Part 2 out of 2
to a carpenter's shop--not attempting the power of pokers upon them--and
count and make a mental note of the amount of the rival hoards, she sent
Dahlia all her messages of smirking reproof, and delighted love, and
hoped that they would soon meet and know happiness.
Rhoda, as usual, had no emotion to spare. She took possession of the
second box, and thus laden, suffered Robert to lift her into the cart.
They drove across the green, past the mill and its flashing waters, and
into the road, where the waving of Mrs. Sumfit's desolate handkerchief
was latest seen.
A horseman rode by, whom Rhoda recognized, and she blushed and had a
boding shiver. Robert marked him, and the blush as well.
It was Algernon, upon a livery-stable hack. His countenance expressed a
The farmer saw no one. The ingratitude and treachery of Robert, and of
Mrs. Sumfit and Master Gammon, kept him brooding in sombre disgust of
life. He remarked that the cart jolted a good deal.
"If you goes in a cart, wi' company o' four, you expects to be jolted,"
said Master Gammon.
"You seem to like it," Robert observed to the latter.
"It don't disturb my in'ards," quoth the serenest of mankind.
"Gammon," the farmer addressed him from the front seat, without turning
his head: "you'll take and look about for a new place."
Master Gammon digested the recommendation in silence. On its being
repeated, with, "D' ye hear?" he replied that he heard well enough.
"Well, then, look about ye sharp, or maybe, you'll be out in the cold,"
said the farmer.
"Na," returned Master Gammon, "ah never frets till I'm pinched."
"I've given ye notice," said the farmer.
"No, you ha'n't," said Master Gammon.
"I give ye notice now."
"No, you don't."
"How d' ye mean?"
"Cause I don't take ne'er a notice."
"Then you'll be kicked out, old man."
"Hey! there y' have me," said Master Gammon. "I growed at the farm, and
you don't go and tell ne'er a tree t' walk."
Rhoda laid her fingers in the veteran's palm.
"You're a long-lived family, aren't you, Master Gammon?" said Robert,
eyeing Rhoda's action enviously.
Master Gammon bade him go to a certain churchyard in Sussex, and inspect
a particular tombstone, upon which the ages of his ancestry were written.
They were more like the ages of oaks than of men.
"It's the heart kills," said Robert.
"It's damned misfortune," murmured the farmer.
"It is the wickedness in the world," thought Rhoda.
"It's a poor stomach, I reckon," Master Gammon ruminated.
They took leave of him at the station, from which eminence it was a
notable thing to see him in the road beneath, making preparations for his
return, like a conqueror of the hours. Others might run, and stew, if
they liked: Master Gammon had chosen his pace, and was not of a mind to
change it for anybody or anything. It was his boast that he had never
ridden by railway: "nor ever means to, if I can help it," he would say.
He was very much in harmony with universal nature, if to be that is the
secret of human life.
Meantime, Algernon retraced his way to the station in profound chagrin:
arriving there just as the train was visible. He caught sight of the
cart with Master Gammon in it, and asked him whether all his people were
going up to London; but the reply was evidently a mile distant, and had
not started; so putting a sovereign in Master Gammon's hand, together
with the reins of his horse, Algernon bade the old man conduct the animal
to the White Bear Inn, and thus violently pushing him off the tramways of
his intelligence, left him stranded.
He had taken a first-class return-ticket, of course, being a gentleman.
In the desperate hope that he might jump into a carriage with Rhoda, he
entered one of the second-class compartments; a fact not only foreign to
his tastes and his habits, but somewhat disgraceful, as he thought. His
trust was, that the ignoble of this earth alone had beheld him: at any
rate, his ticket was first class, as the guard would instantly and
respectfully perceive, and if he had the discomforts, he had also some of
the consolations of virtue.
Once on his way, the hard seat and the contemptible society surrounding
him, assured his reflective spirit that he loved: otherwise, was it in
reason that he should endure these hardships? "I really love the girl,"
he said, fidgeting for cushions.
He was hot, and wanted the window up, to which his fellow-travellers
assented. Then, the atmosphere becoming loaded with offence to his
morbid sense of smell, he wanted the windows down; and again they
assented. "By Jove! I must love the girl," ejaculated Algernon inwardly,
as cramp, cold, and afflicted nostrils combined to astonish his physical
sensations. Nor was it displeasing to him to evince that he was
unaccustomed to bare boards.
"We're a rich country," said a man to his neighbour; "but, if you don't
pay for it, you must take your luck, and they'll make you as
uncomfortable as they can."
"Ay," said the other. "I've travelled on the Continent. The
second-class carriages there are fit for anybody to travel in. This is
what comes of the worship of money--the individual is not respected.
"These," thought Algernon, "are beastly democrats."
Their remarks had been sympathetic with his manifestations, which had
probably suggested them. He glowered out of the window in an exceedingly
foreign manner. A plainly dressed woman requested that the window should
be closed. One of the men immediately proceeded to close it. Algernon
"Pardon me, sir," said the man; "it's a lady wants it done;" and he did
A lady! Algernon determined that these were the sort of people he should
hate for life. "Go among them and then see what they are," he addressed
an imaginary assembly of anti-democrats, as from a senatorial chair set
in the after days. Cramp, cold, ill-ordered smells, and eternal hatred
of his fellow-passengers, convinced him, in their aggregation, that he
surmounted not a little for love of Rhoda.
The train arrived in London at dusk. Algernon saw Rhoda step from a
carriage near the engine, assisted by Robert; and old Anthony was on the
platform to welcome her; and Anthony seized her bag, and the troop of
passengers moved away. It may be supposed that Algernon had angry
sensations at sight of Robert; and to a certain extent this was the case;
but he was a mercurial youth, and one who had satisfactorily proved
superior strength enjoyed a portion of his respect. Besides, if Robert
perchance should be courting Rhoda, he and Robert would enter into
another field of controversy; and Robert might be taught a lesson.
He followed the party on foot until they reached Anthony's dwelling-
place, noted the house, and sped to the Temple. There, he found
a telegraphic message from Edward, that had been awaiting him since
"Stop It," were the sole words of the communication brief, and if one
preferred to think so, enigmatic.
"What on earth does he mean?" cried Algernon, and affected again and
again to see what Edward meant, without success. "Stop it?--stop what?--
Stop the train? Stop my watch? Stop the universe? Oh! this is rank
humbug." He flung the paper down, and fell to counting the money in his
possession. The more it dwindled, the more imperative it became that he
should depart from his country.
Behind the figures, he calculated that, in all probability, Rhoda would
visit her sister this night. "I can't stop that," he said: and hearing a
clock strike, "nor that" a knock sounded on the door; "nor that." The
reflection inspired him with fatalistic views.
Sedgett appeared, and was welcome. Algernon had to check the impulse of
his hand to stretch out to the fellow, so welcome was he: Sedgett stated
that everything stood ready for the morrow. He had accomplished all that
had to be done.
"And it's more than many'd reckon," he said, and rubbed his hands, and
laughed. "I was aboard ship in Liverpool this morning, that I was. That
ere young woman's woke up from her dream", (he lengthened the word
inexpressibly) "by this time, that she is. I had to pay for my passage,
though;" at which recollection he swore. "That's money gone. Never
mind: there's worse gone with it. Ain't it nasty--don't you think, sir--
to get tired of a young woman you've been keepin' company with, and have
to be her companion, whether you will, or whether you won't? She's sick
enough now. We travelled all night. I got her on board; got her to go
to her bed; and, says I, I'll arrange about the luggage. I packs myself
down into a boat, and saw the ship steam away a good'n. Hanged if I
didn't catch myself singin'. And haven't touched a drop o' drink, nor
will, till tomorrow's over. Don't you think "Daehli"'s a very pretty
name, sir? I run back to her as hard as rail 'd carry me. She's had a
letter from her sister, recommending o' her to marry me: 'a noble man,'
she calls me--ha, ha! that's good. 'And what do you think, my dear?'
says I; and, bother me, if I can screw either a compliment or a kiss out
of her. She's got fine lady airs of her own. But I'm fond of her, that
I am. Well, sir, at the church door, after the ceremony, you settle our
business, honour bright--that's it, en't it?"
