Part 6 out of 9
judged the acts of a woman. I was a girl, and you chose to put your own
interpretation on whatever I did. You scourged me before the whole army.
Was not that enough? I mean, enough for you? For me, perhaps not, for I
have suffered since, and may have been set apart to suffer. I saw you in
that little church at Warbeach; I met you in the lanes; I met you on the
steamer; on the railway platform; at the review. Everywhere you kept up
the look of my judge. You! and I have been 'Margaret' to you. Major
Waring, how many a woman in my place would attribute your relentless
condemnation of her to injured vanity or vengeance? In those days I
trifled with everybody. I played with fire. I was ignorant of life. I
was true to my husband; and because I was true, and because I was
ignorant, I was plunged into tragedies I never suspected. This is to be
what you call a coquette. Stamping a name saves thinking. Could I read
my husband's temper? Would not a coquette have played her cards
differently? There never was need for me to push my husband to a
contest. I never had the power to restrain him. Now I am wiser; and now
is too late; and now you sit in judgement on me. Why? It is not fair;
it is unkind."
Tears were in her voice, though not in her eyes.
Major Waring tried to study her with the coolness of a man who has learnt
to doubt the truth of women; but he had once yearned in a young man's
frenzy of love to take that delicate shape in his arms, and he was not
proof against the sedate sweet face and keen sad ring of the voice.
He spoke earnestly.
"You honour me by caring for my opinion. The past is buried. I have
some forgiveness to ask. Much, when I think of it--very much. I did you
a public wrong. From a man to a woman it was unpardonable. It is a blot
on my career. I beg you humbly to believe that I repent it."
The sun was flaming with great wings red among the vapours; and in the
recollection of the two, as they rode onward facing it, arose that day of
the forlorn charge of English horse in the Indian jungle, the thunder and
the dust, the fire and the dense knot of the struggle. And like a ghost
sweeping across her eyeballs, Mrs. Lovell beheld, part in his English
freshness, part ensanguined, the image of the gallant boy who had ridden
to perish at the spur of her mad whim. She forgot all present
"Percy!" she said.
"Oh, what an undying day, Percy!"
And then she was speechless.
The Park had been empty, but the opera-house was full; and in the
brilliance of the lights and divine soaring of the music, the genius of
Champagne luncheons discussed the fate of the horse Templemore; some, as
a matter of remote history; some, as another delusion in horse-flesh the
greater number, however, with a determination to stand by the beaten
favourite, though he had fallen, and proclaim him the best of racers and
an animal foully mishandled on the course. There were whispers, and
hints, and assertions; now implicating the jockey, now the owner of
Templemore. The Manchester party, and the Yorkshire party, and their
diverse villanous tricks, came under review. Several offered to back
Templemore at double the money they had lost, against the winner. A
favourite on whom money has been staked, not only has friends, but in
adversity he is still believed in; nor could it well be otherwise, for
the money, no doubt, stands for faith, or it would never have been put up
to the risks of a forfeit.
Foremost and wildest among the excited young men who animated the stalls,
and rushed about the lobby, was Algernon. He was the genius of Champagne
luncheon incarnate. On him devolves, for a time, the movement of this
story, and we shall do well to contemplate him, though he may seem
possibly to be worthless. What is worthless, if it be well looked at?
Nay, the most worthless creatures are most serviceable for examination,
when the microscope is applied to them, as a simple study of human
mechanism. This youth is one of great Nature's tom-fools: an elegant
young gentleman outwardly, of the very large class who are simply the
engines of their appetites, and, to the philosophic eye, still run wild
in woods, as did the primitive nobleman that made a noise in the earlier
Algernon had this day lost ten times more than he could hope to be in a
position to pay within ten years, at the least, if his father continued
to argue the matter against Providence, and live. He had lost, and might
speedily expect to be posted in all good betting circles as something not
pleasantly odoriferous for circles where there is no betting.
Nevertheless, the youth was surcharged with gaiety. The soul of mingled
chicken and wine illumined his cheeks and eyes. He laughed and joked
about the horse--his horse, as he called Templemore--and meeting Lord
Suckling, won five sovereigns of him by betting that the colours of one
of the beaten horses, Benloo, were distinguished by a chocolate bar. The
bet was referred to a dignified umpire, who, a Frenchman, drew his right
hand down an imperial tuft of hair dependent from his chin, and gave a
decision in Algernon's favour. Lord Suckling paid the money on the spot,
and Algernon pocketed it exulting. He had the idea that it was the first
start in his making head against the flood. The next instant he could
have pitched himself upon the floor and bellowed. For, a soul of chicken
and wine, lightly elated, is easily dashed; and if he had but said to
Lord Suckling that, it might as well be deferred, the thing would have
become a precedent, and his own debt might have been held back. He went
on saying, as he rushed forward alone: "Never mind, Suckling. Oh, hang
it! put it in your pocket;" and the imperative necessity for talking, and
fancying what was adverse to fact, enabled him to feel for a time as if
he had really acted according to the prompting of his wisdom. It amazed
him to see people sitting and listening. The more he tried it, the more
unendurable it became. Those sitters and loungers appeared like absurd
petrifactions to him. If he abstained from activity for ever so short a
term, he was tormented by a sense of emptiness; and, as he said to
himself, a man who has eaten a chicken, and part of a game-pie, and drunk
thereto Champagne all day, until the popping of the corks has become as
familiar as minute-guns, he can hardly be empty. It was peculiar. He
stood, just for the sake of investigating the circumstance--it was so
extraordinary. The music rose in a triumphant swell. And now he was
sure that he was not to be blamed for thinking this form of entertainment
detestable. How could people pretend to like it? "Upon my honour!" he
said aloud. The hypocritical nonsense of pretending to like opera-music
"Where is it, Algy?" a friend of his and Suckling's asked, with a languid
"My honour? Do you doubt my honour?" Algernon stared defiantly at the
inoffensive little fellow.
"Not in the slightest. Very sorry to, seeing that I have you down in my
"Latters? Ah, yes," said Algernon, musically, and letting his under-lip
hang that he might restrain the impulse to bite it. "Fifty, or a
hundred, is it? I lost my book on the Downs."
"Fifty; but wait till settling-day, my good fellow, and don't fiddle at
your pockets as if I'd been touching you up for the money. Come and sup
with me to-night."
Algernon muttered a queer reply in a good-tempered tone, and escaped him.
He was sobered by that naming of settling-day. He could now listen to
the music with attention, if not with satisfaction. As he did so, the
head of drowned memory rose slowly up through the wine-bubbles in his
brain, and he flung out a far thought for relief: "How, if I were to
leave England with that dark girl Rhoda at Wrexby, marry her like a man,
and live a wild ramping life in the colonies?" A curtain closed on the
prospect, but if memory was resolved that it would not be drowned, he had
at any rate dosed it with something fresh to occupy its digestion.
His opera-glass had been scouring the house for a sight of Mrs. Lovell,
and at last she appeared in Lord Elling's box.
"I can give you two minutes, Algy," she said, as he entered and found her
opportunely alone. "We have lost, I hear. No interjection, pray. Let
it be, fors l'honneur, with us. Come to me to-morrow. You have tossed
trinkets into my lap. They were marks of esteem, my cousin. Take them
in the same light back from me. Turn them into money, and pay what is
most pressing. Then go to Lord Suckling. He is a good boy, and won't
distress you; but you must speak openly to him at once. Perhaps he will
help you. I will do my best, though whether I can, I have yet to learn."
"Dear Mrs. Lovell!" Algernon burst out, and the corners of his mouth
He liked her kindness, and he was wroth at the projected return of his
gifts. A man's gifts are an exhibition of the royalty of his soul, and
they are the last things which should be mentioned to him as matters to
be blotted out when he is struggling against ruin. The lady had blunt
insight just then. She attributed his emotion to gratitude.
"The door may be opened at any minute," she warned him.
"It's not about myself," he said; "it's you. I believe I tempted you to
back the beastly horse. And he would have won--a fair race, and he would
have won easy. He was winning. He passed the stand a head ahead. He
did win. It's a scandal to the Turf. There's an end of racing in
England. It's up. They've done for themselves to-day. There's a gang.
It's in the hands of confederates."
"Think so, if it consoles you," said Mrs. Lovell, "don't mention your
thoughts, that is all."
"I do think so. Why should we submit to a robbery? It's a sold affair.
That Frenchman, Baron Vistocq, says we can't lift our heads after it."
"He conducts himself with decency, I hope."
"Why, he's won!"
Mrs. Lovell scanned the stalls.
"Always imitate the behaviour of the winners when you lose," she resumed.
"To speak of other things: I have had no letter of late from Edward. He
should be anxious to return. I went this morning to see that unhappy
girl. She consents."
"Poor creature," murmured Algernon; and added "Everybody wants money."
"She decides wisely; for it is the best she can do. She deserves pity,
for she has been basely used."
"Poor old Ned didn't mean," Algernon began pleading on his cousin's
behalf, when Mrs. Lovell's scornful eye checked the feeble attempt.
"I am a woman, and, in certain cases, I side with my sex."
"Wasn't it for you?"
"That he betrayed her? If that were so, I should be sitting in ashes."
Algernon's look plainly declared that he thought her a mystery.
The simplicity of his bewilderment made her smile.
"I think your colonies are the right place for you, Algy, if you can get
an appointment; which must be managed by-and-by. Call on me to-morrow,
as I said."
Algernon signified positively that he would not, and doggedly refused to
"Then I will call on you," said Mrs. Lovell.
He was going to say something angrily, when Mrs. Lovell checked him:
"Hush! she is singing."
Algernon listened to the prima donna in loathing; he had so much to
inquire about, and so much to relate: such a desire to torment and be
Before he could utter a word further, the door opened, and Major Waring
appeared, and he beheld Mrs. Lovell blush strangely. Soon after, Lord
Elling came in, and spoke the ordinary sentence or two concerning the
day's topic--the horse Templemore. Algernon quitted the box. His ears
were surcharged with sound entirely foreign to his emotions, and he
strolled out of the house and off to his dingy chambers, now tenanted by
himself alone, and there faced the sealed letters addressed to Edward,
which had, by order, not been forwarded. No less than six were in
Dahlia's handwriting. He had imagination sufficient to conceive the
lamentations they contained, and the reproach they were to his own
subserviency in not sending them. He looked at the postmarks. The last
one was dated two months back.
