Part 4 out of 9
yet. And how 'm I answerable for Nic, I ask you?"
"More luck to you not to be, I say; and either, Sedgett, you does woman's
work, gossipin' about like a cracked bell-clapper, or men's the biggest
gossips of all, which I believe; for there's no beating you at your work,
and one can't wish ill to you, knowing what you catch."
"In a friendly way, Missis,"--Sedgett fixed on the compliment to his
power of propagating news--"in a friendly way. You can't accuse me of
leavin' out the "l" in your name, now, can you? I make that
observation,"--the venomous tattler screwed himself up to the widow
insinuatingly, as if her understanding could only be seized at close
quarters, "I make that observation, because poor Dick Boulby, your
lamented husband--eh! poor Dick! You see, Missis, it ain't the tough
ones last longest: he'd sing, 'I'm a Sea Booby,' to the song, 'I'm a
green Mermaid:' poor Dick! 'a-shinin' upon the sea-deeps.' He kept the
liquor from his head, but didn't mean it to stop down in his leg."
"Have you done, Mr. Sedgett?" said the widow, blandly.
"You ain't angry, Missis?"
"Not a bit, Mr. Sedgett; and if I knock you over with the flat o' my
hand, don't you think so."
Sedgett threw up the wizened skin of his forehead, and retreated from the
bar. At a safe distance, he called: "Bad news that about Bob Eccles
swallowing a blow yesterday!"
Mrs. Boulby faced him complacently till he retired, and then observed to
those of his sex surrounding her, "Don't "woman-and-dog-and-walnut-tree"
me! Some of you men 'd be the better for a drubbing every day of your
lives. Sedgett yond' 'd be as big a villain as his son, only for what he
gets at home."
That was her way of replying to the Parthian arrow; but the barb was
poisoned. The village was at fever heat concerning Robert, and this
assertion that he had swallowed a blow, produced almost as great a
consternation as if a fleet of the enemy had been reported off Sandy
Mrs. Boulby went into her parlour and wrote a letter to Robert, which she
despatched by one of the loungers about the bar, who brought back news
that three of the gentlemen of Fairly were on horseback, talking to
Farmer Eccles at his garden gate. Affairs were waxing hot. The
gentlemen had only to threaten Farmer Eccles, to make him side with his
son, right or wrong. In the evening, Stephen Bilton, the huntsman,
presented himself at the door of the long parlour of the Pilot, and loud
cheers were his greeting from a full company.
"Gentlemen all," said Stephen, with dapper modesty; and acted as if no
excitement were current, and he had nothing to tell.
"Well, Steeve?" said one, to encourage him.
"How about Bob, to-day?" said another.
Before Stephen had spoken, it was clear to the apprehension of the whole
room that he did not share the popular view of Robert. He declined to
understand who was meant by "Bob." He played the questions off; and then
shrugged, with, "Oh, let's have a quiet evening."
It ended in his saying, "About Bob Eccles? There, that's summed up
pretty quick--he's mad."
"Mad!" shouted Warbeach.
"That's a lie," said Mrs. Boulby, from the doorway.
"Well, mum, I let a lady have her own opinion." Stephen nodded to her.
"There ain't a doubt as t' what the doctors 'd bring him in I ain't
speaking my ideas alone. It's written like the capital letters in a
newspaper. Lunatic's the word! And I'll take a glass of something warm,
Mrs. Boulby. We had a stiff run to-day."
"Where did ye kill, Steeve?" asked a dispirited voice.
"We didn't kill at all: he was one of those "longshore dog-foxes, and got
away home on the cliff." Stephen thumped his knee. "It's my belief the
smell o' sea gives 'em extra cunning."
"The beggar seems to have put ye out rether--eh, Steeve?"
So it was generally presumed: and yet the charge of madness was very
staggering; madness being, in the first place, indefensible, and
everybody's enemy when at large; and Robert's behaviour looked extremely
like it. It had already been as a black shadow haunting enthusiastic
minds in the village, and there fell a short silence, during which
Stephen made his preparations for filling and lighting a pipe.
"Come; how do you make out he's mad?"
Jolly Butcher Billing spoke; but with none of the irony of confidence.
"Oh!" Stephen merely clapped both elbows against his sides.
Several pairs of eyes were studying him. He glanced over them in turn,
and commenced leisurely the puff contemplative.
"Don't happen to have a grudge of e'er a kind against old Bob, Steeve?"
Mrs. Boulby herself brought his glass to Stephen, and, retreating, left
the parlour-door open.
"What causes you for to think him mad, Steeve?"
A second "Oh!" as from the heights dominating argument, sounded from
Stephen's throat, half like a grunt. This time he condescended to add,--
"How do you know when a dog's gone mad? Well, Robert Eccles, he's gone
in like manner. If you don't judge a man by his actions, you've got no
means of reckoning. He comes and attacks gentlemen, and swears he'll go
on doing it."
"Well, and what does that prove?" said jolly Butcher Billing.
Mr. William Moody, boatbuilder, a liver-complexioned citizen, undertook
"What does that prove? What does that prove when the midshipmite was
found with his head in the mixedpickle jar? It proved that his head was
lean, and t' other part was rounder."
The illustration appeared forcible, but not direct, and nothing more was
understood from it than that Moody, and two or three others who had been
struck by the image of the infatuated young naval officer, were going
over to the enemy. The stamp of madness upon Robert's acts certainly
saved perplexity, and was the easiest side of the argument. By this time
Stephen had finished his glass, and the effect was seen.
"Hang it!" he exclaimed, "I don't agree he deserves shooting. And he may
have had harm done to him. In that case, let him fight. And I say, too,
let the gentleman give him satisfaction."
"Hear! hear!" cried several.
"And if the gentleman refuse to give him satisfaction in a fair stand-up
fight, I say he ain't a gentleman, and deserves to be treated as such.
My objection's personal. I don't like any man who spoils sport, and
ne'er a rascally vulpeci' spoils sport as he do, since he's been down in
our parts again. I'll take another brimmer, Mrs. Boulby."
"To be sure you will, Stephen," said Mrs. Boulby, bending as in a curtsey
to the glass; and so soft with him that foolish fellows thought her cowed
by the accusation thrown at her favourite.
"There's two questions about they valpecies, Master Stephen," said Farmer
Wainsby, a farmer with a grievance, fixing his elbow on his knee for
serious utterance. "There's to ask, and t' ask again. Sport, I grant
ye. All in doo season. But," he performed a circle with his pipe stem,
and darted it as from the centre thereof toward Stephen's breast, with
the poser, "do we s'pport thieves at public expense for them to keep
thievin'--black, white, or brown--no matter, eh? Well, then, if the
public wunt bear it, dang me if I can see why individles shud bear it.
It ent no manner o' reason, net as I can see; let gentlemen have their
opinion, or let 'em not. Foxes be hanged!"
Much slow winking was interchanged. In a general sense, Farmer Wainsby's
remarks were held to be un-English, though he was pardoned for them as
one having peculiar interests at stake.
"Ay, ay! we know all about that," said Stephen, taking succour from the
eyes surrounding him.
"And so, may be, do we," said Wainsby.
"Fox-hunting 'll go on when your great-grandfather's your youngest son,
farmer; or t' other way."
"I reckon it'll be a stuffed fox your chil'ern 'll hunt, Mr. Steeve; more
straw in 'em than bow'ls."
"If the country," Stephen thumped the table, "were what you'd make of it,
hang me if my name 'd long be Englishman!"
"Hear, hear, Steeve!" was shouted in support of the Conservative
principle enunciated by him.
"What I say is, flesh and blood afore foxes!"
Thus did Farmer Wainsby likewise attempt a rallying-cry; but Stephen's
retort, "Ain't foxes flesh and blood?" convicted him of clumsiness, and,
buoyed on the uproar of cheers, Stephen pursued, "They are; to kill 'em
in cold blood's beast-murder, so it is. What do we do? We give 'em a
fair field--a fair field and no favour! We let 'em trust to the
instincts Nature, she's given 'em; and don't the old woman know best? If
they cap, get away, they win the day. All's open, and honest, and
aboveboard. Kill your rats and kill your rabbits, but leave foxes to
your betters. Foxes are gentlemen. You don't understand? Be hanged if
they ain't! I like the old fox, and I don't like to see him murdered and
exterminated, but die the death of a gentleman, at the hands of
"And ladies," sneered the farmer.
All the room was with Stephen, and would have backed him uproariously,
had he not reached his sounding period without knowing it, and thus
allowed his opponent to slip in that abominable addition.
"Ay, and ladies," cried the huntsman, keen at recovery. "Why shouldn't
they? I hate a field without a woman in it; don't you? and you? and you?
And you, too, Mrs. Boulby? There you are, and the room looks better for
you--don't it, lads? Hurrah!"
The cheering was now aroused, and Stephen had his glass filled again in
triumph, while the farmer meditated thickly over the ruin of his argument
from that fatal effort at fortifying it by throwing a hint to the
discredit of the sex, as many another man has meditated before.
"Eh! poor old Bob!" Stephen sighed and sipped. "I can cry that with any
of you. It's worse for me to see than for you to hear of him. Wasn't I
always a friend of his, and said he was worthy to be a gentleman, many a
time? He's got the manners of a gentleman now; offs with his hat, if
there's a lady present, and such a neat way of speaking. But there,
acting's the thing, and his behaviour's beastly bad! You can't call it
no other. There's two Mr. Blancoves up at Fairly, relations of Mrs.
Lovell's--whom I'll take the liberty of calling My Beauty, and no offence
meant: and it's before her that Bob only yesterday rode up--one of the
gentlemen being Mr. Algernon, free of hand and a good seat in the saddle,
t' other's Mr. Edward; but Mr. Algernon, he's Robert Eccles's man--up
rides Bob, just as we was tying Mr. Reenard's brush to the pommel of the
lady's saddle, down in Ditley Marsh; and he bows to the lady. Says he--
but he's mad, stark mad!"
Stephen resumed his pipe amid a din of disappointment that made the walls
ring and the glasses leap.
"A little more sugar, Stephen?" said Mrs. Boulby, moving in lightly from
"Thank ye, mum; you're the best hostess that ever breathed."