Algernon nodded. Sedgett's talk always produced discomfort in his
"By the way, what politics are you?" he asked.
Sedgett replied, staring, that he was a Tory, and Algernon nodded again,
but with brows perturbed at the thought of this ruffian being of the same
political persuasion as himself.
"Eh?" cried Sedgett; "I don't want any of your hustings pledges, though.
You'll be at the door tomorrow, or I'll have a row--mind that. A
bargain's a bargain. I like the young woman, but I must have the money.
Why not hand it over now?"
"Not till the deed's done," said Algernon, very reasonably.
Sedgett studied his features, and as a result remarked: "You put me up to
this: I'll do it, and trust you so far, but if I'm played on, I throw the
young woman over and expose you out and out. But you mean honourable?"
"I do," Algernon said of his meaning.
Another knock sounded on the door. It proved to be a footman in Sir
William's livery, bearing a letter from Edward; an amplification of the
"Dear Algy, Stop it. I'm back, and have to see
my father. I may be down about two, or three, or four,
in the morning. No key; so, keep in. I want to see
you. My whole life is changed. I must see her. Did
you get my telegram? Answer, by messenger; I shall
come to you the moment my father has finished his
Algernon told Sedgett to wait while he dressed in evening uniform, and
gave him a cigar to smoke.
"Dear Ned, Stop what? Of course, I suppose there's only one thing,
and how can I stop it? What for? You ridiculous old boy! What a
changeable old fellow you are!--Off, to see what I can do. After
eleven o'clock to-morrow, you'll feel comfortable.--If the Governor
is sweet, speak a word for the Old Brown; and bring two dozen in a
cab, if you can. There's no encouragement to keep at home in this
place. Put that to him. I, in your place, could do it. Tell him
it's a matter of markets. If I get better wine at hotels, I go to
hotels, and I spend twice--ten times the money. And say, we intend
to make the laundress cook our dinners in chambers, as a rule. Old
B. an inducement.
This epistle he dispatched by the footman, and groaned to think that if,
perchance, the Old Brown Sherry should come, he would, in all
probability, barely drink more than half-a-dozen bottles of that prime
vintage. He and Sedgett, soon after, were driving down to Dahlia's poor
lodgings in the West. On the way, an idea struck him:
Would not Sedgett be a noisier claimant for the thousand than Edward? If
he obeyed Edward's direction and stopped the marriage, he could hand back
a goodly number of hundreds, and leave it to be supposed that he had
advanced the remainder to Sedgett. How to do it? Sedgett happened to
say: "If you won't hand the money now, I must have it when I've married
her. Swear you'll be in the vestry when we're signing. I know all about
marriages. You swear, or I tell you, if I find I'm cheated, I will throw
the young woman over slap."
Algernon nodded: "I shall be there," he said, and thought that he
certainly would not. The thought cleared an oppression in his head,
though it obscured the pretty prospect of a colonial but and horse, with
Rhoda cooking for him, far from cares. He did his best to resolve that
he would stop the business, if he could. But, if it is permitted to the
fool to create entanglements and set calamity in motion, to arrest its
course is the last thing the Gods allow of his doing.
In the shadowy library light, when there was dawn out of doors, Edward
sat with his father, and both were silent, for Edward had opened his
heart, and his father had breathed some of the dry stock of wisdom on it.
Many times Edward rose to go; and Sir William signalled with his finger
that he should stay: an impassive motion, not succeeded by speech. And,
in truth, the baronet was revolving such a problem as a long career of
profitable banking refreshed by classical exercitations does not help us
to solve. There sat the son of his trust and his pride, whose sound and
equal temperament, whose precocious worldly wit, whose precise and broad
intelligence, had been the visionary comfort of his paternal days to
come; and his son had told him, reiterating it in language special and
exact as that of a Chancery barrister unfolding his case to the presiding
judge, that he had deceived and wronged an under-bred girl of the humbler
classes; and that, after a term of absence from her, he had discovered
her to be a part of his existence, and designed "You would marry her?"
Sir William asked, though less forcibly than if he could have put on a
"That is my intention, sir, with your permission," Edward replied firmly,
and his father understood that he had never known this young man, and
dealt virtually with a stranger in his son--as shrewd a blow as the
vanity which is in paternal nature may have to endure.
He could not fashion the words, "Cerritus fuit," though he thought the
thing in both tenses: Edward's wits had always been too clearly in order:
and of what avail was it to repeat great and honoured prudential maxims
to a hard-headed fellow, whose choice was to steer upon the rocks? He
did remark, in an undertone,--
"The 'misce stultitiam' seems to be a piece of advice you have adopted
too literally. I quote what you have observed of some one else."
"It is possible, sir," said Edward. "I was not particularly sparing when
I sat in the high seat. 'Non eadem est aetas, non mens." I now think
"I must take your present conduct as the fruit of your premature
sagacity, I suppose. By the same rule, your cousin Algernon may prove to
be some comfort to his father, in the end."
"Let us hope he will, sir. His father will not have deserved it so well
"The time is morning," said Sir William, looking at his watch, and
bestowing, in the bitterness of his reflections, a hue of triumph on the
sleep of his brother upstairs. "You are your own master, Edward. I will
detain you no more."
Edward shook his limbs, rejoicing.
"You prepare for a life of hard work," Sir William resumed, not without
some instigation to sternness from this display of alacrity. "I counsel
you to try the Colonial Bar."
Edward read in the first sentence, that his income would be restricted;
and in the second, that his father's social sphere was no longer to be
"Exactly, sir; I have entertained that notion myself," he said; and his
breast narrowed and his features grew sharp.
"And, if I may suggest such matters to you, I would advise you to see
very little company for some years to come."
"There, sir, you only anticipate my previously formed resolution. With
a knavery on my conscience, and a giddy-pated girl on my hands, and the
doors of the London world open to me, I should scarcely have been capable
of serious work. The precious metal, which is Knowledge, sir, is only to
be obtained by mining for it; and that excellent occupation necessarily
sends a man out of sight for a number of years. In the meantime, 'mea
virtute me involvo.'"
"You need not stop short," said his father, with a sardonic look for the
"The continuation is becoming in the mouth of a hero; but humbler persons
must content themselves not to boast the patent fact, I think." Edward
warmed as he spoke. "I am ready to bear it. I dislike poverty; but, as
I say, I am ready to bear it. Come, sir; you did me the honour once to
let me talk to you as a friend, with the limits which I have never
consciously overstepped; let me explain myself plainly and simply."
Sir William signified, "Pray speak," from the arms of his chair! and
Edward, standing, went on: "After all, a woman's devotion is worth
having, when one is not asked for the small change every ten minutes.
I am aware of the philosophic truth, that we get nothing in life for which
we don't pay. The point is, to appreciate what we desire; and so we
reach a level that makes the payment less--" He laughed. Sir William
could hardly keep back the lines of an ironical smile from his lips.
"This," pursued the orator, "is not the language for the Colonial Bar.
I wish to show you that I shall understand the character of my vocation
there. No, sir; my deeper wish is that you may accept my view of the
sole course left to a man whose sense of honour is of accord with the
inclination of his heart, and not in hostility to his clearer judgement."
"Extremely forensic," said Sir William, not displeased by the promise of
"Well, sir, I need not remark to you that rhetoric, though it should fail
to convey, does not extinguish, or imply the absence of emotion in the
speaker; but rather that his imagination is excited by his theme, and
that he addresses more presences than such as are visible. It is, like
the Roman mask, fashioned for large assemblages."
