense
of right, if indeed yours can be the same as that usually
accepted amongst honourable people. I have long felt
some mysterious barrier existed between you and me. I
have only an hour ago discovered its disgraceful nature,
and the impossibility that it can ever be removed. You
cannot wonder at my not returning home. Stay there as
long as you please, and be assured I shall not enter that
house again. You will not probably wish to see or hold
any communication with me in future, but should you be
so ill-advised as to attempt it, remember I have taken care
to render it impossible. I know not how I have forfeited
the right to be treated fairly and on the square, nor why
you, of all the world, should have felt entitled to make me
your dupe, but this is a question on which I do not mean
to enter, now nor hereafter. My man of business will
attend to any directions you think proper to give, and has
my express injunctions to further your convenience in
every way, but to withhold my address and all information
respecting my movements. With a sincere wish for your
welfare, I remain,"
She was stunned, stupefied, bewildered. What had he found out? What
could it mean? She had known of late she loved him very dearly; she
never knew till now the pain such love might bring. She rocked herself
to and fro in her agony, but soon started up into action. She must do
something. She could not sit there under his very picture looking down
on her, manly, and kind, and soldierlike. She ran down-stairs to his
room. It was all disordered just as he had left it, and an odour of
tobacco clung heavily round the curtains and furniture. She wondered
now she should ever have disliked the fumes of that unsavoury plant.
She could not bear to stay there long, but hurried up-stairs again
to ring for a servant, and bid him get a cab at once, to see if Lord
Bearwarden was at the barracks. She felt hopelessly convinced it was
no use; even if he were, nothing would be gained by the assurance, but
it seemed a relief to obtain an interval of waiting and uncertainty
and delay. When the man returned to report that "his lordship had been
there and gone away again," she wished she had let it alone. It formed
no light portion of her burden that she must preserve an appearance
of composure before her servants. It seemed such a mockery while her
heart was breaking, yes, breaking, in the desolation of her sorrow,
the blank of a future without _him_.
Then in extremity of need she bethought her of Dick Stanmore, and in
this I think Lady Bearwarden betrayed, under all her energy and force
of character, the softer elements of woman's nature. A man, I suppose,
under any pressure of affliction would hardly go for consolation
to the woman he had deceived. He partakes more of the wild beast's
sulkiness, which, sick or wounded, retires to mope in a corner by
itself; whereas a woman, as indeed seems only becoming to her less
firmly-moulded character, shows in a struggle all the qualities of
valour except that one additional atom of final endurance which wins
the fight at last. In real bitter distress they must have some one to
lean on. Is it selfishness that bids them carry their sorrows for help
to the very hearts they have crushed and trampled? Is it not rather a
noble instinct of forgiveness and generosity which tells them that if
their mutual cases were reversed they would themselves be capable of
affording the sympathy they expect?
Maud knew that, to use the conventional language of the world in which
they moved, "she had treated Dick ill." We think very lightly of these
little social outrages in the battle of life, and yet I doubt if one
human being can inflict a much deeper injury on another than that
which deprives the victim of all power of enjoyment, all belief in
good, all hope for the future, all tender memories of the past. Man
or woman, we ought to have some humane compunction, some little
hesitation in sitting down to play at that game from which the winner
rises only wearied with unmerited good fortune, the loser, haggard,
miserable, stripped and beggared for life.
It was owing to no forbearance of Lady Bearwarden's that Dick had so
far recovered his losses as to sit down once more and tempt fortune at
another table; but she turned to him nevertheless in this her hour
of perplexity, and wrote to ask his aid, advice, and sympathy in her
I give her letter, though it never reached its destination, because I
think it illustrates certain feminine ideas of honour, justice, and
plain dealing which must originate in some code of reasoning totally
unintelligible to ourselves.
Dear Mr. Stanmore,
You are a true friend, I feel sure. I have always
considered you, since we have been acquainted, the truest
and most tried amongst the few I possess. You told me
once, some time ago, when we used to meet oftener than
we have of late, that if ever I was in sorrow or difficulty
I was to be sure and let you know. I am in sorrow and
difficulty now--great sorrow, overwhelming difficulty. I
have nobody that cares for me enough to give advice or
help, and I am so very, _very_ sad and desolate. I think I
have some claim upon you. We used to be so much
together and were always such good friends. Besides, we
are almost relations, are we not? and once I thought we
should have been something more. But that is all over
Will you help me? Come to me at once, or write.
Lord Bearwarden has left me without a word of explanation
except a cruel, cutting, formal letter that I cannot
understand. I don't know what I have said or done, but
it seems so hard, so inhuman. And I loved him very
dearly, very. Indeed, though you have every right to say
you don't believe me, I would have made him a good wife
if he had let me. My heart seems quite crushed and
broken. It is too hard. Again I ask you to help me, and
There is little doubt that had Dick Stanmore ever received this
touching production he would have lost not one moment in complying
with the urgency of its appeal. But Dick did not receive it, for the
simple reason that, although stamped by her ladyship and placed in the
letter-box, it was never sent to the post.
Lord Bearwarden, though absenting himself from home under such
unpleasant circumstances, could not therefore shake off the thousand
imperceptible meshes that bind a man like chains of iron to his own
domestic establishment. Amongst other petty details his correspondence
had to be provided for, and he sent directions accordingly to his
groom of the chambers, that all his letters should be forwarded to a
certain address. The groom of the chambers, who had served in one or
two families before, of which the heads had separated under rather
discreditable circumstances, misunderstanding his master's orders, or
determined to err on the safe side, forwarded all the letters he could
lay hands on to my lord. Therefore the hurt and angry husband was
greeted, ere he had left home a day, by the sight of an envelope in
his wife's handwriting addressed to the man with whom he believed
she was in love. Even under such provocation Lord Bearwarden was too
high-minded to open the enclosure, but sent it back forthwith in a
slip of paper, on which he calmly "presented his compliments and
begged to forward a letter he could see was Lady Bearwarden's that had
fallen into his hands by mistake."
Maud, weeping in her desolate home, tore it into a thousand shreds.
