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Rhoda Fleming, v3 by George Meredith

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This etext was produced by Pat Castevans

RHODA FLEMING

By George Meredith

BOOK 3

XXI. GIVES A GLIMPSE OF WHAT POOR VILLANIES THE STORY CONTAINS
XXII. EDWARD TAKES HIS COURSE
XXIII. MAJOR PERCY WARING
XXIV. WARBEACH VILLAGE CHURCH
XXV. OF THE FEARFUL TEMPTATION WHICH CAME UPON ANTHONY HACKBUT, AND
OF HIS MEETING WITH DAHLIA
XXVI. IN THE PARK
XXVII. CONTAINS A STUDY OF A FOOL IN TROUBLE
XXVIII. EDWARD'S LETTER
XXIX. FURTHERMORE OF THE FOOL

CHAPTER XXI

Mrs. Boulby's ears had not deceived her; it had been a bet: and the day
would have gone disastrously with Robert, if Mrs. Lovell had not won her
bet. What was heroism to Warbeach, appeared very outrageous
blackguardism up at Fairly. It was there believed by the gentlemen,
though rather against evidence, that the man was a sturdy ruffian, and an
infuriated sot. The first suggestion was to drag him before the
magistrates; but against this Algernon protested, declaring his readiness
to defend himself, with so vehement a magnanimity, that it was clearly
seen the man had a claim on him. Lord Elling, however, when he was told
of these systematic assaults upon one of his guests, announced his
resolve to bring the law into operation. Algernon heard it as the knell
to his visit.

He was too happy, to go away willingly; and the great Jew City of London
was exceedingly hot for him at that period; but to stay and risk an
exposure of his extinct military career, was not possible. In his
despair, he took Mrs. Lovell entirely into his confidence; in doing
which, he only filled up the outlines of what she already knew concerning
Edward. He was too useful to the lady for her to afford to let him go.
No other youth called her "angel" for listening complacently to strange
stories of men and their dilemmas; no one fetched and carried for her
like Algernon; and she was a woman who cherished dog-like adoration, and
could not part with it. She had also the will to reward it.

At her intercession, Robert was spared an introduction to the
magistrates. She made light of his misdemeanours, assuring everybody
that so splendid a horseman deserved to be dealt with differently from
other offenders. The gentlemen who waited upon Farmer Eccles went in
obedience to her orders.

Then came the scene on Ditley Marsh, described to that assembly at the
Pilot, by Stephen Bilton, when she perceived that Robert was manageable
in silken trammels, and made a bet that she would show him tamed. She
won her bet, and saved the gentlemen from soiling their hands, for which
they had conceived a pressing necessity, and they thanked her, and paid
their money over to Algernon, whom she constituted her treasurer. She
was called "the man-tamer," gracefully acknowledging the compliment.
Colonel Barclay, the moustachioed horseman, who had spoken the few words
to Robert in passing, now remarked that there was an end of the military
profession.

"I surrender my sword," he said gallantly.

Another declared that ladies would now act in lieu of causing an appeal
to arms.

"Similia similibus, &c.," said Edward. "They can, apparently, cure what
they originate."

"Ah, the poor sex!" Mrs. Lovell sighed. "When we bring the millennium to
you, I believe you will still have a word against Eve."

The whole parade back to the stables was marked by pretty speeches.

"By Jove! but he ought to have gone down on his knees, like a horse when
you've tamed him," said Lord Suckling, the young guardsman.

"I would mark a distinction between a horse and a brave man, Lord
Suckling," said the lady; and such was Mrs. Lovell's dignity when an
allusion to Robert was forced on her, and her wit and ease were so
admirable, that none of those who rode with her thought of sitting in
judgement on her conduct. Women can make for themselves new spheres, new
laws, if they will assume their right to be eccentric as an
unquestionable thing, and always reserve a season for showing forth like
the conventional women of society.

The evening was Mrs. Lovell's time for this important re-establishment of
her position; and many a silly youth who had sailed pleasantly with her
all the day, was wrecked when he tried to carry on the topics where she
reigned the lady of the drawing-room. Moreover, not being eccentric from
vanity, but simply to accommodate what had once been her tastes, and were
now her necessities, she avoided slang, and all the insignia of
eccentricity.

Thus she mastered the secret of keeping the young men respectfully
enthusiastic; so that their irrepressible praises did not (as is usual
when these are in acclamation) drag her to their level; and the female
world, with which she was perfectly feminine, and as silkenly insipid
every evening of her life as was needed to restore her reputation,
admitted that she belonged to it, which is everything to an adventurous
spirit of that sex: indeed, the sole secure basis of operations.

You are aware that men's faith in a woman whom her sisters
discountenance, and partially repudiate, is uneasy, however deeply they
may be charmed. On the other hand, she maybe guilty of prodigious
oddities without much disturbing their reverence, while she is in the
feminine circle.

But what fatal breath was it coming from Mrs. Lovell that was always
inflaming men to mutual animosity? What encouragement had she given to
Algernon, that Lord Suckling should be jealous of him? And what to Lord
Suckling, that Algernon should loathe the sight of the young lord? And
why was each desirous of showing his manhood in combat before an eminent
peacemaker?

Edward laughed--"Ah-ha!" and rubbed his hands as at a special
confirmation of his prophecy, when Algernon came into his room and said,
"I shall fight that fellow Suckling. Hang me if I can stand his
impudence! I want to have a shot at a man of my own set, just to let
Peggy Lovell see! I know what she thinks."

"Just to let Mrs. Lovell see!" Edward echoed. "She has seen it lots of
times, my dear Algy. Come; this looks lively. I was sure she would soon
be sick of the water-gruel of peace."

"I tell you she's got nothing to do with it, Ned. Don't be confoundedly
unjust. She didn't tell me to go and seek him. How can she help his
whispering to her? And then she looks over at me, and I swear I'm not
going to be defended by a woman. She must fancy I haven't got the pluck
of a flea. I know what her idea of young fellows is. Why, she said to
me, when Suckling went off from her, the other day, "These are our
Guards." I shall fight him."

"Do," said Edward.

"Will you take a challenge?"

"I'm a lawyer, Mr. Mars."

"You won't take a challenge for a friend, when he's insulted?"

"I reply again, I am a lawyer. But this is what I'll do, if you like.
I'll go to Mrs. Lovely and inform her that it is your desire to gain her
esteem by fighting with pistols. That will accomplish the purpose you
seek. It will possibly disappoint her, for she will have to stop the
affair; but women are born to be disappointed--they want so much."

"I'll fight him some way or other," said Algernon, glowering; and then
his face became bright: "I say, didn't she manage that business
beautifully this morning? Not another woman in the world could have done
it."

"Oh, Una and the Lion! Mrs. Valentine and Orson! Did you bet with the
rest?" his cousin asked.

"I lost my tenner; but what's that!"

"There will be an additional five to hand over to the man Sedgett.
What's that!"

"No, hang it!" Algernon shouted.

"You've paid your ten for the shadow cheerfully. Pay your five for the
substance."

"Do you mean to say that Sedgett--" Algernon stared.

"Miracles, if you come to examine them, Algy, have generally had a
pathway prepared for them; and the miracle of the power of female
persuasion exhibited this morning was not quite independent of the
preliminary agency of a scoundrel."

"So that's why you didn't bet." Algernon signified the opening of his
intelligence with his eyelids, pronouncing "by jingos" and "by Joves," to
ease the sudden rush of ideas within him. "You might have let me into
the secret, Ned. I'd lose any number of tens to Peggy Lovell, but a
fellow don't like to be in the dark."

"Except, Algy, that when you carry light, you're a general illuminator.
Let the matter drop. Sedgett has saved you from annoyance. Take him his
five pounds."

"Annoyance be hanged, my good Ned!" Algernon was aroused to reply. "I
don't complain, and I've done my best to stand in front of you; and as
you've settled the fellow, I say nothing; but, between us two, who's the
guilty party, and who's the victim?"

"Didn't he tell you he had you in his power?"

"I don't remember that he did."

"Well, I heard him. The sturdy cur refused to be bribed, so there was
only one way of quieting him; and you see what a thrashing does for that
sort of beast. I, Algy, never abandon a friend; mark that. Take the
five pounds to Sedgett."

Algernon strode about the room. "First of all, you stick me up in a
theatre, so that I'm seen with a girl; and then you get behind me, and
let me be pelted," he began grumbling. "And ask a fellow for money, who
hasn't a farthing! I shan't literally have a farthing till that horse
'Templemore' runs; and then, by George! I'll pay my debts. Jews are
awful things!"

"How much do you require at present?" said Edward, provoking his appetite
for a loan.

"Oh, fifty--that is, just now. More like a thousand when I get to town.
And where it's to come from! but never mind. 'Pon my soul, I pity the
fox I run down here. I feel I'm exactly in his case in London. However,
if I can do you any service, Ned--"

Edward laughed. "You might have done me the service of not excusing
yourself to the squire when he came here, in such a way as to implicate
me."

"But I was so tremendously badgered, Ned."

"You had a sort of gratification in letting the squire crow over his
brother. And he did crow for a time."

"On my honour, Ned, as to crowing! he went away cursing at me. Peggy
Lovell managed it somehow for you. I was really awfully badgered."

"Yes; but you know what a man my father is. He hasn't the squire's
philosophy in those affairs."

"'Pon my soul, Mr. Ned, I never guessed it before; but I rather fancy you
got clear with Sir Billy the banker by washing in my basin--eh, did you?"

Edward looked straight at his cousin, saying, "You deserved worse than
that. You were treacherous. You proved you were not to be trusted; and
yet, you see, I trust you. Call it my folly. Of course (and I don't
mind telling you) I used my wits to turn the point of the attack. I may
be what they call unscrupulous when I'm surprised. I have to look to
money as well as you; and if my father thought it went in a--what he
considers--wrong direction, the source would be choked by paternal
morality. You betrayed me. Listen."

"I tell you, Ned, I merely said to my governor--"

"Listen to me. You betrayed me. I defended myself; that is, I've
managed so that I may still be of service to you. It was a near shave;
but you now see the value of having a character with one's father. Just
open my writing-desk there, and toss out the cheque-book. I confess I
can't see why you should have objected--but let that pass. How much do
you want? Fifty? Say forty-five, and five I'll give you to pay to
Sedgett--making fifty. Eighty before, and fifty--one hundred and thirty.
Write that you owe me that sum, on a piece of paper. I can't see why you
should wish to appear so uncommonly virtuous."

