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THE CASE OF GENERAL OPLE AND LADY CAMPER
By George Meredith
An excursion beyond the immediate suburbs of London, projected long
before his pony-carriage was hired to conduct him, in fact ever since his
retirement from active service, led General Ople across a famous common,
with which he fell in love at once, to a lofty highway along the borders
of a park, for which he promptly exchanged his heart, and so gradually
within a stone's-throw or so of the river-side, where he determined not
solely to bestow his affections but to settle for life. It may be seen
that he was of an adventurous temperament, though he had thought fit to
loosen his sword-belt. The pony-carriage, however, had been hired for
the very special purpose of helping him to pass in review the lines of
what he called country houses, cottages, or even sites for building, not
too remote from sweet London: and as when Coelebs goes forth intending to
pursue and obtain, there is no doubt of his bringing home a wife, the
circumstance that there stood a house to let, in an airy situation, at a
certain distance in hail of the metropolis he worshipped, was enough to
kindle the General's enthusiasm. He would have taken the first he saw,
had it not been for his daughter, who accompanied him, and at the age of
eighteen was about to undertake the management of his house. Fortune,
under Elizabeth Ople's guiding restraint, directed him to an epitome of
the comforts. The place he fell upon is only to be described in the
tongue of auctioneers, and for the first week after taking it he modestly
followed them by terming it bijou. In time, when his own imagination,
instigated by a state of something more than mere contentment, had been
at work on it, he chose the happy phrase, 'a gentlemanly residence.' For
it was, he declared, a small estate. There was a lodge to it, resembling
two sentry-boxes forced into union, where in one half an old couple sat
bent, in the other half lay compressed; there was a backdrive to
discoverable stables; there was a bit of grass that would have appeared a
meadow if magnified; and there was a wall round the kitchen-garden and a
strip of wood round the flower-garden. The prying of the outside world
was impossible. Comfort, fortification; and gentlemanliness made the
place, as the General said, an ideal English home.
The compass of the estate was half an acre, and perhaps a perch or two,
just the size for the hugging love General Ople was happiest in giving.
He wisely decided to retain the old couple at the lodge, whose members
were used to restriction, and also not to purchase a cow, that would have
wanted pasture. With the old man, while the old woman attended to the
bell at the handsome front entrance with its gilt-spiked gates, he
undertook to do the gardening; a business he delighted in, so long as he
could perform it in a gentlemanly manner, that is to say, so long as he
was not overlooked. He was perfectly concealed from the road. Only one
house, and curiously indeed, only one window of the house, and further to
show the protection extended to Douro Lodge, that window an attic,
overlooked him. And the house was empty.
The house (for who can hope, and who should desire a commodious house,
with conservatories, aviaries, pond and boat-shed, and other joys of
wealth, to remain unoccupied) was taken two seasons later by a lady, of
whom Fame, rolling like a dust-cloud from the place she had left,
reported that she was eccentric. The word is uninstructive: it does not
frighten. In a lady of a certain age, it is rather a characteristic of
aristocracy in retirement. And at least it implies wealth.
General Ople was very anxious to see her. He had the sentiment of humble
respectfulness toward aristocracy, and there was that in riches which
aroused his admiration. London, for instance, he was not afraid to say
he thought the wonder of the world. He remarked, in addition, that the
sacking of London would suffice to make every common soldier of the
foreign army of occupation an independent gentleman for the term of his
natural days. But this is a nightmare! said he, startling himself with
an abhorrent dream of envy of those enriched invading officers: for Booty
is the one lovely thing which the military mind can contemplate in the
abstract. His habit was to go off in an explosion of heavy sighs when he
had delivered himself so far, like a man at war with himself.
The lady arrived in time: she received the cards of the neighbourhood,
and signalized her eccentricity by paying no attention to them, excepting
the card of a Mrs. Baerens, who had audience of her at once. By express
arrangement, the card of General Wilson Ople, as her nearest neighbour,
followed the card of the rector, the social head of the district; and the
rector was granted an interview, but Lady Camper was not at home to
General Ople. She is of superior station to me, and may not wish to
associate with me, the General modestly said. Nevertheless he was
wounded: for in spite of himself, and without the slightest wish to
obtrude his own person, as he explained the meaning that he had in him,
his rank in the British army forced him to be the representative of it,
in the absence of any one of a superior rank. So that he was
professionally hurt, and his heart being in his profession, it may be
honestly stated that he was wounded in his feelings, though he said no,
and insisted on the distinction. Once a day his walk for constitutional
exercise compelled him to pass before Lady Camper's windows, which were
not bashfully withdrawn, as he said humorously of Douro Lodge, in the
seclusion of half-pay, but bowed out imperiously, militarily, like a
generalissimo on horseback, and had full command of the road and levels
up to the swelling park-foliage. He went by at a smart stride, with a
delicate depression of his upright bearing, as though hastening to greet
a friend in view, whose hand was getting ready for the shake. This much
would have been observed by a housemaid; and considering his fine figure
and the peculiar shining silveriness of his hair, the acceleration of his
gait was noticeable. When he drove by, the pony's right ear was flicked,
to the extreme indignation of a mettlesome little animal. It ensued in
consequence that the General was borne flying under the eyes of Lady
Camper, and such pace displeasing him, he reduced it invariably at a step
or two beyond the corner of her grounds.
But neither he nor his daughter Elizabeth attached importance to so
trivial a circumstance. The General punctiliously avoided glancing at
the windows during the passage past them, whether in his wild career or
on foot. Elizabeth took a side-shot, as one looks at a wayside tree.
Their speech concerning Lady Camper was an exchange of commonplaces over
her loneliness: and this condition of hers was the more perplexing to
General Ople on his hearing from his daughter that the lady was very
fine-looking, and not so very old, as he had fancied eccentric ladies
must be. The rector's account of her, too, excited the mind. She had
informed him bluntly, that she now and then went to church to save
appearances, but was not a church-goer, finding it impossible to support
the length of the service; might, however, be reckoned in subscriptions
for all the charities, and left her pew open to poor people, and none but
the poor. She had travelled over Europe, and knew the East. Sketches in
watercolours of the scenes she had visited adorned her walls, and a pair
of pistols, that she had found useful, she affirmed, lay on the writing-
desk in her drawing-room. General Ople gathered from the rector that she
had a great contempt for men: yet it was curiously varied with
lamentations over the weakness of women. 'Really she cannot possibly be
an example of that,' said the General, thinking of the pistols.
Now, we learn from those who have studied women on the chess-board, and
know what ebony or ivory will do along particular lines, or hopping, that
men much talked about will take possession of their thoughts; and
certainly the fact may be accepted for one of their moves. But the whole
fabric of our knowledge of them, which we are taught to build on this
originally acute perception, is shattered when we hear, that it is
exactly the same, in the same degree, in proportion to the amount of work
they have to do, exactly the same with men and their thoughts in the case
of women much talked about. So it was with General Ople, and nothing is
left for me to say except, that there is broader ground than the
chessboard. I am earnest in protesting the similarity of the singular
couples on common earth, because otherwise the General is in peril of the
accusation that he is a feminine character; and not simply was he a
gallant officer, and a veteran in gunpowder strife, he was also (and it
is an extraordinary thing that a genuine humility did not prevent it, and
did survive it) a lord and conqueror of the sex. He had done his pretty
bit of mischief, all in the way of honour, of course, but hearts had
knocked. And now, with his bright white hair, his close-brushed white
whiskers on a face burnt brown, his clear-cut features, and a winning
droop of his eyelids, there was powder in him still, if not shot.
There was a lamentable susceptibility to ladies' charms. On the other
hand, for the protection of the sex, a remainder of shyness kept him from
active enterprise and in the state of suffering, so long as indications
of encouragement were wanting. He had killed the soft ones, who came to
him, attracted by the softness in him, to be killed: but clever women
alarmed and paralyzed him. Their aptness to question and require
immediate sparkling answers; their demand for fresh wit, of a kind that
is not furnished by publications which strike it into heads with a
hammer, and supply it wholesale; their various reading; their power of
ridicule too; made them awful in his contemplation.
Supposing (for the inflammable officer was now thinking, and deeply
thinking, of a clever woman), supposing that Lady Camper's pistols were
needed in her defence one night: at the first report proclaiming her
extremity, valour might gain an introduction to her upon easy terms, and
would not be expected to be witty. She would, perhaps, after the
excitement, admit his masculine superiority, in the beautiful old
fashion, by fainting in his arms. Such was the reverie he passingly
indulged, and only so could he venture to hope for an acquaintance with
the formidable lady who was his next neighbour. But the proud society of
the burglarious denied him opportunity.
Meanwhile, he learnt that Lady Camper had a nephew, and the young
gentleman was in a cavalry regiment. General Ople met him outside his
gates, received and returned a polite salute, liked his appearance and
manners and talked of him to Elizabeth, asking her if by chance she had
seen him. She replied that she believed she had, and praised his
horsemanship. The General discovered that he was an excellent sculler.
His daughter was rowing him up the river when the young gentleman shot
by, with a splendid stroke, in an outrigger, backed, and floating
alongside presumed to enter into conversation, during which he managed to
express regrets at his aunt's turn for solitariness. As they belonged to
sister branches of the same Service, the General and Mr. Reginald Roller
had a theme in common, and a passion. Elizabeth told her father that
nothing afforded her so much pleasure as to hear him talk with Mr. Roller
on military matters. General Ople assured her that it pleased him
likewise. He began to spy about for Mr. Roller, and it sometimes
occurred that they conversed across the wall; it could hardly be avoided.
A hint or two, an undefinable flying allusion, gave the General to
understand that Lady Camper had not been happy in her marriage. He was
pained to think of her misfortune; but as she was not over forty, the
disaster was, perhaps, not irremediable; that is to say, if she could be
taught to extend her forgiveness to men, and abandon her solitude. 'If,'
he said to his daughter, 'Lady Camper should by any chance be induced to
contract a second alliance, she would, one might expect, be humanized,
and we should have highly agreeable neighbours.' Elizabeth artlessly
hoped for such an event to take place.
She rarely differed with her father, up to whom, taking example from the
world around him, she looked as the pattern of a man of wise conduct.
And he was one; and though modest, he was in good humour with himself,
approved himself, and could say, that without boasting of success, he was
a satisfied man, until he met his touchstone in Lady Camper.
This is the pathetic matter of my story, and it requires pointing out,
because he never could explain what it was that seemed to him so cruel in
it, for he was no brilliant son of fortune, he was no great pretender,
none of those who are logically displaced from the heights they have been
raised to, manifestly created to show the moral in Providence. He was
modest, retiring, humbly contented; a gentlemanly residence appeased his
ambition. Popular, he could own that he was, but not meteorically;
rather by reason of his willingness to receive light than his desire to
shed it. Why, then, was the terrible test brought to bear upon him, of
all men? He was one of us; no worse, and not strikingly or perilously
better; and he could not but feel, in the bitterness of his reflections
upon an inexplicable destiny, that the punishment befalling him,
unmerited as it was, looked like absence of Design in the scheme of
things, Above. It looked as if the blow had been dealt him by reckless
chance. And to believe that, was for the mind of General Ople the having
to return to his alphabet and recommence the ascent of the laborious
mountain of understanding.
To proceed, the General's introduction to Lady Camper was owing to a
message she sent him by her gardener, with a request that he would cut
down a branch of a wychelm, obscuring her view across his grounds toward
the river. The General consulted with his daughter, and came to the
conclusion, that as he could hardly despatch a written reply to a verbal
message, yet greatly wished to subscribe to the wishes of Lady Camper,
the best thing for him to do was to apply for an interview. He sent word
that he would wait on Lady Camper immediately, and betook himself
forthwith to his toilette. She was the niece of an earl.