There was something characteristic of her husband in these little
honourable scruples that cut her to the heart. "Why didn't he read
it?" she repeated, wringing her hands and walking up and down the
room. "He knows Mr. Stanmore quite well. Why didn't he read it? and
then he would have seen what I shall never, never be able to tell him
COAXING A FIGHT
Mr. Ryfe could now congratulate himself that his puppets were fairly
on the stage prepared for their several parts; and it remained but to
bring them into play, and with that view, he summoned all the craft of
his experience to assist the cunning of his nature.
Lord Bearwarden, amongst other old-fashioned prejudices, clung to an
obsolete notion that there are certain injuries, and those of the
deepest and most abiding, for which neither the opinion of society,
nor the laws of the land, afford redress, and which can only be wiped
out by personal encounter of man to man. It seemed to him that he
could more easily forget his sorrow, and turn with a firmer tread into
the beaten track of life, after a snap shot at Mr. Stanmore across a
dozen yards of turf. Do not blame him--remember his education and
the opinions of those amongst whom he lived. Remember, too, that his
crowning sorrow had not yet taught him resignation, an opiate which
works only with lapse of time. There is a manlier and a truer courage
than that which seeks a momentary oblivion of its wrongs in the
excitement of personal danger--there is a heroism of defence, far
above the easier valour of attack--and those are distinguished as the
bravest troops that under severe loss preserve their discipline and
formation, without returning the fire of an enemy.
Lord Bearwarden, however, as became the arm of the service to which he
belonged, was impatient of inaction, and had not yet learned to look
on hostilities in this light.
"We'll parade him, Tom," said he, affecting a cheerfulness which did
not the least deceive his companion. "I don't want to make a row about
it, of course. I'll spare _her_, though she hardly deserves it, but
I'll have a slap at _him_, and I'll shoot him, too, if I can! You
needn't put us up much farther than the width of this room!"
They were closeted together at the back of a certain unassuming hotel,
where their addresses, if required, would be consistently denied. The
room in question was small, gloomy, and uncomfortable, but so shaded
and sequestered, that, lulled by its drowsy glimmer, for its inmates,
as for the lotus-eaters, "it was always afternoon."
"Suppose he won't fight," observed Tom, shaking his head.
"Won't fight!" repeated his lordship, in high disdain. "Curse him--he
_must_ fight. I'll horsewhip him in the Park! That's all nonsense,
Tom. The fellow's a gentleman. I'll say that for him. He'll see the
propriety of keeping the whole thing quiet, if it was only out of
regard for _her_. You must settle it, Tom. It's a great deal to ask. I
know I ought to have gone to a brother-officer, but this is a peculiar
case, you see, and the fewer fellows in the hunt the better!"
Mr. Ryfe mused. He didn't much like his job, but reflected that, under
the management of any one else, an explanation would assuredly put
everything in its true light, and his web would all be brushed away.
What he required was a scandal; a slander so well sustained, that Lady
Bearwarden's character should never recover it, and for such a purpose
nothing seemed so efficacious as a duel, of which she should be the
cause. He imagined also, in his inexperience, like the immortal Mr.
Winkle, that these encounters were usually bloodless, and mere,
matters of form.
"You're resolved, I suppose," said Tom. "I needn't point out to you, my
lord, that such a course shuts every door to reconciliation--precludes
every possibility of things coming right in future. It's a strong
measure--a very strong measure--and you really mean to carry it
"I've made up my mind to shoot him," answered the other doggedly.
"What's the use of jawing about it? These things should be done at
once, my good fellow. If we have to go abroad, we'll start to-morrow
"I'd better try and hunt him up without delay," said Tom. "It's easier
to find a fellow now than in the middle of the season, but I might not
hit upon him to-night, nevertheless."
Lord Bearwarden looked at his watch. "Try his club," said he. "If he
dines there, it's about the time. They'll know his address at any
rate, and if you look sharp you might catch him at home dressing for
dinner. I'll wait here and we'll have a mutton-chop when you come in.
Stick to him, Tom. Don't let him back out. It would have saved a deal
of trouble," added his lordship, while the other hurried off, "if I
could have caught that cab to-day. She'd have been frightened, though,
and upset. Better as it is, perhaps, after all."
Mr. Ryfe did not suffer the wheels of his chariot to tarry, nor the
grass to grow beneath his feet. Very few minutes elapsed before he
found himself waiting in the strangers' room of a club much affected
by Dick Stanmore, comforted with a hall-porter's assurance that the
gentleman he sought had ordered dinner, and could not fail to arrive
almost immediately. He had scarcely taken up the evening paper when
Mr. Stanmore came in.
Anything less like a conscience-stricken Lothario, burdened with the
guilt of another man's wife, can scarcely be imagined. Dick's eye
was bright, his cheek blooming, his countenance radiant with health,
happiness, and the light from within that is kindled by a good
conscience and a loving heart. He came up to Ryfe with a merry
greeting on his lips, but stopped short, marking the gravity of that
gentleman's face and the unusual formality of his bow.
"My errand is a very painful one," said Tom. "I regret to say, Mr.
Stanmore, that I have come to you on a most unpleasant business."
"I thought you'd come to dinner," answered Dick, no whit disconcerted.
"Never mind. Let's have it out. I dare say it's not half so bad as it
"It could not possibly be worse," was the solemn rejoinder. "It
involves life and honour for two gentlemen, both of whom I respect and
esteem. For the sake of one, a very dear friend, I have consented
to be here now. Mr. Stanmore, I come to you on behalf of Lord
Dick started. The old wound was healed, and, indeed, perfectly cured
now, but the skin had not yet grown quite callous over that injured
"Go on," said he. "Why didn't Lord Bearwarden come himself?"
"Impossible!" answered Tom, with great dignity. "Contrary to all
precedent. I could not have permitted such a thing. Should not have
listened to it for a moment. Quite inadmissible. Would have placed
every one in a false position. His lordship has lost no time in
selecting an experienced friend. May I hope Mr. Stanmore will be
equally prompt? You understand me, of course."