Algernon scribbled the written acknowledgment, which he despised himself
for giving, and the receiver for taking, but was always ready to give for
the money, and said, as he put the cheque in his purse: "It was this
infernal fellow completely upset me. If you were worried by a bull-dog,
by Jove, Ned, you'd lose your coolness. He bothered my head off. Ask me
now, and I'll do anything on earth for you. My back's broad. Sir Billy
can't think worse of me than he does. Do you want to break positively
with that pretty rival to Peggy L.? I've got a scheme to relieve you, my
poor old Ned, and make everybody happy. I'll lay the foundations of a
fresh and brilliant reputation for myself."

Algernon took a chair. Edward was fathoms deep in his book.

The former continued: "I'd touch on the money-question last, with any
other fellow than you; but you always know that money's the hinge, and
nothing else lifts a man out of a scrape. It costs a stiff pull on your
banker, and that reminds me, you couldn't go to Sir Billy for it; you'd
have to draw in advance, by degrees anyhow, look here:--There are lots of
young farmers who want to emigrate and want wives and money. I know one.
It's no use going into particulars, but it's worth thinking over. Life
is made up of mutual help, Ned. You can help another fellow better than
yourself. As for me, when I'm in a hobble, I give you my word of honour,
I'm just like a baby, and haven't an idea at my own disposal. The same
with others. You can't manage without somebody's assistance. What do
you say, old boy?"

Edward raised his head from his book. "Some views of life deduced from
your private experience?" he observed; and Algernon cursed at book-worms,
who would never take hints, and left him.

But when he was by himself, Edward pitched his book upon the floor and
sat reflecting. The sweat started on his forehead. He was compelled to
look into his black volume and study it. His desire was to act humanely
and generously; but the question inevitably recurred: "How can I utterly
dash my prospects in the world?" It would be impossible to bring Dahlia
to great houses; and he liked great houses and the charm of mixing among
delicately-bred women. On the other hand, lawyers have married beneath
them--married cooks, housemaids, governesses, and so forth. And what has
a lawyer to do with a dainty lady, who will constantly distract him with
finicking civilities and speculations in unprofitable regions? What he
does want is a woman amiable as a surface of parchment, serviceable as
his inkstand; one who will be like the wig in which he closes his
forensic term, disreputable from overwear, but suited to the purpose.

"Ah! if I meant to be nothing but a lawyer!" Edward stopped the flow of
this current in Dahlia's favour. His passion for her was silent. Was it
dead? It was certainly silent. Since Robert had come down to play his
wild game of persecution at Fairly, the simple idea of Dahlia had been
Edward's fever. He detested brute force, with a finely-witted man's full
loathing; and Dahlia's obnoxious champion had grown to be associated in
his mind with Dahlia. He swept them both from his recollection
abhorrently, for in his recollection he could not divorce them. He
pretended to suppose that Dahlia, whose only reproach to him was her
suffering, participated in the scheme to worry him. He could even forget
her beauty--forget all, save the unholy fetters binding him. She seemed
to imprison him in bare walls. He meditated on her character. She had
no strength. She was timid, comfort-loving, fond of luxury, credulous,
preposterously conventional; that is, desirous more than the ordinary run
of women of being hedged about and guarded by ceremonies--"mere
ceremonies," said Edward, forgetting the notion he entertained of women
not so protected. But it may be, that in playing the part of fool and
coward, we cease to be mindful of the absolute necessity for sheltering
the weak from that monstrous allied army, the cowards and the fools. He
admitted even to himself that he had deceived her, at the same time
denouncing her unheard-of capacity of belief, which had placed him in a
miserable hobble, and that was the truth.

Now, men confessing themselves in a miserable hobble, and knowing they
are guilty of the state of things lamented by them, intend to drown that
part of their nature which disturbs them by its outcry. The submission
to a tangle that could be cut through instantaneously by any exertion of
a noble will, convicts them. They had better not confide, even to their
secret hearts, that they are afflicted by their conscience and the
generosity of their sentiments, for it will be only to say that these
high qualities are on the failing side. Their inclination, under the
circumstances, is generally base, and no less a counsellor than
uncorrupted common sense, when they are in such a hobble, will sometimes
advise them to be base. But, in admitting the plea which common sense
puts forward on their behalf, we may fairly ask them to be masculine in
their baseness. Or, in other words, since they must be selfish, let them
be so without the poltroonery of selfishness. Edward's wish was to be
perfectly just, as far as he could be now--just to himself as well; for
how was he to prove of worth and aid to any one depending on him, if he
stood crippled? Just, also, to his family; to his possible posterity;
and just to Dahlia. His task was to reconcile the variety of justness
due upon all sides. The struggle, we will assume, was severe, for he
thought so; he thought of going to Dahlia and speaking the word of
separation; of going to her family and stating his offence, without
personal exculpation; thus masculine in baseness, he was in idea; but
poltroonery triumphed, the picture of himself facing his sin and its
victims dismayed him, and his struggle ended in his considering as to the
fit employment of one thousand pounds in his possession, the remainder of
a small legacy, hitherto much cherished.

A day later, Mrs. Lovell said to him: "Have you heard of that unfortunate
young man? I am told that he lies in great danger from a blow on the
back of his head. He looked ill when I saw him, and however mad he may
be, I'm sorry harm should have come to one who is really brave. Gentle
means are surely best. It is so with horses, it must be so with men. As
to women, I don't pretend to unriddle them."

"Gentle means are decidedly best," said Edward, perceiving that her
little dog Algy had carried news to her, and that she was setting herself
to fathom him. "You gave an eminent example of it yesterday. I was so
sure of the result that I didn't bet against you."

"Why not have backed me?"

The hard young legal face withstood the attack of her soft blue eyes, out
of which a thousand needles flew, seeking a weak point in the mask.

"The compliment was, to incite you to a superhuman effort."

"Then why not pay the compliment?"

"I never pay compliments to transparent merit; I do not hold candles to
lamps."

"True," said she.

"And as gentle means are so admirable, it would be as well to stop
incision and imbruing between those two boys."

"Which?" she asked innocently.

"Suckling and Algy."

"Is it possible? They are such boys."

"Exactly of the kind to do it. Don't you know?" and Edward explained
elaborately and cruelly the character of the boys who rushed into
conflicts. Colour deep as evening red confused her cheeks, and she
said, "We must stop them."

"Alas!" he shook his head; "if it's not too late."

"It never is too late."

"Perhaps not, when the embodiment of gentle means is so determined."

"Come; I believe they are in the billiard room now, and you shall see,"
she said.

The pair were found in the billiard room, even as a pair of terriers that
remember a bone. Mrs. Lovell proposed a game, and offered herself for
partner to Lord Suckling.

"Till total defeat do us part," the young nobleman acquiesced; and total
defeat befell them. During the play of the balls, Mrs. Lovell threw a
jealous intentness of observation upon all the strokes made by Algernon;
saying nothing, but just looking at him when he did a successful thing.
She winked at some quiet stately betting that went on between him and
Lord Suckling.

They were at first preternaturally polite and formal toward one another;
by degrees, the influence at work upon them was manifested in a thaw of
their stiff demeanour, and they fell into curt dialogues, which Mrs.
Lovell gave herself no concern to encourage too early.

Edward saw, and was astonished himself to feel that she had ceased to
breathe that fatal inciting breath, which made men vindictively emulous
of her favour, and mad to match themselves for a claim to the chief
smile. No perceptible change was displayed. She was Mrs. Lovell still;
vivacious and soft; flame-coloured, with the arrowy eyelashes; a pleasant
companion, who did not play the woman obtrusively among men, and show a
thirst for homage. All the difference appeared to be, that there was an
absence as of some evil spiritual emanation.

And here a thought crossed him--one of the memorable little evanescent
thoughts which sway us by our chance weakness; "Does she think me wanting
in physical courage?"

Now, though the difference between them had been owing to a scornful
remark that she had permitted herself to utter, on his refusal to accept
a quarrel with one of her numerous satellites, his knowledge of her
worship of brains, and his pride in his possession of the burdensome
weight, had quite precluded his guessing that she might haply suppose him
to be deficient in personal bravery. He was astounded by the reflection
that she had thus misjudged him. It was distracting; sober-thoughted as
he was by nature. He watched the fair simplicity of her new manner with
a jealous eye. Her management of the two youths was exquisite; but to
him, Edward, she had never condescended to show herself thus mediating
and amiable. Why? Clearly, because she conceived that he had no virile
fire in his composition. Did the detestable little devil think silly
duelling a display of valour? Did the fair seraph think him anything less
than a man?

How beautifully hung the yellow loop of her hair as she leaned over the
board! How gracious she was and like a Goddess with these boys, as he
called them! She rallied her partner, not letting him forget that he had
the honour of being her partner; while she appeared envious of Algernon's
skill, and talked to both and got them upon common topics, and laughed,
and was like a fair English flower of womanhood; nothing deadly.

"There, Algy; you have beaten us. I don't think I'll have Lord Suckling
for my partner any more," she said, putting up her wand, and pouting.

"You don't bear malice?" said Algernon, revived.

"There is my hand. Now you must play a game alone with Lord Suckling,
and beat him; mind you beat him, or it will redound to my discredit."

With which, she and Edward left them.

"Algy was a little crestfallen, and no wonder," she said. "He is soon
set up again. They will be good friends now."

"Isn't it odd, that they should be ready to risk their lives for
trifles?"

Thus Edward tempted her to discuss the subject which he had in his mind.

She felt intuitively the trap in his voice.

"Ah, yes," she replied; "it must be because they know their lives are not
precious."

So utterly at her mercy had he fallen, that her pronunciation of that
word "precious" carried a severe sting to him, and it was not spoken with
peculiar emphasis; on the contrary, she wished to indicate that she was
of his way of thinking, as regarded this decayed method of settling
disputes. He turned to leave her.

"You go to your Adeline, I presume," she said.

"Ah! that reminds me. I have never thanked you."

"For my good services? such as they are. Sir William will be very happy,
and it was for him, a little more than for you, that I went out of my way
to be a matchmaker."

"It was her character, of course, that struck you as being so eminently
suited to mine."

