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The Castle Inn by Stanley John Weyman

Part 7 out of 7

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'Far too handsome--seeing that I have no claim on you, Sir George, and
have only put you to great expense.'

'Pooh! Pooh!'

'And--trouble. A vast deal of trouble,' she repeated in an odd tone of
raillery, while her eyes, grown hard and mocking, raked him mercilessly.
'So much for so little! I could not--I could not accept it. A hundred
guineas a year, Sir George, from one in your position to one in mine,
would only lay me open to the tongue of slander. You had better

'Oh, no!'

'Or--thirty, I am sure thirty were ample! Say thirty guineas a year,
dear sir; and leave me my character.'

'Nonsense,' he answered, a trifle discomfited. Strange, she was seizing
her old position. The weapon he had wrought for her punishment was being
turned against himself.

'Or, I don't know that thirty is not too much!' she continued, her eyes
unnaturally bright, her voice keen as a razor.' 'Twould have been enough
if offered through your lawyers. But at your own mouth, Sir George, ten
shillings a week should do, and handsomely! Which reminds me--it was a
kind thought to come yourself to see me; I wonder why you did.'

'Well,' he said, 'to be frank, it was Dr. Addington--'

'Oh, Dr. Addington--Dr. Addington suggested it! Because I fancied--it
could not give you pleasure to see me like this?' she continued with a
flashing eye, her passion for a brief moment breaking forth. 'Or to go
back a month or two and call me child? Or to speak to me as to your
chambermaid? Or even to give me ten shillings a week?'

'No,' he said gravely; 'perhaps not, my dear.'

She winced and her eyes flashed; but she controlled herself. 'Still, I
shall take your ten shillings a week,' she said. 'And--and is that all?
Or is there anything else?'

'Only this,' he said firmly. 'You'll please to remember that the ten
shillings a week is of your own choosing. You'll do me that justice at
least. A hundred guineas a year was the allowance I proposed. And--I bet
a guinea you ask for it, my dear, before the year is out!'

She was like a tigress outraged; she writhed under the insult. And yet,
because to give vent to her rage were also to bare her heart to his
eyes, she had to restrain herself, and endure even this with a scarlet
cheek. She had thought to shame him by accepting the money he offered;
by accepting it in the barest form. The shame was hers; it did not seem
to touch him a whit. At last, 'You are mistaken,' she answered, in a
voice she strove to render steady. 'I shall not! And now, if there is
nothing more, sir--'

'There is,' he said. 'Are you sufficiently punished?'

She looked at him wildly--suddenly, irresistibly compelled to do so by a
new tone in his voice. 'Punished!' she stammered, almost inaudibly.
'For what?'

'Do you not know?'

'No,' she muttered, her heart fluttering strangely.

'For this travesty,' he answered; and coolly, as he stood before her, he
twitched the sleeve of her shapeless gown, looking masterfully down at
her the while, so that her eyes fell before his. 'Did you think it kind
to me or fair to me,' he continued, almost sternly, 'to make that
difficult, Julia, which my honour required, and which you knew that my
honour required? Which, if I had not come to do, you would have despised
me in your heart, and presently with your lips? Did you think it fair
to widen the distance between us by this--this piece of play-acting?
Give me your hand.'

She obeyed, trembling, tongue-tied. He held it an instant, looked at it,
and dropped it almost contemptuously. 'It has not cleaned that step
before,' he said. 'Now put up your hair.'

She did so with shaking fingers, her cheeks pale, tears oozing from
under her lowered eyelashes. He devoured her with his gaze.

'Now go to your room,' he said. 'Take off that rag and come to me
properly dressed.'

'How?' she whispered.

'As my wife.'

'It is impossible,' she cried with a gesture of despair; 'It is

'Is that the answer you would have given me at Manton Corner?'

'Oh no, no!' she cried. 'But everything is changed.'

'Nothing is changed.'

'You said so,' she retorted feverishly. 'You said that it was changed!'

'And have you, too, told the whole truth?' he retorted. 'Go, silly
child! If you are determined to play Pamela to the end, at least you
shall play it in other guise than this. 'Tis impossible to touch you!
And yet, if you stand long and tempt me, I vow, sweet, I shall fall!'

To his astonishment she burst into hysterical laughter. 'I thought men
wooed--with promises!' she cried. 'Why don't you tell me I shall have my
jewels; and my box at the Opera and the King's House? And go to Vauxhall
and the Masquerades? And have my frolic in the pit with the best? And
keep my own woman as ugly as I please? He did; and I said Yes to him!
Why don't you say the same?'

Sir George was prepared for almost anything, but not for that. His face
grew dark. 'He did? Who did?' he asked grimly, his eyes on her face.

