Part 7 out of 9
now. Nobody cares for me. I don't know what happiness is. I was born
under a bad star. My fate's written." Following his youthful wisdom,
this wounded hart dragged his slow limbs toward the halls of brandy and
One learns to have compassion for fools, by studying them: and the fool,
though Nature is wise, is next door to Nature. He is naked in his
simplicity; he can tell us much, and suggest more. My excuse for
dwelling upon him is, that he holds the link of my story. Where fools
are numerous, one of them must be prominent now and then in a veracious
narration. There comes an hour when the veil drops on him, he not being
always clean to the discreeter touch.
Algernon was late at the Bank next day, and not cheerful, though he
received his customary reprimand with submission. This day was after the
pattern of the day preceding, except that he did not visit the Park; the
On Wednesday morning, he arose with the conviction that England was no
place for him to dwell in. What if Rhoda were to accompany him to one of
the colonies? The idea had been gradually taking shape in his mind from
the moment that he had possessed the Thousand. Could she not make butter
and cheeses capitally, while he rode on horseback through space? She was
a strong girl, a loyal girl, and would be a grateful wife.
"I'll marry her," he said; and hesitated. "Yes, I'll marry her." But it
must be done immediately.
He resolved to run down to Wrexby, rejoice her with a declaration of
love, astound her with a proposal of marriage, bewilder her little brain
with hurrying adjectives, whisk her up to London, and in little more than
a week be sailing on the high seas, new born; nothing of civilization
about him, save a few last very first-rate cigars which he projected to
smoke on the poop of the vessel, and so dream of the world he left
He went down to the Bank in better spirits, and there wrote off a
straightforward demand of an interview, to Rhoda, hinting at the purpose
of it. While at his work, he thought of Harry Latters and Lord Suckling,
and the folly of his dining with men in his present position.
Settling-day, it or yesterday might be, but a colonist is not supposed to
know anything of those arrangements. One of his fellow-clerks reminded
him of a loan he had contracted, and showed him his name written under
obligatory initials. He paid it, ostentatiously drawing out one of his
fifties. Up came another, with a similar strip of paper. "You don't
want me to change this, do you?" said Algernon; and heard a tale of
domestic needs--and a grappling landlady. He groaned inwardly: "Odd that
I must pay for his landlady being a vixen!" The note was changed; the
debt liquidated. On the door-step, as he was going to lunch, old Anthony
waylaid him, and was almost noisily persistent in demanding his one pound
three and his five pound ten. Algernon paid the sums, ready to believe
that there was a suspicion abroad of his intention to become a colonist.
He employed the luncheon hour in a visit to a colonial shipping office,
and nearly ran straight upon Sedgett at the office-door. The woman who
had hailed him from the cab, was in Sedgett's company, but Sedgett saw no
one. His head hung and his sullen brows were drawn moodily. Algernon
escaped from observation. His first inquiry at the office was as to the
business of the preceding couple, and he was satisfied by hearing that
Sedgett wanted berths for himself and wife.
"Who's the woman, I wonder!" Algernon thought, and forgot her.
He obtained some particular information, and returning to the Bank, was
called before his uncle, who curtly reckoned up his merits in a
contemptuous rebuke, and confirmed him in his resolution to incur this
sort of thing no longer. In consequence, he promised Sir William that he
would amend his ways, and these were the first hopeful words that Sir
William had ever heard from him.
Algernon's design was to dress, that evening, in the uniform of society,
so that, in the event of his meeting Harry Latters, he might assure him
he was coming to his Club, and had been compelled to dine elsewhere with
his uncle, or anybody. When he reached the door of his chambers, a man
was standing there, who said,--
"Mr. Algernon Blancove?"
"Yes," Algernon prolonged an affirmative, to diminish the confidence it
might inspire, if possible.
"May I speak with you, sir?"
Algernon told him to follow in. The man was tall and large-featured,
with an immense blank expression of face.
"I've come from Mr. Samuels, sir," he said, deferentially.
Mr. Samuels was Algernon's chief jeweller.
"Oh," Algernon remarked. "Well, I don't want anything; and let me say, I
don't approve of this touting for custom. I thought Mr. Samuels was
The man bowed. "My business is not that, sir. Ahem! I dare say you
remember an opal you had from our house. It was set in a necklace."
"All right; I remember it, perfectly," said Algernon; cool, but not of
the collected colour.
"The cost of it was fifty-five pounds, sir."
"Was it? Well, I've forgotten."
"We find that it has been pawned for five-and-twenty."
"A little less than half," said Algernon. "Pawnbrokers are simply
"They mayn't be worse than others," the man observed.
Algernon was exactly in the position where righteous anger is the proper
weapon, if not the sole resource. He flushed, but was not sure of his
opportunity for the explosion. The man read the flush.
"May I ask you, did you pawn it, sir? I'm obliged to ask the question."
"I?--I really don't--I don't choose to answer impudent questions. What
do you mean by coming here?"
"I may as well be open with you, sir, to prevent misunderstandings. One
of the young men was present when you pawned it. He saw the thing done."
"Suppose he did?"
"He would be a witness."
"Against me? I've dealt with Samuels for three-four years."
"Yes, sir; but you have never yet paid any account; and I believe I am
right in saying that this opal is not the first thing coming from our
house that has been pledged--I can't say you did it on the other
"You had better not," rejoined Algernon.
He broke an unpleasant silence by asking, "What further?"
"My master has sent you his bill."
Algernon glanced at the prodigious figures.
"Five hun--!" he gasped, recoiling; and added, "Well, I can't pay it on
"Let me tell you, you're liable to proceedings you'd better avoid, sir,
for the sake of your relations."
"You dare to threaten to expose me to my relatives?" Algernon said
haughtily, and immediately perceived that indignation at this point was a
clever stroke; for the man, while deprecating the idea of doing so,
showed his more established belief in the possible virtue of such a
"Not at all, sir; but you know that pledging things not paid for is
illegal, and subject to penalties. No tradesman likes it; they can't
allow it. I may as well let you know that Mr. Samuels--"
"There, stop!" cried Algernon, laughing, as he thought, heartily. "Mr.
Samuels is a very tolerable Jew; but he doesn't seem to understand
dealing with gentlemen. Pressure comes;" he waved his hand swimmingly;
"one wants money, and gets it how one can. Mr. Samuels shall not go to
bed thinking he has been defrauded. I will teach Mr. Samuels to think
better of us Gentiles. Write me a receipt."
"For what amount, sir?" said the man, briskly.
"For the value of the opal--that is to say, for the value put upon it by
Mr. Samuels. Con! hang! never mind. Write the receipt."
He cast a fluttering fifty and a fluttering five on the table, and pushed
paper to the man for a receipt.
The man reflected, and refused to take them.
"I don't think, sir," he said, "that less than two-thirds of the bill
will make Mr. Samuels easy. You see, this opal was in a necklace. It
wasn't like a ring you might have taken off your finger. It's a lady's
ornament; and soon after you obtain it from us; you make use of it by
turning it into cash. It's a case for a criminal prosecution, which, for
the sake of your relations, Mr. Samuels wouldn't willingly bring on. The
criminal box is no place for you, sir; but Mr. Samuels must have his own.
His mind is not easy. I shouldn't like, sir, to call a policeman."
"Hey!" shouted Algernon; "you'd have to get a warrant."
"It's out, sir."
Though inclined toward small villanies, he had not studied law, and
judging from his own affrighted sensations, and the man's impassive face,
Algernon supposed that warrants were as lightly granted as writs of
He tightened his muscles. In his time he had talked glibly of Perdition;
but this was hot experience. He and the man measured the force of their
eyes. Algernon let his chest fall.
"Do you mean?" he murmured.
"Why, sir, it's no use doing things by halves. When a tradesman says he
must have his money, he takes his precautions."
"Are you in Mr. Samuels' shop?"
"Not exactly, sir."
"You're a detective?"
"I have been in the service, sir."
"Ah! now I understand." Algernon raised his head with a strain at
haughtiness. "If Mr. Samuels had accompanied you, I would have
discharged the debt: It's only fair that I should insist upon having a
receipt from him personally, and for the whole amount."
With this, he drew forth his purse and displayed the notable Five
His glow of victory was short. The impassive man likewise had something
"I assure you, sir," he said, "Mr. Samuels does know how to deal with
gentlemen. If you will do me the honour, sir, to run up with me to Mr.
Samuels' shop? Or, very well, sir; to save you that annoyance here is
his receipt to the bill."
Algernon mechanically crumpled up his note.
"Samuels?" ejaculated the unhappy fellow. "Why, my mother dealt with
Samuels. My aunt dealt with Samuels. All my family have dealt with him
for years; and he talks of proceeding against me, because--upon my soul,
it's too absurd! Sending a policeman, too! I'll tell you what--the
exposure would damage Mister Samuels most materially. Of course, my
father would have to settle the matter; but Mister--Mister Samuels would
not recover so easily. He'd be glad to refund the five hundred--what is
it?--and twenty-five--why not, 'and sixpence three farthings?' I tell
you, I shall let my father pay. Mr. Samuels had better serve me with a
common writ. I tell you, I'm not going to denude myself of money
altogether. I haven't examined the bill. Leave it here. You can tear
off the receipt. Leave it here."
The man indulged in a slight demonstration of dissent.
"No, sir, that won't do."
"Half the bill," roared Algernon; "half the bill, I wouldn't mind
"About two-thirds, sir, is what Mr. Samuels asked for, and he'll stop,
and go on as before."
"He'll stop and he'll go on, will he? Mr. Samuels is amazingly like one
of his own watches," Algernon sneered vehemently. "Well," he pursued, in
fancied security, "I'll pay two-thirds."
"Three hundred, sir."
"Ay, three hundred. Tell him to send a receipt for the three hundred,
and he shall have it. As to my entering his shop again, that I shall
have to think over."