"Can I tell what is the character of a girl? She is mild and shy, and
extremely gentle. In all probability she has a passion for battles and
bloodshed. I judged from your father's point of view. She has money,
and you are to have money; and the union of money and money is supposed
to be a good thing. And besides, you are variable, and off to-morrow
what you are on to-day; is it not so? and heiresses are never jilted.
Colonel Barclay is only awaiting your retirement. Le roi est mort; vive
le roi! Heiresses may cry it like kingdoms."

"I thought," said Edward, meaningly, "the colonel had better taste."

"Do you not know that my friends are my friends because they are not
allowed to dream they will do anything else? If they are taken poorly, I
commend them to a sea-voyage--Africa, the North-West Passage, the source
of the Nile. Men with their vanity wounded may discover wonders! They
return friendly as before, whether they have done the Geographical
Society a service or not. That is, they generally do."

"Then I begin to fancy I must try those latitudes."

"Oh! you are my relative."

He scarcely knew that he had uttered "Margaret."

She replied to it frankly, "Yes, Cousin Ned. You have made the voyage,
you see, and have come back friends with me. The variability of opals!
Ah! Sir John, you join us in season. We were talking of opals. Is the
opal a gem that stands to represent women?"

Sir John Capes smoothed his knuckles with silken palms, and with
courteous antique grin, responded, "It is a gem I would never dare to
offer to a lady's acceptance."

"It is by repute unlucky; so you never can have done so.

"Exquisite!" exclaimed the veteran in smiles, "if what you deign to imply
were only true!"

They entered the drawing-room among the ladies.

Edward whispered in Mrs. Lovell's ear, "He is in need of the voyage."

"He is very near it," she answered in the same key, and swam into general
conversation.

Her cold wit, Satanic as the gleam of it struck through his mind, gave
him a throb of desire to gain possession of her, and crush her.

CHAPTER XXII

The writing of a letter to Dahlia had previously been attempted and
abandoned as a sickening task. Like an idle boy with his holiday
imposition, Edward shelved it among the nightmares, saying, "How can I
sit down and lie to her!" and thinking that silence would prepare her
bosom for the coming truth.

Silence is commonly the slow poison used by those who mean to murder
love. There is nothing violent about it; no shock is given; Hope is not
abruptly strangled, but merely dreams of evil, and fights with gradually
stifling shadows. When the last convulsions come they are not terrific;
the frame has been weakened for dissolution; love dies like natural
decay. It seems the kindest way of doing a cruel thing. But Dahlia
wrote, crying out her agony at the torture. Possibly your nervously
organized natures require a modification of the method.

Edward now found himself able to conduct a correspondence. He despatched
the following:--

"My Dear Dahlia,--Of course I cannot expect you to be aware of the
bewildering occupations of a country house, where a man has
literally not five minutes' time to call his own; so I pass by your
reproaches. My father has gone at last. He has manifested an
extraordinary liking for my society, and I am to join him elsewhere
--perhaps run over to Paris (your city)--but at present for a few
days I am my own master, and the first thing I do is to attend to
your demands: not to write 'two lines,' but to give you a good long
letter.

"What on earth makes you fancy me unwell? You know I am never
unwell. And as to your nursing me--when has there ever been any
need for it?

"You must positively learn patience. I have been absent a week or
so, and you talk of coming down here and haunting the house! Such
ghosts as you meet with strange treatment when they go about
unprotected, let me give you warning. You have my full permission
to walk out in the Parks for exercise. I think you are bound to do
it, for your health's sake.

"Pray discontinue that talk about the alteration in your looks. You
must learn that you are no longer a child. Cease to write like a
child. If people stare at you, as you say, you are very well aware
it is not because you are becoming plain. You do not mean it, I
know; but there is a disingenuousness in remarks of this sort that
is to me exceedingly distasteful. Avoid the shadow of hypocrisy.
Women are subject to it--and it is quite innocent, no doubt. I
won't lecture you.

"My cousin Algernon is here with me. He has not spoken of your
sister. Your fears in that direction are quite unnecessary. He is
attached to a female cousin of ours, a very handsome person, witty,
and highly sensible, who dresses as well as the lady you talk about
having seen one day in Wrexby Church. Her lady's-maid is a
Frenchwoman, which accounts for it. You have not forgotten the
boulevards?

"I wish you to go on with your lessons in French. Educate yourself,
and you will rise superior to these distressing complaints. I
recommend you to read the newspapers daily. Buy nice picture-books,
if the papers are too matter-of-fact for you. By looking eternally
inward, you teach yourself to fret, and the consequence is, or will
be, that you wither. No constitution can stand it. All the ladies
here take an interest in Parliamentary affairs. They can talk to
men upon men's themes. It is impossible to explain to you how
wearisome an everlasting nursery prattle becomes. The idea that men
ought never to tire of it is founded on some queer belief that they
are not mortal.

"Parliament opens in February. My father wishes me to stand for
Selborough. If he or some one will do the talking to the tradesmen,
and provide the beer and the bribes, I have no objection. In that
case my Law goes to the winds. I'm bound to make a show of
obedience, for he has scarcely got over my summer's trip. He holds
me a prisoner to him for heaven knows how long--it may be months.

"As for the heiress whom he has here to make a match for me, he and
I must have a pitched battle about her by and by. At present my
purse insists upon my not offending him. When will old men
understand young ones? I burn your letters, and beg you to follow
the example. Old letters are the dreariest ghosts in the world, and
you cannot keep more treacherous rubbish in your possession. A
discovery would exactly ruin me.

"Your purchase of a black-velvet bonnet with pink ribands, was very
suitable. Or did you write 'blue' ribands? But your complexion can
bear anything.

"You talk of being annoyed when you walk out. Remember, that no
woman who knows at all how to conduct herself need for one moment
suffer annoyance.

"What is the 'feeling' you speak of? I cannot conceive any
'feeling' that should make you helpless when you consider that you
are insulted. There are women who have natural dignity, and women
who have none.

"You ask the names of the gentlemen here:--Lord Carey, Lord Wippern
(both leave to-morrow), Sir John Capes, Colonel Barclay, Lord
Suckling. The ladies:--Mrs. Gosling, Miss Gosling, Lady Carey.
Mrs. Anybody--to any extent.

"They pluck hen's feathers all day and half the night. I see them
out, and make my bow to the next batch of visitors, and then I don't
know where I am.

"Read poetry, if it makes up for my absence, as you say. Repeat it
aloud, minding the pulsation of feet. Go to the theatre now and
then, and take your landlady with you. If she's a cat, fit one of
your dresses on the servant-girl, and take her. You only want a
companion--a dummy will do. Take a box and sit behind the curtain,
back to the audience.

"I wrote to my wine-merchant to send Champagne and Sherry. I hope
he did: the Champagne in pints and half-pints; if not, return them
instantly. I know how Economy, sitting solitary, poor thing, would
not dare to let the froth of a whole pint bottle fly out.

"Be an obedient girl and please me.

"Your stern tutor,

"Edward the First."

He read this epistle twice over to satisfy himself that it was a warm
effusion, and not too tender; and it satisfied him. By a stretch of
imagination, he could feel that it represented him to her as in a higher
atmosphere, considerate for her, and not so intimate that she could deem
her spirit to be sharing it. Another dose of silence succeeded this
discreet administration of speech.

Dahlia replied with letter upon letter; blindly impassioned, and again
singularly cold; but with no reproaches. She was studying, she said.
Her head ached a little; only a little. She walked; she read poetry; she
begged him to pardon her for not drinking wine. She was glad that he
burnt her letters, which were so foolish that if she could have the
courage to look at them after they were written, they would never be
sent. He was slightly revolted by one exclamation: "How ambitious you
are!"

"Because I cannot sit down for life in a London lodging-house!" he
thought, and eyed her distantly as a poor good creature who had already
accepted her distinctive residence in another sphere than his. From such
a perception of her humanity, it was natural that his livelier sense of
it should diminish. He felt that he had awakened; and he shook her off.

And now he set to work to subdue Mrs. Lovell. His own subjugation was
the first fruit of his effort. It was quite unacknowledged by him: but
when two are at this game, the question arises--"Which can live without
the other?" and horrid pangs smote him to hear her telling musically of
the places she was journeying to, the men she would see, and the chances
of their meeting again before he was married to the heiress Adeline.

"I have yet to learn that I am engaged to her," he said. Mrs. Lovell
gave him a fixed look,--

"She has a half-brother."

He stepped away in a fury.

"Devil!" he muttered, absolutely muttered it, knowing that he fooled and
frowned like a stage-hero in stagey heroics. "You think to hound me into
this brutal stupidity of fighting, do you? Upon my honour," he added in
his natural manner, "I believe she does, though!"

But the look became his companion. It touched and called up great vanity
in his breast, and not till then could he placably confront the look. He
tried a course of reading. Every morning he was down in the library,
looking old in an arm-chair over his book; an intent abstracted figure.

Mrs. Lovell would enter and eye him carelessly; utter little commonplaces
and go forth. The silly words struck on his brain. The book seemed
hollow; sounded hollow as he shut it. This woman breathed of active
striving life. She was a spur to black energies; a plumed glory;
impulsive to chivalry. Everything she said and did held men in scales,
and approved or rejected them.

Intoxication followed this new conception of her. He lost altogether his
right judgement; even the cooler after-thoughts were lost. What sort of
man had Harry been, her first husband? A dashing soldier, a quarrelsome
duellist, a dull dog. But, dull to her? She, at least, was reverential
to the memory of him.

She lisped now and then of "my husband," very prettily, and with intense
provocation; and yet she worshipped brains. Evidently she thirsted for
that rare union of brains and bravery in a man, and would never surrender
till she had discovered it. Perhaps she fancied it did not exist. It
might be that she took Edward as the type of brains, and Harry of
bravery, and supposed that the two qualities were not to be had actually
in conjunction.

Her admiration of his (Edward's) wit, therefore, only strengthened the
idea she entertained of his deficiency in that other companion manly
virtue.

Edward must have been possessed, for he ground his teeth villanously in
supposing himself the victim of this outrageous suspicion. And how to
prove it false? How to prove it false in a civilized age, among sober-
living men and women, with whom the violent assertion of bravery would
certainly imperil his claim to brains? His head was like a stew-pan over
the fire, bubbling endlessly.

He railed at her to Algernon, and astonished the youth, who thought them
in a fair way to make an alliance. "Milk and capsicums," he called her,
and compared her to bloody mustard-haired Saxon Queens of history, and
was childishly spiteful. And Mrs. Lovell had it all reported to her, as
he was-quite aware.