"I'm hanged if I _do_!" replied Dick, opening his eyes very wide. "You
must speak plainer. What is it all about?"
"Simply," said the other, "that my principal assures me he feels
confident your own sense of honour will not permit you to refuse him a
meeting. Lord Bearwarden, as you must be aware, Mr. Stanmore, is a
man of very high spirit and peculiarly sensitive feelings. You have
inflicted on him some injury of so delicate a nature that even from
me, his intimate friend, he withholds his confidence on the real facts
of the case. He leads me to believe that I shall not find my task very
difficult, and my own knowledge of Mr. Stanmore's high character and
jealous sense of honour points to the same conclusion. You will, of
course, meet me half-way, without any further negotiation or delay."
("If he's ever spoken three words of endearment to 'the viscountess,'"
reflected Tom, "he'll understand at once. If he hasn't, he'll think
"But I can't fight without I'm told what it's for," urged Dick, in
considerable bewilderment. "I don't know Lord Bearwarden well. I've
nothing to do with him. We've never had a quarrel in our lives."
"Mr. Stanmore!" replied the other. "You surprise me. I thought you
quite a different sort of person. I thought a _gentleman_"--here a
flash in Dick's eye warned him not to go too far--"a gentleman of your
intelligence would have anticipated my meaning without trying to force
from me an explanation, which indeed it is out of my power to make.
There _are_ injuries, Mr. Stanmore, on which outraged friendship
cannot bear to enlarge; for which a man of honour feels bound to offer
the only reparation in his power. Must we _force_ you, Mr. Stanmore,
into the position we require, by overt measures, as disgraceful to you
as they would be unbecoming in my friend?"
"Stop a moment, Mr. Ryfe," said Dick. "Do you speak now for yourself
or Lord Bearwarden?"
There was a slight contraction of the lip accompanying this remark
that Tom by no means fancied. He hastened to shelter himself behind
"For Lord Bearwarden, decidedly," said he, "and without intention of
the slightest discourtesy. My only object is indeed to avoid, for both
parties, anything so revolting as a personal collision. Have I said
"No, you haven't!" answered Dick, who was getting warm while his
dinner was getting cold. "If you won't tell me what the offence is,
how can I offer either redress or apology?"
"No apology would be accepted," replied Mr. Ryfe loftily. "Nor,
indeed, does his lordship consider that his injuries admit of
extenuation. Shall I tell you his very words, Mr. Stanmore, addressed
to me less than an hour ago?"
"Drive on," said Dick.
"His lordship's words, not my own, you will bear in mind," continued
Tom, rather uncomfortable, but resolved to play out his trump card.
"And I only repeat them as it were in confidence, and at your own
request. 'Tom,' said he, 'nothing on earth shall prevent our meeting.
No, not if I have to horsewhip Mr. Stanmore in the Park to bring it
"If that don't fetch him," thought Tom, "he's not the man I take him
It _did_ fetch him. Dick started, and turned fiercely on the speaker.
"The devil!" he exclaimed. "Two can play at that game, and perhaps he
might come off the worst! Mr. Ryfe, you're a bold man to bring such
a message to _me_. I'm not sure how far your character of ambassador
should bear you harmless; but, in the meantime, tell your principal
I'll accommodate him with pleasure, and the sooner the better."
Dick's blood was up, as indeed seemed natural enough under so gross
an insult, and he was all for fighting now, right or wrong. Tom Ryfe
congratulated himself on the success of this, his first step in a
diplomacy leading to war, devoutly hoping that the friend to whom Mr.
Stanmore should refer him might prove equally fierce and hot-headed.
He bowed with the studied courtesy assumed by every man concerned,
either as principal or second, in an act of premeditated homicide, and
smoothed his hat preparatory to taking leave.
"If you will kindly favour me with your friend's name," said he in a
tone of excessive suavity, "I will wish you good-evening. I fear I
have already kept you too long from dinner."
Dick considered for a few seconds, while he ran over in his mind the
sum-total of intimates on whom he could rely in an emergency like the
present. It is wonderful how short such lists are. Mr. Stanmore could
not recall more than half-a-dozen, and of these four were out of town,
and one lay ill in bed. The only available man of the six was Simon
Perkins. Dick Stanmore knew that he could trust him to act as a stanch
friend through thick and thin, but he had considerable scruples
in availing himself of the painter's assistance under existing
Time pressed, however, and there was nothing for it but to furnish Mr.
Ryfe with Simon's name and address in Berners Street.
"Can I see him at once?" asked Tom, strangely anxious to hasten
matters, as it seemed to Dick Stanmore, who could not help wondering
whether, had the visitor been a combatant, he would have proved
equally eager for the fray.
"I am afraid not till to-morrow," was the reply. "He has left his
painting-room by this time and gone out of town. I cannot ask you to
take another journey to-night. Allow me to offer you a glass of sherry
before you go."
Tom declined the proffered hospitality, bowing himself out, as
befitted the occasion, with much ceremonious politeness, and leaving
the other to proceed to his club-dinner in a frame of mind that
considerably modified the healthy appetite he had brought with him
He congratulated himself, however, before his soup was done, that he
had not sent Mr. Ryfe down to the cottage at Putney. He could not bear
to think of that peaceful, happy retreat, the nest of his dove, the
home of his heart, as desecrated by such a presence on such an errand.
"Come what might," he thought, "Nina must be kept from all terrors and
anxieties of this kind--all knowledge of such wild, wicked doings as
So thinking, and reflecting, also, that it was very possible with
an encounter of so deadly a nature before him they might never meet
again, he knew too well by the heaviness at his heart how dear this
girl had become in so short a time--how completely she had filled up
that gaping wound in his affections from which he once thought he must
have bled hopelessly to death; how entirely he was bound up in her
happiness, and how, even in an hour of trouble, danger, and vexation
like this, his chief anxiety was lest it should bring sorrow and
suffering to _her_.
