Part 7 out of 9
'In an hour's time.'
'I will be ready.'
Nesta sent a line of excuse to Mrs. Marsett, throwing in a fervent
adjective for balm.
That fair person rode out with the troop under conduct of the hallowing
squire of the stables, and passed by Nesta on horseback beside Dartrey
Fenellan at the steps of a huge hotel; issuing from which, pretty Mrs.
Blathenoy was about to mount. Mrs. Marsett looked ahead and coloured,
but she could not restrain one look at Nesta, that embraced her cavalier.
Nesta waved hand to her, and nodded. Mrs. Marsett withdrew her eyes; her
doing so, silent though it was, resembled the drag back to sea of the
shingle-wave below her, such a screaming of tattle she heard in the
questions discernible through the attitude of the cavalier and of the
lady, who paused to stare, before the leap up in the saddle. 'Who is
she?--what is she?--how did you know her?--where does she come from?--
wears her hat on her brows!--huge gauntlets out of style!--shady! shady!
shady!' And as always during her nervous tumults, the name of Worrell
made diapason of that execrable uproar. Her hat on her brows had an air
of dash, defying a world it could win, as Ned well knew. But she scanned
her gauntlets disapprovingly. This town, we are glad to think, has a
bright repute for glove-shops. And Mrs. Marsett could applaud herself
for sparing Ned's money; she had mended her gloves, if they were in the
fashion.--But how does the money come? Hark at that lady and that
gentleman questioning Miss Radnor of everything, everything in the world
about her! Not a word do they get from Miss Radnor. And it makes them
the more inquisitive. Idle rich people, comfortably fenced round, are so
inquisitive! And Mrs. Marsett, loving Nesta for the notice of her,
maddened by the sting of tongues it was causing, heard the wash of the
beach, without consciousness of analogies, but with a body ready to jump
out of skin, out of life, in desperation at the sound.
She was all impulse; a shifty piece of unmercenary stratagem occasionally
directing it. Arrived at her lodgings, she wrote to Nesta: 'I entreat
you not to notice me, if you pass me on the road again. Let me drop,
never mind how low I go. I was born to be wretched. A line from you,
just a line now and then, only to show me I am not forgotten. I have had
a beautiful dream. I am not bad in reality; I love goodness, I know.
I cling to the thought of you, as my rescue, I declare. Please, let me
hear: if it's not more than "good day" and your initials on a post-card.'
The letter brought Nesta in person to her.
THE BURDEN UPON NESTA
Could there be confidences on the subject of Mrs. Marsett with Captain
Dartrey?--Nesta timidly questioned her heart: she knocked at an iron door
shut upon a thing alive. The very asking froze her, almost to stopping
her throbs of pity for the woman. With Captain Dartrey, if with any one;
but with no one. Not with her mother even. Toward her mother, she felt
guilty of knowing. Her mother had a horror of that curtain. Nesta had
seen it, and had taken her impressions; she, too, shrank from it; the
more when impelled to draw near it. Louise de Seilles would have been
another self; Louise was away; when to return, the dear friend could not
state. Speaking in her ear, would have been possible; the theme
It was ponderous combustible new knowledge of life for a girl to hold
unaided. In the presence of the simple silvery ladies Dorothea and
Virginia, she had qualms, as if she were breaking out in spots before
them. The ladies fancied, that Mr. Stuart Rem had hinted to them oddly
of the girl; and that he might have meant, she appeared a little too
cognizant of poor Mr. Abram Posterley's malady--as girls in these
terrible days, only too frequently, too brazenly, are. They discoursed
to her of the degeneracy of the manners, nay, the morals of young
Englishwomen, once patterns! They sketched the young English gentlewoman
of their time; indeed a beauty; with round red cheeks, and rounded open
eyes, and a demure shut mouth, a puppet's divine ignorance; inoffensive
in the highest degree, rightly worshipped. They were earnest, and Nesta
struck at herself. She wished to be as they had been, reserving her
They were good: they were the ideal women of our country; which demands
if it be but the semblance of the sureness of stationary excellence;
such as we have in Sevres and Dresden, polished bright and smooth as
ever by the morning's flick of a duster; perhaps in danger of accidents--
accidents must be kept away; but enviable, admirable, we think, when we
are not thinking of seed sown or help given to the generations to follow.
Nesta both envied and admired; she revered them; yet her sharp
intelligence, larger in the extended boundary of thought coming of
strange crimson-lighted new knowledge, discerned in a dimness what blest
conditions had fixed them on their beautiful barren eminence. Without
challengeing it, she had a rebellious rush of sympathy for our evil-
fortuned of the world; the creatures in the battle, the wounded, trodden,
mud-stained: and it alarmed her lest she should be at heart one out of
She had the sympathy, nevertheless, and renewing and increasing with the
pulsations of a compassion that she took for her reflective survey. The
next time she saw Dartrey Fenellan, she was assured of him, as being the
man who might be spoken to; and by a woman: though not by a girl; not
spoken to by her. The throb of the impulse precipitating speech subsided
to a dumb yearning. He noticed her look: he was unaware of the human sun
in the girl's eyes taking an image of him for permanent habitation in her
breast. That face of his, so clearly lined, quick, firm, with the blue
smile on it like the gleam of a sword coming out of sheath, did not mean
hardness, she could have vowed. O that some woman, other than the
unhappy woman herself, would speak the words denied to a girl! He was
the man who would hearken and help. Essential immediate help was to be
given besides the noble benevolence of mind. Novel ideas of manliness
and the world's need for it were printed on her understanding. For what
could women do in aid of a good cause! She fawned: she deemed herself
very despicably her hero's inferior. The thought of him enclosed her.
In a prison, the gaoler is a demi-God-hued bright or black, as it may be;
and, by the present arrangement between the sexes, she, whom the world
allowed not to have an intimation from eye or ear, or from nature's
blood-ripeness in commune with them, of certain matters, which it suffers
to be notorious, necessarily directed her appeal almost in worship to the
man, who was the one man endowed to relieve, and who locked her mouth for
Thus was she, too, being put into her woman's harness of the bit and the
blinkers, and taught to know herself for the weak thing, the gentle
parasite, which the fiction of our civilization expects her, caressingly
and contemptuously, to become in the active, while it is exacted of hero
Comedy of Clowns!--that in the passive she be a rockfortress impregnable,
not to speak of magically encircled. She must also have her feelings;
she must not be an unnatural creature. And she must have a sufficient
intelligence; for her stupidity does not flatter the possessing man. It
is not an organic growth that he desires in his mate, but a happy
composition. You see the world which comes of the pair.
This burning Nesta, Victor's daughter, tempered by Nataly's milder blood,
was a girl in whom the hard shocks of the knowledge of life, perforce of
the hardness upon pure metal, left a strengthening for generous
imagination. She did not sit to brood on her injured senses or set them
through speculation touching heat; they were taken up and consumed by the
fire of her mind. Nor had she leisure for the abhorrences, in a heart
all flowing to give aid, and uplift and restore. Self was as urgent in
her as in most of the young; but the gift of humour, which had previously
diverted it, was now the quick feeling for her sisterhood, through the
one piteous example she knew; and broadening it, through her insurgent
abasement on their behalf, which was her scourged pride of sex. She but
faintly thought of blaming the men whom her soul besought for justice,
for common kindness, to women. There was the danger, that her aroused
young ignorance would charge the whole of the misery about and abroad
upon the stronger of those two: and another danger, that the vision of
the facts below the surface would discolour and disorder her views of
existence. But she loved, she sprang to, the lighted world; and she had
figures of male friends, to which to cling; and they helped in animating
glorious historical figures on the world's library-shelves or under yet
palpitating earth. Promise of a steady balance of her nature, too, was
shown in the absence of any irritable urgency to be doing, when her bosom
bled to help. Beyond the resolve, that she would not abandon the woman
who had made confession to her, she formed no conscious resolutions. Far
ahead down her journey of the years to come, she did see muffled things
she might hope and would strive to do. They were chrysalis shapes.
Above all, she flew her blind quickened heart on the wings of an
imaginative force; and those of the young who can do that, are in their
blood incorruptible by dark knowledge, irradiated under darkness in the
mind. Let but the throb be kept for others. That is the one secret, for
redemption; if not for preservation.
Victor descended on his marine London to embrace his girl, full of
regrets at Fredi's absence from the great whirl 'overhead,' as places of
multitudinous assembly, where he shone, always appeared to him. But it
was not to last long; she would soon be on the surface again! At the
first clasp of her, he chirped some bars of her song. He challenged her
to duet before the good ladies, and she kindled, she was caught up by his
gaiety, wondering at herself; faintly aware of her not being spontaneous.
And she made her father laugh, just in the old way; and looked at herself
in his laughter, with the thought, that she could not have become so
changed; by which the girl was helped to jump to her humour. Victor
turned his full front to Dorothea and Virginia, one sunny beam of delight
and although it was Mr. Stuart Rem who was naughty Nesta's victim, and
although it seemed a trespass on her part to speak in such a manner of a
clerical gentleman, they were seized; they were the opposite partners of
a laughing quadrille, lasting till they were tired out.
Victor had asked his girl, if she sang on a Sunday. The ladies
remembered, that she had put the question for permission to Mr. Stuart
Rem, who was opposed to secular singing.
'And what did he say?' said Victor.
Nesta shook her head: 'It was not what he said, papa; it was his look.
His duty compelled him, though he loves music. He had the look of a
Patriarch putting his handmaiden away into the desert.'
Dorothea and Virginia, in spite of protests within, laughed to streams.
They recollected the look; she had given the portrait of Mr. Stuart Rem
in the act of repudiating secular song.
'Victor conjured up a day when this darling Fredi, a child, stood before
a famous picture in the Brera, at Milan; when he and her mother noticed
the child's very studious graveness; and they had talked of it; he
remarking, that she disapproved of the Patriarch; and Nataly, that she
was taken with Hagar's face.
He seemed surprised at her not having heard from Dudley.
'How is that?' said he.
'Most probably because he has not written, papa.'
He paused after the cool reply. She had no mournful gaze at all;
but in the depths of the clear eyes he knew so well, there was a coil
of something animate, whatever it might be. And twice she drew a heavy
He mentioned it in London. Nataly telegraphed at night for her girl to
meet her next day at Dartrey's hotel.
Their meeting was incomprehensibly joyless to the hearts of each,
though it was desired, and had long been desired, and mother was mother,
daughter daughter, without diminution of love between them. They held
hands, they kissed and clasped, they showered their tender phrases with
full warm truth, and looked into eyes and surely saw one another. But
the heart of each was in a battle of its own, taking wounds or crying for
supports. Whether to speak to her girl at once, despite the now vehement
contrary counsel of Victor, was Nataly's deliberation, under the thought
of the young creature's perplexity in not seeing her at the house of the
Duvidney ladies: while Nesta conjured in a flash the past impressions of
her mother's shrinking distaste from any such hectic themes as this which
burdened and absorbed her; and she was almost joining to it, through
sympathy with any thought or feeling of one in whom she had such pride;
she had the shudder of revulsion. Further, Nataly put on, rather
cravenly an air, of distress, or she half designingly permitted her
trouble to be seen, by way of affecting her girl's recollection when
the confession was to come, that Nesta might then understand her to have
been restrained from speaking, not evasive of her duty. The look was
interpreted by Nesta as belonging to the social annoyances dating, in her
calendar, from Creckholt, apprehensively dreaded at Lakelands. She
hinted asking, and her mother nodded; not untruthfully; but she put on a
briskness after the nod; and a doubt was driven into Nesta's bosom.