"The woman seeking for an anomaly wants a master."

With this pompous aphorism, he finished his reading of the fair Enigma.

Words big in the mouth serve their turn when there is no way of
satisfying the intelligence.

To be her master, however, one must not begin by writhing as her slave.

The attempt to read an inscrutable woman allows her to dominate us too
commandingly. So the lordly mind takes her in a hard grasp, cracks the
shell, and drawing forth the kernel, says, "This was all the puzzle."

Doubtless it is the fate which women like Mrs. Lovell provoke. The truth
was, that she could read a character when it was under her eyes; but its
yesterday and to-morrow were a blank. She had no imaginative hold on
anything. For which reason she was always requiring tangible signs of
virtues that she esteemed.

The thirst for the shows of valour and wit was insane with her; but she
asked for nothing that she herself did not give in abundance, and with
beauty super-added. Her propensity to bet sprang of her passion for
combat; she was not greedy of money, or reckless in using it; but a
difference of opinion arising, her instinct forcibly prompted her to back
her own. If the stake was the risk of a lover's life, she was ready to
put down the stake, and would have marvelled contemptuously at the lover
complaining. "Sheep! sheep!" she thought of those who dared not fight,
and had a wavering tendency to affix the epithet to those who simply did
not fight.

Withal, Mrs. Lovell was a sensible person; clearheaded and shrewd;
logical, too, more than the run of her sex: I may say, profoundly
practical. So much so, that she systematically reserved the after-years
for enlightenment upon two or three doubts of herself, which struck her
in the calm of her spirit, from time to time.

"France," Edward called her, in one of their colloquies.

It was an illuminating title. She liked the French (though no one was
keener for the honour of her own country in opposition to them), she
liked their splendid boyishness, their unequalled devotion, their
merciless intellects; the oneness of the nation when the sword is bare
and pointing to chivalrous enterprise.

She liked their fine varnish of sentiment, which appears so much on the
surface that Englishmen suppose it to have nowhere any depth; as if the
outer coating must necessarily exhaust the stock, or as if what is at the
source of our being can never be made visible.

She had her imagination of them as of a streaming banner in the jaws of
storm, with snows among the cloud-rents and lightning in the chasms:--
which image may be accounted for by the fact that when a girl she had in
adoration kissed the feet of Napoleon, the giant of the later ghosts of
history.

It was a princely compliment. She received it curtseying, and disarmed
the intended irony. In reply, she called him "Great Britain." I regret
to say that he stood less proudly for his nation. Indeed, he flushed.
He remembered articles girding at the policy of peace at any price, and
half felt that Mrs. Lovell had meant to crown him with a Quaker's hat.
His title fell speedily into disuse; but, "Yes, France," and "No,
France," continued, his effort being to fix the epithet to frivolous
allusions, from which her ingenuity rescued it honourably.

Had she ever been in love? He asked her the question. She stabbed him
with so straightforward an affirmative that he could not conceal the
wound.

"Have I not been married?" she said.

He began to experience the fretful craving to see the antecedents of the
torturing woman spread out before him. He conceived a passion for her
girlhood. He begged for portraits of her as a girl. She showed him the
portrait of Harry Lovell in a locket. He held the locket between his
fingers. Dead Harry was kept very warm. Could brains ever touch her
emotions as bravery had done?

"Where are the brains I boast of?" he groaned, in the midst of these
sensational extravagances.

The lull of action was soon to be disturbed. A letter was brought to
him.

He opened it and read--

"Mr. Edward Blancove,--When you rode by me under Fairly Park, I did
not know you. I can give you a medical certificate that since then
I have been in the doctor's hands. I know you now. I call upon you
to meet me, with what weapons you like best, to prove that you are
not a midnight assassin. The place shall be where you choose to
appoint. If you decline I will make you publicly acknowledge what
you have done. If you answer, that I am not a gentleman and you are
one, I say that you have attacked me in the dark, when I was on
horseback, and you are now my equal, if I like to think so. You
will not talk about the law after that night. The man you employed
I may punish or I may leave, though he struck the blow. But I will
meet you. To-morrow, a friend of mine, who is a major in the army,
will be down here, and will call on you from me; or on any friend of
yours you are pleased to name. I will not let you escape. Whether
I shall face a guilty man in you, God knows; but I know I have a
right to call upon you to face me.

"I am, Sir,
"Yours truly,

"Robert Eccles."

Edward's face grew signally white over the contents of this unprecedented
challenge. The letter had been brought in to him at the breakfast table.
"Read it, read it," said Mrs. Lovell, seeing him put it by; and he had
read it with her eyes on him.

The man seemed to him a man of claws, who clutched like a demon. Would
nothing quiet him? Edward thought of bribes for the sake of peace; but a
second glance at the letter assured his sagacious mind that bribes were
powerless in this man's case; neither bribes nor sticks were of service.
Departure from Fairly would avail as little: the tenacious devil would
follow him to London; and what was worse, as a hound from Dahlia's family
he was now on the right scent, and appeared to know that he was. How was
a scandal to be avoided? By leaving Fairly instantly for any place on
earth, he could not avoid leaving the man behind; and if the man saw Mrs.
Lovell again, her instincts as a woman of her class were not to be
trusted. As likely as not she would side with the ruffian; that is, she
would think he had been wronged--perhaps think that he ought to have been
met. There is the democratic virus secret in every woman; it was
predominant in Mrs. Lovell, according to Edward's observation of the
lady. The rights of individual manhood were, as he angrily perceived,
likely to be recognized by her spirit, if only they were stoutly
asserted; and that in defiance of station, of reason, of all the ideas
inculcated by education and society.

"I believe she'll expect me to fight him," he exclaimed. At least, he
knew she would despise him if he avoided the brutal challenge without
some show of dignity.

On rising from the table, he drew Algernon aside. It was an insufferable
thought that he was compelled to take his brainless cousin into his
confidence, even to the extent of soliciting his counsel, but there was
no help for it. In vain Edward asked himself why he had been such an
idiot as to stain his hands with the affair at all. He attributed it to
his regard for Algernon. Having commonly the sway of his passions, he
was in the habit of forgetting that he ever lost control of them; and the
fierce black mood, engendered by Robert's audacious persecution, had
passed from his memory, though it was now recalled in full force.

"See what a mess you drag a man into," he said.

Algernon read a line of the letter. "Oh, confound this infernal fellow!"
he shouted, in sickly wonderment; and snapped sharp, "drag you into the
mess? Upon my honour, your coolness, Ned, is the biggest part about you,
if it isn't the best."

Edward's grip fixed on him, for they were only just out of earshot of
Mrs. Lovell. They went upstairs, and Algernon read the letter through.

"'Midnight assassin,'" he repeated; "by Jove! how beastly that sounds.
It's a lie that you attacked him in the dark, Ned--eh?"

"I did not attack him at all," said Edward. "He behaved like a ruffian
to you, and deserved shooting like a mad dog."

"Did you, though," Algernon persisted in questioning, despite his
cousin's manifest shyness of the subject "did you really go out with that
man Sedgett, and stop this fellow on horseback? He speaks of a blow.
You didn't strike him, did you, Ned? I mean, not a hit, except in
self-defence?"

Edward bit his lip, and shot a level reflective side-look, peculiar to
him when meditating. He wished his cousin to propose that Mrs. Lovell
should see the letter. He felt that by consulting with her, he could
bring her to apprehend the common sense of the position, and be so far
responsible for what he might do, that she would not dare to let her
heart be rebellious toward him subsequently. If he himself went to her
it would look too much like pleading for her intercession. The subtle
directness of the woman's spirit had to be guarded against at every
point.

He replied to Algernon,--

"What I did was on your behalf. Oblige me by not interrogating me. I
give you my positive assurance that I encouraged no unmanly assault on
him."

"That'll do, that'll do," said Algernon, eager not to hear more, lest
there should come an explanation of what he had heard. "Of course, then,
this fellow has no right--the devil's in him! If we could only make him
murder Sedgett and get hanged for it! He's got a friend who's a major in
the army? Oh, come, I say; this is pitching it too stiff. I shall
insist upon seeing his commission. Really, Ned, I can't advise. I'll
stand by you, that you may be sure of--stand by you; but what the deuce
to say to help you! Go before the magistrate.... Get Lord Elling to
issue a warrant to prevent a breach of the peace. No; that won't do.
This quack of a major in the army's to call to-morrow. I don't mind, if
he shows his credentials all clear, amusing him in any manner he likes.
I can't see the best scheme. Hang it, Ned, it's very hard upon me to ask
me to do the thinking. I always go to Peggy Lovell when I'm bothered.
There--Mrs. Lovell! Mistress Lovell! Madame! my Princess Lovell, if you
want me to pronounce respectable titles to her name. You're too proud to
ask a woman to help you, ain't you, Ned?"

"No," said Edward, mildly. "In some cases their wits are keen enough.
One doesn't like to drag her into such a business."

"Hm," went Algernon. "I don't think she's so innocent of it as you
fancy."

"She's very clever," said Edward.

"She's awfully clever!" cried Algernon. He paused to give room for more
praises of her, and then pursued:

"She's so kind. That's what you don't credit her for. I'll go and
consult her, if positively you don't mind. Trust her for keeping it
quiet. Come, Ned, she's sure to hit upon the right thing. May I go?"

"It's your affair, more than mine," said Edward.

"Have it so, if you like," returned the good-natured fellow. "It's worth
while consulting her, just to see how neatly she'll take it. Bless your
heart, she won't know a bit more than you want her to know. I'm off to
her now." He carried away the letter.

Edward's own practical judgement would have advised his instantly sending
a short reply to Robert, explaining that he was simply in conversation
with the man Sedgett, when Robert, the old enemy of the latter, rode by,
and, that while regretting Sedgett's proceedings, he could not be held
accountable for them. But it was useless to think of acting in
accordance with his reason. Mrs. Lovell was queen, and sat in reason's
place. It was absolutely necessary to conciliate her approbation of his
conduct in this dilemma, by submitting to the decided unpleasantness of
talking with her on a subject that fevered him, and of allowing her to
suppose he required the help of her sagacity. Such was the humiliation
imposed upon him. Further than this he had nothing to fear, for no woman
could fail to be overborne by the masculine force of his brain in an
argument. The humiliation was bad enough, and half tempted him to think
that his old dream of working as a hard student, with fair and gentle
Dahlia ministering to his comforts, and too happy to call herself his,
was best. Was it not, after one particular step had been taken, the
manliest life he could have shaped out? Or did he imagine it so at this
moment, because he was a coward, and because pride, and vanity, and
ferocity alternately had to screw him up to meet the consequences of his
acts, instead of the great heart?

