Part 2 out of 9
history, and poets, and quoted their verses. "For my darling will some
day have a dear husband, and he must not look down on her." Rhoda shook
her head, full sure that she could never be brought to utter such musical
words naturally. "Yes, dearest, when you know what love is," said
Dahlia, in an underbreath.
Could Robert inspire her with the power? Rhoda looked upon that poor
homely young man half-curiously when she returned, and quite dismissed
the notion. Besides she had no feeling for herself. Her passion was
fixed upon her sister, whose record of emotions in the letters from
London placed her beyond dull days and nights. The letters struck many
chords. A less subservient reader would have set them down as variations
of the language of infatuation; but Rhoda was responsive to every word
and change of mood, from the, "I am unworthy, degraded, wretched," to "I
am blest above the angels." If one letter said, "We met yesterday,"
Rhoda's heart beat on to the question, "Shall I see him again to-morrow?"
And will she see him?--has she seen him?--agitated her and absorbed her
So humbly did she follow her sister, without daring to forecast a
prospect for her, or dream of an issue, that when on a summer morning a
letter was brought in at the breakfast-table, marked "urgent and
private," she opened it, and the first line dazzled her eyes--the
surprise was a shock to her brain. She rose from her unfinished meal,
and walked out into the wide air, feeling as if she walked on thunder.
The letter ran thus:--
"My Own Innocent!--I am married. We leave England to-day. I must not
love you too much, for I have all my love to give to my Edward, my own
now, and I am his trustingly for ever. But he will let me give you some
of it--and Rhoda is never jealous. She shall have a great deal. Only I
am frightened when I think how immense my love is for him, so that
anything--everything he thinks right is right to me. I am not afraid to
think so. If I were to try, a cloud would come over me--it does, if only
I fancy for half a moment I am rash, and a straw. I cannot exist except
through him. So I must belong to him, and his will is my law. My prayer
at my bedside every night is that I may die for him. We used to think
the idea of death so terrible! Do you remember how we used to shudder
together at night when we thought of people lying in the grave? And now,
when I think that perhaps I may some day die for him, I feel like a
crying in my heart with joy.
"I have left a letter--sent it, I mean--enclosed to uncle for father. He
will see Edward by-and-by. Oh! may heaven spare him from any grief.
Rhoda will comfort him. Tell him how devoted I am. I am like drowned to
everybody but one.
"We are looking on the sea. In half an hour I shall have forgotten the
tread of English earth. I do not know that I breathe. All I know is a
fear that I am flying, and my strength will not continue. That is when I
am not touching his hand. There is France opposite. I shut my eyes and
see the whole country, but it is like what I feel for Edward--all in dark
moonlight. Oh! I trust him so! I bleed for him. I could make all my
veins bleed out at a sad thought about him. And from France to
Switzerland and Italy. The sea sparkles just as if it said "Come to the
sun;" and I am going. Edward calls. Shall I be punished for so much
happiness? I am too happy, I am too happy.
"God bless my beloved at home! That is my chief prayer now. I shall
think of her when I am in the cathedrals.
"Oh, my Father in heaven! bless them all! bless Rhoda! forgive me!
"I can hear the steam of the steamer at the pier. Here
is Edward. He says I may send his love to you.
"Mrs. Edward Ayrton,
"P.S.--Lausanne is where--but another time, and I will always tell you
the history of the places to instruct you, poor heart in dull England.
Adieu! Good-bye and God bless my innocent at home, my dear sister. I
love her. I never can forget her. The day is so lovely. It seems on
purpose for us. Be sure you write on thin paper to Lausanne. It is on a
blue lake; you see snow mountains, and now there is a bell ringing--
kisses from me! we start. I must sign.
By the reading of this letter, Rhoda was caught vividly to the shore, and
saw her sister borne away in the boat to the strange countries; she
travelled with her, following her with gliding speed through a
multiplicity of shifting scenes, opal landscapes, full of fire and
dreams, and in all of them a great bell towered. "Oh, my sweet! my own
beauty!" she cried in Dahlia's language. Meeting Mrs. Sumfit, she called
her "Mother Dumpling," as Dahlia did of old, affectionately, and kissed
her, and ran on to Master Gammon, who was tramping leisurely on to the
oatfield lying on toward the millholms.
"My sister sends you her love," she said brightly to the old man. Master
Gammon responded with no remarkable flash of his eyes, and merely opened
his mouth and shut it, as when a duck divides its bill, but fails to emit
the customary quack.
"And to you, little pigs; and to you, Mulberry; and you, Dapple; and you,
and you, and you."
Rhoda nodded round to all the citizens of the farmyard; and so eased her
heart of its laughing bubbles. After which, she fell to a meditative
walk of demurer joy, and had a regret. It was simply that Dahlia's hurry
in signing the letter, had robbed her of the delight of seeing "Dahlia
Ayrton" written proudly out, with its wonderful signification of the
change in her life.
That was a trifling matter; yet Rhoda felt the letter was not complete in
the absence of the bridal name. She fancied Dahlia to have meant,
perhaps, that she was Dahlia to her as of old, and not a stranger.
"Dahlia ever; Dahlia nothing else for you," she heard her sister say.
But how delicious and mournful, how terrible and sweet with meaning would
"Dahlia Ayrton," the new name in the dear handwriting, have looked! "And
I have a brother-in-law," she thought, and her cheeks tingled. The banks
of fern and foxglove, and the green young oaks fringing the copse, grew
rich in colour, as she reflected that this beloved unknown husband of her
sister embraced her and her father as well; even the old bent beggarman
on the sandy ridge, though he had a starved frame and carried pitiless
faggots, stood illumined in a soft warmth. Rhoda could not go back to
It chanced that the farmer that morning had been smitten with the virtue
of his wife's opinion of Robert, and her parting recommendation
"Have you a mind to either one of my two girls?" he put the question
bluntly, finding himself alone with Robert.
Robert took a quick breath, and replied, "I have."
"Then make your choice," said the farmer, and tried to go about his
business, but hung near Robert in the fields till he had asked: "Which
one is it, my boy?"
Robert turned a blade of wheat in his mouth.
"I think I shall leave her to tell that," was his answer.
"Why, don't ye know which one you prefer to choose, man?" quoth Mr.
"I mayn't know whether she prefers to choose me," said Robert.
The farmer smiled.
"You never can exactly reckon about them; that's true."
He was led to think: "Dahlia's the lass;" seeing that Robert had not had
many opportunities of speaking with her.
"When my girls are wives, they'll do their work in the house," he
pursued. "They may have a little bit o' property in land, ye know, and
they may have a share in--in gold. That's not to be reckoned on. We're
an old family, Robert, and I suppose we've our pride somewhere down.
Anyhow, you can't look on my girls and not own they're superior girls.
I've no notion of forcing them to clean, and dish up, and do dairying, if
it's not to their turn. They're handy with th' needle. They dress
conformably, and do the millinery themselves. And I know they say their
prayers of a night. That I know, if that's a comfort to ye, and it
should be, Robert. For pray, and you can't go far wrong; and it's
particularly good for girls. I'll say no more."
At the dinner-table, Rhoda was not present. Mr. Fleming fidgeted, blamed
her and excused her, but as Robert appeared indifferent about her
absence, he was confirmed in his idea that Dahlia attracted his fancy.
They had finished dinner, and Master Gammon had risen, when a voice
immediately recognized as the voice of Anthony Hackbut was heard in the
front part of the house. Mr. Fleming went round to him with a dismayed
"Lord!" said Mrs. Sumfit, "how I tremble!"
Robert, too, looked grave, and got away from the house. The dread of
evil news of Dahlia was common to them all; yet none had mentioned it,
Robert conceiving that it would be impertinence on his part to do so; the
farmer, that the policy of permitting Dahlia's continued residence in
London concealed the peril; while Mrs. Sumfit flatly defied the
threatening of a mischance to one so sweet and fair, and her favourite.
It is the insincerity of persons of their class; but one need not lay
stress on the wilfulness of uneducated minds. Robert walked across the
fields, walking like a man with an object in view. As he dropped into
one of the close lanes which led up to Wrexby Hall, he saw Rhoda standing
under an oak, her white morning-dress covered with sun-spots. His
impulse was to turn back, the problem, how to speak to her, not being
settled within him. But the next moment his blood chilled; for he had
perceived, though he had not felt simultaneously, that two gentlemen were
standing near her, addressing her. And it was likewise manifest that she
listened to them. These presently raised their hats and disappeared.
Rhoda came on toward Robert.
"You have forgotten your dinner," he said, with a queer sense of shame at
dragging in the mention of that meal.
"I have been too happy to eat," Rhoda replied.
Robert glanced up the lane, but she gave no heed to this indication, and
asked: "Has uncle come?"
"Did you expect him?"
"I thought he would come."
"What has made you happy?"
"You will hear from uncle."
"Shall I go and hear what those--"
Robert checked himself, but it would have been better had he spoken out.
Rhoda's face, from a light of interrogation, lowered its look to
She did not affect the feminine simplicity which can so prettily
misunderstand and put by an implied accusation of that nature. Doubtless
her sharp instinct served her by telling her that her contempt would hurt
him shrewdly now. The foolishness of a man having much to say to a
woman, and not knowing how or where the beginning of it might be, was
perceptible about him. A shout from her father at the open garden-gate,
hurried on Rhoda to meet him. Old Anthony was at Mr. Fleming's elbow.
"You know it? You have her letter, father?" said Rhoda, gaily, beneath
the shadow of his forehead.
"And a Queen of the Egyptians is what you might have been," said Anthony,
with a speculating eye upon Rhoda's dark bright face.
Rhoda put out her hand to him, but kept her gaze on her father.
William Fleeting relaxed the knot of his brows and lifted the letter.
"Listen all! This is from a daughter to her father."
And he read, oddly accentuating the first syllables of the sentences:--
"My husband will bring me to see you when I return to dear England.
I ought to have concealed nothing, I know. Try to forgive me. I
hope you will. I shall always think of you. God bless you!
"Ever with respect,
"Your dearly loving Daughter,
"Dahlia Blank!" said the farmer, turning his look from face to face.
A deep fire of emotion was evidently agitating him, for the letter
rustled in his hand, and his voice was uneven. Of this, no sign was
given by his inexpressive features. The round brown eyes and the ruddy
varnish on his cheeks were a mask upon grief, if not also upon joy.