Her dear Skepsey was coming down to her for a holiday, she was glad to
hear. Of Dudley, there was no word. Nataly shunned his name, with a
superstitious dread lest any mention of him should renew pretensions that
she hoped, and now supposed, were quite withdrawn. So she had told poor
Mr. Barmby only yesterday, at his humble request to know. He had seen
Dudley on the pantiles, walking with a young lady, he said. And 'he
feared,' he said; using, a pardonable commonplace of deceit. Her
compassion accounted for the 'fear' which was the wish, and caused her
not to think it particularly strange, that he should imagine Dudley to
have quitted the field. Now that a disengaged Dartrey Fenellan was at
hand, poor Mr. Barmby could have no chance.
Dartrey came to her room by appointment. She wanted to see him alone,
and he informed her, that Mrs. Blathenoy was in the hotel, and would
certainly receive and amuse Nesta for any length of time.
'I will take her up,' said Nataly, and rose, and she sat immediately,
and fluttered a hand at her breast. She laughed: 'Perhaps I'm tired!'
Dartrey took Nesta.
He returned, saying: 'There's a lift in the hotel. Do the stairs affect
you at all?'
She fenced his sharp look. 'Laziness, I fancy; age is coming on. How is
it Mrs. Blathenoy is here?'
'Well! how?' 'Foolish curiosity?' 'I think I have made her of service.
I did not bring the lady here.' 'Of service to whom?' 'Why, to Victor!'
'Has Victor commissioned you?' 'You can bear to hear it. Her husband
knows the story. He has a grudge . . . commercial reasons. I fancy
it is, that Victor stood against his paper at the table of the Bank.
Blathenoy vowed blow for blow. But I think the little woman holds him
in. She says she does.' 'Victor prompted you?' 'It occurred as it
occurred.' 'She does it for love of us?--Oh! I can't trifle.
Dartrey!' 'Tell me.' 'First, you haven't let me know what you think of
my Nesta.' 'She's a dear good girl.' 'Not so interesting to you as a
flighty little woman!' 'She has a speck of some sort on her mind.'
Nataly spied at Dudley's behaviour, and said: 'That will wear away. Is
Mr. Blathenoy much here?' 'As often as he can come, I believe.' 'That
is . . . ?' 'I have seen him twice.' 'His wife remains?' 'Fixed here
for the season.' 'My friend!' 'No harm, no harm!' 'But-to her!' 'You
have my word of honour.' 'Yes: and she is doing you a service, at your
request; you occasionally reward her with thanks; and she sees you are a
man of honour. Do you not know women?'
Dartrey blew his pooh-pooh on feminine suspicions. 'There's very little
left of the Don Amoroso in me. Women don't worship stone figures.'
'They do: like the sea-birds. And what do you say to me, Dartrey?--I can
confess it: I am one of them: I love you. When last you left England, I
kissed your hand. It was because of your manly heart in that stone
figure. I kept from crying: you used to scorn us English for the
"whimpering fits" you said we enjoy and must have in books, if we can't
get them up for ourselves. I could have prayed to have you as brother or
son. I love my Victor the better for his love of you. Oh!--poor soul--
how he is perverted since that building of Lakelands! He cannot take
soundings of the things he does. Formerly he confided in me, in all
things: now not one;--I am the chief person to deceive. If only he had
waited! We are in a network of intrigues and schemes, every artifice in
London--tempting one to hate simple worthy people, who naturally have
their views, and see me an impostor, and tolerate me, fascinated by him:
--or bribed--it has to be said. There are ways of bribeing. I trust he
may not have in the end to pay too heavily for succeeding. He seems a
man pushed by Destiny; not irresponsible, but less responsible than most.
He is desperately tempted by his never failing. Whatever he does! . .
it is true! And it sets me thinking of those who have never had an
ailment, up to a certain age, when the killing blow comes. Latterly I
have seen into him: I never did before. Had I been stronger, I might
have saved, or averted . . . . But, you will say, the stronger woman
would not have occupied my place. I must have been blind too. I did not
see, that his nature shrinks from the thing it calls up. He dreads the
exposure he courts--or has to combat with all his powers. It has been a
revelation to me of him life as well. Nothing stops him. Now it is
Parliament--a vacant London Borough. He counts on a death:
Ah! terrible! I have it like a snake's bite night and day.'
Nataly concluded: 'There: it has done me some good to speak. I feel so
base.' She breathed heavily.
Dartrey took her hand and bent his lips to it. 'Happy the woman who has
not more to speak! How long will Nesta stay here?'
'You will watch over her, Dartrey? She stays-her father wishes--up to--
ah! We can hardly be in such extreme peril. He has her doctor, her
lawyer, and her butler--a favourite servant--to check, and influence,
her: She--you know who it is!--does not, I am now convinced, mean
persecution. She was never a mean-minded woman. Oh! I could wish she
were. They say she is going. Then I am to be made an "honest woman of."
Victor wants Nesta, now that she is away, to stay until . . . You
understand. He feels she is safe from any possible kind of harm with
those good ladies. And I feel she is the safer for having you near.
Otherwise, how I should pray to have you with us! Daily I have to pass
through, well, something like the ordeal of the red-hot ploughshares--
and without the innocence, dear friend! But it's best that my girl
should not have to be doing the same; though she would have the
innocence. But she writhes under any shadow of a blot. And for her to
learn the things that are in the world, through her mother's history!--
and led to know it by the falling away of friends, or say, acquaintances!
However ignorant at present, she learns from a mere nothing. I dread!
. . . . In a moment, she is a blaze of light. There have been
occurrences. Only Victor could have overcome them! I had to think it
better for my girl, that she was absent. We are in such a whirl up
there! So I work round again to "how long?" and the picture of myself
counting the breaths of a dying woman. The other day I was told I was
'Battle, battle, battle; for all of us, in every position!' said Dartrey
sharply, to clip a softness: 'except when one's attending on an invalid
uncle. Then it's peace; rather like extinction. And I can't be crying
for the end either. I bite my moustache and tap foot on the floor, out
of his hearing; make believe I'm patient. Now I 'll fetch Nesta.'
Mrs. Blathenoy came down with an arm on Nesta's shoulder. She held a
telegram, and said to Nataly
'What can this mean? It's from my husband; he puts "Jacob": my husband's
Christian name:--so like my husband, where there's no concealment!
"Down to-night else pack ready start to-morrow." Can it signify, affairs
are bad with my husband in the city?'
It had that signification to Nataly's understanding. At the same time,
the pretty little woman's absurd lisping repetition of 'my husband' did
not seem without design to inflict the wound it caused.
In reality, it was not malicious; it came of the bewitchment of a silly
tongue by her knowledge of the secret to be controlled: and after
contrasting her fortunes with Nataly's, on her way downstairs, she had
comforted herself by saying, that at least she had a husband. She was
not aware that she dealt a hurt until she had found a small consolation
in the indulgence: for Captain Dartrey Fenellan admired this commanding
figure of a woman, who could not legally say that which the woman he
admired less, if at all, legally could say.
'I must leave you to interpret,' Nataly remarked.
Mrs. Blathenoy resented her unbefitting queenly style. For this reason,
she abstained from an intended leading up to mention of the 'singular-
looking lady' seen riding with Miss Radnor more than once; and as to
whom, Miss Radnor (for one gives her the name) had not just now, when
questioned, spoken very clearly. So the mother's alarms were not raised.
And really it was a pity, Mrs. Blathenoy said to Dartrey subsequently;
finding him colder than before Mrs. Radnor's visit; it was a pity,
because a young woman in Miss Radnor's position should not by any
possibility be seen in association with a person of commonly doubtful
She was denied the petulant satisfaction of rousing the championship
bitter to her. Dartrey would not deliver an opinion on Miss Radnor's
conduct. He declined, moreover, to assist in elucidating the telegram by
'looking here,' and poring over the lines beside a bloomy cheek. He was
petulantly whipped on the arm with her glove, and pouted at. And it was
then--and then only or chiefly through Nataly's recent allusion--that the
man of honour had his quakings in view of the quagmire, where he was
planted on an exceedingly narrow causeway, not of the firmest. For she
was a pretty little woman, one of the prize gifts of the present
education of women to the men who are for having them quiescent domestic
patterns; and her artificial ingenuousness or candid frivolities came to
her by nature to kindle the nature of the gentleman on the other bank of
the stream, and witch him to the plunge, so greatly mutually regretted
after taken: an old duet to the moon.
Dartrey escaped to the Club, where he had a friend. The friend was
Colonel Sudley, one of the modern studious officers, not in good
esteem with the authorities. He had not forgiven Dartrey for the
intemperateness which cut off a brilliant soldier from the service.
He was reduced to acknowledge, however, that there was a sparkling
defence for him to reply with, in the shape of a fortune gained and
where we have a Society forcing us to live up to an expensive level,
very trying to a soldier's income, a fortune gained will offer excuses
for misconduct short of disloyal or illegal. They talked of the state of
the Army: we are moving. True, and at the last Review, the 'march past'
was performed before a mounted generalissimo profoundly asleep, head on
breast. Our English military 'moving' may now be likened to Somnolency
on Horseback. 'Oh, come, no rancour,' said the colonel; 'you know he's a
kind old boy at heart; nowhere a more affectionate man alive!'
'So the sycophants are sure of posts!'
'Come, I say! He's devoted to the Service.'
'Invalid him, and he shall have a good epitaph.'
'He's not so responsible as the taxpayer.'
'There you touch home. Mother Goose can't imagine the need for defence
until a hand's at her feathers.'
'What about her shrieks now and then?'
'Indigestion of a surfeit?'
They were in a laughing wrangle when two acquaintances of the colonel's
came near. One of them recognized Dartrey. He changed a prickly subject
to one that is generally as acceptable to the servants of Mars. His
companion said: 'Who is the girl out with Judith Marsett?' He flavoured
eulogies of the girl's good looks in easy garrison English. She was
praised for sitting her horse well. One had met her on the parade, in
the afternoon, walking with Mrs. Marsett. Colonel Sudley had seen them
on horseback. He remarked to Dartrey:
'And by the way, you're a clean stretch ahead of us. I've seen you go by
these windows, with the young lady on one side, and a rather pretty woman
on the other too.'
'Nothing is unseen in this town!' Dartrey rejoined.
Strolling to his quarters along the breezy parade at night, he proposed
to himself, that he would breathe an immediate caution to Nesta. How had
she come to know this Mrs. Marsett? But he was more seriously thinking
of what Colney Durance called 'The Mustard Plaster'; the satirist's
phrase for warm relations with a married fair one: and Dartrey, clear of
any design to have it at his breast, was beginning to take intimations of
pricks and burns. They are an almost positive cure of inflammatory
internal conditions. They were really hard on him, who had none to be
The hour was nigh midnight. As he entered his hotel, the porter ran off
to the desk in his box, and brought him a note, saying, that a lady had
left it at half-past nine. Left it?--Then the lady could not be the
alarming lady. He was relieved. The words of the letter were
cabalistic; these, beneath underlined address:
'I beg you to call on me, if I do not see you this evening. It is
urgent; you will excuse me when I explain. Not late to-morrow. I am
sure you will not fail to come. I could write what would be certain to
bring you. I dare not trust any names to paper.'