If a coward, Dahlia was his home, his refuge, his sanctuary. Mrs. Lovell
was perdition and its scorching fires to a man with a taint of cowardice
in him.

Whatever he was, Edward's vanity would not permit him to acknowledge
himself that. Still, he did not call on his heart to play inspiriting
music. His ideas turned to subterfuge. His aim was to keep the good
opinion of Mrs. Lovell while he quieted Robert; and he entered
straightway upon that very perilous course, the attempt, for the sake of
winning her, to bewilder and deceive a woman's instincts.

CHAPTER XXIII

Over a fire in one of the upper sitting-rooms of the Pilot Inn, Robert
sat with his friend, the beloved friend of whom he used to speak to
Dahlia and Rhoda, too proudly not to seem betraying the weaker point of
pride. This friend had accepted the title from a private soldier of his
regiment; to be capable of doing which, a man must be both officer and
gentleman in a sterner and less liberal sense than is expressed by that
everlasting phrase in the mouth of the military parrot. Major Percy
Waring, the son of a clergyman, was a working soldier, a slayer, if you
will, from pure love of the profession of arms, and all the while the
sweetest and gentlest of men. I call him a working soldier in opposition
to the parading soldier, the, coxcomb in uniform, the hero by accident,
and the martial boys of wealth and station, who are of the army of
England. He studied war when the trumpet slumbered, and had no place but
in the field when it sounded. To him the honour of England was as a babe
in his arms: he hugged it like a mother. He knew the military history of
every regiment in the service. Disasters even of old date brought groans
from him. This enthusiastic face was singularly soft when the large dark
eyes were set musing. The cast of it being such, sometimes in speaking
of a happy play of artillery upon congregated masses, an odd effect was
produced. Ordinarily, the clear features were reflective almost to
sadness, in the absence of animation; but an exulting energy for action
would now and then light them up. Hilarity of spirit did not belong to
him. He was, nevertheless, a cheerful talker, as could be seen in the
glad ear given to him by Robert. Between them it was "Robert" and
"Percy." Robert had rescued him from drowning on the East Anglian shore,
and the friendship which ensued was one chief reason for Robert's
quitting the post of trooper and buying himself out. It was against
Percy's advice, who wanted to purchase a commission for him; but the
humbler man had the sturdy scruples of his rank regarding money, and his
romantic illusions being dispersed by an experience of the absolute
class-distinctions in the service, Robert; that he might prevent his
friend from violating them, made use of his aunt's legacy to obtain
release. Since that date they had not met; but their friendship was
fast. Percy had recently paid a visit to Queen Anne's Farm, where he had
seen Rhoda and heard of Robert's departure. Knowing Robert's birthplace,
he had come on to Warbeach, and had seen Jonathan Eccles, who referred
him to Mrs. Boulby, licenced seller of brandy, if he wished to enjoy an
interview with Robert Eccles.

"The old man sent up regularly every day to inquire how his son was
faring on the road to the next world," said Robert, laughing. "He's
tough old English oak. I'm just to him what I appear at the time. It's
better having him like that than one of your jerky fathers, who seem to
belong to the stage of a theatre. Everybody respects my old dad, and I
can laugh at what he thinks of me. I've only to let him know I've served
an apprenticeship in farming, and can make use of some of his ideas-
-sound! every one of 'em; every one of 'em sound! And that I say of my
own father."

"Why don't you tell him?" Percy asked.

"I want to forget all about Kent and drown the county," said Robert.
"And I'm going to, as far as my memory's concerned."

Percy waited for some seconds. He comprehended perfectly this state of
wilfulness in an uneducated sensitive man.

"She has a steadfast look in her face, Robert. She doesn't look as if
she trifled. I've really never seen a finer, franker girl in my life, if
faces are to be trusted."

"It's t' other way. There's no trifling in her case. She's frank. She
fires at you point blank."

"You never mentioned her in your letters to me, Robert."

"No. I had a suspicion from the first I was going to be a fool about the
girl."

Percy struck his hand.

"You didn't do quite right."

"Do you say that?"

Robert silenced him with this question, for there was a woman in Percy's
antecedent history.

The subject being dismissed, they talked more freely. Robert related the
tale of Dahlia, and of his doings at Fairly.

"Oh! we agree," he said, noting a curious smile that Percy could not
smooth out of sight. "I know it was odd conduct. I do respect my
superiors; but, believe me or not, Percy, injury done to a girl makes me
mad, and I can't hold back; and she's the sister of the girl you saw. By
heaven! if it weren't for my head getting blind now when my blood boils,
I've the mind to walk straight up to the house and screw the secret out
of one of them. What I say is--Is there a God up aloft? Then, he sees
all, and society is vapour, and while I feel the spirit in me to do it, I
go straight at my aim."

"If, at the same time, there's no brandy in you," said Percy, "which
would stop your seeing clear or going straight."

The suggestion was a cruel shock. Robert nodded. "That's true. I
suppose it's my bad education that won't let me keep cool. I'm ashamed
of myself after it. I shout and thunder, and the end of it is, I go away
and think about the same of Robert Eccles that I've frightened other
people into thinking. Perhaps you'll think me to blame in this case?
One of those Mr. Blancoves--not the one you've heard of--struck me on the
field before a lady. I bore it. It was part of what I'd gone out to
meet. I was riding home late at night, and he stood at the corner of the
lane, with an old enemy of mine, and a sad cur that is! Sedgett's his
name--Nic, the Christian part of it. There'd just come a sharp snowfall
from the north, and the moonlight shot over the flying edge of the
rear-cloud; and I saw Sedgett with a stick in his hand; but the gentleman
had no stick. I'll give Mr. Edward Blancove credit for not meaning to be
active in a dastardly assault.

"But why was he in consultation with my enemy? And he let my enemy--by
the way, Percy, you dislike that sort of talk of 'my enemy,' I know. You
like it put plain and simple: but down in these old parts again, I catch
at old habits; and I'm always a worse man when I haven't seen you for a
time. Sedgett, say. Sedgett, as I passed, made a sweep at my horse's
knees, and took them a little over the fetlock. The beast reared. While
I was holding on he swung a blow at me, and took me here."

Robert touched his head. "I dropped like a horse-chestnut from the tree.
When I recovered, I was lying in the lane. I think I was there flat,
face to the ground, for half an hour, quite sensible, looking at the
pretty colour of my blood on the snow. The horse was gone. I just
managed to reel along to this place, where there's always a home for me.
Now, will you believe it possible? I went out next day: I saw Mr. Edward
Blancove, and I might have seen a baby and felt the same to it. I didn't
know him a bit. Yesterday morning your letter was sent up from Sutton
farm. Somehow, the moment I'd read it, I remembered his face. I sent
him word there was a matter to be settled between us. You think I was
wrong?"

Major Waring had set a deliberately calculating eye on him.

"I want to hear more," he said.

"You think I have no claim to challenge a man in his position?"

"Answer me first, Robert. You think this Mr. Blancove helped, or
instigated this man Sedgett in his attack upon you?"

"I haven't a doubt that he did."

"It's not plain evidence."

"It's good circumstantial evidence."

"At any rate, you are perhaps justified in thinking him capable of this:
though the rule is, to believe nothing against a gentleman until it is
flatly proved--when we drum him out of the ranks. But, if you can fancy
it true, would you put yourself upon an equal footing with him?"

"I would," said Robert.

"Then you accept his code of morals."

"That's too shrewd for me: but men who preach against duelling, or any
kind of man-to-man in hot earnest, always fence in that way."

"I detest duelling," Major Waring remarked. "I don't like a system that
permits knaves and fools to exercise a claim to imperil the lives of
useful men. Let me observe, that I am not a preacher against it. I
think you know my opinions; and they are not quite those of the English
magistrate, and other mild persons who are wrathful at the practice upon
any pretence. Keep to the other discussion. You challenge a man--you
admit him your equal. But why do I argue with you? I know your mind as
well as my own. You have some other idea in the background."

"I feel that he's the guilty man," said Robert.

"You feel called upon to punish him."

"No. Wait: he will not fight; but I have him and I'll hold him. I feel
he's the man who has injured this girl, by every witness of facts that I
can bring together; and as for the other young fellow I led such a dog's
life down here, I could beg his pardon. This one's eye met mine. I saw
it wouldn't have stopped short of murder--opportunity given. Why?
Because I pressed on the right spring. I'm like a woman in seeing some
things. He shall repent. By--! Slap me on the face, Percy. I've taken
to brandy and to swearing. Damn the girl who made me forget good
lessons! Bless her heart, I mean. She saw you, did she? Did she colour
when she heard your name?"

"Very much," said Major Waring.

"Was dressed in--?"

"Black, with a crimson ribbon round the collar."

Robert waved the image from his eyes.

"I'm not going to dream of her. Peace, and babies, and farming, and
pride in myself with a woman by my side--there! You've seen her--all
that's gone. I might as well ask the East wind to blow West. Her face
is set the other way. Of course, the nature and value of a man is shown
by how he takes this sort of pain; and hark at me! I'm yelling. I
thought I was cured. I looked up into the eyes of a lady ten times
sweeter--when?--somewhen! I've lost dates. But here's the girl at me
again. She cuddles into me--slips her hand into my breast and tugs at
strings there. I can't help talking to you about her, now we've got over
the first step. I'll soon give it up.

"She wore a red ribbon? If it had been Spring, you'd have seen roses.
Oh! what a stanch heart that girl has. Where she sets it, mind! Her
life where that creature sets her heart! But, for me, not a penny of
comfort! Now for a whole week of her, day and night, in that black dress
with the coloured ribbon. On she goes: walking to church; sitting at
table; looking out of the window!

"Will you believe I thought those thick eyebrows of hers ugly once--a
tremendous long time ago. Yes; but what eyes she has under them! And if
she looks tender, one corner of her mouth goes quivering; and the eyes
are steady, so that it looks like some wonderful bit of mercy.