"So she be; but how about Bob?" cried her guests--some asking whether he
carried a pistol or flourished a stick.
"Ne'er a blessed twig, to save his soul; and there's the madness written
on him;" Stephen roared as loud as any of them. "And me to see him
riding in the ring there, and knowing what the gentleman had sworn to do
if he came across the hunt; and feeling that he was in the wrong! I
haven't got a oath to swear how mad I was. Fancy yourselves in my place.
I love old Bob. I've drunk with him; I owe him obligations from since I
was a boy up'ard; I don't know a better than Bob in all England. And
there he was: and says to Mr. Algernon, 'You know what I'm come for.' I
never did behold a gentleman so pale--shot all over his cheeks as he was,
and pinkish under the eyes; if you've ever noticed a chap laid hands on
by detectives in plain clothes. Smack at Bob went Mr. Edward's whip."
"Mr. Algernon's," Stephen was corrected.
"Mr. Edward's, I tell ye--the cousin. And right across the face. My
Lord! it made my blood tingle."
A sound like the swish of a whip expressed the sentiments of that
assemblage at the Pilot.
"Bob swallowed it?"
"What else could he do, the fool? He had nothing to help him but his
hand. Says he, 'That's a poor way of trying to stop me. My business is
with this gentleman;' and Bob set his horse at Mr. Algernon, and Mrs.
Lovell rode across him with her hand raised; and just at that moment up
jogged the old gentleman, Squire Blancove, of Wrexby: and Robert Eccles
says to him, 'You might have saved your son something by keeping your
word.' It appears according to Bob, that the squire had promised to see
his son, and settle matters. All Mrs. Lovell could do was hardly enough
to hold back Mr. Edward from laying out at Bob. He was like a white
devil, and speaking calm and polite all the time. Says Bob, 'I'm willing
to take one when I've done with the other;' and the squire began talking
to his son, Mrs. Lovell to Mr. Edward, and the rest of the gentlemen all
round poor dear old Bob, rather bullying--like for my blood; till Bob
couldn't help being nettled, and cried out, 'Gentlemen, I hold him in my
power, and I'm silent so long as there's a chance of my getting him to
behave like a man with human feelings.' If they'd gone at him then, I
don't think I could have let him stand alone: an opinion's one thing, but
blood's another, and I'm distantly related to Bob; and a man who's always
thinking of the value of his place, he ain't worth it. But Mrs. Lovell,
she settled the case--a lady, Farmer Wainsby, with your leave. There's
the good of having a lady present on the field. That's due to a lady!"
"Happen she was at the bottom of it," the farmer returned Stephen's nod
"How did it end, Stephen, my lad?" said Butcher Billing, indicating a
"never mind him."
"It ended, my boy, it ended like my glass here--hot and strong stuff,
with sugar at the bottom. And I don't see this, so glad as I saw that,
my word of honour on it! Boys all!" Stephen drank the dregs.
Mrs. Boulby was still in attendance. The talk over the circumstances was
sweeter than the bare facts, and the replenished glass enabled Stephen to
add the picturesque bits of the affray, unspurred by a surrounding
eagerness of his listeners--too exciting for imaginative effort. In
particular, he dwelt on Robert's dropping the reins and riding with his
heels at Algernon, when Mrs. Lovell put her horse in his way, and the
pair of horses rose like waves at sea, and both riders showed their
horsemanship, and Robert an adroit courtesy, for which the lady thanked
him with a bow of her head.
"I got among the hounds, pretending to pacify them, and call 'em
together," said Stephen, "and I heard her say--just before all was over,
and he turned off--I heard her say: 'Trust this to me: I will meet you.'
I'll swear to them exact words, though there was more, and a 'where' in
the bargain, and that I didn't hear. Aha! by George! thinks I, old Bob,
you're a lucky beggar, and be hanged if I wouldn't go mad too for a
minute or so of short, sweet, private talk with a lovely young widow lady
as ever the sun did shine upon so boldly--oho!
You've seen a yacht upon the sea,
She dances and she dances, O!
As fair is my wild maid to me...
Something about 'prances, O!' on her horse, you know, or you're a hem'd
fool if you don't. I never could sing; wish I could! It's the joy of
life! It's utterance! Hey for harmony!"
"Eh! brayvo! now you're a man, Steeve! and welcomer and welcomest; yi--
yi, O!" jolly Butcher Billing sang out sharp. "Life wants watering.
Here's a health to Robert Eccles, wheresoever and whatsoever! and ne'er a
man shall say of me I didn't stick by a friend like Bob. Cheers, my
Robert's health was drunk in a thunder, and praises of the purity of the
brandy followed the grand roar. Mrs. Boulby received her compliments on
"'Pends upon the tide, Missis, don't it?" one remarked with a grin broad
enough to make the slyness written on it easy reading.
"Ah! first a flow and then a ebb," said another.
"It's many a keg I plant i' the mud,
Coastguardsman, come! and I'll have your blood!"
Instigation cried, "Cut along;" but the defiant smuggler was deficient in
memory, and like Steeve Bilton, was reduced to scatter his concluding
rhymes in prose, as "something about;" whereat jolly Butcher Billing, a
reader of song-books from a literary delight in their contents, scraped
his head, and then, as if he had touched a spring, carolled,--
"In spite of all you Gov'ment pack,
I'll land my kegs of the good Cognyac"--
"though," he took occasion to observe when the chorus and a sort of
cracker of irrelevant rhymes had ceased to explode; "I'm for none of them
games. Honesty!--there's the sugar o' my grog."
"Ay, but you like to be cock-sure of the stuff you drink, if e'er a man
did," said the boatbuilder, whose eye blazed yellow in this frothing
season of song and fun.
"Right so, Will Moody!" returned the jolly butcher: "which means--not
wrong this time!"
"Then, what's understood by your sticking prongs into your hostess here
concerning of her brandy? Here it is--which is enough, except for
"Eh, Missus?" the jolly butcher appealed to her, and pointed at Moody's
complexion for proof.
It was quite a fiction that kegs of the good cognac were sown at low
water, and reaped at high, near the river-gate of the old Pilot Inn
garden; but it was greatly to Mrs. Boulby's interest to encourage the
delusion which imaged her brandy thus arising straight from the very
source, without villanous contact with excisemen and corrupting dealers;
and as, perhaps, in her husband's time, the thing had happened, and still
did, at rare intervals, she complacently gathered the profitable fame of
her brandy being the best in the district.
"I'm sure I hope you're satisfied, Mr. Billing," she said.
The jolly butcher asked whether Will Moody was satisfied, and Mr. William
Moody declaring himself thoroughly satisfied, "then I'm satisfied too!"
said the jolly butcher; upon which the boatbuilder heightened the laugh
by saying he was not satisfied at all; and to escape from the execrations
of the majority, pleaded that it was because his glass was empty: thus
making his peace with them. Every glass in the room was filled again.
The young fellows now loosened tongue; and Dick Curtis, the promising
cricketer of Hampshire, cried, "Mr. Moody, my hearty! that's your fourth
glass, so don't quarrel with me, now!"
"You!" Moody fired up in a bilious frenzy, and called him a this and that
and t' other young vagabond; for which the company, feeling the ominous
truth contained in Dick Curtis's remark more than its impertinence, fined
Mr. Moody in a song. He gave the--
"So many young Captains have walked o'er my pate,
It's no wonder you see me quite bald, sir,"
with emphatic bitterness, and the company thanked him. Seeing him stand
up as to depart, however, a storm of contempt was hurled at him; some
said he was like old Sedgett, and was afraid of his wife; and some, that
he was like Nic Sedgett, and drank blue.
"You're a bag of blue devils, oh dear! oh dear!"
sang Dick to the tune of "The Campbells are coming."
"I ask e'er a man present," Mr. Moody put out his fist, "is that to be
borne? Didn't you," he addressed Dick Curtis,--"didn't you sing into my
'It's no wonder to hear how you squall'd, sir?'
"Don't he,"--Dick addressed the company, "make Mrs. Boulby's brandy look
ashamed of itself in his face? I ask e'er a gentleman present."
Accusation and retort were interchanged, in the course of which, Dick
called Mr. Moody Nic Sedgett's friend; and a sort of criminal inquiry was
held. It was proved that Moody had been seen with Nic Sedgett; and then
three or four began to say that Nic Sedgett was thick with some of the
gentlemen up at Fairly;--just like his luck! Stephen let it be known
that he could confirm this fact; he having seen Mr. Algernon Blancove
stop Nic on the road and talk to him.
"In that case," said Butcher Billing, "there's mischief in a state of
fermentation. Did ever anybody see Nic and the devil together?"
"I saw Nic and Mr. Moody together," said Dick Curtis. "Well, I'm only
stating a fact," he exclaimed, as Moody rose, apparently to commence an
engagement, for which the company quietly prepared, by putting chairs out
of his way: but the recreant took his advantage from the error, and got
away to the door, pursued.
"Here's an example of what we lose in having no President," sighed the
jolly butcher. "There never was a man built for the chair like Bob
Eccles I say! Our evening's broke up, and I, for one, 'd ha' made it
morning. Hark, outside; By Gearge! they're snowballing."
An adjournment to the front door brought them in view of a white and
silent earth under keen stars, and Dick Curtis and the bilious
boatbuilder, foot to foot, snowball in hand. A bout of the smart
exercise made Mr. Moody laugh again, and all parted merrily, delivering
final shots as they went their several ways.
"Thanks be to heaven for snowing," said Mrs. Boulby; "or when I should
have got to my bed, Goodness only can tell!" With which, she closed the
door upon the empty inn.
The night was warm with the new-fallen snow, though the stars sparkled
coldly. A fleet of South-westerly rainclouds had been met in mid-sky by
a sharp puff from due North, and the moisture had descended like a woven
shroud, covering all the land, the house-tops, and the trees.
Young Harry Boulby was at sea, and this still weather was just what a
mother's heart wished for him. The widow looked through her bed-room
window and listened, as if the absolute stillness must beget a sudden
cry. The thought of her boy made her heart revert to Robert. She was
thinking of Robert when the muffled sound of a horse at speed caused her
to look up the street, and she saw one coming--a horse without a rider.
The next minute he was out of sight.