The signature was, Judith Marsett.
SHOWS HOW THE SQUIRES IN A CONQUEROR'S SERVICE HAVE AT TIMES TO DO
KNIGHTLY CONQUEST OF THEMSELVES
By the very earliest of the trains shot away to light and briny air from
London's November gloom, which knows the morning through increase of
gasjets, little Skepsey was hurried over suburban chimneys, in his
friendly third-class carriage; where we have reminders of ancient
pastoral times peculiar to our country, as it may chance; but where a man
may speak to his neighbour right off without being deemed offensive.
That is homely. A social fellow knitting closely to his fellows when he
meets them, enjoys it, even at the cost of uncushioned seats he can, if
imps are in him, merryandrew as much as he pleases; detested punctilio
does not reign there; he can proselytize for the soul's welfare; decry
or uphold the national drink; advertize a commercial Firm deriving
prosperity from the favour of the multitude; exhort to patriotism. All
is accepted. Politeness is the rule, according to Skepsey's experience
of the Southern part of the third-class kingdom. And it is as well to
mark the divisions, for the better knowledge of our countrymen. The
North requires volumes to itself.
The hard-grained old pirate-stock Northward has built the land, and is to
the front when we are at our epic work. Meanwhile it gets us a blowzy
character, by shouldering roughly among the children of civilization.
Skepsey, journeying one late afternoon up a Kentish line, had, in both
senses of the word, encountered a long-limbed navvy; an intoxicated, he
was compelled by his manly modesty to desire to think; whose loathly
talk, forced upon the hearing of a decent old woman opposite him, passed
baboonish behaviour; so much so, that Skepsey civilly intervened;
subsequently inviting him to leave the carriage and receive a lesson at
the station they were nearing. Upon his promising faithfully, that it
should be a true and telling lesson, the navvy requested this pygmy spark
to flick his cheek, merely to show he meant war in due sincerity; and he
as faithfully, all honour, promising not to let it bring about a breakage
of the laws of the Company, Skepsey promptly did the deed. So they went
Skepsey alluded to the incident, for an example of the lamentable
deficiency in science betrayed by most of our strong men when put to it;
and the bitter thought, that he could count well nigh to a certainty on
the total absence of science in the long-armed navvy, whose fist on his
nose might have been as the magnet of a pin, was chief among his
reminiscences after the bout, destroying pleasure for the lover of Old
England's might. One blow would have sent Skepsey travelling. He was
not seriously struck once. They parted, shaking hands; the navvy
confessing himself to have 'drunk a drop'; and that perhaps accounted for
his having been 'topped by a dot on him.'
He declined to make oath never to repeat his offence; but said, sending
his vanquisher to the deuce, with an amicable push at his shoulder,
'Damned if I ever forget five foot five stretched six foot flat!'
Skepsey counted his feet some small amount higher; but our hearty rovers'
sons have their ballad moods when giving or taking a thrashing. One of
the third-class passengers, a lad of twenty, became Skepsey's pupil, and
turned out clever with the gloves, and was persuaded to enter the
militia, and grew soon to be a corporal. Thus there was profit of the
affair, though the navvy sank out of sight. Let us hope and pray he will
not insult the hearing of females again. If only females knew how
necessary it is, for their sakes, to be able to give a lesson now and
then! Ladies are positively opposed. And Judges too, who dress so like
them. The manhood of our country is kept down, in consequence. Mr.
Durance was right, when he said something about the state of war being
wanted to weld our races together: and yet we are always praying for
the state of peace, which causes cracks and gaps among us! Was that
what he meant by illogical? It seemed to Skepsey--oddly, considering
his inferior estimate of the value of the fair sex--that a young woman
with whom he had recently made acquaintance; and who was in Brighton now,
upon missionary work; a member of the 'Army,' an officer of advancing
rank, Matilda Pridden, by name; was nearer to the secret of the right
course of conduct for individual citizens and the entire country than any
gentleman he knew.
Yes, nearer to it than his master was! Thinking of Mr. Victor Radnor,
Skepsey fetched a sigh. He had knocked at his master's door at the
office one day, and imagining the call to enter, had done so, and had
seen a thing he could not expunge. Lady Grace Halley was there. From
matters he gathered, Skepsey guessed her to be working for his master
among the great folks, as he did with Jarniman, and Mr. Fenellan with Mr.
Carling. But is it usual; he asked himself--his natural veneration
framing the rebuke to his master thus--to repay the services of a lady
so warmly?--We have all of us an ermined owl within us to sit in
judgement of our superiors as well as our equals; and the little man,
notwithstanding a servant's bounden submissiveness, was forced to hear
the judicial pronouncement upon his master's behaviour. His master had,
at the same time, been saying most weighty kind words more and more of
late: one thing:--that, if he gave all he had to his fellows, and did all
he could, he should still be in their debt. And he was a very wealthy
gentleman. What are we to think? The ways of our superiors are
wonderful. We do them homage: still we feel, we painfully feel, we are
beginning to worship elsewhere. It is the pain of a detachment of the
very roots of our sea-weed heart from a rock. Mr. Victor Radnor was an
honour to his country. Skepsey did not place the name of Matilda Pridden
beside it or in any way compare two such entirely different persons. At
the same time and most earnestly, while dreading to hear, he desired to
have Matilda Pridden's opinion of the case distressing him. He never
could hear it, because he could never be allowed to expound the case to
her. Skepsey sighed again: he as much as uttered: Oh, if we had a few
thousands like her!--But what if we do have them? They won't marry!
There they are, all that the country requires in wives and mothers; and
like Miss Priscilla Graves, they won't marry!
He looked through sad thoughts across the benches of the compartments to
the farther end of the carriage, where sat the Rev. Septimus Barmby,
looking at him through a meditation as obscure if not so mournful. Few
are the third-class passengers outward at that early hour in the winter
season, and Skepsey's gymnastics to get beside the Rev. Septimus were
unimpeded; though a tight-packed carriage of us poor journaliers would
not have obstructed them with as much as a sneer. Mr. Barmby and Skepsey
greeted. The latter said, he had a holiday, to pay a visit to Miss
Nesta. The former said, he hoped he should see Miss Nesta. Skepsey then
rapidly brought the conversation to a point where Matilda Pridden was
comprised. He discoursed of the 'Army' and her position in the Army,
giving instances of her bravery, the devotion shown by her to the cause
of morality, in all its forms. Mr. Barmby had his fortunes on his hands
at the moment, he could not lend an attentive ear; and he disliked this
Army, the title it had taken, and the mixing of women and men in its
ranks; not to speak of a presumption in its proceedings, and the public
marching and singing. Moreover, he enjoyed his one or two permissible
glasses: he doubted that the Chiefs of the Army had common benevolence
for the inoffensive pipe. But the cause of morality was precious to him;
morality and a fit of softness, and the union of the happiest contrast of
voices, had set him for a short while, before the dawn of Nesta's day,
hankering after Priscilla Graves. Skepsey's narrative of Matilda
Pridden's work down at the East of London; was effective; it had the ring
to thrill a responsive chord in Mr. Barmby, who mused on London's East,
and martyrly service there. His present expectations were of a very
different sort; but a beautiful bride, bringing us wealth, is no
misleading beam, if we direct the riches rightly. Septimus, a solitary
minister in those grisly haunts of the misery breeding vice, must needs
accomplish less than a Septimus the husband of one of England's chief
heiresses:--only not the most brilliant, owing to circumstances known to
the Rev. Groseman Buttermore: strangely, and opportunely, revealed: for
her exceeding benefit, it may be hoped. She is no longer the ignorant
girl, to reject the protecting hand of one whose cloth is the best of
cloaking. A glance at Dudley Sowerby's defection, assures our worldly
wisdom too, that now is the time to sue.
Several times while Mr. Barmby made thus his pudding of the desires of
the flesh and the spirit, Skepsey's tales of Matilda Pridden's heroism
caught his attention. He liked her deeds; he disliked the position in
which the young woman placed herself to perform them; and he said so.
Women are to be women, he said.
Skepsey agreed: 'If we could get men to do the work, sir!'
Mr. Barmby was launching forth: Plenty of men!--His mouth was blocked by
the reflection, that we count the men on our fingers; often are we, as it
were, an episcopal thumb surveying scarce that number of followers! He
diverged to censure of the marchings and the street-singing: the
impediment to traffic, the annoyance to a finely musical ear. He
disapproved altogether of Matilda Pridden's military display, pronouncing
her to be, 'Doubtless a worthy young person.'
'Her age is twenty-seven,' said Skepsey, spying at the number of his own.
'You have known her long?' Mr. Barmby asked.
'Not long, sir. She has gone through trouble. She believes very
strongly in the will:--If I will this, if I will that, and it is the
right will, not wickedness, it is done--as good as done; and force is
quite superfluous. In her sermons, she exhorts to prayer before action.'
'She moves a large assembly, sir.'
'It would seem, that England is becoming Americanized!' exclaimed the
Conservative in Mr. Barmby. Almost he groaned; and his gaze was fish-
like in vacancy, on hearing the little man speak of the present intrepid
forwardness of the sex to be publicly doing. It is for men the most
indigestible fact of our century: one that--by contrast throws an
overearthly holiness on our decorous dutiful mothers, who contentedly
worked below the surface while men unremittingly attended to their
Skepsey drew forth a paper-covered shilling-book: a translation from the
French, under a yelling title of savage hate of Old England and cannibal
glee at her doom. Mr. Barmby dropped his eyelashes on it, without
comment; nor did he reply to Skepsey's forlorn remark: 'We let them think
they could do it!'
Behold the downs. Breakfast is behind them. Miss Radnor likewise: if
the poor child has a name. We propose to supply the deficiency. She
does not declare war upon tobacco. She has a cultured and a beautiful
voice. We abstain from enlargeing on the charms of her person. She has
resources, which representatives of a rival creed would plot to secure.
'Skepsey, you have your quarters at the house of Miss Radnor's
relatives?' said Mr. Barmby, as they emerged from tunnelled chalk.
'Mention, that I think of calling in the course of the day.'
A biscuit had been their breakfast without a name.
They parted at the station, roused by the smell of salt to bestow a more
legitimate title on the day's restorative beginning. Down the hill,
along by the shops, and Skepsey, in sight of Miss Nesta's terrace,
considered it still an early hour for a visitor; so, to have the sea
about him, he paid pier-money, and hurried against the briny wings of a
South-wester; green waves, curls of foam, flecks of silver, under low-
flying grey-dark cloud-curtains shaken to a rift, where at one shot the
sun had a line of Nereids nodding, laughing, sparkling to him. Skepsey
enjoyed it, at the back of thoughts military and naval. Visible sea,
this girdle of Britain, inspired him to exultations in reverence. He
wished Mr. Durance could behold it now and have such a breastful. He was
wishing he knew a song of Britain and sea, rather fancying Mr. Durance to
be in some way a bar to patriotic poetical recollection, when he saw his
Captain Dartrey mounting steps out of an iron anatomy of the pier, and
looking like a razor off a strap.