Elizabeth commended his appearance, 'passed him,' as he would have said;
and well she might, for his hat, surtout, trousers and boots, were worthy
of an introduction to Royalty. A touch of scarlet silk round the neck
gave him bloom, and better than that, the blooming consciousness of it.
'You are not to be nervous, papa,' Elizabeth said.
'Not at all,' replied the General. 'I say, not at all, my dear,'
he repeated, and so betrayed that he had fallen into the nervous mood.
'I was saying, I have known worse mornings than this.' He turned to her
and smiled brightly, nodded, and set his face to meet the future.
He was absent an hour and a half.
He came back with his radiance a little subdued, by no means eclipsed;
as, when experience has afforded us matter for thought, we cease to shine
dazzlingly, yet are not clouded; the rays have merely grown serener. The
sum of his impressions was conveyed in the reflective utterance--'It only
shows, my dear, how different the reality is from our anticipation
Lady Camper had been charming; full of condescension, neighbourly,
friendly, willing to be satisfied with the sacrifice of the smallest
branch of the wych-elm, and only requiring that much for complimentary
Elizabeth wished to hear what they were, and she thought the request
rather singular; but the General begged her to bear in mind, that they
were dealing with a very extraordinary woman; 'highly accomplished,
really exceedingly handsome,' he said to himself, aloud.
The reasons were, her liking for air and view, and desire to see into her
neighbour's grounds without having to mount to the attic.
Elizabeth gave a slight exclamation, and blushed.
'So, my dear, we are objects of interest to her ladyship,' said the
He assured her that Lady Camper's manners were delightful. Strange to
tell, she knew a great deal of his antecedent history, things he had not
supposed were known; 'little matters,' he remarked, by which his daughter
faintly conceived a reference to the conquests of his dashing days. Lady
Camper had deigned to impart some of her own, incidentally; that she was
of Welsh blood, and born among the mountains. 'She has a romantic look,'
was the General's comment; and that her husband had been an insatiable
traveller before he became an invalid, and had never cared for Art.
'Quite an extraordinary circumstance, with such a wife!' the General
He fell upon the wych-elm with his own hands, under cover of the leafage,
and the next day he paid his respects to Lady Camper, to inquire if her
ladyship saw any further obstruction to the view.
'None,' she replied. 'And now we shall see what the two birds will do.'
Apparently, then, she entertained an animosity to a pair of birds in the
'Yes, yes; I say they chirp early in the morning,' said General Ople.
'At all hours.'
'The song of birds . . . ?' he pleaded softly for nature.
'If the nest is provided for them; but I don't like vagabond chirping.'
The General perfectly acquiesced. This, in an engagement with a clever
woman, is what you should do, or else you are likely to find yourself
planted unawares in a high wind, your hat blown off, and your coat-tails
anywhere; in other words, you will stand ridiculous in your bewilderment;
and General Ople ever footed with the utmost caution to avoid that
quagmire of the ridiculous. The extremer quags he had hitherto escaped;
the smaller, into which he fell in his agile evasions of the big, he had
hitherto been blest in finding none to notice.
He requested her ladyship's permission to present his daughter. Lady
Camper sent in her card.
Elizabeth Ople beheld a tall, handsomely-mannered lady, with good
features and penetrating dark eyes, an easy carriage of her person and
an agreeable voice, but (the vision of her age flashed out under the
compelling eyes of youth) fifty if a day. The rich colouring confessed
to it. But she was very pleasing, and Elizabeth's perception dwelt on it
only because her father's manly chivalry had defended the lady against
one year more than forty.
The richness of the colouring, Elizabeth feared, was artificial, and it
caused her ingenuous young blood a shudder. For we are so devoted to
nature when the dame is flattering us with her gifts, that we loathe the
substitute omitting to think how much less it is an imposition than a
form of practical adoration of the genuine.
Our young detective, however, concealed her emotion of childish horror.
Lady Camper remarked of her, 'She seems honest, and that is the most we
can hope of girls.'
'She is a jewel for an honest man,' the General sighed, 'some day!'
'Let us hope it will be a distant day.'
'Yet,' said the General, 'girls expect to marry.'
Lady Camper fixed her black eyes on him, but did not speak.
He told Elizabeth that her ladyship's eyes were exceedingly searching:
'Only,' said he, 'as I have nothing to hide, I am able to submit to
inspection'; and he laughed slightly up to an arresting cough, and made
the mantelpiece ornaments pass muster.
General Ople was the hero to champion a lady whose airs of haughtiness
caused her to be somewhat backbitten. He assured everybody, that Lady
Camper was much misunderstood; she was a most remarkable woman; she was a
most affable and highly intelligent lady. Building up her attributes on
a splendid climax, he declared she was pious, charitable, witty, and
really an extraordinary artist. He laid particular stress on her
artistic qualities, describing her power with the brush, her water-colour
sketches, and also some immensely clever caricatures. As he talked of no
one else, his friends heard enough of Lady Camper, who was anything but a
favourite. The Pollingtons, the Wilders, the Wardens, the Baerens, the
Goslings, and others of his acquaintance, talked of Lady Camper and
General Ople rather maliciously. They were all City people, and they
admired the General, but mourned that he should so abjectly have fallen
at the feet of a lady as red with rouge as a railway bill. His not
seeing it showed the state he was in. The sister of Mrs. Pollington, an
amiable widow, relict of a large City warehouse, named Barcop, was
chilled by a falling off in his attentions. His apology for not
appearing at garden parties was, that he was engaged to wait on Lady
And at one time, her not condescending to exchange visits with the
obsequious General was a topic fertile in irony. But she did condescend.
Lady Camper came to his gate unexpectedly, rang the bell, and was let in
like an ordinary visitor. It happened that the General was gardening--
not the pretty occupation of pruning--he was digging--and of necessity
his coat was off, and he was hot, dusty, unpresentable. From adoring
earth as the mother of roses, you may pass into a lady's presence without
purification; you cannot (or so the General thought) when you are caught
in the act of adoring the mother of cabbages. And though he himself
loved the cabbage equally with the rose, in his heart respected the
vegetable yet more than he esteemed the flower, for he gloried in his
kitchen garden, this was not a secret for the world to know, and he
almost heeled over on his beam ends when word was brought of the extreme
honour Lady Camper had done him. He worked his arms hurriedly into his
fatigue jacket, trusting to get away to the house and spend a couple of
minutes on his adornment; and with any other visitor it might have been
accomplished, but Lady Camper disliked sitting alone in a room. She was
on the square of lawn as the General stole along the walk. Had she kept
her back to him, he might have rounded her like the shadow of a dial,
undetected. She was frightfully acute of hearing. She turned while he
was in the agony of hesitation, in a queer attitude, one leg on the
march, projected by a frenzied tip-toe of the hinder leg, the very
fatallest moment she could possibly have selected for unveiling him.
Of course there was no choice but to surrender on the spot.
He began to squander his dizzy wits in profuse apologies. Lady Camper
simply spoke of the nice little nest of a garden, smelt the flowers,
accepted a Niel rose and a Rohan, a Cline, a Falcot, and La France.
'A beautiful rose indeed,' she said of the latter, 'only it smells of
'Really, it never struck me, I say it never struck me before,' rejoined
the General, smelling it as at a pinch of snuff. 'I was saying, I always
. . .' And he tacitly, with the absurdest of smiles, begged permission
to leave unterminated a sentence not in itself particularly difficult
'I have a nose,' observed Lady Camper.
Like the nobly-bred person she was, according to General Ople's version
of the interview on his estate, when he stood before her in his gardening
costume, she put him at his ease, or she exerted herself to do so; and if
he underwent considerable anguish, it was the fault of his excessive
scrupulousness regarding dress, propriety, appearance.
He conducted her at her request to the kitchen garden and the handful of
paddock, the stables and coach-house, then back to the lawn.
'It is the home for a young couple,' she said.
'I am no longer young,' the General bowed, with the sigh peculiar to this
confession. 'I say, I am no longer young, but I call the place a
gentlemanly residence. I was saying, I . . .'
'Yes, yes!' Lady Camper tossed her head, half closing her eyes, with a
contraction of the brows, as if in pain.
He perceived a similar expression whenever he spoke of his residence.
Perhaps it recalled happier days to enter such a nest. Perhaps it had
been such a home for a young couple that she had entered on her marriage
with Sir Scrope Camper, before he inherited his title and estates.
The General was at a loss to conceive what it was.
It recurred at another mention of his idea of the nature of the
residence. It was almost a paroxysm. He determined not to vex her
reminiscences again; and as this resolution directed his mind to his
residence, thinking it pre-eminently gentlemanly, his tongue committed
the error of repeating it, with 'gentleman-like' for a variation.
Elizabeth was out--he knew not where. The housemaid informed him, that
Miss Elizabeth was out rowing on the water.
'Is she alone?' Lady Camper inquired of him.
'I fancy so,' the General replied.
'The poor child has no mother.'
'It has been a sad loss to us both, Lady Camper.'
'No doubt. She is too pretty to go out alone.'
'I can trust her.'
'She has the spirit of a man.'
'That is well. She has a spirit; it will be tried.'
The General modestly furnished an instance or two of her spiritedness.
Lady Camper seemed to like this theme; she looked graciously interested.
'Still, you should not suffer her to go out alone,' she said.
'I place implicit confidence in her,' said the General; and Lady Camper
gave it up.
She proposed to walk down the lanes to the river-side, to meet Elizabeth
The General manifested alacrity checked by reluctance. Lady Camper had
told him she objected to sit in a strange room by herself; after that,
he could hardly leave her to dash upstairs to change his clothes; yet
how, attired as he was, in a fatigue jacket, that warned him not to
imagine his back view, and held him constantly a little to the rear of
Lady Camper, lest she should be troubled by it;--and he knew the habit of
the second rank to criticise the front--how consent to face the outer
world in such style side by side with the lady he admired?
'Come,' said she; and he shot forward a step, looking as if he had missed
'Are you not coming, General?'
He advanced mechanically.
Not a soul met them down the lanes, except a little one, to whom Lady
Camper gave a small silver-piece, because she was a picture.
The act of charity sank into the General's heart, as any pretty
performance will do upon a warm waxen bed.
Lady Camper surprised him by answering his thoughts. 'No; it's for my
Presently she said, 'Here they are.'
General Ople beheld his daughter by the river-side at the end of the
lane, under escort of Mr. Reginald Rolles.
It was another picture, and a pleasing one. The young lady and the young
gentleman wore boating hats, and were both dressed in white, and standing
by or just turning from the outrigger and light skiff they were about to
leave in charge of a waterman. Elizabeth stretched a finger at arm's-
length, issuing directions, which Mr. Rolles took up and worded further
to the man, for the sake of emphasis; and he, rather than Elizabeth, was
guilty of the half-start at sight of the persons who were approaching.
'My nephew, you should know, is intended for a working soldier,' said
Lady Camper; 'I like that sort of soldier best.'
General Ople drooped his shoulders at the personal compliment.
She resumed. 'His pay is a matter of importance to him. You are aware
of the smallness of a subaltern's pay.
'I,' said the General, 'I say I feel my poor half-pay, having always been
a working soldier myself, very important, I was saying, very important to
'Why did you retire?'
Her interest in him seemed promising. He replied conscientiously,
'Beyond the duties of General of Brigade, I could not, I say I could not,
dare to aspire; I can accept and execute orders; I shrink from
'It is a pity,' said she, 'that you were not, like my nephew Reginald,
entirely dependent on your profession.'
She laid such stress on her remark, that the General, who had just
expressed a very modest estimate of his abilities, was unable to reject
the flattery of her assuming him to be a man of some fortune. He
coughed, and said, 'Very little.' The thought came to him that he might
have to make a statement to her in time, and he emphasized, 'Very little
indeed. Sufficient,' he assured her, 'for a gentlemanly appearance.'