Mrs. Boulby stood terrified. The silence of the night hanging everywhere
seemed to call on her for proof that she had beheld a real earthly
spectacle, and the dead thump of the hooves on the snow-floor in passing
struck a chill through her as being phantom-like. But she had seen a
saddle on the horse, and the stirrups flying, and the horse looked
affrighted. The scene was too earthly in its suggestion of a tale of
blood. What if the horse were Robert's? She tried to laugh at her
womanly fearfulness, and had almost to suppress a scream in doing so.
There was no help for it but to believe her brandy as good and
efficacious as her guests did, so she went downstairs and took a
fortifying draught; after which her blood travelled faster, and the event
galloped swiftly into the recesses of time, and she slept.
While the morning was still black, and the streets without a sign of
life, she was aroused by a dream of some one knocking at her grave-stone.
"Ah, that brandy!" she sighed. "This is what a poor woman has to pay for
custom!" Which we may interpret as the remorseful morning confession of
a guilt she had been the victim of over night. She knew that good brandy
did not give bad dreams, and was self-convicted. Strange were her
sensations when the knocking continued; and presently she heard a voice
in the naked street below call in a moan, "Mother!"
"My darling!" she answered, divided in her guess at its being Harry or
A glance from the open window showed Robert leaning in the quaint old
porch, with his head bound by a handkerchief; but he had no strength to
reply to a question at that distance, and when she let him in he made two
steps and dropped forward on the floor.
Lying there, he plucked at her skirts. She was shouting for help, but
with her ready apprehension of the pride in his character, she knew what
was meant by his broken whisper before she put her ear to his lips, and
she was silent, miserable sight as was his feeble efforts to rise on an
elbow that would not straighten.
His head was streaming with blood, and the stain was on his neck and
chest. He had one helpless arm; his clothes were torn as from a fierce
"I'm quite sensible," he kept repeating, lest she should relapse into
"Lord love you for your spirit!" exclaimed the widow, and there they
remained, he like a winged eagle, striving to raise himself from time to
time, and fighting with his desperate weakness. His face was to the
ground; after a while he was still. In alarm the widow stooped over him:
she feared that he had given up his last breath; but the candle-light
showed him shaken by a sob, as it seemed to her, though she could scarce
believe it of this manly fellow. Yet it proved true; she saw the very
tears. He was crying at his helplessness.
"Oh, my darling boy!" she burst out; "what have they done to ye? the
cowards they are! but do now have pity on a woman, and let me get some
creature to lift you to a bed, dear. And don't flap at me with your hand
like a bird that's shot. You're quite, quite sensible, I know; quite
sensible, dear; but for my sake, Robert, my Harry's good friend, only for
my sake, let yourself be a carried to a clean, nice bed, till I get Dr.
Bean to you. Do, do."
Her entreaties brought on a succession of the efforts to rise, and at
last, getting round on his back, and being assisted by the widow, he sat
up against the wall. The change of posture stupified him with a
dizziness. He tried to utter the old phrase, that he was sensible, but
his hand beat at his forehead before the words could be shaped.
"What pride is when it's a man!" the widow thought, as he recommenced the
grievous struggle to rise on his feet; now feeling them up to the knee
with a questioning hand, and pausing as if in a reflective wonder, and
then planting them for a spring that failed wretchedly; groaning and
leaning backward, lost in a fit of despair, and again beginning, patient
as an insect imprisoned in a circle.
The widow bore with his man's pride, until her nerves became afflicted by
the character of his movements, which, as her sensations conceived them,
were like those of a dry door jarring loose. She caught him in her arms:
"It's let my back break, but you shan't fret to death there, under my
eyes, proud or humble, poor dear," she said, and with a great pull she
got him upright. He fell across her shoulder with so stiff a groan that
for a moment she thought she had done him mortal injury.
"Good old mother," he said boyishly, to reassure her.
"Yes; and you'll behave to me like a son," she coaxed him.
They talked as by slow degrees the stairs were ascended.
"A crack o' the head, mother--a crack o' the head," said he.
"Was it the horse, my dear?"
"A crack o' the head, mother."
"What have they done to my boy Robert?"
"They've,"--he swung about humorously, weak as he was and throbbing with
pain--"they've let out some of your brandy, mother...got into my head."
"Who've done it, my dear?"
"They've done it, mother."
"Oh, take care o' that nail at your foot; and oh, that beam to your poor
poll--poor soul! he's been and hurt himself again. And did they do it to
him? and what was it for?" she resumed in soft cajolery.
"They did it, because--"
"Yes, my dear; the reason for it?"
"Because, mother, they had a turn that way."
"Thanks be to Above for leaving your cunning in you, my dear," said the
baffled woman, with sincere admiration. "And Lord be thanked, if you're
not hurt bad, that they haven't spoilt his handsome face," she added.
In the bedroom, he let her partially undress him, refusing all doctor's
aid, and commanding her to make no noise about him. and then he lay down
and shut his eyes, for the pain was terrible--galloped him and threw him
with a shock--and galloped him and threw him again, whenever his thoughts
got free for a moment from the dizzy aching.
"My dear," she whispered, "I'm going to get a little brandy."
She hastened away upon this mission.
He was in the same posture when she returned with bottle and glass.
She poured out some, and made much of it as a specific, and of the great
things brandy would do; but he motioned his hand from it feebly, till she
reproached him tenderly as perverse and unkind.
"Now, my dearest boy, for my sake--only for my sake. Will you? Yes, you
will, my Robert!"
"No brandy, mother."
"Only one small thimbleful?"
"No more brandy for me!"
"See, dear, how seriously you take it, and all because you want the
"No brandy," was all he could say.
She looked at the label on the bottle. Alas! she knew whence it came,
and what its quality. She could cheat herself about it when herself only
was concerned--but she wavered at the thought of forcing it upon Robert
as trusty medicine, though it had a pleasant taste, and was really, as
she conceived, good enough for customers.
She tried him faintly with arguments in its favour; but his resolution
was manifested by a deaf ear.
With a perfect faith in it she would, and she was conscious that she
could, have raised his head and poured it down his throat. The crucial
test of her love for Robert forbade the attempt. She burst into an
uncontrollable fit of crying.
"Halloa! mother," said Robert, opening his eyes to the sad candlelight
"My darling boy! whom I do love so; and not to be able to help you! What
shall I do--what shall I do!"
With a start, he cried, "Where's the horse!"
"The old dad 'll be asking for the horse to-morrow."
"I saw a horse, my dear, afore I turned to my prayers at my bedside,
coming down the street without his rider. He came like a rumble of
deafness in my ears. Oh, my boy, I thought, Is it Robert's horse?--
knowing you've got enemies, as there's no brave man has not got 'em
--which is our only hope in the God of heaven!"
"Mother, punch my ribs."
He stretched himself flat for the operation, and shut his mouth.
"Hard, mother!--and quick!--I can't hold out long."
"Oh! Robert," moaned the petrified woman "strike you?"
"Straight in the ribs. Shut your fist and do it--quick."
My dear!--my boy!--I haven't the heart to do it!"
"Ah!" Robert's chest dropped in; but tightening his muscles again, he
said, "now do it--do it!"
"Oh! a poke at a poor fire puts it out, dear. And make a murderess of
me, you call mother! Oh! as I love the name, I'll obey you, Robert.
"There!--goodness forgive me!"
"Hard as you can--all's right."
"Press in at my stomach."
She nerved herself to do his bidding, and, following his orders, took his
head in her hands, and felt about it. The anguish of the touch wrung a
stifled scream from him, at which she screamed responsive. He laughed,
while twisting with the pain.
"You cruel boy, to laugh at your mother," she said, delighted by the
sound of safety in that sweet human laughter. "Hey! don't ye shake your
brain; it ought to lie quiet. And here's the spot of the wicked blow--
and him in love--as I know he is! What would she say if she saw him now?
But an old woman's the best nurse--ne'er a doubt of it."
She felt him heavy on her arm, and knew that he had fainted. Quelling her
first impulse to scream, she dropped him gently on the pillow, and rapped
to rouse up her maid.
The two soon produced a fire and hot water, bandages, vinegar in a basin,
and every crude appliance that could be thought of, the maid followed her
mistress's directions with a consoling awe, for Mrs. Boulby had told her
no more than that a man was hurt.
"I do hope, if it's anybody, it's that ther' Moody," said the maid.
"A pretty sort of a Christian you think yourself, I dare say," Mrs.
"Christian or not, one can't help longin' for a choice, mum. We ain't
all hands and knees."
"Better for you if you was," said the widow. "It's tongues, you're to
remember, you're not to be. Now come you up after me--and you'll not
utter a word. You'll stand behind the door to do what I tell you.
You're a soldier's daughter, Susan, and haven't a claim to be excitable."
"My mother was given to faints," Susan protested on behalf of her
"You may peep." Thus Mrs. Boulby tossed a sop to her frail woman's
But for her having been appeased by the sagacious accordance of this
privilege, the maid would never have endured to hear Robert's voice in
agony, and to think that it was really Robert, the beloved of Warbeach,
who had come to harm. Her apprehensions not being so lively as her
mistress's, by reason of her love being smaller, she was more terrified
than comforted by Robert's jokes during the process of washing off the
blood, cutting the hair from the wound, bandaging and binding up the
His levity seemed ghastly; and his refusal upon any persuasion to see a
doctor quite heathenish, and a sign of one foredoomed.
She believed that his arm was broken, and smarted with wrath at her
mistress for so easily taking his word to the contrary. More than all,
his abjuration of brandy now when it would do him good to take it, struck
her as an instance of that masculine insanity in the comprehension of
which all women must learn to fortify themselves. There was much
whispering in the room, inarticulate to her, before Mrs. Boulby came out;
enjoining a rigorous silence, and stating that the patient would drink
nothing but tea.
"He begged," she said half to herself, "to have the window blinds up in
the morning, if the sun wasn't strong, for him to look on our river
opening down to the ships."
"That looks as if he meant to live," Susan remarked.
"He!" cried the widow, "it's Robert Eccles. He'd stand on his last
"Would he, now!" ejaculated Susan, marvelling at him, with no question as
to what footing that might be.