'Why, sir!' cried Skepsey.
'Just a plunge and a dozen strokes,' Dartrey said; 'and you'll come to my
hotel and give me ten minutes of the "recreation"; and if you don't come
willingly, I shall insult your country.'
'Ah! I wish Mr. Durance were here,' Skepsey rejoined.
'It would upset his bumboat of epigrams. He rises at ten o'clock to a
queasy breakfast by candlelight, and proceeds to composition. His
picture of the country is a portrait of himself by the artist.'
'But, sir, Captain Dartrey, you don't think as Mr. Durance does of
'There are lots to flatter her, Skepsey! A drilling can't do her harm.
You're down to see Miss Nesta. Ladies don't receive quite so early. And
have you breakfasted? Come on with me quick.' Dartrey led him on,
saying: 'You have an eye at my stick. It was a legacy to me, by word of
mouth, from a seaman of a ship I sailed in, who thought I had done him a
service; and he died after all. He fell overboard drunk. He perished of
the villain stuff. One of his messmates handed me the stick in Cape
Town, sworn to deliver it. A good knot to grasp; and it 's flexible and
strong; stick or rattan, whichever you please; it gives point or caresses
the shoulder; there's no break in it, whack as you may. They call it a
Demerara supple-jack. I'll leave it to you.'
Skepsey declared his intention to be the first to depart. He tried the
temper of the stick, bent it a bit, and admired the prompt straightening.
'It would give a good blow, sir.'
'Does its business without braining.'
Perhaps for the reason, that it was not a handsome instrument for display
on fashionable promenades, Dartrey chose it among his collection by
preference; as ugly dogs of a known fidelity are chosen for companions.
The Demerara supple-jack surpasses bull-dogs in its fashion of assisting
the master; for when once at it, the clownish-looking thing reflects upon
him creditably, by developing a refined courtliness of style, while in no
way showing a diminution of jolly ardour for the fray. It will deal you
the stroke of a bludgeon with the playfulness of a cane. It bears
resemblance to those accomplished natural actors, who conversationally
present a dramatic situation in two or three spontaneous flourishes, and
are themselves again, men of the world, the next minute.
Skepsey handed it back. He spoke of a new French rifle. He mentioned,
in the form of query for no answer, the translation of the barking little
volume he had shown to Mr. Barmby: he slapped at his breast-pocket, where
it was. Not a ship was on the sea-line; and he seemed to deplore that
'But it tells both ways,' Dartrey said. 'We don't want to be hectoring
in the Channel. All we want, is to be sure of our power, so as not to go
hunting and fawning for alliances. Up along that terrace Miss Nesta
lives. Brighton would be a choice place for a landing.'
Skepsey temporized, to get his national defences, by pleading the
country's love of peace.
'Then you give-up your portion of the gains of war--an awful
disgorgement,' said Dartrey. 'If you are really for peace, you toss
all your spare bones to the war-dogs. Otherwise, Quakerly preaching is
taken for hypocrisy.'
'I 'm afraid we are illogical, sir,' said Skepsey, adopting one of the
charges of Mr. Durance, to elude the abominable word.
'In you run, my friend.' Dartrey sped him up the steps of the hotel.
A little note lay on his breakfast-table. His invalid uncle's valet gave
the morning's report of the night.
The note was from Mrs. Blathenoy: she begged Captain Dartrey, in double
underlinings of her brief words, to mount the stairs. He debated, and he
She was excited, and showed a bosom compressed to explode: she had been
weeping. 'My husband is off. He bids me follow him. What would you
have me do?'
'You don't care what may happen to your friends, the Radnors?'
'Not at the cost of your separation from your husband.'
'You have seen him!'
'Oh, you cold creature! You know--you see: I can't conceal. And you
tell me to go. "Go!" Gracious heavens! I've no claim on you; I haven't
been able to do much; I would have--never mind! believe me or not. And
now I'm to go: on the spot, I suppose. You've seen the man I 'm to go
to, too. I would bear it, if it were not away from . . . out of sight
of I'm a fool of a woman, I know. There's frankness for you! and I could
declare you're saying "impudence" in your heart--or what you have for
one. Have you one?'
'My dear soul, it 's a flint. So just think of your duty.' Dartrey
played the horrid part of executioner with some skill.
Her bosom sprang to descend into abysses.
'And never a greater fool than when I sent for you to see such a face as
I'm showing!' she cried, with lips that twitched and fingers that plucked
at her belt. 'But you might feel my hatred of being tied to--dragged
about over the Continent by that . . . perhaps you think a woman is
not sensible of vulgarity in her husband! I 'm bothering you? I don't
say I have the slightest claim. You never made love to me, never! Never
so much as pressed my hand or looked. Others have--as much as I let
them. And before I saw you, I had not an idea of another man but that
man. So you advise me to go?'
'There's no other course.'
'No other course. I don't see one. What have I been dreaming of!
Usually a woman feeling . . .' she struck at her breast, 'has had a
soft word in her ear. "Go!" I don't blame you, Captain Dartrey. At
least, you 're not the man to punish a woman for stripping herself, as I
've done. I call myself a fool--I'm a lunatic. Trust me with your
'There you are.'
She grasped the hand, and shut her eyes to make a long age of the holding
on to him. 'Oh, you dear dear fellow!--don't think me unwomanly; I must
tell you now: I am naked and can't disguise. I see you are ice--feel:
and if you were different, I might be. You won't be hurt by hearing
you've made yourself dear to me--without meaning to, I know! It began
that day at Lakelands; I fell in love with you the very first minute I
set eyes on you! There's a confession for a woman to make! and a married
woman! I'm married, and I no more feel allegiance, as they call it, than
if there never had been a ceremony and no Jacob Blathenoy was in
existence. And why I should go to him! But you shan't be troubled.
I did not begin to live, as a woman, before I met you. I can speak all
this to you because--we women can't be deceived in that--you are one of
the men who can be counted on for a friend.'
'I hope so,' Dartrey said, and his mouth hardened as nature's electricity
shot sparks into him from the touch and rocked him.
'No, not yet: I will soon let it drop,' said she, and she was just then
thrillingly pretty; she caressed the hand, placing it at her throat and
moving her chin on it, as women fondle birds. 'I am positively to go,
'Positively, you are to go; and it's my command.'
'Not in love with any one at all?'
'Not with a soul.'
'Not with a woman?'
'With no woman.'
'No! and no to everything. And an end to the catechism!'
'It is really a flint that beats here?' she said, and with a shyness in
adventurousness, she struck the point of her forefinger on the rib.
'Fancy me in love with a flint! And running to be dutiful to a Jacob
Blathenoy, at my flint's command. I'm half in love with doing what I
hate, because this cold thing here bids me do it. I believe I married
for money, and now it looks as if I were to have my bargain with poverty
to bless it.'
'There I may help,' said Dartrey, relieved at sight of a loophole, to
spring to some initiative out of the paralysis cast on him by a pretty
little woman's rending of her veil. A man of honour alone with a woman
who has tossed concealment to the winds, is a riddled target indeed: he
is tempted to the peril of cajoleing, that he may escape from the torment
and the ridicule; he is tempted to sigh for the gallant spirit of his
naughty adolescence. 'Come to me--will you?--apply to me, if there's
ever any need. I happen to have money. And forgive me for naming it.'
She groaned: 'Don't! I'm, sure, and I thought it from the first, you're
one of the good men, and the woman who meets you is lucky, and wretched,
and so she ought to be! Only to you should I! . . . do believe that!
I won't speak of what excuses I've got. You've seen.'
'Don't think of them: there'll be danger in it.
'Shall you think of me in danger?'
'Silly, silly! Don't you see you have to do with a flint! I've gone
through fire. And if I were in love with you, I should start you off to
your husband this blessed day.'
'And you're not the slightest wee wee bit in love with me!'
'Perfectly true; but I like you; and if we're to be hand in hand, in the
time to come, you must walk firm at present.'
'I'm to go to-day?'
The riddled target kicked. Dartrey contrasted Jacob Blathenoy with the
fair wife, and commiseratingly exonerated her; he lashed at himself for
continuing to be in this absurdest of postures, and not absolutely secure
for all that. His head shook. 'Friends, you'll find best.'
'Well!' she sighed, 'I feel I'm doomed to go famished through life.
There's never to be such a thing as, love, for me! I can't tell you no
woman could: though you'll say I've told enough. I shall burn with shame
when I think of it. I could go on my knees to have your arms round me
once. I could kill myself for saying it!--I should feel that I had one
moment of real life.--I know I ought to admire you. They say a woman
hates if she's refused. I can't: I wish I were able to. I could have
helped the Radnors better by staying here and threatening never to go to
him unless he swore not to do them injury. He's revengeful. Just as you
like. You say "Go," and I go. There. I may kiss your hand?'
'Give me yours.'
Dartrey kissed the hand. She kissed the mark of his lips. He got
himself away, by promising to see her to the train for Paris. Outside
her door, he was met by the reflection, coming as a thing external, that
he might veraciously and successfully have pleaded a passionate hunger
for breakfast: nay, that he would have done so, if he had been downright
in earnest. For she had the prettiness to cast a spell; a certain curve
at the lips, a fluttering droop of the eyelids, a corner of the eye, that
led long distances away to forests and nests. This little woman had the
rosy-peeping June bud's plumpness. What of the man who refused to kiss
her once? Cold antecedent immersion had to be thanked; and stringent
vacuity; perhaps a spotting ogre-image of her possessor. Some sense of
right-doing also, we hope. Dartrey angrily attributed his good conduct
to the lowest motives. He went so far as to accuse himself of having
forborne to speak of breakfast, from a sort of fascinated respect for the
pitch of a situation that he despised and detested. Then again, when
beginning to eat, his good conduct drew on him a chorus of the jeers of
all the martial comrades he had known. But he owned he would have had
less excuse than they, had he taken advantage of a woman's inability,
at a weak moment, to protect herself: or rather, if he had not behaved
in a manner to protect her from herself. He thought of his buried wife,
and the noble in the base of that poor soul; needing constantly a present
helper, for the nobler to conquer. Be true man with a woman, she must be
viler than the devil has yet made one, if she does not follow a strong
right lead:--but be patient, of course. And the word patience here means
more than most men contain. Certainly a man like Jacob Blathenoy was a
mouthful for any woman: and he had bought his wife, he deserved no pity.
Not? Probably not. That view, however, is unwholesome and opens on
slides. Pity of his wife, too, gets to be fervidly active with her
portrait, fetches her breath about us. As for condemnation of the poor
little woman, her case was not unexampled, though the sudden flare of it
startled rather. Mrs. Victor could read men and women closely. Yes, and
Victor, when he schemed--but Dartrey declined to be throwing blame right
or left. More than by his breakfast, and in a preferable direction, he
was refreshed by Skepsey's narrative of the deeds of Matilda Pridden.
'The right sort of girl for you to know, Skepsey,' he said. 'The best in
life is a good woman.'
Skepsey exhibited his book of the Gallic howl.
'They have their fits now and then, and they're soon over and forgotten,'
Dartrey said. 'The worst of it is, that we remember.'