"Dahlia--what? What's her name?" he resumed. "Here--'my husband will
bring me to see you'--who's her husband? Has he got a name? And a blank
envelope to her uncle here, who's kept her in comfort for so long! And
this is all she writes to me! Will any one spell out the meaning of it?"
"Dahlia was in great haste, father," said Rhoda.
"Oh, ay, you!--you're the one, I know," returned the farmer. "It's
sister and sister, with you."
"But she was very, very hurried, father. I have a letter from her, and I
have only 'Dahlia' written at the end--no other name."
"And you suspect no harm of your sister."
"Father, how can I imagine any kind of harm?"
"That letter, my girl, sticks to my skull, as though it meant to say,
'You've not understood me yet.' I've read it a matter of twenty times,
and I'm no nearer to the truth of it. But, if she's lying, here in this
letter, what's she walking on? How long are we to wait for to hear? I
give you my word, Robert, I'm feeling for you as I am for myself. Or,
wasn't it that one? Is it this one?" He levelled his finger at Rhoda.
"In any case, Robert, you'll feel for me as a father. I'm shut in a dark
room with the candle blown out. I've heard of a sort of fear you have in
that dilemmer, lest you should lay your fingers on edges of sharp knives,
and if I think a step--if I go thinking a step, and feel my way, I do cut
myself, and I bleed, I do. Robert, just take and say, it wasn't that
Such a statement would carry with it the confession that it was this one
for whom he cared this scornful one, this jilt, this brazen girl who
could make appointments with gentlemen, or suffer them to speak to her,
and subsequently look at him with innocence and with anger.
"Believe me, Mr. Fleming, I feel for you as much as a man can," he said,
uneasily, swaying half round as he spoke.
"Do you suspect anything bad?" The farmer repeated the question, like
one who only wanted a confirmation of his own suspicions to see the fact
built up. "Robert, does this look like the letter of a married woman?
Is it daughter-like--eh, man? Help another:
I can't think for myself--she ties my hands. Speak out."
Robert set his eyes on Rhoda. He would have given much to have been able
to utter, "I do." Her face was like an eager flower straining for light;
the very beauty of it swelled his jealous passion, and he flattered
himself with his incapacity to speak an abject lie to propitiate her.
"She says she is married. We're bound to accept what she says."
That was his answer.
"Is she married?" thundered the farmer. "Has she been and disgraced her
mother in her grave? What am I to think? She's my flesh and blood. Is
"Oh, hush, father!" Rhoda laid her hand on his arm. "What doubt can
there be of Dahlia? You have forgotten that she is always truthful.
Come away. It is shameful to stand here and listen to unmanly things."
She turned a face of ashes upon Robert.
"Come away, father. She is our own. She is my sister. A doubt of her
is an insult to us."
"But Robert don't doubt her--eh?" The farmer was already half distracted
from his suspicions. "Have you any real doubt about the girl, Robert?"
"I don't trust myself to doubt anybody," said Robert.
"You don't cast us off, my boy?"
"I'm a labourer on the farm," said Robert, and walked away.
"He's got reason to feel this more 'n the rest of us, poor lad! It's a
blow to him." With which the farmer struck his hand on Rhoda's shoulder.
"I wish he'd set his heart on a safer young woman."
Rhoda's shudder of revulsion was visible as she put her mouth up to kiss
her father's cheek.
That is Wrexby Hall, upon the hill between Fenhurst and Wrexby: the white
square mansion, with the lower drawing-room windows one full bow of glass
against the sunlight, and great single trees spotting the distant green
slopes. From Queen Anne's Farm you could read the hour by the stretching
of their shadows. Squire Blancove, who lived there, was an irascible,
gouty man, out of humour with his time, and beginning, alas for him! to
lose all true faith in his Port, though, to do him justice, he wrestled
hard with this great heresy. His friends perceived the decay in his
belief sooner than he did himself. He was sour in the evening as in the
morning. There was no chirp in him when the bottle went round. He had
never one hour of a humane mood to be reckoned on now. The day, indeed,
is sad when we see the skeleton of the mistress by whom we suffer, but
cannot abandon her. The squire drank, knowing that the issue would be
the terrific, curse-begetting twinge in his foot; but, as he said, he was
a man who stuck to his habits. It was over his Port that he had
quarrelled with his rector on the subject of hopeful Algernon, and the
system he adopted with that young man. This incident has something to do
with Rhoda's story, for it was the reason why Mrs. Lovell went to Wrexby
Church, the spirit of that lady leading her to follow her own impulses,
which were mostly in opposition. So, when perchance she visited the
Hall, she chose not to accompany the squire and his subservient guests to
Fenhurst, but made a point of going down to the unoccupied Wrexby pew.
She was a beauty, and therefore powerful; otherwise her act of
nonconformity would have produced bad blood between her and the squire.
It was enough to have done so in any case; for now, instead of sitting at
home comfortably, and reading off the week's chronicle of sport while he
nursed his leg, the unfortunate gentleman had to be up and away to
Fenhurst every Sunday morning, or who would have known that the old cause
of his general abstention from Sabbath services lay in the detestable
doctrine of Wrexby's rector?
Mrs. Lovell was now at the Hall, and it was Sunday morning after
breakfast. The lady stood like a rival head among the other guests,
listening, gloved and bonneted, to the bells of Wrexby, West of the
hills, and of Fenhurst, Northeast. The squire came in to them, groaning
over his boots, cross with his fragile wife, and in every mood for
satire, except to receive it.
"How difficult it is to be gouty and good!" murmured Mrs. Lovell to the
person next her.
"Well," said the squire, singling out his enemy, "you're going to that
fellow, I suppose, as usual--eh?"
"Not 'as usual,'" replied Mrs. Lovell, sweetly; "I wish it were!"
"Wish it were, do you?--you find him so entertaining? Has he got to
talking of the fashions?"
"He talks properly; I don't ask for more." Mrs. Lovell assumed an air of
meekness under persecution.
"I thought you were Low Church."
"Lowly of the Church, I trust you thought," she corrected him. "But, for
that matter, any discourse, plainly delivered, will suit me."
"His elocution's perfect," said the squire; "that is, before dinner."
"I have only to do with him before dinner, you know."
"Well, I've ordered a carriage out for you."
"That is very honourable and kind."
"It would be kinder if I contrived to keep you away from the fellow."
"Would it not be kinder to yourself," Mrs. Lovell swam forward to him in
all tenderness, taking his hands, and fixing the swimming blue of her
soft eyes upon him pathetically, "if you took your paper and your
slippers, and awaited our return?"
The squire felt the circulating smile about the room. He rebuked the
woman's audacity with a frown; "Tis my duty to set an example," he said,
his gouty foot and irritable temper now meeting in a common fire.
"Since you are setting an example," rejoined the exquisite widow, "I have
nothing more to say."
The squire looked what he dared not speak. A woman has half, a beauty
has all, the world with her when she is self-contained, and holds her
place; and it was evident that Mrs. Lovell was not one to abandon her
He snapped round for a victim, trying his wife first. Then his eyes
rested upon Algernon.
"Well, here we are; which of us will you take?" he asked Mrs. Lovell in
"I have engaged my cavalier, who is waiting, and will be as devout as
possible." Mrs. Lovell gave Algernon a smile.
"I thought I hit upon the man," growled the squire. "You're going in to
Wrexby, sir! Oh, go, by all means, and I shan't be astonished at what
comes of it. Like teacher, like pupil!"
"There!" Mrs. Lovell gave Algernon another smile. "You have to bear the
sins of your rector, as well as your own. Can you support it?"
The flimsy fine dialogue was a little above Algernon's level in the
society of ladies; but he muttered, bowing, that he would endeavour to
support it, with Mrs. Lovell's help, and this did well enough; after
which, the slight strain on the intellects of the assemblage relaxed, and
ordinary topics were discussed. The carriages came round to the door;
gloves, parasols, and scent-bottles were securely grasped; whereupon the
squire, standing bare-headed on the steps, insisted upon seeing the party
of the opposition off first, and waited to hand Mrs. Lovell into her
carriage, an ironic gallantry accepted by the lady with serenity
befitting the sacred hour.
"Ah! my pencil, to mark the text for you, squire," she said, taking her
seat; and Algernon turned back at her bidding, to get a pencil; and she,
presenting a most harmonious aspect in the lovely landscape, reclined in
the carriage as if, like the sweet summer air, she too were quieted by
those holy bells, while the squire stood, fuming, bareheaded, and with
boiling blood, just within the bounds of decorum on the steps. She was
more than his match.
She was more than a match for most; and it was not a secret. Algernon
knew it as well as Edward, or any one. She was a terror to the soul of
the youth, and an attraction. Her smile was the richest flattery he
could feel; the richer, perhaps, from his feeling it to be a thing
impossible to fix. He had heard tales of her; he remembered Edward's
warning; but he was very humbly sitting with her now, and very happy.
"I'm in for it," he said to his fair companion; "no cheque for me next
quarter, and no chance of an increase. He'll tell me I've got a salary.
A salary! Good Lord! what a man comes to! I've done for myself with the
squire for a year."
"You must think whether you have compensation," said the lady, and he
received it in a cousinly squeeze of his hand.
He was about to raise the lank white hand to his lips.
"Ah!" she said, "there would be no compensation to me, if that were
seen;" and her dainty hand was withdrawn. "Now, tell me," she changed
her tone. "How do the loves prosper?"
Algernon begged her not to call them 'loves.' She nodded and smiled.
"Your artistic admirations," she observed. "I am to see her in church,
am I not? Only, my dear Algy, don't go too far. Rustic beauties are as
dangerous as Court Princesses. Where was it you saw her first?"
"At the Bank," said Algernon.
"Really! at the Bank! So your time there is not absolutely wasted. What
brought her to London, I wonder?"
"Well, she has an old uncle, a queer old fellow, and he's a sort of
porter--money porter--in the Bank, awfully honest, or he might half break
it some fine day, if he chose to cut and run. She's got a sister,
prettier than this girl, the fellows say; I've never seen her. I expect
I've seen a portrait of her, though."
"Ah!" Mrs. Lovell musically drew him on. "Was she dark, too?"
"No, she's fair. At least, she is in her portrait."
"Brown hair; hazel eyes?"
"Oh--oh! You guess, do you?"
"I guess nothing, though it seems profitable. That Yankee betting man
'guesses,' and what heaps of money he makes by it!"
"I wish I did," Algernon sighed. "All my guessing and reckoning goes
wrong. I'm safe for next Spring, that's one comfort. I shall make
twenty thousand next Spring."