"By a parity of reasoning, then,"--Sir William was seduced into
colloquy,--"an eternal broad grin is not, in the instance of a dualogue,
"It may hide profound grief." Edward made his eyes flash. "I find I can
laugh; it would be difficult for me to smile. Sir, I pray that you will
listen to me seriously, though my language is not of a kind to make you
think me absolutely earnest in what I say, unless you know me."
"Which, I must protest, I certainly do not," interposed Sir William.
"I will do my best to instruct you, sir. Until recently, I have not
known myself. I met this girl. She trusted herself to me. You are
aware that I know a little of men and of women; and when I tell you that
I respect her now even more than I did at first--much more--so
thoroughly, that I would now put my honour in her hands, by the counsel
of my experience, as she, prompted by her instinct and her faith in me,
confided hers to mine,--perhaps, even if you persist in accusing me of
rashness, you will allow that she must be in the possession of singularly
feminine and estimable qualities. I deceived her. My object in doing so
was to spare you. Those consequences followed which can hardly fail to
ensue, when, of two living together, the woman is at a disadvantage, and
eats her heart without complaining. I could have borne a shrewish tongue
better, possibly because I could have answered it better. It is worse to
see a pale sad face with a smile of unalterable tenderness. The very
sweetness becomes repugnant."
"As little boys requiring much medicine have anticipated you by noting in
this world," observed Sir William.
"I thank you for the illustration." Edward bowed, but he smarted. "A
man so situated lives with the ghost of his conscience."
"A doubtful figure of speech," Sir William broke in. "I think you should
establish the personality before you attempt to give a feature to the
essence. But, continue."
Edward saw that by forfeiting simplicity, in order to catch his father's
peculiar cast of mind, he had left him cold and in doubt as to the
existence of the powerful impulse by which he was animated. It is a
prime error in the orator not to seize the emotions and subdue the
humanity of his hearers first. Edward perceived his mistake. He had,
however, done well in making a show of the unabated vigour of his wits.
Contempt did not dwell in the baronet's tone. On the contrary, they
talked and fenced, and tripped one another as of old; and, considering
the breach he had been compelled to explode between his father and
himself, Edward understood that this was a real gain.
He resumed: "All figures of speech must be inadequate--"
"Ah, pardon me," said Sir William, pertinaciously; "the figure I alluded
to was not inadequate. A soap-bubble is not inadequate."
"Plainly, sir, in God's name, hear me out," cried Edward. "She--what
shall I call her? my mistress, my sweetheart, if you like--let the name
be anything 'wife' it should have been, and shall be--I left her, and
have left her and have not looked on her for many months. I thought I
was tired of her--I was under odd influences--witchcraft, it seems. I
could believe in witchcraft now. Brutal selfishness is the phrase for my
conduct. I have found out my villany. I have not done a day's sensible
work, or had a single clear thought, since I parted from her. She has
had brain-fever. She has been in the hospital. She is now prostrate
with misery. While she suffered, I--I can't look back on myself. If I
had to plead before you for more than manly consideration, I could touch
you. I am my own master, and am ready to subsist by my own efforts;
there is no necessity for me to do more than say I abide by the choice I
make, and my own actions. In deciding to marry her, I do a good thing--I
do a just thing. I will prove to you that I have done a wise thing.
"Let me call to your recollection what you did me the honour to remark of
my letters from Italy. Those were written with her by my side. Every
other woman vexed me. This one alone gives me peace, and nerve to work.
If I did not desire to work, should I venture to run the chances of an
offence to you? Your girls of society are tasteless to me. And they
don't makes wives to working barristers. No, nor to working Members.
"They are very ornamental and excellent, and, as I think you would call
them, accomplished. All England would leap to arms to defend their
incontestible superiority to their mothers and their duties. I have not
the wish to stand opposed to my countrymen on any question, although I go
to other shores, and may be called upon to make capital out of
opposition. They are admirable young persons, no doubt. I do not offer
you a drab for your daughter-in-law, sir. If I rise, she will be equal
to my station. She has the manners of a lady; a lady, I say; not of the
modern young lady; with whom, I am happy to think, she does not come into
competition. She has not been sedulously trained to pull her way, when
she is to go into harness with a yokefellow.
"But I am laying myself open to the charge of feeling my position weak,
seeing that I abuse the contrary one. Think what you will of me, sir,
you will know that I have obeyed my best instinct and my soundest
judgement in this matter; I need not be taught, that if it is my destiny
to leave England I lose the association with him who must ever be my
dearest friend. And few young men can say as much of one standing in the
relation of father."
With this, Edward finished; not entirely to his satisfaction; for he had
spoken with too distinct a sincerity to please his own critical taste,
which had been educated to delight in acute antithesis and culminating
sentences--the grand Biscayan billows of rhetorical utterance, in
comparison wherewith his talk was like the little chopping waves of a
wind-blown lake. But he had, as he could see, produced an impression.
His father stood up.
"We shall be always friends; I hope," Sir William said. "As regards a
provision for you, suitable to your estate, that will be arranged. You
must have what comforts you have been taught to look to. At the same
time, I claim a personal freedom for my own actions."
"Certainly, sir," said Edward, not conceiving any new development in
"You have an esteem for Mrs. Lovell, have you not?"
Edward flushed. "I should have a very perfect esteem for her, if--" he
laughed slightly--"you will think I want everybody to be married and in
the traces now; she will never be manageable till she is married."
"I am also of that opinion," said Sir William. "I will detain you no
longer. It is a quarter to five in the morning. You will sleep here, of
"No, I must go to the Temple. By the way, Algy prefers a petition for
Sherry. He is beginning to discern good wine from bad, which may be a
"I will order Holmes to send some down to him when he has done a week's
real duty at the Bank."
"Sooner or later, then. Good morning, sir."
"Good morning." Sir William shook his son's hand.
A minute after, Edward had quitted the house. "That's over!" he said,
sniffing the morning air gratefully, and eyeing certain tinted wisps of
cloud that were in a line of the fresh blue sky.
A shy and humble entreaty had been sent by Dahlia through Robert to
Rhoda, saying that she wished not to be seen until the ceremony was at an
end; but Rhoda had become mentally stern toward her sister, and as much
to uphold her in the cleansing step she was about to take, as in the
desire to have the dear lost head upon her bosom, she disregarded
Dahlia's foolish prayer, and found it was well that she had done so; for,
to her great amazement, Dahlia, worn, shorn, sickened, and reduced to be
a mark for the scorn of the cowardice which is in the world, through the
selfishness of a lying man, loved the man still, and wavered, or rather
shrank with a pitiful fleshly terror from the noble husband who would
wipe the spot of shame from her forehead.
When, after their long separation, the sisters met, Dahlia was mistress
of herself, and pronounced Rhoda's name softly, as she moved up to kiss
her. Rhoda could not speak. Oppressed by the strangeness of the white
face which had passed through fire, she gave a mute kiss and a single
groan, while Dahlia gently caressed her on the shoulder. The frail touch
of her hand was harder to bear than the dreary vision had been, and
seemed not so real as many a dream of it. Rhoda sat by her, overcome by
the awfulness of an actual sorrow, never imagined closely, though she had
conjured up vague pictures of Dahlia's face. She had imagined agony,
tears, despair, but not the spectral change, the burnt-out look. It was
a face like a crystal lamp in which the flame has died. The ghastly
little skull-cap showed forth its wanness rigidly. Rhoda wondered to
hear her talk simply of home and the old life. At each question, the
then and the now struck her spirit with a lightning flash of opposing
scenes. But the talk deepened. Dahlia's martyrdom was near, and their
tongues were hurried into plain converse of the hour, and then Dahlia
faltered and huddled herself up like a creature swept by the torrent;
Rhoda learnt that, instead of hate or loathing of the devilish man who
had deceived her, love survived. Upon Dahlia's lips it was compassion
and forgiveness; but Rhoda, in her contempt for the word, called it love.