"How can she have cared a hang for Ned, if she's ready to go and marry a
yokel, for the sake of a home and respectability?" he thought, rather in
scorn; and, having established this contemptuous opinion of one of the
sex, he felt justified in despising all. "Just like women! They--no!
Peggy Lovell isn't. She's a trump card, and she's a coquette--can't help
being one. It's in the blood. I never saw her look so confoundedly
lovely as when that fellow came into the box. One up, one down. Ned's
away, and it's this fellow's turn. Why the deuce does she always think
I'm a boy? or else, she pretends to. But I must give my mind to
He drew forth the betting-book which his lively fancy had lost on the
Downs. Prompted by an afterthought, he went to the letter-box, saying,--
"Who knows? Wait till the day's ended before you curse your luck."
There was a foreign letter in it from Edward, addressed to him, and
another addressed to "Mr. Blancuv," that he tore open and read with
disgusted laughter. It was signed "N. Sedgett." Algernon read it twice
over, for the enjoyment of his critical detection of the vile grammar,
with many "Oh! by Joves!" and a concluding, "This is a curiosity!"
It was a countryman's letter, ill-spelt, involved, and of a character to
give Algernon a fine scholarly sense of superiority altogether novel.
Everybody abused Algernon for his abuse of common Queen's English in his
epistles: but here was a letter in comparison with which his own were
doctorial, and accordingly he fell upon it with an acrimonious rapture of
pedantry known to dull wits that have by extraordinary hazard pounced on
"You're 'willing to forgeit and forgeive,' are you, you dog!" he
exclaimed, half dancing. "You'd forge anything, you rascal, if you could
disguise your hand--that, I don't doubt. You 'expeck the thousand pound
to be paid down the day of my marriage,' do you, you impudent ruffian!
'acording to agremint.' What a mercenary vagabond this is!"
Algernon reflected a minute. The money was to pass through his hands.
He compressed a desire to dispute with Sedgett that latter point about
the agreement, and opened Edward's letter.
It contained an order on a firm of attorneys to sell out so much Bank
Stock and pay over one thousand pounds to Mr. A. Blancove.
The beautiful concision of style in this document gave Algernon a feeling
of profound deference toward the law and its officers.
"Now, that's the way to Write!" he said.
Accompanying this pleasant, pregnant bit of paper, possessed of such
admirable literary excellence, were the following flimsy lines from
Edward's self, to Algernon incomprehensible.
As there is a man to be seen behind these lines in the dull unconscious
process of transformation from something very like a villain to something
by a few degrees more estimable, we may as well look at the letter in
It begins with a neat display of consideration for the person addressed,
common to letters that are dictated by overpowering egoism:--
"Dear Algy,--I hope you are working and attending regularly to
office business. Look to that and to your health at present.
Depend upon it, there is nothing like work. Fix your teeth in it.
Work is medicine. A truism! Truisms, whether they lie in the
depths of thought, or on the surface, are at any rate the pearls of
"I am coming home. Let me know the instant this affair is over. I
can't tell why I wait here. I fall into lethargies. I write to no
one but to you. Your supposition that I am one of the hangers-on of
the coquette of her time, and that it is for her I am seeking to get
free, is conceived with your usual discrimination. For Margaret
Lovell? Do you imagine that I desire to be all my life kicking the
beam, weighed in capricious scales, appraised to the direct nicety,
petulantly taken up, probed for my weakest point, and then flung
into the grate like a child's toy? That's the fate of the several
asses who put on the long-eared Lovell-livery.
"All women are the same. Know one, know all. Aware of this, and
too wise to let us study them successfully, Nature pretty language
this is for you, Algy! I can do nothing but write nonsense. I am
sick of life. I feel choked. After a month, Paris is sweet
"I have sent you the order for the money. If it were two, or
twenty, thousand pounds, it would be the same to me.
"I swear to heaven that my lowest cynical ideas of women, and the
loathing with which their simply animal vagaries inspires a
thoughtful man, are distanced and made to seem a benevolent
criticism, by the actualities of my experience. I say that you
cannot put faith in a woman. Even now, I do not--it's against
reason--I do not believe that she--this Dahlia--means to go through
with it. She is trying me. I have told her that she was my wife.
Her self-respect--everything that keeps a woman's head up--must have
induced her to think so. Why, she is not a fool! How can she mean
to give herself to an ignorant country donkey? She does not: mark
me. For her, who is a really--I may say, the most refined nature I
have ever met, to affect this, and think of deceiving me, does not
do credit to her wits--and she is not without her share.
"I did once mean that she should be honourably allied to me. It's
comforting that the act is not the wife of the intention, or I
should now be yoked to a mere thing of the seasons and the hours--a
creature whose 'No' to-day is the 'Yes' of to-morrow. Women of this
cast are sure to end comfortably for themselves, they are so
obedient to the whips of Providence.
"But I tell you candidly, Algy, I believe she's pushing me, that she
may see how far I will let her go. I do not permit her to play at
this game with me." The difficulty is in teaching women that we are
not constituted as they are, and that we are wilfully earnest, while
they, who never can be so save under compulsion, carry it on with
us, expecting that at a certain crisis a curtain will drop, and we
shall take a deep breath, join hands, and exclaim, 'What an exciting
play!'--weeping luxuriously. The actualities of life must be
branded on their backs--you can't get their brains to apprehend
"Poor things! they need pity. I am ready to confess I did not keep
my promise to her. I am very sorry she has been ill. Of course,
having no brains--nothing but sensations wherewith to combat every
new revolution of fortune, she can't but fall ill. But I think of
her; and I wish to God I did not. She is going to enter her own
sphere--though, mark me, it will turn out as I say, that, when it
comes to the crisis, there will be shrieks and astonishment that the
curtain doesn't fall and the whole resolve itself to what they call
a dream in our language, a farce.
"I am astonished that there should be no letters for me. I can
understand her not writing at first; but apparently she cherishes
rancour. It is not like her. I can't help thinking there must be
one letter from her, and that you keep it back. I remember that I
told you when I left England I desired to have no letter forwarded
to me, but I have repeatedly asked you since if there was a letter,
and it appears to me that you have shuffled in your answer. I
merely wish to know if there is a letter; because I am at present
out in my study of her character. It seems monstrous that she
should never have written! Don't you view it in that light? To be
ready to break with me, without one good-bye!--it's gratifying, but
I am astonished; for so gentle and tender a creature, such as I knew
her, never existed to compare with her. Ce qui est bien la preuve
que je ne la connaissais pas! I thought I did, which was my error.
I have a fatal habit of trusting to my observation less than to my
divining wit; and La Rochefoucauld is right: 'on est quelquefois un
sot avec de l'esprit; mais on ne Pest jamais avec du jugement.'
Well! better be deceived in a character than doubt it.
"This will soon be over. Then back to the dear old dusky chambers,
with the pick and the axe in the mine of law, till I strike a gold
vein, and follow it to the woolsack. I want peace. I begin to hate
pleading. I hope to meet Death full-wigged. By my troth, I will
look as grimly at him as he at me. Meantime, during a vacation, I
will give you holiday (or better, in the February days, if I can
spare time and Equity is dispensed without my aid), dine you, and
put you in the whirl of Paris. You deserve a holiday. Nunc est
bibendum! You shall sing it. Tell me what you think of her
behaviour. You are a judge of women. I think I am developing
nerves. In fact, work is what I need--a file to bite. And send me
also the name of this man who has made the bargain--who is to be her
husband. Give me a description of him. It is my duty to see that
he has principle; at least we're bound to investigate his character,
if it's really to go on. I wonder whether you will ever perceive
the comedy of, life. I doubt whether a man is happier when he does
perceive it. Perhaps the fact is, that he has by that time lost his
power of laughter; except in the case of here and there a very
"I believe that we comic creatures suffer more than your tragic
personages. We, do you see, are always looking to be happy and
comfortable; but in a tragedy, the doomed wretches are
liver-complexioned from the opening act. Their laughter is the owl:
their broadest smile is twilight. All the menacing horrors of an
eclipse are ours, for we have a sun over us; but they are born in
shades, with the tuck of a curtain showing light, and little can be
taken from them; so that they find scarce any terrors in the
inevitable final stroke. No; the comedy is painfullest. You and I,
Algy, old bachelors, will earn the right just to chuckle. We will
take the point of view of science, be the stage carpenters, and let
the actors move on and off. By this, we shall learn to take a
certain pride in the machinery. To become stage carpenter, is to
attain to the highest rank within the reach of intellectual man.
But your own machinery must be sound, or you can't look after that
of the theatre. Don't over-tax thy stomach, O youth!
"And now, farewell, my worthy ass! You have been thinking me one
through a fair half of this my letter, so I hasten to be in advance
of you, by calling you one. You are one: I likewise am one. We are
all one. The universal language is hee-haw, done in a grievous
"P.S.--Don't fail to send a letter by the next post; then, go and
see her; write again exactly what she says, and let me know the
man's name. You will not lose a minute. Also, don't waste ink in
putting Mrs. Lovell's name to paper: I desire not to hear anything
of the woman."
Algernon read this letter in a profound mystification, marvelling how it
could possibly be that Edward and Mrs. Lovell had quarrelled once more,
and without meeting.
They had parted, he knew or supposed that he knew, under an engagement to
arrange the preliminaries of an alliance, when Edward should return from
France; in other words, when Edward had thrown grave-dust on a naughty
portion of his past; severing an unwise connection. Such had certainly
been Edward's view of the matter. But Mrs. Lovell had never spoken to
Algernon on that subject. She had spoken willingly and in deep sympathy
of Dahlia. She had visited her, pitied her, comforted her; and Algernon
remembered that she had looked very keen and pinched about the mouth in
alluding to Dahlia; but how she and Edward had managed to arrive at
another misunderstanding was a prodigious puzzle to him; and why, if
their engagement had snapped, each consented to let Dahlia's marriage
(which was evidently distasteful to both) go on to the conclusion of the
ceremony, he could not comprehend. There were, however, so many things
in the world that he could not comprehend, and he had grown so
accustomed, after an effort to master a difficulty, to lean his head back
upon downy ignorance, that he treated this significant letter of Edward's
like a tough lesson, and quietly put it by, together with every
recommendation it contained. For all that was practical in it, it might
just as well not have been written.