"That's what gentlemen in Mr. Samuels' position have to run risk of,
sir," said the man.
Algernon, more in astonishment than trepidation, observed him feeling at
his breast-pocket. The action resulted in an exhibition of a second
bill, with a legal receipt attached to it, for three hundred pounds.
"Mr. Samuels is anxious to accommodate you in every way, sir. It isn't
the full sum he wants; it's a portion. He thought you might prefer to
discharge a portion."
After this exhibition of foresight on the part of the jeweller, there was
no more fight in Algernon beyond a strenuous "Faugh!" of uttermost
He examined the bill and receipt in the man's hand with great apparent
scrupulousness; not, in reality, seeing a clear syllable.
"Take it and change it," he threw his Five hundred down, but recovered it
from the enemy's grasp; and with a "one, two, three," banged his hundreds
on the table: for which he had the loathsome receipt handed to him.
"How," he asked, chokingly, "did Mr. Samuels know I could--I had money?"
"Why, sir, you see," the man, as one who throws off a mask, smiled
cordially, after buttoning up the notes; "credit 'd soon give up the
ghost, if it hadn't its own dodges,' as I may say. This is only a feeler
on Mr. Samuels' part. He heard of his things going to pledge. Halloa!
he sings out. And tradesmen are human, sir. Between us, I side with
gentlemen, in most cases. Hows'-ever, I'm, so to speak, in Mr. Samuels'
pay. A young gentleman in debt, give him a good fright, out comes his
money, if he's got any. Sending of a bill receipted's a good trying
touch. It's a compliment to him to suppose he can pay. Mr. Samuels,
sir, wouldn't go issuing a warrant: if he could, he wouldn't. You named
a warrant; that set me up to it. I shouldn't have dreamed of a gentleman
supposing it otherwise. Didn't you notice me show a wall of a face? I
shouldn't ha' dared to have tried that on an old hand--begging your
pardon; I mean a real--a scoundrel. The regular ones must see features:
we mustn't be too cunning with them, else they grow suspicious: they're
keen as animals; they are. Good afternoon to you, sir."
Algernon heard the door shut. He reeled into a chair, and muffling his
head in his two arms on the table, sobbed desperately; seeing himself
very distinctly reflected in one of the many facets of folly. Daylight
became undesireable to him. He went to bed.
A man who can, in such extremities of despair, go premeditatingly to his
pillow, obeys an animal instinct in pursuit of oblivion, that will
befriend his nerves. Algernon awoke in deep darkness, with a delicious
sensation of hunger. He jumped up. Six hundred and fifty pounds of the
money remained intact; and he was joyful. He struck a light to look at
his watch: the watch had stopped;--that was a bad sign. He could not
forget it. Why had his watch stopped? A chilling thought as to whether
predestination did not govern the world, allayed all tumult in his mind.
He dressed carefully, and soon heard a great City bell, with horrid gulfs
between the strokes, tell him that the hour was eleven toward midnight.
"Not late," he said.
"Who'd have thought it?" cried a voice on the landing of the stairs, as
he went forth.
It was Sedgett.
Algernon had one inclination to strangle, and another to mollify the
"Why, sir, I've been lurking heer for your return from your larks. Never
guessed you was in."
"It's no use," Algernon began.
"Ay; but it is, though," said Sedgett, and forced his way into the room.
"Now, just listen. I've got a young woman I want to pack out o' the
country. I must do it, while I'm a--a bachelor boy. She must go, or we
shall be having shindies. You saw how she caught me out of a cab. She's
sure to be in the place where she ain't wanted. She goes to America.
I've got to pay her passage, and mine too. Here's the truth: she thinks
I'm off with her. She knows I'm bankrup' at home. So I am. All the
more reason for her thinking me her companion. I get her away by train
to the vessel, and on board, and there I give her the slip.
"Ship's steaming away by this time t'morrow night. I've paid for her--
and myself too, she thinks. Leave it to me. I'll manage all that neatly
enough. But heer's the truth: I'm stumped. I must, and I will have
fifty; I don't want to utter ne'er a threat. I want the money, and if
you don't give it, I break off; and you mind this, Mr. Blancove: you
don't come off s' easy, if I do break off, mind. I know all about your
relations, and by--! I'll let 'em know all about you. Why, you're as
quiet heer, sir, as if you was miles away, in a wood cottage, and ne'er a
So Algernon was thinking; and without a light, save the gas lamp in the
They wrangled for an hour. When Algernon went forth a second time, he
was by fifty pounds poorer. He consoled himself by thinking that the
money had only anticipated its destination as arranged, and it became a
partial gratification to him to reflect that he had, at any rate, paid so
much of the sum, according to his bond in assuming possession of it.
And what were to be his proceedings? They were so manifestly in the
hands of fate, that he declined to be troubled on that head.
Next morning came the usual short impatient scrawl on thin blue paper
from Edward, scarce worthy of a passing thought. In a postscript, he
asked: "Are there, on your oath, no letters for me? If there are, send
them immediately--every one, bills as well. Don't fail. I must have
Algernon was at last persuaded to pack up Dahlia's letters, saying: "I
suppose they can't do any harm now." The expense of the postage
afflicted him; but "women always cost a dozen to our one," he remarked.
On his way to the City, he had to decide whether he would go to the Bank,
or take the train leading to Wrexby. He chose the latter course, until,
feeling that he was about to embark in a serious undertaking, he said to
himself, "No! duty first;" and postponed the expedition for the day
Squire Blancove, having business in town, called on his brother at the
Bank, asking whether Sir William was at home, with sarcastic emphasis on
the title, which smelt to him of commerce. Sir William invited him to
dine and sleep at his house that night.
"You will meet Mrs. Lovell, and a Major Waring, a friend of hers, who
knew her and her husband in India," said the baronet.
"The deuce I shall," said the squire, and accepted maliciously.
Where the squire dined, he drank, defying ladies and the new-fangled
subserviency to those flustering teabodies. This was understood; so,
when the Claret and Port had made a few rounds, Major Waring was
permitted to follow Mrs. Lovell, and the squire and his brother settled
to conversation; beginning upon gout. Sir William had recently had a
touch of the family complaint, and spoke of it in terms which gave the
squire some fraternal sentiment. From that, they fell to talking
politics, and differed. The breach was healed by a divergence to their
sons. The squire knew his own to be a scamp.
"You'll never do anything with him," he said.
"I don't think I shall," Sir William admitted.
"Didn't I tell you so?"
"You did. But, the point is, what will you do with him?"
"Send him to Jericho to ride wild jackasses. That's all he's fit for."
The superior complacency of Sir William's smile caught the squire's
"What do you mean to do with Ned?" he asked.
"I hope," was the answer, "to have him married before the year is out."
"To the widow?"
"The widow?" Sir William raised his eyebrows.
"Mrs. Lovell, I mean."
"What gives you that idea?"
"Why, Ned has made her an offer. Don't you know that?"
"I know nothing of the sort."
"And don't believe it? He has. He's only waiting now, over there in
Paris, to get comfortably out of a scrape--you remember what I told you
at Fairly--and then Mrs. Lovell's going to have him--as he thinks; but,
by George, it strikes me this major you've got here, knows how to follow
petticoats and get in his harvest in the enemy's absence."
"I think you're quite under a delusion, in both respects," observed Sir
"What makes you think that?"
"I have Edward's word."
"He lies as naturally as an infant sucks."
"Pardon me; this is my son you are speaking of."
"And this is your Port I'm drinking; so I'll say no more."
The squire emptied his glass, and Sir William thrummed on the table.
"Now, my dog has got his name," the squire resumed. "I'm not ambitious
about him. You are, about yours; and you ought to know him. He spends
or he don't spend. It's not the question whether he gets into debt, but
whether he does mischief with what he spends. If Algy's a bad fish,
Ned's a bit of a serpent; damned clever, no doubt. I suppose, you
wouldn't let him marry old Fleming's daughter, now, if he wanted to?"
"Who is Fleming?" Sir William thundered out.
"Fleming's the father of the girl. I'm sorry for him. He sells his
farm-land which I've been looking at for years; so I profit by it; but I
don't like to see a man like that broken up. Algy, I said before, 's a
bad fish. Hang me, if I think he'd have behaved like Ned. If he had,
I'd have compelled him to marry her, and shipped them both off, clean out
of the country, to try their luck elsewhere.
"You're proud; I'm practical. I don't expect you to do the same. I'm up
in London now to raise money to buy the farm--Queen's Anne's Farm; it's
advertized for sale, I see. Fleeting won't sell it to me privately,
because my name's Blancove, and I'm the father of my son, and he fancies
Algy's the man. Why? he saw Algy at the theatre in London with this girl
of his;--we were all young fellows once!--and the rascal took Ned's
burden on his shoulders. So, I shall have to compete with other buyers,
and pay, I dare say, a couple of hundred extra for the property. Do you
believe what I tell you now?"
"Not a word of it," said Sir William blandly.
The squire seized the decanter and drank in a fury.
"I had it from Algy."
"That would all the less induce me to believe it."
"H'm!" the squire frowned. "Let me tell you--he's a dog--but it's a
damned hard thing to hear one's own flesh and blood abused. Look here:
there's a couple. One of them has made a fool of a girl. It can't be my
rascal--stop a minute--he isn't the man, because she'd have been sure to
have made a fool of him, that's certain. He's a soft-hearted dog. He'd
aim at a cock-sparrow, and be glad if he missed. There you have him. He
was one of your good boys. I used to tell his poor mother, 'When you
leave off thinking for him, he'll go to the first handy villain--and
that's the devil.' And he's done it. But, here's the difference. He
goes himself; he don't send another. I'll tell you what: if you don't
know about Mr. Ned's tricks, you ought. And you ought to make him marry
the girl, and be off to New Zealand, or any of the upside-down places,
where he might begin by farming, and soon, with his abilities, be cock o'
the walk. He would, perhaps, be sending us a letter to say that he
preferred to break away from the mother country and establish a republic.