"Leastways," the widow hastened to add, "if he thought it was only devils
against him. I've heard him say, 'It's a fool that holds out against
God, and a coward as gives in to the devil;' and there's my Robert
painted by his own hand."
"But don't that bring him to this so often, Mum?" Susan ruefully
inquired, joining teapot and kettle.
"I do believe he's protected," said the widow.
With the first morning light Mrs. Boulby was down at Warbeach Farm, and
being directed to Farmer Eccles in the stables, she found the sturdy
yeoman himself engaged in grooming Robert's horse.
"Well, Missis," he said, nodding to her; "you win, you see. I thought
you would; I'd have sworn you would. Brandy's stronger than blood, with
some of our young fellows."
"If you please, Mr. Eccles," she replied, "Robert's sending of me was to
know if the horse was unhurt and safe."
"Won't his legs carry him yet, Missis?"
"His legs have been graciously spared, Mr. Eccles; it's his head."
"That's where the liquor flies, I'm told."
"Pray, Mr. Eccles, believe me when I declare he hasn't touched a drop of
anything but tea in my house this past night."
"I'm sorry for that; I'd rather have him go to you. If he takes it, let
him take it good; and I'm given to understand that you've a reputation
that way. Just tell him from me, he's at liberty to play the devil with
himself, but not with my beasts."
The farmer continued his labour.
"No, you ain't a hard man, surely," cried the widow. "Not when I say he
was sober, Mr. Eccles; and was thrown, and made insensible?"
"Never knew such a thing to happen to him, Missis, and, what's more, I
don't believe it. Mayhap you're come for his things: his Aunt Anne's
indoors, and she'll give 'em up, and gladly. And my compliments to
Robert, and the next time he fancies visiting Warbeach, he'd best forward
a letter to that effect."
Mrs. Boulby curtseyed humbly. "You think bad of me, sir, for keeping a
public; but I love your son as my own, and if I might presume to say so,
Mr. Eccles, you will be proud of him too before you die. I know no more
than you how he fell yesterday, but I do know he'd not been drinking, and
have got bitter bad enemies."
"And that's not astonishing, Missis."
"No, Mr. Eccles; and a man who's brave besides being good soon learns
"Well spoken, Missis."
"Is Robert to hear he's denied his father's house?"
"I never said that, Mrs. Boulby. Here's my principle--My house is open
to my blood, so long as he don't bring downright disgrace on it, and then
any one may claim him that likes I won't give him money, because I know
of a better use for it; and he shan't ride my beasts, because he don't
know how to treat 'em. That's all."
"And so you keep within the line of your duty, sir," the widow summed his
"So I hope to," said the farmer.
"There's comfort in that," she replied.
"As much as there's needed," said he.
The widow curtseyed again. "It's not to trouble you, sir, I called.
Robert--thanks be to Above!--is not hurt serious, though severe."
"Where's he hurt?" the farmer asked rather hurriedly.
"In the head, it is."
"What have you come for?"
"First, his best hat."
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the farmer. "Well, if that 'll mend his head
it's at his service, I'm sure."
Sick at his heartlessness, the widow scattered emphasis over her
concluding remarks. "First, his best hat, he wants; and his coat and
clean shirt; and they mend the looks of a man, Mr. Eccles; and it's to
look well is his object: for he's not one to make a moan of himself, and
doctors may starve before he'd go to any of them. And my begging prayer
to you is, that when you see your son, you'll not tell him I let you know
his head or any part of him was hurt. I wish you good morning, Mr.
"Good morning to you, Mrs. Boulby. You're a respectable woman."
"Not to be soaped," she murmured to herself in a heat.
The apparently medicinal articles of attire were obtained from Aunt Anne,
without a word of speech on the part of that pale spinster. The
deferential hostility between the two women acknowledged an intervening
chasm. Aunt Anne produced a bundle, and placed the hat on it, upon which
she had neatly pinned a tract, "The Drunkard's Awakening!" Mrs. Boulby
glanced her eye in wrath across this superscription, thinking to herself,
"Oh, you good people! how you make us long in our hearts for trouble with
you." She controlled the impulse, and mollified her spirit on her way
home by distributing stray leaves of the tract to the outlying heaps of
rubbish, and to one inquisitive pig, who was looking up from a
badly-smelling sty for what the heavens might send him.
She found Robert with his arm doubled over a basin, and Susan sponging
cold water on it.
"No bones broken, mother!" he sang out. "I'm sound; all right again.
Six hours have done it this time. Is it a thaw? You needn't tell me
what the old dad has been saying. I shall be ready to breakfast in half
"Lord, what a big arm it is!" exclaimed the widow. "And no wonder, or
how would you be a terror to men? You naughty boy, to think of stirring!
Here you'll lie."
"Ah, will I?" said Robert: and he gave a spring, and sat upright in the
bed, rather white with the effort, which seemed to affect his mind, for
he asked dubiously, "What do I look like, mother?"
She brought him the looking-glass, and Susan being dismissed, he examined
"Dear!" said the widow, sitting down on the bed; "it ain't much for me to
guess you've got an appointment."
"At twelve o'clock, mother."
"With her?" she uttered softly.
"It's with a lady, mother."
"And so many enemies prowling about, Robert, my dear! Don't tell me they
didn't fall upon you last night. I said nothing, but I'd swear it on the
Book. Do you think you can go?"
"Why, mother, I go by my feelings, and there's no need to think at all,
or God knows what I should think."
The widow shook her head. "Nothing 'll stop you, I suppose?"
"Nothing inside of me will, mother."
"Doesn't she but never mind. I've no right to ask, Robert; and if I have
curiosity, it's about last night, and why you should let villains escape.
But there's no accounting for a man's notions; only, this I say, and I do
say it, Nic Sedgett, he's at the bottom of any mischief brewed against
you down here. And last night Stephen Bilton, or somebody, declared that
Nic Sedgett had been seen up at Fairly."
"Selling eggs, mother. Why shouldn't he? We mustn't complain of his
getting an honest livelihood."
"He's black-blooded, Robert; and I never can understand why the Lord did
not make him a beast in face. I'm told that creature's found pleasing by
"Ugh, mother, I'm not."
"She won't have you, Robert?"
He laughed. "We shall see to-day."
"You deceiving boy!" cried the widow; "and me not know it's Mrs. Lovell
you're going to meet! and would to heaven she'd see the worth of ye, for
it's a born lady you ought to marry."
"Just feel in my pockets, mother, and you won't be so ready with your
talk of my marrying. And now I'll get up. I feel as if my legs had to
learn over again how to bear me. The old dad, bless his heart! gave me
sound wind and limb to begin upon, so I'm not easily stumped, you see,
though I've been near on it once or twice in my life."
Mrs. Boulby murmured, "Ah! are you still going to be at war with those
He looked at her steadily, while a shrewd smile wrought over his face,
and then taking her hand, he said, "I'll tell you a little; you deserve
it, and won't tattle. My curse is, I'm ashamed to talk about my
feelings; but there's no shame in being fond of a girl, even if she
refuses to have anything to say to you, is there? No, there isn't. I
went with my dear old aunt's money to a farmer in Kent, and learnt
farming; clear of the army first, by--But I must stop that burst of
swearing. Half the time I've been away, I was there. The farmer's a
good, sober, downhearted man--a sort of beaten Englishman, who don't know
it, tough, and always backing. He has two daughters: one went to London,
and came to harm, of a kind. The other I'd prick this vein for and bleed
to death, singing; and she hates me! I wish she did. She thought me
such a good young man! I never drank; went to bed early, was up at work
with the birds. Mr. Robert Armstrong! That changeing of my name was
like a lead cap on my head. I was never myself with it, felt hang-dog--
it was impossible a girl could care for such a fellow as I was. Mother,
just listen: she's dark as a gipsy. She's the faithfullest,
stoutest-hearted creature in the world. She has black hair, large brown
eyes; see her once! She's my mate. I could say to her, 'Stand there;
take guard of a thing;' and I could be dead certain of her--she'd perish
at her post. Is the door locked? Lock the door; I won't be seen when I
speak of her. Well, never mind whether she's handsome or not. She isn't
a lady; but she's my lady; she's the woman I could be proud of. She
sends me to the devil! I believe a woman 'd fall in love with her
cheeks, they are so round and soft and kindly coloured. Think me a fool;
I am. And here am I, away from her, and I feel that any day harm may
come to her, and she 'll melt, and be as if the devils of hell were
mocking me. Who's to keep harm from her when I'm away? What can I do
but drink and forget? Only now, when I wake up from it, I'm a crawling
wretch at her feet. If I had her feet to kiss! I've never kissed her-
-never! And no man has kissed her. Damn my head! here's the ache coming
on. That's my last oath, mother. I wish there was a Bible handy, but
I'll try and stick to it without. My God! when I think of her, I fancy
everything on earth hangs still and doubts what's to happen. I'm like a
wheel, and go on spinning. Feel my pulse now. Why is it I can't stop
it? But there she is, and I could crack up this old world to know what's
coming. I was mild as milk all those days I was near her. My comfort
is, she don't know me. And that's my curse too! If she did, she'd know
as clear as day I'm her mate, her match, the man for her. I am, by
heaven!--that's an oath permitted. To see the very soul I want, and to
miss her! I'm down here, mother; she loves her sister, and I must learn
where her sister's to be found. One of those gentlemen up at Fairly's
the guilty man. I don't say which; perhaps I don't know. But oh, what a
lot of lightnings I see in the back of my head!"
Robert fell back on the pillow. Mrs. Boulby wiped her eyes. Her
feelings were overwhelmed with mournful devotion to the passionate young
man; and she expressed them practically: "A rump-steak would never digest
in his poor stomach!"
He seemed to be of that opinion too, for when, after lying till eleven,
he rose and appeared at the breakfast-table, he ate nothing but crumbs of
dry bread. It was curious to see his precise attention to the neatness
of his hat and coat, and the nervous eye he cast upon the clock, while
brushing and accurately fixing these garments. The hat would not sit as
he was accustomed to have it, owing to the bruise on his head, and he
stood like a woman petulant with her milliner before the glass; now
pressing the hat down till the pain was insufferable, and again trying
whether it presented him acceptably in the enforced style of his wearing
it. He persisted in this, till Mrs. Boulby's exclamation of wonder
admonished him of the ideas received by other eyes than his own. When we
appear most incongruous, we are often exposing the key to our characters;
and how much his vanity, wounded by Rhoda, had to do with his proceedings
down at Warbeach, it were unfair to measure just yet, lest his finer
qualities be cast into shade, but to what degree it affected him will be
Mrs. Boulby's persuasions induced him to take a stout silver-topped
walking-stick of her husband's, a relic shaped from the wood of the Royal
George; leaning upon which rather more like a Naval pensioner than he
would have cared to know, he went forth to his appointment with the lady.