The value of the letter lies in the exhibition it presents of a rather
mark-worthy young man, who has passed through the hands of a--(what I
must call her; and in doing so, I ask pardon of all the Jack Cades of
Letters, who, in the absence of a grammatical king and a government, sit
as lords upon the English tongue) a crucible woman. She may be
inexcusable herself; but you for you to be base, for you to be cowardly,
even to betray a weakness, though it be on her behalf,--though you can
plead that all you have done is for her, yea, was partly instigated by
her,--it will cause her to dismiss you with the inexorable contempt of
Nature, when she has tried one of her creatures and found him wanting.
Margaret Lovell was of this description: a woman fashioned to do both
harm and good, and more of harm than of good; but never to sanction a
scheme of evil or blink at it in alliance with another: a woman, in
contact with whom you were soon resolved to your component elements.
Separated from a certain fascination that there was for her in Edward's
acerb wit, she saw that he was doing a dastardly thing in cold blood. We
need not examine their correspondence. In a few weeks she had contrived
to put a chasm between them as lovers. Had he remained in England,
boldly facing his own evil actions, she would have been subjugated, for
however keenly she might pierce to the true character of a man, the show
of an unflinching courage dominated her; but his departure, leaving all
the brutality to be done for him behind his back, filled this woman with
a cutting spleen. It is sufficient for some men to know that they are
seen through, in order to turn away in loathing from her whom they have
desired; and when they do thus turn away, they not uncommonly turn with a
rush of old affection to those who have generously trusted them in the
days past, and blindly thought them estimable beings.
Algernon was by no means gifted to perceive whether this was the case
with his cousin in Paris.
So long as the fool has his being in the world, he will be a part of
every history, nor can I keep him from his place in a narrative that is
made to revolve more or less upon its own wheels. Algernon went to bed,
completely forgetting Edward and his own misfortunes, under the influence
of the opiate of the order for one thousand pounds, to be delivered to
him upon application. The morning found him calmly cheerful, until a
little parcel was brought to his door, together with a note from Mrs.
Lovell, explaining that the parcel contained those jewels, his precious
gifts of what she had insultingly chosen to call "esteem" for her.
Algernon took it in his hand, and thought of flinging it through the
window; but as the window happened to be open, he checked the impulse,
and sent it with great force into a corner of the room: a perfectly
fool-like proceeding, for the fool is, after his fashion, prudent, and
will never, if he can help it, do himself thorough damage, that he may
learn by it and be wiser.
"I never stand insult," he uttered, self-approvingly, and felt manlier.
"No; not even from you, ma'am," he apostrophized Mrs. Lovell's portrait,
that had no rival now upon the wall, and that gave him a sharp fight for
the preservation of his anger, so bewitching she was to see. Her not
sending up word that she wished him to come to her rendered his battle
"It looks rather like a break between us," he said. "If so, you won't
find me so obedient to your caprices, Mrs. Margaret L.; though you are a
pretty woman, and know it. Smile away. I prefer a staunch, true sort of
a woman, after all. And the colonies it must be, I begin to suspect."
This set him conjuring before his eyes the image of Rhoda, until he
cried, "I'll be hanged if the girl doesn't haunt me!" and considered the
matter with some curiosity.
He was quickly away, and across the square of Lincoln's Inn Fields to the
attorney's firm, where apparently his coming was expected, and he was
told that the money would be placed in his hands on the following day.
He then communicated with Edward, in the brief Caesarian tongue of the
telegraph: "All right. Stay. Ceremony arranged." After which, he
hailed a skimming cab, and pronouncing the word "Epsom," sank back in it,
and felt in his breast-pocket for his cigar-case, without casting one
glance of interest at the deep fit of cogitation the cabman had been
thrown into by the suddenness of the order.
"Dash'd if it ain't the very thing I went and gone and dreamed last
night," said the cabman, as he made his dispositions to commence the
Certain boys advised him to whip it away as hard as he could, and he
would come in the winner.
"Where shall I grub, sir?" the cabman asked through the little door
above, to get some knowledge of the quality of his fare.
"Eat your 'grub' on the course," said Algernon.
"Ne'er a hamper to take up nowheres, is there, sir?"
"Do you like the sight of one?"
"Well, it ain't what I object to."
"Then go fast, my man, and you will soon see plenty."
"If you took to chaffin' a bit later in the day, it'd impart more
confidence to my bosom," said the cabman; but this he said to that bosom
"Ain't no particular colours you'd like me to wear, is there? I'll get a
rosette, if you like, sir, and enter in triumph. Gives ye something to
stand by. That's always my remark, founded on observation."
"Go to the deuce! Drive on," Algernon sang out. "Red, yellow, and
"Lobster, ale, and salad!" said the cabman, flicking his whip; "and good
colours too. Tenpenny Nail's the horse. He's the colours I stick to."
And off he drove, envied of London urchins, as mortals would have envied
a charioteer driving visibly for Olympus.
Algernon crossed his arms, with the frown of one looking all inward.
At school this youth had hated sums. All arithmetical difficulties had
confused and sickened him. But now he worked with indefatigable industry
on an imaginary slate; put his postulate, counted probabilities, allowed
for chances, added, deducted, multiplied, and unknowingly performed
algebraic feats, till his brows were stiff with frowning, and his brain
craved for stimulant.
This necessity sent his hand to his purse, for the calling of the cab had
not been a premeditated matter. He discovered therein some half-crowns
and a sixpence, the latter of which he tossed in contempt at some boys
who were cheering the vehicles on their gallant career.
There was something desperately amusing to him in the thought that he had
not even money enough to pay the cabman, or provide for a repast. He
rollicked in his present poverty. Yesterday he had run down with a party
of young guardsmen in a very royal manner; and yesterday he had lost.
To-day he journeyed to the course poorer than many of the beggars he
would find there; and by a natural deduction, to-day he was to win.
He whistled mad waltzes to the measure of the wheels. He believed that
he had a star. He pitched his half-crowns to the turnpike-men, and
sought to propitiate Fortune by displaying a signal indifference to small
change; in which method of courting her he was perfectly serious. He
absolutely rejected coppers. They "crossed his luck." Nor can we say
that he is not an authority on this point: the Goddess certainly does not
deal in coppers.
Anxious efforts at recollection perplexed him. He could not remember
whether he had "turned his money" on looking at the last new moon. When
had he seen the last new moon, and where? A cloud obscured it; he had
forgotten. He consoled himself by cursing superstition. Tenpenny Nail
was to gain the day in spite of fortune. Algernon said this, and
entrenched his fluttering spirit behind common sense, but he found it a
cold corner. The longing for Champagne stimulant increased in fervour.
As he was going up the hill, the wheels were still for a moment, and
hearing "Tenpenny Nail" shouted, he put forth his head, and asked what
the cry was, concerning that horse.
"Gone lame," was the answer.
It hit the centre of his nerves, without reaching his comprehension, and
all Englishmen being equal on Epsom Downs, his stare at the man who had
spoken, and his sickly colour, exposed him to pungent remarks.
"Hullos! here's another Ninepenny--a penny short!" and similar specimens
of Epsom wit, encouraged by the winks and retorts of his driver,
surrounded him; but it was empty clamour outside. A rage of emotions
drowned every idea in his head, and when he got one clear from the mass,
it took the form of a bitter sneer at Providence, for cutting off his
last chance of reforming his conduct and becoming good. What would he
not have accomplished, that was brilliant, and beautiful, and soothing,
but for this dead set against him!
It was clear that Providence cared "not a rap," whether he won or lost
--was good or bad. One might just as well be a heathen; why not?
He jumped out of the cab (tearing his coat in the acts minor evil, but
"all of a piece," as he said), and made his way to the Ring. The
bee-swarm was thick as ever on the golden bough. Algernon heard no
curses, and began to nourish hope again, as he advanced. He began to
hope wildly that this rumour about the horse was a falsity, for there was
no commotion, no one declaiming.
He pushed to enter the roaring circle, which the demand for an
entrance-fee warned him was a privilege, and he stammered, and forgot the
gentlemanly coolness commonly distinguishing him, under one of the acuter
twinges of his veteran complaint of impecuniosity. And then the cabman
made himself heard: a civil cabman, but without directions, and uncertain
of his dinner and his pay, tolerably hot, also, from threading a crowd
after a deaf gentleman. His half-injured look restored to Algernon his
"Ah! there you are:--scurry away and fetch my purse out of the bottom of
the cab. I've dropped it."
On this errand, the confiding cabman retired. Holding to a gentleman's
purse is even securer than holding to a gentleman.
While Algernon was working his forefinger in his waistcoat-pocket
reflectively, a man at his elbow said, with a show of familiar
"If it's any convenience to you, sir," and showed the rim of a gold piece
'twixt finger and thumb.
"All right," Algernon replied readily, and felt that he was known, but
tried to keep his eyes from looking at the man's face; which was a vain
effort. He took the money, nodded curtly, and passed in.
Once through the barrier, he had no time to be ashamed. He was in the
atmosphere of challenges. He heard voices, and saw men whom not to
challenge, or try a result with, was to acknowledge oneself mean, and to
abandon the manliness of life. Algernon's betting-book was soon out and
in operation. While thus engaged, he beheld faces passing and repassing
that were the promise of luncheon and a loan; and so comfortable was the
assurance thereof to him, that he laid the thought of it aside, quite in
the background, and went on betting with an easy mind.
Small, senseless bets, they merely occupied him; and winning them was
really less satisfactory than losing, which, at all events, had the merit
of adding to the bulk of his accusation against the ruling Powers unseen.