He's got the same political opinions as you. Oh! he'll do well enough
over here; of course he will. He's the very fellow to do well. Knock at
him, he's hard as nails, and 'll stick anywhere. You wouldn't listen to
me, when I told you about this at Fairly, where some old sweetheart of
the girl mistook that poor devil of a scapegoat, Algy, for him, and went
pegging at him like a madman."
"No," said Sir William; "No, I would not. Nor do I now. At least," he
struck out his right hand deprecatingly, "I listen."
"Can you tell me what he was doing when he went to Italy?"
"He went partly at my suggestion."
"Turns you round his little finger! He went off with this girl: wanted
to educate her, or some nonsense of the sort. That was Mr. Ned's
business. Upon my soul, I'm sorry for old Fleming. I'm told he takes it
to heart. It's done him up. Now, if it should turn out to be Ned, would
you let him right the girl by marrying her? You wouldn't!"
"The principle of examining your hypothesis before you proceed to decide
by it, is probably unknown to you," Sir William observed, after bestowing
a considerate smile on his brother, who muffled himself up from the
chilling sententiousness, and drank.
Sir William, in the pride of superior intellect, had heard as good as
nothing of the charge against his son.
"Well," said the squire, "think as you like, act as you like; all's one
to me. You're satisfied; that's clear; and I'm some hundred of pounds
out of pocket. This major's paying court to the widow, is he?"
"I can't say that he is."
"It would be a good thing for her to get married."
"I should be glad."
"A good thing for her, I say."
"A good thing for him, let us hope."
"If he can pay her debts."
Sir William was silent, and sipped his wine.
"And if he can keep a tight hand on the reins. That's wanted," said the
The gentleman whose road to happiness was thus prescribed stood by Mrs.
Lovell's chair, in the drawing-room. He held a letter in his hand, for
which her own was pleadingly extended.
"I know you to be the soul of truth, Percy," she was saying.
"The question is not that; but whether you can bear the truth."
"Can I not? Who would live without it?"
"Pardon me; there's more. You say, you admire this friend of mine; no
doubt you do. Mind, I am going to give you the letter. I wish you
simply to ask yourself now, whether you are satisfied at my making a
confidant of a man in Robert Eccles's position, and think it natural and
"Quite just," said Mrs. Lovell; "and natural? Yes, natural; though not
common. Eccentric; which only means, hors du commun; and can be natural.
It is natural. I was convinced he was a noble fellow, before I knew that
you had made a friend of him. I am sure of it now. And did he not save
your life, Percy?"
"I have warned you that you are partly the subject of the letter."
"Do you forget that I am a woman, and want it all the more impatiently?"
Major Waring suffered the letter to be snatched from his hand, and stood
like one who is submitting to a test, or watching the effect of a potent
"It is his second letter to you," Mrs. Lovell murmured. "I see; it is a
reply to yours."
She read a few lines, and glanced up, blushing. "Am I not made to bear
more than I deserve?"
"If you can do such mischief, without meaning any, to a man who is in
love with another woman--," said Percy.
"Yes," she nodded, "I perceive the deduction; but inferences are like
shadows on the wall--they are thrown from an object, and are monstrous
distortions of it. That is why you misjudge women. You infer one thing
from another, and are ruled by the inference."
He simply bowed. Edward would have answered her in a bright strain, and
led her on to say brilliant things, and then have shown her, as by a
sudden light, that she had lost herself, and reduced her to feel the
strength and safety of his hard intellect. That was the idea in her
brain. The next moment her heart ejected it.
"Petty, when I asked permission to look at this letter, I was not aware
how great a compliment it would be to me if I was permitted to see it.
It betrays your friend."
"It betrays something more," said he.
Mrs. Lovell cast down her eyes and read, without further comment.
These were the contents:--
"My Dear Percy,--Now that I see her every day again, I am worse than
ever; and I remember thinking once or twice that Mrs. L. had cured
me. I am a sort of man who would jump to reach the top of a
mountain. I understand how superior Mrs. L. is to every woman in
the world I have seen; but Rhoda cures me on that head. Mrs. Lovell
makes men mad and happy, and Rhoda makes them sensible and
miserable. I have had the talk with Rhoda. It is all over. I have
felt like being in a big room with one candle alight ever since.
She has not looked at me, and does nothing but get by her father
whenever she can, and takes his hand and holds it. I see where the
blow has struck her: it has killed her pride; and Rhoda is almost
all pride. I suppose she thinks our plan is the best. She has not
said she does, and does not mention her sister. She is going to
die, or she turns nun, or marries a gentleman. I shall never get
her. She will not forgive me for bringing this news to her. I told
you how she coloured, the first day I came; which has all gone now.
She just opens her lips to me. You remember Corporal Thwaites--you
caught his horse, when he had his foot near wrenched off, going
through the gate--and his way of breathing through the under-row of
his teeth--the poor creature was in such pain--that's just how she
takes her breath. It makes her look sometimes like that woman's
head with the snakes for her hair. This bothers me--how is it you
and Mrs. Lovell manage to talk together of such things? Why, two
men rather hang their heads a bit. My notion is, that women--
ladies, in especial, ought never to hear of sad things of this sort.
Of course, I mean, if they do, it cannot harm them. It only upsets
me. Why are ladies less particular than girls in Rhoda's place?"
("Shame being a virtue," was Mrs. Lovell's running comment.)
"She comes up to town with her father to-morrow. The farm is
ruined. The poor old man had to ask me for a loan to pay the
journey. Luckily, Rhoda has saved enough with her pennies and two-
pences. Ever since I left the farm, it has been in the hands of an
old donkey here, who has worked it his own way. What is in the
ground will stop there, and may as well.
"I leave off writing, I write such stuff; and if I go on
writing to you, I shall be putting these things ' -!--!--!' The way
you write about Mrs. Lovell, convinces me you are not in my scrape,
or else gentlemen are just as different from their inferiors as
ladies are from theirs. That's the question. What is the meaning
of your 'not being able to leave her for a day, for fear she should
fall under other influences'? Then, I copy your words, you say,
'She is all things to everybody, and cannot help it.' In that case,
I would seize my opportunity and her waist, and tell her she was
locked up from anybody else. Friendship with men--but I cannot
understand friendship with women, and watching them to keep them
right, which must mean that you do not think much of them."
Mrs. Lovell, at this point, raised her eyes abruptly from the letter and
"You discuss me very freely with your friend," she said.
Percy drooped to her. "I warned you when you wished to read it."
"But, you see, you have bewildered him. It was scarcely wise to write
other than plain facts. Men of that class." She stopped.
"Of that class?" said he.
"Men of any class, then: you yourself: if any one wrote to you such
things, what would you think? It is very unfair. I have the honour of
seeing you daily, because you cannot trust me out of your sight? What is
there inexplicable about me? Do you wonder that I talk openly of women
who are betrayed, and do my best to help them?".
"On the contrary; you command my esteem," said Percy.
"But you think me a puppet?"
"Fond of them, perhaps?" his tone of voice queried in a manner that made
"I hate them," she said, and her face expressed it.
"But you make them."
"How? You torment me."
"How can I explain the magic? Are you not making one of me now, where I
"Oh, Percy! do nothing ridiculous."
Inveterate insight was a characteristic of Major Waring; but he was not
the less in Mrs. Lovell's net. He knew it to be a charm that she
exercised almost unknowingly. She was simply a sweet instrument for
those who could play on it, and therein lay her mighty fascination.
Robert's blunt advice that he should seize the chance, take her and make
her his own, was powerful with him. He checked the particular
appropriating action suggested by Robert.
"I owe you an explanation," he said. "Margaret, my friend."
"You can think of me as a friend, Percy?"
"If I can call you my friend, what would I not call you besides? I did
you a great and shameful wrong when you were younger. Hush! you did not
deserve that. Judge of yourself as you will; but I know now what my
feelings were then. The sublime executioner was no more than a spiteful
man. You give me your pardon, do you not? Your hand?"
She had reached her hand to him, but withdrew it quickly.
"Not your hand, Margaret? But, you must give it to some one. You will
be ruined, if you do not."
She looked at him with full eyes. "You know it then?" she said slowly;
but the gaze diminished as he went on.
"I know, by what I know of you, that you of all women should owe a direct
allegiance. Come; I will assume privileges. Are you free?"
"Would you talk to me so, if you thought otherwise?" she asked.
"I think I would," said Percy. "A little depends upon the person. Are
you pledged at all to Mr. Edward Blancove?"
"Do you suppose me one to pledge myself?"
"He is doing a base thing."
"Then, Percy, let an assurance of my knowledge of that be my answer."
"You do not love the man?"
Despise him, say!"
"Is he aware of it?"
"If clear writing can make him."
"You have told him as much?"
"To his apprehension, certainly."
"Further, Margaret, I must speak:--did he act with your concurrence, or
knowledge of it at all, in acting as he has done?"
"Heavens! Percy, you question me like a husband."
"It is what I mean to be, if I may."
The frame of the fair lady quivered as from a blow, and then her eyes
"I thought you knew me. This is not possible."
"You will not be mine? Why is it not possible?"
"I think I could say, because I respect you too much."
"Because you find you have not the courage?"
"To confess that you were under bad influence, and were not the Margaret
I can make of you. Put that aside. If you remain as you are, think of
the snares. If you marry one you despise, look at the pit. Yes; you
will be mine! Half my love of my country and my profession is love of
you. Margaret is fire in my blood. I used to pray for opportunities,
that Margaret might hear of me. I knew that gallant actions touched her;
I would have fallen gladly; I was sure her heart would leap when she
heard of me. Let it beat against mine. Speak!"
"I will," said Mrs. Lovell, and she suppressed the throbs of her bosom.
Her voice was harsh and her face bloodless. "How much money have you,
This sudden sluicing of cold water on his heat of passion petrified him.