The park-sward of Fairly, white with snow, rolled down in long sweeps to
the salt water: and under the last sloping oak of the park there was a
gorse-bushed lane, green in Summer, but now bearing cumbrous blossom--
like burdens of the crisp snow-fall. Mrs. Lovell sat on horseback here,
and alone, with her gauntleted hand at her waist, charmingly habited in
tone with the landscape. She expected a cavalier, and did not perceive
the approach of a pedestrian, but bowed quietly when Robert lifted his
"They say you are mad. You see, I trust myself to you."
"I wish I could thank you for your kindness, madam."
"Are you ill?"
"I had a fall last night, madam."
The lady patted her horse's neck.
"I haven't time to inquire about it. You understand that I cannot give
you more than a minute."
She glanced at her watch.
"Let us say five exactly. To begin: I can't affect to be ignorant of the
business which brings you down here. I won't pretend to lecture you
about the course you have taken; but, let me distinctly assure you, that
the gentleman you have chosen to attack in this extraordinary manner, has
done no wrong to you or to any one. It is, therefore, disgracefully
unjust to single him out. You know he cannot possibly fight you. I
"Yes, madam," said Robert. "I'll answer plainly. He can't fight a man
like me. I know it. I bear him no ill-will. I believe he's innocent
enough in this matter, as far as acts go."
"That makes your behaviour to him worse!"
Robert looked up into her eyes.
"You are a lady. You won't be shocked at what I tell you."
"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Lovell, hastily: "I have learnt--I am aware of the
tale. Some one has been injured or, you think so. I don't accuse you of
madness, but, good heavens! what means have you been pursuing! Indeed,
sir, let your feelings be as deeply engaged as possible, you have gone
altogether the wrong way to work."
"Not if I have got your help by it, madam."
She smiled with a simple grace. The next moment she consulted her watch.
"Time has gone faster than I anticipated. I must leave you. Let this be
She lowered her voice.
"You shall have the address you require. I will undertake to see her
myself, when next I am in London. It will be soon. In return, sir,
favour me with your word of honour not to molest this gentleman any
further. Will you do that? You may trust me."
"I do, madam, with all my soul!" said Robert.
"That's sufficient. I ask no more. Good morning."
Her parting bow remained with him like a vision. Her voice was like the
tinkling of harp-strings about his ears. The colour of her riding-habit
this day, harmonious with the snow-faced earth, as well as the gentle
mission she had taken upon herself, strengthened his vivid fancy in
blessing her as something quite divine.
He thought for the first time in his life bitterly of the great fortune
which fell to gentlemen in meeting and holding equal converse with so
adorable a creature; and he thought of Rhoda as being harshly earthly;
repulsive in her coldness as that black belt of water contrasted against
the snow on the shores.
He walked some paces in the track of Mrs. Lovell's horse, till his doing
so seemed too presumptuous, though to turn the other way and retrace his
steps was downright hateful: and he stood apparently in profound
contemplation of a ship of war and the trees of the forest behind the
masts. Either the fatigue of standing, or emotion, caused his head to
throb, so that he heard nothing, not even men's laughter; but looking up
suddenly, he beheld, as in a picture, Mrs. Lovell with some gentlemen
walking their horses toward him. The lady gazed softly over his head,
letting her eyes drop a quiet recognition in passing; one or two of the
younger gentlemen stared mockingly.
Edward Blancove was by Mrs. Lovell's side. His eyes fixed upon Robert
with steady scrutiny, and Robert gave him a similar inspection, though
not knowing why. It was like a child's open look, and he was feeling
childish, as if his brain had ceased to act. One of the older gentlemen,
with a military aspect, squared his shoulders, and touching an end of his
moustache, said, half challengingly,--
"You are dismounted to-day?"
"I have only one horse," Robert simply replied.
Algernon Blancove came last. He neither spoke nor looked at his enemy,
but warily clutched his whip. All went by, riding into line some paces
distant; and again they laughed as they bent forward to the lady,
"Odd, to have out the horses on a day like this," Robert thought, and
resumed his musing as before. The lady's track now led him homeward, for
he had no will of his own. Rounding the lane, he was surprised to see
Mrs. Boulby by the hedge. She bobbed like a beggar woman, with a rueful
"My dear," she said, in apology for her presence, "I shouldn't ha'
interfered, if there was fair play. I'm Englishwoman enough for that.
I'd have stood by, as if you was a stranger. Gentlemen always give fair
play before a woman. That's why I come, lest this appointment should ha'
proved a pitfall to you. Now you'll come home, won't you; and forgive
"I'll come to the old Pilot now, mother," said Robert, pressing her hand.
"That's right; and ain't angry with me for following of you?"
"Follow your own game, mother."
"I did, Robert; and nice and vexed I am, if I'm correct in what I heard
say, as that lady and her folk passed, never heeding an old woman's ears.
They made a bet of you, dear, they did."
"I hope the lady won," said Robert, scarce hearing.
"And it was she who won, dear. She was to get you to meet her, and give
up, and be beaten like, as far as I could understand their chatter;
gentlefolks laugh so when they talk; and they can afford to laugh, for
they has the best of it. But I'm vexed; just as if I'd felt big and had
burst. I want you to be peaceful, of course I do; but I don't like my
boy made a bet of."
"Oh, tush, mother," said Robert impatiently.
"I heard 'em, my dear; and complimenting the lady they was, as they
passed me. If it vexes you my thinking it, I won't, dear; I reelly
won't. I see it lowers you, for there you are at your hat again. It is
lowering, to be made a bet of. I've that spirit, that if you was well
and sound, I'd rather have you fighting 'em. She's a pleasant enough lady
to look at, not a doubt; small-boned, and slim, and fair."
Robert asked which way they had gone.
"Back to the stables, my dear; I heard 'em say so, because one gentleman
said that the spectacle was over, and the lady had gained the day; and
the snow was balling in the horses' feet; and go they'd better, before my
lord saw them out. And another said, you were a wild man she'd tamed;
and they said, you ought to wear a collar, with Mrs. Lovell's, her name,
graved on it. But don't you be vexed; you may guess they're not my
Robert's friends. And, I do assure you, Robert, your hat's neat, if
you'd only let it be comfortable: such fidgeting worries the brim. You're
best in appearance--and I always said it--when stripped for boxing. Hats
are gentlemen's things, and becomes them like as if a title to their
heads; though you'd bear being Sir Robert, that you would; and for that
matter, your hat is agreeable to behold, and not like the run of our
Sunday hats; only you don't seem easy in it. Oh, oh! my tongue's a yard
too long. It's the poor head aching, and me to forget it. It's because
you never will act invalidy; and I remember how handsome you were one day
in the field behind our house, when you boxed a wager with Simon Billet,
the waterman; and you was made a bet of then, for my husband betted on
you; and that's what made me think of comparisons of you out of your hat
and you in it."
Thus did Mrs. Boulby chatter along the way. There was an eminence a
little out of the road, overlooking the Fairly stables. Robert left her
and went to this point, from whence he beheld the horsemen with the
grooms at the horses' heads.
"Thank God, I've only been a fool for five minutes!" he summed up his
sensations at the sight. He shut his eyes, praying with all his might
never to meet Mrs. Lovell more. It was impossible for him to combat the
suggestion that she had befooled him; yet his chivalrous faith in women
led him to believe, that as she knew Dahlia's history, she would
certainly do her best for the poor girl, and keep her word to him.
The throbbing of his head stopped all further thought. It had become
violent. He tried to gather his ideas, but the effort was like that of
a light dreamer to catch the sequence of a dream, when blackness follows
close up, devouring all that is said and done. In despair, he thought
with kindness of Mrs. Boulby's brandy.
"Mother," he said, rejoining her, "I've got a notion brandy can't hurt a
man when he's in bed. I'll go to bed, and you shall brew me some; and
you'll let no one come nigh me; and if I talk light-headed, it's blank
paper and scribble, mind that."
The widow promised devoutly to obey all his directions; but he had begun
to talk light-headed before he was undressed. He called on the name of a
Major Waring, of whom Mrs. Boulby had heard him speak tenderly as a
gentleman not ashamed to be his friend; first reproaching him for not
being by, and then by the name of Percy, calling to him endearingly, and
reproaching himself for not having written to him.
"Two to one, and in the dark!" he kept moaning "and I one to twenty,
Percy, all in broad day. Was it fair, I ask?"
Robert's outcries became anything but "blank paper and scribble" to the
widow, when he mentioned Nic Sedgett's name, and said: "Look over his
right temple he's got my mark a second time."
Hanging by his bedside, Mrs. Boulby strung together, bit by bit, the
history of that base midnight attack, which had sent her glorious boy
bleeding to her. Nic Sedgett; she could understand, was the accomplice
of one of the Fairly gentlemen; but of which one, she could not discover,
and consequently set him down as Mr. Algernon Blancove.