Dahlia submitted gladly to the torture of interrogation; "Do you, can you
care for him still?" and sighed in shame and fear of her sister, not
daring to say she thought her harsh, not daring to plead for escape, as
she had done with Robert.
"Why is there no place for the unhappy, who do not wish to live, and
cannot die?" she moaned.
And Rhoda cruelly fixed her to the marriage, making it seem irrevocable,
and barring all the faint lights to the free outer world, by praise of
her--passionate praise of her--when she confessed, that half inanimate
after her recovery from the fever, and in the hope that she might thereby
show herself to her father, she had consented to devote her life to the
only creature who was then near her to be kind to her. Rhoda made her
relate how this man had seen her first, and how, by untiring diligence,
he had followed her up and found her. "He--he must love you," said
Rhoda; and in proportion as she grew more conscious of her sister's
weakness, and with every access of tenderness toward her, she felt that
Dahlia must be thought for very much as if she were a child.
Dahlia tried to float out some fretting words for mercy, on one or other
of her heavy breathings; but her brain was under lead. She had a thirst
for Rhoda's praise in her desolation; it was sweet, though the price of
it was her doing an abhorred thing. Abhorred? She did not realize the
consequences of the act, or strength would have come to her to wrestle
with the coil: a stir of her blood would have endued her with womanly
counsel and womanly frenzy; nor could Rhoda have opposed any real
vehemence of distaste to the union on Dahlia's part. But Dahlia's blood
was frozen, her brain was under lead. She clung to the poor delight in
her sister's praise, and shuddered and thirsted. She caught at the
minutes, and saw them slip from her. All the health of her thoughts went
to establish a sort of blind belief that God; having punished her enough,
would not permit a second great misery to befall her. She expected a
sudden intervention, even though at the altar. She argued to herself
that misery, which follows sin, cannot surely afflict us further when we
are penitent, and seek to do right: her thought being, that perchance if
she refrained from striving against the current, and if she suffered her
body to be borne along, God would be the more merciful. With the small
cunning of an enfeebled spirit, she put on a mute submissiveness, and
deceived herself by it sufficiently to let the minutes pass with a
lessened horror and alarm.
This was in the first quarter of the night. The dawn was wearing near.
Sedgett had been seen by Rhoda; a quiet interview; a few words on either
side, attention paid to them by neither. But the girl doated on his
ugliness; she took it for plain proof of his worthiness; proof too that
her sister must needs have seen the latter very distinctly, or else she
could not have submitted.
Dahlia looked at the window-blinds and at the candlelight. The little
which had been spoken between her and her sister in such a chasm of time,
gave a terrible swiftness to the hours. Half shrieking, she dropped her
head in Rhoda's lap. Rhoda, thinking that with this demonstration she
renounced the project finally, prepared to say what she had to say, and
to yield. But, as was natural after a paroxysm of weakness, Dahlia's
frenzy left no courage behind it.
Dahlia said, as she swept her brows, "I am still subject to nervous
"They will soon leave you," said Rhoda, nursing her hand.
Dahlia contracted her lips. "Is father very unforgiving to women?"
"Poor father!" Rhoda interjected for answer, and Dahlia's frame was taken
with a convulsion.
"Where shall I see him to-morrow?" she asked; and, glancing from the
beamless candle to the window-blinds "Oh! it's day. Why didn't I sleep!
It's day! where am I to see him?"
"At Robert's lodgings. We all go there."
"We all go?--he goes?"
"Your husband will lead you there."
"My heaven! my heaven! I wish you had known what this is, a little--just
"I do know that it is a good and precious thing to do right," said Rhoda.
"If you had only had an affection, dear! Oh I how ungrateful I am to
"It is only, darling, that I seem unkind to you," said Rhoda.
"You think I must do this? Must? Why?"
"Why?" Rhoda pressed her fingers. "Why, when you were ill, did you not
write to me, that I might have come to you?"
"I was ashamed," said Dahlia.
"You shall not be ashamed any more, my sister."
Dahlia seized the window-blind with her trembling finger-tips, and looked
out on the day. As if it had smitten her eyeballs, she covered her face,
giving dry sobs.
"Oh! I wish--I wish you had known what this is. Must I do it? His
face! Dear, I am very sorry to distress you. Must I do it? The doctor
says I am so strong that nothing will break in me, and that I must live,
if I am not killed. But, if I might only be a servant in father's house-
-I would give all my love to a little bed of flowers."
"Father has no home now," said Rhoda.
"I know--I know. I am ready. I will submit, and then father will not be
ashamed to remain at the Farm. I am ready. Dear, I am ready. Rhoda, I
am ready. It is not much." She blew the candle out. "See. No one will
do that for me. We are not to live for ourselves. I have done wrong,
and I am going to be humble; yes, I am. I never was when I was happy,
and that proves I had no right to be happy. All I ask is for another
night with you. Why did we not lie down together and sleep? We can't
sleep now--it's day."
"Come and lie down with me for a few hours, my darling," said Rhoda.
While she was speaking, Dahlia drew the window-blind aside, to look out
once more upon the vacant, inexplicable daylight, and looked, and then
her head bent like the first thrust forward of a hawk's sighting quarry;
she spun round, her raised arms making a cramped, clapping motion.
"He is there."
At once Rhoda perceived that it was time for her to act. The name of him
who stood in the street below was written on her sister's face. She
started to her side, got possession of her hands, murmuring,--
"Come with me. You are to come with me. Don't speak. I know. I will
go down. Yes; you are to obey, and do what I tell you."
Dahlia's mouth opened, but like a child when it is warned not to cry, she
uttered a faint inward wailing, lost her ideas, and was passive in a
"What am I to do?" she said supplicatingly, as Rhoda led her to her
"Rest here. Be perfectly quiet. Trust everything to me. I am your
Leaving her under the spell of coldly-spoken words, Rhoda locked the door
on her. She was herself in great agitation, but nerved by deeper anger
there was no faltering in her movements. She went to the glass a minute,
as she tied her bonnet-strings under her chin, and pinned her shawl. A
night's vigil had not chased the bloom from her cheek, or the swimming
lustre from her dark eyes. Content that her aspect should be seemly, she
ran down the stairs, unfastened the bolts, and without hesitation closed
the door behind her. At the same instant, a gentleman crossed the road.
He asked whether Mrs. Ayrton lived in that house? Rhoda's vision danced
across his features, but she knew him unerringly to be the cruel enemy.
"My sister, Dahlia Fleming, lives there," she said.
"Then, you are Rhoda?"
"My name is Rhoda."
"Mine--I fear it will not give you pleasure to hear it--is Edward
Blancove. I returned late last night from abroad."
She walked to a distance, out of hearing and out of sight of the house,
and he silently followed. The streets were empty, save for the solitary
footing of an early workman going to his labour.
She stopped, and he said, "I hope your sister is well."
"She is quite well."
"Thank heaven for that! I heard of some illness."
"She has quite recovered."
"Did she--tell me the truth--did she get a letter that I sent two days
ago, to her? It was addressed to 'Miss Fleming, Wrexby, Kent, England.'
Did it reach her?"
"I have not seen it."
"I wrote," said Edward.
His scrutiny of her features was not reassuring to him. But he had a
side-thought, prompted by admiration of her perfect build of figure, her
succinct expression of countenance, and her equable manner of speech: to
the effect, that the true English yeomanry can breed consummate women.