"I think of that true-hearted creature praying and longing for her
sister, and fearing there's shame--that's why she hates me. I wouldn't
say I was certain her sister had not fallen into a pit. I couldn't. I
was an idiot. I thought I wouldn't be a hypocrite. I might have said I
believed as she did. There she stood ready to be taken--ready to have
given herself to me, if I had only spoken a word! It was a moment of
heaven, and God the Father could not give it to me twice The chance has
gone.

"Oh! what a miserable mad dog I am to gabble on in this way.--Come in!
come in, mother."

Mrs. Boulby entered, with soft footsteps, bearing a letter.

"From the Park," she said, and commenced chiding Robert gently, to
establish her right to do it with solemnity.

"He will talk, sir. He's one o' them that either they talk or they hang
silent, and no middle way will they take; and the doctor's their foe, and
health they despise; and since this cruel blow, obstinacy do seem to have
been knocked like a nail into his head so fast, persuasion have not a
atom o' power over him."

"There must be talking when friends meet, ma'am," said Major Waring.

"Ah!" returned the widow, "if it wouldn't be all on one side."

"I've done now, mother," said Robert.

Mrs. Boulby retired, and Robert opened the letter.

It ran thus:--

"Sir, I am glad you have done me the favour of addressing me
temperately, so that I am permitted to clear myself of an unjust and
most unpleasant imputation. I will, if you please, see you, or your
friend; to whom perhaps I shall better be able to certify how
unfounded is the charge you bring against me. I will call upon you
at the Pilot Inn, where I hear that you are staying; or, if you
prefer it, I will attend to any appointment you may choose to direct
elsewhere. But it must be immediate, as the term of my residence in
this neighbourhood is limited.

"I am,
"Sir,
"Yours obediently,

"Edward Blancove."

Major Waning read the lines with a critical attention.

"It seems fair and open," was his remark.

"Here," Robert struck his breast, "here's what answers him. What shall I
do? Shall I tell him to come?"

"Write to say that your friend will meet him at a stated place."

Robert saw his prey escaping. "I'm not to see him?"

"No. The decent is the right way in such cases. You must leave it to
me. This will be the proper method between gentlemen."

"It appears to my idea," said Robert, "that gentlemen are always,
somehow, stopped from taking the straight-ahead measure."

"You," Percy rejoined, "are like a civilian before a fortress. Either he
finds it so easy that he can walk into it, or he gives it up in despair
as unassailable. You have followed your own devices, and what have you
accomplished?"

"He will lie to you smoothly."

"Smoothly or not, if I discover that he has spoken falsely, he is
answerable to me."

"To me, Percy."

"No; to me. He can elude you; and will be acquitted by the general
verdict. But when he becomes answerable to me, his honour, in the
conventional, which is here the practical, sense, is at stake, and I have
him."

"I see that. Yes; he can refuse to fight me," Robert sighed. "Hey,
Lord! it's a heavy world when we come to methods. But will you, Percy,
will you put it to him at the end of your fist--'Did you deceive the
girl, and do you know where the girl now is?' Why, great heaven! we only
ask to know where she is. She may have been murdered. She's hidden from
her family. Let him confess, and let him go."

Major Waring shook his head. "You see like a woman perhaps, Robert. You
certainly talk like a woman. I will state your suspicions. When I have
done so, I am bound to accept his reply. If we discover it to have been
false, I have my remedy."

"Won't you perceive, that it isn't my object to punish him by and by, but
to tear the secret out of him on the spot--now--instantly," Robert cried.

"I perceive your object, and you have experienced some of the results of
your system. It's the primitive action of an appeal to the god of
combats, that is exploded in these days. You have no course but to take
his word."

"She said"--Robert struck his knee--"she said I should have the girl's
address. She said she would see her. She pledged that to me. I'm
speaking of the lady up at Fairly. Come! things get clearer. If she
knows where Dahlia is, who told her? This Mr. Algernon--not Edward
Blancove--was seen with Dahlia in a box at the Playhouse. He was there
with Dahlia, yet I don't think him the guilty man. There's a finger of
light upon that other."

"Who is this lady?" Major Waring asked, with lifted eyebrows.

"Mrs. Lovell."

At the name, Major Waring sat stricken.

"Lovell!" he repeated, under his breath. "Lovell! Was she ever in
India?"

"I don't know, indeed."

"Is she a widow?"

"Ay; that I've heard."

"Describe her."

Robert entered upon the task with a dozen headlong exclamations, and very
justly concluded by saying that he could give no idea of her; but his
friend apparently had gleaned sufficient.

Major Waring's face was touched by a strange pallor, and his smile had
vanished. He ran his fingers through his hair, clutching it in a knot,
as he sat eyeing the red chasm in the fire, where the light of old days
and wild memories hangs as in a crumbling world.

Robert was aware of there being a sadness in Percy's life, and that he
had loved a woman and awakened from his passion. Her name was unknown to
him. In that matter, his natural delicacy and his deference to Percy had
always checked him from sounding the subject closely. He might be, as he
had said, keen as a woman where his own instincts were in action; but
they were ineffective in guessing at the cause for Percy's sudden
depression.

"She said--this lady, Mrs. Lovell, whoever she may be--she said you
should have the girl's address:--gave you that pledge of her word?" Percy
spoke, half meditating. "How did this happen? When did you see her?"

Robert related the incident of his meeting with her, and her effort to be
a peacemaker, but made no allusion to Mrs. Boulby's tale of the bet.

"A peacemaker!" Percy interjected. "She rides well?"

"Best horsewoman I ever saw in my life," was Robert's ready answer.

Major Waring brushed at his forehead, as in impatience of thought.

"You must write two letters: one to this Mrs. Lovell. Say, you are
about to leave the place, and remind her of her promise. It's
incomprehensible; but never mind. Write that first. Then to the man.
Say that your friend--by the way, this Mrs. Lovell has small hands, has
she? I mean, peculiarly small? Did you notice, or not? I may know her.
Never mind. Write to the man. Say--don't write down my name--say that I
will meet him." Percy spoke on as in a dream. "Appoint any place and
hour. To-morrow at ten, down by the river--the bridge. Write briefly.
Thank him for his offer to afford you explanations. Don't argue it with
me any more. Write both the letters straight off."

His back was to Robert as he uttered the injunction. Robert took pen and
paper, and did as he was bidden, with all the punctilious obedience of a
man who consents perforce to see a better scheme abandoned.

One effect of the equality existing between these two of diverse rank in
life and perfect delicacy of heart, was, that the moment Percy assumed
the lead, Robert never disputed it. Muttering simply that he was
incapable of writing except when he was in a passion, he managed to
produce what, in Percy's eyes, were satisfactory epistles, though Robert
had horrible misgivings in regard to his letter to Mrs. Lovell--the
wording of it, the cast of the sentences, even down to the character of
the handwriting. These missives were despatched immediately.

"You are sure she said that?" Major Waring inquired more than once during
the afternoon, and Robert assured him that Mrs. Lovell had given him her
word. He grew very positive, and put it on his honour that she had said
it.

"You may have heard incorrectly."

"I've got the words burning inside me," said Robert.

They walked together, before dark, to Sutton Farm, but Jonathan Eccles
was abroad in his fields, and their welcome was from Mistress Anne, whom
Major Waring had not power to melt; the moment he began speaking praise
of Robert, she closed her mouth tight and crossed her wrists meekly.

"I see," said Major Waring, as they left the farm, "your aunt is of the
godly who have no forgiveness."

"I'm afraid so," cried Robert. "Cold blood never will come to an
understanding with hot blood, and the old lady's is like frozen milk.
She's right in her way, I dare say. I don't blame her. Her piety's
right enough, take it as you find it."

Mrs. Boulby had a sagacious notion that gentlemen always dined well every
day of their lives, and claimed that much from Providence as their due.
She had exerted herself to spread a neat little repast for Major Waring,
and waited on the friends herself; grieving considerably to observe that
the major failed in his duty as a gentleman, as far as the relish of
eating was concerned.

"But," she said below at her bar, "he smokes the beautifullest--smelling
cigars, and drinks coffee made in his own way. He's very particular."
Which was reckoned to be in Major Waring's favour.

The hour was near midnight when she came into the room, bearing another
letter from the Park. She thumped it on the table, ruffling and making
that pretence at the controlling of her bosom which precedes a feminine
storm. Her indignation was caused by a communication delivered by Dick
Curtis, in the parlour underneath, to the effect that Nicodemus Sedgett
was not to be heard of in the neighbourhood.

Robert laughed at her, and called her Hebrew woman--eye-for-eye and
tooth-for-tooth woman.

"Leave real rascals to the Lord above, mother. He's safe to punish them.
They've stepped outside the chances. That's my idea. I wouldn't go out
of my way to kick them--not I! It's the half-and-half villains we've got
to dispose of. They're the mischief, old lady."

Percy, however, asked some questions about Sedgett, and seemed to think
his disappearance singular. He had been examining the handwriting of the
superscription to the letter. His face was flushed as he tossed it for
Robert to open. Mrs. Boulby dropped her departing curtsey, and Robert
read out, with odd pauses and puzzled emphasis:

"Mrs. Lovell has received the letter which Mr. Robert Eccles has
addressed to her, and regrets that a misconception should have
arisen from anything that was uttered during their interview. The
allusions are obscure, and Mrs. Lovell can only remark, that she is
pained if she at all misled Mr. Eccles in what she either spoke or
promised. She is not aware that she can be of any service to him.
Should such an occasion present itself, Mr. Eccles may rest assured
that she will not fail to avail herself of it, and do her utmost to
redeem a pledge to which he has apparently attached a meaning she
can in no way account for or comprehend."

When Robert had finished, "It's like a female lawyer," he said. "That
woman speaking, and that woman writing, they're two different creatures--
upon my soul, they are! Quick, sharp, to the point, when she speaks; and
read this! Can I venture to say of a lady, she's a liar?"

"Perhaps you had better not," said Major Waring, who took the letter in
his hand and seemed to study it. After which he transferred it to his
pocket.

"To-morrow? To-morrow's Sunday," he observed. "We will go to church
to-morrow." His eyes glittered.

"Why, I'm hardly in the mood," Robert protested. "I haven't had the
habit latterly."

"Keep up the habit," said Percy. "It's a good thing for men like you."