"That's the horse. I've got a little on Tenpenny Nail as well. But I'm
quite safe on Templemore; unless the Evil Principle comes into the
"Is he so sure to be against you, if he does appear?" said Mrs. Lovell.
"Certain!" ejaculated Algernon, in honest indignation.
"Well, Algy, I don't like to have him on my side. Perhaps I will take a
share in your luck, to make it--? to make it?"--She played prettily as a
mistress teasing her lap-dog to jump for a morsel; adding: "Oh! Algy, you
are not a Frenchman. To make it divine, sir! you have missed your
"There's one chance I shouldn't like to miss," said the youth.
"Then, do not mention it," she counselled him. "And, seriously, I will
take a part of your risk. I fear I am lucky, which is ruinous. We will
settle that, by-and-by. Do you know, Algy, the most expensive position
in the world is a widow's."
"You needn't be one very long," growled he.
"I'm so wretchedly fastidious, don't you see? And it's best not to sigh
when we're talking of business, if you'll take me for a guide. So, the
old man brought this pretty rustic Miss Rhoda to the Bank?"
"Once," said Algernon. "Just as he did with her sister. He's proud of
his nieces; shows them and then hides them. The fellows at the Bank
never saw her again."
"Her name is--?"
"Ah, yes!--Dahlia. Extremely pretty. There are brown dahlias--dahlias
of all colours. And the portrait of this fair creature hangs up in your
chambers in town?"
"Don't call them my chambers," Algernon protested.
"Your cousin's, if you like. Probably Edward happened to be at the Bank
when fair Dahlia paid her visit. Once seems to have been enough for both
Algernon was unread in the hearts of women, and imagined that Edward's
defection from Mrs. Lovell's sway had deprived him of the lady's sympathy
and interest in his fortunes.
"Poor old Ned's in some scrape, I think," he said.
"Where is he?" the lady asked, languidly.
"Paris? How very odd! And out of the season, in this hot weather. It's
enough to lead me to dream that he has gone over--one cannot realize
"Upon my honour!" Algernon thumped on his knee; "by jingo!" he adopted a
less compromising interjection; "Ned's fool enough. My idea is, he's
gone and got married."
Mrs. Lovell was lying back with the neglectful grace of incontestable
beauty; not a line to wrinkle her smooth soft features. For one sharp
instant her face was all edged and puckered, like the face of a fair
witch. She sat upright.
"Married! But how can that be when we none of us have heard a word of
"I daresay you haven't," said Algernon; "and not likely to. Ned's the
closest fellow of my acquaintance. He hasn't taken me into his
confidence, you maybe sure; he knows I'm too leaky. There's no bore like
a secret! I've come to my conclusion in this affair by putting together
a lot of little incidents and adding them up. First, I believe he was at
the Bank when that fair girl was seen there. Secondly, from the
description the fellows give of her, I should take her to be the original
of the portrait. Next, I know that Rhoda has a fair sister who has run
for it. And last, Rhoda has had a letter from her sister, to say she's
away to the Continent and is married. Ned's in Paris. Those are my
facts, and I give you my reckoning of them."
Mrs. Lovell gazed at Algernon for one long meditative moment.
"Impossible," she exclaimed. "Edward has more brains than heart." And
now the lady's face was scarlet. "How did this Rhoda, with her absurd
name, think of meeting you to tell you such stuff? Indeed, there's a
simplicity in some of these young women--" She said the remainder to
"She's really very innocent and good," Algernon defended Rhoda. "she is.
There isn't a particle of nonsense in her. I first met her in town, as I
stated, at the Bank; just on the steps, and we remembered I had called a
cab for her a little before; and I met her again by accident yesterday."
"You are only a boy in their hands, my cousin Algy!" said Mrs. Lovell.
Algernon nodded with a self-defensive knowingness. "I fancy there's no
doubt her sister has written to her that she's married. It's certain she
has. She's a blunt sort of girl; not one to lie, not even for a sister
or a lover, unless she had previously made up her mind to it. In that
case, she wouldn't stick at much."
"But, do you know," said Mrs. Lovell--"do you know that Edward's father
would be worse than yours over such an act of folly? He would call it an
offence against common sense, and have no mercy for it. He would be
vindictive on principle. This story of yours cannot be true. Nothing
"Oh, Sir Billy will be rusty; that stands to reason," Algernon assented.
"It mayn't be true. I hope it isn't. But Ned has a madness for fair
women. He'd do anything on earth for them. He loses his head entirely."
"That he may have been imprudent--" Mrs. Lovell thus blushingly hinted
at the lesser sin of his deceiving and ruining the girl.
"Oh, it needn't be true," said Algernon; and with meaning, "Who's to
blame if it is?"
Mrs. Lovell again reddened. She touched Algernon's fingers.
"His friends mustn't forsake him, in any case."
"By Jove! you are the right sort of woman," cried Algernon.
It was beyond his faculties to divine that her not forsaking of Edward
might haply come to mean something disastrous to him. The touch of Mrs.
Lovell's hand made him forget Rhoda in a twinkling. He detained it,
audaciously, even until she frowned with petulance and stamped her foot.
There was over her bosom a large cameo-brooch, representing a tomb under
a palm-tree, and the figure of a veiled woman with her head bowed upon
the tomb. This brooch was falling, when Algernon caught it. The pin
tore his finger, and in the energy of pain he dashed the brooch to her
feet, with immediate outcries of violent disgust at himself and
exclamations for pardon. He picked up the brooch. It was open. A
strange, discoloured, folded substance lay on the floor of the carriage.
Mrs. Lovell gazed down at it, and then at him, ghastly pale. He lifted
it by one corner, and the diminutive folded squares came out, revealing a
strip of red-stained handkerchief.
Mrs. Lovell grasped it, and thrust it out of sight.
She spoke as they approached the church-door: "Mention nothing of this to
a soul, or you forfeit my friendship for ever."
When they alighted, she was smiling in her old affable manner.
Some consideration for Robert, after all, as being the man who loved her,
sufficed to give him rank as a more elevated kind of criminal in Rhoda's
sight, and exquisite torture of the highest form was administered to him.
Her faith in her sister was so sure that she could half pardon him for
the momentary harm he had done to Dahlia with her father; but, judging
him by the lofty standard of one who craved to be her husband, she could
not pardon his unmanly hesitation and manner of speech. The old and deep
grievance in her heart as to what men thought of women, and as to the
harshness of men, was stirred constantly by the remembrance of his
irresolute looks, and his not having dared to speak nobly for Dahlia,
even though he might have had, the knavery to think evil. As the case
stood, there was still mischief to counteract. Her father had willingly
swallowed a drug, but his suspicions only slumbered, and she could not
instil her own vivid hopefulness and trust into him. Letters from Dahlia
came regularly. The first, from Lausanne, favoured Rhoda's conception of
her as of a happy spirit resting at celestial stages of her ascent upward
through spheres of ecstacy. Dahlia could see the snow-mountains in a
flying glimpse; and again, peacefully seated, she could see the
snow-mountains reflected in clear blue waters from her window, which,
Rhoda thought, must be like heaven. On these inspired occasions, Robert
presented the form of a malignant serpent in her ideas. Then Dahlia made
excursions upon glaciers with her beloved, her helpmate, and had
slippings and tumblings--little earthly casualties which gave a charming
sense of reality to her otherwise miraculous flight. The Alps were
crossed: Italy was beheld. A profusion of "Oh's!" described Dahlia's
impressions of Italy; and "Oh! the heat!" showed her to be mortal,
notwithstanding the sublime exclamations. Como received the blissful
couple. Dahlia wrote from Como:--
"Tell father that gentlemen in my Edward's position cannot always
immediately proclaim their marriage to the world. There are
reasons. I hope he has been very angry with me: then it will be
soon over, and we shall be--but I cannot look back. I shall not
look back till we reach Venice. At Venice, I know I shall see you
all as clear as day; but I cannot even remember the features of my
Her Christian name was still her only signature.
The thin blue-and-pink paper, and the foreign postmarks--testifications
to Dahlia's journey not being a fictitious event, had a singular
deliciousness for the solitary girl at the Farm. At times, as she turned
them over, she was startled by the intoxication of her sentiments, for
the wild thought would come, that many, many whose passionate hearts she
could feel as her own, were ready to abandon principle and the bondage to
the hereafter, for such a long delicious gulp of divine life. Rhoda
found herself more than once brooding on the possible case that Dahlia
had done this thing.
The fit of languor came on her unawares, probing at her weakness, and
blinding her to the laws and duties of earth, until her conscious
womanhood checked it, and she sprang from the vision in a spasm of
terror, not knowing how far she had fallen.
After such personal experiences, she suffered great longings to be with
her sister, that the touch of her hand, the gaze of her eyes, the tone of
Dahlia's voice, might make her sure of her sister's safety.
Rhoda's devotions in church were frequently distracted by the occupants
of the Blancove pew. Mrs. Lovell had the habit of looking at her with an
extraordinary directness, an expressionless dissecting scrutiny, that was
bewildering and confusing to the country damsel. Algernon likewise
bestowed marked attention on her. Some curious hints had been thrown out
to her by this young gentleman on the day when he ventured to speak to
her in the lane, which led her to fancy distantly that he had some
acquaintance with Dahlia's husband, or that he had heard of Dahlia.
It was clear to Rhoda that Algernon sought another interview. He
appeared in the neighbourhood of the farm on Saturdays, and on Sundays he
was present in the church, sometimes with Mrs. Lovell, and sometimes
without a companion. His appearance sent her quick wits travelling
through many scales of possible conduct: and they struck one ringing
note:--she thought that by the aid of this gentleman a lesson might be
given to Robert's mean nature. It was part of Robert's punishment to see
that she was not unconscious of Algernon's admiration.
The first letter from Venice consisted of a series of interjections in
praise of the poetry of gondolas, varied by allusions to the sad smell of
the low tide water, and the amazing quality of the heat; and then Dahlia
wrote more composedly:--
"Titian the painter lived here, and painted ladies, who sat to him
without a bit of garment on, and indeed, my darling, I often think it was
more comfortable for the model than for the artist. Even modesty seems
too hot a covering for human creatures here. The sun strikes me down. I
am ceasing to have a complexion. It is pleasant to know that my Edward
is still proud of me. He has made acquaintance with some of the officers
here, and seems pleased at the compliments they pay me.