"Money," he said, with a strange frigid scrutiny of her features. As in
the flash of a mirror, he beheld her bony, worn, sordid, unacceptable.
But he was fain to admit it to be an eminently proper demand for
He said deliberately, "I possess an income of five hundred a year,
extraneous, and in addition to my pay as major in Her Majesty's service."
Then he paused, and the silence was like a growing chasm between them.
She broke it by saying, "Have you any expectations?"
This was crueller still, though no longer astonishing. He complained in
his heart merely that her voice had become so unpleasant.
With emotionless precision, he replied, "At my mother's death--"
She interposed a soft exclamation.
"At my mother's death there will come to me by reversion, five or six
thousand pounds. When my father dies, he may possibly bequeath his
property to me. On that I cannot count."
Veritable tears were in her eyes. Was she affecting to weep
sympathetically in view of these remote contingencies?
"You will not pretend that you know me now, Percy," she said, trying to
smile; and she had recovered the natural feminine key of her voice. "I
am mercenary, you see; not a mercenary friend. So, keep me as a friend--
say you will be my friend."
"Nay, you had a right to know," he protested.
"It was disgraceful--horrible; but it was necessary for me to know."
"And now that you do know?"
"Now that I know, I have only to say--be as merciful in your idea of me
as you can."
She dropped her hand in his, and it was with a thrill of dismay that he
felt the rush of passion reanimating his frozen veins.
"Be mercenary, but be mine! I will give you something better to live for
than this absurd life of fashion. You reckon on what our expenditure
will be by that standard. It's comparative poverty; but--but you can
have some luxuries. You can have a carriage, a horse to ride. Active
service may come: I may rise. Give yourself to me, and you must love me,
and regret nothing."
"Nothing! I should regret nothing. I don't want carriages, or horses,
or luxuries. I could live with you on a subaltern's pay. I can't marry
you, Percy, and for the very reason which would make me wish to marry
"Charade?" said he; and the contempt of the utterance brought her head
close under his.
"Dearest friend, you have not to learn how to punish me."
The little reproach, added to the wound to his pride, required a healing
medicament; she put her lips to his fingers.
Assuredly the comedy would not have ended there, but it was stopped by an
intrusion of the squire, followed by Sir William, who, while the squire--
full of wine and vindictive humours--went on humming, "Ah! h'm--m--m!
Soh!" said in the doorway to some one behind him: "And if you have lost
your key, and Algernon is away, of what use is it to drive down to the
Temple for a bed? I make it an especial request that you sleep here
tonight. I wish it. I have to speak with you."
Mrs. Lovell was informed that the baronet had been addressing his son,
who was fresh from Paris, and not, in his own modest opinion, presentable
before a lady.
Once more Farmer Fleming and Rhoda prepared for their melancholy journey
up to London. A light cart was at the gateway, near which Robert stood
with the farmer, who, in his stiff brown overcoat, that reached to his
ankles, and broad country-hat, kept his posture of dumb expectation like
a stalled ox, and nodded to Robert's remarks on the care which the garden
had been receiving latterly, the many roses clean in bud, and the trim
blue and white and red garden beds. Every word was a blow to him; but he
took it, as well as Rhoda's apparent dilatoriness, among the things to be
submitted to by a man cut away by the roots from the home of his labour
and old associations. Above his bowed head there was a board proclaiming
that Queen Anne's Farm, and all belonging thereunto, was for sale. His
prospect in the vague wilderness of the future, was to seek for
acceptance as a common labourer on some kind gentleman's property. The
phrase "kind gentleman" was adopted by his deliberate irony of the fate
which cast him out. Robert was stamping fretfully for Rhoda to come. At
times, Mrs. Sumfit showed her head from the window of her bed-room,
crying, "D'rectly!" and disappearing.
The still aspect of the house on the shining May afternoon was otherwise
undisturbed. Besides Rhoda, Master Gammon was being waited for; on whom
would devolve the driving of the cart back from the station. Robert
heaped his vexed exclamations upon this old man. The farmer restrained
his voice in Master Gammon's defence, thinking of the comparison he could
make between him and Robert: for Master Gammon had never run away from
the farm and kept absent, leaving it to take care of itself. Gammon,
slow as he might be, was faithful, and it was not he who had made it
necessary for the farm to be sold. Gammon was obstinate, but it was not
he who, after taking a lead, and making the farm dependent on his lead,
had absconded with the brains and energy of the establishment. Such
reflections passed through the farmer's mind.
Rhoda and Mrs. Sumfit came together down the trim pathway; and Robert now
had a clear charge against Master Gammon. He recommended an immediate
"The horse 'll bring himself home quite as well and as fast as Gammon
will," he said.
"But for the shakin' and the joltin', which tells o' sovereigns and
silver," Mrs. Sumfit was observing to Rhoda, "you might carry the box--
and who would have guessed how stout it was, and me to hit it with a
poker and not break it, I couldn't, nor get a single one through the
slit;--the sight I was, with a poker in my hand! I do declare I felt
azactly like a housebreaker;--and no soul to notice what you carries.
Where you hear the gold, my dear, go so"--Mrs. Sumfit performed a
methodical "Ahem!" and noised the sole of her shoe on the gravel
"so, and folks 'll think it's a mistake they made."
"What's that?"--the farmer pointed at a projection under Rhoda's shawl.
"It is a present, father, for my sister," said Rhoda.
"What is it?" the farmer questioned again.
Mrs. Sumfit fawned before him penitently--"Ah! William, she's poor, and
she do want a little to spend, or she will be so nipped and like a
frost-bitten body, she will. And, perhaps, dear, haven't money in her
sight for next day's dinner, which is--oh, such a panic for a young wife!
for it ain't her hunger, dear William--her husband, she thinks of. And
her cookery at a stand-still! Thinks she, 'he will charge it on the
kitchen;' so unreasonable's men. Yes," she added, in answer to the rigid
dejection of his look, "I said true to you. I know I said, 'Not a penny
can I get, William,' when you asked me for loans; and how could I get it?
I can't get it now. See here, dear!"
She took the box from under Rhoda's shawl, and rattled it with a down
turn and an up turn.
"You didn't ask me, dear William, whether I had a money-box. I'd ha'
told you so at once, had ye but asked me. And had you said, "Gi' me your
money-box," it was yours, only for your asking. You do see, you can't
get any of it out. So, when you asked for money I was right to say, I'd
The farmer bore with her dreary rattling of the box in demonstration of
its retentive capacities. The mere force of the show stopped him from
retorting; but when, to excuse Master Gammon for his tardiness, she
related that he also had a money-box, and was in search of it, the farmer
threw up his head with the vigour of a young man, and thundered for
Master Gammon, by name, vehemently wrathful at the combined hypocrisy of
the pair. He called twice, and his face was purple and red as he turned
toward the cart, saying,--
"We'll go without the old man."
Mrs. Sumfit then intertwisted her fingers, and related how that she and
Master Gammon had one day, six years distant, talked on a lonely evening
over the mischances which befel poor people when they grew infirm, or met
with accident, and what "useless clays" they were; and yet they had their
feelings. It was a long and confidential talk on a summer evening; and,
at the end of it, Master Gammon walked into Wrexby, and paid a visit to
Mr. Hammond, the carpenter, who produced two strong saving-boxes
excellently manufactured by his own hand, without a lid to them, or lock
and key: so that there would be no getting at the contents until the
boxes were full, or a pressing occasion counselled the destruction of the
boxes. A constant subject of jest between Mrs. Sumfit and Master Gammon
was, as to which first of them would be overpowered by curiosity to know
the amount of their respective savings; and their confessions of mutual
weakness and futile endeavours to extract one piece of gold from the
"And now, think it or not," said Mrs. Sumfit, "I got that power over him,
from doctorin' him, and cookin' for him, I persuaded him to help my poor
Dahly in my blessed's need. I'd like him to do it by halves, but he
Master Gammon appeared round a corner of the house, his box, draped by
his handkerchief, under his arm. The farmer and Robert knew, when he was
in sight, that gestures and shouts expressing extremities of the need for
haste, would fail to accelerate his steps, so they allowed him to come on
at his own equal pace, steady as Time, with the peculiar lopping bend of
knees which jerked the moveless trunk regularly upward, and the ancient
round eyes fixed contemplatively forward. There was an affectingness in
this view of the mechanical old man bearing his poor hoard to bestow it.
Robert said out, unawares, "He mustn't be let to part with h' old
"No; the farmer took him up; "nor I won't let him."
"Yes, father!" Rhoda intercepted his address to Master Gammon. "Yes,
father!" she hardened her accent. "It is for my sister. He does a good
thing. Let him do it."
"Mas' Gammon, what ha' ye got there?" the farmer sung out.
But Master Gammon knew that he was about his own business. He was a
difficult old man when he served the farmer; he was quite unmanageable in
his private affairs.
Without replying, he said to Mrs. Sumfit,--
"I'd gummed it."
The side of the box showed that it had been made adhesive, for the sake
of security, to another substance.
"That's what's caused ye to be so long, Mas' Gammon?"
The veteran of the fields responded with a grin, designed to show a
"Deary me, Mas' Gammon, I'd give a fortnight's work to know how much
you'm saved, now, I would. And, there! Your comfort's in your heart.