He drank but little wine at his solitary dinner, smoked one cigar
after it, and wrote a long letter to Nina before he went to bed--a
letter in which he told her all his love, all the comfort she had been
to him, all his past sorrows, all his future hopes, and then tore this
affectionate production into shreds and flung it in the fire-place. It
had only been meant to reach her hands if he should be killed. And
was it not calculated, then, to render her more unhappy, more
inconsolable? He asked himself the question several times before he
found resolution to answer it in the practical manner described. I
think he must have been very fond of Nina Algernon indeed, although he
did not the least know she was at that moment looking out of window,
with her hair down, listening to the night breeze in the poplars, the
lap and wash of the ebb-tide against the river-banks, thinking how
nice it was to have met him that morning, by the merest accident,
how nice it would be to see him in the painting-room, by the merest
accident again, of course, to-morrow afternoon.
The clock at St. George's, Hanover Square, struck nine as Mr. Ryfe
returned to his hotel. He found Lord Bearwarden waiting for him, and
dinner ready to be placed on the table.
"Have you settled it?" asked his lordship, in a fierce whisper that
betrayed no little eagerness for action--something very like a
thirst for blood. "When is it for, Tom? To-morrow morning? I've got
everything ready. I don't know that we need cross the water, after
"Easy, my lord," answered Tom. "I can't get on quite so quick as you
wish. I've seen our man, and learned his friend's name and address.
That's pretty well, I think, for one day's work."
"You'll meet the friend to-night, Tom!" exclaimed the other. "Who is
he? Do we know him? He's a soldier, I hope?"
"He's a painter, and he lives out of town; so I _can't_ see him till
to-morrow. In the meantime, I would venture to suggest, my lord,
that I'm recovering from a severe illness, and I've been eight hours
Tom spoke cheerily enough, but in good truth he looked haggard and
out-worn. Lord Bearwarden rang the bell.
"I'm ashamed of myself," said he. "Let's have dinner directly; and as
for this cursed business, don't let us think any more about it till
They sat down accordingly to, good food, well cooked, good wine, well
decanted: in good society, too, well chosen from a select fraternity
usually to be found in this secluded resort. So they feasted, and were
merry, talking of hounds, horses, hunting, racing, weight for age,
wine, women, and what not. The keenest observer, the acutest judge
of his kind, could never have detected that one of these men was
meditating bloodshed, the other prompting him to something very like
murder as an accessory before the fact.
I will never believe that Damocles ate his supper with less appetite,
drank his wine with less zest, for the threatening sword suspended
Mr. Ryfe, we may be sure, did not fail to make his appearance in
Berners Street at an early hour on the following day, as soon indeed
as, according to Mr. Stanmore's information, there was any chance of
finding the painter at home. He felt, and he told himself so more than
once, that he was enacting the part of Mephistopheles, without the
supernatural power of that fatal auxiliary, without even a fair
allowance of time to lure his Faust to perdition. He had undertaken a
task that never would have occurred but to a desperate man, and Tom
was desperate, inasmuch as the one hope on which he set his heart
had crumbled to atoms. He had resolved to bring together in active
hostility two men of the world, versed in the usages of society,
themselves perfectly familiar with the code of social honour, that
they might attempt each other's lives beguiled by a delusion gross and
palpable as the common tricks of any fire-eating conjurer at a fair.
The very audacity of the scheme, however, seemed to afford its best
chance of success, and when that success should have been attained,
Tom's fancy, overleaping all intermediate difficulties, revelled in
the wild possibilities of the future. Of bloodshed he took very little
thought. What cared he, with his sad, sore heart, for the lives of
those prosperous men, gifted with social advantages that had been
denied to himself, and that he felt a proud consciousness he could
have put to a far richer profit? Whether either or both were killed,
whether either or both came home untouched, his object would equally
be gained. Lady Bearwarden's fair fame would equally be dishonoured
before the world. He knew that world well, knew its tyrannical code,
its puzzling verdicts, its unaccountable clemency to the wolf, its
inflexible severity for the lamb, above all, its holy horror of a blot
that has been scored, of a sin, then only unpardonable, that has been
Men love the women on whom they set their affections so differently.
For some--and these are great favourites with the sex--attachment
means the desire of a tiger for its prey. With others it is the
gratification a child finds in a toy. A small minority entertain the
superstition of a savage for his idol; a smaller yet offer the holy
homage of a true worshipper to his saint. A woman's heart pines for
unrivalled sovereignty--a woman's nature requires the strong hand of a
master to retain it in bondage. For this, as for every other earthly
state, there is no unalloyed happiness, no perfect enjoyment, no
complete repose. The gourd has its worm, the diamond its flaw, the
rose its earwigs, and
"The trail of the serpent is over them all."
So Tom Ryfe, taking time by the forelock, breakfasted at ten, wrote
several letters with considerable coolness and forethought, all
bearing on the event in contemplation, some providing for a week's
absence abroad, at least, smoked a cigar in Lord Bearwarden's bedroom,
who was not yet up, and towards noon turned out of Oxford Street to
fulfil his mission with Simon Perkins the painter.
His step was lighter, his whole appearance more elate, than usual. The
traces of recent illness and over-night's fatigue had disappeared.
He was above all foolish fancies of luck, presentiments, and such
superstitions--a man not easily acted on by extraneous circumstances
of good or evil, trusting chiefly in his own resources, and believing
very firmly in nothing but the multiplication table; yet to-day he
told himself he "felt like a winner"; to-day victory seemed in his
grasp, and he trod the pavement with the confident port of that pride
which the proverb warns us "goeth before a fall."
He rang the door-bell and was vaguely directed to proceed up-stairs by
the nondescript maid-servant who admitted him. The place was dark, the
day sultry, the steps numerous. Tom climbed them leisurely, hat in
hand, wondering why people couldn't live on the ground-floor, and not
a little absorbed in preparation of such a plausible tale as should
bring the contemplated interview to a warlike termination.
Turning imaginary periods with certain grandiloquent phrases
concerning delicacy of feeling and high sense of honour, he arrived at
the second landing, where he paused to take breath. Tom's illness had
no doubt weakened his condition, but the gasp with which he now opened
his mouth denoted excess of astonishment rather than deficiency of
Spinning deftly into its place, as if dropped from heaven with a
plumb-line, a wreath of artificial flowers landed lightly on his
temples, while a woman's laugh, soft and silvery, accompanied with its
pleasant music this unexpected coronation.