"They have nice manners, and white uniforms that fit them like a kid
glove. I am Edward's 'resplendent wife.' A colonel of one of the
regiments invited him to dinner (speaking English), 'with your
resplendent wife.' Edward has no mercy for errors of language, and he
would not take me. Ah! who knows how strange men are! Never think of
being happy unless you can always be blind. I see you all at home--
Mother Dumpling and all--as I thought I should when I was to come to
"Persuade--do persuade father that everything will be well. Some persons
are to be trusted. Make him feel it. I know that I am life itself to
Edward. He has lived as men do, and he can judge, and he knows that
there never was a wife who brought a heart to her husband like mine to
him. He wants to think, or he wants to smoke, and he leaves me; but, oh!
when he returns, he can scarcely believe that he has me, his joy is so
great. He looks like a glad thankful child, and he has the manliest of
faces. It is generally thoughtful; you might think it hard, at first
"But you must be beautiful to please some men. You will laugh--I have
really got the habit of talking to my face and all myself in the glass.
Rhoda would think me cracked. And it is really true that I was never so
humble about my good looks. You used to spoil me at home--you and that
wicked old Mother Dumpling, and our own dear mother, Rhoda--oh! mother,
mother! I wish I had always thought of you looking down on me! You made
me so vain--much more vain than I let you see I was. There were times
when it is quite true I thought myself a princess. I am not worse-
looking now, but I suppose I desire to be so beautiful that nothing
"A spot on my neck gives me a dreadful fright. If my hair comes out much
when I comb it, it sets my heart beating; and it is a daily misery to me
that my hands are larger than they should be, belonging to Edward's
'resplendent wife.' I thank heaven that you and I always saw the
necessity of being careful of our fingernails. My feet are of moderate
size, though they are not French feet, as Edward says. No: I shall never
dance. He sent me to the dancing-master in London, but it was too late.
But I have been complimented on my walking, and that seems to please
Edward. He does not dance (or mind dancing) himself, only he does not
like me to miss one perfection. It is his love. Oh! if I have seemed to
let you suppose he does not love me as ever, do not think it. He is most
tender and true to me. Addio! I am signora, you are signorina.
"They have such pretty manners to us over here. Edward says they think
less of women: I say they think more. But I feel he must be right. Oh,
my dear, cold, loving, innocent sister! put out your arms; I shall feel
them round me, and kiss you, kiss you for ever!"
Onward from city to city, like a radiation of light from the old
farm-house, where so little of it was, Dahlia continued her journey; and
then, without a warning, with only a word to say that she neared Rome,
the letters ceased. A chord snapped in Rhoda's bosom. While she was
hearing from her sister almost weekly, her confidence was buoyed on a
summer sea. In the silence it fell upon a dread. She had no answer in
her mind for her father's unspoken dissatisfaction, and she had to
conceal her cruel anxiety. There was an interval of two months: a blank
fell charged with apprehension that was like the humming of a toneless
wind before storm; worse than the storm, for any human thing to bear.
Rhoda was unaware that Robert, who rarely looked at her, and never sought
to speak a word to her when by chance they met and were alone, studied
each change in her face, and read its signs. He was left to his own
interpretation of them, but the signs he knew accurately. He knew that
her pride had sunk, and that her heart was desolate. He believed that
she had discovered her sister's misery.
One day a letter arrived that gave her no joyful colouring, though it
sent colour to her cheeks. She opened it, evidently not knowing the
handwriting; her eyes ran down the lines hurriedly. After a time she
went upstairs for her bonnet.
At the stile leading into that lane where Robert had previously seen her,
she was stopped by him.
"No farther," was all that he said, and he was one who could have
interdicted men from advancing.
"Why may I not go by you?" said Rhoda, with a woman's affected
Robert joined his hands. "You go no farther, Miss Rhoda, unless you take
me with you."
"I shall not do that, Mr. Robert."
"Then you had better return home."
"Will you let me know what reasons you have for behaving in this manner
"I'll let you know by-and-by," said Robert. "At present, You'll let the
stronger of the two have his way."
He had always been so meek and gentle and inoffensive, that her contempt
had enjoyed free play, and had never risen to anger; but violent anger
now surged against him, and she cried, "Do you dare to touch me?" trying
to force her passage by.
Robert caught her softly by the wrist. There stood at the same time a
full-statured strength of will in his eyes, under which her own fainted.
"Go back," he said; and she turned that he might not see her tears of
irritation and shame. He was treating her as a child; but it was to
herself alone that she could defend herself. She marvelled that when she
thought of an outspoken complaint against him, her conscience gave her no
"Is there no freedom for a woman at all in this world?" Rhoda framed the
Rhoda went back as she had come. Algernon Blancove did the same.
Between them stood Robert, thinking, "Now I have made that girl hate me
It was in November that a letter, dated from London, reached the farm,
quickening Rhoda's blood anew. "I am alive," said Dahlia; and she said
little more, except that she was waiting to see her sister, and bade her
urgently to travel up alone. Her father consented to her doing so.
After a consultation with Robert, however, he determined to accompany
"She can't object to see me too," said the farmer; and Rhoda answered
"No." But her face was bronze to Robert when they took their departure.
Old Anthony was expecting them in London. It was now winter, and the
season for theatres; so, to show his brother-in-law the fun of a theatre
was one part of his projected hospitality, if Mr. Fleming should haply
take the hint that he must pay for himself.
Anthony had laid out money to welcome the farmer, and was shy and fidgety
as a girl who anticipates the visit of a promising youth, over his fat
goose for next day's dinner, and his shrimps for this day's tea, and his
red slice of strong cheese, called of Cheshire by the reckless butter-
man, for supper.
He knew that both Dahlia and Rhoda must have told the farmer that he was
not high up in Boyne's Bank, and it fretted him to think that the
mysterious respect entertained for his wealth by the farmer, which
delighted him with a novel emotion, might be dashed by what the farmer
During his last visit to the farm, Anthony had talked of the Funds more
suggestively than usual. He had alluded to his own dealings in them, and
to what he would do and would not do under certain contingencies; thus
shadowing out, dimly luminous and immense, what he could do, if his
sagacity prompted the adventure. The farmer had listened through the
buzzing of his uncertain grief, only sighing for answer. "If ever you
come up to London, brother William John," said Anthony, "you mind you go
about arm-in-arm with me, or you'll be judging by appearances, and says
you, 'Lor', what a thousander fellow this is!' and 'What a millioner
fellow that is!' You'll be giving your millions and your thousands to
the wrong people, when they haven't got a penny. All London 'll be
topsy-turvy to you, unless you've got a guide, and he'll show you a
shabby-coated, head-in-the-gutter old man 'll buy up the lot. Everybody
that doesn't know him says--look at him! but they that knows him--hats
off, I can tell you. And talk about lords! We don't mind their coming
into the city, but they know the scent of cash. I've had a lord take off
his hat to me. It's a fact, I have."
In spite of the caution Anthony had impressed upon his country relative,
that he should not judge by appearances, he was nevertheless under an
apprehension that the farmer's opinion of him, and the luxurious, almost
voluptuous, enjoyment he had of it, were in peril. When he had purchased
the well-probed fat goose, the shrimps, and the cheese, he was only
half-satisfied. His ideas shot boldly at a bottle of wine, and he
employed a summer-lighted evening in going a round of wine-merchants'
placards, and looking out for the cheapest bottle he could buy. And he
would have bought one--he had sealing-wax of his own and could have
stamped it with the office-stamp of Boyne's Bank for that matter, to make
it as dignified and costly as the vaunted red seals and green seals of
the placards--he would have bought one, had he not, by one of his lucky
mental illuminations, recollected that it was within his power to procure
an order to taste wine at the Docks, where you may get as much wine as
you like out of big sixpenny glasses, and try cask after cask, walking
down gas-lit paths between the huge bellies of wine which groan to be
tapped and tried, that men may know them. The idea of paying two
shillings and sixpence for one miserable bottle vanished at the
richly-coloured prospect. "That'll show him something of what London
is," thought Anthony; and a companion thought told him in addition that
the farmer, with a skinful of wine, would emerge into the open air
imagining no small things of the man who could gain admittance into those
marvellous caverns. "By George! it's like a boy's story-book," cried
Anthony, in his soul, and he chuckled over the vision of the farmer's
amazement--acted it with his arms extended, and his hat unseated, and
plunged into wheezy fits of laughter.
He met his guests at the station. Mr. Fleming was soberly attired in
what, to Anthony's London eye, was a curiosity costume; but the broad
brim of the hat, the square cut of the brown coat, and the leggings,
struck him as being very respectable, and worthy of a presentation at any
Bank in London.
"You stick to a leather purse, brother William John?" he inquired, with
an artistic sentiment for things in keeping.
"I do," said the farmer, feeling seriously at the button over it.
"All right; I shan't ask ye to show it in the street," Anthony rejoined,
and smote Rhoda's hand as it hung.
"Glad to see your old uncle--are ye?"
Rhoda replied quietly that she was, but had come with the principal
object of seeing her sister.
"There!" cried Anthony, "you never get a compliment out of this gal. She
gives ye the nut, and you're to crack it, and there maybe, or there
mayn't be, a kernel inside--she don't care."
"But there ain't much in it!" the farmer ejaculated, withdrawing his
fingers from the button they had been teasing for security since
Anthony's question about the purse.
"Not much--eh! brother William John?" Anthony threw up a puzzled look.
"Not much baggage--I see that--" he exclaimed; "and, Lord be thanked! no
trunks. Aha, my dear"--he turned to Rhoda--"you remember your lesson, do
ye? Now, mark me--I'll remember you for it. Do you know, my dear," he
said to Rhoda confidentially, "that sixpenn'orth of chaff which I made
the cabman pay for--there was the cream of it!--that was better than
Peruvian bark to my constitution. It was as good to me as a sniff of
sea-breeze and no excursion expenses. I'd like another, just to feel
young again, when I'd have backed myself to beat--cabmen? Ah! I've stood
up, when I was a young 'un, and shut up a Cheap Jack at a fair.
Circulation's the soul o' chaff. That's why I don't mind tackling
cabmen--they sit all day, and all they've got to say is 'rat-tat,' and
they've done. But I let the boys roar. I know what I was when a boy
myself. I've got devil in me--never you fear--but it's all on the side
of the law. Now, let's off, for the gentlemen are starin' at you, which
won't hurt ye, ye know, but makes me jealous."
Before the party moved away from the platform, a sharp tussle took place
between Anthony and the farmer as to the porterage of the bulky bag; but
it being only half-earnest, the farmer did not put out his strength, and
Anthony had his way.