'I have given you your warning,' was her inscrutable rejoinder, uttered
within earshot of the young people, to whom, especially to Elizabeth, she
was gracious. The damsel's boating uniform was praised, and her sunny
flush of exercise and exposure.
Lady Camper regretted that she could not abandon her parasol: 'I freckle
The General, puzzling over her strange words about a warning, gazed at
the red rose of art on her cheek with an air of profound abstraction.
'I freckle so easily,' she repeated, dropping her parasol to defend her
face from the calculating scrutiny.
'I burn brown,' said Elizabeth.
Lady Camper laid the bud of a Falcot rose against the young girl's cheek,
but fetched streams of colour, that overwhelmed the momentary comparison
of the sunswarthed skin with the rich dusky yellow of the rose in its
deepening inward to soft brown.
Reginald stretched his hand for the privileged flower, and she let him
take it; then she looked at the General; but the General was looking,
with his usual air of satisfaction, nowhere.
'Lady Camper is no common enigma,' General Ople observed to his daughter.
Elizabeth inclined to be pleased with her, for at her suggestion the
General had bought a couple of horses, that she might ride in the park,
accompanied by her father or the little groom. Still, the great lady was
hard to read. She tested the resources of his income by all sorts of
instigation to expenditure, which his gallantry could not withstand; she
encouraged him to talk of his deeds in arms; she was friendly, almost
affectionate, and most bountiful in the presents of fruit, peaches,
nectarines, grapes, and hot-house wonders, that she showered on his
table; but she was an enigma in her evident dissatisfaction with him
for something he seemed to have left unsaid. And what could that be?
At their last interview she had asked him, 'Are you sure, General, you
have nothing more to tell me?'
And as he remarked, when relating it to Elizabeth, 'One might really be
tempted to misapprehend her ladyship's . . . I say one might commit
oneself beyond recovery. Now, my dear, what do you think she intended?'
Elizabeth was 'burning brown,' or darkly blushing, as her manner was.
She answered, 'I am certain you know of nothing that would interest her;
nothing, unless . . .'
'Well?' the General urged her.
'How can I speak it, papa?'
'You really can't mean . . .'
'Papa, what could I mean?'
'If I were fool enough!' he murmured. 'No, no, I am an old man. I was
saying, I am past the age of folly.'
One day Elizabeth came home from her ride in a thoughtful mood. She had
not, further than has been mentioned, incited her father to think of the
age of folly; but voluntarily or not, Lady Camper had, by an excess of
graciousness amounting to downright invitation; as thus, 'Will you
persist in withholding your confidence from me, General?' She added, 'I
am not so difficult a person.' These prompting speeches occurred on the
morning of the day when Elizabeth sat at his table, after a long ride
into the country, profoundly meditative.
A note was handed to General Ople, with the request that he would step in
to speak with Lady Camper in the course of the evening, or next morning.
Elizabeth waited till his hat was on, then said, 'Papa, on my ride to-
day, I met Mr. Rolles.'
'I am glad you had an agreeable escort, my dear.'
'I could not refuse his company.'
'Certainly not. And where did you ride?'
'To a beautiful valley; and there we met . . '
'She always admires you on horseback.'
'So you know it, papa, if she should speak of it.'
'And I am bound to tell you, my child,' said the General, 'that this
morning Lady Camper's manner to me was . . . if I were a fool . . .
I say, this morning I beat a retreat, but apparently she . . . I see
no way out of it, supposing she . . .'
'I am sure she esteems you, dear papa,' said Elizabeth. 'You take to
her, my dear?' the General inquired anxiously; 'a little?--a little
afraid of her?'
'A little,' Elizabeth replied, 'only a little.'
'Don't be agitated about me.'
'No, papa; you are sure to do right.'
'But you are trembling.'
'Oh! no. I wish you success.'
General Ople was overjoyed to be reinforced by his daughter's good
wishes. He kissed her to thank her. He turned back to her to kiss her
again. She had greatly lightened the difficulty at least of a delicate
It was just like the imperious nature of Lady Camper to summon him in the
evening to terminate the conversation of the morning, from the visible
pitfall of which he had beaten a rather precipitate retreat. But if his
daughter cordially wished him success, and Lady Camper offered him the
crown of it, why then he had only to pluck up spirit, like a good
commander who has to pass a fordable river in the enemy's presence; a
dash, a splash, a rattling volley or two, and you are over, established
on the opposite bank. But you must be positive of victory, otherwise,
with the river behind you, your new position is likely to be ticklish.
So the General entered Lady Camper's drawing-room warily, watching the
fair enemy. He knew he was captivating, his old conquests whispered in
his ears, and her reception of him all but pointed to a footstool at her
feet. He might have fallen there at once, had he not remembered a hint
that Mr. Reginald Rolles had dropped concerning Lady Camper's amazing
Lady Camper began.
'General, you ran away from me this morning. Let me speak. And, by the
way, I must reproach you; you should not have left it to me. Things have
now gone so far that I cannot pretend to be blind. I know your feelings
as a father. Your daughter's happiness . . .'
'My lady,' the General interposed, 'I have her distinct assurance that it
is, I say it is wrapt up in mine.'
'Let me speak. Young people will say anything. Well, they have a
certain excuse for selfishness; we have not. I am in some degree bound
to my nephew; he is my sister's son.'
'Assuredly, my lady. I would not stand in his light, be quite assured.
If I am, I was saying if I am not mistaken, I . . . and he is, or has
the making of an excellent soldier in him, and is likely to be a
distinguished cavalry officer.'
'He has to carve his own way in the world, General.'
'All good soldiers have, my lady. And if my position is not, after a
considerable term of service, I say if . . .'
'To continue,' said Lady Camper: 'I never have liked early marriages. I
was married in my teens before I knew men. Now I do know them, and now .
The General plunged forward: 'The honour you do us now:--a mature
experience is worth:--my dear Lady Camper, I have admired you:--and your
objection to early marriages cannot apply to . . . indeed, madam,
vigour, they say . . . though youth, of course . . . yet young
people, as you observe . . . and I have, though perhaps my reputation
is against it, I was saying I have a natural timidity with your sex, and
I am grey-headed, white-headed, but happily without a single malady.'
Lady Camper's brows showed a trifling bewilderment. 'I am speaking of
these young people, General Ople.'
'I consent to everything beforehand, my dear lady. He should be, I say
Mr. Rolles should be provided for.'
'So should she, General, so should Elizabeth.'
'She shall be, she will, dear madam. What I have, with your permission,
if--good heaven! Lady Camper, I scarcely know where I am. She would . .
. . I shall not like to lose her: you would not wish it. In time she
will . . . she has every quality of a good wife.'
'There, stay there, and be intelligible,' said Lady Camper. 'She has
every quality. Money should be one of them. Has she money?'
'Oh! my lady,' the General exclaimed, 'we shall not come upon your purse
when her time comes.'
'Has she ten thousand pounds?'
'Elizabeth? She will have, at her father's death . . . but as for my
income, it is moderate, and only sufficient to maintain a gentlemanly
appearance in proper self-respect. I make no show. I say I make no
show. A wealthy marriage is the last thing on earth I should have aimed
at. I prefer quiet and retirement. Personally, I mean. That is my
personal taste. But if the lady . . . . I say if it should happen that
the lady . . . . and indeed I am not one to press a suit: but if she who
distinguishes and honours me should chance to be wealthy, all I can do is
to leave her wealth at her disposal, and that I do: I do that
unreservedly. I feel I am very confused, alarmingly confused. Your
ladyship merits a superior . . . I trust I have not . . . I am
entirely at your ladyship's mercy.'
'Are you prepared, if your daughter is asked in marriage, to settle ten
thousand pounds on her, General Ople?'
The General collected himself. In his heart he thoroughly appreciated
the moral beauty of Lady Camper's extreme solicitude on behalf of his
daughter's provision; but he would have desired a postponement of that
and other material questions belonging to a distant future until his own
fate was decided.
So he said: 'Your ladyship's generosity is very marked. I say it is very
'How, my good General Ople! how is it marked in any degree?' cried Lady
Camper. 'I am not generous. I don't pretend to be; and certainly I
don't want the young people to think me so. I want to be just. I have
assumed that you intend to be the same. Then will you do me the favour
to reply to me?'
The General smiled winningly and intently, to show her that he prized
her, and would not let her escape his eulogies.
'Marked, in this way, dear madam, that you think of my daughter's future
more than I. I say, more than her father himself does. I know I ought
to speak more warmly, I feel warmly. I was never an eloquent man, and
if you take me as a soldier, I am, as, I have ever been in the service,
I was saying I am Wilson Ople, of the grade of General, to be relied on
for executing orders; and, madam, you are Lady Camper, and you command
me. I cannot be more precise. In fact, it is the feeling of the
necessity for keeping close to the business that destroys what I would
say. I am in fact lamentably incompetent to conduct my own case.'
Lady Camper left her chair.
'Dear me, this is very strange, unless I am singularly in error,' she
The General now faintly guessed that he might be in error, for his part.
But he had burned his ships, blown up his bridges; retreat could not be
He stood, his head bent and appealing to her sideface, like one
pleadingly in pursuit, and very deferentially, with a courteous
vehemence, he entreated first her ladyship's pardon for his presumption,
and then the gift of her ladyship's hand.
As for his language, it was the tongue of General Ople. But his bearing
was fine. If his clipped white silken hair spoke of age, his figure
breathed manliness. He was a picture, and she loved pictures.
For his own sake, she begged him to cease. She dreaded to hear of
'This is a new idea to me, my dear General,' she said. 'You must give me
time. People at our age have to think of fitness. Of course, in a
sense, we are both free to do as we like. Perhaps I may be of some aid
to you. My preference is for absolute independence. And I wished to
talk of a different affair. Come to me tomorrow. Do not be hurt if I
decide that we had better remain as we are.'
The General bowed. His efforts, and the wavering of the fair enemy's
flag, had inspired him with a positive re-awakening of masculine passion
to gain this fortress. He said well: 'I have, then, the happiness,
madam, of being allowed to hope until to-morrrow?'
She replied, 'I would not deprive you of a moment of happiness. Bring
good sense with you when you do come.'
The General asked eagerly, 'I have your ladyship's permission to come
'Consult your happiness,' she answered; and if to his mind she seemed
returning to the state of enigma, it was on the whole deliciously. She
restored him his youth. He told Elizabeth that night; he really must
begin to think of marrying her to some worthy young fellow. 'Though,'
said he, with an air of frank intoxication, 'my opinion is, the young
ones are not so lively as the old in these days, or I should have been
besieged before now.'
The exact substance of the interview he forbore to relate to his
inquisitive daughter, with a very honourable discretion.
Elizabeth came riding home to breakfast from a gallop round the park,
and passing Lady Camper's gates, received the salutation of her parasol.
Lady Camper talked with her through the bars. There was not a sign to
tell of a change or twist in her neighbourly affability. She remarked
simply enough, that it was her nephew's habit to take early gallops, and
possibly Elizabeth might have seen him, for his quarters were proximate;
but she did not demand an answer. She had passed a rather restless
night, she said. 'How is the General?'
'Papa must have slept soundly, for he usually calls to me through his
door when he hears I am up,' said Elizabeth.
Lady Camper nodded kindly and walked on.
Early in the morning General Ople was ready for battle. His forces were,
the anticipation of victory, a carefully arranged toilet, and an
unaccustomed spirit of enterprise in the realms of speech; for he was no
longer in such awe of Lady Camper.
'You have slept well?' she inquired.
'Excellently, my lady:
'Yes, your daughter tells me she heard you, as she went by your door in
the morning for a ride to meet my nephew. You are, I shall assume,
prepared for business.'