Algernon was too savage for betting when the great race was run. He
refused both at taunts and cajoleries; but Lord Suckling coming by, said
"Name your horse," and, caught unawares, Algernon named Little John, one
of the ruck, at a hazard. Lord Suckling gave him fair odds, asking: "In
"Silver," shrugged Algernon, implacable toward Fortune; and the kindly
young nobleman nodded, and made allowance for his ill-temper and want of
spirit, knowing the stake he had laid on the favourite.
Little John startled the field by coming in first at a canter.
"Men have committed suicide for less than this" said Algernon within his
lips, and a modest expression of submission to fate settled on his
countenance. He stuck to the Ring till he was haggard with fatigue. His
whole nature cried out for Champagne, and now he burst away from that
devilish circle, looking about for Lord Suckling and a hamper. Food and
a frothing drink were all that he asked from Fortune. It seemed to him
that the concourse on the downs shifted in a restless way.
"What's doing, I wonder?" he thought aloud.
"Why, sir, the last race ain't generally fashionable," said his cabman,
appearing from behind his shoulder. "Don't you happen to be peckish,
sir?--'cause, luck or no luck, that's my case. I couldn't see, your
"Confound you! how you hang about me! What do you want?" Algernon cried;
and answered his own question, by speeding the cabman to a booth with
what money remained to him, and appointing a place of meeting for the
return. After which he glanced round furtively to make sure that he was
not in view of the man who had lent him the sovereign. It became evident
that the Downs were flowing back to London.
He hurried along the lines of carriages, all getting into motion. The
ghastly conviction overtook him that he was left friendless, to starve.
Wherever he turned, he saw strangers and empty hampers, bottles, straw,
waste paper--the ruins of the feast: Fate's irony meantime besetting him
with beggars, who swallowed his imprecations as the earnest of coming
charity in such places.
At last, he was brought almost to sigh that he might see the man who had
lent him the sovereign, and his wish was hardly formed, when Nicodemus
Sedgett approached, waving a hat encircled by preposterous wooden
figures, a trifle less lightly attired than the ladies of the ballet, and
as bold in the matter of leg as the female fashion of the period.
Algernon eyed the lumpy-headed, heavy-browed rascal with what disgust he
had left in him, for one who came as an instrument of the Fates to help
him to some poor refreshment. Sedgett informed him that he had never had
such fun in his life.
"Just 'fore matrimony," he communicated in a dull whisper, "a fellow
ought to see a bit o' the world, I says--don't you, sir? and this has
been rare sport, that it has! Did ye find your purse, sir? Never mind
'bout that ther' pound. I'll lend you another, if ye like. How sh'll it
be? Say the word."
Algernon was meditating, apparently on a remote subject. He nodded
"Yes. Call at my chambers to-morrow."
Another sovereign was transferred to him: but Sedgett would not be shaken
"I just wanted t' have a bit of a talk with you," he spoke low.
"Hang it! I haven't eaten all day," snapped the irritable young
gentleman, fearful now of being seen in the rascal's company.
"You come along to the jolliest booth--I'll show it to you," said
Sedgett, and lifted one leg in dancing attitude. "Come along, sir: the
jolliest booth I ever was in, dang me if it ain't! Ale and music--them's
my darlings!" the wretch vented his slang. "And I must have a talk with
you. I'll stick to you. I'm social when I'm jolly, that I be: and I
don't know a chap on these here downs. Here's the pint: Is all square?
Am I t' have the cash in cash counted down, I asks? And is it to be
before, or is it to be after, the ceremony? There! bang out! say, yes or
Algernon sent him to perdition with infinite heartiness, but he was dry,
dispirited, and weak, and he walked on, Sedgett accompanying him. He
entered a booth, and partook of ale and ham, feeling that he was in the
dregs of calamity. Though the ale did some service in reviving, it did
not cheer him, and he had a fit of moral objection to Sedgett's
Sedgett took his bluntness as a matter to be endured for the honour of
hob-a-nobbing with a gentleman. Several times he recurred to the theme
which he wanted, as he said, to have a talk upon.
He related how he had courted the young woman, "bashful-like," and had
been so; for she was a splendid young woman; not so handsome now, as she
used to be when he had seen her in the winter: but her illness had pulled
her down and made her humble: they had cut her hair during the fever,
which had taken her pride clean out of her; and when he had put the
question to her on the evening of last Sunday, she had gone into a sort
of faint, and he walked away with her affirmative locked up in his
breast-pocket, and was resolved always to treat her well--which he swore
"Married, and got the money, and the lease o' my farm disposed of, I'm
off to Australia and leave old England behind me, and thank ye, mother,
thank ye! and we shan't meet again in a hurry. And what sort o' song I'm
to sing for 'England is my nation, ain't come across me yet. Australia's
such a precious big world; but that'll come easy in time. And there'll I
farm, and damn all you gentlemen, if you come anigh me."
The eyes of the fellow were fierce as he uttered this; they were rendered
fierce by a peculiar blackish flush that came on his brows and
cheek-bones; otherwise, the yellow about the little brown dot in the
centre of the eyeball had not changed; but the look was unmistakably
savage, animal, and bad. He closed the lids on them, and gave a sort of
churlish smile immediately afterward.
"Harmony's the game. You act fair, I act fair. I've kept to the
condition. She don't know anything of my whereabouts--res'dence, I mean;
and thinks I met you in her room for the first time. That's the truth,
Mr. Blancove. And thinks me a sheepish chap, and I'm that, when I'm
along wi' her. She can't make out how I come to call at her house and
know her first. Gives up guessing, I suppose, for she's quiet about it;
and I pitch her tales about Australia, and life out there. I've got her
to smile, once or twice. She'll turn her hand to making cheeses, never
you fear. Only, this I say. I must have the money. It's a thousand and
a bargain. No thousand, and no wife for me. Not that I don't stand by
the agreement. I'm solid."
Algernon had no power of encountering a human eye steadily, or he would
have shown the man with a look how repulsive he was to a gentleman. His
sensations grew remorseful, as if he were guilty of handing a victim to
But the woman followed her own inclination, did she not? There was no
compulsion: she accepted this man. And if she could do that, pity was
wasted on her!
So thought he: and so the world would think of the poor forlorn soul
striving to expiate her fault, that her father and sister might be at
peace, without shame.
Algernon signified to Sedgett that the agreement was fixed and
irrevocable on his part.
Sedgett gulped some ale.
"Hands on it," he said, and laid his huge hand open across the table.
This was too much.
"My word must satisfy you," said Algernon, rising.
"So it shall. So it do," returned Sedgett, rising with him. "Will you
give it in writing?"
"That's blunt. Will you come and have a look at a sparring-match in
yond' brown booth, sir?"
"I am going back to London."
"London and the theayter that's the fun, now, ain't it!" Sedgett laughed.
Algernon discerned his cabman and the conveyance ready, and beckoned him.
"Perhaps, sir," said Sedgett, "if I might make so bold--I don't want to
speak o' them sovereigns--but I've got to get back too, and cash is run
low. D' ye mind, sir? Are you kind-hearted?"
A constitutional habit of servility to his creditor when present before
him signalized Algernon. He detested the man, but his feebleness was
seized by the latter question, and he fancied he might, on the road to
London, convey to Sedgett's mind that it would be well to split that
thousand, as he had previously devised.
"Jump in," he said.
When Sedgett was seated, Algernon would have been glad to walk the
distance to London to escape from the unwholesome proximity. He took the
vacant place, in horror of it. The man had hitherto appeared respectful;
and in Dahlia's presence he had seemed a gentle big fellow with a
reverent, affectionate heart. Sedgett rallied him.
"You've had bad luck--that's wrote on your hatband. Now, if you was a
woman, I'd say, tak' and go and have a peroose o' your Bible. That's
what my young woman does; and by George! it's just like medicine to her--
that 'tis! I've read out to her till I could ha' swallowed two quart o'
beer at a gulp--I was that mortal thirsty. It don't somehow seem to
improve men. It didn't do me no good. There was I, cursin' at the
bother, down in my boots, like, and she with her hands in a knot,
staring the fire out o' count'nance. They're weak, poor sort o' things."
The intolerable talk of the ruffian prompted Algernon to cry out, for
"A scoundrel like you must be past any good to be got from reading his
Sedgett turned his dull brown eyes on him, the thick and hateful flush of
evil blood informing them with detestable malignity.
"Come; you be civil, if you're going to be my companion," he said.
"I don't like bad words; they don't go down my windpipe. 'Scoundrel 's
a name I've got a retort for, and if it hadn't been you, and you a
gentleman, you'd have had it spanking hot from the end o' my fist.
Perhaps you don't know what sort of a arm I've got? Just you feel
that ther' muscle."
He doubled his arm, the knuckles of the fist toward Algernon's face.
"Down with it, you dog!" cried Algernon, crushing his hat as he started
"It'll come on your nose, if I downs with it, my lord," said Sedgett.
"You've what they Londoners calls 'bonneted yourself.'"
He pulled Algernon by the coat-tail into his seat.
"Stop!" Algernon shouted to the cabman.
"Drive ahead!" roared Sedgett.
This signal of a dissension was heard along the main street of Epsom, and
re-awakened the flagging hilarity of the road.
Algernon shrieked his commands; Sedgett thundered his. They tussled, and
each having inflicted an unpleasant squeeze on the other, they came apart
by mutual consent, and exchanged half-length blows. Overhead, the
cabman--not merely a cabman, but an individual--flicked the flanks of his
horse, and cocked his eye and head in answer to gesticulations from shop-
doors and pavement.
"Let 'em fight it out, I'm impartial," he remarked; and having lifted his
little observing door, and given one glance, parrot-wise, below, he shut
away the troubled prospect of those mortals, and drove along benignly.
Epsom permitted it; but Ewell contained a sturdy citizen, who, smoking
his pipe under his eaves, contemplative of passers-by, saw strife rushing
on like a meteor. He raised the waxed end of his pipe, and with an
authoritative motion of his head at the same time, pointed out the case
to a man in a donkey-cart, who looked behind, saw pugnacity upon wheels,
and manoeuvred a docile and wonderfully pretty-stepping little donkey in
such a manner that the cabman was fain to pull up.
The combatants jumped into the road.