By diligent inquiry, she heard that Algernon had been seen in company
with the infamous Nic, and likewise that the countenance of Nicodemus was
reduced to accept the consolation of a poultice, which was confirmation
sufficient. By nightfall Robert was in the doctor's hands, unconscious
of Mrs. Boulby's breach of agreement. His father and his aunt were
informed of his condition, and prepared, both of them, to bow their heads
to the close of an ungodly career. It was known over Warbeach, that
Robert lay in danger, and believed that he was dying.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A fleet of South-westerly rainclouds had been met in mid-sky
Borrower to be dancing on Fortune's tight-rope above the old abyss
Childish faith in the beneficence of the unseen Powers who feed us
Dead Britons are all Britons, but live Britons are not quite brothers
He had no recollection of having ever dined without drinking wine
He tried to gather his ideas, but the effort was like that of a light dreamer
Land and beasts! They sound like blessed things
My first girl--she's brought disgrace on this house
Then, if you will not tell me
To be a really popular hero anywhere in Britain (must be a drinker)
You're a rank, right-down widow, and no mistake
By GEORGE MEREDITH
XXI. GIVES A GLIMPSE OF WHAT POOR VILLANIES THE STORY CONTAINS
XXII. EDWARD TAKES HIS COURSE
XXIII. MAJOR PERCY WARING
XXIV. WARBEACH VILLAGE CHURCH
XXV. OF THE FEARFUL TEMPTATION WHICH CAME UPON ANTHONY HACKBUT, AND
OF HIS MEETING WITH DAHLIA
XXVI. IN THE PARK
XXVII. CONTAINS A STUDY OF A FOOL IN TROUBLE
XXVIII. EDWARD'S LETTER
XXIX. FURTHERMORE OF THE FOOL
Mrs. Boulby's ears had not deceived her; it had been a bet: and the day
would have gone disastrously with Robert, if Mrs. Lovell had not won her
bet. What was heroism to Warbeach, appeared very outrageous
blackguardism up at Fairly. It was there believed by the gentlemen,
though rather against evidence, that the man was a sturdy ruffian, and an
infuriated sot. The first suggestion was to drag him before the
magistrates; but against this Algernon protested, declaring his readiness
to defend himself, with so vehement a magnanimity, that it was clearly
seen the man had a claim on him. Lord Elling, however, when he was told
of these systematic assaults upon one of his guests, announced his
resolve to bring the law into operation. Algernon heard it as the knell
to his visit.
He was too happy, to go away willingly; and the great Jew City of London
was exceedingly hot for him at that period; but to stay and risk an
exposure of his extinct military career, was not possible. In his
despair, he took Mrs. Lovell entirely into his confidence; in doing
which, he only filled up the outlines of what she already knew concerning
Edward. He was too useful to the lady for her to afford to let him go.
No other youth called her "angel" for listening complacently to strange
stories of men and their dilemmas; no one fetched and carried for her
like Algernon; and she was a woman who cherished dog-like adoration, and
could not part with it. She had also the will to reward it.
At her intercession, Robert was spared an introduction to the
magistrates. She made light of his misdemeanours, assuring everybody
that so splendid a horseman deserved to be dealt with differently from
other offenders. The gentlemen who waited upon Farmer Eccles went in
obedience to her orders.
Then came the scene on Ditley Marsh, described to that assembly at the
Pilot, by Stephen Bilton, when she perceived that Robert was manageable
in silken trammels, and made a bet that she would show him tamed. She
won her bet, and saved the gentlemen from soiling their hands, for which
they had conceived a pressing necessity, and they thanked her, and paid
their money over to Algernon, whom she constituted her treasurer. She
was called "the man-tamer," gracefully acknowledging the compliment.
Colonel Barclay, the moustachioed horseman, who had spoken the few words
to Robert in passing, now remarked that there was an end of the military
"I surrender my sword," he said gallantly.
Another declared that ladies would now act in lieu of causing an appeal
"Similia similibus, &c.," said Edward. "They can, apparently, cure what
"Ah, the poor sex!" Mrs. Lovell sighed. "When we bring the millennium to
you, I believe you will still have a word against Eve."
The whole parade back to the stables was marked by pretty speeches.
"By Jove! but he ought to have gone down on his knees, like a horse when
you've tamed him," said Lord Suckling, the young guardsman.
"I would mark a distinction between a horse and a brave man, Lord
Suckling," said the lady; and such was Mrs. Lovell's dignity when an
allusion to Robert was forced on her, and her wit and ease were so
admirable, that none of those who rode with her thought of sitting in
judgement on her conduct. Women can make for themselves new spheres, new
laws, if they will assume their right to be eccentric as an
unquestionable thing, and always reserve a season for showing forth like
the conventional women of society.
The evening was Mrs. Lovell's time for this important re-establishment of
her position; and many a silly youth who had sailed pleasantly with her
all the day, was wrecked when he tried to carry on the topics where she
reigned the lady of the drawing-room. Moreover, not being eccentric from
vanity, but simply to accommodate what had once been her tastes, and were
now her necessities, she avoided slang, and all the insignia of
Thus she mastered the secret of keeping the young men respectfully
enthusiastic; so that their irrepressible praises did not (as is usual
when these are in acclamation) drag her to their level; and the female
world, with which she was perfectly feminine, and as silkenly insipid
every evening of her life as was needed to restore her reputation,
admitted that she belonged to it, which is everything to an adventurous
spirit of that sex: indeed, the sole secure basis of operations.
You are aware that men's faith in a woman whom her sisters
discountenance, and partially repudiate, is uneasy, however deeply they
may be charmed. On the other hand, she maybe guilty of prodigious
oddities without much disturbing their reverence, while she is in the
But what fatal breath was it coming from Mrs. Lovell that was always
inflaming men to mutual animosity? What encouragement had she given to
Algernon, that Lord Suckling should be jealous of him? And what to Lord
Suckling, that Algernon should loathe the sight of the young lord? And
why was each desirous of showing his manhood in combat before an eminent
Edward laughed--"Ah-ha!" and rubbed his hands as at a special
confirmation of his prophecy, when Algernon came into his room and said,
"I shall fight that fellow Suckling. Hang me if I can stand his
impudence! I want to have a shot at a man of my own set, just to let
Peggy Lovell see! I know what she thinks."
"Just to let Mrs. Lovell see!" Edward echoed. "She has seen it lots of
times, my dear Algy. Come; this looks lively. I was sure she would soon
be sick of the water-gruel of peace."
"I tell you she's got nothing to do with it, Ned. Don't be confoundedly
unjust. She didn't tell me to go and seek him. How can she help his
whispering to her? And then she looks over at me, and I swear I'm not
going to be defended by a woman. She must fancy I haven't got the pluck
of a flea. I know what her idea of young fellows is. Why, she said to
me, when Suckling went off from her, the other day, "These are our
Guards." I shall fight him."
"Do," said Edward.
"Will you take a challenge?"
"I'm a lawyer, Mr. Mars."
"You won't take a challenge for a friend, when he's insulted?"
"I reply again, I am a lawyer. But this is what I'll do, if you like.
I'll go to Mrs. Lovely and inform her that it is your desire to gain her
esteem by fighting with pistols. That will accomplish the purpose you
seek. It will possibly disappoint her, for she will have to stop the
affair; but women are born to be disappointed--they want so much."
"I'll fight him some way or other," said Algernon, glowering; and then
his face became bright: "I say, didn't she manage that business
beautifully this morning? Not another woman in the world could have done
"Oh, Una and the Lion! Mrs. Valentine and Orson! Did you bet with the
rest?" his cousin asked.
"I lost my tenner; but what's that!"
"There will be an additional five to hand over to the man Sedgett.
"No, hang it!" Algernon shouted.
"You've paid your ten for the shadow cheerfully. Pay your five for the
"Do you mean to say that Sedgett--" Algernon stared.
"Miracles, if you come to examine them, Algy, have generally had a
pathway prepared for them; and the miracle of the power of female
persuasion exhibited this morning was not quite independent of the
preliminary agency of a scoundrel."
"So that's why you didn't bet." Algernon signified the opening of his
intelligence with his eyelids, pronouncing "by jingos" and "by Joves," to
ease the sudden rush of ideas within him. "You might have let me into
the secret, Ned. I'd lose any number of tens to Peggy Lovell, but a
fellow don't like to be in the dark."
"Except, Algy, that when you carry light, you're a general illuminator.
Let the matter drop. Sedgett has saved you from annoyance. Take him his
"Annoyance be hanged, my good Ned!" Algernon was aroused to reply. "I
don't complain, and I've done my best to stand in front of you; and as
you've settled the fellow, I say nothing; but, between us two, who's the
guilty party, and who's the victim?"
"Didn't he tell you he had you in his power?"
"I don't remember that he did."
"Well, I heard him. The sturdy cur refused to be bribed, so there was
only one way of quieting him; and you see what a thrashing does for that
sort of beast. I, Algy, never abandon a friend; mark that. Take the
five pounds to Sedgett."
Algernon strode about the room. "First of all, you stick me up in a
theatre, so that I'm seen with a girl; and then you get behind me, and
let me be pelted," he began grumbling. "And ask a fellow for money, who
hasn't a farthing! I shan't literally have a farthing till that horse
'Templemore' runs; and then, by George! I'll pay my debts. Jews are
"How much do you require at present?" said Edward, provoking his appetite
for a loan.
"Oh, fifty--that is, just now. More like a thousand when I get to town.
And where it's to come from! but never mind. 'Pon my soul, I pity the
fox I run down here. I feel I'm exactly in his case in London. However,
if I can do you any service, Ned--"
Edward laughed. "You might have done me the service of not excusing
yourself to the squire when he came here, in such a way as to implicate
"But I was so tremendously badgered, Ned."
"You had a sort of gratification in letting the squire crow over his
brother. And he did crow for a time."
"On my honour, Ned, as to crowing! he went away cursing at me. Peggy
Lovell managed it somehow for you. I was really awfully badgered."
"Yes; but you know what a man my father is. He hasn't the squire's
philosophy in those affairs."
"'Pon my soul, Mr. Ned, I never guessed it before; but I rather fancy you
got clear with Sir Billy the banker by washing in my basin--eh, did you?"
Edward looked straight at his cousin, saying, "You deserved worse than
that. You were treacherous. You proved you were not to be trusted; and
yet, you see, I trust you. Call it my folly. Of course (and I don't
mind telling you) I used my wits to turn the point of the attack. I may
be what they call unscrupulous when I'm surprised. I have to look to
money as well as you; and if my father thought it went in a--what he
considers--wrong direction, the source would be choked by paternal
morality. You betrayed me. Listen."
"I tell you, Ned, I merely said to my governor--"
"Listen to me. You betrayed me. I defended myself; that is, I've
managed so that I may still be of service to you. It was a near shave;
but you now see the value of having a character with one's father. Just
open my writing-desk there, and toss out the cheque-book. I confess I
can't see why you should have objected--but let that pass. How much do
you want? Fifty? Say forty-five, and five I'll give you to pay to
Sedgett--making fifty. Eighty before, and fifty--one hundred and thirty.