After the morning's visit to his uncle, he peered at half a dozen sticks
in the corner of the room, grasped their handles, and selected the
Demerara supple-jack, for no particular reason; the curved knot was easy
to the grasp. It was in his mind, that this person signing herself
Judith Marsett, might have something to say, which intimately concerned
Nesta. He fell to brooding on it, until he wondered why he had not been
made a trifle anxious by the reading of the note overnight. Skepsey was
left at Nesta's house.
Dartrey found himself expected by the servant waiting on Mrs. Marsett.
SHOWS HOW TEMPER MAY KINDLE TEMPER AND AN INDIGNANT WOMAN GET HER WEAPON
Judith Marsett stood in her room to receive Nesta's hero. She was
flushed, and had thinned her lips for utterance of a desperate thing,
after the first severe formalities.
Her aim was to preserve an impressive decorum. She was at the same time
burning to speak out furious wrath, in words of savage rawness, if they
should come, as a manner of slapping the world's cheek for the state to
which it reduces its women; whom one of the superior creatures can
insult, and laugh.
Men complaining of the 'peace which is near their extinction,' have but
to shuffle with the sex; they will experience as remarkable a change as
if they had passed off land on to sea.
Dartrey had some flitting notion of the untamed original elements women
can bring about us, in his short observant bow to Mrs. Marsett, following
so closely upon the scene with Mrs. Blathenoy.
But this handsome woman's look of the dull red line of a sombre fire,
that needed only stir of a breath to shoot the blaze, did not at all
alarm him. He felt refreshingly strung by it.
She was discerned at a glance to be an aristocratic member of regions
where the senses perpetually simmer when they are not boiling. The talk
at the Club recurred to him. How could Nesta have come to know the
woman? His questioning of the chapter of marvellous accidents, touched
Nesta simply, as a young girl to be protected, without abhorrently
involving the woman. He had his ideas of the Spirit of Woman stating her
case to the One Judge, for lack of an earthly just one: a story different
from that which is proclaimed pestilential by the body of censors under
conservatory glass; where flesh is delicately nurtured, highly prized;
spirit not so much so; and where the pretty tricking of the flesh is
taken for a spiritual ascendancy.
In spite of her turbulent breast's burden to deliver, Mrs. Marsett's
feminine acuteness was alive upon Dartrey, confirming here and there
Nesta's praises of him. She liked his build and easy carriage of a
muscular frame: her Ned was a heavy man. More than Dartrey's figure,
as she would have said, though the estimate came second, she liked his
manner with her. Not a doubt was there, that he read her position. She
could impose upon some: not upon masculine eyes like these. They did not
scrutinize, nor ruffle a smooth surface with a snap at petty impressions;
and they were not cynically intimate or dominating or tentatively
amorous: clear good fellowship was in them. And it was a blessedness
(whatever might be her feeling later, when she came to thank him at
heart) to be in the presence of a man whose appearance breathed of
offering her common ground, whereon to meet and speak together,
unburdened by the hunting world, and by the stoneing world. Such common
ground seems a kind of celestial to the better order of those excluded
Dartrey relieved her midway in a rigid practice of the formalities: 'I
think I may guess that you have something to tell me relating to Miss
'It is.' Mrs. Marsett gathered up for an immediate plunge, and deferred
it. 'I met her--we went out with the riding-master. She took to me.
I like her--I could say' (the woman's voice dropped dead low, in a
tremble), 'I love her. She is young: I could kneel to her. Do you know
a Major Worrell?'
'He is a-calls himself a friend of my--of Captain Marsett's. He met us
out one day.'
'He permitted himself to speak to Miss Radnor?'
She rejoiced in Dartrey's look. 'Not then. First let me tell you. I
can hardly tell you. But Miss Radnor tells me you are not like other
men. You have made your conclusions already. Are you asking what right
I had to be knowing her? It is her goodness. Accident began it; I did
not deceive her; as soon as ever I could I--I have Captain Marsett's
promise to me: at present he's situated, he--but I opened my heart to
her: as much as a woman can. It came! Did I do very wrong?'
'I'm not here to decide: continue, pray.'
Mrs. Marsett aimed at formal speech, and was driving upon her natural in
anger. 'I swear I did it for the best. She is an innocent girl . . .
young lady: only she has a head; she soon reads things. I saw the kind
of cloud in her. I spoke. I felt bound to: she said she would not
forsake me.--I was bound to! And it was enough to break my heart, to
think of her despising me. No, she forgave, pitied;--she was kind.
Those are the angels who cause us to think of changeing. I don't care
for sermons, but when I meet charity: I won't bore you!'
'My . . . Captain Marsett can't bear--he calls it Psalmody. He thinks
things ought always to be as they are, with women and men; and women
preachers he does detest. She is not one to preach. You are waiting to
hear what I have to tell. That man Major Worrell has tried to rob me of
everything I ever had to set a value on:--love, I 'd say;--he laughs at a
woman like me loving.'
Dartrey nodded, to signify a known sort of fellow.
'She came here.' Mrs. Marsett's tears had risen. 'I ought not to have
let her come. I invited her--for once: I am lonely. None of my sex--
none I could respect! I meant it for only once. She promised to sing to
me. And, Oh! how she sings! You have heard her. My whole heart came
out. I declare I believe girls exist who can hear our way of life--and
I'm not so bad except compared with that angel, who heard me, and was
and is, I could take oath, no worse for it. Some girls can; she is one.
I am all for bringing them up in complete innocence. If I was a great
lady, my daughters should never know anything of the world until they
were married. But Miss Radnor is a young lady who cannot be hurt. She
is above us. Oh! what a treasure for a man!--and my God! for any man
born of woman to insult a saint, as she is!--He is a beast!'
'Major Worrell met her here?'
'Blame me as much as you like: I do myself. Half my rage with him is at
myself for putting her in the way of such a beast to annoy. Each time
she came, I said it was to be the last. I let her see what a mercy from
heaven she was to me. She would come. It has not been many times. She
wishes me either to . . . Captain Marsett has promised. And nothing
seems hard--to me when my own God's angel is by. She is! I'm not such a
bad woman, but I never before I knew her knew the meaning of the word
virtue. There is the young lady that man worried with his insulting
remarks! though he must have known she was a lady:--because he found her
in my rooms.'
'You were present when, as you say, he insulted her?'
'I was. Here it commenced; and he would see her downstairs.'
'Of course, I never left her.'
'Give me a notion . . .'
'To get her to make an appointment: to let him conduct her home.'
'She was alone?'
'Her maid was below.'
'And this happened . . .?'
'Yesterday, after dark. My Ned--Captain Marsett encourages him to be
familiar. I should be the lowest of women if I feared the threats of
such a reptile of a man. I could tell you more. I can't always refuse
his visits, though if Ned knew the cur he is! Captain Marsett is easy-
'I should like to know where he lives.'
She went straight to the mantelpiece, and faced about with a card,
handing it, quite aware that it was a charge of powder.
Desperate things to be done excused the desperate said; and especially
they seemed a cover to the bald and often spotty language leaping out of
her, against her better taste, when her temper was up.
'Somewhere not very distant,' said Dartrey perusing. 'Is he in the town
to-day, do you know?'
'I am not sure; he may be. Her name . . .'
'Have no fear. Ladies' names are safe.'
'I am anxious that she may not be insulted again.'
'Did she show herself conscious of it?'
'She stopped speaking: she looked at the door. She may come again--or
never! through that man!'
'You receive him, at his pleasure?'
'Captain Marsett wishes me to. He is on his way home. He calls Major
Worrell my pet spite. All I want is; not to hear of the man. I swear
he came yesterday on the chance of seeing--for he forced his way up past
my servant; he must have seen Miss Radnor's maid below.'
'You don't mean, that he insulted her hearing?'
'Oh! Captain Fenellan, you know the style.'
'Well, I thank you,' Dartrey said. 'The young lady is the daughter of my
dearest friends. She's one of the precious--you're quite right. Keep
the tears back.'
'I will.' She heaved open-mouthed to get physical control of the tide.
'When you say that of her!--how can I help it? It's I fear, because I
fear . . . and I've no right to expect ever . . . but if I'm never
again to look on that dear face, tell her I shall--I shall pray for her
in my grave. Tell her she has done all a woman can, an angel can, to
save my soul. I speak truth: my very soul! I could never go to the
utter bad after knowing her. I don't--you know the world--I'm a poor
helpless woman!--don't swear to give up my Ned if he does break the word
he promised once; I can't see how I could. I haven't her courage.
I haven't--what it is! You know her: it's in her eyes and her voice.
If I had her beside me, then I could starve or go to execution--I could,
I am certain. Here I am, going to do what you men hate. Let me sit.'
'Here's a chair,' said Dartrey. 'I've no time to spare; good day, for
the present. You will permit me to call.'
'Oh! come'; she cried, out of her sobs, for excuse. They were genuine,
or she would better have been able to second her efforts to catch a
distinct vision of his retreating figure.
She beheld him, when he was in the street, turn for the district where
Major Worrell had his lodgeings. That set her mind moving, and her tears
fell no longer.
Major Worrell was not at home. Dartrey was informed that he might be at
At the Club he heard of the major as having gone to London and being
expected down in the afternoon. Colonel Sudley named the train:
an early train; the major was engaged to dine at the Club. Dartrey had
information supplied to him concerning Major Worrell and Captain Marsett,
also Mrs. Marsett. She had a history. Worthy citizens read the
description of history with interest when the halo of Royalty is round
it. They may, if their reading extends, perceive, that it has been the
main turbid stream in old Mammon's train since he threw his bait for
flesh. They might ask, too, whether it is likely to cease to flow while
he remains potent. The lady's history was brief, and bore recital in a
Club; came off quite honourably there. Regarding Major Worrell, the tale
of him showed him to have a pass among men. He managed cleverly to get
his pleasures out of a small income and a 'fund of anecdote.' His
reputation indicated an anecdotist of the table, prevailing in the
primitive societies, where the art of conversing does not come by nature,
and is exercised in monosyllabic undertones or grunts until the
narrator's well-masticated popular anecdote loosens a digestive laughter,
and some talk ensues. He was Marsett's friend, and he boasted of not
letting Ned Marsett make a fool of himself.
Dartrey was not long in shaping the man's character: Worrell belonged
to the male birds of upper air, who mangle what female prey they are
forbidden to devour. And he had Miss Radnor's name: he had spoken her
name at the Club overnight. He had roused a sensation, because of a man
being present, Percy Southweare, who was related to a man as good as
engaged to marry her. The major never fell into a quarrel with sons of
nobles, if he could help it, or there might have been a pretty one.
So Colonel Sudley said.
Dartrey spoke musing: 'I don't know how he may class me; I have an
account to square with him.'
'It won't do in these days, my good friend. Come and cool yourself; and
we'll lunch here. I shan't leave you.'
'By all means. We'll lunch, and walk up to the station, and you will
point him out to me.'
Dartrey stated Major Worrell's offence. The colonel was not astonished;
but evidently he thought less of Worrell's behaviour to Miss Radnor in
Mrs. Marsett's presence than of the mention of her name at the Club: and
that, he seemed to think, had a shade of excuse against the charge of
monstrous. He blamed the young lady who could go twice to visit a Mrs.