And it shall be paid to you. I do pray heaven in mercy to forgive me,"
she whimpered, "if ever knowin'ly I hasted you at a meal, or did deceive
you when you looked for the pickings of fresh-killed pig. But if you
only knew how--to cookit spoils the temper of a woman! I'd a aunt was
cook in a gentleman's fam'ly, and daily he dirtied his thirteen plates--
never more nor never less; and one day--was ever a woman punished so! her
best black silk dress she greased from the top to the bottom, and he sent
down nine clean plates, and no word vouchsafed of explanation. For
gentlefolks, they won't teach themselves how it do hang together with
cooks in a kitchen--"
"Jump up, Mas' Gammon," cried the farmer, wrathful at having been
deceived by two members of his household, who had sworn to him, both,
that they had no money, and had disregarded his necessity. Such being
Mrs. Sumfit confided the termination of her story to Rhoda; or suggested
rather, at what distant point it might end; and then, giving Master
Gammon's box to her custody, with directions for Dahlia to take the boxes
to a carpenter's shop--not attempting the power of pokers upon them--and
count and make a mental note of the amount of the rival hoards, she sent
Dahlia all her messages of smirking reproof, and delighted love, and
hoped that they would soon meet and know happiness.
Rhoda, as usual, had no emotion to spare. She took possession of the
second box, and thus laden, suffered Robert to lift her into the cart.
They drove across the green, past the mill and its flashing waters, and
into the road, where the waving of Mrs. Sumfit's desolate handkerchief
was latest seen.
A horseman rode by, whom Rhoda recognized, and she blushed and had a
boding shiver. Robert marked him, and the blush as well.
It was Algernon, upon a livery-stable hack. His countenance expressed a
The farmer saw no one. The ingratitude and treachery of Robert, and of
Mrs. Sumfit and Master Gammon, kept him brooding in sombre disgust of
life. He remarked that the cart jolted a good deal.
"If you goes in a cart, wi' company o' four, you expects to be jolted,"
said Master Gammon.
"You seem to like it," Robert observed to the latter.
"It don't disturb my in'ards," quoth the serenest of mankind.
"Gammon," the farmer addressed him from the front seat, without turning
his head: "you'll take and look about for a new place."
Master Gammon digested the recommendation in silence. On its being
repeated, with, "D' ye hear?" he replied that he heard well enough.
"Well, then, look about ye sharp, or maybe, you'll be out in the cold,"
said the farmer.
"Na," returned Master Gammon, "ah never frets till I'm pinched."
"I've given ye notice," said the farmer.
"No, you ha'n't," said Master Gammon.
"I give ye notice now."
"No, you don't."
"How d' ye mean?"
"Cause I don't take ne'er a notice."
"Then you'll be kicked out, old man."
"Hey! there y' have me," said Master Gammon. "I growed at the farm, and
you don't go and tell ne'er a tree t' walk."
Rhoda laid her fingers in the veteran's palm.
"You're a long-lived family, aren't you, Master Gammon?" said Robert,
eyeing Rhoda's action enviously.
Master Gammon bade him go to a certain churchyard in Sussex, and inspect
a particular tombstone, upon which the ages of his ancestry were written.
They were more like the ages of oaks than of men.
"It's the heart kills," said Robert.
"It's damned misfortune," murmured the farmer.
"It is the wickedness in the world," thought Rhoda.
"It's a poor stomach, I reckon," Master Gammon ruminated.
They took leave of him at the station, from which eminence it was a
notable thing to see him in the road beneath, making preparations for his
return, like a conqueror of the hours. Others might run, and stew, if
they liked: Master Gammon had chosen his pace, and was not of a mind to
change it for anybody or anything. It was his boast that he had never
ridden by railway: "nor ever means to, if I can help it," he would say.
He was very much in harmony with universal nature, if to be that is the
secret of human life.
Meantime, Algernon retraced his way to the station in profound chagrin:
arriving there just as the train was visible. He caught sight of the
cart with Master Gammon in it, and asked him whether all his people were
going up to London; but the reply was evidently a mile distant, and had
not started; so putting a sovereign in Master Gammon's hand, together
with the reins of his horse, Algernon bade the old man conduct the animal
to the White Bear Inn, and thus violently pushing him off the tramways of
his intelligence, left him stranded.
He had taken a first-class return-ticket, of course, being a gentleman.
In the desperate hope that he might jump into a carriage with Rhoda, he
entered one of the second-class compartments; a fact not only foreign to
his tastes and his habits, but somewhat disgraceful, as he thought. His
trust was, that the ignoble of this earth alone had beheld him: at any
rate, his ticket was first class, as the guard would instantly and
respectfully perceive, and if he had the discomforts, he had also some of
the consolations of virtue.
Once on his way, the hard seat and the contemptible society surrounding
him, assured his reflective spirit that he loved: otherwise, was it in
reason that he should endure these hardships? "I really love the girl,"
he said, fidgeting for cushions.
He was hot, and wanted the window up, to which his fellow-travellers
assented. Then, the atmosphere becoming loaded with offence to his
morbid sense of smell, he wanted the windows down; and again they
assented. "By Jove! I must love the girl," ejaculated Algernon inwardly,
as cramp, cold, and afflicted nostrils combined to astonish his physical
sensations. Nor was it displeasing to him to evince that he was
unaccustomed to bare boards.
"We're a rich country," said a man to his neighbour; "but, if you don't
pay for it, you must take your luck, and they'll make you as
uncomfortable as they can."
"Ay," said the other. "I've travelled on the Continent. The
second-class carriages there are fit for anybody to travel in. This is
what comes of the worship of money--the individual is not respected.
"These," thought Algernon, "are beastly democrats."
Their remarks had been sympathetic with his manifestations, which had
probably suggested them. He glowered out of the window in an exceedingly
foreign manner. A plainly dressed woman requested that the window should
be closed. One of the men immediately proceeded to close it. Algernon
"Pardon me, sir," said the man; "it's a lady wants it done;" and he did
A lady! Algernon determined that these were the sort of people he should
hate for life. "Go among them and then see what they are," he addressed
an imaginary assembly of anti-democrats, as from a senatorial chair set
in the after days. Cramp, cold, ill-ordered smells, and eternal hatred
of his fellow-passengers, convinced him, in their aggregation, that he
surmounted not a little for love of Rhoda.
The train arrived in London at dusk. Algernon saw Rhoda step from a
carriage near the engine, assisted by Robert; and old Anthony was on the
platform to welcome her; and Anthony seized her bag, and the troop of
passengers moved away. It may be supposed that Algernon had angry
sensations at sight of Robert; and to a certain extent this was the case;
but he was a mercurial youth, and one who had satisfactorily proved
superior strength enjoyed a portion of his respect. Besides, if Robert
perchance should be courting Rhoda, he and Robert would enter into
another field of controversy; and Robert might be taught a lesson.
He followed the party on foot until they reached Anthony's dwelling-
place, noted the house, and sped to the Temple. There, he found
a telegraphic message from Edward, that had been awaiting him since
"Stop It," were the sole words of the communication brief, and if one
preferred to think so, enigmatic.
"What on earth does he mean?" cried Algernon, and affected again and
again to see what Edward meant, without success. "Stop it?--stop what?--
Stop the train? Stop my watch? Stop the universe? Oh! this is rank
humbug." He flung the paper down, and fell to counting the money in his
possession. The more it dwindled, the more imperative it became that he
should depart from his country.
Behind the figures, he calculated that, in all probability, Rhoda would
visit her sister this night. "I can't stop that," he said: and hearing a
clock strike, "nor that" a knock sounded on the door; "nor that." The
reflection inspired him with fatalistic views.
Sedgett appeared, and was welcome. Algernon had to check the impulse of
his hand to stretch out to the fellow, so welcome was he: Sedgett stated
that everything stood ready for the morrow. He had accomplished all that
had to be done.
"And it's more than many'd reckon," he said, and rubbed his hands, and
laughed. "I was aboard ship in Liverpool this morning, that I was. That
ere young woman's woke up from her dream", (he lengthened the word
inexpressibly) "by this time, that she is. I had to pay for my passage,
though;" at which recollection he swore. "That's money gone. Never
mind: there's worse gone with it. Ain't it nasty--don't you think, sir--
to get tired of a young woman you've been keepin' company with, and have
to be her companion, whether you will, or whether you won't? She's sick
enough now. We travelled all night. I got her on board; got her to go
to her bed; and, says I, I'll arrange about the luggage. I packs myself
down into a boat, and saw the ship steam away a good'n. Hanged if I
didn't catch myself singin'. And haven't touched a drop o' drink, nor
will, till tomorrow's over. Don't you think "Daehli"'s a very pretty
name, sir? I run back to her as hard as rail 'd carry me. She's had a
letter from her sister, recommending o' her to marry me: 'a noble man,'
she calls me--ha, ha! that's good. 'And what do you think, my dear?'
says I; and, bother me, if I can screw either a compliment or a kiss out
of her. She's got fine lady airs of her own. But I'm fond of her, that
I am. Well, sir, at the church door, after the ceremony, you settle our
business, honour bright--that's it, en't it?"
Algernon nodded. Sedgett's talk always produced discomfort in his
"By the way, what politics are you?" he asked.
Sedgett replied, staring, that he was a Tory, and Algernon nodded again,
but with brows perturbed at the thought of this ruffian being of the same
political persuasion as himself.
"Eh?" cried Sedgett; "I don't want any of your hustings pledges, though.
You'll be at the door tomorrow, or I'll have a row--mind that. A
bargain's a bargain. I like the young woman, but I must have the money.
Why not hand it over now?"
"Not till the deed's done," said Algernon, very reasonably.
Sedgett studied his features, and as a result remarked: "You put me up to
this: I'll do it, and trust you so far, but if I'm played on, I throw the
young woman over and expose you out and out. But you mean honourable?"
"I do," Algernon said of his meaning.
Another knock sounded on the door. It proved to be a footman in Sir
William's livery, bearing a letter from Edward; an amplification of the
"Dear Algy, Stop it. I'm back, and have to see
my father. I may be down about two, or three, or four,
in the morning. No key; so, keep in. I want to see
you. My whole life is changed. I must see her. Did
you get my telegram? Answer, by messenger; I shall
come to you the moment my father has finished his
Algernon told Sedgett to wait while he dressed in evening uniform, and
gave him a cigar to smoke.