'Elizabeth? . . . to meet . . .?' General Ople's impression of
anything extraneous to his emotion was feeble and passed instantly.
'Prepared! Oh, certainly'; and he struck in a compliment on her
ladyship's fresh morning bloom.
'It can hardly be visible,' she responded; 'I have not painted yet.'
'Does your ladyship proceed to your painting in the very early morning?'
'Rouge. I rouge.'
'Dear me! I should not have supposed it.'
'You have speculated on it very openly, General. I remember your trying
to see a freckle through the rouge; but the truth is, I am of a
supernatural paleness if I do not rouge, so I do. You understand,
therefore, I have a false complexion. Now to business.'
'If your ladyship insists on calling it business. I have little to
'You have a gentlemanly residence.'
'It is, my lady, it is. It is a bijou.'
'Ah!' Lady Camper sighed dejectedly.
'It is a perfect bijou!'
'Oblige me, General, by not pronouncing the French word as if you were
swearing by something in English, like a trooper.'
General Ople started, admitted that the word was French, and apologized
for his pronunciation. Her variability was now visible over a corner of
the battlefield like a thunder-cloud.
'The business we have to discuss concerns the young people, General.'
'Yes,' brightened by this, he assented: 'Yes, dear Lady Camper; it is a
part of the business; it is a secondary part; it has to be discussed; I
say I subscribe beforehand. I may say, that honouring, esteeming you as
I do, and hoping ardently for your consent . . . .
'They must have a home and an income, General.'
'I presume, dearest lady, that Elizabeth will be welcome in your home.
I certainly shall never chase Reginald out of mine.'
Lady Camper threw back her head. 'Then you are not yet awake, or you
practice the art of sleeping with open eyes! Now listen to me. I rouge,
I have told you. I like colour, and I do not like to see wrinkles or
have them seen. Therefore I rouge. I do not expect to deceive the world
so flagrantly as to my age, and you I would not deceive for a moment. I
The effect of this noble frankness on the General, was to raise him from
his chair in a sitting posture as if he had been blown up.
Her countenance was inexorably imperturbable under his alternate blinking
and gazing that drew her close and shot her distant, like a mysterious
'But,' said she, 'I am an artist; I dislike the look of extreme age, so I
conceal it as well as I can. You are very kind to fall in with the
deception: an innocent and, I think, a proper one, before the world,
though not to the gentleman who does me the honour to propose to me for
my hand. You desire to settle our business first. You esteem me; I
suppose you mean as much as young people mean when they say they love.
Do you? Let us come to an understanding.'
'I can,' the melancholy General gasped, 'I say I can--I cannot--I cannot
credit your ladyship's . . .'
'You are at liberty to call me Angela.'
'Ange . . .' he tried it, and in shame relapsed. 'Madam, yes.
'Ah,' cried Lady Camper, 'do not use these vulgar contractions of decent
speech in my presence. I abhor the word "thanks." It is fit for
'Dear me, I have used it all my life,' groaned the General.
'Then, for the remainder, be it understood that you renounce it. To
continue, my age is . . .'
'Oh, impossible, impossible,' the General almost wailed; there was really
a crack in his voice.
'Advancing to seventy. But, like you, I am happy to say I have not a
malady. I bring no invalid frame to a union that necessitates the
leaving of the front door open day and night to the doctor. My belief
is, I could follow my husband still on a campaign, if he were a warrior
instead of a pensioner.'
General Ople winced.
He was about to say humbly, 'As General of Brigade . . .'
'Yes, yes, you want a commanding officer, and that I have seen, and that
has caused me to meditate on your proposal,' she interrupted him; while
he, studying her countenance hard, with the painful aspect of a youth who
lashes a donkey memory in an examination by word of mouth, attempted to
marshal her signs of younger years against her awful confession of the
extremely ancient, the witheringly ancient. But for the manifest rouge,
manifest in spite of her declaration that she had not yet that morning
proceeded to her paintbrush, he would have thrown down his glove to
challenge her on the subject of her age. She had actually charms. Her
mouth had a charm; her eyes were lively; her figure, mature if you like,
was at least full and good; she stood upright, she had a queenly seat.
His mental ejaculation was, 'What a wonderful constitution!'
By a lapse of politeness, he repeated it to himself half aloud; he was
'Yes, I have finer health than many a younger woman,' she said. 'An
ordinary calculation would give me twenty good years to come. I am a
widow, as you know. And, by the way, you have a leaning for widows.
Have you not? I thought I had heard of a widow Barcop in this parish.
Do not protest. I assure you I am a stranger to jealousy. My income
. . .'
The General raised his hands.
'Well, then,' said the cool and self-contained lady, 'before I go
farther, I may ask you, knowing what you have forced me to confess, are
you still of the same mind as to marriage? And one moment, General. I
promise you most sincerely that your withdrawing a step shall not, as far
as it touches me, affect my neighbourly and friendly sentiments; not in
any degree. Shall we be as we were?'
Lady Camper extended her delicate hand to him.
He took it respectfully, inspected the aristocratic and unshrunken
fingers, and kissing them, said, 'I never withdraw from a position,
unless I am beaten back. Lady Camper, I . . .'
'My name is Angela.'
The General tried again: he could not utter the name.
To call a lady of seventy Angela is difficult in itself. It is, it
seems, thrice difficult in the way of courtship.
'Angela!' said she.
'Yes. I say, there is not a more beautiful female name, dear Lady
'Spare me that word "female" as long as you live. Address me by that
name, if you please.'
The General smiled. The smile was meant for propitiation and sweetness.
It became a brazen smile.
'Unless you wish to step back,' said she.
'Indeed, no. I am happy, Lady Camper. My life is yours. I say, my life
is devoted to you, dear madam.'
General Ople was blushingly delivered of the name.
'That will do,' said she. 'And as I think it possible one may be admired
too much as an artist, I must request you to keep my number of years a
'To the death, madam,' said the General.
'And now we will take a turn in the garden, Wilson Ople. And beware of
one thing, for a commencement, for you are full of weeds, and I mean to
pluck out a few: never call any place a gentlemanly residence in my
hearing, nor let it come to my ears that you have been using the phrase
elsewhere. Don't express astonishment. At present it is enough that I
dislike it. But this only,' Lady Camper added, 'this only if it is not
your intention to withdraw from your position.'
'Madam, my lady, I was saying--hem!--Angela, I could not wish to
Lady Camper leaned with some pressure on his arm, observing, 'You have a
curious attachment to antiquities.'
'My dear lady, it is your mind; I say, it is your mind: I was saying,
I am in love with your mind,' the General endeavoured to assure her, and
'Or is it my powers as an artist?'
'Your mind, your extraordinary powers of mind.'
'Well,' said Lady Camper, 'a veteran General of Brigade is as good a
crutch as a childless old grannam can have.'
And as a crutch, General Ople, parading her grounds with the aged woman,
found himself used and treated.
The accuracy of his perceptions might be questioned. He was like a man
stunned by some great tropical fruit, which responds to the longing of
his eyes by falling on his head; but it appeared to him, that she
increased in bitterness at every step they took, as if determined to make
him realize her wrinkles.
He was even so inconsequent, or so little recognized his position, as to
object in his heart to hear himself called Wilson.
It is true that she uttered Wilsonople as if the names formed one word.
And on a second occasion (when he inclined to feel hurt) she remarked,
'I fear me, Wilsonople, if we are to speak plainly, thou art but a fool.'
He, perhaps, naturally objected to that. He was, however, giddy, and
Yet once more the magical woman changed. All semblance of harshness, and
harridan-like spike-tonguedness vanished when she said adieu.
The astronomer, looking at the crusty jag and scoria of the magnified
moon through his telescope, and again with naked eyes at the soft-beaming
moon, when the crater-ridges are faint as eyebrow-pencillings, has a
similar sharp alternation of prospect to that which mystified General
But between watching an orb that is only variable at our caprice, and
contemplating a woman who shifts and quivers ever with her own, how vast
And consider that this woman is about to be one's wife! He could have
believed (if he had not known full surely that such things are not) he
was in the hands of a witch.
Lady Camper's 'adieu' was perfectly beautiful--a kind, cordial, intimate,
above all, to satisfy his present craving, it was a lady-like adieu--the
adieu of a delicate and elegant woman, who had hardly left her anchorage
by forty to sail into the fifties.
Alas! he had her word for it, that she was not less than seventy. And,
worse, she had betrayed most melancholy signs of sourness and agedness
as soon as he had sworn himself to her fast and fixed.
'The road is open to you to retreat,' were her last words.
'My road,' he answered gallantly, 'is forward.'
He was drawing backward as he said it, and something provoked her to
It is a noble thing to say that your road is forward, and it befits a man
of battles. General Ople was too loyal a gentleman to think of any other
road. Still, albeit not gifted with imagination, he could not avoid the
feeling that he had set his face to Winter. He found himself suddenly
walking straight into the heart of Winter, and a nipping Winter. For her
ladyship had proved acutely nipping. His little customary phrases, to
which Lady Camper objected, he could see no harm in whatever. Conversing
with her in the privacy of domestic life would never be the flowing
business that it is for other men. It would demand perpetual vigilance,
hop, skip, jump, flounderings, and apologies.
This was not a pleasing prospect.
On the other hand, she was the niece of an earl. She was wealthy. She
might be an excellent friend to Elizabeth; and she could be, when she
liked, both commandingly and bewitchingly ladylike.
Good! But he was a General Officer of not more than fifty-five, in his
full vigour, and she a woman of seventy!
The prospect was bleak. It resembled an outlook on the steppes. In
point of the discipline he was to expect, he might be compared to a raw
recruit, and in his own home!
However, she was a woman of mind. One would be proud of her.
But did he know the worst of her? A dreadful presentiment, that he did
not know the worst of her, rolled an ocean of gloom upon General Ople,
striking out one solitary thought in the obscurity, namely, that he was
about to receive punishment for retiring from active service to a life of
ease at a comparatively early age, when still in marching trim. And the
shadow of the thought was, that he deserved the punishment!
He was in his garden with the dawn. Hard exercise is the best of opiates
for dismal reflections. The General discomposed his daughter by offering
to accompany her on her morning ride before breakfast. She considered
that it would fatigue him. 'I am not a man of eighty!' he cried. He
could have wished he had been.
He led the way to the park, where they soon had sight of young Rolles,
who checked his horse and spied them like a vedette, but, perceiving that
he had been seen, came cantering, and hailing the General with hearty
'And what's this the world says, General?' said he. 'But we all applaud
your taste. My aunt Angela was the handsomest woman of her time.'
The General murmured in confusion, 'Dear me!' and looked at the young
man, thinking that he could not have known the time.
'Is all arranged, my dear General?'
'Nothing is arranged, and I beg--I say I beg . . . I came out for
fresh air and pace.'..
The General rode frantically.
In spite of the fresh air, he was unable to eat at breakfast. He was
bound, of course, to present himself to Lady Camper, in common civility,
immediately after it.
And first, what were the phrases he had to avoid uttering in her
presence? He could remember only the 'gentlemanly residence.' And it
was a gentlemanly residence, he thought as he took leave of it. It was
one, neatly named to fit the place. Lady Camper is indeed a most
eccentric person! he decided from his experience of her.
He was rather astonished that young Rolles should have spoken so coolly
of his aunt's leaning to matrimony; but perhaps her exact age was unknown
to the younger members of her family.
This idea refreshed him by suggesting the extremely honourable nature of
Lady Camper's uncomfortable confession.
He himself had an uncomfortable confession to make. He would have to
speak of his income. He was living up to the edges of it.
She is an upright woman, and I must be the same! he said, fortunately not
in her hearing.
The subject was disagreeable to a man sensitive on the topic of money,
and feeling that his prudence had recently been misled to keep up
Lady Camper was in her garden, reclining under her parasol. A chair was
beside her, to which, acknowledging the salutation of her suitor, she
'You have met my nephew Reginald this morning, General?'