"That's right, gentlemen; I don't want to spile sport," said the donkey's
man. "O' course you ends your Epsom-day with spirit."
"There's sunset on their faces," said the cabman. "Would you try a
But now the donkey's man had inspected the figures of the antagonistic
"Taint fair play," he said to Sedgett. "You leave that gentleman alone,
The man with the pipe came up.
"No fighting," he observed. "We ain't going to have our roads disgraced.
It shan't be said Englishmen don't know how to enjoy themselves without
getting drunk and disorderly. You drop your fists."
The separation had to be accomplished by violence, for Algernon's blood
A crowd was not long in collecting, which caused a stoppage of vehicles
of every description.
A gentleman leaned from an open carriage to look at the fray critically,
and his companion stretching his neck to do likewise, "Sedgett!" burst
from his lips involuntarily.
The pair of original disputants (for there were many by this time) turned
their heads simultaneously toward the carriage.
"Will you come on?" Sedgett roared, but whether to Algernon, or to one of
the gentlemen, or one of the crowd, was indefinite. None responding, he
shook with ox-like wrath, pushed among shoulders, and plunged back to his
seat, making the cabman above bound and sway, and the cab-horse to start
Greatly to the amazement of the spectators, the manifest gentleman (by
comparison) who had recently been at a pummelling match with him, and
bore the stains of it, hung his head, stepped on the cab, and suffered
himself to be driven away.
"Sort of a 'man-and-wife' quarrel," was the donkey's man's comment.
"There's something as corks 'em up, and something uncorks 'em; but what
that something is, I ain't, nor you ain't, man enough to inform the
He rubbed his little donkey's nose affectionately.
"Any gentleman open to a bet I don't overtake that ere Hansom within
three miles o' Ewell?" he asked, as he took the rein.
But his little donkey's quality was famous in the neighbourhood.
"Come on, then," he said; "and show what you can do, without emilation,
Away the little donkey trotted.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
All women are the same--Know one, know all
Exceeding variety and quantity of things money can buy
He will be a part of every history (the fool)
I never pay compliments to transparent merit
I haven't got the pluck of a flea
Love dies like natural decay
Pleasant companion, who did not play the woman obtrusively among men
Silence is commonly the slow poison used by those who mean to murder love
The woman seeking for an anomaly wants a master
The backstairs of history (Memoirs)
To be her master, however, one must not begin by writhing as her slave
Wait till the day's ended before you curse your luck
With this money, said the demon, you might speculate
Work is medicine
By GEORGE MEREDITH
XXX. THE EXPIATION
XXXI. THE MELTING OF THE THOUSAND
XXXII. LA QUESTION D'ARGENT
XXXIII. EDWARD'S RETURN
XXXIV. FATHER AND SON
XXXV. THE NIGHT BEFORE
XXXVI. EDWARD MEETS HIS MATCH
XXXVII. EDWARD TRIES HIS ELOQUENCE
XXXVIII. TOO LATE
Those two in the open carriage, one of whom had called out Sedgett's
name, were Robert and Major Waring. When the cab had flown by, they fell
back into their seats, and smoked; the original stipulation for the day
having been that no harassing matter should be spoken of till nightfall.
True to this, Robert tried to think hard on the scene of his recent
enjoyment. Horses were to him what music is to a poet, and the glory of
the Races he had witnessed was still quick in heart, and partly
counteracted his astonishment at the sight of his old village enemy in
company with Algernon Blancove.
It was not astonishing at all to him that they should have quarrelled and
come to blows; for he knew Sedgett well, and the imperative necessity for
fighting him, if only to preserve a man's self-respect and the fair
division of peace, when once he had been allowed to get upon terms
sufficiently close to assert his black nature; but how had it come about?
How was it that a gentleman could consent to appear publicly with such a
fellow? He decided that it meant something, and something ominous--but
what? Whom could it affect? Was Algernon Blancove such a poor creature
that, feeling himself bound by certain dark dealings with Sedgett to keep
him quiet, he permitted the bullying dog to hang to his coat-tail? It
seemed improbable that any young gentleman should be so weak, but it
might be the case; and "if so," thought Robert, "and I let him know I
bear him no ill-will for setting Sedgett upon me, I may be doing him a
He remembered with pain Algernon's glance of savage humiliation upward,
just before he turned to follow Sedgett into the cab; and considered that
he ought in kindness to see him and make him comfortable by apologizing,
as if he himself had no complaint to make.
He resolved to do it when the opportunity should come. Meantime, what on
earth brought them together?
"How white the hedges are!" he said.
"There's a good deal of dust," Major Waring replied.
"I wasn't aware that cabs came to the races."
"They do, you see."
Robert perceived that Percy meant to fool him if he attempted a breach of
the bond; but he longed so much for Percy's opinion of the strange
alliance between Sedgett and Algernon Blancove, that at any cost he was
compelled to say, "I can't get to the bottom of that."
"That squabble in the road?" said Percy. "We shall see two or three more
before we reach home."
"No. What's the meaning of a gentleman consorting with a blackguard?"
"One or the other has discovered an assimilation, I suppose," Percy gave
answer. "That's an odd remark on returning from Epsom. Those who jump
into the same pond generally come out the same colour."
Robert spoke low.
"Has it anything to do with the poor girl, do you think?"
"I told you I declined to think till we were home again. Confound it,
man, have you no idea of a holiday?"
Robert puffed his tobacco-smoke.
"Let's talk of Mrs. Lovell," he said.
"That's not a holiday for me," Percy murmured but Robert's mind was too
preoccupied to observe the tone, and he asked,--
"Is she to be trusted to keep her word faithfully this time?"
"Come," said Percy, "we haven't betted to-day. I'll bet you she will, if
you like. Will you bet against it?"
"I won't. I can't nibble at anything. Betting's like drinking."
"But you can take a glass of wine. This sort of bet is much the same.
However, don't; for you would lose."
"There," said Robert; "I've heard of being angry with women for
fickleness, changeableness, and all sorts of other things. She's a lady
I couldn't understand being downright angry with, and here's the reason--
it ain't a matter of reason at all--she fascinates me. I do, I declare,
clean forget Rhoda; I forget the girl, if only I see Mrs. Lovell at a
distance. How's that? I'm not a fool, with nonsensical fancies of any
kind. I know what loving a woman is; and a man in my position might be
ass enough to--all sorts of things. It isn't that; it's fascination.
I'm afraid of her. If she talks to me, I feel something like having
gulped a bottle of wine. Some women you have a respect for; some you
like or you love; some you despise: with her, I just feel I'm
Major Waring eyed him steadily. He said: "I'll unriddle it, if I can, to
your comprehension. She admires you for what you are, and she lets you
see it; I dare say she's not unwilling that you should see it. She has a
worship for bravery: it's a deadly passion with her."
Robert put up a protesting blush of modesty, as became him. "Then why,
if she does me the honour to think anything of me, does she turn against
"Ah! now you go deeper. She is giving you what assistance she can; at
present: be thankful, if you can be satisfied with her present doings.
Perhaps I'll answer the other question by-and-by. Now we enter London,
and our day is over. How did you like it?"
Robert's imagination rushed back to the downs.
"The race was glorious. I wish we could go at that pace in life; I
should have a certainty of winning. How miserably dull the streets look;
and the people creep along--they creep, and seem to like it. Horseback's
They drove up to Robert's lodgings, where, since the Winter, he had been
living austerely and recklessly; exiled by his sensitiveness from his two
homes, Warbeach and Wrexby; and seeking over London for Dahlia--a
pensioner on his friend's bounty; and therein had lain the degrading
misery to a man of his composition. Often had he thought of enlisting
again, and getting drafted to a foreign station. Nothing but the
consciousness that he was subsisting on money not his own would have kept
him from his vice. As it was, he had lived through the months between
Winter and Spring, like one threading his way through the tortuous
lengths of a cavern; never coming to the light, but coming upon absurd
mishaps in his effort to reach it. His adventures in London partook
somewhat of the character of those in Warbeach, minus the victim; for
whom two or three gentlemen in public thoroughfares had been taken.
These misdemeanours, in the face of civil society, Robert made no mention
of in his letters to Percy.
But there was light now, though at first it gave but a faint glimmer, in
a lady's coloured envelope, lying on the sitting-room table. Robert
opened it hurriedly, and read it; seized Dahlia's address, with a brain
on fire, and said:
"It's signed 'Margaret Lovell.' This time she calls me 'Dear Sir.'"
"She could hardly do less," Percy remarked.
"I know: but there is a change in her. There's a summer in her writing
now. She has kept her word, Percy. She's the dearest lady in the world.
I don't ask why she didn't help me before."
"You acknowledge the policy of mild measures," said Major Waring.
"She's the dearest lady in the world," Robert repeated. He checked his
enthusiasm. "Lord in heaven! what an evening I shall have."
The thought of his approaching interview with Dahlia kept him dumb.
As they were parting in the street, Major Waring said, "I will be here at
twelve. Let me tell you this, Robert: she is going to be married; say
nothing to dissuade her; it's the best she can do; take a manly view of
Robert was but slightly affected by the intelligence. His thoughts were
on Dahlia as he had first seen her, when in her bloom, and the sister of
his darling; now miserable; a thing trampled to earth! With him, pity
for a victim soon became lost in rage at the author of the wrong, and as
he walked along he reflected contemptuously on his feeble efforts to
avenge her at Warbeach. She lived in a poor row of cottages, striking
off from one of the main South-western suburb roads, not very distant
from his own lodgings, at which he marvelled, as at a cruel irony. He
could not discern the numbers, and had to turn up several of the dusky
little strips of garden to read the numbers on the doors. A faint smell
of lilac recalled the country and old days, and some church bells began
ringing. The number of the house where he was to find Dahlia was seven.
He was at the door of the house next to it, when he heard voices in the
garden beside him.
A man said, "Then I have your answer?"
A woman said, "Yes; yes."
"You will not trust to my pledged honour?"
"Pardon me; not that. I will not live in disgrace."
"When I promise, on my soul, that the moment I am free I will set you
right before the world?"
"Oh! pardon me."
"No; no! I cannot."