"I rather astonished you, brother William John," he said, when they were
in the street.
The farmer admitted that he was stronger than he looked.
"Don't you judge by appearances, that's all," Anthony remarked, setting
down the bag to lay his finger on one side of his nose for
"Now, there we leave London Bridge to the right, and we should away to
the left, and quiet parts." He seized the bag anew. "Just listen.
That's the roaring of cataracts of gold you hear, brother William John.
It's a good notion, ain't it? Hark!--I got that notion from one of your
penny papers. You can buy any amount for a penny, now-a-days--poetry up
in a corner, stories, tales o' temptation--one fellow cut his lucky with
his master's cash, dashed away to Australia, made millions, fit to be a
lord, and there he was! liable to the law! and everybody bowing their
hats and their heads off to him, and his knees knocking at the sight of a
policeman--a man of a red complexion, full habit of body, enjoyed his
dinner and his wine, and on account of his turning white so often, they
called him--'sealing-wax and Parchment' was one name; 'Carrots and
turnips' was another; 'Blumonge and something,' and so on. Fancy his
having to pay half his income in pensions to chaps who could have had him
out of his town or country mansion and popped into gaol in a jiffy. And
found out at last! Them tales set you thinking. Once I was an idle
young scaramouch. But you can buy every idea that's useful to you for a
penny. I tried the halfpenny journals. Cheapness ain't always
profitable. The moral is, Make your money, and you may buy all the
Discoursing thus by the way, and resisting the farmer's occasional
efforts to relieve him of the bag, with the observation that appearances
were deceiving, and that he intended, please his Maker, to live and turn
over a little more interest yet, Anthony brought them to Mrs. Wicklow's
house. Mrs. Wicklow promised to put them into the track of the
omnibuses running toward Dahlia's abode in the Southwest, and Mary Ann
Wicklow, who had a burning desire in her bosom to behold even the outside
shell of her friend's new grandeur, undertook very disinterestedly to
accompany them. Anthony's strict injunction held them due at a lamp-post
outside Boyne's Bank, at half-past three o'clock in the afternoon.
"My love to Dahly," he said. "She was always a head and shoulders over
my size. Tell her, when she rolls by in her carriage, not to mind me. I
got my own notions of value. And if that Mr. Ayrton of hers 'll bank at
Boyne's, I'll behave to him like a customer. This here's the girl for my
money." He touched Rhoda's arm, and so disappeared.
The farmer chided her for her cold manner to her uncle, murmuring aside
to her: "You heard what he said." Rhoda was frozen with her heart's
expectation, and insensible to hints or reproof. The people who entered
the omnibus seemed to her stale phantoms bearing a likeness to every one
she had known, save to her beloved whom she was about to meet, after long
She marvelled pityingly at the sort of madness which kept the streets so
lively for no reasonable purpose. When she was on her feet again, she
felt for the first time, that she was nearing the sister for whom she
hungered, and the sensation beset her that she had landed in a foreign
country. Mary Ann Wicklow chattered all the while to the general ear.
It was her pride to be the discoverer of Dahlia's terrace.
"Not for worlds would she enter the house," she said, in a general tone;
she knowing better than to present herself where downright entreaty did
not invite her.
Rhoda left her to count the numbers along the terrace-walk, and stood out
in the road that her heart might select Dahlia's habitation from the
other hueless residences. She fixed upon one, but she was wrong, and her
heart sank. The fair Mary Ann fought her and beat her by means of a
careful reckoning, as she remarked,--
"I keep my eyes open; Number 15 is the corner house, the bow-window, to a
Gardens were in front of the houses; or, to speak more correctly, strips
of garden walks. A cab was drawn up close by the shrub-covered iron gate
leading up to No. 15. Mary Ann hurried them on, declaring that they
might be too late even now at a couple of dozen paces distant, seeing
that London cabs, crawlers as they usually were, could, when required,
and paid for it, do their business like lightning. Her observation was
illustrated the moment after they had left her in the rear; for a
gentleman suddenly sprang across the pavement, jumped into a cab, and was
whirled away, with as much apparent magic to provincial eyes, as if a
pantomimic trick had been performed. Rhoda pressed forward a step in
advance of her father.
"It may have been her husband," she thought, and trembled. The curtains
up in the drawing-room were moved as by a hand; but where was Dahlia's
face? Dahlia knew that they were coming, and she was not on the look-out
for them!--a strange conflict of facts, over which Rhoda knitted her
black brows, so that she looked menacing to the maid opening the door,
whose "Oh, if you please, Miss," came in contact with "My sister--Mrs.--,
she expects me. I mean, Mrs.--" but no other name than "Dahlia" would
fit itself to Rhoda's mouth.
"Ayrton," said the maid, and recommenced, "Oh, if you please, Miss, and
you are the young lady, Mrs. Ayrton is very sorry, and have left word,
would you call again to-morrow, as she have made a pressing appointment,
and was sure you would excuse her, but her husband was very anxious for
her to go, and could not put it off, and was very sorry, but would you
call again to-morrow at twelve o'clock? and punctually she would be
The maid smiled as one who had fairly accomplished the recital of her
lesson. Rhoda was stunned.
"Is Mrs. Ayrton at home?--Not at home?" she said.
"No: don't ye hear?" quoth the farmer, sternly.
"She had my letter--do you know?" Rhoda appealed to the maid.
"Oh, yes, Miss. A letter from the country."
"Yes, Miss; this morning."
"And she has gone out? What time did she go out? When will she be in?"
Her father plucked at her dress. "Best not go making the young woman
repeat herself. She says, nobody's at home to ask us in. There's no
more, then, to trouble her for."
"At twelve o'clock to-morrow?" Rhoda faltered.
"Would you, if you please, call again at twelve o'clock to-morrow, and
punctually she would be here," said the maid.
The farmer hung his head and turned. Rhoda followed him from the garden.
She was immediately plied with queries and interjections of wonderment by
Miss Wicklow, and it was not until she said: "You saw him go out, didn't
you?--into the cab?" that Rhoda awakened to a meaning in her gabble.
Was it Dahlia's husband whom they had seen? And if so, why was Dahlia
away from her husband? She questioned in her heart, but not for an
answer, for she allowed no suspicions to live. The farmer led on with
his plodding country step, burdened shoulders, and ruddy-fowled, serious
face, not speaking to Rhoda, who had no desire to hear a word from him,
and let him be. Mary Ann steered him and called from behind the turnings
he was to take, while she speculated aloud to Rhoda upon the nature of
the business that had torn Dahlia from the house so inopportunely. At
last she announced that she knew what it was, but Rhoda failed to express
curiosity. Mary Ann was driven to whisper something about strange things
in the way of purchases. At that moment the farmer threw up his
umbrella, shouting for a cab, and Rhoda ran up to him,--
"Oh, father, why do we want to ride?"
"Yes, I tell ye!" said the farmer, chafing against his coat-collar.
"It is an expense, when we can walk, father."
"What do I care for th' expense? I shall ride." He roared again for a
cab, and one came that took them in; after which, the farmer, not being
spoken to, became gravely placid as before. They were put down at
Boyne's Bank. Anthony was on the look-out, and signalled them to stand
away some paces from the door. They were kept about a quarter of an hour
waiting between two tides of wayfarers, which hustled them one way and
another, when out, at last, came the old, broad, bent figure, with little
finicking steps, and hurried past them head foremost, his arms narrowed
across a bulgy breast. He stopped to make sure that they were following,
beckoned with his chin, and proceeded at a mighty rate. Marvellous was
his rounding of corners, his threading of obstructions, his skilful
diplomacy with passengers. Presently they lost sight of him, and stood
bewildered; but while they were deliberating they heard his voice. He
was above them, having issued from two swinging bright doors; and he
laughed and nodded, as he ran down the steps, and made signs, by which
they were to understand that he was relieved of a weight.
"I've done that twenty year of my life, brother William John," he said.
"Eh? Perhaps you didn't guess I was worth some thousands when I got away
from you just now? Let any chap try to stop me! They may just as well
try to stop a railway train. Steam's up, and I'm off."
He laughed and wiped his forehead. Slightly vexed at the small amount of
discoverable astonishment on the farmer's face, he continued,--
"You don't think much of it. Why, there ain't another man but myself
Boyne's Bank would trust. They've trusted me thirty year:--why shouldn't
they go on trusting me another thirty year? A good character, brother
William John, goes on compound-interesting, just like good coin. Didn't
you feel a sort of heat as I brushed by you--eh? That was a matter of
one-two-three-four" Anthony watched the farmer as his voice swelled up on
the heightening numbers: "five-six-six thousand pounds, brother William
John. People must think something of a man to trust him with that sum
pretty near every day of their lives, Sundays excepted--eh? don't you
He dwelt upon the immense confidence reposed in him, and the terrible
temptation it would be to some men, and how they ought to thank their
stars that they were never thrown in the way of such a temptation, of
which he really thought nothing at all--nothing! until the farmer's
countenance was lightened of its air of oppression, for a puzzle was
dissolved in his brain. It was now manifest to him that Anthony was
trusted in this extraordinary manner because the heads and managers of
Boyne's Bank knew the old man to be possessed of a certain very
respectable sum: in all probability they held it in their coffers for
safety and credited him with the amount. Nay, more; it was fair to
imagine that the guileless old fellow, who conceived himself to be so
deep, had let them get it all into their hands without any suspicion of
their prominent object in doing so.
Mr. Fleming said, "Ah, yes, surely."
He almost looked shrewd as he smiled over Anthony's hat. The healthy
exercise of his wits relieved his apprehensive paternal heart; and when
he mentioned that Dahlia had not been at home when he called, he at the
same time sounded his hearer for excuses to be raised on her behalf,
himself clumsily suggesting one or two, as to show that he was willing to
swallow a very little for comfort.
"Oh, of course!" said Anthony, jeeringly. "Out? If you catch her in,
these next three or four days, you'll be lucky. Ah, brother William
The farmer, half frightened by Anthony's dolorous shake of his head,
exclaimed: "What's the matter, man?"
"How proud I should be if only you was in a way to bank at Boyne's!"
"Ah!" went the farmer in his turn, and he plunged his chin deep in his
"Perhaps some of your family will, some day, brother William John."
"Happen, some of my family do, brother Anthony!"