'Curiously, in the park, this morning, before breakfast, I did, yes.
Hem! I, I say I did meet him. Has your ladyship seen him?'
'No. The park is very pretty in the early morning.'
Lady Camper raised her head, and with the mildness of assured
dictatorship, pronounced: 'Never say that before me.'
'I submit, my lady,' said the poor scourged man.
'Why, naturally you do. Vulgar phrases have to be endured, except when
our intimates are guilty, and then we are not merely offended, we are
compromised by them. You are still of the mind in which you left me
yesterday? You are one day older. But I warn you, so am I.'
'Yes, my lady, we cannot, I say we cannot check time. Decidedly of the
same mind. Quite so.'
'Oblige me by never saying "Quite so." My lawyer says it. It reeks of
the City of London. And do not look so miserable.'
'I, madam? my dear lady!' the General flashed out in a radiance that
'Well,' said she cheerfully, 'and you're for the old woman?'
'For Lady Camper.'
'You are seductive in your flatteries, General. Well, then, we have to
speak of business.'
'My affairs----' General Ople was beginning, with perturbed forehead; but
Lady Camper held up her finger.
'We will touch on your affairs incidentally. Now listen to me, and do
not exclaim until I have finished. You know that these two young ones
have been whispering over the wall for some months. They have been
meeting on the river and in the park habitually, apparently with your
'I did not say with your connivance.'
'You mean my daughter Elizabeth?'
'And my nephew Reginald. We have named them, if that advances us. Now,
the end of such meetings is marriage, and the sooner the better, if they
are to continue. I would rather they should not; I do not hold it good
for young soldiers to marry. But if they do, it is very certain that
their pay will not support a family; and in a marriage of two healthy
young people, we have to assume the existence of the family. You have
allowed matters to go so far that the boy is hot in love; I suppose the
girl is, too. She is a nice girl. I do not object to her personally.
But I insist that a settlement be made on her before I give my nephew one
penny. Hear me out, for I am not fond of business, and shall be glad to
have done with these explanations. Reginald has nothing of his own. He
is my sister's son, and I loved her, and rather like the boy. He has at
present four hundred a year from me. I will double it, on the condition
that you at once make over ten thousand--not less; and let it be yes or
no!--to be settled on your daughter and go to her children, independent
of the husband--cela va sans dire. Now you may speak, General.'
The General spoke, with breath fetched from the deeps:
'Ten thousand pounds! Hem! Ten! Hem, frankly--ten, my lady! One's
income--I am quite taken by surprise. I say Elizabeth's conduct--though,
poor child! it is natural to her to seek a mate, I mean, to accept a
mate and an establishment, and Reginald is a very hopeful fellow--I was
saying, they jump on me out of an ambush, and I wish them every
happiness. And she is an ardent soldier, and a soldier she must marry.
But ten thousand!'
'It is to secure the happiness of your daughter, General.'
'Pounds! my lady. It would rather cripple me.'
'You would have my house, General; you would have the moiety, as the
lawyers say, of my purse; you would have horses, carriages, servants; I
do not divine what more you would wish to have.'
'But, madam--a pensioner on the Government! I can look back on past
services, I say old services, and I accept my position. But, madam, a
pensioner on my wife, bringing next to nothing to the common estate! I
fear my self-respect would, I say would . . .'
'Well, and what would it do, General Ople?'
'I was saying, my self-respect as my wife's pensioner, my lady. I could
not come to her empty-handed.'
'Do you expect that I should be the person to settle money on your
daughter, to save her from mischances? A rakish husband, for example;
for Reginald is young, and no one can guess what will be made of him.'
'Undoubtedly your ladyship is correct. We might try absence for the poor
girl. I have no female relation, but I could send her to the sea-side to
'General Ople, I forbid you, as you value my esteem, ever--and I repeat,
I forbid you ever--to afflict my ears with that phrase, "lady-friend!"'
The General blinked in a state of insurgent humility.
These incessant whippings could not but sting the humblest of men; and
'lady-friend,' he was sure, was a very common term, used, he was sure,
in the very best society. He had never heard Her Majesty speak at levees
of a lady-friend, but he was quite sure that she had one; and if so, what
could be the objection to her subjects mentioning it as a term to suit
their own circumstances?
He was harassed and perplexed by old Lady Camper's treatment of him, and
he resolved not to call her Angela even upon supplication--not that day,
She said, 'You will not need to bring property of any kind to the common
estate; I neither look for it nor desire it. The generous thing for you
to do would be to give your daughter all you have, and come to me.'
'But, Lady Camper, if I denude myself or curtail my income--a man at his
wife's discretion, I was saying a man at his wife's mercy . . . !'
General Ople was really forced, by his manly dignity, to make this
protest on its behalf. He did not see how he could have escaped doing
so; he was more an agent than a principal. 'My wife's mercy,' he said
again, but simply as a herald proclaiming superior orders.
Lady Camper's brows were wrathful. A deep blood-crimson overcame the
rouge, and gave her a terrible stormy look.
'The congress now ceases to sit, and the treaty is not concluded,' was
all she said.
She rose, bowed to him, 'Good morning, General,' and turned her back.
He sighed. He was a free man. But this could not be denied--whatever
the lady's age, she was a grand woman in her carriage, and when looking
angry, she had a queenlike aspect that raised her out of the reckoning of
So now he knew there was a worse behind what he had previously known.
He was precipitate in calling it the worst. 'Now,' said he to himself,
'I know the worst !'
No man should ever say it. Least of all, one who has entered into
relations with an eccentric lady.
Politeness required that General Ople should not appear to rejoice in his
dismissal as a suitor, and should at least make some show of holding
himself at the beck of a reconsidering mind. He was guilty of running up
to London early next day, and remaining absent until nightfall; and he
did the same on the two following days. When he presented himself at
Lady Camper's lodge-gates, the astonishing intelligence, that her
ladyship had departed for the Continent and Egypt gave him qualms of
remorse, which assumed a more definite shape in something like awe of her
triumphant constitution. He forbore to mention her age, for he was the
most honourable of men, but a habit of tea-table talkativeness impelled
him to say and repeat an idea that had visited him, to the effect, that
Lady Camper was one of those wonderful women who are comparable to
brilliant generals, and defend themselves from the siege of Time by
various aggressive movements. Fearful of not being understood, owing to
the rarity of the occasions when the squat plain squad of honest Saxon
regulars at his command were called upon to explain an idea, he re-cast
the sentence. But, as it happened that the regulars of his vocabulary
were not numerous, and not accustomed to work upon thoughts and images,
his repetitions rather succeeded in exposing the piece of knowledge he
had recently acquired than in making his meaning plainer. So we need not
marvel that his acquaintances should suppose him to be secretly aware of
an extreme degree in which Lady Camper was a veteran.
General Ople entered into the gaieties of the neighbourhood once more,
and passed through the Winter cheerfully. In justice to him, however,
it should be said that to the intent dwelling of his mind upon Lady
Camper, and not to the festive life he led, was due his entire ignorance
of his daughter's unhappiness. She lived with him, and yet it was in
other houses he learnt that she was unhappy. After his last interview
with Lady Camper, he had informed Elizabeth of the ruinous and
preposterous amount of money demanded of him for a settlement upon her
and Elizabeth, like the girl of good sense that she was, had replied
immediately, 'It could not be thought of, papa.'
He had spoken to Reginald likewise. The young man fell into a dramatic
tearing-of-hair and long-stride fury, not ill becoming an enamoured
dragoon. But he maintained that his aunt, though an eccentric, was a
cordially kind woman. He seemed to feel, if he did not partly hint, that
the General might have accepted Lady Camper's terms. The young officer
could no longer be welcome at Douro Lodge, so the General paid him a
morning call at his quarters, and was distressed to find him breakfasting
very late, tapping eggs that he forgot to open--one of the surest signs
of a young man downright and deep in love, as the General knew from
experience--and surrounded by uncut sporting journals of past weeks,
which dated from the day when his blow had struck him, as accurately as
the watch of the drowned man marks his minute. Lady Camper had gone to
Italy, and was in communication with her nephew: Reginald was not further
explicit. His legs were very prominent in his despair, and his fingers
frequently performed the part of blunt combs; consequently the General
was impressed by his passion for Elizabeth. The girl who, if she was
often meditative, always met his eyes with a smile, and quietly said
'Yes, papa,' and 'No, papa,' gave him little concern as to the state of
her feelings. Yet everybody said now that she was unhappy. Mrs. Barcop,
the widow, raised her voice above the rest. So attentive was she to
Elizabeth that the General had it kindly suggested to him, that some one
was courting him through his daughter. He gazed at the widow. Now she
was not much past thirty; and it was really singular--he could have
laughed--thinking of Mrs. Barcop set him persistently thinking of Lady
Camper. That is to say, his mad fancy reverted from the lady of perhaps
thirty-five to the lady of seventy.
Such, thought he, is genius in a woman! Of his neighbours generally,
Mrs. Baerens, the wife of a German merchant, an exquisite player on the
pianoforte, was the most inclined to lead him to speak of Lady Camper.
She was a kind prattling woman, and was known to have been a governess
before her charms withdrew the gastronomic Gottfried Baerens from his
devotion to the well-served City club, where, as he exclaimed (ever
turning fondly to his wife as he vocalized the compliment), he had found
every necessity, every luxury, in life, 'as you cannot have dem out of
London--all save de female!' Mrs. Baerens, a lady of Teutonic
extraction, was distinguishable as of that sex; at least, she was not
masculine. She spoke with great respect of Lady Camper and her family,
and seemed to agree in the General's eulogies of Lady Camper's
constitution. Still he thought she eyed him strangely.
One April morning the General received a letter with the Italian
postmark. Opening it with his usual calm and happy curiosity, he
perceived that it was composed of pen-and-ink drawings. And suddenly
his heart sank like a scuttled ship. He saw himself the victim of a
The first sketch had merely seemed picturesque, and he supposed it a
clever play of fancy by some travelling friend, or perhaps an actual
scene slightly exaggerated. Even on reading, 'A distant view of the city
of Wilsonople,' he was only slightly enlightened. His heart beat still
with befitting regularity. But the second and the third sketches
betrayed the terrible hand. The distant view of the city of Wilsonople
was fair with glittering domes, which, in the succeeding near view,
proved to have been soap-bubbles, for a place of extreme flatness, begirt
with crazy old-fashioned fortifications, was shown; and in the third
view, representing the interior, stood for sole place of habitation, a
Most minutely drawn, and, alas! with fearful accuracy, a military
gentleman in undress occupied the box. Not a doubt could exist as to the
person it was meant to be.
The General tried hard to remain incredulous. He remembered too well who
had called him Wilsonople.
But here was the extraordinary thing that sent him over the neighbourhood
canvassing for exclamations: on the fourth page was the outline of a
lovely feminine hand, holding a pen, as in the act of shading, and under
it these words: 'What I say is, I say I think it exceedingly unladylike.'
Now consider the General's feelings when, turning to this fourth page,
having these very words in his mouth, as the accurate expression of his
thoughts, he discovered them written!
An enemy who anticipates the actions of our mind, has a quality of the
malignant divine that may well inspire terror. The senses of General
Ople were struck by the aspect of a lurid Goddess, who penetrated him,
read him through, and had both power and will to expose and make him
ridiculous for ever.
The loveliness of the hand, too, in a perplexing manner contested his
denunciation of her conduct. It was ladylike eminently, and it involved
him in a confused mixture of the moral and material, as great as young
people are known to feel when they make the attempt to separate them, in
one of their frenzies.