Tom looked up aghast, but he was not quick enough to catch sight of
more than the hem of a garment, the turn of an ankle. There was a
smothered exclamation, a "my gracious!" denoting extremity of dismay,
a rustle of skirts, the loud bang of a door, and all became still.
"Deuced odd," thought Tom, removing the wreath and wondering where
he should put it, before he made his entrance. "Queer sort of
people these! Painter a regular Don Giovanni, no doubt. So much the
better--all the more likely to go in for the fuss and _eclat_ of a
So Tom flung his garland aside and prepared to assume a lofty presence
with his hand on the painting-room door, while Nina, blushing to
the roots of her hair, barricaded herself carefully into a small
dressing-closet opening on the studio, in which retreat it was Simon's
habit to wash his hands and smarten himself up when he had done work
for the day.
Poor Nina! To use her own expression, she was "horrified." She expected
Dick Stanmore, and with a girlish playfulness sufficiently denoting the
terms on which they stood, had been lying in wait at the top of the
stairs, preparing to take a good shot, and drop the wreath, one of
Simon's faded properties, on that head which she now loved better than
all the world besides.
The staircase, I have said, was gloomy. Young gentlemen all brush
their hair the same way. The missile was out of her fingers ere a
horrid suspicion crossed her that she had made a mistake; and when Tom
looked up there was nothing for it but _sauve qui peut!_ After all,
one head, perhaps, also, one heart, is very like another; but Nina had
not yet mastered this, the first element of a rational philosophy, and
would have fled, if she could, to the ends of the earth.
In the meantime she took refuge in the little room off the studio,
blushing, palpitating, very much ashamed, though more than half
amused, but firmly resolved not to leave her hiding-place nor face the
visitor, devoutly hoping, at the same time, that he might not stay
Simon was in the act of lifting his Fairy Queen into her usual
position. She had been dethroned the day before, while he worked at a
less congenial task. On his visitor's entrance he put her back with
her face to the wall.
Tom made an exceedingly stiff bow. "Mr. Perkins, I believe?"
"Mr. Ryfe?" replied Simon, in the same half-interrogative tone, with a
very stiff bow too.
"I am here on the part of Lord Bearwarden," said Tom. "And I have been
referred to you by Mr. Stanmore. You expected me, no doubt."
"I had a communication from Mr. Stanmore an hour ago to that effect,"
answered Simon, with a gravity the more profound that he had some
difficulty in repressing a smile. The painter was not without a sense
of humour, and this "communication," as he called it, lay crumpled up
in his waistcoat-pocket while he spoke. It ran thus--
"Dear Simon,--I have had a visit from a man named Ryfe that puzzles me
exceedingly. He comes from Lord Bearwarden, and they want to fasten
some sort of quarrel on me, but why, I cannot imagine. I was obliged
to refer him to you. Of course we'll fight if we must; but try and
make out what they are driving at, and which is the biggest fool of
the two. I think they're both mad! I shall be with you rather later
than usual. In the meantime I leave the whole thing in your hands.
I don't know Bearwarden well, but used to think him rather a good
fellow. The others an _awful_ snob!"
* * * * *
Now I feel that it would be unbecoming on my part to tax a young lady
with so mean an act as that of listening; nevertheless, each of the
gentlemen in the studio thought proper to speak in so loud and indeed
so pompous a voice that Miss Algernon could not avoid overhearing
them. It was surely natural, then, that when Mr. Stanmore's name was
brought into the colloquy she should have drawn nearer the door of
the partition, and--well--not _tried_ to avoid overhearing as much as
possible of their dialogue.
The action of the farce amused her at first. It was soon to become
interesting, exciting, terrible, even to the verge of tragedy.
"That makes my task easier," continued Mr. Ryfe. "He has explained, of
course, the tendency of my instructions, the object of my visit. It
only remains for us to fix time and place."
"He has explained _nothing_," answered the painter. "What is it you
complain of, and of what nature is the dispute between Lord Bearwarden
and my friend?"
Tom assumed an air of extreme candour, and opened his case artfully
enough; but, forgetting that every painter is necessarily a
physiognomist, omitted the precaution of turning his back to the
"You are on intimate terms with Mr. Stanmore, I believe," said he.
"Yet in matters of so delicate a nature men of honour keep their own
counsel very closely. It is possible you may not be aware of much
in his daily life that you would disapprove--much that, under the
circumstances, though I am no rigid moralist, appears inexcusable even
How white that delicate face turned in the next room! How eagerly
those dark eyes seemed trying to pierce the blank panels of the door!
"I have known Mr. Stanmore several years," answered the painter. "I
have seen him almost every day of late. I can only say you must be
more explicit, Mr. Ryfe. I do not understand you yet."
"Do you mean to tell me you are ignorant of an entanglement, a
_liaison_, a most untoward and unfortunate attachment, existing
between Mr. Stanmore and a lady whose name I fear it will be
impossible to keep out of the discussion?"
A wild misgiving, not altogether painful, shot through the painter
while he thought of Nina; but, watching the speaker's face, as was his
wont, and detecting a disparity of expression between eyes and
mouth, he gathered that the man was trying to deceive him in some
particular--not speaking the whole truth.
Miss Algernon, who could only listen, trembled and turned sick at
"I think you must be misinformed, Mr. Ryfe," was Simon's reply.
The other smiled, as pitying such ignorance of social gossip and
"Misinformed!" he repeated. "A man is not usually misinformed
who trusts his own eyes. A husband cannot be called unreasonably
dissatisfied whose wife tells him distinctly she is going to one
place, and who sees her an hour after in company with the man he
suspects at another. It is no use beating about the bush. You
cannot ignore such outrages as these. I wish to spare everybody's
feelings--yours, mine, even the lady's, and, above all, my poor
friend's; but I must tell you, point-blank, that the intimacy which
I have reason to believe existed between Mr. Stanmore and Lady
Bearwarden has not been discontinued since her marriage; and I come
to you, as that gentleman's friend, on Lord. Bearwarden's behalf, to
demand the only reparation that can be made for such injuries from man
The painter opened his eyes, and Tom told himself he had made a good
speech, very much to the point. Neither gentleman heard a faint moan
in the next room, the cry of a gentle heart wounded to the quick.