"Will is what I said, brother William John; if good gals, and civil, and
marry decently--eh?" and he faced about to Rhoda who was walking with
Miss Wicklow. "What does she look so down about, my dear? Never be
down. I don't mind you telling your young man, whoever he is; and I'd
like him to be a strapping young six-footer I've got in my eye, who
farms. What does he farm with to make farming answer now-a-days? Why,
he farms with brains. You'll find that in my last week's Journal,
brother William John, and thinks I, as I conned it--the farmer ought to
read that! You may tell any young man you like, my dear, that your old
uncle's fond of ye."
On their arrival home, Mrs. Wicklow met them with a letter in her hand.
It was for Rhoda from Dahlia, saying that Dahlia was grieved to the heart
to have missed her dear father and her darling sister. But her husband
had insisted upon her going out to make particular purchases, and do a
dozen things; and he was extremely sorry to have been obliged to take her
away, but she hoped to see her dear sister and her father very, very
soon. She wished she were her own mistress that she might run to them,
but men when they are husbands require so much waiting on that she could
never call five minutes her own. She would entreat them to call
tomorrow, only she would then be moving to her new lodgings. "But, oh!
my dear, my blessed Rhoda!" the letter concluded, "do keep fast in your
heart that I do love you so, and pray that we may meet soon, as I pray it
every night and all day long. Beg father to stop till we meet. Things
will soon be arranged. They must. Oh! oh, my Rhoda, love! how handsome
you have grown. It is very well to be fair for a time, but the brunettes
have the happiest lot. They last, and when we blonde ones cry or grow
thin, oh! what objects we become!"
There were some final affectionate words, but no further explanations.
The wrinkles again settled on the farmer's mild, uncomplaining forehead.
Rhoda said: "Let us wait, father."
When alone, she locked the letter against her heart, as to suck the
secret meaning out of it. Thinking over it was useless; except for this
one thought: how did her sister know she had grown very handsome?
Perhaps the housemaid had prattled.
Dahlia, the perplexity to her sister's heart, lay stretched at full
length upon the sofa of a pleasantly furnished London drawing-room,
sobbing to herself, with her handkerchief across her eyes. She had cried
passion out, and sobbed now for comfort.
She lay in her rich silken dress like the wreck of a joyful creature,
while the large red Winter sun rounded to evening, and threw
deep-coloured beams against the wall above her head. They touched the
nut-brown hair to vivid threads of fire: but she lay faceless. Utter
languor and the dread of looking at her eyelids in the glass kept her
So, the darkness closed her about; the sickly gas-lamps of the street
showing her as a shrouded body.
A girl came in to spread the cloth for dinner, and went through her
duties with the stolidity of the London lodging-house maidservant, poking
a clogged fire to perdition, and repressing a songful spirit.
Dahlia knew well what was being done; she would have given much to have
saved her nostrils from the smell of dinner; it was a great immediate
evil to her sickened senses; but she had no energy to call out, nor will
of any kind. The odours floated to her, and passively she combated them.
At first she was nearly vanquished; the meat smelt so acrid, the potatoes
so sour; each afflicting vegetable asserted itself peculiarly; and the
bread, the salt even, on the wings of her morbid fancy, came steaming
about her, subtle, penetrating, thick, and hateful, like the pressure of
a cloud out of which disease is shot.
Such it seemed to her, till she could have shrieked; but only a few fresh
tears started down her cheeks, and she lay enduring it.
Dead silence and stillness hung over the dinner-service, when the outer
door below was opened, and a light foot sprang up the stairs.
There entered a young gentleman in evening dress, with a loose black
wrapper drooping from his shoulders.
He looked on the table, and then glancing at the sofa, said:
"Oh, there she is!" and went to the window and whistled.
After a minute of great patience, he turned his face back to the room
again, and commenced tapping his foot on the carpet.
"Well?" he said, finding these indications of exemplary self-command
unheeded. His voice was equally powerless to provoke a sign of
animation. He now displaced his hat, and said, "Dahlia!"
She did not move.
"I am here to very little purpose, then," he remarked.
A guttering fall of her bosom was perceptible.
"For heaven's sake, take away that handkerchief, my good child! Why
have you let your dinner get cold? Here," he lifted a cover; "here's
roast-beef. You like it--why don't you eat it? That's only a small
piece of the general inconsistency, I know. And why haven't they put
champagne on the table for you? You lose your spirits without it. If
you took it when these moody fits came on--but there's no advising a
woman to do anything for her own good. Dahlia, will you do me the favour
to speak two or three words with me before I go? I would have dined
here, but I have a man to meet me at the Club. Of what mortal service is
it shamming the insensible? You've produced the required effect, I am as
uncomfortable as I need be. Absolutely!
"Well," seeing that words were of no avail, he summed up expostulation
and reproach in this sigh of resigned philosophy: "I am going. Let me
see--I have my Temple keys?--yes! I am afraid that even when you are
inclined to be gracious and look at me, I shall not, be visible to you
for some days. I start for Lord Elling's to-morrow morning at five. I
meet my father there by appointment. I'm afraid we shall have to stay
over Christmas. Good-bye." He paused. "Good-bye, my dear."
Two or three steps nearer the door, he said, "By the way, do you want
anything? Money?--do you happen to want any money? I will send a blank
cheque tomorrow. I have sufficient for both of us. I shall tell the
landlady to order your Christmas dinner. How about wine? There is
champagne, I know, and bottled ale. Sherry? I'll drop a letter to my
wine-merchant; I think the sherry's running dry."
Her sense of hearing was now afflicted in as gross a manner as had been
her sense of smell. She could not have spoken, though her vitality had
pressed for speech. It would have astonished him to hear that his
solicitude concerning provender for her during his absence was not
esteemed a kindness; for surely it is a kindly thing to think of it; and
for whom but for one for whom he cared would he be counting the bottles
to be left at her disposal, insomuch that the paucity of the bottles of
sherry in the establishment distressed his mental faculties?
"Well, good-bye," he said, finally. The door closed.
Had Dahlia's misery been in any degree simulated, her eyes now, as well
as her ears, would have taken positive assurance of his departure. But
with the removal of her handkerchief, the loathsome sight of the
dinner-table would have saluted her, and it had already caused her
suffering enough. She chose to remain as she was, saying to herself,
"I am dead;" and softly revelling in that corpse-like sentiment.
She scarcely knew that the door had opened again.
She heard her name pronounced, and more entreatingly, and closer to her.
"Dahlia, my poor girl!" Her hand was pressed. It gave her no shudders.
"I am dead," she mentally repeated, for the touch did not run up to her
heart and stir it.
"Dahlia, do be reasonable! I can't leave you like this. We shall be
separated for some time. And what a miserable fire you've got here! You
have agreed with me that we are acting for the best. It's very hard on
me I try what I can to make you comf--happy; and really, to see you
leaving your dinner to get cold! Your hands are like ice. The meat
won't be eatable. You know I'm not my own master. Come, Dahly, my
He gently put his hand to her chin, and then drew away the handkerchief.
Dahlia moaned at the exposure of her tear-stained face, she turned it
languidly to the wall.
"Are you ill, my dear?" he asked.
Men are so considerately practical! He begged urgently to be allowed to
send for a doctor.
But women, when they choose to be unhappy, will not accept of practical
consolations! She moaned a refusal to see the doctor.
Then what can I do for her? he naturally thought, and he naturally
"Say good-bye to me," he whispered. "And my pretty one will write to me.
I shall reply so punctually! I don't like to leave her at Christmas; and
she will give me a line of Italian, and a little French--mind her
accents, though!--and she needn't attempt any of the nasty German-
-kshrra-kouzzra-kratz!--which her pretty lips can't do, and won't do; but
only French and Italian. Why, she learnt to speak Italian! "La dolcezza
ancor dentro me suona." Don't you remember, and made such fun of it at
first? 'Amo zoo;' 'no amo me?' my sweet!"
This was a specimen of the baby-lover talk, which is charming in its
season, and maybe pleasantly cajoling to a loving woman at all times,
save when she is in Dahlia's condition. It will serve even then, or she
will pass it forgivingly, as not the food she for a moment requires; but
it must be purely simple in its utterance, otherwise she detects the poor
chicanery, and resents the meanness of it. She resents it with
unutterable sickness of soul, for it is the language of what were to her
the holiest hours of her existence, which is thus hypocritically used to
blind and rock her in a cradle of deception. If corrupt, she maybe
brought to answer to it all the same, and she will do her part of the
play, and babble words, and fret and pout deliciously; and the old days
will seem to be revived, when both know they are dead; and she will
thereby gain any advantage she is seeking.
But Dahlia's sorrow was deep: her heart was sound. She did not even
perceive the opportunity offered to her for a wily performance. She felt
the hollowness of his speech, and no more; and she said, "Good-bye,
He had been on one knee. Springing cheerfully to his feet, "Good-bye,
darling," he said. "But I must see her sit to table first. Such a
wretched dinner for her!" and he mumbled, "By Jove, I suppose I shan't
get any at all myself!" His watch confirmed it to him that any dinner
which had been provided for him at the Club would be spoilt.
"Never mind," he said aloud, and examined the roast-beef ruefully,
thinking that, doubtless, it being more than an hour behind the appointed
dinner-time at the Club, his guest must now be gone.
For a minute or so he gazed at the mournful spectacle. The potatoes
looked as if they had committed suicide in their own steam. There were
mashed turnips, with a glazed surface, like the bright bottom of a tin
pan. One block of bread was by the lonely plate. Neither hot nor cold,
the whole aspect of the dinner-table resisted and repelled the gaze, and
made no pretensions to allure it.
The thought of partaking of this repast endowed him with a critical
appreciation of its character, and a gush of charitable emotion for the
poor girl who had such miserable dishes awaiting her, arrested the
philosophic reproof which he could have administered to one that knew so
little how a dinner of any sort should be treated. He strode to the
windows, pulled down the blind he had previously raised, rang the bell,
"Dahlia, there--I'm going to dine with you, my love. I've rung the bell
for more candles. The room shivers. That girl will see you, if you
don't take care. Where is the key of the cupboard? We must have some
wine out. The champagne, at all events, won't be flat."
He commenced humming the song of complacent resignation. Dahlia was
still inanimate, but as the door was about to open, she rose quickly and
sat in a tremble on the sofa, concealing her face.
An order was given for additional candles, coals, and wood. When the
maid had disappeared Dahlia got on her feet, and steadied herself by the
wall, tottering away to her chamber.
"Ah, poor thing!" ejaculated the young man, not without an idea that the
demonstration was unnecessary. For what is decidedly disagreeable is, in
a young man's calculation concerning women, not necessary at all,--quite
the reverse. Are not women the flowers which decorate sublunary life?