"Dear Ned, Stop what? Of course, I suppose there's only one thing,
and how can I stop it? What for? You ridiculous old boy! What a
changeable old fellow you are!--Off, to see what I can do. After
eleven o'clock to-morrow, you'll feel comfortable.--If the Governor
is sweet, speak a word for the Old Brown; and bring two dozen in a
cab, if you can. There's no encouragement to keep at home in this
place. Put that to him. I, in your place, could do it. Tell him
it's a matter of markets. If I get better wine at hotels, I go to
hotels, and I spend twice--ten times the money. And say, we intend
to make the laundress cook our dinners in chambers, as a rule. Old
B. an inducement.
This epistle he dispatched by the footman, and groaned to think that if,
perchance, the Old Brown Sherry should come, he would, in all
probability, barely drink more than half-a-dozen bottles of that prime
vintage. He and Sedgett, soon after, were driving down to Dahlia's poor
lodgings in the West. On the way, an idea struck him:
Would not Sedgett be a noisier claimant for the thousand than Edward? If
he obeyed Edward's direction and stopped the marriage, he could hand back
a goodly number of hundreds, and leave it to be supposed that he had
advanced the remainder to Sedgett. How to do it? Sedgett happened to
say: "If you won't hand the money now, I must have it when I've married
her. Swear you'll be in the vestry when we're signing. I know all about
marriages. You swear, or I tell you, if I find I'm cheated, I will throw
the young woman over slap."
Algernon nodded: "I shall be there," he said, and thought that he
certainly would not. The thought cleared an oppression in his head,
though it obscured the pretty prospect of a colonial but and horse, with
Rhoda cooking for him, far from cares. He did his best to resolve that
he would stop the business, if he could. But, if it is permitted to the
fool to create entanglements and set calamity in motion, to arrest its
course is the last thing the Gods allow of his doing.
In the shadowy library light, when there was dawn out of doors, Edward
sat with his father, and both were silent, for Edward had opened his
heart, and his father had breathed some of the dry stock of wisdom on it.
Many times Edward rose to go; and Sir William signalled with his finger
that he should stay: an impassive motion, not succeeded by speech. And,
in truth, the baronet was revolving such a problem as a long career of
profitable banking refreshed by classical exercitations does not help us
to solve. There sat the son of his trust and his pride, whose sound and
equal temperament, whose precocious worldly wit, whose precise and broad
intelligence, had been the visionary comfort of his paternal days to
come; and his son had told him, reiterating it in language special and
exact as that of a Chancery barrister unfolding his case to the presiding
judge, that he had deceived and wronged an under-bred girl of the humbler
classes; and that, after a term of absence from her, he had discovered
her to be a part of his existence, and designed "You would marry her?"
Sir William asked, though less forcibly than if he could have put on a
"That is my intention, sir, with your permission," Edward replied firmly,
and his father understood that he had never known this young man, and
dealt virtually with a stranger in his son--as shrewd a blow as the
vanity which is in paternal nature may have to endure.
He could not fashion the words, "Cerritus fuit," though he thought the
thing in both tenses: Edward's wits had always been too clearly in order:
and of what avail was it to repeat great and honoured prudential maxims
to a hard-headed fellow, whose choice was to steer upon the rocks? He
did remark, in an undertone,--
"The 'misce stultitiam' seems to be a piece of advice you have adopted
too literally. I quote what you have observed of some one else."
"It is possible, sir," said Edward. "I was not particularly sparing when
I sat in the high seat. 'Non eadem est aetas, non mens." I now think
"I must take your present conduct as the fruit of your premature
sagacity, I suppose. By the same rule, your cousin Algernon may prove to
be some comfort to his father, in the end."
"Let us hope he will, sir. His father will not have deserved it so well
"The time is morning," said Sir William, looking at his watch, and
bestowing, in the bitterness of his reflections, a hue of triumph on the
sleep of his brother upstairs. "You are your own master, Edward. I will
detain you no more."
Edward shook his limbs, rejoicing.
"You prepare for a life of hard work," Sir William resumed, not without
some instigation to sternness from this display of alacrity. "I counsel
you to try the Colonial Bar."
Edward read in the first sentence, that his income would be restricted;
and in the second, that his father's social sphere was no longer to be
"Exactly, sir; I have entertained that notion myself," he said; and his
breast narrowed and his features grew sharp.
"And, if I may suggest such matters to you, I would advise you to see
very little company for some years to come."
"There, sir, you only anticipate my previously formed resolution. With
a knavery on my conscience, and a giddy-pated girl on my hands, and the
doors of the London world open to me, I should scarcely have been capable
of serious work. The precious metal, which is Knowledge, sir, is only to
be obtained by mining for it; and that excellent occupation necessarily
sends a man out of sight for a number of years. In the meantime, 'mea
virtute me involvo.'"
"You need not stop short," said his father, with a sardonic look for the
"The continuation is becoming in the mouth of a hero; but humbler persons
must content themselves not to boast the patent fact, I think." Edward
warmed as he spoke. "I am ready to bear it. I dislike poverty; but, as
I say, I am ready to bear it. Come, sir; you did me the honour once to
let me talk to you as a friend, with the limits which I have never
consciously overstepped; let me explain myself plainly and simply."
Sir William signified, "Pray speak," from the arms of his chair! and
Edward, standing, went on: "After all, a woman's devotion is worth
having, when one is not asked for the small change every ten minutes.
I am aware of the philosophic truth, that we get nothing in life for which
we don't pay. The point is, to appreciate what we desire; and so we
reach a level that makes the payment less--" He laughed. Sir William
could hardly keep back the lines of an ironical smile from his lips.
"This," pursued the orator, "is not the language for the Colonial Bar.
I wish to show you that I shall understand the character of my vocation
there. No, sir; my deeper wish is that you may accept my view of the
sole course left to a man whose sense of honour is of accord with the
inclination of his heart, and not in hostility to his clearer judgement."
"Extremely forensic," said Sir William, not displeased by the promise of
"Well, sir, I need not remark to you that rhetoric, though it should fail
to convey, does not extinguish, or imply the absence of emotion in the
speaker; but rather that his imagination is excited by his theme, and
that he addresses more presences than such as are visible. It is, like
the Roman mask, fashioned for large assemblages."
"By a parity of reasoning, then,"--Sir William was seduced into
colloquy,--"an eternal broad grin is not, in the instance of a dualogue,
"It may hide profound grief." Edward made his eyes flash. "I find I can
laugh; it would be difficult for me to smile. Sir, I pray that you will
listen to me seriously, though my language is not of a kind to make you
think me absolutely earnest in what I say, unless you know me."
"Which, I must protest, I certainly do not," interposed Sir William.
"I will do my best to instruct you, sir. Until recently, I have not
known myself. I met this girl. She trusted herself to me. You are
aware that I know a little of men and of women; and when I tell you that
I respect her now even more than I did at first--much more--so
thoroughly, that I would now put my honour in her hands, by the counsel
of my experience, as she, prompted by her instinct and her faith in me,
confided hers to mine,--perhaps, even if you persist in accusing me of
rashness, you will allow that she must be in the possession of singularly
feminine and estimable qualities. I deceived her. My object in doing so
was to spare you. Those consequences followed which can hardly fail to
ensue, when, of two living together, the woman is at a disadvantage, and
eats her heart without complaining. I could have borne a shrewish tongue
better, possibly because I could have answered it better. It is worse to
see a pale sad face with a smile of unalterable tenderness. The very
sweetness becomes repugnant."
"As little boys requiring much medicine have anticipated you by noting in
this world," observed Sir William.
"I thank you for the illustration." Edward bowed, but he smarted. "A
man so situated lives with the ghost of his conscience."
"A doubtful figure of speech," Sir William broke in. "I think you should
establish the personality before you attempt to give a feature to the
essence. But, continue."
Edward saw that by forfeiting simplicity, in order to catch his father's
peculiar cast of mind, he had left him cold and in doubt as to the
existence of the powerful impulse by which he was animated. It is a
prime error in the orator not to seize the emotions and subdue the
humanity of his hearers first. Edward perceived his mistake. He had,
however, done well in making a show of the unabated vigour of his wits.
Contempt did not dwell in the baronet's tone. On the contrary, they
talked and fenced, and tripped one another as of old; and, considering
the breach he had been compelled to explode between his father and
himself, Edward understood that this was a real gain.
He resumed: "All figures of speech must be inadequate--"
"Ah, pardon me," said Sir William, pertinaciously; "the figure I alluded
to was not inadequate. A soap-bubble is not inadequate."
"Plainly, sir, in God's name, hear me out," cried Edward. "She--what
shall I call her? my mistress, my sweetheart, if you like--let the name
be anything 'wife' it should have been, and shall be--I left her, and
have left her and have not looked on her for many months. I thought I
was tired of her--I was under odd influences--witchcraft, it seems. I
could believe in witchcraft now. Brutal selfishness is the phrase for my
conduct. I have found out my villany. I have not done a day's sensible
work, or had a single clear thought, since I parted from her. She has
had brain-fever. She has been in the hospital. She is now prostrate
with misery. While she suffered, I--I can't look back on myself. If I
had to plead before you for more than manly consideration, I could touch
you. I am my own master, and am ready to subsist by my own efforts;
there is no necessity for me to do more than say I abide by the choice I
make, and my own actions. In deciding to marry her, I do a good thing--I
do a just thing. I will prove to you that I have done a wise thing.
"Let me call to your recollection what you did me the honour to remark of
my letters from Italy. Those were written with her by my side. Every
other woman vexed me. This one alone gives me peace, and nerve to work.
If I did not desire to work, should I venture to run the chances of an
offence to you? Your girls of society are tasteless to me. And they
don't makes wives to working barristers. No, nor to working Members.