Marsett; partly exposed a suspicion of her. Dartrey let him talk. They
strolled along the parade, and were near the pier.
Suddenly saying: 'There, beside our friend in clerical garb: here she
comes; judge if that is the girl for the foulest of curs to worry, no
matter where she's found.' Dartrey directed the colonel's attention to
Nesta and Mr. Barmby turning off the pier and advancing.
He saluted. She bowed. There was no contraction of her eyelids; and her
face was white. The mortal life appeared to be deadened in her cold wide
look; as when the storm-wind banks a leaden remoteness, leaving blown
space of sky.
The colonel said: 'No, that's not the girl a gentleman would offend.'
'What man!' cried Dartrey. 'If we had a Society for the trial of your
gentleman!--but he has only to call himself gentleman to get grant of
licence: and your Society protects him. It won't punish, and it won't
let you. But you saw her: ask yourself--what man could offend that
'Still, my friend, she ought to keep clear of the Marsetts.'
'When I meet him, I shall treat him as one out of the law.'
'You lead on to an ultimate argument with the hangman.'
We 'll dare it, to waken the old country. Old England will count none
but Worrells in time. As for discreet, if you like!--the young lady
might have been more discreet. She's a girl with a big heart. If we
were all everlastingly discreet!'
Dartrey may have meant, that the consequence of a prolonged conformity
would be the generation of stenches to shock to purgeing tempests the
tolerant heavens over such smooth stagnancy. He had his ideas about
movement; about the good of women, and the health of his England. The
feeling of the hopelessness of pleading Nesta's conduct, for the perfect
justification of it to son or daughter of our impressing conventional
world--even to a friend, that friend a true man, a really chivalrous man
--drove him back in a silence upon his natural brotherhood with souls
that dare do. It was a wonder, to think of his finding this kinship in a
woman. In a girl?--and the world holding that virgin spirit to be
unclean or shadowed because its rays were shed on foul places? He
clasped the girl. Her smitten clear face, the face of the second sigh
after torture, bent him in devotion to her image.
The clasping and the worshipping were independent of personal ardours:
quaintly mixed with semi-paternal recollections of the little 'blue
butterfly' of the days at Craye. Farm and Creckholt; and he had heard of
Dudley Sowerby's pretensions to; her hand. Nesta's youthfulness cast
double age on him from the child's past. He pictured the child; pictured
the girl, with her look of solitariness of sight; as in the desolate wide
world, where her noble compassion for a woman had unexpectedly,
painfully, almost by transubstantiation, rack-screwed her to woman's
mind. And above sorrowful, holy were those eyes.
They held sway over Dartrey, and lost it some steps on; his demon temper
urgeing him to strike at Major Worrell, as the cause of her dismayed
expression. He was not the happier for dropping to his nature; but we
proceed more easily, all of us, when the strain which lifts us a foot or
two off our native level is relaxed.
A PAIR OF WOOERS
That ashen look of the rise out of death from one of our mortal wounds,
was caused by deeper convulsions in Nesta's bosom than Dartrey could
She had gone for the walk with Mr. Barmby, reading the omen of his tones
in the request. Dorothea and Virginia would have her go. The clerical
gentleman, a friend of the Rev. Abram Posterley; and one who deplored
poor Mr. Posterley's infatuation; and one besides who belonged to Nesta's
musical choir in London: seemed a safe companion for the child.
The grand organ of Mr. Barmby's voice, too, assured them of a devout
seriousness in him, that arrested any scrupulous little questions. They
could not conceive his uttering the nonsensical empty stuff, compliments
to their beauty and what not, which girls hear sometimes from
inconsiderate gentlemen, to the having of their heads turned. Moreover,
Nesta had rashly promised her father's faithful servant Skepsey to walk,
out with him in the afternoon; and the ladies hoped she would find the
morning's walk to have been enough; good little man though Skepsey was,
they were sure. But there is the incongruous for young women of station
on a promenade.
Mr. Barmby headed to the pier. After pacing up and down between the
briny gulls and a polka-band, he made his way forethoughtfully to the
glass-sheltered seats fronting East: where, as his enthusiasm for the
solemnity of the occasion excited him to say, 'We have a view of the
terraces and the cliffs'; and where not more than two enwrapped
invalid figures were ensconsed. Then it was, that Nesta recalled her
anticipation of his possible design; forgotten by her during their talk
of her dear people: Priscilla Graves and Mr. Pempton, and the Yatts, and
Simeon Fenellan, Peridon and Catkin, and Skepsey likewise; and the very
latest news of her mother. She wished she could have run before him, to
spare him. He would not notice a sign. Girls must wait and hear.
It was an oratorio. She watched the long wave roll on to the sinking
into its fellow; and onward again for the swell and the weariful lapse;
and up at last bursting to the sheet of white. The far-heard roar and
the near commingled, giving Mr. Barmby a semblance to the powers of
At the first direct note, the burden of which necessitated a pause, she
petitioned him to be her friend, to think of himself as her friend.
But a vessel laden with merchandize, that has crossed wild seas for this
particular port, is hardly to be debarred from discharging its goods on
the quay by simple intimations of their not being wanted. We are
precipitated both by the aim and the tedium of the lengthened voyage to
insist that they be seen. We believe perforce in their temptingness;
and should allurement fail, we fall back to the belief in our eloquence.
An eloquence to expose the qualities they possess, is the testification
in the promise of their excellence. She is to be induced by feeling to
see it. We are asking a young lady for the precious gift of her hand.
We respect her; and because of our continued respect, despite an
obstruction, we have come to think we have a claim upon her gratitude;
could she but be led to understand how different we are from some other
man!--from one hitherto favoured among them, unworthy of this prize,
however personally exalted and meritorious.
The wave of wide extension rolled and sank and rose, heaving lifeless
variations of the sickly streaks on its dull green back.
Dudley Sowerby's defection was hinted at and accounted for, by the
worldly test of worldly considerations.
What were they?--Nesta glanced.
An indistinct comparison was modestly presented, of one unmoved by
But what were they? She was wakened by a lamp, and her darkness was all
inflammable to it.
'Oh! Mr. Barmby, you have done me the honour to speak before; you know
my answer,' she said.
'You were then subject to an influence. A false, I may say wicked,
sentiment upholding celibacy.'
'My poor Louise? She never thought of influencing me. She has her
views, I mine. Our friendship does not depend on a "treaty of
reciprocity." We are one at heart, each free to judge and act, as it
should be in friendship. I heard from her this morning. Her brother
will be able to resume his military duties next month. Then she will
return to me.'
'We propose!' rejoined Mr. Barmby.
Beholding the involuntary mercurial rogue-dimple he had started from a
twitch at the corner, of her lips, the good gentleman pursued: 'Can we
dare write our designs for the month to come? Ah!--I will say--Nesta!
give me the hope I beg to have. See the seriousness. You are at
liberty. That other has withdrawn his pretensions. We will not blame
him. He is in expectation of exalted rank. Where there is any shadow
. . . !' Mr. Barmby paused on his outroll of the word; but
immediately, not intending to weigh down his gentle hearer with the
significance in it, resumed at a yet more sonorous depth: 'He is under
the obligation to his family; an old, a venerable family. In the full
blaze of public opinion! His conduct can be palliated by us, too.
There is a right and wrong in minor things, independent of the higher
rectitude. We pardon, we can partly support, the worldly view.'
'There is a shadow?' said Nesta; and her voice was lurefully encouraging.
He was on the footing where men are precipitated by what is within them
to blunder. 'On you--no. On you personally, not at all. No. It could
not be deemed so. Not by those knowing, esteeming--not by him who loves
you, and would, with his name, would, with his whole strength, envelop,
shield . . . certainly, certainly not.'
'It is on my parents?' she said.
'But to me nothing, nothing, quite nought! To confound the innocent with
the guilty! . . . and excuses may exist. We know but how little we
'It is on both my parents?' she said; with a simplicity that induced him
to reply: 'Before the world. But not, I repeat . . .'
The band-instruments behind the sheltering glass flourished on their
termination of a waltz.
She had not heeded their playing. Now she said:
'The music is over; we must not be late at lunch'; and she stood up and
He sprang to his legs and obediently stepped out:
'I shall have your answer to-day, this evening? Nesta!'
'Mr. Barmby, it will be the same. You will be kind to me in not asking
He spoke further. She was dumb.
Had he done ill or well for himself and for her when he named the shadow
on her parents? He dwelt more on her than on himself: he would not have
wounded her to win the blest affirmative. Could she have been entirely
ignorant?--and after Dudley Sowerby's defection? For such it was: the
Rev. Stuart Rem had declared the union between the almost designated head
of the Cantor family and a young person of no name, of worse than no
birth, impossible: 'absolutely and totally impossible,' he, had said, in
his impressive fashion, speaking from his knowledge of the family, and an
acquaintance with Dudley. She must necessarily have learnt why Dudley
Sowerby withdrew. No parents of an attractive daughter should allow her
to remain unaware of her actual position in the world. It is criminal,
a reduplication of the criminality! Yet she had not spoken as one
astonished. She was mysterious. Women are so: young women most of all.
It is undecided still whether they do of themselves conceive principles,
or should submit to an imposition of the same upon them in terrorem.
Mysterious truly, but most attractive! As Lady Bountiful of a district,
she would have in her maturity the majestic stature to suit a
dispensation of earthly good things. And, strangely, here she was, at
this moment, rivalling to excelling all others of her sex (he verified it
in the crowd of female faces passing), when they, if they but knew the
facts, would visit her very appearance beside them on a common footing as
an intrusion and a scandal. To us who know, such matters are indeed
Moved by reflective compassion, Mr. Barmby resumed the wooer's note, some
few steps after he had responded to the salutation of Dartrey Fenellan
and Colonel Sudley. She did not speak. She turned her forehead to him;
and the absence of the world from her eyes chilled his tongue.
He declined the pleasure of the lunch with the Duvidney ladies. He
desired to be alone, to question himself fasting, to sound the deed he
had done; for he had struck on a suspicion of selfishness in it: and
though Love must needs be an egoism, Love is no warrant for the doing of
a hurt to the creature beloved. Thoughts upon Skepsey and the tale of
his Matilda Pridden's labours in poor neighbourhoods, to which he had
been inattentive during the journey down to the sea, invaded him; they
were persistent. He was a worthy man, having within him the spiritual
impulse curiously ready to take the place where a material disappointment
left vacancy. The vulgar sort embrace the devil at that stage. Before
the day had sunk, Mr. Barmby's lowest wish was, to be a light, as the
instrument of his Church in her ministrations amid the haunts of sin and
slime, to such plain souls as Daniel Skepsey and Matilda Pridden. And he
could still be that, if Nesta, in the chapters of the future, changed her
mind. She might; for her good she would; he reserved the hope. His
light was one to burn beneath an extinguisher.