It is really irritating to discover them to be pieces of machinery, that
for want of proper oiling, creak, stick, threaten convulsions, and are
tragic and stir us the wrong way. However, champagne does them good: an
admirable wine--a sure specific for the sex!
He searched around for the keys to get at a bottle and uncork it
forthwith. The keys were on the mantelpiece a bad comment on Dahlia's
housekeeping qualities; but in the hurry of action let it pass. He
welcomed the candles gladly, and soon had all the cupboards in the room
Bustle is instinctively adopted by the human race as the substitute of
comfort. He called for more lights, more plates, more knives and forks.
He sent for ice the maid observed that it was not to be had save at a
distant street: "Jump into a cab--champagne's nothing without ice, even
in Winter," he said, and rang for her as she was leaving the house, to
name a famous fishmonger who was sure to supply the ice.
The establishment soon understood that Mr. Ayrton intended dining within
those walls. Fresh potatoes were put on to boil. The landlady came up
herself to arouse the fire. The maid was for a quarter of an hour
hovering between the order to get ice and the execution of immediate
commands. One was that she should take a glass of champagne to Mrs.
Ayrton in her room. He drank off one himself. Mrs. Ayrton's glass being
brought back untouched, he drank that off likewise, and as he became more
exhilarated, was more considerate for her, to such a degree, that when
she appeared he seized her hands and only jestingly scolded her for her
contempt of sound medicine, declaring, in spite of her protestations,
that she was looking lovely, and so they sat down to their dinner, she
with an anguished glance at the looking-glass as she sank in her chair.
"It's not bad, after all," said he, drenching his tasteless mouthful of
half-cold meat with champagne. "The truth is, that Clubs spoil us. This
is Spartan fare. Come, drink with me, my dearest. One sip."
She was coaxed by degrees to empty a glass. She had a gentle heart, and
could not hold out long against a visible lively kindliness. It pleased
him that she should bow to him over fresh bubbles; and they went formally
through the ceremony, and she smiled. He joked and laughed and talked,
and she eyed him a faint sweetness. He perceived now that she required
nothing more than the restoration of her personal pride, and setting
bright eyes on her, hazarded a bold compliment.
Dahlia drooped like a yacht with idle sails struck by a sudden blast,
that dips them in the salt; but she raised her face with the full bloom
of a blush: and all was plain sailing afterward.
"Has my darling seen her sister?" he asked softly.
Dahlia answered, "No," in the same tone.
Both looked away.
"She won't leave town without seeing you?"
"I hope--I don't know. She--she has called at our last lodgings twice."
"Yes; I think so."
Dahlia kept her head down, replying; and his observation of her wavered
"Why not write to her, then?"
"She will bring father."
The sob thickened in her throat; but, alas for him who had at first,
while she was on the sofa, affected to try all measures to revive her,
that I must declare him to know well how certain was his mastery over
her, when his manner was thoroughly kind. He had not much fear of her
relapsing at present.
"You can't see your father?"
"But, do. It's best."
"Not--" she hesitated, and clasped her hands in her lap.
"Yes, yes; I know," said he; "but still! You could surely see him. You
rouse suspicions that need not exist. Try another glass, my dear."
"Well; as I was saying, you force him to think--and there is no necessity
for it. He maybe as hard on this point as you say; but now and then a
little innocent deception maybe practised. We only require to gain time.
You place me in a very hard position. I have a father too. He has his
own idea of things. He's a proud man, as I've told you; tremendously
ambitious, and he wants to push me, not only at the bar, but in the money
market matrimonial. All these notions I have to contend against. Things
can't be done at once. If I give him a shock--well, we'll drop any
consideration of the consequences. Write to your sister to tell her to
bring your father. If they make particular inquiries--very unlikely I
think--but, if they do, put them at their ease."
"Why was my poor darling so upset, when I came in?" said he.
There was a difficulty in her speaking. He waited with much patient
twiddling of bread crumbs; and at last she said:
"My sister called twice at my--our old lodgings. The second time, she
burst into tears. The girl told me so."
"But women cry so often, and for almost anything, Dahlia."
"Rhoda cries with her hands closed hard, and her eyelids too."
"Well, that maybe her way."
"I have only seen her cry once, and that was when mother was dying, and
asked her to fetch a rose from the garden. I met her on the stairs. She
was like wood. She hates crying. She loves me so."
The sympathetic tears rolled down Dahlia's cheeks.
"So, you quite refuse to see your father?" he asked.
"Not yet," he repeated.
At the touch of scorn in his voice, she exclaimed:
"Oh, Edward! not yet, I cannot. I know I am weak. I can't meet him now.
If my Rhoda had come alone, as I hoped--! but he is with her. Don't
blame me, Edward. I can't explain. I only know that I really have not
the power to see him."
Edward nodded. "The sentiment some women put into things is
inexplicable," he said. "Your sister and father will return home. They
will have formed their ideas. You know how unjust they will be. Since,
however, the taste is for being a victim--eh?"
London lodging-house rooms in Winter when the blinds are down, and a
cheerless fire is in the grate, or when blinds are up and street-lamps
salute the inhabitants with uncordial rays, are not entertaining places
of residence for restless spirits. Edward paced about the room. He lit
a cigar and puffed at it fretfully.
"Will you come and try one of the theatres for an hour?" he asked.
She rose submissively, afraid to say that she thought she should look ill
in the staring lights; but he, with great quickness of perception,
rendered her task easier by naming the dress she was to wear, the jewels,
and the colour of the opera cloak. Thus prompted, Dahlia went to her
chamber, and passively attired herself, thankful to have been spared the
pathetic troubles of a selection of garments from her wardrobe. When she
came forth, Edward thought her marvellously beautiful.
Pity that she had no strength of character whatever, nor any pointed
liveliness of mind to match and wrestle with his own, and cheer the
domestic hearth! But she was certainly beautiful. Edward kissed her
hand in commendation. Though it was practically annoying that she should
be sad, the hue and spirit of sadness came home to her aspect. Sorrow
visited her tenderly falling eyelids like a sister.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
But great, powerful London--the new universe to her spirit
But the key to young men is the ambition, or, in the place of it.....
But you must be beautiful to please some men
Dahlia, the perplexity to her sister's heart, lay stretched....
Developing stiff, solid, unobtrusive men, and very personable women
It was her prayer to heaven that she might save a doctor's bill
Mrs. Fleming, of Queen Anne's Farm, was the wife of a yeoman
My plain story is of two Kentish damsels
The idea of love upon the lips of ordinary men, provoked Dahlia's irony
The kindest of men can be cruel
William John Fleming was simply a poor farmer
By GEORGE MEREDITH
XII. AT THE THEATRE.
XIII. THE FARMER SPEAKS
XIV. BETWEEN RHODA AND ROBERT
XV. A VISIT TO WREXBY HALL
XVI. AT FAIRLY PARK
XVII. A YEOMAN OF THE OLD BREED
XVIII. AN ASSEMBLY AT THE PILOT INN
XIX. ROBERT SMITTEN LOW
XX. MRS. LOVELL SHOWS A TAME BRUTE
Edward's engagement at his Club had been with his unfortunate cousin
Algernon; who not only wanted a dinner but 'five pounds or so' (the hazy
margin which may extend illimitably, or miserably contract, at the
lender's pleasure, and the necessity for which shows the borrower to be
dancing on Fortune's tight-rope above the old abyss).
"Over claret," was to have been the time for the asking; and Algernon
waited dinnerless until the healthy-going minutes distended and swelled
monstrous and horrible as viper-bitten bodies, and the venerable Signior,
Time, became of unhealthy hue. For this was the first dinner which,
during the whole course of the young man's career, had ever been failing
to him. Reflect upon the mournful gap! He could scarcely believe in his
ill-luck. He suggested it to himself with an inane grin, as one of the
far-away freaks of circumstances that had struck him--and was it not
He waited from the hour of six till the hour of seven. He compared
clocks in the hall and the room. He changed the posture of his legs
fifty times. For a while he wrestled right gallantly with the apparent
menace of the Fates that he was to get no dinner at all that day; it
seemed incredibly derisive, for, as I must repeat, it had never happened
to him by any accident before. "You are born--you dine." Such appeared
to him to be the positive regulation of affairs, and a most proper one,
--of the matters of course following the birth of a young being.
By what frightful mischance, then, does he miss his dinner? By placing
the smallest confidence in the gentlemanly feeling of another man!
Algernon deduced this reply accurately from his own experience, and
whether it can be said by other "undined" mortals, does not matter in the
least. But we have nothing to do with the constitutionally luckless: the
calamitous history of a simple empty stomach is enough. Here the tragedy
is palpable. Indeed, too sadly so, and I dare apply but a flash of the
microscope to the rageing dilemmas of this animalcule. Five and twenty
minutes had signalled their departure from the hour of seven, when
Algernon pronounced his final verdict upon Edward's conduct by leaving
the Club. He returned to it a quarter of an hour later, and lingered on
in desperate mood till eight.
He had neither watch in his pocket, nor ring on his finger, nor
disposable stud in his shirt. The sum of twenty-one pence was in his
possession, and, I ask you, as he asked himself, how is a gentleman to
dine upon that? He laughed at the notion. The irony of Providence sent
him by a cook's shop, where the mingled steam of meats and puddings
rushed out upon the wayfarer like ambushed bandits, and seized him and
dragged him in, or sent him qualmish and humbled on his way.
Two little boys had flattened their noses to the whiteness of winkles
against the jealously misty windows. Algernon knew himself to be
accounted a generous fellow, and remembering his reputation, he, as to
hint at what Fortune might do in his case, tossed some coppers to the
urchins, who ducked to the pavement and slid before the counter, in a
flash, with never a "thank ye" or the thought of it.
Algernon was incapable of appreciating this childish faith in the
beneficence of the unseen Powers who feed us, which, I must say for him,
he had shared in a very similar manner only two hours ago. He laughed
scornfully: "The little beggars!" considering in his soul that of such is
humanity composed: as many a dinnerless man has said before, and will
again, to point the speech of fools. He continued strolling on,
comparing the cramped misty London aspect of things with his visionary
free dream of the glorious prairies, where his other life was: the
forests, the mountains, the endless expanses; the horses, the flocks, the
slipshod ease of language and attire; and the grog-shops. Aha! There
could be no mistake about him as a gentleman and a scholar out there!