Write that you owe me that sum, on a piece of paper. I can't see why you
should wish to appear so uncommonly virtuous."
Algernon scribbled the written acknowledgment, which he despised himself
for giving, and the receiver for taking, but was always ready to give for
the money, and said, as he put the cheque in his purse: "It was this
infernal fellow completely upset me. If you were worried by a bull-dog,
by Jove, Ned, you'd lose your coolness. He bothered my head off. Ask me
now, and I'll do anything on earth for you. My back's broad. Sir Billy
can't think worse of me than he does. Do you want to break positively
with that pretty rival to Peggy L.? I've got a scheme to relieve you, my
poor old Ned, and make everybody happy. I'll lay the foundations of a
fresh and brilliant reputation for myself."
Algernon took a chair. Edward was fathoms deep in his book.
The former continued: "I'd touch on the money-question last, with any
other fellow than you; but you always know that money's the hinge, and
nothing else lifts a man out of a scrape. It costs a stiff pull on your
banker, and that reminds me, you couldn't go to Sir Billy for it; you'd
have to draw in advance, by degrees anyhow, look here:--There are lots of
young farmers who want to emigrate and want wives and money. I know one.
It's no use going into particulars, but it's worth thinking over. Life
is made up of mutual help, Ned. You can help another fellow better than
yourself. As for me, when I'm in a hobble, I give you my word of honour,
I'm just like a baby, and haven't an idea at my own disposal. The same
with others. You can't manage without somebody's assistance. What do
you say, old boy?"
Edward raised his head from his book. "Some views of life deduced from
your private experience?" he observed; and Algernon cursed at book-worms,
who would never take hints, and left him.
But when he was by himself, Edward pitched his book upon the floor and
sat reflecting. The sweat started on his forehead. He was compelled to
look into his black volume and study it. His desire was to act humanely
and generously; but the question inevitably recurred: "How can I utterly
dash my prospects in the world?" It would be impossible to bring Dahlia
to great houses; and he liked great houses and the charm of mixing among
delicately-bred women. On the other hand, lawyers have married beneath
them--married cooks, housemaids, governesses, and so forth. And what has
a lawyer to do with a dainty lady, who will constantly distract him with
finicking civilities and speculations in unprofitable regions? What he
does want is a woman amiable as a surface of parchment, serviceable as
his inkstand; one who will be like the wig in which he closes his
forensic term, disreputable from overwear, but suited to the purpose.
"Ah! if I meant to be nothing but a lawyer!" Edward stopped the flow of
this current in Dahlia's favour. His passion for her was silent. Was it
dead? It was certainly silent. Since Robert had come down to play his
wild game of persecution at Fairly, the simple idea of Dahlia had been
Edward's fever. He detested brute force, with a finely-witted man's full
loathing; and Dahlia's obnoxious champion had grown to be associated in
his mind with Dahlia. He swept them both from his recollection
abhorrently, for in his recollection he could not divorce them. He
pretended to suppose that Dahlia, whose only reproach to him was her
suffering, participated in the scheme to worry him. He could even forget
her beauty--forget all, save the unholy fetters binding him. She seemed
to imprison him in bare walls. He meditated on her character. She had
no strength. She was timid, comfort-loving, fond of luxury, credulous,
preposterously conventional; that is, desirous more than the ordinary run
of women of being hedged about and guarded by ceremonies--"mere
ceremonies," said Edward, forgetting the notion he entertained of women
not so protected. But it may be, that in playing the part of fool and
coward, we cease to be mindful of the absolute necessity for sheltering
the weak from that monstrous allied army, the cowards and the fools. He
admitted even to himself that he had deceived her, at the same time
denouncing her unheard-of capacity of belief, which had placed him in a
miserable hobble, and that was the truth.
Now, men confessing themselves in a miserable hobble, and knowing they
are guilty of the state of things lamented by them, intend to drown that
part of their nature which disturbs them by its outcry. The submission
to a tangle that could be cut through instantaneously by any exertion of
a noble will, convicts them. They had better not confide, even to their
secret hearts, that they are afflicted by their conscience and the
generosity of their sentiments, for it will be only to say that these
high qualities are on the failing side. Their inclination, under the
circumstances, is generally base, and no less a counsellor than
uncorrupted common sense, when they are in such a hobble, will sometimes
advise them to be base. But, in admitting the plea which common sense
puts forward on their behalf, we may fairly ask them to be masculine in
their baseness. Or, in other words, since they must be selfish, let them
be so without the poltroonery of selfishness. Edward's wish was to be
perfectly just, as far as he could be now--just to himself as well; for
how was he to prove of worth and aid to any one depending on him, if he
stood crippled? Just, also, to his family; to his possible posterity;
and just to Dahlia. His task was to reconcile the variety of justness
due upon all sides. The struggle, we will assume, was severe, for he
thought so; he thought of going to Dahlia and speaking the word of
separation; of going to her family and stating his offence, without
personal exculpation; thus masculine in baseness, he was in idea; but
poltroonery triumphed, the picture of himself facing his sin and its
victims dismayed him, and his struggle ended in his considering as to the
fit employment of one thousand pounds in his possession, the remainder of
a small legacy, hitherto much cherished.
A day later, Mrs. Lovell said to him: "Have you heard of that unfortunate
young man? I am told that he lies in great danger from a blow on the
back of his head. He looked ill when I saw him, and however mad he may
be, I'm sorry harm should have come to one who is really brave. Gentle
means are surely best. It is so with horses, it must be so with men. As
to women, I don't pretend to unriddle them."
"Gentle means are decidedly best," said Edward, perceiving that her
little dog Algy had carried news to her, and that she was setting herself
to fathom him. "You gave an eminent example of it yesterday. I was so
sure of the result that I didn't bet against you."
"Why not have backed me?"
The hard young legal face withstood the attack of her soft blue eyes, out
of which a thousand needles flew, seeking a weak point in the mask.
"The compliment was, to incite you to a superhuman effort."
"Then why not pay the compliment?"
"I never pay compliments to transparent merit; I do not hold candles to
"True," said she.
"And as gentle means are so admirable, it would be as well to stop
incision and imbruing between those two boys."
"Which?" she asked innocently.
"Suckling and Algy."
"Is it possible? They are such boys."
"Exactly of the kind to do it. Don't you know?" and Edward explained
elaborately and cruelly the character of the boys who rushed into
conflicts. Colour deep as evening red confused her cheeks, and she
said, "We must stop them."
"Alas!" he shook his head; "if it's not too late."
"It never is too late."
"Perhaps not, when the embodiment of gentle means is so determined."
"Come; I believe they are in the billiard room now, and you shall see,"
The pair were found in the billiard room, even as a pair of terriers that
remember a bone. Mrs. Lovell proposed a game, and offered herself for
partner to Lord Suckling.
"Till total defeat do us part," the young nobleman acquiesced; and total
defeat befell them. During the play of the balls, Mrs. Lovell threw a
jealous intentness of observation upon all the strokes made by Algernon;
saying nothing, but just looking at him when he did a successful thing.
She winked at some quiet stately betting that went on between him and
They were at first preternaturally polite and formal toward one another;
by degrees, the influence at work upon them was manifested in a thaw of
their stiff demeanour, and they fell into curt dialogues, which Mrs.
Lovell gave herself no concern to encourage too early.
Edward saw, and was astonished himself to feel that she had ceased to
breathe that fatal inciting breath, which made men vindictively emulous
of her favour, and mad to match themselves for a claim to the chief
smile. No perceptible change was displayed. She was Mrs. Lovell still;
vivacious and soft; flame-coloured, with the arrowy eyelashes; a pleasant
companion, who did not play the woman obtrusively among men, and show a
thirst for homage. All the difference appeared to be, that there was an
absence as of some evil spiritual emanation.
And here a thought crossed him--one of the memorable little evanescent
thoughts which sway us by our chance weakness; "Does she think me wanting
in physical courage?"
Now, though the difference between them had been owing to a scornful
remark that she had permitted herself to utter, on his refusal to accept
a quarrel with one of her numerous satellites, his knowledge of her
worship of brains, and his pride in his possession of the burdensome
weight, had quite precluded his guessing that she might haply suppose him
to be deficient in personal bravery. He was astounded by the reflection
that she had thus misjudged him. It was distracting; sober-thoughted as
he was by nature. He watched the fair simplicity of her new manner with
a jealous eye. Her management of the two youths was exquisite; but to
him, Edward, she had never condescended to show herself thus mediating
and amiable. Why? Clearly, because she conceived that he had no virile
fire in his composition. Did the detestable little devil think silly
duelling a display of valour? Did the fair seraph think him anything less
than a man?
How beautifully hung the yellow loop of her hair as she leaned over the
board! How gracious she was and like a Goddess with these boys, as he
called them! She rallied her partner, not letting him forget that he had
the honour of being her partner; while she appeared envious of Algernon's
skill, and talked to both and got them upon common topics, and laughed,
and was like a fair English flower of womanhood; nothing deadly.
"There, Algy; you have beaten us. I don't think I'll have Lord Suckling
for my partner any more," she said, putting up her wand, and pouting.
"You don't bear malice?" said Algernon, revived.
"There is my hand. Now you must play a game alone with Lord Suckling,
and beat him; mind you beat him, or it will redound to my discredit."
With which, she and Edward left them.
"Algy was a little crestfallen, and no wonder," she said. "He is soon
set up again. They will be good friends now."
"Isn't it odd, that they should be ready to risk their lives for
Thus Edward tempted her to discuss the subject which he had in his mind.
She felt intuitively the trap in his voice.
"Ah, yes," she replied; "it must be because they know their lives are not
So utterly at her mercy had he fallen, that her pronunciation of that
word "precious" carried a severe sting to him, and it was not spoken with
peculiar emphasis; on the contrary, she wished to indicate that she was
of his way of thinking, as regarded this decayed method of settling
disputes. He turned to leave her.
"You go to your Adeline, I presume," she said.
"Ah! that reminds me. I have never thanked you."
"For my good services? such as they are. Sir William will be very happy,
and it was for him, a little more than for you, that I went out of my way
to be a matchmaker."