"But what sort of a fellow am I to be showing myself there among all the
people who've been talking about me--and the people up at Fairly!" Robert
burst out in horror of the prospect. "I shall be a sight among the
people. Percy, upon my honour, I don't think I well can. I'll read the
Bible at home if you like."

"No; you'll do penance," said Major Waring.

"Are you meaning it?"

"The penance will be ten times greater on my part, believe me."

Robert fancied him to be referring to some idea of mocking the
interposition of religion.

"Then we'll go to Upton Church," he said. "I don't mind it at Upton."

"I intend to go to the church attended by 'The Family,' as we say in our
parts; and you must come with me to Warbeach."

Clasping one hand across his forehead, Robert cried, "You couldn't ask me
to do a thing I hate so much. Go, and sit, and look sheepish, and sing
hymns with the people I've been badgering; and everybody seeing me! How
can it be anything to you like what it is to me?"

"You have only to take my word for it that it is, and far more," said
Major Waring, sinking his voice. "Come; it won't do you any harm to make
an appointment to meet your conscience now and then. You will never be
ruled by reason, and your feelings have to teach you what you learn. At
any rate, it's my request."

This terminated the colloquy upon that topic. Robert looked forward to a
penitential Sabbath-day.

"She is a widow still," thought Major Waring, as he stood alone in his
bed-room, and, drawing aside the curtains of his window, looked up at the
white moon.

CHAPTER XXIV

When the sun takes to shining in winter, and the Southwest to blowing,
the corners of the earth cannot hide from him--the mornings are like
halls full of light. Robert had spent his hopes upon a wet day that
would have kept the congregation sparse and the guests at Fairly absent
from public devotions.

He perceived at once that he was doomed to be under everybody's eyes when
he walked down the aisle, for everybody would attend the service on such
a morning as this.

Already he had met his conscience, in so far as that he shunned asking
Percy again what was the reason for their going to church, and he had not
the courage to petition to go in the afternoon instead of the morning.

The question, "Are you ashamed of yourself, then?" sang in his ears as a
retort ready made.

There was no help for it; so he set about assisting his ingenuity to make
the best appearance possible--brushing his hat and coat with
extraordinary care.

Percy got him to point out the spot designated for the meeting, and
telling him to wait in the Warbeach churchyard, or within sight of it,
strolled off in the direction of the river. His simple neatness and
quiet gentlemanly air abashed Robert, and lured him from his intense
conception of abstract right and wrong, which had hitherto encouraged and
incited him, so that he became more than ever crestfallen at the prospect
of meeting the eyes of the church people, and with the trembling
sensitiveness of a woman who weighs the merits of a lover when passion is
having one of its fatal pauses, he looked at himself, and compared
himself with the class of persons he had outraged, and tried to think
better of himself, and to justify himself, and sturdily reject
comparisons. They would not be beaten back. His enemies had never
suggested them, but they were forced on him by the aspect of his friend.

Any man who takes the law into his own hands, and chooses to stand
against what is conventionally deemed fitting:--against the world, as we
say, is open to these moods of degrading humility. Robert waited for the
sound of the bells with the emotions of a common culprit. Could he have
been driven to the church and deposited suddenly in his pew, his mind
would have been easier.

It was the walking there, the walking down the aisle, the sense of his
being the fellow who had matched himself against those well-attired
gentlemen, which entirely confused him. And not exactly for his own
sake--for Percy's partly. He sickened at the thought of being seen by
Major Waring's side. His best suit and his hat were good enough, as far
as they went, only he did not feel that he wore them--he could not divine
how it was--with a proper air, an air of signal comfort. In fact, the
graceful negligence of an English gentleman's manner had been
unexpectedly revealed to him; and it was strange, he reflected, that
Percy never appeared to observe how deficient he was, and could still
treat him as an equal, call him by his Christian name, and not object to
be seen with him in public.

Robert did not think at the same time that illness had impoverished his
blood. Your sensational beings must keep a strong and a good flow of
blood in their veins to be always on a level with the occasion which they
provoke. He remembered wonderingly that he had used to be easy in gait
and ready of wit when walking from Queen Anne's Farm to Wrexby village
church. Why was he a different creature now? He could not answer the
question.

Two or three of his Warbeach acquaintances passed him in the lanes. They
gave him good day, and spoke kindly, and with pleasant friendly looks.

Their impression when they left him was that he was growing proud.

The jolly butcher of Warbeach, who had a hearty affection for him,
insisted upon clapping his hand, and showing him to Mrs. Billing, and
showing their two young ones to Robert. With a kiss to the children, and
a nod, Robert let them pass.

Here and there, he was hailed by young fellows who wore their hats on one
side, and jaunty-fashioned coats--Sunday being their own bright day of
exhibition. He took no notice of the greetings.

He tried to feel an interest in the robins and twittering wrens, and
called to mind verses about little birds, and kept repeating them, behind
a face that chilled every friendly man who knew him.

Moody the boat-builder asked him, with a stare, if he was going to
church, and on Robert's replying that perhaps he was, said "I'm dashed!"
and it was especially discouraging to one in Robert's condition.

Further to inspirit him, he met Jonathan Eccles, who put the same
question to him, and getting the same answer, turned sharp round and
walked homeward.

Robert had a great feeling of relief when the bells were silent, and
sauntered with a superior composure round the holly and laurel bushes
concealing the church. Not once did he ponder on the meeting between
Major Waring and Mr. Edward Blancove, until he beheld the former standing
alone by the churchyard gate, and then he thought more of the empty
churchyard and the absence of carriages, proclaiming the dreadful
admonition that he must immediately consider as to the best way of
comporting himself before an observant and censorious congregation.

Major Waring remarked, "You are late."

"Have I kept you waiting?" said Robert.

"Not long. They are reading the lessons."

"Is it full inside?"

"I dare say it is."

"You have seen him, I suppose?"

"Oh yes; I have seen him."

Percy was short in his speech, and pale as Robert had never seen him
before. He requested hastily to be told the situation of Lord Elling's
pew.

"Don't you think of going into the gallery?" said Robert, but received no
answer, and with an inward moan of "Good God! they'll think I've come
here in a sort of repentance," he found himself walking down the aisle;
and presently, to his amazement, settled in front of the Fairly pew, and
with his eyes on Mrs. Lovell.

What was the matter with her? Was she ill? Robert forgot his own
tribulation in an instant. Her face was like marble, and as she stood
with the prayer-book in her hand, her head swayed over it: her lips made
a faint effort at smiling, and she sat quietly down, and was concealed.
Algernon and Sir John Capes were in the pew beside her, as well as Lady
Elling, who, with a backward-turned hand and disregarding countenance,
reached out her smelling-bottle.

"Is this because she fancies I know of her having made a bet of me?"
thought Robert, and it was not his vanity prompted the supposition,
though his vanity was awakened by it. "Or is she ashamed of her
falsehood?" he thought again, and forgave her at the sight of her sweet
pale face. The singing of the hymns made her evident suffering seem holy
as a martyr's. He scarce had the power to conduct himself reverently, so
intense was his longing to show her his sympathy.

"That is Mrs. Lovell--did you see her just now?" he whispered.

"Ah?" said Major Waring.

"I'm afraid she has fainted."

"Possibly."

But Mrs. Lovell had not fainted. She rose when the time for rising came
again, and fixing her eyes with a grave devotional collectedness upon the
vicar at his reading-desk, looked quite mistress of herself--but mistress
of herself only when she kept them so fixed. When they moved, it was as
if they had relinquished some pillar of support, and they wavered; livid
shades chased her face, like the rain-clouds on a grey lake-water. Some
one fronting her weighed on her eyelids. This was evident. Robert
thought her a miracle of beauty. She was in colour like days he had
noted thoughtfully: days with purple storm, and with golden horizon
edges. She had on a bonnet of black velvet, with a delicate array of
white lace, that was not suffered to disturb the contrast to her warm
yellow hair. Her little gloved hands were both holding the book; at
times she perused it, or, the oppression becoming unendurable, turned her
gaze toward the corner of the chancel, and thence once more to her book.
Robert rejected all idea of his being in any way the cause of her strange
perturbation. He cast a glance at his friend. He had begun to nourish a
slight suspicion; but it was too slight to bear up against Percy's
self-possession; for, as he understood the story, Percy had been the
sufferer, and the lady had escaped without a wound. How, then, if such
were the case, would she be showing emotion thus deep, while he stood
before her with perfect self-command?

Robert believed that if he might look upon that adorable face for many
days together, he could thrust Rhoda's from his memory. The sermon was
not long enough for him; and he was angry with Percy for rising before
there was any movement for departure in the Fairly pew. In the doorway
of the church Percy took his arm, and asked him to point out the family
tombstone. They stood by it, when Lady Elling and Mrs. Lovell came forth
and walked to the carriage, receiving respectful salutes from the people
of Warbeach.

"How lovely she is!" said Robert.

"Do you think her handsome?" said Major Waring.

"I can't understand such a creature dying." Robert stepped over an open
grave.

The expression of Percy's eyes was bitter.

"I should imagine she thinks it just as impossible."

The Warbeach villagers waited for Lady Elling's carriage to roll away,
and with a last glance at Robert, they too went off in gossiping groups.
Robert's penance was over, and he could not refrain from asking what good
his coming to church had done.

"I can't assist you," said Percy. "By the way, Mr. Blancove denies
everything. He thinks you mad. He promises, now that you have adopted
reasonable measures, to speak to his cousin, and help, as far as he can,
to discover the address you are in search of."

"That's all?" cried Robert.

"That is all."

"Then where am I a bit farther than when I began?"

"You are only at the head of another road, and a better one."

"Oh, why do I ever give up trusting to my right hand--" Robert muttered.

But the evening brought a note to him from Algernon Blancove. It
contained a dignified condemnation of Robert's previous insane behaviour,
and closed by giving Dahlia's address in London.

"How on earth was this brought about?" Robert now questioned.

"It's singular, is it not?" said Major blaring; "but if you want a dog to
follow you, you don't pull it by the collar; and if you want a potato
from the earth, you plant the potato before you begin digging. You are a
soldier by instinct, my good Robert: your first appeal is to force. I,
you see, am a civilian: I invariably try the milder methods. Do you
start for London tonight? I remain. I wish to look at the
neighbourhood."