"You choose to give yourself to an obscure dog, who'll ill-treat you, and
for whom you don't care a pin's-head; and why? that you may be fenced
from gossip, and nothing more. I thought you were a woman above that
kind of meanness. And this is a common countryman. How will you endure
that kind of life? You were made for elegance and happiness: you shall
have it. I met you before your illness, when you would not listen to me:
I met you after. I knew you at once. Am I changed? I swear to you I
have dreamed of you ever since, and love you. Be as faded as you like;
be hideous, if you like; but come with me. You know my name, and what I
am. Twice I have followed you, and found your name and address; twice I
have written to you, and made the same proposal. And you won't trust to
my honour? When I tell you I love you tenderly? When I give you my
solemn assurance that you shall not regret it? You have been deceived by
one man: why punish me? I know--I feel you are innocent and good. This
is the third time that you have permitted me to speak to you: let it be
final. Say you will trust yourself to me--trust in my honour. Say it
shall be to-morrow. Yes; say the word. To-morrow. My sweet creature--
The man spoke earnestly, but a third person and extraneous hearer could
hardly avoid being struck by the bathetic conclusion. At least, in tone
it bordered on a fall; but the woman did not feel it so.
She replied: "You mean kindly to me, sir. I thank you indeed, for I am
very friendless. Oh! pardon me: I am quite--quite determined. Go--pray,
This was Dahlia's voice.
Robert was unconscious of having previously suspected it. Heartily
ashamed of letting his ears be filled with secret talk, he went from the
garden and crossed the street.
He knew this to be one of the temptations of young women in London.
Shortly after, the man came through the iron gateway of the garden. He
passed under lamplight, and Robert perceived him to be a gentleman in
A light appeared in the windows of the house. Now that he had heard her
voice, the terrors of his interview were dispersed, and he had only plain
sadness to encounter. He knocked at the door quietly. There was a long
delay after he had sent in his name; but finally admission was given.
"If I had loved her!" groaned Robert, before he looked on her; but when
he did look on her, affectionate pity washed the selfish man out of him.
All these false sensations, peculiar to men, concerning the soiled purity
of woman, the lost innocence; the brand of shame upon her, which are
commonly the foul sentimentalism of such as can be too eager in the chase
of corruption when occasion suits, and are another side of pruriency, not
absolutely foreign to the best of us in our youth--all passed away from
him in Dahlia's presence.
The young man who can look on them we call fallen women with a noble eye,
is to my mind he that is most nobly begotten of the race, and likeliest
to be the sire of a noble line. Robert was less than he; but Dahlia's
aspect helped him to his rightful manliness. He saw that her worth
The creature's soul had put no gloss upon her sin. She had sinned, and
her suffering was manifest.
She had chosen to stand up and take the scourge of God; after which the
stones cast by men are not painful.
By this I mean that she had voluntarily stripped her spirit bare of
evasion, and seen herself for what she was; pleading no excuse. His
scourge is the Truth, and she had faced it.
Innumerable fanciful thoughts, few of them definite, beset the mind at
interviews such as these; but Robert was distinctly impressed by her
look. It was as that of one upon the yonder shore. Though they stood
close together, he had the thought of their being separate--a gulf
The colourlessness of her features helped to it, and the odd little
close-fitting white linen cap which she wore to conceal the
stubborn-twisting clipped curls of her shorn head, made her unlike women
of our world. She was dressed in black up to the throat. Her eyes were
still luminously blue, and she let them dwell on Robert one gentle
instant, giving him her hand humbly.
"Dahlia!--my dear sister, I wish I could say; but the luck's against me,"
She sat, with her fingers locked together in her lap, gazing forward on
the floor, her head a little sideways bent.
"I believe," he went on--"I haven't heard, but I believe Rhoda is well."
"She and father are well, I know," said Dahlia.
Robert started: "Are you in communication with them?"
She shook her head. "At the end of some days I shall see them."
"And then perhaps you'll plead my cause, and make me thankful to you for
"Rhoda does not love you."
"That's the fact, if a young woman's to be trusted to know her own mind,
in the first place, and to speak it, in the second."
Dahlia, closed her lips. The long-lined underlip was no more very red.
Her heart knew that it was not to speak of himself that he had come; but
she was poor-witted, through weakness of her blood, and out of her own
immediate line of thought could think neither far nor deep. He
entertained her with talk of his notions of Rhoda, finishing:
"But at the end of a week you will see her, and I dare say she'll give
you her notions of me. Dahlia! how happy this'll make them. I do say
thank God! from my soul, for this."
She pressed her hands in her lap, trembling. "If you will, please, not
speak of it, Mr. Robert."
"Say only you do mean it, Dahlia. You mean to let them see you?"
She shivered out a "Yes."
"That's right. Because, a father and a sister--haven't they a claim?
Think a while. They've had a terrible time. And it's true that you've
consented to a husband, Dahlia? I'm glad, if it is; and he's good and
kind. Right soul-glad I am."
While he was speaking, her eyelids lifted and her eyes became fixed on
him in a stony light of terror, like a creature in anguish before her
executioner. Then again her eyelids dropped. She had not moved from her
"You love him?" he asked, in some wonderment.
She gave no answer.
"Don't you care for him?"
There was no reply.
"Because, Dahlia, if you do not I know I have no right to fancy you do
not. How is it? Tell me. Marriage is an awful thing, where there's no
love. And this man, whoever he is--is he in good circumstances? I
wouldn't speak of him; but, you see, I must, as your friend--and I'm
that. Come: he loves you? Of course he does. He has said so. I
believe it. And he's a man you can honour and esteem? You wouldn't
consent without, I'm sure. What makes me anxious--I look on you as my
sister, whether Rhoda will have it so or not; I'm anxious because--I'm
anxious it should be over, for then Rhoda will be proud of the faith she
had in you, and it will lighten the old man's heart."
Once more the inexplicable frozen look struck over him from her opened
eyes, as if one of the minutes of Time had yawned to show him its deep,
mute, tragic abyss, and was extinguished.
"When does it take place, Dahlia?"
Her long underlip, white almost as the row of teeth it revealed, hung
"When?" he asked, leaning forward to hear, and the word was "Saturday,"
uttered with a feeble harshness, not like the gentle voice of Dahlia.
"This coming Saturday?"
She fell into a visible trembling.
"You named the day?"
He pushed for an indication of cheerful consent to the act she was about
to commit, or of reluctance.
Possibly she saw this, for now she answered, "I did." The sound was deep
in her throat.
"Saturday week," said Robert. "I feel to the man as a brother, already.
Do you live--you'll live in the country?"
"Not in Old England? I'm sorry for that. But--well! Things must be as
they're ordered. Heigho! I've got to learn it."
Dahlia smiled kindly.
"Rhoda will love you. She is firm when she loves."
"When she loves. Where's the consolation to me?"
"Do you think she loves me as much--as much"
"As much as ever? She loves her sister with all her heart--all, for I
haven't a bit of it."
"It is because," said Dahlia slowly, "it is because she thinks I am--"
Here the poor creature's bosom heaved piteously.
"What has she said of me? I wish her to have blamed me--it is less
"Listen," said Robert. "She does not, and couldn't blame you, for it's a
sort of religion with her to believe no wrong of you. And the reason why
she hates me is, that I, knowing something more of the world, suspected,
and chose to let her know it--I said it, in fact--that you had been
deceived by a--But this isn't the time to abuse others. She would have
had me, if I had thought proper to think as she thinks, or play
hypocrite, and pretend to. I'll tell you openly, Dahlia; your father
thinks the worst. Ah! you look the ghost again. It's hard for you to
hear, but you give me a notion of having got strength to hear it. It's
your father's way to think the worst. Now, when you can show him your
husband, my dear, he'll lift his head. He's old English. He won't dream
of asking questions. He'll see a brave and honest young man who must
love you, or--he does love you, that's settled. Your father'll shake his
hand, and as for Rhoda, she'll triumph. The only person to speak out to,
is the man who marries you, and that you've done."
Robert looked the interrogation he did not utter.
"I have," said Dahlia.
"Good: if I may call him brother, some day, all the better for me. Now,
you won't leave England the day you're married."
"Soon. I pray that it may be soon."
"Yes; well, on that morning, I'll have your father and Rhoda at my
lodgings, not wide from here: if I'd only known it earlier!--and you and
your husband shall come there and join us. It'll be a happy meeting at
Dahlia stopped her breathing.
"Will you see Rhoda?"
"I'll go to her to-morrow, if you like."
"If I might see her, just as I am leaving England! not before."
"That's not generous," said Robert.
"Isn't it?" she asked like a child.
"Fancy!--to see you she's been longing for, and the ship that takes you
off, perhaps everlastingly, as far as this world's concerned!"
"Mr. Robert, I do not wish to deceive my sister. Father need not be
distressed. Rhoda shall know. I will not be guilty of falsehoods any
more--no more! Will you go to her? Tell her--tell Rhoda what I am. Say
I have been ill. It will save her from a great shock."
She covered her eyes.
"I said in all my letters that my husband was a gentleman."
It was her first openly penitential utterance in his presence, and her
cheeks were faintly reddened. It may have been this motion of her blood
which aroused the sunken humanity within her; her heart leaped, and she
cried "I can see her as I am, I can. I thought it impossible. Oh! I
can. Will she come to me? My sister is a Christian and forgives. Oh!
let me see her. And go to her, dear Mr. Robert, and ask her--tell her
all, and ask her if I may be spared, and may work at something--anything,
for my livelihood near my sister. It is difficult for women to earn
money, but I think I can. I have done so since my illness. I have been
in the hospital with brain fever. He was lodging in the house with me
before. He found me at the hospital. When I came out, he walked with me
to support me: I was very weak. He read to me, and then asked me to
marry him. He asked again. I lay in bed one night, and with my eyes
open, I saw the dangers of women, and the trouble of my father and
sister; and pits of wickedness. I saw like places full of snakes. I had
such a yearning for protection. I gave him my word I would be his wife,
if he was not ashamed of a wife like me. I wished to look once in
father's face. I had fancied that Rhoda would spurn me, when she
discovered my falsehood. She--sweet dear! would she ever? Go to her.