'Lord Almeric! And I said Yes to him--for three hours.'

'Lord Almeric?'

'Yes! For three hours,' she answered with a laugh, half hysterical, half
despairing. 'If you must know, I thought you had carried me off to--to
get rid of my claim--and me! I thought--I thought you had only been
playing with me,' she continued, involuntarily betraying by her tone how
deep had been her misery. 'I was only Pamela, and 'twas cheaper, I
thought, to send me to the Plantations than to marry me.'

'And Lord Almeric offered you marriage?'

'I might have been my lady,' she cried in bitter abasement. 'Yes.'

'And you accepted him?'

'Yes! Yes, I accepted him.'

'And then--'Pon honour, ma'am, you are good at surprises. I fear I don't
follow the course of events,' Sir George said icily.

'Then I changed my mind--the same day,' she replied. She was shaking on
her feet with emotion; but in his jealousy he had no pity on her
weakness. 'You know, a woman may change her mind once, Sir George,' she
added with a feeble smile.

'I find that I don't know as much about women--as I thought I did,' Sir
George answered grimly. 'You seem, ma'am, to be much sought after. One
man can hardly hope to own you. Pray have you any other affairs
to confess?'

'I have told you--all,' she said.

His face dark, he hung a moment between love and anger; looking at her.
Then, 'Did he kiss you?' he said between his teeth. 'No!' she
cried fiercely.

'You swear it?'

She flashed a look at him.

But he had no mercy. 'Why not?' he persisted, moving a step nearer her.
'You were betrothed to him. You engaged yourself to him, ma'am.
Why not?'

'Because--I did not love him,' she answered so faintly he scarcely

He drew a deep breath. 'May I kiss you?' he said.

She looked long at him, her face quivering between tears and smiles, a
great joy dawning in the depths of her eyes. 'If my lord wills,' she
said at last, 'when I have done his bidding and--and changed--and
dressed as--'

But he did not wait.



When Sir George left the house, an hour later, it happened that the
first person he met in the street was Mr. Fishwick. For a day or two
after the conference at the Castle Inn the attorney had gone about, his
ears on the stretch to catch the coming footstep. The air round him
quivered with expectation. Something would happen. Sir George would do
something. But with each day that passed eventless, the hope and
expectation grew weaker; the care with which the attorney avoided his
guest's eyes, more marked; until by noon of this day he had made up his
mind that if Sir George came at all, it would be as the wolf and not as
the sheep-dog. While Julia, proud and mute, was resolving that if her
lover came she would save him from himself by showing him how far he had
to stoop, the attorney in the sourness of defeat and a barren
prospect--for he scarcely knew which way to turn for a guinea--was
resolving that the ewe-lamb must be guarded and all precautions taken
to that end.

When he saw the gentleman issue from his door therefore, still more when
Sir George with a kindly smile held out his hand, a condescension which
the attorney could not remember that he had ever extended to him before,
Mr. Fishwick's prudence took fright. 'Too much honoured, Sir George,' he
said, bowing low. Then stiffly, and looking from his visitor to the
house and back again, 'But, pardon me, sir, if there is any matter of
business, any offer to be made to my client, it were well, I think--if
it were made through me.'

I thank you,' Sir George answered. 'I do not think that there is
anything more to be done. I have made my offer.'

'Oh!' the lawyer cried.

'And it has been accepted,' Soane continued, smiling at his dismay. 'I
believe that you have been a good friend to your client, Mr. Fishwick. I
shall be obliged if you will allow her to remain under your roof until
to-morrow, when she has consented to honour me by becoming my wife.'

'Your wife?' Mr. Fishwick ejaculated, his face a picture of surprise.

'I brought a licence with me,' Sir George answered. 'I am now on my way
to secure the services of a clergyman.'

The tears stood in Mr. Fishwick's eyes, and his voice shook. 'I
felicitate you, sir,' he said, taking off his hat. 'God bless you, sir.
Sir George, you are a very noble gentleman!' And then, remembering
himself, he hastened to beg the gentleman's pardon for the liberty he
had taken.

Sir George nodded kindly. 'There is a letter for you in the house, Mr.
Fishwick,' he said, 'which I was asked to convey to you. For the
present, good-day.'

Mr. Fishwick stood and watched him go with eyes wide with astonishment;
nor was it until he had passed from sight that the lawyer turned and
went into his house. On a bench in the passage he found a letter. It was
formally directed after the fashion of those days 'To Mr. Peter
Fishwick, Attorney at Law, at Wallingford in Berkshire, by favour of Sir
George Soane of Estcombe, Baronet.'