At the luncheon table of the Duvidney ladies, it was a pain to Dorothea
and Virginia to witness how poor the appetite their Nesta brought in from
the briny blowy walk. They prophesied against her chances of a good
sleep at night, if she did not eat heartily. Virginia timidly remarked
on her paleness. Both of them put their simple arts in motion to let her
know, that she was dear to them: so dear as to make them dread the hour
of parting. They named their dread of it. They had consulted in private
and owned to one another, that they did really love the child, and dared
not look forward to what they would do without her. The dear child's
paleness and want of appetite (they remembered they were observing a weak
innocent girl) suggested to them mutually the idea of a young female
heart sickening, for the old unhappy maiden reason. But, if only she
might return with them to the Wells, the Rev. Stuart Rem would assure her
to convince her of her not being quite, quite forsaken. He, or some one
having sanction from Victor, might ultimately (the ladies waiting
anxiously in the next room, to fold her on the warmth of their bosoms
when she had heard) impart to her the knowledge of circumstances, which
would, under their further tuition concerning the particular sentiments
of great families and the strict duties of the scions of the race, help
to account for and excuse the Hon. Dudley Sowerby's behaviour.
They went up to the drawing-room, talking of Skepsey and his tale of
Miss Pridden, for Nesta's amusement. Any talk of her Skepsey usually
quickened her lips to reminiscent smiles and speech. Now she held on
to gazeing; and sadly, it seemed; as if some object were not present.
For a vague encouragement, Dorothea said: 'One week, and we are back home
at Moorsedge!'--not so far from Cronidge, was implied, for the
administering of some foolish temporary comfort. And it was as when a
fish on land springs its hollow sides in alien air for the sustaining
element; the girl panted; she clasped Dorothea's hand and looked at
Virginia: 'My mother--I must see her!' she said. They were slightly
stupefied by the unwonted mention of her mother. They made no reply.
They never had done so when there was allusion to her mother. Their
silence now struck a gong at the girl's bosom.
Dorothea had it in mind to say, that if she thirsted for any special
comfort, the friends about her would offer consolation for confidence.
Before she could speak, Perrin the footman entered, bearing the card of
the Hon. Dudley Sowerby.
Mr. Dudley Sowerby begged for an immediate interview with Miss Radnor.
The ladies were somewhat agitated, but no longer perplexed as to their
duties. They had quitted Moorsedge to avoid the visit of his family.
If he followed, it signified that which they could not withstand:--The
'Tivoli falls!' as they named the fateful tremendous human passion, from
the reminiscences of an impressive day on their travels in youth; when
the leaping torrent had struck upon a tale of love they were reading.
They hurriedly entreated Nesta to command her nerves; peremptorily
requested her to stay where she was; showed her spontaneously, by way of
histrionic adjuration, the face to be worn by young ladies at greetings
on these occasions; kissed her and left her; Virginia whispering: 'He is
Dudley entered the drawing-room, charged with his happy burden of a love
that had passed through the furnace. She stood near a window, well in
the light; she hardly gave him welcome. His address to her was hurried,
rather uncertain, coherent enough between the drop and the catch of
articulate syllables. He found himself holding his hat. He placed it on
the table, and it rolled foolishly; but soon he was by her side, having
two free hands to claim her one.
'You are thinking, you have not heard from me! I have been much
occupied,' he said. 'My brother is ill, very ill. I have your pardon?'
'Indeed you have--if it has to be asked.'
'I have it?'
'Have I to grant it?'
'I own to remissness!
'I did not blame you.'
'Nesta . . . !'
Her coldness was unshaken.
He repeated the call of her name. 'I should have written--I ought to
have written!--I could not have expressed . . . You do forgive? So
'You come from Cronidge to-day?'
'From my family--to you.'
She seemed resentful. His omissions as a correspondent were explicable
in a sentence. It had to be deferred.
Reviewing for a moment the enormous internal conflict undergone by him
during the period of the silence between them, he wondered at the
vastness of the love which had conquered objections, to him so poignant.
There was at least no seeing of the public blot on her birth when looking
on her face. Nor when thinking of the beauty of her character, in
absence or in presence, was there any. He had mastered distaste to such
a degree, that he forgot the assistance he had received from the heiress
for enabling him to appreciate the fair young girl. Money is the
imperious requirement of superior station; and more money and more: in
these our modern days of the merchant's wealth, and the miner's, and the
gigantic American and Australian millionaires, high rank is of necessity
vowed, in peril of utter eclipse; to the possession of money. Still it
is, when assured, a consideration far to the rear with a gentleman in
whose bosom love and the buzzing world have fought their battle out. He
could believe it thoroughly fought out, by the prolonged endurance of a
contest lasting many days and nights; in the midst of which, at one time,
the task of writing to tell her of his withdrawal from the engagement,
was the cause of his omission to write.
As to her character, he dwelt on the charm of her recovered features, to
repress an indicative dread of some intrepid force behind it, that might
be unfeminine, however gentle the external lineaments. Her features, her
present aristocratic deficiency of colour, greatly pleased him; her
character would submit to moulding. Of all young ladies in the world,
she should be the one to shrink from a mental independence and hold to
the guidance of the man ennobling her. Did she? Her eyes were reading
him. She had her father's limpid eyes, and when they concentrated rays,
'Have you seen my parents, Mr. Sowerby?'
He answered smilingly, for reassuringly: 'I have seen them.'
'From your mother first. But am I not to be Dudley?'
'She spoke to you? She told you?'
'And yesterday your father--a second time.'
Some remainder of suspicion in the dealing with members of this family,
urged Dudley to say: 'I understood from them, you were not? . . . that
you were quite . . .?'
'I have heard: I have guessed: it was recently--this morning, as it
happened. I wish to go to my mother to-day. I shall go to her
'I might offer to conduct you-now!'
'You are kind; I have Skepsey.' She relieved the situation of its
cold-toned strain in adding: 'He is a host.'
'But I may come?--now! Have I not the right? You do not deny it me?'
'You are very generous.'
'I claim the right, then. Always. And subsequently, soon after, my
mother hopes to welcome you at Cronidge. She will be glad to hear of
your naming of a day. My father bids me . . . he and all our family.'
'They are very generous.'
'I may send them word this evening of a day you name?'
'No, Mr. Sowerby.
'I cannot say it. I have to see my parents.'
'Between us, surely?'
'My whole heart thanks you for your goodness to me. I am unable to say
He had again observed and he slightly crisped under the speculative look
she directed on him: a simple unstrained look, that had an air of reading
right in, and was worse to bear with than when the spark leaped upon some
thought from her eyes: though he had no imagination of anything he
concealed--or exposed, and he would have set it down to her temporary
incredulousness of his perfect generosity or power to overcome the
world's opinion of certain circumstances. That had been a struggle!
The peculiar look was not renewed. She spoke warmly of her gratitude.
She stated, that she must of necessity see her parents at once. She
submitted to his entreaty to conduct her to them on the morrow. It was
in the manner of one who yielded step by step, from inability to contend.
Her attitude continuing unchanged, he became sensible of a monotony
in the speech with which he assailed it, and he rose to leave, not
dissatisfied. She, at his urgent request, named her train for London in
the early morning. He said it was not too early. He would have desired
to be warmed; yet he liked her the better for the moral sentiment
controlling the physical. He had appointments with relatives or
connections in the town, and on that pretext he departed, hoping for the
speedy dawn of the morrow as soon as he had turned his back on the house.
No, not he the man to have pity of women underfoot! That was the
thought, unrevolved, unphrased, all but unconscious, in Nesta: and while
her heart was exalting him for his generosity. Under her present sense
of the chilling shadow, she felt the comfort there was in being grateful
to him for the golden beams which his generosity cast about her. But she
had an intelligence sharp to pierce, virgin though she was; and with the
mark in sight, however distant, she struck it, unerring as an Artemis for
blood of beasts: those shrewd young wits, on the lookout to find a
champion, athirst for help upon a desolate road, were hard as any
judicial to pronounce the sentence upon Dudley in that respect. She
raised him high; she placed herself low; she had a glimpse of the
struggle he had gone through; love of her had helped him, she believed.
And she was melted; and not the less did the girl's implacable intuition
read with the keenness of eye of a man of the world the blunt division
in him, where warm humanity stopped short at the wall of social concrete
forming a part of this rightly esteemed young citizen. She, too, was
divided: she was at his feet; and she rebuked herself for daring to
judge--or rather, it was, for having a reserve in her mind upon a man
proving so generous with her. She was pulled this way and that by
sensibilities both inspiring to blind gratitude and quickening her
penetrative view. The certainty of an unerring perception remained.
Dorothea and Virginia were seated in the room below, waiting for their
carriage, when the hall-door spoke of the Hon. Dudley's departure; soon
after, Nesta entered to them. She swam up to Dorothea's lap, and dropped
her head on it, kneeling.
The ladies feared she might be weeping. Dorothea patted her thick brown
twisted locks of hair. Unhappiness following such an interview, struck
them as an ill sign.
Virginia bent to the girl's ear, and murmured: 'All well?'
She replied: 'He has been very generous.'
Her speaking of the words renewed an oppression, that had darkened her on
the descent of stairs. For sensibilities sharp as Nesta's, are not to be
had without their penalties: and she who had gone nigh to summing in a
flash the nature of Dudley, sank suddenly under that affliction often
besetting the young adventurous mind, crushing to young women:--the
fascination exercised upon them by a positive adverse masculine attitude
and opinion. Young men know well what it is: and if young women have by
chance overcome their timidity, to the taking of any step out of the trim
pathway, they shrink, with a sense of forlornest isolation. It becomes a
subjugation; inciting to revolt, but a heavy weight to cast off. Soon it
assumed its material form for the contention between her and Dudley, in
the figure of Mrs. Marsett. The Nesta who had been instructed to know
herself to be under a shadow, heard, she almost justified Dudley's
reproaches to her, for having made the acquaintance of the unhappy woman,
for having visited her, for having been, though but for a minute, at the
mercy of a coarse gentleman's pursuit. The recollection was a smart
Her lighted mind punished her thus through her conjuring of Dudley's
words, should news of her relations with Mrs. Marsett reach him:--and she
would have to tell him. Would he not say: 'I have borne with the things
concerning your family. All the greater reason why I must insist'--he
would assuredly say he insisted (her humour caught at the word, as being
the very word one could foresee and clearly see him uttering in a fit of
vehemence) on her immediate abandonment of 'that woman.'
And with Nesta's present enlightenment by dusky beams, upon her
parentage, she listened abjectly to Dudley, or the opinion of the
majority. Would he not say or think, that her clinging to Mrs. Marsett
put them under a kind of common stamp, or gave the world its option to
class them together?
These were among the ideas chasing in a head destined to be a battle-
field for the enrichment of a harvest-field of them, while the girl's
face was hidden on Dorothea's lap, and her breast heaved and heaved.
She distressed them when she rose, by saying she must instantly see her
They saw the pain their hesitation inflicted, and Dorothea said: 'Yes,
dear; any day you like.'
'To-morrow--I must go to her to-morrow!'
A suggestion of her mother's coming down, was faintly spoken by one lady,
echoed in a quaver by the other.
Nesta shook her head. To quiet the kind souls, she entreated them to
give their promise that they would invite her again.
Imagining the Hon. Dudley to have cast her off, both ladies embraced her:
not entirely yielding-up their hearts to her, by reason of the pernicious
new ideas now in the world to sap our foundations of morality; which
warned them of their duty to uphold mentally his quite justifiable
behaviour, even when compassionating the sufferings of the guiltless
creature loved by them.