Perhaps--who knows? even resolute human nature is the stronger for an
added knot--it approved the resolution he had formed, or stamped with a
justification the series of wild impulses, the remorse, and the returned
tenderness and manliness which had brought him to that spot.
"You know me, do you not?" he said.
"Yes," she answered shortly.
"I wish to see Dahlia."
"Not immediately, of course. But when she has risen later in the
morning. If she has received my letter, she will, she must see me."
"No, not later; not at all," said Rhoda.
"Not at all? Why not?"
Rhoda controlled the surging of her blood for a vehement reply; saying
simply, "You will not see her."
"My child, I must."
"I am not a child, and I say what I mean."
"But why am I not to see her? Do you pretend that it is her wish not to
see me? You can't. I know her perfectly. She is gentleness itself."
"Yes; you know that," said Rhoda, with a level flash of her eyes, and
confronting him in a way so rarely distinguishing girls of her class,
that he began to wonder and to ache with an apprehension.
"She has not changed? Rhoda--for we used to talk of you so often! You
will think better of me, by-and-by.
"Naturally enough, you detest me at present. I have been a brute. I
can't explain it, and I don't excuse myself. I state the fact to you--
her sister. My desire is to make up for the past. Will you take a
message to her from me?"
"I will not."
"You are particularly positive."
Remarks touching herself Rhoda passed by.
"Why are you so decided?" he said more urgently. "I know I have deeply
offended and hurt you. I wish, and intend to repair the wrong to the
utmost of my power. Surely it's mere silly vindictiveness on your part
to seek to thwart me. Go to her; say I am here. At all events, let it
be her choice not to see me, if I am to be rejected at the door. She
can't have had my letter. Will you do that much?"
"She knows that you are here; she has seen you."
"Has seen me?" Edward drew in his breath sharply. "Well? and she sends
you out to me?"
Rhoda did not answer. She was strongly tempted to belie Dahlia's frame
"She does send you to speak to me," Edward insisted.
"She knows that I have come."
"And you will not take one message in?"
"I will take no message from you."
"You hate me, do you not?"
Again she controlled the violent shock of her heart to give him hard
speech. He went on:--
"Whether you hate me or not is beside the matter. It lies between Dahlia
and me. I will see her. When I determine, I allow of no obstacles, not
even of wrong-headed girls. First, let me ask, is your father in
Rhoda threw a masculine meaning into her eyes.
"Do not come before him, I advise you."
"If," said Edward, with almost womanly softness, "you could know what I
have passed through in the last eight-and-forty hours, you would
understand that I am equal to any meeting; though, to speak truth, I
would rather not see him until I have done what I mean to do. Will you
be persuaded? Do you suppose that I have ceased to love your sister?"
This, her execrated word, coming from his mouth, vanquished her
"Are you cold?" he said, seeing the ripple of a trembling run over her.
"I am not cold. I cannot remain here." Rhoda tightened her
intertwisting fingers across under her bosom. "Don't try to kill my
sister outright. She's the ghost of what she was. Be so good as to go.
She will soon be out of your reach. You will have to kill me first, if
you get near her. Never! you never shall. You have lied to herbrought
disgrace on her poor head. We poor people read our Bibles, and find
nothing that excuses you. You are not punished, because there is no
young man in our family. Go."
Edward gazed at her for some time. "Well, I've deserved worse," he said,
not sorry, now that he saw an opponent in her, that she should waste her
concentrated antagonism in this fashion, and rejoiced by the testimony it
gave him that he was certainly not too late.
"You know, Rhoda, she loves me."
"If she does, let her pray to God on her knees."
"My good creature, be reasonable. Why am I here? To harm her? You take
me for a kind of monster. You look at me very much, let me say, like a
bristling cat. Here are the streets getting full of people, and you
ought not to be seen. Go to Dahlia. Tell her I am here. Tell her I am
come to claim her for good, and that her troubles are over. This is a
moment to use your reason. Will you do what I ask?"
"I would cut my tongue out, if it did you a service," said Rhoda.
"Citoyenne Corday," thought Edward, and observed: "Then I will dispense
with your assistance."
He moved in the direction of the house. Rhoda swiftly outstripped him.
They reached the gates together. She threw herself in the gateway. He
attempted to parley, but she was dumb to it.
"I allow nothing to stand between her and me," he said, and seized her
arm. She glanced hurriedly to right and left. At that moment Robert
appeared round a corner of the street. He made his voice heard, and,
coming up at double quick, caught Edward Blancove by the collar, swinging
him off. Rhoda, with a sign, tempered him to muteness, and the three
eyed one another.
"It's you," said Robert, and, understanding immediately the tactics
desired by Rhoda, requested Edward to move a step or two away in his
Edward settled the disposition of his coat-collar, as a formula wherewith
to regain composure of mind, and passed along beside Robert, Rhoda
"What does this mean?" said Robert sternly.
Edward's darker nature struggled for ascendancy within him. It was this
man's violence at Fairly which had sickened him, and irritated him
against Dahlia, and instigated him, as he remembered well, more than Mrs.
Lovell's witcheries, to the abhorrent scheme to be quit of her, and rid
of all botheration, at any cost.
"You're in some conspiracy to do her mischief, all of you," he cried.
"If you mean Dahlia Fleming," said Robert, "it'd be a base creature that
would think of doing harm to her now."
He had a man's perception that Edward would hardly have been found in
Dahlia's neighbourhood with evil intentions at this moment, though it was
a thing impossible to guess. Generous himself, he leaned to the more
"I think your name is Eccles," said Edward. "Mr. Eccles, my position
here is a very sad one. But first, let me acknowledge that I have done
you personally a wrong. I am ready to bear the burden of your
reproaches, or what you will. All that I beg is, that you will do me the
favour to grant me five minutes in private. It is imperative."
Rhoda burst in--"No, Robert!" But Robert said, "It is a reasonable
request;" and, in spite of her angry eyes, he waved her back, and walked
apart with Edward.
She stood watching them, striving to divine their speech by their
gestures, and letting her savage mood interpret the possible utterances.
It went ill with Robert in her heart that he did not suddenly grapple and
trample the man, and so break away from him. She was outraged to see
Robert's listening posture. "Lies! lies!" she said to herself, "and he
doesn't know them to be lies." The window-blinds in Dahlia's
sitting-room continued undisturbed; but she feared the agency of the
servant of the house in helping to release her sister. Time was flowing
to dangerous strands. At last Robert turned back singly. Rhoda
fortified her soul to resist.
"He has fooled you," she murmured, inaudibly, before he spoke.
"Perhaps, Rhoda, we ought not to stand in his way. He wishes to do what
a man can do in his case. So he tells me, and I'm bound not to
disbelieve him. He says he repents--says the word; and gentlemen seem to
mean it when they use it. I respect the word, and them when they're up
to that word. He wrote to her that he could not marry her, and it did
the mischief, and may well be repented of; but he wishes to be forgiven
and make amends--well, such as he can. He's been abroad, and only
received Dahlia's letters within the last two or three days. He seems to
love her, and to be heartily wretched. Just hear me out; you'll decide;
but pray, pray don't be rash. He wishes to marry her; says he has spoken
to his father this very night; came straight over from France, after he
had read her letters. He says--and it seems fair--he only asks to see
Dahlia for two minutes. If she bids him go, he goes. He's not a friend
of mine, as I could prove to you; but I do think he ought to see her. He
says he looks on her as his wife; always meant her to be his wife, but
things were against him when he wrote that letter. Well, he says so; and
it's true that gentlemen are situated--they can't always, or think they
can't, behave quite like honest men. They've got a hundred things to
consider for our one. That's my experience, and I know something of the
best among 'em. The question is about this poor young fellow who's to
marry her to-day. Mr. Blancove talks of giving him a handsome sum--a
thousand pounds--and making him comfortable--"
"There!" Rhoda exclaimed, with a lightning face. "You don't see what he
is, after that? Oh!--" She paused, revolted.