'Lord save us, 'tis an honour,' the attorney muttered. 'What is it?' and
with shaking hands he cut the thread that confined the packet. The
letter, penned by Dr. Addington, was to this effect:

'Sir,--I am directed by the Right Honourable the Earl of Chatham, Lord
Keeper of His Majesty's Privy Seal, to convey to you his lordship's
approbation of the conduct displayed by you in a late transaction. His
lordship, acknowledging no higher claim to employment than probity, nor
any more important duty in the disposition of patronage than the reward
of integrity, desires me to intimate that the office of Clerk of the
Leases in the Forest of Dean, which is vacant and has been placed at his
command, is open for your acceptance. He is informed that the emoluments
of the office arising from fees amount in good years to five hundred
pounds, and in bad years seldom fall below four hundred.

His lordship has made me the channel of this communication, that I may
take the opportunity of expressing my regret that a misunderstanding at
one time arose between us. Accept, sir, this friendly assurance of a
change of sentiment, and allow me to

'Have the honour to be, sir,
'Your obedient servant,
'J. Addington.'

'Clerk of the Leases--in the Forest of Dean--have been known in bad
years--to fall to four hundred!' Mr. Fishwick ejaculated, his eyes like
saucers. 'Oh, Lord, I am dreaming! I must be dreaming! If I don't get my
cravat untied, I shall have a lit! Four hundred in bad years! It's
a--oh, it's incredible! They'll not believe it! I vow they'll not
believe it!'

But when he turned to seek them, he saw that they had stolen a march on
him, that they knew it already and believed it! Between him and the tiny
plot of grass, the urn, and the espalier, which, still caught the last
beams of the setting sun, he surprised two happy faces spying on his
joy--the one beaming through a hundred puckers with a mother's tearful
pride; the other, the most beautiful in the world, and now softened and
elevated by every happy emotion.

* * * * *

Mr. Dunborough stood his trial at the next Salisbury assizes, and, being
acquitted of the murder of Mr. Pomeroy, was found guilty of
manslaughter. He pleaded his clergy, went through the formality of being
branded in the hand with a cold iron, and was discharged on payment of
his fees. He lived to be the fifth Viscount Dunborough, a man neither
much worse nor much better than his neighbours; and dying at a moderate
age--in his bed, of gout in the stomach--escaped the misfortune which
awaited some of his friends; who, living beyond the common span, found
themselves shunned by a world which could find no worse to say of them
than that they lived in their age as all men of fashion had lived in
their youth.

Mr. Thomasson was less fortunate. Bully Pomeroy's dying words and the
evidence of the man Tamplin were not enough to bring the crime home to
him. But representations were made to his college, and steps were taken
to compel him to resign his Fellowship. Before these came to an issue,
he was arrested for debt, and thrown into the Fleet. There he lingered
for a time, sinking into a lower and lower state of degradation, and
making ever more and more piteous appeals to the noble pupils who owed
so much of their knowledge of the world to his guidance. Beyond this
point his career is not to be traced, but it is improbable that it was
either creditable to him or edifying to his friends.

To-day the old Bath road is silent, or echoes only the fierce note of
the cyclist's bell. The coaches and curricles, wigs and hoops, bolstered
saddles and carriers' waggons are gone with the beaux and fine ladies
and gentlemen's gentlemen whose environment they were; and the Castle
Inn is no longer an inn. Under the wide eaves that sheltered the love
passages of Sir George and Julia, in the panelled halls that echoed the
steps of Dutch William and Duke Chandos, through the noble rooms that a
Seymour built that Seymours might be born and die under their frescoed
ceilings, the voices of boys and tutors now sound. The boys are divided
from the men of that day by four generations, the tutors from the man we
have depicted, by a moral gulf infinitely greater. Yet is the change in
a sense outward only; for where the heart of youth beats, there, and not
behind fans or masks, the 'Stand!' of the highwayman, or the 'Charge!'
of the hero, lurks the high romance.

Nor on the outside is all changed at the Castle Inn. Those who in this
quiet lap of the Wiltshire Downs are busy moulding the life of the
future are reverent of the past. The old house stands stately,
high-roofed, almost unaltered, its great pillared portico before it;
hard by are the Druids' Mound, and Preshute Church in the lap of trees.
Much water has run under the bridge that spans the Kennet since Sir
George and Julia sat on the parapet and watched the Salisbury coach come
in; the bridge that was of wood is of brick--but there it is, and the
Kennet still flows under it, watering the lawns and flowering shrubs
that Lady Hertford loved. Still can we trace in fancy the sweet-briar
hedge and the border of pinks which she planted by the trim canal; and a
bowshot from the great school can lose all knowledge of the present in
the crowding memories which the Duelling Green and the Bowling Alley,
trodden by the men and women of a past generation, awaken in the mind.

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