Nor would Nature shut up her pocket and demand innumerable things of him,
as civilization did. This he thought in the vengefulness of his outraged
Not only had Algernon never failed to dine every day of his life:
he had no recollection of having ever dined without drinking wine. His
conception did not embrace the idea of a dinner lacking wine. Possibly
he had some embodied understanding that wine did not fall to the lot of
every fellow upon earth: he had heard of gullets unrefreshed even by
beer: but at any rate he himself was accustomed to better things, and he
did not choose to excavate facts from the mass of his knowledge in order
to reconcile himself to the miserable chop he saw for his dinner in the
distance--a spot of meat in the arctic circle of a plate, not shone upon
by any rosy-warming sun of a decanter!
But metaphorical language, though nothing other will convey the extremity
of his misery, or the form of his thoughts, must be put aside.
"Egad, and every friend I have is out of town!" he exclaimed, quite
willing to think it part of the plot.
He stuck his hands in his pockets, and felt vagabond-like and reckless.
The streets were revelling in their winter muck. The carriages rolling
by insulted him with their display of wealth.
He had democratic sentiments regarding them. Oh for a horse upon the
boundless plains! he sighed to his heart. He remembered bitterly how he
had that day ridden his stool at the bank, dreaming of his wilds, where
bailiff never ran, nor duns obscured the firmament.
And then there were theatres here--huge extravagant places! Algernon went
over to an entrance of one, to amuse his mind, cynically criticizing the
bill. A play was going forward within, that enjoyed great popular
esteem, "The Holly Berries." Seeing that the pit was crammed, Algernon
made application to learn the state of the boxes, but hearing that one
box was empty, he lost his interest in the performance.
As he was strolling forth, his attention was taken by a noise at the
pit-doors, which swung open, and out tumbled a tough little old man with
a younger one grasping his coat-collar, who proclaimed that he would
sicken him of pushing past him at the end of every act.
"You're precious fond of plays," sneered the junior.
"I'm fond of everything I pay for, young fellow," replied the shaken
senior; "and that's a bit of enjoyment you've got to learn--ain't it?"
"Well, don't you knock by me again, that's all," cried the choleric
"You don't think I'm likely to stop in your company, do you?"
"Whose expense have you been drinking at?"
"My country's, young fellow; and mind you don't soon feed at the table.
Let me go."
Algernon's hunger was appeased by the prospect of some excitement, and
seeing a vicious shake administered to the old man by the young one, he
cried, "Hands off!" and undertook policeman's duty; but as he was not in
blue, his authoritative mandate obtained no respect until he had
interposed his fist.
When he had done so, he recognized the porter at Boyne's Bank, whose
enemy retired upon the threat that there should be no more pushing past
him to get back to seats for the next act.
"I paid," said Anthony; "and you're a ticketer, and you ticketers sha'
n't stop me. I'm worth a thousand of you. Holloa, sir," he cried to
Algernon; "I didn't know you. I'm much obliged. These chaps get tickets
given 'm, and grow as cocky in a theatre as men who pay. He never had
such wine in him as I've got. That I'd swear. Ha! ha! I come out for an
airing after every act, and there's a whole pitfall of ticketers yelling
and tearing, and I chaff my way through and back clean as a red-hot
Anthony laughed, and rolled somewhat as he laughed.
"Come along, sir, into the street," he said, boring on to the pavement.
"It's after office hours. And, ha! ha! what do you think? There's old
farmer in there, afraid to move off his seat, and the girl with him,
sticking to him tight, and a good girl too. She thinks we've had too
much. We been to the Docks, wine-tasting: Port--Sherry: Sherry--Port!
and, ha! ha! 'what a lot of wine!' says farmer, never thinking how much
he's taking on board. "I guessed it was night," says farmer, as we got
into the air, and to see him go on blinking, and stumbling, and saying to
me, 'You stand wine, brother Tony!' I'm blest if I ain't bottled
laughter. So, says I, 'come and see "The Holly Berries," brother William
John; it's the best play in London, and a suitable winter piece.' 'Is
there a rascal hanged in the piece?' says he. 'Oh, yes!' I let him fancy
there was, and he--ha! ha! old farmer's sticking to his seat, solemn as a
judge, waiting for the gallows to come on the stage."
A thought quickened Algernon's spirit. It was a notorious secret among
the young gentlemen who assisted in maintaining the prosperity of Boyne's
Bank, that the old porter--the "Old Ant," as he was called--possessed
money, and had no objection to put out small sums for a certain interest.
Algernon mentioned casually that he had left his purse at home; and "by
the way," said he, "have you got a few sovereigns in your pocket?"
"What! and come through that crush, sir?" Anthony negatived the question
decisively with a reference to his general knowingness.
Algernon pressed him; saying at last, "Well, have you got one?"
"I don't think I've been such a fool," said Anthony, feeling slowly about
his person, and muttering as to the changes that might possibly have been
produced in him by the Docks.
"Confound it, I haven't dined!" exclaimed Algernon, to hasten his
proceedings; but at this, Anthony eyed him queerly. "What have you been
about then, sir?"
"Don't you see I'm in evening dress? I had an appointment to dine with a
friend. He didn't keep it. I find I've left my purse in my other
"That's a bad habit, sir," was Anthony's comment. "You don't care much
for your purse."
"Much for my purse, be hanged!" interjected Algernon.
"You'd have felt it, or you'd have heard it, if there 'd been any weight
in it," Anthony remarked.
"How can you hear paper?"
"Oh, paper's another thing. You keep paper in your mind, don't you--eh?
Forget pound notes? Leave pound notes in a purse? And you Sir William's
nephew, sir, who'd let you bank with him and put down everything in a
book, so that you couldn't forget, or if you did, he'd remember for you;
and you might change your clothes as often as not, and no fear of your
losing a penny."
Algernon shrugged disgustedly, and was giving the old man up as a bad
business, when Anthony altered his manner. "Oh! well, sir, I don't mind
letting you have what I've got. I'm out for fun. Bother affairs!"
The sum of twenty shillings was handed to Algernon, after he had
submitted to the indignity of going into a public-house, and writing his
I.O.U. for twenty-three to Anthony Hackbut, which included interest.
Algernon remonstrated against so needless a formality; but Anthony put
the startling supposition to him, that he might die that night. He
signed the document, and was soon feeding and drinking his wine. This
being accomplished, he took some hasty puffs of tobacco, and returned to
the theatre, in the hope that the dark girl Rhoda was to be seen there;
for now that he had dined, Anthony's communication with regard to the
farmer and his daughter became his uppermost thought, and a young man's
uppermost thought is usually the propelling engine to his actions.
By good chance, and the aid of a fee, he obtained a front seat,
commanding an excellent side-view of the pit, which sat wrapt in
contemplation of a Christmas scene snow, ice, bare twigs, a desolate
house, and a woman shivering--one of man's victims.
It is a good public, that of Britain, and will bear anything, so long as
villany is punished, of which there was ripe promise in the oracular
utterances of a rolling, stout, stage-sailor, whose nose, to say nothing
of his frankness on the subject, proclaimed him his own worst enemy, and
whose joke, by dint of repetition, had almost become the joke of the
audience too; for whenever he appeared, there was agitation in pit and
gallery, which subsided only on his jovial thundering of the familiar
sentence; whereupon laughter ensued, and a quieting hum of satisfaction.
It was a play that had been favoured with a great run. Critics had once
objected to it, that it was made to subsist on scenery, a song, and a
stupid piece of cockneyism pretending to be a jest, that was really no
more than a form of slapping the public on the back. But the public
likes to have its back slapped, and critics, frozen by the Medusa-head of
Success, were soon taught manners. The office of critic is now, in fact,
virtually extinct; the taste for tickling and slapping is universal and
imperative; classic appeals to the intellect, and passions not purely
domestic, have grown obsolete. There are captains of the legions, but no
critics. The mass is lord.
And behold our friend the sailor of the boards, whose walk is even as two
meeting billows, appears upon the lonely moor, and salts that uninhabited
region with nautical interjections. Loose are his hose in one part,
tight in another, and he smacks them. It is cold; so let that be his
excuse for showing the bottom of his bottle to the glittering spheres.
He takes perhaps a sturdier pull at the liquor than becomes a manifest
instrument of Providence, whose services may be immediately required; but
he informs us that his ship was never known not to right itself when
He is alone in the world, he tells us likewise. If his one friend, the
uplifted flask, is his enemy, why then he feels bound to treat his enemy
as his friend. This, with a pathetic allusion to his interior economy,
which was applauded, and the remark "Ain't that Christian?" which was
just a trifle risky; so he secured pit and gallery at a stroke by a
surpassingly shrewd blow at the bishops of our Church, who are, it can
barely be contested, in foul esteem with the multitude--none can say
exactly, for what reason--and must submit to be occasionally offered up
as propitiatory sacrifices.
This good sailor was not always alone in the world. A sweet girl, whom
he describes as reaching to his kneecap, and pathetically believes still
to be of the same height, once called him brother Jack. To hear that
name again from her lips, and a particular song!--he attempts it
ludicrously, yet touchingly withal.
Hark! Is it an echo from a spirit in the frigid air?
The song trembled with a silver ring to the remotest corners of the
At that moment the breathless hush of the audience was flurried by
hearing "Dahlia" called from the pit.
Algernon had been spying among the close-packed faces for a sight of
Rhoda. Rhoda was now standing up amid gathering hisses and outcries.
Her eyes were bent on a particular box, across which a curtain was
hastily being drawn. "My sister!" she sent out a voice of anguish, and
remained with clasped hands and twisted eyebrows, looking toward that one
spot, as if she would have flown to it. She was wedged in the mass, and
could not move.
The exclamation heard had belonged to brother Jack, on the stage, whose
burst of fraternal surprise and rapture fell flat after it, to the
disgust of numbers keenly awakened for the sentiment of this scene.
Roaring accusations that she was drunk; that she had just escaped from
Bedlam for an evening; that she should be gagged and turned headlong out,
surrounded her; but she stood like a sculptured figure, vital in her eyes
alone. The farmer put his arm about his girl's waist. The instant,
however, that Anthony's head uprose on the other side of her, the evil
reputation he had been gaining for himself all through the evening
produced a general clamour, over which the gallery played, miauling, and
yelping like dogs that are never to be divorced from a noise. Algernon
feared mischief. He quitted his seat, and ran out into the lobby.
Half-a-dozen steps, and he came in contact with some one, and they were
mutually drenched with water by the shock. It was his cousin Edward,
bearing a glass in his hand.
Algernon's wrath at the sight of this offender was stimulated by the cold
bath; but Edward cut him short.