CONTAINS DEEDS UNRELATED AND EXPOSITIONS OF FEELINGS
All through the afternoon and evening Skepsey showed indifference to
meals by continuing absent: and he was the one with whom Nesta would have
felt at home; more at home than with her parents. He and the cool world
he moved in were a transparency of peace to her mind; even to his giving
of some portion of it, when she had the dear little man present to her in
a vivid image of a fish in a glass globe, wandering round and round, now
and then shooting across, just as her Skepsey did: he carried his head
semihorizontally at his arrowy pace; plain to read though he was, he
appeared, under that image created of him, animated by motives inducing
She thought of him till she could have reproached him for not returning
and helping her to get away from the fever of other thoughts:--this
anguish twisting about her parents, and the dreadful trammels of
gratitude to a man afflictingly generous, the frown of congregated
The latter was the least of evils; she had her charges to bring against
them for injustice: uncited, unstirred charges, they were effective as a
muffled force to sustain her: and the young who are of healthy lively
blood and clean conscience have either emotion or imagination to fold
them defensively from an enemy world; whose power to drive them forth
into the wilderness they acknowledge. But in the wilderness their souls
are not beaten down by breath of mortals; they burn straight flame there
up to the parent Spirit.
She could not fancy herself flying thither;--where to be shorn and naked
and shivering is no hardship, for the solitude clothes, and the sole true
life in us resolves to that steady flame;--she was restrained by Dudley's
generosity, which held her fast to have the forgiveness for her
uncommitted sin dashed in her face. He surprised her; the unexpected
quality in him seemed suddenly to have snared her fast: and she did not
obtain release after seeing behind it;--seeing it, by the light of what
she demanded, personal, shallow, a lover's generosity. So her keen
intellect saw it; and her young blood (for the youthful are thus divided)
thrilled in thinking it must be love! The name of the sacred passion
lifted it out of the petty cabin of the individual into a quiring
cathedral universal, and subdued her. It subdued her with an unwelcome
touch of tenderness when she thought of it as involving tenderness for
her mother, some chivalrous respect for her mother. Could he love the
daughter without some little, which a more intimate knowledge of her dear
mother would enlarge? The girl's heart flew to her mother, clung to her,
vindicated her dumbly. It would not inquire, and it refused to hear,
hungering the while. She sent forth her flights of stories in
elucidation of the hidden; and they were like white bird after bird
winging to covert beneath a thundercloud; until her breast ached for the
voice of the thunder: harsh facts: sure as she was of her never losing
her filial hold of the beloved. She and her mother grew together, they
were one. Accepting the shadow, they were the closer one beneath it.
She had neither vision nor active thought of her father, in whom her
At the hour of ten, the ladies retired for the enjoyment of their sweet
reward. Manton, their maid, came down to sit with Nesta on the watch for
Skepsey. Perrin, the footman, returning, as late as twenty minutes to
eleven, from his tobacco promenade along the terrace, reported to Manton
'a row in town'; and he repeated to Nesta the policeman's opinion and his
own of the 'Army' fellows, and the way to treat them. Both were for
'The name of "Army" attracts poor Skepsey so, I am sure he would join it,
if they would admit him,' Nesta said.
'He has an immense respect for a young woman, who belongs to his "Army";
and one doesn't know what may have come,' said Manton.
Two or three minutes after eleven, a feeble ring at the bell gained
admission for some person: whispering was heard in the passage.
Manton played eavesdropper, and suddenly bursting on Skepsey, arrested
him when about to dash upstairs. His young mistress's voice was a
sufficient command; he yielded; he pitched a smart sigh and stepped
into her presence for his countenance to be seen, or the show of a
countenance, that it presented.
'Skepsey wanted to rush to bed without saying good night to me?' said
she; leaving unnoticed, except for woefulness of tone, his hurried
shuffle of remarks on 'his appearance,' and 'little accidents'; ending
with an inclination of his disgraceful person to the doorway, and a
petition: 'If I might, Miss Nesta?' The implied pathetic reference to a
surgically-treated nose under a cross of strips of plaster, could not
obtain dismissal for him. And he had one eye of sinister hue, showing
beside its lighted-grey fellow as if a sullen punished dragonwhelp had
couched near some quick wood-pigeon. The two eyes blinked rapidly. He
was a picture of Guilt in the nude, imploring to be sent into
The cruelty of detaining him was evident.
'Yes, if you must,' Nesta said. 'But, dear Skepsey, will it be the
magistrate again to-morrow?'
He feared it would be; he fancied it would needs be. He concluded
by stating, that he was bound to appear before the magistrate in the
morning; and he begged assistance to keep it from the knowledge of the
Miss Duvidneys, who had been so kind to him.
'Has there been bailing of you again, Skepsey?'
'A good gentleman, a resident,' he replied; 'a military gentleman;
indeed, a colonel of the cavalry; but, it may so be, retired; and anxious
about our vast possessions; though he thinks a translation of a French
attack on England unimportant. He says, the Germans despise us most.'
'Then this gentleman thinks you have a good case?'
'He is a friend of Captain Dartrey's.'
Hearing that name, Nesta said: 'Now, Skepsey, you must tell me
everything. You are not to mind your looks. I believe, I do always
believe you mean well.'
'Miss Nesta, it depends upon the magistrate's not being prejudiced
against the street-processionists!
'But you may expect justice from the magistrate, if your case is good?'
'I would not say no, Miss Nesta. But we find, the opinion of the public
has its effect with magistrates--their sentences. They are severe on
boxing. They have latterly treated the "Army" with more consideration,
owing to the change in the public view. I myself have changed.'
'Have you joined it?'
'I cannot say I am a member of it.'
'You walked in the ranks to-day, and you were maltreated? Your friend
'I walked with Matilda Pridden; that is, parallel, along the pavement.'
'I hope she came out of it unhurt?'
'It is thanks to Captain Dartrey, Miss Nesta?'
This time Nesta looked her question.
Manton interposed: 'You are to speak, Mr. Skepsey'; and she stopped a
flood of narrative, that was knocking in his mind to feel its head and to
leap--an uninterrupted half-minute more would have shaped the story for
the proper flow.
He began, after attending to the throb of his bruises in a manner to
correct them rather than solace; and the beginning was the end: 'Captain
Dartrey rescued us, before Matilda Pridden suffered harm, to mention--the
chin, slight, teeth unshaken; a beautiful set. She is angry with Captain
Dartrey, for having recourse to violence in her defence: it is against
her principles. "Then you die," she says; and our principles are to gain
more by death. She says, we are alive in them; but worse if we abandon
them for the sake of living.--I am a little confused; she is very
abstruse.--Because, that is the corruptible life, she says. I have found
it quite impossible to argue with her; she has always a complete answer;
wonderful. In case of Invasion, we are to lift our voices to the Lord;
and the Lord's will shall be manifested. If we are robbed, we ask, How
came we by the goods? It is unreasonable; it strikes at rights of
property. But I have to go on thinking. When in danger, she sings
without excitement. When the blow struck her, she stopped singing only
an instant. She says, no one fears, who has real faith. She will not
let me call her brave. She cannot admire Captain Dartrey. Her
principles are opposed. She said to him, "Sir, you did what seemed to
you right." She thinks every blow struck sends us back to the state of
the beasts. Her principles . . .'
'How was it Captain Dartrey happened to be present, Skepsey?'
'She is very firm. You cannot move her.--Captain Dartrey was on his way
to the station, to meet a gentleman from London, Miss Nesta. He carried
a stick--a remarkable stick--he had shown to me in the morning, and he
has given it me now. He says, he has done his last with it. He seems to
have some of Matilda Pridden's ideas about fighting, when it's over. He
was glad to be rid of the stick, he said.'
'But who attacked you? What were the people?'
'Captain Dartrey says, England may hold up her head while she breeds
young women like Matilda Pridden: right or wrong, he says: it is the
Hereupon Manton, sick of Miss Pridden, shook the little man with a
snappish word, to bring him to attention. She got him together
sufficiently for him to give a lame version of the story; flat until he
came to his heroine's behaviour, when he brightened a moment, and he sank
back absorbed in her principles and theories of life. It was understood
by Nesta, that the processionists, going at a smart pace, found their way
blocked and were assaulted in one of the sidestreets; and that Skepsey
rushed to the defence of Matilda Pridden; and that, while they were
engaged, Captain Dartrey was passing at the end of the street, and
recognized one he knew in the thick of it and getting the worst of it,
owing to numbers. 'I will show you the stick he did it with, Miss
Nests'; said Skepsey, regardless of narrative; and darted out of the room
to bring in the Demerara supple-jack; holding which, he became inspired
to relate something of Captain Dartrey's deeds.
They gave no pleasure to his young lady, as he sadly perceived:--thus it
is with the fair sex ever, so fond of heroes! She shut her eyes from the
sight of the Demerara supple-jack descending right and left upon the
skulls of a couple of bully lads. 'That will do--you were rescued. And
now go to bed, Skepsey; and be up at seven to breakfast with me,' Nesta
said, for his battle-damaged face would be more endurable to behold after
an interval, she hoped; and she might in the morning dissociate its evil
look from the deeds of Captain Dartrey.
The thought of her hero taking active part in a streetfray, was repulsive
to her; it swamped his brilliancy. And this distressed her, by
withdrawing the support which the thought of him had been to her since
mid-day. She lay for sleepless hours, while nursing a deeper pain, under
oppression of repugnance to battle-dealing, bloodshedding men. It was
long before she grew mindful of the absurdity of the moan recurring
whenever reflection wearied. Translated into speech, it would have run:
'In a street of the town! with a stick!'--The vulgar picture pursued her
to humiliation; it robbed her or dimmed her possession of the one bright
thing she had remaining to her. So she deemed it during the heavy sighs
of night; partly conscious, that in some strange way it was as much as
tossing her to the man who never could have condescended to the
pugnacious using of a stick in a street. He, on the contrary, was a
cover to the shamefaced.
Her heart was weak that night. She hovered above it, but not so detached
as to scorn it for fawning to one--any one--who would offer her and her
mother a cover from scorn. And now she exalted Dudley's generosity, now
clung to a low idea of a haven in her father's wealth; and she was
unaware, that the second mood was deduced from the first. She did know
herself cowardly: she had, too, a critic in her clear head, to spurn at
the creature who could think of purchasing the world's respect. Dudley's
generosity sprang up to silence the voice. She could praise him, on a
review of it, for delicacy, moreover; and the delicacy laid her under a
more positive obligation. Her sense of it was not without a toneless
quaint faint savour of the romantic, that her humour little humorously
caught at, to paint her a picture of former heroes of fiction, who win
their trying lady by their perfection of good conduct on a background of
high birth; and who are not seen to be wooden before the volume closes.
Her fatigue of sleeplessness plunged her into the period of poke-bonnets
and peaky hats to admire him; giving her the kind of sweetness we may
imagine ourselves to get in the state of tired horse munching hay. If
she had gone to her bed with a noble or simply estimable plain image of
one of her friends in her heart, to sustain it, she would not have been
thus abject. Skepsey's discoloured eye, and Captain Dartrey's behaviour
behind it, threw her upon Dudley's generosity, as being the shield for an
outcast. Girls, who see at a time of need their ideal extinguished in