Say, I do not love any man. I am heart-dead. I have no heart except for
her. I cannot love a husband. He is good, and it is kind: but, oh! let
me be spared. His face!--"
She pressed her hands tight into the hollow of her eyes.
"No; it can't be meant. Am I very ungrateful? This does not seem to be
what God orders. Only if this must be! only if it must be! If my sister
cannot look on me without! He is good, and it is unselfish to take a
moneyless, disgraced creature: but, my misery!--If my sister will see me,
without my doing this!--Go to her, Mr. Robert. Say, Dahlia was false,
and repents, and has worked with her needle to subsist, and can, and
will, for her soul strives to be clean. Try to make her understand.
If Rhoda could love you, she would know. She is locked up--she is only
ideas. My sweet is so proud. I love her for her pride, if she will only
let me creep to her feet, kiss her feet. Dear Mr. Robert, help me! help
me! I will do anything she says. If she says I am to marry him, I will.
Don't mind my tears--they mean nothing now. Tell my dear, I will obey
her. I will not be false any more to her. I wish to be quite stripped.
And Rhoda may know me, and forgive me, if she can. And--Oh! if she
thinks, for father's sake, I ought, I will submit and speak the words;
I will; I am ready. I pray for mercy."
Robert sat with his fist at his temples, in a frowning meditation.
Had she declared her reluctance to take the step, in the first moments of
their interview, he might have been ready to support her: but a project
fairly launched becomes a reality in the brain--a thing once spoken of
attracts like a living creature, and does not die voluntarily. Robert
now beheld all that was in its favour, and saw nothing but flighty flimsy
objections to it. He was hardly moved by her unexpected outburst.
Besides, there was his own position in the case. Rhoda would smile on
him, if he brought Dahlia to her, and brought her happy in the world's
eye. It will act as a sort of signal for general happiness. But if he
had to go and explain matters base and mournful to her, there would be no
smile on her face, and not much gratitude in her breast. There would be
none for a time, certainly. Proximity to her faded sister made him
conceive her attainable, and thrice precious by contrast.
He fixed his gaze on Dahlia, and the perfect refinement of her simplicity
caused him to think that she might be aware of an inappropriateness in
the contemplated union.
"Is he a clumsy fellow? I mean, do you read straight off that he has no
pretension to any manners of a gentleman--nothing near it?"
To this question, put with hesitation by Robert, Dahlia made answer, "I
She would not strengthen her prayer by drawing the man's portrait.
Speedily she forgot how the doing so would in any way have strengthened
her prayer. The excitement had left her brain dull. She did little more
than stare mildly, and absently bend her head, while Robert said that he
would go to Rhoda on the morrow, and speak seriously with her.
"But I think I can reckon her ideas will side with mine, that it is to
your interest, my dear, to make your feelings come round warm to a man
you can respect, and who offers you a clear path," he said.
Whereat Dahlia quietly blinked her eyes.
When he stood up, she rose likewise.
"Am I to take a kiss to Rhoda?" he said, and seeing her answer, bent his
forehead, to which she put her lips.
"And now I must think all night long about the method of transferring it.
Good-bye, Dahlia. You shall hear from your sister the morning after
He pressed her hand, and went to the door.
"There's nothing I can do for you, Dahlia?"
"God bless you, my dear!"
Robert breathed with the pleasant sense of breathing, when he was again
in the street. Amazement, that what he had dreaded so much should be so
easily over, set him thinking, in his fashion, on the marvels of life,
and the naturalness in the aspect of all earthly things when you look at
them with your eyes.
But in the depths of his heart there was disquiet.
"It's the best she can do; she can do no better," he said; and said it
more frequently than it needed by a mind established in the conviction.
Gradually he began to feel that certain things seen with the eyes,
natural as they may then appear and little terrible, leave distinct,
solid, and grave impressions. Something of what our human tragedy may
show before high heaven possessed him. He saw it bare of any sentiment,
in the person of the girl Dahlia. He could neither put a halo of
imagination about her, nor could he conceive one degraded thought of the
creature. She stood a naked sorrow, haunting his brain.
And still he continued saying, "It's the best she can do: it's best for
all. She can do nothing better."
He said it, unaware that he said it in self-defence.
The pale nun-like ghostly face hung before him, stronger in outline the
farther time widened between him and that suffering flesh.
The thousand pounds were in Algernon's hands at last. He had made his
escape from Boyne's Bank early in the afternoon, that he might obtain the
cheque and feel the money in his pocket before that day's sun was
extinguished. There was a note for five hundred; four notes for a
hundred severally; and two fifties. And all had come to him through the
mere writing down of his name as a recipient of the sum!
It was enough to make one in love with civilization. Money, when it is
once in your pocket, seems to have come there easily, even if you have
worked for it; but if you have done no labour whatever, and still find it
there, your sensations (supposing you to be a butterfly youth--the
typical child of a wealthy country) exult marvellously, and soar above
the conditions of earth.
He knew the very features of the notes. That gallant old Five Hundred,
who might have been a Thousand, but that he had nobly split himself into
centurions and skirmishers, stood in his imaginative contemplation like a
grand white-headed warrior, clean from the slaughter and in
court-ruffles--say, Blucher at the court of the Waterloo Regent. The
Hundreds were his Generals; the Fifties his captains; and each one was
possessed of unlimited power of splitting himself into serviceable
regiments, at the call of his lord, Algernon.
He scarcely liked to make the secret confession that it was the largest
sum he had ever as yet carried about; but, as it heightened his pleasure,
he did confess it for half an instant. Five Hundred in the bulk he had
never attained to. He felt it as a fortification against every mishap in
To a young man commonly in difficulties with regard to the paying of his
cabman, and latterly the getting of his dinner, the sense of elevation
imparted by the sum was intoxicating. But, thinking too much of the Five
Hundred waxed dangerous for the fifties; it dwarfed them to such
insignificance that it made them lose their self-respect. So, Algernon,
pursuing excellent tactics, set his mind upon some stray shillings that
he had a remainder of five pounds borrowed from old Anthony, when he
endeavoured to obtain repayment of the one pound and interest dating from
the night at the theatre. Algernon had stopped his mouth on that point,
as well as concerning his acquaintance with Dahlia, by immediately
attempting to borrow further, whenever Anthony led the way for a word in
private. A one-pound creditor had no particular terrors for him, and he
manoeuvred the old man neatly, saying, as previously, "Really, I don't
know the young person you allude to: I happened to meet her, or some one
like her, casually," and dropping his voice, "I'm rather short--what do
you think? Could you?--a trifling accommodation?" from which Anthony
But on the day closing the Epsom week he beckoned Anthony secretly to
follow him out of the office, and volunteered to give news that he had
just heard of Dahlia.
"Oh," said Anthony, "I've seen her."
"I haven't," said Algernon, "upon my honour."
"Yes, I've seen her, sir, and sorry to hear her husband's fallen a bit
low." Anthony touched his pocket. "What they calls 'nip' tides, ain't
Algernon sprang a compliment under him, which sent the vain old fellow
up, whether he would or not, to the effect that Anthony's tides were not
subject to lunar influence.
"Now, Mr. Blancove, you must change them notions o' me. I don't say I
shouldn't be richer if I'd got what's owing to me."
"You'd have to be protected; you'd be Bullion on two legs," said
Algernon, always shrewd in detecting a weakness. "You'd have to go about
with sentries on each side, and sleep in an iron safe!"
The end of the interview was a visit to the public-house, and the
transferring of another legal instrument from Algernon to Anthony. The
latter departed moaning over his five pounds ten shillings in paper; the
former rejoicing at his five pounds in gold. That day was Saturday. On
Monday, only a few shillings of the five pounds remained; but they were
sufficient to command a cab, and, if modesty in dining was among the
prescriptions for the day, a dinner. Algernon was driven to the West.
He remembered when he had plunged in the midst of the fashionable
whirlpool, having felt reckless there formerly, but he had become
remarkably sedate when he stepped along the walks. A certain equipage,
or horse, was to his taste, and once he would have said: "That's the
thing for me;" being penniless. Now, on the contrary, he reckoned the
possible cost, grudgingly, saying "Eh?" to himself, and responding "No,"
faintly, and then more positively, "Won't do."
He was by no means acting as one on a footing of equality with the people
he beholds. A man who is ready to wager a thousand pounds that no other
man present has that amount in his pocket, can hardly feel unequal to his
Charming ladies on horseback cantered past. "Let them go," he thought.
Yesterday, the sight of one would have set him dreaming on grand
alliances. When you can afford to be a bachelor, the case is otherwise.
Presently, who should ride by but Mrs. Lovell! She was talking more
earnestly than was becoming, to that easy-mannered dark-eyed fellow; the
man who had made him savage by entering the opera-box.
"Poor old Ned!" said Algernon; "I must put him on his guard." But, even
the lifting of a finger--a hint on paper--would bring Edward over from
Paris, as he knew; and that was not in his scheme; so he only determined
to write to his cousin.
A flood of evening gold lay over the Western park.
"The glory of this place," Algernon said to himself, "is, that you're
sure of meeting none but gentlemen here;" and he contrasted it with Epsom
A superstitious horror seized him when, casting his eyes ahead, he
perceived Sedgett among the tasteful groups--as discordant a figure as
could well be seen, and clumsily aware of it, for he could neither step
nor look like a man at ease. Algernon swung round and retraced his way;
but Sedgett had long sight.
"I'd heard of London"--Algernon soon had the hated voice in his ears,--
"and I've bin up to London b'fore; I came here to have a wink at the
fash'nables--hang me, if ever I see such a scrumptious lot. It's worth a
walk up and down for a hour or more. D' you come heer often, sir?"
"Eh? Who are you? Oh!" said Algernon, half mad with rage. "Excuse me;"
and he walked faster.
"Fifty times over," Sedgett responded cheerfully. "I'd pace you for a
match up and down this place if you liked. Ain't the horses a spectacle?
I'd rather be heer than there at they Races. As for the ladies, I'll
tell you what: ladies or no ladies, give my young woman time for her hair
to grow; and her colour to come, by George! if she wouldn't shine against
e'er a one--smite me stone blind, if she wouldn't! So she shall!