"Will you let me run off to the young man, wherever he's to be found, and
put the case to him--that is, from Dahlia? And you know she doesn't like
the marriage overmuch, Rhoda. Perhaps he may think differently when he
comes to hear of things. As to Mr. Blancove, men change and change when
they're young. I mean, gentlemen. We must learn to forgive. Either
he's as clever as the devil, or he's a man in earnest, and deserves pity.
If you'd heard him!"
"My poor sister!" sighed Rhoda. The mentioning of money to be paid had
sickened and weakened her, as with the very physical taste of
Hearing the sigh, Robert thought she had become subdued. Then Rhoda
said: "We are bound to this young man who loves my sister--bound to him
in honour: and Dahlia must esteem him, to have consented. As for the
other..." She waved the thought of his claim on her sister aside with a
quick shake of her head. "I rely on you to do this:--I will speak to Mr.
Blancove myself. He shall not see her there." She indicated the house.
"Go to my sister; and lose no time in taking her to your lodgings.
Father will not arrive till twelve. Wait and comfort her till I come,
and answer no questions. Robert," she gave him her hand gently, and,
looking sweetly, "if you will do this!"
"If I will!" cried Robert, transported by the hopeful tenderness. The
servant girl of the house had just opened the front door, intent on
scrubbing, and he passed in. Rhoda walked on to Edward.
A profound belief in the efficacy of his eloquence, when he chose to
expend it, was one of the principal supports of Edward's sense of
mastery; a secret sense belonging to certain men in every station of
life, and which is the staff of many an otherwise impressible and
fluctuating intellect. With this gift, if he trifled, or slid downward
in any direction, he could right himself easily, as he satisfactorily
conceived. It is a gift that may now and then be the ruin of promising
youths, though as a rule they find it helpful enough. Edward had exerted
it upon his father, and upon Robert. Seeing Rhoda's approach, he thought
of it as a victorious swordsman thinks of his weapon, and aimed his
observation over her possible weak and strong points, studying her
curiously even when she was close up to him. With Robert, the
representative of force, to aid her, she could no longer be regarded in
the light of a despicable hindrance to his wishes. Though inclined
strongly to detest, he respected her. She had decision, and a worthy
bearing, and a marvellously blooming aspect, and a brain that worked
withal. When she spoke, desiring him to walk on by her side, he was
pleased by her voice, and recognition of the laws of propriety, and
thought it a thousand pities that she likewise should not become the wife
of a gentleman. By degrees, after tentative beginnings, he put his spell
upon her ears, for she was attentive, and walked with a demure forward
look upon the pavement; in reality taking small note of what things he
said, until he quoted, as against himself, sentences from Dahlia's
letters; and then she fixed her eyes on him, astonished that he should
thus heap condemnation on his own head. They were most pathetic scraps
quoted by him, showing the wrestle of love with a petrifying conviction
of its hopelessness, and with the stealing on of a malady of the blood.
They gave such a picture of Dahlia's reverent love for this man, her long
torture, her chastity of soul and simple innocence, and her gathering
delirium of anguish, as Rhoda had never taken at all distinctly to her
mind. She tried to look out on him from a mist of tears.
"How could you bear to read the letters?" she sobbed.
"Could any human being read them and not break his heart for her?" said
"How could you bear to read them and leave her to perish!"
His voice deepened to an impressive hollow: "I read them for the first
time yesterday morning, in France, and I am here!"
It was undeniably, in its effect on Rhoda, a fine piece of pleading
artifice. It partially excused or accounted for his behaviour, while it
filled her with emotions which she felt to be his likewise, and therefore
she could not remain as an unsympathetic stranger by his side.
With this, he flung all artifice away. He told her the whole story,
saving the one black episode of it--the one incomprehensible act of a
desperate baseness that, blindly to get free, he had deliberately
permitted, blinked at, and had so been guilty of. He made a mental pause
as he was speaking, to consider in amazement how and by what agency he
had been reduced to shame his manhood, and he left it a marvel.
Otherwise, he in no degree exonerated himself. He dwelt sharply on his
vice of ambition, and scorned it as a misleading light. "Yet I have done
little since I have been without her!" And then, with a persuasive
sincerity, he assured her that he could neither study nor live apart from
Dahlia. "She is the dearest soul to me on earth; she is the purest
woman. I have lived with her, I have lived apart from her, and I cannot
live without her. I love her with a husband's love. Now, do you suppose
I will consent to be separated from her? I know that while her heart
beats, it's mine. Try to keep her from me--you kill her."
"She did not die," said Rhoda. It confounded his menaces.
"This time she might," he could not refrain from murmuring.
"Ah!" Rhoda drew off from him.
"But I say," cried he, "that I will see her."
"We say, that she shall do what is for her good."
"You have a project? Let me hear it. You are mad, if you have."
"It is not our doing, Mr. Blancove. It was--it was by her own choice.
She will not always be ashamed to look her father in the face. She dare
not see him before she is made worthy to see him. I believe her to have
been directed right."
"And what is her choice?"
"She has chosen for herself to marry a good and worthy man."
Edward called out, "Have you seen him--the man?"
Rhoda, thinking he wished to have the certainty of the stated fact
established, replied, "I have."
"A good and worthy man," muttered Edward. "Illness, weakness, misery,
have bewildered her senses. She thinks him a good and worthy man?"
"I think him so."
"And you have seen him?"
"Why, what monstrous delusion is this? It can't be! My good creature,
you're oddly deceived, I imagine. What is the man's name? I can
understand that she has lost her will and distinct sight; but you are
clear-sighted, and can estimate. What is the man's name?"
"I can tell you," said Rhoda; "his name is Mr. Sedgett."
"Mister--!" Edward gave one hollow stave of laughter. "And you have seen
him, and think him--"
"I know he is not a gentleman," said Rhoda. "He has been deeply good to
my sister, and I thank him, and do respect him."
"Deeply!" Edward echoed. He was prompted to betray and confess himself:
They looked around simultaneously on hearing an advancing footstep.
The very man appeared--in holiday attire, flushed, smiling, and with a
nosegay of roses in his hand. He studied the art of pleasing women. His
eye struck on Edward, and his smile vanished. Rhoda gave him no word of
recognition. As he passed on, he was led to speculate from his having
seen Mr. Edward instead of Mr. Algernon, and from the look of the former,
that changes were in the air, possibly chicanery, and the proclaiming of
himself as neatly diddled by the pair whom, with another, he heartily
hoped to dupe.
After he had gone by, Edward and Rhoda changed looks. Both knew the
destination of that lovely nosegay. The common knowledge almost kindled
an illuminating spark in her brain; but she was left in the dark, and
thought him strangely divining, or only strange. For him, a horror
cramped his limbs. He felt that he had raised a devil in that abominable
smirking ruffian. It may not, perhaps, be said that he had distinctly
known Sedgett to be the man. He had certainly suspected the possibility
of his being the man. It is out of the power of most wilful and selfish
natures to imagine, so as to see accurately, the deeds they prompt or
permit to be done. They do not comprehend them until these black
realities stand up before their eyes.
Ejaculating "Great heaven!" Edward strode some steps away, and returned.
"It's folly, Rhoda!--the uttermost madness ever conceived! I do not
believe--I know that Dahlia would never consent--first, to marry any man
but myself; secondly, to marry a man who is not a perfect gentleman. Her
delicacy distinguishes her among women."
"Mr. Blancove, my sister is nearly dead, only that she is so strong. The
disgrace has overwhelmed her, it has. When she is married, she will
thank and honour him, and see nothing but his love and kindness. I will
leave you now."
"I am going to her," said Edward.