With a petty bitter laugh he folded the letter, put it in his breast-
pocket, and sallied forth for a walk, chiefly to talk to himself about
it. But as it absorbed him entirely, he showed it to the rector, whom he
met, and what the rector said is of no consequence, for General Ople
listened to no remarks, calling in succession on the Pollingtons, the
Goslings, the Baerens, and others, early though it was, and the lords of
those houses absent amassing hoards; and to the ladies everywhere he
displayed the sketches he had received, observing, that Wilsonople meant
himself; and there he was, he said, pointing at the capped fellow in the
sentry-box, done unmistakably. The likeness indeed was remarkable.
'She is a woman of genius,' he ejaculated, with utter melancholy. Mrs.
Baerens, by the aid of a magnifying glass, assisted him to read a line
under the sentry-box, that he had taken for a mere trembling dash; it
ran, A gentlemanly residence.
'What eyes she has!' the General exclaimed; 'I say it is miraculous what
eyes she has at her time of . . . I was saying, I should never have
known it was writing.'
He sighed heavily. His shuddering sensitiveness to caricature was
increased by a certain evident dread of the hand which struck; the
knowing that he was absolutely bare to this woman, defenceless, open to
exposure in his little whims, foibles, tricks, incompetencies, in what
lay in his heart, and the words that would come to his tongue. He felt
like a man haunted.
So deeply did he feel the blow, that people asked how it was that he
could be so foolish as to dance about assisting Lady Camper in her
efforts to make him ridiculous; he acted the parts of publisher and agent
for the fearful caricaturist. In truth, there was a strangely double
reason for his conduct; he danced about for sympathy, he had the
intensest craving for sympathy, but more than this, or quite as much, he
desired to have the powers of his enemy widely appreciated; in the first
place, that he might be excused to himself for wincing under them, and
secondly, because an awful admiration of her, that should be deepened by
a corresponding sentiment around him, helped him to enjoy luxurious
recollections of an hour when he was near making her his own--his own,
in the holy abstract contemplation of marriage, without realizing their
probable relative conditions after the ceremony.
'I say, that is the very image of her ladyship's hand,' he was especially
fond of remarking, 'I say it is a beautiful hand.'
He carried the letter in his pocket-book; and beginning to fancy that she
had done her worst, for he could not imagine an inventive malignity
capable of pursuing the theme, he spoke of her treatment of him with
compassionate regret, not badly assumed from being partly sincere.
Two letters dated in France, the one Dijon, the other Fontainebleau,
arrived together; and as the General knew Lady Camper to be returning to
England, he expected that she was anxious to excuse herself to him. His
fingers were not so confident, for he tore one of the letters to open it.
The City of Wilsonople was recognizable immediately. So likewise was the
General Ople's petty bitter laugh recurred, like a weak-chested patient's
cough in the shifting of our winds eastward.
A faceless woman's shadow kneels on the ground near the sentry-box,
weeping. A faceless shadow of a young man on horseback is beheld
galloping toward a gulf. The sole inhabitant contemplates his largely
substantial full fleshed face and figure in a glass.
Next, we see the standard of Great Britain furled; next, unfurled and
borne by a troop of shadows to the sentrybox. The officer within says,
'I say I should be very happy to carry it, but I cannot quit this
Next, the standard is shown assailed by popguns. Several of the shadows
are prostrate. 'I was saying, I assure you that nothing but this
gentlemanly residence prevents me from heading you,' says the gallant
General Ople trembled with protestant indignation when he saw himself
reclining in a magnified sentry-box, while detachments of shadows hurry
to him to show him the standard of his country trailing in the dust; and
he is maliciously made to say, 'I dislike responsibility. I say I am a
fervent patriot, and very fond of my comforts, but I shun
The second letter contained scenes between Wilsonople and the Moon.
He addresses her as his neighbour, and tells her of his triumphs over the
He requests her to inform him whether she is a 'female,' that she may be
He hastens past her window on foot, with his head bent, just as the
General had been in the habit of walking.
He drives a mouse-pony furiously by.
He cuts down a tree, that she may peep through.
Then, from the Moon's point of view, Wilsonople, a Silenus, is discerned
in an arm-chair winking at a couple too plainly pouting their lips for a
doubt of their intentions to be entertained.
A fourth letter arrived, bearing date of Paris. This one illustrated
Wilsonople's courtship of the Moon, and ended with his 'saying,' in his
peculiar manner, 'In spite of her paint I could not have conceived her
age to be so enormous.'
How break off his engagement with the Lady Moon? Consent to none of her
Little used as he was to read behind a veil, acuteness of suffering
sharpened the General's intelligence to a degree that sustained him in
animated dialogue with each succeeding sketch, or poisoned arrow whirring
at him from the moment his eyes rested on it; and here are a few samples:
'Wilsonople informs the Moon that she is "sweetly pretty."
'He thanks her with "thanks" for a handsome piece of lunar green cheese.
'He points to her, apparently telling some one, "my lady-friend."
'He sneezes "Bijou! bijou! bijou!"'
They were trifles, but they attacked his habits of speech; and he began
to grow more and more alarmingly absurd in each fresh caricature of his
He looked at himself as the malicious woman's hand had shaped him. It
was unjust; it was no resemblance--and yet it was! There was a corner of
likeness left that leavened the lump; henceforth he must walk abroad with
this distressing image of himself before his eyes, instead of the
satisfactory reflex of the man who had, and was happy in thinking that he
had, done mischief in his time. Such an end for a conquering man was too
The General surprised himself talking to himself in something louder than
a hum at neighbours' dinner-tables. He looked about and noticed that
people were silently watching him.
Lady Camper's return was the subject of speculation in the neighbourhood,
for most people thought she would cease to persecute the General with her
preposterous and unwarrantable pen-and-ink sketches when living so
closely proximate; and how he would behave was the question. Those who
made a hero of him were sure he would treat her with disdain. Others
were uncertain. He had been so severely hit that it seemed possible he
would not show much spirit.
He, for his part, had come to entertain such dread of the post, that Lady
Camper's return relieved him of his morning apprehensions; and he would
have forgiven her, though he feared to see her, if only she had promised
to leave him in peace for the future. He feared to see her, because of
the too probable furnishing of fresh matter for her ladyship's hand. Of
course he could not avoid being seen by her, and that was a particular
misery. A gentlemanly humility, or demureness of aspect, when seen,
would, he hoped, disarm his enemy. It should, he thought. He had borne
unheard-of things. No one of his friends and acquaintances knew, they
could not know, what he had endured. It has caused him fits of
stammering. It had destroyed the composure of his gait. Elizabeth had
informed him that he talked to himself incessantly, and aloud. She, poor
child, looked pale too. She was evidently anxious about him.
Young Rolles, whom he had met now and then, persisted in praising his
aunt's good heart. So, perhaps, having satiated her revenge, she might
now be inclined for peace, on the terms of distant civility.
'Yes! poor Elizabeth!' sighed the General, in pity of the poor girl's
disappointment; 'poor Elizabeth! she little guesses what her father has
gone through. Poor child! I say, she hasn't an idea of my sufferings.'
General Ople delivered his card at Lady Camper's lodgegates and escaped
to his residence in a state of prickly heat that required the brushing
of his hair with hard brushes for several minutes to comfort and
He had fallen to working in his garden, when Lady Camper's card was
brought to him an hour after the delivery of his own; a pleasing
promptitude, showing signs of repentance, and suggesting to the General
instantly some sharp sarcasms upon women, which he had come upon in
quotations in the papers and the pulpit, his two main sources of
Instead of handing back the card to the maid, he stuck it in his hat and
went on digging.
The first of a series of letters containing shameless realistic
caricatures was handed to him the afternoon following. They came fast
and thick. Not a day's interval of grace was allowed. Niobe under the
shafts of Diana was hardly less violently and mortally assailed. The
deadliness of the attack lay in the ridicule of the daily habits of one
of the most sensitive of men, as to his personal appearance, and the
opinion of the world. He might have concealed the sketches, but he could
not have concealed the bruises, and people were perpetually asking the
unhappy General what he was saying, for he spoke to himself as if he were
repeating something to them for the tenth time.
'I say,' said he, 'I say that for a lady, really an educated lady, to
sit, as she must--I was saying, she must have sat in an attic to have the
right view of me. And there you see--this is what she has done. This is
the last, this is the afternoon's delivery. Her ladyship has me
correctly as to costume, but I could not exhibit such a sketch to
A back view of the General was displayed in his act of digging.
'I say I could not allow ladies to see it,' he informed the gentlemen,
who were suffered to inspect it freely.
'But you see, I have no means of escape; I am at her mercy from morning
to night,' the General said, with a quivering tongue, 'unless I stay at
home inside the house; and that is death to me, or unless I abandon the
place, and my lease; and I shall--I say, I shall find nowhere in England
for anything like the money or conveniences such a gent--a residence you
would call fit for a gentleman. I call it a bi . . . it is, in short,
a gem. But I shall have to go.'
Young Rolles offered to expostulate with his aunt Angela.
The General said, 'Tha . . . I thank you very much. I would not have her
ladyship suppose I am so susceptible. I hardly know,' he confessed
pitiably, 'what it is right to say, and what not--what not. I-I-I never
know when I am not looking a fool. I hurry from tree to tree to shun the
light. I am seriously affected in my appetite. I say, I shall have to
Reginald gave him to understand that if he flew, the shafts would follow
him, for Lady Camper would never forgive his running away, and was quite
equal to publishing a book of the adventures of Wilsonople.
Sunday afternoon, walking in the park with his daughter on his arm,
General Ople met Mr. Rolles. He saw that the young man and Elizabeth
were mortally pale, and as the very idea of wretchedness directed his
attention to himself, he addressed them conjointly on the subject of his
persecution, giving neither of them a chance of speaking until they were
constrained to part.
A sketch was the consequence, in which a withered Cupid and a fading
Psyche were seen divided by Wilsonople, who keeps them forcibly asunder
with policeman's fists, while courteously and elegantly entreating them
to hear him. 'Meet,' he tells them, 'as often as you like, in my
company, so long as you listen to me'; and the pathos of his aspect makes
hungry demand for a sympathetic audience.
Now, this, and not the series representing the martyrdom of the old
couple at Douro Lodge Gates, whose rigid frames bore witness to the close
packing of a gentlemanly residence, this was the sketch General Ople, in
his madness from the pursuing bite of the gadfly, handed about at Mrs.
Pollington's lawn-party. Some have said, that he should not have
betrayed his daughter; but it is reasonable to suppose he had no idea of
his daughter's being the Psyche. Or if he had, it was indistinct, owing
to the violence of his personal emotion. Assuming this to have been the
very sketch; he handed it to two or three ladies in turn, and was heard
to deliver himself at intervals in the following snatches: 'As you like,
my lady, as you like; strike, I say strike; I bear it; I say I bear it
. . . . If her ladyship is unforgiving, I say I am enduring . . .
I may go, I was saying I may go mad, but while I have my reason I walk
upright, I walk upright.'
Mr. Pollington and certain City gentlemen hearing the poor General's
renewed soliloquies, were seized with disgust of Lady Camper's conduct,
and stoutly advised an application to the Law Courts.
He gave ear to them abstractedly, but after pulling out the whole chapter
of the caricatures (which it seemed that he kept in a case of morocco
leather in his breast-pocket), showing them, with comments on them, and
observing, 'There will be more, there must be more, I say I am sure there
are things I do that her ladyship will discover and expose,' he declined
to seek redress or simple protection; and the miserable spectacle was
exhibited soon after of this courtly man listening to Mrs. Barcop on the
weather, and replying in acquiescence: 'It is hot.--If your ladyship will
only abstain from colours. Very hot as you say, madam,--I do not
complain of pen and ink, but I would rather escape colours. And I dare
say you find it hot too?'
Mrs. Barcop shut her eyes and sighed over the wreck of a handsome
She asked him: 'What is your objection to colours?'