"You mean they ought to fight," said Simon, still scrutinising the
expression of the other's face.
"Precisely," answered Tom. "We must go abroad, I fancy, for all our
sakes. Can you be ready to start tonight? Tidal train, you know--nice
weather for crossing--breakfast the other side--_demi-poulet_ and
bottle of moderate St. Julien--needn't stop long for that--Belgian
frontier by the middle of the day--no sort of difficulty when once
you're across the water. Shall I say to-morrow afternoon, somewhere
in the neighbourhood of Mouscron? We can all go together, for that
matter, and arrange the exact spot in ten minutes."
Tom spoke as if they were planning a picnic, with nothing whatever to
dread but the chance of rain.
"Stop a moment," said the painter. "Not quite so fast, if you please.
This is a matter of life and death. We can't settle it in five
minutes, and as many words. You call yourself a man of the world, Mr.
Ryfe, and, doubtless, have some familiarity with affairs of this kind,
either from experience or hearsay. Do you seriously believe I am going
to put my friend up as a target for yours to shoot at without some
more definite information, some fuller explanation than you seem
inclined to give? Lady Bearwarden has not left her home. My friend
has been here every day of late with the utmost regularity. It seems
impossible that Lord Bearwarden's suspicions can be well grounded.
There must be some mistake; some misconception. Over-haste in a matter
like this would be irrevocable, and ruinous to everybody concerned."
Nina was listening with all her might. Every word of Tom's answer sunk
into her heart.
"My friend has left _his_ home," said he, in a voice of assumed
feeling. "I was at luncheon with them just before the disclosure
took place. A happier couple you never saw. Lately married--new
furniture--wedding-presents all over the place--delightful house,
overlooking the Park. This paradise is now completely broken up.
I confess I feel strongly on the subject. I know his lordship
intimately. I can appreciate his good qualities. I have also the
honour of Lady Bearwarden's acquaintance. The whole affair is
extremely painful even to me, but I have a duty to perform, and I must
go through with it. Mr. Perkins, we are wasting time, let us come to
the main point at once."
Simon pondered for a minute, during which he made another narrow
scrutiny of Tom Ryfe's face. Then he said, in the tone of a man who
comes to a final decision, "I suppose you are right. I fear there is
but one way out of it."
It did not escape the painter that, notwithstanding his obvious
self-command, the other's countenance brightened far more than was
natural at this admission. A duel in these days is a very serious
matter to every one concerned, and why should this man seem so truly
rejoiced at the progress of an affair that might put his own neck in
danger of a halter?
Simon's natural shrewdness, of which, in common with many other
simple-minded persons, he possessed a considerable share, warned him
there was something more here than appeared at first sight--some
mystery of which time alone was likely to afford the elucidation. Time
he resolved accordingly to gain, and that without putting the other on
"But one way out of it," he repeated gravely. "I wish indeed it could
be arranged otherwise. Still this is a serious matter--quite out of my
usual line--I cannot undertake anything decided without advice, nor
entirely on my own responsibility. My intention is to consult with a
friend, an old military man. You shall have my definite answer in a
day or two at farthest."
Again watching Mr. Ryfe's face, Simon observed it cloud with
dissatisfaction, and his suspicions were confirmed. This fire-eater
was evidently only anxious to hurry on the duel with unseemly haste,
and make the principals fight at all risks.
"We object to delay," he exclaimed, "we object to publicity. The thing
is plain enough as it stands. You will only complicate it by bringing
others into council, and in such a case, surely, the fewer people
aware of our intentions the better."
"I cannot help that," answered the painter, in a tone of decision. "My
mind is made up, and I see my way clearly enough. You shall have our
answer within forty-eight hours at farthest. I repeat, this is a
matter in which I will not move an inch without the utmost certainty."
Tom began to lose his temper. "Your scruples will bring about a
flagrant scandal," he exclaimed. "Lord Bearwarden is determined not to
be cheated out of his redress. I know his intentions, and I know his
character. There will be a personal collision, to the disgrace of
every one concerned!"
"Then I shall recommend Stanmore to walk about With a thick stick,"
answered Simon coolly. "I often carry one myself, Mr. Ryfe," he added
in a tone of marked significance, "and should not scruple to use it on
occasion to the best of my abilities."
The painter, though a small, slight man, was utterly fearless.
Looking Tom Ryfe straight in the eyes while he made this suggestive
observation, the latter felt that nothing was to be gained by
bullying, and the game was lost.
"I am surprised," he replied loftily, but with a ceremonious bow, as
reminding the other that his character of ambassador was sacred. "I am
disappointed. I wash my hands of the disagreeable results likely
to arise from this unfortunate delay. I wish you good-morning, Mr.
Perkins. I leave you my address, and I trust you will lose no time in
making me acquainted with the result of your deliberations."
So Tom walked down-stairs with great dignity, though he smothered more
than one bitter curse the while, passing without so much as a glance
the rejected garland, lying where he had thrown it aside before he
entered on his unsuccessful mission.
Had he been a little less stately in manner, a little more rapid of
movement, he might have overtaken the very lady of whom he obtained a
glimpse during his ascent. Nina Algernon was but a few paces ahead of
him, scouring along at a speed only accomplished by those who feel
that goad in the heart which stimulates exertion, far more effectually
than the "spur in the head," proverbially supposed to be worth "two in
the heels.'" Nina had overheard enough from her hiding-place to make
her angry, unhappy, and anxious in the highest degree. Angry, first
of all, with herself and him, to think that she could have set her
affections on one who was untrue; unhappy, to feel she still cared for
him so much; anxious to gather from the cold-blooded courtesies of the
odious Mr. Ryfe that a life so dear to her was in danger, that
perhaps she might never see Dick Stanmore again. With this ghastly
consideration, surged up fuller than ever the tide of love that had
been momentarily obstructed, forcing her into action, and compelling
her to take immediate steps for ascertaining his perfidy, while, at
the same time, she warded off from him the penalties it entailed.