Robert postponed his journey to the morrow, partly in dread of his
approaching interview with Dahlia, but chiefly to continue a little
longer by the side of him whose gracious friendship gladdened his life.
They paid a second visit to Sutton Farm. Robert doggedly refused to let
a word be said to his father about his having taken to farming, and
Jonathan listened to all Major Waring said of his son like a man
deferential to the accomplishment of speaking, but too far off to hear
more than a chance word. He talked, in reply, quite cheerfully of the
weather and the state of the ground; observed that the soil was a
perpetual study, but he knew something of horses and dogs, and
Yorkshiremen were like Jews in the trouble they took to over-reach in a
bargain. "Walloping men is poor work, if you come to compare it with
walloping Nature," he said, and explained that, according to his opinion,
"to best a man at buying and selling was as wholesome an occupation as
frowzlin' along the gutters for parings and strays." He himself
preferred to go to the heart of things: "Nature makes you rich, if your
object is to do the same for her. Yorkshire fellows never think except
of making theirselves rich by fattening on your blood, like sheep-ticks."
In fine, Jonathan spoke sensibly, and abused Yorkshire, without
hesitating to confess that a certain Yorkshireman, against whom he had
matched his wits in a purchase of horseflesh, had given him a lively
recollection of the encounter.

Percy asked him what he thought of his country. "I'll tell you," said
Jonathan; "Englishmen's business is to go to war with the elements, and
so long as we fight them, we're in the right academy for learnin' how the
game goes. Our vulnerability commences when we think we'll sit down and
eat the fruits, and if I don't see signs o' that, set me mole-tunnelling.
Self-indulgence is the ruin of our time."

This was the closest remark he made to his relations with Robert, who
informed him that he was going to London on the following day. Jonathan
shook his hand heartily, without troubling himself about any inquiries.

"There's so much of that old man in me," said Robert, when Percy praised
him, on their return, "that I daren't call him a Prince of an old boy:
and never a spot of rancour in his soul. Have a claim on him--and
there's your seat at his table: take and offend him--there's your seat
still. Eat and drink, but you don't get near his heart. I'll surprise
him some day. He fancies he's past surprises."

"Well," said Percy, "you're younger than I am, and may think the future
belongs to you."

Early next morning they parted. Robert was in town by noon. He lost no
time in hurrying to the Western suburb. As he neared the house where he
was to believe Dahlia to be residing, he saw a man pass through the
leafless black shrubs by the iron gate; and when he came to the gate
himself the man was at the door. The door opened and closed on this man.
It was Nicodemus Sedgett, or Robert's eyes did him traitorous service.
He knocked at the door violently, and had to knock a second and a third
time. Dahlia was denied to him. He was told that Mrs. Ayrton had lived
there, but had left, and her present address was unknown. He asked to be
allowed to speak a word to the man who had just entered the house. No
one had entered for the last two hours, was the reply. Robert had an
impulse to rush by the stolid little female liar, but Percy's recent
lesson to him acted as a restraint; though, had it been a brawny woman or
a lacquey in his path, he would certainly have followed his natural
counsel. He turned away, lingering outside till it was dusk and the
bruise on his head gave great throbs, and then he footed desolately
farther and farther from the house. To combat with evil in his own
country village had seemed a simple thing enough, but it appeared a
superhuman task in giant London.

CHAPTER XXV

It requires, happily, many years of an ordinary man's life to teach him
to believe in the exceeding variety and quantity of things money can buy:
yet, when ingenuous minds have fully comprehended the potent character of
the metal, they are likely enough to suppose that it will buy everything:
after which comes the groaning anxiety to possess it.

This stage of experience is a sublime development in the great souls of
misers. It is their awakening moment, and it is their first real sense
of a harvest being in their hands. They have begun under the influence
of the passion for hoarding, which is but a blind passion of the
finger-ends. The idea that they have got together, bit by bit, a power,
travels slowly up to their heavy brains. Once let it be grasped,
however, and they clutch a god. They feed on everybody's hunger for it.
And, let us confess, they have in that a mighty feast.

Anthony Hackbut was not a miser. He was merely a saving old man. His
vanity was, to be thought a miser, envied as a miser. He lived in daily
hearing of the sweet chink of gold, and loved the sound, but with a
poetical love, rather than with the sordid desire to amass gold pieces.
Though a saving old man, he had his comforts; and if they haunted him and
reproached him subsequently, for indulging wayward appetites for herrings
and whelks and other sea-dainties that render up no account to you when
they have disappeared, he put by copper and silver continually, weekly
and monthly, and was master of a sum.

He knew the breadth of this sum with accuracy, and what it would expand
to this day come a year, and probably this day come five years. He knew
it only too well. The sum took no grand leaps. It increased, but did
not seem to multiply. And he was breathing in the heart of the place, of
all places in the world, where money did multiply.

He was the possessor of twelve hundred pounds, solid, and in haven; that
is, the greater part in the Bank of England, and a portion in Boyne's
Bank. He had besides a few skirmishing securities, and some such bits of
paper as Algernon had given him in the public-house on that remarkable
night of his visit to the theatre.

These, when the borrowers were defaulters in their payments and pleaded
for an extension of time, inspired him with sentiments of grandeur that
the solid property could not impart. Nevertheless, the anti-poetical
tendency within him which warred with the poetical, and set him reducing
whatsoever he claimed to plain figures, made it but a fitful hour of
satisfaction.

He had only to fix his mind upon Farmer Fleming's conception of his
wealth, to feel the miserable smallness of what seemed legitimately his
own; and he felt it with so poignant an emotion that at times his fears
of death were excited by the knowledge of a dead man's impotence to
suggest hazy margins in the final exposure of his property. There it
would lie, dead as himself! contracted, coffined, contemptible!

What would the farmer think when he came to hear that his brother Tony's
estate was not able to buy up Queen Anne's Farm?--when, in point of fact,
he found that he had all along been the richer man of the two!

Anthony's comfort was in the unfaltering strength of his constitution.
He permitted his estimate of it to hint at the probability of his
outlasting his brother William John, to whom he wished no earthly ill,
but only that he should not live with a mitigated veneration for him. He
was really nourished by the farmer's gluttonous delight in his supposed
piles of wealth. Sometimes, for weeks, he had the gift of thinking
himself one of the Bank with which he had been so long connected; and
afterward a wretched reaction set in.

It was then that his touch upon Bank money began to intoxicate him
strangely. He had at times thousands hugged against his bosom, and his
heart swelled to the money-bags immense. He was a dispirited, but a
grateful creature, after he had delivered them up. The delirium came by
fits, as if a devil lurked to surprise him.

"With this money," said the demon, "you might speculate, and in two days
make ten times the amount."

To which Anthony answered: "My character's worth fifty times the amount."

Such was his reply, but he did not think it. He was honest, and his
honesty had become a habit; but the money was the only thing which acted
on his imagination; his character had attained to no sacred halo, and was
just worth his annual income and the respect of the law for his person.
The money fired his brain!

"Ah! if it was mine!" he sighed. "If I could call it mine for just forty
or fifty hours! But it ain't, and I can't."

He fought dogged battles with the tempter, and beat him off again and
again. One day he made a truce with him by saying that if ever the
farmer should be in town of an afternoon he would steal ten minutes or
so, and make an appointment with him somewhere and show him the
money-bags without a word: let him weigh and eye them: and then the plan
was for Anthony to talk of politics, while the farmer's mind was in a
ferment.

With this arrangement the infernal Power appeared to be content, and
Anthony was temporarily relieved of his trouble. In other words, the
intermittent fever of a sort of harmless rascality was afflicting this
old creature. He never entertained the notion of running clear away with
the money entrusted to him.

Whither could an aged man fly? He thought of foreign places as of spots
that gave him a shivering sense of its being necessary for him to be born
again in nakedness and helplessness, if ever he was to see them and set
foot on them.

London was his home, and clothed him about warmly and honourably, and so
he said to the demon in their next colloquy.

Anthony had become guilty of the imprudence of admitting him to
conferences and arguing with him upon equal terms. They tell us, that
this is the imprudence of women under temptation; and perhaps Anthony was
pushed to the verge of the abyss from causes somewhat similar to those
which imperil them, and employed the same kind of efforts in his
resistance.

In consequence of this compromise, the demon by degrees took seat at his
breakfast-table, when Mrs. Wicklow, his landlady, could hear Anthony
talking in the tone of voice of one who was pushed to his sturdiest
arguments. She conceived that the old man's head was softening.

He was making one of his hurried rushes with the porterage of money on an
afternoon in Spring, when a young female plucked at his coat, and his
wrath at offenders against the law kindled in a minute into fury.

"Hands off, minx!" he cried. "You shall be given in charge. Where's a
policeman?"

"Uncle!" she said.

"You precious swindler in petticoats!" Anthony fumed.

But he had a queer recollection of her face, and when she repeated
piteously: "Uncle!" he peered at her features, saying,--

"No!" in wonderment, several times.

Her hair was cut like a boy's. She was in common garments, with a
close-shaped skull-cap and a black straw bonnet on her head; not gloved,
of ill complexion, and with deep dark lines slanting down from the
corners of her eyes. Yet the inspection convinced him that he beheld
Dahlia, his remembering the niece. He was amazed; but speedily priceless
trust in his arms, and the wickedness of the streets, he bade her follow
him. She did so with some difficulty, for he ran, and dodged, and
treated the world as his enemy, suddenly vanished, and appeared again
breathing freely.

"Why, my girl?" he said: "Why, Dahl--Mrs. What's-your-name? Why, who'd
have known you? Is that"--he got his eyes close to her hair; "is that
the ladies' fashion now? 'Cause, if it is, our young street scamps has
only got to buy bonnets, and--I say, you don't look the Pomp. Not as you
used to, Miss Ma'am, I mean--no, that you don't. Well, what's the news?
How's your husband?"

"Uncle," said Dahlia; "will you, please, let me speak to you somewhere?"

"Ain't we standing together?"

"Oh! pray, out of the crowd!"

"Come home with me, if my lodgings ain't too poor for you," said Anthony.

"Uncle, I can't. I have been unwell. I cannot walk far. Will you take
me to some quiet place?"

"Will you treat me to a cab?" Anthony sneered vehemently.

"I have left off riding, uncle."

"What! Hulloa!" Anthony sang out. "Cash is down in the mouth at home,
is it? Tell me that, now?"

Dahlia dropped her eyelids, and then entreated him once more to conduct
her to a quiet place where they might sit together, away from noise. She

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