"They are very ornamental and excellent, and, as I think you would call
them, accomplished. All England would leap to arms to defend their
incontestible superiority to their mothers and their duties. I have not
the wish to stand opposed to my countrymen on any question, although I go
to other shores, and may be called upon to make capital out of
opposition. They are admirable young persons, no doubt. I do not offer
you a drab for your daughter-in-law, sir. If I rise, she will be equal
to my station. She has the manners of a lady; a lady, I say; not of the
modern young lady; with whom, I am happy to think, she does not come into
competition. She has not been sedulously trained to pull her way, when
she is to go into harness with a yokefellow.
"But I am laying myself open to the charge of feeling my position weak,
seeing that I abuse the contrary one. Think what you will of me, sir,
you will know that I have obeyed my best instinct and my soundest
judgement in this matter; I need not be taught, that if it is my destiny
to leave England I lose the association with him who must ever be my
dearest friend. And few young men can say as much of one standing in the
relation of father."
With this, Edward finished; not entirely to his satisfaction; for he had
spoken with too distinct a sincerity to please his own critical taste,
which had been educated to delight in acute antithesis and culminating
sentences--the grand Biscayan billows of rhetorical utterance, in
comparison wherewith his talk was like the little chopping waves of a
wind-blown lake. But he had, as he could see, produced an impression.
His father stood up.
"We shall be always friends; I hope," Sir William said. "As regards a
provision for you, suitable to your estate, that will be arranged. You
must have what comforts you have been taught to look to. At the same
time, I claim a personal freedom for my own actions."
"Certainly, sir," said Edward, not conceiving any new development in
"You have an esteem for Mrs. Lovell, have you not?"
Edward flushed. "I should have a very perfect esteem for her, if--" he
laughed slightly--"you will think I want everybody to be married and in
the traces now; she will never be manageable till she is married."
"I am also of that opinion," said Sir William. "I will detain you no
longer. It is a quarter to five in the morning. You will sleep here, of
"No, I must go to the Temple. By the way, Algy prefers a petition for
Sherry. He is beginning to discern good wine from bad, which may be a
"I will order Holmes to send some down to him when he has done a week's
real duty at the Bank."
"Sooner or later, then. Good morning, sir."
"Good morning." Sir William shook his son's hand.
A minute after, Edward had quitted the house. "That's over!" he said,
sniffing the morning air gratefully, and eyeing certain tinted wisps of
cloud that were in a line of the fresh blue sky.
A shy and humble entreaty had been sent by Dahlia through Robert to
Rhoda, saying that she wished not to be seen until the ceremony was at an
end; but Rhoda had become mentally stern toward her sister, and as much
to uphold her in the cleansing step she was about to take, as in the
desire to have the dear lost head upon her bosom, she disregarded
Dahlia's foolish prayer, and found it was well that she had done so; for,
to her great amazement, Dahlia, worn, shorn, sickened, and reduced to be
a mark for the scorn of the cowardice which is in the world, through the
selfishness of a lying man, loved the man still, and wavered, or rather
shrank with a pitiful fleshly terror from the noble husband who would
wipe the spot of shame from her forehead.
When, after their long separation, the sisters met, Dahlia was mistress
of herself, and pronounced Rhoda's name softly, as she moved up to kiss
her. Rhoda could not speak. Oppressed by the strangeness of the white
face which had passed through fire, she gave a mute kiss and a single
groan, while Dahlia gently caressed her on the shoulder. The frail touch
of her hand was harder to bear than the dreary vision had been, and
seemed not so real as many a dream of it. Rhoda sat by her, overcome by
the awfulness of an actual sorrow, never imagined closely, though she had
conjured up vague pictures of Dahlia's face. She had imagined agony,
tears, despair, but not the spectral change, the burnt-out look. It was
a face like a crystal lamp in which the flame has died. The ghastly
little skull-cap showed forth its wanness rigidly. Rhoda wondered to
hear her talk simply of home and the old life. At each question, the
then and the now struck her spirit with a lightning flash of opposing
scenes. But the talk deepened. Dahlia's martyrdom was near, and their
tongues were hurried into plain converse of the hour, and then Dahlia
faltered and huddled herself up like a creature swept by the torrent;
Rhoda learnt that, instead of hate or loathing of the devilish man who
had deceived her, love survived. Upon Dahlia's lips it was compassion
and forgiveness; but Rhoda, in her contempt for the word, called it love.
Dahlia submitted gladly to the torture of interrogation; "Do you, can you
care for him still?" and sighed in shame and fear of her sister, not
daring to say she thought her harsh, not daring to plead for escape, as
she had done with Robert.
"Why is there no place for the unhappy, who do not wish to live, and
cannot die?" she moaned.
And Rhoda cruelly fixed her to the marriage, making it seem irrevocable,
and barring all the faint lights to the free outer world, by praise of
her--passionate praise of her--when she confessed, that half inanimate
after her recovery from the fever, and in the hope that she might thereby
show herself to her father, she had consented to devote her life to the
only creature who was then near her to be kind to her. Rhoda made her
relate how this man had seen her first, and how, by untiring diligence,
he had followed her up and found her. "He--he must love you," said
Rhoda; and in proportion as she grew more conscious of her sister's
weakness, and with every access of tenderness toward her, she felt that
Dahlia must be thought for very much as if she were a child.
Dahlia tried to float out some fretting words for mercy, on one or other
of her heavy breathings; but her brain was under lead. She had a thirst
for Rhoda's praise in her desolation; it was sweet, though the price of
it was her doing an abhorred thing. Abhorred? She did not realize the
consequences of the act, or strength would have come to her to wrestle
with the coil: a stir of her blood would have endued her with womanly
counsel and womanly frenzy; nor could Rhoda have opposed any real
vehemence of distaste to the union on Dahlia's part. But Dahlia's blood
was frozen, her brain was under lead. She clung to the poor delight in
her sister's praise, and shuddered and thirsted. She caught at the
minutes, and saw them slip from her. All the health of her thoughts went
to establish a sort of blind belief that God; having punished her enough,
would not permit a second great misery to befall her. She expected a
sudden intervention, even though at the altar. She argued to herself
that misery, which follows sin, cannot surely afflict us further when we
are penitent, and seek to do right: her thought being, that perchance if
she refrained from striving against the current, and if she suffered her
body to be borne along, God would be the more merciful. With the small
cunning of an enfeebled spirit, she put on a mute submissiveness, and
deceived herself by it sufficiently to let the minutes pass with a
lessened horror and alarm.
This was in the first quarter of the night. The dawn was wearing near.
Sedgett had been seen by Rhoda; a quiet interview; a few words on either
side, attention paid to them by neither. But the girl doated on his
ugliness; she took it for plain proof of his worthiness; proof too that
her sister must needs have seen the latter very distinctly, or else she
could not have submitted.
Dahlia looked at the window-blinds and at the candlelight. The little
which had been spoken between her and her sister in such a chasm of time,
gave a terrible swiftness to the hours. Half shrieking, she dropped her
head in Rhoda's lap. Rhoda, thinking that with this demonstration she
renounced the project finally, prepared to say what she had to say, and
to yield. But, as was natural after a paroxysm of weakness, Dahlia's
frenzy left no courage behind it.
Dahlia said, as she swept her brows, "I am still subject to nervous
"They will soon leave you," said Rhoda, nursing her hand.
Dahlia contracted her lips. "Is father very unforgiving to women?"
"Poor father!" Rhoda interjected for answer, and Dahlia's frame was taken
with a convulsion.
"Where shall I see him to-morrow?" she asked; and, glancing from the
beamless candle to the window-blinds "Oh! it's day. Why didn't I sleep!
It's day! where am I to see him?"
"At Robert's lodgings. We all go there."
"We all go?--he goes?"
"Your husband will lead you there."
"My heaven! my heaven! I wish you had known what this is, a little--just
"I do know that it is a good and precious thing to do right," said Rhoda.
"If you had only had an affection, dear! Oh I how ungrateful I am to
"It is only, darling, that I seem unkind to you," said Rhoda.
"You think I must do this? Must? Why?"
"Why?" Rhoda pressed her fingers. "Why, when you were ill, did you not
write to me, that I might have come to you?"
"I was ashamed," said Dahlia.
"You shall not be ashamed any more, my sister."
Dahlia seized the window-blind with her trembling finger-tips, and looked
out on the day. As if it had smitten her eyeballs, she covered her face,
giving dry sobs.
"Oh! I wish--I wish you had known what this is. Must I do it? His
face! Dear, I am very sorry to distress you. Must I do it? The doctor
says I am so strong that nothing will break in me, and that I must live,
if I am not killed. But, if I might only be a servant in father's house-
-I would give all my love to a little bed of flowers."
"Father has no home now," said Rhoda.
"I know--I know. I am ready. I will submit, and then father will not be
ashamed to remain at the Farm. I am ready. Dear, I am ready. Rhoda, I
am ready. It is not much." She blew the candle out. "See. No one will
do that for me. We are not to live for ourselves. I have done wrong,
and I am going to be humble; yes, I am. I never was when I was happy,
and that proves I had no right to be happy. All I ask is for another
night with you. Why did we not lie down together and sleep? We can't
sleep now--it's day."
"Come and lie down with me for a few hours, my darling," said Rhoda.
While she was speaking, Dahlia drew the window-blind aside, to look out
once more upon the vacant, inexplicable daylight, and looked, and then
her head bent like the first thrust forward of a hawk's sighting quarry;
she spun round, her raised arms making a cramped, clapping motion.
"He is there."
At once Rhoda perceived that it was time for her to act. The name of him
who stood in the street below was written on her sister's face. She
started to her side, got possession of her hands, murmuring,--
"Come with me. You are to come with me. Don't speak. I know. I will
go down. Yes; you are to obey, and do what I tell you."