"There's an end of talking. I trust no one will come in my path. Where
He looked up at the name of the street, and shot away from her. Rhoda
departed in another direction, firm, since she had seen Sedgett pass,
that his nobleness should not meet with an ill reward. She endowed him
with fair moral qualities, which she contrasted against Edward Blancove's
evil ones; and it was with a democratic fervour of contempt that she
dismissed the superior dutward attractions of the gentleman.
This neighbourhood was unknown to Edward, and, after plunging about in
one direction and another, he found that he had missed his way. Down
innumerable dusky streets of dwarfed houses, showing soiled silent
window-blinds, he hurried and chafed; at one moment in sharp joy that he
had got a resolution, and the next dismayed by the singular petty
impediments which were tripping him. "My dearest!" his heart cried to
Dahlia, "did I wrong you so? I will make all well. It was the work of a
fiend." Now he turned to right, now to left, and the minutes flew. They
flew; and in the gathering heat of his brain he magnified things until
the sacrifice of herself Dahlia was preparing for smote his imagination
as with a blaze of the upper light, and stood sublime before him in the
grandeur of old tragedy. "She has blinded her eyes, stifled her senses,
eaten her heart. Oh! my beloved! my wife! my poor girl! and all to be
free from shame in her father's sight!" Who could have believed that a
girl of Dahlia's class would at once have felt the shame so keenly, and
risen to such pure heights of heroism? The sacrifice flouted conception;
it mocked the steady morning. He refused to believe in it, but the short
throbs of his blood were wiser.
A whistling urchin became his guide. The little lad was carelessly
giving note to a popular opera tune, with happy disregard of concord. It
chanced that the tune was one which had taken Dahlia's ear, and,
remembering it and her pretty humming of it in the old days, Edward's
wrestling unbelief with the fatality of the hour sank, so entirely was he
under the sovereignty of his sensations. He gave the boy a big fee,
desiring superstitiously to feel that one human creature could bless the
hour. The house was in view. He knocked, and there came a strange
murmur of some denial. "She is here," he said, menacingly.
"She was taken away, sir, ten minutes gone, by a gentleman," the servant
tied to assure him.
The landlady of the house, coming up the kitchen stairs, confirmed the
statement. In pity for his torpid incredulity she begged him to examine
her house from top to bottom, and herself conducted him to Dahlia's room.
"That bed has not been slept in," said the lawyer, pointing his finger to
"No, sir; poor thing! she didn't sleep last night. She's been wearying
for weeks; and last night her sister came, and they hadn't met for very
long. Two whole candles they burnt out, or near upon it."
"Where?--" Edward's articulation choked.
"Where they're gone to, sir? That I do not know. Of course she will
The landlady begged him to wait; but to sit and see the minutes--the
black emissaries of perdition--fly upon their business, was torture as
big as to endure the tearing off of his flesh till the skeleton stood
out. Up to this point he had blamed himself; now he accused the just
heavens. Yea! is not a sinner their lawful quarry? and do they not slip
the hounds with savage glee, and hunt him down from wrong to evil, from
evil to infamy, from infamy to death, from death to woe everlasting? And
is this their righteousness?--He caught at the rusty garden rails to
steady his feet.
Algernon was employed in the comfortable degustation of his breakfast,
meditating whether he should transfer a further slice of ham or of
Yorkshire pie to his plate, or else have done with feeding and light a
cigar, when Edward appeared before him.
"Do you know where that man lives?"
Algernon had a prompting to respond, "Now, really! what man?" But
passion stops the breath of fools. He answered, "Yes."
"Have you the thousand in your pocket?"
Algernon nodded with a sickly grin.
"Jump up! Go to him. Give it up to him! Say, that if he leaves London
on the instant, and lets you see him off--say, it shall be doubled.
Stay, I'll write the promise, and put my signature. Tell him he shall,
on my word of honour, have another--another thousand pounds--as soon as I
can possibly obtain it, if he holds his tongue, and goes with you; and
see that he goes. Don't talk to me on any other subject, or lose one
Algernon got his limbs slackly together, trying to think of the
particular pocket in which he had left his cigar-case. Edward wrote a
line on a slip of note-paper, and signed his name beneath. With this and
an unsatisfied longing for tobacco Algernon departed, agreeing to meet
his cousin in the street where Dahlia dwelt.
"By Jove! two thousand! It's an expensive thing not to know your own
mind," he thought.
"How am I to get out of this scrape? That girl Rhoda doesn't care a
button for me. No colonies for me. I should feel like a convict if I
went alone. What on earth am I to do?"
It seemed preposterous to him that he should take a cab, when he had not
settled upon a scheme. The sight of a tobacconist's shop charmed one of
his more immediate difficulties to sleep. He was soon enabled to puff
"Ned's mad," he pursued his soliloquy. "He's a weather-cock. Do I ever
act as he does? And I'm the dog that gets the bad name. The idea of
giving this fellow two thousand--two thousand pounds! Why, he might live
like a gentleman."
And that when your friend proves himself to be distraught, the proper
friendly thing to do is to think for him, became eminently clear in
"Of course, it's Ned's money. I'd give it if I had it, but I haven't;
and the fellow won't take a farthing less; I know him. However, it's my
duty to try."
He summoned a vehicle. It was a boast of his proud youth that never in
his life had he ridden in a close cab. Flinging his shoulders back, he
surveyed the world on foot. "Odd faces one sees," he meditated. "I
suppose they've got feelings, like the rest; but a fellow can't help
asking--what's the use of them? If I inherit all right, as I ought to--
why shouldn't I?--I'll squat down at old Wrexby, garden and farm, and
drink my Port. I hate London. The squire's not so far wrong, I fancy."
It struck him that his chance of inheriting was not so very obscure,
after all. Why had he ever considered it obscure? It was decidedly next
to certain, he being an only son. And the squire's health was bad!
While speculating in this wise he saw advancing, arm-in-arm, Lord
Suckling and Harry Latters. They looked at him, and evidently spoke
together, but gave neither nod, nor smile, nor a word, in answer to his
flying wave of the hand. Furious, and aghast at this signal of exclusion
from the world, just at the moment when he was returning to it almost
cheerfully in spirit, he stopped the cab, jumped out, and ran after the
"I suppose I must say Mr. Latters," Algernon commenced.
Harry deliberated a quiet second or two. "Well, according to our laws of
primogeniture, I don't come first, and therefore miss a better title," he
"How are you?" Algernon nodded to Lord Suckling, who replied, "Very well,
I thank you."
Their legs were swinging forward concordantly. Algernon plucked out his
purse. "I have to beg you to excuse me," he said, hurriedly; "my cousin
Ned's in a mess, and I've been helping him as well as I can--bothered--
not an hour my own. Fifty, I think?" That amount he tendered to Harry
Latters, who took it most coolly.
"A thousand?" he queried of Lord Suckling.
"Divided by two," replied the young nobleman, and the Blucher of
bank-notes was proffered to him. He smiled queerly, hesitating to take
"I was looking for you at all the Clubs last night," said Algernon.
Lord Suckling and Latters had been at theirs, playing whist till past
midnight; yet is money, even when paid over in this egregious public
manner by a nervous hand, such testimony to the sincerity of a man, that
they shouted a simultaneous invitation for him to breakfast with them, in
an hour, at the Club, or dine with them there that evening. Algernon
affected the nod of haste and acquiescence, and ran, lest they should
hear him groan. He told the cabman to drive Northward, instead of to the
South-west. The question of the thousand pounds had been decided for
him--"by fate," he chose to affirm. The consideration that one is
pursued by fate, will not fail to impart a sense of dignity even to the
meanest. "After all, if I stop in England," said he, "I can't afford to
lose my position in society; anything's better than that an unmitigated
low scoundrel like Sedgett should bag the game." Besides, is it not
somewhat sceptical to suppose that when Fate decides, she has not weighed
the scales, and decided for the best? Meantime, the whole energy of his
intellect was set reflecting on the sort of lie which Edward would, by
nature and the occasion, be disposed to swallow. He quitted the cab, and
walked in the Park, and au diable to him there! the fool has done his
It was now half-past ten. Robert, with a most heavy heart, had
accomplished Rhoda's commands upon him. He had taken Dahlia to his
lodgings, whither, when free from Edward, Rhoda proceeded in a mood of
extreme sternness. She neither thanked Robert, nor smiled upon her
sister. Dahlia sent one quivering look up at her, and cowered lower in
her chair near the window.