Australia'll see. I owe you my thanks for interdoocin' me, and never
fear my not remembering."
Where there was a crowd, Algernon could elude his persecutor by threading
his way rapidly; but the open spaces condemned him to merciless exposure,
and he flew before eyes that his imagination exaggerated to a stretch of
supernatural astonishment. The tips of his fingers, the roots of his
hair, pricked with vexation, and still, manoeuvre as he might, Sedgett
"Call at my chambers," he said sternly.
"You're never at home, sir."
"Call to-morrow morning, at ten."
"And see a great big black door, and kick at it till my toe comes through
my boot. Thank ye."
"I tell you, I won't have you annoying me in public; once for all."
"Why, sir; I thought we parted friends, last time. Didn't you shake my
hand, now, didn't you shake my hand, sir? I ask you, whether you shook
my hand, or whether you didn't? A plain answer. We had a bit of a
scrimmage, coming home. I admit we had; but shaking hands, means
'friends again we are.' I know you're a gentleman, and a man like me
shouldn't be so bold as fur to strike his betters. Only, don't you see,
sir, Full-o'-Beer's a hasty chap, and up in a minute; and he's sorry for
Algernon conceived a brilliant notion. Drawing five shillings from his
pocket, he held them over to Sedgett, and told him to drive down to his
chambers, and await his coming. Sedgett took the money; but it was five
shillings lost. He made no exhibition of receiving orders, and it was
impossible to address him imperiously without provoking observations of
an animated kind from the elegant groups parading and sitting.
Young Harry Latters caught Algernon's eye; never was youth more joyfully
greeted. Harry spoke of the Friday's race, and the defection of the
horse Tenpenny Nail. A man passed with a nod and "How d' ye do?" for
which he received in reply a cool stare.
"Who's that?" Algernon asked.
"The son of a high dignitary," said Harry.
"You cut him."
"I can do the thing, you see, when it's a public duty."
"What's the matter with him?"
"Merely a black-leg, a grec, a cheat, swindler, or whatever name you
like," said Harry. "We none of us nod to the professionals in this line;
and I won't exchange salutes with an amateur. I'm peculiar. He chose to
be absent on the right day last year; so from that date; I consider him
absent in toto; "none of your rrrrr--m reckonings, let's have the rrrrr--
m toto;"--you remember Suckling's story of the Yankee fellow? Bye-bye;
shall see you the day after to-morrow. You dine with me and Suckling at
Latters was hailed by other friends. Algernon was forced to let him go.
He dipped under the iron rail, and crossed the row at a run; an
indecorous proceeding; he could not help it. The hope was that Sedgett
would not have the like audacity, or might be stopped, and Algernon's
reward for so just a calculation was, that on looking round, he found
himself free. He slipped with all haste out of the Park. Sedgett's
presence had the deadening power of the torpedo on the thousand pounds.
For the last quarter of an hour, Algernon had not felt a motion of it. A
cab, to make his escape certain, was suggested to his mind; and he would
have called a cab, had not the novel apparition of economy, which now
haunted him, suggested that he had recently tossed five shillings into
the gutter. A man might dine on four shillings and sixpence, enjoying a
modest half-pint of wine, and he possessed that sum. To pinch himself
and deserve well of Providence, he resolved not to drink wine, but beer,
that day. He named the beverage; a pint-bottle of ale; and laughed, as a
royal economist may, who punishes himself to please himself.
"Mighty jolly, ain't it, sir?" said Sedgett, at his elbow.
Algernon faced about, and swore an oath from his boots upward; so
vehement was his disgust, and all-pervading his amazement.
"I'll wallop you at that game," said Sedgett.
"You infernal scoundrel!"
"If you begin swearing," Sedgett warned him.
"What do you want with me?"
"I'll tell you, sir. I don't want to go to ne'er a cock-fight, nor
"Here, come up this street," said Algernon, leading the way into a dusky
defile from a main parade of fashion. "Now, what's your business,
"Well, sir, I ain't goin' to be confounded: that, I'll--I'll swear to.
The long and the short is, I must have some money 'fore the week's out."
"You won't have a penny from me."
"That's blunt, though it ain't in my pocket," said Sedgett, grinning. "I
say, sir, respectful as you like, I must. I've got to pay for
passengerin' over the sea, self and wife; and quick it must be. There's
things to buy on both sides. A small advance and you won't be bothered.
Say, fifty. Fifty, and you don't see me till Saturday, when, accordin'
to agreement, you hand to me the cash, outside the church door; and then
we parts to meet no more. Oh! let us be joyful--I'll sing."
Algernon's loathing of the coarseness and profanity of villany increased
almost to the depth of a sentiment as he listened to Sedgett.
"I do nothing of the sort," he said. "You shall not have a farthing. Be
off. If you follow me, I give you into custody of a policeman."
"You durst n't." Sedgett eyed him warily.
He could spy a physical weakness, by affinity of cowardice, as quickly as
Algernon a moral weakness, by the same sort of relationship to it.
"You don't dare," Sedgett pursued. "And why should you, sir? there's
ne'er a reason why. I'm civil. I asks for my own: no more 'n my own, it
ain't. I call the bargain good: why sh'd I want fur to break it? I want
the money bad. I'm sick o' this country. I'd like to be off in the
first ship that sails. Can't you let me have ten till to-morrow? then
t' other forty. I've got a mortal need for it, that I have. Come, it's
no use your walking at that rate; my legs are's good as yours."
Algernon had turned back to the great thoroughfare. He was afraid that
ten pounds must be forfeited to this worrying demon in the flesh, and
sought the countenance of his well-dressed fellows to encourage him in
resisting. He could think of no subterfuge; menace was clearly useless:
and yet the idea of changeing one of the notes and for so infamous a
creature, caused pangs that helped him further to endure his dogging feet
and filthy tongue. This continued until he saw a woman's hand waving
from a cab. Presuming that such a signal, objectionable as it was, must
be addressed to himself, he considered whether he should lift his hat, or
simply smile as a favoured, but not too deeply flattered, man. The cab
drew up, and the woman said, "Sedgett." She was a well-looking woman,
strongly coloured, brown-eyed, and hearty in appearance.
"What a brute you are, Sedgett, not to be at home when you brought me up
to London with all the boxes and bedding--my goodness! It's a Providence
I caught you in my eye, or I should have been driving down to the docks,
and seeing about the ship. You are a brute. Come in, at once."
"If you're up to calling names, I've got one or two for you," Sedgett
Algernon had heard enough. Sure that he had left Sedgett in hands not
likely to relinquish him, he passed on with elastic step. Wine was
greatly desired, after his torments. Where was credit to be had? True,
he looked contemptuously on the blooming land of credit now, but an entry
to it by one of the back doors would have been convenient, so that he
might be nourished and restored by a benevolent dinner, while he kept his
Thousand intact. However, he dismissed the contemplation of credit and
its transient charms. "I won't dine at all," he said.
A beggar woman stretched out her hand--he dropped a shilling in it.
"Hang me, if I shall be able to," was his next reflection; and with the
remaining three and sixpence, he crossed the threshold of a tobacconist's
shop and bought cigars, to save himself from excesses in charity. After
gravely reproaching the tobacconist for the growing costliness of cigars,
he came into the air, feeling extraordinarily empty. Of this he soon
understood the cause, and it amused him. Accustomed to the smell of
tobacco always when he came from his dinner, it seemed, as the fumes of
the shop took his nostril, that demands were being made within him by an
inquisitive spirit, and dissatisfaction expressed at the vacancy there.
"What's the use? I can't dine," he uttered argumentatively. "I'm not
going to change a note, and I won't dine. I've no Club. There's not a
fellow I can see who'll ask me to dine. I'll lounge along home. There
is some Sherry there."
But Algernon bore vividly in mind that he did not approve of that Sherry.
"I've heard of fellows frying sausages at home, and living on something
like two shillings a day," he remarked in meditation; and then it struck
him that Mrs. Lovell's parcel of returned jewels lay in one of his
drawers at home--that is, if the laundress had left the parcel untouched.
In an agony of alarm, he called a cab, and drove hotly to the Temple.
Finding the packet safe, he put a couple of rings and the necklace with
the opal in his waistcoat pocket. The cabman must be paid, of course; so
a jewel must be pawned. Which shall it be? diamond or opal? Change a
dozen times and let it be the trinket in the right hand--the opal; let it
be the opal. How much would the opal fetch? The pawnbroker can best
inform us upon that point. So he drove to the pawnbroker; one whom he
knew. The pawnbroker offered him five-and-twenty pounds on the security
of the opal.
"What on earth is it that people think disgraceful in your entering a
pawnbroker's shop?" Algernon asked himself when, taking his ticket and
the five-and-twenty pounds, he repelled the stare of a man behind a
"There are not many of that sort in the kingdom," he said to the
pawnbroker, who was loftily fondling the unlucky opal.
"Well--h'm; perhaps there's not;" the pawnbroker was ready to admit it,
now that the arrangement had been settled.
"I shan't be able to let you keep it long."
"As quick back as you like, sir."
Algernon noticed as he turned away that the man behind the partition, who
had more the look of a dapper young shopman than of a needy petitioner
for loans or securities, stretched over the counter to look at the opal;
and he certainly heard his name pronounced. It enraged him; but policy
counselled a quiet behaviour in this place, and no quarrelling with his
pawnbroker. Besides, his whole nature cried out for dinner. He dined
and had his wine; as good, he ventured to assert, as any man could get
for the money; for he knew the hotels with the venerable cellars.
"I should have made a first-rate courier to a millionaire," he said, with
scornful candour, but without abusing the disposition of things which had
ordered his being a gentleman. Subsequently, from his having sat so long
over his wine without moving a leg, he indulged in the belief that he had
reflected profoundly; out of which depths he started, very much like a
man who has dozed, and felt a discomfort in his limbs and head.
"I must forget myself," he said. Nor was any grave mentor by, to assure
him that his tragic state was the issue of an evil digestion of his
dinner and wine. "I must forget myself. I'm under some doom. I see it