Dahlia's mouth opened, but like a child when it is warned not to cry, she
uttered a faint inward wailing, lost her ideas, and was passive in a
"What am I to do?" she said supplicatingly, as Rhoda led her to her
"Rest here. Be perfectly quiet. Trust everything to me. I am your
Leaving her under the spell of coldly-spoken words, Rhoda locked the door
on her. She was herself in great agitation, but nerved by deeper anger
there was no faltering in her movements. She went to the glass a minute,
as she tied her bonnet-strings under her chin, and pinned her shawl. A
night's vigil had not chased the bloom from her cheek, or the swimming
lustre from her dark eyes. Content that her aspect should be seemly, she
ran down the stairs, unfastened the bolts, and without hesitation closed
the door behind her. At the same instant, a gentleman crossed the road.
He asked whether Mrs. Ayrton lived in that house? Rhoda's vision danced
across his features, but she knew him unerringly to be the cruel enemy.
"My sister, Dahlia Fleming, lives there," she said.
"Then, you are Rhoda?"
"My name is Rhoda."
"Mine--I fear it will not give you pleasure to hear it--is Edward
Blancove. I returned late last night from abroad."
She walked to a distance, out of hearing and out of sight of the house,
and he silently followed. The streets were empty, save for the solitary
footing of an early workman going to his labour.
She stopped, and he said, "I hope your sister is well."
"She is quite well."
"Thank heaven for that! I heard of some illness."
"She has quite recovered."
"Did she--tell me the truth--did she get a letter that I sent two days
ago, to her? It was addressed to 'Miss Fleming, Wrexby, Kent, England.'
Did it reach her?"
"I have not seen it."
"I wrote," said Edward.
His scrutiny of her features was not reassuring to him. But he had a
side-thought, prompted by admiration of her perfect build of figure, her
succinct expression of countenance, and her equable manner of speech: to
the effect, that the true English yeomanry can breed consummate women.
Perhaps--who knows? even resolute human nature is the stronger for an
added knot--it approved the resolution he had formed, or stamped with a
justification the series of wild impulses, the remorse, and the returned
tenderness and manliness which had brought him to that spot.
"You know me, do you not?" he said.
"Yes," she answered shortly.
"I wish to see Dahlia."
"Not immediately, of course. But when she has risen later in the
morning. If she has received my letter, she will, she must see me."
"No, not later; not at all," said Rhoda.
"Not at all? Why not?"
Rhoda controlled the surging of her blood for a vehement reply; saying
simply, "You will not see her."
"My child, I must."
"I am not a child, and I say what I mean."
"But why am I not to see her? Do you pretend that it is her wish not to
see me? You can't. I know her perfectly. She is gentleness itself."
"Yes; you know that," said Rhoda, with a level flash of her eyes, and
confronting him in a way so rarely distinguishing girls of her class,
that he began to wonder and to ache with an apprehension.
"She has not changed? Rhoda--for we used to talk of you so often! You
will think better of me, by-and-by.
"Naturally enough, you detest me at present. I have been a brute. I
can't explain it, and I don't excuse myself. I state the fact to you--
her sister. My desire is to make up for the past. Will you take a
message to her from me?"
"I will not."
"You are particularly positive."
Remarks touching herself Rhoda passed by.
"Why are you so decided?" he said more urgently. "I know I have deeply
offended and hurt you. I wish, and intend to repair the wrong to the
utmost of my power. Surely it's mere silly vindictiveness on your part
to seek to thwart me. Go to her; say I am here. At all events, let it
be her choice not to see me, if I am to be rejected at the door. She
can't have had my letter. Will you do that much?"
"She knows that you are here; she has seen you."
"Has seen me?" Edward drew in his breath sharply. "Well? and she sends
you out to me?"
Rhoda did not answer. She was strongly tempted to belie Dahlia's frame
"She does send you to speak to me," Edward insisted.
"She knows that I have come."
"And you will not take one message in?"
"I will take no message from you."
"You hate me, do you not?"
Again she controlled the violent shock of her heart to give him hard
speech. He went on:--
"Whether you hate me or not is beside the matter. It lies between Dahlia
and me. I will see her. When I determine, I allow of no obstacles, not
even of wrong-headed girls. First, let me ask, is your father in
Rhoda threw a masculine meaning into her eyes.
"Do not come before him, I advise you."
"If," said Edward, with almost womanly softness, "you could know what I
have passed through in the last eight-and-forty hours, you would
understand that I am equal to any meeting; though, to speak truth, I
would rather not see him until I have done what I mean to do. Will you
be persuaded? Do you suppose that I have ceased to love your sister?"
This, her execrated word, coming from his mouth, vanquished her
"Are you cold?" he said, seeing the ripple of a trembling run over her.
"I am not cold. I cannot remain here." Rhoda tightened her
intertwisting fingers across under her bosom. "Don't try to kill my
sister outright. She's the ghost of what she was. Be so good as to go.
She will soon be out of your reach. You will have to kill me first, if
you get near her. Never! you never shall. You have lied to herbrought
disgrace on her poor head. We poor people read our Bibles, and find
nothing that excuses you. You are not punished, because there is no
young man in our family. Go."
Edward gazed at her for some time. "Well, I've deserved worse," he said,
not sorry, now that he saw an opponent in her, that she should waste her
concentrated antagonism in this fashion, and rejoiced by the testimony it
gave him that he was certainly not too late.
"You know, Rhoda, she loves me."
"If she does, let her pray to God on her knees."
"My good creature, be reasonable. Why am I here? To harm her? You take
me for a kind of monster. You look at me very much, let me say, like a
bristling cat. Here are the streets getting full of people, and you
ought not to be seen. Go to Dahlia. Tell her I am here. Tell her I am
come to claim her for good, and that her troubles are over. This is a
moment to use your reason. Will you do what I ask?"
"I would cut my tongue out, if it did you a service," said Rhoda.
"Citoyenne Corday," thought Edward, and observed: "Then I will dispense
with your assistance."
He moved in the direction of the house. Rhoda swiftly outstripped him.
They reached the gates together. She threw herself in the gateway. He
attempted to parley, but she was dumb to it.
"I allow nothing to stand between her and me," he said, and seized her
arm. She glanced hurriedly to right and left. At that moment Robert
appeared round a corner of the street. He made his voice heard, and,
coming up at double quick, caught Edward Blancove by the collar, swinging
him off. Rhoda, with a sign, tempered him to muteness, and the three
eyed one another.
"It's you," said Robert, and, understanding immediately the tactics
desired by Rhoda, requested Edward to move a step or two away in his
Edward settled the disposition of his coat-collar, as a formula wherewith
to regain composure of mind, and passed along beside Robert, Rhoda
"What does this mean?" said Robert sternly.
Edward's darker nature struggled for ascendancy within him. It was this
man's violence at Fairly which had sickened him, and irritated him
against Dahlia, and instigated him, as he remembered well, more than Mrs.
Lovell's witcheries, to the abhorrent scheme to be quit of her, and rid
of all botheration, at any cost.
"You're in some conspiracy to do her mischief, all of you," he cried.
"If you mean Dahlia Fleming," said Robert, "it'd be a base creature that
would think of doing harm to her now."
He had a man's perception that Edward would hardly have been found in
Dahlia's neighbourhood with evil intentions at this moment, though it was
a thing impossible to guess. Generous himself, he leaned to the more
"I think your name is Eccles," said Edward. "Mr. Eccles, my position
here is a very sad one. But first, let me acknowledge that I have done
you personally a wrong. I am ready to bear the burden of your
reproaches, or what you will. All that I beg is, that you will do me the
favour to grant me five minutes in private. It is imperative."
Rhoda burst in--"No, Robert!" But Robert said, "It is a reasonable
request;" and, in spite of her angry eyes, he waved her back, and walked
apart with Edward.
She stood watching them, striving to divine their speech by their
gestures, and letting her savage mood interpret the possible utterances.
It went ill with Robert in her heart that he did not suddenly grapple and
trample the man, and so break away from him. She was outraged to see
Robert's listening posture. "Lies! lies!" she said to herself, "and he
doesn't know them to be lies." The window-blinds in Dahlia's
sitting-room continued undisturbed; but she feared the agency of the
servant of the house in helping to release her sister. Time was flowing
to dangerous strands. At last Robert turned back singly. Rhoda
fortified her soul to resist.
"He has fooled you," she murmured, inaudibly, before he spoke.
"Perhaps, Rhoda, we ought not to stand in his way. He wishes to do what
a man can do in his case. So he tells me, and I'm bound not to
disbelieve him. He says he repents--says the word; and gentlemen seem to
mean it when they use it. I respect the word, and them when they're up
to that word. He wrote to her that he could not marry her, and it did
the mischief, and may well be repented of; but he wishes to be forgiven
and make amends--well, such as he can. He's been abroad, and only
received Dahlia's letters within the last two or three days. He seems to
love her, and to be heartily wretched. Just hear me out; you'll decide;
but pray, pray don't be rash. He wishes to marry her; says he has spoken
to his father this very night; came straight over from France, after he
had read her letters. He says--and it seems fair--he only asks to see
Dahlia for two minutes. If she bids him go, he goes. He's not a friend
of mine, as I could prove to you; but I do think he ought to see her. He
says he looks on her as his wife; always meant her to be his wife, but
things were against him when he wrote that letter. Well, he says so; and
it's true that gentlemen are situated--they can't always, or think they
can't, behave quite like honest men. They've got a hundred things to
consider for our one. That's my experience, and I know something of the
best among 'em. The question is about this poor young fellow who's to
marry her to-day. Mr. Blancove talks of giving him a handsome sum--a
thousand pounds--and making him comfortable--"
"There!" Rhoda exclaimed, with a lightning face. "You don't see what he
is, after that? Oh!--" She paused, revolted.
"Will you let me run off to the young man, wherever he's to be found, and
put the case to him--that is, from Dahlia? And you know she doesn't like
the marriage overmuch, Rhoda. Perhaps he may think differently when he
comes to hear of things. As to Mr. Blancove, men change and change when
they're young. I mean, gentlemen. We must learn to forgive. Either