"Father comes at twelve?" Rhoda said.
Robert replied: "He does."
After which a silence too irritating for masculine nerves filled the
"You will find, I hope, everything here that you may want," said Robert.
"My landlady will attend to the bell. She is very civil."
"Thank you; we shall not want anything," said Rhoda. "There is my
sister's Bible at her lodgings."
Robert gladly offered to fetch it, and left them with a sense of relief
that was almost joy. He waited a minute in the doorway, to hear whether
Dahlia addressed him. He waited on the threshold of the house, that he
might be sure Dahlia did not call for his assistance. Her cry of appeal
would have fortified him to stand against Rhoda; but no cry was heard.
He kept expecting it, pausing for it, hoping it would come to solve his
intense perplexity. The prolonged stillness terrified him; for, away
from the sisters, he had power to read the anguish of Dahlia's heart, her
frozen incapacity, and the great and remorseless mastery which lay in
Rhoda's inexorable will.
A few doors down the street he met Major blaring, on his way to him.
"Here's five minutes' work going to be done, which we may all of us
regret till the day of our deaths," Robert said, and related what had
passed during the morning hours.
Percy approved Rhoda, saying, "She must rescue her sister at all hazards.
The case is too serious for her to listen to feelings, and regrets, and
objections. The world against one poor woman is unfair odds, Robert. I
come to tell you I leave England in a day or two. Will you join me?"
"How do I know what I shall or can do?" said Robert, mournfully: and they
Rhoda's unflickering determination to carry out, and to an end, this
tragic struggle of duty against inclination; on her own sole
responsibility forcing it on; acting like a Fate, in contempt of mere
emotions,--seemed barely real to his mind: each moment that he conceived
it vividly, he became more certain that she must break down. Was it in
her power to drag Dahlia to the steps of the altar? And would not her
heart melt when at last Dahlia did get her voice? "This marriage can
never take place!" he said, and was convinced of its being impossible.
He forgot that while he was wasting energy at Fairly, Rhoda had sat
hiving bitter strength in the loneliness of the Farm; with one vile
epithet clapping on her ears, and nothing but unavailing wounded love for
her absent unhappy sister to make music of her pulses.
He found his way to Dahlia's room; he put her Bible under his arm, and
looked about him sadly. Time stood at a few minutes past eleven.
Flinging himself into a chair, he thought of waiting in that place; but a
crowd of undefinable sensations immediately beset him. Seeing Edward
Blancove in the street below, he threw up the window compassionately, and
Edward, casting a glance to right and left, crossed the road. Robert
went down to him.
"I am waiting for my cousin." Edward had his watch in his hand. "I think
I am fast. Can you tell me the time exactly?"
"Why, I'm rather slow," said Robert, comparing time with his own watch.
"I make it four minutes past the hour."
"I am at fourteen," said Edward. "I fancy I must be fast."
"About ten minutes past, is the time, I think."
"So much as that!"
"It may be a minute or so less."
"I should like," said Edward, "to ascertain positively."
"There's a clock down in the kitchen here, I suppose," said Robert.
"Safer, there's a clock at the church, just in sight from here."
"Thank you; I will go and look at that."
Robert bethought himself suddenly that Edward had better not. "I can
tell you the time to a second," he said. "It's now twelve minutes past
Edward held his watch balancing. "Twelve," he repeated; and, behind this
mask of common-place dialogue, they watched one another--warily, and
still with pity, on Robert's side.
"You can't place any reliance on watches," said Edward.
"None, I believe," Robert remarked.
"If you could see the sun every day in this climate!" Edward looked up.
"Ah, the sun's the best timepiece, when visible," Robert acquiesced.
"Backwoodsmen in America don't need watches."
"Unless it is to astonish the Indians with them."
"Ah! yes!" hummed Robert.
"Twelve--fifteen--it must be a quarter past. Or, a three quarters to the
next hour, as the Germans say."
"Odd!" Robert ejaculated. "Foreigners have the queerest ways in the
world. They mean no harm, but they make you laugh."
"They think the same of us, and perhaps do the laughing more loudly."
"Ah! let them," said Robert, not without contemptuous indignation, though
his mind was far from the talk.
The sweat was on Edward's forehead. "In a few minutes it will be
half-past--half-past eleven! I expect a friend; that makes me impatient.
Mr. Eccles"--Edward showed his singular, smallish, hard-cut and flashing
features, clear as if he had blown off a mist--"you are too much of a man
to bear malice. Where is Dahlia? Tell me at once. Some one seems to be
cruelly driving her. Has she lost her senses? She has:--or else she is
coerced in an inexplicable and shameful manner."
"Mr. Blancove," said Robert, "I bear you not a bit of malice--couldn't if
I would. I'm not sure I could have said guilty to the same sort of
things, in order to tell an enemy of mine I was sorry for what I had
done, and I respect you for your courage. Dahlia was taken from here by
Edward nodded, as if briefly assenting, while his features sharpened.
"Why?" he asked.
"It was her sister's wish."
"Has she no will of her own?"
"Very little, I'm afraid, just now, sir."
"A remarkable sister! Are they of Puritan origin?"
"Not that I am aware of."
"And this father?"
"Mr. Blancove, he is one of those sort--he can't lift up his head if he
so much as suspects a reproach to his children."
Edward brooded. "I desire--as I told you, as I told her sister, as I
told my father last night--I desire to make her my wife. What can I do
more? Are they mad with some absurd country pride? Half-past eleven!--it
will be murder if they force her to it! Where is she? To such a man as
that! Poor soul! I can hardly fear it, for I can't imagine it. Here--
the time is going. You know the man yourself."
"I know the man?" said Robert. "I've never set eyes on him--I've never
set eyes on him, and never liked to ask much about him. I had a sort of
feeling. Her sister says he is a good, and kind, honourable young
fellow, and he must be."
"Before it's too late," Edward muttered hurriedly--"you know him--his
name is Sedgett."
Robert hung swaying over him with a big voiceless chest.
"That Sedgett?" he breathed huskily, and his look was hard to meet.
Edward frowned, unable to raise his head.
"Lord in heaven! some one has something to answer for!" cried Robert.
"Come on; come to the church. That foul dog?--Or you, stay where you
are. I'll go. He to be Dahlia's husband! They've seen him, and can't
see what he is!--cunning with women as that? How did they meet? Do you
know?--can't you guess?"
He flung a lightning at Edward and ran off. Bursting into the aisle, he
saw the minister closing the Book at the altar, and three persons moving
toward the vestry, of whom the last, and the one he discerned, was Rhoda.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Ashamed of letting his ears be filled with secret talk
Full-o'-Beer's a hasty chap
Gravely reproaching the tobacconist for the growing costliness of cigars
He lies as naturally as an infant sucks
I would cut my tongue out, if it did you a service
Inferences are like shadows on the wall
Marriage is an awful thing, where there's no love
One learns to have compassion for fools, by studying them
Principle of examining your hypothesis before you proceed to decide by it
Rhoda will love you. She is firm when she loves
Sort of religion with her to believe no wrong of you
The unhappy, who do not wish to live, and cannot die
You choose to give yourself to an obscure dog