His hand was at his breast-pocket immediately, as he said: 'Have you not
seen?'--though but a few minutes back he had shown her the contents of
the packet, including a hurried glance of the famous digging scene.
By this time the entire district was in fervid sympathy with General
Ople. The ladies did not, as their lords did, proclaim astonishment
that a man should suffer a woman to goad him to a state of semi-lunacy;
but one or two confessed to their husbands, that it required a great
admiration of General Ople not to despise him, both for his
susceptibility and his patience. As for the men, they knew him to have
faced the balls in bellowing battle-strife; they knew him to have endured
privation, not only cold but downright want of food and drink--an almost
unimaginable horror to these brave daily feasters; so they could not
quite look on him in contempt; but his want of sense was offensive, and
still more so his submission to a scourging by a woman. Not one of them
would have deigned to feel it. Would they have allowed her to see that
she could sting them? They would have laughed at her. Or they would
have dragged her before a magistrate.
It was a Sunday in early Summer when General Ople walked to morning
service, unaccompanied by Elizabeth, who was unwell. The church was of
the considerate old-fashioned order, with deaf square pews, permitting
the mind to abstract itself from the sermon, or wrestle at leisure with
the difficulties presented by the preacher, as General Ople often did,
feeling not a little in love with his sincere attentiveness for grappling
with the knotty point and partially allowing the struggle to be seen.
The Church was, besides, a sanctuary for him. Hither his enemy did not
come. He had this one place of refuge, and he almost looked a happy man
He had passed into his hat and out of it, which he habitually did
standing, when who should walk up to within a couple of yards of him
but Lady Camper. Her pew was full of poor people, who made signs of
retiring. She signified to them that they were to sit, then quietly
took her seat among them, fronting the General across the aisle.
During the sermon a low voice, sharp in contradistinction to the monotone
of the preacher's, was heard to repeat these words: 'I say I am not sure
I shall survive it.' Considerable muttering in the same quarter was
After the customary ceremonious game, when all were free to move, of
nobody liking to move first, Lady Camper and a charity boy were the
persons who took the lead. But Lady Camper could not quit her pew, owing
to the sticking of the door. She smiled as with her pretty hand she
twice or thrice essayed to shake it open. General Ople strode to her
aid. He pulled the door, gave the shadow of a respectful bow, and no
doubt he would have withdrawn, had not Lady Camper, while acknowledging
the civility, placed her prayer-book in his hands to carry at her heels.
There was no choice for him. He made a sort of slipping dance back for
his hat, and followed her ladyship. All present being eager to witness
the spectacle, the passage of Lady Camper dragging the victim General
behind her was observed without a stir of the well-dressed members of the
congregation, until a desire overcame them to see how Lady Camper would
behave to her fish when she had him outside the sacred edifice.
None could have imagined such a scene. Lady Camper was in her carriage;
General Ople was holding her prayer-book, hat in hand, at the carriage
step, and he looked as if he were toasting before the bars of a furnace;
for while he stood there, Lady Camper was rapidly pencilling outlines in
a small pocket sketchbook. There are dogs whose shyness is put to it to
endure human observation and a direct address to them, even on the part
of their masters; and these dear simple dogs wag tail and turn their
heads aside waveringly, as though to entreat you not to eye them and talk
to them so. General Ople, in the presence of the sketchbook, was much
like the nervous animal. He would fain have run away. He glanced at it,
and round about, and again at it, and at the heavens. Her ladyship's
cruelty, and his inexplicable submission to it, were witnessed of the
The General's friends walked very slowly. Lady Camper's carriage whirled
by, and the General came up with them, accosting them and himself
alternately. They asked him where Elizabeth was, and he replied,
'Poor child, yes! I am told she is pale, but I cannot, believe I am so
perfectly, I say so perfectly ridiculous, when I join the responses.' He
drew forth half a dozen sheets, and showed them sketches that Lady Camper
had taken in church, caricaturing him in the sitting down and the
standing up. She had torn them out of the book, and presented them to
him when driving off. 'I was saying, worship in the ordinary sense will
be interdicted to me if her ladyship . . .,' said the General, woefully
shuffling the sketch-paper sheets in which he figured.
He made the following odd confession to Mr. and Mrs. Gosling on the
road:--that he had gone to his chest, and taken out his sword-belt to
measure his girth, and found himself thinner than when he left the
service, which had not been the case before his attendance at the last
levee of the foregoing season. So the deduction was obvious, that Lady
Camper had reduced him. She had reduced him as effectually as a
'But why do you pay attention to her? Why . . . !' exclaimed Mr.
Gosling, a gentleman of the City, whose roundness would have turned a
'To allow her to wound you so seriously!' exclaimed Mrs. Gosling.
'Madam, if she were my wife,' the General explained, 'I should feel it.
I say it is the fact of it; I feel it, if I appear so extremely
ridiculous to a human eye, to any one eye.'
'To Lady Camper's eye.'
He admitted it might be that. He had not thought of ascribing the
acuteness of his pain to the miserable image he presented in this
particular lady's eye. No; it really was true, curiously true: another
lady's eye might have transformed him to a pumpkin shape, exaggerated all
his foibles fifty-fold, and he, though not liking it, of course not,
would yet have preserved a certain manly equanimity. How was it Lady
Camper had such power over him?--a lady concealing seventy years with a
rouge-box or paint-pot! It was witchcraft in its worst character. He
had for six months at her bidding been actually living the life of a
beast, degraded in his own esteem; scorched by every laugh he heard;
running, pursued, overtaken, and as it were scored or branded, and then
let go for the process to be repeated.
Our young barbarians have it all their own way with us when they fall
into love-liking; they lead us whither they please, and interest us in
their wishings, their weepings, and that fine performance, their
kissings. But when we see our veterans tottering to their fall, we
scarcely consent to their having a wish; as for a kiss, we halloo at them
if we discover them on a byway to the sacred grove where such things are
supposed to be done by the venerable. And this piece of rank injustice,
not to say impoliteness, is entirely because of an unsound opinion that
Nature is not in it, as though it were our esteem for Nature which caused
us to disrespect them. They, in truth, show her to us discreet,
civilized, in a decent moral aspect: vistas of real life, views of the
mind's eye, are opened by their touching little emotions; whereas those
bully youngsters who come bellowing at us and catch us by the senses
plainly prove either that we are no better than they, or that we give our
attention to Nature only when she makes us afraid of her. If we cared
for her, we should be up and after her reverentially in her sedater
steps, deeply studying her in her slower paces. She teaches them nothing
when they are whirling. Our closest instructors, the true philosophers--
the story-tellers, in short-will learn in time that Nature is not of
necessity always roaring, and as soon as they do, the world may be said
to be enlightened. Meantime, in the contemplation of a pair of white
whiskers fluttering round a pair of manifestly painted cheeks, be assured
that Nature is in it: not that hectoring wanton--but let the young have
their fun. Let the superior interest of the passions of the aged be
conceded, and not a word shall be said against the young.
If, then, Nature is in it, how has she been made active? The reason of
her launch upon this last adventure is, that she has perceived the person
who can supply the virtue known to her by experience to be wanting.
Thus, in the broader instance, many who have journeyed far down the road,
turn back to the worship of youth, which they have lost. Some are for
the graceful worldliness of wit, of which they have just share enough to
admire it. Some are captivated by hands that can wield the rod, which in
earlier days they escaped to their cost. In the case of General Ople, it
was partly her whippings of him, partly her penetration; her ability,
that sat so finely on a wealthy woman, her indifference to conventional
manners, that so well beseemed a nobly-born one, and more than all, her
correction of his little weaknesses and incompetencies, in spite of his
dislike of it, won him. He began to feel a sort of nibbling pleasure in
her grotesque sketches of his person; a tendency to recur to the old ones
while dreading the arrival of new. You hear old gentlemen speak fondly
of the swish; and they are not attached to pain, but the instrument
revives their feeling of youth; and General Ople half enjoyed, while
shrinking, Lady Camper's foregone outlines of him. For in the distance,
the whip's-end may look like a clinging caress instead of a stinging
flick. But this craven melting in his heart was rebuked by a very worthy
pride, that flew for support to the injury she had done to his devotions,
and the offence to the sacred edifice. After thinking over it, he
decided that he must quit his residence; and as it appeared to him in the
light of duty, he, with an unspoken anguish, commissioned the house-agent
of his town to sell his lease or let the house furnished, without further
From the house-agent's shop he turned into the chemist's, for a tonic--
a foolish proceeding, for he had received bracing enough in the blow he
had just dealt himself, but he had been cogitating on tonics recently,
imagining certain valiant effects of them, with visions of a former
careless happiness that they were likely to restore. So he requested to
have the tonic strong, and he took one glass of it over the counter.
Fifteen minutes after the draught, he came in sight of his house, and
beholding it, he could have called it a gentlemanly residence aloud under
Lady Camper's windows, his insurgency was of such violence. He talked of
it incessantly, but forbore to tell Elizabeth, as she was looking pale,
the reason why its modest merits touched him so. He longed for the hour
of his next dose, and for a caricature to follow, that he might drink and
defy it. A caricature was really due to him, he thought; otherwise why
had he abandoned his bijou dwelling? Lady Camper, however, sent none.
He had to wait a fortnight before one came, and that was rather a
likeness, and a handsome likeness, except as regarded a certain
disorderliness in his dress, which he knew to be very unlike him. Still
it despatched him to the looking-glass, to bring that verifier of facts
in evidence against the sketch. While sitting there he heard the
housemaid's knock at the door, and the strange intelligence that his
daughter was with Lady Camper, and had left word that she hoped he would
not forget his engagement to go to Mrs. Baerens' lawn-party.
The General jumped away from the glass, shouting at the absent Elizabeth
in a fit of wrath so foreign to him, that he returned hurriedly to have
another look at himself, and exclaimed at the pitch of his voice, 'I say
I attribute it to an indigestion of that tonic. Do you hear?' The
housemaid faintly answered outside the door that she did, alarming him,
for there seemed to be confusion somewhere. His hope was that no one
would mention Lady Camper's name, for the mere thought of her caused a
rush to his head. 'I believe I am in for a touch of apoplexy,' he said
to the rector, who greeted him, in advance of the ladies, on Mr. Baerens'
lawn. He said it smilingly, but wanting some show of sympathy, instead
of the whisper and meaningless hand at his clerical band, with which the
rector responded, he cried, 'Apoplexy,' and his friend seemed then to
understand, and disappeared among the ladies.
Several of them surrounded the General, and one inquired whether the
series was being continued. He drew forth his pocket-book, handed her
the latest, and remarked on the gross injustice of it; for, as he
requested them to take note, her ladyship now sketched him as a person
inattentive to his dress, and he begged them to observe that she had
drawn him with his necktie hanging loose. 'And that, I say that has
never been known of me since I first entered society.'
The ladies exchanged looks of profound concern; for the fact was, the
General had come without any necktie and any collar, and he appeared to
be unaware of the circumstance. The rector had told them, that in answer
to a hint he had dropped on the subject of neckties, General Ople
expressed a slight apprehension of apoplexy; but his careless or merely
partial observance of the laws of buttonment could have nothing to do
with such fears. They signified rather a disorder of the intelligence.
Elizabeth was condemned for leaving him to go about alone. The situation
was really most painful, for a word to so sensitive a man would drive him
away in shame and for good; and still, to let him parade the ground in
the state, compared with his natural self, of scarecrow, and with the
dreadful habit of talking to himself quite rageing, was a horrible
alternative. Mrs. Baerens at last directed her husband upon the General,
trembling as though she watched for the operations of a fish torpedo; and
other ladies shared her excessive anxiousness, for Mr. Baerens had the
manner and the look of artillery, and on this occasion carried a
surcharge of powder.