"He'll know I love him then," thought poor Nina. "But I'll never see
him, nor speak to him, again--never--never! How _could_ he? I wonder
why men are so bad!"
To this end, acting on an impulse as unreasonable as it was
essentially feminine, she resolved to seek Lady Bearwarden without
delay, and throwing herself on the mercy of that formidable rival,
implore advice and assistance for the safety of the man they both
So she fled down-stairs, and was out of the house like a lapwing, just
as Tom Ryfe's warlike colloquy with the painter came to a close.
Simon, missing her, after he had taken leave of his visitor, was not
therefore disturbed nor alarmed by her absence. He accounted for it
on the very natural supposition that she had met Dick Stanmore at
the door, and pressed him into her service to act as convoy in some
shopping expedition, before she sat down to her daily duty as a model
for the Fairy Queen, now completed, all but a few folds of drapery,
and a turn of the white hand.
Till she came back, however, the great work must remain at a
standstill, and Simon had leisure to reflect on his late conversation
with Mr. Ryfe, which astonished and perplexed him exceedingly.
Neither his astonishment, nor his perplexity, were decreased, to
learn, on Dick's arrival, that he had no knowledge of Miss Algernon's
movements--had not met her--had not seen her since yesterday,
certainly expected to find her here, and was to the full as anxious
and uncomfortable as the painter himself.
"This other business will keep cold," said Dick, in a great heat and
fuss. "I don't care whether it will or not. It _must_! But we can't
have Miss Algernon wandering about London by herself. We can't, at
least _I_ can't, be easy a moment till I know what has become of her.
You stay here, Simon, in case she should come back. After all, she may
be shopping in the next street. I'll rush down to Putney at once, and
find out if she's gone home. Don't be afraid. I won't alarm the old
ladies. If she's not there I'll be back immediately. If she comes in
while I'm gone, wait for me, or leave a line. Old man, if anything
goes wrong with that darling, I--I've nothing left to live for in the
Even while he spoke, he was on the stairs, and Simon, left in the
painting-room, shook his head, and pondered.
"They'll never make me believe that cock-and-bull story about Lady
Bearwarden. Ah, Nina! I begin to think this man loves you almost as
well as I could have done!"
Tom Ryfe, walking down Berners Street in the worst of humours, saw the
whole game he had been playing slipping out of his hands. If there
were to be no duel, all the trouble he had taken went for nothing;
and even should there be an unseemly _fracas_, and should a meeting
afterwards take place between Lord Bearwarden and Dick Stanmore, what
good would it do him, if her ladyship's name were kept out of the
quarrel? How he cursed this cockney painter's resolution and good
sense! How he longed for some fierce encounter, some desperate
measure, something, no matter what, that should bring affairs to a
crisis! It seemed so silly, so childlike, to be baffled now. Yes, he
had set his heart on Lady Bearwarden. The great master-passion of
his life had gone on gathering and growing till it became, as such
master-passions will, when there is neither honour nor religion to
check them, a fury, over which he had lost all control. And he felt
that, having gone so far, there was no crime, no outrage, he would
shrink from committing, to obtain what he desired now.
When a man is thus ripe for evil he seldom wants opportunity. It must
be admitted the devil never throws a chance away. Open your hand, and
ere you can close it again, he slips a tool in, expressly adapted for
the purpose you design--a tool that, before you have done with it, you
may be sure, will cut your own fingers to the bone.
"Beg pardon, sir, can I speak to you for a minute?" said a
gaudily-dressed, vulgar-looking personage, crossing the street to
accost Tom Ryfe as he emerged from the painter's house. "It's about
a lady. About her ladyship, askin' your pardon. Lady Bearwarden, you
That name was a talisman to arrest Tom's attention. He looked his man
over from head to foot, and thought he had never seen a more ruffianly
bearing, a wilder, sadder face.
"Come up this by-street," said he. "Speak out--I'll keep your counsel,
and I'll pay you well. That's what you mean, I suppose. That's
business. What about Lady Bearwarden?"
The man cursed her deeply, bitterly, ere he replied--"I know _you_,
sir, an' so I ought to, though you don't know _me_. Mr. Ryfe, I seen
you in Belgrave Square, along of _her_. You was a-courtin' of her
then. You owes her more than one good turn now, or I'm mistaken!"
"Who the devil are you?" asked Tom, startled, and with reason; yet
conscious, in his dark, dreary despair, of a vague glimmer, bearing
the same relation to hope that a will-o'-the-wisp does to the light on
our hearth at home.
The man looked about him. That narrow street was deserted but for
He stared in Tom's face with a certain desperate frankness. "I'll tell
ye who I am," said he; "if you an' me is to go in for this job, as
true pals, let's have no secrets between us, an' bear no malice. They
call me 'Gentleman Jim,' Mr. Ryfe, that's what they call me. I'm the
man as hocussed you that there arternoon, down Westminster way. I was
set on to that job, I was. Set on by _her_. I squeezed hard, I know.
All in the way o' business. But I might have squeezed _harder_, Mr.
Ryfe. You should think o' that!"
"You infernal scoundrel!" exclaimed Tom, yet in a tone neither so
astonished nor so indignant as his informant expected. "If you had,
you'd have been hanged for murder. Well, it's not _you_ I ought to
blame. What have you got to say? You can help me--I see it in your
face. Out with it. You speak to a man as desperate as yourself."