"It was her character, of course, that struck you as being so eminently
suited to mine."
"Can I tell what is the character of a girl? She is mild and shy, and
extremely gentle. In all probability she has a passion for battles and
bloodshed. I judged from your father's point of view. She has money,
and you are to have money; and the union of money and money is supposed
to be a good thing. And besides, you are variable, and off to-morrow
what you are on to-day; is it not so? and heiresses are never jilted.
Colonel Barclay is only awaiting your retirement. Le roi est mort; vive
le roi! Heiresses may cry it like kingdoms."
"I thought," said Edward, meaningly, "the colonel had better taste."
"Do you not know that my friends are my friends because they are not
allowed to dream they will do anything else? If they are taken poorly, I
commend them to a sea-voyage--Africa, the North-West Passage, the source
of the Nile. Men with their vanity wounded may discover wonders! They
return friendly as before, whether they have done the Geographical
Society a service or not. That is, they generally do."
"Then I begin to fancy I must try those latitudes."
"Oh! you are my relative."
He scarcely knew that he had uttered "Margaret."
She replied to it frankly, "Yes, Cousin Ned. You have made the voyage,
you see, and have come back friends with me. The variability of opals!
Ah! Sir John, you join us in season. We were talking of opals. Is the
opal a gem that stands to represent women?"
Sir John Capes smoothed his knuckles with silken palms, and with
courteous antique grin, responded, "It is a gem I would never dare to
offer to a lady's acceptance."
"It is by repute unlucky; so you never can have done so.
"Exquisite!" exclaimed the veteran in smiles, "if what you deign to imply
were only true!"
They entered the drawing-room among the ladies.
Edward whispered in Mrs. Lovell's ear, "He is in need of the voyage."
"He is very near it," she answered in the same key, and swam into general
Her cold wit, Satanic as the gleam of it struck through his mind, gave
him a throb of desire to gain possession of her, and crush her.
The writing of a letter to Dahlia had previously been attempted and
abandoned as a sickening task. Like an idle boy with his holiday
imposition, Edward shelved it among the nightmares, saying, "How can I
sit down and lie to her!" and thinking that silence would prepare her
bosom for the coming truth.
Silence is commonly the slow poison used by those who mean to murder
love. There is nothing violent about it; no shock is given; Hope is not
abruptly strangled, but merely dreams of evil, and fights with gradually
stifling shadows. When the last convulsions come they are not terrific;
the frame has been weakened for dissolution; love dies like natural
decay. It seems the kindest way of doing a cruel thing. But Dahlia
wrote, crying out her agony at the torture. Possibly your nervously
organized natures require a modification of the method.
Edward now found himself able to conduct a correspondence. He despatched
"My Dear Dahlia,--Of course I cannot expect you to be aware of the
bewildering occupations of a country house, where a man has
literally not five minutes' time to call his own; so I pass by your
reproaches. My father has gone at last. He has manifested an
extraordinary liking for my society, and I am to join him elsewhere
--perhaps run over to Paris (your city)--but at present for a few
days I am my own master, and the first thing I do is to attend to
your demands: not to write 'two lines,' but to give you a good long
"What on earth makes you fancy me unwell? You know I am never
unwell. And as to your nursing me--when has there ever been any
need for it?
"You must positively learn patience. I have been absent a week or
so, and you talk of coming down here and haunting the house! Such
ghosts as you meet with strange treatment when they go about
unprotected, let me give you warning. You have my full permission
to walk out in the Parks for exercise. I think you are bound to do
it, for your health's sake.
"Pray discontinue that talk about the alteration in your looks. You
must learn that you are no longer a child. Cease to write like a
child. If people stare at you, as you say, you are very well aware
it is not because you are becoming plain. You do not mean it, I
know; but there is a disingenuousness in remarks of this sort that
is to me exceedingly distasteful. Avoid the shadow of hypocrisy.
Women are subject to it--and it is quite innocent, no doubt. I
won't lecture you.
"My cousin Algernon is here with me. He has not spoken of your
sister. Your fears in that direction are quite unnecessary. He is
attached to a female cousin of ours, a very handsome person, witty,
and highly sensible, who dresses as well as the lady you talk about
having seen one day in Wrexby Church. Her lady's-maid is a
Frenchwoman, which accounts for it. You have not forgotten the
"I wish you to go on with your lessons in French. Educate yourself,
and you will rise superior to these distressing complaints. I
recommend you to read the newspapers daily. Buy nice picture-books,
if the papers are too matter-of-fact for you. By looking eternally
inward, you teach yourself to fret, and the consequence is, or will
be, that you wither. No constitution can stand it. All the ladies
here take an interest in Parliamentary affairs. They can talk to
men upon men's themes. It is impossible to explain to you how
wearisome an everlasting nursery prattle becomes. The idea that men
ought never to tire of it is founded on some queer belief that they
are not mortal.
"Parliament opens in February. My father wishes me to stand for
Selborough. If he or some one will do the talking to the tradesmen,
and provide the beer and the bribes, I have no objection. In that
case my Law goes to the winds. I'm bound to make a show of
obedience, for he has scarcely got over my summer's trip. He holds
me a prisoner to him for heaven knows how long--it may be months.
"As for the heiress whom he has here to make a match for me, he and
I must have a pitched battle about her by and by. At present my
purse insists upon my not offending him. When will old men
understand young ones? I burn your letters, and beg you to follow
the example. Old letters are the dreariest ghosts in the world, and
you cannot keep more treacherous rubbish in your possession. A
discovery would exactly ruin me.
"Your purchase of a black-velvet bonnet with pink ribands, was very
suitable. Or did you write 'blue' ribands? But your complexion can
"You talk of being annoyed when you walk out. Remember, that no
woman who knows at all how to conduct herself need for one moment
"What is the 'feeling' you speak of? I cannot conceive any
'feeling' that should make you helpless when you consider that you
are insulted. There are women who have natural dignity, and women
who have none.
"You ask the names of the gentlemen here:--Lord Carey, Lord Wippern
(both leave to-morrow), Sir John Capes, Colonel Barclay, Lord
Suckling. The ladies:--Mrs. Gosling, Miss Gosling, Lady Carey.
Mrs. Anybody--to any extent.
"They pluck hen's feathers all day and half the night. I see them
out, and make my bow to the next batch of visitors, and then I don't
know where I am.
"Read poetry, if it makes up for my absence, as you say. Repeat it
aloud, minding the pulsation of feet. Go to the theatre now and
then, and take your landlady with you. If she's a cat, fit one of
your dresses on the servant-girl, and take her. You only want a
companion--a dummy will do. Take a box and sit behind the curtain,
back to the audience.
"I wrote to my wine-merchant to send Champagne and Sherry. I hope
he did: the Champagne in pints and half-pints; if not, return them
instantly. I know how Economy, sitting solitary, poor thing, would
not dare to let the froth of a whole pint bottle fly out.
"Be an obedient girl and please me.
"Your stern tutor,
"Edward the First."
He read this epistle twice over to satisfy himself that it was a warm
effusion, and not too tender; and it satisfied him. By a stretch of
imagination, he could feel that it represented him to her as in a higher
atmosphere, considerate for her, and not so intimate that she could deem
her spirit to be sharing it. Another dose of silence succeeded this
discreet administration of speech.
Dahlia replied with letter upon letter; blindly impassioned, and again
singularly cold; but with no reproaches. She was studying, she said.
Her head ached a little; only a little. She walked; she read poetry; she
begged him to pardon her for not drinking wine. She was glad that he
burnt her letters, which were so foolish that if she could have the
courage to look at them after they were written, they would never be
sent. He was slightly revolted by one exclamation: "How ambitious you
"Because I cannot sit down for life in a London lodging-house!" he
thought, and eyed her distantly as a poor good creature who had already
accepted her distinctive residence in another sphere than his. From such
a perception of her humanity, it was natural that his livelier sense of
it should diminish. He felt that he had awakened; and he shook her off.
And now he set to work to subdue Mrs. Lovell. His own subjugation was
the first fruit of his effort. It was quite unacknowledged by him: but
when two are at this game, the question arises--"Which can live without
the other?" and horrid pangs smote him to hear her telling musically of
the places she was journeying to, the men she would see, and the chances
of their meeting again before he was married to the heiress Adeline.
"I have yet to learn that I am engaged to her," he said. Mrs. Lovell
gave him a fixed look,--
"She has a half-brother."
He stepped away in a fury.
"Devil!" he muttered, absolutely muttered it, knowing that he fooled and
frowned like a stage-hero in stagey heroics. "You think to hound me into
this brutal stupidity of fighting, do you? Upon my honour," he added in
his natural manner, "I believe she does, though!"
But the look became his companion. It touched and called up great vanity
in his breast, and not till then could he placably confront the look. He
tried a course of reading. Every morning he was down in the library,
looking old in an arm-chair over his book; an intent abstracted figure.
Mrs. Lovell would enter and eye him carelessly; utter little commonplaces
and go forth. The silly words struck on his brain. The book seemed
hollow; sounded hollow as he shut it. This woman breathed of active
striving life. She was a spur to black energies; a plumed glory;
impulsive to chivalry. Everything she said and did held men in scales,
and approved or rejected them.
Intoxication followed this new conception of her. He lost altogether his
right judgement; even the cooler after-thoughts were lost. What sort of
man had Harry been, her first husband? A dashing soldier, a quarrelsome
duellist, a dull dog. But, dull to her? She, at least, was reverential
to the memory of him.
She lisped now and then of "my husband," very prettily, and with intense
provocation; and yet she worshipped brains. Evidently she thirsted for
that rare union of brains and bravery in a man, and would never surrender
till she had discovered it. Perhaps she fancied it did not exist. It
might be that she took Edward as the type of brains, and Harry of
bravery, and supposed that the two qualities were not to be had actually
Her admiration of his (Edward's) wit, therefore, only strengthened the
idea she entertained of his deficiency in that other companion manly
Edward must have been possessed, for he ground his teeth villanously in
supposing himself the victim of this outrageous suspicion. And how to
prove it false? How to prove it false in a civilized age, among sober-
living men and women, with whom the violent assertion of bravery would
certainly imperil his claim to brains? His head was like a stew-pan over
the fire, bubbling endlessly.