The General bent his ear to Mr. Baerens, whose German-English and
repeated remark, 'I am to do it wid delicassy,' did not assist his
comprehension; and when he might have been enlightened, he was petrified
by seeing Lady Camper walk on the lawn with Elizabeth. The great lady
stood a moment beside Mrs. Baerens; she came straight over to him,
contemplating him in silence.
Then she said, 'Your arm, General Ople,' and she made one circuit of the
lawn with him, barely speaking.
At her request, he conducted her to her carriage. He took a seat beside
her, obediently. He felt that he was being sketched, and comported
himself like a child's flat man, that jumps at the pulling of a string.
'Where have you left your girl, General?'
Before he could rally his wits to answer the question, he was asked:
'And what have you done with your necktie and collar?'
He touched his throat.
'I am rather nervous to-day, I forgot Elizabeth,' he said, sending his
fingers in a dotting run of wonderment round his neck.
Lady Camper smiled with a triumphing humour on her close-drawn lips.
The verified absence of necktie and collar seemed to be choking him.
'Never mind, you have been abroad without them,' said Lady Camper, 'and
that is a victory for me. And you thought of Elizabeth first when I drew
your attention to it, and that is a victory for you. It is a very great
victory. Pray, do not be dismayed, General. You have a handsome
campaigning air. And no apologies, if you please; I like you well enough
as you are. There is my hand.'
General Ople understood her last remark. He pressed the lady's hand in
silence, very nervously.
'But do not shrug your head into your shoulders as if there were any
possibility of concealing the thunderingly evident,' said Lady Camper,
electrifying him, what with her cordial squeeze, her kind eyes, and her
singular language. 'You have omitted the collar. Well? The collar is
the fatal finishing touch in men's dress; it would make Apollo look
Her hand was in his: and watching the play of her features, a spark
entered General Ople's brain, causing him, in forgetfulness of collar and
caricatures, to ejaculate, 'Seventy? Did your ladyship say seventy?
Utterly impossible! You trifle with me.'
'We will talk when we are free of this accompaniment of carriage-wheels,
General,' said Lady Camper.
'I will beg permission to go and fetch Elizabeth, madam.'
'Rightly thought of. Fetch her in my carriage. And, by the way, Mrs.
Baerens was my old music-mistress, and is, I think, one year older than
I. She can tell you on which side of seventy I am.'
'I shall not require to ask, my lady,' he said, sighing.
'Then we will send the carriage for Elizabeth, and have it out together
at once. I am impatient; yes, General, impatient: for what?--
'Of me, my lady?' The General breathed profoundly.
'Of whom else? Do you know what it is?-I don't think you do. You
English have the smallest experience of humanity. I mean this: to strike
so hard that, in the end, you soften your heart to the victim. Well,
that is my weakness. And we of our blood put no restraint on the blows
we strike when we think them wanted, so we are always overdoing it.'
General Ople assisted Lady Camper to alight from the carriage, which was
forthwith despatched for Elizabeth.
He prepared to listen to her with a disconnected smile of acute
She had changed. She spoke of money. Ten thousand pounds must be
settled on his daughter. 'And now,' said she, 'you will remember that
you are wanting a collar.'
He acquiesced. He craved permission to retire for ten minutes.
'Simplest of men! what will cover you?' she exclaimed, and peremptorily
bidding him sit down in the drawing-room, she took one of the famous pair
of pistols in her hand, and said, 'If I put myself in a similar position,
and make myself decodletee too, will that satisfy you? You see these
murderous weapons. Well, I am a coward. I dread fire-arms. They are
laid there to impose on the world, and I believe they do. They have
imposed on you. Now, you would never think of pretending to a moral
quality you do not possess. But, silly, simple man that you are! You
can give yourself the airs of wealth, buy horses to conceal your
nakedness, and when you are taken upon the standard of your apparent
income, you would rather seem to be beating a miserly retreat than behave
frankly and honestly. I have a little overstated it, but I am near the
'Your ladyship wanting courage!' cried the General.
'Refresh yourself by meditating on it,' said she. 'And to prove it to
you, I was glad to take this house when I knew I was to have a gallant
gentleman for a neighbour. No visitors will be admitted, General Ople,
so you are bare-throated only to me: sit quietly. One day you speculated
on the paint in my cheeks for the space of a minute and a half:--I had
said that I freckled easily. Your look signified that you really could
not detect a single freckle for the paint. I forgave you, or I did not.
But when I found you, on closer acquaintance, as indifferent to your
daughter's happiness as you had been to her reputation . . .'
'My daughter! her reputation! her happiness !'
General Ople raised his eyes under a wave, half uttering the outcries.
'So indifferent to her reputation, that you allowed a young man to talk
with her over the wall, and meet her by appointment: so reckless of the
girl's happiness, that when I tried to bring you to a treaty, on her
behalf, you could not be dragged from thinking of yourself and your own
affair. When I found that, perhaps I was predisposed to give you some of
what my sisters used to call my spice. You would not honestly state the
proportions of your income, and you affected to be faithful to the woman
of seventy. Most preposterous! Could any caricature of mine exceed in
grotesqueness your sketch of yourself? You are a brave and a generous
man all the same: and I suspect it is more hoodwinking than egotism--or
extreme egotism--that blinds you. A certain amount you must have to be a
man. You did not like my paint, still less did you like my sincerity;
you were annoyed by my corrections of your habits of speech; you were
horrified by the age of seventy, and you were credulous--General Ople,
listen to me, and remember that you have no collar on--you were credulous
of my statement of my great age, or you chose to be so, or chose to seem
so, because I had brushed your cat's coat against the fur. And then,
full of yourself, not thinking of Elizabeth, but to withdraw in the
chivalrous attitude of the man true to his word to the old woman, only
stickling to bring a certain independence to the common stock, because--
I quote you! and you have no collar on, mind--"you could not be at your
wife's mercy," you broke from your proposal on the money question. Where
was your consideration for Elizabeth then?
'Well, General, you were fond of thinking of yourself, and I thought I
would assist you. I gave you plenty of subject matter. I will not say
I meant to work a homoeopathic cure. But if I drive you to forget your
collar, is it or is it not a triumph?
'No,' added Lady Camper, 'it is no triumph for me, but it is one for you,
if you like to make the most of it. Your fault has been to quit active
service, General, and love your ease too well. It is the fault of your
countrymen. You must get a militia regiment, or inspectorship of
militia. You are ten times the man in exercise. Why, do you mean to
tell me that you would have cared for those drawings of mine when
'I think so, I say I think so,' remarked the General seriously.
'I doubt it,' said she. 'But to the point; here comes Elizabeth. If you
have not much money to spare for her, according to your prudent
calculation, reflect how this money has enfeebled you and reduced you to
the level of the people round about us here--who are, what? Inhabitants
of gentlemanly residences, yes! But what kind of creature? They have no
mental standard, no moral aim, no native chivalry. You were rapidly
becoming one of them, only, fortunately for you, you were sensitive to
'Elizabeth shall have half my money settled on her,' said the General;
'though I fear it is not much. And if I can find occupation, my lady...'
'Something worthier than that,' said Lady Camper, pencilling outlines
rapidly on the margin of a book, and he saw himself lashing a pony; 'or
that,' and he was plucking at a cabbage; 'or that,' and he was bowing to
three petticoated posts.
'The likeness is exact,' General Ople groaned.
'So you may suppose I have studied you,' said she. 'But there is no real
likeness. Slight exaggerations do more harm to truth than reckless
violations of it.
You would not have cared one bit for a caricature, if you had not nursed
the absurd idea of being one of our conquerors. It is the very tragedy
of modesty for a man like you to have such notions, my poor dear good
friend. The modest are the most easily intoxicated when they sip at
vanity. And reflect whether you have not been intoxicated, for these
young people have been wretched, and you have not observed it, though one
of them was living with you, and is the child you love. There, I have
done. Pray show a good face to Elizabeth.'
The General obeyed as well as he could. He felt very like a sheep that
has come from a shearing, and when released he wished to run away. But
hardly had he escaped before he had a desire for the renewal of the
operation. 'She sees me through, she sees me through,' he was heard
saying to himself, and in the end he taught himself, to say it with a
secret exultation, for as it was on her part an extraordinary piece of
insight to see him through, it struck him that in acknowledging the truth
of it, he made a discovery of new powers in human nature.
General Ople studied Lady Camper diligently for fresh proofs of her
penetration of the mysteries in his bosom; by which means, as it happened
that she was diligently observing the two betrothed young ones, he began
to watch them likewise, and took a pleasure in the sight. Their
meetings, their partings, their rides out and home furnished him themes
of converse. He soon had enough to talk of, and previously, as he
remembered, he had never sustained a conversation of any length with
composure and the beneficent sense of fulness. Five thousand pounds, to
which sum Lady Camper reduced her stipulation for Elizabeth's dowry, he
signed over to his dear girl gladly, and came out with the confession to
her ladyship that a well-invested twelve thousand comprised his fortune.
She shrugged she had left off pulling him this way and that, so his
chains were enjoyable, and he said to himself: 'If ever she should in the
dead of night want a man to defend her!' He mentioned it to Reginald,
who had been the repository of Elizabeth's lamentations about her father
being left alone, forsaken, and the young man conceived a scheme for
causing his aunt's great bell to be rung at midnight, which would
certainly have led to a dramatic issue and the happy re-establishment of
our masculine ascendancy at the close of this history. But he forgot it
in his bridegroom's delight, until he was making his miserable official
speech at the wedding-breakfast, and set Elizabeth winking over a tear.
As she stood in the hall ready to depart, a great van was observed in the
road at the gates of Douro Lodge; and this, the men in custody declared
to contain the goods and knick-knacks of the people who had taken the
house furnished for a year, and were coming in that very afternoon.
'I remember, I say now I remember, I had a notice,' the General said
cheerily to his troubled daughter.
'But where are you to go, papa?' the poor girl cried, close on sobbing.
'I shall get employment of some sort,' said he. 'I was saying I want it,
I need it, I require it.'
'You are saying three times what once would have sufficed for,' said Lady
Camper, and she asked him a few questions, frowned with a smile, and
offered him a lodgement in his neighbour's house.
'Really, dearest Aunt Angela?' said Elizabeth.
'What else can I do, child? I have, it seems, driven him out of a
gentlemanly residence, and I must give him a ladylike one. True, I would
rather have had him at call, but as I have always wished for a policeman
in the house, I may as well be satisfied with a soldier.'
'But if you lose your character, my lady?' said Reginald.
'Then I must look to the General to restore it.'
General Ople immediately bowed his head over Lady Camper's fingers.
'An odd thing to happen to a woman of forty-one!' she said to her great
people, and they submitted with the best grace in the world, while the
General's ears tingled till he felt younger than Reginald. This, his
reflections ran, or it would be more correct to say waltzed, this is the
result of painting!--that you can believe a woman to be any age when her
cheeks are tinted!
As for Lady Camper, she had been floated accidentally over the ridicule
of the bruit of a marriage at a time of life as terrible to her as her
fiction of seventy had been to General Ople; she resigned herself to let
things go with the tide. She had not been blissful in her first
marriage, she had abandoned the chase of an ideal man, and she had found
one who was tunable so as not to offend her ears, likely ever to be a
fund of amusement for her humour, good, impressible, and above all, very
picturesque. There is the secret of her, and of how it came to pass that
a simple man and a complex woman fell to union after the strangest
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Can believe a woman to be any age when her cheeks are tinted
Modest are the most easily intoxicated when they sip at vanity
Nature is not of necessity always roaring
Only to be described in the tongue of auctioneers
Respected the vegetable yet more than he esteemed the flower
She seems honest, and that is the most we can hope of girls
Spare me that word "female" as long as you live
The mildness of assured dictatorship
When we see our veterans tottering to their fall