"I knowed it!" exclaimed the other. "When you come out o' that there
house, I seen it in the way as you slammed to that there door. Says I,
there's the man as I wants, an' the man as wants me! I follered you
this mornin' from your hotel, an' a precious job I had keepin' up with
your hansom, though the driver, as works by times with a pal o' mine,
he kep' on easy when he could. I watched of the house, ah! an hour an'
more, an' I never turned my head away but to get a drop o' beer from a
lad as I sent round to the Grapes for a quart. Bless ye! I hadn't but
just emptied the pot, when I see a lady--the very moral of her as we
knows on--pops round the corner into Oxford Street. I was in two minds
whether to foller, but thinks I, it's Mr. Ryfe as I'm a-lookin' for,
an' if it _was_ she, we couldn't trap her now, not in a crowded place
like that. Besides, I see a servant-gal takin' home the beer drop her
a curtsey as she went by. No, it couldn't be my lady; but if so be as
you an' me is of the same mind, Mr. Ryfe, my lady shall be safe in a
cage afore this time to-morrow, and never a man to keep the key but
yourself, Mr. Ryfe, if you'll only be guided by a true friend."
"Who set you on to this?" asked Tom, coolly enough, considering that
his blood was boiling with all the worst and fiercest passions of his
nature. "What do you expect to gain from injury inflicted on" (he
could not get the name out)--"on the lady you mention?"
Jim laughed--a harsh, grating laugh. "You're a deep 'un, Mr. Ryfe!" he
answered. "I won't deceive you. I put this here in your way because
there's two things as I must have to work the job as I ain't got.
One's money, and t'other's gumption. I ain't rich enough, and I ain't
hartful enough. I owe my lady a turn, too, never you mind what for,
and strike me dead but I'll pay it up! I ain't a-going to say as I
wouldn't ha' worked this here off, clear, single-handed, if I'd had
the chance. I'm not telling you a lie, Mr. Ryfe; you and me can do it
together, an' I'll only charge you fair and reasonable. Ah! not half
what you'd take an' offer this minute if I was to stand out for a
Tom Ryfe turned round, put both hands on the other's shoulders, and
"We understand each other," said he. "Never mind the price. If the
work's done to please me, I'm not likely to grudge the money. You've
some plan in your head by which you think we can both gain what we
most desire. I know you're a resolute fellow. Hang it! my throat's
still sore where you got that cursed grip of yours inside my collar.
You can believe I'm not easily thwarted, or I should hardly be here
now. Explain yourself. Let me know your plan. If it is anything like
practicable, you and I ought to be able to carry it out."
Then Jim, not without circumlocution and many hideous oaths, detailed
in his hearer's willing ears the scheme he had in view. He proposed,
with Mr. Ryfe's assistance, to accomplish no less flagrant an outrage
than the forcible abduction of Lady Bearwarden from her home.
He suggested that his listener, of whose skill in penmanship he
entertained a high opinion, should write such a letter as might lure
her ladyship into a lonely, ill-lighted locality, not far from her own
door; and Tom, appreciating the anxiety she must now feel about her
husband's movements, saw no difficulty in the accomplishment of such
a stratagem. This desperate couple were then to be ready with a
four-wheeled cab, a shawl, and a cleverly-constructed gag, in which
screaming was impossible. Tom should enact the part of driver, while
Jim, being the stronger man of the two, should seize and pinion her
ladyship in his grasp. Mute and muffled, she was to be forced into
the cab, which could then be driven off to that very lodging in the
purlieus of Westminster which Tom knew, by his own experiences, was
far removed from assistance or inquiry. Once in Mr. Ryfe's hands,
Jim observed, the captive would only be too glad to make terms, and
arrangements for taking her out of London down the river, or in any
other direction, could be entered into at leisure. Mr. Ryfe surely
would not require more than twelve hours to come to an understanding
with a lady irrevocably in his power. And all the while, deep in this
bold villain's breast lurked a dark, fierce, terrible reflection
that one more crime, only one more--almost, indeed, an act of wild
retributive justice on his confederate--and that proud, tameless woman
would be crouching in the dust, praying for mercy at the feet of the
desperate man she had reviled and despised.
Gentleman Jim, maddened by a course of dram-drinking, blinded by
an infatuation that itself constituted insanity, was hardly to be
considered an accountable being. It may be that under the mass of
guilt and impurity with which his whole being was loaded, there
glimmered some faint spark of manlier and worthier feeling; it may
be, that he entertained some vague notion of appearing before the
high-born lady in the light of a preserver, with the blood of the
smoother and more polished scoundrel on his hands, and of setting her
free, while he declared his hopeless, his unalterable devotion, sealed
by the sacrifice of two lives, for, as he often expressed it in
imaginary conversations with his idol, "he asked no better than to
swing for her sake!"
Who knows? Fanaticism has its martyrs, like religion. It is not only
the savage heathen who run under Juggernaut every day. Diseased
brains, corrupt hearts, and impossible desires go far to constitute
aberration of intellect. Unreasoning love, and unlimited liquor, will
make a man fool enough for anything.
Tom Ryfe listened, well pleased. For him there was neither the excuse
of drink nor despair, yet he, too, entertained some notion of home and
happiness hereafter, when she found nobody in the world to turn to but
himself, and had forgiven him her wrongs because of the tenacity with
which he clung to her in spite of all.
Of his friend, and the position he must leave him in, he made no
Something very disagreeable came across him, indeed, when he thought
of Lord Bearwarden's resolute character--his practical notions
concerning the redress of injury or insult; but all such apprehensions
were for the future. The present must be a time of action. If only
to-night's _coup de main_ should come off successfully, he might cross
the Atlantic with his prey, and remain in safe seclusion till the
outrage had been so far forgotten by the public that those at home
whom it most affected would be unwilling to rekindle the embers of a
scandal half-smothered and dying out. Tom Ryfe was not without ready
money. He calculated he could live for at least a year in some foreign
clime, far beyond the western wave, luxuriously enough. A year!
With _her_! Why it seemed an eternity; and even in that moment his
companion was wondering, half-stupidly, how Mr. Ryfe would look with
his throat cut, or his head laid open, weltering in blood; and when
and where it would be advisable to put this finishing stroke of murder
and perfidy to the crimes he meditated to-night.
Ere these confederates parted, however, two letters had to be written
in a stationer's shop. They were directed by the same pen, though
apparently in different handwritings, to Lord and Lady Bearwarden at
their respective addresses.
The first was as follows--
DEAR LORD BEARWARDEN,